Ask Me Anything: From 20 Short Films to My First Feature-Length

Andrew Paul Davis
Apr 18, 2018

If you're like me, you know deep down what you want to do: tell stories that mean something, offer a fresh perspective, and explore humanity with nuance, compassion, and relentlessness. The deeper ambitions of what we do are oft neglected by clickbait capitalist vultures and YouTube gearhead thumbnails. So let's talk about the thrill of crafting drama, why we do what we do, and how to elevate storytelling through craftsmanship and inspiration, not sensor sizes and lens brands. Ask me anything about filmmaking, screenwriting, directing, drama, working with actors, editing, and sound design. Or we can chat about balancing the creative with freelance video production to keep a roof over the head. Ask away!

Sincerely, Andrew

Happy to discuss sensor sizes and brands as well. We're all a little nerdy.

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How does what you learned from producing short films apply to making larger budget feature films?
Apr 24, 7:33PM EDT0
Are audiences ever confused by your films? Do they misinterpret things?
Apr 24, 10:15AM EDT0
What was your earliest/most significant experience with films?
Apr 23, 1:15PM EDT0
How do you fund and distribute your work?
Apr 23, 10:47AM EDT0
What were the aesthetic choices that you made for your first feature movie?
Apr 20, 10:13PM EDT0

We shot a lot of scenes in one shot, keeping in mind the old saying "a cut is a lie." So made each cut count, and kept production time thin. Some scenes have certain interactions where it doesn't make sense to get all this coverage, it almost overdramatizes smaller moments to me. For longer dialogue scenes we shot coverage multi-camera so that we're not cutting back and forth between audio clips. We took cues from Certain Women for its affinity for landscapes, yet something still focused on an interconnecting ensemble. In lieu of not having a production design team, we chose to shoot a lot of close-ups and escape from boring backgrounds. I think it's important to love the economy of the film now matter what so that you can happily (and accordingly) inform the aesthetics.

Last edited @ Apr 22, 3:31PM EDT.
Apr 22, 3:31PM EDT0
Were you always creatively focused? Are there any artists in your family?
Apr 20, 7:18PM EDT0
How has the response to your short films stacked up to your expectations?
Apr 20, 7:11PM EDT0
How important is it to you what your subject thinks of the film you’ve made about them?
Apr 20, 2:42PM EDT0
Where do you mostly get the funding for your documentaries?
Apr 20, 12:51PM EDT0
Was there anyone who inspired you by telling you stories in the past and do you know of anyone you may have inspired to join the industry?
Apr 20, 11:45AM EDT0
What got you started in the video production market and how far have you come from that starting place?
Apr 20, 3:56AM EDT0
What is the process for hiring actors to take place in your films and do you ever act in your own films?
Apr 19, 10:21PM EDT0

My process has been befriending actors. Acting with actors. Spend years developing relationship, trust, and then I write for those people. I'm always less comfortable when it's anyway else. Though it's important for me to throw in a mix of experienced and less-experienced actors to keep things sparked, working with people you've worked with before is ideal. Write for specific people in mind is magical. I do act in my own things, but only once cause I really wanted to. I'm usually filling in for whichever role didn't get filled.

Apr 22, 3:47PM EDT0
What are some of the benefits that you have gained from attending a university that you use in your own productions?
Apr 19, 3:28PM EDT0

I can speak to the value of attending a liberal arts university, where interdisciplinary crossover is implied in the ethos of the institution. Minoring in Theatre was a game-changer for me, I would not be writing and directing in the way that I am without it. Having to read 50 plays was probably the most important part of my education. Acting in plays, directing plays, and befriending actors made casting and directing easier processes. Minoring in English (Creative Writing concentration) was also super helpful. If you want to be a writer & director, I don't think most modern film programs will be the best environment. Most film programs will have you sitting in class next to people who want to go into broadcasting, sports videography, a whole host of things. It's good to get to know a diverse range of people and represented professions, but I found more like-minded people in the Theatre, English, & Art departments at my university. I think so much of technical filmmaking can be learned through experience + online, whereas growing as a writer & director can be aided through paying for (college) mentorship. I was able to attend Sundance 2016 with people from my film major, that was a valuable opportunity I wouldn't have fought to attend independently.

Last edited @ Apr 19, 7:23PM EDT.
Apr 19, 3:36PM EDT0
If there were no obstacles in your way that would allow you to achieve exactly your image what would it look like?
Apr 19, 4:04AM EDT0

This is a cool question, I think when we shot Palace last month, the thing I was pining for the most was more extras, more movement. Crowds give a sense of production value. We don't make as many films with large groups anymore. There's countless shots in Kurosawa's filmography, plus movies like 12 Angry Men where you have lots of people packed into a single shot in interesting ways. I wish I was doing that. I think the other thing is production design. My cinematographer and I were able to compensate and tag-team to the minimal amount, but art direction and production design is something that can be that final separator between indie and professional content. Getting the space to pop with different textures and colors isn't handed to you on most locations, so next feature I'm definitely hiring a production designer.

Apr 19, 3:29PM EDT0
How has the world of YouTube and clickbait changed the industry you work in over the past 10 years?
Apr 19, 12:09AM EDT0

Haha, it sounds like I might be some 50 year-old sage. I came up with YouTube. I remember when it popped up in 2005, and I remember in 2010, how insanely awesome it was to see DSLR footage shot by amateurs. YouTube allowed me, and thousands upon thousands of people, to learn the technology from each other. I think the biggest way it's changed things is how you can learn everything you need to know about filmmaking from YouTube solely (+ experience).

Apr 19, 3:23PM EDT0
What is the most complex or difficult style of filming that you work with and what does that complexity add to the production?
Apr 18, 7:43PM EDT0

Anything that can't be done in 1 or 2 shots stresses me out. Palace had a lot of simple setups that made most filming a relative breeze, but then on the last day, we had this barn scene where a character enters, meets another, walks over to groom a horse, goes back to the entrance, and a lot of blocking we couldn't really capture in a couple shots. The more complex the filming, the harder it is to maintain light continuity. If you're filming outside, clouds come in and out, you gradually lose more light and hope the colorist can even it out. Messy. We also had several car scenes that annoyed my cinematographer, haha. He likes more handheld, but I wanted most of the film to be locked down on a tripod with clever pans/blocking; sometimes it's harder to nail shots that require multiple pans/tilts/moves to run smoothly.

Apr 18, 10:06PM EDT0
What importance does the role of story telling play in the progression of society?
Apr 17, 11:18AM EDT0

Storytelling is as old as humanity, so it's gotta be important! We've always told stories: orally to the tribe, performed in the stone amphitheater, drawn on the cave wall. I think the stories that come out of America during and after Trump's presidency will play a great role in settling the indigestion amuck here.

Apr 18, 9:59PM EDT0
How do achieve the role as the director to translate the vision of a scene and make it come into reality?
Apr 17, 3:13AM EDT0

I feel like this question could be interpreted a couple different ways, but I think being your own writer helps! It's hard for me to imagine just directing other people's material. In fact, I've never even done that for film. In terms of "achieving the role as the director," it's something I've gradually made for myself. You practice with your friends, get better, and then you're able to invite better and better talent to be in front of the camera, and they think, "Even if I don't get paid a lot for this, I've gotta have this scene in my reel." Or "Based on this person's past work, I can trust this will become a final product worth my time." My best answer would be practice, practice, practice. Not just making videos, or being a paid editor. Write and film scenes. It's a crucial ability for a director to recognize and maneuever the rhythym of a film and the scenes within, and time must be taken to develop those sensibilities.

Apr 18, 9:55PM EDT0
Do you ever have any moments where you wish you could do something but you feel that you must play it safe to keep making money?
Apr 16, 11:05PM EDT0

Nope. There's several times I've drained the bank for a project, and then got back on my feet with paid gigs within the next months. That's where I'm at now. March was feature-film month, therefore April is poor month, but May is rich month because of the money made working in April. The feasability of shooting my projects has to do with the kinds of stories I want to tell. I don't pine for green screens, VFX budgets, or built sets. I shoot on location and almost never need any visual effects, which keeps expenses down. Doing big things is more about time management than money management. Anyone could break their back for a year, save money, quit the job, spend the money on directing a feature film, and get back to the normal-people workforce. There's no excuse. Freelancing gives me the flexibility to more easily squeeze projects into my months.

Last edited @ Apr 18, 9:05PM EDT.
Apr 18, 9:04PM EDT0
How long does it usually take you to make a short film and what is the most time-consuming aspect?
Apr 16, 7:00PM EDT0

Post-production sound is where I spend the most time. For short scripts, I always write a draft in one sitting, whether it's 3 or 10 hours. Script revising is time-consuming, but I think perfecting the audio quality takes the most time because it is critical. Don't export until it's clean. I like to film in no more than a weekend. One of the few times I made a short film for a class, we stretched it out over the course of a month, which I think is boring (and risky). The more you stretch it out, the larger risk you run of an actor quitting, getting into a physical accident and unable to finish shooting, or dealing with a simple continuity problem of someone needing to shave for a theatre production before they're done filming with you. For feature films, I recommend either a concentrated amount of time (we shot Palace in 18 days), or spreading it out over the course of 6 strict consecutive weekends. Don't shoot some in September and some in March, that's just unacceptable for principle photography. Nothing worse than a dragged out project. Get it in the editing room and in the can as soon as possible.

Last edited @ Apr 18, 8:57PM EDT.
Apr 18, 8:57PM EDT0
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