BY: JASON RAYMOND
Thomas L. Phillips: Patience at the Beginning and End of Your Film
How many directors do you know who spent about as much time auditioning actors as actually shooting their movie? Experienced director and editor, Philips made “Quite A Conundrum” in twelve days – six days on, one day off twice, usually wrapping each day early. Yet he spent six solid days, at least 12 hours each day, watching between 700 to 800 actors vie for a role.
“My opinion is that a lot of filmmakers don’t take the time to audition and discover amazingly talented actors,” Phillips explains. “Be patient and don’t settle for someone that is not right for the part.” He had over 5,000 submissions, and watched endless hours of video. He does remember one immediate decision. “Catherine Trail drove down from Charlotte to Jacksonville, where we were going to shoot. After her audition, I told Unit Production Manager Jennifer Mengel that no one could top that performance.”
“Quite a Conundrum ” has garnered glowing reviews often specifically mentioning the strengths of the performances, nine film festival acting nominations and four wins. Overall the movie has been nominated 31 times to date, winning 16 awards. Worldwide distribution has been slated to begin next year. Phillips called it his film “that resonated most with the audiences; the film I’ve become the most notorious for. It’s my weirdest film, something you don’t see. That’s the reason it’s been a success.”
Phillips actually shot the movie at the end of 2011. It didn’t play in any film festival until almost a year later. Again Phillips’s patience paid off. After turning down some early distribution offers, he let great reviews and word of mouth on the festival circuit get people’s attention. He’s also a tireless promoter, with a great-looking website, “Quite A Conundrum brand merchandise (with all proceeds going to fight cancer), active social media accounts. He also sits down for 90-minute phone interviews for a Louisiana film mag.
Phillips describes his movie as “a personal project of mine. I wanted to make the movie I wanted to write: my project from
Day One without caring what anyone else thought. It was very cathartic.” At the time of shooting, Phillips was teaching film at a university in Jacksonville. Most of his crew were student interns and he had use of his department’s equipment, including a set of Zeiss prime lenses.
“Everyone had been trained on the equipment that they were using,” Phillips explains. “It’s a great way to have a crew that wanted to learn and be there. Ninety-nine percent had never been on a feature film set. It cut down on cost of labor, but they got something out of it.” Phillips teaching background with these same people paid off. Though his crew lacked some experience, Phillips felt confident of their abilities, “They really gelled, cranking and moving together like a well-oiled machine. It was an amazing thing to be a part of.”
Phillips describes “Conundrum” as “a hard dark comedy/thriller, which builds from beginning to end.” Though he’s vague as to particulars, one fears for the prospects of his attractive cast. “Because the film occurs in one place over the course of a single evening,” Phillips says, “I decided to shoot in sequential order. I know “A Beautiful Mind” went that way. I honestly think it helped the movie and the performances. My cast and crew knew the scene before the sequence we were shooting. With everything fresh in your mind, the performances and camera became very organic and fluid.”
That doesn’t mean glitches didn’t happen. Phillips says his favorite scene in the film should have involved a 25-foot long
Stedicam shot, following a late-arriving character through the house. When the time came, he didn’t have the equipment. “We had had to rethink that sequence. We did it in static shots from the ground level. So now we have this really creepy feel to it as she goes into the house to discover something shocking. The audience, by now, knows something the character doesn’t. Filming it in a static way made the scene unique and work far better.”
Phillips used two Canon 7Ds and recommends using equipment you really know and know how to light for. “You need to shoot in a way where there’s latitude for post-production, particularly color-correction. If you set even the most expensive camera to have too much saturation, you won’t have the latitude you get shooting a flatter image.” Philips edited in Apple Prores 422 HQ, and personally color-corrected “Conundrum.” He recalls, “Sound design and color correcting took longer than the actual edit of the movie. Just a painstaking process.”
His growing audience has been the beneficiary of all his careful work and wait. Thanks to Catherine Marcus of Gold Lion Films and Acort International, Phillips will finally see the end every filmmaker desires: a movie that can be seen by audiences in multiple platforms worldwide. He estimates the North American release to be sometime early next year. In the meantime, his advice to other filmmakers?
“What you need is a good story. You need A Director of Photography that truly understands the camera you are shooting with. Really knows how to operate it. Take the time to really figure it out. I know DPs who can go out with a freakin’ VHS camera that will blow away someone who doesn’t know the ins and outs of a RED. It’s not the cameras, but the story that makes your movie as good as possible.”
Quite A Conundrum has three upcoming screenings before its worldwide release:
Days of The Dead Horror Con – Atlanta, GA. – February 7th-9th
Twisted Terror Con – Sacramento, CA. – March 29th-30th
Marble City Comicon – Knoxville, TN. – April 11th-13th
To find out more information about “Quite A Conundrum”, watch the trailer or arrange a screening, see: www.quiteaconundrum.com
You can also join the movie on Facebook and Twitter: www.facebook.com/quiteaconundrum and @AConundrumMovie