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SxSW 2015 Interview: NIGHT OWLS director Charles Hood

by Jason Whyte

"Come see my movie! It's a comedy/drama about a guy who goes home with a girl for a one night stand only to find out she's actually his boss's jilted ex-mistress. When the girl takes a bottle of sleeping bills, he has to keep her awake all night. We have an awesome cast of actors: Adam Pally, Rob Huebel, Tony Hale, Peter Krause, and Rosa Salazar, who you may not know yet but you will very soon. She's our female lead and she's incredible." Director Charles Hood on NIGHT OWLS which screens at the 2015 South By Southwest Film Festival.

Is this your first SxSW/Austin experience and are you going to attend your screenings?

I was in Austin once before for the Austin Film Festival a few years ago with a a short film playing there, but this is my first SXSW experience. I will be attending our first two screenings on Friday and Sunday.

What do you love the most about showing movies in Austin and Austin in general?

The Alamo Drafthouse! My short film played at one of the Drafthouse locations and I was blown away. The queso!

Tell me a bit about your background and how you became a filmmaker. Also what have you worked on in the past?

I was born in Omaha, Nebraska. When I was ten years old, my aunt and uncle, who both worked in the industry, made a home movie with me and my cousins. From that point on, I was obsessed. I hijacked my parents' video camera and started making movies with my friends, which we continued to do all the way through high school. After I graduated from the film school at USC I wrote and directed a no budget feature called FREEZER BURN, which screened at some festivals and got picked up for distribution. After that, I made a couple of shorts called ALLISON and FIRST KISS that played the festival circuit. And now here I am with my new feature NIGHT OWLS.

How did your movie come together as a director?

My writing partner and I had been working on spec scripts for a few years but nothing ever came of it. There are a lot of PDFs on my desktop that will probably never become movies, which was frustrating the hell out of me. Finally, I suggested we write something small enough that we can make it ourselves even if no one else wanted to do it. I came to my writing partner with the seed of the idea for the film, which kept the story confined to one location in order to keep the budget down. When we finished the script, there were enough people who liked it that we were able to assemble a great cast and crew to make the movie. I was incredibly fortunate as a director to get such an amazing group of people to work with on this project.

What was your process in getting the film together? What is your key team with this movie?

Toby Louie was the main producer on the film. He coordinated the whole production and post-production making it all run very smoothly. My co-writer Seth was also a producer on the film and he's been a crucial creative collaborator from the beginning. We created these characters together so his input is always extremely important.

With every project I do, my cinematographer Adrian Correia is a huge piece of the puzzle. We work very closely together designing every shot of the film. Our shot list is like the final draft of the script. Adrian is also an important presence on set as he helps create the right atmosphere. My assistant director Mike Breines is also indispensable in that way. These are guys that I can't imagine shooting a movie without. I'd never worked with our production designer Ayse Arf before, but she really blew me away with the amazing work she did. All our sets were absolutely gorgeous.

On the post-production side of things, editor Grant Surmi is my most trusted collaborator. He always works his magic and makes the film a thousand times better. I couldn't ever make a movie without him. And finally, it's always a pleasure working with Kevin Blumenfeld, our composer. His music elevates the movie to another level. Also, all the guys at Haven Entertainment and my agent Susie were a huge help in getting our cast and raising money so they absolutely need to be recognized for their hard work.

What was your #1 challenge with this movie?

I think the biggest challenge was finding a way to keep the audience entertained in a movie where it's mostly just two people in a house talking. On the script level, my co-writer and I made sure to move the plot along and keep revealing new things about the characters throughout the film. We also did our best to explore every inch of the house from scene to scene. When it came time to shoot the movie, my cinematographer and I worked really hard to move the camera as much as possible. We wanted a more elegant look than handheld so we pushed ourselves to do a lot of dolly moves and I think it really paid off.

If you had to pick a single favourite moment out of the entire production, what would it be? The moment where you thought "I had something"?

Shooting with Tony Hale was a personal highlight for me. ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT is my favorite TV show of all time and Buster is my favorite character so that was unreal. I'd say the moment I thought we "had something" was the first time we shot Adam and Rosa verbally sparring. I knew they'd both be hilarious, but seeing them deliver in a dramatic scene made me feel like we had something special.

What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you?

Working with all my amazing collaborators definitely keeps me going. The whole process from writing the script all the way through post-production is a blast when you love the people you're working with. I also live on Arnold Palmers; 80% iced tea, 20% lemonade. I'll settle for a regular Snapple if I must.

For the aspiring filmmakers who read our site, I would love to know about the technical side of the film, your relationship to the director of photography, what the movie was shot on and why it was decided to be filmed this way.

I'm very close with my cinematographer Adrian Correia. We first worked together nine years ago and we've since become close friends. Together we meticulously planned this movie shot for shot. Since it all takes place within one house and it's basically just two people talking the whole time, we were determined to move the camera a lot and keep it visually interesting. We didn't want to just rely on hand-held so we designed a lot of fun dolly moves. We also tried to shoot scenes whenever possible in a single shot. This allowed our actors to really bounce off each other and show that great chemistry they have. The camera we used was the Red Epic and we shot at an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. I really love the wide frame and I think it definitely helped us make the film as cinematic as possible.

What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie at SxSW and in Austin?

I'm just so excited for a big audience to see it. From what I've heard, the SXSW crowd is perfect for this movie so I can't wait to see how they react. Also, our second screening is at a Alamo Drafthouse so I'm looking forward to eating queso while watching the movie.

After the film screens at South By Southwest, where is the film going to show next?

We're not sure yet. Hopefully lots of places. I would love to screen in New York and Los Angeles and I'd really love to show in Omaha, Nebraska, because that's where I was born.

Alamo Drafthouse and Paramount theaters in Austin aside, if you could show this movie in any cinema in the world, which one would you choose and why?

The Chinese Theater in Hollywood. It's the greatest! It's gigantic and drop dead gorgeous. Unfortunately, they converted it to an IMAX theater so maybe I'll have to go back and add some IMAX sequences to Night Owls. That would be fun.

What would you say or do to someone who is talking, texting or being generally disruptive during a screening of your film?

"Stop being generally disruptive! I worked really hard on this movie and you're being rude."

There are a lot of up and coming filmmakers both at SxSW and reading our site. What would you want to tell them if they are aspiring to become a filmmaker?

Watch a lot of movies. Watch everything, old and new. Once you know your favorite movies, memorize them and figure out what makes them great. And when it comes time to make your movie, over-prepare like crazy. Stuff goes wrong no matter what, but the more you prepare, the better off you'll be.

And finally, what is the single, greatest movie that you have ever seen?

This is the hardest question ever asked by humans. Also, "greatest" is very different from "favorite". Either way, this is impossible to answer. Options for greatest: THE GODFATHER, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, MANHATTAN, GROUNDHOG DAY, VERTIGO and THE TREE OF LIFE. Options for favorite: ANNIE HALL, DIE HARD, ZODIAC, A SHOT IN THE DARK, PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE, ELECTION, ED WOOD. You're killing me, this is impossible!

Be sure to follow Charles on Twitter at @HamletHood and @NightOwlsMovie on Twitter and Instagram!

We hope you enjoyed this SxSW filmmaker interview in our 35+ filmmaker interview series. We will have interviews posted all throughout the festival so be sure to visit us often for more coverage!

This is one of the many films screening at the 2015 SXSW in Austin, Texas between March 13-21. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to or use the SxSW GO App for Android and iOS.

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jason.whyte

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originally posted: 03/11/15 14:09:20
last updated: 03/11/15 14:11:46
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