We finally did it. We are done filming episode 4, and I couldn’t be happier. Of there are many shots I wish I had taken that I didn’t, and takes I wish I had done one more time. But the point is this 3 month journey is completed.
Yesterday was my third attempt to film at an exterior location that had destroyed me twice. It was my first time filming a true action sequence (complete with blowup mattresses, a fake knife, and a “squib” for an improvised small explosion). Of course it didn’t go perfectly, but the point is the mission is complete.
We had to film in sequential order due to the amount of dirt and debris we would be covered in after wrestling on the ground. So from 7-10 we did takes for the dialogue, capturing every angle we could. At that point the overheating issue came into play (as anticipated) and we had to work with what we had. I chose a few camera angles based more on shade than framing. I hate that I had to compromise here, but after my last failed attempt it felt like a necessary decision.
The wrestling was physically arduous – we were on rock solid dirt. Along with that, it sure feels funny to have another man straddle you, but what are you going to do?
I finally had enough trust in Brad to allow him to pan for several shots. Allowing him to pan rather than setting up the tripod and re-framing each shot sure saved a lot of time.
When it came to the final gun shot, it was 1 pm and to be honest I felt pretty lightheaded. Almost like my loss of concentration was caused by physical elements rather than normal lethargy. Nonetheless, I have everything I need to put together a decent 15 minute episode. Now it’s time to “fix it in post” and regularly update my developments.
If you look closely you might just find something here that doesn’t belong.
This Tuesday marks the 5th week since I experienced the horror that was my first attempt at filming my short film’s climax. I will have my opportunity to redo the entire scene.
If you read my post regarding my first attempt, you will see I entered the shoot unprepared and ambitious. I spent the morning at Home Depot searching for a part they didn’t sell in order to get my “squib”, or air-propelled blood squirt contraption, to work. I spent the next 3 hours getting coverage on a scene that has little value and only features the character of Leo speaking to a computer screen.
How ’bout that CO2 powered spray? Magnificent.
We arrived at the hill in mid afternoon, and overheating issues plagued us from the beginning. The entire sequence was shot with my kit lens at 16-20mm, so I didn’t have a single close shot or even a true mid.
Example of a shot that is too wide for the intensity of the moment.
Framing was non-existent – each time we were able to turn the camera on, I told Brad to hit record and we began the scene. On top of all this, I hadn’t read my lines prior to filming. Despite this seeming like the greatest evidence of my unpreparedness, the reality is that making your own short film involves so much prep work with regards to equipment, set design, props, cash on hand, and shooting order, that this has been a consistent issue for me. I’m highly interested in directing a short film I do not act in so that I can be behind the camera for a change.
Here is that same shot with digital zoom applied. See how pixelated we are? That is why a) I will never use the kit lens again b) I prefer prime lenses
After 4 straight graveyard shift, I will finally have a day to myself to hammer down my prep work as good as possible. There will be a sequence where Michael fires a shot at me that misses, I charge him, overpower his knife, and stab him. After tending to his wound, my character will be shot. Choreographing this sequence with proper camera angles will be my primary focus today. I will also make sure my fake blood appears authentic, measure the appropriate amount for blood spatter, and test my device at least once. I have tested it with water and it works.
After filming tomorrow’s sequence, I believe it will take me 2 more weeks to have the entire episode fully edited. I have a lot of scenes already pieced together, but the still have to go clip by clip to adjust audio levels and apply color correction.
If the script requires your character to be dragged out of frame along rock, thistles and dirt, make sure your camera operator actually has a tight shot when he gives you the thumbs up.
I’m thinking of recording a few of these editing sessions and posting them on a youtube channel. I’m a stanch believer in reserving the tmwproductions to finished stories only, but feel it could be a good way to grow viewership for the films release.
At this point I was bleeding with road rash and was still in the shot.
Part of me is considering releasing the film for a contest entry. My hesitancy is caused by these contests reluctance to allow entry of a project that is already available online. I don’t have the patience to send it out to places only to sit on my hands and wait to hear back. On top of that, my character is an asshole. Especially in the film’s opening. I feel he will turn off a lot of viewers and support, but it is what it is. I’m not going to be able to reshoot the opening so that’s just something I’ve got to accept. I asked my buddy what he thought of it and he was furious about how I drank my beer – “Bro who the fuck sips a beer like that?” It’s crucial notes like these that always help me improve (lol).
He agreed that I did have a great beer throw, however.
The sun is rising and it’s 6:41. At this time tomorrow, I will be saying “action”. I’ve got from now until then to get things in order. I’ll be getting an update out later on this week, I hope you have a wonderful day.
I completed the re shoot with my brother yesterday, and I have to say I am improving.
We had 3 pages to complete along with 2 distinct video-only sequences. Our window from start to finish was 3 hours wide. I did some math and figured out I had 15 minutes to get one shot of James on the hiking trail. Easy enough, but after a few lens changes and angle shifts 15 turned into 45 – and it only got worse after that.
Next I needed footage of James driving. I hopped in the back seat of his car and filmed various shots, a couple of them rather reckless – having your brother grab a realistic-looking BB gun out of a moving vehicle’s glove compartment is probably violating a few rules, would be my guess.
Anyways, this sequence took me an additional 30 minutes – And we still had to get the dolly shot I’ve so wanted to begin the episode with! After rushing through, I had a couple good takes. We found ourselves at the 1 hour remaining mark, with 3 full pages, and 2 separate locations.
Let’s back up for a minute to our first attempt to complete this sequence. We had 5 entire hours to work that day and only wound up getting through 2 pages. I spent a ton of time building a good frame and finding cool looking shots and angles. When James entered the scene, he was standing.
Then he sat. Then we argue, and I follow him into the other room. That’s as far as we got (lol) before it became dark.
Now let’s jump back to the predicament I found myself in yesterday – 1 hour remaining with 3 times the amount of footage to get from last time. And here’s the kicker – My bro wore a different shirt (!). On top of all that, the office we used wasn’t available. Basically, using ANY footage from our last day of work was impossible. And for me personally, there was no way IN HELL I wasn’t completing this scene again. Recreating lighting, set, and wardrobe for a low budget production is right beside goddamn impossible. But it’s not until you get in the editing room that you’ll realize your work is going to take 10 times longer. Honestly, I’d rather do a full reshoot 100% of the time.
So I had no choice. The 4 modelos I had poured out, the table I had set up, the shot list I had made – they all went to shit. With 40 minutes on the clock and 3 pages to go, I had only one option – the one take shot.
So I set the camera up and changed the blocking around. James would sit before delivering his first line – it was the only option. On top of that, we had this cool backdrop wear I was in the darkness and he was in the light – not ideal for lighting settings, especially with him wearing a hat, but I got it to work. Basically, we had to fucking move – and get it right.
So we went through it. 4 takes in and I was still tripping over a few lines, he was forgetting others. And then, with 5 minutes left on the clock, we fucking nailed it. Even the way I threw the beer at the end and it exploded was perfect. I was happy, he was relieved, I knew – undoubtedly – we had our take.
Now, he started taking off, but agreed to take a look at the footage. And then my fucking heart dropped.
The biggest disadvantage of appearing in my own films when I’m also the “cinematographer” (or only guy who knows how to focus a camera) is I rely heavily on auto focus for shots on me. I don’t trust the people I work with will focus a camera properly. But the issue with autofocus is it might not lock onto the object you want it to. Without someone behind the camera adjusting even that, your footage is constantly at risk. And that’s what happened during our great take.
So, I told my brother (didn’t ask) we’re doing 1 more. It was nearly just as awesome. But I can tell you after getting to the editing room – God almighty and I happy we did that one last take. James might have been pissed, or suffered repercussion, but if we didn’t do that last shot again the entire day would have been wasted.
So I opened this post talking about how I was improving. The lesson yesterday didn’t having anything to do with technical prowess, or fancy blocking, or speaking with varying pitch and tempo. The lesson was about completing what I set out to do.
It is so rosy and exhilarating when inspiration hits us and we see the wide, bursting vision of the project we identify as our new vocation. In the beginning, everything is shiny, everything is perfect, everything is faultless. But as we pick up our tools and hammer the first nail, we start recognizing just how ill-equipped for our journey we truly are. But that’s the time that forces you to become better.
Episode 4, and this entire show, is not about proving how awesome the story is to everyone else. Its purpose is to convey the story as effectively as I can. But if I don’t complete it, if I toss it in the trash once I realize it’s imperfect, then I am less than a poor story teller – I would be wasting my time.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you’d like to follow along with “Mountain Cult”, click on the link below to watch the previous episode.
1 year ago I wrote 3 feature lengths script with the intention of having them produced. They were made for low budget companies and redrafted multiple times. Through this experience I learned just how difficult it was to get a script read as a new-comer. Put yourself in the shoes of any agent or producer who receives thousands of scripts each year. You’re only going to read the best of the best.
So I took a leap of economic ignorance and decided to begin producing my own short films. At least this way I could see my stories play out before an audience. That is the ultimate goal as a writer, after-all – inspiring others through stories. With a 5 minute video you’ll get the opportunity, with a 120 page screenplay you’ll catch little more than dust.
The lessons began on the first episode of Mountain Cult, and continue on today. I can say undoubtedly that filming your own stories will make you a better writer. Here is what I’ve learned:
Treat every line, word and syllable with razor-sharp scrutiny. You may grow weary of glossing over it in the beginning, but you will have no idea how significant your dialogue choices are until you begin production. 4 drafts is nothing! Let’s take a scene where one character is lying on the ground and the other character approaches. Let’s give the character lying down something ordinary to say like “You look lost, mate.”
The first take is a wide shot. Here is where you realize you’ve made the character Australian even though he’s German and armed with a Samurai sword.
The second take is a shot over the approaching character’s shoulder followed by a shot over his shoulder. He’s now said the stupid line 3 times on film.
After you have your over the shoulder shots, you realize he’s not in frame early on because you’re using a tripod and set the frame up for when he’s standing. You adjust the tripod and film his lying down with a downward angle, followed by an over-the-wrist shot with him lying down. Now you have heard the unnecessary word “mate” 5 times.
You have all 5 shots for the scene done. You look at your slate and realize you’ve taken 30 takes already, since shots hardly ever require only one take.
You get to the editing room and begin what you anticipate will be an easy job, only to discover each moment you have on film will be viewed, scrubbed over, and edited 5 times longer. If you film is 5 minutes, anticipate 2 hours worth of footage. If you have 2 hours worth of footage, anticipate 20 hours of editing. You will have heard your German Samurai call the approaching stranger “mate” upwards of 1,000 times.
2. Emotional movements everywhere
I have a tendency when writing to feel the momentum of the words each character is spewing out. They go on a verbal rampage, tearing into another character mercilessly until there is nothing left to destroy. I love writing this way, but it doesn’t always play out on scene as good as it feels. Your writing will be much more dynamic by using action to compel twists and turns. Here are two examples:
Sally tells Henry she would like a divorce. Henry tells Sally to give it a rest and grab him a beer. Sally grows even more angry, grabs his beer, and throws it at him.
Does it make sense? Yes. Is it true to life? Yes. Does it reel you into the story? Not really. Why? Because everything went as we expected it to. Here’s a different version of the same sequence:
Sally tells Henry she wants a divorce. Henry sighs and goes to the fridge. Sally tells Henry his alcoholism is the reason she wants a divorce. Henry opens the fridge but Sally slams shut on his fingers. Henry leaves and Sally opens the door to find a half-eaten cake with frosting that reads “I love you and I’m sorry.” Sally tears up, chases Henry outside, and finds him sitting in his convertible with his new girlfriend, who is eating a slice of the cake. Sally proceeds to stab them both to death.
3. Write what you can film
This 3rd lesson will be tested for me in approximately 1 week, when I attempt to reshoot the climatic sequence – one that involves a gun shot & a stabbing.
I absolutely despise handheld shots. That makes filming even the most inconsequential physical movements extraordinarily difficult for me, because everything is done on a tripod.
When I filmed episode 1 of Mountain Cult, there is was a line my character delivered as he released the hiker from his shackles then opened the lock to the gated door and made entry. I literally had to turn 2 keys then let myself in. How could this possibly be difficult, you ask?
The following scene involved my character interrogating the kidnapped hiker inside of the cell. For that scene to carry any weight at all, I needed to have a gun aimed at him in a threatening manner.
So now my character had to retrieve a gun (which had yet to be shown), unlock his shackles, and open the padlock. I realized I needed to time it right. I decided I would swoop up the gun off camera, return and release the shackles, then the padlock, then open the gate and enter. I practiced until I could do these things relatively quickly, but it still wound up taking about 10 seconds. Let me tell you something – try to find a movie where a character takes 10 seconds to do a basic human action such as pouring milk on cereal, cooking with the microwave, or vacuuming a room. They do not exist because only a sloth could pay attention to something mundane for that amount of time.
So to film this basic sequence, I had to adjust the tripod for a shot of me retreiving the gun, zoom in on the padlock for a shot I could cut to, and learn how to smoothly unshackle the cuffs by flicking a safety release without it being apparent on camera. I needed to do all that all while delivering the line.
As I mentioned a short ways up, I intend to film a sequence next week that involves a gunshot, a stabbing, and a take down. I’ve already built an air-propelled “squib” to produce the fake gun blast. I have fake knifes to simulate stabbing, and I have a blow-up mattress that could assist in any necessary rough-housing. But if I don’t get each little physical movement choreographed to the last detail, the resulting scene will be unwatchable and corny. Even the camera angles will need to be established beforehand for any simulated punches to appear realistic.
That’s all I’ve got for today. I hope this post helps anyone looking to write for film, and I highly encourage you to film your own story if you haven’t before. The process is difficult but exceedingly fun and well worth the effort.
As I mentioned yesterday, Monday’s shoot went really well. It was the first time I had a successful shoot outdoors and was in stark contrast to an effort I had made earlier this year. Here are some things I’ve learned are necessary to film an exterior scene:
ND filters – By far the most important single item needed to record in direct sunlight. Every lens has an aperture that changes in order to allow different amounts of light into the image. By adding an ND filter (I used an ND64 for the entire day), you can still manage to use lower f-stops and not overexpose the image.
Tascam DR10L – this little recorder comes with a lavalier mic that you can attach it to your shirt or tape down to your skin. Recording audio is a tremendous risk outdoors – if the wind is howling, the audio you record on your primary microphone will likely be shit. But the greater challenge is your wide shot. Inside of a home there are walls, tables, chairs, all sorts of different objects you may use to hide the presence of your microphone.
Multiple batteries – Originally purchased because I refuse to end a filmmaking production early due to batteries being dead, I actually found a different purpose for these. I have 2 batteries that are meant specifically for the camera, and 2 cheap Chinese knockoff batteries. But the reason they came in handy is that the a6300 is notorious for overheating then shutting down. The battery compartment is a main source for overheating. By being able to change batteries frequently, I reduced the time it took for my overheating camera to be usable again.
Keeping the pull-out display open – I’m not sure why, but the a6300 has a pull-out screen on the back. For some reason keeping this open helps avoid overheating issues.
Small ass, $10-$20 tripods – Not sure I’ll use the shots I got from these, but purchasing really small, basic tripods enables me to get footage from the perspective of a character lying on the ground. The scenes I’ve written for exteriors always wind up beginning with one character sitting or lying on the ground. That results in a big height disparity that can be difficult to film in a single frame. Footsteps are cinematic also.
A cooler with waters and ice – I almost didn’t bring it, but I’m glad I did. In order to appear as professional as possible I purchased a cooler, 3 fold-out chairs, and an easy up. I haven’t used the easy up, but believe it can also provide additional shade for the camera. I’m happy I brought the waters though because we were sweating our assess off and I may have been airlifted to the nearest hospital if I had not.
A strip of cardboard – As the sun continued to rise, so did the temperature in my camera. I found this trick on the internet, and it worked out alright. I taped a piece of cardboard over the body and lens of my camera in order to provide an additional layer of shade and protection from the sun.
Sun-tan lotion – it has yet to be used, but the first day I filmed with Michael, the actor playing Leo in episode 4, he requested it. My initial thought was that receiving a little sun burn is a minor discomfort not worth worrying about. When he stated he had a few auditions later that week and did not want to look like an Oompa Loompa, I had a new perspective. For actors, appearance can affect whether they receive a job.
Anyway, that’s all I got for today. Looking forward to sharing more tips, tricks, twists, traps, and turns soon.
I realized something today – I focus way too much on my current projects, and don’t set aside any time for promotion or brand-building. I also experienced a zen moment where I figured out that I use wordpress for journal entries rather than producing content that might be useful to others.
I started to work on a post about how much weight each word in a script carries, something I’ve learned from directing my own short films. Next, I figured out I was about to embark on a 3 hour journey to create a compelling post. The downside of this is that I have only 12 hours before I work again. I must take advantage of editing time while Kelly, my mysterious girlfriend, remains asleep (I’m sorry babe I know I should have woken you up to hang out I wasn’t thinking at the time of my writing this).
In short, here’s the gist of what I’d like to post today:
We filmed 2 scenes on Monday outdoors that went extremely well. The previous 2 occasions I filmed exterior I had my shit pushed in. Finally, I won a battle (due in large part to beginning at the ass-crack of dawn. Dawn’s asshole, if you will.
My truck’s engine was shipped on a freight from Arizona. Somehow, it went missing during transit and a different engine will require another 6-9 days.
Whenever you post bullet points, make sure you always list 3 items or else people will think your list was unnecessary.
Below are a few shots I’m proud of from Monday’s shoot. Thank you for making it this far into yet another meaningless post.