The Killing Moon

Starting January 2006, filmmaker Sridhar Reddy accounts the process, thoughts, and musings during the creation of his second feature film, THE KILLING MOON.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Great news.

Ok, ok, so it's been ages. But I've been busy for good reason. Best to let the professionals do the talking:

Click for Announcement.

We're officially in.

Now the scary thing is that the real hard work is ahead of us, which is actually making the damn film. But I'm comforted by the fact that the crew we're assembling are the very best at what they do. Once everything is finalized, I'll give everyone a rundown on who's working on the picture.

Nehst (pronounced Next) Studios is a very interesting company that's trying to really democratize the way films are made. The founder, Larry Meistrich, is an independent film legend, an Oscar winner, and overall one of the coolest guys around. He started Nehst with the mindset that there are a lot of great independent filmmakers who simply don't have the access to the machine of film production. So Larry and his company undertook a valiant effort, they traveled across the country and took pitches from thousands of people, all who registered for the pitch through the Nehst website.

It's a novel concept, and one that can be easily dismissed because of its format, and because it is so incredibly open. But Meistrich and his team actually sat and listened to every single registered pitch, and that, to me, is simply incredible. When we met in Toronto last year, I asked him how it was coming along, and he said there were a LOT of bad projects, but there were also a fair share of really good ones, and a handful of really exceptional ones. What emerged from his arduous, year-long process was the greenlighting of four television series and six feature films, of which "The Killing Moon" was one.

But don't think that just because of it's format that Nehst is a lottery ticket kind of affair. It's still pitching to a studio that has the same exacting standards and requirements as any other film studio. But the difference here is access. We were given a shot, we prepared the hell out of it, and we pitched to Larry just like we would pitch to a DreamWorks or Lionsgate. And it worked. We were in the 1% that got through. And it wasn't because we were drawn from a hat, it was because we had a damn good project that we believed in, and someone shared in that belief and confidence.

I love being a part of this, because I think this is how films should be made. What Nehst is doing is financing films on their professional merit, and not on nepotism or secret handshakes. It's a novel way of doing things, and a true democratization of the industry. I plan on working my ass off for this film and for Nehst, so that we can demonstrate that this is indeed a viable business model.

But in the end, we got our money and distribution, we get to make the film, and we have an opportunity to show the world what we're really made of. I haven't been this excited in a long, long time. It's long overdue.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Movie that Started it all.

Gotta love technology. Below you will find the complete film of what I tell everyone is my favourite film of all time. It's "The Street of Crocodiles" by the Brothers Quay.

There's quite a story to my liking of this film, and this story is basically the telling of how I became a filmmaker. Read on, and you might find a parallel to how you too found your passion in life.

I first saw the film on public television in 1987 when I was 12, and it burned several vivid images in my brain, images that I could nary comprehend, but at that age I knew only one thing: that I liked those images very much. I didn't see the film again for almost a year, not knowing what the title was or who had made it. But again, on public television, it aired again and this time I watched it with joy and scientific precision. I made sure to tape it, and I watched it over, and over, and over again. I made notes, drawings, schematics about every frame of the film, and I knew that someday I wanted to make a film like this. I had to.

We didn't have a camera in the house, so my first attempts at animation came through making flip-books. I would spend almost all of my evenings after school drawing on note cards, drawing decrepit figures wandering in a world of decay and rot. I wish I saved those drawings, I spent so much time on them and they probably had a raw beauty to them that I could never possibly replicate today. Each flip book would provide me with about two to three seconds of footage, and I made a collection of them to give me about a twenty five second "film." It was gratifying, but it wasn't nearly enough.

I would spend weekends at the library in Aurora, Colorado reading up about stop motion animation and filmmaking. The Quays hadn't achieved the cult status then that they have now, so there was no mention of their work or how they made films. There were, however, a couple of books on Eastern European animation, particularly the works of Jan Svankmeyer. There were a few works of Svankmeyer on VHS, but none of the libraries in Colorado stocked them. I did however find an old catalog in the library, a catalog to order films through the mail from a store called FACETS in Chicago. They claimed to have every film on Earth, although they didn't have any of the Quay films so I held that comment quite suspect.

The Svankmeyer tape was very expensive for a kid in middle school, so I had to devise a way to get some money (without having to go through the embarrassment of asking my parents to buy me a tape of weird, semi-erotic Eastern European animation). As most Indian kids, I never had an allowance, but I did have one source of revenue- my lunch money. Mom would give me a dollar a day for lunch, and the tape was almost thirty dollars. So I skipped lunch for a month, and acquired my first ever foreign film. It took almost three weeks for the film to arrive in the mail, and I was excited beyond belief.

I watched the Svankmeyer tape in private, and it blew me away. It was so raw, so primal, so gross, and so completely enthralling. Like with the Quay film, I made notes upon notes upon notes. I started to write little scripts for films and comics that dealt with issues of death, of rebirth, and of rotten meat. Good thing my mother never read this stuff, she probably would have put a quick end to whatever fascinations I had with art!

And then the day came- my father bought a Panasonic video camera, and he managed to use it all but once, and it was starting to gather dust in the corner. I confiscated the camera and set up a little studio in the basement of my house, where I built small sets and used the one light that the camera came with to light my scenes. I tried my best to build puppet armatures out of wire and garbage, but it just wasn't happening- I couldn't make the armatures stand up. So i needed my actor, and lo and behold I found an old Mickey Mouse doll that had almost 12 points of articulation. I was robust, it could stand in various positions, and it was perfect but for one thing- it looked like Mickey Mouse.

So I transformed him. I gave Mickey dead eyes and stripped him of his robes- he was a black, almost unrecognizable creature and he had quite a journey ahead of him. My casting was complete.

There was one problem with using a video camera for stop motion animation, and that was that the shortest shot you could take was a one second shot (done by tapping the red record button like a maniac to ensure the fastest start/ stop time). I had made the understanding that good quality animation was done at 24-frames per second, and here I was working at a pitiful 1-frame per second. After much trial and error, i devised a plan to alleviate this, if just a little.

I dug up our old VCR and ran it into our new one, so to make a dubbed copy. The quality was good, and the older VCRs had a limitation in that if you pressed fast-forward during the dub, it would record in fast forward. It was a technical glitch for the technology, but it served me very well. So I went ahead and shot my movie in 24-frames per 24 seconds (over a one month period where I would move Mickey's arms and legs bit by bit, shot by shot), and complied all of my footage on one tape (the movie was edited in camera, I wouldn't figure out how to use the 2-VCR system for editing until later). I would then dub my footage onto a new tape, but while pressing the fast-forward button on the source VCR. This bumped up my frame rate from one frame per second to about eight frames per second. There were distortion lines from the FF funtion, but I could live with that, because in that moment, Mickey came to life. I had given movement to that which was dead and immovable. It was a landmark moment of my life.

Using the dub system, I was also able to put in music directly on the tape, and my music of choice was "Stigmata" by Ministry (I was a twisted child by every means).

And so I had made my version of "Street of Crocodiles," and while it was shit in comparison, I was hooked. For life. It wasn't later until college that I made a second attempt at the Brothers Quay, where I made an 8mm film called "Haus Der Luge (House of Lies)" for a beginning filmmaking class that I took pass/ fail. The intro title card of the film had, in small letters, "apologies to the Brothers Quay." The film was the closest thing to "Street of Crocodiles" I had made, and I sent it to the Denver Underground Film Festival, and it won 3rd place. I still have 'Haus' on tape, but unfortunately the Mickey movie was recorded over, as it was imperative that I had to tape the Denver Broncos' playoff run to the Super Bowl, in which they got their asses kicked. It is gone, forever.

And maybe that's why I had to write this long, exhaustive entry. Because it's the only record of my first movie I ever made. It lives in my head only, but it's still the most important piece of art that I've ever made and ever will make. It's my treasure.

And I owe it all to public television. Enjoy the film below, and I hope you see the magic in it that I first saw so long ago.

Monday, January 15, 2007

too long, but much progress made

Howdy folks (should anyone decide to read this, actually).

It's been a very long time (again) since I last posted on this blog, but (again) for good reason. 2006 was a very, very busy year.

First and foremost, I went and got myself married to my college sweetheart. Happiness reigns, and the wedding was far more difficult to put together than doing a feature film. Seriously.

As for the film itself, we were able to get a distributor for the US rights to the film! After so much time, we finally got a taker, a company that appreciates what we're trying to accomplish with this kind of film.

With the distributor set, its become much easier to get potential parties to talk to you, because it means that your film actually has a fighting chance, that it will actually be seen by people. Very reassuring.

I've just returned from India where we've started preliminary casting for the film. I've sat and spoken with John Abraham, who is one of the top up-and-coming talents in the Indian film industry. John made a splash internationally with his work in Deepa Mehta's acclaimed film WATER. Since then he's been receiving offers from around the world.

I like John. He's a model-turned-actor, and in his past performances it shows. But what's great about him is is his vision, his courage, and his want to be better. Very humble guy, very down to Earth. I like him, and I think we can do wonders with this script. Right now all things point positive to him joining the production, and if he does so, we will probably have more access to budgetary resources, given his name has some equity in the Indian and diaspora box offices. Fingers and toes are crossed.

We're also looking at actresses and supporting parts. I've hired Uma DaCuhna, who is unofficially India's first casting director. She's an intelligent, compassionate lady who has a strong desire to make good films in India, and I think we connected on an artistic and idealistic level. She wholeheartedly supports young filmmakers, and is a golden resource to anyone with a good idea and passion for film. I think she'll do a wonderful job for the film, and we're already looking at a few names for the part of Anjali. Some names in particular I've taken notice to- Amrita Rao, Dipannita Sharma, Deepika Padukone, and Neetu Chandra.

Stateside, we were always concerned that the quality of fight and stunt coordinators in India is not up to international standard. We made the decision to look to Hong Kong and the US for fight masters, and that discussion always starts with one man- Master Yuen Woo Ping, he of 'Crouching Tiger' and 'Matrix' fame. We managed to make contact with Master Ping's agent at CAA, and they are interested in reading the script, which I sent over a few days ago. Master Ping is expensive, but his involvement alone will pay for itself, and given that our budget is smaller by Hollywood standards as is, we should not have a problem compensating Master Ping. That is provided he wants to do the project. I've run out of fingers and toes to cross, so I'll cross my eyes or something. That hurts.

I'm keeping very busy, though. I signed a publishing deal to do a 56-page, one shot graphic novel about THE KILLING MOON. I am writing and doing the pencils for the book, which is taking up most of my time right now. I've finished about 28 pages, and it's turning out excellent, if I can say so myself. I'll post more about the book once it nears completion, but I'll leave you with this teaser- the book is set in the future, and the film in the past. It encompasses the entire world and mythology of THE KILLING MOON, and I think readers will really enjoy it. I've described it as a mix between Dave Sim's CEREBUS THE AARDVARK and Frank Miller's THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, with a hint of Alan Moore's THE WATCHMEN. Lofty ambitions? You bet. But I figure if I want to make the best work, I should aim high.

So as you can see, the hustle continues. I'd be lying if my marriage has made me expedite things and has given me a new sense of urgency- I'm part of a partnership that I have to help provide for, and if that's not a fire under anyone's ass then I don't know what is (children, of course, but luckily neither my wife or I are planning to pass our genetics along anytime soon).

Sleepless days and celebrations lay ahead, and I'm ready to go in head first. As Gabrielle Union so eloquently stated in one of my guilty pleasure films of all time:

Bring it on.

I'll be better with this blog. Promise!

Monday, May 08, 2006

A Way to Look at Things

I heard a saying today- "The Archer seeks not to hit the target but to become the bow itself."

It's totally stupid to relay quotes on a blog- I feel like one of those "successories" posters that get put up in an office cafeteria that are supposed to help build morale. But I really liked this one, because it very much reflects what we're trying to accomplish.

In essence, what we're trying to do is not just make a film, but rather create a movement, a legacy. To make a film and simply be content with it is not enough to sustain a career or a lifetime. I've already made a film, so the joy of "simply doing it" is long out of the way. I can be hit by a bus tomorrow and at least I'll have the satisfaction of making a film. But the goal is much bigger than that.

We simply don't want to make a film, we want to become film. It's what the best in the business have done. When we developed "The Killing Moon" we also set to develop a slate of projects, in a variety of formats. The key is to always have something ready to go. I find it distressing when I meet filmmakers, authors, artists who have no idea of what they're going to do next. After I see a great film and I get to talk to the filmmaker, I sometimes ask "so what are you going to do next?" I'm shocked that more often than not, people have no idea what's coming next. Come on, people- we are artists by trade, it is our job to have ideas, to constantly roll out new concepts and proposals.

I refuse to believe that there are people who have "one good story" in them. Every hour of living on this planet contributes to a new story. Stories are nothing but experience, life experience, and our jobs are to convey the truth about life, even if it is a grand work of fiction.

There was a chapter in Neil Gaiman's epic "Sandman" series about an author whose punishment for his crimes were to have endless ideas. The man could never sleep, he could never have peace of mind because everything he looked at became a new story. Desperate for a pen and pencil, he resorted to writing on walls with his own blood. I find that in my own life, I lose sleep because I'm always trying to think of something new. Not that I will go insane, but I figure I want to get down all of my ideas while they're still there. I fear that there may be a time when I simply run out of my muse- if that day were to ever come, I will have countless pages full of ideas that I can fall back upon. I guess it falls back tot he same old adage for writers, which is to always keep writing, even if it makes sense or not.

I think this was a pretty weak post, but hey it's still me writing something or other. It's better than a blank page!

Be well.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Been a long time since we rock and rolled

It's been a while since my last post- I knew this would happen.

But needless to say I have been truthfully busy, and more things have come to fruition concerning the film.

It's amazing- one weekend in Los Angeles and I made a world of progress. It makes me wonder if I need to be out there more often. Not move there, but rather pony up the expenses to get out there at least once a month. It might very well be worth it.

Another thing that I realized is that film negotiations can be glacial in pace. Especially now that email (and hence, Blackberry) is involved, as it takes a little more time for correspondence to occur.

I have not heard back from UTV in Mumbai- let me correct myself, I have heard back from them, but everything except a confirmation. It has been a waiting game, not necessarily for a decision, but for corollary pieces to fall into place. I think companies in India are waiting to see what companies in the US and EU are willing to pitch in before they make any kind of commitment.

And the possibilities are very strong on this end. I have two very interested parties looking at the project, and we've made even more progress with the ancillaries, which is equally important. In fact it might be more important, because that's where the greater viability may lie with a project like this. The feature film, which like any other film is never guaranteed at the box office, is becoming more like the marketing campaign for the ancillary products, which in our case are the corresponding video game and graphic novel projects. I have no problem at all with this setup.

But I think our biggest goal right now is to find a distributor and lock in some domestic and foreign exhibitions. I have had very positive talks with Fortissimo Films, who might be interested in joining as the sales agent for the film later in the production. This is a good thing- Fortissimo has had a long running track record at the best film festivals in the world, they even won the Grand Prix at Cannes for their stellar film "Devils on the Doorstep."

All this is quite exciting but I'm chomping at the bit to get back into the director's chair. It's been almost two years- not that I've forgotten how to direct, rather I'm itching to apply the new knowledge and techniques that I've learned over the years. Directing is about constant change, about redefinition and invention. "The Killing Moon" is one of those projects that oozes creativity in every frame, it really is something unique and different. Once it gets made, people will really know what I'm talking about, and not assume that my words are just a writer-director's pride. :o)

But the business comes first- I cannot direct if I don't have any money. And I feel we are getting very, very close to getting where we need to be. I can feel it- soon a post will be one of elation and anticipation. Mark my words.

Monday, February 27, 2006

What went down

My trip to India proved to be fruitful- I met with several production companies in Mumbai who were interested in doing an international co-production with a US or other international production companies.

The idea is to diversify their risks- our budget is quite high for an Indian film and I can understand the apprehensions of placing all of their eggs in one basket. But the issue also is that a co-production will garner access to marketplaces that respective companies have been previously unable to reach. For Indian companies, they get access to mainstream UK and US audiences, and for international companies, they get a rare opportunity to participate in the largest film industry in the world. It's a compelling setup, now we just need someone to take the leap of faith an put forward some funding.

My trip from India has made me more excited than ever about the prospects of this film. I'm imagining the most beautiful shots in my head and creatively I think we can stand toe-to-toe with any other production out there. This film will be a feast for the senses, I can promise that. Anthony has upped his efforts and now I feel I'm at the stage where I need to concentrate more on the directing aspects of the production. I need to map the film out entirely on paper.

Many directors frown at the idea of storyboarding- I relish it. I draw all of my own storyboards, and I try to plan out every detail I possibly can in advance. It helps me organize my thoughts, and needless to say it is a blessing to the production, as we'll have a pretty exact idea on the resources we'll need and an idea of how to schedule properly. It'll save us a ton of time and money.

It's simply not enough for me to have an idea gestating in my head. I have to get it down on paper first. It differs for everyone, but i need to have that physical representation in my hands. And I enjoy drawing the boards, as it lets me physically create the frame myself. When I storyboard, it kind of allows me on set to focus my attentions on the actors and the performances, because for the most part my framing is set. The rest of the composition I leave to my crew- I hold the talents of my cinematographer, my art director, and my production designer in high faith and esteem, and trust them to deliver the cohesive vision of the scene. It's why my crew selection process is so arduous- the movie is made in the quality of the people, not simply the idea itself.

I never wish to lecture on the wrongs or rights of filmmaking- everyone had their own artistic technique and it suits their philosophies and aesthetic tastes. Everyone, including myself, is as equally right as they are wrong. But that's what makes art beautiful.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Back just in time for the Winter Olympics

I got back from India last week, just in time to catch my favourite sporting event ever- the Winter Olympics.

Or should I say fast becoming my second-most favorite sporting event. What is it with these games? They're lacking the pageantry and fun that I'm used to seeing.

I'm even starting to make concessions- I'm watching figure skating. Which leads me to my next discussion:


I've realized one thing. It's that I don't hate figure skating. In fact I am in awe of the athleticism required to compete in the sport. I've always had a disdain for it, because previously I couldn't comprehend what it took to be a top flite figure skater.

No, I don't hate figure skating. What I do hate, are figure skating commentators, specifically Dick Button and Scott Hamilton.

Scott's whiny and shame-inducing blind patriotism has been with me ever since I was born. And now we have him in the announcers booth, mercilessly picking apart non-American athletes and blissfully forgiving snotty American girls who deserve the same level of criticism that their international counterparts.

Dick Button- well, he just needs to be flogged. The man is flat out mean. Scott Hamilton is Howard Cosell compared to Dick Button.

And the other issue with figure skating is that many of the athletes simply aren't likeable people. Sarah Hughes was probably the last of the "non-diva" figure skaters (male and female alike)- she was a normal girl from a normal American family. Sasha Cohen is the OC, the Laguna Beach of the sport- an immensely unlikeable lot of spoiled brats who have the means to hire the best of the best to train with. It's like Drago in Rocky- the infrastructure around him turned him into a fine tuned machine, but what he really was missing was a heart. The tin man in shorts. There's no story for Cohen, no odds to overcome, no reason to cheer for her other than she's reasonably cute. Bah.

And while the United States is putting up impressive numbers in the medal count, the victory is hollow- we're winning in sports we've invented (snowboarding and the X-games) and losing in the ones that best exemplify the classical Olympic competition (downhill, hockey, bobsled, cross country). Our medals don't seem right.

Perhaps it's also the fact that we're at war- nary an American athlete has used the Olympics to a) highlight the fact that we are at war, and b) acknowledge the sacrifice of our troops to allow them to practice their half-pipe tricks and triple lutzes in peace. Maybe that's why these games seem so insignificant from an American perspective. They have become more about the individual and not America as a whole. Only the curling team brings about some feeling of brotherhood and the joy of international competition. I find it disappointing, and perhaps I'm just confused.

Or maybe it's just Scott Hamilton.

I digress, more about the film work tomorrow. Much has happened!