At the 2016 American Film Market, we took a break from the hustle and bustle of Hollywood’s only movie market to have a quiet sit-down interview with Mare Costello, the one-woman movie-making machine who wrote, directed, produced, financed, edited and starred in her video mockumentary, The Syriana Tate Interview, which centers on a heartbroken British singer who, just like Mare, was about to give an interview. And if you’re wondering, yes, Mare also wrote the songs and sang them too. She even designed the costumes! It’s doubtful that there is anyone more determined to get their movie out to the public than Mare Costello. It’s equally doubtful that anyone is more deserving.
How determined is Mare? She’s spent the past seven years making this movie. The project began as a short, but her friends convinced her that she should turn her short into a comedy feature. Today, as her feature film is completed, she’s ready to make a sequel, “as well as the beginning of a pilot for a series.” We learned a great deal about what it takes to get a movie made and Mare was kind enough to share some of the lessons that she learned with our Videomaker readers.
Videomaker – Tell us about The Syriana Tate Interview, a brief synopsis, so that our readers can get an idea of what this movie is all about.
Mare Costello – An interview is about to take place in an undisclosed warehouse in Detroit with one of the most important artists of our time. What we don't really know, but are about to find out, is that our dear and, more often than not, self-obsessed Syriana, is struggling through a terrible break-up. On the verge of emotional exhaustion, she fights to stay focused on her creative genius and all the duties that someone of her monumental stature are responsible for: making groundbreaking music, continuing to create new dance moves, loving her fans, being a maverick of fashion trends, making sure her performance instrument is sharp, and of course, not losing sight of her own heart. Her team of spiritual giants must guide and inspire her to move on, push through, and shine like the brilliant star that she is.
VM – What reaction do you expect to receive from your audience?
MC – I have no expectations nor am I a wizard who can predict the future, but what I can say is what people are actually saying after some casual test screenings:
‘I have never seen a movie like this; it’s very unique,’
‘I can’t keep my eyes off Syriana,’
‘Where can I get the music?’
However, I have hopes. I hope they will see the humor in the sometimes absurd artistic process and celebrity culture, yet feel connected by the heartache of love loss from our Syriana while being moved by the booming dance and trance musical soundscape. I hope they are captivated by the colorful and amusing sets and characters (that) are equally strange and beautiful. I hope that with all this new talent on the screen, a part of their soul will be ignited and they will leave the theatre wanting to know more about these characters and see them again. Perhaps they will want to visit Detroit, or start painting or call up their boyfriend and have a heart-to-heart or start d.j.ing! I make movies for people to escape their worries and leave (feeling) uplifted or inspired.
VM – It’s very important for a successful filmmaker to be persistent if they want to get their films made. All movies suffer pitfalls and therefore very few movies ever get completed, so tell us something about the commitment you’ve made to your story.
There have been so many challenges and no doubt there will be more, but the most prevalent pitfall is that of fear.
MC – There have been so many challenges and no doubt there will be more, but the most prevalent pitfall is that of fear. Fear that I wouldn’t have what it takes to “fill in the blank.” In the beginning I was unsure if I’d have the money to make The Syriana Tate Interview. I was concerned that even though I could make it-- how I would pay my own bills? Juggling the day-to-day needs while creating a major piece of art is not easy, but I’ve managed to live well under the poverty level for a few years now with couch surfing and return visits back to my mother’s. Completing this movie is going to free me up to a life I’ve been working towards.
But we don’t see Mare as ever breaking away from her filmmaking. Like most of us who make videos and films — some more successfully than others — Mare is obsessed with her work. If Syriana Tate is successful, she will be working on the sequel and maybe even the aforementioned series. She also has a line of clothing, and of course the soundtrack will be available for sale as well. Mare has also told us that as she finalizes her film, she is working “35 hour work days right now preparing my movie and getting ready to go to my first film festival in Florida by driving Lyft.
VM – We mentioned pitfalls. Surely there were plenty. How about letting Videomaker’s readers in on some of the challenges that you faced and what they may be able to do to avoid them.
MC – Every step of the way, my confidence in my own ability was ‘challenged’ and I like that particular word because that’s how I always described it--as a ‘challenge’ not a problem or pitfall really. I couldn’t have pulled off what I did with a defeatist attitude and that’s really it. Having a positive outlook from the time you wake up until the time your head hits the pillow is the best way to handle all things, joyous or dire. If I was struggling with keeping this mental outlook I would ask someone for guidance, google it, listen, leave it, sleep on it, eat something, meditate on it, run up and down a mountain, dance, play with my dog … push through. It’s mandatory having a great support system; our own abilities are not enough in a field built on the basis of collaboration. Money isn’t everything about making a movie; it’s only about 90%. I also learned what I’m capable of and it’s astounding, therefore, if I can do it so can you.
VM – What makes your film, and the process of creating your film, unique and/or interesting?
MC – The fact that I am a woman, making a movie about a woman and I’m playing that woman. I created the movie in its totality from concept to funding and had my hands in every aspect of pre-production/principal photography/post-production along with writing and performing the original music as the main character. It’s a small budget indie with big production value. I spent years during post production teaching myself how to use Final Cut Pro from story edits and color correction to outputting a deliverable; even teaching myself basic animation and sound design. Although I may have done 80% of the movie on my own, I’ve worked with and received help from hundreds of people from around the world. It’s set in Detroit with the Techno scene as a backdrop and it illuminates the robust creative possibilities there as opposed to the hardships we are used to seeing. It’s a comedy with a 100% electronic musical score and a keen sense of artistic vision. There are built-in features which extend the life of the brand with the original songs that I perform as Syriana Tate, and I have designed an act that I can take on the road. I also have a sequel formulating as well as the beginning of a pilot for a series. Oh, yeah. It’s totally non-scripted!
Another unusual aspect of The Syriana Tate Interview is that it was shot entirely on location in Detroit. There is no trace of Hollywood’s fingerprints anywhere on this independent comedy. Although southern California has more resources for those trying to make movies, Mare is one example of those who make their features in their hometown with local talent and crew, proving that the right people can make the right feature wherever they choose.
VM – Making a movie is always a learning experience; so feel free to tell us what you’ve learned from making The Syriana Tate Interview.
MC – I learned how to make a marketable, professional looking and sounding movie. I learned that what I have created has real value, significance and appeal; that the powers-that-be are in fact looking for unique and different movies – not just what we may see repeatedly on TV or in the theatres. I learned that I can withstand severe isolation, yet (there are) so many ways to get our work completed and in front of an audience. One must be their own biggest fan in order to endure the staggering amount of emotional mutilation that one can experience pursuing their dreams. The world still keeps going whether or not you get your movie made. The loss of dear friends who helped with the movie and recently a friend’s near fatal injuries after being struck by a car walking across the street in Hollywood have been motivators for not giving up and there have been many of those days. I began thinking in terms of ‘doing it for them’ and ‘if he can endure such pain I can certainly finish these next 200 hours of color correction.’ ”
VM – You mention the loss of dear friends during the making of the movie. What tragedies have occurred over the past seven years?
MC – One of my actors, Renonda Bray, and the one to play Syriana’s best friend, came down with adult measles! She had a 55% chance of survival. She survived and is quite well but she was a person and a talent that I simply could not and did not replace because she is one of the most beautiful and like-minded actresses I’ve ever come across. I truly hope I am able to acquire what I need to make my next movie so I can recast her. Two dear friends of mine who helped get this movie made passed away during post production.
VM – How has the making of this movie affected you on a personal level?
MC – The subsequent weight gain going from the life of a simple actress who works out 10-20 hours or more a week (depending on any roles I have) to a sedentary editor/producer in front of a computer for 8-18 hours a day. I now have the attitude that making a film is like having a baby so I guess I’ve been pregnant and in labor for a little over seven years and when I finally give birth I can get back to my regular disciplines.
VM – How did you finance Syriana?
MC – Family, friends, crowdfunding through Indiegogo, garage sales, Craigslist and self.
VM – I know that I’ve called you a “one-woman movie making machine,” although we both know that is not only untrue, but, in this industry, completely impossible as well. Tell us about the other folks who helped in the making of this film.
MC - I’ve been working alone on this for four of the seven years of its existence, but the folks that stand out are not personnel in the traditional sense, but people like my mother who is absolutely unsure of how such things are made has helped with some financing and has also seen me through the elation of filming to the dark and absolute horrible days of uncertainty and frustration encountering post as recently as a couple of weeks ago.
My dog, Twizzle, who is also a star in the movie, came into my life a month before I shot the original short on which this movie is based and brought comfort, joy and countless hours of much-needed distraction and amusement.
I had a bunch of great free legal advice from a few lawyer friends which proved instrumental with approaching this professionally from the beginning.
A group called Paxahau from Detroit and friends of mine gave me unlimited access to their annual festival ‘Movement’ they produce which is one of the largest electronic music festivals in the world; this access really amped up the production value of the movie.
My first sound mixer Rich Weingart, who at the time of hiring had a litany of titles under his belt, one of which was Emmy Award winner, had the patience of a saint. The extra time and effort to see my sound through that Rich gave helped make the project something of worth.
Another friend gave me his warehouse in Detroit to shoot the entire interview sequence. I have a lot of cool Detroit friends.
I became good friends with one of the last remaining cast members of the original The Alamo, Jim Brewer. He repeats the phrase ‘You are a beautiful girl with many talents who could run an entire studio. Just keep doing what you are doing’ when I check in with him. Sometimes it’s only Jim’s words that have kept me going.
One of the actors in my movie, who is an Emmy award winning producer, has provided a fair amount of breakfasts with me to discuss where I’m at with my movie which always left me motivated and self-assured.
Most of my main actors were super helpful with promotions in the beginning with the crowdfunding efforts. I have to give a lot of credit to Nate Dufort, who is also a prolific producer for Second City Chicago and allowed us into the Second City Studios to record ADR.
The improv and comedy scene of LA’s iO West and Second City as a whole has contributed as well with providing several voiceover artists and guidance.”
VM – What gear did you use to make the movie?
MC - RED One (main), Canon 5D, FCP7, ProTools, Photoshop Special Effects manipulation for animation and original filters, Canon GL2, Galaxy 2 & 4 (additional video audio capture).
VM – Having spent seven years on creating this epic, tell us some of the advice that you would now give novice filmmakers who are looking to break into the industry.
MC – Unless you already have a large following I would not use Kickstarter to raise money, use Indiegogo or a platform that gives you any money you make. Almost every part of the process takes longer than you think. You may not want to make your first feature length movie a non-scripted movie. Editing can be a nightmare. Spend your money on quality production (sound and lighting) and post-production (editors!) Budget for distribution.
If you are starring in your own movie, always check the lens or monitor for lighting and do a playback every once in awhile just to make sure you are on point. Friends and family are wonderful, but they do not have the critical ability to assess the quality of your movie. They are also highly unlikely to tell you what they don’t like about your picture, so always bring in a test audience of strangers who don’t know you – or even know that it’s your movie.
Do not assume that, just because you have an original idea, great talent, great production and a great movie that you will get into a festival which will then lead someone coming up to you with a two million dollar check. Prepare to find distribution on your own. Wait until you are absolutely sure your movie is gold before you send it into the festival circuit; you can save thousands of dollars!
Get ready for the ride of your life. Be nice and thank people.
VM – What is the current status of The Syriana Tate Interview?
MC – “I’m currently seeking distribution. The movie was designed to be seen and heard in theatres because of the spectacular color, camera work and big music components so that’s the goal but obviously I want as many people to enjoy it as possible with VOD etc. Now that the movie is inches away from completion, there is a lot of work to be done getting the word out about the movie, of course social media is useful and people only need to google ‘Syriana Tate’ and they’ll find the website, Facebook and IMDb, but my ultimate goal is to acquire a distribution deal, manager, legal counsel and PR. I have too many things to manage on my own at this point as a first-time feature producer (and have) several other projects in various stages, all of which need funding. My email (Mare@freeproductionsllc.com) is always open to serious inquiries.”
Syriana was recently entered into a festival that was held in Universal Studios, Florida February 17th - 19th called the “The Cosmic Film Festival” where it won the award for Best Comedy Feature in its first film festival!
We would like to thank Mare for taking the time from her amazingly busy schedule to discuss her film with us and to give important advice to our readers! Fortunately, she seems to know a thing or two about interviews.
John McCabe began writing for Videomaker in 2008. He is a freelance screenwriter and director based in Los Angeles and can be reached via email at John@NeverSayCut.com