Skin the Cat
What inspired you to come up with the idea for the film?
My old roommate was about to move in with his girlfriend, and she had a cat that was less than enthusiastic about the co-habitation situation and also not afraid to share her feelings on the subject. She would actively torment him – scratching, swiping, hissing – and it didn’t help that she would also do everything to insert herself between him and his girlfriend on the couch, in bed, etc. And, of course, the girlfriend was crazy about her cat, so there was no way he could possibly suggest getting rid of it. We were chatting about it right before the big move, and I said, jokingly, that it was too bad that there wasn’t a pet hit man out there to take care of the problem. The wheels started turning from there. Fortunately they’re now married and he and the cat eventually became friends, so he never had to take my suggestion too seriously.
How do you relate to your characters or subjects?
Funnily, I can see everyone’s point of view in my short – and there are some wildly different points of view – but I appreciate all of their respective concerns and circumstances. I’m not going to say whose side I’m on in the end, but people can probably figure it out. Or not.
What aspect of the story changed the most during writing and production?
I had actually been writing this concept as a feature for years but pared it down to a short when I decided that I wanted to just go ahead and make something on my own. Once I had the short script finished, though, we fine-tuned some of the dialogue with the actors – Hugh Scott, Andrew Burlinson, and Diana Gettinger – and clarified some motivations. The best part was finally seeing it come alive through them and not just be something that was living in my head. They all really elevated the material, and it was a ton of fun to collaborate with them. And some of the improvisations by the actors are the best part of the short.
What influenced the visual style of your film?
I’m a huge fan of private eye/detective fiction, and the world of the short is intended to be very film noir. Two movies I was thinking about a lot and envisioning stylistically were Polanski’s Chinatown and Altman’s The Long Goodbye. My DP Hal Long has been a buddy for over ten years and is super talented, and he knew exactly how to achieve the mood, light, and color that I was going for and that would serve the story best. I can’t say enough good things about him and everything he brought to the project, including his crew. Another huge boon for me was my production designer Lanie Overton, who turned an empty 12×15 white room into that creepy office with a very, very limited budget and captured what I wanted perfectly.
What was the most courageous decision you or your crew made during writing and production?
I think the most courageous decision I made throughout the process was just deciding to make the movie. It was no small undertaking financially and involved a lot of moving parts before even getting on set, but it was all definitely worthwhile, at least from my perspective. As for my cast and crew, maybe deciding to get involved with a first time writer/director and work on a shoot that was paying them less than they normally make. I had a lot of friends do me a lot of favors on this, so I was very lucky and am very grateful.
Were there any risks that you faced during writing/production and how did you find a way to embrace them?
Fortunately everything went fairly smoothly during writing and production, and we didn’t encounter too many problems. Parking was a little tricky to figure out during the shoot, as we were filming up in Laurel Canyon and unable to park crew cars in the neighborhood without potentially incurring the wrath of the residents, but fortunately we found a stretch on Hollywood that worked. That’s not the most exciting answer, but it was a big save by my good friend Nick Garfinkle, who helped me produce.
What risks does your story take?
I think the concept of the short is something that a lot of people get turned off by right away – the idea of someone being a hit man for pets – which is certainly understandable. I’m an animal lover myself. It’s supposed to be a dark comedy, obviously, and it would be a bit of a challenge to explore this topic as a big studio film without upsetting a lot of animal rights folks, but I think we tackle the idea in a manner that ultimately a lot of animal rights people will appreciate – and maybe relate to. Conversely, there are tons of people I tell the concept to, and they say, “Oh my God, my friend so-and-so would love to hire a pet hit man.” I think everyone knows someone who has had an issue like Will does in the short. We approach the concept from a lot of angles, which was fun.
How would you encourage others to tell their story or manage through the process of screen writing or film producing?
I couldn’t have done this without a lot of help from my family and friends who were very generous with their time and their ideas – my brother in law Chris White was my editor and did this for free essentially at night. I would advise people to not be afraid to collaborate with people and listen to their suggestions, and that you should definitely surround yourself with the best people you can on set. I also think it’s important to stay true to the vision you have for your story. Also – and this is a tip I’ve read and heard other places for low budget shoots – make sure you feed your cast and crew well. A nice meal can definitely brighten your day when you’re stuck in a hot room for 12 hours.