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05/27/2005 - Interview - Scott Milam - Documentary Film Director, Producer and Writer

BIO: Scott Milam was born and raised in Washington State. He has worked in everything from corporate video to music video. His film career pursuits were somewhat side tracked in the early nineties when his focus became music. Afterwards, he participated in a number of local film productions as an editor and music composer. In recent years he has been producing and directing a number of productions including music performances by Tiff Merritt and Charlotte Martin. With the festival success of BIG CITY DICK: RICHARD PETERSON'S FIRST MOVIE, which took four years to complete, the battle isn't over as he and his co-producer/directors seek distribution. Currently, he has been involved in the development of a feature film, BONE IN THE THROAT, based on the short story by popular crime author, Lawrence Block and a girl's volleyball project, entitled, DIG IT.

Question: What is "Big City Dick?"

Answer: Big City Dick is Richard Peterson, a savant street musician who has played on the streets of Seattle for over twenty years. Richard gave himself that name when he moved from the small town of Chehalis, Washington to the big city of Seattle, hence the name. If you grew up around Seattle, you most likely have seen him. His big cheeks are a big giveaway as well as his blasting trumpet and jingling "no Canadian coins" bucket. The film flows in a very non-linear fashion revealing his story one layer at a time. The basic theme is to never judge a book by its cover. He is unique person who has an amazing story behind his intimidating presence.

Question: Your film "Big City Dick" put you on the map. Are you going to continue doing documentaries?

Answer: It would depend on finding a subject as engaging as Richard. He's a hard act to follow. But I never started out wanting to make docs. I love to watch them, making them is another story. But I do like the mystery of not quite knowing where the story is going and then see it all come together in the end. You're like an audience member who is along for the ride.

Question: How has "BCD" opened doors for you - or has it?

Answer: I wouldn't say it's opened doors for me. It has allowed me to meet some great, creative people. A few I would call, "good friends." But in the end you have to make opportunities happen for yourself. Making your own film is a good way for people to take you seriously especially when the film has played some successful festivals and has received positive reviews. The film won an audience award for best film at Slamdance 2004 and then we had a great review in Variety. If anything, it lends credibility to you as a filmmaker. Just getting a film made is a feat in itself. Even if you fail, if it doesn't turn out as well as you had hoped. The fact you got one made is a step forward.

Question: If and/or when you decide to do feature films - do you plan on writing, producing or directing? Or all 3?

Answer: Ideally, I would like to direct someone else's story. I think I work better as an objective collaborator. But at this stage I'm writing my own screenplay. As for producing, I'm attached as one to two film projects making the rounds at a few studios. I don't like it much because the waiting part is brutal. I'm used to getting it off the ground myself without waiting for someone to say yay or nay.

Question: In regards to your screenplays: What do you find enjoyable about that process? What do you hate about it?

Answer: When the ideas are flowing is the best, the research of the material. The brutal part of it is when you write yourself into a corner. Figuring out a creative way to get out of the situation. Writing is also a very internal and lonely thing. Staying focused is hard. I come up with a few new ideas for movies a day. I get impatient because I suddenly want to start working on them. Discipline is not one of my strong points.

Question: Are you looking at mostly producing your own stuff - or are you willing to look at other people's screenplays?

Answer: I have a ton of ideas, treatments, screenplays in various stages of writing, but making a film out of someone else's screenplay excites me more because I can come away from reading it as a fan and the freshness of the material will last longer.

Question: What types of films/screenplays interest you the most?

Answer: I like a lot of different types. I'm not a genre snob. It has to be something that I'm willing to dedicate a few years of my life to.

Question: Back to your film and documentaries: What is the state of "Documentaries" today when it seems like there is such a big market for them?

Answer: Docs are a tough sell. The market may be expanding but at the same time there are more docs and films being made, supply is more than demand. With digital technology being so affordable, more and more are able to make docs/films. Michael Moore is a brand name and has a huge following so his films are practically guaranteed to make money. But even established big name producers, like Brian Grazer, who did "Inside Deep Throat", that doc didn't do well at the theatre. Mmmm, I wonder why? So it comes down to your subject and the length.

Question: I know you've had a hard time getting distribution for "BCD" - what are your options now?

Answer: After we've exhausted the distribution route through others, the next option is to self-distribute. We're not talking big numbers here, but there are other outlets for us. Education, libraries, online purchase, with the festivals we've played we can advertise through them.

Question: What of HBO, or The Sundance Channel or Independent Film Channel. Can you get it shown there?

Answer: We've sent BCD to them and they all passed. They all claimed to really like it for a number of reasons, but it didn't fit in with their programming.

Question: Do you feel that Hollywood is "dumbing down" with less original films and more and more remakes (especially of horror films)? How do you see the trend continuing?

Answer: At one point, horror films were quick ways to cash in on a built-in audience. But that audience is smarter than the studios. They may eat what Hollywood serves but at some point, they are gonna demand better service. That is what is happening now. How many more teens in distress scenarios must we endure? They make quick cash out of the gates so if they make them cheap and effective, they will continue to make them. Especially when they can just remake a horror flick from Japan.

The industry is going through a big change that most are unaware of to a degree. HD and home entertainment systems are becoming so affordable and advanced that who wants to go to the cinemas anymore when you have to sit through a dozen commercials. Only event films really rule the cinema. There are exceptions but not enough of them to make a difference. DVD, cable and foreign markets are more important to our industry than they ever were. In the next few years or so you're gonna see more HD channels available.

Question: But even "Event Films" like "Troy,", "Alexander" and, in some lesser degree: "Catwoman" and "Elektra" haven't done well at the box office. Why do you think that is?

Answer: They were not very good films. Too much of the same too soon. With something like Catwoman and Elektra, you could tell they weren't going to be very good films just by the trailers. There is no formula for why these things happen. If there was, this wouldn't be a question. It a combination of reasons I think.

Question: Do you have advice for screenwriters?

Answer: I don't feel qualified to give any advice. I'm trying to write myself. I'm the one who needs advice! All I can say is, if you can write something small, character driven, with something to say, you will find success. Don't give up no matter what. Knock down every door you can, find a way. Do it for the right reasons. Don't do it for money or fame. You will be disappointed.

Question: What about for documentary film-makers? What advice would you give them?

Answer: Find a subject you're passionate about. It's a long road and really a lot of hard work to get a film made. Go into it with the right mind set. Don't do it with the idea of getting rich.

Question: What are your plans for the next few years?

Answer: The screenplay I'm writing now is something I hope to shoot this fall. I have three other projects I'm developing. I'm trying to get as many things as possible going and into the water hoping that one of them gets a bite.

Question: Where do you hope to be? How do you see your role in Hollywood?

Answer: I hope to be making a film I feel good about. Build up the credibility and proof I can make a good film. I have no expectations.


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