HOW TO MAKE A FEATURE FILM AND HAVE A DAY JOB TOO
Copywriters by day, screenwriters by night. It seems everyone has a screenplay they're working on, but these three WNW members actually made theirs a reality. Members #1136 Branden Kramer, #1142 Thomas Kropp, and #901 Jan Jaworski teamed up with Stefen Haverkamp to make Ratter, a teen thriller that follows Ashley Benson as she's cyberstalked through her webcam, iPhone and iPad. Filmed entirely in the POV of the stalker, Ratter's been called "an ingenious debut feature" and the "best film in Park City." An official selection of Slamdance 2015, Ratter is currently awaiting distribution and will hopefully be released soon. For updates, check out their Facebook page.
Referring to themselves as a filmmaking quartet, the group had practice collaborating having lived together. In the kitchen they put up a white board where anyone could write interesting thoughts or project ideas. Ratter was born and the group credits freelancing as integral to making it possible: "It wasn’t always easy, everyone had to make sacrifices. Branden quit his full-time job to finish the script. And we spent many weekends discussing notes and crafting the final product. Eventually we all looked to freelance as a solution to making ends meet while we turned our focus on producing the feature with our partners. No matter what, making a feature takes time, and sometimes you have to make that your full-time commitment."
You're all copywriters by day. Had you always wanted to make a film?
We’ve always had an interest in filmmaking. When we moved to NYC and lived together, we would constantly screen and discuss famous films in our little Lower East Side Apt. We were always looking for opportunities to shoot interesting music videos and short films on the side.
What movies inspire you?
Alien: It’s amazing how Ridley Scott turned a B horror script into a genre masterpiece.
12 Angry Men (1957): Writing doesn't get much better than this.
The Matrix: A beautiful blend of philosophy and entertainment. Ambitious, cerebral, and more layered than most people realize - which is the irony of it!
How long did it take to write the screenplay? And can you give some advice for those of us who have a screenplay we just can't seem to finish?
It really depends on your individual method and project. Some scripts require a lot of research, and thus require more time. The best way to finish your work is to treat it like a job. You have to have the discipline to work even when you don’t want to. Make a schedule and stick to it. Set a page goal like "I have to write 4 pages every day." Then hold yourself accountable to it.
Also good advice for people thinking about screenwriting: read a ton of scripts. There’s no better way to learn than that.
What was it like to work with so many people? What are some best practices for collaboration?
Fortunately for us, we had worked together on projects before the film concept even came up. In fact we all went to ad school together in Miami. So by the time we embarked on the feature we knew how to function as one group to accomplish a goal.
As mentioned before, we used to all share an apartment in the Lower East Side. On the wall in the kitchen we created a kind of white board where anyone could write interesting thoughts, or project ideas. So we got very used to talking about ideas casually in our free time or over meals.
When it came time to execute a project, we always seemed to work out a division of labor that suited the skills of everyone in the group.
When Branden brought the idea for the short film to us, we loved it and immediately started thinking about how we would execute it. Each of us brought something to the table, and we knew we had something engaging on our hands. For the short, we all shared the responsibilities of production. Branden wrote the script and lead casting, while the rest of us divided up the work for securing locations, logistics, and creating a schedule. We made all of the creative decisions together, and the end product was better for it. Stefan, having an interest in cameras, was our DP from the get-go. We fortunately also had the help of an amazing editor and colorist that we had met during our day jobs in advertising.
With the feature, roles became more defined due to the traditional credit structure of a film, but we all still crossed over in responsibilities behind the scenes. Branden wrote the script while we all discussed drafts and gave notes on story arc, plot points, and character development that directed the screenplay to its final draft. During production, Branden directed and Stefan continued as DP. Jan and Thomas were credited as Executive Producers, which can mean a lot of things, but in this case it meant they were the creative voices behind the set. During every take, we were still discussing the project as a group. It was really great to have that support when undertaking a project of this magnitude.
The process of making Ratter was very collaborative for us because we were all used to thinking as a creative group, and building on each others’ ideas. We created the kind of atmosphere where it was okay to say something stupid, because we knew this often leads to great ideas. And the best ideas floated to the top.
The reason we are able to function well as a group is because we built a high degree of trust over many projects. We all recognized that everyone had talent, and thus we knew their opinions held value. It can still be challenging when someone wants to fight for a point or an idea, but we know that these debates make the product better.
Just as in advertising creative partnerships, the best ideas don’t always come from people who think exactly the same way. With our group I think we have a great mix of different personalities and creativity, and this makes for an excellent end result.
The best suggestion for working in a group is to find people whose work you respect, and try to do some interesting projects. It may not work out, but sometimes it does. There is a weird chemistry with groups, and we were just kind of lucky it worked for us.
You decided to make a short film first. Why? What did you learn and how did it affect the feature length film?
We knew we had an interesting topic on our hands, but we didn’t have the resources for a feature. So we made the short for $500, using what we could and shot it over two days. The short gave us a better insight into what a feature would require from a production standpoint, as well as giving us more ideas for a bigger story.
What was the most challenging thing about making this film?
Since the film is shot all POV, it was challenging to keep the story moving, while keeping the authenticity of the protagonist’s mundane life moments. The whole film was shot on the Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera, GoPro Hero, and the iPhone 5S.
What was the most rewarding thing?
Working with the talented Ashley Benson, Matt McGorry, and our amazing crew.
Biggest lesson learned?
What is written on the page doesn’t always work on screen. Also we learned how editing plays a massive part in shaping a film. In film, just as in advertising spots, every moment matters. So knowing what the moment needs to be about in order to push the story forward - and keeping this intention throughout the entire process - is the main challenge.
How did you balance your day job with Ratter?
It wasn’t always easy, everyone had to make sacrifices. Branden quit his full-time job to finish the script. And we spent many weekends discussing notes and crafting the final product. Eventually we all looked to freelance as a solution to making ends meet while we turned our focus on producing the feature with our partners. No matter what, making a feature takes time, and sometimes you have to make that your full-time commitment.
Do you want to go full-time into filmmaking?
So few people even get to make one feature film, so we already feel very grateful for the opportunity. If the possibility exists to continue on this journey, we all feel like it is something to be seized. That being said, there are huge challenges there as well, and nothing is guaranteed.
What are your future plans?
First thing first is to obtain distribution for Ratter. We are currently in discussions with distribution companies, and the film will be released soon.
As for the future, we all have new projects and scripts in the works. We also would love to explore commercial work, considering our level of expertise there.