Oh and Three

Got my final rejection for my Dominatrix script.  The Virginia Film Office elected not to proceed.  Interestingly, the reader had some very supportive comments:

This is a story with great potential. The bones of it – a dominatrix that is the prime suspect in a number of murders and a detective that has an unorthodox relationship with the women that he once knew from his days working in Vice – is intriguing. There’s no doubt that it will capture interest.

However, very much like the man who did coverage for the script (second third here), they felt it had too many unnecessary scenes or scenes that should be trimmed by a great deal.  The reader ‘complained’ that I wasted too much time for a feature film that was burning through $100K per page.  That basically makes what I wrote an $11M feature, which is way more than I was expecting to spend.

When I forwarded the above to my movie making friend John, his basic response was “I told you so.”  And, somewhat repetitively, I replied with:

If I were trying to compete to write the next Hollywood blockbuster franchise, I’d probably be more inclined to listen … And, I suspect, never get anywhere, because that’s all about who you know and no one gives a damn about what you know. It’s more about you have 10 leads that, contractually, need to be on screen for X number of pages, so that ‘creativity’ is more about coming up with the least-bad story you can out of the pile of steaming contractual shit you’ve got to work with. Or, like Mission Impossible, the story that fits within the idiotic stunts they’ve already filmed.

And if I were in it simply to make money as a writer and really didn’t care about my story intent, I’d be more open minded to re-conceive the story to satisfy the generic audience. But, instead, I’m some dumbass that wants to tell a certain story (and then get paid to make it, of course), so really don’t give a damn when I get advice that goes against my intent. I can always create another story.

If I become successful (statistically a snowball’s chance in hell), then my sticktoitofness will, no doubt, be one of the reasons. But, most likely, I’ll do this for another 4 years, 7 months, never amount to anything, then content myself with holding boom for my friend John as he complains until we all go deaf and blind that if I’d only…

My idea of re-conceptualizing the trilogy of movies into a miniseries is probably just as dumb as anything else, but if I were driven by intellect instead of emotion, I’d be investing all my free time into a billion-dollar invention idea I’ve had since at least February, instead of pissing away my time on this nonsense.

Much Ado About Nothing, Or So It Seems

Nearly two weeks ago I was notified that Treasure Hunt was accepted into a festival.  In those two weeks, the festival has neither returned my emails or made any updates to their website.  As such, I have to assume it was either a scam to make money off credulous indie filmmakers or it’s being operated by total incompetents (really, is there a way to tell the difference?).  I may be surprised and they’ll suddenly emerge from the darkness, but I can’t see there being any value in getting excited even if that happens.  If the festival is so small that it can’t be competently managed, is it even worth telling anyone about?

On a only tangentially related matter, the festival notification did light a small fire under my butt to experiment with the day-for-night on the flick.  Since I know, biologically, most people see in black and white at night (rods vs cones, doanchano), I figured I’d try that and see what happened.  Well, it seems, actually getting my editor to make the footage black and white is a PITA.  However, I could reduce the saturation level to 1 (not zero, though) easily.  Then, after adjusting the brightness, I felt I was able to quickly achieve a look I could be happy with.  Those damn brilliant blue skies are gone and I feel it’s reasonable to think the scene is being illuminated by a bright full moon.

With that settled, now I have to learn how to adjust the audio levels.  There should be an equalizer plugin that I can use to ‘roll off’ the sounds that are above and below normal speech.  Then there should be a way to adjust the various audio (dialog, music and background) so they all fall in the ‘sweet spot’ where it’s easy to hear without being too loud or distorted.  Supposedly, there’s a way to do this in a semi-automatic way, so I don’t have to spend minutes on each sound clip (there are probably over a thousand), but that’ll require research and experimentation.

So, with that momentum, I aim to rework the feature as well as the trailer.  Then I’ll revisit the whole disk authoring debacle.  I think I’ll feel more motivated at that point, since I believe I’ll have a reason to think it’ll be feasible to try and find actual paying customers.  Timing, though, is probably early next year.  The day-for-night went quickly, but I expect the audio to take a lot longer (most of the movie isn’t day-for-night).

TrezDom?

After some deep thought, I’ve decided to give up on the idea of three independent movies for my Dominatrix trilogy.  The Dominatrix Wore Red, The Dominatrix Was Blue and The Dominatrix Went Dark.  Sequels always depend on the success of the first, and, given my total lack of interest (via the screenplay contests and inability to get any actresses to read it) in the first, I have to assume the chances of the second and third being made are zero.

The feedback on RedDom indicated to me that the best overall audience was women, probably 30 and older.  I’ve half joked several times that it’s probably better suited for the LifeTime channel. Well I stopped thinking of it as a joke.  What if I turned the trilogy into a 6-7 hour miniseries?  Granted, it might be at least an equal up-hill battle to get it made that way, but at least it’d be all or nothing.

The main caveat?  It seems the likelihood I’d be given directorial control over the project is very slim.  I’m still thinking about how I could try to package the product in such a way that there is a reasonable chance I could get to direct.  Part of that may boil down to filming a few scenes, which, of course, costs money.  Which, of course, has risk associated with it.

But, given my horror concept is dead in the water, I don’t really have a second project (besides my bike racing flick) to think about.  So I’m leaning toward at writing the third part, then reworking the three into a coherent whole that could be split out in one or two hour chunks.

Domestique Looked Good

When I first looked at the Domo footage from the DP, it was in ‘log’ mode and was very washed out.  Having never worked with any such footage before, it was hard (really, impossible) for me to visualize what it would look like when properly treated.  But Tony, my editor, sent me a version of the indoor (e.g., without greenscreen) scenes he cut together with the imagery adjusted and it looked really good.  Amazing, in fact, given how little ambient light there was when we were filming.  I was worried all the stuff was going to come out muddy and dark, but trusted my DP.  That trust has been rewarded.

Now for the greenscreen.  I hope to have a peek at that this coming week.  Tony only has time to work on Domo a few hours per week, so I try not to irritate him by constant requests for updates.

Horror DoA

Whelps, ‘shockingly,’ it turns out my horror concept, Lily’s Party, simply isn’t that novel (whodathought a guy who never watches horror would have a novel horror concept?).  Two of the three horror aficionados I asked for input (the third hasn’t really got back to me) essentially said there wasn’t much ‘there’ there and their suggestions for lengthening the story were going against such intent I had when I started writing.

Since shorts never make money, and I’m in this for that purpose, then, for me, it’s no longer a project worth pursuing.  If the concept was more novel, perhaps I’d enter some sort of contest where I could hope to get money to film the short, thus not risking any investor dollars.

And Then There Were None… Wait, What?

So I start to read the final announcement and assume it’s just like all the others:

Dear Keith,

First – we want to say thank you from the bottom of our hearts for submitting your film to The Clifton Film Celebration. This is our first year – a completely unknown festival [I think they recycled last year’s email here] – and we were humbled by the number of excellent submissions we received from all over the world. Thanks for taking a chance on us!

Sadly, we didn’t secure enough time in our venue to accommodate all the films we wanted to include this year. Some difficult choices had to be made, but we’re THRILLED to tell you that your film made the cut!

Attached you’ll find Official Selection laurels to use on your promotional materials.

Be on the lookout for an information packet which will include instructions on formatting your final cut for our festival, travel & lodging info for Clifton, VA, Screening Schedule, info on how to get your free pass, and discount admission codes for any of your cast & crew who would like to attend.

Please feel free to reach out via email at [email] with any questions. Be sure to like & share us on Facebook (Clifton Film Celebration) and follow us on Twitter (@filmdpoe).

The goal now is to make sure as many people see your film as possible – so do what you can to help us get the word out!

Cheers,
The Judge’s Panel – Clifton Film Celebration

This is the location per FilmFreeway:

As I get more details I’ll post here…

Hammatime

Some ‘cross posting’ here…  I’ve been ‘holding boom’ for my friend John, who was so gracious to do so for Treasure Hunt, not to mention being so supportive and encouraging as I started down the movie making path (something that continues to this day).  He calls his current project ‘Sledgehammer’ and this is its IMDB page.  He’s been filming significant portions at our place in Virginia.  He loves the ‘production value,’ but I also think he loves that we’re fine with him filming for free.

He claims I’m doing a good job with the sound.  I appreciate the chance to return the favor (he did Treasure Hunt for free, so I’m also working for free), though I’m doing little more than starting and stopping the recorder, writing down which shot lines up with which file name and trying to keep the microphone and boom arm out of frame.  It’s all his equipment and I’ve only learned just enough to plug everything in and be ready when he calls ‘action.’

Sledgehammer is a very violent script.  Everyone is a bad guy, there’s just the degree in badness (sort of like the movie Payback; its tagline: “Get ready to root for the bad guy”).  The main character has these extensive, and often single-sentence, monologues and it needed just the right actress to pull it off.  John found a young lady (only recently turned 17, so has her parents with her when we film) who seems to be channeling the character so well I’m starting to get nervous when she plays with a knife (knives factor strongly in the story).

So far, there’s only been a little blood, except for one scene.  It was actually a re-shoot, as John realized he didn’t have enough blood when he began to edit (we’re only filming on Saturdays, and will continue into November as a consequence; I don’t envy him his continuity challenges).  As the actress mimed stabbing someone, I squirted fake blood on her.  Here’s a still John posted to IMDB:

Interestingly, while the fake blood seemed to clean up everywhere else without any problems, it was a pain to get off skin.  Her mom had to scrub hard to get that stuff off her face, and she had a modeling gig the very next day.

Last Saturday we filmed a lesbian sex scene.  Without any sex, of course – it’s all implied in the edit.  But the room was full of bored people and it was getting late in the day and everyone was tired.  I think the actresses did an amazing job, at least from where I was standing.  Originally it was a hetero scene, but the actor John had lined up for the part bailed and, in a fit of creative disaster recovery, John went with the lesbian angle (since the actresses were up for it).  This was actually a reshoot, as one of the original actresses decided she had something better to do than be on John’s project.  While I’m sure it frustrates the hell out of him, I believe John when he says he likes to deal with the challenges, to rise above them, and to wind up with gold.

As an example, the character Joe was originally a suit-wearing hit man.  Until the actor rolled up on his Harley motorcycle wearing a white T-shirt and leathers.  John immediately fell in love and Joe immediately did away with his suit.  “Production value!”

So far, at least once the main production started (John initially filmed some portions as shorts, to test out the look and feel, though has since had to reshoot most because of changed actors), all the main actors have shown up each day.  If he can keep that streak going, I have some high hopes that he’ll capture enough that he can completely rewrite the story in post and come up with something completely different.  Just John being John.

Horror First Draft Done

Lily’s Party script came fairly painlessly, but, as seems to be an inescapable reality for me, is short.  Thirty pages.  Granted, I’m sure it will edit much longer than one minute per page, but I don’t think it’ll reach 3 minutes, not without making it feel bloated, Costneresque.  I envision lots of slow pans, people cautiously walking up stairs and lots of creepy music putting viewers on edge.  But I feel I need more raw material to have a realistic chance to wind up with something that can plausibly run 90 minutes or more.

I’ve sent the script to a couple of ‘subject matter experts’ (horror aficionados) and hope to have their feedback soon.  Ideally, they’ll have suggestions for ways to lengthen the story without bloating.  But I’m really starting to worry that I can’t write long things any more.

My next step is to build a budget.  My feelings toward the budget are split: either a very low one (say $25-30K) that runs the risk of not having the production values to interest distributors, but likely makes it vastly easier to find backers, or push the budget to at least $250K, as that’s the lower bound cutoff where Virginia Film Office will offer tax incentives, subsidies, etc.  I feel better about the potential for excellent production values at that budget, but, I’m sure, getting it funded becomes significantly harder.  And I still have no good idea of where to even look for potential investors.

Then there is estimating the revenue potential of the project, which has been frustrating me for over a year.  I have no feeling for the world of horror, being a total outsider. (Why write one then? First: horror is the rare genre that actually has potential to get profitable distribution with low budgets and no ‘name’ actors. Second: the project was inspired by an actress I auditioned and her ability to appear angelic or demonic with small changes in makeup and body language.)  I’ve read many creditable reports that there are distributors willing to take on such projects, but, it seems, they’ll only consider finished works and won’t even look at a script.  Thus, it becomes a total gamble that the project can even be considered for distribution, let alone at a high enough value to make it profitable.

It seems one of the usual ways to market horrors is to put them in festivals.  Which I would totally do, except, again, it’s a make-it-and-see-what-happens sort of thing, in other words, a major risk.

Something I’ve begun to consider, after reading another movie making book I’ve collected, is the notion of offering the project as a tax write off, coupled with the glamor of being involved in a movie.  In other words, selling the concept as a money losing proposition that has the potential to make money, rather than a money making proposition that has unusual risk of losing.  It’s an attitude thing, but one that makes a big difference to investors.  Plenty of people will donate just for tax deductions, including making movies, but that’s typically done for things like documentaries, not feature films.  But you have to have your movie project organized to be not-for-profit, which is antithetical with my goals.  But it’s something to think about.  Though that still leaves me with the challenge of finding these people to begin with.

Oh, I have a poster proof-of-concept made.  The same artist that did the concept art for my two dominatrix scripts.  I’m awaiting the woman who does such a good job titling it to post it here.  She’s been really busy lately.  Hopefully she’ll have time soon.  I’m also asking her to take a greenscreen screengrab from my Domestique short and turn that into a poster as well.