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Miki Johnson: How did you get involved with the Betrayed project and why were you interested in being a part of it?
Josh Grossberg: My friend, photographer Robert Caplin, told me about this terrific DSLR that Canon had just released, the Canon 5D Mark II, and how it is going to be a great new tool for filmmakers. So a team was put together including Robert and producer Thomas Xenakis. Our goal was to use the 5D to shoot the first five minutes of a feature-length thriller I had co-written and planned to direct called Disappear.
The project grew from there, at which point I tapped a longtime collaborator, Michael Kier, to help me revamp the script. We co-wrote what became a nine-minute neo-noir short called Betrayed, which utilizes the same characters but serves as a prequel of sorts to the feature.
The purpose of the film is to tell a story unto itself while at the same time attracting equity financing for the full-length version, Disappear. Our approach is similar to the strategy director Courtney Hunt used for her Sundance Award-winning Frozen River.
With a gracious assist from Elisa Pugliese, who produced the film August, Seth Gilliam (from HBO’s The Wire), PJ Sosko, and Cara Buono (The Sopranos) came aboard to play the principle roles — a terrific and talented group of actors — and we went from there.
MJ: What appealed to you about shooting a film using a DSLR as opposed to other cameras?
JG: It saved me money, and the opportunity to utilize a brand new, cutting-edge technology was very exciting. The compactness of the 5D, its remarkable cinematic quality, and the fact that it would quickly establish itself as a direct competitor to the Red was another huge draw. And the fact that I would be collaborating with close friends was like icing on the cake.
MJ: Did shooting with a DSLR significantly change the way you thought about directing the film?
JG: Absolutely! Before the 5D, I took a rather dim view to digital filmmaking, mainly because I had yet to see a camera — the Red included — that I thought truly lived up to the persistence of vision that comes with celluloid and that didn’t make me aware of the fact that I was looking at pixels. While you’re still dealing with electronic image processors and mega-pixels with the 5D, the results blew me away, particularly in what the DSLR could achieve in low-light situations. The wide latitude it gives filmmakers allows us to do, for instance, magic-hour filming without having to rent expensive HMIs and other cumbersome equipment to get the exposure.
It also saved us time and freed up the performances of the actors who practically forgot there was this little camera capturing their every line and move. Seeing it projected onscreen in High Def, the quality was just fantastic, especially given this was a no-budget production. The idea that now independent filmmakers can go out and shoot movies with the production aesthetics of a big budget Hollywood feature is truly revolutionary and tears down the wall between expensive A-list productions and indie features.
Of course, at the end of the day, while the technology is wonderful, it’s still subservient to the story — so you better have a good one. I’m happy with the results of Betrayed. It feels like a puzzle picture to me like Memento and Michael Clayton, movies that take you for a thrill ride and leave you coming back for more. I want to figure out the nuances, kinda like my favorite films. And seeing the performances by Seth and PJ in particular, I hope people will really enjoy it.
MJ: What was the greatest challenge shooting this project? Would you do anything different knowing what you do now about the process?
JG: Because we were working with a technology that was relatively unproven on the film front, figuring out the workflow was an issue. And the fact that we were shooting in 30P meant that we would have to later sync sound, which was recorded separately. Perhaps the biggest challenge was maintaining focus during dolly shots and push ins/push outs.
On the post-production front, since very few people, if any, had used the 5D before, editing proved to be a challenge because we had to find an intermediate format, otherwise the raw files were too big for Final Cut Pro to handle. We ended up relying on Pro Res for both the editing and the output and the folks at Post Logic did a great job working with us to ensure quality control.
MJ: I hear you have some meetings lined up at Sundance, etc. to talk about funding for a full-length version. Can you talk a little about that process? What are this film’s selling points?
JG: Until you’re more established, the process is simply: Do whatever it takes to get your film in the hands of decision makers. I’m excited about all the possibilities Sundance brings. I’ll be talking to a host of film executives as well as investors — some of them are major studios looking to develop Betrayed as a feature, others are indies. We’ll be going to Cannes in May as well. But the goal is to cobble together the remainder of the financing and roll cameras on the feature sometime this summer or early fall.
Aside from being one of the first filmmakers to shoot a feature exclusively on the 5D, in our view the other big selling point that we maintained throughout the creative process is the manipulation of words in the script. Every line spoken by an actor is duplicitous by design, since they are intended to be interpreted in more than one way. The double entendres are part of the puzzle and audiences will hopefully have as much fun figuring it out as we had writing it. Nothing is as it seems. Hopefully Betrayed will give people a flavor of what’s to come in the full-length, Disappear.
MJ: Any other important things you learned through working on this film?
JG: This may sound cliche but it’s undeniably true. If you believe in something strongly enough, don’t give up your vision. There will always be times when you wonder why the hell you got into this crazy business, but keep your head down, stick to your guns, and the rest, as they say, is gravy.