Interview with Mr.McCullough
Film Addiction: I
understand you are originally from Oklahoma, but you are with a film group based out of London. Do you currently live in the
Danny McCullough: I was raised in Edmond, Oklahoma
and went to school at the University of Oklahoma but majored in Engineering not in film. I moved to London after I graduated
from OU and mainly worked as a freelance sound mixer for the BBC and other English TV networks. I also did a fair amount of
film and commercial mixing while I was there as well. I own a production company called Cottonopolis Films with my business
partner, James Erskine, but I am based in Los Angeles and will soon be moving back to the midwest (Kansas City) to work on
some projects out there. The next film I am going to make will be set and filmed entirely in Oklahoma (in and around Norman).
FA: All filmmakers must go through
the paces to get where they are. Where did you get your start? What type of film training have you received?
DM: After college I started working for a cousin of mine in
London who owns a camera and audio equipment company. I spent the first six months checking camera, audio, lighting, and grip
equipment in and out and learning as much as I could about location audio mixing. I then started going out on shoots, first
as a camera assistant and then as a sound mixer for documentaries and news. I also took jobs boom swinging for film and commercial
mixers before I started mixing them as well. After two years I moved to LA and became a full time freelance sound mixer and
have worked on hundreds of documentaries, tv shows, films, etc. I was also writing a lot in my spare time and in 1998 I met
a BBC director named James Erskine while working for him on a documentary about George Lucas. We started writing together
and formed our company. In 2000, we made our first short film together, "The Invitation" and then went on to make a few other
shorts, music videos, a sitcom pilot, and some documentaries before making "EMR" in 2003-2004. I still work as a sound mixer
as the directing jobs still haven't been paying as well but since I'm freelance, it gives me the freedom to still make my
FA: I noticed
from imdb that you have done a lot of TV work. Are you still involved in television work?
DM: Yes, I still
do a lot of TV work. My IMDB isn't even close to being updated. I am in the middle of about 4 TV shows right now as a sound
me a little bit about the production of EMR (where was is shot, budget, festivals, etc.).
DM: When we
started talking about making EMR, we first started trying to raise the money before we had the actual script, as we had been
trying to make a much bigger picture for several years (with a budget of about a million dollars) but realized that we couldn't
raise that amount of cash without already having made a film. So we asked everyone we knew and everyone our friends knew for
investment in the film and then ended up putting a large amount of our own money in as well. Once we knew how much we had
to shoot with, we wrote a script based on this constraint and dropped anything from the original script that looked like it
would go over our miniscule budget (which was roughly $100,000). The first thing we knew we had going for us was that since
we worked in the UK and the US, we could get our film friends to work on it in either country so we could then shoot in two
separate countries making the film look like a much bigger movie. We already knew we were going to cast Adam Leese as the
lead role (we had used him in a few short movies and had been friends with him for several years) so we sat down and talked
ideas out with him and tried to figure out a way to utilized the two different countries. We decided to write a script about
a character who keeps blacking out (the idea of an epileptic character happened much later) and waking up in different cities
and the script evolved over about 6 months from there. We set a deadline for ourselves very early on that we had to start
filming by fall 2003 and we stuck to it because it's way too easy to put off shooting until it never happens with an indie
like ours. Also, from past experience from two different projects we'd worked on, we decided to shoot with the Sony Cinealta
HDCAM which gave us a huge amount of freedom and kept our crews small in both countries (but unfortunately, post was a huge
amount of money and work). We ended up shooting in and around London, Los Angeles, and San Francisco over roughly 18 days.
We shot 10 days in London then took a month to scout US locations and cast the actors in the states then shot an additional
week in LA and SF. We then had a few days of reshoots in January of 2004 in London. Because of the speed we had to shoot due
to the small budget, we ended up losing a few scenes here and there but for the amount of time and money we spent on the film,
I think it turned out well and has been received well at many festivals around the world (we won Raindance Festical in London
in 2004, Best Feature at the Washington DC Independent Festival in 2004, Best Feature at Fearless Tales festival in San Francisco
in 2005, Best feature at The Festival of Fear in 2005 in Germany and have been in many other festivals including the 2005
San Francisco Independent Film Fest, 2005 Deadcenter Film Festival, 2005 Jeonju International Festival in Korea and have several
other festivals coming up). Also, the film is getting released in theaters in the UK on July 12th and on DVD in Europe, the
UK and the USA in August.
FA: "The Invitation" (your first film) was shot on HD, what was that experience like? Did this get a lot of exposure
in the UK?
DM: When we started
working on The Invitation we had originally decided to shoot on Super 16, but I thought it might be a good idea to put a call
into Sony to see if we could borrow an HDCAM as James and I wanted to explore that format for some other projects we had coming
up and this would be a perfect opportunity. At the time, no production in the UK had ever been shot on the HDCAM and Sony
liked the script and for some reason trusted us enough to give us a camera for the four day shoot in the English countryside
as they had a demo unit that was over from Japan that Discovery Channel was looking at. Also, Sony had a DVD of some test
shots they were using to push the camera but our shoot gave them an actual production to show people what the camera could
do given a very small budget.
We had a great
experience using the camera although since it was an early demo of the 900 HDCAM, there were a few glitches on set (the camera
overheated several times and also we had to do a day of reshooting that Sony paid for as our one jib shot was useless because
there was green camera dropout on all the takes). The Sony engineers were on set most the time to make sure it was all going
well (and probably to make sure we weren't abusing their camera). The first day on set was eye opening, especially the first
time we saw a shot on the 32 inch HD monitor they provided as we just couldn't believe how good it looked. Also, there was
a learning curve for our DP and lighting department who started out lighting as though we were shooting video but ended up
lighting as though we were shooting a mixture of video and film. Sony was happy enough with an early rough cut of the film
to pay for our HD online and color grade. The film ended up playing at several festivals and on TV around the world and Sony
also used it on their HD reel for a while. Luckily, the relationship we developed with Sony over the Invitation became an
integral part of shooting EMR on the HDCAM.