What are the specific qualities that, in your opinion, make a film great?
Most great films, in my opinion, have a distinct point of view, a confident hand, heart, and both patience with the material as well as sensitivity to their audience. There are so many different kinds of films that can be great – from the imperfect movie that makes you laugh reliably every time it shows up on TV to the IMPORTANT OSCAR MOVIE that really is perfect in every way and teaches the world something about humanity while making every creative department a master class in craft. I guess if I have to determine what those great movies have in common, it is a sense of purpose and passion for the material that comes through in confident choices – you walk away from the film feeling taken care of, feeling like someone shared something very special with you. I’d say that, for me, performances are the number one thing that separates a great film from a mediocre film. On the indie circuit, it is also very hard for me to find a film great if it has bad sound.
A great film causes an emotional response from its audience. The more emotions it can generate the greater it tends to be because this is very difficult to do. People tend to go to the movies to have experiences they don’t otherwise have. Great movies take them on this journey. The specific qualities of a great film include all of the usual suspects in terms of each department performing at its absolute highest to serve the story it is telling, however, a great film can never be without solid writing, focused directing, authentic performances and good sound. And of course being stunning never hurt.
What films have been the most inspiring or influential to you and why?
The films You Can Count on Me and Lovely and Amazing were both impactful for me because of how well they balance comedy and drama. I love films that make me both laugh and cry. As a filmmaker it is a great challenge to get tone right so the film feels unified, like one tight complete movie instead of several different films. (I also was inspired by Nicole Holofcener’s entire career and body of work – it was hard to find women directors to look up to during film school and discovering her was a great inspiration to keep going.) Growing up, the epic beauty of films like Gone with the Wind and Giant (both films I watched because of the value – my $2.17 got me two VHS tapes instead of one at the video store) – inspired me… Mike Nichols films always inspired me – how he manages to put the camera in the perfect place to say something about the theme of the film or scene – and again, humor and drama blended so effortlessly. Most recently, Wonder Woman certainly inspired me – both in its achievement and heart. Good storytelling, no snark, despite the formula preceding it in super hero films. Films that show women from the female gaze, living complicated lives inspire me as a viewer and as a filmmaker to keep making films that we need more of…
There have been many films that have inspired and influenced me in different ways. I respond mostly to character driven stories in any genre from the classics to coming of age to fantasy and even a good thriller as long as the characters are authentic and living a truth for me to experience. That being said the two films that immediately spring to mind in terms of impact especially are Three Colors: Blue (Kieslowski) and Star Wars. Three Colors: Blue taught me so much about the internal journey of the character through its intense use of emotional directing, dreamlike imagery, use of flashback and conveyance of the power of music. It sincerely changed my life. However, if you knew me you might be surprised to hear that by far the most inspiring movie that set my course for my life was the movie Star Wars. At a very young age, I saw this movie in the theater and it made me realize that entire other worlds could be created on the screen. What I didn’t know then that I do now is that it was also a complete revolution in the use of sound in filmmaking. Sound is so very important to me for every film I make and I have to credit my early experiences of sound design in Star Wars for that.
What’s harder? Getting started or being able to keep going? And what drives you to keep making films?
I make films because I am compelled to. Because making films makes me happy – the actual making and doing of it. Being a happier person makes me a better mom, a better wife and a better friend. Getting started is tricky because of figuring out the numerous resources involved. So far, I am about as indie as it gets, so figuring out the money and the time (and the babysitting) is extremely challenging and could certainly be enough obstacle to say this is a non-starter and I can’t do it. But I operate from the perspective that if I wake up each morning doing something to make my film inevitable – often brainstorming what I can do that day that costs me nothing other than time – things will fall into place eventually… or they won’t, but so far everything I’ve done from that perspective has come into existence in one form or another. Being able to keep going — well, I suppose I find that less of a challenge once I enter into a film because I am pretty serious about development and pre-production, so there is not a lot that can surprise me about what I’ve signed up for…I have been tested, however, on occasion – I recall a short comedy in film school that I was directing that happened to go into production the week of 9/11. That was very, very difficult. It required us to dig pretty deep and know why we were making the film – it can feel like it’s an insignificant thing to do in the middle of a crisis that large. Having a collaborative team and a testimony of why you do what you do is the thing to carry me through every time. I do not make movies alone.
I make movies because I have to. Whether through laughter or the emotional journeys of others, films have the power to shine a light on the world. The only hard thing for us in getting started is truly gaining access to funding. Once we have chosen the right project and have some kind of funding in place, our team is driven to get it up on its feet. Once we are started, we will definitely keep going as there is no way we cannot finish a film. The long haul comes after the film has had its cast and crew screening. This is the time period we call “post post” and can be anywhere from 1-3 years. Whereas we enjoy the festival phase of filmmaking, there are many other things that take a lot of time, discipline and tenacity to continue the journey.
What is your favorite aspect of film production?
I love working with actors. I love when a shot comes together in harmony with what the actors are doing – especially when the camera operator becomes another actor in the scene and hits the perfect framing because they are so in tune with performance – those moments are electric. I love the team/family that comes together on a harmonious set equally as well. There’s nothing like good collaboration and fighting to shape a piece of work. I also have to admit I like the excuse to eat Red Vines.
I love the collaborative nature of filmmaking. There is nothing better then gathering a bunch of dedicated, talented hard working people together to tell an authentic story with impact. Creating an environment where people can do what they love is very important to me. The moment on set when everything goes quiet, the actors hit it out of the park and everyone then almost simultaneously breathes in together with a “yes” we got it – there is nothing like that in the world. The pure definition of magic.
Why did you choose Breckenridge? What do you look for in a festival where you hope to show your film?
Breckenridge has supported me as a filmmaker since my infancy, right out of film school! My films have shown here again and again and it is not lost on me how special that is. Filmmakers, especially indie filmmakers, need supportive communities like Breckenridge where they can build an audience over time in order to continue making their work. Breckenridge has a commitment to solid programming and cares for its alumni beyond one film or one year. They also supported women and diversity in film long before it was a trending topic, something I absolutely feel passionately about.
Having attended the Breckenridge Film Festival, I found the event to be full of like-minded people. The programming is strong, the environment is welcoming and it is all around an inspiring time. The festival has been a wonderful platform for women for a very long time. These are all things I look for when looking for festivals to submit to and attend.
Can you describe the business behind independent filmmaking and how you are trying to get your film seen?
That’s an enormous topic. And the business behind indie filmmaking is constantly changing. It helps to work backwards each time I make a film and define what success means to me on each project. What kind of distribution do I expect? What, at minimum, would bring me satisfaction when walking away from the festival circuit, the post-process, the set? What community am I most hoping to touch with the film? When I approach a project that way, it helps with every decision and as a producer makes sure that my budget, schedule, cast and ultimately marketing and outreach are realistic and in concert. There are so many things out of your control when making a film and you certainly can’t predict how the sale or programming life of the film will go, but you can make smart choices that minimize risk for the business side of the project and support the artistic satisfaction the filmmaker gets out of it. Audience building has to start from day one. Marketing strategy has to start from day one. You have to know what movie you are making out of the gate, because you wont have a big P&A budget at the end to experiment with – you need to be collecting those tools all along the way. With Quality Problems, we crowdfunded with a record breaking Seed & Spark crowdfunding campaign (and if you’re a filmmaker and unfamiliar with them – get familiar – they’re fantastic). Part of running a successful crowdfunding campaign is knowing your audience early and being able to pitch your movie solidly, getting passionate about it in specific ways that make people perk up in 60 seconds and actually give you money. Those people then become your social media machine and best marketing allies – they are helping you build your audience and are creative parts of the process in a way. We are on the festival circuit now with Quality Problems and continuing to bring in our audience to participate in sharing our message and film (the original message that we honed in on way back in the crowdfunding stage that now carries us through the marketing).
The business behind independent filmmaking is a tricky one. The main plus of independent filmmaking is the enormous amount of creative control that is retained by the filmmakers. Because we are often raising the funds ourselves and answering only to the authenticity of the scripts we have chosen, the process can be a very rewarding creative experience filled with purpose and passion. This unfortunately does not mean that it is rewarding financially. Although independent, we still need to consider the business side of producing which includes determining target markets and the salability of a film. The immense opportunities that are now available to get your film seen are both exhilarating and exhausting in that those avenues still need to be navigated. The noisy environment that we find ourselves in because anyone with a cell phone can make a movie requires us to work even harder to determine the correct path for a film. Currently, the independent world consists of selling your film to a bigger distributor (which is often a driving force in getting it seen at festivals) or self-distribution. There is a hybrid emerging in terms of aggregators that act as assistance for getting your films to a digital platform while retaining a cut for themselves. The deliverables of these platforms are all very different at the moment so these emerging companies can be very helpful. In the end, it all comes down to knowing what your film is about and who might want to see it so early on that have you a specific marketing plan in mind. So specific that you can even create a poster for it. Creating a true marketing plan, as part of your green light process is the best way to get your movie seen once it is made.
What are the hurdles you’ve had to overcome in order to recoup the costs of producing the film?
When our team looks at making a film, there are many reasons we consider in terms of internally green lighting. Sometimes we are aware that recouping our costs may be very difficult however we proceed with the film for other reasons, such as launching a new director or actor, gaining traction in the independent film world or sometimes the story simply must be told. We would always like to recoup the costs of producing but there are several hurdles in doing so. Because of the crowded entertainment environment, the “deals” are much less lucrative these days. Not too long ago distribution companies would help pay for making movies through advance DVD sales and selling in foreign markets, however those days are long since over. There is still some money lurking in these areas however, a film often has to have a big name in it to generate those deals now and even then, it is questionable depending on the “bankability” of the star. Another related hurdle in this area is that there simply used to be fewer films out there. With the advancements in technology, more filmmakers have emerged all over the world. In a “seeing new voices on the screen” sense, this is wonderful. In a “how does anyone make their money back now” sense, it is harder. The new models of self distribution are exciting possible options but those require a great deal of work in terms of marketing and making noise out there to get your audience to even become aware of the film. In the end, it is about how good the story is executed and how many people are touched by it. It the film hits it out of the park, there is a good chance it will recoup its costs one way or another.
What are the next project or projects you are beginning work on?
Our team is currently in pre-production on the next Metamorfic feature, Miles Underwater, scheduled to shoot in San Antonio, Texas in 2018. Miles Underwater is a coming of age story about a boy who is pathologically afraid of water and goes on an unexpected journey where he must pass three tests which force him to face his ultimate fear, accept his past and secure his destiny. Jhenn and Jen will continue their producing partnership along with this time; Jen Prince will be having her feature directorial debut. Teaming up again with the several of the filmmakers who created Quality Problems, Miles Underwater is written by Colette Freedman and Brooke Purdy. Jen Prince will continue her partnership with the San Antonio Young Filmmakers Association and shoot the project in her hometown of San Antonio, Texas. She previously mentored and Associate Produced the narrative feature, Fields Afire, with Soapboxx Media in San Antonio through this organization. We are very excited to bring this project to the screen.
If there is one or more thing you think would make the film industry better, what would it be?
Hands down the one thing that would make the film industry better is more inclusion on and off the screen. It is really time that the voices being heard better represent the beautiful diversity in the world. Independent film is the best hope for the visions of the under represented to make it to the screen, which is ultimately why we are in it.