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The Independent Producer And The Distribution Landscape: An Interview With Jason Cuadrado

By Marjorie Galas

Like many independent filmmakers, Jason Cuadrado is a very patient man. He wanted to direct his feature length script, “Devil May Call” and sought the help of producer Camellia Sanes Monet to get the project off the ground in 2010. Monet and her production company, Esperanza Productions, secured a partnership with Angel & Bear Productions to help finance the project in 2011. “Devil May Call” wrapped in 2012. It premiered at the Paramount lot in May of 2013. The film sold to Lionsgate this fall, and will be released in 2015.

“It’s been a long journey,” said Cuadrado. “It’s a strange thing to make movies these days. Markets can shift at any time. When you are making films at this level, the budgets aren’t huge and you don’t have the stars, so you have to find ways to leverage your movie.”

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Emerging from a computer programming and new media background, Cuadrado is aware of the bounty of options for distributing content. Distributing his content in a more tradition fashion springs from a desire to make a return on the investment his backers supplied, and perhaps makes a little extra money beyond that.

“There are all these hoops to go through. There’s a list of three things were any combination of two will get the third: talent, money and distribution,” said Cuadrado. “If you aim for these three things, it changes what you write, and who you get connected with.”

Cuadrado believes storytellers have to make clear decisions early on and function within those confinements. Newer forms of content distribution are great for those independents who are most interested in sharing content without much concern about return. If one has a modest budget, they may spend that budget on a highly-finessed short that will play in the festival circuit and may garner some attention. One can take a chunk of that money and spend it on a big name, with hopes that star will spread awareness about the film through their social media sites aiding in a nice distribution deal. Cuadrado would rather take a small budget and work within the tight constraints to make the best feature possible.

Cuadrado wrote “Devil May Call” with a small indie budget in mind. Inspired by films including “Wait Until Dark” and “Precinct 13”, “Devil May Call” utilized a dark, confined space to build suspense and elevate the viewer’s fear. Instead of choosing a familiar setting like a grocery store or restaurant, he based the story in a suicide hotline center – a service that, due to its secrecy and unfamiliar terrain, automatically provides a level of discomfort. The female lead is a kind, young, confident veteran operator embarking on a new career. She also happens to be blind.

“We were doing terror on a budget. You have characters you care about and place darkness and terror around them,” said Cuadrado. “Because the public generally doesn’t know much about the hotline world, it makes it inherently scarier. If you are dealing with supernatural elements, you have to get people to understand that terror. We had a mandate going into it: we were going to shoot quickly and without a ton of money.”

“Devil May Call” was shot over twelve evenings. Working with dedicated crew and actors including cinematographer A. J. Raitano and horror veteran Tyler Mane, Cuadrado’ s team put in many long hours to accomplish the task. The effort of finalizing a distribution deal proved as draining as shooting the film itself.

Since completing “Devil May Call” Cuadrado has devoted time to elevating his writing. Encouraged by manager Deborah Del Prete, he’s been focusing on presenting his scripts to studios. Recognizing studios require a high level of quality, he’s training himself to be particularly critical of his work.

“‘Devil’ was written in a vacuum. I didn’t go through agents or a studio, it was written for a specific purpose,” said Cuadrado. “Sometimes artists can get to a certain level and just stay there and not build on their skills. I wanted to put my ego aside, and find a way to do better. It’s been amazing for my writing.”

As Cuadrado further challenges his skill set by stepping away from the horror genre to work on more dramatic fare, he’s also developing a tool that will help independent producers searching for distribution deals. He’s creating an app that will convert the premise of a film into a game, allowing the user to become familiar with the script’s world and lead them directly to a link providing information about the film. Cuadrado is using “Devil May Call” as a prototype to test the apps ability and gather data regarding click-troughs to the film’s landing page.

“A game does more than a poster or ad; it is entertaining and allows the user to enter the film’s universe,” said Cuadrado. “The price for making a decent app is still too high, but as the technology grows, it will reach a point where you can’t afford not to do this.”

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