Jeremy Carr, whose film Other Madnesses, is a dark study of a reclusive NYC tour guide who suffers from nightmares that force him to lash out at threats he perceives around him. Carr's film took roughly eight years to go from script to screen, including six years' of filming. Get an inside look at this director’s work, advice and tips for first time filmmakers.
Q: Can you tell us where the idea for Other Madnesses came from?
A: Other Madnesses evolved organically out of my experience of living in New York City for sixteen years. When I first started writing it, I was renting an apartment in a sketchy neighborhood; it was not uncommon to hear gunshots at night or for the police to shut down the street after a drug related beating or stabbing. I didn't stick around in that place for too long, but it was enough to make a deep impression and left me feeling pretty paranoid. I started to think about the way that New York City is usually depicted in contemporary films (with glitz and glamour) and how far from my reality that was. People who live in NYC often describe having a love/hate relationship with it, and that's the feeling that I wanted to get across on screen. So I came up with the idea for a character named Ed Zimmer who is a New York City tour guide. He spends all day riding around on top of a double-decker tour bus, pointing out the famous attractions and sights to foreigners. But at night, when Ed returns home, he is haunted by nightmares; terrifying visions that are brought on from living in a dangerous environment. And it's these bad dreams that set the story into motion.
Q: What were some important lessons you learned when you started working at Miramax right after film school?
A: The first job that I had after graduating from film school was at Miramax. This was during the heyday of the '90s indie film renaissance and I played a small part in the marketing of some amazing films like Pulp Fiction, Scream, Swingers, and Trainspotting. On the one hand, it was a really inspiring place to be, but at the same time I was anxious to start making my own feature films. When you're young and just starting out, you think that passion and enthusiasm is all you really need to succeed. But in my case, I was fairly clueless about how much I still had to learn. Having made several short films in college, I thought I already knew everything about filmmaking, which in retrospect is ridiculous. Specifically, I knew a good deal about actual production and film history, but very little about the business. So I guess the biggest lesson I learned was to be patient and to soak up as much as I could about every aspect of the industry. I also reviewed scripts for Miramax, which is an education all in itself. You can learn a lot about screenplay writing by reading other people's scripts. Especially the bad ones, which teach you what NOT to do.
Q: What equipment/gear did you use for your film? Why did you choose these specific products?
A: We started planning Other Madnesses back in 2006 and initially I wanted to shoot it on Super 16mm film. Just to put things in perspective, this was at a time when digital technology was still evolving, before DSLRs and iPhones came on the scene. We shot some test footage on Super 16mm, but I quickly realized that shooting the entire film this way would not be feasible. For one thing it would cause our budget to skyrocket, for another, I wanted to be able to travel around New York City on foot and steal as many shots as I could. For a few years leading up to this, I had been shooting documentaries with the Panasonic DVX-100, a small, lightweight camera which records to mini-DV tape at 24 frames a second. I always loved the aesthetic of the images it created, but wasn't sure if it would be suitable for a high contrast, neo-noir, narrative film, which is what I had in mind. I decided to test it by shooting a short film I'd written called Ice Cream Ants. The experiment was a success and the film even went on to win some awards at festivals, so that clinched it. But, because of the scope of the film and our limited budget, it took six years to shoot Other Madnesses and another two years to complete post production. It's funny because today, the DVX-100 is practically obsolete. Which is kind of a shame, because with the editing technology we have now, it was very easy to blow the video up to HD specs for projecting it in theaters. Also, it has a unique, retro look that is different from most films being made today. It has more of a gritty, 1970s film aesthetic which is what I was going for. I suppose my advice would be to use whatever equipment you have access to or what you feel the most comfortable working with. At the end of the day, it's your story that matters, not what gear you used.
Q: What post software equipment did you use?
A: We cut Other Madnesses on Final Cut Pro 7. The visual effects were accomplished using Photoshop, Nuke and After Effects. Our 5.1 sound mix was done with ProTools.
Q: What challenges did you face while on set and how were they resolved?
A: The challenge we continually faced was how to shoot a feature film in New York City on a shoestring budget. A lot of filmmakers go the route of choosing a script for their first film that has a small number of locations. This is generally good advice. In our case however, I really wanted to capture as many aspects of New York City as possible, to fit with the overall theme of the film. To accomplish this, I felt that we needed to shoot in all five boroughs, throughout the four different seasons (including scenes that take place in the rain and snow), in both touristy areas and less populated ones. Added to which, I'd written scenes that take place in all modes of transportation; taxis, subways, metro buses and even onboard the Staten Island Ferry.
The most complicated scenes we shot took place on a moving double-decker tour bus. To do this, we had to rent a bus, which charges by the hour, so time was of the essence. For those scenes, I had a second camera operator on hand to double the amount of coverage we could get. The bus was filled with actors playing tourists while our lead actor went through the motions of giving a tour, which happens in several different scenes throughout the film. In general, B-camera shot the tourist reaction shots while A-camera stayed with our lead actor. Other complications? We had to book the bus a few weeks in advance and pray that it didn't rain. Also, whenever the bus pulled over to take a break, all these real life tourists would try to board it, and we had to explain to them what was happening -- which was difficult because the majority of them didn't speak English.
Getting clean sound in the city was also a constant battle. One strategy we deployed was to cheat interiors for exteriors. To do this, I rented a raw commercial space in Red Hook, which became our production studio and where we built quite a few sets. Although I prefer to shoot on location, it made our lives considerably easier to shoot some scenes in a controlled space. It also allowed us to do lighting tests in advance of the actual shoot day. The scene I am most proud of, from a technical standpoint, is one which we shot during an actual blizzard. During the storm, we filmed inside a tunnel in Prospect Park, and we were able to later recreate the interior inside of our studio, where we shot the closeups. This way I didn't have to worry about setting up lights in the snow or having our actors freeze to death in the middle of a take.
Q: What advice or recommendations would you offer others creating their first film?
A: For starters, write a lot. Filmmaking is just another form of storytelling, and it all begins on the page. Once you have a script, go through it and trim as much out as you can. Every minute on screen is going to cost you time and money. Get it down to its bare essentials, which is ultimately going to make it a better ride anyway. I would also suggest learning as much as you can about every aspect of film production before making your first feature. In my case, I made several short films and collaborated on other people's movies (as an editor, producer, lighting director, gaffer, grip, DP, etc.). You should be ready to roll up your sleeves and get dirty, especially if you are making a low budget film with a small crew. At the very least, you need to be able to communicate with all of the other members of your team as efficiently and effectively as possible, which is much easier when you know precisely what their jobs entail. Lastly, I like to remind people to have fun with it. This is often easier said than done, but it can be a real life saver at times to remember why you started making films in the first place. I like to think of every film I make (and story I write) as part of a much larger body of work. I'm not saying that the journey should be without a destination, but what we learn from the process of making films is invaluable. Even when disaster strikes, it makes us better prepared for the next time it happens, which it undoubtedly will.
Q: How has your transition as an NYC filmmaker to LA-based filmmaker been?
A: Well, the year-round warm weather has definitely improved my spirits. But as a filmmaker it's hard to say, as I've spent the last year in post-production on Other Madnesses and working on new scripts. I have observed that there is a lot more going on here, in terms of film production. I love the fact that practically all of my neighbors and everyone I meet is in the entertainment business. It gives us all something in common.
Q: Any new projects coming up in the future you can share with us?
A: Right now I am working to get my next feature film off the ground, a thriller called Strange Country that I'm really excited about. I enjoy doing something new each time I make a film, and this story takes place in rural areas like the Mojave desert, which means that it will be a much different aesthetic to explore on film than New York City. I also recently edited a wonderful documentary called The Gnomist which will be premiering at The Tribeca Film Festival this month.
Q: Anything else you would like to add?
A: Something that isn't talked about too much is how to go about making a living while working on your own personal independent films. When I first moved to Los Angeles, a producer told me that we all lead double lives, and I think that's very true in this industry. In my case, I've made a living for several years by shooting and editing films, documentaries, and TV shows, which not only keeps me solvent, but I believe it has also made me a better filmmaker. There's no shame in working on other people's projects, in fact it's quite the opposite; The best way to hone your skills and make friends is by being collaborative. If it also pays the rent, then it's a win/win situation.