Tuesday, December 10, 2002

An Insider's View of Triggerstreet.com

Submitted by Peter John Ross

I have just uploaded my fourteenth movie to Triggerstreet.com, Kevin Spacey's attempt to imitate Matt Damon and Ben Affleck's highly successful Project Greenlight, which recently completed it's second run. I've been to countless film festivals, screenings, and networking events. I have submitted my films to every short film site on the web, but I have never experienced anything like Triggerstreet.com.

It costs nothing, and in a strange ironic twist, Budweiser is picking up the tab for once. You can upload and review short films for free. Similar to Project Greenlight's recently completed Director's Contest, you must review two other shorts before you can upload one. You can upload RealMedia or QuickTime files. They also accept feature length screenplays in addition to short films. Short films must be less than ten minutes long, in RealMedia or QuickTime format, and under 15MB in size.

So far every single one of my movies has been universally panned. Sometimes I got slammed and complimented for the exact same thing. For instance, on the same short I heard comments like "your actors are so horrible" in one review, while the next reviewer says "the only thing redeeming is the performances from the actors who outclass your pathetic script." Even worse is when I get a review like "you suck... you suck... you suck..." This is repeated until there are fifty words, the minimum requirement for a review. If you have never lived in Los Angeles or New York, Triggerstreet.com is the next best thing. You'll get slammed by anonymous reviewers with screen names like "Dogmatic Carl" and "Digital Bonzai," and believe me, anonymity can bring out brutal honesty. In one review of my movie Friend or Foe, I even had someone claiming they would seek out my characters and attempt to strangle them. I would file assault charges except for the fact that they are fictional characters.

Having reviewed twenty-eight movies and viewed even more, I can say the quality ranges from high end 35mm shorts that are well shot with great scripts and performances to some of the crappiest digital video shorts ever conceived. Apparently, those are mine.

Unlike Project Greenlight, the only reward a filmmaker or screenwriter can receive for exposing their work to potential theft is getting your work included on a DVD. Big deal, I can do that at home with a two-dollar DVD-R, but I like getting my work seen, even if every bit of it gets slammed by other wannabe filmmakers with a chip on our collective shoulders. The real goal is to become "discovered" by getting your work seen by Hollywood bigwigs and/or agents with some clout. Since the highest rated shorts are the ones that draw the most attention, the urge to critique and nit-pick suddenly turns into a need to draw blood.

Opinions are like assholes, everybody has one. Apparently opinions and assholes alike have found a home on the internet at Triggerstreet.com.

There is a series of shorts on the site called Cap'n Ken's Corner that is driving me mad with laughter. It's a spoof of a series like Blue's Clues, but with a very dark edge. After reviewing a lot of movies on the site thus far, it's the best thing on there by a long shot, including my own movies. I am really rooting for their production team to make it because both the concepts and execution are brilliant. It's worth registering just to see. They call themselves "Twisted Mojo." They have other shorts that are good too, but the Cap'n Ken series stands out. There's something about that ultra cheery guy looking through the "reality scope" and seeing a doctor trying to convince him he is not the host of a children's show. Even though I should be cynical as hell of any competitor on the same playing field with me, I can't help but applaud these guys and send out happy thoughts that they will be whisked away from obscurity and into the limelight where they belong. Best of luck and kudos the "Twisted Mojo" team. Overall, their movies are getting good reviews, but there are also some severe criticisms as well.

Overall, the Triggerstreet.com site is a slick idea. It's an eye opener to every slack ass with a camcorder that fancies themselves the next Kevin Smith. Stop getting compliments from your friends and family and let a few film school brats take a crack at reviewing your short, then see if you still want to be a filmmaker. My mom once told me "if you can't stand the heat, then get out of the kitchen." She also told me that I was neither planned nor wanted, so maybe my confidence is not what it should be. But at least I can look in the mirror and still call myself a filmmaker after every one of my flicks gets a horrible review on Triggerstreet.com. If you think you'll win the contest, don't bother submitting. If you want to have your movie seen and probably ripped apart, then this is the site for you. I guess I view it as looking into the abyss and finding out why I really made the movies.

Tuesday, November 12, 2002


Submitted by Peter John Ross

I have used several filters on my Canon GL1 but the main one used for New World was an enhancing filter from Tiffen. This particular filter brings out flesh tones and the gradation of the color of leaves in the fall, namely oranges, yellows, and browns. We also used neutral density filters to soften the video look, but it darkened the image, so be sure and open up your iris on the camera.

For other projects, unrelated to New World, I have used red, yellow, and blue filters to get a look similar to Steven Soderbergh's film Traffic. Using filters during the shoot saves time in post if you already know what look you want ahead of time. I also use an 80A filter when I know I am going to convert the footage to black and white. In the title sequence for a short film called Concupiscence (www.sonnyboo.com/othershort.htm) I used a horizon filter, often employed by Tony Scott and Michael Bay in their commercials and feature films to make the horizon line look a gradient colored sky. I used it for an effect I wanted on the titles. Shooting this way saved me hours of Adobe After Effects render time.

Filters may say "for daylight use" or "black and white still photography use," but experiment and try them anyway with color video. One filter can have multiple uses and give numerous looks. A circular polarizer filter is made for two things. One, it kills reflections on glass surfaces shot at an angle. You can rotate the filter until the reflections are cancelled out. A second use for a polarizing filter, which is why I bought one, is to get the richest, most realistic blue skies from whatever camera you use. I used a polarizing filter on my Super-8 film camera for a thirty second commercial I did (www.thecfc.org/movies/PSA33B.mov). Shooting in July, aiming at the sky, the filter brought out so much blue that the sky looked perfect, without compromising the other colors.

If you can't afford the cost of numerous filters for your lenses, you can use your camera's manual white balance to achieve filter-like effects. If you white balance to colors or even gray sheets of paper, you can get some really wild results and cool looks if you need something a bit more radical. If you want something subtle, try using soft yellow or off-white colors to set the white balance. Tinker around and find what works and what doesn't.

Too many digital video shooters don't study cinematography in general or bother to learn some basic techniques borrowed from still photography. Filters work on digital video lenses and come in a variety of sizes, and can be used with even the cheapest cameras. I learned about filters from Emmy Award winning director of photography Scott Spears. He taught me a lot about filters and affecting the image with light, the cinematographers best friend, even when shooting digital video. Too many people take the nearly automated process of digital video for granted and forget that the use of focus, light, filters, and zoom are brushes in the hands of artists, not buttons on a machine.

For additional information on filters check out the Tiffen page at www.tiffen.com/filters.htm.
A sampling of what the Tiffen site has to offer:

Ultraviolet Protector - Protects lens from dust, moisture, scratches, and breakage.

Sky 1A - Popular general use protection filter. Absorbs a significant amount of ultraviolet light. Slightly warm-tinted for better colors. Useful when shooting outdoors in the shade and on overcast days.

Haze 1 - Reduces excessive blue haze caused by ultraviolet light by absorbing 71% of ultraviolet radiation. Great all-around ultraviolet control.

Haze 2 - Absorbs all ultraviolet light. Reduces haze and maintains color and image clarity. Best for high altitude and marine scenes.

Polarizer and Circular Polarizer - Essential for outdoor photography. Deepens intensity of blue skies and reduces or eliminates glare. Use circular polarizers for auto-focus cameras as recommended by the camera manufacturer.

Warm Polarizer - For color imaging, a combination of an 812 filter and polarizing filter. Warms skin tones and scenics.

Neutral Density - For all film types, color or black and white. Absorbs varying degrees of light. Provides balanced exposures and depth-of-field control. Eliminates overly bright, washed out images. Great for video.

Soft - Ideal portrait filter. Softens and minimizes facial imperfections while retaining overall clarity.

Warm Soft - Combines a soft and an 812 warming filter. Smoothes facial details while adding warmth to skin tones for color imaging.

Center Spot - Clear central area for dramatic focus, surrounded by ring of moderate diffusion to minimize distracting background detail.

Warm Center Spot - Combines a center spot filter with an 812 warming filter. Clear central area for dramatic focus, surrounded by ring of moderate diffusion to minimize distracting background detail. Warms image for more vibrant results.

Pro-Mist - Most popular motion picture effect. Creates special "atmosphere" by softening excess sharpness and contrast. Creates a soft glow around highlights. Great for portraits and landscapes.

Warm Pro-Mist - Combination of a Pro-Mist filter and an 812 warming filter. Warms and softens image giving skin a healthy, natural glow.

Black Pro-Mist - Similar characteristics to the Pro-Mist filter, but providing a more subtle effect. Less lightening of shadows and a reduction of contrast.

Ultra Contrast - Recognized by an Academy Award for Technical Achievement, this filter series redistributes ambient light to capture details that would be lost in shadows. Lowers contrast evenly throughout image with no flare or halation.

Low Contrast - Spreads light from highlights to darker areas and leaves bright areas bright, lowering contrast and muting colors. Makes videos look more like film.

Star - Achieve dazzling star effects from any direct or reflected point light source. Add sparkle to water scenes, candle flames, product shots, and more.

Fog - Adds drama to your scene by producing a misty atmosphere. Lights flare while softening contrast and sharpness.

Double Fog - Creates the natural look of fog, especially on overcast days.

Sepia - Creates a warm brown tone for that old time feeling.

Grad - Half color, half clear with a graduated density transition for a smooth blending of color. The perfect solution to transform a pallid sunrise or sunset into something spectacular. Available in a rainbow array of useful colors.

80 Series - Use with daylight film to shoot indoors with tungsten lighting to achieve the correct color in your image.

85 Series - For shooting tungsten corrected film outdoors. Produces natural colors in your images.

FL-D and FL-B - Provide pleasing skin tones and corrects color under fluorescent lighting. Use the FL-D with daylight-corrected media and the FL-B with tungsten-corrected media.
812 Color Warming - Improves color of all skin tones. Absorbs blue cast often caused by electronic flash or outdoor shade. Adds warmth to pale, washed-out flesh tones. Ideal for portraits.

Enhancing - Creates brighter, more saturated reds, browns, and oranges with minimal effect to other colors. Ideal for fall foliage, earth tone rock formations, and rustic barns.

Magenta - Balance excessive green cast and produce creative effects. Great for early morning tint.

Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Independent Films on Public Access

Submitted by Peter John Ross

Take Advantage. Independent filmmakers should put their movies on public access television.

Be realistic and question the motive for why you made your movie. Very few theaters can exhibit your movie unless you have a 35mm film print. If your movie was shot on digital video, then chances are you couldn't afford 16mm film, never mind 35mm film, and you surely can't afford to get a 35mm film print made of your digital video movie at $375 to $450 a minute, and even if you did, it wouldn't look very good. If you made your movie to be seen, put it where people can see it. Public access television offers a chance for your film to be seen. A lot.

Cable public access is an untapped gold mine. It's piped into 1.2 million homes here in central Ohio and it's free. It's the channel that no one watches, but everyone sees. Ever notice how no one talks about what they saw on public access like it was Alias, but mention the cheesiest show and you'll find that everyone knows what it is and have at least seen it.

Why? People are channel surfers. Most people flip by every channel on their way too see Seinfeld re-runs or a Charlie's Angels marathon on TNN. Most people don't know what channel the TV is on when they start going up or down. If something good or different is on, people will stop and check it out. Good god, even if it's bad people tend to stop to at least give it a look.

The connotation for public access or cable access (same thing) is that everything on it is bad. A lot of what is on cable access is horrid and amateurish. Well, put your own movies on there. For some reason, people believe that they cannot put their stuff on cable access because everything on the channel is bad, and somehow, like a bad magic trick, if they put their good movie on public access television, it will transform into a bad movie. If you truly believe what you are making is good, then you should have no fear.

There is a flip side for independent filmmakers too, which is this fanciful belief that their movie is such a prized intellectual property that is so in demand, they don't want anyone but the highest studio executives to see it. We're talking about a movie written by amateurs (like you and me) who shoot with a camcorder over a weekend or two with no name stars. Something happens and delusions of grandeur permeate and make the director, writers, and producers of such digital video shorts think that this is a hot property and has some intrinsic value. The thought that putting it on cable access might disqualify them for Sundance scares them. Sundance is a pipe dream from hell. Do some homework. You think you have a chance at Sundance? The Sundance Film Festival features shorts shot on 35mm film written and directed by Danny Glover and Gary Oldman and they have to compete for the same slots. These guys kiss ass in person at Sundance to get selected. Where do you think Slamdance came from? And then No Dance? People couldn't get into Sundance.

For most markets, there is a public access station, and they accept tapes of your movies on VHS, or ¾" tape, and at some of the more sophisticated places, digital video. You can submit your short films as filler, meant to round out the half hour or full hour shows submitted. Or work with others and put together a thirty or sixty minute show of compiled short films. Or wait until you have thirty to sixty minutes of your own material and make a show. Find out the unadulterated opinion of the public about your movies. If they talk about your movies in the same way they do about the guy who's show is thirty minutes or staring at a yacht, then maybe you need to rethink your once burgeoning movie career. Or maybe people might become fans of your work. You won't know until you try.

Get the exposure. Get your movie seen by people. Don't live in a dreamland where you think film festivals with their $30 to $200 entry fees are your only option. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, if you want to be discovered you have to be somewhere they can find you.

Tuesday, July 30, 2002

Movies on the Internet

Submitted by Peter John Ross

Two years ago, the word on the street said that all the undiscovered talent was on the internet. Sites like ifilm.com and atomfilms.com were getting unknown talents onto A-list movies. Lately, we aren't hearing anything like that. Is the internet dead for distribution? Hardly. Broadband and other faster internet connections are making it even more viable to get your movie seen. Everyday more people get faster internet connections which means you can put higher quality movies on the net and generate an audience.

Movies like 405 The Movie, Troops, and George Lucas In Love, showed that the internet can elevate unknown filmmakers into the stratosphere. All of those filmmakers landed feature movie deals. And the bmwfilm.com lot starring Madonna, Clive Owen, and Mickey Rourke showed that Hollywood bigwigs, like directors Ang Lee, John Frankenheimer, (R.I.P.), and Guy Ritchie are willing to do short films for the internet in style.

Is the internet good for feature films? Not yet. There are already some sites such as movieflix.com and cinemanow.com streaming feature length films, but the quality is dreadful. Both sites do buy the distribution rights to independent films, but the price is so low it's not going to reimburse your craft services bill.

The internet is ripe for short films, even movies shot on digital video. Since they are shorter, you can make a manageable, easy-to-download size file that even people with a 56K modem (you know, the Amish) can download. Virtually every single editing software package now includes some kind of output for the web feature.

Why put movies on the internet?

No, you won't get rich, at least that isn't likely. People are leery of the pay sites, unless it's a porn site. If there is a site offering you money for your movie, that's cool, but it won't be much. Most offer a "revenue sharing" program which means with each paid viewing, you get a percentage. That means you have to share that five dollars a month with that company and their overhead. Don't lose any sleep waiting for the check.

So where is the power you ask? The power is in getting exposure. You need to be visible to be discovered. If you have that magical talent that Hollywood is looking for, you need to be somewhere they can see you. Even if they don't see your work online in horrible real video quality, there is a validation that someone, somewhere liked your work enough to host it on the internet for you.

It's not the same when you host all your own movies on your own web page. Any moron can do that. To get "selected" to have your movie played makes a movie executive or an investor think, "someone else liked their movie too," and that means they are more likely to consider your work.

Will putting the movie on the internet instantly make you a star? Hell no. Getting your movie on the internet is only the half-way mark. Getting people to know it's there is the other half.
At the very least, you will get unadulterated feedback. It's funny how the internet can empower people. Some little weasel of a guy in Iowa who's never been assertive in his life will make up a screen name like "BUBBA_BAD_MUTHA" and rip apart your movie because he can safely hide behind anonymity. Get used to bad reviews. Not everyone will love your movie. But you might learn something from these relentlessly honest viewers.

There is also a benefit of ownership. If some other site, other than your own, hosts your movie and someone else rips off the idea, or steals elements, you have an unbiased third party that can prove when you had your movie online. It establishes your idea and date and time.

What are the pitfalls?

Some sites, like ifilm.com, want to get you to buy your exhibition package. It's only $150 for three months of hosting. What a scam. Since several other short film sites went under, and they had exclusive rights on 405 The Movie, they started charging everyone to host their movies. You are a filmmaker, and you should never pay someone else to host your movie.

The other thing to be careful of are the web sites with exclusive contracts. Be sure and read all contracts carefully. Some of them want all rights to your movie (like atomfilms.com, who wants DVD rights, television rights, theatrical rights, everything). If you are willing to give these up because it was something simple you did in the backyard with a camcorder, then go for it, but be aware of the consequence. You just gave away all rights to a movie you wrote and directed. Read the contracts on their web sites carefully before signing. Each site is different with different needs and wants.

Why wouldn't you want to get your movies online?

You increase your exposure, you get honest reviews, and have an excuse to let the media know you have a movie, and virtually every site lets you submit your film for free.

List of Sites

http://sho.com/alt - Showtime's Alternative Media Festival.

http://atomfilms.shockwave.com/af/home - Atom Films.

http://www.bijouflix.com - Bijou Flix , also does a "Best Of" DVD.

http://www.thebitscreen.com - The Bit Screen.

http://craptv.com/co_info/submissions.html - Crap TV.

http://www.ifilm.com - The big baddy of short film sites, ifilm.com boasts the most shorts and the best success ratio of filmmakers going from rags to riches. You can see their "success stories" articles on the site. It's also the most annoying with horrendous pop up screens.

http://www.inetfilm.com - Internet Film Community.

http://www.movieflix.com - Movieflix is one of the coolest new sites and has a broad range of titles of royalty free old movies and new independent short films.

http://www.neokino.com - NeoKino.

http://www.pepper-view.com/en - A French run web site.

http://www.reelscreen.com - The British web site run by the magazine Total Movie and Total Film. Several submissions wind up on their monthly DVD that goes out with the magazine.

http://www.rewindvideo.com/artman/publish/index.shtml - Rewind Video Magazine reviews and links to movies online.

http://www.robofilms.com - Robofilms is silly but fun. Check out the "robo-manifesto."

http://www.shorttv.com - Short TV out of New York also has a TV show counterpart in New York City.

http://studiocities.net - Studiocities has a ton of movies and a great layout.

http://indie.hollywood.com/submitfilm.asp - Indie Film from Hollywood.com, anyone who's been in an AMC theater in the last eighteen months will recognize the name, Hollywood.com, which has theater listings and showtimes. They bought a small formerly Cincinnati based short film site called "alwasyi.com" and converted it to their own.

http://www.undergroundfilm.com - Saving the best for last, Underground Film was recently purchased and will soon be run by the University of Southern California. Underground Film is one of the best independent film sites in the world.

Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Cinedictum: Self-Interview

Submitted by Shavkat Karimov

What in the hell is Cinedictum?

Cinedictum is a witty child, conceived in love by philosophy and art. From philosophy it has a manner to ask, and from art, a manner to answer.

Cinedictum is a new word in cinema. It's a short dictum stated in a figurative style by the film medium.

In other words, Cinedictum is a film-aphorism. It's a very short film (usually, no more than three minutes) whose concise narrative holds both entertainment and moral value, while addressing universal themes.

So what?

Cinedictum, like aphorism in literature, has very strong attraction. This occurs because ideas are expressed in bright form with precision. Some aphorisms are fundamentally wrong and unjust. Nevertheless, as a result of their ability to influence, they are often used as arguments in disputes.

Cinedicta are violence-free movies. We are opposed to scenes with violence, sex, drugs, use of weapons, cruel fighting, and the promotion of extreme ideologies such as terrorism and fascism. We can entertain and impress without showing violence on the screen.

Humor is our main power and it makes us live longer. Most of our films are comedies. And comedy is the world's most popular genre.

Cinedicta have wide audience. Kids, teenagers, young professionals, parents, and senior citizens will all find something for themselves in these movies. Any social group will accept them, as very common themes are explored in Cinedicta. We have also concentrated on making the movies silent in order to make it possible for anyone in the world understand them. We made them universal.

These films will never get old. They will stay forever young because they are made in classic style.

Cinedicta are great, precisely because they are so short. Their strength lies in their weakness. As William Shakespeare said, "Brevity is the soul of wit." So, we keep them short.

In this new millennium the tempo of our lives is continually accelerating. We don't have extra time, and sometimes people just don't want to spend two hours watching a feature, even if they love movies. We are short of leisure time, a trend that works to the advantage of cinedictum. You need only a few minutes to watch a cinedictum. And if you have twenty minutes of free time, you can stimulate your mind and enjoy watching ten cinedicta all at once.

Okay, how can I use it?

Cinedicta can be aired on television either in addition to other programming (lead-ins, infomercials, promos, visuals, fillers before and after programs) or independently, as a compilation of cinedicta made available to air together. Also, cinedictum can be used to fill in the gaps between programs. When the program ends a few minutes early, the television networks need something to help bring them to the top of the hour.

Cinedicta can also be used as in-flight programming or be shown in waiting areas at airports, hotels, supermarkets, and sports stadiums. For more ideas where cinedictum can be shown check out the list available at www.cinedictum.com/films/use.phtml

Despite language barriers cinedicta can be shown in numerous countries because their sense, and especially their humor is visual rather than verbal. Often there are no words at all in the films which gives them a timeless quality.

That's interesting. What do you propose?

We have thoroughly studied the best of the planet's short stories, world and ethnic literature, and national epics. We have explored the entire experience of humanity and used it in cinedictum. Today, we have fifteen-hundred screenplays selected for cinedicta in our database. However, we continue to replenish our list by adding more stories to our database daily.
The first batch consists of ten cinedicta and because of the considerable public interest in these brand new movies, we plan to create many more cinedicta in the future.

We invite everyone to take part.

Our films are absolutely independent. No one tells us what kind of cinedicta to create, or how to do it. We are an independent company and we are proud of it.

Cinedictum has a distinctive excellence. Viewers will always watch until the end.
I believe that Cinedictum will soon find its niche in the world of cinema.

Where can I find out more?

You're always welcome to visit the cinedictum home page at www.cinedictum.com.

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

The Story of Donald and Dot Clock

Submitted by Roger DeBris

John Edmund Parcher wanted to make his own damn movie. A decade of work as a part-time audition actor (entertaining casting directors who called him in to read for hundreds upon hundreds of roles) led him to realize that waiting on anyone to open doors for him would not work, and that the few times he was actually hired would not do. Several short film projects with a variety of aspiring directors gave him the where-with-all to finally make a feature film. The only problem was, what would the film be about?

Sometime in the mid-nineties, somewhere in the Midwest, was a daily newspaper with a tiny blurb proclaiming, "Donald and Dot Clock Found Dead in their Home." The story went on to state that the cause of death was not known, that the police did not suspect foul play and that there was no evidence of suicide. What happened to Donald and Dot Clock? This was the burning question that brought forth the idea for John Edmund Parcher's first feature film and transformed Parcher into "Donald Clock" for the silver screen. However, the "Dot" character was still missing.

At a reception after a random Sundance screening, John Edmund saw a tall, wiry, striking female figure, with a unique aura about her. He approached her and introduced her to the idea of Donald Clock and the part of Dot. Her name was Eugenie Bondurant, and she originally hailed from New Orleans. She said yes and several years later the first day of shooting began.

First time director, Michael Kowalski, was studying film in the Anthropological Department of the University of California. He had made a few short documentaries, including his final graduate thesis project. John Edmund had met Michael on a Greyhound bus ride from back east to Los Angeles. Michael expressed interest in the "Donald and Dot Clock" project and brought along a writer who came up with a loose outline of the story. The initial script played around with elements from "Marty" and "Ben," a shy loser and a rat. Since John Edmund was a strict Vegan for the past twenty-five years, the writer created several scenes as a dark satire, including a beating with dead rabbits, skinning rabbits, as well as a talking skinned rabbit.

The filming itself lasted twenty-three days and was spread out over four years. The first rough cut was shot over thirteen days and was cut on a Light Works system at Disney Studios. The editor of a Disney feature allowed Michael and John Edmund to sneak in and cut "Donald and Dot Clock" on the sly. The editor had dated Eugenie in years past. The first rough cut spanned two hours and needed a lot of work.

The director would spend the next eight months or so figuring out what to do. Finally, a crew was gathered and additional scenes were shot, and others were re-shot. Between film shoots, numerous ideas were shot on video in order to test out various plot developments. The footage was then plugged into the film on a Mac Final Cut Pro system Michael had set up in his home, the Disney show having been completed.

A dedicated group of professionals donated their time and showed up time and again; camera operator, gaffers, grips, and the actors who performed in a variety of roles. The director of photography, Mary Beth Bresolin was Michael¹s girlfriend and they had gone through an ugly breakup just after the principle photography. Despite this, she came and shot the film every time she was needed over the course of the four years it took to reach completion.

The filming took place in each participant's homes (actors, director, and producer) and all over Los Angeles without permits. One of the big "special effects" in the film took place when Donald throws himself into the La Brea Tar Pits. After he climbs over the fence and jumps towards the tar pits, the close up insert is that of John Edmund as Donald sinking into a kiddy pool filled with molasses, soy oil, and some dirt, to duplicate the tar pit look. This same mix was covered all over John Edmund when "Donald" finds himself in the afterlife, walking through the Los Angeles sewer system where he greets Dot, who had been mourning his death at the spot where she commiserates with rats earlier in the film.

When the film was fashioned into a presentable form, it was left in the hands of the person who got the whole thing started, pulled the train out of the station on the adventure bound for glory. John Edmund Parcher faced the daunting task of launching the film to the viewing public utterly alone.

Through the hundreds of rejections from film festivals including, Sundance, Slamdance, Nodance, Digidance, Slamdunk, Tromadance, and more, John Edmund felt lost, but not without hope, for he was finally found by the Lost Film Fest. The little film festival that could expressed true love for Donald and Dot Clock Found Dead in their Home and has screened the film out of their home base in West Philadelphia and all around the world.

Wednesday, May 29, 2002

Get Lucas a Cattle Prod

Submitted by Melinda Murphy

God help us, the annual summer blockbuster season is here. Have you noticed it comes earlier and earlier?

In the stalwart tradition of an ex-movie critic, I decided to see a few of the new releases. I'm way too fond of my VCR - the relationship is becoming obsessive. So, I returned to big, dark places full of sticky floors and strangers who will not shut up.

It being May '02, I had to get the juggernaut out of the way. Juggernaut is what my favorite comic, Denis Leary, called Titanic. And he was right. Mainstream films are so bloated, so expensive and so over-done, they need a company logo, a dozen lawyers and good lighting just for the press junket. So I gave in and saw Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones.

The ass-numbing effort reminded me of carnie show rides. When I was 12, I got on a ride, liked it for about five minutes; but when it speeded up, things started swinging at my head and I started sliding out of my seat and then - I just wanted to get off.

The special effects in Attack of the Clones are like that. Things fly at your face and after awhile you just want it to stop before the headache starts. There's either a mechanical whatsit or an enraged creature lunging at the audience every five minutes for two hours and twelve minutes.
I'm not sure if Lucas' mid-life crisis, a hidden drug problem, or enough money to roll around in built the foundation for this film and its depressing predecessor, Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace.

The dialogue? God, what happened, George? Where are the memorable one-liners like "Well excuse me, your worshipfulness?" I had no idea that Ewan McGregor and Samuel L. Jackson could be that boring. They do voice-overs on car commercials with more verve.

Character development? There isn't any. I was so annoyed by C3P0 and R2D2 that I hoped one of the angry grasshopper critters would finish them off. C3P0 was cute in the earlier films, but now his plumy Brit accent and incessant whining had me fantasizing about him getting stomped into the stadium ground by an angry whatsit. Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen were no better, but it's not their fault. Everybody is wooden and dull; even the computer-generated characters have poor line delivery.

Plot? It's even worse than I feared. While in the first one, it turned out our heroes' struggles were precipitated by a trade dispute (NAFTA in space), this story stumbles from point to point. Politicians vie for power and somebody's lying, though it's easy to forget exactly who (think Watergate). The characters blather on in monotone; an assistant director should have randomly zapped the actors with a cattle prod just to get a screech out of them!

The romantic sub-plot is butt awful. Pull two socks out of a dryer and rub them together - they will have more energy between them than Anikan and the former-Queen-turned-Senator. At one point, they're frolicking - on I forget which planet - running in alpine meadows. For a second I thought I was watching The Sound of Music. Most of the time, Anikan utters forgettable, awkward lines that might as well have been written by one of Lucas' adopted kids; kind of how a fourteen year-old would imagine great love.

The only up side to this mess, is one of the last scenes where Yoda - that's right - Yoda takes on one of the heavies in a light saber duel. I don't think Lucas intended this response, but it was like watching Kermit the Frog do Kung Fu. The kids in the front row were howling with laughter.
Lucas decided that good writing and editing are needless details that would only hinder a story better suited to the Sci-Fi Channel on a Sunday night. Speaking of cable television, one of the characters even makes mention of "spice mining" - is Lucas scamming the venerable Frank Herbert?

Thank God I saw something coherent before I saw Attack of the Clones - the new Hugh Grant vehicle, About a Boy, which is a wonderful surprise, like a torte that tastes as good as it looks. Yeah, it's fluffy but it was fun, not an ordeal that you don't want to run out of water during.
Grant plays a useless, wealthy cad who has frittered away his life chasing chicks and shopping for compact discs. He meets a kid and the kid gradually weasels his way into the cad's life, changing him forever, and helping him develop empathy for someone other than himself. Grant's dead-on in this role, just like he was in Bridget Jones' Diary, and maybe that's not a compliment.

The plot and character development are good. Aussie Toni Collette is brilliant as a screwball London hippie who feeds her kid soymilk and "Ancient Grains" cereal for breakfast, tells him he's "not a sheep" and then sends him off to school in enough wool and organic fiber to make him look like a rainbow-colored lamb. Grant's character meets her through a self-help group that made me laugh out loud - S.P.A.T. or Single Parents Alone Together. The subtle pokes at contemporary life, which earn giggles and some serious laughs, are reminiscent of Fight Club. When Grant's character is doing a voice-over about a frightening ride to an emergency room, he doesn't hesitate to say it was scary "but driving really fast behind the ambulance was fun!" It's exactly this sort of black, poking-at-political-correctness humor that made flicks like The Opposite of Sex a classic.

It's sad that the entertainment biz continually disappoints with warring egos spewing crap like Attack of the Clones, when you consider that the movie's budget was bigger than Zaire's gross national product. Or, better yet - and this has been said before - for what it costs to make one summer blockbuster, Hollywood could produce two dozen independent films.

Tuesday, May 07, 2002

Filming What We Know

Submitted by Joseph Gaines

I'll start by saying that I am not a filmmaker. Rather, I am someone who finds himself in the right place at the right time with a story that tells itself. I am lucky enough to have all the resources I need to let this story be retold on film. I don't have to spend a dime on props, the sets are already built and the characters have no need to rehearse their parts. It's just myself, a circle of friends (who know far more about the nuts and bolts of film than I do) and a story that is screaming to be told.

It begins with an accident.

In the fall of 1989, something happens which surprises pretty much everyone in the entire world, especially those who are right in the middle of it. A series of nation-wide demonstrations to change one government's oppressive policies seem certain to provoke a violent response from the military and state police. If this were Tiennamen Square in Beijing, then the story ends here. The government brings the resistance to a bloody and indisputably final end. However, it is not Beijing.

A political and economic system which posited itself as the only viable alternative to fascism disintegrates rather suddenly under the weight of its own dysfunction. The Deutsche Demokratische Republik (German Democratic Republic), the socialist dictatorship which had governed east Germany for the last forty years, collapses seemingly overnight. A "peaceful revolution" takes place, without one shot fired or one drop of blood spilled.

Perhaps "overnight" is an exaggeration. For weeks, protests and prayer vigils have been precipitating just such a collapse. But in one night the Berlin Wall, the ruling Socialist Unity Party's greatest symbol of its real and lasting power, is opened. And blood really is shed; by the time the border opens, three party chiefs have committed suicide. More will do so before the dust settles.

As I said, it begins with an accident. Towards the end of a press conference on November 9, Guenther Schabowski, a DDR Politburo member, lets slip a press briefing which should have been released the next day, announcing a relaxing of the DDR's stringent travel restrictions. Word spreads among DDR citizens even faster than it does to the state police. Hundreds of thousands cram border crossings and the border guards have no choice but to let them through.
And so it goes. More protests, revelations of wide-spread corruption, families and friends reunited - the beginnings of a real public dialog. All of this leads to the eventual reunification of east and west Germany in the following year.

This story is nothing new for Germans. They have talked and written this topic to death.
Why then would anyone want to make a documentary film about it? Who would even watch it?
People will watch this film for the same reason why, when I moved to Leipzig, I thought that the DDR was really just a puppet state of the Soviets and therefore really not very interesting in and of itself - I just didn't know what had really happened here.

I didn't know that many people here had forged a strong sense of independence, of a national identity independent of west German capitalism, of pride in the socialist ideal of equality and support for all citizens, however flawed that reality ultimately proved to be.

I didn't know that there were actually significant ideological differences between the Soviet Union and the DDR, some of which led to blunt political strife in the public arena.

I didn't know that, even though the socialist experiment failed, it wasn't all bad. Many people just lived their lives, left alone by the Stasi (the DDR secret police, often used by the government to terrorize its own citizens), confident that they would always have education, always have a job, and would be cared for from cradle to grave. In the end, everyone knew that the DDR had to clean house, that the ruling party had to go, and that the border had to be opened. Practically nobody expected the whole thing to cave in.

My trade and training is that of a classical musician. I am in Leipzig on a fellowship from the Rotary Foundation to study at the oldest music conservatory in Germany, the Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy College of Music and Drama in Leipzig. I confess that I'm a news junkie and I have a serious love for the study of politics and history, but I have no formal training as a filmmaker. More accurately, I have no formal training to interview and translate for a film, which are my tasks in this project.

I have the good fortune to have already begun interviewing my subjects without even knowing it. All I had to do was ask my speech and vocal diction teacher here about what it was like to work as an artist in the DDR and the stories just came. I cautiously experimented with other local artists of various trades, casually asking what was it like back then? I just had to ask the questions. They did all the talking.

It's said that, as a writer, you should write what you know. I'm hoping the same is true of filmmaking, that you should film what you know. I speak the language of actors, musicians, and artists in general. I know them, so I will retell the stories of the DDR through their eyes. Most Germans have seen some kind of documentary film about the DDR, but they have never seen one told in the words of the artists who lived through it.

Who will watch it?

During my first few weeks in Leipzig last fall, I had the good fortune of being able to attend many screenings and events for the 44th Annual Leipzig International Festival for Documentary and Animated Film. I saw dozens of animated shorts, full-length features, and documentaries of all shapes and sizes. Our film being about the history of the DDR as experienced by Leipzig-area artists, this festival seems a logical first venue and a worthy goal. We hope to have wrapped up post-production by July of 2003, in time for submission to the Leipzig "Dok-Festival" in October.

We will keep the original audio (i.e., the interviewees speaking in German) but add English subtitles. On a practical level, this format will serve both English and German-speaking audiences well. Germans are accustomed to hearing films in their own language (virtually all American films shown here are dubbed), so this will be nothing unusual for them. Americans are used to seeing most foreign films in the original language but with subtitles, so we will be accommodating them as well.

Love, betrayal, innocence, violence, corruption, espionage, you name it, the DDR had it all. All I have to do is ask the questions. I don't even have to worry about a script. As the producer, I have to make sure I get my non-German-speaking crew flown here from across the Atlantic, housed, fed, and kept out of trouble for at least a week. I have to make sure all the interviewees will be in town and available, that we have the right camera and that we stick to a relatively tight production schedule.

In the interviews, people will say what they want to, what they need to, but thankfully I don't need to plan that.

Besides, like I said, it all began with an accident anyway.

Tuesday, April 30, 2002

The Horror, The Whore

Submitted by Bill the Rake

A new poster in Los Angeles. "Your kids never think of you as a rock god, but Gwen Stefani does! E!"

The Rosie O'Donell sequel to The Firm. Flabber.

Lee Majors gets a lobotomy and ends up on Son of the Beach mumbling "Farah, Farah."
Anson Williams thinks he's going to see a lotta chicks but ends up charming fifty Hannibal Lecter orange jump suits.

The Rake gets kicked out of LA's posh Westside like a Palestinian from the West Bank but debuts in Nudity Required disrobing and aiming his gun and is featured in the Son of the Beach episode "House of the Prostitution" with promo gal Bobbie.

Sabre Tooth gets more lines than in X-Men by becoming Notch Johnson's beach man.
Marsha from the Brady Bunch, Maureen McCormick tries to put a notch in her lipstick case by prosecuting Notch Johnson for pre-marital relations in the Scarlett Burka.

The biggest and best thing to come out of this town besides Charmed is Son of the Beach. Though on the FX channel like The Shield, co-producer, writer, and star, Tim Stack tells Anson Williams he can get the show on HBO! Sex in the City will be on hiatus until the lovely skinny blond lady has her baby. So maybe there's the chance. Otherwise the new Son of the Beach episodes will air starting this summer. You don't want to miss episodes like the "Gaytrix" or "Penetration Island." I appear in "House of the Prostitution" and "Penetration Island." Son of the Beach has gone from bad high school theater production to, now with three able-bodied directors, the status of feature film action. Imagine duplicating The Matrix for low budget television.

Son of the Beach is rated in the top 100 for television shows like Sports Night, now on Comedy Central, but that had the weight of ABC, William Macy and that black actor guy who played Benson, also known as Robert Guillome.

Anson Williams, Potsy from Happy Days, was so excited about being on Son of the Beach that he invited his business associates to the Los Angeles city jail set for the spoofing of Gladiator scenes and donned a suit he hadn't worn in six years.

They missed Lee Majors' lines of "the horror, the whore" taken from Marlon Brando's character in Apocalypse Now. Lee Majors did perform with his pure "method" acting like Robert Redford in The Last Castle. His method was so strong that the Aussie director had to say, "Lee, don't you remember me, I met you the other day?" He was playing Robert Redford's character and would not respond to Lee. Maybe he was acting like Marlon Brando in A Street Car Named Desire and instead of exuding "Stella, Stella," he was thinking "Farah, Farah." Oh the horror, the whore who kicked me out of the Westside to suffer the heat of Van Nuys. Short of getting beat down by Israeli Defense Force Nazi storm-troopers in the occupied territories, I remain a fan of Howard Stern's Son of the Beach.

Tuesday, March 19, 2002

The Holy Grail of LaLa Land

Submitted by Melinda Murphy

Before Christmas, I decided to vacate Draino, Nevada. I spent the holidays packing and chucking anything I wouldn't absolutely need in Los Angeles. I'm part gypsy and creative minimalism comes easily. I even toyed with the idea of eighty-sixing my thermal underwear - for good.
Of course, I couldn't attempt this wild escape without hearing "The Word" on L.A. over and over.

"You think the people here are rude? You have no idea!" fumed my friend and former San Diegoian, Jen. She is another frustrated writer, mother of three who lives in a cluster of tract homes and trailers seventeen miles north of Reno, where the shakedowns on meth labs are continuous.

"The Final Word" on L.A. came from a woman I met while at a gas station.

"I used to live in West Hollywood," she said, smiling sadly. "But I had to leave. I was into some bad shit."

She then regaled me with tales of buying and dealing rock cocaine amongst a backdrop of gay prostitutes, teen runaways, and former television stars.

"Besides," she added, "I really missed winter. I missed the bundle-up weather you have here."
It was eighteen degrees Fahrenheit and the latest winter storm was hanging fatly over the rim of the eastern Sierra like a thundercloud over Dracula's castle.

"But I'm better off now," she finished, "At least here if you want crack, it's more expensive and the rocks are a lot smaller."

Yet another reason to hate Reno. It's hard to get decent crack.

I spent New Year's Eve sitting on the bare oak floor of my frigid rental, watching television. I downed a Valium and some Tuaca and went to bed, intent on avoiding anything Auld Langsyne.
I jerked awake at 7:30 a.m. with a heavy feeling in my stomach. I started stuffing, cramming, and squeezing everything into my thirteen year-old compact car. My aunt pulled up at 11:30 a.m. pealing with laughter.

"My God, it's the Beverly Hillbillies!" she chortled.

She snagged my furniture and the miscellaneous items that wouldn't fit inside the car and hauled them off to storage.

For the uninitiated, the best way to pack a beatermobile for urban invisibility is this - always put the vitals - VCRs, computers, stereos - underneath the clothes, Tupperware, and other priceless heirlooms. Make the thieves dig for the electronics.

I drove off with orders to call on my cellular as soon as I hit the Motel 6 in Mojave, a truck stop about two hours north of L.A.

I cruised smoothly past Mono Lake, favorite brine-fly-covered destination of celebrity Ed Begley, Jr.

In Bishop, California it was dusk and the gun-metal sky was spitting rain. The greatest sandwich shop in the world, Schatt's Bakery, was inundated with Yuppie skiers on their way back to L.A. from a weekend in Mammoth Lakes. It was a sea of ugly sweaters, cell phones, and pushy bimbos with that reverse liposuction in their drooping Mick Jagger lips. I clawed my way to the front of the line and bought a sandwich.

At the Motel 6 in Mojave, there is a minor incident. I open the right front door of the Hyundai and a box of See's candy given to me for Xmas flies out of the car like it's spring loaded. The next morning, I hear the maids arguing over who has to pick up the chocolate strewn across the parking lot like little brown anti-personnel mines. They hate me now. I can never go back.

In the late morning sunlight I climb a ridge of rolling red hills and catch a glimpse of Santa Clarita to the west. The hills are so red, I keep expecting Mister Spock to pop out behind one with a phaser, or maybe see Jack Palance come trotting onto the asphalt on a nice Spanish pony.
The traffic gets tense. The slow lane is suddenly the eighty mile-per-hour lane and semi-trucks and Mercedes in the far left lane bomb past me at ninety-five.

I make some frantic lane changes and I get off in 'Weird and work my way through perpetually heavy traffic to a Trader Joe's on Santa Monica Boulevard, because it has public potties and the other shops want you to pay to pee.

I spend twenty minutes sitting in the humid parking lot studying a 1998 Thomas Guide. My former actress friend, Veronica, gave it to me. Her exact words were: "This is your bible. Keep it with you at all times." I map out the first six of three-dozen rental listings I'd gotten from one of two sketchy "renter referral" sites on the 'Net. They are sketchy because they want you to shell out money just to get the names and numbers of realtors who might have listings.

I drive up Santa Monica and make a right on Poinsettia. Bang, the first listing. It's a two-story blue building with a big fat FOR RENT sign. I call on my cell. "Oh, we just rented that bachelor unit," the realtor/slumlord/gopher tells me, but they have another, even nicer for $300 more near Hollywood High. This is a part of the world where bait-n-switch was invented.

I lean out my car window and ask a nice sort-of-unemployed-probably-gay-actor type what the Poinsettia rentals are like. He laughs and says that same sign has been in front of the building since he moved in two years prior. He thinks his landlord keeps it up to intimidate the tenants and suck potential renters into his other hovels.

I cruise over to the ones near Hollywood High, which looks like a fearsome inner-city P.S. Near by, the apartment buildings are varying shades of dirty yellow, with iron fences and bars on everything -- sort of like county jail if the inmates all had private rooms. The slumlord tells me over the phone that the units don't have actual kitchens, just a hot plate and a dormitory fridge and that they require first and last month's rent, a deposit, and a $35 non-refundable credit check. They're going for $800 a unit and there are about thirty apartments per three-story building. Someone is sooo rich, and it's not me.

I drive to Silver Lake. It's another G.G. (Gay Ghetto) I've heard so much about, renovated 1930's bungalows, impressive stands of eucalyptus tress, and tiered rose gardens. Friends neglected to tell me that Silver Lake is directly up hill from Echo Park, right up hill from Rampart, the infamous street where the L.A.P.D. meted out corruption and brutality. Scenes for Training Day were filmed near Echo Park. I am literally the only white person for ten blocks in any direction, even the sales signs in the store window are in Spanish. Occasionally, someone points and giggles at my wheezing car stuffed to the gills with boxes and bearing the ultimate goober plates, Nevada The Silver State. I head up Silver Lake and up and up. The neighborhood defies gravity. Duplexes and parked cars perch on the edge of streets that make San Francisco look flat. After a half hour, I find one of the listed rentals. The FOR RENT sign is gone and there's a filthy Toyota Pathfinder parked out front with New Jersey license plates. Shit.

I coast back down to Sunset and Santa Monica and spend the rest of the afternoon wandering between Melrose, West Hollywood, and the Hollywood Hills, where all the Mexican landscape crews drive nicer cars than mine. I see one FOR RENT sign in Melrose, for condos at $1,300 a month.

I make the long commute down to Torrance and the familiar Ramada Inn where I'd stayed just before Christmas on my "Looking Around Trip."

The next day, I stupidly check out of the motel, re-stuff the car and head back to 'Weird. I find a "studio" in Hollywood. The real estate agent has his on-sight person wander over in his flip-flops to show me the place. It's actually an up-stairs room with a private bath and a tiny "pantry" with a mini-fridge and a microwave. There's a full-size kitchen on the ground floor that I would technically share with five other strangers in the building. It is nicely renovated but noisy with bare hardwood floors and is just a scant six blocks north of Korea Town and some ugly gang graffiti. The current tenant hasn't moved out yet. They want $835 a month for the room plus an $800 deposit, a one-year lease and the ol' $35 non-refundable credit check.

I call my former actress friend, Veronica. She screams, "TAKE IT!" I call the real estate agent back. He tells me he rented it at 4:30 p.m. to a new tenant who already paid him cash. He says he told the current tenant he has forty-eight hours to move his furniture out. Just like that.

This time, I make it as far as LAX on the Pacific Coast Highway. I'm whipped. I check into a Budget Motel. Los Angeles International Airport is a city unto itself. There are hotels, condos, restaurants, lounges, and an entire mall somewhere in the innards of the parking garages and terminals straddling the highway for more than two miles.

The front desk guy at Budget is the rudest person I meet in L.A. Judging by his accent, he's probably from New York. He slaps my card key down on the front counter and then turns his back on me and the Asian tourists with five-hundred pounds of luggage to yell at someone on his cell phone. He does a good imitation of some freak on The Sopranos. I hate that show.

I go to a hamburger joint a few yards down PCH from the motel. It's called Woody's Smorgasburger. It's the best hamburger I've ever had in my life. Dazed tourists sit at tables around a fireplace and sip microbrews as a light fog drifts in from the coast. It's fantastic. I go back to the motel and listen to the steady stream of traffic all night.

The next few days, I spend trying vainly to find the "nice" part of Long Beach where fabled affordable rentals exist. In San Pedro, I call on a one bedroom partially overlooking Long Beach Harbor, which really isn't worth looking at. It's $950 a month, first and last.

I go through northwest Long Beach - terrifying during the day - because I'd found an ad in the paper for an "artist's loft." It's a studio upstairs in what looks like a crack house. I don't even stop. The agent wanted $625 for it, which is comparable to Reno's housing prices. I keep thinking if they'd just do an episode of Fear Factor where the contestants had forty-eight hours to find a place to live in L.A. it might be worth watching. Ditch the eat-a-cockroach episodes.
Finally, on Thursday, I start hunting around Harbor City and Coloma, which are sort of south of Torrance and north of Long Beach. The price is right. Most of the rentals are around $600.

I meet Mister Slumlord at a one bedroom in Harbor City. He's driving a Lexus. It's not even Good Block, Bad Block country. It's more Okay Building, Over-priced Building, and Rat-Infested Tree House. The unit is on the ground floor of a two-story, 1970's concrete box with a security gate. The rooms are large and fairly clean. The view is of a parking lot and the loathsome federal housing building next door where kids run wild through broken glass and the boom-boom of gangster rap never stops. We go back to his office six blocks away. Slumlord demands a copy of my last paycheck stub, my bank statement, and a half-dozen other things. I dutifully dig it all out of my car. Twenty minutes later, he sits reading the credit application and taping his pen on his desk.

"So you haven't actually started this waitress job yet?"

No, I say, I have to have a place to live first.

He tells me my check stub is "totally unusable" in the credit check because there's no actual dates on it. I tell him I was with the U.S. Postal Service in Reno for six months and that's how they print their check stubs. The stub reveals that I was averaging two grand a month in a town where $1,100 a month is considered a lot of money. I pay $35 for a non-refundable credit check with my Visa debit card, which Slumlord sneers at because it's not an actual credit card. He tells me it will take three to four days to run the credit check. It's Thursday, and I'm supposed to have a place by Sunday at the latest and start my new job the following Monday.

I go back to the Ramada and pay up from Thursday night through Saturday night. The rates go up on the weekends. The room is running me $60 to $80 a night. That night, my plan starts to unravel and reality starts to creep in.

I talk to a friend-of-a-friend of my former actress friend, Veronica. Ted is a producer and real estate agent who lives in Bel Air. He has a sound editing business out in San Fernando Valley and a dozen rentals he inherited from his rich parents who were also in The Biz. Ted tells me he has condos and duplexes in Melrose, Culver City (a 'burb that exists entirely under freeway overpasses so it's sort of always twilight), another in Hermosa Beach and several in Santa Monica. For wannabe writers, Santa Monica is the Holy Grail of Housing. I'd sell myself, take a bullet, and steal if I thought any of it would get me a lead on a rental in Santa Monica. His rentals, all two bedrooms, start at $3,000 a month and he hasn't had a vacancy in over a year.

"Landlords have it made right now," he cheerfully tells me, adding that since an earthquake (didn't say which one) awhile back, the constant tide of Mexicans, and an apparent moratorium on building new rentals - L.A. is experiencing the greatest housing shortage ever. When homes and rentals in Orange County rose outrageously in the 1990's, any incentive people had for living outside Los Angeles County disappeared.

"The big trend for the last ten years has been to move back into the city proper because some of the highest paying jobs in California are in L.A.," Ted says. And they're not just in the entertainment industry. Most are in the banking sector, in advertising, and e-commerce.

"Oh," I say.

Friday evening, I get a call from the woman I'd planned to go to work for, an assistant manager with a chain of Denny's-like restaurants. She tells me that she can't wait any longer to actually hire me and doesn't mind continuing to lie for me and say "yeah, she works here" but doubts there will be an actual position by next week.

Saturday, I drift tiredly up to an internet rental referral agency in Redondo Beach. I plunk down $60 for two months membership. I get fifty pages of printouts, this time for roommate situations. Back at the motel, I call fifteen answering machines and leave fifteen separate messages.

On Sunday, I add the third quart of oil to my car in as many days. My Hyundai is bad. I call my aunt in Reno and tell her I'm throwing in the towel, mostly because even if I find a place, the odds of the car dying are good. I don't want to test my survival instincts with a beatermobile meltdown on the fearway at six in the evening returning from a temp job.

I head up the 110 on a misty, balmy Sunday morning. In light traffic, I drive past downtown and catch my first look at the Library Building glinting in the hazy sunlight. It's now the fifth tallest building in the U.S. Last fall it was the seventh. As I get above Hollywood, I see the turn off for Griffith Observatory and the L.A. Zoo. In my seven days of apartment hunting, I never even made it to the park, and now it will be closed for a month for renovations. I'm practically in tears. I pass Glendale and Burbank, where the real studios and celebs haunt. I see a sign for a sports bar where I know a Project Greenlight writers group meets every Wednesday evening.

North of Santa Clarita, I take a county road and jog east until Mojave and then back up to highway 395 and Owens Valley. I stop in Bishop near midnight and it's twenty degrees. My car blows oil and overheats twice between L.A. and Reno, so I spend quality time waiting for the festering heap to calm down enough for me to pop the radiator cap and add water and radiator fluid. I make it up Sherwin Grade to the turn-off for Mammoth Lakes. By the time I hit Mono Lake, the wind is howling and the snow is splatting against the window. At 3 a.m., I fall into my aunt's dusty spare bedroom and defeat.

The next morning, at a local repair shop, the mechanic tells me the car's engine is going - camshaft, piston rings, cylinders - everything.

"You're not planning on making any road trips in this, are you?" he asks.

Tuesday, February 26, 2002

Fourteen Essentials of a Good Press Kit

Submitted by Melissa Puch de Fripp

With the outgrowth of independent films in the marketplace, from micro-budget to larger budget features, it's more essential than ever to "outclass" the competition when it comes to marketing the film product. With that in mind, the first impression a filmmaker creates when sending materials to distributors, festival directors, reviewers, and media sources is more important than ever.

With the reality of independent features often going over budget, many new filmmakers find themselves in a position where they cannot afford a professional publicist. If you find you must create your own publicity kit, then you may simply follow this simple formula to create the right amount of "sizzle" and professionalism.

Keep in mind that busy news editors and film editors are inundated with requests for publicity, interviews, reviews, and photo opportunities, and they may literally only have sixty seconds to determine whether or not you go into the "A" pile or the circular file (i.e., the trash). Make your first impression count, and be sure to have trusted friends review your written material for typos, dropped words, and grammar.

The fourteen essentials are:

1) Glossy two pocket folders with cuts on one inside pocket for a business card. These are available at any office supply store.

2) Story Synopsis. Keep it short and simple and never longer than one page. The shorter the synopsis is, the better off you are, because a long synopsis can be edited down to something that doesn't even resemble your film once ninety-percent of your description is eliminated by an editor. Another trick is to provide two synopses. One a quarter page long, and one a half page long.

3) Cast List. Only integral cast, not minor roles and extras. The cast list should only be one page, and again the shorter the better.

4) Director's Biography. One page only.

5) Producer's Biography. One page only.

6) One Sheet of Mini-bios. Keep it to three paragraphs, one paragraph for your director of photography, one for your composer, and the third for another member you consider integral. Be sure to include awards and honors your key people have been given, if applicable. Note: If you have co-producers or associate producers, give them a one sheet of mini-bios, exactly like the one for director of photography, composer, etc.

7) Still Photographs. Black and white 8" x 10" glossies are the norm, but many filmmakers are also including color slides, which are good for magazines that include color in their pages or for cover stories. Be sure to either have a printed caption on the front of the photograph, or a typed label with the caption stuck on the back along with contact details. For slides, be sure to number the slides and place them in a professional one page slide holder (available at camera specialty stores) and attach one page with captions that correspond to the slide numbers.

8) Tip Sheet. This sheet should be nothing but the simplest facts, including genre, running time, what medium the film was shot in (35mm, 16mm, super 16, digital), locations used, and who your legal representation or producer's representative is, if applicable.

9) Action Photo of You. If you're the director, include a director's photo of you on the set, or stage one if you didn't have any decent shots of yourself taken during the film shoot. If you need to stage one, see if a camera rental facility will let you come in with your director of photography and take a shot next to the camera. If you're the producer, then it's recommended that you have a shot taken with the director. Thus you won't be left out of the publicity loop. Editors typically choose director's photographs over producer's photographs. Cover your bases.

10) Trailer. If you have a trailer, don't hesitate to duplicate it on ½" VHS tape. If you're dubbing your own trailers and they wind up looking too "second generation," either don't use it or spend the money to go to professional dubbing house to get cleaner looking copies. You're better off having no trailer or film clip enclosed than having a grainy looking one.

11) Articles. If you've already received any print media, be sure to get clean copies and enclose them in the press kit. If articles were printed with color photos, then be sure to get color copies to keep the visual impact alive.

12) An invitation to your latest screening.

13) Your business card.

14) A personalized memo or hand-written note to the editor who will be receiving your press kit, thanking them for taking the time to review your materials.

Optional. If there is something unique about your production which you want known, then by all means, write a one to three page "story" about your production and title it, "About the Production." On the upside, this helps an editor. On the downside, it may take some of the mystique and questions away from the reader. If you choose to write about your production, then do not include any horror stories of broken equipment, squabbles that you miraculously fixed, or how your relatives didn't come through with the cash, but you still made it without them. Save your war stories, and pull them out of your hat once your reputation is established and you're a big hit. For now, you want to seem like nothing less than a fabulous filmmaker with an aura of positive energy surrounding you.

Abajo Sur

Submitted by Melinda Murphy

I have lived in Reno, Nevada, for about twelve years, off and on. And it has been more on than off. There was the reporter gig in Bishop and Mammoth Lakes, California, hacking for a newspaper chain nobody has ever heard of and then the stint as a wild land firefighter up in Plumas County, California in 1996, but aside from that, there were endless summers working menial jobs and costly winters getting a half-assed schooling at the University of Nevada, Reno - my almost alma mater. I'm the most daring sort of writer. I'm a college dropout.

A few years prior to getting the gypsy itch to blow this truck stop, I'd taken up the futile hobby of spec script writing. Between all the weekends I'd blown on rewrites, the contest entry fees, the on-line screaming matches with other wannabes, and trying to explain to an office supply store clerk just exactly what a brad was (no, not Mr. Pitt), I gave it all up for Lent.

I had been chewing the scenery in this burg telling all my patient friends, "Screw these pod people! I want out!"

Then, one night, ensconced on my friend Sarina's couch (she had cable television, I didn't) I'd watched as the winner of HBO's Project Greenlight huffed and stomped like an angry twelve year-old runner up in a spelling bee. He wrote a script about an Irish Catholic kid who decides to convert a kosher friend - and this won? And then it hit me. Why not just move to LaLa Land? Oh yes, I could live out the fantasy so beautifully envisioned in Kevin Smith's Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. I would find the three So Cal twits who had critiqued my script during the Project Greenlight fiasco with astute comments like "I no likey u story" and "Man, I just don't get it" and BEAT THE CRAP OUT OF THEM!

I didn't really have second thoughts on the scouting around trip down south until I neared the exit for Whittier on Interstate 5 and realized there's no air here and I didn't bring any.

Metropolitan Los Angeles and Orange County combined is massive, like an angry three-hundred pound hooker sprawled out on a curb, dead drunk. Her right fist is Long Beach, her left hand is Pasadena, her head - covered in a dirty wig - is Hollywood, her sagging breasts include the downtown banking district with its pompous high rises and her ass and thighs enclose Inglewood, Anaheim, Carson, and all things in between. Los Angeles County counts some eleven million souls as its residents and Orange County ups the ante another two to five million, making Southern California a humbling metropolis.

Cruising on Katella Avenue, Pacific Coast Highway, and then Santa Monica Boulevard, I felt like a hillbilly ant in a dilapidated Hyundai, alone in a sea of angry legal secretaries and other impatient locals gunning their sleek BMW's and Acura's for the next stoplight. Everyone knew where he or she was going and I didn't have a clue. The smog from eleven million cars and the typical California flat-as-a-pancake geography makes it impossible to see the downtown skyline. There was a Ramada Inn in Torrance. It was expensive, it was safe, and it was quiet. When you are a guppy in an ocean of humanity, you stick to what you know, you stick to the reefs, to places like Trader Joe's, El Pollo Loco, and the nearest well-lit parking lot of an AMC movie theater.

In my plush motel room, I channel surfed and watched the evening news. Most of the random violence occurred in Long Beach, which was also one of the most racially and economically mixed areas. There was another shoot out between a black gang and a chollo gang and a Brinks security guard got shot in the face in a full parking lot in Anaheim at five in the evening and nobody saw anything. Outside the motel, I watched tiny grade-school kids get off city buses in the their daily journey home from public schools on the other side of the concrete jungle.

The next morning, I made a quick shot up Crenshaw through Torrance and then back on to the Pacific Coast Highway and Redondo Beach. Perusing the endless strip malls, taquerios, and coffee shops, I thought this ain't so bad.

I stop at the Redondo Beach Pier. The dewy mid-morning air was somewhere between phosphorescent and bronze. I kept taking my shades off and putting them back on. The light in this place of endless contradictions cast everyone in a soft movie star glow. It was about sixty-five degrees Fahrenheit and it bumped all the way to seventy-three before I left the valley. Three hours away, in the southern Sierra Nevada, the wind is howling and the snow is blinding. At the pier, everything was polluted. It was heartbreaking. This would have been such a nice place to live if people would just turn off their cars and never flush their toilets again. And this was the same crowd of blancos who point the finger of accusation at the mining on the Baja coast.

And what was up with the whites and the Chicanos in Los Angeles? I try and ask several of my friends in Reno, who are ex-Angelinos, but they all change the subject. Racism in Los Angeles is like the giant, cervasa swilling, cheeseburger-sucking elephant in the middle of the living room nobody wants to talk about. Reno is more than thirty percent Hispanic and, yeah, we have issues, but generally we take after Rodney King and get along.
In Los Angeles, the Spanish-English divide was wider than the Grand Canyon, it was a gaping wound that leached life out of the arts and culture scene and made for cold stares at intersections. When I was in Orange at a convenience store, the clerk, a Latina, made a point of helping several Hispanics in line behind me, before she helped me. Later, in downtown Beverly Hills, near Wiltshire and Santa Monica I sat in a Starbuck's and watched a middle-aged Hispanic woman try vainly for ten minutes to get anybody to give her directions to some mansion where she had an interview. I would have helped her but I couldn't even remember where I parked my car.
All the way home from my foray to the Southland, I kept thinking back on the Hispanic friends and foes I'd had. Nevada, like California, has been drawing Spanish speakers, especially campesinos and vaqueros, for centuries. There were a lot of Spanish Basques where I grew up, along with actual Spanish immigrants and Mexicans, and Dias help you on the playground if you confused the three.

Back in high school, a friend of mine, who was Italian-American, once stood overlooking the parking lot of our high school and said, "There's way too many spicks in our school." She was and still is, regularly mistaken for a Latina with her black hair, olive skin, and green eyes. Mexicans come up to her on the streets of Stockton, California, (where she now lives) and start speaking Spanish. In her defense, she has since taken a few Spanish classes and now tries to mumble a response. She wants to go back to the Mother Church, wants to become a confirmed Catholic, but the services are rarely held in English and so she leans toward Protestantism and her family leans perilously towards white supremacy.

A few years back, in the midst of a day job, I asked a co-worker - who was a young California dude from tiny Grass Valley - why he was so determined to finish his minor in Spanish literature and go back to Peru. He said, "If you ever make it to San Diego and you look south over the border, just remember, for as far as you can see, for as far as the land mass extends all the way to Antarctica, the whole world is Spanish."

Tuesday, February 12, 2002

FilmPlayLinks is Coming!

Submitted by Patte Ardizzoni

Isn't this a kooky business? And how did we get here? If you've got an answer for that one you're a far wiser person than I. And yet, here I am, putting fingers to my keyboard and waving my virtual pom-poms as I cheer the evolution of independent film and why it's the best thing to happen to home theater since the fast rewind button on the VCR.

I'm proud to be a part of the independent film club, having worked on a seventy-five thousand dollar shoestring, co-producing a suspense thriller. I've finally lost that dazed expression, I'm happy to say. But the experience made me realize how difficult it is to pull off a film of any size. It got me to wonder how many films are floating around out there, and although they're excellent and definitely worth seeing, they just haven't lucked out in terms of interested distributors.

We wanted to change that.

So here I am. In the middle of executing an independent film catalog, complete with fifty film trailers, behind-the-scenes footage, as well as a short film. You're shaking your collective heads wondering, "How in the world can a catalog do all that?" The secret is in the medium. Instead of paper, we're putting all those goodies onto DVD.

Stick with me here. Imagine sitting in front of your television browsing through fifty trailers, all chosen because of their excellence. You get a glimpse of the process as you listen to the people who have made the films. And here's the best part - you're given the opportunity to actually buy one the films on our web site or via a toll-free number. And by doing that you'll be giving back to the filmmaker in the form of income for a film that is finally getting a chance to be seen. What a concept.

The DVD is supported by sponsors, PBS style, which alleviates the problem of specific product advertising and the eventual state of product obsolescence. The catalog can now remain timeless, making it a perfect DVD to archive. The unique part of this formula for advertisers is that we're putting their name into over a million homes, coupled with consumers who match a definitive buyer profile suited to sponsor's targets.

If you buy trade magazines like Home Theater, MovieMaker, Variety, or Guerrilla Filmmaker, you shouldn't be surprised to find a DVD full of everything I've mentioned above. What a great way to get the filmmaker out to the people who most appreciate what they're creating! What a perfect way to deliver a sponsor's name into the home! What a simple way to get alternatives in entertainment out to the people who are scarfing up all those DVD players and home theater systems!

The catch is finding those films. It's not easy. So I'm calling on the loyalty of all independent filmmakers to help spread the word. The company is FilmPlayLinks. The goal is to make independent film more accessible and expand the ways in which films are distributed. The benefit is visibility and income for the filmmaker and a way for consumers to enjoy their home theater experience to the fullest.

Visit the website at www.filmplaylinks.com or send me a note at p.ardizzoni@filmplaylinks.com with your feedback, comments, or suggestions. This isn't lip service. We want to hear your thoughts. In the meantime, I'll continue doing my best impersonation of Paul Revere galloping around the internet and film festivals shouting, "FilmPlayLinks is coming! FilmPlayLinks is coming!"

Monday, January 28, 2002

The Ten Best Films of 2001 I Saw in General Release

Submitted by Mark R. Leeper

Every year I dread making out my list of the top ten films of the previous year. It seems like it should be an easy matter to choose since I rate most of the films I see. Except for ratings ties for the last few places, the ratings should actually choose most of the films. The truth is that my list is usually a bit of an embarrassment. You would expect that there would be some obscure films on the list.

The truth is I see mostly just the films that have made it to central New Jersey and what I see at film festivals. I do see some very good films at the festivals, but people do not want to read recommendations for films they never hear of and will have little chance to see. If such a film gets a release, I will treat it as if I had just seen it. As remarkable as it was that I had a +4 film on my list this year - I very rarely use the +4 rating because so few films are that good - even it was not the best film of this year. The Grey Zone was in my opinion the better film but may not get much of a release.

So there are better films that I have seen but which are not generally available. And there have been better films that are generally available but which I have not seen. That compromises this list somewhat. The films are listed best first. So much for suspense. Each one has the ranking and what I would rate the film on the 0 to 10 and the -4 to +4 scale.

My major hobbies include travel and film. Both can take me to places I have not been to before in different ways. Sadly, the films that do that are films that may have been popular, but perhaps not much public respect. But what impresses me the most about The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (#1, 10, +4) is the effort that was required to bring it to the screen. Tolkien's Middle Earth has been portrayed on the screen before and those representations only go to show how hard it is to do it well. This I did think was done well and in a visualization that repeatedly created a sense of awe. Peter Jackson has created the definitive visualization of a modern classic story.

Memento (#2, 9, +3) is a clever and intelligent idea for a film. In telling its narrative in reverse order, it is a film in which we all know how the story ends, but the mystery is how it began and really who is who. The reverse structure also gives the viewer a simulation of the actual mental dysfunction, a form of amnesia, the character is suffering. This is a film that some viewers have found very taxing, and perhaps it should be seen more than once, but it is probably the most original film of 2001.

A Beautiful Mind did not get released in my area until 2002, but it makes an interesting companion piece to 2001's The Luzhin Defence (#3, 9, +3). Both films are about geniuses who are social misfits and gives the audience a window into how these people think as well as the price each pays for his genius. John Turturro stars as Alexandre Luzhin, a chess grand master who is nearly an idiot savant. In this adaptation of a story by Vladimir Nabokov the strange Luzhin falls in love at an important chess match. John Turturro stars as the brilliant but extremely eccentric chess master.

If Memento was disorienting in its story told backward-style, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (#4, 9 +3) disoriented the viewer by telling its story in three parts of very different styles. In a sense this is a sort of dual of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner. That film suggested that we would be able to create feeling beings, but their life span would not be long enough for their purposes. Its replicants are haunted by how short and transitory life is. The film planned by Stanley Kubrick and completed by Steven Spielberg looks at a created human with a life span far longer than his purpose. Programmed to love and be loved by one human, the robot goes on living pointlessly, his whole reason for living taken away. Some almost magical future intelligence gives him one last contact with his purpose in life and the film asks us, "Is he better or worse for it?" Is it like giving a reformed alcoholic one last drink? Many did not like the sentimentality of the last part of the film, but I found the film to be rich in ideas throughout.

Several times now I have included on my top ten list films that have been made for cable. I have never seen that with anybody else's published top ten list. I do not know if other reviewers just do not consider them to be good enough or do not consider them at all. In any case, this year no less a critic than Roger Ebert and I both agree Wit (#5, 8, low +3) is among the best of the year. The film has Emma Thompson as a professor of 17th century poetry who is dying of cancer. It is based on Margaret Edson's Pulitzer Prize winning play. With wit and intelligence she tells us about the dying experience. This is an extremely moving film.

There was a time when the best art films were horror films. German expressionism gave us The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Nosferatu, M, The Golem, Waxworks, and Metropolis. Their legacy gave us films like Dracula, The Black Cat, and The Bride of Frankenstein. But since that time few horror films have had substantial merit. The films produced by Val Lewton and some made by David Cronenberg and perhaps one or two films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers were interesting artistically. The best modern director of artistic horror films is Mexican director Guillermo del Toro. This year he followed up Cronos and Mimic with The Devil's Backbone (#6, 8, high +2) which combines generally non-horror sub-genre of the boys school story with a story featuring a ghost and a stalking villain. As always, del Toro's visual compositions are absolutely beautiful. In the final analysis this is more of a murder film than a ghost story, but it nonetheless is hypnotically told. Del Toro actually has done (three times out of three) what Romero, Craven, and Carpenter should be doing.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (#7, 8, high +2) is faithful to the book and at the same time entertaining, not an easy balance. Like The Lord of the Rings it is a marvelous visualization of the book. There is some violence that may bother some parents, but kids are turning out in legions to see the film. And for many this will be one of the tamer films they are going to see. If the film limits the imagination they need in reading the modern classic Potter series, it will show them how it is done and open their imaginations when reading other books. Most of the weaknesses in the film, things like plot improbabilities, I found track back to the book.

Two good crime stories come next on my list. The Man Who Wasn't There (#8, 8, high +2) is a crisp black-and-white murder tale with a twisted plot that becomes clear in the end. The story is about a personal failure, a second chair barber in a tiny barbershop. When Ed enters a room with three other people in it, he makes it approximately three people in the room. In desperation to change his condition he tries blackmail and that makes things start to happen. The stark black and white images actually are the result of filming in color and then making black and white prints from that. Heist (#9, 8, high +2), written and directed by David Mamet, boasts two very clever robberies and a fairly good story of a brilliant criminal in the process of retiring. The script is not perfect, but is intriguing and has fewer holes than Mamet's The Spanish Prisoner. David Mamet's dialog may not be realistic, but it is artistic, like Shakespeare's was.

Then there's Shrek (#10, 8, high +2). What can I say? It has great animation and I laugh every time I see it. Robin Williams's genie in Aladdin leaves me cold. Rosie O'Donnell's Terk in Tarzan went all the way to irritating. Eddie Murphy's donkey in Shrek cracks me up every time. The film stands as a story on its own, but it is also a merciless rank-out of every Disney convention in reach.

© 2002 Mark R. Leeper

Making New World

Submitted by Peter John Ross


In 1999, I was working as a broker for a major bank in Columbus, Ohio. I had been writing screenplays and even had a few optioned, but nothing ever came of those leads. I wanted to make movies, not just write them or be a slave to corporate America.

I was jogging in a ravine between two neighborhoods in the middle of the city. There was a bridge across the street from the house I live in (not my parent's house). This bridge had the most amazing set of stairs made of large bricks much like a castle, and there was graffiti all over it, since it was in the center of the city. I loved the aesthetic of a castle looking staircase and bridge covered in urban graffiti. I envisioned a sword fight in my head, but how do I work in a sword fight into a modern story?

Along with that seed of an idea, I had been developing a story in my head for a television series which was my own kind of "science-fiction version of Red Dawn." I had been tinkering with this based on an entry in my dream journal from when I was thirteen years-old. It was a futuristic story that begins like ninety-nine percent of the trailers you see, "In a world where..."

But the world for this story was like Independence Day if humanity had lost the battle and the survivors were stuck picking up the pieces. Somehow I found a way to merge the ideas or sword fighting and laser battles between young upstarts and aliens - the kids come from a town where technology is forbidden. Hence the swordplay, if you can't be a cop with a gun, then you can be a cop with a sword. It's not Shakespeare, but at least it's better than Jar Jar Binks for a plot device.

Armed with an idea, and no clues as to how to make a movie I decided to try my hand at making short films first in order to learn the craft. It seemed a little ambitious to try a science-fiction, effects laden piece right out of the gate, so I went with some simple comedies, drama, and action. In January 2000, I created the Back Office series, available for free at http://www.undergroundfilm.com and www.pepper-view.com. I did six shorts, each with a radically different style of writing, directing, and editing so I could hone my skills. Some are good, some are bad, but I learned a lot making them.

Next up was writing the script for this insane science-fiction action piece. I wrote a draft and started to work on my plot. I asked an actor from the Back Office series, Milan A. Cargould (also known as Mac) to do a polish on the script because some of his screenplays were damn good. He had a knack for dialogue. He did a draft, then we did two drafts together. I focused on the big picture and the action scenes (already picturing them in my head) and Mac focused on dialog, but we both helped each other. Kevin Carr and Glen Littlejohn also provided some notes on the script and helped plug holes.

Then we prepped all summer to do a shoot in the fall. I really wanted the look of the leaves changing colors because the trees and the leaves are so picturesque in Ohio in the fall. It also plays into the caustic storyline to have the leaves all dead and fallen at the end of the story.

Mac made guns from PVC pipe and had toy guns modified for us. I did research on Adobe After Effects and I bought a Canon GL1 specifically for the shoot. We had the same Director of Photography from Back Office to help, a guy named Matthias Saunders from New York University that had relocated to Columbus. He was also set to produce it, but called off to go to the Olympics in Sydney instead. So there I was with no experience trying to put together a science-fiction action piece that would run approximately forty-five minutes with heavy special effects and no clue what I'm doing.

I met a girl on another shoot in Indiana that claimed to have skills as an artist and she volunteered to help with storyboards. She came to Columbus every weekend for two months and ate a lot of my food and did a few drawings. It wound up being a lot like dating, meaning I paid for everything, but I never got the benefits of having a girlfriend. She did some decent drawings, but her version of the aliens were more like cute stuffed animal aliens and not the threatening insects I was looking for. Another girl from Ohio State University answered a flyer I posted in the art department and she delivered incredible renditions based of my verbal descriptions inside of a week. I also paid her fifty dollars. Lesson learned - pay money and you get good results. Make a mental note.

Then came the auditions. We used my house since there were two empty bedrooms and my roommate hibernates eleven months of the year. I taped the auditions while Mac read against the actors. We selected some good sides that called for calm and dramatic scenes. We had some good auditions as well as some bad ones. One of the good ones was Dovie Pettitt, reading for the lead female role. Insisting that I give her a chance, the original storyboard girl read for the lone female role and did okay, but was nothing compared to a trained actress like Dovie. Needless to say, once I told her she didn't get the part the storyboards started coming in form of stick figures. It's obvious because in one panel the storyboard looks good, while the rest are stick figures.

As for the two lead male roles, we had written and intended for Mac to play the pilot. It was a forgone conclusion as far as I was concerned. Then came Jon Osbeck. He came in to read for the leader of the youthful upstarts fighting the aliens and it was one of those moments where you sense something, but don't know what it is. The energy crackled in the room as Mac read with him. I asked them to reverse parts and have Mac be the upstart while Jon Osbeck read the pilot. Then the energy went through the roof. I felt like I had to stop a fight because they both got so into it. We didn't even bother reading anyone else for the role of the leader or the pilot. That was a done deal. Mac, who co-wrote a part for himself, decided there was no question that they should switch.

We had one major casting stumble. We needed an older gentleman to play the part of the constable. We wanted kind of a warped Captain Picard, an older guy to deliver exposition about quasi-religious beliefs and aliens. It would either be campy or serious, and I wanted the serious.
A friend of mine from Back Office, George Caleodis, came in to read for another part. On a whim, I asked him to read for the constable. He did, and because of his stand-up background, he was able to whip up a unique voice and accent for the part and nailed it. I was concerned because he was the same age as me. Kevin Carr had a brilliant suggestion - shave his head. I was going for something like Kurtz from Apocalypse Now and it was inspired. George, only getting deferred payment agreed to shave his head for the part. Now that is an actor.

Soon thereafter I started making a shooting schedule and the call sheets. I assembled a crew based on the same crew from a feature I worked on called Going Corporate, directed by my friend and now cast in the part of Timmy, Kevin Carr. His sister Kelly was the script supervisor on Going Corporate and did an amazing job. She performed those duties on New World as well. Chris Alexis and Derek Rimelspach from Ohio State stepped into production assistant and boom operator roles. Matthias Saunders re-appeared after his trip to Australia and became the cameraman. Since everyone else beside Kevin Carr and I had day jobs we were set to shoot on weekends only.


Shooting commenced at Mac's cabin near the Ohio river deep in the heart of nowhere in southeast Ohio. Past Ohio University in the mecca known only as Shade, Ohio is a two-hundred acre patch of trees and hills owned by Mac's father. We picked this location because of the cabin and perfect landscape for the many battle scenes. In addition, there would be no one to bother us. On October 7th, 2000 the first scene wrapped at 3PM. We had the two smokers and the one fat guy running at full-speed as our first shot.

The next day we were ahead of schedule and shot another action scene from much earlier in the script. Then came the marathon exposition dialog takes. Everyone gave a 110% and we finished ahead of schedule.

After that part of the shoot we moved to the small parks in and around inner-city Columbus. There was enough foliage to fool anyone into thinking it was the same environment. Also, the bridge across the street from my house was still perfectly covered in graffiti and ready to be filmed. For the abandoned town, we found a former shopping center that was out of business.

We had bought some inexpensive swords from the local martial arts store. The Ninjitsu swords were only fifty-nine dollars each and I was pleased. I bought two of them, one for each character that would wield them. On the first day of the first sword fight, during rehearsals of the choreography, Mac's wrist was cut nearly to the bone. He was bleeding all over the sidewalk. I offered to take him to a hospital and he refused to go. He wrapped up his arm with some gauze and went back to rehearse. During the first actual take with camera rolling, Matthias got in the way and caused the two actors to go right through a window.

Needless to say we were concerned about what to do since the location agreement clearly stated "to leave the location in the exact same condition it was found in." We called the locals and let them know. They said the building was set to be demolished anyway and not to worry about it. On the second take with camera rolling, after two thrust and parries, one of our swords broke in half, sending the sharp half flying towards the other actors. This sent us on an early lunch break while we waited for the army surplus store to open so we could buy more swords. Lesson learned? Buy better swords that cost more.

The rest of the shoot was similar to this in nature. Getting into the petty squabbles with the director of photography over who gets to frame the shots and trying to get everyone to see a picture in my head of what the giant insect-like aliens are going to look like are all a part of making a movie. We ended the shoot one day ahead of schedule. I took a few days off before beginning the marathon editing session to put together a rough cut.

Hot tips for great looking digital video - filters. Matthias used a variety of 58mm lens filters on the GL1 to achieve certain looks. The main one he used to bring out the colors of the fall in Ohio was an enhancing filter from Tiffen. For other shots, neutral density filters softened the video quite a bit. For a more cinematic approach, we chose to go with the 16x9 (widescreen) look.


In December 2000, I began the editing on my home computer. I used the DV Raptor card from Canopus along with Adobe Premiere 5.1c. The Raptor card is still one of the best fire-wire DV capturing setups in the industry. I have used it for commercial work for two years. Adobe Premiere stands up as a solid editing package, and with the new version (6.01), Adobe has even streamlined their package into a powerhouse utility. My computer was an Pentium III 600 MHz with a 20 GIG and a 60 GIG hard drive. Unfortunately, I still had no aliens.

Initially, I did some tests with a 3D program called True Space 4.3 from Caligari. My old roommate, Dual Patrick Davidson, created some 3D wire-frame models and gave them to me on a CD-R. I did some animations and experimented with matting them into the live action photography. I edited together a trailer with the temporary effects footage. I was pleased but knew it didn't meet my standards.

I continued to edit down the scenes and put the whole piece together. There were some rough spots, and some regrets, but there was also some good rhythm in the action scenes. When I would edit, I would cut it as I pictured it in my head, then I would drop in some temporary music, usually something from the James Horner soundtracks. There were times where it was spooky how closely the accents would match, and I wouldn't even move the music around much, it just happened to fit as it was.

Then catastrophe hit. I got a job as an editor for a local production company, Tavares Teleproductions, and I built them an editing machine. We purchased the equipment from a mail order company and the machine kept blowing CPU fans or melting motherboards. We took my New World machine and plugged in the Tavares hard drives, and there my movie sat on an unplugged hard drive for four months while we tried to get a working machine to replace the mail order fiasco, which to this day has never been truly resolved.

Eventually, Tavares Teleproductions upgraded to a nice dual processor machine that I pieced together for them, and I took home my computer. I got it home, and I was very excited because I finally wrapped up my freelance projects and had at least a few weeks to dedicate full time to New World. I plugged in the power supply on the back of the computer only to see a flurry of sparks and a puff of smoke. No more computer. There was so much static build up from Tavares Teleproductions that it was a bomb waiting to go off. Now I had to wait at least three weeks for business insurance to pay for a new motherboard and CPU.

Finally I got the machine back together and working. I was very excited, but all my free time was used up and I'm stuck doing freelance television commercials and industrials. I somehow manage to find some time to spend on New World. I start to re-edit a scene and everything appears fine. Then I reboot the computer and a polite little window appears on monitor pertaining to the 60 GIG hard drive, the one with all the footage. The message says "This drive is not formatted, would you like to format it now?"

Panic. Stress. It all hit me at once. Deeply concerned that all my work is gone. It's not truly lost since I have the batch capture lists, but it's still a lot of work. I find out the 60 GIG hard drive is dying out. It does not spin consistently and eventually I'll lose all or my data. I borrow a 40 GIG hard drive from a friend and go into MS-DOS mode and copy everything I can. I lose about 9 GIG worth of data in order to make all I can fit onto the 40 GIG hard drive. I salvage what I can.

After this ordeal, I got locked in several more productions. I help out on the lighting with one project, while writing and directing something else for a non-profit group, the Columbus Filmmakers Consortium. It isn't until September 2001 that I actually got to work on special effects for New World, one year after starting principal photography.

Since September, most of the effects work had been completed, and new found support from the Columbus Filmmakers Consortium has resulted in a lot of help with the special effects and even with audio clean-up. The score is currently being written to replace the temp score and Ain't It Cool News ran a story on the "work in progress." You can find out more on the film's official website at www.sonnyboo.com.

There is still one major effects sequence being worked on, the audio is still in bad shape due to poor audio recording and a bad boom mic, and some digital matte paintings are being created by a local 3D artist. It's not done yet, but soon, very soon. No more delays.

My advice to anyone is not to make a spoof of Star Wars, but to write something of their own. Don't think that because you don't have a big budget that you can't tell a story with special effects. Patience and time will make it happen.