Gary King Talks Filmmaking

Christina Rose in "How Do You Write A Joe Schermann Song"

Jason Brubaker
Tell me about your background in filmmaking. When did you start making features?

Gary King
I didn’t attend any formal film school. So to learn the craft, I just dove in and made my first short film in 2003.  I hired a film student graduate to help me produce the film and I basically job shadowed her to experience the various stages of production.

Jason Brubaker
So you were gaining experience…

Gary King
Yeah. I learned a lot from that first short – including the fact that I wanted to pursue filmmaking full time. By 2006, I had made a second short and felt I was ready to take the leap and make a feature film. So I quit my day job, packed up and moved from the Bay Area (Northern California) to New York as I felt like I’d benefit from the change of scenery as well as as a larger community of artists.

Jason Brubaker
How long did it take to get established in New York?

Gary King
After two years of living in New York, I’d built up a nice community of filmmaking and acting friends who were interested in helping out with my first feature film — which became “New York Lately“.  The entire process was such a thrill that I knew it was only the first of many to come.

Jason Brubaker
I see you have a production company and also have a nice martial arts zombie movie. Do you primarily stick to one genre, or do you bounce around?

Gary King
Ah yes, “Death of the Dead” was a for-hire gig and was blast to make.  How many chances to you get to make a ninja zombie film with a hot female lead kicking ass at every turn?

Jason Brubaker
Do you do a lot of work for-hire?

Gary King
I’ve been extremely lucky so far to have a “one for me – one for them” type career.  As of now, my own production company (Kitchen Table Films) has created more dramatic arthouse fare while my “for-hire” gigs have allowed me to delve into more genre type films.

Jason Brubaker
Sounds like you figured out how to make a living doing what you love.

Gary King
I have the best of both worlds as I love doing various films and not being pigeon-holed into one type of film.It’s creatively satisfying to be able to move around from genre to genre as I’m still finding myself as an artist. And honestly, I just love a good story so I try to let that dictate the type of film I’ll do regardless of the setting.

Jason Brubaker
So what’s next for you in terms of genre specific ideas?

Gary King
There are definitely other genres on my list that I’d like to tackle (or revisit) before it’s all said and done so I’m developing them in hopes to make them in the coming years.

Jason Brubaker
What are your thoughts on traditional distribution?

Gary King
Hey, I’d fully embrace a $50 million marketing machine to help pimp one of films out there. With the right product, “traditional” theatrical distribution can still be the way to go if that means opening wide on 1000-3000 screens, then hitting the other platforms afterwards. At times, and not always, the studio system can work wonders.

Jason Brubaker
Yeah. I always say if the deal is a good deal, take the deal! But that doesn’t happen for everybody.

Gary King
Being realistic and thinking about the ever-changing distribution channels, I know that traditional distribution is something that doesn’t make sense for the majority of indie films. With other types of film it could be disastrous to think a theatrical release is the primary market or source of revenue.

Jason Brubaker
A lot of folks describe film distribution as the wild west.

Gary King
It’s a tough market now… I am definitely keeping my finger on the pulse and paying attention to all that’s going around.This honestly wasn’t my primary concern (or goal) with my two previous films (NEW YORK LATELY, WHAT’S UP LOVELY) as I was concentrating more on creating them to learn the craft and grow as an artist.

Jason Brubaker
You made those movies more for the experience?

Gary King
They were my film school. So selling them would have been icing on the cake. I did have a few small domestic DVD offers but certainly nothing substantial where it was worth signing over the exclusive rights to them for over seven years.

Jason Brubaker
I noticed you use Christina Rose in a lot of your projects – where did you meet her?

Gary King
We’ve done 2 films together now with a few more in the works. I enjoy collaborating with people I get along with. If you look closely, you’ll actually see a lot of familiar faces in my films.

Jason Brubaker
So do you write roles for actors you know?

Gary King
Yes. I enjoy writing challenging roles for people I know. I met Christina Rose when we cast her for the lead of “Wanda” in DEATH OF THE DEAD“. We hit it off so well on the first day of the shoot that I knew I had to write something for her in one of my projects. We barely knew each other at the time…and yet it was so uncanny how we’d finish each other’s thoughts. During that time, I was working on the first draft of SCHERMANN SONG and when I told her about it she mentioned to me that she’d been on Broadway in GREASE.

Jason Brubaker
Sounds like it was meant to be.

Gary King
I had no clue she could sing and dance! So I quickly tailored the role of “Evey” for her. I’m very proud of her work in the film and I believe she’s going to get a lot of notice after the musical comes out.

Jason Brubaker
Let’s talk about that… Where did the idea for “How Do You Write a Joe Schermann Song” come from?

Gary King
I’ve always loved musicals since growing up – so naturally I wanted to take a stab at the genre at some point in my career. I just was waiting for the right person whose music could match the type of film I had in mind – which was about the artist’s struggle to make it in the world against many odds (both internal and external).

Gary King and Christina Rose reviewing footage

Jason Brubaker
Then you met Joe Schermann.

Gary King
Yes. When I met Joe Schermann, his songs spoke to me and had that “it” factor I was looking for… So we quickly moved forward with the project together.

Jason Brubaker
How did the story evolve from your initial idea?

Gary King
Originally I had pitched to Joe that the film would be more about the anonymity of a talented person until the single “chance moment” of public discovery where one’s life could literally change overnight. I wanted to explore the notion that there are millions of uber talented artists in New York all there trying to “make it” and yet only a few would.

Jason Brubaker
I thought the final story was a little more about personal relationships than the “making it” objective.

Gary King
As the script took shape, it evolved into being more about artists dealing with personal relationships and how couples (both partners) can mutually strain an individual’s journey for success.

Jason Brubaker
The other thing I wondered about was, I didn’t know if Schermann was an actual composer or an actor or what? It wasn’t until later that I realized that he’s a real person. What made you decide to interweave fact with fiction?

Gary King
A lot of people get the name of the film title wrong (the best one I’ve heard is “How Do You Write a Joel Schumacher Song” haha!), but once they see the film it makes sense. It’s the name of a song that Joe had written a few years ago and it’s the one that inspired me with the storyline.

Jason Brubaker
Still, using Joe’s real name as his character was an interesting choice.

Gary King
I had always planned on changing the “Joe Schermann” in the title to another name, but once everything got rolling I just couldn’t find another one that was appropriate. So I kept it. Also, I felt would give another sense of realism to the project. At least it would make people wonder who the character is, and if he’s a real person or not.

Jason Brubaker
It got me talking!

Gary King
Blurring the lines I feel could possibly generate a nice discussion.

Jason Brubaker
What sorts of themes were you trying to explore?

Gary King
I don’t wish to go into too much detail because I think different viewers will bring their own experiences to the film and relate with the certain themes that come about. But we have seen audiences mention identifying with artist themes such as: sacrifice, compromise, passion, and collaboration.

Jason Brubaker
With all the dancing and high production value, what made you think you could pull it off?

Joe Schermann In "How Do You Write A Joe Schermann Song"

Gary King
With several films under my belt I had a strong understanding of what I could and couldn’t do based on our strengths and limitations. We had a tiny crew of four (me, an all-purpose gaffer/grip, sound recordist, production manager).

Jason Brubaker
Small crew… Enormous undertaking! What was your planning like?

Gary King
I had to plan the day and shots accordingly. A lot of our locations were in-kind courtesy of my amazing production/location manager Daryl Ray Carliles (who also plays “Danny Boy” in the film). Luckily my leads Christina Rose (“Evey”) and Mark DiConzo (“Gunther”) also served as the choreographers which was a blessing.

Jason Brubaker
You would have had to keep the energy and enthusiasm high.

Gary King
I think passion was the common denominator. Everyone involved was in it to make a musical unlike anything done at this budget level.  I couldn’t have made the film without my friends believing in it…and that I could pull it off.

Jason Brubaker
You also incorporated a successful crowdfunding campaign. What did you do to succeed?

Gary King
I tried to involve the backers and keep them posted on our progress. That way they didn’t feel that we were just taking their money and forgetting about them.

Jason Brubaker
So you took a very personal approach?

Gary King
Crowdfunding a hard endeavor to take on as the internet is flooded every day with more and more campaigns so we wanted to show our passion and appreciation. Ideally we hope it was our personal touches (videos messages and songs) that expressed to people that we cared and were thankful for their support. We did not take it lightly that people were willing to donate to us.

Jason Brubaker
As a modern moviemaker, how important is sourcing your own fan base?

Gary King
It’s very important! I see Kevin Smith as the guru who is able to take his fan base and monetize it in a way that makes sense and doesn’t make anyone feel ripped off. We’ve also seen the recent success of comedian Louie C.K. and his comedy special that he sold exclusively and independently online which grossed over a million dollars.

Jason Brubaker
Agree. I thought that was pretty cool.

Gary King
Amazing right? It’s something I see as vital in sustaining a career if one wants to stay in the indie game. Having said that, I think it’s also extremely important to eventually have some type of mechanism beyond the filmmaker to really perpetuate his or her work out there to a broader market.

Jason Brubaker
What do you mean?

Gary King
Well, Kevin Smith had his previous films distributed globally before RED STATE… And Louie C.K. has a television show. For me it would be doing more for-hire work or some type of project where the marketing wasn’t just me.

Jason Brubaker
Yeah. That makes sense. So you leverage other people’s projects for further recognition.

Gary King
The word has to come from somewhere else (ideally from a lot of different sources). To me that’s the way to really foster a fan base. But it’s all theory as I’m not at that level yet so I clearly don’t have all the answers.

Jason Brubaker
What are your plans for distribution?

Gary King
We’re starting SCHERMANN SONG at the festival circuit to generate some awareness and ideally grow a fanbase. Christina Rose and I (along with select cast and crew) plan to tour with it at every festival that programs it so we can personally screen it. Ideally, we want to make connections with the audience who want to see our film.

Jason Brubaker
What is the feedback on your movie thus far?

Gary King
We’ve heard from industry people who’ve seen it that it’s a crowd-pleaser so everyone involved with the film is super excited to finally get it out there. We also plan to release our soundtrack which is an added source of revenue we’re excited about.

Jason Brubaker
So all of these strategies help you get the word out.

Gary King
We’d like to build a demand to see it and explore all various platforms (VOD/cable, limited theatrical, DVD, digital/streaming, whatever else is new) to see what makes sense at the end of the day.

Jason Brubaker
What is your philosophy on filmmaking? It seems like you don’t wait for permission to make your movies.  What advice do you have for any filmmakers who have not yet made their first feature?

Gary King
I’ve been asked many times and people are probably tired of hearing me say: just go do it. Try it out to see if you really like it. There’s the perception that some people have of what filmmaking is and then there’s the reality of it. Once you try it you may love it and wish to do it for the rest of your life… Or not.

Jason Brubaker
Yes. There are a lot of people who would love to make a feature, but they have a lot of challenges, like money.

Gary King
My first feature film (“New York Lately“) was made because I cashed out my 401K. I knew I was responsible for getting my career started because no one else was going to hand me the golden key.

Jason Brubaker
Yeah. It was as if you decided your movie was your start-up company and you were willing to do whatever it took.

Gary King
I’ve realized that to keep moving I can’t wait for people to say “yes”. Don’t get me wrong, it’s amazing and a blessing when they do say it, and I’ve been lucky enough to have that happen a few times… But if I only waited around for others to give me the opportunity then I can honestly say I’d most likely still have one feature film under my belt instead of five. I like five. Six would be better!

Jason Brubaker
Thanks for stopping by Filmmaking Stuff.

Gary King
Thanks for having me.

About Gary King: Gary King is a contemporary American filmmaker whose work is known for powerful performances with an emphasis on a strong, visual style. He has written, directed and produced several critically acclaimed feature films. Find Gary King on Twitter @grking

Should You Go To Film School?

If you’re just starting out as a filmmaker, deciding if you should attend a traditional film school is something you need to decide. And it’s a costly decision – some of my friends here in Los Angeles are over fifty-thousand dollars in debt.

While most of my friends value having a college education, all agree that having a  film school degree will not guarantee success in Hollywood. Like any industry, becoming successful requires passion, commitment and hard work.

Last year, I was introduced to filmmaker Seth Hymes. When he was in high school, he worked as Production Assistant, Sound Tech and an Editor. After high school, he went off to film school. In fact, he graduated from NYU with honors. From there, he was an editor for Fox News Channel and also managed to get two features into production.

So I sat down with Seth and asked him some questions about his experience.

Jason Brubaker
Seth. After visiting your website and chatting, you seem to have an interesting perspective on formal film school education. What are your thoughts? Is there any value in film school?

Seth Hymes
No, there isn’t. And it’s a great question. What does “value” mean? It means that something adds merit or worth to your life for a reasonable cost. A lot of people say things like “you learn the basics” and it’s a “good place to experiment”.

Jason Brubaker
So in your experience, you think film school is over priced?

Seth Hymes
Well, in film school, you write a check for $100,000. In return, they give you a $2,000 video camera and tell you how to push the on button. Are you going to learn something? Sure. Is it valuable? No. There is no value in learning basic technical concepts for an obscene mark up in cost.

Jason Brubaker
In the past, students enrolled in film school because held the promise of networking, as well as access to equipment. You’re saying this sort of stuff is no longer relevant?

Seth Hymes
The 3 main “values” of film school are no longer relevant. They are, access to equipment, lessons in filmmaking craft and connections. In the 60s, 70s, and 80s, when people like Lucas, Scorsese, and Spike Lee went to film school, it was probably a good investment. You couldn’t just pick up a high quality HD camera and start shooting. Filmmaking equipment cost a ton of money and was hard to find. You really couldn’t learn about things like continuity and storyboarding without either apprenticing with a filmmaker or going to school. And it was a good place to meet other creative professionals.

Jason Brubaker
But all of that has changed.

Seth Hymes
Yeah. If you look at today, High Definition filmmaking equipment costs less than a semester at most film schools. The craft of filmmaking, from lighting, editing, shot composition, writing – all of it is available to learn on websites like yours, as well as other sites all over the net. And these days, most connections happen through the net. And further, many new filmmakers find their agents because they produce a short and get some heat on youtube, rather than meeting them in school.

Jason Brubaker
Sort of a silly question. But would you recommend that anybody attends film school?

Seth Hymes
I do not recommend anybody attend film school. It is an unholy waste of money and time. And not only are the schools making a huge profit, they also neglect to teach their grads about anything of real value or importance when it comes to having a career in the business. Things like real networking, fundraising, or film distribution.

Jason Brubaker
So instead of film school, what suggestions do you have for any students who is considering a degree in filmmaking?

Seth Hymes
If you’re considering film school, here’s the litmus test. If it’s a community college or vocational school where classes are anywhere from $60 to $1000, go for it. If anyone is charging more than that, they are making an obscene profit and should be dismissed outright. You will be mocked within the film business for attending such an institution. Instead, I recommend that students save their money, buy their own equipment, and learn how to shoot their own movie.

These days, filmmakers can learn everything you need to know in a week or less.

Jason Brubaker
Reading your posts on other websites and the comments that follow, I can see why some filmmakers, especially the filmmakers sitting on film school debt can get a little emotional with your perspective.

Seth Hymes
Most film school grads and filmmakers agree with me, but there are a few haters. Some people hate hearing the truth. It’s hard for some people to admit they got hosed out of $100K, but the consensus everywhere is that film school is a waste.

Jason Brubaker
I took a look at your website. Tell us what you teach there.

Seth Hymes
I teach people first, exactly why places like NYU are a complete joke and secondly, what to do instead of film school. There’s a lot of pressure to go to college, and I understand that. My book “Film Fooled” is a powerful reality check, a class by class account of NYU’s film curriculum to help people realize that no, they are not missing out on anything by skipping film school.

Jason Brubaker
Sounds like you think film schools should improve their curriculum.

Seth Hymes
Yeah. I get into the stuff they should be teaching in schools. Mainly, how to be taken seriously as a director from day one, how to get on real film sets, meet real working filmmakers, write feature scripts, manage a set, hire film students, and get seen. Anyone taking my course will be 4 years ahead of any film school student in just a week.

Jason Brubaker
Ok. So tell us about your online film course.

Seth Hymes
Ok. To find out more about my courseware at Film School Secrets, prospective filmmakers can Click Here!

Jason Brubaker
Thanks for stopping by Seth.

Seth Hymes
Thanks for having me.

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