A Short Film About Letting Go: World Premiere – a sabi pictures memoir
A Short Film About Letting Go world premiered at the Dances With Films 2010 festival in Los Angeles to a crowded audience gathered for the Fusion Shorts program at Laemmle’s Sunset 5 theater in Hollywood. This film has achieved beyond our expectations financially & creatively, and the life-long relationships forged by taking a chance on this art film has expanded the Sabi family and our brand of films in immeasurable ways.
All of us at Sabi Pictures are proud of this film and the talent behind it & in the coming weeks we will continue to get the word out there about this work of art. A Short Film About Letting Go recently played at the Hollyshorts Film Festival on Sunset in Hollywood, as well as at the Sacramento Film Festival. Letting Go is also on DVD with 40+ minutes of bonus content at cinefist.com
This sabi pictures memoir features J. Erik Reese, Daniel Carmody, Joshua Nitschke, Mark Ridley, Christopher Sowers & Aqua Yost. Narration is by J. Erik Reese. Music is by Deklun and what you hear was composed for the film.
Kevin K. Shah www.sabipictures.com
Actor and Parkinson’s activist Larry Strauss recently invited me to say a few words at the Historical Society of Laguna Woods, where he was being honored by friends family and distinguished guests.
Below are some excerpts from my speech.
“Larry Strauss is a true friend and fellow artist whom I first met Larry at an audition for a film I was directing called White Knuckles. The film has subsequently played here at Laguna for audiences twice, thanks to Larry’s efforts in getting it screened for you. Larry came into the audition to play William — a character who was at a bad place in his life and his marriage and who was desperately in need of a change. As Larry’s director, I needed him to play a beautiful and tragic self-loathing character — that behind a rough and abrasive exterior was a man full of warmth and wisdom….”
“…I also wanted the actors to draw from their own lives and experiences to tap into the character through a process of guided improvisation, so when it came time to shoot — it was easier for me to get Larry to play the warm and wise-cracking fun part of the character (as we all know and love Larry) but harder to play the part of the man that is at a time in his life where everything is stagnant and not moving forward. And perhaps that’s because its not who larry is naturally — he’s a man that despite the circumstances has always seen the silver lining and always has time for a joke or a wise-crack to put a smile on everyone’s face…
“…I remember at the end of one of the first few dramatic scenes we shot — Larry asked me if he could sweep Martie (Julie in the film) off her feet and and dance with her to cheer her up — to bring joy and happiness to their lives. Though it was a perfectly good idea and would be a great scene, I told him that the story was about her poisoning him, and his being ‘joyful’ or ‘loving’ early-on might make Julie second-guess what she’s doing (too early). I knew where it was coming from, though — and what Larry’s intentions were: It was coming from the light that is Larry — in real life he’s a beacon (rather than a black hole).
“… In a couple weeks White Knuckles will play at the Derby City Film Festival where both Larry and Martie Ashworth have been nominated for Best Actor & Best Actress — and a few weeks after that the film continues to the Buffalo-Niagra Film Festival. As the film continues to get out there, I am indebted to Larry for the performance he gave and the friendship that was forged. Larry, I want to close by saying you are an amazing actor, and a fantastic human being, and I’m grateful that we created something wonderful together that will outlive us both. Congratulations on being Historical Society’s honoree, you deserve it and many more good things are yet to come.”
Kevin K. Shah Director White Knuckles
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!
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.
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.