Interview with director Nicholas GyeneyJune 29, 2016
Immersed into the world of cinema at an early age by his father, Nicholas Gyeney was determined to be a filmmaker with a different style and vision. His latest feature, Beta Test, is his most ambitious yet, combining a great story with some incredible action sequences. Recently, we had a chance to talk to Nicholas about the challenges of directing and the state of film-making today.
Was it always about becoming a filmmaker for you or were you ever interested in the acting part of the movie world?
Nicholas: Well strangely enough, before I decided that film-making was for me, I did want to become an actor, and I still do love acting. I have little cameos in everything that I’ve done so far. But, as I began to appreciate and understand movies, I realized I was way too much of a control freak to take someone else’s orders all the time, and that I wanted to be the one orchestrating it all. So it seemed the leadership role of producing and directing was more fitting for me.
So once you decided on your career choice of film-making and dove in, what surprised you the most, in terms of how hard it was to actually get a movie made?
Nicholas: You know I think one thing people take for granted, and I certainly did when I was just starting out, is really understanding the business side of film-making. A lot of filmmakers – students who have just graduated from film school – all they can think about is getting their movie made. But they don’t realize just how complex the business side of the industry is, or understand the peaks and valleys of what audiences are looking for, what distributors are looking for, and just how important those things are to creating your movie. Obviously raising money is never fun. It’s never easy, it takes a lot of effort, and you have to really know what you’re doing and what you’re talking about and how to sell it. But I think in terms of developing and creating a story that you write for your specific budget, it surprised me just how intricate that process would be. To balance all that from the ground up.
Beta Test has a very interesting concept behind it. Can you tell me where the idea came from and how difficult was it transferring that idea from paper to actual film?
Nicholas: I’ve always been a bit of a conspiracy theorist, so I tried to layer in these ideas of today’s prevailing “conspiracy theories”. These ideas of corporations and the men behind the scenes pulling the strings or orchestrating events and actually pushing society towards whatever political agenda is current – that idea has always intrigued me, that kind of grand evil scheme idea. I also really wanted to make an indie film that would capture some sort of spectacle that, if executed properly, could potentially be on par, in terms of visual appeal, with what bigger action movies can offer. And that was the trick. And that’s when the idea for attempting the longest long take fight sequence ever filmed came up. Once I realized, ok, I’m going to go and try and break this record… that sort of married itself with these corporate greed/conspiracy theories. Taking those ideas and then applying the business to the creative, if I can accomplish this in an interesting narrative while cutting costs by developing video game sequences, you can have exciting actions scenes that in large, never need to be filmed. All those ideas converging eventually led to Beta Test
Now you mentioned the long choreographed fight sequence. What was that like to film and once you had it planned out did it turn out the way you hoped it would?
Nicholas: When you’re attempting something like that there’s all these little character flaws that come up that you either have to embrace as part of the charm of it or you start over. There are little things that you don’t anticipate, like there’s a bit in this long take where Creed attacks a guy and flips him down these stairs and his hat flies off and lands perfectly on this step. That was something that was totally unplanned and those are the little charming things that make it more special. Planning for it was really interesting because we had limited money and time. I had conversations with the biggest professionals in the industry – I actually talked with the guys who did the long take in Batman v Superman, and they said ok, I’d need a minimum of eight weeks, all these professional stunt guys, etc., and when I told them we have eleven days and a handful of stunt guys, plus some local martial artists and actors, they just sort of paused and laughed at me. They thought I was crazy. In fact, everyone thought I was crazy for attempting this, and no one thought we were going to be able to pull this off. But I knew we had to… because if we didn’t, that spectacle that I was trying to achieve would not have come through, and I needed that action sequence to work in order to sell this and to try and accomplish some kind of cult status, if that’s ultimately in the cards. We were choreographing it for eleven days and things were going very smoothly, and we planned for about twelve takes worth of materials. Everybody on the crew was trying to suggest coverage, shooting different pieces in case we couldn’t get it and I said no, we’re going to do this thing and we got there, we set it up, we rehearsed a few more times that morning and we got it on the first damn try. I remember when I yelled cut, I suddenly realized that we had just made history, it was a really good moment.
The movie puts forth some interesting ideas on where gaming could be going in the future. Are you a gamer yourself and how did you approach filming this part of the movie?
Nicholas: I’m actually not a gamer, I’m a Mario Kart/Goldeneye kind of guy. That’s one reason I really wanted to make a movie about gaming. Because I felt if a director who was a big gamer went after an idea like this, it would have the potential to kind of de-rail into more technical kind of territory. I wanted to make something that was accessible to a broader crowd. I appreciate the world of video games, but I don’t sit there and play Warcraft all night. So, that was ultimately the goal, to make it more accessible.
It certainly didn’t hurt your film, as a matter of fact it doesn’t hurt any film, to have Manu Bennett on board. How did he become attached to Beta Test and how quickly did he buy into what you were trying to say with this movie?
Nicholas: When I was developing the idea for the movie I originally wrote the character with Manu in mind. I had just finished watching seasons one and two of Arrow. I had no idea who he was before Arrow. I wasn’t a Spartacus guy, and I hadn’t been following his other stuff, so I started watching Arrow on Netflix and I was like, who the hell is this guy, this guy is awesome! So I wanted to make this indie film and I thought he would be a perfect choice; Someone who has a really strong fan base, but just hasn’t hit that mainstream stardom yet, you know? That’s exactly the type of actor you want to cast in an indie film like this because the industry tends to look more favorably on indie films that have these kind of rising stars in lead roles with a couple veterans surrounding them, like Larenz Tate and Linden Ashby, so I just sent it to his agent on a whim. He thought it was a really cool idea and there was a good creative partnership while we were shooting it.
When you are directing any film, what do you find are your biggest challenges and also your greatest rewards?
Nicholas: When you’re dealing with a limited budget, I think filmmakers who are directing much bigger films might say the same thing, you never have enough money. So you’re always on the ground, trying to balance getting your vision and sacrificing what you can actually accomplish with the time and money that you have. In terms of rewards I think it’s those little moments, those little happy accidents that come about from directing an actor a certain way and getting the performance that you’re looking for, then all the little tiny miracles start happening that enrich the story or the theme that you’re shooting.
It seems these days, especially with YouTube and iPhones that almost everyone is trying to make a film. Do you think this saturates the film industry with too much amateur content or are all the ‘different voices in the chorus’ so to speak a good thing?
Nicholas: I absolutely think there are too many people making films. I would say it’s almost an epidemic now. The film industry is getting overrun and consumerized, and so you’re seeing a lot more filmmakers making films for twenty thousand dollars, ten thousand dollars, or even less than that. I’m always trying to push my peers, who are either getting started or making their first feature, to not follow the urge to make a feature for no money like that unless they happen to have a lottery ticket script. If their script is the next Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity or something like that, then go for it. But the chances of you coming across or developing a screenplay like that are slim, and if you don’t, then you have to pad your production with alternate means to ensure its success. – Visual spectacle if you’re going the action/horror route, and/or your cast. Making sure you have some decent names that will help sell the film both domestically and abroad will make all the difference to a small film. When you’re making these little films for zero dollars, you’re obviously not going to have name actors in it, everyone is going to be working for free, and the best that you can hope for, again, unless you have this lottery ticket script, is that you’ll get it into a few film festivals and you’ll get some applause. So this is why I try and tell my peers to wait and raise some more money and make the film right. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there now who can make films and pull something off for ten grand or whatever, and many of them don’t have the creative vision or the business savvy to make the right film, so you’re seeing a market place that was already flooded with crap, beginning to be infested by it. I’d love to see fewer films of higher quality as a trend moving forward.
Do you find a lot of smaller films, like Beta Test, are having a hard time finding a market these days or is there still an audience out there that looks forward to a movie like this?
Nicholas: I think Beta Test is in this weird grey area. I think the social consciousness of the movie going audience is still at a place where, and we got very lucky with Beta Test – the fact that we have this really cool limited theatrical release is really the saving grace in terms of legitimizing the film to movie goers or watchers- but, the social consciousness is not quite there to embrace direct-to-video content as being ‘good’. Most people will see a direct-to-video small film like Beta Test and assume that it’s bad, like another Steven Segal piece of crap, you know? What I tried to do with Beta Test is to make a small action film, like those Steven Segal movies, except give it hopefully another layer of class that would elevate it to a higher level of quality while being produced on the same budget as one of those B-movie titles. I’m hoping as the social consciousness begins to embrace the direct-to-video market a bit more, and more quality films are released in this VOD market, you’ll start to see more movies that are small, like Beta Test, that have higher quality. It can and should be possible to achieve that.
So what projects do you have coming up next?
Nicholas: There are a couple. I’m finishing post-production on a comedy called Second Nature right now, which is a charming little movie that I’m excited about. I’ve got a modern action western that I’m currently circling one of my childhood heroes to star in… I’m not going to tell you who it is because I don’t want to jinx it, but he’s a big one, and if we land him it’s going to be quite a big career jump for me. I also have a horror film that I’ve been developing. So basically we’re working out timing. If we land this big actor for this modern action western we’re going to go on that right away. If things don’t quite work out then we’re going to move onto the horror film.
I want to thank Nicholas for taking the time to talk to us.