Interview with Lizz Henderson

What inspired you to become a filmmaker?  

I think the answer is different for both of us (my husband and I, both owners/creators at Dancing Silly Productions) My husband started taking video production early (in his teens) and ALWAYS had a video camera in his hand. I, on the other hand, came from a writing/storytelling background, as well as photography. I was always a documentarian – I wrote in a journal everyday of my life, and took pictures to document my life (I still to this day put them into albums and label them!) We moved from NY to CA in our early 20’s to pursue acting, writing and dancing. We were always making things/being creative – mostly as a way to connect with our east coast friends and family. We didn’t have a lot of money in our early 20’s- out here alone – but we did have a camera – so we would make shorts/cartoons/document our lives out here for our family. I think that sparked our passion for being behind the camera. We both went to film school (briefly) until we got bored, dropped out and made our first feature Suicide is Easy. Suicide is Easy went on to win many awards and paved our way for a future in filmmaking.

Which filmmakers working today do you admire most?

Growing up in CA in our 20’s/30’s we got to experience a lot of indie filmmaking. I think two of the people that come to mind are fellow indie filmmakers that have paved the way and become mainstream. Quentin Tarantino for his badassery and doing things his way was always an influence, and Kevin Smith. Today, we appreciate a good Wes Anderson film, a good Jordan Peele film, David Fincher, David Lynch, The Coen Brothers. 

Tell us about the process involved in making one of your films.

The process for us begins in the conception stage – ideology and then writing. Whether I write, my husband writes or we outsource the writing – it’s a continuous back and forth dance until we are all excited about the script and it’s locked. Next is breaking down the script, which is my favorite part – it’s like taking a giant 120 page puzzle and figuring out how to break down every little detail. This helps determine how many days we will need to shoot, how many locations we need to find, how many actors/crew members we have to audition/hire, what props we may need to find, as well as creating the entire production schedule.

Next is money sourcing! (whether it be from crowd sourcing, grants, our own pocket or grandma!) Next is Location scouting, auditioning and interviewing cast/crew. Locking people into the schedule, finding/sourcing/buying props/wardrobe/set design items. On a large budget mainstream movie there are rolls for each one of these tasks. A person is hired to take care of wardrobe, set design, makeup etc. On an indie film with very limited budgets, all involved in the making – the writers, producers etc pitch in and do most of the work and wear MANY hats. It’s common for a the writer to also be the director, DP, star in the film and run to get lunch – not ideal, but common. At this level we all just are passionate about getting our film made – we all step up and do whatever it takes. 

By the time we are ready to shoot, if we’ve done all our producer duties in pre-production well, we should have very little to do during actual production. If we’ve sourced and hired an amazing crew- who all do their jobs well, it sort of runs on it’s own. We are there of course to make any decisions, fix any problems (there’s always ‘problems’) and pitch in wherever needed. We are there to be den moms and dads and make sure the crew and actors are happy. If that means making them hot tea with lemon – then so be it. If we have to run to the store for more water or a battery or drive people to the next location, we are there for that too.
At the end of each production day, we watch our dailies with our DP and Director and we get a sense for what was accomplished and what we still need to do the next day – this generates a call sheet for the next day for all crew/cast that tells them timing, locations, wardrobe, line changes etc. 

After production, we are actively involved in post production. Picture/sound editing, music, sfx, color correcting etc. We get different versions a couple times a week, which we watch over and over and over, make notes and send back – this goes on for weeks, possibly months until we are all happy with our final product. 

Next is marketing/advertising/film fests/distribution. This used to be my least favorite part ‘the selling part’ but I have since grown up and realized filmmaking is a business and it must be treated as such. If you want to make money off your films- marketing and advertising should be in your budget and this should be seriously considered at the beginning of the making of your film. 

Can you tell us about the differences between making short films, feature films, and series? 

There’s not a whole lot of difference between making a short, series and film other than time and money. Obviously the shooting schedule for a short will be a lot less shooting time and a smaller budget (less days to pay/feed people/rental equipment). A feature is almost double the time and budget  of a short, and a series (depending on how long it is) also will be more time and more budget. As far as pre-production and production the steps are a lot of the same – breaking down a film/short or series still has to be broken down into an easy shooting schedule with scenes or act breaks that allow a smooth shooting schedule. Also, in the indie world, we found its easier to get people on board with a feature, rather than a series of short. Features have the potential to succeed and make money, shorts not so much. For a series, the game is changing constantly- it used to be harder to get distribution, but in today’s world with YouTube etc and all the online streaming services ‘webseries’ are a lot easier to get distribution for. There’s an open market for limited series these days. 

How do you determine that a thought you have is something that should be the premise of one of your works?

My husband is the idea man – he has several ideas EVERY DAY. It can be frustrating and overwhelming (especially when we are already working on several projects) and then we (I) change my perspective, and decide to be grateful that there is this ever flowing stream of ideas. I think a lot of ideas come and go, they stick for a minute and then slide away. The ideas that are GOOD are the ideas that come back over and over again. “Oh hey, there’s that idea popping up again – it must mean something.” Those are the ideas we really dig into. 

Do you have any upcoming projects you can tell us about?

We do! 

  • We are in post on a short horror film/a collaboration (The Best of Intentions) that will be coming out soon, stay tuned for that!
  • We are in pre production on another short – a very fun concept, that we can’t wait to shoot! It’s called ‘The Pitch’ and this is also a collaboration with another very talented writer/director.
  • I just finished a Pilot called “Stuck & Fucked in Hollywood” (working title lol) -loosely based on our lives – indie filmmakers living in hollywood with day jobs and a kid! (all true) This pilot is now being submitted to film festivals. 
  • We are writing an 80’s horror feature with our writing partner from Suicide is Easy (Ron Bunney) we have conceptualized the entire film and Ron is off writing, with weekly check ins and critiques 🙂
  • Rich (my husband) just finished writing a film about time traveling/different dimensions and love – would be on par with a twilight zone – so if you have any connections to Jordan Peele – I have your guy for writing!!!

What is something about independent filmmaking that surprised you or that not everyone would know going into it?

We started making indie films purely for the LOVE of it, we loved everything about it – the control, all decisions were ours (good or bad) timing and pace was up to us. Once we did it for several years, we realized our films were very niche and hence, didn’t make money. We changed up our tune for The Green Room (our 5 episode scripted series about a dysfunctional Medical Marijuana Dispensary on Amazon!) we decided to go a little more mainstream and see if it would generate more income for us (or at least pay us back for all we’ve invested) and it worked! By making our series more mainstream, and by focusing on marketing/advertising and distribution more than any of our other properties, we realized there is money to be made in indie filmmaking!

What advice would you give to someone thinking about making their first film?

Do it. Stop with all the excuses. Stop waiting for the money, the equipment or the person to sign on. Just do it. It’s easier now -more than ever to make a film. We have the best technology in our hands – our phones are pretty amazing with HD quality. Things like microphones that attach to your phone are very reasonably priced now. Be resourceful – they say write what you know, well use everything around you to shoot what you know. Use your house, your buddies apartment, use your friends/family to act in or get some local aspiring actors, props from around your house, use nature to shoot it – FREE possibilities are endless. If you have a great story and focus, you just have to make the commitment to do it. 

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