Independent Filmmaking takes passion, hard work, and inspiration. I recently sat down with Joe Stauffer, the director/writer/editor of the horror film Pieces of Talent. He gave me an inside look into what it takes to make a good film independently. Stauffer kept the whole process local in Wilmington, NC and continues to support independent filmmaking.
ERIC BENNER: Was Pieces of Talent something you’ve wanted to make for a while or was it one of those ideas that just pop in your head out of nowhere?
JOE STAUFFER: Well, the film was spawned from a short film we did a few years ago. The character had been around for a while so we decided to take that short film and make a feature out of it.
BENNER: How long ago did you start writing this film?
STAUFFER: David Long wrote the original script in 2008 and for some reason I didn’t read it for forever and then in 2010 we decided to tear it apart, put it back together and really go into production with it.
BENNER: One key element behind everyone’s work is inspiration. Where did you gather your inspiration from for your own work?
STAUFFER: Our inspiration is just making art and making films. We love to create things. There are a lot of parts of the story that are obviously pulled from real life experience. People say, “Write what you know,” so that’s what we did, and we tapped into that and then we explored a dark side of that. So the inspiration came from everyone and all around us and doing what we like to do. The filmmaking process is our inspiration and part of the story at the same time.
BENNER: Was there any specific point in your past when you decided you wanted to go into filmmaking?
STAUFFER: I played in bands from my early teens to my early twenties. I got tired of doing the band thing so I decided to start doing music videos as a way to be involved in the music community without dealing with the headaches of being in a band. So I started doing live videos and stuff, and then got more into narrative based videos. From there short film, and then got hired to do more long form stuff. In my early twenties is really when I had a realization of how much I really loved filmmaking. I’d always messed around with it previously, but in my early twenties I realized “This is for me”. And that is when I started pursuing it, you could say.
BENNER: Speaking of music videos, there is a David Long music video in the special features. Was that something you planned all along or was it something that just spurred out of the moment during production and then you decided you wanted to shoot a music video for that character?
STAUFFER: No, actually that song was just sent to us by Klassified. He is the guy that beats up David in the movie. All the rap that you hear in the film is his work. So he contributed to the soundtrack and acted in it. He just sent that over to us one day. He just did it for the hell of it. We had no idea and we got that in our email and we were like, “We have to shoot a music video for this. It would be so fun,” so we did. Me and David drove up to New York and picked up Kristi and then drove her back here and shot it. We got a couple of the cast members together and made it happen. It was fun.
BENNER: In all independent filmmaking one of the main obstacles is finding funding. How did you go about getting funding for this film?
STAUFFER: Several old, magic couches.
BENNER: Was the whole film shot locally in Wilmington, NC?
STAUFFER: About sixty percent of the film was shot in Wilmington, NC and all of the farm stuff was shot near Godwin, NC which is a little bit north of Fayetteville. We were the last movie to shoot in Whitey’s before they tore it down.
BENNER: Was there a lot of local people working on the film or did you have outside help?
STAUFFER: Our film was crewed 100% locally. The cast was 100% local. All of the music was 100% independent. Every aspect of this film is independent right down to the distribution model we are going with. We want to keep it personal and have a real connection with our audience.
BENNER: I noticed in the film that the character David Long’s real name is David Long. Was there any reasoning behind keeping his name the same in the film?
STAUFFER: His character is very much based in reality. David is one of the sweetest, psychotic folks I have ever met.
BENNER: One of my favorite moments in the film was the shotgun death. How did you go about creating the effects in that scene?
STAUFFER: Our special effects artist Tony Rosen made the prosthetic head and filled it with blood and everything and we did the original take with a six shooter using real bullets. It didn’t work like we wanted. One of our crew members had a shotgun in his truck so we used that. So that effect that you see is about as real as you can get without actually killing someone. We kept the set extremely safe the entire time. We actually had zero accidents on the production which is very fortunate considering the farm we shot on was a death trap!
BENNER: When the blood splashed on the camera lens was that planned or did that just happen?
STAUFFER: That was not planned, I still find blood on my equipment to this day.
BENNER: Independent Horror films seem to be booming these days. It is rare to find a gem such as Pieces of Talent. About how many people did it take to create this film?
STAUFFER: It’s a tough question. With all of the main people, the main cast, the background actors, and the crew it’s a lot. If you just count the main cast and the crew maybe twenty or thirty. My mom catered it haha! I personally directed, edited, sound designed, and shot it… so that reduced the crew a little bit. The onset experience took a wonderful group of folks to make happen.
BENNER: It seems you wear many hats when you are doing your work. Do you do all of these jobs for all of your work? Do you like to do everything and be directing, be writing, be the editor? Is that something that you choose to do or you do out of necessity?
STAUFFER: I think it’s a little bit of both. I think that naturally it’s a quality control thing. It’s about trust. If I can find someone to do the job sufficient I will have someone else do that job, but if not I’ve got to do it myself and maintain the standard of quality that satisfies me. Because we want to stay true to our vision, to our idea of what it could be and should be. If details aren’t paid attention to you lose that.
BENNER: The ending of the film was very surprising to me. Without revealing too much, was that the first ending you came up with or were there multiple ideas you had in mind?
STAUFFER: Yeah, when we originally wrote it that was then ending we had. We definitely left some off, there’s an extra scene on the DVD that shows a little bit. There are some hidden selections. There is about 15 minutes we didn’t put into the film. But the ending that you see was originally written that way. We just decided to end it ambiguously. I don’t know if that’s saying too much. We wanted to keep it open ended.
BENNER: Speaking of all the hidden features, was that something you planned for the DVD?
STAUFFER: Absolutely, we wanted to keep the DVD as organic as the film. So I personally authored the DVD. I did all the artwork, made all the motion menus and everything. We wanted to hide little nuggets of joy in there.
BENNER: Do you think you will stay in the horror/suspense genre or do you see yourself branching out into other genres as well?
STAUFFER: I’m not a big horror junkie. I enjoy the genre, but I’m also big into comedy. We like to have fun. Even in the film there are a lot of comedic moments. There’s a balance there. We have a couple more projects planned that are horror, but after that we’d like to do some comedy.
BENNER: Something I’m sure people are interested in is what’s next for you. Do you have any upcoming projects you are working on?
STAUFFER: Yeah, we have a film called “The Azalea Haunting” (https://www.facebook.com/azaleahaunting) that we are currently in pre-production with and another film called “Sleepy Creek” (https://www.facebook.com/sleepycreekresearch). They’re both horror and we plan on getting them done in the next year, both of them. We will be independently releasing them as well.
BENNER: Are you going to shoot those locally in Wilmington as well?
STAUFFER: We are. We’re going to try to keep everything as local as possible.
BENNER: Where can someone pick up a copy of Pieces of Talent?
STAUFFER: The film is now available in many forms on our official website. We have a two-disc special edition DVD that is available on our website (http://piecesoftalent.com). We also have full length, collector VHS with the entire film, and “Watch Me” VHS tapes that contain a death scene from the film and an art film I did a few years ago. We also have an “instant ticket” available to stream from the website for $5.99. We are independently releasing this film and really appreciate the support.
The DVD is available here: http://piecesoftalent.com. Enter “horror” and save two bucks!