Friday, November 7, 2014

ASSASSIN: Why We're Making an LBTQ Film and How You Can Join Us.

Why is ASSASSIN an LBTQ film? It's simple really. I feel like we need #BetterRepresentation in film and the bigger studios aren't going to do it. I feel like we need stories with female main characters that has nothing to do with them being female and, with ASSASSIN, I think it's time we tell stories about LGBT and LBTQ characters that has nothing to do with their sexuality. 

In ASSASSIN, though the story is about a relationship between two women, their sexual identification is irrelevant to the story. It's not a film about being gay. It's a film about two characters who happen to be gay. Allie Esslinger from Section II, one of our partners on the project, referred to this as 'Post Gay.' We're making it because we don't see others doing it but for that to happen, we need your support.

On October 22, we launched our crowdfunding campaign for ASSASSIN, the second film in the LAX Trilogy. As you remember, we had a less than successful Indiegogo campaign for the LAX Trilogy as a whole back in May. Well, since then, we've learned a lot about what we did wrong and how we could do better, mainly thanks to Emily Best and her amazing company Seed & Spark.

So, we decided to try again, this time focusing just on ASSASSIN and here we are. It's been two weeks, we're halfway through the campaign and we've raised roughly 23% of what we need. It's good, it's not great.

They say that you're more likely to meet your campaign goal if you hit 30% within the first week. By that measure, we're not looking so hot -- but we're not throwing in the towel. No, sir.

We need 80% to get greenlit and received the funds. If we don't hit that amount, we get nothing. Thanks to an anonymous matching donor, the past week has resulted in matching funds of $2156, which means as soon as those matching funds hit the campaign, we'll be at 31%. Better, still not great.

We need your support and we want you to join our team. Can't contribute money at the moment. That's okay because you can help by spreading the word about the campaign. Use the following link to support Assassin with three simple clicks: 

We're still a ways from making this a reality but as you can see from the pitch video and the video playlist below there's tons of early content for you to check out and enjoy. Our hope is not only make the movie but give you guys an inside look at the making of Assassin as we do it. 

There's lots of cool, exciting things coming up as we ramp up towards production. Considering taking a moment to either support and/or spread the word about the project!

We've also been releasing some cool content, both about Assassin and making #nobudget films in general. You can check it them out below or on our YouTube page.

Thank you for all your continued support!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Writing a Better Chair: Moving Beyond The Craft of Screenwriting

This is a chair.
We all know a chair when we see it. However, if someone were to ask us what a chair is, we would all have different answers. Some of us would say that it is a thing with four legs and a seat and a back. Others might say that a chair is a piece of furniture. Still others might claim a chair to be a thing on which you rest.

We all know there are many different shapes and sizes of chairs out there yet they are all classified as a "chair." Movies today are like chairs in that sense. We all know there are many different ways to tell a story, but Hollywood would have us believe otherwise. They would prefer that all stories have the same design.

They may try to "paint" the story a different color (cinematography), use different wood (characters), make it smaller or larger (length and scope), but it's basically the exact same chair (story) as all of the others. No matter how the details are changed, the story structure stays the same; the design is unchanged (which is probably why you can watch a trailer and feel like you've already seen the movie).

When I first began as a screenwriter, I was not even aware of story structure. As a teenager I worked at a video rental store and had seen thousands of movies by then. I knew what I was doing... copying every single one of them.

Also a chair.
Not directly, but I stole concepts, story beats, even character traits from the mishmash of films that I loved. The result was an incredible Frankenstein of a story that also could have passed as a thesis from one of my International Studies classes. Go figure.

Still, I was hooked and I wanted to write another, better screenplay. So I started reading.

Google "how to write a screenplay" and within the first 5 results the two things emphasized the most are formatting and structure. To the fledgling writer, screenwriting appears more like a paint-by-numbers scheme than a form of artistic expression. Dogmatic adherence to design is preached and accepted from the start.

And like any good student, I began to focus on that design. Software took care of formatting so I dove into mastering the structure and quickly learned about the Monomyth. You know the Monomyth; aka The Hero's Journey aka The Paradigm aka The BS2.

As a beginning screenwriter, you can't miss it. The Monomyth is everywhere. It's given such reverence that I've heard stories about Hollywood execs tossing scripts without a central theme on page 5 and a "dark night of the soul" on page 75 into the trash. 

I started referring to screenwriting not as art but as a craft. Every story I imagined, every screenplay I developed had to fit within The Hero's Journey. I struggled to master the subtle nuances of it and over time I've become very comfortable with every step and stage. But I've also run up against its limits and, by now, have almost completely abandoned it.

Don't get me wrong, understanding the Monomyth is crucial for every storyteller. But it's simply a first step in becoming a fully competent screenwriter. For those at the beginning of their careers, reading books on screenwriting or taking a screenwriting course or workshop can really help you develop a basic understanding of screenwriting. And I think that collectively, we as filmmakers can agree that doing so is important. But the Monomyth only one kind of story and there are other types of stories out there. Stories from new voices that will entice and restore a trust in audiences that film isn't bereft of any good ideas -- told in unique and interesting ways.

And yet reality indicates otherwise. A cursory glance at the majority of films being pitched and sold and made today makes it very clear that the same stories are being told over and over again. This is not just a Hollywood problem either. It's across the board from indies to tentpoles. When your story follows the beats of the "Hero's Journey" then you are fundamentally telling the exact same story each time, no matter how differently you color it.

So, in my opinion, it comes down to this. Do you see screenwriting as a form of art or of craft?

Obviously, a lot has been said about the distinction between art and craft (Great TED Talk about the subject) but, ultimately, I believe that the distinction comes simply out of an adherence to reproduction. If you are making something, be it a vase or a story, in order to look and fit into an agreed upon model, then you are not making piece of art, you are making piece of craftwork.

This is not to discount the value of craftwork. It is a very honorable thing and craftsmen and women provide all manner of amazing goods that we enjoy and cherish throughout generations - like beer.

Still a chair.
But art is about putting a personal touch on the basic form. About expressing ones own, unique point of view on the world. About pushing the craft beyond and into metaphor, interpretation and meaning.

Just like everyone knows what a story is, doesn't mean that everyone's idea of a story is the same.

Yet movies remain stuck. Unable and unwilling to pry itself free from the desire to mitigate risk through reproduction of the banal. The audiences have already spoken. We just had the worst summer box office since 2006. Clearly movies are losing the war for everyone's attention.

What are you going to do about it? Meanwhile, I've got this couch I'm working on...

Travis Oberlander is a writer & producer who also has been working closely with CSI: creator Anthony E. Zuiker. Travis co-wrote the cyber-bridges for Level 26: Dark Revelations, the third installment of Zuiker’s digi-novel trilogy. In 2013, he produced Layover, the first in the LAX Trilogy with his long-time collaborator, Joshua Caldwell and in 2014 he wrote and will produce the second installment in the series Assassin.

In addition to his writing and producing, Travis has over six years of experience managing social media teams, developing digital strategy and overseeing various programs for major brands such as Unilever, Walmart and Beam Global. Prior to that, he launched the award-winning social media division of Media Temple, a leading web-host. Follow Travis on Twitter: @tobewan

Monday, October 13, 2014


Seventeen months ago I set out to make a feature film for $6000. A year later, in May of 2014, we had our World Premiere in competition at the Seattle International Film Festival and we were nominated for the prestigious FIPRESCI New American Cinema Award. And today, we are releasing LAYOVER via our own direct distribution platform on

There, you can rent or download a copy of the film, DRM-free, with various content bundles.

We decided to go with our own distribution because ultimately it was the best deal for us. All the proceeds from the film go to the filmmakers. The investor, the actors, the producers, the crew and myself. Thus, you are directly contributing towards our ability to continue to make films. So help support indie film and get your copy of LAYOVER today.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Werner Herzog on "Going Rogue"

Over the past couple weeks (when I had time) I've been reading Werner Herzog: A Guide for the Perplexed which should be recommended for any aspiring filmmaker. I've really connected with his point of view on the subject and reading this book has make clear my feelings on making films and being a filmmaker. It's an incredible book for those who find themselves outside of the fence and I highly recommend it.

One passage I really struck and inspired me. This is what Werner has to say about what it means to "go rogue."

"Always take initiative. There is nothing wrong with spending a night in a jail cell if it means getting a shot you need. Send out all your dogs and one might return with prey. Beware of the cliche. Never wallow in your troubles; despair must be kept private and brief. Learn to live with your mistakes. Study the law and scrutinize contracts. Expand your knowledge and understanding of music and literature, old and modern. Keep your eyes open. That roll of unexposed celluloid you have in your hand might be the last in existence, so do something impressive with it. There's never an excuse not to finish a film. Carry bolt cutters everywhere. Thwart institutional cowardice. Ask for forgiveness, not permission. Take your fate into your own hands. Don't preach on deaf years. Learn to read the inner essence of a landscape. Ignite the fire within and explore unknown territory. Walk straight ahead, never detour. Learn on the job. Maneuver and mislead, but always deliver. Don't be fearful of rejection. Develop your own voice. Day one is the point of no return. Know how to act alone in a group. Guard your time carefully. A badge of honor is to fail a film-theory class. Chance is the lifeblood of cinema. Guerrilla tactics are best. Take revenge if need be. Get used to the bear behind you. Form clandestine Rogue cells everywhere."

I mean, how badass is that?!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Read the Production Draft of DIG

With my short film DIG now available to watch on Seed & Spark (and a Staff Pick!) I thought I would share with you the production draft of the script along with some shooting notes I made on it. These notes do not contain the full breadth of the work I did to prepare but are really more reminders of things I wanted to exercise, capture or remember in the middle of shooting.

For those of you new to following me and new to the blog my writing, production and post-production process on the film was pretty well documented on here. Click this link, scroll to the bottom and then read your way up. :-) As you can tell, I have no problem being up open about my process if you can learn something from it (and maybe this isn't worth anything).

But I don't think I've ever actually provided the script for anyone to read. So here you go:

And tweet me your thoughts @Joshua_Caldwell. I'm curious to hear what you think. 

The script was co-written by Travis Oberlander and I. However, for the final draft prior to production I went through and revised it "for production." What does that mean? It means moving the script away from something to be read and make it your guide for shooting the film.

One of the things you might notice is what people refer to as overwriting. Lots of character descriptions, internal thoughts, etc. Well, my thing is this: a script is not a piece of literature. It's a blueprint and moving beyond the idea of a script being for a reader, whatever helps you build the house, do it. The original non-production draft of the script was about 18 pages. This production draft is 26. 

Since the script is essentially my blueprint as a director why not put in there everything you need to make the best film possible? Who gives a fuck about "rules?" So, prior to production, I really go through and add in a lot of details I don't want to forget or character description or internal psychology, whatever I feel is necessary to help me make the best movie I can.

There's the reader draft and then there's the blueprint you use to make the film. They're different things. One can be loosely interpreted as literature and the other is really whatever you want it to be so that you, your cast and your crew know what it is you're trying to accomplish.

Food for thought.

Additionally, I posted these on Twitter a while back and thought I would include them. Here's two pages of my shotlists for DIG. You can check them out and compare them to scene in the script.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Nicholl V. Blcklst Feedback (Updated)

UPDATE 8/27/14: With this post definitely gaining some traction, I want to clarify a few things:

1) I posted this following Franklin Leonard's call to post the comments side by side. Objectively, that's what the top half of this post was intended to show, how three different readers responded to my script.

2) The bottom "commentary" part was me musing about my experience paying for the Blcklst evaluation in the first place. I am certainly not comparing, from a feedback perspective, Nicholl vs. Blcklst. As disappointed as I felt about the BlckLst feedback, the Nicholl feedback is pretty much useless (unless, of course, I just wanted to hear how amazing Will and I are as writers, which I didn't). 

3) This tipped off a really fantastic conversation on Twitter about paying for reads, etc, etc and I just want to say that the Blcklst provides a really great service to writers. What I was expecting from a paid evaluation wasn't in line with what evaluations typically provide. I don't want to be the guy saying "Blcklst evaluations are terrible and you should never pay for them." But I did find it to be a waste of money and having done it, probably wouldn't do it again. That's me. I didn't think the feedback I got was worth the money, considering I have other avenues of getting that feedback for free.

And now, to the original post.

With the Nicholl quarter-finalists receiving reader feedback this past week, Franklin Leonard of the Blcklst asked writers to post those comments in conjunction with any evaluations they've gotten from the Blcklst.

My feature script, STATE OF DECEPTION, did not make the quarterfinals of Nicholl but it did come close, placing in the next group of 100 scripts. As such, we received three reads on the script and were sent reader feedback.

So, here we go. Nicholl comments first, then Blcklst. If anyone is interested in reading the script, I'd be happy to pass it along.


Comment 1:

This script brings a personal level of engagement to the political and religious controversy that holds Palestine in it's grip. As children, Aaron, a Jewish boy, and Habib and Sharif, Arab boys, are very close friends. Aaron even goes to jail for several years in exchange for helping Sharif's family. Aaron is released on the grounds of becoming a mole for IDF in Hassad, and discovers his friends are much more dangerous than he ever imagined.

This is a well-done story, adding human faces and emotions to the eternal struggle in Palestine. There is some nice character growth, and depth, which lends itself nicely to the escalating stakes that take place. There is a solid three act structure with scenes heightening stakes and tellings us about the characters. The story is effective in making the story relatable to Western sensibilities, and reminds the reader of all those individuals that are victims of circumstance rather than religious fervor.

There is a certain something about this one that shows talent for making larger issues personal, characters real, and situations suspenseful. This is nicely done, and it works well for me. There's some magic here in the story telling, and while the writing isn't overly descriptive, it's concise and effective.

Comment 2:

Normally I want to run for the hills as soon as I see a script set in the Middle East. I have no patience or interest in them usually, and they all feel like the same movie being placed in front of me over and over again. But this script was different. It felt like a story about a man -- it could be ANY man -- who made choices and must now deal with the ramifications. The politics of the movie are kept squarely in the background, which is perfect. The story then becomes about people. And the writer has done a good job of making the people relatable, without sacrificing the arena within which the story is set.

The writing here is really pretty good. The script was a breeze to read, and when the characters spoke in a different language, the writer not only had the translation, but also the original wording -- and scripted it in a way that it never slowed the reader down. The dialogue in general was top notch, and moved at a solid clip. It wasn't overwritten, or underwritten. The structure could have used a little work, though. It felt like the writer let the script breathe just a little too much. Not a ton, but if felt a little lengthy at times. And I often found myself waiting for the next bump-up to happen.

The story here is solid and well thought out, though there are moments when I found myself a little unclear as to what was going on in the moment. The craft was very, very solid. A strong piece of writing. The structure was a little loose as I said above. The characters were very well executed, and their dialogue was (for the most part) top notch. It was an original idea and there was certainly magic floating all around.

This was a solid script, and even though it's not my cup of tea per se, I really did enjoy it... and that should say something.


Settings are rich, colorful, and bring to life locations which are, for most people, simply familiar names in the news. Meticulously researched. Aaron deals with plenty of conflict, both physical and mental. Moments of tension, action, and violence keep the pace moving. Character relationships are strong and believable, especially Majed and Aaron. Action is clear, violent, and intense.

Once they arrive in Gaza, it slows a great deal and meanders for too long. Though Gaza is well represented, it hurts the momentum built up to that point. Overly happy, unrealistic ending, with everyone living at the beach in the epilogue. Some of the research is forced in with monologues and characters telling Aaron things he should already know about the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. Underwhelming, action oriented climax, whereas it could have been something personal and tense.

A good story with strong writing, but due to the Middle Eastern subject matter and principals, it's a tough sell for audiences who get enough of this struggle in the news. But the writers deserve plenty of attention for the crafting of this intelligent, entertaining story.

Now, the evaluation I purchased from the Blcklst was the first time I had ever done it and to be honest, I was underwhelmed. While the weaknesses highlighted by the commenter are definitely right on, I don't know, it felt like it wasn't worth the $50. I feel like I could have had a friend read it and give me the exact same feedback. I wasn't looking for high praise but I guess I was looking for more detail? A deeper critique of the script? 

It did make me far less likely to pay for an evaluation again because I just don't think it was worth the money. Clearly, others feel the differently and have gotten feedback that greatly helped them improve their script (and not that this won't) but I have too many other options that provide a more detailed response for free.

Curious to hear from others who may feel the same way. Have you purchased feedback from The Blcklst? What was your experience with it?