Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Official Launch of Hollywood Bound and Down

Hey Everyone! Welcome to the launch of my blog Hollywood Bound and Down. What's it all about you ask?

I can tell you what it's not going to be about. This won't be about celebrity gossip and this won't be about my life on a day to day basis. For me, this blog is an outlet, a way of sharing what I’m going through in Hollywood with those who are interested. Along the way, I’ll offer some advice and opinions, based on what I’ve learned, I’ll link to videos and articles that interest me and might interest you, and I’ll share my experience as I try and make it as a writer and director. I’m not claiming to be an expert, in fact, I’m not even a sold writer yet, but I am on the bottom rung trying to rise. Rather than providing you with hindsight, I’m trying to give it to you as I go along.

Making a transition from student filmmaker to Hollywood is a daunting, difficult journey and every path is different. There’s no corporate ladder to climb, no clear route to the director’s chair or a bungalow on the Warner Bros. lot. I should know, I’m in the middle of it and I’ve got a Golden Popcorn on my shelf. So, maybe this blog can help you out.

This blog will be a little bit of self-promotion for my production company, Meydenbauer Entertainment, and I; a little bit of an advice column; and a little bit of check out this cool article I read or this cool video I just saw.

I also have a lot of content I've built up over the past couple years, production journals, tidbits of info, etc that I'll be reposting here for you to check out. And along the way, I'll have some guest contributors who will provide further insight into the business, as well as perspectives from those who have already found success: producers, writers, directors, creative execs, agents, managers, etc.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the blog. So, let's go.

Getting Started in Hollywood

Great article over at JohnAugust.com. Read it here.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Is YouTube Doomed?

Interesting article at Slate.com about the high costs of keeping YouTube free. Read it here.

WME Entertainment

ENDEAVOR AND THE WILLIAM MORRIS AGENCY MERGE

Two of the leading entertainment agencies reach historic agreement

(Beverly Hills, CA -- April 27, 2009) In a landmark deal, two of the leading entertainment agencies, Endeavor and the William Morris Agency, today announced a merger of both companies. The new agency will be called William Morris Endeavor (WME) Entertainment. The transaction, which is subject to customary closing conditions, is expected to be completed in the second quarter.

The leadership team for the new agency will be Jim Wiatt, Chairman, and Ariel Emanuel, Patrick Whitesell and Dave Wirtschafter, Co-CEOs.

Wiatt, Emanuel, Whitesell and Wirtschafter join company directors John Fogelman, Peter Grosslight, Rick Rosen, Jennifer Rudolph Walsh and Adam Venit on the nine-member board that will guide the agency.

This historical agreement brings together two of the industry’s most respected entertainment agencies spanning motion pictures, television, music, theatre, publishing, commercials, sports, marketing and below-the-line production.

Check out more at Deadline Hollywood Daily.

Friday, April 24, 2009

When Writing Partners Disagree

This happens frequently to Travis and I. Perhaps I'll leave Travis to write up a post on our perspective but in the meantime, John August received this question at his blog.

Check it out

The Impressive Failure

Great article over at Wordplay on making sure to have your hero fail and fail impressively. Check it out.

Film News Briefs

If you don't live LA, hell, even if you do, it's important to stay on top of what's going on in the business. As I've mentioned before, Variety and HR are expensive. I posted a link to some industry blogs a while back but few of them mention projects going on and as a writer it's important to know what's selling.

A great way to do that is to subscribe to the Film News Briefs email which will send you nice little packaged emails on what projects are selling, who's attached to them, etc, etc.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Screenwriting: Aaron Sorkin

Great interview with Aaron Sorkin on writing at Making Of. Check it out.

Making Of

Making Of is a behind-the-scenes Web portal, founded by Natalie Portman and Christine Aylward, that provides an intimate, fresh look into the process of creating entertainment by the insiders themselves. Our mission is to champion the art and craft of entertainment creation. We started MakingOf because we realized that so much of what goes into entertainment creation is unavailable to the people who love and consume it the most. We wanted to give fans a way to experience that creation and learn from the insiders and thus MakingOf was born. When you visit MakingOf you will experience behind-the-scenes content, exclusive access to industry insiders, and an interactive, entertainment-focused community forum. It is your all-access pass to learn from and interact with actors, directors, producers, writers, and more. Film school for everyone! And film is just the start.

MakingOf has four main features:

Filming Now: Come backstage and explore behind-the-scenes content captured during the creation process. We’ll bring you on set, where you’ll learn about everything from casting to editing. This section of the site will also offer interviews, movie trailers, photos, and unseen clips. Stay posted as we add additional features and refresh our content.

Community: Coming soon to MakingOf is an interactive network for you to engage with industry experts and to exchange ideas, gain knowledge and connect with your fellow fans.

Wisdom from the Insiders: Hear exclusive interviews with leading industry insiders. Learn about your favorite filmmakers’ passions and inspirations. And — if you’re interested in the profession of filmmaking — get advice from the people who live and breathe film.

The Vault: Revisit movies of the past as we take you behind the scenes into our library of content that includes interviews, movie trailers, photos, and unseen clips. Stay posted as we add additional features and movies.

What an awesome resource.

NIFTY

One of the focus' of this blog is young filmmakers either in high school or college. For most of them, many film festivals are out of reach, as they're also competing with everyone and their mom.

Not at the National Film Festival for Talented Youth (or NFFTY). Unfortunately, this festival wasn't around when I was in high school but I wish it was. (I probably would've swept the awards.) It was founded in 2007. With our 3rd festival in 2009, NFFTY has become the largest and most influential film festival and support organization for filmmakers age 22 and under.

NFFTY occurs each spring in Seattle, Washington and includes 100+ film screenings, filmmaking panels, concerts by youth bands, and opportunities for young filmmakers to network with industry professionals and each other. Young filmmakers from around the world submit feature-length and short films in narrative, documentary, animation, music video, experimental, and international categories. NFFTY is a core program of The Talented Youth, a non-profit arts and cultural organization.

NFFTY is one of only a handful of multi-day youth film festivals. NFFTY has no minimum age requirements and brings a diverse grouping of elementary age to college age filmmakers together for cross mentoring. We provide young filmmakers a "full feature" festival experience with screenings in state-of-the-art venues, exceptional access to industry professionals, and broad public exposure.

NFFTY films enjoy distribution opportunities through partnerships including Comcast On Demand in the greater Seattle area, Indieflix, and Takepart.com. "Best of NFFTY" films are shown in school classrooms and screened before feature presentations at Seattle area outdoor cinema events.

The NFFTY 2009 Grand Prize will be an all-expenses-paid trip to Los Angeles to meet with creative executives and agents, thanks to HBO. Another filmmaker will receive a full scholarship to attend the summer Prodigy Camp of TheFilmSchool.

Check out the festival trailer below.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Script Doctoring: Where You Make REAL Money

Everyone in Hollywood knows that writers don't make their money from script sales. They make their money from uncredited rewrites.

Writers are paid large sums of money to punch up a script, whether it's character, dialogue or what have you but in return get no credit. It's where the real money is made as a writer.

Case in point.

How I Write

As I've mentioned before, I write with a partner...so that should be "How we write."

I consider myself a director who writes rather than a writer who directs. What that means is that if I had to write on my own it would take me a very, very long time. I am extremely afraid of the blank page. Travis, on the other hand, can dive right in, since he's actually a writer. My strength is in the rewrites. I am very good at looking at something and rewriting it to make it better.

One of the reasons I prefer working with a partner is that as a director I'm a collaborator at heart. Everything I've done has gotten better through collaboration, while everything that has sucked was because I was too stubborn and insisted my idea was the best (it never is).

What's great about working with a partner is that you trust each other. So, I know that if we're trying to think of a line or a scene or a story, I can throw out the dumbest idea without being embarrassed. Because, even though I know that idea will never work, it might give Travis an idea, which then gives me an idea, which then grows and changes into a great line, scene or script, having begun as something really stupid. That's what I love about collaborating. Neither of your ideas might good but they might inspire something good. If I were writing alone that would probably never happen. I would go with what I thought which would probably be wrong, or lame, or on the nose.

How Travis and I write has changed with every script we've written. The first screenplay we collaborated on was a thriller. The way we ended up writing it was I wrote the first ten pages, because I had a really clear idea in my head about how I wanted it to start. The next day, Travis started writing pages 11-20 while I went back and revised pages 1-10. The next day, Travis wrote 21-30, while I rewrote the pages he wrote the day before. Travis was able to push through on scenes, even if they weren't good and all he was writing was a placeholder, knowing that I would be coming through and expanding on it. Travis' first draft was 76 pages; mine was 94. (It has since expanded to 118.) We wrote the first draft in 10 days.

The next script we wrote, Glory Days: The Legacy of Chet Steele was a comedy. We decided that it would probably work better if we wrote each scene together. So, we sat down to one computer, traded off typing and went through it scene by scene making each other laugh and putting those lines in the script. "Wouldn't this be funny?" "Oh! What about this?" The final count of our first draft was 148 pages (it has since been cut down to 108) and we wrote it in 10 days.

The third script we wrote was intended to be a low-budget thriller. It takes place in one location with two actors. We thought that since this was ultimately one big conversation we should each be a character and we would sit down over iChat and have the conversation. So we did. We played the characters and let is flow. The first draft was 80-something pages and we, again, wrote it in 10 days.

Now, all of this writing was preceded by weeks of discussion, outlines, scene-carding and so on. We had a pretty good idea of where the story was going, what the scenes, were and so forth. For Travis and I this is a really important part of the process. We discuss the hell out of it until we're on the same page, we have the story beat out, and even a list of the scenes, and then we're almost just filling in the blanks.

But for us, a script is a living thing, and our approach differs depending on the story. I'm sure if write another comedy we'll do it similar to how we wrote Glory Days. That's a technique that works really well for us.

In the end, it just kind of happened organically with each script. We didn't force it which is probably why it felt easy.

(That said, the first two scripts we wrote have spent the last three years being rewritten, so there's always work to do after the first draft.)

Sony's Chiefs on "What's Next for Movies."

Interesting stuff about the direction the movie business is heading. Check it out.

Filmmakers Appeal to the Crowd for Money

Raising money during these tough economic times for movies is very difficult. You need to come up with an innovative way of doing it. Three teenagers in London have and they've raised almost $150,000 so far.

Check out the article here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Food, Inc.

Before we got married, my wife worked at a place called Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in upstate New York. It's a working farm that promote local and organic agriculture. I turned into a foodie because of her. I've read Omnivore's Dilemma and other books, I shop at a farmer's market when I can...

For a long time, I've been wanting to put together a documentary about the food industry that would present the story of what is really going on, the things people don't know about the food they eat. It was always a project in the back of my mind, but lacking documentary experience and funding, I wasn't in a rush to put it together. Not suprisingly, Robert Kenner beat me to it.

The doc looks extremely well put together but the content is the most important. I don't really deal with politics on this blog (except the politics of Hollywood) but I think this an important issue that few people know about, so please take the time to watch the trailer below and see the movie.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Making the Good Better

Writing in Hollywood is often about compromise. Now, you can look at that compromise as a bad thing, as both of you losing out as you reach a point of agreement, or you can use the compromise as a way of writing better.

Travis and I are working on our third rewrite of Glory Days for Guy Walks Into A Bar Productions. On this particular notes call, our producer point out some issues that needed to be dealt with. To be honest, we didn't necessarily agree that they needed changing but when you're working under a producer, he's the boss. After all, if he's going to put his name on it he wants to make sure it's a good representation of his choices.

We were very fortunate that the producer, Travis and I were all on the same page about the kind of movie we wrote. Nonetheless, changes were required and rather than think we're God's gift to writers and ignore the notes OR just make quick adjustment changes, Travis and I found ourselves open to looking at the scene in a new way.

And that new POV got us brainstorming new ideas for how to adjust the scenes while keeping the parts we liked but incorporating the elements our producer felt needed to be in there. The scenes are better for it. In fact, the entire script is better because of our working with Guy Walks.

A lot of people think that when you sign on a producer, or a director, or an actor, that you'll have to acquiesce to their vision. That may be true (and may yet happen to us) but rather than looking at it as a loss, that the script is losing through compromise, look at it as an opportunity to better your writing. If you "compromise" that a scene needs to change then change to a better scene.

Take what they give you and make it the best it can be.


How I Got Started - Part 2

After two ASB videos and the election, I was a little ASB’d out and wanted to try something different. I was in a Media Production class that was two periods long and I had to do a project as a final assignment. I always keep a notebook with me to throw down my ideas so I don’t forget them. I was working on one idea but it just wasn’t working out and one day I flipped through my notebook and saw the note I had written down one night when I was home:

I was sitting at my kitchen table and all the lights were off around me except the light above the kitchen table. And I had this image of a kid, home alone, depressed, who just wanted out, in that setting. So, I started writing a script about a suicide. Now, I have to say this…every film student makes a movie about suicide. I don’t know why. But everyone does. I did. So please, think of something else. You’re not going to put a new spin on it, you won’t wow people by doing something different, just know that EVERYONE makes one and skip it, come up with a different idea.

Anyway, so I shot a film called American Tragedy about the day in the life of a kid who commits suicide. My take on it was that every scene would contain clues as to what he’s going to do and that the other characters and the audience would miss it until the very end. Then, if they saw it again, they’d go “Ohhhh!” (Sixth Sense anyone?) Anyway, it turned out pretty good (though it suffered a bit from an American Beauty comparison, since it was similar composition wise and I stole the music, but I swear the title was coincidental). People seemed to like it, it has a certain powerful quality to it, and I got into a few festivals and won some awards. Here is the trailer:

video

Fast forward to summer before senior year. The new ASB, McD and I are sitting around trying to come up with what our Homecoming video would be. As I mentioned before, the plots for these videos would almost always be: “Someone stole [insert assembly subject here] and the ASB has to get it back” or “ASB needs to steal [insert assembly subject here].” (Thinking about it now, it’s kind of weird that our school officers were always stealing stuff.) We wanted to do something different. We came up with a great idea: since High School is so much like a soap opera, why don’t we make the homecoming video a soap opera?

BAM! Plus, it’s never been done (at least at Bellevue High). We came up with the ridiculous storylines: the guy in a coma, the love triangle, the crazy stalker, the brother-sister love story, etc. We filmed it just like a soap opera: zooms, longing looks that last longer than they should, diffusion on the lens to give it that soft look. We had a lot of fun and because of the nature of the story we were able to cast 60+ students in the film. I had a great time shooting it, it was a huge hit, people loved it and I still consider it the strongest video I ever made for ASB.

Here's the video (I apologize for the video quality. It's an old video and the tape is wearing down a bit...you know, I watch this sooo much):



But now, I was going to be graduating in a few months and would be making my last ASB video ever. There were high expectations for it. And I was trying to come up with an idea that would be hard for anyone to top.

To be continued…

How I Got Started – Part 1

I’ve touched a little bit on how I got started making films but I’ll give you the whole story here. I refer back to this experience a lot because it was a very influential experience for me (both good and bad).

The first movie I ever made was for a final assignment in an 8th grade communications class. I did an adaptation of a short story I wrote called Cheese Is Good. The movie was about Detective Cheese (me in a trench coat and Packers cheese head) solving a murder mystery. It was Airplane! Type humor, ridiculously stupid. We shot it on VHS, edited VCR to VCR (in order to have music we just played the music in the scene) and was a very cheesy, very bad film. It was funny, though, don’t get me wrong and people loved it. But looking back on it now – wow.

In high school, I did a Spanish video for a final assignment that became a school cult classic and I did another one my sophomore year with three of the hottest girls in school in it. It was pretty awesome…

Anyway, while this was going on my friend Adam got involved making videos for the ASB. Now, in our high school, the school officers were known as ASB (Associated Student Body) Officers and for a long time the ASB would make videos to show at assemblies, to announce the homecoming theme or next years officers or what the yearbook would look like. Often these videos would parody current films and more often than not they involved stealing something (the Homecoming theme, the results of the ASB election, or the yearbook) or getting something back (the Homecoming theme, the results of the ASB election, or the yearbook).

I came to realize that my high school had a whole media program with digital cameras, Avid editing systems, lights, tripods, and so on. And here, I had a good friend involved with it. I had seen the videos but didn’t have an “in” and now I did. Plus, we had the new ASB elections recently and Adam was elected to one of the positions.

So, I set out to write the next campus day movie. (Campus day was a half day when we got our yearbooks) and wrote a 30 page Matrix parody (when I say parody I don’t always mean a funny parody) and gave it to Adam to give to McD, the ASB advisor. Needless to say, I was a trifle ambitious and while McD really liked it we didn’t have enough time or resources to pull it off. But Adam had new duties as an ASB Officer and they needed someone to take over the video czar position and I was “elected.”

So that summer we started work on the Homecoming video. (Oh yeah, these things were planned months in advance) and we came up with The Usual Homecoming, a take on The Usual Suspects where the ASB were hired to get the Homecoming theme through a plot involving the worst teachers at our school. It was complicated and a far cry from the videos of years past. The theme that year was Just Cruisin’ – A Tom Cruise Homecoming where each class was a Tom Cruise movie (before he went psycho) and we peppered in quotes from the movie, or the titles, and no one picked up on it. Looking back on it, it still seems very amateurish – bad acting, bad camera work, but there was something different about it. For one, it wasn’t a comedy, and two, you had to really pay attention.

The following spring, we made ASB Does Bellevue, a Snatch-style film about the ASB traveling to the 70’s to retrieve a ScanTron machine so that present day McD could count the ballots. It wasn’t bad. The technical side of things was becoming much more refined, I had discovered dollies, cranes and Steadicams by that point, and Adam was far more adept at the special effects on Avid. Plus, it was fun. I've provided a link to the opening and credit sequence below (the best parts). You can really tell that I liked the movie Snatch.



The video was to introduce the new officers, so during the production of the film I was also running for one of the positions. Fortunately, I ended up winning and everyone seemed to really like the film.

Now, to interject a little bit, as I’ve mentioned before, one of the really great things about the ASB movies was the process. We had to make a movie, we picked and idea, we were on a timeline for writing the script and pre-pro, no money, and an inflexible release date. I wasn’t making these movies for me, they weren’t a labor of love, we wanted them to be good, but at the end of the day they were there for entertainment. We had an audience of 1300 kids who we didn’t want to bore. It was a far cry from making films on your own time. Plus, in the end, I got to sit in a gym with a 1300 member audience and watch them watch the movie. I got to see what got the laugh and what didn’t; what worked and what didn’t. So, it was a very eye-opening experience, one that I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.

To be continued…

21:9

Phillips has developed a true cinema display television called 21:9. To show it off they produced a short film that is pretty awesome. Check it out below:

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Editorial on Transformers 2















I'm not a huge Michael Bay fan, although The Rock remains to this day one of the best action movies ever. Sure, he's made tons of money at the box office and people like his films but I just don't get that excited about them anymore.

But over at MichaelBay.com there's an interesting article in the news blog about the editorial setup on Transformers 2 that might be interesting for you to check out.

Check out the article here.

Making the Team

Making the Team was a short film I shot in college based on the one-act play by Tessa Mancini. I had never directed a comedy before (aside from the stuff in high school) and thought because it was a one location comedy it would be a lot of fun to do. It was. But I made the mistake of recording the sound on DAT tapes with a sound guy who dissapeared on me, leaving me with a bill of roughly $400 to transfer the DAT tapes to CD. Needless to say, I didn't have the money, and a rough cut has sat on my computer for the last couple years.

I was recently able to get the DAT tapes transferred for about $100 but it looks too difficult and time consuming to cut this stuff in. So, it still sits. I hope to finish it at some point but I thought I would put it out there, so here's the link to watch the rough cut below:

Making the Team

Friday, April 17, 2009

To film school or not to film school?

I chose not to go to. I got into a few of them in Southern California but began to think that I had already learned quite a bit about the filmmaking process in high school and realized I would probably end up in Los Angeles at some point anyway. So, I decided to go to Fordham University, a random school I had applied to thanks to a suggestion from a college counselor, and spend four years living in New York City. (Why not apply to NYU where I could go to film school and NYC? Honestly, at that point, I really didn't want to write another essay.)

And I definitely wouldn't trade it for anything. I made some great films, won an MTV Golden Popcorn, met my smokin' hot wife, and now I'm living in LA, working for Anthony E. Zuiker (creator of CSI) and a script of mine was recently sent out wide with Guy Walks Into A Bar Productions (Elf) producing (and I'm only 27!). So, the path I decided to take is working out for me.

However, for every hundreds of successful people working in Hollywood there are hundreds of different paths they took to get there, so don't use me as the only example. On my blog, I do a short 3 question interview where I ask people how they got their start and I haven't heard many "I got my start in film school" stories.

That said, film school could definitely be a huge benefit, mostly through contacts and connections. Who knows what future writer, producer, or director you might meet and become friends with? (David Hayter ended up writing X-Men because he was down on his luck and called his good friend from film school, Bryan Singer, got a job as Bryan's driver, made some suggestions on a particular scene, was asked by Bryan to write it, and ended up rewriting the entire script, with him being awarded sole writing credit.)

Film schools can also be very good for those who want to be cinematographers or editors (working in more of a technical area) and here's why. Film schools are filled with wannabe directors who are willing to spend money to make their films and they need people to shoot and edit them. As a DP, you get the chance to shoot on all these different mediums (35mm, 16mm, HD) without spending a dime and because all you're doing is shooting the film and you can do one every weekend, building up an impressive and diverse reel. Not to mention that cinematography is a very technical process, requiring knowledge on film stocks, processing, printing and so forth, so it's best to learn from teachers who know what they're doing where you're free to make mistakes and ruin film.

As a director, you'll make maybe two to four films (depending on how prolific you are) and could quite possible end up with two to four pieces of crap that you don't want to show your family, much less a potential agent or producer.

I feel that if you want to be a writer or director the best thing you can do is to experience something that has nothing to do with the movies. Sure, watch them, love them, make them, but do it in a place where it's not "film, film, film" all day everyday. Writing and directing is about storytelling, about an audience sitting in a room experiencing a world that hadn't known before. You won't get that by regurgitating what you saw in the movies (only Tarantino can get away with it and I'm sorry, you're NOT Tarantino).

The last three scripts I wrote with my writing partner, including the one currently “out there,” didn't come from watching movies. One idea came from my wife which she heard while studying abroad in Australia, another came from an idea Travis had in college, and the third came from a submission request I did on craigslist when I was in New York (it's an adaptation of a one-act play).

And directing is mastered through experience, something you don't need to go to film school in order to do. Get a digital camera, Final Cut Pro, and start making movies. Not a writer? Find one or take one-act plays and film them.

Now, my point is not to discourage you from going to film school. If that's what you want to do, by all means. There are a lot of great filmmakers that went to film school but there are just as many who didn't. Remember that. Film school isn't the answer for everybody and it's not a guarantee of success. In fact, so many people are going to film school nowadays that it might even become a hindrance. (50% of the industry has graduated from USC).

You don't have to go to film school to make in Hollywood or get noticed. You have to write a great script or direct a great movie. That's all. If you're talented, you'll eventually make it, film school or not.


Ryan Bilsborrow-Koo gives 10 great reasons why you don't need to go to film school at his website DVGuru.com.

An Interview



Here's an interview I did for Indieflix back when I won the Movie Award. I talk about the production of The Beautiful Lie and how I got nominated.

Entertainment Blogs

Variety and Hollywood Reporter will always be staple trades of the entertainment industry but for students and struggling filmmakers, they're too expensive to buy every day or even every week. (And honestly, I had a Variety subscription for a year and didn't really read it.)

But staying on top of industry news is just as important as a your writing or directing or whatever. A great (and free!) way to do this is to check out entertainment blogs like these:

Deadline Hollywood Daily
CHUD
Ain't It Cool News
Cinematical

Managers and Agents













Everyone wonders how to get an agent. It’s probably the #1 question asked by aspiring writers and directors and I’m here to tell you a secret: if you’re just starting out, I’m not sure you really need one. The real reason for having an agent is OWA’s and ODA’s, that is, Open Writing Assignments and Open Directing Assignments, which I’ll get to in a minute.

I don’t have an agent…yet. But I do have a manager. Wanna know how I met him? I went to the dentist…in Seattle. His mother was my dental hygienist. She asked about me and I said I was a filmmaker and I just won an MTV Movie Award (it helped that there was an article about me on the front page of the Seattle Times Entertainment section) and she mentioned her son was a manager. She gave me his number, told him about me, we connected and there you go. Easy, right?

Now, my manager is a great. He did what a manager should do, he spent three years with us developing two of our screenplays. Our scripts are better for his involvement but he hasn’t gotten us an agent and he hasn’t gotten a project sold for us. And this is not to knock him but it just didn’t really happen through him.

So how then did we get into development with Guy Walks Into a Bar? I happen to meet D___ and assistant at a production company who read Glory Days, gave it to his friend E___, an assistant at a major agency who read it, they both loved it and attached themselves as producers. Then, they gave it to a contact at Guy Walks who read it, loved it and took it to the producer who read it, loved it and wanted to make it his next film.

If and when our producer sells the script, we’ll have agents calling us. The thing about agents, is that they’re not interested until you don’t really need them. However, once you have an agent, once you’re a sold writer, agents can be beneficial in getting you those assignments I mentioned earlier. They’ll get you into the meetings; sell you to the studio execs. In that way, they’re beneficial.

But don’t worry so much about it now. Concentrate on writing. And put yourself in a position where you can meet people, either through an internship, or a job. Production jobs though, aren’t really the best place; you’re better off meeting people in development, a production company or an agency, because those are the people who are going to help you get a script sold.

Remember, Hollywood is built on relationships. It’s all about who you know. Don’t forget that people on the lower rung don’t plan on staying there and they know people too.

Michael Mann's Public Enemies

As you’ll see on this blog, I won’t make any secret about Michael Mann being my favorite director. I consider The Insider to be one of the greatest films every made and Heat to be a work of brilliance. I enjoy watching any film by Mann, even if other people don’t consider them very good. The reason for this is that one of the things I enjoy most about Mann’s work is his aesthetic.

I just love the way he shoots his movies. He has a very modern aesthetic that has only become more obvious since he began using HD cameras, beginning with a little bit in Ali, shooting about 80% of Collateral with it, and finally shooting all of Miami Vice on video. So, I was really curious when I heard Mann’s next film Public Enemies, a 1930’s period piece about John Dillinger, and that he’s be shooting on HD.

Check out the trailer to Public Enemies.

Back in college, I shot a short film called A Soldier’s Farewell, a 1940’s period piece, that we ended up shooting on an XL1s (we didn’t even have 24p at the time!) to save money because I couldn’t afford film. The images look great (you can see a trailer for the film on my website) but one of the things we started noticing when we looked at it on a television screen what that the video made the piece feel very modern. It looked too new. And I came to the conclusion that it would be difficult to pull off a period piece with a video look. Something about it just doesn’t look right.

So, I was interested to see if Mann would continue his modern aesthetic or revert back to the look he used on Last of the Mohicans. I got the opportunity a few weeks ago when Travis and I went to a test screening of the film in Sherman Oaks.

He did and I have to say I was a little disappointed. Some of the images looked amazing and really worked and others looked like something you’d see in a “re-enactment” or like he took some video from behind-the-scenes footage and cut it in. It has a very video look. Sure, Miami Vice was shot on HD 24p but still looked like film. This was literally video. And it didn’t look very good.

Aside from the frame rate, the film also suffered from Mann’s aesthetic. It took me out off the film. What works with a contemporary setting just did not work with a historical one. It felt like a bunch of people playing dress up.

Now, this was an early screening and it was probably digital projection (which will only enhance the video look) rather than on film (which will help hide it, since the image HAS to become 24fps). I’ll see it again when it comes out to see if anything’s different and maybe my opinion will change, we’ll see.

But I thought it was an interesting point to bring up: reconciling a very modern aesthetic with a historical setting. Something to consider when you’re working on your own projects.

After the screening, Travis and I did get to meet Michael Mann though. It was pretty awesome.

How to make movies? Read

While watching movies is certainly an important part of your film education it can also be a burden if that’s all you do. You’ll find yourself copying the movies you’ve seen rather than coming up with your own stories, techniques, dialogue, etc.

I’ve learned more reading than I have watching, so I’ve compiled a list of books on that I think are must-reads for any writer or director.

On Writing:
Story by Robert McKee
Screenplay by Syd Field
The Screenwriter’s Problem Solver by Syd Field
The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler
The Idiot’s Guide to Screenwriting by Skip Press

On Directing:
Directing Actors by Judith Weston
The Film Director’s Intuition by Judith Weston
First Time Director by Gil Bettman
On Directing Film by David Mamet
Making Movies by Sidney Lumet
Film Directing: Shot by Shot by Steven D. Katz
Film Directing: Cinematic Motion by Steven D. Katz

If you’re a screenwriter you should also be reading as many scripts as you can get your hands on. Good ones, bad ones. Doesn’t matter. See what works and what doesn’t. A great resource for scripts is Simply Scripts and Daily Script.

Pilot School

Interested in writing for TV? Then you're gonna have to write a pilot. This place has almost every pilot script you can think of. Required reading for any wannabe TV writers.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Best Film Twists of All Time

Warning: Spoilers below and in the articles. Although, if you're reading my blog and haven't seen these movies I'm not sure what you're doing.

Times Online article about the best film twists of all time. As a writer who has written a thriller with a twist ending, I know the difficulty of pulling off a genuinely surprising twist. It's not easy.

Had M. Night Shyamalan not done his due diligence throughout the entire script the ending of The Sixth Sense would have felt like a cop out that was tacked on to make the film interesting. Instead, once we know the suprise, we can go back through every scene with Bruce Willis's character and see that all the clues are there.

The twist at the end of Usual Suspects isn't that Verbal Kint is lying the whole time. It's that he's Kaiser Soze. If he was simply lying the audience would have felt cheated. But by making him the very villain the police are trying to catch, putting him right in front of their faces, and showing how far he's willing to go to keep his identity a secret, you create a great suprise for everyone watching the film.

Don't just tack on a twist to make your film interesting. It needs to be organic and work with the story and you need to provide enough clues throughout the film that audience, upon second viewing, will see how it was the clues were right in front of them the entire time.

Shameless Plug

My MTV Movie Award winning film, The Beautiful Lie, is for sale here. Seriously, I get paid if you buy it and I could use the beer money. It's also available to watch at Joost.

How I Won My Golden Popcorn

I'll share the story later but it had a little something to do with mtvU and their Best Film on Campus contest. Here's the info below:

Best Film on Campus:

Calling all student filmmakers: BFOC is one exclusive opportunity after another for artistic students like you to share your work, trade tricks and techniques with other film buffs and be celebrated for your creativity. One part student filmmaker web showcase, one part launch pad to stardom, BFOC offers a variety of opportunities and contests with ridiculous prizes. No exaggeration. They’re just huge.

The Site:

BFOC is student filmmaker web showcase where you can create a profile and upload your films. It’s an easy and highly effective new way to share your work with the world. Friends, family and industry folks can view films and choose their favorites. www.BestFilmOnCampus.com is the destination for discovering groundbreaking work from the next generation of great filmmakers.

The Contests and Prizes:

In addition to prizes like state-of-the-art equipment and cash, BFOC will offer student filmmakers a “foot in the door” with invaluable professional exposure, including coveted internships, development deals, airtime on mtvU and mtvU.com and the ultimate recognition — your very own Golden Popcorn for being the Best Filmmaker on Campus.

So, what are you waiting for? If you don't sign up you can't win. Create a profile, submit your films and take a step toward the recognition you deserve.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Nothing wrong with patting yourself on the back...

I discovered that a little spec commercial I shot for Heineken and posted on youtube has been viewed over 100,000 times. Not bad. It seems people think it's a real commercial, so, double not bad.

It was shot by my go-to DP (director of photography) Paul Niccolls.

Mateo's "Underneath the Sky" Chapter 1



MySpace
artist Mateo is a good friend of mine. In November of 2008, we got together and talked about collaborating, doing a few no-budget music videos for a mixtape he was making. We were trying to think of something, other than just doing standard videos, and I suggested doing something similar to what I had done on the The Ronnie Day Project.

Why not do a narrative mixtape? Take the format and tell a story with it. We talked more about it, came up with the idea of doing four song chapters, I suggested maybe we do something very noirish, a mystery. Make Mateo this noirish-MOD styled character investigating the disappearance of former love.

Mateo took that rough outline and went to work on the story and the songs. In February, he finally had the mixtape finished and we set out to produce the video. We had no budget, my XL-2 camera (which is, at this point, so obsolete it's not even funny) and the strees of LA. And this is what we came up with.

Quddus, former MTV VJ, is Mateo's manager and he had this to say about the idea: The fact is though, chapter one of U.T.S. is actually groundbreaking. Mixtapes are usually just a random assortment of songs without much of a concept but Mateo created a cinematic mixtape that actually tells a story through songs and even has a video/short film to go along with it. It's so dope I wish I could take credit for it! He came up with it on his own though. He got some help with the music from his producer JL Brown and his director Joshua Caldwell pulled off a great video.

Enjoy!

Lazy Writing Lesson

We're currently in development with Guy Walks Into A Bar Productions on our script Glory Days: The Legacy of Chet Steele. We've been doing rewrites for several weeks now and just had a notes meeting a few days ago when we learned a very valuable lesson.

We had a particular sequence that originally had our character leaving the school and in the next scene was back in class. This is weird and doesn't really work. Sure, it can be argued that it's a time cut but there needed to be a scene in between there and our producer asked us to put something in there.

At the time, Travis and I were worried about page count so weren't sure what we could add that wouldn't take up too much space. So we wrote a really lazy scene that basically went: "Chet and the kids eat lunch, genuinely having a good time." That was it. An eighth of a page long.

So, we're on our notes call and our producer, of course, calls us out on it. And he said something that I never thought of when we wrote that scene: "You guys gave me half a day of shooting for absolutely no reason. I get nothing out of this."

When we wrote it, I'm sure we were thinking: this will be quick and we'll get the idea that these guys are getting along really well, without spending too much time on it. And, in the script, sure, it's okay. But we forgot that the only reason to write a script is so that it'll become a movie. We forgot to think about what goes into shooting a scene like this: several hundred thousand dollars, travel time, you've got to set up all the equipment and then break it all down, a half days worth of work for an eighth of a scene that time-wise would probably get cut anyway.

There are two lessons to be learned from this:

1) make every scene count. Don't just write a lazy throwaway scene to get something in there. It's lazy writing and it's bad writing. You should never have bad writing in your script anyway but the way to make sure you don't is to make every scene is important. Every scene should either reveal character or further the story. If it doesn't accomplish one of those things then it shouldn't be there.

2) don't forget about the money and time sucking machine that is film production. A student filmmaker, with lots of time and the ability to move quickly, may be able to get away with it. But Hollywood filmmaking is time intensive and to get a throwaway, eighth-of-a-page scene at a location we never visit again will take, at least, a half day to shoot. If that scene is going to be shot, then it better follow rule #1.

The Ronnie Day Project Production Blog - Episode 1

Two years ago, I directed and produced a music video series for Epic Records and mtvU called The Ronnie Day Project. Ronnie Day is a singer-songwriter who put out and album called The Album. On it, he told the story of his break-up with his cheating girlfriend Jamie. I was tapped to helm this narrative and put it into music video form, to be told over six chapters. And the result was The Ronnie Day Project.

It premiered on mtvU and mtvU.com in the spring of 2007. I had a lot of fun making this video. I had the largest budget I've ever worked with and I was largely left alone to do my own thing. What I set out to do was tell an epic story of love gained and lost among teenagers. Take that notion of being a teenager and how everything during that time seems to matter so much; contains such a magical quality about it, the first loves, the parties, the pools and backyards and dimly lit houses; the friends, the experiences, when every day is the end of the world. Take that and set it amongst this suburban landscape.

That's what I set out to do. Over the next six posts I've included a production blog I wrote while working on it that explains more of the process. I've also included, at the top of each post, the corresponding video. If you have any questions about the series, technical, story-wise, curious about my work on it, my thinking, feel free to email me at joshblog (at) meydent (dot) com.


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Episode 1: November Storms

I just wrapped production on Episode 1 of the Ronnie Day Project. The first day of shooting is always tough for several reasons: ) everyone is just meeting for the first time, 2) nobody knows how somebody else works and 3) nobody knows how the equipment is organized. But eventually the machine that is production gets moving and from then on you’re moving pretty fast.

Though I’m describing what we shot for Episode 1 we actually shot all six episodes over the course of a five-day production schedule. And like any narrative film project, everything was shot out-of-order by way of location. So, for instance, if we were shooting in the location for Brendan’s bedroom, then we’re shooting six videos worth of material at the location. I want to bring this up because it’s a very unique thing to be shooting six, related, narrative videos, but also shoot all of them at the same time. To give you a comparison, traditional narrative music videos are shot over the course of 2 or 3 days depending on how much is required by the narrative.

We shot three locations for this video: our bluff overlooking the neighborhood, Jamie’s living room and the party house. The bluff was amazing and cold and windy. I scouted this location a week or two before and when I was up there it was beautiful. When we got up there for Episode 1 however, LA suffered a quick cold snap, and though it was sunny and beautiful the windy was freezing cold. Unfortunately, our actors, Tiffany and Marcello, were basically wearing t-shirts and jeans. You might be able to see a little wind in the final shots but you’d never guess from their performance that they’re freezing cold. The shots look amazing and I think it’s going to be a great open to this series. I won’t share my secret of how I found it but it definitely helps make Episode 1.

We then moved on to the living room. This was our intimate moment with the characters when they’re suppose to be wrapped in a blanket, “living life behind this glass” while a storm goes on outside. We couldn’t afford rain machines or anything like but I think the lyrics will help tell the story, which they should. The living room was a difficult location because we were using one side of the room for one part and the opposite side of the room for another. We ended up shooting this whole sequence last, at night, with it lit for a late evening look.

We also shot Ronnie’s first performance scene of the series. I wanted to connect him to the characters so we set him up performing at the party where they are. It’s a very private setting but we thought it was important to connect him to our leads before he becomes much more of a narrator in the later videos. These aren’t your traditional music videos. I always saw this as a narrative series being told by song, so it was really important that Ronnie was always connecting with the viewer by singing directly to him or her. I think it’s a great performance from Ronnie that also captures a certain degree of intimacy. Knowing Ronnie, he seems like the kind of guy who would pick up a guitar at a party and start playing for a bunch of friends.

The last thing we shot for Episode 1 was the party scene, which came at the end of a long day of production at our party house location. From 3 PM – 10PM we shot three different party scenes, one during the day, one at dusk, and one at night. The one at night was for this episode. Lighting a night scene aside, shooting this scene was relatively easy. There’s not a lot of narrative in it.

As you can tell from Episode 1, it’s mainly a setup video. We’re introduced to the characters and shown how great and fun their love is. So, it’s mainly having the actors and our extras hang out and have a good time as I grab the camera and grab shots. We wrapped around 11 or so. The crazy thing about producing videos in any capacity is that there’s never enough time. The day just flies by and before you know it you’ve already been up for 18 hours.

It’s quite a challenge to shoot six music videos in five days. But we got the first one in the can, everyone is doing a great job and the footage looks amazing. Only five more to go…

The Ronnie Day Project Production Blog - Episode 2

Here's the 2nd installment of the production blog I wrote while working on The Ronnie Day Project.


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Episode 2: Written at a Rest Stop

We shot all of these videos on HD, using the Panasonic HVX-200 camera and the Red Rock Micro Lens Adapter. For those who don’t know, the Red Rock Micro allows the use of cine/photo lenses with a video camera. One of the telling points of the “video look” is an extremely wide depth of field where everything is in focus. This is a result of the size of the image chip in the camera and the lens attached to it. A lot of focus in recent years has been on getting a “film look” out of a video camera. Advances in 24p technology (that is, shooting 24 frames per second) has helped but ultimately, even on the best HD cameras, the wide depth of field still gives the look we’re trying to get rid of.

Enter the Red Rock Micro. I’m sure you’re asking, “Why do you need an adapter? Can’t you just stick a lens on the camera?” There’s a lot of technical information here but in a nutshell, no, you can’t. The reason for this is that a 35mm still/cine lens is designed to project an image onto a 35mm frame. The image chips in video cameras are much smaller than that, usually 1/3 inch or 2/3 inch. If you were to just attach a 35mm lens there would be severe magnification of the image resulting in a loss of picture quality and resolution.

The Red Rock Micro (and it’s more expensive brother, the Mini35) takes that full 35mm image and scales it down to fit the full image onto the HVX’s image chip. The result is a picture that looks very close to what you would get with a film camera. This is a system Paul Niccolls, the DP, have worked with before and I used it on The Beautiful Lie. This is my first time working in HD but I am very happy with the results.

Shooting Episode 2 was totally different than doing Episode 1. “November Storms” is much more of a non-linear setup video. Our goal was to introduce our narrator Ronnie Day, our main characters and to give you into a glimpse of their life, prior to all the drama. I really wanted to present something familiar to everyone watching, that time in one’s life when everything was perfect, endless summers spent with friends around fires, on the lake and at backyard parties.

In Episode 2, we pull all that apart. Brendan leaves to pursue his dream and our main characters spend the whole video separated. He’s left that world, and so the look and color and feel of the stuff in LA is different than everything that takes place back home. But we still want to connect our two characters. Episode 1 also had a lot of night stuff while this video takes place during the day. Another problem we faced while shooting all these videos, is that in designing this world that I wanted to capture, I thought back to my own experiences during adolescence and what I thought of were those long summer afternoons and evening when the sun seemed to just hang low in the sky for hours. This meant that a lot of the stuff we shot was in between late afternoon and sunset. When you shoot for five days there’s only five “golden hours” you can shoot in. So, some things had to be readjusted but it became a running joke amongst the crew that this entire project was being shot at sunset: “Josh’s Golden Hour Film.” It drove Paul a little nuts.

We also cover a lot of territory in Episode 2. Nearly every scene takes place in a new setting. We’ve got Los Angeles, recording studio, Brendan’s apartment, Jamie’s bedroom, Jamie’s living room, the party house and Brendan’s car. Not to mention Ronnie’s performance on the street, which I’m really happy with. In all, it’s got a much wider spread of story, action and locations than Episode 1 and it was a challenge to find the best moments to use, those that told the story in one shot, because in a music video, you have seconds, not minutes in which to get your story across. This song is only three minutes long (and change) and it’s about average length or all our videos. So, as a director, I have to be very picky about what is going in and be okay with all the stuff that gets cut out.

That’s all a part of it. And because we’re telling a continuing story here, consideration has to be given to the story as it occurs later on. If you drop something from Episode 2 then you might wind up confusing people in Episode 4 or 5 because something was missing. It’s a very unique challenge putting together six separate but related music videos and covering all your bases. But it’s been fun so far.

The Ronnie Day Project Production Blog - Episode 3

Here's the production blog for Episode 3 of The Ronnie Day Project.

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Episode 3: Lived, Learned, Love and Lost

Let’s talk editing. While Episode 3 contains narrative elements and requires some continuity (the degree to which a film is self-consistent. For example, a scene where an actor is wearing a hat when seen from one camera angle and not from another would lack continuity) the entire second half does not. Much like Episode 1, where the combination of shots is meant to provide an overall sense of what is going on, the fight in Episode 3 gives us the opportunity to do the same. Since we’re not actually hearing the argument, the scene is very much open to interpretation as to how it will finally be put together.

One of the things I enjoy most about editing is when I get to work on scenes like this. I did much of the same in my short The Beautiful Lie. I had shot an enormous amount of flashback footage and it all had to be paired down to choice moments that would say everything I needed it to say in a couple seconds. That’s very true of music videos in general but this isn’t really a “general” music video. We’re telling a very strong, clear story here that contains plot points that we can’t just skip over or cut out. In terms of editing, Episode 2 was about maintaining the forward progression of the story while fitting an enormous amount of story material into three and half minutes. In this case it’s slightly different because the fight is the story point. So, it gives us a little more freedom to play.

Shooting the fight came at the end of a long first day of shooting. It was the second to last scene of the night. Rather than scripting out how the fight way going to go I let the actors run with it. Since we were never hearing their dialogue and I was gonna cut it all up anyway I figured this would be the best approach. We shot three takes at 48fps and the last one at 24fps. By the end of the last take Tiffany pushed herself to tears as Marcello walked out of the room.

Actors are always amazing to me. Too often “crying” is the easiest thing in the world for actors. We had several during our auditions that mentioned they could cry on cue. That might be okay for some people but to me that’s “acting” and I’m not a huge fan of it. However, when an actor finds himself or herself in a very real place and they can’t help but react in whatever way that might be (anger, tears, happiness), to me that’s the magic of acting. The thing is, I never asked Tiffany to cry. It just happened. I hope it’s because she found herself in a very real place and she couldn’t help it because then she’s no longer “acting.” You’re still getting the same result (crying) but the way you get there is entirely different. And I’m very amazed that actors allow themselves to go to places most people try to avoid.

For the fight scene we shot four takes, each three minutes long. The final edited sequence is only about 35 seconds long. That’s 12 minutes that needs to be edited down to 35 seconds. It really comes down to finding actions and facial expressions that not only fit well with the music but also paint the picture.

One of the things that was very appealing to me about shooting and editing this sequence was the ability to jump cut, change camera speeds, and go a little more abstract in it’s presentation than the other videos didn’t really allow. It’s very freeing to feel like you can cut to something that makes the strongest point rather than what should logically follow next. That’s when editing as a filmmaking tool really comes into play. You begin to rewrite as you edit instead of being cut and paste and that way you find new ways to tell your story. And that’s really what you should be doing as you pass through the various stages of production, each one being an adaptation of the previous version. Production is and adaptation of the script, editing is an adaptation of the production and so forth. Looking at it from this perspective it really frees you up to see the film as it is, rather than how you thought it was going to be.

The Ronnie Day Project Production Blog - Episode 4

Here's installment 4 of the production blog for the Ronnie Day Project.


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Episode 4: Outside

One of the things you’re faced with on any film production is that there’s never enough time and never enough money. Never having enough money is because filmmaking on any level is an expensive endeavor costing a significant amount of money per day and, in many cases, per minute. The budget informs the schedule which is why there’s never enough time.

As I’ve mentioned before, we shot all six of these narrative music videos in five days. This was largely due to the issues outlined above. We were on a specific, hard line delivery schedule which nixed the idea of shooting the videos as we went along (which would have been too expensive anyway) and we only had so much money that could be spent. Rather than drawing it out over several additional days but having to compromise in crew skill level or quality was not something any of us were interested in. So, we found a way to compact the production into five days, mostly by shooting several scenes at each location. This, fortunately, works for the story and the video. It’s a narrative so returning to locations isn’t a problem. It gives it a familiar quality that works for the story. This is their world.

One of the locations we return to several times (and for the last time in this video) is the party house. In Episode 1, we saw Brendan and Jamie as a couple; in Episode 2, Jamie is seen alone, on her own, until she meets Derek; then, in Episode 4, she takes the same walk she did with Brendan in Episode 1, only, it’s Derek’s arm she’s on now. My how things have changed.

We were at the party house from around 12PM to 12AM. We started shooting at around 2 PM. We had three different parties to shoot at three different times. Episode 2 had a party during the daytime, Episode 1 had a party at night and Episode 4, this episode, took place at golden hour.

Golden hour, to remind you, is the hour prior to the sun going down. It’s when the sun is at it’s most golden (hence the term) and is really beautiful light to shoot in. Problem is, it only lasts an hour. Due to our schedule we couldn’t come back the next day and shoot anything we didn’t get. We had about two hours to shoot our confrontation between Brendan and Derek and we had several challenges facing us.

First was the short amount of time to shoot everything which effects everything else. Second was what actually had to be shot. In the scene, Brendan walks into the house and then over to a window. He sees Jamie sitting outside with Derek, smiling, having a good time. He then turns and walks through the house and then outside to the backyard. Heads turn, not knowing what he’s going to do. He approaches Jamie but Derek intervenes. They get into an altercation. Brendan shoves Derek who then punches Brendan sending him into the pool. Jamie watches all this happens and feels bad for Brendan as she’s pulled away by Derek.

So, we have movement from inside to outside, with a shot that would be facing directly towards the setting sun; we have a fight scene and we have a shot of Brendan falling into a pool which could be done once, maybe twice. The pool would have to be the last thing we shoot and the master shot (Brendan walking through the house, then outside) would be first since we’d be facing the sky. But everything had to be lit as well. We needed light inside and outside. That had to be set up. In the meantime, Paul, Marcello, Ethan (our AD) and I walked through the scene and the movement. We’d get his whole walk through in one shot, all the way up the altercation outside. That went off without a hitch and ended up looking really good on film (I think Paul is an extremely talented camera operator).

Next, we moved outside and shot the altercation between Brendan and Derek. We shot Brendan’s angle and then Derek’s. Finally, we had to move onto the falling in pool shot. We were losing light and needed this above all else (I still hadn’t shot any angles on Jamie, including the walk out). Light was fading fast and we had to move quickly. Paul adjusted some lights and took the camera over opposite. We ran through it a couple times. We burned tape while Phil “punched” Marcello and when we were sure they had it, I called action. They ran through it, Derek “punched” Brendan and fell back into the pool. BUT, he caused a bigger splash than we anticipated and the water was headed right for the camera and lens. In an effort to protect it, our assistant cameraman put his hand in front of the lens, essentially ruining the shot. We had to do it again.

Everyone froze for a moment not really sure of what to do. Then, all at once, everyone was moving. People grabbed towels and threw them to Marcello trying to dry him off. We had another gray t-shirt but not another pair of jeans. Not a big deal, they were dark and them being wet didn’t make them look that different. Finally, after a couple minutes, he was dry, his hair styled and we were ready for another take. We lined up and everything went smoothly. And the light was pretty much gone.

But we weren’t done yet. I had to get the shot on Jamie and Derek walking away. I grabbed the camera, and despite the protests of Paul who declared the light was gone, I quickly got two takes of Jamie look down at Brendan and then being pulled by Derek into the house. I then spun the camera around and shot a series of takes of Brendan coming rising out of the water and looking up at Jamie. Finally, we had the sequence…maybe. I wasn’t sure, and I knew we hadn’t shot anything on Jamie other than the shot at the end.

While the rest of the crew prepared for the night scene Paul, Ethan, Sean (our producer) and I discussed the scene. Paul didn’t think anything would cut together and didn’t think it would work. We discussed our options. Coming back another day was never going to work. I told them that in order to cut this sequence, if we could get the lighting to match, I still needed that shot of Jamie smiling and having fun. Otherwise, there’s nothing to cut to when Brendan sees her and it won’t make sense. It’ll feel incomplete. I said that if the lighting was okay that’s all I needed to edit the sequence and make it work. Paul still had a problem with the light. Sean suggested the possibility that with color correction it might work. Paul wasn’t so sure. Ethan made the suggestion that we could potentially reshoot the sequence changing it to a night scene. Everyone stayed quiet. If we did that it would be a late night.

I asked Esteban (our on-site editor) to take the footage and edit the sequence together so we could if it was really that bad. In the meantime we had to proceed with the night scene. Paul started lighting and we continued discussing options. Then our producer gave us some bad news. Phil (Derek) was booked on a gig that started at 10 PM. To top things off we had scenes to shoot with him for Episode 1 as well. We couldn’t just shift back and forth. Finally, Esteban called me over and I looked at the footage. He had tweaked the color a little and it wasn’t bad at all. I called Paul over and he looked at it, admitting that it cut together pretty well. There was definitely a shift but nothing that couldn’t be tweaked later on.

We decided to keep the sequence as shot and then, for our last setup of the night, we got the shot of Jamie laughing and smiling. You might not be able to tell but the close up on her that we cut to while Brendan is standing in the house was shot in the middle of the night. Nice job Paul.

Over the course of five days we adopted an Italian saying: “Icche c’e c’e” or “Whatever is, is.” Sometimes in production there are happy accidents and there are mistakes. When you’re working on a low budget with limited time there is only so much you can do and at some point you have to be accepting of what you have. That doesn’t mean you don’t strive for the very best, of course you do, you do whatever you can to get there. But sometimes what you get is what you get. Icche c’e c’e.

The Ronnie Day Project Production Blog - Episode 5

Here is the 5th installment of the Ronnie Day Project production blog series.

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Episode 5: My Only Friend

One of the things I enjoyed most about shooting the Ronnie Day Project was the number of large setups we’d be doing. Between the party scenes, the scenes at the lookout, Jamie’s house exteriors and our street scene with Ronnie’s performances, we had a large number of day and night exteriors to accomplish with little amount of time.

Aside from the beginning and ending, Episode 5 takes place entirely at night. Not only did we have several shots outside of Jamie’s house but we also had Ronnie’s performance on the street. Unlike Episode 3, this performance was covered entirely on our jib. While Ronnie’s performance in Episode 3 was meant to feel more intimate and focused on the performance of the song (his emotions, tone, face, etc), we wanted Episode 5 to feel grander and more epic to fit with the rising emotions and structure of the song. The song itself feels bigger and what we wanted to do was translate the rise and fall of the structure to our camera moves. We wanted the moves to match the moments in the track.

For the story we shot everything in slow motion. This was planned from the beginning for several reasons. For one, when I was listening to the song, writing the treatment, I immediately saw everything in slow motion for some reason. Another was that this is a point in our story where everything is at our heaviest and lowest. Brendan has been laid as low as he possibly can while Jamie is beginning to show signs of reversal. She’s still with Derek but now she’s starting to see that he’s kind of a jerk (the “other” guys always are) and that she’s doing the same thing to Brendan that he did to her. In his time of need, she’s abandoning him as well. This is Jamie’s story as much as Brendan’s and I feel this song really focuses on Jamie. Up until now we’ve been half and half or even a little more focused on Brendan. Here, we’ve chosen to focus a little more on Jamie by presenting her with a question in the beginning of the episode:

“So make a decision Jamie…is it gonna be me or him?”

Jamie spends the rest of the episode trying to answer that question.

The night exterior scenes were fun to shoot because it required a lot of crew and a lot of equipment. You can see from both the behind scenes video and pictures that we owned the entire street we were shooting on. For Ronnie’s performances in particular we had to shut down the entire street. You can see in this video that we see all the way down the street to the far ends. In order for any of this to be seen in the picture we had to throw up big lights that raked the whole block.

Ultimately, I’m very happy with the way this video turned out. It’s one of the videos I looked forward to shooting the most. It’s a very dark video, for what I feel is a very dark song and it propels us in the right way, and at the right time in the series, towards the finale in which the question posed above will be answered.

The Ronnie Day Project Production Blog - Episode 6

Here is the 6th and final installment of my production blog from The Ronnie Day Project.

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Episode 6: Heroes Die

I’m sitting here in the editing suite watching James finish color correcting Episode 6. It’s weird that everything is finally coming to close, both in terms of the story itself, and my involvement. Filmmaking is a very nomadic profession. When you’re done with production everybody leaves, moving off to the next project, or in my case, continuing on with the same one. Even though it was only five days, I spent nearly every waking moment with the cast and crew, and as a result you begin to feel like a family unit. But then it’s over and on to the next thing and that is a very weird feeling.

Post-production is much of the same, though with a much smaller group of people. Aside from myself, there were only two other people whom I worked with on a regular basis on editing the Ronnie Day Project. One was James Cohan, whom not only oversaw the post-production process for me, but also did a fantastic job color correcting all of the episodes. Another was Tom Bender who worked on several visual effect shots and helped me with all the deliverables to Sony and mtvU for air. This project would not have happened the way it did, or been as good as it is, without their involvement and assistance.

Finishing a project is always bittersweet. In addition to the reasons above, I’ve also lived with this project daily for more than three months. It’s a very involving process that runs my life to a certain degree. I go home thinking about a cut that isn’t working, or how we’re going to make the deadline for air, or whether James will get a chance to color correct on a given day. Often the days were long yet sometimes it felt like there was not enough time in the day. It’s a weird thing that happens when you’re editing. I don’t know if it’s because of how focused one gets or what but time just flies. I can’t believe that I’m already at the end of it.

I’ve always looked forward to editing Episode 6, not only because it’s the finale, but also because I really love the song. I’ve grown to love the others as well but from the beginning, when I was first sent the CD, “Heroes Die” has always been my favorite song and still is. However, I always felt it was the least complex of the videos. The challenge in working on this project is to not only think of it in terms of six individual music videos but also in terms of a 27 minute long film with six chapters. While each video has a beginning, middle and end, the video itself also serves as a beginning, middle or end of the entire project.

Episode 6 is the finale of our story. Everything that has happened has already happened. It’s just a matter of how it will end. Will Jamie go back to Brendan? If she does will he take her back? While this Episode may not have the same amount of conflict as the others, when watched with the other six videos it feels like a welcome relief because we are moving towards our conclusion. That, in my opinion, is how this whole thing is should really be seen, as one long 27-minute program.

I hope you’ve enjoyed watching The Ronnie Day Project as much as I’ve enjoyed making it. I couldn’t be happier with the final results and I know that I could not have done it without my fantastic cast and crew. So many thanks to them and thanks to you for tuning in to the Ronnie Day Project.