Tuesday, August 21, 2018

More On Learning Production Through Making Films

Last time I talked about preparation before stepping out on  your own to make your own movies.  There are some books out there that can help you with the legal stuff.  Don't ask me about it.  I only know enough about the law to know that I'm not qualified to give advice about it.  Do everything you can to keep yourself, other people's property, your cast and crew safe.  A lot of that has to do with common sense, like not running around in public brandishing weapons without permits to shoot and closed streets, etc.

In "Death Plots" there is a scene where a group of thugs stop my character at gun point on what looks like a public street.  It was actually a private road, well out of sight of the public that I gained access to through a regular at a bar I worked at.  He essentially owned that intersection and the surrounding area.  One of the reasons you'll want your first movies to be simple and "smaller" in scope is because of a simple rule: If you can't afford to do something safely,  you can't afford to do it.
Keep that in mind when you write something.  There are things I'd love to do with a bit more realism in my movies, but often times, safety constraints force me to make concessions.  The axe throw in "Jack vs Lanterns", for example, is a special effect instead of an actual throw.  It was  a cardboard axe, which when actually thrown flew back at me.  A heavier prop could have been dangerous, so we compromised and did the best we could.  The "speeding car" segment was shot on a public road.  There are vantage points on that road specifically intended for photography.  All we did was turn the camera around.  The car was not speeding at all.  I cranked up the speed in post and added some engine noise for effect.  The trick here was to not have any scenery or camera pans that would give away the increased footage speed.  Our pyrotechnics were all courtesy of stock footage overlays.  From muzzle flashes to explosions.  Things like that require a lot of money and expertise to be done safely.  Leave it to the experts at places like Detonation Films and use After Effects or some other program to integrate the footage safely.

In some sequences you may notice a more realistic smoke or spark from the gun. These were accomplished in "Lumber vs Jack" and "Jack vs Lanterns" by using a cap gun.  None of the guns on my sets are remotely real. They don't even fire standard blanks.

Alright, enough on the safety lecture,  you get the point.  So, write  your script to include action, but as little true danger as possible.  

Recently, even though I have been making movies for years, I find myself writing things "down".  I'll come with an idea and then start to scale it down in order to simplify it for myself and the few people I get to work with.  This is because I'm working on other things and keeping films simple allows me to have a life, but still make movies.  So, when starting out, I suggest you try to do the same.

Assume you have made the leap and at least at this point have access to a camera, a sound recording device, basic lights and either the Creative Cloud or something other prosumer video editing software.  Now, all  you need is a script and a cast, locations and time.  Maybe costumes and props.  This is where keeping it simple comes in handy.  Do you live in a basement apartment?  may I suggest that this becomes your location?  Lots of things can happen to people in their homes.  Keep it simple.

Do you have a collection of vintage dolls? Dolls can be creepy.  Maybe work with that.

Do you have a friend or three who really want to act?  Write to their strengths.  In other words, if  your friends are all 30 somethings, don't write in a 65 year old Professor or Vietnam War veteran and ask your friends to play the characters.  If they're not great with memorization try to scale down the dialogue.  Is one of them a nursing student? Great! Give her a lot of lines with medical jargon you barely understand.  It will add authenticity and she'll be able to rattle the terminology off at a speed that makes your head swim.

I would keep your first few movies down to two or three characters.  One character vs an unseen threat can be even better.  For simple shorts with small casts  check out any of the "Alien Vengeance" shorts on my Amazon Landing Page.  Actually, most of my shorts keep things pretty simple.  "Shelter" was shot in one day, as were most of the shorts on that page.  (I think "Onyx Origins" was spread out over three, but that involved two remote locations and quite a bit of chroma-key and miniature work.)

Remember, the key is keeping it simple.  In "Shelter", the action all takes place in my garage.  The same garage "Alien Vengeance: First Encounter" takes place in.  In both movies the casts were small.  The running times vary from 5 minutes to 20.  "Shelter" is a bit of a longer short, but it involves historical context, character building and an emotional edge all leading up to the kind of ending that really makes it seem like "Act I" of a feature film.

Anthology T.V. shows are  great idea generators for short sci-fi and horror movie shorts.  "The Twilight Zone", "The Outer Limits", "Monsters" and "Tales from the Darkside" all give great examples of how to build a story around scares, tension and a small cast of core characters on a budget.  Don't lift stories from them, but do watch to see how they set up characters and situations and "resolve" situations in what is often a 22 minute running time.

When you make these "limited" shorts concentrate on the things you can control.  Learn how to work with your actors to get the best performances.  Take time in setting up lighting and interesting shots.  Maybe try to work in one "spectacular" effect.  (I'm always pretty happy with the monster in "AV: First Encounter" when we finally show it.)  But most of all, hone the story telling aspect of shooting.  How do shots lead into each other.  Did  you get all of the points you wanted to across successfully to an audience that wasn't privy to what  you were trying to convey?  If not, what could you have done differently?  Can you cut exposition and get the running time down? (There are  12 and 20 minute cuts of "Onyx Origins".  Both tell a full story, but one contains less humor and set-up.)

In the end, a few of these will add up to a lot of learning and later on, these will be the "easy" productions you use to keep "fit". Sort of filmmaking workouts between features.

Now, get out there and make a movie.

BONUS: A look at a super affordable, pretty serviceable audio recorder to get you started.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Thinking of starting your own production business?

A friend of mine posted a video about what actors should consider before making the jump to L.A. and it struck me that there were some things I did before I decided to start doing my own productions more "full time".  If you follow my blog you know I've gone back to a "day job" sort of lifestyle in recent years.  It's more of another business, but something more stable and slightly more lucrative than filmmaking alone.

This is just ADVICE. Whether or not it applies to your life is up to  your best judgement.  None of it guarantees success (I mean, you're taking advice from a guy who drives a 24 year old rust heap of a Jeep), so take it or leave it at your own risk.

Anyway, it was a long time ago, but the principles will still be the same.  Really, it comes down to money.  I'd suggest making several short "weekend" films before diving into a feature. Even with those, work on making each one larger in scope before venturing into a feature movie.  If you can, start with one character and one location like we did in "X-24".  Then, still keeping the movies short, move up to more characters and perhaps more than one location.  Perhaps add outdoor and/or nighttime shots to work on your lighting.  Use these films to get a feel for what you're comfortable doing  yourself, what equipment you need to own and what  you'd like people you work with (such as a sound recordist) to bring with them.

I wouldn't suggest venturing off on your own in order to make a feature as your first film, but it might be a good time to decide to take a vacation. If you're lucky enough to be able to get everyone scheduled for the same 10 day to two week period you may be able to pull off a small opus with a bit of consistency.  Shooting most of  your days in a shorter period certainly helps with continuity and with keeping cast and crew involved.  A movie that takes six months to film can see people gain weight, change hairstyles drastically or even relocate. (Life happens.)  If you're still not comfortable doing a feature, but tired of only having short films, consider doing an anthology.  Find something that relates  your movies and either use a  host or wrap around in order to bind them together.  My first 3 larger movies were all Anthologies hosted by a character I created just for Debbie Rochon. "The Lunar Pack" was the first and it was all werewolf stories.  Then we moved on to "Death Plots", which deals with the Grim Reaper and finally "All Wrapped Up" is a group of mummy movies and incorporated Debbie's character, Misty, into a story that takes place 4000 years in the future, indicating the immortal nature of her character (established previously in "Death Plots").  These movies allowed me to make feature length presentations while keeping my casts and shoot schedules for each segment under control.  We shot most of the shorts over a two or three day period.  (The first werewolf movie we shot in two nights at two locations with only two characters.)  But we ended with movies ranging from just under 60 minutes to over 2 hours.

So, lets's say that you've decided that you do want to give making movies for yourself and others a shot.  This is where the saving, spending and planning for moving to L.A. crosses over with your business prep.  Make sure you have the basics of your equipment purchased or attainable.  Camera, audio and editing equipment should be at your fingertips.  If you're renting, be able to rent them even when clients are scarce.  Have health insurance either paid for, through a spouse or parent or planned out.  Car paid off, six months of rent and bills (including your pets' care and vet bills) set aside, demo DVDs or Blu-Rays at the ready and a marketing plan set up.  Have your website ready to go online.  A social media presence either built on your previous movies or ready to launch.  Pay off your credit cards and try not to be carrying student loans anymore. (We paid off everything but our house before Hocus Focus Productions went "full time".) I do wish I had built up a better marketing plan first.  This falls under you learning from my mistakes instead of making them yourself.

Here is the video from Michelle Tomlinson, thespian and acting coach, about prepping before taking the leap to move to L.A.

Monday, July 2, 2018

To Script or Adlib, Minisodes and YouTube

It's probably pretty obvious if you have visited my YouTube Channel or This Is Space Force, that I often adlib the shorter videos I produce.  Lots of improve and stream of consciousness going on there.

I do this for a few reasons. First, I usually have the concept for my YouTube instructionals and T.I.S.F skits living inside of my head for quite awhile.  I'm "writing" them during yardwork, eating, red lights, etc.  Of course, none of this gives me the opportunity to actually "write" anything out.  Second, I like the natural flow that stream of conscious gives my YouTube videos and I think the awkwardness adds to the humor in TISF.  ( I may be alone in that.)
 Third, I often shoot multiple videos at a time.  It's easier to shoot when I'm inspired and find a few moments if I don't have to memorize rigid scripts beforehand. My studio is usually a light change and seat movement away from being able to shoot either of these types of episodes now.  One of my small cameras lives down there. Memorizing key points, like in a speech, is much quicker than memorizing an entire script, especially when you've lived with the ideas for a few days before shooting.

The new problem I'm facing is that now I want to include other people in the T.I.S.F minisodes.  For one thing, it's making them longer, which I like.  But the other thing this will require for most of them, is a script.  The actors will need to know what they're signing up for and not everyone I'll be working with is an improv master.  In fact, I'm not.  I'm terrible it at.  The difference between adlibbing and improvisation is that with improv you need to anticipate and react to the other actor.  I can barely do this in regular conversations with real people, no less with trained professionals while trying to get a political idea to be funny.

I've been trying to script out a half dozen This Is Space Force minisodes, but they just don't read funny.  They're kind of stilted and definitely paced differently than previous episodes.  I guess with doubling the cast size, that should be expected.  So, I'll need to keep working on that.

The good news is, although we only have 99 "likes" for the page, we  have surpassed 101 "followers", so we will be launching Commander Guy Ramrod into space this week!

See you over at the page, gang.

Comment below with topics you'd like "This Is Space Force" to tackle.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Prepare or Pounce? "This Is Space Force"

Recently President Trump announced the historic creation of a sixth branch of the military, the "United States Space Force".  Naturally the kid in me was super excited to think about laser blasting space ships protecting earth from giant meteors and flesh eating aliens.  The creative in me wanted to do something with this idea.

Of course, the whole world wanted to joke about or make a movie about the idea of  "Space Force" and when I checked IMDB I had found that a TV movie had been in made in 1978 titled "Space Force" and a film was announced in development "Space Force: The Sixth Branch".

Anybody who has ever made a movie or Television show, or any performance art, really, will tell you that preparation is the number tool to get you to a great end product.  Fortunately, I sort of live this advice day to day, so that when something like this comes up I can pounce, while still being somewhat prepared.  And thus, "This Is Space Force" (T.I.S.S.) was born.

You see, I already had a space suit.  It was on sale and I worked in a Halloween store.  I had a space helmet (several) and I own blue and green screens (sort of) .  I have been collecting NASA and public domain space footage as well as shooting miniatures for "Alien Vengeance" movies FOR YEARS.

First day I had photos and a phone shot video produced.  By the third day I had a Facebook page set up to get the title name in place and three more 1 minute video skits (of varying quality) produced and scheduled to publish.  I hope to shoot two or three more this weekend.  I'm needing to squeeze these in between day job work and classes, but the time is now or never on this project.

Meanwhile, I'm setting a tone for what I hope to be a popular web series of short episodes where the space force characters actually do things.

So, I pounced.  I could have done more if I had taken time to prepare, but the "newness" of this is already wearing off.  The world moves fast nowadays. You've got to be ready.  Whatever your genres of interest are, keep a closet full of props and playthings.  I won't have to search for spaceships or aliens or monster suits to make ThisIsSpaceForce season 1 happen.  I'm hoping some of my friends will want to participate as cast members and do cameos.  We'll see how my "networking" over the course of other movies has worked. I plan a "This Is Space Force" and "The Simplest Things" crossover for the end of "The Simplest Things" 3rd season.  Meanwhile, during all of this, I still have a lot of marketing and promotion to do for "Jack vs Lanterns" in order to get that movie to pay off and justify the third and final feature.

So, please watch, share and follow "This Is Space Force", rate "Jack vs Lanterns" on Amazon Prime and give the "The Simplest Things" a watch so I can keep having an excuse to buy endless costumes and build paper spaceships.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Amazon Video Direct Channels - What Do You Need?

Basically, I started talking about Amazon Channels because someone asked me why I didn't have one.  I remembered wanting one, but there were a few reasons I don't yet have one.  I discuss the basic reason in this previous post.  After that Vlog, someone asked me more questions, so I decided to look it into more deeply and found more reasons why a "little guy" like me may not have a channel.

The requirements of 200 separate titles OR 50 seasons of a series (or multiple series) seems like a pretty goal, especially at my stage of life.  Rather than just write it all out here I made another video.  After all, you can read Amazon's guidelines is reading the basics is all you want.

Also, take a look at "Jack vs Lanterns" on Prime Video while it's still Included with your membership for summer viewing.

And search for my titles at Midnight Pulp to find out which of my movies you can see
truly FREE with that new service.

Want to learn more about indie filmmaking?  Head over to the BCinemaTV Talks Podcast to hear interviews with people in the business.

If you, or someone you represent, would like to be a guest on the Podcast
or interviewed for our Cult Goddess Magazine Blog
please contact me through our website:

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Why Don't I Have An Amazon Channel?

Someone asked me the other day why I don't have an Amazon Channel.  I had planned on one.  It was a goal for awhile, but the short answer is, they keep moving the goal posts and I haven't been able to keep up.  The long answer...is in the video below.

Here is a video about the way the targets moved last time I tried to get a channel approved.

See "Jack vs Lanterns" on Amazon Prime for a limited time.
Jack vs Lanterns: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07DMF2B27

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

When Wearing Many Hats, Life Can Get Confusing

I recently attended the wedding of an actress I have worked with a few times.  I have always considered her a friend, but mostly my wife and I only see her when we're working.  This is likely due geographical differences to a degree, but it made me hesitate when people would ask, "So how do you know the couple?"  The answer, "We're friends" didn't seem specific enough and "She was in a couple of movies I made" makes me sound like I make more well known movies than I do.

I've never been one of the great "friend makers".  With me the places I would meet people were school and later work.  When I started working mostly for  myself I didn't interact with many new people on a regular basis.  Casts and crews would come and go.  Most of those people I would consider friends, but I never know how to gauge whether that feeling is reciprocated.  And when I am friends with actors or crew members it can make it tough to know when they're helping because they like a project or when they're doing me a favor they'd rather not, like  helping me move a refrigerator.

So, those two hats, filmmaker and friend, are already a problem.  Add to that the property manager hat, podcast hat and all of the hats I have to wear to keep Hocus Focus Productions running, and at any given moment I have to decide which job I'm working and which one I'm not.  I find it easier to break it into days so that I can get a groove going, but that's not always possible.  I sort of miss having a regular "day job" (and I'm looking at remedying that) where someone else makes a schedule for me every two weeks.  I found last October, while doing retail work, that having those immoveable blocks in my schedule made me better at managing my other time.  You would think the loss of free time would make things harder, but it really just helped bring things into focus.

For instance, right now I'm writing this blog while waiting for it to be time to log onto BCinemaTV Talks and interview Thomas Ryan about "The Theater of Terror Anthology".  I also sort of "double booked" myself as I have someone coming to do work around the yard.  He's a great guy and won't ring my doorbell since he knows I record on Wednesdays, but I should have timed this better.

I have guests at the cabin, so I need to talk to them later today and right after the interview is over I'll be making copies of the "Jack vs Lanterns" DVDs for the cast, and you, if you'd like to buy one.  (Please want to buy one. )

I have to promote the upcoming landing of "Jack vs Lanterns" on Amazon Prime, shoot an informational VLOG for my YouTube channel and eventually mow my back lawn because it's starting to look like a jungle out there.  Meanwhile, I have started taking some night classes (or I tried to, but the first class was rescheduled).  I'll talk more about that if it works out, but it would be me putting an old hat back on. One which I've missed for quite awhile.

So, if at any time you talk to me and I seem out of it, please, remind me which hat I should be wearing.  Are you talking to me as a director, property manager, cleaner, landscaper, blogger, vlogger, podcaster, salesman or friend?

Thanks in advance.