Since the year 2001, Todd Bartoo has worked in production, acquisitions, distributions and Film festival operations. Todd has had the pleasure and honor of working on award-winning A-list movies and series including “Monster,” “Crash,” and “Spartacus: Blood and Sand.”

Todd is also the head of Todfilm, a leading independent producer of feature films. The company’s latest release is titled “Killing Joan” which was written and directed by Todd. In “Killing Joan” actress Jamie Bernadette plays a young woman who – after being killed in cold blood – rises from the grave to seek revenge on the mobsters responsible for her death.

Ahead of the film’s VOD release in April of 2018, Todd Bartoo discussed directing his own movies, how long it took to get the Movie off the ground, and how he’d like to turn “Killing Joan” into a TV series and comic book.

Making movies, cameras, and stories

Meagan Meehan (MM): So, how did you find your way into filmmaking and what kind of cameras and/or equipment do you favor

Todd Bartoo (TB): I’ve always been a filmmaker in a way. When I was a kid, I would make up stories in my mind with my toys. I used to write stories constantly. Then when I was older, my parents had a VHS Camcorder. My friends and I would go out filming every weekend when I was in high school. We also had a garage band that would record these weird songs every night. We were heavily influenced by goth and industrial music of the time.

That was when Nine Inch Nails and Skinny Puppy were popular. At the same time, I was working in the theater at school acting in school plays and such.

When I got to college, I continued working in the theater world, designing lights and sets as well as producing and directing. But the problem is there is no money in theater, but you can make a decent living in film. So, I changed my major to Film Studies. I also kept a foot in the theater world and double majored in Film and Theater. After college, I moved down to LA and started doing PA gigs, and that’s how I got started. There was never any major “I’ve made it!” moment in my career. It’s always been little things here and there. I guess you could say the first time I made money from my films was getting screening fees for my short films. But I’ve done a variety of jobs in the industry. I’ve done extra work, PA work, Audience work (which is where you get paid to sit in a studio audience). I was an extra on “Roswell.” Basically, I’ve done whatever I can that sounds interesting and can make a bit of money doing it.

As per equipment, I shoot on anything I can, depending on the project. I made the mistake of spending too much money buying a 16mm camera that was a piece of junk and barely worked. Ever since then I’ve made the decision not to spend too much on cameras. I prefer to rent as necessary or find a friend that has one. The technology is changing so fast; cameras become obsolete in a couple of years. I’ve used Super 8, Hi-8, VHS Camcorders, Mini-DV, iPhone, whatever. When I was at UCLA, we used the Canon t3i, which is a good camera for students. We also used the Canon 5D as well. "Killing Joan" was shot on the Black Magic Cinema Camera.

I love making movies and help others tell stories and entertain people.

MM: How did the story for “Killing Joan” come to you and what is the overall message and appeal of the movie?

TB: This was a script I wrote back in 2010. The origin of this movie came from the idea of whether people are inherently good or evil. If you take someone who isn’t a good person, can they be redeemed? Ultimately, it’s about the struggle between good and evil inside all of us. I know I certainly struggle with it. It’s so easy to just be negative and bitter about everything, but you can choose not to respond negatively. I took different elements of things that I love, from superhero movies, to film noir, to gangster films, to revenge movies and mixed them all up. I tried to purposefully play with the concept of light and dark throughout the film. I think the message that people get from the film will be up to each individual viewer. But to me, the story is about the internal struggle within all of us, between light and dark. We have a choice on how we choose to respond to the world.

MM: What were the challenges of making this independent film and how much control over the casting of “Killing Joan” did you have?

TB: I think the struggle is what all independent films struggle with, time and money. You never have enough time or money. But I tried to give my actors the freedom to inhabit these characters and make them their own. The film is stylized to match the feel of old gangster movies. So, getting the heightened reality of the film correct was paramount.

We took a long time to cast the film over the period of about four months and saw a lot of actors. We had really long callbacks because I wanted to be sure of the chemistry between the characters. I mostly consulted with my producer Joe Cervelin on the casting, but the ultimate decision was mine. I tried to have a mixture of more seasoned actors with some fresh faces. Really, I was looking for actors that brought something interesting to the part, had talent, and had training. Above all else, I cast for talent for having a right look. In addition, I wanted a cast that represented the diversity of Los Angeles, including Asian, Hispanic, and Black characters. I made extra effort to not just have an all-white cast.

The film industry, advice, and the future

MM: What do you find most enjoyable about being in the film industry and how do you want your career to evolve in the future?

TB: I think the best part is the unpredictability and enjoying the journey. You really never know which film will wind up going out there and doing really well versus those that don’t connect or work for some reason. I’ve learned to just focus on doing my best, learning from my mistakes, and enjoying the successes.

Hopefully years from now I’ll be making more films and expanding into other areas of entertainment, whether through comic books, video games, TV series, or whatever. I just feel thankful that I’ve gotten the opportunity to tell a story and entertain people.

I am in advanced discussions with investors regarding some creature feature and monster movies as well as a sci-fi body horror film. I am also producing some films for other people that include some well-known horror franchises that haven’t yet been announced. There is also interest in bringing "Killing Joan" into other media including a comic book series and a TV series.

MM: What advice can you give to industry newbies, especially the filmmakers?

TB: Be true to yourself and don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t spend time worrying about what kinds of films you should be making. Just make what you want to make. Experiment. I learned by going out and filming every weekend. Don’t pretend you know everything. Ask a lot of questions. Develop a thick skin. There will be a lot of people that don’t like you and don’t like what you do. That’s fine. There are audiences for all types of films. Just try to connect with your audience and don’t worry about the rest.