I developed the story for Goodnight, Charlene shortly after graduating film school at the University of Oklahoma. I’d fallen in love with Film Noir there and was fascinated with the idea of a Neo-noir, filmed in color and set in small-town America. I completed the script about fifteen years ago, but felt my options for making it on a small budget with the technology then available weren’t that great.
I filed the script away and moved to Texas in 2006. Around 2010, I discovered far West Texas Texas, specifically Marfa, Alpine, Terlingua, and the Big Bend area. It clicked perfectly in my mind to utilize that lonesome, wild part of Texas as the setting for my Neo-Noir.
Goodnight, Charlene production started in 2017 and the film was shot with extremely minimal crew, few setups, and only four weeks of production time. Marketing took shape once the film was accepted by Linda Nelson of Indie Rights. We placed the film in the Arena Cinelounge in Hollywood for a limited, one week theatrical run. This got the attention of the LA Times, who reviewed the film. General social media marketing and, of course, word of mouth have rounded out our marketing strategy.
indieactivity : Did you start writing with a cast (You or any) in mind?
Chris Zuhdi : Not really. I sort of expected to play one of the characters, but casting was done from the ground up by my tremendous casting director Kina Bale-Reed. She assembled an amazing cast of pros for the film.
indieactivity : How long did you take to complete the script?
Chris Zuhdi : I wrote the original script for ‘Goodnight, Charlene’ in about four months. Then spent close to a year polishing it. I usually write a brief synopsis and list of characters with short descriptions of each. I then plot out a general trajectory for the story and just get to writing.
indieactivity : When did you form your production company – and what was the original motivation for its formation?
Chris Zuhdi : I formed my production company, Skytrain Films, LLC in 2017. The motivation was to start producing ‘Goodnight, Charlene’ and feature films here in Texas on a professional level.
indieactivity : What was the first project out of the gate?
Chris Zuhdi : Goodnight, Charlene is my production company’s first project.
indieactivity : During production, what scene (that made the cut) was the hardest to shoot?
Chris Zuhdi : The final shootout in an auto garage. We filmed that in the middle of July in an all metal auto- garage in Texas. It was about 108 degrees that day (not counting heat index). Further, I had only one crew member for that scene and two elderly cast members. There was no air-conditioning in the auto garage except for a small bathroom with a window unit. We all packed into that bathroom, gasping for air between takes. That’s the stuff sitting in film school can’t prepare you for. Production is always a battle, whether you have $10 or $10 million behind you. It’s not for the faint of heart.
indieactivity : What works better in this latest production that mightn’t have worked so well in the last one you did?
Chris Zuhdi : This is my first feature film. For my next feature, I’m definitely looking to scale back the size of my camera equipment; which is now very possible with the amazing advancements in sensor technology.
indieactivity : You produced and directed the film, what measure of input did it take to don these hats?
Chris Zuhdi : It’s essential to maintain a small, handful of close friends and allies who have skill, honestly, and integrity to be a reliable sounding board. For this film, that took the form of family and cast members with experience as filmmakers, such as Carl Bailey and Hugo Christian. Both are skilled filmmakers in their own right.
Also, you have to watch out for vision high-jackers.
Sometimes these folks mean well, sometimes they don’t. Regardless, if you don’t
courteously maintain your vision for the film, there are plenty of people who
will take the project over and send it a direction you never intended.
indieactivity : Is there anything about the independent filmmaking business you still struggle with?
Chris Zuhdi : There’s so much clutter in the marketplace, it’s definitely a challenge. Achieving credibility through high level press or “name” association with your project, be it acting, writing, producing, is essential. We were very blessed to sign with Linda Nelson of Indie Rights, which helped open the door to the Arena Cinelounge and the LA Times.
But, you have to start over and prove yourself with every
film. That’s the challenge.
indieactivity : Where do you think your strengths line as a filmmaker?
Chris Zuhdi : I like to think I can get a clear and accurate vision for a project, and then have the tenacity to stick with it until it’s fully realized. I hope that’s true. Time will tell.
indieactivity : Let’s talk finance, How did you finance the film?
Chris Zuhdi : Private equity investors and was also blessed with a good amount of “soft money” through various, personal networks.
indieactivity : How much did you go over budget? How did you manage it?
Chris Zuhdi : Spent about $12,000 on a professional sound mix and foley for the film. It’s more than I had anticipated, but absolutely essential. People often think the images carry a film, but that’s really not true. It’s the audio. The soundscape. The sweetened dialogue, foley effects, music, mixing. That’s what you really feel in a movie or tv show. The images are just the icing on top. But, that takes a lot of skill and money to achieve. I’m not a sound guy at all. I can appreciate the basics, but a true sound professional in both production and post are worth their weight in gold.
indieactivity : How important is marketing? Do you think a project can make any dent without it these days?
Chris Zuhdi : Essential;. Not only these days, but any days. Marketing has always been essential in filmmaking. That’s why the inflated budget you read for blockbusters are so impossibly high. They include the tens and often hundreds of millions of dollars studios spend buying awareness and credibility for their films.
indieactivity : Can you tell us about your marketing activities on the project – and how it’s gone for you?
Chris Zuhdi : The LA Times review was a centerpiece for our marketing strategy. From there we’ve branched out to local media, social marketing, and great indie filmmaking blogs like yours. So far it’s going great.
indieactivity : What do you hope audiences get from your film?
Chris Zuhdi : An 82 minute vacation from reality.
indieactivity : What else have you got in the works?
Chris Zuhdi : Another crime fiction and a psychological thriller, both set in the fictitious Texas border town of Three Sands.
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