Sigma Cine

Creating an Independent Series with a Small Team

The plot sounds simple enough: Two friends decide to start a typeface design business in Brooklyn. It’s the mixture of friendship, business and creativity that turns Salty Pirate into a quirky and fun independent episodic series. Created by filmmaker Charles Haine, using the full frame SIGMA Cine Prime lenses. Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Vimeo on Demand and Ficto.

Brooklyn-based Haine, who wrote and directed Salty Pirate, is a professor at the Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema at Brooklyn College. For Salty Pirate, he partnered with cinematographer and Feirstein Distinguished Lecturer—Cinematography, Sarah Cawley.

Salty Pirate

Writing an Independent Series Plot

The idea for “Salty Pirate came from a lot of places” Haine explained. “I have a passing interest in typeface design and remember when the Hoefler & Frere-Jones [one of the world’s best known typeface foundries] partnership exploded. The collision of business and creativity was interesting to me,”. Especially thinking back to Haine’s previous production company where he had to balance the two responsibilities. At the same time, Haine remembered a type designer he used to work with who used to turn red in the face when a client would refer to a typeface as a font or vice-versa (the former is a collection of the latter).

Haine originally envisioned Salty Pirate as a short film when he approached Cawley about working with him on the project. However, he spoke to experienced web series creators and learned that it was “a long shot to get a feature” published. Also, difficult to get people to carve out 90 minutes to watch a film on the web. That’s when he decided that Salty Pirate would make more sense as a web series. On top of that, Haine and his wife were expecting a baby. “Longest downtime you’ll have with a newborn is an hour at a time. If I broke it into short episodes, I could work on post while the baby’s napping.”

It was also “fun to write episodic,” Haine pointed out. “You just have to have a plot for each episode and hook it into the next one. With a feature, you have to continue building tension to get toward the end.” For Salty Pirate, “I wanted it to feel complete if it’s only one season” but give enough leeway to the series “for continued growth if there’s an audience for it.”

Salty Pirate

Recruiting a Top-Notch DP

Cawley, a highly respected DP who has worked on features as well as TV shows such as Ugly Betty and Manifest, recalls when Haine asked if she wanted to be involved with Salty Pirate. Cawley quickly agreed noting that ”Charles is a great director, he’s calm on set and can keep a lot of plates spinning at the same time”. She added, “He’s very easy to communicate with and we have a similar mindset”. Not only did Cawley DP for Salty Pirate but camera operated too. “I generally don’t operate the camera because on TV it wouldn’t make sense in terms of time,” she said. “I usually have 2-3 sets a day. One of the things I liked about Salty Pirate was that I got to operate a camera.”

Shooting on a Tight Budget

“We were shooting on a shoestring budget” Cawley said but managed to shoot ten 6-7 minute episodes in ten days as planned. “We didn’t move the company very much and stayed on two floors at [Feirstein’s] location within Steiner Studios, with a couple of trips into the Brooklyn Navy Yard. With that economy of scale, I knew we could make this happen.” Having two cameras “going all the time,” Cawley explained, “was a pivotal part of getting it done in ten days.”

They recruited recent graduates from the alumni pool to work on the series. Simultaneously, got assistance from friends and family, too. Noted artist Sylvain Tremblay loaned 3 paintings as set dressing for the executive office. While Haine’s mother-in-law provided catering for cast and crew. “Some people came and went, donating time when they could,” said Cawley. “We had 8-10 people on set on any given day, which for a 2-camera shoot with some lighting is the minimum you can have.”

Keeping budget in mind, Haine found that it was easier to find older and younger actors to work for SAG minimum. “The hardest actors to get are middle aged since they are generally either working or have left film. We were incredibly lucky to find our Lou, Daniel Robert Sullivan, who had a break between theater productions, to complement the younger cast”. He had a great post-production team as well, who agreed to work for a flat fee. Delivering a really high level of quality for the finished product.

Salty Pirate Behind the Scenes

Submitting to Amazon Prime

Once the series finished, Haine submitted it to Amazon Prime. He said the process was fairly simple. Once uploaded, “it goes through a quality control process and is evaluated and then it’s good to go.” You can find more information at: videodirect.amazon.com/home/landing.

Salty Pirate isn’t the first of Haine’s work to be shown on Amazon Prime. He already had success with his feature Angel’s Perch, which during its two-year release has been generating profit and is “finding audiences in surprising ways,” so it made sense to go the same route with Salty Pirate.

Parting Words of Advice

There’s no doubt that having technical skills are a necessity for a successful career in filmmaking. However, moving forward requires more than an ability to do something really well such as operating a camera, focus pulling or setting up lights. “Being pleasant to work with as well as doing a good job” goes a long way to building a career, says Haine who also advocates for business education.

“As a filmmaker, I had to figure out the business aspect” on his own. USC, where he attended graduate school, “didn’t focus on business. So when I started teaching at LA College, I focused on business the last two weeks of the class and realized there was all this hunger for [business] information.” Now Haine teaches a business class at Feirstein and has written a book on the subject: Business and Entrepreneurship for Filmmakers, which is available on Amazon.com. (Check out his other book: Color Grading 101: Getting Started Color Grading for Editors, Cinematographers, Directors, and Aspiring Colorists.)

But perhaps one of the most important pieces of advice from both Cawley and Haine is to build relationships. Speaking from experience, Haine recalls “I gaffed a feature after grad school and made friends with the sound person. He recommended me for a feature and within a year, I was DP on another feature that the sound guy was directing.”

For more information:

Salty Pirate: www.saltypirate.tv

Charles Haine: www.charleshaine.com; www.nofilmschool.com

Sarah Cawley: www.cawleydp.com


Read Cinematographer Sarah Cawley’s experience using Sigma Cine lenses on Salty Pirate: Sigma Cine Lenses with Cinematographer Sarah Cawley

Cinematographer Sarah Cawley
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