Obstacles Ahead – 11-2-20

russell no color

Original, untouched footage in S-Log3

I’m close to finishing the edits on episode 4, and I’m very proud of what I have. There have been more than a few bumps in the road –

1. The 1st day of filming I used bizarre color settings and shot in S-log3, which has made color editing a huge challenge.

2. The 1st day of filming I recorded audio at Medium gain, which has forced me to add a lot of gain in post which can cause some distortion in a few places.

Russell no painting

Same frame with color correction applied

3. The day I filmed with my brother (day 5) we were constrained with time and decided to do the entire scene in one take. It came out pretty well, but unfortunately significant portions are not in focus and I have been unable to find a good way to cut those out. I have close ups (like, lips and eyes close) of myself that I recorded right after he left. I’m leaning towards sticking to 1 take even if that means we’re both temporarily out of focus.

out of focus 1

At least in this frame it focuses on my brother rather than the latch.

For the above 3 problems, I have decisions to make. Ultimately, however, I am limited in what I can do to fix these issues. I have accepted that, and am also grateful I’ve improved my filmmaking ability so that I did not consistently repeat these errors on the following days of recording. It’s a harsh lesson but an important one – get it right during filming, and your days of editing will be SIGNIFICANTLY easier. Beyond that, I have these obstacles ahead of me:

  1. For the outdoor shoots, I attached a lav mic to each character and turned the gain on “HIGH” for my microphone. Consequently I have 3-4 audio tracks for each line of dialogue. From what I’ve gathered, my best choice is to use only one track, so I’ve got to locate that for each line. Not too difficult.
  2. Digital blood – There are 2 instances where I would like to edit in digital blood. I’ve been learning Adobe After Effects for the past week and have made 1 animation for blood. It is not ready yet but I do believe I will continue to progress and make the blood squirt appear authentic.
  3. Digital intro – I want to have “Mountain Cult” appear in 3-dimensional space in the beginning of the film. This can be done through after effects. It will be a challenge, but it is also one of the easier type of animations you can make.
  4. Adding in digital paintings – This is a bit of an OCD thing, but there are a couple of shots filmed in my apartment that have WAY too much white wall in the frame. I am determined to add objects – e.g., a painting, into the background. This can be done so it appears seamless. I’m in the process of learning how to do it right.
  5. Find a contest! I’ve been searching online and there are several contests I can enter the film into. Once it is completed, however, I would like to upload the video to youtube. I want to create shirts for “Mountain Cult” and ask for any person who supports the series to show support with a donation. That donation will give me a production budget for the next episode. In return for a donation, supporters will receive a T-shirt with the series logo on it.
with painting 1

Same frame with the painting (object) I’d like to add in.

Anyways, this is what I’ve been up to. If I am diligent I can cross most of the items off my list in one weeks time. The only hang-up I have is that I will be working 72 hours this week beginning tomorrow, which means I have to make the most of my off time. I can tell you I’m very excited, and am also obsessed with the ending my film – as it is the best sequence I’ve ever shot, written, and directed. Looking forward to posting the episode here soon.

Hermeneutics – 6/8/20

hermeneuticcircle

I re-watched an awesome video that I’ve linked to below. It’s the first of a 3 part series concerning Christopher Nolan’s philosophy. How the creator knows that Christopher Nolan crafts his stories according to the philosophies he mentions, I do not know. Chris Nolan may not even know what Hermeneutics is, for all I know. Nonetheless part 1 has most captivated my interested.

Wisecrack, the creator of the video(more specifically written by Tommy Cook and researched by Austin Smidt), discusses a subject called Hermeneutics – the theory and methodology of interpretation. The video argues that Christopher Nolan applied this theory to films such as Following, Memento, and The Prestige.

Hermeneutics can be observed in regular life with regards to news articles, biblical passages, or honestly any form of information. We collectively interpret news articles with polar opposite degrees of satisfaction and disdain. According to the above video, Christopher Nolan applies hermeneutics to his films in a unique way – His protagonist changes his emotional interpretation of the same information at different points in the story.

In Memento, the protagonist views pictures with accompanying notes as clues he’s written to enable his damaged mind to hunt down his wife’s killer. At the end of the film, it is revealed that he created the puzzle of photos and notes to avoid feeling the pain of realizing that he was the one who actually killed her. That is emotionally impactful due to its irony. I feel this is genius, and an incredible tool to strengthen your storytelling ability. It is almost enough to build the foundation for a character arc all by itself.

Let’s create a 1 paragraph story to see how this might play out:

After the disappearance of his son, Bob discovers an ownerless dog who barks at him. The dog appears starving, homeless, and alone. Bob takes the dog in, feeds it daily, and gradually the dog transforms into a healthy, loving, joyful spirit. One day Bob walks the dog past his angry neighbor’s home. The angry neighbor’s jaw drops – he tells Bob he needs to give up the dog. Skeptical and cocky, Bob replies to him that there’s no way in hell he’d listen to his grumpy ass about anything. Then the neighbor tells Bob that the dog was formerly his until the day he found it tearing the corpse of Bob’s son to pieces. The neighbor left the dog in the streets and never spoke of the matter to anyone.

Do you feel how powerful that is? The dog hasn’t changed – it’s still as fun loving and playful as it’s ever been since Bob took care of it. But we desperately want to know what happens next. Why? Because Bob’s next decision will determine his character. More importantly, you are waiting to judge Bob based on what he does next. As a writer, here are the conflicts you will have to resolve –

1.) What do we do with the dog – kill it? Forgive it? Blow off this new information as nonsense?

2.) What about the neighbor? Call the cops? Kill him? Assume he’s lying? Investigate for the truth? Figure out an alternative reason he’s telling us this?

All of this conflict is strictly internal. Bob’s next course of action will determine his character – who he is. The heroic course of action depends on the viewer – It doesn’t really matter what Bob decides, his decision will ultimately alienate a certain audience while fortifying the support of another audience. That’s what news articles do – they are designed to showcase an event that will capture the judgment of our core values.

Anyways, I’m in love with this new writing tool. I hope you see the value in it as well, because I have yet to read about it in the many books on story telling I’ve devoured.  I can’t wait to incorporate it in my next episode of Mountain Cult. Play around with it and let me know what you think. In the meantime, feel free to check out episode 3.

 

Running a Meetup Group – 5/29/20

meetup-logo

If you’re looking for helpful advice on how to run a meetup group, this post isn’t for you.

So this is pretty much a lazy bull shit post so I urge you not to read further, I just think I need to get in the habit of posting regularly again. For Mountain Cult I don’t really have anything to do until I secure a location for episode 4.

Ok, so here’s what I did – I realized I new very few people interested in filmmaking, and in particular acting, and also saw that my local area did not have any local groups that would serve my interest. So I launched my own – the Riverside Film Network.

Well, guess what – the corona virus has had this strange effect on people where they don’t really leave their homes or go out in public places. So the first 2 meetings I had with the group were suggestions to create a short youtube video, which one lady kindly did. Also my good friend joined the group and created one, but that was just to troll me.

Now that the covid-19 lockdown is winding down, I’m preparing to announce our first meet up. I’m pretty excited about the possibilities of the group, but also apprehensive. I don’t want to be the constant driving force behind a group if the participation is insignificant. At the same time, however, I am the one who started the group, so it’s success/failure is largely on my shoulders.

Do you have any experience with meetup? If you are a writer I highly suggest you join one. Being in a public group is a great way to motivate you to continue striving toward your goal and is the first step in networking regarding your specific interest.

Ok, that’s it. Here’s my stupid ass short film if you haven’t seen it yet. God knows I’ve posted this thing enough times already.

Going through changes – 5/28/20

20200528_054334

This goat has nothing to do with this post.

Been back on “the grind”, as they like to say, promoting my latest youtube video and liking and subscribing like a mad lad. I’ve been using discord for the first time in my life, which I predict will become the next social media giant because it is an awesome, and largely unknown, platform for social media promotion.

I’ve surpassed 200 views and am rapidly approaching 250. That is no small achievement for me, laughable as it may be, for I had to work 3 times harder to get 100 views on earlier videos. I’m proud to say I feel that it has been easier to promote due to being a better quality video than the previous.

After a week of stepping away from the series in aspects of production, I’m ready to begin preparing for episode 4. I have 5 actors who are willing to perform a role in the upcoming episode, which is awesome because I’ve previously had a very difficult time convincing friends their involvement will not result in shaming their family and hiding their faces in public.

I’ve purchased lighting equipment and 2 realistic looking bb guns. I’d like to order more guns, but amazon refuses to ship bb guns in california due to new legislation banning the kind I am looking for (I’m not a big gun rights activist but I think this is stupid as shit). For now that’s a minor problem, but the real issue is –

Location. I want a headquarters to call home for the cult members. Me and my girlfriend just happen to be searching for a new apartment to rent. She doesn’t know it yet, but I’m going to be making my decision based on which will be the best for me to film in HAHAHA (if you’re reading this I love you and I’m sorry).

So that brings me to the “going through changes” thing. I can’t really focus on developing the next episode until I have my locations squared away. I already have a vision for the basic plot of episode 4, but being an ultra low budget production I have to utilize my resources first. I’ll save the airplane crash until episode seven thousand.

As a side note, I have been doing some thinking about how I can challenge my main character and make his plight more interesting. He is a man struggling with sanity in a quest to find his missing wife. His core belief appears to be that trusting anybody is a mistake. I need to introduce a new character who will challenge that core belief, and I need to produce some changes in him to create more depth. I also want to introduce the idea of fun into the story, because I believe that’s why we enjoy stories – we want to feel a sense of joy. We turn to thrillers because we want to sense fear and suspense, sure – but we also want simulate the experience of hanging out with a friend. That’s why we turn to stories when we’re down.

Anyways, just thought I’d throw an update out there mixed with some ramblings. I hope you’re having a great week. If you haven’t checked out the show yet, feel free to watch episode 3 below.

Intermission – 5/23/20

ep 3 cover 1

After posting episode 3 and marketing it over the past few days, I’m feeling much better than I did during my last post. I’ve gathered over 180 views on it, which for me is a remarkable feat. If you’ve been following me for a bit, you’d remember that I ordered all my equipment, built a camera, and started learning about filmmaking earlier this year. So I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for each new youtue subscriber I have gotten.

Since episode 3 is wrapped up, I’m taking a short break before I begin writing and organizing for episode 4. A major reason for that is me and my girlfriend are looking for a new apartment to rent. Unbeknowst to her, that apartment is going to be used as the “cult” headquarters in my future videos.

I also did some amazon shopping in preparation for episode 4. I’ve purchased a bb gun that looks so damn real I’m afraid to bring it out into public. I also got a second a hard drive, which I finally installed today. Yet to be opened is my new lavalier microphone, which will allow me to record a back up audio track and record audio in shots where it is difficult to hide my current condenser mic. I also purchased a second lens – a sigma 30mm. It’s in the box and I can’t wait to try it out.

There are a couple decisions weighing me down currently. For one thing, my current hard drive and NVME card is nearly full. I’d like to delete all my stored footage, but once I do that I will lose the ability to edit my past projects. Because the story is loosely adhering to a feature length screenplay structure, I’m hesitant to lose that ability. If I go back to my first two episodes, I will be able to improve the coloring and clean up the audio. I can then edit out a few of the credits and combine the clips to create the first 20 minutes of a feature length movie. Who knows, maybe I’ll be able to market it for distribution at some point.

Anyways, these are my thoughts. Hope you have a great weekend and stays tuned for more updates.

Burnt out – 5/22/20

ep3 cover 3

After weeks of locking myself up and editing a stupid phone screen to make it look black, I completed episode 3. I’m tired as shit, void of sleep, and genuinely sick of promoting the stupid video.

I’m proud of how it turned out – it’s easily the best thing I’ve put together. Ok, it’s not great, nothing special, whatever…. I built a dolly, learned how to color grade, and discovered some new editing techniques to create some low budget “special effects”.

I apologize to all 3 of the people out there who may have been following my blog post. I had to stop posting on here because editing was eating up ALL of my off duty time. Now that the video is completed, and posted, I should be able to interact again more regularly.

I’m already looking forward to the following episode (I’m not burnt out from filmmaking, mind you) and have a handful of actors who are supposedly willing to perform. I have a great idea for the next episode, I just want to make certain I have my resources all lined up before I type out the story.

This weekend I plan to promote the video. It is such a pain in the ass to go through different social media platforms yelling at people to “look at my work! Check it out!” but someone has to do it. Since you have a wordpress account, you’re probably already aware of that.

I just wanted to stop by here and vent out all my frustrations because I know that’s the type of content you signed up for. What better way to start your morning than to listen to someone gripe about stupid shit. I always end my post with “anyways” and even that annoys me right now.

Anyways, I posted the video down below in case you wanted to check it out. Feel free to almost click play and then click back instead so you can read a different wordpress post.

Overwhelmed & Episode 3 – 5-2-20

big ed

My girlfriend is obsessed with Big Ed from 90 day fiance. Unfortunately he was not supposed to make it into this take.

As anybody who follows me already knows, it seems I enjoying stacking my plate until the food starts falling off. Last week I filmed episode 3, launched a community film group, and promised my uncle I’d read and provide feedback for his feature script.

I was so excited and busy I was hardly able to sleep at all throughout the weekend. When my Saturday graveyard shift hit, I felt it. I spent all of Sunday lying motionless in bed unable to figure out where to start.

Well I rented a hotel for a couple of days with my girlfriend thanks to a special deal available to frontline EMS workers. I used this time to recover mostly but also couldn’t help myself and reshot a few scenes for Episode 3 of Mountain Cult. Well, much more than a few.

I stayed away from wordpress all week because I didn’t want to overwhelm myself like I had before. I’m still a minimum of 3 days from being ready to publish and promote episode 3 so I decided to slow things down for a change. I’ve still been busy with editing but decided to approach episode 3 a little differently. Rather than have it available for viewing as soon as humanly possible, I want the shots to all be solid with lighting, focus, and character. In the editing room I want to get the most out of coloring and audio. In my experience with the previous 3 videos I’ve published, there always ends up being something I wish I did better. I’d rather take extra time to create a video that will be easier to promote from higher quality.

A huge bonus from the week – my uncle would be happy to perform as an actor in a future episode. My work colleague is also down to film again. On top of that I have Scott who will be available from home or once this lockdown is lifted. I know of another filmmaker also willing to perform under those circumstances.

I’m very excited about the future because I feel that I am acquiring better skills as a filmmaker. By building a network of actors I can use, I can begin to apply A, B, and C plots to each episode. This may make them a little longer but, more importantly, I can begin to write better episodes as my resources expand. I have some props in the mail from amazon too.

Once the lockdown is lifted, my community film group will be able to meet in person and I’ll be able to work with like-minded individuals who I can collaborate with. I’m extremely excited as merely creating short films is more fulfilling than I would have imagined.

When you’re strictly an (aspiring) writer, as I was for years, it is next to impossible to get a strangers eyes on your creation. With each new video that I make, it’s a guarantee that some bored internet stranger will click on my video and at least give it a chance. To me this means that if I can create an engaging enough production, I can build a real audience. With improvements in technology and availability of equipment, there’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to produce quality stories that others can engage. Of course that responsibility will be mine to bear, as I am the writer, director and producer of these shorts.

I realize this is more of a journal entry more than a post that will be of any value to any person reading it, so I thank you if you’ve waded through this nonsense and read this far. I have an obligation to myself to update this blog semi-regularly, so I guess this is what I’ve got and what I’ve been up to. Have a great weekend and hopefully I’ll be posting again soon (and not just saying that like I so often do).

An Overly Ambitious Day – 4-14-20

DSC02542

This is a trail

I’m writing this at 5 am, and have been awake since 1 pm yesterday (I work graveyard, ok?). Today I am filming episode 3.

This episode has given me more anxiety, hassles, and all around pressure than any other one. I know I hardly have any viewers – that’s not where the pressure is coming from.

The pressure exists for so many reasons, but the main one is the story combined with my resources. The story is about a guy whose wife goes missing, so he searches the hills for a mysterious cult. Obvious sources of conflict – the cult, his wife’s family and friends, police, detectives. Shit, this is a big world!

But I have to keep it contained. Why? Oh because my budget is $0. Ok, maybe $60 for props. I don’t know any actors. I find people who like to drink and convince them to try and act. Also known as friends.

So why does this matter so much now? Because if this were a screenplay, I’d be working on page 10-15. At this point we’ve gotten to know our main character and what his problem is. He’s on the verge of entering a new world. There’s always rules in the new world – what’s the cult going to be like? What authority figure is going to be on his trail? Who will help him on his journey?

All these elements are rapidly coming into play. Case in point – there is a detective in this script who contacts Ryan early on. I’m not shooting that part today (thank God), and as a matter of fact I don’t even know who will be playing him.

But back to today. I’ve written at length about my frustration last time we tried to film the opening sequence. After 4 hours we got nowhere and I had nothing but bullshit to work with in the edit room.

Today we’re starting over from scratch. I’ve made some tweaks and added props along with story telling elements (ticking time bomb, subplots, etc.). I’m happy with how the script looks, but I’m TERRIFIED about filming it today.

My awesome friend signed up for a gym workout at two pm today, which gives us about 4 solid hours to film. I have 5 (!) pages I wants us to get through.

For the first time ever, I created a shooting script. It lists the various angles I want each take to be filmed from, along with various objects and reactions. By doing it this way, I’m able to break the script down into about a dozen little chunks. This will make mastering our lines much easier, and hopefully cut back on down time between shots.

Another thing that has come to mind for me – a second microphone. I really want one, because as it stands I have to do any takes that put us at a distant speaking range 2 times over. Otherwise, the audio quality can only be good for one of us.

Anyway, wish me luck. Last week was a really cool week for me because I gained about 10 subscribers and have now accumulated nearly a hundred views on all my uploads. I know those are pipsqueak numbers, but any of you who have created a youtube channel or a blog from scratch understand how difficult it can be to get internet strangers to click on your stuff. Good day to you, and good luck to me (I need it more sorry).

Here’s episode 2 in case you missed it:

Location Scouting – 3-20-20

DSC02530

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

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

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

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

DSC02679

I like the rustic look of this little outpost

DSC02750

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

DSC02660

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

DSC02661

More cemetery 

DSC02553

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

DSC02702

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

DSC02575

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

DSC02581

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

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

Editing is a nightmare – 3-19-20

20151226_133307

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

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

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

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

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