11 Tips From Director/Writer/Editor/Producer of Indie Film “Cronies” EP Spike Lee

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February 29th was an exciting night for we had the chance to see a Film called Cronies. It was written, produced, directed, and edited by a young man called Michael Larnell. Cronies premiered to raves at the Sundance Film Festival and had also screened at festivals both domestically and internationally, including Tribeca Film Fest, Next Fest, and BFI London. Keep reading to learn about how produced and distributed his independent film on a student budget!

This event was produced by The Center for Communication: Connect with the Best Minds in Media and SVA Theatre.

Michael arrived towards the very end of the film and him, and his people sat next to me. I, of course, turned around and said hey Michael good film and for some reason he said “you too” lol, in my head I’m like I made a feature film too? And he saw it? I only have short films so far.

But anyway let’s get to the stuff you care about!

MOVIE SUMMARY: Louis and Jack have been friends since forever, so how could anything as lame as adulthood change that? But Louis’s first adorable attempts at grown-folk business are increasingly at odds with Jack’s ceaseless quest for no damns not to give. One hot summer day, Louis makes plans with his new friend Andrew, and Jack refuses to get left behind, both metaphorically and literally. Twenty-four hours later, everything has changed.

One of the pillars of this friendship between Louis and Jack is that Louis’ dad use to beat his son a lot, and Jack killed Louis father one day after seeing how badly he beat Louis. That’s why Louis can’t get rid of Jack; he feels he needs to stay in this friendship even though Jack is that hood guy that just doesn’t change while Louis gets a real job and new friend, Andrew.

Andrew, Louis, Jack
Andrew, Louis, Jack

Michael is a grad student from NYU Film program.

Photo by Romel
Photo by Romel

One of the things he said that really struck me was that at NYU Spike Lee is one of the professors and you get 1 on 1 sessions with him. If he likes your script/project. He actually gives you a grant (money) to go out and film it.

Michael actually said he wish he had a bit more if money to make the filmmaking process a little bit easier in terms of hiring more people. He wore many hats in this production. It’s something all us filmmakers share and one of his messages was that if you can’t find a person for the job, you need to fill it. Yea even makeup, (I have no idea how to do make up)

Michael was accompanied by one of NYU’s business grad Students who hopped on to handle distribution strategies. So far they’ve been successful and have gotten cronies to play in hundreds of theatre across the country.

Tugg.com
Tugg.com

She mentioned one of the most helpful distribution platforms was TUGG: “With Tugg, you can bring the movies you want to your local theater and watch it with your friends. Pretty sweet if you ask us!”+”Tugg gives audiences the power of choice in moviegoing, by bringing an on-demand experience to local theaters.” Click here to see their SITE

IFP
IFP

Another platform was IFP: “Independent Filmmaker Project is the name for a series of membership-based, not-for-profit organizations that produce programs that assist independent filmmakers in connecting with film-industry professionals and, ultimately, audience”. Click here to see their SITE

Photo by Romel
Photo by Romel

One of the crucial aspects of distribution and when thinking about who wants to see it is to know who is your target audience. The young lady on the left said it’s important so that you don’t waste excess money on distribution. For cronies they decided it would be a great educational movie to share with students.

Michael gave some good motivational words for filmmakers and that was ” no one will ask you to make the film, you just need to do it”.

I want to add on to that and say you need to really decide if you will or will not make a Film even if it’s a short. If you decide to make it then get started on pre production ASAP. I have a few friends at BCC who are very supportive and they tell me to make things and provide support, which is cool when you have people like that around.

I asked Michael how he felt about story boards and he said he can’t draw (many of us share that quality) so he knew a cinematographer from NYU and they both just wrote shot lists and took pictures of how the scene would look and locations.

Michael is from St louis and that’s where he shot this film. He said it’s way easier to film over there since theirs less people around and he had access to family and friends homes and stores.

I’ve seen one of my fellow filmmakers from BCC actually film locations and that would be the “video story board”.

I asked Michael how did he come up with the story. He basically said he started off with creating the characters. And then a story line and the world around them.

He also mentioned how most of the scenes are outside and that helped with image quality and of course lighting. He also decided to make the film black and white to help color matching easier. But it definitely adds a feel of “back in the day” even though it’s set in 2014.

Michael also used gospel music from his town, and local artists for his soundtrack. It played really well with the movie.

CASTING: In terms of casting, Michael stated that a few hundred people auditions. This huge number of people came out because local news stations did a report on the filming of the movie. The first process of casting was an improv scene. The people that stood out they called back and asked them to remember a few lines. He said he didn’t care if they needed the script. Jack stood out to Michael because he naturally had golden grills and he had remembered the lines too.

HERE ARE A FEW MORE PICTURES I TOOK AT THE EVENT:

Cronies Independent Film

romelcreates.com

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FINAL WORDS

It was really interesting to hear from Michael. As I myself want to make a transition from short films to features. I asked him what he thought was more important shorts or features and he said short films are for practice.

I enjoyed the movie. The story was very interesting and Michael loves close ups, most of the shots were up close to the characters faces.  That is something I like too, close ups. that way you can see the characters face and emotions more clearly. Plus I remember a tip from “101 things I learned in film school” by Neil Landau and that was “Give your audience the best seats in the house” for me I interpreted that as close ups and medium shots.

The film also consisted of interviews between the director and the characters. The characters were aware  of the camera during the interview but not during the story. Michael actually created conflict during the interviews by asking characters to reveal secrets and past history, for example: Jack killing louis’ dad.

Lets Recap on the important Tips:

  1. Use TUGG for distribution.
  2. Use IFP for more distribution.
  3. Know your target audience.
  4. “no one will ask you to make the film, you just need to do it”
  5. If you can’t draw just use a shot list and take pictures of locations and scenes.
  6. If you want an easier job during post production, make the movie black and white.
  7. Exterior Scenes make filming easier because of natural light.
  8. Use music from local artist (lowers production cost).
  9. Casting doesn’t need to be a grueling process. 1st improv + 2nd call back require knowledge of lines.
  10. Short films are for practice.
  11. Give your audience the best seats in the house.

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