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Making Micro-Budget Films: Interview with Executive Producer Mathius Mack Gertz

September 6, 2012 | By | Add a Comment
Special thanks to Mike Haberfelner from (re)Search my Trash for letting us re-post this interview excerpt with Mathius Mack Gertz. Find the full interview here

Mathius Mack Gertz has developed, financed, produced, marketed and/or distributed more than 25 feature and new media projects. He has been described as “one of the good guys.”

7NightsOfDarknessMike Haberfelner: In general, as an executive producer, how big is your influence on the creative side of filmmaking?

Mathius Mack Gertz: Generally speaking, not much. However, if as an EP I have creative respect from a writer/director, then we can collaborate effectively. It all comes down to relationships and making the time to deepen them and establish a trusting environment. Since my background and education is both creative and business, filmmakers tend to give me the benefit of the doubt as long as I deliver what I say I will.

MH: I suspect the concepts of the films you produce are hardly ever your own – so how do you choose the projects you produce? And does marketability play a big role in your decision making process?

MMG: While I can write, I choose not to most of the time. I prefer to develop existing material. To that end I have to have a script that I believe can be developed into an excellent one with a writer or writer/director that has the ability to take notes and rewrite. I believe that the art of screenwriting is not about writing. You only do that to get the idea out of your head and onto paper. The art is in the rewriting process. Now can we rewrite a script eight, ten, twenty times and get it to where we can attach bankable talent and financing to make a commercial enough film that will return investment and provide money to make the next film? Many times at the micro level you will need to look at scripts that will fill a niche in the market place in order to create that kind of a perfect storm. For example: horror, urban, faith or family based, Latino, children’s, Christmas.

Mathius Mack GertzMHMost of the movies you produce are low to micro budget films. How would you describe the market for such movies, the means of distribution, as well as your own business model for indie distribution?

MMG: First of all you have to have, at the very least, a well-developed very, very good script. It should be, most of the time, a classic three act structure and not be longer than about 100 minutes. Does the film speak to a specific audience that is underserved by traditional Hollywood? Does the film have a built in genre audience? Can you attach some bankable name talent? Do you have a director that understands cinematic storytelling and film conventions? Can the crew and the budget sustain good production values? Can it be made for a price that we can envision as being recoupable? Does the pitch have interest for a distributor?

With all that said, the market is changing month to month. Films I got involved with a couple of years ago I wouldn’t make or distribute today. Ironically, the democratization of indie filmmaking brought on by filming on HD and access to the internet is creating a glut of marginal product. That combined with the imminent demise of the DVD and BluRay platforms is making it much harder to distribute micro projects and return investment. I wouldn’t make a film today without some name cast that distributors want. However, that is not to say that if you have a burning desire to make a movie, to say something or prove something that you shouldn’t. Just do it with the reasonable expectation of not making all of your money back.

Caesar Otto Summer Camp MassacreMHThere are (unfortunately) people out there who don’t understand the appeal of indie, low-to-no budget films at all. So how would you describe your fascination with them?

MMG: I am not fascinated by them. I like good stories. I love well-made documentaries. I have the privilege of seeing many small films without star cast.

I love a subgenre of films known as Mumblecore. When they are well made they are a testament to the extreme micro-budget filmmaking art. I have two coming out this year. Alphonso Bow is one and Commit is another. My goal is create a win-win situation for the filmmaker, the distribution network and the public. We should all make some money and the public should get an opportunity to see diverse storytelling.

That can take many forms. I have a morally uplifting film, Works in Progress, coming out later this year. This is an indie film by a first time filmmaker that speaks to an underserved niche and does it well. A psychological horror film, Tiburon, just signed with me and a sexy urban comedy, Office Games, did too. So you see the trick with this is similar to the cable TV model. You need to have films that can zero in on a target audience.

MHHaving mostly worked on the business side of things, have you never had the itch to one day direct a movie yourself?

MMG: Yes. The longer I produce and distribute, the more I want to control the entire process. However, filmmaking is a derivative and collaborative art form, at its best. Just like it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a very cohesive film crew to make an excellent movie. When I have something I really want to say I will direct.

Mathius Mack GertzMHWhat got you into the filmworld in the first place, and the indie filmworld in particular? And what can you tell us about your early experiences within the movie industry?

MMG: I started out in theatre in New York City and left it for finance and marketing. When circumstance finally brought me out to Los Angeles, I decided to take some time off and return to school with the expectation of getting degrees in English and Business Administration. As a lark I took a course on the history of documentary film taught by Professor Joseph Daccurso and it knocked me feet over head. When the dust cleared I graduated from USC with degrees in Film Production & Entertainment Business, and History. Being a little bit older and less patient than my fellow graduates, I wasn’t interested in going the assistant route so I stepped off the road and cut my own path. I did five internships in various facets of the Hollywood entertainment business to get a lay of the land and then focused on the niche that I thought would best work for my personality, skill sets and ambition. That took me to producing and distributing. Along the way I have been screwed a couple of times, met and befriended some great people, gained the respect of my peers and landed on my feet.

MHAny future projects you’d like to talk about?

MMG: We are raising funding for a very well developed horror film to be shot for under $3MM.The short list for casting includes Bill Mosley, Danny Trejo, Michael Berryman, Linnea Quigley, Tony Todd, Alara Ceri and Shirley Jones.

Find Gertz’s latest films, 7 Nights of Darkness and Caesar & Otto’s Summer Camp Massacre on Amazon.com.

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