Filmmaker Conference – Conversation with John Sayles (Director) & Maggie Renzi (Producer), "Honeydripper" – Sept. 16, 2007
Filmmaker Conference – Conversation with John Sayles (Director) & Maggie Renzi (Producer), Honeydripper – September 16, 2007
John Sayles new film Honeydripper opens Filmmaker Week on Monday, Sept. 17. In preparation for that, Sayles and producer Maggie Renzi spoke at the Filmmaker Conference on Sunday.
Sayles talked about how he shot Honeydripper (a period drama set in 1950s Alabama that he shot over a period of five weeks) and his overall production scheduling and budgeting techniques that independent filmmakers could emulate to get the most out of their limited shooting schedule and budgets.
On Being Prepared:
The first thing to do is plan your schedule in advance. Almost no one shoots a movie in sequence. Make priorities. Determine what the most important scenes are to shoot for the day.
Take a day off. You do better work on a reasonable schedule. Get as much sleep as you possibly can. Be prepared as you can be. Be self-reliant.
Get your Director of Photography (DP) on hand when doing your schedule.
Renzi added that the reason they’re able to make movies that look so good, but are done cheaply is because of organization.
On the Actors:
Follow the “Most Favored Nation” rule, which means everyone gets paid union scale.
Out of his five weeks of shooting, he only had actor Danny Glover for about 3 ½ weeks.
Figure out what your emotional scenes are.
Renzi added that they work on location so much and do a lot of local casting. There were a lot of amateur actors used in Honeydripper. There’s no rehearsal for any actors. They have to come prepared. (Sayles later points out that they sometimes rehearse on the day o the shoot, but he never had the money or inclination to give days or even weeks of rehearsal time, similar in style to director Mike Leigh, who sometimes has half a year of rehearsals.) Renzi said they’re really good at casting and the actor doesn’t have a long way to go to be that character.
Sayles said he writes a bio for every character that has lines. He was an actor before he made movies. He read every part. The actor can think about their character in advance before shooting. The bios are given to the costumers and production designer, too. Stay in character, even if you blow your line.
Give your actors the illusion that you’re not in a hurry.
On Shooting Style & Technique:
Sayles also draws storyboards using a computer program. They’re stick figure or overheads.
Some other advice he gave on what to do on set while you’re there: you don’t need a perfect wide shot. Don’t need to take 12 takes of one wide shot. It takes up too much of your day. You have to cut on the set. He’s always editing in his head. Remember that you have a script supervisor. The best script supervisors are ones that have editing experience.
Another mistake is committing to a master shot. If you commit to a master shot, and it doesn’t seem right, you need to have a plan B.
Use two cameras. It’s cheaper when doing it with HD cameras. On a film shoot that’s only 4-5 weeks, it’s wonderful to have two cameras.
Q: Why don’t directors own their own cameras?
Sayles: There’s only a few directors I know who also DP their own films. Russ Meyer was one of them. Operating a camera is a skill in itself. On union films, you can’t direct and be the DP at the same time.
Q: What are some low-budget tricks to shoot table scenes?
Sayles: Use two cameras. Determine if you want the camera to move or to be still.
Renzi: John does an exercise where he watches movies with good table scenes but without the dialogue. What story is being told without the dialogue?
In closing, Renzi said they both came to the IFP Market 28 years ago with Return of the Secaucus 7. She hoped things turned out well for the filmmakers in the audience as it did for them.