day 4 of production

I’ve made a lot of progress on the Admiral byrd animation, which is where most of my time has gone. I’ve also developed an exciting new idea for an ongoing youtube program which I hope to share with you soon. I’ve been relentless with my time and unfortunately have found myself unable to post here as much as I’d like. Above is a video summarizing the challenges and highlights of production.

The Fun Part

After completing the final day of filming last week, I’ve finally had a chance to edit the material. I’ve completed the first crucial step, which is to assemble the best clips together in the timeline. When I made the first episode last year that was pretty much my only step, and then I added a “color grade”. I put that in quotations because I have a few shots in episode 1 that are completely blue because I couldn’t figure out how to change them back to a normal color. Also, I’m pretty sure the entire episode still only plays out of the left speaker.

At this point there are many steps, but each one becomes more rewarding than the last. I get to see my shots come to life as the saturation increases and the skin tones increase in warmth. The audio transforms from an uncontrolled mess of garbled rumbles into a valley of emphasized pitches. And adding music to any scene is like adding alcohol to a romantic situation – it’s not necessary but it sure gets things moving.

I’ve divided the episode into 5 major sequences based on the day the scene was shot. There are subsequences within those days as well. One of the major challenges during Episode 4 – which had a run time of 22 minutes – was the processing burden it placed on my computer during the edit. The file size becomes massive when you have hundreds of 2-3 seconds clips that feature a colorgrade, audio effects, and a mask or two. Sometimes it becomes necessary to stack video clips atop each other which multiplies the amount of information premiere pro has to remember.

Once I complete the edit for each 4-6 minute sequence, I will export the scene and load it into ableton live. Here I can compose the background music so that it is in sync with the scene. I can also add some reverb and eq to the scene, but so far I’ve found premiere pro is better suited for dialogue and general film editing. Once I have the song composed and leveled I will export each instrument to a different stem and work with the scene back in premiere pro. After I have the audio mixed and completed I will begin work on the colors.

I don’t want to get as in depth with the coloring as I did the last episode. One of the major challenges of working with a small budget is that I am unable to apply wallpaper or paint many of the walls that I am shooting in front of. The reason why this matters is that the white walls in any home take on a soft orange hue from sunlight. A simple method way of enhancing the skin tones of your actors is to have them contrast with their background.

Transformers – Michael Bay

Orange and teal are known as complimentary colors as they are on opposite sides of the color wheel. When the background is teal and skin tone is orange, it looks good. I mention the walls because whenever background objects are the same tone as the actors’ skin it becomes more difficult to accentuate that contrast. You can still do it with a mask, or by using the rotobrush in after effects, but that results in more layers of video – which puts more stress on your processor.

If I had a real budget for a legitimate production, I could control the set and design the background for the ideal color balance. If color schemes in film interests you, I encourage you to watch a Wes Anderson film. He is the master of artistic framing and balance, in my opinion. If you want to see a heavy orange and teal effect, watch a Michael Bay Film.

Wes Anderson

I know this has been a technical heavy post that was essentially written for noone, but that’s where my mind is at. Perhaps you can see why I retain my stubborn belief that marketing and creativity are born from diametrically opposed regions of the brain. Ideally I could do both at the same time, but I have always felt I am only capable of thinking one way or another.

It’s wild how much I have learned over the past year about the technical aspects of filmmaking. The irony is that I’ve become faster at each part of the process but the amount of steps before completion feels as though it is infinite. One final ramble I have to get out is that I never can make up my mind about whether to mix this film in 5.1 surround sound. I feel that I am capable, but I would need to purchase Adobe Audition, a 5.1 sound card, and a set of surround sound speakers. Youtube does not support surround sound and neither do 95% of the viewers who will eventually be watching my short film. I have decided to purchase a DVD writer so that I can encode the finished product to a DVD and offer it as an incentive during my kickstarter campaign. In this digital age, however, I am more than certain that most supporters will prefer access to the file online. A lot of homes do not even feature a DVD player.

If you read to the end of this post, congratulations, I am certain you are one of the few. This entire post was comprised of godawful technobabble and the aimless ponderings of a man’s compulsive desire to speak the language of cinema. Enjoy the day and the lessons it teaches you.

Script Drafting: Importance of Revisions

I made a video about screenplay revisions and how each draft better prepares a filmmaker for production. It took me longer than I’d prefer but I’m happy I finished it. I really wanted to trash it but felt it was important to post regardless of my internal shame and regret. Check it out below if you’d like:

“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.

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.

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.

Same Story Different Lens

I’ve finally received my first feedback regarding episode 5. Pat, one of the members of my meetup group who has been a regular at our weekly zoom meetings, was kind enough to read the script and provide feedback.

She felt it would be easier to communicate over zoom and boy I am happy to have done so. Though she proclaims that she is “not a writer,” her feedback was more helpful than any I have received in the past.

We went through script event by event and discussed the different issues she had and items she liked. We deconstructed the climax and worked together to find a better one. She dissected the opening and explained why my main character was a dick. It was awesome.

I’ve spoken on here before about how I feel we are limited in our creativity by the mechanics of our brains. I am logical minded so I that every action my character takes winds up being motivated by practicality rather than true empathy. I’ll provide an example from my story to show how she opened my eyes.

Episode 5 begins with a memory:

My main character, Ryan O’Hara, is at home dealing with a plateful of bills at the kitchen table. He is on the phone trying to finalize a major sale, presumably to help himself out of debt. His wife, Melanie, enters in the background. She is armed with a gun staring out the window blinds. Ryan is forced to end his phone call prematurely in order to calm her down. When she tells him that “they are coming after me” he treats her with apathy and returns to his phone call. He wakes up from the memory with a sense of regret.

In my mind this was an effective scene. It included a sense of suspense with Melanie holding a gun. There was a sense of irony in Ryan failing to take his wife seriously when he returns to the present day and suffers the same anguish by others not believing him about the mysterious cult. I was ok with Ryan choosing business over love because it amplified the guilt he felt by failing to be a caring partner.

But Pat saw things differently. When she read the script, she never got a reason to care about Melanie. Melanie seemed like a crazy person that Ryan was merely putting up with and not loving towards. Further, there was no indication that Ryan even cared about her. She felt it would be more effective to have Ryan tend to his patient’s discomfort and allow his phone to ring in the background.

I would still like to work in Ryan’s regret over not having been a better husband, but if I have to choose I’d rather make him more likable. I feel strongly that the first scene of any story either reels you in or pushes you away. If I can provide a character that audiences relate to and empathize with they will stick around for the ride. Furthermore, my opening scene in Episode 4 portrayed Ryan as self-centered, singularly focused prick. It worked for my character arc and internal change at the climax, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t turn viewers off and cause them to stop watching a minute or two into it.

I have also had the lead actress read the script and she will be providing her feedback this afternoon. I am excited to hear what she has to say and discover whether she came across some of the same issues.

It takes patience to complete a script to satisfaction, but it is worth it. Everything that occurs regarding the actors, props, events and location are born out of the story that is created. Producing 4k video with high quality audio, an emotionally moving score, and flawless special effects will always add to the quality of the story you are trying to tell. But at the end of the day we remember how stories moved us, not how great it all looked.

On the positive side of my conversation with Pat, she felt that the story was captivating and the ending packed a punch. The answer to the riddle was a shock to her and had strong payoff. I am very pleased to learn the bulk of my story will work. There are several items we still plan to discuss later this week, but overall I am excited and grateful about the feedback I have already received.