Crash & Burn – 03-27-20

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So I completed my first true short, currently called “White Heads”. It took a ton of work for 4 mins 30 seconds, much more than I anticipated. I screwed up a few things during filming that I wasn’t able to make up for in the editing room –

#1 Using a BB gun

#2 Shooting a continuous scene in 1 location on 2 separate days (lighting)

#3 Using an action sequence that had subpar emotion from the actors (myself included)

There were other things that could’ve been done better, but these are the things that stand out to me. My number one takeaway from this experience was that the importance of getting good shots in person cannot be fully made up for with solid editing. I spent hours upon hours on an ‘action sequence’ only to make it look less corny than it was on film.

I’m not going to lie, I felt some major depression around the time I was completing the video. I had a new scene partner who was going to film with me on Wednesday before completely flaking. On top of that, the video has well under a hundred views. I anticipated this and am okay with it, but I’m figuring out that viewers don’t respond well to self promotion (cue the dislikes).

I really felt deflated because I was hoping to edit this weekend. My original plan was to create a few of these episodes with friends, build up a foundation of viewers, than recruit people who actually want to act. I’m realizing quickly that I don’t have the patience to deal with anymore flakes.

So I have to go and find real actors. And by real, I mean community college kids taking an acting class. That means I have to get out of my comfort zone and reach out to others. Unfortunately for them, they will find out that my production team consists of me and my camera. On top of that, I don’t feel it would be wise to pay anybody as of yet. I can afford maybe $40 for one days work of an actor. But I’m also not a fan of dumping money when it doesn’t need to be dumped.

In the meantime, Film Riot has posted a quarantine challenge for a 60 second short film due by April 2nd. I plan to submit to that. My new goals for the coming week are going to be A) learn about search engine optimization in order to organically build and audience and B) reach out to aspiring actors who would be interested/comfortable developing this web series with me. I’ll keep on updating you as I’m a big believer in persistence, even when you’re feeling hopeless. If you’d like to give my short film a view, a like, or even a subscription, I would be overjoyed. Here it is, please feel free to tell me your thoughts and any advice is always much appreciated.

Location Scouting – 3-20-20

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The first episode of the web series is all but wrapped up. I’m really happy with how its turned out but I still have some colorgrading and music to add before I post it. In the meantime, I’m preparing for the next day of shooting.

I have a different friend who’s willing to participate this upcoming Wednesday. That’s not a for sure thing, however, as he lives quite far from me and there’s also a statewide stay-at-home order here in California.

Regardless, I’m formulating plans for the second episode. I want to get ahead of the curve so that I can post regularly to youtube. It’s no secret that consistent & regular post help you build an audience on social media.

I don’t want to give the plot to the first episode away entirely, but I’ll share some of it with you in case you’re interested in my process. In episode 1, My character’s wife has gone missing, so he kidnaps a hiker with a high index of suspicion that the hiker was involved in her disappearance. My character believes this hiker has links to a mysterious cult that performs human sacrifices deep in the wilderness. The first episode takes place in my characters barn yard-turned-prison cell. The second episode will take place at one of the locations below. I went on a hike today and took some pictures around the area I’m considering. Feel free to share any ideas for which area I should select for the episode. As of now I’m limited to myself and one other actor.

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I like the rustic look of this little outpost

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The multiple directions really appeals to me artistically, but I’m afraid this area would get interrupted by drivers during each take

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This is a pet cemetery. Is that creepy or cute?

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More cemetery 

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This will probably be my spot. Trees and hills go on for days, it easily accesible, and far enough from the main road audio don’t pick up the vehicles trudging along below. 

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A miniature dog walking park that nobody uses. Kind of unsettling. Small chance for some interruption during filming. 

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Another solid spot. That horizon line looks amazing. I like how the trail disappears right behind the bushes, too. 

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Some kind of hawk flying overhead. Not a film location but the bird is pretty bitchin’. 

So, there you have it – a regular trail with scenic background, a pet cemetery, and an unused dog walking park. Also that rustic looking barn. Not sure which spot I’ll use, but I need to figure that out first before I can develop an episode for it. I’ll also need a reason for me and the other actor to be at that spot, searching for clues about my character’s wife’s disappearance. I better get it sorted out quick, because my golden day to film is only a handful of days away.

Editing is a nightmare – 3-19-20

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If you’re a writer you know the feeling of crushing procrastination. You love your story but there’s a certain roadblock you can’t quite wrap your head around. Why does your antagonist take this action if what he really wants is this? Why doesn’t the protagonist make the reasonable decision to contact the authorities and instead take matters into their own hands? The lists of rock-and-a-hard place choices is endless.

Well I’m finding out swiftly that goes the same for video editing. There are two action sequences in the short I’m editing (if we can even call them that). I already spent my entire Sunday afternoon cleaning up a simple sequence that features me unclasping handcuffs, unlocking a latch, picking up a rifle, and entering a cell room. As the week progressed I moved deeper into the scene where I’ve met my next major sequence obstacles.

My scene partner looks at the piece of jewelry in his hand, continues on with his dialogue, then hurls it into the cell wall and flees the cell. That’s it, it sounds so simple (and maybe it should be) but it’s turned out to be the crux of my scene. We have multiple takes of the same sequence, but none of the pieces seem to fit together. He pulls out and looks at the jewelry at different times. He practically jogs out of the cell after distracting me. And I am slow to flinch and grab for the jewelry.

It amazes me how such a simple action can make my scene look so f*king stupid. You remember The Office, when Michael Scott shows the James Bond type movie to his coworkers and they all laugh at him? Yeah, this is what that feels like. Funny enough, my only goal right now when I make a short is to keep it from looking like some teenagers put it together on one boring afternoon with an Iphone.

Anyways, thought I’d share my bullshit with you before I get off work and try to figure this sucker out. I’m messing around with different editing effects on Adobe pro premiere, such as zoom in/out and slow motion/speed up. Some of them look really good. An issue with slow-mo is I shot at 30 frames per second, when it appears much better if you shoot at 60 fps for that. When I decided to start directing, I made it a goal to let the story come first. I’ve never seen a film where insane visual effects improved the emotional impact of the story, so I’m trying not to get too invested in that aspect of the process. Anyway, thanks for listening to my complaint.

The Big “L” – 1/12

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I don’t know that I’ve ever felt more distraught during the writing of a post. I don’t know that I’ve ever sat down and written feeling so helplessly frustrated.

Yesterday was a failure. An enormous failure. A huge, whopping, capital “L”.

The day began great, with big plans and lofty ambitions. Everything was set and ready, the props were in order, and I even purchased a knock-off “selfie-stick” to help with coverage(Just Leasing was to be filmed on my phone camera, you see).

A few hours into filming, I locked my phone into place on a cheap tripod that is built for such a purpose. The mount simultaneously pressed and held 3 buttons on the side of my phone that led to a full system reset. Not only did I lose all my contacts and settings, but the footage was immediately washed.

It gets worse.

We came close to shooting the scenes over, but doubt entered the minds of the actors, perhaps with good reason – there was an arguably noticeable error in logic for a crucial scene, and tinkering with it affects the rest of the episode.

A long enough discussion led to an inevitable decision to postpone filming until a later date. We broke for lunch at a local taco shop. I brought in my laptop to show Jordan and Catrina, who are also involved in Cheaters Prosper, some of the scenes.

I store the footage on an external, 3 terabyte hard drive that attaches to my computer by a USB chord. When I finally found a particular scene I wanted to show, the external hard drive fell off the table and smacked a metal piece beside my seat, breaking it instantly. I am no longer able to access the hard drive, and it makes a clicking sound when I plug it in.

I can’t tell you how upset I am. I can’t even pinpoint what I am most upset about. The good news is, even if the data from my brand new $139 hard drive is irretrievable, we will only have lost about 5 pages of film, as my brother and friend still have saved copies of the remaining footage.

I don’t believe in blind persistence. I don’t believe in trying to make something work that cannot, nor do I believe in trying to do something you are incapable of doing. I do not like to waste time. I do not like to lose.

But when I deem a pursuit worthy of fighting for, I fucking fight.

So what is the lesson learned today? What is the meaning of all this?

The lesson is simple. Today was a shitty day. Bad things happened. For Spiritual reasons? For failing to be more conscious of sensitive equipment? For no reason?

You will never learn by focusing the factors that led to failure. If you want to be a critic, a hater, or another captain hindsight, go ahead and focus on the aspects of things that influence demise. But in order to find success, you must keep your eyes the actions that breed it.

Verizon saves texts message conversations in cloud storage, and I was able to retrieve the phone numbers of every person I’ve conversed with over the last 90 days. That is sufficient to store the numbers of every person whom I consider an essential part of my life.

There are specialists who have the technology to retrieve data from damaged hard drives. For an external one such as my own, the customer must pay a pretty penny ($500 is a good estimate). Perhaps the company that manufactured my hard drive may be able to help me for a nominal fee.

Or, we could always re-shoot. The actors have their lines down pat, and the only difficulty would be getting the actors to do the 4-5 hour shoot all over again. It would move faster than before thanks to having gone through it once already.

I guess my point is this – you can’t just fold once things go wrong. You can’t allow harsh critiques of your work to convince you’re not cut out for writing. When things go wrong, you must seek out ways to fix them. Errors happen, and they’re part of any game.

I’m afraid to take my next step forward, but in the walk of life the only other option is to retreat. I’m not going to retreat, and I’m not going to stop. I’m going to run until I reach that Goddamn finish line, and if I have to crawl by the time I get there, so be it.

  • Thomas M. Watt

Waddup – 11/20

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On the set of “Vernon Time”

Waddup everyone.

I know I’ve been MIA for a while but starting now I’m back in action. I have many comments to respond to and obligations to fulfill, and I plan on doing so ASAP… just not tonight (as I write this).

I mainly stopped posting because I had reached semesters end, and found myself simply overwhelmed with computer work. It takes a lot of time and effort to maintain a blog, and I haven’t had that recently.

My newest project, and the one I will blogging about here leading up to its release, is a student/indie film. As I’ve mentioned before, my older brother is an outstanding cinematographer. Many of you are aware that I took an acting course during my latest semester.

So I’ve decided to put my screenwriting skills to the test. During a trip to Burbank with my friend Scott last week, we discussed various premises that would be convenient and cheap to shoot. We hatched an idea that involved young adults playing poker to make a living. To make things interesting, the show is about cheating unsuspecting players out of big pots.

I will play Torque, a former poker pro who got busted for cheating and consequently banned from every casino in the country. Scott will play Jax, a good honest kid who is desperate to provide for his now-pregnant girlfriend.

The script comprises 50 pages, which theoretically amounts to 50 minutes of filming. I chose to write it at this length in order for network executives to be able to compare it to any dramatic television pilot on cable(That’s right, I’m shooting for the stars, but why not?).

When the film is fully edited, I will be posting it on Youtube and entering it into Independent film contests. I’m really grateful to have legit actors from my class willing to work for free during our winter break. Filming begins this upcoming Tuesday.

Will keep you updated.

  • Thomas M. Watt

Author of Master