DIY Film Making: One Man’s Journey To Sundance & Beyond
By Jacob Krueger & Chris Littler, ft. Adam Bower
An article from our vault that is still relevant. The first step is to take a step!
As many of you know we are headed to Park City, Utah this week for the Sundance Film Festival, where we’re going to be hosting, in collaboration with our partner Stage 32, a series of free panels, lectures, pitch parties, and exciting events all throughout the festival.
So if you’re going to be in Park City, come join us! You can see a complete calendar of all our events and RSVP at: writeyourscreenplay.com/parkcity
In the meantime, in preparation for all the Park City excitement, we’re going to take a little detour from our regularly scheduled podcast and bring you an interview by Jacob Krueger Studio Director Chris Littler, with filmmaker Adam Bowers.
Adam shot a feature film, New Low, for $2000 and ended up a official selection of the Sundance Film Festival in 2010. He then managed to parlay that success into Paperback, a second feature at a much higher budget, which premiered at the Austin Film Festival this year.
If you are a film student here at Jacob Krueger Studio, you know it’s an extraordinarily exciting time to be a filmmaker. We are seeing more and more people like Adam, who are making their own material. These writers have stopped waiting for people to say “yes” to them, and instead started saying “yes” to themselves, developing great screenplays and going out and shooting them.
Chris sat down with Adam and asked him a bunch of questions about his process, about what it means to be an indie filmmaker, and how he managed to shoot a film on $2000. He got some very interesting responses, particularly about some unexpected benefits of shooting micro budget, compared to his experience with a higher budget production.
Enjoy the interview! And then get out there and make some movies!
Chris: I’m interested in the process of creating things, taking things from an idea to whatever it is at the end. And for you it’s feature films, right?What had you done filmically before you took on a feature length?
Adam: Yeah, so I was trying to get into the film school at UCF which is in Orlando, University of Central Florida, and the first year I didn’t get in. I was 18 I didn’t have any real experience except for shooting sketches with my friends on weekends when I was in high school but they were all like terrible. And then the second year I forgot to apply in time. I remember sitting in class in one of my film pending, entry level film classes that you take before you get into the actual thing and I was talking to another guy who was getting into it and I was like “Hey, when are you gonna send in your application, and he was like that was due months ago now we’re waiting to hear.” And I was like oh my god.
So, at that point I really didn’t like UCF, like I said Gainesville was a really good fit and Orlando was kind of like the opposite of that, it was a suburban sprawling kind of bummer place to live, so my brother went to UF so I got this idea from a friend of mine. He was going through the teleprom program at UF because UF didn’t have a film school. He was going through the telecom program and treating it like a film degree where he was basically, because you got to make shorts in the program, so he would use that as a way to make short film, have access to the equipment and learn like basic things from his professors, but really take it upon himself to learn and make things and make his own technique and style.
C: A kind of sandbox education. Like a sandbox. Like you were given the resources and you just were left to kind of play.
A: I didn’t know that was a thing.
C: Like a sandbox, Adam.
A: I get it. It’s a sandbox I get it. So I went over there, I transferred over to UF and did the exact same thing where I was going to school and I was in these more telecom; like telecom trains you to be like basically a camera operator for a local news station if you’re on the production tract, so I was learning that stuff and every semester I was finding an opportunity to make a short. And then one summer I made one, and I didn’t really know quite what I was into then. I had been writing scripts since I was like fifteen or fourteen so I was used to that, but I was getting used to like making things and figuring out what my thing was in that sense. So, I made a short, I actually did this independent study thing one summer while I was at UF that was a, like a 40 minute short that I just didn’t have anything to do besides make this short. So it was like I was able to do this. And the way I made all of these was just with like a skeleton crew of like two people. Like a two person crew.
C: A sound person and a camera person?
A: yeah, basically. And I would sometimes act in them, but sometimes wouldn’t so it was really just a gathering of a couple of friends making stuff together with their minimal equipment and money and then just trying to do the best we could out of that and be creative getting around that issue. So I made this short that was like 40 minutes for like a hundred bucks.
C: You said forty minute short?
A: Yeah it was like 40 minutes, but it was totally no budget that was for school that I just made with a couple of friends. It was kind of like the first thing I wrote when I got into Woody Allen-
C: How did you get into Woody Allen? Which Woody Allen were you into?
A: Well, my first Woody Allen movie was Matchpoint which I remember seeing in a theatre with my parents, one Sunday afternoon where every single other person in the theatre was really old and had like white hair and stuff. So, that was my first one and I liked it, but it wasn’t, I just happened to see Annie Hall at some point and then I was like ‘Oh my god this is amazing’ because I had grown up on Seinfeld and The Simpsons and stuff too, but Seinfeld was like the kind of defining thing about my sense of humor and Seinfeld is very much a descendent of that 70s era of Woody Allen stuff I think.
When I saw Annie Hall I was just like “oh this is amazing this feels like a real film in the sense that there is an artist making this.” But it’s also funny in the way that I see things and it has and it really clicked a lot for me and I wanted to make something that felt like that. And I was in love with Gainesville at the time and so i was like okay I can make that and make that something that is in my, put that Woody Allen-ness that’s normally in Manhattan and put that in Gainesville and my world and I find a certain romance and myself and like give it this flavor of punk and things that I also love. So I was just trying to combine a bunch of things that I liked.
So I made this short for a grade basically with some friends. It was really fun and it came out pretty good, or people responded to it, they thought it was funny and kind of just a little different,which was cool. So when I graduated, I went and made another short after that for my last semester and then graduated and stuff. I was sitting there, after graduation I had moved back home and I was trying to figure out where I was going to move because I knew I wanted to do movie stuff. So, I took a trip and I went to Austin and then I went to LA and New York and I wanted to see what place felt the most right and LA felt like the one that had the most potential to get into and I didn’t hate it as much as I thought I would. So I found stuff to like about it. When I was there though I saw Paranoid Park at this art house theatre and I realized there was something about it that clicked for me. Seeing it, he makes a lot of his movies in the Pacific Northwest where he is from and I was like wait I can make a feature in my own world before I move out to LA I should do that while I can because it would be a lot harder to do it out here.
C: And have a calling card.
A: And I have this 40 minute short I’ve already done that felt like I had to condense it into 40 minutes. It was a feature condensed into 40 minutes so I went back home and decided I would stay a little while longer and I moved back to Gainesville and all of my friends who are still there, we made this movie together, this really small movie and it only cost like $2,000 and we shot it in a really small crew. We didn’t pay for any locations. Nobody got paid really. It was just friends making something together.
C: Can I have you tell me a little bit about the writing process?
A: Yeah, totally. I already had the skeleton of this.
C: Was it based on the short?
A: Yeah it’s based on the short. The movie is called New Low and the short is called New Personal Worst. That’s basically me being like when I made the feature like I’m gonna pull back a little on this. That’s fun that you can see that decision in my head. So, I wrote it while I was still living at home and leeching off of my parents and it took me like three months to really have it written and
For that, for New Low, that was not the first feature I had written. It was before Save the Cat and all that stuff. So, I was still very much learning and kind of going by impulse and what I did was because I was like I want this to be like a new Woody Allen movie for me and people like me and something we can connect with and my favorite Woody Allen movie ended up being Manhattan so it felt a little similar to that movie so I basically broke down Manhattan and then put my short on top of that and saw where it lined up and used it as a guide to build the bigger spine of it. And that helped a lot. I didn’t feel like I was, the whole thing was kind of an homage already so I didn’t feel like dirty doing that.
C: Correct me if I’m wrong, but Manhattan is a love triangle in a sense? He’s choosing between two women?
A: Yeah, it’s not the same plot or anything, but it has that love triangle structure which is what I was pulling from it with the pace and everything. So, I write, I outline pretty heavily and then my feeling is to outline really heavily, know every angle of the story and then when you write your first draft, I always try to be really loose about it and then you’ll have to go clean it up again on the second one. I just feel like so many fun details you find and you go into these quick little directions and go back and do it if you’re not so in your head with the first one. I really like talking. My movies are really dialogue heavy so I do a lot of like talking to myself and I’ll act out the lines as I’m writing them and that sort of thing.
C: So, are the characters based on people you know, or yourself as the protagonist?
A: Yeah, the protagonist is based on me and that’s kind of why I act in my stuff sometimes is because it’s so specific, and it’s comedy so it’s like there is something about comedy where if it’s a specific enough voice it won’t feel right coming out of anybody else. So, that’s based on me and New Low, the short and the feature are both pulled from something. I got the idea for the short when I was like, I was always like dating or seeing girls in college that were like not the most wonderful people in the world. They were those rough around the edges punk girls, or like they had issues. They had more issues than you would want.
C: As opposed to you who has no issues and totally clean cut and perfect.
A: Totally, but so I was seeing those girls and I was getting frustrated because I liked Gainesville a lot but that was my dating life in Gainesville. They were these girls that were the alpha and I was like they were scary to me. So, I met this girl at this, I went to this protest rally for farm workers rights and I met this girl there who was the total opposite of those girls. She was really wonderful and selfless. All she did pretty much was like volunteer and like do charity work at a soup kitchen and she just had a genuine sincerity that I liked so I really wanted to date her, but I went out a couple of times with her and realized that she was too good. I didn’t connect with her at all. I had a hard time; we had no chemistry because she was just too nice and normal of a person. So, I realized that I was the problem basically. I wondered I guess. The script was a way to like ask myself or to answer the question of why does it work so well with these women who you deem as not worth of you when it doesn’t work with someone who you place higher. So, I thought that would be a funny thing for a love triangle. So, that just clicked with me one day. I remember I was jogging and the idea came and the
C: Way to slip in that you jog, bro.
A: I don’t jog anymore. But I did jog at one point in my life. So, the idea, usually the idea, it’s hard for me to sit down and just come up with something. I’ll usually get that lightning strike of an idea and then I try to find a format or a framing to tell the story in a way. So, it’s a comedy so the funnier way you can tell it.
C: So, what does that mean for you? Does that mean like a heightening? How do you take something that’s real and make it feel comedic?
A: I guess for me another thing that I would do naturally, because I have a comedy brain so I always see things that way so I would have Word docs that are just dozens of pages long of just lines that are just things that pop into my head when I’m mulling over something and my funny attitude about it will just come in and I’ll just recognize that and write it down. So, I had a lot of those so I wanted to, and it fit with this abrasive romance at the center of the movie so I was like okay these work here and so I tried to build it from both angles at the same time where I was like letting it organically build itself with funny moments and also I had this database of funny lines that I wanted to try to find a place for. When I made New Low and I’d seen a couple of Mumblecore movies at the time it was the beginning of mumblecore.
So, I had seen that there were really low production value in these movies but you could still get something good out of them and everything. But my attitude was always, and I think it came from a place of insecurity or trying to be like do as much as I can, but I would basically try to pack it with as much funny stuff as I could because I was afraid if it wasn’t funny it wouldn’t have value.
So, my rule, and it’s a good rule to follow for comedy and writing of you need to have the structure of the dialogue and the moments be set up punchline set up punchline whether that’s the end of a scene cutting into a new scene that provides the end of the scene that was set up or just even dialogue of one character says something. You build the scene and get information across in the scene that way. And that was kind of a rule I had for myself of basically I wouldn’t go more than three lines without a joke, but that was a rare case if it just felt organic to do that. I would cut lines if it wasn’t a set up to that joke or a punchline to that joke. I tried to make it as tight and concise as I could. Even when we were making it I was making it with a bunch of people, I got into the college improv thing. There was a big group for that there.
So I got into that my last semester and I made some friends who were kind of my first comedy friends in a while at least so i made the movie with a lot of them. We would riff while we were making it because it was such a small crew and we were all friends and all that so the actors would have an idea, or the crew guys would have an idea or we would sit beforehand and try to come up with different versions of lines and film them all. We were trying to make it so everything hits, for better or worse. I can get into that a little bit later about what I did differently with the second one. It was basically my approach to the first one was to make something really true to myself, this hodge podge of everything that I loved– Woody Allen, romantic comedies, punk, and Gainesville and this existential dilemma I was going through at the time and then just hacking it with jokes as much as I could.
C: We call them just make em ups silly times…
A: Yeah, so that’s really how I approached it and so I made that and then after I shot it like a week later I moved to LA. I had the movie on a hard drive and packed my car up and drove across the country to LA, and I edited it over the course of the next nine months or so. While I was picking up jobs and trying to start my life basically and starting improv out there where I met you and so it ended up playing at Sundance and I wasn’t even going to submit it, but a friend of mine convinced me to on the last day that they were accepting submissions so I drove it down and dropped it off right before they closed.
C: Yeah, can you talk about that decision? Like why didn’t you want to do it and then what happened?
A: I was broke. And it costs a hundred dollars and I didn’t know a ton about the indie film world or the festival stuff. I was just a kid from Florida making these things in his own little bubble. I had no idea what I was doing.
C: And you knew how to wrestle gators and that was pretty much it?
A: Yeah that was my childhood. It just was like one of those things where I knew enough even though I was so green where I knew Sundance is the biggest one, that’s where movies like every movie that comes from the festival world that you people actually know about is in or every indie movie that has a big star in it that’s where that goes and obviously my movie is not that.
C: Did you know that it was like a super low budget type of entry, right?
A: The reason why the movie was in the festival was because it was the first year of the Next section which is for movies under $5,000 which I would love to have a movie with that budget. But that’s really low for most movies. So, it was for that for basically new filmmakers. So there was kind of a change of the guard at Sundance that year so it was their way of trying to redesign its image and accessibility.
C: At that point they were debuting major feature films.
A: It was a response to that. Like this is a little bit out of control but how do we make room without having them compete with these movies they wouldn’t stand a chance against. So, if it was a year before or a year after it would not have gotten in; I guarantee it. So, I just sent it in and forgot about it and didn’t expect anything from it and was bummed I spent a hundred bucks but yeah I got a call from them around Thanksgiving and they said it was in. It was a really crazy unexpected experience. I was in no way prepared for it or anything like that.
C: What would you say to someone who had just gotten their film into Sundance?
A: Well, there is a lot that happens. There’s a lot of great things that happen. one of them is that it’s likely you’ll get attention from managers, agents, stuff like that.
A: Yeah ex girlfriends coming out of the woodworks and sales agents. So it makes that stuff a lot easier than if you play as like a second tier festival, which is the experience I’m on right now with my new movie. You have to do a lot more leg work and hustle and find those people on your own whereas if it’s at Sundance they come to you.
C: What does that look like? Is that like going to parties or how do you prepare yourself to succeed in that?
A: Well, mostly to be honest it’s like mostly just like you get emails from people. But Sundance does a good job of welcoming you in and they have an orientation in December before the festival where all of the directors go and meet and everything and they do a good job of for the programmers you’re the focus of the festival for them. So they help make it easy but it was still a very surreal experience being 25 and being there knowing I was pretty much the youngest person there with a feature and it was probably the smallest narrative feature they had ever played at the time budget wise and everything. I asked a programmer that one time and he thought that that was the case. So it was overwhelming in a lot of ways. There were a lot of those parties and press things.
C: It sounds more like a mascot for them, you know? To show them like hey this guy he made a five dollar movie you know? He’s here at Sundance too right?
A: I think that that’s true for the first year it was beneficial to have somebody like me who was this out of nowhere person. There were a couple of people who had done things before and had movies that were not made for nothing. So, I think it did help color that section differently in a way that was good. But it was a crazy experience. The movie had a sales agent and everything and we tried and tried to get distribution for almost a year before we found something that was good. It played LA festivals
C: And this was the beginning of the Netflix, POV kind of stuff.
A: Yeah, it was definitely before what it’s like now. And I think that also is a reason why it was able to get in. There are just a lot more movies now than there were five years ago when New Low played Sundance and there are just you can make movies for that much. My movie, I shot it on a DVX which is a standard definition digital camera like on tapes with little cassette tapes.
C: Holy shit, that seems archaic.
A: Yeah, so it kind of was like maybe the last standard definition of that kind because even iphones now are high def. So, nothing gets shot on standard definition now, really. But, I might be wrong
C: Let’s just say that’s true.
A: Okay, let’s go.
C: So, you’re taking these meetings at Sundance. I assume people are asking you what is next, so was Paperback in your mind at that point?
A: No, I was really lucky. This whole thing is basically a story about a kid getting super lucky and I got a manager and an agent at good companies, but I had nothing up my sleeve which is not good but it was the case. I just had to finish this movie and it was only me, basically.
C: It took everything in your being basically to make this thing. And they’re like what’s next, what do you have?
A: And I was still finding my voice because that was the only thing I had written and it was the same as the short. It wasn’t like a new style or anything it was just an expansion of that. So I didn’t really know what was unique about me. So I would talk to my reps and I was coming up with ideas for things and I was pitching it to them and nothing was working or feeling right, but they were good about pushing me. They wouldn’t tell me something was good if it wasn’t good and the things I was coming up with weren’t good enough at the stage it was in.
So I just kept trying to think about stuff and then after all of these more random ideas that I had, like I had an idea for a murder mystery comedy thing that was very different and that was one of the ones that I took farther than other ideas, but then I ended up coming up with this story that kind of lived in the same world in the same style as New Low and it was kind of a grittier comedy and they liked it. And I wrote a draft and it came out and was that feeling of like oh this is like right this is the next thing. So I wrote that and it was really long and there were a bunch of drafts of that and we got it to a place where we liked it a lot and I had met a producer at Sundance that I had become friends with. She had produced another thing in the section and she wanted to attach herself to the movie and she wanted to try to make it together.
So there were a couple of years where, it was maybe a year after I’d gotten them, until I had written something for them or this movie in some form and there was a couple of years after that where they were sending me out on auditions and stuff like that. I was an actor, too, in this thing which helped me get my representation I think Just having that variety of things to offer. And so I was doing that and we were trying to get this movie made and we took it to IFP in New York and they have a conference to pair movies with producers or financiers or investors. So, we did that we attached an actress, we had a company attached as an EP like a really good indie company and basically we were trying to package this new movie around me as an actor. So I would be directing and acting in it because it was a similar thing where the protagonist was so much my voice so it was hard to picture anybody else doing it.
So we tried to find a way to package the movie in a financial way and we ended up not being able to really find the right alchemy for it. And we were still trying, but at that point I had written a couple of other things. I had written one thing just to sell, like a broader studio company and I was desperately trying to make money off of these opportunities that I had because I was not doing it at the time. So I wrote one of those and then I wrote a movie that was, because this movie we were trying to get made was an under a million movie, but it’s close to a million, it wasn’t something I could just go and shoot.
So, Paperback was the second one that I also wrote while we were trying to finance this other script which is called We Were a Wasteland and that was a movie I wrote specifically to be like okay, I set it back in Gainesville and I wrote it in a way that I was like okay I know that I can take this and go back and make it for very little and squeeze every penny like I did with New Low. So, at a certain point it just felt like it was time where I was like okay we’re kind of spinning our wheels a little bit with this bigger movie, I don’t want to stop, but I don’t have anything to do really so I might as well go and try to make something else and get my reps and build my crap.
C: Get your quads. It seems like a perpetual conundrum where you have, like what to do next you had hit. Like you had had a movie at Sundance so do I do the same thing again, but better, or do I try to do something different? It’s an interesting thing to me that you were trying to do both things.
A: That was a problem specifically that I think I had because was I a filmmaker who had made a totally no budget movie that looked and felt like a no budget movie, and that was part of its charm, but I wasn’t fooling anybody. It was very hard to seem legitimate and so Paperback is a bigger movie by it’s like over ten times the size. It’s like twenty times the size of New Low at least, but it’s still really, really small. So, it was kind of a way where I was like okay. I worked it out with my friend who was producing a bigger movie, she was kind of the executive producer of Paperback and we worked it out where she helped me figure out the budget and then I made it and the idea was that it was if I’m having trouble making that leap from a $2,000 movie to an $850,000 movie I’ll add a little stone to jump to in between those things and that was Paperback.
So it was supposed to be the middle ground in that way. It’s definitely still on the side of New Low, but it was the idea was that I would make something, hone my thing more, get reps in, and also do something a little bit bigger that helps add legitimacy. It was really supposed to be one of those in between movies where you still kind of care about and sometimes can produce the better movie, but it just was like a movie that I was doing to fill time and to try to stay fresh and up on it.
C: And how was the kickstarter process for you?
A: Oh man, it was the worst.
C: I feel like that’s a common thing people say.
A: It’s just really hard. It’s really hard. I thought that I was over-confident. I was like you know it’s not that much money. I knew how much money it was. I had seen movies asking for a lot more by people who didn’t have a feature play at Sundance, so I just like was over confident and it just ended up being really hard and the kickstarter, I always say the beginning is really easy. You get a ton of money at the beginning and a ton of money at the end, but the middle is this dead zone where you’re desperately trying to stay relevant and stay on people’s radars and feeds, and it was like a full time job basically, the Kickstarter. But we ended up making it and the whole thing was super rushed too because I wanted to shoot in Gainesville before fall semester started. We did the kickstarter in July. So I had to go and start prepping for the movie while the kickstarter was still going and like when we kind of just jumped right into it.
C: Why did you want it to happen before the Fall semester?
A: I was just worried about, it was just from a producing aspect of I just want to be able to get all of these things. I was worried that my plans to get locations would be hampered because when it’s summer in Gainesville there are just way less people there. Way less crazy. We ended up going into the Fall semester while we were shooting because we pushed it back a week or two, but it ended up being totally fine. It was kind of this thing, it was really weird to go back to my college town, it was creepy, after like seven years.
C: And to have such a strange experience to have made something there and to be coming back and making something ten times bigger.
A: Yeah, it was surreal and also tricky because that was my only experience still was to shoot that movie. And I had gotten a commercial or two while I was out there, so I had a little bit of experience, but my only reference point for making a small indie movie was New Low which was this group of like four kids being like hey can we shoot here or grabbing the shots holding like a china ball lantern as our only lighting. And this one had a fuller crew, we flew in the DP and the sound guy and the DIT from LA because those are very specialized skills that we wanted to make sure were good. And the rest of the crew we pulled in who were students or people who were living there who wanted to help, who worked for free and we fed them and everything, but that was the only way we could make the movie. And all of the actors, too, we flew in the three other leads from Paperback from LA. We cast them in LA and flew them to Gainesville and then everyone else I cast locally for the smaller parts, which was, I actually like that way of making a movie when you go into a smaller place, especially when it’s a small movie and can’t afford to do things legitimately, there is a good quality about this alternative, that has value, which is like it being made by the community. So that was a cool part about it, but it was way harder than New Low was. It was just a bigger movie and I was just a kid. And people knew who I was from the first movie, but we were still, everybody was still generous with locations. I don’t think we paid for a location.
C: So, what made it more difficult?
A: Well, we did have to do, the producers had to do all of the standard paperwork and things like that and clear things. It was a bigger movie that I was trying to make in the same way of the small movie I made, which I think was the mistake of it. But it came out. I’m super happy with how it came out, in the same way that New Low was this charmed movie that never rained when we were shooting. This was the opposite. It was a hard shoot in that sense. Everyday there was a hard– and that’s true about shooting always. There is always one thing that is a disaster every day you shoot. But, it just worked itself out. It was more challenging. It lived in this weird middle ground of a totally run and gun no budget movie like the first one. We had an actress, the lead actress is a known actress so she came in and so we had those elements in there, but it was still kind of being made this other way that, it’s more of like in retrospect I would have not expected things to go the same way as New Low.
A good example is, both movies have a pretty well designed soundtrack. Like the first one New Low, I just wanted to use bands from Gainesville to try and help capture the sound and spirit and everything and so I used bands that were from Gainesville or had a strong Gainesville connection and so Paperback– and I got all of those bands for free. I emailed them and my lawyer who I got after Sundance when he found out I didn’t have any official rights to the music he helped me draw up a little contract and I had to track the bands down after the fact and get them to sign it and everything. But they all did it for free and it was great. I expected the same thing to happen in Paperback. I thought this is a small movie I can offer very little, maybe they’ll just be happy to be involved because I’m finding bands that are still underground, but I branched out a little bit more and went after a little bit bigger bands than I did the first time, but that proved to be a lot more difficult and I had to learn basically music licensing and I found a music supervisor who helped walk me through it, but I had to do all of the leg work.
C: You’re in that weird in between place, between the low budget and
A: Exactly like I can’t afford to pay anybody actual. That’s really the main thing. You can’t afford to really pay people what they are used to getting paid, but you still need them to do things the way that they have to be done, as opposed to another movie where you could get away with not doing the things that way or using those people. So it was really just a shortage of money. It’s a budget level I would not want to do again because it was so kind of counterproductive to itself if that makes sense.
C: If you were to recommend to someone making low budget movies what is that valley that you think you should not even try to exist within? There is the super low budget where people will do everything for free because they’re like oh this guy has got no money. At what point do you get to the safety point?
A: I think that the second movie is kind of a really good example that you’re just only setting yourself up for trouble to be in. I couldn’t really get out of it once, because the movie is designed to be a certain way. It’s designed to have a soundtrack with all of these different bands. It’s not designed to have a score or very minimal score that you could do with a smaller movie if you planned it out that way. Once you shoot it you have to remain true to what you initially wanted as much as you can. So, I think that like doing something for under ten grand, or twenty maybe, but even that is very high end. Or you get financing. I guess the way Paperback was, I’m not a huge budget wonk, but if the movie was like $100,000 movie it would have come out pretty much the same but would not have been this insane, stressful crazy hard thing to pull off.
C: You just throw money at problems if you have that money to spend. You just save yourself time really.
A: Yeah, and also just there is that, you save yourself a lot of stress because there is that worry, there is a lot of moments of Paperback where I thought I don’t know if I can pull this through the needle and I ended up being able to do that, but it was tough. After I edited the movie, because I edit my stuff myself, too, so after I edited it I needed to sent it to a sound editor and with New Low I found a kid who was a student, a sound editing student at this post production student in Burbank who did it for like $200 and we used the school’s studio and he was happy to do it because he wanted the experience and credit and we didn’t know it was going to play Sundance at the time or anything like that, but he was able to get that experience and $200 was a steal because I could do nothing. And I found a sound editor for this movie through people who were working on the movie and it was a similar thing where she was really inexperienced so she offered to do it for a low rate. It wasn’t $200, but it was low. And she wanted that experience and it was just like this, it was like a nightmare. It was really, really hard. She bit off way more than she could chew and there was a period of time with the movie where I was trying to get the movie from her. And that was something where I was so stressed out. It was in really bad shape and we were sending it out to festivals with the audio in really bad shape and the sound editor was just not working on the movie and using the ratio of amount of work versus how much she was paid and everything as an excuse to do that.
So I was just like okay I am going to continue to follow through with this and do what I can, but I really don’t know what’s going to happen with this if it will even be watchable and luckily a friend of mine told me about a mixer who he loved and the guy saw the movie and liked it and wanted to do it and he ended up having to redo a lot of her work, but he felt so bad that he was happy to do it. He felt so bad for me and the movie that he was willing to do that stuff. But he ended up saving the movie.
C: Those angels. You need a few of them every movie, right?
A: Totally. It was like. I don’t know what the movie would be like if it wasn’t for him. We finished the movie in September, totally and I didn’t have him on until June. He was doing this in his off hours, and he had to do a lot more work than he thought so it took him a while, but because he was so good I didn’t mind at all because of how enthusiastic and cool he was about it. But it was one of those things where you’ll find yourself in things like that where you just hope and pray that you find a solution that works and you just do the best you can and sometimes you’ll get lucky or if you’re persistent enough you find a way to make it work in a way that is okay and a way that you can live with. But that’s like if I had $100,000 movie that would not be an issue. I would be able to have hired somebody for the right price who was more prepared and everything in the first place and money definitely, you can make very cool things with very little money, but you just have to embrace the limitations of it. That’s kind of what I did for my first movie and not for the second movie and it ended up being really difficult. It is what it is and it came out how I wanted it to for the most part, but it’s one of those things where if it was a small movie I would have had this money the whole time and it would be like it’s going to look like a small movie and we’re not going to make apologies for it, and it’s going to make it feel fresh. But it’s tough. It’s easy to do with a dialogue drive, relationship driven movie. I think you have to get more creative the less that it is.
C: What’s your plan now?
A: I did a big rewrite on that script I was trying to do for a couple of years, and I want to take that back out again and I’m writing something right now that is like a shoot on weekends in apartments sort of thing. I like having things at different budget levels going at any time and so that’s kind of what I’m doing right now and hopefully, my passion project is this bigger movie we were trying to get made and especially now that I’ve rewritten it I’ve freshened it up for myself and it feels really right now. I want to find a way to do that.
C: Did you add a talking monkey to it?
A: Yeah, that’s the only change. I was like I really connect with this more.
C: How can people find your stuff?
A: My first movie is called New Low. We’re on Facebook, if you look us up on Facebook we have a page that we update regularly or if you go to newlowmovie.com and my second movie that just played at Austin a couple of weeks ago, we’re on Facebook too. It’s facebook.com/paperbackfilm.
C: Alright, thanks man this has been great.
A: I think the main takeaway is no one holds your hand. You have to learn and adapt when you have opportunities like that and I think just like I didn’t want to move to LA without having made a feature so I just figured out how to do it. I think more people are doing that now which is cool. and I feel like you can’t go wrong if you’re just making something that really appeals and speaks to you.
Jake: Thank you Chris and thank you so much Adam for that wonderful interview.
If you are a filmmaker and one of our students please reach out to us because we want to more of these kinds of stories. We want to get your stories out that and help other writers to break down the walls that seem to separate you from Hollywood.
And I want to really focus in on one of the things that Adam was talking about. This idea that ultimately this comes down to creating something that speaks to you.
We work in a really crazy industry and nothing is assured for anyone and we don’t always know where our success is going to come from. And the truth of the matter is it takes a lot of stars to align for a movie to be successful. But the feeling of creating something you love is a guaranteed feeling of success.
So often we end up waiting around for the perfect time, for the right amount of money, for the amazing producer who’s going to invest in us. And what I’d like to suggest to you is to instead do what Adam did. You might have to embark as he did at a time when you don’t feel completely ready, you don’t have enough money. You may have to make mistake and remake them and remake and teach yourself this crazy process of being a screenwriter and being filmmaker.
But the exciting thing is we live in a time now when you can actually say yes to yourself.
So go out there and make something beautiful and tell us about it.