Thursday, April 29, 2010

3Questions: Matt Payne - Showrunner Assistant

As part of our continuing 3Questions series, I present Matt Payne, an assistant to showrunner Greg Walker, under a development deal with CBS.

Prior to that, Matt was Greg's showrunner assistant on Without a Trace followed by a quick run on the short-lived Three Rivers. In addition to that, Matt has written and spec'd three feature screenplays; keeps three blogs, two personal and one for the Washington Times which is centered around travel and living a full life. He also writes freelance coverage for Relativity Media and Summit Entertainment

HBAD: So, tell us, how did you get your start?

MP: I got my start as a film student in Oklahoma City. I managed to get jobs on whatever small productions would come through town and spent my summers and afternoons interning for a producer named Gray Frederickson, who is most noted for producing The Godfather trilogy. He moved to OKC to escape the insanity of LA and started a small production company. With enough experience, albeit barely, I got a job on a crappy indie film set in Paris, France and after six weeks on set there, headed to LA. I went to visit a family friend who was the AD on the second episode of 24. A PA had failed to show up to work that day so he gave me a walkie talkie and I had my first job.

Since then, I've held every imaginable assistant job from writer's PA to agency and manager's assistant.

HBAD: What are the most difficult challenges you've encountered on your career path?

MP: The most difficult challenge is maintaining a paycheck in an assistant position while keeping momentum on creative projects. It is challenging to identify yourself not as what you spend forty hours a week doing to get a paycheck but by what you spend the rest of your time doing to define yourself creatively.

HBAD: What advice would you have for someone just starting out in this business, looking to get into the position you're in?

MP: I've learned that if I focus on the minutia of my daily tasks supporting other's visions, I lose track of my own. That is not to say I don't do a great job for my boss, but I always identify myself as a writer. The only successful way to do that is to write. Whether it is a blog, short story, random journal entry or a letter to a girlfriend, fine tuning the skill that called you to hollywood is key. The other key is creative humility. I remember reading a Paul Haggis script one time after he had one his second Oscar and thinking, this is shit. If there are people like me that can say that Paul Haggis has fallen short, more than likely, your first script will be subject to far worse scrutiny. Just focus on what you are working on, not what you've already done. Criticism is the only way to grow creatively and as a human. Your readers are rarely going to be your cheerleaders so you have to assume that responsibility yourself.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Writing Process: Part 6

Wow! Remember way back when, I told you how we started developing a new screenplay with a producer, and it was going to be great because he wanted it quickly and we were aiming to have it finished in January?

Well, as you know, that didn't happen. We didn't even turn in a second draft until the beginning of February. As Travis and I learned, sometimes things just take time. Glory Days took us three years to get it to where it is. Of course, that's off and on, leaving it and coming back to it...

But here are, nearly three months after turning in our 2nd draft and we're FINALLY turning in the 3rd draft. Of course, two weeks of that was waiting to get the 2nd draft notes, another month going back to the outline phase, followed by a month and a half of actual writing. Add in full time jobs, a couple of personal situations, and you've got a producer waiting a long time to read the next draft of his movie. But sometimes, things just take time.

And Travis and I took our time. First, we needed a mental shift, we got so bogged down in details that we were mission the fun of writing a script, much less a comedy, and the script was missing the funny. Once we did a mental 180 and got back into it, our writing got better and the script got better. We also took time to slowly iron our way through all the changes.

First, the big stuff: cutting nearly 20 pages of material, shifting scenes around, writing new big scenes, getting the general flow and scene order to reflect the outline we worked on.

Second, small stuff: we went through and finesses everything that changed, made sure things still lined up, that scenes transitioned well, that the character we cut didn't show up in another scene, dialogue changes to reflect the changes, etc.

Third, smaller stuff: adjusting dialogue for characters to make them stand out more, descriptions, punching up scenes and jokes and action to be funny.

Fourth, smallest stuff: proofing, editing, spell check, character checks, etc. Making sure that we didn't miss anything, that everything adds up.

Each of the four steps you see above was a separate pass on the script. After each rewrite, we'd read the script, our manager would read it, we'd make notes, and move onto the next step, ironing things out as we went.

We finally finished all that tonight. Got it to a really good place, reflecting pretty much everything the producer wanted and everything we wanted. We're not going to pretend like we won't get notes, we will. Hopefully, this draft is in the right direction, and it's a process of finessing it even more from here. Despite this being our 3rd draft, I feel like we're still trying to establish a foundation which we can build off of. We're trying to get the big things out of the way, so the notes can start getting smaller and smaller and eventually we determine that it's ready to take out. Is it now? Definitely not. But I think it's close. A couple more passes, notes from the producer, and I think we're there.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Zeiss Cine Lenses to be Developed for HDSLRs


Will Eubank, the DP who shot Mateo's "Live at Swing House" show, has his own fabricated Panavision mounts for his Canon 5D, which lets him use a bunch of Panavision lenses he got for free (thanks to an eight year stint working there) to capturing some very cool images. (Part of his arsenal is a 50mm 1.8. 1.8! Come on!)

With the explosion of the HDSLR market in full swing it was only a matter of time before this happened. I'm sure Canon cannot believe the type of response this little-still-camera-that-also-happens-to-shoot-HD-video is getting.

The lenses will reportedly be available in June and their "Compact Prime CP.2 lenses are rumored to be compatible with Nikon F, Arri PL, and Canon EF mounts. There's also a lightweight Zoom LWZ.2 lens that will presumably offer similar mount compatibility." (

Be sure to check out the House finale on May 17th on FOX. The entire episode was shot on the Canon 5D. Follow House director/producer @GregYaitanes on Twitter for more info.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

'House' Finale Shot on Canon 5D Mark II; Interview with Director Greg Yaitanes

Interview with Greg Yaitanes about Season Finale of HousebyPhilipBloom

Canon 5D evangelist Philip Bloom has recorded an interview with Greg Yaitanes, a producer/director on House who directed the May 17th finale, which was shot on the Canon 5D Mark II. Check out the hour long interview above.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Where I've Been, Where I'm Going...

I'm sitting here, in my office, editing the latest draft of our script, prepping to do one more pass on it before we send it off to the producers. (Yes, that's a photo of the script above, courtesy of the new 7D and a 50mm lens set to f/1.8.) This draft has been a long time coming (we submitted our second draft on February 5, to give you an idea) but some major changes and restructuring occurred and a month of the last two and a half was consumed by us returning to the outline stage, so that we might better work some of these issues out with wasting time writing a draft that might have to significantly change anyway. I know that we're always rewriting but these were things better worked out with note cards and a bullet point outline, rather than fleshed out scenes. It would have only prolonged the process. And this is something that happens. Sometimes it takes time to really crack the story, while trying to maintain the vision and ideas of several different parties. Nonetheless, I'm ready to hand it in.

It's been fun but there comes a point when you're ready to get eyes on it and let it evolve. Ready to gather the notes from someone else (since you can't really objectively think about it anymore) and take this thing to the next level.

I'm also ready, creatively, to tackle something else. We probably would have started something already but we don't have the time. Since the new year, I've started working for a big-time TV writer/producer, who shall remain nameless, and basically, my entire day has been consumed with that. I've been working on the script at night with Travis, which essentially leaves little time for anything else. Since I'm married, well...there you go. No time. Which is why you've seen a massive drop in both posts and 3Questions.

And I'm certainly not going to put aside working on a script for a producer who wants to make it, to work on a short film that's a bit of a passion project. Though that's exactly what I'll be doing next.

I haven't directed a short in four years. In that time, we've gone from the XL2 w/ a Mini-35 adapter being the newest thing to the RED camera, and now the Canon 5D and soon, the ARRI Alexa. With all the cameras and technology available I'm interested in shooting something narrative at the highest quality possible. If I can marry my talent as a visual director with the RED camera in a narrative short (and soon, a feature) I think it will be really well received. And, I have the story. It's something I've been developing for a long time, first as a short, then as a feature, and now we're back to a short. It's based on a short play that was submitted to me in college by a writer. A year ago, intent on producing the feature, I optioned it from him.

But Travis and I always struggled with it, namely because it's two actors in one location and with the setting we had, we were never really sure what they would be talking about. But, after being away from it, and letting my mind wander, I came to a realization and it changed everything. What we loved was the concept, not the setting, and once we realized that, we were free to do anything we wished. And now we've come up with a really great short and maybe after, a feature.

So, once I finish this script, I'm putting all my energy and focus into the script for this short, so I'll have it written and can start prepping it. It's the writing that takes up the time. If I can get a solid 3-4 weeks, to just focus on the short, then, while I'm working on putting it together, Travis and I can start on the next one.

Meanwhile, Travis will be doing some major surgery on our thriller screenplay. We have people wanting to read it but we've discovered some changes that make it AMAZINGLY better and don't want anyone reading any other version.

Needless to say, I've got a full plate, made all the more full by my 11 hour/5 day a week job but as I've mentioned before I'm eager to start directing again, and NOT music videos.

However, on that note, I had a great meeting last night with Mateo to discuss directing a new music video for him. His most recent mixtape has really taken off and he's interested in gaining some more traction on it with a video. And, of course, I'm happy to oblige. We spent an hour discussing some ideas and came up with a very, very cool concept. There's a narrative to it but the whole video is very concept driven, with utilize some cool effects, but remain true to my shooting style. I'm excited about it. It's gonna take a little work to put together but I think at the end of the day, we're going to have a very cool video on our hands. And with Mateo and I's track record, it'll probably get play on mtvU.

We're gonna shoot it on the Canon 7D at the end of April/beginning of May. I'm really gonna push myself on this one, even though there's exactly $0 in the budget. Nonetheless, I think it's a cool idea and I want it to be the best that it can.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

RED's Competition - ARRI Alexa

The Violin Maker from ARRI Channel on Vimeo.

This is ARRI's answer to the RED camera. A 2k, $60,000 digital camera. It records in both a RAW format for online editing as well as recording natively in ProRes for drop and edit ability in Final Cut. No more clunky workflows. Best of all, the ARRI shoots amazing footage at a high ISO. The footage above was shot at 800 ISO using only the light of two 100w desk lamps.

Pretty impressive, no?

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Pale Blue Dot

Though this may not have much to do with screenwriting or filmmaking (despite it being a pretty well produced little video and having tons of movie clips in it) it nonetheless taps into bigger things that may help you when exploring what to write about. Inspire you, perhaps.


Thursday, April 1, 2010

3Questions: Jesse Collver - Insert Unit Coordinator

As part of our continuing 3Questions series, I present Jesse Collver, an Insert Unit Coordinator on the hit CBS show, CSI:NY.

As he explains, "Basically, I'm the middle man for all inserts and 2nd shots on the show. My daily routine involves working with the 2nd Unit director in figuring out what sets/dressing/props/actors/spfx/vfx are needed to accomplish what the editors and producers are asking for. If the 1st Unit shoots on location at a restaurant with 5 principle actors and 50 background and a producer wants to see an additional shot of an actor picking up a bloody glass, what do we need for that?

"Well, we don’t need any principle actors, nor do we need 50 background actors, nor do we need to go back to that location. If they want the actors POV (point of view), then all I need to do is hire a hand double (a background actor with matching hands) to pick up the glass, two body doubles to be the people across the table from him (which don’t even need to be the same people either if we don’t see their faces), ask construction to build us an 8x8 section of the floor, have set dressing supply a matching table, and get props to bring in the matching bloody glass. All shot in the comforts of our home stage rather than on location.

"My crew of 15 shoots 50 to 120 of these types of shots per episode! We also get the joy of shooting all the cool inside the body/blood n guts CSI shots with the make-up effects department and special effects department. The idea is that when you watch the show any shot not including a star's face is probably done by us on a different day, on a different set and you should never be able to tell the difference."

HBAD: So, tell us, how did you get your start?

I guess you could say I got my start in my bedroom with my parents first camcorder making movies with Star Wars action figures or running around in the woods operating the camera or acting with my brother and friends making cheesy zombie movies. I studied psychology in school but always took film classes on the side as well as working as an actor in independent films all thru high school and college. My break came when I started working as the Las Vegas Executive Assistant to Anthony Zuiker, creator of the CSI franchise. When he became the show runner on CSI:NY I came to Los Angeles and started as an office PA on the show.

HBAD: What are the most difficult challenges you've encountered on your career path?

The most difficult challenge I would say would be that when I moved to LA, I started at the bottom on the show as a Production Office Assistant. Despite the amazing amount of information I learned about the business and of T.V. production, it was an incredible challenge trying to make it month to month living in L.A. making barely more than unemployment with no family and few friends to help me get by. I lost a lot of weight my first year out here from stress and lack of money for food. All I could do was stay focused and work hard in order to move up as quickly as possible and thankfully that’s exactly what happened. Shows often promote from within and I stepped into my current position the following season.

HBAD: What advice would you have for someone just starting out in this business, looking to become a...well, multi-multi-hyphenate?

The advice I usually give to people trying to break in to the industry is don’t be afraid to start at the bottom and earn your stripes, its worth it in the long run if you continue to work harder than everyone around you. People will take notice of hard work and ambition. Another piece of advice I like to give is just get out there and do it!! Don’t wait for breaks to come to you, you need to create your own, get out there and collaborate with friends/peers, create, be active in working towards your dreams everyday you can. Don’t let anyone tell you your dreams are too big or that there is too much competition out there. Never base your future off of other peoples failures, they have absolutely nothing to do with you.