Cirina Catania, Founder and Lead Creative, The Catania Group
Bruce Logan, Director of Photography, Bruce Logan Film
William Boodell, Editor, BoodellArts
Yvonne Russo, Producer/Director
Nancy Schreiber, ASC
James DeRuvo, Film and Technology Reporter, DoddleNEWS
Larry Jordan: Tonight on The Buzz we look at what makes a film and a filmmaker successful. We’ll talk with five successful filmmakers about their process, their mistakes, what they’ve learned and their ideas don what it takes to create a successful film.
Larry Jordan: We start with Cirina Catania, award winning producer and director with multiple network credits who sets the scene by defining the filmmaking process.
Larry Jordan: Bruce Logan, special effects wizard and filmmaker, explains how he selects a book to turn into a film, and how to determine if a film will appeal to an audience.
Larry Jordan: Director, editor William Boodell looks at the role editing plays in creating a successful film, and whether film festivals are still useful for filmmakers.
Larry Jordan: Yvonne Russo is a producer director, currently balancing a number of active film projects. Tonight, we talk with her about the process of producing multiple projects and where financing fits into the picture.
Larry Jordan: Nancy Schreiber is a legendary director of photography and member of ASC. She’s worked on more than 130 film and television sets, and shares her thoughts on common mistakes filmmakers make, and what it takes to run a productive set.
Larry Jordan: All this, plus James DeRuvo with our weekly DoddleNEWS update. The Buzz starts now.
Announcer: Since the dawn of digital filmmaking – authoritative – one show serves a worldwide network of media professionals – current – uniting industry experts – production – filmmakers – post production – and content creators around the planet – distribution. From the media capital of the world in Los Angeles, California, the Digital Production Buzz goes live now.
Larry Jordan: Welcome to the Digital Production Buzz, the world’s longest running podcast for the creative content industry, covering media production, post production and marketing around the world.
Larry Jordan: Hi, my name is Larry Jordan. This week, Apple announced that all the apps in Final Cut Studio 3 or earlier will not be supported in the next version of the Mac OS, called High Sierra. This includes Final Cut 7, Soundtrack Pro and DVD Studio Pro. I’ll have more on this later, but I want to recommend that if you are using these applications now, do not upgrade to High Sierra, nor purchase a new computer system until you have planned to migrate away from Final Cut 7.
Larry Jordan: IBC is getting closer. It’s now about three weeks away. We’re planning a series of shows before, during and after the event to highlight key announcements relevant to filmmakers and our industry. We’ve also partnered with Pro Movie Maker magazine in the UK to provide onsite coverage. I’ll have more on what we’re doing later this month.
Larry Jordan: By the way, I want to invite you to subscribe to our free weekly show newsletter at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Every issue provides quick links to the different segments on the show, plus articles of interest to filmmakers, and best of all, it’s free and released every Saturday. We’re redesigning our weekly newsletter to make it more visual, easier to listen to both shows and interviews as well as include relevant articles for filmmakers. We are always interested in your comments on what we can do to improve it.
Larry Jordan: Now it’s time for a DoddleNEWS update with James DeRuvo. Hello James.
James DeRuvo: Hi Larry, how are you?
Larry Jordan: There we go. Had to have the right volume thingy turned up. What you got?
James DeRuvo: Remember we were talking about the Nikon D850 last week?
Larry Jordan: Yes, they somehow managed to leak their own specs early if I remember?
James DeRuvo: Yes, and they made it official yesterday. All the leaked specs that were outlined in that slide show were confirmed including a 45.7 megapixel CMOS sensor. Man, that thing is huge. An expanded image buffer that can grab 51 RAW images before it writes to the card. It’ll shoot in 4K, 8 bit, 4:2:2 by an external HDMI mount, and it’s got this cool silent shooting feature which basically converts your D850 into a mirrorless camera, which I think is really interesting.
Larry Jordan: So James, you like cameras. What are your thoughts?
James DeRuvo: Well I agree with Jared Polin of Fro Knows Photo, and he says this camera is stacked with features. When it comes to shooting weddings, sport, corporate video, Nikon may have just announced the best all around DSLR for the money. Its only shortcoming may be Nikon’s apparent inability to improve on their autofocus. Much like Canon did with dual pixel autofocus.
Larry Jordan: OK, that’s the Nikon DH850, what’s next?
James DeRuvo: Well, if you bought one of those DJI selfie drones, the Spark, you’d better upgrade its firmware before September 1st, because if you don’t, DJI is basically going to remote kill it so it won’t fly. The firmware update improves the efficiency of the drone’s battery system to maximize its 15 minute flight envelope, and if you don’t upgrade, you’re not going to be able to fly the drone at all. That raises some serious privacy issues because if they can remotely kill your drone, that’s kind of weird.
Larry Jordan: Well it sounds like DJI’s ability to remotely kill a device is a two edged sword. It’s nice that you can take something dangerous out of the sky, but as you said, there’s privacy issues.
James DeRuvo: Yes, when DJI announced the Spark selfie drone, it was an instant hit, I mean you could control it with hand gestures, you could fly it ten feet away. You didn’t need a controller, it was a great idea for someone just learning how to fly a drone. But issues popped up almost immediately, either due to operator error because of the short flight envelope, or there was something wrong with the propeller management system, because the flight envelope was 20 to 25 percent shorter than they rated it to be, so instead of 15 minutes, it was down to ten to 12 minutes, and DJI decided to create a firmware update to close that gap and to get it back up to a 15 minute flight time. And you have to update it by September 1st or you won’t be able to fly it. If they can remote kill a device, what else can they do remotely using your own drone? That’s quite scary.
Larry Jordan: So that’s DJI, what else do we have?
James DeRuvo: Rode announced the winners of the My Rode Reel 2017 short film contest this week. Submissions were up over 24 percent with over 1500 films in competition. How would you like to be the judge having to watch 1500 films? The winners received a massive prize package that included a Blackmagic Ursa 4k camera, a Freefly MoVI Pro handheld bundle, an Atomos Shogun external monitor recorder, and every single Rode microphone they have in their catalog. Can you imagine, you win and you get like 20 different microphones. It’s hysterical. All told, over half a million dollars in prizes, and it’s going to get bigger next year.
Larry Jordan: Well James, you missed the best part of this story. Who won?
James DeRuvo: There were over 28 winners in major categories of genre, technical and regional. And Bea Macapagal was the winner of the Judges Award. She won for best female director in 2016, so Rode’s still making categories, they’ve expanded them, and that’s starting to pay dividends. This year they added a Young Filmmaker category as well as a new vlogging category and a travel vlogging category as well as commercials, so there’s no time like the present to start thinking about what you want to do for 2018.
Larry Jordan: Well that’s cool. What else are we working on for the stories for this week?
James DeRuvo: Other stories we’re following include my review of the Moment lenses for the iPhone, and an android, beautiful mobile filmmaking lenses. They’re just incredibly well built, they’re really nice. Mistika Insight is a new kind of video editor, and AMC isn’t taking MoviePass’s new pricing structure very well. In fact, they’re now banning all MoviePass holders from using their membership. It’s going to get ugly.
Larry Jordan: For people that want more information, where can they go on the web?
James DeRuvo: All these stories can be found at doddlenews.com.
Larry Jordan: James DeRuvo is the senior writer for DoddleNEWS and joins us every week with the latest news update. James, thanks for joining us today.
James DeRuvo: Have a good weekend Larry.
Larry Jordan: You too, take care, bye bye.
Larry Jordan: Here’s another website I want to introduce you to. Doddlenews.com. DoddleNEWS gives you a portal into the broadcast, video and film industries. It’s a leading online resource, presenting news, reviews and products for the film and video industry. DoddleNEWS also offers a resource guide and crew management platforms specifically designed for production. These digital call sheets, along with their app, directory and premium listings, provide in depth organizational tools for busy production professionals. DoddleNEWS is a part of the Thalo Arts Community, a worldwide community of artists, filmmakers and storytellers. From photography to filmmaking, performing arts to fine arts, and everything in between, Thalo is filled with resources you need to succeed. Whether you want the latest industry news, need to network with other creative professionals or require state of the art online tools to manage your next project, there’s only one place to go. Doddlenews.com.
Larry Jordan: Cirina Catania is a successful writer, director, journalist, tech evangelist and filmmaker. She also produced the Buzz for almost nine years, which makes it really nice for me to say hello Cirina, welcome back.
Cirina Catania: Hi, it’s so nice to hear your voice.
Larry Jordan: It’s wonderful to hear yours as well. Cirina, this week we’re looking at what it takes to create a successful film. What are your thoughts?
Cirina Catania: Well I think one of the first things you have to do is figure out what is success to you. Is it commercial and financial? Do you want to provide for your future, and that of your family? Or is it more important to have an artistic legacy or do you want to save the world with an important message? I think those are questions we have to ask ourselves.
Larry Jordan: Is there a right answer?
Cirina Catania: No, there’s never a right answer. The only right answer is the one that feels good to you, and don’t let anybody else tell you what that answer should be. As an independent.
Larry Jordan: We have a really good conversation with Yvonne Russo coming up shortly, and she spends a lot of time talking about producing because I recorded it earlier this morning. From your perspective, which is the bigger challenge, finding the right script, finding financing or something else?
Cirina Catania: Well I think it’s got to always start with the story, it’s got to start with the premise of the film, start with a story and then from there, figure out how you’re going to get it made. Are you being hired to work for someone else, or is this going to be an independent feature and you want to find financing for it? Depending on where your audience will be, based on that story, where do you go? Yvonne is an awesome producer. She and I have worked together many times in the past, so I’m sure she’ll have a lot of good things to say about that.
Larry Jordan: Before we get into more nuts and bolts, how would you define the filmmaking process? Is it production or more than that?
Cirina Catania: It’s much more than that. I think if you’re talking about, for example, a director. If you want to be a good director, you have to be educated about the world around you. You have to travel the world, you can’t make good films in a bubble. You can’t understand human nature in a bubble, and no matter what you’re doing, you’re telling a story about either the world as the person in your film, or the people in your film. So get out in the world and learn about things and then you’ll be able to tell a better story. Once that’s done, then you have to start about the physical production. You have to make sure that all your little Indians and all your little workers, and all your bosses and everything’s all lined up.
Larry Jordan: Where does gear fit into the whole process?
Cirina Catania: I thought about Indians because Yvonne is native American and she was the boss, and she had us all lined up.
Larry Jordan: Where does gear fit into creating a successful film? Are we paying too much attention to our hardware?
Cirina Catania: Yes, I think we are. But I think a lot of people are realizing that we’ve been doing that. Everybody wants to go out with their shopping cart and buy as much as they possibly can. But don’t go broke buying stuff. You can make a great film on an iPhone if you’re doing it for the web. On the other hand, if you’re making a professional documentary that’s going to be seen on a big screen, you need different equipment. I was shooting one of my very favorite scenes with the Blackmagic Cinema, the 4.6 and it has this gorgeous $13,000 Zeiss, the T2.9 CZ lens, and it’s just so beautiful. Of all of the shots in that particular documentary, it’s my favorite because in that instance, the equipment helped me tell the story because at that moment I wanted to zoom in on that scene where the athlete was on the track looking down and very slowly looks right up at you and becomes the wolf. That was very necessary. I could not have shot that particular scene using anything but that particular lens, in my mind, creatively.
Cirina Catania: On the other hand, I just shot a corporate video for a client and I used a little Osmo DJI because they wanted to shoot moving shots with a gimbal in tight spaces, and we didn’t have space for a big camera, and I had also shot some interviews with the Blackmagic Cinema and some of the Sony equipment. But they actually ended up using a lot of the Osmo shots in the final film, and it looked great. That’s just a very inexpensive little camera.
Larry Jordan: Later tonight we’re going to talk with Bruce Logan who’s a filmmaker as well for his advice for older filmmakers. So what I want to ask you is for advice for someone who’s creating their first serious film, where there’s money and reputations on the line. What do you recommend?
Cirina Catania: Well I think for any young filmmaker starting out, and I feel very lucky because everyone needs a mentor and over the years I’ve been lucky to have worked either near or with people like Sydney Pollack and Robert Redford and Peter Hyams and Billy Friedkin but my favorite mentor of all, and best friend at the time, was John Milius who taught me so much about the way he thought about writing scripts. He’s an amazing writer and one of the things he and I agreed on was he didn’t believe in always following what the Hollywood spies tell you is necessary for script structure. It was instinctive to him. Get a story he wanted to tell and the characters started speaking to him and somehow the structure fell into place, but he didn’t let it drive him. He was driving. He was sailing the ship.
Cirina Catania: The other thing is, I tell young people that it’s amazing what can be accomplished if you’re willing to share the credit. And another thing is, don’t jump into the deep end of the pool until you’re sure of two things. Number one, make sure there’s no sharks in the water, there’s a lot of them in our business. Number two, make sure you can swim to the other side on your own, that you’re prepared, and Yvonne I’m sure will talk about this, that you have the foundation of the knowledge of how to make a film. Don’t over reach. Don’t, and never ever say you can do something that you can’t and put yourself on a crew when they’re depending on you.
Larry Jordan: I’m already taking notes and my pen is running out of ink. Cirina, for people that need more information where can they go on the web to keep track of you and your projects?
Cirina Catania: Go to thecataniagroup.com.
Larry Jordan: All one word, thecataniagroup.com, and Cirina Catania is the founder and lead creator for The Catania Group. Cirina, as always, it’s wonderful. Take care of yourself.
Larry Jordan: The last time we talked with Bruce Logan, he was describing how he created some of the most iconic special effects in film history such as the explosion of the Death Star in Star Wars, but Bruce is also an independent filmmaker which is what we want to focus on tonight. Hello Bruce, welcome back.
Bruce Logan: Hi, thanks for having me back.
Larry Jordan: Bruce, there is so much competition today with audiences fragmented in all directions. What does it take to be a successful independent filmmaker in today’s environment?
Bruce Logan: I think you have to make projects that follow your passion because if you try and gain the market, you’re always doing something that’s going to compromise the project. So for me, it’s get something that really speaks to you and that you’re passionate about, and do your very best with it.
Larry Jordan: So should we do what we believe in? Or should we do what we think the audience is going to watch?
Bruce Logan: Well that’s the age old question isn’t it? I think that we do something that we want to do, but you don’t want to get so outrageous that you don’t think you’re going to find an audience for it. Perhaps you find something passionate that you’re interested in, that you think will do that, but don’t just go for the audience, I don’t think that works.
Larry Jordan: The trick is to find something that you care about because it’s so much work to put a film together, that if your heart isn’t in it, it’s just an uphill labor of just work.
Bruce Logan: Yes, if you run out of steam when you’re making your own film, it’s the kiss of death, so you have to find that passion in the project and move forward and that will carry you through to the end of it.
Larry Jordan: Audiences are a fickle lot. A few decades ago they wanted westerns and then recently they wanted fun musicals, next they want action films and cartoon characters. How do you figure out what the audience is looking for right now?
Bruce Logan: I think you’ve got to be a student of the craft. I think you have to watch a lot of movies, you have to read your trades, and you have to follow the trends. And I don’t always agree with the trends. Things go in waves. Right now we have comic book movies, we have action movies, and we have dramas.
Larry Jordan: But most of all we have sequels. There’s not a lot of risk taking going on right now.
Bruce Logan: This is absolutely true, and somebody once told me that if you’re not making it from a known literary property, or it’s a sequel, then we’re just not interest in the project. That is very disheartening.
Larry Jordan: I was just thinking, the more well known the book, the harder it is to turn into a film. For me, ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is a textbook example of this, because everybody has in their imagination, what every one of those characters look like and behaved and did. If we’re supposed to create films out of popular books, how difficult is it to make a movie out of a book because it seems like we’re fighting all those mental images of what we have of those book characters?
Bruce Logan: I think the hardest thing about adapting a book to become a movie is the fact that in a book we can hear what the characters are thinking, and that’s something we can’t do in a motion picture script. In fact, if you have a character telling you how they’re really feeling, that’s really death as far as an independent script goes.
Larry Jordan: How do you read a book and know that it’s going to translate to the big screen?
Bruce Logan: I think that’s a really hard thing to do. The structure that you’re looking for for a screenplay is a very definite fixed pattern and you’re looking to see whether that book is going to fit into a motion picture template. That sounds very restricting in a way, but just those fixed things about a screenplay that you have to do, you have ultimate freedom within that screenplay to do whatever you want. So in other words, you’re going to read the book and try and find a template that’s going to work for a screenplay, and then you’re going to see if the book fits into it. I think also great characters are what you’re looking for in a book because they completely translate into the motion picture script.
Larry Jordan: You’re looking first at the characters, and second at the dialog and then worry about the plot and structure third?
Bruce Logan: No, I would say you’re looking at the plot and structure first, then you’re looking at the characters and then you’re looking at the dialog.
Larry Jordan: How do you extract the pertinent points of a book so that the movie will flow in terms of the storyline?
Bruce Logan: What you find there is that there’s so much information in a book that you’re really looking to distill it down into just the very key information that’s going to make a scene work. Because a screenplay is only 105 pages, and because it’s spaced and formatted in a certain way, and because when you write it out it’s a minute a page, that distillation process is extremely complicated, but what you find when you’re doing it is that it’s so hard to get the story to flow, that those parts of the book become apparent and you can’t do everything that’s in the book, but you can use that flow of the storyline and the characters and the dialog to make that work.
Larry Jordan: It’s a challenge of getting rid of everything and keeping the essence?
Bruce Logan: It is, it’s a bit like the post production process for me where I’ve got all this footage and you join it all together the way it is, and then you take away all the parts that aren’t necessary. The further you distill it down and you take those parts away, the better it becomes.
Larry Jordan: Let’s shift gears. We now have an incredibly brilliant script and we think that the audience is going to like it, so now we’re getting ready to go into production and technology today is running amok with new cameras and recording devices and other gear appearing faster than we can pay for the old stuff. How important is it to have the latest gear and how much should we obsess about technology?
Bruce Logan: I think, very little. I guess that’s easy for me to say being somebody that’s come from technology, but if I can forget that I have a camera on the shoot, that’s the best place to be. For me, what’s much more important is the glass that I’m going to shoot the movie through.
Larry Jordan: The lens.
Bruce Logan: The lenses. I’m much more interested in glass and what the glass does than what the cameras do, and there are so many cameras. There’s a new camera every month, and they’re all good enough. To me, it’s to get the camera that’s going to be the easiest ergonomically for you to make the movie, and just try and forget it’s there.
Larry Jordan: Does the glass really make that much of a difference?
Bruce Logan: The glass makes a huge difference I think because all sensors are the same, they’re getting better and better and sharper, and film stocks used to have their own characteristics. With a 4K chip and with the ability to color correct it, and do all the manipulation that you can in post, really the only thing that can make a difference to you in the filmmaking process is the lenses.
Larry Jordan: We now have our film complete, it’s an incredible story of course, and now we want to tell the world that it exists. How important are film festivals?
Bruce Logan: I think film festivals are a double edged sword. There are a lot of people make genre movies that say you should avoid film festivals because you’re just exposing your picture and really there is a value in nobody having seen your film before when you’re going to sell it. But if you’re making a non-genre picture, and something that is going to improve with word of mouth, then I think going to a film festival’s very important, and I think it’s an incredibly good route for independent filmmakers to bring their product to market.
Larry Jordan: Does it cost a lot of money to promote a film at a film festival?
Bruce Logan: You know, I’m just trying to assess that myself. I’ve made this beautiful little picture over the last six months called ‘Lost Fare,’ and I’m just about to take that to film festivals, and so I’m evaluating at the moment what the value of doing online promotion, of getting people interested in it, or just taking it as a completely fresh entity and presenting it at a film festival. I think I’m going the latter route. We don’t have a website for our movie. We have IMDb because people have worked on it, but we’re not going to do any advance publicity on the movie, we’re just going to present the movie, and hope it finds its audience.
Larry Jordan: We’ll check with you after you get this thing launched and see how well that piece of advice works.
Bruce Logan: OK.
Larry Jordan: I just have a couple more questions before we wrap up. I don’t know anyone who intentionally makes a bad movie. But what should we keep in mind to make a good one?
Bruce Logan: Well that’s absolutely true. There’s so much energy goes into making a movie, and all the people that are involved, and all the enthusiasm, that it’s actually just as difficult to make a bad movie as it is to make a good movie. I think that you have to go back to story and you have to go back to your passion for the original idea. In other words, if you’re thinking that that the audience is going to like this movie, they’re going to love this about it, they’re going to love that about it, that’s not nearly as powerful as the way the story speaks to you and you putting your imprint on that movie. I think that’s the way that you catch lightning in a bottle, and I think that’s the way really good movies are made.
Larry Jordan: Bruce, you and I are both on the second half of our career, and normally when I talk to guests I ask them for advice on what a new person should do to get started in filmmaking. But that advice generally boils down to just get out there and start shooting.
Bruce Logan: That would be my advice.
Larry Jordan: So instead, I want to ask you what advice do you have for older filmmakers who need to rekindle their creative spark?
Bruce Logan: I would say that you should find or create a project for yourself, that speaks to all the passions that you have in life. We’ve been on the road for a long time, and we know what’s valuable to us and what’s not valuable to us, and if we can make a story that speaks to the values in our life, there’s no guarantee it’s going to be a success, but we certainly have a shot at making something original and a true piece of art.
Larry Jordan: Bruce, I love your advice, and I have truly admired your work over the years and I want to thank you so much for sharing your time with us.
Bruce Logan: Thank you Larry.
Larry Jordan: Bruce Logan is a special effects wizard, an independent filmmaker, and we’ll have him back again to see how his film turns out. Take care Bruce.
Bruce Logan: I will, thank you so much Larry.
Larry Jordan: Writer director editor William Boodell started his professional career as the editor of the instant cult classic, ‘Sharknado.’ Now we want to follow up on what he’s learned since. Hello Bill, welcome back.
William Boodell: Hi Larry, thanks for having me. Great to be back.
Larry Jordan: Bill, we’re trying to figure out what it takes to make a successful film, so let me start off by asking you how important is the editor to creating a successful film?
William Boodell: How important is the editor? It depends on the project of course, but I think that an editor can be extremely important. It depends on what kind of leeway they’re given to be creative with the material that is shot. So depending on the relationship of the editor with the director and the director with the producers and how open they are to the feedback, the editor’s role could be either very big, or can be very small. Sometimes a director will tell an editor exactly what they want, down to the frame, and the editor has to do that, and so they do. So it just depends.
Larry Jordan: I know it’s technically possible, but is it a good idea for someone to both direct and edit their film, or does editing require an independent point of view?
William Boodell: Well that’s a question I ask myself. I think that the answer is yes, and yes. I personally like editing my own material, but I also like an objective point of view, so if I’m working on something I would like to have somebody else’s eyes on it as well and maybe co-edit. Whether I get credit or not. I think in general people are editing more now because it’s easier to both direct and edit your film, especially if you’re working in the independent sector, and I think that a lot of great things come to that because it’s a singe vision that carries through, sometimes from the writing to the directing to the editing, and that really does come closer to the auteur theory if a single voice is shaping the story. But sometimes it can also give you problems because you don’t have enough objectivity, and you realize how hard it was to make a certain shot, and you’re in love with that shot and you don’t want to let it go, but you should let it go for the film. So it really depends on the person and the situation. I personally prefer to have somebody else’s eyes on it as well, even if I am both directing and editing something.
Larry Jordan: You just finished directing your own project, what was it?
William Boodell: I just made my first official short film for the Filmmakers Alliance, called ‘Shootout Two Day Filmmaking Challenge,’ and we shot it two days, turned it in, and it won the competition and we just played our world premiere at Fantasia in Montreal.
Larry Jordan: Well congratulations. Is there like a magic button for filmmaking, something you can push that makes a film successful?
William Boodell: No, unfortunately not. Or maybe I should say, fortunately not. No. I don’t know what makes a film successful, that would be disingenuous of me to pretend that I do. But I just try to make things that I enjoy. But when you’re in the editor’s chair, you have less say over that. You just have to take what you’re given and try to make the best from it, whether you are contributing creatively or whether you’re not allowed to contribute creatively. When it comes to writing and directing, you definitely should be putting yourself into it as much as you can, and just listening to your own voice and trying to make something that you think you would genuinely enjoy.
Larry Jordan: What criteria do you use to decide what project to do next?
William Boodell: Do you mean editing or directing?
Larry Jordan: We’ll say directing.
William Boodell: With directing, I just have ideas that come to me, and if they excite me, then that’s what determines whether I want to write it or not. Because writing can be laborious and you really have to be passionate about it so I just try to imagine scenarios or think of scenes or characters, or themes, that truly interest me, and that move me. And if it moves me, then I’m sure that it will move somebody else, maybe a lot of people, maybe one other person. But I know that if it moves me, there’s a good chance it will reach other people.
Larry Jordan: For people who want to see what the latest projects are that are moving you, where can they go on the web?
William Boodell: My name, Williamboodell.com.
Larry Jordan: That’s all one word, williamboodell.com and Bill Boodell himself is the voice you’re listening to. Bill, thanks for joining us today.
William Boodell: Thank you Larry, it’s a pleasure.
Larry Jordan: Take care bye bye.
Larry Jordan: Yvonne Russo is an award winning producer, director and writer of film, television and digital projects. She has produced features such as ‘Akisida,’ ‘The Earth Above,’ ‘Woman Walks Ahead,’ and many others. Hello Yvonne, welcome back.
Yvonne Russo: Hi Larry, thank you.
Larry Jordan: Tonight we’re looking at what makes a successful film, but I want to take a step back. You’ve executive produced, produced and directed. How do you compare a successful film to a successful filmmaker?
Yvonne Russo: I believe what makes a film successful today is when a film creates impact. A social impact, a conscious impact and creates a larger awareness in terms of what that overall film’s message is. Because digital and over the top and all these other outlets for streaming has really diluted the marketplace in a big way, so theatrical box office hits aren’t the same any more, and theatrical roll out strategies are not the same anymore, so now when you are producing independent features, even studio features, you have to have an impact. You have to create an impact plan and when you can actually have audiences talking about that film, and what it’s done to create a change, to spark a conversation, to get people actually moving and creating value in everyday life, I think that, to me, is what makes a film successful. That’s really what I strive for as a producer, and that’s why the stories that I get involved with have to have a larger message. Shift of consciousness in a way, that’s a catapult for change of greater good.
Yvonne Russo: Yes, to box office receipts, that’s all good because we’ve got to generate revenue. We have to make money, but at the same time, I think that people are just really eager to learn through independent film and these stories that we are creating that are a catalyst for change.
Larry Jordan: If being a catalyst for change makes for a successful film, what makes for a successful filmmaker?
Yvonne Russo: It’s passion. First of all, being a filmmaker is not an easy road. My career has spanned 18 years so far, and I feel like I am still a mid level career producer. And the reason is because, again, it’s the stories that I’m really passionate about that I want to be involved in stories that are going to make the change. For example, a recent project that I worked on, I worked as advisor on ‘Woman Walks Ahead’ which will be premiering at Toronto and it’s a period epic that stars Jessica Chastain and it’s a story about Catherine Weldon who lived in the 1800s who was a Brooklyn woman, who travelled to the Dakotas to paint the famous Chief Sitting Bull. It’s a story about Sitting Bull and the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s resistance against the Forced Allotment Act that was happening during that time. These are issues and subjects that we don’t often hear about at all. I think it’s important to shed light on some of these American ethics that have not been told. What makes being a successful producer, filmmaker advisor is being involved, at least I’ve been involved in stories that are shedding light on subject matters not often seen or heard.
Larry Jordan: As a producer, you’re balancing a number of different projects at the same time. How do you set your priorities?
Yvonne Russo: It’s like having little infants. Each project is a baby and each project needs that time and energy and nurturement in order to get it on its legs and get it walking and moving in the direction that it needs to go into. So for myself, it’s really my job as a producer and executive producer to assemble the right team, to attach cast, to find the right director, to basically find the right financing partners, whether they’re with companies or independent individuals that are becoming equity partners. It’s really assembling this team and honestly there’s just no one way to do it. You just have to kind of make it happen, and I always say, you know, you have to pick up the phone, you’ve got to do research, you have to pick up the phone, you have to find out who’s working on what, what company would be the best fit for a certain project. You’ve got to softly pitch, you have to set up meetings, you’ve got to constantly follow up. You’re always re-writing your scripts, you are always moving the ball forward until finally you get like one hit. Somebody says, “OK yes, I’m in as cast” or you know, you get one financer who says “Yes, I’m in, I believe in this story with you,” and suddenly your team just starts to roll.
Yvonne Russo: Once you gain that momentum, you just don’t stop, you have to keep going and you have to make it happen, so you have to be relentless and also be extremely passionate about what you do. There’s so much because each project has such a different voice and a different process. There’s no one way to do anything. You have to just figure out what the best way is for yourself. So it’s like producing is like if you’re creating a house, you need a blueprint and you need the materials and you need the nuts and the bolts and the team, and the money to do it. So, also for films it’s kind of that same thing, you have a script and you’ve got to bring this story to life. In order to do it you have to dissect the script, you’ve got to figure out the parts and assemble the team, find the money and start to build it, so there’s no one way.
Yvonne Russo: I think projects have their own energy and you keep pushing them, but so much of what gets produced today has to do with what’s going on in sort of the larger scale of a global political zeitgeist. So it’s very interesting.
Larry Jordan: For people that either want to work with you on your next project or keep track of the projects you’re working on, where can they go on the web?
Yvonne Russo: They can go to yvonnerusso.com.
Larry Jordan: That’s yvonnerusso.com, and Yvonne thanks for joining us today.
Yvonne Russo: Thank you Larry.
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Larry Jordan: Nancy Schreiber has worked her way up from production assistant, to director of photography. She has more than 130 credits in narrative film, television, music videos, commercials and documentaries. She’s a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and the fourth woman ever elected to the American Society of Cinematographers. Hello Nancy, welcome back.
Nancy Schreiber: Why thank you Larry, good to be back.
Larry Jordan: It is always a delight talking to you. Tonight, Nancy we’re talking about how to become a successful indie filmmaker. If somebody asked you “What does it take to be successful?” what would you say?
Nancy Schreiber: I believe the importance is a passion that in spite of all of the conflicts and all of the no’s that one hears when trying to get a film off the ground, or even just get a foot in the door, you keep going. So if you don’t have that in your makeup, then maybe you should look for another kind of work.
Larry Jordan: In other words, if you can’t take no constructively, try something different.
Nancy Schreiber: Exactly.
Larry Jordan: You’ve worked on a lot of different sets, you’ve worked with a lot of different producers, a lot of different directors. What are some of the common mistakes that you see inexperienced filmmakers making, from your perspective?
Nancy Schreiber: First thing is, don’t go into production unless your script is in really great shape. When you have put all of your resources, your energy, time and money into getting your indie film off the ground, make sure the script is ready.
Larry Jordan: Why is that so important, because I hear a lot of times about people discovering stuff on set? Why do I have to have the script locked before I start?
Nancy Schreiber: Yes, we are open to things happening on set that are unexpected, certainly in my field, you know, natural light hitting something or I can watch people in between takes and I get an idea. But, and the schedule that we have today, boy oh boy, days are being cut, the budgets are being cut, and you better be organized and put as much as you can on what I call the blackboard which can be erased and changed, but nonetheless you should have your blueprint actually.
Larry Jordan: What other common mistakes do you see filmmakers make?
Nancy Schreiber: I am all for making a shot list. It’s really important, even though actors do change things when they come on set.
Larry Jordan: I’ve never known that to happen.
Nancy Schreiber: I like to work with a director and make a shot list and then along with the first AD, make a timetable, because what happens is that you will find that if you put a time to each set up, both in lighting and camera setup and then into the actual shooting of it, you may run into something like an 18 hour day. We should not work for more than 12 hours a day. It’s inhumane and people make mistakes. Generally what’s kept my films on schedule is being realistic about a shot list, being able to combine coverage in an elegant solution, and looking at what the emotional beats are for every scene, and then you will see, do you really need to do ten takes of the big wide master? Could you just do a couple of takes and then move into different kinds of coverage? For myself, as a cinematographer, I can keep my grip crew, my camera, and electric crew knowing what’s coming up.
Larry Jordan: It sounds to me, from all of your comments, that the biggest mistake people tend to make is that they’re not organized? The script is not organized, the shots are not organized, they don’t have a schedule. That to me strikes me as the biggest problem that you’re talking about. Is that true?
Nancy Schreiber: I would say organization is key. It’s so terrific when I can work with directors who maybe even have storyboards, although we don’t storyboard all that much except for car chases and action scenes, stunts and so sometimes storyboards are helpful. But yes, organization, shot lists, going through the script as much as one can in pre-production and making sure that the locations work for what you’re trying to do.
Larry Jordan: Who sets the emotional tone on a set?
Nancy Schreiber: Well that’s a great question. The emotional tone. It should come from the director, some directors keep a very quiet set and really give the actors space. The first AD’s are often thought of as loud, but the ones I like to work with are forceful in keeping us on schedule but are not aggressively obnoxious, loving to hear the sound of their voice. So it’s a combination of tone that’s set by the director and the first AD. In terms of my departments, I like to work on a walkie talkie, so that I’m not screaming across the set and that also helps the emotional tone and the focus.
Larry Jordan: Put your filmmaking hat on. What would you say is the biggest challenge when starting a new project? Is it finding the money, getting the cast, getting the equipment, the crew?
Nancy Schreiber: I’d say finding the money. Then, you know, the chicken and before the egg, if you can get a cast member that means something to investors, it can often help get the money.
Larry Jordan: We seem to be living in an ADD world where shorter is better. What are audiences looking for today to entertain them?
Nancy Schreiber: What are audiences looking for? Well there’s such a choice now, on streaming services, television and I still think people would like the experience of going to a theater, and the dark space, and you’re just involved in the story. But the challenge is going to be and continues to be for all of us working in independent films, getting people into the theater because unless you have an enormous budget for publicity and advertising, forget it. It’s just hard to get noticed. Yes, film festivals do help. So the problem right now is there’s just so much choice and people don’t have that many hours in the day.
Larry Jordan: For someone wanting to start their first independent project, let’s pretend just because it makes life easier, that they have enough money, and let’s pretend that they’ve got a script because we got to start somewhere. So you’ve got the money and the script. What advice would you give to someone to have a successful film? What should they really focus on before they shoot frame one?
Nancy Schreiber: I think the most important thing one could do, for me, the director learning the script and the motivation of each character, learning the back story, and also the communication to the cast and crew about his or her vision. You know, this is really crucial. Being realistic and knowing that you don’t have all the time in the world, it’s just really important not to be frantic and have a chaotic set. Once you have a cut, to show it to other people not involved in the film. This is a pitfall that people are so protective, and they get so involved with their script, and don’t see what they actually got. I don’t know who said it, but there’s the film you write, the film you shoot and then the film you finish. And it is often a very different film once the actors come aboard and other situations happen. So show your rough cut and your fine cut to different audiences, not just your best friends. Know who your audience is. Is there an audience? Do you know how to get your film to that audience? And again that organization and pre-production I can’t stress enough.
Larry Jordan: Nancy for people that want to get into the business, are their organizations they should touch base with?
Nancy Schreiber: There are many organizations for those wanting to get into our business, depending on where you live. If you are in the major cities, Film Independent is based in Los Angeles, but has a broad base around the country. On the east coast, Independent Feature Project, IFP. So look on the website for Film Independent or IFP. If you’re doing documentaries, The International Documentary Association. And there’s so many websites today, there’s No Film School, they have great online articles. Well, there’s just so many, it’s a great time. There’s another site that I just ran into called filmmaker.com, rain dance, raindance.com. It has 13 sites for independent filmmakers. So there’s just a wealth of information online.
Larry Jordan: Nancy, for filmmakers that have the great wisdom to want to hire you, to work on their project, where can they go on the web to learn more?
Nancy Schreiber: Well that’s a great question. You can find me at www.nancyschreiber.com.
Larry Jordan: That’s all one word, nancyschreiber.com, and Nancy is an amazing director of photography, and as always, a delight chatting with you Nancy, thank you very much.
Nancy Schreiber: Larry, thank you so much.
Larry Jordan: You know, I was just thinking, this week Apple officially announced that Final Cut Studio would no longer be supported in the next version of the Mac operating system, called High Sierra. Final Cut is what got me started in this business. First introduced in the spring of 1999, I started using it in 2002, with version 1.2. That’s back when it was still called Final Cut, the Pro was added years later. Since that first release, Final Cut has gone through multiple changes, with an entirely new industry springing up around it. The world we work in today bears almost no resemblance to editing prior to 1990, then shooting video required highly trained crews with complex cameras while editing required massive videotape machines that cost up to a quarter of a million dollars apiece. Editing film first required shooting expensive film, then working with razor blades and glue to edit the finished product. Neither technology was easily accessible to beginners, or small budgets.
Larry Jordan: The introduction of DV cameras and Final Cut changed the world, expanding video creation in areas that no-one predicted. Video shooting and editing is now easily taught in elementary schools. Tens of thousands of college students are actively pursuing film careers. And the world has shifted from print to video, almost overnight. Now the lack of support for Final Cut Studio which includes Final Cut Pro 7, doesn’t mean that any existing copies of the software will stop working, it just means that you won’t be able to upgrade to the latest version of the Mac OS. As I look around, there are plenty of alternatives to Final Cut 7 which was the program that started it all. There’s Final Cut Pro X, the Adobe Premiere Pro and Avid Media Composer, to name three of the most popular professional programs, but there’s also imovie, and Clips, which runs on your phone.
Larry Jordan: Tonight seems a good time to reflect on the impact one software program has had on the lives of so many, from moviegoers to filmmakers, to the countless developers of utilities and plug ins that supported it. When Final Cut was first released, Apple’s advertising slogan was, “Think different.” We did, and the world changed because of it. Final Cut may be dead, yet Final Cut lives on and our industry continues to expand. We live in interesting times, and as always, let me know what you think.
Larry Jordan: What I’m struck by in listening to all of our guests, is that the underlying foundation of any successful film is the passion of the filmmaker. When you care about a project, your audience is more likely to care as well.
Larry Jordan: I want to thank our filmmakers this evening, Cirina Catania, Bruce Logan, William Boodell, Yvonne Russo, Nancy Schreiber and as always, James DeRuvo with DoddleNEWS.
Larry Jordan: There’s a lot of history in our industry and it’s all posted to our website, at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Here you’ll find thousands of interviews, all online and all available to you today. Remember to sign up for our free weekly show newsletter that comes out every Saturday.
Larry Jordan: Talk with us on Twitter @DPBuzz and Facebook at digitalproductionbuzz.com.
Larry Jordan: Our theme music is composed by Nathan Dugi-Turner with additional music provided by Smartsound.com. Text transcripts are provided by Take1 Transcription. Visit Take1.tv to learn how they can help you.
Larry Jordan: Our producer is Debbie Price, my name is Larry Jordan, and thanks for listening to The Digital Production Buzz.
Larry Jordan: The Digital Production Buzz is copyright 2017 by Thalo LLC.