Brian Crewe works in the Los Angeles area as an editor for E!, MTV, VH1, Starz! and ESPN! In addition to his ongoing work as the writer/director of the short film series "The Rant n' Rave Project," Crewe is the founder of Film Crewe Productions.
In 2005, Crewe produced and directed the award-winning short film "Learning to Fly," and is currently developing several featuring film projects including the Marion Kerr penned thriller "Golden Earrings," horror film "Perfectly Twisted" and "Sara's Song," a powerful film about sexual abuse co-written by Natalie Plant.
Crewe sat down with Richard for this insightful, entertaining look at his past, the making of "Sara's Song" and his vision of making films that matter.
Question: Born and raised in Minneapolis. Worked in a video store for 4 years. You obtained an Associate's degree in Film while still in Minnesota, then got yourself out to the coast. What really triggered your interest in film? At what age did you get interested or was it actually birthed out of the video store experience? When did you finally start thinking "Hey, I can make a living doing this?" How did your family/support system respond?
Brian Crewe: When I was three my mom was pregnant with my younger sister and my dad started taking me to movies. The first one I really remember is "Star Wars." There was really no going back after that. I don't remember a time when I didn't have that movie memorized. From that point on I just wanted to see more and more and while it started as just an interest in Star Wars and those types of films, my tastes slowly expanded. My Dad was a really good sport about seeing just about anything I wanted to check out.
I graduated high school in June 1993, the day " Jurassic Park " opened, without having applied to any colleges and without a job. That July I started part time at the mall based video store, Suncoast Pictures, in Edina Minnesota . Within two years I was managing the Burnsville store. Now, this was around the time that Kevin Smith made "Clerks" and Robert Rodriguez made "El Mariachi." I saw these films and listened to the audio commentaries on the laserdiscs and it hit me that I wasn't much different than these guys. At the same time, I was getting frustrated working at the store; it was boring after two years. Fortunately, my Mom, who is a high school councilor, knew me really well and had broachers ready and waiting for the film program in at Minneapolis Community College . I don't think she thought I would end up working in film, but it was a way to get me to start college.
Within the span of a month I went from managing the video store to working part time and taking classes. By the spring of '96, I was interested in getting a four year degree so my family and I flew out to LA to look at schools. USC became my top pick pretty fast. The next year, I applied to only one university, USC. It took a little drama but I got in.
I graduated in May 1999 and started trying to find work. There have been a couple rough patches but for the most part I've never been without a job. To this day, I think my family thinks I'm a little crazy for living my life the way I do but they've learned to accept it.
Question: You've worked, quite successfully, as an editor as your "paid" job while working to develop your own projects. I want to go into "Sara's Song," of course, but I want to give readers a background for you. What has led to the point of developing outside projects? Tell me about "Film Crewe Productions?"
Brian Crewe: Well my primary focus has almost always been my side projects. To be successful in this business you have to have a certain amount of ambition and show everyone that you have your own thing going on. I started writing "Sara's Song" while I was still at USC. Fortunately, my skills as an editor have kept me employed in television so I have been able to make a living in the industry while developing my own material.
Since nobody else is producing my stuff I am basically my own production company. Film Crewe Productions sounded like good name. I like that Crewe has a double meaning. It's my last name but I do also have a crew of people I like to work with. I hope it conveys the sense of team work I try to take into each of my projects.
Question: You've experienced quite a bit of success with "Learning to Fly," your award-winning short film. It seems that you also really began following your own advice of developing a collaborative team (a point you make in one of your interviews about editing). This beginning phase of developing one's own projects can be a challenging place...risky (personally and financially), no guarantees of success, possibly no income...Of course, Hollywood is filled with hungry actors...but, really, how did you start building your team to support this vision you have?
Brian Crewe: I started meeting people I wanted to work while I was still in film school. I was fortunate enough to have a really talented group of people around me and many of them are still my friends. Of course, once you start working in the industry you begin to meet more and more people. Pretty soon you have a whole little network ready to go. When I start a new project I just look at what positions need to be filled and 9 out of 10 times I'll have someone from my group who can fill the job.
Question: Tell me about your "Rant n'Rave" project
Brian Crewe: "The Rant n' Rave Project" was born out of frustration. "Sara's Song" lost its financing in May of 2006 and there was a big recovery period over the summer, a lot of "what do we do now?" The Rants were a good way of getting my team and I back into fighting shape. It was also a fun challenge for me. Working as an editor I rely on music and having multiple shots to tell my stories. By their nature the rants are static shots with no music. It's up to the costumes, lighting, and production design to tell the story. It's a good way to train my brain to think about other disciplines.
Question: When did the idea for "Sara's Song" first start to develop?
Brian Crewe: "Sara's Song" started as a five minute no-dialogue short that I was going to shoot at USC in the Fall of 1998. At the time it was just the story of Sara escaping from her physically abuse father. Thankfully, before shooting started I realized that I was trying to do too much in to short of a time span. So I instead started developing it as a feature for a writing class. I had never attempted to write a script so it was kind of an experiment. The story of Sara and her father became the back story. The primary story was about Sara leaving a small town and trying to make it as musician in LA. Personally, I have a very good relationship with my parents, giving Sara a dysfunctional family life was just a way to give he another obstacle to overcome. Of course, I knew a lot about moving from the Midwest to LA and attempting to be an artist so that stuff was natural. I did like three drafts with that basic story and by 2000 I was working on other screenplays. Then I met Natalie.
Question: Tell me about your collaboration with Natalie Plant. I find it interesting the idea of a male/female team writing a screenplay about sexual abuse. Part of this, of course, would be my own stereotypes about male/female...but, a huge part of it is also my desire for that seemingly elusive balance in a script about abuse.
Brian Crewe: Well, you're going to have to explain your stereotypes sir!
I don't know exactly how the male / female dynamic plays into the writing, I'm not even sure I want to analyze that. However, what is important is that Natalie approaches the story as an actor and I approach it as a director. I'm always asking how we can we visually show this part of Sara's story and Natalie is always interested in what she is feeling. That's really how we write. It's almost like an improv that we just write down.
I think the key to keeping the story balanced is just remembering that no one character in the story sets out to be evil, even the abusive father has had some tragic background that makes him who he is. No one human being is all good or all evil and keeping that in mind makes the story balanced.
By the way, here's a little history of how Natalie and I came to be writing partners. After graduating from USC, I was living in a big house with like seven people. Just before I moved out, Natalie moved in. We struck up a friendship. She being an actress was interested in seeing my stuff as a writer and she instantly became attached to Sara's story and she really wanted to play her. Having someone take that kind of interest in my story really lit a fire under my butt and I started trying to find a way to get the movie made. We went through all kinds of variations from a 20 grand self-financed feature to a four million dollar budget. There were a lot of ups and downs and while we were working on the "how do we make this film?" problem, we also started rewriting the script. It started with her giving me notes and then slowly I started giving her pages to write and finally it became a full collaboration.
Today it seems unbelievable but for the longest time we fought making Sara a sexual abuse survivor. Neither, Natalie or I are abuse survivors. Speaking for myself I was just plain terrified of heading down that road. But the question, "Was Sara sexually abused?" kept coming up in auditions for the father and with potential producers. Finally, as the writers we just surrendered to it. It made Sara a more interesting and complex character. It was around the same time we decided to set the entire story in Minneapolis . We left the girl moving to LA to be a rock story had been done to death and setting in Minneapolis made the whole thing a little more fresh.
Question: You've had quite the journey in trying to get "Sara's Song" filmed. Can you tell me about the journey?
Brian Crewe: I could write a book! Seriously, I feel like I should get master's degree for this whole affair.
This film has been defined by the strength of the partnership between Natalie and I. To give the short version. By 2002 I had kind of let my paying work over shadow my personal projects. Natalie's interest in "Sara's Song" re-sparked my desire to starting working my own films again. I started out convinced I could fund the whole thing on my credit card and shoot it on video. For the sake of the film and my credit report my friends talked me out of it.
Next we tried to find an investor at the American Film Market here in Los Angeles and for a while it looked like we had! Unfortunately, they disappeared after four or five months. A few potential producers came and went after that. Finally, after we shot "Learning to Fly" in 2005 we discovered we had investor interested in helping us. By this time Sara had become a sexual abuse survivor. Also, around this time, Natalie and I decided we should look into giving a portion of the film's proceeds to charity. All these elements were key to this investor's interest.
With an investor on board and noble intentions in place we started working toward shooting the film in June 2006 with a moderate budget. Unfortunately, ten days before we were set to roll cameras our investor discovered through no fault of his own that he had hit a major finical snag and he was unable to give us the funds at that time.
So we regretfully had to lay off our very talented and understanding crew; many of them where hit hard financially because we suddenly had no cash to pay them. We placed them on deferred payment, which I was able to give them out of my own pocket a few months later.
All in all it has been an educational experience. Fortunately, none of this has changed our passion for the script nor weakened our desire to make this film. Today we are still actively looking for an investor. We are also pursuing other projects that will help establish a track record of success.
Question: I often find myself frustrated with films about abuse...especially sexual abuse. It's a challenging topic, of course, but it seems like most films either: 1) sugar-coat it, 2) fall into stereotypes, or 3) are just plain wrong. How does one go about making a film that tells the truth but still pleases investors or has hopes to actually be seen?
Brian Crewe: As we are still on the look out for an investor, I'm not sure I know the answer to that. Personally, I think you have to stay true to your characters. Sara was screaming at us for the longest time that she was a survivor of sexual abuse but we weren't listening to her. Finally, we gave into who Sara had become and the story started to work. Everyone who reads the screenplay today agrees that it is now a powerful story.
Question: I think the big trap of this type of film is that you either run the risk of being a Lifetime movie of the week or being a dark depressing indie-film that only plays to the art house crowd. For "Sara's Song" we've tried to embrace the darkness but also keep an element of hope.
I love the idea that you address many "survivor" topics in 'Sara's Song." For example you bring up "cutting," "flashbacks" and are descriptive in the way Sara lives out her life. You very clearly do tie behaviors to her past without ever letting her completely off the hook herself. You've clearly done some homework here. Why does this story need to be told?
Brian Crewe: Thanks, we've read a lot of books.
Talk about an opportunity to sound pretentious. For abuse survivors I think it's important thing to realize is that they are not alone. They should feel no shame for their experiences and it wasn't their fault. I want them to know there is a reason to look forward to tomorrow. For the people who haven't suffered from abuse I want them to watch this film and gain a glimmer of understanding. We are all so often caught up in our own journey that we don't take the time to see the world through another person's eyes. Movies give us that opportunity.
Lastly, I think people needed to be reminded that no matter what has happened in the past it is ultimately up to you to stand up and take control of your life.
Question: I'm craving a film that truly does an effective job with flashbacks. Last year's "Don't Tell" attempted it, but in my opinion did more of a stylized version, but didn't really capture the experience of flashbacks. I would think your skills in editing are going to be crucial here. Editing, direction, performance...while they're always a crucial, collaborative effort...You're really going into hardcore territory here.
Brian Crewe: Yeah, this is the real challenge and appeal of this screenplay for me as a director. Lighting and set design will also be really important. We've worked hard to map out these scenes just right. Reading survivor accounts is essential. I want to try to keep these scenes from Sara's point of view as much as possible and reading real life stories helps place me in the mind set of the survivor.
Question: You've come remarkably close to actually starting filming only to experience a setback. What do you need to get this project off the ground?
Brian Crewe: Somewhere between $300,000 - $500,000.
Question: You've also made a conscious effort to obtain survivor feedback and support. Why is this important?
Brian Crewe: Well first, as a non-survivor we don't have any experience to draw on. As writers we have to be able to get inside the character's head very much like an actor if we are going make a film that rings true. Hearing the experiences of survivors helps us add layers to the story.
The reason we're seeking their support is that we don't want to exploit their experiences. That's why it's important that a portion of the film's proceeds go to charities like RAINN and SOAR. Its one thing to go to a movie and relate to a character, it's another thing to go to movie and know that it is part of the solution to the problem.
Question: You've gotten the involvement of Emilie Bernstein to do music. How did that come about?
Brian Crewe: Kind of a round about to story. I used to interview people for movie news shows like "Starz! Movie News," "Encore's CineNews," and HDNet's "Hollywood HD." At one point I interviewed a woman named Lisbeth Scott, who is a wonderful singer who has contributed to the soundtracks to " Munich " and "The Passion of The Christ." I asked Lisbeth to read "Sara's Song" with an eye toward helping write the music. She read it and said, I love this but I'm not right for it. You should check out my friend Emilie Bernstein's band Story of M. Lisbeth was right, Emilie's music was perfect, I asked her to write the music and the score and she said yes. It was really that simple. The four songs she's started working on are great! I can't wait to get back to work on the film and finish them.
Question: It's very easy to look at this project and think "oh wait. I can't see this. It's a film about sexual abuse. too intense." This film can, and should, appeal to everyone. This is a film about healing from sexual abuse, about a woman who becomes empowered to break the cycles in her own life and who does, in fact, discover her gifts, a small community of support and, in the end, this film is quite hopeful. What are your goals for "Sara's Song?"
Brian Crewe: To start we will hit the major film festivals to gain some awareness and find a distributor. After that, I'd imagine we would have a limited theatrical run in LA, New York , and Minneapolis . If that is successful I would hope the distributor would expand the movie nation wide. Given the film's low cost we should make the budget back during that run.
I honestly think the film will really find its audience on home video and more than likely through on-line distribution, which is going to be huge in a couple of years. I think young women will discover this story and relate to it, even if they haven't been abused. I think word of mouth will have them renting it and downloading it
Also, after we finish the actual film I want to work on making supplemental materials for the DVD that councilors can use with survivors. I think this story will be a wonderful starting point for conversations about abuse and how to survive. The film is about how you begin to heal but the work isn't done when the film is over and I want to make sure we give survivors a path to take the next step.
Question: Have you watched other films on this subject? Any impressions
Brian Crewe: There are very few films on this subject matter out there. In mainstream movies it seems to be used as a subplot for secondary characters. Indie films seem to try and hide the abuse in metaphor. I'm kind of blanking on a film where an abused character and the results of their abuse are the main thrust of the entire story.
Question: What's up next for "Film Crewe?" I read something about a horror film? What's your ultimate vision for "Film Crewe?"
Brian Crewe: Well, obviously we are working hard to get "Sara's Song" back into production. In the meantime I'm going to be shooting three more "Rant n' Raves" at the end of the month. After that in March or April we'll hopefully be shooting a feature length thriller called "Golden Earring." It's a really cool script written by Marion Kerr, a wonderful actress I met while casting "Sara's Song." Marion played Mabel in "Learning to Fly" and will play Kim in "Sara's Song."
In addition to that, Marion and I are writing a horror film called "Perfectly Twisted." It's basically "Shaun of The Dead" meets "Nip / Tuck" if you can imagine that. Natalie also has a role in that film as do many other member of our "Sara's Song" team. We are teaming up with a company called Scary Monkey Productions to shoot that movie in late April / early May.
Alas, these direct to video horror films are much easier to get financed than a film like "Sara's Song." My hope is that by doing these low budget films I can prove that I am capable of directing a film that will turn a profit. Hopefully, that will strengthen "Sara's Song's" chances of getting made.
My ultimate goal for Film Crewe is to be able to shoot my own movies while at the same time give my talented group a friends a safe place to bring their projects.
Question: What are some of your other hobbies/interests? Favorite films? Actors? Actresses?
Brian Crewe: I'm a big skier / snowboarder. I've also picked up surfing here in LA. I'm still a Star Wars fanatic. I can't play an instrument or carry a tune to save my life but I love listening to music. Traveling when I have time and money. My biggest hobby is just going to movies.
Here's a sampling of my favorite films: Star Wars (especially III-VI), Highlander (just the first one), Trainspotting, Run Lola Run, James Bond, The films of Quentin Tarantino, Sin City, Alien, Aliens, True Lies, The films of Stanley Kubrick, The films of Oliver Stone, The original version of Apocalypse Now, The films of Kevin Smith, Lord of The Rings, Indiana Jones, The films of Cameron Crowe, Superman: The Movie, Blue Thunder, Back to The Future, Blade Runner, Backbeat, The Crow, Star Treks I-IV &; VI &; Generations &; First Contact, Top Gun, Purple Rain, and so many more.
Question: Any favorite experiences thus far working in film?
Brian Crewe: My favorite experience to date was making "Learning to Fly." To come up with that story, improvise it with the actors, mobilize the crew to do it, and pull off a skydiving and waterskiing sequence (the waterskiing scene never made it into the film) all in the same day was just a rush unlike any other!
Question: ACTOR'S STUDIO QUESTION: What's your favorite word?
Brian Crewe: I should probably make something up because I'll probably lose any of the good will I've earned from those reading this but to be honest my favorite word is "fuck." It's just so versatile, not to mention a lot of fun to say.
Question: Brian, thank you so much for your time. I wish you well with "Sara's Song" and all the projects coming up for Film Crewe Productions.
Brian Crewe: Thanks again for taking interest in the film. Please let me know if I can answer any more questions or if you need more info from me or anyone else involved in the project.