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July 28, 2014 | by  | in Arts Film |
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Interview with Doug Dillaman

Doug Dillaman is the writer and director of local feature film Jake about the trials and tribulations of self-funding and self-promoting an independent film in New Zealand.

What is the inspiration behind Jake?
The idea for Jake came partially from Jake Gyllenhaal and me idly wondering if his career would be the same if he was named Jacob, and partially from being in a bad mood and wondering if somebody else could take the raw materials of my life and make something better out of them. I realised they probably could, but who would play that part? An actor. And it just grew from there.

I’d been making movies with my friends in Hybrid Motion Pictures for a year. We’d get together every weekend and make movies, the way a band gets together for band practice. (I was a drummer in punk-rock bands before I ever thought about making films, so it just made sense to make your own movies the way you make your own music.) Most of the movies were terrible – we’d go start to finish in a day, take turns acting, and generally have fun – but it taught us how to work together, and got us excited for a big challenge. Which making a feature certainly is.

How did you manage to self-fund the film?
Through countless favours. There was a cash component, of course – which meant working hard, saving money, living off soup, using some credit cards, and all those normal things – but for every dollar I spent we’d have ten times as many in various forms of goodwill. All the actors and crew worked for no money up front, and gave us passion money couldn’t buy. Concierge NZ fed us – and fed us well – every day. Our DOP worked at Panavision and they gave us amazing access to their equipment. And so on.

The main lesson for anyone who wants to self-fund their own film is to ask lots of people for favours. There’s a lot of people who love to help out people who are trying to achieve their dream. There are also a lot of people who will say no. Smile and move on, don’t give up.

What have been some of the biggest challenges in distributing a local film in New Zealand?
The actual mechanics of distributing a film are quite easy, really – you just need to have the OFLC rate your film, then take a hard drive with the film on it to a theatre. It’s convincing people to show up and theatres to take the chance that’s the problem! So much of successful distribution is marketing, in all its aspects – posters, trailers, flyers, social networking, TV, web interviews, radio, print, and I’m probably forgetting a dozen other things – and having a plan to reach the right people with those tools. It was a huge learning curve for us as self-distributors, and my other producers Alastair Tye Samson and Anoushka Klaus have been doing the hard yards these last few months bringing it all together.

The biggest rewards?
Finally connecting to an audience! For me, movies are all about the cinema experience, and I’m so grateful to anyone who goes and sees Jake in a theatre as it’s meant to be seen. We were told many times through the process that there wasn’t an audience for such an unconventional film, so it’s been fantastic to see that there is – I’ve sat through both Auckland and Wellington premieres, and to be with an audience laugh, flinch, and applaud has been a truly validating experience.

What have you learnt about the film environment in New Zealand? Is it very supportive?
New Zealand filmmakers are very supportive of each other, I’ve found. Alyx Duncan (director of The Red House) and Sophie Henderson (writer/star of Fantail) gave us lots of advice and information, many of which they’d in turn received from other filmmakers. And the theatres who have taken us on have also been hugely supportive – particularly the Paramount in Wellington, who have backed us for a several-week run.

Would you do it again?
If the right idea came along – either something that I could execute for a very small budget, or something bigger I could get money for – sure. For the moment, I’m writing a novel at the IIML, and that’s my big project for the near future. But both of my other producers have feature-film ideas in development they’re keen to write and/or direct, so I’m hoping I can play some role in bringing those to fruition.

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