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.

Leveling Up

I’d like to make this short and sweet as I just finished my shift and it’s time for me to rest. I made some great improvements to the script last night and feel that it is heading in the right direction.

It’s amazing how easy it is to delete segments of your story after you get some breathing room and realize it is not as perfect as you first thought. I think you make the most progress when you view your product as partially defective and take it back into the shop for repairs.

A lot of highly successful comedies feature an endless onslaught of transitioning meanings. Many scene begin with the anticipation of a character’s actions resulting in something bad that turn into something good. I feel quite certain that the more fluctuation you apply to the events that are unfolding the more intriguing they become. You keep your audience on your feet and your protagonists in a position of uncertainty.

I want every line in my story to add significance. The stakes should continually raise with the threat of danger repeatedly becoming more imminent. The awesome thing about late-stage drafts is that you understand your story more thoroughly and become less concerned with word count. Every dramatic situation you come up with will always have areas of tension, urgency, and conflict. Applying your creative ability to find ways to increase these elements will tighten and escalate your story.

I always like to think in terms of levels when I am doing something creative. As a filmmaker, I find areas of cinema that I feel separate the production quality. You begin by purchasing a camera and audio recording equipment. You get the takes you need, then you edit them into a story. It’s easy to stop there, but learning how to color grade takes you to another level. After that it is tempting to call it a finished production – but learning how to sound mix and improve dialogue with compressors, cross fade, and background noise brings you one level closer to a professional production. After all this is completed you will be tempted to export and publish. But then there are special effects – and often times there are areas in your story that will be more effectively shown with animations (think title sequence at the least, or phone and computer screens, or a burst of blood).

It is the same with writing just as it is with everything else. Each progressive step is not necessarily more difficult, it is simply more laborious to continue applying one improvement after another on a single piece of work. I think of it as “leveling up” because other artists who are working within the same medium are bound to drop off at each of the points I feel are “good enough.” I do believe every story can only be as good as its premise, but even that I am willing to rework if it means the final production will be better. I am never afraid to start from scratch all over again. If I don’t have a good story to tell prior to production, then I do not wish to devote a month or two to telling it.

Now it is time for me to sleep, or as I like to call it, “plot.” I wish you good fortune today in your day’s adventure and hope to have positive news regarding episode 5’s story soon.

Journal Entry Disguised as Information

This is a picture.

I had a post written yesterday and made 3 separate attempts to edit and upload it during the day. I was at work and we remained busy. I was just about to post it now, but after reading it I realize it was mostly the ramblings of a chaotic mind. I’ll include the bullet points because I do not feel it is worth posting.

  • I combed through the entire script on Monday and brought it down to 21 pages. It is a cohesive story.
  • My friend gave it a read. He thought it was “solid overall” but “not a page turner.” I am not okay with that.
  • I spent all of yesterday trying to remember if I had left the stove on. I almost left work just to check. Thankfully, my apartment is *not* in ashes.

So, the “not a page turner” thing – I really dislike that. In my experience a good story literally reels you in. You may be reading it to analyze it, but even that will be a challenge. This tells me I’ve got changes to make.

My girlfriend and I watched a movie last night. It seemed pretty low budget. Some of the actors could have been better, and I felt the writing could have focused on a few different areas. But it kept us watching, and got us to watch it in the first place. The story was based on real life events where a woman had been locked up and hidden by her own father. Nobody knew where she was for years, and she was in his basement the entire time. It’s a gut-wrenching tale – and I honestly believe that was why we became so invested in it.

There are so many devices to strengthen a story that you could fill a factory with them. But I don’t think any device can ever make the scene. My two aims for writing today are to find something extraordinary to place in my story. Something that makes you say “what the fuck?”. My second goal is to make even the ordinary interactions of my characters bursting with nostalgic emotion.

I recall reading Harry Potter as a young teenager and experiencing the Weasley family the first time. Everything was messy, the parents were yelling, the kids had a hierarchy, and everybody in that family seemed to echo an unsaid motto that always appeals to me – “We’re rich in joy not wealth.”

I’ll be at work tonight and going through my script again. I have not begun filming a video this Sunday but am still determined to publish one. My script, however, takes priority and needs to be finished.

Empathy for Skeptics

This is my brother James, who plays Art in Mountain Cult.

Today I am going through episode 5 page by page. My goal is to establish a purpose of each individual line and delete anything and everything that does not add to the story.

My emphasis today will be on building empathy with my primary character. Common writing advice suggests to have your main character pet a dog or perform a kind gesture early on. If your audience consists of brain dead zombies who need to be told how they should feel then this is the route for you. My goal, however, is to write a story that appeals to individuals who search beneath the surface for an unsaid truth. For that reason I will use a moment of skepticism, frustration, or anti-social behavior for an emotional connection.

I return to work tomorrow for 5 days straight, so I’m going to give as much time as possible today to the script. I want to take it from 21 pages down to 15. I’m going to print it out and write in the changes I’d like to make than retype it later. This is my favorite way to edit because it makes organization much easier.

I did publish a second YouTube video yesterday that was a non short film. It took a few days of work but it has already received more views than the previous upload. My goal is to have a new video out by Sunday, and every Sunday after that. Today I get to write.

Check out the last upload below if you’d like:

Well I Made Another One

Alright, sticking with my strategy of regularly posting videos, I’ve posted another one today. It’s got nothing to do with my web series and it’s more bizarre than funny. But I finished it so now I am required by law to publish it online and here. Check it out and try not to dislike it but if you do I understand. I may even leave a dislike myself.

Writing and Erasing then Rewriting and Burning

I had an eventful day yesterday. I worked out some major issues with Episode 5 as well as filmed material for a new YouTube video. I can’t understate how enjoyable it is to be working with a camera again and having something to edit. I’ve found a balance between doing video editing and editing the screenplay. It’s not hard to guess which one I like more.

I’ve taken my 27 page short and condensed it down to 21. I’ve had to significantly limit the amount of lines a few of the minor characters have. I’ve come to believe giving them too much on-screen time adds a whole lot more to their personalities than it does to the question that drives the story. I also think Quentin Tarantino writes this way (and does just fine).

It is so easy to see the ingredients that make up a good plot, yet a challenge to implement them. You must constantly barrage your protagonist with obstacles then look within yourself to figure out how they might overcome them. The lessons they learn become the theme. The training the protagonist does in act 2 should pay off in act 3.

Two new tools I am determined to use in this episode are:

  1. Hermeneutics
  2. Moral uncertainty

Hermeneutics deals with the interpretation of information. The term came to exist in order to explain how different religious sects came to understand the same biblical text. I featured a post on this subject a while ago that highlighted a video discussion about how Christopher Nolan uses it in his features. When done right, Hermeneutics has a profound effect on viewers. The information does not change, but the protagonist’s understanding of it does. I believe the typical description of a solid mid-point for a story fits this definition. Here’s an example of Hermeneutics in action:

  1. You receive $20 from your grandma as a Birthday gift.
  2. You learn your Grandma is broke and doesn’t have enough money to cover her own electricity bill.

The action, amount, and gesture has not changed. New information, however, has changed your response to the money from excitement to grief.

The second tool on my list is moral uncertainty. I’ve been trying to place my protagonist in situations where he must choose between 2 not so great options. A couple examples of this would be:

  1. Confessing to a widow you had could have saved her spouses life.
  2. Confronting an enemy whose daughter is in a nearby room.

I feel that using these emotional triggers will help to draw the viewer in. I am eager to move away from the basic methods of conflict, time constraints, and variable successes from effort. I am also trying to push the theme and character arc more into my subconscious. The protagonist’s reaction to the story as it occurs should change him over time. As long as I can end with a different set of values then I begin with, I anticipate a character arc will be there.

That’s all I’ve got for now. I’m hoping to complete my next YouTube upload today or tomorrow. I’ll keep you posted.

Story and the “Good Stuff”

Story is one of the most complex yet simple art forms in existence. It isn’t until you attempt to tell one that you realize how difficult it is to keep an audience interested.

I often think about the natural growth of a story. The more you focus on a single character and dramatic incident the more clear and concise your story will be. At our core we turn to story to learn about the world around us. Despite the human mind having the ability to understand great complexities and details, it will always require extra effort to do so – effort your audience isn’t looking to produce when they are seeking to be entertained. The more your story is packaged in a centralized question the more digestible your story will be.

My favorite thing about screenwriting has been the impact and significance required for each line. There is no place for waste, laziness, or meaningless repetition. Because screenwriting requires more dialogue than description, I have a bad habit of “hearing the conversation” and writing according to how I imagine it might play out. This isn’t a fundamental error, as it improves the natural flow, but it becomes easy for a character to repeat themselves and shine a spotlight on their personality rather than the problem that is being overcome. Furthermore, the natural progression of a conversation does not incorporate any character change or overwhelming obstacles. The most memorable and impactful moments of any story are the actions your character performs that betray what their former self would do. How common is it for a parent to be petrified of their child drinking, smoking, or using drugs? Yet the origin of that fear often comes from knowledge of our their own experience and how it affected their lives. That is a character change.

I do feel our most fascinating ideas and concepts should always reserve page space in what we write. One of the most entertaining shows of the last 20 years is South Park. It is easy to watch this show, enjoy it, and feel it is nothing more than an escape from the pressures of the world. But in reality South Park incorporates a 3 act structure, a climax, and a theme. One item that differentiates South Park from other comedies that fail to hold our attention is the constant comedic gems. Family guy, on the other hand, is all comedic gems with no importance given to the story. I am convinced each episode of South Park is guided by an absurdist idea that brings the writers to crack up laughing. They know their idea is hilarious and find a way to make it a staple that falls within the necessity of the story requirements.

I feel there are far too many suspense, mystery, and action stories that stray so close to plot points that they lose sight of what keeps viewers interested in the first place. Your audience will never be a soulless academic who marks off a story-checklist with each page that they turn. You’ve got to include the good stuff that makes your audience uncertain about how they would handle a similar situation. Such is the conflict that produces an intriguing premise.

On top of writing this morning, I am hoping to record the content for another YouTube video. I return to work tonight and will be preoccupied with the daily grind for the following week and a half. I am eager to make the major changes to my script today in order to begin casting the roles and finding my locations. Enjoy your own daily pursuit and make the most of the hours you have been given.

Consistency is King

Today I have the apartment to myself and no work obligations.

I completed my first non short film style YouTube video yesterday and posted it. It doesn’t have many views, though I wasn’t really expecting it to. I have been hosting online meetup zoom meetings for the past 2 months every Sunday. It has been an awesome experience to see the same faces show up regularly. We have also had new members stop by each week. The plan was simple – host an informal, low pressure event routinely and allow the attendance to grow naturally. So far, it has worked.

I’m going to apply the same methodology to my short YouTube videos. I will regularly update my progress on Episode 5 and discuss whatever part of the process I am currently developing. I intend to build a gradual increase in viewership from posting consistently. If I were still writing novels rather than screenplays I would do the same thing. It’s an easy and low cost way to grow your following.

This does, however, increase my overall workload. My friend suggested a while back that I create a schedule for production and stick to it. I haven’t been able to generate that timetable because I’m still stuck in the writing process. I do feel that a good script cannot be rushed – creativity is not something we control, it is something we express.

So this fine March day I have the place to myself and can sit down and work through some of the major bugs in my script. I may completely rewrite the opening scene with a centralized focus on the plot’s greater mystery. Rewriting my opening scene would be ironic considering the current scene was the object of discussion in my last YouTube upload. I would also like to learn more about crowdfunding platforms such as Patreon, Twitch, Indie gogo, and paypal (general). It would be wise for me to find a way to make items from the show available for sale.

Anyway, I hope you have a fine day doing what you love, or at least figure out a way to pretend to love doing that which you are forced to do.