Last month I reviewed an incredible film called Maggie Marvel about a female assassin / single mom named, oddly enough, Maggie Marvel. The film had an incredible story and such a great cast, that I knew from the moment I saw it that I absolutely had to interview writer, director and co-star Dan Brennan to find out just what went into making this awesome film come to life.
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DLM: Let’s start out as I always do and have you introduce yourself to everyone and tell us all a little about your background.
DB: I got into the business late in life 32. I made a good living as a commercial actor doing ads for Toyota, Staples, Wendy’s etc, I’ve done over 100 National spots. The most popular, I played “Don” the Dad in the ATT Rollover minutes commercials. My commercials are posted at http://www.danbrennanmedia.com.
DLM: Before we get into Maggie Marvel, tell us about your previous film, The Video Guys. Was that your first experience as a film maker, or had you made some stuff before that?
DB: Video Guys was are 1st movie. It was a family affair my wife Jeanne produced it she is BRILLANT, she use to be Bill Murray’s assistant, then worked with Pacino on Carlito’s Way and then Johnny Depp on Donnie Brasco. We made video guys because that’s what I did full time. I shot over 2,000 wedding so we did on movie based on those crazy experiences. We won 3 fests and got a distribution deal my 11 year daughter took best supporting actress in all 3 fests. We also won best picture in all 3 fests.
DLM: What kind of reviews did the film get, and did the feedback on that film affect how you went about writing and producing Maggie Marvel?
DB: The reviews for Video Guys were great. When we made Maggie Marvel we wanted to go darker and sexier. I also wanted to do the opposite of Video Guys, which was a mostly all guy cast to Maggie which was mostly an all girl cast. We got great reviews again for a very different kind of movie.
DLM: What were some of the lessons and experiences you garnered from that production that helped to make the Maggie Marvel production easier to put together?
DB: 1st we bought all the equipment for VG which was a huge expense. For Maggie we owned everything so we saved a ton of Money. But it was just as hard to make to the same time. 40 days of shooting over a year.
DLM: Ok, so let’s move on to Maggie Marvel now. Take us through the pre-production process. What gave you the idea for the story, long did it take to write it, how did you work out the funding, etc…
DB: We took the profits from Video guys to pay for Maggie Marvel. We are not rich but because we are a production company we own everything. That saves money. It’s not unusual most film makers do it that way now. The hardest part of independent film making is writing a good story, the production part is easy by comparison. .
The original story was about Maggie Marvel a famous gangster who dies in the opening scene and is replaced by an actress Cindy Pickles. It was supposed to be a straight up comedy, about an actress who becomes a killer. Then we cast Selene Beretta as Maggie. We were blown away by her performance. There was nothing she couldn’t do. Drama, comedy, action. We wound re-writing the entire film around her. It was crazy. We were writing the movie and shooting at the same time. In the end it all worked. Audience’s find her performance extraordinary.
DLM: Did you make any upgrades to your production equipment between your previous film and this one? If so, what changes did you make?
DB: Everything was cheaper. For Video Guys a 2000 gig hard drive was $2,000.00 dollars, today that same drive costs $300.00. we also purchased a program called “Magic bullet”, only $400.00. Magic bullet allows you to really do anything with your picture. From cool flashback shots to amazing rich color. We also got better at recording our audio. Audio is a major expense in production. If you record very clean audio, you will save 10s of thousands of dollars in post production.
DLM: Tell us about some of the locations you used for the film. Did you have any problem securing any of the locations, or did you have to change any of them during production due to unforeseen issues?
DB: I learned a great trick in the wedding business. We used to take brides to these beautiful locations, grand mansions for wedding photos. Some of these places are PUBLIC Parks so the permit to shoot is very cheap and the location looks very expensive. We could not get a bank to let us shoot a robbery so we called Debra Markowitz, the commissioner of the Nassau County Film office, she said we could you her lobby for the bank and they had an old vault in their basement. The cost was a very affordable permit. Film Makers should always reach out to there county and State film offices. That’s where the great deals are.
DLM: You put together a really great cast for this film. Tell us about the casting process and how you chose the various people for their roles, and which members of the cast had you worked with before, and which ones were new to you?
DB: David Mamet said “I don’t cast for the part, I just find great actors.” That is exactly what we do. We audition people with very simple copy. We want actors to do there best so we make the audition process very EASY. We look for good actors ONLY. We don’t care if their RIGHT for the part. We find these actor’s strengths, then re-write the character to their strengths. Now you’re getting the BEST out of the actor.
The best example of the was Selene Beretta, she is a great fighter, great dancer, flair bartender, speaks German, a magnificent Shakespearn actress, pool player none of that was in the script, all of it was put in after spending time with Selene and learning how truly gifted she is. It made character of Maggie Marvel much more authentic.
DLM: Did you know from the beginning that you were going to cast Selene Beretta as Maggie? I noticed that there was a small part in the film where you explained her accent, which was a nice way to deal with it rather than just ignoring it and letting people wonder.
DB: WOW very good observation on your part. Like I said earlier Selene was never suppose to be Maggie Marvel, But she is such an extraordinary actor, we re-rote everything around her. When you meet Selene and work with her you can only see her as a leading actress.
Now also, to answer your question, Selene Beretta does a fantastic American accent, but her Australian accent it just too damn cool to change. You’re correct, actually Selene insisted we put that line in the film about her accent, to explain why she has an accent, even though her character was born in America. I’m so glad you asked me that question.
DLM: Your daughters Diana and Sabrina were both in this film and they’re both really great, natural actresses. Have they always been into acting and being on camera, or is it something that just came about when you made your previous film, The Video Guys? What’s it like working with them, not only as a father, but as an actor and a film maker?
DB: My producer wife and I had not intention to put our kids in show business, but they gave us no choice. With Video Guys, Sabrina then 9 years old followed me around the house with ideas for Video Guys, specifically a bigger part for her. So I gave her a small part to get her to stop nagging me. Then in the rushes she blew us away. Then when ever we had a problem in Video Guys went to Sabrina’s character to fix it. Sabrina turned out to be the best thing in Video guys, me and Jeanne never taught her a thing, she’s a natural.
Two years later at age 9 when writing Maggie Marvel our second daughter Diana was following me around wanting to be in the movie, so because of Sabrina’s success we gave Diana a shot and she and Selene had amazing chemistry [actually I don’t believe in chemistry. I find if you put two good actors together, ya get chemistry]. Diana learned how to cry on cue. She watched Selene cry and was determined to do the same and did!! As a matter of fact in one film festival on Long Island in 2009 Sabrina won best supporting actor for Video Guys. In 2010 Diana won best supporting actress in that same festival!!!
DLM: Your wife worked with you on the film as well, both producing and even appearing in it. What all did she do on the production? I saw some photos of her running the camera, so it seems that she’s doing a whole lot of different things to help out.
DB: Jeanne Brennan was our Producer and the Cineamaphotgrapy for Maggie Marvel. Jeanne das brought in both films under budget and assists a lot with the writing process. She also has a fantastic eye for casting and make changes in the movie keeping the story tight. She likes to joke, ‘the problem working with family is you can’t fire them.” She’s the reason our daughters are so fearless.
DLM: What were some of the most difficult issues you had to deal with in getting this film made, and in contrast to that, what aspects of the process went easier than expected?
DB: Working with the cast was a dream. Selene Beretta, Katherine Barron, Russ Camarda, Sam Witten, Allison Lane and our 2 girls is the most fun we had. In terms of difficult I have to say the edit. Editing is hell. Every film maker would agree. No matter what the movie, documentary what ever. Editing just blows!
DLM: You had mentioned that the film was originally a lot longer than it ended up being and that you kept whittling it down during the editing process. How did you go about deciding what stayed and what went, and was that a solo decision, or did you have outside people watch it and give you their opinions and input during that process? Also, did you feel like you were second guessing yourself after cutting out certain parts? What about after you finally felt like it was done? Was there any second guessing going on at that point as well?
DB: We just shot too many cool murders and some had to go cause the didn’t advance the plot. My producer Jeanne has the best eye for editing and she had a ton of input on what had to go. The Halloween murder is great but does not advance the plot. We had a lot more for Cindy Pickles that was great but it didn’t advance the story.
The Tango scene we cut at first, because it did not advance the plot, but people said it was just too cool a scene and had to stay in. The entire movie was narrated by Dixie, but that didn’t add much to the plot. Then we had Maggie narrate the whole movie, but that killed the mystery of Maggie Marvel. Then we had Samantha narrated the whole movie and everything clicked. Now we added the story the Samantha was really trying to save her Mom. That really worked with audiences. Our goal was to get the movie to 90 minutes. That is Ideal for festivals. Many festivals won’t accept your movie if it’s over 2 hours, because the festival needs to show 2 shorts with every feature.
DLM: You’ve sent the film out to various film festivals. What’s the response been like? Also, you just recently mentioned that it had been accepted to a big festival in New York. Tell us about that one, and any others that it’ll be appearing at in the near future.
DB: We were just accepted to the Queens World Film festival. A very big fest in NY. ALL the festivals we’ve been in we are always nominated for the Audience award because the film is always well attended. It’s very difficult to get people out to film fests, but Maggie ALWAYS draws big crowds because it’s such a commercial film. Beautiful women lots of action and lots of comedy!
* Editor’s Note: Dan has informed me that Maggie Marvel will be the opening film at the Queens World Film Festival on Saturday, March 5, 2011 at 7:30 p.m..
DLM: Do you think, hearing about the raw deal many independent film makers get from various distributors, that it’s better for independent film makers to self-distribute and to promote their films themselves? The popularity of social media, Netflix and other outlets have made it so much easier to get your film out there on your own now, that it may in fact be more profitable to self-distribute. What are your thoughts on that?
DB: Great question. This is thee have best time EVER for independent film! We are having a lot of success with downloads. Surprisingly most come from overseas. Germany, UK, and Italy are just nuts for Maggie Marvel. We have also sold copies in Russia and Japan. The American Indie market is very big over sees.
We got very little business from face book and social sites; however you-tube is where 99% of our business comes from. I would highly recommend that film makers post a really HOT trailer on you-tube and at the end of the trailer have a line that sends people to their website. Then have a different trailer on your website to close the download deal.
We just started on the downloads, we have not done net fix or I tunes yet. The goal is to get 10,000 downloads then take a distribution deal.
DLM: Do you have any advice for the other film makers out there, or maybe someone just about to start out making their first film?
DB: Buy the BEST camera and audio you can afford. You MUST have a good camera and good audio. Also tell an original story about a topic you KNOW. Write what you know. Cameras are important but so is the story. And last if you’re a director take a lot of acting classes. Great directing is all about casting and casting is all about understanding the difference between good acting and GREAT acting.
DLM: Is there anything else you’d like to mention before we wrap this up?
DB: Digital downloads have given filmmakers the money and power they need! Eventually distribution as we know it will disappear. If a film maker can get 10,000 downloads that’s a living and a budget for their next picture. Difficult…not impossible.