Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Shoot Me!

I know they say directors should take acting classes to better understand their actors.  I get it and I agree.  But this isn’t about that.  This is about being you and not acting, but kind of acting while being you.  Lost?  Me too.
Basically, I need to make a video of myself pitching The Hunter’s Anthology.  One of the things I don’t think about, being a director, is how I really have to be able to sell myself.  Pitches, interviews, Q & A’s, announcements… I mean dammit, Jim!  I’m a director, not an actor!  Well, that’s sort of true, but being a director means you are the spokesman of your film.  You’re its poster boy… or girl.  You’re the one everyone has to like or they won’t want to see your film.  This goes for securing financing through investors, crowdfunding, and media.  You have to show passion for your movie or no one will buy into it.  If you’re not excited, why would anyone else be?  You have to convince everyone that your movie is worth making.  And you know what?  You’re alone!  In this case, for such a collaborative industry as filmmaking, unless you’re co-directing, you truly are alone.  No one can do this but you, the director.  It’s your baby, your vision, and in many cases your idea too.  No one wants to hear about your movie from anyone but you.  It’s up to YOU to draw people in… and honestly, it’s a lot of pressure and it kind of sucks.
So, for now I have to shoot a video of myself to post on the coming crowdfunding site.  Talking about my movie should be easy enough, right?  Who in their right mind directs a movie they don’t absolutely love and want to talk about?  No one! If you don’t love your movie, you shouldn’t be pitching it.  Hell, you shouldn’t be making it!  Investors know that.  Fans know that.  We know that.  So, logistically, shooting a pitch video of me explaining my movie is easy, because I 100% believe in every project I create or take on, right?  No.  Nope.  Nooooooo.  It’s so friggin’ hard!
Why?  Because I know I’m on camera.  It changes everything.  You know what they teach you first thing in acting class that can take many, many years to master?  (And some never do).  Not being self-conscious.  But I am.  I’m not trained in that way.  Most directors, heck, most people, are self conscious on camera.  You see, this is what’s going on in my head as I try to get my pitch video right: “The camera is looking at me.  Act natural.  Don’t stumble.  I’ve pitched this a million times in person.  I just have to talk about it ONE more time!  I’ll never get it right.  Why can’t I do this?!”
All this is kind of therapeutic for me as I try for the fourth time to get this right this weekend.  Look, I wouldn’t call myself a shy or self-conscious person.  I’ve done live Q&A’s, on-air interviews… all that.  They aren’t easy, but I get through them.  I’m not coming from a super-shy place.  But it’s something about the camera, knowing I have one take to get a lot of information right… it’s intimidating.  It’s hard!!  I have someone filming who just wants me to get it right.  I’m tired of all these takes.  I can’t remember what I was saying.  I’m losing steam.  I sound ridiculous.  I look uncomfortable.  I sound nervous.  I need this video to even begin to think of raising finances for The Hunter’s Anthology.  Push your fears aside and do it!  You’ve done it a hundred times off camera.
So my advice to myself (still need to take it), and everyone taking this on: Tell the camera what you are doing, as you would to anyone at a party or pitch meeting, pitch the damn thing ONE more time.  The way you always would.  I’m working on that.
I’m not an actor.  I watched an old pitch I did for Trust Us when we went on Kickstarter years ago and found myself, well… kicking myself.  I was overdoing it.  Don’t overdo it; be you.  To attract attention for our movie, we need to be the director that attracts backers, and when it comes down to it, they want to hear about your project from YOU and no one else.  It’s a lot when being in front of a camera is something you’re not used to.  No one can stand in as you.  So sit back, relax, tell your story, explain why you love it, and see what happens.  You might just realized you just had some fun when you’re done.
What’s the worst thing that can happen?  You can always delete it and try again.  And again… until you get it right.
Next time I’ll let you know how I did!  Four’s a charm??
THA trailer:
THA teaser:
THA Official Facebook page:
THA on Twitter: @HunterAnthology

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Fix it in Post!

“Fix it in post!”  That’s such a common phrase in the film industry.  People don’t like to hear it because it usually means something went wrong while shooting.  That can be true, but it’s not always true.  As an editor in NYC for many years, I’ve noticed one thing is soooo, sooo, sooo true: you can fix A LOT in post!!  Maybe not absolutely everything, but A LOT.  On top of that, every year that goes by, that list of what you can fix keeps going up and up and up.  I thought this would be a good time to discuss ways to tweak issues easily in post, whether these issues came about intentionally or were actual mistakes:
1) Size: Sometimes you decided after seeing the dailies that a shot is too wide.  Maybe something was at the edge of the frame you wanted to lose.  Want to fix it in post?  No problem, just zoom in on the frame using your editing software.  Now that we have 4k and HD, as long as you don’t go too far in, no one will even notice.
2) Speed: We have a really cool shot (spoiler alert!) of Mac’s boot in our full The Hunter’s Anthology: Prologue.  As you will see when it is posted, it’s a very specific and hard to set up kind of shot.  The slightest movement could ruin everything.  This is mostly because three things have to happen here: a camera tilt, a rack focus, and the timing of the boot itself.  If anything goes wrong, the whole shot becomes unusable.
Due to this, we had a lot of takes and only one chance to do it.  It was our first shot, and the precision necessary for it was holding everything up.  So in post I took the best focus (because that is one thing that you really can’t fix), sped up the movement and focus of the skyline, which was too slow, then slowed down the speed of the boot’s step, which was too fast!  Suddenly, poof, just as I imagined!  Check this off as a definite “fix it in post” event.
3) Shakiness: Another challenge was, due the type of permit we had to shoot in NYC, we always planned we’d go handheld the entire way.  No tripod allowed.  Because of our budget, we didn’t have proper permission to use one.  Most shots were fine, but it’s inevitable that the director of photography was going to lose some stability after 12 hours of shooting with a heavy camera in what feels like 5 degree weather all night.  So, in order to use some of the shakier takes, the “Smoothcam” filter for whatever editing software you’re using (in my case Final Cut Pro 7) can fix this.
4) Not enough shots: Sometime after shooting something, even after hours of prep, I realized we didn’t have enough visuals to cover our 4 page or so long voiceover.  To be fair, my DP did warn me of this.  Luckily, he knew to grab random shots here and there between takes to save my butt.  But as far as fixing in post, another thing I did was cover some space with a shot I found before a take.  You’d never know it, but one of my longest shots (and one of my favorites) was shot before I even said action!  Can you find it?  Hint, it’s in the trailer:
5) Color Correction Perfection: Another thing I wanted to do was shoot a lot of random shots of the city to get us in the mood at the beginning of the prologue.  I wanted to set the mood of New York City at night, so my goal was to get skyline and street shots.  We really didn’t get enough of this.  Again, it was freezing, and we quickly decided that since we had our actor one day, we had to shoot all his takes, then save city shots without him for later.  By then we were done, and planned another day to just do that.  It was probably a good idea.  The crew was ready to call me a demon and kill me, and with David Lee McInnis all decked out as Mac carrying a stake, I didn’t want to test the theory.
Anyway, long story short, when we were ready to do the extra shots another day, we realized it would be a lot cheaper to use a different camera for it.  Yes, some shots in the teaser,, trailer, and prologue are not even from the same camera as the main shoot.  And trust me, it looked very different at first!  How did I fix this in post?  Color correction.  It’s absolutely amazing what you can manipulate while not being a professional color corrector.  I did that in Final Cut Pro 7 as well, and all professional editing software programs will do the same for you.  So that’s what I did:  I manipulated how much blue and red was in all the shots.  The brightness, the shading,  the saturation, everything you can think of… I matched it  Once again, FIXED in post!
6) Stock footage.  Another quick fix you can only do in post is using (and usually buying) stock footage.  We didn’t have a shot of the skyline.  I wanted one so bad.  I felt it was essential to open up with a strong shot of us looking at a far view of the city at night.   We had plans for different spots.  But no, no… no way.  A helicopter shot?!  We didn’t shoot it… but we BOUGHT it!!!  Yup, stock footage all the way.  I’m telling you, it looks like it came from the same camera!  Amazing what you can do.
So there you go.  Take it from an editor, you CAN fix it in post… unless you royally screwed it up.  If you royally screwed it up… hey, you’ve got reshoots.  There’s always that.
If I just stopped one person from panicking that there’s nothing they can do to fix the film they just shot, then I’ve done my job.  Remember, us filmmakers aren’t quitters.  Take my advice: fix it in post!
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Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Light, the Weather, and the Wardrobe

Okay, so the 4-page script was set, the crew was hired, and I had my star.  We were ready to shoot it all in one night in January.  Simple enough, right?  Well, no.  We of course had many challenges, as always with a shoot, even if it was only one night.  Three things come to mind:
1) The Light: I had the natural challenge of having enough light for an exterior night shoot.  This was a low, low, low, low budget shoot.  Can’t tell by looking at the trailer or teaser?  Neither can I!  Awesome, right?  You be the judge... link to trailer: To the teaser: (See how I did that?  Did you look??)  Anyway, we only had a couple of small, bright lights.  Unless greatly lit, we could only shoot so far away until we lose our main light.  So, in advance we did some scouting and tests, finding the most lit up parts in our area of the city to compensate for that, and it worked!
2) The Weather:  Having a one-day exterior shoot, we were stuck with the elements for better or worse.  If it rained, this prologue would take place in the rain, if it snowed (which was a real possibility at the time), then this had to take place in the snow… and so on.  It was January at the height of the coldest winter we’ve had in NYC in years.  I mean FREEZING!   The shoot went from something like 6:45pm to 3:15am during a temperature of 17 degrees and wind chill of something much less.  It was awful.
The good news was no one complained, including David as Mac, (David Lee McInnis who was stuck in his wardrobe that was warm, but quite honestly, not nearly warm enough for what we were in for.  We made sure we had a place to go to warm up between takes: a Starbucks, a McDonald’s, small shops still open… hey, that’s the advantage of shooting in a city: there’s always something open, right?!  Eh, once you get used to the cold, you forget about it.  That’s filmmaking, right?  Yeesh, I think I got the chills just thinking about it.  So yeah, we got through it like all film crews do.  My arm broke off the next day, but I was fine.  Kidding.
3) The Wardrobe: This was more leading up to the shoot, but it counts because the final touches were done that night.  This was THE night we had David, our actor.  And Mac’s wardrobe isn’t just some simple outfit.  It required a lot of thought.  His outfit is very specific in the script, and because there is no dialogue, I wanted to reveal much of Mac’s character simply by looking at him.  I had the complete outfit in my head: a long overcoat, big booming boots, a wooden stake hanging from his leather belt, and long, stringy hair popping out of a concealing, Western influenced hat.
Mac is old.  Real old.  But I wanted to have him wear modern versions of old.  Mac wears a hat because that’s what he grew up doing.   He’s also not an antique hat collector, so he doesn’t own anything from the past century.  In fact, his character is really always on the move, so he doesn’t collect anything at all.  Still, they allow this kind of thing in movies all the time.  The truth is if he kept a real hat that old, just touching it would probably make it crumble.
So what did I do?  I had about a month to gather things.  Did I go to NYC to shop in every thrift and antique store I could find?  No way!  As youtube sensation Sweet Brown would say, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”  So I did the next best thing.  I went to Amazon Prime and Ebay!  Through those two sites I got it all, even down to an 80’s mullet wig I never even saw in person.  When I put it on, I looked like a cheap 80’s rock star wannabe.  When we put it on David Lee McInnis (and hair and makeup gave it a trim), he looked like Mac!  Was I smart to order stuff I never saw in person or was I lucky?  Maybe a bit of both, but because I knew I would have hair/ makeup and wardrobe to help out, it gave me faith I could pull it off.  Turns out everything turned out just as I imagined.  Orders arriving last minute and making sure it was the proper size, that was much more the luck part!  I mean, I got the hat the day before shooting.  Yeah, kind of important!!!  Anyway, I think the results were awesome.
Next up: Post-production on The Hunter’s Anthology: Prologue and some of the challenges we faced after everything was in the can.
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More exciting stuff coming as we get closer to launching our campaign!