Monday, December 12, 2011

Interview with an Indie Filmmaker: Frankie Frain

Things must be getting back to normal...  I've got Old Milwaukee empties scattered around my monitor, I've got a small stack of indie horror DVD's lined up to watch and we've got an interview with an indie filmmaker ready to go.  The best part is, the interview is with one of our favorites: Frankie Frain.  If you need a reminder as to who Frankie is, just look over on the right there and read what we referred to as his "genius article".  He made a Tromadance winning film called "I Need To Lose 10 Pounds" and then made "A-Bo The Humonkey", which is f'ing awesome.  A few years have passed, but now he's back with a vengeance with his latest film, "Sexually Frank".

I do want to mention that after you've thoroughly enjoyed the interview, you should head over to the site for the film at  Once there, click on "blog", scroll down a bit and then read the post entitled "Why Sexually Frank Exists".  It's a little long, but do yourself a favor and check it out.  If you're not motivated to go out and write or shoot a film after reading that, you're never going to be motivated enough to go out and write or shoot a film...

Anyhow, here's our interview with Frankie about his new film, "Sexually Frank".

        Tell us about Sexually Frank.

Sexually Frank is a feature length ensemble indie comedy about a group of friends with unique, sexually political issues they’re dealing with. It features a gay couple that breaks up, but find how inept they are in gay culture, a 24 year old virgin who’s going bald and worried about becoming a “creepy” old man, a nurse who isn’t interested in marrying her first and only boyfriend of ten years, and my character – a video sketch artist whose most recent opus is a comedy sketch about a girl who takes a toe up her ass. The themes of the plots cross and complement one another to make statements on the nooks and crannies of sex and stigmas.

What have you been doing since A-Bo the Humonkey and I Need to Lose Ten Pounds?

I Need to Lose Ten Pounds was written when I was 14. It took six years for me to muster the confidence, ability, and resources to complete that movie. It was an experiment in proving that I could complete something. Some people love that movie – I’m thankful for them, but that movie was a rite of passage. A-Bo the Humonkey was an experiment in, “can I do it again?” It was a more ambitious project, involving special effects, prosthetics, big set pieces and elaborate location shooting, child actors, all kinds of crap. It even had a little something to say somewhere amidst all the cynicism and irony. I was totally delusional, in that I thought that film could actually act as a calling card in Hollywood. So I moved to LA and quickly confirmed that I don’t make movies for everyone. In fact, I don’t make movies for most people. And I learned the most important thing – I make movies because…I make movies. And that has nothing to do with money, success, or even a shot at a budgeted, union production. I moved back to the east coast, got my old crew of freaks together, and asked if they wanted to make another one – except, let’s really not give a shit what anyone thinks this time. Let’s shoot for a creatively liberated experience. At the time, I was exploring how much sexuality informs someone’s identity, and having been inspired by my friends, the media, Dan Savage, and “To Catch a Predator,” I wrote Sexually Frank. I took a job as a Systems Administrator at Emerson College, which, combined with my nurse practitioner wife’s salary, would more than pay for our modestly budgeted film. This one was going to be people talking, and not much else. Fuck doing a Kickstarter or any of that crowd funding shit – that just perpetuates the idea that you need permission or validation to make a film. Since I worked at a film school, I was able to get an MFA for free – Sexually Frank acted as my thesis film, but only as a matter of convenience.

What lessons did you learn from those films that you’ve applied here?

Well the biggest would be the simple ability to make a feature length piece for next to no money. When you’ve done this as many times as I have, you start to really hone in on what corners can be cut and what can’t be. I don’t remember who said it, but a filmmaker once said “A film can just be an actor in focus” – point being, your performances are the most important thing (yes, that’s arguable, but it’s fact in the case of Sexually Frank). In documentary, if you can make a subject comfortable, you can get an honest, compelling interview out of them. Actors are very similar – it all comes down to comfort level, which was crucial in this film, because it needs to be as honest as possible. And I learned from my last films that personal relationships with the actors can be everything. So I cast my wife as “Jess” and one of my closest friends, Keith Sadeck, as “Neil” (who was based on him in the first place). They’re the most complimented performances in the film. We have lots of trained actors in the film, and I’m proud of every performance in that film – but when you don’t have a relationship, you’re more likely to accept or go lax on your direction, so I tried to hold myself to a higher standard and really beat on the actors when I didn’t get what I wanted. In the past, I worried that I didn’t have the right to do that – to beat on my actors I’m not paying them. But for most actors, the opposite is true – if they’re doing this shit for free, they want to do it right, and since you’re the idiot who wrote the lines and who’s standing behind the camera, they’re relying on you to speak when something’s not working. I established wonderful (and what I expect to be), long lasting relationships with the actors in this flick.

We were also able to improve our techniques, mechanically. We shot 110 pages in 16 days – so we shot with two cinematographers simultaneously, with two 7Ds. We shot non-sync sound so we weren’t bogged down by cables or wires. We also knew to focus on shooting at the actors’ eye lines, both for performance reasons and for the audience’s comfort (something we failed at pretty hard in A-Bo). I had never worked with the two cinematographers before – one was a freelance videographer and the other was an interactive media developer. But we worked together at Emerson, and like with actors, having a working relationship informed the cinematography, and I think it’s by far my best looking film, thanks to those guys.

What was the budget for Sexually Frank?

Depends who you ask. When you have a dual-income, no kids (dinc) financial situation like my wife and I, a movie that has very few production expenses, a crew who owns and operates all of their own equipment, and software bought by your college, there’s really no reason to budget for the film. You just kinda pay for shit as it comes up. So I’d say we spent about three thousand dollars or so – that’s a guess, but that’s probably the amount we wouldn’t have spent if we didn’t make a movie (gas, food, hard drives). However, if we made the movie from scratch, and bought every piece of equipment we ultimately used, and accounted for everything (excluding salaries, I’m just talking about raw, necessary expenses), it would have cost $17,000. That doesn’t include festival submissions or DVD/Blu-ray dupes and mailers, which I’ve already spent a few hundred dollars on. But you get the idea. Check out the blog post on expenses at the Sexually Frank website to see the budget breakdown.

What are your goals for the film and what’s your plan to accomplish those goals?

I’m in the same boat as anyone who makes a movie like this. I think there’s an audience at festivals for this, but only niche festivals. I’m really leaning on the LGBT audience to come out for this movie – so far, it’s been playing great for gay audiences, since the movie goes to great lengths to naturalize gay men and their relationship to gay culture. So I’m chiefly interested in just playing the film at various venues and seeing where that takes me. If it doesn’t lead to distribution (which, I’m not holding my breath, who buys DVDs anymore?), I’m going to explore online video-on-demand and Netflix Watch Instantly. I’ve also built a DVD and Blu-ray that I’m happy to self-distribute, both of which have commentaries, feature length documentaries on the film, and the Blu-ray (which looks amazing) has over 9 hours of special features. Contact me if you want one of those, they’re badass. But yeah, I just want people to see it, and most of all, I want to talk to people about it – I made it to say something, and I just want to have that conversation.

Where can people find out more about Sexually Frank? is obviously the aggregate for all Sexually Frank news, blogs, videos, info, screenings, etc., and they can follow my ass (just the ass) on Twitter @frankiefrain, or on Facebook (production still of me and my wife from the movie). Subscribe to the website blog if you want to know when a screening is coming up. On the Sexually Frank website, you can read an epic blog post called “Why Sexually Frank Exists,” which is a touching look at the events that lead to making this film, and how much it and the people involved mean to me.
You can also see most of the special features from the DVD/Blu-ray, including a feature length blooper reel. And as always, anyone can feel free to e-mail me at

Any other projects in the works?

I just produced and co-directed a short film called Vibes, which we can talk a little about a couple of months from now when that goes out to festivals. It’s a script by Ingrid Stobbe about a group of girls who buy a vibrator for their friend for her birthday. I’m also interested in developing my visual sense, which I may work on in a short I want to direct titled The Talking Cure, a psychological horror about a gay reparative therapist, and his work with a homosexual Ugandan man. I’d also like to make a documentary about cyber-bullying and social media amongst pre-teens. And of course, most people know me from my animated lampoon of George Lucas, “Lord of the Rings by George Lucas” and I’d like to get back to satirizing directors and egotists in animated form. So I’m spinning a bunch of plates right now.

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