This is the last in my series, Meet the Producers of Midnight Madness 2010
Let me introduce you to legendary N.Y. producer Larry Fessenden, producer of Stake Land
Larry Fessenden may not be a name you instantly recognize but the name is one that has probably been involved in some of your favorite films. At this year's Midnight Madness alone Mr. Fessenden's reach is felt, from Ron Perlman that has worked numerous times with Mr Fessenden, from The Last Winter which was written and directed by Larry as well as I Sell The Dead which Mr. Fessenden not only produced with his company Glass Eye Pix but also acted in. If you were looking really close during Brad Anderson's Vanishing on 7th St, there was Larry on the big screen again, which brings me to Stake Land. Stake Land was also produced by Glass Eye Pix. He has over forty acting credits, has produced 35 films and has numerous directing credits for feature films, shorts and documentaries. In short. Mr. Fessenden is not only a remarkable talent but is truly a tireless advocate for independent cinema.
1) As others are talking about recession and economic downturns you and Glass Eye Pix seems to be thriving in the film world, how do you equate your success in remaining in business and producing quality work?
We were very fortunate to have had financial support throughout the recession of Dark Sky Films. The association began with Ti West’s THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL and that lead us to strike a deal to produce three more movies over the course of 18 months: BITTER FEAST, STAKE LAND and HYPOTHERMIA. And that was followed by another Ti West film, THE INNKEEPERS. So we’ve had a very good run of it with Dark Sky. In the 2000’s Glass Eye Pix invested in the careers of several filmmakers including Ti West, Graham Reznick, James McKenney, and Glenn McQuaid, as well as Kelly Reichardt and Ilya Chaiken, and the consistent model was to make films of artistic integrity at a very low budget. During more lucrative times we could get reimbursed for our efforts. It is our hope that in these lean years our model of frugality and originality will be attractive to new investors. It is important not to discount the sheer talent we have tapped in to. And I believe there is a tone throughout all the films from Glass Eye Pix that stands in marked contrast to the mainstream or even “indie” output and that is our brand.
2) How difficult was it to find the money to produce Stake Land? What challenges did you face that were unique to this film?
Stake Land was the most solid pitch we had for our slate of three movies with Dark Sky Films; it had the elements that looked good on paper: vampires, the post apocalyptic setting, and the director Jim Mickle had made a successful first film but still was hungry enough to go from no budget to low budget with gusto and conviction. So the film was financed easily, as part of an overall slate. The challenges were many from there. First, the script had to be reworked over several months to shape it into the feature it’s become, and then the epic scope of the story had to be fit into the budget. We determined to split the shoot into two parts, so we could experience on film the change in seasons. This was a gamble that paid off, but one that can stress a budget and crew and spook most financiers. As with all our films, we choose to emphasize post production: sound design, music, graphics, visual effects, the color correct and mix, all are an essential part of the experience we want to deliver, and again, the challenge is to strategize to get the most out of what is left of the budget after a grueling shoot. By using the same team of people in post-production on several films, we have been able to get a lot of bang for the buck.
3) What is something that you have learned as a producer that you wish you knew when you started out with your first feature Habit?
There is no one thing that has changed since I made HABIT in 1994. With HABIT, I established many of the principals that I still employ: A small crew (there were seven of us on HABIT), an open schedule (we shot over 45 days), and a long post-production emphasizing sound design and a rich, live score, all driven by a resourceful, single-minded auteur (which was me at the time). With HABIT, I endured a tsunami of festival and distribution rejections and so I released the film myself, compelling me to learn about marketing and exhibition. That experience taught me that there are no answers in show biz, there is only conviction. I have applied that to film after film with various degrees of success since, and it has helped several careers get started through Glass Eye Pix. Another thing I have learned since HABIT is I need my own producer to take care of the nuts and bolts of production. I may have a philosophical overview that drives the ship, but it was HABIT’s producer Dayton Taylor that got the film made, Jeff Levy-Hinte who got my subsequent films made, and now Peter Phok and Brent Kunkle have been instrumental in getting a slew of new pictures made. Collaboration in film at every level is essential.
Stake Land screens:
Friday, Sept 17 11:59PM RYERSON
Saturday, Sept 18 12:15PM SCOTIABANK THEATRE 4
Sunday Sept, 19 9:00PM AMC2
You can purchase tickets from the official TIFF website.