Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Let's Talk More On Acting

We discussed auditions (feel free to browse back through end of June). Now lets talk about some actor-on-set basics for you newbies out there.

You show up for your big moment on the set for the scene you're in. You look around and are surprised by how many people are actually surrounding you. And suddenly you can feel every single eye on the back of your neck. You close your eyes and try to make them all go away-- it's what the acting coach said to do. Deep breath. You let the mantra roll out of who you are. You're inturrupted by the AD screaming for actors to get in there.

There is the "set." The Director waits and nods to you and the other actors in the scene. The lead actor immediately interrupts the Director as he begins to block the scene (blocking means movement of the actors). He asks wouldn't it better to do it this way? The Director grinds his teeth for a moment, then nods. Sure, why not. So now you're thinking, I can offer my suggestions too?

I wouldn't do it. Whatever the Director says, do it. If you need clarifying, ask. If you're feeling insecure, just remember the Director probably saw tens of people and picked you. So don't ask questions that are really a pathetic search for affirmation.

So you nod to the fellow actors. You just saw them back at base camp and even ran lines a few times. You're starting to feel the flow when you're pulled out of it. Director's calling for a rehearsal. You haven't even really been in the makeup chair. Is it really about to be shot?

The Director seems more focused on the movements of the actors and cameras. He didn't really pay attention to the performance. As a matter of fact, the lead was really flat. Even crazy in the delivery. Is this how he's going to do it? How do I play off that?

No worries, the AD is sending us back to base camp now. The lighting department saw the movement and is now taking some time to light it. We have some time to run lines and get final looks from makeup and wardrobe. THEN it will be showtime.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Acting: A Director's POV

I'm thinking, very seriously, of having a seminar to talk to actors about the craft from a Director's point of view. I get asked almost everyday questions about how to get into movies, how to get into acting, how to get into one of my movies.

I've had people approach the right way and the wrong way (my wife can tell you a scary story about a knock on the door and an actor with a headshot wondering if I was home-- he didn't get seen). I've answered questions about how to find an agent, what classes to take, how to get good headshots made.

For those who've been reading my blog, you saw a bunch written about the Director's View from the other side of the audition table. And I can tell you what this director looks for and what he doesn't.

I've worked with great actors and not so great on preparing for their role. What are the questions that are best to ask and which one's aren't.

Then once you get to the set, what's important to know? What's proper set etiquette? What does the Director mean by that word of direction?

I could easily make it a day and possibly even workshop a fewer number on a second day. Some of the local casting people have told me this would be very helpful. What do you think?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Attributed to Edmund Burke, this famous quote:
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
Burke was a career politician in England during the time of the American Revolution, and generally was sympathetic to the revolutionaries. But the quote is in dispute as to whether he said it-- it does not appear in any of his writings or speeches.

Nonetheless, I bring up this quote because I have respected it. Until now. Why the change?

I define manipulate as "convincing or coercing someone to do something they didn't want to do, for your own gain." Let's examine this famous quote. First of all, I believe by nature that "good men" can't be people that do nothing. If they sit by and let evil happen, they aren't good. But this quote is pulled out and used so that you are guilted into the action the person wants you to take.

Next time someone throws that quote at you, remember that they have an agenda that they want to manipulate you towards action. Because if you're "good", chances are you're taking some sort of action already, and maybe God hasn't called you to the action the Quote Reminder Person wants you to do.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Some Editing Notes

When I approach the editing of a scene, here are my thoughts and steps. For the first three movies, I cut on the Avid (an offline version, then later we created an assembled 35mm negative and then worked from there). For the last two, I'm cutting on Final Cut Pro. Usually the arguments are much like Coke/Pepsi, PC/Mac, et al. If you were raised on it, you swear by it.

Me personally, I loved the Avid but was continually driven crazy by all the bugs and crashes and difficulty with the advancing technology of file based footage. You had to do some weird folder naming and stand on one leg on days that ended with "y" to be able to use P2. FCP adapted much quicker.

So now I'm editing on FCP. First thing is to organize folders. Recently, I tend to keep the footage in folders by day shot. So Day 1, Day 2, and on. Since I also directed, it's easier for me to remember that we shot on this location or that location on Day 5 and can relatively find shots quickly.

I watched all the takes and make notes in the description. I might even label them. Especially if there's no usable portions (for instance, we rolled on the slate and then cut before action for whatever reason), I will give the clip a red label. I could delete, but I have a thing about deleting any footage. I just can't bring myself to do it. I have created a "trash" folder where I put all those clips, but there's not enough of them to make a difference.

So I watch the takes and make notes. Then I start laying the scene down on the timeline sequence. Maybe I enter the scene with the master shot-- the angle that establishes the location and who's there. Or a scene might call for starting on a close up, then later pop out to reveal something special.

Then I continue laying down the shots. The spine or backbone of a scene is the sound, believe it or not. That sets the pace and speed. I'll lay down clips of the dialogue that I want. Then I'll split the edit a lot-- bring the visual forward of the sound edit, or backwards. This little trick helps hide edits. Of course, the sound design people later on will do a much better job. But it helps me mentally and others that watch the rough assemble.

Then I'll put in b-roll, inserts, reactions and so forth.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Separate Film Blog?

It seems I get much more actual readers and comments from the Facebook mirror of my blog. But either way, there or here, let me know if you'd like a separate blog that deals with all things filmmaking. I can put information, advice, commentary, useful links etc, all about making movies. Chime in if you'd find that useful.

In the meantime, feel free to check out IndieSlate magazine where you'll find a journal I've written for over four years now. (Man that's a lot of journaling!) I remember starting it when I had finished my second film "A Promise Kept" and was trying to get the next film off the ground (what ended up being Striking Range).

Now, there's been five films and a mountain of lessons learned which I hope you've found useful. And if you'd like to know more about something in specific or general, also comment here. (Want to hear more about Acting? Writing? Editing? Directing? How to raise money for films? How to get distribution?)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Ticket for the Right Compartment

I've heard people talk about "compartmentalizing" and maybe because of all the syllables, it rolled right through my head. I didn't really take the time to sum up a visualization. But today I did.

So, it's like a tackle box, with all sorts of dividers. I can put hooks in one section and bobbers in another without the two ever meeting (why, they're compartmentalized). Or a train ticket where you get to ride in a compartment. Maybe it's big. Maybe it's small. But mingling among travelers doesn't happen all that much. Because people are compartmentalized.

I was told some people compartmentalize their Christianity. So I had to really chew on this. A person put's his or her faith into a compartment so that it doesn't touch another area of their life. Church fits here. Social life fits there. All nice and tidy. It explains why one guy can confess (really, more like brag) about the women he's had while married, yet be involved in church, smiling to all the visitors and handing out bulletins.

Another visual that comes to mind is Jesus taking the time to braid a whip and take it to the money changers in the Temple. He was clearing the dividers that made up compartments.

Conclusion: I know that in my own life, I have compartments. I must tear those down as I discover them. It's the only way to live in Truth.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Band of Christian Brothers (and now Sisters)

In March of 2004, Dr. Mike Riggins spoke at a men's breakfast at Bethesda Community Church and asked for volunteer leaders for a new discipleship group he called "Band of Christian Brothers." For almost a year, every Monday night starting late, around 9:15pm, a handful of us men showed up to be trained, not only to lead groups, but to become better men, husbands, fathers and Believers.

Although the leaders train year round ever since, enlistments in the groups is for six months only. Numbers are limited and once an enlistment starts, no new members are allowed. Some men have grown leaps and bounds in their walk with Jesus and some men have not made it through an enlistment. Clearly, it's not for everyone.

Which is scriptural. The rich young ruler was not ready to follow Jesus when he came up to the Master. Following Jesus costs everything. And he hadn't counted those costs.

So is the Band a place for encouragement and love? Absolutely. But first define "love" and "encouragement." (See my post on defining love). It's not a place to be encouraged to continue walking in the flesh.

And I speak from experience. I have been very encouraged and loved by my Brothers. When I've strayed, they've been there to seek my highest good. The bottom line... because of BOCB, I'm in a better, more honest walk with God and that impacts what kind of husband and father I am.

And the great thing, is that after a long period of training, the women will start their groups for the first time. So how do you get in? Well, we're having a dinner this Monday night, at Bethesda in North Fort Worth, at 6:30pm. If you have questions, come and ask. If you want to enlist, new six month enlistments are about to begin. And it's not related to just one church. We've had people from other churches involved.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Edit Experience

I've been locked away in the edit room finishing syncing and re-organizing all the footage. I've been able to do some editing, but mainly just been combing through everything. Some interesting things about this Red edit...

File Management is still a work in progress for Red data. The path people were using (a recent movie was utilizing Red Rushes to create proxies, and on our second day, the editor contacted us to tell us the proxies didn't link up and they had to totally re-lay all the clips down as they started the color process) has proven to be problematic. So we're using the log and transfer in Final Cut to pull in our 2K proxies.

Some interesting hurdles-- some proxies only have a few seconds and I've had to re-transfer them back in. Also, some mislabeling has led to some problems, so it's requiring more time spent just going through everything.

The editor from that other project, Sam Crutsinger, is an expert in Red and FCP. He took time yesterday to share with me some Quick Keys (macros is the term int he PC world) that made syncing up sound a lot quicker and easier. What he does to quicken the whole process is amazing.

Late today, after messing around and editing about 7 or 8 scenes, I began with Scene 1 and will continue tomorrow building from the beginning.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Slate Basics

Many people get into the movie making business by volunteering to work on the set. It's tricky as to where a newbie can fit, but every department has needs that can be filled with an unskilled worker (unskilled only because you haven't yet learned it).

For the camera department, this position is usually a 2nd AC (assistant camera). This is the person who, on low budget movies, will also be the "clapper." The person who holds the slate up in front of the camera and claps it.

The purpose of the slate is to label each shot and to give a reference for syncing sound. Even in this digital age, a clap is still used. We recently shot a movie on the Red, but we still recorded our sound "discreetly"-- separate than the video recording. So later, the video and sound will need to be married up.

Today, most people use a "smart slate". This is a slate with timecode spinning in LCD numbers. You can sync the camera up to generate the same numbers. It starts with the sound mixer (who usually provides the smart slate). Numbers are synced to his recording. For most movies, a time of day code is used for the numbers.

So you land on the set and volunteer for the camera department. They hand you the slate and a dry erase marker and something to wipe it off. The Script Supervisor ("scripty") will usually call out the scene and take number for you. You write this down on the slate.

When the 1st AD (assistant director) yells for a lockdown and to roll sound, the sound mixer will yell "sound speed." This is your cue to get in front of the camera lens with your slate. You raise the clapper and get ready (unless it's MOS which we'll talk about below). You can't be too far away that the numbers can't be read, and you can't be too close. Usually the 1st AC will tell you where you can go. On 35mm lenses, you can general divide by ten the lens on the camera in feet. So a 50mm lens means 5 feet in front is okay.

But you're not ready to clap yet. The 1st AC will yell for camera to roll. When the 1st AC yells "Camera Speed" that's your cue! Immediately, you say the info on the slate (scene and take, and any key info) out loud (so that an audible slate exists). Key info might include calling out both A and B cameras if you've got a two camera shoot. Then you say mark and then clap. Don't say mark over the clap. One then the other. That gives a good audible mark to go with the visual of the frame the sticks come together.

If the camera wasn't framed correctly when you "marked," the 1st AC might call for a "second sticks." This means you do it again, calling second sticks.

For shots that don't have sound (MOS), you write MOS on the slate and you just hold it up in front of camera. no need to clap or say anything-- there isn't any sound being recorded. All you technically need is a half second in front of lens, so don't hang there forever.

After you've marked the shot, you get out of the way quickly and settle. Congrats, you just clapped the scene!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Quick Notes on this Labor Day

Some things that we have or maybe haven't talked about this year (please feel free to add your own):

* Love: seeking the other's highest good.
* Humilty: Confidence
* Confidence: Knowing and understanding who I really am.
* Confrontation creates, conflict destroys.
* The lack of confrontation will always lead to conflict.
* Believe: Is not what you say, but what you do.
* Out of your Being comes the Doing, not out of your Doing comes your Being.
* God is a God of order, not chaos.
* Success is not defined by numbers or accomplishments, but by Obedience to God (well done, thou good and faithful servant).

What about you? What are you dealing with (or what's God dealing with you about)?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Rebecca St. James in Dallas area on the 13th

I got a text message-- I had asked Rebecca if she had any upcoming shows in the DFW area and she didn't know. Low and behold, she will be in Forney (just east of Dallas) on Sunday, August 13th. When I get the time and place, I'll pass it along.

I will probably be attending with my family. Will be a lot of fun. Rebecca is the real deal and has a great heart.

Hope to see you there.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Milestone for a Beginner Actor

I've directed now quite a few actors in five films and a tv show. I've directed really experienced actors with more films to their resume than I could ever hope to be a part of. I've also directed actors that are brand new to the craft and to the screen.

I've found that there are varying degrees of talent dispensation in the arena of acting. And that most people see great acting all the time in movies and tv and great actors make it look very easy. So many people approach the craft thinking it is easy.

It's about as easy as 45 people all staring at you, the clock ticking away dollars, while you try to capture an emotion you might have never felt or experienced. Or an emotion that is difficult to recreate with all eyes on you.

So for the newbies, when do I know they've turned a corner? The eyes. They start looking at the other actor in the scene. Until then, inside their brain, it's a big frantic fire fight to remember the lines, the blocking and try not to think about all the people watching. They can look at the other actor and not see them.

For instance, one actor who shall remain nameless (it's no fun to name yourself anyway), did a whole scene where the other actor hung a piece of fruit from his wardrobe. Everyone else in the room noticed except this poor beginner actor. Definitely a sign that he wasn't paying attention.

But now I know that actor is a lot more comfortable in front of the camera. He "sees" the other actors-- he looks them in the eyes. He doesn't sweat the lines, the blocking or the looks from all the other people.

So if you're a new actor, memorize those lines so you don't have to think about them. And then take the time to "see" the other players. And have fun.

Victimology 101

I'm disappointed right now because a friend walks in a robe of "victimization." This masquerade is a work of evil, yet most people aren't even aware of that it's bad. For those Believers out there reading, I'll back this up with the Bible. Did Jesus ever consider himself a "victim?" Did he ever complain about his life? He certainly had ever "right" to do so. He was constantly falsely accused. He was treated harshly by the religious nuts of the day. He was even murdered. Yet no complaining. No "victimization."

You see, playing the victim card says that you don't believe in Purpose. Paul writes in Rom 8:28 that "all things work together for the good for those that love Him and are called according to His purpose." So in wrapping yourself up in a cloak of victimization, you're saying that God (through Paul) got it wrong. That not *all* things don't always work for good. There are some things that don't.

Now, I do believe this applies to heavy duty stuff (remember Jesus was murdered, yet it was Purpose), but in the cases I'm seeing, it's much lighter stuff. You see, if someone refuses to confront what she sees as an inequity at her workplace, yet complains to people who can not affect change, she's being a Victim. And she's getting a Payoff.

It takes courage to confront. But the real payoffs are enormous.

So sadly, the friend aforementioned, obviously gets a Payoff from wearing this costume. Otherwise, she'd throw it off. I have no doubt, she has grown comfortable with complaining and playing the victim as others reach out and say "oh my poor girl, you're so misunderstood." Of course, that response does nothing more than enable.

I think I have to play hardball. I have to call it for what it is and let their choices stand. Hopefully she'll drop the masquerade and walk in wholeness. We'll see.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Where to Start

So the Editing begins. Usually the first step is to organize the footage into some manageable system. On the first couple of movies, I created large folders that contained Scenes 1 through 20, then 21 through 50 and so on. This meant combing through the days footage and moving the clips to the appropriate folder.

And on those films, I was bound by the 20 minute rule-- in film, usually the largest working reel is a 2000 foot reel. That's about 22 minutes. So the film was edited by reel. Maybe they were five or six reel movies. And yes, that means you could not continue music or such across the reel breaks. You had to place your reel breaks very strategically.

The funny thing was on Imposter, my first total HD, non-film, film, I still had to do "reels" because the coloring software has a limit in the number of clips you can send over. And it just so happens to be about the number of clips you'd have in about 20 minutes of movie.

So now the current project. The data management people have not yet finished syncing everything, so I'm left with just viewing and note taking for the moment. All the footage looks great so far. I find it hard because I want to start clicking and dragging.

On the last few movies, I ended up editing some particular scenes first. Maybe I had questions about the scene and wanted to make sure it worked. Or maybe I just couldn't wait to see how the scene played... giddy with excitement to watch it. On Imposter, I also enjoyed the music segments and spent time early on those.

And on Striking Range and Bloodlines, we needed trailers asap, so I found myself cutting a trailer before the film was edited. So not sure yet exactly where I'll begin. I'm waiting on the guys to tell me what I can do at this point.