Getting it Right
By Oz Online | Published on January 25, 2016

On Set, in Post and On the Screen: An Interview with Drew Sawyer

Whether he’s on the set of an indie Sundance horror film dressed only in a pair of bloody boxers or working with a talented post production team on an episodic television series, Drew Sawyer loves telling stories. His company, Moonshine Post-Production, has a rapidly expanding portfolio of start-to-finish post production projects, from feature films and broadcast episodics to commercial spot work.

​With strong roots in the Atlanta film and indie community, Sawyer and his company recognize the importance of both cultivating talent and collaborating on independent projects to become better storytellers. When the folks at Moonshine are not cutting someone else’s show, they’re shooting and posting their own.

Drew Sawyer is dedicated to distilling Georgia’s creative projects into finely tuned stories that capture audiences worldwide. Here, he talks about the burgeoning indie film scene in Georgia, what it’s like to wear so many different hats within the industry, and how to trade in the “currency of favors.”

How did you get started as a filmmaker?

I started, just like a lot of folks, by making my own stuff. And when you do that, you have to wear all the hats and you have to do everything. When I directed my first narrative, it happened to be a feature and I was 21 and that was ridiculous! But I ended up finding out that I was pretty good at editing. So basically, I started a business of inheriting other people’s problems.

How did you realize your post production experience could help filmmakers avoid making costly mistakes in production?

I kept seeing the same kinds of problems over and over again. Whether it was broadcast TV or independents that my friends were making, I kept getting a little box of garbage and being asked to sift through it and make gold – like I had this magical editing garbage-sieve.

Editing is the final frontier before the world sees your movie, your show. So after fixing my own story problems and then fixing other people’s story problems, I realized that a lot of these mistakes can be avoided in the field, but you need solid, upfront pre-production planning.

If I took what I learned from seeing all these boxes of crap pile up, I could probably give some good advice based on what I’m seeing on the back end to help production. So I started helping others produce.

My friends would be making their own things and I’d advise, “Hey, listen. You’re going to run into these technical problems. You’re not going to have these types of story elements. Your scenes are going to fall flat. You’re going to wish you had done this or I promise you, it’s not going to work in the edit.”

What kind of response do you get when you give this advice?

It’s pretty polarizing. I say, “I’ve watched it. I can give you notes as it is. But I feel like you’re going to need some re-shoots unless you have these scenes.” And usually they go “Well, we’re done. We can’t go back. We’re out of money.” And it’s not really my place to rub salt in the wound and say, “Well you’re supposed to budget for that” or “You’re going to have to beg, borrow and steal just like the rest of us and find a way.”

Half of the people just say, “Shut up. Deal with what you’ve got.” And I say, “I can make it work with whatever you’ve got, but if you have the opportunity to re-budget and go pick up a few scenes, please shoot these types of scenes. And I’ll show you where these scenes should be in your narrative flow.”

I always want the work to be the best it can be, so when we’re in the editing room, I tell everyone up front, “These scenes have value; these scenes don’t.” You know what to look for when you are trying to cut things together to make story. If I tell them, “This scene falls flat for these reasons,” the director will usually get it because that’s their job. That’s how they work.

I worked with Molly Coffee on one of her early short films and she was willing to follow my advice and get the extra shots she needed. Then her film had a better flow and better pacing and the audience could really get into the story a lot easier.

So you’re working with Molly again?

I executive produced Molly’s TV pilot Pepper’s Place and Molly is digitally astounding at creating everything that is in the frame. She’s cast strong local talent and she’s built beautiful sets where humans and puppets interact in the world she’s created.

You know the whole cycle, from pre-production through post. How does that make you a valuable asset on set?

I pre-produce the hell out of everything because I know that if I don’t, I’m going to hate it on the back end. I know every pitfall we’re going to encounter on set that’s going to haunt us all the way through post. So I can see the future in a lot of respects, because I know where the ship’s heading, where this film’s problems will be later. I can usually see it on set and I feel like I’ve accrued enough experience on the back end to benefit filmmakers on the front end.

Despite being a post-pro guy, you keep getting producer credits. How did this happen on Treehouse?

Treehouse is a neat horror film that the director, Michael Bartlett, put together under some hilariously hard constraints in the Ozark Mountains. The film was pre-sold at a film market for distribution through Redbox.

They were shooting out of town, using the RED camera, shooting in a big format, and they’d only have a limited number of computers. So I came in as post-producer at the beginning of the project and designed their workflow.

In the film, it’s ice cold; it’s night. You punish people to get these types of shots. It was a small, short shoot and they knew they weren’t going to get a lot of takes. When we watched the footage, I told Michael, “Hey, you’re a horror film director. You know these scenes have to have a certain tonality or else it’s not going to be scary. Let’s just say it straight. I can get as much out of these scenes as you have here, but you really are missing these key elements. You don’t want to go to the film market guys that brokered your film and say ‘Oh, here’s my not so scary film.’”

Michael saw exactly what I was talking about; I was preaching to the choir. He went back to the Ozarks, did some additional shooting and he pulled it off.

I threw all the talent I could at his film with little to low budget and Michael offered me a producer credit. I really appreciated it. And that is part of producing: getting people to believe in your project. Not twisting their arms, but finding the right people for the right jobs at the right time to get the best film.

You use the term “currency of favors” to describe how Atlanta indie filmmakers are getting their projects made now. Can you explain that?

Favors are a commodity and currently in the Atlanta market, the indie field is trading this “currency of favors.” Outside of all the paid broadcast and bigger film stuff, in the indie zone you’re allowed to practice and do things you wouldn’t normally get to do. And that’s the exciting part of it.

To convince certain people to do certain projects, to rope ‘em in, one of the things you can offer someone is the opportunity to practice a skill set they don’t normally get to use. They get to move up a position. And then they get that experience with that skill set. It sounds pretty straightforward, but then how else are you going to get any better?

Some people tell me, “I don’t need to do that; I’ve already paid my dues.”


Share this Post