I was busy enough last night that I completely forgot to put up a post about anything at all. I spent most of the night working on my outline for Joe Bob the Messiah. There was a point where I needed to add a bit of detail, which I hadn't really thought out yet, so it was time to do some research. And I kept up the research until about 4:30AM when my head started nodding.
Earlier in the evening I did watch a cluster of short films appearing at this year's Sundance film fest. I'm guessing that this is what I would have posted about if I had remembered. So here ya go:
One of the first things I figured out with my GoPro camera is that a really wide lens gives a really distorted viewpoint. Dunking it in a stream on the end of a pole in less than two feet of water, I was able to produce a bit of footage that looked like it was shot in much deeper water. Color graded to look like the blue of the ocean and you'd be hard pressed to correctly identify where it was shot. That's not my opinion. I showed it to a lot of people today and even after I said I shot in the stream in my backyard, they all asked where it was shot. Knowing people can be thrown off so easily is a great piece of information for a no budget filmmaker.
Part of this year's plan is to shoot my short film No Big Deal. The first step towards production was purchasing a GoPro Hero 3 camera. The story takes place almost entirely in a fifteen passenger van. Interior shots will be courtesy of my Canon T2i and possibly a Canon 7D or two. But getting exterior shots of characters through the windows is more difficult. We could put the van up on a trailer and haul it around behind a truck with cameras mounted on the trailer. But that's expensive and a lot of work. Alternately we could get rigs to mount cameras outside but that means risking primary cameras if those rigs fail. Considering how low I want to keep the budget, that is a worrisome option.
Enter the GoPro, a tiny camera designed to give great shots in awkward places. True, I could have simply rented one for less money. But then time constraints become a greater impediment. And frankly, I've been lusting after one for a couple years now. Along with having it for the shoot, I also have it to play with on other flights of fancy.
A lot of people have asked me what the money I was awarded from the FilmColumbia screenwriting lab can do for my film. Now you know the answer.
As for writing, I did not go do outlining as I had implied before. Instead I jumped in and worked on a couple scenes in Hive. One was reconfigured a hair as I try to make the protagonist a bit less competent. It's good for a character to be competent but if they are good at everything they need to do, there isn't a lot of tension. So I'm stripping away skills, most notably the ones needed for the main conflict. Yes, I'm being cruel to my character. She's tough, she can take it. Probably.
The other scene was a brand new one. Which is all I'll say on that. More will follow this evening, assuming I don't get too absorbed in testing out the GoPro.
I don't know where I'm going with this. That goes for both this post and this idea of writing here every day. Once I get into a flow it will get easier and start to feature multiple posts a day as things cross my mind. But I'm not there yet. Spitballing ideas is so much harder to do alone and in print than live with other people. Which is part of the reason I'm doing this. In conversation I find so many great ideas and weird jokes spring to mind without much effort. But when I sit down at the computer, it all dries up.
The ability to generate is there, but the ability to generate it when I need it is the harder part. I don't have a writing partner so leaning on someone else to kickstart that part of my brain isn't an option. In his book On Writing, Stephen King describes his muse as a sweaty fat man who grudgingly shows up to do his magic. The only way King knows to reliably get the muse to put in an appearance is to be sitting at his computer regularly, putting in the time on a consistent regular schedule. If his muse knows King will be there, the muse will show. It sounds more than a bit silly when put in those terms. And yet I've had an experience that bears it out.
National Novel Writing Month occurs every November. The idea is simple. Crank out 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days. Doing the math, it turns out you need about 1,700 words a day to get there. That seems really intimidating and the first time I tried it, I was a lot scared of the idea. But guess what? Sitting down every day without fail made that muse arrive. I'm not the sort to describe the muse as an actual entity. That's just nonsense. But the part of my brain that generates ideas started kicking into gear when it realized I was going to be there every day for this task. It was pretty weird to realize that ideas that did not exist at all toward the beginning of the month were important elements of my novel by the end.
So let's call 2013 my giant sized NaNo. The goal isn't to write a novel, although I won't rule out an attempt along the way. Specifically, I'd like to crank out major rewrites of three feature scripts in the course of the year. At least one I want ready to go for the Nicholl Fellowship. Maybe another for the Sundance writer's lab. We'll see. I'll also need one more draft of my short No Big Deal before shooting it at some point in the year. Most of this material won't be here on the blog, but I will talk about the progress and anything else I can think of.
That's it for today. I'm off to attempt one of my least favorite writing tasks.
Last month I took my first cruise. It wasn't something on my to do list but the opportunity presented itself and I took it. And it turns out cruises are pretty cool. This particular one was a Disney cruise, which didn't really mean much of anything to me. To my wife and kids it was a big deal. They all grew up with Mickey Mouse and friends. I grew up idolizing Bugs Bunny. But that's another story entirely. This one is about the pirate night dance party.
The party kicked off as the sun was setting. This cruise was to Halifax, so this meant the top deck was a rather cold windy place to be. Toss in a dense fog and you have an odd party atmosphere but one very well suited to cool photographs. And as the oddity of seeing Disney characters in pirate gear dancing wildly washed over my brain, it occurred to me that this might make an interesting video. So I switched from stills to video and did my best to capture the moment. This is not my best camera work. I had no equipment to help stabilize the shot, not even my viewfinder. So focus was a best guess and I tried to keep from shivering too much. In spite of all that, I'm pretty pleased with the final product.
In the spring, a pair of robins built a nest in the transom window above our front door. We were treated to a front row seat as they built the nest, laid eggs, hatched them, fed their babies and eventually sent them out into the world. Several times I taped a Flip camera on to the window to film them. Several other times I sat on our stairs, with my Canon T2i trained on the nest, capturing the action as the parents came and went with worms and bugs to feed the chicks. And as luck would have it, my wife dragged me out of bed very early one morning to capture the last baby leaving the nest.
This took me a long time to produce. Partly due to the hours of footage that I needed to sift through but mostly because my desktop suffered a serious breakdown, forcing me to overhaul it. There are a dozen other excuses, none of them particularly interesting. But last night I found out my script Hive had not advanced to the quarterfinals of the Nichol Fellowship competition. That hit me pretty hard but also made me more determined. So I threw myself at this project to finish it. And that made me feel a lot better because I'm pretty damn proud of this.
I put together a quick little short with footage I shot at my son's little league practice.
This wasn't shot with any intention of doing something with it. I make a habit of bringing my camera to every event I go to so I can practice shooting. A few days after the practice I dumped the footage into Premiere because I now had CS5.5 and wanted to see what it could do. The first thing that jumped out at me was that it could use the DSLR footage right out of the box. Previously I had to convert all of my footage with Cineon to get something Premiere CS4 could handle. Even then it was a bit dicey. 5.5 was not put off by my footage at all. It ran smooth as silk. Awesome. It saved a lot of time by not having to convert the footage and it ran so smoothly the edit took no time at all. Love it. And CS6 is supposed to be even better. I can't wait to check that out.
Like every year, I spent a five day chunk of my life immersed in a film festival, FilmColumbia to be specific. It's a great festival and a truly surprising one considering it takes place in small town upstate New York. You know, that mythical part of the state north of "The City."
It was a great time and over five days I saw 18 feature films and a half dozen shorts. If you follow this blog you'll notice I wrote a ton on the movies the first couple days and then stopped. This is normal. After that the number of films starts to become overwhelming and the lack of sleep starts to get to me and I just stop writing. I did mostly keep going on Twitter though.
I would recommend pretty much everything to some degree but of course there are stand outs. Anonymous opens this week and is worth a watch, even if it's just for the shock value of watching Roland Emmerich not blow up the world in a movie. I fell madly in love with Downtown Express, but at this point it doesn't have distributor, so finding it may be tough. If you like a slow burn, Martha Marcy May Marlene is well worth your time. If you want to be greatly unsettled, We Need to Talk About Kevin should be on your to do list. The Descendants is another great offering from Alexander Payne. Coriolanus can simultaneously scratch your action movie and Shakespeare itches. And finally, My Week With Marilyn is immensely charming and beautifully shot.
But for me, the highlight will be the screenwriting panel on Sunday morning. Writers bring in a piece of their script and real working actors perform it live for an audience. I brought in a section of the short script No Big Deal that I've been working on since the summer. I was a nervous wreck during the whole event. Until someone else looks at my material, I don't really know what I have. All I know is that the idea interested me enough to write and that I've done my best to write it. There were some really strong entries and my script was the last to be read. By the time they got to mine, I had convinced myself that I had written utter crap and it would be booed off the stage.
This did not happen. The actors were Anna Acciani, Gian Murray-Gianino, Kevin Craig West, Lily Balsan, Glen Heroy and Parker Posey. They knocked it out of the park. I couldn't be more delighted with their performances, particularly Heroy and Posey who found a style and rhythm to an older couple in the story that I never imagined. And what they did was more interesting than what was in my head when I wrote it. Always leave space in your writing for the actors to work in. If they're at all talented, they'll elevate your material if you don't put them in a straight jacket.
After the reading there was discussion and the reaction was easily the best I've had at one of these events. People were fascinated with the idea and my plan for making it. After it was over I was able to talk to most of the actors and pick their brains about producing this short. To say it was informative is a huge understatement. And after the whole thing was over I actually had people in the audience stop me on the street to talk about it. If you're writing scripts, get them read out loud, you won't be disappointed.
So that's it. The fun is over and now it's time to go back to reality. And that first day back is pure drudgery. After a high like Sunday, Monday at the regular job is a big let down. No offense to my co-workers, who are lovely people, it's just not the same.
Silly me. I forgot to post this here when it was done. I'm getting too wrapped up in the making of shorts and forgetting to show them off.
So what did I learn this time around? Music makes the mood. Obviously I couldn't use the classic NFL Films music on this but I wanted that sort of a feel, so I dug up something similar and when I laid it in to the edit, I was astounded at how the footage came alive. Cutting to match, just amped up the effect even more. For the middle section, I used some silly music because the subjects are little kids and they do silly things. That needed to be part of this.
Difficulties? The color grading this time out was the hardest on any of these shorts so far. The light was not consistent across the field our boys were playing on. It was much darker at on end than the other. And I was using a long zoom lens, so anytime I zoomed during a shot, the aperture shifted and so did my light. Grading this to get a consistent look in all the shots was tough. I'm not entirely satisfied that its perfect but I think I got it to a point where the average viewer won't notice inconsistencies.
I'm also not entirely thrilled with this long lens for video work. It's a Canon EFS 55-250mm f4-5.6. It was the best I could afford. And as a still lens, I'm pretty happy with it. Anytime I use it for video though, I'm underwhelmed. It's too slow and not sharp enough, particularly at full extension. This isn't any sort of excuse for the work, just an acknowledgment that not all of my equipment is well suited for this work. But I make the best of what I have. There's no budget for the really good stuff and since I'm working small scale for now, renting better lenses doesn't make any sense.
That's minor grumbling. The point is to get the highest quality out of what I have. Up next will be a cute little short of my son playing a news anchor. All sorts of wild technologies will be involved in this short like lighting, green screen and synch sound. Oh yeah, it's getting crazy around here.
And here it is, Mud & Mayhem, my attempt to bring the joys of a demolition derby straight to your computer. A friend of mine takes part in these events and he talks my ear off about them for half the year. The other half of the year he talks about hunting deer. And that sums up where I live pretty effectively. But I have to admit, I like going to the derby at the fair every year. No, this is not intellectual entertainment. But a lot more thought and care goes into these things than you might expect. There's even a fair bit of strategy involved.
We've talked about the possibility of making a documentary about demolition derbies. It seemed like a silly idea when he first suggested it but the more I look at this sport, the more I see the possibilities. So this short may be a teaser trailer to something bigger down the road.