Recently, a former student and current consulting client, Sean Nalaboff, completed shooting his first feature film – HARD SELL.
As he’s putting the finishing touches on the picture (color and sound), we talked about this remarkable experience.
Here are excerpts from the interview.
ES: Tell me what led to the idea for HARD SELL.
SN: Everything I write comes from a level of my personal experience. I had a comfortable upbringing, but, personally, I was isolated. So, there’s a bit of me in nearly every character in HARD SELL. I was born and raised in Long Island. I went to a private school. But I always felt like a square peg in a round hole. The environment in HARD SELL is one I know very well
ES: When did you get the filmmaking dream?
SN: From the first movie I could remember watching – I was 6 or 7 years old – it was JAWS. I was afraid to take a bath for months. The picture had a tremendous effect on me. It took me to new worlds. I was SO captivated by it. While I loved soccer, I had an internal dialogue: do you want to be Pele or Spielberg?
ES: How did your dedication manifest itself?
SN: My dad had a high-end video camera. He shot the usual home movies: the family growing up. I tried to make the camera see the way I see. But none of my friends wanted to act; they thought it was lame! So I used toys and moved them around. Then, in high school, I tried to get more people involved. Then I went to film school in California.
ES: Why did you decide on the West Coast?
SN: I wanted to experience something new. I thought California was far away enough. First though, I tried it in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Two years there. I met cinematographers, art directors, and others of like mind. Then I went further west.
ES: The two inciting incidents (meeting a stripper; and your dog getting sick) – which happened first in your life?
SN: First was the dog. I had one, “Walter.” It needed a surgery to survive. But it was so expensive, I couldn’t afford it. We finally held a fund-raiser for Walter. But I needed more money. Next, I thought, what could happen that would be a new and unique way to make money? Maybe I could have met a stripper, who could’ve “danced for the students,” and I could have charged for that to supplement Walter’s surgery fund. That would have been exciting! I did my “research,” and emailed lots of actual strippers. So I developed this unique character for HARD SELL – a stripper who actually ended up giving the kids counselling about their personal problems, for which they were willing to pay me!
ES: A man comes looking for the stripper in your film. Was he really her uncle, or a pimp, or from a mental hospital, or a policeman?
SN: It’s okay with me if you wonder about that! Remember RISKY BUSINESS?
ES: How did you get Kristin Chenoweth to agree to play the hero’s mom?
SN: Matthew Rolston, the great photographer, took me under his wing. He mentored me. I was doing behind the scenes videos for him. We did one for Jennifer Love Hewitt who shares the same manager as Kristin. That led to me doing a video with Kristin. We got along very well, and she told her manager, “When Sean has a project of his own, let me know.” We had very little money, but she loved the part. She’s a wonderful comedic actress, and a very nice person. She felt the part of a mom in distress would be something new. She worked with me for five days. This was a dream come true for me. She treated me with such respect; it was amazing! She is SO gracious and courteous.
ES: How about the rest of the cast?
SN: I hired a casting director early on. We put together a “pitchbook.” Our investors, of course, were excited by Kristin’s involvement. All the other actors were locals. Therefore, no transportation and minimal housing costs. Skyler, the main male role, really embodied the character. It was his first leading role.
ES: How many shooting days did you have?
SN: 20 days; four 5-day weeks. We had one pick-up day. I had enough time! We got ALL our shots. We had blocked out everything in advance. Had only about 2 set-ups per scene; maximum 4 takes per set-up. This was an EFFICIENT shoot!
ES: And the inevitable question – will you tell me what the budget was?
SN: Let’s say “under a million.” You could even say, WAY under a million.
ES: What made you come to me as a Production Consultant?
SN: When I knew the script was ready, I now needed to know, “How am I going to make this film? How and from where should I get the money?” I came to you because I know you, I trust you, and you know how to do it! By the time you helped us schedule and budget the movie, we knew how much time and money we needed. Jimmy Seargent, my producer, came to most of our meetings and took copious notes. Because of our preparation, there were no real surprises on the set. You had accurately warned us about everything!
ES: Were there any specific problems?
SN: So many variables. Weather in New York during the Fall. Just a year earlier, we had Hurricane Katrina. We knew we couldn’t afford to take off any days. So we covered ourselves by having interior scenes possible to shoot if it rained.
ES: HARD SELL, because of the subject matter, could easily have been an R rating. But it seems milder to me.
SN: Yes, the intended audience was a younger demographic. We wanted a PG-13 rating. We even removed some of the language to ensure that.
ES: How are you getting HARD SELL to the marketplace?
SN: Working with an agency that’s setting up screenings for festival programmers. Ideal, of course, would be a theatrical release. Next would be VOD and the other usual routes.
ES: What’s your next project?
SN: This’ll be about a group of friends in their twenties (also Long Island-based). They go searching for buried treasure and end up getting mixed up in the disappearance of a young girl. I’ll be going for a higher budget. And you were right – the “pride of ownership” factor is the primary determinant as to my abiity to interest investors. It’s been quite a ride so far!