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.

Second Cut Almost Done

I spent a very good chunk of our vacation working on refining the edit for Treasure Hunt.  Replacing almost all the camera audio, tightening up some scenes and even rejiggering a couple.  But I’ve retained the perennial problem with the signing scene (though got some excellent suggestions from a friend yesterday) and am quite vexed at the unnecessary complexity surrounding credits.

Every movie ever made requires end credits, at an absolute minimum, and the vast majority will also require begin credits.  Why this isn’t a simple matter of adding in the text and selecting from a handful of default themes is beyond me, but it appears, after a number of hours of research, that that’s exactly the case.  And seemingly not just in the editor I chose, but this is common across editors.  Sure seems like an unmet need to me!

Anyway, as usual I didn’t get as much done as I wanted to, but I do think another week or so and I should have the second cut wrapped up.  Even after I’ve dealt with the singing scene and wrestled with the credits, I still have to watch the thing at least several times.  And it’s an hour long.  And find and fix any issues with the editor (I learned, for instance, when sticking in the opening credit place holder, that the user interface element that moves all the other clips up and down the timeline isn’t 100% perfect, necessitating manually repositioning of dozens of clips).

But I do feel it’s coming along.  With the new suggestions for editing the singing scene I believe I can finally get past this mental block and put it in shape for another review.  I expect to get back at least a handful of comments on the new version, so will have to carefully evaluate them and decide what to do, but my expectation is I’ll just be doing some final polishing.  Thus, my plan is to have the final cut wrapped up by the end of January.  There still remains the potential for color correction, though I feel I’ve addressed a number of those issues once I learned to adjust the brightness of each clip, as well as music.  Those issues may take another few weeks (or more), but I feel good that I’ll have the show wrapped up in the Feb/Mar timeframe.  Of course, there still exists the need to produce the extras and the behind-the-scenes, but I’m sure I’ll obsess less about the production values there.  Besides, I’ve come quite far as an editor in the last few months and don’t expect to take as long to get the same amount of work done.

Thank you all for your patience!  I do believe the light ahead isn’t an oncoming train, but the end of the tunnel 😉

Trailer 1.0

I’ve posted the first (well, second, only a select few had to endure watching the first) attempt at a trailer for Treasure Hunt.  Here it be:

Any thoughts are welcome.  I’m going to turn my focus to reworking the rough cut of the flick for the rest of my time off (and beyond, if I don’t finish it by then).  I may revisit the trailer if I get any consensus on the feedback.

Twenty-four Hundred

Over the weekend I became totally overwhelmed attempting to restart the momentum on editing my flick.  It seemed everywhere I looked I found more and more sound files.  Almost all with the same meaningless name (e.g., MONO-<some number>.wav).  I was sure I had duplicates, as there were several times I was too rushed to ensure I only copied the new files off the storage media and just copied everything, but I didn’t think they were of this magnitude.  That really bit me on the ass!

Being a programmer professionally, I eventually decided to write a series of scripts to help me find and locate the replicas.  That took a number of hours, but eventually I was able to find the original collection of 530 audio files and match them up with the written records I got from the sound guy.  I now feel 99% confident I have all the sound files.

Of course, the ones I have all have the meaningless names, so my next effort is to find out which ones the sound guy has already gone through to rename with the appropriate information.  I know he hasn’t got them all, because the second scene isn’t in his renamed collection.  One of the primary reasons I stalled so quickly when I finally started editing.

So the weekend wasn’t a 100% failure on my part, just, say, 99.9% failure.  Hopefully this week will be different and I can get momentum to move into next week, when we’re on vacation, and still achieve my goal of having the next version done by the end of the year.

I’ve been communicating with an experienced editor and he’s agreed to give it a once-over once I’ve recut it.  He’ll then let me know if he can help out in such a way to fit within my budget (which, frankly, is nigh on zero at this point).  It’ll be a little tricky getting him all the data files and I might go with sneakernet rather than attempt to upload it somehow.  Hopefully we can come to an accommodation and he can at least do the color correcting, to ensure the night scenes all look like night.

Ready for Round Two

I’ve got the feedback I was looking for for my rough cut.  There was a lot of overlap, which will make some decisions easy.  There were differences, of course, which will take more time to sort out.  But I feel good that there’s a consensus that I’ve achieved my goal of having something watchable.  I’ve lost perspective now, so can’t judge any longer, and really appreciate the extra set of eyeballs.

I need to settle in and begin the second round of cutting.  Well, not a whole lot of cutting, more about tweaking.  This time audio is king.  I need to get rid of the camera audio for the whole thing, which means syncing up likely several thousand little cuts with their audio (sigh, just typing that makes me tired), then I need to put in background sound (e.g., crickets chirping during the night scenes, party sounds during the party scenes, etc.) which will greatly add to the verisimilitude.  Then music to set the mood.  Then, my next nemesis, color correction.  I may send out my next cut and wait for feedback before I start color correcting.  Fear of the unknown…

I was hoping I could jump back into editing after having taken the time off whilst waiting for the feedback, but am finding myself reluctant.  My intent was to have a second cut done before Christmas, now I think I’ll make it for the New Year.  I hope I can start the process before then and have some momentum developed.  Stupid brain.

Ender’s Game

I watched the movie Ender’s Game before and enjoyed it.  Recently I found a copy of the book in a used bookstore, so decided to see how the novel compared.  I thoroughly enjoyed the book, though found the movie tracked the book almost completely.  Personally, I don’t find that a bad thing at all, but I’ve read about people who complain that they don’t need a visual version of the book, they can see it in their own heads as they read.

That being said, the book is told from the close-in point of view of Ender, so we get to learn a lot of his thoughts.  Ender is a very introspective guy.  He knows he’s really smart and has basically been bred to be a military leader, but he hates violence.  Ender is the third child in a society that restricts children to a maximum of two.  Ender is actually his nickname because he’s the third, and final child, hence the end one.

Enders older brother Peter, is also an unbelievably excellent military leader.  Except that he revels in hurting and is vicious even when it isn’t necessary.  Ender’s older sister Valentine is even smarter than Peter, an even better military leader, yet is too kind.  She refuses to make sacrifices even when they’d lead to a better outcome in the end.  Ender, though, he avoids violence until he can’t, then he explodes so viciously that he not only beats his attacker now, but forever.  He punishes his attacker, destroys them, ensures they’ll never attack again.

The military snatches Ender up and puts him in a grueling training regime where he’s always pushed, always pressured.  Each time he excels, they change the rules.  Then he excels again.  He’s so successful that he winds up taking the dregs and castoffs and turning them into an army that goes on an unprecedented winning streak in their games, despite the constant rule changes.  To keep Ender off balance, they promote him to command school years before anyone else has.

Where he excels once again, constantly forcing the teachers to struggle to make things more challenging for him.  Ultimately they decide he is ‘the one’ so put him in charge.  He is ten years old.

The version of the book I read had an authors note in it.  I found it very interesting reading, as the author talked about several people who wrote him (this was before the ‘net; how many people can actually write letters any longer?) discussing how passionate they were about his characterization.  Many of them were themselves child prodigies and struggled to get adults to understand their thinking process.  Card wrote the children as children, but very smart ones.  Most adults treat children as a different species while Card treated them as small adults.

Should you watch the movie or read the book?  Well I’m going to say both, but it depends on your preferred way of consuming media.  The movie cuts out a huge side plot in the book where Peter and Valentine work, basically as bloggers, to mold a new world order for after Ender defeats the aliens.  It’s an interesting subplot, but very distinct from the military aspect, so may not appeal to those who enjoy that part of the flick.  All the main turning points in the movie are in the book, but there’s extra background and, of course, we’re inside Ender’s head.  If you are not an avid reader, then the movie will give you all the important elements of the book, in some cases nearly verbatim.  If you prefer reading, the movie won’t add much, except awesome visuals.

I recommend this book (and movie) to anyone interested in military, scifi, or a damn good story.

Rough Cut is Finito

After a very long couple of weeks editing my movie, I finally have a rough cut done.  It is very rough, with some rather rude elements stubbed in and other experimental attempts I doubt will make it to the final cut, but it has everything done except the singing scene.

This morning I was going to rework that scene, which I put off initially because I was bogged down too much with it, but my brain is fried and I can’t make any decisions any longer.  I plan on at least a week off before I look at it again, hopefully then I’ll be able to make some progress.  It’s only around two minutes, but it totally messes with my mind.

As my sound guy / mentor said would happen, I got to the point where I hated everything and everyone.  While the vast majority of the scene had several good takes and it was a matter of trying to choose the best among several worthy options, I had one scene were I felt everything sucked.  Every angle, how the camera was set up, how the actors handled their lines, the lighting, everything.  It was a matter of finding the least bad bits and attempting to stitch them together in the least offensive way.  I even had to drop some dialog because I couldn’t find any combination of sights and sounds that I felt would work.  The lines weren’t fundamental, thankfully.

But that was one scene out of nearly 80, and while there were several takes ruined by the camera boom or microphone being in frame (and, in principal, those elements could be excised), there were others that allowed me to easily work around.

The finished render came out at a bit shy of 68 minutes, so in this case, 84 pages worked out to around 48 seconds per page, as opposed to the supposed standard of 60 seconds/page.  That’s considered a very rough guide anyway, with probably more exceptions than anything, but that’s what the industry looks at.

I’ve sent links to the rough cut to a handful of people that I feel can look past the inconsistent audio and crappy singing scene and will wait for their feedback.  No doubt I’ll be cutting some elements and they may have suggestions for better ways to handle others, so I expect to make significant changes, but I don’t believe they’ll be draconian.  I also sent the link to some musicians for their thoughts.

I still have yet to learn how to do color correction, or making each take visually look alike.  I also have painfully blue skies during some of the night scenes that need addressing, which I believe color correction will help, and I have a couple of small insert shots to take yet.  I also have a scene I didn’t put in because when I started to cut it together I realized I hadn’t filmed enough.  Fortunately it’s something I could film myself, but unfortunately, all the leaves have dropped off the trees, so it might not look good.  I’ll see if anyone misses it.

It will probably be January before I start to close in on a final cut.  First I need to lock the picture, which won’t happen until I’ve received and incorporated the feedback from the rough cut.  Then I need to polish the audio, which I fully expect to be almost as much of a PITA as cutting the video together.  Then color correct.  Then add Foley, which is the background sounds you take for granted (e.g., the sound of people walking), ambiance sounds, like birds and crickets for outdoor scenes and top it all off with music.  I got a lot of work left to do and am still struggling with some of the most seemingly trivial things using the editor (it took me days to finally figure out how to adjust the audio volume for each clip; by then I was too tired to do it).

I feel pretty good about movie making and am planning on doing the first draft of my next project over the Christmas holiday (a horror concept, since horror is one of the rare genre with a reasonable track record of getting distribution with small budgets and no names).  But any future projects have to fund themselves, as the boss (wife) has made it adamantly clear she won’t be using our retirement to finance any further projects.  So it might not get past the script stage, as if I can’t find investors in my nascent production company, I won’t be creating the LLC for the horror flick (there are good reasons that Hollywood accounting is so arcane, though that does make it easy to abuse).

Two-Thirds of the Rough Cut Done

I’m pretty happy with the editing I’ve done so far on Treasure Hunt, having reached page 56 (out of 84).  I haven’t rendered what I’ve done so far, but the editing software says it’s running a bit past 49 minutes.  One minute per page isn’t working out terribly well. If this ratio keeps going I’ll wind up with 73 minutes (exclusive of any begin/end credits), but I don’t have any particular goal for length, just want something that flows easily.  I feel even better about my self-imposed goal of having a rough-cut done by end of next weekend, though there are two scenes that, together, have over 60 takes, which will no doubt take a good bit of time to sort out.

I’ve decided to put off reworking the singing scene until I’ve got the whole rough cut done.  I’ve already decided to rejigger a few of the earlier scenes anyway, given my increased experience.  I recut the library scene I did earlier, going from 2:53 down to 2:22, without sacrificing anything, just as John said I could.  No doubt he’d cut it still further, but then again, he’d do a completely different movie from the get-go.

I’m getting a lot more comfortable with the editing, but still don’t feel called to it at all.  I do feel I’m learning about lost opportunities, though, and believe it’s just the thing to be sure I get more little shots on any future projects.  But even if people judge I have some talent for editing, I don’t know that I’ll ever do it again.  Besides, I feel having another set of eyes on the material, not to mention someone with more patience (and passion), will lead to a better product.

I finally managed to make the behind-the-scenes page I promised earlier (better late than never, eh?), you can find it here.

Back to work…