Q&A with Joseph Varhola - Writer and Director of 'A Fancy Piece of Homicide' - Raindance

What was your inspiration for the film?

In 2010, I self-financed and directed a mock trailer based on a script I wrote called “When the City Sleeps”. The necessary financing needed to tell the story as I envisioned was just too far out of reach, so I went back to the drawing board and wrote a low budget genre picture that I could pull off with everyone and everything I could get my hands on. I was inspired by the Film Noir genre and wanted to tap into the culture that grew up admiring the private eye role made famous in Raymond Chandler novels and Humphrey Bogart movies. 

How did you get off of the ground? What was the process of making the film?

At a 4th of July picnic in 2012, I ran into Bingo O’Malley, an actor who I worked with while shooting the mock trailer mentioned above. During our conversation I realised that I wanted to write something for him. A story that was more feasible to tell, with similar film noir tones. Bingo would play the hardboiled detective type.

Three weeks after giving Bingo the script I’m at his kitchen table having tea and talking movies. We spent an hour talking before either of us brought up the project. From there, a three hour conversation ensued. In fact, Bingo’s home ended up becoming “headquarters”. We did all auditioning, costume tests, and rehearsals in his loft apartment above the garage.

I’ve worked with most of the skeleton crew in the past, so the feature length project at hand felt familiar. We didn’t have an official production schedule but shooting days were scheduled 2-3 days at a time. Locations were still being scouted after we started shooting. I even added scenes to the script after we started shooting and now couldn’t imagine the movie without those scenes. The project was really evolving.

When principle photography was completed, some second unit shots continued as long as 10 months later. Meanwhile, the first cut of the film was being assembled and music production had begun. It was a very long post-production, a lot time in front of the computer. But I’m glad we didn’t rush it.

How long was the shoot? Where did you shoot?

There were 19 days of principal photography and 6 days of second unit/pick up shots. Production took place in mainly the following Pittsburgh neighbourhoods: Shadyside, South Side, Swissvale, and Baldwin.

What is your favourite location in the film?

My favourite location to shoot in was the Flophouse apartment, where Bingo O’Malley’s character lives. The production design choices made for a fun place to work. It felt like we were in the movie.

What was the most difficult scene to shoot?

Any lengthy dialogue scene between two characters can be difficult, but specifically the most difficult scenes were at the bar. We were working under tight time constrains but managed to some how shoot 31 pages of the script in 2 marathon days of shooting.

Were there any movies of influence?

Of course movies like “Chinatown”, “The Big Sleep”, “The Long Goodbye” greatly influenced the film-noir theme.“The Conversation”, “Cache”, “Eyes Wide Shut”, “There Will Be Blood”, “The Shining”, “The 25th Hour” “Hard Eight” and “Silence of The Lambs” were all referenced in pre- production for reasons such as musical influence, storytelling, or directing methods.


What’s the hardest thing about making a low-budget film?

The tight crew was forced to wear “multiple hats” during production. It was taxing at times, and made you wish there was more time at each shoot.

How did you make the film so inexpensively?

Technology came into play, when I decided to take the leap with DSLRs after seeing movies that were shot with them that really looked good. Also, over the years I managed to gather resources and relationships that allowed me to form a team that was on my side.

What format did you shoot / kind of camera did you use?

Primarily with DSLRs, but we also used red cameras for some 2nd unit shots. Canon 5D mark ii, Canon 7D, Red One

How long did it take to write THE STORY?

 The first draft took about three months to write, but rewriting continued through production.

How much are you influenced by low-budget directors, such as Robert Rodriguez, Kevin Smith or Christopher Nolan?

Immensely, it’s nice to be reminded of what’s possible with so little. Technology has changed things. There is a whole new motion picture universe online. As for the guys that you mentioned, I’ve read their books, watched their movies, and spent hundreds of hours emerged in their podcasts, interviews, and behind the scenes content. Research is important to me.

What advice would you give an aspiring director?

 Make sure you have a good script. Find good collaborators. And, preparation is key.

What is the most important thing you learned making the film?

Pre-production is like setting up dominoes. The better you plan and prepare the better chance you have at controlling which direction they fall. Unexpected events will occur, but the key is not to fall too far off track.

What do you feel helped you most during the process?

Without a doubt, it was the people I assembled to work with, and of course the support from my friends and family. Surrounding yourself with the right people can only strengthen the project and its perspective.

Get involved: Check out Joeseph’s Kickstarter here.