The Mynerthins – Part 2

Read Part 1 Here

Brent returned to work but had a difficult time concentrating. Durk had expressed relief that Assistant Plethor was dead. It was wrong to feel this way, as Assistant Plethor was an appreciated instructor who always kept the Mynerthins hard at work. Plethor made certain they did not deviate from their assigned informative discussions. As a matter of fact, Brent felt he achieved more when Assistant Plethor was actively encouraging him to complete his duty faster!

Brent paused his typing. Something was terribly wrong, he realized. For some reason, Brent was feeling more happiness at Assistant Plethor’s passing than he was supposed to. For the second time that day he wondered if he should seek out a medical evaluation. He searched the room and found the two men with dark sunglasses staring back at him. They approached.

“Brent,” the tall, slender one said. “Come with us.”

Brent followed the two men out from the main work area and into a compact, dimly lit private room. The shorter of the two men secured 2 bolts and a padlock after they shut the door. Brent noticed Steve placed what was called a “handgun” beside himself on the table. Brent had never seen a real one before.

“Call me Steve,” said the tall one, before thumbing toward his stockier, mustached counterpart, “This is Horatio. Do you’re know why we brought you here?”

“Yes,” said Brent. “Director Limely informed us you would help us engage and sort out our feelings toward Assistant Plethor’s death.”

“Great! Now let’s get started.”

Horatio clicked a pen and prepared to scribble notes on a piece of paper. Steve pressed a button on a recording device and a light began to blink red.

“It is a tragedy and something worth feeling sad about,” said Brent. An unsettling image flashed through his imagination – it was Assistant Plethor, only he was screaming and had the head of an axe wedged into his skull.

“It certainly is,” Steve finally said.

“Assistant Plethor always helped us get a massive amount of work completed. He was one of the best at ensuring our productivity.”

Horatio spoke with a chunky, burly voice. “I figure Assistant Plethor won’t be barking orders at you anymore. You must feel good about that at least, huh?”

“Yes,” said Brent. “Yes I think that is relief that I feel. How did you know that?”

The AC vent hummed as Steve scratched his chin. “What were you doing last night around the hour of 2200?”

“I took a shower and went to sleep.”

“Before the shower,” said Steve.

“I was either reading or writing.”

“Which was it?” said Horatio.

Brent thought about it for a moment. “I believe writing. I have been doing that lately.”

“About?” said Steve.

“I journal every night. It’s supposed to help organize my thoughts and feelings.”

“Did you murder Assistant Plethor?” said Steve.

Brent burst out in laughter and pounded the table with his fist. Sarcasm was a rarely acceptable form of communication for the Mynerthins, but one that he secretly enjoyed. It was believed to be a reflection of negativity and passive aggressive attacks, but Brent always found it to be more of an intellectual inflection.

“No, I did not murder him. Would you like to see my journal?” said Brent.

Steve leaned heavily onto the table as he tapped his fingers against his cheek. His eyelids squeezed together as he kept his gaze firmly trained on Brent. “Are you lying to us?”

The smile disappeared from Brent’s face. Being honest and truthful at all times was the most important virtue of the Mynerthins. Their purpose to human civilization was centered on the knowledge that they were the truth-tellers, provided with the authority to correct wrongful thoughts and dangerous opinions. A Mynerthin that was a known liar was better off dead.

“You have disgraced me,” said Brent. “You have not relieved my grief but sorely aggravated it. Assistant Plethor’s death was a tragedy and worth feeling sad over. I beg you to perform a lie examination on me and grant me the opportunity to redeem my integrity. I demand it.”

Sometime went by before Steve finally exhaled a heavy sigh.

“Horatio, go with Brent to his quarters. Check out his journal. And take pictures. I’ll bring in the next grief-stricken warrior.”

Horatio smiled as he stood. “You’re a natural therapist.”

“I demand a lie detector!” said Brent.

“You’re not getting it,” said Steve, before turning to Horatio. “The title’s Grief counselor, and you’re goddamn right I am.”

Brent felt as though his face were boiling as he watched Horatio unclasps the locks.

The Mynerthins – Part One

Brent couldn’t take his eyes off his own reflection. His mind felt as if it were a bouncing water balloon.

Dirt, sweat, and blood – From his forearms to his forehead. And his muscles – fatigued to the point of instant cramping. Brent washed himself off thoroughly then went to bed.

Breakfast was served – 2 eggs, toast, and a slice of bacon.

“Good morning Brent,” said Keira. “Did you sleep well?”

“Good morning Kiera,” he responded. “I did, how did you sleep?”

“I slept well also,” Kiera said, than held her bacon up.

“No,” said Brent. He scoped the room – nobody else had seen the gesture.

The bacon was the size of his pinky finger. It was Brent’s favorite part of his meal. He often wondered what eating must’ve felt like in the old world. Meat was consumed at a gluttonous rate before the world became uninhabitable. Not every Mynerthin ate meat – in fact it was considered a weakness.

The fluorescent lights above increased to full strength and the Mynerthin’s took their place at their desktop computers.

“Good morning everyone,” said Director Limeley.

There was a strange look about the director as his eyes swept around the room. Two men with dark glasses stood at his sides. It was rare to see anyone from a parallel dwelling, but always a source of excitement.

“Assistant Plethor has died,” said Limeley.

A rush of disbelief overtook the room. Brent turned to Kiera and shared her confused expression. “Plethor’s dead?” he said.

“I’m sorry to inform you at the start of your day,” continued Director Limeley. “We have received two grief counselors to speak with each of you. My hope is that you will communicate them honestly about your feelings and answer whatever questions they may ask you. Please do not discuss this matter amongst yourselves.”

Brent took his place at the computer desk and began his humble obligations. With limited communication between dwellings, many other communities looked towards his group to provide informative discussion that could help prepare civilization for a return to dirt and grass.

At lunch time Brent spotted the available seat beside Kiera. He continued onward due to the inherrent dangers of sitting beside the same person for two consecutive meals. Unfortunately for Brent, the only remaining seat was beside Durk.

“What do you think happened to Padley?” Durk said.

Brent eyed his own bowl of rice. “I believe Director Limeley urged us not to speak it.”

Durk nodded and shoveled a scoop of rice into his mouth.

Brent wasn’t hungry. This was odd, as he hadn’t eaten much at breakfast, either.

“I do feel it is a tragedy and something worth feeling sad about,” Brent finally said.

“I agree,” said Durk.

Brent took a sip of water. Rice was a good meal and one that he was grateful to receive. He wondered if he required a medical evaluation.

“But Plethor will never instruct us again.” said Durk.

“It is awful,” said Brent. He stared fiercely back at Durk. “We should not speak of it any further.”

“Yes, it is a tragedy and something worth feeling sad about,” said Durk.

The two men returned to eating in silence. A song played through the overhanging speakers just loud enough to overcome the chewing. It was a positive song that evoked feelings of joy and happiness. The Mynerthins used many tools to maintain a positive work and life environment.

“But I’m glad he’s fucking dead,” said Durk.

Brent searched the room and found nobody staring back at them.

The urge to eat suddenly returned. Brent took a bite of rice.

Writing Genre Specific Fiction

Each genre of fiction incorporates specific nuances. Comedy must be ripe with jokes, thrillers constantly elevate the stakes, drama evolves conflicts, and horror unleashes fright. The best writers do not compress their stories to fit within the limitations of a single genre, but often utilize elements that will enhance their own story from parallel genres. When a song is composed it is written with a specific key in mind – but elements of the song will inevitably transition to other keys – relative minors, fifths, parallel minors, etc.

I have yet to write a horror story but look forward to utilize the elements of dread, terror, and shock. I am also certain mystery will be the engine that keeps the viewer captivated. I recently rewatched Pirates of the Caribbean (action) and was shocked to find just how frequently mystery was used to carry the story through each act. Major reveals catapult the first and second act into the third – the pirates on the Black Pearl are all dead, Will Turner is the son of a pirate, the gold medallion is valuable because an Aztec curse was placed upon it, and Jack’s seemingly garbage compass actually works precisely as its supposed to.

These captivating reveals are never dumped as information but occur as payoffs. In the beginning of the film we see Will wearing the medallion but do not know its significance. We know there is a supernatural aura regarding the pirates from the skepticism villagers display. Still, we have no reason to assume they are immortal. Jack Sparrow’s compass appears to move erratically – but he studies it as if its telling him something.

I feel that unfolding a story in this way requires the writer to know the secrets before they are revealed. That may seem obvious, but I remember another show where I am convinced the writers had no idea what the hell they were talking about. That show was “Lost” – where an airplane crash lands onto an island and everyone on board struggles to survive as they encounter supernatural phenomenon. The mystery that jaded me the most was the numbers – 8,16,32,64… something like that. I swear they spent an entire season talking about those goddamn numbers, including a flashback where a character won the lottery with the exact digits. Anyways, I finished the whole series and never found out why those numbers were so important. That left me unfulfilled and quite honestly resentful.

What do they mean? Nobody knows. Not even the writers.

It’s easy to write a mystery when you don’t know the answers to the questions you are presenting. Imagine a rabbit starts eating a treat out of a box then suddenly disappears. Ya, obviously there is motivation for you to keep you reading, but the explanation is the pay off. If I tell you that the treat was a magic invisibility pill I’d wager you’d put the book down. But if that rabbit ate a genetically altered carrot that included a chemical composition discovered at MIT by 3 first year engineer majors, and that same composition is theorized to accelerate redox reactions by electrons, you might believe me. It’s incoherrent bullshit, but at least there is a method to the madness. You’d rightfully anticipate a legitimate explanation to how the rabbit disappeared and why that matters. I feel “The Prestige” is a great example of this specific comparison at work. The payoff was worthwhile, despite remaining unrealistic in accordance with real world science.

So as I begin my course with this story I must choose the information the viewer will receive early and the information that will be delayed. But more importantly than that, I must figure out the elements of fear that will make this story a horror. If I fail to find ideas that are terrifying and disturbing than I am better off writing a science fiction thriller. And those scares must occur repeatedly throughout each scene. Dread, however, is an awesome area, as it basically suspense with the anticipation of terror.

This is the end of my post. One day I will discover the correct way to end them.

Returning to the White Pages

I’ve been largely absent from this blog this year. That’s in large part due to my interest in music. I’ve really enjoyed learning more about music theory, production and sound design. After completing “Doctor with the Red Houseware,” I needed some time before I felt ready to tackle another project.

I have a terrible habit of overthinking details. This results in the phenomenon of “Analysis leads to paralysis”. I’ve flirted with several premises I would like to develop but have yet to take the plunge and commit to any of them. There are a few main reasons for this – but the greatest pitfall has been the almighty dollar.

I feel filmmaking is somewhat unique to other branches of entertainment. If you are a great musician, comedian, actor, or even writer, your number one asset is yourself, your number 2 asset is exposure. The creation of a film has much less to do with talent, ability, and skills, and much more to do with budget. You can create an outstanding film with less, sure, and you can use your problem-solving skills to tackle obstacles that pose a risk to production. But at the end of the day, you’re going to need money if you intend to create a film that can rub shoulders with major box office productions. You will want the best camera, best sound, best effects, and most famous actors you can afford.

Acquiring that money is the obvious challenge, but of course there are unlimited strategies to accomplish that. From watching interviews with other filmmakers online, I’ve arrived at a variety of potentially successful avenues. The common thread for soliciting investments, however, tends to involve having a product worth selling – so obviously you must begin with a completed script.

As any writer knows, each project requires an overwhelming amount of time, effort, and anguish to complete. The major salt on the wound for writers is finding a single reader is even more of a challenge.

Part of the joy I’ve experienced in filmmaking has been the knowledge that I would produce and shoot the scripts that I wrote. As I begin work on a new feature length script I can’t help but confront the obvious – I am going to need external financing to complete a 110-130 page story.

I have developed several daily habits that require 30 minutes or less. I find that the more I limit my time the better I manage it. I’m actively considering ways in which I could post a new video to youtube each day. I feel that developing a fanbase could help me reach my goal in more ways than one. I also fear, however, that I will be tempted to devote more time to each video.

Another habit I am considering implementing has to do with knocking on doors. By routinely networking with other producers, distributors, and production companies, I can greatly improve my odds of having an ear open for me when my story is ready to pitch. I can begin to immerse myself in the business of filmmaking rather than hiding in the fantasy of it all.

I would like to return to the idea of crowdfunding the film. Of course, before I can launch a kickstarter campaign I will need to have the script completed and a sizzle reel shot. The sizzle reel is something I can take care of without any hefty investments. This would include a single location with legitimate actors that provides the overall tone and promise of the story I would like to tell.

Just wanted to share some thoughts today. I hope to do so again tomorrow.

Series Recap & Wasted Time

A week ago I set out to submit my kickstarter campaign for review. I wanted to have a link to the pre-launch page as soon as possible. I thought it would be a good idea to use a “series recap” video so that potential backers could rapidly familiarize themselves with the show’s core concepts.

I figured I better make a new series recap video that includes portions of episode 4. But then I realized that I talk about how I make all the music myself on the campaign info page… so I needed to make a new song as well.

From there I realized that ableton live was pretty limited in the synths they offer. I initially hoped to make a sort of dubstep beat. But to do that I would need a plug-in to create my own synths… so I researched then purchased one.

Next I had to figure out how to use the plug in to create satisfying sounds. I wound up creating a pluck and synth that I’m ok with. I’m very excited to learn more about the plug-in soon.

Long story short, I just wasted a week making a song for a new series recap video all because of that nagging idea I needed a one. I’m pretty disappointed with myself since I’ve been determined to improve my time efficiency. Anyways, the stupid video is below if you’d like to see a visual & audio representation of pissing days away.

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.

MC – EP 5 & Sound Design

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

Well good morning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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