Tuesday, August 26, 2008

My Vision Stays Intact

The Biggest Challenge of Jeopardy's Pre-Production is FINALLY complete.
As far as Prop/Set Construction, this was the first thing I started and like the Location Problem, was the last thing I completed. With the exception of hammering the roof on the Newspaper Stand and making a little nook for cigarettes, candy etc... It's done. Looking at it without periodicals on it and by itself without the vendor table, and attachments
it doesn't look like much and of course, I couldn't stand it so I had to add to it to make it more believeable by itself so I went out and blew the budget on these fancy lights to raise the production value. (Honestly, it will probably be one of the better impulsive purchases when it comes down to it.)

The story behind the Newspaper Stand and the Majority of Set Design for the film was really a funny thing. Rick's original story was told in the 3rd person and how he sets up the premise in it, you just can't do telling a story visually.

Excerpt from the Original Story

We had to visually explain in seconds what was going on, so I came up with the sidewalk vendor newsstand that's riddled with different Newspapers and Weekly magazines all with the same headline of a serial killer threat looming. Boom! Knocks it out without saying a word. To boot, the Newspaper Vendor would be listening to a radio where a Newscaster would be talking about the killer on the loose as well. Now, with my idea I knew I was in for an undertaking. Not only would I have to build an entire newspaper stand, but I would have to design enough fake magazines and newspapers to fill it. That or spend $30,000 in licensing
fees for every old Time, Sports Illustrated, and GQ magazine I used that showed up in the foreground or background of a shot. That wasn't going to happen obviously. So I went to work.

My Original Schematic for the Newspaper Stand I made to show Freddy

My Father-In-Law, Freddy, was the smartest man I knew in the construction department that probably would not charge me much for some advice. I drew up a diagram of what I wanted it to look like and went to him for an estimate. My original estimate for the venture I gathered from lumber shopping was upwards of $360.00. After he looked at it, it was under $100.00. He gave me a shopping list and Payton and I went to lumber yard.

The Expensive Designer Lights

With Freddy's intuition we constructed the stand in 4 sessions and Freddy, God Bless Him, keep me not cutting corners. Every screw was flush, every board was measured and every nook and cranny was painted. From there we installed some designer halogens to the tops of the shelves to add a little extra illumination to the six months of hard work: The Magazine Covers.

If you keep up with this journal I'll spare you another explanation on them, but for several months I got a crash course in InDesign and created using a lot of my father's photos, 30 fake magazine covers. Upon completion, I sent them to a friend, Chad East's outfit and they printed me 3 covers of each and scored, (pre-folded,) 2000 sheets of paper to be

inserted and stapled to the magazine cover. Once it all came back, my wife and I worked diligently one night folding, inserting and stapling the mags together. The stapler was brand new when we started, now it's just a piece of cast iron junk.

Couple of Pictures of the final magazines

The most important periodical was that day's newspaper and the headlines screaming: Leather Strap Strangler Kills Fourth. This was the hardest job of all of the prop design. I contacted the local paper and the Layout Editor, Lori Dellinger was kind enough to give me the measurements and format of the Hickory Daily Record. Using the specs, I created a front and
back page, inside and out, of the 'Metro Post' and two different versions of the 'Skyline Daily Record.' Reasoning for two is, every city has at least 2 different papers, BUT we also have a flashback scene that happens a week prior to the present night, where Henry, the main character is watching Dana, the female, at a coffee shop and uses a newspaper to conceal
his face. So we couldn't very well use the same paper. I had originally done all three in color praying for a break from the "Expense Gods" when it came time to print.

The Original Color Layout

After several dead ends, The Taylorsville Times committed to helping us out. The problem was we couldn't afford a color run and in all honesty I had seriously contemplated the final looking better for the movie to be in black and white. I had spent hours and hours inserting pictures, text and laying out these papers. But in order to run the paper, I would have to convert all the images from CMYK Color to Grayscale which was an absolute undertaking. The problems didn't end there. The HDR paper's measurements were much larger than the Taylorsville paper and in order to stay in our price range, we had to comply to the Times' specifications, so then I was pitted with the task to fix the layout to fit the paper size. When it was all said and done, the adjustments took longer than the original layout did. Nevertheless, the nicest guy in the world at the Times, Mica, worked with me and happened to be a movie junkie like myself and was excited about the project. I was skeptical after all the adjusting on how the finished paper would look. When he called me to come down and pick them up, I cringed.

Then I walked into the office and there they were... And they looked phenomenal. I couldn't have been happier or prouder of the key prop of this film's outcome. So as the hustle and bustle of pre-production design subsides and we look toward the final nerve wracking thirty days of creative energy working for one common goal, I rest easy knowing that my vision of this film has stayed almost completely in tact thus far. That to me is the biggest accomplishment of them all, because never when you are working with no money, limited resources and time, do you ever not have to compromise. I have yet to do so, (location situation pending.)

I guess I can be grateful. With a handful of people's generosity and work combined with my bordering compulsive patience for detail and perfection, I am one step closer to what I have now been calling, "my finest hour."

The Final Newspapers After Print

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Process of Scribbling My Shot Lists

I keep my films fresh in my mind for principle photography by waiting to do the creative stuff such as shot lists, layouts and stuff like that until maybe the last couple of weeks before go time. For this one, I'm starting now. There are still battles I am fighting with money, location, casting and workflow management. Heaven forbid I get all the logistics done and forget to do MY job.

I normally am my own Director of Photography because I'm ALWAYS the Editor and filming my own pictures and productions makes it easy for me to "cut in camera" as I shoot which saves me a lot of time and allows me to make sure I shoot for a smooth edit. Well for the first time since my Junior Thesis film, Ryan, (my mentor and only guy I would trust with my productions if I couldn't trust myself,) will be shooting camera. So my MAIN responsibility is to be able to tell him what to shoot.

Of course my shots will probably only be a blueprint for what we really end up shooting. (Ryan and I work well together with improv during shoots.) Maybe I'll scribe the shots I see in my head and Ryan can shoot those and then do a couple of takes the way he sees it. Ryan's hand held camera may rival some people's steadi-cam work so if you've kept up with the story of this film, you know that MOVING shots will be a must. So there is alot to scribble down because I would rather have to heavy a work load than not enough and with him and I silently compeiting for shots we should have at least a skeleton.

I normally hand write all shot lists w/ pencil so I can adjust it if different ideas come into play as I go. This film with my elaborate storyboard creation and just the amount of time I've had to study, invent and analyze the material, won't be done in normal fashion. It's straight black felt tip pen because honestly I know every frame I want. In fact, I probably wouldn't miss a shot if my notes went up in flames the night before the shoot. If I were shooting it myself and had no other creative input out there I know exactly what I want and what I would shoot. This justifies me doing this so early before PP. I don't recommend it in any other situation. Use every minute possible to envision your film.
The Method of Madness is simple: I draw the storyboards, sketches whatever as I read through the action of the script. Then I break down the scene into my categories: 1)Pace 2) Look/Environment 3) Actors 4) Tone. Then I jot my normal coverage shots like the master, OTS, MC, CU's. Then I analyze my 4 catergories, envision the story and get creative. Here's a couple of examples of the first scenes of the film and what we plan to shoot.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Dark Knight Review

Alot of people will tell you The Dark Knight was over hyped
due to Heath Ledger's untimely death. Others will tell you it was not appropriate for children because of the themes it "promotes." Some will tell you it was good. Some will tell you it was great. I'm a Film Prude. It takes Cinematic Perfection to get me to stand up and applaud and for a film to get me into the the theater twice to see it is an absolute accomplishment. Mr. Nolan, you did both of those and I will tell you that The Dark Knight was a Minor Masterpiece of a film.

Had it not been for what I felt was a rushed, uneven final 30 minutes it may have screeched into my Top 10 of all time. My theory on the rushed ending is Nolan and his producers had the running time at 3 hours but Warner Brothers demanded it be two and a half. Nolan didn't know where to cut the film due to the storylines and pacing so he decided to snip here, snip there and just compress the ending which for me made it hard to follow in spots compared to the two hours that presides it. Despite that nick picking, The Dark Knight is everything you go to the movies for. Every frame from the first to last told a story and being an editor at heart, watch for an Oscar bid for Mr. Lee Smith if the Academy's short term memory doesn't forget by January. (I don't know how they could. This movie as good as it is doing will still be in the theater.)

Congrats Mr. Nolan, I know it's nothing for I am nobody but your fifth feature film, The Dark Knight has just landed in my Top 20 of all time. To me thats a privileged and sacred place to be... Considering the arsenal on that list.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008


I've been prepping this film for a year and yes, I'm strapped with
time. Being a full time father on top of working full time and part
time contract, it makes getting stuff down daunting. But the most
miserable part of it all is the first thing I was dealing with for
this film last August, is gonna' be the last thing I deal with this
September as well.

LOCATION!! For the past two months I have settled on using a hotel
for the scene where Dana enters the elevator and heads to her
apartment while Henry, our stalker, is right in tow. Rick's original
story takes place in Baltimore but doesn't get into specifics about
her residence. I envisioned an old apartment building like you would
find in NYC or Baltimore where you have a gated and key entry that
leads you to a common room where occupants'mailboxes are. Then down
the hallway is one of those old elevators you have to pull the gate
to the side and door up on.

The Floorplan for the Common Room Entrance I had in mind but now
couldn't careless about the layout if it just had all the elements.

Upstairs Hallway to Apartments

From there you have a noisy ride up and exit from the elevator into
a hallway of apartments.

OK... So with the exception of the gated elevator with the manual
door, how hard even in Hickory, North Carolina should it be to find
something similar?

... You would think. Let me tell you, it's bordering ridiculous. A
year ago I thought I was going to get off easy when The Prism Group
seemed interested in allowing me to shoot in the vacant part of
Hickory Square but the rumors about Andy Wells were all true...
THAT'S RIGHT I SAID IT, and that idea got squashed. So from there
The Abbey, Ramada and a select few of the other places fell through
before Mr. Tarlton was generous enough to give me carte blanc of any
of his hotels. This was great but again the problem was I had not
originally envisioned a hotel. I took him up on his offer while the
getting was good and decided I would continue crusading for my
original idea. Even contemplating moving the whole production to
Asheville was canned because the lack of assistance giving in the
location I needed. Salsbury had a couple of places but fresh off of
George Clooney's Nuckleheads and the money they brought with their
production, pretty much made my little small sum offer a laughing
stock. Broughton Hospital in Morganton had some great spots but was
not keen on me shooting anything indoors so that got tossed too.

Meanwhile, there were little spots here and there in downtown
Hickory that would work but they were not all inclusive. Like one
building had a cool elevator but no hallway. The other had a cool
hallway but no elevator and so on and so forth. In fact there was so
much difference in the locations that it would take us literally
painting or building on to the hallway to match them AND to put some
sweetener in that Ice Tea, every spot I've talked to wants $100 a
day to $75 an hour which is a deal if THEY HAD ALL THE ELEMENTS but
moving the set 5 to 6 different places at $100 a pop.... OUCH! I'd
have to sell my car.

If anybody got any ideas or know something I don't about buildings
in Hickory, I'm all ears and could probably negotiate a finders fee.
Let me know.

Here's two parts of the sequence. From the front door to the
elevator, scratch the actual elevator ride, then to when she gets



OK My Blogger Friends:

I'm getting down to the wire and have waited, (of course,) to the final moments to take care of an issue in my latest film project... I NEED DEAD GIRLS!

If you live in the Hickory area and can find Saturday, September 27th 12pm-5pm available to be at LR and well want to be in a movie, we could use you. We only need 3 to be "Dead Girls." We could use others, (guys as well,) to be extras in a classroom scene.

Anyway, everybody would be required to sit in a medium sized classroom and pose as students for the lead who is the teacher. We have three setups so that would probably take about 3 years max.

Then three girls would then be taken to makeup and their faces and necks made up to look as if they had been strangled and left for dead.(Makeup and Photos Duration: Just under two hours. Then the photographer would take a series of still shots of you laying there dead. Then we'd clean you up and that's it.

It's real simple and should be real fun. If you are interested, hit me up. I put this off and put this off and now I really gotta' take care of it fast. Thanks and look forward to speaking to you if you are interested.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Money Can't Buy Happiness in the Picture Business

I've been doing this film thing for quite sometime. I've borrowed, made, stole, pissed away money on my craft in some shape or form in the past 14 years. The unfortunate part of my dream is in the reality that you have to have money to make a movie. If you want it to be good and push your career forward, there has to be some sort of money involved. If you don't have money, you better have a script that even Steven Wright could get excited about, otherwise, well, again... You better have money.
With Jobbers I shot every other week, putting back a chunk of my paycheck every week to float the cost of the weekend productions. (It took me a year and a half to finish.) The Jersey Bootleg, I borrowed money for tapes from people as we went along. Meter, i borrowed $200 from my father to pay for the cab fare and was lucky that the movie didn't cost me much more. (In Meter's case, I had the second option of a good script.)
With Jeopardy we were going all the way and raising money to shoot it. Well five months in... I had an investor in my roommate/entrepreneur roommate from college. He had worked steadily and consistently through the years in the adult industry, (running camera and editing,) that by last year he had opened his own post house and was one of the most soughted out camera men slash directors in the business. He had always been sick of it, but who could leave when his company turned in nearly 2 million dollars last year?
That's where I came in. Ryan and I knew we were going to do pictures together. We just didn't know when. Well, with Ryan's business running itself the time was now. Ryan knew I could pull it off and he simply didn't have time to put something together himself. It's funny because he had always wanted me to come back out to LA, work for him and then together out there, make a picture. In fact when I turned down his offer the last time, (due to my wife being half way through college here,) he told me we would never work together again. Well... Here we are a year after the offer, virtually married until January or February where if we make this picture great end up business partners. The fate of our careers in Hollyweird rest on my shoulders and my knowledge of making movies....UGH.

It's funny because for years I have said the same thing, "If I just had a little money I could make a great film."

Well, after blowing a grand of my own money and then 600 of friend, Colin's contribution on Props and Equipment, reality kicked in. Ryan's first check for the escrow account of $1200.00 came. Then all of a sudden I felt the pressure of what was taking place in less than 6 weeks. There was no going back and the fate of this project has the most to gain BUT THE MOST TO LOSE.

It is a totally different ball game when you are trying to plan a film with somebody else's money involved. I'm still getting used to being told what I can and can't do and where I can and can't spend money. It's very daunting but at the same time it kind of really makes you have to think creatively and outside of the box in order to trouble shoot your mandatory needs as opposed to wants.  So where you are limited and frustrated when you have no money to shoot a movie, trust me you are just as limited and frustrated when you do got money as well. The only difference is when somebody throws money on the table it makes it easier to actually make the picture but harder to stomach your limitations where as when you have no money you know your limitations up front and there is no having budget your vision or creativity because with no money there are no inhibitions. You got nothing to lose so you just go for it. With money, you are told to go for it... But go for it if the money holds out. You fuck up, you got the rest of your miserably small career to lose.

Here's my budget forecast. We're already over budget and haven't shot a frame yet.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

All the Vision Begins its Tangible Metamorphis - Part 2

It took a Vasectomy and an Acute Kidney Infection to boot to get me off of my feet long enough to complete the fun but rigiorous task of making a bunch of fake periodicals. One Month of constant design in Creative Suite, to three weeks of adjustments, to last minute add ons, to a week at the press, to my fantastic and helpful wife and I spending 4 hours on Tuesday night stapling them together, the second hardest task of pre-production for Jeopardy is done.

With the acception of a TIFF file conversion problem, the magazines look great. My only worry is now that I have them sprawled out and am looking at the finished product, I worry I still don't have enough. Yes I have 10 X Rated Blocker Sleeves but again... Do I have enough? I guess I'll find out this weekend as I complete THEE hardest task of pre production... Constructing and Finishing the Newsstand.

Here are a couple of shots I took. A very proud moment for me.

This was a brand new stapler when we started. 100 magazine staples later... Scrap Iron.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

All the Vision Begins its Tangible Metamorphis

Addison Fox, an old friend of mine from school, begins the
shaping of Jeopardy by creating the first finished product, the
Metro Police Jacketsthat will be worn by the actors for the final scene of the
film. It started as just a storyboard where I sketched
Metro Police on the jacket of one of the cops.
Then I started thinking, that would be a cool little added prop
to make the scene more real. I thought it would cost a mint, but Addison
found the cheapest jackets and did the screen printing for
dirt cheap and allowed me this element. They look
fraggin' awesome and since I'm not paying any of the actors
this will be a nice keepsake they can take with them when
we wrap. (I'm keeping one of course and well, Ryan will
probably want one too.)

The Storyboard

The Blueprint

The Finished Product

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Meter's Two Year Journey Ends...

In the winter of 2003, I began writing Meter from a conversation I had with a disgruntled gentleman at Sergeant Peppers in Hickory. Three years later at a chinese restaurant, I put the finishing touches on it and locked it down for shooting. Throughout those 3 years I had taken bits of conversations here and there I had with different people and incorporated it into Charles' or Randle's thoughts. As bad as it sounds I never really took Meter very seriously at first. I knew it was a twelve page script of nothing but dialogue and in the grand scheme of things just wouldn't be the sort of thing people would get into. I just decided to shoot it because I knew it would be cheap and it would allow me to an extent to shake the dust off and see if I had learned anything in the years of experience that had past. Everyday life and paying commercial jobs continued pushing back my "weekend project," I found myself worrying about making Meter a quality film as opposed to a straight to You Tube Video. My thoughts at first were just to con a couple of my friends with a bottle of liquor to go out in a parking lot somewhere and shoot it but the more time that went by trying to secure a schedule, the more I realized that if I was going to spend all this time on it, I might as well do it right.

...And six mediocre auditions later I was getting particular with who Charles needed to be. Then Freddy Robinson got me in touch with Mark Alton Rose. Mark came out to my house and blew me away with his audition and suddenly I was excited again to do the movie.

On the coldest night of the year, November 4th, Mark, Freddy, Phil, Mandi and I went downtown and shot the film from 6pm to 5:30am in its entirety. We had all sorts of issues from lights catching on fire to people walking right through the shot during a solid take, to the bass of the band playing at the Tap Room messing up all my audio to the cab owner indian giving us the cab halfway through the shoot. On my way home I was dead set I had just wasted everybody's time. But as post-production progressed, I found (along with Phils great lighting and Freddy and Mark's excellent performances,) my years of editing since Jobbers were all getting ready to pay off. After over 60 days of Post, (most of it on fixing the audio and removing the now infamous faint bass thump from the ambience,) Meter was done. Freddy, Mark, and I previewed it and when the credits ran I think for the first time we all realized that despite the $500 budget, problems with location, absence of direction from me due to lack of time and man power, we had made a very entertaining hard hitting film. I remember Mark turning around as the credits rolled with this look in his eyes as if to say, "Damn, we did that?"
The real feeling of accomplishment didn't come until a packed house at The CAST theatre hosted the premiere to a grand ovation even after being worried to have my own parents there in fear of the crowd, (due to the content,) running them out of town. Then from there, we were excepted into the first couple of film festivals we submitted to and suddenly this film was developing into a nice stepping stone for all involved. Mark has secured a part in a big film based solely off his performance in Meter. Freddy has used Meter as calling card to get his projects off the ground as well as Phil and I getting to make another film together only this time, Phil will be in front of the camera and will have money behind it. We were rejected as many times as we made it into film festivals and I still being broke couldn't afford mass submissions to every festival out there so Meter’s potential or failure didn’t reach full velocity as I had only submitted to nine festivals, (missing others by deadlines because I simply could not keep up with everything.) We were excepted into 5 so I'll take that as a semi-victory.

The review we received from a gentleman I still haven't talked to was probably better than anything else we could win. As Meter's aura fades and Jeopardy's begins I will always keep that year from production to last month dear in my heart. Those times justified why I do what I do and more importantly gave me voice to do it some more.

NOTE-This film contains extremely harsh language, controversial issues and very strong opinionated subject matter. These thoughts are not the filmmakers’ nor the actors’. This is simply a story about a guy who has let the harshness of life get the best of him.

Watch the Film in Streaming Web Video with crappy sound here.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Making Cigarettes and Watching Captain Kangaroo

So I'm banging away in Illustrator coming up with all these different designs and names for Metro's very own cigarettes when I realize I'm having too much fun and must just get to it. So I keep my 3 favorite designs. How was I gonna' get the labels onto the cartons with out taping or gluing? Neither would work because of how they were being used so first thing was first... I spray painted over the Marlboro and Newport designs on the carton to keep the original logo from bleeding through.Then I bought some of the full page Avery Labels they sell at your local "Ink Superstore." While my office was in their sales meeting on Friday I snuck a couple of good color copies from our big laser printer. I took them home, waited for the paint to dry and cut the labels out. I found out again what a dildo I could be when I realized that I printed all the logos on the wrong side of the label. To top that off somehow between cleaning my computer out at work to not backing my work up, my original Illustrator files for the cartons had been lost.

Being lazy, and burnt from all this Graphic Design crap I thought redoing the files would be asinine so I cheated... I took the printed labels I had messed up, scanned them and reprinted them on the other side of the sticker. I lost at least 25% of my quality but maybe people are right in saying, I'm putting too much thought into it. I say you can never put too much thought into the little details but maybe being a one man show on this right now, I need to know when to let go. Well, I did on this because I took the depleated second versions of my logos and made my cigarette cartons. They turned out quite well. Now on to the big task-- Getting the infamous police badge custom made without being a police officer. I should have done that first.

Here are the scanned designs of my box labels in individual flaps.

Here's what the finished product looks like.

Monday, August 4, 2008

A Superstitious Ritual

And Thus The Countdown Begins...To Mark Nearly the Year Anniversary of deciding to push forward with this film I found it fitting now that we countdown the final 60 days until Principle Photography with my traditional and superstitious ritual of getting a customized director's hat done.I have done one for every project with the exception of Hometown in the past so considering the pressure there is to make this one, "the one," I didn't think it was the right time to break tradition or ritual, so over the weekend, Payton and I went down to the mall and had it made.No frills. No fanciness. Just a hat with one title with block letters. I've been lucky thus far for nearly all my films have been one name with the exception of The Jersey Bootleg which just received the word, "Bootleg" across it. I can't wait until I'm put in a position like directing a show with a name like, "The Vagina Monologues." I mean who could resist getting a pink hat done with the white words, "VAGINA" across it? (Makes more sense than putting "MONOLOGUES" on it by itself, right?)Jeopardy principle photography begins September 27th on location in Downtown Hickory, NC.

Hats of Old- I've nearly worn the bill off the Meter hat it's been so long since I've made a film. Killing Me!!!!

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