Indie Corner

MANY CRAZY SILVER NIGHTS

By • Feb 24th, 2002 •

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Surviving the mad indie film-making market

“You want to make a profitable low budgeted film?” longtime producer Alfredo Leone told me, “You either make horror or adult!” Well, nudie-cutie films aren’t exactly my favorite flavors, but horror is. I wanted to make a profitable, yet small-budgeted feature film. I immediately began working on the screenplay for SILVER NIGHT, which I based on NIGHT, a vampire film I made that wrangled a distribution deal in 1997.

SILVER NIGHT told a story about vampires being hunted down by Margot, a determined young woman. The vampires are led by Garring, a long dead bootlegger who has become a vicious crack dealer.

Casting the film was easy. I picked actors who proved themselves to me on previous films. Shawna Bermender, a very natural and photogenic actress on my last film, EVERY MOVE YOU MAKE, got the role of Margot. Frank Franconeri, whom I worked with on three films, would play Garring. This was helpful since I knew their strong points, and I knew I would be spared the dreaded “Star Fits.” You need to surround yourself with as many easy-going people as possible. The rest of the cast included previous cinematic coworkers like Vernon Gravdal (who also co-produced the film and helped with the special effects), Ashley Wren Collins and Greg Dashkin.

Shawna Bermender as Monica, the Vampire

Unused office space owned by the film’s main producer Paul Kanter became SILVER NIGHT’s central location and long-standing set – a crumbling underground speakeasy – Garring’s favorite hangout. Walls were made from already damaged sheet rock supplied by Home Depot. (The beauty of set building is that the set does not have to be functional. It just has to look that way) Rotted ceiling tiles were supplied by a construction crew gutting a nearby abandoned Chinese restaurant.

“If you are making a low budgeted film, avoid stuff like car chases or war scenes” commented writer/director Edward Burns at a recent Q & A session. “Your car chase will automatically be compared to Hollywood. Your main concern is to tell a good story.” It was decided that much of SILVER NIGHT’s blood-splattering and vampire mayhem would erupt off camera. The camera lens would only suggest horror, a la Val Lewton or Mario Bava.

It was also decided to shoot the film in 16:9 widescreen. “More people are buying high definition widescreen TV’s.” advised photographer Chuck Lipnick. “To a distributor, the 16:9 letterbox format actually adds production value.”

Shooting began in late July, 2004. The Summer proved unusually rainy for New York, so many scenes were filmed with our main camera, a Canon GL1, carefully wrapped in plastic. The shiny pavements and gray clouds over nighttime Manhattan created a film-noir look. Our only hair-raiser on the set occurred while shooting an establishing shot of the NYC skyline from our car while racing up and down the FDR drive. The people in the car behind us saw our camera popping out of our sunroof. They called Homeland Security, rattling off my license plate. I explained to the bewildered police the next morning I was midway through shooting a vampire movie. Later on we filmed a quick scene in a New York subway station, despite a well-publicized announcement scowling that photography is prohibited on subways, bridges and tunnels. Like, we didn’t learn our lesson from the FDR.

The one thing a film needs is publicity, and we got plenty of post-production ink courtesy of one of our main actors, subway vigilante Bernard Goetz. AP wire picked up the story, as did “The Globe” and “The New York Daily News”. In SILVER NIGHT, Goetz plays a nagging nutrition advisor to the sickly vampires. In another scene, Goetz shoots a criminal who threatens Garring’s vampiric wife, Monica. (Shawna Bermender also played Monica, taking on a dual role in the film.) The crook was played by FIR editor Roy Frumkes, who added: “Wow, getting shot by Bernie Goetz! I would have done this for free! Hey wait a minute; I did do this for free…”

When you edit your own film, you need that second opinion, somebody who will honestly say “Yes, that’s a beautiful shot, but it stops the movie cold. Delete that shot and your plot will move smoother…” or “It would be cool… if…” This happened with Shawna when she saw a rough assembly of scenes we already shot. Her opinions were so commercial, and sensible. There was nothing self-serving to them. “It seems many indie film-makers turn
their films into little therapy sessions. Your audience wants a story.” Shawna remarked. Her and I became an editing team. It was a relief to have her handle the music selection. It allowed me to focus more on the film.

A rough cut of the film was soon assembled. We looked at it, and decided that the first third of the film needed to be more lively. “A scene with a vampire attack!”, we thought. “There should be a fight!” was another comment. “Something sexy!” These comments birthed a scene where Margot, dressed as a belle dancer at a costume party, is attacked by Garring, but she puts up a tough fight.

The belle-dancing/fight/almost neck-biting scene was filmed a few weeks before the scheduled premier of the film at Long Island’s Cinema Arts Center. This is one of the advantages of shooting on video. Additional scenes can be filmed quickly, and with very little money. Sometimes, when we could manage with a crew of one, we were able to shoot scenes in faraway places like San Francisco, and Jacksonville, Florida, and not break our budget.

Two disadvantages of shooting on video is that anybody with as little as several hundred dollars, a camera, and a computer, can make a movie. Sadly, this floods an already tough independent film market. Many first time filmmakers don’t go through the proper legal channels. A friend of mine acted in a small budgeted film where the film’s villain watches 9/11 coverage on TV (we see the news-station logo clear as day). He steps outside, where a popular piece of music can be heard, for a long time. I asked my friend if he signed a talent release. He shook his head ‘no’.

A distributor will demand talent releases from the entire cast, licensing agreements for all music used, as well as agreements to use somebody else’s video footage. If you are not armed with these elements, you’re rather lost.

SILVER NIGHT is newly finished. Before we start knocking on distributors doors, we plan to gather more press material. Stay tuned in several weeks as the drama unfolds….

For more information on the film, contact the writer, Glenn Andreiev, at Gandreiev@ aol.com.

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