Dominic Buchanan has been bouncing around collecting experiences and understanding of the process of filmmaking and business for some time, and in recent years has been working with various film companies and produced a variety of short films. Now, after getting a taste of the film ourselves at the London Film Festival last October, his new feature film Gimme the Loot is released in UK cinemas. For our money, this is bound to be one of the best films out this year (trust us! Check the trailer after this interview). Dominic was good enough to provide us with an insightful conversation regarding the film; from winning the Grand Jury prize at SXSW, to inspirations, and happy accidents.
Thank you for taking time out to do this Q&A with us. Since a lot of our readers are hip-hop music fanatics, can you tell us a bit about the title, Gimme The Loot, and why it suits the film so well?
Well, firstly – and to get this out of the way it is the title of one of my favourite hip hop songs EVER. I mean, I know every bar of that song, the storytelling is incredible. The comparisons however, end after that. It suits the film because it sets the tone. These characters are on a sort of action adventure.
Where does the story of Gimme The Loot begin for you: a conversation with Adam Leon (the director) or was the script sent your way?
The story of the film begins in March 2010. I have known Adam for several years, and at that time he sent me the script to read, purely as a friend, also as someone who read scripts for a living at various film companies. I read it and sent notes back, as constructive as I could be. The script felt fresh, and fun, something that I definitely could vibe with. I was out in New York a month later and we had a conversation about it, but it sort of ended there. Many months later I was back out in NYC and Adam had a sort of fire in his eyes. We were on the roof of his apartment block and he gave me the ‘director pitch’ … which is basically when they are not going to take ‘no’ for an answer. He asked me if I wanted to be a part of it and I immediately said yes.
For me, Gimme The Loot is contemporary tale both realistic and also kind of majestic; a feel-good, romantic The Bicycle Thieves, if you will. And like that film, it’s original and artistic and yet so accessible – were you pleasantly surprised by the Grand Jury prize at SXSW, or would you have been secretly cursing the panel if you had lost?
Thank you, that is a very nice comparison! The moment we won I shall never forget, for multiple reasons but mostly because really did not think we would win. Adam even gave the team (we showed up in force to SXSW, cast and crew) a speech to help manage expectations, we were there for the ride and we should never forget that. It was a wise move and I did appreciate that for everyone, even me. However, sitting at the awards show, knowing that if we did win, it would and could only be an audience award – because we were quick to realise we had gained good positive reactions from the premiere. The audience award segment came around and we didn’t win! I wasn’t shocked, but felt a sigh of relief because I could just enjoy the rest of the show and go to the party. Then the Grand Jury prize segment came around, the presenters gave a speech, basically a shout out to all the fantastic performances from actors that were in the competition films. When none of our actors were mentioned, I knew we had it. I haven’t told many people that for fear of arrogance, but damn it still was a shock to the system!
What is your favourite part of the process of filmmaking?
It’s funny you ask, because every project is different, and presents different challenges. But I only like to be involved if I can be on a film from the very beginning, or as early as possible. Otherwise it is hard for me to make a true connection and my heart wouldn’t be in it. But to answer your question, if you’ve got to the position where you can shoot a film, and you’re on set and have surmounted every possible obstacle to get you there – to see everyone involved share a moment – and those moments can be based on anything, is delightful for a producer. The reason I say this is because it is so hellish for producers, we rarely get given a moment to breathe [if we’re doing our job well] especially in the run up to production. To see it all working, even for 15 seconds is happiness.
What made you, and your co-producers, such a good team with the director? Is it important to have similar value and taste in films? Were there any films you looked at beforehand?
The most important thing for any team, producers and filmmakers alike, is to share an ambition. If one person on your set does not share this then your film will lack as a result. That may sound melodramatic but the ripple effect of bad energy is chaos. So us sharing a true ambition was the most important thing. But practically, we have mostly different skillsets. So we were able to truly pool our talents for the betterment of the film.
With regards to references, Adam schooled us in different things, for example the soundtrack was laid out for the most part before we started shooting. That set a very specific vibe. Sidney Poitier’s UPTOWN SATURDAY NIGHT were screened for the DoP and a few others, which allowed people to understand a sort of tone and free wheeling spirit. We always talked, sometimes extensively about vision, and making sure we were all on the same page was invaluable.
What was pre-production like, trying to find some of the great cast? Are they all trained actors?
This process was like no other, a one of that you couldn’t recreate. We started casting lightly before we even had all our funding. Not out of naivety (well maybe a little), but definitely through determination. Almost all of the actors had never been in a feature before, or anything major. Actually I’m not sure if any of them had. We also did some street casting, which took a while to find people. Adam wrote the male lead role with Ty Hickson in mind, but we still put him through the audition process to make sure he vibed well and was going to take it seriously. We found two girls who were cast as the lead, both times it didn’t work out for various reasons, then we finally found Tashi and we knew we had someone special.
Hardly any of them are classically trained, however they attacked the process with a level of maturity that took most by surprise. We couldn’t have asked for more.
Is there an eureka moment when you know you have the film ready to show? Did you test with audiences?
We did a couple of screenings to a close network of trusted friends, and then threw in some random people who knew nothing about the film into the mix. This was done very late though, purely because it was about testing what we already knew – scenes that were proving tricky and unsure of. For the most part though we kept it internal and Adam worked very closely with Morgan the editor, who by the way did a fantastic job. I think the ‘eureka’ moment arrives when you realise there is nothing left to cut!
I understand filming was a little Guerrila-esque. Considering how hectic New York is, was shooting more intimidating or more fun: with the possibility of passers by ruining shots, or technical difficulties, are these fun challenges or fiddly issues getting in the way of the whole process?
I want to make as many films as I can in NYC. I love that city so much. No disrespect to London and other parts of the UK, but there is a certain energy when shooting in NYC. A production of our size can get away with a few things here and there because we are much smaller than the average production in the city. Also, and forgive me for swearing, but New Yorkers do not give a shit about you and your camera! I think we only had two people walk into frame and try and return or get in the way. New Yorkers are a special breed, I mean that in the nicest way, there is a shot towards the end of the film when a character does something on the street which is wrong. A passerby saw this and gave a reaction you could not audition for, it was her natural reaction. We could have cast for years and not got that, more so because it was so unexpected and now lends itself to the film!
Where does the process end for you? At the festivals, once you sold Gimme The Loot? Or maybe it’s not over yet, with theatrical release coming and then DVD?
The process never ends, you sign up for a film and the good ones will haunt you. We are gearing up for our UK release but then there are still film festivals who want to screen it, we still want as many audiences around the world to see it so our sales agent is trying to sell it further. It’s funny because you work so hard to make the film, and then if you’re lucky enough and can attain any critical acclaim, which sometimes leads to distributors wanting to buy the film if they believe audiences would want to see it. Well all of that is still early on in the films life, it goes through chapters, and any filmmaker needs to know that from the outset.
Can you tell us about Lilting? And perhaps beyond, do you have an idea of the kinds of films you want to make, in terms of material, scale and whatnot?
Lilting is very special because it is a film that you shouldn’t be allowed to make in the UK, which does not involve sex, violence, council estates or vampires. That’s not to say I will not dabble in genre based projects in the future (more on that later), I say it because it is a drama, which is sort of a dirty word in film world. It stars Ben Whishaw and Cheng Pei Pei (Jade Fox in CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON) and tells a soulful mature tale about loss, memory, language, love and different cultures. It’s finishing the post production process and we’re hoping for another World Premiere at a special festival.
I want to keep growing as a producer, I want to make films that challenge audiences and entertain them. I also have guilty pleasures and want to make films that evoke that feeling you had when first seeing RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, or even ROBOCOP. I love blockbusters too. I studied film from its inception to the new millennium so my taste and influences run far and go deep.
What do you want audiences to get out of Gimme The Loot?
I want them to have fun, and if we have managed to allow them to do that, they should tell as many people about it as possible!!! When audiences don’t go to the cinema to see films like this it makes it harder for us to make them again.
Dominic, thank you for your time!
Gimme the Loot is in cinemas this Friday, May 3rd. Keep an eye out for About To Blow’s review mid-week, just before the film’s release. Do yourself a favour and check out the details below or visit gimmetheloot.com. Article by James A. George