About Grant

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New York, NY, United States
Film director and screenwriter. Cinephile since birth. Director of DREAMS OF THE WAYWARD (2013). Film Studies MA student at Columbia University.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Making A Feature Film - The Making of "Dreams of The Wayward"

     Last February (2012), Ben Neal and I (Grant Bromley) decided to direct our first feature film.  It was a daunting proposal, but something that we felt was important to do (particularly while we were still in school).  The  list of who, what, when, where, why, and how questions was long, but that's what filmmaking is all about - problem solving.  Approaching it like any other project, we began a nine month process of starting and completing a feature-length drama titled Dreams of The Wayward while teaching ourselves how to make and manage a film of this scale.  There were plenty of obstacles and complications along the way, but we found our way around them and made the film that we originally set out to make - with no compromises.  
     Ben and I were both 19 years old and in our second semester of freshman year at Watkins College of Art, Design, and Film in Nashville, TN - though we hadn't actually taken any hands-on film courses at the school yet, we felt that we were ready to do something big.  During the summer of 2010, Ben and I met at the Tennessee Governor's School For The Arts at MTSU (a month-long summer program for high school students) where we were both studying film and became great friends.  The trust that we gained at the Governor's School in each other and in our own abilities was essential to the success or failure of making Dreams of The Wayward two years later.  When we returned to our hometown of Knoxville, TN following our time at the Governor's School, we began to work on several treatments for short films and features that we would like to make together.  One of those short scripts, titled Son, became the blueprint for Dreams of The Wayward.  As we approached and began college in Nashville, the two of us would watch hundreds of films a year and listen to director commentary tracks, but other than that, there was very little actual information on the best way to go about making a first film.  We found that watching and studying the careers of first-time directors - specifically the directors from the past 20 years - was invaluable for demonstrating the potential of a first directorial effort.  Examining the early work of the current contemporary generation of filmmakers allowed for us to look at the filmmaking process under similar technological and economic circumstances.  Even before the American independent film boom of the 1990s, there were still certain distinctive qualities that marked the success of a film director - the most important characteristic being that they didn't wait for the opportunity to make a film, they simply did it.  In our case, by the time that we were ready to make our first feature-length film, cost-efficient technology was easily at our disposal which made the decision even easier.  Without the rise of digital cinema, Dreams of The Wayward could not exist - the cost of photochemical film would have been too high, and our experience with the medium was non-existent.
     The decision to make a feature film, in general, was a response to our frustration with the youthful success of film directors like Steven Soderbergh - who made his first film Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989) without attending film school.  Ben and I would spend long nights after class joking and dreaming aloud about how amazing it would be to make a film that was of a theatrical length (roughly 70 minutes minimum).  Finally, the joking stopped and we began talking more seriously about the prospect of actually making a feature film.  On February 4, 2012, I began adapting the short script that Ben and I had written a year earlier (Son) into a feature length screenplay.  Why did we choose Son?  Three simple reasons:
  1. It was actually feasible on a production level (nothing seemed too difficult or too expensive).
  2. The protagonist of the script was 19 years old... so were we (I could act in the film to save us from having to get someone else to commit without pay).
  3. (Most importantly) It was a project that we actually cared about and would be proud of as our first film.
     During my writing period, I would only fill Ben in on certain things I was writing if I questioned that we could actually do it - we agreed that he was not allowed to read the script in its entirety until it had gone through a second draft to ensure that it was being read with fresh eyes.  On February 23, I completed the first draft of the script - there were no dreams, it was just a normal coming of age story.  By the 29th of February, the script had the qualities that gave the film its title and I presented Ben a 54 page draft of the script (it was always a short script, primarily because of the lack of dialogue, but we instantly knew it was the correct length to reach the 90 minute mark).  After Ben completed reading the script, he went through it with suggestions for changes and questions about my intent - this entire meeting was recorded for our personal records.
     Once we both agreed on the script, all of the pre-production began.  Script breakdown sheets were filled out, storyboards were drawn, and the script pages were lined.  However, the means to make this film (money) was becoming a concern.  We knew that we could comfortable make Dreams of The Wayward for $5,000 - but it felt too high, particularly when we began looking into Kickstarter's policy if we didn't reach our budgetary goal.  We went through the script and wrote down all the equipment we would need and came up with the number $2,500 (the bare-minimum that could still allow for us to have snacks for cast and crew every day).  We set up our Kickstarter profile for the film on March 27, 2012 with a 30 day funding period to reach (or exceed) our budgetary goal.  It was daring, but after 30 days of putting ourselves at the mercy of our generous friends, we ended up raising $2,798.  We had 22 investors in total - only 1 of which was someone that Ben and I had never met before.  http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/184641394/dreams-of-the-wayward
     When the funding period ended on April 26, 2012, we were fully prepared to begin shooting.  We had spoken to several of our friends back in Knoxville about serving as an occasional crew member (none of our crew was constant - it was always changing since none of them were actual grips or film guys in general), and we had negotiated with some of our other friends to have a slightly larger level of commitment by serving as an actor in the film.  Mark McIntyre (Sam) was essential to the success or failure of the film - while writing the script, I knew that Mark looked the part and could have the intensity required to play a drug-dealer-turned-good.  Likewise, Doug Robertson (Dad) was typecast (not only because he could potentially pass as my father in public, but he was my Sunday school teacher through high school and had a fatherly quality that would resonate well on screen).
     As far as locations were concerned, we knew enough people in town to talk ourselves into being able to film nearly anywhere that we wanted.  In the case of Sam's apartment though, we struggled to find a friend that had an apartment living condition that would allow for us to film (too many of our friends had too many roommates to allow for 4 weeks of successful filming).  The answer to this problem was found through a friend of one of our assistant directors, Wes Barrett, who was able to lock the location for us (and even get us a key).
(Right to left) Doug Robertson, Ben Neal, Grant Bromley, and Mark McIntyre posing on set.
     When we returned to Knoxville, the following weekend (May 12, 2012) we kicked off principal photography by shooting all of Doug and Sheri Robertson's scenes in a single weekend.  The final scene that we shot with Doug Robertson was also Mark McIntyre's first scene (which happens to be the only scene in the film in which the three main protagonists are all on screen together).  Upon completing Doug Robertson's scenes, Ben and I were able to work around my work schedule during the week to film scenes that only required myself (Luke), and then on the weekends we would film with Mark to accommodate his work schedule.  It was difficult on several levels - we didn't always have access to the apartment (because it is someone's home) and didn't want to leave a trace that we had been there at the end of each day of shooting, so set decoration and camera set-ups had to be scheduled into our day before our actors would arrive, and as a result, we rarely had rehearsal time (so in some cases, Mark and I were learning our lines right before Ben would call "action").
     Being both a co-director and the lead actor was a strange thing.  As a director, I knew that I was controlling myself and trying to achieve the correct tone for the performance of each scene, but I needed Ben to keep me in check since I can't see myself.  I'm sure that with Ben being both a co-director and cinematographer that he felt a similar pressure and self-discipline within both crafts.  We never had a an assistant camera man to pull focus, so he was constantly in charge of everything on the camera rig (and our film was predominantly hand-held, so that he was able to consistently pull off having each shot's subject in focus is admirable).
     In total, there were 8 weeks of principal photography - during the final 2 weeks, Ben and I began going through all the footage we had up to that point and selected our favorite takes of each shot.  Ben was our media manager - after every day of shooting, Ben would download the footage from the Canon t3i SD card and backup all of our files onto a separate hard-drive.  His organizational skills with the production files made the early editing process a simple task.  When shooting finally wrapped on June 30th, we were finally able to breathe, but we wanted to have the film completed by the end of summer so we edited until we had our first rough cut of the feature on July 12, 2012.  The 86 minute rough cut was pretty far along since we edited both visual and audio elements simultaneously - we even had the soundtrack that my sister Danae Bromley performed and composed already synched.  In the editing room (Ben's basement), we took a scene by scene approach from beginning to end so that we could watch and listen to the film as it unfolded - listening to the film was just as important so that we could find the natural cutting points and transitions between scenes (not just the obvious visual cues).  Our assistant director, Wes Barrett, was one of the people we entrusted to watch the rough-cut and to then give feedback to us about what he had just seen - it was awkward at times as the film was too long and was still rough around the edges.  In that particular cut, we had a "twist ending" triggered through a reveal - it didn't work.  Why didn't it?  It wasn't a reveal to the characters - only to the audience, and it wasn't a major twist either.  The problem was that we wrote the script to have it as a reveal, so we had no coverage to piece together a straight ending.
      Editing truly is the second directing - we wound up cutting 3 minutes from the film and adjusted the ending to be more straightforward simply by adding a line in ADR.  At 83 minutes, the film was completed on September 17, 2012 - or so we thought.  We began sending DVD screeners of the film to 6 festivals (we could only afford to send to 7 different festivals after we received an additional $700 contribution to cover submission fees from one of our executive producers).  By Christmas we had been rejected by 2 film festivals, and by April, we had been rejected by all 6.  
Still of the Knoxville skyline from the feature film Dreams of The Wayward.
     "If a film gets made but never gets seen, does it really exist?" - That phrase began to resonate in our minds and we began to feel embarrassed that our friends trusted us to make a film and we couldn't get it to show anywhere - it was like their money had disappeared on our watch.  By summer of 2013, Ben and I were already working on pre-production for our second feature film when we decided to re-cut Dreams of The Wayward.  We went through the film with essentially fresh eyes (it had been nearly a year since principal photography concluded), and we had no desire to hold our film as something precious.  If the new cut didn't work, we wouldn't care too much since we had nothing to lose - we would always have the files for the previous cut, so we were safe to meddle with it further.  Together, Ben and I removed an additional 3 minutes, but we then added a brand new scene that lasts about a minute - the film was 81 minutes long.  The edit was tight and rhythmic, and we were confident that we had finally found the film we had originally set out to make.
     Getting rejected by film festivals was tough, but getting accepted by the 2013 Knoxville Film Festival was amazing - it made everything worth it and helped us feel that we were truly on the right track.  Being a college student with a part-time job while trying to balance filmmaking is a difficult undertaking (as any profession is), but making it into a film festival was the reward for our hard work.  The film will have it's festival premiere in competition at the Regal Downtown West Cinema 8 on September 21, 2013 at 2:45 PM and will be followed by a Q&A with me and Ben.  Tickets can be purchased for $10 here: http://www.knoxvillefilmfestival.com/product/film-block-11/
     Currently, we're still in pre-production on our second film entitled Knoxville Stories, but hopefully we'll get it rolling soon.  On top of that, we're in pre-production on two other feature films as well.

For further reading, here is an interview conducted by Wendy Smith with myself and Ben Neal (published on August 26, 2013 in the Karns/Hardin Valley Shopper News) concerning how we got into filmmaking, directing Dreams of The Wayward, and the current state of contemporary cinema. http://issuu.com/shoppernews/docs/karns_hv_shopper_news_082613?e=2310464%2F4584735
Ben Neal and Grant Bromley discuss filmmaking in the Knoxville area newspaper.
To see the trailer and learn more about the film, visit our IMDb page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2329110/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

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