Whenever we begin a project, my company Pikchure Zero Entertainment looks to see what we feel like spending up to half a year of our life on. I mean seriously each project will require hours and days of snack food and late nights. So you have to really love it. ‘Almost Amazing‘ which is available now on iTunes and Direct Tv and Amazon Prime, was one of the projects we just fell in love with. Then to follow it up with the Christmas horror film “The Elf”, it has been an amazing journey. Uncork’d Entertainment is killing it. As far as marketing, it’s a new age and time where we have to constantly fight for ad space in a crowded market. We are always having to make films above the budgets we are dealt and fight to tell stories that can take risks but also be commercial. That’s where the motivation lies.
indieactivity: Did you start writing with a cast (You or any) in mind?
Justin: I write with the idea that the characters have to be different. I mean we usually have strong male leads and weakened female leads, so for “The Elf” it was great to find Natassia Halabi who was the strong character while Gabriel’s character was suffering from night terrors and was the more vulnerable of the two. I think this is a great way to keep the stories vibrant. To have access to great actresses and actors like KHU who played the lead war hero in Alien Reign of Man (out now on iTunes and Redbox) to Lisa May who plays the sacrificial killer in “The 13th Friday” (also out now on iTunes, Hulu, Direct Tv)
indieactivity: How long did you take to complete the script? (Do you have a writing process?)
Justin: I usually sit back and think about how the story would play out. I have to produce it while writing so it makes writing more difficult. I can’t just write a great tale and place it in the middle of France or in the streets without thinking about, how the hell would we shoot this?
indieactivity: When did you form your production company – and what was the original motivation ?
Justin: Pikchure Zero Entertainment, was formed in 2012 after our first film Dark Moon Rising, me and my producing partner KHU we knew we had to grab this energy by the horns. It was important for us to work closely with companies like Uncork’d Entertainment to sort of help evolve as the industry around us was evolving.
There were still a few brick and mortar buildings but we saw the writing on the wall and became very involved in creating high quality content at mid-budget ranges. This is now where everyone has come too and it has been such a transition for those large companies who didn’t understand how to make films this way. Basically we made features with a7’s before that was a “revelation” and we have perfected the craft. My formula has been utilized now by huge companies. Now its time to venture into another avenue of film making and that is the studio theatrical film arena.
indieactivity: What was the first project out of the gate?
Justin: First project I ever did was The Cloth, starring Danny Trejo and Eric Roberts. My first film was The People’s agency about a nerd who had a top secret microchip that could cause nuclear war and the only way he would give it up, was for a team of C.I.A. operatives to get him laid. The majority of projects that I write are smash mouth filled with ideas.
indieactivity: During production, what scene (that made the cut) was the hardest to shoot?
Justine: During “The Elf” the hardest scenes was the Carolers scene. It is the middle of Summer and its in Texas and we have no snow. So we had to fly in snow and baking powder to try and cover the ground. Pus I had to write a caroler song on the spot. I forget that most of these songs are copy written and I think they did a great job with it. During “Almost Amazing” the most difficult scene was the New Year’s Eve scene! OMG!
With the changes in the security of seeing the ball drop, I just assumed we could get to time square and see the ball drop but that wasn’t the case. Plus we had to bring cameras and tripods and lights. It was the craziest thing ever. I essentially convinced the NYPD that the permit we had to film allowed us more space then we were given and he was so excited we were doing a romantic comedy, he walked us to the front of the stage. Crazy! So that new year’s eve countdown is real and it was the most magical thing ever!
indieactivity: What worked better in this production that mightn’t have worked so well in the last one you did?
Justin: I think allowing the actors space to adlib and play with the dialogue. Usually I am exploring a bit too much, but I have found that being more flexible during this film allowed the actors time to let the movie breathe.
indieactivity: You wrote, produced, directed the film, what measure of input did it take to don these four hats?
Justin: I can’t do it without a team and my producing partners Khu, Deanna Grace Congo, David Cazares, Lisa May, and Matthew Simmons and Eddy Herrero… It took a village. I truly was blessed to be surrounded by such talented people. I had the unique experience of being the writer and director so I could almost adjust scenes while being in the scene. Or I had the freedom to let a scene surprise me. How awesome is that creative freedom?
indieactivity: Is there anything about the independent filmmaking business you still struggle with?
Justin: I struggle with tone and mood. I mean most of the time we are making films really fast and with no budget and with large ideals. The hardest part is trying to execute large ideas that also must compete against the latest studio blockbuster. So on one hand you want to be unique but on the other hand people kind of want things that have a certain feel. You cant just make a dinosaur film with little CG and a great story and expect to get it into the marketplace. Somewhere in the pipeline sales agents or distributors will say “where’s the action?”
Or this is a drama and Japan said no. So I may have had a phenomenal coming of age story but without it being led by Ryan Gossling that’s more of a personal film for me to try and win Sundance with. But when you don’t have famous family members or friends in the bank… not really the most logical options. But I’m working on it. I didn’t even mention diversity and the lack thereof. I mean Almost Amazing was told it wasn’t “black” enough. Netflix said no… if not for the bravery of Keith Leopard and Uncork’d Entertainment who knows if it would even have gotten released domestically on DVD January 28, 2017. I mean that’s insane but the movie doesn’t deal with common stereotypes.
indieactivity: Where do you think your strengths line as a director?
Justin: I think my ability to actually write multiple genres and for multiple stories and characters. I also think this holds true with my ability to execute high end stories on the budgets I have to work with. I was the multihyphenate before it was trendy and unlike most, I’m the writer, director, producer, editor, and etc.
I actually am touching all disciplines and not just being hired to say cut and action. This is why I love true creators like James Cameron and Christopher Nolan …they stand out to me because I know they touch almost every aspect of the creative process. Love that. There are so many great artists but I am drawn to those like George Lucas and his process of creating star wars. I mean it has it’s own canon! That’s my strength, I hope to prove it as we continue.
indieactivity: Let’s talk finance, How did you finance the film?
Justin: Depends on the project. Sometimes I am hired to create a project and sometimes I sale the film before filming. For “Almost Amazing” I got with Monkey Entertainment and Lavabean Productions and said lets put our money up1 we went right to the bank and dropped the money and then I went to work the next week. That simple.
indieactivity: How much did you go over budget? How did you manage it?
Justin: No number is over budget when it’s for a movie as great as Almost Amazing!
indieactivity: How important is marketing? Do you think a project can make any dent without it these days?
Justin: I think it makes the film. You can have a great film that sits on the shelf or on youtube and no one knows. What was the point? I have seen great films get lost in the fray. So we are excited to talk Almost Amazing!
indieactivity: Can you tell us about your marketing activities on the project – and how it’s gone for you?
Justin: So far we have great people such as Torrei Hart and Simone Shepherd in the project and they are willing to tweet and speak about it on their social media platforms. It is a blessing. I am excited to see how it goes!
indieactivity: What do you hope audiences get from The Elf?
Justin: From the Elf, I hope they have a great time. I think it’s rare to tell stories that harken back to old school filmmaking with practical and subliminal scares. I had a great time making it.
indieactivity: What else have you got in the works?
Justin: Working on a tv project called “reapers!” I know it will rock1 it is an 8 episode 45 minute tv series about these reapers who are trying to stop death from returning to earth..the rapture! It is sci-fi fantasy. Also working on a comedy pilot with Torrei Hart.