By: Nicole D’Andria
This week we’re showcasing something a bit different. We’re showcasing a differently crowdfunded project that’s a feature length film! I spoke with two key members of the film’s crew, including the writer/director Brandon Rhiness.
I previously interviewed Brandon Rhiness about the comic book publishing company he co-founded, Higher Universe Comics. He’s written several of their titles, including Misfit, its spin-off series Elvis the Zombie, Chainsaw Reindeer and Stargirl. Some of his comics, such as Mental Case, are based on web series Brandon has created. He’s the director/writer of Cold Comfort, and if you’re interested in seeing his other film-related work, several of his short films based on these comics are available online, including I’m in Love with a Dead Girl, Mental Case, Mental Case 2 and Stoner Kid (1st episode).
The Cold Comfort crew also includes Director of Photography Katie Gobert, whose camera work can be seen in shorts such as The Zombie Apocalypse in Apartment 14F and Bouquet of Decay. There is also Producer Michael Schaar-Ney, who has also worked as an actor and writer. His film The Moustache recently premiered in LA and will be having another showing at the end of this month in New York.
The film crew is trying to raise $12,000, but their budget is flexible. Some perks you can get include thanks in the credits ($1), postcards ($15), any comic book from the Higher Universe library ($25) and even tickets to the premiere ($50) and the script to the film ($50). You can view more perks on their Indiegogo campaign here.
But for more in-depth info that you can’t find on there, check out my interview with Brandon and Mike below!
Me: What is the movie Cold Comfort about and what are some important themes viewers can take from the film?
Rhiness: Cold Comfort is about a young woman who wakes up, locked in a room with no memory of how she got there. She soon discovers she’s been kidnapped and she must use her wits to escape. What makes the film different is that you never see the kidnappers, you only hear them talking outside the room.
The woman is obviously at a huge disadvantage since she’s locked in the room with no resources, but she begins picking up little tidbits of information about the kidnappers from hearing them talking through the walls. She uses this information to play the kidnappers off each other and manipulate her way out of the situation.
As for themes, I’ve never really thought about themes in any of the comic books or films I’ve written. All the talk about “theme” and “subtext” and all that stuff used to bore me when I was in school, so now that I write for a living, I tend not to give it a lot of thought. Lol.
I’m sure there are themes to this film, but I’d rather leave that up to the viewer to decide. I’m sure my co-creators have their own ideas, but this is the way I see it.
|Cold Comfort Set|
Me: What initially inspired the creation of Cold Comfort and did you always know it would be a full-length feature film?
Rhiness: Yeah, it was a full-length movie right from the beginning. I’d been working on other film projects with Katie Gobert and Michael Schaar-Ney, my two Cold Comfort co-creators, including Motel 13, The Man in the Box and The Gray House. But those are all bigger-budget films and since none of us had produced a full-length movie before (and I have never directed one), we decided to start smaller.
So Katie and I came up with a simple concept that could be done with a very small cast on a very small budget. And so Cold Comfort was born. We brought it to Mike to see if he’d like to come on board and he did!
Me: How did you connect with the other major players of the film, Director of Photography Katie Gobert and Producer Michael Schaar-Ney?
Rhiness: I met Mike a few years ago when I was casting for my web series, Mental Case. Mike auditioned for a part and that’s where we first met. We ended up working on other projects together and soon began partnering on things.
As for Katie, she read my horror script, The Man in the Box, when a producer gave it to her to get her thoughts. That producer ended up passing on the project, but Katie loved it. She waited a year before reaching out to me. We met for coffee and she said she liked the script and wanted to know if I’d like to partner on it. We became co-producers on it and we shot a 5-minute proof-of-concept trailer that you can find on YouTube. Since then, Katie and I have been working on other projects together.
Me: You serve as both a writer and director on the film. What are your favorite aspects of each job and do you have one you prefer more than the other?
Rhiness: I prefer writing. Lol. You have so much more control over the project when you’re just sitting alone, typing on a laptop. Lol.
I have a lot more experience writing than I do directing. I’m still learning how to direct, but I still like it.
Me: This is your first feature length film. What about the process surprised you and what do you feel are the most important takeaways you have from this experience so far?
Rhiness: I’ve done several short films before, but a feature is quite different. No matter how much you plan and work to make it as simple as possible, it’s always more complex than you think. Lol. My thoughts going in were – 80% of this movie takes place in one room with one actor, that should be easy. Of course, that’s not the case.
My work on short films definitely gave me some practice moving into features, but I guess I’ll have to wait until Cold Comfort is finished before I decided what I’ve taken away from the process.
|Higher Universe Comics are a possible reward for pledging the Indiegogo campaign.|
Me: How did you pick Skylar Radzion to play the protagonist of the film, Melody?
Rhiness: When it came time to choose an actor for the main role of Melody, there really wasn’t any discussion. It was Skylar Radzion from day one. I’ve worked with Skylar before on a few projects and she puts so much work into her characters. I knew she would be able to pull it off. It’s a hard role because not only does she have to play the main role of Melody, but she also has to play an evil version of Melody. Skylar puts everything she has into her acting, so I’m glad she agreed to star in Cold Comfort!
|Cold Comfort Actress Skylar Radzion|
Me: What is the number one reason why you think people should help fund your film on Indiegogo?
Rhiness: Because you can get some cool stuff in return! We’re not giving away crappy perks like digital pictures or behind-the-scenes photos (we give those away free on the Facebook page). Lol. You can get some of the comics I write and publish under my company Higher Universe Comics. You can get the movie poster, a copy of the script, tickets to the premiere (if you live near Edmonton).
But another cool thing is that every person who donates gets their name in the credits and on imdb. So even with a small donation you can be a part of movie history!
Me: What inspirational words do you have for aspiring movie writers?
Rhiness: If I can do it, you can do it! Even three years ago, being a screenwriter was just a pipe dream. But I worked hard at it and pitched my scripts to anyone who’d listen. Next thing I know, I’m selling scripts and people are paying me to write. Now it’s my main job! So it is possible and if you practice enough and are willing to put yourself and your work out there, you can get your script produced!
Me: What inspirational words do you have for aspiring movie directors?
Rhiness: I see this advice everywhere, but it’s true – you can shoot a movie with your friends using a phone if you want. Just start writing simple, short scripts and shooting them. Get lots of practice. Then you can move up to saving money and spending some on more complex shoots. When you get good enough, people will start giving you money to make films. Just practice lots and start making cool stuff!
|Michael Schaar-Ney (left)|
Me: What was it about the pitch Cold Comfort that made you want to come on board?
Schaar-Ney: Well, to be honest, it took about three seconds for me to decide! Brandon and I have worked on so many projects together that it was easy to come on board when he asked.
Me: What was your favorite thing about the script?
Schaar-Ney: My favorite thing about the script is that it will be a new challenge for us as filmmakers to get it right. It’s our first “one room masterpiece” and there are a great number of specific things that we will need to get just right to pull it off. This is my favorite aspect of the film because I enjoy being challenged, and rising up to that challenge.
Me: As your first feature-length film, how has this process differed from your previous projects and have you learned any important takeaways from the experience?
Schaar-Ney: It hasn’t really differed from my other projects, but simply because I am very methodical. I approach each project with the same work ethic because I have found a rhythm that works best for me. That being said, because it is a feature-length, there were more challenges leading up to shooting this one than usual. Luckily, Cold Comfort has a great team of professionals behind it. And as far as taking something away from it, I try to do that with every project. It will be exciting once it is in the can, and I get to start the process of finding a buyer for it.
|One of Schaar-Ney’s recent short films|
Me: Can you tell us more about what your work ethic entails?
Schaar-Ney: My work ethic has stayed the same since I was an athlete, with the idea that you have to strive to be better than you were the last time. That’s how I approach each new project, and I believe that through hard work and mutual respect for the people you work with, you will get better at what you do, while building a good reputation at the same time. I hope that everyone who works with me, wants to work with me again, and so that’s what I strive for.
Me: What is the number one reason why you think people should help fund your film on Indiegogo?
Schaar-Ney: For sure the biggest reason for people to get involved is to support the film industry in Alberta. That may seem like a stretch, but here’s why. People can get one of the many cool perks from the Indiegogo campaign for a very reasonable price. Anyone that donates gets their name in the “Thanks” section, which is unheard of for a non-indie film. But what people don’t realize is that by donating to Cold Comfort, you are giving us the best chance to get this film made, and then sold. And in the end, that will benefit every Albertan who is trying to get a foothold in the film market. By doing this, we are hoping to forge a mutually beneficial relationship with a distributor. When that happens, they will see the value Alberta made films will hold, and hopefully start an era of them coming to us for content.
|Cold Comfort Set|
Me: What initially inspired you to get involved in the film industry later in your life?
Schaar-Ney: I was an international athlete for many years, and when my body stopped doing what I was asking it to do, I decided I needed to start a hobby. I was in a play at The Citadel when I was 13, and I thought it was magical. Sports took over the rest of my life until about three years ago, and I decided to take an acting for stage course at The Citadel. My wonderful instructor, Liana Shannon, was inspirational to me, and when I completed the course, I asked her, “so… what do I do now?” After she stopped laughing at me, she told me to do as much as I can, stage, film, whatever. And so I did. In the first year after the course, I had been in around two dozen short films, mostly as an extra, and then some speaking parts. It didn’t take me long to figure out that I didn’t have a career in Hollywood as an actor in my future, but I found that I really loved the behind the camera stuff.
Me: Since you’ve worked in numerous capacities within the industry, which would you say has been your favorite and why?
Schaar-Ney: Directing is definitely my favorite part of the whole process. I do very much enjoy many of the seemingly mundane tasks of the producer, with location scouting at the top of that list. It’s very gratifying to know that however well the film will come out looking is a direct correlation to your work as a location scout. But being the director, getting to help tell a story that I love, getting the most out of the cast and crew, is an amazing feeling for me.
Me: What inspirational words do you have for aspiring producers?
Schaar-Ney: I hate to say it, but it is hard work. Being sure that all the different departments are as prepared as they can be, and organizing them to all come together and make something wonderful isn’t easy. But when it all comes together, it is pretty amazing. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it, so persevere, don’t back down… and have a lot of fun.
Me: And for aspiring actors and writers out there in the film industry, what inspirational words do you have for them?
Schaar-Ney: Actors… You need to be able to adapt to rejection, because there is a lot of it. From a producer’s point of view, sometimes it has nothing to do with your abilities, and that is what you have to remember. Sometimes it is based completely on look, and you will have a hard time changing that… so work at what you can. Get better, take courses, act in everything you can. George Clooney said that he would go into an audition knowing that he didn’t have the part when he walked through the door. So when he walked out, if he didn’t book the part, it was in no way different than when he walked in. After I heard that quote, I was much more confident in auditions, and I didn’t worry about it. I would sometimes get a callback for something I completely forgot that I had auditioned for.
Writers… Get it down on paper. However you need to do that, just do it. I write an outline on index cards and plan the whole thing out. It gives me a good way to see it as an overview. Then just write it as it comes out of you. You can edit and cut and trim and move everything later, but if you don’t get it on the paper, it may as well just stay in your brain forever. And we need good stories to tell.
Me: Thanks for taking the time to talk shop and give us some cold comfort, Brandon and Mike! If you’re reading this and interested in the film, check out the Cold Comfort Indiegogo.
Do you have a Kickstarter? Want to be interviewed about it and have the project featured on “Kickstart the Week?” Let me know in the comments below or message me on my website.
Other “Kickstart the Week” features:
Coronary Episodes 1-3