Its great to speak to people in the Video and Film industry and learn about how they get on with putting their productions together. We spoke to Martin Melnick from Portland, Oregon in the USA about his recent film Underbelly.
My name is Martin Melnick. I am an aspiring writer and director, but I have been a professional editor, visual fx compositor, and colorist for three years now. I graduated from the School of Film and Photography at Montana State University in the US, and moved to Portland where I began a post production house called “Treehouse Post.”
Treehouse Post specializes in high end finishing of feature films, TV, music videos, and commercials and offers a range of services including on/offline editing, visual fx and Digital Intermediate color finishing.
How long have you been a filmmaker and what inspired you to become one?
I started acting at a young age and became exposed to the industry quickly. Over the years, I discovered a passion for the other side of the camera and grew to appreciate the creative expression possible there. I spent the rest of my adolescence working to get into film school and educate myself.
You have just released a new short film called ‘Underbelly’ can you tell us what its about and where you got the idea for it?
The film “Underbelly” is a short morality tale about two surgeons that are inducted into the world of Organ Harvesting. It deals with ethical questions surrounding the nature saving lives and making god like choices.
I wrote the first draft of Underbelly when I was in college. I grew up with a physician in my household, so I remembered hearing about epidemics, health problems, etc growing up. My father is in the public health field, so my understanding of medicine had always come from a ‘preventive’ sort of approach that sympathized less with patients who were already ill, but more so with the plight of the system.
Many people reading this article will be interested to learn about how you got the idea started and to the point of showcasing in Portland.
I had the good pleasure of already working on other projects with really talented filmmakers such as our cinematographer Oliver Williams. When I brought the script to him, he was intrigued by it, and was eager to get started. Once we were able to raise enough budget, we were able to get the ball rolling.
Because we filmed it all around Portland, and it is very much a Portland made film, we decided to premiere it for the crew in Portland. It was a long process from pre-production to final premiere, but well worth it all.
Did you set a budget for the film – how did that go?
The most important decision in the pre-production process was in hiring a good producer that handled our budget and organized all of our assets. Our producer, Benjamin Lyerly was great at organizing and securing our funds for different departments. I can’t stress enough, how important this is.
What types of Video / Film cameras were used to create it? Can you share some interesting information about the equipment used on set to create the shots?
We’ve all had access to, and been familiar with the Red camera system. We shot this film on two cameras – the RED EPIC, and the RED Scarlett. They are both great cameras and allowed us to work efficiently and for a great deal less cost than shooting on film. The Epic shoots in 5k resolution and is well worth trying out. It gave us a lot of latitude in post production for both re-sizing as well as with regards to visual fx and color grading.
Did you cast for the film?
I held extensive auditions for various roles. Our two main actors however were hired in unconventional ways. Jeffree Newman, I had the fortune to observe while he acted in another piece shot locally. Brian Sutherland, was unable to audition locally, but managed to send in a video audition that blew me away. I usually prefer to be more hands on with prospective talent during an audition (giving a little direction for example), but his video audition was so strong, that I had little doubt as to his ability to play his role.
When you finished shooting the film how did you decide to market the finished product? Did you use the internet, film competitions, etc. At what stage in the process of making the film do you think marketing should begin?
These days, it seems like the best methods for promoting independent pieces is through social media. Facebook, websites, social media posts, teaser trailers etc. typically work the best to get the word out. We weren’t aiming to make our film quite as public before the festival circuit began, but found enough coverage in online networking to at least get people’s attention and excitement up. Promotion should begin at the beginning. Never stop promoting. You can give too much away if you aren’t careful, but it never hurts to keep the public believing that the process is ongoing and that the filmmakers are constantly working.
You premiered the film in your hometown – was it easy to arrange with the cinema? Do you think its good to have a premiere at a Cinema for short movies as well as the internet?
I think it makes it more fun to hold a real premiere. It is certainly not necessary. I was able to get a good deal on a local theater that I really love. It wasn’t a public premiere, but rather a big screening for all of the cast and crew and it meant more to me for them to see all of their hard work on the screen than anything else.
What would be the best piece or pieces of advice you would give to anyone who is reading this article that is considering making a short film based on what you have learnt from making this one?
I would say, planning is the best piece of advice I can give. Being a creative can be difficult in that I find it very hard to hold myself back from a desire to express my ideas. The risk of rushing any project, is just that, it will appear rushed and suffer quality loss. In my opinion, the film is virtually made in pre-production and there is no reason why it should ever be rushed. Don’t understimate the power of planning. I held weeks of rehearsals with the talent before we arrived on set, and our DP and I visited our locations many times before shooting. It makes a world of difference.
What are you working on now?
Getting pre-production done on another short. Our team has a lot of projects coming up that I can’t talk about yet, but are sure to be interesting and keep us pretty busy.
Where can we see the film?
Currently, ‘Underbelly’ is not publically released as of yet. We are about to hit the festival circuit so we cannot release it online, but will be available privately upon request and will have a public release as soon as it has officially premiered at festivals.
We’ll keep you updated and let you know when we hear more about Underbelly.
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