Exclusive Interview with Independent Filmmaker - Michael Wechsler (Altered Minds)

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  1. Neil Middlemiss

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    Home Theater Forum recently had the pleasure of speaking with Independent Filmmaker, Michael Wechsler, whose acclaimed independent film, Altered Minds (with a cast that includes Judd Hirsch, Ryan O’Nan, and C.S. Lee) made its theatrical debut in cities across the country day and date with its release on digital and video-on-demand platforms. Michael shared his journey as an independent filmmaker and the long and arduous process of securing financing and a great cast from the ground up.
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    HTF: Good morning Michael, thank you for taking a moment out of your busy day to talk with Home Theater Forum.


    Michael Wechsler: Oh, you’re welcome. Glad to do it. I got a lot going on today. Our premiere is happening tonight, so I'm going through an RSVP list and making sure that there are no names that get left off. The job of a filmmaker never ends (Laughs)


    HTF: Well, that was going to be one of my questions today. In independent filmmaking it's as much about creating what you see and hear on the screen as it is about getting all the background set up. And then even once you've finalized your project, you still have to sell it and distribute it, and make sure that all of these check boxes are ticked in order to get it in front of people.


    Michael Wechsler: Yeah, absolutely.


    HTF: So let's start at the beginning and the decision to make a film independent of advanced financing and advanced distribution, how do you decide that's the way you should go?


    Michael Wechsler: I think that for me when I wrote the script, originally I wanted to do something that was micro-budget. It's not what it turned out to be, but I wanted to do something that was micro-budget that I could afford to make. My initial plan wasn't to even go out to investors. My initial plan was to take my 401K and whatever stocks I have - again, not a whole lot of money – but enough to basically shoot something that I know I could get done in a roughly short amount of time, and hire a mostly unknown cast - because on a micro-budget it's hard to get names obviously. That was the initial plan. Then what happened was I wrote the script and started giving it out to some of my peers in the industry, and a lot of them really responded to the material, and said to me, "Why don't you try to go out and raise the money on your own?"


    The thought of that, at the time, was harrowing and rightfully so [chuckles]. The thought of going out and raising money, a budget that I did not have in my head at this point, but the idea of having to essentially create a network from scratch - which is what I did - was very intimidating. But why do that if I already have $30-40,000…why even go down that road? Why give myself the headache? But people were saying, "You have a really-- just the material is strong, and you have some really good parts. You should try to get a name to play the lead father. Maybe you could get somebody out there who wants to sink their teeth into a juicy role, and you might be able to get them for less money than you think."


    This was back in 2007. We're talking when the digital [funding] revolution was really just beginning. So it wasn't a ridiculous notion to go the way [of doing] a very inexpensive micro-budgets myself. But I thought "Okay. Let's try that." If I knew then what I know now - what I was getting myself into, I may have gone, "Well. This is a big, big time commitment. You better be ready to pound the pavement, and put on essentially not the filmmaker hat, but the producer hat, the hustler hat, which is not creative. It's very challenging; it's very difficult. There's no rule book for it. There's no book that says how to go out and find money. So that's kind of how it started.


    And like I said, that was something I started testing the waters around 2007-2008, and I hired a casting director. This was going to be a test for me because, even though we didn't have a dime, I wanted to see how actors in the industry - and fairly known actors - I wanted to see if I could get it into their hands, and I wanted to see if they came back and said, “This is exciting. I can see why this independent film is in the pipeline, is in the process.” I don't know if you saw the movie, but it's obviously about a family, and we have three or four different rounds of cast members attached to this film. And notable people, accomplished people were attached.


    The second test for me was just making that decision. Having a casting director submit it to talent agencies and managers. We started getting people from the major agencies they all have what's known as a covering agent. All these talent agencies have covering agents and they basically vet the project. They say, "Are we going to even bother with this?" A lot of the agencies will say, "Are you fully financed?" You say, "Not exactly." And they'll say, "Door slam. Game over [chuckles]."


    We went to the CAAs, we went to the ICMs, we went to the big agencies, and because they knew the casting director at the time, they were willing to at least read the material knowing that it was not fully financed. After reading the material - and the material got good coverage - each of those agencies assigned us an actual covering agent to then submit ideas for the cast. So that was a real, for me another form of validation that said, "Okay. Maybe that first group of colleagues and friends of mine who said, “You should try to get some name actors,” maybe they weren't so off the mark." So it was 2007 going to 2008 once we started going out to cast for the first time, really with no money in place. And I think a lot of filmmakers - and this is a mark of inexperience [chuckles] - we kind of put these schedules together and say "In six months, I'm going to have this in production, fully financed. Or in a year." We put that down because we can't tell people when we're trying to interest them in the project, "Hey, I'm not sure when we're going to do this [chuckles]. And once we started going into the casting I said, "Okay. I'm going to now try to create a network for financing at the same time" - I had no idea how I'm going to do that. And, again, if I knew then what I know now, I would have said to my then-self, "You have no idea. You have no idea what it takes to get a project going." The two pillars of film packaging are casting and financing. They both work together, and they both work against each other [chuckles]. So even if you have agencies that know that you are not fully financed, you're going to get turned away by a lot of people who are going to say, "If you are not fully financed, my actor won't consider this. I can't deal with you." And then if you go to the financiers or you meet someone with money, what do you think they ask you? They turn around and go, "Who's in it?"

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    HTF: Right


    Michael Wechsler: You're having this game where [chuckles] you're essentially talking things up as much as you possibly can, so it sounds like at all given times you're a go-project [chuckles]. These are all things I was learning as I was going along.


    HTF: When you have material that's piquing interest, and people know that you're an independent project, and may have a sense that you've got financing on board, though you're maybe speaking that up to try to keep the balance going, did you find that the talent that you had interested in your project, knowing that you were independent, were aware that rarely things happen especially with independent projects, are they aware of that kind of fits and starts and that the timetable is not set because you're really raising something from the ground up? Did they come prepared for that kind of fluidity, or flexibility?



    Michael Wechsler: I think that's a great question. It's a fantastic question. Thank you for asking [chuckles], because it is probably one of the biggest hurdles that all filmmakers have when we're trying to interest someone. The lower you are on the totem pole in the industry the more you're not a tested entity. So for me, they could say "Yeah, Mike Wechsler, he made a feature before, and he had a named actor in it, but that was a while ago." No matter where you are on the totem pole you're always dealing with people - especially with movies, less for television - but you're definitely dealing with a very healthy skepticism that especially comes not just from actors, but from everybody, because there are a lot of shucksters (hucksters and shysters) who are lying through their teeth about everything they say they have, and there isn't one person in the film industry that hasn't been burned at least once, if not 50 times, by promises that didn't happen, by money that wasn't there. So you're dealing with the skepticism/cynicism that is born from true negative experiences that people have had and will probably continue to have, unfortunately.


    I have a cinematographer friend who was flown out a few weeks ago along with the rest of the crew to shoot a movie somewhere in the country. They were in pre-pre-production and althought they had money to fly everybody out, they weren’t sure where the rest of the money was [laughter], they were waiting for money from the investor - the biggest chunk. So of course, did that blow up? It blew up. And the reality is that the fits and starts are part of it, and even when your film that is fully financed, you might not be able to get the cast members on board. So your full financing may drop out if you don't find the actor that satisfies your investors. So unless you're Henry Jaglom, unless you're an heir to a cookie fortune, or whatever and have the money in your pocket, there's always a chance that a project will, as you rightly put, go through fits and starts.

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    HTF: It is interesting to learn about the mechanics beneath getting film made, and the challenges, the roads that a lot of filmmakers go through in order to get their projects on screens.


    Michael Wechsler: Right. But on the flipside of things - and this was my experience - there is just so many more avenues now since I started raising the money for this film. There's just so many more avenues now that filmmakers have at their disposal, and they don't have to have a network. They can create the network. That's the beauty of today versus even six years ago. Now you've got the Internet. And if I was starting my first film today, I would be sitting there going, "Okay. I'm going to create it all from scratch, and I'm going to create everything from my investors to my distribution pipeline, it's all going to happen online." And, as a matter of fact, my next project, I'm going to be actually bringing it to the Internet, which I did with Altered Minds to a degree (for some of the financing). I feel like when you're making a film and raising the money and attaching cast, you have to be transparent with everybody because it's a small industry. It doesn't take very long for word to get around if you're a shyster, if you're not being straight with people.


    When we went to actors we always said to them, "Look, we have a little bit of money in place. We have a lot of investors who are very interested in you being part of our project, and if you come on board there is a good likelihood that this is going to happen sooner rather than later." Rather than saying, "Hey, we're going to make this movie because we have all the money, so don't worry about it", and then trying to figure it out afterwards, which never really works.


    HTF: Yeah, you tell the egg you've got a chicken, and the chicken you've got an egg.


    Michael Wechsler: Right, exactly [laughter]. Very well put.


    HTF: Talking of money, when you're talking to investors about your project, do you find that it is better to talk about the concept of the project and the talent that you may be able to get involved or do you find that people are interested in the creative side of it, and so they want to see the script? And if that is the case, do you find that people start making suggestions or have expectations to influence or be a part of that creative process that may be a challenge?


    Michael Wechsler: Well, you have to treat every investor as their own person. And going into meeting that person, whether you already have a relationship or you're building the relationship from scratch, it always helps - especially as a filmmaker - to know a little bit about that person and what their interest is ahead of time. So, for example, if you tend to throw a generic label over all investors it will be very hard to raise your money, because you'll give them the same pitch. For some maybe that pitch will work, but for many it won't necessarily jive. For example, I went to a lot of "smart money," bankers and people who invest in private equity, people who have hedge funds, play money. And when you pitch to them, a lot of them want the bottom line. And if you can't convince them that they're going to get any return on their dollar whatsoever, to have something very close to a guarantee they are not going to lose - which is impossible – you will find it very hard to get smart money on board, especially an independent film, unless you have an A-lister.


    If I say, "Well, I can't guarantee you that you're going to make your money back, but I can say that we have this cast, and this is the kind of movie that plays at a festival." A lot of them just tune out. They'd be like, "Yeah, I don't care. I can go to Sundance whenever I want to go. That's not exciting to me." But if I said to them, "Hey, I have an A-list talent who wants to be in this film,” that would definitely perk up their ears because that to them would be a hedge of the investment. If I said to them, "Hey. I'm shooting this in Pennsylvania, Philadelphia" - which is where I shot the film, most of it - "and they have a 30% tax break, so some of that money is going to come back, 30% of it, x-amount is going to come back. You will get this back six weeks after we wrap, or six weeks after we lock the picture," that may get them interested. If I'm investing money through a non-profit and their investment can be 100% tax deductible that could be interesting to smart money.


    Conversely - and this is speaking from the experience I had with my particular investors - I had an investor whose son was very interested in learning about movies and really wanted to explore film. So a friend of mine actually said, "Hey. I'm very close with this kid's father, and this kid wants to learn about movies. Maybe you could meet him and maybe he could work on your set in exchange for some kind of investment?" And, of course, I was like, "Really? That's kind of crazy." Of course, parenthetically speaking, there's a lot of films on Kickstarter now that offer that - you're offering credits, or you get a chance to work on the movie, and so on. So I met with this family and the son, incredibly nice people, and I went in thinking, "Well, I'm going to pitch this as their son's opportunity to get film-schooled from beginning to end- to watch a film from beginning, as in from where we were at the time, through casting, through production, through post-production, and as long as he wants to be involved." Of course, I'm taking a risk because what happens if this kid is an ass? What happens if he's really terrible to work with? Thankfully it was quite the opposite. This pitch that I made to them, they loved it. They said, "We're in. We want to do it." So he became my assistant - literally was my assistant. And I followed through on the promise I made to him, and I enjoyed it because everyone loved him. He was wonderful on the set. He literally jumped around from department to department. And I said to him, "Whatever you want to do, just let us know and we'll make this worth your while but the only thing I ask you is that you don't meddle. You can ask questions, but let everybody do their job." And I told everybody in the crew. I said, "This is so-and-so. He's the son of one of our investors." I said, "You don't have to handle him with kid gloves, but if he asks you questions, just understand why he's there." So there was that.


    And then some investors were people who were too nervous to come on board when we shot the film. And I should say, I did what a lot of independent filmmakers do, which is, I got enough money to shoot most of the film [chuckles]. I got my cash. I had enough money. I said, "I'm going to shoot most of my film. I'm going to get it in the can." But I'm going to have to-- once I'm done with that first round, I'm going to have to raise other rounds. And I ended up having to do four or five different raises of money at different stages of making this movie. Which, again, I would not advise but it happens to almost all filmmakers. We all say, "We can do it for this amount, and then we'll deal with the rest later", and then when we get to later we're like, "Oh, shit [chuckles]. I've got to go back out to my network, and I've got to knock on the doors again."

    The reason I'm bringing that up is because, I think, with the second round of investors that came in to help us with the edit-- because we had no money to edit the film, and also we had to shoot some pick-up shots, so we had about five days of pick-up shots. We had to raise another significant chunk of money. The investors who said, "No," going in because they were too scared, thinking “this won't happen, I don't know who this guy is." Now I went back to three or four different people who said, "No," the first time, and I said, "Hey. That movie that you said no to, we shot it. I'm going to show you ten minutes of footage. This is how much I'm looking to raise. Would you be interested in getting involved?" I got three investors in the second round who came on and saw the ten minutes of footage I showed them. I cut it myself, I put music to it, and that's all I had to do. And they went, "Yeah, we're in." Because all of a sudden it wasn't a hypothetical, it wasn't a possibility, it was happening. And they saw the quality and they thought, "Now you're showing me something, it's not just a vision or an idea; it's actually there." It would be like someone showing an assembly line, a new invention. After talking to investors about it and showing the blueprints and they said, "No". Then taking it to, maybe, level two and then showing them actual bits and pieces of it and them going, "Oh, now I see what you're-- oh, yeah, you really are doing this. Okay." So, really, investors, I think you have to approach them as unique. Each person has different concerns, different outlooks, and you can't draw just a large generalization across them or, like I said-- it will be harder to raise your funds.


    I should also point out that some money was raised early on. Actually early, early on with Kickstarter, we raised a little bit. And actually I just finished the Kickstarter campaign five minutes ago, believe it or not, for the same film. So I did two Kickstarter campaigns, two crowd-funding campaigns. And this just tells you, I've needed money every step of the way, and that's not to say there was poor planning involved. It's just that it's a hard environment to get money. There are very few companies out there now just writing full checks. Studios, if they're writing checks, are usually writing $200 million checks for superhero movies. And even they're freaking out, so they're collaborating with each other. They're co-partnering with other studios. So the smaller companies that may have written a $2 or 3 or 4 or 5 million check years ago, some of them may still be around, but they're not writing those checks. So you have to find your money where you can, when you can. I think for the next time, I'm just going to have a full budget and I'm going to say, "No dice until I've got all of this money." And then I don't have to go through what I've been through with this film, which is just a series of raise after raise-- get to a certain stage, okay, we need to raise this amount of money.

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    HTF: I studied film in college, I've made short films, and I’ve made short films in the corporate environment, which is where I spend most of my career. But I'm curious to know, now you've experienced the stress and creative freedom of independent filmmaking, and you have creative freedom but you risk not being able to complete it or no one ever seeing it, not finding a way to distribute it.


    Michael Wechsler: Yeah, right


    HTF: And social media and Kickstarter campaigns have changed the independent film-funding landscape.


    Michael Wechsler: Yes


    HTF: But would you go into a studio-funded project, knowing that you won't have as much creative freedom, that you won't have as much control over the end product because you're collaborating with-- and, as you said, with the smart money people they're going to want to make sure that what you're producing will give them a return on their investment; studios are no different.


    Michael Wechsler: Exactly, you'd have to worry about that when you're getting your money from a studio or a production company that's financing you, yeah. It just becomes different concerns. For me, if a studio came knocking and saying, "Hey, we'd like to develop something with you," that would be a good problem to have for me at this point in my life. I say that not sarcastically. I say that because I think a lot of people bemoan losing their independence, not having the creative freedom to put their vision on the screen without having to consult with a kitchen full of chefs, aka whatever it is, a studio or a bunch of financiers who are given producer credit and given some creative veto power. I've been fortunate in my life that I have done almost everything independently, so I haven't had that checks and balances. But the downside of that is you're doing everything on your own. And some people would say, "Well, that's an upside because you're learning so much." And I say, "Yes, yes, it's wonderful. It's empowering." I started as a filmmaker, and then I have become a start-company CEO who is responsible, not just for the creation of the story, the screenplay and then the direction of it, but has spent 90% of his time chasing money, building a vast marketing social media infrastructure. You can insert raising money in between all these things. But quickly, raising money, building an infrastructure, going to film festivals, promoting the movie ad nauseam, trying to get a distributor on board, which I finally did, but not without a lot of rejection. And the thing is, making a movie and having the creative power to call the shots and it's your film-- that's incredibly important. And I'm sure all these horror stories, and you hear about them all the time, like recently Paul Schrader, lost control of his film [Dying of the Light]. His movie was taken over by his producers who basically made their own cut. It was a movie starring Nick Cage and he refused to support it. Nic Cage came out publicly and said, "Paul Schrader's cut is so much better. They raped it, and they did this..." I can't imagine how painful that must be, and I wouldn't want that to happen to me.


    On the other hand, taking the road that I've taken, that is the road that most indie filmmakers now take. It's just all consuming. And if I was in my twenties, and I had no family, and I had no overhead in my life, and all of those things are realities of my life, so I have to work, so I work full-time in the industry as well, to make a living, if I didn't have all of those things, back in my twenties, where I could sleep on a couch in a person's apartment, then I think it would be that sort of romanticization of being an independent filmmaker could fly for a little while. But most people aren't in that position where they can do that. So to answer your question in a roundabout way, I would love to have it both ways where I'll end up working, whether it's with a company or studio that writes the checks, so I don't have to worry about being an accountant and doing the tax return, and making sure everybody gets their K1s. I don't have to worry about all the minutiae that one has to worry about when they actually set up a corporation. I'd rather someone else do it and they just pay me and say, "Mike, this is your script. We like it, or we love it, we want you to make it. We're going to give you x amount of money to do it so that you can survive and you can make this the way you want to make it." And if they came to me and said, "But we have to have final say." It would be one of those situations where I would probably just look at them and say, "Well, if they're going to put the money up and they're going to put their financial power behind this, and they're going to try to get this as far and wide as possible, and really what I just can focus on are the creative aspects. And when they need me to promote, I promote. Great." I think I would give it a shot and see what happens, and then you could talk to me then, and I'll probably come back and say, "I long for going back to that time of Altered Minds when I had to do it all."

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    And, again, I'm painting it probably too negative. But, like I said, all the things that I have learned because of all the things I've had to do have been great, but not without tremendous sacrifice. My family, thank God, my wife, my kids, we all call Altered Minds the third child in this family, and often the one that demands the most amount of attention. I'm looking forward to this Friday, the film coming out. Everybody is like, "Are you depressed because it's going to be done. It's out." I said, "Are you kidding? It's like one kid's gone off to college. We've got a free room. There's going to be more room for all of us to breathe and whatnot." So, yeah, I think there's downsides to both sides.

    But there are so many movies and filmmakers, independent and otherwise right now, it’s crowded. For example, our film is coming out on Friday. It's coming out in ten cities, including New York City and LA. We have a good cast, we have Judd Hirsh, who's respectable. We have C.S. Lee from Dexter, and the rest of the family is filled out with familiar television faces and independent film faces. So there's a couple of markets where the critics have just come back and they won't watch it. They're like, "Normally we would review this film but there are too many films and not enough staff right now. So if you're interested, maybe you should buy a print ad and we'll consider it then." I'm not kidding, that's what I'm getting. And my film's coming out! And then the New York Times stopped their policy of reviewing anything that went into the theaters. It's just immensely, immensely crowded out there. If you have an opportunity for a studio or a big production company or a couple of different companies, maybe an international co-production, to give you a decent budget to make a film, and you can get a good cast and enough familiar faces or known faces where you're not going to be stuck in that rut of "nobody cares how good it is," then I think it's worth it. It's worth collaborating and just saying, "Hey, I'm getting to make a film. It's better than sitting around twiddling my thumbs." And, again, I think there's ten filmmakers out there, maybe, and probably actually it's gone down in number, who have final cut. So the reality is, I think, that's like a dream. If you have the money at your disposal I'd say, "Go for it." If money is not an issue, and you can wait until the white knight comes and says, "I give you the money, and I bless you with complete creative control"... Okay, wait [chuckles].


    HTF: But I also think that, of the horror stories that we've heard, Josh Trank and his experience with Fox…


    Michael Wechsler: Oh yeah [chuckles].


    HTF: …and Paul Schrader on Dying of the Light, those are horror stories that we hear about where creative minds spar with the studio system - or sometimes there are other issues as well, Fantastic Four an example. But most of the time the many films out there that we see and enjoy has been a partnership between - I don't want to sound like a shill here - but has been a partnership between producers, directors and the studios finding that balance for appeal and creativivity and we've enjoyed and consumed great films through that process.


    Michael Wechsler: Absolutely


    HTF: So it's not all terrible


    Michael Wechsler: And the reality is, with all the formats out there now, everybody is coming out with the director's cuts. Ridley Scott - Blade Runner is my favorite movie in the world, my absolute favorite movie in the world - he's got like nine versions of it.


    HTF: And they're all great

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    Michael Wechsler: They're all great, exactly. And here's the thing, do you remember when he came out with the one without the first director's cut? I think he came out with it in '92 or '03, and everybody was like, "Oh my God, it's the director's cut without the voice-over." Remember that?


    HTF: Yeah.


    Michael Wechsler: I don't know if you saw that one without the voice-over. But Ridley Scott went on a tirade about that voice-over because the studio watched the original cut and said, "No, you have to have him say this, you have to have him say that." So no one knows what's going on. The other thing that's kind of funny is, I remember seeing that first cut and saying, "I kind of miss the voice-over. I thought the voice-over was pretty good." And I look back at the original and I think how it was finished was fine by me. I don't mind seeing all the incarnations. I love to see what the evolution of the film was. But I work in television, and I direct, and I edit in TV. My stuff tends to be non-fiction so it's more producing/directing. But you're dealing with television networks all the time, and these are not shows that I create, so they're not my soul, they're not my heart, but they're jobs for hire. There isn't one edit that doesn't get seen by network executives that don't give you a whole lot of opinions. And if you want to be in business with them as a producer, it doesn't matter if you're the number one show on EP, you still have to get their notes because they're paying for it. And if you think that's a bad deal, then you just go off and live on your own island of reality, because it's just not the way things work.


    And there have been many, I'm sure, bad scenarios where really good movies were screwed up by someone in a studio who maybe had the power but shouldn't have been tampering with things. I'm sure of it. I'm sure there's many we'll never know about. But, here's the thing, it's exactly to what you said: You weren't being a shill. You were being realistic. Unless you're Martin Scorsese or Steven Spielberg, and you've written your ticket [chuckles].


    HTF: So just going back to Blade Runner, I got to review the five-disc set with all five different cuts a number of years ago, but I always remember that it's the 1982 version with the voice-over that I first fell in love with.


    Michael Wechsler: Yes!


    HTF: So it can't be that bad (laughs)

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    Michael Wechsler: Yeah, man, I'm with you 100%. I didn't need the unicorn either. I don't know. I thought it was like an outtake from Legend [laughs]. And I'm sure you enjoy watching them and going, "Huh, what was going on here?" and, "Oh, I see that." On Altered Minds, my editor, a very, very wise man, and I ended up finishing the film twice. We had two characters, two family members in the house – and the movie takes place in a house one night - and they were throughout the whole movie. We cut them out. They no longer effectively exist. It's testament to the good decision of getting rid of them that it didn't collapse anything else. They actually tightened the story, unfortunately, without them. Now that being said, you could call that the first cut because I did not want to cut them out, but I did for purposes of pacing - and I did it because we got a lot of feedback over the course of eight work-in-progress meetings that people were not liking or understanding why they were in the film.


    But I said to my editor, "I want to do a director's cut, or I want to have deleted scenes” - which, by the way, we're going to have on iTunes extras and on the Blu-ray. He said to me he read somewhere where David Lynch - I think it was with Blue Velvet had deleted scenes on the Blu-ray, and people were seeing the deleted scenes, and the film experience for them, the deleted scenes was now part of it. You may have deleted the scene and went, "It's a good thing I deleted that scene, but I still want people to see it." My editor said, "Be careful because you're going to tamper with their perception, and do you really want to do that?" I never thought about that.


    But, I said to him, strictly from an ego point of view (which is always a bad sign) “I want people to see the work that was done and to understand that there is no such thing as a finished film; it's just a state of mind." And I also not selfishly wanted to pay tribute to the work of the incredible actors that I cut out of the movie, who were obviously upset. So I think in terms of cuts, it's kind of why you have to get from one project to the next one as soon as possible. Because if you don't, you're just lingering on the things you could have done, should have done, would have done, and wanted to do in the film. I got a call from the distributor yesterday where he was saying, "What do you have in terms of deleted scenes?" And I said, "God, I have like 30 deleted scenes. I can make another movie out of them." And he's like, "Really? That's great. We can use those." And I'm like, "Oh, yeah, I know but..." But I heard the echoes from my editor saying, "You'd better be careful."


    HTF: You say it's going to be released on the 20th in ten cities. Do you have a distribution date for iTunes Blu-ray or is that still pending?


    Michael Wechsler: It's actually day-and-date distributions, so the video on demand release is happening concurrently on Friday (November 20) as well. So people can go to the theaters if it's playing in a city near them (visit rowishproductions.com for details) or they can see it on all the VOD platforms: the iVOD, the Internet VOD and the cable VOD, so Comcast, Warner, Dish Network. So it's available pretty much across the board, at home or, again, if you're close to one of the ten cities.


    iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/altered-minds/id1045362591?ign-mpt=uo%3D2


    VUDU: http://www.vudu.com/movies/#!content/710512/Altered-Minds



    HTF: I've learned a lot talking to you about the process. I spoke to William H. Macy last year about a film he directed, Rudderless. I don't know if you saw that film?


    Michael Wechsler: I heard about it. I remember when it came out, but I didn't see it.


    HTF: It's a great film. I got the chance to speak to him, and his challenge in getting the film made was not unlike yours, where he had to go back and forth to get funding and struggled to get people involved. But the strength of the script helped assure a fine cast, and I think that there are many paths to getting film in front of eyeballs, and sometimes the more painful the path, the better the product on the other end.


    Michael Wechsler: I think it's one of those things-- I think it was the actor who won the Academy Award from Whiplash, the drum teacher?


    HTF: J.K. Simmons


    Michael Wechsler: Yeah, J.K. Simmons. I don't know if you remember, but one of the first things he said after he won his Academy Award when they asked him if he had advice for actors, was, and I’m paraphrasing, "if there's something else that you can do that you really like, and you can live without the pain and suffering, if this is the be-all-end-all for you, great. And if there's nothing else you want to do and you can't see yourself doing anything else, then great. But if it's not the be-all-end-all, if you could see yourself being happy doing this or that and the other thing…do it." I was like, "Wow, that's the smartest piece of advice." And I'm only thinking of that now based on what you said, because we're all tricked into thinking it's very simple like, there's the writing of the script, there's the raising the money, there's shooting the film, there's the editing the film, there's the distributing of the film, and then ba-ba-boom. And if you just get through those five stages. But what people don't realize is, each of those stages is like a fucking world unto itself, a world of rejection and misery. And then hopefully, if you're willing to withstand that and not put a timetable on it, and say, "You know what? I'll get through it. I don't care if it takes 10 years, I don't care if it takes 20 years. I'll just get through it," then you probably will get to do it and make your film.


    Now, that all being said. Scratch all that. If you're just making micro-budget movies with your friends, you can make as much as you want now - you know what I mean?


    HTF: Right.


    Michael Wechsler: I was saying that before. I'm talking about trying to raise some serious cash. I'm not saying going out and getting a really great DSR camera or borrowing a friend's Canon or the Red - all cameras which are reasonably priced and don't cost that much - and find great unknown actors, get free locations, you could do it so cheap now. So, again, everything that I've said is really in regards to making a movie with name actors, making a film that is more expensive than $100,000, and starting from scratch. So, the idea being you don't have anything at all, you're starting with zilch. But the positive side is that a lot more artists are going to be-- you know they used to say, I remember when I was in Film School, we always used to be envious of people who all they did was write, or painters, because their craft didn't depend on anything but their own willingness to do it, and they were not restricted by cost. The only restrictions were those that came from inside. Whereas filmmakers, it's like, "Oh, yeah, I want to make a one-minute short." "How are you going to do that? Where are you going to get the money? How are you going to pay for the lab costs?" All that's gone now, and now film is like painting. Now you can shoot it, you can cast it, you can edit it, and then you can post it, and it shouldn't cost you that much money, unless, again, you're stepping into the waters, more professional, "I want name actors, everybody's going to be paid," kind of professional enterprise. Not to be all negative, there's this part of me that wishes I was 20 now and I could just practice making movies, and have fun learning and tripping over my shoe laces. But, as I was saying before, I can't just do that, so there has to be some practical consideration with everything I'm doing.

    tommy-n-snow1.jpg


    HTF: Right, plenty of ways to learn the craft, but once you step into the slightly larger world the pressures and the considerations grow considerably, and that's the world that you've just walked through.


    Michael Wechsler: Exactly


    HTF: Well, Michael, thank you very much for talking to me today. I know we'll talk again in the future.


    Michael Wechsler: I'm looking forward to it, Neil. Have a great one




    Find Altered Minds on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/altered-minds/id1045362591?ign-mpt=uo%3D2


    Find Altered Minds on Vudu: http://www.vudu.com/movies/#!content/710512/Altered-Minds


    Learn more about Altered Minds, including other iVoD options here: http://altered-minds.com/


     
    TravisR likes this.
  2. Dave Upton

    Dave Upton Audiophile
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    Great interview as always Neil. Thank you!
     
  3. bujaki

    bujaki Cinematographer

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    Ditto!
     
  4. Charles Smith

    Charles Smith Extremely Talented Member
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    I skimmed over it last night when I was way too tired to absorb and appreciate it, and I'll enjoy reading it thoroughly later. Thank you, Neil!
     
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  5. Adam Gregorich

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    A great read. I have a greater appreciation for what filmmakers have to go through. Thanks Neil, and thanks to Michael for telling us what its like in the trenches.
     

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