“I am working on a number of projects at various stages of productions.”
That’s what they tell you to say when someone asks you, “So, what’s your next project?”
When I go through and count the number of story ideas I have started, partially completed, awaiting some form of re-write, or simply “boxed” for the time being, it’s close to 50 (plus or minus a few). It kind of depends on where I happen to start the project, in what file type I begin it, and where I saved it. I have several projects that I started in Notes on my phone because that’s when the idea struck me and I just started writing it then. Most of the stories are started on my desktop computer and saved in Dropbox. Some I started as Word files, some as Final Draft, some, more recently as Highland files.
I go back to these ideas now and then, pick up where I left off, or sometimes start editing again only to Save & Close again and move on to something else. I’ve found that the ideas that I come back to over and over tend to have the most staying power – but, of course, that can not be confirmed until actually seen through to completion and subsequent review. Admittedly, most will never see the light of day.
I heard an interesting take yesterday while listening to a favorite podcast. They were discussing the merits of live music by recognizable bands in smaller venues vs. bigger concert shows. They were talking about bands that put on fantastic shows even when they know they are not going to make a lot of money in a smaller setting; the bands that put everything into their performance but still know there is no payday at the end. So why do they do it? For the love of it. Because there is something that continues to drive them to do it. Regardless of if they are getting paid or not.
Often times I feel like that is the position I find myself in. I can not by any means say that what I write is – as I put it above – fantastic, but nonetheless I feel compelled to keep writing whether it becomes something or not. Much like someone feels the need and desire to draw, or color – it’s an outlet. I want to approach it in a professional manner and perform well – if only for myself and knowing I gave it my best effort and, in the end, achieve what I set out to create. I haven’t found anything more difficult than or more rewarding than writing.
I know there are a lot of people out there writing stories, screenplays, scripts, plays, etc. and all would love to “make it.” I can’t say that I’m not one of those people. Professional speaking, I can’t think of anything that would be more rewarding than to create a unique story – something from nothing – and have it create meaning or value or even provoke feeling in the world.
At the same time, money is not a requirement for me to keep writing nor a reason to stop. Not everything we do has to fit into the construct of being accepted or valued by “society.”
Many times I feel like what I am watching is just a re-telling of something I’ve watched before. I begin to wonder, Are there any new ideas? Or I watch something and think, How did THAT get made?
In particular, “good screenwriting” is formulaic. There’s this proven method and structure that clearly has worked for American cinema. As an audience we’ve come to rely on and find comfort in a certain structure. And, for screenwriters, I think we have to admit there’s some comfort in the structure and seeing a path forward. But at the same time, when we get so accustomed to a well-worn path that path eventually becomes eroded and more of a rut. It becomes a mater of balancing out the pattern of structure and managing the expectations of the “audience” while at the same time deliberately trail-blazing a bit.
An analogy, at least for me, can be found in rock climbing. In climbing there are direct routes, there are sit-starts, there are girdle traverses, there are eliminates, variations, and there are link-ups. There are flashes, red-points, pink-points, on-sites, etc. There are all these different approaches to “new-routing,” repeats, and various styles. It’s really up to the climber and what they want to achieve and how they want to achieve it.
I feel like in screenwriting it would be nice to see more of that. Sure, we have short films and feature films, narrative, documentary… But structurally speaking, we are fairly tethered to the 3 Act Structure (arguably, sometimes a 4 or 5 Act Structure). We rarely are accepting of much outside of this construct. We are all basically trying to re-create a new variation of the same type of film told again and again.
In some sense I want to push against what the market wants (“because it worked before”) and offer something different – whether it works or not. Maybe that’s presumptuous of me to think that way. I suppose taking my lumps and getting anything “out there” would be a better start before trying to break the very thing apart that I’m trying to be a part of.
On the other hand, I’m probably just overthinking it.
This year I decided, rather abruptly, to enter the Straight 8 2017 Film Festival held by CineLab in London. Each year I see the festival come and go and each year I think about entering but somehow don’t pull the trigger (so to speak). But this year, I saw that I *might* have enough time to put an idea together so before thinking about it too much I paid my entry fee.
Luckily, I already had one roll of 500T sitting around. So I quickly went to work piecing together a concept that was bubbling in my mind.
For those unfamiliar with Straight 8 festivals it works like this: using a single roll of Super 8 film you shoot your film from beginning to end without edits, without takes, without the opportunity to reshoot anything. Once you start shooting, that’s it – what you capture is what you capture and there is no changing it. The film is sent off for processing and digitizing. Meanwhile, a soundtrack is put together, thankfully, editing is involved with the soundtrack but because there is no picture for reference it is difficult (if not impossible) to completely synch up audio and visual. The soundtrack is submitted as a digital audio file.
The film and audio is placed together and the first time the film premieres is the first time it is seen, in full, by any audience or even the filmmaker!
This makes the film creation process that much more exciting, unpredictable, experimental, and…risky.
I began in earnest putting my script together, documenting shots, proposing run times for each scene. My method of pre-production involves a lot of brainstorming, keeping random notes, writing anything down that comes to mind and then sorting it out as I come back to those notes again and again. Old ideas dissolve and new ideas take shape.
As I found this happening naturally, I decided that was what this film would be about – things taking shape, changing, and reemerging as new things. A constant continuous process of change; changing forms. I began to tie this concept to a couple of visual ideas – the process of making something by hand – in this case the forging of an original art piece from it’s early stage as a wax sculpture to that of the human and natural environment. Tying these two worlds together of the human-made vs. the natural environment, the common thread being that we are all part of a “process.”
For this idea I wanted an original soundtrack. I immediately jumped to wanting a cello piece – the cello has a certain power and mood about it that is unique and carries a certain weight that is appealing. I began asking friends about people who played cello and where I might be able to find someone to create an original score – in a short amount of time! But it seemed a tall order to find someone who could commit their time and energy to something like this on such short notice. I began looking online and quickly remembered using Fiverr for a couple of past graphic design projects so I began exploring there for a person that might be able to accomplish what I wanted. I posted a request and within hours received a number of replies from various composers and musicians about what they could offer. After sorting through the offers and listening to sample works I selected one that I felt could best achieve what I was looking for.
I was lucky enough to find a young Venezuelan composer to complete the score in less than 7 days! Here is a sample of the music:
In the midst of conceptualizing the idea I wrote a narration – sort of a spoken essay or long-form poem. It materialized as free-form writing, ideas popping into my head that became the “story.” I didn’t spend a lot of time writing and re-writing as I wanted to embrace the idea of “the first take” even in this part of the process. So not a lot of revisions. I used Fiverr again to seek out some talent to narrate the story. I found someone and received a version back pretty quickly. I made a couple of suggestions and received another version back.
Ultimately, I wasn’t getting exactly the tone I was looking for so I decided to do the narration myself. It took me several takes and I ended up revising the script a little bit more. The best takes were recorded in my clothes closet using an R-09 Edirol (the same one I’ve had for years now – in fact, the batteries are starting to rust out the inside).
I used Audacity to cut the audio and shifted things around a bit more. Final running time for the audio was 3:23 (about 3 min long but that’s fine).
My first roll ended up being used on another -related- project so I purchased a second roll. (I have the first roll and will be posting that footage as part of another project which covers more of the interior of the Crucible Foundry and the molding process for the soon-to-be bronze belt buckle that Rick Sinnett designed.) It is the wax positive of that piece that I chose to use for my Straight 8 project.
Principle photography took place over a period of three days. The first day took place at the Crucible in Norman. One of the most important – if not THE most important shot – is the first three seconds of the film because it has to display a unique ID number that identifies this cartridge, this film, as a valid submission. If the ID number is not in the first three seconds, you’re disqualified! So I made sure to open with that shot. I continued with a fade-in on an exterior interactive/movable sculpture and then moved inside for a few more select shots.
The second day of shooting, about a week later, took place in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in southeast Oklahoma. This is one of my favorite places to visit so shooting there would be fun. I rounded up a couple of friends and fellow staff members, Virginia and Baylor, to be actors.
I wanted some interesting shots so I played around with a stop-motion idea and a moving time lapse scene. After a couple of hours and multiple locations I wrapped up the day.
Day three of shooting was back at The Crucible location in the sculpture garden again for a final shot that would wrap things up where they began. Not knowing exactly when the film would run out was challenging.
It is not so far removed to try and shoot Super 8 film in one take. In fact, I try to approach filmmaking with the idea of using as few takes as possible because, frankly, film is expensive and every unusable shot is wasted film. But this was my first foray into zero editing where planning is everything and time-keeping is critical. Probably the biggest mistake I made was purposefully ejecting the film cartridge just prior to my second day of shooting. There is always a cool effect when a cartridge is exposed – sort of a flash effect – so I thought it would be cool to include one. What I didn’t take into account was that my in camera run-time counter would reset once I opened the cartridge door! In fact, I realized I’d made an even bigger mistake from the very beginning when I didn’t have a designated stopwatch or time keeper. So I had true way to measure how much I’d shot and how much film was left.
Having a larger crew – or should I say – having a crew at all, would have been helpful. Even a couple of people to help me keep things on track, to keep time, to help with equipment, etc.
Thoughts on the Process
It’s difficult to say with a film like this if it’s going to be good or bad. The best you can do is try to make as few mistakes as possible and hope for the best. A number of things can always screw up what might be a good film: poor focus, bad lighting, shutter-speed settings could be off and affect your color (such as I encountered with my first run of 500T film that was very yellow because I failed to engage the correct setting). I managed to accidentally pull the trigger at least twice that I’m aware of – so who knows what those frames will look like. And I’m pretty sure some of the close-up shots are going to pretty damn blurry.
Everything is easily critiqued on a project like this….in retrospect. But fortunately, film shot in this manner has its value rooted square in the moment. That defining moment when the decision is made to pull the trigger and just go-with-it, for better or worse. I guess therein lies the reason for participating in something like this. Yes, it puts boundaries on what you can and cannot do but those boundaries require you to rise to the occasion and put forth your best effort without room for do-overs, re-shoots, re-takes, or previews.
I can see that for some professionals that call themselves filmmakers but are really videomakers (doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it?) that process would be too restricting or cumbersome for their current “workflow.” But to me the thought of capturing something that is un-perfect and trying your best to dial-in everything leading up to the shot, and then once it is done, it is done – that it is both exciting and nerve-wracking all the same.
I guess that I hope the film is good but then again what is good anyway? Good seems to only be another individual’s judgement placed on the work. So whether what ends up as the finished product on screen is worthy or not is not for me to decide. What was good was the process of creating this project from start to finish. In that respect, I learned a lot and reinforced the idea that making film is a rewarding and fulfilling experience.
The Final Film
As of this writing the final film has been submitted and the soundtrack as well. At this point it’s a waiting game. Once the film digitized and the assembled with the audio track it will be placed online – at which point I will reference it from here for everyone to see.
My film was selected to show at the Straight 8 Film Festival in London!
I recently attended the ‘friends, family, and movie-people’ premiere of This May Be The Last Time, a documentary produced by Matt Leach, Sterlin Harjo, and Christina D. King and directed by Harjo. This was the first feature-length film backed by This Land Films a section of This Land Press based in Tulsa, OK. The premiere took place at Circle Cinema in Tulsa on the heels of a successful debut at Sundance Film Festival in January 2014. Here is the posting about the film on the Sundance site.
I was hired to work on the film last year. I worked with the director and producer and other members of the cast and crew to capture re-created historical events that took place decades. Though, there was some original home movie footage of other stuff they could not unearth any archived footage from this particular significant event. So the goal was to re-create several scenes in a manner that might pass for film footage captured in the early 1960s. Super 8 film shot in a hand-held ‘man-on-the-scene’ type way was used to create a stylized, authentic appearance.
Coming into the picture I had seen a rough cut of the film and I understood the scenes and what they wanted to capture.
The shoot was a memorable one for me as many of the shots took place with me standing in the North Canadian River with a camera in my hand. All told we shot 7 rolls of film that day at 24 fps which amounted to about 17 minutes of film. The film stock was Agfachrome 200D Color Reversal film and shot on a Canon 814 XLS.
The intention was to use about 5 minutes of the footage. I was happy to see that every roll of film turned out wonderfully; good light, good focus, and framing. Plenty of the footage made it into the final film and the trailer.
I was happy to have been given the opportunity to share in this experience. The documentary is beautiful, heartbreaking, and uplifting, all at the same time…it’s a story worth watching.
Posted below is the official trailer for the film:
I added a new film to my Vimeo channel last night. This one is from the Oklahoma State Fair this year and features my fam at the livestock barns and at the midway. This was the first time I used my “nicer” camera at the fair. I used my Canon 814 XLS to shoot the footage. I shot on Kodak 500T Color Negative film. The soundtrack is from live recording at the fair using my Edirol R-09.
Taking my Super 8 camera and filming a roll or two has become a new tradition for me. I have been doing this for 7 or 8 years now and it makes me wish that I’d been doing it since my first visit there. I think the color and movement of film really captures the authenticity of being there.
This was also the first footage I’ve edited using Final Cut Pro X. I just downloaded the trial version yesterday and was able to quickly cut together the footage and the soundtrack without any real problems – which was great. I was a little hesitant about the interface to begin with but it turns out it was more intuitive than I originally thought. I didn’t search any help documents, just went right to work. Granted, there were no real edits within the film as I like to keep the film “whole” and as uncut as possible. But I did add titles, credits, and a layered audio track. Looking froward to playing around with FCP-X some more. Migration from FCP-7 looks imminent.
I received word that a film that I did some Super 8 film work for has been accepted to Sundance. The documentary film This May Be the Last Time, directed by Sterlin Harjo and Produced by Matt Leach, both of This Land Films, will be shown at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah January 16-26.
Here is the announcement on the This Land Films website:
Here is the short description of the film on the Sundance website:
“This May Be the Last Time / U.S.A. (Director: Sterlin Harjo) — Filmmaker Sterlin Harjo’s Grandfather disappeared mysteriously in 1962. The community searching for him sang songs of encouragement that were passed down for generations. Harjo explores the origins of these songs as well as the violent history of his people.”
My contribution to the film was minimal in terms of the overall production but I had a fun experience working with these guys, the talent and other crew. I was hired to shoot several rolls of film as a part of the film that re-created a specific historical event. I shot the film using a Canon 814 XLS and Agfachrome 200D Reversal film stock. The film was then digitally transferred and scanned at HD resolution.
I have seen the raw footage but not the final cut of the film – so I’m excited to see how the footage was integrated into the story.
Congratulations to all those involved! We’ll be watching the progress of this film to see the progress it makes.
This is a short wedding film I shot in October 2013 for my brother Adam and and his wife Lauren. I’ve been shooting Super 8 film for a long time now and with this film have decided that I’m going to enter the world of Super 8 wedding films. So pass on the information and if anyone out there would like to have their wedding filmed please get in touch with me. I will have a complete website with all the information soon!