One of the coolest small web series to come out this year goes by the name Thieves
. It's a drama about people who find themselves going into a life of crime when life gets hard, and they have to make decisions that turn average 9-5 office workers into petty white-collar criminals. The creation of Overcranked Pictures in SLC, it gives perspective into the mindset of people who decided to take this path, and the effects it has on them and the victims they decide to steal from. Today we chat with the founders of Overcranked about their company and the series, as well as what they're currently working on. (All pictures provided courtesy of Overcranked Pictures.
Nicholas Dunn, Connor Rickman, Chris Bradshaw & Matt Whittaker
Overcranked Pictures on Facebook
Gavin: Hey everybody! First thing, tell us a bit about yourselves.
I was bred and buttered in Salt Lake City, the second oldest of six children. I began making short films when I was about 14 years old and really dug in at about 16. My father couldn't buy a camera without it shortly becoming mine. I studied at SLCC where I took every single film class available and then dropped out so I could focus all of my attention on film.
So, I started in the theater, working and studying as an actor and playwright, and had some fair success there. In fact, I met Matt Whittaker on the set of a movie several years ago. The more I fell in love with playwriting, the more I wanted to learn about screenwriting, so I finally enrolled in a program and studied that as well, and continued to work in theater and film as an actor, and sometimes even as a writer.
I'm Connor and, like Nick, I started working in theater. I was a technician for Pioneer, The Grand, Plan-B and the Egyptian Theatre. I even appeared in a few productions as an actor, my favorite of which was Aliens: The Puppet Musical
at Meat & Potato Theatre.
What first got each of you interested in film, and what were your early influences?
My grandfather exposed me to some really dramatic films at a young age (unknown to my parents at the time). Films like Braveheart
, Schindler's List
and Full Metal Jacket.
I was hooked. It was films like Fight Club
, American History X
that solidified my passion for film, especially the ultra dramatic.
Parallel to my activities in the theater, I had also emerged from high school with a fair amount of filmmaking experience, starting with a Spy Hop class in the eighth grade and continuing with TV West, my high school TV broadcasting class. My first film was Black Dawgg
, which I made as an assignment for my geography class. It follows secret agent Black Dawgg
as he infiltrates North Korea and learns many facts about their country. My proudest early achievement was having my music video "I Got Some Bootay
" disqualified from the Utah High School Film Festival for being too homoerotic.
In the process, I learned a lot about filmmaking itself, from directing and editing, to grip and electric, to paperwork. I even learned a great deal about exhibition
as I worked for the Salt Lake Film Society for five years while trying to build the production company, and now, here I am.
Each of you has had different career paths. What were your experiences like in college and in the field prior to Overcranked?
After I left SLCC, my film teacher Stephen Rose reached out and asked if I was interested in working with him and his cousin Paul Eagleston on a documentary, Hi My Name is Ryan
. I jumped right on as an assistant editor and worked on the project on and off for a couple years until it premiered at Cinevegas (2008). Matt came with me to Vegas for the premiere, and I think it was there that our film festival wheels started turning.
For my college job, I went to teach at the University of Utah's summer Youth Theatre program and became Nick's assistant for the film class. We made many terrible and hilarious things, but it turned out to be a great, low stakes way to practice making things quickly and cheaply. We eventually expanded these classes to week-long camps at the Egyptian Youth Theatre where we've made more polished films inspired by Errol Morris, The Twilight Zone
, indie teen dramas, film noir, 48-Hours and 20/20, summer blockbusters and the great surrealists and absurdists of the 20th century.
How did you each meet and eventually become friends?
Matt was dating (now married) to a high school friend of mine Megan (Rae) Whittaker; we met at a party and hit it off. Matt was doing a lot of acting at the time, and I asked if he would be in my short film. We've kind of been joined at the hip ever since. I met Nicholas through Matt, and then Connor through Nicholas.
I met Chris through Matt, and met Connor when he was assigned as my co-teacher for a filmmaking class at a youth theater camp. We all started making stuff together and it just worked. One of those projects was a video contest Connor and I entered. The contest was for the Downtown Alliance and we ended up winning that, which came with some prize money, so we used that to form a production company, Ex Machina Films, to start pushing some of the original content we were creating, and to formalize making money on this stuff. We continued working with Chris and Matt, as well as other like-minded and talented friends whenever we could, until it just made the most sense to combine Ex Machina and Overcranked Pictures.
I met Chris and Matt through Nick during one of the early years of Salt Lake City Film Festival (RIP, I really liked that festival because it came at a perfect time of year and my friends always had something in it). The first time we all worked together was a live concert shoot for a band called Late Nigh Alumni. It was our first real job, and probably still our best-paid one to date.
Matt and Chris, while we're on the topic, what ended up happening with the Salt Lake City Film Festival?
Matt and I needed to get back to making our own films; the festival was taking way too much of our time. It was hard to let the film festival go, but I don't regret my decision. We felt good about what we had done in those five years, the films we had shown, the culture and education we had brought to SLC, so we made the decision to dissolve the organization rather than pass it off.
When did the idea come about to start your own production company?
All four of us had been working together on commercial and personal projects. We just had to make it official.
Up through then, our collaborations hadn't been much more than the occasional freelance job, but Nick and I were able to start our own business after winning the SLC Downtown Alliance's "I Am Downtown" video contest, with the help of Jacob Dickey, who became an integral collaborator thanks to his experience with VFX. The three of us worked as full-time as possible for Ex Machina Films doing jobs for Rowland Hall, TransWest Credit Union, University of Utah, Bike Utah and many others. We also had some fun making
music videos for One Voice Children's Choir, Otter Creek, Birdy Sargent, and AMUSIUM.
What was it like pooling your resources and setting up a space for the office?
It's always a little awkward talking about ownership and assets etc., especially with friends. I feel like we navigated it pretty well, but it took a little time.
Pooling our resources and setting up the office happened quickly, and I think, like any small-business owners, it helps to make it feel like an actual job and something that needs daily sweat investment to survive and grow. It also helps clients see the legitimacy of what we're doing. We don't want to be another garage-band type of production company. That's one of the reasons joining Overcranked and Ex Machina made so much sense: Our goals are aligned with how we want to grow, the type of work we want to do, and the type of artists we want to be. Plus, it really helps when you really do like the people you're in business with. It's great that we're all friends who would hang out if we didn't work together, because there's no
way around it: Sometimes running a small business is downright stressful and frustrating.
After a while, Nick, Jake and I were hiring Matt and Chris to help with Ex Machina projects, while Matt and Chris would hire us to help with Overcranked Pictures projects. Eventually, it just made sense to consolidate and pool our resources. Now we are officially known as Overcranked Pictures, although we do still occasionally do work as, or release projects under, the Ex Machina name.
What were some of your first projects like as you started out under this new name?
Well, the name had existed before the merge. Chris and I had been operating as Overcranked for several years prior. As for projects, they were scattered and random. I think our first major work was with the Center for Clinical and Translations Science among others.
Was it difficult re-establishing yourselves with a new company? Or simply picking up where you left off in many areas with a new brand?
Nope... Well, for me anyway. That was the best part. Working with people you trust made it fairly simple to connect and merge. There's always the question of pairing up vision and goals, but even that was seemingly a non-issue. Good dudes all around.
One of the bigger projects you've been working on is Thieves. What made you want to do an episodic web series?
started out as a feature length film, but as I was editing and shooting pick-ups, it took four years. Original series like Breaking Bad
, Game of Thrones
, House of Cards
and True Detective
were being released, and the quality line between movies and television vanished. I loved the idea of throwing out a traditional running time and just telling a story. So I trimmed all the fat of my feature and broke it up into chapters. I also knew that in today's world, people's attention span for independent media is really short, so rather than asking people for 90 minutes of their day, I would only be asking for six to eight minutes a week. In short, my motivation was to test the waters and take a step toward creating longer original series (hopefully for HBO, Netflix, etc.), which is now my new creative focus.
What made you decide to turn this subject matter into a drama that focuses on the other side of the crime?
My sister, Carlye Morgan (who plays the photographer in Chapter 2), is a professional photographer, and some years back had all of her gear stolen out of her car. I told her that I was going to go to the park she was most likely followed from, flash around my huge video camera and then park my car someplace secluded to see if I could catch the bastards. Anyway, I never actually did this. Thieves
is a "what if" film; I like to compare it to Inglorious Basterds
or Django Unchained.
What if we actually assassinated Hitler? Or what if a slave had a chance at some revenge? Thieves asks
: What if you could catch one of these low-life thieves? What would you do? Wouldn't you want them to feel the same violation that you felt, but ten-fold? Everyone has had something stolen or at least knows someone who has, so it really resonates with everyone on some level.
What's the overall process been like for all of you from filming to final production?
We always have a solid pre-production meeting where we discuss who is going to do what and any overlapping responsibilities, from there we can hit the ground running. Connor usually does our coordination, I am often behind the camera with Nicholas, and Matt often directs the action. The nice thing is that we are all very comfortable wearing any one of those hats and we switch on a dime if needed.
How has it been for you putting this project together and getting new episodes out for the public to watch?
was kind of sacrificed in that way. We had yet to release any creative content to the public, we had zero following on YouTube and our focus has never been very strong on social media. Which didn't matter much to us for a while as a lot of our business was industrial or corporate and we didn't rely on social media.
So we used Thieves
to kind of kick off our social media existence. Obviously, the release of a series is going to be much stronger if there is already an audience waiting for it; with Thieves
we used it to gain that audience for stronger future releases. It was still a lot of fun and really exciting to finally get it out there.
Without giving away a lot, are there any other projects in the works at the moment?
I am currently working on an experimental (in regards to filming style) horror film. My family has a cabin in the woods, so how can I not take advantage of that setting.
We do have a couple of other projects underway now that Thieves
is out into the world. The most immediate is a short film we've been working on for the last few months. It's called W4M
and it's about an anonymous Tinder hookup. It started out as a one-act play that I'd written for a theatre company a year ago. Last fall, I was working as a script coordinator for an HBO movie directed by Steven Soderbergh. Working on that was incredibly motivating, and on my downtime, I rewrote the script as a screenplay. After watching Soderbergh work for several months, I was very eager to shoot something myself, applying what I'd learned through observing. Thankfully, Matt, Chris, and Connor were all willing to make it happen. When we had the actors cast and crew assembled, we decided to do a few rehearsals, which was great because the actors got to the point to where they could do the script just like a play; we could have charged admission. We shot the bulk of the film in a hotel room—and shot 26 pages in 14 hours. It was amazing. We shot some exterior B-roll over the summer and now we're deep into editing. Still a ways
to go, but pretty I'm pretty excited about it. I have to give a shout out to Jacob Dickey and Gordon Dunn— both Ex Machina guys— on this project too. We're really lucky in the people we know and work with. As a group, we're always kicking ideas around, waiting for that next thing that makes us all talk over one another in excitement.
What can we expect from all of you and Overcranked Pictures over the rest of the year?
Party, party, party! .
..Work, focus, expand... Party, party, party!
We are working really hard on expanding our client base as well as our creative output. We hope to bring some serious projects into Salt Lake and start putting our city's talented artists to work.
I'd say in the next year you can expect a lot of corporate/industrial and commercial projects that we won't talk much about but will quietly take money for, punctuated by the occasional creative project that we want to ensure makes a splash and keeps us sane.