30 December 2010

Mix CD: Track 9

Moving along. 8 days left.

We have a video for you about the $10 perk. It's mostly about books and how heavy they can be (hence, an ebook).



We have 2 nice quotes to share with you. First, from David Branin of Film Courage:

People tell us that independent film is dead. They tell us there is no community and that our efforts are wasted. We must be insane because we BELIEVE, even when all indicators tell us otherwise. In this spirit, we hope that you will take a strong look at "A Year Without Rent" by Lucas McNelly. Here is a man who is willing to give up a year of his life to give back to indie film and support our cause.

And this one from Jon Reiss (@Jon_Reiss), author of THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX OFFICE, who tweeted that A Year Without Rent was "an extremely worthy campaign."


Thanks, guys!

Oh, and here's track 9 of the Mix CD.

9. There there
Artist: Radiohead
Album: Hail to the Thief



We all know Radiohead. They're awesome.

What I love about this song is how it builds, especially the shifts at 3:15 and 3:58, and how it just forces you into action. I imagine more than one person has been pulled over for speeding while listening to it.

But you don't need to hear me talk about Radiohead. What you really want is a video. Enjoy.

Here's a live acoustic version:



And the music video:






1. On the Road (Jack Kerouac)
2. The 50 States Song (Sufjan Stevens)
3. No Cars Go (Arcade Fire)
4. Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again (Bob Dylan)
5. I Know Every Street (Lohio)
6. Power (Kanye West)
7. Between Days (Red House Painters)
8. Dogwalkers of the New Age (Breathe Owl Breathe)

29 December 2010

Mix CD: Track 8

So the challenge didn't work. That's ok. I'll hold on to the clip and maybe we can do a different challenge closer to the end. Or I'll just release it when I was originally planning.

But here's what we're doing. Earlier today I had an idea while I was editing. You know what would be interesting? To really take a better look at those perks. Maybe someone's on the fence. Sometimes a paragraph isn't enough to explain why a perk is so cool.

So let's take a look at some of them. Up first, the $50 perk.



Oh, and here's track 8 of the Mix CD.

8. Dogwalkers of the New Age
Artist: Breathe Owl Breathe
Album: Magic Central


I could talk for days and days about how amazing Breathe Owl Breathe. They're 3 people in Michigan who's primary instruments seem to be a guitar, banjo, and a cello. They write songs about the woods and animals and nature.

Oh, and they're the best band you've never heard of. Unless, of course, you've been within a mile of me, and then you've heard me talk about them and chances are I've forced you to listen to them.

Yeah, I'm kind of a superfan.

The new album is great, as is Canadian Shield and, well, all of them. It's all great. Kieran Roberts and I spent a good amount of time sitting in a car and waiting for it to stop raining during the filming of Up Country, during which time we would listen to Breathe Owl Breathe for inspiration.

Seriously, trust me on this one.

And if you don't, well then here's some video for you. First is this song, and then some of what's on YouTube. Enjoy.









Really, just go on YouTube and search "Breathe Owl Breathe". You can thank me later.




1. On the Road (Jack Kerouac)
2. The 50 States Song (Sufjan Stevens)
3. No Cars Go (Arcade Fire)
4. Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again (Bob Dylan)
5. I Know Every Street (Lohio)
6. Power (Kanye West)
7. Between Days (Red House Painters)

28 December 2010

a Kickstarter challenge

As several people have noted, I'm probably behind the curve on showing actual footage of the actual film Up Country (although not really, but that seems to be the trend these days). It's tricky, because in pushing the A Year Without Rent Kickstarter campaign, it looks like Up Country is getting neglected, whereas nothing could be further from the truth. I'm pretty close to having a finished assembly edit. I thought I might have it done by Christmas, but life had other plans.

So...let's multi-task, shall we?

Kickstarter is a lot more fun with some smaller goals and/or challenges. So here's one:

Right now (1:45pm) we have 35 backers. If we can hit 50 backers by the end of the day (and I'll be really flexible on the definition of "end of the day"), then I'll post a rough cut of a scene from Up Country. It won't be color-corrected and the sound will be rough, but that's what a rough cut is, you know?

I'll even tell you which scene. This one:

Jonny Mars

50 backers. That's 15 more. Even if they're all $1 backers. Let's do this.

27 December 2010

Film Threat

Maybe you saw this earlier, maybe you didn't, but we've become a Certified Film Threat in Progress, which basically means that the good folks at Film Threat think this is a project worth watching. It's some pretty high praise. They did a nice interview with yours truly. Check it out!

If you're scoring at home, that means we've been "endorsed" by the following: Film Courage, Film Threat, the makers of TILT, The Cutting Room Floor, Film Snobbery, and Script Chat, not to mention dozens of individuals. Hopefully we can convert that into backers and make this a reality.

Oh, and here's track 6 of the Mix CD, which is definitely NSFW.

6. Power
Artist: Kanye West
Album: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy


Surprised? I would be too. The thing is, this album is really stunning. It's everything you could ask of a genius megalomaniac narcissist like Kanye West. The whole thing teeters on the edge of complete disaster. It's the sort of ballsy album people don't make anymore, especially not major mainstream stars like Kanye. And, man is it catchy. I can't get it out of my head. And I'm not really into hip hop since they stopped throwing their hands in the air. But you can't deny greatness.

Did I mention the album (and the song) is very, very NSFW?

There's a video for the song, sort of, and it's as ambitious as the album. Actually, it's a teaser for what is supposed to be some sort of 40 minute short film built around the song, kind of like the 35 minute one he did for "Runaway" (trust me, just go with it).



The Runaway video:






1. On the Road (Jack Kerouac)
2. The 50 States Song (Sufjan Stevens)
3. No Cars Go (Arcade Fire)
4. Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again (Bob Dylan)
5. I Know Every Street (Lohio)

24 December 2010

Mix CD: Track 4

Merry Christmas Eve! (Unless you're Jewish...and then....hi!) We might do one of these tomorrow, but probably not until the evening. Definitely not until after the Celtics' game.

4. Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again
Artist: Bob Dylan
Album: No Direction Home: The Soundtrack



I'll tell you a little secret. This album is fantastic for a solo road trip. The beauty of it, besides the fact that there's a ton of great songs on it, is that it's fresh versions of classics, which I find helps keep me awake when driving through Hartford at 3am. Also, the album is just begging you to sing along at the top of your lungs (hence, the solo part) in your best Bob Dylan impression. Time just flies. Plus, it's Dylan. How can you go wrong?

The Scorsese documentary is pretty awesome too.

There's surprisingly few Dylan recordings on YouTube, but the song does appear in Todd Haynes' I'M NOT THERE, a pretty much perfect biopic film.






1. On the Road (Jack Kerouac)
2. The 50 States Song (Sufjan Stevens)
3. No Cars Go (Arcade Fire)

23 December 2010

Mix CD: Track 3

If you haven't noticed the pattern, we're doing one of these a day. Enjoy!

3. No Cars Go
Artist: Arcade Fire
Album: Neon Bible



A purist (a.k.a. a jerk) will quickly interject that "No Cars Go" was originally released on the self-titled EP. Who cares? I like this version better.

There's a ton of Arcade Fire songs you can put on a mix, but we're kind of going with a travel theme here, so "No Cars Go" wins out over "Keep the Car Running" (which is also really great). Why? Because it's longer and if we're doing a road trip mix, those extra minutes count. Plus, I think this gives a better picture of how big Arcade Fire can be. But, maybe that's just me.

Anyway, here's a live performance from back in the day.



For extra fun, check out this super cool Arcade Fire video for the album's title track:



1. "On the Road" (Jack Kerouac)
2. The 50 States Song (Sufjan Stevens)

22 December 2010

Mix CD: Track 2

Yesterday, we started our road trip mix CD, because every road trip worth a damn has to have a good mix CD. We're gonna do one a day, and as much as I'd love to burn everyone a copy of the finished CD, that's kind of a copyright lawsuit waiting to happen. Of course, no one's stopping you from finding the music on your own and doing whatever you want.

2. The 50 States Song
Artist: Sufjan Stevens
Album: Various Live Recordings


There's lots of ways you can impress a hipster, but one of the best is to tout music that's never been released on a CD. They love that sort of thing. Of course, then they'll find a way to talk about how "that's so last year" or whatever.

Sufjan Stevens (who the hipsters love, by the way) once declared he was going to write an album for every state. No one really thought he would, but he's done two of them so far: Greetings from Michigan and Come On Feel the Illinoise. They're both pretty awesome. "The 50 States Song" doesn't appear on either of these albums, but Sufjan performs it live at his shows. Here it is, via YouTube:





1. "On the Road" (Jack Kerouac)

21 December 2010

Mix CD: Track 1

If you've ever been on a road trip worth a damn, you've passed the time listening to Mix CD. Of course, everyone has their favorite mixes. You know, the ones where you've listened to them so much that you no longer think of the songs in their original album context. But, I think they're a lot more fun when it's an old mix that you don't really remember. The next track is a mystery. It could be one of your favorites, or it could be a song you haven't heard in years. So...without further adieu...a Year Without Rent Mix CD

1. On the Road
Artist: Jack Kerouac
Album: Reads On The Road [track 3]


You can't imagine an American road trip without Jack Kerouac. And if you can, well, I don't know what to tell you. This track, from a spoken word album of old Kerouac home recordings. is a song Kerouac composed after staying up all night writing. To quote his introduction: "I'm just reading what I wrote all night. There are better things coming than what I wrote all night. Straight from the mind to the voice". Years later they added a haunting guitar and--voila!--magic.

Film Courage

In case you missed, the fantastic David and Karen at Film Courage were kind enough to plug A Year Without Rent on their show this last week.

Check it out.

17 December 2010

5am

My father has never, ever been late for anything. Except today.

13 December 2010

commenting

Yesterday, I was accused on this blog of deleting a comment that was, well, not polite toward me as a person.

As much as I don't want to listen to people yell at me with information that's more inaccurate than accurate, I don't support censorship.

Google (and the Blogger servers) thought the post qualified as Spam and moved it to the spam folder, where I was able to recover it. It's now readable and stuff. I won't comment further on the matter, as I don't feel it warrants any discussion.

However, we have a small change. Moderation is enabled on comments. I'll approve everything that's signed with a real name. If you're unwilling to put your name behind your thoughts, I see no reason why I should give you free reign to tarnish mine or anyone else's.

If you have a problem with this...well...I don't give a fuck.

09 December 2010

Bizarro

If you haven't noticed, I'm a big fan of Tripline.net interface.

This is where we're putting the $25 and up backers for the A Year Without Rent Kickstarter campaign. I'm having quite a bit of fun writing these.

08 December 2010

Crowd > Funding

I've often said that when you're dealing with crowdfunding, the crowd is much more important than the funding. Really, the people you get emotionally invested in the project are much more valuable than the money (although, the money certainly helps).

So with A Year Without Rent, we tried to put together a series of perks that will, hopefully, really grab people. And we tried to price them as low as we could, with a goal as low as we could find.

We think people will like them. They're a lot of fun, and we're really looking forward to fulfilling them for you. My favorite is the $35 perk.

07 December 2010

an image

If you were paying attention, you kind of saw this the other day on Twitter, but here it is for reals.

Jonny Mars

Cool, no?

29 November 2010

thinning out a DIY to-do list

The versatility aspect of typical Gemini traits means that people born under this sign are usually adept at multi-tasking. They thrive on juggling numerous priorities and projects, and they really aren't happy unless they're working on several things simultaneously. --Gemini Traits
Well that explains it.

One thing about being a DIY filmmaker, working minus a budget, is that more often than not, you start out by doing everything. Or, as I put it: writer/director/producer/editor/craft services. It's an essential starting point, often born out of necessity. But, as you progress, you start to learn to let go, which can be harder than it sounds. When you're used to controlling every aspect of a production, putting something like the cinematography in someone else's hands can be frightening. Of course, it's also liberating. It allows you to focus your efforts elsewhere and, let's face it, the cinematographer you bring on is probably better at it than you are.

Still, these steps take time, and when you're a Gemini DIY filmmaker, your to-do list gets long. Here's mine, for December:
  • Blanc de Blanc
    • Get DVDs authored
      • compile extras (interactive script?)
    • Make payments on website easier
    • Figure out where to put film online for easy streaming/rental/download
    • Work with Ryan Davis to tweak the DVD artwork
    • Order, etc.
    • Finish the Tripline writeup
  • Year Without Rent
    • Finish setting up the Kickstarter stuff (pitch video)
    • Figure out web home for project
      • Web layout. What can/should the webpage do? How to do that?
    • Work w/ Nina to get sponsorship stuff under way
    • Partners?
    • Projects?
    • Work with Heather on logistics
  • Up Country
    • finish the novella
    • finish teaser
    • start figuring out the music
    • finish the Assembly Edit
    • Set up the webpage

That's not everything, of course. That's just the big stuff.

What I need to do is at the top of the list make the item "Figure out what below I have to do and what I can outsource". There's just too much on that list for me to handle. I don't say this to brag. I get the impression that every other DIY filmmaker out there has a similar list. It's the nature of the beast. But I think maybe we'd all be better served by looking around and seeing what on the list we maybe aren't so good at. Me, I'm passable with web stuff, but there's scores of people who are much, much better than I am. Is it worth it to outsource that stuff? Absolutely. But that involves letting go of some of the control, and that's scary.

But, it's also essential.

27 November 2010

BLANC DE BLANC on Tripline

If you've been paying attention, you'll notice there's been an uptick in activity around my first feature, Blanc de Blanc. Part of this is just the natural cycle of things, but a big reason is that we've (finally) got the audio commentary done, which was the big hurdle in getting the DVDs made and out the door. It involved getting several people in the same room, all of whom are currently based in different cities. We're hoping, fingers crossed, to have the DVD done by the end of the year.

But, also we got a nice bit of news when Pittsburgh/LA producer Jess Pollack of Bridge City Films was nice enough to tweet that Blanc was the "best pic of 2010". We think maybe she was drunk, but we'll take it.

Also, we're working on this still, but take a minute and check it out. The great folks at Tripline have made this super cool map tool, which we're using to give audiences an opportunity to explore the world of our film. Plus, now you can see where those cool locations actually are.

The benefits for filmmakers are, well, obvious.

Hint: you might want to make it bigger

26 November 2010

UP COUNTRY: Getting dirty

Remember when we were posting videos from the set? No? Well we were, and they were awesome.

Up next, we're shooting the final scenes so Kieran needs to look as if he's been in the woods for days and days. Except, this is Day 2, so some mud is needed. I've already managed to get a pair of shoes wet, and so I'm wearing flip flops (I'll end up wearing them a lot, it turns out).

I'm not sure why I'm not wearing my glasses.

16 November 2010

test


View Larger Map

Here's what I'm trying to do:

1. A dynamic map with photos, also videos, geo tagged
2. ditto, but with the date the photo was taken
3. I'd like to be able to filter by dates, see how the photos move through time and whatnot

I'd also like this to be somewhat, um, easy. I'd rather not spend 5 hours a day adding metadata and tags to every photo 15 times. Because, you know, I have better things to do.

14 November 2010

Shuttercal

One service we're probably going to use for A Year Without Rent is Shuttercal, a new photography site out of California that, well, I'll let their webpage do the talking:
The image and subject matter are up to you, but the idea is clear — documenting one daily image will leave you with an impressive visual history of your life. As time passes, you will have an interesting window into the happenings of every single day. You will remember people you have met, and places you have been.
The application for artists trying to grow an audience seems like it has a lot of potential.

Anyway, it's pretty cool. Check it out. Below is a widget that will show my most recent photo.

09 November 2010

A Year Without Rent


This summer, I shot a feature film in the northern wilds of Maine. It was the middle of nowhere (literally...the town doesn't have a name), so the biggest single expense/obstacle was getting people there. As you might guess, there's not a whole lot of filmmakers who live in the middle of nowhere. The people with super-flexible schedules suddenly became ridiculously valuable, even more so if they could get themselves within shouting distance of location.

At the same time, there were other filmmaker friends of mine around the country working on various projects, and trying to do much of the same thing, either working with what they had in that location or trying to find the budget to bring people in. I suspect this happens quite a bit.

With the film now wrapped and the editing underway, I've started considering my next move, both professionally and personally. I've been in Maine for a couple of months and, well, it's time to move on. There's a list of places I could move, but it's a daunting one. Who's to tell what city is a better fit for me? Where do I want to spend the next year of my life? For a while now, the location field in my social media status has been blank. What do I want to put there?

Then one day, it hit me: I don't want to live anywhere. I want to live everywhere. I don't want where I work to be defined by where I live. I've tried that. It failed.

So here's my proposal: a transmedia project titled A Year Without Rent in which yours truly will spend a year living completely mobile, traveling around the country working on indie film projects. I'll explore the idea of mobility in a creative professional. Just how mobile does our digital lifestyle make us? Does it even matter where we live anymore? Can a creative professional thrive outside of NYC and LA?

The plan at the moment is to turn the year into a multimedia ebook, which would contain:

+ video: a daily video diary and/or web series documenting the day to day. In addition, more "cinematic" vignettes, which would be less frequent (obviously).

+ photos. The plan is to have a big map of the country on the webpage with photos geo-tagged. A view of where we've been, if you will.

+ words: blog posts. stories. articles. The plan is to do one a week.

Really the goal of all of this is to shine a light on the filmmakers and projects I work on along the way. It's more interesting to see who I'm talking to and helping. I want to go to Brainerd to work with Phil Holbrook, to Boise to work with Gregory Bayne, to NYC to work with Gary King, to Austin (or wherever) to work with David Lowery.

I'll use Google Latitude and foursquare and Facebook Places to be "on the map". I'll hit film festivals and stuff like DIY Days and the Annapolis Pretentious Film Society. I'll bring you with me to Philadelphia to sound mix Up Country. It'll be tons of fun.

What do we need?

+ Obviously, this project hinges on the film community getting involved in a pretty simple (and extensive) way. Are you working on a film project that could use an extra set of hands and some extra publicity? Of course you are. Email us (ayearwithoutrent [at] gmail [dot] com). Introduce yourself. What are you shooting? Where are you shooting? When? Pitch us on your project. We probably won't be able to go everywhere, based simply on logistics. But no project is too far away, provided we know far enough in advance.

+ Similarly, if you're a festival, we'll go there too. Just let us know. We want to get a full range of the indie film experience, so festivals are always helpful. Again, that email address: ayearwithoutrent [at] gmail [dot] com

+ Hospitality. Kind of a no-brainer. If you've got a spare couch I can crash on, that'd be great. Hot meals are awesome. Etc.

+ Backers. we're putting together a pretty good list of perks for backers. The big question at the moment is whether we use a site like Kickstarter or just host it ourselves. My guess is the former. Some of the rewards are one of a kind items that you won't be able to get elsewhere. And, contrary to popular opinion, it isn't about the funding. It's about the crowd. The funding is secondary.

+ Sponsors. We need to raise money to stay on the road. You may have noticed, but gas isn't cheap these days. Advertising and sponsorship is available, both on the website and the vehicle. You can also sponsor one of the daily video blogs and/or have me wear your company's tshirt. We can tweak your involvement to our location. Say you're a coffee shop in Pittsburgh. We can give you a range of dates that we'll be in the greater Pittsburgh area, and tailor a sponsorship that'll give you the best value for your money. Again, that email address: ayearwithoutrent [at] gmail [dot] com

+ Pay attention. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook. Are we near you? Come say hi. We have a special treat for people who find us in real life that we'll unveil in the near future.

+ Resources. We can use all sorts of travel stuff. Does someone have a GPS they aren't using anymore? A MiFi? A case of Red Bull? A Starbucks card with $3 left on it? Small travel stuff like that can add up. We have some large scale needs, as well. A larger vehicle being chief among them (for the extra room and/or reliability). It's hard to sleep in a mid-sized.

+ Music. Indie bands, put your music in our videos. Easy, fun, and FREE!

+ Media. Help us get the word out. Print. TV. Radio. Web. Whatever. Email us: ayearwithoutrent [at] gmail [dot] com


So that's the idea. What do we think?

03 November 2010

America



America I've given you all and now I'm nothing.
America two dollars and twenty-seven cents January 17, 1956.
I can't stand my own mind.
America when will we end the human war?
Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb
I don't feel good don't bother me.
I won't write my poem till I'm in my right mind.
America when will you be angelic?
When will you take off your clothes?
When will you look at yourself through the grave?

[snip]

America this is quite serious.
America this is the impression I get from looking in the television set.
America is this correct?


-- Allen Ginsberg

02 November 2010

Is the well dry?

Over at Microfilmmaker Magazine, Mike Flanagan has an overview of his recent, very successful Kickstarter campaign.



As you can see, he went way over his goal (congrats!) and has some good advice on how to get there. You should read the article, especially if you're thinking of starting your first campaign.

There is one thing I want to talk about, though. Near the end, Mike has this to say:
A few people got in touch for advice based on our campaign, which they viewed as very successful. Someone else wondered if we would put up another project, and the answer was a definitive "no." The thing about these campaigns, because they target your social network, is that you really only get one shot at them. Choose your project wisely, because once that pool is exhausted, that's that. People will resent you coming to them again for money. Choose your project and timing as carefully as possible, because there's really only one bullet in the crowd-funding chamber, and once you pull that trigger you don't get another shot.

As we moved into post-production, a producer (who had joined the project after the days of the Five Drive) suggested putting it up on Indie Go-Go to try to raise finishing funds. The core group of us were unanimously against this idea, as we'd already exhausted our social networks and felt that attempting to double dip in this way was not only rude, it was doomed.

He couldn't be dissuaded, and we allowed him to post the project with the understanding that not one of the people involved in The Five Drive would ever use their social networks to support it. He put $125 of his own dollars into the Indie Go-Go project to get the ball moving. As I write this, months later, $125 is all the project ever received, proving my feelings that it isn't the website themselves that attract funding, but how you engage your own social network. We did not engage it one bit for Indie Go-Go, and we did not raise one single dollar.
Couple of things. Obviously, you don't want to go right back to the same people with the same pitch, looking for more money. It basically just sounds like you didn't do your homework the first time around. But, is there only one bullet in the crowdfunding gun?

I don't think so. Granted, you don't want to bleed it dry, but Gregory Bayne has found success going back to Kickstarter for his Person of Interest campaign, and I imagine there will be others.

I think where I disagree with Mike is in focus. He talks of the campaign as one that targets an existing social network, as opposed to expanding your social network. There's no finite amount of fans. You just have to find different ways to reach them.

Over the last couple of weeks I've spoken to a number of the Up Country backers about their experience with the process thus far, trying to gauge exactly whether or not the well was now dry. Without exception they've said that they would be more willing to back the next project, since they now see how it all works (a.k.a. there's none of the previous "what the hell is this?" trepidation), provided the focus was different (or the project was different). Now granted, these are people who I know personally and I'd consider them all pretty good friends, but I think the insight is valid.

You can probably go back again, provided you've spent your time building more bridges and not burning your existing ones down.

It'd be interesting to get more range, though. If you've given once, is that it? What would bring you back for another go-round?

26 October 2010

UP COUNTRY Images

In working on Up Country, one of the things we take seriously is the idea that the backers are partners with us, in a way. Without their support, the film would never have happened. We think of them as part of the crew. So, when we were working on wardrobe for the film, it occurred to me that our main character would very likely be wearing a t-shirt for most of the film, and what would be better than getting a small t-shirt business to use our film to advertise their wares? They get free advertisement. We get free wardrobe that we don't have to worry about clearing. Win-win.

Well, as luck would have it, one of our backers runs a t-shirt company, so I emailed him and rather than just grab a shirt off the rack, he took the initiative and designed a new one (I told you our backers were the best), based on the descriptions we gave him of the character and what sort of shirt he might wear.

So...for the first time anywhere....we give you Pandaphones
pandaphones_g_large
Adam Woods (that's the backer's name) gave us a couple of these (helps with continuity) and man they took a beating. But, you know what? They performed beautifully. Kieran Roberts went on and on about how comfortable they were. We actually had trouble getting them to stay dirty, which is a good quality to have in a shirt.

And now, they're available for you to purchase from Dotted Line Shirts:

http://www.dottedlineshirts.com/products/pandaphones

Just think of how cool you'll feel wearing this shirt on your next trip through the woods. Hopefully it, um, goes better for you than it did for our main character. If you were one of the backers, you had a chance to get this on the cheap, but they're still a hell of a good deal. So go, buy a t-shirt! Be the first in your town to have one!

++++

Also, we're now revealing the first couple of stills from the film, unveiled with the shirt because, you know, they include the shirt. Keep in mind that these are raw images that haven't been color corrected in any way yet.

**It's harder than you think to pick these. You don't want to give too much away too soon, but you still want to be evocative of the film itself.**

bags
Left to Right: Kieran Roberts, Jonny Mars, and Tyler Peck

tyler
Tyler Peck (unhappy)

kieran inside camp
Kieran Roberts investigates

back to back
Jonny Mars and Kieran Roberts

Kieran water from tree
Kieran Roberts (thirsty)

Remember, you can follow Up Country on Facebook and follow the following cast and crew members on Twitter, where we post stuff under the #upcountrymovie hashtag:

Lucas McNelly (@lmcnelly)
Kieran Roberts (@KieranNYCLA)
Dustin Pearlman (@dustinpearlman)

19 October 2010

Casting, minus the couch


photo credit: snapchick.com

While the edit of Up Country plugs along, I'm directing some of my attention to my next project(s), in the hopes of avoiding a long gap that I've found becomes harder and harder to end the longer it goes on.

One of them, which I can't really talk about yet, involves some pretty inexperienced people (and some pretty experienced ones, so it should be an interesting learning experience all around). There's cast members already attached, which led to a discussion of casting methods. This, of course, led to me talking about casting methods on Twitter. Turns out everyone has different approaches, all of them equally valid. I thought it might be interesting to talk about mine and see how it differs from other people.

Worst-case scenario, it gives me a chance to ramble.

It's a multi-step process:

1. What are we looking for?

Obvious, right? Not exactly. You may know, for example, that the script calls for a 25 year old white male, but that doesn't really describe the character. What is he going to have to do? What are some key elements of his personality? If you've ever cast anything, you know a time will come when you're looking at a really talented actor who can't play the age range. Then you've got to decide if the age range can move. It helps if you know that from the beginning.

2. The collection of "talent"

I qualify "talent" for the simple reason that a lot of the people you look at will be awful. I gather people a couple of different ways. I put out a casting call, which is kind of a scatter-shot approach that sometimes works. Also I put out a social media casting call, which works better. Third, I reach out privately to fellow filmmakers, looking for suggestions. You get a lot of people.

3. Headshots

Since I know what I'm looking for, I flip through headshots. I do this pretty quickly. 15 seconds, max. Most of them won't even remotely fit the character you're looking for, which is easy. Beyond that, you're looking for people who could work, who fit in a range. I go through those again and usually prioritize them, focusing almost entirely on the actor's eyes and how they hold themselves in the frame. The interesting ones go in the first pile. The bland ones go in the second pile. Hopefully I won't have to get to the second pile.

I have a couple of actor friends that think this step is just horrible. I see where they're coming from. I'm eliminating a lot of talent. But an actor thinks they can play pretty much everything, and maybe they can, but there's lots and lots of actors out there. It's one of those horrible realities. In theatre you can go outside type more easily. In film it just takes the audience out of the film. You have to ask yourself: is it worth it? Couldn't I just as easily get someone who fits the role?

4. The reel

Generally, I think reels are pretty much a waste. I never, ever cast someone based on what's in their reel, and I'll only watch maybe 10% of them all the way through. My priority is simple: I'm looking for a reason to thin the pile. Most of them I'll shut off after 30 seconds. I want someone who looks magnetic on camera and can carry that throughout a take, someone who moves well. Anything that looks like their dropping character or struggling with an accent or anything that even reeks of mediocre and I'm gone. Remember, this is what they consider to be their absolute best work. So if it's mediocre, why bother?

Things that annoy me in reels:

1. Music
2. A scene where two actors look really similar. Who am I looking at?
3. That time the actor had one line on Law & Order. What does that tell me? There aren't very many shows where I'll care that an actor had one line. Among them: Mad Men, Deadwood, and LOST. And mostly because I think they might have a good story to tell.

After the reels, I'm probably down to, I dunno, 2% of what I started with, maybe fewer. That was the easy part.

5. The resume

Here's where I start to look at what an actor has done. Really, I don't care so much, I'm just skimming for things that look interesting, for projects where I know someone else who worked on it, for films that might be easy to track down, stuff like that. If I can get a copy of the project easily, I'll reach out to people for that, since it might take some time. I try and do it discreetly.

6. Google

Also at this point I'm scouring the interwebs, looking for anything I can find on an actor. To me, this is more important than the resume. I'm not going to be directing this person's past performances. I'm going to be directing a person. Maybe this comes from having directed a lot of non-actors. I don't really care what the actor has done. I'm more interested in what I think they can do.

So here I'm looking for interviews (print and video), a blog, a twitter feed, a facebook page. If they have some writing ability, that's a big plus. Basically I become this person's stalker. I look through their facebook photos of them drunk at parties. Anything I can find, really. It's not really as creepy as it sounds. Basically what I'm looking for is an intelligence level in what someone writes, and I want to know how they look when they haven't been made up and professionally lit. Some people look like completely different people when the light changes. That's kind of important.

But you pick up stuff that becomes helpful. The last person I researched, it was obvious from her facebook photos that she's a dog lover. That's information that, should I end up directing this person, I can use to get a better performance.

7. Past work

When I get ahold of that past work, I'm looking for a lot of the same things I'm looking for in the reel, but beyond that I'm watching to see how an actor builds and sustains an arc. How clean is the performance? Do they command the screen? This is usually where I start bringing in other people. But I almost never bring in film people. I have a group of people who have pretty good reads on actors, just normal audience members who I've had dozens and dozens of conversations with over the years about actors. I trust their instincts and know what sort of things they're seeing. More importantly, they don't know these people, so they aren't rooting for the actor they've worked with. Their only bias is toward the project. You meet an actor and you get attached to them, you start looking for a way to squeeze them into a project. But these people come at it clean. They don't any of these actors, couldn't care less about them as human beings. That's important.

8. References

I almost never contact the references on the resume. Is that poor form? Maybe. I don't really care. This is where I use that list of people who have worked with the actor. I'll usually reach out to past directors of their films. Basically I want to know: 1) How hard do they work? 2) How do they take direction? 3) How are they to work with? 4) Would they cast them again?

I have a zero tolerance policy for divas and assholes, which is basically what I'm trying to weed out. If you aren't willing to lay in the mud, I'm sure I can find someone who is. I'll take a B- actor who works his ass off over an A- actor who doesn't, no question.

Around this time, I start to try and figure out what type of actor they are. Are they comfortable with improv or are they more comfortable rattling off 5 pages of dialogue? That can be a big issue, depending on the project.

9. Contact

Finally, after all that, I make my first contact with the actor, usually by email. As you might imagine, by this point I have a pretty good idea of who I'm talking to and how comfortable I'd be working with them. If we can meet in person, great. If not, the phone works just fine. I like to pick their brain and talk to them about how they like to work, what sort of filming experiences they've had. I'll sometimes ask them about their past performances, about what they liked and didn't like about them. Really, I'm trying to get a sense of how well I'll click with this person. I want to know how well our styles and personalities will mesh. I talk to them about my methods and see what sort of reactions I get. I like to think I'm pretty good at detecting bullshit at this stage. I used to have a job where I conducted job interviews over the phone, so I can usually weed out insincerity.

And with any luck, during that phone call, I may just cast them in the film.

So that, roughly, is my method. Are other filmmakers similar? Completely different?

12 October 2010

You Can't Eat Critical Acclaim, Part 1

I'm sick of your insane demands.
When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks?


--Allen Ginsberg, "America"

This is probably a long time coming, but my process of moving and finding a new base of operations requires that I, you know, find a way to pay the rent.

Of course, you can always live in your car, but it's tricky getting the Post Office to forward your mail there.

There's all sorts of methods creative types use to pay the bills, but they've all got their downsides. Either the pay is terrible or the hours are terrible or there's no flexibility. Or you can temp. A lot of filmmakers shoot wedding videos or corporate HR videos or other such freelance projects. The problem quickly becomes that you spend so much time trying to get clients that you quickly become a guy who shoots wedding videos and cease to be a filmmaker. It's hard enough trying to keep one of those businesses going if that's all you want to do.

Got any good solutions? Let's hear them.

As usual, I'm sure there's a better way. (It's kind of something I'm good at, fixing bad processes)

For a filmmaker looking for a day job (and I mean a real, career-oriented filmmaker with an audience and a filmography, not someone fresh out of film school who's getting started), there's a couple of priorities in a day job:

1. A flexible schedule

It's commonly misunderstood. We don't lean toward freelancing because of our inability to get up early (well, that might be part of it) or because we don't have any shirts that aren't t-shirts (also part of it). It's because of the schedule.

The single biggest stumbling block in so many film projects is trying to coordinate schedules. So if you can get a schedule that's flexible enough that you can, say, film on a random Tuesday and Wednesday from 6am-8pm without having to use your personal days or anything, that's gold.

That doesn't mean you call your boss on Monday at 10pm and tell him you won't be in tomorrow. It means that as soon as you have a project on the horizon, you let your boss know. And then you keep him updated. There's no reason a forward-thinking employer and a forward-thinking employee can't figure out a way to make this work[1].

I can't even count the number of jobs I've lost/left because I've said to my boss, "In a month, I'm going to need a couple days off to do this project." The boss says, "Well, we can't let you do that."

It's not really optional, you know? Filmmaking is my career. The day job is my day job. Guess which is going to win?

This isn't really complicated. We need to be able to take time off without it affecting our rent payments. We need to be able to work from home, at least part of the time. In part 2, I'll explain why we're worth it.

2. Money

We like money just as much as you do. We have bills to pay, same as you. In a day job, we expect to be fairly compensated. I've worked several jobs where I've been paid less than other employees at my level, simply because they figured they could get away with it, seeing as I'm a starving artist. Bad karma for them.

3. Financial stability

It'd be really nice to come back from, say, shooting a feature in the woods of Northern Maine and have a day job waiting for me. Is that so hard to understand?

There's a truism in HR: "Replacing someone who leaves generally costs four times that person’s salary when recruitment and training cost are factored in." Four times!

Wouldn't it just be easier to get a good employee and let them go shoot a feature for a month or two? It'd be cheaper, that's for sure. I don't understand why more businesses aren't more cognizant of this. Isn't it Efficiency 101?

Let's do the math. You're paying a creative person $36,000 a year, which comes to $3k a month. Employee needs two months off to go to wherever and make a film. Even if you paid them for that time, the cost to you is $6k. They come back and not only do you still have that employee, but they're incredibly happy because they have such an amazing boss. Happier employees are more productive, etc, etc.

Or you could let them go. Four times $36k is $144,000. Maybe you get a better employee. Maybe you get a worse employee. Either way, you have an Expected Value of -$138,000. I can't think of too many reasons to make a decision with that negative of an expectation.

You could let them take two months a year to make a film every year for 24 years in a row before that became a losing proposition for you.

4. A sense of purpose

Here's the big secret: we don't get a sense of purpose from our day jobs. A lot of employees do, and that's great. We get our sense of purpose from our films. That's our career. That's what we want to be doing. So our "day job sense of purpose" is directly tied to how we feel it impacts our career. If it seems like we're wasting our time and it's getting in the way of projects, we aren't happy. But, if it feels like we're doing something that allows us to further our career by providing a financial safety net, we're much, much happier.

None of the other stuff that a company normally does to make employees happy matters all that much. When you have that pizza party that everyone in the office looks forward to, guess where you can find us? That's right, in the corner, working on a script.

We don't care about Employee Appreciation Day. We don't want a Dundie. We want to feel like we aren't wasting our time. I can't speak for other filmmakers, but what keeps me up nights is the fear of turning 50 and not having made any of the films I want to make.

Does that make me a bad potential employee? No. Actually, it makes me a really good one, given the right opportunity. And in part 2, I'll explain why.


*************

[1] Obviously there are reasons, but they're pretty specific to situations. If you want to work at, say, Apple, you probably aren't going to be able to film during iPhone crunch time. But you know that ahead of time. You can work around it.

11 October 2010

UP COUNTRY: Directing over the phone

An extension of the last video, but with a couple of notes.

1. That's Kerey holding the camera.

2. Why would we send the director so far out of the way to get the lens when he's obviously needed on the set? Well, because he's the only one who knew the area well enough and could then get to set.

3. Yes, I need to lose like 10 pounds.

4. We managed to get 1 scene filmed. We had 4 scheduled.

06 October 2010

UP COUNTRY: Fuck you, UPS

In the first 2 days of production, UPS royally screwed up 3 deliveries, costing us roughly 6 hours of production time total.

Here, myself and assistant camera Kerey are in Friendship, Maine, trying to intercept the UPS delivery guy on his route, so that we can salvage at least part of the day. It took about an hour and a half of haggling to get them to help us this little tiny bit.

Guess who's using FedEx on his next production?

04 October 2010

The Fish to Pond Ratio, Part 2



Last week I renewed the registration on my car, which was kind of tricky, as it contained the following conversation:

DMV: So the Pittsburgh address, that's your current address?
Me: Sort of.
DMV: Are you living there?
Me: No.
DMV: Well, where are you living?
Me: Nowhere, really.

Turns out I'm a resident of Pittsburgh, still. That's where I'm registered to vote[1] and that's where my driver's license says I live, which is I guess what matters. I don't know.

It's going to be tricky when someone like me figures out how to avoid getting mail altogether. How will I register my car then?

I guess one of two will happen over the next year: I'll either pick a new place to live and be there for a year or so, or I won't, instead floating around the country with what will fit in my car and the rest of my things in storage scattered around the country. Both are kind of exhausting to think about.

One thing that I think I learned by shooting Up Country is that while it's certainly easier to make a film where you live, it isn't impossible. Flights go anywhere you can imagine. You can film wherever you can imagine. And, hell, it's almost easier to get people involved in a project that's not where they live. There's a certain sense of adventure to it that appeals to a lot of people.

Right now I'm still in Maine, starting to edit Up Country and kicking the tires on a few projects. Most of them will film in places I wouldn't necessarily want to live in.

So what does that mean? I guess it means I float for a little professionally, which is fine by me. I like traveling a great deal. Airports are some of my favorite places. I'm intrigued by the idea of seeing just how many films in a row I can make without repeating a city. But I think that's really just a by-product of not knowing where I should move next. I could go back to Pittsburgh. It's the safe play, but I don't know that I want to make a film in Pittsburgh. It's a decent film community, but not great, and the lack of support for the Indies for Indies screening series (and the Hollywood Theater in general) was pretty telling.

Or I could go to one of the indie film hot spots: NYC, Austin, San Francisco. There'd be a lot more resources (just ask Jarrod Whaley how much easier it was to put a film together in SF, as opposed to Chattanooga), a much greater creative "vibe", but I become a small fish in a big pond, and maybe not even in a pond I want to film in. What's the point in living in SF if I decide to shoot my next film in Mexico anyway? In that case, isn't SF the same as Pittsburgh, which is the same as Maine?

Then aren't you just living in the airport terminals between where you work and where you pay rent?

I'm beginning to think that, more and more, the pond is the internet. We're all in the same pond, whether we want to be or not. Where we chose to live then becomes a question of where can we best get our films made? Where are we happiest, personally and professionally? Where can we find a day job that meshes best with this lifestyle (easier said than done)?

Is it possible to live in, say, Pittsburgh or Maine and go to NYC & LA several times a year? Sure. Does it make more sense to just live in NYC? Maybe. Or maybe it doesn't. NYC is expensive.

Honestly, I have no idea. Which isn't good, because it kind of dictates what the next chapter of my life will look like.


************

[1] Although apparently they never took me off the voting roles in Maine, so I could have been voting in Maine and PA all along. Maybe TN too. Who knows?

03 October 2010

Person of Interest



Right off the bat, I'll admit that I haven't yet seen Gregory Bayne's Person of Interest, but not for lack of opportunity or interest. Mostly just laziness.

But, I'm as much of a fan as one could be of a film they've not seen. I follow the progress as closely as I can, I gave money to the Kickstarter campaign, I have the DVD, I wear the POI shirt proudly around town. Hell, I even tried to sneak a POI plug into Up Country, but it didn't work out (mostly because I left that shirt behind when we drove to the location).

So...here's another opportunity to plug the film.

Greg, who you really should be following on Twitter, has made the film available for free on the new site Vodo.net. What's Vodo? I'm not really sure, but I think it's some sort of file sharing site that encourages people to sponsor the artists. Because, really, that 'stache isn't going to maintain itself. That sort of thing costs money.

Go to Vodo. Download POI. Check it out. Etc. You won't regret it. Well...you might, but it won't cost you anything.

29 September 2010

UP COUNTRY: Lights, camera?

We continue with our behind-the-scenes look at filming with the setup for the last scenes of Day 1. We're trying to create total darkness, and what's better at doing that than a really big light?

28 September 2010

When backers revolt

Today was a rather, uh, interesting day in the indie film world.

OpenIndie, one of the very first success stories of crowdfunding when they raised $12k almost a year ago(!), came under pretty heavy fire when they announced that they would be converting to an Open Source model.

It's a pretty complicated thing and I don't thing anyone totally has a grasp on what the hell happened, but we do know this:

1. They raised about $12k. The site opened, but it's still in Beta. The front page still says they're closed.

2. Arin Crumley gave a speech at DIY Days that wowed some, but rubbed others the wrong way. (Full disclosure: I found it to be a pretty bad omen that a website with a goal of helping content creators would use piracy to make their point.)

3. Nothing happened. Pretty much radio silence for a couple of months.

4. Then, the open source thing. I can think of 3 different people today alone who have called this "a crowdfunding cautionary tale".

The reasoning for the big gaps in information? "It can be extremely hard balancing a passion project such as this with paying the bills and making films."

If you're reading this blog, you already know what I'm about to say. That's a really fucking terrible excuse. You're just asking for trouble.

Beyond that, I'm not going to pretend to know who's right. Really, it doesn't matter. Backers are angry. They feel duped. Whether or not they're right is pretty irrelevant. It's turned into something of a PR nightmare for Arin and Kieran. These things happen.

More importantly, what does this tell us about the backer/creator relationship? I think, maybe, a couple of things.

Communicate

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: none of these people have to give you any money. No one owes you this. So you have to fall all over yourself to be thankful. But, beyond that, you need to keep people in the loop. Share the triumphs and struggles of the project with them. Keep them informed as often as possible.

Really, they're partners in the project with them, so you probably don't need to be emailing them every day like you are the people who are working with you on the project directly, but you need to give them updates. Act as if they collective group is your Executive Producer. Would you leave them in the dark for 3 months? Of course not.

It's kind of basic stuff. If you aren't branding yourself, someone else will do it for you. In this case, it's your audience branding you as absentee. And that's when minds start to wander.

Be Specific

Part of OpenIndie's problem was their goal was kind of nebulous. There was going to be a webpage and some other stuff and there was something about screenings, but little of that was super concrete. So there's more wiggle room on what constitutes a met goal.

That can be good, except a lot of people maybe read into the campaign more than the creators intended. Do you see how this is also a communication problem?

Is failure an option?

That's one thing I've been wondering ever since I met my Kickstarter goal: what happens if I fail? There's millions of ways a film project can fall apart, despite everyone's best intentions. That any of them get made at all is a miracle. And when there's not a lot of money involved? Even more so.

One thing that terrified me about the Up Country campaign was the potential fallout from failure. I'd lose all the goodwill I've built up in the film community. I had all these nightmares about how upset everyone would be. I don't even know some of these people!

The terror kept me going. The project almost fell apart several times, but I just couldn't let it go. That's probably a hidden advantage to these campaigns: you can't give up.

But, in light of today, I'm wondering if you can fail. What happens? Are you stoned in the public square? Are you never allowed to make a film again? Do people make nasty comments about you on Twitter? I don't know, but I think what I do know is that the severity of your punishment depends on how you campaign and how you communicate with your backers.

If you all of a sudden one day tell them that you've decided not to make a feature, but will use their money to make a trailer instead, in order to raise money for a feature, that's not going to go over too well. However, if you keep your audience informed and they watch you fail...it's probably going to work out a lot better for you in the long run.

Earlier today, the always-compelling Sheri Candler posed this question to me on Twitter (@shericandler):

do donors want to fund your story or you as a director? Does the success of the film matter foremost? do they only want perks?

I think the answer is "yes". A good campaign is going to attract all of the above. It's your job to keep all of those factions happy, as best you can. So make sure you actually mail out all the perks (and let people know when they'll be coming). Give progress updates at regular interval. Don't give anyone a chance to think you've taken their money to Vegas (unless, of course, that was part of the campaign). And if you're making a film, make the best motherfucking film you can make.

At minimum, you owe them that.

27 September 2010

UP COUNTRY: rain!

Vimeo is being a pain in the ass, so we'll use YouTube this time.

So we're trying to film, but it's, like, raining. Jonny Mars is doing his best to stay dry, but you'll notice he's hogging a foam board for himself while poor Caitlin gets soaked. For shame, Mr. Mars.

25 September 2010

all apologies...

...for the dorkiness, but I figured since I'm kind of documenting most of this process...well...this is part of my process.

I spend a lot of time when I'm working on a film listening to music. And by a lot, I mean almost all of it. Usually a mix of newer things that I've just started listening to and older stuff that I think fits the tone of the film, or at least the tone as I see it in my head. At some point near production, I'll put together a mix CD of what I'm listening to, and give it to interested cast & crew members. Actually, normally I give it to everyone. I just haven't done that yet.

I listen to it in the car on the way to shooting, sometimes between takes. It varies, really, but I find it to be super helpful, as the hectic nature of shooting (especially the way I work) can easily pull you from your intentions.

So...if you're interested, here's the play list for Up Country:

1. "O New England" -- The Decemberists
2. "On the Road (song)" -- Jack Kerouac
3. "Undertow" -- Boca Chica
4. "Upward Over the Mountain" -- Iron & Wine
5. "Team" -- Bon Iver
6. "No Bad News" -- Bonnie "Prince" Billy
7. "Black Bear" -- Breathe Owl Breathe
8. "Spoil Your Dawn" -- Dolorean
9. "Approaching Pavonis Mons By Balloon (Utopia Planitia)" -- The Flaming Lips
10. "A Simple Twist of Fate" -- Jeff Tweedy
11. "Eid Ma Clack Shaw" -- Bill Callahan
12. "White Winter Hymnal" -- Fleet Foxes
13. "Red Elevator" -- Jeff Tweedy (from the Chelsea Walls score)
14. "Requiem" -- John Vanderslice
15. "Smooth Death" -- Br. Danielson
16. "God's Silence" -- Eels
17. "Old Fashioned Morphine" -- Jolie Holland
18. "Blank Slate" -- The National
19. "Watch the Days Slowly Fade" -- Norfolk & Western
20. "Truly, Madly, Deeply" -- Ray LaMontagne
21. "All Fossils" -- Vale and Year

So there you have it.

24 September 2010

The first image

I've been sorting through the footage, which looks fantastic, and finding it's really hard to not run around showing it to everyone. And, really, I can't take it anymore, so I'm deviating from my schedule and putting out 1 image now.

What is that schedule, you ask? Well....

We've learned that my trusty computer, the one that's edited nearly all of my films (including the also-shot-in-HD Blanc de Blanc), can't handle the footage. Like, the processor isn't fast enough. And while I like to tell people that's because the computer just can't handle how awesome the footage is, it really has something to do with Codecs and other things I don't really understand. So what I've done is take about 1/5th of the footage and down-converted it to something much easier on my computer, and I'll use that to start sorting through the footage and come up with a teaser for you guys to watch. Why only 1/5th? Well, because that took 36 hours of processing time. Yikes.

And because we accidentally forgot to make a $4k movie while we were up there, our goals for it have changed some. That may require we go looking for finishing funds for things like professional color grading. We'll see.

We're actually $158 UNDER budget, which is amazing. So we can definitely finish, but our job is to make the best film we can make. The people who worked on it deserve that, and our generous backers deserve that.

Oh, and one thing you should definitely read are some thoughts of the shoot from our wonderful Director of Photography Dustin Pearlman.

And now, what you've been waiting for....The first image:

Up Country Still
Love that depth of field.

22 September 2010

UP COUNTRY: The first shot (sort of)

It's probably a bad sign when it starts raining just as you're about to get the first shot in the film.

20 September 2010

winner winner, chicken dinner

I happened to notice this come across my email while filming, but it's just now that I've decided to take a look.

According to the webpage:

The sites you see below are a heady mix of personal reflections covering the many facets of cinema and film, all written with a vast wealth of knowledge which only a dedicated set of movie enthusiasts could hope to draw from.

And my mother said that complaining about stuff would never get me anywhere...

Take a few minutes to check out the rest of the list. It's pretty good company.

Thanks, Theater Seat Store!


Theaterseatstore.com Awards 2010

19 September 2010

UP COUNTRY: Props

Because if Von Dutch wants to be in the film, it ain't gonna happen for free.

18 September 2010

things learned Up Country

Jonny Mars, actor

It's no secret that I come from the DIY school of filmmaking. I never went to film school. I majored in Broadcasting with a bunch of literature/writing/english minors, but even then I never took a video production class. I focused mostly on radio. I've taken exactly one class in my life that relates to film: Introduction to Cinema. We watched Citizen Kane. The first shot of the first short film I ever made was the first time I'd ever operated any kind of video camera. I was a senior in college. I'm as self-taught as they come. I like to say I have a Masters in Film from Netflix University. A lot of my early shorts have been more or less lost to history (thank God). Each time I make a film, I get a better idea of what the hell I'm doing. Each film is more ambitious than the last.

With that in mind, here's 5 things I learned on Up Country:

1. Get a really, really good Script Supervisor.

I recommend Caitlin Mattis. She's amazing. I tend to work off of outlines with a good deal of improvisation worked in. I like how the dialogue sounds, how it has a more naturalistic approach than just going off a script. It's also scary as fuck in terms of continuity. Enter Caitlin. While we charted, and re-charted (and re-charted), the character beats of the story, Caitlin kept it all straight, freeing the rest of us up to focus on performance and camera stuff. Four days into shooting, I misplaced my script. It didn't really matter. Caitlin had it all figured out. Honestly, I don't know how we survived on Blanc de Blanc without a Scripty.

2. Shooting on location is a whole different ball game

All my other films have been weekend deals, the sort of thing where everyone more or less goes home at the end of the day. But here, we were in a cabin hundreds of miles from people's homes. Personalities matter more. Small things come up that wouldn't otherwise: the DP leaves his toothbrush at home, the sound guy forgets his laptop charger, stuff like that. It all adds up. Someone is going to spend a lot of time driving around doing stuff. It'll cost more than you think, because sometimes the nearest place to laundry is 30 minutes away. You also have no idea what the hell is going on in the outside world. That's probably a good thing.

3. If you can get dailies every day, do it.

This is kind of an off-shoot to #1, but when you're shooting far away, you can't come back and pick up a scene. It ain't gonna happen. The dailies are a vital look at what exactly you got. And when you leave the camp at 5am, only to get back at 8pm, you'll be surprised just how little you remember the first couple hours of shooting. It's great for the actors to get an idea of their performance, and it gives you a chance to confer with the DP on what's working and what isn't. Plus, you might just catch something you have to re-shoot.

It cuts down on your sleep level, but it also cuts down on your stress. And if the footage looks good, that alone can keep the excitement level high for the cast and crew.

4. Hybrids are all the rage.

If you're making a micro-budget film and you're bringing on someone to do a specific job, it's worth your time to make sure they can do something else as well. There's no divas. You simply don't have the time or resources for it. Take, for example, our second lead, Jonny Mars (pictured above). Jonny was in nearly every scene of the film, but at various other times he: negotiated down the grip rental place, scouted locations, drove, cooked, researched his character in detail, held grip equipment, slated, carried grip equipment, revised the shooting schedule, found us fake blood, stood in for other actors, carried the camera, grabbed camera equipment, conferred with the DP on lenses, helped tighten the story, and many, many other things. In one scene, he stood in a brook up to his knees for Kieran Roberts' closeup, and while providing Kieran an eyeline, slated, then held the bounce board with one hand while using his other hand to help steady the DP.

Jonny wasn't alone in his dedication. It was a crew-wide approach. A film like this just isn't going to get made without people like that. There's no time for "that isn't my job". If you're the only person with a free hand, it becomes your job. But, as a director/producer, you need to let people know that when you're hiring. Otherwise, find someone else.

5. The value of pre-production.

I did several months of pre-production. I should have done several more. It's one of those things where the deeper you get into it, the more you realize you need. I spent a lot of time on Twitter bitching and moaning about Celtx, but it really was super helpful in the end. Having the AD, DP, and Script Supervisor all on the Celtx Studio was something of a lifesaver. My only wish is that we could have been on it sooner.

Also, I learned this the hard way: somewhere in the last days leading up to shooting, get some sleep. You'll need it.

17 September 2010

Meet the cast & crew

Over the course of filming Up Country, we had a little flip video camera on-hand. Here's the first of our behind the scenes videos.

16 September 2010

Barn

We stayed here (well, across the street). We're back now.

07 September 2010

Up Country: Paul



The role of "Paul" will be played by Austin-based actor and producer Jonny Mars. Jonny was in the hit short The GrownUps, the Austin winner for Best Film in the 48 Hour Film Challenge. It went on to screen at Cannes and SXSW. He was most recently seen in The Happy Poet (see the still above), which debuted at SXSW earlier this year.

Check out the wonder that is The Grownups:

The GrownUps from Arts + Labor on Vimeo.

Up Country: John



We've re-cast the lead character of John with the New York-based actor Kieran Roberts. Kieran, who is also a singer (I'm told that something from that album went #1 on iTunes), is a very talented and hard-working actor. Check out his performance in the Manhattan Monologue Slam and his performance on the Montell Williams Show. (No, seriously)


30 August 2010

Your stuff here

Part of making a film is, obviously, wardrobe. And while I have a lot of really cool shirt, I don't have that many. But it occurred to me that we have a film where a few choice articles of clothing will be in virtually every scene (and some less so), so it's a perfect opportunity for some ambitious maker of t-shirts to promote their wares. We like helping people promote stuff.

So, if you fit that description, email me: lmcnelly[at]gmail.com (put "T-Shirt" in the subject line). We'll make decisions on how they best fit the characters and the story. Other than that, all we need is for the shirts we pick to send us 2 of them (so we have a back-up) in time for our start date. So...let's say they need to be here the 7th, just to be safe.

You get to have your stuff in a kick-ass movie, and we get a kick-ass shirt in our movie without having to worry about rights issues. Everyone wins.

26 August 2010

The PMD conundrum

Let's get this right out in the open: a PMD, on some level is essential to your indie film. Is he more essential than your cast and crew? No, but essential all the same.

It's a wonderful idea and a wonderful job description and I support it 100%.

But as a filmmaker working on a budget, here's my issues:

1. It's a little close to marketing. And with marketing comes sharks. And with sharks comes scams. We've all tried to look for jobs in the marketing venue and and quickly learned that almost all of it was bullshit. Or involved selling knives. It's just a breeding ground for opportunist assholes looking to make a quick buck. The scum of the earth.

2. That's not to say they're all scum. There's a litany of good people in the field, people like Sheri Candler and Tyler Weaver. There will be more as the idea gains ground.

3. But, since the role is so new, there's almost no way to know who is who yet. Look at it this way, when I hire a DP or an actor or a musician, I have reels and headshots and resumes to sort through. I can see almost everything they've ever done. I can talk to people they've worked with. I can do my research. And I don't have to find a wedding photographer who's pretty sure his skills can translate. I can find someone who has worked on a film somewhat similar to mine.

But PMDs are so new, that nothing like this exists. Everyone is new.

4. So there's no track record, yet the PMDs I've talked to so far seem to all require payment and seem unwilling to work for credit.

You can count on one the people in indie film who get paid without a track record. Why am I paying someone who's never successfully done this more than my experienced cast and crew? It's like if I had a football team and everyone got the league minimum then we brought in a kicker who's never played football before, but he's a world-class soccer player. Thing is, he wants $6M/year. I'd be an idiot to do that.

So I guess my message is this: fledgling PMDs, you're going to have to work for free and build up a resume, just like the rest of us. If that's a problem, maybe you should sell knives. I hear there's good money in that.
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