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We always like to explore those many different avenues that cinematic storytellers have taken in order to offer our readers any and all nuggets of wisdom that they can use in their own journey.
Here we sit down with indie writer/director Kenneth Andrew Williams (KAW) to discuss his career leading up to his indie horror film Expulsion, which is currently in production.
ScreenCraft: How, when, and where did your storytelling roots begin?
KAW: I was lucky to have parents that let us watch all kinds of films as a kid. So, I was drawn to storytelling early on. But I can say I became pretty enamored with storytelling -- particularly dialogue and character development -- by age 10. We moved to Los Angeles around then so I guess it was just in the air. And from that age on I've been refining my screenwriting craft and thankfully it still continues to improve.
ScreenCraft: Where did you learn the ins and outs of the actual filmmaking process, as far as camera work, production, editing, etc.?
KAW: Where I really learned the true ins and outs of the filmmaking process was writing and directing my first feature, Wrong Place Wrong Crime. We shot that on 16mm, so there was very little room for error. However, s***loads of mistakes were made and that film took a long time to make. But I learned real world techniques from pre-to-post production that I still use today. That project was the beginning of me finding my voice as a director -- how I wanted to use the camera to help tell the story or add subtext, usage of different color schemes to help indicate mood and tone. All of these I still use today and started with WPWC. And that film taught me first hand about the importance of having a great team of talented people around you. I'm over the moon to say that I have great people involved with my upcoming horror film, Expulsion.
ScreenCraft: You have a background in shooting music videos and commercials and it seems that many Hollywood directors came from that medium as well. How has that experience helped your feature directing?
KAW: Yes, I do indeed have an extensive background in both. The impact those have had on my writing and directing is unparalleled because you have to make your points within 30 seconds for commercials or 3 minutes for music videos. Prior to this, my writing went on and f***ing on. Now, as a feature film screenwriter and director, I can work with precision and not subject anyone to a 180 page script that is 77 pages of meandering filler. Plus, with commercials and music videos you work fast as hell so speed and precision is expected. Although the two don't usually go together, you have to make it work in those worlds.
ScreenCraft: You also write your own films as well. What are the pros and cons of developing, writing, producing, and finding distribution for your own scripts?
KAW: It's all cons every step of the way! Just kidding. Developing and writing your own work is total creative freedom. And, in some ways, can be the best part of it. There are no limits on your ideas and that is thrilling.
Now I don't care how old you are -- once you step into producing a feature, your hair will immediately f***ing turn gray. It's inevitable. Producing usually deals with money first. And one of your options can be self-financing, which will age you 20 years overnight just by entertaining the idea. The pros to this is retaining all of your creative freedom as a director. The cons are obvious.
Another option is crowdfunding, which I'm personally not a big fan of. I did this only once as we needed a couple of grand for post on my film Cupid's Requiem. It was like a full time f***ing job doing the crowdfunding campaign. And you really have to bother the s*** out of people for 30 days straight to be successful at it. It stressed the f*** out of us and I loathed the experience. But obviously it does work for a great many people. The pros are that you get help from "the people" to finance your film and you build an audience as you go. The cons are that this is harder than it looks!
Lastly, there are investors. The big questions with this avenue is "Where are the investors?" and "How do you find those motherf***ers?" Fortunately, there's a few dozen ways to find investors. And when it's the right fit for your project -- and they're legit -- they can literally be saviors to you and the picture. The flip side of the coin is that some "investors" are not legit at all. These types fall into the category of lying, creepy motherf***ers who have interest in the project but never come through. Oh, and hot tip -- if you meet an investor who has to go out of the country right when negotiations start to solidify, be aware. You might not hear from them again.
After you've written your kick ass, flawlessly executed screenplay, gathered great talent and a crew that is second to none, acquired sets and locations that add aesthetic and production value, and navigated the financing route, you make an awesome film. Sounds easy, right? That's actually the easy part when compared to finding distribution of merit. It's not impossible at all! But it is easier when you have at least one person around who is knowledgeable of pitfalls that need to be avoided. Keep this person close. You won't regret it.
ScreenCraft: What is the most difficult aspect of indie filmmaking and how have you overcome it?
KAW: I think the most difficult aspect is being heard. At the end of the day this is a look at me and listen to me business. And there are a lot more voices now. And it can be a bit daunting. The best way to overcome this is to believe what you do is great. Have a healthy dose of self-confidence. It'll come in handy.
ScreenCraft: What is the best advice you can share for those screenwriters out there wanting to shoot their own script?
KAW: The best advice I can give is to stop reading this and get a white-collar job. You'll encounter so much less disappointment. However, you'll also wind up [figuratively] developing a drinking problem and jumping to your death from a building. So, let's discuss 8 healthy alternatives.
Your first script or film might be a masterpiece or a piece of dog s***. If it turns out to be the latter, don't fret. Learn from your mistakes and make the next one better. If you know what NOT to do, then by process of elimination you'll know what to do.
Some people find success very early in. Others have to grind it out for decades. Neither person is better. And comparing your journey to others is a road to ruin.
It can be terrifying to go into an endeavor such as writing and directing. Very easy to let the fear tell you to push something to tomorrow or next year. Something I learned is to intentionally let the fear overtake you for 2-3 days until you're face down in the dirt. When it passes you'll see that there's nothing to fear. Failure? It's part of life. But you learn more from failing than from success. Two of the biggest things you'll learn is finding out who you are as an artist. The other is finding out who your friends are. Trust me on that one.
If you post an excerpt from your script or a scene from your film on social media and don't get 8,000 likes, it's okay. People are busy.
Try not to fall into the habit of writing the same kind of material. Switch things up and challenge yourself. You never know when venturing into a new genre will spark the overwhelming urge to direct. And you'll feel like a f***ing rock star when you pull off new material that seemed impossible before. That's definitely what happened when I wrote Expulsion. I'd been wanting to write horror for some time but was hesitant because it was an unfamiliar genre. Once I committed, I was more than pleasantly surprised with the outcome.
This can sometimes be the most overlooked part of filmmaking. And it can have a direct negative impact on principal photography and the overall project if overlooked. If you wrote the screenplay then you know how it needs to look. Storyboard and shot list that s***. Let the actors know in clear terms what you're looking for. They're your allies!
Not many people get anywhere playing it safe. If you have an idea that just seems too weird, that's the one that might get you noticed. Great example is Swiss Army Man. A bit weird? Yes. Does it work? Yes. A film about a farting corpse with boners works on so many levels. Enough said.
Put a s***load of thought into where you want your career to go. Then work your ass off to get there. You'll encounter a lot of no's on the way. It happens to everyone. Just don't quit. And remember this -- If you do something long enough, you'll become good at it. If you're good at something long enough, you'll become great at it. If you're great at something long enough, you'll get paid for it. That's my theory, anyway.
Kenneth Andrew Williams is a well rounded writer/director known for his ability to tackle dark and intense subject matter. With an extensive commercial and music video background and four features to his credit, Andrew is quickly becoming an emerging voice in the independent film world. For more info on Andrew, he can be found on IMDb, Facebook, and you can find more info on his upcoming horror film, Expulsion.