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2015, 80m, comedy, drama, romance
Scott spends his days teaching at Space Defender camp, frustrated that he can't seem to find a woman with no baggage. His best friend Jake is no help, despite offering him his own brand of wisdom and truth. Scott meets Jessica who is seemingly the perfect woman - brains, beauty and a sci-fi nerd. When Scott learns the truth about Jessica's past he is forced to rethink his long held relationship rules in favor of accepting someone for who they are...and maybe even himself. EXCESS BAGGAGE is a quirky, romantic comedy that explores relationships, baggage and doing what makes you happy.
Produced by: Brad Hills, Sarah Browne, Jason Bowers
10 questions with Excess Baggage director, Brad Hills at the half-way mark.
Monday, August 15th, 2016
1Hi Brad! Thanks for being a part of our 2016 Summer Festival. First, what was the initial seed that made you want to make this film? Hey thanks so much for having our film as part of your Summer festival!
The idea for the film began as a short film some 10 years ago. My roommate was complaining that she was meeting too many guys with baggage, and then literally the next week, as I was sitting on the couch, a guy walks out of her bedroom dragging a carry-on behind him and it became the basis of the short film script. The opening scene in the airport was always part of the script, but I couldn't justify spending so much money on location fees to film at an actual airport just for one scene in a short film, so it inspired me to make it into a feature film script instead.
2You wrote this film as well. What was your writing process like and how long did it take you to complete the script? Having started out life as a short film script it was really just a process of expanding it into a feature. The short film was just a bunch of abstract dream sequences that all appear in the feature, so it was a matter of linking them together with a more structured story.
Usually when I get on a roll I can get through a script pretty quickly. However, my first draft was only about 50 pages so I had to create the whole side story of the Space Defender Camp. And then my Dad passed away which added a whole new personal dynamic to the script.
Unfortunately I'm a perfectionist, so I will agonize over the dialogue and generally won't put anything on paper unless it's exactly how I want it. Which means I don't do many drafts. But it makes it easier to have writer's block because I want it to be perfect first time around. I also won't write a scene unless I can visualize it first which makes writing a little easier when you can see it unfolding in your mind.
3You wrote, directed and starred in this film. How difficult was it for you to switch between acting and directing on set? What advice do you have for people trying to do both? It wasn't something I would do again. I found on set that I was worrying about spending too much time and money on location with my Producer hat on, which means as a Director you sometimes compromise your shot by maybe not doing another take when you really should because you know time is against you and you just want to get through it. On top of that I spent so much time on the shot set up that when it came to shoot I really didn't have time to get my head into the scene as an actor.
If you were going to do it my advice would be to make sure you surround yourself with brilliant actors and crew so a) you don't have to direct them too much and b) their performance will lift yours and make it easier to get your head in the right place during the scene.
We shot the entire film in 8 days so everyone had to be on their A Game. We rarely did more than a couple of takes and we had to be supremely organized and streamlined to get everything done. I credit the cast and crew for that. They were astounding.
4Where did this space defender camp idea come from? Is that a real thing in LA? I have been working at a sword fighting studio in Los Angeles for 7 years that has summer Jedi camps. Most of the conversations with the kids in the film are very similar conversations I have had with students over the years. Except normally I would be dressed as a Jedi. Of course we couldn't call it Jedi Camp for obvious reasons so we went for the generic Space Defender Camp. But yes, it totally exists...and yes I totally do it for a living.
5You also edited this film yourself. Some people think a director should have an editor because writer/directors are too close to the material. What are your thoughts on that? I think if you can have a realistic approach and are aware of when something works and when something doesn't then it's not too much of an issue. You have to walk a fine line of believing in your film, but not to the point of being unwilling to compromise. Everything is a compromise when making a film - on set, in the edit room, even once the film is finished. So long as you can honestly say you are proud of the completed product and enjoyed the journey along the way.
My biggest problem was the self doubt that crept in when I would get stuck editing a scene and felt it wasn't working, because I would start to think that it wasn't working because of the directing, or the acting, or the writing, or that we rushed the shoot day too much and didn't get the perfect take - and of course in each occurrence I was to blame being the Director, Actor, Writer and Producer. So the first edit took only about 2 weeks to finish. Then I had to walk away for 3 months because I was losing perspective and getting totally sick of the material having lived every minute with it for a over a year.
6Who have been some of your biggest influences? My biggest influences are any film or tv show that stays with you for days after you watch it. The Usual Suspects sat with me for years - I love movies that you watch a second time and get a whole new appreciation for it because suddenly things that you could never have known when watching it the first time start to make sense and you realize how genius it is. Momento is also like that. When you see it a first time you think it's brilliant. Then you watch it again and see it's even more brilliant than you thought. I like thinking I know what's going to happen and then have that turned on it's head. Hopefully our film does that too.
7You and Jennifer Kairis have great chemistry. How did you two meet and what was it like working together? We should have great chemistry as we are married! Jen and I actually met at the Sword Fighting Studio. She was cast in a project they were filming and I was doing behind the scenes camera work. We are both trained sword fighters so we try not to argue for fear of the swords or lightsabers making an appearance. Working together was a breeze - because we could sit at home and go over lines to the point where they would just become natural and we could block out scenes. A lot of our banter in the film was how we converse at home so it was an easy transition.
8Hari Williams also did a great job. How difficult was it to keep a strait face during your scenes together and what was it like working together? Hari was exceptional. I can't talk highly enough of him. Out of all the main speaking characters he was the only one I had to actually do a casting session for. Everyone else were friends of mine through acting circles. I originally wrote his character for a friend, but then I suddenly thought what would happen if I made the character of 'Jake' African American, because it would suddenly change the ethnicity of 2 other characters and add a whole new dimension to the film without changing the script at all. Which was the best decision I ever made because Hari walked into the casting room and took my lines to a whole new level. His ad-libs were sublime and he really got the character's subtleties and nuances. There's no better feeling in a casting room to know when you have found the right person. He made it very difficult to not laugh during scenes, but we didn't have time for me to crack and mess it up.
9Are you really that big of a sci-fi nerd or was that just your character in this film? Either way, if you could pick your own super power, what would it be? I would call myself a Sci-fi fan. Jen however is the Sci-Fi nerd. The Wolverine vs Jedi debate is one that we actually have had. In the film my character refers to himself as the worst sci-fi nerd ever - that would be accurate to real life. I think if I could choose a Superpower it would have to be to be able to fly. I used to have dreams when I was a kid that I could fly and still do to this day. The question is whether I would use it to save people or just to get away from everyone.
10What's next? The next planned film is totally different. It's drawing on my sword fighting training and is a cross between Die Hard and Lord Of The Rings. But with a much smaller budget. And with a badass female lead. And I doubt we will shoot that one in 8 days.
About the Interviewer: Ben Hicks
Ben Hicks is a writer/director and co-founder of Fandependent Films. Ben is currently working on making Fandependent Films awesome and is finishing up his first feature film entitled Kids Go Free to Fun Fun Time which was selected for the 2017 IFP Narrative Lab.
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