Actor, producer, writer and director (…and more!) Andre Correa recently got in touch to tell me about the making of his short film, “Help Wanted” (trailer below). Andre has a strong philosophy of filmmaking that allowed him to make an almost 30-minute film for $4000! He responded via e-mail — his responses have been lightly edited. I was blown away by how he was able to pull this off!
Making the Movie: Tell me a bit about yourself. How did you get interested in filmmaking?
My background is in acting, and I also owned my own business before moving to California. I moved here to study acting, but I really hated how little control I had over my new line of work — that’s when I started to study screenwriting. The ability to create my own scripts gave me more freedom. I always wanted to produce my own work too, or at least some of it, but ironically enough I never wanted to direct.
You can say that I was always into storytelling. Even as a child, I used to put up plays when we had visitors.
“Help Wanted” stemmed from the fact that I had just finished writing a feature script that I couldn’t afford to shoot and from a friend at the time asking me to write a scene for a demo reel. I can’t write a scene without knowing what happens before it or after it… So that ultimately became “Help Wanted”.
How did you go about raising funds? IMDb lists $4000 as the budget. Is this correct — and, if so, how on earth did you manage to make a nearly 30-minute film for that small a budget?
I maxed out every credit card I had. I also reached out to past donors from other projects; family helped a lot. One of my cousins is a producer on the film due to his generous donation. I just didn’t want to be stuck in that state of looking for the money. I mean, there are so many filmmakers waiting for that.
Talk a bit about casting. Did you always know you would play the lead? How did you find the supporting cast?
I knew I was going to be Lenard and originally my friend was going to play my sister in the film: Miriam. But, during the course of pre-production and rehearsal, it became very clear that our visions for the project were very different. So, to make a long story short, I lost both my co-star/co-producer and location (her house was going to be Lenard’s house) all in one swoop. And that was the best thing that ever happened to the film!
Originally we were going to shoot on the iPhone — that had some serious limitations. But yes, the whole movie cost about $4,000. I was also keen on buying my gear vs. renting it. That was a huge benefit. Now I own gear that I will use multiple times in multiple projects.
I think people liked the script. That’s why we got so much free labor. This thing could easily cost ten times as much if I had to pay for everything. I’ll give you an example: Sound guys cost a lot. We ended up shooting for 20 days. I know I couldn’t afford to pay for a sound guy on set, so three months prior to the film I learned how to run production sound. Then I trained my staff on how to do it. That was only one way in which I saved money.
This is one of the things I’ve learned the hard way: Everyone on your team has to be replaceable. Someone else should be able to resume the work with no downtime. Otherwise, you become a hostage to that person, to their schedule, to their demands.
Here is an example. Tarun [Hansen] was not the original d.p. for “Help Wanted”. The original guy was going to bring his lights, his crew, and some fancy camera. So I automatically became dependent on him. It was now his movie because since it was mostly his gear, he was going to shoot it the way he wanted. This was a horrible experience that resulted in some horrible footage – none of which we used, and the loss of a full day of production. That’s why I bought all my gear, and now if someone doesn’t work well with the team, they are gone.
The main issue is that each team member can be a ‘point of failure’ in your organization. The more team members, the more possible points of failure. That’s why good people are so important to your team, and they should be cherished. My advice to other indie filmmakers is to keep your team as small as you can. That’s a lot easier to manage. Get people who can wear multiple hats and are not bringing their ego and agendas to your set.
I’m the kind of director who frames his own shots and I have very specific vision of what I want. Tarun was great, we have an excellent working relationship. There is no ego, we both want to make the film be as visually compelling as it can be.
We had every shot pre-visualized using Star Wars figures. I also had all the camera movements I wanted and listed out so when I was on set he could execute the plans we made beforehand. I still needed to act in the film so figuring things out on set just was not an option.
Can you talk a bit more about how that visual vocabulary applies to a movie about a veteran with PTSD?
I wanted to convey the sense of someone being stuck. Not by him being defeated or moody but solely by circumstances outside his control. So, in the beginning, we show that his day-to-day life, the things most people take for granted, are huge obstacles for someone who suffers from PTSD. We show how lonely he is. There are many shots where the camera shows Lenard being trapped in the frame and I don’t reveal his face until the audience is given a good sense of his world and who he is. Only then have they ‘earned the right’ to see the fallen hero, only after they have entered in his world.
Tell me about the production. What were some challenges you faced to get the movie shot?
I think it was not knowing what I didn’t know. Originally we were going to shoot for five days. That became 20 days. I didn’t know how long things would take to set up. So for the first week, we were racing against the clock and that is a recipe for disaster.
I ended up throwing away at least two days of footage because it was garbage. We had to later come back and reshoot many scenes. Lesson learned.
In terms of post-production, how long did it take to edit the movie.
It took a very long time to edit the film because I was working with someone who was only working on it 1-2 times per week. I wasn’t familiar enough with Adobe Premiere to try to edit alone.
If I have to be honest, this was very frustrating because I really needed to be done and I was available to work on it 24/7. In a good week, we would put in 8 hours and there were weeks when we didn’t meet at all. But the good thing about spending time with your editor is that you learn. So now I feel much more comfortable with Premiere Pro. I actually cut the trailer that’s on Amazon now myself.
Is it difficult to be objective in the cutting room when you are the writer, director and star of a project?
I can be very objective. I always try to destroy my work. If it survives me, then maybe it has a chance out there. Having a second set of eyes in the editing room was very valuable, though. There were some issues that I didn’t have a solution for at the time, and Matt [Dushkes] did. Matt is a very talented editor who also worked very well with me. So, he deserves a ton of credit for his talent too.
Tell me about the festival run for the film and premiering it in Los Angeles.
I wanted to have our own premiere. That was very important to me because I rather control the venue. In a film festival, you don’t get any ticket sales. We did. Not a lot, but a bit to soften the cost of the film.
Your distribution strategy was to get the movie onto VOD and it is now available on Amazon Video. Tell us a bit about how you pulled that off and what you learned in the distribution process.
Amazon has a new service call Amazon Video Direct where filmmakers can sell their films on the Amazon store. This was very appealing to me because it cuts out all the middleman associated with distribution. iTunes and the others are a bit more complicated and costly. And, you have to go through an aggregator.
Who are some filmmakers that you admire and how did their work influence “Help Wanted”?
Believe it or not, I study lots of anime. Paprika, by Satoshi Kon comes to mind. I find it that ‘cartoons’ are easier to deconstruct. It’s easier to see where to cut and the composition of the shot.
I also looked at House of Cards and Black Mirror on Netflix. M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable and The Village were also huge influences.
What is your advice for someone who wants to make movies?
Go to law school.
But seriously, pre-pay for time on set. If you have the choice between shooting with the RED for three days or with the Canon 5D mk IV for six days. Go with the six-day option. I’m so happy with the shots we got when we were able to slow down. It made all the difference. The average viewer, the person who will likely buy your film doesn’t know the difference between the RED and the Canon. But, they know the difference between something that looks rushed and something that looks good.
Thanks to Andre for the interview. You should note that this film was really made for less than $4k considering some of the funds went to buy equipment that can be used on future films. Amazing!
You can find more about the making of “Help Wanted” on Andre’s YouTube channel. The film, as mentioned above, is available for rental or purchase on Amazon.