Tuesday, November 10, 2015

How to make an independent movie

Almost everyone has a movie they want to make. But how many of us ever actually do it?  Very few.  Well, a friend of mine did. I thought it would be interesting (and maybe inspiring) to hear his journey. Jeff Kingery is the producer and director of TABLE 47, a noir thriller made in Denver using local actors and crew. The website will show you how you can stream it on fifteen different platforms including Amazon and iTunes. 

What also interesting about Jeff is that for years he was the radio voice of the Denver Nuggets and then the radio voice of the Colorado Rockies. Not exactly Steven Spielberg’s background.

Anyway, I sat down with Jeff and here’s our interview: 
ME: Being a big league announcer is a very coveted job. Some stay in it for 67 years. Sure, calling Rockies games must’ve been tough. Every final score was 16-14, but still, why did you walk away from it?

JEFF: Filmmaking was my first love. I loved doing that as a kid. I’d shoot movies on 8mm and show them around the neighborhood. I had fun doing student films in college. I enjoyed doing the Rockies and Nuggets. But I was getting tired. Loved doing the games but everything else was wearing on me, especially the travel.

ME: I know. It takes over an hour to get to and from that damn Denver airport.

JEFF: The big question though was what was I going to do to fill that creative hole once I left the booth? I always liked to write. And maybe I’d have a chance to actually make a movie.

ME: So talk about the beginning of the project.

JEFF: I had this idea floating around for awhile. I love the noir genre. So I wrote TABLE 47 first as a short story, showed it to my partner Mike Brody, and we thought it was a movie we could make for a small budget.

ME: In sense you wrote a treatment.

JEFF:  Right.  We planned it out. He would write the screenplay, I would direct, and together we would find investors.

ME: To me that’s the toughest part. As Larry Gelbart once said, “You’re on your knees to German dentists.”

JEFF: We went to friends and some family. We put in some money ourselves.

ME: What was the budget?

JEFF: Around $65,000.

ME: How much is that in German Marks?

JEFF: Out of that budget we were able to pay everybody including the crew.

ME: Was that your original budget? Did it grow once you got into production?

JEFF: No, the budget was pretty accurate. We did need to add a little at the end, but not much.

ME: I’ve always felt that the most important decisions you’ll ever have to make is casting. Everything else can be fixed. Was casting fun? A nightmare? Were roles hard to cast? Easy? Was it an exhilarating process or frustrating?

JEFF: All of the above. We put the word out through local film and theater sites. We were swamped. We were looking to cast six parts. Fortunately, we knew we had our lead – Michael Haskins. We had used him before. He has several TV and movie credits. One part was hard to find, but when Danielle Prall came in, halfway through the audition I knew she was the one.

ME: I guess there are crews everywhere. How did you get yours? 

JEFF: I had worked with the DP on a smaller project. He brought in people and others just applied.

ME: I guess it helped that it wasn’t ski season. So putting on your director hat (beret?), how did you prep for the film? Did you make storyboards? Rehearse? Plan it on the fly?

JEFF: I had a vision of how I wanted to shoot it. I did some bastardized storyboards, but I used color highlighters on the script to indicate which camera angle I wanted. Once I got on the set though I had to be flexible. The writer had his vision, the actors had ideas, and the DP had thoughts. Also the editor when I reached that phase. Everybody adds to it and you have to embrace that. The best thing you can do is listen to everybody, but then you have to make a decision and go.

ME: Especially on a limited budget with the clock ticking. So was the final cut sort of close to your original coded script?

JEFF: Uh… yeah.

ME: How long was the shooting schedule?

JEFF: Nineteen days.

ME: That’s pretty short. Even for an indie.

JEFF: Well, most of the scenes took place in a restaurant/bar. They gave us the two days a week they were closed. So we used them for a couple of weeks. Then we shot outside a couple of days and other various interiors like houses. We pretty much destroyed that bar and restaurant.

ME: I would expect nothing less. Now every time I watch PROJECT GREENLIGHT there are always mishaps, crises, stunts gone awry, actors in tears, etc. Did you experience any PROJECT GREENLIGHT crises?

JEFF: Yes. It was the third day of shooting. For whatever reason we couldn’t get anything right. The actors would be perfect but there were focus problems. Then the tech was perfect but the actors stumbled. Everyone was getting very cranky and there was a lot of tension building.

ME: Did you have a David O. Russell meltdown or just break down crying?

JEFF: No, I just decided to call it for the day. Said, “Come back tomorrow. We’ll get it.” You have to understand that the crew all had other jobs. They’d finish up something at midnight and have to be on the set at 6:00 AM. I think everyone was just tired.

ME: Gee, you’re no fun. You’ll never get on a reality show pulling that shit.

JEFF: After that day the shoot went great.

ME: Did you try for film festivals?

JEFF: We did do the film festival run but didn’t do well with that.

ME: I told you to get Meryl Streep for your film.  Nothing against Michael Haskins.

JEFF: But we developed a relationship with Indie Rights and they wanted to distribute it. They were able to get us on all the various streaming platforms. Film festivals would be nice, but if I had a choice of distribution and a worldwide audience as opposed to smaller audiences at film festivals I would take it the way it worked out.

ME: Well, as someone who has two unproduced indie screenplays, I’m very impressed and jealous. Making your own movie is a herculean undertaking. Congratulations and see you at the Oscars.

JEFF: Thanks much.

ME: TABLE 47. Check it out here.


emily said...

The trailer looks like a $65k movie...maybe less.

Mighty Dyckerson said...
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blinky said...

Kung Fury is a very well made indy comedy in a style that I can't describe.


It was made in Sweden by kickstarter money and is fascinating and very funny. It takes on Miami Vice, video games, kung fu, Hitler, VHS tape, Vikings gods, dinosaurs and the 80's.

Mighty Dyckerson said...
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gottacook said...

That classic Ferrari Dino is worth several times the movie's budget, probably. Whose is it?

M said...

Please do a post about Project Greenlight + Leisure Class, Ken - would love to hear your thoughts!

auragoneboy said...

Thanks for the article Ken. A big shoutout to Jeff, my former boss at KPVI-TV.

MikeK.Pa. said...

No questions about the wrap party? I'm guessing a family-sized bag of Cheetos and a six-pack of Dr. Pepper.

VP81955 said...

Congrats to Mr. Kingery on his achievement. Now can we find a way to get John Sterling into moviemaking, if only to get him out of the broadcast booth? (John supposedly is a Broadway buff, so perhaps we can find an obscure '50s B'way musical for him to direct for film. "Happy Hunting"?, "Oh, Captain?")

James Van Hise said...

Every Friday the L.A. Times has reviews of a couple dozen films, and most of them never play outside Los Angeles. I've been to film festivals where they literally showed 100 new movies, 97 of them were never seen again outside the film festival. I expect many can be found on line, but you have to know they exist first. Even movies which go direct to home video still have to have their existence known so that you can even watch them. I saw a great Chinese movie which actually got a release, "Detective Dee and The Mystery of the Phantom Flame" (it's on dvd with an English language dub, if you prefer). 2 years later they released a followup film with the character but I had to drive 100 miles to see it in a theater, but it also made it to dvd. These films are getting hard to find, like the Japanese film "13 Assassins" which I saw in a theater and then on Netflix (plus I have the dvd). These films keep getting made but US distribution is becoming more problematic. I've also seen films in theaters which I cannot find on dvd, such as the 1995 Irish film "The Boy From Mercury" which was released on video in the UK but in the US could only be seen at film festivals (the film festival I saw it at had to add an extra screening due to popular demand). Independent films seem to all too often fall into a vast void and disappear.

Johnny Walker said...

It would be interesting to know what Jeff wanted to get out of making a movie. Experience? Money? Fame? A career? Or just the knowledge that he'd achieved it? Was he happy with the final results, and would he do it again?

Many of us dream of making films, but it's such a huge undertaking, with little chance of a big reward, it's interesting to hear whether he felt it had been worth it.

Thanks, Ken.

Mike said...

Friend of the blogger Michael Douglas recently explained the demise of the smaller, "more interesting" American film through marketing costs. The smaller films are as expensive to market as the blockbusters. He also mentioned that makers of the smaller films were paid more to work in television than in film, through combined writer/producer/director deals.

To me, distribution is a sizeable chunk of the film's budget, which needs doubling to pay for marketing. And then half of ticket revenue goes to the theatre.

Even in a town with a few multiplexes, there's precious little choice. As a long time fan of Chicago's Chess Records, I was not anticipating a problem seeing Cadillac Records, featuring chart act Beyonce. Pretty much every screen in town showed Marley & Me.

Gerry said...

Congratulations to your friend on completing his movie! I just finished a run of film festivals with a short animation I did, and meeting other filmmakers and animators was a big part of the experience.
I got the feeling that filmmakers and animators regard each other over a collegial fence of envy, if that's the right word. It's such an undertaking, casting, managing cameras and lights, going on location, I'm totally in awe of it. But the filmmakers regarded me in the same way, amazed that I could just sit in my studio and draw whatever I needed. ("wait, did you draw the WHOLE THING?")
I was especially pleased at the level of all the other work (this was the Big Apple Film Festival in NY) and even though there were like 134 films showing, ther were only five animations, so we were all in one set and able to meet and chat. I was also happy to lose to an animation that had fantastic style and storytelling.
I talked to one guy who like me had tried pitching a show for TV and the process got so overwhelming that he finally said, "screw this, I just want to create!" For some it's a step to the bigtime, but for a lot of people, it's an end in itself.