For indie filmmakers, getting your first feature film made is already a hurdle that oftentimes can seem insurmountable. But if you manage to run the gauntlet that is raising funds, finding the right cast, and shooting and editing the whole thing, how do you get people to actually see your pride and joy? Asking someone to click on a short YouTube video is easy, but convincing people to watch a much longer film – especially if they have to go to a theater – is tougher.
The filmmakers behind the indie comedy Wander My Friends are well on their way to overcoming that hurdle too. The movie recently had its first screening at the SENE Festival in Providence, Rhode Island to an overwhelming positive response. Written and directed by Raz Cunningham and produced by Mel Hardy (who also co-developed the story with Cunningham and star Josh Krebs), Wander My Friends is about three creators of a successful indie comic book who find themselves concerned that they will have to choose between making money from their creation and maintaining their artistic vision. In a lot of ways, it speaks to all creative types who have dreams of success but at the same time fear about losing control of their work.
After hearing that the film had been successfully funded on Kickstarter in 2012 and raised additional money on Slated (a film financing community), I spoke to Raz Cunningham and Mel Hardy about Wander My Friends about how they went about turning their dreams into their first full-length film as writer/director and producer.
Can you tell me about your previous work experience in film?
RAZ: I started working in film and TV right out of high school. I grew up in Rhode Island and at the time I knew I had to live in an area where I could not just get my feet wet but jump right into the pool. I applied to colleges in New York and eventually attended Marymount Manhattan College. Freshmen weren’t supposed to have internships, but through a very happy accident involving me working in a candle store in 30 Rock, I ended up meeting a Saturday Night Live cast member who recommended me to the internship program at NBC. I reached a deal with my college allowing me to start my time with NBC. I was there for several years and eventually just moved from Television to Film. I started as an assistant to a few great producers, including Scott Macaulay and Robin O’Hara, and eventually started getting work on other films as a Production Manager and Line Producer.
Although I wanted to write and direct films, I continually got steady work Line Producing and Production Managing and my bills needed to be paid so I just kept right on doing it. While I was still working within the field I wanted to be in, it just wasn’t as truly fulfilling as I had hoped. Eventually I started making my own shorts and just kept continually writing in my free time. After meeting and working regularly with Mel, we both decided enough is enough when it came to our time being slaves to the logistical side of film just went to work making Wander My Friends.
MEL: I was always interested in film. My dad took care of me when I was little and we used to watch movies all the time; not just stuff meant for kids, but movies aimed at adults too. A lot of classics, or just movies he liked and thought I would appreciate. When I was in 6th grade I had a teacher who let me make video book reports (this was unusual at the time) and I was completely thrilled. I even made up my own production company for them, which has since become my official company and still uses the logo I made when I was 12. I started studying film first at Ithaca College while I was still in high school, and then as an undergrad at Clark University. I went straight from graduating to my first film job, and never stopped since. Most of my work has been in the art or wardrobe departments, and now I do a lot of work professionally as a Production Designer. But I love producing, and that’s the ultimate goal for me.
Can you give me a brief description of the film?
RAZ:Wander My Friends tells the story of how creative people can struggle to maintain their integrity while still making a living. Roland Vanver, Nate Park and Asher Ackerman are Editor, Artist and Writer of a popular indie comic “Wanderers”. Eventually a bigger company offers a buyout of their smaller company.
MEL: Hilarity ensues when the three can barely handle each other, let alone pitch meetings with straight-laced businessmen.
Where did the concept of the movie come from?
RAZ: Actor Josh Krebs and I had come up with these three characters almost 5 years ago. Over each draft their careers changes because we just couldn’t find anything that worked with their personalities. It was only when we partnered up with Mel that we came to the realization that each of their personalities was strongly suited to the functioning members of a creative team, and due to my own personal frustrations with the storytelling of the comic (and indie film) industry, we just settled on them being comic book creators.
MEL: A lot of my background is in improv comedy, which is something Josh Krebs also shares. Once I got involved, the three of us threw around a lot of jokes and started shaping what was originally a (somewhat) more serious script into a comedy. But the core themes and the core characters have remained mostly the same from the version that Raz and Josh brought to me.
You were successful in funding the movie in two ways: first on Kickstarter in 2012 and more recently on Slated. What were some of the challenges of fundraising, and do you have any advice for other filmmakers who are hoping to raise money for their projects?
RAZ: The best advice I can give to anyone raising money for a film is to know exactly what kind of project you have, know how to tell the story well, and always, ALWAYS know your audience. When you know your audience you can communicate directly with them. If possible, talk to another filmmaker, whether successful or not, just someone who has experience that can share their budgetary successes and failures with you. This will help you identify your own weaknesses and only make your pitch that much stronger.
MEL: My advice would have to be transparency, definitely. One of the blessings of being able to crowdfund a feature film is to be able to offer your audience a window into the process of making a movie – and one that they’ve chosen to be a part of by offering their own hard-earned money. Any time I had the ability to share footage or stills with donors, I did. It was not only a nice way of getting additional investors interested and involved, but it’s also great to be able to show people “See what we were able to do thanks to you? I hope you’re as proud as we are.”
Aside from acquiring the funding, what has been the most challenging part of the production process?
RAZ: Post-production has been particularly challenging. We had some issues with music, scheduling conflicts with composers, and also some minor editing challenges from the technical side of things, but eventually we overcame them. It really helps if you have a clear plan for post-production during pre-production, and while we did, sometimes unforeseen events happen and schedules change. You have to make sure you account for that. Always have a backup. A “Plan B.” Always.
MEL: As this production’s Plan B, I’m going to have to agree with post-production challenges. It’s hard to anticipate personnel turnover, and we had a solid plan during pre-production that just fell through. I’m lucky that I’m not only an experienced editor, but also probably insane and was more than willing to do whatever it took to see this project to completion. But not every film will have somebody like me working on it, and knowing what to do if anyone or anything falls through is crucial, especially on indies.
How did you assemble the cast for the film?
RAZ: The casting process for Wander My Friends was really intense. Auditioning can sometimes be the worst way to cast a film, but it’s the best process we have so we all still do it. Fortunately one of the leads had helped contribute to the script, so that was locked up, but when it came to casting the role of Nate Park, Mel and I wanted someone who wasn’t just a great actor, but someone who was unique. Someone who could portray modesty alongside a sense of confidence. Nate Park has a lot of confidence, the only problem with that is he doesn’t know it. He has almost no concept of it. He likes what he likes, he does what he does. Mel had worked with actor Milo MacPhail on an improv team and once I met him, he immediately blew me away with just his physicality. Once I saw he could truly act, I was even more impressed, but after watching him play a scene or two opposite Josh Krebs, I knew he was exactly right. Josh is an amazing actor and sometimes it can be difficult for other young actors to keep up, but Milo kept pace.
We put the rest of the cast through a number of rigorous, sometimes rather unorthodox auditions, because I believe that no matter how good an actor is, they have to be able to remain in character no matter their environment, physical or emotional. We auditioned actress Laura Menzie in a car while driving with actor Josh Krebs. I wasn’t actually able to see their audition as I was driving, but I didn’t want to see it. I wanted to listen and see if they could keep my attention while driving. Sure it was a safety risk but it was worth it. Laura and Josh have a great chemistry in their scenes. I have no regrets.
MEL: When I read the finished script, I immediately told Raz that I knew the perfect Nate, and I’m glad that when he met Milo he agreed. I also had a lot of actor friends in the Boston area who I recommended for supporting roles, but everyone had to audition. It was a long process to knit the whole cast together, but the cast we got was amazing so I’m glad.
You recently had the premiere screening of Wander My Friends at the SENE Festival in Providence. What was the response like?
RAZ: The response to the film was beyond anything I could have honestly imagined. I expected only family and friends to show up and give us the obligatory “good job” and “I’m so happy for you” compliments. We had well over 100 people for the screening, most of whom we didn’t know. They were not friends or family of cast and crew. They had seen the trailer and a clip of it on the news and were curious so they came to check it out. Those of us who worked on the project that were able to attend the screening of the film had a lot of these strangers come up to us and introduce themselves after. It’s important to me that comedies have fun with themselves but also have an equal amount of heart, and after the screening I knew we hit the mark.
During the screening I sat in the very back of the theater and watched the audience while the audience watched the film. Every single one of our intended jokes, and some unintended, landed. The laughs I heard that night reaffirmed everything we had hoped and planned. Mel and I knew we were doing something right.
MEL: The response was overwhelmingly positive. I’m still getting calls and emails from people who just want to tell me how much they enjoyed it.
When I was finishing up post-production on the film, there was a period of time when I became frustrated and a little jaded. Things weren’t coming together the way I wanted them too. But once I had the finished cut and I watched it alone in my apartment, I found myself laughing again at scenes I had laughed at when we filmed them. And at the screening, the audience was basically laughing non-stop. They even missed some jokes because they were laughing so hard at others. That’s an incredibly rewarding feeling.
What’s next for Wander My Friends and both of you as filmmakers?
RAZ: We’re hoping to get Wander My Friends into a few more film festivals and attain the right distribution path for the project. I’d like to see it at least end up on Netflix. I’m producing and co-writing a project based on the true story of a grandfather seeking the right to be a part of his young grandson’s life. Additionally, Mel and I have already started development on our next project together with L.A.-based producer Mike Santoro. It’s an improvised mockumentary that follows the making of a doomed feature film. We’re hoping that not only is it successful, but that it also functions as a launch for a series based on the same characters. We’re really looking forward to 2014.
MEL: Ultimately we want Wander My Friends to be seen, and we’ll do whatever we can to that end. All I’ve ever wanted to do is keep making movies, and that’s what the future holds. We’ve proven that we can make a feature with almost nothing, and we’re looking forward to using that to show people what we’re capable of.
Check out the trailer for Wander My Friends on Vimeo:
For more information on Wander My Friends, see the links below: