I first met producer-innovator Peter Katz in 2008 when he and his brother Evan L. Katz brought Adam Wingard's Pop Skull to San Francisco's IndieFest. We met in a grungy Tenderloin noodle shop to have a conversation. Subsequently, Peter kept in touch and we talked some when he was exploring the application of neuroscience to cinema (i.e., neurocinema), as detailed in Curtis Silver's write-up for Wired and Steven Kotler's for Popular Science. Katz was exploring if neurocinema could help genre filmmakers craft scarier films, as explained in his segment for CNN's The Screening Room.
Ever attentive to marketing trends, Peter recently contacted me to tell me about his 3-minute teaser reel for a proposed project Already Gone (2012) [Facebook], directed by Ross Ching, based on a feature script by Bill Balas, produced by Katz and Don Le, and starring Shawn Ashmore (Iceman from the first three X-men movies) and Harry Shum, Jr. (Glee).
Hugh Hart states it for Wired—"one moving picture can be worth several thousand words when it comes to sounding out the sizzle of a fantastical tale." As Hart details, "The trailer-first, movie-later phenomenon works both ways. Would-be directors get a chance to show off their chops by creating DIY clips made with inexpensive video software. On the other side of the equation, busy studio types get a quick and easy-to-digest peek at what a project might look like on the silver screen, without committing to a big budget." Numerous success stories with this strategy abound: Tron: Legacy, Panic Attack, Iron Sky, Goon, several pitched as YouTube demonstrations of what these projects might look and feel like.
My thanks to Peter for being willing to hop on the phone to discuss his involvement with this 3-minute short.
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Michael Guillén: Talk to me about this short sizzler you've produced to pitch Already Gone.
Guillén: As one of the producers of this short film, did you approach Ching with this idea or did he approach you?
Katz: Well, Ross is a friend of mine and I hang out with him and with Don Le, another producer on the project, and since we're buddies Ross said, "Hey, I've been doing short form content and I'm looking for a feature screen play to do what I did with 3 Minutes (2011)." 3 Minutes had no screenplay; it was a short idea that turned out really well and he enjoyed doing it.
Ross said, "Let's mix it up a little bit. Let's film a script. Find me a script that's really action-packed and hyperkinetic." So I went onto this screenwriting site called Fresh Voices. They have really good taste and there's cool stuff on there. The guys who run that site really know their stuff. They sent me a lot of really good scripts. What caught my attention was a high concept idea of a criminal who robs other criminals, kind of how Dexter is a serial killer who kills other killers. That idea alone had a hook.
Guillén: I'm presuming your short was shot digitally as a cost-effective pitch to find financial backing for a full feature?
Katz: Yes, it was shot on The Red. What's going on is this: Don Le and I are producers on this and there's also an executive producer Joel Mendoza [Attraction Entertainment], so we all have relationships; but, the thing is, even if you're a friend of mine, if I send you a screenplay you're probably not going to read it. It's just a fact. People will read scripts if they really have to, but the key is how to present something that's accessible so you can pull people in? A short can capture the experience. When we first presented the short, we were covered by Wired [in a piece by Curtis Silver]. A short makes it easy for your idea to be communicated. How can you easily communicate a screenplay? You can't! Rather than have a producer interpret a screenplay, a director on a short film can show in a few minutes the kind of choices he will make with regard to, let's say, the action in a shot. Through that, anyone who wants to finance the film or any actors that might want to get involved, they can make a decision based upon this sampling of the director's vision.
Guillén: Exactly. Now, is this something unusual to approach a pitch this way? Are you one of the first to be doing this or is it part of a trend?
Guillén: It all sounds straightforward in concept, but looking at the credits for this short film, I'm amazed how large a crew was involved in putting this together. Did you finance it? How did you find the money to do the short?
Guillén: Well, it's—as you said—a visceral way to experience an idea and to promote the sense of the atmosphere of a film and the visual style of the filmmaker, so I applaud you in the effort, hope you keep me abreast of developments, and certainly wish you luck with advancing to the feature.