After attending the Cinequest premiere of “God is D_ad” (pronounced God is Dad), I had a chance to sit down with the director and writer, Abraham Lim, to discuss the film, his past, and what advise he would give to young film makers, such as myself, coming up in the business. Totally approachable but unsurprisingly down to earth, I caught Abraham as he was scrambling to catch a flight to his next premiere….
Amadeuz: Thanks for your time, its an honor. How did you get started?
Abraham: I actually started out really doing hip hop videos. I’m originally from Kansas but went to NYU for film and left there doing music videos, which was a great experience. I did videos for a lot of artists, including The Roots, and Lords of the Underground. That was key for me because, you know with music videos you can bend the rules a lot and you get to be creative a lot more so than film. It was fun actually thinking of different ideas, writing the treatments and storyboards, and actually bringing that to life. My mother told me I was an idiot for taking the money that I made from shooting music videos and investing that into film, but making movies is my passion.
Amadeuz: How was the process of shooting “God is D_ad?”
Abraham: Well, first it was filmed in two different locations, here in the U.S we filmed the main part of the film, while the flashback/comic-book based scenes were actually shot in Korea. The scenes we did in Korea were shot first, and it took a while for us to secure the financing for the rest of the film. The total budget was about $15,000. When we finally figured out how we were going to finance the film, we shot the U.S and got it going. Since the main story of the movie didn’t require any special costumes or particular staging, it was relatively easy compared to the Korea shots.
Amadeuz: I noticed that you wrote, directed, produced, and even edited the film. How was that process?
Abraham: A lot of work man. If you don’t have the passion and drive to really do this, I wouldn’t recommend that you get into film. Yea there are people that have the resources, through family ties or something, to have the luxury of just making a film and putting it out there just to make money, but that is rare and unrealistic for people like us. We have to starve and sleep on couches, but to me its worth everything. This film was a lot of fun to work on…we actually shot it on the Canon HV20 with a Letus 35mm lens. One thing that people probably wouldn’t know is how hard the animation flashback scenes were to produce. People think it was just an effect that I threw on there. No way. I had to animate it with a cartoon comic book effect and literally go frame by frame to adjust it in order to make sure the colors matched. That is the dedication I’m talking about (laughs). When you’re doing it yourself, you have to spend weeks…months at a time on things like that.
Amadeuz: What is your goal with this film?
Abraham: I’m not totally convinced that this is very commercially viable…maybe it is. This film was definitely an experience for me and since I produced it myself, I can do whatever I want with it as far as distribution, which with this new distribution is very exciting to me. There is no better time for young film makers than now because all the tools are in our hands now. We don’t need the big studios anymore. I remember, I think it was Martin Scorsese who said that the future of film is a 12 year old girl standing there with a camera, and I totally believe that. Now we can shoot and edit our own movies, and distribute them directly into the hands of the consumers without the middlemen. I make a lot of money just selling DVD’s hand to hand at premieres and while on tour. A lot of directors think that they are above trying to sell their projects directly, but hey….to each they’re own.
Amadeuz: What is advise to upcoming film makers?
Abraham: Just get out there and do it man. Shoot. Get out and meet people, do other work, odd jobs, anything you can….you just have to show up. Trust me, there’s plenty of work to do, anyone who’s ever worked on or at least been to a set knows that. When you can’t secure actors or financing, know that your greatest asset is your time. When you have no money, usually you have a lot of time….use that to your advantage, and write for what you have. It makes no sense to write a high budget action film when you lack to money to finance it. Look for strengths and positives. An independent film has the advantages of working directly with actors, because of course with bigger budgeted films, you are relinquishing control, at least in some aspects. Do not have an ego, that will get you nowhere fast. My advise is to find a niche and fill it. It was hard for me to try to make an Asian-American film because its been done so many times and often in the same ways so its less likely to get the exposure. The African-American audience however really supports their own when it comes to film, they really get out there and support so you know you have a base. My niche I think will be the Sci/Fi kind of content because that’s what I like but you never know. Camera’s are super cheap now. You can get the Canon EOS 550d for under $1000 now and the picture is amazing. The future is really in our hands.
On Tuesday, March 2, 2010, I was granted the opportunity to sit down with Zach Weintraub, director of “Bummer Summer” after the it’s first showing at the Cinequest Film festival in San Jose, CA and here is what he had to say:
Zach: Realistically not every type of film can be made independently. In my case it (Bummer Summer) was. I went to NYU. The whole time I was in film school I had no idea of what I wanted to do when I got out. They say you are supposed to make a short film when you leave and bring it to festivals and hopefully people will want to buy the scripts you wrote, directed and produced. I said to myself, “ok…this is what I have to do, ” but it can be really scary doing an independent film for the first time.
Amadeuz: How do you handle making a movie without a budget?
Zach: Well I’m from a small town, Olympia, WA, and we really kind of failed at raising money. Luckily, the film was cheap to make. The budget was only $7,000, including all of the equipment, which I now own. I wish we had a bigger budget because it still felt like we were in film school, you know, just kids, and we really couldn’t pay anyone. People deserve to be paid. You can really only do that once.
Amadeuz: What did you shoot it on?
Zach: The Canon 5D Mark II, a digital still camera that had just came out when we started shooting the film. Its basically a still camera that has video capability. Everyone told us “no….you can do that!” but we did. The camera definitely has its limitations, but for what we did with it, it was perfect.
Amadeuz: What about lighting?
Zach: Well there was really only one scene that required a lot of lighting. Thats why the camera was so amazing because its really light sensitive and things look naturally beautiful on it. Its a great camera when you don’t have a budget or a lot of time.
Amadeuz: What was your biggest challenge?
Zach: Laziness. I mean, it was hard because we wanted to have this really rigorous rehearsal schedule, and wanted to work out everything with the actors. We did, but it was a little hard working with the actors because they were just kids our age. It took some work getting everyone together.
Amadeuz: Do you think it was easier to work with a smaller staff?
Zach: Definitely. We spent about 2 months shooting, which was good because as soon as we started things started to kind of fall apart. One girl dropped out and we had to find and re-rehearse with a new one. When it was all done, we had 4- 5 weeks, which is good for a movie that has over 100 shots. I think we had 106 shots in the movie. It was easy to work with these actors because they didn’t have any expectations, but the first rehearsals were a little scary because the actors had to warm up at first.
Amadeuz: What about editing?
Zach: One of my good friends from school edited it. I actually went out to New York and stayed on his couch for a few weeks. Sometimes its hard when you have friends edit for you, because they lag, but the fact that I was living there helped a lot. We had the first cut in a couple weeks, showed it around, and made some minor changes. There was a lot more character depth than was shown in the final cut, especially with Lila’s character. Things got cut because the improvisation was too loose at times to really be that interesting.
Amadeuz: What would you have done differently?
Zach: Well I love the way the movie looks. I shot in in 30p. My next film I will try to work a lot more with the actors and concentrate on each scene, maybe even write some stuff down in terms of dialogue (laughs). Equally beautiful, equally composed, a little more connected with the characters.
Amadeuz: What challenges did you have shooting location wise?
Zach: None really. We didn’t need any permits. We definitely got denied from certain locations, but a lot of scenes were filmed at night so the places we used were closed. I think that is the benefit of shooting in a small town…less issues. We didn’t have any real problems. We shot in a month, though it took a few months of planning. Had we had a real staff, it would have been shorter.
Amadeuz: What kind of films do you see yourself making in the future?
Zach: Very similar. I don’t know if I will ever make a movie that is commercially viable (laughing) but I have such a broad way of thinking that I don’t know. The next one I’m planning will take place in Argentina and will be similar to this one, hopefully I can get a bigger budget.