It’s a nerve wracking feeling packing, labelling, and shipping the film. You wouldn’t think so but given there are customs forms, labels, packing, and payment, and then once it leaves your hands all you can do is hope it makes it where it’s supposed to go.
The next day I left on a work trip and during a layover at the Denver, CO airport I received a call from UPS. Something to the effect of, “We have your shipment here and we need some additional information about it.” Was not a good feeling to know it was stalled along the way. I worked feverishly to both call and email the necessary “missing” information – basically, they just wanted a description of the what was in the box. Yet another reason to sweat. I wouldn’t feel good until I received a confirmation that it’s in the hands of Cinelab in London.
Unlike digital formats where a backup is possible. If this film gets lost or damaged in transit, that’s it, it’s over. Gone. Lost forever. No returns, refunds, exchanges, do-overs.
Thankfully, a couple of days later I received confirmation that the film was received.
Saturday, June 11 was quite a long day. We went from shooting at various film locations, to the interview, and then back to shooting more locations. The idea really was to complete the entire film shoot in a single day. After all, it’s only 200 feet of film in the cartridge and at 18 frames per second (fps) that’s just 3 minutes and 20 seconds! How long could it really take? My thinking was that I would have more than enough time to shoot two rolls of film. But turns out that I barely had enough time for even a single roll. Not because of any one thing, but because each shot takes time to set up and there’s travel time between locations, and then there’s waiting around time, so on and so forth.
Later in the day we were to meet Rebecca Jim and her son Dana at a location along Tar Creek near the Miami Nursing Home. An odd thing happened while we were there. At the time, my son and I were waiting in the car for our guests to arrive so we could film them. I’d noticed these two boys with loaded-down bikes ride by and head down towards the Creek. I thought it odd because knowing that the water is highly toxic it didn’t make sense to me that they’d be going down there to fish or play. I let my son know that I was going to walk down and scout it out, maybe get a shot or two of the water while we waited. When I walked down to the access point, just beyond the trees, in the center of the Creek, stripped down to their shorts and digging around for rocks in the water, were the two boys. What were they looking for, I wondered? Crawdads maybe. But it couldn’t be, there was very little, alive in this water. They didn’t see me and I didn’t really make myself known – I just went about my business. But it did strike me as odd and at the same time, thought maybe this would be good for the film, so I pointed the camera in their direction and pulled the trigger for a few seconds.
A few minutes later, one of them must have seen me. By then I’d decided to pack up and wander back to the car. They seemed quick to get out of the water and get dressed. It was one of those uncomfortable situations where I sort of felt like starting up a conversation but at the same time didn’t have a great vibe about the whole thing and decided not to ask any questions.
Back at the car parking area and Jim and Dana arrived. I shared the story about the boys and a surprised look came over Rebecca’s face. “Where are they, what did they look like, what were they doing?” she asked. Apparently I’d stumbled into an ongoing issue and caught two kids red-handed that were doing something they were not supposed to be doing – and I had it on film! As was explained, these same two boys had dammed up the Creek last season to create a swimming hole. On top of the toxic metal levels in the water, the water became stagnant and concentrated with dangerous levels of bacteria. In addition, all posted signage had suspiciously been removed by “somebody.” The authorities got involved including the Grand River Dam Authority and the Corp of Engineers because, among other things, it is illegal to dam up a flowing waterway – not to mention one that is already highly toxic and not to be swam in. It took the authorities and volunteers months to dismantle the make-shift dam. Rebecca later relayed that she’d encountered the same two boys some time ago, one of them had an axe on his bike, one of them was carrying a holster firearm of some kind.
It wasn’t but a few minutes before Rebecca was on the phone reporting the incident, her son was documenting the area where a few rocks had already been moved into place to create the beginnings of a new dam. And then Rebecca was wading into the water to topple the stones, and remove rocks from the river. “Aaron, come down here and take these,” she said. Immediately, I found myself following orders and helping to ferry stones from the Creek to the hillside.
In the distance was my son digitally recording the live action.
As things finally settled down we were able to re-focus and get back on track with filming. I captured the one or two shots and we moved on to the next location.
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 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.
It’s been a while since I last posted something about the film so I’d like to give a few updates (as I wait for my slightly *adjusted* version of the film to render in Final Cut).
First some results from some of the festivals that I’ve submitted to…. Sundance (UT) – rejected Slamdance (UT) – rejected SXSW (TX) – rejected Dam Short (NV) – rejected Sedona (AZ) – rejected Rutgers (NJ) – rejected Ann Arbor (MI) – rejected Phoenix (AZ) – rejected Cinequest (CA) – rejected Gen Art (NY) – rejected Atlanta (GA) – rejected Beverly Hills (CA) – rejected Nashville (TN) – rejected Method Fest (CA) – rejected Tulsa United (nationwide) – awaiting Rooftop Films (NY) – awaiting Cambridge (UK) – awaiting deadCenter (OK) – awaiting
Pretty good, huh? That’s a lot of rejection! I’m almost getting used to it. The only thing I hate about being rejected is the fact that I paid anywhere from $40-60 per event to enter. And all I get in return is a form email that reads as follows:
“If you are receiving this email, we regret to inform you that your entry has not been selected for the 2010 (Insert Name) Film Festival. We do thank you for submitting your film, and we wish you success in your future endeavors.
If you have any questions, feel free to email us at ….
Sincerely, Programming Staff of the (Insert name) Film Festival”
Isn’t that great? I’ve received like 14 of these now – and it’s always so much fun opening one. I feel my character building one form-email at a time.
So now for the good news: I haven’t been rejected by everyone yet. I received a call from someone at deadCenter Film Festival yesterday saying that my screening DVD did not work. So I am making another one today to mail to them. Then they can reject me too.
But it got me thinking…what if one of the DVDs I sent to one of the many other festivals had the same issue? Would they call and ask me for another copy or would they just toss it aside? Makes me wonder. I’m thinking of contacting a few of them just to see: 1) what their policy is on non-operating DVDs 2) if they have any notes about the functionality of mine.
I would at least like to know that someone (anyone) was able to actually view the film and reject it based on it’s merit (or lack thereof).
So is my ego bruised from all of this rejection? No. I need it. I like it. Really, I’m being serious here. Rarely is someone’s work “accepted” first time running. And a little rejection is good to make one work harder next time. I’ve gone well beyond my initial goal of going from idea to movie – I never thought I would even attempt a siege of the festival circuit. And perhaps this will be a lesson to me – that I should have saved my money. But then again, I don’t regret applying either. If I hadn’t submitted to all those festivals I would have never known the possibility of having my film shown at one.
**** In other news – I am in the process of mastering a complete DVD which will hopefully have subtitles in English and French and possibly (if i can get around to it) a commentary track, a slideshow, and maybe other features. The goal is to get this done by Spring and get everyone who helped on the film, a copy of the film – as well as hold a private showing or two.
**** As for music rights: it’s been an on-going pain in the ass resulting in stalemate. Doesn’t really matter though if I’m not showing it anywhere!
This is kind of a dead period right now. It’s a waiting game to see which festivals select the film as part of their show.
Good news bad news: got the word from Sundance – no go. Got the word from Slamdance, also no go. That’s the bad news, I guess. But it was such a LONG shot. I mean, Sundance had 9800 submissions in the short film category alone and they selected 200. Slamdance had 5400 short film entries and selected only 100. Those are some sucky odds. But I’m not sweating it. This is a Super 8 film – I don’t think either of those festivals are really the market for this type of film. I’m really hoping for a more artsy type festival – something a little more underground. With that in mind I submitted to a few more festivals.
I sent the film to a film festival in Brooklyn that screens films on rooftops – cool idea and right up my alley (see RPS). It’s also going to the Dam Short Film Festival in Boulder City, Nevada. Sent it to the U.S. Super 8 Film and Digital Video Festival at Rutgers University in New Jersey; The Method Fest Independent Film Festival in El Segundo, CA; The United Film Festival series which includes several major cities.
And of course I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to send it to South-by-Southwest Film Festival in Austin and last but not least the deadCENTER film festival here in OKC. I’m saving the big OKC metro debut for deadCENTER, that is, if they’ll have me.
*** I am still having some issues with the music licensing side of things. They sure make it difficult to do business. I think the only organization with more hoops to jump through would have to be the U.S. government. Seriously. Do these people want to be paid for songs or not? I’m getting pretty discouraged with getting the licensing lined up. Seems like I’ve made all the right contacts and have some agreements here and there but each entity makes their agreement contingent upon someone elses concurrence. Frankly, it is probably good that things are still up in the air. Nothing needs to go into effect until I have a scheduled festival to show.
*** I have some other content I am working on and have even been encouraged to write or include as a DVD commentary some information about the process of making the film – sort of an educational look at doing a narrative short in Super 8.
*** Finally, I have plans to host an exclusive cast and crew showing very soon. Stay tuned.