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.

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.