Saturday, June 25, 2005

Interview with Filmmaker Kristal Burch

For those of you who have moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in the entertainment business, can you remember your attitude when you stepped foot on that magical ground? Most likely, resonating from within you were the qualities of confidence, vision, passion, and determination. The case is no different with Filmmaker Kristal Burch. Thank you Kristal for reminding us of these essential qualities we must all possess to have a career in this business.

FS: Please take us back and share how you got started in film?

KB: I was always interested in the Art and Entertainment Industry. I use to do Ballet, Jazz, and Tap Dancing when I was a little girl. In my preteens, I started to model. When I got into high school I took many drama classes, I was a cheerleader, on the step team, a flag girl on the band, in pageants, fashion shows, talent shows, plays, musicals, etc... I was highly active.

Then one day, my junior year in high school, my father said the magical words, "Kristal, why be an actress when you can be the boss and make twice as much money and still act? Why not be a producer or a director?" That changed my life, from that point on, I did research and discovered North Carolina School of the Arts - School of Filmmaking in Winston-Salem, N.C. I filled out an application, wrote a paper, and I went through an interview. After all of that, I got accepted.

Basically the way NCSA operates is that, the first two years, they teach all the students how to do everything: Editing, Cinematography, Screenwriting, Directing, Producing, and Production Design. After the 2nd year, we are selected to go into a discipline. I was selected to go into Producing. At the same time, I realized my love for music videos (I've been watching them since I was 8yrs old) and I started to do independent music videos for local artists. So I graduated from college and decided to move to LA, so I can do Music Videos for Mainstream Artist.

FS: You made the bold decision to move to Los Angeles upon graduation to start your career. How tough a decision was this for you and what were the factors you had to deal with in making this decision?

KB: Oh my God, it was difficult. My mother didn't not want me to move to LA at first, because it is on the other side of the country from N.C. But after many conversations of how this is going to build my career, she was able to adapt. Unfortunately, my father passed away my sophomore year in college, so he wasn't there to support us and help us with this drastic change. But we kept his old and wise words in mind and knew that he would want me to go. Financially, it was tough, but at the moment I am maintaining. Still trying to get a Music Video gig. It's tough because it is so competitive, but that's life. I learned nothing comes easily, if it is good there is going to be a lot of work to get to it.

FS: You are a writer, director, and producer. Which of these facets of filmmaking do you enjoy the most? Why?

KB: I enjoy directing the most. Honestly, it is killing me that I can't direct right now. I am artistically hungry and ready to work. When I direct it is like a high. It is kind of funny because people that know me, they notice that I become a different person when I direct and usually they don't stand in my way. When I am working on a music video, I get so focused that I can't eat or sleep. It is Music Video, Music Video, Music Video! That's it. The funny thing about it, is that if I hurt my self I will keep going. The bitter-sweet thing about it is, I give my life to my art. My art is my soul.

FS: What has been the most challenging obstacle you have had to face thus far in your career?

KB: Matter of fact, you are asking the right question at the right time! The most challenging obstacle that I have faced is happening right now. It seems like the film industry is taking film school for granted. The reason why I say this, is because every gig that is related to a Music Video, I can't get hired. I think it is because I just got out of film school and they probably feel that I am not ready to handle the duties of a director or that I need to work my way up! But, I disagree! I spent four years of my life bettering my craft and I know that I am more than ready.

In other words, the most challenging obstacle is trying to get others to believe and trust in me, as much as I believe in my art. Once you can find someone in the film industry that believes in you and knows that you are talented, then you're in!

FS: What are some of your recently completed projects? In what capacity did you serve? Can we see these projects anywhere?

KB: The projects that I've done so far are "Work That", "Real Hood Souljahs", and "Child of God" Music Videos. The rap artist, Twiz Mack had submitted "Real Hood Souljahs" to Bet's UNCUT. I haven't seen it yet, but some of my friends had. I was the director, producer, and co-writer for that project. Another project I've done is a commercial for a book called, "Preacha Man". The author, Carl Kenney is in the process of getting it onto television in selected areas. I was the director, producer, and I wrote the commercial treatment.

FS: As you get settled into life in LA, what are your upcoming plans/projects? What are your career priorities heading into the next 6 months?

KB: My short term goal is to do music videos for Mainstream Artists. So I am going to harass the record labels (lol!). I already harassed most of the music video production companies here in LA. So I'm moving to Step 2. If that doesn't work, then I will better my reel and shoot local music videos for independent artists. I'm not worried. I'm going to make it by the end of this year.

Also, I am searching for a steady 9 to 5 job, you know, to pay the bills. At the same time I have a few documentary ideas that I want to pitch to certain executive producers. If that doesn't work, then I will do it myself, just like everything else.

My long term goal is to eventually write and direct feature length films.

FS: Being that you are beginning stages of launching your career, from your perspective, what does it take to make it in this business?

KB: From what I learned at NCSA and my experiences, determination is the key to success. Also, if no one helps you, that is okay, figure a plan to do it your self, basically independence. Most of the time, I didn't really have anyone to provide that helping hand, I had to do it myself. Another thing is to take risks and do other projects to get to where you want to be. Luckily, in the entertainment industry, everything is link together. (Music, Art, Filmmaking, Theatre, etc.)

Since I've been here in LA; I was in a fashion show in the Nollywood Film Festival. I might be on a Reality TV Show the ending of this month, and I am developing an Urban Documentary. So I am milking other things to get notice and get myself a Music Video gig. Which I will!

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Monday, June 20, 2005

Wisdom from Writer/Director Paul Haggis

"You can't write things from your own perspective. If you're going to cast yourself in the film, you have to be the villain."

"It’s much easier to direct than to write. When you direct you just have 165 people staring at you wanting to know what to do. With writing you have that blinking cursor staring at you, which is much more difficult. That’s hard work. Directing is easy. I have great respect for directors, but compared to writing, I like directing."

  • Paul Haggis on the origins of his movie Crash

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  • Sunday, June 12, 2005

    Film Synergy's Recommended Reading to Screenwriters

    STORY: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting
    © 1997 by Robert McKee

    Story is what makes a good movie, book, or play a great one with lasting significance. McKee's 'Story' shows how Structure is created of Character not plot, rules, and formulae. True emotional revelation for the audience is achieved by the interplay of Characters and Events impacting each other to resolution.

    SCREENPLAY: The Foundations of Screenwriting; A step-by-step guide from concept to finished script
    © 1979, 1994 by Syd Field

    From concept to character, from opening scene to finished script... Here are easily understood guidelines to make film writing accessible to novices and to help practiced writers improve their scripts. Syd Field pinpoints the structural and stylistic elements essential to every good screenplay.

    ART OF DRAMATIC WRITING: Its Basis in the Creative Interpretation of Human Motives
    © 1946, 1960 by Lajos Egri

    This is an essential book for anyone pursuing the craft of fiction and drama. Egri's discussions of "premise" provide a solid foundation for understanding the techniques by which a commercial writer transforms feeling to the mechanism that moves an audience.

    MAKING A GOOD SCRIPT GREAT: Writing is rewriting
    © 1994 by Linda Seger

    Ms. Seger covers Story Structure, Idea Development, and Character Development, then shows how it all comes together. Throughout the entire book, Seger introduces new aspects of writing and processes you can use to get you to that amazing script.

    ON WRITING: A tough-love lesson for aspiring writers
    © 2000 by Stephen King

    If you're writing fiction, this is a book you'll find useful, even if you don't like Stephen King's work. Saying that, this book is not just a dry collection of teachings. It is full of wit and insight into King's life and writing.

    iTunes: The world¿s best digital jukebox, with the #1 music download store inside.

    Thursday, June 09, 2005

    Interview with Editor Mel Rodriguez

    What we here at Film Synergy are loving more and more as this community grows is found in this next interview with Mel Rodriguez. Passion, intelligence, and an inside look at the industry from one of it’s rising professionals. You’ll also find a tidbit on Orson Welles, wisdom from Robert Rodriguez and why Mel would love to work with Billy Crudup.

    FS: An editor is an intricate part of any production, yet they don’t get the recognition they deserve. How did you get started as an editor? Are there other facets of production you would like to be involved with?

    MR: I got started as an editor after the last short film I wrote and directed called Mockingbird. I set out to be a writer/director and I still am, but while editing my short film with my film school undergrad editor, Fritz "Tha Tits" Hoepfner, I really got into the process. After we finished a cut for festivals, we screened it at a few, traveled with it and when I returned I, of course, wanted to change some things. So I did it myself from what I'd learned by working with Fritz. I edit on Final Cut Pro to this day because of that film. It's what we used so it's what I learned. Then I just used my own footage to practice editing and it really helps to go in and arrange and rearrange scenes. You can see yourself improving. Years later, my roommate Jimmy Prescott made a film called Loveholstery and asked me to edit it from what he'd seen me do on my own film. So I did and it also did well on the festival circuit. Not long after that, I met Michael Philip (producer and director of Drop Dead Sexy) who I actually first approached to be a producer on my first feature while he was in Austin prepping to shoot Drop Dead Sexy. We got along well, he saw a few things I edited and ultimately, his film got made before mine and he eventually asked me to be the editor.

    FS: What is it that you love most about editing?

    MR: I guess, to be specific, what i love most about editing is a particular moment that I've had the pleasure of experiencing over and over and I'm just realizing that this moment is what it's about. I love the moment where a scene crystallizes in your mind. You're watching endless hours of footage, take after take, back to back, lots of little performance tweaks etc, but then a take you saw weeks ago that is still in your mind comes back to you, or you think of a music cue that works perfectly, or you find an outtake that has a cool surprise in it or something and that's that. All of a sudden, you sit up straight in the chair and you're cutting away because you have it in your head the way it's supposed to look and sound. When that happens, about 150 or so times, you've finished your film.

    FS: Take us inside the editor's mind. What is the creative process like for you? The process of putting moving images together. How does it begin and how does it end?

    MR: Well, before anything I was a writer. I've written short stories, published in journals. I used to write for People Magazine. I have a screenplay currently in development and so the edit, for me, is the final rewrite. You have to take in all the information to be able to lay it back down in its final form. I haven't had one director look at the first assembly and be confident they have a good movie in there somewhere. EVERYBODY freaks out when they see the first assembly, it's funny. No matter how many years they've been doing it, I've found people to just throw their hands in the air and curse the film to an early grave. But it eventually takes shape. It just begins with taking it all in, watch everything, take notes, mark where the good moments are in the footage. Then you start with the first assembly, feel the whole movie in its rawest form. Then you go into the good takes by the indications of the script supervisor's notes. If they don't work, you just keep trying endless combinations. I'll have my assistant even assemble some scenes with his/her own ideas. It's so subjective. You're happy with what you did one day and you come back the next morning and look at it and say "what was I thinking?" The process dictates itself. You start thinking that the possible combinations of takes are endless. But you just find your way through the movie as you go. You can go through 3 or 4 completely different cuts before you finally see the way it should be. Eventually the movie is going to become what it is supposed to become. It sounds strange even saying that but it's true. You think you can just cut and cut forever until you have exactly what you have in your head, but if what you have in your head is not committed to film, it's not going to be in the movie obviously and some directors get angry at themselves because they didn't get the shot quite right. So the movie becomes the best of what you have to work with and that movie is found by making every possible movie you can with all of those combinations of takes and conversations with the director and taking into consideration the input from others and so on.

    FS: We all face tough challenges while pursuing whatever matters most to us, what has been the greatest challenge you have faced thus far in your career?

    MR: The greatest challenge for me has been mostly an internal one. As an editor, I never feel that the film is the best it could have always could have been a little better, I think. Also, in my writing and directing ventures, I fight constantly to get past that feeling that what I'm putting down on paper is total shit. It might very well be, but after you've done what you consider your best, you have to take it out for a spin. See what's what. And I'm constantly tweaking. But as far as a more external or tangible challenge, I'd have to say it's that perennial battle of getting your projects financed and made. Robert Rodriguez told me once how easy it was to make movies so just go make one. He's a machine. The work comes easy to him because he has endless energy and he's been able to do it at any budget level. and his career proves it. I’ve been close to getting that modest budget for my first movie, you know, around the 1 million dollar range, but that's still a lot of money. Most movies, we all know, cost a lot more than that but even that 1 million dollars...that belongs to someone. And it's hard to get. So I'm constantly reminded by Robert's words to just go and make it with what you have to work with. But I'm stubborn and more recently, an actual budget is within reach for me. So I opt instead to go after the million. It just takes so much time dealing with these money people who have these crazy lives that they forget that they have a business plan on their desk for this little 1 million dollar movie. And on the other hand, I'm pretty busy with editing jobs that provide for me with my income. I take those jobs instead of going off for a month and making my own movie with no money because I've done that before and it almost totally broke me.

    FS: Not too long ago you edited a film starring Ron Livingston (Swingers and Office Space) entitled "McCartney's Genes" and have a recently completed the previously mentioned project "Drop Dead Sexy" starring Jason Lee (Mallrats, Almost Famous, Vanilla Sky) and Crispin Glover (Back to the Future, Williard). What can you tell us about your experience of working on this film?

    MR: It was great. I mean it was my first real job in the business so of course it was great for me. it was my post-graduate degree in filmmaking. I felt like my time in Austin, Texas, working on my own films and others was my film school. Drop Dead Sexy was fucking grad school. When I met Michael Philip, the director, it was early in the process. I mean, really early -- like the money wasn't even in place yet. so we became good friends right away. so I was privy to a lot of information about the process of how to go about the initial offering, business plan, the fundraising, putting a crew together, casting meetings, the in-fighting and back-biting, unions, the egos...all the shit you don't get in film school. It was great. From when I met Michael to the premiere of Drop Dead Sexy at the 2005 SXSW film festival was exactly 2 years. It was peaks and valleys, especially because I was a first time editor. But on the other hand, there was a lot of relative newbies on this movie. Mike was a first time director, a few producers had only 1 or 2 films that they'd done and the execs were a bunch of forty-fifty-sixty somethings making a movie that was geared to the twenty somethings. So mike told me he liked some of my ideas and some of the work I'd done and it made for a nice fit. Michael's father and grandfather were both Academy Award winning editors. So obviously, I learned a lot from Michael who also edited films in the past. We worked very well together but it was also a nightmare at times -- long hours, asinine notes by the executive producers, ego-driven politics involved -- lots of bullshit. But that's what I mean, it was all great for me to see and learn all of this. Plus it was a treat to be able to cut together scenes with such talented actors. Jason and Crispin were so good. but so were the other guys like Pruitt Taylor Vince who is one of my favorite character actors. Everything he did was much to choose from. and Brad Dourif (Lord of the Rings, Deadwood) and Lin Shaye (There's Something About Mary, Kingpin) was great to build scenes with all these guys. It was rough beginning for me, but eventually mike and I got into a good rhythm and I had a lot of input on this movie. All the way down to the music choices as well as the placement. I was the music editor on the movie as well.
    (Here’s a Review of Drop Dead Sexy from Ain’t It Cool News)

    FS: Who would you most like to work with in Hollywood?

    MR: As a writer/director, i would love to work with Billy Crudup. I have followed his career as an actor since Sleepers and I think everything he does as an actor comes from somewhere very interesting. He did 2 scenes in a small movie called Monument Ave. that were the most electrifying scenes of the whole movie. He was a coke addict, and on top of that he was scared for his life and not a phony, indicated moment with all of his nervous, coked up body language. Amazing scenes. I want him and Amanda Peet for a movie I'm developing. I don't know that I can get them but I'm gonna try. As an editor, I would like to work with Steven Soderbergh. I think that Stephen Mirrione, his frequent collaborator, is absolutely brilliant. As is Sarah Flack who Soderbergh has worked with a few times on Full Frontal and The Limey, which was edited perfectly. The editing in The Limey elevated that movie to something more than just a revenge story. I'm in the process of developing another project for me to direct so the people I'd like to work with in Hollywood I think more along the lines of actors, DP's, other editors...not so much who I'd like to work with as an editor anymore. Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25. I'm fucking 30 years old.

    FS: Lastly, what would you tell others who are trying to find their way into the business but have not had anything break for them yet?

    MR: I hear this question asked of a lot of people way more successful than me and they all say the same thing. "Just keep going...never quit...learn all you can…go make a movie." It all sounds the same. But I don't know what else to add that would be more original. it seems to me, in order to have any integrity and anything valuable to contribute, you just have to keep learning about and doing what you're interested in and eventually you'll meet more and more people which will lead to other opportunities, which lead to more people, etc. Your work will speak for itself at any level. Your talent is in the choices. Eventually, if what you're looking for is a "break" into the business, and your work shows merit, you'll meet someone bearing opportunity.


    Sunday, June 05, 2005

    Interview with Actress Stephanie Beaton

    With a resume that includes over 40 films, Actress (also Director and Producer) Stephanie Beaton continues down a career path we all aspire to. She has done it the right way with determination, passion, hard-work and maintaining her integrity. Film Synergy would like to thank Stephanie for taking time away from her non-stop schedule to complete this interview. This is one of those interviews you wish would never end, begin reading and find out why.

    FS: When did you realize you wanted to pursue acting?

    SB: When I was a kid, I bought all the Fangoria Magazines and loved the images of gore and horror and I loved horror films. I always acted out the roles and memorized lines from films really easy. BUT I wanted to be a Veterinarian when I was a kid. It wasn't till I moved to California in 1986 that I decided to pursue an acting career. I took classes in High School and began college at 15 and majored in dramatic arts. Then I moved from Port Hueneme, CA down to West Hollywood in 1992 and I really pursued my career with real acting classes and started landing my first role in 1995.

    FS: Who was in your corner, pushing and cheering you along?

    SB: My mom was my driving force behind my career. She believed in whatever I wanted to do or become. She never stopped me. She knows how tough this business is and it IS tough but if I want to become something, she will be behind me every step of the way.

    FS: What motivates you?

    SB: The drive to succeed and not be a failure. I want to at least try and even if I never become top dog at this or become a household name in every single home in the world, at least I have tried my hardest to do what I could do and to achieve the level that I have become.

    FS: You've played everything from a Princess to Satan, how does the acting process begin for you? How do you come up with your characters?

    SB: Well first things, I read all incoming scripts from production companies. When I first read a script, I know immediately whether this is me or someone I could become or not. I break it down and just be real. I don't use a Meisner technique or anything. I use the Tony Barr style, simplicity. Listening and reacting and its more real. I have taken this same mentality with me when I am producing and directing my OWN films and other actors. I don't believe in constantly beating the scene with take after take until its not real. If the talent nails it on the first take and it was beautiful, we move onto Close-ups or a different angle.

    FS: You've acted in over 30 films and more recently have been begun moving behind the camera in recent years from writing to directing and producing. How did this begin to happen for you and which facet of the filmmaking process brings you the most joy and satisfaction?

    SB: I started my company SILVER MOON PRODUCTIONS in 2000 and in 2001, I produced my first film, "The Bagman". Since then I have produced 4 films thru my company..."The Bagman", "Evil In The Bayou", "Tales From The Grave", and "Tales From The Grave, Volume 2, Happy Holidays". I dearly love writing and producing and directing. I think I actually love it even more then acting and because you can take something from scratch and watch it become alive right before your eyes. Its a beautiful moment in film. Its crazy.....I've been told in the past that I don't take myself seriously because I am always laughing like when I am watching my film in editing and I see a really nice scene that looks and feels great. I have a habit of laughing because it’s wonderful to see it look great and FEEL right. That’s me. If I ain’t laughing then there is a MAJOR problem and everyone WILL know about it. I take myself very seriously but I just am not hung up on any Hollywood scene or style. I like being a real person. So in the end, I think like being behind the camera the best.

    FS: Your latest project, Beast is one that you are producing as well as starring in, what can you tell us about this project? When can we expect to see it?

    SB: I was hired onto "Beast" as an actress and doing Special Effects. In the end I ended becoming the UPM on set and organizing things and helping Gary Levinson, (the producer & director) out. It was a fun and interesting shoot. It was one that was similar to my days of my FIRST films I acted in way back in 1995. It reminded me of that style by the way Gary shoots his movies and puts it all together. In the end it was a good time. Gary's a good guy. As to what to expect.....that I can't honestly tell you. It’s in editing now and will most likely be out by December of 2005.

    FS: You have thousands of fans. How does that make you feel? What is the best fan story you can share with us?

    SB: It's great to have fans and people who follow your career. I've had many fans want to buy one of my action figure dolls that is made after me from a film I was supposed to do with Bruce Campbell. Unfortunately, I only have one of the dolls and I don't know where to get anymore. But, I like having fans and signing autographs. I get fan mail from all over the world including death row inmates but I write them back too. A lot of my fans come out to my autograph signings I have and meet me in person. A lot of them travel from place to place to where I go. Sometimes its weird but mostly its nice. My weirdest fan request had to be when one wanted my finger nails from Witchcraft 11. The French manicure. So I packed up some nails and shipped them off. He paid a pretty high price for those suckers.

    FS: With all the various parts of production you are now taking on, what can we expect from you next?

    Tales From The Grave, Volume 2

    SB: Well, I am premiering my latest film, "Tales From The Grave, Volume 2, Happy Holidays" in July 2005. I am guest speaking at an event on June 11th and signing autographs June 12th at the Shrine in Los Angeles. I'll be in San Diego for the San Diego Comis Con for a day or 2 in July. Then I am beginning to shoot my 5th feature film, "It Crawls". That’s the Sci-Fi/Horror creature feature. I wrote the script and will be directing and producing it as well. Other then that, "Tales From The Grave" the first one, is being released September 2005. "The Bagman" and "Evil In The Bayou" is already out there all over the place.

    FS: Lastly, you have achieved success and longevity in Hollywood, something that millions aspire to do but only few achieve. Please reflect and share with us your thoughts of what your journey and what you have accomplished.

    SB: It hasn't been easy in this journey. I have dealt with some really bad, not so nice people along the way and most of them are producers. It was a tough battle. Its crazy, Hollywood that is....that people in this industry seem to come into this business with other ideas in mind like scamming people....this is from these so called agents to would be producers. I used to manage talent for about a year and I didn't take actors for a ride. I pushed them as far as I could. Now I deal with distributors and the other side of the camera stuff which is REALLY scary! Boy I never thought it was tougher. I wouldn't give it up though for the world. As much as a lot of people out there that might be jealous or hateful would like to see you fold and fall....there is no way I would let them win without a fight. I love making films. I love acting. And I HAVE met a lot of nice, GOOD people along the way and its makes up for all the bad. I wouldn't give this profession up, but I certainly wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy!

    To learn more about Stephanie Beaton and Silver Moon Productions please visit her official website:

    The perfect gift for music lovers in your life – iTunes gift certificates

    Saturday, June 04, 2005

    Wisdom from Actor Brad Pitt

    I'm not worried that it's not gonna happen. I'll make it happen. You go make the things you want.

    Success is a beast. And it actually puts the emphasis on the wrong thing. You get away with more instead of looking within.

    Thursday, June 02, 2005

    Wisdom from Director Leni Riefenstahl

    I set about seeking a thread, a theme, a style, in the realm of legend. Something that might allow me to give free rein to my juvenile sense of romanticism and the beautiful image.


    I was fascinated by the effects that could be achieved by editing. The cutting room became a magic workshop for me.

    Leni Riefenstahl, Legendary Director

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