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La Blues

LA Blues
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Interview With The Director Of LA Blues Ian Gurvitz By Chris 18/5/09

LA Blues is a great indie film with real characters,real people, great dialog and a film that was financed by the director himself. The blurb of the film got my attention, so an interview was needed.

So read on.

La Blues Website

1) How did the film come about? 

I had just written a pilot for one of the networks that wasn’t picked up, meaning they commissioned
a script but decided not to shoot it. It was about a group of guys who hung out together and bitched
at each other while talking about the shit going on in their lives. The network thought it was too dark, so
instead of lightening it up, I made it darker and expanded it into a feature, setting it in the bar.

2) See #1.

3) How long did it take to film?

The shoot lasted 15 days. Twelve days in a studio and three days on location.

4) What was casting like?

I shot the movie in June of 2006. I began casting a year earlier, with a casting
director. We tried to go after name talent and giving ourselves a year I thought
would be enough lead time. The way it works is that if you can rope in one name
that will entice others, at least in theory. We weren’t paying much at all so if someone
signed on, it would have to be because they loved the part. 

After 6 months of submissions, and waiting for agents to return calls and for clients
to read the script, we came up empty handed. Many good reactions but no one ready
to sign. So, we decided a couple months into the new year to open casting offices and begin traditional
casting: having readings and meetings with those actors who are too big to read.

That began a process that took a few months and we made our last deal about a week
before shooting.

5) Was it hard to edit the film?

The editor I worked with had an office in his house about 45 minutes away from me. And
he had a day job. He worked on his cut at night, sent me dvds, I emailed him back notes,
and eventually after we had a rough cut, we began working together on the weekends. There’s
not much action in the movie. It’s mostly dialogue and it’s divided into about 6 segments, so
each one had to be its own little movie — beginning, middle, and end. Plus we had to weave
story lines for each character throughout.

6) Int’l sales.

It’s been on the market for a couple years and some sales have been made though not as
many as I would have liked. It’s a dialogue-heavy movie which doesn’t naturally translate to
the foreign audience, which is used to more traditional American genre movies. Horror. Crime.
Violence. Naked women.

7) Actors.

The entire cast was very professional. They had a lot of dialogue to learn, on a very tight
schedule, with no room for many mistakes. They all came ready to go. Dave Foley was
great. As was Anthony Michael Hall. All of them. 

8) Was I happy with how it turned out?

Mostly. Looking back there were changes I should have made. Cuts I could have made
to pace it up a bit. The idea for the music was there but it didn’t completely play as I
had envisioned it, with a dynamic house band punctuating some of the scenes. I loved
the music I put in but if I’d met the musician whose songs I bought before I shot, I would
have had his band in the movie. 

9) Was it hard to make low budget?

Yes and no. Much of it is in the bar so once we accepted that, we tried to make it as
interesting as possible. A fifteen-day shoot for a feature is pretty lean so we had to
work quickly and efficiently. Most of us came from the TV world and had worked together
so that came naturally. I would have liked to incorporate a more stylish feel to some of the
scenes but it became a matter of getting the lines and performances so some of the looser
passes we had mapped out had to get scrapped. We needed the words, the moments, with
the right coverage. 

10) Responses to the film.

Mostly good, I think. It’s not a typical movie so I think some of the younger audience didn’t
respond. Oddly, I assumed it would strike a chord with men — a guy movie — yet many positive
responses came from women, who enjoyed the “fly on the wall” aspect to male conversation, as
well as some of the more emotional stories.

11) Was it hard to finance?

Not when you pay for it yourself, which is what I did.

12) What did I learn?

Don’t pay for your own movie. 

13) Had the internet played a part in sales?

Only to the extent of having a website, myspace page, etc. I had some
communication via myspace but it was not the main marketing tool. 

14) The editing process. See above.

15) Anything I wouldn’t do next time.

As I said, don’t self finance, unless you can spend a ridiculously small
amount of money. The marketplace for indies right now is bleak, as is the
dvd market. Getting theatrical distribution is the longest of longshots, so
you’re left with dvd sales and foreign. Given that, don’t try to give the
foreign market something it doesn’t want. 

Creatively, I wouldn’t have a firm shoot date and then back everything up 
against it. I would try to cast it first, at least with a strong lead, and then
try to build the production around that person. It’s still very dicey, but there’s
less risk. In this case, I decided I was going to make the movie, that we
were shooting starting the first week of June and that wasn’t changing. 

I also would’ve been more disciplined and more objective during editing.
I think in hindsight, I held on to some things I should have let go of.

16) What’s next?

I have another script floating around town, through traditional channels. 
I’m working on a 2nd book, having published a book about tv writing a
few years ago. Working on a variety of projects, and will follow whatever
works out. 

17) Did the actors stay on script?

Mostly, yes. There were occasional ad libs and when they fit the moment it
was great. One actress, though, came with the intent of playing with much of
her dialogue, so I was left with two choices: force her to read it as written, which
can lead to bad feeling and a stilted performance, or play it out and rewrite on the
fly. I chose the second option. The scenes were contained, with one other actor,
and he was game, so we played around. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes I asked
for lines as written. In editing, we used some of everything. I thought her attitude coming
in was a bit presumptuous, but I decided to see where it went. When I saw that they
had some chemistry together, and that she was engaging, I let it happen. 

18) Any major problems making the film?

Not really. Once we got going, we shot like mad for 15 days and finished on time and
on budget. No major disasters. Which was lucky, as one would’ve completely derailed us.

19) Is it hard to make an indie film?

No. Although we shot on Super 16 film, with digital cameras and actors dying to work, 
most anyone with money or actor friends can make a movie. The hard part is selling it. Because of 
computer editing, and the wealth of professional equipment in just about everyone’s hands, 
more movies are being made, but most never see the light of day. It’s supply and demand. 
There are hundreds, if not thousands of film festivals to show at, if you get in, but those are 
mostly for exposure and vanity. They don’t often lead to sales. 

20) What advice would I give someone wanting to make an indie?

Depends who they are and where they are. In the states, everything is star driven. Get a
big name actor and you can get some traction and exposure. Even for foreign sales, they
look for names. That’s all I heard during the sales process — NAMES. However, look at
films like Slumdog Millionaire, or Once. Granted, one was a studio movie, but with no stars.
The other, a quiet little indie with no names but great performances and haunting music. 

I guess the advice is follow your passion but first check out the marketplace. Get educated.
I didn’t. I jumped in blind, then figured it out later. We made distribution deals for foreign and
dvd but the money isn’t exactly rolling back in. Know the world you’re walking into. Go to
film festivals, and film markets. Talk to people. Get a sense of the business side of things
because you’ll have to deal with it eventually if you’re going it alone. 

Oh, and get someone else to pay for it.

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