Filming Day 5 – Part 2

So I arrived late and we began preparing for the “Edward Youtube Video.” The idea for this scene was that my character would be browsing his wife’s facebook and come across a man he recognizes – Edward. In episode 4 of Mountain Cult, my character meets Edward during a quest. Edward offers my character a drink that was roofied, resulting in my character to failing to reach his destination.

So I had to make a youtube video and a facebook page for Sebastian Sage (Edward). Sebastian brought along 3 different button down shirts and we intended to take some creative pictures with each of them. In the end, we didn’t have enough time for a single picture.

The youtube video was fun because we didn’t have to work off a script, but there was still a few rehearsals to be done. The most important thing was for Sebastian to remember each ingredient and mix them in a creative way. In one instance, he spills salt all over the counter top then brushes it into the mixing bowl with his barehand.

At noon Piper Supplee (Shiloh) arrived. She had 2 lines offscreen and one onscreen. She enters the kitchen after I leave and asks Edward who the visitor was. He avoids the question with a witty response and the scene ends. Much thanks to Piper, she helped me realize that their interaction at the end was lacking any true punch. She came up with the idea of recommending Edward expand on the flavors he offers beyond simply vanilla. One of my favorite characteristics of “Edward’s Tasty Cream” is that Edward is obsessively fixated on vanilla being “the only real flavor”. Piper adding this button to the scene allowed him to end on a comically infuriated note.

We filmed with Piper until 3 pm, which took much longer than it should have. She did a great job but during her time there I was not being frugal with the sunlight we had. As an example, I recorded her voice over lines from the kitchen, outside the bathroom door, and inside the bathroom door.

During the previous days of shooting, all of which I intend to recap here, I began knowing sunlight and time would be a major issue. During day 1 I used my folk’s house – and only had 3-5 hours to get it done. Day 2 was at the antique shop, where the business owners were waiting to close up for the night. Day 3 was with Katie, where we raced against the sun in exterior shots to avoid the camera overheating. Day 4 was with Patrick – filmed guerilla style in a seldom used parking lot behind businesses. For day 5, we were using Pat’s kitchen – Pat is a member of my filmmaking group and a strong supporter to all filmmakers. She was willing to give me as much time as was needed.

So now it’s about 3 o’clock and we are FINALLY getting to page 1 out of the 4 we still have to shoot. Fortunately I had to set up the set before we filmed Piper’s sequence. This involved: A table mat, the ice cream cartons, the sign for his business, the mixing ingredients, the lights, and the potted plant. It never ceases to amaze me how lengthy the list of props becomes prior to shooting. Nothing is more aggravating than making a 30 minute trip to a store the night before because you don’t own the measuring cup that you need after the 6th line on the 3rd page.

It’s so funny how the minor considerations never end. As we prepared for take 1, I recognized a potential issue – the blinds. Pat’s blinds were rather transparent. That means as dawn sets in it will become obvious that the time of day has changed when the scene is meant to portray only a five minute interaction. I decided the blinds would be visible in the first shot, but the set up later on would exclude them. This produced another minor consideration that I swear stumps me every time I film.

There is a 180 degree rule in filmmaking that is simple enough for a child to understand. Whenever you flim something, create an imaginary line between two points in the room. Pick one side of that line and film every take only from that side. You can’t go wrong.

What tends to happen is you find your best angles and framing in a room and wind up with a list of 3 – one of which breaks the 180 degree rule. What I like to do is organize my shot list so that the 180 degree rule will be broken during specific moments of the scene. In the kitchen scene, I stand up my chair and address Edward Directly. At this point the imaginary 180 degree line falls directly behind us. Prior to that, when I am seated and addressing Edward who stands near the counter, the imaginary line is drawn from my left shoulder to his right. It is only when I stand up to intimidate him that the line is reset.

Once the takes get rolling (my favorite part of filmmaking) we come across a few obstacles. 4 pages of dialogue can be lot to remember. One missed line, or out of place line, can corrupt the entire take. Because the script calls for Shiloh to interupt us from off screen, we had a difficult time remembering when and where she interrupts us. Remember now, Piper left hours ago.

Thankfully, Pat was more than willing to assist us. She remained seated off camera and would provide the verbal cue to let us know Shiloh had a line. Another minor consideration – the script. Modern day microphones are amazing and pick up sounds and noises that you may not even hear during filming. Because Pat did not know the lines, she would need to hold the script in her hands and discreetly turn the pages to know when to speak. I forget my solution to this, but I’m pretty sure she tore the pages apart and taped them to her wall. I can’t emphasize enough that I couldn’t do this without Pat.

<— That’s Pat

Finally, we were getting all the shots that were needed just as the sun was setting. And it was setting fast. But there was another reason I meant to arrive much earlier than the actors that morning – I needed a shot of me breaking and entering into the residence.

With the sun disappearing so rapidly I didn’t even have enough time to think about it. I knew that it was too dark for the shots to be believable but I still wanted to get them. You see, Pat lives an hour away from me – and I vehemently detest reshoots.

So I ran outside, opened the aperture to 1.4, and took one take of each of the following – myself walking through the backyard, opening the gate, and parking on the street. Each take required me to set up the tripod and find an angle that worked. Lastly, I got a clip of me grabbing the hammer from the passenger seat. It was pretty funny to edit this material because I had my lav mic running and later on I got to hear myself cursing angrily. It felt like getting gas when you’re already 10 minutes late to work and traffic is gridlock.

In the end, it all worked out. Because this scene occurs early on in the episode, I realized in the editing room I was able to make it appear that I arrived at Edward’s place so early the sun had not come up yet. It is only at the end of the scene that we see daylight burning through the blinds.

The lav mics that we used worked great – they blocked a lot of the echo in the tiled floor environment. I’m grateful I placed my light were I did because it was difficult to tell the time of day during my shots of Sebastian. Piper did an outstanding job and her appearance got a good laugh out of one of my coworkers. The point of her role was comic relief, and it worked.

Today I’ll be working on a trailer which I hope to publish here shortly. If you’d like to view the final edit of Edward’s youtube video, you can do so by watching the video below.

The Big Shoot – 7-21-21

The date that I have been working toward all year has finally arrived and past. On Monday, July 19th, I finally got to film a scene that involved 4 other actors at a public location. The amount of preparation required to complete this scene is difficult even for me to comprehend:

  1. Location – I had to go door to door at small businesses and offer to shoot a promo video
  2. I had to shoot, edit, and submit the promo video
  3. I had rewrite the same scene approximately 30 times until it was ready to film
  4. Cast the actors
  5. design the props
  6. order costumes
  7. purchase table mats, candles, a small potted plant, a woven basket, rope, etc.
  8. Purchase an additional camera and microphone
  9. Find crew members available day of event
  10. Consistently respond & update actors and crew members involved in the shoot

The list goes way deeper than this, and I imagine I will talk about the preparation involved in the next film journal. The day of the shoot was Tuesday. I worked Saturday night, came home, and slept for 3 hours. From noon Sunday until the shoot completed at 8 pm Monday I did not sleep. Then I came home and parked in a tow-away zone and stayed awake until 5 am when a parking spot opened up in my apartment complex.

Now it is Wednesday. I have all my footage and audio stored on my computer. The proxies have been created and the media has been backed up on an external hard drive.

I am very excited to move forward. I am extremely pleased with how everything turned out, but will not have a complete response until I have begun editing. I will try and get some stills posted here soon. The rest of the film includes scenes that only require 1 additional actor and can be shot anywhere.

I should add that having a crew assist me on Monday helped things run smooth and more efficient than ever before. It was truly rewarding and a breath of relief to have competent individuals behind the cameras who you trust to frame a shot appropriately. It was also encouraging to work with people who enjoy every aspect of the filmmaking process as much as myself. In our every day lives, it is common to work with people who will never understand the passion and desire to produce art. To find myself surrounded by other artists was enough of a reward in itself to make all the work, expenses, and time that went into this day worth it all on its own.

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.

Marketing for the Soul

I remade the video I previously spoke about and hope to post it either today or tomorrow. So far the video looks great and the audio sounds crisps. It does not appear unprofessional and I’m excited to edit the material. I have also emailed one of the actors a copy of the current script and am excited to receive her feedback this afternoon.

It’s easy to become bogged down when we monitor trends in art, music, and fiction. When you involve yourself in these industries you see first hand just how much “success” and “fame” are used interchangeably. There is always a craft involved in performance and it can feel disheartening to see how much marketing plays a role. A major idea that comes to mind for me is ghost-writing – when a celebrity or musician employs another person to write their material for them without receiving the credit. The “big name” will draw the audience, the ghost writer will keep them in their seats.

It’s important to know why your medium of choice appeals to you. If fame is your ultimate goal then their are far simpler avenues to “success”. Come out with some controversial opinions and your personality will be more widely recognized. Appeal to the lower nature – or vices – of man and you will broaden your audience. I recently heard someone state that the music industry had at some point transformed to push songs for people who hate music and I can’t stop thinking about that. In the early 2000’s there was an influx of reality show television. There is currently a show called “The Masked Singer” about celebrities dressed in mascot-type costumes while the audience (or judges?) try to guess who they are. Shows such as this cause me to view an alien invasion from a fresh perspective.

Only we, the artists, get to decide how we approach and deliver our material. There are endless formulas, trends, and market research that can guide the choices we make. Ultimately, it’s up to us to decide which shape we would like to take. When I think of the persons and things that interest me I find I have an eclectic mix of influences that are marked more by their distinctiveness then by their adherence to a common structure. The appeal to mass audiences doesn’t weigh on my reception of them. The appeal to my own individual beliefs and values, however, does.

As I begin editing my short, meaningless video today I keep all of these thoughts in mind. On the one hand I am creating the videos in order to expand my audience – so it is admittedly a form of marketing. But I refuse to create videos with the cliche appearance of so many other YouTube style Vlogs. There is no “golden rule” that requires me to make a thumbnail where I smile like a dumbass and point my thumb at a yoyo in a toaster. There is no necessity for me to ask the audience to “punch that like button.”

I can make the video any way in which I damn well please. The end result will be a reflection of myself, my values, and my abilities as a creator. This understanding enables me to export videos for marketing purposes without selling out my love of meaningful production.

In simpler terms, I’m making another short youtube video.

Have a great day and may the creative fire ignite your spirit.

Adding More Words = Good

I would love to use this location for a scene in Episode 5. Also, that’s my lovely girlfriend who refuses to let me take her picture… but what Kelly don’t know won’t hurt her ; )

I’m 15 pages deep for episode 5. The word count is meaningless, the important thing is that it’s shaping into a story.

I feel the more immersed you become in your own story the better the final result will be. I’ve always had a terrible habit of focusing on the words coming out from each characters mouth. I’ve given into the momentum of the ongoing discussion and spilled more gas onto the flame. Arguments can be entertaining, revealing, and engaging. But they are only one possible area for conflict.

I’m excited writing episode 5 because every action, line, and movement orbits around one centralized question:

Who left the bizarre note for Ryan’s missing wife?

I still have to write the ending before I can send it out to some close friends for peer review. And before I can even do that I will need to clean up some names, inconsistencies, and other grammatical disasters. I really, really would like to send out for the roles this week in order to begin casting.

Yesterday I visited my parents at their new home. It was great seeing them and I was honored to be with my family in a small celebration of my Birthday. I would like to use the location for episode 5, but I have two major concerns:

  1. It is 5 miles off from a main road. The main road itself is already one of the most dangerous highways in America and requires 40 minutes of winding travel.
  2. Last time I filmed near my parents home, my father shouted “You’re not a fucking movie producer!” in front of the hired cast and crew.

The major issue with the drive is that the actress who will be playing my wife in a flashback would have to make it as well. I imagine the entire cast and crew that day will consist of myself, one assistant, and her. I just can’t imagine a stranger would be comfortable with that drive to such an isolated area. The 2nd obstacle is self-explanatory (and highly unprofessional).

Of course, the major benefit to filming at this location is also twofold:

  1. Free to use (saving $500 or more potentially)
  2. Reusable and reliable for future episodes.

So these are just some of the items on my mind. I picked up an extra shift for tomorrow as it will go a long way toward funding the upcoming shoot. The downside is I will be working 12 hour nights for 5 days in a row. Typically that results in overall fatigue that prevents me from scheduling dates, budgeting resources, and sending out cast invitations as soon as I would like to.

Obstacles will always exists, however, and these are no different. The cool thing is that I’m finally starting to feel like I’ve got a really good story to show. I’ll keep updating here regularly, but that’s all I’ve got for today.

My mom’s two chickens. The rooster on the left is named Cocky, the hen on the right is named Crispy.

Writing A Lot Without Writing 1 Word

So everyday I fill up 2 bird feeders with Finch food. Now the tree outside looks like it grows them. If you look closely, you may notice they have become plus sized.

My return to writing so far has included circle walking, 30 minute jogs, and aimless movie watching. I have asked 2 actors to return to episode 5 and they have both agreed. I may contact others but it will depend on the script. Currently I plan on finding 3-4 new actors to play new characters. I would like to shoot in March.

Time and time again I have sat down with intention to write the script and wound up hurling vomit all over the page. Dialogue that is meaningless. Action that is purposeless. Tension that is weaker than a routine argument escalating by way of a rise in speaking volume. All the signs and symptoms of a shit story that nobody asked for.

So I opened some writing books today. Reread material that I’ve already digested. No matter what profession we find ourselves in there is always room to learn. As humans we fall prey to habits and oversimplification. We think we know everything when in reality we only apply the 10% of information we need to “get the job done.”

My problem: How do I tell 2 stories simultaneously in a setting where the characters sit around and talk about their feelings?

It sounds boring because it is. I knew I wanted my lead character to attend a group therapy session in a quest for information. I knew this group would block his path and interrogate him in 21st century fashion (like an internet opinion that is bombarded by the most hateful, blood-sucking internet personalities you’ve ever attempted to share a thought with). I had the feeling I wanted, and the general idea, but I didn’t have a plot, a purpose, or a story.

Today I set out to change that. I was determined to write the script from start to finish. I am willing to accept imperfection or even dog-shit-wrapped-in-plastic if it means production over stagnation. Well, I did not write the script. Not one word. I did something much better: I found the answer to my problem.

A riddle.

Ryan will find a note, a letter, or a business card that alludes to Melanie having had an affair with intention to go on a hike with some mysterious suitor. This gives Ryan the impetus to find out more information about who the culprit is and how involved they were with his missing wife. The clue will narrow down the results to only those present in the bi-weekly group therapy session.

In order to escalate the tension, the group must be equally determined to stop him. I can have Ryan’s initial attempts to interrogate group members explode in his face. Maybe the group is forced to relocate and bans the anonymous account he created when he started slandering the group online (or interrogating them).

It is only the beginning of the story, but I finally have my golden seed from which all the branches of my story shall sprout. I have accepted that a strong story must be built with a reliable foundation despite my eagerness to have a working draft. It’s one thing to put words on the page, it’s quite another to have those words accelerate emotional momentum towards an electric boom.

I will continue to try and post regularly but I must choose what I do with my free time wisely. I hope the day finds you well as we each attempt to solve the riddles in our own lives without getting banned for our anonymously pondered thoughts.

And yes, “A Lot” is two words, not one.

What Writers can learn from Soap Operas

Constant emotional movements. But let’s dig further in.

Surprising as this may seem, I am a much bigger fan of psychological thrillers and murder mysteries than soap operas. But we should never discount what attracts the attention of viewers. Soap operas exists for a reason.

This is the area of writing I seek the most improvement in. I also strongly believe the more logical minded you are, the worse you will perform in this area. That is because logic minded writers tend to write with greater attention to plot. Emotional minded individuals write toward character. Emotion minded writers, in my opinion, have more natural talent for creating compelling stories.

It’s easy to start with the big picture – where your character begins, and where you would like for them to go. The problem with this is you have already laid the groundwork for a direct and subsequently predictable transition. Let’s craft an example and see how this works out.

Story number 1:

Mike wakes up groggy and decides he’s not going to feed the birds today. He sees the birds outside hanging out on the feeder but remains inside and watches television instead. He hears a bird smack against the window and says to himself, “I better feed those goddamn birds.” Mike feeds the birds and soon they are whistling on his shoulders.

Story number 2:

Mike wakes up groggy and decides he’s not going to feed the birds today. He sees the birds on the feeder outside, however, and chooses to pour them their seed. Right as he pulls the bag of songbird feed out his girlfriend calls out for him to do the dishes. He sets the seed down on the balcony and returns inside to begin cleaning. He takes a pause and watches through the window as birds peck at the closed bag, attempting to get a nibble of the goods. His girlfriend catches him taking this break and asks him why he looks so ticked off. Mike shakes his head as he returns to the task. His girlfriend walks to the balcony, picks up the bird seed, and throws it out. She tells him that the birds keep defecating on the balcony and she doesn’t want that any longer. Mike watches as the birds flee the balcony en masse. His girlfriend asks him if he’d like to go fly a kite through the airspace the pesky birds used to inhabit. Mike agrees, telling her that sounds like a great idea. When she hands him the kite, however, he stuffs it into the dishwasher, starts it on the warm cycle, then grabs the seed from the trash can instead. He tells her that she’s going to have to accept the birds’ presence or else go and fly kites by herself. He leaves for the balcony, gives the birds their coveted seed, then is happy forgive his now apologetic girlfriend.

I know what you’re thinking after reading that – “God what a stupid ass story.” Well, maybe it is. But it’s my story, and I’m determined to post more regularly no matter how shitty it is. So deal with it, and check out my latest short film if you’d interested in hearing more like it. And on a completely unrelated note, Kelly I love you and I will purchase a new kite later today just please come back.