If you read my previous review of Indie comedy, Laura Gets a Cat, you would know just how much I enjoyed it. When offered the opportunity to interview writer and director Michael Ferrell, I jumped at the chance. Filmotomy would like to thank Michael and Chris Prine (the producer on Laura Gets a Cat) for taking the time to participate in the interview, and for setting it up. There’s some great advice here for all aspiring filmmakers, so we really hope you enjoy reading.
Bianca Garner: Hi, please introduce yourself for our readers.
Michael Ferrell: Hi there, I am Michael Ferrell, writer / director / actor / co-producer of Laura Gets a Cat. This is the second feature film I’ve made with the team of Devin Sanchez and Chris Prine. The three of us are a team in every sense of the word and make the films together, along with our Director of Photography, Paul Rondeau. Our first feature film, Twenty Million People (which is available on Amazon Prime), started this journey for us. We are a New York City based production company.
BG: How did you come up with the concept of Laura Gets a Cat?
MF: I’m always writing, so the launching-off points for any screenplay can be random and come from anywhere at any time. This particular story came from hanging out with my friend D.H. Johnson at his beach house in North Carolina (where I grew up). We were having some beers, and talking about films, and eventually I looked around and asked, “Would you ever consider letting me film something here?” When you make films on small budgets, location is often the most important thing. So I thought of writing a story where the protagonist leaves New York City suddenly and bolts to a small beach town. The story grew from there.
BG: Talk us through the pre-production – how did you fund your project?
MF: Both feature films we’ve made, Twenty Million People and Laura Gets a Cat, were made on relatively small budgets. On our level, the budgets are usually raised either by crowd-funding (which we did for Twenty Million People), or self-financed, or scraping and scrapping whatever you can to raise the money. Mostly, I would say our films are made with a combination of favors and collaboration. Among the three of us, we’ve been in New York a good while and over the years we’ve built up a lot of relationships with actors, artists, helpful creative people, etc. So what normally would cost a lot of money for a film production doesn’t necessarily drain our budgets. From the beginning, we’ve used what we have at our disposal, whether its being a regular at our local bakery so they let us shoot a scene for free, or calling in favors from actors we’ve done theatre with, we keep it simple and focus on the story and acting.
As far as pre-production, we try to do as much prep work as possible, because figuring things out before you’re “on the clock” is key to an efficient production. Pre-production is a chance for us to transition from thinking of this as a fun, artistic project, to approaching it like we’re running a bank or a store or something. It’s against our nature as artists, but if we really want to get it done, we have to start building calendars and deadlines and crunching numbers during pre-production.
BG: How did you find your cast – what was the auditioning process like?
MF: For Laura Gets a Cat we did not hold auditions; the cast is made up of personal friends of ours, in addition to being working actors. The role of Laura was written specifically for Dana Brooke. She and I did a play together over ten years ago in Manhattan (coincidentally, directed by D.H. Johnson, whose beach house inspired the story), and she came and did one line on Twenty Million People as a favor, then acted in a staged reading we put on for another screenplay I wrote. After that reading, her voice was in my head so I wrote Laura Gets a Cat thinking that she would play the part. We’re also lucky enough to count actor Jason Kravits as a personal friend, which gives us some recognizable name talent in the film. Devin Sanchez and Chris Prine are both actors as well the co-producers, so they each did a role. Josh Tyson, who plays Tom in the film, has been my partner in crime for many years, from our days in college, to acting in plays off-off-Broadway and soaking up all New York had to offer a couple of kids in their early 20’s, to growing up and becoming the mature adults we definitely are now. The actors at the beach house we cast out of North Carolina, but luckily I still have connections at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where I went to acting school, so the actors were all fellow alumni, including Brian Mullins, who plays Dave, another longtime friend of mine.
BG: Did you face any challenges during the shooting process, and if so, how did you overcome them?
MF: To be honest, things went pretty smoothly. Since we keep things simple, we mitigate the risk of everything collapsing on us. Perhaps that means we should be more ambitious and throw in some car chases and stuff, but for Laura Gets a Cat things were fairly easy and fun. There are the usual things, like trying to film a scene and realizing that the location has an unrelenting noise problem. At the beach, we were trying to shoot scenes on the porch and there was construction going on at another house close by. So Devin hopped a fence to try to plead with them to stop or ask them when they would be finished, but they spoke mostly Spanish, so I hopped over and employed my best broken Spanish. ¡Por favor amigos! When you’re using locations for free and your entire production is under the radar, there’s not much you can do but wait it out and make the best of it.
BG: Out of curoisty, which filmmakers would you say are your inspirations?
MF: My filmmaking inspirations have always been Woody Allen, Noah Baumbach, Richard Linklater, Ed Burns, Julie Delpy, and the like. I’m a talky New Yorker who is way too focused on love and relationships I guess. For Laura Gets a Cat specifically, I wanted to experiment more with creative license as a filmmaker, and do some things that you normally don’t see in relationship comedies. That was the idea behind the scene at the beginning that everyone talks about after seeing the movie. The one where Laura and Ian, my character, are falling in love with one long conversation that takes place over the course of an entire day, seamlessly in multiple locations and close-ups. I wanted to challenge the idea of what a low-budget American indie film about relationships could be. No matter what film you make these days, if it’s a low-budget story about young people in and out of relationships, and you film in apartments, and coffee shops and backyards, inevitably someone will call it “mumblecore,” a term which has no real meaning anymore. Even in the title Laura Gets a Cat, there is a playful commentary on the insignificant nature of the genre. That being the case, my thesis for this film was: Can we make a film in this world, but make it tightly scripted, using actors who are trained professionals, and tell a story that feels complete, with an aesthetic that looks slick? Ideally, we succeeded!
BG: What has been the feedback / response to your film?
MF: We had our festival run last year, and were thrilled to be in some of the best independent film festivals in the U.S. We tried to attend as many as possible, and one of my favorite parts of the whole process is interacting with an audience in the theater. I love Q&A’s, love talking with audiences, and the biggest compliment someone can give me is that they related to the story in a personal way. And we heard that from people of all demographics, from young women in high school to senior citizen men. Both Twenty Million People and Laura Gets a Cat had their world premiere at Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose, CA. We love it there! Laura Gets a Cat also screened at: Tallgrass Film Festival, Cucalorus Film Festival, Stony Brook Film Festival, Naples International Film Fest, DTLA Film Festival, Omaha Film Festival, Reno Tahoe Film Festival, Twin Cities Film Festival, Lone Star Film Festival, Portland Film Festival, Manhattan Film Festival, IndieBelgrade Film Festival, and Williamsburg Independent Film Festival. We won two Best Feature awards, two acting awards, and two Independent Spirit awards. Since we released the film on amazon, the reviews have been good, press and user reviews, and people have actually been watching it, so that’s good!
BG: What’s next for you?
MF: This year we’ve been focusing on the release of Laura Gets a Cat on Amazon, as well as Devin and I getting married (in a month!), as well as continuing to promote Twenty Million People on Amazon Prime. Besides all that, I’ve been writing like mad. I have two new screenplays that are being read by various people, which will hopefully lead to bigger things. I am also rewriting a play that I wrote many years ago called The Blue Martini, because it is being done at a university in Tennessee early next year. We’d like to continue to make films, but we are also trying to figure out how to work our way a little more into the industry of filmmaking. So it’s actually an exciting, ambitious, and promising time for us!
BG: Do you have any advice to aspiring filmmakers out there?
I’m not the kind of person who listens well to “advice”, so it’s tough for me to dole it out. Because the minute someone says “If you want to make a film, do this,” then someone else will pipe in with “If you want to make a film, do that.” And then you find out they were both wrong. What we’ve learned on our journey making two feature films, going to over two dozen film festivals, dealing with distribution, and looking ahead toward the future is: It’s a journey that is different for everyone. That being the case, some possibly helpful advice I would give is: Do what you do best. Do it as often as you can. Be smart and analytical about trying to get people to notice you doing it. Find people who are good at things you’re not good at but also have the same general tastes as you, keep working with them. Treat everyone with respect, I mean everyone. Thank people for working with you. Don’t waste people’s time, especially people who have volunteered to work with you. Remember to drink water on set. Be smart about when to use your resources and when not to use your resources.
And one last thing: Decide what you would be doing right now if there was nothing standing in your way. I don’t mean “I’d be hanging out with celebrities by a pool talking about my next superhero movie,” I mean think about what you’d be doing, i.e., directing a film, acting in a film, having your screenplay produced, producing a film, whatever it is you need to be doing. And find a way to do it. Life is too short not to do it. Find a way.
Laura Gets a Cat is on Amazon Prime now! Check it out:
A massive thank you to Michael and Chris! You can follow them on Twitter: @mickeyfickey & @EscapePodFilms