“Pretty Rosebud” – The Journey Of An Independent Feature

Rosebud PosterEvery one of the 280 plus seats were filled at the historic Rustic Theatre for the Idyllwild International Festival Of Cinema’s 2014 awards ceremony this past January 11, and (much to the chagrin of the local fire marshal) so was every square inch of standing room at the back. The number of awards up for grabs was fully one third more than had ever been offered before. 33 in all, but the main excitement revolved around two feature films: Ireland’s main entry “The O’Briens”, and a film from the husband and wife acting team of Oscar Torre and Chuti Tui, entitled “Pretty Rosebud”. The “O’Briens” was an opening night favorite, and had pulled such high marks in the audience voting that it was hard to imagine any other film having a chance to compete. But, when “Pretty Rosebud” threw its hat into the ring with a packed house Thursday night screening, everyone at the party knew we had a horse race. At the end of the night “The O’Briens more than lived up to expectations by taking away two of the most prestigious awards: Best Ensemble Cast, and the top prize, The Jeff Stone Award for Best Of Festival. But “Pretty Rosebud” was the film that won the evening, taking away five Golden Coyote Paws, for Best Director, Best Actress for Chuti Tui (in a tie with “Red Wing’s” Breann Johnson), Best Screenplay (also handed to Chuti Tui for scripting the film), Best Cinematography, Best Director (for a fine first outing by Oscar Torre), and Best Feature Film. The previous record of four Golden Coyote Paws (held by two films from 2012 and 2013) had been bested, and “Pretty Rosebud”, became the highest awarded film in the history of IIFC. Now, the filmmakers have embarked on a nation wide (and Canada) campaign to drum up distribution interest internationally by taking the film on the road, with screenings at theaters in major cities coast to coast. Festival Director Stephen Savage (who has directed both Chuti and Oscar in his films “Legacy” and “Vertical” respectfully) had a chance to catch up with the two filmmakers and find out more about the journey of this great film.

1. Pretty Rosebud has had quite a string of screenings nation wide. For a film without a distribution deal in place yet, your movie is really getting a lot of attention. What was the process involved with setting up so many screenings in such varied parts of the country, and how did you get the word out to put butts in the seats?

Rosebud 1We went through Tugg (Tugg.com), which is an innovative way to crowd source screenings. In a nutshell, it’s like Indiegogo or Kickstarter for film screenings. Tugg Inc. started in 2012, and there are other similar companies, such as Gathr and OpenIndie. Tugg acts like an intermediary and uses its contacts with movie theaters to get you a suitable date and location for your screening. Their website also acts as a hub from which people can buy tickets ahead of time. A threshold is set for the number of tickets to be sold, which would cover the theater’s costs, Tugg’s costs and the filmmaker’s costs (the latter of which you, as the filmmaker, set yourself.) Once that threshold is met, the screening is triggered, meaning it’s officially confirmed and going to occur. If the threshold is not met by the deadline set by the theater (which is typically one week before the screening date), then the screening is canceled, with no cost to the filmmaker.

This is a fantastic tool for us independent filmmakers, because to just rent a movie theater or other such screening venue, it can cost typically hundreds and often thousands of dollars up front. That’s money that we filmmakers don’t typically have. Companies like Tugg mitigate the financial risk, making the whole process more dependent on elbow grease than dollars.

Speaking of which, we knew we had to maximize our social network, so we concentrated on cities where we had the greatest strength of friends, family, and excitement about the film. You will need the efforts of friends and family to spread the word, amp up excitement, and put butts in seats. Oftentimes, people think it’s a cinch to get bodies to show up, but the timing can be complex to orchestrate.  In other words, people are not used to buying movie tickets weeks in advance. Just like with wedding invitations, you have to account for what I call the “flake factor.” Something comes up, people can’t find a babysitter, they’re out of town, they get sick… lots of things come up. For all the people who tell you, “I’d love to come,” expect 30-50% to come through. So you have to do a LOT of promotion. Individual phone calls, emails, texts and Facebook (or other social media) messages. A huge mistake people make is just simply posting on a Facebook page or sending out a general invite to all their friends on Facebook. That’s impersonal. It also gets lost among other messages. We also worked with a phenomenal publicist, Cecilia Zuniga of MLC PR, to help get publicity in each market.

2. Chuti, you’re the screenwriter. How long did it take you from concept to shooting script?

I originally started the project as a stageplay back in 1999. After workshopping and reworking the play, I realized the story would be better served as a film and converted it to a screenplay. Then the gestation period set in. Or shall we say… “no man’s land.” I had no idea how to get the film made, nor did I have the courage to get it done myself. So I procrastinated. I would revisit the screenplay here and there, look at it with new eyes, make changes here and there. In the meantime, I talked to people, asked them how they got their film made, learned from their mistakes, etc., but I couldn’t pull the trigger. At one point, my husband (Oscar) said to me, “You’d better get this film made soon, or you’ll be playing the mom of the lead character, not the lead itself.” That woke me up; I got the ball rolling.

3. Was the idea to have your husband direct from the beginning, or did that decision happen later?

Originally, we were just looking for a director who would be suitable for the material and had the style we were looking for. Oscar and I would throw ideas back and forth, but no one seemed to fit just right. I’d hear Oscar describe in detail the kind of perspective he felt was right for Pretty Rosebud, and I began to think that Oscar would be ideal to direct. But I was afraid that he wouldn’t be interested. Funny enough, a week or so later, he quietly suggested to me, “I’d like to direct Pretty Rosebud,” and he told me of all his ideas, sketching them out, outlining every angle, and I was blown away… and super excited. Here was our director!

4. How was the film funded? Was it a more traditional approach, or did you take the crowd sourcing route?

We took the private equity route, more the traditional approach.

5. Oscar, how did you approach your shooting schedule? It’s a pretty ambitious film, so I’m assuming location and daily page count was a huge concern from the start.

Rebecca Hu, one of our producers (who was also the line producer), was the one responsible for putting the schedule together. It was a very ambitious shoot. We had quite a few different locations, and sometimes they were far from each other (something I would not recommend), but we were getting them very cheap or free, so it was worth it. One of the challenges of shooting low budget films is that you shoot a lot of pages and you are always trying to make your day because you don’t want to go over budget. I’m happy to say that at the end of the day, I always had what I needed to tell the story as best I could. We did have a few days that we had to move scenes around because we didn’t make the day but I was determined not to move on from a scene if I didn’t have what I needed.

6. And what was it like directing your wife? Some of the scenes are intense, and sexual. What was your approach to working with someone so close to you?

I wasn’t sure how it was going to be directing her in the sexual scenes but it wasn’t bad. When on set, she was an actor and not my wife, and it was all about the work. The most difficult part was getting the other actor to relax and not think of me as Chuti’s husband directing them during a sex scene. I was focused on the scene, on getting the shot, just like any other scene in the film. Actually, the most difficult sexual scenes to direct were the ones I was in because I couldn’t see the scenes until afterward. I would run to the monitor and watch the scenes and then give notes and jump back in and shoot it again.

7. Let me turn that question around to your lovely wife. Chuti, how did you feel working with a director whom you had to go home with every night?

It was a luxury! Because as artists, we don’t get our ideas merely from 9 to 5, or 8 to 8, or just on set. For example, Oscar and I would be brushing our teeth, and we’d be discussing nuances of the script, or throwing around ideas for one of the characters. It was great fun, because we could find out everything that the other person was thinking and discuss. I can’t imagine having that kind of accessibility and collaboration possible in any other situation.

8. How many days total was the shoot?

17 days, with 2 days for pickups.

9. And the editing process? How did you choose your editor, and how much input on a daily bases did you two have in the cut?

We interviewed numerous candidates and found the person with the best sensibility and style we knew Pretty Rosebud warranted. Donna Mathewson was by far the most prepared editor of all the ones we interviewed. And we were very involved with the editing process. Donna Mathewson (our editor) was fantastic to work with; she takes great pride in her work and we were amazed with what she did and how she’d take our notes and fly with them.

The editing of the film was a great collaboration between Donna, Chuti and myself. I had given her a copy of my notes when it came to the editing of the film. She asked us to let her put a rough cut together and build it from there. Some scenes she cut differently that I had envisioned, and when it worked it was really nice to see. She’s a very talented editor, and I really enjoyed working with her and would do it again in a heartbeat. At times when we didn’t agree we’d discuss the scenes at length, and it really made us think about why we weren’t agreeing. All this introspection made it a better film, but at the end of the day, I as the director had the last word. We went back and forth a lot with a fine tooth comb; we wanted to make sure that everything that was in the film needed to be in the film.

10. What’s next for the film? You have had a lot of press and exposure now. I would imagine the next few steps are critical to your landing a distribution deal.

We are still doing our film festival run and are possibly looking at a few more Tugg screenings, but the latter depends on our schedule. At present, we’re in the process of negotiating distribution terms so I’m not at liberty to disclose any details. But we’ll keep you posted on our progress.

11. Thanks a lot, guys. It was great having Pretty Rosebud at Idyllwild 2014. And congrats on winning five Golden Coyote Paws. A new record for IIFC. More than a full coyote, as we say at Idyllwild. Any last words of wisdom or advice for new filmmakers thinking of shooting a feature Film?

Make sure it’s a project that you are passionate about because it will take a lot of time and effort, but don’t sit around for the perfect conditions to shoot your film. Maybe you’ll have to rethink your budget or even the script, but don’t let that stop you from shooting it. I’ve known people who for years have been talking about a film that they would like to shoot, but they never get around to doing it because it’s never the right time. Don’t be one of those people. Make it happen.