This week we're excited to have our first non-Australian guest, writer/director Andy Blackburn, who has recently made the move from the UK to LA. He's been working in advertising for eleven years, which formed the basis for his excellent debut feature Being Nice. We delved deep into the nitty gritty details of the film's production, and covered a whole bunch of topics including exactly how he put together such a great film for an incredibly low budget, his directing methodology, working with improvisation, and the respective merits of making commercials, shorts, and longer films.
Both Clay & Chris really loved Being Nice, so head on over to VHX where you can watch this great indie flick right now for only a few dollars!
Some Gems From This Episode:
On making time for spontaneity on set:
“The shoot was a really lovely relaxed shoot... We’d do maybe four scenes in a day, and with each scene we’d have two hours, so we’ have time to talk about it, and we’d have time to try it out, and maybe do five or six takes of a ten or fifteen minute scene. And with improvisation, obviously it tightens up and tightens up and you get shorter and shorter. And, that was one of things that, for me, was so lacking in a lot of filmmaking: the process. Everything is so rushed and you lose a lot of chance of spontaneity, there’s no chance to make mistakes and try things out. So, it was certainly important to me that the shoot itself was run in a very time effective way..."
On the importance of shooting multicam for improvisation:
“Shooting on two cameras is the key, for me, in shooting improvised dialogue like this. It’s almost impossible to edit scenes together with one camera. I knew that with two cameras we would be able to cut down & trim down the scenes to the barest or the tightest that we could without it feeling too chopped together.”
On the benefits of shooting in sequence with a relatively traditional schedule:
“I think certainly for an improvised thing, it’s really difficult to keep consistency and continuity when you’re jumping around. I shot everything in sequence, as much as I could, because when you’re working that way things change, details change. Scenes end up completely different to how I was expecting them to play out, which then effects other scenes in the film. So it was important that we got it down quickly and also in sequence as much as possible.”
On his directing methodology:
“I would’t tell [the actors] how the scene should end. They’d read a script, and they’d seen things prior to that, but I would never say ‘right, this is what’s going to happen throughout the scene.’ Essentially, usually I would speak to each actor separately and give them conflicting things to think about and conflicting objectives and just see how that worked, and tweak it slightly for the next take, give them a slightly different objective. And then, naturally it would either develop into a better scene than I was hoping for, it would develop a different way that I couldn’t have even planned for, or it would get roughly similar to how I was hoping it would play out..."
On the importance of listening & restraint when actors are improvising:
“One of the things I always say to actors is if you don’t have anything to say then don’t say anything. Don’t say stuff for the sake of it. And I think the more that the takes go on, then the tighter it gets, and people are actually talking to each other rather than just trying to fill the time..."
On the importance of workshopping and rehearsals:
“I think spending more time with actors to develop characters’ backstories, I think, is so incredibly important. It’s like 50% of the effectiveness of a film. I think it’s like doing your work as a director, doing the prep of the reason why characters do things and why they behave in certain ways, and whether that’s a script that is written, or whether it’s improvised, you’ve still got to have reasons for everything... The more work you can do with actors beforehand, the better.”
On stressing less about a single feature film and the benefits of making a number of low budget feature films:
“I think the thing that so many filmmakers are worried about is that their first feature film being the thing that they’re going to forever be judged on. I think what you learn from people like Joe Swanberg and the Duplass Brothers and people like that, is that you can make a load of crappy feature films and no one ever has to see them. But by making five crappy feature films, when you get some money, or when you then stumble upon a great idea for your sixth, you’ve got five feature films under your belt. You’re wildly more employable and attractive to investors than when you’re trying to get money together for your first feature...”