June 27, 2014

Director Josiah Signor on Avoiding the Pitfalls of the Micro Budget Indie Party Movie

Through film history, there are those films we qualify as good "party movies" (Sixteen Candles and Dazed and Confused come to mind). But on the low-budget end of the spectrum, scenes taking place at a party can sometimes be the surest way for a film to scream "amateur". Is it the garish lighting that accompanies party scenes, or the awkward clusters of bored friends posing as background actors? Josiah Signor tackled the party genre with much success in Bastards of Young, and in this No Film School interview, he explains how he created his well acted, well paced, nuanced feature debut -- a micro budget "party movie" that's actually pretty damned good.

Josiah Signor's Bastards of Young follows a group of 30-somethings for an annual Halloween party tradition, and was shot on a very small budget over the course of 12 days. Before you read our interview about the film (that you can now see on iTunes and Amazon) here's a look at the trailer:

NFS: When low-budget movies try to do party scenes, they can go so wrong, so quickly. Why do you think that is? What pitfalls did you avoid, and what did you strive for to make Bastards of Young so much better than that?

Josiah Signor: I think things go wrong for low-budget films when they try too hard to seem like they are bigger than they actually are. You have to work within your means. That doesn’t mean you can’t be original or daring or try new things. But audiences are very savvy nowadays. They don’t want to feel tricked, and they will notice.

I feel like everyone says they made their movie for no money, but we really did not have any money. So, we knew our limits and worked very hard to stay within those limits while making the images feel like we actually had some money. The party scenes were definitely the most difficult. We scheduled the scenes that required the most extras together so that we only needed them for two or three days tops. (It is really hard to get free extras to commit to anything. Sets can be really boring for background actors, especially ones who have no idea what they are getting into.)

The other thing we knew from the get-go was that we did not want any wide shots. I worked very hard in pre-production with my DP, Mike Rossetti, on how we would shoot it effectively and believably. So 90% of the shots are medium to medium-close. I wanted it to feel like the viewer is at the party, how they would see things. This helped tremendously in making the place feel packed, even though we had very few actual extras.

NFS: I always think about background actors in party movies. When you've just lured a bunch of friends into being background actors on the pretext of fun and free pizza, it's no surprise that they're often bored and bad at being extras. How did you wrangle yours, and get such decent performances from the background cast?

JS: The whole crew was in costume, so anytime we needed some people crossing or whatever, the grip or the art department or even myself would do so. I highly recommend getting a casting director as well. Mine did a phenomenal job of finding me a great group of actors for the main cast. But the added bonus is she knew of several actors who were happy to do her a favor and come to set. And because it was a party, we had beer and snacks and such, so people seemed to have a good time. We all did, really. Having a great set, great people to work with; the vibe is super important. We all laughed a lot, improvised a bunch, and just kept that party atmosphere going. I think that definitely comes across. And my costume designer was genius at having no budget but magically throwing together a ton of Halloween costumes, so many of the extras are several different characters.

NSF: What about your main cast -- what was your philosophy as a director working with actors?

JS: Chemistry. Chemistry between all of the main cast with each other, and chemistry with me. And being loose.

I am not a stickler for the words I write. The best part about writing a script is the collaborative aspect. It’s just a blueprint. I wrote the script, but two of my close friends wrote the story with me. And we are three men writing roles for women and men. There’s a limit to that. So before each take, I would really work with the actors, especially the women, and ask, “Would you say this?” “How would you say this?” “Is this line stupid?” Sometimes we would even decide together that saying nothing at that point is way better than any line we had. Or saying the exact opposite, etc. That process worked out beautifully and made the realism really pop because there was a comfortability that grew from that. We trusted each other, all of us, to make the best thing we could with what we had to work with.

But all of this begins in the audition process. New York City is FULL of amazingly talented actors. Hungry actors. I saw so many I wish I could have cast. I would watch them and think to myself, “Would I hang out with this person? Would the other actors hang out with this person?”

NFS: How long did you take to shoot the film? What did you shoot on? 

JS: We shot the whole thing in 12 days! That’s all we could afford, so that’s what we did. (Nearly gave my AD a panic attack, but she rocked it and we made our days, every day.)

Everyone loves to ask “what did you shoot on?!”, which I always feel is a compliment and a diss to the cinematographer at the same time. If you have a great DP and work with that person well, you can shoot on anything and it will look fantastic. It’s 90% the DP, 10% the camera, in my opinion. I have seen movies shot on 35mm or any other great camera that look like flat video; and have seen things shot on crappy pro-sumer cameras that look beautiful.

In this case, we shot on the RED.

NFS: Tell us how you finagled your film on what I can only guess was a tight budget.

JS: “Finagled” is the perfect descriptor for this movie.

We were working with pennies, so I called in a lot of favors. I worked like crazy on many other film sets and got to know really talented people in all departments. So when the time came to make my film, I knew they would come through for no money and they really, truly did. Beyond what I could’ve hoped for actually.

And we did things like shoot in an apartment that was already furnished to save money that way. For added production value, we found rooftops with great views, bars that I frequent that let us shoot there for free; we even walked the Halloween Parade in Manhattan and shot in the subways, guerrilla-style, with our actors in costume, which really added something special.

If you can’t afford it, find it and steal it.

NFS: When you look through the annals of "Party Movies" a huge percentage are set in high school. Luckily, Bastards of Young is not! Can you talk about why you decided to make a party movie using a different generation, and what does that changes about the genre?

JS: It usually is indeed high school kids. And it also always seems to be actors who are not at all high-school age playing those roles. And then there are films about the older generation, but not so much about being in your 30s and dealing with divorce at that age. It’s happening a lot more now, to several of my own friends; I see them feeling a little lost. So we really wanted to play around with that. And then decided to set it at a party to liven it up, add some comedy, and, to me anyway, make it more realistic in doing so.

The whole idea, really, with Bastards of Young, was to explore what it means to be in your early 30s. There doesn’t seem to be too many movies that play around with that. That’s my age group, and I still like to party, and we do party. But it’s tricky, because every now-and-then you feel old, even though you’re not actually that old. Not old, but not young anymore. It’s a bit of a mind-fuck. If I go to a party with people in their 20s, I am the old guy. If I died now, my obituary would say "he was so young!"

So I am not sure if we are changing the genre really, just tweaking an already existing structure I guess? There is some truth to “writing what you know” -- and, in doing so, you learn some things. Hopefully, it becomes relatable to all age groups, not just my generation’s.

NFS: You have a ton of music from a ton of different bands in the film. Can you talk about what’s behind the music, and why you took that route, instead of working with a composer or score or something?

Bastards of Young Directing with DP

JS: Music was by far the biggest challenge. It’s a Halloween party for most of the movie, and parties always have music. And they usually have music all night. And they usually have a wide variety of music, especially 30-somethings in Brooklyn. Rap, Rock, Electronic, Folk -- you name it, we needed it. And we needed wall-to-wall music for the most part. What I found, then, is that silence became kind of a score in its own way. That if we composed too much music, it would become over-saturated. I had my talented cousin score a couple of scenes, but, otherwise, the party music is the score.

The good news is that, like actors, talented musicians in this city are plentiful. The bad news is, we couldn’t afford to pay them. My music supervisor also worked for no money, and she did a fantastic job of finding what we needed. I could not have found the music we found without her. Movies are collaborative. You can’t do it alone. I mean, I guess you could, but the value of having others help out is priceless. I am so happy with the bands we found. And I have discovered so much new music in the process.

NFS: Do you have any advice for like-minded directors from what you figured out on finishing your last feature?

JS: You really have to not be afraid to fail. I knew going into this it might not work. Lots of shit can happen, for better or worse. I knew there was a chance this whole thing could collapse and I would have nothing. But I was willing to risk that. Luckily, it paid off.

Safe is stupid. I mean, set safety of course is super important, but you need to risk something in order to make something people will want to watch. And also just doing it. That has been said a million times, but it’s true. Do it. Make it happen. Just know what your limits are and push those limits, but still work within your means.

NFS: Bastards of Young just came out on iTunes. Should we check it out?

JS: No. Please don’t. I love working in bars and restaurants and hope to do that the rest of my life and not further my film career. So whatever you do, do not see this film and do not spread the word about it. It’s also on Amazon streaming and XBox and Playstation. Don’t rent from there either.

---

Thank you, Josiah!

Like Josiah said, if you don't want to see Bastards of Young, don't watch it on iTunes here or Amazon here. But if you do, check it out, and heck, maybe get some ideas on crafting your own party scenes!

Do you have experience with party scenes on film? What are you favorite party movies of all time?

[Photo Credits: Ben Hider]

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Your Comment

23 Comments

"JS: No. Please don’t. I love working in bars and restaurants and hope to do that the rest of my life and not further my film career. So whatever you do, do not see this film and do not spread the word about it. It’s also on Amazon streaming and XBox and Playstation. Don’t rent from there either."

I like this guy.

June 27, 2014 at 9:36AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Agreed ... I'll give this a rent on iTunes. I wasn't sold 100% based off the trailer, but I thoroughly enjoyed the interview and feel this guy is worth giving a shot.

June 27, 2014 at 9:55AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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CoolHandLuque

Exactly what I was thinking.
I like this guy and his attitude.
I will check is flick out just because of that.

June 28, 2014 at 9:49PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Gary Simmons

A party movie in Brooklyn and not a single "diverse" face in the crowd? (Or at least in the trailer.)

Congrats on getting it made (I mean that), but I can't get with it. It seems that while TV works hard to address creating a world that looks like American, too many films feel stuck in the past.

The trailer seems to cobble together moments/scenes that I've seen before from Apatow, Burns, early Woody, and Ms. Dunham, as well as a few others-- not quite sure what makes THIS one special. That they are 30? Well, 30 with no kids, searching for a career? Feels like 23.

I do wish you well, and perhaps the film offers more than the tailer.

June 27, 2014 at 12:18PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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profwilliams

30 is the new 23 didn't you know.
The infantilization of society is the tragedy of modern life.
Grown adults are living with parents and working for free.
It's capitalism in action and we're all too busy looking at iPhones and discussing how bad the 7D is to notice.
We'll be assembling electronics for the Chinese in no time.
See you in the sweatshop and have a nice day :)

June 27, 2014 at 4:29PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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oldhands

No, this is what Socialism looks like. The United States federal government controls 40% of the country's GDP... 50% is the threshold for what would technically be Socialism. There is no no free market competition left. The country is over-regulated with socialist-style policies, resulting in huge barriers of entry for young professionals. The only way people really get jobs these days is based on "who you know"... which is a HUGE tenant of Socialist counties. Look at any of them. You're either "born into" a career or you're out of luck.

Centralized currency, government involvement in every industry, 30-40% tax rate for the most Americans... yea, really sound like capitalism to me. Keep blaming what the Media-Political complex tells you...

June 27, 2014 at 7:33PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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bwhitz

I'm Mexican and we do tend to have a much better showing in modern tv/film than other cultures, but c'mon. Cast the best actors and write what you know. Doesn't look like America? I live in Los Angeles and I've been to plenty of parties with all white or all mexican attendees. So what? Should films be required to have a diverse cast? Maybe the characters are Serbian, Swedish, German, Italian. Is that not considered diverse? Perhaps they chose the best actors for the roles. Don't get me wrong, it's great that more non-stereotypical ethnic roles are being written, but I don't believe filmmakers have some sort of moral obligation to do so. Maybe this is a personal story to the writer. Maybe he doesn't know that many people of differing ethnicity. Maybe the casting agent cast the best actors based on their auditions? Are they to be faulted for that? Louis CK cast an African American actress as his ex-wife and mother to his very white children because according to him, she gave the best audition. Great! I commend that. However, faulting a film for not arbitrarily casting multicultural out of some sort of required political correctness is misguided.

June 27, 2014 at 5:03PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Ian

Who said moral obligation? You realize however, that you're giving the same excuse that had hollywood and the arts used for so long: we cast the best.

But you do know how casting works, right? Casting directors find actors they see, actors agents might recommend, and when everyone is casting "The best..." it (was) and frequently still is, those folks like them. Not all, but often.

That a filmmaker feels no desire to cast a diverse cast is on them. But I, and many others, will ask, why? And the usual answer is yours. But the next question is, how did you cast? Was your casting director aware of other pools of talent? Did you, like Louie even consider looking at a non-white actor for a role? (Check some of the "non-traditional" casting discussion on theater forums.

In truth, that's the issue, many filmmakers write for what they know, and since many filmmakers are white and male, they write with a white actor in mind (and don't get me started on the male gaze....). This isn't racist, racial or anything like that. It's what the filmmaker knows. However, like Louie (you brought him up) did the director/producer/casting director consider race/ethnicity in casting?

The answer frequently is, well, no. And usually only when it's pointed out do folks look and say, oh, right. But once cast, the usual answer is yours: "we cast the best actors we could find."

June 27, 2014 at 5:42PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Chriss

I'm not going to condemn a film based on a lack of "diverse" roles when I don't even know what the movie is about. It's myopic.

June 27, 2014 at 6:41PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Ian

I made it clear my comment was based on the trailer. But are you really using "myopic" in a discussion about a trailer for a feature? That's what a trailer is.

June 27, 2014 at 9:31PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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profwilliams

Lol, touche'. That was pretty good. ;)

June 28, 2014 at 5:10PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Ian

...and I was describing your attitude, not the trailer. But still funny.

June 28, 2014 at 5:31PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Ian

Dude you seem to be jumping to a lot of conclusions based on very little evidence here my friend.

July 1, 2014 at 10:39AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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I agree with Ian here. Seems like political correctness is being used a tool to tear down people who are have even the smallest bit of success. Jealous much? Calling someone "racist" is the modern day equivalent of "heretic". While it does occur, It's mostly used to tear down and shame people. And to create "bad guys" for society to steal from, so they don't seem immoral themselves.

Filmmakers have zero-responsibility to ensure a "diverse cast". Cast who you like, or who fits the job best. And guess what? Sometimes it will be slanted to one group or another. Despite what's been drilled into us as children, not everyone is equal at everything... and not everyone "likes" everything equally. This is just the nature of things. Get over it.

I don't see anyone complaining about BET programming or Robert Rodriguez's new El Ray network. Both of which are more than ok. People create and cast to cater to whatever market they like.

June 27, 2014 at 7:47PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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bwhitz

Settle down bwhitz. I explicitly said "This isn’t racist, racial or anything like that." And no, sorry not jealous. Or are you one of those who believes that any criticism MUST be jealousy? Please tell me you're not one of those who always got a trophy and when confronted with a disagreeable comment immediately panics and get defensive. Or better, do you think a movie critics who dislikes a film is jealous?

Regarding BET and Robert R. You see the difference between a network tailoring its focus to serve (and profit from) a niche audience (espn and lifetime do the same thing), and a filmmaker casting a film, right?

June 27, 2014 at 9:41PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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profwilliams

Re-reading your post leaves me cold in your odd anger and seemingly lack of any understanding of film history's place in shaping America (same with social satire, but that's another issue).

You don't have to agree with me, but at least have an argument. I love this site, but one of the problems with the idea of "NO" Film School is that too many new filmmakers are only concerned with the technical, and fail to grasp that film history, criticism, studies and knowledge are, perhaps, even more important than if a camera shoots compressed or uncompressed RAW.

June 27, 2014 at 9:58PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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profwilliams

Oh, and I'd ask you to take a look JJ Abrams work, he might be one of the more successful directors who frequently casts diverse actor in roles that might not otherwise be. Look at Super 8, the teacher was Black. Didn't have to be, but was. That was a director’s choice. And, of course, the new TV season has ABC giving up Thursday night to Shonda Rhimes, who gets big ratings and manages- get this- to find diverse actors.

Likewise, look at the kiddy shows on Disney/Nick, they all feature diverse casts, girls who lead and sometimes kids with gay parents. Why? Because those creators know how important the medium is in shaping perception, and more importantly who their audience is. A director has a million choices to make, and those considerations have consequences.

But if you “as a Mexican” (and really, who cares?) don’t have a problem- go on about your business.

Thankfully, for many storytellers, it’s not that big of a deal to be aware of the casts they put forth.

June 27, 2014 at 9:45PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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profwilliams

Very, very true profwilliams. I'm really glad someone bought it up, and I think that if anyone is being 'myopic' in this discussion, it's those who don't realise how much of an impact having your race, gender and sexuality represented in media has on feelings of self worth. Ian, just because you are Mexican doesn't make you the mouthpiece for all Mexicans, let alone every person of colour. If I (as a bisexual woman) were to say that I didn't give a shit if I saw bisexual characters being well-written and not just portrayed as sluts, I would be amongst a small minority. Yes, there might be some people who identify as bisexual and hold that opinion, but they don't speak for the large majority who would find that deeply offensive. I don't think it's difficult to make the tiny amount of effort required to make sure that the cast of your film is diverse, and honestly, the only reason that this opinion isn't more widespread is because people get so caught up in feeling offended that they're being called racist, or homophobic, or misogynistic, or WHATEVER, that they can't look past their hurt feelings to actually do something worthwhile with the power they hold as makers of media. And trust me, media is POWERFUL.

June 28, 2014 at 9:13AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Maja

Maja, I never purported to be the "mouth-piece for all Mexicans". I started with that to acknowledge that I may not be as sensitive to the issue as others because we are fairly well represented in film/television. Read what I said, please. My main point here is that if you're going to write off a movie based on a white cast, than you are discriminating as much as anyone else,....and potentially missing out on a fine cinematic experience. I agree with you Prof that film history is HUGE in shaping America, and that the choices made in casting diversely is a necessary and positive step. When did I say I didn't "give a shit" Maja? I just refuse to write off a film for having an all white cast.

No anger here though guys. Good talk, good talk. ;)

Wow,....all this over a party movie. LOL

June 28, 2014 at 5:25PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Ian

Looks very promising. Well done guys, and all the best with this.

June 27, 2014 at 2:22PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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William

Nice photos

June 27, 2014 at 3:19PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Ben

Congrats on making your movie. Now as for the trailer, I don't get it. It didn't excite me, it didn't make me curious and not sure why I would see it.

However because you are on NFS and you gave us some good advice I will check it out on Amazon. Hope it's good cause you seem like a cool guy.

June 27, 2014 at 6:33PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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PayDro

I would normally skip any mention of this genre, but after having a look at the trailer, I'm pretty impressed. It goes to show that having a good script, DP, director and good actors gives you the ability to create something that looks damn good for next to no money. I haven't seen the film yet but, judging by the trailer, it's probably a thousand times better than most (party) films out there. I spent 4 years in NYC before the digital video revolution(a lifetime ago). Wish I were there now.

July 4, 2014 at 2:43PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DREW