Interview with Filmmaker David P. Baker
[media-credit name="Courtesy of David P. Baker" align="alignright" width="300"][/media-credit]Question: How often do you get to chat with filmmakers? You’d think I would, all the time. Well, that isn’t necessarily true. In fact, it is hardly ever. I do speak with PR and marketing reps from time to time, a screenwriter here and there and some brief conversations with usually a “Thanks or appreciate getting in touch.” by the filmmaker. To be honest, I don’t usually go hunting to speak with filmmakers because I am reviewing their films and not looking for interviews. But when I run across someone who is doing something different, making a name for him or herself and being quite vocal on the web, I take notice and am interested in finding out more.
Not long ago I saw a video message on Vyou.com by Scottish filmmaker, David P. Baker, about his stance on not going the traditional Hollywood route for making his films. His message just struck a chord with me so I started watching more of his status updates. He went on to talk about building a global audience, and how one can make films on minor budgets with crowd-funding investment, releasing content on the web (and marketing through Twitter, YouTube, etc…) and continue to practice the medium and have control over the work. He also talked about Hollywood’s thought on making films now or solving a problem is to just throw money at it and that doesn’t work. It was unusual to hear someone nearly blast one hand that could help him “make it.” But that’s the thing. He already did try the traditional route, made a film in Hollywood and did not care for the experience that he left the business for a few years.
After watching the Vyou video I ended up contacting him and asking him about his films and how I could see any of them. David responded quickly and gave me a link to his website and a link to one of his films that he made a few years ago: Mission X. I thanked for his response and told him how much I admired his stance/approach on making films. We ended up having a few brief chats before and after I watched Mission X – a film about a documentary film student in Scotland who tags along with a group of missionaries on one of their missions. His passion for storytelling was apparent and I learned more about the nontraditional channels he is taking to achieve his goal which is something I can relate to very well.
Now I am not going to really give one of my typical reviews of his film here except to say I enjoyed it, even though the filmmaker told me the ending in a brief conversation. My mouth was agape but I soon realized the filmmaker probably didn’t know that my reviews are different than most. Despite knowing how it was going to end though, the film still took me on a fascinating journey. It is a gritty story shot on a very inexpensive camera. The filmmaker told me he wants to remake it someday with better equipment and with more money. After watching it, however, I don’t think he should. I liked the raw, amateur-style camera work that a “real” documentary student might use. Plus, knowing that he created Mission X for about $5000 made it even more interesting. So many filmmakers spend millions and can’t tell a story right, but this filmmaker proved you can do tell a good one for very little capital. Well done!
I found more videos on YouYube.com from the filmmaker discussing how he made Mission X and think more people need to see that you don’t need a lot of money to make a film. All you need is a good story, a passion and an ability to tell the story in this medium.
Anyway, David has made another film since then: SCREEN (not yet released) and he is currently working on raising capital through Kickstarter for City of Sin, a series of films that will be released monthly. With City of Sin, this is another way I see this actor, producer, writer and director creating something different and not “Hollywood”.
I finally was able to pinpoint the busy filmmaker for a few more in-depth questions about his career and to discuss his process of filmmaking:
You mentioned you were an actor in London, came up with a script, got it funded and during the process others took over and the film made was not what you originally had planned. You hated the experience so much that you left acting, filmmaking, etc… for many years. You came back, why?
I need to clarify and expand on your words above with some facts, as there’s more to it than that summary.
Other people never “took over my film” I had creative control issues, a VERY common problem in the film industry. When you take money from a group of people, producers, sales agents, private investors, and a distributor to make your film. When you get the money from a varied pool like that, they ALL want creative input. It’s the wrong way to get a film made when you are starting out. “Making a film by committee” has many down sides.
The only way that you hold on to the majority of the control, is by having a proven track record. Most filmmakers in the past made TV commercials, Music videos, or short films of some sort before they made a feature. This in turn means they get a little more control. I had never shot anything before, but the funders loved my passion and script. It took three years to get the money, so they knew I was tough. They liked that, but they still wanted control too.
Thats why I always say first time filmmakers should make lots of films to practise. Shorts, features, music videos. If you look at some of the biggest directors in Hollywood today, guys like Peter Jackson, Rodriguez, Chris Nolan, Joe Carnahan. They all funded their first films themselves. Its not by coincidence that they now have a lot of control with budgets. Simply because they controlled a vision from day one.
That’s the mistake I made on my first film. If I had a small body of work first, it means more control to control a vision, and then people see what you can do, and in turn give you more trust. I never realized that until years after my first film. I came back to film because it’s in my DNA, and the technology and web has provided the infrastructure to be in control. Simple!
Have you always been an actor?
I started some acting in my twenties. I done some student and indie films, then some theatre. I acted in my first film, then in my second film. Writing and filmmaking is main thing now. Although I will do some acting in my next project City of Sin. I wasn’t in SCREEN. Apart from a brief appearance as a masked dude.
How long did you perform in London?
5 years. On and off.
Stage only? Or TV & films as well?
Both! I started to get noticed by casting directors in London for movies. I got a call from Gary Oldman for a gangster film he was going to direct. I wrote to him and he loved my letter, so he called me. The film fell through and he made another film for his directorial debut. Nil By Mouth. I wasn’t right for anything in that. I decided to return to Scotland shortly after that.
Was acting, making films a childhood dream?
No! I never had any dreams as a kid. Where I come from, you are not brought up to have dreams, you are encouraged to get a regular job. I still don’t have any dreams. I have found that most dreamers just dream. I like the reality of day to do fighting for what you want to do. Life has confirmed to me most people just dream. I have SERIOUS ambitions, and a vision, but that’s different from having a dream. A dream comes out of “Desire”. Ambition and a vision comes from the need to create.
My only goal is to get the stuff done that I have on my list today, as I can only be in control of today. I have no idea what will happen next week, year, or 10 years from now. Today is what I can control. My dream is to get my daily list done. I can control that reality.
Filmmaking now is vastly different.
I think we all know it is! However, nothing should change in terms of story telling. Regardless of all the technology, web, I still like the fact that we still have to come up with original stories. That will never change.
How is it helping you obtain your goals?
Until recently “Luck” was a big factor in everything. You could be talented, work your butt off, and really do all the things that are supposed to be the recipe for success. But you still had to be in the right place at the right time. All the top stars admit that luck has also been a major ingredient to their success.
Today, we all still need a bit of luck but I think that’s changed. If you are talented and you continue to develop that talent, evolve, work REALLY hard, you don’t really need luck the same. Quite simply because you don’t need to meet that right person to get in those gates. The gates are down, so you really can be in charge of your own destiny. In my opinion, that’s what has changed.
Who would you say are your heroes in film, then and now? Who inspires you?
I don’t have any heroes. I did when I was young, but most past heroes have not evolved to better things. They just bought into the “business”. The directors and actors that were the best in the world, went for the money. Ironically the guys I never had my eye on as much, I admire more today. Stars like Clint Eastwood and George Clooney. They juggle projects within the system well.
Steve Buscemi also has a great career of mainstream and personal projects. Most of the filmmakers that inspire me are dead. Anybody that has pushed the envelope, pioneers, those that think different are my heroes. Too many on a list, but most don’t come from the movie business.
Mission X was your first film once back but it wasn’t supposed to be. Could you explain what happened and why it ended up being made first?
I raised the £500,000 budget for my horror film SCREEN with the help of an accountant. I lost the money a week before I was due to go to LA to prep. It came in the first month of the global financial collapse. I think the investors lost their money. The movie bit the dust!
I had already spent some of my own money on the strength of this, so instantly I was in debt and had no job. A week later I was sweeping in a car park in McDonalds! Within 48 hours I came up with the idea for Mission X. If I didn’t, I might have jumped off a roof, as I had spent years trying to get a budget. That’s why I laugh today when people say kickstarter is hard work! That’s not work!
Ironically, having no money can make you very creative. I decided to make the film with money from my job, and shoot it over a year. I was inspired by Christopher Nolan’s approach with Following.
SCREEN is your most recent film. You’ve let a few see it and give you feedback. (I was one of them). That is highly unusual to ask for feedback. Are you glad you did? Was it helpful?
Test screenings are not highly unusual at all. They happen all the time with most movies. Showing films at festivals is also like test screenings too. My friend Oklahoma Ward learned a lot from his recent test screenings for CRAWL BITCH CRAWL.
However, test screenings “online” are a little different. With a one off theatre screening, people see it once and fill in a sheet after the first impression. With an online screening, sometimes people watch the movie a few times, pause, replay, and start to pick wholes in continuity and stuff like that. Stuff that gets fixed later on the final release. That’s not what you look for by screening, you simply look for feedback on pacing, story plot points etc. Not the minor details. And you are not asking for “solutions” of how somebody would do a certain shot.
However, I didn’t find some of the feedback useful. I am my worst critic. I have about a thousand things I could do better on a list, but those were out of my control on the budget I had. So I was already highly aware of most things that people were critical about. The only feedback I found useful was a particular scene. A scene that went to complete audio, because the visuals did not work. I thought I could maybe get away with just playing it with the audio, like a grindhouse missing reel scene, but most people didn’t like it. So I have relooked at that scene and found a way to bring the visuals back.
When will SCREEN be released for the masses?
I won’t reach the masses! haha! I’m still not 100% sure about a release date for various reasons. But hopefully before the end of the year. When you are working with no money, you can’t be precise about dates. In fact, when you do have money, the same applies. If you go with distributors, they decide dates.
Currently you are working on crowdfunding for your latest project City of Sin. That is a series of smaller movies that will be released on a monthly basis, correct? Would you go into a little more detail about City of Sin? And how did you come up with this idea?
City Of Sin will be launched on Kickstarter at the end of September or beginning of October. As a filmmaker, we spend a small amount of time actually creating. We spend most of our time waiting for word back from distributors, festivals, and then selling a film to everybody. With City Of Sin, I throw that all out of the window.
I will spend several months shooting 12 movies and spin off content for each film. I then edit fast, and release every month across the internet to build a global fanbase. Instead of people seeing 90 mins your work every 2-3 years, they will see my work every month. In fact, every day, week, as the supporting picture and video content is released to promote every months story. So the work also becomes the “Marketing”
The long term goal is to build a fan-base to this one branded City of Sin destination. Once I build that audience, I could then develop and create global TV serials, and bigger movies with fans pre-buying work I present. I also want to bring new talent to the platform once it’s up and running. I want to evolve to another level. I will do that with City of Sin. Well, I guess I do have a “Dream”, but it will be backed up by “action.”
Tags: actor, City of Sin, crowdfunding, David P Baker, director, dreams of filmmaking, Filmmaker, global audience, independent films, internet, internet marketing, interview, Kickstarter, Mission X, producer, Scottish, SCREEN, series of movies, Tired of Previews, Vyou.com, writer