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Coming To A Theater Near You

On September 7th we'll begin our theatrical release. Our original goal was to do a Red State style roadshow around the US using the BryteWerks Model One. To our great surprise, independent theaters across the country are booking our movie just like any other mainstream release. We'll still support some theaters with the use of The Model One but the scope and size of our theatrical release is growing daily.

We've had people ask us who we secured to oversee our theatrical release. The answer on Box Office Mojo is Humble Magi. And that's true, but it's worth pointing out that Humble Magi is us! It's our parent company which means we're releasing the film ourselves.

During our two-year festival run we learned so much about theatrical exhibition (and how thoroughly corrupt most Los Angeles based companies are) we decided we could do our own theatrical release. From booking to reporting, from television ad buys to radio spots we're doing it all.

This is usually where most filmmakers give up. I suspect it starts to feel too much like an ordinary job and they'd rather shoot another movie than do the daily grind of booking theaters, printing posters, shipping trailers and strategizing media buys. I must be built differently because I find it to be refreshing and a lot of fun!

Although we'll be hitting about 100 theaters across the country we're opening in only one; the Al Ringling Theatre in Baraboo, WI. Why? There are many reasons. It is the first movie palace ever made in America. It is also a stunning, majestic space. It also hasn't converted to digital yet and is an excellent place to demonstrate The BryteWerks Model One. It wasn't on our radar...not until an interactive database we created called The Master Venue List helped us identify it. Once we saw pictures of the marquee and the interior I fell in love. This is a sacred space for cinema; a majestic hall that takes our art form seriously and embraces the ideal that cinema is to be a communal experience.

What better way to launch a theatrical release than at America's first movie palace!

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.

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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