Friday, July 28, 2006

One more time this time with feeling!

So what do I want to do? I mean isn’t that the fundamental question that we all ask? I mean really is this a hobby or something I want to pursue in a more professional venue? I’ve asked those questions countless times in my life, and I’ve come away with many different answers to them depending on when I asked them. Before making my film it was all I wanted to do, and then during the making of the film I asked why am I doing this, and then when the film was completed and all the war stories were behind me I suddenly realized I wanted nothing more then to do it again. Talk about schizophrenic behavior there seems to be no emotion that you don’t go through when you're making a film. All those doubts get magnified, and you wonder why do you go through this self-abuse. Could I not be happy with sitting back and watching others tell their story. The simple answer is no; the film bug long ago infected me and the addiction I talk about only grows stronger throughout the years. I can chalk it up to being the by-product of the 20th century. The pleasure I had back in the day watching countless films in the air-conditioned haven called the movie theater, or the joy of reading the continuing adventures of Spiderman, or Iron man. Movies, TV, and comic books were the stimuli of my youth, and they fostered the storyteller in me. I used to even write my own comic books, but since I wasn’t a great illustrator I gyrated to the visual. Photography at first and then moviemaking.

Through publications such as CineMagic and Super-8, which no-longer exsist I found that I wasn’t alone in my addiction. The dreamer dreamed, and he was too young for anyone to tell him that he couldn’t. Those were the days where you corralled your friends one day and got them all to make a movie that you would later see on the big screen. Those films were rough and very ambitious for their time, and always you fed your demon by going to more movies, and seeing old films on TV, and reading more of your favorite comic books. You wanted your films to emulate the ones you were seeing on TV & in the movies, so you tried better techniques. Failing more then you succeeded, but always you learned something new. That's how we all learned back then before the Internet. We taught ourselves the grammar of the cinema without reading a word and slowly it became part of our psyche. We did by doing.

Today’s youth is bombarded by images from everywhere. The Internet, and computer games are yet another forum in telling stories which has caught on especially in today’s generation. If you think my generation was media savvy the present generation are light years ahead of where we once were.

So I come back to why I want what I want. Even now with raising a family of my own I still want to tell my stories. There's never any shortage of stories. Always balancing the reality of the day to the reality of what I want out of life. Should a dream die because it is just that a dream? Haven’t I already shattered that illusion? I mean it took awhile to make “Deadly Obsessions”, but I did it. Do I now give up? Satisfied that it was done, or do I take what I’ve learned and use the resources I have to make yet another film?

Make no mistake it doesn’t get any easier, but isn’t it all about being yourself. I have two boys who I have to look at each day, and tell them convincingly that you can do “ANYTHING” you want if you only put your mind to it. As you follow that dream you'll find that you yourself will be your own worst enemy, but getting through those dark days is all part of the grand design. It makes for better storytellers. I need and want filmmaking to be part of my life because it’s who I am. No one will help you. You have to help yourself, and let your passion shine. Others will see that and they’ll help because of that passion, or that's the hope. I mean why do bands tour? Could not the consumer buy his or her album and be satisfied. Why go see a concert? It’s because of the performer, and his or her passion in singing those tunes.

My grand design was never to make just “ONE” film. It was to make a bunch of films. Not the regular Hollywood type stuff, but something like it. To do this you need to be persistent, and smart. But more importantly you have to have passion in what you’re doing. That passion will show, and maybe you'll get noticed. Technology leaps forward by leaps and bounds almost everyday, and there are a lot of hungry consumers out there who want to see product. Maybe my children will benefit from my works. I really can't say. For right now I just need to keep hammering at the anvil, and keep practicing the craft by doing what ever I can. From wedding videos, to educational promotional stuff here at work it’s all part of the process. I have no idea if I’ll be successful, but at least I’ll be content that I did my best and stayed true to myself, and just maybe one day all this work will pay off. It's a big maybe, but what other choice do I have. What do you think? Just another dreamer or a hopeless romantic lost in a sea of mediocrity?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Marketing, Publicity, and other Shenanigans!

I was going to write about the process of filmmaking, and how hard it is to get motivated and make a good film, or at least a film that YOUR proud of. But I'll save that for another day. I've been reading up on Kevin Smith, and all the shenanigans that go into marketing a movie. I thought some of this would be of interest to some of you. I'm still a fan of Smith's, but when I hear things like this it only makes me think, and wonder. Follow the links and you decide.

In Jim Emerson's blog he goes on to describe on how Mr. Smith watches his reviews, and fights his critics

In Movie City News Mr. Smith is interviewed, and it's a frank conversation about his film.

At the IFC blog there is a article called: "The art of storming art", which covers the controversy of critic Joel Siegel storming out very publicly from a screening of "Clerks II".

It's all about the marketing of the film I guess. They say there's no good or bad publicity for a movie. As long as it gets people into the theaters, so I guess this is all good.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Clerks II

Okay so I said I wasn’t going to review films here because there are a lot better sites that do it, BUT since I’m a fan, and I do have admiration for Kevin Smith I’m going to. I can’t help it I like the guy.

Clerks II” is a funny film, and if you’re a fan of the first you’ll like this flick. I know Mr. Smith would like you to believe he’s an acerbic young punk who has a potty like mouth, and that he’s just a plain old sarcastic young man, but I beg to differ. After seeing “Clerks II” I believe Smith is a powder puff deep inside. Sure the dialogue is fresh, and full of funny pop culture type jokes, but in the end Smith goes for the schmaltz, and weirdly enough it works here. Smith even gets to say “something” here without hitting the viewer upside the head with his message.

Why does “Clerks” work? Because you love the characters. Maybe you see someone you know in them, or maybe it’s even yourself. Their anti-authoritarian attitude, and their I don’t give a crap attitude is what endears them to us. If you’re not a fan there’s no point in telling you to go see the film. But I do believe that Kevin Smith has made a nice follow-up to his debut film, and he’s even interjected some heartfelt emotion into the characters. Rosario Dawson is awesome, and both Brian C. O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson are hilarious. Kevin Smith says that “Clerks II” is probably his best film to date, and I may have to agree on that, but then again I’m a fan. I’ve enjoyed a lot of his films, yet I think “Clerks II” shows Kevin Smith’s growth as a filmmaker, and dare I say it a great date type movie. My wife and I were laughing quite a bit while watching it. The film works on all levels, and I believe everyone will find something to like in this film. Go see it, and have a good laugh.

On a personal note the film even inspired me. It's good filmmaking and the film has something to say. I walked out of the theater with a little more spring in my step. Seeing good films does that for me, and on a personal level it validated my desire to be a better filmmaker, and a more inspired one. Thanks Kevin!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Film Addiction!

A couple writings back I wrote that if you thought getting your first feature off the ground is hard try your second. Of all the things I've learned you would think that maybe I wouldn't want to begin another project, but I'm afraid it doesn't work like that. When I finally finished "Deadly Obsessions" I thought okay it's done. For years I've wanted to do my own feature and it drove me, but it wasn't the idea of making a movie that I obsessed on. No it was of being a filmmaker. The landscape has changed in the coming years, and it's gotten easier for someone to pick up a camera and think of shooting his or her own film. Digital video has leveled the playing field, and there are now tools available for everyone to use for the creation of their feature. I always wonder what Cassavetes would have thought of DV. His filmmaking was raw, and visceral. Cassavetes knew the technical side of filmmaking, and he didn't care. He broke all the rules, and if anything his palette were his actors. By doing my film I got to taste that. How an actor can change a meaning of a word or phrase just by saying it differently. Working with actors is where it's at. You take an idea on a page and the actors then breath life into it. I regret not spending more time with my actors, and running lines. The script would've been a lot better with more of their input, but on your first feature you just want to get it done. The clock is ticking, and every moment you're not shooting feels like you'll never get it done and in the can. Someone snapped the following picture of me while I was pointing out something to one of my actors. It's a good shot and I actually like it, but I wish I had more of those moments.

What I learned from doing "Deadly Obsessions" was that it wasn't about the aura of being a filmmaker, but it was about the work. One of my leads said that to another actor, and I totally agree with them. I may not make a fortune on these films, and I may not be as successful as Cassavetes, but in the end it will be about the work. The stories keep coming, and it's hard to fit them into workable projects with the limited resources I posses. My limitations are what will inspire me to overcome them, and I'll work with what I have. Right now I have no choice. I've always believed that great art comes from artists who have nothing else to loose. When the artist finds him or herselfs back against the wall it's then that he or she does his or her best work. Most art that is memorable has come from artists who have had to overcome certain challenges. I'm still trying to find my voice, but I haven't given up. Is it harder now then it was? It will always be hard, but nothing worth doing is easy.

What posses me to write this I can't say. I know there are a lot of talented artists out there doing their thing. Some will succeed others won't, but in the end it's about being true to yourself and being happy with the person who stares back at you in the mirror. In the end it's all that we have. Be happy & creative. Light a fire!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Houston we have a problem!

The shoot went all in all pretty well. What wasn’t expected was our neighbors giving me grief for shooting. I had gotten permission from my landlady about filming, but next door, and across the street the neighbors seemed upset. Now I didn’t need to get permission from these people, but it may have been a good idea to tell people about the movie. I broke no laws, and was well in my rights, but maybe telling others what was going to happen would have probably saved me a lot of grief.

It’s just that one neighbor was a retired police officer, and the other was a city court judge. Both seemed to try and use their connections to shut us down, and yet not everyone was against us. Others were interested in what I was doing, but like the old saying goes it only takes a few bad apples to ruin everything. I even got a call from the film office. They wondered what I was doing, and I told them in essence that you guys knew exactly what I was doing because I went through their office as well as the local SAG office. There were complaints of half naked people running around our set. Now I know it was hot around the time we shot the movie, but if there were naked people running around I think I would have seen them. I guess it sounded like we were some porn shoot. Eventually everything was straightened out, but I suddenly realized that we were under a microscope, and that there are people who didn’t like their neighborhood being invaded by free wheeling artists such as ourselves. What ended up happening was that we switched locations for the end scenes, and we finished up the scenes in the apartment quickly. I even hired two police officers to watch us. This helped because one I had a city official there and it looked like an official sanctioned film, and two the officers helped keep the peace if we ran into any trouble, which we didn’t after that. I even had my father-in-law come down and help with security. He was a retired federal cop, and his presence was a great help. You see dad was a sweet talker, and he was good at what he did. It was also great to have him there, and he got a kick at watching a movie being made. So let that be a lesson to any of you aspiring filmmakers out there. Let the community know what you’re doing. It’ll save you a lot of heartache while in production. Here in Philly it does not cost anything to shoot in the city, and now they provide you with a police officer for free, so there are advantages to film here if you’re an independent. I don’t know if the change in rules had anything to do with our “little” shoot, but right after we wrapped things changed, so I do have a feeling we had something to do with it.

Other problems that arose during the making of the film was that I ruined my uncles carpet in his new house. Luckily I had insurance and they paid for a new carpet. I was most upset by this, since my uncle & aunt had given us permission to shoot in and around their house with no problems. The killing of both Hank and the girl was shortened, and instead of having this big struggle I went with a simple POV shot. It wasn’t too bad, but I was disappointed that what I had originally intended to shoot was no longer viable, and I had to compromise. I even shot some scenes at my cousins house, and eventually cut most of that out after realizing that the film was too long, and that the pacing of the film was terrible. There was some good performances in the scene between Karen & Irene, but it killed the film, so it had to go.

While filming my only thought was to finish, and there was little joy in the process. I had stretched myself so thin that there was a lot to concentrate on. Again not a good thing, but in the end it made me finish the film. Being the editor helped because I became familiar with each roll of film, and I knew where each piece of footage was, and during the filming I knew what I needed to shoot to cover myself. Some of these problems cost me money, but I kept on filming. To stop filming would have been the end of the film. I had no choice but to continue on filming.

I was also concerned about the camera noise I was getting. The noise of the camera was evident, and I hated it. The five words that I hated to say was now a reality, and I knew it would give me more headaches later on. “I’ll fix it in post” were the words I dreaded. Throughout film school I was taught to hate these words. They are a crutch and something that would cost you lots of money, so avoiding it was the order of the day. I was taught that you could avoid this if you planned right, and you can, but there was little time, and again I was stretched too thin. I was just very lucky to find a sound mixer who would do miracles later on. His name was Tom Agnello of Agnello films, and had I known about him earlier I would have given him the job of editing my film.

In the end I came in early on the schedule, but a bit over budget. This filmmaking gig was becoming a major obsession and it wouldn’t stop until a I saw the film projected on the screen at the lab in 2004.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Getting Started!

The next step I needed to do after setting up the company and casting the parts for the movie was to set a date to start filming. At first the start date was in July, but after talking with the actors and crew August was a more realistic date. August 5th was the start date. On August 1st I checked the hotel reservation for cast and crew. Now of course had I an assistant that would have been great, but my assistant had a family emergency, and I was down a person, so that meant more work for me. I enlisted my wife for some of the grunt work, but I had to involve myself in readying the accommodations for cast & crew. Not only did my wife do some extra running around but she also acquired food for snacks and lunches for the first two days. All this while still going to her day job.

Now as you can see I would have saved some money had I hired actors within the Philadelphia area, but remember this all started with an ad in Backstage. I received a majority of the actor’s headshots from actors living in NYC, so I had no choice. It was do or die. At NO time did I have the luxury to say STOP. If I had stopped I would not have started again thereby never finishing the film, so I shrugged and did the best I could. The crew was mostly from Philly. I enlisted two film students from Brooklyn College that my former film teacher recommended. Both Ryan and Alex were the hardest working crew member’s I had, and I have no regrets in hiring them. They were the best, and they gave it their all. They drove to the Philly area themselves, where I provided hotel accommodations for them. Alexandria was to be my camera assistant. She loaded the magazines, and pulled filters, took light readings, set f-stops, and measured my focus. To say that I feel in love with her is an understatement. I owe her a BIG thank-you, and I’ve said this a thousand times, but I will never stop singing her praises. Ryan was my lighting demon. He set the lights in the fastest manner possible, and I NEVER heard him complain. At the end of the shoot I gave both of them some extra film-stock I had left over, which they appreciated being that they needed some filmstock for a project they were working on. My only regret was not giving them more. I had thought I needed more for cut-away’s, and stuff, but I over estimated, and had film left over.

Was it all bliss? No it was not. There were thousands of questions that people came to me for, and I did my best in answering them. I knew what I needed, so that was simple, but I did have arguments with my AD. They were good productive arguments, and I respect that, but my way of filmmaking is much different from the norm.

How’s that you ask? Well I believe in smaller crews where people do more then one job. This can be confusing, but it leads to a much more dynamic crew who can adapt to all kinds of situations. My AD on the other hand believed that I needed more people. More PA’s for instance, and in essence he was right, but I only had limited resources (read limited $$$$), so I was forced into having the crew compliment I had. It all worked out, and my AD adapted which says a lot.

You can get lost in getting dollies, cranes, and steadicams, but this was basic filmmaking. There was no room for all that equipment. I was shooting in existing locations, and I would not have had room for them, so they were not considered. Maybe in my second feature or when I have the budget to do so I’ll consider them, but at this point in the game I could not afford them, and I really didn’t need them. Would I like them? Sure, but not for this project. I needed to get good performances from the actors, and I needed to concentrate on that, yet I still was distracted by the technical things. The reason was that I was also the DP (director of photography). In essence I did too much, and extended myself. It hurt, and helped the film. It hurt during production where my attention was divided, but it certainly helped in the editing stage. By knowing ALL the shots I knew in essence how I wanted the footage cut. My shooting ratio was about 3:1, which means for every three feet I shot I used 1 foot of film. That is a small ratio. I could have gone 4:1, but didn’t. I knew when I liked the shot, and then moved on. There was a lot of dialogue in the film, and the actors had to get it right. They almost always did, but sometimes when they flubbed their lines mid way through the scene I sometimes would pick it up from that point using another camera angle. In essence I was editing it in my head. It helped with the film ratio, and that’s how I used less stock then I intended.

I had a twelve-day schedule, and only shot 11 days. I only extended Karen’s stay by a couple of days so I could get some extra scenes with her and Nick. I also had to accommodate for a change in location when I began to get grief from two of my neighbors on our filming activities. One being a traffic judge and another a retired Philadelphia police officer. More on that later, but needless to say my AD came through for me, and we filmed at his place instead. He even wrote a piece of dialogue that explained the change in location. It worked, and that’s a testament to the cast & crew I had.

The first day went well, but we were all getting used to each other. By the second and third day we found our rhythm. Those days were long days, and hard ones, but we managed. I believe we actually did 15 set-ups in one day. Throughout the shooting I managed to keep it together, but the nights were short, and the days were long & hot. It was the dog days of August, and the lights generated their own heat. Again we pulled through, and it’s because we were a team, and we believed in the project. More to come….