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Danny McCullough, Independent Filmmaker

"Adam on the 'operating table.'
The most expensive scene in the film and the only scene shot on a sound stage."

Danny McCullough
Independent Filmmaker

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 US?
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 own films.
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 mixer.
FA: Tell 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. 
'Mr. Porky' who plays Alf the cat.
Relaxing between takes amongst the medical props.
FA: You directed EMR with James Erksine. Are you two a directing duo or do you each have your own projects?
DM: James and I continue to write and direct together and will be directing our next few films together but we also have projects that we are interested in separately. Everything will still go through Cottonopolis Films whether we work together or separately in the future.
FA: Tell me a little bit about the story of your next film project? Story, budget, etc.
DM: Our next film is called "Sooner or Later" and basically is a semi-autobiographical account of the people I came in contact with while attending OU. It's based around three separate groups, two middle aged couples, some post graduate twenty-somethings, and a group of high school seniors during the three days leading up to the 4th of July. I basically took a lot of crazy events that happened in and around my life over my college years and condensed the best stories over five years into a three day period. The weirdest part of the script is the fact that the true events in the script are far more bizarre than the fiction that I used to tie the script together. I am very fond of my time in Oklahoma, and I believe that every filmmaker at some point wants to do a coming of age-autobiography of their life. I'm just thankful that mine was eventful enough to (hopefully) be interesting to audiences.
     The budget as it stands right now is roughly 1.5 - 2 million dollars (much of it is dependent on the rest of the casting) and we hope to start pre-production in early spring to start shooting late spring/early summer.
FA: What is your crew going to consist of for your next project? Are you going to be utilizing local film crew?
DM: It will be a pretty large crew and although we will probably bring most of the heads of department from LA and the UK (the DP, Production Designer, Make-up designer, sound mixer, etc) we will try and utilize as many locals as possible within the departments. Several of my keys are actually originally from Oklahoma, people I've known since college, but are now living in LA. I also want to cast several parts locally.
     During the  deadCENTER festival, I met with a member of the newly revamped Oklahoma Film Commission who provided me with a lot of great info on the new tax breaks that OK now offers to try and entice new productions to the state and we are very excited about this and about working with the film commission office.