Making the Film - Interviews

Shane Carruth - 07/Mar/04

Mike: "Shane - thanks for agreeing to do this interview. Can we begin by going back to the $7,000 dollar price tag of PRIMER. You are famously quoted as saying you shot the film for the price of a used car. Can you give a break down of the costs?"

Shane: "It was a few thousand for the camera rental, a couple of thousand for processing, and then, of course, the cost of film stock. I called around and managed to get a lot of expired stock donated. I also used tungsten-based 35mm slide film to storyboard the movie - this really helped me show the various labs what the final film would look like and thus negotiate prices with them. They are much more likely to give you a discount when they think you’re someone that might be back one day with a bigger budget. I'd also like to stress to people that the $7,000 did not cover the 35mm blow-up. A friend loaned me the cash for that when we realized we would need something to project at Sundance. I had a few offers from certain bodies to pay for the blow-up, but they demanded that they be credited as Executive Producers and that their credit show before everyone else's. I didn't think that was fair to me and everyone who worked on the film for free before it was a "Sundance" film. Luckily, my friend Scott Douglass saved the day."

Mike: "In addition to renting the camera, did you make any equipment yourself, such as homemade steadicams (monopod with a camera-equivalent weight gaffered to the bottom) or dollies (skateboards, etc)."

Shane: "I looked into rigging up a skateboard-style dolly, but in the end I found a dolly that was cheap (around $40/week) compared to the camera rental which was about $1,000 per week."

Mike: "Tell me a bit about the casting of this film, and your take on the use of professional actors. I noticed that you play the lead and that a number of other non-professionals played other parts."

Shane: "I had a bad experience with the casting. I saw about 100 actors in total, but found that they either were a little too theatrical, or that they'd show up unprepared. In the end, only one professional actor ended up in the movie. The rest were either family members, or friends-of-friends. It's funny because I've heard several nice comments specifically about the acting."

Mike: "If you were to do this film again, is there anything that you would do differently?"

Shane: "I would do a better job of securing a producer (or ten). One of the problems I had shooting PRIMER is that I didn't have enough time to concentrate on direction. I was too busy phoning the actors, securing locations, picking up equipment, running to the lab, and just coordinating everything. I also would add that, in retrospect, if I had just increased the budget a little - say from $7,000 to $10,000, the film could have been two or three times better.

A good example is the fact I edited the film with Adobe Premiere. In addition to it continually crashing, I have found that it is just not cut out for proper film work, where something like Final Cut Pro is. Premiere is fine for home videos, but it lacks certain features that restricted what I could do and how seamlessly I could work with the sound."

Mike: "What can we expect to see from you next?"

Shane: "I am finishing a script now that I hope to direct."

Mike: "Do you think that you will continue to direct from your own scripts, or are you open to directing the written work of others, and even adapting novels?"

Shane: "That's a question I've been deliberating over for a while now. While I don't want to appear stubborn, I must confess that I find the writer/director route much more attractive because I will always understand my scripts, their characters, and their motivations in a much more intimate way than a script by another writer."

Mike: "Once you had finished PRIMER, what was your strategy for getting it recognised?"

Shane: "I met the early deadline for Sundance, but I was kind of paranoid about how political the process of getting in might be. I had heard it was always a good idea to get a producer's rep, so I travelled down to LA and spent some time phoning around. I called around 500-600 people a week, everyone from publicists to managers to agents. I also created a trailer and a website for the film. Ultimately I don't know exactly what led to the film getting in. I'd like to think that everything that happens is based completely on a film's merits, but so many things happened, it's hard to pin it down to a certain series of events."

Mike: "Did you get any producer's reps trying to prey upon and exploit you?"

Shane: "Yes. I found a guy who claimed to love the film and wanted to rep it. He also wanted $5000 a month as a retainer. Actually, that happened quite a few times. One guy told me to send a screener to his friend in New York along with a check for a few hundred dollars for "editing notes". It's a bizarre world out there. To this day, I don't know if those were scams or if that's just another way it could have gone."

Mike: "What advice do you have for young filmmakers branching out into the world of independent filmmaking?"

Shane: "I have zero advice. There are so many contradictory recommendations out there, that I'm sure first-time filmmakers already have enough to deal with without me adding to the noise. For the last 3 years I have been given so much bad advice, I'd hate to do the same to anyone else."

Mike: "It seems that a lot of low-budget filmmakers these days are tending to overlook how important sound is in a movie. How did you approach sound in your film?"

Shane: "I was one of those guys you mentioned, who didn't pay the sound enough attention. I had a DAT recorder and a crappy old mic. The sound wasn't good to be honest. About 80% of it needed to be rerecorded."

Mike: "How did you approach the ADR?"

Shane: "I did the ADR work in my apartment. The only things that seemed to make noise in my apartment were the fridge and the computer. I switched the fridge off, and put my PC in a back closet with just a mouse and keyboard and monitor wired (with extension cables) up to it."

Mike: "So when will we all finally be able to see PRIMER?"

Shane: "I just finished negotiations for the North American distribution deal with THINKFilm. PRIMER will be in theatres before the end of the year."

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