Thursday, June 8, 2017

Picturing Your Picture

Storyboarding: a shot-by-shot visual aid for your film.  I’d like to share how I create my storyboards in preparation for my films, but first I want to explain why they are so important to you and your crew.

DPs love storyboards because they immediately can see for themselves what the director is going for visually, and they can see it early.  This gives them time to think about it, make suggestions, adjust, and perfect the director’s vision by adding their own creative touch to it.  They also may have to add their practical touch as well: sometimes locations force shots to be adjusted to fit the space, and these are just a few of the things they now can start thinking about in advance.  This is a great thing!  Now almost everything can be hammered out in pre-production, which means it doesn’t have to be hammered out on set!  Time on set is valuable and expensive, so by the time you’re in production, you want just about everything firing on all cylinders before you begin.

Preparation is the main ingredient to a smooth and relaxed set, and storyboards provide a ton of information for a ton of people you can’t get from anywhere else.  The 1st assistant directors love them, as it helps them properly plan the whole day of your shoot by working out the most efficient order to organize scenes, angles, the tightness of the shot, and predicting all the lightning setups needed in a day.  Now they can provide the most well prepared shooting schedule and shot list order possible.  The storyboard also draws a map for your script supervisor as he or she is getting familiar with continuity and the script.  Another department that will benefit is the art department.  They’ll use it to properly prepare themselves for what props and set decoration they’ll need to bring into each shot.  My point is, in my experience I’ve found that crews absolutely love storyboards.  I haven’t had a complaint yet.

That said, I know a lot of people who don’t like to draw storyboards.  I get it: it’s a lot of work and not everyone’s comfortable doing it.  For me personally, it’s actually one of my favorite parts of prep.  It’s probably because I’ve doing it my whole life.

As much fun as school is for a 9 year old (sarcasm off), I did tend to get bored in class, and my mind would soon wander into daydreaming.   I’d usually draw stories in my notebook instead of listening and I got in trouble all the time for it!  My first form of creative writing basically looked like horribly drawn comic books filled with talking heads and bubbled dialogue.  They spoke, threw punches, jumped buildings, flew into the sky, and got the girl… I just kept the story going, and going, until they became “sequels.”  Then they became “issues,” then “double-sized special editions”… I’m not kidding.  When I look back and read these, they actually look a lot more like storyboards than comic books.  In high school these stories took the form of prose, then in college progressed into screenplays (at least for me).  If you’re a filmmaker or writer you may have a similar story.

It’s only part of what you’re eventually going to shoot.  You have to capture everything mainly because in the final edit, who knows what’s truly going to be off-screen? What you picture can be changed based on performances, camera work, coverage, mixing takes, and so much else.

Anyway, I honestly have no idea if other people do it my way because I have always done my own storyboards, but the method I’m about to explain really works for me.  Hopefully it can help you too.  I don’t storyboard an eventual completed version of what I plan to see as a final product.  Instead, I account for all my options and shots I’ll use, including reaction shots and alternate angles.  OK, that may have not made much sense.  Basically, my storyboards tend to line up better with a shot list than a linear story.  I'll explain…

First, a quick disclaimer: I am not an artist at all, and my drawings look almost the same as they did when I was 9 years old.  That’s the best way I can prep you.  It’s a type.  It’s a style.  People on set were “amazed” and “fascinated” by my storyboards.  I’m still not sure if I was being complimented or insulted!  Either way, IT’S HOW I DRAW!  So without further ado, here’s an example of my chicken scratch/brilliance:


I think ahead and try to save time later, so I do my shot list and storyboard simultaneously.  Therefore, I storyboard each shot for every scene.  Here’s an example of a typical two shot with coverage for two characters from “The Fortune Maker.”  Also note that I put the starting and finishing dialogue in the description, along with some basic shot and movement info.



I now clearly recognize that my handwriting is near impossible to read (ha, and I was mentally preparing you for the artwork) but this is all part of one scene.  MS means “medium shot,” MCU means “medium close-up,” and the dialogue begins with Tabitha saying “I have another story…” and then ends with Madame Renee saying “…four cards left.”  Everything that happens in between is what these panels represent.

Still referring to the example above, I don’t think a lot of people do this, but I number these scenes (or partial scenes) and add letters based on its variations.  So #1A is a two shot of Tabitha and Madame Renee.  1B is Tabitha’s coverage, and 1C is Madame Renee’s coverage.  Sometimes opportunities I like to call “money shots” present themselves.  For example, if I want to do a creative shot of someone dropping their coffee as an extreme low angle shot, such as Rod did in “Lust Potion Number Who Cares,” I’d create a “money-shot” and call it “1D.”


And finally, we also can’t forget “inserts.”  Let’s say I want a close-up of my character picking up his cup of coffee.  Then I’d add that as another letter to the shot list, “1E.”

Maybe I need even more shots here, and if I do, it just continues.  This may drive some people mad on set, but once explained, I think it works really well.  The good news?  I’ve never gotten even close to “Z.”

The best thing about this is you can easily correlate the shot from the storyboard to the shot list.  This method may take some extra time in prep, but I find it saves even more time on set when I need it most.

Again, don’t forget to include your “money shots!"  There isn’t one I put in the storyboard that didn’t make The Hunter’s Anthology; these are the shots that make your film interesting visually.  Without it, the work comes out pretty predictable and ordinary.

Storyboarding has been a very important tool for me when prepping for a shoot.  It helps the entire process on set go smoother and keeps everyone (not just the DP) in the know.  I can’t imagine directing without it.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Shoot and the Site

Happy New Year!  It’s been another long hiatus, but I have a couple of good reasons why.  First, we wrapped on the Lust Potion Number Who Cares episode months back.  Second, I’ve been working on it in post since.  Finally, two out of our six stories are finished.  That means we’re a third of the way there!

The Lust Potion Number Who Cares shoot went great (that’s me on the right in the picture above).  Eric Colton (left) returned as potential-demon-on-the-subway, Rod, a man falling for his co-worker and stumbles upon a magic potion shop.

Newly announced cast members include Jacob A. Ware as his friend, William, and Adrianna Bremont as Carol.

Also joining the team was Sue Lee, special effects make-up artist and semi-finalist on the second season of popular sci-fi reality series Faceoff.  I’d tell you about the effects she did, but that would be about as spoilery as it gets.  You’ll just have to watch the episode when it’s available yourself!

The other big news is that I have finally published my new website for Smithline Films back in November.  This really has all the information you’ll need on my past, current, and future projects featuring The Hunter’s Anthology, Trust Us, and more.  It also has all our THA videos from our indiegogo campaign, pics from the key scene shot for Trust Us, and trailers from some of my past short films.  It’s a total hub for all my projects.  Don’t get too excited.

I also recently posted The Hunter’s Anthology: Lust Potion Number Who Cares episode trailer.  If you missed it, here it is:

And The Hunter’s Anthology: The Fortune Maker in case you missed that:

And finally, here’s a link to my website, where there’s these and several other videos, pictures, information, and links:

I think it’s now a running joke now to say an entry about location scouting is coming up.  Still hasn’t happened. Will I ever get to it? Do UFOs really exist?  Who IS the demon?  These are the burning questions in life that consume us daily.  Until next time…

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Best Problem I've Ever Had!

Well, I have a bunch of big announcements to make... and with PICS!  The Road to Wrap has gone visual.  Amazing!

First, we’re shooting more THA!!  We have some of the budget leftover, and thanks to some Nicky Akmal genius producing/budgeting/ass-kicking, we’re going to finish up The Hunter’s Anthology: Lust Potion Number Who Cares in April!

Here’s two pics from the set of The Fortune Maker, shot back in October:

And here’s a couple of photos from the first half of Lust Potion Number Who Cares, shot that same week:

We have some good ideas, so stay tuned for some more news on that front, too.  Check out the Three Amigos out for a meeting (I sort of just coined that and I’m going to get torched for it):

We also have a trailer coming soon, a first look at The Hunter’s Anthology: The Fortune Maker:

Finally, I have officially started up my new production company, Smithline Films.  I’m working on creating a website, Facebook page, etc. and that should be up sometime in the next few months.  I’ll post some of my previous works, behind the scenes photos, links to this blog, reels, updates, and whatever else I can think of as soon as the site is ready to go.

Anyway, juggling two projects and a new company may be the best problem I’ve ever had!  I promised to write about location scouting this time, but I had to put these announcements up first.  So, you know, once again… next up: location scouting.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Crew Awakens

Here’s my second entry on “prep,” this time focusing on our crew.  There’s a whole lot that goes into it, and there are more jobs to fill than one might think.  But The Hunter’s Anthology is running on crowdfunding, so we definitely went with the bare minimum.  Lucky for us, you’d never know, because the result is incredible.  Here’s a breakdown for some key positions.  For those in the business, you probably know this already, but for those that aren’t, introducing these key positions could prove interesting:

Camera: The first thing to get covered is making sure you have a good director of photography, or DP. The DP is responsible for several key elements, most importantly translating the director’s vision and overall look to the screen.  They also have to know all the technical aspects of the camera (if they don’t it’s gonna be a looooong shoot) and hopefully adding their creative ideas to enhance what the director has originally planned.  I was lucky in that way.  I was prepared with a clear storyboard, but Ben added to those ideas and helped me take it to another level. He also was able to tell me what I could and couldn’t do based on the location and equipment the production could afford.  Just as important, the director and DP have to get along.  I was lucky there too.

1st AD: The first assistant director is very important.  They basically run the set, making sure everything is running on schedule.  We were on a pretty darn tight schedule for The Hunter’s Anthology, so I did have limited time for setups (camera department) and the amount of takes shot (me), did have a time limit.  It’s rare that a director feels he got everything on such a small budget film, but I really did feel that way.  That’s a heck of a feeling.  No reshoots required.  Trinidy, our AD, really was aware of the time we had left on our days and was diplomatic about it.  Diplomacy is huge for an AD.  Their attitude usually reflects everyone’s attitude.  That and the attitude of the director.  Trinidy, and Nicky, and I are pretty positive and friendly in general, and I think that made for a happy set.  And trust me, happy sets are awesome!

Scripty: Attention to detail.  That’s the most important thing for a script supervisor.  I thought I knew my script inside and out because I wrote the damn thing, but believe it or not, I just don’t have every line and movement memorized.  When we’re shooting, I’m so busy looking at the shots and performances that I can’t follow along with the script.  Scripty is there to tell me what’s supposed to happen and when, if there’s any lines skipped, or if things are happening differently than what’s on the page.  I think an even harder part of the job is keeping up with continuity so the editor doesn’t lose his mind in the editing room.  Daniella, our script, was very on top of things.  She’d say something like: “Madame Renee’s hand was there in the last shot so it has to be there now,” or “that candle was here while Tabitha was tying up her hair.”  Or, “Wait, doesn’t she have to look to her left before she says this line?  That’s how we did it yesterday.”  This is soooo important.  Actually, the big continuity nightmare of shooting “The Fortune Maker” was the Tarot cards.  We had to spend a lot of time rigging them for consistency the whole shoot!  Which cards are face up, which are part of this reading, how are they placed?  We had three decks: The first reading, the second reading, and the random cards to shuffle.  It was quite the challenge, but we did it!

Production Designer: The production designer is in charge of the set.  He or she doesn’t actually shoot the film, but he or she creates the world that is shot.  We hired our production designer Jack literally on the first day of shooting.  We thought we weren’t going to have a production designer at all, but I’m glad that didn’t happen.  He helped us turn an Airbnb basement apartment in Brooklyn into a fortune teller shop in Manhattan!  It was very convincing: hanging sheets to hide the bed and kitchen, lighting candles (real and fake) to create the mood, and providing strange mystical stuff to hang on the walls.  You’d never know it wasn’t a fortune teller’s place onscreen.  One of my favorite props he created?  The lust potion.  Not sure he liked it so much, but that’s a funny story for another time.

Sound: What good is a beautifully shot film when the audio quality isn’t good?  Scratching, background noise, improperly placed mics, these things can kill the credibility of your film real fast.  In my opinion, sound is the most underrated technical part of a movie.  It really makes or breaks it.  Bad sound takes an audience completely out of it, so good sound is really, really a big deal.  I was lucky enough to find Andrew, someone who had an ear for things the rest of us couldn’t hear.  He also was able to mix on the spot, and was skilled with wireless mics and boom.  All of this is critical during shooting and he did it all.

Those are just some of the many jobs on set.  I didn’t mention grip and electric, hair/makeup, assistant cameramen, production assistants, special FX makeup, and everything else.  Considering we worked with about as small a crew as possible, I’m grateful to have the product I have now.  Next up: location scouting.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Spelling the Cast

Even though we wrapped a portion of The Hunter’s Anthology a couple months ago, I’m going to go back and write about my experience of directing what is so far the equivalent of a short film (and a half.)  After the crowdfunding campaign we had some of our budget and some of our cast, but for me, there was still work to be done.  There was also much more for Nicky, my producer, to do.  From a writer/director’s perspective, there’s certain things I had to do in a very short period of time.  This is my first entry about “prep,” starting with casting:

For those of you who have not been following The Road to Wrap, I had to cast two more roles before shooting.  For “The Fortune Maker,” about a woman having her fortune read, we had already cast Marilyn Oran as Madame Renee but I still had to find Tabitha, the protagonist.  She is not only the protagonist of this story, but she’s also one of the passengers on the subway with Mac, the demon hunter.

The search was on for Tabitha, and it wasn’t easy.  After all, this is a story about two characters sitting in a room for 20 minutes.  They have to be able keep the audience interested.  I had only three weeks to get it done, and after watching several video auditions, I was lucky enough to receive one from Janna Bossier.  She made all the right choices and understood the role.  Without giving too much of the story away, I needed to find a balance between a woman who is not only desperate, but also mysterious.

I called Janna the day I got the video and offered her the part right on the spot.  I was that sure because she was that good.  Next thing I knew, Janna was coming to NYC in two weeks.  It can happen that fast.

The other part that needed to be cast was in the other story, “Lust Potion Number Who Cares.”  I had already cast Eric Colton as Rod, a man in search of a love potion.  But, I didn’t yet have my magic potion shop owner, Mooni. Mooni is not an easy role: she’s a bit of a cougar, and she provides some much needed comic relief in what becomes a pretty dark, 5th tale in The Hunter’s Anthology.  Another last minute search was on, and I finally came across Yoko Hyun’s info.  When an audition makes you laugh out loud, you know you’re in great shape.  I was all set!

Anyway, how do I approach casting?  There are many different ways a director can, but I’ll tell you what works best for me.  I like to start by sending a one paragraph character description of the part to give some exposition and basic emotional descriptions of the character for the actor.  They need some idea of who this character is.  I do not, however, send any direction.  This way, the actor is free to make their own choice.  I want to see where they go on their own.  It also provides an opportunity later to see how they take direction.

I also send 3-4 pages of sides from the script, separated into two different scenes.  This provides opportunities for two different key emotions or mindsets.  Maybe I’ll have a scene of Tabitha desperately wanting her fortune read.  What choices will the actor make for setting up the story?  Then there’s a real turn in the plot I won’t give away.  What’s her reaction to that?  It’s a totally different place for her emotionally.  Then, thanks to modern technology, the requested auditions are emailed to me as videos.  It’s so much easier now: rather than taking a whole day to rent a place to squeeze in 100 auditions in a row, I can click on it whenever I feel like it.

I know a lot of people will say good actors can make wrong choices during an audition, especially with minimal information.  I understand that, and it’s my job as a director to know if it’s a result of the actor’s skill or if it’s another good choice I just wasn’t looking for.  I have always thought the closer the actor is to what you were thinking, the less work needs to be done on set, or in general.  It’s usually true.  But sometimes if I really like the audition and I feel a little direction can help, I’ll ask for another audition with direction.  It has worked with some and hasn’t with others.  You just never know.

Don’t get me wrong, I love working with actors and spending time with them on their performance.  It’s a team effort, and it’s actually my favorite thing to do on set.  But if they are too far away from what I want, it can cause production issues, and you never know if they’ll ever get there in the short period of time you have.  That’s when it shows on-screen later and the project suffers.
That said, I’m really big on rehearsing with the cast before shooting.  It’s so important.  Here I gather the cast and leave the floor open to questions about the script.  Then we read through to iron out everything and make sure we’re all on the same page so we’re all set for the shoot.

These are just a few things that work for me, but it may not work for you.  Casting is only a part of prep… next up: gathering your crew!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

A New Wrap

Hello fellow hunters!  So much has happened since my last post, so we’ve got some catching up to do.  I’ll start with an update for now, but I promise you there’s some really interesting stuff coming that’s all things THA!

Last month I was back in my director shoes (I love those shoes) and had a five day shoot thanks to YOU and our crowdfunding campaign.  Of the 6 stories within the Hunter’s Anthology, we were able to finish one and start another.  The one we finished is the first of the tales, called “The Fortune Maker.”  This stars Janna Bossier as TABITHA, a young woman in desperate need of Tarot reading, and Marilyn Oran as MADAME RENEE, a fortune teller with a 100% guaranteed policy.  Their performances were nothing short of amazing.  In fact, the whole shoot was a smooth success.  We got everything we needed, and being in the post-production process right now, it’s coming together beautifully.

Also on board was director of photography Ben Wolf, who really added a great visual style and a load of experience in helping us achieve something great.  I also want to send out a huge, huge thank you Nicky Akmal, our producer, for bringing everything together from the start, and helping us make this happen!

The other story we started was “Lust Potion Number Who Cares,” which stars Eric Colton as ROD and Yoko Hyun as MOONI.  I haven’t put it together yet, but some of the takes were hilarious.  We were going for comic relief amongst a dark story, a great combo, and that’s just what we got for this one!

So the blog is back and I’m looking forward to writing about all I experienced and learned: prepping, shooting, finishing.  For all those new directors just starting out, you might find it helpful.  For those who aren’t in the film world, you just may find it interesting.

Either way, I just wanted to check in during this busy (and super-exciting) time and let you know that things are moving at a faster pace than ever.  For those interested, stay tuned for more on my Road to Wrap!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Woahhh, We're Halfway There...

The Hunter’s Anthology has raised over 20k, more than half our goal, and we are a GO!  It’s not a matter of if we’ll shoot anything anymore, but a question of when.  This is very exciting news as we draw closer to the end of our indiegogo campaign!

How far can we get and how much of the feature can we shoot?  It’s still up to how much money we raise.  Still, the fact that’s it’s happening is a really cool feeling, so thanks to everyone who has contributed and/or has spread the word to make this happen!

I’ve been very caught up in the crowdfunding campaign and have been spending a lot of time working on video updates, maintaining the site, and posting on social media.  As soon as this phase ends, I’ll be starting pre-production, so there should be a lot to write about soon.  For now, if you haven’t already and have a moment, please check out our really fun video updates.  There’s a lot of info on what’s been happening and the people involved in The Hunter’s Anthology so far.

You can see them all here at our indiegogo site:

Or, here’s an individual list of links to youtube of the videos I’ve posted.  Lots of good stuff here if you’re interested in The Hunter’s Anthology and still there’s more to come:

My pitch video, introducing the project:
The full prologue of The Hunter’s Anthology that we shot last winter:
David Lee McInnis as MAC:
Eric Colton as ROD:
Marilyn Oran as MADAME RENEE:
Sara and Pricila Lopez as JENNIFER & JESSICA:
David Lee McInnis’ Actor’s Reel of other work:
My onscreen interview of David Lee McInnis:
Nicky Akmal, our producer:

And please don’t forget to JOIN THE HUNT!  There’s still over a week left!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Join the Hunt!

OK, everyone, I have exciting news!!!  This is it.  The crowdfunding campaign for The Hunter’s Anthology is underway!

So for those who may follow this blog and haven’t been showered by the social media posts, shares, and tweets, instead of a regular blog entry, I thought I’d explain to you what crowdfunding means for The Hunter’s Anthology.

We are trying to reach our goal of 40k to make our first 3-4 episodes of the web series.  Admittedly, this is not an easy task.  Anyone can donate from $5 all the way to thousands to enjoy some of the perks we are offering.

Check out the crowdfunding site.  Worst case, you can see all the videos we’ve just launched, such as my pitch video, starring me!  Eh, not enough?  Fine, how about the full 4 minute prologue starring David Lee McInnis as the demon hunter of NYC named Mac!  You can also find a summary of all the short stories within the anthology.  There’s a third video of a newscast with people on the street who claim to have SEEN him.  Not enough?  We’ve also just updated the site with a fourth video where David Lee McInnis talks a bit about playing Mac.

You could get a DVD with behind the scenes footage, a credit in the film, a day on set, or be IN the movie!  There’s other perks too.  Anyway, I don’t want to go to crazy with this, because this isn’t the usual place for me to promote my crowdfunding site, but I’ve got to do it once.  Our cast and crew really want to be able to make this happen, and we all very much believe in the concept!  We hope you do too and that you’ll JOIN THE HUNT at:

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

I Shot Myself and Lived!

So this is kind of a part two to my last entry.  I went for it.  Fourth time’s a charm.  I made a pitch video to go up on our crowdfunding site.  Believe it or not, I think I nailed it.   I think.
What was my secret?  Here it is: I just went outside, pulled out a director’s chair, and planted the camera.  I didn’t have anyone there.  I also memorized what I had to say so I wouldn’t ever stumble and look awkward.  No pressure from anyone anymore.  I was on my own time, and I had all the time I needed.  I could relax.  So I set the camera down and just hit record.  That’s how I stayed comfortable.  I also had perfect lighting this time because I was outside on a nice day.  So many issues were already taken care of.  I also did about a million takes.  I did it over and over again a thousand different ways.  And I had a LOT of bad takes.  Bad ones.  I mean, awful!  But I also had some good ones and that’s all I needed.  Something I was dreading for weeks ended up kind of being, dare I say, fun?  It sounds ridiculous that I had to set everything up this way to do an even decent job, but let me tell you, it really worked!
In the meantime, we’re going to need all the help we can get when we launch our campaign.  It’s definitely going to be sometime soon this month, and when we do, we’ll be asking the four corners of the Earth to share, like, tweet, click, donate, re-tweet, post, tell, email… etc.  The Hunter’s Anthology can really look high budget with our low budget.  Check out the trailer if you haven’t already.  That was just one night.  Imagine what we can do if we meet our goal and have 2 weeks, 4 weeks, and if we’re crazy lucky, 6 weeks to film!
I’m going to try something different. I know this blog officially only has 12 followers, but I can tell from “The Road to Wrap” stats that many more do come here on a regular basis.  So, I’ll ask not only to have whoever reads this blog to please take the time to “follow” it, but to also make comments and ask any questions you’d like to ask me if you have time.  You can ask about The Hunter’s Anthology, Trust Us, my experiences in trying to make them happen, writing, directing, editing, etc.  Ask away!

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!