Thursday, October 28, 2010

Special Features - A conversation with producer Daniel Pleacoff

Jon Dudley interviews Daniel Pleacoff, producer of Treasure of the Black Jaguar...

Tell us a little about this project.

Daniel: The project originally started with Masayuki Imai who was doing a film out in L.A. and the production wasn’t going really well, it was just kind of a mess. Cameron Van Hoy, who is the producer of this Treasure of the Black Jaguar project and an actor in the film, was an actor in [Masayuki Imai’s original film] as well. Basically he went to them and said “look, we want to make a better film for you guys, this film doesn’t do Masa justice.” He went to them and raised the money and we made Treasure of the Black Jaguar.

Treasure of the Black Jaguar was originally a script Cameron [Van Hoy] had come up with a few years back, and it was an homage to Treasure of the Sierra Madre. It’s about three guys that go out into the desert also looking for something valuable and realising that their greed actually turns the three characters against each other. So we have the same thing with a new directing style and a new way of telling the story from maybe a younger perspective, a younger point of view - on a more indie kind of scale.

What was the reception of the film after it was screened at Raindance?

Daniel: We were very surprised. We were very happy to have a very warm reception to the project. We didn’t really know what to expect when we first went in to the project and so we were happy to find out that people really enjoyed it. So far what we’ve gotten [as feedback] is the directing of the film is very stylistic and that they are a lot of cool moments, a lot of cool shots. The geography we had was absolutely beautiful and that really added a lot to the production value. It was just an amazing journey the whole way through, from the point of view of the story, from the point of view of us a film makers because we had a little crew out in the middle of the desert, in the middle of nowhere, not knowing if anybody was ever going to see it, and here we are! We have been very grateful for the reception so far and it’s been very kind.

Has the positive feedback enabled you to secure distribution for the film?

Daniel: Just from the U.K. we have already started to get a lot of interest. After last Saturday’s screening at The Apollo Cinema we had a bunch of meetings set up for this last week. We went to Sony, Paramount, Warner Brother’s, so now we’re talking, we’re announcing, we’re sending out screeners and negotiating, just to understand what options are available to us. I personally just flew back from Rome just before this screening. I came straight from the airport here. I met with some Italian distributors who are very interested. They are yet to see the film, I’m sure they will love it but in the mean time it’s just the trailer which has gotten us a pretty long way so far.

Masa Imai is a rather [well] known actor in Japan so for us we’re very lucky to have him. So we know, just through him alone, we’re pretty confident we’re going to have a good trail in Japan and the people of Japan are going to get to see it. Basically the idea was that if we had him we could get at least one market for sure! We also actually have a follow up movie also with Masa Imai called Miracle Man. That’s the next movie, we’ve shot, completed, we’re in the post [production] process right now, just picking up the colour and sound. Hopefully we’ll be screening it next year, maybe even as soon as January.

Does that mean you will enter it to the Sundance Film Festival?

Daniel: We’ve submitted to Sundance, we’ve submitted to Slamdance, we’ve submitted to Tribeca. We’re confident about Tribeca, Sundance and Slamdance we’re still waiting on where we’ll probably find out in November. We don’t really know. Just out of this last week from the last screening we’ve got a lot of indication from the festival. Now we’re just deciding on the best strategy for us. In a year from now we expect to have it worldwide as fast as we can, explore our market potential and follow that up with our second movie, also starring Cameron Van Hoy and Mike Dreyer and Masa Imai.

They [Van Hoy and Michael Dreyer] both put in great performances in Treasure of the Black Jaguar. The performances helped keep the audiences attention. We had a lot of problems along the way, things we didn’t expect. This was collectively our first feature film that we have all worked on together. We’re really excited to know that it’s possible, that we were able to do it, that we can move forward from here and have our second follow up film.

Are you able to reveal the budget at all?

Daniel: I want everyone to see it first.

Of course. You don’t want people to judge the film against the budget?

Daniel: We don’t want people to judge it against the budget because at the end of the day it all came down to people. There was a lot of relationship and at the end of the day it just came down to people working really hard. The value of the film is more of the hard work put in to it and not so much the actual hard dollar. I’d love to tell you [the budget]!

You’re a very young producer in this business. What did you do prior to this project?

: Well, I’m twenty five years old. I’ve been making movies since I was twelve years old with my buddies. It’s always been a passion of mine even though my parents hated it. They wanted me to be a lawyer or a doctor or something! And this is a very risky business. But I’m alive only once in my life, I get one chance to do what I really want to do.

When I was nineteen I was very lucky. I got an internship working on Saturday Night Live for two years in New York. So I was at NBC for two years and I really got to go around the block and I got to understand what it was like to be in the industry. I made a lot of great relationships while I was there. Then after that I just worked my way up. I PA’d [personal assistant] for a number of years, I was a script supervisor, I was a boom operator. I’ve done everything there is to do in film so for me now as a producer, all those elements of ‘how can we put together a film’, when I’m on set I know what everyone else’s job is. I also know the problems they might expect and now I’m in a better position to expect problems and try to avoid them. Each time around I always try to be better and better and better, look at the mistakes I’ve made in the past and fix them for the next project.

So in that sense was this film a learning curve for your second project [with Masayuki Imai]?

Daniel: Treasure of the Black Jaguar was absolutely a learning curve. There were a lot of things we didn’t really expect and that was maybe my own ignorance really, I just didn’t know certain elements and what to expect. So the second time around I was a lot more prepared, a lot more organised because at the end of the day I was really like a one man army. I did the job of maybe twenty people and so that meant three or four months with three or four hours of sleep a night and I was traumatised at the end of it! At the end of the whole process I just wanted to be gone and thought ‘never again will I do it this way!’ I hope to continue building and raise more awareness of the project. It will reach a time when it will just be smooth sailing.

What is it in particular about Treasure of the Black Jaguar that you think will attract and engage audiences?

Daniel: The performances themselves are very good. The actors that we had are studio actors, they had already been vetted. Mike Dreyer has been in The Sopranos, Cameron Van Hoy has been in several films and worked with Academy Award winning actors. He was in the TV show Crash with Dennis Hopper which was the TV version of the film. Timothy Murphy has been in a number of films himself. Right now he has an amazing commercial out in the US that has gotten him a lot of awareness which could put this [film] on the map even more. He’s an Irish actor so all these things come together. At the end of the day the story is about the treasure of the Black Jaguar, a real story from ancient Mayan history. The whole 2012 thing has been an issue, people don’t know what to expect, they don’t know if it’s the real thing. Either way people seem to be enchanted, myself included, in the idea that something might happen on that day and so anything that has to do with a mysterious object that brings about greed will intrigue [audiences], especially in the middle of the desert.

We shot about four hours outside of L.A. and so we had this amazing geography, mountains and canyons and cliffs. It was a hard thing to shoot because we were out there with very little luxury. We were sending down our equipment on a rope! Down forty or fifty feet into a canyon, and it’s expensive stuff! We had to be very careful.

Yes I can imagine! I saw on the end credits that the film was shot entirely on location in California, like you mentioned. What was it like organising locations and sets?

Daniel: Well the only design elements were the interior locations, the brothel sequence for example. We literally shot that in a bar and we had our set designer who really did a great job in bringing to life the room, the feel, the look, the colours, the entire ambience of what we were trying to get. But as far the exteriors go the desert really spoke for itself. We shot in a little town called Lone Pine where John Wayne did all his movies. Stage Coach was filmed there and a lot of other famous western films, so we were very proud to be a part of that. This movie in my opinion is a classic American independent film and I’m very glad with the reception we’ve had from a European perspective. But like I said, we really didn’t know what to expect.

Treasure of the Black Jaguar trailer:

Read our review of the film here.

Jon Dudley is a freelance film and television journalist and his 17-minute short film Justification was shown at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.

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