Category Archives: featured


featured member: Zdenek Ruzicka

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.


I recently finished my very first script ever and thought, “Why not share it with Filmpunch?” It’s a short.

If you’re in mood and interested, please, read it and let me know if you liked it!.

Featured Member: Kyle Bailey

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.


ROAM – A Film by Kyle Bailey
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.



Just Run Into It Naked

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.”

The Fire
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.

Spider monkey

Set Etiquette

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.

Be Alert

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.

Don’t Complain

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.

Back to one!

Olan's gotta gun

Hear Ye, Hear Ye!

Fellow Filmpunchers,

Now, I know we’ve seemed a little distant these past couple weeks, what with posting inspires, blogs, and new video content, but rest assured, we have been very busy preparing for something quite epic.

O’Ryan and I are pleased to announce that in a few minutes we’ll be hopping in our spaceship aka the Dodge Magnum “Maggie” and lugging all our gear down the East Coast to Georgia. What will be doing there, you ask?

We’ll be filming with the one and only Olan Rogers on the set of “Pop Rocket”. Now, we’ve seen the scripts, we’ve talked to the man in charge, and boy are you guys in for a treat! And as for us—we’ll be in for a long, tireless week of work . . . and fun . . . and fun work. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook, and we’ll be sure to keep you guys posted.

When we return, we’ll have some new blogs, new inspires, new video content, including a new Weekend Challenge, as well as a featured Weekend Challenge submission from the previous. And we are ecstatic to announce that Olan has asked to feature the Behind the Scenes specials exclusively on Filmpunch! *giddily sneaks dragon-shaped firework from back of cart, lights it, runs, Gandalf stares angrily as the sky explodes with magic*

Well, peace out for now, we are about to enter the event horizon and the space-time continuum may affect coms for the next day or so, but we’ll see you on the other side . . . in Prime City!

Hey there, Indy, you're looking REAL nice.

Your camera sucks!

“Your current camera isn’t good enough, you should wait until you get a nicer one.”

If anyone ever says this to you, they are an idiot.
There is this thing that annoys the crap out of me and it happens on almost every decent looking video on Youtube or Vimeo. It seems harmless, and I have even been guilty of this when I first started out.

“What camera did you use?”

Argh! Not only is this a slap in the face of whoever shot the video, but it shows a general misunderstanding of the way things work. As if buying the same camera will yield the same results for you. To be honest, if you can’t tell … it probably won’t matter what camera, lens, or brand of slider was used. The reason a video looks good is because someone put some thought into the way it was shot and that is what you should focus on—why it looks good.

I want you to consider something for a moment:
Let’s say you are learning to play the piano. You currently have this old electric keyboard and it doesn’t sound very good. To be honest, it sucks; the keys stick and everything you play on it sounds terrible. So you go out and purchase a 97 key Bösendorfer. It’s an internationally acclaimed thing of beauty. The sound is rich and full. The sympathetic resonances of the extra bass strings give it a voice that no other instrument has. After admiring this majestic construct of wire, wood, and iron, you sit down and place your fingers on the ivory keys. You begin striking the notes to what you hope will be your next multi-national chart-topping single. Instead the the only thing you hear are the all too familiar sounds of suck.

“But why? This piano is the best of the best! Should I have gotten the Steinway instead? Oh, God! What have I done?”

It’s a trap we all fall into at some point. We see all the big dogs using all this mouthwatering gear, and then we look at what it all produces and the assumption is “if I had that new Canon 5dmIII, I could make awesome films that look just like Philip Bloom’s” or “if only I had the rig that James Cameron has, I could make the next Avatar”. But that’s not how it works. These people you look up to didn’t just pick up a really expensive camera and get lucky. They have spent the better part of their career perfecting their craft. Not only that, but I guarantee that if you gave Cameron your iPhone he could still make a better film than some kid who just bought a RED Epic. Why? Because a great film has almost zero to do with the camera or equipment that is being used.

I’ll say this, and stone me if you want, but I feel that this is a truth we all need to deal with:

Your gear does not affect the quality of the story you’re trying to deliver. The more time you spend worrying about creating great impacting images, the more amazing images you will create.

Is gear bad?
… I can hear you asking. Of course not. The right gear just makes it easier, faster and more convenient to capture the results you need.  However, you will never know what you really need unless you’re out there practicing.

I read a lot of blogs and forums and watch a ton of videos about cameras and video. I love reading about gear. I love drooling over all the new film tech. I may even have a small addiction to buying vintage lenses on ebay… I say this because I don’t think wanting or having gear is a bad thing. That is, unless it or the procurement of it disables you. If you find yourself waiting for that affordable 4k camera, or to have enough money for that wireless follow focus, instead of shooting, then you’re stunting yourself creatively. You need to be out there every chance you get, trying to perfect your craft. You need to be annoying your friends and conning them into being in your short films. Worrying about all the gear you need just makes your skills weak and anemic.

What do you expect to happen if you constantly hold off on filming your short because your camera isn’t good enough for your story?

I can tell you what’s going to happen, one of two things: you’re going to eventually give up on the dream because it feels too far away, or you’re finally going to get that camera and you’re not going to know how to use it, how to frame up a shot properly, how to convey emotion, or how to tell a coherent story. Then after seeing how much your story still sucks despite all that equipment, you give up on your dream.

You should be concentrating on being an impressive cameraman instead of a man that wields an impressive camera. The camera doesn’t matter as much as your ability to SEE and TELL your story. You need to be out there practicing and developing your storytelling vocabulary. Skills have to be earned, they can’t be bought. The awesome thing is practicing costs you nothing except time. Even if you’re shooting video on a Nokia 6630, you are still building skills that will be useful for creating compelling images on any camera you use.

A master pianist can make any piano sound amazing. They don’t need to be using a special “master” piano for their skills to shine. In fact, I bet a truly gifted pianist could make a herd of football players emotional with an untuned piano.

I will leave you with a Google image search on Ansel Adams, a man who spent the bulk of his career (from 1927-1984) shooting on stills cameras that would be considered ancient and outdated by most today, and yet he has shot some of the most amazing and breathtaking photographs that rival the millions of images uploaded online everyday.

"I have a soft spot for cripples, bastards, and broken things."

The “Good Guy”

You’re all pretty familiar with the term protagonist, or at least you’ve heard the word tossed around in conversations involving books or movies, or in your English classes. If not, here it is, plain and simple: The protagonist is the main character, usually a proponent of good, around whom the story revolves.

Protagonists are not always a person, or even one person. They could be an idea, a movement, an event. More often than not, they are synonymous with the hero, so it makes them easy to spot. But sometimes they aren’t, and the hero is some other character that merely saves the day and paves the way for the protagonist to have their revelation.

If you’re having trouble identifying a protagonist, just look for the character that gives the story purpose, drive, and meaning. They are the vehicle for the themes interwoven throughout the narrative.

Enter HERO
Now, it’s a pretty simple task to right a story about a hero on a quest to save the world from certain destruction. This hero is faultPrince Charming Once Upon A Timeless. He’s handsome (or she’s rapturously beautiful). All the words that issue from their mouth are as empowering as battle commands given by a seasoned general, or they’re as soft and reassuring as a mother’s hug. What’s more, they overcome the antagonist, thwart the villain’s plans, and always save the day so the happy ending can ensue. It’s a classic tale of chivalry (or feminism), a clash against fate, overcoming all obstacles, the fairy tale ending, it’s . . . it’s boring is what it is.

People are sick of color by numbers stories filled with those kinds of flat characters—static and unchanging.

So, how do we avoid the clichés and stereotypes?
Let’s dumb ‘em down, you think. Maybe if the archetypal hero has been overdone, it’ll be better to write a character that’s as boring as a class on Excel, or worse . . . typing with Mavis Beacon.

Jim’s just an ordinary guy who works in a cubical; he goes home to his cat, Lucy, eats some dinner, brushes his teeth, and goes to bed. The only climax in a story like that is when Jim is late for work the next morning because Lucy accidentally unplugged his cell charger during the night and his phone died. Everything turns out okay though, because when he gets to work, his boss isn’t even there yet. That was a grueling scenario just to write about. If your story sounds like this, here’s some advice: CTRL + A, then tap delete. Watering down your main character is just as bad as injecting them with steroids.

How do you create an interesting main character, then?
Michael Goldenberg, a playwright who has worked on various big name projects, which include Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, The Green Lantern, and Peter Pan, describes very eloquently the protagonist’s raison d’être.

“The protagonist is the character that suffers
the most.”

So there you have it. Make sure you inflict as much misery and depression on your main character as possible and you’ll have a wonderful story . . .

*snickers* The word suffer doesn’t always mean something negative. Most simply, it means to experience or be subjected to. So, the character whom most of events of a story are affecting would be the protagonist.

That is not to say that this character will not suffer pain and suffering, but because of the basic struggles: Man vs. Man, Man vs. Himself, Man vs. Society, and Man vs. Nature, all or at least some of these things are going to imbue your character with life and purpose. A character, who is normal and plain and who’s daily routine is just as menial and mundane, can become a point of intrigue when you weather them with conflict.

Think about how you handle problems, how your friends react in certain situations, your parents even; and you’ll find it a lot easier to define your character (both protagonists and antagonists alike).

Your protagonist should be just as flawed as you are.
That doesn’t mean you’re evil, or that your good guy is a bad guy, but it does mean that they make mistakes. They don’t always say the right thing, do the right thing; adhere to a set of morals. In fact, they may be arrogant and impulsive—like Holden Caulfield in J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. You’ll find these types of protagonists easier to relate to. By the same token, you as the viewer may undergo a similar process of enlightenment as the protagonist if they are relative to you.

What’s this look like?
Well, remember Jim the office worker? He’s actually an identical twin. While Jim pushes papers behind a desk, his brother, Josh, is a traveling photographer for National Geographic. Now that we’ve created an interesting dynamic. Let’s push it a little father.

Internally, Jim has been harboring some pretty intense feelings of jealously toward his brother for years; ever since they were children, really. He’s sick of him. When Josh comes home, all he does is gloat about his victories and his experiences, the exotic places he’s visited. His parents continually dote praise on him, which doesn’t help matters.

During one of their family reunions, Jim and Josh get into a heated debate. Jim says some really horrible things. It ends with both brothers storming out angrily.  On the drive home, Jim thinks, I wish he were dead. He resolves to avoid Josh from that point on. And years pass without a single word exchanged between the brothers.

One day, Jim finds out that Josh has taken his own life. No one has any idea why. Turns out, from the outside he had everything going for him: money, a good job, endless beauties wanting to be with him, but what Jim didn’t know was that his brother felt just as empty and alone on the inside as he did. Josh only became a photographer because it was their father’s trade, and he had pushed him into the field. He’d never gotten to follow his own dreams of becoming a musician, because Dad always said, “The only real art is taking out the noise,” as in a good photograph. Whereas, music was all about adding noise to life. Josh never told Jim how he felt, but the words in his goodbye letter read, “I always admired you.” But what was it that his brother admired? He had a dead-end career. He used to love writing when he was younger; used to do it all the time and it made him happy. He didn’t know what happened to that passion.

From that moment on, Jim decides to change his life around and find some purpose to live for. He quits his boring job, he packs up his cat, and he moves to a completely different city where he decides to pursue his love for writing.

At the end of the story, we see Jim write the final words of his first draft. The scene ends with Jim tapping the period key and letting out a gratified sigh.

The Shape of ThingsThe Road end
The protagonists you cling to as an audience/reader are the ones that end up in a different place than when they started. It’s not always miles apart as in Jim’s case, but it is a marked change that the viewer should be able to take note of, a step in some direction, and it should bring some sense of closure, however minute. Not all the loose ends need to be tied up, but your main character should have reached a point where we can safely assume their future, and we can accept/understand their past.


Understanding Criticism vs. Cynicism

I have often heard that you should seek out feedback on creative projects you are working on. I have just as often heard you should ignore what everyone else says and just do what your gut says is right. What’s a creative person to do?

“If I am creating for an audience, shouldn’t I listen to that audience?”

“Hey, whoa, I am the creative person here. I know what’s best for
my project.”

Confronting criticism is one of the hardest things for us creative types to deal with (initially at least). Whether it be a script, a short film, or a musical composition; it’s something that you’ve probably been laboring over for weeks before letting someone else in on it. It can be very disheartening when you finally show something to someone and instead of glowing accolades and a pat on the back, you get hesitation and suggestions for improvement.

It sucks, but it doesn’t have to.
Feedback is one of the most valuable tools you can use to hone your craft. It can point out things you may have never noticed, or worse, noticed too late. But it can also be a poisonous tar pit of despair. Ok, that sounded a little scary… but it’s true.

Like any good tool, you need to know how to use criticism to make your project better. The first step in coming to grips with this new found tool is understanding the difference between criticism and cynicism. Knowing which to use and which to toss out is probably the most important skill a filmmaker can possess.

Let’s break it down.
Criticism is doubt informed in curiosity or a deep knowledge of the subject or discipline in question. Often times it comes in the form of insights such as, “The lighting here is a little flat and makes her face look a little wide,” or “It’s a little long, you may lose your audience.” Whether it is constructive or destructive, it comes from knowledge.

Cynicism is a state of mind that is often rooted in ignorance and antiquated ways. Many times in the film industry, experts will often shun new technologies because it doesn’t fit within the workflow they have settled into over the years. This type of behavior is a handicap and barricades you into the good-ole-days. A large percentage of Youtube comments are often written by cynics looking to knife creatives with their keyboards for no other reason except the joy of the troll.

Know the difference
Feedback is gold to a creative person, and you’re guaranteed to get your fair share. Requested or not. Understanding how to pan the good stuff out of the Ganges River of Opinion can be tricky. As storytellers we need to harness the ability to discern thoughtful criticism from short-sighted cynicism.

Here are some thoughts to help you separate the gold from the mud:

Consider the credibility of the source: Who is giving this “advice”? Is it someone with little to no experience. Does this person legitimately desire to see you prosper? Do they have years of experience in this situation. It may not always be a black or white situation. Many times it will be someone that actually knows what they’re talking about, but sucks at being gentle when telling you. It might be a well-meaning parent that has no idea why Mr. Spock needs pointy ears. It’s up to you to decipher whether or not the person dealing out the criticism is qualified to do so. If not, patiently await the end of the verbal vomit and walk away from the steaming heap. You’re not a dog, so leave it alone. If they are qualified, then get a spoon and eat it up.

Remove fear and ego from the situation: This can oftentimes be the hardest part to spot and deal with. Typically when someone offers up criticism our defenses go on high alert. We begin loading the “yeah buts” into the chamber ready to fire off why it wasn’t our fault and “the lights, and the lens, and those lazy grips…” Criticism does not explicitly equal failure, and even when it does, failure is only a bad thing if you stop there. Being able to pull back and remove your ego from the situation will allow you to properly judge the critic’s motives and the true value of said criticism.

Learn to handle scrutiny. What good is feedback if you get all worked up because of it. If you want to grow as a filmmaker or storyteller, you absolutely need to embrace and take advantage of real criticism. After all, you want to write and film stories meant to be shown to large groups of people. What else do you think is going to happen, standing ovations every time? Not likely, at least not initially. It takes a lot of work and refinement to get to those standing O’s. That means you need to be willing to be refined.

“Criticism is something you can easily avoid by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” ~Aristotle

F is for friends that do stuff together!

Crafting Characters You Give A Flying Frak About

Now there’s the challenge. How do you write a story with not just a great plot, but convincing, relevant, organic, palpable characters that seem just as real as any movie character on the big screen, or even the girl that sits next to you in class . . . you know, the really cute one with the interesting scar above her right eye?

It’s all about the little things, not just the obvious traits. So, the technique here is a lot like creating believable dialogue. If you want to make it easier on yourself, just observe people around you for bit; that’s a good start. Take note of not just their appearance, but also their personality quirks, their compulsions, their tics. Does Jim have a slight stutter, or does Sarah constantly bite her bottom lip when she’s about to tell a lie? Pride issues, timidity, aggressive tendencies . . . these are all things that make a character so much more than just a dark scary man wearing a flowing black cloak, cackling maniacally—someone who is clearly evil. If there’s anything the world needs less of, it’s flat characters . . . and maybe the Kardashians.

What makes a flat character, you ask? Well, any character who lacks development and doesn’t need it (because they’re not worth it); a character that is either an archetype of good, evil, or some other emotional value.  They usually take the form of the mustache-twirling villain or the hero on an epic quest that knows exactly what to do and say no matter what the situation. No one is that cut and dry in real life, and no one should be in your stories either; unless it’s satire, then by all means go ahead. It could be humorous.

Characters, Like Onions (lots of layers)
A good example of a character with some real, well . . . character, would be Professor Snape from Harry Potter. At first, you think he’s just going to be another one of Harry’s numerous antagonists throughout the series. After all, from their first meeting, there is nothing to him. He’s just that one teacher who seems to have an innate hatred for Harry.

As the story unfolds, you learn that what first appeared as blatant dislike is actually a front to protect Harry, that Snape used to be in love with Harry’s late mother and as a sort of debt to her memory, he has vowed to go so far as to defame himself and pretend to ally himself with the Dark Lord only to give Harry the chance to defeat him. It’s very complicated, but the fact is, the “bad guy” is not a bad guy at all, but rather an unfriendly good guy who is motivated by love. That sort of character demands some measure of respect and even sympathy.

If you’re ever in doubt of whether your characters are multidimensional, ask yourself this simple question: Can you love and hate them at the same time? Can you see part of yourself, however small, in them? If yes, then congrats! You’ve created a wonderful character for your story. Taking the time to be subjective and consider these things could be the difference between a character your audience gets attached to and one of the out-of-focus extras walking around in the background of a scene.

Attention Hogs
Your character should be compelling enough that even though there may be a zombie virus outbreak in the background, and the crowd is panicking—in short, lots of distractions—your character is the only thing the audience truly cares about. And how that character reacts in any given situation will only add to everything we know about them. In most cases, actions speak louder than words. Be mindful of your dialogue, but be deliberate with your actions.

For instance, don’t just throw a sex scene in a story because you feel like it’s obligatory, or that it will make your characters seem more real . . . ahem, ahem Game of Thrones. It adds nothing to your character (except for some extra texture *smirks*). However, the way a character shies away from touch could say volumes about their past experiences, most likely dark ones, which the viewer may never fully come to know (and they don’t need to know; that’s the beauty of good dialogue coupled with competent acting). What’s inferred by a simple action—like when a coworker innocently sneaks up behind Sarah the Waitress at Fridays, and taps her on the shoulder, and she jerks away violently—that’s the development. We can only assume that she does not like being touched, and for good reasons. Sometimes it’s better that we don’t know why, but can assume.  The point is, by making Sarah the Waitress react in this manner, she has now become so many shades deeper as a character.

So Say We All
One more character, a personal favorite of mine, is Admiral Adama from the show Battlestar Galactica . . . What? Don’t Laugh. Even people that are not interested in science fiction can find things (and plenty of them) to take away from this spectacular space drama. The character development is some of the best I’ve ever seen, and as for the “Old Man” as he’s called on the show, he’s one of the best.

The series opens up with the seasoned commander about to give a speech during the decommissioning ceremony of the spaceship he’s commanded for the last couple decades, the famed relic-of-a-starship, Battlestar Galactica. From the start, it’s obvious that the commander cares not for ceremonies and press hubbub; he just wants to retire in peace and get the media crews off his ship.

The future president of the colonies, Laura Roslin, is also present for the proceedings. She makes a comment that it would make things easier for people to learn the lay of the ship if everything was networked. Adama vehemently refuses, saying he “[doesn't] care . . . It’s an integrated computer network and [he] won’t have it on this ship.” It becomes exceedingly clear that Adama is a relic from the past himself, and his simple, functional ship, needs nothing more than a reliable crew, good guns, and a sturdy hull to operate. Very old-fashioned. We love this. It’s a precaution, which saves their lives later on in the series.

Before the ceremony, there’s another noteworthy scene that takes place in the captain’s quarters between Adama and his executive officer, Saul Tigh.

Here is an excerpt of their discourse:


Been drinking a lot lately.




This have anything to do with...


My wife? Why, just because she’s sleeping with half the population of Geminon while I’m away. Nah, doesn’t have anything to do with her.

Adama sips his coffee for a beat.


Well, I doubt Starbuck’s gonna ask for a court either. Lucky for you, considering your record.


Doesn’t matter. I’m getting out anyway.


There a chance you’ll change your mind? The Fleet needs men like you, Saul.


Like hell. You’re the only sonuvabitch in the whole fleet dumb enough to want me as XO.



Now you see why they’re putting me out to pasture.


I did wonder.

The two old friends share a brief smile, then Adama takes a deep breath.


All right. Ceremony’s at fourteen hundred. Be there on time, in a fresh uniform and clean-shaven.


Yes, sir.

Adama nods, the meeting over. Tigh heads for the door, then pauses.



Has Lee reported aboard yet?

Adama doesn’t answer for a long moment.


Three hours ago.


Maybe you should...


He’ll contact me when he’s ready.

And so, from this brief exchange we’ve established a couple of things that will stick with us throughout the course of the series: An age-old friendship between the two men, good friends that know and love each other, and aren’t afraid to call each other out; the smile they share hits home this idea perfectly; age is insinuated by their casual attitude in regard to their duties, and with that, experience; and respect, both in friendship and formally.

What’s more, Tigh goes on to ask Adama about his estranged son, Lee. Just by the pause, the way he answers plainly, and Tigh’s friendly chide that he should probably try to make amends with his son; the way Adama cuts him off as if to say, “I don’t need to be told what to do, it hurts, but this is just how it is,” there’s a whole flurry of emotions and character communicated. We understand that there is pain in his life, but we also understand that somewhere in time beforehand, he’s done his part in confronting it. He can’t do anymore. And we see him as a man who can accept the things he can’t change, including his broken relationship with his son. Additionally, we see that he is wise and patient enough to allow Lee to make the next move in reconciling their issues. Wow! What a character, and that’s all established within a few sentences and during the first half an hour of the show. With people like this, there’s so much to look forward to.

It’s not hard to hack it, but it does take some extra thought. Take time crafting characters. You’re creating life, in a sense.

How to Start A Story

How To Start A Story

So here we are, just a bunch of storytellers, or maybe some of you are simply looking for a good story to lose yourself in. Whatever your medium, it makes no difference; whether you write stories or scripts, direct, photograph, compose music; or my personal favorite, adapt all the above into one finished product aka making a film, it’s all centered around the same thing—the creative process.

Writing a story once its plot and characters have been established seems almost second nature, but coming up with the initial story—the idea—that’s the hardest part for most people. Inspiration doesn’t always strike you when you want it to, and just like lightning—it never hits you in the same place twice.

You can sit down at your desk, playing the very best of your iTunes library and . . . nothing. You could have all the time in the world, you say, “I’m ready, Inspiration, come to me!” and alas . . . nothing.

Hey, Inspiration, I’m still here, still waiting. C’mon already! you practically scream . . . silence. I think I hear crickets. “This is ridiculous,” you say aloud, voicing your frustration.

Two hours later, and all you’ve managed to do was update your Facebook status once, twice, maybe even three times! Gosh, I’m pathetic, you think to yourself.

No, no, you’re not. Stop thinking like that. The truth is all of us go through this no matter how long you’ve been hashing out ideas.

A Flighty Bird
Inspiration barely ever comes when it’s convenient. I know for me, it comes when I’m trying to sleep or do something else—a random project around the house, maybe; or when I’m at work. It usually comes when I have my hands full and can’t drop what I’m doing. It’s kind of like a lucid dream, the most vivid ones you have early in the morning, right before you wake up. If you don’t immediately try to remember it, tell it to someone, or write it down within a few minutes, it exponentially becomes harder and harder to recall with every second that elapses.

And so, having let too many spur the moment great ideas be whisked away with the wind, I’ve gotten in the good habit of always  keeping a pen and paper handy. This way, when the time comes, I’m ready for it, and I can hopefully revisit it for further development at my leisure.

So let’s skip ahead a bit. You have the idea now. It came to you when you were in the shower, or maybe while you were on the toilet (c’mon, let’s be honest). It’s a good idea, but it’s brief—nothing but a rude snapshot. In your head, it’s revolutionary—the best, most original idea that has ever been conceived . . . But honestly, is it really? Probably not. It’s true. We all think our ideas are the great exception; that because we’re artistes, simply spitting it out to the world will result in glory because we were true to our own self-expression.  Wrong!

In reality, if you were to share that crude image that you see in your mind’s eye with the public, 99% of the time it would most likely be just about as expressive as vomiting in public, which is definitely “expressive.”

Real artists take time; they dedicate lots of it too. They hone their craft, refine it; and most importantly, they are always seeking critique to better their future work or their work in production. Invest enough time and energy, and eventually something of worth and strength and meaning emerges. At least, that’s the concept behind the creative process.

Back to plotting . . . A tiny, high-pitched voice is heard:

“Gee, Brain, what do you wanna do tonight?”
“Same thing we do every night, Pinky. Try to take over the world!”

So this snapshot of yours, it could be anything. You envision a spaceship floating by the crystalline rings of a gas giant, or maybe something more down-to-earth: A kid with baggy jeans, walking down the street to the rhythm of whatever hip song is playing on his MP3 player, when in reality, he’s actually listening to Beethoven’s ninth. You would never guess that from his appearance. It makes no difference. They’re all snapshots. All good stories are spawned from dreams, visions, nightmares; or more often than not, snapshots like these.

Catch The Bird
Good, you have it! Now, write it down so you don’t forget it. Have a pen and paper ready at all times, next to your bed, out in your living room, or simply keep the Notepad app open on your computer—it’s brainstorm irrigation. Jot down the initial idea, ponder it for a while, then, let it breathe. Return to it later.

What’s next? Well, they say every picture is worth a thousand words . . . or maybe just more pictures—et voila! The birth of movies. The point is, it’s always worth extrapolating on and coming up with some purpose to lend it meaning—whatever your idea is, it can always be better.

Be ready to capture the idea when it comes, and once you’ve accomplished that, don’t stop there, be prepared to evaluate it, testing it for weak points and considering possible solutions for strengthening it. As you prepare to do this, always remember the original idea you came up with. It should be the thesis for everything that follows.

Be ready. It’s gonna be a long haul, but try to enjoy it! It’s your passion, remember?