A couple weeks ago I was interviewed by Katherine Kocijanski of the Chatham Courier, the Hudson-Catskill sponsored local newspaper. The paper took an interest in Summit because we shot some of the film in Canaan. The story was released this week but, unfortunately, the paper is not online. I intend to scan it and share it through the Summit blog. But I figured, in the meantime, I’d include the original transcript of the questions she asked and the answers I gave in the interview.
1.) Can you describe the inspiration behind Summit? Where did the story come from?
I was first inspired to write Summit after a conversation with my friend, Chris Carroll, about a modern slasher film. A friend had suggested the idea of a serial killer that lures his victims to an abandoned house by hacking their GPS. It got me thinking about how much I love horror, especially classic slashers like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and how I would definitely like to make my stamp on the genre. It made sense to me that my first feature would be a horror film. But it was also really important to me that I produce something original, something that worked within the genre that I love but also brought something new to it. So I started kicking around the idea in my head. I eventually ended up writing a script very different from that original concept that sparked it. It’s five friends going on a trip who end up at the wrong location and everything goes wrong from there. A fairly typical story in what the genre has become, but Summit has a lot more depth than what has been seen in the past decade or so. It’s a film that I believe can be enjoyed by both horror fans as well as people that are looking for an emotionally riveting and somewhat gritty film.
2.) Where has the movie been filmed? Why did you choose to film in Canaan?
The movie was filmed in Lenox, MA, Canaan, NY, and North Adams, MA. Snow and woods are major components of Summit, so looking in the New England area was the logical choice what with the film being set in Vermont and the cast & crew being from New York City. I found a house in Lenox, MA that suited our needs, so that become our central location. It was then a matter of finding locations within a half hour of Lenox that we could shoot at. We specifically needed a gas station. My boyfriend, Justin Petrillo, grew up 10 minutes away from the Corner Deli in Canaan, NY and he told me to drop by and speak with the owner, Barbara. She was really sweet and super accommodating. She was generous enough to let us shoot there and, luckily, that particular shooting day was a major success. We also lucked out and found a few back roads to shoot on for some driving scenes just a few blocks away from the Corner Deli/gas station.
3.) How long has filming lasted for?
Filming lasted from January 20th to February 2nd. We were shooting on mostly 14 hour days in the bitter cold. Only four of our shooting days took place indoors. We shot in Canaan for three days, two of which were completely non-stop for 36 hours without a break because we were fighting natural light and needed to return our uhaul rental by a certain hour. I cannot express enough how amazing my crew is. They stuck it out and stood by me and the film in incredibly grueling conditions and still managed to produce topnotch footage. Finishing a feature film in 14 days is almost unheard of and to do it on our budget is even more unheard of. I’m just so proud of what we all accomplished together.
4.) Can you tell me more about your production company Congested Cat?
CongestedCat Productions is my production company that I co-founded with my best friend of 17 years, Chris Carroll (the friend I mentioned earlier). He’s a photographer mainly but developed a big interest in film as an extension of working with me. In the summer of 2011, I was about to begin production for my second short film and Chris and I decided that we should make our partnership official. The name came out of a funny conversation of trying to create an alliteration that alluded to Christina and Chris. It was something that initially started as joke but them became quite catchy. Since then, we’ve brought on excellent team members and have produced tons of content, from my short films, to contest entries, as well as commercials. We’re slowly but surely building a following and I’m very excited to see what’s next for us.
5.) As a film maker, where do you get your ideas for scripts?
As a filmmaker, everything inspires me. I find myself thinking of everything in terms of a storyline or a shot. I see something and think of how it’ll look in a frame. I overhear a conversation and it causes me to start coming up with context and backstory. I’m inspired by my own experiences and what I see around me. I have a tendency to find humor in the most mundane and sometimes awkward of situations. It’s a trademark of mine, I suppose, at least in my comedies. For me, most of all though, I love telling people’s stories, real people. I aim to make my audience connect with my characters in a very real way. So that’s usually where I start, whose story do I want to tell.
6.) You mention on your website that the Twilight Zone has influenced a lot of your writing. Can you tell me why and what was so special about the show?
The Twilight Zone was influential for me because I started watching it at 5 years old (maybe even earlier, I just don’t remember). It was the first thing I watched outside of Disney and kid-oriented programming. It made me realize what was out there beyond my little kid bubble. I suddenly knew what storytelling made possible. The show made me think and question. It always had a clever twist ending that I occasionally predicted, which was exhilarating, to engage with something so strongly. I don’t always have a twist ending or a punchline in my work but I do like to think that I play a lot with the viewer’s perception of what they’re watching and maybe what they think they know. The Twilight Zone, I believe, definitely influenced that so I feel the need to credit it. It’s quite possible that I wouldn’t have an interest in filmmaking if it weren’t for that show and the enlightenment it brought me at such an influential time in my life.
7.) As an indie film, what is the distribution process like?
Indie film distribution is a process that’s actually shifting quite rapidly. Most people in the industry have ideas of where it’s headed but no one knows for sure because technology is advancing in the field faster than it ever has. The typical way to go about distribution is to finish the final cut of your film, submit it to festivals (with the goal being to have your premiere festival be the best possible festival), and then hope to get some sort of distribution deal from a studio or distributor that will allow a theatrical release. That would be awesome for Summit, but there’s a lot of competition and a lot of bias in the indie world. So I’m trying to be as aware of my options as possible. New platforms are arising, from video on demand, to internet releases. For me, the first step is definitely submitting to festivals and seeing what we’re accepted to. Depending on how that goes, I’ll decided whether or not I want to try to get a distribution deal or maybe self distribute and tour with the film (it’d be wonderful to have a screening in Canaan!).
8.) What message do you hope to get from this film?
I’d rather not say what message I hope to give from this film. I’d much rather hear what message viewers got out of the film! So, if you’re reading this and you have the opportunity to check out the film in about two years time, feel free to tweet at me or send me a message through my site because I’d love to hear from you. Even if you hated the film, it’s all about reaching people and having an audience. That’s what we, filmmakers, truly aspire to do.
9.) What is next for you as a filmmaker?
What’s next for me? Well other than the long post-production process of going back and forth with my editor, sound mixer, composer, visual effects artist, and colorist for Summit, I’ll also be in pre-production for a comedic web series that I’m co-producing with my friend and fellow writer, Kelsey Rauber. We’re aiming to shoot the series over the summer and release it on blip.tv in the fall. Be sure to check out the CongestedCat website if you’d like more information.
10.) What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?
To aspiring filmmakers out there, I think the most important thing you can do is just create content. I can’t tell you how many people I run into that say they’re filmmakers or aspiring filmmakers and I ask what they’re working on and they tell me nothing. And they tell me that they haven’t done anything yet either. People have tons of excuses, there’s no budget, no resources, no opportunities. But sometimes you have to make your own opportunities. I grew up with a single mom and very little money. In high school, I sold candy for 10 months to buy myself a camera. And when I needed a location, I just asked someone I knew for a favor. When I needed actors, I used my friends. The best way to learn is to just do it, jump in. You may drown a little, but it’s that finding your way to the top that teaches you what you really need to know. A good portion of filmmaking is problem solving; if you can’t solve the problem of getting started, you may not be cut out for film. It’s tough and exhausting, but if you’re passionate, you’ll love it and find a way to keep doing it. So that’s my advice, just get started; make a film, any film, but just make one. If you truly don’t have the resources, find the opportunity to work on someone else’s film and then assemble a crew and network through the people you meet along the way. That’s how I’ve gotten many of my crew members. Film is collaborative, it’s teamwork. So join a team or put one together and make magic happen.
11.) You mentioned that during the post production phase of the film you will be working with your editor, sound mixer, composer, visual effects artist, and colorist. Can you send me their names?
My editor is Matt Gershowitz, sound mixer is Colin Petty, and visual effects artist is Steven Smith. I have not found a colorist or composer yet because adding the score and color correction are the last stages of post-production and we’re at least 3 months away from working on either. But I am exploring candidates and viewing/listening to samples this month so that the colorist and composer will have time to familiarize themselves with the film as we’re working on our final cut.
12.) I looked at your Kickstarter campaign video and it said your budget for the movie was $12,000. Is that number still correct after shooting was completed?
Going into our kickstarter campaign, I knew the film would actually cost more than $12,000. My budget estimate was $15,000. But with over 60% of crowdfunding campaigns failing at that point in time, I felt that $12,000 was more doable and knew that I could fill in that extra $3,000 with credit cards on my own. Ultimately though, between unforeseen costs related to the weather, extra equipment rentals, and other little things while shooting (like needing a lot more gas than initially expected), the film actually ended up costing about $20,000 throughout production. Between additional credit cards on my part, as well as my mom and boyfriend, Justin, coming on as executive producers, I was able to come up with the additional funding. My Assistant Director, Matt Gershowitz, was also a huge help when funding was low and we hit snags along the way during production. But, in terms of budget, we also have tons of post-production and festival submission expenses coming up. So, I’m working on a few different fundraising endeavors to raise the funds to move forward after we cut the film together. If any readers are interested in helping, we still accept donations in exchange for merchandise and other perks on the film’s website.
13.) In your answers you mentioned that your boyfriend Justin Petrillo suggested shooting at the Corner Deli in Canaan. Can you tell me about his involvement with the production? Did he play a bigger role in the film?
To elaborate more on my boyfriend, as I said, he ended up becoming an executive producer just before production began. He works in marketing but does not have a film background. He has gained a big interest in film, though, as a result of our relationship. I have to say that, although he didn’t actually play a part in pre-production, he was a great source of advice when I was marketing and using social media to build a following and gain supporters for kickstarter. Even more so, he was a great source of support for me because, since we live together, he was really the only one there with me to completely experience the highs and lows that I went through during the yearlong pre-production process. He’s an amazing guy and I’m incredibly lucky to have such a supportive partner in life. He believed in me and in my film and he stepped up when the funds were not quite where they needed to be; he became a part of the Summit team as executive producer and I, as well as the cast & crew, are incredibly grateful for that.
And your mother was an Executive Producer as well?
Yes, my mom became one just before production, as well. But she had honestly been a part of the film from the very beginning; that’s just how my mom is, she immerses herself in what I’m passionate about and is always a part of my projects in some capacity. If I post on facebook that I need to find a shooting location, within 30 minutes, my mom is calling to tell me that she saw my post, made a couple calls and found me a location. She’s the most supportive mother and truly the reason why I’ve had the drive and faith in myself to pursue my dream of being a filmmaker. So, again, my mom absolutely was a life saver by contributing the money that she could when funding was low, but even more than that, she helped in a million other little ways throughout preparing for the film. She and my aunt Natasha Singh even catered the set!
That’s it! All the questions she asked. Not all my answers made it into the article, which I think is good because her questions were so diverse that the piece could have been about any number of the things mentioned. She managed to reflect what I talked about accurately and keep it concise but interesting. Overall, the Q&A session was a great experience and I hope to have more opportunities to talk about Summit and my other work in the coming months.
I’ll share the actual article as soon as I can!