AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH KURTIS HARDER
WRITER, PRODUCER & DIRECTOR OF ‘CODY FITZ’
Producing an independent feature film is a lot work and requires the highest level of passion and dedication. That’s why I love the behind the scenes tales of pulling them off. This story is about a Canadian filmmaker from Alberta and a film called Cody Fitz.
I had the opportunity to discuss the project with Kurtis Harder to find out how the film was made including details on the screenplay, casting, grant applications, stories from the set and more…
What is Cody Fitz and what inspired the film?
Cody Fitz is a feature length narrative film that looks into the appearances of people verses who they actually are, as well as the idea that depression can hit anyone regardless of your background, situation or people around you. In late 2010 a close friend of mine took his own life. I was kind of thrown off and realized that most of the time you don’t really know the people around you, and I wanted to somehow portray that to people.
The films follows three new roommates who’ve just moved out on their own. Cody, the main character struggles day to day, Tom who seems to have it all together, and Cameron who comes from a repressed home trying to figure out how to live on his own. The three plan a trip to Tom’s cabin to kick off break and Cody slowly starts to regress into his own world.
What were some of the challenges you faced when crafting the screenplay?
A surprising challenge I fell into was I found myself writing scenes with locations I had no idea how to access. I had written scenes that included an underwater sequence, two car scenes, a club and a large cabin location I had been talking to somebody about the possibility of shooting at, but hadn’t even begun to confirm. I was a little stubborn to change them after I had the sequences in my head, so finding the actual locations became the real issue.
Cameron, was originally a small supporting role with little impact on the story, began to slowly develop into this side plot as I was writing it and finding a medium of having him within the story took some time.
Take us through the grant application process?
The grant application, in my situation, was almost as much work as shooting the actual film. Having to sit down and be able to show exactly what you are going to do throughout the entire film process includes details such as; complete shot list, scene breakdowns, location information, complete project description going through each detail, film festival research, and a full budget looking into where each dollar will go. It was a solid months work and in the end was nearly 200 pages.
I had looked into the different grant streams I was able to apply to and the one I went after was through the Alberta (our province) Foundation for the Arts which stemmed from our provincial government. It’s agenda is to provide individual artists the means to grow artistically through a project that shows that our area has a strong arts community. As an oil province our film community is often lost.
My application was sent in for March 1st and we were awarded the grant in mid July, while shooting.
What tips would you give indie filmmakers about to apply for their first grant?
Research. Every grant stream is slightly different in what they look for when disbursing funds. Try to find a stream that fits what you or your film is trying to say. I would also recommend trying to find a producer or two who’ve been successful with the grant that you are looking into and seeing what they did differently from others that applied.
What was it like to receive the grant knowing your vision was going to become a reality?
We were slightly unconventional as we had raised a percentage of the money we were going after and had already started shooting the film. We received the grant on our third day, which was very exciting. It allowed us to take our film to the next level and cover all of the problems we had been facing with the limited budget.
Can you describe the challenges of casting Cody Fitz?
Casting surprisingly went fairly smoothly with the exception of casting one of the leads Tom played by Camilo Lopez. We looked into a number of options such as one of the large actor’s unions but, as a low budget project, we decided to cast out of colleges and universities. We held auditions at a couple of institutions in our city and spoke with some of the drama departments in order to meet people who were simply looking for an outlet to show their talent.
We had cast nearly all of the supporting roles and spent nearly two months, slowly getting closer to our shooting date. I had been working as a camera assistant on a number of projects throughout this period and on one particular short film I spoken briefly with one of the actors; Camilo Lopez. It didn’t cross my mind at all that he might be a perfect fit and by chance after his only day of filming he decided to come back to hang out on set on our second day and we spoke again. I talked a little bit about the film and he ended up coming to one of our open auditions and it was set in stone.
An interesting side story that wasn’t really an issue, but was rather humorous was casting the role of Cameron. We had auditioned a number of actors for the role and I wasn’t set on anybody originally. I had acted as a minor role in a television station last year where I met a teenager the same age as me who also worked on the technical side of film in Set decoration and Props. I knew of him before we had met as he had originally wanted to become a stunt performer for film and run into a bit of trouble with the law for a few stunts he did on his own, ending up on national news (See the story here)
When he found out I was doing a feature he begged me for an audition and I told him that the role available (A suppressed teenager who’s struggling with himself as a person) didn’t really fit his outwardly almost over-confident personality. He disregarded this and came in wearing glasses that didn’t fit his eyes and nailed the part.
What was it like for you on day ONE of your feature film before yelling action for the first time?
We knew going in that the first day was going to be the most difficult, so we planned for a short easy day at our Bowling Alley location with only a couple pages to shoot to ease our crew as well as myself into a good team ethic. We had a few hiccups figuring out how everyone worked together but as we prepped to have a good amount of time we were able to figure out a good workflow with everyone involved so when we got to our second day we were on a good mentality.
What was life like on set? What were some of the challenges you faced and ultimately overcame?
On average, surprisingly, it was a fairly relaxed set. We averaged around 10-12 hour days (with a couple crazy ones). A big challenge was that we had a large cast, locations, and scenes with many people to keep in contact with. Our lead producer/production manager Dustin Saxton came up with a near-perfect organizational system in which we were able to have an easy way of knowing when we needed to contact people and a priority system of looking into which problems needed to be dealt with first. With only two people on the producing side (Dustin and myself) Dustin would often come to me with a couple of pages of things we had to accomplish in a few days and we’d assign ourselves part of a check list.
We were able to find an amazing crew, but as we didn’t have a lot of money Dustin ended up taking on tasks like Catering and Props, while I acted along with directing as camera operator for a majority of the shoot. There were a few moments where things got pretty stressful but we were always able to push through as we made sure that we always had end of the day meetings with the two of us and our cinematographer, and kept communication as a huge focus.
Describe the post production process and how things are progressing as your release date approaches. (editing, sound, music etc…)
We are currently in the picture lock stage, starting Audio Mixing and Color Correction to be completed by the end of this month (November). As we shot on Red we moved over to Adobe setup from Final Cut Pro for the visual editing as they have added support for Red footage. We’ve partnered with about 15 artists/bands for the soundtrack.
Many independent filmmakers stick to shorts at first. What advice would you give to someone looking to make their first jump to feature films?
Look into every aspect. Things will go wrong and the only way to get through is to be as prepared as possible. We went at it a little ambitiously with shooting more locations then we had days and it worked out for us, but if there weren’t a few keen people like our production manager I believe things could have gone very differently.
Find things that you have access to. On a first feature film, finding funding is extremely difficult, so improvisation is key. We looked into four aspects that we thought made a film look more ‘expensive’; Underwater Photography, Aerials, Car mounting and Steadicam. We did everything we could in order to get these elements in our film. We shot through an underwater window room used for judging diving competitions for our underwater and for the Aerials we were able to find a pilot that agreed if we paid the rental for a plane he would fly for us. Neither were conventional but worked as it was a fraction of the cost. For the Car mounts and Steadicam, I was able to talk to a couple local industry professionals that agreed to bring their gear out for a day for us.
I wouldn’t however recommend just jumping into a feature immediately. I spent two years camera assisting on various sets and directed a number or shorts as well. Simply watching how a real set should look like is incredibly useful when going about it on your own.
What’s next for Cody Fitz? What’s next for you?
We will start submitting to festivals by the end of November for a premiere sometime in spring of next year. I’m currently starting work on a new script and moving out west to Vancouver, BC at the end of this month. I’ll be spending the majority of this year in the festival circuit with the film and be looking into distribution.
Special thanks to Kurtis Harder for the interview.
You can check out the film’s website at www.codyfitz.com