Posted: 02/02/2011

 

Indie Spotlight: Interview with Joseph R. Lewis, writer/director of “Scumbabies”

(2010)

by Jason Coffman




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What camera(s) did you use to film Scumbabies? What kind of editing rig do you use?


Joseph R. Lewis (JRL, writer/director of Scumbabies): We shot Scumbabies on the panasonic HVX- a camera we had on loan from a porn company that a friend of ours worked at as an editor.


Scumbabies was edited in Final Cut Pro 6/7 on my Macbook Pro. The music and sound design were created using a combination of Logic and Pro Tools. And the color correction was done using COLOR, a software program that is fully integrated with Final Cut Pro.


How long did it take to shoot Scumbabies? What was the longest part of the film’s production: shooting, editing, post-production, etc.?


JRL: We shot Scumbabies in 10 full days and 6 half days during January 09 out in LA. We were lucky enough to have our old college buddy Dave Paige as Assistant Director. He works steadily out in Hollywood on “professional” movies, and I give him complete credit for scheduling Scumbabies in such a way that we could actually get it all shot in such a short period of time.


One benefit of the tight schedule, though, was that it necessitated over-preparedness on the part of Nick Hartanto (DP) and myself. We had never so deliberately and specifically planned a film like this before and, for me, that signified a huge step in our understanding of structure and
design. After we wrapped, I had a 2-and-a-half hour assembly cut finished within 5 days that the cast and crew were able to watch before I had to skip town. After that, my friend Sam Roden and I worked through numerous rough cuts over the course of about 6 months, and then I took another 6 months after that working on the Fine Cut until we had pixlock in Feb, 2010 with a final running time of 88 minutes. As we edited, we incorporated sound FX design elements as well as score components, but the rigorous sound work didn’t start until we were finished futzing with the picture. We finished the final draft of the Sound Mix the morning of the Party (November 23rd, 2010). Since all the stages of production overlapped it’s hard to say which took the longest, but a decent breakdown of the production process would look something like this:



WRITING: 10 months

PREPRO: 8 months

SHOOT: 2 weeks

EDITING: 12 months

SOUND: 10 months




What are some of the advantages of shooting and working with digital video?


JRL: DV is not film. HD is neither DV nor film. It’s like comparing crayons to acrylics to sheet music. Crayons will never look like paint. Paint will never sound like music. Not to say that a crayon drawing cannot be as potent or beautiful as a painting or a song. It certainly can be. But it’s a fallacy in fundamental logic to try and make crayons look like paint, or to believe that it will have the same emotive or aesthetic effect. They won’t.


The moviemakers of the present moment are not filmmakers. They are video artists. For some reason this is thought as some sort of demotion, but in fact the malleability of video offers us the opportunity to explore much more complex narrative and aesthetic structures that have never been possible before. The editing software we use is more rigorous and complex. The potential level of experimentation and exploration is much more expansive. We can do things now that have never before been possible. That is why I believe that any attempt to replicate what has come before, narratively or aesthetically, is a damaging and stunting mistake.


We can take the medium of time-bound visual media to places that, at present, we cannot even imagine. The potential is truly limitless. I dream of a day where a 5-minute movie can cure a headache much more effectively than an aspirin. I believe that developing our understanding of movies, these time-sculptures, is fundamental to our understanding of ourselves and our existence. Through movies, we can learn more about the nature of time, as well as the effect that the manufactured representation of reality can have on reality itself.


My relationship to the world in which I live is strained and frustrating. I feel alien most of the time. I’ve come to realize that I make movies, in a sense, to create a reality in which I can feel at home and alive. And without this process of re-imagining my own reality, I would have surely succumbed to own most vile confused shortcomings. But my work has bestowed upon me an extraordinary gift - a sense of belonging that I never knew before. Although I manufactured this sense myself, it is now as real to me as anything. And because of this I now understand the purpose of art and the purpose of having an imagination at all - to first dream the world that we can then create.


Things do not improve on their own. We, ourselves, instigate our own healing and our own progress and I do this by making movies and trying to imagine worlds better than this one. As long as we can do that, we can hope for a better future for ourselves and the people we love.


And video is my eye, my gateway into infinite possibility. I think it’s the responsibility of every moviemaker working today to go further into this infinity and try and discover that next unexplored internal continent where we can, hopefully, establish a civilization free of the pettiness, remorse, and oppression that defines this time in which we currently live.




Your other works on The Underground Multiplex are all quite different, were they shot on different formats? The other projects seem to be specifically episodic in nature, is Scumbabies the first project you’ve done that was planned as a feature from the start?


JRL: Prior to Scumbabies, my team and I had produced two other features - Tyler B. Nice (2005) and The Next Good One (2004). And then followed those up with an internet series called Miss Girl (2007). Recently I’ve begun distributing all these projects online at The Underground Multiplex, with each project being presented in 3 parts to allow for a full-quality image on VIMEO. These projects were all shot on miniDV, though we experimented greatly with the look of each piece to try and give it a unique character and a distinct emotional vibe.


The Next Good One was shot in the earliest days of digital video, when miniDV was a new, exciting format. From the beginning, the biggest problem with video has been the representation of colors, motion, and functionality in low-light. That’s why HD, I feel, is an entirely different thing than digital video because it’s good at all of those things (except maybe motion… but I won’t get into that). So with The Next Good One, we decided to shoot for B&W.


With Tyler B. Nice, a couple years had passed and technology had brought about 24 fps digital cameras, which dramatically improved movement, but digital video still never really looked colorful enough for us. So, my DP Nick came up with the idea of double-processing all the footage to super-saturate the colors and expand the size of the pixels to make the footage at once horribly ugly and VERY colorful. He did this by shooting on a cheaper miniDV camera that DIDNT have a 24fps setting, and then he played all the footage back on a 4 inch LCD monitor and videotaped the screen with a much better camera that could shoot in 24fps with vastly better color resolution. This gave the movie the “found VHS tape” look that we wanted.


Miss Girl was also shot on miniDV, in color AND B&W. Scumbabies was my first HD experience. And I gotta say… wow. Color up the wahzoo!




Now that Scumbabies is complete, do you plan to submit the film to any festivals or have more local screenings? Could you comment a bit on the “Apotheskary” videos that you have made to promote the film?


JRL: Now that it’s done, it’s time to get people to see it! I must confess, I’m a radicalized ideologue when it comes to independent movie distribution. I don’t believe that festivals are an effective way to promote. I don’t believe that finding third-party distributors and releases should be the goal of an independent filmmaker. And I don’t believe that feature films are the format of the future. Now that the movie is done, since I have no money I will be using street theatre and graffiti to advertise and promote the flick. I consider it my personal responsibility to screen the film and find the audience. The SCUM Party is the format that I like the most, as far as public screenings go. My training is in theatre as a performer, and I have more music in my background than I do film, so an event that incorporates music, theatre, and film feels like the most appropriate thing for me. I also think that an audience needs more of a reason to leave their house than just a movie screening. You need a really good reason to leave the couch. Since Scumbabies didn’t have a $200 million and won’t be playing at IMAX, the “more-than-a-movie” experience I can provide is rooted more in variety theatre and vaudeville, which I actually think is way cooler. Over the next year I plan to throw a SCUM party in Rochester, NY (hometown), LA, NYC, Boston, & Berlin. I think that our understanding of a “theatrical run” is going to change drastically over the next ten years, especially in the arena of independent movies. The emphasis has more and more gone to first-weekend receipts, but a theatrical run can actually be indefinite. My heroes in promotion and distribution are Kroger Babb, PT Barnum, and William Castle so I expect to be throwing SCUM parties for the rest of my life.


In addition to the Party, I’ll be selling Scumbabies on DVD in hand-made (by me) limited run collector’s edition packaging constructed from scratch materials (trash cardboard, duct tape, white out) that will include the movie, special features, and the soundtrack.


Movie magic is very important to me, and has been largely lost in this generation. My goal as a promoter and distributor is to present my movies as something wholly different than anything else that’s out there. We make our movies in a different way, we make a different kind of movie, and we present them in a different way. THAT’S what it means to be independent.


And the Apotheskary videos are my attempt to show fans, as well as other filmmakers, HOW we made the movie and all the different ways that we try to promote and distribute the movie in alternative ways. It helps make this “business” side of moviemaking more creative and fun - which is very important because I tend to abandon projects when they cease to be fun. It also fulfills what I believe to be a new necessity in independent filmmaking - to share what we learn. With it being such a tumultuous moment in history, and with the climate and culture of cinema changing so rapidly, I think the only way that independent filmmakers have a chance to compete in this over-saturated money market is to band together.




Find out more about Scumbabies and Joseph R. Lewis’s other projects at The Underground Multiplex web site.

Jason Coffman is a film writer living in Chicago. He writes reviews for Film Monthly and “The Crown International Files” for Criticplanet.org.



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