Most definitely. Of the shorts I have made thus far, I haven’t always had a stranglehold on what exactly it will become. When Cody Berry and I finished the script for The 82 Peddler we thought it was going to be more funny…dark humored. When we went into production, cast certain people who had their own take on the characters, it changed into something more sinister and in fact better than what we ever imagined. I never thought I could make a serious film but somehow that is what it evolved in to. The same goes with feature scripts I write. Half way through the 2nd draft you realize this has changed. It could be anything that starts the change: News on T.V. something that has affected me personally and then subconsciously I transfer it to whatever I’m working on, thus straying from the outline.
ITSA: What age were you when filmmaking went from a hobby to something else?
Derek: I wanted to tell stories since about 13 years old. First writing short stories, then went on to telling stories with my parents’ video camera. Throughout high school I shot movies with a VHS recorder and then would show them to my friends. But it wasn’t until I was 21 when I decided there is absolutely nothing else I can do in this world. I’m not talented enough to do other things. Sad but true. Almost ten years ago was when the true “Digital revolution of filmmaking” started to happen. I purchased a Panasonic DVX100 camera and went to work. Never turned back. It’s not really a hobby nor a career but more of an addiction.
ITSA: What limitations do you have when working on a film? Or what area would you like to learn more about?
Derek: Money is the ultimate limitation but it should never dictate how creative your story can be. As far as what area I’d love to learn about – all of it. I would like to think of myself as a writer and director so right now I would like to get more into an actor’s head. At the same time I put a lot of work into the visuals with the D.P. and I could definitely learn about camera more. The 82 Peddler was shot on the Red. For the last short I made that is in post, we shot 35mm and I was just blown away by how much there is to know. I’m constantly in awe of the guys that know the gear in and out. It’s a science.
ITSA: Speaking of money, how do you finance your films?
Derek: I’ve made seven films and one television pilot since I was 21 and they were financed in various ways. One of them was a low low budget feature that I was brought onto to direct and it was financed by the writer. The others were shorts and they were the usual methods of finance: Family, friends, savings, investors…bank robberies. Some people say financing short films is the biggest mystery. That’s not true. There is no mystery as to why an investor will not throw money away on something that has no return. Age old question – “What’s in it for me”. Shorts are a very expensive demo reel for all involved. Whether you’re the director, costume designer, cinematographer or the P.A. It’s something to show people around the world that tells a story but also displays your talent. So you can see why investors aren’t flocking to your short films. It is very rare when an investor gets involved in a short subject but it does happen. The last short we made was roughly $10,000 and we had the majority financed by an investor. Will that every happen again to me? Probably not. But it’s really not a mystery. You just have to save it or beg for it. Then go do it.
ITSA: As a creative person, you have to be faithful to your own vision. Is there a time where you haven’t been true to your art and self-expression?
Derek: No, not yet. But then again I’m constantly changing because I feel I’m just starting out. Hopefully I’ll have time to be unfaithful.
ITSA: If money wasn’t a worry for you, choose a leading actor and actress to star in one of your films? Why?
Derek: Michael Wincott because he’s absolutely amazing and very under-appreciated. For the actress I’d have to say it’s a toss up between Kelly MacDonald and Frances McDormand. MacDonald because she has more to offer I believe and McDormand because she’s France McDormand – nuff said.
ITSA: When did you make your first ‘real’ film? What made that film feel different than others?
Derek: 2010. A short called The Keymaker. It was extremely low budget and there were numerous flaws but it was a great set and very professional. I’m proud of the film and how we made it. I think the biggest difference was that it was the first time I collaborated with a crew – costume designer as well as a D.P. and so on. Before that I had my video camera and some home depot lights and I wasn’t collaborating with anyone. What I said was law. With the last three shorts I’ve used for the most part the same crew and now I have to justify my answers or they’ll call me out. And it makes the films better. Especially on a short if you can get numerous people together who are almost working for nothing they tend to take an emotional investment in the film and they want it to be every bit as good as you do. It’s no longer “Director is God”. It’s more of a democracy.
Derek: I spent four semesters at a county college then dropped out. I then convinced my parents I wanted to go to a technical film school in L.A. Once I bought my first prosumer camera I completely disregarded the idea of a school. I recommend Barnes N Noble or Half-priced books if you have no money. If you have the luxury of money, go to school if you want. I picked up a great book called Film Director by Robert Wise when I was 15. Started with that and then did nothing but watch films and study them. In my mid-twenties I decided it was time to read good stories and I started a quest of reading actual literature which I now love. So to answer the question, do whatever you can to learn. If you’re a classroom kind of person go for it. If you learn with hands on training then jump in and “play around”. Seeing how I’m still getting my foot in the door I’m hesitant to give firm advice in that matter.
ITSA: What are some qualities you have that have made it easy for you to make a film?
Derek: Well, my mother always said that I’m a very stubborn, argumentative but driven man. Those traits could be very bad or very good. When it comes to something I have no interest in I’m stubborn and seldom give my full effort. When it comes to something I love, such as film, stubborn turns into driven and I suddenly work very hard and never give up on it until I feel it’s finished. But I should state it is never easy to make a film. Never. And if by some chance it is easy, then you’re doing it wrong. Start over and figure out what went wrong.
ITSA: In your eyes, what or who is a director?
Derek: A man who is indebted to about 30 or 40 other people for helping him craft a story. He’s desperate, insane and in control…most of the time. Above all he’s a storyteller.
ITSA: What skills do you think are necessary to help a filmmaker make it in Hollywood?
Derek: No skills needed nowadays it seems. Luck is the name of the game. Do I sound incredibly bitter?
ITSA: Advice for new filmmakers?
Derek: To be perfectly honest I think I need some. Anyone has some advice please email me. My only tidbit would be the most cliched answer ever: Never give up. And please read a book or two. Watch less movies and read more books.