The Limelight Index: Patrick Chapman – Artist/Director

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I recently caught up with Patrick Chapman, an artist turned filmmaker from Los Angeles. Patrick has recently completed his first feature film PHIN and is now working on his second feature ToY. We chatted about his inspirations and how he goes about the filmmaking process. Here is the interview:

Hi Patrick, when did you first get passionate about film?

I was in college doing an art major and found that I wasn’t learning much, so I was spending a lot money paying for something that didn’t seem worthwhile. I started watching a lot of movies with my friends, and the college had a pretty good film department, so things fell into place and I gradually switched over to that. I got really lucky, because I’d be painting houses right now if I got an art major, instead I get to make beautiful films.

Your background is in painting; does this influence your filmmaking?

Definitely. I like to make a lot of films about artists, similar to David Lynch’s stuff. It definitely helps with the cinematography and processes of that nature. You can both be a writer and be a good storyteller, or you can be a cinematographer and have a really interesting vision.

So you’d describe your style as prominently visual?

Yeah, I’m definitely an artist. But, of course, I do depend on other writers to help me build my story.

Am I right in saying, your new project is co-written?

Yeah. My twin brother helped me on my first one and now I’ve got Andrew Hanson helping me on my latest. I also have a bunch of other people who look it over. You always give out your scripts because it’s the best way to have a lot of feedback, especially in film. If your doing art, that’s one thing, but when you’re doing film or television you need a lot of feedback.

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Could you tell us a bit more about your latest project?

Yeah, my latest project is called ToY and it’s about an individual artist who’s just doing regular artwork and its not getting her anywhere. She searches for new models and comes across an online escort service, which interests her and she goes into interviewing escorts. She meets an escort in particular, an ageing 45 year old at the end of her career. The artist wants to make an art installation around this character, but ends up falling in love with the woman. It’s very Leaving Las Vegas; it’s two twisted souls learning about each other’s life, one gets ruined, and the other doesn’t.

Does your storytelling come from a personal background?

Yeah, I definitely twist that into my characters. For this next one, I don’t exactly have the experience of lesbian love in my background. But, thanks to people on the creative team, I have been put in the shoes of two women in love, which has been quite interesting. ToY’s COLLEGE and PRO have a unique mix of softness, tumultuousness and passion to their relationship, a raw vulnerable kind of love. Their love is fascinating and fresh to me.

Which filmmakers do you look up to?

I would say mostly David Lynch, his stuff is always great. The Coen Brothers are also great, but Stanley Kubrick is probably my favourite. He was a photographer at first, so he has a similar path to me, coming from the art angle. I find his work very visually stimulating and interesting, A Clockwork Orange and Full Metal Jacket are two good examples.

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Do you still have time for your painting?

Filming takes up most of my time, but I’ve been doing personal stuff for the past 3 or 4 years and editing for CBS. Painting comes on in-between each project. Everyone should have a good hobby, whether it be photography, painting, poetry, it’s nice to have something to look forward coming home too.

What’s your favourite thing about being a filmmaker?

I’d say shooting and directing. You work really hard to write the script, raise the money, casting, then actually being on set, when the lightings struck and calling action, this is the best part. It’s seeing the project come alive. Casting is actually fun though, you’ve written the script and now you get to see a load of different actors interpret it their own way. Directors should sit through as many castings as possible. You can write a character and say this is exactly what I want to say, but you’ll always get someone who goes 180.

Have you ever had an actor influence you that you go back and change the script?

Definitely. When we wrote PHIN he was meant to be this very melodramatic character, very serious, but then Eric Frentzel who actually came in and got the part, was all over the place. He had different accents for each character, so we ended up going with his idea. You should change stuff after you see actors do it; you want them to naturally be able to change the lines how they see fit.

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Any advice to filmmakers starting out?

I would say, technically, know as much stuff as you can. When it comes down to doing filmmaking on your own, being an editor, or a cinematographer, always helps. Your going to have to do a bit of everything at some point, it will also save you money. Home your skills into one area to start with. It’s always hard to come straight out of college being a director, but if you’re a really good editor or writer, and really focused in, you can actually make money coming out of college. No ones going to be like “Hey, I’m Speilberg”, no one can be like this right after college.

Do you find if you know more about different areas then you can pass on your vision more clearly?

Definitely, but you don’t have to read up on the latest technology, for example the new chip that’s in the red camera. But, knowing your lenses, and your lighting kits is great. So, when I talk to my DP we know what we’re talking about, he is also an editor so he can make good judgments on where to cut etc. You should always have a general feel for everything, but do find one thing to focus on through college and try and get paid at doing it.

Thanks Patrick, it’s been great talking to you.

There’s some really interesting stuff said by Patrick in this interview. I particularly like how he approaches filmmaking from a very visual aesthetic and therefore uses his background to an advantage. Finding a hobby that ties into what you do as a profession is surely an ideal phenomena for all of us. I specifically find photography a great hobby to practice, and as Patrick mentioned, greats like Kubrick have evolved from this background. Anyway, you can find Patrick’s intriguing new film project on the web at all of the following links:

Like ToY on Facebook: www.facebook.com/ToytheMovie
Check out ToY on Kickstarter: www.kickstarter.com/projects/166612916/toy
Follow ToY on Twitter: https://twitter.com/toythemovie
Visit the website: www.toythemovie.com

Thanks for taking part.

The Limelight Index: Michael Knowles – Actor/Writer/Director/Producer

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Above is filmmaker Michael Knowles best known for his film The Trouble with Bliss starring Michael C. Hall, Brie Larson and Peter Fonda. I got the chance to talk to Michael about how he got started with filmmaking, his vision as a filmmaker and ultimately why he loves making movies! It was an absolute pleasure and he gave lots of noteworthy expertise about the film industry and even some thought on life in general.

Hi Michael, when did you get into filmmaking and where does the passion stem from?

It started out for me as an actor. I did the senior play in my high school, Our Town, and absolutely loved it. I think it was the fact that everybody paid attention to me, when it was my turn to say my lines, everybody had to listen. It was an awesome feeling. From there, my passion gradually morphed into realizing I had the ability to express what was going on inside of me through characters; the character I was playing. I found this to be incredibly freeing and liberating, which, in turn, led to me writing. I enjoyed writing about what I was feeling and trying to get that out through the characters and story. This then led on to directing, it just all made sense.

So, it’s really about falling in love with telling stories?

Exactly, that is what ultimately came clear to me. However, it did take a while to realize what I was doing and why the hell I was doing it, but I finally realized that I just love sharing stories. It allowed me to express how I feel about things.

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Your films are very much about human relationships, are they personal to you?

Yes, my scripts are very personal and ultimately a lot about relationships. A lot about the relationship we have with ourselves. This is evident in my new film Old Friends/New Beginnings. It’s also about your relationship to a significant other, and then the relationship between you and society. So, my filmmaking is a lot about relationships and communication.

Could you tell me some more about your new film Old Friends/New Beginnings?

Yeah, so it’s coming along really well. I couldn’t be happier. We made this movie for very little money; it was shot on a micro-budget. I wrote the first draft of the script back in 2005 when I was studying screenwriting. My writing teacher always encouraged us to write about what we were afraid of and one of my biggest fears was about being lazy. So, I wrote about what it would be like if I become lazy, and this is the character I play in the movie: David. Because of his financial situation, David has lost his ambition and passion to create, which ends up affecting his marriage. His wife Julie, feeling undesired, invites an old friend and his new girlfriend to spend the weekend with her and David to hopefully stir things up but she never could have expected what happens over one long weekend.

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You worked with a small crew on this project. Do you feel that working in a small crew allows everyone to more clearly express the same vision?

Definitely. I really enjoy working with a small crew, which I did on my first movie, Room 314. The second movie, One Night, got a little bigger and the third, The Trouble With Bliss, even more so. But, with this movie I’ve gone back to the stripped down model, and I love it. You know where you are with everybody, there isn’t a chain of command where you have to wait five minutes to hear back from the person you need to actually get something done from. I love that intimate feeling on a small set, it’s cozy and warm and you feel as though everyone is really in it together. We’re all there for the same reason.

How do you manage all your roles; you work as a writer, director, producer, cinematographer and editor?

It’s hard work but I love having the knowledge in everything. It informs me on all the other aspects I do. So, editing has helped me to become a better writer, a more efficient writer, and directing has helped me to become a better actor and visa versa. It all feeds into one another and informs the storytelling process. It helps me to understand, just keep it simple.

Producing for me was something that was necessary to get things done – it just made sense. If I needed something done I could do it myself or try and convince somebody else to do it for me, it was easier to do it myself.

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Which filmmakers and films influence your work?

There are so many films out there, but I ultimately just love all movies and actors. Just watching great performances mostly inspires me; for example, Daniel Day Lewis I could watch all day and this motivates me as a storyteller. He makes me want to write better just so I could work with him one day. Woody Allen’s stuff is great and he is obviously a big influence. I find his work hilarious as well as dramatic.

As directors, I also love Sydney Pollack, Robert Altman. Their the kind of directors who work with ensemble type casts, who work on character driven pieces, I love those type of directors. For example, I love the fact that Steven Soderbergh can do so many different things.

Do you feel a director who tries out different genres is more masterful than a director who just hones in on one genre?

I don’t think about this too much, I don’t really care who is a master. I feel like Ang Lee is amazing that he can do so many different styles, but if you look at his stories there is still a similar theme. I love that he can tell the stories he is telling in all these different ways. I would find it to be a little bit boring if a director continued to do the same genre over and over. I don’t know how anyone would want to do that.

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Does anything inspire you outside of filmmaking; you’re also a martial artist?

Oh yeah this inspires me big time. It’s a huge influence. Martial arts is everything to me. First off, martial arts introduced me to meditation, which helps me tremendously to get focused and grounded, which ultimately helps me to see things clearly. Another important thing I learnt is about the exchange of energy that happens between people. Just like with characters in a movie. For example, the way that two characters wrestle, I apply this the same as when martial artists freestyle, it’s the same as signing a contract, it is ultimately about dominance and submission. We see this in real life all the time. Martial arts have helped me to see this clearly and have no doubt been a big influence on how I see the world.

What marital art is it you practice?

It’s called Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan, it’s a traditional Korean karate.

Is it similar to Hapkido and Taekwondo?

There are things in those martial arts that have similar moves to Soo Bahk Do. But, just to be clear, why I do martial arts is to find inner peace. This is why I want to tell stores, I want to help more people find inner peace.

And this is your vision as a director?

Absolutely one hundred percent. I want people to feel something and know that there are other people who feel the same thing, which gives a bit of peace knowing they are not alone. If you watch my movies, you will see that I try to remove all judgment, I don’t try and say what is right or wrong, or who is good or bad. I’m trying to tell stories and trying to help people understand that we are all doing what were doing because it is ultimately what we thinks best. I don’t judge any of my characters.

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Do you have any advice for young filmmakers starting out in the industry?

The things that I’m reminded of all the time, is to keep trusting myself. So, I would say to anyone who is up and coming to just keep trusting that gut feeling you have. No matter what anyone says to you, if your gut is telling you to go left, then go left. Even if at that time it seems wrong, just go with your gut feeling and see where it takes you. This is the biggest thing I’ve learned.

Also, for the most part, no one is going to do it for you, you’ll have to do everything for yourself. You are your biggest cheerleader, don’t wait for other people. However, if someone comes along and helps you, fantastic, thank them and thank them again. But, you will eventually have to keep pushing in and doing a lot of stuff that other people don’t want to do until your famous, and then everyone will be your best friend!

So, ultimately it’s a case of just getting out there and doing it?

Yeah, just start making movies. Don’t wait.

It’s been great talking to you, thanks Michael.

My pleasure!

Support the Kickstarter campaign here.

Find the film on Facebook.

Michael’s Website.

The Limelight Index: Jim Ojala – Writer/Director/FX Artist

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After searching around for interesting projects on Kickstarter, I recently came across Jim Ojala who is making his debut feature film, Strange Nature, behind the director’s wheel. However, he has vast credits of work in the industry and it was an absolute pleasure to catch up with him about his filmmaking career, special effects, the industry and the state of crowdfunding.

When did you first get interested in filmmaking?

I’ve been a fan of movies since I was a child. I was kind of a loner kid, so film acted as an outlet for me. After graduating from high school, I started experimenting with cameras and took a course at the local public access station. Once I realized that you could put whatever you create uncensored on the air, my friends and I start developing a show. That show was called My Three Scums, a horror/comedy about a family of misfits and monsters that try to get by in (and get back at) society. Sort of Munsters on crack!  Seeing the reaction (both very good and very bad) from the public told me that this is what I need to do. Episodes played in a couple different festivals also. When a film of yours plays for an audience of strangers and they love it… there’s no better feeling in the world. That show got me a crack at working with Troma, which launched my career.

Who are your influences in the industry?

Taxi Driver is my all time favorite film, so early Scorsese is a pretty big influence. Kubrick of course. Some of the lesser known influences are directors like Lloyd Kaufman, which is why working with him on Citizen Toxie was such a mind blowing deal for me at the time. Buddy Giovinazzo is another one. His gritty film, Combat Shock still blows my mind and somehow that guy still has not received his due. Someone who I just discovered over the last few years is Alejandro Jodorowsky. His films are so unique, beautiful and disturbing all at the same time. I really love how his films can be shocking without being mean spirited… in fact they are uplifting. I’m also a really big fan of Romero’s earlier films. Martin is such an honest, scary and heart breaking film, it’s such a shame more people haven’t seen it.

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What attracted you about specializing in FX make-up?

I had already done some experimenting with makeup FX as a kid and on My Three Scums. Every horror movie kid in the 80’s/90’s had either a book or VHS of Tom Savini’s horror FX makeup. On my second day interning for Troma on Citizen Toxie they said there was an opening in the Makeup FX dept. I jumped at the chance! Tim Considine of Direct FX took me under his wing and taught me the basics and I eagerly picked it up quickly and worked my ass off, many times averaging 20 hour work days. By the end of the film, Tim offered me a full time assisting position. I loved working on practical makeup/creature FX, so I thought that would be a great niche to be in while I pursued my filmmaking career.

You got to work with experimental film director Mike Kuchar. Did this open you up to new ways of thinking about the medium?

Mike was awesome. He was teaching at Millennium Film Workshop in Manhattan where I took a course. Mike actually taught me how to shoot on 16mm film. Mike didn’t seem to have any interest in the business side of it… he and his brother are pure filmmakers making films simply because they love to. He reminded me that it’s okay to film something simply because you find it interesting.

What made you finally decide on the move to Hollywood in 2001?

I had a really good run in New York getting to work on Saturday Night Live, Broadway shows and even with horror film auteur Larry Fessenden on his film Wendigo. However, after 9/11, everything stopped. I couldn’t even get a temporary job. It was a really bad scene. I had run out of money and was getting desperate. My girlfriend and I decided to visit friends in Los Angeles for a week and see what it was like. Lloyd Kaufman referred me to Rob Hall at Almost Human FX. I visited them while in LA and Rob had just got the TV show, Angel, he hired me on the spot. I stayed and worked whilst my girlfriend went back to New York to pack up our life there and move out to LA.

You set up your film production company Ojala films in 2005, what is your direction for the business?

My direction is to keep it half film production and half makeup/creature FX with a digital FX person as well.  I’ve directed several shorts and music videos and now it’s time for my first feature, Strange Nature. The film will hopefully lead to more features, which we will create all the FX for in-house.

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Your debut feature film Strange Nature is currently in production. Tell us more about this project.

In 1995 news of deformed frog outbreaks started being reported in my home state of Minnesota. The deformities were hideous; extra misshapen limbs, missing limbs, misplaced eyes, etc. It was something in the water but no definite cause was found.

When it came time to make my first feature film I looked into those cases again as it is a great catalyst for a story. I was shocked to find that to this day the deformities are still being found with no definite cause yet. In fact the deformities have spread across the country. This year a research team found a population of frogs in Oregon 100% deformed… a first.

When I discovered no one has made a film about this phenomenon I knew I needed to. Strange Nature is an Eco Thriller that shows the dangerous places this may lead. All of this is seen through the eyes of a single mother and her 11-year-old son. I also knew I needed to bring my FX talents to the table to help the project stand out. That way I’m not just another guy with a script.

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The film is currently raising funds on Kickstarter, was this always the intended route for funding?

No, but a bigger film studio won’t touch a project like this. In fact if you aren’t making a film that is a sequel, remake or based on some type of existing franchise you are probably not going to be financed anywhere. It’s pretty sad really, filmmakers are actually discouraged today from original material. I’ve had interest from independent producers to shoot the film in Louisiana and even Bulgaria for the tax breaks/cheap labor, but I’m sticking to my gun that the film is a Minnesota story and that’s where it needs to be shot. Crowdfunding is a way that will allow me to keep complete creative control of the project.

What is your opinion on the recent surge of celebrities using the independent crowdfunding platform?

Honestly, I think it will be part of the downfall of crowdfunding. Little guys like me kill ourselves to get any kind of media attention while celebrities can simply announce their project and they instantly get the front page of every entertainment site and are pretty much guaranteed to make their goal regardless of how big it is. Indie filmmakers simply cannot compete with that, so we have to take to social networking to get our word out and it’s becoming saturated.

The unfortunate fact is that most people are just not interested in your project unless there’s an A-list celebrity attached. I believe within 2 years tops, crowdfunding will change dramatically. My prediction is that film studios will start using crowdfunding to get their films made. Why risk their money if they can just charge the fans to pay for it? That way they win twice.

You recently got a chance to do special effects on Pacific Rim, what exactly did your role entail?

I was working for Legacy FX Studio. I mainly worked on molding the robot suits and running their parts. I also worked on Thor and The Watch at Legacy.

Any big dates planned for Strange Nature, or any other projects we should know about?

The Strange Nature Kickstarter campaign ends on October 10th, 2013. We have 30 hours to go and we are 74% funded! Please take a look at the campaign here and consider pledging. Rewards range from your name in the credits to actually getting one of the deformed animal puppets from the film.

There’s also a very cool horror/comedy themed TV show that I’m directing a pilot for and will be shopping around in January. Unfortunately, I can’t talk more about that, but when I can you’ll be the first to know.

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Any parting advice for young filmmakers out there?

Independent film investors have dried up. Don’t wait. If you have a good unique project and you have a solid social network then try getting your film crowdfunded. However, if you don’t have any big celebrities you should try to keep your goal as close to $10,000 as possible. Very few ever make it above that. If you’re just starting out wanting to get in the film industry I highly suggest interning on a film. You’ll make valuable contacts and if you work hard and learn fast then those contacts will come in handy very soon.

Thanks Jim and good luck with the campaign! 

Link to Jim’s Kickstarter campaign here.

Find Strange Nature on Facebook and Twitter.

Visit http://www.strangenaturemovie.com for even more info.
I think it’s really interesting what Jim mentioned about the Kuchar brothers telling him that it’s okay to film something just because you find it interesting. I think, this is the notion that you should make art to be happy with it yourself, don’t worry if others don’t buy into it. Also, shoot lots of stuff, don’t limit yourself to specific shooting schedules. This is the documentary approach I guess, but can nevertheless always be entwined into narratives.

Also, the opinion that studios will dominate the crowdfunding platforms is becoming more widely acknowledged. It’s a scary thought what Jim picks up on, but I have hope that it may swing the other way and bring more people to the limelight of independent filmmakers. Surely, more traffic can be good traffic? Lets hope so.

Jim has obviously worked hard to get to where he’s got, so give him a couple of dollars towards this invigorating project. It’s only a bit of pocket change!

Wish I Was Here

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I’m sure many of you are familiar with Zach Braff’s recent kickstarter campaign for his new movie Wish I Was Here. The campaign raised over 3 million dollars in the space of 30 days with over 46,000 individual backers. Definitely impressive figures. I backed the campiagn having been a big fan of Zach in Scrubs and his first movie Garden State, it was also a no-brainer to support considering the generous perks involved – including updates from Zach’s personal production diary on the website – Wish I Was Here Movie – for just a fiver.

However, like with all these miraculous things, there are the ‘haters’ – those who view Zach as a rich star ‘milking’ the general public for their pennies (a long and jubious debate). What I want to ask is has this campaign among others (Veronica Mars, Spike Lee) changed the face of independent crowdfunding? Have people like Zach promoted the platform and encouraged the public to flock in waves of generosity or have they furtively caused people to look away with advocated disgust? I’ve got a mixed mind state over this one, but if people want to give to the rich and famous then so be it, let’s just hope the causes stay true and desirable.

For filmmakers like us however, I can’t help but get excited about the Kickstarter revolution. It seems possible that Zach’s lovely 46,000 backers could scroll down a couple of pages and find a cosy little independent film they’d like to back. Lets be positive about this one!

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