10 questions for the creators of House Harker and indie filmmaking

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2014 Nocturna Film Festival Interview – Madrid, Spain

I recently sat down with with creators of I Had a Bloody Good Time at House Harker, Noel Carroll, Jacob Givens and Derek Haugen. Together, they are 3 out of the 4 partners of GoodCops Productions, which produced the popular YouTube series Good Cops (2 seasons) and Tumbleweed (1 season). Note: Clayton Cogswell, the fourth partner and the director was unable to make the session due to scheduling conflicts, but will be able to connect to answer at a later date.

With the recent release and success of I Had a Bloody Good Time at House Harker on Amazon Prime Video, where they have over 190 reviews (in less than 30 days) and an overall rating of 4.6 stars at the time of this article, I wanted to get some additional background from each of them such as what got them into film, how House Harker came to be, as well as tips on independent filmmaking.

Introducing the team:

Jacob Givens – Writer, actor, producer, and stand-up comedian. He can be seen in many of the comedy clubs around the country, especially at his home base in Los Angeles. Get updates of when and where he’ll be performing by following his twitter @jacobgivens

Noel Carroll – Producer, writer, actor, and overall team wrangler and sometimes strangler. He never has free time due to all of the behind the scenes work that needs to be done for each project. He can usually be found huddled in a dark corner pulling his hair out. Note: I was surprised he gave me time to do this, amidst the other projects he’s working on.

Derek Haugen – Writer, actor, producer, and the team’s underrated comedic gold mine. He can’t be found…anywhere…when he is found, it’s usually with a bottle of scotch.

Clayton Cogswell – Director, writer, producer, editor, and the team’s sound effects driven visual visionary. And by sound effects, I mean he is constantly making sounds to emphasize shot setups and camera movements. He’s usually found behind a camera and if you hear someone shouting for a “Tokina”, you can be sure it’s him.

What got you into film?

Noel:  James Bond. When I was 5 the movie Octopussy came out in theaters and my older brother and sister got to go watch It but I had to stay home… because I was 5 and it was Octopussy. Ever since then I would pull the VHS copies of the other James Bond movies that my dad recorded on VHS from television broadcasts and watch them, repeatedly. Then I’d go outside with a plastic gun and pretend that I was James Bond. I soon realized that I liked making my own James Bonds stories, so I created a character names Jeff Harris and started performing plays with that character annually for my little sister’s birthday. I never really stopped creating characters or stories after that.

Jacob:  When I was around 7 years old, I started doing a George McFly impersonation from Back to the Future for my friends and family. They would ask me to do it again and again, and once I saw a room full of people smile and laugh at this silly imitation, I knew that I was put on this planet to entertain people. What followed would be years of quotes from comedy movies like Trading Places and Coming to America, voices like Bart Simpson, Pee Wee Herman and Chewbacca roars– until I found myself dreaming up whatever random joke or voice would cause my older brother to spit out his drink. It wasn’t until I stepped on stage for the first time at around age 12 that I felt truly at home. I would spend my awkward formative years inhabiting characters through dozens of plays and musicals, but it wasn’t until college that I met Clayton Cogswell (our director), and the idea of utilizing acting for the screen was born through our friendship. Heck, he is the guy who convinced me to move to Los Angeles.

Derek:  Well I always wanted to be an astronaut but I’m terrified of heights. So I said “What the fuck, why not the entertainment business. Seems easy enough to make a living as an actor”.

Favorite films overall? favorite horror? favorite comedy?

Jacob:  My favorite movie of all time is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Favorite horror is probably 28 Days Later, Bram Stoker’s Dracula or more recently It Follows. Favorite comedy is too difficult to narrow down– it’s probably Three Amigos, Groundhog Day, Blazing Saddles, Trading Places, The Jerk, Young Frankenstein, Hot Fuzz, Waiting for Guffman and Raising Arizona.

Noel:  I like stupid comedy movies and movies that take me on a wild adventure. So my favorites are films like Van Wilder or Ocean’s Eleven, the new one. Not sexy choices, I know, but there you have it. My favorite horror film is ‘Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan.’ I was 12 when I watched this late at night with friends at a birthday party. It was totally stupid, even at 12 I knew that, but there was something about the impossibility of a boxer beating the crap out of Jason until Jason lands one punch to make the boxer’s head fly that stuck with me. I think that image made me realize what horror films were. My favorite comedy is Christmas Vacation.

Derek:  Ghostbusters. For Horror movie I’d say Deliverance. For comedy Ace Ventura.

What inspired you to make house harker?

Derek:  Clayton talked me into it with the stupid poet society speech. Plus I was working at a theme park in Guest Relations. What the hell else was I going to do?

Noel:  Nothing, my partners made me do it.

Jacob:  From the moment you arrive in Los Angeles, you want to make a feature film. It’s the Mount Everest in terms of cinematic ambition. After creating three seasons of short form web series content for YouTube with our team, I think we knew it was time to step up to the plate and make a movie. We had proven with the length of our shows, we could handle a feature length narrative. Now it was time to go out and do it!

What would your advice be for young filmmakers?

Noel:  Films and make out sessions should be treated the same way. Don’t ever move to the next step until you’re being begged to do so. Move too fast and you’ll get slapped, popped or worse. Move too slow and you’ll cause boredom and find yourself alone. Move when their begging and everyone will have a great time.

Derek:  DON’T! Unless you love it and are willing to struggle through most of it. Get used to couches and ramen noodles. I’m going to sound like a parent here for a second, don’t put all your eggs in one basket, have a back up plan. I wish I did. Or if your independently wealthy, then for sure be a filmmaker.

Jacob:  Make your own stuff. I spent years out here writing scripts and taking meetings and talking about what-ifs and what could be– and nothing happened. Just an endless waiting game. But if you find a group of people with your same drive, passion and tenacious spirit, go make things! Grab a camera and go do it. Each project you complete makes you better than before.

What was it like going from making youtube webisodes to your first feature? challenges? advice?

Derek:  Production wise it didn’t feel much different because I’ve been working with the same team for so long, I knew what to expect. However it took longer to get the movie out to folks. What I like about youtube is you shoot it, edit it and post it. With a movie you have so many hoops to jump through before anyone can watch it.

Noel:  They are not the same. They are not even close. A web series just needs to be made and broadcast. A movie needs to be made and sold so that 40 different someone ELSEs can broadcast. This means that you need to have your crap together and you won’t. No matter how hard you try prepare. So my advice is to know that it requires more of you than can possibly expect (even after reading this and thinking you have a concept of what is expected, you don’t. You’re not even close) and to just put one foot in front of the other until you reach the finish line, no matter how daunting, confusing or impossible the next step may seem. You will get there if you don’t stop, so don’t stop.

Jacob:  It’s a dramatic leap. The key with webisodes are their brevity. And if your props look fake or you have inconsistency in the background, it’s not a deal breaker by any means. People are usually watching your content on a tiny window and quite forgiving. Not to mention the content is usually FREE! The moment you jump to a feature with limited funding, you have to be much more delicate with what you capture in camera, and how the pacing of your characters and story can be sustained for an hour and a half. No easy task! But in the end, I think House Harker does exactly what we set out to accomplish.

Do you have a favorite director? If so, who and why?

Noel:  I love directors with comic timing. Edgar Wright’s most underrated skill is his comic timing. It’s not that he whip pans, it’s WHEN he whip pans. Jay Chandrasekhar is F**king hilarious too. Look at the television episodes he has directed on imdb and you’ll find that they are some of the best in modern memory. Oh, Harold Ramis! I miss that man so much. No one has ever been better at giving his actors rope and then letting the joke build until it explodes. It’s really difficult in this phrenetic and immediate, digital age to be patient with humor, but if you can pull it off… boom. Harold Ramis was something else.

Jacob:  I’d say Christopher Nolan, Alfonso Cuaron, Edgar Wright and Michel Gondry. It’s like my personal four corners of creative talent that inspire me. Nolan is grandiose, gritty and epic, Cuaron is hauntingly beautiful, Wright is funny and frantic, and Gondry is surreal and dreamlike.

Derek:  Wes Anderson. He just makes these wild movies, the stories and characters are so unique to the point that you know you’re watching a Wes Anderson movie.

What were some challenges making House Harker?

Derek:  The weather for sure. It slowed down production so much. But everyone that was there was committed to finishing the movie and doing the best job they could. We had a tough crew with a good sense of humor. Thank god.

Noel:  Please don’t ask me to relive that again.

Jacob:  The list is quite extensive. Polar vortexes, lack of funds, conflicting schedules, lost locations, rewritten scenes, endless post production challenges and obstacles to overcome every single day. But we fought hard together through some of the toughest things we’ve ever been put through, and came out with a crazy fun comedy horror.

If you could do one thing differently in making House Harker, what would it be?

Jacob:  The ability to hire the extra help we needed so that the bulk of challenges didn’t rest on only a few people.

Derek:  Fuck, that’s hard to answer because some of the shit that went down made the movie better. The very last shot was a nice happy accident. I wish we had a little more time to get more shots of the town. In the script the town felt like a second character and we have very little footage of the town itself.

Noel:  This is a tough question because we couldn’t have done anything differently when making House Harker. House Harker was an underfunded, independent passion project that could only be made the way it was made. We were put into terribly difficult positions, time and time again because of the circumstances of the movie. In most cases the only way out was through the slaughterhouse. But we were GOING to finish the movie no matter what, so through the saw and grinder we went. The different thing to do is have enough money, time and experience to plan for and avoid the worst problems, but nobody gets to do that on their first go round. So my answer is nothing. I would change nothing, because doing it has given us what we need to never have to be in those positions again.

How important are pre and post production?

Noel:  Production is all that anyone cares about or talks about, because that’s one of the two times that the actors put in their hard work. The other time is during promotion, because they are the best communicators on your team. So they talk about their experience when promoting and their experience was production. Production is hard work, high stress and long hours and it deserves the attention it gets, but it seems upon a cursory examination to be 90% of the activity of filming and it is not. It’s probably 30% of the project. Pre-production should be another 20% because that’s when you set everything up so that production can run smoothly. Unfortunately, prep usually gets no money or time in an independent film and that’s why production is so hard. If you have sufficient attention and funding in prep then production can be a lot of fun (or so I hear) because most of the pitfalls have been planned for and removed. Post is massive. There is so much to do in post. People think of post as editing but that’s only a part of it. The editor can’t even touch the footage until it has been prepared for them and after they do cut it, that’s really only the picture. You have to get the sound right and the score and you have to color grade it. All of that takes time and unsung, talented people. But even that is not close to all of post. Once you have a movie you still need to do deliverables. What are deliverables? Deliverables are the tools that a sales company and distributor would need to present, promote, sell and screen your movie to people who speak dozens of different languages, may have physical disabilities and who live in hundreds of countries across the globe. Post production is easily 40% of the project and it will get 10% of your independent budget. The last 10-ish percent of the project is marketing and that’s really not a fair number either. If you had the funds to put 50% of your attention on marketing, you’d have a popular movie, if it’s good… or terrible, terrible movies do really well when properly promoted.

Jacob:  Absurdly important for both pre and post. But I think you can spend as much time as you can afford, and that forces you to think quick and move fast and do the best you can with what you’ve got.

Derek:  Both equally important.

What’s your top 10 must watch movie list?

Jacob:  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Children of Men, The Royal Tenebaums, Inception, Aliens, Star Wars Ep IV: A New Hope, Singin’ in the Rain, The Shawshank Redemption, Back to the Future, and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Derek:  1. Ghostbusters. 2. Back to the Future 3. E.T. 4 Bottle Rocket 5. Ace Ventura 6. Evil Dead 7. Unforgiven 8. Rushmore 9. Braveheart 10. Lethal Weapon

Noel:  In no particular order, the movies I would take to the desert Island would be Christmas Vacation, Hot Fuzz, Ocean’s Eleven, Van Wilder, Back to the Future, Caddyshack, The Princess Bride, Love Actually, The Birdcage, Mary Poppins. I would regret leaving home The Incredibles, National Treasure and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (both versions). Another must is Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Let’s make it 11 (sic).

To learn more about these Good Cops follow their twitter @goodcopstv, @househarker and like their Facebook facebook.com/househarker and facebook.com/goodcopstv.

If you have any questions you’d like to ask, tweet them or message them on facebook!

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