Richard De Witt
The Green Room has been a very busy place of late- we are now delighted to welcome Richard De Witt to join us! Rick thanks for taking some time to answer our questions!
As with many of the creatives we meet, you are skilled in multiple areas! Take us back to the start of your life in the film industry?
I was born in the Los Angeles area so the film biz was always buzzing around me in some way shape or form – I had no personal connection to the film business except for my Grandfather who dabbled around the industry and who was a very interesting man filled with many interesting stories – He was probably the spark that ignited my sense of curiosity, adventure and story telling… I think if anyone is interested in making movies – find someone in your life who is filled with lots of life and just listen – and of course always stay curious and adventurous… And with that begin to write down your experiences, thoughts and feelings about life… As the great master filmmaker, Akira Kirosawa said… “If you want to make movies… learn to write and write a lot”. That is the foundation of all great movies. First and foremost, you have to start with a great story. All and all, making movies is extremely difficult, so if you’re going to commit to the process, start with a great story.
My adventure started off with photography which led me to super 8 movies – I started making small surfing movies then went the film school route which led me to a production assistant job for, Chartoff- Winkler Productions – the producers who made all the Rocky Movies – I worked for them for over four years – learned a lot about the real business of filmmaking – then went on to Graduate school at AFI, American Film Institute – Cinematography program – All in all, I was blessed with a little luck and worked hard to try and keep moving my career forward and learning as much as I could from masters of the trade – This is vital – Find, whatever way possible to link up with a mentor and learn from them – do whatever it takes – work hard – listen and learn and yes, sweep floors and go get coffee – If you are around a master talent you will absorb some of that energy…
Photographer, cinematographer, writer, and filmmaker! Which one do you prefer and which one comes more natural to you?
I truly believe that each of these categories require some level of “natural ability” – and if anyone is considering any of these professions – I suggest that they do some extremely critical self evaluation… Really dig deep into your skill level and sense of passion to determine your true talents?
– It is the basis of the visual film art form for me – It is my go to passion that continues to challenge me to try and “capture lightning in a lens” – I love documentary photography because you have no control over what is going to happen at any given moment but you have to try and find a way to tell a story in a single frame and moment in time that will most likely never happen again…
– Is my natural calling for sure – it’s what I enjoy the most about the filmmaking process – I love the right brain, left brain challenge – A fusion of Creative and Technical – and I have to admit that I am more creative than technical – I can usually see the difference in cinematographers – those who are really good at the technical side of cinematography have a different look and feel to those who are more creative – For me – I can easily hire Assistant camera crew to handle and concentrate on the technical side of cinematography, but to hire creative – that is difficult – It also comes down to what type of movies you want to make – if you are a gadget/tech cinematographer type you might want to focus on high tech – VFX process Marvel, superhero type movies – personally, I’m not interested in those types of moves – I’m more of a classic cinema sort of story teller.
– Really great material is very, very difficult and lonely – It takes tremendous discipline to become a great writer and you have to learn how to take “soul souring criticism”… I turned to writing by default. When I was hired as a cinematographer by a director who did not know how to tell a story and translate it into a visual experience, it was very frustrating. I always wondered how they got the job if they did not have the basic skills – So I started writing. I just relied on by ability to imagine stories in a visual sense – just like when I’m looking through the viewfinder of a camera – For me, you are not making the movie if you are not looking through the lens of the camera – that’s just me. I don’t know how directors can make a movie by looking at a monitor. When I’m looking through the lens of the camera at an actor doing their thing in a story filled space there is something very kinetic about that – I am one with the moment – watching from a monitor always seems disconnected to the actual energy… Back to writing – Like I said, I believe that it takes some natural ability to be truly great, but with lots of practice It’s probably possible to learn the fundamentals?… One tip – go out and just watch how humans interact with each other both their physical and verbal and try to write that… and find / create a great story that lives in you – everyone has one.
– This is also very difficult – it’s all very psychological – how to set up a scene that best serves the story and then working the actors and camera to interact with that space to move the story forward and convey the ultimate emotional experience of the scene. As much as I like working with actors because of the endless performance possibilities – you are also dealing with people on a very emotional and psychological level – this is always very tricky – the greatest actors are those who are really great at what they do and at the same time don’t let their bravado get the best of them and the shoot…
In 1985 and then again in 1990 you worked on a couple of notable films first Rocky IV then Goodfellas....tell us more?
My Chartoff -Winkler experience was invaluable – Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff both seasoned Hollywood producers that know the business inside out where both very unique and different talents that complemented each other. I learned from them that if you want to have a partner, find someone who is great at what you are not great at. For me, it’s difficult to partner with another filmmaker because we both end up competing with each other over what we are going to do. First and foremost, filmmaking is a collaborative art, so partner with someone who you can collaborate with and get things done. All the greatest filmmakers have a small, core team of people who know how to focus and support the vision – and work together to get things done at the highest quality level that they can. Clint Eastwood, Steven Speilberg, Martin Scorcesse, etc. If you want to make movies, put together a collaborative team that compliments each other and brings all the elements together that it takes to make movies – this is very easily said – but very difficult in practice – working around big moves like Rocky IV – Goodfellas etc… takes tremendous teamwork and collaboration and the better it is the better the movie…
TIP – when you make a movie you actually make it 5 different times – 1. write / find a script 2. Develop / Prep – cast / crew locations / costumes/ etc. 3. shoot the film 4. edit the film 5. sell the film – bring it to life.
What is it about independent film that you love?
Independent Films to me are the purest form of the art – it is the painter and the canvas in their studio – And the word Independent is a very tricky expression. To me, it’s all about the collaboration process behind the film. For a film to be truly independent is very difficult – it really means that there are no outside influences – such as studio and or money. This is very difficult to achieve, but I’m hoping with today’s expanding distribution possibilities it will be more prevalent – true independent sources making movies that make a profit… that is a dream – we will see?… right now we have YouTube… great source for personal opinions and HowTo, but lacking in quality storytelling…
The industry is ever changing and there is a demand for content more than ever- how do filmmakers know what the right content is?
As far as knowing what the right content is… In today’s world one could say that it is based on data – Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Disney etc… They all have their data and they do not share that data – this is ultimately how they determine how much they will pay for content. If you are a true independent producer and you create content that you hope to sell to a streaming entity – Netflix, Amazon, Apple – they will determine what they will pay for your content based on their data – so ultimately you have to produce content based on what you think their data is if you are looking to profit off of your hard work… or you just have to go with your passion and hope that the data supports your passion –
I’m hoping that the streaming wars will be a Renaissance for the filmmaker? I’ve hoped for this to happen over the years of content evolution, but it never really did work out – ultimately, it is because the big studio’s always find a way to control content and venues – something that is happening with the streaming entities today – they are all being purchased or driven and controlled by big US studios… So if you are a filmmaker in Sweden – how do you ever do business with US studios who own the streaming networks? The world is changing and we at New FIlm Group are looking to engage that change – because with streaming it is NOT just about what the domestic US produces and sells to the world – It’s world content that will drive streaming.
Tell us more about the New Film Group?
New Film Group is an independent content creative company that has just recently produced its first feature length film “Marbles and Bullets-” and looking to use this first endeavor as a launching point to continue to develop and produce original content. We have great relationships with talent and networks and are looking to establish our place in the expanding content streaming world by producing modest budgeted, high quality content. Currently the Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Disney streaming wars are all struggling to generate new content through A list Hollywood producers. The challenge with this is that that small elite group can only physically produce so much content and they will not be able to support the demand – so these streaming networks will have to look beyond the elite, A group Producers to create quality content that will support the overwhelming demand – And this is what New Film Group is focused on. We are on target to be that go to company that can and will be able to develop and produce high quality content above and beyond what the elite A list Producers will be able to produce. We are positioned to produce the mid-level content with a high quality outcome, something that the elite A list producers will not do and don’t know how to do. As the streaming networks continue to realize that the real market is the global market we at New Film Group are launching an International approach to produce cross-cultural content that can sell globally. Universal stories that involve multi-cultural talent – German, French, Italian, Greek, UK, US, Asian, Latin etc…
We are looking forward to our partnership with the Fusion International Film Festivals to establish a HUB for international talent interaction to co-develop and produce content for the global market.
Do you have any advice for new filmmakers seeking funding and financial support?
Seeking funding and financing for new filmmakers is always the most difficult element to the process. Engage your local film communities and regional film commissions, family, friends, sponsors and find and engage companies such as New FIlm Group who are looking to develop, package and produce content for the global market. Build a core team that can bring all the necessary elements together to produce quality content, material, scripts, books, talent and financial entities.
Become a part of and help build a strong talent flashpoint such as Fusion International Film Festivals and New FIlm Group – and generate an energy that becomes a strong and viable creative source for success on multiple levels…
What can we expect from you next?
We hope to establish our International content development and production HUB to produce more quality content to come –
New Film Group currently holds the rights to 12 screenplays and many more in development – We have partnered with a talent management company and are looking to establish ourselves as THE GO TO HUB for International content development, production and distribution for the expanding streaming world.
We look forward to developing creative business relationships with the international filmmaking communities so that we can together create content for the world-wide streaming market.