What I'm Working On Now

Three short films are in Post-Production, soon to be submitting to film festivals.
Producing/editing a pilot for a new web-series inspired by the Alice in Wonderland tales.
Producing/editing a documentary on Gene Roddenberry and the genesis of Star Trek The Original Series.
There are a number of other projects in development, just waiting their turn to be produced.

Friday, May 31, 2013

POETRY: CHOICE

Darkness inside us
Trying, fighting, to get out
We all must struggle

*

 Some contain more light
While others brim with darkness
What makes us different

*

No matter our state
Irrelevant our nature
Choice defines us

*     *     *

   I've been thinking back on my philosophy courses from college, and how many philosophers argued about our natures as inherently good or evil, what our natural dispositions would lead us toward. Growing up I felt a strong pull towards the dark, though my choices would not reflect that (I was a bit rebellious, but not anything extraordinary). I've often wondered what the difference would have been had I chosen to follow my natural instincts rather than the counsel of my parents.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

STORYTELLING IN DIFFERENT FORMS

     First, a confession: I play Dungeons and Dragons.

     Now before anyone breaks out the pitchforks and torches to chase the nerd away, let me explain. D&D is a great storytelling medium. For those who are unfamiliar with D&D, in any given game of D&D there will be a group of players and one Dungeon Master (also known as the DM). It is the job of the DM to create the world, the dungeons, the trials, etc. that the players encounter and have to make their way through. The players have options for fighting or talking their way out of various situations, and depending on the type of hero they're playing they will have different options from those of their companions.

     So why do I bring up D&D here? Because I just started a campaign where I'm the DM. Having to think about what the players might want to do, and make sure that those options don't get them all killed, is a great exercise in storytelling because I also have to make sure that the story is compelling for the players, incorporating their backgrounds and character stories.

     I've been feeling drained of late and my writing has been suffering for it, but the D&D sessions have been like a breath of fresh air. It's a different form of storytelling than anything else I've experienced. For one thing, it's a cooperative storytelling medium because the players make their own decisions, within the world I've made for them. Sure, they follow the basic framework I've set for them but it's them who go to the cave, them who fight, them who struggle and weep when they fail.

     Anyway, if you haven't ever tried cooperative storytelling, I highly recommend it. Even if you don't want to play D&D, you can always get a group of friends together and each take it in turn telling the next piece of a story you all make up together. And if you do, please share with me the story you create.

Friday, May 24, 2013

POETRY: NAP TIME

Sleep my wee one, rest your eyes
Drift through dreams with endless skies
Cross o'er brooks and flowered hills
Breathe the air that fragrance fills
Be the hero, save the day
But promise me you'll not long stay
For though I love to watch you dream
When you nap o'er long come bedtime you scream

*     *     *

   Any one with small children should be familiar with the dangers of allowing said child to nap for too long.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

MAKE USE OF EVERY MOMENT, YOU NEVER KNOW WHEN YOU'LL NEED IT

   The ducklings in the pond near my home are growing bigger by the day and my 2 (almost 3) year old doesn't want to miss a moment of it. As a result, he and I have gone out almost every day since the ducklings hatched and spend a good couple of hours watching them swim around, nibbling at bits of pond muck.

   I am a bit of a numbers freak, I like to count things over and over and over and over...even if I know the result isn't going to change. Examples being stairs, steps taken in a hallway, and ducklings in a brood. As it turned out, and I should have guessed that this would be the case, the numbers of one of the broods was different yesterday than what it had been. The bakers dozen of ducklings had become a standard dozen of ducklings. I looked around for the missing duckling but the little ball of golden down was nowhere to be seen.

   When I looked to where I knew their nest was, supposing that the duckling was perhaps resting there, I saw that the nest was in terrible shape, as though it had been torn apart. And then, not far off but hidden slyly in the shade of a bramble patch, I saw the cat. Besides gutting the cat, there's no way of knowing if the cat was the culprit, but the look on its face and the way it was watching the nest (or what was left of it), leads me to believe that it was in fact the cat.

   Now then, why do I write about the cat that ate a duckling? Because it reminded me of a storytelling tool I've been trying to implement in one of my novels: The Snake in the Grass. The trusted friend betrays the hero, the little old lady downstairs is the serial killer, the otherwise innocent looking cat turns out to be eating the ducklings. The more unsuspected the snake in the grass is, the more potent the effect is on the reader. This has been a difficult tool for me to use in my book because finding the proper moment to reveal the snake in the grass is, I believe, the most important part of making it work. I think M. Night Shyamalan's film Unbreakable is a perfect example of this. Brandon Sanderson (Mistborn Trilogy, Warbreaker, Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians, etc.) also uses this tool to great effect from time to time in his books. If you haven't read anything from Brandon Sanderson, I highly recommend it. You can get a free digital copy of Warbreaker at his site and it's a terrific novel.

   Have you ever used the snake in the grass in your stories? Do you feel a little betrayed when the hero discovers the snake and now has to deal with the damage done by this supposed friend?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

SORRY I MISSED YESTERDAY...BUT IT WAS WORTH IT

     So yesterday was a busy day for me. In addition to writing/directing/producing/editing my own films, I am also Assistant Director on a project that a friend of mine is putting together at the Seattle Film Institute. We posted auditions yesterday and the response we've received for the project has been overwhelming...in a good way.

     I'll have more about that project as things develop. In the mean time, I want to tell you about our awesome night shoot we had last weekend for "Scream for the Whisperer". The location was simply amazing. I saw it a few months after moving to the Seattle area and swore I'd have to find a reason to film there. Well, as it turns out, I found a reason. The owners were great about the whole thing (special shout out to the Blue Star Cafe & Pub!) and we were able to get everything we needed from them to make the night a success. Now, I find words a bit lacking as I sit here and try to describe the location, so how about I show you some of our Behind the Scenes photos.

The red light us courtesy of Bizzarro Italian Cafe

   We had to add in some lighting of our own so that the red light didn't shine too brightly and make everything too red, but it was a great freebee. 

Every horror film needs a good tilt, that's the back of my head, by the way

   While we were doing some blocking with our villain, played by Neill Hoover, the actress's were busy getting their makeup on so our audio tech, Greg Cousin, stood in as the victim.

Greg looks so scared

   I also got the stills back from our other project, "Merlin in Love" and thought, why not share some of those with you all. I think I'm just going to spam a few at you and save the detailed commentary for another post. Sorry.

Gotta love a giant water tower made to look like a watch tower

I wore a long sleeve shirt because it was a chilly morning, and yet I still wore shorts. something's wrong with me

Greg Cousin, our audio tech, was the luck guy who always got to stand close to the action

Our camera died so we called in the aid of my brother (far right), his wife (next to him), and their camera (in my hands)

My chair. I love my chair.

She thinks he's dead, so he offers her a mint.

 

So cute

I don't remember the joke, but they both have such great laughs that that's all I hear when I see this photo

Friday, May 17, 2013

POETRY: SLEEP DEPRIVATION

Sleep deprivation
It's become my Kryptonite
Plague of waking dreams

*

The film that I wrote
Requires shooting all night
What was I thinking

*

Artists must accept
We sacrifice for our dreams
So I will not sleep

*     *     *
     I wrote a screenplay for a short film that requires the whole thing to be filmed at night, which translates to me not getting much sleep over the next couple of weekends. nothing too serious, but I require a bit more sleep than the average person...otherwise I begin having waking dreams. Pretty crazy stuff sometimes. Still, a small sacrifice to be able to pursue my dreams.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

TENSE

     So, the last couple of books that I read were written in first person present tense...I think. Sadly, my English education was lacking when it came to definitions and such. I can recognize good writing verses bad writing, it's just all the labels that get me confused. ANY WAY, as an example of what I'm talking about, here's a couple of made up sentences with the same formatting so that everyone knows what I'm talking about.

     I sit down in the only vacant seat in the room. The room has blinding white walls and the over bright lights don't help. On either side of me sits another confused looking student.
     "Hi," I say, but neither responds.

     Okay, you get the idea. I have no problem with first person storytelling. I've written a number of stories in first person and I find it a lot of fun to have full access to a single character's thoughts. But I've never read a book in this format before (first person present) and I'm not sure what to think. My natural instinct was to dislike the format, but I fear that may be my natural prejudice against the unknown. As I mentioned before, my English education left something to be desired and I have no idea whether the problem is with me or the writing. As another example, I'm use to this kind of writing:

     I sat down in the only vacant seat in the room. The room had blinding white walls and over bright lights that did nothing to help. On either side of me sat another confused looking student.
     "Hi," I said, but neither responded.


     Help me out here. Is there anything wrong with either of the above examples? Have I been wrong all this time? Are both correct? Are both incorrect? Is there a third option I haven't yet considered?

Monday, May 13, 2013

LAST WEEKEND: A LESSON IN PROBLEM SOLVING

     So this past Saturday I shot a short film. My crew and I have spent that last several months planning and preparing, gathering the equipment we'd need, making sure we had all our paperwork and permits in order, etc. Then, the evening before the film shoot, we get an email notifying us that the Pot Festival (marijuana is legal in Washington) is going to be happening at the same time that we were suppose to be filming at our second location, and just 50 yards away from us. Naturally, it would have been nice to know this a month ago when we first contacted the city of Seattle about our film. Oh well, it was too late to do anything about it so we decided we'd have to make the most of it.

     Saturday morning, at our first location half of our crew thought we were starting at the second location, and were a half hour late. Then, when our equipment arrived, we discovered that we had no memory cards for the camera or audio recorder. Thankfully, one of our crew happened to live nearby and he had a couple memory cards. Our DP hadn't shown up yet and he wasn't responding to calls or texts. This was very out of the ordinary for him but there was nothing to be done at the time except promote my gaffer to DP for the time being.

     The first location went well and we finished ahead of schedule. We packed up and everyone headed to the second location; none of us knowing exactly what to expect once we arrived.

     The moment we arrived at the location, it became clear that we wouldn't be able to film there. With the 100+ people smoking pot all around us, not to mention the loud music and emotional speeches that made any audio recording pointless.

     I told everyone to take lunch and my gaffer and I scouted around for a replacement location. It took about half and hour but we finally found a suitable replacement location not too far away and we were able to begin filming the scene. My DP finally called and explained the situation and he was soon with our crew. And then our camera stopped working.

     It was at this point that I considered scrapping the day and rescheduling. Thankfully my crew kept at it and I wasn't about to let them down. We fussed, we prayed, we made some calls, and in the end my brother (who had an identical camera) was kind enough to let me borrow his camera. By this time, we had about an hour left before our actress had to leave.

     We resumed filming and, miracle of miracles, we figured out what was wrong with our original camera and we were able to shoot with both cameras simultaneously. We wrapped the last shot with one minute to go before our actress had to leave. I sighed a breath of relief and now it's just editing and some ADR (Automatic Dialogue Replacement, for those lines we didn't quite get a clean recording of on location).

Friday, May 10, 2013

POETRY: AWAKE

Ceiling, wall, pillow
Toss and turn in search of sleep
What did I forget

*

Ribbons of moonlight
How rarely do we see them
Creep across the room

*

Slumbering faces
Wife and son in silhouette
How can I complain

*     *     *

     From time to time I suffer from insomnia, but after so many years, I've begun to see more of the wonders of night, rather than complain about how tired I am in the mornings. These haiku are a representation of that shift in my thinking.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

PLOTTING

     So, the other day I sat down to write at my usual time and upon reviewing the previous days' work I decided I needed to look over the plot synopsis I'd created for the book using a spreadsheet. Several hours later, after many revisions and some chapter shuffling, I saved the updated plot synopsis and closed the file.

     I love having a good plot and tying events together, it makes it easier to work on character, I think. But I have to admit it bothered me a little when I realized all of my writing time for the day was gone and I hadn't written a single word in the manuscript. My noble goal of writing ten pages had gone out the window the moment I opened that plot synopsis. Even though it was important work that I did on the plot, and I don't regret having that work done, I couldn't shake the feeling that I had wasted my day. And then I remembered one of my favorite anecdotes about one of my favorite authors.

     Roald Dahl passed away some years ago, and it was then that I heard his granddaughter reminiscing about visiting her famous grandfather. He was friendly but aloof and there were strict rules about not bothering grandfather when he was working, which was most of the time. However, in the evenings, one of the visiting grandchildren would be allowed to take grandfather his evening tea with biscuits and cake. The granddaughter spoke at length how her grandfather would be sitting in his chair, a journal or notebook in his lap, and that he would be, most often, staring at the wall or ceiling. When asked about what he was doing, he would explain briefly a piece of the story he was working on. In essence, he was doing what I did (or I should say I was doing what he did) except he didn't need a spreadsheet to do it.

     So, I can forgive myself of spending my time working on plot if Roald Dahl could do it too.

     What about you? Are there productive parts of writing that you don't like doing because they feel like a waste of time?

Monday, May 6, 2013

LOCATIONS, REHEARSALS, AND UNPREDICTABLE WEATHER

     My current set of short films are being shot on very low budgets. I'm not complaining, low budgets are a common occurrence with  independent films. Low budgets, however, mean restrictions, or as I like to call them, exercises in creativity.

     Here's an example of what I'm talking about: In Merlin in Love, there's a car accident. Nothing big or wild, the scene itself begins after the accident, we just see the aftermath. However, cars drive on streets and streets are owned by the city/state and they have rules about filming, obviously. To film on a street in the manner that we're wanting to, we would have to hire a police officer to manage traffic (and any concerned citizens who see the accident and think it's real). Hiring an officer is not cheap and it came down to either being able to afford the street or some other aspect of the shoot (like the camera rental, or some lighting, or food for our hard working cast and crew, etc.).

     So, I found a new location, one that was almost identical to the original but was privately owned and all I needed was a signature from the owner to film our accident there. The best part was it didn't cost us a thing.



     As for rehearsals, not every director likes them. Not every actor likes them. I hate NOT having rehearsals. In film school there wasn't a lot of time and so a lot of the time we shot our films without any rehearsals and I feel our films suffered because of it. One of the main aspects about rehearsals that I love is sharing my vision with the actors. There is such a dramatic difference between a performance given by actors unified in their vision of the piece than when the actors are working almost in isolation when they're creating their character. I still believe in giving actors their freedom to personalize their characters and make the scene their own, but it's the overall vision that ties everything together.

     Working with a low budget means not being able to pay what an actor may be use to getting and so we're limited in what actors are willing to rehearse for the roles. Still, actors want to act and a good role that only requires a couple of weekends is a lot easier to cast than a bad story that takes months to film. This is why I'm shooting shorts right now that I've put a lot of work into getting the stories as polished as possible so that we can attract good talent.


     The main obstacle still looming up before me and my crew is the weather. We're in the Seattle area, and as such rain is a common occurrence. Even so, Seattle has it's dry season and we're hoping to capitalize on that as much as possible. Outdoor locations are easier and (generally) cheaper than indoor locations (another reason so many short films are shot outside) and so we become slaves to the weather.


     We begin filming this weekend and it's looking to be beautiful weather so here's hoping that all goes well.

Friday, May 3, 2013

POETRY: PLUS ONE

Black and white image
Technology at its best
See my unborn child

*

A boy or a girl
Do we want to know that yet
Grandmas will be pleased

*

Such a normal thing
We all have a family
Awed to see mine grow

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

DO YOU EVER FEEL LIKE YOU'RE STUCK IN ONE PLACE?

     I have a book that I've been working on since I was sixteen. The good news is that it's always getting better and I'm going to begin shopping it around soon to agents (yay!). The bad news is that it's a book I started when I was sixteen. It's taken A LOT of work to get it into a readable format. The basic story has always been strong (that's why I've continued fussing with it rather than shelving it like so many other failed projects), but the writing was...well let's just say I didn't pay attention in high school English as much as I should have done.
     So now that I've struggled through the mire of mucky grammar and the sands of shifting tenses, I have come to the point where I get to fine tune. Right? And then I realized that the whole second act (the longest and, some might argue, the most important) took place in an apartment...well, more specifically a single room of the apartment. The main character, Erick, looks out the windows and has interactions with the immediate surroundings, but he never leaves that room.
     Problem.
     He is in hiding so it makes sense for him to be laying low, but the one room, I feel, gets really dull after a while. There supporting character, Sarah, is there with Erick and she gets to explore a bit more, but the story doesn't follow her. We only get to hear about what she's seen. I tinkered, I tailored, I soldiered on, and in the end, I knew I would have to use a spy to force Erick out of the apartment.
      And that's what I did. It added drama, pushed Erick forward in the plot and gave him additional motivation to become who he needed to become.
     Have any of you ever had similar problems where a character's gotten stuck in a rut? Maybe it was like my situation where the story was good but the location was growing stale?