Tag Archives: independent film

The Shelf Life of Film

I don’t think we need to address the fact that I suck at writing regular blog posts, so we won’t touch on that except to say that it’s kinda funny that the last thing I wrote was “The Importance of Being Sidetracked” two years ago.

sidetracked

HAHAHA!!!  What a failure of a blogger!!!

And, oddly enough, I haven’t been sidetracked. I’ve been slowly chipping away at The Legend of Grassman. Chipping and learning and chipping even more. I’m very excited to finally be able to show everyone soon.

But I don’t want to talk about that right now. I want to talk about being sidetracked.

Jessica

Here’s a brand new still of multi-talented actor/director/producer Jessica Cameron and the FIRST EVER REVEAL of our Bigfoot. But enough of that. It bores me.

A Dark Night at the Wrong House was the side project I wrote about last. It was actually an older film that had been sitting on The Shelf for a while, because I’m the kind of guy who likes keeping things on shelves. Big shelf guy.

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Dennis Meyer. We’re brothers. We’re making a “Bigfoot” movie. Ring a bell? If not , just bear with me. It’ll make sense as I go. I promise.

Back when I was thoroughly obsessed with editing and re-editing our short The Projection Booth, everyone got sick of working on it and my brother, Dennis (who you’ll remember from our classic blog entries makes movies with me), insisted I do a new short. So, I picked A Dark Night at the Wrong House, which is actually a remake of a film I did at age 14. I’d been playing around with the idea of remaking it for a while and decided I’d do this real quick-like, distract Dennis with it and then get back to obsessing over The Projection Booth.

So, we did that. We shot it quickly, I mean. And then I couldn’t figure out the effects and this new-fangled 24p business I was trying out. Shortly after, we were doing Grassman, so there was no time for such frivolities. (So I neither finished the film real quick to distract Dennis, nor got back to obsessing over The Projection Booth. I underestimated my fox of a brother. He’s wily.)

So it sat. On The Shelf. With all my other Shelfstuff.

Around the time I wrote that last blog article, I happened to give The Shelf a once over. It’s important to give The Shelf a once over now and then, to make sure you haven’t left anything on the shelf – and I found a mostly-finished short that I really liked. A few years had passed, so I had become more proficient at effects, 24p, as well as giving up and sending things out unfinished.

Wrong House Cover Festivals 2.jpg

Couldn’t think of an interesting caption. It’s pretty much self-explanatory. 

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“Grassman” is a regional name for “Bigfoot” – a mythical creature that many believe roams the forests of “North America.” 

So I worked hard on it for a couple weeks and then got right back to Grassman. Then something magical happened. Film Freeway was invented. It streamlined the submission process and made everything super easy. So I entered 278 film festivals without hardly noticing. And most of those were free.

I didn’t want to spend too much on festival entries on this film. I paid for a few, but I honestly did better with the free festivals. And, overall, had a great experience with those festivals.

In the end, we played at something like 25 festivals – not great, but not bad, and that’s more screenings than any other short we’ve done. Also, the film will be part of a horror/suspense/thriller anthology coming in November from SGL Entertainment called The Void. I am totally going to buy it because I‘ve never bought my own movie before. And I will take pictures of it. And post them on social media. And it will be AWESOME.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/TKXE11Po-8U

A Dark Night at the Wrong House isn’t any better than anything else we’ve done, but the difference is that I pushed it. And I was able to push it so much because Film Freeway streamlined the process so much. I’m the kind of guy who sends a film out to one festival, and when it gets rejected, I figure it sucks. Don’t be that guy. Whether it’s festivals, whether it’s trying to build a following on YouTube, you have to be relentless. 90% of the people won’t care about your film and that’s totally cool. You don’t care about them. You care about finding the 10% that will love it.

scarela

With actor Anthony Rizzuto at the ScareLa screening of A Dark Night at the Wrong House (1st time we were ever allowed to screen a movie anywhere near LA. The closest till now had been Seattle!)

Furthermore, as a creator of art, whatever the medium, you have a solemn duty to get it to the people who will love it. If that’s one creepy dude in the back of the auditorium with a really weird taste in films, that’s a worthy enough audience.

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Disastrous? You wouldn’t know it from this photo taken just before the screening. Poised and confident, “Dennis” and I radiate professionalism. (Dennis is my brother. We make “movies.”)

I remember there was a teenage boy who contacted me on “MySpace” after what I thought was a disastrous screening of The Projection Booth. He said he really liked it and wanted to know how he could get a copy. At the time, I fully intended to release it at some point, but wasn’t done tinkering with it. I told him about the new awesome cut that was on its way, and he said he loved the original and wanted that. And I figured he obviously has no idea what he’s talking about.

The Projection Booth did not do extremely well on the festival circuit. One blogger described it as “just ok” which is about the worst insult I can think of for a film. I got the sense that this kid was a loner who didn’t fit in, and I had been a loner who didn’t fit in and the movie was about a loner who didn’t fit in. So even if I thought it was crap, it moved this young kid. It said something to him and out of everyone who saw it, it probably meant the most to him. It wasn’t about me. I had a duty to make that film available to him.

But, instead, I stuck it on The Shelf.

If I ever cross paths with that kid, I’m giving him my crappy film. It’s been a few years and it may not mean anything to him anymore. But he’s getting it anyway.

The Shelf

The Shelf. There’s a lot of weird stuff up there. Don’t be like me. Don’t stick it on The Shelf.

The most recent project to escape The Shelf is a feature-length film called les aventures d’archives. It was another side project, but it was taking too long and I shelved it to focus on Grassman. Weeks ago, while giving The Shelf the ol’ once over, I realized it had been, like A Dark Night at the Wrong House before it, abandoned while on the verge of completion and that there is someone, somewhere out there, that would love to see it. It stars filmmaker/cellist Gene Cornelius and a giant, flying robot shark. Who wouldn’t want to see that?  It will be hitting festivals in the coming months.

LES AVENTURES D’ARCHIVES EXCLUSIVE FIRST LOOK

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les aventures d’archives. Coming Soon. Yes, it’s as cool as it looks.

 

eloquent

I’m “Tyler” btw. I’m a “filmmaker.” You just “read” my “blog.”

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!)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-SIhAS3lXg]

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.

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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.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3nc1Cd0HXQw]

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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Getting Rich – Part 3: Everything is better with a rope bridge

Previously, on Jackasses Make Movie:

Rodriguez Rodriguez. Script. Rodriguez Rodriguez Rodriguez, Rodriguez Rodriguez. Shit. Rodriguez. Shevchik. Rodriguez. Shevchik, Rodriguez Rodriguez. Rodriguez!

English: Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez at the pre...

Final gratuitous Rodriguez pic. The man can sign autographs without looking.

So, yeah. We had a script. Now we had somewhere to shoot. What we were about to realize, however, was that we had more than just a shooting location. We had a goldmine of Rodriguezness.

Shortly after asking Rich if we could shoot on his property, Tyler and I began talking about casting. Some of the cast members were already set, with parts written specifically for them (see Lights, Camera, Action! What have I gotten myself into? to see how I wrote myself into the movie). But, there were still several other roles that needed actors, specifically members of the Bigfoot expedition. We needed folks who not only could act, but who looked the parts. The first such character was that of Gavin Reynolds, the cryptid expert with years of experience and clout in the Bigfoot community.

As we were talking about what kind of guy we wanted for the part, a crazy thought popped into my jackass mind. What about Rich? He’s a outdoor dude. He’s the smartest guy I know. He’s a natural storyteller. He’s got… a look. Hell, the look. So, I sent Tyler a picture of Rich with the message “This is Gavin.” I don’t recall Tyler’s exact words, but it was something along the lines of “Shit, yeah! See if he’ll do it.”

Rich and son, blissfully unaware of what they've gotten themselves into.

Rich and son, blissfully unaware of what they’ve gotten themselves into.

After reading the script and a talk about acting abilities concerns which I countered with the experience of the cast and a memory-refreshing clip of Badness, Rich agreed. We had our first non-family actor on board and our first unexpected benefit of getting Rich’s location.

But, that wasn’t all. A few weeks later, Tyler and I went to Rich’s property to scope out the land and start picking locations for specific scenes. We arrived on a nice Spring Saturday, armed with script, cameras, and a Google Map printout of the area for reference. Rich met us and we began a 3 hour trek through the wilds of Lebanon.

Shooting on a rope bridge in the jungle wilds of Lebanon, OH.

Shooting on a rope bridge in the jungle wilds of Lebanon, OH.

It was better than we could have imagined. Not only did it have places for the majority of the script locations, and a story behind each from Rich, but there were places that I had forgotten, treasure troves of production value. Things like a rope bridge and an old, abandoned Shaker home which were too good to not include in the fourth draft of the script.  And there was Rich’s son, Michael, who is the spitting image of his father, who managed to get worked into the film, as well.

Cover of "Slacker [Region 2]"

Now, imagine it with a rope bridge… yeah.

That’s right. We were post-Rodriguezing the script! I mean, who wouldn’t jump on the chance to have a rope bridge in their low-budget, independent film? Imagine how much more exciting Richard Linklater‘s Slacker would have been with a rope bridge in it!

So, the lesson of this entire long-winded tale is this: if you have no budget, use the Rodriguez List method. Make a list of what you have and write with those things in mind. If you are a jackass like me and forget the advice of one of your filmmaking idols, then hope that you are friends with Rich. Then everything will be okay.

Regardless of your friendship level with the Rich, once you’ve gotten some locations worked out, don’t be afraid to post-Rodriguez your script, to make adjustments to accommodate unexpected production value that may fall into your lap. In this business, you’re either adaptive or you’re dead.

Well, not dead… but without a kick-ass rope bridge, that’s for sure!

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