Frank T. Ziede
Matchflick Columnist Mike Thomas caught up with Frank T. Ziede, former and current actor-turned-director, to talk about his new project coming out, the zombie thriller NO TOMORROW.
Mike sat down with Frank for a round of Twenty Questions:
Mike: First of all and the most obvious question - Why shorts?
Ziede: I began as an actor, doing my training at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Los Angeles. I then moved to Chicago and once I was away from LA, I realized that I wanted to do my own films, tell my own stories. Since I had gone to school for acting and didn't have the resources or time to go to a top level film school, I wanted to learn by doing. So, in the last 8 years,I have been trying to make as many films as possible. So the natural choice was shorts. The simplest form of filmmaking. I have a quote I love from Robert Rodriguez: "We all have 10 to 20 bad films in us, so you better get them out of the way." With this advice I have been shooting and learning, shooting and learning.
Mike: Was the decision philosophical or economic?
Ziede: Both. Cost is always an issue. Filmmaking can be a costly business, but by building a network of skilled people in very specific fields (camera, editing, music) you can cut costs and make your dollars stretch a lot farther (while at the same time helping them anyway you can!). I also wanted to start small. Shorts have been a great proving ground for many famous directors and I really have loved using this format to improve my story telling abilities.
Mike: I've watched a few of your films, and a theme I've seen is you like to have your audience "fill in the blanks," that is you don't tell us everything. Is that a valid observation?
Ziede: Very. I like the old adage: show me, don't tell me. I also think that the human imagination is stronger than any image I can create. Another reason for this style in my films is budget. If we don't have the budget for live gunfire, we'll edit around it or let the audience imagine the guns blast and the mental picture it creates. I'm actually grateful for this lesson because I've learned that more money is not always the right answer.
Mike: I've also noticed that the production quality of your films is extraordinary! This ain't no camcorder and a flashlight. Your images seem very precise very deliberate. Is that because of the nature of your genre?
Ziede: I know that I am an action director, always have been. I know my genre and I believe that's my strength. I've moved into comedy, drama and thriller now with success, but they always have a level of action associated. As for our production value, that is another one of my favorite elements of our films. To do a lot with very little, great skill to have.
We try to make our films look high level and we shock most people with our sets, props and gear in our films. My favorite was DEVIATION, a short which won Best Short Film at the 2010 New York International Independent Film Festival. In the film we have a Deuce and a half (a two and a half ton military cargo truck) which is painted in camo with a front end covered in zombie blood. The truck is quite impressive on film and it only cost us: $20 bucks.
Deviation - Us vs. Them, and they'd Love To Have Us For Dinner
Mike: I am correct in assuming your filming style is very "portable?" It looks like you don't use a lot of equipment. It looks like you rely on natural lighting in the films I've seen. Am I correct, or is this the "mood" of your films.
Ziede: Mood/necessity. As our budgets grow, we'll have more options when it comes to lighting, but I'm also a fan of the natural look. On our most recent film NO TOMORROW, we chose to work with a lot of natural light because it really fit the mood, versus COVER which, due to it's dark subject matter, lent itself to more powerful lighting choices.
Mike: I like the fact that you let the visuals tell the story. The economy of the dialogue in the films I've seen makes you actually watch the film. One of the downfalls of a director like Quentin Tarantino is that there is WAY too much exposition. Again, is this your style?
Ziede: First off, I LOVE Tarantino. The man did his own thing and changed the face of independent film, so more power to him. His skill is really apparent when others try to copy his dialogue heavy style, and fail miserably. For my films though, economy of dialogue is my preference. Don't get me wrong, I have a dialogue heavy feature project called HEADSHOT, a dark comedy about the film industry. But in the short film format you only have a short amount of time to get your story across while keeping the audience engaged.
Mike: Some directors will build a story based on a single visual. What comes first for you - the visuals or the story?
Ziede: I have used both styles to create scripts/stories, but I definitely lean towards a visual beginning. I call them iconic images. These images keep me going, drive my story, put me in the film's unique world. I do my own storyboards and often go back to these images to remind me what my vision was early on.
Now for the obligatory questions:
Mike: When did you get the film making bug?
Ziede: Since I was a child I've always loved film. My family used to take us to the drive-in, I'd sneak into theatres and see 3 movies in one day, and I've probably rented every movie at the video store. Once I left LA I really got the drive to make the
kinds of movies I wanted to see.
Shooter - Suspense, Tarantino-style
Mike: Who were your inspirations?
Ziede: As a filmmaker, my inspiration comes from masters of their craft: Micheal Mann, James Cameron, and Ridley Scott lead my list. I also like Christopher Nolan, Early Luc Besson, and Matthew Vaughn.
Mike: What are your favorite films?
Ziede: Heat, Aliens, Collateral, Blade Runner, The Professional (AKA Leon) and The Matrix lead the list of my many favorites.
Mike: Was your family supportive?
Ziede: My father was never really around so when you say my family that equals my mom...and yes. She was absolutely supportive of me following my heart and choosing to pursue the arts. My entire extended family has all been active in the arts, so it was a natural choice for me.
Mike: Did you ever think, "I'm wasting my time. Maybe I'd do better as an accountant?"
Ziede: Not really. I have a great day job working as an automotive facilitator. Translation: I work for automotive manufacturers and train their employees on everything from product to process. I sometimes look at an early cut of a film and think, " Damn. What am I doing?" But I stop and remember that my goal is to learn by doing. Besides: I suck at math.
Mike: Then when did you say, "Hey, maybe I've got something here..."
Ziede: I think my confidence grew by the reaction of the people I was working with. I would approach other filmmakers and ask if they wanted to work on something. They'd of course ask to read the script and see what I've done before and after they had, they'd come to me and say "hey...this is pretty cool stuff." With each project I'd get similar reactions to our films again and again. That for me is the true test.
Mike: What was your biggest break - so far?
Ziede: I don't know if I've had a "big break" just yet, but I think I'm on the verge with this new project NO TOMORROW, a series of short films set in the zombie genre. We have a great producer on the project named Chris Pluchar and with a Blog, Facebook page and official website, we really have a great package set up to promote the project. Having one of my films in the 2010 LA Shorts Fest was pretty cool though.
Mike: Do you have a posse? A standing crew (actors, tech people) you call for when you start a project?
Ziede: Pretty much. I went to school in LA so I have a great group of actors/crew out there and now that I live in Chicago, I have a super strong crew out there as well. Since I'm from Phoenix I even have some team members there that I've worked with on several films.
Mike: What is your
"dream film?" If you had the resources, the talent (actors, production crew) and the locations, what would be your "Citizen Kane?"
NO TOMORROW - Watch for it!
Ziede: I have a long time passion project with the working title of VPK. It's the type of project that would have to be a studio picture. Huge budget, big stars, high concept. It's set in the vampire genre, telling the story of a serial killer who's got the world convinced he's a real vampire. It's a cross between Silence of the Lambs and The Lost Boys. I've been working on it for over 12 years and it may never get shot, but damn, do I love it.
Mike: And who would you want in it?
Ziede: I originally wrote it with Lawrence Fishburne in mind, but there are so many talented actors out there. Maybe Denzel Washington, Jude Law and Sam Worthington? The reality is, I'd be honored to have any major Hollywood actor take the time to read one of my scripts.
Mike: Would you want to be in it?
Ziede: No sir. I'd be way to busy trying to tell a story through film and those actors would be way more talented than I could ever be.
Mike: If you had the ear of the world, what would you say?
Ziede: Life is about the journey, not the destination. I know...its corny, but if I have begun to start learning one lesson that is currently changing my life, it's this one. Stop looking to a goal to change your life and make it better. The moment is all. As the saying goes: "You are exactly where you are supposed to be."
Mike: What's next for Frank T. Ziede?
Ziede: With the launch of NO TOMORROW we hope to find several name actors to star in it and the funding we need to do this movie the right way. We may even have access to a RED EPIC camera, the new cutting edge camera technology that several large scale films will be shot on in 2011 (including THE HOBBIT). If all goes as planned I'll be shooting the feature film in the summer or fall.
Check out Frank T. Ziede's shorts website, Power Forward Films and visit his Facebook page for No TOMORROW.
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