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IFH 186: How to Make a Killer Horror Film in One Location with Michael Williams

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If you have a micro or no-budget feature film shooting in one location will make life a lot easier. Now, how do you make that one location look great and not boring through your film? Indie Filmmaker Michael Williams did just that with his new horror film [easyazon_link identifier=”B0747LFG7P” locale=”US” tag=”whatisbroke-20″]The Atoning[/easyazon_link].

Michael Williams began creating short films in 2004 and since has consistently produced short films and screened them for audiences at annual film festivals and screenings across the U.S.

Williams earned his bachelor of arts in film in 2009 from the University of Southern Mississippi and was awarded the Top Film Student of 2009 Award. In 2007 Williams began his professional film career, accumulating a multitude of credits ranging from assistant camera to director of photography for many independent short and feature-length films.

After writing, directing and producing more than 20 short films, Williams broke into the feature-length film territory with the award-winning film “[easyazon_link identifier=”B019YLM1KC” locale=”US” tag=”whatisbroke-20″]OzLand[/easyazon_link]”. While his desire to tell complex stories visually drew him to a career in cinematography, as an artist and storyteller, Williams writes and directs films like “OzLand” in order to share his stories with those interested in experiencing them while eagerly pursuing the opportunity to bring other people’s stories to life as a director of photography.

For his 2nd feature film, Williams turned to the horror/supernatural thriller genre for “The Atoning”, an award-winning family drama explored through a fresh take on the thriller/horror genre.

Today, the filmmaker owns and operates Shendopen films in West Point, Mississippi and continues to write and direct his own independent films, produce films by other regional filmmakers and works regionally in the industry as a director of photography. Enjoy my conversation with Michael Williams.

Alex Ferrari 0:15
Well, today's guest is Michael Williams, who just directed an amazing horror movie called the atoning. And this movie takes place completely in one house. And the way he shot it was very visually stimulating and kept the story going and kept my eyes going. And I wanted to have him on the show so he can kind of share his secret sauce on how he went about shooting a very low budget horror movie all within one house. So without any further ado, here is my conversation with Michael Williams. And I'd like to welcome to the show Michael Williams. Man, thank you so much for doing the show.

Michael Williams 4:55
No problem. Thanks for having me.

Alex Ferrari 4:56
Thanks, man. So I always like to get an origin story of any of our Yes. So how did you get into this crazy business we like to call the film biz. Um, well, I

Michael Williams 5:06
Um, well, I always love movies, I was really into Tim Burton films growing up Beetlejuice was my first ever favorite film. But also love new Indiana Jones and that kind of thing. So originally, I was going to be an archaeologist, because I was obsessed with history and you know, old ancient stories and things like that. And then once you know, golden rings came out, I was wanting to do special effects because God, that's so awesome. But then all of that I realized really led to like seeing films that take you to a place in time that you can't experience elsewhere. You know, I can't really can't go back to the Titanic era. But I can watch Titanic and kind of feel like what those people felt like. So when I started realizing that how much I just like the creative world kind of transitioned into making films, so like, explore new stories that are either Oracle, or, you know, things that I couldn't experience elsewhere. And that happened all around my junior senior year of high school. And I was doing really just silly videos with my, you know, youth group friends in school when I was before YouTube was really a thing. So we were shooting on high cameras, and I would get him on DVD, which is really, really hard back then. And then show him to the youth group. And we were doing really stupid videos using copyrighted music just like put him on his hi videos. And then once I realized there were some festivals in Mississippi, someone encouraged me to to submit to the Tupelo Film Festival. So I made a film that had no music that was written by a local person and made a little kind of music video, and got it into a film festival. And at that festival, I met my college professor who told me I should go to school for film. So I transferred from Mississippi State to Southern Miss at that time. And then also I met the lady who gave me my very first film job as a camera system. So two years later, she hired me as a camera assistant kind of threw me into it. And I got to be a PA at first. And then they said, We need a camera system. And I was like, sure. And then they kind of had a week long, I guess, I got with a dp a week before and it kind of showed me what it really meant to be AC and focus cooler, and got through me into that. And that's kind of where it led me to today. So I always tell people, film festivals is a huge, huge avenue for figuring out what you're going to do and meet people who can help you do it.

Alex Ferrari 5:47
Now you so you basically came up through the camera department.

Michael Williams 7:13
Right? Yeah, start as a camera assistant. And then once you know a few years into that I started deep eating smaller gig things and now I'm mostly just dp.

Alex Ferrari 7:22
Okay, great. So then so then you say your, that's what pays the bills basically is deeping.

Michael Williams 7:28
I'm not as much as I would like, wedding videos. I have a video photography business. So okay, since 2010, I've had a video photography, business, doing weddings, commercials, headshots, that kind of thing. But I closed my actual storefront, say 2015 or 16 the camera was one of those years I closed it. And so since then, I've been trying to move to film full time, but I still work out at home doing your weddings and things like that to fill in the spaces but working towards film full time.

Alex Ferrari 7:56
Great. So then you've got a way to sustain yourself while you're chasing the dream. Oh, yeah, definitely. That's a big thing that a lot of filmmakers don't get that

Michael Williams 8:06
You got to make money. I mean, you can live frugally and you can make movies frugally. But you still gotta have money to do both of those eggs.

Alex Ferrari 8:11
Something at least. If not, if not your money, somebody else's money. Sure, exactly. So you got your now your second feature is called the atoning. And it's I saw the trailer for it. It is it looks scary as hell. It was shot in just 12 days. Yeah, they're pretty sweet. Pretty swift days. Yeah, they're pretty quick, pretty quick ones. Okay. And then did you do it all 12 days in a row? Oh, we had six days, then an off day, then six days. Got it. So then how, what made you want to do a film in one location like this like and do it so quickly?

Michael Williams 8:48
Oh, my previous feature was called ozland. And I can't even name the number or count the number of locations we had because it was a post apocalyptic drama, about, you know, to wayfarers wandering post apocalyptic Kansas when they found a book they picked up they found the actual book The Wizard of Oz and begin to think that it's real. So we drove to Kansas film three and a half days and a bunch of locations came back to Mississippi and filmed all over Mississippi, sometimes four locations by location today, very guerilla style, right? So that film was very dirty, hot, dusty, so many locations, so many decrepid locations that I was like, hey, the next film is gonna be simpler, it's gonna be in one location. Plus, we were trying to you know, make a horror film for on a budget. And so I knew that we could do rozlyn that way because of the way we shot it. If we were going to shoot a film in your 12 days and have a bigger crew, we really need to be more centralized. And I really wanted the comfort of being in a place with actual electricity and air conditioning and that kind of thing. So that kind of always told myself I was gonna make another dirty dusty out door movie, and the next one was going to be different and now I think I may go back to an outdoor winter maybe next who knows I'm gonna kind of swap it up.

Alex Ferrari 9:57
So no more Mad Max for you is what you say. Right? Yeah. Not enough for a while. Okay, no problem. Now, how did you get your film funded? which is always a big question a lot of filmmakers ask, right? Well, we

Michael Williams 10:08
Did ozland, we, our goal was always to get noticed with the film. And it was a film that we funded from a crowdfunding campaign. But we also had a grant from the state of Mississippi has a really good filmmaking, filmmaking grant for Mississippi filmmakers. So that kind of kickstart the process. So I was land was all, you know, raising money that way, selling DVDs and my short films, you know, kind of whatever we could do to get our budget, but we had nobody to pay back. So that was kind of luxury of that. So we made this film. And we were getting it out there got distribution and kind of had a lot of big hoopla around it. But that attracted the attention of a couple investors who came to me and said, What are you planning on doing next? And so it's like, well, I don't know, I'm still trying to promote oz land and found the time to think about what's next. And so Michael Cora was one of those producers who saw his land was very impressed and said, Well, he always tells me, well, if you can do it for that amount of money, we should make five of those a year. And I was like, there's no way I could do five movies a year. But I like your, your, your, your enthusiasm. So we got together, and we were developing a different project, I guess earlier the year before, but then we kind of switch gears. So let's do a really small horror film for this amount of money. If we can do it for this amount, we can definitely get our money back and get a couple other investors on board. So he brought in another producer, Dan wood, who also came in as a producer and investor. So we had three investors total who came in, gave us our budget, and let us do it. So I didn't want to do crowdfunding, again. Because we did that with AWS land. And that was such a community effort, and I had to so many favors, it's also thankful for that. And I kept telling people, no, Atlanta is going to be the film that will make us not to do that, again. I don't want to do it again. So we ended up being lucky that that's what happened, you know, we made AWS lambda, impress people, we show people what to do with a little bit of money, and said, Hey, if you give us a little bit more, we can do something even better. And that's kind of how we went around funding it.

Alex Ferrari 11:58
Very cool. Now, what, as a dp, how do you keep the image interesting, just shooting one location? Because I mean, it's an hour and a half in one place. So what did you do to make it really interesting,

Michael Williams 12:12
That was a fun challenge, because like with AWS, lambda was so easy, because every location was new, every location had its own aesthetic. But with the atoning we were stuck in this house, the entire entire film never left it. But we utilized every single room and every single camera angle. So we showed the Blackmagic, which was a great film for its size, and its, you know, convenience. And we really, we maximize whatever angle we could get, and I got into corners got on ladders, and every scene was structured so that we would only use even for that even for in that same room. Again, we wouldn't see it in the same way. In particular Sam's room, the little boy in the film, his room was the room that I hated the most because he spent so much time in there that didn't get hard to figure out how to make this room interesting, the sixth time. But we kind of, you know, when we were going through their shots list and figured out how we're going to shoot it, we're like, Okay, well, was the same really about how can we approach it? So some scenes are just one shot, or some scenes or you know, a lot of shots. So we tried to figure out what was the key point of that scene? And how do we want to see it visually, and then work that into that room so that it felt new every time we were in that room.

Alex Ferrari 13:19
Very. And then in use is basically the same thing you've rinsed repeated for every other location, every other scene you had in the movie,

Michael Williams 13:25
Right? Yeah, so I kept some scenes in a very simplistic, but then some scenes were more involved, and they needed more coverage. And things got a little more. As the film gets a bit more into the story, and things start turning on end and getting a little more fantastic and things like that. That's when the camera angles start changing or getting a little more drastic. So earlier in the film, it's a little more stale and static, and then, you know, kind of revamping it and bringing more life into it later on in the story to keep you interested.

Alex Ferrari 13:52
So I'm going to geek out a little bit now that you shot with the Blackmagic you shot with the 4k cinema. Right. Now. What was your experience with the camera? As far as workflow? Did you shoot RAW? Did you shoot pro res?

Michael Williams 14:05
We did pro res just because raw was going to be too much of a burden on our you know, our di t department, which was basically just me at the end of the day. So

Alex Ferrari 14:16
We another field shooting.

Michael Williams 14:18
Yeah, but shooting in progress was I mean, yeah, obviously shooting 4k would been awesome. But with the pro res and black magic, it was exactly what we needed. Because I tried to shoot as a dp on set how I want it to look. So I got my got my color. So basically, this is kind of how I want it to look, we'll fix some errors here and there or there may be some shots under expose, we'll fix those. But the actual look of the film, we wanted to keep pretty true to what was on your onset and just kind of enhance it. And that allowed us to use the progress without really feeling held back by it. But also allowed us to you know, film more every day on each card and not have as much of a data load. So the flexibility that with black magic of being able to shoot in progress but still get a really good quality footage. That's really good for that. a colorist who had no issues with it. Great.

Alex Ferrari 15:02
So you didn't run into any trouble on set as far as like, Oh, I overlooked that or why underlit that?

Michael Williams 15:07
Well, yeah, there was actually there was one scene, there's a scene that's at night where the kid has a flashlight. And I overlooked that scene. Just because I was I was in Sam's room, I think that day, I was just really tired of that room. And I kind of did the same lighting setup we had previously used, but it just didn't quite work. This room was too bright. But our colorist, Jared Hollingsworth, I told him, you know, we got to make this look a little more dramatic, it's kind of look like he actually needs a flashlight. And so when he went in, he used DaVinci Resolve and, you know, color that battle scene and fix, fix the color fix the contrast, fix the exposure, and it really does look like what it should have looked like, you know, it kind of covered my know my error of you know, over lighting it but he had no trouble taking the footage and you know, making it more dynamic and taking the ticket into a darker place than it originally was.

Alex Ferrari 15:53
Now, how large was your crew? Cuz you I mean, you're in one little location. So how, how many people did you have around you, um,

Michael Williams 15:58
It was about 15 to 20 people depending on the day, Sunday's were a little less. But our core crew, you know, we had a meet the DP that had a camera system. And then we had a gaffer couple of grips, you know, to sound people do mixer. And then everybody else kind of wore a lot of hats. So we had, you know, at least one person for each department. And sometimes they had a couple more than on the Demon Days, we had a larger makeup department about three or four people. And typically, we just had another one makeup girl,

Alex Ferrari 16:27
Right? Because at the end, the demon does look pretty badass, I have to say

Michael Williams 16:32
I'm makeup team did some that it was really proud of them. Because they didn't have a whole lot of r&d time, they didn't really, we had to figure out a lot on set, because it was a very swift process from writing to casting to prepping to shooting, it was just way fast. But they were able to do one demon a day. So we had one demon each day, even though they're the same scenes, we just shoot those scenes twice, to one demon side. And you know, even if it was a fight scene between the two demons and a person, we'd have to shoot the fight scene where you couldn't see the other demon wasn't there. So that was fun. But it allowed them to focus on one thing per day. And each day the demons get better. So the one you don't see as much, you know, you know, if we had some errors, they're there to kind of fix those for the one that you saw more full body and more hands on.

Alex Ferrari 17:16
Now, real quick question about the actors in about casting. I see that obviously, the actors you have a really good from what I've seen in the trailer. But did you make a conscious effort not to try to go after more named talent or more, you know, bankable talent, as opposed to going with people that just are good for the role? Or did you think the genre can kind of carry the movie without having to have bankable talent in it? Just curious, right?

Michael Williams 17:40
Yeah, that's something that I always struggle with. Because people, you know, you'll talk to people who say, you have to have a name, you have to have a bankable talent. And I think that's true to some, to some extent, depending on what your budget is. But when you're a super, you know, limited low budget film, you can't afford to do that. And I think it also you sacrifice stuff, you sacrifice what you can pay your crew, how much money you have on set for food or housing, like you have to kind of pick your battles. And I think, you know, if you're going to put all your money into a name, person, it's got to be somebody you know, is going to get you distribution and that sort of thing. And that's not something you can always say, yes, that's gonna happen. But I know films that, you know, from a last film being distributed other films that were distributed at the same time, I was like, No, this film did fairly well without a name, person. And so being that is a horror film, I kind of, you know, I mean, the producers, we talked about that. I was like, you know, if there's a horror film as a janitor film, no one's gonna really care who's in it, especially if there's a good cover art, which we're going to be in Redbox. And, you know, that was something that our distributor, a new distributor distributors to talk about, or talk to you said, you know, you're probably not gonna get into Redbox drop a name, you know, you do have that horror angle, but it's just really hard to get into Redbox. But we did, and they bought 20,000 copies. So it's nice. No, that's like a pretty big thing. We're actually announcing it tonight. So I'm pretty excited. We're going to go to red box locations live and tell people we haven't been told about it yet. But it's, you know, something that we didn't think would happen. But when it did happen to kind of reaffirm that, yes, we didn't have name talent, but we had quality talent. And we also spent money on the production where we really needed it instead of you know, trying to pull in someone and being that you get we try to bring in a name on our level. So what I did, we were doing casting, I mean, Michael core did the casting, we're kind of talking about, you know, we really want people who write for the role. And we did look at, you know, kind of people star meters and that kind of thing that really didn't factor in because the actors we chose were, you know, like Sam, the, you know, the child actor, he hasn't done a whole lot, but I've known him personally since he was in a short film of mine in 2000. I can't remember what it was, but it was a while back. And so I just knew he was really good for it. And they were our producers were kind of worried. I know this kid kind of has to carry the movie has to be good and like he has I promise. And so we might have some other kids who had more experience, but cannon really was the most talented and the one that was the best for the role. So we did pick based on talent, but we did think about marketability, but we didn't let that happen. hold us back. That's very long answer that question

Alex Ferrari 20:02
Not a problem. We'd like long lat long answers. That's fine. Now you were both the director and the DP hat among other hats that you were but onset, how hard is it jumping back and forth between doing those two key roles? Because I know I, I struggled a little bit with it when I did my film. So I was curious what your take was on it.

Michael Williams 20:21
Um, I guess I'm so used to doing that, because I've done that my entire career whenever I'm writing directing a film. But with onze land, the hats were three or four times as many as it was on the atoning. Because on ozland, I was the only producer, the only ad no everything, getting all the foods, I was having to do all of those things, and still managed being a dp and director, which it worked out because everybody kind of just, we all came together, we made it work. But for the atoning, you know, we had other producers have people handling food and handling other things. So there were so many hats lifted off of me, for the atoning, that being a director and DP and a few other things was a lot easier. And with our budget, our time frame, you know, it just, it made more sense that, you know, we kind of skip a lot of those, I guess a lot of that process where I have the shot list, and I know exactly what we're going for that people kind of helped me spot, check that make sure I'm staying on track. But, you know, we didn't have to go through a whole department of people, it was just very streamlined. And I can always do what I usually do as a dp I'll give it my gaffer and say, because our lighting setup is kind of our plan, your he kind of implements it and takes his own, you know, flavor with it, as I go and talk to the actors. And then while it's lighting, then I come back once it's lit, and I think actors are kind of getting they're getting ready for the last looks. That's when I go into get the camera stuff ready and kind of flip back and forth out of being too difficult. But just the streamlined aspect makes it work really well for me when we're on this level. You know, as we grow, obviously, you know, consider not deeping every project because it may be too difficult. But when you're a small film, it's easier to keep the show moving when there's less people and less parts. Now,

Alex Ferrari 22:00
Right now, as a dp, you you've obviously shot with a ton of different cameras, what made you choose like, such a small camera, as opposed to like an Alexa or even an Ursa mini or? or red or something like that? What was the what was the reasoning behind shooting with the 4k? Because I've shot I shot my feature on the 2.5 Blackmagic. So I love the camera, but I'm just curious what your take on what what was your? Why did you choose to choose that camera?

Michael Williams 22:25
Right? Well, um, some of my best work that I feel like at the DP that I've done has been on either the Blackmagic that Blackmagic or the pocket, specifically the pocket, I really loved the pocket. And I would have shot on that. But we really needed a 4k option. Because a lot of filmmakers, you know, say you have to have 4k and some say you don't, I'm in the, the I guess mindset that I don't think 4k is as is as important for certain applications as people say it is. But when you're going and you're wanting to get distribution, especially international distribution, everything points to 4k, because I feel like with our previous distributor and other people that I've talked to, they mentioned how you know, China was just buying up 4k content, no matter what it was, is because they really just wanted 4k content.

Alex Ferrari 23:07
I just thought I just sold my movie for 4k on 4k as well. Yeah, exactly.

Michael Williams 23:12
So it's like, you know, it may not mean our domestic distributor is going to take our 4k version but right now they're only releasing it and 1080 and that's all they asked for delivery delivery was for our domestic distributor so you know you don't have to have it but I think it really is a a way to kind of future proof your film and to hopefully get some extra deals that you might not get otherwise so we wanted a 4k option but we wanted an affordable 4k option and just with our budget and everything it was just much easier to go with the Blackmagic because one of our one of our producers actually owned it so we were able to borrow that and use it

Alex Ferrari 23:45
It was just it was just it was just a one camera shoot

Michael Williams 23:48
Right just one camera yeah I like to shoot with one camera I don't like shooting multiple cameras

Alex Ferrari 23:51
Got it. Very cool. So you just had just had it handy because it's so affordable.

Michael Williams 23:56
Yeah it was four of our priests already owned it and owned all the equipment for it. And you know we had the broken on lenses which I loved.

Alex Ferrari 24:02
Oh you shot you broke you shot with the with the not the not the ziens but the the just the cinemas just the thinner ones

Michael Williams 24:09
Yeah. Which I'm so excited actually just purchased I got it and yesterday I got the Ursa mini and I got molds that are broken ons now So yeah, I haven't even turned the camera on yet. I'm going to read the manual real good before I even turn it on but I'm excited to kind of bump up now to their Sydney and start shooting on that because I really did fall in love the Blackmagic after shooting so much on the pocket and then kind of transitioning into the 4k and I really wanted to stick with that

Alex Ferrari 24:31
The Ursa Mini is no joke. I love the Ursa Mini, it's great and if I can suggest two lenses to add to your collection, the Sigma 18 to 35 art lens and the 50 to 100 art lens. They're fun, they're photo lenses, but on the Ursa on any of the black magics they are stunning, just stunning and they're fairly affordable for what they are, you know. So basically with those two lenses, you to go out and run, and when I shot my movie I shot with the eight, the 18 to 35. And then also a set of rookies. Yeah. How fast are those 180 it's really fast. That's really nice. Oh, you know, they're gorgeous, man. They're both those lenses and the 50 to 100 is stuff. I mean, come on, they sit straight. It's ridiculous. You get a nice little I'm sorry, audience that we're geeking out here for a second but, but you could also get you to follow focus pop out on the gears. And you're and you're off and running. It's right there gorgeous. So they're, they're great lenses. I shot. I said, again, I shot most of the movie on the 18 to 35. movie and then also just jump to like the wide Rockies or the 85 or something like that on the Rogen ons. Which is really, really nice. So nice set to think about since you now have the, the Ursa mini as well.

Michael Williams 25:51
Oh, yeah. Well, I'm slowly gonna start building the package. I just got to take steps.

Alex Ferrari 25:55
The Absolutely, absolutely.

Michael Williams 25:56
Now indie filmmaker, you're hustling you got to take us,

Alex Ferrari 25:59
Oh, brother. I know, man. I know, I know, every little thing buys that next little piece of gear, and hopefully that next piece of gear gets you that next job, and so on, and so on, and so on. Um, so, I know, I'm an editor and a director as well. So can you discuss a little bit of the pros and cons of editing your own work? Because I'm on the fence sometimes?

Michael Williams 26:20
Right? Um, well, I mean, when I was editing ozland, it was the only option because of our budget, and just, you know, we shot on a DSLR. So it wasn't anything too difficult. But going into the atoning No, with our budget, still, you know, I want to, we saw still i'd edit it, and I did sound design, but I had a friend who did the 5.1 mix, cuz it's something I'm obviously can't tackle. And also, I wanted to make sure we had a good colorist. So Jared Hollingsworth came on as our colorist. But he did way more than just be a colorist, he kind of did all our final outs online, as well. Yeah. So he, he did a lot of stuff for me that, you know, because I kind of, we got to the delivery process, I was a bit overwhelmed. Just because the delivery process from Atlanta, this one was so much more in depth, especially internationally. So Jared, he's, you know, he is a editor at heart and also a colorist, so he understood all that stuff. And he helped me troubleshoot it. And so you know, whenever I branch away from editing, you know, he's kind of my go to guy now. But also, he was really working with him as an editor because he understood what I was trying to do as an editor. But also he understood, how can I make him better, or give me some good advice, and also take the coloring and, you know, do a great job with it. But back to what I think is why it's important to direct and or to edit as a director, I wouldn't say it's important to always have to do it. But when you can do it, I think it's great to help troubleshoot the story, because there's so many things in the story that I think if I had to try to dictate to someone, I couldn't actually do it in a way that would have been effective. Because some days are just scenes that weren't working based on a couple of different I know, I guess a couple of different issues. So also having to sit down and just like figure it out. And just I can't explain how I figured out how I was having to do it and make it work. But also mold things in ways that didn't even anticipate. So I guess there's a way that digital more my voice in the Edit than it would have been at someone else edited it. But someone else's voice would have, you know, been put into the project that they edited it. And so I think that that's something I do want to learn, I want to learn how to get away from editing and trust someone else to do it and to find that same voice, or to make that voice even better. But also, I really love being able to edit too, because that's kind of after production, I'm so worn out that all I want to do is just sit in front of a computer and take my time figuring out how to make it and then whenever things do work, I can have that moment of Oh, that was good that work. So it's kind of a kind of part of process I love but also I hate the technical aspect of it. I like the creative, but I hate the technical,

Alex Ferrari 28:44
Though the one area of editing your own stuff. I agree with everything you said, the both the one area I find and I've been editing 20 years now. So I've edited almost everything I've ever shot. And the only time it gets a little dicey is when you were on set, and it took you four hours to get that shot. And you won't cut it out because you know it took you four hours to get it. It's a really tough place to be and it takes a few passes of notes before someone goes Dude, that just doesn't work. I'm like I didn't know. But it took me to shoot it. So Exactly. Do you agree with that? Oh,

Michael Williams 29:21
Yeah, that was a big learning lesson to add on ozland cuz I was it was a pretty epic story. And the original cut was two hours and five minutes. And it's always like that it's not gonna work. And so I trimmed it down to an hour and 57 minutes. And that's what we screened at festivals. And that's why we had our local premiere for and that's what originally sent our distributor, but our distributor was like that's fine. You can distributed like that if you want but you'll get more out of it if you chop, you know, 10 minutes out and I was like, there's no way I can do that. You know, this is my baby. So what I did, I went back through the timeline. I just started chopping out five seconds here. 10 seconds there. Only removed one scene.

Alex Ferrari 29:59
We'll be right back. After a word from our sponsor, and now back to the show.

Michael Williams 30:09
And I wasn't keeping tally of how much I was cutting out. And then when I got finished, cut out like 12 minutes, and I was like, Oh, so 12 minutes could have been almost all time, I didn't even notice that. Something I learned I knew after are screened it for a year, I started seeing places where it kind of was not working, or things that were just unnecessary, or even just how trimming five seconds or two seconds, they are how much that adds up. And so I do really like the new hour and 44 minute version of the film much better than the two hour version, just because it is more streamlined. It's more at the heart. And so that's what I learned with that film going into the atoning I want it to be an hour and a half, I wrote it to be an hour and a half. And I was like, we're gonna shoot it be an hour and a half. And it ended up being at nine minutes. So we kind of got our goal there. But also want to make sure that pace was good. I, you know, I cut out a lot of things that I liked. And there's some things that I held my foot on saying we need this in here. Not for any vanity reason or anything, but I was like, no, it took so long to get the shot. I was like this really is important. So we got to keep these in there, even if not everyone agrees it's important. But still keeping that pace was a big thing that I didn't want to I don't want to repeat kind of errors I made with AWS land where it was because a lot slower building movie that's still think the pace works for some people, but not everybody. So the atoning I had to go into it knowing Okay, this is not your baby, is your baby. But it's not like only your baby, you got to make it work for everybody. So yeah,

Alex Ferrari 31:24
Exactly, there's that that part of us as filmmakers that we have to kind of like, you know, if the movie cost you five bucks, be as precious as you want. But when you have other people's money, you kind of have to work as a team, when you're doing going offline was mostly a drama, so you can get away with it more.

Michael Williams 31:41
But when it's a horror film, you're gonna have people, I mean, our films, kind of more of a thriller, but still a horror. And it's got a really good drama aspect. But you got to kind of cater to all those genres and make all those kind of people happy. So you got to have the moments where the characters can breathe, but you also got to have that can't lose the audience. So that was a fun, fun thing to keep in mind with this particular project.

Alex Ferrari 32:00
Now, what was the post workflow like did you did from camera all the way to final deliverable? Can you kind of go through that process with with us? Um, let's see, I may have blocked most of my memory. But I could guide you. So you shot on a Blackmagic pro res. What did you edit on right?

Michael Williams 32:18
Edit it on Adobe Premiere, which was great, because we could pull that footage straight in, which was something I was always worried about, you know, shooting on the lexer read, because I've always, I don't have much experience editing with that kind of stuff. And so I was worried about having to convert everything and my computer not being able to handle it. But with the Blackmagic, we were able to throw the footage straight into Adobe don't have to convert anything. And I was just able to edit straight from the 4k, which I felt very comfortable about making sure I wasn't in nothing was lost in translation. So I did the rough cut. Then once that guy locked cut, I sent that to my colorist who was coloring it at the same time that my composer was scoring it. And then while those things were happening, I was doing the sound design. So we kind of it was just me editing for a while and it split up to the colorist, composer and then me doing the sound design. And then once all those elements were finished, I sent it to a 5.1 mix to the top point one mix. And that was the very last part of the process. And we were doing that during deliverable time where we had to have so we signed with two different distributors and both distributor wanted a slightly different delivery of the same items. So that was the difficult part was keeping all that straight, making sure that distributors getting what they need. This was getting what they need. And every little detail is right so he would so we've asked you see which QC is not fun. But we're out of it now we're out of as of last week we're out of it.

Alex Ferrari 33:41
What was the most I have to stop you What's the most ridiculous QC note you got?

Michael Williams 33:48
Ohh theres Well, there were some that I don't I think cuz like our demons have caught like a popping bone cracking noise. I think a lot of several abbr items in the QC was like there's audio pops. I'm like, I can't find where you're just like in this big action scene where those like button popping and like that's just the sound design. So there's some of that we've got some of that downgraded they didn't actually I think go back and change that.

Alex Ferrari 34:12
What's the one that you just like? You got to be kidding me guys. showed the gender Did you have any? You gotta be kidding me? Yes, there were,

Michael Williams 34:19
That was probably the part of the process. I really shut down as a filmmaker because I was like, and all this because it just so cuz after the marathon and making the movie, yeah, I just wanted to deliver it. And then I was like, oh, gosh, like more money we got to spend for QC. And, you know, I mean, it's all good. It's all for good. Now I'm all I'm very excited that we're getting the distribution opportunities. And the fact that we had to go through QC means we're gonna have better distribution opportunities. So it's totally worth it. It was just when you're thrown into it, it's very scary. And once you get out of it, you're like, Okay, it's gonna be worth it. The film is gonna be more and more it's gonna be more available to these international markets and domestic markets. So yeah, I guess the most, I guess the, some of the sound design things, I guess is what they

Alex Ferrari 34:58
Oh really, they talk. They don't On the sound stuff, okay, that's not that

Michael Williams 35:02
Wasn't too bad. I mean, our initial cues that he was like, like, Oh, this is actually pretty good. You didn't have a whole lot wrong and like Oh, thank God. But then they dug deeper and counted more things I was like, Oh gosh, which is a lot of just sound mix and sound design stuff that was really the only thing visual that I guess our titles are red logo in the red wasn't quite legal, legal, so they had to kind of legalize that. But other than that, it wasn't anything too major.

Alex Ferrari 35:25
Now, did you ever think of are you have you ever thought of editing on da Vinci? I've actually never tried it.

Michael Williams 35:32
Now that I have. Ursa mini now I have actually owned DaVinci as long as are playing around with it now cuz I didn't own it previously. But I think Jared does some editing on DaVinci plus does all his color work. So I know he loves it.

Alex Ferrari 35:43
Yeah, I edited. I figure out what I'm gonna do. It's, it's awesome. I've edited I edited my feature film on it, I edited a show that I directed, as well on it, and I do all my editing on it now. It's amazing. I love it.

Michael Williams 35:59
It's so excited to try it because I just recently went to Adobe Premiere before I was all sony vegas since 2005. Oh, wow. And so once I was like, Okay, I've got a good one. Yeah, well, Sony Vegas, it was great for what it is. And I still use it for small projects. Everyone's Well, when I need to do something quick, because I just don't know how it works. You know, I love Adobe Premiere, but I'm not stuck to it yet. So I'm excited to try DaVinci and see if it you know,

Alex Ferrari 36:19
I was I was a Final Cut guy, Final Cut seven guy for ever. And I just would I just refuse to jump to x and finally got to a point where I'm like, I need I need to jump on something else. Man, this is just too slow now. And I'm like, well, I've been a colorist for a long time. Let me just jump on this dimension, because there's this edit tab. Yeah. And I just started literally on my feature. I just kind of threw it in there and started editing it raw, because I shot my film raw on the on the 245. And it was so amazing. I was like, Oh, this is awesome. This is just you can simplify that workflow. I'm sure that's just Yep, there's no round tripping. There's no all this in Connect. Nothing. It just all works. And if you're working in the Blackmagic ecosystem, it's haven't haven't haven't had that. So what and by the way, what made you go with gravitas as your distributor? Because I've had gravatars on the show before they're really good distribution company. I was just curious what your thoughts on? Well, we,

Michael Williams 37:12
We went through a pretty long process of talking to, you know, 810 different companies that all have their pros and cons. But everyone was very excited about the project. Some were more excited than others, but the ones that were super excited kind of almost was a little bit of turnoff, just because they said they were trying to like trying to trying to sell too much. But with gravitas, you know, they they were very straightforward. They liked the film, they said they could do well with it. Their the way they structured their agreements in their deals was very nice. And it didn't offend us or didn't feel it just yeah, it just felt I felt right. And so also there, I guess, the way it works, when we distribute with them, it just there wasn't as much of a risk, you know, some of these other companies like well, this is kind of a you know, if it works out, it's fine, but there's higher risk involved. But grandpa seemed to have a really good track record. There are some films on there that I was excited to see, you know, like, oh, they're actually just shooting those films and waiting to see those films. So just knowing that we would be in that same company. I was like, Okay, I like this. And we kind of just, when you're picking a distributor, it's tough because like you just don't you never really know until you've been with them for a while, was the right choice, we just kind of did it. And now I mean, the film hasn't come out yet, but I already feel like we're we made the right choice. Because, you know, they, they push the red box and you know, Goddess and red box, which you know, they were very upfront with us, I said that probably won't happen or don't don't count on it, they didn't get our hopes up. But they still did their diligence of pitching it to them and giving it a try. And now you know, they're doing that with other companies and other things. Like, you know, they work hard. There's a big group of people who were very helpful. And even just like the other day, when our iTunes listing went up, I there's a couple errors and within 24 hours, they hadn't fixed and let me send a new artwork, and they had artwork up in like less than 24 hours. So like, just being able to like talk to them and say you have an issue and then get back with you pretty quickly and resolved pretty quickly. It's been really nice.

Alex Ferrari 39:03
That's awesome. That's awesome. Now, what advice would you give a filmmaker wanting to make their first feature film?

Michael Williams 39:12
Hmm, I would say make sure you're passionate about whatever the story is. But keep in mind how marketable it is. So if you're making a film that you want to get distributed, think about the genre and how it's gonna be marketable. But find your own voice for that. Don't just do a rehash You know, you're gonna do a horror thriller and do a horror thriller but find out how it can be something that you're passionate about and that you really enjoy because it's going to be a hard process and you got to love it. Offline was super hard but we all love the story in the project so much that made it all worth it. So you really got to love what you're doing. But be mindful about the business side too. You know, don't don't get too wrapped up into your art project and make sure there's something that can market and you know look for those opportunities do festivals you got to got to push like I was saying was a three year you know, hustle with trying to get it out there. Get it to festivals. Try every thing possible.

Alex Ferrari 40:03
Did they get distributed?

Michael Williams 40:04
Yeah, it distributed. We had a one week theatrical premiere in Hollywood in 2015. And we released on video on demand the same time. So it's been out for two years.

Alex Ferrari 40:13
Okay. And did you do well with that movie? Did you break?

Michael Williams 40:18
Did you break even? Oh, yeah, I mean, we actually broke even before we we actually before we ever distributed just by doing our own screening tour. So we did our local premiere. And then I streamed it in about six cities around our region, and sold merchandise and that kind of thing. So selling t shirts, posters, soundtracks. So all that, like allowed us to break even. And we put that back into the film, to, you know, get ready for distribution and do the Hollywood premiere, and all that kind of stuff. And so since it's been distributed, it's been, it's had its ups and downs each quarter, but it's making money. It's been making money every quarter. But it's just a hard sell, which is one thing I learned that, you know, yes, it's a post apocalyptic science fiction film. But really, it's a drama, about two characters in a very, very profound drama between two characters like a character study, so it has Wizard of Oz angle, but it's a lot more than that. It's pretty deep story. So people who love a good character drama, or, you know, they want to really dig deep into something, or they want really pretty visuals and music, you know, that's kind of what our plans for but going to be atoning I knew we had to make something that's a bit more marketable. And I think if you know, the atoning does well, offline will be better, too. So I'm still, still I'd hoped that I wasn't gonna find its audience.

Alex Ferrari 41:26
Now, let me I should have found this audience. So let me ask you about offline a little bit with, because I always preach constantly on the show and on the website about creating multiple revenue streams, and that your movie is just a lot of times a big marketing for other revenue streams. And you seems like you kind of did that a little bit with ozland. So can you just dive in a little bit about what you did, how you did it? And how you were able to generate different revenue, specifically with what kind of products what what was your experience doing this little tour? All that kind of stuff?

Michael Williams 41:58
Yeah, so the three short films I did before I was land was glucose, cane, and illumination. three very different films, no one's kind of a horror ones are science fiction, and was a superhero film. So each one of those films I had to, you know, we never were in good distribution with the short film, but we had to find some way to make money to be able to pay for festivals. And so we would always do a naked big deal on our local premiere sale poster, or, you know, different kinds of merchandise. And starting with elimination, I start doing sunglasses. And so I've kind of kept a sunglass thing going for all the films and kind of got people into the habit of knowing that we were gonna have pretty cool merchandise, and that whenever we're at a festival, there's gonna be posters and all kinds of cool visuals and know so much more outside the film to kind of make it more of an event. So that's what we do. We have our local screenings, and without land, we kind of anywhere that we had support, we would do a screening there. So there's a lot of great people who support me in Huntsville. So we had a screening up there in Jackson, Mississippi, different place, did

Alex Ferrari 42:52
You just rent the theater?

Michael Williams 42:53
Yeah, so we either you're in the theater, or like the if you're in the South malko is amazing, amalco chain, because they let you rent out a theater in their malko, you know, the one of the, you know, digital projection screens for a night for a very affordable rate if you're an infinite filmmaker. So you just pay that out, right, and then you sell your tickets. So we would always, you know, sell tickets $10 a pop up and then sell merchandise on top of that, but we'd also sell advertisements. So we would to kind of pay for the theater and any marketing cost. Before we actually had ticket sales, we would sell ads. So I would say you know, 25 bucks to have your name in the program, 50 bucks to have a 32nd commercial on screen before the film starts or something like that, depending on the theater. So I'd always had a little pre run on my blu ray before the film of our sponsors and that kind of thing. So I'd make sure that the event was paid for and any kind of marketing cost. And then we would just make money off the ticket sales, plus merchandise sales that kind of helped us generate more revenue for festivals. So like I was saying, we just told everybody, whatever we make on the screenings, and merchandise that goes directly back into marketing and festivals that allowed us to submit Twitter vessels we had do the Hollywood premiere and all that. So you got to kind of especially short films, there's no way you're going to make money really, unless you're selling copies of it, it's in that kind of thing. So you got to kind of figure out what your, what your audience wants. And we kind of figure that out people really like a one night showing where you kind of have this big event. And you get to meet all the cast and crew but also have merchandise available then have that available at festivals too. And a lot of cool giveaways like we always do a lot of fun like, like for the atoning we had black gumballs at the Oxford film festivals, we had little bat, little bags of black gumballs that turn your mouth black. So we kind of gave those away to make sure people came to our screening or just kind of noticed the film, which is the biggest thing at festivals independent film, you got to get people to notice your film and choose it over someone else's. So it's kind of a little bit of competition. So I think it's a mixture of finding ways to make money off of your merchandise and your screenings, but also finding ways to just engage people and give them cool free stuff. So they remember your film.

Alex Ferrari 44:51
So you had a kind of an entrepreneurial spirit with the first film. Is there a reason why you didn't do self distribution as opposed to going with the distributor? Hmm, yeah.

Michael Williams 45:00
I just, I think for the right kind of film self to self distribution works, but there's no way you're getting to Redbox right, you're probably not going to get a foreign deal whatsoever. And you're gonna have to hustle like crazy, which with AWS lambda was, is kind of like self distribution, we had a distributor, but they distributor only have so much they can do for the film and a lot of it with any distributor it really it all relies on you and how much you and your team can push the film. And I can tell directly, you know how much I work that month promoting ozland really resulted in how much I saw in that quarter. And when I just didn't have the time, you know, my quarterly statements are worse. And he got really exhausting for the past two years promoting online that way. So that's why we kind of wanted to the atoning to make sure we could get a distribution opportunity that we felt would be a little easier on us even though we're still gonna market it like crazy and promote it. But we can get things like Redbox international deals that kind of help offset some of that. And to get us just maybe a little bit more notoriety, just so we don't have to hustle quite as much.

Alex Ferrari 46:02
So if you find if you find a good distributor that can actually do what they say they're going to do like gravatars does. It's a good it's a good it's a good combination.

Michael Williams 46:10
Right? Yeah, girl tosses me so far as then great for us where we're still pushing like crazy, because we want to make sure people ordered on iTunes forehand, so we can get new and noteworthy placement, that kind of thing. So if you're on iTunes, check out the atoning can pre roll grit.

Alex Ferrari 46:24
I know the feeling I've just I literally just went through that two weeks ago. So let me ask you, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn in the film business or in life? Hmm.

Michael Williams 46:38
I think the longest I guess is it goes with film life. When I had my video photography, business, I got actual storefront was that you can't work 24 hours a day. And you have to have a social life. Because I from 2010 to 2014, I never dated didn't have any kind of much of a social life, everything was always centered around work every weekend with a notice the gig of some sort. And, you know, that helped me you know, get a house and you know, be able to have a place to live and all that kind of stuff. But quality of life wasn't as good. And I got really stressed. And it makes it really hard to be creative. It took me forever to actually write ozland. Because of all the work before that I never had time to sit and think and enjoy life and experience life to where I could actually let that influence my writing. So in 2014, I started your dating and actually living a life. And then that made this film that I wrote, because I had a breakup at that time. So I actually had this life experience that I funneled into this film called antler that I have written that I want to make at some point. But it made that film so much better because I actually had life experience to put into it. And a lot a lot of it was in Oslo. And there's some some of the like, I guess, me wishing I had those life experiences and talking about and kind of what I was writing in that film was kind of my own experience. There's a character in there called Emory. And he wants to know what love feels like and what it means to actually have love. But he doesn't understand what love is because he's kind of in this post apocalyptic world with no real frame of reference. So that was kind of me saying, No, I've never actually dated, I'm not, you know, I'm gay. And so at that point, I was in the closet, I wasn't allowing myself to live and be myself and kind of was bearing it in my writing. But now that I'm out of that, I'm actually you know, in a good relationship and have someone by my side helping me it's like, wow, life is so much better. And the atoning would not have, I could not have survived the atoning process if it wasn't for Cody, my boyfriend, because he was there with me making sure everything worked. And whenever I was going crazy, and literally having a panic attack, just because I was so stressed because it was such a quick process through that and had not done that. And I'm not taking time to live and have a personal life and all that. You know what I've just been stuck working and not happy and probably not have made any real strides in my creativity, I wouldn't have actually been able to make things that I felt were worthwhile creatively. So yeah, you just gotta find time to live life and experience life and take time away from work. But then you also got a fun time to sit and be still and be creative and get into that headspace

Alex Ferrari 49:04
Balance is the key word stop balance. It's not easy for us creatives to always be doing something but sometimes you just gotta say not today. Yeah, I know. It's a struggle I go through on a daily basis. Now what are three of your favorite films of all time? Oh, that's I hate that question. I know I'm just three that come to your mind.

Michael Williams 49:24
Okay, well Beetlejuice was my first ever favorite film. That's I was watching it when I was five years old. It's the first time I remember saying so like, build us up there but kind of tie with Edward Scissorhands if you're doing Tim Burton films. But outside of that, Black Swans one of my favorite films, I think it's brilliant.

Alex Ferrari 49:43
It's brilliant. But I can't wait to see his new movie mother.

Michael Williams 49:46
I had no idea. He was doing that until I saw a trailer and it said his name was like, wait, he's doing this. It's also excited. Oh, gosh, I don't know. Let me also I mean, this is kind of a touchy one. But Titanic is one of my favorite movies of all time, people. Give it such a bad rap. But I think, you know, I'm just so amazed at what they accomplished. And that's kind of the underdog story, right? I was gonna fail. But it became so popular to the point that people hate it because it's popular to make money. But I think it's just I think it's brilliant. Because when I watched that film, like, I remember where I was, when I saw that I was fifth grade, with my parents crying my eyes out, they almost took me out of the theater because I thought I couldn't handle it. But I was like, No, I'm watching this, I cried the whole last hour. And now if I hear that Penny, a little penny whistle thing, I just wanna start crying. And so it affected me emotionally. But also, it made me want to make movies because I was like, I love everything they put into it from the costume design to the special effects like, I just think it's an epic piece of film making but

Alex Ferrari 50:42
I mean, but but there was room on the on the board. For both of them, I don't understand why he had to die.

Michael Williams 50:49
Always defend this, because he got it on there, it would have been slightly submerged into the water, and they would have been in both somewhat in the water, freezing to death. So at least she was out of the water.

Alex Ferrari 51:01
It looked like a pretty big boat piece of wood to me, but I'm just saying you're very cool. Now where can people find you your work your company and your film?

Michael Williams 51:11
Well, my social media handle is shunned, open sh e n, d o p n, that's for maximum company should open films. But you can also check out ozland the film on iTunes, Instagram, Amazon, all those places, but also the atoning is on Instagram and Twitter as the atoning movie. It's on facebook.com slash the atoning. And you can pre order on iTunes right now or go to Redbox and add it to your wish list. And yeah, all that fun stuff.

Alex Ferrari 51:39
I'll put it all on the show notes. Thank you so much, Michael, for being on the show, man. I really appreciate it. And good luck with the film.

Michael Williams 51:45
Oh, thank you so much. Thanks for having me.

Alex Ferrari 51:47
We all really need to learn these set of skills man to be able to shoot in one location or the make the location that you have. The most visually stimulating location you can is invaluable to create extra production value and your low budget movies. If you want to get links to anything that we talked about in the show, just head over to indiefilmhustle.com/186 for the show notes. And today I want to end the show with the same quote we started the show with because it's now my favorite quote and I'm honestly going to put it on a shirt. The dream is free. But hustle is sold separately. And that was by Laura greener from Shark Tank. I saw it last night. And she said it and I was like no that is genius. So put it on a T shirt. Wear it around, spread the word. The dream is free, but the hustle so separately. As always keep the hustle going. Keep that dream alive. And I'll talk to you soon.

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