Thursday, April 19, 2012

Monsters in the Woods Video Interviews: Jason Horton (writer/director) and Robert Bravo (Producer)

Monsters in the Woods FLASHBACK: What Was I Thinking?

One of the producers of Monsters in the Woods wrote this last year.

I’ve been involved in the film industry for many years. Over a varied and eclectic career, I’ve worked on a number of projects as an Actor, Writer, and Producer. As a Producer, the projects I’ve been involved with received financing mostly through outside sources, either through investors, banks, etc. Most recently, though, I did something I never thought I would ever do. I got involved in co-financing a movie. Now let’s get real here. I am neither wealthy, nor financially well off. What I did get was a few grand from an inheritance, and I do mean ‘few’.
While I was contemplating what to do with the extra funds, I read an article from an independent filmmaker’s blog whose subject was “Making and Releasing The Micro-Budget Indie”, and one of the respondents to the blog had this to say: “The micro-budget feature is probably most functional in the hands of an experienced producer. Those of us attempting to break in from the outside with a 10k comedy are in an uphill battle. Folks who have made a few movies, and have the requisite connects and experience, could probably make a very profitable micro-budget piece. The tech is there to make a movie look good for cheap. The two keys are to write a story that can entertain an audience without a huge SFX budget, and to have a way to get the film seen. The latter half of that equation is where experienced producers/writers have a real leg up. It would be a grand experiment to see a Hollywood veteran do a “made by hand” film and make it financially successful. That might really change some minds.”
Ok, made sense to me. But did I really want to put my money into something like this? I didn’t have a project that fit the mold. That is until I received a call from a friend who said another friend of ours was going to make a micro-budget creature feature and he needed a “few grand” to make it happen. Weird, huh? What timing! I had known this young writer/director for a few years and had watched his career carefully. He had already made a few micro-budget horror movies, one of which had very good critical acclaim. So, I knew he had the know-how and experience to make another good horror movie. I was also familiar with his writing skills, as I had read some of his bigger budgeted scripts. He is an excellent writer. So, when he sent me the script for his creature feature, I couldn’t wait to read it. I wasn’t disappointed. It was scary, action filled, had a lot of emotion, and the dialogue was witty. “What a clever project”, I thought. And I was convinced, I wanted to be involved.
I Just Want To Invest And Then I’m Going On Vacation… What Could Go Wrong?
I think the first thing I said to both the writer/director and his young producing partner was, “I have enough to cover the costs of your five day shoot”. (Did I say five days?) Well, I was assured that the movie was already in production, was being shot ‘guerrilla’, with everyone on board (Producers, actors, and crew) all gung-ho and raring to go! All they truly needed were the finishing funds. I told them I think they have a fun project, and if the production turns out anything like the script, we would have a very marketable movie. I shook their hands, handed them their first check, and accepted the role as Executive Producer. “I think you guys have a good plan for production. It’s too bad I won’t be there for the first part of the shoot as I’m going on a long planned vacation, and since I haven’t had one for years, I can’t cancel now. So, I’m leaving you with great confidence that everything that we have discussed will come to fruition, and you shouldn’t have any problems.” I walked away confident that within a couple of weeks we would have wrapped principal photography by the time I returned from vacation.After all, what could go wrong?

Monsters in the Woods Video Interviews: Composer and Director

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Monsters in the Woods FLASHBACK: Micro-Budget Drama

Here's an interesting bit on some of the production drama that plagued Monsters in the Woods. It's amazing to me now how trivial much of it seems, including my ego-centric antics.  

Ballooning budgets, on-set drama, producer/director in-fighting, prima dona actors, these things are often associated with big budget productions. But is the drama any less significant when it’s thousands of dollars at stake as opposed to millions. Well, that’s obviously a matter of perspective, but for the most part I used to think the answer was no. I was wrong.

Monsters in the Woods is the most expensive production I’ve directed. It was not originally intended to be so. It started out has a low-end production, even by micro-budget standards, to be shot for a low wage job’s monthly salary using friends for cast and crew. Almost no one was to paid, I was either multi-taking crew positions myself or calling in favors (I’ve done plenty over the years.) And I was totally cool making this kind of movie.

Then a few things happened.

One of my friends had a personal connection to Glenn Plummer. He said he could get him in the movie and he did. Glenn was cast in the role of Jayson. While he would only be shooting a few days, it still put a substantial strain on our extremely meager budget. I also wanted to get a legit location, permits and insurance to shoot our massacre sequence. These two costs were starting to push the budget beyond what we could manage on our own. So, I reached out to a producer friend of mine and he came onboard, along with another producer. They brought with them a little more funding that would cover the location (Big Bear), insurance, permits and Glenn Plummer. The budget basically doubled. But we were still talking very low. And I was ok making that movie.

Then a few more things happened.

We get to Big Bear. We have two days to shoot out Glenn Plummer and get our major massacre sequence in the can. Things didn’t go exactly as planned. As with most productions, our 1st day was full of hiccups. We got started a few hours late. The 1st scenes took much longer to shoot than expected. Then we had some major drama between a few actors (which I can’t really get into). By the time we got to our second and last day, we were more than a half-day behind. Luckily we came back strong in the 2nd day, finished all of Glenn’s stuff and were ready to shoot our massacre sequence.

Then something else happened…

Our monsters weren’t ready. The crew helping out with FX had to exodus early the 2nd morning (personal reasons.) This left a one man FX make-up crew to do 3 full monsters. We were already behind and it just wasn’t doable. When it came time to shoot the sequence we had less than one full monster. The massacre sequence (one of the main reason we were shooting on location in the 1st place) could not be shot.

These two days in Big Bear were the bulk of our budget and we only got done half what we needed to. Well, Glenn was shot out. The massacre could most likely be done somewhere cheaper, probably guerilla. We were going to soldier on. And I was still ok making that movie.

we also had some drama with one of the lead actors. He had to be replaced and we had to reshoot footage. 

Then something else happened…

I reviewed the footage we shot in Big Bear. It was awesome. Glenn Plummer and the rest of cast were incredible. They were clicking and gelling better than I could have ever imagined. I think the script is pretty damn good, but they were taking it to a whole other level. If done right, this could be a really good movie. Of course, done right = more money. So I first asked the producers for more cash to hire a proper fix company. They agreed and we hired Tom Devlin’s 1313 FX (in retrospect this turned out to be one of wisest decisions.) It was also decided to upgrade cameras from the JVC with which we had shot the entire 1st act behind the scenes perspective stuff to a CANNON 7D for all the “real movie” stuff of which we had shot almost none. And I was really ok with making that movie.

Then a few more things took place…

I didn’t realize it at the time, but the upgrade from the 720p JVC to the 1080p H264 Cannon was going to strain my older editing system past it limits. Not only were we going to have to spend money on the camera and FX, but also now I need a new editing computer has well. The budget kept rising.

Now the producers are getting miffed. What started out as a minimal investment was becoming much more substantial, especially by micro-budget standards. In addition to reshooting the big bear stuff, now there was additional post costs. The budget had pretty much tripled. I had pitched a movie to be done at a certain budget and now it was 3x’s that. I was still cool making that movie.

Then more shit went down…

I had never shot on the 7D before and am pretty much the DP on the movie. I needed at least a day before shooting to familiarize myself with the camera, especially in the lower light of our cave set. I was supposed to get the camera the day before we shot in order to do this. The owner of the camera had a shoot pop up and I could get it until the night before the shoot, late. I had no time to work with the camera in the dark cave setting beforehand. It cost us. We shot over the next 2 nights in our dark cave set. While not unusable, the footage turned out less than stellar. It wasn’t bad, but it certainly didn’t match the superior performances by the actors. I asked for more days to reshoot the scenes. The producers were not happy, but I was fine with making this movie.

Then something else happened...
A new investor turns up, brought in by yours truly, who wanted to put a substantial amount into the movie. This investment would cover a new computer for editing. The 3 days of reshooting or a new cannon of our own. I suggest that we use it for this.

Then all hell breaks loose. I get angry emails and calls from producers, saying I’m outta control, spending too much money, mishandling money, that purchasing a new camera is unreasonable. I was told how “easy it was to spend other people’s money.” Ect.. I don’t know, maybe they were right. I don’t know anymore. I did promise to deliver a certain product at a certain price, in this task I failed. The final budget was just under 4x’s the original. Now, the movie we’ve got in the can is more than 4x’superior to the one that was originally intended, but I don’t know how much that counts for. In the end the new investment was put towards the computer and the reshoots. We continued to rent the camera, went back to Big Bear for three days, got the massacre and a bunch of new fx shots. We finished out production and I’m ok with making this movie.

Then something else happened…

Well, we did finish the movie. It has been released, and all involved are pretty happy with the results. There are those that believe that I was initially aware that the movie could not have been finished at the original budget, and pretty much lied in order to get the movie going. This is simply not true. I did think that the script I wrote could be made for 10k.  And I still say had certain things (most not under my control) not gone wrong that it could've been done. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Monsters in the Woods FLASHBACK: F*&@ and MPAA

Way back when, I wrote a series of posts regarding the pre/pro/and post-production of Monsters in the Woods. With the movie just now being released, I thought I'd repost some of the better ones.

So, there's been a concern amongst some of our production team about the overuse of the word "fuck" in Monsters in the Woods. That it will cause us problems with the MPAA.

I at first dismissed this as ridiculous. I even started counting fucks. Tonight me and my pal counted 65 give or take in the 1st half. (it was not fun). Double that for the 90-minute run time and you get 130. Which is well under acceptable MPPA R Rating standards.

Casino had 422
Summer of Sam 326
Born on the 4th of July 289
Pulp Fiction 252
Jarhead 251
Big Lebowski 281
*although we did beat out Glengarry Glen Ross which had only 138. Woah!

Shit you could straight double my estimate and still be under the top 3.

But it keeps coming up and then a producer brought up a more artistic concern, that the overuse of the word takes away its power when you do need it. Now this I can agree with. It’s a valid point. So I looked back over the cut with friend tonight and I have to admit, that yes, it is overused. The actors took what was in the script, which was a lot of “fucks” and added another 15%. If I had the whole production to do over, I’d have had a full time script supervisor and I’d have reigned in the improv a little more.

But I didn’t. There aren’t alternate takes and without cutting whole scenes or making really awkward cuts to existing scenes, there isn’t much that I can do about it now. And really when it comes down to it, I don’t have a problem with it. I personally use expletives that way myself, as do many people I know, and I enjoy hearing it onscreen. To me it feels authentic.

It definitely can be off-putting to some. But, it’s not to me. And I have to ask myself, even if I could, would I want to cut them down, would I want to neuter my movie, because of what some may find offensive? Because it might limit the movie commercially?

Wait a minute! One of the characters refers to another Hispanic character as a spic. Might the Hispanic community be offended? I better take that out too. Then there’s the whole Jesus action hero thing (That’s gotta offend someone). Then there’s characters committing adultery, nudity, monsters, blood, a character wearing white after Labor Day… Damn, who won’t be offended?

I made a micro-budget horror flick. It’s not a 4-quadrant Pixar movie. It’s a gritty, no holds barred splattery horror movie. That’s what I set out to make and that’s what it is.
So be it.
But, I am cutting the Michael Bay, Donald Duck stuff…
Sorry Lee, there are legalities to be considered.

post-mortem-one year later.
I still think my above argument is valid. However, I do think I probably over-did the profanity a bit. I recently watched the movie again with an audience and have to admit there were a few instances where I was a bit embarrassed by the overuse of the F@#! word. But it's not because of it's profane nature. It's simply because of the repetitive nature in which it's used.