Thursday, April 28, 2005

Back to the Future

Found this picture the other day, and it is of me dressed as the killer in some Super-8 short I was making at the time. I had been very influenced by films like "Halloween", "Friday the 13th", and a whole slew of low budget horror films to numerous to mention. I was always filming something, and trying to coax people to star in my films. You see the technical was never a problem with me. It was getting the people to work on the films that was hard. Usually they were my friends & family, but a lot of the time I had to do a lot of filling in. I can even remember getting my mom to run the camera for a quick shot of me dressed as the killer, or as a victim. It's ironic that that still is a problem. As you know if you've been reading this blog I do try and pay my actors and crew when I can, but it's hard to do so now even though expenses for DV filmmaking aren't as much as they would be if I was shooting on film. When I went to film school I was excited about meeting others with the same interests, and for awhile it was great, but we never supported each other as much as I would have liked. Competition was introduced, and though I think a bit of competition is good it eventually divided us more then it united us. Throughout film school I worked on any, and every film I could. I remember long train & bus rides early in the AM or late in the evening sometimes lugging pieces of equipment. I never complained, and always tried to do the best I could do on other people's projects, but the group that I had hoped would form never did. In a way I guess I'm still looking for those individuals who are die hard filmmaking enthusiasts, and people I can help and work with. It's not about the money. It's about the work. If the work is good the money will come, but I'm in the minority in thinking this way. I had FUN back when I was doing my little epics, and I want to have a bit of that when I work on other films. My sensibilities have changed since I was a young teen and early adult. I have little patience for wanna-bes, or bull-shiters today. I'm slowly getting back to where I enjoyed doing this, and slowly the work becomes more meaningful to me. When I was young there were NO limits because no one told you there were any. That's where I want to get back to. It's where creativity really thrives, and where creativity exsists good work can be made and accomplished. That's all I want in the end.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Scoring the Film

So how did I go about scoring the film with music? Well I enlisted an old time friend by the name of Peter J. Gorritz who lives in LosAngeles California. Peter and I go way back, and we had talked about the score when I was in LA for a visit. The above photo is of me when I did my commentary to Peter for the music. I literally videotaped the film from the flatbed editor, and talked into a microphone as the film was being played on the editor. On one channel I had the films dialogue and on the other channel I had my voice telling Peter what I thought the music should be like, or when it should comes in and out. Basically it was for queuing music in and out of the film. As for the musical style Peter and I had talked about that over the phone and through emails. I recommended several films, and he recommended several composer's style, and in essence that's how the counteract evolved. As Peter scored the film he would send me two discs. One with the music synch to the picture as a MPEG file, and the other was the MP3 file of just the music which I would ultimately give to NFL films who would transfer it to magnetic track so I could edit it on the flatbed editor. Since I videotaped the footage from the flatbed editor the music was pretty much in synch with the cues I gave Peter on the tape. Of course the one thing that I would recommend is that you should get your composer onto the project sooner then I did. Preferable when the film is in pre-production. But being Peter and I had spoken earlier we managed to work very well together despite the distance & the circumstance. I should also tell you that during this time Peters father passed away, and the project was delayed for a bit, but after a while Peter picked up where he left off, and continued to supply me with some outstanding music. If anyone would like to get a hold of Peter he can be contacted at his bands site which is The Last Dance. I cannot recommend Peter highly enough. So that's how the score was done, and finished. I used some very low tech methods to do things, but they all worked out, and I believe that if one were shooting in the DV format the process would be easier, and cleaner, and one would not have to worry about synch. I paid Peter also, and he was very accommodating in his fee. Remember time is money.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

To be or not to be

Okay I've made a film, and done several short films now what? Work that's what. It's rather difficult to balance filmmaking and life in general. Since making a film can tax your resources both in the physical realm as well as the emotional realm it can be difficult to produce a good piece of work. A support mechanism is needed to help people like yourself to create interesting films, but in today's culture that is so hard to do or develop for that matter. I have been a member of a crew and felt worthless, and hated every minute of it, and on the other hand I've been in a work environment where everyone is working for the project because they believe in it, and enjoyed every second of it. These are two extremes, and there seems to be no middle ground. I guess one needs to keep plugging along, and take from each project something they can use later. Filmmaking is a group effort, but in that group are one or two individuals who move the project forward. It is these people that have a vision, and depending on their strengths a project will or will not come to fruition. The French New wave described this as the auteur theory. What the "auteur theory" said was that it was the director whose vision or stamp is put on a film, and it is the director who shoulders much of the credit or blame for a film. I used to have arguments about this, and I still do at times, but I'd like to take the meaning of the auteur theory and expand on it. Usually it's one or two people who are involved in getting a film together, and usually this is has been for me the producer as well as the director. I agree that when the movie is actually in production it is the director who is calling the shots, and not the producer. But I've known producers who've carried around projects for YEARS till it finally comes to fruition, and then even when the film is in production they have their hands all over the production. Getting locations, getting the crew, the director, the studio and so on are all what a producer does, and usually the producer will hire the director that best fits HIS or HER vision of the film. So now who is the true "auteur" of the film? I'd have to say that the producers hand is just as strong as the director's hand in a film. I think a person or persons who has a strong vision for the film should also be considered the auteur of the film. I still believe the director hammers out the product according to his vision, but the producer still has his or her handprint on the film because it was the producer who hired the director, and usually the producer who hires the director will want someone who shares or improves his or her own vision of the film.

So that's my theory on being a filmmaker, and the filmmaking theory known as "the auteur theory". One may not do a film for sometime and then suddenly when the opportunity presents itself you suddenly find yourself behind the camera again. Filmmakers are like addicts. We hate the process, and yet we crave a fix. During production we moan, and bitch about everything, and even when we are selling our product we curse the distributors. But we love the high that filmmaking provides, and we love the art of creation. So we write, and write, and write till an opportunity arises where we can put our written words up on the screen. We constantly chase the high, and we are both in love and in hate with all of it, but that's the plight of the filmmaker. So spare some pity for us poor creatures of the cinema. All we want to do is tell stories, and hope someone is listening.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Flatbed Editor

I started editing as soon as I got my film back from the lab, but before I could get creative I had to first begin the mundane chores of logging shots, and syncing up the footage. This is time consuming, and sometimes can be quite tedious. But it was something that had to be done. I should have also gotten my film and mag track coded after I sync up the footage. Coding is when numbers are printed on your workprint & magnetic track so that after you cut the slate from the picture you can sync up your footage by matching the numbers from the film to the mag track. I didn't and so I sometime had to sync by eye, and later found out in some shots that I was off synch by a frame or two. If this was done in video I be dead, but since I was doing it in film the out of synch footage didn't look that bad. Of course when editing on my Moviola Flatbed editor I oly saw a small image on the view screen. To get a better sense of how in synch you are one should see it projected. You'll know right away if you are out of synch or not. Remember your magnifying your footage so any defect will be seen as big as day, so if you do it my way then have it coded, and or after syncing up the footage show the footage through a projector and make notes. Why go this route? At the time I did not have access to video editing, or a non-linear editor, so this was the easiest. I acquired a Movieola Flatbed from a filmmaker here in Philly. I paid $2,500 for the flatbed which was in excellent condition. Getting the Flatbed to my apartment was another feat that I did again when we moved. One thing a flatbed editor is is heavy. I took it apart and got the person who I bought it from and my uncle to help me get it into the apartment. It was a tight fit, but we managed. I then moved it again only this time two BIG movers helped put it in my office where it now resides. The Flatbed is an archaic piece of equipment that really works. I've had to change the lightbulb socket, and had to tighten some belts in the five or 6 years I've owned it. So again I had to steep myself in knowing how the flatbed ran, and how I should maintain it. My electronic background helped. Renting a flatbed was out of the question. It cost too much, and for the price of rental I bought one instead.

Again this is not what I would do today, and I seriously don't think I'll do it again that way. First of all there are only a few labs that still develop a workprint for you, and transfer your sound to mag track. Don't get me wrong. There are a number of labs that still do this, but now it's develop the negative, and layback the audio to tape which costs money. But getting your footage to tape is getting cheaper and cheaper, and since you'll ultimately produce a DVD of the film you might as well go this way. After all if the film is successful then a distributor can take your digi-beta tape, and produce a print for projection then.

I had a great time editing my film. I loved the tactile sensation of running film through my fingers, and seeing an image on the print. It's something I recommend a filmmaker do at least once in their career. After all you'll appreciate editing more after going this route just by doing so many labor intensive procedures. You'll never complain about digitizing footage again. Okay maybe a little, but it isn't as bad as rolling up film, and changing reels, and winding down a reel to get to the footage you need. I heard Walter Murch the sound editor for films like "Star Wars", & "Apocalypse Now" edited standing up instead of seated, and half the time I did the same. Murch raised the flatbed up on two by fours, and edited that way. He says that editing standing up seemed the only way to go, and he is right. The above picture is of me and my assistant Jack the cat. I usually sat while watching the footage I had just cut. But while editing I uually stood, and Murch is right. It does feel right because editing on a flatbed you're constantly doing something, and your hands are between the film footage, the splicer, the mag tracks, and your film bin, so standing is a natural way of editing on a flatbed editor.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The French New Wave & the Language of the Cinema

As a student in filmmaking I had some contempt for older filmmakers. The arrogance of youth prevented me from appreciating artists that had come first. It was only in my second year in college that I discovered the French New Wave, and I feel in love. I began devouring all things that covered that period, which also lead me to learning other American directors such as Ford, Hawks, and Chaplin. The history of cinema is not that old, but yet all that we do toady is based on things that other filmmakers did. Such filmmakers as Keaton, Chaplin, Eisenstein, and Griffith were pioneers in filmmaking. They discovered the language of the cinema. What is this language of cinema you ask? Well like any other subject filmmaking has rules that seem to have been grounded in the narrative. The way we tell a story can be done in several ways, and in the cinema different shots, and angles can be used to convey a different emotions. The early filmmakers found out this by trial and error. After all Edison was the inventor of the cinema, but no one talks about Edison as a pioneer in filmmaking. It seems Edison was just it's father and such filmmakers as Chaplin, Keaton, Griffith and Eisenstein were his children that played with the medium of the cinema and gave it its voice. I always seemed to have had contempt for cinema language classes as a young turk, but as I grew older I learned that a lot of what was taught in cinema language was the foundation of filmmaking as we know it today. After all one must know why a certain trick, or device works, and where it came from before one can use it in his film. We talked about Hichcock, Chaplin, Eisenstein, and a host of others and slowly an appreciation began to develop which still holds firmly today. Sure the film industry is a business, and I've worked on a number of projects to know that, but it is also MORE then just a business. A lot of that is lost in today's films, and audiences seem to see film as huge spectacles and an art form last. The proliferation of media in the past few years have flooded the market of products of various quality. The audience has become jaded, and it seems as though filmmaking has been rendered as just product. Occasionally a film enters the market that reminds us that film or cinema is an art form, and that good storytelling is usually done with quality. No matter what type of gimmicks studio's come up with to market their film it is the filmmaker who decides how to tell that story that makes the film a classic or not. The filmmaker who knows his or her history will invariable create a better product then one who does not.

So you see that studying films has it's advantages. With me the French New Wave struck a cord, and it shook me to the core. I discovered a whole new world in cinema, and my world opened up. I still am learning to this day, and I never dismiss the past. The language of the cinema is one that I hold very dear. I seem to always be the student of cinema, and it's helped me in my filmmaking career. Unfortunately there is more hype then scholarly discussion about film. I just hope that I can continue to use that knowledge about the cinema and apply it to my own films.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Obsession Part II

So what was the budget? How much did this all cost. The answer which every producer should give should be an honest one, and that answer is "under a million". I can even say that it was well under 100k. Are you interested now?

The biggest expense was filmstock which ran me around 3 to 4K, and then processing and sound transfer to a magnetic track, which ran an additional 7k. After that I was my own editor, and the expenses dropped. Food, transportation, and housing also ate a lot of my budget. I could have easily halved the budget for the last three items if I one, hired local actors, two gotten catering from fast food places, and three didn't supply any transportation for actors. Some actors had commitments like auditions to go to, so a car was provided. Three actors shared one car. It did work out, and the actors were all satisfied and relaxed. They did not feel like cattle, and it showed, so supplying transportation to the actors was a good thing. I used the rental agencies insurance, so my personal insurance agency didn't get stuck with damage charges. Food was prepared by my wife at times which included fruit, vegetables, bagels, cream cheese, and assorted meats for sandwiches. It was far more less expensive to do this then hire some one. My wife Phyllis got fresh food every day, and prepared it the following day. The actors ate, and also had munching food such as donuts, and coffee. Coffee was essential for the early morning shoots, and while we set up the lights & camera we all ate too.

I had started casting in NYC when my wife and I lived there, and so I had stacks of headshots to go through. These were all New York actors. I stuck with my choices, and that's why I didn't use local talent. My crew on the other had were almost all local except for two who were from my old alma-mater Brooklyn College. I housed them as well, but those two crew members were worth their weight in gold, and I could not think of doing the film without them. I could have also put the cast and some crew in a less then auspicious motel/hotel, but there was a good chain hotel nearby and I went with them. If I wasn't so busy with all the technical things I probably could have knocked off some money off the price. Remember everything is negotiable.

So are you getting the idea on where and how I spent my money. We also had saved money that became our "petty cash" money. Here we paid for "stuff" that would invariable come up during the production. So here's a tip. Save money by hiring local talent, and by doing so you save on lodging fees. But the caliber of the actors were great, and I could not ask for better craftsmen. I would suggest you talk to people in the area. Production people are always looking for the next project, and even if their committed to other projects they may know somebody. The circle is a not as small as you think, and like I said earlier if you pay people for their time they are more inclined to give it their all.

If done today you could shoot it on DV, and master it right on your own PC or Mac. No processing, no filmstock, and no extra delays. This should give you extra money to hire some good crew & actors. In the days since I did my film technology has come a long way. No more checking the gate to see if a piece of dirt got in the camera and ruined your shot. No now you check the playback, and see what you got instantly. You can even post it, and make the video look like film. It's a brave new world, and one were affordable filmmaking has become. So what are you waiting for. Write that masterpiece and get a move on it. It isn't too hard to do anymore. I had a crew of seven or eight, and a cast of four or five. You could make a film with less then that. It just takes some interesting story telling.

Some more adventures in the day to day shooting of the film, and how it's just as difficult after the shooting stops as it is while the shooting is going on. Stay tuned.

Monday, April 11, 2005

The beginning of my long Obsession

I'll try and deal with how I became involved in my film, and how long this obsession has been raging on. i had always wanted to do a feature. There were several times where I thought I was going to actually make it happen, but always the plans fell through. SO I decided to put the burden on "myself" alone. The old saying: "if you want something done right, do it yourself" actually has a lot of truth in it. I had written my screenplay two years earlier before production began. In that time I was consumed by how I would get the film off the ground by myself. I used Final Draft for my screenwriting program, nad I used movie magic for my scheduling software. Movie Magic allowed me to import my screenplay from Final draft, and create my schedule for shooting the film. I figured that it would take me 12 to 14 days to shoot the film since my film was limited in location, and in actors. I should have found someone to help me, but I could not since I had no firm date on when I was going to shoot the film. The responsibility of breaking down the script and scheduling it fell to me. Luckily the program Movie magic made it extremely easy to do so. If you are going to go this route, and do almost everything yourself I have one bit of advice for you, and that is be prepared to go in for the LONG haul. Since I could not devote all of my time in getting the film off the ground I had to manage my time. Bills had to be paid, groceries bought, and life always seemed to get in the way. Hence the long process of getting this film to screen. How long you ask? Five years.

Yes Five years to get a film together, and still I am struggling, but this time to get it seen not just produced. But that's for another time. Right now I'll talk about the early days of the film. The fortunate thing was that I had some time before production to plan my film, and set aside some money for the film. I shot in 16mm because that was the professional gauge I wanted to shoot in, and I liked 16mm. I could have rented a camera, but since I was also shooting my film I bought an old Arri BL, and learned all it's eccentricities. Today I would not recommend this course of action since renting is better, but I was obsessed in knowing all about the camera, and I loved to do my own camera work. Of course there comes a time where you can do no more then set a date because you've done all that you can do. Once you set the date for production it becomes a reality, and you can now move on to auditioning actors, and interviewing people for crew. I was originally going to shoot in July, but I pushed it to early august, and it worked out alright. the open thing I cannot stress enough is that you NEED to pay your cast & crew something. I was a nobody who wanted to make a film. The only way I can convince people that I was serious was through money. I did not offer extrodinary amounts of money to any, but enough to say that I want and need you for so long, and I value your time. Everyone had a flat fee, and I did go through the screen actors guild (SAG). I had to give a deposit which was put in escrow for the actors. This was to insure that I did not head south of the boarder with the production funds once production began. Through SAG I got grade-A quality people. Professionals who took their craft seriously, and who would show up on time, on the days that I needed them. So don't skimp on the payroll for your crew & cast, and just as important don't skimp on the food you feed them. My cast & crew always were well feed, and taken care of. The shoot was uncomfortable due to the production taking over my apartment & other locations. It was hot, cramped, and fast paced. I did not have a video playback, so I had to rely on what my eye saw through the viewfinder. Being the editor, and writer, and director helped me since I was so intimately involved with the production, but I still wish I could have worked MORE with the actors.

This is my first entry about my film, and how it all began. I hope to have more in the coming weeks or months. I will detail the good, the bad, and the ugly of the filming of my movie "Deadly Obsessions". Any feed back is welcome, and questions are always welcomed. My desire for this website is to pass on knowledge about filmmaking from the trenches. Hopefully someone will be able to use this information, and build on it, and create their own film. Till next time.

The above picture is of me shooting a short film enttled "The Last War". It won two Nova awards for best dramatic film, and best ecological film.

Friday, April 08, 2005

What is a Filmmaker?

Okay so what is my definition of a filmmaker? I've worked on numerous productions, and been on staff at various production houses & ad agencies, and the one thing that separates professionals from the wanna-be's is that they have the technical know how to put together a film no matter what the format is. Film, video, DV, or any other format a true professional filmmaker KNOWS the process of production from pre to post. That's not to say that you need to know ALL, but it sure does help when you're up against a deadline, and you have questions on how the production process flows.

I found out everything there is to know about filmmaking during my thesis film in "Production 40.3" in college. The film was a short 5 minute piece called "Freedom". It was about someone running form someone and trying to reach freedom from across the fence. I learned later while reading "Skywalking" that George Lucas did a film called "Freheit" which is German for Freedom. Similar story, but both films were executed completely different. Only saw Lucas's film many years later, and though Lucas is a GREAT filmmaker I do prefer mine, but that's another story. I even tried changing my film when I heard that Lucas had done something similar, but my production teacher wouldn't hear it, and so I had to finish what I started. On this film I cut my negative, which was a nerve wrecking experience. Though the film was not a sync film, and had no dialogue it was still quite a process to do, and I will NEVER do that again. A competent negative cutter is worth their weight in gold. I used one who live s in Florida for my film "Deadly Obsessions", and it was perfect. One mistake was done, and it was my fault, and so I went with a cut instead of a dissolve.

But by working and doing numerous jobs on a production I learned what it takes to do that job, and I've always appreciated good craftmenship in someone's work. I seem to be always playing catch up with the latest technology, and it's process, but having the past experiences has given me a good foundation to learn additional skills. I still don't know EVERYTHING, but I do know where to go when I want to know about something, or need something explained to me.

I also believe that the best way to learn film-making is by doing. Looking at films and studying them is great, but getting in the trenches is where it's at. I know several people who are head and shoulders above me in their prospective fields. The gentlemen who mixed my first feature is a phenomenal film-maker. I'll talk about him, and what we did sometime later, but he taught me a few things that I needed to know, so as you can see I'm always learning, and discovering new ways to do things.

The above picture is of me with my trusty old Bolex. I used that to do some inserts for the film "Freedom". It was a great learning experience, and something I want to do more of today. So go out and experiment with that video camera you have stuck in the closet. It's the best way to really start learning, and now you don't have to wait for film processing and or spend a lot of money to see if your idea is any good. The world of filmmaking is wide open, and YOU are the key. Read, watch, and do. It's as simple as that. Honest!

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

How it all began

It started around when I was eight years old. I had been interested in photography since I was six or seven. I took pictures of my GI-Joe's in various states of action. I was also a voracious comic book reader. Fantastic Four, Sergeant Fury, The Avengers, Dr. Strange, and more all fascinated me and entertained me for hours. I even for a short time drew my own comic books with stories I created myself. Then after my grandmother died I inherited her Super-8 camera, which was a simple point and shoot type of camera. I read about stop-motion photography, and studied films that contained stop-motion. Such films as Mighty Joe Young, King Kong, and the Sinbad pictures all had stop motion in them. I tried to emulate that with my cheap camera by shooting in short bursts. The results weren't what I wanted, but they showed promise. I eventually acquired a camera which could do single frame shooting, and suddenly my world opened up. I would read Special effects magazines, and I even subscribed to a magazine devoted to amateur SFX called "CineMagic". It was the holy grail of magazines. It showed me how to do effects, and even showed me that I was not alone in my love for the fantastic. It was published by a man named Don Dohler who is still at it, and making films now on DV.

I soon began making movies with live actors, and using my friends and family as my cast of characters. Such films as "The Thing in the Basement", and "Resurection" were shot in or around my house. I learned a lot, and during the 80's the VCR explosion happened and I would rent movies, and have movie marathons of all types of films. Of course this lead to me wanting to go to college for filmmaking. My chooses were limited due to financial reasons, but I choose Brooklyn College as my school, and to this day I don't regret it.

Brooklyn's undergraduate program for film was small. Brooklyn also had a Radio & Television department separate from the film program, and I would take TV courses also. It was at Brooklyn that I began to shoot 16mm. I had great teachers, but the equipment was not the greatest. We all made do with what we had, and a lot of the students created some great little short films. I learned about lighting, sound, and editing during my time at Brooklyn. I even interned on several films as a production assistant. The conditions were miserable, and we were all broke, but we pushed on, and graduated eventually.

Since then I've worked on several low budget films & a nuber of corporate videos as well as commercials. I've worked for an ad agency for some time, and became a graphic artist. I've also been a video editor, a cameraman, and a production assistant for a number of corporate videos.

I work currently in the digital realm of DV, as a media technician for a high school in South Jersey. I am a lot of times a one-man band, and I am used to that. I've completed my first feature "Deadly Obsessions" recently and am trying to get it seen through film festivals. I am currently raising funds to put the film onto DVD, and most likely will self- distribute myself.

So that's me in a nut shell. The picture above is of me when I was editing on Super-8. I am in my teens in the picture, and have fond memories of working on my little epics. I hope to have more stills here from my past, and a few stills from current projects here. I'll talk about how I did it, and for how much. It seems that many producers want to keep the figure of their budgets quiet because they don't want distributors to know how much it cost them to make. Distributors will only low ball their figures then, but in todays film climate that is more the rule then the exception. There is a lot of product out there, anda lot of competition. It's not impossible to distribute your film, but it's very hard to get the money back. More and more producers shoot on Digital video (DV), and the reasoning is that it takes little money to do so, and in some ways that is a correct way of thinking, but not entirely true. I also discuss that here too.

So That's it. My second entry, and I hope you got something out of it. More to come I promise. I just hope someone is listening. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

A Beginning....

Okay. Why am I here? I've decided that I want to blog more about film, and film-making, and it's here that I want to do it from. Blogging isn't too new to me, but I decided to try blogging about film and hopefully meet other people through here with the same interests. Actors, filmmakers, musicians, painters, and photographers are all welcome here. I'll tell you what I'm up to, what films I've seen and anything that is film oriented. At least that's the plan for now.

So let's see how it goes. Please bare with me as I get my profile up. Another grand experiment begins.

Catch you later!