Saturday, April 30, 2005

On the Hypocrisy of this blog and building boats

We rehearsed yesterday and it went well. It's funny because as I write and rewrite and shoot pieces of this script I learn more about it. I think I figured out a huge problem with it yesterday while we were rehearsing. It happened because as I heard the actors speak the words it started to fire sparks in my head (figuratively speaking - I don't want to make anyone feel self-conscious.)

It's funny because stage plays usually (or I should say, traditionally) work this way. There are several weeks (months) of rehearsal during which time the playwright (that's not a misspelling) can work on and rewrite the play. Films, typically, do not work this way.

And through this I am going to explain away the hypocrisy of this blog where I talk about spending all this time on your script and THEN shooting and here I am writing a film AS I SHOOT. True there are more than enough STUDIO films which seem to follow this process, but it really shouldn't be done this way. On the other hand - if you can do it, it will teach you a hell of a lot about writing. I can do it because in a very real way we're just screwing around. We're not spending any money on this and we're not really expecting much out of it - we're just doing it because it's fun and it's GREAT practice between projects. So you should still spend the extra time on your script. And yet...

And yet it's funny, because you can write and write and write and spend years at it and have every character motivation NAILED and the story flows and you just can't get over what a damn genius you are - but when an actor picks up your script and starts reading the words - you can lose your erection in the blink of an eye. Everything can change. He might have an inflection in his voice or there might be something about his character that adds - or subtracts - from your script - or the way two actors relate to each other that utterly destroys it. I'm not talking about bad actors - I'm talking about GOOD actors (because good actors will always bring something to a role that you never considered.) But if you can go back and change the script - rewrite with his (by the way I'm using a non-gender specific "he") voice in your head and rehearse again and rewrite again and over and over until you nail it - then great. It will be better in the long run - in fact that's the way to do it. In fact, a lot of stage plays have the opportunity to do this. But films very rarely get much rehearsal time and rewriting tends to happen in a panic during the shoot with reshoots and editing and a whole mess of stuff going on.

Which brings me to the whole "Playwright" vs. "Screenwriter," thing. The word "playwright" which means generally someone who writes plays, is akin to shipwright or wheelwright - in other words a craftsman who constructs something. Because after all, a play is a construction - a combination of character, motivation, story, conflict, comedy, setting, crescendo, scenes, acts. The Playwright does not simple sit and write a play - a play is constructed, at least it's supposed to be, in the same way a ship is constructed from different materials parts and - here's the most important part - a play works or doesn't work in the same way that a ship either floats or doesn't float.

A screenplay is really no different, yet those who pen screenplays are labeled as "Screenwriters." It's really an age old devaluation of the writer in the film pantheon and I don't want to get hung up on it. But what I do want to do is suggest that as you write - model yourself after that shipbuilder (or playwright.) Think of each piece of your script, each scene, each act, as an indispensable part of the whole. The masts, the keel, the hull, the sails that help your film to float. Not only does each piece need to built with skill and care, but they must be built so that the finished product is a seamless whole.

And it's funny because as I write this film - shooting little pieces here and there as we can (the order of which primarily being based on who is available when and what locations we can get) I'm learning more about writing than I ever thought I would. It's a great, if humbling exercise.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Rehearsals today

I'm rehearsing today with two of my actors - Scott and Connie (character names again to protect the innocent.) I've got a good scene with them and want to spend some time - which I have NOTHING BUT at the moment and really make it work. I worked on the script the other day and opened it up. I was a little lost at where to go with it but it's turning into something good I suspect.

I also have another posting saved in "drafts" where I discuss how people learn - or don't learn - the craft of directing, but I haven't had time to finish it yet. I'll try to work on that tonight or this afternoon.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

the "Citizen Kane" of Gay Rhinoceros movies!

I was driving back from Santa Monica this morning and started thinking about this blog and realized I'm bordering on getting WAY TOO frigging serious. (And also I haven't been spell checking.) I mean indie film shouldn't be about being serious. I mean it's rock and roll - ROCK AND ROLL BABY!!!

Oh, for fuck's sake, did I really just write that? Am I actually going to hit that little publish button and let all of my hard-earned readers see what a dork I am? Yeah, probably. But wait - there's more... I haven't gotten to the gay rhinoceri yet.

Here's the thing - I mean, the thing is this: independent film really should be like rock and roll. Not rock and roll now where bands like Metallica - who used to be good - sue their fans over file sharing - but old time rock and roll - old time like the Sex Pistols and Ramones and sex and drugs and groupies and throwing TV sets out of windows and cutting up pieces of shark and... well never mind that...and dying from overdoses (all right, maybe not that part either) and about the music, man, it's all about the music! But if indepedent cinema is going to be anything these days it's going to have to break the rules and recreate the markert. I mean clearly the studio model isn't working - or does anyone really believe "Spiderman 2" deserved the money it earned (and yes I am breaking a rule here - I made a rule to myself that having been a filmmaker, a darn thin-skinned one at that, I wasn't going to criticize other people's movies (though I'm hearby making a caveat that exempts studio movies.))

Indie film has a chance to break out (break out in a way that it hasn't yet.) It has a chance to break out by being good at it's own thing. It has a chance to do that by making good films that people are interested in. There's only one problem and that is publicity - in other words, getting people to know about your film so they can go paste their eyeballs to it. Because it's possible to have a great movie and never get it seen. The problem is the way we see movies now - or more specifically the way movie wind up in front of our eyeballs.

Maybe the way we've been going around it has been wrong - in other words, making a film and trying to sell it to a distributor - or even using a distributor at all - and Blockbuster and all that - and hoping that some guy - or girl - who can distribute movie sees your movie and says, YES! Here is a movie I can sell without actually having to do any work (Because in a real sense that's why Blockbuster is FILLED with a thousand crapie horror/gang/nudie movies (no offense to the good horror/gang/nudie movies.))And maybe we should be looking for a different way. I mean isn't that really what the whole digital revolution is about? Isn't the real reason we don't have digital movie theaters in every mall because it means everyone with a DVD burner can become a distributor?

To be honest, I don't have an answer. I'm making a little film with no-budget with a bunch of friends I happen to know are great actors. And you should too. I don't know what will become of it - if it will play festivals or get distribution or maybe I'll show it at Burning Man, I don't know. But I think that however it gets seen it's going to be a different route. What's that expression? If the mountain won't go to Mohammed, Mohammed must go the mountain. We need to recreate the market - or create a different ROUTE to the market. And how do we do that? In the hip circles of academia it's what's called narrow-casting. You make a film that appeals to a very small, but focused group of fans - say, for instance afficianados of gay rhinoceros psychology.

Now - clearly gay rhinoceros psychology (oh - and by the way - I do see the all the Freudian subtext in the combination of "gay" and "rhinocers" (so that $400 I spent on an indie film "consultant" so he could tell me I had "homoerotic subtext" in my movie wasn't wasted - well not completely)) isn't an area of interest that spans across generations, but there may be a few fans of it. So lets say we make our movie and get it out, and sell a few DVDs and move on. But hang on - a few DVDs? That isn't going to cut it. Movies are expensive to make, no question there. And the only way we make our money back is with enough paying eyeballs and what if, as in this case, there really aren't that many paying eyeballs? The answer is you have to make it cheap. You need people to work for free, you need to shoot and direct and do craft service and act in the nude scene all by yourself if that's what it takes. And then you cut it on your Macintosh with Final Cut Pro and burn a few DVDs and get them out at whatever gay rhinoceros convention happens in your town. And if you persist you may eventually develop a fan base and sell a few more and eventually someone will write about your film (headlines will scream: the "Citizen Kane" of Gay Rhinoceros movies in a kind of hipper than thou way) and you'll get a little publicity and make a few more movies and you'll be a filmmaker. You might not be Steven Spielberg, but you could be Russ Meyer (minus the giant naked breasts - or with them if that's your thing) And then what will happen is that the studios will pick it up and they'll all start their own gay rhinoceros divisions and suck up all the screen space and... well never mind that. That's a few years down the road. - but what will happen is enough of us do this and talk it up people will start to LOOK for this stuff - and by people I mean people beyond the hordes of film geeks who look for it anyway (myself included) and then thing will change. And then...

...well then the rest is up to you. I'd tell you, but I'm already getting way to wordy for a webblog.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Film vs. video vs. camera vs. camera

There are so many things I want to write about here and having a 3-year-old daughter in the middle of potty training seems to leave very little time.

But - I'm going to write today about cameras and their lack of importance in the filmmaking process.

Really? Is he serious?

Think about it this way: Does someone who wants to start a radio station spend all his time worrying about what kind of microphones he's going to use, or does he worry about what he's going to put on the radio?

So often in the indie film magazines and the websites and the chat rooms I see filmmakers obsessing over the question of film or video or which camera to use (these days it's mostly the DVX100a or the XL2.) My answer is that it doesn't really matter because a camera isn't what you should focus on. True, the advent of video has made it that much easier to go out and make the film you want to make, and the acceptance of films on video is growing in certain circles. But all that means is that your options for making your film are increasing.

The reason you shouldn't worry about what you shoot with is because you should spend your time and energy worry about what you're going to shoot. I know this gets said time and time again, but spend the time on your script, spend the time working with actors - fine tune your craft. That goes for being the producer as well as the director because the truly great producers were often extremely creative people - people who worried about things like story and cast. Before you even begin to freak out about what camera to use - storyboard the whole damn thing (there's a good chance that will cause you to freak out in a totally different way.) But storyboarding, even if it's stick figures, is a hugely useful tool that will help you get the pacing of a film into your head and may actually lead you to re-write it. As a great example of this, once they have the whole film storyboarded, Pixar actaully then does a rough animation of the storyboard so they can start seeing the film as it will be. (This isn't a novel idea by they way, they got it from Disney who started doing it around the time of Snow White.) It's a lot easier to re-write a story board than a shot film. And then and only then, when you have the script nailed and the cast you want and maybe a little cash, just use the best damn camera you can afford. Your DP will probably be able to tell you what that is.

And the truth is - these days - by the time you're all done with that, the camera you were all worried about will probably be replaced by the next hottest thing. Did you know the boys in Japan are working hard on eliminating video tape?

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Of course on the day I announce...

Of course on the day I announce this blog to the various newsgroups blogger decides to do a few hours of maintenance. I guess it would have been nice to get a little warning.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

We fucked up, they got away...

I think a lot of people will remember that as a line from the movie "Scarface" with Al Pacino. It was a line spoken by a guy named Mike Moran who I got to know very briefly while working on a show called Wish You Were Here. It was a short-lived CBS sitcom starring a guy named Lew Schneider. I was thinking about Mike this morning - I'm not sure why - I think I heard something on the radio while I was driving that reminded me of Scarface and when I do, I always think of that line. Mike was working in the art department on Wish You Were Here and I was a PA - it was actually my first job. He was really nice to me (in fact everyone on that job was really nice to me,) and he told me at one point that he was an actor and had done Scarface. At the time, being young and naive, I couldn't imagine why anyone who had been in a movie that big would be slinging a hammer (as the expression goes - though more for grips than anyone else.) Now I understand that one small part doesn't make a career - but - at the time I didn't understand and moreover - I had no idea who he was in the film even though I'd seen it a dozen or more times. Then he spoke that line and it all came back - but what stuck with me most was how proud of that he was, and how happy he was with my reaction to it.

So why am I writing about Mike today? I looked him up on IMDB to see what he'd been doing since then and I discovered a long list of credits. He'd been working and since it didn't look like many of them were big parts, I suspect he kept swinging that hammer as well. And that makes me feel good. Because I knew at the time he loved being an actor. He loved doing it and he kept doing it. He persisted and was, at least when I knew him, a happy guy. I was sad to discover, when I looked him up, that he passed away last year. But it got me thinking about some of the other people I met and liked on that show - people who I now realize were very important to me. People like Norman Berns, a great Production Manager who I learned a lot from - he's on the various yahoo groups and is still offering advice. Bob Doran, another production guru who I worked for quite a bit after that, though I've lost touch with him. Bob Altman (not Robert Altman, but another journeyman director I've stayed in touch with) who actually brought me on to the job. We went to the same high school and had been introduced by Ted Stolar - our photography teacher who was a fabulous mentor to me. He's producing for Martha Stewart these days. Skip Lane, a former William Morris Agent turned Producer who later gave it all up to pursue a dream of running a golf course (I actually learned a lot about golf - and the industry - from him (and he introduced me to Paul McIlvane a brilliant gaffer/DP who lent me his Bolex one weekend to shoot my first short (which remains in a box in my closet and will never see the light of day.))) Steve Bawol, a writer I've lost touch with, though I heard he was living in Paris. Lew Schneider, who was the star of the show and went on to Exec. Produce (and write) Everybody Loves Raymond - after a brief stop hosting on a kid's game show that my brother actually won $1000 dollars on as a 12-year-old. And Leanne Drum, a fellow PA who actually helped me land my first PA job in Los Angeles when I decided to make the plunge and who wound up as the Music Supervisor on my first film. She's off to graduate school now. Ruth who taught me to drive stick shift one day, Jackie, an assistant director who was wonderful to me and taught me and I think I kind of flirted with, Kathleen Phelan who I still think about and others.

It's funny, now that I think about it, how all those people touched my life and it's funnier still how a random thought caused me reflect upon them. It was a rare occurence for me, that show, all those people. I was young(er) and eager to learn, I was an open book and they were all more than willing to help me fill the pages. There are not a lot of opportunities in this business like that, so I would encourage anyone who happens to read this to take advantage of them. Listen, learn and most importantly stay in touch with everyone.

That is, unfortunately, advice I lost sight of for a while. But I'm back at it now. There's always something you can learn and there are always benefits to having friends. I hope, at the time, I gave them back even a little of what they gave me. There is not enough of that in the film business.

I'll bet you never thought a posting that started with, "We fucked up, they got away..." would end this way. I guess I needed a little pep talk from myself this morning.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Writing advice from a friend

I had lunch with a writer friend the other day. He's had a successful career - and continues to do so. I was discussing an idea I had for a TV pilot with him and he said, I like the idea, but let me ask you a question that I hear all the time - what's the franchise?

In other words - the idea I had was unique and sexy, but how do you drive it as a series? Where do 13 episodes - or 32 or 50 - come from? What drives the story in a way that really makes sense? And what makes sense and fits in with your premise? It seems simple, but I'd never really thought of it that way.

Friday, April 15, 2005

I've decided to expand the reach of this

When I first started this I intended only to discuss the making of Grande Con Carne - a little DV film I've started with a group of actor friends. But I've decided I can do a lot of good with this since I'm pretty versed in so many areas of filmmaking - primarily production and I am constantly discovering new things and ways to do things as I progress though this project and others.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The DVD thing

I've had a lot of people ask me about DVDs - and for DVDs as my demo reel. DVDs are great but every time I send one out there's a little kernel of doubt in the back of my mind/gut because DVD-R is still an imperfect technology. I've done a lot of research into it - I'm also producing a DVD for a video I did for a non-profit - and this is what I've discovered.

There are two ways to make a DVD.
The first is called DUPLICATION.
The second is called REPLICATION.

Duplication is in essence the same as burning a DVD on you computer at home. They're done on DVD-R and you can make any numbers from 1 to infinity. The problem with them is they may not play on everyone's machine. Or they may play imperfectly. Though most of the companies out there who make them will tell you they are 99% compatible - all you need is to hand your reel to someone who has an old DVD player and you lost the job. Why? Because some DVD players were made without the ability to play DVD-Rs. Which ones? Who knows. Additionally, some DVD players may be able to play TDK brand discs and not, say, Memorex. Also - if you burn them at home on your DVD burner, your burner may be able to handle Ritek, but not, say, Verbatim (though I think Verbatim is one of the more compatible brands out there.)

Replication tends to eliminate this problem - though I've heard even replicated discs are not 100% compatible with all DVD players - but you have to make, generally speaking, a minimum of 1000 discs. The way replication works is - your DVD file (called a Video_TS file) is recorded onto a DLT tape (two tapes if you're making a double layer disc (more than 4.7GB). A glass master is then made of your DVD and the discs are then made from that glass master. This eliminates the compatibility problem, but is much more expensive due to the numbers involved. And that's it.

Oh - an if you thinking that media companies will have state of the art gear - remember - there are still companies out there with 3/4 inch decks in their conference rooms.

Those are the basics of DVD production. So go to it.

I've got to get some replicated and get back to WRITING - and shooting.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

And speaking of the Joseph Campbell thing...

I realize that Joseph Campbell is kind of screenwriter/ filmmaker cliche. I mean there's a picture of Luke Skywalker on the cover of Hero With a Thousand Faces for crying out loud (as my Mom used to say.) But there's a depth to Campbell that goes far beyond Hero. Even beyond The Power of Myth, which is the Bill Moyers interview with him that basically amounts to a Reader's Digest version of Campbell, there is a tremendous depth to his work and reading his stuff always get the synapses in my brain firing at an incredible pace. Right now I'm reading The Masks of God: Oriental Mythology, which is part 2 of a four part series. It's pretty rich stuff - not light reading at all. But there is insight in it and even when he's talking about civilizations that are thousands of years old. And most of all - most relevant for the world of film - it's really all about stories. Especially the first book, Primitive Mythology, which is about story at is most primal level.

Talking with the Union

I started talking with the Union the other day. I'm a member of 600 the Cinematographer's guild - and it's becoming less and less relevant to my life these days. Basically over the last two or three years I've made just enough money on union jobs to pay my dues. Breaking even is not something I aspire to. Though I am reluctant to drop out. I worked hard to get in and if I ever get the chance to shoot it would be important. You never know?

And I watched The Shield last night. I still think it's the best show on TV right now. It's still a cop show, but at least there's some depth to it - and there is actually a story beyond the "current murder investigation." To me it's far, far closer to something like the Sopranos (which, as an Italian-American I must note that I feel somewhat conflicted about liking or having liked - no matter how much that let's-shoot-the-Russian-in-the-head-then-have-him-run-off-into-the-woods-and-never-mention-him-ever-again shit drove me crazy (though not really that much)) than Law and Order or CSI.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Took time off of Grande for what

Oh - further to the point of my scattered mind. I took time away from this to write a pilot that I have the opportunity to get to ESPN and Showtime. So I wrote that - got notes on it - and now I'm rewriting that.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

well I'm back

It's been a while since I posted - and a while since we shot. I've had so much going on I haven't really had time to work on the script though I am convinced this film will be my salvation.

Two big things happening.

I interviewed with a group of guys down in OC for a job directing a little straight to video horror film. It's small, low-budget, and the script needs work but it has some great potential. If they hire me - they're looking at 5 other guys (damn) they seem open to rewriting.

And I'm writing another script. I know, I know, I should be working on this one - Grande - but this is my problem. My brain pigns around from idea to idea and I have to sit and work on it - or at least crank out a draft to see if it's worth pursuing or not. Someday I should go through my Final Draft documents and see how many of those there are. But this is a good one - I think - it's a good idea, can be done cheap and sexy and that's what I'm looking for.

in the land of Grande - I do have an idea to finish the script - to get even a jump on the script - for a bridge between acts. I have an idea to tie together the fragments I have. Now if I only had time to work on it.

And in other news - a 30 second PSA I directed (and shot) for a non-profit called Futures for Children starts to air in New York and San Francisco this week. Sweet.