MC – EP 5 & Sound Design

Some graphics I’ve been used for epoxy coffee mugs. Guess character is a murderer? Hint – I found a dead finch on my porch last week.

Well good morning.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything on any form of social media. The truth is I’ve been busy filming Mountain Cult Ep 5 and in fact only have 1 scene left to shoot. Beside wordpress, I was making a habit of posting “film journals” to my youtube channel. Believe it or not I recorded a new episode of FJ about a month ago – I just haven’t gotten around to editing it.

As a matter of fact I have so much material I’m hoping to edit that it overwhelms me at times ( I want to remaster former episodes by fixing audio issues, send each actor from mountain cult a 1 minute clip for their acting reels, film a youtube “short” everyday, and – unrelated – but I’d also like to try my hand at singing to see if the vocals would improve the songs I’ve put together). The important thing is that I’ve edited much of Episode 5 already. However, it’s been a unique experience after learning so much about audio this year – I never thought that sound mixing would be more time consuming than coloring.

I’ll give you an example – imagine you film a scene on your porch where all that you’re doing is speaking on the phone to an offscreen character. Sounds simple, right? Well that all depends on how involved you’d like to get. If I were to go all out this is what I would do –

  1. A clean take with mic focused on character speaking
  2. A full minute recording of ambient noise with nothing else
  3. A full take that focuses only on the rustling cloth and movements of the character
  4. Focus the mic on any distinct sounds – phone placed on table, phone picked up
  5. Sound of the voice coming through the other end of the phone (an easy improvisation in post, but always sounds better when played in the actual environment)

I think those are enough pertinent tracks to make the scene. When I get to the editing room, I’ll isolate each sound on a separate track – ie, dialogue, sound effects, foley, background noise, special (like editing a normal voice to sound like its coming through a telephone… or cellphone since nobody uses the word telephone anymore)

So now each layer is on a separate track. From here I’ll place audio effects to each track – EQ, highpass filter, dehummer, deesser, and finally mastering. The less effects needed the better. Often Dialogue needs the most. (the better the recording, the less I have to do in the editing room).

Once the sounds are placed I’ll add cross fades and some quiet audio to the start and beginning of dialogue bits. This prevents those sharp, millisecond blips that you hear when an audio level changes dramatically in an instant.

After all the audio is placed, I would import the tracks into ableton. Here I can design a score that is specific to the scene I am editing. It is important during every step of the process to level your clips appropriately – dialogue should always be the loudest, most distinguishable track. I like loud, crisps sound effects (the phone being picked up and placed down). Foley, or the cloth movements, should fit the scene appropriately. In others words the common viewer should not even know that track exists. Ambient noise should also be at a low level, but consistently present. The music volume depends on how important it is to the scene. For something such as this I would keep it at a low volume. I might even sidechain it to dialogue so that it lowers in volume during each moment a character speaks.

After all this is finished, I would focus on panning – or speaker assignment for each layer. Dialogue will be front and center, but the other sounds and noises can be panned to the side speakers. Panning audio is something I still have a lot more to learn about. For example, I am uncertain if it is better to pan most sounds far left and far right, or to settle them closer to the center.

The cool thing about making my own score is that I can pan each instrument separately along the speakers. I am also unsure of where sound effects should be placed – I enjoy panning them according to the object creating them in relation to the visual scene.

My biggest question when it comes to panning is how it effects surround sound. I believe that exporting in 5.1 means that each track will go directly to the speaker it is assigned even if it is not panned. What I am curious about is whether a hard right/left pan makes any change to the speaker it is assigned to. 5.1, for those that don’t know, means that your audio set up includes 1 center speaker, a front left and right speaker, and rear left and right speaker, and 1 subwoofer that plays the low frequency waves (explosions are popular).

The final step for audio would involve leveling it once again. Where will the clip be posted? Youtube, broadcast television, and film festivals each have different leveling specifications. Youtube requires audio that is much louder than the other platforms. The other consideration for this is surround sound – cable and youtube will not support surround sound audio. I believe most film festivals will.

The other major concern for me has to do with kickstarter – I desperately want to offer episode 5 of mountain cult on a DVD. I want it to supply 4k video with surround sound. I’m sure it’s just a few web searches away, but I have some big questions before I can promise this. #1 – can basic DVD-R support 4k and surround sound? #2 – Do I need a special DVD writing drive, or is a simple CD Rom drive capable of writing these specs to a DVD? #3 – Do I export 2.1, 5.1, and 7.1/7.2 to the same disc? Or do I write the most advanced surround sound tracks to the DVD and allow the AV receiver to fold the surround sound according to the viewers audio setup? For example, you can upload a surround sound clip to youtube, but youtube will fold the rear left & rear right speakers so that it is incorporated into the stereo track and plays through front left and right speakers. I believe Youtube supports 2.1 audio, but I could be mistaken.

Anyways, thank you for listening to all this audio gibberish. Definitely not what I intended to write about when I sat down here but I’m glad I got it off my chest. I hope to begin posting stills from my footage soon I’m just too lazy to press the upload button now.

Accepting Imperfections

The day is Thursday and it’s time to move forward once again. I’ll get to planning my next shoot later today and rework 2 short scenes for a new location. I will be including my first chase scene which is always fun.

I have continued to post shorts on the youtube channel and feel that these may be one of the easiest ways to expand my audience and grow a following for mountain cult. My friend Brad came by yesterday and I was able to give him a Mountain Cult T-shirt with his face on the graphic. He had some ideas on how to improve the graphics but was appreciative nonetheless. During the 10 minutes kelly and her friend ran to the store, Brad and I filmed a short and uploaded it to youtube.

One core philosophy that I try to live by when it comes by all things creative is the acceptance of imperfection. It is wonderful for us hold our art to the highest of standards. We push hard through the process, from beginning to end, and refuse to take short cuts. At the end of the day, however, no project will see the light of day until you allow it to.

If you set out to write the greatest book ever written before you’ve published anything, you have a high likelihood on molding and rewriting and altering that same book for the rest of your life. Much like humans, no piece of art is ever going to be perfect. Just like those that we love, imperfection is part of the appeal.

I believe in a branding strategy that trust more in consistent production then spending all my time and energy into making one quality production and anticipating the audience will arrive at that time. People are apprehensive to accept something that is unfamiliar. Think about all the advertisements you see each day – we don’t run out and buy something the first time we hear about it. But as time passes and you’ve seen that same face 50 some odd times, you might actually give some to the product they are trying to sell you.

Anyways, in the spirit of generalized production, I figured I’d make this little post. It’s not much but it’s better than waiting until I feel I have perfect post to write.

The Big Shoot – 7-21-21

The date that I have been working toward all year has finally arrived and past. On Monday, July 19th, I finally got to film a scene that involved 4 other actors at a public location. The amount of preparation required to complete this scene is difficult even for me to comprehend:

  1. Location – I had to go door to door at small businesses and offer to shoot a promo video
  2. I had to shoot, edit, and submit the promo video
  3. I had rewrite the same scene approximately 30 times until it was ready to film
  4. Cast the actors
  5. design the props
  6. order costumes
  7. purchase table mats, candles, a small potted plant, a woven basket, rope, etc.
  8. Purchase an additional camera and microphone
  9. Find crew members available day of event
  10. Consistently respond & update actors and crew members involved in the shoot

The list goes way deeper than this, and I imagine I will talk about the preparation involved in the next film journal. The day of the shoot was Tuesday. I worked Saturday night, came home, and slept for 3 hours. From noon Sunday until the shoot completed at 8 pm Monday I did not sleep. Then I came home and parked in a tow-away zone and stayed awake until 5 am when a parking spot opened up in my apartment complex.

Now it is Wednesday. I have all my footage and audio stored on my computer. The proxies have been created and the media has been backed up on an external hard drive.

I am very excited to move forward. I am extremely pleased with how everything turned out, but will not have a complete response until I have begun editing. I will try and get some stills posted here soon. The rest of the film includes scenes that only require 1 additional actor and can be shot anywhere.

I should add that having a crew assist me on Monday helped things run smooth and more efficient than ever before. It was truly rewarding and a breath of relief to have competent individuals behind the cameras who you trust to frame a shot appropriately. It was also encouraging to work with people who enjoy every aspect of the filmmaking process as much as myself. In our every day lives, it is common to work with people who will never understand the passion and desire to produce art. To find myself surrounded by other artists was enough of a reward in itself to make all the work, expenses, and time that went into this day worth it all on its own.

T minus 1 week

Today is one of the most important of my filmmaking journey. I have 2 days off prior to the start of my work week so I need to be aggresive and feel prepared to film next week’s sequence prior to the end of those days. If I’ve learned anything throughout this process it is that preparation will make the difference between laughable nonsense and a decent looking production.

I have a major prop involved in the scene next week and wish to be done creating it today. The major feature of this prop is a circuit board. I decided to make a trip to the local thrift shop and I wasn’t disappointed – it’s not everyday you come across blueray DVD players for less than $10. It’s such a good deal that I actually purchased one for personal use.

So now I get to take it apart today. Once I’m done with that I’ve got to determine how I wish for the prop to appear. As long as it appears like a usable, albeit mysterious piece of functioning technology, it will pass the test.

The other major part of my prepartion includes making a shot list. More specifically, nailing down the angles I will use to feature a sequence that relies on digital editing and masks in order to produce a special effect in the final product.

This evening I will meet with the cast via zoom to discuss how the filming is going to be done next week. I can’t wait to get the meat of this project; but that doesn’t mean I’m not still nervous to actually get this critical task underway. We’ve got 10 pages to film (!) a week from now, so the preparation starts today.

Check out my latest episode of Film Journal and make sure to subscribe if you want to continue staying up to date with the short film’s developments.

Film and Early Marketing

We finally began production on Mountain Cult episode 5 this week. It’s obviously been a long time coming, so I’m thrilled to finally have completed a day of footage. From first glance everything looks and sounds great, but I won’t know for sure until I’ve had time to sit down and dig deep into the edits.

Too say I’ve been overburdened is an understatement. Our major film date is July 19th. In order to get everything in order, I’ve had to cast 4 actors, order necessary props and wardrobes, assemble a crew of 2-4 assistants, and order additional equipment. These expenses obviously add up, but I’ve done well to save throughout the year and have a proper expectation for how much the entire project will cost me.

I will launch a 30 day kickstarter campaign in August. My initial plan was to launch it in July, but after some thinking I feel it would be more wise to wait until I can give it my full attention. There is a good chance we will be filming for 1 more day in August, but that shoot requires much less preparation. I’ve set my target goal on Kickstarter for $3000. That will cover my budget along with the cost for the merchandise I plan on offering. I have learned how to apply graphics to T-shirts and coffee mugs -two items which I feel may incentivize willing investors.

Another major goal of mine is to release the film for an audience of 1000-10k on youtube. Episode 4 has amassed over 500 views. That’s really a pitiful number in the grand scope of youtube but getting random internet strangers to watch your short film certainly isn’t easy. I’ve come out with 5 episodes of film journal as of now and so far the experiment has proved embarrassing, waste of effort, and almost exactly what I anticipated. The key concept behind the “show” is to use it as a platform to discuss myself and my films – neither of which currently have any marketing attraction. My theory, however, is that by remaining consistent, entertaining, and informative, I will gradually develop an audience over time and that audience will look forward to the release of the film being routinely discussed.

I have been strongly considering releasing videos about various conspiracies because I feel that is my target audience for Mountain Cult. The major drawbacks for this direction are 1) In order to add value to the topic, I will have to do research and spend more time than I am willing and 2) Doing “reaction” type videos puts you in danger of copyright strikes, which could effect monetization down the road.

I have created a discord channel for the show as well as an instagram page for “TMW productions.” It is so funny to me that I’m learning all these social media platforms because I hate them so passionately. I already know I likely won’t utilize either of these two mediums but I do know that I should. I am so pressed for time as it is, but I am convinced that devoting 1 hour per day to marketing will make a bigger difference in viewership than simply pouring in more hours in the editing room.

On July 19th we will perform our big shoot. I must go into that day prepared beyond anything I have done before. I desperately seek to film 9 pages, which will definitely be a record for me if I accomplish it. I will survive if we need to return for a second day, though I will be greatly disappointed.

Anyways, I miss writing here and hope to do so more often in the near future.

Muddy Progress

Production on Mountain Cult episode 5 begins Monday. We will film the opening scenes that amount to around 5 pages. I am excited to get back into filming and feel very happy about the casting decisions so far.

The workload has been never ending – I ordered new equipment a week ago, sent out for casting, conducted zoom meetings, created a kickstarter page, and so on and so forth. There is still much more to be done, however I feel I’ve done a good job and addressing complications rapidly.

One of the biggest challenges ahead will be kickstarter. If I can secure funding for this film it will prove to me that it is worth the time and effort it requires. I will offer t-shirts, mugs, and (hopefully) a dvd of the episode of itself. The cool part about doing all that is it puts merchandise out into the world which I consider free advertising.

I released a new edition of “Film Journal” this past week. Several months ago I wrote a post that discussed my apprehension with recording vlog style entries, but I ultimately decided it was in the best interest of the film series to begin making them. Though it has increased viewership over time, it’s hardly made a difference with my subscriber base and overall fans of the show.

I often contemplate whether the show is worth the effort that goes into it. It’s like delivering a product that nobody ever asked for. And I’m still open to doing more short films instead.

The thing is, the show is a low budget, low time involved project. It offers some informational value and further markets the show. The downside of pumping out short films each week is I wouldn’t have the time to edit them to my liking. As a person who hopes to direct feature length films one day, it won’t speak much to my ability if I just rapidly churn out content that does not reflect my abilities and knowledge as a filmmaker.

I remember when I was trying to become a published author I learned all about marketing campaigns. One of the things I learned was the importance of marketing your book before it is even complete, that way you have an audience who is looking forward to it. Now that I’m moving into production, I think I’m going to stick with making “Film Journals” as I move forward to see this goal through. I sure do feel like a dumbass, however.

Check out the latest episode of Film Journal below if you’d like.

Film Journal 5 – Casting

My journey toward production continues as I’ve recently begun casting the film. I’ve found an outstanding actress to play my character’s wife and am truly excited to have her on board. We begin filming next week.

I’m casting 5 other actors for another scene that will be filmed in July. That process is well underway and I’ll be viewing their auditions tonight. I have also ordered more film equipment and believe I have everything ready for the big shoot in the future. There are some more props that require purchasing and I don’t yet have the crew members set in stone. Regardless I am very tired and working hard at being prepared well in advance.

I have set up a Kickstarter pre-launch page here. From what I understand I am unable to accept any donations or contributions yet, but I’m excited to further develop incentives for individuals looking to support my bad habit.

Check out Film Journal – Episode 5 below if you’d like. Any time you comment or like a video it helps me immensely.