Film Courage: Where did you grow up?
Vincent Barnard: I grew up in Port Allegany, PA. It’s a super small town in Northern Pennsylvania – about 2,200 people surrounded by woods. Everyone knows everyone there, it’s very tight knit, but there are pros and cons about living in a place like that. There aren’t a ton of things to do close by, like in order to go to the latest movies we had to travel 28 miles; but then there’s the fact that you can leave your door unlocked, walk down the middle of the street to your friend’s house at night and look up at the stars the whole time. You can’t have all of that in cities so I feel pretty lucky, perhaps was bored at times, but overall lucky to be from a truly small ass town like that.
Film Courage: How would you describe yourself as a child?
Vincent: I was and still am a goofball. It’s kind of like the opposite of a stand-up comedian who had a really dramatic serious childhood and went on to release it all by being funny. I was a jokester (Most Likely To Be On Comedy Central in the high school yearbook) and went on to make a dramatic survival crime drama. I was super into sports and loved team environments and then became intrigued in movies when I was 11 and saw The Aviator in theaters. From then on I was the movie dude.
Film Courage: How supportive were your parents of creativity versus a college major in a non-arts realm?
Vincent: I never wanted to go to a four year college. It was a combination of being naïve and thinking I could move out to LA and take over Hollywood and then just a lack of interest in any “normal” degree. My dad joined the Navy right out of high school and my mom wanted to move to New York to be an actress but never could so when I told them that I didn’t want to go even though I always had solid grades, they understood and supported me the whole way. I worked at a couple jobs for a year after high school and did absolutely nothing film related except write. I think my parents saw how hard I was working and not just sitting around on my ass and they trusted that I was going to see this film thing out no matter what. I couldn’t have made Blood On The Leaves or any other project without the support of Bunky and Mark. Love ya mom and dad! ← better put that in there.
Film Courage: Did you go to film school?
Vincent: I went to an 18 month business college in DuBois, PA where there were 5 total students in the John Russo Movie Making Program. Like I said, I took that year off after high school so when I started I was 19 and super hungry to make films. I always thought film schools were pointless but that’s also when I thought you had to move to Hollywood to make meaningful movies. I met great people including Craig and Ryan (fellow producers for BOTL) and my soon to be wife. Plus I learned how to actually make freaking movies. We graduated and then the program shut down, which really sucks because you wouldn’t have been able to find a more valuable film education. I’ve heard that the Art Institute and other big film schools like that don’t let their students touch a camera until they’ve been there for 30 years and paid $400,000 (exaggeration but you get it) and at this little film school it was $25,000 TOTAL and you dove right in. I don’t think the business college there fully understood what they had but it’s all good. Maybe I’ll start my own film school here in DuBois at some point.
Film Courage: One book AND film which totally changed your life/mindset?
Vincent: The Godfather. Just kidding, I hate when people say that, it’s such a default and boring answer at this point. I’d say The Departed. That’s a movie where tight writing, bold directing style, and top notch acting hit you all at once, especially when you’re 13 seeing it for the first time. That movie showed me that there’s almost nothing more exciting than a situation where the audience knows something that the characters don’t. As far as a book, honestly probably Story by Robert McKee, the screenwriting book that teaches you a scene should begin one way (a guy is confident he’s gonna get the girl) and end the opposite way (the guy gets turned down and thinks he’ll be alone forever). The next movie you watch see if the beginning and ending of each scene are emotional opposites. That book was a great read when all you had to do in a small town was write.
Film Courage: How do you decide what movie you will pay to see in a theater versus one you will watch online?
Vincent: The Revenant was a movie I wanted to see in theaters not just because my favorite actor was in it but because the grand adventurous X factor was very present in the trailer. Nature, action, thrills, simple yet high stakes concepts – stuff that calls for a big screen. The Wolf of Wall Street (can you tell who my favorite actor is) was the same way, totally different story and style but still highly exciting. Let’s be honest, the indie (lower budget) movies we all see on Netflix or wherever are generally absolutely more “boring” than Creed and Mad Max. Doesn’t mean they’re bad, but you’ll see a lot more interiors of apartments, improvised banter, and he cheated on her who loves this other guy drama – basically I’m cool with just seeing that on my TV. Again, they’re not bad, but that sh*t is like made for Sundance and in turn Netflix. Today though – 2016 – indie filmmakers don’t HAVE to do that. We had $10,000 and made a survival drama with more locations and gun shots than 127 Hours while still maintaining intimate character dynamics. It’s a movie that’s great for a big theater AND your Macbook. But you just can’t deny that there’s just something about Batman v. Superman that makes you want to experience that in a theater rather than A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence. And if you hate big Hollywood “garbage” because Transformers 2 sucked, there’s also a bunch of sh*tty indie movies. We all love movies so let’s pay to watch them in a theater, ya know? Unless you have to drive 28 miles… then you make a trip of it.
Vincent: I met Craig at the 18 month film school we both attended in DuBois. We started off making music videos in class together, went on to scene recreations. He shot the Zodiac scene that I remade and I acted in his Place Beyond The Pines scene that he did. He’s also from a small town in PA and we really clicked and worked well together, especially on our web series Blue Card and of course Blood On The Leaves. He knows how to do everything from visual effects to scheduling to recognizing good acting, and the things he struggles at he works hard to get better. He’s definitely a guy that might bug people with his ambition, but THAT’S the kind of person you need in your corner to get a movie done and done well.
Vincent: Sideline Pictures is the independent production and distribution company formed by Craig Inzana and myself in 2014 while we were working on our feature length web series Blue Card. With Sideline, we’re really emphasizing the microbudget filmmaking process as a way to create high quality cinema for the amount of money many filmmakers would see as an impossible figure to make anything with. We’ve been in the trenches of low budget movie making, doing it all from holding boom mics in the freezing cold, 3AM shoots, 48-hour challenges, and we believe that there are filmmakers out there like us who don’t have access to $300,000 let alone the seven figure amounts studios call “low budget.” These filmmakers could really benefit from a company who won’t only get their $15,000 – $20,000 movie made well but get it in front of an audience that they can then engage with. Blood On The Leaves is our flagship film that we made for $10,000 in 13 days with day jobs and will be premiering in independently owned theaters and online this Summer. We are here to be realistic filmmakers, not wait for permission, and make movies that have an impact and entertain people on all mediums. I know there are filmmakers out there just waiting to tell their story and we’re trying to show them that they can now.
Film Courage: Where did you come up with the story for BLOOD ON THE LEAVES?
Vincent: Being from a very rural area, I’m familiar with that setting – middle of the woods, friendly people but also close-minded hicks, factories keeping towns alive, 98% white people, all of that. I know this place. So I took that world and crashed it into its complete opposite. I love hip hop music, especially J. Cole. His first album is Cole World: The Sideline Story, which is where I got the name Sideline Pictures. He’s so influential to me, more so than any filmmaker. He tells stories about where he comes from: rough neighborhoods surrounded by violence and later on temptation, but he never really attacks outside forces for black on black crimes or for his own mistakes. He describes the mind state of young thugs and encourages them to overcome the violent life because it’s an internal struggle. One could say struggle is relative but I can’t relate to gangbanging and none of my friends were killed young. I don’t claim to relate, I’m lucky as hell and I try every day to not take that for granted, but I’m aware of that world, because of Cole. The character of City Boy in Blood On The Leaves was not written to preach or to make a statement, along with all of the other characters. He’s in this story because the emotional pictures Cole paints with his words moved me and I wanted to take the world that I grew up in and clash it with the world that so many young men and women fight for their lives in. I didn’t pull any punches or tip toe around anything. One of these guys is white and from the sticks, the other is black and from the hood, forced together by nature. Nature doesn’t give a sh*t where you’re from or what color you are. I think people need to see that concept play out. That’s why I wrote it.
Film Courage: What is your hope for BLOOD ON THE LEAVES?
Vincent: First of all I want people to watch it. That’s why we make movies right? I hope people watch it and then voice their opinions, good or bad. Let us know how you feel about it. From day one, the goal with BOTL was to complete a feature length film for not a lot of money with resources somewhat available to us. We took that a step further and made it a point to have it be entertaining as hell while still telling an emotional story. So I hope people watch this in a private theater or online, on the edge of their seat or couch, and walk away impacted by the characters. And I hope/know audiences will sh*t their pants when they find out we made this for only $10,000.
Film Courage: Your tagline for BOTL reads “A young man who is grappling with a major life-mistake that takes him outside of his city home to the Pennsylvania wilderness.” Do you feel people are redeemable if they choose to change? Or are bad patterns ingrained in us through nature or nurture?
Vincent: I don’t think people can choose to change. There needs to be an unavoidable event that happens to them that FORCES them to change. Trauma, wake up calls, consequences, things like that change people. In the movie, nature forces both City Boy and the Hunter to confront themselves and their bad patterns by trapping them in the woods with someone they think is “different.” It’s a dramatic way to show that people can’t change unless something extremely drastic hits them. I grew up around racist people. I hope they read this actually because they probably don’t think they’re racist and would get offended by this, but I don’t care – they are. No I’m not black, I’m really white – like get sunburnt inside white – but I just don’t understand where they are coming from and I’d love to be able to change them (they probably think the same about me). But I can’t and this movie can’t. This movie might be a slight wake up call but they’re too far gone. I’d love for it to start conversations, but people like that need a truly life changing experience to be able to change. I think they are this way and I am the way I am, through nurture. But only nature and the unpredictability that comes with it can change them and me.
Vincent: We’ve already made it over the crazy mountain that is preproduction and production and since then we’ve assembled a really great survival drama with some of the best performances I’ve seen in film. The edit is out getting finishing touches on the audio and color correction. As you would expect from an 8 month project with just $10,000, we’re stretched thinner than thin and need one final push to get us to the finish line. Our Indiegogo campaign will allow us to properly pay a composer to elevate the tone of the film, create awesome marketing materials to maximize audience exposure, and to fund our theatrical release plan that will include renting a few theaters, creating and selling DVDs and Blu-rays, and of course entering film festivals. Donors will basically help a completed film get out into the world so that they may see it in a theater or in any format they choose and be as successful as possible.
Film Courage: According to your Indiegogo campaign, you began shooting BLOOD ON THE LEAVES for $10,000. How did you raise the $10K?
Vincent: Craig Inzana, Ryan Haggerty, and I raised the initial $10K budget through both private investors and personal contributions. It was very important to us that we approached this film project like a business with a goal of making money. If we are to represent other films in the future under Sideline Pictures, we better have our sh*t organized and financially viable. It felt like as much passion was put into our investor pitch package and presentation as the script itself. We held a pitch event in DuBois for potential investors, people who had an idea of what we could do. We had to prove to them that this film A) is a story that needs to be told. And B) can make their money back. Crunching numbers isn’t my strong suit but it needed to be done to show non film-minded people how exactly we planned to do this. Along with the investors, we made contributions ourselves whether it was $20 here, $180 there… you gotta be all in when needed and it wasn’t always easy, but we made it work.
Vincent: I’d say we spent about 8 months preparing, launching, and constantly updating our website and social media platforms before we shot a single frame. It’s imperative, when the goal is to make investors their money back, to generate revenue through people buying tickets, DVDs, digital downloads, and Blu-rays. Basically your audience makes you money. The bigger your audience the more money you make, and the more people see your story and hard work. So how do you build an audience? You’ve got to engage with them, feed them content, give them a reason to be a fan a year and half before they can even buy it. That should be step 1, because the more people you have excited for the project, the easier it will be to convince people to fund it. And it never stops. This Q and A right here will be some great content to share with our fans. Am I hoping it will get us more likes on Facebook? Absolutely. That’s the name of the game: exposure. And that comes from care and dedication to the website and online platforms.
Vincent: I wouldn’t say I begin a script with the beginning or the end, more like the inciting incident. For this film, it was the tree pinning someone down in the woods. I loved that idea. I probably just watched 127 Hours and looked out the window and saw a tree or something, but I love simple concepts and build full ideas from those, just stuff I would think would be cool to see in a movie. It’s never “I need to inform society about racial tensions in America,” it’s more like “Wouldn’t it be cool if the guy who was burying the body is black and from the hood and the guy who finds him is a white country guy. Ooh that’d start some crazy sh*t I bet.” So I get the concept, the characters, and then listen to more J. Cole, then eventually as I get to know the characters, deeper themes develop and I realize there’s one maybe two ways to end the film the right way. I don’t think I ever come up with the ending first.
Film Courage: What were the biggest challenges you had making BOTL? Is it finished? What do you need to finish the film?
Vincent: The biggest challenge was definitely time. When you set out to shoot a 100 page script in 13 days (vacation time from the day job by the way) then you’re left shooting almost 8 pages a day on average. Factor in the middle of the woods and weather… we basically had to shoot a survival drama film at sitcom speed. Now we’re just putting the finishing touches on the film and once we get our marketing materials together completely, the film scored, we’ll be ready to release! Definitely this Summer.
Film Courage: You’ve acted in several of the projects you’ve written. Do you begin writing a story with a character that you’d like to play or do you write a story because it intrigues and add yourself in later?
Vincent: The scripts that I’ve written myself into were either short form or the longer form web series that we made. I always start with the concept and a story I find exciting, and then, with those projects, I centered it around a character that I would be able to play – without over acting! I had done theater and directed a rom com short during film school and always played the lover boy. So when Blue Card came around I wanted to play something grittier, so I took a story idea that I had and centered it on a bashful hitman. I have such an appreciation for actors and what they do and the fact I’ve been in front of the camera makes me a better director. With Blood On The Leaves, this was a whole other beast. I didn’t want to be in front of the camera nor was there a role that fit me. This story was too strong to change just to include me on the cast so I focused on directing at that point.
Film Courage: How did you cast your actors? Are they local talent?
Vincent: With the script set, I singled out sides for every speaking character. The two leads, City Boy and the Hunter, had huge sides. I’m talking a two page monologue. I did this because the film is centered around these two and its dialog-heavy. We set up online profiles and casting calls where we accepted video auditions. Then we set up an in person audition in Pittsburgh. Overall we had dozens of submissions for all roles. The two leads ended up being from Ohio, 9 actors from Pittsburgh, and 1 from Philly.
Film Courage: You’re looking to hire a music composer for the film. What kind of thematic/musical feel are you looking for?
Vincent: We’ve actually successfully hired our composer. Alex Gordon of Pittsburgh, PA will be our final crew member, scoring Blood On The Leaves. I couldn’t more excited to work with him and let him do his thing and take BOTL to the next level. Alex is very cool guy and has plenty of experience scoring films and I’m very confident that he’ll do a great job of capturing the tone of each beat and moment. He’ll do such a solid job that the audience won’t even notice!
Film Courage: What camera(s) did you use to shoot BOTL? How did you know you had the right camera to film this? What sound and lighting equipment did you use?
Vincent: A Panasonic gh4 carried us all the way to the end which was kind of a special thing to Ryan, Craig, and I since we all worked together on gh2’s in college. So right when our ambition took us up to a feature film, our camera system moved right up with us. Its 4k capabilities and operation familiarity were the main reasons we used the gh4. Oh! And also because Ryan, our DP, owned it. That also helps.
Film Courage: How much natural lighting did you use? Can you share any stories on shooting outdoors and how you worked around loss of light?
Vincent: We only set up lighting with our Arri kit for three interior scenes, the rest was all natural light with the exception of a couple LED fillers. As the director, my priority was getting the best performances possible out of the actors and I remember the campfire scenes in the middle of the woods at night were especially stressful lighting-wise. I noticed that the actors were ready to go on location and everything. Time was of the essence, but one of the drawbacks with using the gh4 was its difficulty in low light; and there’s nothing lower-light than the woods at night. So we had two fires going – the movie fire and a feeder fire for natural light and two LED’s with warm gels that Craig manually flickered. I’m sure I was pushing Ryan to hustle even though it was extremely tricky for him! We were all tripping over stuff in the dark, but once we got it down, it was beautiful.
Film Courage: How long was the shoot? What were the biggest challenges to time management and the production? How did you work around these challenges?
Vincent: When you need to shoot 8 pages a day to finish a 100 page script in 13 days, every minute counts. We made it very clear the first day that we will be moving fast and everyone understood and killed it. The crew was ready for anything, the cast brought their A game on take 1 and some days that got us 12 pages. The weather was definitely tricky. We were at mercy to the elements for most of the shoot being in the Pennsylvania wilderness. Day 3 it rained so Craig worked his magic with the schedule and literally made it rain in a separated section of the story only adding to the cinematic exhaustion the characters went through. We couldn’t have had better luck with the location owners though. Our sound guy Mike, came from Brooklyn and thought it was awesome how we got all of these locations for free by eager owners who loved the idea that their places were gonna be in a movie. The tree was actually cut down on set by the owner of the woods set!
Vincent: The producers and I love the idea of not only getting people to independently owned theaters to see this film, but making an event out of it. We’ll have a backdrop with cameras and press and encourage audience members to partake in the celebration of a film that was made by people they know or from the same area. Question and answers, parties, networking events, etc. will all be part of these screenings. Currently we will be premiering in Pittsburgh in June, heading up to Central PA to DuBois and Clearfield right after, and are working to get big events in Cleveland and Cincinnati. We’re hoping other local theaters will see the appeal of these screenings and take part in the fun as well!
Film Courage: Did you call local theaters before about the proposed screenings? What can you share about the experience for people who’ve never looked for an indie movie theater?
Vincent: As we put together the marketing and pitch materials during pre-production we assembled a large database of privately owned theaters and kept that list up to date so that when we’d cold call them or meet up, we’d be prepared and informed on how they screen films. All I can say is to be prepared, you may think it’s a win win for the theater to show a local film, get some press, some new butts in the seats, and half the profits, but theaters are mostly business. We as producers might be half business half creative but exhibitors are all hoping to stay afloat and profit and a lot of times that comes with a $300 rental fee for two hours which is 3% of your entire production budget… just do your research and give people all you’ve got to offer.
Film Courage: When you previously screened the BLUE CARD SERIES in your hometown, what did you learn about screenings, promotion, and getting people to attend that you’ll be applying to the new BOTL screenings?
Vincent: When we screened Blue Card in DuBois, the theater was packed full of people involved in the projects and their friends and family, and also people who thought it was cool that this was made right in their backyard. There was a standing ovation and a party afterward. The theater made bank that night and we made more money than all of the online sales combined and it was the most fun we had during the whole release. Craig and I then realized, in short, “why don’t we do a bunch of these next time?” So for Blood On The Leaves, a feature film that a couple dozen people made or helped with, we plan on going to each of their hometowns to screen this movie, sell copies of it, have parties. Basically replicate what we did that one night but on a bigger scale. People should and will support their local creatives! And we’re going to give them an opportunity to do just that.
Film Courage: What software do you use to edit your films? What are some of your favorite editing techniques/tricks?
Vincent: I edited Blood On The Leaves on Adobe Premiere Pro. It’s the program I’ve used for the past four years and in my opinion it keeps getting better and better. It’s funny, when I was writing the script I’d watch a lot of screenwriter interviews, in prepro I’d watch producers, right before the shoot I’d watch directors, and then immediately after wrap I watched a bunch of editors talk about their craft. There’s no better tool than research. If you don’t know how to do something or need some fresh ideas, watch some interviews, visit Adobe (if you’re using premiere) and learn learn learn. One thing I’ve learned is that if you’re not sure if a scene could be quicker paced, then it can be quicker paced. Just cutting from the character speaking to the one listening two or three frames before they finish their sentence takes the conversation to a more real, engaging place than just “talk” cut “talk” cut. Try sh*t, you have an undo button.
Film Courage: Previously, you and Craig decided to shoot a 5-episode webseries? Why the change to a feature film now?
Vincent: We wanted to make feature films since the beginning. As we did more and more short content in school we realized, at the time, that the next step toward that goal was to do a long-form short content project – a web series. So we wrote Blue Card, a story with a beginning, middle, and end, shot it, put it together, and realized we had a 70 minute project. At that point, and after the successful theater screening, we thought “why don’t we just do a feature now? What are we waiting for?” I joke that if filmmakers 60 years ago, or even 20 years ago saw up and coming filmmakers today putting their feature productions on hold because they’ve only raised $90,000 and they need $400,000 to “do it right,” they’d look at the equipment available to them, and punch them in the face. You don’t have to have a half a million bucks, you just have to be realistic with the resources available to you. We learned a lot making Blue Card, like if we did that for less than $1,000, there’s no question we could do a feature and finish it.
Film Courage: What are you avoiding (in any area)?
Vincent: Blaming others. And by others I mean people, places, and things. I’m avoiding the idea of actively believing that because of outside forces I didn’t get what I want because even if I’m right, even if someone messed up what I’m trying to do – movie, life, whatever – blaming them will not reverse time and accomplish the goal. It’s a waste of breath and stressful to say that the weather ruined your shoot, that we didn’t get the grant because the people who give it out are friends with the probably less worthy recipients, that so and so forgot a prop… in the end, the weather can’t be controlled, you don’t have the grant money, and the prop is not there. We need to shut up and brainstorm. Gear up for rain and shift the schedule, seek out investors, and use a different prop. Frustration can turn into creativity real quick if you avoid blaming others. That’s what I try to keep in mind.
Film Courage: What are your best qualities?
Vincent: I’d say my best quality as a filmmaker is my sense of collaboration and lack of micromanaging while still getting my vision across. Each crew and cast member is there for a reason, so I let them do their job. I always had an answer to a question and would correct things I didn’t like, but I never touched the camera or acted out a scene for an actor. I guess that just means I’m a solid communicator. I’ll go with that. That’s a good quality. It’s not hard though if you know what you want.
Film Courage: What are your plans for the next 5 years?
Vincent: Buy a house in DuBois, PA and have kids with my sweetie. For real! Three years ago I would’ve said move to LA, but after this film, it’s so clear that I would rather make and produce feature films that I want to make and watch them with audiences in actual theaters than get people coffee for six years and then maybe someone will read my short film script. Filmmakers can make their own opportunities right where they are. So I’m not going anywhere. I mean we shot the movie in Central PA and guess who was one of only two people who didn’t have to travel 2 hours or more to get there. The writer/director/producer! So it’s possible to make movies anywhere and have cast and crew come to you. They want to! Because they want to be part of meaningful feature length content just like you. I’m going to keep doing that and I hope to hook up with other low budget filmmakers out there who’d like to do the same wherever they live.
Film Courage: What’s next for you creatively?
Vincent: With Craig and Ryan, I plan on taking Sideline Pictures to the next level and really driving home the point that we can help filmmakers tell the stories they’ve been waiting to tell, realistically, the way we made Blood On The Leaves. That means producing, distributing, and straight up supporting what they’re trying to do, because we’ve been there. Film festivals are great, web series are great, but I can’t describe the feeling of standing on the location you managed to lockdown in the small city you live in, the sound guy came all the way from freaking Brooklyn to be there, just surrounded by people you hired, actors saying your lines, and you know that this FEATURE FILM exists because you set out to not mess around and make a damn movie no matter what. And I know that feeling is going to get beat when I watch it with an audience. So I want to do that again, but I want to get other filmmakers there as well. I also want to apply that model to a baseball movie – I’m outlining like a madman right now, so we’ll see what I come up with.
Vincent Barnard is the founder of Sideline Pictures. His short film, Love Interrupted, won the Audience Choice Award at Creative Minds Film Festival in 2012. He wrote, directed, and starred in Blue Card Web Series in 2013-14. He is now producing the film Blood On The Leaves that he wrote and directed to be released summer 2016.