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.