Domestique

I believe I’ve settled on my next film project (assuming RedDom doesn’t wind up attracting attention in the next year or two).  It’s about professional road bicycle racing, but focuses on the domestique, or the guys who support the team leader.   I believe this project can be managed without access to conventional Hollywood talent, investors or distribution as it’s a world-wide niche that is rather under served (meaning there are very few movies that address pro cycling in general, let alone focused on the hard working support staff).

My goal for this year is to get the screenplay written and critiqued (I have a detailed synopsis and plan to finish the first draft while on a family vacation later this year) and to film either a trailer or a short (I’ve been leaning toward the short, though obviously that makes writing more challenging) this summer. With the trailer/short, I hope to interest investors in ponying up for the budget (arm waving at this point, but around a million bucks), then target production for next summer (e.g., ’20).

The main issue right now is whether to pay for the trailer/short myself (meaning me and my boss/wife) or to attempt to get investors in the production company we’re planning to start this year and use that money.  I’m trying to convince (pressure) her into pulling more retirement money out (I’m guessing around $4K to film the trailer/short) as I think it’s rather absurd to give up 40% of all future potential earnings of the production company to save $4K, but she’s not convinced, so far.  I’m going to write a business plan one way or another, so hopefully that’ll cause her to back it.

Projects are like lottery tickets, though unlike Treasure Hunt, I go into this one expecting to make money, so have to think carefully about a lot of details.

Nicholl and Austin

I’ve submitted my screenplay for “The Dominatrix Wore Red” to the Nicholl Fellowship and the Austin Film Festival Screenplay competition.  There are plenty of others, but these were the only two that seemed to provide the best bang for the buck.  While I’d love to win, my goal is to get somewhere in the finals, as that’ll mean I made it into the top tier (500 or so) of the 7,000+ submissions.  So I’ve heard, simply being formatted properly will get you into the top 1K.  Probably not true, but gives me reason to be optimistic as I wait.  And wait.  And wait.

There’s supposed to be a way out of the Catch-22 situation of not being able to attract a name actor (which is generally required for any sort of distribution, hence prospects of turning a profit) without a budget and not being able to get investors for your budget without any sort of attached name actor.  The idea is to find a B-list actor (one step down from the A-list) who is a recognizable face (TV or film), yet has few to no movie lead roles and no more than one or two lead TV roles.  The idea is they (or, rather, their manager) are open to opportunities where they can be film leads, so are willing to attach themselves to a project that lacks a budget.  Often as an executive producer, which can also help them if their career aspirations extend behind the camera.  Then, with that name actor, investors are supposedly a lot less reluctant to get involved (getting the first can still be a nightmare, though – it seems no one wants to be number one).  On an impulse, after binge watching a TV series, I sent an email to the manager of a featured actress I thought would do very well for the role of Elise and fit the B-list criteria.  Shockingly (not), I haven’t heard back (it’s only been about 10 days, so perhaps there’s still hope, though I’ve largely given up).  But it seems to be a numbers game: contact a bunch until I find one who’ll at least read the script.

The Dominatrix story has turned into a trilogy (BlueDom has been followed by DarkDom), which is something I hope will increase interest in the project.  Of course, I still have to get the first in the series going before I can even fantasize about more (well, I guess I can fantasize any time ;-), but I feel good about the trilogy.

DarkDom

I’ve come up with a follow on to my BlueDom story which is, itself, a sequel to my RedDom story.  I’m calling it “The Dominatrix Went Dark.”  This is the logline I came up with:

When debts are called in, the Dominatrix and the Detective must form an alliance with the mob as everyone involved risks their lives and liberty to save the nation.

I have about half the synopsis written.  The opening and the closing, but only notes for the middle.  I seem to struggle with middles, at least I have on the dominatrix ideas.  I feel fairly good about getting it done, though, just need to put in the time.

Since I have a trilogy now, I’m thinking of collectively calling them ‘TrezDom.’  I haven’t started anything more than this blog post as of yet, and probably won’t for a while as I have a non-movie/writing project I need to make progress on.

Radio Silence

Sorry I’ve been so quiet lately.  A combination of several things all going at once.  I haven’t felt well lately and have also been down.  Tied together or not, the result is the same.  However, I have made tiny progresses toward getting Treasure Hunt complete:

  • I wrapped up the outtakes, though it’s rather long (about 30 minutes – a friend said that the few people who’d really enjoy it would prefer longer over shorter).
  • I created an IMDB page for the movie.
  • I submitted the film to the Skyline Indie Film Fest, which is less than an hour North of where I shot portions in Woodstock, VA.  Hopefully that’ll mean they’ll seriously consider accepting it.
  • I converted the film into DCP format, though the viewer on my computer wasn’t very inspiring, as it constantly dropped frames (possibly because it’s really cheap).
  • I purchased a portable drive that’s supposed to be compatible with the commercial digital projectors, though it sits on my bed just staring at me.
  • I got some of the behind-the-scenes material from the young lady who filmed it, but seem to be missing the interviews she did.  Neither she nor her mother are great communicators, so I’ve been trying to get my wife to act as intermediary (mother and wife work together), yet have no progress yet to report.
  • I (re)discovered the chemistry tests I did with the lead actors, so will throw that on the Bluray as well.  It’s probably not terribly interesting, but there’s some 50 GB of space available on a Bluray and the movie itself is only around 7 GB.

Psychologically, I think part of why I stalled is I can’t complete the Bluray without the behind-the-scenes and without the Bluray I can’t wrap up the crowdfunding incentives.  So I do nothing.  Not a very flattering portrait, but there you go.

I was planning on doing a private screening of the movie toward the end of April, coupled with trying to get local newspapers and regional TV to interview me about the movie, but that’s stalled.  I rationalize it to myself that I’m probably better off knowing if I’m going to be in a festival (I really should submit to more, just got to make the energy) or not, plus, I have some paperwork I need to tidy up before I can sell anything (e.g., release forms for a few actors, the composer and musicians as well as the locations (and probably a few other things)) and I’d like to have that done before I do the screening so I can offer DVD/Blurays for sale.  Tortured logic of a procrastinator or valid arguments, I can’t decide in the mental state I’m in right now.

Movie related, but not to Treasure Hunt, I submitted a screenplay to a couple of contests and decided on a next project.  Finalizing the screenplay was also rather draining and while I have a detailed synopsis written for the next project I don’t intend on writing until we go on a family vacation this summer since I have other, non-movie projects I’ve been neglecting.

Sorry I’ve been a deadbeat.

Editing is Done!

Wow, what a long strange trip this has been.  Treasure Hunt is finito, insofar as I have no intention to make any other changes, unless it’s a technical thing.  John, the writer/director who helped me with the sound, pointed out a brief scene where one of the actor’s microphone recorder is clearly visible in his back pocket (there, I’ve gone and narrowed the ‘Easter egg‘ search by by half).  There are a number of other scenes where, if you know exactly where to look, the microphone boom is clearly visible, but they’re at night scenes, so they don’t stand out.

Nothing has been without pain, though.  Vimeo wouldn’t take my payment via Firefox (and hasn’t responded to my email complaining about it), but I eventually tried Chrome and that worked.  When rendering the trailer I had two parts in different frames per second (no idea how the heck that happened), but if I tried to change one part to match the other, the editor changed all the begin/end points for all the video and audio clips.  Eventually I tried rendering the parts separately and then rerendering them together, a PITA, but a fast one in comparison to the whole movie.  Naturally, the first time I did this I wound up with part of the audio truncated.  No idea what happened, but repeating the entire process all over again got it to work properly.

Now I’m trying to establish an IMDB page for the flick.  It seems actual humans are involved in the decision making process, so who knows how long it will be until that happens.  I did create an IMDB page for myself:

https://www.imdb.com/name/nm10491242/

Hopefully once the movie is accepted I’ll actually get some credits.  The image looks stretched, but I compared it to the original and it seems correct.

I still have plenty of work yet to do.  I need to go through the ~700 minutes of footage to pull out 5-10 minute’s worth of bloopers and outtakes, then get the young lady who did some behind-the-scenes filming to either finish her edit or give me the raw material so I can edit, then get the Bluray and DVDs pressed and finally print the posters.  Well, I guess the final, final thing is to send those things to the people who supported the movie through the crowdfunding.

And there’s promotion and festivals…  Sigh, now I’m tired again.

This was a veritable emotional roller coaster and there were many times I was sure I never wanted to do this again.  However, I feel very good about the final product and I believe I can do a better job as a director (and even writer) next time, so am all set to begin the journey all over again.  Tentatively titled “Domestique,” it’s the story of the rank and file on a pro road cycling team.  It’s something I think I can get a full budget for and profitable distribution without the typical crapshoot of conventional sales and distribution.  It’ll be another long trek.  I first started writing Treasure Hunt almost exactly a year ago.  My goal is to film Domestique next summer, but first I have to get it written (I have a detailed synopsis already), get it funded (my wife/boss/executive producer made it clear no more retirement money), assemble cast and crew, film it then edit it.  Except this time, I’m looking forward to the process instead of a little bit dreading it on Treasure Hunt.

Here’s the trailer.  Direct link: https://vimeo.com/318462063

What a Difference a Day Makes

Yesterday I posted this.  Today I’m almost dancing in the street.  I tried a couple of the things I thought of yesterday morning and, lo and behold, they worked!  I was able to render the flick, with the audio in sync!  It took 2.5 hours, but at least I don’t have to be there or can work on other things.

(For those of you who might stumble across this searching Kdenlive, I turned off ‘proxy clips’ for all the subprojects and set each of the the render configurations for the highest quality.  I was/am using the appimage version, which is (or close to) version kdenlive-18.12.1b-x86_64.appimage.)

Now I need to get the music sorted out, plus check on a few things John mentioned when he last viewed it.  I also noticed, with the high quality render, that there were a couple of shots that seemed to be of poor quality.  Since the shots before and after seemed fine, I need to see if the original material has the same problem.  If so, well such is life.  If the original is clean, then I need to see if I can figure out how to fix it.

I re-rendered the trailer, after learning all these tricks.  It looks _so_ much better!  And rendered at 1080 highest quality it was still only around 65 MB.  I bet with the default quality (which, frankly, I can’t see any difference on my monitor) and at 720 (which is probably plenty large for a trailer for Youtube) it’ll be 1/10th that.  (In case you’re interested, the whole thing rendered, at it’s highest quality, at around 6.6 GB; at 720 and with the default quality level, it rendered to around 650MB.)  I still need to rejigger the trailer, I’m not happy with the middle where they’re singing, and I need to find out why the audio at the end was crappy (sometimes just re-rendering it will solve that issue), but I feel good now.

What a difference 24 hours can make!

 

Oh, I believe I found a near perfect festival to submit to:

https://www.skylineindiefilmfest.org/

It’s ‘right around the corner’ at about an hour North of our place in Winchester, Virginia, which is also a hotbed of the Civil War (a friend who’s deep in the Civil War tells me Winchester changed hands 72 times!).  Hopefully the topic, plus the fact that portions of it were shot in Woodstock, VA (about a half hour South of Winchester) will give me an edge getting accepted.

I Really Thought I Was Done!

Nope.  I previously reported I was just about finished with the Treasure Hunt movie.  Well, the universe is not done f-ing around with me yet.  After getting all the chunks rendered in high quality (which takes much longer than before) I assembled them together, along with the audio, and now the lengths no longer match!

It’s possible I messed something up when I was ‘chunking’ things, I didn’t look closely as I was really upset when I discovered this, but I did very quickly try to sync things at the very end of the flick and wasn’t seeing things line up there.

So, clearly, the open source Linux-based software I’m using (Kdenlive) is not ready for prime time.  In order to get the high quality renders, I had to get the latest ‘appimage‘ version, but that version couldn’t reread it’s own files after upgrading from the version I had used for all the editing.  Fortunately, the file is in (mostly) human-readable XML format, so I edited it so the stupid thing could read it correctly (imagine if I weren’t a professional programmer).

The core of the problem seems to be my initial decision to cut the library scene as an independent project. Since there’s no option to copy/paste (at least there wasn’t in the old version, I should try in the new version (multiple versions because all the various Linux distros update things asynchronously; yes, there can be an, at times very heavy, price to use Linux)), I was thinking I was going to have to reedit those scenes.  However, I found out I could include another project as a subproject.  The wrinkle?  The renders weren’t high quality for those subprojects for some reason (though I thought of something this morning I’ll try this afternoon).  If the copy/paste doesn’t magically start working, I don’t know how else to get things to come together.

Professionally, I used to ‘straddle the fence’ between Windows and the various flavors of UNIX, but when Microsoft decided to go to Vista from XP and renamed/moved so many of the administration applications, I decided, if I’m going to (re)learn a new operating system, it might as well be a free one.  Since then, I’ve only become more and more allergic to Windows.  Sadly, the most popular editing packages are all Windows-based, so I pretty much cut off my nose to spite my face before I even got started.  That being said, I never wanted to do editing, but was persuaded doing at least my first feature would be an invaluable learning experience.

The problem with bringing in someone else is they’d almost certainly be using some Windows-based software that’s totally incompatible with the software I’ve been using, which would most likely mean they’d start the edit all over again.  Not only can I not afford this financially (likely to be thousands of dollars for someone experienced), it’s likely to take several more months, and I want to put this puppy to bed.

Well, maybe I’ll get lucky and one of the ideas I came up with since I had to walk away last night will work.  I’ve managed to overcome all the editing obstacles up to this point…

Screenplay Contests

After vacillating for a good long while, I’ve decided to submit one of my screenplays into a few contests.  I’m most happy with “The Dominatrix Wore Red” though I’m going to tweak it before I send it, to incorporate the lasted feedback I got.

Because my goal is to direct what I’ve written, I didn’t see the value in contests where the reward was potential to sell the script. However, I started to think there was value in the potential to be recognized as a screenplay writer when it came time to find investors.

I’m for sure going to submit to the Nicholl Fellowship and the Austin Film Festival, but haven’t made up my mind regarding others.

Though there are non-trivial cash awards for winning (Nicholl, for instance, offers each of 5 winners $35K, though they need to write a second screenplay within the next year), based on what I’ve read, becoming a finalist is just as likely to jump start a career as winning.

Like anything else, it’s a gamble, but it’s a small one given the entry fee.  Though the odds are long (Nicholl, for instance, had almost 7K applicants for 5 awards), they aren’t astronomical.  Besides, to win you gotta play, so I’m buying a couple of tickets.

And who knows, I might get lucky.

Third Cut Done

I believe I’ve got all the editing issues worked out wrt getting Treasure Hunt all wrapped up.  I have the sound synced properly and found a way to preserve the DP’s original image quality.  I’ve got some music back from the composer and am working on placing it where I think it will add to the experience.  I really hope to have this completely wrapped up in the next couple of weeks.

My next task is to revamp the trailer and render it also in high quality.  Not dramatic changes, but there will be a number.  The bigger thing is to get the high quality render so when it gets downloaded from Youtube it doesn’t look like crap.

Then I get to start on figuring out how to get everything ready for the crowdfunding donors.  For a while I thought I’d see if I could figure out how to burn the DVD and Blurays myself, but I think there are too many edge cases and it will be better to hire professionals.  I need to get a place to host the electronic version as well. Vimeo seems like the best place as I can control who has access to it while Youtube doesn’t give that ability.

Then starts the search for which festivals to submit to and when.  Based on my research, there’s very little value in sending in a flick just before the deadline – most of the decisions are already made.  Instead, it seems the best approach is to submit within the first week, ideally as soon as submissions open, which may mean waiting a year for some to roll around again.

I started writing the first draft of the script February 25th of last year (that’d be 2018, for you looking at this in the far distant future).  In less than a month I’ll have spent a year on this project.  Hopefully I’ll look back on it in a few years with a warm glow of pride, but right now it’s just one big blob of color and I have trouble rewatching things for what seems like the 100th time.

Second Cut Not Without It’s Issues

Some good news: I got the second cut done for Treasure Hunt.  But (you knew there had to be one) the was a nightmare just around the corner.  After struggling for weeks on that damn singing scene, my mentor (and sound guy) John gave me some very good suggestions that allowed me to break out of the analysis paralysis.  I’m sure it could be made better with someone who has the patience to pick apart the singing and reassemble it so they’re all at the same time, but I think the scene works for what it needs to do.

The ‘but’ was when it came to render the gazillion clips of video and audio into a single coherent whole.  My wonderful software wasn’t keeping the audio in sync and by the end of the movie (it’s running 1 hour, 3 minutes and 45 seconds, with the opening and closing credits) it was several seconds off.

After much agony, cursing, walking away only to be drawn back in, I tried something I found via a Google and rendered the audio separate from the video.  I was told I’d probably have to stretch the audio somehow to make it work, but lo and behold, the rendered audio was the exact same length as the rendered video.  I had to have an extra step of re-rendering them together, but, at least insofar as my time is concerned, it’s minor (still takes about a half hour though).

The next PITA was rendering the video so it doesn’t look like crap.  While not huge, there are probably dozens of options to render the video and my research into them made not the tiniest bit smarter.  I eventually came up with a two-step rendering process, where I initially did it ‘lossless’ (a total lie, btw, as I can still see lots of compression artifacts that aren’t there in the original clips) and wound up with a 35 gigabyte (video only) file.  Then I combine that with the audio and tried a number of various options and found one that seems to work OK.  I’m not very happy with OK, I’ve seen what really seems much better on DVDs, which are a lot more compressed than what I’m currently working with, but, hopefully, will look OK to people not cursed with the eye that’s drawn to these artifacts.

I’ve asked for some feedback and because today was a snow day got some right away.  For most of the conversations I just left in the off-screen character’s dialog that was captured by the boom mic from the on-screen character.  I sort of noticed that when I was working on it, but it didn’t rise to the level of consciousness until John pointed it out.  Now I can’t not hear it any longer, so there will be at least one more edit.  My intent, at this time, is to only make those dialog audio changes, though he did point out a few other spots I might tweak. However, I expect the length to stay exactly the same.  I’ve asked the composer if he could give me another run through, hopefully this time coming up with something less… creepy and more in fitting with a romcom.

I believe I see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I’ll probably let this sit for a week or so, to give my mind some distance, then tackle the dialog audio for what I hope is the last effort.  Could it be made better?  I’m sure with a professional editor it could, but not, I believe, better enough to justify the expense.  I feel, deep down, that I have something that’s watchable.  It’s a simple story, but I think the actors, DP and sound guy did a really good job so I had a relatively easy job editing.  If it wasn’t relatively easy, I doubt I could have done it.  I know, for absolute certain, I don’t want to be an editor.  I think writing/directing/producing is enough involvement (though I’ve learned I need a producing partner, as during actual production I can’t be an effective director if I’m also producing), I need to hand the project over to an editor for the project to be it’s best.