30 September 2010

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.


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


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

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

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


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

15 September 2010

13 September 2010

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.