Thursday, October 31, 2013

Kickstarting Angel Dust

Kickstarting Angel Dust

Today I have for you an interview with the film maker  Matt A. Cade. This interview will be as much about his kickstarter campaign for his next feature film Angel Dust as it will be about the problems that came up with the distribution of his previous film Underbelly.

I have written a little about distribution, but have not gotten into all of the pros and cons of doing it yourself versus finding a distributor. The  distribution guru Jon Reiss (Thinking Outside the Box Office) preaches that we should all be our first and best promoter and in the digital on demand world a distributor as well. Some others have go as far as testing a venue like Indiegogo as a way of distribution their finished movie. That is another post. This one is about Angel Dust, Underbelly and how one film maker can inspirer another.

Now my interview with Matt A. Cade.

Normally the interview would begin with questions about Angel Dust and its crowd funding campaign, but you campaign begins with a mention of your previous film.
I think the natural place to begin is with Underbelly and the problems that you had with the distributor.

Q)Many young film makers dream of finishing their film and letting a distributor take over from there. Many of us who have heard the horror stories involving distributors plan to take the DIY approach to launching our films. Could you tell us a bit about what happened with the distribution?

A) Sure. Once we wrapped post production on Underbelly it was promptly submitted to film festivals and, if memory serves me correctly, a few of the larger DVD distributors at the same time. The film was anything but cookie cutter horror, it had several musical numbers and other eccentric touches, but it still had all the staples I felt genre distributors would look for such as strong performances, violence, nudity... you get the idea. Well, I was dead wrong. Nobody was interested. No distributors, hardly any festivals, no press, NOBODY. So we just sat on it because we simply didn't have the resources or, to be honest, the interest in self distributing the film. In my eyes the respect you were given as a filmmaker in regards to making your next movie was directly associated with how your last one performed. I, personally, saw self distribution as a failure. Now a lot has changed in the last five years where perhaps that is no longer the case.

Everyone had given up on Underbelly, considered it dead, but I would still scan through Fangoria Magazine's "Chopping List" previewing new horror DVD releases every month in the hopes of discovering a new distributor who might take a look at my film. And one day there was a new company listed that was putting out quite a bit of product and I figured I'd chum the waters one last time. Amazingly, they made us an offer to release Underbelly! And it was all downhill from there.

The film was released with no fanfare in September of 2010. I had to arrange almost all of the press interviews and podcast promos myself. Even when I could get a website to agree to review the film, the distributor wouldn't send them a screener. Worst of all, the film itself looked and sounded lousy. The color transfer and sound mix in some scenes was just laughably bad and there was nothing that could be done at that point. If I had been given an advanced copy prior to the release perhaps that could have been avoided but I had to wait on my DVD from Amazon just like everyone else. To top it off, we had agreed to a smaller percentage of first dollars earned in exchange for the distributor not having to recoup any of their costs. An insanely uneven split in their favor, just brutal, but they were the only girl at the dance so we danced. It's still a bit embarrassing to talk about but maybe it'll open some young filmmaker's eyes to what's going on out there. And I really felt that getting the film out in the marketplace via a legitimate distribution entity would make financing the next film easier. I was, of course, dead wrong again on that front.

Months upon months went by without us getting paid a single royalty check or given access to any financial reports as we were promised in our contract. The check was literally always "in the mail". Eventually they stopped taking my calls and returning my emails so we had no choice but to take legal action to get control of Underbelly back to the producers. I spent more on lawyer fees than I will ever make on that film. It was a nightmare. But a lot of folks really seem to enjoy Underbelly so there's that.

Q)Do you plan on seeking a distributor for this project or do you plan on doing it yourself?

A)Yeah, yeah I do. But I'm no longer married to the idea.

I have noticed that every film maker is referred to as a fan of this great filmmaker or that one until they have a success of their own. Brian De Palma was a fan of Hitchcock until his first hit and then he became a disciple of Hitchcock. It seems that you are a huge John Carpenter fan. One could argue that he was the reason that you picked up the camera for the first time and the reason you have returned to film making?

A)You are absolutely correct on both fronts. John Carpenter is the reason I first started writing scripts and making VHS horror films in the late 80's and he's why I didn't allow the soul draining experience that was Underbelly to extinguish my passion to direct twenty-five years later. Ask anyone, I am never more happy than when I'm watching a Carpenter film. You know it's a JC film from the first frame, the man just composes a shot and orchestrates the story like no other artist in modern cinema. The onscreen heroes he's created, or his antiheroes rather, are all outsiders just like me. I'm very comfortable, obviously, with the Carpenter disciple tag.

Q) Let’s look at Carpenter’s film career for a moment. He has done suspense, horror, scifi and action. Do you believe that one of the things that has kept him from being considered one of the masters is that he has done great work in more than one genre? This could be called the Robert Wise curse.

A)And he's the only filmmaker I know that could mix all those genres and then some together in a film like Big Trouble In Little China and make it work!

I honestly haven't a clue why he isn't mentioned in the same sentence with Scorsese, Spielberg, or Coppola. Or even many of the younger genre directors with a much smaller body of work like Tarantino or del Toro who get so many accolades. I'm not saying they don't deserve the respect they get, they absolutely do, but it's clear that Carpenter has been underappreciated his entire career. Hell, didn't Kubrick make a film in every single one of those genres that you listed? But that's somehow different because it's KUBRICK. The academics drool all over Cronenberg's filmography as well these days but, cmon, Carpenter buries the guy.

Maybe it's because he worked both in and out of the studio system and didn't let anyone behind a desk put him in a box. I really don't know.

Q)People who read this blog know that I am a huge fan of Carpenter’s version of The Thing. Everyone has seen that film. What is the best Carpenter film that no one ever seems to mention?

A)Great question. First film that pops into my head is In The Mouth Of Madness. Talk about a master class in Horror 101, that film has a little bit of everything and its executed perfectly. I was just a kid working at my local movie theater when the film was released and I'd sit in the back row and just study it over and over and over.

I always felt that The Fog and Christine were never given the credit they deserved either. Although they seem to have been getting some new appreciation over the last few years which is really cool. I think Christine contains some of his best character work ever.

Q)Before the questions about your campaign begin I should ask two questions about Underbelly. This a low budget film making site so the two questions have to be,

Q)How long did it take to shoot Underbelly?

A)Principle photography took place over 11 days. Nine days straight and then a following weekend, if I'm remembering correctly. It was ridiculous, it was maddening, but we had some fun too.

Q)What did you learn about shooting a feature length horror film from that experience?

A)I learned EVERYTHING, it was my film school. But there's a few things that stick out for sure.

Rehearsal time is invaluable. the more time you can give really talented actors to find out shit for themselves the better. Otherwise, in a rush for time, you end up cramming your ideas for the character into their heads out of necessity and that's not the ideal environment for anyone to flourish. Time, both in preproduction and on set, is your friend and as an underground filmmaker it just seems you never have enough of it.

I did a lot of everything on Underbelly and the film suffered from that. I've never been fortunate enough to just show up on set and direct but I imagine that would be an incredible experience. To simply concentrate on the storytelling components as opposed to dealing with location issues, catering nonsense, applying actor's make-up and whatnot... a man can dream, can't he?

I learned that the need for a publicist is crucial. People need to know about your film before a DVD shows up on their desk. You have to personally work those angles early and hard or, ideally, find someone who is talented and capable of getting the word out there about what you're doing. It amazes me to hear guys who've been in the indie trenches as long as me still believe they're going to strike gold at Sundance. That's their entire strategy for success, a padded envelope in the mail. Best of luck with that.

And, finally, don't shoot long dialogue exchanges in moving cars. Just fucking avoid it at all costs, make them talk anywhere else.

Q)You are right now crowd funding for your new feature film Angel Dust. What is it about?

A)In a not so distant dystopian future, a depleted ozone layer has rendered most of Earth helpless under a relentless, pulsating, unforgiving sun. The government can't be trusted, everyone is essentially on their own to survive, and some very strange sinister things are happening in the big city. A masked killer is wiping out female radio hosts (the "Ladies of the Air") one-by-one and it's up to our reluctant antihero Angel Dust, a former war hero turned underground DJ, to stop the homicidal slasher before she's his next victim.

The film is completely original in its concept and narrative but it will be a tribute to the films of John Carpenter in its execution.

Q)This is not your first feature film. Nor is it your first screenplay. Every screenwriter has a different approach to writing. How do you go about it and does it get easier once you have seen a script filmed?

A) It doesn't get easier but the final screenplay draft itself does seem to get more efficient the longer you've been in the game . I've found that every subsequent script I write is leaner and meaner because I have a better sense of what will and what won't earn its dinner in the editing room. Especially if I continue to operate in this micro-budget world, the days of me beaming down smiling at a 120 page script are over. I'm crazy but I'm not insane.

I've also found that I have a better sense of how, as a director, I'm going to prolong or pace certain scenes or moments and that will lead me to try and deliver a shorter screenplay. For instance, if I know that I'm going to insert a ton of "Carpenter Montages" to set the mood then those have to be accounted for even though they're not represented accurately on the page necessarily.

As for how I go about the writing process - coffee and music. Soundtracks, everything by Mike Patton, anything that fits the vibe of what I'm reaching for in the storytelling. I also have a very close friend named Fritz Beer who's willing to compose music for me if I can't track down what I'm hearing in my head. He creates it for me. Now that's fucking talent.

Q) I have to ask the equipment questions. What did you shoot your last movie with?
What are your planning on filming with this time? Did you keep track of the advancements in camera equipment and editing while you were away from film making?

A)We shot Underbelly on the Panasonic DVX100B with the LA7200G anamorphic lens adaptor. We might have been one of the last features to go with miniDV 24P, I don't know. It was right at that transition time when everyone was starting to go HD and it still didn't look right to me. I preferred the organic look of tape, especially for that project. Underbelly was a dirty little movie and HD was just too damn crisp and clean. It still is in a lot of ways but, obviously, it's a whole other world cinematography wise now then it was back then.

We will be doing extensive camera testing once we have some financing behind us but as of right now my DP and I are really impressed with the Blackmagic cameras. And we will be shooting 2:35:1 of course.

While I did try to follow the latest and greatest camera improvements over the last few years, I probably stayed a little more up to date on the editing side of things. I don't know... I'm not a tech guy, never have been, I like leaving that to the pros who are a lot smarter than me. Let me concentrate on the frame and what's going on inside it and I'm happy.

Q) Horror films have risen to a level slightly below A level releases these days, but the quality has not kept up with the quantity. Are we missing out on a chance to make this a new golden age of horror films by not going out and making things other than haunted house and found footage films for a quick buck?

A) I'm trying, man. I'm trying. You're preaching to the choir.

Q) One of the advantages that John Carpenter had over many other film makers was that he usually managed to hit a home run in the casting department. Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Adrienne Barbeau and Kurt Russell. Have you begun the casting process yet?

A)Yes, some familiar faces I've worked with before are onboard and some new talent I've met along the path are already in place. There's also a "name actor" or two that are circling the film but I need to lock in financing to get their commitment obviously. One of the cool things about this film is that I was able to write my leading role for a female for the first time ever so that's going to be amazing to watch an actress breath life into Angel Dust. I think she's the best character I've ever written.

And you're one hundred percent dead on about Carpenter and his casting. The man just knows how to find real talent, real professionals, REAL FUCKING MOVIE STARS and they make great movies together while having fun doing it. Despite whatever limitations there may have been, I've never raised my voice on set and that's a lesson I learned straight from JC. Try to have fun dammit.

Q) Are you going to be wearing all the hats on the production of Angel Dust or do you have someone who handles the producer’s side of thing?

A) That'd be awesome but, sadly, people with those special skill sets are very hard to find at this level. At this early stage I'm it as far as a day-to-day "producer" is concerned. I do have a co-producer, Jason Tuttle, who brings a really impressive technical knowledge to the table that has already proven invaluable. For example, the Kickstarter campaign would still be a murky thought in my head if it weren't for him bringing it to life. He's new to the world of independent film but he's learning fast, I see his talents expanding daily, and we make a great team.

Now, if we are successful in raising our budget we will immediately begin filling in the missing members for this production. A lot of those folks have already been designated for assignment they're just eagerly awaiting the phone call. I don't believe in people working for free.

Q) One last question. Does the project go forward with or without kickstarter funding?

A) I don't know. It takes a lot of guts and humility to mount a Kickstarter campaign like this. I've put my failures under a microscope and my dreams under a spotlight for all the world to see. Including ALL my family and friends. That's ballsy. But I'm seeking a lot of money and I think people should know exactly who they're supporting and why. Granted in the sense of shooting a film of this scope it's mere pocket change but times are tough and I know every dollar counts... So I can't answer your last question, not yet. Hopefully in a month it'll be irrelevant.

Thank you again for taking time out to do this interview Matt. Good luck with the crowd funding campaign.

Again if any of you wish to get involved with the campaign you can visit the kickstarter page by clicking here.

You can visit the facebook page by clicking here.

You can visit the website by clicking here.

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