An interview with filmmaker Danny Torres
I recently had the opportunity to chat with a filmmaker who has carefully laid plans to make his mark in Hollywood. He formed Continuum Pictures in October of 2005 and it has been growing steadily ever since. There were two things about Danny Torres that surprised me; the first how clear his vision for success was and the second that he’s only 26 years old.
Noni: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me I know that Continuum is pretty busy right now. How many films have you currently got on your slate?
DT: Well, we have five films in post-production, three films in pre-production , and are currently in production on a short film, in addition to what we have in active development.
Noni: Wow, you are busy. There are thousands of indie production companies in Los Angeles and most fail or fold-up within a short time. Continuum has been around nearly five years and maintains a record of success, what’s your secret?
DT: Basically the way we keep it going is to build a camaraderie and friendship. Because the thing you learn about film is that when you’re on set with people you work 12-14 hours per day for 2, 3, 4 weeks straight. And there comes a point where you either get sick of the people you are working with or you become best friends. It’s going to go one way or the other, which has been consistent on every film I’ve ever done. For the most part you can see how people are and you decide if you want to work with them again. At the end of a shoot you’re either hugging them or walking away. The job has high stress and long hours, so you find guys you like and can get along with.
Noni: Do you notice that the genre of the film permeates the mood on set.
DT: Not really. With us the crew pretty much stays the same. The thing that makes each film different is the actors. I remember the first film I produced was a high school sports drama and the actors where playing high school wrestlers. They all started messing around acting like 14 or 15 year olds (which was their role) and it just got worse and worse. We had to calm them down and get everyone to relax.
It’s different with horror. The thing with horror films is that they’re one step away from comedy. You have to have a laugh then you have a horror scene. Those are the best horror films because if you don’t have both you don’t build and release tension. Because the crew gets along so well, the actors have freedom and can be open. Generally the feelings are pretty good on sets because of the camaraderie but if an actor has to cry they all tone it down and give them space.
Noni: What format do you shoot on?
DT: A few years back I shot a film on 16 and would love to do more with film but the process and the costs are so much more. Even the studios are shooting digital now because you can just let the cameras roll and it’s easier to look at dailies. It’s just a different process. I actually want to go back to film; the reason is that it does have a better look. If you shoot digital like film, using a camera like the RED then you can get close to the look of film. But most people make the mistake of shooting digital like digital and it looks like crap. If you take the time to do it right it can be very difficult to tell the difference. David Fincher shot a commercial for Nike on the RED and I didn’t know it was RED until somebody told me because it looked like film. If you treat digital right it will be your friend.
Noni: There’s a movement toward cross-platform or transmedia projects. Do you have anything like that you’re working on?
DT: Yes. We do actually. We have a web series that began as a feature film. The script was written to be a feature and somewhere along in the development the writer and producer decided that we should start it off as a web series to build into the feature. The webseries is titled “The Darkness Descending” and the feature for the project is titled “Redemption.”
So basically that’s how it started and the next step we’re taking is to bring it to iPhones and iPads since the focus is on the web now.
Noni: You’re not only making films and running a post production facility but you’re involved in finance and distribution as well. Can you tell me about how that’s going?
DT: In this town everybody’s looking for money. In film that’s the standard. When a project comes to us we take the same approach as everyone else. Is it a great story? Is there a named actor attached? What is it that makes it stand out for me? The way we generally do it is by private equity investors, and they’re everywhere. One up in San Francisco, one out of New York, I got one out of Santa Clarita and each has their own specific preferences as to the projects they will back.
The trick with distribution is, we actually got a company we’re working with Rivercoast Films, and they are doing digital streaming. We are gearing up over the next 3 to 6 months to have limited theatricals and are locking down additional theaters to go to. Right now we have a few that we use on a constant basis but we want to expand that and get to a level of about 500 independent theaters. That’s for domestic and for foreign we have a couple of theaters in Australia and in France of all places.
Noni: Where is the majority of your audience, domestic or foreign?
DT: That really depends on the film itself. I have a comedy, “Ocean Front Property” and while the female lead is African-American, the rest of the cast is actually quite diverse. It will do well in the west but not in other places. Unfortunately that’s how it works sometimes. Right now we are in post on a Spanish film, “Mano a Mano”, that we are actually hoping to have equal draw within the Spanish market and the domestic US market. The film is interesting and we will wait to see which market it out performs in. The story is Spanish but the film technique and style is American. It follows two immigrants crossing the border so they only speak Spanish. To have them speak in English takes away from the story.
Noni: What budget levels are your films?
DT: The lowest budget is the first film I ever worked on; I was the producer and got it done for $600. That was years ago. The highest budget film…ah…it’s a film we’re in pre-production for now and I can’t actually tell you the budget. I apologize, we haven’t finalized the budget yet, but it is over 10 million dollars. It will definitely be the highest budget we’ve done.
Noni: Over ten million?
DT: Yes. But most of our films are currently under a million dollars. We’ve learned that there is a sweet spot that is less than 2 million and above 7 million. Anything between 2 and 7 is an utter horror to sell because you can’t get enough on foreign sales to get your money back. So with that piece of advice we have kept our budgets manageable so the movie can make the money back.
Every movie made can get its money back, if you do it for the right budget.
Noni: You’ve written and directed many of your own films. In a perfect day, what’s the thing you love to do the most?
DT: A perfect day? Sit home and do nothing.
Noni: You wouldn’t be where you are right now if you didn’t love every minute of it.
DT: Well, I do, but I need a break. But, ideally… for me… I don’t actually know. I got into writing when I was in college and it was a passion for me. It developed into film-making and I found myself doing all different kinds of jobs. Everything has drawbacks and advantages; being a director is great because you see your vision coming across. But at the same time, there’s so much pressure on you to get it done and to make sure you do a great job. It’s all on you and that’s the hard part. Being a writer is great, I love writing. The funny thing about being a writer is; you spend 3, 6 months to a year writing one screenplay. You write 120 pages, put all effort and energy into the work, making sure that every word and line works then you hand the script over to someone and they read it in 2 hours and hand the script back and say “I liked it!” You’ve been freaking out about all the work and it comes down to a 3 word analysis. It’s very unsatisfying in that sense.
Noni: Or they come up with suggestions on how to improve it.
DT: Usually if it’s a good change I’ll go with it. But, if I don’t agree they will get a 20 minute explanation of why I didn’t take the advice. I put so much thought into why I make each choice that I’ve already got the reason. So, to answer your question… If I had to pick one and make a choice for the rest of my life it would likely be a writer because I think where I am at currently in my career it’s the most developed.
Noni: As far as a mandate for your company, where would you like to see Continuum going? What areas do you think are important to focus on over the next 6, 8, to 12 months?
DT: In the immediate it is to finish the projects we have and to jump that budget level on films. The overall growth of the company is basically how a Miramax was. They were an independent company, they had a lot of buzz, they got bought out then they let it run for a while. Everything we strive for either in the immediate or in the long-term is that goal to grow. We have the release of Mano a Mano coming up and we’re concentrating our efforts on its success. Everything is very realistic.
Noni: I get questions from young filmmakers and students from all over the world. What advice can you impart to them?
DT: The best advice that I ever heard is this… If you’re a writer, WRITE. If you want to direct, GO OUT AND MAKE SHORT FILMS. If you want to produce, GO FIND A DIRECTOR AND A WRITER AND PRODUCE SOMETHING. Just make movies, no one’s going to make it for you. Learn to ask people for help. People love to help make movies. If you’re passionate about it, the people around you will stay passionate about it.
Noni: Thanks Danny! That’s perfect advice. I wish you and Continuum great success over the coming years and look forward to seeing more films from you.
DT: You bet. Right now we’re a small fish in a big pond but we intend to leave our mark.