Filmmaking | Interviews

Local Character

1 Feb , 2006  

Written by Amanda Axelson | Posted by:

Boston-based filmmaker/teacher Mike Civille reflects on his career and latest project produced and shot entirely in New England, After June.

After June is a short film about three old friends who meet for an afternoon of furniture moving, petty theft and fortune telling. The life-changing day starts when Jamie tells June he’d help her move. Jamie calls on Ben and Lewis for help and the three find themselves in an awkward reunion with stirrings of their old friendship in the air. The friends encounter a predicament when Lewis finds money in an unlocked apartment in the building. After splitting the money, June offers to read their fortune with tea leaves. What seems like an insignificant fortune telling quickly turns eerie when the tea leaves predict imminent danger for Ben and Jamie before the day is over.

NewEnglandFilm.com had the opportunity to talk to Boston College film professor Mike Civille, who directed and produced After June. Civille feels independent filmmaking fits his style and described the process as "real and honest." When close friend and writer of After June, Matt Habberman came to him with this short, he knew it was going to be something unique to the New England area.

After being selected at festivals such as St. Louis, Queens, DNA, and Putnam County, After June has received numerous accolades from viewers. Civille provided NewEnglandFilm.com with some insight into the making of this short film and all the tribulations and exultations during its production.

Amanda Axelson: First off, I know you’re a teacher at Boston College.  Can you tell me about yourself as teacher/filmmaker and how you came into the independent film industry?

Mike Civille: I graduated from the Vancouver Film School in 1996 and worked as a post PA for two studio films. But I learned very quickly that the studio atmosphere was not for me. So I worked on a few independent films in New York as a script supervisor and assistant director before deciding to direct my own feature. I polished a script I had written, raised funds through friends and family, and shot with a crew I had worked with on my independent sets. I finished that feature in 2000 – a relationship comedy called The Deer & The Cheetah. It’s got moments, and I’m really proud of the acting, but it wasn’t until I started teaching that I really learned about filmmaking as a visual storytelling tool. I was hired by John Michalczyk at Boston College to teach introductory film production in 1999, and now I teach/supervise all of the film production classes and thesis projects at BC. I was able to edit After June at BC, and also, the students got a lot out of it, because they were able to work as PAs on a professional film set with a lot of local crew.

AA: The film’s slogan "Move Furniture, Steal Money, Drink Tea" certainly grabbed my attention.  Can you tell me about After June and how you became involved with it?

Civille: After June is my first narrative short film. My friend Matt Haberman approached me about directing it (he handed me a script in May of 2004) and I was looking to direct something new, so it snowballed from there. Matt and I co-produced it, had great success with fundraising through the summer of ’04, and did all of the casting, planning and preparation through the fall, leading up to the shoot in January of 2005. We completed post-production in late June of 2005, and began the marketing and festival application process, which has really been Matt’s domain. Everything about After June, from script to marketing, has been about subtlety. I wanted to show that you can still make a film with understated acting, camera and editing, and from what I can tell, we achieved that. People seem to enjoy the simplicity of it, and yet they also pick up on what’s happening beneath the surface. I wanted to make a film where the story was our first priority, and all of the filmmaking tools were there to support and visually represent the story. So often I see films where the filmmaking gets in the way of the story.

AA: Was this your first collaboration with writer/producer Matt Haberman? How did you guys come to collaborate together?


On the set of After June (Mike Civille is in the front of the photo).
[Click to enlarge]

Civille : Matt and I have been close friends for 15 years, since we were sophomores at BC. We always tossed around story ideas, but never collaborated together on anything. Then one day in the spring of 2004, I happened to mention that I was looking to direct something new, and he asked me, "If I write a script, would you direct it?" And that was it. We decided to co-produce the film, so we either shared or split duties based on our varied experience. Since I have the production experience, I took care of much of the logistical planning and pre-production, and Matt’s advertising background gave him an insight into how to market and distribute the film in the most effective way.

AA: I read about a blizzard shutting down production for a day. That must have been a big setback. Any other problems occur while shooting?

Civille : We were supposed to shoot in October, but two weeks before the October shoot date, the cast wasn’t ready, we were still without a major location, and we were missing several key crew members. So we made the difficult decision to push [back] the shoot. However, one of the advantages to being an independent production is that we were able to take a step back, take a deep breath, and take our time to finish pre-production and plan the right way. Rushing it could have been disastrous. So out of obligation to the investors and to each other, Matt and I decided that the right thing was to push [back] the shoot. Of course, we decided to shoot on the same weekend that Boston experienced the fifth largest blizzard in its history, so yes, the snow knocked us for a loop. But as the first flakes fell at the end of our second shooting day, we were able to use the snow in the film, which added so much character to the last shot, and the audience’s experience of the film’s final moments. I don’t want to get too philosophical here, but part of me wonders if our issues were meant to lead us to that karmic last shot. Sometimes, in the midst of the worst thing, the best thing happens, so I’ll take the good with the bad.

AA: After June is a short film.  How long did it take to put together and do you prefer short films to features?

Civille : I’ve worked on features and shorts (as director and crew) and I must say that there’s something very streamlined and comfortable about making an independent short. An independent feature is an enormous undertaking, akin to sailing around the world. It could (and often does) take 4-6 years to complete (from script through marketing), and that’s if all goes well. A short film is an easier pill to swallow logistically (After June has been about a 20 month process now), and I also prefer what is possible in a short film.

After doing After June, I think the thing I like best about short films is that they cost 1/4 to 1/2 of what an independent feature would, and yet they look 2-4 times better.  They’re also a better tool for showcasing your talent. What we tried to do with After June (and what we’re trying to do with other shorts we’re developing) is to create a short story on film, with a more seamless beginning, middle, and an end, where the story structure plays out like a mini-feature, even if it doesn’t fully resolve itself at the end, leaving the audience wanting more. I think you can get away with leaving an audience hanging in a five to 15 minute film because they’re not as invested as they would be in a 100-120 minute film. In a short film, a lack of a resolution can be food for thought, and a topic for discussion. It’s easier to accept because it’s so quick.

AA: I read that you shot this on HD format.  Did you prefer working this way rather than film?

Civille : I loved hi-def! I couldn’t believe how amazing it looked, and I couldn’t believe how much more footage we were able to shoot. In the past, when I shot film, I was always aware of how much film we shot, how much we had left, etc. So you have to budget for that while you’re shooting, and sometimes make compromises because of how much footage you have left.

With HD, we were able to shoot 150 minutes of footage, and roll that extra take if need be. 150 minutes of film would’ve broken the bank. The HD camera package wasn’t cheap – we shot on the Sony F900, which is top of the line, and even with a discount, it was 2-3 times more expensive than a Super 16mm package. At the end of the day, the camera package and stock cost about the same between Super 16mm and HD. But you’re able to get more footage with the HD cost, because the stock is so much cheaper. And with the advancements in HD technology, and our brilliant cinematographer (and my close friend) Michael Pessah, behind the camera, everything looks beautiful. If given an opportunity, I’d always jump at the chance to shoot 35mm. But with HD, I’m officially a convert, and can’t wait to shoot in the format again.

AA: The list of festivals you have screened the film at is impressive.  Can you tell me about the submitting process for After June?

Civille: Matt has really spearheaded the festival process. He is a tenacious researcher of festivals. But submitting to festivals is like applying to colleges. You have your reaches, your mid-range, and your safeties. But it’s been exhilarating at times and frustrating at other times. It’s been unpredictable — we got into a very prestigious, competitive festival like St. Louis, but then we’ve been rejected by some festivals that we considered safeties. It’s hard to tell what a programmer is looking for, and why your film is accepted or rejected. We’re just hoping for the best, and trying to get as much exposure as possible.

AA: Are there going to be anymore screenings for After June?  If not, how could NewEnglandFilm.com readers watch the short?

Civille: We just screened at the Boston Cinema Census at the Brattle Theatre, and that was a great experience in front of a huge, local (yet also objective) crowd. We’ll continue applying to festivals, and hopefully make it into some of the prestigious local festivals like the Independent Film Festival of Boston, Nantucket, or Woods Hole. After we play out the festival run, we’ll probably try to hit up industry distributors for a cable or DVD deal. Of course, this is all ideal, but we think we have as good a chance as anyone, so we’re going to try any and every outlet.

AA: Are you currently working on any other projects?

Civille: Matt and I are currently discussing another short film. We’ve been kicking around a couple of ideas, throwing them against the wall to see what sticks. We loved doing a subtle drama like After June, but both of us also want to try something a little different, to show that we’re not a one-trick pony. Of course, another fundraising round is intimidating, but hopefully someone will see After June, see that we know what we’re doing, maybe even read this, and want to help us do it again, or even do it better.

AA: You’ve been very informative. Any final thoughts for our readers?

Civille: I think I’ve said enough, but I will say to NewEnglandFilm.com that the New England film community is incredible. We had amazing local crew members like Josh Dreyfus, Mike Henry, David Schwartz, Doug Gordon, Jessica Jennings, and many more. We used local vendors, local locations, and created a film that has a distinct local flavor, from the setting and the story to the way the film was made. My cinematographer Michael Pessah said something very telling after we filmed the last shot in the early snowy stages of a blizzard. He said, "Hollywood pays $100,000 for that shot, and it still doesn’t look that good." He’s a guy who shoots in LA, New York, and New England, and to hear him say something like that reminded me of why it’s so great to make films in New England. Our best crew is as good as any crew, and the locations and atmosphere are something that you can’t recreate with CGI or other artificial means.

After June gave me a taste of how amazing the filmmaking experience can be in New England, if you find the right crew, and shoot in a location that acts as another character in your film (we shot in Lowell, which was beyond accommodating and welcoming). After June was able to capture that intangible character that is New England. I can’t wait to shoot here again.

Information about After June can be viewed at http://www.afterjune.com.


Information about After June can be viewed at http://www.afterjune.com.