Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Film vs Digital

One of my old 35mm canon A1 still cameras croaked. I bought it used when I was in my teens, so guess I’m lucky it survived this long. Likely just needs cleaning, but I’m holding off for now.
Recently bought a Canon Rebel 8MP digital SLR, which has certainly helped me out. It’s amazing how many photos you suddenly need when making a film. Weird things like adding an image of a chain to the poster and needing the photo at 3 am in the morning. Or taking photos of an actor who has a small part that you are filming after the fact. Though nothing will replace film, especially slide images, I certainly like the instant accessibility of digital. Plus taking ten rolls of film, only to discover your old camera malfunctioned into the second roll, makes digital that much more appealing. Plus no developing, scanning or waiting.
My upcoming film Search Dog’s Raven is a mixture of 35mm, HD and SD. I’m also starting to see the benefits of the digital realm in film making as well as still photography. Whenever I need an additional shot or need to add a small effect, I just shoot and digitize. Whereas additional 35mm shots are now out of our budget.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Major Stumbling Block, Types of People and Product Placements

I have to be careful how I put this.

We hired a company to make something, that would be used for and appear in the film 'Search Dog's Raven'. There was some initial and unnecessary delays. Then despite a signed mutual OK on the design, they came back saying it would be more expensive and it was our fault. Any ways, they ended up sticking with the original quoted price (very competitive) and produced a good quality product and delivered it on time (with several check up phone calls but that's business these days).

A signed services release form was not with the delivery and we had to pay in full before the goods were received. I wanted to get a signed services release form to make sure everyone in the company knew we would be using the product in the film as a prop and to eliminate any misunderstandings down the road. The second person we dealt with at the company was great, apologized and promised to get the signed form to us. This went on for three weeks. Then we never heard from that person again. Turns out there was an upheaval at the company and that person was fired. The third new person again promised to get the form signed and fax it to us. This also went on for weeks. Every day a promise, but no form. Then our producer Lynn Wood phoned, the president wasn't there - of course - and no one ever returned her call.

A strange way to do business. And this company is not related to Hollywood or the film business - otherwise one may have expected such behavior. Kiss your face, then kick your butt once your back is turned.

There's something about being jerked around that's really infuriating. I have no tears left. Though a big stumbling block, this will certainly not be the last. Needless to say, I lost another couple nights of sleep making a substitute for this prop during filming.

However, this is no surprise. During the film making experience, we seem to meet three kinds of people.
The first are desperate to have any involvement with the film.
The second are attracted to the notion of being involved with a film, but suspicious. Then this group is further divided after hearing the term independent production. Some have visions of a sexed crazed chain saw killers on a road trip, all shot with a VHS camera. Gratuitous sex, drugs, booze, four letter words, limited production values, no legal sets and unnecessary violence. Search Dog's Raven is an eerie action thriller and has none of this. It's still really scary, just no chain saws.
Then the third type of person hears the word film and figures they should be paid thousands and thousands to have their product in the film, appear in the film or be involved with the film. Or they talk about their involvement, only to have their friends say 'Man are you getting ripped off!". This leads to problems, false promises and or they just don't show up. Search Dog's Raven is a multimillion dollar film made for just under two million. In order to do this, many of us - including myself, are not getting paid if and until the film sells. So we really can't deal with the third type of person.

Just another drama in the adventure of filmmaking.

This post almost sounds more like a rant than a blog, but now I suddenly feel better.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Homeless Director

My place is now a wardrobe and prop storage area. Even the bed is covered and unusable.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Even Some Canine Actors Won’t Watch Themselves On Film

Whenever there's a break, I try to sort through usable shots I’ve archived. And whenever you film animals, for a feature film and a potential television spin off, you take a lot of footage.

Ebbey the canine actor often hangs around when I’m editing. She’s captivated by the wolves, the raven, other dogs and even some of the cast she worked with. However, when it comes to watching herself on screen, she just can’t wrap her canine mind around the concept. Or maybe she’s like some other actors who just can’t stand watching themselves on film.

Resumes, Resumes

Despite stating that no resumes will be accepted, and that cast and crew are already hired, and that we are now in production, Candle Films continues to receive resumes for cast, crew, editors and story board artists for the film Search Dog's Raven. WHERE WERE THESE PEOPLE WHEN WE NEEDED THEM?

Apparently our internet person stopped counting after the fifteenth composer sent a resume, from countries including Berlin and Brazil.

It must have been the mention in the Hollywood Reporter!

Distributor Contacts

We’re still in production, and two distributors have already approached us to see if rights for Search Dog's Raven are still available.

Spent Weekend Building Set

We finally found a large living room to convLinkert into the set for character ‘Jesse’s (actor Marcus Ross) group home room. We had a lot of sound proofing to do, plus furniture moving and painting.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Hiring Wheelchair Bound Actor ‘Marcus Ross’

In the original version of Search Dog’s Raven, the eerie story of a wilderness search dog team known as ‘Lost Raven’, the search backup liaison was a computer named ‘Jesse’. But as the production developed, it became apparent that a human character would be more compelling for the story. Many of my ideas come at night, and I awoke one morning with the desire of having a wheelchair bound backup liaison. This of course led to the casting of a wheelchair bound actor to play the wheelchair bound character.

‘Marcus Ross’ was our first choice. Suffering a spinal cord injury, from a diving accident, Marcus is a quadriplegic in real life. He had no previous acting experience, but is very empathetic and a pretty smart guy. Intuition told me he could pull it off, though you really never know until after the first day of filming. His enthusiasm also never wavered despite having to wait some time before being filmed, being bumped two days until the lights arrived from Prince George and enduring the difficulties we had securing a wheelchair friendly location.

With our dwindling production budget, such a location was never found. Fortunately, Marcus has his own ramp. So a nurse and myself managed to push him up a steep set of stairs while he gunned his powerful Quickie brand wheelchair.

Our first day of filming Marcus wasn’t perfect. Filming in a house, transformed into a group home, the set was less than ideal. There was little room for two large lights and even less to maneuver a two camera setup. Due to my hectic production schedule, and some unforeseen problems, I was functioning on about twenty minutes of sleep. Only part of the food had been prepared, plus one of the light stands had pulled out of the wall. (Never buy a cheap stud finder!) I was up until five am fixing those problems, when the headphones suddenly stopped working. I had to drive across town and back during rush hour traffic to rent or buy another pair before that day’s shooting began. Calgary’s Cine Audio loaned me what they still had available. The small Sony headset worked reasonably well for a consumer model. Caught in rush hour traffic, my car started making a sound that made me certain I would not make it back. My dog was also riding in the car. She was becoming alarmed at the drive shaft breaking sounds and started absorbing all my sleep deprived anxiety. (It turned out to be the drive shaft) Though stressed right out, the car brought us back.

For his first day on a set, Marcus did well. He knew all his lines and followed my directions.

I indulged his desire to wear a couple generic looking baseball caps, which turned out to be my mistake. Two of the caps must have had some pretty thick plastic in the brim as they significantly altered the sound quality. There was a lot of street traffic outside so we had to boom the microphones about two inches above Marc’s head. No matter how well you sound proof a set, the sound of street traffic is tough to mute. Thanks to Jay Rose, sound engineer and DV.com sound columnist our sound was excellent. He stressed that we should be using a hypercardioid shotgun mic and not just the cardioid model I’d been advised to buy. He also gave a thumbs up to the Earthwork SR30HC specs. So without Jay Rose’s advice and the Earthworks quality, traffic sounds would have ruined our sound.

After lunch, I was nearly shot and Marcus was having stomach discomfort. He did not get a good nights sleep and was likely absorbing his director’s declining energy. One of his first surgeries damaged some stomach nerves which sometimes leads to pain after eating.

I also had to monitor Marc’s voice during the last few hours. As he was the only actor on set, I was working him hard. He has a great voice, but had a tracheotomy for some time, so his voice can get a bit croaky. This usually isn’t an issue, however, something to consider when using the deadly accurate and non-flavored sound quality of the Earthworks microphones.

Scheduled a week later, Marc’s second day of shooting went extremely well. Backup liaison ‘Jesse’ lives in a sparsely furnished group home with white painted walls. Unlike our set, the character’s room overlooks downtown Calgary out one window and the mountains out another. So we were already using blue screen in some areas. This is when I changed strategies and shot Marcus on a well lit white screen. We will put his computer screens and background room shots in digitally.

We managed to shoot over thirty five script pages, 200 plus shots and on set promo shots, which is amazing for an actor’s second day of filming experience. Shots also include several lines for the ‘Lost Raven’ trailer. (This is the animated spin off of the film.) I’m reserving the right to bring him in for voice overs, but his shooting days are done.

Unlike other actors, Marcus needs a body stretch every hour or two and his voice sometimes gets a bit croaky, but overall directing him was one of my most pleasant experiences on this film. Also unlike a few of the other actors, he never complained, showed up when asked and was well prepared with his lines.

Two Biggest Filmmaking Mistakes

I was asked to speak to a group of people studying filming. In summary, the two biggest mistakes a new filmmaker can make is including music and songs they don’t have licenses to use and showing props, food, clothing, locations or architecture they don’t without permission. Unless, that is, you have no intention on selling your film.

In making the upcoming film ‘Search Dog’s Raven’, we’ve taken extraordinary measures to insure every prop, wardrobe item and location is either created by the crew or shown with permission.


Wednesday, June 01, 2005

You Can Never Have Enough External Hard Drives

Two years ago, I’d never have imagined actively using twelve external hard drives (nearly two terrabytes worth). What’s worse is I’m running out of space again!