Today’s Guest: Alex Ferrari, director, Broken
Two years ago, Alex Ferrari wrote and directed a short action thriller called Broken. It cost a mere $8,000, looks like a million bucks, and includes more than 100 visual effects shots.
The low budget film was a “proof of concept” — Ferrari and his associates and investors wanted to demonstrate what they are capable of producing if given a larger budget and greater resources.
I was skeptical of the short – until I watched it. It’s pretty cool, especially considering its limitations. It’s stylish and energetic and will leave you wanting more.
BOB ANDELMAN/Mr. MEDIA: Alex, what is Broken?
ALEX FERRARI: God, I’ve been asking myself that for the last two and a half years. Basically, Broken was a short that I conceived back in college about ten years ago and then brought into its incarnation now about three years, and I joined forces with my producer and writing partner for the film. His name is Jorge Rodriguez. We kind of went after a good, high-quality production value for a short film with a lot of visual effects, a lot of action, and a good story. We don’t see a lot of that in the indie film, specifically in the action genre. Most action independents are usually done very poorly, horrible stories, production quality is usually not that great, if they do have effects, they are really cheesy. So we set out to prove to Hollywood that you can make an independent film on a very low budget. We did it for under $8,000 and shot it on standard mini-DV 24 p videotape, essentially.
ANDELMAN: Let me stop you for a minute. How did you make a film of this quality for $8,000? Was it strictly because you did the mini-DV, or did you not pay anybody for anything? How do you do that?
FERRARI: Honestly, every crew member got paid, except for a couple interns, but all the main crew members, all the gaffers, the grip, the DPs, the first AD, all those people got paid. The people that didn’t get paid was myself, the producer, and then the visual effects people were all part of my company, Numb Robot, that did the visual effects on the film, so all that was obviously donated, all their time and efforts, and the music and the composer, Mark Roumelis, who did the music and the score and the sound design for the whole film. That was all donated. These are all professional relationships that I have made in my career, being in post-production for the last twelve years, so as far as the post is concerned, a lot of the elements were there already so they didn’t cost anything, because I had built my company around post. All the production people, all the actors, everyone got paid. Everyone got paid. All our costumes were custom made. It was a pretty big, elaborate project for a twenty-minute short.
ANDELMAN: Was the idea that this was a proof of concept for you as opposed to, we’re going to do this twenty minutes and then we are going to add on to this later, and this will be the movie?
FERRARI: No, it was more of a proof of concept. We never conceived the short to do anything in the final feature of Broken, which we had written. It was more to prove to investors, to industry people that we were able to create a high quality product on a very low budget. It was just something Robert Rodriguez had said for a long time: if you are able to put high quality product for a low budget, you’ll always work. So we were trying to put that to the test and see if we get the opportunity to do that.
ANDELMAN: It’s interesting, because you’ve done this short, and yet you’ve marketed almost like a feature. You have a DVD of the short that you sell on your Web site. The Web site is WhatisBroken.com. And what was interesting is, there are what, two, three hours of DVD extras?
FERRARI: Yeah, I mean, in all honesty, I’m ridiculous. I’ll be honest with you, I’m ridiculous in my mentality of how to market things. All the press and all the attention that Broken has gotten on the Web and through reviews, I mean, we’ve been reviewed over a hundred and fifty times around the world. We’ve gotten into over a hundred film festivals. We’ve been rejected from all the great ones, as well. So what I decided to do was I wanted to put together a DVD of how we made it and all these little tricks of the trade that… Before I made the short, I looked out there, and we looked for something on the market that would help us at our level. Robert Rodriguez makes great DVDs that show all these wonderful techniques, but unfortunately, he’s working with millions of dollars and very high equipment, so I wanted to look for something that was at our level at this point with the gear that we had, and there literally wasn’t anything, so I think there was a hole in the marketplace that needed, basically, some instruction on how to make a low budget action independent film, and we put together over three hours of special features, from pre-production all the way into how to market a short film, including six commentary tracks, the whole ball of wax, and we’ve sold over 5,000 units worldwide already in the last two years.
ANDELMAN: It was really interesting, the DVD extras. I thought the film was really well done, and I enjoyed the film, but I actually enjoyed the extras as much because there’s the audio tracks of you talking about how you made the film and your philosophy and your thoughts on this, and there’s you talking about the importance of marketing, that a lot of people who do a small film, and for that matter, it could be someone who has a local band or something, they put it together, and then they think that the world is just going to beat a path to their door, but the reality is, you’ve gotta go out and market these things.
I think half of the creative process is marketing. Fifty percent is to make the product, and the other 50% is how to get it out there into the world.
And unless you have the Weinsteins at your doorstep to distribute your film or Paramount or any of these other big shots, you’ve got to… We’re a small little group of people in South Florida, for God’s sakes, not the mecca of the independent film world or the film world in general, so I needed to make something out there, and as the director and producer and co-creator of the project, I took it upon myself to get the word out. I had some experience on the Web before, running a Web site, so I kind of applied that to this, and it was all a real big experiment. I didn’t know any of it was going to work.
Slowly, we started getting press, and people started calling us, and we started getting into festivals, and it just started to snowball, and it’s still snowballing almost two and a half years later. The project is still… I mean, I’m being interviewed right now by you about a project I did two years ago, so it still has legs, and it is still growing in its size. It’s the little short that could, if you will. And marketing is just one of the things that people don’t think about, and we treated it like a feature. We treated it like a feature all through pre-production and production. We had concept paintings, we had storyboards. Anybody looking at it would think it was a feature film. People that look at the trailer on our Web site, you have no idea how many distributors I have been contacted by think it’s a feature. And when I tell them, sorry, it’s a short, they are like, “Oh my God, I can’t believe that’s a short.”
ANDELMAN: I think it was an interesting story, and I think the festival was Sundance that you guys went to Sundance even though the film wasn’t even done and you weren’t trying to enter it. Tell me a little bit about that experience.
FERRARI: Yeah, we went to Sundance because Jorge, the producer, had been there the year before. I wasn’t able to make it that year, so when we were finishing the movie, we literally, I did a 36 hour straight audio final mix of the movie and got on a plane, like I literally got done at 6:00, went home, showered, changed, packed, and got on a plane to Sundance that same day, and then I got deathly ill while I was at Sundance. But we went there to get the word, opening up a laptop and going, here you go, you want to take a look at a movie we did? And started pounding the pavement and started like, hey, look, this is who we are. And we got a lot more attention than a lot of the films that were in the festival, and it’s guerrilla marketing. That’s all it is, it’s guerrilla marketing. It didn’t cost a lot, other than the trip there and to stay there and obviously those expenses, but we didn’t plaster the place with posters, we didn’t have anything like that, we just literally started talking to people, handing people our cards. We got a lot of connections and a lot of studio people, honestly, looking at us from that trip, before any of the press, before any of the attention had broken out. The Web site was barely done at that point, but the Web site was already done before we started shooting. All my new projects, the second I’m writing the script, I buy the URL, so that’s the way my mind works, unfortunately.
ANDELMAN: Again, you are aware of the marketing side of things.
FERRARI: You’ve got to be. If not, you’ll die, especially in a short. I haven’t done a feature yet, but I can imagine when I do my feature, I’m going to take this to the next level.
ANDELMAN: Now, we’ve talked about marketing, and we’ve talked about producing a quality short at a low price, but tell folks what the movie is about, if they buy the DVD, kind of what the Evelyn Wood version of the plot is.
FERRARI: Basically, it’s about a girl who is kidnapped by a group of very colorful and violent people as well. They know who she is, but she has no idea who they are, and they are surprised that she doesn’t remember, and they keep trying to pry information out of her. There’s something inside of her that they want, but when she’s pushed too far, certain things happen, and it’s kind of left up to your imagination. The ending is very Hitchcockian, so it’s kind of left up to the audience member, is this whole thing real, is it not real, things like that. But that’s basically what the story is, and of course, there’s a lot of nice action, people die. It’s a good old-fashioned family film.
ANDELMAN: As you look back on the production and if you look at the DVD today, do you look at it and do you tear it apart and say, “Oh God, there’s a mistake”?
FERRARI: Oh, God, yes. Everybody does. Any artist does that. I’m sure Steven Spielberg goes back and says, “Oh, my God, look at that. God, it looks so fake!” Of course I do. I look at it now, and I’m a different director now. I’ve gotten two and a half years of experience under my belt, so I’ve done a lot more, and I would tell that story completely differently today than I would back then, but that is an expression of who I was as an artist back then.
ANDELMAN: And where are you with Broken? Are you still pursuing doing that as a feature?
FERRARI: We got calls from a lot of studios, and a lot of producers were interested, and unfortunately, the mistake we made was, we didn’t have a full-blown script ready when all this attention and heat came on us, so by the time we were ready with the script, it was a year later. We still had the connections into the thing, but we weren’t as hot as we were prior, so when they read the script, a lot of people loved the script, but unfortunately, we also made the mistake of writing a script that would easily cost $40 or $50 million.
FERRARI: Yeah, just a big sci-fi extravaganza. A Matrix-style kind of film. I think our arrogance got a little bit ahead of us with that, and our egos kind of were writing checks we couldn’t cash, if you will. But you live, and you learn, but everyone loved the script and were very excited about it and wanted… any other projects I had to please bring it to them, things like that. So with the next project I came up with, I decided to write the script first, the feature script first, keep it on a budget that I know I could work with $2-3 million, which is a very small budget, and then be able to do a short or a demo of some sort and then do the same process that we did with Broken but this time having everything ready literally.
ANDELMAN: And so what are you doing today? Do you have other projects along this line?
FERRARI: Yeah. I just finished shooting a short film called Cyn, short for Cynthia, and it’s about a five-minute short film. We shot it on HD, and we did it for under $1,000, had a bunch of visual effects in it, a ridiculously over the top title sequence. That’s the way I preface it, because it’s so over the top. It’s like dropping a bomb to kill a cockroach. Over the top. And we’re just about done with it. We will hopefully be done with it this week, and then we are going to start sending it out for reviews and to the festivals and start the process again, and the Web site is alittlecyn.com. And that was a cut-down version of a short film for a feature I have called Red Princess Blues, which is a feature, a revenge thriller that I wrote with basically hot chicks and guns, good old-fashioned violence.
ANDELMAN: That’s never popular.
FERRARI: That’s never popular. I know, it’s tough. It’s that and the documentaries, I’m telling you, and the Jane Austen novels, but we are trying to keep it under $2-3 million and not a lot of visual effects. So I’m shooting the first ten minutes of that feature at the end of the summer to try to get excitement from the studios, again, to see if they can finance the film. So that’s where I’m going right now with that, and the Web site for that is redprincessblues.com.
FERRARI: And I have a bunch of other stuff going on. I could go on for hours.
ANDELMAN: You must have a regular job.
FERRARI: Yes, my regular job is post-production. I own my own visual effects company called Numb Robot, which is at numbrobot.com, and we do visual effects for HD films and for high-end commercials and feature films in general of any budget, but we try to focus on indies, purely because we’re indie film makers ourselves, and a lot of indie film makers don’t have access to high-end visual effects or even title sequences or color correction or clean audio, something that will bring up production value on these things. So that’s where I do most of my work is in editorial, color correction, and visual effects, so that’s what pays the bills right now.
ANDELMAN: As someone who was a film student back in college, which was a long time ago, I know that there are a lot of people out there who just daydream about making a movie themselves. I just think it’s very cool that you put up the money, you put in the time and the energy, and you got this done. And obviously, you are doing it with friends, I guess, and people that you either work with or you know.
FERRARI: Yeah, I’ve got a great crew of people. I’ve been building this kind of team for the last handful of years of people that I’ve met in the industry and people who believe in the projects that I’m doing and want to work and very talented people. All the people that work with me at Numb Robot, Dan Creegan, Sean Falcon, these guys were all really good artists that just didn’t have an opportunity or an outlet for their art, so I was able to give them a place where they could stretch and spread their wings a little bit and get some attention for the work that they did and just getting a group of people together who know what they’re doing and are high-end professionals, which is a key. As a director, I’m trying to build this little unit so where I could literally just, all I need is a little bit of cash, and we could turn it on and go, and that’s what I’ve been doing for the last handful of years. So with Numb Robot, I compare it to George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic, obviously not at that level but a place where a director can go and play with his ideas and do conceptual paintings and art and animatics and do all the other good stuff that we do and play. So it’s a beautiful thing to have as a film maker, and post is such a huge part of the filmmaking process, and a lot of times, since it’s at the end of the journey, a lot of times the money’s not there, or people forget about it…. oh, don’t worry about the color, don’t worry about the audio, and there you go, and then we’ve got a U2 movie all of a sudden.