Thursday, June 30, 2005

In a Perfect World...

You write a script. You're only limited by your imagination. The most intricate action scenes set in exotic locales, wonderful sets. You put them all in! This will be great!

Then it's up to Hollywood to bring your imagination to life. To find locations that will double as the places you've imagined.

They have FX technicians to figure out just how to make that gruesome death look realistic on screen. They have stuntmen to figure out how they can safely create that stunt and make it look awesome. They have seemingly limitless money to throw at any problem, any obstacle.

Too bad this ain't a perfect world.

You're a low-budget guy. And when I say low budget I'm not talking five million. With five million I could make you four movies and take a month-long vacation in the Bahamas.

No, I'm talking between $30,000-$80,000. To the layman who has never shot anything that may still seem like a lot of money. It's not.

Let me show you how fast that money goes. Assume you're not going to pay yourself anything to write/direct/edit the film. You hire your Director of Photography(D.P.). He's gonna cost you about $4,500($1000/week for 3 weeks of shooting plus the $400 plane ticket to fly him out from LA plus his hotel while he stays here which will be about $1100 for the 3 weeks)

You can skimp. Pull some kid who's fresh out of college who thinks he knows what he's doing. Hell, he'll do it for free so he has something on his reel.

If you do that you risk making a piece of shit. I tell you, the Director of Photography is one of the most important people on your set. Do not half-ass this position. Half-ass your P.A.s, but not this position.

So then you need some all-purpose guys. We'll call them grips, but they're really gonna be grips/electricians. You can probably get some decent guys for $100/day. You're gonna need them 6 days a week for 3 weeks, so each of them is gonna cost $1800 for the shoot. 3 of them for the entire shoot is gonna cost $5,400.

You're gonna need some equipment--come on, whattaya gonna shoot on? What are you going to rent? Let's be nice and say we get a camera for $150/day--we got a break because we're renting it for 3 weeks. The total cost for the rental of the camera will be $2700.

We need lights. We can rent a light kit or two, but we really should kill two birds with one stone. Let's get a grip truck, which we'll make sure comes equipped with a light kit. It will also have C-stands, sand bags, reflectors, extension cords and most of the general stuff we'll need. We get a decent deal on that for $1000 a week. Total rental for 3 weeks is $3,000.

Hey, howsabout some actors? We can get actors for free, of course, but they're gonna suck. You get what you pay for. You can probably find decent actors for $100/day. Let's say we need five decent actors that we will pay. We don't need every one every day, but we figure out the cost for all five on the days we need them and it's $4,100. That's pretty conservative, just so you know. And we're going to assume they're all local so we don't have to fly them into town or house them at the end of the day.

You're going to need food. Forget about Craft Services, it's not happening on this budget. You're going to be getting your wife or someone to make cold sandwiches on some days, hot meals on others. Figure you're going to spend at least $600/week on food and drinks(between sodas/water/fruit juices you're gonna go broke). That's $1,800 for the 3 weeks.

The camera we got is a video camera, so depending on whether it's HD or mini-DV you're gonna need some tapes. The price is going to vary. How much footage you're going to shoot is going to vary. Let's make a low guess(especially if you're going HD) and say you're going to get 25 tapes at $6/apiece. $150

I record audio on DAT tape. Safer and cleaner than going right to the camera(plus, if you shoot with a steadicam you can't run an XLR cable into the camera while you're using it). You can get 25 DAT tapes for $5/apiece. That's $125

So what have we done so far? Gotten some of the main people together. It's a start. What has it cost us so far?

$21,775

And we haven't even scratched the surface yet. And we're also being very conservative. More to come.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

War of The Worlds...

Saw it today. Let me say first off that I'm a huge Spielberg fan. Huge.

That said, I hated Hook and A.I.(at least, the last 90 minutes of it).

War of the Worlds, for all its faults, is kind of amazing. The turnaround on this picture was like 10 months. 72 shooting days, but 10 months total from being greenlit to final cut is 10 months.

That's...that's incredible.

So anyway, how was it, you're asking? It's a fun summer popcorn movie. It's not Spielberg's best by a long shot, but it has some great Spielberg moments, some scary parts, some touching parts, some decent acting(that little girl--and I been saying it since I saw her in Spielberg's "Taken"--is phenomenal), and some massive plot holes. Or maybe just one massive plot hole, and a lot of improbabilities.

But I think it's just what the box office needs right now. I anticipate it will open pretty big because it's just the kind of popcorn fun that people go to the movies for in the summer. Hollywood hasn't been putting these out yet(I mean, Batman was okay but it's waaaaay too dark to be a fun movie), so I think they have only themselves to blame.

Save your dark stuff for fall or winter.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Pro Actors Vs. Amateur

Ok, there's not a ton of people reading this, so I'll feel free to feel free.

This is a problem I've encountered, having written and directed two low-budget films, and it's really the biggest problem I face doing them.

You know what the difference between a good actor and a bad actor is?

Confidence.

Confidence in themselves. Confidence that they know the character so well that the lines they're reciting don't sound like recitals--they're not lines, they are simpy what that character would say at that moment in time when given that set of circumstances.

Confidence that they ARE this character, so they don't have to picture how they should react to a certain line--they simply REACT as the character.

You can see the hesitation and uncertainty in amateur actors. Many of them appear to be waiting for their turn to say their line. Then they say the line but they don't sell it. It doesn't sound natural. It makes the screenwriter look like an idiot...how could that guy have written that line? (not to be confused with the opposite phenomena that has become known as The Lucas Factor--where the dialogue is so bad that IT makes good actors look bad--see any Episode for examples)

And it's hard to find good actors in this area. Between the two movies I've received over 2500 headshots and auditioned almost 500. Out of that bunch I have probably only seen twenty who are decent, maybe five I think are good, but none I think are EXCELLENT.

Rick Ganz was excellent in the part of Aric Blue, but he's not great at the "weak" emotions, like love, happy, friendly. He's great at pissed, evil, ominous.

Which is one of the reasons I'm not moving ahead with the film I was going to try to put together this summer. The entire movie will fall apart if the audience doesn't TRULY believe that they are watching a documentary, and for that you need VERY good actors. They need to inhabit those characters so tightly that they become the characters.

In a regular film the audience knows that these are all actors but they let themselves get invested in the characters anyway. In a documentary the audience won't give you that. The Blair Witch Project wouldn't have succeeded all that well if it hadn't fooled so many people into believing it was a real thing.

So I'm going to have to wait until I can get some EXCELLENT actors. Meantime I'm almost halfway done the first draft of FOC2. I'm gonna go out and look at some locations next week--can't exactly write the finale of the script without knowing what locations I have access to.

Fun fun fun.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Editing

Got back from "Land of the Dead" tonight. Good movie. If you like the other Romero Dead movies you'll like this one.

Saw "Boogeyman" the other night. Not as bad as they say, but it really falls apart at the end.

What do the two movies have in common, though, other than being horror movies? One was edited in a flashy, MTV manner. The other was edited very low-key.

Boogeyman was flashy, quick cuts, sped up frames with clipped frames here and there to give it a staggered look. Land was low-key.

And you know what? I'll bet if you asked the average viewer which movie had the best editing they'd say Boogeyman. Because...and this is key...they noticed the editing in Boogeyman.

And the irony is...the best editing is the editing you don't notice. When it steps out of the way and lets the story play out. Any editor worth his salt will tell you that.

But flashy seems to win in the hearts of today's viewers. I get it. I do. I used some flashy editing in my first film(and won an editing award for it), but it bothers me that a lot of movies nowadays seem to substitute cuts for story.

Let the scene play out. I feel like these guys are getting paid per cut, like "Hey, it's $20 a cut so if I can put in forty cuts per minute I can knockdown a hundred grand on this flick!"

What happens is that society is getting accustomed to that flashy, quick editing. People complain a movie is "slow" when it actually takes time to build a story, or flesh out characters. Take a look at some older classic movies and I can assure you that many would be thrashed by today's viewers.

Hitchcock is rolling in his grave.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Out of Control(This Country)...

No, I'm not talking about the fact that a majority of Americans put an idiot back in office a second time.

I'm not talking about Michael Jackson being declared innocent when we all know better.

I'm being serious here. This country is out of control. And we can't stop it.

It's depressing.

I'm talking about politicians. Do you know how much these people make?

Let me ask you another question...have you ever heard of a politician having a hard time making ends meet? Of a politician getting evicted from their house? Not being able to pay to get their car fixed?

Why is that? I'll tell you why...they set their own salaries. They give themselves pay raises when the rest of the country would have to request one, get a review of their job performace, and then probably get turned down.

Do some research. I'll throw out a couple of bones for you.

Janet Owens, Anne Arundel County Executive(Maryland). According to the Baltimore Sun she was paid a salary of $210,000 for 2004. Do YOU know what the Anne Arundel County Executive does? I live here, and I don't. I certainly don't know what she could possibly do that would require us to pay her almost a quarter of a million dollars a year.

Meanwhile they're paying our teachers about $38,000 a year, and have been holding off giving them pay raises(and actually ASKING Baltimore City teachers to take a paycut). Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley makes over $125,000 a year and he wants the teachers to take a paycut?

To compare, an average construction worker makes about $25,474 in Baltimore. The guy who's out there working in the heat or cold busting his ass--and the mayor makes $100K more than him.

Ok, maybe you're saying "That's an uneducated guy so he shouldn't get paid that much. Manual labor and all that".

Well, a Computer Operations Supervisor in Baltimore, MD has an average salary of $60,127(according to Monster.com). Why is that guy getting paid HALF of what the mayor is getting paid? I'm pretty sure he's more educated than the mayor.

How about other politicians? Well, according to the U.S. Government info site: "The current salary for rank-and-file members of the House and Senate is $158,100 per year."

Say what?

What do we need more, teachers or politicians? More importantly, WHY AREN'T WE DOING SOMETHING ABOUT IT?

I think it's because we don't know what to do. How exactly would we go about reversing these pay raises? How can we start taking back control?

There's the rub. The government is so big, and we're all so wrapped up in our own individual lives that it's all but impossible. Do you realize that if we ALL got together and said "No, it's unacceptable" then they'd HAVE to listen to us.

But it's not going to happen. Sad but true.

Man, bet you didn't know my blog was gonna be this serious, did you?

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

I saw Batman Monday night...

Thankfully it was just me and my projectionist buddy, so we had no idiots to annoy us.

The movie: It's not...bad. It's not great either. Go in with your expectations low and you should be happy.

The fight scenes were TERRIBLE. I mean...terrible. Jump cuts galore, coupled with epileptic camera--you just have no idea what's happening. Okay, I guess Batman's beating people up. Kinda wanted to see it though.

Christian Bale's good, if a little less self-assured than the Batman us comic people know.

But for God's sake, why oh why does everyone and their mother need to know who Batman is in every goddamn movie? I thought maybe they'd have ditched that with Joel whatsismacher, but no--there's a bunch of that here too.

There's some good in jokes(watch for the quick shot of Mr. Cobblepot AKA The Penguin in Arkham) as well as some spoilers I won't mention.

It's a decent setup, I suppose, for the next Batman movie. I've got higher hopes for War of the Worlds. If that lets me down this summer's gonna SUCK.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Going to the movies...

I saw Mr. and Mrs. Smith today. Entertaining enough, with some great action directing.

Not what I'm gonna talk about though. I'm gonna talk about stupid people. In particular, women.

Here's the setup: We've seen Mrs. Smith has a talent with knives. We've seen them on her, we've seen her throw them with deadly accuracy. That's been shown.

Toward the end of the movie there's a big fight. Mrs. Smith spots a rack of giant butcher knives. She puts her gun down.

The woman behind me whispers loudly: "Oh no. What's she going to do?"

Now, any third grader who's not massively retarded could tell you what Mrs. Smith is gonna do.

Mrs. Smith stands up and goes to the knives, pulls some out.

The woman behind me gets a little more concerned. "Ohhhh, what's she gonna do?"

I'm thinking "Are you fucking kidding me? Are you seriously fucking kidding me?"

I flashed back to that time I took my parents to see "Signs". I had already seen it and thought my parents would enjoy it. Unfortunately, we got stuck in front of chatty Kathy. This woman was asking question after question. Great questions like "What's going to happen?" "Why'd he do that?"

No matter how many times I shushed her, no matter how many times I turned completely around in my seat and glared at her--she wouldn't shut up.

At one point Mel Gibson chops off the alien-in-the-pantry's finger and runs off. The woman says "Why didn't he take the fingers?"

Couldn't believe it. This is after an hour of me shushing her, and I think I even turned to her and said "Come ON!"

I just don't understand why people have to think out loud in movies. I paid my money, and it isn't to hear them being dumb as a bag of hammers.

There, my first rant. I feel lighter now.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

No truer words...

"You cannot force someone to think as you do, or to feel as you do, but you can teach them to think a little better, to think a little more, to listen more critically; to listen to what they're really doing, not what they think they're doing."
--Isaac Stern

Friday, June 10, 2005

Too much to do...

My sister's getting married this week in Wisconsin. I'm getting all sorts of flak from the family because I'm not there.

Everyone else is there. My wife, my kid, my in-laws. Not me though.

I have so much to do that it just became impossible to get there(the wedding is in Wisconsin--I'm in Maryland). I'm trying to get the masters of my second flick fixed and am already late on that deadline. I have to deliver all of the paper stuff--meaning I have to copy hundreds of pages of stuff, print out the dialogue script and all the other timecode stuff.

I'm also trying to crank out some more of the script I'm working on, the sequel to that flick, so we can shoot it next year.

It's overwhelming. There are times I feel like I'm on the verge of a nervous breakdown. There's a lot of pressure.

Not only the expectations of people--everyone asking when the movie's going to come out--but you also have producers who have given you thousands of dollars and expect some money back. The sooner the better.

It's a lot of weight. It gets very heavy sometimes.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Writing software

I write scripts. At last count I'd written around twenty full ones.

That doesn't count the ones I've started and kinda lost interest or haven't had time to finish. I probably have 300 pages worth of those.

And for most of my writing life I've been using something called Scriptware. You probably haven't heard of it. It's like...a DOS program or something. I first installed it on Windows 3.1--remember that?

And yeah, I still have it on Windows 2000 now. But I kept feeling like I was out of date or something. And the files Scriptware generates are HUGE.

So I tried Final Draft. It's the "industry standard", from what I hear.

And it's not bad.

But I'm one of those people who just abhor change. It's got most of the same functions as Scriptware, plus some more, but it does some really irritating things.

If I use an ellipsis...it capitalizes the word following it. It thinks I put a period there and didn't capitalize the next sentence.

And it doesn't let me just type freeform notes, at least not like I like. If I want a paragraph, and then a couple of spaces and another paragraph...forget it. It will only do one line break and then you have to type something.

So I dunno. I'm typing the sequel to my second film with it. We'll see.

'Cause I feel my old program calling me. I guess you get comfortable with something and then it's hard to give up, no matter how much better the alternative is.

At least, I guess that's what my wife hopes.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Public Personas

You know, I think I'd post here more often if I wasn't so scared of public personas. Mine, in particular.

I'm pretty much nobody. I'm not famous, not really. Sure, plug my name into a search engine and you'll get hundreds of hits and even some that list me in "celebrity" web sites, but I'm not really famous. I don't get moved up on the wait list at local restaurants and people only ask for my autograph when I'm at shows.

But still I gotta worry about this public persona. If people start thinking you're a dick then they'll talk. The people they talk to will talk, and the next thing you know people will believe you really did have to go the hospital to get a gerbil out ofyour ass(or your stomach pumped 'cause you drank a lot of sperm). You get the idea.

So really, I want to come here and rant. I want to go off on the injustices of the world, on the stupidity of the masses, on the godddamn unfairness of it all.

But I think I might come off as a dick.

I'm gonna have to think about it. Maybe I'll do it anyway. We'll see.