September 20, 2012 | 4:00 PM
Tom Scharpling was in Pittsburgh, safely abed in his hotel room and about to visit the Andy Warhol Museum. Rob Hatch-Miller and Puloma Basu were in Switzerland ready to take a dip in Lake Geneva. But as soon as they were united on Skype, they were finishing each other's sentences. The three assembled virtually to speak with The Ultrabook™ Experience about their efforts as independent filmmakers.
Tom, Rob, and Puloma have been making music videos together for the past three years, taking minuscule budgets and making winning music videos for the likes of Aimee Mann, Real Estate, Wild Flag, Titus Andronicus, and others.
They are a super production team, fully empowered by today's technology and committed to telling great stories. They are also Internet natives, so to speak, who make music videos specifically designed for viral, mobile viewing.
Tom is a showbiz mainstay, having written and executive-produced the TV comedy Monk. He also hosts a popular radio show on the independent New York-area radio station WFMU. Puloma and Rob are young filmmakers and producers who use technology, know-how, and serious planning to make big things happen with small amounts of cash.
here's what the three had to say about making videos for the Web and how technology helps them tell stories.First off, how did you three start working together?
Rob Hatch-Miller: Tom and I were both DJing at WFMU, and one day he called me up saying he was doing this music video and asked me if I wanted to team up. He'd never directed before, and I had never produced. Puloma had a background in production on big movie sets, so we rolled the dice. It was very scary.
Tom Scharpling: We were going into something we'd never done before. At some point I though I'd direct, and a music video opportunity for Ted Leo and the Pharmacists came up. They were on Matador Records, and since I knew that the music video would be put into their record label's promotional pipeline, I thought, "This video is going to be seen," so I signed up.
What sorts of technologies help you guys make such fun music videos?
Tom Scharpling: When I'm writing ideas for these videos I have some compulsion to push things as far as they can get pushed. Puloma and Rob make these ideas into reality. Like Puloma will say, "we can pull that off."
Puloma Basu: A lot of the time we say that when we don't know how we're going to do it.
Rob Hatch-Miller: It's about being audacious. A producer's job is to make everything that a director wants to have happen, happen. Our first instinct is to find something similar, and technology really helps us do that: saving money on editing equipment, using inexpensive DSLR cameras, editing on computers. What we do now wouldn't have been possible five or ten years ago.
Tom Scharpling: Working with a smaller budget teaches you working within limitations is the name of the game. You have to be selective and strategic, and learn how to be lean and mean.
Puloma Basu: It also takes a bit of craftiness. For the video we did for the band Real Estate, we were supposed to wrap a van in a big decal with the band's name on all sides. But we didn't have enough money, so we just wrapped one side and only shot it from that side. Working within limitations makes you try to do something more creative.
Rob Hatch-Miller: On September 18th [we premiered] the latest movie that we made for Aimee Mann. We remade Aimee's first video, 'Til Tuesday's "Voices Carry." It's a comedic, updated take on what we think is a classic music video. The amazing thing is that we made this video, which is recreated shot-for-shot for around $7,000. The budget for the original video was something like $200,000. It would be impossible for us to do any of this without the technology that exists now.
It's planning that enables your creativity. Do you think filmmaking is changing because of new technology, freeing filmmakers up to experiment more?
Tom Scharpling: You still need strong production sides of things before you film anything. You still need somebody with practical knowledge, and have to be one step ahead of things. You need to make sure the locations are secure, that the equipment is right and all that. But the technology allows us to be a small team, to manage all of these different moving parts with a small core team.
Robert Hatch-Miller: I went through four years of film school, and it made me not want to be on a film set until we started making these videos. We cut so much dead weight out of the process.
Does working small inspire more collaboration?
Puloma Basu: Making these things without a huge budget displays what a group effort filmmaking really is. If things go wrong, then everyone around you is there to help you make things go right. You can control what you can control, and know what you can and can't do realistically. But there are times where you just gotta go on the fly.
What do you think of the Four Stories Competition? Do you think it helps focus the efforts of an aspiring filmmaker?
Tom Scharpling: Most short films simply don't get seen. So for aspiring filmmakers, the best way to get noticed is to follow some kind of promotional pipeline. You have to find the right outlets. We were lucky enough to have our first video premier on Funnyordie.com, which raised its profile tremendously. Four Stories seems like a great outlet for a filmmaker to get their work SEEN.
Watch Tom, Rob, Puloma's videos at their website: