Finding Joy in the Apocalypse
Mon, 02/28/2011 – 19:00
Filmmaking duo Dan Black and Ryan Convery took a crazy idea and $7,000 and turned it into Joy and the Apocalypse, an independent movie that’s now hit both television and the big screen.
By John DeCarli
“The sky is falling,” exclaims one character in the new film Joy and the Apocalypse, a drama set on the eve of the apocalypse. As any independent filmmaker will tell you, making a low-budget film isn’t easy. It takes resources, connections, lots of skill and even a bit of luck. Sometimes it may even be the filmmaker claiming that the sky is falling. But with an eye for screenwriting, a love of planning and a knack for business, directors Dan Black and Ryan Convery managed to get their film off the ground and even on the air at MyTV New England. NewEnglandFilm.com spoke with the directors after the film’s broadcast debut and theatrical premiere.
John DeCarli: How did you guys begin collaborating?
Dan Black: Ryan hired me at ITV Studios in Beverly after I graduated from Keene State College. I had worked with him in the past, and he knew about my screenwriting background and how I used to work as a screenplay reader for an agency based in L.A. and in New York. At the time, he was working on a script for a film he was making that summer called Mourning Wood and he asked me to read it. I was very hesitant. With my experience as a reader, I knew that a good script was hard to come by. I took his script home with me and read it over the next two days. The formatting was horrible and the grammar was atrocious, but I laughed… a lot. I spent the next couple days asking myself why this script was better than all the others I had read for the agency. To this day I have no clue.
JD: How did you two come to work together on Joy? How did the idea for the project come about?
Black: While Ryan and Fat Foot Films were working on Mourning Wood, he and I stayed in touch and continued to talk about movies and interesting ideas. In the summer of 2010, I told him about an idea that I’d had in my head for three years. He said he liked it and wanted to see a script. Over the next two and a half months, I wrote and collaborated with my Keene State classmate Aaron Bouchard. He was the one who suggested that the story take place on the eve of the apocalypse. I thought that was a great idea so I wrote it in the script.
JD: Ryan, what did you learn about low-budget filmmaking on Mourning Wood that helped prepare you for Joy and the Apocalypse?
Ryan Convery: I learned that no matter how crazy of an idea you have, you can do the impossible with no budget and a great team that supports the idea. Trying to plan for the actual filming part is like planning for an earthquake: no matter how many things you glue down and tape, there’s always stuff that is going to shake free and break right in front of you. As long as you are ready to think outside the box with any problems that get in your way, you can get the job done and have fun while doing it.
Black: Planning and solving problems is one of my favorite parts about filmmaking, too. I like working with Ryan because he has a lot of great ideas and he gets very excited. It’s nice to see someone who shares the same passion.
JD: Before the film was shot, you teamed with MyTV New England, who would broadcast the film. Why was this release model good for you?
Black: I put money down for television airtime on MyTV just after our crew was lined up and the locations were being scouted. I knew one of the executives there who wanted to start an Independent Film Series. Because we now had airtime on television, we were able to get a lot of talented actors to come to our casting calls. We made the film for only $7,000, but MyTV allowed us to be broadcast to 2.5 million homes in one of the top markets: Boston.
JD: MyTV uses a “branded entertainment” business model, which funds local programming through connections with local businesses. What was it like working with businesses on a film?
Black: A lot of the product placement in the film just came from customers who wanted to be acknowledged that they helped out with the film, but becoming a business advertiser goes across the spectrum. Some businesses don’t want to be in the movie, but they want a quick commercial. Some people just want to be in the movie and they give a little money to quickly advertise. If a business owner wants to give the production a lot of money, that usually involves re-writing scenes and working with the client. So it’s really a balancing act of trying to get what the artist wants and what the business owner wants. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but you have to know when it’s worth it and when it’s not.
JD: How was your experience with MyTV New England? Would you recommend it to other local filmmakers?
Black: Our experience with MyTV was great. They allowed us the resources, space and flexibility to be successful. I would recommend it to filmmakers who are starting out and want to prove themselves to others. The MyTV experience also makes you realize how important the business side of things really is. There are a lot of artists out there, but not a lot of artists who can be somewhat business savvy, and that is usually why a film will never get made.
JD: It seems like working together on the script was a natural fit for you both, but what was it like co-directing the film? How did you split your duties?
Black: Ryan and I always had a plan going into the next shoot. We would make sure we had everything and everyone we needed and go over storyboards and shot lists. We read the script over and over again in case we ran into troubles. Anything can happen when you shoot in the city. When we did run into a problem, we would solve it together with the help of the crew. It worked out very well and there is no one I would rather direct a film with. Ryan also has a lot of spontaneity and he has some really great ideas on set when the energy is flowing.
JD: Joy has a lot of impressive exterior shots in Boston. What was it like coordinating a crew around the Boston area?
Black: The weather constraints made it very difficult. We started shooting on September 18th and we needed to have all the exteriors done before the snow fell. That left a little less than two months. It rained a lot this fall and shoots were constantly being rescheduled and we had to rewrite exterior scenes as interiors on a moment’s notice. Let me tell you, it pays off having a writing background when you are directing a film. Ryan and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how we could put our characters in different locations and settings, which was difficult since the whole film takes place over the course of a day.
JD: You guys have both stated that you enjoy post production. How did your editing process go?
Black: With all our shooting done by the second week of January, we only had three weeks to edit the end of the movie, mix the audio, score the film and add music and graphics before our premiere. The week after our final shoot, Ryan and I pulled all night editing sessions. Then I came down with a fever of 103! I should have been bedridden, but I continued editing because there was still a lot to be done. Together with our post- production audio mixer Jared Herman, we only had four days to mix the entire movie. A lot of sleepless days later, with a lot of coffee and Jager bombs, the audio mix was done.
His hard effort and dedication is what saved the movie.
JD: What has the reception of the film been like?
Convery: The reception has been truly great. We’ve been getting nothing but praise. At the after party for the premiere there were other indie producers and directors who came up to us and said the film looked very professional and were absolutely blown away that it cost less than $7,000, including television airtime.
Black: I think they were jealous!
Convery: We also got a lot of great compliments on our acting and we did have great actors for this film. Reza Breakstone and Vanessa Leigh are truly outstanding and we expect great things to happen to them from this project and in future projects.
Black: Chris Murphy said he loved it and gave us the good news that MyTV wanted to move it from a matinee movie to a primetime slot. I told Chris I didn’t have the money for it, but he told me MyTV New England would cover the difference. They loved the movie so much that they bumped a Denzel Washington movie that was going to play in that spot originally. Take that, Mr. Washington!
JD: What are your future plans? Will you together again?
Black: Our plans are to get as many people to see and buy Joy and the Apocalypse as possible. I have no future plans to make a movie anytime soon. I am completely burned out.
Convery: My crew and I plan on doing a handful of music videos for the composer of Joy and the Apocalypse, Eryk Jones, while also shooting a few shorts to try out some different styles of filmmaking, special effects and animation. We’re also doing a bunch of film festivals and horror conventions as well. I plan on staying as busy as possible.
Black: This guy won’t stop till he’s dead!
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