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This Killing Business: A Feature Film Case Study

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There’s no business like this killing business… Federico Muchnik, a Boston based director and producer, who recently completed his feature film debut, This Killing Business, was a recent guest at Rule Boston’s Learning Lab Series, presenting a 2 hour case study on his experience developing, shooting, editing, and the currently in process effort to distribute his feature. The September 12th talk is filled with many gems throughout, offering those of us interested in developing a feature film, some guidance on what to expect from the process, and more importantly, what we need to bring to the project if we are to give it the optimal chance at success.

Whatever you end up doing in film, you need to be an expert on the subject matter, because in moments of doubt, you’re going to have to go back to the well in order to answer the question at hand – from what hat your character should wear, to how a line should be delivered.

Federico’s talk started off discussing the origins of his film, sharing how experiences with early collaborators, such as Chilean director Raúl Ruiz (The Golden Boat) and producer James Schamus (The Ice Storm; Brokeback Mountain; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), influenced his style and approach to film today. In describing the development process he went through for This Killing Business, Federico shared some of the more challenging problems he ended up facing, such as “the problem of the unlikable character” and “the moral problem of telling a story whose main character is immoral”.

When suspension of disbelief kicks in, reality takes a back seat.

Reinforcing the well known adage of developing a script that has an economy of means – i.e. not too many actors or locations; setting the story in a short time period; avoiding special effects (unless you’re really good); and relying on basic elements such as acting, dialogue, editing, music, and atmosphere – Federico stresses the importance of knowing your film history and learning from as many old films as you can so you understand your genre, the conventions it offers you to work with, and by understanding your genre’s history, being able to innovate within it. “That expertise,” Federico says, “will guide you in moments of doubt.”

(Left) Alexander Cook in Jim Collins makeup and wardrobe; (Right) Joseph Beuys, a German installation artist and inspiration for This Killing Business

The film’s script was written in 28 days back in 2010…and was refined the following 1.5 years through 6 incremental rounds of shooting and editing. Originally intended to be a proof of concept that would be shot as a short so it could be shopped around to raise money, Federico developed a “radio drama” for some key scenes, editing line readings from actors alongside some crude pre-visualization shots and stills, allowing him to locate areas in the script that were overdone, and assess whether his ideas for visuals worked with the material. A very time consuming process, but a cheap and valuable one he stresses.

I edited out extraneous material, and then transcribed what was left in the Final Cut timeline back into the script, creating a feedback loop.

In the second hour of his talk, Federico goes on to share his approach at location scouting, negotiating fairly and positively, leveraging his talent (cast and crew), and developing his “virtuoso shots”, where his job as director focused on building up to that one specific shot a scene requires. The talk is loaded with example media and stills he used while searching for his locations, edit timelines he iterated on, production set ups, gear, etc. Well worth the time to sit and watch the full presentation.

A film is a dream. It’s a complete fabrication…No matter how real it feels, it is a lie that shows us the truth…not about art, but about life.

I had a chance back in August to attend a private screening of the film, an absurd, dark, film noir comedy, with excellent performances by Alexander Cook and theater actor Vincent Ernest Siders. It’s an immoral film, with a male sociopath as the main character, that succeeds at making you empathize with him given the circumstances he ends up finding himself in. The film was in NYC in mid-September for the 2012 IFP Filmmaker Conference, with Federico holding meetings with James Schamus, folks from UTA, the Gersh Agency, Oscilloscope, Magnet, and Peter Broderick (the distribution consultant on the project). If you’re interested in learning more about the film, and following it as it embarks on its road to distribution, check out the following sites:

And lastly, check out the film’s trailer and poster below…

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This Killing Business movie poster, designed by London illustrator Noma Bar, making excellent use of negative space.

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