Greg is now a featured filmmaker in the new book "Final Cut Pro for Avid Editors: A Guide for Editors Making the Switch". It can be purchased at Amazon, Peachpit.com or anywhere else on the web.
(Adobe Reader - eBook version shown above)
Interview with Greg Morgan by Dale Pierce
1. Tell people a little about yourself and how you came to be involved in film.
GM: My parents were huge lovers of film and exposed me early to the craft. My earliest memories were going to see Franco Zeferelli's "Romeo & Juliet" at around 4 years old with my parents and I was bawling the when Juliet died. That movie changed everything and cinema was my escape. Being a hobbyist of all sorts my mother gave me an 8mm camera to tinker with for home movies and I started to make films with it, at around 10 or 11 years old. I made about 5 or 6 different films with my friends. War and Westerns mostly, that I still have today. Funny, one of the "actors' became big in Hollywood film development and as much as I tried to get my foot in the door, the contact wasn't to be. After viewing my films I was hooked. I just knew from then on that I wanted to get into filmmaking and I watched countless films and learned the art. I went to college and majored in film. My second "brush with greatness" (as my wife likes to call it) was constantly (and I do mean constantly) renting videos from my local video store where the, now legendary, Quentin Tarintino used to work. After working my way through college, I had no money, so I had to continue working in the field that paid the bills & video rentals: Real Estate. During that period I met my wife, Jeanne, who loved the art of film as much as me. With her by my side, I made my first film 10 years after graduation when we finally wrote a script everyone liked, 17 & Under. 17 & Under was picked up by Spectrum Films and was their best selling title. That film got me a directing gig for my second feature "The Playaz Court" which was written by Bawb Cochrane.
2. When did you form Coal Mine Canary Films?
GM: Coal Mine Canary Films was formed out of necessity to make our first film 17 & Under. I believe it was around 1995.
3. Where did you get the title for this company?
GM: Everyone asks this question. In the old coal mining days, a canary was placed in a cage and put into mine shafts in order to detect any traces of methane gases that would naturally seep up from deep below the surface of the earth. If a miner saw a canary lying flat dead on it’s back, then he’d know it was high time to get the hell out a’ there! I believe being a independent filmmaker is much like being a coal mine canary. The audience (miners) go into a dark cave (the theater) and watch your film (mine away). If the film stinks, you as the filmmaker croak and the audience is left to run for their lives. But besides this simple analogy, there is a more complex concept to why we call ourselves Coal Mine Canary. Like other independent filmmakers, we are striving to forge new ground, bringing controversial subjects, unconventional screenplays and anti-formula films to the forefront. A very risky proposition! Just yesterday, my wife said that she believes there is more to the name than wanting to be a movie maverick, it's much deeper than that. She reminded me of the symbolism in the name and how subconsciously she believes we were trying to put some sense to a tragic incident of the past. That incident was the driving force behind the concept of "17 & Under."
4. What are some of your releases?
GM: "17 & Under," "The Playaz Court," "Party Animalz," "Monkey Love"
5. The Playaz Court was pretty well received, was it not?
GM: Very well. It won me the Aurora Award for best low budget feature of 2002. It also won several other film festival awards as did "17 & Under." I also find reviews all over the web on it and most are pretty positive. Seeing your work reviewed is a kick. Good or bad, and you always get both. One in particular stands out they equated my movie to "Roshamon," a film I happen to love. That kind of review is so inspiring and honoring to be among someone you dug, very full circle. But I must say the best review I ever received was from a guy that wrote a entire sequel to 17 & Under. I mean, wow, that's art touching another soul. It blew me away, kind of freakish, in a good way.
6. Wasn't there another one, Party Animalz, which you took yourself out of doing, due to conflicts of some kind?
GM: Yes. The whole concept to this film was Jeanne's idea. She brought it to me and I thought it would make a great, low budget feature. My first feature was all Latino cast and that sold well so I thought this would do well too. It also was all one location, a crucial factor for low budget. I started writing it, but got tied up on another project. It was shelved for a few months till I hired a co-writer, Steve Atkin. I wrote up a contract with him that gave him all the writing credit since I was going to direct and produce. After it was done I passed it on to a production company that kept lowering the budget until I cried uncle and said "No way, even I can't make it for that." A few weeks later they called and wanted to buy the script from me. Steve had no credits at that point so I said yes and did it. All I got out of it was a check and a co-producer credit.
7. Do you have anything new ready to go?
GM: I always have several projects I'm pitching or in pre-production or writing. Sometimes I'm writing three scripts at once. Most of those get shelved. Writing itself makes for a better writer. Just because you don't use it, doesn't matter to me.
8. What about in the planning stage or to be shot soon?
GM: Yes. I'm shooting my latest feature in May 2005 called "The Substance of Things Hoped For." It's a spiritual drama in the vein of "Solaris". We should have it done by the end of 2005. I wrote this with a co-writer Duke Addleman.
9. Incidentally, where can people contact you to find out more about your films, order them or so on?
GM: I have a website at www.coalminecanary.com which people can email me from. Just put something about "film" in the subject line or my SPAM software may eat you up. All of my films can be rented from the typical places or ordered off Amazon or similar website. "17 & Under" isn't rentable at most Blockbusters anymore as it was released in 2000. My website is updated every now and then and people can find me on the IMDB database which lists info about filmmakers, actors and more worldwide.
10. What element of cinema do you prefer most, as you have been involved in various parts of film making?
GM: I love all of it: Writing, directing and editing. I hate producing but unfortunately I'm good at it. I seem to have two halves to myself: The artist and the businessman. I would love to form a relationship with a producer who loves my work and we could work together like other well known producer/director teams. I love editing as it is a second attempt at directing. Fix those mistakes you made during production and come up with new ides. I don't understand why all directors don't edit their own projects.
11. As someone involved with indy films you probably cannot be as selective as the big companies when it comes to casting. What do you think people look for when hiring actors or actresses?
GM: That's a big question. They just have to be right for the part. When I cast and the way the actor read the part is not quite what I was looking for, I ask the actor to make a change. If the actor can make that change with no problems, I know the actor is seasoned. They still may not be right for my part, but they have talent. And God knows there is alot of undiscovered talent out there. It's sometime beautiful and tragic at the same time, great artists, but no venue. I feel their pain.
12. It can be a pretty cut throat business though?
GM: Absolutely. Especially the higher you get. It's who you know, not how good of a film you can produce. Even in the low budget world I'm in, we notice people in this business for the wrong reasons. They are mostly in it for the chicks, so to speak. I'm happily married, so I'm not in it for the chicks (anymore)(no, I'm just kidding!). I love the art of filmmaking and am in it for that. As for my projects, I only associate myself with people that want to be a part of my films. Down-to-earth people that I would like to hang with. Any attitude and you're gone. In the early days, I tried to be a part of the Hollywood scene, but it just isn't me. And besides no one in this town is going to give you something for nothing. You have to prove yourself first, that's a fact. Also don't put a price on your soul. I've been offered funding for "exploitation" films, garbage where they pay more attention to the video jacket than the contents. No matter how hungry I get I avoid those shiny objects.
13. Any other interesting stories to tell about incidents surrounding your career?
GM: As I mentioned before I knew Quentin Tarantino when he was the video store clerk. My office was next door to his building. He and Roger Avery, his co-writer for Pulp Fiction worked there. Roger and I went to highschool together. At that time, I worked in real estate with my Dad. My Dad's name was also Quentin and when we would go into rent movies Tarantino would say, "Hey, Quentin!", in which my father would reply the same. He would recommend many films to us and a few of them were good. Just a few.
14. Closing comments?
Watch low budget movies. Some of them are good and they are a stepping stone for filmmakers to making larger films. They need to be supported. Also as much as I love American Cinema I am enthralled with foreign films. The last thing I'll say is the last thing I say in the credits of my first film: "Have you hugged your independent filmmaker today?"