End of the Line, Slashers, Lady of the Lake
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1. How did you come up with the idea for Slashers? It's such an awesome concept for a horror movie.
When I wrote Slashers in 1999, the big reality TV wave had not yet hit. But I had seen a clip from a Japanese game show called, "Endurance," where contestants were put through hell to win prizes (being buried in ice for as long as possible, drinking huge amounts of liquid then being hit in the stomach and trying not to pee, etc.) and all previous death game films I had seen (Running Man, Death Race 2000, etc.). They were always involuntary participants (prisoners, innocent bystanders, etc.) and I thought it would be interesting to have contestants be on a life and death game show willingly for all sorts of reasons (fame, money, etc.) as it had not been done before.
2. Did it take you long to write the script?
The writing went very quickly, it took only about one month. It flowed out rather easily, once I had the concept and chose my characters and sent them off into the game.
3. Were you influenced at all by Battle Royale? They're obviously very different films, but I couldn't help notice some similarities like the neck collars and the Japanese aspect. I imagine it's just a coincidence, but it seems like you must be a fan of Japanese cinema. Is that true?
At the time I was writing Slashers, Battle Royale had not come out, and I actually only saw it 2 years after I finished the film. I was awestruck by some of the similarities (the cute, peppy hostess). As for the collars, they were also in a 1992 film called Fortress, and it seemed logical for me that the producers needed to have control over the participants so it was an easy solution. As for being a fan of Japanese cinema, well except for a few ghost films (Ringu, Ju-on), a few Kurosawa, and a bunch of Godzilla flicks, I had not seen that many Japanese films.
4. How were you able to get all the Japanese actors for the opening of Slashers?
Well Montreal did not have many Japanese residents (Vancouver has tons) so most of the extras were from other Asian countries. I used a casting agent and just gathered as many Asians as possible. Very silly idea to try and do this on such a low budget.
5. You mentioned in another interview you'd like to do a sequel or remake to Slashers but the rights are tied up with the original distribution company that went bankrupt so it'd be too difficult to get them back. Can you elaborate on why it's so complicated?
Well I had signed away the rights to a production company called Blackwatch, that then signed them away to a numbered company in conjunction with a British company, when they all went into bankruptcy, a completion bond company took over, but went bankrupt as well after the film was finished. It would be too expensive of a legal hassle to try and figure who owns what anymore. It would take a Hollywood company with millions to want to do a remake to be able to afford to sort things out.
6. Is there anything fans can do to help?
No, not really. Although there are lots of similar films that have come out since.
7. I really liked the performances in End of the Line especially Neil Napier and Emily Shelton. Did you do any rehearsals?
Unfortunately, I did not have the budget to do any rehearsals with my actors (as with Union actors, rehearsals days are paid as well), but I was lucky that the cast I got was professional and did great under the circumstances.
8. Do you think directors should rehearse with their actors before filming? Why or why not?
Well of course any rehearsal time would be beneficial, it would give you time to polish the dialogue, work out any kinks in the scenes and make you save time on the set.
9. What do you think is the key to working with actors?
Casting is 90%. If you chose the right actor with the right look and talent for the part, most of your job as a director is then to do some slight fine tuning. They will make you look good. So of course, if one day, you have the luxury of working with great actors (Meryl Streep, Daniel Day Lewis, etc.) you will look like a genius.
10. Stanley Kubrick holds a Guinness World Record for 127 takes of a single scene on The Shining (source). Fincher did 99 takes for the opening six-minute scene of The Social Network (source). How many takes did you usually do for the dialogue scenes on End of the Line?
End of the Line was shot quickly. Most of the time, 2-3 takes maximum. A few scenes had more, but I think 8-9 was tops. For Slashers, since it was a bunch of long continuous takes with so many variables, it was usually around 18 takes.
11. Do you think it's a good idea or a bad idea to do so many takes with your actors (assuming, of course, you have that luxury)?
Well it always depends on why you are doing another take, if youíre doing takes because other elements were not well prepared (sound mike goes into shot, or other technical glitches) or because you donít know what you want from them and keep saying letís do another take with no indications on what to try differently, the actors will get justifiably angry and will burn out. Itís best to try and get what you want in a few takes so the actorsí energy level will still be high.
12. What do you look for in an actor?
That he fit the role, be talented, professional, on time, off-script and courteous to the other cast members and the crew.
13. The scores to both Slashers and End of the Line are excellent. What is your process like for working with your composer Martin Gauthier? How do you tell him what kind of music you want? What kind of guidance do you give him? Do you send him examples of other scores you like that may be similar to what you're looking for or does he just go off and create something by himself?
Martin is a close friend, and our collaborations on the score were always pleasant and very fulfilling. We would discuss which scenes I would want scored and with what type of music, then once I heard what he had done, would make suggestions or sometimes use it elsewhere in the film. The end result of the music scores was always one of my favorite things about my films.
14. You went to the American Film Market to sell your film. What that experience was like?
You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy!
Itís absolutely depressing. The AFM is where you see the ugly side of moviemaking: the business side. Sales agents are all sharks that feed on indy filmmakers. They will literally rape you and ask you to pay for it. Everything is very expensive there and unfortunately it is not a place for artists.
15. Do you think other independent filmmakers should try to go to the AFM? It seems pretty expensive just to attend it, much less advertise and market your film there.
There is no short answer to this question, unfortunately whatever advice I could give from my own experience (and from many other indy filmmakers, I shared war stories with) is useless as people do not want to hear the hard truth. The bottom line is films like The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity and a handful of others are "lottery winners." All other indy productions will lose most, if not all the money that was invested in them. Sales agents and distributors have just too many devious tricks of the trade they will use to never have to pay out any money to indy filmmakers. You would not believe the number of filmmakers whose films were released on DVD by BIG NAME distributors and they never got a dime. Iím sorry to say that itís almost guaranteed to be a no-win situation financially if youíve invested your own or your familyís/friendsí money in the making of a film.
16. Do you have any advice on how to sell the rights to your film at the AFM? How did you go about it?
Once again this is a big question. But to simplify things, letís put it this way: it does not matter what any contract says. The only money you will ever make on a film is money that is wired directly to your bank account BEFORE you gave out a Master copy of the film. That is it. End of story. If you can come to an agreement directly with a distributor for an upfront dollar amount for a territory for you film and get that amount wired to your account, that is the ONLY way to make sure you see a few bucks. But in the last 10 years, offers have shrunk for DVD rights (because of illegal downloads, etc.) for indy films, and because there is a GLUT of product, as everyone and his cousin can make a film now because of the new digital technology. So distributors have the luxury of choice and getting things on the cheap.
17. How you were able to get your film released in Japan? Did you negotiate that yourself with a distributor or was that handled by Anchor Bay or a sales agent?
I handled all the sales myself, and negotiated the price with a Japanese distributor I had met at the AFM (where I had rented a booth with a few other filmmakers). As I mentioned, DO NOT use a Sales Agent!
18. Were you able to get any money upfront from selling the foreign rights? Any tips on countries to focus on?
If you mean before the film was shot the answer is no. Almost no one pre-buys anymore, and especially not for indy films. If you meant once the film was completed, yes all my deals were upfront as it is the only way to see a dime. You will never get any royalties. That is not a joke.
19. Do you think independent filmmakers should get a sales agent when they have a completed film? Why or why not?
If your goal is to make any money at all, the answer is no. Sales agent will screw you out of ALL the money the film might make. If you just want the film to be distributed, the answer is yes. But make sure they donít make you PAY for any deliverables, E&O insurances, etc. Give them the film and kiss it goodbye. You wonít get any money, but at least it will be distributed if that is what you want. You can not get both distribution and money from a sales agent.
20. I was really shocked to read even a company like Magnolia wouldn't give you any cash upfront for End of the Line. I'm glad Anchor Bay actually came through. If indie filmmakers are lucky enough to find a distributor willing to give a cash advance, can you tell us roughly how much we could expect?
Well even if I gave you the amounts I got for End of the Line, prices have plummeted since I sold the film 7 years ago. I got $50k from Japan, with an equivalent film today, youíd probably be lucky to get 5k to 15k.
21. Were you able to get any money upfront when you sold the rights to Slashers?
I was not involved in the selling of Slashers as I did not have the rights.
22. You said you got screwed over in the past from distribution deals. Can you explain what happened? I've been told unless you get money upfront, you'll never see a dime from a distributor because of creative accounting and other ridiculous business practices.
That is absolutely true. Creative accounting, among many other dodgy things, is an unfortunate reality of the film business. Hell, even big Hollywood companies, will say that The Lord of the Rings trilogy did not make any money and did not owe any backend profits to Peter Jackson (he had to sue, and only succeeded because they wanted him for The Hobbit). There are just too many ways (legal and illegal) that sales agents and distributors use to not pay indy filmmakers. Hereís one example: for Lady of the Lake, I unfortunately signed with a sales agent to handle foreign sales. They then sold it to a dozen countries for $39,900, coincidently, just under the amount they were allotted for expenses which was $40,000. So in the 12 years they have had the rights to the film, I made $0. Later I found out this is a very standard practice by devious sales agents and their crafty accounting. They basically sell a bunch of films together to various distributors and just cross loop the amounts to all the films they have the rights to (and are allotted expenses for to promote, etc.) so they always have nothing to pay out. Itís legal robbery. So letís say a distributor really wants your film and is willing to spend $25,000 for it. The sales agent will throw in the deal four other films for next to nothing, but then will divide the amounts between each film, always insuring that they will each be under their recoverable expenses amount. That way, films that would not have sold anything, still will sell the total amount of the recoverable expenses but nothing more. So they pocket all the money and the filmmakers get nothing. Most indy filmmakers are not business savvy and all the ones Iíve met have ALL been screwed. All of them.
23. It seems like traditional distribution is pretty bleak for independent filmmakers. More and more directors are saying how they didn't make a dime on their film despite getting widespread DVD and Netflix releases. What do you think about self-distribution through services like Kunaki, Distribber, and Distrify?
Yes, it is bleak. Never heard or tried Kunaki, Distribber and Distrify so I have no opinion on them.
24. What are the most helpful books you've read on filmmaking or screenwriting?
I guess Robert Rodriguezís Rebel Without a Crew.
25. What's the best independent horror film you've seen? Any recent indie horror movies you were impressed by?
There are just so many: Night of the Living Dead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Evil Dead, Martin, etc. All are fantastic indy horror films. Even Halloween can be considered independent (if the definition of indy is non-Hollywood-studio financed).
Recently, I loved Kill List.
26. What's the most important piece of advice you'd give an aspiring filmmaker?
1) Write something tailor made for a low budget (few actors and locations)
2) Make sure your script is ready and really tight, as you donít want to shoot anything you will later cut out (time and money wasted).
3) Donít spend your own money. Youíll never get it back. But if you absolutely have no other choice make sure you budget an amount you can easily accept to never get back and then think that you will probably have to spend about 40% more for unforeseen expenses. Then look at the amount, and be true to yourself, can you say goodbye to that money. If the answer is yes, then go into pre-production.
4) Get professional actors. Whatever extra you spend will be worth it, they will make your job easier and make you look like a better director. Use a casting agent, if needed, to find them.
5) Get professionals for key crew (lighting, camera, sound, costumes, sets, makeup).
6) Make sure your locations are easy to access with available parking and low noise.
7) Once you start shooting, make sure you get your film completely in the can. You donít want to have to run after people for reshoots or unfinished scenes.
8) If youíre producing, do NOT hand over your film to a sales agent. Accept only upfront cash deals. Because you will NEVER see any royalties and/or back-end money. No matter if itís a prestigious name company or not. Look at it as a drug deal. Both of you hold guns on each other. The buyer holds the money and you hold a master copy of the film. Then you do the switch. Never keep your eyes off the other guy until youíre paid. Itís better to walk away from any deal, no matter how good it seems, if they do not pay you upfront, as you will always hear the classic excuses. ďSend us the master and we promise weíll wire you the money next week,Ē etc. Donít fall for it.
9) Donít give up. You only have one short life. If this is something you need to do, do it!
10) Donít listen to what anyone says, especially me :)