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The Biggest Challenges the 2015 Sundance Filmmakers Faced

The Biggest Challenges the 2015 Sundance Filmmakers Faced

Before the 2015 Sundance Film Festivalwe sent out a questionnaire to filmmakers with films in competition asking them a variety of questions about their projects, including what their biggest challenge was in completing that project. Overwhelmingly, the most common difficulty was tight scheduling and not having enough shooting days. Some filmmakers cited external safety concerns (being shot at by snipers, filming in meth labs in the middle of the night and high altitude mountain conditions). A few problems were a lot simpler to explain, though no easier to solve: a lack of financing, recreating 1950s Brooklyn while shooting in Montreal, getting Jack Black’s schedule to match up with the rest of the cast and crew and working with six teenage boys.

READ MORE: Meet the 2015 Sundance Filmmakers

Here are the filmmakers’ responses (slightly edited, in some cases, for length):

Eli Roth (“Knock Knock”): “Time. It was a tough shoot. My last film was shot in the Amazon in a village farther than anyone had ever brought cameras. That was a cakewalk compared to “Knock Knock.” It was just a hard shoot, everything was night, rain, and it’s my first truly performance-based film. I wanted to make an Adrian Lyne / Verhoeven / Polanski sexually-charged thriller.”

Alfonso Gomez Rejon(“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”): “The challenge was keeping the tone consistent with every cut, every music cue, every joke. Because of the subject matter, there could be some easy traps along the way, but the film had to remain life-like, funny, and moving without a hint of over-sentimentality so that the moments, like in real life, feel authentic. We were constantly juggling a lot of contradictory emotions (great humor can come with despair, and vice versa).

James Ponsoldt (“End of the Tour”): “Time and weather. There’s never as much time as you’d like, and we filmed in the upper Midwest during the Polar Vortex. We had a lot of subzero days. It was freezing… but the snow coming off Lake Michigan sure looked pretty.”

Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel (“The D Train): “We had a very small window in Jack Black’s schedule so the amount of shooting days kept decreasing.”

Chad Gracia (“The Russian Woodpecker”): “Our protagonist’s fear that his research was endangering the safety of his family. In addition, we confronted challenges inherent in filming during a revolution. Our cinematographer was shot by snipers; one bullet destroyed his camera (they were aiming for his head and his camera saved his life) and the other hit his arm.”

Frida and Lasse Barkfors (“Pervert Park”): “Balancing the two factors of treating the offenders with respect without minimizing their crime. How could we listen to their stories without offending the victims of sexual abuse or excuse what they did? Could we contribute something to the debate or is there a meaning behind the stigma?”

Crystal Moselle (“The Wolfpack”): “Since I was dealing with real life, I had to learn to let go of what I thought the film should be and instead let the footage show us the way. Also, working with six teenage boys? Not always easy.”

Ken Kwapis (“A Walk in the Woods”): “Much of the film was shot deep in the Georgia woods, and it was no small task hauling film equipment to various remote locations. Naturally, the sites I found most spectacular were the most inaccessible. At one point we actually enlisted the help of two camels to carry our gear.”

Leslye Headland (“Sleeping With Other People”): “My own vulnerability. Watching my own past heartache day after day.”

Benson Lee (“Seoul Searching”): “It took me 15 years to finance my movie. Financiers found it difficult to invest in a teen comedy with an all Asian cast that takes place in Seoul in 1986. They couldn’t figure out if it was an American film or a Korean film, which made them confused on how to position and market the movie.”

Louie Psihoyos(“Racing Extinction”): “It’s a big epic undertaking, a film about mass extinction and the mission is not just to educate but inspire the audience. The hardest part was to create an ending that would leave the audience feeling that it is possible to make a difference.”

Matthew Heineman (“Cartel Land”): “Having no experience filming in risky situations, ‘Cartel Land’ pushed me into some difficult places – I’ve been in shootouts on the streets of Michoacán and in ‘Breaking Bad’-like meth labs in the middle of the dark, desert night. My goal was to be there to capture in real time each chapter of the rapidly shifting stories, with the camera in the action, not observing it from the outside.”
Patrick Bryce (“The Overnight”): “We shot the majority of it in graveyard shifts. The focused energy of shooting a scene at 3 a.m. is unparalleled. The entire world is asleep and here you are with this little group of people making this special/secret thing.”

John Crowley (“Brooklyn”): “Recreating 1950s Brooklyn in Montreal.”

Rupert Goold (“True Story”): “Making an ambiguous, troubling film within the studio system.”

Brad Besser (“Beaver Trilogy IV”): “Trying to keep the film a secret of sorts, I was worried fans of the Beaver Trilogy might create an expectation of the film. I feel like that premature build up can be dangerous for a film about something people are already fans of.”

E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin (“Meru”): “The challenges of filming in the high altitude mountain conditions on Meru were extreme. The mantra was ‘don’t drop the camera!’ Off the mountain putting together the narrative we were faced with the challenge of balancing the sheer scale and danger of the climb itself with bringing to life the personal choices and subtle complexities of the characters.”

READ MORE: Here’s the Best Career Advice from Sundance 2015 Cinematographers

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