By Sam Zalutsky, Spalding Low-Residency MFA Dramatic Arts Faculty
In spring 2016, I directed my second feature film, Seaside, in my hometown of Portland, Oregon, and along the Oregon Coast. Seaside, a micro budget revenge thriller, is a project I’ve been working on since 2011. (Yes, movies take a LONG time!)
I shot the film with Portland and New York actors, including Ariana DeBose (Hamilton, A Bronx Tale, and the upcoming Donna Summer musical); Steffanie Leigh (Mary Poppins, War Paint); and Sharon Washington (Dot, The Scottsboro Boys), and a great local Oregon crew. Everyone was really dedicated and hardworking; the shoot was very intense but rewarding and fun. There is nothing like the rush of directing on set in a stunning environment like the Oregon Coast.
I financed the movie through a combination of small investors, tax-deductible donations through a fiscal sponsor, money my husband and I put in, and a Kickstarter campaign. It isn’t the easiest way to finance a movie, but I knew that if Seaside was going to work, I would have to take advantage of resources I had and be strategic to keep the budget as low as possible. And if I wanted the film quality to be good, I would have to be flexible in terms of schedule. There is an old adage about speed, quality, and price. You can never have all three at once, so in order to make this movie for less but still get good quality, I would have to sacrifice speed, specifically in post-production, and be flexible.
So we stayed at my parents’ beach house, my godparents’ beach house, and another beach house that I found online. My Portland producer, Alyssa, hired a small but talented crew that she had worked with previously. She also made deals with local vendors for discounted equipment, and we secured numerous in-kind donations, including coffee, challah (!), liquor, beer (an important incentive for the crew after long 12-hour days), and many meals. At this budget level, you have to be very scrappy and strategic. Lucky for us, Oregonians are both creative and incredibly supportive of the arts; it is a place that isn’t overrun with film productions, like New York or LA, so it is easier for people to be generous. We didn’t have to pay for any locations.
For post-production, I worked with editors in New York and Ireland, sound designers in New York, and a colorist and musician in Portland. Sometimes it felt like I needed an international time zone chart. But I was able to find talented collaborators who were available to work on a tight budget for a variety of reasons: they liked the script; they wanted to collaborate with me or another crew/cast member; it was an opportunity to stretch their skills or add to their resume; and we kept the days (relatively) short and had fun.
Since completing the movie in May, I’ve been submitting Seaside to festivals. While it’s been a rough road waiting to find our festival debut, it’s important to take stock and feel proud of what I and the rest of the participants have created. But in many ways my work is only beginning. My fingers are crossed that we will soon be accepted at a festival and I can share the film with everyone who supported us. Until then, you’ve got to keep the faith. And keep writing new scripts.
I’ve included some behind-the-scenes shots and some stills from a scene in the second half of the movie. But you can see many more pictures and follow our progress on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter @seasidemovie.
Sam recently finished his second feature, SEASIDE, a micro-budget thriller set on the Oregon Coast, starring Ariana DeBose (Hamilton). For his first feature, YOU BELONG TO ME, a psychological horror movie, Sam was shortlisted for the Independent Spirit Award’s Someone to Watch Award. It is distributed by Wolfe Releasing in North America, and also throughout Europe, South Africa, and Australia. His most recent short, HOW TO MAKE IT TO THE PROMISED LAND, about a girl who has to play a Holocaust role-play game at summer camp, was funded through Kickstarter and the Jerome Foundation, and premiered on shortoftheweek.com. His adapted pilot, HUSH, which he wrote with Rachel Harper, was a finalist for the Sundance Episodic Lab in 2015. Sam has been second unit director on two true crime shows, A CRIME TO REMEMBER and I,WITNESS, from XCON Productions. He also was a director and producer of the comedy webseries, THE GO-GETTERS. His earlier short films include SUPERSTORE, STEFAN’S SILVER BELL, and SMEAR. Currently Sam teaches screenwriting Spalding University’s Low Residency MFA in Writing program. He has taught at Bennington, NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, and at Tec de Monterey (Querétaro, Mexico) and has been awarded residencies at the MacDowell Colony, VCCA, and Fundación Valparaiso (Mojácar, Spain). Sam received his BA in studio art from Yale University and his MFA in film from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. For more work, go to http://www.sazamproductions.com or on Twitter/Instagram @zalutsky.