The Good Soldier – Notes 9 – An Update

I am very pleased with how things are going thus far. Each step feels like another accomplishment – one that I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to make. Today I met with a music composer about a score for the film. She is very excited and anxious to get started. I will share more about who this person is as things move along – I just want to make sure I have her okay before sharing too much about her. Needless to say I am psyched to have someone that is an accomplished composer and musician working with me on the film. I feel like we are very much on the same page as far as the music goes so I am excited to see what the results are. If all goes as I think it will, the score will give it those brilliant touches that I am looking for.

The costumes have been purchased for the main characters. I underestimated the cost for the costumes. They were about ten times the amount I budgeted for. One of the things they tell you if you are going to make your own film – pick the present day as your time-period. One of the reasons for this is the wardrobe. It is expensive to find vintage or impression WWII era uniforms. I ended up purchasing mine through a company called Top Pots in Sydney, Australia. They refurbish old military helmets. They not only had the costumes I need but they had what I wanted in stock, at a reasonable price, and were able to get them to me in a timely manner – so there you have it – sometimes it just comes down to that.

We have a production meeting coming up this weekend. We’ll get all the cast and crew together (or all that can reasonably make it) and discuss the details of the upcoming shoot. The actual shoot is scheduled to begin on Saturday, August 1 and will continue on August 2 and a couple of days in the following week.

It’s all coming together, slowly but surely.

The Good Soldier – Notes 8 – Film Test RESULTS

I received the processed film back from Yale Film & Video today. I can’t tell you how nervous I have been about this test footage episode. The results of my first film test (using Ektachrome 64T color film) was a mess. Completely overexposed. Completely worthless. So going into this test shoot I feared that I might do one of a number of things to muck it up, namely, screw up the light and overexpose, screw up the light and underexpose, or get everything out of focus. Any one of those things would mean not only a waste of time and money but a need to go back to the drawing board and re-think this whole idea of shooting black and white Super 8 altogether. Given the circumstances, I felt, just prior to watching this film, that I might a) cry if the footage sucked b) cry if the film footage was miraculously gorgeous or c) remain at a happy medium if it was somewhere in between. Obviously, option “C” was the biggest gray area going into this.

It was with some reluctance that I ran the film through my projector and adjusted the picture to the screen height and distance. I paused more than once and might even have said a little prayer (though, truth be told, I don’t really pray, just in circumstances such as these) before twisting the dial to run. The lamp flickered on, the film raced through the projector shutter and then: light. Picture. Clear. Clean, Focused. Utterly beautiful, black and white with a hint of sepia tone. There before me on my old, somewhat yellowed, Da-Lite pop-up movie screen was an image as beautiful as anything I have ever shot on camera before. Everything about the picture was what, and perhaps more than, I had imagined. It was scenario “A.” And for a moment I thought I felt the tears coming. But no – this was just the beginning of the film – the whole thing couldn’t possibly be this perfect.

The second “take” came and it was blurry. The light was perfect but the picture was blurry. And soon enough I realized what had happened – the camera focused, at the beginning, on the slate and not the action/talent, so when the slate was moved I was left with a close focus rather than a further away focus where the action was. This will be an easy fix and one that I will be more aware of during the actual filming. I was feeling closer to option “C” but still with the high of option “A.”

Then I was taken by surprise again, the next scene, take 3, appeared almost more beautiful than the first scene. I picked this shot from the outside of the building looking in through an old window, the glass missing. The light is just such that it accents the actors face through the window and the shadows are still there for contrast. I can’t wait to use this same shot in the film. I was nearing option “A” again.

There were a few more experimental shots that I did, all with good results. Only one of the later scenes had a focus issue – none had a light over/under exposure issue, which is what I was truly afraid of. With Tri-X film there is not much “latitude” in on the film in terms of light so if you are off by an F-stop (or God-forbid, two) then you are screwed.

The pictures I am including here are of still shots taken directly off my movie screen – they probably don’t really do the actual pictures justice as I’m not the best still/digital photographer. But they should give a sense of the scene and the lighting.

All in all I consider this test-shoot a huge success. There’s an enormous sense of relief in knowing that I can do this. I can set up a shot, understand and adjust for the light, depth of field and focus, and come away with footage that it is worthwhile.

I’ll take this footage and get it transferred to digital and mess around with syncing it up to the digital audio we recorded. Given the results, I feel that it is time to move along to the actual shoot. I have pretty much everything I need now, including the re-assurance that this whole thing IS possible.

Next step is going to be a read-through rehearsal and then shooting begins. Thanks again to everyone who was there for the shoot. And a special thanks to Erik, for his willingness to be on camera for this.

The Good Soldier – Notes 7 – Film Test Shoot + THE CAST

Today was a good day – as far as I can tell. When shooting film it can be tough to tell until you get the print back and get to see whether you metered wisely or F’d the whole thing up and have to try it again. In any case, it was a fun and worthwhile day of arranging the set and positioning the lights to capture the angles and images just so. I had a lot of help – very valuable help in the “crew” that I have. These guys are amazing at what they do and fun to work with to boot.

The purpose of today was to test out the lighting conditions and a few of the actual scene setups using the camera and film stock that I am going to shoot. In addition, we recorded audio using an Edirol R-09 digital recorded and wireless lavaliere microphone. The plan is to examine the footage and work on syncing the film footage with the captured audio. It can be a tricky process especially since the film speed can vary and the digital audio speed remains constant.

I received all of the film stock today for the film; 30 rolls of Kodak Tri-X Reversal. That’s 2:30 min of footage per roll (50 ft) when running at 24 frames per second. That gives a total of 75 minutes of footage for, what is to be, a 20 minute film.

Today I am officially announcing the main cast of The Good Soldier:
The Soldier – Brian Gililland
The Commander – Jack Hays
Miss June – Leah Trafford
Soldier 1596 – Erik Schultz

I haven’t nailed down all of the “Extras” just yet – there are about 4 or 5.

I need to give a big thanks to Magna Talent Agency in Oklahoma City for helping us out and sending us some great actors for the audition. The two main characters, Brian and Jack, are both represented by Magna.

So what’s the next step? Get the test footage processed – make sure it looks good. Then rehearsals. Then the first day of shooting.

The Good Soldier – Notes 2 – Buying stuff is fun…

I’m just so excited I can hardly contain myself. Things are moving along. I’ve really got on the ball and started to purchase props, equipment, and costumes for the film – the essential stuff to make it happen. My budget, albeit small for any film, even a 15 minute film, is going almost exclusively to this “stuff” that turns an idea into a movie. So far I have been to a couple of military surplus stores in the OKC metro area. One of them in particular, Sam’s Surplus on Agnew, had a backpack that I bought for $20. It has a good look though I’m certain it’s not from the late 30s early 40s time period. Plus, I made a new friend at Sam’s. The owner, Gene, has owned the place for 65 years. Yes, I said SIXTY-FIVE years. Talk about sticking it out. He was quite an interesting guy, very talkative, lots of stories, and very interested in the climbing gym and trading some business. Anyway, I found some items there that I haven’t purchased yet that I think are going to be great for costumes. So I’m sure I’ll be back.

I received my Lowel Core 44 light kit today. I went immediately into setup mode. Reading the instructions, feeling like a complete doofus trying to figure out how to put everything together. Ultimately it wasn’t that difficult and now that I’ve done it once I’m sure I can do it again pretty quickly. I’m looking forward to setting up the 3-light kit on a set and taking some test runs.

Another big decision I made was to purchase a new (new to me) Canon 814 XL-S Super 8 camera. It was a big purchase but the more I thought about it the more I do not like the quality of the pictures I’m getting from my Nizo. I don’t know what it is but the clarity and color has not been that good. And I really dislike the viewfinder – I can’t see shit through it. So it came down to: do I want to burn $1000 of film through a camera that’s not working for me? Hell no. I need something that works. So I hope the Canon is everything that everyone says it is. We’ll see.

I’ve been living on ebay for the past couple of days. I’ve found and purchased most of the props I need. Found some really good stuff – stuff I don’t think I would have ever found around here. I now have purchased 2 radios – both are 30s era shortwave radios that presumably WORK. That’s going to be awesome. I bought a pair of vintage headphones from the 30s, and a WWII era footlocker. I’m picking up the footlocker in Fort Worth next week, since I’m going to be down that way for a climbing team competition.

I’ve also purchased a couple of costumes for the pin-up girl character, Miss June. I already have my actress that’s going to play Miss June and I’m expecting that we will do the still photo-shoot for her next week.

I pulled out my old light meter – a Sekonic Studio A – that I inherited from my Dad. The meter wand moves but I don’t know if the readings are accurate or not. I need someone’s expertise. Frankly, I don’t know a damn thing about light meters or metering for film. Ironic isn’t it, since I love shooting film? I just need to learn more about metering, taking readings, and understanding the ISO/ASA thing.

Next steps are to go through the script scene by scene, location by location and begin blocking out the scenes. Then I need to have a production meeting, set a schedule, and do a casting call. Once I make the casting announcement I want pretty much everything to be ready to roll so that we can go right into rehersals. I’m aiming for beginning principle photography June 1, if not earlier.

BTW – anyone want to be a producer? The film needs money. Did I mention that I’m sending this to Sundance?

The Good Soldier – Pre-Production – Notes 1

The Good Soldier is a 15-16 minute short film that I’ve been working on with the goal of shooting and submitting to the Sundance Film Festival of 2010. The initial story idea and script development began in December 2008. Since that time I have a complete script, some of the locations, some of the cast, a basic budget, some of the production equipment, and an ever-evolving vision in my mind.

The Good Soldier is the story of a young man ordered to hold an observation post in a remote location. After nearly a year with zero activity he becomes dismayed at the purpose of his mission, for little has been revealed to him. As a result, he’s driven by an ever-present urge to uncover the true reason for his mission. Not everything is as it seems. What does the future hold for this good soldier?

Things have been coming together a bit more lately. I made a big investment in purchasing a light kit. I decided to go with a Lowel Core 44 because it has everything I need for this shoot and I’m sure I’ll be able to use it for future projects. Of course I debated between renting and buying but it came down to an issue of time – how much time I thought I would need a light kit – and convenience. It’s so much easier to have a light kit right when you need it.

I’ve been reading a lot about film stocks, trying to pick the perfect film for the locations, lighting, and scenes in the story. I’m almost positive that I will shoot on B&W Tri-X for interiors and PLUS-X for exteriors. Reasons for this are that the story would benefit from having it in black an white. Plus, I feel that b/w film holds a high place in motion picture photography in terms of style and professionalism. And it will be fun to shoot.

I’m still pretty confused about camera settings and light metering – I wish I was more knowledgeable in this area. I’m trying to make better sense of it so that when it comes time I know, based on the amount of light in the room, what settings I should have the camera on. If anyone has any advice in this department that would be great. I’m sure much of it is just getting out there and burning through some carts of film but I’d like to know a little better what I’m doing before I pull the trigger. More research to be done!

I’ve made a few contacts along the way and some of those relationships are in the early stages right now so I can’t really say what will become of them until later. Hopefully, I will have some help in the casting, scheduling, lighting, and sound departments. And I still need a main character. I will be putting together a bio for the main character shortly and hold a casting call.

After the initial test-shoot (which I wrote about in a previous entry) I learned quite a bit about what will work and what will not. I was also reminded of the unforgiving nature of shooting film. It can be difficult to get it just right. And with film it’s not like you can go back and delete it – once it’s on there, it’s on there. And you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s been processed.

The plan is to shoot the rehearsals on HDV, get the performances down pat, and then shoot it on S8.

Got to go for now….more later…

Super 8 Film/Sound Sync Test – Summit Sings

I got some developed film back today. There were two rolls that I had developed and transferred – both were shot with my Nizo 801 Macro. The first roll was some test footage for a film that I wrote and will (hopefully) be shooting soon. The second roll is of my son, Summit, singing into a microphone. There are a couple of reasons for both of these films. First, these are the first rolls I have run through this Nizo camera and I needed to see how the camera handled and how the pictures would look. Second reason was to experiment with syncing sound to the picture.

I have to say, compared to my other camera – the Zeiss Ikon, I am a disappointed with the Nizo. The ligh, colors and clarity are just not as good. True, it may have a lot to do with the user but my first experience with the Ikon yielded some much better footage. I will continue to work with the Nizo in hopes that I will learn more about it and get some better footage.

The test footage I shot for my upcoming film was WAY WAY too dark. Very under-exposed. Yes, the room was dim but there were several windows open and some additional interior lighting for a couple of shots. In retrospect I should have considered that I was shooting 64T and probably should have been much closer to the subject and had much more light.

Even more unfortunate is that the footage is SO dark that I am unable to do a sound sync edit test because I can barely see the slate or the person holding it! Suck. Oh well – that’s why it’s a test, right?

Luckily, I also recorded the test footage with my HDV camera so I may put some of that online just so you can see the conditions. Maybe someone can tell me what I should do to fix the situation – maybe I need to change my film type entirely! This also answers my questions about if I need additional lighting or not – I absolutely do.

The other film I shot, as I mentioned above, is of my son. This took place outside and all the camera setting were on auto. The picture is still a little dark, grainy, and the color is weak – though I’m sure I could fix it a bit in Final Cut if I wanted to. Good thing is that I was able to practice some sound syncing with this footage. I now realize how tricky this is and how important it is to have a slate to cue the sound/picture edit.

I also realized everything I have read about trying to sync digital sound to Super 8 film. It does not stay synced for long, that’s for sure. However, with a little tinkering I was able to keep the sound closely synced for a little while by increasing the picture speed by 10%. This doesn’t change the look of the film hardly at all but it allows it to stay a little closer in sync. it is by no means perfect, there is some obvious lag/separation towards the end. But it’s not too bad for a first try.

Again, there are some things I can do to make it better so I will continue to work on it.

For the time being – enjoy Summit’s beautiful voice.

My Dad, Super 8 Film and a Well Site

This film is in remembrance of my dad who died April 11, 2002 – tomorrow is the 6 year anniversary of his death.

I would like to share this Super 8 film. This one is from a batch of films that I had telecined several months ago. I really like this one because it’s an experience I remember – our visit to an oil well site that my dad was involved with. Honestly, I don’t know what involvement my family had with oil – maybe this was a friend’s site, maybe family. That’s a question for my mom I guess.

The film shows my brother Ryan (the first little boy you see) and I playing around on dirt piles and dangerously close to the drilling rig. I don’t see my dad in the film so I have to assume that he is the cameraman.

I have him to thank for my love of moving pictures, story telling, humor, and adventure. My dad spurred and encouraged all of those values in my brothers and I and we are each better people for it. I love him and still miss him.

Test Footage – Light, Sound, Location

This is a photo (taken with my cell phone) of one the locations for my upcoming film.

Yesterday was such an exciting day. Shot some test footage for my upcoming Super 8 film! The purpose for the test footage was threefold: 1) To get an idea of various light levels in the room and on the camera, 2) To test the sound quality in the room with a shotgun mic and perform sound sync test, 3) To get used to the camera and how it handles.

The entire test was documented on an HDV camera in order to review it later and identify settings, light levels, and how the room was set up with each change between takes. Speaking of takes, my friend Sherwin played the part of the “talent,” clapped the slate at the beginning of each take, helped me keep things straight, etc. He even took the opportunity to tell a few interesting anecdotes about himself in the process – you can look forward to me sharing some of those takes later (if it’s cool with him).

So the roll of test footage is off to the lab for processing and transfer. I’ll post some footage up after it’s back.

As far as the film goes – the script is finished and I’m pretty content with it. A few people have read it and so far I’ve received positive feedback. I made a few changes based on the feedback so I feel like it’s good to go.

The screenplay has just been registered with the WGA. I will get into what the film is about in another post.

Feel good to be moving closer to my goal on this.

Film Processed, Film Transferred, and More

Saturday morning I received my developed film from Dwaynes. The old roll of K40 film which, as I noted before was probably 20-30 years old was blank. On close inspection I could see the outlines of some figures but there was no way to make them out. It’s really too bad – a great film lost. And it gives me reason to believe that I shouldn’t go to the time and expensive of processing the two rolls of Ektachrome Type G film as I will probably get the same results and it will be money down the tubes. This just reminds me how important it is to get your films processed quickly – don’t leave them sitting around. The three rolls that I discovered probably went through many summers of sitting in a hot garage or attic and no telling how much other abuse.

The good news is that the 2 rolls of 64T film that I shot last weekend at the State Fair look great. The color is beautiful and everything appears to be in focus (based on my somewhat glitchy projector). So I am going to get these films transferred to digital, along with some footage I shot from last year’s State Fair and put together a short film. The only thing is, I wish I had sound from the fair.

On that note, I recently purchase and received an Edirol R-09 that I am going to be using specifically for sound for my Super 8 films. Of course it will not be synch sound in the strictest sense but it should do well enough and through a little editing magic I think I can make it work. I haven’t had a lot of time to play around with it yet but when I do I will post some stuff here.

Yesterday I got an email from Jen at Lost In Light telling me that my films have been telecined and are on their way back. That was way faster than I thought. I can’t wait to see the finished product. They will be posting some of the footage on their website and have requested a short write up from me about the footage – so I will post it here when that happens.

And finally – I wanted to report on yet another failed ebay bid. This time on a Nizo Professional. I have no excuse this time as I simply forgot about the auction ending time and missed the final chance to bid. I feel certain that I would have won this one because I would have bid at least $50 more than what the camera sold for. Oh well. I’m going to keep looking and surely one will go my way.

Film Report and More

We went to the Oklahoma State Fair this weekend and I brought the Zeiss S8 movie camera to shoot some footage. I shot two rolls of stuff like the big slide that you ride down in a burlap potato sack. Also got some footage of my friend Chris eating a fried Twinkie. Then some clips of various fair booths, the exterior of a “freak show,” and other fair stuff. I sent the rolls off to Dwayne’s today so I should have them back early next week – maybe even later this week – they’re pretty fast.

I also sent them a roll of old Kodachrome 40 film. Who knows how old it is and if there will be any pricture left on it after so many years. The film was broken on the outside of the cartridge so I don’t have any idea if they will be able to do anything with it.

I’ve also got 2 rolls of Ektachrome Type G film that my Mom handed over to me. Again, the film is probably a couple of decades old – who knows what’s on it or how degraded it is. Most places no longer develop this kind of film and the places that do charge about $35 per roll. Not cheap compared to the $9 per roll for Ektachrome 64T film. So I have to ask myself if it is worth the $70 to see about 5 minutes of film. It probably is – the curosity might kill me.

I have been searching for a reasonably priced Nizo 801 Macro camera in good condition and the other day I almost had one. It was a typical ebay moment. I had the highest bid with a mere 30 seconds to go. Then someone sitting in wait dashed in with a bid that was $50 higher than mine. The rug swept from beneath my feet. My dreams shattered. The camera sold for $250. Looking back I should have made a last ditch effort and threw in $275 – it was well worth it. This model of camera regularly goes for $350 – 400 and sometimes higher depending on the accessories and condition.

This camera has everything I want in a Super 8 camera so I’m going to keep up the quest. I know there’s one out there just for me.