Interview with Dan Golden
Dan Golden grew up (in a suburb of Chicago) with an insatiable appetite for fantastic films. At an early age he was so inspired by Roger Corman’s filmic adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s “THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM” that he and his brother turned their mom’s garage into a medieval torture chamber. The sinister siblings delighted in demonstrating a home-made cardboard and aluminum foil pendulum, patterned after the one in the film, to unsuspecting, and generally terrified, neighborhood children.
But that suburban chamber of horrors is ancient history now. Since 1978 Golden has lived in L.A. and become thoroughly entrenched in the business of film.
While attending USC film school, where he shot the award-winning sword and sorcery short “ZYZAK IS KING”, he landed his first job on a real movie as a stand-in for John Heard in the cult classic “CUTTER’S WAY,” starring Jeff Bridges.
Over the next few years Golden found occasional work as a cameraman or camera assistant on shorts, documentaries, and low budget features, though his still photography work would soon eclipse all.
Before the 80’s had drawn to a close, Golden had not only done unit still work and specials on a long list of features but enjoyed considerable success as a celebrity photographer, published in over 30 countries around the world. Though his subjects included some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry, he was perhaps most gratified by the opportunity to work with Vincent Price, whose villainous roles in Corman’s Poe series kept him entertained as a child.
In the early 90’s, a spec script and second unit directing experience led to Golden’s debut as a feature film director for Roger Corman himself.
“NAKED OBSESSION,” a personal favorite of Quentin Tarantino’s and winner of Joe Bob Briggs’ Drive-In Academy Award for “Best Flick,” was the first of several films Golden would helm for Corman including two that aired as part of the Showtime original series, “ROGER CORMAN PRESENTS.” Directorial assignments for other companies followed.
In recent years Golden has increasingly focused his attention on producing, with several commercial successes for Lion’s Gate and The SciFi Channel under his belt. Though Tom Callaway’s “BROKE SKY” marks his first festival entry, he hopes to repeat the experience with his next producing endeavor, “MAN OF THE CROWD,” to be directed by veteran filmmaker Curtis Harrington.
Golden has appeared on “ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT,” MTV’s “REAL WORLD,” and USA Network’s “UP ALL NIGHT.”
Dan, you have a great reputation in Hollywood for producing and directing, how did you break into the business?
I started in the business by writing and doing still photography work. I directed 8 or 10 films before producing anything. I moved to producing through friends who needed help launching their own independent films. On those films, I began to take on more production responsibility and I learned by doing. Soon I was hired by independent companies as a producer and now it’s something I really enjoy. Roger Corman gave me my first job as a director.
What is it like to work for Roger Corman?
It’s fantastic! I grew up on his Edgar Allen Poe film series; it inspired me as a child. I would imitate things I saw in his films. For example, after seeing The Pit and the Pendulum, my brother and I created a cardboard and aluminum foil pendulum in the garage. We demonstrated it on neighborhood kids that we held down while we swung the thing from the rafters as we lowered it toward them. It’s a little perverted but I was just a kid growing up in Chicago. You can imagine what a thrill it was when I moved to Hollywood and actually got to meet Roger. It’s been fantastic ever since.
In what capacity do you work for Roger?
On his last production I was both a line producer and one of thee directors. It’s a giant alligator movie that was originally shot in Hawaii under a production team that ran into some trouble and had to pull the plug. They came home with about 60 minutes of edited footage. Since the film was presold to the SciFi Channel we needed a running time of 92 minutes. Roger asked me to finish it in town, so I hired two units, the second of which was directed by the CGI effects supervisor, and we shot three more days with the Los Angeles Arboretum doubling for Hawaii. It will be finished by the delivery date as planned.
Is Roger still shooting in film?
Yes, we shot the SciFi film in 35mm. I’ve known Roger to shoot in Hi Def but we did the last one on film. It was shot on short ends and recans, as a way to save money, and there are three DP’s involved so we’ll have to pay careful attention in the color correction to get a consistent look across the board. The editor told Roger, “Let’s just match everything to Dan’s footage!” That made me feel pretty good.
I have filmmakers who study with me and some of them have completed scripts. What do you recommend they do to get the script funded?
It depends on what type of movie it is. For example, a lot of what Roger does is exploitation stuff. He knows the formula and it makes money for him. Other films are labors of love that people want to do as personal statements and they may not have the commercial viability of something with a giant monster or tons of nudity. It really depends on the purpose of the filmmaker.
What if you had a good PG script that you thought could be an art house film?
I ‘m currently involved in an art house film as a producer and it’s just been accepted into the SXSW film festival. We sent them a refined cut, with no sound work and no color correction, straight out of the Avid. Now we’re on the fast track to finish the film and get it to the festival in time for the screening. It’s called “Broke Sky” and Tom Callaway is the Director. He’s been a cinematographer for many years and we’ve worked on a lot of projects together. When he decided to do his own movie he purchased a screenplay from a pair of young, aspiring writers and I helped him through some rewrites to conform it to his vision. Tom raised money from friends and family and we shot it over the course of several summers in and around his hometown of Waco, Texas. Our goal is to get distribution through festival exhibition.
Once your script is ready do you recommend a business plan to secure funding?
I have never gone that route. I’m sure people do this successfully but I find it hard to predict just what money any given film will make, especially on a film like “Broke Sky,” which is not your standard commercial fare. You plan meticulously and expect the film to make money but not all films fit neatly into a business plan.
I know that producers like Roger Corman can have a distribution deal in place before even making a film, just as we did with the SciFi Channel. He’s done this with many distributors over the years, largely because he has a successful track record. It would be a lot harder for an individual without that track record to wheel and deal and get an agreement in place based only on a script.
What have you seen people do when they want to produce the film, do they write what they think is the potential income?
I have never been involved in a film where that was the case. Maybe that’s the way some people approach it. Basically you either finish the film or not. If it’s a commercial work in progress and you’re looking for additional funding to finish, you could have the film represented at the American Film Market.
You can procure a booth at AFM or find a distributor who likes your movie and is willing to represent it. You could print up fliers with good artwork and have a trailer or a demo real, particularly if the film is not finished. You make this available to foreign buyers who converge in Santa Monica yearly. If they like what you’ve got to offer they will negotiate a deal for your product.
What advice can you give emerging filmmakers on hiring a Unit Production Manager?
I would say experience helps. You want someone with a good track record if you can afford such a person. If you have money, then interview a lot of people. I go on gut instinct and look for some chemistry. See if the person is into your project or if it’s just a paycheck for them. If someone really wants to do your film and you feel you can work with that person, that’s what I find important. If you don’t have any money, you might consider a student just completing film school willing to work for free or on deferment.
We can’t always take commercial work seriously, because sometimes it’s about a giant alligator, but you still have to be protective of the investment in the movie. You have to spend the money wisely so even though you know you won’t win a film festival, you still approach it very seriously.
Because this is the business of film?
What advice can you give filmmakers who are running around with their first script and they know it is a money-maker and it will be their entrance into the film world?
I would say if you could get agency representation it would help. It’s not always easy to do but it is the only way to get your film script considered by any of the larger studios.
For legal reasons studios will not accept an unsolicited script. You can’t just send a script to Fox because it will come back to you unopened. Once they accept delivery they are subjecting themselves to a potential liability. If they make a picture down the road that is in any way similar to a script they accepted delivery of, then the person who wrote the script can always file a lawsuit claiming their script was stolen.
The only way studios will look at your script is if it comes through an agent.
Do you have any tips for getting an agent?
I suggest you call the Writers Guilds of America and get a list of agents or look on line for a list. From this you can research individual agents and see who they represent and what they are attached to and what projects they have sold. Approach the agents most likely to take an interest in your script. Obviously you may go with some smaller agent in the beginning because the big agencies have their client lists and are not usually looking for new clients.
Look for a smaller agency that is willing to work with first-timers. When you find an agent they can begin to shop your material around. If a smaller agent is successful on your behalf you can either continue the relationship or try and land a bigger agent.
What happens when someone has a finished script and no funding, should they hire a producer like you to do their budget?
They could. I’ve put many budgets together. It’s an essential piece of the puzzle before you go into production. However, it really depends on how you want to pursue the film.
The first script I took to Roger Corman didn’t have a budget attached. I didn’t know how to do a budget back then. I just came up with a script that I wanted to direct. I had this screen play that I put together with a friend of mine and we approached Roger and he liked the screenplay. I told Roger I was attached as a director and explained I had only directed second unit. I showed Roger a reel of my work and he agreed to hire me.
He bought the script from us and we tapped into his team. I hired the DP, the assistant director and a few other people but basically all of the production personnel, production manager, etc he had in place because he was a virtual film factory back then. He was making a film a month on the sound stage he had in Venice, California alone. Of course later he made films in Ireland, he always did films in the Philippines and I even did a film for him in Russia.
So this is one route you could try. If you are a neophyte and you don’t know the business, you can take your script to a small production company that can make the film. Someone like Roger will look at scripts from new writers. The independent producers like the Roger Cormans, the Charlie Bands and other smaller production companies will accept unsolicited screen plays, unlike their major studio counterparts. That’s how I got in with Roger in the first place.
Another way is to put together a budget and attach a name star. If you can get your screenplay to someone like Bruce Willis, and he likes the screenplay and you have a letter of intent from him, then that’s a big card to play when you’re looking for funding.
There are a thousand ways to do this and no guaranteed way. Just keep trying.
What’s happening with Roger these days?
He made a very lucrative deal with Disney when he sold his library of films. They are distributing his films now. He sold his real estate in California where we shot all those pictures years ago. It was a lumberyard when he bought it and he sold it for a huge profit. Roger is now 80 and he doesn’t need to be doing anything but I guess filmmaking is still in his blood. He continues to make a couple of films a year.
Do you love making movies?
Absolutely. It is very fulfilling to me. Again, a lot of the pictures I work on are just these exploitation pictures and there is not any big personal statement I am making through these movies. They ‘re just fun to work on and it’s a nice way to spend your time. If you can balance the exploitation films with a film like the one that was just accepted into SXSW then you have great mix. I don’t expect to get rich off “Broke Sky” but I can pay the bills by doing the films for Roger and other smaller companies.
And it all ends up as a great life?
I don’t have any complaints!