#4 – Don’t be cocky

Be me. Spend 1 night watching every shitty short film you can find online. Narrow them down to 3 criteria – small crew, less than 1000 dollars to make, and quality story.

Contact the creator. Get permission to make analysis video. Request a script. Receive no response. Shrug it off.

Do some research. Figure out how to download youtube videos. Do some creative thinking. Record audio of film using built-in microsoft screen recorder.

Be at work. Spend your downtime watching the film and recording the action and plot developments at 30 second intervals. Have a list of 40 notes to use during editing today.

Find creators youtube. See that they published a new video today. Hmm, interesting. Video opens to – “A lot of people have been asking about how I made this film.”

It’s a 30 minute video. A breakdown. Using my one comment as an example for why the selected video is a gift from God.

Needless to say I’m upset. I guess the 4th criteria for me providing a video analysis should be “doesn’t suck their own dick.”

That was inappropriate. I’m sorry. I’m just agitated. This video was my plan for the week and I really wanted to release something tomorrow. Now I’m 95% sure I’m just going to start fresh with a new idea.

In other news, I’ve finally hit my goal of trimming my script down to 15 pages. I personally feel it’s ready to go. Just waiting on the go-ahead from a beta reader.

I’m also 80 pages in to one of the features I promised to provide feedback for. I have nothing but respect and support for its author. They may not like the feedback but by God they will receive a thorough assessment. If you actually care about your writing that’s something you should be grateful for.

Do you have any suggestions on what I should do for a new video? Here are the options I’m considering:

  1. An analysis on a scene from a script that was developed into a hit movie
  2. A short film about a cat plotting to murder me
  3. An instructional video about something to do with video editing
  4. A sketch that’s sure to provide guffaws
  5. Don’t make a video and pound beers until Kelly gets home from work

If you have any preference please leave them in the comments below.

Writing Intriguing Characters

Edward, played by Sebastian Sage, is one of my favorite characters from Mountain Cult.

Let’s discuss dramatic action a little more and how it can develop a 3 dimensional character.

Let’s make one up – we’ll call him “Bob.” Bob loves to feed his golden retriever every day. He takes him on walks where he tosses a frisbee and laughs when others greet him. He’s always got a diet coke in his hand and yes – you guessed it – he’s even got a goatee. He’s not ashamed of his baldness – in fact he jokes about it frequently – but he does wear a “Bass pro shop” cap every day of his life.

We all know someone like Bob.

I hope by now you have a strong inkling of who Bob is and what he is about. Probably a simple man, loving grandfather, and woodworking enthusiasts. Now what would be a dramatic element that could make this character more intriguing? Here’s a few suggestions:

  1. Bob is actually training his dog for dogfights
  2. Bob goes on long walks to find the next victim for his serial killing addiction
  3. Bob maintains a tumblr blog
  4. Bob mails death threats to celebrities he doesn’t like
  5. Bob starts taking steroids
  6. Bob catfishes college girls on tinder

A few of the above qualities are enough to craft an interesting premise from – meaning the bizarre behavior itself could be a plot. The smaller ones – like Bob taking steroids or catfishing on tinder – merely make Bob a more compelling and intriguing character. The actions don’t compute with our stereotypical understanding of Bob, therefore we feel he is a character worthy of a deeper assessment. In other words, he rises from being a side character to a main character. In some cases we even want to follow Bob around and can see him acting as a protagonist.

Let’s take a look at the main character Ryan from my film series Mountain Cult –

He is impatient, obsessive, and a loner. He does not trust others and refuses to let others help even when he should. He is abrasive, controlling, and has tunnel vision for his missing wife. He is also fearless in his pursuit of her. He is stubborn to a fault. He believes that he alone can confront a secretive cult and outsmart members who are much smarter than himself. Ryan’s the type of dude to chug 10 beers then decide to mow the lawn.

Alright, so he’s interesting, not extremely likable, but features bravery, persistence, and loyalty – characteristics that align with a protagonist. Now let me do some out loud brainstorming to figure out what type of actions could result in him being a 3 dimensional character.

  1. Ryan repeatedly dreams about the same clown kicking his ass while he struggles to punch back
  2. Ryan writes poems about the sounds leaves make
  3. Ryan is afraid of flies
  4. Ryan never learned how to read
  5. Ryan’s favorite food is veganese
  6. Ryan only listens to classical music
  7. Ryan gets jealous of small and scrawny dudes because he’s insecure about being built like a trash can

Even though many of the qualities are comedic to us, they can still serve the story. An important consideration whenever you introduce comedic elements to a story is whether they subtract from the tension in the story (if you are NOT writing comedy). A true comedy is about funny situations, not merely funny character traits. The Marvel movies are a great example of what I’m referring to here – even though they are riddled with funny one-liners, the jokes themselves never reduce the tension in the moment.

Here’s a quick example: Joe enters the store to rob the place. He aims a gun at the man behind the counter and demands money. The man behind the counter squints and says “Joe? I haven’t seen you in forever!”

That line reduces the tension immediately. In changes the story into a comedy. Now imagine the man with the gun slips on a toy upon entering, then carries on with the robbery. We may laugh at the mishap, but the tension is still there – meaning it could be a heist story or thriller. His character made us laugh, but the situation didn’t.

Ok lets mold one more character for the sake of 3. Let’s invent Julie – she’s thirty years old, stocks shelves at the local grocery story, and shrugs at the idea of marriage. She binge watches documentaries about serial killers, eats cereal at any time she chooses, and smokes something every 30 minutes. Her ambition in life is to find the perfect temperature for the air conditioner setting, and she loves her dog named Bucky – who is a German Shepherd (which she bought illegally on the black market through a “friend”).

Julie is a familiar character to me, and someone I could definitely root for. Her lack of ambition is surely a fault, however, her contentment with mediocrity is something that’s both relatable and oddly enticing. Let’s see what dramatic actions she may take that would cause us to reconsider our assessment of her:

  1. Julie trades stocks at night and has amassed over 3 million in earnings.
  2. Julie has an uncontrollable attraction to Benjie, the doofus manager who wears glasses, tucks in his shirt, and gets flipped off by her daily.
  3. Julie once single-handedly cleared and saved a burning bus filled with children
  4. Julie lends horror DVDs to the kid next door with the overbearing parents
  5. Julie organizes a funeral after the town drunk dies and gets the entire town to attend

Again, a few of these are story worthy. Some of the ideas (like the last one) require a major character change (arc) for them to occur and be believable. Ideas like her having a crush on Benjie merely make her a more intriguing character.

Anyways, that’s all I got for today. I hope you found some use or chuckles out of these ideas. I also hope that I’ll be able to find a proper dramatic action for my own character in order to make him more appealing. Most of the items that I’ve listed are forms of irony – the proposed characteristics contradict what we anticipate the character would do or care about. That’s what makes them interesting – it adds color to their otherwise black and white demeanor.

I’ve spent my downtime while at work viewing other low budget short films searching for one worth of analysis. Oh boy do I feel better about my own abilities. If you ever want a night of cringe inducing laughter start checking out homemade movies that cost less than $100 to produce.

I’ve contacted one creator so far. Hopefully he will get back to me promptly so I can work on the video this weekend. Aside from that I have continued to reading through the 2 scripts I have from other writers in order to return coverage notes. I am not looking forward to the reception my feedback receives.

Hope you have a great day today and please don’t apply any of these ideas to your own life in hopes to make yourself more interesting. You may get you arrested.

Dramatic Action

Old picture. Funny I never realized how out of focus it was until now.

I’ve decided my next youtube video will shine a spotlight on another low budget short film. It will not be as much of a review as a study. I will have to a.) find a film b.) contact its creator and c.) dive in deep. I would like to critique the story in an honest but complimentary way. I feel that bringing attention to another creator who has similar ambitions can help build a community and propel my own viewership. I will either do this or make a video about my girlfriend’s cat and his plot to kill me.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time combing through the scripts I received. I forgot how good a practice critiquing another writers work can be – it’s much easier to recognize faults and areas for improvement. Consequently I’ve been able to return to my own script with a fresh, critical mind. As I read my own pages I realize the dramatic action is lacking.

Drama is the major reason we turn to cinema. Regardless of the genre we love to see characters wrestling over moral grey areas. We find ourselves intrigued by characters who behave against our expectations. And when we find protagonists who overcome their own faults we find hope for overcoming our own short comings.

I’ve condensed my script down to 16 pages. The driving force of the plot revolves around a “who-dunnit” type clue. My character follows this clue to the first suspect, who points him in the right direction. After meeting with a group of potential perpetrators, he narrows down his choice to 1 man – whom he attacks.

This simple plot has me wondering what type of character change best fits the story. To find that I must begin with figuring out what his final dramatic action it is – it may be the attack, the accusation, the assertive decision, or the decision to trust his missing wife over the conclusion he has formed from the notes contents (Ah yes I think I like that one).

So we first figure out what the climatic action will be. It should involve a choice between two options – one option finalizes a change, and the other option is what the protagonists would have chosen as his former self. He must go against his former nature in order to complete his arc. Story is, after all, a study in moral development.

Every scene in a story should involve some form of dramatic action. It is not enough for events to simply occur as characters observe their happenings. Your characters should effect the world in which they live, and the world should effect them. The inciting incident – or occurrence that ignites the plot – should be the event that sparks this change. Each experience that follows should add pressure for the character to change further. The final judgement on who the protagonists becomes can be summarized with the theme of the story.

In short, Kelly is snoring on the couch and this post has helped me clarify my thoughts on how I will approach my edit today. I’m still waiting for feedback on the current draft that is out to a few separate readers. Once I sense that my story has impressed, appealed to, or entertained a reader I will move forward with casting the actors and reserving a location. Moving to this stage has taken me months longer than expected. Though I regret the passage of time, I do feel compelled to enter production with a story that is solid. If you can start with that, you have a chance to make something special. Film a story that is shit on paper and all your effort will produce is shit on a screen.

Have a great day and remember to feed the birds. They die if we do not feed them.

Pancakes On a Wall

Here is a wall without any pancakes on it.

The best path forward…. the secret to success… top 5 ways to break in…

It’s all bullshit. About as helpful as dating advice.

It’s 4 am and I am providing coverage on 2 separate scripts. The writers are at different levels of their craft but they both include a lot of scene description. I fucking hate scene description. I don’t care who nods, wears designer shoes, or sleeps in the dark room when each of the 5 characters are as indistinguishable as chicken nuggets.

You might be wondering to yourself “Hey buddy I think your brain may be broken.” And to that I say “My brain is works.”

This post is about the monotony of progress. We know it’s laughable to dwell in the pipedream of thinking our extraordinary talents will spontaneously be realized and thrust into the spotlight. But I argue it is equally delirious to think following some magic guidelines will help us achieve the future we dream about. Every “new method” of advancing to the top of the pack will always be overcrowded with other wolves gnashing over the same objective.

If you’re trying to make a career out of originality, wouldn’t it only make sense to find your own way forward?

It’s 4 am and I am providing coverage for two feature length scripts because the writers will return feedback for my own work. An idiot in my shoes would more than likely be sending an untested scripts out to agencies and producers. A rich idiot would send their work out to a script coverage service and pay for notes.

The major advantage of working with others at the bottom is that you form a relationship and can work toward similar goals. Each person you communicate with becomes a companion along your journey. This is where you make the “connections” that are so important – not through a service that trades your money for their praises.

After I get done with the providing notes on these screenplays, I intend to formulate an idea (and hopefully film) a video for my next YouTube video. Soon I will be cataloging my experience making Mountain Cult Episode 5. Until then, I get to make videos about whatever I would like.

The last video I made, which I’ll post a link to below, was for such a niche audience that I’m pretty sure I only made it to satisfy my own curiosity. I am interested in making my next video more appealing to a mass market, though I’m not yet sure on how. Comedy seems to generate a lot of clicks, but I am trying to stay away from that. Controversy also seems to generate clicks, but that’s not really something I’m comfortable with.

So many people seem to think that success and failure in life can be attributed to a single moment. In reality it is a series of events, often spanning years if not decades. By continuing to push videos out I will build an audience – it’s no different than wordpress. By continuing to discuss my web series I will build up anticipation for its eventual release. By staying up at 4 am to provide feedback on scripts that don’t appeal to me, I am disciplining myself to treat my passion like it is already a career – regardless of the doubtful undercurrent that sweeps up my subconscious.

I hope this post has confused and angered you for ever having read it. If you “get what I’m saying” then I am relieved because I feel my hypotheses are as sturdy as buttered pancakes slapped on an aluminum wall.

Have a great day and make sure to click that star without wasting time bothering to open the actual post.

“Thank you may I have another”

I received feedback yesterday from Katie (plays Diedre) regarding the script. She helped make me aware of a few issues I wasn’t aware of – hitting the audience over the head with clues, handing out bombshell revelations like they’re candy, and removing lines of an earlier draft that made it special.

I’ve become pretty good at accepting criticism over the years. When I began writing receiving feedback felt like getting stabbed in the back. After I learned a few things I became stubborn and distracted by my own rebuttal. It is only after much experience I’ve become comfortable with allowing the reader to speak freely and uninhibited.

Something to keep in mind as a writer is that no story is perfect. You can purchase a movie that has received exemplary reviews and spend the entire 120+ minutes whining about how ridiculous the action is. It’s never about being perfect, but it’s always about producing an enjoyable experience. Just because we scream “You idiot!” during a slasher does not mean we are unhappy.

I’ve began implementing the changes Katie suggested already. When the plot and characters work together logically the story writes itself. Most of my adjustments involve the delete key, which is both easy and exciting (my goal is still 15 pages total). When I am done with this draft I plan to send it out to new readers who will be experience it for the first time. If I receive good reviews from them I can began purchasing tools and equipment, hire actors, and reserve the location I will be using to film.

The next short video I’m going to post is looking decent. If it weren’t for me feeling ill this morning then I could guarantee that I would post it later today. Currently I’m worried that I will feel much worse as more time passes.

We’ve made it to April and the weather is beautiful. Hoping you enjoy your Friday regardless of whether you think you will.

Marketing for the Soul

I remade the video I previously spoke about and hope to post it either today or tomorrow. So far the video looks great and the audio sounds crisps. It does not appear unprofessional and I’m excited to edit the material. I have also emailed one of the actors a copy of the current script and am excited to receive her feedback this afternoon.

It’s easy to become bogged down when we monitor trends in art, music, and fiction. When you involve yourself in these industries you see first hand just how much “success” and “fame” are used interchangeably. There is always a craft involved in performance and it can feel disheartening to see how much marketing plays a role. A major idea that comes to mind for me is ghost-writing – when a celebrity or musician employs another person to write their material for them without receiving the credit. The “big name” will draw the audience, the ghost writer will keep them in their seats.

It’s important to know why your medium of choice appeals to you. If fame is your ultimate goal then their are far simpler avenues to “success”. Come out with some controversial opinions and your personality will be more widely recognized. Appeal to the lower nature – or vices – of man and you will broaden your audience. I recently heard someone state that the music industry had at some point transformed to push songs for people who hate music and I can’t stop thinking about that. In the early 2000’s there was an influx of reality show television. There is currently a show called “The Masked Singer” about celebrities dressed in mascot-type costumes while the audience (or judges?) try to guess who they are. Shows such as this cause me to view an alien invasion from a fresh perspective.

Only we, the artists, get to decide how we approach and deliver our material. There are endless formulas, trends, and market research that can guide the choices we make. Ultimately, it’s up to us to decide which shape we would like to take. When I think of the persons and things that interest me I find I have an eclectic mix of influences that are marked more by their distinctiveness then by their adherence to a common structure. The appeal to mass audiences doesn’t weigh on my reception of them. The appeal to my own individual beliefs and values, however, does.

As I begin editing my short, meaningless video today I keep all of these thoughts in mind. On the one hand I am creating the videos in order to expand my audience – so it is admittedly a form of marketing. But I refuse to create videos with the cliche appearance of so many other YouTube style Vlogs. There is no “golden rule” that requires me to make a thumbnail where I smile like a dumbass and point my thumb at a yoyo in a toaster. There is no necessity for me to ask the audience to “punch that like button.”

I can make the video any way in which I damn well please. The end result will be a reflection of myself, my values, and my abilities as a creator. This understanding enables me to export videos for marketing purposes without selling out my love of meaningful production.

In simpler terms, I’m making another short youtube video.

Have a great day and may the creative fire ignite your spirit.

Filming A Shitty Short then Exercising

I filmed the biggest crapfest ever put together on Sunday. Absent of rest and well beyond sleep deprivation, I decided to push onward and record the material I would need for a new youtube video. This was a mistake.

I had 5 different drafts of the same 1 page script. Each successive draft incorporated different devices intended to enhance the story. The idea was simple – a guy busts into an apartment to rob the place, but finds the homeowner is seated, waiting for him, and armed with a gun. Somewhere during the shit-storming process it turned into “homeowner is a bombmaker for James Bond level spies.” And then the person breaking into the home developed a new motivation – to inform the bombmaker that the FBI was on the way to raid the apartment. The new twist became the homeowner was actually an informant, and the invader who had been purchasing his weapons was going to be arrested. And to put the icing on the shit, the homeowner ends the scene by tossing an orange at the invader. Of course, it explodes.

Well I’m sorry to say the absence of common logic was not enough to dissuade me from filming this turd nugget. I brought out my gear, printed the 5 separate drafts, and set to work. But I noticed an immediate issue – I had 2 characters to play and didn’t have the lines memorized. So I recorded them then played them with a recorder in the background. I would say the lines after hearing them. Easy enough, right? There was a time when I was proud of myself for having this revelation.

Costume time – what would a CIA type home invader where? Well a white undershirt and a short sleeve button down sounded good. What’s that? I only own one short sleeve button down that was a never-used costume for a much thinner actor? No problem. As long as I sucked in my gut I could hardly tell the shirt was 3 sizes too small. I just left the top part unbuttoned.

So I begin filming. Right away I figured out the recorded lines were said too close together. So I left the camera rolling and the audio recording as I edited the lines further apart. Later on, I would discover, I didn’t have takes recorded because the camera had overheated and shut down.

I performed all my lines as Joe, then switched to Burrough. It wasn’t until this point that I realized the true idiocy of failing to memorize the lines – I had no idea what context or emotion applied to my statements. I started repeating the same lines with random emphasis and emotions. Fix it in post, you know?

So I finally upload all the data to my computer to begin editing. Merging the audio and video becomes a major chore because I filmed without a clapper. I have one video clip that, for whatever reason, I have no audio for. And I have an audio clip that I have no video for. And I have another clip that the white noise in the audio is so pronounced it’s unusable. Oh, and about the character Joe –

I was having trouble with his longer lines so I put the script in front of me. “Not a problem, he’s wearing sunglasses”. Bull-shit. A 2nd grader could see my eyes dropping to read each sentence behind my not-so-polarized lenses. And the T-shirt? Dear God. I went on my first run yesterday in 3 months, just to give you an idea of how awful it was. Think Chris Farley in David Spade’s suit.

I was still determined to finish and post it up until I realized the 6 takes I thought I had were really only 3. I’m not afraid of embarrassing myself but I’m also not going to post something when that is all this video will do.

I may rewrite the story for something that makes sense, do 3 drafts instead of 5, and try again tomorrow in man sized clothes. I am slightly defeated but also relieved to have saved myself from putting too much time into the editing room prior to cutting the chord. As a side note, I do have a rock-headed belief in “finish your shit.” That means to not give up on something just because it is bad, and put it out for others to judge regardless. But I also believe everything we do serves a purpose. The final reason I decided not to move forward with this video is that it makes me appear unprofessional, childish, and cringey. The videos are made to grow my following, not dwindle it.

Anyways, hope you all are having a great day. There’s a lot of good things in the works for me right now but this was a definite setback. Hopefully you had a nice laugh at my expense because I’m over here looking at salad recipes. Have a wonderful day.

When a Dream becomes a Job

I’m at the end of my 5th consecutive 12 hour shift. I have managed to run through multiple drafts of episode 5 and am a few beta-readers away from finally moving forward in the production process. I am hoping to post a new youtube video today, but I know deep down it will take longer. I plan to film multiple takes this the morning and edit in the afternoon. I also have another zoom Meetup meeting at 11 am. I have been doing these every Sunday for a group of strangers (now friends) who share an interest in filmmaking and I’ve honestly been getting more out of it than I ever thought possible.

Having a hand in so many different jars at once is exhausting. I feel extremely drained and rundown. Each instance when I lie down to rest I rise back up again as urgency to complete my objectives floods my mind. But I’ve had a realization that has brought me some comfort.

How easy is it for us to attend work daily and complete whatever we’re required to do? Our bosses ask us to put in overtime, drop something off when we should be home, or involve ourselves more with work events. And we do it – regardless of the joy it brings us. Why? Well that’s obvious to any working adult – money is a necessity. And if you tell me money doesn’t matter then I guarantee you don’t check the price on candy bars prior to purchase.

So why do we treat our passions like they are of less importance? Simply put, you could say that passion is a “want” where work is a “need.” It is not necessary for our dreams to become a reality in order to survive. And I agree with that.

But I do believe when you begin treating your passion like a job it becomes one – for better or for worse. By taking daily steps forward we begin to separate ourselves from the others in our rank. A path becomes clear over time that can take you to where you want to be. When you take pride in your pursuit you take pride in yourself. An undying belief that success will come can propel you through obstacles and navigate you through the winding roads.

Every day we have a decision to make – spend our free time relaxing, consuming, and eating, or devote that time to moving ahead. Each post you make to wordpress, each script you send to contests, and each agent you solicit is a step closer to your dream. Every rejection you receive teaches you that you can do something better. It is never about success or failure, but it is always about movement.

In this day, this hour, and this minute, there exist a decision that will be made regardless of your conscious effort to answer – Are you going to move closer to the place you want to be, or further from it?

Ideas and Speculation

I rewrote the 2nd act of episode 5 last night. A strange phenomenon typically occurs when I write draft after draft of a story, similar to the children’s game of “telephone” – ideas that are no longer connected remain in place.

Every good story is built on one centralized question. The conflict, tension, stakes, and plot twists are all branches that grow from that tree. I have some really unique material and ideas that I wanted to include in the story but are currently trashed. Despite this being a tough pill to swallow, I think that refocusing the events on the centralized question will increase the mystery and improve the pacing.

I’m eager to put out a new video each Sunday. As of right now I’m not even close to making that deadline. I do have an idea that involves 1 scene that will be filmed in 5 different ways. Each variation will introduce a new story telling device/element. I’m fairly certain I will go through with it.

The idea is to write a 1 page scene that involves some kind of argument. I will write several versions of the same scene with different story telling elements implemented. I can play both parts in the scene and wear different wardrobes. I don’t see this type of video posing any sort of great challenge, but I do think it is original and will be fun to view. I think the most appealing aspect of the idea is that the scene won’t be comedic but suspenseful. Although I am not trying to make videos for writers or filmmakers, I do feel like this will be a good video that I can make in a short amount of time. I’m not sure it is in line with my “marketing strategy” but at least it will be increase the quantity of material available on my channel.

Anyways I am dozing off. Good morning to everyone else who has managed to avoid the zombification of working a graveyard shits. Hopefully I can wake up and record some takes before finding myself back at work again.