Before attending the China/USA Film Summit and the International Family Film Festival in Los Angeles recently, I had the pleasure to have lunch with filmmaker William Norton who after years of hard work is just now completing his first feature film False Colors with plans to release it this year.
Listening to William describe how False Colors was made opened my eyes to the degree of time, money and personal sacrifices that passionate filmmakers endure to produce their work. Elements of the filmmaking process to which an audience may not be aware.
Check out some of the issues and obstacles William faced to bring his vision to reality:
- When did you become interested in working with films?
When I was about 10 a friend and I grabbed his family’s super-8 film camera and used up the roughly 3 minutes of film the cartridge held. I was hooked. I had loved watching movies, but making them was unbelievable fun. I shot scenes throughout high school whenever I could dig up a roll of film. Because of the short run of the film cartridge, I was forced to be very economical with my shooting, learning to cut in-camera and try to get the shot in one take.
- What gave you the idea to do the film False Colors?
I always knew I’d make films, I feel like I was waiting for the right story — something that really grabbed me, that would be worth putting everything into. Looking for other people to finance my dream never really seemed like an option – I knew that to make a movie, I’d want complete control. I felt that if I was going to go into debt to shoot something then it had better mean something to me.
I really began to pay more attention to politics during Clinton’s impeachment and after that came the 2000 Presidential elections with the hanging chads and the Supreme Court decision. After 9/11, the White House’s relentless push to use this tragedy to sell their own agenda and the media’s overwhelming willingness to go along with it was almost unbearable. Regardless of your politics, I think most American’s agree that the system is corrupt and the American people are getting the short end of the deal. Out of this incredible frustration with the system, False Colors was born
I knew I wanted to make a work of fiction with strong elements of reality. Films that pretend to know what happened during events for which we have very little information often seem to have an agenda. I’m more interested in the broader picture of how much we don’t know and why are the American people kept in the dark and fed a steady diet of misinformation and distraction. I did however want to infuse False Colors with information from that period that may have either escaped viewers’ attention or maybe they were too young to take notice. I hope that people might become interested enough to look into an item to two on their own.
- What was the most difficult thing you had to deal with in producing False Colors? Either filming-wise, organizational-wise, business-wise, editing, etc….?
There were many challenges making False Colors but organization is probably at the very top of the list. A typical day would have me going to the store early in the morning to buy fresh breakfast items, laying them out and making coffee as my actors and minuscule crew arrived at my house. Hair and make-up would begin in the dining room while I picked out wardrobe and steamed it to get the wrinkles out, got final script pages together along with any props needed, packed up the camera and chose equipment for the day’s shoot…then loaded it into my S.U.V. (when I was lucky I had the help of uber-grip & all-around great guy, Michael Turner), then I would drive to location, set up, block and shoot. We tended to rehearse mostly during the first couple of takes.
Now all that’s challenging but then add getting ready for the next day’s shooting (including last minute casting, securing locations, props, and everything else) and it was daunting at times. My wife and co-executive producer Jessica was enormously helpful when she was available, but she has a more than full-time job and wasn’t always around. At times I just had to keep pushing forward with the belief that it would all work out and I’d be able to set up something the next day. For the most part it worked but there were a handful of days where I found myself under scheduled because some key elements just didn’t come through at the last minute. This is one place where improvisation becomes very important.
- What did you learn about yourself personally by creating/writing/directing/financing False Colors?
I learned that I’m pretty good at juggling the various duties involved with making a film and that I can be effective on set under pressure, adapting to the situation and whatever unexpected events came my way while keeping my eye firmly on what’s needed. My wife says I’m able to see the forest for the trees but still manage not to lose the details. Every step of making False Colors reinforced my belief that you just keep putting one foot in front of the other and eventually you’ll get to your destination.
- What advice can you give others who wish to make a film?
Have a very supportive spouse or partner. Beyond that, learn about all the jobs needed to bring a story to the screen. Study all the nuts and bolts and you’ll be a better filmmaker because you’ll understand what your crew needs to do their jobs AND you’ll be able to step in and fill any gaps in staffing that might come up. If you need to run sound for a day while also shooting and directing, know how to do it. Have a tripod ready for your boom and know how to use the equipment so that you can get the cleanest sound possible. This applies to every aspect. It’ll save your butt on many occasions, I guarantee it.
And most importantly, find a story that you absolutely have to tell – A story that excites and inspires you. Then find others equally excited by it to work with…and just tell the story.”
- What have you done to get False Colors ‘out there’?
One of the biggest hurdles to the indie filmmaker is getting anyone to actually see their film. Social media and word of mouth is obviously very important. Major studios spend many millions of dollars promoting their bigger films and far more than the budget of False Colors to promote most smaller films. I’ve set up some very active Facebook and Twitter accounts. FalseColorsMovie.com will take you to the Facebook and my Twitter handle is @Remote_Station.
Early in the production I cut together a preliminary trailer which I put on-line and it’s been viewed collectively on the various platforms at least 15,000 to 20,000 times and counting. It also played at the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival in their Trailer program. Building awareness is an ongoing process and will likely continue well into the future. I think the key is to produce something that an audience will really respond to and hope they help to spread the word
- Where do you see the future of films heading? As an industry? In distribution? Creatively?
That’s a tough one. I try to balance what I read and hear with my personal experience & I feel there’s a lot of talk about the eventual demise of film with the studios releasing one superhero movie after another or sequel after sequel because it’s safer, or about how much of film content today is being consumed on tablets or phones. I tend to be more positive about the future of film because I feel people will always respond to interesting stories told well and there really is something special about the theatrical movie going experience. The scope, the sound, the social aspect of it is important and I think people won’t want to give that up. Sure it’s nice to watch movies at home on a decent system but nothing beats the theater.
I went to see Apocalypse Now yet again a few months ago at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood and although I’ve seen it many times before, including the beautiful Redux version that was released in 2001, I enjoyed this screening the most of all and much of that had to do with the sound system and size of the screen. This is an example of a movie that would just be ruined if it were watched on a phone or tablet…period.
Also, as much as I love physical film, I’m not one of the guys that feels movies must be made and shown on film. I embrace digital technology not only for the possibilities it affords me and other indie filmmakers but I feel it will help level the playing field all around, with distribution particularly. I think the industry is reaching around trying to find the best avenues for indie distribution at the moment and I feel some new and very positive options are just around the corner.
- Any examples (or two) of “deals” that were made, or crazy things that happened which would be considered ‘out of the ordinary’ in the creation of False Colors?
Our baseline was “out of the ordinary” for the making of False Colors but while every day was an exciting challenge, we were working so fast and furiously we didn’t really have time to make deals. We met some incredible people who offered to let us shoot one day and then let us come back again and again but for the most part we flew so low under the radar that there was no deal-making happening! We used a lot of creative thinking to figure out how to make shots happen, but because we shot first and (sometimes) asked permission later, I can’t even talk about it.
- In your own words, what makes False Colors unique?
I’ve never seen a film of this type done effectively with such a low budget before. For the story I wanted to tell, I needed military settings and hardware, underground facilities, many different locations and I really had to get creative to bring what I saw in my head to the screen. I’d say I managed to achieve most of what I set out to. It took a long time, but once again, perseverance pays off.
For more information on False Colors visit www.FalseColorsMovie.com
And for sure check out the False Colors trailer at: vimeo.com/79152079
- David Bryant Perkins