Filmmaker talks movies on a shoestring
ASPEN Lewis Teague wants you to make films.The Hollywood director was in Aspen this week as a judge for Shortsfest, and Saturday he showed his low-budget film “Cante Jondo” (“Deep Song”) to a crowd at the Wheeler Opera House, then stuck around to tell how he did it for next to nothing.”I want to tell you how easy it is to make a movie,” Teague said.It took Teague just five days to shoot the film with a Sony H3 high-definition camera and a few months to edit (including the time it took to learn how to use the editing software).The industry has been good to Teague during a film and TV career spanning 20 years – he directed such films as “Romancing the Stone,” “Cujo” and “Navy Seals” – so he wanted to give back. Teague, a part-time Aspenite, started teaching at the film school at the University of California, Los Angeles and at UCLA extension programs at Aspen Film.Teague asks his students to make a short film that portrays a significant emotional experience in their lives. Then in a second assignment asks them to take that experience and translate it to a fictional setting. So Teague decided to take his own medicine, turning the experience of the death of a younger half-brother into a film about a man in Barcelona who tries to help his younger brother.The Spanish-language film opens with the main character blowing his top at a 12-step meeting about the wrongs he suffered in his life. And the film follows his attempts to reconnect with his younger brother, a troubled but inspired Flamenco guitarist who plays the “Cante Jondo,” or “Deep Song,” woven into the fabric of the film.Teague, an amateur guitarist, said his traveling in recent years made him feel like a gypsy, which inspired the backdrop and characters.A grass roots digital production has the same building blocks of a Hollywood blockbuster, Teague said: You need a script, a cast, film locations, a crew, logistics (food and clothes for everyone), business requirements like permits and insurance, a budget, and a plan for postproduction.And, it is possible to do it on the cheap: Teague passed along insider hints for skirting the Hollywood rules.”I started off with a goal of making this film for nothing. And I went $8,000 over budget,” he said.Teague walked the audience through his budgeting process, showing how he cut corners by keeping a small crew of volunteers, avoiding high fees for location shooting, using online casting services instead of hiring a casting agent, shooting everything himself with a small, handheld camera, and doing his own editing.”Saying that you’re doing a student film with a handheld camera opens a lot of doors,” Teague said.Teague, a former documentary cameraman, acted as the producer, director, writer, cameraman and editor for the film. He hired an assistant director, who helped with logistics and permits, but that was the only paid position.Teague found a willing volunteer sound man, a second camera operator, a set-dresser and wardrobe and props manager, and a driver/production assistant. In an ideal crew (and in the future) Teague said he would bring on a production designer to scout locations. (Teague shot most of his film on location.)”There’s a tendency to hire everyone and keep them for the run of the show, even if you only need them for a few days,” Teague said. That’s why everyone on a film set is always sitting around so much, because they have nothing to do, he said.”We look like tourists,” Teague said of his small crew. And that made it that much easier for the guerrilla filmmakers to shoot on location without paying high fees.”Everything went very, very fast,” Teague said of the five day shoot, which usually meant multiple locations each day and minimal takes.And he cuts corners wherever possible, matching California exteriors to make it look like Spain. Some subtle touches were effective: He glued computer printouts of Spanish license plates onto cardboard and put them on American vehicles.Because of licensing restrictions and the style of film – a student production – Teague can only show “Cante Jondo” at festivals, but he said he plans to carry on working in this pared-down fashion and will continue to teach others how to walk in his footsteps.Charles Agar’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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