Thursday, July 5, 2012

Fright Night Film Fest 2012

It seems like a long time has passed since I randomly decided to check up on Bruce Campbell’s website to see what was new with that deadite-slaying badass.  I have been visiting a few random horror and sci-fi conventions in the southeast for the past few years, when time and money permitted, and have been waiting patiently for my chance to catch a glimpse of the star of the Evil Dead series.  I had yet to find him visiting anywhere near the southeast for the past few years.  When I clicked on his upcoming events section and saw that he would be making an appearance in Louisville, KY as part of Fright Night Film Fest, it dawned on me that this might be my only chance to see Bruce in person, so I got a couple of friends together and the road trip plan was hatched.  After learning that Bruce would have very little time at the convention before having to be back on the set for his show Burn Notice, I pre-purchased a photo op with him.  Thank God I did that…
After a six hour drive we arrived at the Galt House Hotel, which was hosting the event.  The hotel is nice.  Damn nice.  We stayed on the 8th floor in a suite with a balcony overlooking the Ohio River.  Because of the convention the rates had been lowered, and the four of us ended up paying just over a hundred bucks each for a two night stay.  Aside from the overcrowded elevator situation, the stay couldn’t have been better. 
Registration was easy, the vendor halls were really cool, and as always, the people were all super friendly.  Side note: It’s amazing how polite and accepting people who are usually seen as freaks can really be.  I find that my fellow nerds and freaks are much more friendly than your average person.  Anyway, we visited the Before the Mask: The Return of Leslie Vernon booth to pay our respects to the Vernon clan and to buy stuff for their fund raiser to make the sequel to Behind The Mask.  I bought a dental effects kit from Evil Fire Lizard Productions’ booth that has turned out to be educational. Some back issues of Fangoria and Horrorhound found their way into my swag bag, and then I came across the hockey mask to end them all: Jason’s mask from Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter.  The aging and scuff marks and blood from the hatchet mark on the forehead are perfect!  Unfortunately I forgot the booth’s name that did the artwork.Convention
After our initial run through the vendor rooms, the time was upon me.  I was going to meet Ash.  I made my way to the photo op booth about an hour early, thinking I’d be at least in the middle of the line, if not towards the front.  Wrong.  The line led down one hallway, made a turn, ran all the way down another hall, and curved back around the opposite wall of the same hallway.  It was ridiculous.  The lines for any of the events were not well defined, a problem I hope the Fest planners will keep in mind for next year. Either way, I was not about to miss out on my opportunity, so I made it to the back of the line and waited…
…and waited.
As the line began to move, a convention worker got the attention of the people in the line and explained the process.  We would have about fifteen to twenty seconds with Bruce, each.  Fifteen to twenty seconds…  Bummer.  I had made the dumbass decision not to buy an autograph ticket for him later on because I figured surely I’d have a minute or two to talk to him at the photo op.  After about an hour and a half, I made it to the room, and sure enough there he stood.  We were herded through like cattle and I watched person after person walk up to him, say “Hi”, turn, click as the photo was made, then walk off.  It was like having your picture taken for your driver’s license.  Bruce, though, seemed to try to make the pictures fun and unique.  It was obvious he was enjoying hanging with the fans.  One girl had brought her special edition Evil Dead dvd, the case made to look like the necronomicon book from the movies.  He took the book and said “Oh yeah, let’s pretend like we’re reading it!”  So her picture was of Bruce and herself reading the necronomicon!  I kicked myself for not bringing mine…  Anyway, my time came, I shook Mr. Campbell’s hand, made a studious face as he pointed at my Evil Dead shirt with a classic Bruce Campbell expression, I told him thank you and he said “Thanks buddy!” and it was over.  So soon.  Still, the whole trip was worth it to get that picture!
We ended up doing another photo op for the Walking Dead cast.  It was also pretty cool, everyone seeming to have a good time.  Norman Reedus, who plays Daryl on the show, has become a fan favorite at conventions and seems to have a lot of fun with it. 
After the long waits for the photos, we went back to the room and rested a while.  Later I spent a little more money, watched a couple of short films Saturday night, and went to a nude body art show later that night.  All in all, the convention was a huge success for my group of friends.  I think we were all a little depressed that we had to leave Sunday.  We’re ready for next year! 

Friday, August 20, 2010

Learning From My Latest Filmmaking Adventure...

We just wrapped on filming our latest low budget short film, "Liza." Here is a list of things learned from this newest shoot:

  1. A Tight, Strict Shooting Schedule Leads to More Productivity
  2. Always Be Ready to Improvise
  3. An Organized Filing System is Key (when offloading video from the camera)
  4. Be Careful Where You Place Valuable Equipment!!!

Allow me to explain...
1.) We decided to block off a four day weekend to shoot the majority of footage for this newest film. Previously, we would play it by ear and on a weekend when everyone's schedules fell into place, we'd shoot on a Saturday. With this new style of getting it all filmed quickly, we were able to build momentum and hold onto it for days. I tend to lose focus if I go too long between shooting days on a project, so this was an extreme advantage.

2.) As for improvising, this is the main ability necessary for a no budget filmmaker. We were shooting a scene in a small park in town that required several extras in the background, and there were three or four families of people that had agreed to be part of the scene. When the day came, all but one family had changed their mind. So, what should have been a scene in a park full of people lounging and reading and picnicking became a park with about six people, not counting our principle actors. We basically ended up using anyone in our crew that wasn't operating a camera, which was everyone but me, in the background. I still don't know how that scene is going to turn out, but by using everyone we could get our hands on, and not using many wide shots that would capture the emptiness of the park, I think we did okay.

3.) Organization is always one of the most important parts of the filmmaking process for me. We used a different camera this time that stored video files on an internal hard drive. Those files then had to be ferried over to my laptop. As I moved the files, I got in too much of a hurry and ended up having half a dozen folders, some with sub-folders, with the files scattered throughout. The main reason was that I was extremely tired by the time we got to this point, and just didn't take the time to do it right. Mistake!! Now I'm having to sift through all those folders to make sure I get everything. Some files were even doubled up in different folders. What the hell was I thinking?!

4.) Lastly, always take caution with your equipment. I had set up a little viewing/file copying station on a dining room table at the location, between set ups. I had my laptop and my 1.5TB external hard drive set up, copying files and feeling good about myself. I had also strung the power cord from the hard drive across the walkway behind the table to an outlet in the wall, thinking "no one will run into this cord and cause the drive to come crashing down onto the hard wood floors." I was mistaking! And it was all my fault, for not taking the time to set up properly. Lesson learned!

Here's a little stylized video behind the scenes of "Liza."

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Music For Film Projects!

I was referred to a website by a friend that is similar to the CDBaby website I wrote about a while ago. This new music website is called Jamendo, and contains all kinds of bands that you've never heard of before. The quality of the music is hit or miss, but mostly hit. I've found several great songs that I could imagine using in our productions. To my knowledge all songs are free to download.

The most exciting thing about this website, however, is that songs can be purchased for use in projects using Jamendo Pro. From my initial investigation into this, it seems that the rights to use the songs are pretty inexpensive, but vary depending on what your project is. You are asked to explain your project, and a price is generated from your project specifications. An example shown on the website, for use in a no-budget short film, is a price of around $12 per song. That type of pricing, coupled with the fantastic overall quality of music to rummage through, makes this (seemingly) a great resource for low-budget indie filmmaking. Worth a serious look, at least!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A New Project At Last!

The time has finally come! Today we had our first semi-official meeting about our next short film, tentatively titled "Liza". It'll be an interesting adventure. This is the first film I'm directing that I haven't written myself, and I'm anxious to see how I handle that. There are a few effects shots that are going to be tricky, and a scene in a public location that will require me to do some location scouting. Acquiring locations makes me nervous. But hey, that's why I need to learn it!

One thing that I'm trying to do better on this film, throughout the entire process, is scheduling. Organization is not one of my strongest areas, so on this film I've decided that this will be a focal point. Over the course of our last two short films I've tried to focus on different aspects of filmmaking to perfect in each effort. The first, "Toys For Sarah," was a general attempt at grasping the concept of making a movie. On our second, "The Laughing Boy," we focused on sound recording and overall planning during shooting. On this one, I'm wanting to aim our attention at lighting and organization, while continuing to perfect our sound recording. I'm hoping that by tackling these different aspects of movie making I'll be ready to take on a feature length film within a few years.

Well, there's the blog update. Just wanted to let the people of the blogging world know that I am stil, in fact, alive.

Peace out.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Music For The Rest Of Us

In my teenage years I was an avid music fan, my favorites being the Industrial, Metal, and Alternative genres. For a few years there, music was as important or more important than movies. To those that know me, that's saying a lot. But by the time the 90's had ended, I guess the general public had grown tired of these strange, off-beat bands like Nine Inch Nails and The Smashing Pumpkins and had began edging more into the Pop and Rap realms. Although I'm not a huge fan of either Pop or Rap, I didn't mind the change. I never listened to the radio anyway. I had all the albums I loved from my bands, so the change didn't really affect me. Or so I thought.

When one type of music becomes popular, the music industry crowds the market with artists of the same type and style. Well, apparently CD stores and even online music stores follow suit. Sure, I could find any album by the bands I love online or at the right store, because they had already been produced. But there is only so many times I can listen to the same CD before having to have something new to break the monotony. And in the past seven or eight years, there have been only a handful of bands that I have discovered that I can really delve into. One is VAST, whose earlier work is reminiscent of early Nine Inch Nails, but with a slightly less "self-destructive" (NIN fans, see what I did there?) tone that I really enjoy. There was also a band called Deadsy that broke some new ground, at least in my eyes. There are more as well, but they are few and far between.

The point is, since the late 90's, the Industrial/Metal/Alternative scene seems to have been choking. With the rise of Britney Spears and 50 Cent and the like, we fans of weird and loud music have been relegated to playing the hell out of our old Marilyn Manson and White Zombie cd's while the world moves on to more popular and infinitely less interesting music. No new industrial bands, no good rock bands with original lyrics and inventive guitar riffs or ethereal, moody soundscapes. I didn't think any new bands existed that strove for the kind of music I like. Then I found CDBaby.

I somehow stumbled upon this website one day, and discovered a whole world of music by artists I had never heard of. They are the musicians that bubble and writhe beneath the glossy skin of today's music industry. As I browsed the site, I didn't recognize a single album cover. It was such a relief from seeing the same crap I see at every cd store and online store. A whole other realm of music, waiting to be discovered! The site has every genre, and I of course made a bee line for the metal section. Didn't recognize a single band! I grew more and more excited as I listened to samples, feeling that somewhere on this site was the next big band for me. The setup of the site is similar to Amazon, easy to navigate.

A day or two after I found CDBaby, I bought an online album by a band called Darkhour after listening to a few clips. It costed only $5.00. While the band isn't quite as great as some of my faves, it is a breath of fresh air that I have needed for a while. Reminiscent of Nine Inch Nails, and once or twice sort of rips off NIN's style. It still has a voice of its own, though, and a lot of potential. Definitely worth the $5.00.

I look forward to browsing more of their music selection and discovering some great talents that no one knows about. I feel like I've been re-united with music again. And while I still pine for the days of the Smashing Pumpkins to return (not their newest incarnation, though! What is that about?), I think I can make do with finding some obscure bands with an interesting sound to make me happy.

Now, what does this have to do with indie filmmaking, one might ask? The answer: not a lot. Just wanted to share a good site for anyone looking for music that is different than what is out there today. However, I guess it could be linked to indie filmmaking, because some of these bands make music that sounds perfect for a film soundtrack. And I bet a lot of these "no name" bands would be very willing to work with a low budget moviemaker about using their sound. Gets their music to more people. I'd do it, anyway.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Stumbling Through Sound Recording

Having finished my second short film about five months ago, I feel I have learned a lot about recording and editing sound. Most of what I learned was through trial and error. For instance, on the first short film we made, I completely underestimated the importance of sound. I had an Olympus voice recorder that I had bought from Best Buy for about $90. I had also bought a shotgun microphone that mounted on my Sony camcorder for back up. So, on our first day of shooting, which happened to be in a cemetery, we had the Olympus voice recorder taped to the end of a broom handle as our sound recording equipment. Sad, I know. As it turned out, you might guess, the Olympus recorder was the weaker link. We had to rely solely on the on-board microphone from my camcorder. My cousin Lance, who is my main partner in doing these shorts, and I had to re-record sounds and mask sounds and insert sounds like crazy as we edited, because we didn't pay attention to the sound recording on the first go-round. The sound editing was a nightmare on our first film...

Fast forward a year, and we were in the process of filming our second short, "The Laughing Boy." The Olympus voice recorder was nowhere in sight, and in it's place was my new sound recording toy, a Zoom H4 recorder. The Zoom is like a portable recording studio made mainly for musicians, with tons of options and effects. With this new recorder, I also invested in more equipment: first, a true shotgun microphone that wasn't some four-inch-long mic that mounted in a hotshoe on my camcorder, and second, and perhaps most important, a set of headphones.

I had studied up on sound recording since the first short film, and learned a lot about the mechanics of a good recorder. I had come to learn that a good sound recorder had to have a few key features:

1. It had to have XLR inputs. XLR inputs are (usually) a three-pronged connection for microphones. This connection gives a more balanced audio that cancels out electromagnetic interference more efficiently than the 1/4" microphone input jack that many sound recorders have.

2. It had to have a phantom power setup, which many higher end microphones require.

3. It had to record in stereo. Many cheaper recorders only record in mono, meaning when your recording is played back it only plays out of the lefthand speaker.
4. It had to be portable, light weight, and easy to use.

The Zoom H4 had all of these capabilities. Some of them I didn't fully learn and understand until I had already recorded with it, but now I know. The Zoom H4 has an on-board stereo microphone that records just as good or better than the shotgun mic I bought. However, its mic is omni-directional, which limits its range, unlike the shotgun mic that picks up sound from longer distances. I've read in several books and articles that a shotgun mic is the way to go so that's what I went with. I can't remember the brand of the microphone I bought, but it cost me around $150, which is apparently not a whole hell of a lot as far as quality shotgun microphones go. It was a hell of a lot to me, though! As important as the microphone is a good set of headphones. On our first short, we almost never played back our recordings after a take. Big mistake. With the headphones, whoever recorded sound on a particular day could play back each take after it was done, and listen for any problems. Having someone dedicated solely to capturing good sound has proved to be invaluable to our ragtag group of no budget filmmakers.

So, having said all that, is the Zoom H4 the way to go for good sound? For me, yes, but there are countless options out there. I'm no pro myself, but I feel that it is probably one of the better recorders for beginners. Really, the best option is to have XLR inputs on the camera itself and not have to go through recording separately. And while I am, at the present time, saving up to buy just such a camera, it is out of my price range at the moment. But damn it, I'm working on it!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Rodriguez On Filmmaking

There are a few books that I own on indie filmmaking, and all of them have helped in their own way. There is one thing I absolutely hate about most of these, though, and that is when the writer makes comments about how impossible it is to break into the movie making scene and how you should basically never expect it to get you anywhere. Maybe that sort of reverse psychology works for some, but all it does for me is make me think that the filmmaking community is too large and complex for me to possibly understand. And if that's the case, why should I buy this guy's/girl's book when I know it won't get me anywhere?

Well, I'd been following the films of director Robert Rodriguez for years, and when I found out he'd written a book on low budget filmmaking, I searched it out. (Note: If you don't know Rodriguez's work, watch Sin City, From Dusk Til Dawn, Grindhouse's Planet Terror, The Faculty, Spy Kids, Desperado, and so on). I'm a slow reader, but I burned through that book within three or four days! The bulk of the book is excerpts from Robert's journal as he went through the process of making his first full length feature film El Mariachi. It's interesting just to read about his trials and tribulations as a young filmmaker desperate to make his movie, but there is also a wealth of information to gain. All kinds of cheap special effects, such as gunshot wounds, are covered, along with inexpensive lighting and camera techniques, and much more.

I think the main thing that I gained from this book, though, was not the tips and tricks but just the downright fiery enthusiasm I had for making my own short film as I read it. It's like it opened a door that I didn't know existed. All the expensive cameras and cranes and lights weren't needed to make a great movie, after all! I have friends who worked on an independent feature, and this book was like the bible on their set, I've been told.

After the journal ends in the book, Rodriguez adds a "10 Minute Film School" section that got me even more excited about getting out there and making my movie. He basically explains everything you need to know in about a chapter length. It's amazing. He also does his "10 Minute Film School" sessions on several of the dvd releases of his movies, as a special feature. All are incredibly helpful.

I'll end with a quote from the book:

"First step to being a filmmaker is stop saying you want to be a filmmaker. It took me forever to be able to tell anyone I was a filmmaker and keep a straight face until I was well on my way. But the truth was I had been a filmmaker ever since the day I had closed my eyes and pictured myself making movies. The rest was inevitable. So you don't want to be a filmmaker, you are a filmmaker. Go make yourself a business card. Next."