Today I’ve post the 5th and final installment of the behind the scenes process of creating “Doctor with the Red Houseware.” I discuss the specific challenges of this day that included prop design, time management, and acting in a scene when you are feeling delirious.
I’m beyond ecstatic to announce “Doctor with the Red Houseware” is live and available for viewing on Tubi. Tubi is a free streaming platform available on all devices. If you’d like to support my work, please click the link above and give it a “thumbs up” when prompted.
Today was a good day.
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:
- Complete the edits
- Solicit Financing
- 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:
Today is one of the most important of my filmmaking journey. I have 2 days off prior to the start of my work week so I need to be aggresive and feel prepared to film next week’s sequence prior to the end of those days. If I’ve learned anything throughout this process it is that preparation will make the difference between laughable nonsense and a decent looking production.
I have a major prop involved in the scene next week and wish to be done creating it today. The major feature of this prop is a circuit board. I decided to make a trip to the local thrift shop and I wasn’t disappointed – it’s not everyday you come across blueray DVD players for less than $10. It’s such a good deal that I actually purchased one for personal use.
So now I get to take it apart today. Once I’m done with that I’ve got to determine how I wish for the prop to appear. As long as it appears like a usable, albeit mysterious piece of functioning technology, it will pass the test.
The other major part of my prepartion includes making a shot list. More specifically, nailing down the angles I will use to feature a sequence that relies on digital editing and masks in order to produce a special effect in the final product.
This evening I will meet with the cast via zoom to discuss how the filming is going to be done next week. I can’t wait to get the meat of this project; but that doesn’t mean I’m not still nervous to actually get this critical task underway. We’ve got 10 pages to film (!) a week from now, so the preparation starts today.
Check out my latest episode of Film Journal and make sure to subscribe if you want to continue staying up to date with the short film’s developments.
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:
- 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.
- 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:
- Free to use (saving $500 or more potentially)
- 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.
The major plot points of a story consists of the inciting incident, call to action, midpoint, all-time low, and climax. Your first act is the set-up, act 2a is the planning stage, act 2b is the action with progress stage, and act 3 is your ultimate battle. The midpoint is the turning point of the story where new information changes the stories trajectory, builds the stakes, and propels the drama into a race against time.
I am a believer in the 3 act structure. I am a believer in plot points. I am a fan of linear structure. However, these elements alone are not what engages the audience.
When we watch movies and read books we do not care about the structure. Most reader don’t even know a story structure exists. You can hit every plot point perfectly, down to the page number, and still produce a boring read that no one will bother with. The viewer is searching for something different.
It starts with the promise. The first scene of any story is a promise to the viewer that a specific emotion is going to be aroused throughout their experience. It may present love, psychological mind games, breath-taking anxiety, or even a simple conversation meant to develop empathy with the hero.
In The Matrix, we are introduced to Trinity bending the rules of physics in the world as we know it. The Dark Knight opens with a scene of the Joker carrying out an elaborate bank robbery as the viewer struggles to identify him. Happy Gilmore and Big Daddy open with a relatable male struggling to accept that his value to the outside world is determined more by superficial judgements than his intrinsic generosity.
The inciting incident is an external event that sets the story in motion. The promise is the drama that compels the viewer to keep watching.
The entire first act should continue to build on the initial promise. Figure out whether it is confusion, empathy, internal longing, or vengeance that you have given the viewer a taste of. Continue to feed the viewer more bites with different seasonings.
Another important element that should happen at the start of any good story is character revelation. When writers contemplate character they consider values, beliefs, desires, goals, etc. But in the mind of a viewer character is only truly revealed by the decisions they make under pressure.
Place your protagonists in a situation where they must choose one of two options. Spend some time building up the importance of the decision and create a conflict where there is no easy choice. The path they choose should be the irregular one – this is what sets your hero apart. For this decision to pay off you must keep in mind your intended audience. They should be the subset of individuals supporting this controversial decision.
I don’t watch the Super Bowl. I never have. I enjoy the parties for friends and food, but this Sunday I drank Jameson and watched movies with my girlfriend instead. This is an example of an irregular decision that distinguishes me from others. If I was the character in a story than my bizarre behavior would be found captivating to viewers who also don’t enjoy jubilant gatherings as much as they’re supposed to.
Stories serve a primitive purpose for us. We use them for survival. There was a time where we relied on stories of tribesmen who died from eating the wrong colored berries. The stories were given a deeper meaning by applying character traits such as arrogance and disobedience to those who perished. From hearing these stories we learned to value qualities such as listening to our teachers and using caution when approaching unknown things.
Always think of your stories as being an instruction manual for life. As the viewer browses through Netflix they are choosing which thematic elements they would like to engage with by subconsciously searching for an answer to their own problems. Give them a hero that wrestles internally with similar conflicts. As the hero evolves to accomplish their goal your viewer should gain insight into how they can overcome parallel obstacles in the real world.
Enjoy your journey today and may all your roadblocks be left sideways and marked with your footprint.
1 year ago I wrote 3 feature lengths script with the intention of having them produced. They were made for low budget companies and redrafted multiple times. Through this experience I learned just how difficult it was to get a script read as a new-comer. Put yourself in the shoes of any agent or producer who receives thousands of scripts each year. You’re only going to read the best of the best.
So I took a leap of economic ignorance and decided to begin producing my own short films. At least this way I could see my stories play out before an audience. That is the ultimate goal as a writer, after-all – inspiring others through stories. With a 5 minute video you’ll get the opportunity, with a 120 page screenplay you’ll catch little more than dust.
The lessons began on the first episode of Mountain Cult, and continue on today. I can say undoubtedly that filming your own stories will make you a better writer. Here is what I’ve learned:
- Treat every line, word and syllable with razor-sharp scrutiny. You may grow weary of glossing over it in the beginning, but you will have no idea how significant your dialogue choices are until you begin production. 4 drafts is nothing! Let’s take a scene where one character is lying on the ground and the other character approaches. Let’s give the character lying down something ordinary to say like “You look lost, mate.”
- The first take is a wide shot. Here is where you realize you’ve made the character Australian even though he’s German and armed with a Samurai sword.
- The second take is a shot over the approaching character’s shoulder followed by a shot over his shoulder. He’s now said the stupid line 3 times on film.
- After you have your over the shoulder shots, you realize he’s not in frame early on because you’re using a tripod and set the frame up for when he’s standing. You adjust the tripod and film his lying down with a downward angle, followed by an over-the-wrist shot with him lying down. Now you have heard the unnecessary word “mate” 5 times.
- You have all 5 shots for the scene done. You look at your slate and realize you’ve taken 30 takes already, since shots hardly ever require only one take.
- You get to the editing room and begin what you anticipate will be an easy job, only to discover each moment you have on film will be viewed, scrubbed over, and edited 5 times longer. If you film is 5 minutes, anticipate 2 hours worth of footage. If you have 2 hours worth of footage, anticipate 20 hours of editing. You will have heard your German Samurai call the approaching stranger “mate” upwards of 1,000 times.
2. Emotional movements everywhere
I have a tendency when writing to feel the momentum of the words each character is spewing out. They go on a verbal rampage, tearing into another character mercilessly until there is nothing left to destroy. I love writing this way, but it doesn’t always play out on scene as good as it feels. Your writing will be much more dynamic by using action to compel twists and turns. Here are two examples:
Sally tells Henry she would like a divorce. Henry tells Sally to give it a rest and grab him a beer. Sally grows even more angry, grabs his beer, and throws it at him.
Does it make sense? Yes. Is it true to life? Yes. Does it reel you into the story? Not really. Why? Because everything went as we expected it to. Here’s a different version of the same sequence:
Sally tells Henry she wants a divorce. Henry sighs and goes to the fridge. Sally tells Henry his alcoholism is the reason she wants a divorce. Henry opens the fridge but Sally slams shut on his fingers. Henry leaves and Sally opens the door to find a half-eaten cake with frosting that reads “I love you and I’m sorry.” Sally tears up, chases Henry outside, and finds him sitting in his convertible with his new girlfriend, who is eating a slice of the cake. Sally proceeds to stab them both to death.
3. Write what you can film
This 3rd lesson will be tested for me in approximately 1 week, when I attempt to reshoot the climatic sequence – one that involves a gun shot & a stabbing.
I absolutely despise handheld shots. That makes filming even the most inconsequential physical movements extraordinarily difficult for me, because everything is done on a tripod.
When I filmed episode 1 of Mountain Cult, there is was a line my character delivered as he released the hiker from his shackles then opened the lock to the gated door and made entry. I literally had to turn 2 keys then let myself in. How could this possibly be difficult, you ask?
The following scene involved my character interrogating the kidnapped hiker inside of the cell. For that scene to carry any weight at all, I needed to have a gun aimed at him in a threatening manner.
So now my character had to retrieve a gun (which had yet to be shown), unlock his shackles, and open the padlock. I realized I needed to time it right. I decided I would swoop up the gun off camera, return and release the shackles, then the padlock, then open the gate and enter. I practiced until I could do these things relatively quickly, but it still wound up taking about 10 seconds. Let me tell you something – try to find a movie where a character takes 10 seconds to do a basic human action such as pouring milk on cereal, cooking with the microwave, or vacuuming a room. They do not exist because only a sloth could pay attention to something mundane for that amount of time.
So to film this basic sequence, I had to adjust the tripod for a shot of me retreiving the gun, zoom in on the padlock for a shot I could cut to, and learn how to smoothly unshackle the cuffs by flicking a safety release without it being apparent on camera. I needed to do all that all while delivering the line.
As I mentioned a short ways up, I intend to film a sequence next week that involves a gunshot, a stabbing, and a take down. I’ve already built an air-propelled “squib” to produce the fake gun blast. I have fake knifes to simulate stabbing, and I have a blow-up mattress that could assist in any necessary rough-housing. But if I don’t get each little physical movement choreographed to the last detail, the resulting scene will be unwatchable and corny. Even the camera angles will need to be established beforehand for any simulated punches to appear realistic.
That’s all I’ve got for today. I hope this post helps anyone looking to write for film, and I highly encourage you to film your own story if you haven’t before. The process is difficult but exceedingly fun and well worth the effort.
I realized something today – I focus way too much on my current projects, and don’t set aside any time for promotion or brand-building. I also experienced a zen moment where I figured out that I use wordpress for journal entries rather than producing content that might be useful to others.
I started to work on a post about how much weight each word in a script carries, something I’ve learned from directing my own short films. Next, I figured out I was about to embark on a 3 hour journey to create a compelling post. The downside of this is that I have only 12 hours before I work again. I must take advantage of editing time while Kelly, my mysterious girlfriend, remains asleep (I’m sorry babe I know I should have woken you up to hang out I wasn’t thinking at the time of my writing this).
In short, here’s the gist of what I’d like to post today:
- We filmed 2 scenes on Monday outdoors that went extremely well. The previous 2 occasions I filmed exterior I had my shit pushed in. Finally, I won a battle (due in large part to beginning at the ass-crack of dawn. Dawn’s asshole, if you will.
- My truck’s engine was shipped on a freight from Arizona. Somehow, it went missing during transit and a different engine will require another 6-9 days.
- Whenever you post bullet points, make sure you always list 3 items or else people will think your list was unnecessary.
Below are a few shots I’m proud of from Monday’s shoot. Thank you for making it this far into yet another meaningless post.
I finally sat down and did some writing yesterday, about 730 words worth. I wanted to avoid it, contemplated the pointlessness of the task, but in the end – I did it.
It’s easy to get bogged down during any first draft. The amount of elements we learn to incorporate in an effective story is never ending – create a sympathetic protagonist, inciting incident, conflict, need/wants… it simply never ends.
They say you’re either a plotter or a planner. I’ve heard the great Craig Mazin (Chernobyl) has literally every major beat plotted out before he begins writing his script. Stephen King, on the other hand, is a notorious plotter.
I have to say I’m more of a plotter. When I sit down trying to plan out the story, I find myself dumbfounded and unable to create a sequence that will work once the writing begins.
What I’d really like to do with these short stories is experiment with different effects. I want to establish a character who experiences a fundamental arc that resonates with the reader and leaves an emotional impact along with a lesson learned.
The story I’m crafting currently is about internet dating and how artificial it is compared to real, genuine relationships. I’m not a hundred percent sold on the concept but it’s simple enough that I feel I can write it quickly without a momentous struggle.
But since this post is about “free write”, let me spontaneously move to another thought that’s been nagging at me – we’ll call it “intrinsic attraction.”
I’ll define intrinsic attraction as a primitive curiosity that subconsciously prompts us to investigate an issue. When you look at videos that “go viral” or news items that generate massive public response, I believe intrinsic attraction is the culprit. I also believe that when producers and publicists refer to the strength of a story’s premise, they are referring to the level of intrinsic attraction.
I think this is what a writer should look for before they begin writing any story. Does the subject itself generate interest? We’ve all seen videos on youtube with millions of views that feature nothing more than a rock being microwaved for 10 minutes. Why do we watch these? Because we want to see what happens.
I feel it’s much more difficult to find as captivating a premise for a story, but that’s the key to gaining views. I think the more ambiguous you can make your stance as the story teller, the more intrigued the reader will become to find out what agenda is at play through the unfolding of your story. If you can find a controversial issue and keep the reader guessing at what you think, this intrinsic attraction will generate a viewer response to engage in your material.
I don’t think I’ve found the answer to this with my current story, at least not yet. I need to put a twist on it or else the reader will enter the story already knowing the answer – internet dating is not as true and reliable as a person in the flesh. I should also clarify what I mean by internet dating – I’m referencing the short term experiences made by online interactions that do not manifest into real world meetings.
I’m going to do more thinking in this area, but of course I’m open to suggestions. Thanks for taking the time to read this and feel free to share your thoughts.
It’s been a long time coming, and a shit-ton of work, but here it is:
Please leave a like on youtube if you enjoyed – it means a lot more than you realize!