Recently I had the pleasure of conducting a lengthy and detailed interview with the main mind behind 2009’s hottest and most talked about independent movie, INK. For those of you who are unaware of this momentous achievement of a film, all related links to trailers, images, press and blogger assets, and of course my own review of INK will be posted below the interview.
I would like to take this moment to thank Jamin and Kiowa Winans for being not only the most classy and savvy film makers in the business today, but also being some of the most helpful, open, and supportive people I personally know. It’s one thing to see a small independent film begin to succeed against all odds, but it’s even better when you know how passionate, respectful, and genuine the people are behind that film.
Without any further delay, here is the interview.
What got you into film and film making?
My family didn’t own a TV until I was about 10. Naturally I was much more fascinated with the motion picture than anyone else I knew because I didn’t take it for granted. It was this magic box to me. From 10 on I was obsessed.
Did you specialize in film in school?
I did a year of film school then dropped out. I had grown up teaching myself to make movies, so aside from a couple of film theory classes I didn’t feel like I was going to learn much more there. Robert Rodriguez’s book, “Rebel Without A Crew”, really influenced me. His advice was to take the money you would spend on film school and just make a film. I think that’s good advice.
When did you first come up with the story for INK?
It was an evolving idea I started thinking about maybe 6 or 7 years ago. I was really interested in telling a story about people who come out at night while everyone’s asleep in order to give them dreams. For me most film ideas start with an image and then build from there. In the case of Ink, it started with the image of Ink reaching for Emma asleep in her bed and Allel crashing through the window to stop him.
How did you come about the title for the movie?
I was working on the script and explaining the idea to some friends early on. I kept describing the character as moving like black ink. A friend told me I should use that as the character’s name. Once I realized the many implications that had, I went with it. I don’t want to say too much more.
How long did it take from basic idea to finished script?
It’s impossible to say, but probably around 3 years off and on.
When you were writing, did you have certain actors already in mind for certain roles?
I wrote the film with Chris Kelly in mind. I had worked with Chris twice before on our first feature 11:59 and a short film called Blanston. I really loved his work, but never had a lead for him until Ink. I talked to him early on to see if he wanted to take on all the “complexities” of the role and he was for it.
I had also worked with Jessica Duffy before on a commercial so was familiar with her talent. Everyone else in the principal cast were new to me. Everyone auditioned.
Personally, I found INK to be a very deep and layered film. Is this the way you wrote it, or do these things tend to come organically?
I’ve always gravitated towards complex films that open your mind. One of my favorite films when I was a teenager (and still to this day) is 12 Monkeys from Terry Gilliam. All of Gilliam’s films are favorites, but 12 Monkeys really hit me. First, it’s complex so you don’t get everything in just one viewing. I think that’s a sign that you’ve created a world beyond what’s contained in the film. Secondly, it’s mind-opening. One walks away from the film thinking about it for hours if not days. Thirdly, it’s powerful emotionally. The first time I watched it (in the theater) I was just mesmerized. It wasn’t until the second time (the next night) that I was covertly crying by myself.
I tried to embody those same elements in Ink and all the films I make. I wish I could say it all happens organically, but unfortunately it’s just a lot of work.
What was your budget?
For the time being we’re still hush-hush about the budget, but I’ll say it was under a million.
Did you have outside financial backing? Or is it your own money?
We had private investors. And Kiowa and I sell lemonade and brownies outside our house. Tomorrow’s two for one by the way.
Did you do much preparation before shooting? …and what was the most vital piece of preparation you did?
We prepped for about a year believe it or not. A lot of time.
It’s hard to say what part of the prep was the most important because it was all critical. I would say anything having to do with the actors. So auditioning, rehearsing, and fight training. Fight sequences aren’t something where you just want to wing it. Not if you want to keep your actors looking pretty. Location scouting, costume design, and effects testing we’re also really critical for us.
What was the inspiration for the look of the Incubi, The Storytellers, and Ink himself?
The Incubi and Storytellers stemmed from a quote I heard that goes something like, “How alike are all the tyrants of the world and how wonderfully unique all the saints”. So the goal was to keep the Incubi looking assimilated, to use a Trek term, and to make the Storytellers unique from one another.
The word that best describes the Incubi is “sterile”. We wanted them to be false, plastic, and sterile. They don’t want to be infected, or tainted by the imperfections of humanity. So they were covered in plastic and rubber and given a mask that we like to refer to as their “sneeze guard” from the rest of the world. The mask has the purpose of not only protecting them from humanity, but it allows them to project nightmares onto others and it renders the Incubi’s vision colorless.
The Storytellers have an emphasis of pop culture from different eras. It’s almost as if each died at different times from the past and the future and came to the dream world. They have an “earthier” quality, warmer tones, and a lot of style. They celebrate differences between each other.
Ink himself comes first and foremost from Snow White. No villain has ever had a stronger impact on me than the witch from Snow White in old woman form. Ink is just a more apocalyptic badass version of her. Oh, and he has a huge, huge nose. I would explain that choice a little more, but I don’t want to ruin it.
What was the inspiration for the, shall we say, “alternate dimension” that our heroes and villains inhabit?
I guess it’s just the way I see the world. I believe there are things going on around us that we’re not able to see and I believe there are a lot of outside influences on the flow of the physical world.
Being a special effects buff I’ve got to know, how did you make Inks face, and in particular, his nose?
Well, I didn’t do a whole lot other than eat a sandwich while other more talented people created the prosthetics and applied the makeup. Alison Chilen was our primary make-up artist, however the prosthetics were sculpted and created by Todd Debrecini and Chris Guarino. They took our actor through a traditional casting and molding process. They caste his face, made a mold, molded a new face, built the extra “features” including the nose on that face, and then molded the foam prosthetics using the new mold.
Alison spent between 2-4 hours a day applying the makeup and then another hour at the end of the day removing it. She was the hardest working person on the set.
Were there any special challenges that arose for the cast and crew due to the ethereal nature of the film and its story?
Everything was more difficult. This obviously wasn’t a coffee shop drama. Almost every sequence had elaborate costuming, effects, lighting, makeup, stunts, locations or all of the above. Unquestionably the biggest struggle was just getting through it. It went on so long we were simply just trying to survive.
How long did it take to film?
83 days of hell.
… and how long did post-production take?
14 months of hell.
What scenes were the hardest to shoot, and conversely, which were the easiest?
Hardest… There were so many it’s difficult to say. Anything with fighting…brutal. Anything at night outside…brutal. Anything with a lot of extras…brutal. I would say the hospital sequence towards the end of the movie was the thing that almost killed us. There were extras, fighting, fighting extras, elaborate lighting, effects. Ugh, makes me want to cry thinking about it. We were literally living in an abandoned hospital for a week and living on pizza and late night I Hop. Yet, it is one of my favorite scenes in the film. Funny how that works.
Easiest… A lot of the John and Shelly moments were really laid back and fun. I think we were all at peace during those times. Ironically those are the peaceful moments of the story.
How did you hone that unique visual style that sets INK apart and what or who influenced that particular style?
Well I’m glad you think it’s unique. I’ve been making movies since I was a little kid so my style has been evolving and solidifying ever since. Because I’ve ripped off so many different filmmakers, I don’t think anyone could say the style is anything but my own concoction. It really is just a lot of other filmmakers I love Frankensteined together in my own way.
The “Furniture Reconstruction” fight early on in the film, how did you achieve those effects? (unless it is a trade secret, then you can plead the 5th)
Ha, ha! They’re primarily a combination of cheap tricks. Some stuff was done practically and some was done in post. There was some rotoscoping involved, but for the most part just cheap tricks. We’ll probably show how we did some of that in the extensive doc about the making of the film.
Can you elaborate on the techniques, methods, and inspiration you used to create some of the memorable sound effects and the score?
The sound design was Kiowa’s department, but I’ll explain to the best of my ability. We treated the sound design as another opportunity to tell the story, so each choice was very deliberate, even the absence of sound. So every choice was motivated by story and environment. When you’re working on a limited budget you have to make up for it with creativity so we were constantly trying to make unusual choices. It’s very easy to slip into cliche conventions when dealing with sci-fi/fantasy so we constantly challenged ourselves to do something different.
A lot of the other worldly sounds were things that she created by combing various sounds. We recorded and created all of our own foley and because of this, we’re able to make some unusual choices. They were choices that were often subtle, but would give the world just a little bit of surprise.
The score was just a very organic process. I worked on it over the course of a year constantly trying to find the right mood and aesthetic for the film.
Are there any invaluable lessons you have learned from both making, and then trying to distribute, INK?
Whew, that’s a question that could lead to a novel. As far as making movies as a whole, I’m constantly learning that story is always king. More than anything technical, story should always be put first. If the story isn’t working, nothing else matters.
Distribution… Distribution is changing rapidly for indie film as digital downloads and web-based promoting begin taking over. We’re in the midst of a huge change technologically and filmmakers have to have their finger on the pulse of what’s happening right now. For us personally, we’re learning that we’re less and less interested in working with distributors and are more and more interested in bringing our films to our audiences personally and directly. However, that model is still being formed.
INK has been playing in many theaters around the United states, some quite prestigious. What are your feelings towards the internet buzz your film is garnering, and how do you feel about these types of grassroots campaigns to increase awareness of indie films?
The grassroots campaign has worked out really well for us, but that’s only because we’ve had really enthusiastic fans who have been very selfless about helping us promote. That’s honestly the only reason Ink has been as successful as it has. We’ve had no advertising budget and no celebrities in the film. So the buzz that our fans have created has been humbling to say the least. I don’t know how successful other films can be doing the same thing. I know some that have been very successful.
Have you managed to make a profit from INK yet?
Ink’s been making profits in the theatrical run. The release has been small so no one’s getting rich. Instead, we’re putting that money right back into pushing it to new cities.
Is there interest from distributors regarding INK?
There’s been interest and offers, but none that we’re entertaining. No one is offering us a substantial advance and the rule in the industry is an advance is the only money you’ll ever see. The indie distribution scene is in turmoil right now. Distributors aren’t spending any money and a lot of filmmakers are getting ripped off. We’ve opted to hold on to our rights, protect the film, and release it ourselves. It’s a smaller way to release it, but we’re finding that it’s finding it’s way regardless.
What can people do to help support INK?
First and foremost, get on our mailing list at www.DoubleEdgeFilms.com. We send out an email every month or two letting people know how they can see Ink and other upcoming films. It’s really critical if you want to see everything we’re producing. We’re also on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. We’re pretty active on all networks and love talking to fans and other filmmakers.
If you’ve seen the film and like it, please be vocal about it. Tell everyone you know, tweet, facebook, etc… Everyone has a voice via the web now, so word of mouth is more powerful than it’s ever been. If you’ve seen the film and didn’t like it…well, in the words of Joss Whedon, “Now is a time for silent contemplation”.
Have you any ideas for your next project?
We’re already working diligently on the next two features. They’re very hush-hush, but be assured that Midnight Showing will be one of the first to know when we start production.
What are your thoughts on revisiting the INK universe in the future?
It’s tempting. A lot of fans have asked us about that. At this point, I’m resolved to moving on only because there are so many other stories I want to tell. However, we’ve considered developing a graphic novel based on the Ink world. I guess we’ll see.
Anything you’d like to add?
I’d like to mention to your readers that you’ve been a support of the film long before anyone. You saw the film very early on and have been behind it and us ever since. So a huge thanks to you and Ronnie for your talent and passion. It’s been invaluable to the success of Ink and you’ve made a friend for life.