The Limelight Index: Vincent Grashaw – Writer/Director

vincent-grashaw-directing

Vincent Grashaw is a filmmaker from LA who recently completed directing his successful debut feature film Coldwater. Here, we talk about how he got there, the film and his plans for the future.

When did you first become interested in filmmaking?

I started out in junior high, 1994. This was more or less the beginning of the impressionable years, where you’d absorb all of an artist’s work – for me this was movies. From 14 to 18, a lot of the movies I watched really had an effect on me even if they weren’t necessarily the best movies. I was young and used to ‘hack’ projects that’d I’d seen, using similar elements, pulling stuff from it for my own scripts. Sometimes you even do it subconsciously. So at some point you stop hacking films you love and start to come up with your own film aesthetics, style, and vision. So I suppose it was never a bad thing because I knew the creative wheels were turning and that film was something I really wanted to do. It was my schooling process since I never went to college. The movies I watched at that time molded the kinds I want to make and who I am as a filmmaker.

What kind of films do you like to watch?

I have so many different movies I like to watch, the ones I can watch over and over are completely different to my favourite movies. For example, I could watch What About Bob, The Witches, Stand By Me or The Big Lebowski over and over. These movies I connected within and they are comforting and humoring, however these are very different to what films I actually make.

Am I right in thinking your movies lend themselves to violence?

Yeah, I tend to gravitate towards the darker subjects in movies. I have a couple of movies to make that aren’t violent in the pipeline that I intend to make.  I’m not harnessing myself to just one genre.

Coldwater-Frame-3

What’s your opinion on directors who stick to one genre?

It depends on the director.  If a filmmaker only makes horror films then that’s their thing, I don’t have a problem with that at all. Filmmaking is such a personal thing that it has to be relevant to the filmmaker… it’s a huge release as an artist.

You acted in and produced in one of last years acclaimed indie movies ‘Bellflower’, how did you get involved with this?

Evan Glodlell, the director, is a good friend of mine and we used to make short films together. The film was a very long process; Evan had been working on the script for a while. We shot the movie in 2008 on a tiny budget. Initially, we weren’t sure how to proceed, but we had a little bit of money and just went for it.  We became obsessed with getting things done, at ALL costs. We did many things, most illegal to make that happen.  The only reason I was acting in it was because he couldn’t find anyone to play the role, and we’d acted in each other’s shorts, so I just did it.

Are your short films online anywhere?

Its funny, once Bellflower got into Sundance, we pretty much took all our stuff off the net. We used to make ridiculous stuff, it was outrageous and weird, and we didn’t want it out there! One day, some of it might be re-released, maybe through a compilation Dvd.

Coldwater-Frame-4

When did ‘Coldwater’ become a reality?

I had the project on my plate throughout my entire 20’s. I had a loose connection to a kid who was abducted one night, so this was where the idea originally came from. However, it wasn’t until several times trying to get the film made that it came through.  Trying to make the film was basically my film school; I’d meet lots of different types of producers, some who were absolute weasels, playing wannabes, and some who were just in over their head. It’s definitely better it wasn’t made back then because over 13 years I learned a lot more about the reality behind the movie as well, which lends to its credibility. All these elements combined drove the film into what it is today.

What is your take on crowdfunding for indie filmmakers?

I just produced a movie in September with the guys who I made Bellflower with. It’s a gritty, turf-war action movie; we crowdfunded this film using Indiegogo and raised about $180,000. We then partnered with a couple of production companies who funded the rest. So, crowdfunding was great for this movie because we obtained a following with Bellflower, so it was a great way to get things going.

Are there any other projects in the works for you?

I recently acquired a script for the next feature I will be directing, which is a psychological horror movie.  I’m very excited about this. We are currently aiming to shoot around spring/summer 2014.

Any release dates planned yet?

In some cases, in the indie world you don’t really know where your going to be until you do it. It’s not like the studio system where you can set dates years in advance. We’ll take the film to a festival and it will hopefully sell there, unless we presale the movie because of the actors I attach.

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What’s your favourite thing about filmmaking? 

All the drama and bullshit that coincides with filmmaking really has nothing to do with it. There’s a key relationship with everyone involved, it’s like being family. You come together for a period in your life and then it’s all over and you get a new family. Filmmaking is so much fun and, for me, actually a very peaceful experience. It’s a very collaborative art, even though at the end of the day the director has to make the ultimate decision. It is a very fun process, I mean why else would I be doing this? It’s not like we’re all getting fat and foolish from all the money we’re making!

Any advice for filmmakers starting out?  

There’s a lot of advice I could give, but I have a couple of main things. Always stay humble, there will be a lot of things you’re married to in your script, but things will evolve and you’ll have to accept changes. Being open to this process is very important; nothing will be exactly as you pictured it in your head. Basically I am saying that your project evolves into many forms throughout the process and instead of fighting it, embrace it and see what transpires.

Secondly, don’t look at the business as a competitive thing. It can appear so competitive on the surface, which is overwhelming.  Don’t let that affect anything because at the end of the day it’s just you and your film.  People will try and knock you down, tell you that you’re doing something wrong, or unconventional. Before everything took off for me, the month before Bellflower took off, I think we were all in the darkest phase because we were getting all of this negative energy and feedback from people we should’ve never been listening to in the first place. So find a group of people you can trust with your material for honest criticism. Potentially from other artists who are relevant to what you’re trying to say; no one knows your material better than you.

Check out the trailer for Coldwater below:

Visit the movies website.

The Limelight Index: Neil Oseman – Director/Cinematographer

Neil directing The Dark Side of the Earth

So, I came across this blog with this guy who’s made an entire feature film for only 26 grand and posted it online for us all to see, this guy is Neil Oseman. Neil is a British filmmaker battling through the world of independent moviemaking and sharing some truly insightful knowledge on the craft. Featured below is an interview I did with Neil to find out a bit more about him and his approach to making films.

When did you first get interested in filmmaking?

When I was a teenager I had a piece of software called Deluxe Paint that could do very crude animations. One day, one of them got put onto a video for some presentation in school. This got me interested, and I managed to borrow my Granddad’s camcorder and started putting live-action with the animation. The live-action gradually took over.

Which filmmakers/movies influence your work?

The two big influences on me when I was starting out were the Back to the Future films that I still absolutely love and Jurassic Park. I grew up in the age of VHS when cinema attendance was down so my parents never really took me to the cinema. So, going to see Jurassic Park at the cinema had a huge impact on me. I sought out The Making of Jurassic Park, which was the first time that I really had any understanding of how a film was made.

Are there any other books on the subject that stand out to you?

I think the Guerilla filmmaker’s handbooks are essential, I’ve definitely learnt a lot from these. However, they can get a little depressing in places because they constantly hammer home the reality of making films! Rebel Without a Crew by Robert Rodriguez is also highly influential. I just love to collect books on filmmaking, there’s plenty out there.

Ray Bullock Jnr in Soul Searcher

Can you tell us more about your feature film ‘Soul Searcher’?

Yeah. Well, firstly the whole thing is online at YouTube now, which is linked via my blog. There is also a making of featurette you can watch too and I recently put up a twenty-minute video that breaks down the finances, what everything was spent on and the various distribution deals.

The film originally started off as a short film that I made in 2000 when I was twenty. A couple of years later I developed this into a feature length script with a friend of mine. We tried approaching TV and film companies for funding, but we didn’t get anywhere. So in the end we just decided to make it on the absolute minimum. I’d had a good year and put two or three grand in, I managed to convince friends and relatives to help us out too and gradually we obtained enough money.

It was a six-week shoot in the autumn of 2003. It was also a night shoot so it was very cold and lots went wrong, which is all covered in the documentary. But, amazingly everyone who worked on it said that they had a really good time!

You must have had good spirit on set?

Yeah I think so. Morale is definitely important. When you work on a low-budget film you really don’t know if it’s going to be any good or not. So, anything you can do to keep people motivated, for example showing people the dailies or letting them see the monitor during the shoot. I cut a trailer halfway through the six weeks of shooting Soul Searcher that was a huge motivator for the crew.

Filming Soul Searcher

What has led you to specialising in cinematography?

Well I still direct, but I just end up doing more cinematography as it takes a lot less time to work this way than starting up your own project. I’ll be directing a short soon in Nottingham for a writer I work with, so I think after this I’ll decide on what the next step will be for me.

Have you got any big plans for the near future?

Earlier this year, I finished a short called Stop/Eject which is currently doing its film festival circuit. The guy who wrote this is currently working on a feature script that might be a future project. I also have a science fiction piece that was written for me this year, which would be quite a big-budget short. So, lots of different things to be working on!

What’s your approach to crowdfunding?  

I used it for Stop/Eject so I’ll probably use it again for future projects. It is difficult and it’s becoming hugely over saturated; you need to have something about your project to really make it stand out. A subject matter that has a strong interest group for example, documentaries tend to be more successful at the moment.

Oliver Park and Georgina Sherrington in Stop-Eject

What’s your favourite thing about filmmaking?

I just like creating stuff. It’s in my blood; I need to keep making stuff. I like to be able to take an audience into another world. Reality dramas interest me less as I’m very interested in sci-fi and fantasy elements of the imagination.

Any advice to filmmakers starting out?

It’s so easy now to just go out and make films. Everyone has access to a camera. So teach yourself, but also try and work on other people’s films. Then you’ll be forced to work to the standards they demand, which may raise your game when you go back to doing your own projects. Try and get involved as much as possible, even if it means making tea!

Watch Neil’s feature film below!


Visit Neil’s blog

 

Meeting The Blaine Brothers

The Blaine Brothers

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting The Blaine Brothers – a great British filmmaking duo. Incase your unaware, they have conjured up numerous award winning shorts and are currently cutting their debut feature, or rather art-house masterpiece, Nina Forever.

The pair showed me the ‘ropes’ and gave me great insight into the working life of an independent filmmaker. More than this though, I got to see the rushes of Nina Forever and watch the edit come together for a couple of days. I don’t want to give anything away, but from what I saw I will be rushing to the picture house for this one.

The primary reason for this blog post however is to share the answers to a few questions that I asked the Blaine’s alongside my own opinions. As we know there appear to be seamless questions to ask about the film industry and art of making films and a million different ways to answer them, though the Blaine’s have given me some very well-respected advice.

As I have recently established crbfilms in the hope of setting up my own production company I saw it worthwhile to ask the Blaine’s opinion. It’s always hard starting out, especially when funding is minimal, so keeping low overheads was mentioned as number one priority alongside finding a passionate partner to go into business with. Finding someone with a likewise mind to work alongside can be a wonderful thing and spur on creativity and motivational workflow. Myself, I am yet to discover the true potential of this, yet I do have a list of possible collaborators. So, if you’re sitting in the same position as me and reading this, get in touch!

Finding part time work in the field such as in a camera hire shop or postproduction house is a good way to meet like-minded people as well as earn money to put towards your first film. Or offering freelance services is a good way to craft your skills alongside earning money and meeting new people; both are ideas mentioned. Alongside this, the Blaine’s homed in on the fact that making actual friends is more important than establishing so called ‘contacts’. Friends are the people you’ll end up working with and who you can actually rely on to do anything forward moving etc. Likewise marketing yourself in the right way is also crucial, be friendly not overtly business-like. What I take from this is that at film festivals and other film friendly places, one should chat about filmmaking and cinema interests with fellows rather than throw a contact card in their face for example. After all, this is surely the best way to encourage a potential audience to interact with your work?

A prominent question entering a lot of young filmmakers minds is the importance of a theoretical background and academia versus the practical approach i.e. school versus self-learning (learning from mistakes), or at least this has certainly been at the forefront of my mind. What I learnt from The Blaine Brothers here is that film credits, who you’ve worked with and who you know is really what it comes down to, more so than any degree. However, unless it’s a prestigious school such as The National Film and Television School (NFTS) then this would be worth noting. It really appears that practical work ethic is make or break for a film entrepreneur; no new conclusion by any means.

Important skills for any director is to be able to successfully communicate with a crew on set as well as enforcing creative boundaries and authority in such a manor that everyone feels the same positivity towards the production. The Blaine’s thoroughly agreed with this statement adding that one should always be honest and respectful to crew members even in the most tender of situations. Rehearsals are very important, even on lower-budget productions where there commonly isn’t the same lengths of time for production, “Space to play” as Ben put it. It allows for actors to build confidence and just as importantly, allows crew members to set up their shots, design, direction etc.

Intention and meaning are two key purposes on every filmmakers mind on a day-to-day basis. Ben exclaimed that a film director should always have a meaning behind everything that happens on set and followed on from this an intention. Every shot, every cut, every movement – what’s the intention? This is definitely something to keep in mind and absolutely something I will work on myself, after all how can you create a film with meaning without understanding the intention; art (cinema) is built through meaning.

Online media is another fundamental area inflating around the industry, or rather taking over the industry; one only needs to look to Netflix to see evidence of this. Online media and social networking is “good for independent filmmakers” says the Blaine’s. Only if it’s used correctly however, pieces need to be quickly engaging and interesting, if so, people are far more likely to follow your tweets (posts) and in turn follow through to links of your work. This stuff is common sense right? But it seems so many people do otherwise. Engaging with your audience is also important, let people know you’re interested that they follow you.

Crowdfunding, another emerging area of importance for independent film, especially considering the celebrity status it’s gaining through campaigns like Veronica Mars and Zach Braff. There are two reigning sites for crowdfunding – Indiegogo and Kickstarter – though both have a very different method. “Kickstarter appears more successful,” says Ben as it has a “hit or miss factor” – unlike Indiegogo, Kickstarter won’t give the campaigner their funds unless the target goal set at the start of the campaign is fully reached. Advice for starting a campaign is that one should have a unique, original proposition and a significant audience already in place. Rather than just seem like another hopeful filmmaker proposing another film like the other 1000 film projects on Kickstarter, Chris says you should aim to “make a story from your pitch”, something innovative that will attract attention and envelop that desire in your audience to donate and see the picture come to life. Also, having money invested into your film from the get go makes it appear successful, so those first funds are all important to attracting more investors to your page. It’s a sticky business crowdfunding but one worth learning as The Blaine Brothers, like many others, have been successful in doing so. Ben and Chris were also both sure to point out that you should search through other innovative campaigns and network on the site supporting projects other than just film, “there are plenty of inspirational campaigns around.”

I asked the Blaine’s their opinion on short films versus the holy feature and when, if ever, a small time independent filmmaker like myself should tackle one. I received a look of slight perplexity; “write for a feature straight away” said Ben. This is an encouraging statement to hear, though I tried two years ago and gave up after 50 pages. Keep making and writing they reassured me. The key here of course is to keep what you write transferable to a low budget production; a task in itself, but a task certainly worth striving for.

Interestingly, Chris said that “shorts aren’t calling cards” and that filmmakers should “use them as a piece of art” to craft their skills and meet contacts to carry over onto a feature production. This statement, though contradictory to how many filmmakers pursue their endeavors, makes complete sense on a scale of success and diversity. How many filmmakers have broken into the industry from a single successful short film? Undoubtedly not more than who have a great feature at their disposal. Creating numerous short films for artistic purposes calls for great diversity in filmmaking technique, and thus is a great way to experiment and once more craft a filmmaker’s style. I believe this is what Chris was getting across to me. In terms of meeting contacts and crew members, short films are definitely a great place to start and I’m sure the more you make the more trust you’ll envelop within your crew to commit to a feature.

Finally, I was keen to know if there stood any particular online resources that The Blaine Brothers would concur useful. Shooting People and Creative Skillset Academy were the two prominent websites referred to. Links below:

Shooting People

Skillset Academy

Here is one of my favourite short films by The Blaine Brothers: Free Speech.

Check out the website for Nina Forever.

Oh and if you don’t follow Ben’s blog then get going because there is some great advice and seasoned opinion to plough through. Ben’s Blog.

Thank you Blaine Brothers.