Kevin Machate is a filmmaking renaissance man who truly has done it all. He is an actor, a director, a producer, and even a film festival organizer. This is a guy who truly knows his shit and how to get stuff done. The awards lining his resume speak for themselves so any aspiring filmmaker should certainly seek him out. I know I was certainly excited to get the chance to interview him for the Austin Film Meet blog.
Kevin is also brutally honest about the business so some of what he has to say may be hard to hear. Yet, that’s what makes his wisdom so essential because he will tell you Exactly. What. The. Deal. Is.
So, what is it that you DO?
Hard to nail down. I started as an actor, but began producing relatively early on. That happened because I was often frustrated from being on bad sets. Eventually, I started directing. I feel like if you want it to be, it's an evolutionary process. I did recently decide to move away from acting, at least for the time being. I'm currently in grad school for screenwriting, so hopefully one of those four things?
One thing about your work that I respect is that you have poured all of your life experiences into your work, including past jobs, family issues, conversations with friends, and where you are in life at this particular moment. Is this a conscious thing or do you just write about what you find interesting?
I have a lot of ideas for stories, but not all of them pan out. Some die after a couple of sentences, some evolve into more than they were intended to be. I've been so busy working on other things, like getting my film "Promise Me" finished and graduating from UT, that I haven't had a chance to really sit and flesh any of them out recently. Prior to "Promise Me", someone else did the writing, although often times, I gave specific details and they went with it. #RIP was based on an idea that I had, and when the screenwriter, Roanna Flowers, and I talked about it, I gave her my premise, the types of characters and the big idea, but the rest was up to her. It changed a lot from the early versions, as scripts often do.
It's definitely easier to, as they say, “write what you know,” which is what I did with PM. I had some limited exposure to the concept of Death with Dignity years ago, and it was in a class on the ethics of healthcare that I got the idea for the film. A lot of that changed, and many of the characteristics were based on some experience that I've had and one of the main pieces of the story was actually borrowed from the song "Cat's in the Cradle." I heard it on the radio one day and added the part about Stella not wanting Owen to follow in her footsteps. It became a major part of the film, and probably the most touching scene.
Do you think there’s a difference between “writing what you know” and really examining your life to see what can be turned into your art?
I don't think most people have the ability to really examine their own lives close enough, at least not while things are happening. There were things from my childhood that I finally understood on my 30's. Writing what you know is definitely a good place to start. I know a lot of people start there. If it goes elsewhere, cool. If not, that's OK too.
You have moved all over the place but are currently in Texas. How has Texas shaped you as a filmmaker that other places did not?
There are definitely more opportunities here than there are in Idaho, which is where I lived for four years. I don't know that I would have gotten to the point I am now if I had been living somewhere else. Before that fateful day when they came into the bar I was working at looking for extras, I had every intention of just working a regular Joe Shmoe job. I was, at the time, in the process of re-enlisting into the AF Reserves to get them to cross-train me. I figured I'd get a new job and do that as a civilian. If you'd have told me when I quit my last “real job” in 2009 that I'd be in graduate school and planning to move to LA a few years later, I'd have thought you were insane.
Your current two projects could not be more different. One is a very heavy film about the right to die and the other is a lighthearted dark comedy about celebrity. Does your head have to go into different modes when working on on a heavier film versus a lighter film or is it all the same?
They are different for sure when you're in pre-production and production. After the film is done, it's pretty much the same, assuming you're doing festivals. One thing that's important is to really know your film. Too many people think their work is better than it is, and that's not always their fault. I've always been very critical with extremely high standards for quality. I knew with my previous films that I was never going to win any Oscars, but I didn't know anything about film festivals. I do recommend that filmmakers watch Official Rejection*, because while it's about features, it shows what it's really like.
Most films, even bad ones, can get in somewhere, you just have to find the right niche. "Promise Me" is my first drama. I'm targeting different festivals, as well as some I had already submitted to. That's because I know the quality of most everything is higher this time around. I never would have submitted my early films to Sundance. This time, I did, and I also submitted to about thirty other Oscar-qualifying festivals. You can't assume it will get in, let alone win, but this time felt different.
"#RIP" had its world premiere at a comic con. I wasn't about to do that with PM. It may not start in an Oscar qualifier, but I'm fairly certain it will end up in multiple top tier festivals.
What is one of your proudest achievements?
My first leading role was in a film called “The Whale” which won several awards, including the 2011 Americas Regional Kodak Film School Cinematography Competition and screened in NYC, France, Los Angeles and recently aired on PBS. It was also part of the 2012 Houston Film Commissions Texas Filmmaker's Showcase in 2012, which was a great honor. I peaked early...
Is there a decision that you have made as an actor that you are particularly proud of?
To get out? 🙂 Over the last year or so, I've been acting less and less. I was taking improv classes in lieu of regular acting classes for a while, but it was during my most recent acting class session in March that I realized that the desire was no longer there. I'm a thinker, and have a tendency to get in my own way. Hence the improv classes, although I was never very good at that either. Yet, as a Producer, being in your head all the time is a huge merit. I get shit done. If I want something, I go after it, and I don't have to figure out how to cry to do it. Referring back to your first question, I am probably best as a producer, but it's also the most stressful, and the one I enjoy the least. For now, anyway.
One thing I have been struck by in previous conversations is your willingness to say no. Several big name actors were being considered for #RIP.
Any one of them could easily have led important cred to the movie, yet you chose not to cast them and kept pushing until you found the absolutely right person for the role. Were any of those decisions difficult to make?
As I mentioned, I know how to get shit done. I don't have time to sit around and worry about if *INSERT FAMOUS PERSON HERE* “gets”the script. If you're not totally on board, then I don't want you. When you're casting, you have to cast for the part, not for what you hope the actor can bring with credibility, money, or notoriety.
In short films, famous names don't matter. In our festival, we re rejected a film that had two Oscar nominees, who were both huge names. The film was awful. Badly edited, no story. It was a clear case of Hollywood favors because the performances were fine, and everything else sucked.
"#RIP" also had a failed Indiegogo campaign. There was some interest because of who was involved, but not enough to raise the amount I was hoping for. There are no names in PM and I was able to raise almost 6 times what I did for "#RIP." If that doesn't prove that you don't need famous people in your movie, I don't know what does.
Do you have any filmmaking horror stories? Technical mishaps, actor issues, editing problems, stuff like that?
No set is without its problems. One major problem that Austin has is with being on time. It's a matter of respect. If a key person, or even a non-key person, is 15 minutes late and there are 10 people waiting on you, then you've just lost 2 1⁄2 hours of work. There's a guy I love working with, but is chronically late. I've learned to make his call time earlier than everyone else in the hopes that he arrives close to call time. As an actor I saw it a lot more. Usually with organization, getting set up, etc. That's one reason I started producing, I felt like my experience in corporate management would help, and I was right. If there's an on-set problem it's usually easy to address. Post production is a lot more stressful, because you're relying on multiple people and things tend to slow down. PM was finally done an anguishing 6 weeks later than originally planned because of things that came up along the way. Then there's always the people factor, and the more people are involved, the worse it's going to get. I think that's anywhere, not just here.
How did you get through it?
Beer & yoga breathing.
You run a film festival as well (Big As Texas Short Film Festival). What are some of your tips for filmmakers submitting their work to your or any festival?
Read the rules! Respond to emails! Pay attention! Also, the shorter and more concise your film is the better. Just because we accept 40 minute films doesn't mean we're going to include a 40 minute film in our program. This year's Oscar winner, The Phone Call, is 19 minutes long. That's actually pretty long, although there was nothing wasted there. Chances are if you've got a 35 minute film, you should probably make a feature. 12 minutes is great. 6 is better. I saw a 1 minute film yesterday that was perfect for what it was. (Not part of our festival) *Does this mean that the film is not a part of the festival line-up or is this meaning 'This film was great but it's not right for our festival.'*
Mostly, PLEASE pay attention to emails. We recently had to change our rules limiting the amount of time that accepted filmmakers have to respond with deliverables because we have accepted numerous films and gotten no response. Or, I've gotten a response up to 7 months later. This is not a problem unique to us, this is a problem for any and all festivals. (That's not OK) Finally.. FIX YOUR SOUND!
Is there anything else you’d like to promote?
The Big As Texas Short Film Festival (BATSFF) is being held at the Southwest Theaters (Lakeline) on Saturday December 12, 2015. We will have 5 blocks of short films, including the “Best of” nominees and an awards ceremony, hosted by Brittany Flurry. We are giving out 32 awards (10” statuettes) by category and craft. There will be a red carpet, filmmaker meet & greet, and tickets/day passes are super cheap! They will go on sale in November. You can view already selected films on our website and the first teaser trailer is here: https://vimeo.com/118060473
Lastly, are there any Austin filmmakers (Counting writers, directors, actors, or anyone else) that stand out to you that not many people may know?
Austin Texas in general, has a fairly small film community. If you're working, most likely people have heard of you. A lot of people work with the same crew & actors over and over. I don't really have anything new & exciting to say here...
What do you love about filmmaking in Austin?
It's like a box of chocolates...
Clearly, Kevin Machate has a lot of wisdom to share about his years of experience. He is a truly valuable resource to the filmmaking community because he sugarcoats nothing and says exactly what is on his mind. If you would like to speak with him any further, do not hesitate to drop him a line!
festival site: batsff.com
facebook: PromiseMeFilm, RIPtheMovie
● OFFICIAL REJECTION - “It's a film (Documentary) that some filmmakers made around
their experience in dealing with film festivals. It's pretty enlightening.”