Sunday, December 27, 2009

On the Set of Imposter

I often get asked when working with famous people "what are they like?" So let me talk about some of the people on the set of "The Imposter," (soon to be released in early 2010).

Kevin Max-- I first met KMax at a hip LA restaurant, where you paid big bucks to have green things mixed into your beef burger. Kevin was interesting to talk to and extremely approachable. Later, when he got to the set, he got hammered with the flu while shooting, so I pretty much tried to leave him alone. Didn't spend much time with Kevin.

Kerry Livgren-- I was so excited about having Kerry agree to do this movie. And it wasn't as hard a task as I thought it might be. We had talked to several other "founding fathers of Christian Rock" but this one I was really excited about. To get in touch with Kerry began with a simple google search for Kerry's manager, which came up with Dutch Dehnert.

I sent off a hasty email of introduction and he responded pretty quick. Though he didn't think Kerry would end up doing it, he was intrigued and passed the project along. Long story short, Kerry liked the script, the message and the role he was to play is not too terribly far from who he is in real life.

I first met Kerry late one night right before we started shooting. He and his wife Vicci drove down from Kansas and got a little turned around in the metroplex. So Jeff Rodgers and I went out and found them, then we had dinner at Fuddruckers talking about all sorts of things. I will always remember this dinner-- a very special night. I asked him about covers of Carry On Wayward Son that he actually liked through the years, and he mentioned, of all tings, the Oakridge Boys. I still haven't heard that one. I need to check it out.

Kerry was a great rpesence ont he set. A quiet gentleman. I recall there were a few times, while shooting at Bethesda Church, the piano would come alive. I peeked inside the sanctuary, and it was Kerry. Very cool.

Then, I remember the first time through shooting his guitar playing for the COWS music video. My then 6 year old daughter, upon completion of take one, said in a loud voice... "Hey, you're pretty good!"

Jeff Deyo was a surprise. I had heard of Sonicflood but didn't know much else before Jeff Rodgers brought him to the table. Jeff turned out to be another great find. He is a man who definitely loves God and it shows. I know in our first face to face on the set, I overloaded on him, about the backstory of his character, the philosophy of the movie and about a billion other things. He must have thought me pretty intense and strange.

I also remember when on the set, I got a phone call that my wife and son had been in a traffic accident (that they were okay but going to the hospital in case), it was Jeff asking if he could pray that really touched me.

Tom Wright, who plays the crazy homeless guy is also great to have around on a set. Tom has been around for and his movie and tv show credit list is extremely long. I hired Tom to act in my first movie and out of my first four movies, he's in four. Tom challenges me to be a better director and I feel like I've improved with each movie. I knew when about to do his scenes, I'd better have done my homework, because Tom was going to ask great and tough questions.

So that's what it's like on the set with some of these people. If you've had some experience with one, tell us about it.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Few Writer Pitflalls

There are some pitfalls to avoid when screenwriting. Some are obvious and others maybe not so. Some pitfalls deal with mechanics while others deal with the creative. Here are a couple that stick out to me, because I either commit the atrocities myself or see them often.

I read very few scripts from other people (just don't have the time), but here are some easy to spot amateur mistakes:
* Over 120 pages (some are told this is a good goal-- but really, unless writing "2012" or "Lord of the Rings", 90 is a better target.
* Flipping through the script, there are pages and pages of dialogue and very little action. Hitchcock says to resort to dialogue when all else fails. A script with tons of dialogue therefore would mean a script that has a lot of failure. Sure there are exceptions, but the funny thing is that everyone thinks there is the exception.
* Characters having same voice. A lot of beginner writers tend to write the same person for each character, just with different names, gender, occupations etc.
* Passive tense in the action. This is one of my biggie mistakes. Lots of gerunds and "ing" words. This weakens the script. "Ron is running to the car" is not as strong as "Ron runs to the car."
* Anti Three Act. Many new writers say "I'm against all the structure and bondage the system puts on writers, so I'm not going to put my writing in a box." You know, after you've written and understand structure, then you're qualified to write anti-structure. Picasso painted remarkable realism early before he went modern.

Gotta run for now.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Letter From Kerry Livgren

Thanks Kerry for sharing this. For the rest of us, here's a letter Kerry has sent out to friends, fans and family.

It was a typical Monday morning in late summer. I had started the day with the barn chores and followed by a few hours in the recording studio. The lazy afternoon was so pleasant that I decided to give up the rest of the workday and fly one of my radio-controlled planes in the pasture.

I had enjoyed good health for all of my life, except for an occasional bout with a cold. After reaching 50, I was more vigilant, but never a need to see a doctor. My cholesterol and blood pressure were at modest levels, and I got plenty of exercise here at the farm. I thought I had nothing to worry about, but that was about to change.

I went to bed about ten-thirty, read a little bit and went shortly to sleep. From this point on, I remember little, which must have been God's mercy.

It was about 3:30 in the morning. I rose and headed for the bathroom.
Vicci said she remembered me splashing water on my face, and then dropping to the floor. I didn't know it, but a massive blood clot had just entered my carotid artery, working it's way to my brain. Vicci called 911, thinking perhaps this was a heart attack. I have vague recollections of struggling unsuccessfully to get to my feet – and a strange bewilderment as to why my right side would not function. I lost consciousness. After lying on the floor for a indeterminate amount of time, the paramedics arrived and took me to the hospital.

I was taken to the emergency room, and from there to surgery at seven o'clock. The surgeons strove to keep my arteries open, with some success. Two stents were placed in the blood vessel. Eventually I was to find out that, for a time, my life hung in the balance, but there on the operating table the balance swung in my favor. Despite the successful surgery however, later tests showed that a second blood clot had again blocked the carotid artery. There was not an attempt to remove this one - there was just too much mass of coagulation. It remains blocked. For the next three and a half days, I knew nothing. I was in a black vacuous void, lacking sound, sight and feeling.

I began waking up, as if in a fog. I could see shadowy figures moving.
My right side was dead, and I couldn't speak. There had been dozens of friends and well-wishers in the emergency recovery room, but I hardly remember their presence. Many of my friends were there praying for me, and they had notified many others I'm not acquainted with, who joined them in prayer.

I still didn't know what had happened to me. Unfortunately, in the days to follow, it did begin to dawn on me. My wife had been with me throughout the ordeal, and she began trying to tell me what had happened to me. I had suffered a stoke, and a very serious one.
Initially I couldn't move my arm or hand, but over the next several days I began to show some improvements such as wiggling my fingers and toes. My right leg was recovering more rapidly, and eventually I stood upright.

I don't know what the Doctors expected regarding recuperation, especially with that artery still blocked. I knew little of strokes - just what I had heard from friends and family. I knew they were serious, even life threatening. I suppose, giving the nature of strokes, that anything was possible. Some recovery could take place, or none at all, but that was now in God's hands.

Still, the improvements came. Though it was tremendously frustrating, I began to be able to say a few understandable words, and I could now, with assistance, stand and walk some cautious steps. Therapists were now visiting me regularly and helping with speech and physical therapy. My thought processes and memory were coming back. I remember so desperately wanting to get better, and be able to go home, but that was not yet to be.

After eleven days in the hospital, the decision was made to move me to a Rehab facility. Several different places were discussed, but it was decided that I would be moved to a very highly thought-of clinic in Lincoln, Nebraska. I wanted to stay in Topeka, but I certainly was in no position to protest. Vicci wanted me to have the best care. After one more, and rather lengthy blood test, they loaded me in an ambulance and off I went. The scenery on the way up to Lincoln was very refreshing to me – the first I had seen in a long while.

The clinic was very nice. I arrived late in the afternoon and was checked into a very elegant room, right next to the dining room. At the call to dinner, I got up and walked to the table, though a nurse tried to assist me. The first thing I noticed was that I was the only one walking. The rest of the people were in wheelchairs. Most were considerably older than I, and many were obviously fellow stroke victims. I remember thinking that most of these people were hurting much worse than I. There wasn't much conversation at the table, presumably because of their vocal problems, and mine. The meal was very good, but I noticed, really for the first time, that I had great difficulty holding the fork. (I had previously been fed.)

The therapists began early, with a series of tests. From morning til'
late afternoon, this was to be my schedule for the next three weeks – speech, occupational, and physical therapies. The staff were all very nice. I even began to enjoy the therapy a little, as long as it got my mind off of the real implications of my situation. Everyone said I was making great progress.

After the first week, we drove home for my first brief visit home. My home seemed welcoming, but unfamiliar and strange in the way that places do when you've been gone. Still, I relished the time. When we returned to Nebraska, one of the more bizarre events of my ordeal took place. Since I was now on out-patient status, we were staying in a local hotel. I was about to go to sleep when suddenly I thought of the Bible. I realized that I could not think of a single verse. I could think of none of the names of the books, no names of Bible characters, none of the stories, nothing! I was slowly panicking when I asked Vicci to grab the Gideon Bible and read me something – anything. With a puzzled look, she opened the Bible and began to read from John Chapter 6, the story of Jesus feeding the 5000. After thirty years of personal Bible study, I was hearing it for the first time! I was such a strange sensation. There was a faint air of familiarity about it, and yet it was all new. What a peculiar thing, that a stroke can destroy a portion of the brain, and be that selective. Though I had panicked, because I instinctively knew how important it was, this Jesus I was hearing about was soothing, and I was able to go to sleep.
(fortunately as of this writing, my Bible knowledge has returned).

I returned to the clinic for two more weeks, and continued to improve and grow stronger. One day I discovered that there was a piano in an open room on the second floor. I had not been thinking much about one of my greatest fears – not being able to make music. I sat down at the piano, my right arm in my lap, and played a few figures with my left hand. Then came the great test. I lifted my right arm and played a simple scale, although somewhat haltingly. I was surprised that I was even able to press the keys. However the real surprise happened when I tried to play with both hands. I found that I could play with right or left hand independently, but not with both hands. I just could not do it. It was actually quite a peculiar sensation. Initially I felt tremendously frustrated, and then panic, but the Lord gave me a peace about it.. I decided it would do no good to worry about it, and it would be best to leave my future in His hands. I did not visit that piano again.

After three weeks it was time to come home, and transfer to another Re-Hab Hospital in Topeka. I left Nebraska on a Friday, and was to enroll in the outpatient clinic in Topeka on the following Monday. I would be staying at home! The first night at home, I was awakened by a loud crashing, followed shortly by someone moaning. Startled awake, I lay there thinking I was dreaming. I got up and went to the bathroom, the same one in which I had the stroke, and I found Vicci lying in our sunken bathtub. I stared at her for a moment thinking “what are you doing?” before I managed, with some difficulty, to get her back to bed. I knew she was hurt, but I thought it was just bruises.

The morning told a different story. Vicci was completely unable to move, and in great pain. My daughter Kate, who was staying with us, called 911. Here was I, partially disabled and unable to drive, and now my wife was facing a trial. I began to feel a bit like Job. The ambulance took her to the same hospital that I had been taken to, where we found out it was not bruises, but a fractured spine. After a painful night, she was scheduled for surgery the next day – with the same doctor who had operated on me. Everyone was stunned that we were back in the hospital again, and this time with my wife. We sent out prayer requests – this time for Vicci.

They performed the surgery, a relatively new procedure using a balloon and a type of cement, to rebuild her vertebrae. There was no incision.
After one more night, she was already home, and feeling nearly normal.
I couldn't believe she was back home after breaking her back. The doctor said that were it not for this type of surgery, she would have been months recovering. I thanked him work his work on her, and myself. I felt that we had narrowly escaped a calamity.

Vicci's incident had fallen right on the day that I had an appointment to enroll in the Re-Hab program, so it was delayed, but I started it the following week. The clinic was similar to the one in Nebraska.
They tested my hand for numbness, as well as a full battery of other tests.

The various therapies continued – as did the improvements. I was basically aware that I was slowly getting better, but I really didn't grasp how much I was improving. People that I spoke to on an occasional basis always remarked about how much better I was speaking.
The change was so gradual, that I could scarcely notice it. Over time, the feeling was coming back to my hand. I finally sat down at my piano, and suddenly I could play with both hands. It was nowhere near my former ability, but now I had hope. As the days have passed, my playing improves slowly – I can even pick a few notes on the guitar.

I am now, as of this writing, four months from the date of my stroke.
I still have some speech problems, and some trouble with my right arm.
It has been a long and hard struggle, and there is still a ways to go.
I did not know it at first, but this stroke was serious. I just now am finding out how serious. My Doctor, after conferring with several other physicians including a hematologist, told me that what had caused the stroke was a blood disorder called “antiphospholipid syndrome.” He said that it was unlikely that a physical exam would have revealed it. It is a type of auto-immune disorder, and he informed me that I must be on blood-thinner drugs, presumably for the rest of my life. I was not pleased about having to take Coumadin, but I left his office resolved.

More significant is what one of my other doctors told me. (a
Neurologist) I went to see him just a few days ago. He had not see me in many weeks, in fact since the days in the emergency room in the Hospital. When he walked into the room, I jumped to my feet, held out my hand, and said “Hi, Doc!”. It would be hard to miss the look of astonishment on his face. He was clearly pleased with my progress, but then he told me “Mr. Livgren, you had as bad a stroke as a man can have.” He said “Once in a while, a Doctor gets to see someone like you.”

I had been getting comments like this all along, but I was just now starting to get it. Clearly, something was going on. I should, by all rights, be either deceased, or one of the people in a wheelchair, yet I am not disabled. The comment was made that I was “like Job”, yet Job received back all that he lost and more besides. I have come to believe that my Father in Heaven has once again shown us His kind mercies. I have may times been the recipient of His mercies before, ( He saved Vicci from her head injury in 1998). Now, He has saved me. He exists, and he hears the prayers of His people. I know I am nothing special. I know that sometimes there are good, prayerful people whose prayers are not answered, and I have no explanation. He is the Lord God and mercy is His to give, and He gave it.

Throughout this whole ordeal, I somehow knew that it was going to be alright. I felt a kind of calming presence, the presence of Christ, telling me that I need not fear. I pray that I be fully recovered but if not, then whatever the Lord gives me is enough.

Kerry Livgren
Christmas Eve, 2009

The Apocalypse (or "go get your own oil")

So tonight, being Christmas Eve, my twelve year old and I naturally saw "2010." A very special holiday movie. Not quite the classic of "A Christmas Story" but it was great. The wife and daughter went to "Princess and the Frog." I think they didn't make it through much before hopping over to Alvin's Squeekuel (is that how you spell it?)

But back to "2012." I thought it interesting that the good guys, when discovering the world was ending, prepared for the impending doom by building, what is essentially, the big lifeboat. So who to include? Oh here goes the controversy. But actually, let's sidestep that one and go to a bigger controversy in scripture.

The "Christian" thing to do is to be inclusive. Our hero scientist in 2012 wanted to open the gate and let everyone on board even though they only provided for a set number. Wasn't that nice? Surely, if we prepared for the upcoming end-of-the-world, God would want us to share with everyone. Why, He'd probably even drop bread from heaven.

Then let me ask, O Biblical scholars, after the heavy-dutiness of Jesus's prediction of the end of the world in Matthew 24, he goes right into the parable of the Five Wise and Five Foolish virgins at the top of chapter 25. And here's the very "un-Christian" thing Jesus says-- when the five foolish came up to the five wise begging for oil because they were running out, the five wise ones said "no way, we won't have enough for all of us." Very "un-Christian." Where's the sharing? The self sacrifice? The love?

What's up with that?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Why Stories?

Why did Jesus use a bunch of stories to get his points across? Wouldn't pulpit lectures be more effective? Besides, stories leave a lot to interpretation. What if the listener interprets it wrong?

I believe stories are more powerful than simply espousing rules and laws. You can establish a rule or directive that says "God wants you." But to hear the story of the Prodigal Son gives so much more than the text. There's all the sub text. It's rich in all the meaning that you can apply.

I think this is why the constitution is a vague or general document. So that the spirit can be used to interpret law. I know my sinful nature is to put on lawyer clothes and obviate the rules to gain my own personal advantage. Scripture is no different.

So that's why stories. It gets to the motives, the intent. Not just the letter. The sub text, not just the text.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Culture War

Here are the attacks, obstacles and hindrances that this American (and Church) culture throws at someone wishing to be a Disciple of Jesus:

* The goal is to be lazy- -work hard so that you can goof off.
* It's cute for men to be child-like. Go ahead-- be your wife's oldest child.
* It's all about sex.
* It's all about numbers.
* It's all about number one-- me. In church, He did it all for me (the Narcissists Gospel).
* Go ahead, compare yourself to other "christians" around you. All you have to do is be better than most of them (and that won't be hard).
* Actually, competing and comparing will lead to you winning the rat race and become Number One (when you win the rat race, you become number one rat).
* Come as you are and stay as you are. So what if you've got a favorite sin, c'mon in. We're inclusive (i.e. we need the numbers/want the money). Maybe you'll deal with your fav sin down the road, maybe not. (If this is true, reconcile this with Jesus asking for the one thing the rich young ruler lacked).
* Success is defined by numbers (what about faithfulness?).

The Finish Line

In making a movie, there are several faux finish lines-- the wrap at the end of shooting, the locking of the edit, and event he one we're approaching now, the final picture.

We are busy recording ADR of the actors, working on the opening titles and the few CGI shots, the coloring of the picture, the music and so forth. In a few weeks, this will be completed and it brought back together in one form to be "the movie."

But that still isn't the end. It may feel like it. In fact, all these "finish lines" feel like the real thing which is why filmmakers, especially first timers, lose heart and steam as they progress through these false finish lines. C'mon already, it's done with. Only to find, there's more mountain to climb (sorry, mixing metaphors again).

When the picture is ready, screeners will be made for potential distributors. We might even do private screenings for distributors. Anyway, when a distributor has been decided on, then the final finish line stretch begins. It's called "deliverables" and I'll maybe write about that in the near future. But the short of it is the paper and elements delivery of the movie to the distributor. It's a tough grueling stretch that many filmmakers stumble on.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christmas Letter

I've been traveling a lot lately, so it hasn't been easy to blog. If I were to do a Christmas Letter for my friends, this is what it might look like. A big difference is it's seemingly all about me (especially on a "Kill the Narcisist that's me blog"). The reason is very simple and also applies to Facebook info and pictures as well. As far as my family, my children, I don't publish publicly anything about them. I avoid photos (except the family card here) of them. I don't mention their names. I don't talk about my son's soccer team or my daughters activities. So that doesn't leave much as far as family stories or info to share.

2009 has been a roller coaster year. I started the year with this blog and surprisingly have stayed fairly faithful in posting, averaging more than one every two days. I was in a desert at the beginning of the year, but doesn't seem so hot, dry and dusty now. But I want to remember the desert. It serves as a reminder to not make some destructive choices I seem to make on a daily basis.

In 2009, I shot another movie. It's my fifth and came about fairly quickly. We got the greenlight in May and shot in August. And it's almost done here in December. In movie time, that's lightning quick.

So half of 2009 was devoted to "Rising Stars." When writing/directing.editing a feature, little else is done.

My children are growing up. As I fellowship with other friends and family that have small children, I thought I might wax nostalgic-- but so far, I haven't. I enjoy my family and would now rather be with them than do any business travel alone. When I do travel, instead of spreading a two day trip into three or four, I now work to make it one. Because I want to. Used to not be that way.

So 2010? I hope the sixth movie is shot in 2010. I'm working on a script (titled "72") that would be a strong story and easy to produce for the faith-based market. With Imposter coming out in late February, maybe I can get some traction and quickly raise the money to do this one.

And it will be interesting to see what happens with "Rising Stars." We'll be showing it to distribs in early February. This one has a big chance and I'm very excited about it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Feeling Loopy

We are in the Post Phase of filmmaking on Rising Stars. Omar, our colorist is doing a fantastic job with the footage making it come alive with excellent production value. Music has been cooking. I love some of our new cues (which include remixes of a couple of the performance songs).

One thing that happens at this time is "ADR" or additional dialogue recording, also known as "looping." Practically every movie has looping-- this is where the actor comes into the sound studio and re-records their voice while watching their picture. In ye olden days, they'd take the film, make a print that would loop in the projector and the actor would watch and do it over and over again.

Today, everything's digitized. Pro Tools will display the Quicktime and they even have some programs that will have a "follow the bouncing ball" trick so that the actor can stay on cue. We usually do one sentence at a time or even part of the sentence, get it a few times then move on.

It takes a lot of skill to be able to loop. And a lot of actors, understandably so, hate looping. You've got some heavy dramatic scene, and now you have to match the magic of the moment and recreate it in this sterile, artificial environment of the sound studio? Tough stuff.

I did shoot some scenes around and in some pretty noisy environments, so we knew that we'd be looping some. Regardless, it will be good to see all the actors again.

Proper Follow Through

In golf (once upon a time, I used to play... a lot...), a proper follow through is critical to hitting the ball correctly to maximize the clubhead speed, thus the distance. Also, correct follow through will give you the right clubhead path, enabling spin, thus you can "draw" the ball (where it starts to go slightly left for the right hand player). Drawing is top spin which gives you more distance than the fade.

Anyway, this post is not about golf. It's about the word "disciple." I've written about the word before. It's the most common word to describe followers of Jesus in the New Testament (as opposed to "Christian" which is only used 3 times).

So how do I define "disciple?" Well, obviously the word comes from the root "discipline." But I want to make it even simpler. Let's define the word "disciple" by saying "follow through." A Disciple is someone who follows through.

A Disciple reads the scripture, then follows through. A Disciple reads about loving his wife, and he follows through. A Disciple sees that character gain will be painful and difficult, but he takes one step at a time and follows through. His child needs a firm hand? He follows through. He needs to walk in integrity on the job? He follows through.

If all the people who called themselves "Christians" actually followed through what the scriptures say, this world would be a totally different place. No doubt.

Friday, December 4, 2009

How I Got Started

I'm spending today preparing for the "Greenlight Yourself" filmmaking seminar tomorrow. Combing through all sorts of old business plans, stripboards, budgets and so forth. I'm going to create a workbook which I hope will help the attendees.

This is how I got started. I attended film festivals back when I was working for a corporate video company. I remember learning a ton at my first SXSW fest. I sat in on ever panel and workshop I could. I found out what a Producer's Rep was, what the term "P&A" meant, listened to distributors from New Line and Miramax.

Then, I attended a film workshop taught by Micahel Weise. This was huge for me and extremely practical. I learned how to make a decent Business Plan (the central tool in fundraising) and how to pitch and present.

So I'm tailoring this seminar to give filmmakers a chance at getting their dream made and up on the screen. If you'd like to come, there's still room, but you would need to register today. Go to .

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Christian -- Another Derogatory Term

I wrote this almost a year ago, and the issue came up today. Thought I'd re-post.

There are only three places in the Bible where the word "Christian" (Gr. Christos) is used. It means "little christs" and was a derogatory term.

However the word "disciple" has over 250 mentions in the Bible. But that word has a root that sounds like "discipline." Who wants that? Easier to just say Christian. Besides, it's a lot more comfortable to say "I'm a Christian" than to say "I'm a disciple of Jesus." (And a lot more comfortable to say "Christ" than to say "Jesus.")

And in today's semantics, what has the definition of "Christian" come to? Just my personal opinion here, but I wonder if all Christians will make it through the bema seat. I bet a greater number of disciples of Jesus will.

We touch on this in the movie "The Imposter." Our wise sage archtype "Proff" played by Kerry Livgren, doesn't use the word Christian. He uses the word disciple of Jesus, or Believer. We use Believer a lot because of theme "Believe is an Act."

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Planning the Business

Last week, I covered briefly the second hardest part of filmmaking-- fundraising. Want to know the most important tool in this endeavor?

The Business Plan.

At the seminar on Saturday, we are going to go through this very important document, step by step. At the time I raised money for my first movie, I got my hands on a couple of different film business plans, and they were courier, one paragraph filling a page-- very difficult to read.

I went to a seminar that said it needs to be colorful and easier to read. I went this route. We work in a visual field, we can make visually stunning tools.

If you'd like to know more about the movie Business Plan, there's still time to register for the seminar at (or click here). I'm going to give you detailed, hands-on information.

Government Motors

Maybe I'm misreading the whole thing, but I just don't think I can buy GM. I heard an ad on the radio driving in this morning for new GM cars. Yes, the CEO of GM was probably corrupt, but does the president have the right to fire him?

Yes he does in a socialistic state. And I know that's a hot topic right now. Personally, I don't want to live in a socialist state. I prefer a sparse government. Socialism nurtures and grows "entitlement" which we discussed in an earlier blog.

And as I look around me, I see lots of my fellow church people getting up in arms politically and going Hannady on someone's posterior. Here's the twist in today's blog-- though I personally prefer a democratic government, God's not a democratic God. I think if you look at what he set up in the Old Testament, he's definitely a dictator (though a benevolent one). You might even call it a monarchy, but decidedly not democratic.

A little controversial this morning, but it's cold and rainy. Seems fitting to stir the air up a bit. And buy Ford.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Most Frequently Asked Question

How do you make a movie?

I have people ask me to lunch. Come up after a meeting. Grab me after church. Email me. Facebook me. Even call me.

How do you make a movie?

I now have five of these mountain climbing summits in my pocket. I've had some rough journeys, some joys, some thrills, and some harrowing escapes. Each person asking comes from a unique position-- maybe you know absolutely nothing about making a movie and need direction on square one (I remember that moment for me, sitting in my first seminar, hearing the term "PNA" and making a note to find out what that was-- which was actually "P AND A" and referred to prints and advertising.)

Maybe you've been doing some shorts and want to make the leap to a feature. Or you work as a grip or production assistant and want to do it yourself. Now or even some day.

This seminar on Saturday is for you. Click here to register.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Job One

I saw a post on a Christian Film site that reminded me of the way I used to feel. My job is soooo important to the Kingdom of God. To be able to reach all the thousands, yea millions with the gospel through movies. I mean, c'mon, God needs me to be on top of my game. He needs me to have a break out film. He needs me to succeed.

This is part (small part) of what I'm starting to call the "Narcissists Gospel." It's all about me (and God). But really me. He did it all for me. He does everything for me.

But the Truth is, he can make a sunset that can reach the hearts of people far more effectively than my story through film.

You see, God's not waiting for me to come through with this awesome, society-changing movie. What He is waiting for, is for me to be a servant... to be faithful to what He's asking me to do, be it cleaning toilets or whatever.

I believe that we (I know that I have) place far too much importance on music and film in our Christian society-- treating it like it's the most important job in the Kingdom. "I'm a Worship Leader, there's no higher calling." "Well I'm a Christian recording artist, so there."

Here's a revelation-- it doesn't matter what your job, or livelihood is. What matters is obedience and faithfulness.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Wife's Oldest Child Syndrome

To all the men out there, good morning. As you may or may not be aware of (and some of you are aware and proud of it), there is a syndrome hitting our society like a rapid pack of swine with the flu. It's called the Wife's Oldest Child Syndrome (WOC syndrome).

This disease destroys testosterone in spite of the fact that many men believe it enhances their maleness. But that's one of the side effects with WOC. Men think it's cute. Some women might play along, but I have little doubt they're wishing for some kind of quick answer to the WOC syndrome. And it's just not there.

What is WOC? It's where the husband acts like his wife's oldest child. And if you think you're immune, then you probably have it bad. That's another side effect. You see, every male has it, including me. There have been WOC moments for me just this past week. Even in the last 24 hours.

I no longer think it's cute, clever, or what men are supposed to be like. Instead, I choose to kill the WOC syndrome whenever I identify it in my own life. A life of Purpose does not have time for stupid anti-responsibility games like WOC.

It's time to man-up, for real, and start owning responsibility. Just say no to WOC syndrome.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Name Thing

Hey filmmakers,
Let's say you've decided that your end goal is distribution (secular, not talking about special genre markets like the faith-based arena)-- you want your movie to be picked up and distributed around the world. So you're sitting on an idea, or a script, at base camp, ready to climb the tall mountain of making a movie.

What is the singular most important factor in reaching your goal of distribution? Production value? (That's the quality of the lighting, writing, directing, acting, etc). A compelling and amazing story? Passion? Vision?

While all the above are very, very important, none of them are the most important factor. You see, to reach the goal of distribution, your "customers" are not the end user. It's not the guy perusing the shelves at Blockbusters. Your "customers" are the acquisition people in Hollywood. Your movie may be perfect for everyone in mid America, but if the suits in H'Wood don't get it, it won't be picked up.

You need to know your customer. Know the way they think. The way they approach movie business. And here it is in a nutshell.

Who's in it?

You see, when they pick up your movie, they know a movie will be bought primarily because the actor is recognizable. Sure there are exceptions. And people win the lottery too. But the most important factor in your movie getting distribution is the name recognition of your actor or actors. Let me write it again for emphasis. The most important factor in your movie getting distribution is the name recognition of your actor or actors.

And it's not that hard to get a name actor. I'll talk about ways to do that on Saturday Dec 5 (click here to find out more), and even give you some specific information about how to get phone numbers and meetings with casting people in LA. Everyone wants to work.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Second Hardest Part of Filmmaking

In seminars and talks before filmmaking groups, I used to say that this was the hardest part of filmmaking. I think Jeff Rodgers is the one who corrected me: it's the second hardest part. Raising Money for the movie.

Certainly, this is the first big hurdle... the Khumbu Icefall on the way to the summit of Everest. And I like to use mountain climbing as an apt analogy. Many a filmmaker climber cannot traverse the icefall of fundraising.

There are not a lot of easy answers here. Not very many helicopters that can just give you a ride to the top of Everest. You're going to have to put one foot in front of the other, even when you're tired, out of breath and discouraged. Maybe a storm has set in. When this happens, you have to know the basics and keep doing them.

What are the basics? First of all, you've got to have a great plan. You need to know the market, and clearly communicate how you're going to get from point A to point Z. A killer business plan is a must.

One of the first things I advise first time filmmakers is to clearly state your goals. What do you want it to look like at the end? You want it playing in 2000 theaters and have Hollywood calling you on your cell phone with huge offers? You want it to find some distribution and make the money back for the investors? You don't care if it makes money-- you just want it to be a calling card for your ability to write and direct?

The answer here dictates which path you go. My advice for the person who wants to hit big bucks will be different than the advice for the calling card person.

Now sure there are exceptions to everything, but in filmmaking, we're not talking a ten percent chance... we're talking about lottery odds. So you need to do everything you can to minimize risk and set yourself up to achieve your goal.

I am going to talk about what are the things you can do to move yourself to the front of the line at the seminar on Saturday Dec. 5. If you want to register to save your seat, click here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Talking Headshots

I had one talent agent tell me that a big need for local actors is better demo clips (but keep them very short). Another talent agent told me it's not needed. But actors are telling me they do. And then there's my own personal experience.

As a director, do I look at an actor's demo? Absolutely. Without a doubt. It's so much better than a headshot. Usually a casting director will tell me to take a look at so and so and send me the link to their demo. It's important, my actor friends.

So what are the key ingredients to the actor demo? As a director, I'm used to the actual picture quality of not being good. I mean some actors had to copy a scene off of a consumer VHS. Does it count to have a small part next to a known actor? Yup.

What about length? Keep it short. One minute is good. Five minutes, and you can count on some directors (including me) having turned it off. I think casting director's have an even shorter attention span than directors. They have to look at a bunch of these.

I'm going to do a workshop next month where I take a few actors and I'll get my DP and we'll light and set it up, shoot with HD camera, with good lenses to offer rich depth of field. I'll direct the scene and then let the actors watch the editing in the afternoon.

I'm only taking a total of 8 actors for this workship (although I will let some audit the course). For more info, click here.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Reality vs Truth

Heard a sermon on Reality versus Truth. The two words are in no way synonymous. But before I go on, it's good to get a foundation.

In the video world, we have to tell our camera what color white is as a reference. If we adjust the color of a video, say make it warmer, and I comrpess the DVD and it goes out very orange, it could be my monitor I was coloring on was out of adjustment.

That's where the scopes come in-- we calibrate the monitor to know, mathematically, what the true color is.

Same way with Truth. For those who you who are not followers of Jesus, Truth can be a moving target... Maybe it's environmentalism. Or humanism.

For me, the calibration for Truth, the 0,0, the baseline, is the Bible. In Christianese, we call it "The Word." Jesus said "I am the way, the TRUTH..." In John, Jesus is called "the Word that became flesh."

With the Word as dead reckoning, I have a Truth that is eternal and unmoveable. Truth that is NOT based on past feeling, experience, emotions or knowledge.

For instance, if I've grown up out in the sticks and all I have had is black lab dogs, then my reality might be that all dogs are black. It's what my experience dictates.

But my reality is not the Truth. The Truth is so much more than my knowledge or experience.

Friday, November 13, 2009

What to do when you lock picture...

Okay, so now the editor, the director, the producers have all agreed-- the edit is perfect (or as perfect as it's going to get), so the edit is deemed "locked." In an earlier post, I describe what a locked picture is, so if you haven't read that, go back a bit.

Once the Producer told me Rising Stars was locked, I duplicated the sequence in Final Cut Pro (FCP). By that time, I had put universal leader at the head with a two pop for sound. With the duplicated sequence, I nest all the video so that I can drop a timecode reader filter on the whole thing. This give a timecode window for reference to all the players who now need it.

Next I export that as a Quicktime. The Sound Designer and the Composer will need this quicktime to load into their ProTools system for easy reference.

For the Sound Designer, I also now need to export all the audio as an OMF file. I dump the QT and the OMF files to a Hard Drive. I'm also going to drop all the original location sound files and dig up the sound logs for him.

The Composer gets the QT. I'll call him after he has a chance to watch it, then we'll talk about where music cues need to be. Then he'll get busy.

I also send it out to the CGI person. We've got a few CG shots and opening credits to do. He needs to see the movie to get a good reference.

And finally, I'm going to break the movie down into "reels." Back on my first three movies, we shot 35mm and we had to break it down into reels, because the biggest length of film we work with is 2000 feet, which is about 22 minutes. Nowadays, the program Color, which many use to "color" the movie, can only handle about 200 clips. So we have to break the sequence down for that.

The colorist will get to work next week. Through the process, the longest will be sound design- there's just so much more work to do in that department. That's what we'll be waiting for. In the meantime, we make sure coloring happens over the next three weeks and that the music gets done. We estimate bringing picture and sound back together in 6 to 8 weeks.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Slavery Sermon

I was listening to a new Kutless album this morning. It's the Christian Rock Band's new worship album and it's great. One line on the last track stood out.
If I lost it all, would my hands stay lifted...

*IF* I lost it all?

That speaks to towards the root of what's wrong with our Christianity culture here today. I'm not going to even get into the "Narcissists Gospel."

James writes in James 1:1 "James, a slave of God." Peter writes in 2 Peter 1:1 "Peter, a slave and an apostle of Jesus Christ." Paul writes in Titus 1:1 "Paul a slave of God..." For those who cringe at the word "slave," Paul lightens it up a little at times calling himself a servant or a bond servant.

For those who haven't heard this a zillion times, the Greek word that Paul used is "doulos." That word is translated bond servant and means a slave that was set free, but chose to stay in his masters servitude for life. He'd get an ear ring to prove it.

So how does this apply to the Kutless song? How many slaves can say "if I lost it all?" THEY HAVE NOTHING. Can you imagine Paul writing "dear Timothy, if I lost it all..." Or Peter? Those guys didn't have ANYTHING to lose. They had already lost it when the decided to follow Jesus.

Really, what do I have to lose? My house? Big deal. My car? So what. Jesus says in Matthew 6:25 `Because of this I say to you, be not anxious for your life, what ye may eat, and what ye may drink, nor for your body, what ye may put on. Is not the life more than the nourishment, and the body than the clothing?

So what about things more dear than that? My kids? They're His anyway. My wife? Do I really control her? Paul tells us in Phillipians (4:6) to be anxious for nothing. Why would he tell us that? Why would Jesus all throughout Matthew tells his Disciples to not be anxious?

A slave is not anxious. His stuff is provided. He doesn't worry if the hail might destroy the crop-- the Master worries about that. The Slave doesn't worry about roof over his head. Or clothes to wear. Or a nice car to drive. Look at the sparrows and the lilies of the field... you get what I'm saying.

So if I worry. If I'm anxious. Then I am saying "God, I don't TRUST You, so I'm going to take off this ring from ear and I'm going to be the master here for this."

So let anxious thoughts be a red flag, showing you an area of your life that you have not yielded to God. An area that you are the Master.

Romans 8 says that all things work together for good for those that love Him and are called according to His purpose. Anxious thoughts fly in the face of that verse. Anxiety says "but there are some things that aren't good!"

For you non-Christians, I'm giving away a trade secret. When you see me, or one of us claiming to be a Christian (in other words a "slave to Jesus"), yet I worry and fret about so much, you can know that in my hypocrisy, I haven't fully surrendered.

But what if I lose it all?????

Too late. I'm in the process of losing it all.

PS: I still recommend the Kutless album. Good stuff.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Getting Past Page 20

In honor of the Writer's Seminar we'll be having Thursday Night, I'm going to talk about the major wall I had to tear down before I could write a screenplay. (BTW, if you want to register, click here).

In the nineties, I was working as a corporate video/commercial producer. I wrote scripts for training the sales department on how to sell insurance. I produced orientation videos for human resources. I made commercials. Even shot a few music videos. But, like many of corporate video geeks, I wanted to be a filmmaker one day.

Being goal oriented, "being a filmmaker one day" never flew. So I grabbed a piece of paper and wrote out a five year plan to actually get there. It included some steps I would need to be able to make a movie.

One of those steps was actually finishing a screenplay. You see, up to that point, I had started screenplays and never really got past page twenty. So as the decade was winding down, I bought writing books, even a workbook on how to write a screenplay in a year. You don't even start the actual screenplay until about month six. It's all backstory and character development. That worked for me for about two weeks.

You see, I'm ADD (attention deficit). That program does not fit who I am. Everyone is unique and what works for me, certainly doesn't work for my wife. So if I go out and tell you "This is the way you write," I would be wrong. Which is how my English professors taught (with one exception) in college.

I've read Syd Fields. I immersed myself in Robert McKee (which after my first movie, I realized I had more scripts actually produced than him). Some of the points from all of the teachers were good and right on.

There are some rules for writing and I'm not talking about that. I do believe in structure. And I believe to be anti-structure, you first need to know structure to learn how to break it.

So after eight or nine screenplays started and none past page twenty, I was growing increasingly frustrated. My confidence waned. On the next script, I rough outlined it and collaborated with another writer. She took sections of my outline, I took others. We would send our sections back and forth. And in three weeks, we had a first draft. I was blown away how easy it was.

So what had been holding me back? First, I didn't have time in the collaboration to go back re-read everything I had written. And this was one of the first killers for me-- I'd read it and get despondent over how bad it was. I'd lose heart and passion.

Secondly, I was accountable to get it done. When the time came for my next script, I outlined it extensively and then wrote. And wrote. I firmly believe that the real writing is in the re-writing. But I don't use that in a cavalier way-- it's not an excuse for writing garbage. I have to extensively outline. Then I have to be able to "kill my children" in the re-writing.

I think it was William Goldman who said 90% of what he writes is garbage. That means he has to re-write at least ten drafts. And he's one of the best.

We'll talk about this and more Thursday night. I need to know you're coming so please do click on the link above to register. For the newbie, we'll cover things like this. For the seasoned screenwriter, I'm going to talk about how to get your screenplay produced.

See you Thursday.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Owner's Manual

I seem to hear this phrase used more and more. Int eh Band of Christian Brothers, we've been using it for some time, but now I'm hearing it in other places.

Do you own it?

To own it is to take responsibility. Something I rarely see in my dealings with Hollywood. Or corporate America. Or anywhere else. You see, it goes against survival instinct: to own it is to admit failure and be held responsible. Can't do that.

It's funny-- in LA, they rarely tell you a flat no at first. Because that would mean to commit. To own it.

Add to this my post on compartments, and I can say I own it, only to find other areas of my life where I'm passing the buck and throwing people under the bus. BTW, a clear sign of not owning it is to toss someone under the bus. Around my house, you'll hear us say occasionally "thump, thump." The sound of the wheels going over the body.

Owning it is taking unconditional responsibility. As in "I own my house-- if the grass doesn't get mowed, the trash not go out, the dishes not washed, the laundry not done, it's not my wife's fault, it's my failure." Only then can I truly get to the root.

You see, there was a time, after getting griped out about some of those things, I ask my wife for a list. Thought I was owning it. New principle learned-- the person who makes the list is the owner.

So guys, put away the skirts, man-up and own it. The Bible says you're the head of your household. That means you are NOT your wife's oldest child. So stop acting like it. It's not Christ-like, not funny, and not functional.

Own it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Fair is a Place in Dallas

My kid was doing a unit in school where the teacher was asking the class what are some sayings they hear at home. "Penny saved is a penny earned." "No use crying over split milk." "Don't make me come back there." Well hopefully not that last one.

My kid said "Fair is a place in Dallas." You see, in our household, we don't allow the word "fair" to be used as a credit card for entitlement. So when they used to say "that's not fair," we tell them that fair (park) is a place in Dallas.

Why is "fair" a dirty word? Well, first of all in the grand scheme of everything, what's fair is that I die. When I start throwing around fair, what I'm saying is that I'm entitled to something, and what am I really entitled to?

Politically speaking, in the government of the USA, I do have entitlements spelled out in the constitution. When I say I'm a disciple of Jesus, then I'm giving up my entitlements. I'm saying I'm His servant, his slave. Whatever He chooses to give me or have me do, is totally up to Him. And to live that philosophy out in every compartment of my life-- now there's the trick.

So if I got what was "fair," I wouldn't like it. And neither would you.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Big Announcement for "The Imposter!"

You're hearing it here first. "The Imposter" has found a Distribution home. Jeff Rodgers and I have been very picky and have turned down a couple of offers. This is our fourth film and we want to see "The Imposter" succeed, both for the message and for the investors.

PureFlix Entertainment is a perfect match for the movie. They are a faith-based film distributor (currently releasing Rebecca St. James movie "Sarah's Choice") that is very aggressive on getting the movies out and they understand the church market.

We will no longer be selling the movie to churches through our website but will be referring people to PureFlix. They will set a release date (probably sometime in March) and we're very excited.

This answers undoubtedly the number one question we get from the website-- when will the home DVD be available? As soon as we have the exact date, we'll pass that along. But we do expect the movie to be available in Christian bookstores and other retail outlets.

Saturday, October 31, 2009


On Thursday night, November 12, I'm going to have a writing seminar for three hours in the evening. I'm going to cover some things beyond the normal "how to find an agent." I remember trying to write screenplays in the 90's... I'd get twenty pages in and stop. Then I'd start another script.

I had eight of those. I bought all the standard books... Syd Fields, Robert McKee.. I even bought a "write your screenplay in a year" workbook. That lasted two weeks.

What finally worked for me? Moving forward without looking back. I'd write the twenty pages and then pause-- re-reading them and getting so discouraged. Now I know that writing is in the re-writing. This works well if I've exhaustively outlined. I'm not recommending that you plow forward without much thought yet to the story or it's structure.

So now I've written twelve screenplays-- five of which have now been produced. I feel I'm improving with each one. Always need to be learning and growing, getting better. If I take the attitude I've arrived, then I become unteachable.

These are just some of the things we'll talk about. Click here if you want to come.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Sin-- A definition

This post is for my Christian friends. If you aren't a follower of Jesus, then the Bible isn't a standard that you claim to measure your life by-- and that's your choice. But for those that do, here we go.

My mentor, Dr. Mike Riggins defines sin this way:
"Meeting a *real* need in a *wrong* way.

Drinking too much... maybe you're trying to medicate a real pain, but using the wrong medicine. Porn problem-- maybe you have a real need for intimacy that you're going about filling it wrongly. Or the Workaholic who feels of low value unless he's getting accolades at the office. Those "attaboys" might relieve the eating, nagging issue of self doubt for a moment... but it's barely a quick fix.

And the list can go on. I have needs... and sometimes the right way to meet those needs can be a hard long, uphill road, offering many quick turnoffs, that might look good, but in the end they take me back down the hill.

Take the narrow path, because the wide is the one that leads to destruction.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Dinner and a Screenplay

New writers, or people with an idea and they just don't know how to put it on paper, come up and ask me all sorts of questions. And people with a screenplay who want to maybe produce it themselves will have a long query list.

So I'm going to have an evening where we all sit down and discuss these issue, questions, and more. It will be laid back, yet very organized with powerpoint and visual aids to illustrate points.

Thursday evening, Nov. 12 from 6pm to 9pm. I'll have some munchies so we won't starve. Cost is on $29. Register here and look for the Screenplay seminar.

Things I might cover (if more advanced writer's sign up, I'll deal with more advanced issues):
* The system for writing that works for me
* Overcome block
* Software I use to Outline, then Write
* The Three Act Structure
* Avoiding Cliches
* Getting your script registered
* Agents?
* Can I make money writing?
* Conflict-- the essence of Story
* Writing characters with different voices
* Avoiding traps

You'll have opportunities to ask questions and I'll craft the evening according to the needs of the attendees. Hope to see you there!

The Upper Room

Normally I don't spin my head around religious trivia, but this has something to do with the script I'm researching so I can begin writing. It's been interesting-- I'm combing through early (first through third century) writings and learning a bunch. (One fact that's very creepy, is that the Catholics have taken what they believe to be body parts of the twelve disciples and they're scattered about at different shrines and churches. For instance, the head of Andrew might reside one place, while his arm another. I apologize my Catholic friends, but I do find that creepy. I'd rather have a relationship with Jesus, the real thing, than the arm of a man who died two thousand years ago.)

Anyway, so I'm researching and found some interesting tidbits. Some have believed that the Upper Room in Jerusalem belonged to young John Mark's mother. I've heard that before and makes for some interesting thoughts-- that Mark was there in the house during the Last Supper.

The other interesting thing is that Barnabus is John Mark's mother's brother-- ie his uncle. Does it stand to reason then that Barnabus was there as well?

We know that Jesus walked around with an entourage. You had the twelve men, handpicked by Jesus. You have the seventy that also followed him. Then you have the 300... In Acts, when they picked a replacement for Judas, the requirement was that the man had to have been with them since the start-- that means there were others than the twelve hanging out all the way through. Barnabus was one. Matthias of course was another.

Anyway, these are all interesting tidbits as I start to outline this script.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Well, I've got two potential new scripts to write, so I'm in the cud chewing mood. This is where I research and just think about different ideas.

One idea is a Christian movie followup to the Imposter (but not a sequel). It would be totally different and be relatively easy to shoot. But it's requiring some heavy research into the life of Jesus.

What I find hard to fathom, is that there are people who make a life, or a book around questions and issues like this:
* Was Jesus crucified on Friday, or was it really Wednesday?
* Was Jesus born on 2 BC or 5 or even 6BC? (You see, Herod died in 4 BC, and Jesus had to have been born before his death).
* Did you know that on AD 30 and AD 33, the 14th of Nisan (Feast of Unleavened Bread for the Jewish), were both on Fridays? NASA confirmed it.

Anyway, let the research continue...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

One Last Story Before the Weekend

Yes, it's coming down to the wire now for pre-registration on the seminar and workshop. Could still use a few people more for the workshop, but if we don't get them, it'll be a nice group. Same with the seminar. (To pre-register, go to .)

We were on the set, nearing the twelve hour mark and hoping we could make the day and wrap pretty soon. We were working a split so it was around midnight. A few people had come down with a bug and everyone just wanted to go home by this time.

Last scene was a juicy dramatic one, full of conflict between two actors. Lots of emoting had to happen for Actor #2. So we went through the scenes and finally shot the last few setups. We were a little over by that that. "Check the gate" was called.

The "gate" had some problems. After five minutes of problem checking, we determined the last four or five setups were not there. We needed to shoot them again. Actor #2 was very deflated-- and I understand, they had just gone to some difficult emotional places. I pulled the actor aside and tried to speak words of encouragement.

I went back over to the camera to direct the setup. I still had my headphones on and Actor #2 forget the mic was still on. The Actor said to someone "It's never better the second time around. It will never be as good."

Well, the Actor is right. With that attitude, it can't be as good. If the Actor had said "I'm sick and tired, but who knows, maybe we'll get something even better this time," the actor would have been right.

I have had to reshoot stuff before and sometimes, the reshoot is MUCH better. But to surrender and "mail it in" does no one any good. It didn't help the film, didn't help the actor.

And you'd be surprised what other things we hear when we leave the headphones on-- those mic's are usually buried in the actor's clothing and quickly forgotten.

More stories to help your acting career this weekend! Help us out by registering above.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Locking the Edit

Many people will see me and ask "so how's the movie coming?" Sometimes, I don't know how to answer that question. I might launch in to "Well, we went through the last round of edits from the producer, on the verge of locking picture, trying to coordinate a little second unit, sending CGI raw footage on to the computer graphics guy, setting up for the M&E with sound and getting the picture to the composer so he can spot music cues." Sometimes they glaze over, giving me the "you could have said 'pretty good'."

Others might pick a phrase I used and ask me what that means. So today, we examine what it means to "lock the picture."

In the olden days (the first one hundred years of filmmaking), you would cut the original film negative together. Think of it all lined up there, wound around the spool-- the sound people would need to make a spool with just the sound elements on it (called an "optical negative"). So it had better match *exactly* or peoples lips and music could be off. So if you remove even so much as one inch, or a frame of film from your edit, it could make the sound people off. Thus "locking the edit."

Until you lock the edit, sound and music cannot really do anything. So the first big milestone (not the last), is to edit the movie together and get it "locked." No more changes to the picture. Whatsoever. It's all about length of time. It has to remain exactly the same time length. You could change one shot for another if the time was exact, same seconds and frames.

Now, in the digital age, it's still the same. Sound needs an exact timeline to work from. It's slightly easier to make a change but "slightly easier" should not be interpreted in any way as "easy."

Another way to explain is to imagine that the movie is two distinct elements-- the Sound and the Picture. Both need to be the exact length, because they get worked on separately and eventually at the end have to come back together.

So we're nearing "picture lock" on the current movie. Once that's done, it goes to sound, music, coloring and computer effects. Then it all comes back together in a few months for the final version.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Seminar

A few people have asked about the Seminar versus the Workshop. First, to clarify, if someone takes the Sunday workshop, it includes the Saturday seminar for the same price. So if you sign up for the Workshop for $150, it includes both days.

If you want to just attend the seminar, it's $40 online and $50 at the door. And we've announced the location:

Serendipitous Films
6125 Airport Freeway, Suite 102
Fort Worth, TX

It's at the front of the Studios 121 facility.

The Seminar will differ greatly from the Workshop. I am going to cover a bunch of topics for the seminar-- we might watch some video, see some powerpoint and go through the whole process for acting in a feature film. The Workshop will be all about the audition. The workshoppers will get an original script this week to prepare their audition with.

And again-- this seminar/workshop differs from a lot of the others because it's all coming from a feature film director's POV.

Register at .

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Rewarding Customer Loyalty

I am amazed in some consumer marketplaces, that loyalty is gone. For instance, in the tv/cable service world, it pays to stay a long, loyal customer-- pays them, the service provider. One day I saw a heck of a deal offered by my dish company for new customers. I called and it took a long time and several call centers to get a similar offer.

Now, I don't even think that will work. It pays to switch services. Here are some of the industries that reward new customers while hoping the old ones stay on the books long enough and hope they don't pay attention:
cell phone
utility provider (at least in Texas)
credit cards

I'm sure there are others... But what if Direct TV actually hired an executive that worked on real customer retention programs? Or any of the other big corporations?

I'm just saying...

Friday, October 16, 2009

New Idea

Back in early May, I was driving one morning and an idea came to me for a followup to a movie like "The Imposter." The idea could be very interesting and would be easily shot (very few locations or company movies).

Before I could start writing the idea down, I got a call-- an idea I had pitched back in December to a producer in NYC just got the greenlight. A script was needed immediately. Thus began a whirlwind of one of the fastest movies I've written and directed. We are almost at the point of locking the edit.

So now I can begin to finally think about other things.

I've been asked where I come up with an idea, or how do I get started writing a script. The answer is different for every single person. When I started screenwriting, I bought all the books-- even a system for "Write your screenplay in a year" which had you doing backstory until about month 6. For my impatient personality, this didn't mesh. But I do believe it works from others.

For me, it's Outlining. I love outlining. I can see the structure, the form and can easily move things around. Or delete them and add others. I can outline at the beginning-- or if I hit a wall, I can skip to the end of the second act or wherever.

You can outline in any good word processing program. I've been using StoryView by Movie Magic. I like the timeline view. I also like the fact I can export to the scriptwriting software with all my scene headings and action for the scene in place.

With an exhaustive outline, the actual first draft can be written in as short as a week (but maybe I did spend weeks and weeks outlining).

Anyway, that's how I do it. So I'm going to open Storyview now and save the title as "72."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Surviving the Edit

I'm going to assume for a moment, dear actor, that you got the training, found the agent, got the audition, called for the call-backs, landed the role, showed up on set, performed beautifully and got that check in the mail.

Here's something that isn't discussed much-- Surviving the Edit.

So the movie comes out and your role is cut way down or even left totally on the cutting room floor. Why? Well, first, you could simply be the victim of having a role and part that doesn't move the story along and the director, editor and producers finally realized that in the edit room. Or cuts had to be made for timing-- gotta keep that edit down in minutes.

Or maybe, because of some performance and mechanical issues, you drove the editor and director crazy in the edit room and they had to cut some stuff. There are times, especially with day player parts, where continuity problems can become a big headache and the obvious solution is with scissors.

You see, maybe you blocked it one way in the master, then you did it totally different in the coverage. I can't stress enough the importance of walking at the same point, sitting at the same time, lifting the glass in the right hand, on every take. Experiment before shooting.

There are a bunch of other reasons why you might get cut down in the edit room and we'll talk about them in the Dallas area on Saturday Oct 24 at the Seminar. Also have a few slots left for the Audition Workshop on Sunday, Oct 25. You can register at .

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Meisner, Method, et al.

In the beginning, the cavemen were bored around the camp fire, so they told stories and acted them out. Greeks called them "Thespians," then a Russian named Stanislavski happened on the scene. Whew, went through some major history there in a couple of sentences.

Stanislavski brought "realism" to the stage and preached that the actor needed "live the part" during the performance (not to be confused with "the Method" where you live the part everywhere). Lee Strasbourg and Stella Adler taught from Stanislavski's position and trained many of the famous film and tv actors of the US. In Stanislavski's practice, the actor relives similar memories to invoke the needed emotion. Meisner, Strasbourg, the Method, all have roots in Stanislavski's work.

And it's important to note, that these techniques have constantly been reworked and continue to evolve. The Method, commonly attributed to the teachings of Strasborg, also rely heavily on "substitution." Finding that memory and bringing it up in the scene. The Method has developed quite a reputation for actors such as Daniel Day Lewis, Dustin Hoffman, and Christian Bale, who throw themselves into a role, in front of the camera as well as behind.

Sanford Meisner took it a slightly different direction. His goal was to get the actor to live truthfully in an imaginary setting. The focus was not on the lines, but on the subtext below the lines. In this regard, the line itself doesn't matter as long as the actor is truthful to the subtext, the meaning is conveyed.

This is a quick rundown of some of the most popular theories of acting. And I want to note that Sean Patrick Flannery told me about Method actors-- if it hurts, why do it? It's call 'acting' for a reason." I always found that funny.

BTW, none of this has anything to do with the Acting Seminar on Oct 24 and Workshop on Oct 25. All you actors get plenty of training in this stuff. I want to deal with acting from the director's perspective. for more info or to register,
click here

Thursday, October 8, 2009

It's On-- Acting: A Director's POV

We went official yesterday and put up a registration website (click here).

Here's the details:
Why-- Because I would like to help local talent land more roles in films.
How-- We'll focus on what this director looks for and possibly what other directors look for.
What-- A Seminar on Saturday ($40), then a Workshop on Sunday (limited to 12) for $150. To make it clear, you can come to the Seminar and not the workshop (it would be $40 online). You can come to the Workshop, which the $150 includes the Seminar on Saturday. So the $150 is a two day price.
Where-- TBD, but in the Dallas Fort Worth area. If this does well, we'll take it to other cities.
When-- October 24-25.

If you're a seasoned actor or if you're wanting to get started, it's for you. In the day and a half since we posted, the Workshop is almost sold out, so if you want to do that, you might hurry over to .

See you there!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Repost: Carry On Wayward Son

I'm glad to hear Kerry's recovering from his stroke in September. We will continue to pray for him, Vicci and his family. On Facebook, we have posted the link to the music video "Carry On Wayward Son". Just go to Facebook and search "The Imposter Movie" group. The following is a repost from early in the year. The COWS song leads off our soundtrack which is now available.

So how did Kerry Livgren become a part of the movie "The Imposter?" For those that don't know, Kerry was an integral part of the super-group Kansas. He wrote the classics Carry On Wayward Son and Dust in the Wind.

I've always been a fan of Christian rock and enjoyed the work of an all girl band called Rachel Rachel back in the early 90's. They did a cover of COWS and a music video to go with it.

A few months before shooting Imposter, I was cleaning out some VHS tapes and saw one where I had recorded a Christian music video show. I had saved it because of the COWS video. In it, the girls rock out and Kerry comes on stage during the solo. I had been racking my brain for who to play the role of the Mentor in the movie and wanted an older Christian rock icon. I thought Kerry would be perfect.

I did a search on the internet and came up with his manager Dutch Dehnert's email address. After firing off an message, the reply was pretty quick. Dutch would pass the info along, but don't get my hopes up.

Long story short, Kerry wasn't too keen at first, but agreed to read the script. And his wife Vicci read the script. And he decided to do it and the movie was so much better for his participation.

So with Kerry attached, I began to dream. Wouldn't it be great if Kerry re-did the song with Kevin Max singing? I didn't think I would be able to talk Kerry in to it, and at first he wasn't big on the idea (He said he'd like to remake some of his songs-- COWS is not one of them). But then I got a CD in the mail with a return address Kansas. That was the day before shooting started. I popped it into the truck's CD and cranked it up. It had no vocals yet, but it was awesome.

The day after the last day of shooting, Kevin laid down some demo vocal tracks. A few months later, we paid for some studio time and Kevin laid them down for real. I had shot some music video segments on the set and during the summer edited the music video.

*When* we release the soundtrack, I'm sure that will be one of the songs. I might release the COWS video soon as well.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Status Update-- The Imposter

We have been working hard on getting the Imposter out there to churches. Right now, that's the only way to see the movie. We're talking to several distributors (having turned down a couple as well, not wanting to necessarily just feed the beast in Hollywood). Our home DVD will come out in early 2010 and we already have the awesome soundtrack ready to go.

Churches have been using the movie as an outreach and some as a fundraiser, including selling the CD's at the event. It is our hope and prayer that the movie can be a great storytelling tool for the church. I hope that masks can come off and people will choose to be true Disciples of Jesus.

You can help us out by asking your church to get the movie. We need this wonderful story to get out there. For the trailer and lots of other videos, you can go to the website.

Also, big shout out to the Assembly of God for posting a nice article about us. You can read it here.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Stories from the Set, Vol 1

I talked to a couple of people in the acting biz I trust about the upcoming seminar and what would be needed and beneficial. As I talked and told some examples from history on sets, I was reminded to make sure I used plenty of those when I speak.

So here's a quick one. I was shooting a commercial. It was a Western theme with cowboys and horses. We shot in January around a campfire. Just so happened it was the coldest night of the year. One of the cowboys we cast brought his own director's chair, with his name stitched on it. It was a small shoot. Crew of four I think. Cast of 6. But this guy quickly earned the nickname "Hollywood" on the set that night. He was a prima donna.

He name dropped whenever he could about this actor and that actor from his days (maybe a week) out west in LA. And he wasn't that good to back it up. If you're going to be a prima donna, then you'd better have the awesome, incredible talent to back it up. Of course, that's the catch-22-- most PD's are hacks that visualize themselves as MJ on the Hardcourt.

Is a director's chair bad? No. But when it's this small and we just aren't doing chairs, it's sticks out like a sore thumb. Join the team and get yourself a little dirty.

So why does someone name drop and try to convince everyone around him he's Greatness? Because he's compensating. Which means, deep down, he doesn't think he's great or even good. If he were, he wouldn't worry about selling it to all the others. So now I can look and instead of being angry or put out, I feel just sad for him.

The one guy playing the Native American had the flu or something. He shouldn't been out there. But he was. And he worked hard.

BTW, I remember it was so cold that I picked up a 2K Junior, that was still on and held it with my bare hands to try to get a little warm. It was about a break even point. And the extension cords were frozen.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Acting: A Director's POV - Getting Closer

As I've jumped into answering all the questions actors (especially local talent) have been asking, I've decided to move forward with a Seminar and a Workshop. And I'm going to do it fairly quickly.

So for all you actors in the North Texas area (or if you want to travel), I'm going to have a Seminar on Saturday October 24 and a Workshop on Sunday October 25. Someone suggested I work with a handful of actors, thus the Workshop idea. And another person asked about seeing some editing, so I'll include that for the Workshop. We'll limit the workshop to 12 so that we can really dive in.

Another suggestion was to pre-send a script and give the workshoppers a role. So based on who signs up, I'll send some scripts out and I'll pick a scene to shoot. On Sunday, we'll shoot the scene and then let the actors see a little editing. Later, I'll send them high resolution Quicktimes they can use for review or for demo.

For the Seminar on Saturday, it will be much wider and predominately a lecture format with Q&A scheduled. We will cover questions about how to get in to acting, how to land more work, how to be a better actor, how to give yourself a better chance at auditions and many others, all told from this director's point of view.

I'm going to try and get some sponsors so I'm not positive on the location yet. Probably won't provide lunch on Saturday, but probably will on Sunday's smaller workshop. The Workshop is more expensive than the Seminar. But I do want the twelve that sign up for the workshop to attend the seminar-- that way we won't have to cover certain things on Sunday and can get right to it. Seminar will be $40 pre-registration ($50 at the door) and the Workshop will be $150.

If I get a lot of demand for the Workshop, I might add the Monday for another group of 12. And we'll see how this goes. Maybe we can do it again later on.

I really believe that the local talent can be competitive with LA and NYC. I'd like to share some things with the talent base here in and around Texas that will give them an edge. I hope you'll want to attend.

FIlm vs HD -- impact on acting

There is much debate on film versus HD in shooting a feature these days. But one thing I've never come across is how the difference can effect the actors. I have directed three 35mm and two HD features.

Film can be very expensive. Cost is measured by the foot of film. First it cost anywhere from $.16 to $.50 a foot to purchase (new stock on the higher side, short ends and re-cans on the lower). Then you have to process the film. Then you have to transfer it to video. On one feature, I calculated the real cost as $1 per foot, all in.

We had a long steadicam shot, a "one-er" as we call it, and it went on for seven takes. Each take chewed up 300 to 400 feet of film. So just in film alone, the cost for that little bit of shooting, in the middle of a long day, was around $2,500.

With those kind of stakes, film directors will rehearse and rehearse, only rolling camera when it's for sure down. Also, there will be a much quicker pace on calling the roll, the slate and the action. Each frame of film costs a lot of money. Don't want to waste it with stammering on the mark of the slate.

Then there's HD. Some goes to tape, but more and more, it's being recorded to hard drives. If you over-shoot, oh bummer, go buy another $200 hard drive for the week's worth of shooting. I know, you're thinking what about backups? Okay, another $200 for a week.

As you can see, the director on a HD shoot can well afford to shoot rehearsals. Let the camera roll. This presents unique challenges for the actors (and later the editor who is swimming in a sea of footage).

If you're shooting the rehearsal, things change. You decide to walk a little further, sit down a little earlier, pick up the bottle a little later. These are some little things you work out in the rehearsal. Later, in post, the editor will be pulling his hair out because on the Master shot (done first), you sat down before a specific line, but then on the close-ups, you didn't sit until much later.

And this is not on you. The director has got to realize that if he's going to shoot the rehearsal, but later changes blocking, it can hose the earlier shots. He needs to make sure he gets a real master in the can.

For me, I like to shoot the rehearsal. By this point, we've already had a "blocking rehearsal" (before lights were set, etc). So when an actor sits or stands has been established. And I find that the first take very often has some magic, that a director might spend another six or seven takes trying to just recapture what he saw in the rehearsal.

So when you arrive on set, if it's a film shoot, prepare for lots of rehearsing without the cameras rolling. Know that there will be a quick call and people will seem even more pressured for every frame advancing through the camera.

For a HD shoot, it's slightly more relaxed, but you need to settle on your choices as an actor early, often without extensive rehearsal. With both, have fun!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

H1N1 is still a swine

I find it humorous that you hear increasingly less about the "swine flu." Instead, it's known by the clinical nomenclature "H1N1." From what I've read, the pork industry has taken an undeserved beating, and the media is trying to help.

You don't catch the swine flu from eating bacon. The swine flu is passed through droplets after an infected person (not a pig), coughs or sneezes. But I think the "Droplet Flu" just doesn't have the same punch. Besides, that would be every flu.

Back in the worldwide flu pandemic of 1918, it was called the "Spanish Flu," mainly because the US didn't want people to know it originated with our servicemen who spread the disease going overseas for World War 1. Spanish Flu kept most people in the dark to the true origination.

Now that the panic of the spring has died down, the disease has actually spread more rapidly. But after the over-reaction of the spring, most people don't fear it as much.

I went to the pediatrician's office yesterday with my little girl who presented with a fever and a cough. The nurse was haggard and shook her head and talked about the record number of patients the four doctors at the practice had seen that day. I was just amazed we got in.

My daughter tested positive for H1N1 and we immediately took action-- not out of panic, but because it's the right thing to do. Regardless, the quicker she can get on something like tamiflu, early on in the infection, the lesser the flu will hit her. And we've done enough homework on the issue and know that tamiflu isn't a cure-- it merely helps lessen the symptoms. H1N1 is a virus and will run it's course.

Anyone can call it over reaction, but we went ahead and separated her from the family. I set up the master bedroom, told her it would be like camping, or a hotel and to grab clothes, books, toys and such. I'm the only one with contact to her and yes, I wear an N95 mask as a precaution. I don't care if I catch the flu, but I don't want to spread it to the rest of my family.

Her fever is low and she seems fine but for the cough and sneezing. I'm hoping for a quick time of it.

Romans 8:28 reminds us followers of Jesus that "all things work together for good to those that love Him and are called according to His purpose." I know there's purpose here. At the least we've gotten to learn how to handle a pandemic at the family level.

In the meantime, we'll hunker down and pass the sanitizer.

Here's a helpful link for homecare of someone with the flu: click here

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Everyone's a Critic

I'm on both sides of the aisle on this issue. I give and I receive. So let's talk about receiving since it's not more blessed.

Anytime you put your writing... your art out there for people to view, there will be those who criticize the work. If anyone tells you they're immune, they're lying. They might be able to handle it better, but it is never easy.

My personal take is that when criticism bothers me, it's a clear indication my Ego (flesh) is involved. And I can't make the flesh feel better. I've got to find the root and kill it. For instance, on an early movie I did, I had a reviewer not only rip the movie, but attacked me pretty hard. I puffed up looking for a fight. But why did his words bother me? Because there's some truth there. There were some big problems in the movie. Once I can embrace the truth, I can learn and improve.

If somebody makes outlandish claims (in others words, far from truth), it is more likely to not bother me. And I can even laugh. But the hook is where a barb buries deep, and finds some truth down there to catch. never the whole truth, but enough to sting.

Also, I can allow the critics to get under my skin when I was expecting one thing and got another. For instance, there was a guy who did something for a movie of mine, then later I found out he wrote movie reviews. I thought for sure he'd understand what we were doing. Boy was I wrong. If I didn't have the expectations, his review wouldn't have bothered me at all. i would have definitely laughed it off. And later I could.

Now, not everything is to laugh off. I've gotten hard critique that is good. It's something I can work on. That's not fun. But I also get critique from someone who just doesn't get it. And in the end, obviously I wasn't making the movie for him.

The more I chase Purpose, the less Ego I have and the more I can use criticism as a tool and not feel it as a weapon.

Now let's get to the "giving" part. I often have people ask me to critique their work. And nine times out of ten, this person is really looking for affirmation, not constructive criticism. Even when I remind them of this and they give me the "oh I want the truth, I want to grow and improve," I've still seen bridges set on fire.

For instance, a new filmmaker, from the Christian filmmakers arena, sent me his movie and asked me for some critique. I watched the movie-- I really try to do the old "sandwich" approach and give them something good, then something to work on, and finish with something else good. We were real thin on bread there. I gave what I could and limited the "workings" and still this person was extremely offended. They had shot on standard definition, mixing tungsten and daylight, with some severe framerate problems. I don't know, maybe I needed to have told him, "looks great, go get 'em tiger." But he had told me to be honest so I can grow stuff.

So usually I am reluctant to offer criticism and save it for those who really seek it. And that list is very short. My wife and I both write-- I can count on her for honest critique that will help me become a better artist and vice versa. My last script had two, count 'em, two pages that didn't have red ink on them when she was through. And the script was much stronger for it and the producer had very few notes. My assistant Courtney knows my stand, and she has sought real criticism so I give her that (and it's hard to call her "assistant" nowadays, she's really coming into her own). And I can count on my hand the rest that truly seek to improve (because it is human nature to seek approval for art, which is a very vulnerable position).

When I worked at McDonalds in high school, they called the right attitude "green and growing." If I think I've arrived, I become unteachable. And I got a long road still ahead of me.