Welcome to Directing on a Dime, where indie moviemaker Andy Young provides tips and insight for moviemakers whose budget is more The Blair Witch Project than Avatar. Have questions for Andy about low-budget (or no-budget) moviemaking? Ask away at .
Bindlestiffs is the story of three high school virgins who, after getting suspended from school on a bogus graffiti charge, flee to the inner city in an attempt to live out the plot of The Catcher in the Rye—a book they don’t understand and have never actually read. The brainchild of Andrew Edison (director, writer, editor, producer) and Luke Loftin (writer, editor, producer), two high school friends who also starred in the film, the film began shaping up to be the low-budget success story of the year after it won the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature at the Slamdance Film Festival. To add to their golden ticket, the film’s since been championed by the king of raunchy low-budget film himself: Kevin Smith.
“Not only is [this] bit of comedic genius a triumph of DIY filmmaking, it’s also one of the best first films I’ve ever seen in my life! And it was made by three kids, for around twenty grand—a story that rings a distant bell…” gushes Smith, who of course burst onto the indie scene with 1994’s low-budget classic Clerks. Smith’s SModcast Pictures recently partnered with Phase 4 to enter the world of distribution, and Bindlestiffs is their first official release. Already available on several major VOD platforms, the Bindlestiffs team will be doing a screening/Q&A tour (similar to what Smith did with Red State) in early September in advance of the film’s DVD release.
I sat down with Andrew and Luke to talk about the challenges of being cast and crew in an improvised comedy and what they want to do next.
Andy Young (MM): When did you figure out you wanted to be a filmmaker?
Andrew Edison (AE): I started making films in the sixth grade, and I made a new short film every year. When I got to my senior year of high school, I knew I wanted to make a feature film.
MM: Were there any films or filmmakers in particular that influenced you?
Luke Loftin (LL): Snoop Dogg. We were really influenced by his album Doggystyle. The way they made that was Dr. Dre would lay down the beats and Snoop would just do it, and the album has that improvised feel.
AE: Harmony Korine, Werner Herzog, Wes Anderson, Frank Oz, John Landis… and Clerks, obviously. We watched the rough cut on the collector’s edition a lot in the editing room.
MM: Where did you get the idea for Bindlestiffs? What was the writing process like?
LL: We developed the characters in Bindlestiffs over a number of webisodes where we just improvised in front of the camera. Then when I graduated and went to USC we wrote the movie over Skype and Google Docs together. There was never a real script; we had the plot outlined with the character beats and a few jokes, and we would take the outline on set.
AE: And we would change things on set; when we saw a train or a dumpster we liked, we used it. We had a plan, but we were flexible to better options.
MM: How long was the shoot?
AE: It took us two years to shoot it, because we shot it all on vacations, and we would edit in between.
LL: We started shooting in the summer of 2010, and we shot over two summer breaks, two winter breaks and a spring break.
AE: So we would shoot over a summer vacation, look over the footage, and [then] we could do reshoots or add something if we wanted to. Our motto was no vacations, so every time we had a break we were working on the movie 100%.
MM: How do you go about getting a good performance when you’re acting and directing?
AE: Luckily my character in the film allowed me to say stuff that makes sense in the scene but also directs everyone’s performances in a certain direction. Basically we’d do one long take, then I’d go over the story beats with everyone or take an actor aside and tell them something different. After the first take we’ll have a discussion about what jokes to keep, what beats to keep going on, and by the third take we usually had something good. Then we do three more takes so we have something to work with.
LL: We could usually collectively feel where a scene was going and get a good rhythm/number of beats in the characters [to] get something consistent. Keeping the crew small was crucial to our process.
AE: Because I was acting in it, too, I really had to trust my two DPs to capture the moment, and in between takes we’d talk about what they were getting out of the scene. And then after we got everything we’d get some inserts and things for editing choices.
MM: What were some big challenges/difficulties you had when it came to the budget?
AE: We were careful to make sure we shot with the Canon XHA1, because [director of photography] Katie [McDowell] and I both had one. We raised all the money online as we went, even before Kickstarter was big.
LL: It really got expensive in post when we had to work with seven terabytes of footage.
MM: Was it difficult to edit?
LL: We had over 200 hours of raw footage, and our first cut was six hours long. We shot on tapes, too, so syncing/multiclipping all of the footage was kind of a bitch. We got it down to 90 minutes and then eventually took out 10 more minutes to really get it tight.
AE: By being the writers, editors and actors we learned so much about timing and editing for comedy. Even the difference of a frame can ruin a joke.
MM: What was the release trajectory after it was finished?
AE: We finished completely around this past Christmas, when we completed the color correction and the final sound mix. We thought we’d have to make three movies before we sold one; we just wanted to make a movie we thought Hollywood couldn’t and [that would] showcase that we knew what we were doing. But then we got accepted into Slamdance.
LL: We won the audience award there, which was awesome. And we got representation after that.
MM: How did Kevin Smith get involved?
LL: Once we got representation, they were talking about how to get the movie onto some important people’s desks, and around that time Kevin made the deal with Phase 4 to start releasing films under SModcast Pictures.
AE: A year before this, before Kevin was even buying films, we were talking about how cool it would be if Kevin Smith liked and would promote the film.
LL: And then, crazy enough, he did. He’s been amazing about making this release about the film and getting the word out.
MM: What’s been the strangest audience reaction you’ve gotten?
AE: [At screenings], around halfway through, in an audience of 150 people we’ll get four or five walkouts at a scene where people are either onboard or off. But we want the haters as much as we want the fans, because it’s all still buzz for the movie.
MM: What’s the plan for the rest of the release?
LL: We’re doing a tour of the film with Kevin sometime in early September, and then it’ll be out on DVD after that.
MM: What are you working on next?
AE: We’re writing a couple of studio comedies, and we’re working on another improv film we want to do in Austin.
LL: We’re definitely trying to stick with things in improv; we like doing the two-camera setup and we like acting, but with bigger studio stuff it’s not guaranteed we’d get to be as involved as we are in our own stuff.
AE: And with indie stuff there’s more freedom and we can let it evolve and become whatever we want. And we can raise the bar production-wise.
MM: Do you think film school is worth it?
AE: It probably depends on your level of experience going in. If you’ve made a lot of films and you’ve done festivals, it could be different for you. If you want to tell stories, I don’t think that’s really what they teach you in film school. If you want technical stuff, then it’s totally worth it. And connections; I already had a team and couldn’t wait for film school, so I just put a feature together, and by the time Bindlestiffs was done it ended up being a better route for me. But I don’t think film school is a waste of time.
LL: I think some people think you “have” to go to film school, and I don’t really think that’s true.
MM: Any advice for aspiring moviemakers?
AE: You have to be willing to sacrifice everything. Girlfriend, free time, grades, work… You have to want it that badly. And there are a lot of compromises, and you have to be prepared to make them ahead of time. You have to be open to feedback; without that, it would kill an independent movie.
LL: Or the footage comes into editing and people are so married to it that they can’t cut it down. It’s important to take an outside look and be open to feedback.
AE: And to tell a story that’s personal to you.
Andy Young is an independent filmmaker who lives in Austin, Texas and studies in the University of Texas at Austin’s film program. At the age of 21, he has directed over 150 short films and one feature, The Legend of Action Man, which he shot on a budget of $200. Andy also has experience directing for theater, narrative television and animation, and he continues to make low-budget shorts with his sketch comedy group Dingoman Productions. He’s currently in production on his next short film, The Crime Of The Century.