Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Time to Shine, So Shoot!

Once again I'd like to start this with the campaign we have going for Trust Us.  We have now have 37 backers and just over a month left on Kickstarter.  Please support us at:  It's a worthy project to take an interest in, and no matter what you give, you'll already qualify to be on the mailing list and receive periodic updates on our progress.  We've added cool, exciting perks and rewards to those who pledge.  It's just another important stop on our road to wrap.

Anyway, taking over where I left off, by the end of my P.A. career, I had accomplished something everyone should before they call it quits.  I had learned how a set was run, made some important contacts in the industry, and even directed my own short film when I wasn't working.   I was hit hard over the head working in the real world, and it was anything but easy working a few years as a production assistant on various films and commercials.  But as I said last time, an aspiring director who's stuck as a P.A. or at least in production the rest of his or her life, isn't in a very good place.  At some point it's time to show off your skills.  What's the only way to do something like that?  It's time to shine, so shoot!  You need to get yourself out there with something that shows off your creative talent and vision.  That's right, it's time to direct your own independent short film.  If all has been going well, you have not only saved up some money, but you also have people in place you met along your road to wrap that can help you make this happen.  After all, no one makes movies alone, nor should they.

There's a second part of the story I told last time.  The first part was the realization that P.A.-ing was a dead end for me as someone who wants to be a director.  People need to see that you can make a movie, not drive a cube truck into a parked car (not that I ever did that... um, well...).  Let me first say that in my second of three years as a P.A., I took a several month break to do my first indie short film.  It was finished just before this half of my story.  So, the other part of my epiphany here came the next day after I met with my P.A. friend who screamed, "P.A.-ing is a scam!"  I'm not exaggerating; it was the next day!  My current producer, Curtis, was told by a common friend that he had to see my new short film.  Curtis came over that evening and watched.  When it was all over, he turned to me and simply asked me, and he was dead serious, "What are you doing working as a P.A.?"  It was a great question, and I know I asked myself this question all the time.  Those two incidents are where it clicked for me, and it also symbolized my move from P.A. to director.  Okay, fine, it was more gradual than that of course, but it started a new road that day.  If you go back to my film school days, I actually went from being a director, to being a P.A., to being a director once again.  It's actually a strange thing to do, but it's kind of how it usually has to work.  You go from a big fish to a small pond, to a small fish in a big pond, back to a small fish in a lake, to a small fish in an ocean the size of three planets!!!  But seriously, I had enough of learning how a set runs, it was time to do my own stuff.  Rewind a year and I did what I thwell, i say now think was a very smart thing right in the middle of my P.A. days.  I wrote the 23 minute mystery/thriller, Escape from the Night and shot it too.  It just didn't pay off fully until a year later when it made its festival run (for myself) and showed it to Curtis (for the sake of Trust Us).

Escape from the Night is nothing like my student film; I totally went the other way with it.  Get the Hell Out of Heaven was an afterlife, light comedy.  This time I wanted something else to put on my reel: a moody, dark thriller with some drama sprinkled in.  I've always wanted to switch it up in my career as far as genre and feel anyway, so it was cool to just go completely the other way.  I put together a story about a guy tormented by nightmares, and after some rewrites, I was ready to go.

This time I didn't have the help of my college, except for some friends to bring on board as crew.  Equipment wasn't free anymore, auditions weren't organized through the school of course, and advisement from my professor was more or less gone.  More than anything I didn't want to produce it, but of course I got stuck with that too with a little help from my D.P.  Now, money of course is a huge, huge issue when funding your own short film.  I found a few shortcuts that helped me through this to minimize the financial hit.  First off, I had won significant credit towards film stock, development, and negative cutting by winning a couple of awards at the Hofstra Film Festival back when I was a student.  This worked wonders for me.  To add to that, I also worked at an equipment place in exchange for barter towards equipment rentals as my first job out of school.  My D.P., who's also a buddy of mine from class, was able to hook us up with a 16mm camera from the equipment manager at my old college.  Between all of this, trust me (trust you, trust us), we saved thousands of dollars.  Put that with a crew and cast that agreed to work for free, and we were in good shape.  More shortcuts?  I didn't pay for one location during shooting.  I knew enough to keep the script super low budget, and the screenplay didn't call for that anyway.  We shot in my apartment, my parents' house, a public bathroom we were given permission to use, a parking lot outside the city, a cemetery.  It was all free!  Editing costs weren't an issue either.  I had just gotten Final Cut and I did all of it myself.  When I hire me, I work real cheap.  And even with all of this, the short was still expensive to shoot!  A lot of the costs were in post and extra film, and even this can be avoided now with video taking over.  Looking back, I didn't even need an answer print... but I made one anyway.  Now it seems we can finish on DVD for most film festivals.  Things have changed so much in such a short period of time!  I would imagine it's even cheaper to get your own project done on your own budget.  Just don't mix up cheaper with easier.  There's nothing easy about it, but my experience as a P.A. made the shoot much, much smoother than my student film, where I never came so close to calling it quits.

So those are ways to cut costs for yourself, and it worked.  I won't go into all it took to organize everything this time, I'll save that for later.  But know that making your own short is the best thing you can do as an aspiring director.  Escape from the Night became my main road towards meeting my first of what is now two producers, and it just shows people what you can do.  This goes for writing too: how can anyone know you're any good without work to show them?  Working on set in the production department won't do this for you.  It will help you prepare to do this on your own like it did me, but it won't help you strictly as a director.  So if you've been a P.A. and you've spent some time on other director's sets, it's time to shine, so shoot!!!  Doesn't mean you can't work on other people's projects again.  And this doesn't go for directors only... D.P.'s, production designers, camera operator... whatever your interest, take some time off as a P.A. in your department and work on the smaller things so you can actually do what you want to do.  Otherwise, you're shooting yourself in the foot without even firing.  So many people get stuck here, so don't let it happen to you.  You've worked way too hard and are way too talented to let that happen!  I guess sometimes you have to quit something (P.A.-ing) to not quit something more important to you (like your ultimate goal).

So that's that; it's all possible.  Until next time, once again, please check out our campaign at: and don't forget to "like" us at

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Yay, Hurray! You're a P.A.

I bet you'd make the perfect filmmaker.  You've got all the skills: you can sweep a floor super-well, you can drive a cube truck through a city of narrow streets (make those wide turns really count), you know how to stare at equipment for several hours at a time so no one steals it, telling random people not to enter your shot, working 18 hours straight, and you just love, love, love to be yelled at by people for someone else's mistake.  Aren't you so glad you went to film school so you can be awesome at this?!  You're a fascinatingly amazing P.A. now!  So proud of you!  Wait a minute... I didn't go to film school to learn how to tell crowds of people to "shut up."  Hold it, I have to buy and set up snacks... all day?  I don't remember driver's education in college.  Oh, so I MUST have a driver's license to work in film?  Um, I could have sworn I never had to learn how to rush the make-up department in film school... okay, I'm confused.  Wait, I'm not a bouncer, so why do I have to act like one?  Aren't I making a movie?!  Don't worry, folks, this isn't the Twilight Zone... it's movie making alright.

Let's get this straight everyone, they don't teach you how to be a production assistant in film school.  If they told you about it in detail, you probably wouldn't believe it or try it anyway.  You're told how great and fortunate it is to get hired (though not necessarily paid) to be one on a set.  Oh, yes, great film student, you'll learn soooo much.  Well, the hard truth is you do.  You will learn tons and tons about filmmaking, but it's not quite what you may be thinking.  It's the stuff no creative mind wants to learn: how a set runs.  Then what does a P.A. do?  Everything!  It's terrible!  Here's a scenario: a street scene in New York City is being shot.  Every corner in this area has regular people walking back and forth, doing their thing.  The director is trying to get a shot of two actors talking in front of a deli.  Easy enough, right?  No!  People just keep getting in the way!  Some kid can't stop waving at the camera.  I swear, the funniest thing I ever saw stop a crew from shooting was two dogs... well, doing it.  Sadly enough, it's a great example of one of the many reasons why we have P.A.s.  Okay, stop!  Not where I was going with that... PAs don't have it THAT bad.  But, I mean, one of a P.A.'s possible jobs on set is to clear the shot.  You think the director, the cinematographer, or even the assistant director wants to spend time on that?  No way!  They've got bigger fish to fry.  A production assistant's job is literally to assist the production, but it really means you have to do the jobs no one else wants to do or has any kind of time for.  So that's what a P.A. does.  Yay, hurray!  I'm a P.A.!  Awesome, right?

Okay, okay... it's really not that bad.  First off, almost everyone on set has been one before, so you've got that going for you.  They know what it's like and they worked their tails off to never do it again.  Oh, right... I'm trying to explain why it's not so bad.  Sorry, I never said it would be easy to do.  Seriously, though,  a PA is right there in the thick of production.  You'll learn about the set lingo, the purpose of every job, set etiquette, the kind of hours it entails to make a movie, and how to use a walkie.  And hey, you may get hands on experience with equipment, props, the budget, and even be on set... this is how you learn.  You deal with everyone, everywhere!  Still not what you're looking for?  I hate to say it, but it's kind of too bad.  Even if you start in the camera department, grip and electric, or production design, you still have to be a P.A. in that department.  It gets fun, though.  As a writer/director, my interest was watching action to cut on set and watching the talent prepare, that sort of stuff.  If you want to shoot movies, the camera and lighting departments are fun to keep your eye on.  If you are into special effects makeup or something like that, the art department, or sound... you can make your way in there by offering to help them out.  That's how relationships start; that's how you network.  I'm going to state the obvious here: the best way to learn filmmaking is to make films.  You may do that in school, but after that, you have to start by working on other people's movies.  Well, unless you're a millionaire, of course.  But if you're a millionaire and reading this blog, you're wasting your time... buck up and make your movie already!

Okay... I gave you the good and the bad... now for the ugly.  I always like to talk about the day I gave up P.A.-ing, so let me tell you a short story.  I had been working as a P.A. off and on for about three years.  The first year was more on, the second year was more off, and the third was a bit of both.  My first experiences were as a P.A. on independent feature films.  This is the worst you'll get paid and the hardest you'll work, but if you like making features like I do, it's also the most fun and worthwhile.  I had another P.A. friend that used to bail me out of so many things when we worked together.  He did two things I couldn't: parallel park a truck and hear a damn thing on the walkie.  I wasn't the worst P.A., though.  I always showed up, people generally liked me, I did my job, I was enthusiastic, and I didn't complain too much.  Anyway, this P.A. really bailed me out sometimes.  I'd ask him to go to channel two just so he can repeat for me what the 1st A.D. just said.  It's funny and not funny, all rolled into one.

So anyway, this other P.A. went out drinking one night.  He decided he was done, right then and there.  He turned to me and said, "P.A.-ing is a scam!"  I didn't really understand that at first, but then it made sense once it sunk in. isn't a scam like he said, not really.  But, he was right in a way.  If you don't want to be a P.A. for life, or don't want to climb the producer ladder, you are led to believe that's the road everyone must take to get where they want to go in the film business.  The people who tell you this is true, that IS a scam!  You can't do it forever if you want to be a director, a cinematographer, or whatever.  Make sure you switch to the department you want to have a career in.  To me, P.A.-ing was a tough, thankless job.  You get that right and you're promoted to a Key P.A., and that's just a much tougher job with more responsibility.  Want to be promoted to a 2nd 2nd A.D. then?  Are you kidding?!  That's even harder!  Then it just goes on until you somehow turn into a 1st A.D, and to me, that just may be the hardest job on set!!!  It takes a really specific kind of person to be good at that.  If you want to be a producer, you're on your way.  But for someone like me back then, someone who wanted to be a writer/director, know when to move on.  I paid up and did my first independent short film outside of school, and it did wonders for my career.

Financing for my first short wasn't as simple as just paying out of my pocket.  I used a lot of resources I gained along the way and did a lot of it for free, or at least a major discount.  I'll tell you all about it next time, but for now, my advice to young aspiring directors out there is try being a P.A. for a little while, just don't do it forever.  You'll learn the basics of how a set is run, you'll join the majority group of ex-P.A.s, you'll experience things you'll talk about for years (good or bad), and you'll find out exactly how tough you really are.  Once you've been there and done that, it's time to try some directing on a much smaller scale, but I'll explain more on that next time...

Thursday, February 2, 2012

We Aren't Quitters

Before I start, I'd like to take the time this week to once again promote the Kickstarter page for my first feature film, Trust Us.  I've always said in this blog that with the right preparation, drive, and people, making a feature film without knowing anyone in the business is possible.  The Trust Us team is trying something new: crowd funding.  Maybe this idea sounds a bit strange to you, it sure did to me, but now knowing what I know I believe it's just a real fun and exciting way to actually have a hand in the making of a film.   You can help support us by making a pledge right here at:  By doing so, you can get updates on the film and some fun perks to go with it.  The page itself has a video of me pitching the project and explaining a little about Kickstarter and how it works, so at the very least, you can put a face to the words on this page.  We have a great, dedicated team working on Trust Us, and it would be greatly appreciated by all of us.

Remember, simply telling your friends and family about the project is a huge, huge help.  Please "like" our page on Facebook at: and share it with everyone you know on Facebook.  You can also follow us on Twitter at:!/FilmTrustUs.  We have a long way to go, so please spread the word!

Also, I was interviewed on Rex Sikes' Movie Beat a little over a month ago.  If you enjoy this blog, it's really a fun listen and covers things I haven't really gone into here.  It's a great show, and Rex has several other guests that may interest you.  Here's a direct link to my interview if you're curious to hear more about me and the project:

Okay, linked out?  Me too.  Now, with all that business out of the way, I thought I'd write about my early days in college... no, that's NOT where this is going... I'm talking about my film school days.  Every college/university is different, and this was about 10 years ago, but it may apply to you or someone you know.  Not much has changed in football, that's for sure.  The Giants were also in the Super Bowl then, too.  (Shameless G-Men Super Bowl 46 plug).  Anyways, the way it worked for us my senior year in film school was we had a crew of about five.  Yup, FIVE!  That means I got the chance to be the writer/producer/editor/gopher on my own film.  Sounds great, right?  Hell no!

I've always said that quitters make awful writers, directors, producers, actors, and whatever else.  You know why?  Not only are you dealing with rejection and emotional/physical exhaustion, but you also have to deal with the horrible fact that persevering is crazy expensive.  The majority of the people I know left the business for the most unexpected reason of all: money.  This is no joke.  Making a short film, and back when I was in college it was film, is probably the most expensive thing you can do in college besides pay your annual tuition.  In fact, in some cases, that's a real contest.  Why are films so expensive?  Ask any student: film, film development, equipment rentals, insurance... it never ends!  And this is with cast and crew working for free!  Post-production alone... the negative cut, color correction... it'll blow your mind how expensive that is.  I did two short films before Trust Us became my life, which I produced and directed myself.  I don't recommend doing that AND directing at the same time.  You can truly go nuts!  Luckily, these days you can get by with an HD video instead of 16mm film which helps... but that's not so cheap either.

I'll never forget the first day of shooting on my short, "Get the Hell Out of Heaven."  This is about a cop and criminal who accidentally kill each other during a chase, and Death makes a mistake and sends them each to the wrong place in the afterlife.  I was prepared for everything.  I had everything storyboarded, I thought about what I needed on screen and when, and I had a solid crew to back me up with the technical stuff.  I really, truly, was as ready as I could be.... nothing could go wrong...

So we're shooting hell on day one of sync sound shooting, and it was so, so, sooooo symbolic.  Murphy's Law happened: an actor went missing (he was watching another film he did in another building and forgot to tell me), we ran out of film, one crew member didn't show up... it was not a good first day.  I really, truly thought I was going to stick to writing.  I said to myself in all seriousness when I was 22 years old, "I'll never make another movie."  I meant every word of it; I was completely broken that day.  But you know what?  I didn't quit, and it's the closest I've ever come to doing so.  That was 10 years ago.  I haven't had that feeling since.  And you know what?  I got through that day: I ran across campus to find that actor, and he did a phenomenal job in the film.  We called an emergency film lab and we got our film (though it cost a fortune), and we found a replacement for the missing crew member... a friend who was helping as a PA.  In my experience, that's how it works.  You come prepared as possible and expect issues.  You can't hope they won't happen because you'll be disappointed.  They always do happen at all levels.

The next two days of shooting weren't as bad or hard, but they had their bumps.  We got through it.  Honestly, even after I wrapped I was still on the fence about whether I wanted to do this again.  Then I got into post and saw the footage.  That's when I became a madman and got obsessed with it.  The film did pretty well!  I got Runner Up at our school's film festival and the Editing Award.  Even after I graduated it was screened at some film festivals, and with no names in the cast or crew, that's a difficult thing to do.

I guess my point is not quitting is easier said than done, and I know how it feels to want to take the easy road and just do it.  Don't... not if this is what you want to do.  I remember starting film school with something like 40 people my age.  Only about 20 stuck with it.  Only about 10 actually finished their films to answer print.  It's just like writing.  You have to not just come with an idea or even start writing, you have to finish.  Producers want to see your finished work, not your half finished idea.  Who can blame them?  And my short films are what grabbed important people on my project's interest.  It's close to impossible for a first time director to be given the opportunity to make their film.   A first time director with a couple of short films under his or her belt... well, it raises your chances to not quite totally impossible.  I've always liked those odds, because there is a chance, and that's all any of us dreamers need to stay with it.

So, please don't forget: "We're terrible quitters!"  It's the one thing I'll encourage you to be really bad at.  People like us rank in the bottom thousands out of billions in this world at being a quitter.  Don't rise up those ranks!

And again, because I'm a bad quitter, I'd like to say one more time, please help support and spread the word at:

How about that!  Until next time... trust me, trust you, trust us!