Julia Voth’s ‘Package Deal’ Premieres TODAY!

Canadian friends! Today on CityTV at 8:30pm is the long-awaited premiere episode of my homegirl Julia Voth’s sitcom Package Deal. I managed to watch an episode when I was in Canada and it’s a throwback to classic situation comedy, which is a breath of fresh air.

Last when we met in LA, Julia talked with me about what it was like to work in comedy, which is a new direction for her. I’ve always known that Julia’s an absolute comedic nutcase - she had me in stitches all throughout the shoot when we made Lilith - but the real challenge for any comedian is timing, which comes from instinct and also the natural chemistry with your co-stars.

Package Deal added another layer of pressure in that it was to be filmed in front of a live studio audience, something which has become increasingly rare, but conversely is likely the key towards great comedic performances. Imagine telling jokes in an empty room, or with a bunch of people who already know the punchline. Not very inspiring. But when you have an audience who reacts to your jokes, there is an exchange of energy that always benefits the actors and the director. It builds confidence, momentum and is a beautiful platform to make improvisations. I’m glad Julia’s first foray into comedy was in this format.

She told me she was initially nervous but that when she met her castmates - Randal Edwards, Jay Malone and the brilliant comic vet Harland Williams - she was immediately put at ease and was free to be her goofy self. It shows in the pilot, as the Julia we see in the show is largely the Juila I know in real life, minus the screwball plot antics. It’s amazing to watch her come into her own and really make the ensemble sing. I’m so very proud of her.

Unfortunately only those in Canada will be able to see it, as online viewing of episodes is limited. But - and there’s always a but - if we (all 57k of us on this blog) collectively tweet, vine, FB, email or whatever to our friends and families in Canada (and we all know someone in Canada) to tune in and watch, then it might lend steam to something even more incredible, which is to maybe have the show licensed in the United States. And if that happens, then we’ll get to see more of Julia.

And seeing more of Julia is never, EVER a bad thing.

Production Design: What Obsessive Details Do, and The Saddest Book on Earth.

Building off of yesterday’s post about the ZORD Magazine detail in my short film 7x6x2, I started to think more about the amount of effort I put into production design details, which tends to border on obsessive.

As many of you already know, I do extensive dossiers and lookbooks for each of my films. These documents can contain anywhere up to 30-40 individual references for a singular costume, space or prop. I’m very particular about design elements, as I tend to visualize these things in my head long before the shoot, and the nascent details tend to manifest themselves in my first screenplay draft, which tends to read more like a novel because it is full of environmental details. These details get removed in subsequent revisions, but will always remain in my notebooks.

What amazes me is that even with the insane amount of research I put into design elements, my production designers and art directors always bring me something better than what I originally envisioned. That’s the beauty of collaboration, and is the very core of directing - you give your team a starting point and a direction to move in, and you let their talents and perspective do the rest. It’s an incredibly exciting and liberating process to work this way.

Like the ZORD magazine, a lot of these detailed props make only split-second appearances in the films, and sometimes they’re not even seen at all. The temptation with doing such detail is to photograph everything because we put so much work into it, and that’s putting the cart before the horse. I think of a film like the Total Recall reboot, which had absolutely incredible production design, and you could tell that the producers and director wanted to make sure that production design was featured because they spent millions to make it happen. What resulted was a film that looked amazing, full of details, but the focus was completely lost. Well that and it was hard to take your eyes off of Kate Bekinsale.

So why bother with such details if photographing them detracts from the story and they rarely get seen properly? It’s because we’re building a world not only for our viewers, but for our actors as well. It’s all about delivering a truthful, believable world for the actors to inhabit in and react off of. This brings authenticity to anything we do.

In Lilith, my production designer Kristen Adams and my art director Eric Morrell and I spent hours poring over small details that would add richness to the characters, things that my actors could interact with even when we weren’t shooting. In the Lion’s den we put things like chicken bones and a broken Rubik’s cube on the floor, and hung up vintage porn on the walls. I wanted to highlight things that this character did when he wasn’t on film or in that particular moment.

Julia thumbing through 60s porn on the set of ‘Lilith.’

These details made all of a 0.1 second appearance in the film.

But I’d like to think that it really aided my actor, Karl Toth, to get into the head of the character of the Lion, and Karl responded with his own preparation brilliantly. It’s a delightfully psychotic performance, and Julia was pretty freaked out. Mission accomplished.

Another detail that didn’t even make it into the movie was in the opening scene in Julia’s apartment. Opening scenes are where you can add character shades because the audience is just getting to know these people that they’re going to spend the next 90 minutes with, and I wanted to add elements that said something about Julia’s character that are neither mentioned in the dialogue or in the action.

Julia’s apartment was a bevy of production design details that gave character insight.

The walls were adorned with hand drawn portraits of Lilith that were, in all honesty, pretty fucked up. Fractured and sad. It think Julia took them home with her after the shoot. She’s a dark one, that girl.

Probably one of the best props I insisted on didn’t even make it into the movie. It was a cookbook I had found when i lived in the UK. I bought it for 50p in a boot sale, and it struck me as one of the oddest, saddest books I think I’ve ever come across. It’s called ‘Microwave for One.’

Saddest. Book. Ever.

I wrote the book into the first version of the ‘Lilith’ screenplay, because it was one of those things, in a very cheeky, pitch black humor kind of way, that really told of the character’s infinite sadness and isolation. It was important to have it on the set, for the general feeling of the scene. It also didn’t make it into the film at all.

But that’s okay, I got what I needed out of it, and so did Julia. We also learned how to make Chicken Tetrazzini using canned cream of chicken mixed with our tears of infinite sadness.

By the way you have to read the customer reviews of the book on Amazon. Not even Cormac McCarthy can go that dark.

'Lilith' feature article, Production Dossiers and THAT Dress.

As per the last entry, Lilith is now being featured on BlackMagic’s SPLICE community. The article is a nice summation of the thought process behind the film and the origination of the story. Features some tidbits that you won’t find in the 900 pages of text in this blog, so definitely check it out!

Click here for the article.

It’s been a slow week of blogging as I’m in full-press prep for the TV pilot I’m directing. Been busy putting together design documents for costumes, production design and cinematography. It’s part of my normal process - each department gets a very detailed dossier with my thoughts and photo references on each character and setting. On Lilith I generated almost 200 pages of reference material for my collaborators. These notes serve primarily as a starting point, and allows my collaborators to work independently of me because they all have a very clear idea of what I want. They always come back with something very interesting and intermixed with their own perspective and taste, which is most amazing part of collaborating. I’m generally flexible on just about everything brought to me, but there will always be certain elements that I want to remain just as I envisioned them. For this TV pilot it is one particular dress for my actress.

For those who have seen Lilith and listened to the commentary they’ll know that I’ve a particular obsession with designer Alexander McQueen, and everything I do has a McQueen creation in it. In Lilith it was the black lace leggings and black shirt-dress that Julia Voth wore in the film’s opening, and my costume designer Carla Shivener absolutely nailed it, and Julia totally rocked the look as only Julia can.

For the TV pilot I need a dress that oozes sensuality but doesn’t read as trampy. This is an elegant woman who has a very deep and meaningful sexual desire, and I really want to find a dress that is graceful but also smoulders with passionate fire. I knew McQueen was my designer to go to - he had this innate understanding of a woman’s body and soul, a tradition carried on by current McQueen head designer Sarah Burton.

The key is to find THAT dress. The one everyone can’t forget, the one that is in perfect harmony with the woman, her personality, and her body. After an exhaustive search I landed on it, and I just knew it was there. Like Kiera Knightley’s green dress in Atonement, which still haunts me to this day.

It was a McQueen silk chiffon halter dress in a brilliant mustard yellow that did it for me. I loved how it flowed and elongated the body, it’s pleats billowing like fire flames. My actress has a long neck and slender arms, and this dress would emphasize Elizabeth’s features amazingly. I imagine her with her hair up, a dazzlingly simple pair of hanging earrings and very simple makeup. It’s all about being in that moment.

A dress like this has to be like magic, and like any magic trick there has to be the reveal - the prestige - and that happens with this dress when she turns around.

Elizabeth has an incredible body and having an open back is about as sexy a statement I can make with her. The reveal is calculated and paced, in fact I worked with the writer of the script and had an entire scene designed around her back. I have a thing for shoulders and backs - in Lilith I built an entire scene around actress Bianca Christians’ amazing, amazing back.

Now the journey begins - this McQueen dress is a very rare find, and if we can’t find it we’ll have to get a dress that approximates it. Not an easy task, but this is why costume designers are amazing artists. They can make your visions come to life from the most unexpected of resources, and that’s their gift. I can’t wait to see this all come together.

Again I apologize for the slow output, will try to fit in as much as I can between work schedules. Until then enjoy the SPLICE article and the other amazing articles on the community page. Thanks!

Purrple Splazsh



Played 80 times

Music for the Weekend: Purrple Splazsh by ACTRESS.

It’s been a very long week of auditions and callbacks for the television pilot I’m directing, and I’m happy to say that we’ve found our three main leading ladies. They’re an amazing, kick-ass group - in our callbacks I pushed them very hard and they came back with emotion, creativity and unique voices. I’m super excited to be working with them and to be able to go on this journey with them. After going through almost 60 auditions, each of them 30-60 minutes apiece, my brain is exhausted.

It’s a lot of fucking work to find the right actors, but this is the most important decision you will ever make as a filmmaker, which is to find the absolute best cast. 90% of making a film is finding the right actors, and when you do find them, you’ll know. Early in our careers we tend to cast with our eyes - people more that often will look the part, and we’re often put under the spell of beautiful women and men. But I’ve come to learn that I’d much rather have someone who can play the part convincingly and powerfully than someone who just looks the part. Sometimes you get lucky, like I did on Lilith with Julia Voth, Lili Reinhart, Bianca Christians and Nancy Telzerow who basically have the entire package going for them. That doesn’t happen too often.

My pilot required a part for a woman in her late 30s/ early 40s, and we were really struggling to find the complete package. We had an actress come in and read - she was 24, but she was mature beyond her age, and she just had that presence that put her into her late20s/ early 30s. She was incredible in her audition, nailing every beat and in our callback she showed so much range and ability to take direction. She was a dream, we all loved her, but she was still too young. We put her aside and kept searching.

I kept thinking of her throughout the auditions, and kept brainstorming on how we could possibly “age her up” for the role. It would be difficult, but I told myself I’d rather have someone who could own the part, play it beautifully and convincingly, than someone who simply fit a category. Choosing the 24-year old would require a change in the script and many of the directions we were originally planning to go in, but as we talked it through, it really wasn’t that big of a deal. She could sell her character and make us totally forget about her age, and we would only need to make small shifts to accommodate that. We made the call and cast her.

This is why it is so important to spend time with your actors. So much is lost when we limit ourselves to headshots and cold reads. Spend some time with your actors, talk to them, get to know what makes them tick. If we’d stuck to what was on paper, we would have never cast this young actress, and we would have lost out on someone whom I feel has what it takes to be a star. She just needed an opportunity, and I’m more than happy to give it to her because she earned it. She did the work, she took those risks in her audition, and she understood her own voice and body. I think she’s got that “it” factor and I want her to succeed, and I’ll do everything I can as a director and collaborator to get her there. I’m kind of old-school loyal in that way. You work with me and we become collaborators for life. If not now, then somewhere down the line. Ya can’t get rid of me.

I absolutely love actors. They’re bold when I can’t be, they voluntarily cry my tears when I cannot, they give their mind, body and soul to absorb my story and make it theirs. They are brave when I’m too scared to be. When we agree to work with each other, it’s my utmost responsibility to take care of them, to make them feel safe, to let them know that irrespective of what choices they make, my crew is behind them. That is the core of my effort with them, and it is the part of my job that I enjoy the most.

Have a wonderful weekend.

Another gorgeous set of ‘Lilith’ gifs courtesy of hoobrien, thank for these!

This post also happens to be the 600th on this blog, in my life I never thought I would have written so much outside of school. It’s pretty insane when I look back at all the old posts, there’s almost nine hundred letter-sized, single spaced pages of original text written on this blog. I need to go find a book deal or something. But until that happens I’ll happily stick to making movies.

Thank you so much for the support, here’s to 600 more posts!

Pirating ‘Lilith.’

When I was living in New York I used to go down to Astoria to get all of my Indian cooking spices. I’d also stop in at the local Indian video store, as they would sometimes have the random Indian arthouse film on DVD. I was thumbing through the racks when I came across a copy of my first film, 19 Revolutions. The film had only been in festivals at that point and I didn’t have a distributor, so this was an obviously pirated disc. They’d done a pretty good job with it, using a wisely-selected screencap for the cover and a fairly decent summation of the plot on the back cover. They even used a quote from the Variety review of the film. Obviously whomever did the pirating was a pro, and a film buff.

I took the disc up to the cashier and he was ready to ring me up. I told him that I wasn’t going to buy it, and then gave him the news - this was my movie. His eyes lit up and he said “congratulations!” and I also told him that the film hadn’t released. His smile went away and his eyes turned to paranoia. I told him I wasn’t with the feds and I wasn’t going to rat him out - if that were the case then every video store in NYC would be shut down. He apologized to me, and I told him it was okay, that I was actually flattered that someone thought my film was worthy enough to pirate. I signed the disc and gave it back to him, and I walked out, feeling kind of happy. Sure I wasn’t going to see any of the $7.99 it was selling for, but it was still a victory in some sorts. I had this sense of validation.

Of course this was all before the bandwith explosion that empowered YouTube, Netflix, iTunes and bittorrents. Oh how things have changed.

This weekend I found that Lilith - in its HD entirety - was being seeded on a Russian torrent site. I looked up the seeding and download data and saw that the film had been downloaded 5,866 times. That’s a lot more than one DVD in an Indian video store in Astoria. The film hasn’t even released yet, and the equivalent of one large theater being sold out for an entire week has already been logged. And nobody paid for it. I calculated that in terms of gross revenue, this would have amounted to $76k of revenue. After distribution and P&A costs, this would be roughly $25-30k that should have gone to me.

But I’ll never see that, and as we speak there are people still downloading my film without paying for it. I’m still a bit flattered that people would seek my film out, that there are folks out there who want to see what Julia Voth and the rest of my talented cast have put together, but they’re not paying for it, and it’s in such a large volume because of the digital format. It’s pretty bittersweet, because as an independent contractor, I need all the money i can get to pay for health insurance, for home and car insurance, for taxes, for food, for basically my livelihood. And here’s it’s being stolen away from me.

This is a tough debate. On one side I understand that the economics of going to the theater have become cost prohibitive. It’s just way too fucking much to buy a movie ticket these days, and with the advent of digital distribution, the cost of distribution and manufacture has gone down, while prices of tickets and Blu-Rays has gone up. The consumer is getting fleeced, and there needs to be some consumer rights advocacy in terms of this. Film budgets are over-inflated and studios are unfairly making exhibitors upgrade to digital projection at the exhibitor’s expense (an expense which has to be passed on to the consumer). It’s no shock that piracy is at its absolute peak, an maybe it needs to happen as a shock to the system, enough that it will enact change. So far it’s only acted as a justification for the studios to charge more for tickets - “piracy is cutting our margins, we’re forced to charge more!”

On the flip side is the plight of the producer, and more so the independent producer. As an indie I don’t have the luxury of a multimillion dollar P&A budget, nor do I have the buffer of a theatrical release to preserve my revenues. A large chunk of my revenues will come from paid digital downloads and DVD sales. And already almost 6k people have decided that they want to see my film, but they’re not going to pay for it. If it costs me money to make a film, then how can I recoup my expenses if a large part of my revenue is being, in essence, stolen?

This is not an issue of digital rights management. As long as media is encoded in binary 1’s and 0’s, the code can be cracked and shared. It’s a losing battle that’s not even worth fighting. We’re dealing with an internet culture that feels it is its birthright to not pay for content, that they are entitled to whatever they want. Can’t fight that with technology. It’s going to happen regardless.

This is an issue of ethics. Just because one can steal something doesn’t give them the right to steal it. “Nobody stopped me” is not a defense. It’s called the honor system - as a producer of media I am putting faith that people won’t steal my shit, that their moral compass is strong enough to understand that to make my movie cost me money and time, and in order for me to keep making movies, I need to have revenue come in. As Walt Disney famously said, “we don’t make movies to make money, we make movies to make more movies.”

But adhering to the honor system is being far too idealistic. There are assholes out there who have no problem downloading anything they want, and there are non-assholes out there who just really want to see a film and have no other way to see it because it’s not showing in their region/ country. Which is why I allowed DVD/ legal downloads of Lilith before we even start our theatrical run, I want those people who are not able to see the film to be able to. You still have to pay for it, but you can see the film from the comfort of your home, wherever you are.

But if you are going to steal from filmmakers and musicians, then have a moral compass about it. Fess up that you indeed are stealing, and I propose that you offset it. Say you want to see Beasts of the Southern Wild - you’ve heard so much about it and it was even nominated for a bunch of Oscars, but - dammit - it’s not playing in your town and it won’t be released on DVD/ VOD/ Whatever for quite some time. But you’re itching to see it and you’re not going to fly to Chicago to just see a film. You find the film on a torrent site, and take the plunge and steal it. The movie is great, you really enjoyed, and you delete it or save it for another viewing. At this stage you’ll probably forget about your theft, and at this stage you need to give something back.

First option: Find where in the country Beasts is playing, go to Fandango or TicketWeb or whatever and fucking buy an online ticket for the screening. Filmmakers get money, you still got your movie. Offset.

But if you really love the film, pre-order it on Amazon right away. Don’t wait for it to come out, because you won’t get to it, because you have it on your laptop. Offset.

Say you’re a jerk and you still don’t want to pay, here’s how you can offset. Write a review, tweet about the movie, give a rating on IMDB / Rotten Tomatoes, whatever - just help promote the film. It won’t cost you anything, just like the made-with-heart-and-blood film you pirated didn’t cost you anything. Indie films don’t have the benefit of marketing budgets, so any kind of word-of-mouth viral marketing helps us a ton. Offset. You’ll help the ethical people who pay for the hard work of others make the decision to watch my movie.

But if your desire is to just download a movie, watch it, and then trash it, you’re an entitled piece of shit. I’m sorry, there’s no other way to put it. And nobody, not me, not the RIAA, the MPAA, the FBI or Interpol, or your own fucking grandma can make you stop being a piece of shit. Only you can stop yourself from being a piece of shit. You’ve got to be able to face your conscience that you are stealing from people like me, people who have mortgaged their personal and financial lives to give you a movie, an experience, that you might enjoy. When you decide to see a movie or listen to a piece of music, you enter an agreement with the artist, that you are investing in an enriching experience. It may or may not work out, but that’s the investment you make.

People will probably keep illegally downloading Lilith, and I can’t do anything to stop it. All I can ask is that if you do illegally download my film, throw me a fucking bone and help me promote it so that I can try to recoup some of the money that you’ve stolen from me. It shouldn’t have to come to that in the first place, but such is the world we live in. There are shitty people out there, and the rest of us suffer for their transgressions. It’s been like that for millennia. The only thing that will make it get any better is our own conscience, our own moral compass to do what is right and fair. Support artists by buying their wares, don’t steal from the people who put everything they have on the line to make your world a more beautiful, interesting place. That’s just a shitty thing to do. I have to go pay my bills now with whatever money I do have.

Julia Voth : Lilith : Part 1/2 (16/33 gifs)


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An amazing set of GIFs* made by alicentia, these are really beautiful edits, thank you so much!

*So I guess we’ve been instructed that the pronunciation of ‘gif’ is actually more like ‘jif’, which makes absolutely no sense at all. GIF stands for ‘graphical interchange format’ and since we don’t pronounce ‘graphical’ as ‘jraphical,’ doesn’t it make sense that ‘gif’ should be pronounced with the hard ‘g’ sound, a la ‘gift’? This abomination of language comes from the inventor of the GIF himself - just because he invented it doesn’t mean he knows all about proper phonetics, right? Truthfully is there such a thing as a proper silent ‘g’ (gnat, gnome, etc notwithstanding, but that’s a different phonetic as it’s in conjunction with an ‘n’ or ‘h’) - giraffe, I suppose. It still doesn’t make sense.