Friday, October 9, 2009

An Interview with Kyle Prohaska, Director of Standing Firm.

Some time ago, Kyle Prohaska, an independent filmmaker, who has been following this little blog of mine, contacted me. Kyle has his own website and blog and we got to talking. We’ve kept in contact and Kyle has shared with me some things about the feature film he’s directing, Standing Firm. I’ve seen some scenes from the film and the trailer, and the level of professional achievement is really remarkable. For all of you new filmmakers out there struggling to find your path and for all of my fellow Christians hoping to see some interesting new voices in the filmmaking world, you are in for a treat here. I did a little interview with Kyle.
Please be sure to go check out and watch the trailer for the film.
And now, the interview ...
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MJW: Tell me what Standing Firm is about.
Kyle Prohaska: Standing Firm is a story about suffering primarily. Not the most comfortable subject to cover, but an important one. It follows a man named Dave who's recently lost his wife in a car accident. Angry at God for his wife's death, he turns away from all things church related, making life very difficult for Steven, his college-aged son who continues to try to reach is father for Christ, but comes out empty handed each time. While Steven tries to cope with his fathers attitude and figure out what God wants him to do, Dave tries to find the answer to the greatest question about his wife's death...WHY. The film covers a lot of different angles on family, and tries to be very honest about the outcome of life, with Christ and without.
Still from the film. Used with permission.
MJW: What drew you into filmmaking?
KP: I think it was the films I grew up on more than anything. I would watch them and go “wow that made me feel good” or “that depressed me, but taught me something great ... I wonder how I could do the same for someone else?” I just noticed myself recognizing and seeing deeper into films than most folks around me, and the art grew on me as time went on. I just wanted to give to someone else the same awesome feeling that my favorite films gave me, and teach them something while I'm at it. The power of film is monumental, and the ability to evoke emotion and thought really excites me.
MJW: How did you go about preparing to make Standing Firm?
KP: I think the beginning of Standing Firm was well before I put pen to paper. The story is built from my own experiences as a child in an un-equally yoked marriage. I had two parents going in two directions, being taught similar lessons by each parent, but from a different angle. That made for an interesting childhood, and spiritual childhood at that. The entire story of the film (besides the death of the mom) is built from a lot of real life experiences that I think will relate to many folks. In regards to the preparation of the actual film, it was an insane task.
Still from the film. Used with permission.
MJW: How long was production?
KP: LONG. Very, very LONG. The length of shooting on this film was excruciating, and I take full credit for that, hah. I did it with a purpose though, and one that I think benefits the film immensely. I won't schedule a film like this ever again, because you really shouldn't do it this way, but it was worth it. Let me explain what we did ...
We have minimal crew, minimal access to locations, inexperienced actors, inexperienced crew (including me), tough weather (western New York is incredibly hard to predict and changes constantly), and a ton of other factors. I scheduled the film in the most unconventional way not to annoy everyone, but to give the film the highest quality possible. Instead of shooting out each location (or even rooms in that location), I scheduled the scenes in an order that regarded the difficulty of completion. I didn't give my actors any difficult scenes for weeks, to allow them to get comfortable and gain some experience as well as myself. I had less than four people on set most of the time. About 75% of shooting was done with myself, my Gaffer Shaun Smith (that doubled as our sound man), and my actors who were always helping unload and move equipment. We were jumping from location to location, room to room, inside then outside, etc. It was murder on everyone, but in the end I can see the difference in the cut of the film. The difficult scenes were shot last, and hold the greatest acting quality. Some of the scenes we shot first we ended up reshooting to bump them up in quality as well. It wasn't that I didn't know how to schedule it right, but I knew that if I had, it would be a disaster (the end result).
On the set of Standing Firm, Kyle Prohaska is second from the right.
Picture take by Shaun Smith. Used with permission.
Everyone had jobs, families, and all sorts of other things to do outside of the film. It was very much a group effort. In the beginning we shot many more days a week but after the first three months, it dwindled quickly. Bit by bit we gathered what we needed and production ended at the end of May 2009. We started in the beginning of June 2008. It was a long haul, but everyone grew immensely and the quality of the film was brought up a huge amount given the way we did things. Not all of it was planned either. Even given the way I wanted to schedule it, it still took three times longer than I thought. Nobody could give me a really good gauge on how long it would've taken, because nobody makes movies this way. Next time around, it'll be five weeks with everyone doing the movie fulltime, with way more crew, and way more control over locations.
Still from the film. Used with permission.
MJW: What did you shoot with and who was your cinematographer?
KP: We shot Standing Firm on the Canon XH-A1 with the Letus Extreme and Nikon Primes. People underestimate what you can pull off with such an inexpensive setup. I wanted to achieve something unique with the tools we had. Something cinematic and “legit” looking, not amateur. Although the film does come across as something lower in budget, the actual working budget is very well hidden I think, and mostly due to the presentation of the film cinematically. I was the cinematographer on the project, which is something of a dream for me, and I'm very happy with the results. I worked very closely with a good friend of mine named Shaun Smith, a professional photographer from Buffalo, NY to light the film. Shaun was the Gaffer and has very much to do with how the film actually “looks” in regards to color and light. I needed his help to get this film completed visually and with a quality I would be happy with.
This was the very first time I've shot a film, but I think I have a very good sense of how things should look and what looks good. I tried to squeeze out quality from every shot no matter how trivial it was to mask our budget and invoke a “pro” feel to the film. It's amazing how quickly people judge content now. In just a few seconds they decide if your film looks “real,” and by real I mean like something they'd go get at Blockbuster. I think with what we had (which wasn't much, and the lights we had were few), we pulled off something I've yet to see anyone else do at this budget, with this setup specifically. I'm very happy with how the film looks given the time, money, crew, locations, etc. we had. I can't wait to get behind the camera again!
Kyle Prohaska on the set of Standing Firm.
Picture take by Shaun Smith. Used with permission.
MJW: What did you use for editing?
KP: I'm editing on Final Cut Pro using Final Cut Studio 2 on a MacPro. The editing process started on our first shooting day and continues to be refined day by day. I wanted to have a working edit as shooting progressed to see how the film was coming together, how the camera work was turning out, whether I had any problems within my story, and a ton of other things. Since this was a first go for everyone, I wanted to have a handle on where we were and what we were achieving. Editing this film has been an interesting challenge since some scenes are combining shots from all four seasons. Because of how insane our schedule was and what we were getting done, I was looking at incomplete scenes for months at a time waiting to drop in that last piece to see how it worked together. It's been very nerve-wracking to say the least, but everything seems to be coming together very well. With a lot of scenes it's a miracle that everything came together the way it did, God had his hand on this thing and covered our mistakes.
MJW: What are your goals for Standing Firm?
KP: I set out to make the best film possible, like anyone else. Everyone has their personal goals as well, but in the end I really just hope God does some great things with the message he gave us to tell. Exposure is always nice, having a good project in the can is always nice, but seeing the rippling impact it could give would be far more enjoyable and satisfying than any personal goals I might have set for myself and achieved. I'm looking for things of eternal value, the lives impacted in the end is what it's about, so that's what I'm looking forward to. It's always easy to get wrapped up in the dollars and the revenue. Everyone has to eat, make a living, and for many in this industry provide for a family. I think that's a definite struggle, trusting God to guide in the business end of things when it comes to our “goals.” If you want to know my personal financial goals for the film, I hope to make enough on it (over time) so I can pay my bills while I make another. That's the goal everyone wants to shoot for, I think.
Kyle Prohaska on the set of Standing Firm.
Picture take by Shaun Smith. Used with permission.
MJW: How can people see your film? How can they help it gain more exposure?
KP: The film is not completed yet so it's not available to be seen. However, there are a ton of things people can do to help us get exposure. We setup a page on our site with specific instructions on how to do this. Some people just want a magic button they can hit to tell everyone they know, but that's not reality. If you have to take fifteen minutes out of your day to invite all your Facebook friends to our fan page or send out some mass it! I'm finding that Facebook is one of our greatest ways to tell new people. Some of you have huge friends lists, and in just a few minutes you could tell them all about the film and invite them to the fan page. Don't hound them, just send it out once. If just a few people did that, we would double or triple our fans in a matter of a week. I'm not sure why people don't just take advantage of what they have available. It's a piece of cake. :) View our share page below for other options.
MJW: What's next for you?
KP: Honestly, I'm not sure. I would like to continue making films, but even from this interview until a release time I still have to figure out a way to live. I'm trying to stay afloat with website jobs mostly. Standing Firm will really be an indicator of where my career will go I think because I can't put this kind of time and money into something again if it can't deliver in some way financially. Again, that's not the main reason for making films for me, but if I want it to be a career I do need it to eventually begin taking care of me. We'll see how Standing Firm does, and what doors God opens from there. Because I have no steady job, I'm always looking for more work and would love to end up on-set with others. I'm just searching for what God wants me to do. One thing I will say is although I want to make more films, if he doesn't give me a story that he clearly wants me to put my time/money into, I won't be making a thing. It's just impossible to imagine giving two years or more of your life to something that has no eternal value. I have a hard time with that. We only have so much time here, make it count.
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For more on Standing Firm:


Jake Olson said...

Loved the interview. I would love to hear a follow-up after the final product is in cinemas, etc about how the distributor selection process and decision making goes.

Mikel J. Wisler said...

Yes, I would love to do a follow up interview. Kyle and I have talked about that, actually. I really think Standing Firm will get some form of distribution. So yeah, I'd like to talk more with Kyle about that process in a while. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Raz Cunningham said...

really great read, mike! great job!