Staying Busy – 4/23/2020

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A beautiful image from a failed shoot. 

My last post here was pretty somber, to say the least. I felt beyond defeated after cancelling my friend’s involvement – the only person who I had to use as an actor at the time.

I spent much of Friday, or Thursday, or whenever it was, lying down with my eyes shut allowing defeat and despair to consume me to the point of a peaceful nap (am I the only one who sleeps the best when all hope is lost?).

But alas, ideas began to pummel my head. How can I consider myself devoid of actors when I’ve only contacted a few friends who don’t want to be actors? How can I possibly be the only independent filmmaker in my area who is having these problems? Why did I all of a sudden forget about Matt, who acted superbly in my first short film and more importantly somewhat enjoyed it?

Questions determine your path ahead – and the decision to avoid answering them is also known as “procrastination” and leads to that heavy, sinking feeling called “overwhelmination” (fuel for my peaceful nap).

I spent all of Friday night visiting various websites and “connecting” with people online. I put connection in parenthesis because an online relationship is the equivalent of downloading a robot that will press your star every time you press theirs.

I set up an account on a few official casting websites. I haven’t posted a job yet because I’m slightly terrified of offering no money, no chance of distribution, and no union benefits. Not to mention some repped actor is going to show up and see me holding a camera, a microphone, and a slate board. Followed by my explaining that I’ll be the lead in this worldwide exclusive. “You can add this to your reel!”

Anyway, I came across one of my favorite websites that I haven’t visited in years. It’s a website known as https://www.meetup.com/ . The way it works is you enter in your zipcode, search for a hobby or interest (writing, screenwriting, hiking, yoga, getting drunk on the train tracks) and voila! You discover you are not actually an alien sent to earth by accident, but you were sent here with other aliens to be outcasts together.

I started out by contacting others in similar groups, but that proved inefficient. The big hang-up was that I had no filmmaking group in my immediate area (!) Now, I’ve never organized anything before nor have I ever had the desire to. I do, however, wish to continue producing films. So I decided to create a group specific to what I wanted to accomplish – with the knowledge and expectation that nobody would join it.

Well, fast forward to today. There are currently over 25 members with our first event planned this week. Due to the corona virus lockdown we are unable to meet physically. Instead, I created a challenge for others to make a 60 second introduction video. I finally got around to creating mine last night. I’ll leave a link below if you’d like to check it out.

On top of that great news, I also contacted Matt, the actor from my first short film. He was down and available to do some shooting this week. The only obstacle was that I had also begun a weekend project of creating a dolly. I was pressed with time, but I managed to complete the build before filming began.

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That is Kelly’s sock, my girlfriend who refuses to participate in any video unless she gets to play a homeless extra in the background. There is also a film dolly.

I was able to get some awesome shots with the dolly, a few of which I’ve included in my introduction video below. And moving along with the theme of good news, I had another friend who said he would be happy to spend a day filming with me, and even offered his wife up to participate in an acting job.

I’ll try to continue updating here more frequently, but for now it’s time for me to drain 5 beers in 10 minutes so I can fully immerse myself in the universe of Red Dead Redemption 2 (I should clarify that I’m writing this at 2 am and not at the time of Thursday’s posting. I haven’t had a drink that early since April 22nd so relax.) Here’s the video link to my intro video below.

Like a Small Business – 4/17/20

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This is a barn

I’m writing this for no one, and to be honest it doesn’t exactly paint me in a great light.  But I believe in consistency, so I’m going to post despite having nothing good to report.

My buddy bailed on me for filming on Tuesday. He’s a personal trainer of sorts, and had 2 time slots get filled last minute. He’s also got a wife and a young son. That’s at least his 4th time cancelling, and 2 of the cancels came the morning of the shoot.

We rescheduled for Friday, but again something came up. He requested we shoot on Saturday, to which I initially agreed. I spent 3 hours editing the footage we had from our first day, doing my best to salvage shitty footage. I sent it to him and asked for his opinion. The real reason I asked is because I wanted him to see how necessary it was to reshoot the entire thing. After 2 hours without I response I cancelled his involvement entirely (in a much kinder way than it sounds).

It was a really difficult decision to make – after-all, the character was written specifically for his build and personality. I’ve invested a lot into the production, including props, rewrites, and even the edits I made. The worst part is – I have nobody to fill his shoes.

If you followed me years ago, you may remember I shot a project with a friend named Scott. I reconnected with Scott and he’s excited to play the re-occuring role of a private detective in the series who should be in episode 3. We’ll see how that works out.

Now, back to the title of the post. My friend has personal obligations – everyone has them. The problem wasn’t him or anything he did. The issue is that he doesn’t want to be an actor. I need to find fucking actors.

I’m taking my small ass youtube channel, with 15 subscribers and 3 mediocre videos, and I’m marketing it everywhere and to everyone. I’m hoping to collaborate with other filmmakers. I’m considering offering $50 for a days work, though I’m hesitant to do so because I will not see any financial return. I’ve contacted a former acting teacher, reached out through the Meetup app, and made a profile on several websites that are specific to film networking. On top of all that, I’m trying to learn how to build a motorized dolly for under $50 so that I can resell it. I figure if I can find a way to make extra cash, those funds can go straight to the film-expense jar.

Anyway, I’m doing fine. I put off making this post because it doesn’t exactly make me look like any sort of legitimate “Producer” – which is my title on so many of these websites. But I don’t really give a shit about any of that. I just want to film quality stories and grow an audience who will enjoy them. That’s it. I’ll try to update with something positive here soon.

An Overly Ambitious Day – 4-14-20

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This is a trail

I’m writing this at 5 am, and have been awake since 1 pm yesterday (I work graveyard, ok?). Today I am filming episode 3.

This episode has given me more anxiety, hassles, and all around pressure than any other one. I know I hardly have any viewers – that’s not where the pressure is coming from.

The pressure exists for so many reasons, but the main one is the story combined with my resources. The story is about a guy whose wife goes missing, so he searches the hills for a mysterious cult. Obvious sources of conflict – the cult, his wife’s family and friends, police, detectives. Shit, this is a big world!

But I have to keep it contained. Why? Oh because my budget is $0. Ok, maybe $60 for props. I don’t know any actors. I find people who like to drink and convince them to try and act. Also known as friends.

So why does this matter so much now? Because if this were a screenplay, I’d be working on page 10-15. At this point we’ve gotten to know our main character and what his problem is. He’s on the verge of entering a new world. There’s always rules in the new world – what’s the cult going to be like? What authority figure is going to be on his trail? Who will help him on his journey?

All these elements are rapidly coming into play. Case in point – there is a detective in this script who contacts Ryan early on. I’m not shooting that part today (thank God), and as a matter of fact I don’t even know who will be playing him.

But back to today. I’ve written at length about my frustration last time we tried to film the opening sequence. After 4 hours we got nowhere and I had nothing but bullshit to work with in the edit room.

Today we’re starting over from scratch. I’ve made some tweaks and added props along with story telling elements (ticking time bomb, subplots, etc.). I’m happy with how the script looks, but I’m TERRIFIED about filming it today.

My awesome friend signed up for a gym workout at two pm today, which gives us about 4 solid hours to film. I have 5 (!) pages I wants us to get through.

For the first time ever, I created a shooting script. It lists the various angles I want each take to be filmed from, along with various objects and reactions. By doing it this way, I’m able to break the script down into about a dozen little chunks. This will make mastering our lines much easier, and hopefully cut back on down time between shots.

Another thing that has come to mind for me – a second microphone. I really want one, because as it stands I have to do any takes that put us at a distant speaking range 2 times over. Otherwise, the audio quality can only be good for one of us.

Anyway, wish me luck. Last week was a really cool week for me because I gained about 10 subscribers and have now accumulated nearly a hundred views on all my uploads. I know those are pipsqueak numbers, but any of you who have created a youtube channel or a blog from scratch understand how difficult it can be to get internet strangers to click on your stuff. Good day to you, and good luck to me (I need it more sorry).

Here’s episode 2 in case you missed it:

Need Writer With Brain – 4-12-20

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Episode 2 was much easier to shoot then 3 will be

It’s been a good week for me – episode 2 was viewed favorably and a producer requested one of the features that I’ve written. On top of that, my lens hood arrived along with a lens filter. I intend to film outside again. Last time the camera began to overheat when filming in the direct sunlight, so I believe these cheap tools should help alleviate that problem.

Episode 3 is a big turning point. I’ve mentioned here before that the first day of filming was  wash, so I’m basically shooting it from scratch. That gives me an oppurtunity to rewrite the script and tweak it. I’m going to strengthen the story line, but the biggest thing I can do is reconfigure it for easier filming. The short cut to that will be having Josh leap off the rock immediately then get in my face to stop me from progressing. This way, we can placed the microphone closer to the scene and be able to run through takes more rapidly. (last time we filmed I was running to 3 different stations to make sure the camera and sound were recording before I got into position for the take. This was time consuming and cost us more takes).

But there is a bigger issue. I want episode 3 to be faster paced with elevated stakes and greater tension. Like I’ve said before, a story is about what happens. So instead of linking a script, I’ll just list out some shit.

If you haven’t seen episode 1 & 2, here is the just of what happens:

Episode 1 – Ryan (my character) has captured a hiker whom he accuses of being a cult member who played a hand in abducting his wife. The “cult member” manages to break free and leaves behind a piece of Melanie’s jewelry (Melanie is Ryan’s missing wife)

Episode 2 – Ryan shares his cult research with his brother, who suggests he is losing his mind. On his way out, Ryan’s brother suggest that he scope out “Ruggerman’s Trail” – the place where weird, supernatural shit has been reported.

Ok, that brings us this weeks project. As it stands, episode 3 plays out like this:

  1. Ryan hikes, searching far and wide for signs of Ruggerman’s Trail
  2. Ryan spots the pile of clothes that the captured cult member advised him about
  3.  Josh prevents Ryan from proceeding and orders him to turn back
  4. Ryan tricks Josh and gets to the clothes
  5. Josh also has an ace up his sleeve, and the episode ends with Ryan in impending danger

That’s pretty much 5 pages. It’s the most action I’ve had in a single scene, and being that it is outside, I don’t believe I’ll be able to capture all the footage in one day. That is another motivation for me to reduce the scene with Josh to 3 pages, and dedicate 2 pages to raising the stakes and developing the overall story. Here is what I’m considering adding.

  1. Ryan searches a map for the location of Ruggerman’s Trail
  2. Ryan receives a call from his mother in law, who complains how she has only heard from her daughter through text messages, and desperately wants to come and see her face to face. She will arrive shortly.
  3. Ryan tells her he’s welcome, then rapidly packs his belongings and heads for the hills.

Those are the baby ideas that I’d like to develop into A, B, and C story lines. What I could really use is a logical reason for Ryan to recover the pile of clothes to redeem himself from any accusation of involvement and also prove his theory that a cult has taken her. I’m having trouble figuring out a good reason that Melanie’s clothes being retrieved by prove could somehow prove his innocence, however.

On top of this, I don’t have anyone in mind to play the mother in law. This isn’t a huge concern, as the role will only consists of voice-over audio included in the phone call.

I just want the episode to feel like a race, from start to finish, with one thing going wrong after another. I want it to feel like if Ryan fails to reach the trail he will be going to prison, blamed for his wife’s disappearance, and unable to shed any light on the secretive cults existence.

I’m open to any and all ideas at the moment. If you think you see a way that I could increase the tension, stakes, or conflicts in this episode, please do not hesitate to share your idea. I’m open to anything at the moment, but keep in mind that resources are limited. No new actors or expensive props are available at the moment. Thank you for take the time to read through this blather of a post, and I wish you a happy Easter.

If you would like to view episode 2, feel free to check out the link below.

Pointless Post – 4-10-20

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I have nothing interesting or captivating to offer anyone today, just some mindless ramblings of what I’ve been up to, I suppose.

I was desperately hoping to film episode 3 of my webseries this week, but the rain has come down hard here in southern California so I’ve had to postpone all shooting.

I did, however, complete and upload episode 2. I am very proud of it, and feel it is my best work yet. My only hang-up is the coloring – the skin tones should pop out more, but I couldn’t figure out how to do that without turning the walls to orange. It is a lazy man’s mistake, but I always feel like I am in a race with my own persistence to complete a project and post it. When it is nearing completing, there is a part of me that fears any procrastination will lead to the video not ever being posted. It is a legitimate fear, however, as any person who blogs here knows it takes a certain bit of courage and determination to write anything for public consumption and critique.

Back to episode 3 – I filmed the beginning segment last week. I’ve been working with the footage and I just don’t think it’s salvageable. I’m a strong believer in avoiding reshoots at all costs, because that means time wasted. However, with the clips I have viewed, I fear I have no choice. Much of the acting is lousy, I look fat and out of shape, the mic was never close enough to hear my voice adequately, and the transitions are brutal. There’s a take where I am staring up the hill, turn to view the landscape, return to the trail, then spot the pile of clothes I am after. In the take I viewed, Josh is clearly visible in all the camera turns. It looks like a goddamn middle school project. One final note on the footage – the acting is terrible. Part of my job as director is to get the best out of the actors I have. We’re planning to film again next week and that will be an enormously important development I will have to take.

Anyways, thank you for taking the time to listen to my bullshit. I’ve posted episode 2 below in case you’d like to check it out.

Mess of a day – 4-4-20

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This is my Josh. He is supposed to be my scene partner today, but his car was towed last night.

The plan today is to film part 2 of episode 3 for the webseries. My scene partner Josh has committed to the rule and is excited to participate again. A major, MAJOR hang-up however is that his car was towed last night. He tells me that he can pick it up in the morning and still get here in time for some filming. I will survive if he cancels – after all, I work night shift and am hesitant enter work with serious fatigue. Episode 2 is already filmed so I can always work on that. The most significant drawback is that it is supposed to rain here until Wednesday.

It’s a mess of a day, however, because day one was filmed in bright, sunny lighting. We worked our asses off for 4 hours and only got through 1 page of the 5 page script. I’m very concerned about the lighting. But there’s another issue – I’ve edited some of what we shot, and found a handful of reasons to reshoot it.

  1. I’m not visible in my favorite camera angle shot
  2. I made Josh yell too loud in his close takes. It affects audio quality. On top of this, it appears he’s staring straight at the camera, instead of to camera left, where I am supposedly standing.
  3. I want a shot from over Josh’s shoulder.
  4. The angle that shows a full view of the clothes is not stabilized because it was handheld.
  5. I have a take that’s mean’t to be my perspective. I’m hiking uphill and checking out the hills in the distance. I spot the pile of clothes I’ve been searching for, charge toward them, and then spot Josh, who gets in my way.

Number 5 is the one I’m most concerned about. As it stands, in the take I have you can see Josh perched up above when I turn to see the hills. When I do spot the pile of clothing, my character momentarily freezes before charging forward. Switching back to the camera at my perspective, my character advances uphill before rapidly panning to Josh, demonstrated my character realizes he is there. I did not record any audio for this, so the rapid realization doesn’t make much sense.

This entire segment looks so corny it’s embarrassing. I’m sure there are some ways around it in the audio room but it’s such a nightmare working with low quality clips. Each of the 5 takes I want to reshoot feel necessary. But like I said before – it took us 4 hours to get all those clips, as much as I dislike them. I don’t like wasting time, and I sure as hell am not ok with laying an entire day of filming to waste. I feel the most amount of time I can allot to reshoots is one hour. But this presents a new challenge – for shooting outdoors, I need consistent lighting. I have no idea how I’ll be able to get through this entire script today, even if we’re at it until it’s time for me to head back to work.

Anyway, these are the issues I’m dealing with in my head right now. I am happy that work was slow enough for me to get a power nap in, so I’ll survive if we hit it hard today. In other news I’ve been able to promote episode 1 enough to accumulate over 80 views. This was no small feat, especially after it previously amassed 60 views before I cleaned up the audio and reuploaded it. I realize those are rookie numbers, but I am still a rookie. Every person who has taken the time to give it a watch – thank you, a ton. And to those of you who have given it a like and/or comment, I can’t tell you how incredible you are. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out below.

How to write movies and books – 4/3/20

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A subtle metaphor for the prison cell you are being held captive in if you don’t read this post.

Why do we watch movies and read fiction? What are we looking for?

There are endless resources for writing fiction. Many of them include the same essential elements – inciting incident, plot, character arc, theme, conflict, tension, etc. But the truth about what makes a great story runs much deeper than that.

We turn to stories for truths about the world we live in – spiritual, psychological, and societal truths. We are always looking to learn something, and that’s what a good story does for us.

The fundamental nature of “plot” is to give your hero a quest and throw obstacles in his path to prevent them from reaching their goal. I believe the next step is the most overlooked aspect of a powerful story.

The main character must learn something to complete their quest. That’s it. That’s the secret of a moving story. If you can do that, you are already taking care of character arc, theme, internal conflict, and character growth. The way to formulate that in a compelling way is what determines the strength of your story.

If you are a writer, start observing the obstacles in your own life. What character trait gets in the way of accomplishing your own goals? Even something as simple as procrastination provides a life lesson for us. Why do we procrastinate? When I find myself too overwhelmed to complete the task that will bring me closer to my goal, I ask myself why. Many times it’s a fear of something – the fear of failure, the fear of the unknown, the fear of wasting time and effort on an eventually failed pursuit.

Just like that, you have everything you need for a story. For example:

Joe is at the post office one day when he meets a beautiful girl who inexplicably decides to give him her number (inciting incident). He forgets to call her when his ex returns to his life (obstacle). When he does call her, she is much more reluctant to go out after learning that he’s been talking to his ex (obstacle). Joe decides to tell his ex that their relationship is over for good. He calls the girl again, tells her that he wants to see her and only her, and she accepts his idea for a date.

The story can go on from here with new obstacles and lessons to be learned. But every major event needed for a story is included above. What did Joe learn? That if he truly wants to create a new and loving relationship, he’s going to have to move on from past relationships (theme).

I’m not a great writer by any means, but I have spent years studying the story telling essentials. All that I’m trying to do with my new youtube channel is tell good stories. I guess that’s why I made this post – there’s so many formulaic stories out there, short films that are weighed down by editing techniques, and movies that are weighted and shackled by their own genre. I’m trying to approach “Mountain Cult” with a more liberal view. I want to craft stories that provide actual life lessons. At the end of the day, when we think of the movies that mean’t the most to us, I believe it’s because they taught us something about ourselves that continue to help us navigate through our own lives. I hope that in some way this post can help you create your own stories. There’s way too many pencil petes out there telling you what you can and cannot do with a story, and I don’t think we need any more of them.

Below is episode 1 of my webseries if you’d like to check it out and tell me how disappointed you are to discover you just took advice from a guy whose writing is amateur at best.

Continuity Issues – 04/02/20

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Josh arrived in gym clothes when informed he will be playing a veteran hiker in episode 3

My younger brother came through on Tuesday and spent the entire day acting in episode 2 with me. It was my first day getting through an entire 5 page script in a day, but not without its share of issues. Unfortunately for me, I’m finding those issues in the editing room.

Continuity – we all know what it means, but much more importantly – we all know it goes unnoticed when something is done right. For our episode, we had a dog cage in the background with a bunch of stuff tossed on top of it. The first 3 takes all have that junk in the scene. After that, we decided it would be a great place to film a few takes from. Then we never put the junk back on(!)

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I have 2 takes that have a dog bed on the floor. The other 5, such as this one, do not.

Building on the theme of continuity, there is one great take where my necklace is exposed on the outside of my shirt the entire time. That take is now garbage. Another moronic decision I made was to mumble during a shot of me carrying 2 cups of coffee from an artistic angle. That take is also garbage – there’s no audio that matches up with how my lips are moving. The icing on the cake for the day would be the bacon. I cooked some up for us to eat before filming began. I have video of it cooking and audio of it sizzling. What I don’t have are any shots of it being on the table or of us eating. Why? Because bacon is to delicious to wait for filming to begin. The result is a couple of unusable takes of random bacon shots. I’m still considering using them, however I’m worried someone watching the episode will start wondering whether the plot is about a house burning down from a kitchen fire.

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Here is the only take I have from this beautiful angle. A microphone is hidden in the tree.

Now episode 3, which I began filming Sunday, has the potential to have harder issues to overcome. My two favorite shots from the day are practically unusable. I only have one take from a gorgeous vantage point. That would be fine, except I’m hidden behind a tree branch the entire time. The other take features me walking up the hill. In the bottom of the shot are the pile of clothes my character has been searching for. This was the last take of the day when we were out of time and out of steam. Out of sheer laziness, I opted to have my scene partner record the shot handheld so I would not have to run and grab the tripod. The end result is shaky. This is not his fault – I’m discovering quickly that I cannot stand any footage that is not 100% stable. I hate it with a passion – same goes for zooming in. I like pans, but I’m not good enough to use them yet.

Something else happened on Sunday. My camera began overheating, despite the fact that it was a perfectly nice 70 degree day. I’m now convinced it is because the take required filming in direct sunlight. Because of this, I’m ordering a lens hood and lens filters for our next outdoor shoot. I’m just hoping I can get them by Sunday.

As you can see, I have a lot to learn about photography & directing. Even those these problems keep cropping up, I’m terribly excited about how much editing work I’ll have in the next few weeks. My friend is eager and available to film again. That means that I won’t be limited to a 3 hour window and can afford to take multiple shots.

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The tripod is literally inside of a dog kennel for this shot.

The funny thing about filming is that it feels like it takes so much effort and time for even a 5 minute story. Yet everytime I enter the editing room, I always find myself wishing I had taken this shot, or done a take from a certain angle a few more times. I heard someone say that editing takes 6 times longer than filming the same thing. I didn’t believe that at first, but now I know this is, at best, an understatement.

If you haven’t seen episode 1 and you’d like to give it a glance, or even a like, check it out below.