Burning the Midnight Oil with the Creators of Midnight Son (Kirk Haviland)

Kirk here, aka Movie Junkie TO. I recently had the chance to sit down with some of the guys responsible, Director Scott Leberecht and Producer Matt Compton, for the unique and daring indie drama/horror Midnight Son and ask some questions about the film. The DVD Review is available at the above link, but for now let’s get on with the interview.

Movie Junkie (MJ) – It’s great to able talk to you again Scott and Matt, it’s been a while since Toronto After Dark last year. Congrats on the DVD release.

Scott Leberecht (SL) – Thanks Kirk, I had a great time partying with you at TAD.  If you don’t remember anything, it’s okay, I only remember the mornings. Been a long ride to finally get to this point!  Seeing Midnight Son being made available to so many people all around the world is very rewarding.

Matt Compton (MC) – Thanks very much. It’s a nice feeling to know that after such a long road, people can finally watch the film.

MJ – Scott, Midnight Son was your feature film debut after directing many short films, one of which I’ll ask about after, and stints doing effects for films like Inside Man, Sleepy Hollow and Spawn. What made you decide to make the jump to your first feature?

SL – I had the unique experience of being able to work one-on-one with several major film directors of the 90s, and as a result, I got an itch to direct my own films. I think it came out of my frustration with the fact that I was being scolded by my peers for expecting a good story or compelling characters out of summer effects films.  I realized quickly that audiences were getting used to movies with no nutritional value.  Today, I compare it to the recent revolution in the food industry.  At some point, people started doing research and found out that these big fat food companies could make better food, but they just didn’t care (because everyone had gotten used to eating shit).  I hope Americans start reading books on how to write good stories and the same thing happens to the movie industry.   Maybe then we might have original screenplays being financed, instead of every studio movie being a remake, sequel, or adaptation.

MJ – Matt, how did you know Scott was ready for his first feature and how did you come to be involved?

MC – My story as a Producer on the film is definitely a unique one.  I actually wasn’t involved at the time the film was shot, I got involved about a year later.  The film was shot it in the summer of 2007, but at the time, Scott only had enough money to get that far.  So once shooting was over, he wasn’t able to move forward with post-production.  It turned out that at the time, a good friend of his named David Hughes was doing some sound work on a film I was producing, entitled SEVENTH MOON.  David mentioned MIDNIGHT SON to the film’s director, Ed Sanchez, and told him that Scott was looking to raise some money and finish the film (Ed was also co-director of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT.)  After Ed read the script, he sent it to me and asked if I would be interested coming on board as the Producer, to do the “heavy lifting” that would be getting the film across the finish line.

So, I definitely had an advantage that Producers don’t typically have.  I didn’t just have to go off of the script, but I was actually able to look at some of the footage before I jumped in.  The footage looked really good, and I definitely liked the script, so it was an easy decision for me to get involved at that point.

MJ – That’s a big advantage indeed. The film looks like a multi-million dollar production as the setting and set design really standout. It also makes a beautiful transfer to DVD, how did you manage to make such a film on an independent film budget? And how much of that came into play in the post production after Matt came aboard?

SL – It was really the work of our brilliant cinematographer, Lyn Moncrief.  He is the type of photographer that could make museum quality art with a disposable camera.  The truth about photography, I think, is that it is all about framing.  Even crappy lighting can look beautiful if the composition is extraordinary.  The focus can even be soft.  But if the framing is unbalanced or the camera position evokes a feeling that is incongruous with the story beat, no amount of pretty lighting or high definition capturing will help.  We were able to get a high quality image because we had real talent behind the camera, not money.

MC – In post-production, we were really blessed to have some very talented people work on the film, and that allowed us to raise the production value well beyond what our budget would have normally allowed.

First off, Scott’s friend David Hughes did our sound design and mix.  David works on very large studio films most of the time, and is incredibly good at his job.  He cared about the project so much, he took four weeks off working on studio films and did MIDNIGHT SON, taking quite a pay cut to do it.  Scott was able to spend a week with him in his home studio in Oregon for the final mix, which was really great.

For the music, we again had some luck on our side.  My friend Kays Alatrakchi is a very talented composer, and had heard about the film from a mutual friend.  At the time, there was another composer on-board, but he turned out to be unable to finish the film.  When I found that out, I reached out to Kays and showed it to him.  Fortunately for us, he really liked it, and agreed to do the music for the very small amount of money we were able to pay him.  I’ve been told by several people after festival screenings how great they thought the music was.  I couldn’t agree more.

For color grading, my friend Dan Myrick (the other co-director of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT) was kind enough to let us do it at his facility, called Chroma Lounge.  He gave us an incredible deal, and brought in a colorist by the name of Narbeh Tatoussian who did a fantastic job.  Dan was also instrumental in helping us prepare the film for delivery (delivery is creating a bunch of video tape masters and other materials that must be turned over to a distributor before they will release the movie).

So, across the board, we were so incredibly lucky to be able to work with all these talented people in the post-production process.

MJ – I also could not agree more with your comments about the music, it really is superbly done. Matt can you talk a bit about being a producer on a small indie film like Midnight Son and the intricacies involved with shooting on location?

MC – The film was shot in Los Angeles, and one thing about shooting there is that everyone is very film savvy.  So, when it comes to finding locations, pretty much everyone knows to ask for big money when they get approached by a movie or TV show.  So it’s always a big challenge whenever you’re shooting something with a small budget in L.A. to find locations that will agree to let you shoot there for a tiny amount of money.

On the permit side, luckily there is so much filming in L.A., the permit process is pretty easy and not terribly expensive.  The permit office is usually very easy to deal with, and when they issue a permit, they will cover up to 10 locations over a two week period, so you can cover a lot of shooting on one permit.  The price can add up if you’re shooting over a long period of time, but most small indies don’t have to worry about that!

What a lot of filmmakers do is only pull permits when they’re going to be shooting outside.  If you have a small crew and don’t have any trucks, you can shoot indoors and not draw any attention, so many just do those scenes with no permit.  It’s technically a “no-no”, but to save money, sometimes you have to do it.

MJ – Wow sounds like some of the productions I’ve seen in Toronto. Now Scott, what was the more challenging part for you in this process, directing or writing?

Writing was much more challenging.  I am a spatial artist first, temporal second.  My training in storytelling started around age 30, while creating visual imagery has been a natural compulsion since the moment I could hold a crayon.

MJ – Guys, Zak Kilberg came all the way up to Toronto for TAD last year to support the film, also one of your stars Maya Parish and fellow actor Kevin McCorkle are listed as Executive Producers on the film. Can you comment on what are obviously a tight knit and dedicated cast and crew?

SL – Everyone involved in Midnight Son was dedicated to this adventure.  We all believed in the power of the story and characters.  Everyone knew we had the talent to pull it off.  We were a family, and even at our worst moments, we sucked it up and did what we had to do.  The amazing thing about a cast and crew like this is that we all felt that Midnight Son was our shot at making something really fucking good.  So we went for it, with reckless abandon, fuelled by a primal lust for immortality through artistic achievement.  That sounds a bit dramatic, but when you think about it…

MC – Maya and Kevin were involved from the very beginning, and brought in money that was critical for the film to be able to move into production.  So, without them, the film might have never been made.  They both loved the script and decided to put their money where their mouth was, so to speak.  That’s a gutsy thing to do in indie film, and obviously we’re forever in their debt for doing it.

Overall, a great majority of the cast & crew have been so supportive throughout the process, even in those years where we were struggling to raise money to finish the film.  Even when they couldn’t help us directly, some of them tried to help by introducing us to others who might be able to.  I can take no credit for bringing those people on board; it was all Scott.  To me, it’s a testament to Scott’s script, as well as his drive to get the film made.  He really brought in a lot of tremendous people, and I think it shows on screen.  To be able to get what he did on the screen with such a small amount of money shows just how dedicated the cast & crew were to him and his vision.

MJ – That must have been a great experience. Finally I have one last question for each of you. Matt, in what I feel is one the best stories in indie film right now; you have recently launched a campaign to retrieve funds for your film from illegal downloaders. How did this come about and how successful has the campaign been?

MC – I wish I could say I planned it out months before and really thought it through.  But, the truth is, it was just something that I decided to do when I learned the film had shown up on the BitTorrent sites.  About 3 weeks before the DVD was released is when it happened, and at that point, the idea just popped into my mind that I should leave a message on The Pirate Bay, which is one of the most popular BitTorrent sites out there.  I just wanted to let people know that we were a small film struggling to make our money back, and if they wanted to help us out, they could donate to us or buy a DVD when it came out.

I wish I could say that we received a lot of donations, but sadly we didn’t.  It was a small amount, and certainly better than nothing, but it didn’t turn out to be earth-shattering by any measure.  I’m grateful to each and every person who donated, though, and I sent a thank you email to all of them.

MJ – A commendable idea though Matt, bravo. And Scott, in a non-related question, you are the only person I have ever heard of to attempt to put cult figure Lobo on screen with your short “The Lobo Paramilitary Christmas Special”. How did that come about and do you have ideas for a feature?

I will always be the biggest fanboy of the Main Man.  I saw my chance to make Paramilitary Christmas, so I went for it.  The experience was mind-numbing.  I have tons of ideas for the Lobo movie I would direct, but the problem is that he is an adult anti-hero.  To tell a proper Lobo tale, the film would have to be rated R or NC-17.  This would cut out such a huge demographic that there would be no way to recoup the financial investment a Lobo movie would require.  I think the only way Lobo will ever be made into a movie is if it is written to be rated PG-13, and sadly, that will NOT be a Lobo movie.  But I will go see it anyway.   I am weak.

Thanks again Guys, I really appreciate the time today. Could you each tell us a bit about what you have coming up next?

SL- Currently hard at work paying off my debt from film school.  I thought about making a sign– ‘WILL FILM-MAKE FOR MONEY’– and standing at an intersection in Hollywood, but then I realized I could probably get out of debt faster if I just filled out an application at a local grocery store.

MC – My pleasure.  As for what’s next, I’m actually taking a bit of break from producing, now that the film is out there.  It’s been such a long road, and there’s still a little more to be done in terms of trying to get the film released in other countries (Jinga Films is out foreign sales company and is working hard to make that happen.  Hopefully we’ll have some deals to announce soon).  One thing I’m just starting to think about is helping other filmmakers find distribution for their films.  The Film Collaborative, a non-profit group based in L.A., was invaluable in helping us secure our deals with FEARnet and Image Entertainment.  They tend to focus more on art-house and documentary films, and we’ve had discussions about me working with them to vet the more “commercial” films submitted to them or that may want to explore TFC’s services.  They’re a terrific organization run by some wonderful people, and I’m excited to see how things unfold with them in the next few weeks.

MJ- Sounds Great Matt, and I certainly hope that local IGA is hiring Scott! Thanks again and hope to see you guys back in TO again someday!

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3 thoughts on “Burning the Midnight Oil with the Creators of Midnight Son (Kirk Haviland)

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