Ask an Indie film director: Joseph M Petrick responds to your questionsMikey 10 comments
Last week we gave you the opportunity to participate in a Q and A with The Mother of Invention director Joseph M Petrick, and find out everything you ever wanted to know about being in the in dependant film making business.
Armed with your best questions and a car battery wired to rusty alligator nipple clips, we interrogated Joseph until we got the answers you wanted. So here they are, unedited for your reading pleasure.
PS: The movie is available to purchase on DVD at www.themotherofinvention.com. Go get it!
Is there anywhere I can legally download the movie?
JMP: As of right this moment there is not. We're working on getting that locked down for the not too distant future but for the not too distant present we prefer the traditional "dvd in a case" method. As cinephiles ourselves, there's just something more tangible about seeing a movie, with a well designed case, on a shelf with other movies. To have our film be a part of someone's library of DVDs was more tantalizing to us. We've downloaded movies, sure but never the ones we really love. So I guess we aspire to reach that standard in someone's heart.
As one of the organizers of a local film festival here in the MidWest of the United States, I wonder what aspects of a local film festival attract an independent artist like yourself to want to enter your film? What can film festival organizers do better to attract filmmakers of your level to enter their films? What aspects of small film festivals-if any-make submitting your films an attractive undertaking?
JMP: To be brutally honest, the festivals that reach out to us with some kind of assurance that we will get in are the ones that we like best. Entering festivals is literally a gamble for the truly independent filmmaker, the kind that barely found enough money to make the film, let alone spend (without exaggeration) thousands of dollars entering festivals that no matter how big or small, may reject them for reasons that are never explained. So a practical improvement could be lowering the submission fees. If they could figure out a way to help the filmmakers advertise each film, that would be a huge boon. Personally, I could skip the fancy parties and award ceremonies if I felt that money was being directed into helping a person who didn't already know me see my film.
How good (or bad) was using online methods (like torrents for example) as a distribution channel?
JMP: Well - I may be confused by your question but if you mean torrents downloaded through sites like IsoHunt etc, I would say it's probably pretty bad from a business perspective. While I am in favor of more affordable ways of seeing films, I do believe that it is important that we as artists put a value on our work. This is even more important on an independent level because if we as artists don't put a price tag on our work then we can't expect anyone else to. Not to be greedy but in a way that communicates to the audience that your work is worth their time. It may surprise you that often times it's easier to sell your art then to give it away. Even if ultimately your work is pirated, it's important that we as artists feel that we have value and that we not be shy about expressing that. On a level of simply getting the product in the hands of the consumer I think it's very exciting to see new platforms emerge with a potential to allow a 13 year old kid in Iowa City to see a film that otherwise never would have found its way into a theater chain or a Best Buy.
I think there is a little Vincent Dooley in all of us. Was the script based on your own real life experiences?
JMP: The film is extremely personal for us and it draws upon the frustration as an artist in the current climate of the entertainment industry. Vincent strives to create new and exciting things that, while crudely constructed, contain an imagination and vitality that are lacking in someone like Martin Wooderson (played by Jimmi Simpson). While his inventions are easy to quantify and market, they are the inventions of a businessman- in the same way that almost all of the films you see in your average multi-plex are the films of businessmen, not artists. Our film aspires to bring a voice that sings a different tune. Like Vincent's inventions, it's made up of whatever we could piece together with twine and duct tape- but also of love and affection and carries our dreams on its back. That may sound a little grandiose but for anyone who's ever tried to make a independent film, to actually finish it requires such grander.
What sort of payment/deal did you work out for the cast & crew?
JMP: The cast was kind of split up between our friends, who we paid the absolute bare minimum that a SAG ultra low budget agreement would allow us, and the actors that were generous enough to cut their rate down to a more modest sum. Those actors we shot for as few days as possible (to keep costs low) and worked as fast as humanly possible. The crew were all friends who agreed to work for very very very little. Having cut our teeth shooting music videos, we've had the opportunity to allow our friends to grow artistically to a level we thought was prepared for something more ambitious. If I have any advice for aspiring filmmakers it's to surround yourself with talented people and do you best to inspire a potential that they didn't know they had. This sounds like I'm taking credit for their work which is not my intention- what I mean to say is that some times it's up to you to tell your friend that he would make a great sound guy and convince him to work hard enough that he actually becomes good at it. Then it's time to ask him to be the sound man on your film and not get paid for it.
Did you campaign and solicit backers for financial backing? Or was it purely out of your own pocket?
JMP: We campaigned as hard as we possibly could and raised about one third of our budget through contacts that were interested in making an investment, the rest came from promising our endlessly supportive family and friends that this would be the last time we'd ever ask them for money, that this was our big shot and that if they ever believed in us, to believe in us now. Bits and pieces came from our pockets, our crew agreeing to work for pennies and a narrative format that allowed us to intentionally have rough edges. If the film hadn't been a "mockumentary" it would have been painfully clear what kind of budgetary restrictions we had.
Who's your favorite director and who are your influences?
JMP: Well- there are influences that reach into everything we do and then influences on this specific project, I'll limit it to the ladder for the sake of brevity. The British Office is probably the largest influence for us. Scorsese's King of Comedy, Buffalo '66, the documentary American Movie- each played a key role in the inspiration for the film.
How hard was the entire process including getting a DVD released?
JMP: In terms of distribution it's been a rocky road and we're still learning as we go. Admittedly there was disappointment when we didn't experience the kind of Hollywood myth that is perpetuated by Sundance, the one about a complete unknown filmmaker getting rocketed into stardom and Oscars after screening at a film festival but the growth that we've felt in recognizing that as being a fiction that funds an "independent" film industry that produce films with A-list stars and 20 million dollar budgets has been good for us. Not to say we're above being part of the studio system, but calling a film like 500 Days of Summer "independent" just seems unfair. That's like saying that The White Stripes are an underground band simply because they sound "different". We have signed a contract with a UK distributor and are interested in seeing how that goes but domestically we've decided to self distribute almost as an experiment. If we find a small company that can't devote much money or time to promote our film, why should they get the largest percentage of what we are able to do on our own? I'd rather do it by ourselves and see just how successful we can get it until a better deal presents itself.
Where can I get a Macelet?!
JMP: Well, you know because Office Space created a demand for red Swing Line staplers they had to start manufacturing them, so you never know what could happen if enough people need something that acts as a self defense weapon and a flattering accessory.
Any advice for filmmaker wannabes?
JMP: Well, to be honest, I still feel like a wannabe filmmaker. I can say that if someone wants to be a filmmaker they can't wait for someone to give them permission, they have to just start making films. Get a video camera, teach yourself iMovie and just start shooting. Watch a lot of movies, especially the classics. One can learn a lot about telling a story visually from watching films by Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin. Give yourself a broad array of influences, this principal applies to other art forms outside of film as well. Listen to music, read books, go to museums. Fill your mind with every artistic flavor you can so that you can have that much deeper of a well to draw from.
Would you do anything differently the next time around?
JMP: I don't think so. Andrew and I often joke about having a time machine that would allow us to go back into the past and let our former selves know which scenes that took a lot of time and money wound up getting cut and to save ourselves the burden and cost which seems nice as a fantasy but you never really know which of your regrets was actually a vital ingredient to the best part of your film. Each scene as you shoot it teaches you something. In a perfect world every filmmaker could shoot their movies twice and adjust everything that didn't quite work they way they thought it would the first time around. Unfortunately that's not very cost effective.
What are you working on next?
JMP: Andrew and I have a lot of ideas as to what we want to do next. We developed a pilot with MTV that wasn't picked up but can be viewed online at onesmallinstrument.com/theunderground. We always have a few scripts we're hoping to at some point find the money to make. Andrew recently completed a film that screened at South By Southwest called "Jimmy Tupper Vs. The Goatman of Bowie" and I wrapped a film called "Ashes" both of which have trailers that can be viewed at vimeo.com/osipictures. Those films cost considerably less than The Mother of Invention and since we promised our friends and family that this film would be the last time we'd come begging for money, we're hoping to be able to find someone, or a number of someones, who see potential in us and are in a position to fund another one of our projects. In the event that we can't find anyone like that (or that they can't find us), we'll just have to get creative in order to find a way to keep making movies. It's a daunting notion but, as they say, necessity is the mother of invention.
A big 'thumbs-up' for indulging us and our readers, Joseph. Now that you've been interviewed here you're practically family :-)