Category Archives: film school

Unadorned

Sometimes things just come together perfectly.  A year ago, in February, I brought together a group of six extremely talented young women to make a music video for a song on the about-to-be-released Matt Ryan record. Everything about “(I Just Died) Like An Aviator” rocked.  It’s one of my favorite shoots, one of my favorite videos. You can watch it here.

Then, last Wednesday, I read that Matt would soon be releasing an unadorned acoustic version of the same album.  He sent me a copy, and I immediately turned on the acoustic “Aviator” and before the song was over I knew what I had to do.

The texting began. I started with my Matt Ryan-impersonator Chloe Barczak as she would have to carry so much of the idea I had in my head.  She was in.  Then co-producer Charlotte Beatty to handle the organization.  And the first video’s guitarist Carina Begley, as the guitar was (except for a few piano notes at the very end) the lone instrument.  An acoustic version of the same team, so to speak.

Then I told Matt we were again making a music video of “Aviator.”  He never even asked what we were planning, and instead got American Songwriter Magazine to agree to premiere the video sight unseen.  He sent me the chords and even a video for Carina on how to play a few of the guitar parts.

By Friday of last week we had a schedule and a location.  The same location as the original video.  We all met at 8:45 AM on Sunday, loaded up my Jeep with almost all of my gear, and drove the two tenths of a mile to the home of Dean and Shellye.

As Carina got used to the feel of my Martin acoustic, Charlotte and Chloe helped me set up lights and camera.  By 10:30 we were filming, buzzing from a lot of Willoughby’s coffee, Coke-a-Cola, and salted-caramel Orangeside Donuts.

But this time around Chloe and Carina had their work cut out for them.  My concept was to present the video in one long take.  No cuts.  Just a perfect performance and some precise rack focusing. No sweat.

We worked on blocking the first half dozen times through, as Chloe worked on her emotional delivery.  She felt this version of the song was really sad.  Desperate.  Depressing even.  Both Charlotte and Carina agreed.  I was not about to argue.

We got the blocking just right, the lighting perfect.  And by the twelfth take I started noticing tears in Chloe’s eyes.  That was when I knew we had something special.  We knocked off one take after another, with barely a pause between, and she nailed it.  Take sixteen was fucking brilliant.  Take eighteen was perfect.  We did a few more.  I had a B-camera rolling just in case my impossible one-shot idea would not work.  And after the twenty-fourth take we wrapped.

I got home around 1:30 PM.  I copied the footage onto a drive as I put away the gear.  Then I started editing, going back and forth between takes 16, 18, 12 and 24…but ultimately the fucking brilliant won out.  It would be take 16.  I added titles, the slightest color correction, some film grain, and I exported the timeline.  By 4:30 PM I texted Matt, Chloe, Charlotte, and Carina a private viewing link for the video.

This is what Matt Ryan wrote to me after seeing it for the first time: “My god she’s killing me. I seriously have tears in my eyes.  I love it.  Breaks my heart.  It’s beautiful  Please tell them I love it.  Thank you for thinking to do this.”

His appreciation was appreciated.

Matt stripped down a beautiful song, and allowed us to do the same to the original video.  But this video is unadorned in other ways as well: void of ego, attitudes, rude people (unlike most of the rest of my past few weeks, hell, unlike most of the world we live in). It was just four people working together, all doing what they need to do, having fun doing it, turning a beautiful song in a visual work of art.

Thank you to Chloe, Charlotte, and Carina, my brilliant cohorts on this project. Thank you to Dean and Shellye for again letting us invade their home.  Thank you to Matt Ryan and American Songwriter for the blind trust.

And here it is:  American Songwriter Magazine

Sometimes things just come together perfectly.

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Filed under directing, film producing, film school, filmmaking, matthew ryan, music, music video, rock n roll, Uncategorized

Ten Realistic Zero-Budget Filmmaking Tips

Recently saw a list of ten zero-budget filmmaking tips on the Raindance Film Festival website.  And while I thought most of the tips were solid, I felt they needed tweaking, and a few were off base.  Here is my reworking of the list taking into account that zero budget filmmaking is what do.

1. The Story is Everything — If your script sucks your film will most likely suck.  If you don’t have some idea of the story you’re trying to tell as you begin shooting your documentary, your film will suck. And most importantly, if you don’t know how to tell a story in the editing room, if you don’t understand basic filmmaking principals like the three act structure, you film will ABSOLUTELY suck.

2. Location Location Location — you can find amazing locations for free or for very little money.  It’s why I so often shoot at the Hotel Duncan in New Haven.  Even the bare walls have character.  But a plain white wall in your dorm room is not a location for a film, any film.  Not even a film about a person stuck in a dorm room.  It will only make yours look like the product of a high school hobby.

3. Capture as Much Footage as Possible — video is free.  You can shoot for hours.  Get the extra take, then the one after that.  Get coverage.  Give your editor something to work with.  You’ve already put in so much time into this film, and you’ve only just started.  Shoot more, then shoot more after that.  (And as an addendum to that, learn how to use your lights.  You can light a scene beautifully with one light.  I’ve done it hundreds of times.  Play with shadows.  What’s unlit is just as beautiful as what you can see clearly.  Study old photographs.  Watch old films.  Do your fucking homework.

4. Sound is King — it’s more important than your image.  And no, you won’t be able to fix it in post.  ADR is really expensive.  Most unprofessional actors suck at it.  And if you’re doing a doc, well then you’re completely fucked without good sound.  Try to never shoot outside.  If the mic has to be in the frame in a doc, no one cares.  We care about what the subject is saying.

5. Great Music Can Save a Scene — there are so many cool bands out there in the same situation as you are.  Find the music that’s appropriate for your film from a great unknown, approach them nicely, and ask for permission to use it.  You might be surprised at the answer.  And you will definitely be shocked at how the right music can make a good scene great.

Matthew Ryan wrote this haunting theme song for my film BROKEN SIDE OF TIME in exchange for me creating a music video for a song from his next album.  A win-win situation no matter how you look at it.

6. Get Organized — I’ve argued that making a feature film is the single most difficult thing to do in the world.  And I do believe that.  There are a thousand things that can go wrong, and if you aren’t organized.  If you aren’t ready, well, then you’re pretty much up the proverbial creek.  You have seconds to make a decision.  And this decision making happens a hundred times per day when filming.  If you don’t have everything else under control, if you are not organized, then give it up now.  Go back to talking about making a film at the coffee shop, because that’s all you’ll ever do.  Know every shot, visualize the edit in your head, know when the street outside will be noisiest, when the sun is setting, etc. and so on.  Be an all-knowing God, because after 30 minutes on set, you’ll realize you’re not.  But you’ll at least be glad you tried.

7. Your Friends Can Not Act — Neither can your mom, your girlfriend, or your high-school play director.  Hire real actors.  Do a proper casting.  And I’m not talking union here, but people who’ve done it before.  There are tens of thousands of them out there.  Otherwise you’ll have one bad line delivery after another, and we’re back to high school project.

8. Build a Following — social media is free.  Work it.  Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.  Find like-minded people.  Tell them about what you’re doing.  Compliment what they’re doing.  Share their links.  It works both ways and takes a long time, but if you show respect, you’ll earn respect, and a retweet from someone with 100K followers can help a lot.  (And please, if you’re using KickStarter, absolutely back a bunch of projects before your ask for funds.)

9. You are a Filmmaker, a C.E.O., an Accountant, a Publicist, a Salesman — Unless you can afford to pay people to take these positions, it’s up to you.  And trust me, you can’t afford to pay anyone.  You are the only one who can guarantee the job gets done correctly.  Filmmaking doesn’t stop at the wrap party.  A film will become a two, three, maybe even four year commitment during which you wear all those hats and more.  Like I said before, the hardest job in the world.

10. There’s No Such Thing as Luck — It’s work.  A lot of hard work.  But if you truly feel there’s nothing else you were put on this earth for, and you’re willing to put in 10 to 12 hours a day, every day, for years on end (not an exaggeration, kids), then it’s also the most rewarding job in the world.  Just don’t expect to finish your film, get into Sundance, and be entertaining four-picture deal offers from the majors.  You’re more likely to win the lottery.

You’ll find more related thoughts and observations HERE and HERE.

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Skip film school. Make movies instead.

You want to be a filmmaker and you’re thinking about going to film school.  If I may offer bit of advice.  Don’t.

No, really.  Don’t even consider it.

Not for a second.

Look, the most important thing about making a film is your ability to tell a story.  And no school can really teach you that.  You either know how to tell a story or you don’t.  I truly believe that.  Great story-tellers are born, they are not mass-produced in school.

Sure, any good film school might be able to give you the tools, teach you about structure, etc., and so forth.  But a used copy of a Syd Field book, or “Save the Cat,” can do the same thing.  (Read it, see how it applies to films you love, and it’ll be as clear as daylight.)

Write dialog that sounds real.  Words that people would actually speak.  Listen to everyone around you.  Ride a bus or a subway, sit in coffee shops.  Listen to conversations while pretending to read a book.  You will quickly learn how people actually speak.  Use that knowledge.  Have a friend read your dialog out loud.  If they’re stumbling over words, change those words.  Be in love with the story you’re trying to tell, not the words on the page.

I recently read a number of interviews with film festival programmers and each one stated emphatically that story was more important than technique.  No one is going to care about seeing a magnificently shot film with a crap story.  But a great story that looks only mediocre will get people into the seats.  Have both and you might start developing an audience for your work.

So you have a story in mind, but how do you refine it?  How do you turn it into a film?  You start by watching the masters.

The Criterion edition of Godard’s “Breathless” with its hours of extras will teach you more than any pompous professor blowing smoke out his ass while trying to tell you why the film is so important.  Watch “Breathless,” watch all the extras, then watch it again, then again a few months later, while you work through a few of Godard’s other films like “Contempt” and “Vivre Sa Vie.”

Move onto Hitchcock, Chaplin, Fellini, and don’t skip Bresson.  Ask yourself what sort of film do you want to make?  (If it’s a documentary, begin with the entire Errol Morris canon, move onto Pennebaker, Maysles, and yes, Bresson again.  Skip Michael Moore.  We do not need another Michael Moore, which is something we can all wish Morgan Spurlock would learn.)

Now look, if you want to make big action films.  If McG is in your eyes our finest auteur, then stop reading this now.  Go to film school.  You’re an idiot.

But if you want to make great independent cinema, watch the films which brought that desire to life.  For me it was Jim Jarmusch’s “Stranger Than Paradise,” which broke rules I didn’t even know existed.  Then when I returned to filmmaking in the early 2000’s, after a decade of writing books and scripts, it was Miller’s “Personal Velocity,” parts of which were so beautifully shot on no budget and with a Panasonic VDX100.

What is the film that made you want to be a filmmaker?  NEED to be a filmmaker?  If filmmaking is something you just think might be a cool career choice, but it’s not an urgent need.  Your life doesn’t depend on it.  Give up the dream now.  Become a brain surgeon. It’s easier and the pay is a lot better.  For me, I know how to tell stories.  Nothing else.  I would be lost and dead without the outlet.

But for those still reading, I’m serious, spending a year working through the entire Criterion collection is better than spending a year at film school.  And a lot cheaper.

Learn by watching, then put your own spin on it.  I loved what Errol Morris did with  “Fog Of War.”  One interviewee.  One point of view.  I so wanted to take that concept and turn it into a rock documentary.  But few rockers could sustain a film by themselves.  Most would have you putting the proverbial pistol to your head after twenty minutes.  Then the day of a “Color Me Obsessed” screening in Brussels, Belgium, I had breakfast with Grant Hart, co-founder of the legendary American punk band Hüsker Dü, and walked away from that meal knowing I had found my subject. “Every Everything:the music, life & times of Grant Hart” was born.

OK…so you have your concept, your script, your idea.  What next?

After all those DVD purchases, you have roughly $245,000 left from that $250,000 that you were about to piss away on a piece of paper that’s more-or-less worthless.

So…next:

  1. Buy a good camera, one that you like and are comfortable with.  And no, I don’t mean blow your whole wad on a RED or something of that ilk.  Honestly I’d recommend a DSLR, either the Nikon D800 or the Canon 5D.  Both great cameras, that offer breathtaking quality.  Hold them, play with them, decide which rocks your world.  They will become like a lover, you will know their every nook and cranny, love or hate their every eccentricity, and revel at the way they see the world you put in front of them.  Now find some lenses you like.  I’m not a fan of zooms.  I prefer old manual primes, with a nice fast aperture, which you can usually find on ebay for under $500 a pop.  Get a 20mm, a 35mm, a 50mm, an 85mm and a 135mm.  (If you do prefer a zoom, make sure you get one with a fixed aperture, so if you want to shoot at f/2.8 when it’s wide, you still can when it’s zoomed in.)  Pick up a Zacuto Z-finder.  A few fast memory cards.  And get a good, but light tripod (Manfrotto is the place to start).  And for roughly $7K you’ve got a package that can shoot anything.  And yes, you can project it on a screen 60 feet wide, and the image will blow your mind.
  2. Sound.  Pick up a Zoom H4N, a great shotgun mic (make sure it’s compatible with your recorder), a boom pole, and a durable mic stand.  Complete: about $2K
  3. Lights.  Two Lowel Rifa’s (what you can do with these is amazing.) And one Arri 1K.  Four stands.  A Road Rags kits.  Extra bulbs.  Total: $2K to $3K.
  4. Throw in a few good cases (Porta Brace cases are amazing and will protect your gear even on flights), clamps, batteries, cables, extension cords, tape.  $2K
  5. Editing: Buy a souped-up Mac Pro.  Pick up a used copy of Final Cut Pro 7 (not Final Cut X…Final Cut X is a piece of amateur shit for which Apple should be ashamed), some 8TB G-Tech drives, at least two monitors.  Here we’re talking anywhere from $6K to $10K depending on the Mac you get.

But still, for $25K give or take, you’ve got yourself a freakin’ production company.  And that would have otherwise just covered housing for a year at NYU.

Now what? You ask.  Take that idea and shoot.  Make a film. That IS what you want to do right?  Don’t be one of those people who just talk about making films (y’know, like hipsters), actually make a fucking film.  Then make another.  And another.  Do at least one or two shorts first, before moving onto features.  You’ll learn much more from actually making a bunch of films than you ever will from sitting in a classroom.  You’ll learn from your own mistakes.  You’ll find your own ways to do things.  (Not your professor’s.)  You’ll learn how gear works, what it can and cannot do, better than you ever would from taking a school-owned camera out for a long weekend.  You’ll live and breathe your camera.  And you can work with the people you want to work with, not classmates, most of whom you can’t stand, and most of whom are there because they think filmmaking sounds like a cool thing to do.

But remember to keep your crews small.  Four or five people tops, and that includes you.  Anyone else is just wasting space and eating your food.  Get people who are not afraid to work.  Feed them well.  (I always go out of my way to treat my crews to great meals, and amazing coffee.)

Once the films are complete actually do something with them.  Submit them to film festivals everywhere.  But do your homework first (what did the fest show last year?).  Avoid first-year festivals, they are usually cluster-fucks (it does you no good if your film screens hours late, and in the wrong ratio).   Find good fest fits for your specific films.  WithoutABox is the place for that.  And DO NOT limit yourself to your home area.  If you just want to make films to show to your friends and locals, you’re not a filmmaker.  You make home movies.  Reconsider brain surgery.

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The Black & White Rules of Indie Filmmaking – part 10

10. Editing-part 2

Another example from FRIENDS (WITH BENEFITS):

After putting together the assembly of the film, which is basically every scene we filmed in order, as in the script, I realized the while the script was surely focused on the love story between Chloe and Owen, the film itself had lost focus. Chloe and Owen’s story became lost in the friendships and sexual games played by their four friends: Brad, Shirley, Jeff, and Alison. They were funnier, kinkier, they stole the show. The movie was more AMERICAN PIE-like in this incarnation.

So I needed to reel it back in. Or go with this new take. I stuck with the former. The story I wanted to tell was Chloe’s and Owen’s. Everything that truly moved me about the film played into that. From their beautiful prom scene dance to the improvised kiss atop East Rock Park, to Owen’s naked seranade. Their love story was my story.

So I started chipping away at scenes involving just their other four friends, removing a lot of dialog that didn’t somehow relate to Chloe and Owen. Sure, I kept in the funny bits. Laughs are hard to come by, and there was no way I’d ever cut some of the gems delivered by the characters of Brad, Shirley, Alison, and Jeff. But a lot of extra dialog, and a few smaller subplots, fell by the wayside.

I was brutal. I always am when cutting. I once cut over a hundred, fifty pages from a novel. And if you know how long it takes to write a hundred, fifty manuscript pages, you’ll understand what it’s like to cut. I used the film’s therapy sessions to cut into longer scenes, allowing me to chop out their middles, much as I did with Brad’s List.

Then I discovered that split screens would work beautifully for the pace of this film. While we were watching Brad and Shirley on one side, why not also watch Jeff and Alison on the other. It worked perfectly. And became the visual style of the film, a breakneck pace of jokes and romance, kinky sex and breakups.

The rule I have for cutting is simple, if it doesn’t move the story forward, cut it. I don’t care how long it took to get the shot, I don’t care how proud you are of the scene, I don’t care if the actress finally cried on cue. Does it work in the context of the film? Does it get your point across, or is it pointless? It’s all cancer if it doesn’t work. Cut if out.

A local filmmaker a few years back asked me to watch his film and give notes. He really wasn’t looking for notes, but instead wanted confirmation that he was brilliant. The film was far from that. One actor in particular was so hideously bad that she took you right out of the drama. I’m talking porn star bad. Laughable. I suggested he cu her out completely. And I gave the filmmaker a way to make the film work without any of her scenes. He insisted that his friends and family thought the actress was really funny and there was no way he could cut her out. Well, needless to say, the film was really never seen outside of his circle of family and friends. And I don’t mean to imply I’m right about everything, but instead of listening to someone whom he turned to because of my many decade background of telling stories, he listened to his friends and family. I was trying to help his film, but stroke his ego. Unfortunately he couldn’t tell the difference, or didn’t care to.

I do the same thing to myself in the editing room. Every time. Does this work? Is it integral to the story I’m telling? (And yes, my COLOR ME OBSESSED pause was integral!) Put your story ahead of your ego, or the feelings of anyone else.

Next up, in the final section on editing, I’ll talk sound, music, and the mix.

My filmography.

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The Black & White Rules of Indie Filmmaking – part 9

9. Editing – part 1

To put it mildly: Editing is the most important part of filmmaking. You can have the greatest script, the most talented cast and crew, but if your editor isn’t brilliant and completely in sync with you, the film will suffer and most likely fail.

Probably the truest statement I can think of regarding filmmaking comes from David Mamet, who said, and I’m paraphrasing, “There’s the movie you write, the movie you film, and the movie you edit.” After making films for going on three decades I have never found a film that doesn’t hold true to this statement.

You can write the most beautiful, perfect script in the world. But once you get to the filming stage (and this goes for any budget $25K to $250 million, doesn’t matter), it will change. The words you wrote will inevitably stick in an actor’s mouth, it will rain when you need sun, or it will never rain, never snow (stay away from exteriors). Something, many things, will be out of your control, and your beautiful, perfect script will change. Then you will get into the editing room. And I do truly believe filmmakers should edit their own films, or have an editor who can read the filmmaker’s mind, who knows everything about his/her aesthetic, has a similar taste in film, can SPEAK film. But in the editing room, that second version of your movie, the one you shot based off that beautiful, perfect script, will morph into yet another form. Hopefully, the story you originally wanted to tell.

I’ll use the first bar scene with all six leads from FRIENDS (WITH BENEFITS) as an example. Wrote a kick-ass funny scene with some wicked dialog. In rehearsals I had the actors deliver the dialog during the group scenes at a breakneck HIS GIRL FRIDAY clip. It was fast, it was funny, it rocked. Then we get on set. Throw in the intricacies of lights, sounds, camera moves, dolly tracks, extras, blocking, egos, attitudes, who’s just having a bad day, overnight shooting, and of course, time constraints, and things begin to change. And seventeen takes later of a nine page scene with a slow dolly creep past the table of six friends, we have a really solid oner — a one-take master of the entire scene that could potentially work on It’s own.

I love oners. But thankfully I had the wherewithal to go into closeups on the six leads. Because once I got into the editing room, the scene though funny as a whole, just slowed down the first act, and along with other too-long scenes, pushed the end of the first act to the 40 minute mark. About 12 to 15 minutes too long. (If your first act is more than 30 minutes, you film will fail in every way. It will suck. No one will care. Period. End of story. That’s just the way it is. As soon as you figure out a way to live without oxygen I’ll listen to your arguments as to why I’m wrong.) The problem with the scene was that the writing made one thought flow into the next, with a lot of very real “cutting off” of lines when people were speaking. Which made chopping it up a bit of a task.

And then one day in the shower (don’t we all come up with our most brilliant ideas in the shower?) I came up with Brad’s Rules…or how to really use them in the film.

All through the film, the character of Brad, played to perfection by Brendon Bradley, talks about his rules – rules of sex, rules of friendship, rules of life. (I’ll post the entire list at the end of this entry.) And at one point during the early part of the bar scene he comment that something wouldn’t happen “if you just followed my rules.” And it came to me. List the rules. Actually put in a list. White letters on a black background. A hundred rules in all. Scrolling past, super fast, with the cheesiest of music.

That would allow me to then cut further into the scene. The flow had already been broken. People would be laughing. It would appear seemless.

I put out an email to everyone I knew with a sense of humor and got back some great responses as to what Brad’s rules could be. And it so worked. And I was able to cut the 9 plus minute scene down to under 4 minutes.

But was this use of the list anything I thought of during the writing process, or during filming? No, never. Not for a second. This was the editing version of my film.

More on editing in the next installment.

My filmography.

Here now, Brad’s Rules (warning, they are obnoxious and hardly PC . . . and note #56 has always been my favorite):

100. Friends don’t let friends fuck ugly people

99. Try everything twice, the first time you might have been doing it wrong

98. Fat girls give the best head because they’re always hungry

97. Cologne: overrated…Deodorant: a must

96. Blondes are usually too dumb to realize they’re having more fun

95. After puberty, that’s not “baby fat”

94. ATM = the Holy Grail

93. All hippie chicks deep throat, but few vegans swallow

92. Women like shoes. They will look at yours; purchase accordingly

91. BBBJ or why bother?

90. Women cannot parallel park

89. If you wanna fuck it, you’ve got to be willing to lick it

88. Ass, stomach, legs, boobs – in that order

87. If it’s not dirty, you’re doing something wrong

86. If a friend’s apartment is running low on toilet paper, you’re required to use it all

85. Cheerleaders are overrated

84. Under no circumstance may two men share an umbrella

83. Never allow a conversation with a woman to go on longer than you are able to have sex with her

82. Other than in February, the 14th of every month is Pizza and Blowjob Night

81. Dogs are better than cats…period

80. Bigger is never better when they’re fake

79. Don’t leave the house if you’re not camera ready

78. A period does not equal a week off from sex

77. Mustaches + Hunting = Gay

76. Sucking your best friend’s dick = priceless

75. You are not accountable if you bring ugly people home, unless you fuck them again in the morning

74. If her mom isn’t a MILF, chances are she won’t be one either

73. Fake orgasms count, as long as they’re not yours

72. The G-spot does not exist

71. There is NOTHING sexy about pregnant women

70. Persistence gets you laid

69. Never give yourself a haircut while drunk

68. No panties = a good night

67. Drinks hard liquor = a great night

66. Tongue piercing = God loves you!

65. Saliva isn’t always the best lubricant, just the most fun to apply

64. White cotton panties and knee socks. Enough said!

63. Never lend money to friends

62. Never lend books, CDs, or DVDs to anyone

61. The month you finish paying for your car, it will break down

60. Elvis is not dead

59. Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone

58. What’s good for you does not always taste better. Example: processed peanut butter vs. the all-natural kind

57. People who don’t use turn signals deserve mandatory prison sentences

56. Never let a girl shave your balls

55. Porn saves lives

54. Republicans are better at…well…nothing

53. If you’ve never had New Haven brick oven pizza, you’ve never had pizza. There is no pizza in New York or Chicago. Don’t argue, you’ll just sound foolish

52. Old country = cool
Alt-country = really cool
New country = sucks

51. Condition your hair once a day

50. Masturbate twice a day

49. Eat three square meals every day

48. Women should never cut their hair, unless they’re going to play for the other team

47. Crying is blackmail

46. Your choice: spay or neuter your pet…or yourself

45. If she sleeps in your bed, sex is a given

44. If a girl leaves her dirty panties lying around, she wants you to sniff them

43. There’s no such thing as “giving 110%”

42. Halloween is the only holiday that matters

41. Sympathy sex trumps make-up sex

40. Body hair just gets in the way

39. Rip bread, don’t slice it

38. Every man should learn how to dance, but no other man should know he can

37. Men have no right to speak on the subject of abortion

36. Every decade gives us only one great double album: The White Album, Exile On Main Street, London Calling, Being There, and Cold Roses.

35. Chivalry is not dead, but she has to earn it

34. Watch Carnival Of Souls at least once in your lifetime

33. If your pubic hair is blonde or red, shaving is optional

32. You can cheat on girls with hairy legs

31. If they don’t answer, it means yes

30. Never turn down a chance to sleep with a celebrity

29. Sex is better in warmer climates

28. Emo guys = gay; emo gals = easy marks

27. Never trust people who don’t drink coffee

26. Springsteen really is The Boss

25. If there’s a problem, talk it out

24. If you can’t talk it out: fuck, then try again

23. Never lease what you can buy

22. Never break up using a post-it note, her biker friends will hurt you for it

21. Never say “no” to a green-eyed girl

20. Live life as if The Catcher In The Rye were your bible

19. Don’t lie, you will get caught

18. Admit that the 1986 Mets were the greatest baseball team of all time and life will be easier

17. Know the legal age of consent in every place you visit

16. Wild animals belong in the wild, not in zoos, fairs, or roadside attractions

15. Pussy farts are charming

14. Only wear a bra if you’re going to offend me

13. Beauty is in the eye of the beer-holder

12. It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye

11. Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups

10. When in doubt, mumble

9. Masturbation is overrated

8. Small boobs are misunderstood

7. Better to be feared than loved, but even better to have your love feared

6. Handcuffs are the ultimate sex toy

5. If you can’t convince them, confuse them

4. Quiet girls are the most likely to toss your salad

3. Women do not understand remote controls, there is no exception to this rule

2. Never overthink

1. Friends don’t fuck

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The Black & White Rules of Indie Filmmaking – part 8

8. The gear you need

The short story: shoot your micro budget film on a DSLR with a prime lens. It will give you more quality than you will ever need, and all the control you want.

The long story: Let’s talk straight about gear. Forget film. It ain’t happening right on any budget short of $5 million. But you know what, forget the Red One, and all the cameras in its ilk, as well. They’re big, bulky, slow, and expensive as hell. Even if given the opportunity to use one for free on a film in this budget range, I’d respectfully pass. And you know why: you don’t need that quality. Your film is not going to open on 3000 screens on Memorial Day weekend. Hell, it’s not going to open on 100 screens at one time. If you’re lucky, as we were with COLOR ME OBSESSED, your film will play a bunch of films festivals, then hit the very indie circuit across the country (more on that when I get to distribution). Theatres that will screen a DVD or BluRay. COLOR ME was filmed using a Canon XH-A1s as the A-camera, and a Canon HV40 as the B-camera. One a barely prosumer camcorder, the other very much a consumer camcorder. And you know what? It looked fucking great.

Because let’s face something here. Those screens are the rarity. Most likely your film will find a home on DVD, VOD, and streaming. Half the people watching it will be doing so on their iPads or phones. The rest on their television. And all that extra RED ONE resolution will be lost. Will go unnoticed.

If you know what you’re doing with lights, you can get a truly amazing image with a DSLR. And that is the way I suggest you go. They’re light-weight, easy to handle, and give you more of a cinematic image that anything I’ve seen in that price range. (And this advice is coming from someone who once owned his own 16mm and 35mm rigs, complete with superspeeds.) I know Canon is all the vogue, but I went with the Nikon D7000 (and am now drooling over the D800) for the simple reason that I’ve shot Nikon still cameras my entire life and already had a lot of the lenses. Plus Nikon was the first to give us longer take possibility (something Canon just caught up with), and Nikons do not overheat. Plus the double SDHC slot is a godsend, giving you the possibility of shooting 7 hours of 1080 footage with two 32GB cards. What does the D7000 body cost? Around $1200, a third the cost of the Canon 5D. And no, it does not have a full frame sensor (the new D800 does), but again . . . YOU DO NOT NEED THAT QUALITY. Get it through your head and you’ll be a better filmmaker for it.

(By the way, and this goes back to crewing up, if you’ve hired a cinematographer who insists that he can get just as much depth of field with his video camera and it’s zoom lens, fire him. Immediately. He’s an idiot who has no clue as to what he’s talking about. Or course if you somehow believe him, you should not even be reading this because you have no business making films. Even more than line producers, DP’s can take over your film if you’re not paying attention. Many seem more interested in their reel than in your film. So if they ever disagree with your artistic choice for framing, lighting, something you really want in your film, explain to them it’s your film, and they can either shoot what you want, or get the fuck off your set. I’ve had DPs who’ve argued with me during our first meeting. Hopefully they’re all assistant managers at Target at this point. Obviously these are not the people you hire. Likewise, someone who’s shot TV news and industrials all of their life will not make your film look good, as in the DP who insisted you must always see both eyes in every person’s close up, that half the face can never fall into shadow. In almost 30 years I’ve worked with two cinematographers that I trust completely – Adrian Correia on almost everything recently, and Chris Squires on THE KISS. Everyone else, well if I could go back in time and smash them in the face with a C-stand, I would. YOUR FILM. YOUR VISION. The DP is supposed to act as your eyes. They can make suggestions, and if they’re talented those suggestions will be brilliant, something you never thought of but something that so fits in with your vision. But ultimately what you say goes. You have the final word. If they can’t live with that, fire them.)

Back to gear. Whatever DSLR you go with (and both Canon and Nikon are great), pick a body, then order a Zacuto Z-finder ($375), and a few prime lenses. A 50mm and a 20mm are great places to start. The faster the better. And with Nikon’s anyway, the old manual AIS lenses work perfectly. Nikon makes a kick ass 50mm f/1.2 which is one of the single greatest pieces of glass you could ever own. And the depth of field will make you die a little. Beautiful.

Remember if you buy a full-sensor camera, a 50mm will act like a 50mm…but with the smaller sensor cameras like the D7000 and the Canon 7D, you need to add about 60% to the focal length. So a 50mm acts like an 80mm. And your 20mm will become a 32mm. Confusing? At first a little. You’ll deal.

If you have some extra bucks to spend and want a rig with matte box and follow focus, check out Indisystem. They make quality rigs that don’t break the bank. Take a serious look at the Bulldog.

(Another DP moment, this one brought to you from the good folks at Incompetent, Inc. During our tech scout for my film YOU ARE ALONE, our DP upon seeing room 500 at the Hotel Duncan, where 75% of the film would be shot, told me and co-producer Frank Loftus that he and his crew would need a half day to rig the lights outside the windows of the room, to make it look as if sunlight were perpetually coming through the windows. The story took place over the course of a few hours during the afternoon. We of course would be filming for twelve hours a day, for ten days. We asked him if he was sure, was that all he needed? He was sure. So, we gave the cast and the rest of the crew the first half of that first day at the Duncan off. The only problem, after lunch, the lights were still not ready. Next morning, same issue. It wasn’t until hours after lunch on the second day that we were finally able to shoot, but at that point it was too late. So instead of taking the half day he asked for, it ate up two full days. Two full days where cast and crew members were waiting around, being fed and housed. And did this DP ever apologize for his miscalculation? Did he ever act like a man and admit to all of us he had been wrong? No, instead we learned he told his crew that Frank and I had only given him a half day to light. That he had told us he needed more time, but we wouldn’t give it to him. Thus turning his crew against us from day one. How do I know this? One of the crew members told me months later, and was shocked to learn the DP he was working for had so lied to everyone. Hell, there are so many stories from this film. One morning the DP and crew never showed up at call time, so Frank and I said “fuck it” and just started setting up camera. When the hungover DP finally stumbled onto set he asked us what we were doing. We told him, “We started without you.” Now, you’d think this would have embarrassed him into showing up on time. No. Nothing changed. Like I’ve said, if I could go back in time, I’d have fired the jerk, but not before the C-stand to the face. Learn from my mistake. Vet your DP as if he were a Vice Presidential candidate.)

For sound pick up a Zoom H4N. It’s easy to use and gives you a crisp clean track. But be careful, there are certain mics that don’t work with this recorder. I learned that the hard way when my trusted Audio Techica shotgun was picking up virtually nothing. Rode mics have the same issue. Try a Sony or Sennheiser, and go for a quality shotgun. You want to record the best sound possible, because you WILL NOT have the money for post production ADR. Get the sound right now.

I’m not going to really go into lights other than to say: keep it simple. Use practicals whenever possible. That is basically how I’m lighting Broken Side of Time. (Check out the scene lit by nothing more than a Zippo lighter at the end of the trailer below.) And with your uber-fast prime lenses, this won’t be an issue at all. Used correctly, practicals (i.e. lamps) make a room look real.

(By the way, the KickStarter campaign is here.)

Buy good cases (PortaBrace, Pelican), and always take care of your gear — remove batteries, keep lenses clean, etc. – and your gear will take care of you.

And look at that . . . you’re pretty much ready to make your film.

Next up: Editing and the sound mix, a love story

My filmography.

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The Black & White Rules of Indie Filmmaking – part 7

7. Be organized.

Before the first minute of filmmaking, you should have the entire shoot laid out in your head, every detail planned, every “i” dotted, every “t” crossed. You should have run this through a hundred times in your mind, looking for anything and everything that could go wrong. Because, and I promise you this, no matter how organized you are, within the first hour of the first day, there will be major fuck-up.

Fuck-ups are inevitable. But if everything else is under control, you can handle a problem or two or three. But if you have nothing really planned out, and the problems start. You’re screwed. Time for the job at Starbucks.

Christine Vachon in her brilliant book SHOOTING TO KILL (a must-read for anyone thinking about making a film) put it best when she said “An independent film is a disaster waiting to happen.” And you will have that disaster on an almost daily basis. But that’s okay. After a while they’ll roll off your shoulders. Freaking out solves nothing. You are the commander in chief. You need to show calm through the stormiest seas. Take a deep breath, and solve the problem. As a director that’s your most important job.

I’ve lost locations seconds before we were supposed to shoot because the person with the key who was letting us into the location overslept. What do you do? You figure out if you can live without the scene, and put the information contained in the scene somewhere else. Or you find a backup location pronto. Remember you have at least 8 or so people waiting around for you. Look brilliant by solving the problem. This is one of the things I know I do best. But you MUST stay calm. If you freak out, you in turn freak out everyone around you. Not a good way to start the day.

But back to planning. Think EVERYTHING through. As an example. On a film a few years back, I knew two of the leads had great sexual chemistry. But I also knew that it wouldn’t last, that soon their personalities would clash. So how did I handle that to make sure it looked as if they were madly in love on screen. I shot all of their love/sex scenes first. Day one they were making out, slamming each other against a wall, rolling around on a bed. It worked in every sense of the word. And good thing, because by the end of the shoot they were barely speaking to one another.

As director you need to think ALL of these things through. Your line producer/production manager/first AD/second AD/UPM/script supervisor person might tell you it makes more sense to shoot the script in this order, but you’ve been there since the start, you know these actors (through all those rehearsals), you know the script (you probably wrote it) and what you want from it. It’s your movie, you make the rules. If people don’t want to follow them, there’s the door.

That’s another point: if you want something done one way, and a certain crew member refuses, or keeps doing it their way instead. Show them the door. They obviously want to direct. Let them go direct their own film, instead of fucking up yours. I still to this day regret not firing my DP (or perhaps doing something worse) and most of his crew on YOU ARE ALONE. Thankfully we had a B-camera running most of the time, and B-cam operators who were listening to what I wanted, otherwise we would have been screwed. But I learned my lesson. Never again.

I also want to point out that there are times you need to loose it on set. One example: on one particular film the production design team kept fucking up some of the details. So, we were five minutes from lunch this last time it happened. And knew we’d still be shooting the scene after lunch. So…I…just…fucking…lost…it. Literally went off he deep end, stormed off the set, and went to my office. My co-producer and my DP came running in after me not understanding what just went on. They found me laughing. I explained I did it strictly to put certain crew members in their place, even told all of the actors so during lunch. (Most of them already knew.) But it worked. Suddenly the details were right. We went on filming. All was well.

But also make sure to listen to your cast and crew. I now work with great people now who all bring amazing talent and ideas to the table. But it took a while to assemble this crew. And there are certainly times when they see things in a way I don’t or can’t. And when they’re right, I’m the first to admit it, and give them credit for a great idea. And when I prefer to keep on track with what I had planned, they show no attitude, or go sulking in a corner. (Read my Billy Zane post from years back on how someone working on a film should never behave.) They understand I am the film’s director, and ultimately their job is to make my vision a reality.

Finding crew members you trust is a great feeling. After the crew debacle that was YOU ARE ALONE (you can hear the details on my director’s commentary, but in short how that film turned out so well is a testament to a very few great crew people and two very talented actors), I found a great DP in Adrian Correia. He knows film. He speaks film. A few amazing co-producers, Jan Radder and Dean Falcone, whom both go back years in my life, Jan to PSYCHOS IN LOVE and Dean to when our bands played together in 1980. Sarah Hajtol, who was my right arm during the making of COLOR ME OBSESSED, and who’s camera work on WHAT DID YOU EXPECT? is mind-blowingly perfect for the film, and whose posters and websites so rock. Taryn Welker who is quickly learning every aspect of what to do behind the scenes, from sound to running B-cam to script supervision. Plus there’s Jodi Baldwin, who’s done costumes for me twice and will again. Frank Loftus, who always has my back (and stopped me at least twice from killing someone on the You Are Alone set). Katie Dickey who is so great at research, and pretty much any job I toss her way. Cory Maffucci and Andrew Ross who are great PAs, ready to take on any job I hand them, and never complain. And of course, actress Lynn Mancinelli, who seemingly can read my mind, and make my thoughts better than they originally were. These are people I trust not only with my back, but with my film, which is akin to my life.

Find these people in your life. They will keep you sane AND organized. Work together for that common goal: getting your vision up on the screen.

Next up: The gear you need…and don’t need.

My filmography.

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