Up-Dates and Fast-Tracks

Kept busy the past couple weeks getting together an impressive application for Film Independent’s Fast Track. Also, been frustrated with Ye Olde Blogg here after an update scrapped my stylesheet and set my design work here back to zero.

Anyway, I feel great about my Fast Track app, but I also have tempered expectations with anything involving people’s subjective taste in reading screenplays/pitches.

I’m using an updated version of Ready, Set, Bad!, the feature project I have that is most ready to go for the cheapest production price tag. My go-for-it, hiring professionals, legit union, cheapie budget?

$1 million.

And somehow in the movies, that’s nothing. That’s with cast and crew working for minimums, and a bare-bones 18-day shooting schedule with 8 weeks before to get ready, and 8 weeks after to edit and deliver.

I’ve gone all in now with RSB. I’m obsessed with finding a million dollars this year to go make it. I haven’t the faintest clue how that could happen. To quote my application letter, “We are fresh out of Rich Uncles or Well-Connected Second Cousins Twice Removed.”

I’ve signed up good ol’ standby Leslie Andrew Ridings and his Black Noise Industries to produce it with me. I think after dozens of collaborations the past couple of years, it’s time we took that big step and made a feature.

Of course, we need to find a million dollars first. Stay tuned!

Paris In The The Summer

Not much new to report lately – been working on my Loney character drawings and in the midst of rewrites on my Old Souls script, if anyone cared. I got some good feedback on my first draft of Old Souls and definitely feel I got a better grip on the characters this time around. I’ll go out to actors with the next draft and hope to collaborate with them on finding their voices in it.

Meanwhile, I’ve been steadily applying to a dozen or so jobs per week. I am very grateful for my job and that I can afford to live in LA and pay my bills, but I still would love to find something with some creativity involved.

In light of this search, there is another option to me that I am exploring in earnest: spending the summer in France and taking an immersion course in French for 2-3 months.

Crazy? Crazy awesome!

Hilariously enough, there are programs that allow FAFSA student loan use. As far deep in student loan debt I already am, what’s another $4,000 to spend a summer in Paris and get a much better grasp on my wife’s language? That would be a fraction of a percent, a drop in a bucket, a pebble from a mountain of what I’m already facing. AFI takes a lifetime to payoff.

If I don’t find a better gig here by this spring, I’d be glad to shoot over there. Plus, I might even be able to hang on to my current job (if I still have it then), as they are big pseudojustin fans and could just find a temp for me while I’m gone.

I guess that’s pretty cool. But first, let’s just find a real job, and make my movies.

Old Souls: My Other Next Short Film

Yesterday was a “slow” day at work, which meant I had a couple hours of downtime to work on my own things, which is a life dream: someone paying me (though for something else in this case) to do my own creative work.

I was able to make great strides on a new hatchling short film script, an idea I’ve been exploring for only a couple weeks. I outlined it last week, and started banging out the script in earnest yesterday. Thanks, job!

I got home at 7 PM and kept pushing it through. I took a pit stop dinner and brainstorm session with Juliette, and we ended up finding the key to a certain character, which helped me find how to pull off the ending, which is everything when getting a first draft out the door. Never underestimate the power of talking through your screenplay issues with another movie-maker mind! Lucky for me, I married one!

In all I wrote for about six hours yesterday, and ended up with 17 pages. Very good. I haven’t had that much of a writing binge in about eight months, and it felt great.

I tend to edit a lot while I’m writing. Some people believe you should just crap out a first draft, even with story issues, spelling/grammar problems, character choices that don’t make sense, etc., but I can’t stand it. A scene cries out in pain to me on the page until it tells me it’s ready to share with someone else. I try to take care of a lot of those “first draft” issues on my first go ’round, so hopefully my first drafts might feel more like a 3rd or 4th with its level of polish. That’s just how I roll.

So what’s next? Well I try to ask people to read it and let me know their thoughts – not “if it was good” or “if they liked it” but how things hit them, how they felt about characters, and if there was any problems with clarity – did they understand what was going on? Those are the main concerns of early drafts in my opinion.

Then, for this piece anyway, I’ll take that into account, shiny up another draft, and go out to actors with that. In this case, I wrote it with my lead actors in mind, and they are (probably) on board already, so that’s a relief. I hope to get their feedback next, and they can help work with their characters, bring their perspective, and find a voice and access point for themselves.

And then we pick a weekend and go make it! I’ll scramble together production design, props, costumes, and ask my friend Leslie if he wants to shoot it.

The short film is called OLD SOULS, and it’s about a husband and wife who have taken a big risk to ensure they can be together for a long time. It’s a drama, built on a sci-fi concept.

Hopefully it’s something I’ll be talking about for a while this year, and you can follow it here, from prepro to production to editing to the festival games! Between this and LONEY, the first bit of 2013 is looking good! Stay tuned…

Loney, An Animated Pseudoshort

LONEY is a short story about a bridge troll who might not be cut out for bridge trolling. I’ve had it sitting around for a few years now, always really liked it, and want to make it. It’s a prequel of sorts to a feature script I wrote, a kid’s fantasy adventure.

I thought it’d be fun to do live-action, but then Where The Wild Things Are came out and killed any charm or originality that “real-life monsters with kids in the woods” might have. If I made this now with practical costumes and effects, it would just be, “Oh, you saw WTWTA and copied it?” when in reality I wrote this before Spike Jonze’ great looking, sad movie came out.

Anyway, that’s beside the point now. Because I’m going to make this Pseudobook’s first animated movie. Call me crazy.

I’ve been sketching Loney all week, trying to get a good look. The above clip is one of my attempts. Obviously this is not some master illustrator at work here. The extent of my drawing experience is:

  1. Really into it as a kid with lots of book studying
  2. Doodled off and on a lot since then
  3. A couple of weeks crash coursing in cartooning last year
  4. Illustrated half of The Pseudobook, a self-published ebook available now! last winter.

The above was thrown together in Photoshop. I don’t plan on getting crazy with 3D programs like Maya or Blender or anything. I see it as a 2D world with faux-3D depth. More like a stage play with film camera placement.

Obviously animating an 8-minute short film is a daunting task, and I probably need a lot of help. I have no idea what I’m doing.

For now, I’m going to keep working on my three main characters, and then go from there. If anyone out there has any guidance with how to proceed, feel free to let me know. I should probably get a real artist involved…

Should I Go To Film School?

Recently a friend of a friend reached out to me looking for advice regarding the age-old question facing humanity today:

“Should I go to film school?”

She’s a recent Peace Corps volunteer who just quit her grad film program out of frustration.

So?

Once upon a time I asked Wes Craven the same question. He said, “No. Study something else, or use that money to make your own movie.” He didn’t go to film school, but got degrees in psychology and philosophy, getting his start as a sound editor and director of pornography, actually. Ahem.

So today, years older, wiser, film-school experienced, my sage advice to her was the following:

(edited for a broader delivery)

      You may have come to the right person with these questions. I studied film at 3 schools – Bowling Green State, UT-Austin, and The American Film Institute. The AFI is the only program I actually finished because BG was really “studies” with a handful of “production” courses. UTX was good but limited (access to equipment was a competition, for instance) and very expensive as an out-of-stater. So I quit/switched majors, frustrated and determined to make them on my own instead. That was between ’99-’02.

      I went to AFI from ’09-’11, and was very tempted to quit that too, but not because of the program’s shortcomings. In fact, I can stand beside 2011’s Hollywood Reporter story on AFI being the #1 film school in the world. It’s fantastic. But my issue was my discipline, Producing, wasn’t what I enjoyed, and it was very expensive to keep going to school to study something I really ended up hating.

      I went to AFI thinking I’d have a blast collaborating with 100 other passionate, creative filmmakers. And it was that, but as Producer, my job ended up being more of glorified babysitter/mediator/logistical commander/paperwork fiend who fed people, got locations, hired crew, and taped receipts to blank pages. It was creatively disappointing – everyone else got to “make” the movie, and I only got things ready and possible for them to do so.

      The reason I stayed at AFI after year one was because my thesis script got the green light to go into production. Finally! A creative role in one of my movies! And now after the fact, it turned out…how it turned out. Quirky (we hear), fun (we sometimes hear), great music, odd, confused…I can’t even put words to how strangely I feel about it in hindsight. We did win a cool music award, though!

      Suffice to say, I always wish I would have gone to AFI for Screenwriting, Directing, or Editing; basically anything instead of Producing.

      That’s my film school experience. Now my advice:

You can learn everything you need to learn from books and lots of practice, and then volunteering on real, professional film sets.

      If film school is what gets that for you, then great. If you can get it without film school, DO THAT and SAVE THAT $!

      So I guess you’d say I agree with Wes Craven (minus the making porn). If going to college is a life requirement/expectation, get a degree in history or sociology or psychology — something you can use to write better characters for your movies, and then find some film sets in LA or NY to work on.

      I devoured books on writing, directing, cinematography, editing for years, and practiced with my own cameras and Final Cut Pro. I got progressively comfortable with the technical skills — camera technologies, making storytelling images with fstops/lenses/shutterspeeds/lights, the SOUND factor, the set design/space/depth/composition aspect, storyboards, script covering, and more — all these fry the brain already, and I haven’t even mentioned #1: WORKING WITH ACTORS to get good performances so your story makes sense and is well told.

      What I lacked growing up in Ohio was the second half of that advice – the professional side of things. I couldn’t get on a film set and learn how it was done for the “real Hollywood” movies. I never properly learned that roll call, the block-light-rehearse-shoot approach, the etiquette, nor what it’s like to actually be wowed by an actor’s performance on set that you actually believe because you can see the truth in their eyes. My own no-budget movie sets paled in comparison to the real deal. And there are no actors like that in Bowling Green, OH — they’ve already moved to LA or NY.

      So for me, AFI was a means to that end. AFI film sets are one step away (and in some cases one step better) than a professional Hollywood set. I’ve heard countless horror stories from actors and crew who work on other school sets. They always say AFI takes the cake with professionalism. I think that’s because it’s not made up of typical “straight out of undergrad” master’s students. I’d say 75% are over the age of 25. I myself was 29. They are (mostly) mature creatives who have had a bit of life & career experiences after college already, and who are ready to commit to film.

      So I suppose it is up to the individual. Do you have to tell stories? Is it in your soul? Is the visual storytelling marriage of image and sound (film) the right outlet for that bug?

      Then keep making movies. Possibly involve film school if professional set experience is lacking. And then from there, never quit.

      The only thing people making movies for a living all have in common: they didn’t get there by quitting.

Paranormal World Episode 2 w/ Production Notes

Hey friends, it is my pleasure to share this fun collaboration with some local silly peeps and their latest episode for a web series parody, PARANORMAL WORLD.

Some production notes from your humble director:

Jeremy Cordy wrote it. He was a gracious screenwriter and even let me do a pass on the script to tweak dialogue and throw in a couple of pseudojokes.

The cast was already on board, so I got to just walk in and direct the script. It was a fun day working with some actual actors who mean to act.

We shot it the Saturday before Thanksgiving at the Glendale Library and a friend’s house down the road from there. Our day started at 3 PM and went until 1 AM and was very rushed, with only a couple takes per shot. We had to push a couple of pick up shots (Alexa running to the car/driving off) to another day because it was actually raining all night. In California, I know, we couldn’t believe it either.

Our production crew was two people, Leslie Andrew Ridings (Producer and Cinematographer on Into The Cold), on camera, and myself doing sound. No joke. The cast pitched in at times and did slates for us, but it was a ridiculous 2-man show that I don’t recommend.

We shot it using our contest-winning 5D.

Our production designer, Cassandra, made some cool props and is responsible for the general “serial killer” house we were in with newspapers, stuffed deer head, etc. The EPK was rigged up from a battery hand fan and a mini tripod (?). Fun stuff! She also did the scanners from Episode 1 that we destroyed (and make a subsequent return here when Becky eats it).

The most takes we needed for a shot was the prophecy scene: 7 takes. I wanted to do it all in one shot (the equipment joke, the fight, the prophecy, leading to the gunshot). Again, with a crew of 2, our issue was not having a dedicated focus puller. Moving camera positions in, out, in, out for the scene meant 6 or 7 different focus spots to hit, and we needed a lot of practice. Don’t make movies without a focus puller. Seriously. Leslie nailed it on the last one, though!

My wife Juliette cut it in Avid (MC 5.0.4), and let me get hands on for my first real Avid use since my Lynda.com lessons. I loved it, and feel confident I could do any project in there now. We ran into some export issues that set us back a day, though, and I would recommened we invest the $ to get the latest MC (6.5) which I can get a big discount on…

I did the sound edit and mix in the Avid. Very limited, but did the job for a simple show like this. I also did color in the Avid, not too shabby.

I did some “VFX” (if you can call them that), in Final Cut, since I wasn’t quite ready to tackle how that would work in Avid. Namely – painting out an annoying cable that distracted the world in one shot, and the prophecy strobe light sequence.

Jeremy’s wife’s bro had composed a couple of great scary drones for us, so we used those for some music, and the rest was pulled from the free Apple Loops package that comes with FCP. Sound effects were also Apple Loops, with a big assist from our account with freesound.org.

In all, post-production to delivery took about 6 days, split up over the month of December.

Thanks for watching!

Quickie YIR; My Top Music & Movies of 2012

Quickie year in review:

2012 was the best ever personally – marriage and fun and travels and joy! And 2012 was a big pain in the behind professionally – lots of unemployment, unsatisfying, soul-sucking work just to pay the bills. I did manage to get a few creative personal projects finished, but here’s to getting to that task more in 2013.

MOVIES:

1. Django Unchained
2. Prometheus
3. The Hobbit
4. End of Watch
5. Seven Psychopaths
6. Moonrise Kingdom
7. Dark Knight Rises
8. Bernie
9. A Separation
10. Footnote

Honorable Mentions: Looper, The Master, Silver Linings Playbook, Bullhead, De Rouille Et D’os, Cloud Atlas, Argo, The Sapphires, Amour

MUSIC:

1. Dinosaur Jr. – I Bet On Sky
2. Hospitality – Hospitality
3. Tennis – Young & Old
4. Now, Now – Threads
5. Mumford & Sons – Babel
6. Why? – Sod In The Seed EP
7. Andrew Bird – Hands of Glory
8. The Killers – Battle Born
9. Beach Boys – That’s Why God Made The Radio
10. Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball

Didn’t listen to much music this year, actually. These are just albums that ended up in my Spotify playlists the most. I haven’t had time to get into music for about 3 years now. I don’t know much, don’t seek out much, and don’t get as excited as much as I used to.

DEAL WITH IT!

Movies I Watched in 2012

Here’s my movie list from the year in chronological order. We went out with a bang and watched 11 movies over this holiday week off (well Juliette watched 13 – a couple Frenchies without me).

TOTAL MOVIES SEEN IN 2012: 147 – a new record!

TINTIN*
COWBOYS AND ALIENS
PIRATES 4
WAR HORSE*
OCEANS 11
OCEANS 12
OCEANS 13
THE GUARD
SWEET CHARITY
LE MÉPRIS*
HAYWIRE*
ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN
A SEPARATION*
THE WOMAN IN BLACK*
CHRONICLE*
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK
TEMPLE OF DOOM
PAPER MOON
THE GRADUATE
SAFE HOUSE*
JOURNEY 2*
THE LAST CRUSADE
KINGDOM OF CRYSTAL SKULL
ANTOINE ET COLETTE
STAR WARS
BULLHEAD*
PHANTOM MENACE 3D*
MONEYBALL
TALK OF THE TOWN
JOHN CARTER*
FRIENDS WITH KIDS*
THE SOUND OF NOISE*
FOOTNOTE*
21 JUMP STREET*
ALMOST ELVIS
LOVE ME TENDER
THE HUNGER GAMES*
THE SITTER
JEFF WHO LIVES AT HOME*
MIRROR MIRROR*
KID WITH A BIKE*
DRIVE
LOCKOUT*
CABIN IN THE WOODS*
10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU
BACK TO THE FUTURE
5 YEAR ENGAGEMENT*
THE VILLAGE
THOR
SPIRITED AWAY*
THE AVENGERS*
IMMORTALS
HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE*
BERNIE*
DARK SHADOWS*
THE DICTATOR*
THE BIG YEAR
THE DEBT
FANTASTIC MR FOX
THE WAY WE WERE
JURASSIC PARK
MOONRISE KINGDOM*
JURASSIC PARK 2
NAUSICAA OF THE VALLEY*
POINT BLANK
THE INTOUCHABLES*
LONG LONG TRAILER*
SNOW WHITE HUNTSMAN*
ALIEN*
ALIENS
ALIEN 3
ALIEN RESURRECTION
GREMLINS
PROMETHEUS*
THE FUGITIVE
THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS
DE ROUILLE ET D’OS*
THE WEDDING DATE
THE DARK KNIGHT
BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL
SPIDER-MAN*
WANDERLUST
BRAVE*
TO ROME WITH LOVE*
STREET KINGS
PROMETHEUS 3D*
WALKING AND TALKING
IN TIME
DARK KNIGHT RISES*
SALMON FISHING IN YEMEN
BATMAN BEGINS
X-MEN FIRST CLASS
KUMARÉ*
THE WATCH*
KLOWN*
DARK KNIGHT RISES IMAX*
ON THE TOWN
SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED*
KILLER JOE*
PITCH PERFECT*
LA GLOIRE DE MON PERE
CELESTE JESSE FOREVER*
LES PETITS MOUCHOIRS*
THE POSSESSION*
SIDE BY SIDE
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK*
THE MASTER*
END OF WATCH*
BATTLESHIP
LE GRAND BLEU
LOOPER*
LOOPER* 35mm
MULHOLLAND DRIVE
FRANKENWEENIE*
ARGO*
THE EVIL DEAD*
JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI
SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS*
CLOUD ATLAS*
BIG
VEER!*
THE SAPPHIRES*
SKYFALL*
ANNA KARENINA*
LINCOLN*
PROMETHEUS
WRECK-IT RALPH*
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK*
MILLIONS
ON THE ROAD*
THE GREAT DICTATOR
CHAPLIN
WHITE CHRISTMAS
THE HOBBIT*
THE GRINCH
TOTAL RECALL 2012
THIS IS 40*
BREAKFAST CLUB
ELF*
FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING
DJANGO UNCHAINED*
LES MISERABLES*
JE PRÉFÈRE QU’ON RESTE AMIS
DO-DECA-PENTATHLON
BYE BYE BIRDIE
AMOUR*
THE CAMPAIGN

* – seen at a cinema

Editing

not our editing room
not our editing room

Had a fun late evening of editing with my wife last night. It was our first real use of our “editing suite” office/2nd bedroom. We are working on episode 2 of Paranormal World, the episode which I directed last month.

Editing together something I directed with my honey feels like what I was created to do. It’s so fun, satisfying, magical…It’s soul-thirst quenching. It makes me wish I had a whole slew of projects already shot and ready to cut so we could just keep working like that for the rest of our lives.

If only we could get paid to do our art together.

Anyway. Production is a necessary evil. Post-production is pure joy to me. I’ve been editing for 11 years, since an attempt at using Sony Vegas gave way to iMovie 2 in 2001. I moved on to Final Cut Pro in 2002 and never looked back. I never got officially “certified” (though I’ve been through a couple of certification training books over the years and never had any problems).

Recently I have been crossing over into Avid Media Composer, which is pretty much a requirement as I move forward in my “film career” (*stifled laughs from the crowd*). I actually really like Avid, and after taking a “moving from FCP to Avid” 20-hour training course, I feel prepared to do my next project in there.

Paranormal World is being cut in the Avid (they always say “the” Avid). I’ve done a few scenes and tweaks myself, but mostly it’s been me directing Juliette in the edit, asking questions along the way as I learn from her MFA degree. After picture lock I’ll attempt a few FX shots and do my sound mix in there. I hope to compose some scary piano riffs for it, too.

Growing up I loved puzzles. I remember one ridiculous birthday that secret got out and everyone in my school class bought me a puzzle that year and I spent the next several weeks doing all of them with my mom (probably).

I don’t think editing is too far removed from that puzzle brain muscle. You get pieces of video, and you are trying them out with other pieces of video to create a story and provide meaning to what is seen and heard. Deliver information in clear, precise moments. Inform the viewer what you want them to know about a character, an act, a look, a breath, a beat, a cue…

I love the fine-tuning and tweaking of the frames, the mathematics of it combined with that intangible “feeling” that a movie will give you. Are you editing it, or is it editing itself with your help? I swear the video whispers to you what it wants. “Cut me here!…Here!…And now go here!…SNAP there!” It really does take on a life of its own.

I love it and wish badly to do it nonstop for the rest of my life with my beautiful wife! LET’S GO!!!