Friday, October 26, 2012

How To Bulk Up Without a Budget: An Interview with Lewis Schoenbrun

Yesterday I review the crazy, colorful The Amazing Bulk, and today we're gonna dive into this production a bit deeper by interview the director himself, Lewis Schoenbrun! Enjoy!

Ninja Dixon: So, this is one of the craziest movies I've seen in a while. How did you come up with the idea, the story, to do this film?

Lewis: Schoenbrun: My producer Dave Sterling had asked me come aboard a film he was involved with called X-Spider.  It was supposed to be a micro-budget comic book movie, a female version of Spiderman.  I was excited about doing something besides a horror film, but was also concerned about the production values.  You can easily get away with making a horror film on a shoestring budget, all you need are some attractive looking actors; a few easy locations like a house, a school, a forest; some simple props like guns, knives, body parts;  and an effects guy to do the makeup for the monster and some blood effects. Now to try to make a comic book movie for no money which would require exotic locations and special effects I thought was a tremendous challenge.  While working on X-Spider I began to research stock CGI shots which I could incorporate into the movie which would hopefully up the production value for not a lot of money.  I was hoping to shoot some of the locations using green screen techniques, unfortunately or fortunately depending on how you look at it, the executive producer of X-Spider wasn't particularly keen on the idea. That project never got going and afterwards Dave approached me with how much he really liked the idea of using green screen to make a comic movie.  So we came up with the idea of a parody of the Incredible Hulk.  Dave hooked me up with a couple of writers and we tailored the script around virtual sets that I was able to purchase online. We took a step backwards and used the plot of Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde which seems like a pretty obvious influence for the Hulk, this kept the story line of the scientist, his fiancee and her father the general.  We also retained the idea of the mixing of potions to create the serum but added the evil Dr. Kantlove character. Originally we were going to do it like the Hulk TV series from the 70's with a guy dressed up, but as the project evolved I found the Bulk animation character and thought that this would be so much better.  Even the rats in the laboratory were supposed to be real until I found a CGI rat that I was able to insert into the various scenes.

ND: I'm not gonna ask about budget, because like with your last movie Aliens vs Avatars I guess it was pretty low. Can you tell us a little about working with a small budget vs big ideas?

LS: No, it's okay I am more than happy to discuss the budget, I spent $14,000 for the entire production. That's about $6,000 for the actual shoot which was five days, $3,000 for the sound mix, $1,000 for the online and color correction, $2,000 for all the CGI and another $2,000 for the rest (i.e. composer, my co-editor, hard drives, props, software, etc.)  I really like working on these micro budget productions primarily to retain total creative control.  Now The Amazing Bulk I financed completely by myself, the other features were all financed by either the producer or the distributor and were in the $100,000 to $10,000 range. On none of these films have I ever felt that anyone came and told me what I could or could not do with the movie.  Once you get into larger budgets then you have to answer to other people, particularly those who are putting up the money or are responsible for the money.  There are only a handful of top directors who have complete creative freedom, so I prefer to work on smaller budgets where I still retain that level of control.

ND: It's not only the visual style of the movie that feels very much like a cartoon, even the actors work their way through the material with big words and big acting. Can you tell me about how you worked with the actors, both on a technical level and how you got what you wanted from them acting-wise?

LS: Well I consider myself to be a quiet director, I generally know what I want when I show up on set and am not a screamer.  To me casting is the most important part of the directing process, if I haven't cast the film properly then I have failed the movie, not the performer. Keep in mind that this is a spoof of comic book movies which are shall I say, comic bookish.  I wanted all of the acting to be broad (some people call it hammy or bad acting) but this is what the story called for.  I've directed dramatic films where the acting style needs to be subtle and nuanced.  But this isn't a film about deep emotions, it's about a guy who is willing to do whatever it takes to win the girl of his dreams and who is surrounded by stock villains. I think that both Jordan Lawson and Shevaun Kastl did wonderful work to ground the film, but everyone else is a caricature and needed to be bigger than life.

ND: Regarding the backgrounds and animations, are all these made for this movie or is there some stock animations you used?

LS: With the exception of a few shots (i.e. the helicopter interiors, the chemical processes through the microscope and one of the walls in Hannah's bedroom) everything else was off the shelf. I either purchased these backgrounds from eBay, Digital Juice, Animation Factory, Tubro Squid, etc.  As I mentioned earlier the Bulk & rats were also purchased.  That's why the film has this crazy quilt kind of a feel, I wasn't too concerned though about the overall look.  Years ago I assisted on a feature animated film called, The Thief and the Cobbler, directed by Richard Williams who did the animation for Who Framed Roger Rabbit.  Thief was made over a 30 year period of time and the style changed drastically throughout the production so I was confident that this wouldn't spoil the overall feel of the movie.

ND: My favourite sequence is when the Bulk escapes at the end and runs (or I would say jogging) through a huge landscape, meeting a lot of odd characters - from the flying dog, the gecko lizard, Hercules and so on. It feels like an old Looney Tunes! Am I right? :) 

LS: Yes, I was just going for a total wacky feel, some people have criticized the film for going from comic book to cartoon, but to me those lines become blurred once you enter realm of a movie.

ND: For me filmmaking is more about passion (and talent) than having a lot of money doing a movie. Some filmmakers spend an entire lifetime NOT making movies because they're waiting for the big break. You haven't done that! What's your driving force?

LS: Plenty of people talk about making a movie but never actually do it.  Now years ago when I first got into the industry it was terribly difficult because of the enormous costs involved. Now with digital filmmaking almost anyone can make a film, the trick though is to make a movie that you can get sold and marketed.  So now people who only talked about making a movie can actually do it, whether it is good or not will be determined by if it can secure distribution and find an audience.  What is it that keeps me passionate about movies and movie making? That's very simple, it is the one thing that I have loved my entire life.  I really enjoyed going to the movies as a child, the wonder and magic that would unfold before my eyes was something that I loved.  To me going to see a movie in the theater was like a religion.  I would sit in a darkened theater for several hours and just enjoy the experience of being transported to another place or time and the ones I enjoyed the most where the ones which took me some place that I'd never seen before.  That was a bit of what I was trying to accomplish in the Bulk, to show a world like no other in the context of a comic book character.

ND: How has the movie been received so far? How's your reaction both to good and bad reviews?

Well honestly I would have to say the film has been receiving mixed reviews.  I would say mostly negative, but I think maybe some people don't quite get the movie and are taking it way to seriously.  Honestly one of my biggest influences in making this film was the animated sequence in Mary Poppins, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Speed Racer the movie.  I find some people cannot accept the idea of live action characters in an animated world.  It is like someone who goes to see a sci-fi movie who doesn't like the genre. Well of course I relish in the positive reviews, but to be honest I also appreciate the negative ones also.  If someone sees fit to write that my movie is the worst piece of garbage then I know that in some way I have gotten under their skin. My film isn't controversial so for someone to have such an extreme reaction I believe speaks to their own jealousy and frustration at not being a filmmaker.

ND: What I understand you're not in the US right and, can you tell us about what you're doing now and if you have any upcoming movie projects?

LS: I have spent the past four years teaching at an international film school in the Philippines.  The industry really dried up with the global recession and it became too hard for me to support myself as director or editor of independent features. I came out here to edit a feature and to also teach.  I've really fallen in love with the teaching and am happy to give students the support they need to become filmmakers on their own.  I do have a couple of projects that I am currently working on, one is a low budget horror film involving dinosaurs and the other is an adaptation of a novella by a famous sci-fi writer.

ND: Thank your for taking your time answering these question! It was a pleasure, Lewis!

LS: Thank you Ninja!

Also read the interview with actor - The Amazing Bulk himself - Jordan Lawson!


Alex B. said...

Beautiful and inspiring stuff!

Anonymous said...

"Years ago I assisted on a feature animated film called, The Thief and the Cobbler, directed by Richard Williams"


Ninja...could you do a longer interview about this subject with Schoenbrun?

I have some much stories about this project and seen the unfinished cut on youtube.

There are some amazing animations in it...

"began to research stock CGI shots which I could incorporate into the movie which would hopefully up the production value for not a lot of money."

That was interesting....could be helpful for future scifi filmmakers.

Great interview ninja, thanks.


Unknown said...

Lewis is my friend :))