Horror Business: HOSPITALITY’s Writer/Director Duo on Indie Filmmaking

Hospitality is a no holds barred indie thriller with compellingly memorable characters and a healthy dose of Americana pulp. It’s not horror, per se, but utilizes a number of  horror elements which very effectively flavor this southern fried neo-noir with a fun, enjoyable eeriness.

We sat down with writer/director duo, David Guglielmo and Nick Chakwin, who were kind enough to take us through their journeys on getting Hospitality (their second film) off the ground and into a theatrical release. Along the way, we dug into details about how they broke into filmmaking and had a great chat that ended up LOADED with gems of insight for aspiring indie filmmakers. We got into everything from their directing and writing processes along with tips for getting your script into the hands of the right producers. Lots of great advice in here (might want to take notes on this one).

Before getting into the interview, here are 3 key pieces of filmmaking insight from Nick Chakwin & David Guglielmo. 

  • If you can’t afford rehearsals, hire existing chemistry among actors. Chemistry between actors is a critically important asset and is typically achieved during the rehearsal process. When making Re-Animator, Stuart Gordon extensively rehearsed the entire script night after night for weeks with the cast, as if it were a play (it helped that his cast consisted of former stage actors).
  • However, given the nature of low budget, indie filmmaking, you can’t always find time to rehearse, therefore, consider hiring actors who have an existing relationship. This is exactly what Nick and David did with two of their key actors in Hospitality, Emmanuelle Chriqui & JR Bourne, who knew each other for literally, decades. Chemistry always translates on screen and strengthens the believability of your characters’ relationships and therefore strengthens the movie. So if you can’t build chemistry, hire preexisting chemistry between actors who have either worked together on previous productions or are close friends.
  • Find peripheral jobs. When he was raising money for his first film, David’s casting director offered him a job as an assistant. This endeavor further enabled David to make relevant connections and get to know the inner workings of casting, filmmaking, and producing which translated into priceless industry knowledge. Rather than picking a job outside of the industry you want to be in, find ways to work within it so those years can be productive for the knowledge they can provide and the relationships they can solidify.
  • Just shoot already! Nick said that the best advice he got when he was trying to film his first movie, was to go film his first movie. In the throes of fundraising for their first feature, No Way to Live, Nick and David realized that the magic budget number they were aiming for, wasn’t entirely necessary and that they needed to get production underway immediately. The momentum signaled to other producers that they were the real deal and it also added a sense of urgency to their producer pitches, which helped them get investment decisions made faster.

Dread Central: Hey, guys, how’s it going?

David Guglielmo: Good, how are you?

DC: Doing great! So, I really enjoyed Hospitality a lot. What a fun, slow-burn thriller with a few horror elements thrown in there for good measure! Can you tell me how the project came about?

DG: Yeah, so Nick and I made our first film called No Way to Live, completely grassroots. We raised the money, we shot it over a period of six months, just kind of piecing it together, not knowing if it was ever going to become a feature, but doing everything we could to complete it. That process, I think, from writing the script to getting distribution, was four years. We learned more than we ever did in film school. We’re really proud of the film.

But Hospitality, interestingly enough, was the opposite. It happened very quickly. We wrote the script in four days, just in a real creative space. It just came out. We were like, “Oh wow, this is really cool. Let’s send out some emails to producers that we admire.” Within a week, we had a green light from Howard at Kandoo Films. A month later, we were shooting. We only had 13 days to do this. It’s an ultra-low-budget movie. It was just, kind of like, run-and-gun. Before we knew it, we had our second film.

DC: That’s awesome. The actors seemed to have a really natural chemistry. Did you guys do a lot of rehearsing?

Nick Chakwin: No, we actually didn’t.  We weren’t afforded that, because of the budget and the time frame we were working with. It was luck that they all got along so well and had the chemistry. We had just one table read, and then we were on set.

With that said, Emmanuel and J.R. are good friends. They’ve been friends for like, twenty years, so that was a really great asset for us, because they were just so comfortable with each other. We were able to use that in the scene work. That’s just worth its weight in gold.

DG: It was like summer camp. Honestly, when we were there, everyone was best friends. It was really a lot of fun.

DC: David, you have a history as a casting agent, right?

DG: Yeah. What happened there was that because No Way to Live took so long to get going, we had hired a casting director by the name of Matthew Lassalle, who’s great. We lost the money. At one point we had half a million dollars to make No Way to Live, and then the guy was like, “Oh, I just found out that indie films don’t really make money. It’s a risk.”

DC: Holy shit.

DG: He pulled the rug out and we had no money. While we were raising $1,000 here and there to make the movie, Matt was so great. He was like, “Look, you don’t have to pay me again. I’m with you whenever you need me to send out an offer. Let’s just get the movie done.” I became close with him, and afterwards, he said, “Why don’t you come work as my assistant?” Because I had quit my job to make the movie. I was working at a juice bar and I thought I was going to have to go and get another job at a bar or something.

He was like, “Well, look, you’re like a human IMDB. You know every actor. That’s what you need. I’ll teach you the program.” I became his assistant and then eventually worked my way up to associate. Then I just was like, “Well, I can do this. I know so many producers just from being in an indie film.” I just declared myself a casting director and I started getting work. For the past two or three years, yeah, I’ve been a casting director.

DC: That’s awesome. I’d imagine that being a casting director would give you a front row seat to observing how other producers work and operate, not to mention the networking element. That sounds like it’s a really smart and instrumental step towards becoming a director/producer.

DG: Yeah, I always tell people that there is no single way to do this. There’s no one route to making movies. I just love to be a part of movies in any capacity. I really love casting. I love producing.

DC: I think that there’s something about the idea of getting a foot in the door with filmmaking in general by working your way into directing through other paths within the industry itself. It sounds like that was largely the case with you guys.

NC: I think that’s really smart, but it depends what you’re focusing on. David was able to use something that he had a natural talent for that helped us make connections and discover people. But when it’s a job where your time gets sucked and you don’t have time to do the work you came here for… it’s a different story.

DG: Honestly, I’m always the kind of person that if I am an assistant, I’m the assistant that conveniently leaves the script on the desk of the boss.

DC: Oops.

DG: I don’t care. I’ll always do that. I’ll always send the emails. I’ll always follow up on the emails–“Hey, did you see this?”– until I get a response, because I believe that the stuff that I’m giving them is actually an opportunity for them. I really believe in the work. I think there’s always a way in, and I think it starts with making sure the work is ready and believing in yourself.

DC: Right, right, being ready for that opportunity when it comes and having the scripts ready to go. 

DG: Yeah.

DC: So you guys are clearly a directorial and writing and producing team. It’s rare to see such multi-faceted and dynamic partnerships. What do you guys find to be the keys to your collaboration?

NC: The first thing would be the communication. Being on the same page is really, really key, especially when we’re writing, and especially when we’re on set directing. We need to be one voice, one unified point-of-view. What we do to get there is to always be talking to each other, so that when we get to the point of an actor or a producer asking questions, we both have the same answer.

DG: Nick and I are best friends. We’re always in contact talking about everything. I think that our personalities balance each other out in a nice way that you can’t plan. Creatively we’re on the same wavelength, and we’re both really excited. I think that’s something that’s really gone a long way. We’re paying these actors $100 a day to do this movie. If we’re not excited about it, they’re not going to do it, because there’s just no other reason. It’s contagious.

Right now, I have to pinch myself. I have a movie that’s in theaters. It’s playing in Universal CityWalk right now. I’ve been going every other night, just sitting with an audience just to hear them react. I’m living my best life.

DC: How has that process been, sitting and experiencing the film with an audience?

DG: It’s so cool. The other day, actually, when I walked out of the theater, I went up to a stranger and I just said, “Hey, what did you think of that?” He was like, “Yeah, it was cool. It was good.” I want to know what the general public thinks. It’s like the film industry is this bubble. I think that they judge movies differently, and I don’t really want to talk to people in the industry all the time. I want to go to the mall. I want to ask people what they thought, because that’s America and that’s the world.

DC: Yeah. I think that’s really interesting, and I think it’s important to be in touch with your audience instead of being in this insulated echo chamber of the film industry, so to speak.

DG: Yeah. It’s funny, because these people, they have no idea what a high-concept thriller is or whatever. They just want to be entertained. At the end of the day, I think our movies work in that way. We’ve had terrible, terrible festival receptions. We never got into a big festival or any festival with No Way to Live or this movie.

I always hear from agents and everyone, all their thoughts, and what they think could be better about it and all that stuff. But then you sit a bunch of people down that just want to be entertained, and they’re reacting. They’re vocally reacting. They don’t care what genre it is. They just want to have a good time. You want to be savvy with the kind of stuff you’re putting out to make sure it’s marketable, but I really think keeping the general audience in mind is important.

DC: That’s awesome. What advice were you guys given that really enabled you to get your first movie off the ground?

NC: Well, once we had the script, once we had the writing done, I remember a time where we still raising the money.  We were working with this young producer guy and we were like, “We have to raise X amount of money to pull a trigger and shoot the film.” We were sending emails out that looked like spam. We’re like, “We just need $5,000 more dollars. We just need $10,000.”

I just remember getting advice from a director friend, who said, “Pull the trigger. Why do you need that? You don’t need that. Go shoot. Shoot what you have.” We were like, “Wait, what?” We had this whole idea, because we got one budget from one line producer. But you can get 3,000 different budgets from 3,000 different producers. You just need to pull the trigger with what you have, if you have some money raised. I think people spend years waiting to hit the magic number.

DC: That’s really, really cool. There are so many people walking around with just scripts and ideas, but those two things clearly are not enough. When he was making Maniac, William Lustig talked about how, the way he got producers on board was to just start filming.

Once he had built some momentum, and had footage in the can, was when producers realized, “Okay, this is a real, tangible movie.” And major producers, started jumping on board, because he demonstrated to them that he actually had the ability and gravitas to start making something, instead of just having this conceptual idea. 

DG: Yeah, we did that with No Way to Live. Every time we shot something, we cut it together and we made a sizzle reel. It was almost like a fake trailer for the movie. Once we did that, it was a proof of concept. Now everyone was like, “Oh okay, I see what you’re going for. This looks like a cool movie.” It definitely helped us raise money.

NC: If we had a meeting and it went well with a guy in New York, we’d bring that back to L.A. and say, “We’ve got a guy in New York that’s thinking about putting this money in.” Then the other guy is like, “Whoa, really?” We just built our own momentum, even if we had none.

DG: Yeah. You always want to make it like the train is leaving the station, because it is. The thing is, whoever we reach out to, we’re not contingent on that person. We’re going to make this movie no matter what. It’s like, “Do you want to be a part of this?” If not, we’re still making it. We’re not going to just wait around.

DC: Obviously, you guys are really, really collaborative when you approach a script. You said that you were able to knock out the first draft in four days. How do you guys approach collaborative writing? 

NC: So when we were first starting, writing features separately, we would send them to each other for advice. We were friends in college. Then when I moved out here, we kept doing that. Then when David decided to move to L.A., he crashed on my couch for a couple of weeks while he was looking for an apartment. That’s when we started writing together, because we were under one roof.

So for those first few scripts we were actually literally in the same room passing the laptop back and forth. It was totally nerve-wracking for me, because I used to outline. For me, it was like jumping in the deep end. I was like, “Pass the laptop.” “Okay, go write.” I’m just like, “Oh shit.” It was a very cool awakening, in a way, that just changed my writing process.

Yeah, so that kind of graduated to emailing scripts back and forth more like normal people, I guess, but we still like to keep passing things back and forth and try to surprise each other, but stay within the same tone, and kind of just slowly pave each other’s work over so it’s one voice. Yeah, it works for us.

DG: Yeah, it works in a nice way, because basically if we’re doing five pages each a day–and that’s the rule, you have to do at least five–when Nick sends me his five, I’m going back and smoothing out the five he gave me, and then I’m writing my five. Then I send it back to him. He smooths out my five, and then he writes another five. By the time you have a first draft, you’re basically on your second draft.

DC: That’s fascinating. It sounds like having a writing partner is a game-changer for aspiring writers, particularly because of the accountability where you guys each agree to a quota. I’m sure that is way more motivating than just telling yourself, “Hey, I gotta write five pages today,” which for some people quickly becomes, “I gotta write five pages, tomorrow.” Instead it’s a matter of, “My writing partner wrote five pages today. I better write five pages, or I’m going to feel like a piece of shit.”

DG: Yeah, it’s going to the gym. You’re not going to say “Oh, I’m tired today,” if the guy’s in front of your house with a car, beeping the horn. But also, if I go to the gym alone, I leave after 15 minutes. You need someone there to be like, “No, no, no, we’re doing our hour.” It keeps you disciplined, and sometimes you need just a bouncing board for ideas. You need to just say it out loud. It basically takes a process that’s very introverted and makes it not as introverted.

DC: Gotcha. When it comes to directing, writing, filmmaking, there’s a lot of resources and books out there a lot of which are written by people who have never done it before, that entire market is just flooded with bullshit. That being said, were there any formidable resources or books that really helped you along the way, either creatively or from a business perspective?

NC: You need to really be cautious about all these gurus out there. It’s definitely its own industry. I don’t see many of those people as working professionals. I think a lot of people are trying to sell you the magic ingredients.

NC: I like reading the books from directors. There are some really good ones out there.

DG: Walter Murch has a good book, and Sidney Lumet has a good book, Stephen King has a great book, On Writing. That’s actually the best. That, and I like Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing

I think that in order to be a filmmaker, you really need to go back and watch every movie you can get your hands on, different time periods, different genres–explore directors’ work. Things that go out of your comfort zone.  Watch genres that maybe you wouldn’t normally watch.

DC: So there’s a hypothetical, starry-eyed kid out there who wants to direct. He’s got a great script, he’s re-written it three times, he feels like it’s ready to go, but he has no contacts in the industry–what’s his first step for getting it made?

NC: We didn’t have any connections in L.A. You just cold email people. It’s crazy and you have to risk being that crazy person that comes out of left field, but hey, man, we’re in a crazy industry. Just find people whose work speaks to you and find who’s behind that work. Who are the producers championing other young directors? Take a shot in the dark. You never know.

DG: Yeah. Find like-minded people. Like Howard Barish at Kandoo Films, he has an emerging artist’s slate, he is setting up opportunities for first timers or in my case, second time filmmakers. These people exist, you just have to find them. Find people who are champions of new voices,

Though, if you have a horror script, you don’t want to go to the guy who makes romantic comedies. Find the people that are making your kinds of movies. I think if you have something really good, it will eventually get made. I do think the cream rises.

DC: Very cool. So what’s next for you guys?

DG: We’re working on a couple of things. We have a heist movie that we don’t want to go too much in detail with, because we’re still writing it.

DC: Awesome. Well guys, this was a real pleasure and a whole lot of fun, and the movie was really great. Huge congratulations!

DG: Likewise. Thank you so much.

Hospitality is available on DVD/Blu Ray and across VOD platforms including iTunes, YouTube, Amazon Prime, and Google Play.

Horror Business is a series that profiles horror directors, producers, actors, writers and artists. Through conversational interviews, we distill the actionable techniques, tips, resources, and best practices that enable them to make it happen in today’s horror landscape.



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