Two Down, One To Go

Austin Film Festival screenplay contest finally announced those who made it into the next round.  Twern’t me – my Dominatrix script didn’t make the cut. Sad, but not shocking.  I’m still awaiting the Virginia Film Office’s decision; I think they do so in October.

I have, however, started thinking down another path for my dominatrix trilogy.  Rather than trying to make the first, then hope and pray it’ll sell enough tickets to justify the second (and that sells enough to justify a third), I’m considering reworking it as a miniseries that’ll be 6-7 hours long.  I really view the trilogy as a single story, though I put in what I felt were natural cut places where the story slowed down.  I feel strongly I can adapt the story to work as hour-long episodes.

And writers, it seems, can successfully sell a miniseries to a network (since my story appears to appeal more to women, I’d target networks like Lifetime or We).  The next question, for me, anyway, is can I direct it, since that’s where my interests lie.  Someone I trust suggested I might be able to direct a later episode, but could easily (well, nothing in this business is actually easy) get in as writer and producer.  It’s something I need to think about, as I may wind up giving up so much control that it robs me of any joy in the process.

A Beautiful Dream

A new concept that, literally, came from a dream.  I woke up remembering a dream where I felt I was watching a movie happen in front of me.  I was dumbfounded at the twist and couldn’t stop thinking about it as I got ready for work.  Then, like so many dreams, 90% had vanished before I finished brushing my teeth.

I worked to recapture what I felt was the essence of my experience in a synopsis, then, all excited, sent it around to some movie making friends.  I was bubbling over with the imagery and visuals still swimming in my head and was absolutely convinced it would get Oscars.

By the end of the week, though, I became convinced it was never going to be made, never seen.  Talk about an emotional roller coaster!  Because the concept wouldn’t let me rest, I turned my synopsis into a short story.  Short stories often make excellent starting points for scripts, since novels are usually way too complex to adequately capture in 90-120 minutes on screen.  But my short story was very short indeed, not even 5K words (a typical screenplay is 20-25K words).  I had said all I wanted to say, exactly the way I wanted to say it, and the best I estimated was around 20 pages for the script.  With scripts (more or less) running at 1 minute of finished product per page of script, that was way less than what’s necessary for a feature.  Discussing the concept with my peers, I became convinced there was no way to extend it to feature-length without compromising my original vision.  And there is no money in shorts.  At all.  No matter what the production values or who the cast and crew is.

There it most likely would have lay. Until early last week when I found out about an organization that would fund shorts.  Up to $40K, which I felt would be more than enough to get my vision captured the way I wanted.  So I quickly sat down and converted my short story into a script (made easy because I wrote it to be easy) and wound up with 21.5 pages, very close to my original estimate.  I contacted some cast and crew to find out if they were up for being part of the project (the application wants to know who else is involved) and began to work on a budget.  The deadline is the end of this month, so this week.  I’m pretty happy with what I have. The question is: do the contest organizers agree.

Now, though, even if this organization isn’t impressed, I may be motivated to seek out others and see if they’ll be.  Making quality movies is expensive and I’ve exhausted my wife’s willingness to spend our own money, so this might be what it takes to get enough experience to convince people to back me for the features I’ve been working on.

Or not, but at least it has me excited for a while.  Their decision doesn’t come until the end of the year, though, so time enough to forget about it and move on to other projects.

Some BTS for Domestique

A few weeks ago we captured the footage for the short version of Domestique, intended to be used to try and get investors onboard the project.  My wife captured some behind-the-scenes pictures and videos (at the very bottom is a link to more pictures) and, after the usual dilly dallying, I finally put them on the web.

Last Sunday I met with the DP (Austin Reeves) to get ‘background plates’ (e.g., ‘stock footage’) for the racing scenes we shot on greenscreen.  It was quite hot, but, thankfully, not terribly humid.  He has a little camera (that can, nonetheless, capture 4K imagery) that’s mounted in a computer-controlled gizmo to stabilize the video it captures.  Held on by suction cups to the car, it wirelessly connected to his iPad so he could see and control it.

Then we drove around looking for places to shoot.  We found a few hills that seemed quite steep when we wend down, but weren’t even noticeable when we went back up.  Eventually we found a good place and got what we think we need.

The final shot we took, which I think will be perfect as the final shot of the short, Austin (thanks for suggesting this) felt I should drive away from the camera until the car goes over the hill and out of site.  That’s what I love about movie making, the collaboration and serendipity that allows amazing things to happen.  We (or, likely, Austin) still need to capture a cafe-like scene as well as a hotel-like scene.  At least these are stationary and, once the right location is found, should take no more than 10-15 minutes.

Then it’s all on Tony, the editor, who has all the footage.  All 700 GB of it, captured in 4K resolution and log mode (I only think I know what ‘log mode’ means).  He had to buy a new hard drive and it took more than a day to download.  To get a copy, I had to also buy a hard drive, but I formatted it such that it’s incompatible with Windows, so need to try that again, soon.

Next up for me on this project is to work on the second draft of the script (I’ve been given lots of good ideas) and start hammering out a budget.  That way, ideally, when the short is done I can quickly begin my efforts to locate the right investors.

Nearly Microscopic Progress

I continue my walk of shame.  After waiting in vain for my wife to shoulder the responsibility of authoring the disks for Treasure Hunt, I finally, reluctantly, put it back on my plate.  Where, like a dreaded portion of a meal, I pushed it to the side and avoided looking at it.

When reading about movie making in another book, I was told that a number of editing software packages have ways of authoring disks, at least DVDs.  Encouraged, I fired up my (Linux-based) editor and lo and behold, there is a DVD authoring capability.  Encouraged, I started to follow the steps in the ‘wizard.’ Only to have it repeatedly crash whenever I got to the automated chapter step (where you can jump forward/backward within the movie).  After updating my software, only to find the latest version also crashing, I opted to skip that step and, eventually, was able to produce a DVD disk image I successfully burned to a DVD.  I popped it into our DVD player (actually, a Blu ray player) and it loaded up, exactly as expected.

However, the options for authoring the disk were extremely limited, as mentioned, the chapter mechanism crashed, and there’s no facility to make Blu rays.  So, essentially, I’m back to square one and need to make time to use the hated Windows to find something that will actually work for my needs.  I’m getting a headache just typing all this.

Also, second rejection (out of four initially) regarding festivals.  The next two are supposed to make their decisions by October, so I should know in a few weeks.

It’s not looking like anyone else will take an interest in re-editing Treasure Hunt.  I did some (albeit brief) experimenting with making a more authentic day-for-night, and may continue with that at some point.  I’ve also been reading more about editing and may try my hand at color correcting and see if I can make something happen.  Supposedly, it’s not that challenging, but, like so much else with the editing software, there’s that vast ignorant gulf I have to get across to do even the most simple things.  I’m also toying with reworking the audio levels myself as that same editing book has some pointers on how to make that happen.  It’s ‘interesting’ though:  There’s no universal way to optimize the sound (or video, for that matter).  It depends on how the product is to be delivered.  Theater has one way to optimize, that can totally fail when it comes to watching on your phone, yet trying to compromise for one results in a noticeably poor performance in another.  Oh, then there’s the element related to distribution where the video and audio levels have to be optimized for various broadcast media (e.g., US TV vs other countries, cable vs over-the-air, etc.).  I’ve read several times that post production (what happens after all the film and dialog has been captured) can cost as much, or even more (usually for VFX-heavy flicks) than production itself.  Now I get that.

Earlier, when I contacted a sales agent (buried here), he (or maybe she) complained that the production values of the movie weren’t good enough.  I was very skeptical (and, to be honest, hurt) when I heard that, but now I’m starting to understand how a quick look at a trailer can tell someone exactly that sort of information.  While I still believe the original imagery and sound were captured at a high enough fidelity that it could be made into something that demonstrates the necessary levels of production value, I now grok that it’s not currently at that point and it requires, at a minimum, 100’s of hours to get it to that point.  The question now is: do I invest that level of energy (which, even if I worked on it consistently, is probably 3-6 months at the bare minimum), continue to try and find someone who will take that on for an affordable price, or do I simply chalk it up to a learning experience and move on.  A conundrum…

Horror Revived – Lily’s Party

I mentioned the idea of a horror as my next project a while ago.  I came up with a tentative budget of around $100K for the project and was in the beginning stages of development when I came to the conclusion it would be easier less difficult to raise my projected $1-2 million budget for my bicycle racing movie than it would be for a horror.  Largely because lots of people make horror flicks with low budgets while few (none for the last decade or so) make bike racing movies.  And bike racing is a world-wide market segment that probably doesn’t require a ‘name’ actor (much like horror, maybe because they’re used to everyone dying).  Thus I’ve been focusing all my attention to the racing project.

That is, until recently.  I opted to hire a SAG actress for my bike racing short (what I intend to use as a proof-of-concept when approaching potential investors) and SAG has an obsession with deferred compensation.  Thinking about that aspect for a while, I felt if I could get cast and crew to defer most of their compensation, I could potentially drop the initial budget down to $20-30K cash.  Which I feel is eminently more feasible to raise than $100K.

Now I’m planning to work the horror in parallel with the bike racing concept.  Perhaps, if there’s no movement on the bike racing project, I can film the horror next summer.  Naturally, there are lots of moving parts that have to come together (not the least of which is getting the smaller cash budget lined up), but now I’m motivated to take my outline and expand it to a full script.

Dominatrix Poster Concept Art

I found a talented (and inexpensive, though I’m sure that will change over time) artist to work up some concept poster art for my Dominatrix scripts (RedDom and BlueDom – yes, there is a color theme), click for larger version:

Hopefully they’re intriguing enough people will want to learn more, though these are primarily to interest potential investors, cast and crew.

Something Slightly Different

Not proud to report the same old / same old with respect to the Treasure Hunt disks, but there it is.  My wife has had the same issue with the authoring software as I was having (though with essentially no cursing, yelling or destruction – imagine that), to wit finding it (so far) impossible to get the software to do what it’s purported to be designed to do.  She has suggested buying a copy thinking, magically, to my mind, that the paid version will somehow work properly, but I’m quite skeptical and have resisted her suggestion.  It seems so simple, yet has proven so difficult.  At least I understand why others are charging $500+ to do this – I’d sure as hell do so after going through such a painful learning curve.

And then there’s this idea that’s captured my mind: re-edit the movie to improve the deficiencies that are clogging up my mental pathways when it comes time to consider selling disks or promoting VOD, etc.  E.g., monetizing it.  I finally found an editor who would consider taking all or part of his compensation on speculation, meaning if the re-edited version sold then he’d get paid.  We negotiated for a $100 sample for a couple of select scenes and I made available the around 8 GB of raw video files, dialog and sound files.  A week later he gave me his version.

Yeah, about that…  I like to write chatty scripts that, shockingly, produce chatty raw video.  He didn’t like my chattiness and cut what I originally had as a bit more than 4 minutes into a smidge more than 2.  Were he to continue that trend for the whole flick (I have to think yes), my already short 60 minute feature would be trimmed to a no-longer feature-length 30 minutes.  My wife liked his use of the music, though, and we all agreed his day-for-night was less bad than mine.  However, after some consideration and discussion with another movie making friend, I decided to pass.

Coincidentally (or not), a day or two later I found a guy on Reddit who was interested in doing some color correction for free.  I made my original version available for him to play with and a day or two ago got his version of the same scene.  Since he wasn’t re-editing, the focus was entirely on the look of the day-for-night.  After queuing up my version and his for a side-by-side comparison, frankly, I don’t see any difference.  We haven’t really communicated since then, so I don’t know if he’s decided I’m not worth the effort or if he’s going to try something else.  My movie-making friend had some suggestions and I thought to make a couple (and experimented myself as well), but it seems, unless I hear back, this approach may be dead in the water.

I’ll be encouraging my wife to try some other authoring software, hoping that, possibly, going through the learning curve with something else will jog loose the required elements to finally get this ‘simple’ task done. Then I can finally get my owesies to those that helped fund the flick through their donations.  I thank them for their patience.

TMI and Checkov’s Gun

Too Much Information. A written form of verbal diarrhea. Unnecessary detail can distract the reader from your plot and story.

While there are successful authors that have what objectively could be called excessive prose, they’re rare. And, generally, if you look at their earliest work it’s much more tight and condensed.

The general rule of thumb is the importance of everything is proportional to the words used to describe. So when you mention, for instance, a 21 inch Dell monitor or an iPhone XS (note that doing so dates you), that detail is presumed to be important and a reader will tuck that away for future reference. When you fail to pay off that investment, you break that trust and they start to skim, not feeling there’s value in your detail. It’s exactly like Chekhov’s gun:

  • “Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”

  • “One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn’t going to go off. It’s wrong to make promises you don’t mean to keep.”

  • “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.”

You can, of course, go too far in the opposite direction and not provide enough detail for the reader. This is always a balancing act and akin to the tradeoffs on showing vs telling.  I tend to lean on the side of less is more and trust to my reader’s imagination.  I believe that’s one reason why I felt drawn to screenplays, they deliberately want only enough description to evoke a sense of place.  But novels readers want more than a sketch of place, they want rich details.

How much is too much?  I believe it’s when you provide something that stands out from the writing with it’s detail, like the above mentioned Dell 21 inch monitor (why Dell?  Why 21 inch?  Even ‘monitor’ is potentially a detail that would stick out).  Is that detail going to be referenced later?  If not, then it’s important to consider whether you’re going to distract your reader.  Sometimes the detail helps set the scene, so this is not a blanket condemnation to remove it all.  But always weigh what you’re seeking to achieve with your story with the irrelevant detail you provide.

Poster Looks Great

The Shopping Queen (wife) got me a frame for the Treasure Hunt poster earlier this week and I put it in the other day.  It looks great!  I’d show you a picture of the poster, but after failing to capture something that didn’t look like crap, we gave up.  Now I have to decide where to hang it.

When it comes to shopping, she’s awesome.  But she’s proved to be about as diligent at working on the disk authoring as I have been.  She promises she’ll work on it this weekend, though, and, so far as I know, we have little scheduled for this weekend, so hopefully she’ll be able to make some progress.  That being said, the artist who has been working with me on the disk labels and cover art has been going through a rough time (divorce, she said) and hasn’t got the finished art to me yet.  I told her we weren’t, yet, waiting on her and to take extra time if she needed it.

Got Posters

So, finally some measurable incremental progress on Treasure Hunt: the posters have arrived.  I’d take a picture of the poster, but that seems rather absurd, since you can see exactly what was printed at the link above.

That being said, it seems my wife is about as focused as I have been on authoring the disks, which is to say, not.  I’ll be nagging her about it again today (she promised to work on it over the weekend, though we were busy with a couple of minor disasters).  If she can’t make time, I may ask a niece or nephew if they can try their hand at it.  Perhaps, since their brains are less ossified, they can figure it out easily.