64 Bit Films is a small production company founded by student filmmakers Jared Rosenthal, Luca Repola, Cosmo Scharf and Kai Demler. Cristina and I had a chance to meet Jared and Cosmo, at a Philip Bloom DSLR meet-up in Brooklyn, a year or two ago. We were instantly impressed by how passionate they were about filmmaking. I could tell after talking to Jared, for awhile, that 64 Bit Films was going places. Here is the trailer to their latest work a short film titled “Monitor”.
I was so impressed with the quality of this trailer, I needed to know more. I caught up with the Director, Jared Rosenthal, via email and asked him some questions.
How long have you been interested in filmmaking?
When I was a little kid I had a fascination with animated movies. I started working with stop motion animation, and then jumped into live-action filmmaking with a DV camera when I was 12. I’m 17 now, and in my senior year of high school, but I’ve never really had a doubt in my mind about what I want to do as a career. For me, it’s always been film. I spent six weeks in 2009 and again in 2010 with a summer film conservatory, where I had a few incredible instructors who really taught me the ins and outs of filmmaking. Between those two years I also met two of my three partners in our production company, 64 Bit Films.
What was your role in this film?
I directed, co-wrote and edited Monitor, but the entire thing was really a collaborative effort. When it’s four teenagers all pouring their time and money into a project like this, everyone’s opinion needs to be heard. When we were on set we were careful not to step on each others’ toes, but in pre and post production we would debate plot points and review the rough cut as a group. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Luca Repola, our cinematographer, knew the script just as well as anyone else on set, and that was invaluable. I could leave the room for 10 minutes and have a long discussion with an actor, and trust him to move onto the next setup and create something not only aesthetically appealing — but something that served the story as well. The same held true for our co-writer and assistant director, Cosmo Scharf, and our producer, Kai Demler. It was incredibly comforting to know I could focus my attention on blocking the next scene while they grabbed great coverage from the next room.
My aunt had thrown around the idea for a book or something similar that involved a woman hearing a murder over a baby monitor. And the main character would hear some sort of motif that would eventually lead her back to the real murderer. That was about all there was to the story. We were bouncing ideas around for the “next big project” and I called up my aunt. I asked her if she would mind if we ran with the story, and she seemed to have no problem with it.
Who wrote the script?
I had pitched the idea to the original team in 2009. They liked the idea, so I wrote up a two-page treatment. Between the summer of 2009 all the way up to early 2011 I did a bunch of different versions of the script. Each one was a different length. At that point, we had no idea what we could afford or handle shooting, so we were toying with length and plot structure to try and gauge what worked. We knew we wanted to shoot in the summer of 2011, so we were moving full-steam ahead on the production and the elements that we knew we would need.
The characters remained pretty much the same throughout the entire process, so we cast our lead (Anne DeAcetis) really early on in the process and started locking down locations and the like. But then our 2011 shooting deadline kept coming at us faster and faster, and we still didn’t have a script that really worked. I contacted Cosmo, one of our friends from the film conservatory, and sent him the script. He’s got a fantastic creative mind, but what he does better than anything else is he can look at a piece of work for the first time and immediately identify where the problems are. With about two months remaining until the shoot, I went to his house every day for about a week and we tossed around a whiffle ball and talked through the major plot points in the script and re-wrote the entire thing from scratch. So the final thing that’s on the screen was really a collaborative effort.
What challenges did you face when making this film?
The biggest challenges we faced were probably due to our age. It’s really hard to gain peoples’ confidence when you have a fairly limited body of work and you’re 17 years old. Our biggest concern was funding the project. We wanted to pay for it as much as possible out of pocket, but the limited freelance work we were able to pick up could only earn us so much. Ultimately, we had to find donors to help back the film, and we had to figure out ways to trim the budget. We knew we absolutely needed to have professional actors in the film, and we were blessed with the cast we got. They were incredibly talented and generous. Most of them worked for free. We paid the leads, but not nearly enough for the time they put in and the risk they took by signing onto a short film made by teenagers. We had a lot of concerns about the casting process. We weren’t sure what adult actors were going to do when they walked into an audition held by kids, but to our surprise no one really had anything to say about it. We were incredibly grateful for that. The other big challenge had to do with securing gear. We spent the better part of two years hunting down film equipment companies (like Kessler Crane and Red Giant, and a handful of others) to sponsor the film, and their generosity was overwhelming. We ended up shooting a film for under $4,000 with equipment we never could have afforded otherwise. We save additional money by shooting on DSLRs (we used two Canon 60Ds), which really allowed us to maintain our shoestring budget. We toyed with the idea of renting lenses, but didn’t really have the time or budget to do screen tests with them or keep them for a week, so we used a Sigma that we already owned and really loved and the Canon “nifty/thrifty” 50mm f1.8. For a dirt cheap lens, the 50mm performed admirably, especially when working on night scenes.
I’m a gear nerd. Did you have anything else in the arsenal ?
We used Kessler Crane’s KC-Lite as the “big gun” in our arsenal. It performed beautifully. It was incredibly lightweight, and by the end of the six-day shoot we could set it up and properly counterweight it in less than 90 seconds. The biggest urge with using the jib was to always do some kind of crazy, dynamic move with it — which it always did beautifully — but having the camera swoop around a room isn’t always what’s right for a scene. So I guess we figured we’d use the jib a few times for those epic trailer-type shots (there are a few of those in the actual trailer), but we ended up using it way more than we expected. We were able to get a whole ton of coverage out of the Lite. We’d put a wide-angle lens on it and position the jib where you could never really get a camera, and let it roll. So it ended up serving a much larger purpose than we initially expected.
What makes you want to make films?
I think there’s something magical about sitting down in a movie theater and watching the lights dim and escaping to a completely different universe for about two hours. If a story’s engaging enough, you can completely lose yourself — and that’s what I strive for. If I can glance over at someone viewing a film (whether it’s mine or someone else’s) and they’re completely slack-jawed and staring at the screen, I think that’s great. My mom consistently screams at certain points in Monitor even though she’s already seen it about 20 times. If I can get my mom to audibly react, then I know what I’ve made is good.
When can we expect the final film to be done?
We just completed the film this week and sent it off to the Tribeca Film Festival to be considered for the student film division. If it’s accepted, then we’ll have the honor of premiering it at Tribeca. If not, we’ll shop it around to other festivals as much as possible and maybe put it online. And we’ll probably do DVD sales at a later date.
For more info on Jared and the team check out 64 Bit Films.