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Posts Tagged ‘Nice Guy Johnny’

“This is our generation’s Sputnik moment.”
President Obama
State of the Union Address 1/25/11
(Referencing the Soviet’s rocket launch in 1957 which fueled the USA in the space race.)

“The piece of advice that Walter Gretzky gave (his son) Wayne Gretzky was this…’don’t go where the puck’s been, go where it’s gonna to be.’ The philosophy was simple, if you puck chase you’re always going to be behind the game…You want to be the person that’s where the puck’s going to be.”
Filmmaker Kevin Smith
Sundance 2011

Back in the good old days of 1994 filmmaker Kevin Smith sold his $27,000 film Clerks at Sundance. A year later Edward Burns’ $25,000 film The Brothers McMullen was sold. Both Smith and Burns have continued carving out careers since that time and if you want to see which way the wind is blowing take a look at the direction they are heading as independent filmmakers.

A few months ago Burns’ self-produced Nice Guy Johnny (for again $25,000) and released it on iTunes. And earlier this week Kevin Smith announced that for his latest film, The Red State, he will not be selling the film at Sundance, but instead self-distributing the film first taking it on the road to large venues across the county where he will be speaking after showing the film.

His rational is he has a large fan base that follow his podcasts, Twitter feeds, etc. and he (or a studio) doesn’t need to spend $20 million advertising the film. We’ll see how it plays out. But it’s a good indicator of where the puck is heading for one group of filmmakers.

If you wanted to pinpoint indie film’s modern Sputnik moment I think it’s fitting to point to 1999 when The Blair Witch Project showed Hollywood the power of the internet. More than 10 years later we live in a digital world that has altered the music industry and now well into altering the film and Tv industry.

Five years ago we were watching poor quality short videos on You Tube and today you can stream feature films in high quality directly to your computer or TV via Netflix or the like. It’s no surprise that the last Blockbuster video store in my area announced this month that it was going out of business (following Hollywood Video stores that are long gone).

If independent filmmakers can raise their own money, make their own films AND can control the distribution—that is truly independent filmmaking. It’s a new game for filmmakers everywhere—from LA, to Iowa, and even the former Soviet Union. Heck, I can even see hockey great Walter Gretzky making his own films with his actress wife Janet Jones. (Still remember her role in The Flamingo Kid.)

The old Hollywood expression was it takes an army to make a film, these days you just need a camera—and an army of Twitter/Facebook/You Tube followers interested in the stories you tell. (Some of them won’t just be watching your films, but helping you raise funds as well.)

P.S. Speaking of Sundance & the Internet, I received a form email today from Oscar-winning director Kevin MacDonald saying, “Today we are unveiling Life in a Day at Sundance for the film’s World Premiere. I wanted to take this opportunity to thank all of you for participating in this extraordinary experience….” I was part of the You Tube community who on July 21, 2010 submitted one of the 80,000 clips that they were gathering for a 90 minute film. (Edited down from 4,500 hours of footage. So close. I can always say, “I was this close to having a film in Sundance this year”.)  It will be interesting to see the final film.  Here’s a teaser:

Scott W. Smith

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This is The Un-official 10 Film Commandments of Edward Burns (or Low-Budget Film Rule Book) based on his comments from the director’s commentary of Nice Guy Johnny, which he wrote, directed, co-produced and acted in. The film was made for $25,000. and shot in 10 days and features fine performances by co-stars Max Bush & Kerry Bishe.  The film and its iTunes & Netflix distribution model sets a new standard to follow for independent filmmakers producing sub-$100,000. movies.

1) Find up and coming actors who are talented and hungry. (And willing to do their own make-up/wardrobe.)

2) Use a crew you’ve worked with before, and shoot digitally.

3) Find free locations.

4) Don’t worry about film permits.

5) Don’t worry (obsess) about continuity.

6) Don’t mourn what you don’t have & ask lots of favors.

7) Pick locations where you can use little or no lights.

8.) Hire people for little money who can wear multiple hats on production. (But give them a cut of any profits.)

9) Even if you wrote the script & are the director— don’t be afraid to hold the boom mike when needed.

10) Don’t fall in love with a continual shooting schedule. Chip away shooting days and hours when you can.

If you haven’t seen the film, here is the trailer that will give you a taste of the results:

Scott W. Smith

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On the DVD director’s commentary of writer/director Edward Burns’ recently released film, Nice Guy Johnny, Burns offers a lot of insight as to how he and his small crew shot the feature film in just 10 days. Burns says the film was made for $25,000 (under $75,000 including deferments) by cashing in a thousand favors.

Burns used mostly free locations (shooting often at homes of  friends and family) and had the cast do their own make-up and provide their own wardrobe. And because they had a 3-5 man crew on most days the lighting was keep to a minimal and they shot with a digital Red camera, so there were no film costs.

Edward Burns in "Nice Guy Johnny"

Edward Burns: I have Will Rexer our DP here and he can tell you a little about our minimal lighting package and shooting this daylight scene.

Will Rexer: We approached this entire movie looking at locations and looking at light— looking for things that worked naturally for us. I think we had two lights in here (shoot at Puffy’s Tavern in above photo) that just sort of complimented with what God already gave us, and that’s pretty much how we approached most every scenes. We found locations that worked and lighting that worked and then we just complimented it and that was pretty much it.

EB: And one of the challenges, but also one of the blessings maybe, is we knew we weren’t going to have any generator obviously, we knew there was no truck with an entire lighting package. It was lights that could be plugged into any outlet that would have to be carried by our four man crew. And what that did was it freed us up to work much more quickly than we could have given sort of the normal size of a crew and a lighting package. But it also freed our actors up to be able to play within the spaces in a way that they probably couldn’t when you have  more detailed lighting.

WR: We could pick the time of day we wanted to be at a location and make that work for us and then we could compliment the lights. We didn’t have to turn around and have to get a reverse shot of you. We didn’t have to be moving 25 flags (light modifiers) and having a whole crew march around— we could just do it. It allowed us to work pretty freely.

EB: And it allowed us to make a film in ten days—which is unheard of. But there is a little bit of magic that comes with that because you’re shooting so many pages in one day that the actors are sort of in character the whole day. You’re knocking off so much work there’s a rhythm that everybody falls into that provides a certain kind of creative freedom.

So if you’re writing a script that you’re thinking of making as a low-budget feature it’s good to have a set of locations in mind that will work not only for the story but that will simplify the production process. In larger budget films there is always a concern of what is called a “company move” where the 75+ person team and equipment must be moved from one location to the next. Even on a big budget film producers and production manager have to find creative ways to limit the company moves.

For instances the entire Georgia part of Forrest Gump was shot within a ten mile radius of the opening bench scene  in Savannah, Georgia. (The Viet Nam scenes were even shot on the same plantation where Forrest grew up, and where they also shot Jenny’s house.) That meant the cast and crew could stay in the same hotels and the producers could avoid all the expenses involved with moving the cast and crew.

One of the reasons Sleeping with the Enemy (in which part of the story takes place in Iowa) was shot in South Carolina is because they could shoot the beach town and the small town that’s supposed to be in Iowa both in South Carolina without doing a major company move of shooting in two states that are far apart.

One low-budget trick that is often used to keep costs down is to shoot in one primary location. Burns doesn’t stick to that approach, but because he has such a small crew they are able to shoot in cars, at the beach, in a bar, in homes, and in New York City and on Long Island without it being a major hassle.

You can watch Nice Guy Johnny via iTunes, VOD, or Netflix.

Related posts: Edward Burns on Telling Smaller Stories.

The Ten Film Commandments of Edward Burns

Screenwriting Quote #146 (Edward Burns)

Screenwriting Quote #68 (Edward Burns)

Scott W. Smith

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“If you are an aspiring filmmaker, in this day of inflating budgets and runaway production, the truth is you can make a movie for no money in New York… and have a blast.”
Edward Burns

Back in 1995 Edward Burns showed the world a little film that he produced, directed, and was also the lead actor. That little film, The Brothers McMullen, had a big impact on his career. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January of ’95 and won the Grand Jury Prize. The $25,000. film was released later that summer and grossed over $10 million.

“For my first film, basically what I did was I wrote a list of locations I knew I could get for free. I live in New York, and I knew you don’t need permits to shoot in Central Park. So I put five scenes in Central Park. Part of indie filmmaking is that you have to believe in compromise.  And that isn’t necessarily a dirty word.”
Edward Burns
Indiewire article by Peter Knegt

And though he has gone on to earn big paychecks as an actor on large Hollywood films as varied as Saving Private Ryan and 27 Dresses, he’s never lost his desire to write and direct smaller pictures. Among the nine features he’s directed, in 2004 he made Looking for Kitty using a $3,500 Panasonic DVX 100 camera. In 2009 he made some Webisodes called The Lynch Pin using the Red Camera.

One thing Burns has resisted doing is the Hollywood offers to direct big budget productions that he doesn’t have the heart to make.

“The minute someone writes you a check, there’s artistic compromise… You’re not able to cast the people you want to cast. They’re offering and sometimes making changes they feel the film needs. That’s frustrating. On a low budget film, there are also compromises. You need to find free locations to film. There are no special effects. Nobody is going to look at your film and say ‘Wow, that’s a cool shot.’ You have to be OK with telling smaller character stories. But that’s all I’ve wanted to do anyhow.”
Edward Burns
Chicago Tribune

And just a couple weeks ago he released his latest smaller story, Nice Guy Johnny, that he pulled off making for $25,000. using a three man crew and just a ten day shooting schedule. The movie was released iTunes, Video on Demand, and Netflix. And Burns still owns the copyright to the film. Could this really be Hollywood 2.0?

“Distribution models are starting to dismantle.”
Edward Burns

“My stuff is low concept. Usually character driven, and usually born out of a type of character I either know or come across that I get excited about exploring who they are, and a lot of times where they come from. So I try and look at environment, their community, their family, and they are mostly born out of that. Periodically I’ve tried to find a little bit of a plot just to drive the story forward in order to explore who these people are.”—That’s how Burns summed up the smaller stories he tells during a Q&A session at the Tribeca Film Festival this year. It’s a model that I think works in whatever unlikely place you find yourself writing screenplays.

Tomorrow we’ll flash 15 years forward from Burns’ success at Sundance and look at a different kind of film by different filmmakers that in 2010 won the best picture award at Sundance, Winter’s Bone. A small story set in the Missouri Ozarks. (And one that just happens to have an Iowa connection.)

Screenwriting Quote #146 (Edward Burns)

You can purchase the Nice Guy Johnny script with Burns’ notes at Amazon.

Scott W. Smith

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“The world needs a new culture around creativity…Being Creative makes this planet a better place.”
Chase Jarvis

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…”
Genesis 1

About ten years ago I read a Tom Peters quote that off the top of my head was something like;  “Sometimes to rejuvenate yourself creatively, you need to move to another climate or another culture.” Seven years ago I moved to Iowa (“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by”—Frost) and that has made all the difference. Long story short, it turned out to be the change I needed to rejuvenate myself creatively. In a sense it was a step back from the track I had been on.

I had been on the traditional track, doing traditional things, with a traditional mindset. Even the places I lived were somewhat traditional for somebody with a creative mindset—Miami, Los Angeles, Orlando. And along the way I got to work with some good people on good productions, traveled a good bit, and kept up with the creative changes by embracing new technology as it came my way, like shooting stills and video digitally and going from editing film on a Steenbeck flatbed to editing with an AVID. (And now FCP, Motion, Soundtrack, etc., etc.)

But I ways also looking for something different. Something that tapped into that creative ideal I had when I was 18-years-old. Along the way I was also reading Malcolm Gladwell, Daniel Pink, and Seth Godin. Turns out the same people Chase Jarvis*, a Seattle-based photographer, has been reading. Jarvis is a piece of the puzzle of bridging the gap between the old traditional creative guard and a new way of doing things that is well on its way. This new thing, this wave of change, Jarvis calls “social art.”

What is social art? Jarvis says, “I can’t say exactly what it is, but I can tell you that it’s creating content and context. It’s interdisciplinary, it’s participatory, it’s interactive, and it’s symbiotic. Everybody can win. Most importantly I think social art is incomplete if there’s not another person on the end of the pipe in some way, shape or form participating in that art with you. “ (Have you ever written a screenplay that didn’t get produced? Yeah, me too. That’s a good example of an incomplete art.)

Social art could be a communal dinner where someone is sharing their art of cooking, while another is sharing a song, and others are showing photographs, paintings, and films. What a wonderful world, right?

And despite all of the negativity associated with the Internet there is an amazing amount of sharing of creative content. Dare I say communities connecting via Facebook, Twitter, You Tube and the like. Today people are connecting and freely sharing information with the same zeal that the old tradional guard tried to hide.

Last week Jarvis spoke in New York City at the Photo Plus Expo and said, “I’m asking you to put yourself at the center of a new art, a social art where you’re creating something and sharing it with those around you…Take more picture, be fearless, put yourself out there, shoot more films, build tools—the iPhone app is a great tool, and educate. At the end of the day what I’m talking about is the democratization of creativity.”

It’s an exciting time to be in the creative arts. I have a first hand view of young creative people (some with no traditional arts education) who are carving out niches taking pictures, producing music videos, making films, painting, creating animation, and designing graphics and websites. And they’re earning a living not even aware of the fading traditional way of doing things.

“This is the most exciting time in the history of the world to be a photographer…It’s the first time in the history of the world that content creators are also distributors. Anybody in this room, if you took a picture of me in the hallway you have— within five minutes—you can have a blog, a Facebook account, Twitter and be sharing your work. The content creators are the content distributors. And the best thing about this is we don’t have to ask anybody’s permission.

Until now everything previous to this you had to have permission if you wanted to show your work on any sort of scale. Sure you could show your work to your friends, you could walk around New York with a portfolio, walk into five ad agencies in a day, sure—that’s that scale. You needed permission from the gallerist, you needed permission from the magazine editor, the photo editor, you needed to get tapped, selected by the ad agency to be able to show your work on any sort of scale. Those days are over. Any person in here can share what they create, with scale, right now.”
Chase Jarvis
PDN PhotoPlusNewYork

This may not be the most exciting time in the history of the world to be a traditional screenwriter. But to be a screenwriter with a “social art” mindset it’s an incredible time. Imagine writing a script, doing an online reading, gathering a following, rasing money through a Kickstarter campaign, making your film, generating interest via your blog,  and distributing it via DVD sales on your website and iTunes rentals and sales. That is not the future, these are tools that are at your disposal right now.

Over the weekend we’ll look at how writer/director/actor Edward Burns is a great model for independent filmmakers. For his latest film,  Nice Guy Johnny, Edwards is both the creator and the distributor.

*Jarvis has a blog and you can follow him on Twitter @chasejarvis.

Scott W. Smith

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“If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.”
Wise old saying

Yesterday, I mentioned the danger of financing your feature film using personal credit cards. (The Angry Filmmaker & Four Eyed Monsters.) If your film doesn’t sell, it’s a risk that could leave you broke at best and heavily in debt  (or bankrupt) at worst. But there is even a more dangerous way to finance your film—commiting fraud. An audit was released earlier this week here in Iowa that stated that 80% of the Iowa film tax credits were flawed.

You don’t have to read all of the 277 page report (or even agree with some of its findings) to see there were a gross abuses of tax payers money. Auditor of State David S. Vaudt released a special investigation that “identified $25,576,300.50 of tax credit certificates which were improperly issued for the 22 projects.” (If you got lost in the commas, that’s more than 25 million dollars.)

The Des Moines Register article by Lee Rood stated, “Following release of the audit, Attorney General Tom Miller announced he had filed a new civil lawsuit in Polk County against five business partners and four companies involved in producing or pursuing 15 movie projects.”

The layers of fraud appear to be deep and quite commonplace. (And consistent with rumors that began kicking around the Iowa production community in ’08.) And for a dramatic twist, in the report there is a letter of concern from an Minnesota resident who wrote a letter in June of ’09 to the Iowa Film Commission stating, “I am writing because I discovered what I think to be fraud perpetrated on the tax payers of Iowa.” He goes on to detail how the head of a production company in L.A. told him (in his words), “She puts in millions of dollars in phony deferments with people she knows then gets tax credits to cover it.”

Needless to say, the Iowa Auditor is not the only one angry. Everyone from Iowa politicians (on all sides) to Iowa residents are angry. I doubt if the State of Iowa will be able to recoup much of the money that it says its owed. But I image there are some filmmakers, producers, and “tax certificate brokers” that are getting a little less sleep these days. Perhaps some houses and Hummers will be sold and perhaps some people will go to jail. (Lawyer fees alone for those being investigated will be ridiculous.)  Time will tell. But the moral of the story is don’t commit fraud to get your film made. (Heck, let’s just go out on a limb and say it’s never a good idea to commit any kind of fraud.)  And if you just see yourself as a big picture artistic person, be careful of whose advice you follow.

And  it’s not like these people were even stealing to make good films. You know, you at least have a little sympathy for the unemployed, down on his luck fellow who steals a loaf of bread to feed his family. But we’re talking about pure greed to produce crap. Just another scam to make money.

And from a pure filmmaker’s perspective it’s sickening to see the inflated fees that were paid to crews on the taxerspayers’ dime. I noticed more than one line item for inexperienced production people  who were paid more for a few weeks work than the total film cost of Edward Burns’ new film , Nice Guy Johnny. (Reportedly made with a three person crew for $25,000.) It was released on iTunes this week and as I type this it is currently #7 in iTunes rentals. If you want a true independent filmmaker to look up to and who’s leading the alternative distribution way, Burns is a great choice to follow.

Scott W. Smith

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