Andrew Fisher, writer and director of this year’s “Buttons in the Ground,” a featurette, which Idyllwild International Festival of Cinema (IIFC) Chairman Phil Calderone calls a “perfect” film, talked about the process of making his first independent film.
Fisher, a graduate of Biola University’s four-year film program, used his school connections for a head start on forming his all-important production team. He enrolled two other Biola graduates — Producer Benjamin D. Long and Director of Photography Jeff Webster — early in the process of planning “Buttons.”
Even though the genesis, script and vision for the film were Fisher’s, he said it was the team that made it happen using the resources available given budget constraints. Fisher said the team and crew, eventually numbering 40 at a five-day location shoot four hours from Los Angeles, made the integrity of the film the paramount consideration in planning, shooting and in post production.
“When we came to a crossroads, we always asked what was best for the film rather than accolades for me as the writer and director,” said Fisher. “It was always about the film. I trusted my team — that the producers would uphold the integrity of the film and creative would do what we could [given available resources] for the best interests of the film.”
“Buttons in the Ground” was shot in Turlock where lead producer Trenton Waterson grew up. “We got so much help from the local community,” said Fisher, “feeding us, housing us, finding the farmhouse where we shot.”
Fisher is quick to credit others, especially Waterson, whose credits are impressive. During the past two years Waterson worked with Executive Producer Patricia Whitcher on “Thor” (2011) and “Avengers” (2012). Prior to that, he was in the production offices of Bruckheimer Films, Walt Disney Pictures, New Line Cinema, Spyglass Entertainment and Touchstone Pictures.
Since graduation from Biola, Fisher, has worked with director Daniel Barnz (“Beastly” and “Phoebe in Wonderland”), who gave him some important lessons about the importance of collaborating and listening to your team members.
“He told me there are three films you shoot — the one you write, the one you actually shoot and the one you edit — and that it’s important not to hold too closely to any one of those and not to force an outcome based on one of the three,” Fisher recalled.
Fisher said the five-day shoot was exhausting but thrilling, “Each day we reviewed the dailies, so that we could decide what to do the next day,” he noted. “Some things you had planned don’t turn out, but new things come about that you had not seen or thought of, again changing the story. It was important to remain flexible.”
Fisher’s appreciation for the collaborative process and his consideration of others involved in the film’s process led him to recruit college roommate Gabe Renfro, also a writer and director, to chronicle the filming process. “I wanted to make sure the investors could see how their money was being spent,” said Fisher. At the film’s website, www.buttonsintheground.com, snippets from the five day shoot shot by Renfro, are available for viewing, as is the trailer for the film.
“Buttons” is the story of a young girl’s fantasy of being able to grow buttons in the ground, an idea Fisher came up with. He heard a phrase “buttons in the ground” and became interested in developing that into a script and film about the loss of innocence, a genre he had wanted to explore. “It’s just a habit. I see or hear something that I find interesting and write it down. My mind wraps around it and it evolves.” Fisher said the idea germinated for a year and then one night he sat down and wrote the script.
Fisher and his producers began fundraising through kickstarter.com in June 2010 and had raised the $30,000 plus budget by August. “Buttons” was shot in Turlock in November.
Asked what were the most important things he learned from making his first independent, non-college, film, Fisher recounted: “One of the first things you learn as a director is that you can’t control everything, and not being able to control everything helps you think on your feet. Second, surround yourself with talented people that give you a chance to make a great film. And third, know when to compromise your vision and when to stand firm.
“I think the key was that we all held the idea of the film higher than any one person.”
Check www.iifoc.com for when “Buttons in the Ground” is playing at this year’s festival, which begins on Thursday, Jan. 12 and runs through Sunday, Jan. 15.