Artist interview: studio feature film producer and independent short film creator Derek Frey
When Derek Frey approached me to talk about his short film, God Came 'Round, I jumped at the chance to speak to the producer of a swag of Tim Burton's projects about his own films and how he connects with his audience.
God Came ‘Round is a beautifully emotional comedy that has picked up a swag of film festival awards so far. What do you attribute its success to?
The story was inspired by Trever Veilleux’s poetic song lyrics which conjured for me an array of imagery. What was initially meant to be a straightforward music video developed into something more. Actor Deep Roy plays the lead role with great depth and morose comedy; when people see Deep in these outrageous scenarios and costumes, combined with his heartbreaking performance, I think they really identify with him.
You often introduce paranormal elements into your work. Do you feel that it’s something your audience has come to recognize and even expect in a Derek Frey film?
The paranormal is something I’ve been drawn to since I was a child. My earliest films always contained otherworldly aspects. It’s still something I’m passionate about and suspect fans have come to expect an element of the bizarre in my work. I love to make people laugh as well as scare and surprise them, and the paranormal is an excellent vehicle for that duality. The track the film is set to is a tender love song, but with some extraordinary twists – essentially the main reason I was compelled to tell God Came ‘Round.
How important do you feel it is to have a recognizable style as a filmmaker?
For me, it’s about creating projects that have a unique feel. I do see similar aspects running across my work. I operate the camera and edit, so there’s a recognizable style in those areas which helps create a distinct tone. Some of the most iconic filmmakers have a cohesiveness throughout their filmography – whether through tone, cinematography, score, screenplay. I think the best directors have unique perspectives on life that make their work strong, original, and memorable.
The design and cinematography for God Came ‘Round are rich, featuring bold colors and deep layers within the frame. Why have you made those choices?
The film is pretty short, (5 minutes), so I had to make a strong impact in a limited amount of time. We never hear Deep’s character speak, so I wanted to bring the viewer into his world by making the visuals simple yet appealing. He’s a guy looking for love, so I chose intense reds and greens to convey passion. Creating this on a low budget, we relied on our locations around London to provide a richness to the story.
Most people make films that they want people to see. At what point in the process do you start to think about who the audience might be for this film and how to connect the film to that audience?
On my own films, the drive to create comes from wanting to tell a story that I’m passionate about. It’s only natural to hope that your work finds an audience and connects with people on some level. For me, thinking about the audience comes in wanting to show them something they haven’t seen before. On bigger budget films I produce within the studio system, the stakes are higher and there’s definitely a greater responsibility to process who the story may be intended for and if the audience is going to connect and be entertained.
Do you have a marketing strategy for God Came ‘Round?
The approach to marketing has been to engage fans of my previous films via social media, and fans of Deep Roy, which are many around the globe. His work in the Star Wars and Star Trek films, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and The X-Files (to name a few) have built him an incredible fan base. We’re also trying to target music lovers since the short is essentially a music video. It’s been helpful to have the new album, Professor T and the East Side Shredders, to tie into the film’s release. The festivals and awards the project has garnered have helped fuel promotion since they come with their own groups of followers as well.
What are the different components of a marketing strategy for you?
The imagery associated with a project is something I take particular interest in and these elements serve as a good jumping off point for marketing. Posters, still frames, and behind the scenes images can really help a project stand out from others, and having strong visuals draws people in on social media and the film festival circuit. I was fortunate to have an incredibly talented artist and friend, Giulia Rivolta, create the eye-catching poster for God Came ‘Round.
You have a massive following on Facebook. How have you built that community?
I’ve had a Lazer Film page on Facebook for some time now. I use that as a source for people to keep informed about my latest projects, festival screenings, links to view the films, etc. The followers have built up over that time through many projects. There’s also a component of people who have found their way to my page through my work on larger films with Tim Burton.
Do you find it works for individual films to have their own social media presence or do you think it’s better for the production company to have the account and then post updates about films on that account?
I have a few films currently on the film festival circuit and I enjoy promoting past endeavors – so for me, it’s more streamlined to promote and post under my Lazer Film Productions banner – on Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo, etc. I think for short films and music videos it has worked well for me, and I think it helps maintain a long-term relationship with fans and followers. I also have my website, lazerfilm.com, where people can go to if they want to take a more in-depth look at my work, including my earliest films.
If you were to give one tip to emerging filmmakers about how to build a career, what would it be?
Filmmakers today are very fortunate to be creating in an age where the technology is affordable and within reach and there are so many forums to have your work seen. My best advice is to just keep creating and embrace limited means. Sometimes it’s those limitations that stimulate your creativity and help you to achieve something beyond what you thought was possible.
What’s next for Derek Frey?
I’m currently in London producing a live-action version of Dumbo, directed by Tim Burton, which is a reimagining of the classic 1941 Disney film. That will keep me well occupied through post-production. I’m also going to direct a music video for another Professor T song, Pangea, in Hawaii at the end of this year. Looking further ahead I’m developing a couple of feature films, including Awkward Endeavors with my frequent Philadelphia area collaborators the Minor Prophets.
God Came 'Round is screening at the FirstGlance Film Festival in Philadelphia. For tickets and screening times drop past the FGFF website. To tap into the extensive back catalogue of Derek Frey, take a look at the Lazer Film Productions site.
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