Imagine meeting someone on the first date and getting right down to business. I’m not talking about a one-night stand or anything equally as libidinous, no, I’m talking about eliminating all the fronts and the carefully plotted pleasantries that you use to convince a member of the opposite sex to consider spending more time with you, and just laying it on the table: I drool when I sleep. A lot. I drool so much I have to change the pillowsheets every morning lest someone notice the discolored circle. Oh, and that’s not all. I also use Febreze on all my clothes instead of take them to the laundromat… at least until they get so stinky not even Febreze can save them. Still here? Good, I’ve got more…
Now, the type of person that sticks around after you put all your faults and idiosyncracies front-and-center is most likely a real keeper. And isn’t it more honest to get all the annoying aspects of each other out in the open so that you don’t have to figure out many dates, and possible months, down the line that you can’t stand each other? Especially the older you get, the dating ritual is like a race against death, and wouldn’t it be better to hedge your bets a little, by being honest and finding someone who can stand it immediately, so you can spend the remaining slip-and-slide towards your demise without being lonely?
This is the premise behind Douglas Horn’s short film Full Disclosure. Winning awards up-and-down the festival circuit, the film tells the story of “a guy (Brent Sexton) who’s so tired of all the posing that goes into dating that he puts all the bad news out on the first date–and the one woman (Judy Greer) who’s willing to stick around and try his unique approach.” Hell, we at Film Threat even gave it four stars, so we couldn’t have been happier when Douglas Horn took some time off from post-production of his new feature film, Entry Level, to talk to Film Threat about his short film and the film’s unique distribution, being selected by iTunes to sell through their online store.
Let’s hop to it, what are you really trying to say with this short? That honesty upfront is more efficient? What’s the message?
I subscribe to the “If you want to send a message, use your Blackberry” theory. The film is mostly supposed to be fun. I think the reason people respond to it so much is that it’s about all the crazy embarrassing things that we all do but never tell anyone about–picking your nose while you’re driving, listening to Air Supply, packing three suitcases for a weekend trip. Everyone has some annoying habits that they usually don’t admit. We can all identify. There’s something secretly appealing about just laying out all your faults and seeing if people will like you anyway.
Is this your first short film?
I’ve made several shorts, some of them well received. I’m also working professionally as a director on commercial and corporate stuff. This summer I directed three web commercials for Microsoft and then went right into preproduction on my feature.
I was a finalist for several cool awards, but never won anything until Full Disclosure.
I was way too impatient for film school.
Tell me about the production of Full Disclosure?
This film was made almost entirely on in-kind services. No one on the crew got paid and the actors only got the $75 bucks a day required by the SAG Limited-Ex contract. Our big cash outlay was flying Brent and Judy up to Seattle.
The script had been a Finalist for a big start-to-finish grant from IFP/Seattle called the Spotlight Award. Another script took the prize but the producers and I went to sponsors one by one and convinced them to give us their in-kind services part of the prize anyway. They really liked the script and we had a solid layout of how we were going to get the film done, so it wasn’t a big risk for them.
This is what made the film possible–especially as a 35mm shoot. But it was time-intensive. It took about six months to pull together the resources for a two-and-a-half-day shoot.
So in the land of digital filmmaking, you shot 35mm?
We shot 35mm. Because we had certain in-kind services donated, it was actually the most economical way. Kodak gave us a film grant and so did the other vendors.
We picked the Kodak 5293 film stock because we liked the look but also because it was fast enough to work with the size of light package we had to work with.
How’d you get your cast?
Jannat (producer of Full Disclosure) had worked at New Line at the same time Valerie McCaffrey was their go-to casting person. She got the script to Valerie, which opened up a lot of doors for us. Judy Greer was the top of my list for “Brinn” and Valerie had cast her before in The Hebrew Hammer, so she sent her the script. We got a very quick yes. It was great but it also locked us into a shooting schedule.
When we went out to actors for “Everett” we actually had a two-edged sword. Several actors loved the script and wanted to work with Judy but couldn’t fit our dates. At one point we had locked a lead actor from one of the top shows on television. But there’s locked and there’s locked…
I was at the Tribeca Film Festival ten days before we started shooting as a finalist for the Budweiser New Filmmaker Award–which I also didn’t win! (always a finalist…)–when I found out that our actor had to bail. Co-incidentally, Valerie and Jannat were also there, so we did some very quick emergency casting. I really trust Valerie’s judgment and she said Brent Sexton was someone I had to talk to. There was no way to get a tape, but we spoke on the phone for about an hour after he’d read the script and somehow I knew it would be a great fit.
Short films can be difficult, almost inversely proportional in production to the length of finished film…
Actually pulling all the resources together took around six months. Casting was a big part of that. We knew we didn’t want to rush things.
The shoot itself was two and a half days and we were invited to premiere at Palm Springs Shorts Fest based on a very early screener that reached them through a friend. But then it was a race to the finish to get an answer print done in time to screen. Our screening date was September 21st and I hand carried the answer print to the festival on the 20th. I had about fifteen increasingly nervous calls from the print traffic guy on my voicemail when I got off the plane.
And you had a solid festival run from there…
The film has had a really great festival life. It won the Golden Space Needle Award for Best Short Film at the Seattle International Film Festival–which was a real boost. I don’t think a locally-made film has won there for about ten years, so it was a double honor. Full Disclosure also won Best Short Film awards at Stony Brook, Sedona, Omaha, and the Grand Prix at the Crested Butte Short Film Festival, plus a screenwriting award from the Florida Film Festival. It’s actually still scheduled to play in about a dozen more festivals.
The recognition is always nice. And I’ve put the prizes to good use: The feature film I just shot was written, budgeted, scheduled, and is now being edited using a computer and software that were prizes from Full Disclosure wins!
On top of that, the film is featured in the iTunes store. How did that happen?
Shorts International licensed the film for distribution. For now, Shorts International is the gatekeeper for short films on iTunes. Once they acquire the short, they pitch it to Apple, who is even more selective.
I see iTunes as being the wave of the future for short films. After every festival, I used to get several e-mails from people asking how they could buy the film for themselves or their friends. I’m sure most filmmakers have this experience. The problem was, I could never give them a good answer. Due to the SAG contracts, I couldn’t sell the film. And as much as I wanted it to be seen, I didn’t want to just give it away–even if I’d been able to.
Right now, there are a lot of fans of independent films who’ve heard about a lot of great shorts–either through friends or maybe from a Film Threat review–but just don’t have any way to see them. It’s not the same for features, where there are a lot more distributors. The great thing for the filmmakers is that it not only gives you a reliable way to get your film seen–without worrying that it’s going to be pirated–but it also puts a little money in your pocket. And there’s nothing better for building your career and getting your next project off the ground than showing that previous projects have made some money.
By the way, I know that this is just the start for shorts on iTunes–they’re looking to expand to more great short films. Filmmakers should definitely look into this.
How can other filmmakers take advantage of online distribution, as you have?
Well for me, it’s about finding a distribution channel that gets your film seen by a lot of people in good quality, protects it from piracy, and channels some of the revenue (since they’re all making something from it) back to the filmmakers. I’d had another short on iFilm and other online services, and while they were great, none of them made any promises about channeling a film’s success back to the people who made it. It’s all supposed to be for the honor of having your film screen–which is great, but doesn’t pay for the camera rental on your next project!
I was also contacted by some newer services that promised big returns for things like cell-phone videos. I think for some shorts, those may be great options. But I knew that mine was too long to ever be really successful in that format. So I held out for something that was more likely to attract people looking to sit down and watch a film–and maybe be able to show it to a friend in a convenient way, like on an iPod.
I guess if there’s any secret, it’s to knowing what kind of film you have to distribute. If it’s a three minute quick comedy, it would probably kill on cell phones. If it’s a 15-minute short with a lot of character development along with the humor, then another format might be better.
As for the best way to get your film seen, the best kept secret in short films are the markets. Full Disclosure was picked up because the acquisitions exec saw it at the market section of the Canadian Film Centre’s Worldwide Shorts Festival–and the film had been rejected by the festival! There are a couple of festivals like this–Palm Springs shorts, Clermont-Ferrand, Cinema du Jove in Barcelona. These are festivals where you should always apply because even if you don’t get into the festival, you can be screened by a distributor in the market. Frankly, it’s been a lot more effective for me than sending out screeners.
What overall bit of advice would you give your fellow filmmakers?
Always think about your long term goals as a filmmaker and figure out how each project fuels your overall career. Otherwise, you get stuck going project to project without necessarily advancing yourself artistically or career-wise.
Full Disclosure was a great project for me on a lot of fronts, but more than anything, it put me in a position to make my first feature film, which I just finished shooting.
Let’s talk about the feature? What’s Entry Level about?
It’s about a guy who’s facing forty and finds himself interviewing for entry-level jobs all over again–and not getting them. It stars DB Sweeney (The Cutting Edge, The Darwin Awards), Missi Pyle (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Dodgeball), Kurtwood Smith (That 70s Show, Dead Poets Society), and Cedric Yarbrough (Reno 911!, The 40 Year Old Virgin).
I never would have gotten Entry Level off the ground without Full Disclosure. The sense of humor is very similar between the two films. So even though it’s different subject matter and Entry Level is a more traditionally structured feature, everyone from the casting director, to the investors, to the actors could look at what I’d done before and realize that I could pull it off at the feature level. That’s really the moment of truth for director.
We’re actually keeping Entry Level on the down-low (guess I ruined that) until it’s complete. We were able to get the film funded and shot with a great cast without having a bunch of scripts or footage floating around. I think there’s a great opportunity to burst onto the scene with the premiere where people don’t have a lot of preconceptions.