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Say hello to Zdenek Ruzicka, November 2013′s Filmpunch Featured Member! We pick a new member from the community every month and get all up in their stuff in order to gain a little insight on who they are and what they are up to.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Ahoj! My name is Zdenek Ruzicka ( Go ahead and try to pronounce it! ) and I am a 23 year old filmmaker from Prague, Czech Republic. I am an English teacher and a big dreamer.
What got you started in filmmaking?
My own decision. And it was a tough one! When I was 18, I decided that I needed a goal in my life or I would drive myself nuts. I just couldn’t focus on anything, searching for the path to follow. I eventually sat down with a piece of paper and decided that I would choose and dedicate myself to a thing that would appear on that very paper. I wrote down all the things I love doing in my life. Music, films, books, writing, people, art… And I realized that filmmaking is a perfect combination of everything. For me, filmmaking is a form of art built upon countless other forms of art.
Making that decision was especially hard because of the fact that I have no background to support it. For the first time in my life, though, I felt like, “This is it!” I took all the money I had back then and bought a DSLR. The Internet was and still is my university and I have a lot of catching up to do, but I am sure I can do this.
Do you think it’s necessary to attend film school to have a successful film career?
I think everyone has asked him or herself this question and found different answers. In my opinion, it comes down to the individual person. For me, at the beginning it was a no-no. I felt like I needed to do a lot of self-study to explore the depths of filmmaking before venturing on. Right now, I think it would benefit me in various ways. Mainly just being alongside the people with the same drive, similar passion, and having the opportunity to work on other people’s projects sounds very tempting. So my answer is, “No.” To have a successful film career you need other things, but school can be a good start.
What do you find inspires you the most?
It is so random! If I would have to choose, I would say that music is the biggest inspiration to me simply because I listen to it absolutely everywhere and anytime. You know that feeling when the music perfectly fits with the things that are happening around you? It is like being inside of your own movie. (Thank you, Andy, for introducing me to Ólafur Arnalds’ music!)
I think that being under stress inspires me a lot, too. Creating your own worlds to escape the reality is just a fascinating human gift.
If you could be a part of any production/movie, past or present, what would it be and why?
Definitely the Wachowskis’ work. Their power of storytelling and vision is mind-blowing. The Matrix, V for Vendetta or Cloud Atlas are at the top of modern filmmaking for me. I’ve seen all the behind the scenes countless times. It’s very educational to see their relationship with the actors. There is a big mutual respect and a clear vision from the Wachowskis which they’re able to share with their crew.
I would also love to see Chan-wook Park at work because it must be a hell of a ride. Just how he comes up with stuff is beyond my imagination.
What has been your most memorable moment so far in your journey to becoming a filmmaker?
Finishing a script. I wrote a short this year called “Salvation 6″ and man, was it hard! I wrote it in English and it was a very challenging process, because as you know, English is my second language. That feeling when you write your last words – you went through it hundreds of times and know that this is it – that was just amazing. You want to start filming that very second and slowly realize that it is just a beginning. Nevertheless, absolutely an amazing feeling. I wonder if it always feels like that?
If there was one piece of advice you could give a new filmmaker, what would it be?
All the typical advice – go out and film, have fun and share it with the world – is golden. My personal advice would be to take small steps. Take it slowly! I remember being really excited with a clear vision in my head, but the outcome was just so disappointing and frustrating to watch. It gets better. Small goals are building stones for the ultimate goal you have in mind, so don’t get discouraged.
Also, share your work and ideas, and listen to people. Learn to accept the fact that you’re not perfect and others can help you improve your work.
What are some challenges filmmakers in the Czech Republic and Central Eastern Europe face versus filmmakers in the United States?
I am glad I can somewhat contribute to this topic. The biggest challenge is that there is no support. Filmmaking is a thing for a few enthusiasts, but there is no community. This is a big issue when it comes to producing your film. I think this is where school plays a huge role, because you can get your hands on gear and meet with like-minded people.
This might sound a bit silly, but it’s hard to spend money on gear. You want that mic? Sorry, nowhere to be found and if you’re lucky the price is often pretty ridiculous. International companies don’t usually ship to Czech Republic because it is a small market for them.
If you want to study film you have only one option. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an amazing option, FAMU (Czech Film Academy) has been continuously rated by the Hollywood Reporter among the top film schools in the world, but it puts tremendous pressure on the entrance exams. I think you might be familiar with Milos Forman, FAMU graduate, who directed One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – 5 Oscars.
Not to be all negative, I think that growing as a filmmaker in this type of a “hostile” environment makes you stronger. It naturally selects only the most dedicated individuals and that is, after all, a good thing. I, personally, have it in mind to later move abroad where I would like to continue getting better at what I fell in love with.
Are you currently working on any projects?
I recently did an interview with a Czech student band called “Pilot” and it was a great experience. Now I would like to get my hands on producing a music video for them, so we’ll see!
I have also been trying to write for the last couple of weeks, because I would like to try my chances at FAMU. FAMU only accepts a few students every year (we’re talking 1-10 here. QQ), and the entrance exams are quite demanding, ranging from showcasing your own work to perfect knowledge of film history. That’s my project right now.
What would be a piece of advice that you wished you would have gotten when you first started your filmmaking journey?
To pack snacks. First time I shot with a few friends was full of hunger and cold. You can imagine the mood on the set. Really, pack some snacks! Pushes things to a whole other level. I bet that hot chocolate would work magic in cold weather.
And that I would be alone. This is your journey and you’ll meet people, but you are the one who makes decisions whether to turn left or right.
If you’re in mood and interested, please, read it and let me know if you liked it!.
Welcome to the first Filmpunch Featured Member interview! We plan on picking a new member from the community every month and get all up in their stuff in order to gain a little insight on who they are and what they are up to.
October’s Featured member is Kyle Bailey. You may recognize his handsome bearded mug from a guest blog post we featured a while back on his experiences on the set of Olan Roger’s Pop Rocket. Kyle has been with Filmpunch since the very beginning and has been a huge support and help for Andy and I in various ways throughout the last year. He has graciously agreed to be our guinea pig this month. So let’s get to know this Kyle Bailey, shall we?
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
My name’s Kyle Bailey. I grew up in southern NJ. I’m a 4th year Film student at Asbury University. My favorite color is blue. I love pizza. I have Type 1 Diabetes.
What got you started in filmmaking?
What got me started in filmmaking? What got me started was a complete and utter mistake on my part. Originally, when I came into college as a Freshman, I was a Music Education major. For most of my life, I’d been that kid in middle school and high school who sort of did everything (except sports). I sung in choirs, did school plays, had decent grades, was friends with everyone, and generally had an all-around good time with myself.
I’d been told by so many people to focus on my musical abilities, and that when I got to college, I should major in something music-oriented. After talking to my parents, my friends, and my teachers, I decided to pick music education, partially because my music teacher in High School had a big impact on my life, and partially because it seemed like a safe bet.
I was wrong.
Music Education is one of the hardest majors at any school, but it’s especially difficult at my university. I didn’t know that coming into Freshman year, and I immediately started to struggle with my workload. It was terrible. I couldn’t keep up with anything, and I felt like I was drowning.
So, I sat myself down and decided that I needed to switch gears. I still wanted music to be a part of my life, but I didn’t want it to be the focus. I ran through what I enjoyed doing most in my spare time, and one of my first thoughts was watching movies. To this day, there’s nothing I enjoy more than sitting in a darkened theater, popcorn in my lap, friends by my side, watching a movie I’ve never seen before. It’s fantastic.
Strangely enough, my university has an utterly fantastic Media & Communications program. Seriously, if you’re at all interested in becoming a Film student, check out Asbury University. There’s my one and only plug for my school.
So, after taking two days to really think about it, I switched my major to a Media & Communications track, with a Film & Production Emphasis.
I’ve never looked back.
Do you think it’s necessary to attend film school to have a successful film career?
Nope. If you look at some of the most revered, celebrated filmmakers today–Tarantino, Cameron, Fincher, Nolan–many of them never went to a film school. One of my all-time favorite quotes comes from Tarantino, and I’m paraphrasing but it basically says something along the lines of:
“I didn’t go to film school. I went to films.”
Simply watching and trying to understand films is one of the most effective ways to become a better filmmaker, in my mind.
However, there are benefits to going to film school that can’t be denied. Being able to surround yourself with other filmmakers of varying levels, and to be around a culture like that, is an inspiring place to be. Everywhere you go, every class you take, every conversation you have at 4AM on your hall will help shape the way you create films, whether you know it or not.
Also, going to school allows you to make friends. It seems simple to state it that way, but being at a school will give you opportunities to make life-long friends who will support you and stand by you when you want to create a film you’re passionate about. Some of those friends will even be your most trusted allies, your go-to DPs or ADs or PDs or Producers or Actors.
But I think the biggest thing that going to school for Film has taught me is an appreciation for film history. I never would have gotten interested in Film Noir had it not been for the American Cinema class I took my Sophomore year. I never would have known about the advancements in camera and audio technology from the early 20th century to the present. I never would have known about the Kuleshov Effect, or the Dogme 95 movement, or how the French New Wave and Truffaut inspired an entire generation of filmmaking that can still be felt to this day.
Having an appreciation for the past is the only way to make a better future, and that holds true for film.
Do I think everyone needs to go to or should go to film school? Nope. If it’s not in the cards financially, don’t do it. If you just don’t feel like you need to be at a school for something you can pretty much teach yourself how to do, don’t do it. If you hate school, don’t do it.
But if you’re willing to stop and wait for four years, and practice your craft, and learn from other students, and make mistakes when it’s OK to do so, then look into going to film school. Just make sure to pick the right one.
What do you find inspires you the most?
Watching movies is probably the easiest answer for me, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Watching a good movie, one that understands it’s own elements and can take you on a journey seemingly without effort is so inspirational to me. It pushes me to make better films, to tell better stories.
If you could be a part of any production/movie, past or present, what would it be and why?
I’d like to have been a part of the team that Christopher Nolan built when he made his first film, Following. I’d like to have been able to see how he managed everything on that production, from beginning to end, and to see how he’s grown from that point.
What has been your most memorable moment so far in your journey to be a filmmaker.
My most memorable moment is actually my worst moment. I was making a short film for a class last year, and at one point, everything that could’ve gone wrong went wrong. Actors cancelled, crew never showed up, equipment broke–the whole nine yards. I sat down at the location we were filming at, and decided that I was going to have to deal with the situation somehow, to try and remedy it.
I remember thinking “This is it. This is filmmaking. Am I really going to do this for the rest of my life?”
I honestly couldn’t answer for a few moments. Then I stood up and said “Yes.”
And I made it work. I figured it out, as best I could, how to salvage what I had lost. To this day, I’m proud of that short. By any means, it’s still terrible, but knowing what I had to go through to get it where it is now, I’m still proud of it.
That solidified in my mind that I wanted to make films for the rest of my life.
If there was one piece of advice you could give a new filmmaker, what would it be?
Stop procrastinating. I’m a massive, MASSIVE procrastinator. It’s bad. I put so much off to the last minute, and it does nothing but hurt whatever it is you’re working on. So stop stalling and start doing. Just get up make something.
You are currently working on a personal project. Tell us a little about the project and why you’re doing it.
ROAM was an idea I came up with this past summer. I had wanted to do an action film for a long time, but never had a reason to do one, or the means to. But when I came back to school for my senior year, I realized that this was my last chance to have all of my friends and people I trusted together in one place. I could use all of my school’s fantastically expensive equipment, and I wouldn’t have to pay for any of it. I could find great actors to believably play the characters, and they’d do it for free.
So I thought “Why the heck not? It’s my last chance.”
I guess you could say that I wanted to go out with a bang. Hopefully, it’s a good one.
What interests you about the post-apocalyptic genre, and why did you choose it as the setting for ROAM?
Post-apocalyptic movies have always interested me. There’s something about telling a story after the world, as we know it, has ended that excites me. Seeing how people would survive, what cultures would remain or how they’d change, and trying to find humanity after it’s fallen–those ideas are incredibly evocative and ask big questions. That’s just awesome to me.
I drew a lot of influence from films like The Road and The Book of Eli. I come from a Christian background, so I wanted to try and meld specific spiritual elements into a realistic, post-apocalyptic world in a way that felt natural. You don’t see many films these days taking on spiritual ideologies, and then mixing them in with stylized violence. It’s not normal. It doesn’t really fit together. But if you want to be true to the world and the story you’re trying to tell, you can’t sacrifice realism in the story for the sake of wanting a “happy” or a “Christian” outcome. Real life isn’t like that. Film shouldn’t be either.
What would be a piece of advice that you wished you would have gotten when you first started your filmmaking journey?
If someone had come up to me and said, “Kyle, filmmaking is going to be the most difficult, exhausting, and relentless experience of your life.” I’d be a lot better off.
You don’t see how much work goes into making films, whether it’s the next Avengers film, or a two-minute short made by three people. Each step in the process can feel like a lifetime, and each choice you make represents a huge risk that your project could fail. It’s not easy. It’s not pretty. Heck, it’s not even enjoyable at times. It’s hard work. It’s a lot of late night and early mornings.
But when you show someone the finished project, and they smile, cry, or laugh because they understand what you’ve been communicating to them…that makes it all worth it.
Editor’s Note: Kyle is currently running a crowd funding campaign for his short film, ROAM. He has already made great progress. Let’s help get his project funded so he can make his short. Go over to Seed & Spark and take a look at his campaign.
Donate if you can, or at the very least share his project.
After a calamity decimates the world, most of humankind has been destroyed. We follow the path of a young boy who escapes from the clutches of a group of bandits, and must defend his right to live on a desolate, destroyed Earth.
Contribute to the project on Seed & Spark.
Hello there. I’m Josh Bailey.
I’ve been obsessed with storytelling ever since I was a child. From making my own Batman home videos, to memorizing the jokes I heard from my Dad, to creating my own comic strips, I was always fascinated with story.
I still have so much to learn about filmmaking, but I’m always open to learning from others.
INT. HOUSE – Day
Josh (24) sits at his iMac with Celtx open. He’s looking at the screen, eyes glazed over.
Wow. This sucks. I don’t feel creative or like writing anything. I guess I’ll write a blog post to kick myself in the butt.
I’ve been wanting to do something creative lately, but I just feel like I have nothing right now. I think sometimes I have this unrealistic hope that one day I’ll just be walking down the street eating an ice cream cone and then BAM, the greatest movie idea known to man will just suddenly make its home inside my brain. Until then I’ll just keep walking down streets eating ice cream cones and patiently wait for it to appear. What I don’t want to admit is that I’M BEING LAZY. Yeah, that’s right, I used the “L” word.
If there’s anything I’ve learned by spending way too much time reading articles about screenwriting, it’s that I’ve been spending way too much time reading articles about screenwriting and not enough time, you know, ACTUALLY WRITING. Really, the gist of what I’ve read by all these artists that I look up to is simply that I have to put in the work to get to where I want to be. It’s a journey, you can’t just teleport to your final destination. To use a Lord of the Rings analogy: The eagles can’t just come pick you up in Rivendell and then fly you over Mount Doom so you can drop off the ring (wait, why can’t they do that? I was never really clear on that…).
If I had to guess, to finally get to the place where you’re writing a script that’s really great, you’ve probably got to write a lot of terrible/mediocre/decent/pretty good scripts first. It’s pretty hard for me to do this, because I like to shoot down my own ideas really quickly. I’m my biggest critic (well, that I know of). Often, I start getting excited about an idea, but then shoot myself down because it’s not “amazing” or “original.” I think this “originality” trap is something that I fall into way too often. At the end of the day, there’s nothing new under the sun; everything is ultimately a remix of some other idea. BUT YOU ARE UNIQUE. There’s not another person in the world who is just like you, and there’s not another person in the world who will tell a story the exact same way that you will. (By the way, I didn’t come up with that idea either, Xander Benett gave that great insight here: http://screenwritingtips.blcklst.com/2011/11/screenwriting-tip-800/)
So, what do I need to do then? WRITE. I need to write, even if I don’t think it’s going to be amazing. When I write, I develop the ability to see what doesn’t work, what does work, and I start to find my own voice. If I can put in the work, I’m going to develop all of my abilities and my work is going to get that much better. Yes, I’m probably going to have to suffer through some cringe moments when I let others publicly view my work (or am I the only filmmaker who experiences this?), but it will be well worth it when I can make something that I’m truly proud of. And I’ve found that when you actually start writing again, you suddenly remember, “Oh yeah, I enjoy doing this.”
And by the way, this applies to basically anything creative, not just scriptwriting and filmmaking.
Alrighty, time to get writing!
Be sure to check out the feature film Josh Directed last year!
Make Your Paths Straight.
So, I’m sure you’re wondering where Filmpunch disappeared to these past couple of weeks. Well, I can assure you that we weren’t on vacation (though that would have been preferable…maybe some nice beach somewhere far away, a quiet surf, a warm breeze, ah…). Far from it, actually. For quite some time now, we’ve been working on a new short…a sci-fi short…you know, like one that takes place on another planet with spaceships and stuff? Yes, that’s right folks; we were (our brains were, at least) much farther than some bungalow in the tropics. So where were we exactly? Well…
There is a world, hewn by the winds in solitude. A dry and barren sphere, yet fertile beyond compare. A place where gods swim across oceans of sand and men walk across the ribbons of space and time. Only power quenches thirst there, where water is scarce. Red skies, red sand, red blood, blue eyes, cloaks trailing in the wind – Dune they call it, Arrakis, the Desert Planet.
Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.
Our short was based off the classic science fiction cycle, Dune by Frank Herbert. It’s widely considered the sci-fi equivalent of Lord of the Rings because of its epic scope and extraneous detail. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the books or movies, you have probably heard the phrase “The Spice must flow…” from your Trekky friends, or you may recall seeing a blip when flipping through the channels of a hooded and cloaked man with glowing blue eyes – well, that’s Dune in a nutshell…blue eyes and sand people…oh, and giant sandworms that extrude a drug called the Spice that everyone’s addicted to and which runs the galactic economy. Okay, so it’s a bit more intense than I let on at first, but you get the picture. (I’ll be dropping terms, so don’t hesitate to click the green words.)
The ideas must flow!
As an independent, money can be hard to come by, whereas your dreams are not. In fact, I bet you know the feeling: working your life away at a perfunctory day job that ultimately squashes your spirit, or maybe you’re swamped with schoolwork; you have no money because it’s being relegated to your “worldly responsibilities” i.e., loans and bills…an expensive girlfriend, but amidst all this, there seems to be no shortage of inspiration flashfloods. An idea pops into your head, but you think your skill sets are too obsolete or substandard to pluck it from your mind and put it onto screen or paper. Perhaps you’re like me, and you have an adequate camera, and all of a sudden you envision an epic fantasy. In it, you see dwarves singing ominous songs around a campfire, or the shadow of dragon wings sliding across snowy mountainsides…Stop right there! I know what you’re thinking:
I could never film it. I could never write it well enough to satisfy my vision. Someone else with millions of dollars more than me (The Magical World of Walt Lucas, J.J. “Lens flares” Abrams, or Steven Spiel-hittingbrickwalls-berg) will have to keep me entertained.
Lies, all lies!
He who controls his resources, controls the universe.
Those fears will kill your creative streaks. If we all listened to those dubious voices inside our heads, nothing would ever be created. There is a way to make these ideas come to fruition, even now, with a little pocket change and stubborn ambition…and a few talent release forms. That’s just what we do here at Filmpunch: O’Ryan and I hatch up crazy ideas all the time and think about ways in which we can vitalize them. This Dune short was no different. The key is understanding your limitations and being innovative. First you have to tell yourself that your idea can happen. Then, you set yourself to the task of finding actors, props, costumes, locations, and all for as reasonably priced (if not free) as possible. Remember, we’re working independent here with a Great-Depression-size budget. Find a camera (preferably one with adjustable frame rates so you can achieve that cinema feel), set aside a date, and you’re off to a good start.
The Golden Path
Here’s how it worked for us: We focused a very nebulous idea, “Dude, let’s do a Dune short!” And within no time we had a brief script typed up and formatted. Next, we went location scouting to see if we could find something that could pass as a desert on film. For those of you who don’t know, New Hampshire is taiga (lots and lots of Christmas trees), so no deserts up here, which makes for shooting a film that’s supposed to be set on Tatooine’s big brother rather tricky. We didn’t let that stop us, though. Like I said before, think. We came up with the idea to look around for sandpits that were large, private, and unmaintained. It didn’t take long for us to find the perfect Arrakis, complete with Grand-Canyon-esque striations, scree, dune-like formations, silty patches—the works. But before we could continue on our quest, we had to ask permission. So we drafted up a simple release form, freeing the landowners of liability should any of us be consumed by a giant spice-yielding sandworm. Naturally, they agreed…I mean, who wouldn’t want a bunch of grown men parading around their property in formfitting hydration spacesuits and capes?
Always be sure to ask for permission if you are shooting on private property. Nothing says professional like being in the middle of a shoot and getting kicked off the property. Not only is it embarrassing, but your cast and crew won’t think very highly of it. When asking for permission be honest and upfront, be respectful, and don’t say more than you need to say.
Script – CHECK! Location – CHECK!
Now we needed actors. We were lucky enough to have a few friends visiting in town, so we appealed to their sense of adventure and told them they’d have a blast jumping off of sandpiles, and running around in crazy costumes for a movie we were doing. They happily obliged. Actors – CHECK!
The final thing we had to get together were costumes, props, and make-up. For the better part of two weeks, which included a couple of very late nights, we sewed feverishly into the wee hours of morning, modeled, tailored on a duct tape mannequin, cut, snipped, dyed, trimmed, adjusted, resewed our various fabrics until we had created the perfect stillsuit/cloak combo for our Fremen. And to seal the deal, we had a friend of ours carve us an authentic crysknife out of wood. It turned out awesome; check it out here.
You’d be amazed what you can come up with by disassembling and combining everyday objects. For instance, we needed a thumper, a device used to summon worms, but those are expensive pieces of machinery even on the Arrakeen black market. We ended up taking a retractable clothing rod designed for cars and screwed a metal drain fixture onto the top, and voila! It looked pretty sweet, but you’re going to have to take my word for it until we release the short. The point is: be creative and you’ll find the solutions can be affordable and satisfactory.
The saga (of post-production) is far from over…
After a frigid day, a late start, patchy available lighting, an early sunset, and a plethora of Frigo Cheese Heads, we finished the Dune shoot. No one got hurt, thankfully, and we even got a couple really cool jib shots. We went home got some audio and green screen shots, and anything else we could think of before we let our actors go. Now, post-production lies ahead. Currently, we’ve been talking to a really awesome composer about scoring for us. And we’re pretty excited to piece it all together. We’ll still have to mess around (a lot) with ADR, create some pretty extensive mattes, 3D model some things, color correct, color grade…and all the while preparing for Christmas, the premiere of The Hobbit, and of course, the end of the world following the Zombie Apocalypse. So much to do, but don’t worry, we’ll keep you in the loop with pics and status updates via our Facebook and Twitter. As for now, I leave you with these parting words from the Dune books as you contemplate your own projects:
Be cautious. Allow for surprises. When we create, there are always other forces at work.
Kyle Bailey is a film student at Asbury University in Kentucky, and most importantly, a member of Filmpunch. Not only that, but he’s one all-around amazing guy with whom we had the pleasure of working side by side on the set of Olan Rogers’ Pop Rocket this past summer. Here’s what he had to say:
The Greatest Two Weeks of My Life by Kyle Bailey
Filming Pop Rocket was my very first independent movie making experience, and my first experience working with professionals. Meeting Olan Rogers, Jake Sidwell, Thomas Gore, Brett Driver, and a few other YouTubers I’ve looked up to for years was an experience within itself (getting to work with people you look up to always is). But it didn’t take long for me to realize that what I had seen in their videos didn’t even show half of who they were in real life; they’re real people with hopes and aspirations, just like you and me. Lots of friendships were made over those two and a half weeks, including Andy and O’Ryan aka the Filmpunch Guys. You two are some of the most talented and humble people I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. Thanks for being amazing.
I had decided that once I got down to Nashville, I would keep a journal detailing everything that happened each day and night we filmed. It’s a very unique feeling to be in the midst of something special and know that you’re recording it for others to see. So much happened during my two and a half weeks of filming, and hopefully, I’ll do a good enough job of recounting my favorite parts. I’ll start off with my impressions after being there for a day:
“I’ve looked up to Olan and Jake as both being creative powerhouses, and it’s nice to find out that there are actual people behind the videos—people who care about their work and their friends more than getting views or being famous. They’ve both got something special and I’m blessed to be a part of it.”
Like I said before, that’s one of the things that really impacted me—I was working with real people who had real talent and heart, and that made a difference in how work was accomplished on set. In fact, this next entry talks about just that:
“I know that this is a budgeted production, but I’m used to stuff like this at school. It’s almost bare bones, but there’s a vibe in the air that’s much more friendly and open than any I’ve ever felt at school. This is how sets should be run—messy, wild, rugged, with laughing at the forefront of the seriousness of what’s going on. I love it.”
I’m a film major at my university, and there’s a huge, state-of-the-art media facility at my disposal. I’ve directed TV shows, worked cameras, and been in musicals in that building, but none of the productions I’ve worked on can come close to having the same sense of camaraderie that the set of Pop Rocket had. Everyone got along with each other while getting things done quickly and efficiently. If there was a problem, we talked about how to fix it the quickest and easiest way possible, and then we did.
A large number of entries I wrote talk about how tired I was after each day of shooting. I did a lot of different things on set, including setting up green screens and soft boxes, making countless tracking markers, and about a hundred other odd jobs that needed to be done, oh and lest I forget cooking heaps of hotdogs. One of the things I enjoyed the most was getting to take behind the scenes photographs and videos. But I’m not going to sugarcoat it: filmmaking is hard work—seriously hard work. Late nights and early mornings for two and a half weeks will take their toll on your body and mind, and there are moments when you question whether or not what you’re doing is really going to make a sound once it’s released. Here’s an example:
“Today was definitely one of the more exhausting days. I got a bunch of experience shooting on a full green screen set that I helped build. Aside from that, I got to help out with the actual filming. I swept lights across Olan, Jake, and Thomas when they were on the hover bikes to make it look like they we’re racing down a city skyline. It’s something subtle, but I’ll be able to show it to people in the video and say that that’s what I did…if it makes the final cut, of course.”
You do so much work to make a five or six second shot look the absolute best it can, and even then, sometimes it’s not good enough. The simplest little problem can seem like a mountain that will never be climbed. But those moments can and will pass. Any problem can be solved with the right amount of thinking…and duct tape. And Reese’s. Always Reese’s.
Here’s the last things I wrote in my journal:
“I learned so much in such a short amount of time, and I’ve been influenced by so many people, Olan and Jake in particular. My time with the crew and cast has been just amazing. I’ve made so many new friends and memories with people I never thought I’d get to work with, and those memories will undoubtedly last for the rest of my life. It’s been a crazy two weeks of filming, fun, hardships, and work. I’ve never been a part of something this big before, and it’s staggering to think that I was even able to come down and help out. I wouldn’t trade these two weeks for anything in the world. The relationships I’ve made with people, the experiences I’ve had, and the product that’s been created have all had profound impacts on me. I can’t wait to start making movies of my own. It’s the only thing I want to do, and it’s the only thing that will satisfy me. So I’m going to do the absolute best I can to make that dream a reality.
Here I Go…
Making movies isn’t just art. It’s not just a career path. It’s something that can literally change lives. Movies are one of the easiest ways to bring about that change, and creating them is one of the things I cherish most in my life. If what I help create can change someone’s life for the better, then I’ve done my job right. I have no doubt that Pop Rocket will change people for the better; it’s got heart to it. I’ll leave you with this: if being on the set of Pop Rocket has taught me anything, it’s that working together on a project everyone loves and wants to see succeed will bring those people closer together. And a group that works well together can accomplish just about anything. Don’t let the little things get you down, and never ever stop looking for inspiration. That’s the key to making something you believe in a reality.
You can follow Kyle’s work here.
In this thirteen part series, we’ll discuss the various facets of story construction that will help shape your “champion,” and hopefully, make it a steadfast contender worthy of the critical Coliseum.
Part Two: The Threshold
If the distance between what a character is thinking and what they are actually saying/doing is as small and as narrow as a doorway, then you’ve discovered a new tool to use at your crafting table, one that, when used properly and purposefully, can make for a very intense story.
There are two ways to establish this immediacy and tension:
- Dialogue vs. inner monologue/steam of consciousness
- Action vs. emotions
For the first, dialogue vs. inner monologue; imagine a situation in which a character’s thoughts are all jumbled and confused.
They want to say what’s on their mind; problem is there are a million-and-one things floating around in their head, and none of them can be vocalized with tact or coherency. So, they end up blurting out something unrehearsed, rash, brazen, or unrelated.
Alright, where is it? You were the last person I let use it.
I sold it, alright!
You sold it?
Yeah, you weren’t using it.
It’s my credit card! Why would you sell it?
I thought this was about your Xbo--
Wait, what happened to my Xbox?
I...um...sort of sold it. You haven’t used it since you moved out and got your own place.
You sold my Xbox?
I needed the money bad, and I knew you had a 360 at your new place, so I figured you wouldn’t miss it.
So you don’t know where my credit card is?
Sorry for accusing you. Guess it’s just lost somewhere. But I will be needing a hundred bucks.
For the Xbox.
The second example, emotion vs. action, speaks to the correlation of a characters’, well, you guessed it – actions and emotions. These can either be contradictory or reflective. If a person is trying to sell a lie, their thoughts are either cool and calculating, or nervous and apprehensive (sometimes, a mixture of both). Dexter Morgan, from the show Dexter is a perfect example of this kind of character. Dexter is a serial killer who preys upon murderers instead of the innocent. However, Dexter is employed by the Miami PD as a blood spatter analyst, which is great for resources in researching his next victims, but bad because he works juxtaposed with people whose very job is to catch people like him. Many times Dexter is nearly caught by family or friends, and he has to play the coincidence card, or come up with a clever alibi on the spot. It’s even better that we get to hear his thoughts before he speaks. He’s completely honest with himself, but man, can he lie up a storm.
Use the Force, Luke.
A furtive glance, a smile of the eyes, a nearly imperceptible half-smirk at one corner of the mouth, a faint blushing of the cheeks, a furrowing of the eyebrows, a despondent mien, a glimmer of hope—these subtle facial expressions speak to the inward thoughts of a character (or deny them), and when preceding action, build a palpable, translatable tension. It’s what keeps the audience on the edge of their seat and invested in a story; just as hearing a character’s actual thoughts creates an obvious tension . . . No, no! I don’t want to do it. I can’t. I shouldn’t. “But I will.”
Exploit this. Feed your audience the big bowl of whole grain Drama-O’s it craves. *brings spoon toward mouth*
“Open the hangar deck, here comes the airplane.”
We’ll activate each link below as the blogs are posted. Enjoy!
Let’s be honest here, being a filmmaker sucks. I mean, really, it sucks. Nope, I’m not messing around, it downright sucks. Why on earth would anyone want to be a filmmaker?
I can hear you now:
“O’Ryan, what the crap are you talking about? I thought you wanted to be a filmmaker?”
I do. But I won’t lie to you, being a filmmaker sucks.
“OK, OK I get it, it sucks. You can stop saying it now and tell me why it sucks so much.”
Well, if you insist.
INT. Night: Small bedroom
We see a gaunt figure hunched over a keyboard, silhouetted by the glow of a computer monitor. Through the light smoky haze we notice several crumpled papers and empty Starbucks cups strewn across the desk and spilling onto the floor. An ashtray overflowing with spent cigarettes, still smoldering.
Suddenly, the pile of discarded story bits begins to glow and tremble. The air is filled with Taylor Swift’s “Love Song”.
Is this some sort of magic!?
Reaching into the pile, the man pulls out an iPhone.
What do mean this draft is worse?! You haven’t even had time to read it all yet!
You have worked for days, months, maybe even years on this story idea. You finally get it to a place where you think it’s good enough to share with someone, and they don’t get it. So you go back and rewrite it. It’s better than ever, so you share it again, and they say they liked the first version better…
You’re crushed, it sucks. But you believe in your story. So you collect your ego and you push forward. You start saving money to buy the gear you think you need. But what do you really need? It’s all so expensive, and there are so many new and better things coming out everyday… You can’t possibly afford to turn this story into a movie. Where do you even start?
“Who cares about money, I’m an Indie Filmmaker!” you say with your head held high.
Even though you’re forced to make sucky compromises, you decide you will make this movie anyway.
You’re looking high and low for the perfect 5′ 11.5″ tall Prince Charming to whisk your audience away like the sleepy lost princess they are, but he is nowhere to be found.
“Well, there’s always that weird naked guy from Craigslist with the tattoo on his back that keeps sending me pictures… maybe he could…”
You instantly realize that a few of your friends might be willing to act in your movie. Not awesome, but better than Naked-Back-Tattoo-Guy.
Unless, of course, that’s what you were looking for…
You’re finally on set.
This is it! You are actually making this thing happen! You’ve got your cast & crew, all your fancy new equipment, and you even thought ahead and got food for everyone.
Then, everything falls apart. It’s hotter/colder/rainier than you expected. The crew is complaining because that cost-effective equipment you were so proud of wasn’t intended to operate under these conditions for very long. Your actors are complaining because they don’t feel like their part is exploring the character enough. You’re frustrated and tired. So you decide to take a break. Eat lunch. Regroup.
Everyone is sick of hot dogs…
So you made it through filming. So what, you made a few compromises, you finished (almost) on time. You got some really good shots. That is, until you start putting it all together.
You realize that you forgot to grab a few inserts, or that follow-through shot. Some of these shots break the 180 Degree rule. Or half the great shots that you really have are out of focus.
You’ve made it this far; you can’t just give up now. Besides, you’re an “Indie Filmmaker”. It’s okay if most of the film is out of focus…right?
You’ll pretty much have to re-render this out about 5 times, either because you forgot to turn that one thing back on, misspelled something, or exported it in the wrong format.
note: Long renders followed by continuous face-palming is to be expected.
Yeah, that’s going to take a little while. Oh, and once you get it up there…you’ll probably realize at least one more thing you forgot in the render. So be prepared to upload at least twice.
Oh, what’s that…you got your first YouTube comments!? Hooray!
Filmmaking sucks, and you’re probably going to suck at it for a while, which will just make it suck more.
I can still hear your earlier question ringing in my head.
“I thought you wanted to be a filmmaker?”
I do, I very much desperately do.
See, even though filmmaking can suck, hiding underneath all that suck if you look hard enough is something amazingly unexpected: Camaraderie, Creativity, Expression, Sadness, Happiness, Joy, Heartache, Ecstasy, and ultimately, Satisfaction. The experience as a whole is what makes this art form so worth it.
Here’s the thing, many of us start into filmmaking thinking it’s going to be all fun and games and that we have it all figured out. Then, when the suck starts flying and it’s not at all what we expected, some of us bail out. The fact that you can say you “made a movie” afterward isn’t what makes filmmaking truly amazing, it’s the blood, sweat, and tears that go into producing the final result. It’s not easy, but if filmmaking is really your life’s passion, it will be so worth every moment of suck that you’ve paid. In fact, you may even come to cherish some of the suckiest moments because of the friends and memories you made with those who endured it with you.
So, if filmmaking is really, truly the career path you want to follow, endure it, and revel in the experience, because once you see it up on that big screen, it will all be
So, how about some honesty, guys? I, just like many of you, really know about a dime’s worth of actual knowledge pertaining to filmmaking. I’d like to believe I know what I’m talking about, but I’d be lying to you if you asked me how to best capture a shot, the proper way to light it, and what lens would work best.
There’s so much to it—so much that I don’t understand yet. Lighting techniques are a science all their own that can be a bit daunting to confront if you’re a rookie . . . don’t even get me started on the finer points of proper white balance, all I know is, it’s important. Camera operation, even navigating through all the menus, sub-menus, and numerous formatting options (which are all abbreviated just to make things easier for beginners—not! And who likes to read manuals apart from Lego diagrams, huh?) All this is the equivalent of a massive brain freeze, especially for someone like me who is so used to the highly advanced point-and-shoot technique. Tools and hardware, gear and lenses, and editing software—like Adobe CS-whatever . . . essential, but golly gee—a world I can’t even begin to understand. At this point, you’re probably wondering, well, that’s funny that Andy should start a site dedicated to the art of filmmaking, when he is so inept at it. That’s why I’m considered aspiring, but I digress.
I might be a real novice when it comes to computers, but there’s another part of filmmaking that I am not so unfamiliar with, and that’s storytelling. And if filmmaking is not the pinnacle of story evolution, I don’t know what is.
My real “expertise,” if it can even be called that, lies in words, in creating stories that revolve around interesting, relatable, varying, organic characters. That’s a full-time job in and of itself. So I wouldn’t say I’m lacking the prerequisites to take to this field. I’ve taken thousands of pictures during my short life, and I’ve acted in numerous productions since high school and even on into my college years. In fact, for the longest time, I wanted to move to L.A. and get into acting, before I realized that my real love all these years has been the overall movie making process, or what else was my passion for writing good for? Surely not being just a scriptwriter or only an actor, because both interest me, but I didn’t want to be limited to one or the other—I wanted to do it all.
The Great Unknown
It’s true, trying to tackle the technicalities of editing, video compositing, and post-production is terrifying and unknown to me, but I will say this: I am thrilled to learn it.
For a while now, I’ve been focusing on honing in my skills as a writer, but I’ve come to the point where I am comfortable with the stories I’m creating, and now I want to give them life beyond that of the silent words on a page. I want to see the colors that make up my worlds, see my characters’ faces, and hear the themes that drive them—that describe them and their actions. I want something more tangible. And why not? There is no reason. I just want to do it, and I’m willing to accept the risks because . . .
Logic: Hold up, sir! Be realistic, you can’t just pick up a camera and record Oscar winners. You do need the skills to produce good visual work.”
Me: So, what do I do, then? I can’t afford more school. Well, Frodo, looks like this pipe dream has come to an end.
Well, I can assure you that is not the case. There are ways to level up without a degree. In this day and age, with wonderful tools like the Internet, information is free and easily disseminated to the laymen . . . that is, if you know where to look. It’s true what they say: “It’s right at your fingertips,” figuratively and literally.
Most of the stuff O’Ryan knows, he learned by himself, through practice, and reading (lots of reading), and from web tutorials. Now, he’s no expert, but if you talk to him or ask him a question, you might think otherwise. He really does know his stuff, and his knowledge base is steadily growing, as is mine (just a little slower). It’s amazing to think of how much I’ve learned in the past couple years of really diving in. I have every confidence that I can learn what he knows, if I’m diligent and have the patience to try and try again. It won’t be easy, but it will be easier than you’d think. And there will be many mistakes, no doubt, and many trials, but I invite them. In the wise words of Jake Sidwell:
“I’d rather die trying, than live with paralytic creativity.”
We learn more about ourselves, our craft becomes more sincere when it’s passed through the refining fire, and so do we. I can’t be scared, and I can’t shy away from putting myself out there and asking for help when I need it. I can never think, “Oh well, it’s good enough,” because, quite frankly, that’s a piss-poor attitude. If this is your passion as much as it is mine, then you should expend all your energy into it, invest all your time (including the extra hour it takes to re-render something out because you discovered a typo in the beginning credits), and you should devote your heart to it and its betterment, fearlessly and fiercely.
I hope this has served as an encouragement to some of you . . . quack, quack, quack, QUACK! Go DUCKS!
In the coming weeks, we’ll be sharing some ways that you can get practice at telling a better story visually and verbally, which is one of the purposes of our Weekend Challenges. Also, be sure to follow the links below to some great tutorial sites. We’ve used them before, and we shall continue to do so (I know I’ll be living on these sites in the coming months).
Film Riot is a how-to trip through filmmaking from the hyper-active mind of Ryan Connolly. From how to make great effects to following Triune Films through production, Film Riot explores the art of filmmaking in a way you’ve never seen.
Greyscalegorilla is an active community and resource for training and tools for creative types. [They] want to make learning more accessible and effective by creating easy-to-follow tutorials and training that show you way more than just what buttons to push.
Video Copilot is a collaborative resource for training, design tools and artists. [Their] goal is to show you what is possible and how effects can be created so that you can apply these techniques on your own creative adventures.
Whilst on the set of “Pop Rocket,” we had the pleasure of working alongside this great guy. His name is Justin Robinson . . . remember it. Someday you’ll be hearing it more often, no doubt. An aspiring filmmaker from South Carolina with an impressive repertoire of experiences under his belt already for such a young fellow, Justin has a great eye for photography and a natural vision for film. He was an invaluable asset to set production; constantly finding ways to improve the scene, the attitudes of those around him, alleviate stress and workload on the director and PAs alike, and just being an overall gofer. The following is a blog post from his personal website, which he allowed us to share with all of you. Enjoy, and make sure you follow the link at the bottom to check out his work!
Set Etiquette by Justin Robinson
Here is my two cents, along with a nickel and some thoughts on what I believe you should pack into your knapsack of on set behavior. By all means, my name isn’t Steven Spielberg, nor is it Rustin Jobinson. I just want to share the little knowledge that I have on this beautiful topic. I’m beyond grateful for the opportunities to serve on the few sets that I have! I look forward to the next one(s).
As the Joker says, “. . . and here we go!”
Have a Servant’s Heart
Ladies first, dude. Leave your pride and insecurities at the door. Be willing to be the guy who makes the pizza run on set. Forget credit. Be there for the right reasons. Serve others, serve the story, and serve the project any way you can. Be the best coffee-pourer in the world, and wrap cords like a champ. The level of your work ethic shouldn’t change when people are in the same room as you or not. Make a fool of yourself, and make people laugh. Laughter is a healthy recipe for a set. Lift burdens of work off others’ shoulders.
Think like MacGyver
Make things out of nothing! So many times on set, I’ve been in a pickle trying to rig up some lights or something, and out of no where, someone will come up with a simple but brilliant idea of how to rig it. I’m not saying just throw duct tape on everything, but make things work. Don’t bring more problems to the set, bring solutions. Things will break, learn how to deal with it. Think like a filmmaker—be creative.
Listen, listen, listen, and take initiative! If you see something that needs to be done, don’t look around to see if anyone else sees it, go do it. Know where everything is on set, so that when you’re asked, you’re not like, “Where is that?” If you see that someone is having a headache, pop out some Advil. In between takes, bring some water to the crew and cast members. A little drink of water can brighten someone’s day. If you see the director carrying things that he shouldn’t have to, jump to it. Most of the time, especially on indie sets, most PAs sit around during takes instead being one step ahead of the game. Keep your eyes out for when someone isn’t feeling well, or when you can tell they’re dealing with some crap off set. Be sensitive to those things and fill in the gap. Do things without being asked to. Be alert.
Having a bad attitude on set can be contagious. It’s unhealthy and it’s hard to cure. No one likes a complainer, stop it. Filmmaking is some of the hardest work out there, so you need to absolutely love it. The hours fluctuate like an emotional girl. Sometimes you work 15-18 hour days! If you’re reliable and work your butt off, they’ll call you back. Keep your mindset away from self and turn it to others.
Long story short, don’t walk! Obviously, running saves tons of time and it shows that you care. When you’re asked to grab something from the other side of the set, run. If you walk, you’ll probably end up wasting precious daylight on your facial-book or texting the girlfriend you don’t have.
Don’t Take Things Personally
Don’t expect everyone to act like Jesus. Shooting schedules, deadlines, weather, tempers, and egos . . . what a combination for the self-esteem of the American 20th century male. Filmmaking is so frustrating at times. Long hours and the lack of food and sleep deprivation don’t help, either. If people saw the amount of work that went into that 3 second shot, they’d be amazed. When you’re not paying attention and the crew is breaking down a scene, and one of the gaffers yells at you to get out of the way, don’t take it personal. Just stay out of the way and/or lend a helping hand. He’s got things to do and deadlines to meet, just like you. I’m not saying it’s okay for people to go David O’ Russell on people, but begin to grow some tough skin. Situations like this will help you deal with people in similar situations. Your feelings will get hurt at some point so take some advice from my speech teacher, Rocky Balboa:
“The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a mean and nasty place and it’ll beat you to your knees if you let it.”
Have Endless Energy (if possible)
Be the guy encouraging people on set at 5 a.m. If your energy level sucks, the whole atmosphere of the set comes right down with it. Spread joy instead of complaints. Another secret weapon on a set is saying, “thank you”. When I worked on Olan Rogers’ web series, “Pop Rocket,” I heard “thanks man” so many times from Olan and Brett Driver, the DP. It wasn’t even really necessary for them to say it, but it encouraged me to work even harder. “Thank you” is like an energy drink.
Remember, it’s the little things on set that go a long way. Treat everyone with respect, whether they’re the PA or the director. I’m sure these are things that you already know, but sometimes we need reminding. I hope this encourages you and energizes you to work like an animal on your next project.