After a year on the festival circuit with his feature length short film compilation Intimate Semaphores, director TJ Misny turns to the burgeoning NoBudge community for its online berth.
A recent partnership with Indiewire (in which Indiewire will spotlight one NoBudge release each month) solidifies NoBudge as a viable streaming destination and place to get under-heralded work seen. All three Intimate Semaphores shorts are available to watch free online as of today and are described by NoBudge founder Kentucker Audley as "A collection of three short stories, each a surreal and darkly comic exploration of creative expression and how our artistic impulses have the power to unite us or alienate us." We caught up with director TJ Misny to discuss his reasoning behind the release and his evolution as a filmmaker as he hunts for financing on his first (bonafide) feature film.
Watch all three films at NoBudge (or embedded throughout this post). For titillation, see below:
For anyone starting out, one of the biggest assets we have is the fact that there's a romance behind what we do.
NFS: Why choose NoBudge as the online home?
TJ: Making money off it isn't the goal, I just want people to see them and to have a platform for them. Especially so when I go out to investors I can say "Look, here's the last thing I made and people are enjoying it."
NFS: It's amazing how important press, curation, and validation is when raising money.
TJ: It's really important, and at the independent level that I'm in right now I'm not going up to financing companies, I'm going to private equity — people who aren't necessarily in the film industry, and they can be influenced by what these gatekeepers say. It seems really fickle but I think that's how a lot of this works; you have to create a mythology or confidence around yourself that other people can believe. For anyone starting out, one of the biggest assets we have is the fact that there's a romance behind what we do. Part of what we're selling is that romance, it's part of the storytelling.
NFS: What kind of things do you do to uphold that besides making an interesting film?
TJ: On your first projects, I think that's where you set the rules of how you want to do things. One of the first things that Charles Foster Kane does when he buys a newspaper is he makes the statement of principles. I think the point of that film is that he breaks all the principles, but you try to abide by your principles. While making these short films I made sure that people were payed to the fullest extent that I could. I followed all the union guidelines, I paid everyone overtime when we went over 12, the turnaround times were respected, meal penalties, etc — I didn't have to do that at all, but it was something I wanted to take seriously. I wanted to learn how to run the machine, taking the constraints of moviemaking seriously and not trying to wiggle around them.
The first of three shorts, Helberger in Paradise is IndieWire's NoBudge pick of the month:
NFS: Yeah, you don't know what really goes into the process unless you've lived it.
TJ: We shot over the course of 2 weeks and within that we had two dozen locations, sometimes 4 location moves a day. Those location moves could've been easier if I didn't have a Fisher 11 dolly or an Arri Alexa. I could've done it lighter and faster but I wanted to really understand what it meant to have a company move. So when I'm doing my first feature and we have 2 moves in a day I want to understand how you can make that move in the fastest and smoothest way with the full company.
NFS: Do you think it's smart for a director to be thinking about those things? What do you do as a director when time is being eaten by a lens change, for example?
TJ: I think it's really important for directors to have an understanding of the equipment they're going to be using and the effect the equipment has on the audience. Why are you using these lenses or steadicam or whatever is on your equipment list. I put together all my own equipment lists with my DP. If you don't understand what all those things are, I would encourage people to try to ask: Why is it this and not that? "Why do you have Cooke 5is and not Cooke S4s. Why does the DP shoot on primes and not a zoom? Why are we using HMI and not tungsten? That way when it comes time to make a call on set, you can really think about what you really need.
I think it's really important for directors to have an understanding of the equipment they're going to be using and the effects the equipment has on the audience.
I really like shooting on film and what's great about that workflow is that you have to reload your camera. With digital it's easy to get used to shooting all the time. That just gives you an opportunity to breathe and think and that way you really know what to say to people when it's time to roll again. So it's nice to have some time where you can't shoot. Sometimes you think you can dig yourself out of a hole if you keep shooting, but that may not help you get back on schedule or get the performance you want.
NFS: Yeah, especially lenses. If you make the wrong lens choice you're going to waste a bunch of time or capture the scene incorrectly.
TJ: I think that skill just comes with the more times that you're able to make those decisions. The more times you're able to visualize not only what you see, but what that does; what statement you make with it and how that impacts the space. I think that's an essential part of storytelling.
NFS: When we spoke last year you said you didn't want to jump the gun by making your feature too soon, that you wanted more of a trial by fire first. How has that worked out?
TJ: Well the first draft was written in 2008. I really wanted to write something that had a moral exploration about revenge and guilt and forgiveness. So I wrote the first draft pretty quickly and then every year I went back to it and tried to tune it up with what I learned in that year; about myself, or about writing, about the world, lighting, whatever. In the time that's passed I've made 6 short films, and I've been actively trying to make this thing for the past 2 years, hoping to shoot it at the end of this year. It was truly important for me to do the short films first. When I did my first short I didn't understand what a lens did what, or how to structure a scene in an intelligent way. That was something I really had to teach myself through doing it.
I like the idea that when you release a feature, everything you've learned up to that point somehow gets into it.
NFS: What's it like now embarking on your first feature film and knowing you need a million bucks?
TJ: When I did the Semaphores shorts, it was all out of pocket. I raised all that money through doing odd jobs and it took me like 2 years to come up with the money to do the shorts. Now I have an idea of what I need to accomplish the effect that I want to have on an audience. I've learned what happens when you bring a dollar into a film production and where that dollar goes and how to put as much of that dollar on screen as you can.