Written by Kathleen McKenzie | Posted by: Anonymous
The Connecticut Film Festival screens a slate of films including feature length, short films and documentaries throughout several towns on October 3-8th. Zachary Brewster-Geisz’s short film The Cell Phone about an obliviously annoying cell phone user who blithely goes through his day and Michael Warner’s Shock Jock about the kidnapping of a radio personality’s daughter both screen at this year’s festival. NewEnglandFilm.com caught up with these two filmmakers for a quick rundown on the making of their shorts.
Kathleen McKenzie: How did you get your start in filmmaking?
Zachary Brewster-Geisz: Like everyone else I watched Saturday morning cartoons growing up, and I was also a movie buff from an early age. But it wasn’t until my son was born in 1999 that I discovered I could make cartoons on my computer. After a few years of learning, I made a short which, on a whim, I submitted to the Nicktoons cable channel. To my surprise, it was accepted and screened in 2003. After that one example of someone outside my family actually enjoying my creations, you couldn’t stop me if you tried.
Michael Warner: I got my start in filmmaking as a screenwriter back in 1990 when I was at the University of Michigan. I switched from Chemical Engineering to Accounting at the start of my junior year and took an English course that made me interested in writing. Since I was a huge film fan, I decided to write screenplays instead of novels. I took a few film and writing courses as electives since I stayed in school for five years, and made a few very amateurish short films.
Since then, I focused solely on writing. I had many film scripts and original TV scripts chosen as finalists and semi-finalists in a variety of screenwriting contests. I had the occasional agent here and there, but nothing panned out. Eight years ago, I moved from Shelton, Connecticut, where I grew up from the 6th grade through high school, to Astoria, New York. About 5 years ago, I worked as a production assistant for one season on Sex and the City, and then landed my current job at an HD production company in Astoria called Air Sea Land Productions, Inc. (www.airsealand.com) where I have learned a lot. My boss and I are both Howard Stern fans, and he came up with an idea for a feature-length movie about a shock jock whose show is taken over by a listener who kidnaps the shock jock’s daughter. I thought of a way to make it into a short film, and wrote a 16 page script.
Knowing I had a solid crew and state of the art equipment (we filmed with our Sony F900 High Definition camera), I knew this would be much better than any of my college films. Not to mention, I have had many more years to become a better writer. I went through the entire casting process and came up with my actors through word of mouth and Craigslist. I asked for favors from several of our colleagues who we work with in the industry, and made the short film, Shocked Jock. Currently it has and will be screened at six film festivals with hopefully more to come. (www.shockedjock.com)
KM: What is the most challenging aspect of filmmaking?
Brewster-Geisz: For me personally, finishing stuff up. Probably why I concentrate on shorts. Ideas can also be tough — I’m not very good at scheduling myself, as in "It’s November and I need to start work on a new film, what’s it going to be?" Generally, if something strikes me, I know I need to just do it, otherwise I’ll lose momentum and not follow through.
Warner: The most challenging aspect of filmmaking is getting money to make your film. Everything else seems to fall into place nicely. There are more than enough talented actors to choose from. More than enough talented crewmembers. Locations could be a little tricky, but if you have the money you could always build sets. Obtaining the money in order to bring all the elements that you need together in order to make a movie is the most important thing, and also the hardest thing to do. I am hoping to raise enough money to turn Shocked Jock into a full-length feature the way my boss and I initially envisioned it. And being surrounded by wonderful DPs, steadicam operators, musicians, etc. through the production company I work for makes me want to do it right away before I end up possibly losing touch with them. Other than money, if that is too easy an answer, I would then say lighting is the most difficult part. But then again, that’s an easy answer, too. Most people would say that.
KM: How long did it take you to produce clips for The Connecticut Film Festival?
Brewster-Geisz: A year and a half from start to finish [for The Cell Phone]. The first draft was done in about two months, then it lay fallow for a long, long time; then I scrambled with a few other people to finish the final draft by the submission deadline for the D.C. Shorts Festival, where it premiered on Sept. 14. I think I had the idea back in 2001, though.
Warner: Shocked Jock took me from April to August last year to make. Between finding the right actors, which took me a month or two to do, and reworking the script after several reads, and making sure there was no conflict with everyone’s schedule, and finding time for our edit suite to be available to actually cut the movie, my timeframe became rather stretched. Had I been able to devote my entire time to this project and not have to worry about running the office, too, I probably would have been able to pull it off in 2-3 weeks. We only had to shoot two days in order to get 16 quality minutes. Thanks to planning and an excellent crew and cast, we were able to do it.
The actual writing time of Shocked Jock was pretty fast. I usually envision all of my stories as I think about them for a few weeks or a month. I thought about Shocked Jock for about a week and then it took me about two days to sit at the computer and type it in. Most of my features take me about two weeks to type in.
KM: Where do you get the voices for your animated characters?
Brewster-Geisz: Um, me, usually. What can I say, I’m a frustrated actor.
KM: Where did you get the star for Shocked Jock?
Warner: I am not the star of Shocked Jock. Heaven forbid! It was enough being director, writer and producer. I found a great lead actor, Derek Roché from Craigslist. He had done a wonderful promo for the Tribeca Film Festival. When he came in to audition, he nailed the part. I definitely need to write and film some more material with him. He is like a Paul Newman type. He has the looks, the acting ability, and he can play pretty much any part. And people will identify with him as they did with Newman.
KM: What are you working on now?
Brewster-Geisz: I’m desperately trying to finish a spoof of Dracula for some friends, but most likely that won’t hit the festival circuit — there are too many in-jokes. For a while I’ve tried to make a new short cartoon every week and post it at www.zacharybrewstergeisz.com. Lately, though, that’s fallen by the wayside.
Warner: I’m working on trying to raise the funds for a half-million dollar budget so I can make Shocked Jock into a full-length feature film, or one of my other film scripts into a full-length film. Shot in High Definition of course. That’s our specialty.
KM: Do you have any advice for those just starting out in filmmaking?
Brewster-Geisz: Let me paraphrase my creative writing teacher in college, Rick Russo: "Every writer has about 10,000 pages of crap that they’re going to write, guaranteed. So my advice is to write as much as possible, so you can get those 10,000 pages out of the way, and get on to the good stuff." In other words, just make movies, and to hell with the consequences. More practical advice? Boy, I don’t know. In essence I’m just starting out in filmmaking myself.
Warner: My suggestion to those starting out in filmmaking is advice that I didn’t want to hear or listen to when I first started writing. I thought my writing was so good that I would just send it out there and everyone would be dazzled and would want to buy my scripts and hire me on the spot. That would be the ideal way for it to happen. To make it on your own merits based solely on your writing ability.
But the sad fact is, and this is evident with the poor caliber of films being made today, is that no one has time to find the diamonds in the rough. The business of moviemaking and TV is so time-consuming that having scripts read by anyone important is practically impossible. You need to work with the decision makers and have strong contacts to get anything done. Unfortunately, nepotism is a big problem.
So, the first thing anyone should do is try to get a job at a production company, or studio, or agency. See how the deals are made and put together. Make the contacts that you will need in order to make your deals happen. It takes a lot of time. I’m still working on it. I came to the game a little late because I was relying on sending out scripts to strangers. But I don’t think it’s too late. I believe more in my abilities now as a writer and filmmaker than ever before and I still have the self-confidence needed to get through all the rejections and hopefully to the next level.
For more information on the Connecticut Film Festival, visit http://www.ctfilmfest.com/ For up close inspection on our two producers, see their websites at http://www.shockedjock.com/ and http://zacharybrewstergeisz.com/