When I speak at screenwriting conferences, I often remind people to look to their left and then to their right. The people sitting next to you are the ones you should be networking with, not just the speakers. Now I have proof. Meet Rebecca Norris and Kevin Resnick, filmmakers on their way to Cannes Film Festival to celebrate their short film, On Becoming A Man being selected to the prestigious event. In 2007, I met Kevin at Creative Screenwriting Expo, pitching in the very lines I was. As I watched him work that room, there was an energy about him I knew would carry him far. Was I ever right.
Kevin and Rebecca prove taking charge of your career is the best way to be in control of your success.
On Becoming A Man is a coming-of-age comedy about 13-year-old Jacob Schneidelman, who's forced to deal with his mishugina (crazy) family in the days leading up to his Bar Mitzvah.
As of this publish date, they’ve been invited to six festivals and won three awards, including Best Comedy Short at the IFS Film Festival in L.A and Best Short Film at the Athens Jewish Film Festival.
On Becoming A Man is currently in the FirstGlance Film Festival's online shorts competition for a limited time. Free free to watch it on their site. It is 14:32 minutes of comedic pleasure with wonderful details to props, setting and wardrobe as well as great acting talent. It’s no surprise it’s doing so well on the festival circuit.
As a believer in a writer’s need to branch out into indie filmmaker, I was anxious to sit down with Rebecca Norris, owner and producer at Freebird Entertainment, as well as the writer/director of the film, Kevin Resnick.
JVB: What inspired the story?
Rebecca: The story was based on some of Kevin's experiences growing up--we actually shot the film at his mother's house, and Jacob's room was his old room! So in that aspect, the story was true to life. The story resonated with me because of my love all the late 70s/80s references in the film. Especially Battleship, and the disco music!
Kevin: On Becoming A Man was inspired only loosely on remembrances from my youth. Thank God I didn’t have a smothering mishugina (crazy) mother like the one I depicted in my film! Of course being Jewish, I was certainly exposed to my fair share of colorful relatives. Piecing together those memories provided me with the composites and archetypes for the characters in my film. The rest came out of my imagination and sense of comedy and play. There is however, a real crossover from Jacob’s crush on a goy (non-Jew) and my own dating experiences. I’ve just never dated Jewish woman, and I was always terrified to tell my mom that was the case.
JVB: I truly enjoyed watching it. The attention you paid to detail is incredible, from the wardrobe to the paper-bag book covers of that era. What was the reason you chose that era as opposed to present day? Did it increase your budget to do so?
Rebecca: Thanks! It did increase our budget to do so, but we got lucky in many respects. We were lucky to be able to shoot at Kevin’s mom’s house – she still has all of her furniture from the late 70s/early 80s; everything in the house is vintage. We also had a fantastic production designer who had a great vision for the piece, and brought many of her own vintage props, including the Rubics Cubes, and also made and drew the pictures on the paper-bag book covers.
For some of the vintage props, such as the camcorder and phone, we rented from Edith Head at Universal, where they have a great selection. I handled finding most of the wardrobe, which was fun to shop for. We rented some from Edith Head, but some of the best stuff we got was straight from Goodwill. If I can give any advice to low-budget filmmakers making a period piece, it is to shop at Goodwill (especially on half-price day). They had an amazing selection of real 1970s vintage wardrobe at rock-bottom prices. We were pretty creative in our shopping, so we were able to keep the budget under control.
There’s something so special about the 70s. From the butterfly collars to the plastic covered couches. It’s an era that had a real character and charm to it. I wanted to play around in the fun of that world.
JVB: I noticed in the credits, Kevin, you not only wrote and directed On Becoming A Man, you also had an acting role, edited and produced it. And, Rebecca, you juggled many roles too. Do you enjoy being so hands on or would you have preferred to wear fewer hats?
Rebecca: Kevin and I both wore a ton of hats. Kevin directed, wrote, edited, and produced; I produced, line produced, did some picture and sound editing, script supervising, wardrobe, catering, and was co-propmaster. I also take care of all of our publicity and film festival submissions. I would prefer to wear less hats! But this is how you get it done at the low-budget level. Everyone wears multiple hats. In the future as bigger projects with more substantial budgets come our way, we can delegate a little more. But I’m cherishing this time when we have the freedom to do whatever we want with our projects – our creative voice is not limited in any way right now.
Kevin: In a word: I loved it! Wait, that’s 3 words. Nevertheless, I truly enjoyed participating in the production wearing multiple hats. I come from the world of acting, so playing a role was a given from the start. The added benefit there was that I really got along with the director (laughs).
I found the editing portion to be more fulfilling that I had imagined. It is said that a film is made three times: when it’s written, when it’s shot, and when it’s edited. I found this to be true. It was a great joy to finally meld the pictures that had been in my mind for months with those that had been shot during production.
The only hat that I was truly grateful to have shared was that of Producer. Producing a film is such a tremendous amount of hard work; I simply could not have done it without Rebecca by my side.
JVB: Toasted was the first film you wrote, directed and produced as a team. To tell a story in a two-minute short isn’t easy. What surprised you the most about the challenges of telling a story within those confines?
Rebecca: Toasted was part of the Dances With Films Festival's 2-Minute, 2-Step Screenplay Competition that they hold every year during the festival. It wasn't too much of a stretch to write a short piece because I have been a sketch comedy writer for 12 years (graduated from Second City in Chicago, was a sketch comedy company member at the ACME Comedy Theater in L.A.). I'm quite used to telling stories in two pages. The secret is, there's no beginning to the story. It's middle-end. Get in late, get out early. The challenge was to be as concise as possible and still get your point across, and make sure it didn't go a word over two pages. We had to eliminate a lot of narration and just get right to the point. That's a good lesson in screenwriting, period!
Dances With Films chooses six to eight 2-page screenplays that are lighthearted and can be shot in a single location. If your screenplay is selected as a finalist, you are given top-of-the-line equipment from Canon and Wexler, production classes, and a space to produce it and have it premiere in the festival the next day. The catch is you have to shoot AND edit the film in four hours total. So writing the screenplay was a cinch compared to the production! So the film you watched was shot and edited in four hours, and premiered the next day at the Laemmle Sunset 5 Theaters in Hollywood. We got in the following year also with my script The Passive-Aggressive Presence, which we shot and edited in four hours and premiered the next day at the Chinese Theaters. How often can you make a movie and see it on the big screen the next day? Pretty cool.
JVB: You’re having great success on the festival circuit. Congratulations! As you prepare to head to Cannes, what’s going through your mind about the whole experience?
Rebecca: Thanks so much! It's a bit surreal, really... it's Cannes! It's the "glamour" part of filmmaking that you get to enjoy after the hard work of the film is completed. It's pretty odd to think that this time last year I was shopping at Goodwill for wardrobe and now we're screening at Cannes. It's really been a whirlwind so far – I haven't had much time to think about how the experience itself will go because we've been so busy preparing in advance for it!
We're excited, but it's been a ton of work. We have a feature in development, The Amazing Adventures of Average Ben, a romantic comedy, and so we've been hard at work preparing a Business Plan for prospective investors, as well as postcards and marketing materials for On Becoming A Man. I'll also be promoting my web series, Split, which is a hybrid thriller, soap opera, and dark comedy, (crazy, I know!) so I'm preparing materials for that as well. It's a bit overwhelming at the moment, but I know our hard work will pay off in the end. It always does.
We've been reading books and doing research about what to expect at Cannes so we can make the most of our time there. I have never been to France, so I'm very excited at the prospect of spending time on the French Riviera! Mostly, we hope to network, make connections, and just have a fantastic time! Perhaps bumping into a couple of celebrities wouldn't hurt either (laughs).
Kevin: Prepping for Cannes has been exhausting. We want to make sure that, in addition to enjoying the moment fully, we take advantage of this opportunity pitch our feature and build relationships for the future.
JVB: Filmmaking is such a collaborative experience. You compiled a fantastic team to help create your vision. What advice do you have for new indie filmmakers on finding a production team and casting?
Rebecca: Thank you! I worked in casting for several years, and so I had the experience to know how to run a casting session. If you haven't cast before, it can be a daunting process. For new indie filmmakers, I would say, find yourself an indie producer who has experience with casting, or hire an indie casting director who can help you. There are a lot of casting directors who will work with a low budget if they like your script. My advice is to fine-tune your story and script until it is so good that people will be clamoring to jump onboard and work with you. That, to me, is the real secret to indie low-budget filmmaking. If your script is fantastic, good people will come. Good actors and reliable crew will want to work on your film. And they will work with you even if you can't pay much or anything because they believe in your story. And if you keep producing quality material, those people will be loyal and work with you on your future projects.
I believe that the same process used in casting actors is the same process used in "casting" your production team. You have to "cast" for personalities that will mesh with each other. For creatives, it's best to get referrals from people you trust. For crew, it's so important to interview each and every person and get to know them a bit before you take them on. We were recently casting for a sound recordist, put a notice out on some tracking boards and on Mandy.com, and several potential candidates wanted to only interview on the phone. That's a no-go! You must meet in person to get the vibe for the person and see if they will jive with you and the rest of your crew. You will be working in high-pressure conditions in tight quarters under hot lights for many hours, days, or weeks. Make sure everyone gets along! All it takes is one not-so-pleasant person to make a film set a grueling place to be. If everyone's cool, it's a joy to be there.
We have used the same group of people for several projects in a row now, because we know and like them.
Kevin: Filmmaking is all about trust. I flew airplanes in the Air Force and I can tell you that filmmaking operates the same way as an aircrew. It’s all about teamwork and trust. It’s more difficult than you think to find people that are honest, trustworthy, and team-oriented. When you do find them, hold on to them and grow together. I’m incredibly grateful for my crew and all of their hard work and dedication.
JVB: You’ve had quite a range of experiences in filmmaking. Looking back on your career, what advice would you give your 18-year-old self?
Rebecca: I would tell my 18-year-old self to get your braces off earlier. Braces senior year of high school = bad plan.
I would also tell myself to not dilly-dally and waste time doing things that you're not passionate about. It was easy to get sidetracked by people telling me I needed a Plan B, a backup, in case my dreams failed. I spent a lot of time on Plan B and not as much time on Plan A, until more recent years. It's easy to look back in regret, but it's not productive. But to all aspiring writers/filmmakers – forge ahead! Make films with whatever money you have and just put yourself out there! There's no time like the present.
Kevin: Lose the bell-bottom corduroy pants, man. You’re not getting any dates with those.
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