Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dreams of an Insomniac - A Promising Film in the Works

Artison Films lead by the directing duo that is the Fairbrook Bros. is embarking on their first feature length film, Dreams of an Insomniac. They are raising funding for the film via Kickstarter, so check out their Kickstarter page and their website Artison Magazine for more details.

Dreams of an Insomniac will be a compilation of 6 short stories. These stories overlap through the thoughts, actions, and eyes of the main character. They are to be shot to mimic dreams, meaning some sequences would be shot in first person and some third. The main character, Dante, has elements of his past that continue to haunt him. He has been so disturbed by his past recently that he can’t sleep; as a result he has waking nightmares, delusions and perceived schizophrenia. The further removed from reality he becomes, the more he is unable to discern his subconscious from reality. In the end he must decode it all in order to move forward or forever be trapped in his dreams.

Below is a Vignette created for the Kickstarter campaign called Free – A Dreams of an Insomniac Vignette. It focuses on Jane, one of the main characters of the story and one of Dante’s “past” love interest.

The full details for the movie are available on their Kickstarter page along with a trailer for the first short, City of Lost Dreams.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Remembering Sally Menke and Reservoir Dogs

Sally Menke’s passing today got me thinking about Reservoir Dogs.
It’s a cliché for young filmmakers to go on about that movie, but I owe so much to it, not just as a moviemaker, but as a movie watcher. I was just a kid when it came out and I was into pretty much big Hollywood movies exclusively. There were a few exceptions, like Evil Dead and Dawn of the Dead, Dog Day Afternoon, ect.. But for the most part I, like most of America was totally hollywoodized. Then came Res. Dogs. It totally blew me away. Then I started reading interviews with Tarantino and he was talking about Walter Hill, Sam Peckinpaw, John Woo, French New Wave, Akira Kurasawa, Blaxploitation and how all these different filmmakers and genres directly influenced the movie.
It totally opened me up to not only independent cinema, but also foreign cinema. I started with Hong Kong, moved to French New Wave, Italian Neo Classic and American 70’s independent and that was all before I ever even thought about going to film school.

You hear a lot talk about gateway drugs, well Reservoir Dogs was my gateway movie, and movies were never the same.

Anyway, I’ve heard him say that Ms. Menke was key in all of his films, but especially with Reservoir Dogs. So here’s to her. She will be missed.

Attacking the Edit

This is going to be a really dry post… If you’re not at all into editing, run! Run as fast as you can. I’m going to lay out my approach to editing a feature. I’ve now be the chief editor on all three of my previous features as well as another half a dozen others. I’ve also acted as assistant editor on another dozen. I’ve never been all that tech savvy, I know the programs Final Cut, Adobe Premier and Avid, but that’s where my expertise ends. I know how to cut images together to tell a story. I have a rudimentary understanding of codecs, compression and whatnot.

I primarily edit on a MAC, using Final Cut 6. I just upgraded to 7, Monsters in the Woods will be the first feature I use it for. Monsters is also the first feature I’m editing in full HD. I never had the system requirements before to handle HD editing and most of my previous features were shot on either DV or HDV.


Step 1… Back up! I have 3 terabytes of internal space. I keep one full version of the movie on internal space. This is the drive I work from. Then I have 4 more terabytes external. I use two for in house back up and store yet another back up in another location.

Step 2.. Rename all clips. I know FCP 7 has a feature that renames capture scratch in-program, however, I’m pig headed and stubborn and am used to renaming the original clips outside of FCP before importing. It’s a method that’s served me well in the past and I’ll most likely continue as long as I’m my own assistant editor. Oops…messed up all ready. See I need to name the clips before I make all my back ups. So switch steps 1 and 2. Well, maybe not. It’s good to have at least one back up even at this early stage. You never know when you might crash.

Step 3… Import into FCP. I create three separate project files, which will house the 3 acts of the movie. Again, maybe my logic is faulty, but I still think it’s best to break the project into reels.

Step 4 Create a trailer project…on Monsters, the producers have 1st asked me to create a sales trailer of 2 to 3 minutes. So I suppose I’ll do that before actually getting into the actual cut.

Step 5. Rough cut.. I’m still working a day gig, so it will take me a little over 30 days to get my 1st cut together.

Step 6 Create a SFX folder. Sound FX. I’m also my own sound designer. So at this point I’ll start pulling from my 100 gig plus sound fx library appropriate sounds. I place these in a separate fcp file.

Step 7 Put together the visual and sound and start whittling it down. This will take me about 60 days. Less if I can talk the producers into fronting some back end cash so I can cut hours at my day job.

Damn, I tired. Think I’ll update this later…. Night.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Making it 3x's...

I read or heard or was told somewhere, sometime from a source wiser than I that every time you make a movie, you make it 3 times; once when it is written, once when it is produced and once again when it is edited.

I wrote Monsters in the Woods originally as an ultra-low budget horror satire of ultra-low budget horror movies. The cast was fairly small, and the scope, while ambitious for the budget, was still relatively small. There was a strong undercurrent of humor (as there is in all my scripts) but it never overpowered the scares or seriousness of the proceedings. The entire 1st act of the movie was to be shot in found footage fashion from the perspective of a single behind the scenes camera operator. The 2nd 2 acts opened up into a more traditionally shot narrative. It was lean, mean, biting, personal and it was to be all shot for under 5k. That was the script I wrote.

Then we went into pre-production. 1st off, we managed to attract Glenn Plummer. This did two things: 1. It bumped up the budget a bit. 2. It made me take a 2nd look at some of the other casting and production plans. A few more characters were added to better play of Glenn and some casting changes were made. A female cast member had to drop out after filming a major sequence. We had to compensate by creating not one, but two new characters to pick up where that character left off, without re filming the sequence. Also, more money was put into FX. 1313 FX was now creating 3 full-bodied monster suits.

Then we went into production. The cast came together and gelled in ways I couldn’t have imagined. I quickly created new scenes to fully explore this chemistry. This added days onto our already tight schedule. 2ndary characters grew into integral parts of the ensemble. The subtle undercurrent of humor in the script became more pronounced in production. One of the strongest elements in the movie is fast becoming its sense of humor. The trick in post is going to be to balance that humor with the more serious and scary elements.

With only 2 major days left to film, I anxiously await post to see what kind of movie it turns out to be.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Adding Authors

I've been asking other low budget movie-makers to contribute their stories to my blog so keep an eye out in coming weeks for other contributors.

Monsters in the Woods moves towards a Bloody Finish.

Only 3 more major shoot days left. We just finished a week run up in Big Bear, which included most of the cast and all of our full suited monsters and fx. It was rough shoot, but yielded the best work of the production so far.

A few highlights and thanks.

1. Ashton Blanchard, faceless… Most likely the coolest scene I’ve ever shot involved her faceless and a gun. I know she didn’t want things to end the way they did, but it was SOO COOL! (so sorry for the trouble getting it off, but it looked awesome. You’re the best)
2. Annemarie P. What’s there to say? That gal can run and scream almost as good as she looks.
3. Edward Hendershott… Blowin shit up. You’re the shit.
4. Gladys Otero… The cutest blood soaked gal in cinema history. Great shot with axe and great chemistry with Eddie. That last scene with you and Paul was priceless.
5. Paul Misko… We took a secondary character from the script and created a full-fledged member of the ensemble. I see bright things in your future.
6. 1313 FX…just freakin rocked it. Great monsters, great blood gags. 1st run work on a micro budget. Thanks guys.
7. Blaine Cade…thanks for not sucking.
8. Richie Radd…for taking a major hit.
9. Linda Bella…beautiful, talented girl.
10. John Mcgill…everyone’s favorite.
11. Ben Adams…Damn, I’ve had two features in a row with great sound mixers. Thanks.

I’m writing this in a hurry so I can get into editing and prep for our final couple of days of shooting, so sorry for any exclusion.

1st day of shooing was slow. We got started late. We attempted to have everyone meet out in Big Bear for a 10am call, instead of staying overnight. The accommodations are expensive and we thought it would save money. Well, a few folks were late. We had trouble getting started and lost a half-day of production. The cost of the lost time outweighed the cost of an overnight stay. Moral of the story…if you’re an indie production and have to do a location shoot involving more than an hour of travel, spring for the overnight accommodations the night before. If you’re cast and crew is over 15 people, someone key will be late, you will get started late and you will lose half a day. (In most cases)
But, even after starting late, we got most of the way through the major sequences we needed to.

2nd Day.
Longest, biggest shoot day I’ve ever directed. We caught up everything lost on the 1st day and got everything scheduled. I can’t complain. It was great.
3rd. Day… Easiest by far. A couple minor dialog scenes and then spend the whole day killing Monsters and watching their blood fly. Fun!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Weekend in the Life of a Rockstar Director

It’s Saturday. I’m up at 7am for a hearty breakfast to face the long day. 1st up I have to head out to Loma, Linda California, or Linda Loma, whatever. I’m working on an HD shoot using the Cannon 7D, which is the camera I’ve chosen to shoot the 2nd and 3rd acts of Monsters in the Woods. The owner of the camera we are using offered to give me a hands on tutorial on set. I start using the camera for Monsters on Monday. The shoot runs from 1pm to dark. Then upon our return to LA I’m supposed to dump the footage and convert it for editing.

In the midst of all this I also need to check in on our cave set construction and organize more work on it. Apparently, I’m the only one able to make phone calls. It seems we hit a few snags in building the cave, but all seems to be well now. It’s just a race against time to complete it in time for shooting. I also need to check in with our creature fx department and make arrangements for our monster performer to get out there to be fit for the suit. Our monster as designed by Tom Devlin’s 1313 FX will no doubt be badass, however we are on a budget and this can limit the functionality of the creatures. So plans need to be made to shoot around any limitations. Usually it’s not that big a deal, we just have to plan certain shot out of order or at the end of the shoot in order to damage the expensive suits to make wounds. I also have to follow up with a potential investor to beef up our production funds. While the funds to finish the movie already exist, an extra few days of shooting can only help to increase our production value. Lastly, right before bed, I need to go back over my shot list and intended schedule.

Just starting my Sunday, but it’s even busier than Saturday. No time to blog.

Monday, September 6, 2010

God and the Devil

My great-grandmother user to say that “every experience you have in life has both God and the Devil in it.” Of course she also used to put her cigarettes out in the mash potatoes and poke the family spider monkey in it’s cage with her cane…But that’s a whole other story.

Upon finishing our 1st complete week of production on Monsters in the Woods in Big Bear, her words rang louder and truer than ever. On one hand, this portion of the shoot was the best and most creatively satisfying set experience of my life. The cast that has been assembled for Monsters is the best overall of any movie that I’ve had the pleasure to direct. From the 1st call of action to the last call of cut, they gave 110% and clicked like gangbusters. Aces! I may be biased, but I fell the script is already pretty strong. However, this cast raised the material to a whole other level. Embellishing what was there and adding great things that weren’t. They created complete relationships and histories that were merely hinted at in the script or didn’t exist at all. Minor characters that would be just filler became lovable 3 dimensional beings. It was just magical for me to watch this cast work. And I haven’t even mentioned Glenn Plummer, a great fucking actor and an even better human being. Without him we’d have never finished so strong. Not only did he bring his game, he raised the game of everyone working around him.

I feel the same way about a lot the crew. We had varying levels of experience, but even the newer folk brought a lot to the production. It was truly a special shoot.

However, on the flip it was also one of the most problematic shoots I’ve ever been on. Organizational issues, 1st day hiccups, missing materials and one major conflict I can’t discuss nearly brought production to a standstill on the 1st day. There was a few times on that 1st day that I thought we wouldn’t make it. But, we did. We soldiered through and everything we got was good. Then we came back stronger for a glorious 2nd day and finished out everything we needed.

In the end, everything worked out. There were joys and there were trials. Upon review all the footage I’m STOKED. It’s definitely the best work I’ve done and I only hope that the rest of the shoot can live up to it.

*my great-grandmother didn’t really say that stuff at the beginning. I just thought it was more dramatic to attribute to her than to just outright say it. Sorry for betraying your trust dear reader.