Episode 268 — HaZ Dulull — Film Director

 

Episode 268 — Hasraf “HaZ” Dulull

Writer, Director, Producer HaZ Dulull started as a VFX Artist on feature films such as The Dark Knight and Hellboy 2. He quickly progressed to a VFX Supervisor role and was nominated for several VES awards on shows like Planet Dinosaur (BBC) and America: The Story of US (Discovery). His creativity and smart approach to production also led him to become a VFX Producer on series like Poldark Season 1 and The Aliens.

In between VFX jobs, HaZ created a number of short films. His shorts Project Kronos, I.R.I.S. and Sync all tapped into his love for grounded sci fi and served as proofs of concept for feature films. They also became internet sensations, launching his career as a visionary filmmaker. His debut feature film The Beyond, which he wrote, directed and produced, was released by Gravitas Ventures in January 2018 on all digital platforms.

HaZ’s second feature (which he co-wrote, directed and co-produced) 2036 Origin Unknown, is a sci fi thriller starring Katee Sackhoff. The film enjoyed a limited theatrical release in the US before being released digitally in the summer of 2018. Early in 2018, HaZ also directed four episodes of the Disney action-comedy, 8-part limited series Fast Layne. He also serves as a creative consultant on the series. In 2020, Haz has released a short film Battlesuit and has been in production for Mutant Year Zero, four quadrant action adventure, based on the popular video game of the same name.

In this Podcast, Allan McKay interviews Filmmaker HaZ Dulull about his beginning as a VFX Artist and how that knowledge helped him into directing, how he learned on the job, the importance of thinking as a producer, the secret to getting sponsorship for your projects — and so much more!

 

Hasraf “HaZ” Dulull on IMDb: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm2623609/

HaZ Dulull’s Website: https://hazfilm.com/

HaZ Dulull Signs with New Management: https://postperspective.com/director-hasraf-haz-dulull-signs-with-1stavenuemachine-gotham-group/

HaZ Dulull Directs the Disney Series Fast Layne: https://postperspective.com/disney-channels-fast-layne-director-hasraf-haz-dulull/

Hasraf Dulull’s Q&A in Cinefex: https://cinefex.com/blog/beyond/

Making of Origin Unknown in Cinefex: https://cinefex.com/blog/origin-unknown/

Hasraf Dulull’s Masterclass Science Fiction Filmmaking 101: https://www.headstuff.org/entertainment/film/science-fiction-filmmaking-101-hasraf-dulull/

 

HIGHLIGHTS:

[06:07] HaZ Talks About Unreal Engine

[09:10] HaZ Dulull Talks About Starting Out

[11:51] HaZ Shares His Background as a VFX Artist

[20:34] HaZ Gives Advice on Full Immersion

[21:16] How HaZ Made His First Short Film Project Kronos

[28:16] HaZ Shares the Process for His First Feature Film

[32:23] HaZ Stresses the Importance of Branding for Filmmakers

[36:38] HaZ Talks About the Importance of Staying Within Budget in Filmmaking

[43:59] HaZ Explains How VFX Shots Get Distributed on Big Budget Films

[49:45] HaZ Discusses Learning on the Job (without Going to a Film School)

[52:27] Allan and HaZ Talk About Areas of VFX That Produce Best Film Directors

[53:17] Allan and HaZ Discuss Thinking as a Producer

[59:15] HaZ Talks About Television Being a Writer’s Medium

[1:03:51] How to Pitch to Studios

[1:05:19] The Importance of Empathy in Professional Relationships

[1:14:18] The Secret to Getting Sponsorship

 

EPISODE 268 — HASRAF “HAZ” DULULL

Hi, everyone! This is Allan McKay.

Welcome to Episode 268! I’m speaking with Haz Dulull of Haz Films, a feature film Director and VFX Supervisor. We talked about a lot of cool stuff. Haz shared so much of his knowledge: the future of using Unreal, how he got started and his background as a VFX Artist, how he moved to being a feature film Director, pitching films to studios and so much more!

I’m excited for this one!  

Let’s dive in!

 

FIRST THINGS FIRST:

[04:02] I have a new free course on How to Build a Personal Brand. If you want to check it out, go to Branding10X.com and get all the lessons. We all need to start building a brand with intent. 2020 gave us a lot of reasons to hit the reset button. Go check it out: Branding10X.com.

[1:27:04] One of the biggest problems we face as artists is figuring out how much we’re worth. I’ve put together a website. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com! This is a chance for you to put in your level of experience, your discipline, your location — and it will give you an accurate idea what you and everyone else in your discipline should be charging. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com!

 

INTERVIEW WITH HASRAF “HAZ” DULULL

HaZ: Going pretty good, man! We’re casting for my third sci fi feature at the moment. It’s a bigger movie, which means bigger names, bigger budget. The process takes longer. But we’re getting close to announcing it. At the same time, I’m in production on an animated short which is financed by a comic book company. When it’s finished, it will be screened at the MCM Comic Con. And Epic Games is going to do a big PR push on it as well. It’s all being done inside Unreal Engine.

[06:05] Allan: I’ve been really encouraging a lot of software companies to develop tech Unreal. At the same time, I’m a huge advocate of realtime graphics for helping with filmmaking and finishing shots. But unless I’m on a project, I haven’t dabbled in it yet. I was talking with MPC in London and they were talking about going back to realtime post-process. After all this time, we’re starting to shake things up.

HaZ: It’s really surprising! I didn’t want to do realtime. I come from VFX where you render stuff properly, go into Nuke and make them photographically correct. There is this director Wes Ball who’s repped by the same Manager as me. I would see the stuff he was doing. I’ve never used Unreal before. I decided to try it out on my previs on Luna. I just fell in love with it. As a director, I’m able to use pretty basic skills. You just take a camera and bring some assets in, capture it in Qucktime and wow: You can see the movie! As a director, I use that to pitch, show [stuff] to financiers and even do casting. I’ve started to fall in love with that realtime process and started looking at the options like tone mapping, the motion blur is really good, you have depth of field. You can actually make animated content like this! I pitched it to the comic book companies because they wanted me to shoot it live action. But we didn’t have enough money for that. There are these big robots in the film! So I pitched them what I did in realtime. I did this test and put it online and it convinced them to do it. It’s amazing how technology influences decisions.

[09:08] Allan: I think you and I both know there is only so much you can render before you meet your deadline. I was working on the feature Flight and doing the main crash, and the network went down two days before the deadline. You had to entirely change directions. Now you had 2 days to fix it. With realtime, it’s changed things. Because of the feedback, it allows you to reiterate things a lot quicker. We should dive into this formally: Do you want to quickly introduce yourself?

HaZ: Sure! My name is HaZ Dulull. I’m a filmmaker who’s done feature films Beyond and Origins Unknown.

[10:24] Allan: Cool! One thing I’m always interested in is one’s origin story. A lot of people who are listening tend to think they’re alone in this. They have big dreams but they would never happen. So I’m interested to find out how everyone got started and the challenges they’ve encountered along their way. Did you always want to be a filmmaker?

HaZ: Yeah, I fell in love with it while building aspects of filmmaking when I was 12 years old. My dad bought a VHS of Bladerunner. I watched that and I thought, “I don’t know what’s involved in this but I want to be part of that!” I come from a very strict family that wasn’t up on the whole creative side. “I’m not sure you can get a job doing that, but you could get into computer programing.” So they bought me the Omega 500 to learn the program. But I would always buy other programs like Dulux Paint and do the creative side…

[11:49] Allan: You worked with Dulux Paint?! That was a huge catalyst for me! I love it!

HaZ: Totally, man! Eventually, I would do my A Levels and my first choice was art and design and tech. And my family was like, “Absolutely no! But how about you do math?” I managed to convince my parents that I would do computer science and design and tech. What they didn’t realize is that I had a scheme to make a computer game from that. I ended up doing that and my final year would end up being a computer game level. Which landed me a job at a computer games company.

[12:52] Allan: What year was that?

HaZ: At the university, it was around ’98.

[12:59] Allan: That was the bad CGI era. Everyone saw Jurassic Park and figured they could make that.

HaZ: Exactly! But at the same time, it was very inspirational [with films like] Terminator 2. But ended up working in game cinematics. It was very boutique-like back then. If you could do lighting, shading, animating, you’d do it all. I wasn’t very compartmentalized. We didn’t have the luxury of realtime, like we do today. We were limited with texture titles. I had textures of 64 X 64 pixels and I had to tile those, to make them work. We had to create art with really strict limitations. I will tell you later how that influenced me as an independent filmmaker. You work with those restrictions to make it look bigger. I did the cut scenes, start of every race.

[14:18] Allan: What software did you use?

HaZ: Yeah, I was using 3DS DOS. And we also had the early version of Character Studio and Alias Power. We also had Softimage. I remember massive manuals on our desks.

[15:08] Allan: Oh, man! The Softimage manual was like the ultimate item to make your bookshelf look badass — but you’d never use it!

HaZ: And then Playstation 2 came out and we, just like in the VFX industry, you move around in gaming. The only downside to the games industry is that you would work on something for 1-2 years, but you can’t use any of that material on your reel. There were some projects that got pulled out. Then I ended up working at Code Masters. I really fell in love with cinema! We were animating cameras and telling stories, dealing with narrative, lighting, all that! So I thought, “Why don’t I go work in the film industry?” So I put together my show reel (this was around 2002-2003). I sent it to every company and everyone rejected me. Then, this lead artist over at MPC rang me up and said, “We really like your reel but we use Maya. But also, we like CGI mixed with live action.” I took that advice and took a camera and did some really rough comps, just to show I understood it. Back then, I had to pick a position I had to be in. I was doing everything! I was convinced I would do compositing.

[17:42] Allan: I was just having dinner with a few Autodesk guys. I was schooling them that Combustion was  basically a wannabe Light Flame that had Edit and Paint built into it.

HaZ: But also it had that 2.5D – 3D comp in it where you could put a virtual camera in there. I started doing a lot of that. That kind of thinking in XYZ compositing — as opposed to just 2D — helped me transition into Nuke. I was working for this company called Kuju entertainment for a game called Battalion Wars. I sent my reel back to MPC and they said I could come in as a roto artist. I wanted to do everything! They asked me to choose one. I chose compositing because you can have the final say in the shot. I fell in love with it while working in games. My strong point was not 3D modeling or texturing. But I had a knack for lighting and look dev.

The first film I worked on was 10,000 BC. I was doing roto and I had to do roto on so much grass, it was crazy! But I had to [pay] my dues. Then I started moving to different studios working in film, tv, commercials. Eventually, I became a VFX Sup on a show called America: The Story of US. I stepped in temporarily, but they never ended up hiring anyone else. That’s a tip for everyone: Just jump in and throw yourself into the fire! Show what you can do.  

[20:35] Allan: I agree that sometimes people groom themselves but they wait more years than they should. Do you think that immersing yourself is the way to get yourself to adapt?

HaZ: Absolutely! [20:54] I think everything I’ve done in my career has been in the deep end. There’s never been, “Let’s take our time and figure it out.” It’s more like, “We’ve got 4 days to do this! GO!” You find the more efficient way of working. You’re not taking the long route. Sometimes, the best ideas come out of the necessity to find a solution.

[21:17] Allan: I want to pick your brain about big budgets vs small budgets. I think the big artistry of video games comes in looking at how to pull something off with technical limitations.

HaZ: The great thing I think my VFX background for is that being a VFX Sup for tv, you deal with budgets that are really tiny. But the ambition is high. The showrunners want something they’ve seen in a film. That’s how I got my hand into directing. Both with Planet Dinosaur (BBC) and America: The Story of US (Discovery), there were CG sequences that no one thought about how to pull them off. Directors shot amazing drama sequences. But then the showrunners would come on and want it a certain way. You end up jumping in as a VFX Sup, doing storyboards and pitching them to the networks. That’s how I ended up doing VFX Second Unit Directing. It was from then, that I started being on set a lot more. You start understanding how a set works, the work of the DP, how the 1st AD is the person to go to for everything. You learn to navigate the set and the studio politics for the sake of the project. Then I started doing budgeting at Primetime Focus in London. That became less and less [being] on the box. I found myself tweaking the shots myself. When you’re a creative, you’re a creative; but at the same time, I was starting to understand how to bid and how to maximize your budget and schedule. That became helpful when I was doing my own films.

As a matter of fact, let’s talk about my shorts. My first short film was called Project Kronos. I only had a 1,000 pounds, a Mac laptop, Adobe After Effects; but I had access to a lot of stock footage, particularly NASA footage which was free. I would download it and put it together like a documentary, and then I’d hire my actor friends to play scientists. I did it because I was working in documentaries already, but also I love sci fi! I made this short film and released it on Vimeo. The film went viral, millions of views! I was getting calls from agencies and production companies. I eventually got signed by a Manager and there was a bidding war for the project. You realize that studios are bidding to make your short. I’ve never written a feature film script before. My manager recommended I read this book called Save the Cat and write my script. That’s what I did! This company called Benderspink ended up winning the bid.

[26:40] Allan: I love these UK studio names.

HaZ: It’s all American! I had no interest in the UK. The films I made had a Hollywood look to them. All the actors had American accents. Everyone assumed I was an American. I was getting paid to write and I was getting brutal notes. Eventually, I had another writer come in to help out. In 2015, I was still working in VFX and I still haven’t made a movie. Even my agents were saying, “You just have to go and make it guerrilla style.” “But who’s going to finance it?” “You just have to figure it out!”

[28:17] Allan: What’s the formula? Go make a short film and then you get offered to make a Star Wars movie, right?

HaZ: It’s the opposite! Unless you’ve made a feature, you still have that first time director stigma. Every financier was nervous. I found it really hard! I was in my late 30s and I had some money saved up for a house. You know where this is going, right?! My girlfriend said, “If you don’t make this movie, you’re going to be kicking yourself. Go make this movie and if it does well, we’ll go buy a house.” We had around 50K. At the time Benderspink gave me the blessing to make the movie myself. The original script [would’ve cost] 35 million dollars. So I just went and made the film that makes the short film popular: a fake documentary. Kind of like District 9 meets Blumhouse narrative. I knew what I had and what I could do. I started writing the script in 2015 and in 2016 we started shooting. Around 2017, we were in post and we started releasing the trailer. While working on the movie, I had to quickly learn how to be a producer and talk to sales companies, distributors. I phoned every studio I had a relationship with, and they’d be like, “Oh, great! Who’s financing?” “I am!” I asked for their advice about what distributors looked for in sci fi. They loved alien stories, but please don’t do Star Wars. It’s never going to look like that. Go make something that’s character driven; films that had effects in them but really had characters. So at the end of 2017, we released the trailer. Do you know the site Looper?

[31:31] Allan: I feel like I should.

HaZ: They’re a popular culture site. They do this thing about the top 10 films to look out for in the new year. Number one was Ready Player One. Number two was Beyond, my film! Number three was Maze Runner. This came with a video clip and it was unbelievable.

[32:24] Allan: That’s so cool! And it came full circles, with how you were mentioning Wes Ball before.

HaZ: I know, it’s so weird! That really helped massively. It’s not really about making a movie and staying creative. A big part of independent filmmaking is PR and marketing. I know you’ve done some Podcasts about marketing. [32:56] You have to put yourself out there. You have to build your brand as a filmmaker. It can be a bit like, “I don’t want to do that”. People knew who I was from my short films, so when it came to my feature, there was a great narrative for the journalists. They wanted to write about the project, it wasn’t a hard sell. They wanted to write about how I transitioned and it became my thing. Beyond came out in January 2018. We made it for less than 100K. It’s a fake documentary with no name actors. It ended up becoming number two on iTunes. The thing is because it had so much coverage, the VFX world propelled the film into the world. I was using Blackmagic Cameras and Blackmagic Resolve.

[34:25] Allan: Which camera were you using, by the way?

HaZ: We shot on a variety: Blackmagic Pocket, the Cinema camera, and in URSA.

[34:35] Allan: I actually had Blackmagic on the Podcast recently (www.allanmckay.com/223). The URSA is great, but the Cinema has an internal battery.

HaZ: That’s the other thing about the film: We got a lot of sponsorship as well. I got Blackmagic to help out by providing some cameras and ZEISS to provide some lenses. I did all the graphics before production and played them on computer screens on set. It looks really cool! Then, my second film 2036 Origin Unknown got greenlit off the bat. Because Beyond did so well! My second movie was supposed to be my first one. I ended up writing this pitch treatment about a robot on Mars communicating with missing control at NASA. At the time, no one wanted to make a film about Mars. But the minute Martian came out, that was it!

[36:38] Allan: I think in general that story about your momentum shows how you get to excel at everything just by getting off your butt. So many people have short film ideas, but they don’t go and do it.

HaZ: But it’s also about not spending a fortune on your short films. I know a couple of filmmakers who are talented but they spend 100K on their film. But if you spend that much on a short, how much are you going to need for your feature? No one is going to give you a million to make your first feature, unless you’ve tied with a studio early on. When you’re talking to bigger studios, they can see that you’re fiscally sensitive and you can make the best out of your budget, and you’re efficient. That gives studios comfort. That’ s the route I took for the pilot I directed for the Disney Channel. Each episode was 2-3 million. But I remember getting a call from a VP at Disney and he said, “I usually make a different call, but I just want to say how are you hitting your days?!” Because I’m not making it like a Disney show — I’m making it as if it were an independent movie. I’m going to have a lot of cameras on set. I’m going to do previs in the hotel and then show that to the DP the next day. All that stuff I was doing in my films, I just moved into that production. I was able to get all the coverage I wanted and more, because I had more money and bigger crews. I just worry for filmmakers about meeting with studios. I have other people coming to me and telling me that they want to make a film for 30 million [for their first feature]. The impressive thing is not only how gorgeous it looked. The impressive thing is about having a great story with great performances, and you shot it in 10 days, for little money. Going around and telling people that you got people to do stuff for free — is a no-no!

When I released Beyond, I got a sales report from the distributor. We got our report in March — and we have covered our production completely. Our second sales in July, we had made 200% in profit. Now, I’m a profitable independent filmmaker. Then in August, Netflix comes in and says, “You don’t have a Netflix streaming deal.” The audience on Netflix is huge! So the film was still getting PR the whole year while I was making my second movie. When I ran up two VFX companies and they helped me render out the robots in the film. I put together a small team to develop but I needed help with rendering. But only had 5K to do it with. They helped me do it. So after the sales report, I asked them to invoice me for the film [because] the sales were profitable. I did that because I assumed that what “deferred” implied. But you don’t actually have to declare your sales.

[43:06] Allan: So you’re the honest filmmaker.

HaZ: Yeah, but only because I assumed that’s what you did. Coming from the VFX world and working on people’s projects for free, you often hear, “We’ll get you on the next one.” So being that filmmaker felt good and I want to continue to do that! It heightened the success story. I was able to honor back the VFX world; and if you stay within budget — everyone reaps the success.

[43:59] Allan: I think that’s really amazing! What’s your opinion on post-production houses doing work for free, hoping to get paid once a film gets picked up? How often do you think that comes through?

HaZ: I’ll tell you from experience: Whenever a filmmaker doesn’t go back to these small guys that helped him out massively, it isn’t because they don’t want to. The bigger the budget, the more the producers have to look at tax incentives. They can go to Canada and get up to 60% in rebate in VFX. If you do go back to the little guys, you get less visual effects. I set up a small unit of freelancers and made sure the production had enough money for those visual effects. I always made sure that those guys worked on those effects. There is this guy (who’s actually done your courses) whom I continue to hire on my films. A lot of the times, these decisions aren’t up to the filmmaker. Insurance companies aren’t always comfortable with freelancers. Sometimes, you have to put the business first over your friendships.

[46:17] Allan: I’ve seen this so many times! With a first time filmmaker, the producers want you to go to a bigger house so that they carry the work.

HaZ: What I’m doing on my current film, we’re going to a bigger house but we also have a nice section of the budget for the actual look dev. I know a bigger facility won’t give me that level of intimacy. If you want to make one change, it will cost more. While having a small unit of VFX guys I’ve already worked with, pay them their best salary, but I’m able to sit next to them. I get better value for the film! And that’s how I pitched it to the financiers! I’m still able to get big particle simulations from big companies, but I have a small house to do the look dev work. There isn’t that massive development budget. But these are small and massively talented guys. It’s great to have that because you have a shorthand. I don’t need to see dailies that much. But at every new facility, it’s a new relationship. I think that’s the benefit of being a filmmaker who’s gone through the steps of the VFX industry. To me, that’s my film school. I worked on The Dark Knight and I was soaking up all that information. [49:45] So anyone who wants to make films, you don’t need to go to a film school. If you’re in the VFX industry, you’re surrounded by the film world already. You just have to make the effort to learn and to put yourself out there.

[49:58] Allan: What’s your opinion on that? Most directors I know all came from VFX. I find that you either have a compositor who knows how to get the most from every shot; or in previs you end up having face time with the director. Those two areas are always the most impactful. Did you learn a lot during that time?

HaZ: Absolutely! The notes that would come back were all about timing. I was using Shake to do the post vis. I would take the playblast from Maya and do these temp comps. At the time, no one wanted to see in gray. I remember doing the screens in Morgan Freeman’s Batman Cave. That was me doing look dev. I had to learn how to do these very quickly and make sure that they tracked correctly. I had to figure out how to be smart and use my work flow efficiently. All that translates into filmmaking. “Can we push in more?” “Can we use a different lens?” [52:27] You start to understand how important fast decision making is. When becoming a director, you realize that being a director is not just having a vision and being creative, but also having management skills. If you have management skills, you can get the shots out quickly and you communicate in dailies meeting, for example. When you end up working for Disney, that helps you tremendously. The producers just leave you alone, “This guy knows what he’s doing!” You don’t have to fake it.

[53:17] Allan: I found that a lot of what I learned in producing, it helped me get more productive in managing myself and others. I always think about the bigger picture. Is that something that you found with producers: If you speak their language, do they worry less about managing you?

HaZ: It’s exactly what you said. When I went into production and then jumped back on the box, every decision I was making I knew how to ripple effect. That’s when you make guerrilla filmmaking. But when you go make a studio film like my second one, you start to realize that you can make decisions quickly. You have a crew of 30 people looking at you, “What are we going to do next?” In terms of producing, you can say, “We’re going to do this like this because it will save us this much time.” Then, if you think it’s going to take 2 hours, say it’s going to take 5 hours. Moving the camera across the room takes a lot more work: You have to change the lighting, move the crew, change the marks on the floor, all that stuff! That comes with the production side of things. Production always helps. I always tell filmmakers to at least try to understand your producers. If you don’t want to do production work, that’s fine. But spend time and listen to your producer! The relationship between a director and a producer is a battling one. My business partner and producer Paula Crickard comes to me and says, “I really advise you to condense these 6 shots because you only have a day.” Instead of my saying, “I really have to have these shots,” I just go back to the storyboard and talk to the DP, and change the way you’re going to do it. It’s just about having the courtesy to listen.

One of the biggest educations I had was working as a VFX Sup and a director would be insisting on something to get done. I would be looking at the crew and they’d be going, “That’s crazy!” It’s because that guy doesn’t want to listen. No one is going to take the title away from you. So listen! When people give you notes, those are the hardest things you would get. Instead of getting defensive, just take the notes — and they’re free. It’s up to you to decide if you are going to need those notes. But what I find is that these notes sometimes inspire you. If 30 people are talking about the ending, there is a problem with your ending. It’s up to you how you deal with them. Sometimes notes have grains of brilliance in them.

[59:15] Allan: I love how they have the brain trust at Pixar. Toward the end of a film, they would get them to give notes. As brutal as the notes can be, it’s still up to you to decide what notes to take. Of course, it’s different talking to the studio.

HaZ: I learned that really quickly working at Disney, especially for television. I’ve just done two feature films. Television is the writers’ medium, as well as the showrunners’. I remember my first day tweaking lines, and you can’t do that! You have two days in edit, and then producers do their cut. But that’s how that works. I ended up doing the pilot and the second episode and some of the last ones. I’ve learned that you just need to get as much footage as you can, do the best on your cut; and then the network will come in and do reshoots. Being a VFX Sup, I saw what it was like to be in the editing sessions. You get too exposed to that. So when you become a director, you would have learned a lot!

[1:01:27] Allan: With 2036 Origin Unknown, that’s your biggest baby at the moment, correct?

HaZ: That was my bigger movie for sure! That was interesting. Katee Sackoff wasn’t sure she was going to do the film. She asked, “Why should I do this movie?” and that’s the ultimate question. How do you answer that? You don’t mention how cool the movie is going to do. With actors, they want to know you won’t make them look silly. The actors will remember if you make a shit movie. I just nerded out with her. She plays a badass all the time. In this film, she would be a human being learning to deal with A.I. She wanted the challenge. Just make sure to research your actors. Like every artist, actors don’t want to do the same thing. When you’re making your comparisons, be very specific with your comparisons when you’re pitching to studios.

[1:03:51] Allan: Studios are like banks. They want to get a return.

HaZ: Exactly! You have to mention projects that have done really well. You can’t pick comparisons you personally like. There is an element of creative selection, but think about who your audience is. That’s the problem with creatives who haven’t done production.

[1:05:19] Allan: That’s brilliant! You’ve mentioned relationships a lot. When you understand the producers’ needs, you can communicate better. The same goes for actors: They can’t have a flop. With producers, it’s about how to turn one dollar into three. They care about what their money is going to get back.

HaZ: The thing is, you don’t know if a movie is going to do well. That’s the thing! You don’t know what the market is like. There was a time when horror films were huge. But then it was sci fi. You really don’t know. It’s all about timing. I was lucky with Origins Unknown. Everyone loved Martian, and we’re now sending probes on Mars. If you tried to do that 15 years ago, it would be too sci-fi-ish. If you’re dealing with A.I., it’s not a fantastical anymore. It’s about connecting with your audience.

[1:07:32] Allan: You brought up a valid point about trajectory. You went to a studio and said, “What do you need 2 years from now?” You’re positioning yourself to be in demand.

HaZ: Absolutely, man! And especially dealing with putting your own money into a movie, you cannot afford to lose. Every penny you spend is going to the screen. Having that mentality, I had to make those calls. “What are you looking for?” I needed to make sure distributors didn’t have trouble selling it. Character driven, robots, first contact, drama, etc. In a way, if you’re making a commercially driven movie, you need to balance out the paint-by-numbers with story; and make it possible for distributors to sell it.

[1:09:41] Allan: With Contact being a big inspiration, what was it about that movie that you looked at?

HaZ: Apart from Robert Zemeckis being one of the greatest filmmakers, it was the overwhelming feeling I got when I watched the film. When she receives that signal, it’s very simple but effective. I get chills every time. I always thought I really wanted to give that feeling to the audience. In my film, it’s more cerebral: It’s about consciousnesses connecting. When we got notes from screen testing, we got the big ones: For a documentary, it looks too good AND whom should we root for? I had to make my effects look like shit a bit. The distributor loved the movie the way it was. I edited the movie myself, went back and called my DP and told him to bring his camera and black screens. We blacked out my windows and we played back all the visual effects back into the camera. Now when you put that footage next to the talking heads, it feels like they were shot with the same camera. It’s a simple idea but so effective!

[1:13:17] Allan: I was hanging out with one of the VFX Sups from Blur. He was talking about filming on his iPhone, and how it looks better.

HaZ: There are certain things that cameras are doing that computers aren’t.

[1:14:18] Allan: I was curious about your strategy with getting sponsorship.

HaZ: That’s a very, very good question. I get asked that a lot. There is a thing of giving back. I usually say, “I’m making this movie. I want to showcase your technology. In return, I will do case studies for you.” I’m promoting my film at the same time. For them, it’s marketing material. They don’t have a lot of it, so it’s worth it for them. You’ll get a better response that way.  

[1:15:51] Allan: What’s next in store for you? Sounds like you’re busy.

HaZ: We’re getting close to casting the third feature called Luna. We’ll announce it in Berlin this year.

[1:16:20] Allan: Where are you shooting that, by the way?

HaZ: We’re going to shoot that on the Spanish Island. That’s a pretty cool location.

[1:16:31] Allan: One of my friends Ash Thorp (www.allanmckay.com/70) shot in Spain. He says he could’ve just shot it in the backyard.

HaZ: So true! My film is location central. The first movie Beyond wouldn’t happen without the location. It’s the space center. We just went to the Space Museum and in return we did some PR for the Museum. Locations are massive for me! That’s one of my favorite parts in pre-production. The other thing I’m working on is an animated film for a comic book company. It’s an animated short created entirely in Unreal Engine. There is no compositing.

[1:18:27] Allan: Technically, compositing counts as one layer…

HaZ: (Laughing.) I’m going to use that! That will be released at the London MCM Comic Con this year. Epic Games and Raizer are on board as sponsors. Glassbox Technology are partnered with us on this as well. I get to utilize the technology.

[1:19:10] Allan: We’re both speaking at the IAMAG Master Class. Let’s grab some beers. I have a thousand more questions. Plus, I want to find out how you ended up using Shake until 2007. I loved Shake to death, and then Apple acquired it. Weta are the only people who managed to keep it.  

HaZ: Double Negative did as well!

[1:20:12] Allan: I think you’re right!

HaZ: There was a small group of people using Nuke in London and I was one of them. I was able to use 3D objects. That’s why I end up doing a lot of space shows.

[1:20:59] Allan: One of the compositors at Digital Domain, he was showing me what he was rendering in Nuke. 3D is always going to be around, but when it comes to quick notes, you can do it in Nuke now.

HaZ: Dude, absolutely! One of the big things on the project at BBC was adjusting relighting in Nuke using position passes. It was just amazing! You could tweak the little things in front of the directors.

[1:22:04] Allan: What’s in store for you for the rest of the day?

HaZ: A couple of conference calls for the projects I’m pitching. Then, back into realtime animation.

[1:22:16] Allan: One of the things I get obsessed with these days is previs. I forked out 23 grand to get a Light R Scanner. There is so much freedom happening these days, where you can plan out your shots with accuracy.

HaZ: Absolutely! There is the production side, but also the raising money for the movie. If you go to my talk [in Paris], I’m going to talk about how I use Unreal Engine to convince financiers and actors to come onboard of my projects. They’ll keep asking what the film will look like. You will get to feel the tone of the film. Back in the day, you’d have to hire an animator to do that. God bless Turbo Squid!

[1:24:18] Allan: I’m going to get the founder of Turbo Squid back on my Podcast soon! I want him to talk numbers. People are putting their stuff up there. One thing I will mention that Ruairi Robinson is a buddy of mine, he’ll be in Paris as well (www.allanmckay.com/213). He just got a few 3D printers.

HaZ: He’s doing that one-minute thing in Iceland. He’s such a dude! I was a bit of a fan.

[1:25:39] Allan: I’ve known him since I was 14!

HaZ: I’ve been obsessed with his films. But then I got to meet him, and he’s just this super nice guy. It’s nice to connect! Whenever I get to LA, I love meeting up other directors and creatives.

[1:26:25] Allan: So important! It’s more about catching up and I love going to those hubs. Let’s nerd out with alcohol next time.

HaZ: Thanks so much, dude! Look forward to seeing you!

 

Please review this Episode on iTune. Next week, I’m interviewing Andrey Lebrov. I’m also sitting down with Crafty Apes, VES Society and many other cool guests! We also have Mike Janda and Tom Ross on the Podcast.

I remember being in a car with four other artists in Germany. I introduced myself, “Hi, I’m Allan McKay” — and everyone said, “Rock on!” I didn’t even realize I’d been saying this on the Podcast.

I am rebranding my Podcast now. But for old time’s sake —

Rock on!

 

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