NO ALTERNATIVE: “…And That’s A Wrap!”

The last time I updated my blog, we had yet to begin production on “No Alternative.” Perhaps it’s a testament to the all-consuming nature of production that you have not heard from me since! I am therefore extremely pleased to write that we’ve finished principal photography and the film is in the proverbial “can.”

On the set of “No Alternative.” Photograph by Joshua Sarner.

It want to reiterate that I would not have been able to get this far without the help and support of everyone who contributed to our crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. Because of the strength of the Indiegogo campaign and your stalwart support of the cause, this project has gained the attention of magazine, newspaper and television outlets around the country. It also attracted the interest of investors who also believed in the film — both in its message, and in its commercial viability.

I can honestly say that everyone involved in the filming, from the actors to each and every crew member, was emotionally connected to the material and brought their A-Games to the set:

It was an absolute pleasure to work amidst such a passionate and talented group of people. The leads, Michaela Cavazos and Conor Proft, impressed me more and more each passing day. They were outstanding as Bridget and Thomas Harrison and I can’t wait for viewers to see just how outstanding their performances are on screen. I was also thrilled to work with veteran actors, Kathryn Erbe (“Law & Order: Criminal Intent”) and Harry Hamlin (“Mad Men”), who played the Harrison parents. I can’t thank them enough for their passion, generosity and faith in me as their director. Coming-of-age movies about families are hard to make in Hollywood, but I truly feel this movie was meant to be made — it was a near-impossible task, but everyone’s contributions made it possible. And it was not only monetary contributions: people donated their time, their 90’s era vehicles, their wardrobe, their food, their houses (as locations and for lodging), their instruments, their band logos and music, among many, many other valuable goods and services. My hometown, the City of Yonkers, could not have been more accommodating throughout the process — it has always bee a dream of mine to shoot this film there. This project was about as grassroots as it gets; and you know what, each and every step of it was invigorating!

Left to right: Conor Proft, Kathryn Erbe, William Dickerson, Harry Hamlin, Michaela Cavazos.

I’m extremely excited to be heading into the next phase of the film: the editing phase. We have a wonderful editor, Natasha Bedu, who has spent a lot of her time recently cutting the Emmy Award-winning series “Intervention” on A&E. Natasha couldn’t be more excited to be part of the team, and I’m thrilled to have her on board!

As we venture into post-production, our fiscal sponsor, From the Heart Productions, has encouraged us to continue raising money for this final, and crucial, part of the process. Those looking for end-of-the-year tax deductions, all contributions remain fully tax-deductible. Please share the project, if you haven’t done so already, and consider adding to your contribution if you feel compelled to do so — we’ve already done so much with a relatively small amount of money (by Hollywood’s standards), a little bit more will assure we get the best post-production sound and color correction we can swing. Here is a link to our current campaign:

https://bitly.com/noalternativefilm

Thank you so much for your support! I wish you all the best this holiday season!!

 

“No Alternative” – The Crowdfunding Campaign

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I launched my first crowdfunding campaign this week.

Crowdfunding is its own art form—an art form I’m no expert at, I’m sure—but indie film is at a point where grassroots funding is becoming more and more critical to sustaining its viability. It’s almost impossible to get Hollywood to fund something that’s not a thriller, or a horror movie, or a comic book movie—and they rarely ever fund coming-of-age films. The filmmaking community, and their audiences, have been left with tent-poles (studio movies made for 150 million and up) and microbudgets (movies made for under a million, often far less than a million).

The middle class space of filmmaking has disappeared. This is something I’ve written a lot about for Indiewire over the past few months. I’m hoping we can rebuild this artistically important space, one movie at a time—and right now I’m attempting to fight the good fight with my new film: “No Alternative.”

The character of “Bri Da B” is inspired by my sister, who for most of her life suffered from mental illness. One of the ways she was able to cope and enjoy her life was through rapping. When the character of Bridget becomes “Bri Da B,” that transformation into someone else helps lessen the pain she is feeling in her life.

I have always thought of “No Alternative” as a love letter to my sister, a plea for her survival. That’s why I originally wrote the novel this film is based on. I wish I could tell you that plea was successful. But, I can’t. The majority of my sister’s life was a battle fought against borderline personality disorder, drug addiction and suicidal behavior. A battle she ultimately succumbed to on July 1, 2014.

While she may have lost her battle, I’m hopeful we can win the war—and we can do it in honor of her, and others who have suffered like she did. The issue of mental illness needs to be destigmatized and “No Alternative” seeks to do just that.

The campaign for “No Alternative” is officially being sponsored by From the Heart Productions, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that supports films that make a contribution to society. By contributing to this film, you are not only helping other socially conscious films get made, but your donation is also tax-deductible.

This campaign encompasses the entire process—from pre-production, to production to finishing the film in post. I encourage you to check it out on Indiegogo: http://igg.me/at/noalternative

There are some amazing perks/rewards for contributors. Here is a list of just some of them: Signed editions of my books, Parental Advisory “Bri Da B” official movie T-Shirts, filmmaking mentorships with both myself and my co-screenwriter, Dwight Moody, opportunities to be a part of the movie as featured extras, as a band, or having supporting characters named after you, and we’re even offering major “hero” props from my previous films like “Detour” and “Don’t Look Back.”

Please check out the campaign page for all the other cool rewards you can redeem when you make a contribution.

“No Alternative” probes the lives of rebellious kids who transition into adulthood via the distortion pedals of their lives in an era when the “Sex, Drugs & Rock’n’Roll” ethos was amended to include “Suicide” in its phrase. Help destigmatize mental illness, addiction and suicide: there is no alternative.

Thank you so much for your support.

#MiddleClassFilmmakers

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It seems my Indiewire piece on “The 99 Percent…In Hollywood” struck a nerve [bit.ly/1XtxL9K]. I think that’s a good thing, both positive and negative responses alike. The point was to start a conversation and the conversation has begun.

ElijahWood-Indiewire-TwitterMost of the response out there has been positive and I can’t thank you enough for the support.

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But the reason I wrote it, and titled it “I am the 99 Percent…in Hollywood,” is that this isn’t about me at all. It is about an issue that’s much larger than I am.

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For the benefit of clarity: I’m speaking on behalf of numerous filmmakers, many I know personally, who share a similar sentiment. I’ve made three features in the past 2 years and have been fortunate to see them all released in a variety of ways. Detour was distributed theatrically and digitally—both domestically and internationally (it just finished a successful theatrical run in Japan)—and Don’t Look Back was sold to Lifetime Movie Network and recently premiered to 1.1 million viewers when it aired.

It took me a while to get here—Detour took over 5 years to make, a process that started before the trend of minimalist, single protagonist, single location films—our development and pre-production predated Buried and 127 Hours, for instance [http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/29/movies/detour-directed-by-william-dickerson.html].

Making a film is in any filmmaker’s grasp, money or no money, and I do agree that’s a powerful, important and hopeful thing; particularly when making your first film.

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I have directed both film and television. The problem is compensation and support is not commensurate to the work in this “middle” space—the current area in which many of us are working.

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Films are cheaper, and easier, to make, yes; but much more difficult to utilize as a bridge to a living. It’s indeed necessary for new “outside-the-of-box” models to be explored.

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This is a tough conversation, but it’s one that not only filmmakers need to have, but the higher ups in Hollywood also need to have.

Are movies simply a pop cultural fad? Are they simply a product? I don’t think so, and if you’ve ever been affected by a movie, you don’t think so either. I believe movies are not only important, but indispensable, to our culture. If you don’t think so, my piece isn’t for you. And that’s perfectly okay. I will continue to advocate for change, for a rebuilding of the middle space of filmmaking because I think the current chasm is doing long-term damage to both the industry and the art form itself.

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I recently used the film Me and Earl and the Dying Girl as a lens through which to examine the current state of movies. In this particular “indie” film, the story ends with a girl dying. As if to add insult to injury, she dies while watching the movie Thomas Mann’s character Greg has spent the entire film making for her. We are forced to stare at the dying girl as she’s watching the movie, and dying, and we don’t get to see it. We don’t get to see the movie Greg has toiled over, the movie that results in his grades going down the toilet, the movie that may, or may not, be his first and final expression of love and affection for the character of Rachel. We will never know what the movie is about. We will never know, because that’s not what’s important.

What is important is the power that movie has on both Rachel watching it, and Greg having made it, and the power the movie within which that movie is being projected is having on us as we watch it in the theater. Movies have the power to not only move us emotionally, but also provide the shared experience of experiencing that emotion with others—and that experience is nothing short of transcendent.

Greg grows up watching movies with his father, with his friend Earl, and with Rachel. Greg is you and I. Movies have a lasting, meaningful effect on his life as well as ours. As Me and Earl and the Dying Girl shows us, moving pictures are life—they live on after death. They continue to point us into the direction of the people we respect, care for and love the most; they point us into the direction of eras, societies and cultures past. I have no doubt that most people working in the industry will speak of their passion for movies, but if they’re really passionate about them, they’d make more films based on that passion. When movies are made in boardrooms on the basis of demographics, or the desire to sell in other countries, they alienate that portion of the audience that wants to see unique, personal films. Movies are an amalgamation of art and commerce; however, there must be an equal balance between the two for a movie to matter.

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When it comes down to it, we are all film fans. We, as human beings, are compelled to tell stories; it’s how we make sense of the stories of our own lives. Hollywood, when operating at its best, is one of America’s greatest industries. Please, let’s not take that power for granted.

Let’s keep this conversation going. Follow me on twitter: @WDFilmmaker

Me and Earl and the Dying World of Independent Film

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When I first saw Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, I referred to the film as Me and Earl. The choice to shorten the title was a subconscious one, but it was still a choice, and the choice was to avoid the elephant in the room: that a girl is going to die in the movie I’m about to see.

This is a very un-Hollywood thing to do. And the filmmakers say as much in their film, when the main character, Greg, reassures us in the voiceover: “Bear with me, I know you’re bracing to see a sweet girl die; but she doesn’t, she gets better.” Here’s the thing, she doesn’t get better. She dies. You may be mad at me for not issuing some kind of “spoiler alert” prior to me writing that last sentence; but tough, if the title of the movie didn’t spoil the ending for you, my words certainly won’t. The truth is, this is just symptomatic of a larger problem: Hollywood has trained us to anticipate happy endings, and as a result, we become infuriated if we aren’t rewarded with them (this type of fury is few and far between, because movies made inside and outside of Hollywood these days rarely end on a low note). I’m a firm believer that good movies should be metaphors for our own realities. Yes, this is a movie about filmmakers dealing with a cancer growing in the blood of their friend; however, not discounting the seriousness of the plot, this film is also about filmmakers—and by extension, the audience—dealing with a dilemma growing in the heart of Hollywood.

The film opens with these two kids, Greg (the narrator) and Earl, his co-worker, “not his friend,” which he, ironically, goes out of his way to say. These two might seem like they’re obsessed with movies, but they don’t really act like it. It’s more like movies are just a part of their lives—an indispensible part. The movies they watch inform their views of the world. One of the first movies we see them watching in the film is Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God, which is about “the search for a golden city that doesn’t exist.” It’s no coincidence that the filmmakers use the plot of a movie within a movie as an analogy to the lure of Hollywood. Many have likened the selling of a script, or the booking of a role, to the modern day gold rush—a rush to become the next big thing.

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Greg and Earl are friends with the outsiders, if friends with anyone else at all, which leads to the befriending of Rachel, the girl who’s dying from leukemia. They are the true independents, finding their way through the world outside of the system—namely, high school—by making movies as a means to coping with the often turbulent and, literally, life-threatening task of growing up in this relentless world. In this world—the world of reality and not of Hollywood movies—the hot girls squash you, your friends (excuse me, co-workers) punch you in the stomach, and people close to you die out of nowhere. It’s called life, and movies help us deal with it—movies are human antidotes to woe, when they’re made by artists, that is.

The influence of pop culture surrounds these characters: it is a wall-tacked picture of Hugh Jackman, after all, who tells Greg to stop being insensitive and not joke about death with a dying girl. Moments like this achieve two things: 1. They highlight the significant role that Hollywood plays in our lives on a daily basis, particularly the lives of our youth; 2. They emphasize the fact that Hollywood gets it wrong. Are we to ignore the elephant in the room? Are we to repress our feelings, only to let them eat us alive from the inside out? Humor, often black humor, is the life preserver in a choppy sea of sorrow, misery and the hardened indifference of the natural world. Hollywood makes its living—a very, very good living—sugarcoating this reality.

Through his narration, Greg telegraphs the beats that Hollywood often mandates in its films; specifically, that the girl doesn’t die at the end. If this had been a Hollywood movie, not only would this girl make a miraculous recovery, but Greg and Rachel would’ve also fallen in love, and it would be that love, that B-Story, which leads to her survival. Love conquers all, triumph of the human spirit, buddy stories; are these phrases applicable to your own lives? I would say, mostly, no. I know some, particularly those in this business, who argue that viewers want an escape from their lives; they are willing to pay for that escape, and Hollywood exists to provide that escape. I would argue that that tentpole mentality is just as myopic as most of the industry’s output of megabudget blockbusters.

It used to be what separated studio films from indie films was the ending: studio films ended happily, independent films ended bleakly, at worst, or ambiguously, at best. There was a time, not that long ago, when studios funded these “independent” films with depressing-ish endings. Not so anymore; not even close. Fifteen years ago, Walt Disney Pictures produced a David Lynch movie to the tune of 10 million dollars—a movie about an elderly man who embarks on a journey across state lines by way of a tractor to see his brother before he dies. As the millennium advanced, studios continued to fund independent films, but they began to not-so-subtly guide these films into mainstream territory. Take Lars and the Real Girl as an example. With a budget of 12 million, the movie explores the life of a delusional young man who dates a sex doll he procured from the Internet. This is a great indie idea; however, the film embraced a tone much more reminiscent of mainstream studio fare: it wasn’t stark, it was sentimental; it wasn’t edgy, it was wholesome. It was executed as though it was the sister to Sleepless in Seattle. Lars is an example of a number of “indies” that adopted a mainstream tone as a means of, in my opinion, attracting larger, broader audiences to more niche material. Ultimately, the movie didn’t do well at the box office. There’s no doubt in my mind that it’s because the movie’s tone conflicted with itself; it didn’t quite know what it wanted to be.

Fast-forward ten years later and that independent film production and distribution model that existed within the studio system—the system within which Lars was made—has completely disappeared. There are only megabudgets (movies made for 150 million dollars and up) and microbudgets (movies made for under a million, often far under a million). There’s nothing in between. Barely nothing. Even the movies that make it through no man’s land—the movies made between 5 to 20 million—are largely anomalies (i.e. movies by a handful of auteur directors, like the Andersons—Wes and Paul Thomas—who cemented their careers when indies were being regularly funded). The ones that do make it through still largely operate with mainstream mechanics. Whiplash, the kid becomes a veritable superhero in the end and conquers all with an astonishing drum solo; Boyhood, despite the odds and a series of questionable father figures, the kid has the whole world in front of him (it ends with him staring into a horizon); Birdman, the film ends with the onstage suicide of its main character (but, wait, maybe not? In a moment of magical realism, he wakes up in the hospital, injured, but optimistic, so much so, he opens the window, jumps out and flies into the great blue sky). I liked all of these films quite a bit, actually; but it does appear as though they’ve been influenced by Hollywood’s expectations.

What is refreshing about Me and Earl, which won both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, is that the movie itself flies in the face of Hollywood and its expectations. While some have criticized the film for characters that border on caricatures—the alcoholic single mother, the quasi-magical black friend, and the girl who dies to teach the self-absorbed protagonist a lesson—it’s a film that is aware of itself with respect to the movies that have come before it, and these characterizations are part of its point. Greg’s narration misleads viewers into believing they are sitting back and watching a movie that adheres to Hollywood’s rules, which guarantees a happy ending that will continue to resonate its happiness on the walk to the parking lot.

In the end of Me and Earl—excuse me, The Dying Girl—there is, well, there is a girl that dies. An innocent one, who never did anything bad to anybody. As if to add insult to injury, she dies while watching the movie Greg has spent the entire film making for her. On top of that, we are forced to stare at the dying girl as she’s watching the movie, and dying, and we don’t get to see it. We don’t get to see the movie Greg has toiled over, the movie that results in his grades going down the toilet, the movie that may, or may not, be his first and final expression of love and affection for Rachel. We will never know what the movie is about. We will never know, because that’s not what’s important. What’s important is the power that movie has on both Rachel watching it, and Greg having made it, and the power the movie within which that movie is being projected is having on us as we watch it in the theater. Movies have the power to not only move us emotionally, but also provide the shared experience of experiencing that emotion with others—and that experience is nothing short of transcendent.

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Greg grows up watching movies with his father, with Earl, and with Rachel. Greg is you and I. Movies have a lasting, meaningful effect on his life as well as ours, and that effect demands that we as the audience are not lied to. As The Dying Girl shows us, moving pictures are life—they live on after death. They continue to point us into the direction of the people we respect, care for and love the most; they point us into the direction of eras, societies and cultures past; they point us toward the origin, the end and the rebirth of ourselves. I have no doubt that most people working in the system will speak of their passion for movies, but if they’re really passionate about them, they’d make more films like The Dying Girl. When movies are made in boardrooms on the basis of demographics, or the desire to sell in other countries, they alienate that portion of the audience that wants to see unique, personal films. Movies are an amalgamation of art and commerce; however, there must be an equal balance between the two for a movie to matter.

When it comes down to it, we are all film fans. We, as human beings, are compelled to tell stories; it’s how we make sense of the stories of our own lives. Hollywood, when operating at its best, is one of America’s greatest industries. Please, let’s not take that power for granted.

IN MEMORIAM: “Rowdy” Roddy Piper; Rebel, Rabble-Rouser, Raconteur

My heart was heavy when I heard the news that Roddy Piper, known to most of the world as “Rowdy” Roddy, or “Hot Rod,” died at the age of 61 from cardiac arrest. I just recently had the privilege of directing him in my film, Don’t Look Back.

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I only knew Roddy, personally, for a short period of time, but those of you who have made movies know just how close people become during the magical, and often relentless, process of filmmaking. Not to mention, I’ve actually known Roddy my entire life—a lot of us who watched professional wrestling have grown up knowing him—so I feel compelled to write something.

Roddy played Eddie Starks in Don’t Look Back. It was a dark role, the role of a child abuser. When my co-writer and casting director, Michael Testa, mentioned that Roddy might be available to play the part, I was ecstatic. Not only was Roddy an icon in the wrestling world, he solidified his pop culture status in John Carpenter’s They Live, which, if I’m not mistaken, still holds the record for the longest fight scene in cinema history. You might remember Roddy’s signature line from the film: “I’ve come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubblegum.”

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When I first spoke to Roddy, he was hesitant about playing the part of such a despicable person, a person who victimizes the most innocent of our society. He was also aware of his status as a childhood hero, which such a role could potentially undermine. I told him that someone with his type of affable personality should play the role, because it’s always the person no one expects, or the person that everyone admires, who flies under the radar and gets away with such crimes. It’s more dramatic, more authentic, to play against type for this role. He liked that line of thinking; primarily because he thought it might benefit kids who watch the film by bringing awareness to these types of predatory individuals.

It was never about Roddy; it always about others, whether it was the viewers, his fans, or his collaborators.

I could write an endless amount of words on Roddy—whether they’re about working with him, or about the stories (legendary stories) that he shared with me during the process. I could write about his Method acting—he would isolate himself in a dark room, or closet, between takes to stay in character. He would want to know how tight the shot was—was it a wide, medium, or close-up—and subtly adjust his performance to every inch of the frame (likely a by-product of a life on camera, especially in a profession where a wrestling move must read the same to spectators in the first row as to those in the back. He knew how to perform to a lens, and for a director, that was most welcome). He would improvise lines here and there, but he would always warn me, “I’m gonna throw stuff at you, Will, but if it doesn’t work for you, you just tell me. I got thick skin!” He had improvised every episode of “Piper’s Pit”—each and every one off the top of his head—for the WWF back in the day; who was I to discourage such a generous bequest! Remember that famous “bubblegum” line? Yes, that was all him. If someone in the crew wanted a picture with him (I was one of those people), he obliged; he even obliged those who wanted a picture with him putting them in a headlock. I watched closely each time someone asked for that (and it was surprisingly often): Roddy was much shorter than you might think, so the picture-asker inevitably would have to crouch down for him, so he could reach his arms around—however, Roddy never let that happen. He would say: “Count to three.” Picture-asker counts to three, then Roddy proceeds to knee the picture-asker in the back, triggering the reflexes in the muscles to shrink the body like an accordion and bring the person’s head towards him, leaving plenty of room for Roddy and his arms to choke the individual as the picture’s being snapped.

Every time; brilliant. It never got old.

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I thought I’d relay one story, because it’s one of the most wonderful, and wonderfully terrifying, things that started as a story and became something else. Now it’s something wonderful and terrifying unto its own, which lives on inside Don’t Look Back. It all began when Roddy began humming, and then singing, the children’s song John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt during a particularly disturbing scene in the film. You know the song:

John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt,

His name is my name too.

Whenever we go out,

The people always shout,

There goes John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt!

He caught me by surprise when he began singing it in a take; what was meant to be a playful tune, was turned into something haunting. The subverted use of such a bright song in such a dark scene simmered with subtext—it heightened the drama of the scene to a level I had not anticipated. Roddy was on to something, and I filmed it (after I asked the powers-that-be if the song was in the public domain, which it was, and we carried on).

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While in post-production, my editor, Blake, and I realized how much of an impact Roddy’s seemingly little improvisation had on the entire film. We cut bits and pieces of the song up and peppered it throughout the film, using it to foreshadow more ominous elements of the story as it progressed. My composer, MJ, felt it to. He wanted to expand on that idea and bring the song, literally, into the score of the film. He wanted to take Roddy’s version and stretch it out, slow it down, speed it up, and merge it with his character’s musical theme. The problem was, we didn’t have much of it to spare. The production audio of the song wasn’t completely clean; there was dialogue from the other actor, and Roddy didn’t sing the song completely through to its end.

MJ asked me: “Can you get Roddy to come into the studio and sing the song for us?” Roddy spent a lot of his time in Oregon and was always shooting or touring, but I gave him a call. As I imagined, he was out of town and would be on the road for a while, and subsequently unable to come into the studio. Roddy asked me why I needed him. I explained how wonderful, and of course, terrifying, his use of the song was in the film, but that we didn’t have enough production audio of it. Yes, the song was eerie, but there was something genuine about it, something I couldn’t quite articulate, that just worked. And it worked because of him. He loved the idea of weaving the song through the score and began to tell me why he sang the song in the first place. When he was a kid, he lived in a rural area of Canada that was native to Timberwolves. Upon moving to this area, he had learnt of the deaths of several children who were killed by these wolves. That wasn’t the only problem. Roddy was a small kid and he told me that he was bullied a lot (hard to imagine, right?) before and after school. In an effort to avoid the bullies, he bypassed the roads and walked several miles through the heavily wooded outskirts of the town—heavily wooded outskirts that were home to these specific Timberwolves. But, he had learnt something else: Timberwolves were frightened of the human voice. As a result, he learned John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt and sang it at the top of his lungs during his walks to and from school. He told me, after that, he would never forget that song—and he brought that dark, gritty emotional reality to its performance in the film. And for that, I can’t thank him enough.

Roddy couldn’t make it to the studio to record the song in person, and getting him into a studio wherever he was proved difficult. So, I suggested to him, “You know what could work; give me a call, I’ll let it go to voicemail, and you can sing it into the phone.” He said, “Sure,” and he hung up. I expected him to call me right back, but he didn’t. After a few minutes of silence from my iPhone, I was sure I had rubbed him the wrong way; that the suggestion was too much to ask (you know how your self-consciousness gets the best of you sometimes; particularly in this business? Well, it was getting the best of me then).

One day passed, two days passed; should I email him? Third day: should I text him, give him a gentle nudge? Fourth, Fifth, Sixth day passed; okay, I should call and apologize to him. No, email; it should be an email.

Just over a week later, I was leaving a meeting and pulled out my phone to check it. The screen read: Missed Call: Roddy Piper. There was a voicemail. And, on that voicemail, was John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt:

This was the most terrifying voicemail anyone has ever left me—or will ever leave me—and we used it all throughout the film. The recording became an essential track in our score and sound design. The fact that Roddy left me in such suspense before leaving me this recording; well, he was still the same man who smashed that coconut over Jimmy Snuka’s head. I’m extremely grateful to have worked with the man, who in my eyes (and many others’) was, and will always be, a legend.

My deepest condolences and prayers go out to Roddy’s family. Thank you for letting him come play with us up in Idyllwild and shoot our little movie—it was, without question, one of the best experiences of my life.

THE MICROBUDGET REVOLUTION

IMG_2725Did anyone notice that the movies nominated this year by The Independent Spirit Awards for Best Feature were the same movies nominated by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences for Best Feature, with the exception of one film, Love Is Strange? If the Academy Awards were created as a platform to showcase commercial Hollywood’s best and brightest, why were the Independent Spirit Awards created? Presumably they were created as the antithesis of the Academy Awards: a platform for independent Hollywood’s best and brightest.

Financially speaking, The Independent Spirit Awards deem an “indie” to be a movie made for under 20 million dollars, but if that 20 million dollar budget is coming from the same studio that made millions of dollars from the latest superhero franchise, is the film in question still capturing that “indie spirit?”

Let’s step back for a minute. 10 to 15 years ago, the studios had their own independent film divisions. They considered independent film a viable product for niche markets of film consumers, so much so that they were willing to blur the idea of what an “indie film” was in order to have a piece of the pie. Today, virtually every studio has dissolved those divisions. They are officially not in the independent film business any longer. This means the independent film is now quite literally independent of studio support. So, why then is an awards show dedicated to independent film, presenting the majority of its awards to films that are not technically independent? Here’s how the Independent Spirit Awards define the rubric of an independent film: “uniqueness of vision, original, provocative subject matter, and an economy of means (with particular attention paid to total production cost and individual compensation).”

If the studios aren’t funding lower budget, character-driven, niche films anymore, those who are funding them are most definitely not funding them to the tune of 20 million dollars. The days of the 5 to 20 million dollar independent film are over, and have been over for a few years. I’m not saying films aren’t funded inside those numbers currently, but they are very few and far between—so much so, that it is foolish to focus your sights as a filmmaker on making a movie within that range.

If independent film as we know it is dead—at least in the current state of the industry—what is left? What’s left are: studio blockbusters (i.e. movies made for 150 million dollars and up) and microbudget films (i.e. movies made for 1 million dollars and under, and more often far under). The number of studio films made this past year has shrunk by nearly half, while the amount of microbudget films has nearly doubled. The studios are making fewer movies and putting much more money into them. They’re taking huge gambles financially, and the way to offset that gamble is to ensure that the entertainment they’re selling appeals to as many people as possible. This approach, of course, dilutes the originality of the content. When movies are made in boardrooms on the basis of demographics, they alienate that portion of the audience that wants to see unique, personal films. In other words, they alienate the actual film fans. Instead of making ten films that target different, more niche markets, they make one movie for the price of ten and bet it all.

The truth is that independent film is far from dead. In fact, it’s thriving like never before thanks to the technological resources at the disposal of hungry, young filmmakers these days. They are overwhelming and strikingly affordable. Behold the microbudget feature. Anyone with the right stuff can make a movie these days with production values that were simply unattainable just a few years ago. The stigma that was once attached to movies with budgets this low is no longer there—one can make a movie for peanuts and make it look like a million bucks. The barriers to making a feature film, and consequently announcing yourself as a filmmaker in this industry, have never been easier to overcome.

While this is encouraging, no doubt, this has lead to a surplus of low-budget films living out there in the world. For the consumer, there’s a deluge of movies to choose from, many of which have little-to-nothing in the way of traditional marketing. And, while the filmmakers’ methods of directing and producing films have changed, the industry’s method of buying and distributing them has, essentially, remained the same. This has lead to a business model for microbudget filmmakers that precludes them from making a living wage from their films. Ted Hope recently stated, “Filmmaking is not currently a sustainable occupation for any but the very rare.” There are approximately 141,000,000 jobs in the United States; approximately 100,000 of them are film directing jobs. Working directors make up about .0709 percent of the workforce. If more and more of the movies being made are microbudgets, that means a director’s salary is accordingly micro, if they have a salary at all. Therefore, the potential payoff rests on the distribution of the film, but getting your film distributed through the conventional channels may not lead to much of a payoff for the filmmaker.

The good news is that do-it-yourself distribution has not only gotten easier, but it’s quickly becoming an accepted practice. If the filmmakers are in charge of promoting their own films, why let a traditional distributor profit from your hard work when you can distribute yourself digitally through an assortment of online outlets and recoup the profits directly? This is an important question to ask if you’re planning on raising money for your own microbudget. DIY has never been easier, or more professional looking, as it is right now.

Yes, the market is more competitive—everyone with an iPhone can, technically, make a movie. And now that studios aren’t funding indies, you have major creative forces in the entertainment industry turning to microbudgets themselves: M. Night Shyamalan is making a microbudget, Spike Lee raised the money for his last movie on Kickstarter, and Mark Duplass just produced a feature film shot entirely on an iPhone. However, this is what’s important to remember: what matters is the value of the idea—of the story—not the money it took to bring that idea to the screen. That’s what art is. Art is valued by the painting within the golden frame, not the golden frame itself.

DETOUR-CrewPhotoAs I wrote in my book, DETOUR: Hollywood, “In the end, our purpose as filmmakers is akin to the purpose of the railroad, an apt metaphor that never ceases to disappoint in times of crisscrossing articulations: we are just human beings trying to connect…and it is story that connects us.” My advice: make your movie. But be sure to make it using your own unique voice. Be bold, don’t try to fit in, and maybe, just maybe, Hollywood will take notice.

***

DETOUR: Hollywood: How To Direct a Microbudget Film (or any film, for that matter) is available in Paperback and Kindle:

http://www.amazon.com/DETOUR-Hollywood-Direct-Microbudget-matter/dp/0985188634

Behind-The-Scenes: The Release of “Don’t Look Back”

Over the past few months, I’ve experienced the incredible rollout of my latest film, “Don’t Look Back.”

The movie was initially released on Video On Demand and then had its domestic television debut in October on Lifetime Movie Network. On the night of its debut, it drew over 1.1 million viewers. It was an amazing experience. I even dabbled in a live tweeting session with two of the film’s cast members, Lucy Griffiths and Tyler Jacob Moore, during the broadcast.

DLB-Tweeting

I didn’t get nearly as many questions from fans as the two stars sitting next to me…but I did get some!

What was really cool about the experience was tweeting behind-the-scenes pics and info while those very scenes played out on the television in front of me. I’ve gotten some great feedback on the site, specifically, how I talk behind-the-scenes details and provide a glimpse into my directing process. Here’s a portion of a recent comment: “As an audience member, you do wonder what the director, writer and actors went through during the creative process and this is a wonderful resource for that. It is always interesting to know when shots and frames don’t just ‘happen’ but were planned to add more to the story than the action and dialogue.” I’m really glad to hear it.

MovieMaker-DLB-Eddie-WithViewfinder

The craft of directing can often seem intangible, or at times mysterious, and I take every element of the process extremely seriously. A recent article I wrote on directing a scene in “Don’t Look Back” was published in MovieMaker Magazine. Here’s a link where you can check it out:

http://www.moviemaker.com/archives/series/how_they_did_it/inserting-cuts-oner-dont-look-back/

In these days of microbudget films, with limited time and resources, you have to be as prepared as possible before you begin production in order to call audibles and change things up later on down the line. In fact, I’ve written a book all about the process of directing my first feature film, “Detour,” which is slated to be published early next year. So…keep an eye out for it!

In the case of “Don’t Look Back,” I was fortunate to have wonderful producers, and terrific cast and crew members, who supported my vision and helped me finish the film in the best possible manner!

 

DON’T LOOK BACK: The Pieces of the Puzzle

I’m a big fan of mystery. Where there’s a mystery, there’s a puzzle to be solved. And with any mystery comes clues. “Don’t Look Back” is no exception. You might catch clues on the first viewing of the film, but you’ll likely catch more on the second. In the spirit of celebrating the mystery of the movie, while simultaneously deconstructing it, here are some clues to enhance your viewing experience of the movie.

CM Capture 1

Remember, if you look hard enough, you will find the answers:

1. Triangles.

CM Triangle

Triangular shapes — in the production design, shot compositions and blocking of the actors — appear in critical moments of the film. The house Nora inherits, an A-frame structure, is itself a triangle. The shape of the house reflects the shape of the characters’ journey throughout the entire movie:

A-Frame-2

If the two characters are the sides of the house: where do they start, where do they meet and where do they split?

2. Green and Purple are complimentary colors.

complementary-color-wheelWho’s wearing green and who’s wearing purple? When are they wearing these specific colors? Do the colors ever switch characters?

3. Pay close attention to what is shown in mirrors.

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4. The Sputnik.

The Sputnik is a medium format twin lens reflex stereo camera introduced around 1955. It was developed and manufactured in Russia. Using 120mm film, the camera provides six 6×6 pairs (or twelve single images). As Peyton says: “It has two lenses. When I release the shutter, it takes two photographs of the same subject, simultaneously; but because the lenses are apart just so, each picture is slightly different.” Which replicates the way we see, with our eyes apart ‘just so.’

CM Capture 10When Peyton looks through the viewfinder, the image is reversed:

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We see through the viewfinder several times in the film. Think about the one time we see through the viewfinder and the image is not reversed.

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Who is holding the camera?

5. The Split-Diopter Lens.

Split-Diopter

We incorporate a Split-Diopter Lens to divide the frame between Nora and Peyton. This enables us to have both foreground and background in focus as we execute a split point-of-view.

Nora and Peyton are divided, yet connected on the same plane of focus.

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Notice how Peyton is first introduced and what the frame looks like when cutting back and forth between Nora and Peyton:

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The 180 degree line is intentionally broken, placing both Nora and Peyton on the same side of the frame. This results in our eye remaining in one spot (as opposed to shifting left-to-right-to-left in a traditional shot-reverse-shot) — the characters change, but their position remains one in the same, the blur of the Split-Diopter the only thing dividing them.

6. What is Nora wearing on her date with Jack? How is she wearing her hair?

NoraJackDate

7. Nora’s childhood bedroom.

Nora-Bedroom

Her bedroom — the room that Peyton rents — was the site of her abuse. The scene of the crime. And it literally hangs over the rest of the house. What kind of memories hang over the rest inside a troubled mind?

8. Lithium.

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Prolonged mood disorders are very serious, and the last line of defense is often “Lithium.” Prescribing Lithium is an indication that a patient’s mood disorder is not only quite serious, but has been worsening over the years. It is not uncommon for a psychotic break to occur if one were to stop taking their prescribed dosages. What are some of the symptoms that might accompany such a lapse?

9. Pay close attention to the moments in Nora’s life when Peyton shows up.

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Why does she appear at these moments?

10. Whose eye do we begin the film with and whose eye do we end the film with?

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At the beginning of the film, the camera enters the popsicle stick house. At the end of the film, the camera exits the real house — the one the popsicle stick version was modeled after.

It’s up to you to put the clues together and discover the answers. It’s perfectly okay to “figure out” some twists and turns while watching the film, or to not fully grasp them until long after you’ve finished watching the film. The point of the movie is to put you, the audience, into the shoes of our main character, Nora, and experience the events in the film as she experiences them, as she sees them unfolding around her.

Now I encourage you to watch the movie…and then look back!:

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/tv-season/dont-look-back/id905543703
Amazon Instant Video: http://www.amazon.com/Dont-Look-Back-Lucy-Griffiths/dp/B00NBD067A
VUDU: http://www.vudu.com/movies/#!content/554110/Dont-Look-Back
Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/movies/details/Don_t_Look_Back?id=SXpz_D_TcaI
Vimeo On Demand: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/20579

DON’T LOOK BACK: Television Premiere

DontLookBack-MV-Poster-WTD-Edited-FB-Advert

My latest film, “Don’t Look Back,” will be premiering nationwide on LMN (Lifetime Movie Network), Sunday, October 5th at 8:00pm (with repeat airings to follow):

http://www.mylifetime.com/movies/dont-look-back

I encourage you to tune in! I will be live-tweeting during the broadcast…and I encourage you to join me (@WDFilmmaker) on Twitter using #DontLookBack:

https://twitter.com/WDFilmmaker

The film is also available RIGHT NOW online through these platforms:

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/tv-season/dont-look-back/id905543703
Amazon Instant Video: http://www.amazon.com/Dont-Look-Back-Lucy-Griffiths/dp/B00NBD067A
VUDU: http://www.vudu.com/movies/#!content/554110/Dont-Look-Back
Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/movies/details/Don_t_Look_Back?id=SXpz_D_TcaI
Vimeo On Demand: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/20579

If you haven’t seen the trailer, you can watch it here:

Nora Clark is a children’s book writer whose life is at a crossroads. After moving back into the house she inherited from her grandmother, Nora comes to grips with the traumatic memories from her childhood, and takes in an inquisitive, seductive new roommate, Peyton, who is not entirely whom she appears to be. Lucy Griffiths (TRUE BLOOD) and Cassidy Freeman (LONGMIRE) star alongside Tyler Jacob Moore (SHAMELESS), Roddy Piper (THEY LIVE) and Emmy Award Nominee Kate Burton (SCANDAL).

Here are some recent quotes from the press:

“‘Don’t Look Back’ plays on elevating levels of the human mind, and takes the psychological thriller to a sharp peak.” – Movie Pilot

“This is Roddy Piper’s best performance since ‘They Live!'” – Film Pulse

“The moody acumen ‘Don’t Look Back’ generates almost bristles with a sense of auteur bravado.” – Paste Magazine.

Please watch and help spread the word! #DontLookBack

Poster Exclusive: “DON’T LOOK BACK!”

As the end of summer approaches, so does the release of my next film: DON’T LOOK BACK.

Here’s an exclusive first look at the poster below:

DONTLOOKBACK-Cabin-Poster-8-22-14-Web

The film is a psychological thriller about Nora Clark (Lucy Griffiths), a prominent children’s book writer, whose life is at a crossroads. After moving back into the house she inherited from her grandmother, Nora comes to grips with the traumatic memories from her childhood, and takes in an inquisitive, seductive new roommate, Peyton (Cassidy Freeman), who is not entirely whom she appears to be…

I was extremely fortunate to work with an amazing cast and crew who are all at the top of their game. Lucy Griffiths (TRUE BLOOD) and Cassidy Freeman (LONGMIRE) star in the film along with Tyler Jacob Moore, Roddy Piper and Kate Burton. Tyler was recently cast in ABC’s ONCE UPON A TIME as Prince Hans, a character you may know from Disney’s blockbuster hit FROZEN:

http://www.cinemablend.com/television/Once-Time-Finds-Its-Prince-Hans-Pabbie-Rock-Troll-66492.html

Kate Burton was just nominated for an Emmy Award for her role as Vice President Sally Langston on the show SCANDAL (Good luck, Kate!). And Roddy Piper – a childhood hero of mine, when I knew him as the infamous “Rowdy” – is perhaps best known in the world of cinema for his iconic role in John Carpenter’s cult classic THEY LIVE.

DON’T LOOK BACK is set to hit iTunes, VUDU and other VOD platforms in the beginning of September.

I will have more info soon, but in the meantime…keep a “lookout” for it!

William Dickerson is Stephen Fry proof thanks to caching by WP Super Cache