Steve originally did this interview for the February 2010 issue of Bazooka Magazine. Since Broken Toy has a cool sci-fi/super-hero vibe going on, we thought readers of the Death Cookie might enjoy it as well. You can also read Steve's review of Broken Toy at www.kingyak.com.
Letia Clouston is a native of Paducah, KY. She became involved in theatre at an early age, both as an actor and an assistant director, and went on to receive a BFA in Theatre at Stephens College in Columbia, MO. Upon receiving intense classical training at the British American Dramatic Academy at Oxford University, Letia moved to Los Angeles to begin her education in film. After working on numerous movie and television productions, Letia directed her first feature, In The Dark, which won "Best Low Budget Feature" at WorldFest Houston International Film Festival and is distributed by Vanguard Cinema and can be found on both Netflix and Blockbuster. She recently received her MFA in Directing at the American Film Institute, where she directed several short films and her award-winning thesis film, AB Negative. She is currently directing a web series, Broken Toy, created by her production company, Forewarned Films. Our roving reporter (and by “roving,” we mean that the chair at his desk has wheels) Bucky Manitoba conducted the following interview with Letia via email in January, 2010.
Steve Johnson: Most of the web shows I've seen have looked pretty low-budget, but Broken Toy looks like a studio movie or network TV show. Are you robbing banks and ripping off little old ladies to fund this thing, or are you using some kind of cool trick to make it look like the budget is a lot bigger than it really is?
Letia Clouston: Our budget was $25 for the first episode and $50 for the second. We had to buy fake guns. Matt Clouston, who plays the lead character, does the VFX work himself, frame by frame, so it looks expensive since he put tons of hours of work into the imagery. We also have a really great cinematographer, Chris Burgon, who is really passionate about the story so he donates his time, talent, and his awesome HD camera. He knows how to make the image look like we spent a lot of money on it! There are no tricks--just a lot of hours of hard work.
SJ: What kind of crew does it take to put together an episode? Do you have a bunch of people helping out, or is it a handful of people pulling double and triple duty?
LC: It's less then a handful! I do the FX make-up, sound mixing, sound design, picture editing, props, production design and directing. My cinematographer does all the lighting and camera work with one other person. And the Broken Toy himself is not only acting but advising us on VFX work during the shoot and writing the episodes. It's basically a three person team doing everything.
SJ: How is the story for Broken Toy plotted out? Is the whole thing already written so that it works kind of like a movie that gets released a scene at a time, or is it open-ended like a TV so you can keep going for as long as you've got ideas?
LC:The first 10 episodes are set, 7 are already written. Then from there we have ideas where we want to go, but it's open-ended like a TV show.
SJ: On a related note, is Broken Toy strictly a web series, or do you hope to eventually move to a more traditional format with it?
LC: We're looking to have fun telling a great story. If it turns into something else that would be great. We just want to entertain people. What we need in order to keep going is support in the online community--tell your friends about us!
SJ: From the two episodes I've seen, it's kind or hard to tell what the tone of Broken Toy is going to be like. The premise is right out of science fiction or super-hero comics, but the first couple of episodes have quite a bit of action and dark comedy, some drama, and a hint of horror. Will the show continue to mix these different elements, or will one of them end up being the main focus? Personally, I tend to like shows that move from one extreme to the other without blinking, but I'm not sure I'm a typical viewer.
LC: The show will continue to mix all these elements...we're moving more into sci-fi action territory soon. I don't think we should hold fast to one genre--we want to keep the audience on their toes. We are going to try to alternate between action-heavy and dialogue-driven episodes.
SJ: Moving away from Broken Toy, I'm required by the International Interviewer Code to ask you about your influences. What movies, directors, and writers do you look up to, and what do you like about them?
LC: I love the Coen Brothers-- "Raising Arizona" set me on the path to filmmaking. Kubrick is great...Billy Wilder, Stephen Soderbergh, Danny Boyle, Terry Gilliam, Michel Gondry, Spike Jonze, Tarantino, I could go on and on. I also love Charlie Kaufman's screenwriting. And dammit-- I love "Citizen Kane". "M", directed by Fritz Lang, is also a must-see. I think the common thread here is there's an element of darkness in each of these director's stories. "Joe vs. the Volcano" is one of my favorites as well...a box office flop that is endlessly entertaining. This past year I really loved "A Serious Man", "The Hurt Locker" and "District 9".
SJ: Are there any sources outside of film that inspire your work? Authors? Musicians? Alcoholic beverages?
LC: I like comic books--"The Authority" is one of my favorite titles. I also loved "We3", "The Ultimates", "All Star Superman", and I'm just about to pick up the JMS "Thor". [Interviewer’s Note: For you non-geeks, JMS refers to J. Michael Staczynski, a TV and comic writer who’s probably best known for creating the sci-fi series Babylon 5] Comic books and graphic novels are great teachers of filmmaking. It's visual storytelling at its most distilled level.
Generally I'm inspired by life. I know that sounds corny--but there is a world of shit around us and you have to find something entertaining about it or you're going to stab yourself in the face. I also like a glass of bourbon on the rocks with a splash of water every now and then.
SJ: If a studio or network handed you some ridiculous amount of money to do whatever you wanted with, what would you do?
LC: Being as I've worked on television shows for 8 years now, I would probably do a really great series. Working on TV is strangely like being in a theatre troupe--something I've missed immensely since leaving The Market House Theatre in Paducah. I would do a show similar in tone to "Broken Toy"-- whatever that is...it's hard to define. Studios think audiences want something singular like "comedy" or "action". I'm constantly getting comments from people in Hollywood like "What is your tone?" But I think people really want something like their life--comedic, action-filled, dark, sad, and up-lifting.
SJ: The Forewarned Films web site has information on a couple of features you've done, In The Dark and AB Negative. Do you mind telling the Bazooka readers why they need to see them?
LC: "In the Dark" is my first feature...before I went to film school. The only way to learn to direct is to actually direct--so all of my work has been a learning process thus far. It was loads of fun and we made it for very little money but had a great time. We were really excited to get distribution given the fact that we have no recognizable cast or high-end production values. "AB Negative" is my short thesis film from the American Film Institute and it explores sacrifice and guilt--something with which I think most of us can identify. If you want to see a filmmaker finding her voice...check them out.
SJ: Are there any other projects in the works that you'd like to tell us about?
LC: Yeah, we've got 6 features written that we're trying to get funding for--they're all different genres. Anybody got a million dollars they'd like to donate to our cause?
SJ: Do you have time for one more question?
LC: No. Gotta get back to work editing Episode 3.