Being a member of the jury of Prague Independent Film Festival I watch a lot of independent films. One film – ”Green Lake” impressed our jury by its humor and brilliant music score, but we were very surprised when we later found out that director of this independent production is Derek Frey, one of the most important producers in Hollywood, head of Tim Burton Productions. Apart of his main profession he directs his own independent films and music videos, including the horror short Green Lake, which was screened in over 40 film festivals and collected 47 awards. His newest music video God Came ‘Round will be screened at the Prague Independent Film Festival 2017. Derek Frey is currently producing the upcoming live action version of Dumbo directed by Tim Burton. We decided to interview him to find out more about his passion for independent low budget cinematography and how he combines it with his work on big budget projects.
Diana Ringo: What served as inspiration for your new music video God Came ‘Round?
Derek Frey: Trever Veilleux’s songwriting and poetic lyrics were the inspiration. I’ve been a fan of his music for a while now and this song spoke to me visually. I first collaborated with his band Technical Difficulties in 2001 on a music video for the song Sex is Easier. I listened to an advance copy of his new album Professor T and the East Side Shredders on repeat during a long-haul flight this past April, and God Came ‘Round jumped out instantly as something that could turn into a unique, funny, and touching music video. It’s an incredible album and I look forward to creating more videos to accompany it soon.
Official Facebook Page of Professor T and the Eastside Shredders: https://www.facebook.com/professort.biz
Diana Ringo: Tell us about your working relationship with actor Deep Roy; he has acted in God Came ‘Round and also in your short film The Ballad of Sandeep. In an earlier interview you have mentioned the possibility of making a feature film version of The Ballad of Sandeep. Are you still planning it or is there another feature film project in your future?
Derek Frey: It’s always a pleasure to collaborate with Deep. I first met him on the set of Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes and later worked with him on Big Fish and Corpse Bride. He has an amazing spirit and an inspiring career. His first role was an Italian assassin opposite Peter Sellers in The Pink Panther Strikes Again, and he went on to play roles in Flash Gordon, The Empire Strikes Back, and Star Trek, just to name a few. The Ballad of Sandeep was great fun and was conceived by The Minor Prophets wanting to put a twist on the practice of outsourcing. It also gave Deep a chance to work out of SFX makeup.
I’d still very much love to make a feature film version of Sandeep, which we’re continuing to develop. Deep is eager to reprise the role and The Minor Prophets have created a fantastic screenplay which explores Sandeep’s outsourcing predicaments on a whole new level, and adds some social commentary relevant to today’s ever changing work environment.
We have a website dedicated to the legacy of the award-winning short which also explores the development of the feature: http://www.theballadofsandeep.com
Aside from Sandeep I’ve been developing a project called Quiet Fire, which tells the story of the creative bond between trumpeter Miles Davis and pianist Bill Evans, around the time of recording sessions for the iconic album Kind of Blue. It’s a historical musical journey and also a powerful story of race and addiction.
Also, my collaborations with The Minor Prophets continue. They are in the process of writing a feature screenplay entitled Awkward Endeavors, which we plan on filming in and around the Philadelphia area in 2018.
Diana Ringo: You also have made several short films starring the comedy group The Minor Prophets, how did your collaboration start?
Derek Frey: I was friends with two of The Minor Prophets, Gil Damon and Brian Gillin in middle school. Gil and I were mischievous cohorts in 7th grade. Fast forward to 2006 when I received an email from Gil who expressed how much he and his children enjoyed Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which I was the Associate Producer on. Gil introduced me to his work in The Minor Prophets. I found their shorts hilarious and extremely unique and thought-provoking. Most of their work is set in my hometown of Upper Darby, Pennsylvania so I felt a deep connection to what they were creating. I expressed interest in collaborating, which led to our first short film together, 4th and 99. It was a rewarding experience, and we brought the film to the Cannes Film Festival in 2007. Kill the Engine, released earlier this year, is our sixth collaboration and is currently having a successful run on the festival circuit.
Link to The Minor Prophets official website: https://www.theminorprophets.com
Diana Ringo: Your films show a good understanding of music, did you ever play any instruments yourself?
Derek Frey: Music was my first creative passion and remains central to everything I do. I played saxophone in marching band and jazz band throughout high school and into college. I was also an enormous fan of film music from a young age. For me, music is an essential component of each project I’m involved with.
Diana Ringo: What was your major in college? How have your films evolved from your university days?
Derek Frey: I studied Communication and Journalism at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. Making films with friends was a hobby throughout my college years. Each semester the projects would grow in complexity and improve through the process of experimenting. I missed out on the party side of college because I would stay in my dorm with friends making films. Those were the best of times! One of our earliest movies, Marooned in our Room, was a comedic survival story which revolved around being trapped in a dorm room during a blizzard. There were basic themes present in my early work that I’m still drawn to – usually involving comedy, horror and sci-fi. I’ve always enjoyed a good monster mash up. In the final weeks of college my energy was focused on completing work my college cult opus film Verge of Darkness. The positive reaction to the film fueled my desire to make films for a living. A couple of weeks after graduating college I decided to take a gamble and move to Los Angeles to pursue a job in the entertainment industry.
Diana Ringo: Your spouse Leah Gallo is a professional photographer who co-wrote the screenplay of Green Lake and has appeared in some of your films. Can you tell us about her role in your films and how she supports you in your creative endeavors?
Derek Frey: Leah is an extremely talented photographer and writer. Her creativity was one of the characteristics I was attracted to when we first met. We’re drawn to the same things visually which serves as great inspiration. For Green Lake I had a general outline of a story but knew Leah would do a great job writing the screenplay. The story revolves around a strong female character and has many elements of fantasy of which Leah is a fan. Leah has always been very supportive of my creative endeavors. She remains patient even when projects absorb my time and being, which is often. I’m fortunate because since she is creative herself she is understanding of my obsession with each project.
Leah Gallo’s Official Website: https://www.leahgallo.com
Diana Ringo: Please tell us about the camera and equipment with which you shoot your films. Films you direct are a good example for young filmmakers, they show that a low budget should not be a barrier for creativity.
Derek Frey: I’ve built up my kit over the years. God Came ‘Round was shot on a Panasonic GH5 (4k) with Zeiss Compact Prime Lenses. The lenses are what really makes the difference in quality. It’s amazing how much the technology has leapt forward in even just the past five years. Being able to shoot in such high quality with a minimal kit has been a godsend to my process. Working on both large budget features and micro-budget shorts and music videos keeps me balanced and grounded.
Diana Ringo: Which film have you watched the most times in your life?
Derek Frey: It’s difficult to select the one film I’ve watched the most. It’s a toss up between Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Evil Dead 2 and Edward Scissorhands.
Diana Ringo: Can you tell us something about the upcoming Dumbo adaptation where Tim Burton serves as director and you as producer?
Derek Frey: We’re in the middle of the shoot at Pinewood Studios outside of London. It’s such a special project and a perfect fit with Tim. The story will capture the same rollercoaster of emotions as the original. Dumbo will break your heart… and lift you up along the way.
Diana Ringo: Your new music video will be screened in Prague. What are your impressions of the city? What is your favorite city in Europe?
Derek Frey: Prague is a great city. I love the gothic nature of its building and the beauty of the streets at night. I’d really like to film something in Prague someday. I was there in 2014 for the opening of Tim Burton’s art exhibition at the Stone Bell House in Old Town Square and had a great time. I find Prague to be incredibly cinematic, which is one of the reasons I’m so proud to have a project selected in the festival this year.
Diana Ringo: What advice would you give to young filmmakers?
Derek Frey: Just get out there and create. There are so many stories to tell and these days there’s nothing to hold you back. Let your passion guide you and always have a camera near your side.
Official Website for Derek Frey: