FilmCourage: Where did you grow up?
Reuben Meltzer: I grew in West Orange, NJ. Life was a pretty ideal one. I am one of 5 siblings. My older sister only came and lived with us in the summers, so most of the time I was the oldest of 4 boys. My childhood was one that was full of imagination. At the age of 6 my Nana asked me what I wanted to do when I grow up, and I told her I wanted to make movies. As a child I had this fascination with Horror films (Sci-fi too, but mainly Horror) and my Nana fed that curiosity. As I got a little older I began to “direct” my friends in make believe movies that were epic adventures frequently dealing with the supernatural.
FilmCourage: Biggest supporter in your life?
Reuben: When you follow an artistic passion like filmmaking you either have a very supportive family or the exact opposite. My family has always been supportive of me, and each person in their own unique and powerful way. It’s impossible to say who was the biggest one in my life. I guess the most notable would be my wife, Thy, and my parents.
FilmCourage: Did you go to film school?
Reuben: I did. I went to New School University and studied filmmaking there.
FilmCourage: How did you end up living in Australia?
Reuben: My wife is Australian. I met her in Japan when I went to study abroad. We became friends, and that friendship grew into something more. After my future wife made two trips out to see me in the states I finally saw that what we had was far more than a friendship and on her third trip to the states I went to back to Australia with her and haven’t left.
FilmCourage: How did you and Ben Friedman meet?
Reuben: I don’t remember exactly how Ben and I met because it was so long ago. We were both around 5 or 6 years old. We were in the same elementary school together. Ben had a different circle of friends than I did, but as we grew older those circles dissolved and Ben and my friendship grew stronger as we both started falling in love with filmmaking.
FilmCourage: You were the organizer and founder of Name in White Films, an experimental film festival that ran in New York for a number of years. What did you apply to your own filmmaking from your experiences with Name in White Films?
Reuben: I can’t say that I really learned much about filmmaking through Name in White Films, but I did learn a lot about the community of filmmakers out there. I saw that there were so few places that showed films from anyone and everyone and I wanted to create an opportunity that would guarantee filmmakers to screen their work without having to pay submission fees. I haven’t hosted a screening in years, but I am developing Name in White Films into a nationwide student film screening series that will be held monthly at universities all around America.
FilmCourage: From running Name in White Films, what criteria do you look for in a festival you’re submitting your own films to?
Reuben: There’s not many festivals out there that operated the way Name in White did; if there were I’d be sure to submit my own films to them. When I was submitting “The Moment: Bonnaroo” to festivals I was looking for festivals that were prestigious, in an area that I had family or friends, and/or were music related (ie: Woodstock, Nashville, SXSW). With “Borders” Ben and I will be submitting the film to festivals that really value and promote short films as well as other festivals that are specifically sci-fi themed. It’s important to do real research and figure out what kind of festivals fit your film, especially with submission fees what they are.
FilmCourage: For your new movie Borders of the Imagination, did you come up with a film budget first (based on your resources available) before coming up with idea? Or was it the other way around of having the idea first?
Reuben: Ben came up with the idea first. He was at a screenwriters’ boot-camp when he wrote it. He was really happy with it and the teachers and other students there were equally impressed. Wanting to see his vision come to life he got in touch with me about directing it. I was floored by the script and knew that to do this story justice we’d need to find a budget via grants, competitions, and/or crowdsourcing.
FilmCourage: How much are you currently raising via Kickstarter? What will the budget go toward?
Reuben: We’ve gotten a few estimates from friends and peers that work in the industry, and they thought our 15 minute film will cost us anywhere between $20,000 and $60,000. In the end we decided to raise $36,000. After Kickstarter takes their percentage and we make and send all the incentives there will be about $27000 left. The majority of that will be going towards special effects. The film is such a special effects driven one, and a lot hinges on how well the special effects are integrated. The rest of the budget will be going towards set design, costumes/props, and the dune buggy sequences.
Reuben: I am still very much interested in music documentaries, but narrative film has always been my favorite kind of storytelling. I’d still like to continue doing episodes of my webseries, “The Moment,” (interviews and performances from musicians cut into little 15-minute episodes) but my connections in Melbourne, Australia aren’t the same as they are in the states when it comes to the indie music scene. On the other hand, sci-fi/fantasy has always been something that’s fascinated me; all my narrative films have shared a strange sense of the supernatural, as does Borders. In a way, it’s a return to form.
FilmCourage: How did Ben first pitch you the idea for “Borders Of The Imagination?” How long did it take you to read the script?
Reuben: Ben sent me an email just after I got married telling me about this really cool script he wrote. He knew full well that it would be a feat for me to sign on and direct this film, being that I live on the opposite side of the globe, so he wanted to know if I knew anyone that would want to direct it. As soon as I read it (which took me about ten minutes) I knew I had to direct it. When I told Ben that, he wrote back to me and said “Oh good, I was hoping you’d say that!”
FilmCourage: What made it something you wanted to direct?
Reuben: The script captures a nostalgia for childlike imagination mixed with the grittiness of the real world. Ben and I have a real soft spot for early Spielberg, and this was right in vein with that. In many ways this is the kind of film I’ve been wanting to make for a very long time. The other thing that excited me about this opportunity was working with Ben. Back in 2012 Ben and I did Script Frenzy together (where you write a feature in one month). Working with him on that really showed me how well the two of us work together and how similarly our ideas and ways of conveying those ideas are. So when this came along I knew it would be a lot of fun to work with Ben again to make something even more impressive than just a screenplay.
FilmCourage: Did you help rewrite the script? If yes, what elements did you focus on?
Reuben: The writing was left entirely up to Ben. I did give him some feedback when need be, but to be honest, the script he sent me was pretty close to perfect. When it came time to write a Trailer Script we did do that together, but Ben was the one who came up with the initial structure and what scenes to focus on.
FilmCourage: As a director, did you share the script with a mentor or any professionals to get feedback?
Reuben: We sent the script to quite a few people, all of whom were professionals on one level or another. That’s where we got our estimated budgets from. I have a good friend here in Australia that is a producer and I sent it to him in the hopes we could get an Australian Grant for the film, but because the film was written by an American the chances of getting that grant were slim to none.
Reuben: The kinds of stories that make you think. The ones that offer as many interpretations as mirrors in a fun house. I think some of the themes that most excite me are films that have multiple perspectives. I’m not talking about sentimental trash, like “Crash,” more along the lines of “Amores Perros” and “Magnolia.” I’ve written one feature that is a multiple perspective script and working on another one now. Another theme that excites me is anything that pushes the boundaries of what film can do. I dabble in experimental filmmaking as well as documentary and narrative, and I like to find places where these intersect. The idea of films within films and frame tales are really appealing to me as well.
FilmCourage: What is the most important part of assembling a compelling character?
Reuben: DRAMA! Every main character has to be pulled in all sorts of directions. There must be a lot of conflict going on and every scene has to push that conflict forward. In every action the character takes you should see the complexity in that. In the trailer, Joe is not just simply watching a television, but he is being torn between two worlds: the world on the television screen and the law-enforcement world that he is a part of.
FilmCourage: Referring to lyrics from Rush’s Subdivisions ‘Conform or Be Cast Out’ what is your view on Xenophobia, groups viewing other groups as suspect? Why touch on this topic? Why now?
Reuben: Unfortunately, the times couldn’t be more rife for exploring a metaphor like this. With the rising tide of fear-mongering in America by people like Trump, Cruz, and Carson; spreading the idea of fear of the “other” to the point where Americans can no longer help people in need, because they are worried that among such refugees might be “monsters.” It’s just sad, and in times as dire as this, art has a certain responsibility to reflect these issues.
FilmCourage: Favorite quote on fearing groups other than one’s own?
Reuben: Our love of lockstep is our greatest curse, the source of all that bedevils us. It is the source of homophobia, xenophobia, racism, sexism, terrorism, bigotry of every variety and hue, because it tells us there is one right way to do things, to look, to behave, to feel, when the only right way is to feel your heart hammering inside you and to listen to what its timpani is saying.
FilmCourage: Having shot your prior documentary film about music lovers and festival goers, is there a musical xenophobia, where various music or band enthusiasts exhibit fear, competitiveness or anger toward one another?
Reuben: I’d say absolutely not. From my experience every one of the musicians I’ve ever spoken too had a level of admiration and acceptance to one another. There’s a real sense of everyone being in the same boat. Many of the bands I interviewed for “The Moment: Bonnaroo” were from Nashville. Nashville is a city full of bands, and there was such a feeling of camaraderie between these musicians, it was really quite amazing. They would talk about their fellow bands with such esteem.
FilmCourage: How long have you been planning the film? What went into the pre-planning?
Reuben: Ben first sent me the script in 2013, and since then we’ve been planning to make it. First we tried submitting to a couple competitions, but couldn’t find the funding we needed to make the whole film. It was some time in 2014 when Ben won a grant from the Roswell Sci-Fi Film Festival. We decided that with this grant we could make a trailer and use that trailer as the centerpiece for a Kickstarter campaign. Once we wrote the trailer we delved into research. We put together mood boards to express the mood of the film in each of it’s distinct scenes. We had countless discussions. At first they were about once a month, then every other week, now we talk every week. When it comes to making any film, communication is always key.
FilmCourage: Where will you shoot the movie? How long do you envision the shoot will be?
Reuben: Our first thought was to shoot in and around LA. We have some decent connections out there and it wont be hard to fill positions because everyone is in the industry. We also need an area that is arid and desert-like, and there’s a plethora of spots to choose from around LA. Then we thought Austin might be a good option as well, for similar reasons as LA with it being a film town and close to some good desert locations. The third spot we were thinking was New Mexico. For me, “Breaking Bad” is a big visual influence for how we want to shoot our outdoor scenes, and what better place to shoot the desert than where they shot “Breaking Bad.” There’s also some really great tax breaks that make shooting in New Mexico a good incentive. Recently, we’ve also been toying with the idea of even shooting here in Australia. With most of the country being a desert and with the right cast we could pull it off. This would also save on money. So it’s kind of up in the air between those 4 spots, depending on the budget we have to work with. As far as how long it will take to shoot this film we’re looking at about a 2 week shoot.
FilmCourage: Can you share about the outdoor locations for the shooting of Borders of the Imagination? What is involved?
Reuben: There’s quite a few exterior locations in the script. There’s a couple dune buggy scenes. The whole internment zone where the Imaginals are being held is very much like a refugee camp. Think, the shanty town from “District 9.” There’s a really cool scene in a ghost town in the middle of the desert with a decrepit old basketball court in it. There’s also one night scene outside, but I don’t want to give too much away about what happens in there…
FilmCourage: What camera(s) will you use? What lens package? What cameras were in your final 3 for consideration?
Reuben: I’m really fond of the Digital Bolex. One friend, Jordan Service, who’s been a major asset through the whole pre and post production process for the trailer has one of these cameras, and the look and feel of the footage is so organic that I couldn’t pass it up. Jordan’s been passionate about this project and we’re hoping to get him on board as our DP and Special Effects Supervisor, and of course, he’d be coming with his camera. As soon as I saw what the Digital Bolex could do I didn’t need to look elsewhere. As far as lenses go, that’s another thing that’s so great about this camera: it takes C mount lenses. You can buy shoe boxes full of C mount lenses on ebay for $20 (or a bit more, but you get the idea)! So, really the world is our oyster as far as lenses go. With the outdoor stuff we want lots of wide and ultra-wide shots, think Sergio Leone. As far as the indoor we want mostly long lenses with shallow depth of field. Distancing our main character from the world around him.
FilmCourage: Ultimately what were the deciding factors in the camera you chose?
Reuben: As far as what we shot the trailer with we had to go with what we could get our hands on for free. We had a very tight budget and were subject to the kindness of our friends and family. It was filmed entirely on Canon DSLRs. We used three different ones from three different people, but in that sort of situation you use what you get.
FilmCourage: What special effects did you use in the trailer for Borders of the Imagination?
Reuben: There’s quite a lot of special effects in the trailer. There’s some green screen compositing for our newscaster scenes. There’s two elements of CGI characters composited onto either found footage or a photograph. There’s some stop motion creature effects, and even a bit of 2D animation with the title sequence.
FilmCourage: Why was the trailer and your pitch video separate for the Kickstarter campaign?
Reuben: We’ve been in touch with a liaison at Kickstarter who recommended that the pitch video be separate from the trailer. We also read many, many, MANY articles on running successful Kickstarter campaigns and they all said you needed to have a pitch video as the first thing people see on your campaign. The other thing that these articles stated was that your pitch video shouldn’t be longer than 5 minutes. If we had both videos together it would have been longer than 5 minutes and people might tune out and not watch the trailer. On top of all this we felt that the trailer worked best as a stand alone video.
FilmCourage: Any advice you have learned in the midst of your crowdfunding campaign that would be helpful to other filmmakers?
Reuben: Don’t think that when you have a Kickstarter that you’re automatically going to become viral. No matter how much your project has the potential to do so, you will probably be relying on your network and your network alone. Of course there will be a couple people who you’ll have no idea who they are, but overall you’ll be asking your friends and family for money, over and over again. Some of them will get upset with you and say you are spamming them. Just delete their email address and forge onward. Make sure when you are sending out your email blasts to keep it as short as possible. Try and focus on something new that people have not seen before, whether that’s some behind the scenes footage or concept art, it doesn’t matter, just keep the emails fresh. It’s good to post things as they happen. Ben and I were interviewed for an episode of “Us Vs Film Podcast” and that was some great content we could then post on our Facebook and twitter pages as well as include in emails. Contact your closest friends and family personally until you get a response. Reach out to as many blogs as possible that you think your film would be featured in (ie: Film Courage). Also be prepared for email issues. Sending an email out to hundreds of people on BCC is sometimes flagged as spam, and doesn’t go out. It’s frustrating so have contingency plans.
FilmCourage: When shooting a documentary, how do you deal with subjects wanting to change their footage, what they said, how they appear, etc? Do you lay down any ground rules before filming?
Reuben: I only had one band come back to me and say they didn’t want to be featured in the finished film. The band has since broken up and I left their segment as it was. Most of the time people are just happy to be a part of different artistic endeavors.
FilmCourage: In the description for your Kickstarter of Borders of the Imagination you mention ‘We’re a bunch of finishers — perseverant and determined.’ What does this entail? Have you always finished projects of whatever you’ve started? What brought you to this point?
Reuben: Anything that we’ve been passionate about we’ve seen through to the end, no matter how long it’s taken us to get there. I started shooting my thesis film at New School during one of my film production courses. The idea was such a lofty one that I needed to shoot an additional two weeks after the semester ended with all rented equipment and some hired crew. The same thing happened with post production. I began editing it during my editing class, but didn’t finish editing until almost a year later. No matter what, I saw that film to the end. The same can be said about this trailer, at no point did we say “shit, we’re not going to get this done on time, lets forget about it.” If something was taking longer than expected (and something always takes longer than expected) then we just pushed back our deadlines until we were good and ready.
FilmCourage: Also, you mention ‘… Part of the reason we’re so excited about this project is exactly because of the risks and complications – because it’s experiences like these that truly challenge one’s imagination to take flight and grow.’ Can you tell us more about this? Why not play it safe? Why do risks excite you/have you always been a risk-taker?
Reuben: What’s the point of playing it safe? Safe is boring. If you’re going to do something that is edgy, then go for it! Don’t hold back! For better or worse, I’m definitely a risk-taker. It makes life more interesting, and as Ben wrote on the campaign page it’s in these experiences that make us truly grow. If you are the kind of person who always plays it safe, than you won’t give yourself the same kind of opportunities for personal growth.
FilmCourage: Have you already assembled actors and crew?
Reuben: If we end up shooting in Australia we’ll be able to reuse some of the cast that we already have in place from the trailer, but if we are shooting in the states than we’ll have to get an all new cast.
FilmCourage: How did you review actor auditions? Where did you cast from?
Reuben: We used a site called Starnow.com, which was helpful, but I hate these kind of sites. I think they are morally abased. Instead of charging someone to post an ad they make the poor individuals who are looking for work pay to apply! As far as how we reviewed the auditions; I videotaped each audition and cut it together and posted it on a private Youtube video for Ben to see. We then watched it many times and went through each actor and decided whether or not they should play each character. It was actually a really fun and rewarding experience.
FilmCourage: If Ben is in Los Angeles and you (Reuben) are in Australia, how will you communicate and work on the film in post?
Reuben: The same way we did the trailer. Lots of Skyping and uploading and downloading files from our Google Drive.
FilmCourage: Once completed, do you plan on submitting it to festivals? Are there any other plans for distribution? Will you turn the film into a feature?
Reuben: We are planning on submitting to a number of festivals. As far as distribution goes, that’s a tough racket. Short film distribution rarely makes filmmakers any money. We’ll probably submit it to places like ShortoftheWeek.com and on Vimeo. Our backers on Kickstarter will be getting professional DVDs and even Special Edition DVDs with more content than just the film. Ben has a treatment he’s been working on to develop the film into a feature so when Steven Spielberg sees it and asks us what we want to do with it now…we’ll be fully prepared to let him know that we’ve got that covered! Ben’s also working on developing a television series that takes place in the same world as the short film but revolves around different characters.
FilmCourage: What’s next for you creatively?
Reuben: I mentioned previously that I was working on a new feature length screenplay. I’ll be starting on a step outline of that come February and shortly after that will begin it’s first draft. It’ll be the 4th feature length film I’ve written. Ben is also working on another feature length script. He just finished up his 5th and is starting on his next one. So once our Kickstarter campaign ends it’ll be good to get back into the world of our screenplays before we get back to the world of “Borders of the Imagination.”
Reuben Meltzer – Director and Editing
Reuben studied film production at the New School in New York City, where he directed a number of dark and inventive shorts. He is also the organizer and founder of Nameinwhite Films, an experimental film festival that ran in New York for a number of years. After creating a series of micro-documentaries about indie music artists for his web series “The Moment,” Reuben engineered a daring feat of gonzo filmmaking by directing and producing an unauthorized feature length documentary about the music festival Bonnaroo, which was recently authorized by film festivals — including the NJ International Film Festival…where it was awarded honorable mention for Best Documentary. He lives with his wife Thy and daughter Beatrice in Cairnlea, Australia.
To read more about Reuben’s film, The Moment: Bonnaroo, check out this interview with the director here.