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The Past Six Months & The Road Ahead

It has been a long time since I last blogged. Here's the skinny on the past few months...

We concluded our festival run at the Oaxaca International Film Festival. We were the opening night motion picture and played to a packed house (roughly 385 seats out of 400) at Oaxaca's prestigious Teatro Juarez. This concluded our epic festival run of 46 official invitations, 53 award nominations, 29 awards and 18 best pictures. Phew.

Now we're gearing up for our theatrical release! We'll be hitting North American theaters on September 7th. We've already booked our first six theaters in Wisconsin, Illinois and Ohio. Our intent is to play in roughly 100 independent theaters across the country. What makes our theatrical run different than most is that we can play in both traditional movie theaters as well as non-traditional performing arts spaces. Why? Because while we were touring film festivals we were busy inventing
The Model One, a portable, powerful, intelligent cinema projector. This device changes everything for independent filmmakers. It puts professional exhibition directly in their own hands.

Independent film demands independent distribution. Let's face it, the halcyon days of independent cinema were mostly a marketing myth. For 20 years filmmakers have been able to make their own motion pictures with relative ease...but distribution has always been a hazing ritual in which the various distributors lie, cheat and steal while "independent" filmmakers accept whatever crumbs are offered for their work in the vain hope it might lead to a career. For a precious few that's been true. But ask the 99% of official Sundance filmmakers if they enjoyed the distribution process. Ask them if they felt they got a fair shake. With only a few exceptions my guess is almost everyone will say the same thing; distribution feels like a game of Russian Roulette with six loaded chambers and the filmmaker is the only one pulling the trigger.

I kept hoping for a fair deal. I kept hoping some producer's rep would have integrity, some sales agent would have skill, some Hollywood insider wouldn't ask for a 20 grand retainer just to watch our film. Time and again we met with distributors, reps and agents...and each time I had to turn the deal down because it was just plain wrong.

To prove the film had an audience we begrudgingly agreed to release our film as a five-part mini-series on VODO. The first 22 minute episode took off like a rocket, was downloaded over 1.5 million times, was the most downloaded file on earth for nearly two weeks, was subtitled into forty languages and redistributed with a localized title so many times we lost track. Six months later it is still one of the most downloaded files on the planet.

Unfortunately, VODO proved to be as dishonest as the distributors we dealt with in Hollywood. After two bounced checks and a half dozen violations of our contract we entered a half-year long stalemate. They refused to meet any of our (reasonable, rational, logical) demands and we refused to give them more episodes. And that's why we've been so damn quiet. Until we knew where we stood with Bit Torrent and VODO we chose to be silent...even though it cost us tremendous momentum. Our film was riding high and then
BAM we were forced to be silent for half a year while we negotiated round after round after round to simply have VODO honor their agreement...and in the end we got nowhere.

Once it was clear that neither Bit Torrent nor VODO would budge our decision was clear. It was time to leave. So, we requested our VODO page be pulled and we informed our VODO donors of the reasons for our departure.

But there's a silver lining in this dark cloud. Along the way we learned several things. Outside of the major studios and mini-majors no one has a clue how theatrical distribution works. I'm not talking about the man on the street...I'm talking about the roughly 500 so-called distributors that claim to distribute movies. In fact, I'll claim most of the studios don't really understand distribution anymore; if they did they'd adopt a business model that isn't the equivalent of James Dean playing chicken.

The independent distributors are far worse because they imitate the studios. Ladies and gentleman, if you don't have 20 million to spend on marketing then distributing a motion picture in an identical fashion, only smaller, isn't clever. It's shutting your brain off and flying on auto-pilot. We spoke to dozens of these companies and despite the volume of words escaping from their slick, capped teeth it was mostly blather.

To put it simply, we realized that we didn't want any of these companies distributing our movie because they didn't actually know how to do it. They'd never stepped inside a projection booth. They didn't understand how long it takes to clean a movie theater between screenings. They'd never operated a concession stand. They didn't know how to do a media buy. They'd never printed a movie poster. They'd never physically stuck a screener in the mail and sent it to a critic. They'd never actually booked a movie screen
on their own. They hired other people to do these things.

These other people had the skills. The distributors? They had shiny suits.

Once I realized this a tremendous amount of strain disappeared from my shoulders. I'd spent two long years thinking I'd somehow failed when it turns out the system was the problem. The independent level is overrun with fools and wannabes pretending to be film executives and distribution experts. And once I realized the entire system was a house of cards built on the exploitation of naive and insecure artists I was free...because my team is filled with intelligent, hardworking people. Our team's collective experience included professional offset printing, trailer duplication, shipping & logistics, managing movie theaters and media purchasing. We discovered we knew more about distribution than most of the people we were courting! We didn't need
these people. It was a moment of clarity.

More importantly, we realized that any distributor would need to earn 1,000% more than we could in order for us to get the same paycheck. Read that insane sentence again about three times. It takes a long time to fully grasp it's meaning. If we can distribute our own film and make 200 grand in the box office on our own then any distributor would need to earn 2 million for us to make the same 200 grand. Why? Because that's the deal for first-time filmmakers. Don't believe what you've read in the funny papers. If a distributor is offering you X then they are assuming they can make 10X. We realized we could not possibly be 1,000% worse at distribution than these (famous, recognizeable, small scale, crooked) "professional" distributors. We have an excellent film that's already loved by millions of fans around the world. We've packed theaters from San Diego to Wisconsin to Oaxaca. We've done our own market research by turning festival screenings into surveyed sneak previews. We've collected nearly 500 reviews from audience members and know exactly what their candid feelings are about our film...and the overwhelming majority absolutely love our motion picture! We've already competed against a thousand independent motion pictures at film festivals on two continents and almost always sold more tickets than any of the films screening at the same time...and that was
without any marketing.

I truly mean
without marketing. Every other film would have stacks of postcards and mini-posters. They'd paper the town. They'd do radio interviews. They'd hustle. I just never had the energy or time. I'd stick a big fat standee in the lobby and call it good. And that's all it took for us to pack theaters.

Festivals are hyper-competitive. Most of the festivals we played in had 5 or more venues screening films
at the same time. Many had parties and lectures competing with our screening. At one festival we were screening in one theater and nominated for best picture in the awards ceremony across town. Talk about a bizarre scheduling conflict.


With every festival a decision-fatigued crowd of strangers chose to buy a 10 dollar ticket to see our film. Any festival that screened us more than once always saw our second screening's attendance grow. The best example of this was the Beloit International Film Festival; our first night's audience was 65 people. Our second night's audience was 180. Our third and fourth screenings were around 200. The only thing that causes that kind of growth is word of mouth, the most sacred and important form of advertising. It can't be bought. It just is.

We realized that through the two years we spent on the festival circuit we'd learned so much about distribution that we didn't need a distributor. The festival circuit had accidentally educated us on the exhibition and distribution process.
We could do this on our own. And, thanks to the massive popularity of our teaser episode we found an investor who helped us form Lonely Place Distribution, LLC and gave us the capital to release our film theatrically.

For the last five months we've been quietly planning how to release
A Lonely Place For Dying on our own. I can't go into all the details on our plan. Superficially, it looks like most movie releases. We're booking movie theaters while simultaneously paying for television, newspaper and radio ads. However, don't be fooled. We're not doing it the way anyone in Los Angeles would...and I can't explain what I mean by that yet. Just remember this phrase: space and time. That's the key to our release. Space. And. Time.

One of our theaters in Madison, Wisconsin told us "I've never seen anything like you guys! You're a fuckin' super nova dynamo!" I'm not exactly sure what a
Super Nova Dynamo is but I'm going to assume it is a compliment and be happy they booked A Lonely Place For Dying for a guaranteed seven day run.

So, if you're an independent filmmaker what's this all mean?

Here's the bad news...there is no such thing as a fair deal to be had in Hollywood. Everyone I've ever met who has signed a distribution deal did so with the full knowledge it was bad business for their investors and for themselves. What we experienced is exactly what everyone I've ever known has experienced. I know people who got into Sundance, were convinced their life would change and then experienced...
nothing. I know filmmakers who naively paid retainers to a dozen different so-called producer's reps and experienced...nothing. I know filmmakers who knowingly signed distribution deals, screwed over their investors, moved on to their second bigger budget feature films and were pigeonholed into doing crap and therefore got...nothing. I know NYU and USC graduates who will take any job that comes their way no matter how illogical or demeaning and they have...nothing.

The system is so thoroughly broken that the so-called distributors, producers reps and sales agents don't actually know what to do with with a motion picture. They just want some of your hard earned money. And they don't understand what is wrong with that because you were, in their words, dumb enough to make a movie so you're probably dumb enough to plunk down another six (ten, fifteen, twenty) grand for them to shop your movie to the 250 buyers in the world...who have been broke since 2007 and no longer have lines of credit. For many independent filmmakers the problem is that their movie is out of focus, poorly lit, poorly written with lousy sound, terrible music, bad special effects and no compelling marketing hook. For the few independent filmmakers who defy that list and have made something of value it still has no merit in these people's eyes
unless you are willing to give it to them for free.

The bad news is really, really bad, isn't it?

But, here's the good news...if you're willing to do the work yourself
then you no longer need them. We have never lived in a more integrated and empowering time. If you're willing to roll your sleeves up then it is as simple as convincing an audience your work is worth seeing...and listening to their honest response.

It won't be sunshine and roses for all. But, at long last a filmmaker can form a direct relationship with the audience without the interference and exploitation of the "professional distribution industry."

So, to our fans in Estonia who told us
A Lonely Place For Dying "left them shaken and stirred," to the flannel shirt wearing millionaire in Beloit who grabbed me by my lapels and said "Do you realize you've made a REAL FUCKING movie?", to the 7-11 attendant in Durango, Colorado who raved about the film in between slurpy sips, to the Marines in San Diego who loved the film so much they showed up a second night with a bunch of Navy buddies, to the projectionist in Clearwater, Florida who said it was the best movie he'd seen in years, to the standing ovation in Oaxaca and the 30 people who came up to me afterwards asking for my autograph and photo...

...thank you! You're the reason we're doing this. Every time someone in Los Angeles said "It's only a little movie" I'm going to choose to believe the people who paid ten bucks to see our film...and mobbed me after a screening. I have a feeling they are the most honest and accurate barometer of all. And, starting
September 7th we'll be coming to a movie theater near you.

A Lonely Place For Dying Podcast 001


Podcast 001 - August 9th, 2011: Thanks To Our 1.1 Million Fans!

A Lonely Place For Dying Begins Sneak Peak On Vodo Before US Theatrical Release

Vodo + ALPFD

A Lonely Place For Dying will begin a serialized distribution deal with VODO on Thursday, June 30th! The film will be broken into five installments which can be downloaded through VODO and it's network of online distributors. The fifth and final installment will be available after the film's theatrical release beginning in January, 2012.

"I'm thrilled to have the film made available through VODO." said director Justin Eugene Evans. "VODO can get an independent film seen by millions of people. It has helped filmmakers from around the world find an audience. And, while some of our movie theaters are nervous about this decision we believe that the torrenting audience isn't necessarily the same as the theatrical audience."

VODO proves we live in a very big world with seemingly contradictory answers; one can have a movie seen by millions and still only have reached 1% of the potential US theatrical market. While fearful distributors in Hollywood are terribly scared of this technology we are thrilled by the opportunity. We control the distribution of our content, we reap the financial rewards of our efforts and we find an online audience...and then a theatrical one as well.

"I can't wait until we begin our theatrical run. I'm incredibly excited." said Justin Eugene Evans.

In the meantime, A Lonely Place For Dying will conclude its festival run this fall. So far the film has played in 38 film festivals and been seen by roughly 10,000 ticket buyers. Justin Eugene Evans added "For the timid distributors who don't think there is a theatrical market for independent film all I've got to say is this; film festivals are ten times more crowded than any multiplex and individual movies have negligible opportunities to market their movie. Many festivals screen 200 films over 3-4 days with 7-8 films screening simultaneously. And yet, our film has packed theaters across the country. From Santa Fe to Wisconsin we've seen hundreds of people fill a theater..and the word of mouth was so strong our audience would be bigger the next night! Those are real ticket buyers plunking down 8-10 dollars a ticket to see our spy movie. Thanks to VODO and some very courageous investors we're going to prove to the world that the theatrical market is alive and kicking for independent motion pictures this January."

In addition to the film's VODO release they'll be releasing never-before-seen merchandise from the film including rare interviews with their special forces consultants, limited edition prints of the film's poster and a behind-the-scenes hardcover book.

Watch us on VODO...then watch us in the theater this January!

Sedona International Film Festival

I'm exhausted from all the fun. Seriously.

My wife and I decided to turn the Sedona International Film Festival into a family vacation. The festival provided us with a free suite at Sedona Real. We had two all-access film badges. Breakfast was provided at the hotel. The festival provided us lunch and dinner. What a fantastic way for our family to have a week-long vacation in one of the most beautiful places in the world! We invited my aunt to join us. This was also the first time we've gone on a vacation with our three-year old son, David.

SUNDAY
We arrived in time for the Sunday night Oscar party. They projected the Oscars in a 120 seat movie theatre. Wine and champagne flowed with abandon.

MONDAY
The festival completed final preparations. I drove to Phoenix to pick up my aunt who was returning from a two week excursion in Mexico.

TUESDAY
The festival officially begins! The first party is crazy. I'm a bit overwhelmed. My son is overstimulated and can't fall to sleep. We begin the first of many sleepless nights.

WEDNESDAY
I arrive at the box office to discover both screenings of A Lonely Place For Dying have sold out! Considering we're up against Oscar-winning animator Bill Plimpton's new feature as well as Tom Hanks' newest film I'm stunned. Wednesday night's screening is a fantastic success. I still find the experience surreal. It's very weird sitting in a theatre with 100 people watching my own movie.

THURSDAY
Because David had another sleepless night we're all exhausted. My wife and I take a cat nap and then we leave David with my aunt. We see The Brothers Warner, a fantastic documentary by the granddaughter of the founders of Warner Bros. Then, we see Singing In The Rain on the big screen for the first time! Robert Osborne from Turner Classic Movies hosts the screening. The man is a living encyclopedia of film knowledge! We join in a lengthy Q&A about the movie, about musicals and about Hollywood's golden age. Then, we go to another party...exhausted, we return to our hotel late at night.

FRIDAY
David is still wired. He just can't sleep well in a hotel yet. It's too much for him. He's up at 6 AM ready to take on the world. We're exhausted. This fun is wearing us out.

We see Giancarlo Esposito's Gospel Hill. Then, we go out to dinner with him and a large entourage. Giancarlo is one of my favorite actors. He was also a constant guest lecturer at NYU. I've always considered him a "part-time professor" because of how much I learned from him while I was in film school. It is a bit surreal to be throwing back saki, and chowing down on orange peel chicken with Detective Jack Baer from The Usual Suspects. We then attend a gala party at the Hilton.

SATURDAY
David has had another rough night. Instead of waking up early, he simply couldn't sleep. We're exhausted. We decided to drive home after my Saturday night screening. The theatre is packed. We have one walk-out...I read her comments on her ballot. Too much swearing and too much death. Well, the title of the film is A Lonely Place For Dying and the poster has two men pointing guns at each other. What part of our advertising campaign wasn't clear?

The rest of the audience loves the movie. They know it is a work-in-progress, that we haven't finished the sound design, music or visual effects. They still love the movie. At every screening we are told by at least one audience member that they think the movie doesn't need music. While I appreciate the remark, I disagree. We do need music. I think they're identifying that the dialogue and acting are so strong that they carry the story forward on their own...that most movies rely on music to save the story. We don't need that. It is a good movie as is...but, a killer score will take the film to the next level.

We pack up and drive home. What a great festival experience! I'm exhausted, but I'm thankful that my life now includes such amazing opportunities that I can share with my family.

Today is my birthday. I'm not doing anything at all. I'm going to sit. Maybe I'll shift from one side of the couch to the other. I don't need a party. I just had seven.

I gotta rest...I leave for Durango later this week.

Traditional Media Distorts My Point Of View

I shouldn't be surprised. I clearly state my point of view and my words are used to support the opposite of what I believe. Watch this:

KOAT NEWS SPOT

Sounds like I'm supporting a local senator's efforts to put together a state-sponsored film fund for motion pictures, doesn't it? That's the exact opposite of what I believe. I specifically said during the interview that while I agree local filmmakers need support the state shouldn't be funding motion pictures. Here are my reasons why:

1.) It is inherently undemocratic. Who chooses the recipients? What are their qualifications? Since no fund can be unlimited, how does the state choose to fund one person's art but not another's?
2.) Government sponsored art always leads to Moral Hazard. If you're unfamiliar with the term, google it.
3.) Tax payers should not have to pay for my passion. I chose to be a filmmaker. Your tax dollars should not directly pay for my career choice.
4.) Graft and bribery usually become entwined in such programs. Imagine being a state employee suddenly given control over a twenty million dollar film fund. Now, imagine all the people who want to take you to dinner. Imagine the fruit baskets that show up at your office. A "small time" filmmaker who only needs one million for their project wants to fly you to a "brainstorming session" in Las Vegas. If Louisiana taught us anything, it is that these programs are corruptible. And the foundation of our democracy is built on the distrust of our fellow humans' motives. That's why we have checks and balances. That's why the legislature, executive branch and judicial branch are designed to fight like cats and dogs. Such a state-sponsored system is begging to attract the worst kind of speculators.

What I clearly told the interviewer is that I agree with the senator's sentiments but not the proposed legislation. I believe the state should amend the tax code so it is similar to Section 181 on the Federal level. Here are the advantages:

1.) Tax law applies to everyone. A well-written amendment to existing tax law would apply to everyone and therefore be more democratic.
2.) Tax law doesn't need a new agency to execute it. It merely needs the existing tax and revenue department to be educated on the new law.
3.) The tax and revenue department already has rules in place to prevent bribery and manipulation. This reduces the chance of corrupting the system.
4.) Offering a tax deduction, such as those described in Section 181 on the Federal level, doesn't directly take money away from the state. In fact, it has the potential to draw money from non-New Mexican resources. Why would we take our own tax payers money to finance local small budget movies when we could create incentives for investors from around the world to invest in New Mexico?
5.) We can pass a tax law and if it doesn't work we can repeal it without creating or destroying any jobs. Job-neutral legislation should always be the goal of a responsible government. If we can accomplish a goal without expanding bureacracy, that's good for all of us.

Most importantly, I'm not a helpless artiste who needs my government mommy and daddy to give me hand outs. I'm a business man. I can raise money on my own. At most, I just want my government to make that process easier. Don't give me a handout. Give my business plan an economic edge. Don't take away money from tax paying citizens to pay for my dreams. Give me a strong economic reason to convince educated investors why I'm worth investing in.

I raised $250,000.00 for my film. I did that without any government help. Any filmmaker could do the same. I had no edge other than a good education and a desire to make a marketable project worthy of the general public's time. A government hand out would inevitably lead to the esoteric, myopic, anti-audience, elitist filmmaking that dominated Europe in the 70's and 80's...and reduced their overall market share of their own box office...until their governments repealed those well-meaning laws and European filmmakers were forced to make commercially viable projects again.

I'm a Democrat. I'm a filmmaker. And I'm fundamentally opposed to state sponsored film funds. The intent is pure, but there are better ways to accomplish the same goal.

Sedona International Film Festival Dates


Ladies & Gentleman...We Have Picture Lock.

Title says it all. Tenth draft. Picture lock achieved. Party at my place Friday night!

Eight & Ninth Draft Completed...Reviewing Final Version

Somehow, I got mixed up on the number of drafts. Each draft required less and less time, so over the weekend three drafts were completed.

I'm downloading the final draft as we speak. I'm assuming I'll approve it, but I have to watch it first to make sure.

Seventh Edit Done...One More Draft To Go!

I know...I know...I'm crazy. I found thirteen small tweaks. Once we resolve those, I think the movie is as good as we can get it.

Fifth & Sixth Edits Finished...Seventh Only Hours Away!

Each edit is far less work. The second edit needed thousands of changes. The sixth needed thirty.

I'm thrilled with Brad's work. It gets better every time. There are so many nuanced choices. He's managed to trim the movie from 110 minutes to 94...and yet, he's preserved every wonderful acting moment.

Once I see Draft Seven we may be finished. If not, I doubt there will be more than a half dozen changes in the entire film. That's about an hour of work.

I'm very excited. Picture lock is finally within sight!

Fourth Edit Completed

Now the movie is starting to rock! Brad Stoddard came by today with the fourth edit. There were still a few unfinished items because we needed to talk about them in order to reach a solution. It was a fantastic session! We solved everything and Brad came up with some brilliant solutions for a few particularly tricky moments.

I should get the fifth edit tomorrow. We're definitely in the home stretch.

Music Video Completed

Brent Daniels & Daniel Lenz finished editing our music video. I was floored. It is wonderful! Their attention to detail is present in every moment.

Marc Leonard, our Visual Effects Artist on the video, also deserves high praise. We handed him a pile of shots and said "Okay, here is every visual flaw in the video. Make 'em go away! Oh...and do it in two weeks! THANKS!"

Marc pulled it off. He smoothed dolly shots, he removed blemishes, he replaced skies, he erased stray hairs, he added god light...whatever a shot needed, he did it and it looks fantastic.

What I'm most proud of is that this video had no budget. It was an Ad Hoc project. Free (that's Brent Daniels for those of you who don't know him) and I sat down 16 months ago and agreed that he'd score my film and write a song for it. That would have been ambitious enough...somehow, we both have expanded the scope of work to include three remixes of his 70's inspired rock song, a music video, mixing the score in 5.1, doing a music video for part of his score (yet to be done) and marketing all of these materials as if we were a major record label...and, we're not.

Technically, the video is quite advanced. It was shot with the Red One, the world's best cinema camera. We shot it in 4K, which allowed us to do some amazing post production effects. The final video is mastered in 1080P. I'm hoping we can add it to iTunes soon...hopefully as some kind of bonus to the maxi-single!

Redraft Notes Of Third Edit

I'm nearly finished with the redraft notes of A Lonely Place For Dying's third edit. I've finished critiquing the first 65 minutes. I have about 30 minutes left to critique.

I've edited at least forty projects in my life, but this is the first time I've been in charge of a 95 minute story. It is a massive undertaking...particularly since the goal is to do it well. That may seem like the obvious goal, but after attending three AFM's, I've become convinced most filmmakers simply want to get 'er done. Quality isn't always the highest priority. For my team, we're pushing ourselves to do the very best work we can. As we begin the fourth (and next-to-final) edit of the film this is what I've come to learn:

DIRECTORS SHOULD NOT EDIT THEIR OWN WORK
For the first time, I'm the most objective person about my own work. I can sit back and see a scene as the audience will. Brad Stoddard, my editor, has done an amazing job. The first two edits were about assembling the movie. This latest edit was about rhythm, pacing, fine-tuning performances, excising moments that weren't honest and honing the film into a tight emotional journey. He's succeeded. We still have more work to do, but because I've been allowed to step back while Brad focuses on the details I can see the movie for what it really is.

My list of critiques was relatively short. I averaged about 1 critique for every 45 seconds of the film. I consider that a relatively short list.

I anticipate the next (and final) list of critiques will be less than 1 critique for every three minutes. And, after that it will be finished.

This is possible because I finally have someone I can trust. Someone who is picky about continuity errors and jump cuts. Someone who cares about nuanced reaction shots as well as fast paced dialogue. Someone who believes editing should be invisible. So, I can be the audience and sit back and say "Hmmm...that moment isn't working yet. Here is why. If we fix that one moment the entire scene works".

THE TOOLS MUST TRULY BE MASTERED TO BE EFFICIENT
Brad knows Final Cut so well that he doesn't have to think about which key to press or which drop-down menu to select. This allows him to focus on storytelling.

So, the paradox of editing is that it takes place in the Mind's Eye...which requires a well-honed understanding of storytelling...but, ironically, this skill can only be a cerebral process if the equipment used to edit becomes invisible.

Most people focus on the gear. They obsess over it. Few focus on the mental aspects...understanding rhythm, tempo and emotional arcs. This is more than a technical skill, and technical prowess simply isn't enough to edit well.

I have the Mind's Eye skill (but, prefer not to be in the Driver's Seat for fear of losing my objectivity as stated above). Brad has both skills.

EDITING IS DONE WITHIN THE FRAME AS WELL AS WITHIN THE MOMENT
We're constantly retiming elements by splitting the frame itself into pieces. This is something old-school Hollywood directors don't get yet. If you have objects on different sides of the screen and they don't touch each other, you can retime each side of the screen with ease. And, this is important because low budget movies have a limited number of takes. An actor reacts one frame too soon and a moment will feel false. By retiming pieces of a frame the final movie will be more honest. Its amazingly easy to do, but few do this because few understand the power of these tools well enough to realize this is an option.

As an example, on my short film, Saturday Night Special, the sun was rising as we were shooting a critical wide shot of a gun battle. The actors did a great job...but, upon inspection it was clear that one of the actors reacted early to being shot. The shooter jerked the gun AFTER the victim falls to the ground. And, that was our best take. Sounds like we're screwed, doesn't it? Ten years ago we would have been. Not now. Since the actors never touched all we had to do is retime the left side of the frame from the right. We split it into pieces. We slip the time code on the left so the victim reacts later. Viola! Now, the shooter and victim reactions are timed correctly.

A Lonely Place For Dying has needed very little of this kind of work. Perhaps 3-4 moments throughout the film needed "Time Repair" work. However, fixing those few moments guarantees an audience never says "What a low budget piece of crap! The victim reacting before the gun is shot! LAME!" Once an audience has that reaction you've lost them.

Also, I'll always shoot full frame at 4K because I love how easy it is to recompose a shot in post. I do the very best I can to be picky on the set, but live action is a war against nature itself. The sun moves, shadows change, clouds disappear, gear is accidentally bumped and actors miss their mark. Sometimes, an actor can miss a mark by a quarter inch and it will throw off the composition of a shot. A year ago one would have been stuck with these flaws. Not now. Our final film will be at 2K but our source material is 4K. I can recompose a shot to make micro-adjustments to head space (which I refer to as edge space, because it doesn't just apply to heads and it has less to do with the objects in the frame as it does to drawing attention to the frameline). There's so many little tweaks possible it's difficult to list them all. The results are subtle but important. It helps a low budget movie feel polished.

POST HOUSES ARE ARCANE
I was pushed hard to hire a professional post house on this film. I toured several, thinking that home studios were great for low budget projects but that my movie needed a high end post house if it was to have a big budget polish. Then, after touring two post houses, I discovered that the gear in my home and my editor's home was superior. I could see this happening twelve years ago when I edited my senior thesis film at Downstream Studios in Portland, Oregon. It was a 96 minute feature made up of 6 short stories and we did all the post production in a brand new facility in downtown Portland. At the time, I thought "Man, if computers were just twice as fast and half as expensive I could do this in my home." Computers are exponentially faster and cheaper than I had hoped for. Everything about the gear I have access to is far better than I ever dreamed would be possible. I don't need to leave my home because I can have a face-to-face meeting with anyone on my post team via iChat. We can schedule a meeting on iCal. We can share video, exchange graphics, have conferences with up to four parties simultaneously, record them for future reference...the list is so amazing that I know I've only scratched the surface of what is possible.

And, everyone still uses the terms "offline edit" and "online edit" but I don't see the distinction anymore. Every edit I watch is high definition video at 24 frames per second. What's "offline" about that? 12 years ago I had to watch ultra-low resolution video at 12 frames per second because the fastest computers in the world could not edit 24 FPS/high res video in real time. Now, it is effortless.

I'll master a movie in a post house. But, I will never edit a movie again in a so-called "professional facility."

I'LL NEVER RUSH AN EDITOR TO SCREEN A ROUGH CUT AGAIN
We may have won an award for our rough cut screening at the Santa Fe Film Festival. However, that is the exception that proves the rule. My editor was pushed to assemble a movie for an audience when we should have simply waited until we were at picture lock. I'd probably be at this same point three weeks ago. And, despite the fact everyone loves the movie I also received a lot of worried notes based on nothing more than inexperience with rough cuts, missing sound, missing visual effects, missing titles. What's the point of putting my team through that emotion? Very few people have the experience to evaluate a work in progress. The project should not be seen until it is fully ready to be seen.

POST TEAMS CAN BE VERY SMALL
This is another fact I'm starting to fully understand. Previously, I worked with small teams because I didn't have the money for a large team. Now, I don't think a large team is necessary, no matter how high my standards are. Editing is becoming a holistic skill. Editors can assemble the movie, tighten it, adjust the composition of shots, retime pieces of the frame, complete basic visual effects work and color grade the image. That used to be a large team's job. Now, it is one (very skilled) person's job.

Sound design is being transformed the same way. So is motion graphics. So are advanced visual effects.

I think I can keep post production to a six person team for my next few films. The major factor will be if my sound team needs assistants and if my visual effects become even more ambitious. But, this movie has 150 visual effects shots being finished by three people. Even if I double the effects shots and want the same deadline to be met I only need a team of six.

It is amazing how liberating this is.

I NEED TO BE PICKIER ABOUT WHO I HIRE
I gave several people with no experience the opportunity to work on post. Two members of the team did an amazing job. The rest did not value this opportunity. They did subpar work, weren't open to critique and didn't understand why they were fired or their short-term contracts allowed to expire. As with the crew of A Lonely Place For Dying...they simply didn't get it. I'm tired of hearing people tell me they want to work in this industry while they aren't willing to pay their dues, hone their skills and understand that no one gets an E for Effort at this level. We either deliver or we don't.

Now, a couple people took this opportunity and have absolutely dazzled me. I need to figure out why they were capable of doing so. But, percentage-wise they establish a 20% success rate. That's quite low. So, as a general rule it isn't worth the risk knowing that only 20% of new people will succeed. It's a waste of money and time for my production company and it doesn't help the people who failed, because (from what I've seen so far) they really don't want to understand why they failed.

Like it or not, success in this business is dependent on hiring extreme experts. Therefore, we need to be elitists. Many people don't like that term. However, we're in a highly competitive field. The audience has high standards. And, like an Olympics track and field event, many may enter, few will participate and only a handful will win. No one is surprised to discover that an Olympian has to be disciplined to win. This field is no different.

We still have about two months of work to finish this movie. But, I've already learned so much. I've never been more excited about this craft. I've never had so much control at my fingertips. I love this.

Approaching Final Cut

I just received the third edit of A Lonely Place For Dying. We're definitely in the home stretch. Brad Stoddard has done a fantastic job. I'm compiling my latest notes and I'm surprised how short the list is. Brad can get through this list in about two days.

After he completes Draft Four we'll let it sit for a day and then do one more pass. I'm anticipating that will be only a half day of work...and then, we're at picture lock!

Delaying Gratification

My aunt taught me an aphorism I'll never forget. "The first generation builds it. The second generation grows it. The third generation spends it. And the fourth begins again."

This defines the cycle of wealth...for individuals, for families, for corporations and for nations. It also hides a deeper truth. Those that do not understand delayed gratification can build nothing. I can think of no greater curse than to be born into an extremely wealthy family. It is a crippling disorder that requires great sacrifice to overcome. Paradoxically, extreme amounts of wealth stifle ones ability to achieve their dreams.

How does this relate to filmmaking? Have some faith, we'll get there. First, we need to summarize some history, sociology and economic theory.

While the internet belongs to all, it is still dominated by the educated and wealthy...particularly Americans (there are 300 million of us, making us the largest industrialized first world nation on the planet). If you're reading this then statistically there is a high probability that you are literate, educated, middle-class and American, British, Canadian, Australian or a New Zealander.

Putting moral issues aside, our wealth was built by the labor of the British Empire, which created an economic commonwealth that spans the globe. In the last four centuries our nations, along with Western Europe and Japan, have both acquired (from other cultures) and created (from hard work) unprecedented wealth. In the twentieth century America ascended to power and became the wealthiest nation the world has ever seen. Coupled with unprecedented advances in technology and medicine, we First Worlders live lives completely different than other nations...and compared to all of human history.

And, it has ruined us.

Right now, some college student in Boston is pounding their keyboard with rage. They struggle with the cost of tuition, housing and food. I'm not denying that reality. Before you dismiss my argument, try this experiment:

1.) Get a piece of paper.

2.) Write a list of the major items your parents own and when they first purchased them.

3.) Write a list of what your grandparents owned and when they first purchased them.

4.) Do the same for yourself.

5.) Lastly, define Middle Class. List the specific material items of the Middle Class.

Now, don't read anything else until you've done that. Take an hour and complete this exercise. Then, read the following.

My father's father was an Oklahoman sharecropper of Cherokee, French, Welsh and possibly African descent. The Great Dustbowl ruined his family and my father, who was born in 1935, traveled across the country on dirty mattresses in the back of a beat up truck. He picked fruit in Central California as a child alongside his parents and brothers. When I asked him what his childhood was like he told me to read Steinbeck.

My mother's grandfather left Russia in 1917 as an orphan, presumably because of the Soviet revolution. He was penniless when he arrived on Ellis Island. I have no idea how he moved across the US to build a family in Portland, Oregon. But, he did. And, he gave birth to my mother's father, who labored his entire life in backbreaking blue-collar jobs, eventually dying from cancer related to Asbestos exposure.

Two generations later on my father's side and three on my mother's, here I am. I was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. I lived on Waikiki Beach as a child. My sister graduated from Harvard. I'm a proud NYU drop out. We had health care, we went to summer camps, we wore name brand clothes and we lived in large homes.

As a child, I thought this was normal. I thought this was the definition of middle class.

Having lived in the third world, I now have a very different definition. My friends in Beijing would say my American definition of middle class is a stunning act of humility.

A college graduate from a prestigious Chinese university who has a white collar job is lucky to have an 800 square foot two bedroom apartment, a bicycle, a computer and a small 12" television. They might own three sets of clothes. They do not have health care. They don't have cable TV. They don't have credit cards...in China, consumer credit doesn't exist yet. They live frugally so they can save money for college and retirement. And, compared to their parents they are extremely wealthy.

We First Worlders are less than 10% of the world's population. Our definition of wealth and poverty is so grossly distorted that we define wealth as the endless and easy acquisition of material possessions. I have friends who believe they are poor...and yet, they own multiple cars, multiple computers and flat panel TV's.

Ten years ago some of my family came into a massive inheritance. It was in the millions of dollars. They bought homes, bought RV's, bought speed boats, bought luxury cars...and yet, not once did they define themselves as wealthy. They honestly believed they were middle class. Their definition of wealth was that they could spend money forever. Anything less than endless consumerism was merely middle class. And, now that they've spent the entire inheritance they often define themselves as poor. And, they truly feel that way...despite owning two homes, an RV, a truck, a luxury car and rooms absolutely filled with stuff.

Does real poverty exist in the First World? Absolutely. But, if you're reading this on a high speed internet connection you aren't poor. Americans specifically and First Worlders in general are so privileged that they believe the definition of wealth is having every material possession they could ever conceive of.

"The first generation builds it. The second generation grows it. The third generation spends it. And the fourth begins again."

We are the third generation. And, because of that, we are crippled by our wealth, by our perceptions, by our inability to delay gratification.

And, one cannot become a great director, actor, cinematographer, editor or musician without an extreme delay in gratification. An extreme delay in gratification.

How much are you prepared to do without? The answer to that question is how far your skills will evolve.

EDUCATION NEVER ENDS...

How well do you know classical literature? How often do you study films? Do you listen to every director's commentary on every DVD you own? Do you listen to them repeatedly? Do you force yourself to watch historically significant films even if they aren't your idea of a fun evening? Have you read books on music theory, acting theory, cinematography, comparative mythology, screenwriting and economics...even if those aren't your intended artistic paths? How well do you know software and the technical tools of your trade? Do you force yourself to learn the things you do not yet know and had hoped you would not have to understand?

MATERIAL WEALTH MUST COME SECOND...

Are you willing to live in a smaller apartment and drive an older car? Are you willing to shop at discount grocery stores? Are you willing to buy clothes at Good Will? As your high school friends, who have become accountants and software engineers, begin to acquire homes and cars can you ignore that gnawing doubt in your gut that tells you their path is the happier one?

SELF EVALUATION IS EVER PRESENT...

Are you willing to change who you are? Are you willing to work on your flaws? Can you confront your troubled past? Do you embrace and accept that we are all works in progress but that you must choose to be better no matter how painful change may be? Do you accept that this journey never ends? Never. Ever. And we aren't allowed to say "Love me or leave me. This is who I am. I'm not willing to improve any longer."

THE BAR IS EVER RISING...

Do you accept that you will never be satisfied with your own work? Do you agree that even your creative strengths can continue to evolve? And, if you develop a set of techniques that are effective...are you willing to throw those out and start again in order to make sure your skills don't become a bag of tricks?

CONCLUSION

Pre Fontaine once said "Most people run a race to see who is fastest. I run a race to see who has the most guts." Pre Fontaine embraced pain. He was shorter than his competitors. His legs weren't the same length. And yet, his ability to delay gratification and embrace pain made him one of the best runners in the world.

There are no short cuts in this field. Despite everything we'll tell you about the filmmaking process, the one common theme you'll see in all of our lives is our willingness to sacrifice material comforts for something greater. And, you'll find our skills calcify the moment we embrace the good life.

That doesn't mean living in pseudo-poverty forever...but it does mean resisting the addiction of consumerism and comfort.

If you want this, you need to want this and nothing else. For those of us from The Third Generation, that's a herculean challenge. And, most of us will find a limit to how much we can delay gratification. Like the Gom Jabbar in Frank Herbert's Dune, we must place our hand inside the box and see how much pain we can endure...and that will define just how human we really are.

The Hard Way - Negotiating With IATSE

When a group of independent filmmakers get together writers, directors, cinematographers, actors, visual effects artists and composers all directly gain from the experience. They add to their body of work and they gain a demo reel capable of obtaining paying jobs.

What does the crew get? This was the question I was trying to answer when I decided to negotiate a contract with IATSE for A Lonely Place For Dying. On the typical independent film the below-the-line crew positions gain very little...at least in my opinion. They gain experience. They refine their skills. But, we all get that. Above and beyond these obvious benefits they gain very little (unless they are working for a director who is going places and are smart enough to build an alliance with that director. But, that happens very rarely). In general, the below-the-line crew gains far less than the above-the-line contributors.

WIth that in mind, I wanted to negotiate a deal with New Mexico's IATSE Local 480. Here in New Mexico, IATSE has training programs in CNM, The College Of Santa Fe and other state schools. In addition, there is a state rebate program that gives productions 50% back every time a seasoned professional trains students on a professional set. To me, this implied the state of New Mexico was serious about helping students gain professional experience and join the union so they could build careers in the motion picture industry. In addition, The Duke City Shootout's non-professional short films counted as days towards union membership for its crews.

With that in mind, I asked my fellow producer to pursue a deal with Local 480 so that our crew's days would work the same way The Duke City Shootout did. The goal was that if they worked on our movie they would complete enough days to qualify for union certification and be able to apply to Local 480. By doing this, everyone on our film set would win, above and below the line.

What a pipe dream. What a lie. What a colossal waste of time, money, energy and emotion.

IATSE's business agent, Jon Hendry, is only interested in helping independent films that help him. Despite the solid argument that adding another 18 dues-paying members to the union roster is good for the union, Jon Hendry couldn't see the benefit. And so, Jon Hendry ignored us at every turn. Since his girlfriend works for the film office and he has friends in all the schools, he proactively attempted to shut our film out of any training program benefits. And, when we began using the phrase "We're attempting to get a union agreement so our crew's work will count towards union certification" he circulated an email to the entire Local 480 that we were committing fraud. He twisted our innocent words into something dark and sinister. In addition, he placed a notice in the monthly Local 480 newsletter requesting any union members to notify him immediately if we asked for anyone to work on our movie with the intent to use it as proof we were violating the law.

Despite his attempt to shut us out of the system, we were able to attract some top-flight union members for our art department. And, they understood what we were trying to do. They understood that we don't threaten big budget features, we aren't competing with Hollywood' movies and that we are New Mexico's best bet for growing an indigenous production community. If New Mexico has no indigenous directors, then all productions will be imports lured by tax rebates. The moment the rebates are overshadowed by larger soft money subsidies available elsewhere, the productions will leave. That requires tax payers to subsidize film production forever in order to maintain the local industry. New Mexico needs what I call the Rodriquez Factor, an indigenous filmmaker who can raise Hollywood size budgets, wants to build infrastructure locally and shoot here at home. Can a single local filmmaker be the backbone of a homegrown industry? Absolutely. Austin, Texas is proof of what one successful filmmaker can do if they have a good reason to shoot in their own backyard.

With the help of these union members we restored most of the sets for A Lonely Place For Dying. They converted the various prison sets from The Longest Yard into our fictional Mexican prison, Puerta Cobre. They brought on additional painters and plasterers to alter interiors, to build a Laotian hotel room and to dress up a CIA office. And, when they heard what we were attempting to do for the crew they immediately understood the benefit.

Most independent films are trying to avoid signing a union contract. They don't want the paperwork, the rules and the oversight. We welcomed the additional work. I personally wanted a way for the crew to benefit as much as I would from this film. And, so the union workers helped us circumvent Jon Hendry. We asked him for help and his answer was "Call me when you get a real budget." This made the local union members livid. They quoted union rules and stated the union didn't have a right to turn us down. They were legally obligated to enter into negotiations if we asked for it. So, we went over Jon Hendry's head...we contacted IATSE's international office in New York. They had no problem dealing with us...and so they forced Local 480 to enter into negotations with us.

Which was what we wanted...but, it meant we were talking to Jon Hendry again. The man who had slandered us. The man who had shut us out. And, he wasn't happy.

His response was angry and swift. We wanted a contract? Great! He'd give us a contract. Here was the deal:

1.) He could care less if we paid any of our crew. We could pay them nothing, that would be fine.
2.) He could care less if we agreed to any standard union rules. We could work our crew into the ground.
3.) But, we'd have to pay $35.00 a day per crew person into the Union health and pension plan...even though none of our crew would ever collect these benefits. And, there was no negotiation on this, despite the fact their rate is almost 150% higher than SAG.
4.) And, we'd have to pay for "ghost crew members." We had only two people in our camera department. WIth a Red One that's all we needed. The local camera union demanded the benefits for four people, knowing full well we only had two.
5.) And, there was no guarantee that any of our crew would ever get into the union. I could recommend them. Our union liasons, who believed in our movie and were helping us get a union contract, could recommend them...but, there was the hidden implication that Jon Hendry would blacklist anyone from our crew and prevent them from gaining membership in the union.
6.) And, last but not least was Jon Hendry's threats. He would shut us down, remove all students currently working on the film and put up a picket line in front of our location if we didn't agree to his demands. No negotiation. No discussion.
7.) Lastly, Jon Hendry lied to our producers and claimed we didn't have the legal right to walk away from this "offer". By opening up negotiations we were now obligated to sign whatever union deal he presented to us. If we walked away he claimed we'd be breaking the law. This scared many of my inexperienced production team.
8.) And, we would have to pay into the health and pension fund immediately. We were told to go back to our investors and ask for another $30,000.00. It didn't matter that our budget was only $200,000. Jon Hendry didn't care that he was inflating our budget 15%. He didn't care we would violate our SAG contract by complying with his demands.

I bristled at the extortion I faced. And, I bristled at the brazen lies. You can't FORCE someone to sign a contract. You can't FORCE someone to pay for ghost employees! And, how does someone who represents a union dedicated to protecting employee's rights flat out state that they could care less if we pay our crew or comply with union rules?

I explained all of this to the crew. I was already frustrated with how unprofessional the crew was, but I wanted them to understand how our goal of helping them had spun into something illegal. I wanted them to understand how our attempt to help them could very well destroy the entire film. And, that I'd be damned if I let that happen.

Jon Hendry openly bragged about one of his negotiation tactics. He claimed that by entering into negotiations late into production it forced producers to sign any contract he wanted. The problems with this are legion. It means his own union membership often is denied health and pension benefits for the weeks in which no contract is in place, it creates a hostile relationship between out-of-state producers and it creates the false impression that Local 480 condones these hardball tactics.

Most importantly, it was a lousy move with me. I lived in China for two and a half years. I've been stalked by Chinese criminals who stole money from the Communist Party and illegally smuggled their ill-gotten gains into the US. I've had my life threatened, I've been slandered, I've had people completely tear everything I hold dear to pieces...and I survived. Tactics like this don't scare me. They just piss me off.

Jon Hendry was used to a typical ten week shoot. We were only a six week shoot...and we were already on week four. So, I simply delayed Jon Hendry for two weeks. I played stupid, I played absent-minded and I delayed a series of phone calls claiming I was exhausted from shooting. As Jon thought he was forcing us to sign an unfair contract we were finishing production. Before any more strong-arm tactics could be enforced our movie was in the can.

A few days after wrapping I left a message for Jon. "Sorry, Jon. I really wanted to make a deal. But, our project is finished now. Maybe we can work a deal for the next film."

I learned the hard way that IATSE isn't ready to join SAG in creating fair, responsible micro-budget contracts for independent filmmakers. We're (irrationally) seen as a threat to IATSE's traditional business model. And, until local business reps understand that we're happy to work within their system as long as the contracts make sense for our budget levels, it doesn't make sense for independent filmmakers to sign IATSE contracts. Most local unions have an unwritten rule of ignoring any movie below $1,000,000.00 USD. I had hoped to prove that it benefits everyone for this policy to change.

Long term, it must change. Independent directors and producers need to learn how to shoot in a standard 11.5 hour day. They need to learn how to schedule breaks. They need to learn how to make a movie without exploiting a crew.

Non-union crew members need to learn how a union set is run. How it is still the hardest work they will ever do. How it will prove if they are truly ready for this demanding industry.

As the number of micro-budget features expand the union has an obligation to oversee these productions and make sure they don't exploit their crews. They have an opportunity to educate and facilitate new filmmakers without the need for twentieth century strong-arm tactics. We aren't 19th century robber barrons and they aren't socialist rabble rousers...we can do this calmly, fairly and without the need to treat the other side like an enemy.

However, that's the long term. Short term, I accomplished nothing. I failed to fulfill a promise to my crew. I allowed my own reputation to be hurt thanks to Jon Hendry's slander. I spent long hours on a negotiation that was designed to be exploitative. And, I failed to move Local 480 a single inch towards creating a "SAG Indie" contract model.

And, I became bitter, angry and tired over the entire mess, which effected my mood on the set. It didn't help that I had an amateur crew that was proud of running a film set like a homophobic frat house.

Combined, I was spent.

Despite this, I believe there is hope. Firstly, it is important I talk about this experience loudly. The only way we can educate IATSE's political elite is by talking about experiences like this. Whether IATSE wants to admit it, they need to adapt to a changing world. Despite a few mega-budget movies, the majority of films are small budgets. And, microbudget productions are growing in complexity, sophistication and professionalism. Long term, IATSE must join SAG Indie in embracing micro-budget filmmaking. It is inevitable.

I believe we can aid in this cause. By adapting SAG's contract models for IATSE and showing these modified contracts to local union leaders we can demonstrate how easy it is for IATSE to embrace micro-budget movies. Surely, if SAG can create budgets for student films, short films and ultra-low budget features IATSE can do the same. We can educate IATSE's membership on how the absence of these contracts perpetuates the long hours and unsafe working conditions of most independent films. We can demonstrate to IATSE that today's independent directors and producers will be heading tomorrow's big budget projects. Would they like us to learn how to work within the system now...or later? And, as filmmaking continues to become decentralized it is in IATSE's best interest to build a fair, even-handed partnership with us.

Days Like These Begins


We held our first iChat with the entire eight-person team making Days Like These. It's a joint project between Prodigi Pictures and Kooldex Productions.

THE PROJECT:
Days Like These is a short Western/Action/Comedy set during the Civil War in New Mexico.

THE TEAM:
We've already assembled the entire core team. Bryan Ross (producer), Jason Bishop (co-producer, weapons/tactical/fight choreography), Luis Robledo (actor, musician), Marisilda Garcia (actor, musician), Brent Daniels (musician), Arthur Love (camera, visual effects), Stephen Rubin (executive producer) and myself (writer, director, cinematographer).

THE MISSION:
It's quite simple really...to make an amazing short film set in the middle of a Civil War battle about two grifters still angry about last night's poker game. While a war rages around them these two professional poker players are locked into their own personal battle. We'll restage the Battle Of Glorietta Pass while adding our own fictional twist...that two hapless poker sharks got stuck in the middle of the whole damn mess.

We'll be documenting the entire journey...conception, development, pre-production, production, post-production, festivals...and hopefully some form of distribution!


Music Video Countdown Begins

We're nearly finished with the music video for Brent Daniels' theme song, A Lonely Place For Dying.

To be honest, I didn't think we could pull it off. I originally hired Free to write the theme for this film simply because I wanted to do what big movies do. Free did it as a favor. Then, when we both realized he'd written an amazing song we expanded it into a maxi-single. Then, we realized it didn't have any form of advertising to support it. So, on a whim we decided to shoot a video while we were shooting the feature film.

That was the insane part. Here I am, stuck in a grueling feature film shoot trying to make a movie that is far bigger than my actual budget...and Free and I decide to shoot a complicated music video.

But, wait. There's more!

I, all by myself, decide to make a music video that takes place entirely at sunset. Smart move, Justin! So, instead of knocking out the video in a day we need to shoot it over four evenings...and we have to coordinate that with the feature film shoot.

The advantages were obvious. We already had a Red One on set, we already were on the location, we already had gear in position and we already had a crew assembled. That saved us a tremendous amount of money. If a music label were involved, they would have spent about $30,000.00 on this video. We spent about $3,800.00 (including plane flights). That's the upside.

The downside is that the crew was already worn out. They were already tired of my high standards. They were too inexperienced to understand the value of shooting a video on top of shooting a movie. They didn't fully comprehend how unique this was...that we were doing what studios and labels do. 

We weren't behaving like an independent film crew. Most of the crew simply didn't care. They didn't value it. They wanted to go home, even though we'd only worked ten hours on those days. So, I was stuck with a skeleton crew.

But, the skeleton crew pulled through. Arthur Love took over camera operation and earned his first cinematography credit. Jason Trausch demonstrated tremendous loyalty and humility. He was there to help, no matter what the task.

One of his tasks involved using another crew member's car to kick up dust. Jason did some amazing performance driving...and we ended up damaging the car, resulting in an $1,800.00 repair fee for the vehicle. Of course, the company's insurance didn't cover it! Lonely Place, LLC was forced to pay it out of pocket. Morally, we were obligated to and so I'm glad we did...but, it hurt the budget tremendously.

Free and Ginger did far more than artists normally do. They flew in from Oregon. They rented the drums, speakers and mic stand. They rented an SUV. They transported everything to set. They did each other's make up and costumes. In short, they were their own make-up, hair, wardrobe, props, and transpo departments.

After four nights of shooting, we wrapped. And, then it was time to edit.

Editing a music video isn't as time-consuming as editing a feature. But, it requires skill and an eye for detail. I didn't have time. None of us did, really. We weren't quite sure how to solve it.

Then, Free mentioned that his Hednoize partner, Daniel Lenz, had worked as an editor before becoming a musician. I've worked with Daniel before and I have a ton of respect for the guy. He's "one of us". He is methodical. He can learn anything. And, he always sets the bar as high as can be. So, Daniel flew to Free's place in Oregon, we had a couple iChats and the two knocked out an amazing edit in two days.

I gave some notes. Christmas came. Free and Daniel did another pass on the video. Now, I've given what will probably be my final notes on the video. After that there will be a handful of visual effects shots, color grading and a final inspection to make sure the video is "legal" (meaning, it conforms to broadcast technical standards). Then, it is done.

If you're making your first feature film I'm not sure I recommend doing a video on top of everything else. You have to be a stubborn masochist (which I am). I can't claim something like "Well, I didn't know what I didn't know...so we bit off more than we could chew!" That would be a lie. I knew going in this was a massive undertaking. My eyes were wide open.

But, here we are...in the final stretch. The video is almost done. Then it is time to submit it HD broadcasters, MTV2, online music review sites...and eventually we'll broadcast it on Vimeo and Youtube.

I also want to figure out a way to bundle a 1080P version on the CD maxi-single or on iTunes.

And, the next time I ask Free to fly to Albuquerque I really hope we just hang out and play Wii for a few days. Our workaholic tendencies wears us both out!

Twitter-pated

Joined twitter. See side bar. Short blog tonight. Get it?

Monday...Spring Cleaning

Now that my post production team is busy, I'm doing an early spring cleaning. I'm doing the stuff us creative types hate to do, but must be done.

1.) Reregistering Prodigi, Inc. and its subsidiaries.
2.) Closing old bank accounts, arranging the details of active ones.
3.) Organizing all files for the company.
4.) Using Mobile Me to enhance the company's efficiency and productivity.
5.) Collecting all the company's digital files and placing them on a single drive.

Now, this final task is possible because hard drives are cheap and big...and because Brent Daniels bought me this for Christmas! We're both gear nerds (although, I doubt I'll ever catch up to him as a true Apple power user. I spent too many years on economy PC's) and we like our gear to work well. My next step is a Drobo, but that will have to wait until I know all the post production expenses are under control.

I probably have two more weeks of this drudgery. But, then my company's "left brain" side will be in tip-top shape and I can get back to the "right brain" creative stuff.

Count Smokula & The Lumen

I had a great conversation with Count Smokula and the Troma Team about my invention, The Lumen at the 2007 American Film Market. Since then, I've sent a couple emails hoping to find out if they had edited together our conversation. During a random search I found out they did! Here it is:


Break's Over...Editing Resumes

I met with my editor today for about two hours. We went over comments from the Santa Fe Film Festival as well as notes from our Executive Producer, Michael Edwards.

Our focus is on rhythm and pacing. The goal is to tighten up the entire film. We'll trim about 4-6 minutes out of the running time. This will make the final film about 94 minutes.

I also spoke with Michael Edwards today about the post process. We spoke for about two hours. Michael is an amazingly intelligent guy. He truly cares about making this a great film. Each time we speak he devotes more time to a limited theatrical release.

So, break's over. It's time to get this film to picture lock!

Back On The Horse...

It's December 26th. And, although the rest of the entertainment is still on holiday, I have to get back on the horse. Tomorrow I'm meeting with my editor so we can discuss what the next cut of the film needs. My visual effects guys are already back at work. I met with my business partner today to discuss all the "spring cleaning" the company needs to complete.

It looks like we are on the short list for six more film festivals. I can't announce them until we've been officially invited, but the first is in late February. That establishes are next milestone. We need to get to picture lock by January 31st so Brent Daniels can score the film during the first few weeks of February. If we can screen a picture-locked, scored version of the movie at the next festival we'll be in great shape. There will be more work to do after that...but, we'll definitely be over the hump.

A Lonely Place For Dying On IFC

IFC began airing a minute long interstitial for A Lonely Place For Dying this week:

IFC COMMERCIAL

Location Location Location

Most low budget movies suffer from White Wall Syndrome. They're shot in Mom's house in the suburbs, they're shot in a coffee shop, they're shot in a diner, they're shot in a strip mall.

About ten years ago I was hired to direct a Spanish language feature shooting in Atlanta and Guadalajara. Everything we shot in Atlanta suffered from White Wall Syndrome. Once we moved the production to Guadalajara everything changed. We had access to national parks, to Mayan ruins, to sprawling ranches. And, these locations cost us less than the boring locations we used in Atlanta. The lesson was simple...the reason low budget movies shoot in boring locations is because they are lazy. And, I didn't want to be lazy ever again.

When I first began thinking about ALPFD I focused on location. Originally, the film was going to be a short set at an abandoned gas station. Then, when it grew into a feature my team spent several weeks scouting ghost towns throughout New Mexico. The goal was to find a location that was enormous, monolithic, epic. We chose this...


A Lonely Place For Dying music video set from Brent Daniels aka Free on Vimeo.

The location was "free." I have to put that in quotes because there were a number of hidden costs. Despite these hidden expenses, it was worth every penny because of how much it elevated the production value of the movie. I'm constantly hearing people say things like "The location is another character in your film!" I'm not a fan of that metaphor but I understand the sentiment. And, it demonstrates it was worth the effort because it separates us from the low budget projects shot in mom's kitchen.

Progress Report

A lot of beginning filmmakers make the mistake of thinking their journey ends once the film is shot. Those with some wisdom will say their journey includes editing. Few understand that the journey includes promotion, distribution and monetization. I personally believe all three phases are required before a filmmaker can say "My job is done. Now, I rest before I begin again."

We've finished development, pre-production, production and a good chunk of editing. We were lucky enough that our very first preview screening resulted in awards and massive publicity. However, I still have post-production, promotion, distribution and monetization to complete. These phases overlap, so here is my progress report for all four:

POST PRODUCTION
We have a solid assembly of the film.

That's allowed my Visual Effects Supervisor Arthur Love to begin the VFX process. We have roughly 100 VFX shots in the film, ranging from muzzle flares, ejected spent casings, sky replacement, blood spurts, dust, debris and green screen removal. Jim Montgomery is assisting him, which is a tremendous help. Honestly, we need two more skilled VFX artists to assist Arthur and Jim but at our budget level it is unlikely we'll find the help we need. So, as usual, we'll slog through this work underpaid, overstretched and determined to meet the highest standards.

Music is under control. I have complete confidence in my composer, Brent Daniels. We've worked together eight years and our careers are completely interdependent, despite our mutual desire to be self-reliant. I know that if I died tomorrow Brent would create an amazing score that perfectly fit the tone of the film. I'll offer my input, but he doesn't need me. And, a lot of what he does I don't fully grasp. I'm only now beginning to hear the nuances of his mixes. I'm not qualified to evaluate the mastering process. I figured out why we communicate so well a few days ago...it is that we both deal with time-based crafts. Whenever we talk about time-based elements to our craft we grok each other immediately. But, I'm digressing...the main point here is that this is an area I rarely think about because I know its going to be great.

Sound Design, Mixing & Mastering make me nervous. This is by far my greatest weakness. Our dialogue is super-clean which helps this process tremendously. Usually, independent films spend a tremendous amount of time cleaning poorly recorded dialogue. That's not the case on this film. I still worry, because this is the area I understand the least. We're still interviewing people and negotiating terms with the craftsmen for these roles.

Motion Graphics are progressing. Personally, I believe these should have been completed by now. The requirements for this movie are relatively easy and motion graphics aren't difficult to do. I'm a solid motion graphics artist myself and the tools have only grown more powerful while simultaneously becoming easier to use. Right now, we're supposed to have Motion Graphics finished by mid-January. I hope we meet that deadline.

Editing. Editing is now about tightening the film, shaping moments, working on the rhythm and pacing of a scene. Our assembly tells the tale...now, editing will help tell the tale well.

PROMOTION
Promotion is outpacing our ability to finish the post-production! Our preview screening turned into a media juggernaut. December 5th's Variety featured a full page ad about our film. December 8th's featured a double-page spread about the Red Star winners, which included me. Next week IFC starts airing a minute-long interstitial about our film. In a couple weeks we receive another article in Variety. Santa Fe's New Mexican published a three page article about New Mexican films and 1/3rd of the article was dedicated to A Lonely Place For Dying. We have another article for an Albuquerque paper next week.

And, that is the tip of the iceberg. Film festivals are inviting us to screen. They're waiving submission fees and asking us to send screeners directly to the program directors. Honestly, I thought promotion was going to be much more difficult. I thought we'd be beating on doors and begging for people to publish articles.

The Santa Fe Film Festival made all the difference. They fell in love with our movie. Their belief in our film and their desire to help make this movie a success have opened many doors for us. Stephen Rubin became our biggest patron. He had a five-line role in our film. He worked on the set for two days. He had no ownership in the movie, no promise of financial gain, no chance of fame or fortune...and yet, he became the film's champion. He's like the disc jockey who broke a song but without the payola. Once he began calling other film festivals I felt guilty...he deserves something for helping us out. So, I'm considering giving him a producer credit (Lord knows, a massive promotional push is a form of producing) and participation in the film's back end. But, that isn't how it started. I met him at a panel at last year's SFFF, where my short was playing. I asked him for a review and thought "This cat's got an interesting face. He'd be a good character role in my next film. Maybe, he can help us get a free hotel room or a test screening."

DISTRIBUTION
We have a top notch Producer's Rep. We already have DVD, VOD and PPV offers from foreign territories. Right now, our Producer's Rep is focused on exploiting the Heineken Red Star Award and pushing us through post in time to fully capitalize on the free publicity.

We are going to get distribution. It is still a question of how big our distribution will be.

MONETIZATION
I've positioned this movie to do more than the typical indie film's monetization strategy. Some of that can't yet be discussed...but, one part can. We have both a maxi-single and an upcoming score that will be available to the general public. I'm splitting proceeds with my composer 50/50. We'll see if an independent film can sell tracks on iTunes. We get our first report on our maxi-single sales in about three weeks. I've got a few other ways to monetize the film as well. And, I'm studying every day how other DIY filmmakers are doing this.

Discussing money often makes people uncomfortable. It sounds like the opposite of what an artist should care about. As I said in my speech at the Santa Fe Film Festival, there is a famous quote from Walt Disney that sums this issue up perfectly. He stated that the other six studios made movies to make money...but, that he made money to make movies. And, that sums up my philosophy as well. The moment I make movies just to make money is the day someone should take a baseball bat to the back of my skull.

Well, enough blogging...back to work...

Vlog 01: Meet Arthur Love


ALPFD Vlog 01 - Meet Arthur Love from Justin Evans on Vimeo.

A Lonely Place For Dying Sizzle Reel


A LONELY PLACE FOR DYING - AFM Sizzle from Zak Forsman on Vimeo.

Justin Evans Joins The New Breed

I've been asked to join The New Breed. I'm honored, because it is a collective of amazing filmmakers.

I'm a bit out of place because I'm such an obvious genre guy. You can read about my musings on being a movie guy amongst filmmakers here. Allow me to continue my musings...

...it is downright weird for an independent filmmaker to be a mainstream storyteller. I love marketable, mainstream movies. I like action films. I like superhero films. I like thrillers. I like movies that have a hook, are high-concept, have video game and action figure potential. You'd think someone like me would be a part of the system.

There are three problems:

1.) I also love character development, dialogue and great acting. In fact, I think a special effect should be in service to the story...and nothing more.  That isn't the thinking of the current system. The current system is focused on spectical for spectical's sake. My high school drama teacher, Rick Crouse, educated me on the dangers of focusing on spectical. He walked us through the periods in history that emphasized character and the periods that emphasized spectacle. The work born from spectacle has never lasted. Never. Not in four thousand years. Every classic work we hold dear today has an emphasis on character, going all the way back to the foundation of western literature, The Odyssey. Obviously, everything from Les Miserables to Huckleberry Finn have fantastic settings and epic elements...but, their core is character. Hollywood used to understand that. Used to. That's past tense in a big way. And since I'm obsessed with characters I'm automatically an outsider.

2.) I had serious anti-social tendencies in my twenties that culminated with triggering a sociopath to stalk me for three years. That cost me dearly. It also forced me to grow as a person. And, one of the things that changed about me is that I don't want the Los Angeles lifestyle. Storytellers exist to tell stories. They don't live to walk on red carpets and attend parties. My goal is to master the craft of telling stories and leave behind as many great stories as I can before I'm worm food. If a party helps with my mission, great, I'm there...but, that means the party is work, not a celebration. I'm not there to drink. I'm there to promote my latest story and build relationships to help me make my next story. And, that isn't The Industry Way. Anyone who seeks out the red carpet lifestyle isn't going to be a fan of mine. Inevitably, I will make them want to find a baseball bat and apply it to my skull.

3.) I minored in economics before I dropped out of NYU. I love business. I love business models, business plans and business books. I value ethical business practices, transparent accounting procedures, fiscal discipline and responsible capitalism. I am the antithesis of everything corporate Hollywood stands for. In the last fifty years a business school myth has overtaken the corporate world...that an effective manager can manage anything, even if they don't have a  background in the business they are managing. That's bullshit, people. And modern Hollywood is the proof. Jerry Seinfeld once told an NBC executive that "storytelling wasn't their field." He was speaking for the entire industry. Hollywood isn't hollywood any longer. It is run by the wrong people who know far too little about why storytelling is at the center of every culture throughout history. If they understood storytelling better they'd understand how to expand profits, make better films, find a larger audience and have a meaningful connection with society. They'd get why a dead playwright from 400 years ago earns hundreds of companies millions of dollars every year. They'd understand why The Count Of Monte Cristo will be remade in another fifteen years. They'd understand why Star Wars freaked out the entire world.

Filmmaking is not a profession for me. It is who I am. And, my life, my education and my views will forever shape me as an outsider to the current system. Even as my movies gain public acceptance I'll never be a Bret Ratner or Michael Bay...I'm not built the way they are.

Many people make the mistake of believing I'm a paradox. I'm not. My beliefs are extremely consistent and form a cohesive approach to storytelling. However, they are out of step with this time. Therefore, I'm not paradoxical...I'm anachronistic.

Back To The Beginning

On September 5th, 2007 I announced to the DVXuser community that I was beginning work on A Lonely Place For Dying.

Fifteen months later the film is in the final stages of post production, we've attended our first film festival and we've won the Heineken Red Star Award, one of the most prestigious awards in independent cinema.

Our journey on this film is not yet complete. However, this is a good spot to pause and remember how we got this far.

To read the epic, fifteen month blog about this film please go here. It details every aspect of how we made this film. From casting to costumes, everything is covered.

Back From Los Angeles

I'm exhausted. Details to come.

ALPFD Wins Heineken Red Star Award

We won the Heineken Red Star Award!

Last night the Santa Fe Film Festival held it's annual Milagro Awards. This year they have been selected as one of ten festivals that present the prestigious Heineken Red Star. The award is unique in that it gives an independent film a tremendous amount of publicity. The award includes:

1.) A full page ad in Variety
2.) 1 minute interstitials to run on IFC for a month
3.) A full article in Variety
4.) Invitation to a private mixer with studio heads, acquisition execs and agents

No matter how good the independent film, without promotion and exposure the film will die in obscurity. And, exposure and promotion are difficult to come by. Usually, they require vast sums of money.

We've been lucky. Thanks to the Heineken Red Star we'll be gaining a tremendous amount of exposure.

ALPFD Screens At Santa Fe Film Festival Tonight!

A Lonely Place For Dying screens at the Santa Fe Film Festival tonight.

I'm nervous as hell. This was supposed to be a small, quiet preview screening. We finished shooting 7 weeks ago and the film is only a rough cut. Music is missing, visual effects aren't finished, some scenes need tightening, only a portion of the movie has sound effects and we haven't color graded the image yet.

Since this is my first feature film, I wanted to test this rough version in front of a small audience and gadge their reaction. I thought an intimate screening with fifty people would give the post production team some useful information about our progress. And, with a small screening, we couldn't fail...after all, it was only a small preview before a tiny audience...

...somehow, it's turned into something much bigger.

We're screening in the Santa Fe Film Festival's Scottish Rite, which is their second-largest venue. It seats about 400 people. The screening is predicted to sell out in the next few hours. The Santa Fe New Mexican has written an extensive article on the film. Movie stars are coming to the screening. So are acquisition executives from major distributors. We've been nominated for several awards.

I'm officially freaked out. My intimate test screening has transmogrified into something much more public, much more prominent.

The film will be judged as if it were a finished film. That's inevitable and unavoidable. And, the train has already left the station, so all I can do is hold on...

Mission Statement

Fourteen months ago I began a production blog for the feature film, A Lonely Place For Dying.

My goals for the blog were fairly amorphous. After bogging in a public (but niche) forum for fourteen months my goals have become clearer:

1.) To create public awareness of the film.
2.) To document the process for independent filmmakers.
3.) To form relationships with like-minded independent filmmakers, actors and artisans.
4.) To create a proof-of-concept for post-studio-centric filmmaking business models.

Let me clarify these points.

1: TO CREATE PUBLIC AWARENESS OF A LONELY PLACE FOR DYING
I think it is best to be up front about this. I want you to see our movie. I want you to want to see our movie. And, I don't have the regular arsenal of advertising tools at my disposal.

Do I think a blog will cause millions of people to see a micro-budget feature film? No. But, I do think it can influence the mainstream media. I think it can reach hardcore cinephiles. And, that's a start.

2: TO DOCUMENT THE PROCESS FOR INDEPENDENT FILMMAKERS
There are many books on this subject. Few go into great detail. None give a day to day summary of the process. Whenever I watched a documentary on how a famous filmmaker succeeded I became frustrated...the documentary inevitably glossed over the struggle and mistakes of the early years. A typical episode of Biography might go something like this:

"Steven Spielberg dropped out of UC Northridge...Ten years later he made Duel, and thus began the illustrious career of the most successful filmmaker in history!"

Every book I've read, every documentary I've seen glosses over the most important part...the struggle, choices and inevitable self-transformation necessary to succeed in anything. Personally, I find that to be the most interesting part of the story.

Success is always a mix of preparation, determination, self-examination and timing. If one skips over the struggle then the recipe looks like it contains one ingredient...luck. And, that has lead to an enormous amount of pop-psychology flotsam endlessly repeated by the masses, resulting in a feedback loop of crap advice.

I'm done with that noise.

Let's tell the truth. And, while I don't know the truth I can at least tell my truth. What I want, how I plan on getting there, what my struggles are, how I need to change as a person in order to get there, what character traits aid and hinder me...

...in ten years there may be fifty of these journals. And, through them a deeper truth can be found. Hopefully, it will dispel The Biography Channels' fluffy implication that successful artists were born ready for success.

3: TO FORM RELATIONSHIPS WITH LIKE-MINDED INDEPENDENT FILMMAKERS, ACTORS AND ARTISANS.
A friend of mine told me we all want to belong to a tribe. I agree. I've wanted to belong to a tribe for a long time. I've joined groups, associations, societies and alliances. However, while they were a tribe they were never my tribe. I spent a year on a prominent web forum, hoping that might be my tribe. It wasn't.

Why? Most of the people in these groups don't want to succeed. They like the artifice of being an artisan but they aren't willing to fully commit. And, I'm not built to hang out with people who enjoy turning on a camera but don't want to master the craft. They want to have fun. That's fine...it's not for me. I don't want to have fun. I want to be fulfilled.

Despite my high standards, which can make one rather lonely, I have found like-minded individuals. I've found composers, actors, editors and graphic designers who, like me, care about the being fulfilled more than having fun. Hopefully, this blog will continue to bring like-minded members into our tribe.

4: TO CREATE A PROOF-OF-CONCEPT FOR POST-STUDIO-CENTRIC FILMMAKING BUSINESS MODELS.
Since I was a kid I've wanted to make movies. I was born in the seventies and grew up in the eighties...and I knew that if I wanted this to be my profession I had only six possible employers. 

Six.

Oh, sure, independent film waves came and went through the seventies, eighties and nineties. But, each wave followed the same cycle. Small, independent distributors find talented independent filmmakers, release independent movies onto limited number of screens, make profit, grow profit until they seize a small but visible chunk of the industry's market share...and the six studios come in, buy everyone and everything, and fully absorb and assimilate the threat until the system returns to the status quo.

I believe this time is different.

And, in studying the uniqueness of this cycle I also came to realize what I want...what I've always wanted...I want to make movies and I want to pay my bills in doing so. In the past, an independent filmmaker had no choice but to eventually seek employment from the six studios. The only other option was limited resources and poverty. To paint on a big canvas one had to go to six companies to do so. So, I've been thinking for twenty years that my goal was to become a studio filmmaker.

But, the canvas I can paint on as an independent is growing exponentially. Every year, technology transforms the production process, reduces costs, expands creativity and closes the gap between what one sees in a multiplex and at a film festival.

I don't have to compromise on picture quality any longer. My movie, no matter how small the budget, can be sharp, grain-free and noise free. I don't have to compromise on sound quality. I can record uncompressed wave files to a digital recorder with ease. I don't have to compromise on development...writing, storyboarding, location scouting, casting and production design are primarily done on my computer. What few things must be done in Meat Space are inexpensive. I don't have to compromise on post-production. Every aspect of post-production can be done in my home. The only areas where I struggle to compete is on publicity and distribution...

...and that is about to change. forever.

The wave is building. It's far from the beach, but the water is swelling. You can see it's shape, you know it is inevitable and despite Six Studios' attempts to line the coast with breakers this wave will grow and it will reach shore.

For nearly a century six studios have controlled the motion picture industry. In the next ten years this will change...and I can make a different, simpler choice.

Realizing that, I realize I never wanted to be a Hollywood director. I want to make movies...and I'll make them in Albuquerque, New Mexico as easily as I can in Los Angeles.

I want other filmmakers to realize this path as well. For the first time in history we can choose to make any kind of movie we want on our own terms and without the approval of The Big Six. And, unlike the cycles of the past, our options are far more grand than "Two Guys Hanging Out In A Mini-Mart." We are not limited to twenty-somethings moaning and groaning in coffee shops. Independent films need not be limited to suburban settings. We can make any kind of movie we want.

Battles. Period pieces. Exotic locations. Special effects. Stunts. Action. The tools usually associated with The Big Six now belong to us...and we can use them, infuse them with rich characters, great dialogue and a level of substance long forgotten by The Big Six and make something better.

If this is true, then I must restate my goal. I don't want to be a studio filmmaker. I just want to be a filmmaker. A good one. A filmmaker with a body of work worthy of your time and respect. And, I already have the resources to do make this possible. I don't need The Big Six to realize my dreams. I can do this outside the system without compromise.

Hopefully, this blog will show you how to do that as well.





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