Tag Archives: editing

The Importance of Being Sidetracked

There are moments where it feels like I’ll never finish the film. I spend an entire weekend toiling away and on Sunday night, when I take stock of what I’ve accomplished, I see that I kind of got one effect shot looking sort of good. Or I feel overwhelmed by the any of the few short scenes I have left to shoot -It’s too complicated, or I don’t know how to shoot it, or I don’t have the resources to make it work and I’ve spent all my money on legal fees and a cool hat for my second cameo.

Look at this and tell me our film won't be any good. I DARE you.

Look at this and tell me our film won’t be any good. I DARE you.

Like a lot of creative people who never finish anything, I have a tendency to want to take on more than what I can accomplish, and for the past couple years I’ve been very strict about not taking on any new projects until I’m finished with Grassman – unless, of course, they pay, because I need a cool hat for my second cameo. Saying “no” has been more difficult than I anticipated, cause I like doing things. That’s why I do things in the first place.

"Working on it" included taking selfies in a dilapidated restroom.

“Working on it” included restroom selfies.

I have learned, however, right before I committed myself to not doing things, that switching projects can be a great way to recharge and replenish motivation and resolve. In 2012, I took on a particularly ambitious Halloween special for my day job – which was not supposed to conflict with my filmmaking activities any more than the act of having a day job does. However, it was too ambitious for the 3 weeks we had to produce it, and to get it done, I had to work on it during every available bit of free time I had.

When you work that quickly, you don’t have time to get too attached to the project, and you frequently have to choose to cut or rethink elements of the production that prove to be too time consuming or troublesome. The process bears no resemblance to the slow, quiet, sometimes painstaking work you’re used to while working on your epic masterpiece love letter to Bigfoot cinema.

But as you go, you can’t help but remember that’s sort of how working on your Bigfoot masterpiece used to be. I mean, that was the whole point of doing a movie about Bigfoot running around the woods killing people rather than your planned sci-fi adaptation of Pete’s Dragon, which would clearly be the real masterpiece, if it ever existed. We chose our subject matter so we could work quickly, learn the process, and not worry that Downton Abbey fans would be disappointed in the quality.

Petes Dragon

It would be awesome. He kills Jabba and then rules Tatooine with Chewbacca and Jimmy Pigman.

Most of the Bigfoot films our love letter is being written to were made under similar circumstances, and exist as shining examples of perfect imperfect art. These films weren’t made to be “perfect.” Most of them aren’t even “good.”

However, when you finish your 3 week marathon filmmaking session, you have no choice but to release the wretched, imperfect thing into the world. Cause there’s a deadline. And when you’re watching the premiere on cable on Halloween night, you are filled with a glowing feeling of being totally pissed. That music is totally mixed too loud, and what the hell was that shot doing there in the wrong scene, and that sound effect is in the wrong place! RUINED!!!!  I AM RUINED!!!!

After you recover from your crippling failure, you go back and fix some of the mistakes for the sake of posterity. And then you realize, this thing isn’t really half bad. It’s no Sci Fi Pete’s Dragon, but it’s pretty good work for a three week rush job. And some people actually have told you they liked it. (Plenty of others told you they didn’t, but that’s hardly the point.)

Ghost Girl

(I’m pretty sure this invalidates their arguments.)

It’s tempting to think of the three weeks of being unable to work on your Bigfoot masterpiece as a waste of time and a failure, but the fact is, the experience shook you up. You are suddenly used to working as fast as possible, and getting rid of scenes or elements that are too difficult and time consuming and aren’t 100% necessary to get the story across.

Two years ago, I received valuable lessons and inspiration from the simple act of being sidetracked. And then eventually, of course, I forgot all of it and promptly got back to the time consuming task of Photoshopping realistic Bigfoot nipples into wide shots, frame by frame.  People won’t ever see it, or care if they did, but boy, does it make the whole thing feel authentic.

Wrong House

A Dark Night at the Wrong House, our most recent sidetrack short film project. Playing at film festivals worldwide. Well…. mostly just two so far…



Lucid Moments

On Facebook the other day, writer/director PJ Woodside asked for topic suggestions for her blog, This Old Bitch Makes Horror Flicks.   This is one of the few blogs I actually read – I don’t like reading them because of all the words, but I find hers very helpful and very interesting.  Along with Steve Hudgins, she runs Big Biting Pig Productions, which is about to release their 7th feature (a creepy-looking movie called Lucid featuring Bill Johnson from Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2!)


Anyway, she said “Yo, topic suggestions.”  (She didn’t really say “Yo, topic suggestions.”) A couple weeks ago, she asked the same thing and I had reached deep into my soul and searched for the one filmmaking topic I most wished I understood.

Big Biting Pig makes one film a year one a very low budget and adheres to a very strict schedule to get that done.  I have been interested in their process since the 2011 Fright Night Film Festival where I saw PJ give a talk about making ultra low budget films profitable.  At one point, she something along the lines of: “You can learn more making 10 movies in 10 years than 1 very polished movie in ten years.”  I’m not sure if that’s an original butchered quote of hers, or if she was quoting someone else whose quote I just butchered, so I’ll just attribute it to her.

“You can learn more making 10 movies in 10 years than 1 very polished movie in ten years.” – PJ Woodside

If only trh

If only the film had been as skillfully crafted as the brilliantly conceived marketing campaign.

Those words struck a chord with me because the first time I had attended the Fright Night Film Festival, in 2007, Dennis and I were there to premiere our short, The Projection Booth, which we had spent about 10 years on and off making.  The problem, though unbeknownst to me at the time, was that it hadn’t turned out the way I wanted and I couldn’t accept that I wasn’t as good of a filmmaker as I hoped I’d be.

So I spent 10 years figuring out what I did wrong.  I deconstructed the film, and reconstructed it, and deconstructed it and constructed it again.  I analyzed and examined every detail and learned quite a bit about structure, blocking, acting, dialogue, suspense, comedy – all these things – long after the film I was shot.  These were more valuable lessons than any I ever had on-set up to that point, except maybe the one the time I learned that when you drive to a closed park on Halloween night and you’re sitting in back with your two nephews trying to get video of a local ghost legend, and your two brothers in the front of the car decide to walk off into the woods and leave the three of you there, DO NOT LET THEM GO because a police car will pull up 30 seconds later to a parked car with two young boys and a grown man with a video camera in the backseat.  This is really more of a life lesson than a filmmaking lesson, but the the involvement of the camcorder makes it a useful tip for both novice and experienced filmmakers.

Tried to find an image of a scary-looking cop to better punctuate my story.  This is all the comes to mind.

Tried to find an image of a scary-looking cop to better punctuate my story. Unfortunately, this is really all that came to mind.

The Projection Booth was an incredible educational experience for me, and I’d recommend others do it except for the 10 years part…  but the fact is, I could have made 10 films in that time – and even though I learned quite a bit on my decade long filmmaking odyssey that yielded a pretty okay short, I began to wonder what I could learn from doing one film a year and sticking to a schedule and not letting the perfectionist in me have final say.

Everything I’ve written to this point has just been background info.  I like my readers to be informed.  The actual blog post will now begin.  As a reminder, this story is about PJ Woodside asking for blog topics.


They have a schedule and they stick to it. Also, they look like this.

So I said. “How do you let go of your project enough to finish it?”

Very quickly she wrote back, “We have a schedule and we stick to it.”

And then I’m like…  “No, that wasn’t a question…  That was my blog topic suggestion.  LOL.”

She said, “Yeah, I know, assface.  That sentence was the blog you just suggested.  Thanks for the nine word blog post suggestion.”

Now, of course, I’ve spiced the dialogue up here a little  for dramatic purposes. (I learned to do this during the editing of my film, The Projection Booth.)  She didn’t really call me assface, but she did write my topic in one sentence.

And when I thought about it for 12 seconds, it actually was pretty simple.  I know how you finish stuff.  You give yourself a deadline and you stick to it.  My brain had somehow created a mental block around something pretty cut and dry and had momentarily convinced me that there was some sort of secret formula for finishing a movie.  Or magic incantation.  Yeah.  That would make more sense.

Actually, that’s exactly how I got The Projection Booth finished – the deadline method, that is.  I’m not positive if the incantation even helped.  We picked a film festival we wanted to enter and I busted my butt trying to make that date.  I worked very fast, and I did a lot of special effects and other work that was “temporary” just to get it done in time, knowing I could come back to it after we entered the film fest.


In the end, a lot of those “temporary” elements stayed in the film.  Once I was finally able to take a step back and get out of perfectionist mode, I realized the work I had done was perfectly fine.  Just because it had been thrown together quickly was not sufficient enough reason to go back and make tweaks that no one would ever notice.

This way of thinking freed me up to go back and make totally different tweaks that no one would ever notice.  To this day, I’m still not finished.  It’s sitting on a virtual shelf waiting for me to have some free time.  But it got out to festivals and my conservative estimate is that far in excess of 30 people saw it.

And, were it not for Dennis’ insistence that I move on to a  new project – a comedy short that I’m very proud of but was never able to finish enough to show anyone, we likely would not be working on The Legend of Grassman.  The new short shifted my focus off of The Projection Booth enough to where, at some point a few months later, I said…  “Cool.  A Bigfoot movie.”

On set, thinking about how cool Bigfoot movies are while scratching some dog's butt.

On set, thinking about how cool Bigfoot movies are while scratching a dog’s butt.

So, if you haven’t guessed what I just did, I actually wrote about the topic that I suggested PJ write.  Big Biting Pig has no trouble finishing their projects, as is evidenced by this Kickstarter campaign for their 8th film.  (Give them money.  They will do awesome things.)  I, on the other hand, do have a problem letting go of my work, so I have something to share on this topic.

And of course, I’d have nothing to share on any topic at all if, on Facebook the other day, PJ Woodside had not once again said, “Yo, topic suggestions.”  (She didn’t really say “Yo, topic suggestions.”)  This time, I didn’t have any suggestions, but I was thinking about how I’ve been ignoring my own blog these past weeks as I bust my butt to meet my film’s deadline.  I just do not have time to write a 2000+ word blog post while I’m working at this pace, even though I have determined that blogging is a very important thing for me to do.

 So I said “I suggest you write MY blog for me.  LOL.”  I can’t help but be uproariously funny on Facebook.  It’s in my nature.

She said “Write shorter.  You’ll do it more.”

I said.  “Oh.”


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