After learning on his first film that he was pretty much capable doing the job his distributor did - which mainly consists of putting the film on various platforms like iTunes – filmmaker Mike Kravinsky decided to cut the middle man out this time around. “Nothing to Do”, a comedy-drama based on Kravinsky’s experiences with his father, is being self-distributed by Kravinsky. The writer and director tell us he’s already noticed how much more affordable it is doing it this way.

Writers, creativity and the indie experience

Meagan Meehan (MM): Mike, tell us how you got into filmmaking – where did the interest initially come from?

Mike Kravinsky (MK): Hi. Thanks for the interview. I always had an interest in creating small videos. When I worked in TV News, I used the equipment there to make short personal videos in my spare time. Something to show my friends. This was in the 1990s, before it was easy to do it at home. The videos were a mix of narrative and documentary. A way to be personally creative. In 2010, there was some downsizing and I accepted a buyout. It gave me the freedom to make a film for real; something that could be shown in a theater or online. I’m still learning with every film, but it’s a real rush to watch actors say lines that you wrote with so much more passion than you’d ever hope for.

MM: Did any other writers or filmmakers influence you and really get your own creative drive going?

MK: I like writers who create fictional stories about real life personal events. Noah Baumbach who wrote, “The Squid and the Whale,’ Greta Gerwig, who wrote “Lady Bird,” Jon Favreau, who wrote “Swingers.” I believe that films that dramatize actual personal experiences have the best impact. Filmmaker are the same as writers when it comes to inspiration.

Big Hollywood films are always fun, but there’s something special about a small film dealing with a personal topic. A story that you can identify with when you watch the film, because you may have gone through it yourself. I’m a fan of directors like the Duplass Brothers, Michael Gondry, Spike Jonze. The ones who bend the rules a little.

MM: What was the first film you made and how did that indie experience go?

MK: The very first film I made was call “The Nextnik.” It is the story of a guy who was fired from his job after 25 years and his search to find what’s next. It was the first one. I’m proud of what we accomplished. But there definitely has been some growth since then! I had a great group of actors and crew who held my hand and walked me through the process. I remember the very first scene we shot on that film. I yelled to an actor across a parking lot, “Ok! Go!” Nothing happened. My DP turned to me and quietly said, “say action.” I did. All of a sudden, the actor started walking!

There’s this misconception among some people that making a small film is easy or at least not complicated.

That’s wrong. Even very small films, if you want to do them right, takes a lot of planning, a lot of organizing. As the director of a small film, without a large group of support people, much of it falls on you. Rehearsal scheduling, equipment rental, organizing locations, food, etc. It takes a lot of work. I find after a shoot, I need a week to sleep and decompress. I have been fortunate to have producers who have great organizing skills and work hard. But low budget filmmaking means a lot of the work falls on me too.

MM: How have you improved as a filmmaker since then?

MK: I’d say the biggest improvement is writing. I still have a lot to learn, but people who have seen all my films always mention the improvement in writing.

I also plan smarter. There are weeks of rehearsals with the actors. I want the shoot to go smooth. No drama off camera. There are always “day of” problems, but if the actors understand their character, and the crew know where cameras are supposed to go then the rest of the problems can be dealt with easier.

Low budgets, cast and distributation

MM: How did “Nothing To Do” come together?

MK: “Nothing To Do” is loosely based on my experiences with my father, Joe, at the end of his life in hospice. I was his primary caregiver. Being there at the end for him was truly one of the most profound experiences of my life. The story of the two siblings are fiction, but what the father goes through are dramatized versions of what I witnessed.

When we show the film at festivals, people always comment on how it touched them because it felt like what they had gone through. Both the actors and I often end up getting into wonderful conversations with audience members who want to tell us their story of being with a parent at the end.

MM: Was it a low-budget movie and did you know the cast beforehand?

MK: It was an ultra-low budget film. Total production costs were $80,000. Yes, it’s a lot of money to me, but as feature films go, it’s pretty inexpensive. I handled a lot of the duties on the film to cut costs. Inexpensive locations, local cast and crew. The only thing I splurged on was the food. I didn’t want to have everyone eat pizza for 21 days.

I had worked with some of the cast members before. Like Paul Fahrenkopf; he played Kenny in “Nothing To Do.” I knew how good he is. But around half of the primary cast were working with me for the first time. I’m very proud of how great the cast is and how the film came out. We all just clicked.

MM: What films would you say it’s like and how is it being distributed?

MK: I’d compare it to films, like I had mentioned earlier, that dramatize an actual personal event, like Blue Jay by the Duplass Brothers. It’s a story that many of us can relate to because we have or will experience the story. “Nothing To Do” is being self-distributed. I worked with a small distributor for my previous film, Geographically Desirable.

In the end, I found that I can do pretty much everything a small distributor can do without paying percentages. “Nothing To Do” is currently also on Amazon Prime and next month it goes worldwide on iTunes. We’re also pitching some big SVOD platforms and will see where that goes.

MM: So, Mike, ideally where would you like your career to be in ten years?

MK: I hope in ten years I can grow more as a writer. The screenplay is crucial. If you have a great story that touches people, many other things seem to fall into place. Actors and crew want to be involved, money for production is easier to get etc. To me, it’s all about the story and how it’s presented to the audience. It’s all in the screenplay.