1. What first drew you to filmmaking and how did you get started?
Christian: I can remember back to when I was really young, before I could even read – I would act like I was reading but the book would be upside down. I would just make up stories and “read” them to my family. I think that I’ve just always had the desire to tell stories and entertain people.
Puzzo: There really was no “first” for me. My passion developed and morphed as I was growing up but if I had to pinpoint something it would be watching featurettes on DVDs in middle school and high school. Most notably, The Lord of the Rings the Fellowship of the King bonus set and the special edition Anchorman set. I can’t remember how many times I watched those throughout high school, but I know it was a lot.
2. Where did you grow up and how did you end up in Pittsburgh?
Christian: I grew up in South Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia but made my way to Pittsburgh for college to attend Point Park University in their Cinema and Digital Arts Program.
Puzzo: I kind of grew up all over the US, but the easy answer is that I was born in Texas and spent a lot of time there so that’s generally what I go with. I ended up in Pittsburgh because I had an Uncle who owned a production company in the city who recommended PPU to me. The rest is history.
3. Where are you now and what brought you there?
Christian: I currently live in LA working as a cinematographer. I moved out here immediately after graduation and my senior thesis film, REQUITED, being a finalist in the Student Academy Awards.
Puzzo: I’m currently in living Los Angeles. When I graduated my parents lived in Arizona so after graduation it made sense for me to immediately pick up and leave, especially since I knew I would only be a short drive from LA. It was just what made sense for me at the time.
4. How do you feel about Pittsburgh’s growing film community?
Christian: I think its great! The city has so much to offer in versatility and has such a strong talent pool. I think one thing I don’t see in LA that I miss about the Pittsburgh film industry is the comradery between all the passionate filmmakers. You are nothing in this industry without those you surround yourself with – its such a collaborative art form, and its hard to find people that really share that same passion in big cities like LA. My core team here in LA is all from my Pittsburgh network. We stick together, and we always will. That’s something Pittsburgh has going for it that other places don’t.
Puzzo: I love and miss Pittsburgh so much. It’s really great seeing projects of all shapes and sizes being produced there. The sights and sounds of Pittsburgh are really cinematic, it would be such a shame if that spring wasn’t being tapped.
5. What notable projects have you done in the past, and where has your work been shown?
Christian: Most recently, I shot some live action assets for some FIJI Water commercials; I shoot a lot for major fashion magazines like Cosmopolitan, Glamour, etc. Earlier this year I shot a feature film starring Chris Klein called OUT OF THE BURNING BLUE. My senior thesis film, REQUITED, was a finalist in the Student Academy Awards in 2012. I also shot a commercial for Reebok FitList.
Puzzo: My thesis film at Point Park University, REQUITED, was a finalist at the Student Academy Awards and went on to win the Wyoming Short Film Competition, which won the seed money for CARDINAL MATTER. Since then, I have also worked assisting the props master on a show called WIZARD WARS which airs on SyFy Network and another show called ELLEN’S DESIGN CHALLENGE for HGTV as well as a few others.
6. How was the Cardinal Matter script and story developed and what made you decide to make this story a feature length film?
Christian: The conception of this project actually came from when we won the Wyoming Short Film Contest (the money goes towards production of a film). The only rule was you had to shoot in Wyoming. We originally were set out to make a dark ages period short film. After doing a script breakdown and budget, we realized we could make a modern day, rural Wyoming feature for roughly the same price. Madeline, Tom Major and I put together a bunch of ideas and they all kind of meshed into this one idea. We actually went up to Wyoming to scout our potential shooting locations before writing the script so we could take advantage of what we had access to, and ensured we weren’t writing something outside of our means. From there, it was just a 5-month process if intense collaboration and an uncountable amount of man-hours put into story/character development.
Puzzo: The idea to make our next project a feature film came before the idea for the story. After we won the Wyoming Short Film Competition we had decided to put the winning money towards a highly stylized period short film. After thinking about the possibilities of winning that kind of money again we decided it would be better to take the next step and jump head first into a modern feature film to match the budget we had available to us. We kind of figured, “Heck, we don’t know if we will ever get this kind of opportunity again, so let’s make the most of it and really do something that forces us outside our comfort zone.” That has kind of become our motto. As for the story, Mark, Tom Major (the writer), and myself pitched each other a few ideas and we ended up meshing them together to make Cardinal Matter. We knew we had to shoot the movie in Wyoming so we decided on an amazing town near the Grand Teton National Park called Dubois. Before really tackling the script we did a location scout in Dubois and from there we were able to cater the script to the landscape and locations available. It was a unique process, but it was a schedule that fit our personal situation, and looking back I wouldn’t change a thing.
7. When did you first begin production on Cardinal Matter? What challenges have you had to overcome along the way?
Christian: We started the creative process of Cardinal Matter back in August 2013, so its been a long process. We shot in May of 2014 and are just now finishing post production, a year after principle photography. As for challenges we’ve had to overcome, that list could go on for days. I think our biggest challenge is the lack of funds, which has an effect on every aspect of the production. Luckily, we’ve surrounded ourselves with incredible people who have been nothing but supportive and collaborative throughout the process.
Puzzo: Production began in May 2014 and ended June 2014. I think one of the biggest challenges you learn when making a low budget feature isn’t necessarily the fact that you don’t have enough time or money, that part is a given and you go in understanding that fact. However, as a result of the money and time issue you end up having to make sacrifices on set and it can be challenging to look at your project and understand what can truly be sacrificed and what cannot…all while keeping your outward appearance calm and collected. Sometimes when you are in the thick of the chaos that is “#setlife” it can be difficult to get the clarity to see the full effect of your inthemoment decisions and how they effect the story months later in the edit room. Ultimately, those are the moments where you have to pat your “past self” on the back and thank them for all the preproduction studying you did in order to make that split second decision making possible.
8. How did you go about getting funding for this project?
Christian: Our initial seed money came from the Wyoming Short Film Contest, which we won with out short film, REQUITED. From there, I put together a pitch packet and approached a lot of potential investors- most of which said “No, because that’s not possible” To me, when someone says its not possible, that’s a million more reasons I need to make it happen. That’s what we did, and I can’t wait for all those that said it wasn’t possible to see what we’ve done.
Puzzo: It was all an extremely slow, heartbreaking, and mind boggling experience. There are only a certain amount of times people can say “no” to you before wondering if you should stop, but that’s all part of what makes the process great in the end. Not stopping, and forcing yourself to get creative. The seed money came from The Wyoming Short Film Contest that we won, and from there we approached private investors for funds, while also using an indiegogo crowd funding campaign to fill in the rest. Steeltown was great enough to come in to save us just weeks before production with some financial support as well. There were a lot of times where we felt lost, but if you get creative enough, you can generally find a way to make it happen.
9. What was it like taking you’re your cast and crew from Pittsburgh out to Wyoming?
Christian: I have always been a fan of remote location shooting. I feel that when the crew is off in a remote place, living with each other, living those experiences together, there is nothing better. You become a real family. It’s a truly sad experience when the production is over. Even though there is an immense amount of relief as you conclude production, you realize that you and your family of cast and crew are all headed separate ways…until the next one.
Puzzo: It’s tough to shoot on location away from what is comfortable, but Mark and I are passionate about not only setting our films in unique places, but actually going there to film. There is nothing better than being out in the middle of nowhere with just your cast and crew and we strongly feel that creating these great experiences for the people we work with directly effects the quality of the project. We loved being there, and loved going to work. Every moment was play and work at the same time. Some of the most challenging days of my life were during production and I wouldn’t give them up for anything, because I did it with some of the most amazing people in a place that will always be uniquely ours.
10. What have you learned through this experience? How different was it to make a micro budget feature that a short film?
Christian: I’ve learned a tremendous amount throughout this process. It’s weird because making a feature and making a short are so similar in a lot of ways, and yet totally different. You are still practicing the same theories, fundamentals, and techniques. You’re still piecing sequences together one shot at a time. And that’s what you have to remember the entire time. Take it in baby steps because as soon as you look at the entire production, you WILL BE overwhelmed. There’s simply just too much to process. You have to rely on your meticulous pre-production and believe in your past self to have taken each scene, break it down by beats and what certain moments mean and how they relate to others 60 minutes later. You need to plant things and pay them off visually, audibly, and thematically. That’s where it’s trickier than a short film. Remember to set up the cohesive storyline throughout and carrying out that theme. If you take it one shot at a time and trust in your pre-production, the shoot will end, and you’ll have a movie somewhere in there. Now you just have to dig it out.
Puzzo: The list could go on for days. Whenever Mark and I have a new project we always set out to push past our comfort zone. If you aren’t learning something new, then why are you there? We are always constantly looking for ways to improve and grow, and this project was nothing short of that. I think on the grand scale I learned that making a feature film is now something I know I can do, which can be a serious hurtle to jump. Now that I’ve done it once I know as long as I keep my head on straight I can do it again…except bigger and better. Obviously, the theories are all the same from short form to long form filmmaking, but I think for me the biggest difference was making sure I was keeping things consistent for 24 days of shooting and to boil all that down to 97 minutes. When you plant something in short form the payoff comes a lot quicker, but with a feature film you wonder if people will remember certain things from an hour ago. You just have to be more diligent when preparing characters and make sure you talk with your actors to keep everything consistent.
11. How has this project helped you grown as a filmmaker?
Christian: …In every way possible. I feel stronger and more confident than ever in my film career, and I am just ready to move on to the next one. I think that’s where I’ve grown. It’s always about the next project being bigger and better. That’s always been my philosophy, but never more than now.
Puzzo: Mostly it just introduced me to the parts of filmmaking I never had to deal with before and gave me more experience in those areas. From finances to casting, to editing, it was all on a larger scale than I was used to, but now that I have crossed that barrier it’s not such a crazy thing. It’s exciting knowing that this was just the tip of the iceberg, the experience only introduced me to these new aspects of filmmaking and I’m excited keep experimenting.
12. What was it like working with the cast and crew?
Christian: I’ve never worked with a better group of people. Seriously. These people, for some reason agreed to go across the country and live in Wyoming for a month with me. How crazy do you have to be to do that?! In all seriousness, we had a great time. We worked hard, long days and were incredibly focused on making this the best possible movie. It was very fulfilling creatively and professionally. And to reference what I said earlier, its like you’re family when on set together. Being up there in this beautiful country and isolated from our everyday lives, it was a real treat. I think we will all treasure that month for the rest of our lives.
Puzzo: It was unforgettable. I could not feel more lucky to have shared this experience with such devoted and wonderful people. Filmmaking is so collaborative, and I couldn’t be more proud of the work we have completed together. I look forward to the day we all meet again on set.
13. Congratulations on finishing the movie. How does it feel to start having audiences see your work?
Christian: Its both exhilarating and nerve-racking. You spend two years making a movie so that people can watch it and hopefully get something out of it, while also being thoroughly entertained. At the same time, you are terrified that you have failed and won’t live up to people’s expectations or that your idea just fell flat. Luckily, I couldn’t be happier with how CARDINAL MATTER turned out, and can’t wait to get it out there in the near future!
Puzzo: It’s extremely emotional and it’s all sides of the spectrum all at the same time. There has quite literally been blood, sweat and tears put into this so I really hope that people will enjoy their experience. At this point I’ve seen it so many times that I’m almost jealous because I won’t ever get to have the experience of seeing my movie the way an audience would.
14. How do you plan to get “Cardinal Matter” out there? Film Festivals? Theatrical Release? Netflix?
Christian: We are submitting to quite a substantial list of festivals. We are open to all distribution models. Obviously I would love a theatrical release of some kind. Having shot in the beautiful state of Wyoming, the film is full of jaw-dropping landscapes and scenery and its really meant for the big screen. We’ve also taken a very similar approach with the score and sound design where I feel that online and home theater really won’t give some of the audio and visuals justice. That said, I would still be more than happy with a Netflix/VOD distribution deal.
Puzzo: We have a long list of festivals we’re submitting to. This is just the beginning for Cardinal Matter and we have a few options on our plate. For updates on the project we encourage people to follow our Facebook page. We update it regularly with any news that comes in.
15. What advice would you have to emerging filmmakers?
Christian: There is the common advice to just always be making something; always be shooting. I took that to heart when I was in high school and college. Every weekend when everyone would go hit up all the parties, I would spend my weekend making a short film. I like to take this common advice and add a little twist to it. Its not only about going out every weekend and making a film; its about challenging yourself each and every time. On EACH and EVERY project push it to a level that seems just beyond your reach, and make it happen. Find a way. I started by making films in the woods. The next weekend I added fog machines and night exteriors. The next weekend I made it a Civil War period piece. If you continue to make projects but don’t force yourself to reach new heights on each new project, then your learning reaches a plateau. Don’t let that happen. Get out there, get creative, and push yourself to the point where it literally seems impossible. That’s exactly what CARDINAL MATTER was. That’s exactly what our next project is.
Puzzo: Well, I’m still an emerging filmmaker myself so I don’t think I have any real wisdom yet. I could say the same thing I tell myself everyday and that’s just to remember why you want to make movies and to not let the negative parts ruin the magic for you. The negative parts are inevitable and you just have to accept that and make the positives more worth while. Basically, just stay focused and know what you want.
16. What’s next for you?
Christian: The most exciting question so far! First and foremost, we finally get to share CARDINAL MATTER with everyone. For us its been two years in the making and we’ve seen it 10,000 times, whereas everyone else is just now seeing it for the first time not really knowing what they are getting into. That’s exciting to me. It seems like the end of CARDINAL MATTER for us, but its really just the beginning, as audiences are finally about experience it. But really, I’m just excited
Puzzo: Hopefully a great run for Cardinal Matter! Front Galley productions has a few ideas we are working on that we think are all great to follow Cardinal Matter and we can’t wait to start the next one.