"Counterfeiters" aired as part of the 2013 edition of "Fine Cut." A summary: A group of college dropouts come up with a scheme to create counterfeit money, but when they get too greedy, they learn that there are no shortcuts in life.
Here, we speak with Bryce Hirschberg, the director of "Counterfeiters," about shooting a film in one take, the importance of preproduction, and tough guy cinema.
Your entire film is done in one continuous shot. What was your main goal in using this technique as a storytelling technique? What kind of challenges does a one-shot film present?
I wanted to challenge myself to create a film that kept the audience entertained without using a single edit. A typical action film cuts about every four seconds to keep the audience engaged. I wanted to prove that one doesn't need to use multiple edits and shots to keep an audience's attention. My filming technique uses camera movement, intricate plot turns, and informative dialogue to accomplish this same feat. I wanted to take the audience on a journey through the counterfeiting world without hiding any details from them.
The problems of shooting a single take are obvious. For example, if someone flubs a line or something along those lines, we have to start over. The most interesting moment of the shoot is when we made our transition around the corner, into the lobby, and saw a line of about eight maids, patiently waiting as we held an elevator. We couldn't use that shot. Timing was the hardest part of the shoot -- we had an overall time constraint that the film needed to be under 15 minutes, so everything needed to move quickly, which played into my hand because I wanted a fast paced film anyways.
Your junior thesis film "Baer," about the 1933 boxing match between Jewish-American Max Baer and German Max Schmeling, has a distinct style separate from "The Counterfeiters." What can you tell our readers about the differences between the two projects from a filmmaker's perspective?
"Baer" was a much more difficult shoot when it came to the preproduction. Since it was a period piece, it required lot of research into the costume, make-up, hair, etc. It was also a standard film shoot. Shot of 35 millimeter film, over 5 shooting days, with over 60 cast and crew members and over 60 individual shots. For this film, I used storyboards, shot breakdowns, and other essential tools which helped the filming process. But even with "Baer" I chose to keep the camera rolling throughout different fight sequences, choosing not to cut, because of how intense the moments were between my actors. I felt like this choice would help the audience feel like they were in the fight.
"Counterfeiters" also required extensive preproduction, but most of it was regarding the single take, making sure everyone was in the right place at the right time, etc. It all comes down to your preproduction. If you are prepared for anything and everything, then your film production should go very smoothly.
Between these two works and your earlier film "Regret," you seem to have an affinity for what could loosely be called Tough Guy Cinema. What draws you to this genre?
I wanted to be in the film business because I wanted to experience things that I may not experience in reality. For example, I could be a lawyer or a doctor. But what I'm really fascinated in is being a bank robber, or a counterfeiter. Those are exciting and intriguing lifestyles to me. And since I will never actually be a counterfeiter or bank robber, and most of my audience won't either, I choose to make films that allow the audience to escape into this alternative realty where they can be "tough guys." That's why we go to the movies, to escape from reality for a couple hours.
What has been the greatest thing you've learned while studying at Loyola Marymount University?
LMU gave me a great education and presented me with the opportunity to form valuable relationships. But above all, I feel like LMU is the most director-friendly film school in the country. They gave me all of the tools to make a great film. From the abundance of lighting, grip, camera, and sound equipment, to the freedom for me to approach a film no matter how ambitious it may be. My film school has always had my back and was there to help me with any problem that I came across.
Who do you consider some of your greatest artistic inspirations?
I am a big fan of Alfred Hitchcock. "Rope" in fact, was a film he made that was also film in one continuous shot. My mom got me hooked on old school horror/suspense film as I was growing up. Scary movies are actually what made me wanted to be a director in the first place. I love the idea of affecting an audience, in some cases, for the rest of their lives. And audiences are constantly affected by horror films, both during the film and after. Presently, my biggest directing inspirations are probably Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan, and David Fincher. I've always considered myself a Hollywood director, and these directors are very Hollywood while at the same time creating a very artistic and unique approach to their films.
What's next for you?
I'm hoping to direct my first feature, which in fact will be a horror film. It's a script that I wrote and plan to act in as well called "MASKS." It's "Scream" meets "Texas Chainsaw Massacre." I am very excited about it! I feel like this will be a great opportunity for me and all of my crew that I will bring on -- the same crew from "Baer" and "Counterfeiters." So any investors out there, I don't need a lot of money, and I'll make you a ton!