by C.J. Darlington
Tracy J Trost Interview
of my favorite places in life and favorite things to do is be on the
set working with actors."
-- Tracy J Trost
Tracy is the President and Founder of Trost Moving Pictures and the co-writer & director of both of TMP’s feature films, FIND ME and A CHRISTMAS SNOW. Tracy brings more than 20 years of award winning television production experience with him to Trost Moving Pictures. Whether it’s directing: a music festival broadcast live to over 200 countries, a stadium event with 20,000 screaming teenagers, a gathering of more than 200,000 people in Central America, or a business seminar set in the Hawaiian Islands, Tracy has done it all.
When was the dream to make movies first planted in your heart?
I remember way back---I’m going to date myself here—in the
days of the first Star Wars. I was in sixth or seventh grade when that
came out, and I remember seeing all that stuff on the screen, and thinking, “Wow,
that’s so cool.” To make movies and to do videos was always
very fun for me. As I grew, then I got into live performance. I would do
lights and sounds for bands and stuff. For plays, I was in plays, and then
I would always be the behind-the-scenes guys for plays doing the special
effects, helping direct or something like that. I was always kind of involved
in it, but it’s one of those things you just start doing. I didn’t
know that’s something I wanted to do, I just started doing it because
it was fun.
When I first got married my wife was kind of like, what are you going to do? And I would say, one day I’m going to direct movies. That’s something I’m going to do. And then of course in life you just kind of move on. You get married, have children, you have to get a job, pay your mortgage, you do the things you have to do to live, and you kind of forget about the dream.
I own a marketing company
here called Trost Consulting. I do book meetings with my staff. There
about twelve of us and we read a book together
as a company and every week we’ll get together and do lunch and go
through whatever chapter we’re reading in the book. A couple years
ago the book we were reading had a chapter in it about your dreams. There
was a question, if you could do anything you wanted to do, be anybody you
wanted to be, money weren’t an issue, and failure weren’t a
problem, what would that one thing be? What’s that one thing that
defines you? I went around the room and asked that question, and my staff
said things like, “I’d be a masseuse”, “I’d
be a photographer”, “I’d move to Colorado Springs.” So
then I asked the next question, what are you doing on a daily basis to
get yourself there because a trip from point A to point B takes planning,
and if you’re not doing anything to every day move yourself there,
you’ll never get there. They all looked at me with a look that said, “Nothing.
We’re, uh, working.” So then one of the girls says to me, “So
Tracy, what would you do?” And I said, “I’d direct movies.
That’s what I’ve always wanted to do.” And then she said, “What
are you doing to get there?” And then I of course said, you’re
fired, get out of here (Laughs). I said the same thing, “Nothing.
I’m running a business. I have kids and a house.”
You fill your life with the stuff and never do what you want to do. I went home and told my wife about this conversation, and she said, “Yeah, since I’ve known you you’ve always said that. And I said, that’s it. That was kind of the turning point. I went home and wrote Find Me. About a year and a half later we made Find Me.
I called all my friends and said, hey, I want to make a movie, can you come help? I had like fifteen people come give a week of their life. We had like eighteen people at my house and friend’s houses. We’re all cooking and we shot it over nine days just to see if we could do it. It turned out pretty decently for what it was. I said, “Okay, this is it. This is who I am. This is what I’m going to do.” We started working on A Christmas Snow right after that. Now we’re working on The Lamp.
I’m still involved in the leadership and guidance of Trost Consulting. I still deal with some of the customers, but I’ve been fortunate to have a young man who stepped in about five years ago. I trained him up, and now he’s pretty much running the company.
So you had a real foundation there. Things you learned in your other work you were probably able to use in making movies.
Oh, totally. I think one of the reasons we, in the very short time we’ve been doing it, are as successful as we are is because I have twenty-five years of business background. So when I approach a project it’s not, hey I’m going to make a movie. I’m like, I’m going to make a movie, and here’s how we’re going to pay for it, and here’s how we’re going to make money on it. A lot of filmmakers approach it like, “Okay, I want to tell this story,” and then when it’s done they have no idea what to do with it. I think that’s one advantage we have in our business. I’m forty-six years old. I’m not a young kid trying to make my way. I’ve got years of experience doing this.
And you have a lot of background in television and everything. But even so, I bet there were some things that surprised you. What surprised you most when you made that movie, or even with A Christmas Snow?
With Find Me, one of the biggest surprises was just how much work it is (laughs). Don’t get me wrong . . . one of my favorite places in life and favorite things to do is be on the set working with actors. Muse Watson and Catherine Mary Stewart, when we were talking with them, they were like, “You’re really an actor’s director.” I’m very collaborative and really want to know what they think, and we work together in developing the character and the story. Absolutely love that. That to me is my favorite thing—talking to these people and getting their input. I consider myself a good director when it’s all said and done and the actor says, “Wow, I didn’t know I had that in me.” That I can pull this performance out of them they didn’t even know they had. That to me is a thrill.
With the history I have in television, production-wise there wasn’t a lot of surprise because I’ve shot and broadcasted television form 30 different countries. I’ve seen everything from stuff in the States where I’ve done live events where I’m broadcasting to 210 countries at one time. Or I’ve shot from a little bitty village in El Salvador, uplinking it, and hitting the airwaves and doing it out of the back of a van. That’s one thing about my crew which is great. We’ve been to all these weird places together, and we’ve been to some of these more glamorous places together. Fortunately, bringing these guys into the movie side of it, we’ve all worked together for so many years and know each other so well, it was just a natural evolution.
The only thing that I would say was a surprise is dealing with the established Hollywood way of doing things. We do things quite a bit differently. If I’m going to hire an actor, I want to just talk to them. But when you approach them you have to go through the agent. You have to kind of win the agent over first. And you have to talk to the agent through your casting director. I’d rather be able to say, “Hey, Catherine, this is Tracy, this is what I’m thinking, let’s get to know each other. Do we want to work together?” But there’s all this procedure and politics you have to go through. The problem I have with that is things can be taken out of context. You ever play that telephone game when you were a kid? It’s happened a few times where we’ll make an offer to an actor, the agent will come back and say this is what we’re thinking, I’ll give my casting director my response, she’ll give that response to the agent, the agent gives the response to the actor. By the time it gets to the actor it’s twisted a little bit, and people get all offended and get their feelings hurt.
I was dealing with an actor, and they were saying we need to have $15,000 for a week. I said, “I have five for a week.” My comment to my casting director was, “If they can’t do it for that, I understand.” I was saying, my feelings won’t be hurt, I won’t be offended if they can’t do it, that sort of thing. My casting director tells it to the agent that way, the agent tells it to the actor and it comes across as, “Here’s our offer take it or leave it, we don’t care if you do it.” I was fortunate enough to be able to talk to the actor directly and he was a little put out by this. I said, no, no, no, that’s not what I said. I said if you can’t do it for fifteen a week, I understand. I wasn’t saying if you can’t do fifteen a week then we don’t want you. That part of it, I wish there was a better way to do. It doesn’t come across well, and sometimes perception is more real than reality is. Because of the way things are in Hollywood there’s a lot of mistrust and offensiveness, I guess. I’d rather get on the phone, or face to face say, “Here’s what I’m thinking, what do you think?, and talk to the person.”
Yeah, because a lot of times if you can get the actor or actress on board they can make it happen.
Exactly. Doing it the way they do it through agents and stuff is frustrating. But overall, I love the process. Right now we’re in the midst of casting for our next movie, so I’m right in the middle of that stuff. I guess that’s why it popped into my head. You make of it what it is. It can be as good as you want it to be or as bad as you want it to be. It’s up to you.
You worked with a co-writer on A Christmas Snow, right?
Yeah, a girl named Candace Lee. She actually helped on Fine Me as well. She was the second Assistant Director. Her father and I are good friends, and she went to NYU film school, so when she came back she helped on that one. I’ve seen some of her other projects, and she’s a good writer. I knew I needed a woman’s perspective on this thing because when I wrote Find Me, the girl’s parts I realized, and others made comments too, sounded more like a boy than a girl. I’m only writing from a guy’s perspective, so I asked Candace if she would help out with this one. She brought a lot to the table.
What did that creative process look like?
It was interesting. We had two five hour meetings, and I gave her the story and then we started breaking it down and outlining it. She would throw in ideas, and we’d brainstorm ideas. I originally had the main character in A Christmas Snow working in a lawyer’s office, and Candace is like, “No, a restaurant would be more of a woman thing.” So we went with a restaurant. She added a lot of those kinds of things. We bounced ideas back and forth and the story evolved into about a thirteen page overview. Then she went away and started writing. She’d send me pages and I’d re-write then, she’d re-write them send them back. We kept going back and forth until we got to what we thought was really good.
Did you find that a lot of it changed as you worked with the actors? Did you have a lot of ad libbing and that sort of thing?
Not a huge amount.
One thing that was kind of cool was I sat down with the actors, with
Muse and with
Catherine. Cathy and I actually sat in my
office for about four or five hours and re-wrote a couple scenes together
just collaborating between the two of us because there were
she’d say, “Knowing this character, I think she’d
do this here.” We changed a couple things that way. Same with Muse.
I tried to make those changes before we went to set so we weren’t
changing on set as much, but overall, it’s probably about 99% what’s
on the script.
Here's an example of the type of things we changed in collaborating with the actors. There’s one line where Cathy and Muse are sitting together having this conversation and the line was, “How could you do that?” Muse was talking about leaving his family and Cathy was very much in pain over it. I wrote the line as, “How could you do that?” like she was mad at him. She said the line more like, “How could you do that?” like she felt the pain and she just couldn't believe he'd do that. When she said it that way, I was like, oh my gosh, that’s way better. There were a few times where the way the actor delivered the line was totally different from the way I’d written it, but when I saw it I knew it was way better. Same line, just delivered differently.
What is your vision as a Christian filmmaker?
I don’t want to be labeled as a Christian filmmaker. Not that I’m against being a Christian and being a filmmaker, but the problem I have with that label is people then automatically classify you. It’s like saying I make films in the horror genre. All the sudden I’m “that guy”. What I don’t want to have happen is people pigeon hole me into something. My first film was a thriller, my second film was more of a family film, my third film is still more along the lines of A Christmas Snow but it’s going to show people what’s it’s really like to be an adopted child in foster care. And even more than that, anything in life is possible if you’re just willing to believe.
Hopefully after you watch one of my films you’ll go, “Wow, I never saw it that way. Or I think I could be different.” If you do, then I’ve been very successful. We screened the film here for my staff when it was done, and one of the girls came up to me and said, “Wow, I realize it’s okay to forgive.” I’m thinking, everybody thinks it’s okay to forgive. And she said, “No, but the thing is, before I felt like if I forgave then that person won and they had power over me. But really, when I forgive, I’m letting go and then I can let go of that bitterness and that anger, whatever it is I’m holding onto. And then I’m set free and have peace in my life instead of holding onto this thing and not letting them win.”
I sent it to a guy who’s in the business and he sat down to watch it with his nine year old daughter. His wife had left him after eighteen years of marriage two years earlier and was living with another guy. So there was a lot of pain in that whole thing. During the watching of the movie he had to leave and take a phone call, so he didn’t get to see the ending of the movie. But the little girl stayed and watched it. The next morning he asked her, “What did you think of the movie?” She said, “Daddy, I believe God spoke to me through that movie.” He was like, “Really, what?” She said, “I was blaming myself for Mommy leaving, and now I realize it’s not my fault. She left because she had issues she had to deal with.” Another friend of mine has a seven year old little kid that watched it and the little girl at the end cried, and when they went to go to bed she was doing her prayers, and she prayed, “God, I pray that I can always forgive.”
Parents are affected too, but seeing the kids taking it in . . . I never wrote this movie for kids. It was more for adults, but seeing them grasp the truth behind it and the message behind it . . . that’s the most gratifying thing. We went to the Phoenix Film Festival with it and won Best Feature, and afterwards people are coming up and telling me their stories.
What was your most memorable on the set moment?
There’s a scene
in the movie where Muse Watson’s character
kind of tells his story. It’s a long scene where he says, "a chance
for forgiveness, a chance for change" at the end. To me that’s
a very moving scene because that’s really what Christianity is about.
God gives us a choice to build our lives into whatever it is we want it
be. Most people don’t realize, and don’t want to realize,
that our life is what it is because of the choices we’ve made to
date. And it can be what we want it to be based on the choices we’re
going to make from now into the future. Sam’s character, he led a
horrible life but found the truth of the Bible and made choices to change
his life. For him it was a life changing experience.
So Muse and I were talking about this scene, and we’re standing in the garage while they’re setting the scene up in the livingroom. We’re going back and forth about how we’re going to do it, and finally I just said, “You know what, Muse? You know what to do here, man. I’m just gonna step back and let you do your thing. I don’t want to confuse the issue.” Sometimes being a good director is being the one who kind of gets out of the way and lets your actor do his thing.
We go and sit down and start filming this thing. It’s about a six minute scene altogether. He gives this stellar performance. It’s this one long dolly pushing to him, and as he’s giving his performance I’m in the other room watching, and I’ve got my headphones on listening. I’m crying like a baby. I come out and he’s like, “How was that?” I’ve got tears in my eyes, and he’s like, “Well, I guess if the writer/director is crying I did alright?”
That was one really good moment. Another one was this scene Cathy does where there’s this big reveal into her life, and when she does it she just gives a stellar performance. Same thing happened. I come around the corner, and she was crying in the scene, so she’s got mascara all over her face. And she’s like, “How did I do?” Again, I’m crying, and I go over and give her a big hug. It was such an emotional time for her that she actually stuck her head in my shoulder and wept. We just hugged for three minutes, and then we smiled and laughed. The thing I was so appreciative of was that she would take herself to that place that she was so emotionally moved.
I imagine that’s challenging for an actor to that.
It is. Especially like times when in a scene she’s looking out the window and she’s reconciling her life, and she has this moment where she cries. What the audience doesn’t know is that when she’s looking out the window she’s seeing the dolly operator, the focus puller, the camera operator, the camera. There’s nobody there, and she’s supposed to be looking out at another character and saying goodbye. But to go to that place looking into a camera . . . it amazes me how they do that. And I’m yelling orders from the other room. “Okay, you see him standing out there. He’s walked away. You hear a noise behind you.” I’m giving her direction, and she’s pulling out this performance, and I’m thinking, these guys are just amazing. I couldn’t do that.
How did you come to work with these actors?
When I was looking
for female leads Catherine Mary Stewart came up when I was searching,
and I was
thinking, wow, I haven’t seen her in like
forever. What is she doing nowadays? I didn’t know how old she was.
My character was supposed to be mid-thirties. Cathy was actually fifty
when we shot the movie, and we moved the character up to mid-forties. She’s
beautiful, and she could play upper thirties and get away with it. I contacted
her agent and all that, sent them a synopsis, and she read it and liked
it. The script wasn’t quite done yet, so when the script was done
we sent that over. She read it and just responded directly to me telling
she loved the script and was interested in working on the film. We ended
up talking about it. We had a couple Skype conversations. I had her read
a couple parts with me, and then I offered her the part. She’s just
great to work with. Consummate professional. We struck up a good friendship
Muse was kind of a weird deal. Two weeks out from when were supposed to start filming, we had another actor actually cast for that part, but we ran into issues with agents and finally I decided to just withdraw the offer because it was getting to be too much. Funny thing was, of course when I withdrew the offer, they’re like, “Okay, we’ll give you everything.” Well, it’s too late. You know, just tell me the truth. Somebody I knew knew Muse and said I can get the script to him on a Friday. He read it, Saturday we had a conversation, Monday he was signed up. It was one of those God things because after I see the movie I’m like, okay nobody could play this part other than him.
And the little girl, Cameron ten Napel who played Lucy is just amazing. We saw probably like 200 girls. She was probably the sixth one that I saw. Once I saw her I started comparing everybody to her. At the end it came down to two little girls. Both were really, really good and I went with her and it just worked out great. The cool thing is Cameron is in my next movie, and the little girl who was the runner up is also in my next movie. I remembered her and wanted to use her in something. They play best buddies in this next movie. They’re friends in real life, so that’s pretty nice.
Find Me had a really low budget at $50,000. I’m assuming A Christmas Snow had a larger one?
Yeah, about a half a million.
Do you think having low budgets is the hardest part about making these kind of movies, or is there something else you find particularly challenging?
Well, in the end story is everything. If you can tell a good story and the production value isn’t super high, people still like the movie. We don’t get a lot of comments negatively about Find Me or A Christmas Snow because they are decent stories. Personally as a film maker myself, I like to do more things with my movies. Most of A Christmas Snow was shot in a house because of costs of production. We shot for three weeks, and two of those weeks was in the house because there was a snow storm and they were snowed in. And that’s how you can do something like that because you’re in the same location every day for two weeks. Though we were in different rooms throughout the house. I would like to up the production value of them. Most of the comments I get from people who are in the business are positive like, “Wow, you shot that for half a mil? That’s awesome because it looks like it’s a lot more expensive a project.” People usually think I spent three to five million on it. That’s a testament to my crew because they’re the guys who bring the look and the feel and everything to it.
What’s your most embarrassing moment as a film maker?
It’s hard to embarrass me because I do such goofy stuff all the time. I’m used to being goofy (laughs).
What’s next for Trost Moving Pictures?
I’m excited about our next film, The Lamp. Through A Christmas Snow I got the opportunity to meet Jim Stovall who is known for The Ultimate Gift. Jim and I have struck up a really great friendship. When we were working on it I was telling him I wanted to have a novel based on the movie, and Jim basically offered to write the novel based on the screenplay. That was huge for me because Jim’s name and his reputation are great in the industry. Jim has been very, very giving. There are people you meet and they appear to be one way on stage or in their books, and then you wonder, what are they really like in real life? Jim is who he is on and off stage. I appreciate him as a person and the friendship we’ve developed. So when we got done with A Christmas Snow he sent me a book he’d written called The Lamp, and he said I’d love to turn this into a movie. So I read it and said, it’s a good story, but I don’t know if it would be a good movie. He was like, “What would you do if you were going to make it into a movie?” So I added some characters and added a couple subplots and changed the story a little bit. The basic premise of the story is all there, which concerns this lamp and what it does, but a lot of other stuff has been changed. I sent it to him, and I didn’t hear from him in a couple days. I’m thinking, oh boy, he didn’t like it. I offended him because there were some major changes to his story. Finally I called him up one day and said, Jim, I’m the most impatient person in the world. You’ve gotta tell me what’s going on here. If you hate it, that’s fine. You’re not going to hurt my feelings. And he’s like, no, no, we love it. I just wanted to share it with my board, share it with my wife, share it with all these people.
So from that outline I started writing, and with Jim’s and other people’s input we’ve come up with this story we’re going to shoot. It’s a fun story. The tagline is Just Believe, and the important aspect is again, our lives are what they are because of what we’ve done and the choices we’ve made. If we want our lives to be different we’ve gotta start making different choices. When something tragic happens in life and you get into a funk, a lot of people can’t see beyond their situation, so they get stuck in that situation. The trick here is that if you’re willing to believe, anything is possible. And it really is. Our characters in this movie are faced with that through a character who shows up in respect to this lamp, and basically gives them the story, if you’re willing to believe, anything can happen. Through that our characters have a change of heart, and there’s a subplot with the foster children and adoption, and all that as well. It’s a fun story. I think it’ll be a really good . . . I wouldn’t say Hallmark, but a good ABC Family kind of thing.
A Christmas Snow reminded me of something that would do really well on the Hallmark Channel.
We got it to Hallmark.
They turned it down. Thought it was a little too religious. I’d
like people to write Hallmark and say we want to see this movie on your
channel because it’s a perfect Hallmark movie.
Every person who’s watched it thinks it's a perfect Hallmark
Watch the Trailer:
C.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.