Thursday, May 29, 2014

LUCKY THEM - Reviews and Interviews

So many amazing posts and reviews have been coming out around the release of LUCKY THEM that I've decided to try to archive them all in one place so I can return to them and read them whenever I feel blue. Please excuse the blatant self-promotion and enjoy some positivity along with me:

Variety - Review
by Justin Chang

Moveable Fest - Megan Griffiths on Staying True to Lucky Them
by Stephen Saito

Rolling Stone - Review
by Peter Travers

The Dissolve - Review
by Chris Klimek

The A.V. Club - Review
by Mike D'Angelo

NY Post - Review
by Lou Lumenek

Today Show - Ryan Eggold Performs
Kathie Lee & Hoda

Filmwax Radio - Podcast w Megan/Emily
by Adam Schartoff

Today Show - Toni Collette Interview
by Kathie Lee & Hoda

Access Hollywood - Toni Collette Interview

Bob Rivers Show - Megan Radio Interview

Vanity Fair Article - "How Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward Put Toni Collette, Thomas Haden Church, and Johnny Depp Together in Lucky Them"
by Bennett Marcus

Fandor Interview with Megan Griffiths about LUCKY THEM
by Sean Axmaker

Guest Blog on Women in Hollywood about Summer Indie Movie Challenge
by Megan Griffiths

Daily Beast - Interview with Toni Collete 
by Melissa Leon

Paste Magazine - Interview with Megan Griffiths & Emily Wachtel
by Michael Dunaway

5 Questions with Megan Griffiths
by Jenny Yule

RogerEbert.com - Review
by Christy Lemire

Village Voice - The Nimble Lucky Them Seeks Out a Grunge Legend
by Chris Packham

Examiner - Toni Collette and Thomas Haden Church Look For a Rock Star in Lucky Them
by Carla Hay

A Conversation with Megan Griffiths
by Michael Tully

LA Times - Review
by Martin Tsai

Musee Magazine - Review
by Belle McIntyre

Seattle Met - A Fiendish Conversation with Megan Griffiths
By Seth Sommerfeld

Seattle Times - Reviews
by Moira Macdonald

Kicking the Seat - Review
by Ian Simmons

Interview - KIRO Radio
by Tom Tangney

Weekly Volcano - Review
by Jared Lovrak

The Inlander - Review
by Mike Bookey

The Spokesman Review - Lucky Shows Off the Real Seattle
by Nathan Weinbender

Santa Fe Reporter - Review
David Riedel

Paste Magazine - Review
Monica Castillo

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

In defense of Crewtopia.

I was recently made aware of an open letter in the local IATSE newsletter that took umbrage with the word "crewtopia" and apparently with the philosophy behind it. Since I have had a big part in popularizing this expression, I figured I owed the author a response.

The letter insinuated that the term paints Seattle as a "backwater with an inferiority complex." The word crewtopia is one that was coined in New York when Lacey Leavitt and I were talking to another filmmaker about our experiences working in Seattle. We were trying to come up with a way to do justice to the massive affection we have for the crews we have been lucky enough to work with on our productions, and the words crew and utopia became one. I've used it regularly ever since in both casual conversation and national press, and without fail I invoke it to convey exactly how talented, hard-working and incredibly special the crews in this city are. I honestly don't understand how it could be interpreted to make Seattle look inferior in any way.

The IATSE letter went on to speculate if any of us who use the word "really know what ‘crew utopia’ is to the working crew." I spent a decade as part of Seattle's working crew--in many roles, from PA, to DP, to 1st AD--and I understand on a core level what it means to feel respected by those above the line, as well as what it feels like when that respect is not there. Animosity between "crew" and "production" is unfortunately not rare in this business, whatever region you work in. And it's understandable, as there are plenty of people on both sides of the line who perpetuate this divide by mistreating or distrusting those on the other side. But that doesn't mean it should remain the norm.

I came up in the scrappy, make-it-work world of low budget film--where rules tend to be flexible and often broken for the sake of getting the film made. As I worked alongside Seattle and Spokane crews on features of mounting budgets, I began to more deeply understand and embrace the regulations that the unions have worked so hard to create and enforce. On THE OFF HOURS, my producers  (all former working crew) and I chose to run our set as much as possible as if we were operating under a union contract--not because we had to, but because we wanted to demonstrate to our crew the respect we had for their time and energy. I've seen many, many other producers of non-union films do the same. I'm not sure that the author of the IATSE letter understands that the elements he lists (living wages, reasonable hours, thorough preparation and mutual respect) are things we all want, and things that those he's criticizing have been prioritizing and striving to provide for years.

I don't write this post to stir up any ill feelings. I have great respect for the author of the letter in question, and for the union in whose newsletter he chose to air his feelings. I cherish my relationships with the members of IATSE Local 488 and would never want to endanger those relationships. I wrote because it seemed that the notion of crewtopia was being unfairly represented in a public space, and I felt the need to defend it in a public space. I'm certainly not above criticism, and am very open to hearing where my colleagues and I might continue to improve and do better by the community here in the Northwest.

Since THE OFF HOURS, I have been fortunate enough to be able to bring a few higher budget films home to Seattle. Lynn Shelton, Lacey Leavitt, Jennifer Roth, Mel Eslyn and others have brought many more. None of us would have been able to do this were it not for crewtopia. Our crews are the foundation upon which our films are built. They provide the passion, the positive energy, and the true dedication to the work that makes the films what they are. I know it's kind of a silly word, but crewtopia represents something special to me and many others. I hope this letter has done something to help illuminate the spirit in which the word was coined.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Going the distance.

I have been neglecting this blog space pretty woefully of late. Neglecting it to such an extreme, in fact, that I just discovered this post I wrote almost a year ago.  At that point I was right in the midst of editing my fourth feature, LUCKY THEM, and the timing was perfect to compose a blog post about post. A year later it's maybe not quite as timely, but hopefully useful enough to excuse the belatedness.

KEEP CARING
While you're making your film, every little detail feels vitally important.  The cast and crew are devoted to translating the script to the screen and the director stands at the center of a tornado, receiving thousands of questions a day.  Once the storm subsides and production wraps, the chaos abruptly ends.  The director is left holding the resulting footage, often alone or in the company of only one or two others.  Months stretch ahead with many more questions waiting to be answered regarding what will stay in the film and what will go, what can be done to enhance what is great and what can be done to overcome what isn't.  The passion that has been driving the process up to this point can be hard to sustain once you're sitting in a quiet room and the urgency has drained away.  But this phase of the process will determine your film's fate just as much as any other, if not more.  Care about every detail.  Consider every facet of the work.  There are things that can be done to make your movie better all the way up until you deliver it to your first festival or your distributor.  Never stop caring.

SEEK CRITICISM
When I first started editing my films in film school, I would shut the door and keep the sound low--that's how self-conscious I was about my work.  But shutting yourself away and toiling in solitude does you no favors.  I was soon forced out of my shell my mandatory feedback sessions.  The rules were simple: show your work, encourage critique, and keep your mouth shut.  If someone asks a question, don't answer it, throw it back out to the other viewers.  If no one else can answer it, you know it's an issue that you need to address.  If everyone else seems clear on the question, move on.  Don't get defensive of your work--remember, you asked them to come.  It's not exactly fun to sit in the midst of a discussion about all the things that aren't working in your film, but wouldn't you rather experience this discomfort in a room of your peers instead of reading these criticisms in a published review of your finished work?  It's important to expose your film to actual audience members, welcome their feedback and use it to make your film the best it can be before unleashing it on the rest of the world.

TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS
I say this a lot, but that's only because it's true always and forever in every stage of the process.  As a filmmaker you are nothing without your instincts.  Feedback is critical, yes, but it's not an end result.  You need to be able to sort through that feedback and parse it for useful information, then apply your own instincts to determine the solutions to those problems.  Following your gut isn't a natural skill.  If it were there would be a lot more people living their dreams in this world.  You need to practice trusting yourself until it is second nature. Do it every day, not just in your creative projects but in your life.

SEEK CREATIVE SOLUTIONS
Once you take your film out to real world test audiences, you may find that there are elements of the story that are unclear or pieces that people just aren't putting together.  There are a lot of ways to solve these problems, and they don't all revolve around going out and reshooting.  Strategic pick-up shots and the use of ADR can go a long way towards clearing things up.  On EDEN, we did one solitary pick-up of a hand holding a ring.  It solved the one story issue we were having in our test screenings.  We inserted new lines in via ADR to answer other questions that arose most frequently.  And as a result, no one has ever brought up these issues since.

DECIDE WHAT YOU REALLY WANT FROM THE FILM
Do you want to make money, do you want people to discover the film, or do you want people to discover you?  These are the choices that were given to me by the sales agent of THE OFF HOURS.  My response was probably the same as every other filmmaker who has ever been asked that question: Can't I have all three?  Maybe some people are fortunate enough to get fame, fortune and a wide release for their films, but most people have to settle for one, if any. Ultimately, with TOH, we determined that the most important thing was to get the film seen.  We figured that if the film wasn't going to be a break-out hit, we weren't likely to make a big profit, and that the least we could do for our investors and collaborators was to get their work into the world however we could.  We played as many film festivals as possible, submitted the film for awards, and when we were nominated for our Independent Spirit Award we paid to have four thousand screeners sent out to the voters.  That strategy ended up succeeding in another way--as people were exposed to the film they began to notice the strong work of the cast and crew.  It became a calling card piece not only for me as the director, but for the producers, our DP Ben Kasulke, production designer Ben Blankenship, costume designer Rebecca Luke, and our amazing cast, many of whom are breaking out now in a big way.  There are many ways to measure success, and box office is just one of them.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Making your film.

So, you have a script (or a treatment or a scriptment), you have friends who are encouraging you to go out and do it, and you have a passionate belief that your movie needs to be made.  There are countless numbers of budding and well-established filmmakers who have arrived at this same conclusion and they, like you, need money, equipment, crew, cast and copious luck.  It is a very difficult thing to be patient and wait for your turn--any preschooler will tell you that.  But you can make use of that time waiting, so that once you reach the front, you are truly ready.

WHY YOU, WHY THIS?
Something I heard a lot during the seven years I spent putting together my film THE OFF HOURS was this: Why do you have to make this movie?  What is it about this story that is important?  Why are you the best person to tell it?  In my case, I felt like I had something to say about overcoming inertia that I hadn't seen handled in other films.  I had watched a lot of friends give up on their dreams and pursue paths that promised more security.  I personally struggled with the choice of going after a more traditional measure of success--home ownership, medical insurance, a savings account.  It occurred to me that all people make these kind of choices at some point.  Some decide in high school that these are their priorities and they go after degrees that lead to stable careers.  Then there are those who cling to their artistic hopes through college and on into graduate school, who leave school with bills to pay and must retreat into "real" jobs to cover these debts and who never return to their true passion.  And then there are those who never allow themselves to have any dreams at all.  I felt like I had an understanding of this cultural issue that I wanted to talk about with my film.  The film was about something bigger than the characters within, something that touched me personally, and that I suspected had impacted many more.  That was why I had to make THE OFF HOURS.  Knowing the answer to this question for your film will keep you motivated to persevere in the face of countless obstacles, and it will also give others a reason to help you make it happen.

BE REALISTIC ABOUT YOUR PROSPECTS
Once you have determined that your film is worth making, one of the first things you must do is sit with your producer and make a plan.  This is when you figure out in the cold light of day what exactly you need to make your film a reality.  And you will want the world--large crew, large budget, A-list stars, the works.  Maybe you have that kind of money at your disposal, and maybe you would even make excellent use of those dollars.  But a step that is often overlooked is to really think about your film's prospects in the marketplace.  This may mean facing the fact that your slow-burn movie about night-shift diner workers might not be the next LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE.  Is that a reason not to make it?  No.  But it definitely warrants a recalibration of your expectations.  The market for indies these days is not good.  Sure there are still the occasional multi-million dollar sales, but much more frequently films are sold in the 5-6 figure zone (or not at all).  And in this brave new world, where so much of our entertainment can be found for free, earning revenue on your film once it's out there is getting more and more challenging.  You have to be aware of these realities when you set out to make your movie.  Be honest with yourself about what its chances are and then try to work within those limitations.

REALIZE THAT MONEY IS NOT THE ONLY RESOURCE
Chances are very good that you won't have the budget you want when you make your film.  There are very few examples in history of filmmakers saying "we just had too much money!"  There are so many elements involved in making a film that it's very easy to spend more, and very hard to spend less.  But hopefully money isn't the only resource you have.  Maybe you have skilled friends, or access to equipment, or maybe you know a restaurant owner who wants to help you cater, or people who own the perfect apartment for your primary location.  Because there is so many different things that go into a film, it stands to reason that you have some connections that can help in one way or another.  The important thing to remember when you go to utilize these other resources is that it can't be a one-sided deal.  If it's not mutually beneficial, you can burn out generosity quickly.  Try to work with people to figure out a win-win scenario, so you both come out of this project feeling like you want to do it again.

GET THE SCRIPT RIGHT
I think this one is pretty well-covered territory, but it bears repeating.  A script is really never finished, only abandoned (to paraphrase DaVinci.)  It is a work in progress up until the moment you are shooting, and then it continues to evolve in the editing room.  Make sure to read your own work with a critical eye.  Give it to others and encourage them to do the same.  I have a rule with my scripts.  If anyone asks to read one of them, I send it their way with a single request--they have to tell me honestly what they think.  While it's nice to hear "It's great!", it's really not that helpful.  Push people to be critical, ask them if they ever lost interest (and if so, where), ask if they responded to the characters, if there was anything that confused them or made them check out.  Sometimes people don't know how to provide constructive feedback, so asking questions (and truly welcoming the answers) helps.  Take that feedback and go back and try to resolve those lingering issues.  Once you go into production you'll be surrounded by people who are trying to translate your script into shots, set dressing and performance--you'll want it to be something you can stand proudly behind.

FIND YOUR COLLABORATORS
I think one of the most important things you can do at the beginning of your career is to assemble a good team.  This is where it's helpful to get to know your community through working on other people's films, but you can also find people through posting the job and interviewing the applicants.  (For example, it was only through answering a Craigslist ad for a cinematographer on the micro-budget film SHAG CARPET SUNSET in 2001 that I began to find my way into the Seattle community.)  Obviously it is important to find people who know their job, but it's equally important to find those who share your filmmaking philosophy.  The set environment is a delicate ecosystem, so you want to populate it with people who have an awareness of their impact and a sincere respect for the other departments and the cast.  This respect starts at the top--you have to find the people you trust, and then respect them enough to give them space to do their job.  Treat people as collaborators, not employees, and your crew will be more invested in creating something great.

FAKE IT 'TIL YOU MAKE IT
Confidence is key when you are directing a film.  No one respects a director that hems and haws over every choice, or one who isn't clear and direct about what they want.  You need to be able to make strong, fast, good decisions and make it apparent that you are the right person to be leading this effort.  If you are naturally confident, awesome for you.  But if you struggle with shyness or don't love being in the public eye, you have to work to overcome these obstacles as quickly as you can.  Fake it if you have to--eventually that commanding personality that you've been assuming will become a natural part of you.

CREATE YOUR ENVIRONMENT
A responsibility that the director shares with his/her producers is the task of creating a productive on-set environment.  For your crew, this means having open lines of communication and talented, positive people who understand what it takes to move the production forward efficiently.  For your cast, this means keeping the off-screen drama to a minimum and making the set feel safe and comfortable.  Actors deliver better performances when they allow themselves to get truly vulnerable.  There's nothing worse for an actor than to walk onto a clearly hostile set and then try to perform.  This is true of the crew as well.  No one does their best work if they are distracted by petty issues and tension.  Every set has stress--it's the nature of working with limited time and resources.  But dealing with it as quietly and efficiently as possible will protect your actors and allow for everyone to be at the top of their game.

CARE MORE THAN ANYONE ELSE
I've heard many a filmmaker talk about how someone ruined their movie--the props guy was texting the whole time, or the gaffer was drinking on the truck.  Sometimes you will find yourself with destructive elements on your set.  It happens.  But you can't necessarily rely on others to carry you to victory.  You can't ask others to work hard unless you're willing to work harder.  You have to care about your movie more than anyone else.  This starts when you're trying to get the film off the ground and it doesn't end ever.  You will have sales agents who put you at the bottom of the pile and distributors who are putting out fifty other movies along with yours.  You have to be prepared to keep caring and working to get your film out into the world until the job is done.  If that seems like too big a commitment, independent film may be the wrong business for you.

SAY THANK YOU
Some might say that "action" and "cut" need to be the two most oft-employed words for a director, but don't underestimate the power of "thank" and "you".  Be sure to express your gratitude to those around you.  They could be anywhere right now, but they are here on set with you making this film happen.  Thank people sincerely and often.  It's the least you can do and it goes a long way.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Breaking into the film business.

So, recently I've been gaining a little modest traction in this oh-so-fickle business.  And as I try to figure out what the next phase of my career will hold, I've been finding myself reflecting on the long and strange path that has led me here.

My time in the film industry hasn't been a straight line or a overnight phenomenon.  I received my MFA in film production over a decade ago.  A quick glance at my IMDb page will illustrate that it took me a while to find myself solidly in the director's chair.  I've held a lot of different roles on a lot of different productions, almost entirely within the burgeoning independent film scene in Seattle.

During this period I learned.  And learned and learned.  From my own mistakes, from other people's mistakes, from our occasional successes.  Did I want to be making my own films?  Hell yes.  Desperately.  The whole time.  But looking back now, I am incredibly grateful for the years I spent working on other people's films.  I am a better filmmaker because of the time I spent waiting, watching and learning.

People occasionally ask me my advice on breaking into this business, and rather than repeating myself ad nauseum, I thought maybe I should just write down my thoughts somewhere.  Here, actually.  So here you go...some tried and true, hard-earned lessons, from this cinechick to you:

LISTEN MORE THAN YOU SPEAK
This is a good rule in any business and, frankly, in life in general.  Be an observer.  If you want to direct (or write, or act), observation of human behavior is a super important skill.  But whatever you want to do, it never hurts to understand people.  And you will always learn more by listening to others than you will by listening to yourself.  

LIVE FRUGALLY
There are very few people who work in film who did not start off working for free.  I personally spent about five years working a day job and volunteering my nights and weekends on small indies before I was able to get paid to be on a set.  Five years is a long time.  Granted I was starting off at a time when there were fewer films being shot in Seattle and most had much lower budgets.  I also think my case is a bit unique because I was focused from the outset on key positions on set.  I had the opportunity to pursue paid PA work much earlier, but I chose to act as a DP (and eventually AD) on smaller films instead because I knew that would be more creatively fulfilling to me.  The point is, you don't just decide to work in film and then automatically get paid to do it.  Working for free in those early years was a huge part of my development as a filmmaker.  You have to pay your dues--it humbles you, it teaches you, and it makes you very grateful when your time finally comes.  So unless you've got a trust fund laying around somewhere, it helps to learn to live frugally.  I never grew accustomed to a high standard of living--I kept my expenses as low as possible so I could retain the freedom to stay focused on independent film.  To be honest I'm still trying to figure out how to make a sustainable living in this business.  But I chose this path and I love what I do.  I regret nothing.  

PROVE YOURSELF INDISPENSABLE
As someone who has been on the hiring end of several films, I can tell you without question that skill is only one of many factors that I consider.  When presented with two people of equal talent, I will always, every time, go with the person who has the better attitude.  Actually, sometimes I'll hire the person with less experience just because I think they have the right disposition for the work.  You can train people out of inexperience, but you can't train them out of perpetual grumpiness.  People who show up to set on time, ready to work and with a smile on their face, whether they are an intern or a union professional, will always get hired again.  Positivity and enthusiasm are two of what I consider the most important traits in a crew member.  The third is focus.  This goes along with that thing I already said about listening more than you speak.  If you are focused and paying attention on set, you will always know what's happening now, what's happening next, and how you can be a part of making it all happen more quickly.  For a shining example of someone who exemplifies all of the above, see Garrett Cantrell, who I will have on every set forever if I have my way.  I met Garrett when he was an unpaid art intern. First chance I got, I hired him as a key PA.  Next thing you know, he's one of the most sought-after key grips in the region.  Yes, he's excellent at his job, but he honed his skills by getting on a lot of sets, and he got on those sets because he has a kickass attitude.  Watch and learn, everyone.

HELP CREATE THE COMMUNITY YOU WANT TO WORK IN
When I started AD'ing, I immediately encountered the resentment of crews who had been too often burned by "production" and the frustration of producers who felt crews expected more from them than the budget allowed.  This disconnect is far from uncommon in the film industry, but it's something I think we have made great strides to overcome here in Seattle.  Over the past decade, I've seen what was once a random assortment of fairly embittered individuals evolve into a strong and mutually-respectful community.  That didn't happen all by itself--those of us making our living in this industry manifested that change.  And as a more coalesced unit, Seattle has yielded fantastic films.  When people ask me why I want to make my films in Seattle, I always tell them it's because of the amazing, hilarious, passionate, and highly skilled crews.  I'm proud of what we created here, and I want to see it continue to grow.  But listen, I realize that it's not a candy-covered wonderland all the time.  While we're all striving for crewtopia (I made that word up), it is still a rare gift to find yourself on a set that is completely devoid of difficulties.  You may still have bad experiences.  The worst thing you can do about this is get angry.  The best thing you can do is learn and help others learn by communicating what your issues are.  Don't yell and insult.  Don't sulk or grumble or be passive aggressive.  Reason with and educate those who you believe are causing your problem and try to help create the community you want to work in.  Give others the benefit of the doubt--chances are they (like you) are only trying to make the best film possible.

TREAT EVERYONE WELL ALL THE TIME FOREVER
Common courtesy is incredibly underrated in this business.  Because of time constraints, budget constraints, and general stress levels, people tend to develop bad attitudes.  Fight this urge.  Just like they say in ROADHOUSE, be nice.  (Also, when in doubt, trust Swayze.)  Relationships are literally everything in this business, so nurture them.  Rebuilding burnt up bridges is hard work, especially when you didn't have to set fire to them in the first place.

ALWAYS HAVE A CREATIVE OUTLET
Yes, I am thrilled that I was a part of so many crews over the past decade.  But I would have gone insane if I wasn't also working on my own projects on the side.  The whole reason I began writing my film THE OFF HOURS is that I realized how necessary it was to me to have a creative outlet.  The film is about people who don't have that--who get stuck in routine and stasis and boredom.  It's also about breaking those cycles and living the life you really want.  Find something that stimulates you and then do it every chance you get.  And yes, I realize that last sentence sounds dirty.

TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS
As you go through life, you will face choices every day.  Factors such as money, time and obligation might influence those decisions.  But don't forget to listen to your instincts.  Your brain will tell you what you "should" do, your gut will tell you what will make you happiest.  I have faced decisions in my life where my brain said one thing and my gut said the other, and I have never regretted going with my gut.

Okay, stepping off my little soapbox for now.  I hope there might be some little nuggets of usefulness for others within these ramblings.  Please feel free to comment and disagree or back me up and keep the conversation going.