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D-minor: An Interview with Hayden James Hicks

Please tell us about the projects you worked on before making ‘D-minor’. How did you start, and how did you learn to make films?

There weren’t many projects before this film. I started out writing short stories or even just lines of dialogue I found unique or funny. Then I started writing short scripts and immediately fell in love with the writing aspect of filmmaking. Fast forward to my Junior year at Boise State, while working towards my BA in Film/TV, I made my first short film titled “The Gift of Silence”. And that was a lot of fun. I got to work with friends and classmates. I wrote, directed, and edited that short, and because of that I was able to learn a lot about the process of making a film. It turns out I knew even less than I thought I did and that humbled me but it also lit a fire in me to continue down the never ending path of education that goes beyond the classroom. I believe one of the things that makes art so special, regardless of medium, is that as an artist you devote your life to something that you know you can never completely master or understand. In other words there is always room for improvement. There is always more to learn. But if that doesn’t excite you, I don’t know what will. The collaborative effort that goes into a single film is what makes the art of filmmaking unique. I hope to be a part of that for as long as possible, in particular as a writer. 

Tell us about ‘D-minor’. How do you describe it? 

“D-minor” is really a love letter to my Grandpa, I call him Papa. Papa’s been a strong influence in my life and I’ve always looked up to him. This film is my way of saying the things that I want him to know, but aren’t always easy for me to say out loud. I think the film’s main theme of taking advantage of the time you have with the people you love is something that everyone can relate to. And it’s also something that I believe in. I’ve been guilty of letting time pass or not taking advantage of certain moments and as unfortunate as that is, they’ve taught me to live differently. To live better. To live intentionally.

Please tell us about your favorite filmmakers.

Aaron Sorkin. Christopher Nolan. Denis Villeneuve. 

As a writer I’ve been a fan of Sorkin for a long time. Even before I knew it was him. I was first introduced to his unique writing style in A Few Good Men. It just sounded different than any movie I’d ever seen and I didn’t know why. But after watching more of his incredible work such as The West Wing, Steve Jobs, The Social Network, and The Trial of the Chicago Seven and studying him, and even writing a paper on him in college, my appreciation and respect for his craft have only grown and he’s one of my favorites because of it. 

Chris Nolan might disagree with this statement, but it seems to me that he’s incapable of making a bad movie. He seems to see the world differently than the rest of us. His movies have inspired and moved me as much as anyone. I also appreciate how he often uses the same DP on different projects. They work so well together and I think that chemistry matters. Nolan is original and creative and the exact opposite of mainstream and I appreciate that.

Typically the first thing people ask when they figure out you studied Film in college is what’s your favorite movie? And setting aside how impossible of a question that is, I’ve learned to just have a go-to answer, and for me that’s Arrival. I probably watched that movie four or five times in the two weeks following the first time I saw it. That was my introduction to Denis Villeneuve and I’m truly grateful for that because it changed what I thought a movie had to be. 

If you were given a good budget, what would be your ideal project?

I think I would give every last dime to Cillian Murphy and take it from there. I’m kidding…but he’s my favorite actor so the thought is tempting. 

I could give you a full budget breakdown consisting of 18 pages worth of how much we pay the actors vs. what food we have for the crew on Wednesdays, but I think for me, the majority of my budget is going towards the movie itself. That might sound like an obvious decision, but I was just recently looking into budgets on different levels of filmmaking and I was shocked to learn how much the big studio film budgets are reserved for marketing and distribution. Again, always something new to learn. And there still are some big name filmmakers who choose to spend most of it on the actual process of making the film, I know at least one of them I talked about above. But to me it seems like such a wasted opportunity to accomplish what I think is the central goal, to make the best possible movie. To tell the best possible story.  If that’s really our goal, why would we not spend most of what we have on everything and everyone we need to help us do that? That simple shift in mindset makes a big difference and I believe the audience can see and feel that difference when they spend the money and take the time to watch us do what we love. 

Describe how you would ensure that production is on schedule. What steps would you take?

I would intentionally surround myself with people a lot smarter than me. Again, I think the goal is to make the best possible film you can. One thing that I believe is paramount is having a clear leader, the Director. There’s a lot of moving parts, a lot of people, sets, schedules, deadlines, etc. It needs to be clear that after all that, at the end of the day, there’s one clear leader and we’re working to create their vision. Another thing is constant and clear communication. This is paramount. Any partnership, any relationship, constant and clear communication needs to come first so that everyone is on the same page, things aren’t missed, and time and talent are optimized. I think one of the things that makes a great director is their ability to clearly and directly lay out what needs to get done, and then allowing and trusting his crew to use their individual talents to properly execute that vision.

What was the hardest part of making ‘D-minor’.

Acting. Not even close. This whole thing was started because of an assignment my senior year of college. It was a project and we get to class on the first day and the professor says, “Ok, by this time next week you need to have a clear idea of what your film is going to be about and I’ll need a first draft of the script as well”. The short version of the rest of this story is that I had limited time to get done all that I needed to and I had no clue what to make this film about. So I carved out some time on a Sunday afternoon and came up with and wrote the whole thing in about four hours. I knew resources were limited because I was pressed for time. Going through auditions and finding actors wasn’t going to happen so I was forced to do what I am most uncomfortable with and that’s be in front of the camera. And because of that, I intentionally wrote something where I wouldn’t have any lines on screen, which is why all the dialogue is a Voice Over. The piano took probably a week or two to write and memorize. That part wasn’t so much difficult as it was enjoyable. I had never written a song before and while I’m aware that I didn’t reach the level of Bach or Chopin, I like how the song turned out. The shoot was easy, two days and two locations. And I was fortunate enough to have the same DP I had on my first project, Ella Smith. She was easy and fun to work with and that really helped my uneasiness about being in front of the camera. 

If possible, tell us about your next work. What plans do you have for your future work?

There’s two scripts I’m currently working on, one is a short and one is a feature. I wrote the first draft of the short for a festival earlier this year and I’ll be starting the rewrite of that very soon, with another writer, which will also be my first collaboration so I’m very much looking forward to that. And that one is called “The Sun Will Rise”. The feature length script is in the early stages but I’m very excited that I get to wake up every day and make progress on it. It’s going to take place in Florence - 1347 during the time of the Black Death Plague and that’s about all I can share at the moment.


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