“Bandito,” a bleak and violent coming-of-age short premiered this year at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival. Considering its heavy subject matter and high production value (there is an explosion involving a semi truck), the audience might not have realized that it was a Kickstarter-funded student thesis film shot over five-and-a-half days on an Alexa Plus. Writer and director Evan Kelman (NYU ’15), co-writer and producer Parker Hill (NYU ’15) and producer Sebastian Savino (NYU ’14) sat down with Indiewire to talk about the making of the film, as well as offer up some of their best filmmaking tips and tricks.
1. Enlist the most talented people you know.
Kelman said he developed the idea for the film over several months before he realized he needed help. He approached Hill and she “jumped on and it changed a lot and for the better,” said Kelman. Their differing strengths complemented each other, and once they had the script in good shape, they took it to Savino to produce. At first he was wary, “I thought I was done producing short films, if anyone asked,” said Savino, but after seeing the script, “I thought it was insane, and I had no idea how we were going to do any of that. And I think that that’s what attracted me to the project: the complexity of getting that on screen.”
2. Make it as short as possible, and then make it shorter.
Kelman originally submitted a nineteen-minute version to Tribeca, thinking that was the leanest possible cut, but then, he said, “we had to make a shorter cut for an NYU film festival that had a maximum time limit, and in doing that we learned that…we could condense. There was room to make it tighter.” Kelman subsequently reached out to Tribeca to see if they would be interested in seeing the new trimmed cut, which was sixteen minutes in length and the festival agreed. Once the film was accepted, said Kelman, “What we found out was, we were on the brink of not getting in because the film was too long.” So those three minutes made all the difference.
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3. A student film doesn’t have to feel like a student film.
After four years at NYU, Savino was a little bored of the usual student fare. He described the typical production as, “you’re getting a street in New York City, you’re getting a New York City apartment,” and of course, a story revolving around twenty-somethings. But “Bandito” held the promise of something different and new. “I didn’t want to make a movie that looked like every other NYU film” said Kelman, adding, “I wanted it to be distinct. I wanted it to have an epic, large scope kind of feel, a Hollywood, classic-era…that type of big-budget, tension-filled feeling.”
4. Copy the pros.
Kelman looked at big-budget studio films for inspiration, particularly the effects in the most recent James Bond installment, “Skyfall.” “There’s a scene, towards the end of the movie where there’s a big fire. The shot is very similar to a shot in our film where you’ve got a fire in the distance and a person in the foreground, kind of silhouetted…so I looked into how they pulled that off, and it’s actually VFX,” said Kelman. “Basically, what you do is you put lights where the fire is in the frame, and then in post you just put the fire effect over the lights. And the light that’s hitting the scene doesn’t have to change at all.”
5. Work your casting connections.
Kelman used to act, so when it came time to cast his own film, he simply called up his old manager, who specialized in child actors and offered him CJ Valleroy, who was about to appear in Angelina Jolie’s “Unbroken.” Said Kelman: “I mean, he is the part. So sweet, so innocent, nice guy, very talented. We were able to fly him in…but that only happened because of the personal connection to the manager.”
For the role of the older brother, Kelman managed to secure actor Nathan Varnson through the NYU alumni network. Kelman had seen Varnson act in “Hide Your Smiling Faces,” which played Tribeca back in 2013. The film was directed by NYU alumnus Daniel Patrick Carbone, who had brought his film to one of Kelman’s classes and screened a portion of it for the students. “His look has always stayed with me,” said Kelman of Varnson. While writing the character of the older brother in “Bandito,” Kelman realized that Varnson would be a perfect fit so he found a way to get in touch with Carbone and then eventually Varnson.
6. Prepare, prepare, prepare.
Knowing that this piece would be structured around the lessons learned
over the course of the filmmaking process, the crew came prepared to
share specific examples in the interview. “This movie had a lot of
moving parts and it’s hard to explain the action in the script sometimes
because half of the blocking is with vehicles and…you can’t really
explain it without just showing it so we got these miniature trucks, and
that’s how Evan worked with Cory
[Fraiman-Lott, their DP] to design the shot list,” Hill told Indiewire.
Detailed preliminary planning helped the team ease the concerns of
school officials. Additionally, the attention to scheduling and planning
during pre-production is what actually attracted Fraiman-Lott (NYU ’14)
to accept his position on the project. “The number one thing I like to
hear from any director,” he said, “is that we’ll be able to take our
time…the biggest issue with low budget productions is not having the
money to allot the necessary number of days…that extra time to be
really detail-oriented with light, art, and performance is what sets
apart tight, professional looking projects from anything else.”
7. As the saying goes, fix it in post.
“When you organize a film shoot, you assume you’ll have 12 hour-days,” Hill explained. The “Bandito” team, however, didn’t account for the impact that the season (it was summer) has on the number of hours of sunlight and darkness. “It wasn’t dark for twelve hours, it was dark for like, eight,” said Hill, “[so] we shot some things in the early morning, but we worked with a colorist to make it look like night.” During editing, when the team realized that they didn’t have the footage they needed for a crucial scene, Hill said, “we got creative with ADR and sound and wrote a whole scene in post. It was a saving grace.”
8. Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer.
Compromising and settling for less are not one in the same, which is why, Hill noted, work-arounds are always better than your second choice. Said Hill, “it ended up being happy accidents. If you keep on looking for the right thing, things will work out.” She recalled one instance where they were about to close an expensive deal to shoot in an auto shop that belonged to a particularly difficult owner. While driving one day, however, the team happened upon another place with a very pleasant owner who offered the location to them for free. “We went to a junk yard and arted it ourselves,” said Hill. “It’s really easy to settle on a lot of things, but if you hold to the creative and take time, you can make it how you want it.”
Check out the trailer for “Bandito” below: