An Interview with Greg Durbin – By Duane L. Martin

Greg DurbinLet’s start off in the usual way by having you introduce yourself and tell everyone a little bit about your background as far as filmmaking, personal stuff, hobbies, etc…

Hi. My name is Greg Durbin, and I am a self-taught, independent filmmaker, from Sacramento, California. And I just recently completed my first movie, entitled “I Know Who You Are”. I’m married, and I have a six year old daughter. My background is in Architecture, although I’ve always pursued art, music, writing, and photography. And up until just a few years ago, I was a Project Manager for local area Architecture firm, when I decided to quit to my job to become a full time at home dad. Because of the type of work that I do, I was able to do some work out of my house, while I took care of my daughter. But as it turned out, I was also finally able to pursue filmmaking.

Many of the directors I interview have done films that they themselves have written, but in this case a guy named Israel Luna actually wrote the script. How did you get involved with doing this film based off of his screenplay?

I found the script online. I’m a writer too, but I just didn’t feel confident enough in my own work at the time. So I poked around on every screenplay/filmmaking web site I could find looking for a short to shoot, and this was by FAR the best script that I found. But when I called Israel about buying it, he was really hesitant about letting a person with no credits shoot his script. So I begged and groveled, and he finally ended up selling it to me. It’s a great script, and I’m really lucky to have found it.

What aspects of the story did you particularly like, and how do you feel they came across in the final product?

I love everything about the story. But the key to the plot of the movie are the “signs”, and how Lee reacts to seeing them. So I would say that those would have to be my favorite elements of the movie. I think that they work pretty well. It wasn’t a scripted thing to highlight them. I just really thought that it helped to dramatize Lee’s fears more clearly by really emphasizing them, and I also think that it helped to make the ending a bit more dramatic when he finally sees the last sign. I tried to make them as obvious as I could, although the signs do happen pretty quickly, and people still do tend to miss some of them. But either way, you don’t have to see every sign to get the idea of what’s happening to Lee. Or at least what he thinks is happening to him.

Tell us about some of the actors in the film and what it was like to work with them.

All of the actors were great to work with. I was really lucky with my casting. A lot of the cast and crew came from a ways away. Most everyone came from San Francisco, but there were people that came from as far away as L.A., and Texas. And it was a four day shoot, so I just had everyone stay at my house. It became kind of a big slumber party. I can’t say that everyone was excited about their sleeping arrangements, but it really seemed to pull everyone together. And when someone wasn’t needed for a scene, they would often come along to help out in anyway they could. I remember being up until 2 or so in the morning planning out shots for the next day, with a few of the crew members, while people were scattered around the house crashed out in sleeping bags. Good times!

Did you have trouble casting any of the parts in this film?

Yes. In fact, I had trouble casting the entire movie. But probably the two harder roles to cast were the elderly lady in the truck, and the pizza delivery person. The pizza delivery person was scripted to be a guy with a ponytail. He and Lee were suppose to have gotten into a more mutual fight. So I hired a guy to do the role, but he backed out in the last minute. He said that he couldn’t say the swearword that was in the script, because it somehow conflicted with his religious beliefs. So I quickly decided to put Beth in the role, who was someone that I had met at the auditions, and I changed the fight into more of a one sided beat down. And I’m really glad that it worked out that way. Beth did a great job. And as many times as I’ve watched the movie, I still chuckle every time I see her beat him up.

Where was the film shot and what if any problems did you have with the various locations?

The movie was shot entirely in and around Sacramento. And although everything ended up working out, we did have a bunch of problems. Like a locked gate, an overly curious Sheriff, an angry gas station owner, and an unhinged rural property owner with a shotgun. The worst was the unhinged rural property owner with the shotgun. My wife, my daughter, and I, were out scouting a location that was a property owned by a friend of my wife. But somehow I guess that we had wondered onto a neighboring property. And just as we were leaving, a crazed lady with a shotgun ran out of her trailer door, waving a shotgun around and screaming incoherently. Not good.

I noticed that the running time listed on the DVD case and the time listed on the website are different. Was the film re-edited after it initial completion? If so, what was cut and why?

Hey, good catch. The running time was 12:20 minutes long, with the original version that I had sent out to festivals. That cut included a scene where Lee and Claudia drive to the fortune teller’s house. That scene really set up who Lee and Claudia are, and where they’re going. But I think it was just too much information. I had entered this original cut of the movie into maybe 13 festivals, but it was only accepted into 3. And it didn’t seem like the movie was going to go any further than that without some drastic changes. So I re-edited the entire movie, punched up the ending, and I chopped off that entire opening scene. With the opening scene removed, it really adds a lot of mystery to the beginning of the move that just wasn’t there before. Then I sent the new 10 minute cut back out to some more festivals, and it finally started to get accepted. So far the new cut has gotten into the last four out of five film festivals, including a recent screening at Raleigh Studios (across the street from Paramount), as a part of the Hollywood DV Festival.

What were some of the problems you had to deal with in making this film?

The main problem was just my learning curve. I hired a professional crew, so all of their work was top notch. So I was always the weakest link, which works great for me, because I really want to treat every movie as a learning experience. But because I was so new, I made a lot of mistakes that ended up costing us a lot of time. Mainly just to do with over shooting scenes. In fact if I was to shoot a similar script today with the knowledge that I’ve gained by making this movie, I could easily shoot it in half of the time, and probably for half of the budget. It’s all about the learning curve.

About how much did it cost to make this film?

The film has cost me well over ten thousand dollars now. Not including all of the equipment and programs that I’ve purchased. But hey, now I have my own micro studio at home that I can use on all of my future projects.

What sort of equipment and software did you use during production?
(Camera, editing software, etc…) Were you happy with everything or were there
times where you said, "Man, this would be so much easier if we had such
and such."?

The camera was a Sony DSR500WS. It’s a (3) 2/3” chip camera with a native wide screen format. Which is a great camera, but it doesn’t shoot 24p. So we de-interlaced the footage and film looked it in post production. And we recorded the dialog directly into the camera. That’s by far the best way to go. We had access to some really great sound equipment, and a very experienced sound guy. So cleanly recorded sound, recorded directly into the camera, definitely made post production a lot easier. And I edited it, and mixed all of the sound, with Final Cut Pro on a Mac.

The biggest equipment issue was finding a car mount. I couldn’t find a decent one that I could afford to buy, and I was even having trouble finding one to rent. So with just a few days until we were going to shoot, I sketched up a concept of a door mount, and I took it over to my friends cabinet making shop. He made a few changes to the concept, and we built it (out of wood!) on the spot, and had it mounted on my truck in just a few hours. It was as solid as a rock, and everyone wanted to own it by the end of the shoot.

Is there anything that you would go back and do differently if you could?

My biggest regret is that I didn’t have a dolly. I wanted to move the camera around, but my DP was pretty against the idea of doing anything handheld. So other than just a few quick handheld shots here and there, the only other movement that I got was just from panning the camera on the tripod.

The other thing is that I wish that I had gotten more insert shots and cutaways during principle photography. It’s amazing what you can do with an insert shot of a persons foot stomping down on a gas pedal or a fist into the camera lens. Or with cutaway shots of a persons point of view, or the things going on around them. And you can add an ADR lines of dialog over these shots (Like I did with, “come on, pick up the phone”), or even create moments of tension or comedy. But being new to filmmaking, I just wasn’t totally aware of all of the pieces of footage that I would need for post production. So once I started editing, it became all too clear what I was missing, and I ended up having to do two days of pick up shots. Ryan (the actor that played Lee) came back for one day. And I also shot one more day with my wife and my friend Michael, acting as body doubles / stunt drivers for the actors. There’s no better way to find out what shots you needed, than to edit your own movie.

This film has been going around to various film festivals. What sort of a reaction have you gotten on it, and have you been surprised by any of the reactions?

Most of the festivals that it’s been screened at have been in other states, and in Canada. So I haven’t been able to attend a screening yet. So up to this point, I’m still pretty much unaware of any reactions to it, other than just knowing that it’s at least being accepted into some festivals. But my composer did make it to the Raleigh Studios screening. And he said that “everyone reacted when they where suppose to, and that I would have been very happy with how it was received”. So that’s the best feedback that I’ve gotten so far. But I do hope to get to into a closer venue, before it finishes with its festival run, so I can go and see it too.

What other film projects have you worked on?

None really. I’ve never worked for anyone else on their movies. And although I have shot some movies with friends and family, this is really my first project.

What’s up next for you? Do you have anything in the works right now or are you busy promoting this film around at the various festivals and such?

Well I’ve been writing for the last few years, as much as I can. And I’ve been able to complete four feature length screenplays, and a bunch of shorts, so far. But I plan to shoot one of the feature length screenplays next. I just need to finish up with sending this project out to festivals, and start to save up a little bit of money.

If you had a huge budget and could make any kind of a film you wanted,
what would be your dream project?

What a great question! But I don’t know if my dreams are quite as big as some of the other filmmakers out there. I’d really just like to have enough money to shoot my movies on an Independent level, here in Sacramento. But if I did ever have the chance to get a bit of a budget together, I would love to shoot a movie like Pumpkinhead III, or even something like the BLOB. I love B movies!

What advice would you give to would-be filmmakers out there who just need a little encouragement to get out there and make their own films?

First of all, make sure your pursuing filmmaking for the right reasons. Not because you want to be rich and famous, but because it’s your passion. And if making movies is your passion, then you should just go do it. Because it doesn’t matter how much experience you have, or how much money you have. It’s just about telling stories. So whether you have enough money to hire a professional crew, or just enough to buy a few work lights and borrow a camcorder. It doesn’t matter. It’s the same story no matter what camera you use.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention before we wrap this up?

I would suggest to all of the filmmakers out there that you should take the time to learn how to write your own work. That way you’ll get to tell your own stories. And to me, that’s the true privilege of filmmaking!