Interview about "Finding Sky" with Emily Sandifer
I interview Emily Sandifer a few months back and like what she was doing, thought she had a lot of talent. Not only does she take photos & act. She has a directed a film called Finding Sky which will no doubt get her name out there and get her some awesome work. I for one can’t wait to see the film. So read on what she has to say about, the making of this film.
"Finding Sky" is a feature length independent film shot in Los Angeles and Southeast Idaho. It follows the story of an aspiring actress Sky Hamilton (played by Sandifer), a small-town country girl from Idaho, who moves to Los Angeles with big dreams but is disappointed when her career is quickly going nowhere. She returns to her familyís ranch for a vacation, only to question where she really belongs. She has an instant connection with her familyís ranch-hand Sam De La Cruz, but just as she thinks sheís found her place, an unexpected turn of events in her career takes her back to Los Angeles. Sky is left to do some soul-searching, and must decide which of her two worlds completes her most.
1) How did the film come about?
In April 2009, I started writing a short screenplay based on a short story I wrote in college a few years ago at Boise State in Idaho. It was somewhat autobiographical, loosely based rather, but started from what my mom said should be called "The Girl in the Red Mustang" – a story about all the strange boyfriends and experiences I’d had in my short 20-something years.
I moved to California in 2008 with big dreams and unrealistic goals. I soon realized that if I wanted an acting career in Los Angeles, I’d have to create my own characters, my own stories, and my own films. So, I started writing "Finding Sky" solely to have footage for my reel.†
We filmed the short in the summer and fall of 2009, had one or two scenes left to film, but put out some teaser trailers on Facebook and YouTube. The trailers got positive response and we were encouraged by fans to turn it into a feature length film. So, I rewrote the screenplay and turned it into a feature length. ìWeî refers to my production partner Sergio Z. Bernal, a graduate of Los Angles Film School, who is the cinematographer for "Finding Sky" as well as the actor playing Sam De La Cruz opposite of myself. We’ve worked on several short films together. Most of the production has been just the two of us.
2) What was the inspiration behind the story?
My family’s ranch was the inspiration for the story. It’s very near to my heart and I wanted a piece of work that documented it, something I could show my children and look back on when I’m too old to remember the ranch when I was a certain age. There aren’t too many places left like our ranch; ití’s truly an unexplainable beauty. You don’t know the power of it until you’ve been there.
Los Angeles was also inspiration. And primarily, the contrast between the two landscapes: the wilderness of the Idaho ranch and the sprawling cityscape of Los Angeles. And the contrast between a girl who co-exists in both landscapes.
3) How long did it take to film the movie?
We started filming in August 2009 and just finished during Labor Day weekend of 2010. We took two different trips to Idaho and also did filming as our schedule allowed in Los Angeles, so it was a long process.
4) How was the process of choosing the actors for the film like?
I wanted to use actors I knew so I could give them experience and work with people I enjoyed being around. So, after writing the script, I cast from fellow actors in my acting class I thought were right for each part. Some characters were inspired from the actors themselves, even if the characters are nothing like the real actors. A few of the extras were found via casting notices; we had to match a very specific look. So I met some new actors as well through that process.
5) Was it hard to make the film with a very low budget?
I used about every possible resource I had, so it kept the budget really small; in fact, ridiculously inexpensive as far as feature films go. The budget came solely from my own pocket until this summer when I raised about $600 on IndieGoGo.com to cover film festival entries and other expenses. Every location we used, we didn’t have to pay for permits, which saved a lot. We used my apartment, my photography studio, my familyís ranch, and also guerilla-filmed the outdoor locations in Los Angeles. Sergio already owned a camera, a Panasonic HVX 200A, and I also own a Canon 5D Mark II. We used the photography studio’s equipment and lighting, so we didnít have to spend money on renting equipment. All actors were generous enough to donate their time to the project and we also had a few crew members help out on various days free of charge as well. The only thing I really had to spend money on was traveling expenses to Idaho, craft services, a shotgun mic, and a few props. We were very lucky to have so many resources. Obviously, we probably could have done a lot more with a bigger budget, but we think weíve been very successful at giving ìFinding Skyî a bigger-budget feel than it actually is. I think the entire project is under $1,500 so far. The biggest expense will be marketing and film festival entries. Hopefully we can pay back some of our actorsí time as well.
6. Was it hard to get financing for the film?
We didnít get financing. I just paid for it all. The funds we raised on IndieGoGo, however, were more than we expected. I posted the project on Facebook and within a week or so, we had a lot of amazing supporters donate money. And we appreciate every donation since all of it is going to marketing and festivals in order to get the film out there to the public.
7. What did you learn from making of this film that you can use for
future features? Is there anything you would or wouldn’t do next time that you did this time in regards to the making of the film?
I can’t wait to start the next project ñ but I will go about it much differently. I did "Finding Sky" a little unorthodox just because it started out as such a small project and grew to something I didn’t expect. Next time, I’ll write the entire feature first, get contracts through SAG before filming, and also get funding before filming. And will hopefully never have to ask people to donate their time again, but actually pay them as professional actors and crew! So, in the future, I think I’ll have everything much more organized and it’ll be a faster process.
Also, I think Iíll have someone else cast it. I am so thankful for all my actors, although I know there were a few fellow actors that were hurt they weren’t included. That’s a bit of drama not needed, especially when youíre trying to write, direct, produce, and act in a film.
8. †Has the internet played a good part in promoting the film and generating sales?
Definitely! It’s played the only part in promoting the film! I can’t afford print marketing, so the internet is an economical way of getting the word out there about it. Especially Facebook, where friends of friends learn about the film, so your audience keeps growing. But, you can only status-blast people a certain amount, so once we get the film in a festival or two, I think weíll be able to promote it in other ways, get distribution, and have the audience expand even more. IMDB has also been a great help; it just adds to the legitimacy of the film and has gotten a few distribution companies interested in "Finding Sky".
10. What’s next for yourself?
I’m working on some ideas for webisodes and script ideas, so we’ll see what gets developed first. Right now, I’m concentrating on my craft. I learned so much from "Finding Sky". I kept seeing a change throughout the filming process, so I can’t wait for the challenges to come with future projects. Basically, I just hope that bigger and better things are in store for everyone involved. Time will tell.
11. Did the actors stay pretty much to the script or was improv allowed?
A little bit of both. I wanted the dialogue and behavior to be as organic and natural as possible, so I gave the actors freedom to change a few words here and there. We didn’t have much rehearsal time, especially since most of my actors are from the San Diego area and we were filming in Los Angeles. One scene was completely improvised, with just an outline of what we needed to accomplish with the dialogue, so that was really fun. But for the most part, everyone stuck to the script as close as possible, which I really appreciated as the writer. It’s so fun to see your words come alive.
12. Were there any major problems when making the film?
We were very blessed with no major problems. I think the biggest problem was a light fell over during set-up and we had to repair some damage. Also, although not really a problem, but more of a process, was recasting a few characters during the re-write. Courtnie Long, who plays my character’s best friend Trish Ryan, was originally cast as a production assistant in the last scene of the short film. So when I recast Courtnie as the best friend, we had to reshoot the production assistant scene with a different actress, now played by Unnur Fridriksdottir. Same thing happened with Taniel Pogharian, who was originally our talk show host in the short film version, later to be recast as my character’s ex-husband Alex Braden. So, we also had to reshoot the talk show scene with a new actor, Mark C. Hanson. So, just a little reshooting due to script expansion.
13. Is it hard to make an independent film in this day and age?
I don’t have much experience with film making yet. So, I don’t really have anything to compare it to. I think it’s much easier to make a low-budget independent film now, especially since there are so many great digital cameras out on the market today at affordable prices. But I think itís also tougher competition. Everyone is trying their hand at filmmaking; everyone is posting videos on YouTube and Vimeo. And even festivals like Sundance, which used to be the prime place for newcomers and no-namers to get their films discovered, is now much harder to get noticed in. You’re competing against independent films that still have huge budgets and huge stars, just not financed through a major studio. Sometimes it’s a little disheartening, but I’m very proud of my film and how far it’s come along.
14. What advice can you give to some one wanting to make an independent film?
Just do it. Don’t wait, don’t procrastinate. Just apply yourself, do what you need to do, and make it happen. It’s very simple, broad advice, but really, I think a huge part of the process. And have fun and be patient.
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