Jay Shaffer gives us the scoop on “An Evenly Matched Game”

20 Nov

The mission of this site is educate people about the process of producing a film by interviewing experienced veterans about specific projects they’ve worked on. I’m pleased to present Jay Schaffer, who recently completed An Evenly Matched Game, produced by bestselling author and all around good guy Gary Rosenzweig.

And now, heeeeeeere’s Jay!

Briefly tell us your name and background

I am a video, audio and multimedia producer. I specialize in digital cinematography, editing, sound design, and Web and mobile delivery of multimedia content. I am also an instructor in the multimedia graphic design department at Front Range Community College in Westminster Colorado and the author of “Making Music with Garage Band” from Que Publishing. I have been involved the multimedia content creation for over 25 years and over the last two years, I’ve been making short narrative films.

What current or recent project are you working on, and what is your role?

I  just completed a short sic-fi action film titled “An Evenly Matched Game” that producer, Gary Rosenzweig, and I are showing around the festival circuit. Gary wrote and produced the film and I directed, shot and edited it.

What are some of the things you had to do to personally prepare for this role, especially as it relates to getting the project off the ground?

I’ve set myself a goal two years ago of doing a short film every summer, so that means that I should have a script and start pre-production by February. Fortunately, on this project, I was able to work with Gary on the script and start thinking about casting and location scouting early on. Financing pretty much comes out of our own pockets, so our budget is simply put, as cheap as we can possibly make it. So the more preparation I can do, the less money it’s going to cost us down the line.

How much time would you estimate you have devoted to this project?

Oh boy. I think about 120 hours over three months for pre-production. Then 20 hours of shooting over three days in three locations, and probably 160 hours editing and post-production for a ten minute film.

What was the most difficult challenge you had in bringing this project to fruition?

The budget is always a challenge for short films, you basically can’t pay people to work on your film, so you have  seduce them with creative ownership in the project, I got some quality actors on this project, but they could only commit to a short (3 day) window of time. So the most difficult challenge was trying to shoot 13 scenes in one 12 hour day at our remote mountain location. We did it, but there where some artistic compromises as a result. For example, with such a tight schedule we could afford to hold up shooting waiting for a cloud to pass to get consistent lighting. Which turned out to add a lot of effort in postproduction in order to match the shots.

I also really wish that we could have afforded bringing in a professional colorist to do the color correction for the film.

What was the best part of the project for you personally?

Directing the action sequences and the fight scene was really cool. I’ve always wanted to do that and I am very pleased with the way they turned out.

Also having my friends at Aerial Imaging Productions do the  aerial shots  that added so much production value to the film.

What’s the biggest thing or things you learned from doing this project?

I can’t count all the things I learned from this process. But some of the big ones are, get out of the way and let actors act. My job as a director is to literally direct that energy not impede it’s flow.

What’s one piece of advice would you give to someone considering a project like this and/or a career like yours?

Prepare, prepare, prepare! If you anticipate challenges, then you won’t be throwing money at problems and making compromises down the line.

Oh, and feed your cast and crew really well.

Will we get a chance to see this project on screen? How and where?

There are a couple of upcoming festivals we are hoping to show at. Specifically, the Boulder International Film Festival and The Festivus in Denver. After the festival circuit, we will have it online and will be showing it at some of the open stage film events in the area.

What’s next for you after this project?

I am looking for a short western script or something I could shoot in the desert in Utah, something with only couple of actors and highly emotionally charged story.

Related links for “An Evenly Matched Game”


Filmmakers are Entrepreneurs

16 Nov

Lately I’ve been very interested in the film industry. I don’t have aspirations to actually write or direct a film. Rather, I’m interested in learning more about the nuts and bolts behind the creation of the film product.

This started a couple months ago when I heard this interview with Julie Delpy (one of many actresses I’ve crushed on over the years). This part in particular jumped out at me:

It’s a hard thing, because, you know, I think directing is very much about problem-solving, and it’s very rational. You know, you have to wake up at this time, you have to know your shot list, you have to know what scene you’re [doing] — I mean, you have to know your stuff. It’s not something you can take lightly…

You know, when I know I have to make a movie, I really think of the money that I’m spending, I’m really thinking of the time that I’m spending. I’m pretty rational when I start working on a set as a director. I don’t feel that creative when I’m directing, I’m just really, really, really focused on making everything work. Just like any other business, you know; I feel like I’m dealing with doing business.

I realized as I was listening that she was describing a the life of an entrepreneur. Problem solving, money, managing people with diverse skill sets. And while the film industry is very mature in terms of output – the experience of a movie hasn’t changed much over the last 100 years, it’s just a higher fidelity –  I suspect that every movie that gets made goes through a very unique process.

The typical startup story includes things like the “lightbulb” moment, founder recruiting, prototyping, iteration of product until you reach MVP stage, raising capital, growth and company culture. Practically all of these apply in filmmaking, the only differences being:

  • A movie has a finite production lifetime (whereas startups can continue operating for many years)
  • For a movie, the vast majority of revenue comes in a very tight window of 4-8 weeks.

Another commonality is obsession with the product. Steven Soderbergh touches on this in an interview:

Filmmaking is the best way in the world to learn about something. When I come out the other side after making a film about a particular subject, I have exhausted my interest in it. After Contagion, I’m still going to be washing my hands, but I don’t ever—I’m not going to pick up another book or article about Che as long as I live.

As an entrepreneur, I’ve many times come in the grip of an idea. I wake up in the middle of night and scrawl notes on a pad, or I spend days reading books and blogs about an industry. I bend the ear of everyone I know asking them what they think of it.

I bet there are a lot of would-be Steven Soderbergh’s out there who feel the same way when a great script comes their way.

Cross-posted from my personal blog