What made you decide to become a filmmaker?
I've always wanted to tell stories and work in the arts, I guess. I wrote a couple of short screenplays and stories in college, but never thought much of it. After college, I moved to Austin, TX and worked in marketing for a while while I played in bands at night. Then my writing partner (and Stackton director) Sean Farina called me one day. He'd been working as an assistant on Lost and wanted me to come out so we could write some stuff and get things made.
What is your filmmaking background? (education, experience)
I am a total rank amateur, but a voracious consumer of film and a big film nerd. I went to college for philosophy and took one class on film while I was there. Throughout college, though, I would always seek out the good stuff of the film canon: The Big Sleep, Metropolis, Dr. Strangelove, The Manchurian Candidate, stuff like that. Part of that was rooming with Sean - his encyclopedic knowledge of film rubbed off on me and made me start seeking out things on my own. I think watching all those movies and many others helped me form a better idea of what worked and what didn't and why.
When the time came to make East Stackton, Sean and I surrounded ourselves with more experienced, knowledgeable people than ourselves. The whole idea behind the movie was to test our theories about filmmaking and learn the mechanics behind getting a film produced professionally. It was cheaper than film school, and we got a movie at the end!
What is your favorite movie of all time and why do you like it so much?
Oh, Jesus, don't make me pick just one! Right now, it's Blade Runner (the Director's Cut of course, not the one with the stupid voice-over and tacked-on happy ending). First off, the world-building is just stellar. There's a short text crawl at the top laying things out, but other than that, there's very little of the "as you know..." exposition-y writing that drives me up the wall. The world is shown rather than told for the most part.
Secondly, it's an ambitious, meditative piece of idea-driven science fiction, of the kind that never gets produced on that scale anymore. Smaller pictures like Timecrimes or Sound of my Voice might tackle heady themes on a smaller scale, but larger movies today can't resist the urge to throw in a ton of whiz-bang action, which would make telling a patient, noir-ish story like that impossible. Do you seriously think today's Hollywood would put those cool flying cars in a movie without having them engage in at least one chase scene?
Third, the villains are incredible. As savage and unreal as he is, who doesn't sympathize with Roy Batty and his desire for a life beyond the four years his creator's allotted him? We watch the replicants in the film engage in calculatedly brutal behavior, but the film never lets us completely lose sight of why they're acting the way they are. By the time Roy's final "tears in rain" monologue comes along at the end, you're positively rooting for him.
I could write you a book about all the allusions and themes in that movie, but it starts with those things: a world that feels lived-in, ideas worth considering and a tone that services them rather than the need for a stellar opening weekend, and, most of all, characters that feel like people and do things for believable reasons.
Give us the premise of your short - "East Stackton."
Carrol Whitfield is an empty suit working for the House and Home hardware store chain. His latest assignment is to check up on the company's latest branch, out in the tiny town of East Stackton. He knows the locals aren't big fans of city-folk, but they're acting even stranger than he expected. And what's this "dedication" coming up that everyone keeps talking about, and why do they keep acting like they don't want him to find out about it? As Carroll finds out the answers, he finds himself in the middle of a conspiracy to invoke and enslave an ancient evil and must escape the clutches of those who would use his sacrifice to their own nefarious ends.
How did you and your filmmaking partner meet?
Freshman year of college, Sean and I had a Psychology class together. One day, I saw him drawing Wolverine instead of listening to the lecture. This piqued my interest, and after class I told him that I had just found out about a comic shop that was walking distance from campus and was heading over there after class. That became a routine every Thursday after class, and we pretty soon figured out that we loved all the same nerdy stuff. Eventually we were hanging out in his dorm room most days, playing Zelda and drinking White Russians (we were very into The Big Lebowski at the time).
How did y'all get the idea for the story?
Right after I moved to LA, we wrote this feature-length buddy movie about some musicians, based on a short story I'd written in college. Character-driven writing like that is a huge slog, though, and when we were done we just wanted to write something fun. we were watching a LOT of Twilight Zone at the time, and started dreaming up short ideas. I don't really know which one of us came up with the basic idea, but we ran with it and wrote it in about four weeks, in between our day jobs.
What made you want to shoot it in and around Calcasieu Parish?
I'm from here! We wrote the movie to shoot down here, knowing we could get better locations and more background down here than in LA for the same price. This part of the process succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.
I read somewhere that your budget was around $50K. In what area was the bulk of the budget spent?
Paying and feeding our crew, and lighting the gigantic torchlit pagan ceremony that forms the climax of the film.
I see you ran a successful fundraising campaign on Kickstarter.com. What was that experience like and what have you learned from it?
It was good, but required a ton of work every day for the duration of each campaign. I recommend it to first-time filmmakers, but I don't ever want to have to do it again.
What would you say was the most difficult part of the production process while you were shooting in Louisiana?
Fitting everything we wanted to get into a 10-day shooting schedule, which was all we could afford. There were plenty of days when Sean had to turn eight shots into one, and do it on the fly. Luckily, we made our days and ended up with a film we could put together into our story.
Did you run into any problems in post that required any reshoots or story changes?
Nope. But we did during production. The scene on the porch originally took place n a local diner, but the diner we had as our location decided at the 11th hour that they didn't want us to shoot there because it would disrupt their lunch rush. On the way home from scouting another diner (which also wouldn't work, we decided), Sean rewrote the Diner scene to become the Porch scene, and it worked better than the Diner scene did.
How long did it take from the time you decided you were going to make this film until it was ready to screen to an audience?
About a year and a half, working part-time in between our day jobs.
If you could start over from day one of shooting, is there anything you would do differently?
Hell yes! I don't think there's ever been a production where everyone walked away totally satisfied with the experience. If it were up to me, I'd make a slightly smaller movie. Like I said, a big part of this exercise for Sean and I was to learn the ins and outs of production, including just how much movie a given amount of money would buy us. If we'd written something that took place in a house, or had a cast of four or five, we could have shaved off money and maybe afforded more than 10 days of shooting. Don't get me wrong - we ended up with a great movie. But we walked right up to the line of not being able to afford the movie we were trying to make without crossing it.
Overall, are you satisfied with the final product?
Hell yes! The movie's awesome, and I think it's going to do what we wanted it to do: get us some notice in the film world, and help us generate funds for a feature.
Is the final product what you originally envisioned? If no, what more did you want?
That's more of a director question, but for my part I think it was what we were looking for, minor quibbles aside.
I heard that you were planning some sequels to East Stacton. Are you? What can you tell us about them?
Yes we are. They'll be a few other shorts that will be packaged together with Stackton to form an anthology feature. that's all I can say.
Other than sequels, what's the next project you guys are going to tackle? Will it be shot in Lake Charles?
We've for four or five features in various stages of development, but I can't really talk about those yet, especially without you buying me a couple of beers first :)
What advice can you offer to a new filmmaker setting out to make their first film?
Scale your story to what's around, but don't cut corners. If you don't have a lot of money, write something that's short and takes place in one room. Once you've done that, though, hire experienced crew who will tell you what you need to spend money on to make the movie something you can build a career on. Spend that money, and if you don't have it, change your story until you've written something you can afford to shoot. Nothing stands out more than a movie that clearly couldn't afford adequate lighting, or a decent camera, or good on-set sound (and for Chrissakes, DON'T SKIMP ON SOUND).