Friday, August 28, 2009

Sacrificing The Art - Production Diary Sketches & Scribbles

More chapters of my memoirs are coming. I've had a busy couple of weeks working on other productions and have been writing it, just not typing it. Here are some pages of my productin diary of little sketches I did and scribbles of the book I wrote during my little sleep deprived breaks from shooting.

 The Hatter drawing was the last day of the basement. Made sense mentally at that point in time. The sketch of the man with the bag on his head was actually a shot we did. I sketched it while waiting for the actors to be touched up in make up. All this is pointless shit. Thought I'd share it, cause I'm emailing all my other posts into the various venues I do.

See the full gallery on posterous

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Camera Test - Color Reversal In Camera Effect

A Day In Hickory, NC - Camera Test from Garrick Lane on Vimeo.


Shot from sunrise to sunset to get some footage to do a commercial with. Then I got lucky with a great sunset for my second job of the night and went ahead and captured it too. (Football Game.) My goal was to hack my camera's scene files, (cpu) to get the custom settings to match or get close to what they do on CSI Miami. Granted I didn't have gradient glass or any other filters but I like the effect I pushed the camera to do. This is all done in camera. There are no special effects, color correction or pushing/pulling of any kind. This is exactly what I shot.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Sacrificing The Art - Chapter Four / Part 2- A Drunk A.D and A Slowly Swelling Eye

I’m driving the forty five minute route to the location and my eye was really starting to bother me. I’ve never had a stye but I’m going to assume my eye hurt like that of a stye. My stomach was growling as it had for the past 48 hours and counting.

I showed up on the set looking for something to eat. 




Hot beer and microwaveable cheeseburgers--- 

Shit-- all of it. That day, the menu didn’t matter. I heated up the cancerous celled toxic cheeseburger and chugged a Cheerwine for my morning caffeine rush. I didn’t speak to anybody but the Director and went right to work. My Camera Assist was there with my daily Adderall. I was working on two days with less than 5 hours of sleep so I felt the caffeine may not last me the duration I needed. The first scene of the day was the good guys bringing one of the bad guys into the mold infested basement. The first set up was simple. One of the actors puts the bad guy over his shoulder and walks across the room, dropping him in a metal chair. We shot nine takes of it. From still camera flashes going off, to LATE crew and cast barging in upstairs making enough noise to wake a 90 year old, to lights being in frame, the day did not get started very good. My eye was getting worse and worse with every squint and bead of sweat leaking into it. I stepped off the set for the first of many 15 minute breaks to wring out my sweat drenched shirt. I walked by the computer table to find six half drank soda cans surrounding my two $4000 computers. On top of that the computers’ AC adapters looked like a noodle salad resting right on the edge of the table. There are light stands and lights on the ground underneath the Logger’s feet. I go looking for the A.D. Can’t find him so I have the Director’s brother, (one of the money guys,) and have him put a sign on the CPU table that stated, “NO FUCKING CANS OF ANY SORTS ON EDIT TABLE.” 

I walked up to the lunch table to find the A.D talking with one of the Actors. The two had a cup of beer or a cup of piss in their hand. (The Home Owner had locked us out of the upstairs that morning because crew men were caught the day before watching his Friends Box Set while the real crew was down stairs working.)  I said nothing. It didn’t matter. It was clear by this time that we didn’t really have an AD. Granted, we had “titled” somebody that but who were we fooling? The AD is normally the “asshole” on the set and I had clearly made a name for myself as that early into the shoot. I had already done the call sheets and called all the actors to brief them on times, location and wardrobe for the first week and we had no trouble getting them there. The A.D we hired or should we say titled was more a Producer, Location Manager and Logistics Guy. He was a creative guy who really knew how to fix anything and always came up with resourceful ways to fix problems we ran into along the way. Unless he could fix my eye, there was nothing he could do at the moment. He would come in real handy in a couple of days. For now, he was doing his job. I stepped back in the “oven” to shoot. From that moment on, I referred to me as the “Drunk AD” which was a reference to where I would like to be rather than being the “DP” that’s sober and sick of being “basemented.” Despite my nerve racking OCD about my gear poking at my focus on the matter at hand, the shooting was phenomenal. Every angle I shot on the “dark wall” without the drywall was fantastic. I had some dutch angles that put one bad guy in the foreground and the other in the background that were remarkable. The silver covered air ducts above the actors glowed with rich blues. The cinder blocked wall behind the subjects illuminated purple mixing into orange to convey electrical lights in the corner. The Director watched out his monitor, praising my every shot knowing I had thrown out his shot list for this scene that rivaled (in pages,) that of most Medical reference books. I began cutting in camera again and knocking off shots of pure brilliance for what we had to work with. As the day went on despite the quality footage I was capturing, the walls in that basement were becoming smaller and smaller. The heat of the 36 hours down there began to rash my skin. I had never been claustrophobic but something about the prolonged time down there began to get to me mentally. My volume and growl raised amps at a time. My temper grew shorter and shorter and the crud, sweat and heat punished my vulnerable eye like a Chinese Water Torture. I had gotten to the point where I just wanted to cut it out and be done with it.

The last hour of the shoot on Day 3 found us at about 9 pm. Nearly, 14 hours of the “oven,” and the weariness of the dislodging of my gear all over a small Shelby Farm was about all I could take and we still weren’t finished. My skin crawled. Anger clouded my mind and there was still the biggest day down there.... The BIG FINAL SCENE to do the day after. So we’re down to the final setup. I was laying on the floor, shooting a couple of low angle shots where we had a couple of key shots where the actors talk “under their breath,” so clean audio was of the essence. The audio, I never worried about as long as my Camera Assist was running it. He had the boom mic and headphones and was not only a Pro Tools Professional but also a Hip Hop Artist so he could hear a penny drop in the next county through those cans where as I can barely hear when my wife is screaming at me from the next room. (They may be what they call selective hearing too.) It’s renowned that I’m very hard of hearing. From years of utilizing Surround Sound to watch films, to beating on drums, to listening to Pantera at volumes that added “wear and tear” to my ear bones, I was half deaf and not very good with multi-tasking to boot. So shooting camera and monitoring sound was not a good idea. I was cutting the film too, so I couldn’t be mad at anybody but myself if I had taken on that responsibility as well. So I depended on him. If he said the take had good sound, it had good sound, period. 

So when Take One of the final set-up began and the first take was the best, BUT one of the actor’s lines was stomped on by a slow, long, rising growl of my hungry stomach, it was heart breaking. I had eaten lunch eight hours before, why would my stomach be growling, right? On the second take we got the same results so I calmly asked for two minutes where I asked somebody to go to the lunch table and get me something to whiff down real fast to stop the problem so we could wrap Day 3 up. Our Slate slash Makeup guy came back with, “this is all I could find.” 

He handed me two packs of crushed Saltine Crackers. I then asked for ten more minutes. All the stress and bullshit of the past three days, (basemented aside,) spewed out of my pores. I handed the camera to my Camera Assist and walked outside without saying a word, only stopping by the Edit table to again remove two half cans of soda from the Editing Table while my Logger was watching Indiana Jones on one of computers instead of doing his job.

Trounced outside to the cool evening air. I didn’t noticed how nice it was this time, walking past four crew men all enjoying a cold Budweiser.

“Wow,” under my breath as I passed them into the field and in cool Tom Cruise fashion from a scene in ‘Rain Man’ screams at the world: “SUNUVABITCH!!!!!,” I began to yell. Although I think I said something much worse.

Minutes before I explode at the end of Day 3.

The Story Continues with Chapter Five - The Importance of Fuel

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Sacrificing The Art - Chapter Four / Part 1 -A Drunk A.D and A Slowly Swelling Eye

 Chapter Four - A Drunk A.D and A Slowly Swelling Eye

An assistant director's duties include tracking the progress of filming versus the production schedule, and preparing call sheets. A First Assistant Director is responsible for the preparation of the shooting schedule and script breakdown used to plan the shooting of a film or television show. The AD works directly with the Director to manage of the minute to minute operations on the set during the process of filming, as well as co-ordinating the necessary communication of details of future operations as the filming progresses. Other duties include tracking the progress of filming versus the production schedule, observing all rules related to union crafts, labor contracts and location agreements, maintaining safety on the working set, and working with the Unit Manager to keep operational costs within the budgeted plan. A Second Assistant Director is responsible for information distribution and reporting, cast notification and preparations during the shooting process, recording of all data relative to the working hours of the crew and cast, management of the background cast (atmosphere or "extras"), preparation of call sheets, production reports,and other documentation. When needed, the Second Assistant Director can assume the duties of the First Assistant Director on a temporary basis.

-Source IMDB Glossary

On a No- Budget Guerilla Film, the First AD does both jobs......

Drugs on movie sets have been around as long as the slate and production board have. I mean even on big and organized high budget films you are working 13 to 14 hour days. It’s hard work. It’s not glamorous like you think, even for the actors.  Even at its smoothest it is constant problem solving, stress and work so uppers/downers are quietly accepted whether it’s your prescription or not. I am not speaking from experience on big sets. I’m just assuming. On independent and guerilla film sets this epidemic is rampant. That I know from experience. I myself am infamous for securing a bottle of Adderall from my doctor 72 hours before a shoot begins on a film I’ve done. On the Jeopardy set we practically put a bottle of Adderall on the craft service table with a sign on it, “WHEN IN DOUBT. EAT THESE.” Mild medications have never bothered me. Most of my good friends are functional potheads. In fact, if they don’t smoke they are not as functional so even a little ganja on lunch break for the crew if needed is OK, as long as it only betters your attention to detail. Alcohol.... NO. Quite simply no. There is no place for alcohol on a movie set. Sure, keep it cold and as soon we wrap, bang them down, but drinking beer on a hot set is an absolute no, no. The A.D for this production was the A.D on Jeopardy. ) On Jeopardy, he drank from the minute we started shooting ‘til we put my partner on a plane in Charlotte bound back to LA. I let it slide that time. He had kind of just been thrown into this duty without having any idea how to do it. Once Jeopardy started shooting it never really stopped. In four days, I slept three hours if that tells you anything. He also didn’t have to worry about keeping up with cast or any of the other duties of an AD because I had already done them ahead of time. What he did do is take care of the little things like make sure everybody was doing something, made sure dinner got to the set on time and when we needed anything that fell through the cracks, he was our guy and did a damn good job at it. The Director from this film was my DP’s, camera assist and noticed how smooth the production went and how hard he worked and ignored the beer thing, hiring him on the spot for Bad A$$ Killers, (this production.) To give him the benefit of the doubt, he also came up with a last minute prop, a suitcase that ultimately saved the film from having a crappier ending than it already had. He is a creative person who was and is great at problem solving and last minute fixes that ultimately became the best things a production could have. Was he ready to be A.D for a feature film? No. Did I ignore that during his pre-production work? Yes. Did I say, the alcohol had to be non-existent or very minimal during this shoot? Yes. Why? Not because I thought it would ultimately effect my job or his from past experience, but because, the crew of Jeopardy began “having a hard time taking orders from a slurring guy running around with a clipboard he never used.” This shoot was a professional shoot. Where as Jeopardy’s cast and crew were all film friends of mine, BAK was all cast and crewed with people I had never worked with. The cast and some of the crew were professionals and an AD drinking beer throughout would reflect a sense of chaotic, neglect of our own product which was the exact opposite of how I wanted to be taken on this one. This one for me was going to be a “no mistakes, no bullshit” kind of shoot and I was planning to inspire everybody on that set to think the way I do about it, because again, it was “My Last Hooray.” 

Day 1 - Jeopardy Shoot

If you ask my wife, I am the biggest space cadet and unorganized person in the world. I can’t for the life of me put my keys in the same place everyday to keep from losing them. I can’t remember to cut the stove off and always break my own rule of leaving wet clothes in the washer. I’m a mess. My bill and paper desk is always a mess and my nightstand looks like a back corner of an out of business accountant’s office.... BUT when it comes to film production, my gear, and anything related to this subject, I’m the most anal guy in the world. Everything has to be in its exact place. If a lens cap goes missing, the production stops. If a light isn’t being used it needs to be back in the case. If both of the computers are out, the Dumping Station and The Edit Bay, the white power chords need to be neatly placed not crossing each other or hanging off a table because if somebody’s belt would brush by the table and snag the hanging chord, it could pull not one computer off the table but both if the chords were tangled. This I know from experience. I saw this happen. I witnessed an actor with one of those big biker belt buckles lean over a table to get a light for his smoke, (which he shouldn’t be doing over computers anyway,) and then get called back into the set by the Director. He quickly turned around with the chord of the Powerbook G4 snug between his gut and the belt. Two computers and an external full of two days worth of footage crashed to the hard concrete. The external never recovered from the fall and the production went a week behind because they had to fix the computer and then reshoot all the footage that was lost. Not being organized on a film set is a recipe for disaster that can put you too far behind to recoup or worse put you out of business. So when it’s Game Time, all my space cadet, cloudy brain synapses run for the hills and my left brain  full of OCD cancer kicks in and if the crew does not want to make my policy underconsideration, then I become a very, very angered, drill sergeant kind of guy. Day 3 would mark the day my attitude and niceness would change for the worse never fully returning to the other light hearted fun filled guy for the remainder of the two weeks.

Cooking in the Basement trying to find any angle left to shoot even if it meant standing on my head.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Sacrificing The Art - Chapter Three - Smooth and by the Numbers

CHAPTER 3 - Smooth and by the Numbers... Maybe?

Aesthetics isn’t the only thing you wanna’ look at when finding a location. You want to look for power sources, geography and well just remember what you are shooting. Will it be a Chaplin film? If not, SOUND is very, very, important as we will get into shortly, (if of course you are shooting for it.)

The basement we are shooting is nice and air conditioned so shooting in the dead heat of August in muggy North Carolina just sounded like a grand thing to do. What we forgot when we picked this particular basement is the air conditioner was loud. Oh wait, we didn’t hire a sound guy so we missed that step when we were sitting down there during pre-production, smiling and cheering ourselves on for finding the place.  So the day shooting began the first thing that had to be done is the air conditioner had to be shut off. A little late to back out and find a much more suitable or should we say comfortable basement. The home owner was not really happy about this either. That was not in the contract. Some basements are underground and tend to keep a little coolness. Some basements are not underground and when you stuff 4000 watts of blaring illumination on top of 115 degrees pounding down from above you have conditions that not only make it impossible to make a film in but also can be fatally dangerous.

Day 2 was running smooth and by the numbers. My Camera Assistant had given me an extended release Adderall at the beginning of the day seeing that I was already worn out. At 10:30 am, the basement was muggy, a tad bit hot and cramped, but nothing I couldn’t adapt to. I had been on Porn sets that were worse. (The body odor had not kicked in yet.) The Adderall had completely dried my mouth out so on top of stank breath, I was spitting sweaters. On breaks between set ups, I would rush out and chug two twenty ounce waters only to find fifteen minutes later, my mouth was a hosiery mill again. It didn’t matter at this point. The pill had made me a monster. I could have shot scenes in Satan’s Judgement Chamber and moonwalked between takes with that amphetamine running through my veins.  I shot and shot, dumping 16 gig P2 cards every 40 minutes loaded with good shots and takes. (When you are shooting 720p HD, you get one minute per gig on the card. Do the math on my ratio.) There were no storyboards and the Director like most first time directors had spent a month typing up shot lists that consisted of 150 shots a scene. Not even David Fincher on a 60 day shooting schedule would get that kind of coverage. We reverted to the “No Huddle” offense which is bad because there is no organization but can be good if you have a DP and or Director who has edited before. I was both those so I began cutting in the camera. 

At 3:30 pm I got a little woozy. The temperature in this room had reached 120 degrees. My camera and I were drenched in sweat. The only reason I noticed was because my viewfinder was fogging up so badly, I couldn’t tell if my shots were focused or not. We couldn’t keep the actors from sweating through their makeup so we had to start shooting in ten minute intervals. The actors would rehearse outside where it was only 99 degrees and then we would shuffle them into the cooker, put them in their place and shoot two or three takes, depending on how the particular actor fended in the heat. Some would start sweating immediately, others wouldn’t sweat at all. One of the actors we had a mere seven minutes to get him in and out to shoot his close ups or he was a geyser of perspiration. By the 6 ‘o clock hour, even I could only do 30 minutes in fear the sweat from my face and body may leak into the camera and short something out. By the end of the day, I believe the only thing that got me through was the Adderall. Where my body had quit running itself late afternoon, the fuel of the Adderall had put my eyes, hands, and arms into automatic pilot. I shot an abundance of rack and shallow focus shots using obscured OTS angles for most of the scenes for the day.

We had shot everything we needed to shoot remaining only one scene behind. I had run out of angles to shoot on the dreaded white wall. We were watching the footage and I finally spoke up in my “a-hole tone,” (that from that point never reverted back to the “nice Garrick tone.”) I said that we would have to shoot the other side of the room when we brought two more actors in for the next day. I told them I wasn’t going shoot anymore on the white wall and would quit and pack all my stuff up right now if I had to. When the good guys brought the real bad guys down for the next day setup something was going to have to change or they could go ahead and tack on the “Alan Smithee” title to the Director of Photography credit. My UCLA film theory geekdom kicked in. 

“We shot the good guys on the white flat wall with shallow focus to give them a sense of constriction and claustrophobia so we should shoot the bad guys on the opposite wall with wide and loose angles and deep focus shots to juxtapose the two worlds,” I stated never missing a beat.

Sold. They agreed with me and for a second it made sense in a cinematic kind of way. It was actually a brilliant way to look at it. So now all I had to do was come up with a way to light the other half of the room and do it between the mini heat strokes my crew were having. 

I stepped out of the basement. The cool air caught my left eye where I felt a sort of itch. My left eye is what I refer to when I’m shooting as my “Squinting Eye.” It’s the one I close a lot to look through the viewfinder. It must have become irritated or chapped with all the humidity, sweat, salt, and mold in that basement. Opened and closed for fourteen hours a day with all that gunk going in and out, I’m surprised it hadn’t fallen out at this point. I breathed in the fresh mountain air. It was 10 pm, so it was quite cool and refreshing. I swaggered over to the cooler to drink one more gut rot Cheerwine because the water had been tapped out around 7 pm. As I opened it up I found the reds of the cheapo Cheerwine cans had turned into the brighter reds of the more expensive Budweiser. I paused for only a moment before muttering under my breath: “Damn already?”

Continues with

 Chapter Four - A Drunk A.D and a Swelling Squinting Eye

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Sacrificing The Art - Chapter Two "The Last Hooray"

Chapter Two - The Last Hoorah

I took a four year hiatus from my dream of making films to hone my craft in all aspects of production from producing to editing so that I could make better films. I didn’t realize when I made this decision I was running out of time already. I left my home at nineteen for Los Angeles to live for a year so I could get in-state tuition pricing for my over priced education at UCLA’s film school. My father wasn’t very happy with my decision but I was destined since watching Raiders of the Lost Ark that this was what I was going to do.

Fifteen years later, I’m still at it and haven’t made good living at it. I have squandered opportunities and have had great opportunities only to fall short due to somebody else’s incompetence. Either way you look it, if I would have stayed in Los Angeles, you would be watching my films at the Cineplex not renting it at the local Blockbuster. 

The UCLA program doesn’t teach their students how to handle hot lights nor do you teach you about an f-stop. Sure the Master Classes do, but the general Film Theory classes did not. It was up to you to beg your parents to buy a camera so you could practice the “hands on” on your own time. We learned in four years why Alfred Hitchcock chose every shot of every one of his sixty-seven films he directed. We broke down each genius frame of David Lean’s pictures. The Bridge over River Kwai, I can still recite word for word. We learned why they do it, just not how they do it. My first two films, Insomnia and A Soldier’s Battle were shit. I thought they were the greatest thing in the world at that time, but they were shit, plain and simple. Then upon graduating there was the feature that literally almost killed me and took two years to make from start to finish.

Jobbers was the most complex labor of love I ever had the displeasure, (and sometimes pleasure,) to make. It cost me over thirty stitches, (not all at one time,) thirteen doctor visits, a girlfriend, a couple of friends, a good landlord reference and a large chunk of my sanity. I'd give you the short story, but with this project... There ISN'T one.

In 1999, I was a wrestling freak. I loved wrestling. I loved the story lines. I loved the larger than life aspect of it all. This craze had also help me change my life. I stopped smoking and started in hard on the gym thing. I had never aspired to be a wrestler, (more a behind the scenes kind of guy.) I had been toggling with ideas to make a Christopher Guest inspired "Mockumentary" of some kind for my next project. The three chip video camera had just dropped from the sky and everybody was suddenly doing documentaries on the Sony VX-1000. I had made a deal with the devil to get me one.  

Well, I had a girlfriend at the time. One of those ones you only get to experience once or twice in a lifetime. She had walked by where I worked and I couldn't take my eyes off her. I had to have her and with a little persistence I got her. Had her for about three months and she dumped me. Heartbroken, I brushed it off... Well kind of. I used a bottle of Cuervo and my martial arts buddy, Justin that night to do so. After way too many we decided we were going to go down in the basement and beat on each other for a little while, Tyler Durden style. We beat on each other for forty-five minutes. So much I ended up in the hospital with twenty one stitches across the head. Here's where the story of my movie was inspired. We had filmed this whole ridiculous half wrestling, half fight and I had bloodied myself so badly I almost wasn't able to walk to the car to go to the hospital due to the loss of blood I had succumbed to. 


On the way to the hospital, Justin swerving, me talking, I hit him with the idea of a bunch of educated older men getting together to back yard wrestle and were dead serious about it. How ridiculously funny, I thought it could be. Like Spinal Tap or Waiting for Guffman on steroids. Justin agreed. Heck, we already had a scene in the can. The carnage never ended and working with only an outline and needing more and more footage to tell the story, I kept shooting for two years while shooting porn to fund it and save little by little for an edit suite. With over 50 hours of footage I was going to have to have my own system. I could barely afford the two year production, much less rental time on an Avid suite.

I had only edited one other complex project in my life. I had 50 hours of footage and only a 40GB hard drive to do deal with. This was 1999, so fast externals drives were not heard of in those days so I literally had to capture three tapes at a time, put together the little clips from them and render them as Quicktime movies. (Thank goodness we shot the movie in sync or those tapes would still be collecting dust in a shoe box somewhere.) Every scene and shot had to be signed off on, a little at a time. I had to know what I was going to do ahead of time. No, mix and match. I had to do it all in my head or sketch out detailed storyboards, limiting the creativity to my first instinct. I decided to go the long way about it. Why? Because I had no money.  I copied all the DV tapes onto VHS tapes and edited the movie from VCR to VCR like a crude telecine... Mixing and matching shots and scenes until I found the right mix and then I did the final cut on the Mac. Again, the non efficiency of the post production process came down to money. You’ll hear me bitch about this all the way through this book but ultimately it’s the thing that makes films better and faster. Forget what you’ve been told. A client told me one time, “I want my project done cheap, good and fast.” I told him to pick two, because whichever two he picked the third one it would not be.

So under that theory, Jobbers should have been the Cheap and Good. Honestly two years after the project began. It was only cheap so I guess I just squashed my theory.

The first run of Jobbers on the West Coast received less than average reviews. The first run on the the East Coast. (same movie,) got incredible reviews. I went home took some time off, then went back and made some major and minor adjustments, of course there were no minor adjustments because everything had to be reverse engineered and completely recut to make any changes. The second run was the exact opposite. The West loved it. The East hated it. What gives? So I cut back the major and did away with the minors and had a premiere. It was the night of my life. Then reality set in and I woke up two years later to have nothing. The movie was rejected from twelve film festivals, including the The Bad Film Film Festival. No shit and to add salt to the wounds, (literally,) my insurance refused to pay for my several doctor visits so I was stuck with $4000 in ER visits. I had starved for nearly ten years. During the Jobbers period and before, I had shot and cut porn to fund my films while using a trust fund and wages from the Olive Garden to pay my bills. (Neither income was enough to facilitate either life I was leading.) My father was tired of seeing me “piss my inheritance away” and quite frankly I was too. I was released from my job because my crappy attitude had carried over into my glamourous waiting tables job. 

One night, after all was bad, I called my father and asked him to send me $500. I was coming home. He showed up the next morning and drove with me back to North Carolina. I had thought at the time I was just taking a break, anywhere from six months to a year off and then I would go back. I promised myself I would train myself the craft of filmmaking while in North Carolina and when I returned to LA, I would be better prepared to work my way up the ranks on Motion Picture Studio Films. I had the gear at this point. I thought being back in North Carolina may inspire me or at least make it easier to make films than it had been in Hollywood. I began teaching myself the way of the samurai whether it be making little films with friends, doing documentaries, weddings whatever for pro bonno prices. I had lacked a mentor or a real job in the profession where I could learn from somebody better than me. I knew there were plenty of those guys out there; Just not in the small town I lived in. The best learning experiences I had were seasonal trips back to Los Angeles to help my partner in crime shoot and cut adult films. From editing techniques to lighting hacks, I learned a lot in those week trips. Well, that one year turned into six years and then I found myself in Orlando where everything “amateur” about me would change almost overnight. I compare the Florida experience to Batman Begins where Bruce Wayne traveled far and away to Ra’s Al Ghul’s temple to learn how to master his talent. Then Bruce Wayne would return to become Batman. Mike McDaniel, of Havin’ A Beer With Mike, a small late night television show would be my Ra’s Al Ghul. I learned everything about camera, editing, marketing, and all aspects of production in that short year I was employed by him. He worked me to the bone everyday all day. There were somedays where the sight of a camera would make me cringe in fear, but I learned it and my sacred talent that had been stirring deep within me peaked to the surface. To emphasize my talents, I got Final Cut Pro Certified. As I began making preparations to return to Los Angeles and claim my crown, my girlfriend, (wife now,) became pregnant with our daughter, so as quick as I found the confidence to go do this thing is as quick as I realized raising a newborn on Ramen noodles while Daddy chasing a dream in the biggest most expensive city in America, wasn’t the most realistic thing to do. We moved back to North Carolina where our support was. I thought getting a job in the area in my field would keep me tied down for the moment and I found a job as a Producer for an advertising agency only to lose it after it was offered to me because of a blemish on my background report from my senior year of high school. I went to work for myself and my work was glorious. Everything I shot and cut looked great. I had become a professional and knew it. It was my time. When I knew I was going to be in North Carolina awhile I decided not to wait any longer and began to plan making a film.

In the winter of 2003, I began writing Meter from a conversation I had with a disgruntled gentleman at a local bar in Hickory, North Carolina. 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, (the two roles,) thoughts. As bad as it sounds I never really took Meter very seriously at first. I just wanted to do it to see if I had really learned anything from my crash course in Orlando.  I knew it was a twelve page script of nothing but dialogue and in the grand scheme of things just thought it 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.” 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. Of course I had no money because my daughter was seven months old and I couldn’t sell my wife on the fact that spending a couple grand on this film would be good for my already non-existent career.

On the coldest night of the year, November 4th, 2006, Two actors, and three crew guys 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 nearby bar 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. It was the first time where I felt that had I invested some real money into this film it would have been really good, but again I had none and had no idea how to raise it and well, had just froze my ass off to shoot it. I wasn’t shooting it again. As post-production progressed, I found (along with Phil’s 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 nearby bar,) Meter was done. The leads, Freddy and 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?"

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. I got nothing from it. Scratch that, I secured the confidence from a rich business partner to do Jeopardy out of it. And now I look back, I can’t help but think if we would have had crew, HD cam, and a slightly bigger budget where would that little film be today. 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 because it never had money for the marketing stage of films which we’ll get into later. Although it received rave reviews, it was technically flawed through and through and never had a chance at the big time because of it. And I can’t help but wonder had things been different or on a bigger scale where I would be in my career now. I followed up Meter with Jeopardy two years later. Another short film that took literally a year and half to pre-produce because again, I had no money and was having to hide twenty dollars here and there from each paycheck to get the things I needed to make the film. Six months was devoted to drawing the storyboards alone that I had planned to use to raise money to make the film. Then Ryan, my friend and college roommate, decided he wanted out of his situation out west and decided to front the whole production himself. (Again, never had to actually raise money.) Where I will be reverting back to the Jeopardy shoot as a comparison to this present shoot you will hear all about the trials and tribulations of that so I will spare you in this chapter. Just know, where Meter was technically flawed but performance and writing was incredible, Jeopardy was the opposite. The $7000 budgeted opus of my Ryan and I’s is technically a masterpiece, but the performances and story killed it. Its faith is still hanging in the balance on the festival circuit. It received minimal acknowledgement at the lowest shoddiest film festival I know of. (It’s only acceptance thus far.) Which leads me to this production. Now that it took my talent six years to catch up with me, yet still lacked the know how on a film set since I had only done four since my growth spurt, I knew my time left in this field all depended on this one.

I’m thirty-five. I have two kids, both on Medicaid split with a junk bond Insurance policy and if I die while penning this book, will leave my kids nothing but college tuition money. I am no salesman nor pitch guy like the late great, Billy Mayes. I couldn’t sale a guilt free orgasm for a buck. There is no work here in this town for me nor do I have a business partner who could raise a red cent for my next film. Hell, I don’t have a next film written to be absolutely honest. My wife is not moving out of North Carolina, therefore with or without her I won’t be leaving either because I love my kids. (They make my shortcomings easier to bare.) The Director on this film is funding this picture out of his on pocket as well, so there are no networks of investors, or anybody I could impress that may give me a shot. The Director lives at home and has been saving his $400 paychecks every week for the past two years to make this film. So since he contacted me to helm it, I’ve been calling this opportunity, “My Last Hoorah.” If this film falls by the wayside like my past no-budget, no time, sacrificed art productions, I think it will be time for me to consider that Graphic Design position at some schmuck’s shop or even worse cleaning floors in a furniture factory. My kids have to have stability and my wife refuses to be the rock long enough for me to pursue this career to the fullest so if this film turns to shit, my options will be weighed and trust me I don’t like the scales I’m on. With the budget already ridiculous on top of the “no room for error” schedule we have on top of the camera supplies needed for outdoor scenes promised, but not delivered, I feel I’m playing with a stacked deck already....

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Sacrificing The Art - Chapter One/Part Two "The White Walled Basement"

I decided last minute as my dream of using the third room was crumbled that I would incorporate hard shadows and dark tones in the scene to try and “cover up” the white wall’s handicapped look. It was my only defense.

 When it comes to shooting there are two kinds of people. “The Purists” and “The Illusionists.” The Purist is an “in camera” person, meaning, he/she wants all the looks and effects of the film to be done in the camera during Principle Photography. If you want your film to look like The Matrix and Collateral then you have to light the scene for the look, adjust your Chromas, Peds, etc in your camera to achieve the effect, (or at least get it close so the Post Production treatment is very minimal.) “Do it right the first time,” The Purists always say. “It will keep you from stomping on your footage so much for the final product.”
Then there is “The Illusionist” who’s basic theory is “we’ll fix it in post.” They think plug ins like Magic Bullet, Nattress, or software like After Effects and Color are the answer to all their Photography problems. Yes, a good Editor and Colorist can do wonders with good or bad footage. But, the misconception “The Illusionists” and most young filmmakers have is that they can just shoot the footage “normally” and achieve or should I say “copycat” the look of another film when they get to the post production stage. It is not that easy. Trust me, I tried many years ago. I’m not saying you can’t do it this way and the look can’t be achieved but it is still easier to shoot the footage right the first time around. Why spend hours and Terabytes rendering that in turn just degrading the pixelation of what you captured? Why spend dozens of man hours creating “fabrications” of what you shot? If you shoot footage knowing you will turn the footage black and white, then you need to light the scene, wardrobe the actors appropriately, and use color schemes with lots of reds in your original set up so when you drop the Monochome Color Mixers when the time comes to get your various grays. Then the footage will look like you shot it in Black and White. If you shoot footage dark and rich in color you can’t “blow it out” in post. If you shoot footage, “blown out” you can’t make it dark and rich in post. It’s a fact. It doesn’t work that way. You’re shooting HD for goodness sake. Utilize your color palette. If you want a scene to look green and seedy, light the scene green, boost your contrast in your camera and shoot it green and seedy. I guess now you know which person I am.


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I get asked all the time, “What software did you use to make it look so good?” My reply everytime is, “It ain’t the software, homeboy.” That’s the camera work and lighting. So where am I going with this you ask?”
For the basement, I went for dark and harsh shadows to cover up the blandness of the wall. Halfway through the day, I realized it didn’t work but there was no going back. Our schedule didn’t permit me to reshoot this large scene. (Not to mention, I didn’t want to discourage the cast and crew by revealing that the D.P didn’t know what he was doing.) I stayed late after the first day trying to come up with a way to relight the basement for the scenes following without reshooting. I looked at the footage and realized mild color correction would fix what we shot but I didn’t want to continue with that lighting scheme, nor did I want to become an Illusionist suddenly so now I was forced to either, find time in the busy schedule to reshoot the four scenes we shot and redo the lighting which was doubtful like I already said considering we were already behind or come up with something on the fly to justify a change in lighting.
Due to my obsession of scheduling sequences to be shot in order even if it inconveniences the actors or production I was able to easily fix it. In Independent filmmaking I feel if you shoot everything out of order you will miss something. Your actors who are all up and coming with many years needed to learn to “do the exact same thing” in each take, sometimes have a hard time finding a momentum if sequences of scenes aren’t shot in order. The performance tend to be uneven from cut to cut, scene to scene. It’s a given. It’s nobody’s fault but it disrupts the flow of the film. So I always try to shoot scenes that take place in the same location yet may be sandwiched by other scenes in order. That little practice would pay off here. The scene shot the first day was the scene in the film where the gang of four brings their first captive to the depths of the basement. They then figure out that they have kidnapped the wrong guy and two of them leave the basement to go get the right guy. The scene following is the two guys leaving the house. That is what we shot the first day. The scene following is the slow kid and the wrong captive having a conversation where the wrong captive tries to talk the slow kid into letting him go. That scene would be the first scene of the second day. A light bulb went off, literally. We had unscrewed the house overhead lighting for the first day to achieve the dark look. I thought what if the slow kid didn’t like it so dark and while the wrong captive was trying to talk him into letting him go the slow kid found a light bulb and screwed it into the overhead to give the room more light. Hence, the change of lighting for the scene following and all the scenes there after. (Again, only able to do that because we shot the basement sequence in order from first scene to last.) This trick worked and although it just added emphasis to the flat white wall, the lighting on the actors’ faces got me to the point of not having to color correct in post which made me a very happy camper. Now if I could come up with a tweak in the script to have one of the boys get furious and tear down the drywall on the white slab, I may have a scene my colleagues may not puke in a bag while watching. Nevertheless, my quick adjustment saved a day of reshoots that we didn’t have time for. Maybe, just my “bare bones” experiences from the past brought me to a quick resolution of adding house light to the scene. Maybe it was just a fluke. Maybe the idea came from my desperation of my word that every frame of this film would be perfect due to my theory that this was my “last hoorah.” That was probably the answer. Yes, I am sure of it.
Chapter Two - "The Last Hoorah" continues....

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Sacrificing The Art - Chapter One/Part One - A White Walled Basement

Chapter One - A White Walled Basement

I’m the Director of Photography on this particular production and I’m down in the basement looking around at this location trying to make sense of choosing this one. Nearly half the film will take place in this basement. There are two rooms separated by a shallow panel of drywall. There was a third room that was much more dingy and disgusting that had been the only reason I had pushed for this location. Well, not the only reason. The owner of the house where this basement was, was my wife’s best friend. He was a young and easy going guy so logistically I felt if we were to go over our time there or would have any “incidents” during filming, they may be better, tolerated than if we used a basement of somebody we didn’t really know well.

Note: During the Jeopardy shoot which I will refer to many times in this book, we had been kicked out of a secured location for “being too big of a production,” and a Security Guard calling the person in charge twice when we flipped breakers with our light’s wattage. That exodus not only cost us the quality of shots for that particular scene but also put the rest of our production behind leading us to “hack” our way through the scenes following to catch back up. Securing this basement would relieve or assure me the shoot would be tolerated throughout the time needed. And STABILITY was one of the most important qualities of low budget filmmaking. This house was convenient as well for other elements of the production. It had two houses on the same lot which meant utilizing the Exteriors and Interiors would allow us to shoot four locations of the script there. In a twelve day shoot for a feature film, that was a priceless element to have. 

On the first discussion it was decided this was our basement. On the second discussion, my “third room” idea was thrown out and it was decided the divider wall of the two rooms was to be taken out and the two rooms would become one where the action would take place. Forget the fact, that there were six to seven two by fours still separating the walls obstructing several would be angles to shoot from when you start stuffing people in this small spot.  

I’m ignoring their yearning to use this other room so I begin setting up shots in this “third room.” It was cinematically mediocre, but had mildewed, dirty walls. It had a faded lime colored tool counter and rusted cabinets on a utility door. It was tight, stinky, and crude. It was perfect. But the Director kept favoring the other two by four riddled room. The other room had a clean washer and dryer next to a newly built rack of cabinets filled with those Wal-Mart brand tubs, all labeled nicely. Worst of all, the left wall was still perfectly dry walled with with sheets of half inch cement. No texture nor color to them and the stint that was raised by the home owner about removing the divider wall left absolutely know leverage on asking him to strip those other pieces down as well. A white cinder blocked wall would have been a tad more pleasant cinematically than drywall. Now better than that, all the action was to take place on this flat white boring slab. I wasn’t happy, but kept my mouth shut. I guess I decided to show them after shooting a whole day of useless footage on the wall that it wasn’t gonna’ work. I said my peace. I even attempted to sabotage their plan, by forgetting to ask the homeowner about tearing down the divider wall hoping it would “force” them to have to use the third room. My idea, even after my plea was ignored. I stayed positive that I would be able to talk the first time Director into changing his vision and dropped the issue for the time being.

The day Principle Photography came, I found myself overruled as I watched all my gear being dumped in the mildewed, dingy, rusty area of that third room as the actors began their rehearsal and blocking against my dreaded white slab. Using Mise en Scene and lack of lighting resources doesn’t make a white wall in a dingy basement behind an actor very appealing at all. Think, shooting on a Green Screen without keying out the green. Shooting HD really allows you to play with textures, color and what I refer to as, “stuff” in a frame. I like color rich frames packed with information unless the scene calls for different. Even shooting rack focuses and Dutch Angles on this wall was as dull as playing the board game, ‘Operation’ without the buzzard having batteries. 


Chapter One Continues....

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Sacrificing The Art - Preface

I’m a dreamer and sometimes unrealistic about what I can and can’t do. If I am anything, I am stupidly fearless. My answer to most that ask something of me is, “yes I can.” This problem sometimes gets me in trouble. Sometimes it brings opportunity I could never imagine. If you know me, with the exception of my children’s well being, I am a high risk low reward kind of guy. BAD A$$ KILLERS, I knew was one of these opportunities. The closer we got to Principle Photography, the more I was worried we had bitten off more than we could chew. The budget I laid out for BAK was as bare bones as it could possibly be. (Maybe too little for what we were about to embark on.) During the “crewing up” process we had met with many people that had several years of experience on film productions, the only problem was they would work for our “rock bottom” rate but we couldn’t afford to put them up for the two week schedule which meant, if they weren’t within forty five minutes of the locations, we couldn’t use them. Now if you know where we were “casting” and “crewing” from then you know our “pickens were slim.”
On top of this, the Director and my schedule were completely opposite making it hard to really location scout. We more stumbled across, and then settled with the locations we decided on. (This problem will come into play later on in the story.) With a week before Principle Photography began I had simply adopted the theory, “the more people we have, the better off we are.” So flyers went out trying to recruit anybody that was sitting at home wanting to do something. I targeted out of work people who had been home collecting unemployment checks and were just bored out of their skull. At this point in time, I thought we could spend a day showing them what we needed them to do and it would be better than not having anybody there at all. Should have known we were in trouble when none of them showed for Production Meeting 3 days before shooting began. From there, it would be up to our 1st Assistant Director to keep them busy during shooting.
The 1st AD hired, was hired soley on his performance on Jeopardy. Jeopardy was a whole different monster than BAK entirely. Jeopardy was a 4 day non-stop shooting schedule that was very contained within a 7 man crew and a couple mile radius. (Not to mention everybody including myself were stuck in 3 hotel rooms for the duration of the shoot, so it wasn’t hard to keep up with everybody and the needs of the production. With Jeopardy we needed things fast and on the fly. BAK, wasn’t so fast and furious. It was more planning a day ahead of time. I was a little weary, but he had done a lot of pre-production work with the Director so I figure things would be fine despite the little reasons I worried. **The 1st AD is basically the first guy on the set and the last guy to leave. He keeps the whole production running smoothly and knows where everybody is at all times.
As we came within 72 hours of Principle Photography I got a terrible feeling. It was so bad I actually had my phone in my hand with the Director’s number keyed in to call him and tell him we needed to push the shoot a couple of weeks to give us a little more time to ASSURE we had everything covered. I held that phone to my mouth for nearly ten minutes, thinking it over. All the schedules had been sent and since we were doing the old school production board way of scheduling, rescheduling would have been an undertaking. “What if one of the actor’s schedule didn’t mesh?” “What if one of our Day Labor guys found a job in that week we had pushed the film back?” “What if the delay took faith away from us?” I hung the phone up. All the equipment from Camera, to Editing, to Lighting was mine. We weren’t renting nor did we have production insurance which was ultimately my biggest worry. If something would happen to my computers, camera, anything, I would pay out of pocket to have it fixed because the pay check I was getting wasn’t enough to clear a button on my HD camera. I couldn’t back out. I had given my word. I could only hope I had enough time to police my gear all over the production. So I committed, never expressing my worry to the Director, deciding to go with the original schedule, knowing we had short cutted way too many little details but said, “We’ll figure it out as we go.” That was not a good theory to have for filmmaking, but, trying to do a feature film in two weeks on a $15,000 budget wasn’t such a good idea either....
To Be Continued in...
....Chapter 1 - A White Walled Basement

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Principle Photography comes to an end.

Nearly delusional from sleep deprivation and feeling very critical of what we shot in that long two weeks, I take a break from BAK to get back to reality and begin planning the Green Screen stage of production. Time will tell if we did our job or not. Here are a couple of my favorite shots Chris Sepulveda, one of the main actors, took during the arduous shoot schedule.

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