Now, Scott's making the jump from art, graphics and design to writing and directing. In 2008, he wrote and directed the short film, "15 Below Zero", and most recently released the dark comedy, Trust, Greed, Bullets & Bourbon, which we reviewed right here.
After viewing the film and enjoying the heck out of it, I couldn't wait to sit down and ask Scott some questions about the making of Trust, Greed, Bullets & Bourbon, his background in film, and his emerging directorial style.
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FCFR: You've worked on a wide variety of projects -- and in fact, it's highly likely that anyone reading this has seen at least one or two of the TV shows and movies upon which you've worked. What inspired you to start working in film? Can you take us from that to the first moment where you stopped yourself and said, "I'm really doing this"?
SCOTT KAWCZYNSKI: It really was just a natural progression to move into film. I started out designing print and websites, which moved into doing motion design and animation, title sequences and show packages, for TV broadcast. I've always been a story-teller, so I guess it was just a matter of time before I moved into making a film. The "I'm really doing this" didn't really set in until probably the third day on set. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks.
FCFR: You started working on Trust, Greed, Bullets & Bourbon in 2011, and went through numerous revisions before you finally settled on what would become your shooting script the following year. What changed from that first draft to the final version, and why?
SK: The first draft of the film took place all in a bar in New York that the ensemble would all meet at, kind of a 12 Angry Men-style post-heist film. So, yes, very different. That obviously, was a huge change, to take the characters from familiarity with the surroundings to unknown.
Another huge change didn't happen until the 8th draft, which changed the dynamic of the entire group at the mid-point. That was probably the biggest change that happened, it really set the rest of the film in motion. These changes all had to do with raising the tension, raising the stakes, keeping the characters guessing.
FCFR: Did you make any changes due to your budget? As limited as I'd imagine it must have been, you managed to create a stylish film with solid actors and even give the audience a little something to think about -- a major accomplishment.
SK: Thanks. Yes, very limited budget, but I knew that going in. Even as I was writing it, I knew I would be directing a very micro-budget independent film. I had a tremendous cast and crew that loved the script and wanted to be a part of it. That is one thing I learned: if the talent loves the script and they have the time, they will do anything they can to be in the film. Actors crave interesting characters to explore, and I provided them with that.
FCFR: As visually appealing as TGB&B is, it delivers on its premise because of its extremely strong cast. My favorite character was Tyler, played by seasoned veteran Max Casella. How did you go from finished script to casting the picture?
SK: Max is a fabulous actor and an even better person. I got lucky and caught him in some downtime between him shooting Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine and the Coens' Inside Llewyn Davis. He's offered lots of small roles, but he was excited to really sink his teeth into a big role. I offered it to him without even auditioning. I also offered to 5 time Tony nominated actor Danny Burstein and Dara Coleman because I had worked with him previously.
Eric Morris, Kathryn Merry and Larisa Polonsky all auditioned, and they auditioned at my apartment. I believe most of the actors that auditioned thought that was a little weird, but I received great response from almost all of them that it was one of the best audition environments they had been in. I spaced out the auditions so they didn't have to sit in a waiting room with fifteen other actors vying for the same job.
Since I had only a few contacts, I found many of the actors through IMDBPro, just searching for shows that shot in New York, then looking at actors that seemed to fit what I was looking for. With such a low budget, I would not be able to fly anyone in.
FCFR: What cameras did you use to shoot the film? Were there any unique challenges to filming out in the Catskills?
SK: We shot on the Sony F3. It was my DP Rick Seigel's camera. I looked into renting an Arri Alexa, but we shot all the principal photography in 12 days (9 in the Catskills and 3 in NYC) so we didn't have time to learn a camera and workflow.
There weren't any out of the ordinary challenges to shooting up in the Catskills. The toughest of the shoots was the scenes in the town of Margaretville. We had the permit to shoot, but no streets weren't blocked off so it was difficult with continuity and blocking. That was the most stressful day.
FCFR: Tell us about the shoot itself -- it seems like it must have been a lot of fun -- the script's witty, the cast was eager and the scenery was quite honestly gorgeous.
SK: The shoot was awesome. Half the cast and crew stayed in the house we shot in, and we rented another house a couple miles away. So we became family. We were a small production, six cast members and six crew members so everyone pitched in. We cooked for one another, cast members would hold a boom mic if they weren't in a scene. It was great.
My writing and directing style is pretty open, I like my actors to be able to go off script and make the characters their own, as long as the true essence of the character stays intact. I had complete trust in my cast and I believe that is a huge part of filmmaking.
We also planned to shoot up in the mountains at exactly the right time as the leaves were turning. You can't beat nature and natural light.
FCFR: How was the editing process? I loved the title animation at the start of the film. Are you as involved in post-production as you are during principal photography?
SK: We had four editors (including myself) work on the film. Again, everyone worked well below scale, so I lost my first editor to a well paying gig, but he put together the skeleton that the entire pace of the film was based on, he got it about 75% there. Then I took over cleaning up as best as I could.
Then I had two other editors help out with a couple of sections I got stuck on. Definitely not the way you want to do it, but it worked well enough for this film. I was still shaving off frames even past the color correction, before sending it to festivals.
Thanks about the title sequence -- since that is my day job, I handled that.
FCFR: Was it a long road to finding distribution? Do you feel that the Internet is the future for independent filmmakers, or will we still be seeing DVD releases and the like for decades to come?
SK: They say that there has never been a better time than now to make a film. It is true, but that also means it has never been harder to get that film seen. Distribution for micro-budget independent films, unless you get into a top tier festival is pretty much non-existent at this point.
I had two distributors interested in helping out with the film, but the terms of the deals were horrendous. Netflix used to be a great outlet for small indies, but since they have changed their business model to original content, that isn't the case anymore.
So I decided to self-distribute, and it has turned out to be the right decision for this film. We have done pretty well on iTunes, Amazon, VHX and Seed&Spark. I also did a small run of DVDs and have been very surprised at the number I have sold.
The thing filmmakers have to remember is that you may have decent number of Facebook fans, Twitter followers, etc, but you have to be very realistic. Everyone will tell you they will watch your film. Only a fraction of that amount will. I am as guilty as anyone. There is just so much content you are competing against.
I am not sure how much longer physical media will be around. As I mentioned, I sold a lot more DVDs than I thought I would. There are so many streaming and downloading options available, and it is hard to deny that if you are on iTunes or Amazon, you are in millions of homes. It is just figuring out how to get all those people to watch. That's the real trick.
FCFR: Are you planning a new film? Will you be sticking with the crime genre or are you interested in pursuing other kinds of stories?
SK: I currently have one script out being read and am finishing up another right now ready to go out. Neither are crime films, the first is a coming of age road movie, the second is comedy. I have another screenplay on the back burner that is a heist film, but that is on hold. In addition, I am currently filming a stop motion animation short. So I guess I am kind of all over the place.
FCFR: If you could go back to when you were writing the first draft of Trust, Greed, Bullets & Bourbon and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
SK: Well, it wouldn't be back as far as the first draft, but it would take me back to the writing phase and that would be to plan ahead in terms of festival approach, marketing and distribution. Not that you want those things to shape the film in any way, but you want to be thinking of how you are going to pitch the idea, to get people interested.
Of course, I say that with the knowledge that because of this film so many doors have been opened and I have a million more connections that will be more advantageous for my upcoming projects. Without this film, I don't have those connections. So I would just encourage myself. Put everything you can into making the best screenplay and film possible.
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Thanks again to Scott Kawczynski for answering my questions! Don't forget to check out Trust, Greed, Bullets & Bourbon online right now and visit the official Facebook page by clicking here!