Interview with producer Artin John (2BR02B: TO BE OR NAUGHT TO BE)

Artin John’s short film played at the January 2017 Sci-Fi/Fantasy Film Festival. It was awards “BEST FILM” at the festival and could be the best film played at the festival in the last 12 months!

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Artin John: Derek Ryan (my producing partner) and I, met on the set of Percy Jackson 2 Sea of Monsters, in 2012. We both had bit parts in the flick playing Satyr Demi-Gods (Derek was acting back then too, but eventually gave it up to focus on writing and producing). We were supposed to have “green screen legs” (half-man-half-goat), but the idea was dropped a couple of days into filming the project; I guess they figured it was one too many expenses they could do without. The two of us sat in hair and make-up every morning next to Stanley Tucci, having our prosthetic horns applied. Derek and I chatted enthusiastically every day about our dreams and aspirations; the two young pups that we were. Stan (a nice man) had certainly had enough of us by the end of the shoot, but Derek and I stayed in touch. Almost a year and a half later, Derek reached out to me to help in the way of co-producing (what initially only required a minor contribution) 2BR02B. He already had two other full producers on board. I had a some experience producing on a news & current affairs segment in Australia, as well as on a short-documentary, but this would be my first crack at fiction (something I had my eye on doing for a while).

Long-story-short, the other two producers dropped out, and Derek and I were left in command of this rather ambitious science fiction project; the story originally authored by one of the most revered writers of our time, Vonnegut. No pressure.

It was our first movie. I was 20, Derek was 21. We like to think we have a Ben Affleck/Matt Damon (or Kevin Spacey/Dana Brunetti) thing going on. We picked the project because it was a good, powerful story; the most important ingredient in film-making. We believed that 2BR02B, belonged on the screen (it’s full of cinematic nuance). Not only that, but given it’s length (a short story), we knew that it could be signed, sealed, twisted, and delivered to our audience within a comfortable 20 mins . This movie was OUR film school (neither of us had film school backgrounds).

So, we wanted to hone our skills, and make a strong movie; that’s why we picked THIS project. We received clearance from the Vonnegut Estate, and off we went, venturing into the deep-dark abyss of producing.

Another reason why we picked this project was that we knew that having the basis of such a rich tale, would allow us the opportunity of surrounding ourselves with the best of the best in the way of cast and crew; and that’s exactly what we did. These people included the likes of our mastermind Spanish director Marco Checa Garcia (whose team won the Emmy for Game of Thrones, and who were nominated for an Oscar for their efforts on Iron Man 3). Marco is a revered senior VFX specialist, who is enthusiastic about directing. He was a fan of Kurt Vonnegut’s work (particularly Slaughterhouse 5), and became quite excited about our project. He loved 2BR02B (the short story), as well as our screenwriters clever and enthralling adaptation; Derek is terrific writer. Before we knew it we were holding production meetings, and Marco had prepared his shot list. Things were moving fast! Derek and I handled things very professionally, which I think won the trust of people like Marco. They felt that we could pull this off well. Make a great film, and they will come. Not long after Marco, we attached the likes of DOP Chris Banting (CW’s Arrow), and our amazing cast! I even managed to talk my X-Files costar William B. Davis (The Smoking Man), into a cameo voice role (Granddad), and by the time we got to post; we had won over BAFTA winning sound designer Martin Cantwell (Casino Royale, Harry Potter, Kingsman Secret Service).

I’d like to add that (although we haven’t publicly spoken about this), the three of us went through with this because it was so freaking ambitious and a good amount terrifying (especially for a short film). We believe in doing things properly or not at all, so once we took it on, we knew there was no turning back or skimping out. We had to go all the way. Other film makers I’ve spoken to at festivals have told us how unnerving they would have found it had they been in the position of adapting this particular famous short story. The three of us lads are definitely adrenaline junkies.

MT: From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?

AJ: Longer than any short film should ever take. It took 2 years. When you are working with a cast and crew who are at the top of their field at what they do (especially when they are lending their talents on an indie-short), you have to work around their schedules/availability. Actors are busy on their next TV Series or major motion picture, and crews are rushing to finish big budget studio deadlines. Sometimes your show just gets put on hold temporarily, until those people/facilities become available again. Furthermore, we committed a cardinal sin; we broke picture lock. About six months into our first post run, just before we started music, we chucked the entire thing away and started basically from scratch. New cut, new grade, new everything. We weren’t satisfied with what we had. It was good, but not brilliant. It was a hard decision for us to make as producers, but the the three of us ultimately agreed that it would be for the best. The film was then reworked in post production under the supervision of one of the films editors and associate producers, Leon Coward.

MT: How would you describe your short film in two words!?

AJ: It’s 2am as I write this email. I texted the writer for a witty/thoughtful answer, but I suspect he’s busy writing our next feature (or he’s asleep..probably asleep). Our director Marco, is also sleeping, so no luck in getting anything profound from him at this hour. So having said that, I’m going to be THAT producer and say that our two words are OSCAR WORTHY (the boys will kill me for writing this). I’m feeling the 2018 nod (cheeky grin).

MT: What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

AJ: The fact that it was such a massive international collaboration. We shot on location in Canada, completed post production in Australia, had the VFX done in Mexico, the sound in the UK, and the USA and Netherlands were also involved. We had time zones all over the place, and deliverables became super tricky. Post production also seemed to drag on forever especially because we broke picture lock. We really had to start picking our battles, and negotiating various gridlock situations. Lots of 3 am Skype calls..

MT: What were your initial reactions when watching the Toronto audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

AJ: What an articulate audience! We loved it. It was very surreal seeing people reacting to our film without us being there. We were very pleased with their responses, it was extremely satisfying. Everything that we had intended to come across in the film, did! Music to our ears. Made us feel like we nailed it. We were glad that the Orderly dialgue included the “this is our first set of births in six months” line; it obviously helped to set-up the nature of our dystopian world off the bat (this was a last minute change). One of our initial concerns when we first arrived at the cutting room was whether an audience not familiar with the short story would be able to catch on. We didn’t want to spoon feed our audience, but rather our intention became to provide them with subtle strategically placed clues for interpreting our world; seems like it all worked out the way we hoped it would! Thank you Toronto Audience!!

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video of the Short Film:

MT: How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

AJ: Mr. Vonnegut, takes credit for this one.

MT: What film have you seen the most in your life?

AJ: My answer is The Usual Suspects. It’s my favourite film. Keyser Soze!!

MT: What is next for you? A new film?

AJ: I’ve got a supporting role on the upcoming Netflix Original Feature Film Deathnote (based on the Japanese anime), playing the role of Anthony Skomal; make sure to check that out! It will be released this May.

Derek and I are teaming up with Marco Checa Garcia, once again, this time for a feature film. We are in the middle of optioning a famous Italian comic book; which is also set in a Dystopian future (perhaps not the same world as 2BR02B).

Derek and I have also optioned the Australian best selling autobiography Eleven Days of Hell, by Yvonne Bernstein; A terrifying story of kidnap, torture and dramatic rescue by the FBI and the KGB. Derek has written the screenplay, and we are about ready to package it.

_____

Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 20-50 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto, and Los Angeles at least 2 times a month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

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