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.

Doing Things And Thinking of Doing More Things

Finally, this Tuesday, September 21st, I finished filming Mountain Cult Ep 5. Of course there are 1 or 2 inserts I’d like to break the camera out for, but neither of those require any other actors. The next 3 major steps for the film are:

  1. Complete the edits
  2. Solicit Financing
  3. Market the film

The most likely scenario is that the short winds up on youtube and is free to view. However, I am determined to pursue other avenues first in order to preserve the value of what I have made. This particular film has taken more time, effort, and money then any of the short films that I made before. Though it is still a micro budget piece, the work that I put into set design, writing, costumes, scheduling, and securing locations is well beyond that of anything I’ve made before it. I don’t believe I can continue making films this way for much longer as the amount of work I have to put in behind the scenes never truly ends. I don’t mind the work, in fact I love it, but it eats away at time. I would like to put out a new film each month. There is no way I can do that without hiring assistants and squaring away locations the right way.

I’ve put youtube on hold for the time being. It takes me 2 days to make a film journal and 30 minutes to create a “youtube short”. I sincerely believe I can rapidly grow my audience by consistently producing youtube shorts. However, I am a simple minded man and must move in a linear direction while focusing on one task at a time.

I’ve been speaking about Kickstarter for months. As of now I may launch mine in October. Much to my disappointment, I will likely push back the campaign for one more month. I am determined to offer lucrative incentives – a coffee mug, a t-shirt, and a DVD. I have just purchased a DVD writer drive and once I know I can export video & audio to it I will feel comfortable offering that as an incentive. I feel comfortable putting the mugs together myself, but will likely look to a 3rd party to make the T-shirts. I can create them with transfer paper, but unless I purchase a heat press I will be unable to make store quality shirts.

Soliciting funding is significant because it would demonstrate that my passion can turn a dime in the free market. For me that is the true mark of a professional – your ability is good enough that your customers find you because you’ve offered a product of value to them. That is much different than tricking one rich old dude who has a heart of gold into investing his life savings in your hobby.

I also want to post here more! And I will, especially when the editing is complete. I formerly posted here while at the end of my night shift, but they took our internet privileges away. That means that I have to use my free time to post, which takes away from my editing time.

Anyways, I know these are fragmented thoughts that kind of just splatted onto the page. But I wanted to write something. At least I can finally share a few stills from the film as I am writing from my main computer:

MC – EP 5 & Sound Design

Some graphics I’ve been used for epoxy coffee mugs. Guess character is a murderer? Hint – I found a dead finch on my porch last week.

Well good morning.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything on any form of social media. The truth is I’ve been busy filming Mountain Cult Ep 5 and in fact only have 1 scene left to shoot. Beside wordpress, I was making a habit of posting “film journals” to my youtube channel. Believe it or not I recorded a new episode of FJ about a month ago – I just haven’t gotten around to editing it.

As a matter of fact I have so much material I’m hoping to edit that it overwhelms me at times ( I want to remaster former episodes by fixing audio issues, send each actor from mountain cult a 1 minute clip for their acting reels, film a youtube “short” everyday, and – unrelated – but I’d also like to try my hand at singing to see if the vocals would improve the songs I’ve put together). The important thing is that I’ve edited much of Episode 5 already. However, it’s been a unique experience after learning so much about audio this year – I never thought that sound mixing would be more time consuming than coloring.

I’ll give you an example – imagine you film a scene on your porch where all that you’re doing is speaking on the phone to an offscreen character. Sounds simple, right? Well that all depends on how involved you’d like to get. If I were to go all out this is what I would do –

  1. A clean take with mic focused on character speaking
  2. A full minute recording of ambient noise with nothing else
  3. A full take that focuses only on the rustling cloth and movements of the character
  4. Focus the mic on any distinct sounds – phone placed on table, phone picked up
  5. Sound of the voice coming through the other end of the phone (an easy improvisation in post, but always sounds better when played in the actual environment)

I think those are enough pertinent tracks to make the scene. When I get to the editing room, I’ll isolate each sound on a separate track – ie, dialogue, sound effects, foley, background noise, special (like editing a normal voice to sound like its coming through a telephone… or cellphone since nobody uses the word telephone anymore)

So now each layer is on a separate track. From here I’ll place audio effects to each track – EQ, highpass filter, dehummer, deesser, and finally mastering. The less effects needed the better. Often Dialogue needs the most. (the better the recording, the less I have to do in the editing room).

Once the sounds are placed I’ll add cross fades and some quiet audio to the start and beginning of dialogue bits. This prevents those sharp, millisecond blips that you hear when an audio level changes dramatically in an instant.

After all the audio is placed, I would import the tracks into ableton. Here I can design a score that is specific to the scene I am editing. It is important during every step of the process to level your clips appropriately – dialogue should always be the loudest, most distinguishable track. I like loud, crisps sound effects (the phone being picked up and placed down). Foley, or the cloth movements, should fit the scene appropriately. In others words the common viewer should not even know that track exists. Ambient noise should also be at a low level, but consistently present. The music volume depends on how important it is to the scene. For something such as this I would keep it at a low volume. I might even sidechain it to dialogue so that it lowers in volume during each moment a character speaks.

After all this is finished, I would focus on panning – or speaker assignment for each layer. Dialogue will be front and center, but the other sounds and noises can be panned to the side speakers. Panning audio is something I still have a lot more to learn about. For example, I am uncertain if it is better to pan most sounds far left and far right, or to settle them closer to the center.

The cool thing about making my own score is that I can pan each instrument separately along the speakers. I am also unsure of where sound effects should be placed – I enjoy panning them according to the object creating them in relation to the visual scene.

My biggest question when it comes to panning is how it effects surround sound. I believe that exporting in 5.1 means that each track will go directly to the speaker it is assigned even if it is not panned. What I am curious about is whether a hard right/left pan makes any change to the speaker it is assigned to. 5.1, for those that don’t know, means that your audio set up includes 1 center speaker, a front left and right speaker, and rear left and right speaker, and 1 subwoofer that plays the low frequency waves (explosions are popular).

The final step for audio would involve leveling it once again. Where will the clip be posted? Youtube, broadcast television, and film festivals each have different leveling specifications. Youtube requires audio that is much louder than the other platforms. The other consideration for this is surround sound – cable and youtube will not support surround sound audio. I believe most film festivals will.

The other major concern for me has to do with kickstarter – I desperately want to offer episode 5 of mountain cult on a DVD. I want it to supply 4k video with surround sound. I’m sure it’s just a few web searches away, but I have some big questions before I can promise this. #1 – can basic DVD-R support 4k and surround sound? #2 – Do I need a special DVD writing drive, or is a simple CD Rom drive capable of writing these specs to a DVD? #3 – Do I export 2.1, 5.1, and 7.1/7.2 to the same disc? Or do I write the most advanced surround sound tracks to the DVD and allow the AV receiver to fold the surround sound according to the viewers audio setup? For example, you can upload a surround sound clip to youtube, but youtube will fold the rear left & rear right speakers so that it is incorporated into the stereo track and plays through front left and right speakers. I believe Youtube supports 2.1 audio, but I could be mistaken.

Anyways, thank you for listening to all this audio gibberish. Definitely not what I intended to write about when I sat down here but I’m glad I got it off my chest. I hope to begin posting stills from my footage soon I’m just too lazy to press the upload button now.

My First “Commercial Shoot”

Today I’m excited to film my first commercial promo for a private business. Maria’s antiques has agreed to allow me to use their shop for the main scene in Mountain Cult – Episode 5. In exchange, I’m going to film a promotional video for them to use on their facebook page (or anywhere else). It will be my first time filming something for commercial purposes, but I have a strong idea for how I’d like the video to play out.

My girlfriend surprised me on Sunday by keeping a visit from my closest friend a secret. I hadn’t seen him in years and he made a spontaneous trip from Portland to come hang out for a few days. He brought along with him his Sony A7III so I’ve been fortunate to experiment with it and share what little knowledge I do have. He’s going to join me today so that together we can fool Maria’s Antiques into thinking we’re competent filmmakers. On top of that, we filmed a comedy short film/scene that I thought was hilarious and hope to post in the next few weeks.

I just completed “Film Journal – Ep. 4”. I’m moving forward with my experiment in the belief that regularly posts will allow me to market Mountain Cult to a wider audience. Feel free to check it out below if you’d like. Any likes or comments on the video help me with the Youtube algorithm so it’s greatly appreciated if you’d like to absolutely obliterate that like button.

Money

So I’m all set to begin the production process for episode 5 of Mountain Cult. I haven’t posted on here lately for multiple reasons, but the main one has been my hesitancy to begin spending money to make the 5th episode a reality. I also spent a week making a cartoon because I thought I could do it in one day.

No matter what we choose to do in life money will always be an obstacle. Part of the overarching goal of being human is to accumulate as much wealth as you can. If you are a foolish person like myself your goal is more likely “how to comfortably afford burritos.”

I’ve been saving money all year with the anticipation that episode 5 would cost me a pretty penny to make. I estimate it will wind up being $2000-3000. I have discovered recently that there are various ways to solicit investors in order to offset some of the costs. I have devoted time to better understanding various methods but they all pose their own unique challenges. I think it’s safe to say that raising money is not a strong suit of mine. My sales pitch is basically “invest if you want, but if you ask me I wouldn’t do it.”

I’ve been looking at platforms such as Kickstarter and Seed and Spark. They both offer awesome opportunities for low budget filmmakers and appear to be extremely viable options for a hustler. I do anticipate launching a kickstarter campaign but I need to be sure I do it the right way.

A major obstacle for me is branding. I feel the most effective way to attract investors for episode 5 is to build an audience. If I were pitching to actual investors, they would like to know that I have an anticipated rate of return. The reality is, however, that short films rarely if ever turn a profit. No matter how great episode 5 may be, the chance of me making money from it is minimal. The real underlying goal is to make something that is successful enough (in terms of execution and/or viewership) to take my filmmaking to the next level. I would like to make a movie or get my show picked up by a service that will pay for me to create more episodes.

So I’ve been weighing my options for how I can ask people for their hard earned cash and they don’t look good – at least right now. But I mentioned my great obstacle is branding – that’s because of the one way I can see myself successfully campaigning for Mountain Cult. I feel my best course of action would be to publish daily video journals about my process making the episode – from start to finish. By growing my platform on youtube I could guarantee an audience when the film is completed. I could also build momentum for the start of a kickstarter campaign. The branding issue exists because I don’t want to market myself as a analysis guy, advice guy, or youtube guy. I only want viewers for my films, but relying on the publication of a video months down the road is not a reliable way to build any type of community.

These are some of my scattered thoughts but expect to receive more of them in the future. I don’t truly know what I’m going to do, but the time has come for me to begin moving forward regardless. I’ll post the link to my shitty cartoon below if you want to watch it. And I’ll post the link to my $1.99 paypal button if you want to become the number 1 big-pockets investor for my project. Each donation is rewarded with a sense of deep regret and asking yourself why you are so careless with your money.

Approaching Completion – 11-7-20

The first take I stood at a slouch to remain eye level. This was a mistake, as I had to repeat the posture for all 20 subsequent takes.

I’m going to keep this short and sweet. I am not far away from having episode 4 completed. I’ve put together the first working draft of the entire film, start to finish. I’ve gone through the audio and brought the levels up. The pictures are all color graded.

The only items I have yet to edit are:

2 scenes in which I need to adjust the pacing

Creating a blood spatter animation

That’s pretty much it. But I’m trying to go about completion the right way. I am confident that the episode I’ve created is my best work yet and can help propel me to the next level, whatever that is. I plan to send the film to a couple contests, I’m just not sure which ones yet.

I want to get 10,000 views on this video. I know it’s a long shot as episode 3 only amassed 300+. I know that on my own I can get it to 1000. But I’m aiming for 10,000. I had a small cast of 6 people help me with this. They have family members and family who will undoubtedly check the video out. That’s not something I’ve been able to say before.

Beyond the contests, my two other obstacles are

  1. Create a method for future supporters to assist in financing the next episode. If I can secure financing of any means, I will be able to create films more frequently. The greatest challenge I presently face is working a shit ton of over time to pay for things. On top of that, I haven’t been able to spend as much time with my girlfriend as I’d like to (I love you babe).
  2. Learning after effects. I can’t understate how excited I am that I’ve been able to create 2 shitty animations this week. The program felt like hieroglyphics for me 2 weeks ago.
  3. Marketing. I’m going to create a couple of trailers for the film. I’m going to blog regularly. I might even create a twitter account for the web series and invest in advertising.

Ok fan base of 2-10 people. That brings this post to an end. I hope you are all having a good week.

Almost There – 10-13-20

James and mike

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.

James hiking

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.

James grabbing gun

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.

Mike & James

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.

James 3

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.

Mike 1

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.

modelo

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.

beer throw

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.

An Onscreen Minute – 3-18-20

gun on the ground

As I mentioned we filmed again this past Sunday and I had high hopes going in. Brad and I were on night shift the hours before and began production on zero sleep. We planned to have our 3 pages filmed and completed by ten AM, when it would start raining. We weren’t done in time. I was supposed to have a black costume but we weren’t able to find one. The new, extended XLR cable I purchased wouldn’t attach to my recorder. After seeing the footage and audio on my computer – I couldn’t be happier.

I made a genuine effort to give an passionate acting performance. Brad surprised me because he did an awesome job and had some incredible takes. Keep in mind I drag him out for this and pay him nothing. He’s never acted in a single thing in his life.

brad stare

Everything I uploaded and watched I have been completely happy with. Don’t forget I already filmed and edited the first minute of the scene one week prior,so the angles and wardrobes had to be continuous in appearance. But dear God is editing a pain in the ass.

If you’ve never edited anything before you might be shocked at the amount of time that it requires. It’s tempting at first to just throw the pieces together like some shitty quilt and sow, but after one brisk re-watch you will see that your video looks like something Michael Scott would make on the Office. Then, you learn a few tricks – like how to zoom or adjust the focus of the picture – and all of a sudden every little scene has an effect. Now you’ve got Gremlins 2.

Going into this, I knew I wanted story to be the emphasis of whatever I shot. Think about Martin Scorsese and how crisps the images are. There’s not a lot of big effects or crazy slow-mo shots in his films. They are focused on raw human emotion & reaction. That’s the kind of story teller I would like to aspire too.

notabbguniswear

The really wild part about editing is the amount of time it takes to make your film feel shareable. My total cut is going to be about 3 minutes 30 seconds. That’s fucking nothing. But it’s taking me since Sunday to finally get it to a place where I’M able to watch the entire thing and feel alright about it. Anyway, just wanted to update you. I want to have it posted before next Wednesday, when I’m loosely planning to film a second episode with a different unsuspecting friend who has no interest in being actor.