Zachary Leeman chats with Brett Murray, producer of Shooting Clerks…
Tusk mastermind Kevin Smith started his days in a convenience store in New Jersey called Quick Stop. It was his time behind the counter there that inspired his 1994 film Clerks.
The movie was made for peanuts (around $27,000) by Smith and his friends without the promise of distribution or ever getting an audience. However, Smith did find that audience and supporters in Miramax and super producer Harvey Weinstein who introduced the movie to the world.
Now Smith and the independent inspirational behind the scenes story behind Clerks have inspired countless people and nabbed plenty of fans.
Perhaps proving themselves to have taken the inspirational story in a very direct but motivating fashion, director Christopher Downie and producer Brett Murray and others are creating the behind the scenes story of Clerks as Shooting Clerks and they are doing it with the same do it yourself template set up by Smith all those years ago.
Offering investment packages through social media, performing several crowdfunding efforts and even selling props on eBay, the Shooting Clerks filmmakers have taken a commercial and well known story and almost redefined independent cinema for a new generation. Still busting ass for funds and well on their way to releasing the feature with the blessing of Smith himself, producer Brett Murray took time out of his busy schedule to sit down with us to discuss the movie, the inspiration and how it is shooting a real independent feature today.
Zachary Leeman: Where did the original inspiration for Shooting Clerks come from?
Brett Murray: The inspiration for the film itself was always from Christopher Downie, the director and vision holder of the project. He was halfway through his third smod-related short when I came on board, and I think that my role as producer was the key reason why Get Greedo got finished. I met Downie in university, having seen his presentation on his Babble-On fan films for a piece of coursework, and I took a fairly instant liking to him and the project. After several months of balancing coursework with a battle plan, we finished the final day of shooting in early 2012, filming over the course of one weekend in Edinburgh. A few months later, the team came back together to work on a sequel, Undercover Lover, which is still in the works.
Myself being from Jersey, and Downie being the world’s biggest fan, I’d like to think we came at it from the perfect approach – as Downie says, he was sick of waiting around for somebody else to make it, so he made the flick himself. We had always had a slightly far-off idea that we would move on to do a Kevin Smith biopic feature, and it was actually one of the first big things we talked about, even before I had started on-set with the shorts. Fast forwarding several months, the occasional email response from Jordan Monsanto, Mewes’ wife, was an encouraging sign that there was a market for what we were doing. Once Greedo went live on Kevin’s YouTube channel in the summer of 2013, it brought the idea of doing a feature closer to reality.
ZL: I can’t imagine a film being much more independent than this one. You guys have had a bumpy road in some respects. What was it like having your first crowdfunding effort come up short and how great did it feel to have the second one succeed?
BM: From the beginning when we started budgeting our film, we knew it was going to cost more than anything we had ever attempted; the other indie shorts on our channel are based around what we have in front of us, which of our friends will sacrifice a weekend to come be on camera or behind the scenes, or how much cash we have to spare on costumes and props at the end of the month. We were hopeful with the first campaign; getting the full sum would have been a dream to work with – thirty grand to Hollywood is a micro-budget, but to us it would have been more than enough to keep everybody paid, fed, and happy.
However, as with any producer, I am constantly prepared for things to go disastrously wrong; from the start I thought of it more as an awareness-spreading campaign. It was encouraging to get videos from everybody; the actors we had decided to cast, original Clerks members like Ernie O’Donnell and Scott Schiaffo, and (most importantly) Kevin Smith himself. When the campaign came up short, I wasn’t heartbroken, but I was disappointed, and apprehensive of the challenge that lay ahead. Downie and I had both been in our final year of our Bachelor’s degree, juggling the film with friends, family, and piles of coursework. There were some stressful weekends debating whether or not to carry on with the project – it’s one of the advantages of working in a duo, that if one person is in a slump, you’ve got a partner in crime to pull you out of it.
I felt that the first campaign worked to a degree, but not enough to call it a success – we had caught the attention of some cool people who wanted to get involved, which really put our hopes up in terms of finding a private investor. When those leads all fell through, we had no choice but to reassess our budget, recast a decent chunk of our actors, and organize deferred payment for everybody.
Needless to say, I had doubts when we went into the second campaign. We cut the funding to a quarter of its previous value, ran the campaign in dollars rather than British pounds, and I spent a month jumping distractedly from my dissertation to pre-production. It was a close call when we got our final chunk of support, running it up until the last few days to see if we would get awarded the full amount. We were certainly happy that the second campaign was successful, but it was more of a huge relief than anything else – campaign or not, we had passed the point of no return, and the movie was going to get made no matter what. Even in the wake of the successful second campaign, I still had contingencies planned, and thanks to some smaller private investors, we were able to cover all our bases.
ZL: How involved is Kevin Smith in the film?
BM: I can safely say that Kevin himself has given his blessing to the project since the very start of our journey. We met him back in July after his showing of Super Groovy Cartoon Movie in Manchester, and it was the exact motivational push we needed to get the cameras rolling. He’ll be playing a minor role in our scenes where they take Clerks to the Sundance Film Festival, and we’re in talks to have him do sections of the narration that ties the story together. Now that we’re in our final stages of filming, and the first stages of assembling, we’ve generated some buzz between some other original Clerks cast members – fingers crossed you’ll see and hear a few of them in the final product.
ZL: Any stories from the frontline for other independent filmmakers? Struggles filming or obstacles you’ve overcome that you never saw coming people can learn from?
BM: When it comes to struggles and obstacles, it’s something that our whole team could talk about all day. We took a lot of pride in the short films that we’ve worked on, specifically Get Greedo. My first approach to the feature was to treat it like a series of interconnecting short films, and put in a comparable amount of time and effort. In hindsight, there were unknown factors that were never on the radar for short films, and we could have only prepared for a small portion of those. When you’re making films with your friends, you never have to budget feeding cast members, or taking care of their accommodation needs. We’ve never worked with such a large cast; with a dozen key cast members, issues like scheduling and transportation become more complicated than filming on evenings and weekends with a couple of friends. Renting public spaces for long periods of time suddenly meant paying rental fees and dealing with liability insurance; something we had never experienced previously. I was balancing a schedule in my head 24/7, plotting out exactly when and where we needed our team of up to fifteen people.
I had never dealt with contracts or running a business before – a feature film isn’t the same bag of ‘favour for a favour’ and ‘it will be a laugh’ that the shorts were. There were kinks in a lot of the processes that we thought would work smoothly – that being said, our collective problem-solving ability meant that we were rarely slowed down for too long. When we lost an actor, we would use body doubles and recast somebody cast in days. When we would lose a location, we were able to find a comparable one or fiddle the script and green screen in the blanks. Half of my clothes went the wardrobe on Shooting Clerks, and all of Downie’s house was taken up the Quick Stop and RST sets. We sacrificed a lot to get this far.
The whole process was a learning curve for myself and Downie more than anybody else. We were doing five jobs at a time to keep everything on track; I was producer all the time, but I was also on sound, sometimes on screen, acting as script supervisor and accent coach – I can officially put about 18 more job titles on to my resumé than when I started.
Unlike a studio project, we had little choice but to call in favors – you’ll see in the credits and in the background that I roped in a whole range of friends to “come hold the boom pole for a day”, or to “just sit in this seat and pretend you’re having a good time”. In all honesty, I think we only hit our stride during the final hellish month of August filming.
ZL: When can people expect to see Shooting Clerks and how do you plan on releasing the movie?
BM: In terms of release date, when you don’t have money, you need time. When we ran out of money in the start of August, we knew we were going to have to take our time to get things finished and assembled. I have gone back to university to do a postgraduate course, and Downie is working part-time until further notice to support himself during post-production. In talking with a few of our film industry contacts, the consensus is to not rush; unfortunately, my artistic answer is simply that the film will be done when it’s done. Whilst we had original hopes to follow Kevin’s footsteps to Sundance in January, we aren’t concerning ourselves with external deadlines; in terms of touring the film, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
When it comes to release, there are a wide range of ways to get the film out there in the public eye. I think that at a base level, it’s guaranteed we’ll be selling DVD’s and Blu-rays somewhere online; but we’re aiming to hit the online streaming and on-demand market as well. A wide cinematic release seems unlikely at this point, but crazier things have happened. Personally, I think our end goal is to take it on the road to arthouse cinemas, and do Q+A’s sessions afterwards, like the big man himself. As long you watch this space, you’ll be hearing from us again soon enough.
ZL: Thanks for taking time, good luck and I look forward to talking again.
BM: It’s been a pleasure; same to yourself, sir.