Article By: Maria Shamkalian
How did you come up with the idea and how did you get it going?
About four years ago, I came across an article about a skip tracer who became a skip maker by using the internet to hide his clients’ digital footprint and thought it would make a great series. However, I was working on other projects and I forgot about it until 2015. Once I decided to make this my next project, it took me 2 years to break the story and another to cast the right actors.
What were some challenges that you have encountered?The two biggest challenges for me has been scheduling and money. A lot of the episodes are made based on the availability of the actors. There was a 16-month gap between Season 1 and 2, several of the actors are either no longer in the area, no longer acting or have moved on to other projects. In regards to money, while many of the cast and crew were fine working for free, I decided not to go that route for Season 2. This was one of the main factors for the 16-month gap as I wanted to pay my actors more than gas money for Season 2. Even though the budget for Season 2 was larger than Season 1, it was still relatively low and I was upfront about the budget with every crew members that I contacted. There were a few no’s but surprisingly there were quite a few yes’s.
The burning question: how did you arrange the budget?Mostly through a combination of savings, crowdfunding... and selling the occasional expensive Funko Pop!
What are the plans for distribution?The first two seasons are currently available on YouTube, however the third season will only be available on Amazon Prime.
Care to share all the amazing accomplishments, awards and selections?Since its inception in 2016, Herrings has been selected by nearly two dozen film and web festival, including Seoul Web Fest in 2019. The show has also received numerous nominations and over a dozen awards, including: Best Cast, Best Actor for both Dax Richardson and David Ogrodowski, Best Drama (2017 Baltimore New Media Web Fest), Best Supporting Actress for Mia Park (2017 Baltimore New Media Web Fest), Best Director (NJ Web Fest 2019) as well as Best Thriller (2019 Miami Web Fest).
Which film festivals do you suggest submitting to?While I wasn’t able to attend every festival Herrings was selected , the festivals I attended and found the most engaging and informative are New Jersey Web Fest, Miami Web Fest, Baltimore Web Fest, Minnesota Web Fest and Pop Up Anthology.
Why did you choose to film in PA and what do you love the most about working in Pennsylvania?A lot of the storylines in Herrings were based on real-life incidents that took place in Philadelphia, so it only made sense to film there. The thing I love about working in Pennsylvania is that how much filmmaking is embraced here. Not just in Philadelphia, but also Easton, Allentown, Pottstown, Altoona and Pittsburgh.
What are some of your favorite shooting locations in PennsylvaniaWhile the show is set in Philadelphia, I would have to say Easton has become my favorite filming location as the people are very friendly, reasonable and engaged in the filmmaking process. In addition, areas of Easton feature close enough approximations of locations and establishments in Philadelphia.
How did you all get started in the film industry?Well in a nutshell, I got my start in 2010 when I created a screenwriting group called the Dysfunctional Screenwriters Society, where once a month we had live table reads of screenplays written by local writers, read by local actors. I ran the group for five successful years but after working with a couple of filmmakers on their projects, I decided to take the plunge and direct my first short film, “Relationship Status” in 2012. That’s when I officially “caught the bug” and subsequently wrote and directed three more short films for the 21-Day Film Competition in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
What do you love the most about your job?Working with the actors, getting the best out of their performance and seeing the words on the page come to life.
What is your most memorable, most awkward, or funniest on set story?Oh that’s an easy one. Okay, so during filming of season one there was a scene set in a park and I happened to find the perfect spot, which is a walking trail and right across the street from several rowhomes. Now since the walking trail didn’t have an address, I used the address of the rowhouse directly across the street from the trail and I made it abundantly clear that the address was not where we were filming. Well, unfortunately, Dante, one of the Production Assistants didn’t read that part and when he showed up, he not only went to the rowhouse, but upon seeing that the front door was opened, went inside the house! Suffice to say, the owner was a more than a little freaked out and a few minutes later, we were paid a visit from a very confused but very understanding police officer.
Do you have any upcoming Pennsylvania-based projects?Besides filming season three of Herrings, I’m co-starring in a horror comedy called “Batsh!t” that was filmed last year in Pittsburgh and is currently slated for release October 2020.
PAFIA has been working hard on increasing the film tax credit in Pennsylvania and bringing more film work to our local crew and talent, but we must all unite to really make a difference. What can you tell our elected officials about the importance of PA film industry and the difference it has made in your life?If it wasn’t for the acting community in Philadelphia taking a chance on me ten year ago, there would be no Dysfunctional Screenwriters Society and there would definitely be no Herrings. There are so many talented filmmakers, production staff and actors throughout PA and it’s ridiculous to force them to relocate to other states when that money could easily be spent here.
What is your advice for aspiring actors and filmmakers? Some steps to take? Some mistakes to avoid?Steps to take: Don’t let your gear deter you. Films have been shot on everything from iPhones to DSLRs. If you have a story to tell, do it. Don’t be afraid to start small and don’t fear rejection. Enter as many film festivals as possible and get yourself a credit card, preferably one that offers airline miles. Most of all, treat your cast and crew with the same respect you’d like from them. When you treat them as people and not commodities, that goes a long way to making your set a harmonious one. Actors, if you don’t get a role, don’t take it personally. Even the most successful actors had to deal with losing a role at some point. Also, don’t be afraid to speak out if there are any problems on set, filmmaking , especially indie filmmaking is a collaborative effort and filmmakers should be willing to compromise in order for everyone to feel comfortable.
Steps to avoid: First and foremost, leave the ego at home. When you’re on set, you’re a part of a team and nothing disrupts a team more than negative energy. Also, be mindful of what you post on social media, especially about any projects you may have worked on, as it shows not only a lack of professionalism but a lack of trust and no filmmaker wants that on their set, no matter how talented you may be. Filmmakers, whenever you get a free location, make sure to get it in writing and also contact who ever is letting you use the location, prior to filming, just to confirm that the location is still available.
What are some of the most valuable lessons that you have learned about this industry and wish you knew earlier?There are so many things but the biggest one is learning to deal with adversary. You’re not always going to get it right and you’re not always going to get the job. Dream big but stay grounded and don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone, especially if it’s for a project you believe in. Plus, the camaraderie you form with your peers can lead to not only lifelong friendships but even possible job opportunities.
What is your biggest aspiration in this industry?Good question. When I first started out, it was to be simply a screenwriter. However, now with the success of Herrings, I would love to be a showrunner and eventually direct a feature.
What would be the best way for our local PA cast and crew to submit to your upcoming projects?The best way to contact me is via email at www.aquariarts.com or via email@example.com.
Pennsylvania Film Industry Association (PAFIA)461 Cochran Road, Box 246Pittsburgh, PA 15228(717) 833-4561 firstname.lastname@example.org