Filming Exterior- 10/8/20

As I mentioned yesterday, Monday’s shoot went really well. It was the first time I had a successful shoot outdoors and was in stark contrast to an effort I had made earlier this year. Here are some things I’ve learned are necessary to film an exterior scene:

ND filters – By far the most important single item needed to record in direct sunlight. Every lens has an aperture that changes in order to allow different amounts of light into the image. By adding an ND filter (I used an ND64 for the entire day), you can still manage to use lower f-stops and not overexpose the image.

Tascam DR10L – this little recorder comes with a lavalier mic that you can attach it to your shirt or tape down to your skin. Recording audio is a tremendous risk outdoors – if the wind is howling, the audio you record on your primary microphone will likely be shit. But the greater challenge is your wide shot. Inside of a home there are walls, tables, chairs, all sorts of different objects you may use to hide the presence of your microphone.

Multiple batteries – Originally purchased because I refuse to end a filmmaking production early due to batteries being dead, I actually found a different purpose for these. I have 2 batteries that are meant specifically for the camera, and 2 cheap Chinese knockoff batteries. But the reason they came in handy is that the a6300 is notorious for overheating then shutting down. The battery compartment is a main source for overheating. By being able to change batteries frequently, I reduced the time it took for my overheating camera to be usable again.

Keeping the pull-out display open – I’m not sure why, but the a6300 has a pull-out screen on the back. For some reason keeping this open helps avoid overheating issues.

Small ass, $10-$20 tripods – Not sure I’ll use the shots I got from these, but purchasing really small, basic tripods enables me to get footage from the perspective of a character lying on the ground. The scenes I’ve written for exteriors always wind up beginning with one character sitting or lying on the ground. That results in a big height disparity that can be difficult to film in a single frame. Footsteps are cinematic also.

A cooler with waters and ice – I almost didn’t bring it, but I’m glad I did. In order to appear as professional as possible I purchased a cooler, 3 fold-out chairs, and an easy up. I haven’t used the easy up, but believe it can also provide additional shade for the camera. I’m happy I brought the waters though because we were sweating our assess off and I may have been airlifted to the nearest hospital if I had not.

A strip of cardboard – As the sun continued to rise, so did the temperature in my camera. I found this trick on the internet, and it worked out alright. I taped a piece of cardboard over the body and lens of my camera in order to provide an additional layer of shade and protection from the sun.

Sun-tan lotion – it has yet to be used, but the first day I filmed with Michael, the actor playing Leo in episode 4, he requested it. My initial thought was that receiving a little sun burn is a minor discomfort not worth worrying about. When he stated he had a few auditions later that week and did not want to look like an Oompa Loompa, I had a new perspective. For actors, appearance can affect whether they receive a job.

Anyway, that’s all I got for today. Looking forward to sharing more tips, tricks, twists, traps, and turns soon.

Progress – 8-7-20

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I’m shocked and thrilled by the response I’ve gotten over at actors access. For 3 roles, I’ve received a combined total of well over 1000 submissions. Actors who have been on television commercials, played minor roles on television programs, and tried out for major roles on feature length films have all applied. There’s a ton of talent on there.

So I’ve spent the majority of my free time this week combing through them. I’ve completed my assessment on one role so far and requested a self-taped audition from the finalist. I’m hoping to find the time today to get through the rest before Sunday.

I’ve also ordered the necessary props for the upcoming episode, and am preparing for my first ever ZOOM meeting with the meet group I made on Sunday. We have ten people attending.

Beyond filmmaking, Kelly and I furnished our apartment this week – buying a grill, a couch, and a 55 inch television. I am in the process of preparing the place to be a film set for the cult headquarters as well.

I will have to get some pictures of the layout and upload them here for you soon. Any free time I have I’ll be sure to post another update. But I have to say I’m very excited that my dream is rapidly transforming into a reality.

With a system to get actors in place and multiple shooting locations, I should be able to begin pumping out new episodes for Mountain Cult on a monthly basis. I’m extremely relieved to be able to focus on making films again.

Farewell for now.

Preparing to prepare – 7-17-2020

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After having a smoke and stating our lives are finally headed in the right direction, Kelly glanced up to see our new neighbors.

We moved in on Tuesday. I spent all of Wednesday building a computer desk and piecing together my new “office”. After working a ton of overtime, I spontaneously purchased a FE 50 mm 1.8 sony lens that I’ve wanted for a while. I’m really excited about the prospect of filming again, and have been contemplating how I’m going to structure and shoot episode 4. I’ve also been learning more about camera basics and how to improve my own cinematography.

And then, yesterday, I finally figured out what has been causing my 2008 Toyota Tacoma repeating troubles throughout the year (I’ve changed out the sparks plugs twice and the coils once). After discovering yet another cylinder misfire I finally checked the oil cap – and underneath was a gunky, custard-yellow goo. My coolant has clearly been mixing with my oil, which means I’ve got a blown head gasket. That’ll be $1200-2000 to fix.

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The good news is I’ve been saving up all year so I can afford to have it fixed. I’ve also become accustomed to facing a once-a-year issue with my truck that winds up costing me around $1000. Last year it was a radiator and coolant overhaul.

In other words, this is going to cost me, but I don’t see it as a good enough reason to put my production on hold for any longer.

I’m aiming to begin filming in the first week of August. I want the shoot to last 1-2 days, and I’m looking to hire 2-4 actors at $50/day. I’m going to advertise the roles on Actors Access and plan on spending $200-300 in production cost.

So the next step is the script. I’ve been thinking on episode 4 for a while now. It will introduce the members of the cult and reveal to the audience who they are and what they are all about. I need a group that is capable of savage murder and danger, but I also need them to be believable as a community and have a moral order that separates them from your caricature mob cronies.

You may or may not have read a previous post I made about hermeneutics. In case you missed it, hermeneutics pertains to a perspective change regarding information. For example:

  1. Your boss tells you if you don’t get to work on time, you’re fired.
  2. You wake up late, grab your daughter’s drawing she made for you, and race along side streets to arrive on time.
  3. Stuck at a red light, you see a young girl smoking cigarettes with a group of older teens. You check out the drawing your daughter made for you and see it’s a picture of you on an airplane soaring through clouds while she waves to you from below.
  4. You text your boss “Can’t make it today, deal with it” then make a U-turn and head home to spend some time with your little girl.

The punishment for missing work hasn’t changed – you’ll still be getting fired. What has changed, however, is the your perspective on losing your job. Initially viewed as a means to make a solid salary, the events that occur in the story transform your opinion to view a potential job loss as an avenue toward strengthened familial relationships.

I’m really in love with hermeneutics and predict it will be a staple in future how-to-write-fiction advice. In my honest opinion there is a serious hole in the philosophy that your protagonist should have 1 goal that nothing can dissuade them from. Of course, hermeneutics amplifies the inner conflict of a story making it more of a dramatic production. Still, I think good stories require shifting perspectives because that is what keeps them true to the human experience. For me personally, the source of conflict and course of action makes the above story more intriguing than standard forms of conflict – ie: traffic jams, boss calling and yelling at you, construction occurring on the roadway, etc.

Anyways, I’m hoping to begin writing the script this weekend. As soon as I have it written I can set up a shooting date and send out to have the roles filled. It’s an exciting time for me and I’m looking forward to running my small production company like a legitimate business. I’ll try to upload some apartment pics tomorrow so you check out what will likely become “cult headquarters.”

Need Writer With Brain – 4-12-20

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Episode 2 was much easier to shoot then 3 will be

It’s been a good week for me – episode 2 was viewed favorably and a producer requested one of the features that I’ve written. On top of that, my lens hood arrived along with a lens filter. I intend to film outside again. Last time the camera began to overheat when filming in the direct sunlight, so I believe these cheap tools should help alleviate that problem.

Episode 3 is a big turning point. I’ve mentioned here before that the first day of filming was  wash, so I’m basically shooting it from scratch. That gives me an oppurtunity to rewrite the script and tweak it. I’m going to strengthen the story line, but the biggest thing I can do is reconfigure it for easier filming. The short cut to that will be having Josh leap off the rock immediately then get in my face to stop me from progressing. This way, we can placed the microphone closer to the scene and be able to run through takes more rapidly. (last time we filmed I was running to 3 different stations to make sure the camera and sound were recording before I got into position for the take. This was time consuming and cost us more takes).

But there is a bigger issue. I want episode 3 to be faster paced with elevated stakes and greater tension. Like I’ve said before, a story is about what happens. So instead of linking a script, I’ll just list out some shit.

If you haven’t seen episode 1 & 2, here is the just of what happens:

Episode 1 – Ryan (my character) has captured a hiker whom he accuses of being a cult member who played a hand in abducting his wife. The “cult member” manages to break free and leaves behind a piece of Melanie’s jewelry (Melanie is Ryan’s missing wife)

Episode 2 – Ryan shares his cult research with his brother, who suggests he is losing his mind. On his way out, Ryan’s brother suggest that he scope out “Ruggerman’s Trail” – the place where weird, supernatural shit has been reported.

Ok, that brings us this weeks project. As it stands, episode 3 plays out like this:

  1. Ryan hikes, searching far and wide for signs of Ruggerman’s Trail
  2. Ryan spots the pile of clothes that the captured cult member advised him about
  3.  Josh prevents Ryan from proceeding and orders him to turn back
  4. Ryan tricks Josh and gets to the clothes
  5. Josh also has an ace up his sleeve, and the episode ends with Ryan in impending danger

That’s pretty much 5 pages. It’s the most action I’ve had in a single scene, and being that it is outside, I don’t believe I’ll be able to capture all the footage in one day. That is another motivation for me to reduce the scene with Josh to 3 pages, and dedicate 2 pages to raising the stakes and developing the overall story. Here is what I’m considering adding.

  1. Ryan searches a map for the location of Ruggerman’s Trail
  2. Ryan receives a call from his mother in law, who complains how she has only heard from her daughter through text messages, and desperately wants to come and see her face to face. She will arrive shortly.
  3. Ryan tells her he’s welcome, then rapidly packs his belongings and heads for the hills.

Those are the baby ideas that I’d like to develop into A, B, and C story lines. What I could really use is a logical reason for Ryan to recover the pile of clothes to redeem himself from any accusation of involvement and also prove his theory that a cult has taken her. I’m having trouble figuring out a good reason that Melanie’s clothes being retrieved by prove could somehow prove his innocence, however.

On top of this, I don’t have anyone in mind to play the mother in law. This isn’t a huge concern, as the role will only consists of voice-over audio included in the phone call.

I just want the episode to feel like a race, from start to finish, with one thing going wrong after another. I want it to feel like if Ryan fails to reach the trail he will be going to prison, blamed for his wife’s disappearance, and unable to shed any light on the secretive cults existence.

I’m open to any and all ideas at the moment. If you think you see a way that I could increase the tension, stakes, or conflicts in this episode, please do not hesitate to share your idea. I’m open to anything at the moment, but keep in mind that resources are limited. No new actors or expensive props are available at the moment. Thank you for take the time to read through this blather of a post, and I wish you a happy Easter.

If you would like to view episode 2, feel free to check out the link below.

Mess of a day – 4-4-20

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This is my Josh. He is supposed to be my scene partner today, but his car was towed last night.

The plan today is to film part 2 of episode 3 for the webseries. My scene partner Josh has committed to the rule and is excited to participate again. A major, MAJOR hang-up however is that his car was towed last night. He tells me that he can pick it up in the morning and still get here in time for some filming. I will survive if he cancels – after all, I work night shift and am hesitant enter work with serious fatigue. Episode 2 is already filmed so I can always work on that. The most significant drawback is that it is supposed to rain here until Wednesday.

It’s a mess of a day, however, because day one was filmed in bright, sunny lighting. We worked our asses off for 4 hours and only got through 1 page of the 5 page script. I’m very concerned about the lighting. But there’s another issue – I’ve edited some of what we shot, and found a handful of reasons to reshoot it.

  1. I’m not visible in my favorite camera angle shot
  2. I made Josh yell too loud in his close takes. It affects audio quality. On top of this, it appears he’s staring straight at the camera, instead of to camera left, where I am supposedly standing.
  3. I want a shot from over Josh’s shoulder.
  4. The angle that shows a full view of the clothes is not stabilized because it was handheld.
  5. I have a take that’s mean’t to be my perspective. I’m hiking uphill and checking out the hills in the distance. I spot the pile of clothes I’ve been searching for, charge toward them, and then spot Josh, who gets in my way.

Number 5 is the one I’m most concerned about. As it stands, in the take I have you can see Josh perched up above when I turn to see the hills. When I do spot the pile of clothing, my character momentarily freezes before charging forward. Switching back to the camera at my perspective, my character advances uphill before rapidly panning to Josh, demonstrated my character realizes he is there. I did not record any audio for this, so the rapid realization doesn’t make much sense.

This entire segment looks so corny it’s embarrassing. I’m sure there are some ways around it in the audio room but it’s such a nightmare working with low quality clips. Each of the 5 takes I want to reshoot feel necessary. But like I said before – it took us 4 hours to get all those clips, as much as I dislike them. I don’t like wasting time, and I sure as hell am not ok with laying an entire day of filming to waste. I feel the most amount of time I can allot to reshoots is one hour. But this presents a new challenge – for shooting outdoors, I need consistent lighting. I have no idea how I’ll be able to get through this entire script today, even if we’re at it until it’s time for me to head back to work.

Anyway, these are the issues I’m dealing with in my head right now. I am happy that work was slow enough for me to get a power nap in, so I’ll survive if we hit it hard today. In other news I’ve been able to promote episode 1 enough to accumulate over 80 views. This was no small feat, especially after it previously amassed 60 views before I cleaned up the audio and reuploaded it. I realize those are rookie numbers, but I am still a rookie. Every person who has taken the time to give it a watch – thank you, a ton. And to those of you who have given it a like and/or comment, I can’t tell you how incredible you are. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out below.

An Onscreen Minute – 3-18-20

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Rain Day – 3-13-20

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I’m currently finishing up the 1st shift of my weekend night shift tour. It’s 4 am over here and I’m tired as hell.

Well the video is online and I managed to get some views through some shameless self promotion. 2 dislikes which may or may not have been due to my self promotion style of advertising. I can deal with that.

I’m aiming to create a channel that pumps out 5 min shorts on a weekly basis. I want to create an efficient, reliable source of entertainment to build an audience and improve my filmmaking and story telling skills. I can’t understate how fun and eye opening it is to write a story then see how it plays out with human actors. I learned from my experience last Saturday that giving a main character repetitive lines such as “You’re crazy dude” and “When was the last time you slept?” really do hinder the drama and conflict you’re trying to build.

Over here in Riverside it’s supposed to rain until Saturday. My scene partner says he may be available on Sunday. We shot the first half of our scene last Saturday.

There’s a few obstacles here I’ll have to confront. The major challenge will be finishing a scene in the same location with different lighting. If it is not cloudy outside, it will be a noticeable difference. We could cut to a shot of him hiking and use voice-over to finish the scene. Maybe I could cut the scene early then show the second interrogation as if it’s a separate day. I’d love to reshoot the entire scene but finish it through its end, but that’s when the time and efficiency factor comes into play. For now I don’t really know what we’re going to do.

I do know this – I have to plan better. I should have the script fully fleshed out days in advance and have any materials needed already purchased. I can take pictures of the location we will film in and have a strong idea for where I will be placing my camera. These are factors that I can control.

If we don’t shoot on Sunday, I think I’m going to build a DIY dolly. I also need to work on recruiting real, legitimate actors. I’m partially procrastinating on that end, but I also feel that building up a resume of quality short films will build a reputation for my channel that it’s worthy of people serious about film. That’s all for now, I’m going to try and stay awake as we finish this graveyard out.

Below is my first short scene. If you want to check it out and give it a like, I’d really appreciate that. But if you give it a dislike I will spend the rest of the day boiling with rage and contemplating deeply about the direction of my life until I find a reason to validate my own filmmaking decisions and belittle those who criticize me no matter how justifiable their opinions may be. And then I’ll tell my shampoo bottle and he’ll agree with me. He always does.

Gear Ready – 2/29/20

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This is me drinking a beer

I built the computer. It took blood, sweat, tears, and an absolute certainty that I destroyed $1000 in computer parts but I did it. Along with that, I received my Tascam DR 100 mk II in the mail. It sounds phenomenal paired with my audio-technica microphone.

So I built the computer on Tuesday, using a step-by-step guide on youtube (the best how-to service in the history of man, btw). After it was completed, I plugged it into an old monitor, took a deep breath, and powered that son-of-bitch up. Got the good old “no signal” message and was bummed, but not devastated. I chalked it up to old parts not gemming with the new parts.

A quick trip to walmart the next day and I was all set to pay $50 on a new computer monitor. Upon arrival I discovered the monitors I was searching for were available for shipping, but were not actually stocked in the store. No way in hell I was waiting.

So I purchased a $130 32 inch tv and an HDMI chord. I didn’t anticipate keeping it. I got home, hooked it up, and got the same message – no signal. I was actually convinced that I had broken the graphics card during my build, or possibly shorted something with static electricity during set-up(don’t use latex gloves when you’re building a computer). Sure enough, my Ram wasn’t pushed all the way in. It’s a terrifying feeling using elbow grease on something so expensive and delicate.

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About 1/4 of the mess I created

Long story short, my new video-editing machine is working as good as expected. It took another entire day to figure out how to import footage from my sony a6300 (its a codec XVAC-S that you can import with a MP4 wrapper simply by switching USB connection to MTP on the 4th page of the 6th suitcase tab in the menu options). I still haven’t been able to import any aduio, but I think one final purchase of an SD card reader should do the trick.

I’m hoping to write a 5 page script this week that I’ll be able to film this weekend. In the meantime, I’ll attach some of the images from my camera. Keep in mind I know less than nothing about photography. Any pictures that do look good are in thanks to the camera. Hopefully you can see how great a film quality they have to them, and why I’m so excited to begin bringing my stories to life through its lens.

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A perfect set if only I could use it

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Beautiful shot, mostly because of the firefighter

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I love the movable focus option. Draws your eye straight to the subject.

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If I wasn’t lazy I would have made this the first picture since it shows the scope of the response.

Vague Plan

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Photo by Ali Pazani on Pexels.com

Everything I need to film my first short film should be arriving within 1 week. After that I will have to build the computer, learn how to use my microphone, and adjust to my new Sony a6300 camera. I will not have any lighting equipment, I will only have one 18-50mm lens, and I’ll be posting the video to youtube for under twenty views. I’m ok with that.

When I regularly posted on wordpress I made it a discipline to primarily grow my blog by posting short stories. I think this is especially important if you are trying to become a writer – the temptation to post writing advice and insights is always strong and enticing. The problem is you will only attract writers who are trying to do the same thing as you. You will not build an actual reading audience, because your followers are coming to learn about writing rather than be entertained. It’s also much easier to analyze another person’s work and figure out what they did wrong or could have done better. There is no shortage of online information available that is focused on the craft. What is especially difficult and rare is the ability to prove your craft through your works. I’m going to try my best to build an audience on youtube for my short films. When I feel my work is qualified, I will start entering competitions or submit through other avenues.

For my current project, I already have a pretty decent plan in place. I have a location – an outdated barnyard – and one friend who is willing to act. My girlfriend will be able to help with handling the equipment during the shoot (she refuses to act in a project unless she is “a homeless person sitting in the corner”).

I’m excited to begin typing out a script. Nothing is more revealing than seeing your pages brought to life – last time I wrote a 1 minute script for fun, I was shocked to discover how difficult it was to deliver some of the lines. I’m going to keep the plot close to the chest for now, because I think it’s a great premise for a 1 location story with limited actors. I think it could work as a multi-episode story, too. The plot forces the MC into isolation and leads the viewer to wonder whether he is crazy or has an object of national importance.

I’ve noticed that the number one thing that engages me as a viewer is early empathy with the main character. I’m thinking I’ll begin my story with the main character writing in a journal. This way, I can provide some voice over to give a little bit of background without making it a reoccuring perspective. I see something very similar to the opening of Chernobyl. From there I can see him playing piano. But there has to be something more – something very unique that makes the viewer say “I want to follow this man’s journey.” All great characters stories have this – a unique action that’s both relatable and unique. A prime example of that – my girlfriend saying she’ll only be in a film if she’s a homeless extra. A great film example would be Parasite, where the family allows the toxins to waft through the windows in order to kill their own bug infestation. They are so poor and have such little regard for their own health that they make this bizarre choice. That was the moment I knew I wanted to follow their journey.  Alright, that’s the end of the rambling for now. I’ll have more information in my next update.

2020 Screenplay Competitions

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Photo by Griffin Wooldridge on Pexels.com

The computer components will be arriving next week, and most of my film gear is already here. I have 3 screenplays that I need to enter into into contests but spending more money on this toxic relationship I have with writing is the last thing I should be doing. It’s always funny to me how after I spend large sums of cash I skimp on the already cheap stuff. Below are three contests that I intend to enter. They are affordable, reputable, and still open for 2020:

Nicholl Fellowship – $48 March 6th (early deadline)

Scriptapalooza – $60 March 2nd (late deadline)

Breaking Walls Thriller Contest – $60 February 29 (extended deadline)

The first 2 are more well known. The third I’d like to enter because I have a strong thriller and it seems legitimate.

I’m not a big fan of screenplay competitions – in fact I’ve never entered one. I don’t believe winning a competition can actually land you a job in the film industry. I do believe it can get you attention. Winning a big competition seems like a great stride toward some form of representation.

Unfortunately, the world of writing is over-saturated with writers. It is difficult enough to craft a novel or screenplay that is emotionally engaging for the reader. The harsh reality is that this is not where most writers get rejected. Having a professional open your story and read the pages is next level – it’s much more common to complete a clean chunk of work that never even gets opened. That’s why there is so much emphasis on writing a catchy logline and intriguing synopsis. By shooting my own short films I’m finally be able to see how my writing plays out for real world viewers. By entering competitions, I’ll essentially be paying people to read my screenplay. It’s not a decision I’m at peace with but viewing my prospects logically I believe it’s a necessary investment. But for today, my only investment is going to be 2 chicken sandwiches and a small drink from Jack in the Box – for a cool $5 I’ll glad trade the health points.