Director Amber Sealey breaks indie filmmaking down to its nuts and bolts as she discusses the completion of her recent feature, HOW TO CHEAT.
As an independent filmmaker who worked with an improved script and a style defined by available light and a hand held camera, what’s your relationship to the phrase “DIY Filmmaking”?
For me, DIY is the only kind of filmmaking I know intimately, at least as a director. It’s incredibly hard, both emotionally and logistically, to actually get a film made, and I think DIY has become a sort of catchphrase for any true independent filmmaking. To the world at large I think DIY probably means “a movie made for little-to-no money.”
Is there a difference between “indie filmmaking” and “DIY filmmaking”? Do you feel like “DIY filmmaking” is becoming a genre in that of itself? What about “Microbudget Filmmaking”?
No, I don’t think there are differences really between those three terms, except in how each individual may define them. It’s all much of a muchness to me. I mean, someone directing a 1.5 million dollar-budgeted piece might say, “I’m working Microbudget!” but to someone else 1.5 would be like winning the lottery, so it all depends on the perspective.
How was your experience shooting in L.A.? Were you able to steal shots easily?
L.A. is a wonderful place to shoot because there are so many people in the industry here, it’s a readily understood medium. I found the city to be welcoming, accommodating and evokes a character of its own. You mention “stealing shots” and I’m assuming you mean shooting without permit? Again, yes, I think that is very easy in L.A. because people are so used to seeing film crews running around. So, it’s highly unlikely you’ll get questioned unless you are making a real nuisance of yourself. Part of it is being respectful of the environment you are in, and part of it is just being really careful.
The camera and the lighting in the film is deliberately loose and visceral. What was the color correction experience like? One could imagine the scenario going either way: that you spent a lot of time in color correction or very little. Which was it?
Ha! Had I the money, I could have spent weeks in color correction! But since I didn’t, we did it in one day, if I’m remembering correctly. But with this film I did go for the natural, low-tech look so I wasn’t looking to drastically change the color palate or anything. This film was all about keeping it real.
What about the sound mix? Did it follow in a similar suit to the color correction process?
I spent a lot more time on the sound with this film because it really needed it. That said, we could have even spent more on it. Again, it all comes down to the money you have to spend.
Your film screened at the Los Angeles Film Festival and you’re prepping for another festival in the upcoming future (which one?). Any wisdom to share with fellow filmmakers about dealing with film festival deliverables? Is there something you wished you could have known before you found yourself in the middle of it?
Yeah, HOW TO CHEAT premiered at LAFF in 2011, which was a great experience. I can’t think of any pearls of wisdom to share about festival deliverables right now… I’d just say: don’t get a phone call telling you that your HDCam tape broke (because of a faulty deck at the festival) just as you are walking down the opening night red carpet and it’s the night of your premiere screening! That wasn’t a fun few hours waiting to hear if a new copy could be made in time… But Fancy Film totally came through and rushed me a new copy down to the festival!
What do you think the biggest challenge is for an independent filmmaker in the post-production process—besides cash flow alone?
I know you don’t want to keep hearing about cash, but that really is the biggest concern. The more money you have, the more time you can spend polishing the things you want to polish. So if you don’t have a lot of cash, it’s crucial to be organized, know before you go in exactly what you want, and exactly what is possible for the time and money you have. Have realistic expectations and learn to know when to let go. As I mentioned before, we did the sound in just a few days when it really needed weeks of work. I still hear things in the mix that make me cringe. But, you have to move on. Being dragged down by one blip that you didn’t have the time or cash to fix is not how I want to spend my energy. You just hope you can do a better overall job the next time around on all the post.
HOW TO CHEAT is your 2nd independent feature. Does it get easier?
Yes, for sure. It gets easier. And more fun. And more interesting. And more complicated. And some of it gets harder. With higher stakes. But that’s what life’s about.
Sealey wrote and directed HOW TO CHEAT and also stars in the film. In the past she has worked predominantly as an actor for television, theatre, film and voice over. Sealey also starred in her directorial debut feature, A PLUS D. Sealey currently lives in Eagle Rock with her family.
Visit the HOW TO CHEAT website: http://www.howtocheatfilm.com/