Writer/director/actor Mike Yebba’s latest short film Ordinary Man hit YouTube ( http://youtu.be/EJdd407mNmk ) and I talked with the Massachusetts native about the film, making shorts and his opinion on the Boston film industry.
You just released Ordinary Man on YouTube, where did the idea behind the script come from? Being a father, what about the story is the most meaningful to you?
Mike Yebba, “My son Chris, who was 7 years old at the time, and I were having a typical conversation about video games and super heroes and he asked me, ‘who my favorite superhero was?’ After a back and forth with Chris, I began thinking how that could be the foundation in a screenplay I had been working on about a home invasion. The home invasion idea wasn't working by itself and I needed a catalyst.
“Being a father, the most meaningful part of the story is knowing when and where the origins began and the father/son bonding that takes place throughout the film. My kids have told me on numerous occasions that I am their hero and there's nothing more gratifying than hearing that from one of your children.”
What was the shooting schedule like for Ordinary Man? How many days to shoot, how long did it take from writing to final edit?
Yebba, “Once I finally had the story worked out in my head, putting down on paper only took a day. I then teamed up with Amy DePaola and we began putting the project together. We only had a 4 day shooting schedule with multiple locations which makes for a very difficult production. To add to the lack of shooting days, we had to fight with Hurricane Irene. We had a crew on standby ready to set up an outdoor shot and every time we got a few minutes of clear sky we'd run outside and get what we could. I ultimately didn't get exactly what I wanted both inside and out due to the weather. Unfortunately I didn't have the luxury of doing re-shoots or rescheduling because of the budget and the actors’ schedules. Like most independent films, we used what we had and started the post process.”
For a short film shot locally, how did you land Ethan Embry and the others in the cast?
“I met Ethan years ago when he was interested in playing the lead in a feature I co-wrote with Emilio Mauro. The feature fell apart and when Ordinary Man came together I reached out and asked Ethan to be involved. Brian Scannell, Jay Giannone and Brian S. Goodman have been friends for years. Paige Turcotte I knew from working on The Town. After hearing Ramiro Torres talk about how he was interested in acting, I asked him to join the cast. It all came together fairly quickly through relationships I've established along the way,” Yebba explained.
I've seen this and your other short Bad Blood, what about shorts do you enjoy making? As a filmmaker, do you recommend others to make shorts before going out and doing a feature length?
Yebba, “Shorts are extremely difficult to tell a compelling story and keep entertaining in such a short amount of time. With Bad Blood I felt as though my story telling was good, but I lacked a budget to make a technically sound film. We had audio issues on set which cost far too much to fix in post and so I ended up with what I felt was solid acting and story telling, but an inferior production which was no ones fault but mine.
“With Ordinary Man I was so focused on not repeating the same technically failures I believe I lost focus on the story and directing elements. I wanted so badly to have the beautiful shots and fighting elements and various locations and shine in the areas I hadn't with Bad Blood that I lost sight in other areas. I mis-cast, I mis-directed and totally lost sight of my original storyline. Some due to the weather problems we faced but mostly because my focus was other places it shouldn't be. However, I take pride in everyone’s hard work, performances because that's why we do short films, so we can learn and grow.
“With my 3rd short, A Feeling from Within, I felt I tackled all those issues. I had amazing performances, the films production value was beyond anything I could have hoped for in my position and the story remained compelling throughout. I took my past mistakes and learned from each and everyone of them which ultimately landed me my first feature film deal that's currently scheduled to shoot later in the year.
“In my opinion, short films are the only way to go. I've had the opportunities in the past to do a low budget film which I turned down. I couldn't imagine having done it without learning where my weaknesses were first by exploring short films. I also think as a writer/director I will always analyze my films in a negative way. I feel like if I'm too focused on ‘The great job I did’ I will never see how I can better myself. I strive to be the best I can be and if I get too caught up with patting myself on the back I'll never progress as a filmmaker.”
Because of new technology and new guidelines under SAG like SAG Ultra Low, do you see shorts and smaller indie films landing bigger named talent? I know you worked on God Only Knows which has some pretty big named talent for a low budget film.
“Honestly? No! People are going to do your film for 1 of 2 reasons. Either you’re talented as hell and they want to work with you or they're getting paid a ridiculous amount of money for a small amount of work. With God Only Knows, they had an amazing writer in Emilio Mauro. An amazing upcoming director in James Mottern and a well respected team of producers.
“I personally have made a promise to myself to never deal with an actor who is only doing my film for the money only. Sure, every actor loves the pay we make and it's not uncommon for many so-called name actors to come in for 2-3 days for $25-50k and give a halfhearted performance. It happens all the time in the industry and I can't blame the actors for making the easy money. I however have seen first hand how 90% of those experiences turn out to be miserable experiences. They end up bringing the cast and crew down and complain about everything they possible can… I would rather a no-name or an up and comer who is "dying" for the role. Unfortunately I know that some producers, some day will force my hand and make me cast someone I don't want to simply because that actor has a value. I could go on forever about this so I'll just stop now before I piss someone off.”
For those that might not know you, if you don't mind sharing, how did you get involved in the film industry?
“Not much of a story here. I've always loved writing and acting and after years of living my life a complete mess, I decided to give it a shot. I kept my head down, stayed humble and worked my ass off. I'm not much of a self-promoter and many people have no clue who I am or how I started and that's intentional. I've made early mistakes and jumped at every opportunity to talk to the media about "what I'm doing" and "What I am working on" only to look like a complete ass when things fell apart. I learned early on that talk is cheap. I'd rather people seek me out because they've heard of my work. Now I will only discuss projects I've completed.”
What is your view on the Boston Film scene?
“My answer is going to piss off a lot of people, but trust me, I'm being honest and I have good intentions. Living in Los Angeles and being involved and around many various Hollywood types I hear about Boston constantly and it's not what most people think it is.
“Most of the producers I've met dislike shooting in Boston, sure they love the tax breaks and the various locations, but the #1 concern I always hear is ‘There's no talent in Boston’ and of course being from Boston I have defended that for many years. I do believe there are many talented actors and filmmakers in Boston.
"Over the years I have asked many producers, directors and a few famous actors, why does everyone talk shit about Boston and the answer is almost always as follows... ‘Too many people in Boston have zero set etiquette. People in Boston are delusional. Everyone thinks they're gonna be famous or can act just because they're from Boston. They don't have respect for the craft’ and so on and so forth… and I began understanding where they were coming from after hearing these remarks over and over again. I feel Boston needs to revamp its image if we're ever going to be taken seriously as an industry known for talent and NOT just a great tax incentive.
“I know that me expressing my opinion is probably going to lose me any potential support from the Boston film scene than it will gain me, but I am honestly tired of hearing how ‘horrible Boston is.’ I'm sure 90% of the people will disagree with what I'm saying but I guarantee you that most of them have never been to LA or been behind closed doors with the producers who are shooting these films. I am in development with my first feature and I would love to shoot in my home state and since day one of development I have been fighting with the producers about these issues. One said to me, ‘Every extra in Boston has a Facebook Fanpage’ and then proceeded to laugh at his own joke. But the joke was partially true. I get a request on Facebook almost daily from people asking me to like their fan pages and I'm not talking about movies or projects or companies. I'm talking about personal fan pages from people who haven't done shit. I guess what I am trying to say is, to Hollywood, Boston SAG is labeled a branch with nothing, but extras and no real talent. We all know that's not true, but unfortunately it only takes a few bad seeds to ruin it for the rest of us.”
Make sure to check out Ordinary Man in the link provided and special thanks to Mike Yebba for speaking to me.
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