Entries Tagged as 'Uncategorized'

“Forever’s End” – Cost vs Quality…

So, I’m asked rather often “how we did” this or that on a given film project.  One thing I absolutely love about the process of making films (especially lower-budget productions) is the challenge of figuring out how to accomplish a look and feel that is right not only for the film, but is able to convince the viewer that the film was made for much more money than we actually spent on it. It’s not a matter of “tricking” the viewer, rather a matter of knowing how to produce something of extremely high quality with very little cash.  The key here is knowing exactly what you NEED and what you can do without.  As with any production, but even more so the lower the budget the project, planning, planning, planning makes ALL the difference.  In the era of modern production, you don’t need to spend a million dollars on a 35mm film rig, or even $150k to rent a full-size grip truck for a few months. You need to know exactly what you intend to do and exactly what you need to accomplish it correctly so that the quality of the finished product is retained and your cast and crew remain happy without a single dollar wasted… it’s about bringing efficiency to the max without ever giving up anything to retain the quality.  Now, about 90% of figuring this out comes from years of experience, so you can judge exactly what it is that you need.  Having the right equipment and people to do the job is essential, you can’t make an amazing movie without the right tools, but you may not realize how many of those tools you can do without 90% of the time because you may not have actually needed them to start with.

For explanation sake, let’s use the “Forever’s End” promo (below) as an example, take a look (promo starts at: 1:08):

While we haven’t shot the entire film yet I think we’ve accomplished some really fantastic results for this little gem of a promo. First thing to understand is that nothing in this promo is there by “chance”. From initial script to finished product, it is all extremely pre-planned and very specific. It started off with a great, but short (2-page) original script/poem based on the actual feature we intend to shoot. The script was then dissected and broken down into production elements, scenes, locations, shots,  etc.. I did several days of location scouting (in Ohio.. where the feature film will also be shot) to find locations with the right “look” and feel (especially in the field and city sequences) just as we would do for any of our feature-length projects. I cast the promo (and film) with actors I know to be extremely talented and have worked with before, so there’s no surprises and little (if any) prep-time needed for the shoot, they already understand me, how I work, and what I expect of them.  The shoot was then scheduled and shot in less than 14 hours shoot time over 2 days.  The entire promo consisted of a crew of five experienced, professional filmmakers (Director/DP -me-, Gaffer, AD, FX Makeup artist, and PA)… five people, that’s it (all but one of which I’ve also worked with before, again, no conflicts on set, no surprises).  Half the field shoot was done with only two people and our cast… Why? We didn’t need any more.  The whole shoot, including the city sequences was shot using only 3-lights, only the exact amount we knew we needed to do it right (see my prior post on NATURAL LIGHT to see how this can be accomplished).

What this means is that our only expenses (other than food/gas costs) were the costs of renting a small generator (to power lights outside at night) and hiring police for our one, 4-hour downtown city shoot.  Locations were specifically chosen based on look, available/natural light and cost. Other than the generator, 100% of the equipment used is equipment my company already owns.  The post-production work was also taken down to the basics. I edited the promo myself, did all the original sound FX/audio mixing and mastering myself on my own time = zero cost. Douglas (our composer) was kind enough to provide music for the promo and a new friend of mine, Tobias @ RaveFX did a nice FX shot for us. I dropped all the pieces in, threw together the “intro” and posted it online (whole project took a few weeks from shoot to release – would have been done in only about 5 days total pre-through-post if we didn’t have to wait for some of the elements to come in, but in all, not a bad release window, especially given that no one was paid for their work, everyone donated their time).  The results are what you just watched.  Efficient, effective, quality, true “indie” filmmaking at it’s best… but I’d bet even a lot of filmmakers wouldn’t have been able to guess how we pulled it off for the budget we did… practice makes perfect.

That being said, and coming into the concept of the feature “Forever’s End” from this same perspective, is the main reason we’ll be able to shoot a simply fantastic, complete feature film for a seemingly minuscule budget… believe me when I say that it certainly won’t look like it’s some other “low budget” movie, our goal with everything we do is to continue perfecting the art (and it is truly an art) of balancing cost vs. high production value.  Our goal is to make films that are the quality of multi-million dollar studio productions for anything but, and we do this on all budget levels, we have a $500k feature project in development right now that will easily look like a $25mill production. I’ve been lucky enough to build a team that is not only comprised of extremely talented, consummate professionals, but also a team that understands how to get a world-class quality film from a grain of rice. It’s not as easy as it looks, experience really does make all the difference, and we’ve been literally working for almost a decade to perfect the process (and still, everything we shoot looks better then the last)… but when it comes down to it, the results are what you just saw in that promo. And it’s not just a one-off thing, we’ve been able to duplicate those same quality results for years, which is also why we’ve been attracting bigger and bigger names to our productions and interest from both indie producers and major film studios a-like.

Filmmaking is just as much a business as it is an art. From my experience, a good Director needs to understand not only the creative aspects of the process, but also the business, the paperwork, the marketing, the statistics, the cost vs. R.O.I. that distributors/studios expect. It’s great to go out and make a movie, it’s better to make a good movie that people will actually SEE.  As a “multi-hyphenate” filmmaker [writer-director-producer] for me it’s essential to keep all these elements in mind when developing any new project, especially when you’re working on a budget.  Sometimes you’ll succeed, sometime’s you’ll fail, but you’ll always be confident in knowing that you’ve made a quality product that was worth the time and investment.

LA at the Speed of Lightning…

This post is intended for those non-Los Angelino, non-industry folk out there.  You may have heard that (compared to life in the Midwest) or really any non-major city, life in Los Angeles, and in the film and entertainment industries in general, move at the speed of lightning.  There’s something to be said about the need to live in a city like LA to actually truly get anywhere as an aspiring artist.  SO much can happen in a day, a week, in LA that it’s honestly just hard to even comprehend it if you’ve never lived here or actually worked daily in the biz.  I meet new crazy awesome people every day, work on different shows, develop new projects, new prospects with new and old friends and co-workers.  The crazy thing is that a great deal of amazing things happen here (seemingly) completely on a whim.  I get phone calls (or texts) every week from different people, writers, producers, whatever saying “lets meet up in 20min…” and we start a new project, or they bring me on for some new thing they’re already working on.  Deals are made here in minutes, not weeks, not years. Deals are measured in projects, not time-frames.  If I say no to a random spur of the moment meeting, I may never know what I missed out on (could be nothing, or could be a career-changing opportunity).  The fact is, as much as this industry likes to tout it’s “rules” and the “do’s and don’t” of what it takes to “climb” the so-called ladder to get where you want to be in the industry… the true fact is that (at least in my experience) the single most wonderful thing about this industry is that there really are NO rules.   Studios and agents and marketing companies want you to THINK there are rules, but when the rubber meets the road, anything is possible, it’s just a matter of who you know, and who you meet that can make it all possible.  Just about everyone who’s ever made it “big” in this industry (regardless of their profession or current title) has some crazy (or wildly simple) story to tell as to how they got there.  I can’t tell you how many times people told me that they “just met this one guy a few years ago and everything changed… that’s how I got to where I am now”.  Even people who started out in the mail-rooms at studios (and are now major executives) have similar stories, for at least one I’ve meet, it took less than 5 years to get there.  It’s always a struggle in the beginning, and its rarely “quick”… most if not all of the stories I hear (and am personally experiencing) are stories of broke, struggling artists who refuse to let go of their passions, through the years of living with little to nothing, and one day, everything just started to change.   To make this very clear, there may be the amazing “miracle” stories out there, but most of these “miracle” success stories in this biz (and most of the stories people won’t tell you) started out with years of long hard work… the fact is, just to say it bluntly… there are hundreds of thousands of people who want to “make it big” in this industry, and 98% of them never will.  As fast and as tough as this business can be, through it all it’s the people who are 100% passionate and 500% dedicated that succeed… and I don’t mean “Strike it rich”, or become famous… far from it, I mean those are the people who become  working members of this industry, the people everyone looks up to, the people everyone trusts, everyone first call’s when a new opportunity arises and in the end, some are the people you may eventually recognize in the credits of all those movies and shows you see every year.

Passion, complete dedication, and personality are what set apart the “wannabe’s” from the success stories.  Don’t forget there’s always a thousand other people just waiting in line to take your place, so be yourself, go above and beyond the call on every job, and don’t ever give someone a reason to think twice about you or your work and you’ll always be the first one they call.

This city, this industry moves at the speed of light, if you blink you may miss your opportunity, if you’re not here, you may never get one, but most of all, if you half-ass anything, people will know it.  It’s 100% all the time or nothing. Take it or leave it.  I can’t tell you how many times I hear about would-be actors or directors, writers, musicians or whatnot, whomever, moving out here expecting to “make it big” or “be a star” only to move back home to the “comfortable” Midwest to live with their parents after just a few months or even a few years because they “ran out of money” or it was just simply “too hard”.  You can’t forget that working in entertainment is a JOB, it’s long, hard work, and rarely pays well (sometimes, not at all). This industry has a way of weeding people out, but it’s not through some secret program and it’s usually even less about talent… true passion,  honest personality, and complete perseverance is where it starts and the lack thereof is exactly where it ends.

I may not be an expert on the matter, I am still, and always will be learning… but if there’s one thing I’ve experienced and truly taken to heart over the past several years, it’s that.

Blog Back Live…

So, as most of you probably noticed, I’ve have some server-issues which resulted in my blog being down for the better part of the past 6-months.  I’m now on a new host and everything is back up and running!  There’s SO much to cover, lots and lots of exciting new things in the works since I last posted back in October… I’ve added several new posts to catch up for lost time already, so check those out, and since we’re going into pre-production on my feature here very soon, I’ll have a LOT more to share in the coming weeks and months!  The blog is back, so stay tuned!  (to catch up, the new posts start in Dec 09, just scroll down).



Network TV Show?…

So, as of today, I now officially have a TV Show in development at a major studio.  Funny thing is, I wouldn’t have guessed it. It’s about the last thing I thought I’d have going for me at this point in my career, but hey, no complaints! Unfortunately, I can’t really say much of anything about the show yet, since we’re SO early in the game, there’s much work to be done and I’m honestly not sure what (if anything) else I’m permitted say… but hey, this whole “secrecy” thing is pretty nifty though isn’t it? Good times! More updates later.

OIFF makes MovieMaker top 25!

I’m excited to announce that the Oxford International Film Festival was just selected by MovieMaker magazine as one of their top “25 Festivals Worth The Entry Fee” in their spring 2009 issue which hit newsstands across the US and Europe this past Tuesday (April 28th). So, pick up a copy and check it out! (It’s the one with Seth Rogan and Anna Farris on the cover, with big letters “25 Festivals Worth the Fee” across the top : ) you can’t miss it!

A Little About Me…

Ok… so while I know many of you are really excited to find out what new craziness is happening next in my own little world, I thought I might take a little time and give you an idea of what it is that I do every day. Now, bear with me here as I’ll do my best to abbreviate so as not to make this a novel, but here’s just an example of what I did yesterday: I generally get up a bit later in the day, usually around 9am-10am(ish) (keeping in mind how late I work… read on), most days the first thing I do is sit-down at my computer in my home-office and spend the better part of 2 hours replying to just the most important of the e-mails I get, keeping in mind that much of the work I do is done long-distance, since I live in Ohio and work with industries based for the most part on the West Coast. Anyways… e-mails, I generally get anywhere between 40 and 70 “important” e-mails in a day (this does not include spam… these are e-mails that are from people I work with, or about projects/productions I’m actively working on… most need to be replied to immediately). So, I get through as many as I can each morning and forward the ones I’m able to on to other people who work with me (like my colleagues at my production company, my manager, producers of the various projects I’m working on, or other asst directors for the film festival) to take care of since I simply don’t have the time to respond to every one (that alone would easily take my whole day, every day, right there). After e-mails I generally focus on getting ready for the day, eat, shower and all that… so that by around 11:30am I’m set to role with whatever comes my way (I pretty much run on an LA schedule, which is 3-hours off from the eastern time-zone I’m in, in Ohio so that’s like Noon to 8pm EST) anyhow.. . what comes next varies literally by day… generally I have either conference calls or in-person meetings booked back to back every weekday (lately we’ve been double-booking meetings and events over a year in advance, simply out of need, that just to say that my life can get kind-of busy all the time), anyway, this particular day started with me driving to an event-site to help setup for a local performance gig for about an hour… right from there I went down the block for an extended lunch meeting with a producer/distributor friend of mine (former studio executive) who is now running his own US distribution house, is co-producing my feature and is also partnered with the film fest (we try to do lunch every couple weeks to catch up in person and go over lots and lots of new info). Anyhow, that meeting ran until 2:00pm. From there I went back to my home office for a conference call to LA, then a couple local follow-up calls for the film fest… replied to a few more e-mails that popped up during the day (and ignored a bunch more), then headed off to the Post Office to pickup/sign for about 80 more film festival entries that we received over the weekend, log them in, then pack them into the car to be dropped off with the festival programming director the next morning… which brings us to 3:30pm. I had a meeting with film festival Marketing staff scheduled to go over marketing strategies for 2009, which I arrived frustratingly 10minutes late too (any one of the above reasons should easily explain that). Because we were also officially bringing on a few new assistant directors, that meeting ran over until nearly 7:00pm before I got back to my office. Knowing I only had so much time left in the work day (again on an LA schedule here… so 8pm EST is 5pm PST) I ran back to my office and made a few quick follow-up calls to agents regarding cast for my feature, then grabbed a quick bite to eat from my kitchen and proceeded to sit down to actually start getting some real work done… I had seven (3-10pg) contracts to read, revise, and sign (ranging from bands/special guests we’re working with to perform at the film fest, to new staff contracts, to legal agreements, letters of intent for film crew –for the feature- to registration forms for a new film festival membership program we’re developing). Which brings us to around 10:30pm. Now is when I start to freak, since I realize how much I haven’t accomplished in the day that needed to be done LAST week. So, I sit down and re-work my already triple-booked schedule by priority deadlines and send out e-mails to about a dozen different people on various different staff’s and boards to let them know where things stand as of that day. Ok… so now my day is half-done. Between the hours of 11pm and about 4am to 5am is when I actually end up working on some of our Star Com client-based materials (which range from new-media work to consulting to script supervision, live event management inquiries, etc). I’ll often take a few minutes break at some point in there, grab a snack and maybe watch a portion of one of the Late Night shows before getting back to work. Note that most of my script-writing and re-writing is done during the wee-hours as well as looking through audition tapes, online reels and such, since that’s often the time when I can be the most focused. Before I head off to bed around 5am, I’ll often check the morning industry publications to see what tomorrow will bring…. and that was (for the most part) my Monday. Tuesdays are much, much busier. Keeping in mind that I didn’t even have time to address most Miami Film Association programs or inquiries at all (Mondays and Fridays are supposed to be my “free days” to work on the MFA and film fest… which is somewhat of a joke). Anyway… I get a couple hours of sleep and get into a whole ‘nother arena the next day. Now, I should say that no day of mine is ever like the previous one… I’ll often be dealing with completely different issues for different events and productions each day, which I absolutely love. But it goes without saying that most weekends are just spent trying to catch up for things not finished during the week (that is, the few weekends I’m actually in town, and not traveling or speaking someplace, or actually on set or on-site at a production I’m producing, managing or working). Such is just a brief insight into my day-to-day life. I try to catch movies every chance I get… you’ll often find me sneak away once or twice a week to a movie theater (whenever I can manage)… I do all my shopping at 24hr stores because generally by the time I get around to making it to a store it’s often 4am. Another fun fact, since I live alone, I also actually have to schedule time every other week to do laundry… because if I don’t, it just doesn’t get done (I found that out the hard way). So… now you know (I just know you all were simply dying to know about my laundry) but hey… that’s life… at least for me :-). Now that you’ve read all that, hopefully you’ll at least get an idea of why it often takes me a few days to get back to people (even close friends) and especially how hard it is to schedule in-person meetings with new/young filmmakers (which I absolutely love to do and get requests for on a regular basis) but often simply just don’t have the time to do most weeks unless it was scheduled several months in advance. Anywho… it should also, hopefully, explain why I’m writing/posting this blog entry at 4am, and why I don’t post more often :-P. So there you have it. –Oh, and this is also why I have to schedule my film shoots at least a year in advance…

Just as a quick response to one of YOUR questions… “How do you juggle all the things you do?” The answer to that is quite simply careful planning, and minute by minute scheduling, every day of the week, every week. I use an electronic online schedule/calendar that can be/is constantly updated both by myself and by other people who schedule things for me (like my manager). That way I always know where I need to be and when. All my schedules also include reserved time to travel from one meeting/site to the next estimating possible traffic delays etc… and yes, I do often either schedule, or reply to phone calls while in the car driving from place to place… it’s the only way I can keep up with things (you should see my cell-phone bill :-). So… to answer your question… very careful and specific planning, organization, and scheduling… setting and keeping priorities is always key.

A Feature Update…

Ok, I’m not supposed to say too much here, but I did want to give you guys an update on my feature (which, for the purposes of this Blog we’re still calling “Slipping Away”). Anyway, there’s been so many huge things happening that it’s hard to know where to start (and honestly, what I can tell you, and what I can’t), so I’ll see how much I can say without getting yelled at by the producer. Yes, as of last week we now have both a Producer and Distributor on-board for the film! Need I say any more? Actually, I don’t think I can say much more at the moment, except that there are a ton of exciting things in the works… so stay tuned!!


I just spent a wonderful weekend in Indianapolis (which is a great laid-back city) at the Heartland Film Festival. They’ve done an incredible job with the fest, and have a heck of staff on-board (which happen to be some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet). I also ran into Mark Pellington (director of films like Arlington Road and the Mothman Prophecies), and Bob Berney (president of PictureHouse) who are both great guys. Also randomly bumped into Abigail Disney who had a film showing at the fest, and Carlos Diaz (Extra guy)… I love meeting new people. Anyhow, I got to hang-out behind the scenes of their awards gala, which was just spectacular and a true rarity in film fests. That said, if you get a chance, check out Heartland, it’s definitely worth the trip!

New Programs!

After a few months (if not year) in development, you can now see the newly improved and updated website www.miamifilmassociation.com which also has about a half-dozen new programs listed! Just a few new offerings include… “Cinema Weekly” a weekly indie-film screening program starting in September, “Production Log” a new online database of films in production regionally, “Film Camp” a new summer film program for High-School students, as well as new “Workshops”, new “Projection System” rentals and much, much more… so check it out!

The IFFS Who’s Who

Just got back from the “International Film Festival Summit” last week, where I was asked to speak about the OIFF. It was a bit odd being on the same schedule with the CEO of Variety, VP of Starz, and Director of the Toronto Film Fest, but I have to say it was, overall, a great experience (the networking connections alone were worth the trip). There’s nothing like putting 250 film festival directors (including some of the biggest names in the industry) in the same room for 3-days, and you can’t beat the atmosphere, since the event was held at a resort just outside of Vegas. No complaints here.