Kevin K. Shah’s M.L.M.M.M.T. VOLUME ONE
Day 1. Baraka: Montage World Art Film. 2. Red (From the Three Colors Trilogy): Kieslowski Drama, one of my fav. 3. A Woman Under the Influence: J. Cassevettes. 4. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: Milos & Jack, made me want to make movies. 5. Raising Arizona: Comedy Coen Bros. 6. Breaking the Waves: Devastating Drama 7. Raising Victor Vargas: Childhood/adolescence Drama
Day 8. The Son : Drama, Suspense (Dardenne Bros.) huge influence. 9. The Ice Storm: Ted Hope, ahead of its time 10. Ratcatcher: Childhood Drama 11. After Hours: Scorsese 12. Amelie: A Romantic Comedy 13. City of Lost Children Dark Fantasy Children’s Story 14. Brazil: Terry at his best
Day 15. George Washington: Child Drama 16. Wings of Desire: Fantasy Drama 17. Big Fish: For fun, Romanic Fantasy Comedy 18. Robocop: Action, nothing like it. 19. Hustler & Cool Hand Luke: Paul Newman wow 20. Who’s Afraid of Virgina Wolfe?: Liz and Paul 21. Dog Day Afternoon: Police Drama
Day 22. Werkmeister Harmonies: Hard to Describe – incredible experience. 23. Down by Law & A Perfect World Double Feature: Comedy (Jarmusch) & Costner redeemed 24. Quiz Show & GoodNight, Good Luck Double Features: Historical Drama 25. Stranger than Paradise More Vintage Jarmusch 26. MicroCosmos A film for the family! 27. Dombivli Fast Slick Bollywood Drama 28. Infernal Affairs Slick Hong Kong Cop Drama
Day 29. Shawshank Redemption Prison Drama, Classic 30. The Apartment: Classic Comedy 31. Restrepo: Fav documentary of the last 10 years.
BOSS OF ME – A WEB SERIES by SABI
Boss of Me tells the story of a new Creative Director and Producer of Marketing and Distribution that is sent down from “corporate” to manage the newly acquired independent feature film production company Sabi Pictures. What ensues is a systematic restructuring (“Side-Shifting” as the star calls it) by Bret Donovan to the chagrin of the employees. But Bret is also an idea-man, and he alone believes his ideas are the one thing that can keep morale up and save the company.
A WEB SERIES FOR OUR FANS
It was created to be distributed on the web for free for our fans, with a healthy amount of humor and poking at both ourselves and this business we’re in. With all the talk about how Independent Film is dead (which it is not by the way) we felt a show like this couldn’t come at a better time — and setting a show in a production company was ripe for funny material.
CREATING THE SERIES: Co-Creating the Boss of Me web series with John T. Woods was a convergence of several factors. First and foremost, we (at Sabi Pictures) were looking for a fun way to connect with fans, and specifically our films and our company and who we are — with those that watch and enjoy our content. Reach out to fans and learn who they are — and at the same time (hopefully) entertaining them. Thus, the series extends out into Facebook, where the star of the show (Bret Donovan) has a very active Facebook profile. Often ideas offered by fans are certainly food for thought for future seasons…
We are excited to get some recent press from PopCultureMonster — where the :90 spot is featured exclusively for it’s first week of release. Exclusive interviews, pictures of the Cobb-Boom Helmet in action (see below) — as well as a write-up about the series is featured in the article on their site.
Our hope with Boss of Me is simply to stimulate discussion, interaction and as Bret says ‘smiles.” The entire notion of our having intentionally crafted ‘branded content’ was just a bonus — not the intention or the goal. We certainly do want more attention on the work of Sabi, but practically speaking, we just wanted to create something that wasn’t expensive so that we could offer it for free to our amazing fans without having to justify a return.
THE PROCESS: We shot everything on a Canon 7D, and used the prototype for a Cobb-Boom Helmet (which is an audio booming aid that you wear on your head invented by Jamie Cobb) to record sound. We used Pluraleyes to sync sound & Final Cut Pro to do the rest. Of course, these minimal resources isn’t ideal but it well suited our needs for keeping this small and on its feet. Often the shooter was wearing the Cobb-Boom Helmet to get the sound while also getting the picture — which aside from getting the job done, was a funny sight to see.
Much of the dialogue is improvised, and was guided by myself and John T. Woods through several phone calls, text messages with jokes, emails and a rough outline before going in. But it’s all really Bret Donovan. Bret was a find for us like no other, and of course there would be no show without him. His sincerity on and off camera is what keeps me as a co-creator interested in exploring new ideas and avenues while the camera is already rolling. The real investment with this series was our time and energy — so it was important to keep it a fun (and very fast) working atmosphere. We hope this translated into the series.
Boss of Me is certainly not for everyone — and it’s not something we were intending on getting on something like HBO for wide release — but at the very most we hope that fans subscribe & interact and want to see more (and at the very least — we hope they find it funny. In parts, anyway.) We look forward to your feedback!
INDIAN FILM FESTIVAL OF LOS ANGELES DUST REQUEST: A WORLD PREMIERE A SABI PICTURES MEMOIR by Kevin K. Shah
Starring Kevin K. Shah, Surya Chandra & Zak Forsman WHY THE INDIAN FILM FESTIVAL OF LOS ANGELES? In my humble opinion, there is a very short list of second tier film festivals that pay careful and much needed attention to both audience and filmmaker experience. The Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (@IFFLA) is on this list – and anyone that has screened there or attended would agree. Executive Director Christina Marouda and her staff & army of volunteers provided better-than-red-carpet treatment to both emerging artists and the VIP’s — all the while planning excellent parties, awards ceremonies, networking sessions and highlighting everything we love about Indian culture, music, art and movies (both independent and studio-scale).
DUST REQUST: A WORLD PREMIERE: We made a nano-budget interdependent art film called Dust Request: A Last Will and Testament which was finished earlier this year at Sabi Pictures & the film was shot entirely in New Zealand. It was based on Arjun Chandra’s Last Will and Testament & the film debut’s Surya Chandra in a quiet, simple emotional experience. The film highlights one woman’s journey into nature to fulfill her husband’s final supernatural request. My favorite audience-related memory was a couple letting me know how effected they were by watching the film and how they’ve been talking about what they wish for their ashes after they pass. The wife told me she and her husband were holding each other’s hand tightly as the film was playing. Comments like that fill the well.
PREMIERING YOUR FILM AT IFFLA: I was most impressed that the festival provided rich promotional opportunities (including a radio interview I was invited to with Joe Sutton (for the Heart of Hollywood show) as well as 1-on-1 sessions with executives and agents such as Caleb Franklin from CAA. Regardless of whether one made a short or a doc or a feature — the filmmakers had equal access in an atmosphere where like minded artists and individuals can converge and share inspirations. I was thankful and glad to be accompanied by the star Surya Chandra (@suryachandra) who flew for the premiere from Washington D.C. and Sabi producer Zak Forsman (@zakforsman). A week of festivities, two screenings, great parties, a stack of business cards and several people we’re glad to be a friends with… I’m not sure what else a working-class filmmaker should desire from a film festival? The exposure to films that would otherwise never find themselves in a multi-plex alone makes attending the festival worth it — but the extra care and attention to both filmmaker and audience experience really makes the IFFLA stand out.
For me, hearing the music by R. Carlos Nakai with the imagery on the big screen & seeing the poster up at the Arclight — and ‘a film by sabi’ & logo prominently displayed in the theater before the film was a shameful & secret delight. How else but through legit film festivals & a concerted effort to promote your own art can we as filmmakers get word out there about our work? The Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles for Sabi Pictures forged a springboard for other festival & audience interest in the film — as well as a wealth of sold DVD’s from our cinefist.com site. In a large part because of the exposure generated by the Indian Film Festival in Los Angeles, Sabi Pictures glad to announce Dust Request is continuing on to the Bollywood and Beyond 2010 film festival in Stuttgart, Germany in July.
To premiere the film alongside such significant works as The Sun Behind the Clouds and Women Rebel by Kiran Deol to a cultured audience twice at the Arclight Theaters on Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles — it’s an experience that every passionate filmmaker deserves. With an average attendance of 7,000 and steadily growing — IFFLA has completed it’s 8th year & I look forward to attending next year. This festival here in the heart of LA is where Indian filmmakers and films about India would want to premiere.
Kevin K. Shah Director
DUST REQUEST – A WORLD PREMIERE AT INDIAN FILM FESTIVAL LOS ANGELES – a sabi pictures memoir There was random moment of fun when I was standing with Hash Patel (who provides the voice in the film for Arjun Chandra’s Last Will and Testament) — a staff member walked by and said, “They’re ready for you on the red carpet now.” Hash looked at me and said, “It’s not every day you hear something that. Enjoy it.” This video highlights some our personal memories from that experience.
The Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles 2010 & Sabi Pictures: Dust Request – A Last Will and Testament.
(c) Sabi Pictures.
Directed by Kevin K. Shah (@drmental)
INDIE THRILLERS: 3 Things you Likes about Thrillers and 3 Things you Dislike.
As we’re continuing to develop Falling Rock at Sabi Pictures, we’re looking to our fans and audiences for creative input and interaction, in hopes to better guide the creative team as we embark together across multiple media platforms to tell this story.
We’d love to begin by asking you to contribute to the following list (please add your own). We are particularly interested in your Dislikes, so as to avoid them with Falling Rock – a Thriller.
For Example, my responses:
3 Things You like about Thrillers.
1. Thrillers can make me feel real FEAR in thinking the worst, while HOPING for the best.
2. Thrillers can deeply explore the darker side of the human condition.
3. Thrillers can stay with me long after the film is over through the experience of suspense.
3 Things You don’t like about Thrillers.
1. Thrillers that exploit violence gratuitously, unrealistically, and sadistically – causing trauma and diminishing of our capacity to empathize with real suffering.
2. Thrillers devoid of any real meaning, hope, or possibility of redemption.
3. Thrillers that use effects, music and shock-editing to manipulate its audience into thrills rather than suspense, mystery, and a willing suspension of horror & disbelief.
I would love to read your list!
Please reach me here, or on Facebook or @drmental
Please take a moment to vote for my panel at SXSW 2010:
Nano-budget Interdependent Filmmaking: The New Sustainable Cinema
Acting, Digital Filmmaking, Marketing / PR / Publicity, New Technology / Next Generation, Production
Kevin Shah, sabi pictures
1. What does it mean for a film to be “Interdependently” made as opposed to “Independent”?
2. What is interdependent casting, directing, producing, and editing?
3. How does one foster creative collaborative relationships for the production?
4. Why is it important to use improvisation and HD in low-budget films? (Quality of Performance)
5. What marketing materials should I be working on DURING production to help during release?
6. How can I empower my actors to help guide and shape the story?
7. How can my marketing materials be intergrated into the web 3.0 model of things?
8. What are some examples of success stories that used radical collaboration & marketing?
9. How much does a high quality ‘nano-budget’ film cost, and what is a good profit-sharing agreement?
10. What is the creative satisfaction like with the utilization of the above process?
Technology and radical creative collaboration has empowered the interdependent filmmaker to make original, high-quality independent art films on a minimal budget. This panel will discuss how to manage and empower a creative team and a successful production on a shoe-string: creatively, practically, and spiritually. Also covered will be the ideal web 3.0 marketing materials one should create for the film’s release.
I wrote this in response to a recent tweet from Filmmaker Magazine editor Scott Macaulay, after our NEW BREED panel on ‘Creative Collaboration’ at DIY DAYS Philadelphia. He wrote re: our panel on creative collaboration: “I didn’t ask panelists to define it. Isn’t all filmmaking collab? What’s diff now?” The following is to continue the dialogue:
CHANGES IN THE NATURE OF COLLABORATION IN FILMMAKING
There are presently several ascending levels to degrees in which creative collaboration occurs in the making of a film. On one end of the spectrum, collaboration could mean a Director communicates his/her vision and the Cinematographer adjusts to make the visuals resonate. It could be a Director and Composer in a booth changing rhythms of music. It could mean an Actor suggesting a line on-set. These old-school forms of collaboration are obvious to all – and this is one level of collaboration. Great films, and incredible moments in cinema have been created this way, and until recently – it perhaps only this way.
Then there is, on the other end of the spectrum – something radically different and altogether new – what I would consider a higher level of collaboration in creating cinema. To understand this new form of interdependent collaboration, you have to step back a moment and look at how far we’ve come technologically, and more specifically, how technology has shaped and empowered the next generation of young creative collaborators.
A BREIF HISTORY OF KIDS WITH CAMERAS
Sabi Pictures co-founder Zak Forsman and started making films with the first generation VHS camcorders at 12. We worked together with kids in the neighborhood and our families – taking ideas from everyone and each other – and created the movies mostly as we went along ‘in-camera’. After us, came a micro-generation of self-taught filmmakers who had access to video cameras as a grade-school toy. Now, they’re cutting features on their laptops complete with graphics and special effects. Using the technology, they’ve learned from their mistakes and they’ve learned how to tell artistic stories. They make movies organically and without a lot of money. Their film school is watching independent and foreign films, hours of DVD bonus features, the occasional class – but primarily, the act of doing. They are of any age.
MULTI-HYPHENATES: THE NEW COLLABORATORS
This intelligent, empowered new generation of young artist/filmmakers are the new collaborators. They understand intrinsically how to tell stories, and make movies organically – and how to make them engaging and real despite their budget limitations. They collaborate interdependently rather than independently – they work with each other, not ‘for’. Their power relationships are shifted in a way that fosters a creative spirit among all. Any one member’s contribution to whole would be greatly affected if they were not a part of the project. They are all empowered by the directors/producers – and quite often, they are all friends (or become friends). This collaborative filmmaking team has learned together by doing – and doing everything together – and no one would dare suggest a particular task is ‘not my job.’
This generation of filmmakers (emerging everywhere) feels deeply entitled to more than whatever job they apply for. They quit jobs that do not engage them – or lose interest in films that they cannot be fully invested in. They are all, each and every one – a potential motion picture studio unto themselves – but they work together. For the greater picture of the Arts vs. Commerce – this is a great victory for the Arts, for these emerging artists are not hampered by anything or anyone. With the internet as an avenue for distribution, those with the clearest and most original voices – finally have a chance.
These serious writer/director/producer/editor/shooters understand that creative collaboration is actually working with other multi-hyphenate filmmakers to tell a story – and to share an ever-changing organic experience that is greater than any one person’s vision. Despite their smaller crews, homegrown style, and simplified locations – this next generation of creative collaborators work together in a radically new and exceptionally creative way. By listening to each other, and allowing the possibility of improvisation to occur on set (be it dramatic or comedic) – the new collaborators of today foster a spirit of creativity and free expression from all involved with the project, from the D.P. to sound mixer to the stars. There is a greater sense of shared pride on projects of this sort, and the results are often more engaging and honest.
The only way I can describe this method of collaboration is to call it Interdependent Filmmaking. The way in which interdependent filmmakers work is to tell their film with each other – despite antiquated models of hierarchy on-set. In fact the entire model of above the line and below the line breaks-down fundamentally when collaborating on this high level. Everyone’s contributions are equally important and under the guidance and vision of a director (whose mission is to explore character, and tell the best story possible with input from the cast and crew) and a producer (whose mission it is to be flexible to change and to create a safe atmosphere where creativity is fostered) and their interdependent team. Everyone has their roles, but everyone’s contributions are important and valued. The relationship between the director and the actors are emboldened by these new production practices, and there is a process of mutual discovery during the experience of making the film.
These new highly collaborative artist/filmmakers are too smart for one role, and one role is far beneath them – they need to be a part of the crafting experience of the film, they have a tremendous amount to offer it tapped as a resource rather than just a helping hand. These creative collaborators are empowered by their prior experience and knowledge (regardless of age), and by creating with/for each other. They seek surprises on-set, they strive for honesty and deep emotion on screen, and ‘real’ performances. In fact, the new stories we see emerging were always written with the intention of being made (and revised to make things possible) . The characters are conceived with—and fleshed out by—the actors that were always intended to play them. Creativity is happening on-set while the production is on its feet – not just in the darkness of the writer’s room or editing bay.
EMPOWERED BY SCARCITY
Using social networks and the internet as an inexpensive testing and meeting ground for ideas and publicity, this New Sustainable Cinema trend of smaller, more collaborative films is fully empowered by scarcity in funding rather than hampered by it. This is an amazing thing and different than experiences of the past. Our limitations are forcing us to tell better, more inventive, more impactful stories. Producers arrange to shoot guerilla, with DSLR cameras. Directors and Composers that have never met in person, score an entire film online. Actors that really care about their craft, seek out collaborative directors that could push their creative boundaries based on seeing their work online. These nano-budget films are not only being created collaboratively, they are marketed to communities online, with the cast and crew interacting with fans to get the film out there. It’s from start to finish and entirely interdependent effort.
And what has been the result of this changing nature of collaboration? Nothing short of a resurgence of beautifully executed, meaningful cinematic stories. These films are emerging everywhere – and without any debate or controversy over who gets the ‘film by’ credit.
END RESULT: FILMS OF VALUE AND MEANING (PAST & FUTURE)
In a way, it’s a throwback to films that were made in an earlier time in the history of cinema where the filmmakers themselves determined which films were made (though present interdependent cinema is comprised of films radically smaller in budget, size and scope). At the time, most everyone understood that a good film was good because it was at once entertaining, artistic and meaningful. People went to the movies for different reasons entirely, and as an art form – it was still discovering its voice. The films that are being polished in the editing bays of many young filmmakers all over the country continue that search. These are filmmakers making projects that couldn’t have been possible without the help of everyone involved. The motivating factor is to create a good story and tell it well – and by any means necessary. And their ideal – is to put the final work in front of audiences and fans in the hopes they someday make another.
SABI PICTURES “CREATIVE COLLABORATION” STRATEGIES
1. Dramatic Improvisation: The nature of the director’s relationship with the actors involves collaboration when going ‘off-script’. The sabi producer and director creates an atmosphere where ‘creative collaboration’ is encouraged, fostered, and executed in a productive way. On our sets, we strive to make the cast feel “safe” to venture into deeply honest and emotional territory with the filmmakers. Our features are designed to throw the script away while mid-way through production and to collaborate on-set and “in the moment” so as to encourage original characters, honest voices and truthful story ‘surprises’ that couldn’t have been otherwise planned. This is only successful once a foundation of safe creative collaboration between actors and director and cast and crew has been fully established.
2. Collaborating with your Crew (Interdependent Filmmaking): The sabi producer and director and the filmmakers that surround them are constant collaborators from pre-production through wrap. The atmosphere that is created allows for everyone to work each other creatively and check their egos. Each member of the creative team has their role(s) – but there is no hierarchy. Producers preserve and protect the creative experience for the cast, the crew & the director during the actual making of the film. From our interview process to our team-building exercises (such as our “Crew Table-Read”) – crew contributions and personal goals are evaluated to ensure the collaboration will be mutually beneficial. Each member of the crew on our features is integral and crucial to the final creative product.
3. Collaborating with other Filmmakers and our Audience/Focus Groups: We wanted to expand our collaborative efforts, so we embarked on “A Short Film About Letting Go” – with a group of emerging artists/directors/producers. It is truly a case study on “collaborating on art” – in that there were so many hearts and minds working together to bring this film to fruition – and our role was “supportive” to the director/producer’s vision “to encourage” creative collaboration on set & in post-production. Additionally, we’ve collaborated with musicians and artists we’ve met on our own forums & elsewhere on the internet. Most useful has been our “private screenings” – where our audience Q&A discussions, and our focus groups collaborate with us on “final notes” before picture lock. We just completed our focus group on “Heart of Now.”
4. Creative Collaboration in Casting – our casting process is actually our first actor-director collaborative rehearsal. We make sure we have a casting process that elevates the actor/artist rather than diminishing them. Our “Casting” involves “character discussions / meetings” with the producer/director in addition to “creative auditions”. To encourage collaboration, we often use ‘sides’ from scenes that are not in the script (but useful for character exploration), and our “Call-backs” are always entirely dramatic improvisation (complete with “silent takes” and video-taped discussions between director & actor). We always “revise” the script for the final cast one last time before shooting.
5. Future Collaborative Experiments: “Eloquent Graffiti” and “A Happy Medium” – Eloquent Graffiti: working intimately on crafting the characters and their journeys with 4 actors over the course of time & A Happy Medium: the intention of working with non-actors and real veterans returning from the war in creating the characters/story together through collaboration.
Sabi Pictures is pleased to announce the production of ten new films in Sweden, from director J. Erik Reese.
Sverige: a series of short films by Sabi Pictures
Sabi Pictures is excited to announce the start on production of a new series overseas slated for completion in 2009. From the creative team that brought you Moments and Take 2 comes a series of films shot in Sweden that were highly influenced by Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Decalogue.
The starring role is Mikael Ayele (This Can’t be Heaven, Elle’s Kite, Tired of Dancing by Myself).
Creative Producing is Daniel Carmody (Take 2, Moments),And creative team includes Joshua Nitschke (Take 2, Moments), Kevin K. Shah (White Knuckles) and Zak Forsman (Heart of Now).
“Sa – veh – ree – ya. Now try it over and over again… you’ll sound like a perfect Swede! Sverige simply means Sweden… These episodic series revolve around the character Jonas (Mikael Ayele). Inspired by Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Decalogue.
Sverige embodies events that take place in one area. In Sverige, a young man arrives in a small town in Sweden where he resides. There he begins to find himself changing with life: pain & growth.
–J. Erik Reese
Interdependent Cinema – An electronic Magazine / Blog / Print publication by Sabi
Today I had a terrific discussion with Sabi producer Daniel J. Carmody about the concept for a new Magazine/Blog for the modern indie filmmaker that understands/represents the true “interdependent” nature of collaboration on an ‘indepdendent’ film (and especially for those filmmakers that endeavor to create cinema art). Daniel sketched out the structure of the site, complete with case studies, how-to articles, improvisation articles, videos and filmmaker contributions (articles & behind the scenes on interdependent films).
He envisions an elegant and simple design for the site, with the information easily accessible for the first Phase. Subsequent phases will entail a place for audiences and filmmakers to interact in discussions about Interdependent filmmaking – and eventually lead to the debut of a film that subscribes to the ‘rules’ of this new realization of process on cinefist.com.
These rules, unlike those of the Dogme 95 movement, are entirely dependent upon each film itself (and thus, in flux) – but shares in its spirit an effort to depict a more organic and naturalistic style of filmmaking, a more true to life (realistic, honest) portrayal of the character’s journey. The rules include an emphasis on creative collaboration, transcendence, guided improvisation, set atmosphere, and several more elaborate details of making a successful ‘interdependent’ picture (most of which will be explored in our first Issue).
Interdependent Cinema magazine will work in close creative collaboration with Cinefist.com and we hope there will be some cross pollination of filmmakers from both growing communities, as well as a direct emphasis on emerging projects that share key qualities of the interdependent process. Daniel and my discussion about the Magazine – which will ultimately be a resource to up and coming interdependent filmmakers – got me very excited about the prospects and possibilities. And with a community goal of 1,000 completely new subscribers by 2009, Daniel has been put in charge of a very large and important undertaking.
As head editor & writer for the magazine, Carmody will be interviewing filmmakers about their creative collaborations with their crew and their cast, as well as regularly post articles from Zak Forsman, Erik Reese, Joshua Nitschke, Jamie Cobb, and dozens of other Sabi veterans that have taken part in the spirited process of ‘interdependent cinema.’
I’m truly excited about announcing here today the debut of “Interdependent Cinema” magazine, which will be available soon FOR FREE at www.interdependentcinema.com and www.interdependentfilmmaking.com
Our head editor Daniel Carmody and I are looking forward to seeing you there in 2009 –
Kevin K. Shah
Understandably, many actors are simply uncomfortable with the idea of using your own words for the character, but what should be happening is that the director and the actor are together finding the character’s voice.
The Screenplay: Discarding the Words for Dramatic Improvisation in Interdependent Films.
Freeing oneself from the confines of the words on the page sometimes makes for a more authentic route for the actor that seeks to explore and refine his/her craft. Often actors feel this process is more artistic, more “experiential”, and ultimately, more fulfilling when executed well, with a director that nurtures the kind of atmosphere necessary for good dramatic improvisation to occur. What’s fascinating, is that often when it’s all said and done (and the film is put together) most of the beats and the words that were true in the original locked script, end up on screen anyway – but filtered through the heart and soul of the actor/artist. And most of the scenes that never rang completely true – now do. I wonder what it would be like to reverse-write White Knuckles or Heart of Now (which was a terrific script written by Zak Forsman all on it’s own) – just to see how the words have changed and/or stayed the same. I’ve never gotten around to doing something like this, but someday maybe a huge Sabi fan will transcribe our films. It would be interesting at the most – the final film is the ultimate tale: what happens on set, and what is carved in the edit – is the truest story.
However, back to writing a screenplay to discard it: in discussing problems that might happen during Directing Improvisation by asking your actors to discard their words, there are instances in directing improvisation in interdependent films where an honest performance is given and the emotions and words shared are true — but the beat is not honest for the character at that particular point in the story.
With improvisation, actors tend to courageously dive into the conflict head on – floodgates tend to open early on for an actor once they get the hang of it (and a lot comes out in particular scenes at the top of the production schedule where critical emotions that are to be explored later are felt “too early”). That is ok. Everything is useful. Chemistry that will be explored later is sometimes put down here as a ground-work, or a foundation. And I believe this happens generally, if the scenes’ intentions & objectives are not structured properly. Again, that is ok. Every production is rusty at the start, particularly on feature films heavy with dramatic improvisation. There are ways to prepare for this. Rehearsals, meetings, and call back-auditions are a way to kick start everything (if each are done as if we were shooting the scene).
With White Knuckles we had a full rehearsal with the actors doing character exercises – and it happened a) on set, b) in the scene, c) with lights, d) with camera and sound — i.e. full on. And still we called it a rehearsal (though we were prepared to use it somewhere if it was needed – it wasn’t). The idea was to get moving, slowly – pushing the train the first few inches…
With Heart of Now, we got things rolling with what we called “Pre-Shoots” – 5 days of shooting with a bare-bones crew – which I think helped us ease into production (Note: there was also a million other things the core team – Jamie, Zak, Kester & Sam did to help the actors transition into this feature that would last 30 amazing and memorable days of everyone’s life – like White Knuckles).
HONEST BUT NOT TRUE OVERALL
But when discarding the words (which takes some time at the start) there are times — fascinating moments where the actors have a legitimate feeling about something and go with it – but it is incongruent to the journey of the character in a way that would alter the story to its detriment. I.e. change the direction of the story too far in an unrecoverable direction. Sometimes it’s compelling, real, honest, and exciting – but just not right for the overall arc of the story (which the director and producer and editor carries). Sometimes it is right, even though it was totally unplanned – and we must adjust the story around the moment accordingly. But again – if it is not honest for the overall journey of the story – or if the new material doesn’t excite and challenge the director to explore a new direction with everyone & the entire production schedule – then it must be lost immediately. Cut, clear our minds, re-set, move on.*
WHEN TO CUT, KEEP ROLLING
*It is important for the director here to be as quick and decisive as possible about where to stop an actor during improv, i.e. when to re-set rather than give a note and keep rolling, trying something different. On one hand all the previous takes are explorations of the take/moments that will be used (and should be allowed to play out) – on the other hand, a director doesn’t want to exhaust an actor (and acting for dramatic improvisation for all actors involved is physically exhausting). Also, too many different options without clear direction leads to confusion (for the actor on set, and the editor in the bay).
Of course, this happens (exhaustion, confusion) – and there is no way of avoiding it. 8-10 hour days max for the actors I believe is a great help to heavily improvised shooting – to stave off the exhaustion factor. But I say this to say, it’s important for a director to be fully aware of what will and will not be used in the final edit – on set – as best as possible. And rather than cutting these moments off too soon – in directing improvisation, it helps to let them play out, let the emotions rise and fall again naturally. Especially when discarding the words of the screenplay. There are awkward silences in these moments that are real and could otherwise never have been staged. There are glances of a deeper understand, and the struggling to find the right words. All of this is real. And conversely, there are often beats that happen just after an intense improvisation scene where the actor may say the perfect line — out of real exhaustion — long after a conventional filmmaker would call ‘cut’. A glance often says everything without all the words before it, and to help ensure we get these kinds of looks when directing improv – we often do what we call a “silent take” after all the other takes are completed. We did this quite a bit with White Knuckles and it helped us tremendously in the edit (though it’s not necessary if you’re actors don’t rush through improv – as in comedic improv).
Often, that little tiny silent beat where the camera kept rolling might end up being the only part used in the final edit, if that is what is honest in that moment – and right for the overall story.
Directing Improvisation in Interdependent Films.
With excerpts from: “Interdependent Filmmaking: Dramatic Improvisation in White Knuckles – a film by sabi”
“In a lot of ways the director and the actor when working with improvisation have to form a relationship like a family. This is why there is such a stress on the word “Interdependent” in our filmmaking process. There has to be a mutual respect, and a whole-hearted trust that the director in fact truly knows (or is exploring to discover) what needs to take place (and along with the producer, will keep everyone safe while doing so).”
In a thread in the Sabi Forum, Larry Strauss (star of White Knuckles) talks a little about what it’s like working on a film that is improvisation-heavy, and specifically, what it’s like collaborating with a director on a dramatic improvisation. His experience with Sabi Pictures is noted in the video called “A Conversation with Larry Strauss.”
Directing improvisation is different for every interdependent director, and different still on every picture – but what Larry describes quite simply here is very true.
Originally Posted by larry
“NOT ALL [IMPROV] IMPROVES THE WORK. [THE SCRIPT] IS SOMEWHAT LIKE A BACKSTORY IN THAT YOU HAVE THE IMPORTANT STORY PARTS IN THE BACK OF YOUR MIND BUT THEN WHEN THE CAMERA ROLLS, YOU LET IT GO. HOPEFULLY, IT WILL BE THERE FOR YOU.”
This is really the most important ingredient in my opinion: It’s preparing, mentally, reading the script a few times, learning some of the lines, studying motivations and intentions, asking questions… and then ultimately, when the camera rolls TRULY letting go.*
ACTOR – DIRECTOR RELATIONSHIP
Everyone has their own way of achieving this. But I think a relationship between the Actor and Director should be established where the Actor can feel he or she can in fact fully, and comfortably let go. This means that a director and his/her team should be aware of every concern the actor has. It doesn’t mean necessarily solving every single item of concern – but just being aware of it, listening to the actor, and being a true friend. The greatest collaborations are born of friendships, not ‘for-hire.’
*Note that the relationship goes both ways – in dramatic improvisation films such as those that Sabi Pictures creates, the director is also memorizing lines, studying motivations and intentions, asking questions — and ultimately, letting go when the cameras roll.
In a lot of ways the director and the actor when working with improvisation have to form a relationship like a family. This is why there is such a stress on the word “Interdependent”
in our filmmaking process. There has to be a mutual respect, and a whole-hearted trust that the director in fact truly knows (or is exploring to discover) what needs to take place (and along with the producer, will keep everyone safe while doing so).
The actor and the director thus have to meet on a common ground of understanding for the character as quickly as possible from the first audition, through production – and the interdependent director can’t get lazy once cameras are rolling. The burden of digging at the mystery of the character is always to be shared between the director and the actor. Each will contribute a piece, give direction, try something new, and reset without judgement (ideally).
Probably the healthiest sign the improvisation is going well is when the director and the actor continue to ask each other questions – particularly as the film is coming to a close. It’s important also, for the actor and the director to not be settled with the answers – so as to leave room for exploration. And if everything seems perfectly clear, that’s ok too – something will come up that changes everything – and the director, actor and the rest of the cast and crew have to be ready for this point of divergence, they have to embrace it, work with it – and explore its possibilities both on set and in the edit.
This is a nutshell of how directing improvisation in interdependent films like those of Sabi Pictures works. The entire point is to plan for the unplanned surprise – an honest moment, a truthful beautiful shot, gesture, glance – whatever it is. It doesn’t have to be pretty or poetic, just in the context of the film and the world created – truthful. Dramatic Improvisation strives for that truth.
Practically speaking, often this means for the director to keep his mouth closed for the beginning phases of the experience of rehearsal and shooting. The director still has to guide, but gently & simply. The complexities of the character should begin to emerge naturally (and problems should iron themselves out with collaborative listening). A lot is revealed in the first week of shooting, and it is probably the most intense week of production (besides the last week) for a director, producer and their actors (not to mention the tireless crew).
The idea during the beginning of a production that employs heavy dramatic improvisation is that the actor needs to (as fast and as naturally as possible) get into the skin of the character on their own – so that then the director and actor can guide the character through their journey without too much internal resistance. This means what Larry mentioned about casting is absolutely critical. The casting sessions and the callbacks exist to ultimately ensure that the right person that’s sitting in the casting chair will be the right person in front of the cameras.
Thus, an interdependent director should discuss the character at length with each of their prospective actors, and together they should rehearse and camera test to make sure the actor is comfortable with the process of improvisation. Note I didn’t say make sure the actor is “good” at improv. There is no standard for good or bad improv, just honest and not quite honest. And it may take careful study to find the right actors sometimes – and often a “polished” actor performs dishonestly when asked to improvise. Understandably, many actors are simply uncomfortable with the idea of using your own words for the character, but what should be happening is that the director and the actor are together finding the character’s voice. Freeing oneself from the confines of the words on the page sometimes makes for a more authentic route. Often actors feel this process is more artistic, more “experiential”, and ultimately, more fulfilling. What’s fascinating, is that often when it’s all said and done and the film is put together, most of the beats and the words that were true in the script, end up on screen anyway – but filtered through the heart and soul of the actor/artist.
Directing for improvisation also means that we regularly have call-backs and more call-backs at the outset of a production, with the director working intimately with the actor in meetings and rehearsals –
and the most important component of our call backs is incorporating improvisation in the auditions.
A lot was revealed about Larry Strauss who went on to play William in White Knuckles, through his improvisation in the call-back. Sure, it’s may be the hardest thing to do in a casting session – but we are often looking just as closely as the awkward gestures, the uncomfortable silences – as we are the content of the scene.
Here are some questions for a Improvisational Director to ideally ask themselves (and seek the answers to) before a production begins (and just after the actors have met in the call-backs):
Was there chemistry?
Could I watch them for 2 hours?
Can they talk to each other? Can they have a conversation?
Can they have a clear objective and go after it?
What are their fears?
Are they willing to explore? Are they comfortable in silence?
Do they make eye contact?
It often helps to get the feedback of a locked actor who might be working with the prospective candidate. The actor has an incredible amount of insight into whether or not improvisation will work. Most of the time, it is intuition – an actor’s feeling that the can simply get along with their co-star. Again, friendships forged on sets are critical to the success of creating an atmosphere on set that is conducive to successful improvisation.**
Hope this sheds more light on Directing Improvisation, and the process for a Director and an Actor in collaboration. This has only been my experience, I’m completely open to hearing other experiences with directing improvisation.
**Side note: Successful Improvisation on set is truly an out of body experience for both parties involved. When it’s working, from what I understand – actors seldom remember the moments depicted (because they were “in the moment” and the performance was honest). A director has this same experience when moving into the edit – and while finding these moments again on set for shaping into the final film.
It’s hard to argue against the fact that the process of making a worthwhile interdependent art film begins in the audition. When it comes to the actors that will ultimately play the part for a film by Sabi – we hope that not a moment is wasted for either the filmmaker or the cast, and we hope that the casting process is creative and insightful, and useful to all parties involved.
Christopher: “I found the audition process at Sabi very intriguing. Auditions can be very uncomfortable experiences but that wasn’t the case here. It was a very warm and welcoming environment. There was no vicious casting assistant staring at me with daggers and I got the sense that I was more than valid as a human being. Ahhhhh…. back to the real world.”
Chris, thanks for posting. It’s nice hearing about what an actor feels and thinks during our auditions at sabi. We try to keep them warm and inviting (and creative) as often as possible – and also we try to keep them useful to both the filmmakers as well as the actors that graciously share their time with us. There are times that this process doesn’t go as planned, and there have been people we have collaborated with that initially didn’t fully understand why auditions at sabi pictures are handled so delicately and carefully.
Often it is our duty to inform them immediately, that quite simply, the Actor is to be regarded as the star from the moment they walk through the door and should be treated with kindness. We let them know that the actor that is ultimately cast — is the guide that holds the key to unlocking the deeper, inner workings of the character.
When Sabi sets out to make a film (and begins the casting process) we’re ultimately not looking for a pre-conceived notion of the character that already resides in our head (if we were satisfied with the depiction in our head, why make a movie?) Rather, I believe at this stage, sabi’s casting process tries to find the actor that can teach us more about the character we’re creating… real, human details and insights into fears, emotions, and hidden qualities that we couldn’t have otherwise known.
These details, and what happens in the casting process (which is really the first rehearsal) often find their way into the film – and every moment during auditions and rehearsals help develop the chemistry of emotions that we will circle around for the duration of production. Most importantly, the audition begins the actor-director relationship.
It was amazing watching how Zak integrated things he saw, tried and learned from the audition process of “Heart of Now” right into the production phase of the film. I too changed scenes to better fit who Julie and William were becoming when I had finally found Martie Ashworth and Larry Strauss for “White Knuckles”. The insights that Kelly and Marion brought to Zak and vice versa during the auditions created a bridge. And to see J. Erik Reese and gang do it once again in Moments with you, Aqua, Mark and Malcolm, was once more – a truly remarkable process to watch*.
All three films were ultimately enhanced because of this attention to an otherwise mundane, and often cold, calculating experience (as you described).
We learned a great deal from the process of a film called “Blue in Green”, which was a feature that Zak and I produced along with 5 others in a collaborative called Unica, and under the auspices of producer Ron Austin and Poet/Journalist Gabriel Meyer. In “Blue in Green”, we didn’t even have auditions – we just staged group meetings where everyone discussed issues personal, social and spiritual – and then six weeks of rehearsals. Both the group sessions and the rehearsals were critical to the telling of the deeply improvised film.
In the cast of “Blue in Green”, Unica had found the story of the film with the actors that stayed – and Unica developed these unique characters in complete collaboration with the actors that would play them. In my opinion, it was a completely successful experiment.
*I want to reiterate that the processes described above may be unique, but are by no means new or original or exclusive to Sabi Pictures or Unica or otherwise.
Really, whenever a filmmaker casts for a project they are deeply passionate about, they intuitively settle on the final actors for the same reasons, using the same techniques involuntarily.
The real fundamental difference lies in the amount of exploration that happens after the casting decisions are made. And the extent to which Sabi intends to explore in our films sets us apart (in my humble opinion) from most projects that are made more ‘conventionally’.
The exploration – going deeper – is something that we try to do from the very beginning. The peeling away at the character, at their emotions, at their deepest source of suffering – is pretty much continuous (and necessary to the success of the experiment) from initial casting to the final edit.
When casting for our films, Sabi filmmakers are often looking for an actor that brings to life the heart and soul of the character by giving us insight (or creating the right questions) which we then filter and translate into the story/characters/dialogue. It’s an organic (or ‘natural’) process in our estimation – and there is never a script that doesn’t change because of auditions and rehearsals. Simply put, it’s about respect.
Respect for one’s fellow artist. Respect for what the actor brings to an art film, and lastly, respect for a process that seeks to uncover fundamental and transcendent truths about the character through a collaboration between the director, all of the rest of the crew, and most importantly – the heart, soul and mind of the artist/actor.
Of course, we sincerely hope that you (the actor/artist) can let us know what we can do better, as all of the above is a constantly evolving, refining process.
And we’re always learning…