Friday, January 4, 2019

Interview with DriverX Film Producer Mark Stolaroff: Secrets to Making a Micro-Budget Movie, Working with Patrick Fabian and What He Learned Making This Movie - Prioritize, Find a Cast Who Cares Plus More Tips

Interview by Suzanne Ordas Curry

It's not easy to make a film these days. It's not easy to make a good film these days. And it's even harder to make a HIT film on a limited budget. But Mark Stolaroff knows a few secrets, some secrets any new filmmaker could learn from. His latest film, DriverX, written by Henry Barrial and starring Better Call Saul's Patrick Fabian is now in theaters and on-demand, all over the place. It's a success story of an indie securing distribution from a great company - IFC films, winning awards and making money. Driver X is the story, insprired by the writer's true experiences, of a middle-aged man who after exploring other job opportunities after his record business fails (no suprise there) and ends up as an Uber-type service driver. It's funny and enlightening, with a great cast. We speak to Mark about the genesis and production of this film.

BTS: Tell me about how DriverX came to be, how you got involved in it.

Mark Stolaroff: I have been working with DriverX writer/director Henry Barrial for 18 years now as a producer. This is our 5th feature together. All of these films have been mostly self-financed, “micro-budget” features. In 2014, we were working a horror film that Henry wrote and was going to direct that we were trying to raise “real” money for. Several times in that year we thought we had the money, only to watch it fall through. Neither one of us could work on other projects, and Henry has two kids and a wife that goes off to work every day.

 In order to help pay the bills, he signed up to drive Uber at nights. The rest, as they say, is history. He started calling me up in the middle of the night with crazy stories from the road and we quickly realized there was a movie here, and I realized it wouldn’t necessarily cost us a lot to make it. So, before there was even a script, we jumped into making DriverX instead of the horror film.

BTS: Tell me about what is was like working with all those great actors. You've developed a relationship with Patrick- tell me about your show with him.

Mark Stolaroff: We knew this project would give us an opportunity to do some fun casting. There are over 50 speaking parts, with many of the roles requiring an actor for only one day of work. While we wanted to cast “names,” or at least familiar faces, we weren’t going to be able to pay anyone beyond SAG Ultra-Low Budget scale, which at the time we started shooting was only $100/day. I have a rule about casting micro-budget films—cast actors who want to be there, who are all-in, and who don’t care about the money or the trappings (trailers, fancy craft service, etc.). And always cast a great actor before casting a famous actor. For films like these, performances are just about the most important element for success (along with a great story/script and directing talent).

Review of DriverX: 

Fortunately for us, we were able to cast talented actors we’d worked with before who just happened to be pretty well known (like Melissa Fumero, Oscar Nunez and Desmin Borges), as well as veterans we didn’t know, but either found in casting (we had two terrific casting directors—Vanessa Knight & David Seiden) or who were friends of friends. For our most important role, Henry thought of Patrick Fabian, who he’d been friends with for years from playing beach volleyball, and who we’d cast in a small role in a previous film called Pig. I can honestly say we probably couldn’t have made the film without Patrick. Not only is he talented and in my opinion, did a tremendous job with the role, but his amazing attitude and generosity were crucial to getting the film made.

Micro-budget filmmaking is inherently challenging, and shooting nights is doubly difficult. But the entire time you see Patrick driving in the film, he’s actually driving. That is very hard. He has to act, drive at a constant speed and not run over anyone! There was no trailer or RV for this shoot. When he wasn’t shooting, he was sitting in the Prius trying to catch up on sleep—these were all-night shoots. And when Starbucks time came, at around 2am, Patrick was the one paying for coffees for the crew. He was our DriverX ambassador to all the new actors who would show up each night to work, shooting selfies and putting them at ease.

And he has worked tirelessly since the movie’s been finished to help promote it, traveling to film festivals, doing interviews, fulfilling Kickstarter rewards, you name it. This is the kind of commitment you want (and absolutely need) from your lead actor in a micro-budget film. But really, everyone was great to work with on DriverX—from Tanya Clarke (who plays Patrick’s wife) and Desmin Borges (who plays a regular rider), to long-time veterans like Max Gail.

BTS: What can we expect from this movie- to laugh - to cry? What's the takeaway?

Mark Stolaroff: Ostensibly, this is an “Uber” movie, a very honest and authentic look at what it’s like to drive for a rideshare company. All the rides in the film came from Henry’s actual experiences driving for Uber, (though in our film, we’ve created a fictional rideshare company called DriverX). But really the film is about getting older and trying to accept your lot in life, when you realize you never met those life expectations or you’re lamenting lost opportunities.

 It’s about figuring out a world you don’t quite recognize anymore, one that is starting to be run by the generation behind you. It’s about adjusting to rapidly changing technologies and times, and finding your place in this new world. It’s about being middle-aged and dealing with financial and marital, but mostly existential crises. It’s about a lot of things, and while this is Henry’s story, drawn from his actual life experience, as a 54 year old I see so much of myself in the story.

There’s a part of the film where Leonard (Patrick’s character) reads a section of Peter Pan to his kids and cries. There are so many ways to interpret that moment, but for me, it’s Leonard crying about his own mortality. He’s finally realizing he is no longer a young man, and that he has to let go of that part of his life. It’s very sad to realize this in life. This is what I’ve been going through the past couple of years, being pulled kicking and screaming into middle age and beyond. I get sad just thinking about it now! But no, we don’t expect anyone to cry in the film, even though it’s a drama. It has a lot of humor and I fully expect you to laugh throughout!

Mark Stoloroff on the set of #Driverx Movie
BTS: You teach the movie biz. Tell me what you learned after this experience that you will now teach. To all those aspiring filmmakers out there, what was your biggest challenge?

Mark Stolaroff at IFC Center
special screening in NYC
Mark Stolaroff:  I have been formally teaching micro-budget filmmaking for the last 13 years, with something I created called No Budget Film School. These are two-day, all-day micro-budget filmmaking seminars. While I apply much of what I teach to each film, I also make mistakes and figure new tricks out, which I can pass along to students. In fact, I am creating a presentation right now that’s a case study of the making of DriverX. I plan on lecturing about the film to university film programs and film organizations while the film plays theatrically, and I hope to create a one-day class for No Budget Film School.

I think the biggest lessons to teach from DriverX are things I’ve been teaching for years—build your projects from available resources as much as you can; prioritize: figure out what is most important to the success of the film and put your resources there; cast great actors who really want to do the project; own the means of production as much as you can, etc.

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges of this project was effectively shooting in a car at night. Fortunately, we found a great DP (Daniel Lynn) who had done it before in a way that really worked for our means. Also, we had a lot of VFX shots that we had to find a way to do for free. That just takes time. All-in-all, it was a very ambitious film to make on a tiny budget, but we worked with a small, but great group of people and I’m very proud of what everyone accomplished.

BTS: What's next on your To Do List?

Since I started DriverX, I’ve produced a higher-budgeted horror film called Devil’s Whisper, directed by Adam Ripp. I was the production accountant and post production supervisor on a big web series for eOne. And I just finished working as a post super on a fictional podcast for Shudder called Video Palace that I’m really proud of.

BTS: Favorite movies? 

This is always so hard for me to answer, but I suppose my favorite movies are films like Chinatown, Godfathers 1 & 2, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Nashville—a lot of 70’s movies.

BTS: Favorite shows to binge on?

Almost anything on HBO (Veep, Silicon Valley, etc); Homeland (I love!); Better Call Saul, of course!

BTS: Favorite shows on TV as a kid? I ask this because it was the only place to see tv shows years ago!

I grew up in the 70’s and watched a lot of Charlies’ Angels and Wonder Woman (hmmm, I wonder why??), but really my faves were the late night sketch comedy shows: SNL (the original cast); Monty Python; Fridays.

BTS: Idea of a perfect day for you:

I have so little life, I’d have to say go to the Arclight and see a movie (or watch my Astros head to the World Series, or watch UT come back as a football.

To Connect with Mark:

Written & Directed by Henry Barrial (Pig, The House That Jack Built)

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