Saturday, July 31, 2010

How to Make a Movie in 6 Days (give or take): Part 3 "Is it worth it?"

Can a micro-budget feature shot in 6 days turn out to be good?

Is it even worth it creatively and financially?

Yeah, yeah everybody always brings up Blair Witch, El Marachi, Clerks and now Paranormal Activity. But these flicks are rare. There are tons of micros out there cluttering up the market and most are not good.

Well, I've already directed 3 micros, worked on a bunch of others and am in the midst of directing my 4th, so I guess you know where I stand. Financially I do think they are worth it. I used to work for a company that put out 6-12 micros a year. They would shoot them for under 5k and turn around and sell them for 20-30k, minus some deliverable costs. Of course over the years the dvd market has changed. This company is now self distributing their product and some of the distributors they worked with in the past have gone under. However, there is still a market for micros (depending on the genre) and they can still be profitable. I believe the mistake the above mentioned company made was not putting their profits back into their productions. They continued to churn out product with no real ambition to better it. I think it's ok to produce these movies, but they should be a means to moving onto bigger and better productions. Every cent that I have made on my features goes right back into my production company. I hope that I'm soon at the point where they're making the kind of money that I can actually both put money into my pocket and my productions, but until that day my main goal is to better the quality of my movies.

Technically and creatively, micros can also be successful. There are things I would love to change about my earlier features, but I do think creatively they've earned their rights to exist. Sure they're not hollywood glossy, but they are at times entertaining and even original. There is a certain level of quality that money does buy, but if you're careful and use the budget to your advantage, you can come up with something successful.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Low Budget Locations

With microbudget productions it’s helpful, no essential, to write and use what you already have access to, or can get very cheap. In my past movies I’ve used my place, friends places, a warehouse my producer had free access to and guerilla exteriors.

Monsters in the Woods is a different animal. A year ago I would have scouted out some remote locales and shot the whole thing guerilla. But, having signed a name actor and wanting to take some of the action to the next level, its not really feasible to be shooting guerilla. So I told my producer to look into permits for national forests. He came up with Big Bear. It’s the closets and best spot for the price. Permits and whatnot are surprisingly affordable depending on your cast and crew size.

Have you bought your copy of Trap yet?

So yesterday, my producer and I trekked out to Big Bear to pick the primary locations, numbering 3. We’ll take another trip or two in the next few weeks to lock the minor locations, storyboard and block out all the action (sans actors.)

I got up about 15 till 7am and walked down to my locale Starbucks (can’t start a long day with out a hardy maple scone and coffee.) I bussed to Culver City to meet with my producer (I don’t drive – it’s a thing – and my producer has a car, but no license. Don’t ask.) We got on the road just after 9 and made surprisingly good time. We go into Big Bear just after 11. We have a quick meeting with Betty from the Big Bear Film Commission. She goes over prices, rules and recommends a few shooting spots.

I had never actually been to Big Bear. It’s really beautiful. There are a lot of fallen trees out there too, from fires. If we’re careful not to shoot them so much in the 1st 3rd of the movie, we can use them to help depicted our major earthquake at the end of act 1. (Maybe)

We’re trying to keep all of our shooting spots in Big Bear close to one another to aid with quick company moves. It took us about 3 hours but we find all three of our major locales, and all are within earshot of one another. We also take a little time to block some of the general action and shots.

The 1st spot is about a 10-minute hike from one of the visitor center. It will be both our crew camp in the movie and for real. Crafty and whatnot will be set up there all day and the other 2 locations are on either side.

We pack it in around 3 and arrive back in Culver City around 5. I buss back to Burbank (I don’t drive – it’s a thing) and arrive around 730. I clean up a few actor contracts, watch a few episodes of the final season of The Shield (great show) and do a little interneting before bed.

Anybody else think the Sucker Puck trailer is the tits?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

How to Make a Movie in 6 Days (give or take) Part 2 : Monsters in the Woods

07/25/2010 Production meeting / rehearsal / audition

Today’s kind of complicated meeting. This is the 1st full meeting Robert Bravo and I have had since our June shoot dates. There is a lot to cover. 1st off I’ve tried unsuccessfully over the past two weeks to organize a full script read through with the cast. There are over 15 major roles in the movie and it’s next to impossible to get all the actors and myself together on any given day prior to shooting. In addition I have 2 major cast members who’s methods are against rehearsals, other than blocking for camera, and I have another main actor who’s schedule is jam packed right up to our shoot dates. The cast is 99% in place. I’ve decided to break them down into groups and rehearse in sets of 2 to 4. This seems much more doable.
I also still have to cast the role of Thomas. It’s down to two actors. I’m seeing them today. One I’ve worked with before. The other is new.

Intended Agenda

11am – Claudia Perea (Ariel), Robert Bravo (my actual producer) and Curtis Mega (Potential Thomas) arrive. I’ll use this time to audition Curtis and rehearse for the 1st time with Claudia. While I am aware of her past work, I’ve never actually directed her before. This will be our 1st actor/director interaction.

12pm The 2nd actor for Thomas is supposed to arrive between noon and 1. He has church till noon. So I’ll spend a little time talking character and costume with Claudia and some general production talk with Robert.

1pm Rehearsal/audition for Thomas. I’ve worked with this actor before, so I expect this to take less time. 130 should do us.

130 pm detailed production meeting with Robert Bravo. We have a ton of stuff to go over.

1. Breakdown for Big Bear shoot. I have it done, but have not went over it with him yet. We’ll also go over my shot list and actually storyboard some of the setups. (Robert is also an artist-a very talented cat)
2. Go back over our Budget for the Big bear shoot. Now that the breakdown, cast and shot lists are set. We can get a little more specific and make sure that everything is covered.
3. Discuss a few casting issues. (can’t really talk about this yet in public)
4. Discuss and set follow-up Malibu shooting dates. September is fast approaching and we need to give everyone ample time to clear their schedules.
5. Discuss further funding options with Robert. While our initial budget is in place. We are discussing seeking further funds to expand the scope of our movie.

Actual Agenda (what really happened)

1. 11 am read with Curtis and Claudia. Went really well.
2. 12 – 1 Went over general production stuff while waiting for other actor. Actor couldn’t make. Talked wardrobe and stuff with Claudia.
3. 1-3 went over entire big bear breakdown. Finalized number of cast and crew staying overnight.
4. 3-430 watched Wrong Turn 2. Cruz I like it. And it’s a good example of a horror flick shot in the woods completely in broad daylight. It works and is still suspenseful.

We never got to scheduling the Malibu days. We’re going to save that for our next meet. We did talk about further funding options. We’re pretty confident we can pull off the movie at our original budget, but a little more wouldn’t hurt.

We ended the meeting going over some planned FX gags and planned a day trip to Big Bear for a final location scout. That’ll be fun.

Monday, July 19, 2010

How to Make a Movie in 6 Days (give or take): Monsters in the Woods

Over the next two months I’m going to chronicle step by the step the preproduction, production and post production process for monsters in the woods. I think it will be a fun exercise and it will be cool to look back at it later to point out where things went right and where things went wrong.

July 18,2010

The main part of the shoot is still a little over a month away. We’re shooting 2 days in Big Bear. Due to our limited budget it’s all we can afford. We also have only one day with Glenn Plummer up there. He plays a major role in the movie and we have to get 24 pages of material done in a day, at least his parts.

We then will have another 2 to 3 days of shooting in a smaller locale in Malibu. The same we shot the opening sequence in. The final 2 to 3 days on a stage cave set somewhere in the city.

Today, I’m finalizing the breakdown for the 2 days in Malibu, creating a cast/crew contact list, going over contracts and release forms and then heading out for a photo shoot with our still photographer at Grithith Park at sunset.

Organization is the number one word for preproduction. When working on Edges, my favorite AD/Line producer created a hardbound copy of the script for me, placed it inside a huge 3-ring notebook and organized it. This is a great tool. As I break down the script, I start to arrange the pages in order of shooting. I make duplicates where scenes over lap.

Then in the back, I have another copy of the script in linear order, so that I never lose sight of the project as a whole. Or how one scene or sequence leads into the next.
This takes a little time, but is a very useful tool on set. It basically becomes my bible for the next 2 to 4 months.

In the front of the book I have all my breakdown sheets. They give the order the scenes will be shoot in on any given day. They also list cast, crew and props needed, as well as other things. Because I like to keep things fluid, I tend to print these out in bulk and hand write the info in as opposed to printing. It just saves time in the long run.

The cast is filling out. There are only a few parts left to cast. My plan is to have it done by the end of the coming week. Looks like I’ve finally found an Ashley, which, as been a hard part to cast. I’ll have confirmation on that part and Thomas in the next few days. I’m reconsidering playing the part of the cameraman myself. There’s little face time and I will be operating the camera anyway. Plus I have to admit that I miss acting a bit from college. Reading opposite our callbacks on Trap was a big highlight of that production for me. But we’ll see.

So I went over the 24 pages of scenes where Glenn’s character appears. If we shoot just his coverage and wides where he appears we’re looking at a 14-page day. At the end of the day, time permitting we’ll pick up as much of the other coverage we can and get the rest the following day, along with the massacre scene and 4 pivotal smaller scenes in the 3rd act. One thing working in our favor is most of the scenes were Glen appears are shot 1st person from the perspective of the behind the scenes camera.

Any little bits we miss will be picked up when we move to the Malibu section of shooting in Sept. This week we’ll be setting the Malibu and stage shoot days.

More on pre-production and prep this week…


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Do it yourself

"Do it yourself." That’s the mantra most Indie moviemakers follow, and to an extent it’s true. In order to see a truly indie project through it is necessary for the director to wear several hats. On my previous projects, I’ve served as the main editor, DP, Caterer, Location Manager; the list goes on and on. However, I think it’s a mistake and a detriment to the project to take on too much.

On my 1st movie, I literally did everything, from securing locations to catering. I did have help from my directing partner Shannon and producing partner Brandon, but for the most part I did it all. I handled casting, catering, locations, scheduling, crewing up, auditions, ect… I took on so much it left little time for the actual directing. Shannon and I did very little prep. There were no shot lists. We went over our directing plan usually the day of the shoot. Then during the shoot we were so busy actually producing the movie, we had no time to actually direct. He was more our DP and I was more the AD. We simply put the actors through the motions and captured the script. That’s all there was time for. Thinking back on it, we didn’t even look for more help.

When it came time for my 2nd movie, I actually had a producer, crew and AD. But I was so used to doing everything that I found myself moving back into old habits. I could’ve stepped back more. I had a good AD. There was no need for me to coral cast and crew on set, but I did. My AD was also line producing and was very good at it. She could and would’ve been more involved in the prep. I should have relied more on her for that and spent more time preparing to direct. In the end, my prep on Edges was superior to Rise and it shows in the finished project, but it wasn’t enough and the movie suffered for it.

That brings me to Trap, my latest finished project. I worked with a producer who actually tired to shield me from production troubles. We had a capable line-producer who was very good at prep and scheduling. I spent the most time prepping to direct that I have ever. My only mistake was taking on a bit too much in regard to the script breakdown and pre-production duties that my line-producer could’ve taken on. I had a decent rehearsal period and plenty of support on set. It shows in the finished project. I think Trap works creatively and technically better than any of my previous works. A lot of that is due to me letting go of responsibilities that shouldn’t fall on a director.

Sure, when you’re doing a micro flick, there are things you have to double up on. But if you just look a little, usually no further than your friends. You can find competent people to fill roles and support you in production. Nobody, well most people, don’t like to ask for help, but moviemaking is collaborative process and even the most developed AUTUER needs help to bring their vision to life.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Pre-Production, Script Changes and You.

It’s been kind of an uneventful week movie wise. I actually wrote this blog out long hand in a spiral notebook on Huntington Beach. I’ve been breaking down and reworking the script a bit. The structure is pretty much locked, but I’m making character and dialog adjustments. 80% of the cast is locked, so I’m even tailoring a few of the parts to better-fit specific actors. I’m also prepping my 1st cast rehearsal, read though for Friday morning. Although it’s getting to be a big chore to get so large a cast together at the same time for a reading. But hey, we still have almost two months before the bulk of the shoot.

Most of the cast is super excited and willing to work in as much rehearsal time as possible. Now it’s just a matter of making the schedules work. It’s really cool to have the time to work on and explore the characters with actors who are excited to do so. Because of the ensemble nature of Monsters in the Woods this is especially important.

I had a very positive experience with the rehearsal period for my last flick, Trap and hope this one matches and exceeds it. Of course in Trap there were only 3 major roles. In Monsters in the Woods there are over a dozen speaking part. Yet another example of the intended scope of the picture.

I think I’m going to break down the remaining rehearsals into groups of 3 or 4, based on the amount of interactions characters have. I’m even planning to incorporate some auditions for the smaller roles into these rehearsals. Speaking of auditions, this is the 1st movie I’ve done to not have an official audition process. 95% of the cast are actors I’ve worked with before or know personally and am up on their work.

Well, I’m going to keep this short and get back to my relaxing day at the beach, before getting back to the grind tomorrow.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The In-Between

“Monsters in the Woods” is the 1st split schedule production I’ve tackled. We shot the opening sequence of the movie last week in Malibu, partially to test some fx work, to get a feel for the location and to get what could have been a difficult sequence out of the way. The main shoot is split between the last weeks of August and September to accommodate our name actors and the Big Bear location. The final leg of the shoot is still unscheduled but will take place on a sound stage somewhere in the city. This schedule leaves huge 2 to 3 week gaps in production. I’ve never had breaks this long in shooting. It’s more than a little odd, but it does have its advantages.

The breaks in-between do allow for adjustments to both the script and the shoot based on how the previous chuck of filming goes. For example, the opening sequence is now in the can and mostly edited. Before we even shoot the adjoining sequence I know exactly how the 1st part turned out. This particular scene is the “movie within a movie” that was always conceived as being bad, but after editing it, I there’s a level of camp to the tone, that’s even stronger than I had anticipated. I’m now able to monopolize on that tone in the next scene. I’ve now written one of the best gags of the flick involving one of the crew’s reactions to the scene. It takes what was working and brings it up a level.

Usually once a production ramps up, I have no time to breathe. It’s a 24/7 complete emersion. It can be a really intoxicating, exhilarating, exhausting experience. But like a drug, there is a crash after and on a stop and go project like this one, I have to ride this rollercoaster over and over. During most shoots, I’m in the zone, completely focused on the work. Nothing else exists. I usually take the time off my day job, and for a few weeks, I’m living my dream. I’m making movies, nothing else. Then as production ends and I go back to my day job there is a crash, usually followed by feelings of melancholy. So on Monsters, I have to live out this cycle not once, but four times. It can really take a toll personally as I go through the anxiety of prep and shooting and then the down of it all being over again and again.

Aw, listen to the guy who gets the opportunity to make movies whine about it.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Bigger, Better, Scarier.

The next block of production on Monsters in the Woods (late august/early sept) is exciting, scary, ambitious, expensive (by our meager budget standards) and is going to be shot on location in Big Bear. Yeah, I know it’s only 2 hrs from La or is it 4? but we are traveling and putting folk up, which is something I’ve never had to deal with on a production before. In addition, all the shooting here is “legit.” Permits? Check. Insurance? Check. If someone gets hurt or dies, we won’t have to cover it up (this time.)

In a few short days we will have to cover 95% of the 1st act and a huge climatic massacre set piece involving all the principle and most of the 2ndary cast. monsters, complicated fx and blood work. Our cast count alone is over 14.

It’s probably the most ambitious chunk of shooting I’ve ever taken on. I’m excited and more than a bit anxious. But I have the cast and crew to pull it off. Bring it on!

Monday, July 5, 2010

My Life as a Sleazy, Low Budget Moviemaker

Joking, but that’s kind of how I feel sometimes proceeding on my latest movie. It’s a monster movie featuring some exploitive elements (namely nudity, gore and sex.). The gore isn’t really a problem for most, but the nudity and sex are fast becoming big issues.

This is a super-low budget indie, so the actors are being paid at a pretty low scale. The amenities are minimal and the shoot days can be very rough. While I treat everyone with dignity and respect. I’ve worked before on other productions at this level where people (cast and crew) were treated horribly.

Imagine for a second you’re a struggling actor. You know what’s going to be required of you (the nudity), because it’s been discussed before hand. However, you get to set and it’s not quite what you expect. There’s no huge crew or film equipment. No huge lights or catering trucks. The camera's a small HD CAM. A micro-budget set could often what most people imagine a porn set looks like. It can be a very uncomfortable situation. (Side note: actual porn sets are quite nice/or so I’m told.)

While our productions make every effort to keep everyone happy and comfortable (we have good food at least), it’s really hard on such a low budget to make sure that everyone's comfortable. Then on top of everything else, I have to ask certain actors to do sex scenes.

So why do it? Why not scrap these scenes?
1. I have a financier and distributor that want (require) these scenes.
2. I don’t want to sacrifice my vision.

Yeah, I said it, vision. Yes, on one hand this is an exploitive horror flick, but it also has artistic merit. The whole movie is a meta-comment on low budget horror and movie-making in general. These scenes serve to enforce the movie’s themes. For example the 1st scene, a fairly gratuitous sex scene and murder, is from the “movie within a movie.” I threw in every horror cliché I could think off, including the black man dying 1st and gratuitous nudity. The very point of the scene is its gratuity.

Then there are two similar scenes later in the movie that take place in reality. They are meant to echo the 1st scene, but are presented in a more tasteful manner. There’s no actual nudity. But, they are still sex scenes. I even put extra effort into creating a complex character that most actors would want to play. But I’m still having difficulty casting these roles. No matter what my intentions are I still have to ask under-paid actors to simulate sex under uncomfortable circumstance.

As my budgets go up hopefully this will be less of an issue. I guess we’ll see.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Glenn Plummer joins "Monsters in the Woods."

I’m super excited to announce Glenn Plummer (Saw 2, Speed, Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead, Showgirls, The Day After Tomorrow and much, much more has joined the cast of Monsters in the Woods. He’ll be playing the foul tempered director who leads his super low budget cast and crew into the woods to shoot a monster movie.

Glenn is an accomplished actor, and a very cool cat, who’s appeared in over 100 films and tv shows. It’s really good to have him onboard.. Having him involved is a little life imitating art. We are a super low budget crew and he is leading us in. I worked with him briefly before on a project I was DPing for Nu-Lite Entertainment. It was a pleasure then and will be a pleasure again to watch him work.

I’ve also added Kristian Bernard (Vegas Vampires, Ride or Die, Black Woman’s Guide to Finding a Good Man) to the cast. He’ll be playing Burt. I don’t want to give too much away in regards to the character, but I will say he’s the closest thing to an action hero that the movie has. Kristian is also stepping into a producer role, along my partner in crime Robert Bravo.

I’ll be making a few more casting announcements next week. Look for some familiar faces from my past work and some new ones.

We just finished shooting our “movie within the movie” and are preparing for the main shoot in August. This is my 4th movie, but in many ways it’s feeling like my first “real” one. Things are coming together well.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

movie's within movies

Ok. So we finished up the first bit of production on Monsters in the Woods. Now normally as soon as I start getting things in the can, I like to start putting together teaser scenes and trailers to post on the web and share with press. It's something I've always done. However, on Monsters we've chosen to shoot the movie within a movie 1st and I don't feel comfortable posting any of it for a few reasons.

1. It involves nudity. A lot of nudity. Pretty much the whole thing features a
naked girl, covered in blood. Not exactly web friendly stuff.
2. It's tone and style is not indicative of the rest of the movie.
For reasons that will become clear when watching...It's bad. It's intentionally
And I'd hate for peoples first reaction to the real movie to "this sucks!" When
in actuality, it's supposed to suck.

So I'm holding off. No teasers or footage until the main shoot in August. But I'm itching to share some stuff, because I know this one is going to be special.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Post Production woes

Post-Production woes.

Ok. So I went about 10k into debt four years ago on an editing system that a few short years later is completely obsolete. I purchased the last Power-Mac G5 that was made before the Intel versions came out. Some would say, buyer beware, you should have researched it better. Yeah, that’s true screw me, I didn’t.

Now I’m trying to edit a feature shot on a new JVC HD cam that shoots on a codec that is unreadable by my dinosaur of a computer. I’ve spend a few days trying to find a workaround and am in the midst of a last ditch effort, but if that fails, I’ll either have to turn over post on the entire feature to another editor, which we really can’t afford. One of the main things that as allowed me to make so many features is my automony. I’m able to shoot and handle post almost completely on my own. It gives me the ability to shoot movies very cheap. The other option is to convert the existing footage (a time and hardrive space consuming task for which I’ll still have to count on another editor) and then we’d most likely have find a different camera for the rest of the shoot that is compatible with my geriatric computer.

Oh, oh….the workaround worked. The footage is playing on my system.
Problem solved.