September 30, 2013

Interview: 'Not Waving but Drowning' & Its Unique Distribution Philosophy

If you're working on a project now, the thought of forming a plan for distribution is probably pretty daunting. There are several avenues to go down, the most popular ones being landing a coveted theater release and self-distributing on a VOD platform. Well, what about putting it up on YouTube for free and asking people to pay what they feel like paying? This is exactly what the filmmakers of Not Waving But Drowning decided to do upon its online release. The film's Writer/Director Devyn Waitt sat down with NFS to talk about not only the distribution strategy, but what it was like shooting in 3 states, and the goodies you can expect with the DVD -- like prescription drugs.

Not Waving But Drowning stars Vanessa Ray (Pretty Little Liars) and Megan Guinan, as well as Adam Driver (Girls) and Lynn Cohen (Hunger Games: Catching FireMunich,) and went up on YouTube at the end of August. It's a film that I've seen a handful of times, and each time I see get something new out of it.

First of all, it's shot beautifully. The cinematography is absolutely stunning. But the narrative is also moving. It's raw. It's honest. Daring at times. Painfully listless. It's like being homesick. It's like getting your first place. It's like growing up -- really growing up, at different stages of life. Unlike films in the catch-all genre of "coming of age drama", the film isn't so much an emotional roller coaster as it is an emotional sledgehammer to the face.

Before we get to the interview, let's take a look at the trailer for Not Waving But Drowning, as well as video with excerpts from the film's prelude, a short film entitled The Most Girl Part of You.

NFS: So, tell us about how you got started on this project. How did it all start?
Devyn Waitt: It started with a collection of images and ideas that I wanted to see brought to life. Feelings I wanted to try and make other people feel.

NFS: "Not Waving But Drowning" is a poem by Stevie Smith. What, if any, significance does the poem have in the film?

DW: I think that sentiment relates mainly to Adele's story. I think she even wants to keep up the illusion, though, that she isn't drowning.

NFS: Can you tell us a little bit about The Most Girl Part of You . What role did it play in your film?

DW: The Most Girl Part of You is a short story by Amy Hempel that we made into a short film that plays as a prelude before the feature. I really like the idea of pairing films, and having one sort of prepare you for the other.

NFS: What was your budget and how did you raise the funds?

DW: [She replied with the following -- except it was a gif.]

Dr. Evil

NFS: I heard you filmed in 3 states over a course of 45 days. What was the production process like?

DW: Long! We filmed in Florida first and that was a totally different experience than filming in New York. It was more like summer camp and everyone was really excited to have us. Sometimes friends of friends would like, bring folding chairs and mixed drinks and just post up by the truck and watch which was funny.

In New York it was much more frenetic and we didn't have permission to be a lot of places so everything was quick and hazy. Then when we filmed The Most Girl Part of You in New Jersey it felt like a dream. Very simple and well planned and it was fall and every day new trees in the suburbs were bursting with color. Also most of the time my mom and my grandmother did the craft services and they were really good. I think it was good for morale, as grandmothers often are.

NFS: What kind of gear were you guys working with?

DW: We shot on a RED and a RED MX, and a 5D when we had to be sneaky and a go pro when we needed to see the night sky through swinging hair. We edited on Final Cut 7 in the living room of my apartment, my roommate was really nice about it.

NFS: What was your directorial approach?

DW: I think it was different for every relationship. I had a really clear idea of what I wanted, but how to get there was different with each person. I like to play music a lot, to give people an idea of how different scenes should feel.

NFS: What/who are your biggest influences as a filmmaker?

DW: I really love the movie What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, the band Sigur Rós and the book The Awakening. I am mainly influenced by the people around me and by unstable emotions.

NFS: So, tell us about your distribution strategy. What release your film on YouTube for free?

DW: Really for us it is about getting as many people as possible to see it and to be able to share it as easily as possible. It was definitely a hard pill for me to swallow at first, because the idea of someone watching it on their iPhone really stresses me out. I definitely made it with the theatre in mind.

I think though, somewhere along the way we got realistic about who our audience is and how and where they watch things. And all of a sudden it felt exciting to just put the film right there in front of them, a click away you might say!

NFS: On the NWBD website you say, "We believe that in the future, you should be able to decide how much you pay for movies." Can you tell us more about that?

DW: Yeah. I think the idea of paying for things on a speculative basis doesn't make as much sense as paying for something based on how much it meant to you or how much you enjoyed it. It seems to me that would allow the things that people felt most connected to or moved by to rise to the top.

NFS: It's such a novel concept, one that I'd like to believe would work, but do you think this method would work for other filmmakers, too?

DW: I'm not sure. I'm not sure it is working for us, yet. But I believe it can work, and I hope it will.

NFS: Will there be a physical or digital copy available for those of us who want to own it?

DW: You can download the movie for free right now from our website. I think we are going to make some pretty DVDs in the future, with treasure maps and prescription drugs in them.

NFS: What advice would you give to independent filmmakers reading this?

DW: Oh man, I don't know if I have any good advice. Spend a lot of time on the script? Don't be lazy about dental hygiene.

***

Given the availability of distribution through VOD, it's fascinating that these filmmakers would hand over control to their audience and say, "Pay what you want, because you should be able to decide." This is an entirely different philosophy than simply putting your film up on YouTube or on a torrent site, because it's not only about dispersion (people are more likely to watch a free movie.) It's about giving your audience a say, which again, is a novel idea that I want to believe would work, but the crotchety, bitter cynic in me says it'll take some doing.

A big thanks to Devyn for the interview and the laughs! If you want to check out Not Waving But Drowning, you can view it on YouTube here. For best results, listen with headphones, and for god's sake don't watch it on your phone (if at all possible.) Also, if the movie moved you, meant something to you, of if you just have some cash to toss around, visit the film's website and donate what you can.

What did you think of Devyn Waitt's Not Waving But Drowning? What about their distribution strategy?

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18 Comments

Sounds interesting, but I don't seem to be able to play the film, both on YouTube and on the film's website.

September 30, 2013 at 10:35AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Same here. Says the file is "private". I am trying to download it, though.

September 30, 2013 at 10:52AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Tom

My only complaint is that the trailer is a tad vague (without your potted review above I wouldn't have bothered watching the feature, and I still don't really know what its about!), and obviously cut by someone who has never cut trailers for a living. Trailers count people! And they're not just some nice bits of the film!
That said, it does look very nicely shot, (the RED ONE and MX are still very viable people) and I will watch the film later today. Luckily I have Youtube on my TV so no phone viewing here.

September 30, 2013 at 11:56AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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marklondon

Unrelated note: Not Drowning Waving were a very good Australian band. Oddly their music would fit this film: http://youtu.be/2eO3o7vtGyg

September 30, 2013 at 11:59AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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marklondon

I haven't seen the feature but, I saw nothing in the trailer to support your, "The cinematography is absolutely stunning." comment. Not saying it's bad but, there's little there beyond what I would expect from any person assuming the role of DP/cinematographer. As a photographer/DP, words like these prick my ears up and, in anticipation of seeing truly remarkable imagery, I rush to take a look. Most of the time, as in this case, I am disappointed.

And, as marklondon pointed out, this trailer provides little as to what the film is about or, IMO, any incentive to see it.

September 30, 2013 at 1:06PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Maybe you should watch the feature then.

September 30, 2013 at 1:44PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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V Renée
Nights & Weekends Editor
Writer/Director

I agree the trailer did not excite me from the visual standpoint. It looked more like dslr footage than Red One or MX footage to me. I have seen very nice looking films made with the Red MX that visually drew me in more. However, the whole film may do more visually than the trailer alone.

September 30, 2013 at 8:08PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Should I assume, then, that they chose not to use any of the "stunning" footage in the trailer?

Hey V, I'm being cheeky but, I don't mean any ill-will to you. I like you and your posts. I just get a little tweaked when, er, let's say 'good' cinematography gets a "stunning" report card. The imagery in this trailer may be a notch above average but, it is not stunning.

I am realizing, though, in this era of, "I have a 5D so, I'm a filmmaker", superlatives like this are used frequently, often with little qualification, mostly, by young folk.

And, as to your comment that maybe I should see the feature... as I said in my original post, I saw little in the trailer to incentivize me to do so.

I look forward to more of your posts. :)

October 1, 2013 at 1:15AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Thanks, Dixter :)

I think that "stunning" means different things to different people. Different strokes for different folks. To me, what I find stunning, aren't necessarily grand vistas and technically complicated shots. Simplicity, subtlety, experimental, bizarre, stylized -- it's a mixed bag with me. I do like and respect the work of some of the greatest DPs in the industry: Roger Deakins, Gordon Willis, Robert Richardson, to name a few contemporaries (not from early cinema.) They're masters at what they do.

But, I LOVE Raoul Coutard. His documentary style -- which at times became surreal -- the colors -- all these became trademarks of the French New Wave. There's something about his technique that reminds me of poetry -- the kind I like, that speaks to me personally. (Ellen Kuras, too.)

The cinematography in "NWBD" and the prelude film made me feel similar. There were several moments in the film that just socked me in the gut, because it was so beautiful -- not necessarily because it was perfectly composed, but because it was different. It was gritty at times. It was lovely at times. The shot of Adele on the escalator (which is in the trailer,) brilliant. I've watched the prelude probably 10 times, because it watches like a poem reads. The compositions spoke to me. Excellent, excellent work in my opinion.

Just a friendly question -- what kind of cinematography moves you? Who are your favorites?

October 1, 2013 at 4:15AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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V Renée
Nights & Weekends Editor
Writer/Director

V, I've been pondering this for a while. I'll answer your question by listing some movies. I would have to place near the top of that list, one of everybody's favorites, of course, Jordan Cronenweth's masterpiece, Blade Runner. But, that's an easy one. The last few evenings I've spent watching, with the sound off (I love the soundtrack but, it's easier to watch the camerawork without the audio), The Assasination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford. This is not only one of the most beautiful films ever made, it might be one of the greatest films ever made. Visually, a melancholy, yet lyrical, poem set in motion by the inimitable Roger Deakins. It abounds with some of the most gorgeous footage ever captured on film but, in particular, the approaching train sequence as the James Gang prepares to board and steal the contents of it's safe. Another stunningly gorgeous sequence is that of the Comedian receiving a serious pummeling at the hands of Ozymanias in The Watchmen, shot by Larry Fong. This film is also packed with glorious lighting and camerawork throughout, albeit, probably, with a considerable amount of CG. I still love it anyway. I don't have too many obscure cinematographer's name to toss about but, I love the work of some of the northern European aestheticians, namely Hoyte Van Hoytema. Among others, he shot Tinker,Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Let The Right One In. Also, Eric Kress who shot the original Girl With the Dragon Tatoo. On a grittier level, I liked Michael McDonouh's handling of Winter's Bone. This isn't exhaustive and I could go on but, you probably get where I'm coming from and thanks for asking.

October 4, 2013 at 12:51PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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That's a damn good list, Dixter. I love the cinematography in Let the Right One In and Winter's Bone, too. That of Frozen River reminds me a lot of the other two, except less stylized. Your comment reminded me that I've been needed to rewatch Blade Runner...so thank you for inspiring my plans tonight!

October 4, 2013 at 2:24PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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V Renée
Nights & Weekends Editor
Writer/Director

You know what? Nobody except filmies like you give a rat's ass about the difference between a DSLR and RED footage. No ill will. Just plain and simple fact of life.

October 3, 2013 at 12:19AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Jon

This video contains content from big_bad_studio, UMG, Beggars, Sony ATV Publishing, INgrooves, SACEM, PEDL, PRS CS and Koch Entertainment, one or more of whom have blocked it in your country on copyright grounds.

September 30, 2013 at 3:26PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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joker42

Who is PRS CS? I'd like to contact them.

November 2, 2013 at 12:24AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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I downloaded from the site and watched it. The file is bluray quality, I'd say, so I recommend it over watching it online.

I liked the film. There is some really beautiful footage, the kind you get I think when you're patient and keep your eyes open and have a flexible shooting schedule. Just guessing. Since so many of the nicest shots seem to use natural light.

The retirement home subplot was a little cliché in my humble opinion, but a lot of the scenes in the film were really interesting and the characters were real and complicated. The lead actresses were perfect. The camera angles and shooting locations were well chosen. There are some good lines in the script too. Glad I heard about it and watched it.

September 30, 2013 at 4:19PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Tom

The short film and feature look way better then the trailer for some odd reason. When i started watching the downloaded version I immediately felt it was a professional product and didn't look 5D to me at all. It had that signature RED look to it and i immediately though RED ONE before reading. The acting, story, characters are all well acted and written and both the films are great. Not to mention the sound is top notch. I definitely recommend to anyone who likes real stories and real characters we can all relate to. The trailer really was not put together well IMO nor does either film justice. The cinematography doesn't elevate the story or make it better but it compliments it in the same way fruitvale stations cinematography did, for whoever has seen that movie. I'm still very curious how much the budget was and how they got the money. I feel that's an important aspect filmmakers should share and a question a lot of us want answers too. Are you ashamed? Did you spend a lot? Not enough? Cmon...tell us! lol

October 1, 2013 at 4:20AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Brad Watts

If all you pay attention too is the quality of the film image and what camera was used, then the story must suck. Because a truly good story sucks you in and it;s all you can think about. This isn't a criticism of the film. I haven't seen it. It's a criticism of you. No ill will.

October 3, 2013 at 12:22AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Jon

No answer to the most interesting question of the interview. Whats the budget, how did you raise it?

I think I'll pass on watching this.

October 4, 2013 at 3:59AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Stew