Saturday, February 26, 2011

Post Production

Post production is all about attention to detail and working really hard on things over and over again. This is why it drives me crazy.

Call me the poster child of the ADD Generation.

Color correcting and audio mixing were not going to be my bag (thanks to Ryan Chambers and Toshi, respectively, for not letting me ruin my movie by being in charge of these things), so I took the reins on...well, a lot of other stuff.

The first thing was hiring a publicist (Jewell Sparks of Indie Vixens). The problem is that just making a movie isn't enough. Then people have to know you made a movie. That's the only way they'll ever see it. Even if you want to do the festival circuit, what judge is going to take time to consider some dumb movie that he's never heard of when there's a stack that he's been getting buzz about?

And further, if you get into a festival, what good does that do? You still have to convince people to come to your screening. And that's where the real work begins.

Building the website, facebook, twitter, imdb, and this very blog, have all been done in the name of publicity. In all, I've probably put more hours into all of this stuff by now than I did to actually make the movie. We also made a poster:

You can thank Dane and Drew Van Oort for making it all pretty and awesome

Listing the movie on Withoutabox (a festival submission website), finding out that most of the good ones are not on there and you have to make all your resumes and bios and stuff again elsewhere, submitting the films (see: paying lots of money), getting rejected by festivals, and trying to find other ways to get people interested in the movie...they all cost time. And money. Oh, so much money.

Fun fact: hiring lawyers cost as much as the ENTIRE rest of the production.

And that brings us to now. You now know everything that I do about the process of making a movie. The rest will be learning as I go, and I'll share it here as it happens. The main thing I learned is that for as much as it sucks, you have to go out and do it. The difference between what people thought of me and who would talk me seriously before and after this is astounding. Once you put your own money on the line and make something happen without dying or killing everyone involved, you've withstood a trial by fire that apparently is a requirement to get anywhere in life.

Pretty much

After the Shoot

The funny thing about making a movie is that getting it written, financed, and shot is only half the battle. These are probably the biggest obstacles people have in their mind about making a movie, but in reality, it's what comes next that determines whether a film lives or dies.

Concept image from Brickwalk Cafe 2: The Death of a Film

Unfortunately, this is where my talent and my interest mostly ends. The next day when we returned the gear (thanks again to Ryan Chambers who went way above and beyond his call of duty), on the drive home I was itching to start shooting a new one. Though my feelings were positive, I was ready to put Brickwalk behind me. That, sadly, is not how it works.

The next month or so, not much got done. Nobody involved wanted to think about it for the time being, and we hadn't hung out socially without having tons of work to do for quite some time. Some of my awesome friends managed to throw me a surprise wrap party which was a classy move on their part because I had completely neglected to put one of those together. I think that should have been my job. Whoops. But beyond that, our brains melted into a sort of gelatinous goo that quivered at the thought of the task ahead of us.


Finally, we realized that we would have to finish this thing at some point, so Brian Nenno mounted the work-day-job-then-edit-all-night horse and rode off into the sunset.

I couldn't find a picture of one of those, so here's a fruitcake

Kevin and I ended up having to step in at certain points where Brian's actual job had to take precedence. Something about "they pay me so I can support my wife and eat food." I'm not sure I buy it.

We managed to eek out a rough cut by the Sundance late deadline...barely. It wasn't color corrected, the audio was a mess, but it happened. But, dear readers, even this doesn't begin to encompass the work that must be done after a movie is shot.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Shooting the Movie...The Dark Side

Okay, so it's not really a dark side, but I don't want to paint a bunch of roses. We did have our difficulties.

The very first day of the shoot, my scene was to be shot at night. This is never a good plan. We didn't have our rhythm yet, didn't know what we were doing, and I should have allowed myself more time to prepare.

"How did you really feel, Chris?"

I had mentally prepared myself as best I could to step out of the producer role and into the acting state of mind, but it couldn't be done completely. We shot till about 1AM when we filled the audio recorder. Because it was the dumb, expensive one, it required a cable...that the rental company forgot to pack. Nobody had one, so I had to drive home, grab a spare firewire I had laying around, and come back to set. We didn't wrap till about 2:30, which was far later than we wanted to go. Robert was a real sport about it, though, and he hung in for it.

Fortunately, most other days didn't go that late. We were usually packed and out by about 1:00...except for that one, fateful day.

The day we were shooting the final scene was the day we, for some reason, put the two hardest scenes on the same freaking day. We were a little lagged, second to last day of the shoot, and a couple people couldn't make it that day. I was running a camera, taking notes for some of it, doing the producer thing, etc. For some reason, we scrapped our plan for the final shot of the film and did something way more complex that took a long time to set up and execute. It also didn't really work and we never got the thing we originally planned to do. That scene ran late and we were all feeling kinda bummed on it.

The second scene was the one that takes place in the kitchen. We had our biggest name, Aris Alvarado, on set that day, so we were hoping to be super professional and impress him...but that sure didn't happen. It took us forever to figure out the totally new lighting conditions of the kitchen (lots of metal everywhere does NOT make for a fun shooting environment).

The's not going ANYWHERE it needs to!

After that fiasco, we got to shooting the most complicated scene of the movie in there (the one with the most blocking), and it was going okay, but then we wanted some shots of Aris cooking. Unfortunately, the pilot somehow went out. No one had a lighter (seriously, film set, no one was smoking?), so I had to go to 7-11 and buy one at like 2AM. The gas, it seemed, wasn't on at all, so we couldn't do it and we were pretty sure we broke something. We got the actors out by like 3:00 and Toshi and I left at nearly 4. It was pretty crushing.

I got really sick from the stress/lack of sleep this day. I was also getting up pretty early to prepare all the on set food, making last minute calls and preparations for the shoot, so I didn't really get any rest. The last day, I just sorta stepped back, begged my full crew to come so I could take a little break, and did all the paperwork I should have been doing all the other days (whoops). That last day, we really hit our stride on how to run our set. It was sort of a perfect close to it.

Ultimately, there was nothing to worry about. The film totally works with what we got, and the stuff we missed we likely would have cut anyway.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Oh Yeah, We Actually Shot A Movie

So all that prep work is crap we have to get through for what, to me, is the real joy of the process: actually shooting the movie.

And unlike past projects, here is the evidence that it actually happened.

We'd usually show up at around 3 and wait for the last customers to leave. We'd unload gear and figure out what we were going to do until Mike gave us the go ahead to move our stuff in, at which point we moved all the stuff around to suit our purposes. We tried really hard to keep everything super orderly so it all went back in the same places, and we mostly did an okay job at this.


I managed to do the whole shoot's craft services table for about 150 bucks at Costco, and it was a pretty sweet spread. Except for the fact that I bought the two largest jars of peanut butter in the world, ignoring Toshi's horrible, horrible peanut allergy.

We'd shoot two scenes a day, except for our one half day when we only did one, and our strategy was this: Shoot one scene against the windows until 7 when the sun went down, then flip around and shoot a second scene somewhere else in the restaurant with lights to fake daylight.

This worked pretty well, as I mentioned before the Wall-o light actually sold daylight better than the real thing.

Actual daylight

Middle of the night

The worst part was actually the day when we shot our final scene. It was against the windows, so we had to be done by the time it got dark out, but numerous delays, some prolonged discussions about shots, and a short handed crew led to us pushing this VERY close. Some of the last few things we got were way too clearly night and therefore unusable, but luckily the scene came together anyway.

Supposedly a SAG rep was going to come check out the set and make sure that everything was up to code, but that never happened. I think we were too far away and too small of a player for that to ever happen, but they did call and pretend like they were going to.

Since they didn't, this set was pretty much a dream. It was me, my friends, and the select few I'd personally chosen to all be there, hanging out, making a movie. A couple friends stopped by here and there to check things out, it was all very relaxed, and a generally great time. Of course, me being me, I'll have things to bitch about in the next entry...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

SAG: The Second Nightmare

Beyond the WEEKS of my time spent doing the bidding of my union overlords, there was an exceptional amount of financial cost associated with what they wanted me to do. Keeping in mind that I was the only one doing any of this work (and I sure wasn't getting paid for it), the total costs due to SAG and their requirements ended up being HALF of the film's budget.

"I'm from the union, and I'm here to help you!"

Because I had to hire all of these people as employees I had to, pay employer tax, pension and health, and numerous other fees. I noticed that $130 came out of my bank account for every $80 check the actors would walk away with (their actual wages were $100/day on our ultra low budget shoot). This is before factoring in the cost of having the payroll company do this service for me, issue my W2s, etc. With a rough estimate of including those costs, I paid around $160 for every $80 my employees got at the end of the day.

Most of my actors would have worked for free. Or cheaper. And certainly as contract labor, for which they'd be responsible for reporting their own taxes on. Unfortunately, all of these more efficient solutions would defy union regulations.

A number not included in the final tally but should be recognized by new filmmakers is the Producer's Deposit. This is a handy little thing that SAG does where they require a filmmaker, depending on the length of their shoot, to pay 100% of the amount they must pay actors, taxes, and pension and health to the union to hold in case the business side falls through.

This is something I can get behind and I understand where it comes from. I'm sure there are a lot of shady producers shafting people out of their hard earned money. I get it. This ensures that proper financing is in place, at least for the actors, before production begins. In a further intelligent move, SAG requires that all payroll checks go through them so that they can verify they are for the right amounts before giving the production the okay.

Yes, he looks smart now, but you keep watching because you know that in a moment he'll do something unspeakably dumb.

Unfortunately, they don't allow this fund to have money come out until everyone, including themselves, is paid out of a separate account. That's right, you need to have enough money to pay everybody TWICE in order to make a film with the Screen Actor's Guild.

...and there it is.

Of course, the more efficient solution would be for them to act as the payroll company, charging a small fee for their service, and disseminating the checks themselves. Or at least pay themselves from that fund. Or they could forgo a fee as they would have access to that money for investments, essentially making it an interest free loan to SAG. Or to avoid doing any more work themselves, they could require that the payroll company secure these funds and send them notification that it has been done.

But then, of course, there'd be less paperwork. This would make SAG very angry.

At the end of the day, SAG is only one of the many things you'll throw your money at that has nothing to do with actually making a good film. Equipment and talent are relatively cheap compared to unions, lawyers, publicity...

Toshi and I had a saying on set that our entire project was held together with enthusiasm and duct tape. Off set, though, it was a checkbook and a pen.

SAG: The First Nightmare

Once I had my cast, crew, location, and equipment all set, I got to begin the real fun: dealing with all the legal hurdles between me and making a movie!

More appropriately, these would be labeled "SAG," "Finance," "Publicity," "Contracts..."

The Screen Actors' Guild (SAG for short) is the union that represents actors. If you wish to use a single SAG member in your film (and not have them banned for life from all other union productions), you must make the whole production a union piece. As Schoen and Ben were both members, this was something I'd have to do.

What this means is paying every actor, member or not, as though they were one. As an employee. Through your legally established company with an Employer ID number from the IRS. Through its own bank account. Tied to a payroll company. So after you've spent a week running around to all the banks and payroll companies and filling out the right paperwork, you're rewarded with even larger stacks of paperwork from all of these places.

Welcome to the production office. Make yourself comfy behind the W-2s.

Now, all of the companies you have to work with are fairly efficient. It's annoying that they all want the same information, but at least they only each want it once. Also, most of their stuff is on digital forms, so copy and paste become your best friends.

SAG likes to take this nightmare to a whole new level. They give you copies of scans of faxes that are off center, frequently cut off, and almost wholly illegible, and they explicitly demand that they be filled out BY HAND. I tested the limits on a lot of this by using Photoshop to type stuff in, but creating my own cells and rotating things to fit these horribly set boxes took forever.

Now, a lot of the things they ask you for are good for you to have planned anyway (a specific shooting schedule, what actors you'll use on what days, etc), but in their effort to never cross reference any of your other papers, they require EXTENSIVE amounts of duplicated information on every page.

This is astonishingly good practice for being a producer.

This was only the beginning of the SAG nightmare, though. Stay tuned for the rest of the saga.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Gear Log - For the Nerds - Part 3: DIY Dolly

So we've all been suckered at one point by DIY camera gear that sucks. The $14 steadicam, the PVC ring mount, or the Sega Genesis Menacer light gun handle trick.

What, no one else ripped the handle off this thing and rubber banded their camera to it as a shoulder stock? Nobody?

We avoided most of these, but here's a trick we used that actually worked pretty well.

We knew we wanted a few dolly shots, but getting those super nice dollies with track was expensive and difficult to work with, so instead, we rented the cheapest dolly they had. It was basically a furniture dolly with a handle on it, so DIYers out there, feel free to steal something from the garage and give it a handle add on till it looks like this:

This one, cleverly, has steering capabilities, but your shot will probabloy be straight so you needn't bother with that.

Then we went to Home Depot and picked up one 4' x 8' particle board sheet.

It's perfectly smooth on one side, and the other is rough and grippy, which is perfect. Then we had the guy in the store cut them down to four separate one foot strips, and voila, you have 16 feet of track.

You line up one track under each wheel, then you stick another on the end of it and cover the seam with tape, and it works awfully well! The more weight you have on it and the tripod, the smoother it will be.

I don't want to oversell it, it's not the PERFECT dolly, and it's certainly no match for some of those ball bearings rigs, but if you need a length of track that's fairly decent and super cheap, I recommend this method.

As a side note, I actually rented something that was basically exactly like the Menacer shoulder stock except that it cost $100 for a week's rental. Boo.