Saturday, April 21, 2007

On the Lot: Interview with Patricia Byther-Hardy

If you've been watching Fox at all, you've probably seen trailers for a new reality show, On the Lot, premiering May 22. It's a competition for filmmakers, produced by Mark Burnett and Steven Spielberg. Participants are vying for a $1 million development deal at DreamWorks.

As it turns out, a friend of mine is participating in the competition, with a fun comedic piece called "Just Another Day," chronicling her trials and tribulations as a Los Angeles courier. I've known Patti for a long time, and was excited to find out she was involved in this show. So I had to snag her for an interview.

So read on, get to know a little about Patti and her film, and when you're done jump over to the On the Lot website and take a look at her film. It's a fun five minutes, and when you're done you can rate the movie and comment, if you like.

Thanks much to Patti for her time, and best of luck in the competition!

View "Just Another Day" here.

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you found your way to On the Lot.

My "official" name is Patricia Byther-Hardy, but I'm just Patti to most everyone. I am a middle-aged mom and grandmom, and my current "day job" is escorting oversize loads. I've always loved film, and when I lost my then-job in the spring of 1997, I decided I needed to find a new career that wasn't in an office or go mad! (Ah, Mid-Life Crises, aren't they swell?) I returned to school at my local community college, intending to become a pre-school teacher, but instead found the Broadcasting Arts Department and jumped in, taking recommended stage and camera acting and directing classes along the way. I soon decided to keep going for my BA and transferred to San Francisco State where I was accepted to the Film Department, and in my senior year, one of 15 chosen (out of about 200) for the producer/director's track, which is a year-long program wherein we get to make a 10 minute film (SF is a fairly poor school, and has just so much, very old equipment to go around). I graduated in 2002, returned to L.A. a few months later (I'm originally from here), but could never get anything going--it's tough in Hollywood when you aren't a USC or UCLA grad, and being from SF State, I had no contacts, plus SF State is more about indie work, rather than the typical Hollywood studio structure. I edited one documentary film, but even that went nowhere. I finally had to get some income coming in, so I went to work as a courier (thankfully, I no longer do that!) and the rest is history, sort of.

A friend told me about On the Lot and the notion of "auditioning" a film for Steven Spielberg was just too good to pass up! None of my student work was suitable, so I decided to create something new--something I have not actually done since leaving school. It felt good! Oh and I suppose I should mention, because it isn't obvious or anything, I'm a big James Marsters and Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan! Heh. (Actually, I meant to take the picture and VampireFish down, but forgot!)

How long did it take you to make your short film?

Filming and editing "Just Another Day" actually took about 2 months--but only because I found out about the contest in late October, and it was well into the holidays by the time I had everything set. It would likely have taken about 2 weeks if I had had nothing else going on.

Have you made other films? If so, how did the making of "Just Another Day" compare to previous productions?

I've only made student films, so I had the college and their equipment and the student body to cull people, places and equipment from, none of which I had for this one! However, making a film is pretty much a set process, just longer and more complicated, the longer and more complicated the script is. So in many ways, it was no different than anything else I've done, just with less support structure behind me. Really, it was just more things to have to think about logistically, but otherwise, pretty routine. On the other side of the coin, I hadn't done a video film in a long time (SF State insists on teaching film over video--mostly 16 MM filmmaking--VERY expensive! but worthwhile). and while I love the look of film more, it was heavenly to have the "film" cost so little and be able to use up as much as I wanted on endless takes (read on).

Any particular challenges?

Always! As I mentioned, I did this over the holidays (complete with out-of-town guests) so I was unable to get anyone to commit to the film, and I wound up having to act as well as direct--so NOT my intent! I also wound up having to film parts in L.A. and the rest in San Francisco--where my production partners live--as well as edit there, a 400+ mile trip each time, each way. And since I had to pay for this film--I budgeted myself about $1000 (and the airport alone cost $100 to use!)--I also had to continue my RL job, where I'm on-call 24/7, without a fixed schedule! So, I had to be very flexible to make all these things gel, as did my partners (thank you Julie Cramer and Peter DeCristofaro!). Directing and acting is a HUGE challenge. I can't see what I look like and going back to replay was too much trouble, so I had to rely on my partners to get what I needed and hope it came out like I envisioned. For the most part it worked, but I would NOT want to do that again!

One of the sillier challenges--I have the worst, most uncontrollable hair on earth! How was I going to make it work over the month of weekends we were filming? The whole "baseball fan" thing was an overlay I added (not in the script) because I bought a baseball cap to resolve (read: cover!) the "issue" and it grew from there!

Anyway, yes, there were many challenges, as in all films, but you just work your way through them.

Any challenges particular to the requirements of On the Lot?

Oh man, were there ever! The parameters of On the Lot are that the film be no longer than 5 minutes and had to have a definite plot (beginning, middle, end), with an introduction at least 30 seconds, but no more than 45 seconds. Do you know how HARD it is to tell a story in 5 minutes? Or maybe that's just me. In case it hasn't become obvious by now, I tend to be a bit loquacious. Heh. The first day we went into editing, the film came up to 8:30 and I wasn't even halfway through the story! And as we went along we discovered a few bits that needed clearing up, so we added more footage! Although I had intended to put the driving scenes in fast-motion, we had to speed it up first to 1200X (the highest the system goes) then that one to 500X! Plus the going up and down stairs had to be sped up, something I hadn't intended originally, but felt worked--the mundane constants in a courier's life! Finally, after several days, we got down to 5:30 and had a really tight, but still too long, film. We had to go in and take a frame or two here, and 5 or 6 frames there--just shaving what amounts to fractions of a second all over the film (30 frames per second, so some cuts were maybe 1/15th of a second) over and over. When we hit 4:57 we just stopped and yelled "We're done!" LOL!

I found the intro to be a real challenge, as well; I wanted to do it as one take (no edits)...and I kept messing up, especially my name, of all things (since I virtually only use it for official things, I guess)! It was really difficult to spit out everything I needed to say in 45 seconds cleanly--I took up 20+ minutes of tape!

Have all the things in "Just Another Day" actually happened to you?

As the sub-title says, "A (mostly) true story." In varying degrees and ways, yes, pretty much all of them--except delivering to the airport--that was always a pick up (and just try parking, going into a terminal, and getting out of parking at LAX in under 9 minutes, so you don't have to pay parking! I managed it only once in 1 ½ years!). Couriers make minimum wage (or a percent of the package price paid by the customer, depending on the company) and $0.25 a mile (this was 2 years ago, but I doubt it's gone up much). Virtually no one thinks to tip them--I got 3 tips in all that time, though one was $20--whoo hoo, made my whole week! And there is also a time limit to every package--most are 2-hour turnaround (from first call-in by the customer, to delivery!).

Rudeness, yes. Bathrooms not available to couriers, oh, yes. The 5 security guards at one building--including two in the 100-foot driveway and Mr. You-Can't-be-Seen-in-the-Lobby-Guy, oh yeah. The magazine, though...

See, there was a boutique in Culver City, and invariably I would have to pick up their package late in the day--often a couple of times a week and ALWAYS at the height of rush hour--and take it to a house in South Pasadena--about 35 miles--WAY at the top of this long hill--around and around and around! (I actually went back there and came down that same hill as the first part of the drive in my film!) I never snooped in my packages, but one day they were late getting it ready and I just had to verify that, yes, that was one (count them-1) current issue of People (or some such commonly found) Magazine, stapled into a shopping bag that I was killing myself--and my personal life--to deliver! GRRRR ARGGH. Finally, one day, one of the residents told me why--they managed the website for the boutique and they had to get the marked pages into the site before the magazine hit the stands so people could log on and buy what Angelina and Jen were wearing this week! Sheesh!

Oh and yes, I got MANY parking tickets! It's almost impossible not to. If it wasn't the delay in the building causing the meter to run out, it was the 5 conflicting parking signs, only 3 of which I had time to read!

If you could make your dream film, what would it be?

MacBeth starring James Marsters--absolutely! I also have a couple films of my own I would like to do, one a Sci Fi film from a short story I wrote many years ago (or it would be a great TV show, too!) :) and the other, a film about my mother's life in German-occupied Holland. Another idea I've toyed with is a modern retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel.

Has participating in "On the Lot" opened any doors for you as of yet?

Sadly, no. But I have no intention of quitting. I hadn't realized how much I miss the process of creating films, and I got all fired up at a recent Science Fiction convention to create more films for alternate outlets like the Internet and direct-to-DVD. And hey, I'm looking for scripts!

I've also been working on collecting footage for several planned documentaries as I travel around the country, and hope to edit soon. Besides, I'm an eternal optimist, and I have not given up hope! You never know who might look at "Just Another Day" up there on the website and say, "Hey, that's just what I'm looking for!"