DIY Co-Directors Talk About Their First Feature Film Experience 'Hills Green'
In between their 9-5 jobs, filmmakers Ryan C. Glover and Krista Dzialoszynski have been working diligently on their feature film debut Hills Green, and after several years are proud to say it's finally complete. It's a story about two friends' escape to the country to discover what their relationship is made of, and is brought to life with the power of real-life nostalgia. The duo is now set for the film's Canadian premiere at the ReelHeART International Film Festival on June 24th in Toronto. Hit the jump for the trailer and our interview with the first-time feature filmmakers:
As a trying summer in Toronto comes to an end, longtime friends Shawn and Erin decide to take a week-long camping trip to escape their mounting obligations. At first they revel in the sights and sounds of the countryside, but soon ulterior motives and personal baggage begin to chip away at the foundation of their friendship.
NFS: I've been following this project for a while now, and I know making a feature is no joke. How did it come about, and did you ever feel like giving up?
Krista: We had been out of film school for 2 years, and we had shot little things here and there but we hadn't really committed to something bigger like a feature, so once we made that decision to just go for it there was no way we were going to abandon the project. As tough as it was at times we just had to work through it.
NFS: It's the story of a boy and a girl, directed by a boy and a girl. How much did your own relationship find its way into the narrative? Am I reading too much into it?
Ryan: No, it's very autobiographical. It's sort of a dramatized take on our protracted courtship, to the point where a lot of the locations we shot at we were actually revisiting moments from our past. Obviously, it starts off based on us but then it has to go somewhere dramatically suitable for a feature.
NFS: How was that for you? Revisiting on places and old feelings? How was the working relationship alongside your significant other?
Ryan: It worked out well. It brought back a lot of nostalgia. It never grew tense or anything, we spoke about it before we started the project and it was a pretty special feeling. We made sure we were on the same page before we went into production just because we knew our time was so limited.
Krista: Before we shot we made these cue cards with character backgrounds and motivations and whatnot, we knew we were having the actors improv pretty much all the dialogue, so we definitely needed to be on the same page as to what we needed from the actors in each scene. If one person was preoccupied with something camera related, there was always someone there that could steer it back if we ever veered off course. It's easy to get caught up with framing or something and forget that there's these people there relying on you for input and feedback. So it was nice to have somebody else there.
NFS: What did you guys learn about directing actors? Was that new or scary?
Krista: All of the above. It was kinda new, it was kinda scary. Part of me wished that we didn't rely on [improv] as much as we did. In the end I feel like it worked, but I definitely had questions and worries going in about whether or not it would. We started planning in May 2010 and went to camera in September. We did all the planning when we were still working 9-5s, so we knew if we sat down and wrote a 100 page script with scripted dialogue it wasn't going to happen for us. But we knew we wanted to make it, so we thought if we could just find actors that are cool with improvising then it would be a happy medium for us.
NFS: Are you going to fully write the next one or do more improv?
Ryan: My next project is genre based and I'm doing a screenplay, but there's just those little moments you need that I don't think one person and their laptop can create, I think you really need everything that's happening on set and all those people there, there's always those magical 'happy accidents' that you need.
NFS: The film looks beautiful -- what did you shoot on?
Ryan: It was a GH1 with one of the earlier hacks, we were shooting at just around 40Mbit/s with a Hotrod PL with 70's era Anamorphic lenses, and that was pretty much it for the camera package. That camera didn't do HMDI out so the whole thing was shot looking at the distorted image on the 3 inch screen, but I think the images held up.
NFS: They certainly do. How'd you decide how you wanted the film to look between the both of you?
Ryan: Anamorphic is just something I've always been interested in, just growing up being obsessed with John Carpenter and his commitment to shooting that scope image that he loved so much. When I found out this camera existed and these adapters existed, I just went for it. I had spent months shooting tests and shoots and we just both knew we arrived at the look we wanted to go with for this film. We're both pretty interested in natural looking images.
NFS: Lighting kit? Natural, lots of magic hour?
Ryan: We had a little bit of lighting, but because of our budget we knew would just pick our time of day carefully. We just used what we had just to supplement the image, like bounce cards, a little Kino for fill, Rosco Litepads for night exteriors. Simple and cheap.
Krista: We set most of the film outdoors in the woods or in a field, we knew our lighting options weren't going to be a lot and we wanted to keep it natural anyways, which also meant we could shoot things much faster and have a lot of freedom.
NFS: What was the schedule like?
Ryan: The first chunk of principal photography was 11 days on location up in the woods at the cabin that is featured in the film, and they were pretty packed days. We would shoot in probably 3-4 different locations a day. So it was pretty fast and furious when we were doing it, at least initially. The last two acts takes place during those 11 days, then we shot for 4 days in Toronto where the first act takes places.
NFS: Do you enjoy travelling with a lot of locations like that -- is that fun for you or is that stressful?
Krista: We had a lot of locations but we didn't really have the stress of having to deal with a lot of people at those locations. We didn't have to deal with permission either. If we had a larger crew it might've been more stressful.
NFS: What was your casting process like?
Ryan: To cast the male lead, we set up meetings with local actors to talk about the film and how we planned to approach the production. Once we narrowed the field down a bit, we shot improv'd screen tests with each of them in a scene with Jennifer Krukowski. We shot the tests on two cameras and edited the footage together and we were really happy with Adam Christie's screen test and thought he would make a great addition to the cast.
Krista: We knew Chris Spaleta from a short film that we all worked on in his home town. We loved what he was bringing to his performance in that film and were thrilled to get to work with him again on something a little different. We were also excited to get the opportunity to use his gorgeous farmhouse as a location in the film.
NFS: How long was the process from conception to completion?
Ryan: We started planning it in Summer of 2010 and then we shot in the middle of September 2010, and shot on and off until February of 2011 with a couple of pickup days. So we've been editing since February or March of 2011.
NFS: What did you struggle with most?
Ryan: Post-production. Most of the dialogue was improvised so we went through so many iterations when we were cutting it. We did a rough assembly cut and that was no problem and then we spent about a year straight just tweaking everything -- and tweaking back. Changing different takes, using different parts, it was really tricky finding what we needed to use and what we needed to leave out.
NFS: With all the new distribution modes out there, what's the best case scenario for you, and when can we see it?
Ryan: We'll be having the Canadian premiere in the end of June at the ReelHeART International Film Festival in the east side of Toronto. After that, we always pictured that it would be an iTunes or the new Vimeo platform -- we want to self-distribute, we think it's that kind of film. We're hoping people can see it at festivals and gets on the radar that way, and later this fall it will be on one of the online platforms.
NFS: Are there any pieces of advice you would give to first-time feature filmmakers out there?
Krista: We made our film while we were both working full-time 9-5 jobs and we know others that have done the same. While it's not an ideal way to make a feature and at times you want to just give up, I think it's important to see it through to the end. Regardless of whether your film ends up playing a bunch of festivals or gets posted online, you will meet people through your filmmaking with whom you can form working relationships.
Ryan: Don't wait around until the next new piece of gear is available to tell your story, especially if it's your first film. The cameras have been good enough for a long while, professional sound and what's in front of the cameras is more important. Also, keeping the script and the edit in a vacuum can be detrimental, sharing the work with those who will provide honest feedback is really important.
It's always great to hear the story of independent filmmakers who just really went for it, and despite the challenges are able to follow it all the way through. That's half the battle in my mind: staying focussed and committed to something. A special thanks to Ryan and Krista for taking the time to speak with me, and I hope we can all get our eyeballs on the film really soon.
Link: Hills Green Website