Kazmier openly shared his passion for filmmaking, his learning experiences, and the many pitfalls and challenges faced by filmmakers today. In this insightful interview, he shares with us his vision and approach to Ashely's Ashes. But first, the question must be asked, what motivates this skilled auteur in a métier that balances joy with so much frustration?
Q: Why did you get into filmmaking? And do you prefer writing, directing or producing?
A: Chris and I got into filmmaking to tell the stories that were spinning around in our heads. We've always been fascinated with the process of making films, seeing how an idea can transform into something that can impact you for the rest of your life. So many of the films we saw as children, teenagers, and in our adult life are still with us; we remember the lines, the scenes, the sounds. It's almost like we lived them as well. When we met back in college, we were introduced by a friend who realized that we both shared the same ideas about things. From there, we would just hang out and write out stories together. We were also in an improv sketch comedy group, which gave us an outlet for trying out small story ideas. I think from the very beginning, we knew we would eventually be working together and making films.
As far as directing, writing and producing, that's tough. We actually like doing all of them. I think we get excited when we write an idea, get it going, and see it come to life on the set. Since we come from a post-production environment, that's the point where we finally get to relax and start to assemble the dream. It's all pretty cool.
Q: Ashley's Ashes seems a far cry from Darker Reality and Dark Reality. What prompted you to make Ashley's Ashes?
A: Yes, it was and is! After June, which was a romantic comedy that Chris Hutson had written and directed, the distributors told him that June is great 'but' do you have any horror films? And that's how the 'horror years' started for us. Dark Reality was a small experimental film that both Chris's worked on together. The film had a small plot, and even a smaller budget. It was open to a lot of actor improv, and the story could then be assembled from these performances and scenes. Again, it was very, very experimental for us.
But, it was also a great exercise in fully producing a film from start to delivery. Since we had both come from post, editing, audio, music, effects, etc., we had the opportunity to learn every aspect of the filmmaking process. This is a 'must' for the indie filmmaker, which is not to be afraid to learn every step! It can and will save your production from becoming just a spool of raw footage and rough edits to a fully finished film.
As for Dark Realty, it was picked up by a small distributor who had picked up Chris Hutson's June, and unfortunately they totally botched the release of both films. For us that was our second valuable lesson in the indie world, the dangers and pitfalls of distribution! There are a lot of companies out there preying on the indie filmmaker, so beware. Fortunately, there are also some good distributors out there; as well ways to self-distribute your film. It pays to do your research, and then more research! Again, you should know every aspect of the filmmaking process.
The irony of our experience is that Dark Realty gave us a chance to cross paths with Jeff Allard, Executive Producer of the Texas Chain Saw series of films. That meeting turned into our next project, which was a vampire film called Bled. After sharing a friendship for twenty some years, it was that film that really allowed us to finally work together as a close-knit team. Chris Hutson directed and I co-produced Bled. We also worked together on the music score.
While traveling down the horror path with Jeff Allard, who was once again the lead producer, I teamed up with the writer from Bled, and started to toy with the idea of a Dark Reality sequel. Jeff liked the idea and put a small budget together for A Darker Realty. Chris Hutson and I switched roles, with him producing, and I directing. Again, it was a very small budget, but we were making films. The great thing about it was, we also got to work with Daniel Baldwin, which was one of the relationships that helped us out on Ashley's Ashes.
Q: How did your earlier films influence this one?
A: They helped us to really 'find' ourselves in terms of who we were and what kind of stories we wanted to tell. I think we were at a crossroads in our filmmaking journey and the idea of Ashley's Ashes just got us so excited again, because it originated from us. The horror arena has rules and beats that you follow, or that you are expected to follow, and Ashley's Ashes had the ability to free us from that. Through our horror films, we were able to work out all the issues that come up in the filmmaking process. And we were able to add more to the shooting and posting with the RED camera, and to use this to streamline the process. This helped us focus on creating and constructing the vision for Ashley's Ashes. It also helped control the pace and emotion that comes from more of a mainstream subject, allowing us to use our sense of humor to entertain while telling a story."
Q: Your film deals with a purpose-driven life lost and recaptured. Was the story based on someone you know or is it an indictment of certain people in general, who have simply lost their way?
A: Ashley's Ashes reveals glimpses of people Chris, and I, and writer Bill Langlois, have met on our journey in life. It has a bit of us in it. It kind of portrays a bit of everyone, I guess. We all need some changes, others need more change, and some of us need constant tweaking. We all make mistakes and find ourselves in situations in which we wonder how we got there. Everybody knows a 'Bob' character, and there is a little of Bob in all of us as well. I know there are scenes in this film that bring a sense of reflection to Chris Hutson, myself and Bill."
Q: Each character Ashley touched changed them. Why did you select these particular characters to reveal who Ashley was?
A: In the film, we chose these character types to represent people who are less inclusive in our society. They were from all walks of life, but they were never expecting other people to help them, even though they might have needed it. In the end, they pass it on, just as it was for our character, Bob.
Q: The cast dovetailed nicely. How difficult was casting?
A: Heidi Hutson worked with several agents, and also closely with Googy Gress who pulled a lot of favors for this one. She is amazing at breaking down the subtle meanings in scripts and sharing her unique vision of exactly whom she sees for each part through her suggestions. Working with Googy, she was able to match the right actor with the right character. The actors were on board the minute they read the script.
Q: Getting money for a film is really tough these days. How difficult was financing to obtain?
A: Friends, family and lots of favors! We had a small budget for Ashley's Ashes, but the money came from people who really believed in the project and us. What you're really looking for is an investment in your ability; it's not a snow job, or a get-rich-quick scheme that will get you the financing you need; it's knowledge, trust, and a mature attitude that you project. And that's what people pick up on.
Q: When you secured financing, did you use the script or did it hinge on your previous work?
A: Both. Our other films showed investors that we could deliver a product, that we had gained the experience.
Q: What other challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?
A: Scheduling the actors and locations, and working with limited funds. By using smart production people that we had met in the past, we were able to assemble a great production team. This allowed us to keep things rolling and not 'killing' the crew or ourselves. But it was still a challenge for all of us.
Q: What mistake(s) was/were particularly instructive and why?
A: Working with the RED camera for the first time. That was a technical hurdle. We spent months just researching and testing for the post process. We created our own way of doing it, avoiding several pitfalls. In fact, when we did hit a snag during our tests, we'd go on the Internet and realize, wow, we were not alone. While everyone seemed to have a solution for our problem, their solutions didn’t fit our flow, so with a little software coding, we created our own solution."
Q: If you could change one thing about filming Ashley's Ashes, what would it be?
A: More time to shoot. Different sets, hitting the dialog a bit more, hitting the scenes, opening it up a bit. I don’t know, we haven’t been away from it long enough to really break it down. We’ll do that in another six months, then a year, then when it's on the shelf, then put away. It’s constant with us.
Q: How do you draw the best performances out of your actors?
A: With this cast, it was letting them do what they do best and tweaking a bit here and there. It’s funny, in the horror genre, it was take after take of high emotion and terror, each time bringing the actors back to that moment. Making sure we hit the beats. I think on Ashley’s Ashes, we just let them know when they hit it and when they were a bit off.
I remember one scene we shot late in the day that was very emotional for Sandy (Gigi Rice). As amazing as she is, she had to hit the scene hard, many times and she was exhausted. But we needed just one more take, so we had to massage the drama a wee bit to get her back. But being a pro, she was there instantly, perfect. We got it then moved on.
Q: How will winning Indie Fest’s Best of Show Award help you in your film career?
A: First of all, we are very honored to win this award. But it's really about the film winning, not us. We are hoping that this will ignite a spark to get this film seen, which is really our main goal. If the film does well, we'll know people are enjoying it. If we stop and obsess about the next gig, we'll miss the fun of doing the last one. It's such a blessing to be doing what you love, you know!"
Q: What lessons learned did you take away in making this film?
A: Follow your passion first. This was a project that came from our heart. We really had fun making it.
Q: Where will Ashley's Ashes be shown?
A: We are working on a limited theatrical release right now. Again, we want the film to be seen. We're open to talking to anyone about distribution, but we also know that the world of indie film distribution is changing as we speak. We know that there are outlets that can be used by filmmakers to get their projects out there, and that these are the same outlets that distribution companies use. This isn't our first rodeo, and we know that people often say a lot of good things, but in some cases, nothing gets done in the end, so a film can die without ever seeing the light of day. We care a lot about this film, what it means to us and the people that were involved.
Q: How do you promote your films? Does the type of material affect how you promote a film?
A: We're promoting Ashley's Ashes in a completely different way. We never cut a trailer, never created a website, never made a poster. Now it's time. We like to nurture a film and let it slowly grow in the public's awareness. I think this material specifically lends itself to that.
Q: What writers/directors do you most admire and why?
A: There are so many for us. Our two top ones are director Johnny LaRue (an obscure Canadian filmmaker) and writer/director John Hughes.
Q: What's next for you? Any new projects?
A: We are rewriting a script right now that we wrote six years ago. A sci-fi comedy called That Pig Alien Move. It's nothing close to Ashley’s Ashes. It's an idea that came from our absurd side, with some really interesting characters we've collected from our lives. We're also developing a teen comedy, which is currently in its early stages. It's called Appel, and it's more in the style of Ashley’s Ashes, with some new ideas on where we can take a narrative. It's in its very early stages, but we're excited to get moving on it. Also, our Ashley’s Ashes co-writer, Bill Langlois, is working on several family scripts we're also very excited about. In a nutshell, there's plenty more to come from Chris and Chris.
chrisk (at) Chrischris.info