Thursday, April 29, 2010

Pyschological Warfare

A popular past time for movie crews is to sit around some drinks and retell stories from the set.  And it's always more interesting a story to talk about the things that went wrong, and the more horribly wrong the better.  It would be a pretty boring story to talk about this one movie set, it was so smooth, that the schedule was never changed.  Eeeewwwww.

In my seminars and in teaching at UTA this semester, I talk about the impact a little knowledge of psychology can have for a producer or a director.  Every single person is flawed.  You have dysfunctions.  I have dysfunctions.  So when you group thirty or fifty people together to work on making a singular piece of art in storytelling, sometimes it can get downright hairy.

I've heard from my friends that have worked nightmare productions.  Maybe the producer was a crook.  Maybe the director was totally inept.  Maybe the lead actor was a prima donna.  Yeah, I know, what are the odds.

But I can only talk from my own personal experiences.  And I'll be sharing some hard core ones at the Directing Workshop coming up on May 15.  More info, registration here.  But here's something I learned from the set.

I was a big-eyed, newbie director.  The recognizable name actor was due in at the airport.  Instead of sending a PA to pick him up, I thought it'd be awesome to do it myself.  This sent a message to this Actor.  We got in my vehicle and I took the Actor to his hotel.  It was one of the nicest in town.  We had gotten a decent deal.  Bellhop comes over to the car and Actor looks around and asks "Does it have a swimming pool?"  I ask the bellhop who shakes his head no.

So off we went.  I immediately called the UPM to start recon on a hotel with swimming pool that could stay in our budget.  And I continued the trek with Actor in my car.  We drove and drove... stopping at hotel after hotel.  Finally we found one, but Actor took one look at the pool and just shook his head to me.  Eventually we got real lucky and found an extended stay type place that had just opened.  But this was just the start.

While driving, I would, like a naive, star-struck intern, would ask him the stupid questions like "What's so-and-so like?"  This guy never had anything nice to say about anyone.  He put them down viciously at every opportunity.  If I knew then what I know now, this would tell me a lot about this person.  Which is they have such low self-esteem, that to feel better, they have to step on others.  If I had that knowledge, I could have reacted differently to accomplish the goal of telling the story of that movie.

But I didn't and so problems kept cropping up on the set.  It was until maybe two-thirds through the shooting that a cathartic event happended.   The Actor was frustrated at something.  And he threw an object in rage.  It accidentally hit me.  And I was angry.  I got in his face and told him that in spite of everything, I expect him to act professionally.  Suddenly, he was a new person.

I realize that he was a child who lacked discipline and many children with lax parents will act out, just trying to find the boundaries.  Boundaries offer security.  Lack of boundaries leads to insecurity.  And this Actor needed security.  Later he even came up to me and said I was finally being a Director.

Psychology can be a very good tool to have in a Director's tool box.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Mod VOD

Very several years, VOD (Video On Demand) has been lurking around as a slow growing weed that just never seemed to be able to take.  VOD is simply the ability to download, or view instantly, usually over the internet (or cable) movies and television shows.

On paper, sounds like a great idea.  Want to see the season finale of "The Shield?"  Just watch it on your computer when you want to.  So why has this technology been so slow to be adopted?  Because people sink lots of dollars into their home entertainment system, and even as good as computers are getting, sitting at your desk is not the same as sitting on your sofa with surround sound.

Until recently.  Netflix is leading the charge for a new VOD.  This time, instead of sitting at your computer screen, Netflix uses your PS3 or Wii to access its "Play Now" library of titles.  The quality is good.  You can eat chips and sip diet coke in your recliner, with the show up on the big screen.

Mark this time, VOD will finally start to grow like a wild fire.  Now VOD finally makes sense.  Physical rentals will go down as VOD goes up.

It's a new era.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Super Spiritualize Me

In our Band of Christian Brothers, we have a rule that reads "no super-spiritualizing."  So what does this mean exactly?  Our definition is: religious answer without going through the process.

Let's say you've been stealing.  You come to the altar, convicted and morose.  You cry.  You leave your heavy burden there.  Your sin is as far away as the east from the west.  You're washed water than snow.  Then you leave the church and on the way out, steal the offering.  But that's okay, because you dealt with your issue of stealing.  You prayed and left it at the cross.

When confronted with a sin in my life, I'd like the Easy button... you know the one.  You push it and hard work becomes easy.  Yes, my sin is forgiven.  The power of the cross is very real.  So confronted, I'd like to just say the magic words and make it all go away.  The spiritual sweeping under the carpet.

Sin is forgiven.  To continue in that sin is to not repent.   Yes the first part is to confess, the second is to repent.  But that can be very, very hard work.  I'd much rather just say "I prayed and left that at the cross, so there."  As Paul writes, to continue in sin is to crucify Jesus again and again.  To be His disciple, I want to stop that, more than I want the payoff of the sin.

And you see, that's the key to repentance.  You'll only repent when you decide the payoff for the sin isn't worth it.

This is the daily battle I will have until I die.

Friday, April 23, 2010


One of the great pleasures I enjoy with my children is the experience of sitting down to show them classic movies.  I want them to find heroes in the right places and for this reason, we're very selective about what we call a classic.  (And yes, for a discussion another time, I do consider "The Matrix" a classic.)

Today, it was "Chariots of Fire."  While watching the movie again after all these years, I found myself looking up facts on my iPhone.  I had forgotten the spiritual giant that was Eric Liddell.  Google rumored his last words were "total surrender" referring to how he lived his life.

Hard to argue.  When Liddell won his gold medal in 1924, he wouldn't have been one to announce that now he's going to Disneyland (even if it had been built).  No, he immediately headed back to China (where he was born to missionary parents from Scotland).  From 1925 to 1945, this is where this celebrity lived out his life.  Working with youth, teaching the Bible... really, he was discipling.  And to the end, that's how he lived.

You see, the Japanese invaded China and it wasn't a great time and place to be a Westerner.  He was rounded up and put into a camp 300 miles south of Beijing (the site of the 2008 Olympics).  In a prisoner exchange approved by Churchill, he was granted his release.  Which he then gave to a pregnant woman.

He stayed behind ministering to people in the camp until a brain tumor, exacerbated by the conditions, hit him fast and furious.  He died a few months before the camp was liberated.  When explaining to his sister why he was going to the Olympics instead of China in 1924, he wrote, 
"I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure."
 I have no doubt that God was pleased.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Draft Dodgers

A question has been asked-- "How do you know when the "first draft" is done and what provides the impetus for developing proceeding drafts?"

I have just finished polishing the first draft of "72."  There is no hard and solid rules for what constitutes a draft.  Almost like the rules for software upgrades.  When does it become a new version versus a new build? 

In the WGA world, a job is defined by drafts and polishes.  For some jobs, a writer might be contracted to write a screenplay, two drafts and a polish.  Usually, the writer will finish the screenplay and pass it off to a few trusted advisers for notes... then after taking them (or not), he has Draft 1.  He sends that off to the producer or entity that contracted him.

Notes come back.  Writer incorporates notes.  Then hands in Draft 2.  Then if there are just a few minor notes like "change this word from feline to cat", it might be just a polish.

For us in the Indie Film world, it might play out a little more arbitrary.   I usually have what I call a zero draft that only my wife gets to read.  Then I take her notes and incorporate and it becomes Draft 1.  Then I pass this draft to a few trusted friends and colleagues.  Since no one else has seen the script, I'll incorporate their notes and still call it Draft 1.  Once I start sending it out to people in the industry and then make serious changes, I'll call the new one Draft 2.   I have gone up to Draft 14 before... and that's with some changes simply being a polish and not a new draft.  But that script was 3 years in the making.

My "Game of Integrity" script was written five years ago.  I got to Draft 4.  I dusted that off last week and re-wrote some things and sent it out as Draft 5.   For "builds" I use letters.  So "Time of Chaos" is currently Draft 11b. 

One reason to rename even polishes is that it saves a record of the prior work.  There have been times I cut something, only later to regret it and want it back.  I open the older file and cut and paste.

So it's really pretty much up to you.  Draft numbers don't matter once we start Pre-Production, because the current draft gets "locked" and it becomes the "white" draft.  Future revision become a new color.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Simon the Zealot

I wonder how many people know what the "Zealot" part of Simon the Zealot's title meant?  I was under the impression that most people knew that the Zealots were a group of Jewish people during the Roman occupation who's one goal was to establish a Jewish-run state.  That meant, even if it required arms, to rise up and overthrow the Roman government.

This was a group who's purpose was to incite the people to rebel, and through the use of force, expel the Romans.  They weren't just a nice political organization or something like ACORN or the Tea Party Movement.  These guys were militia.  They were angry. They were dangerous.  Not only did they kill Romans and Greeks, it was not good for you to be Jewish and helping the Romans or Greeks.  They came after you.

In AD 66, they successfully rose up and captured Jerusalem through an armed initiative.  The Romans came down and came down hard.  It was this point, in AD 70, they destroyed the Temple.  The remaining Zealots attacked the Roman fortress of Masada and left no prisoner.  The Romans built a bridge to it over a very long period (three years), and as they came close to getting inside, the Zealots committed suicide.

Israeli Defense Force soldiers today take their oaths at Masada and say "Never again."

I bring this all up, because in discussing with someone the disciple Simon the Zealot, they didn't know about all this history.  In the script I'm working on, I present a character built on Simon and it came as a shock that he was militant.  Simon the Zealot wasn't a part of a nice little movement.  He was part of a group dedicated to giving their life to kill Romans and get them out of the country.

So I find it extremely interesting to study this in light of him being one of the twelve.  What was he like?  Did he simply become a peace-loving guy when Jesus said "follow me?"  What did his old gang think?  Did Simon harbor some feeling that maybe Jesus, since people cried out for him to be King, that Jesus would flush the Romans out and institute this "Kingdom of God" that he so often preached about?

I just find it all interesting.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Child/Teen Acting Seminar Results

We had the Child/Teen Acting Seminar today and it went very smoothly. What I liked was having the parents there. Lots of good questions were asked, and as a Director, I can only answer some of them from my perspective. Other Director's might see it differently.

Like what makes a great headshot. What is emancipation. How to get an agent. Whether or not to join SAG.

We spent a lot of time on the Audition. Instead of teaching actor to actor things that everyone's already getting, I wanted to offer them some cheat codes so that they can move to the front of the line and have a better shot at landing the roles in those auditions.

I believe that our local actors are every bit as much talented as the LA or NYC counterparts. The difference is experience and training. Training can be had fairly easily. But experience is the real difference maker. And here's why:

On a low budget movie, it's about how to get the best possible story with the least amount of money. An experienced actor knows without being told to find the light and find the lens. The experienced actor knows to hit marks resulting in fewer takes because of focus issues. The experienced actor knows to block in a consistent way to avoid continuity problems.

So get experienced. Find parts in films. There's a lot going on. Even shorts. And student films. Everything helps.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Circle C

An Idea is a commodity. In the entertainment industry, it can be sold and traded. But an idea cannot be copyrighted. If you have an idea for a movie or a television show, treat it as a precious jewel. Don’t tell people where it can be found, unguarded. Sure, you might need to reach out to someone to help craft the story or the script, but make sure you protect your idea.

While an idea cannot be copyrighted, a script can. Many still believe that a literary work must be published to be considered copyrighted. Once a work is written down, recorded, or tangibly fixed in an acceptable form, it is in effect, copyrighted. The current copyright law protects a work for the author’s lifetime plus an additional 70 years, recently changed from 50.

So why register your work with the Library of Congress? First, it establishes a public record of your work. Secondly, it can lead to larger damages awarded in court actions. While the United States copyright law protects literary works, it does not protect titles, names, phrases or slogans. This is one reason you might see a movie with the same name as an older one.

Another recommended practice in the entertainment industry is to register the script with the Writer’s Guild of America. You do not have to be a member of the guild and it is common practice to register screenplays with the WGA. Registering your script is a solid way to establish a public record.

Both methods of registration are fairly simple and are not expensive. The common screenwriting software even allows for registration from a menu in the program.
It used to be important for copyright owners to put a notice of copyright on all published works. For works published on or after March 1, 1989, the use of notice is optional. If using a notice, the following elements must be used: the “c” in a circle symbol or the word “copyright,” the year of first publication, and the name of the owner of the copyright.

Protect your work and make sure you register your copyright.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What's Up With Jesus' Marketing?

Jesus did a lot of things backwards and by the conventions of worldly wisdom, just plain stupid.  I've run a production company, a film company, and have assisted many clients in trying to market their products and services.  I'm trying to get a faith-based movie out there.  And I'm trying to get a new one going, doing the market research so that I can find out what the audience is wanting to hear.

I mean, really.  After feeding 5,000 people, they were ramped up to make him king.  We just passed 1,000 Facebook fans for "The Imposter."  The word of mouth that can come from that is just amazing.  Viral can happen with just a few people... say like twelve.

But Jesus took that moment to say really hard stuff.  Stuff that turned people off.  Didn't He know better?  Isn't the point to get more people saved?  Isn't it about keeping score?  Like 18 people came forward after the screening of my movie?  Or 2300 came down at the crusade? Or, "we just passed the 4000 fans mark on Facebook."

So, marketing wasn't His point at that moment.  Increasing Followers wasn't His point.  Justifying budgets with awesome numbers wasn't His point.  He didn't care.  "But Jesus, how can you have no compassion for the lost?  Why pick that moment to push people away?  You knew what was going to happen."

I may be missing it, but it looks like He has a different purpose in mind than me and most churches and ministries around.  Seems that the evangelical thrust is a contemporary creation.  Because Jesus, yes I know it's crazy, had more focus on training and discipling, than just decisions. 

What was He thinking?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Imposter FAQ

We're now doing more and more print and media interviews for the movie. I am seeing some common questions and comments and will focus this post on the most common.

When I wrote the script, it was my first "faith-based" story... first movie directly intended for the church audience. I had done three secular movies to that point. I had been bothered by some Christian films that had the central core of the message be "come to Jesus and all your problems will be solved." That is NOT what happens. Don't believe me? 11 of the 12 disciples came to Jesus and met violent deaths for it.

Even today, making a choice to follow Jesus is a choice to stand against the current. Most of the time, problems aren't magically solved and Jesus isn't Santa Claus, giving you a nice shiny Lexus, complete with a ribbon and bow on it.

As I wrote in the movie, often times, God's more interested in me going through a process than zapping me with spiritual morphine.

So as I wrote the script, intent on making it more "real" than most other faith-based stories out there, I was concerned the church, the very audience I was aiming this message at, might reject it because it's not syrupy, all tying up nicely in the end.

The most asked question/comment stems from everyone finding this approach "refreshing." Interviewers are quick to praise the movie for not tying it up nicely. And for this, I'm grateful. I was afraid this might alienate the intended audience. Nice to see it's in fact, the thing people like most about the movie.

So what are your thoughts?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

CD Info

We're making the limited edition, extended CD soundtrack of "The Imposter" available. We only had a couple thousand made and when they're gone, they'll be gone. The CD contains 19 tracks (way to many). And we're offering it for $15 plus $2.50 for S&H.

The CD leads off with the new version of "Carry On Wayward Son" and contains all the original songs from the movie as well as the four songs by the group Downhere. My favorite is the original one that Jeff Deyo sings called "Chance to Choose."

One way we're using these is for churches and ministries to use them as a fundraiser. A Royal Ranger group sold CD's at their church before and after Wednesday night services (part of their Communication merit) and raised a couple hundred dollars to supplement their budget for the semester. Other groups have been selling them as well. Minimum ten CD's and you get the wholesale price. Contact me if interested.

To buy the CD, click here. If you have one, please post comments here and around the net if you enjoyed it.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Big Mac Attack

I'm not being paid by Apple for this blog, but wish I was. (Hey Apple, feel free to ship me an iPad for the callout). For those that know me, you know I enjoy technology. I love computers. I'm no programmer, but I can usually get around an operating system okay. Friends and family usually call me when they have a problem. When I call tech support, first level, I usually speak to someone who's ESL and I can hear them typing in my question to the general knowledge database (which I had already done).

I have been using PC's since Windows 2. I used a Mac in the mid nineties when I got my first Avid editing system. But it was used only for that and photoshop. Then all that software became available for the PC and boom, was back to that environment. Two years ago, I got a new Mac for Final Cut Pro (Avid was incredibly buggy and kept crashing). Slowly, as computers die, I've been replacing them with Macs.

All that's to not boost my Ego, but to give a reference point for the comments fortwit. What I'm going to write about is the difference between PC's and Mac, talking about the pluses and minuses. Here goes.

On the Plus side for PC's is software and cost. The Windows operating system is an open type environment where most anyone can grab code and create programs with relative ease. (This plus is also why you have viruses in the PC world). And cost-- comparing apples to well ummm apples, you can run down to Costco and get a pretty powerful computer for the price of an iPad. I bought an iMac to replace a computer for around $1400 or so. You can get more computing muscle for the same money.

On the minus side for PC's-- viruses, bugs, crashes (though Mac has them too, but not as often IMO), slow downs (registries get very messy), complicated tasks. On the virus side alone, this can equal out the greater cost of the Mac. And my conspiracy side wonders why Norton or MacAfee don't have a department for creating viruses and regularly sending them out for ultimate job security and guaranteed revenue.

My PC's all get incredibly slow. I then buy a Registry cleaner and it improves a little. But it get's slower and slower. Every computer. Every time.

So let's take a byte out of Apple for a moment. Sure the marketing says it's "cooler" to be a Mac. But what are the real advantages or disadvantages? Remember, for all those taking up arms on one side of the issue or the other-- I use BOTH, and have for many years. Mac's are more resistant to viruses. Tasks are much more intuitive (making operating a Mac easier). iMac's are one piece... no more separate monitor and computer box.

On the downside, there's not as much software available.. though you can argue you can run Windows based inside Mac, but I'm not going to go there. My problem, the last time I bought a PC, was that though I wanted a Mac, I had thousands and thousands of dollars in PC software that would mean buying it all over again for the Mac. That one issue was the deciding factor at that point. Since then, I've started slowly accumulating software for Macs. And when this laptop dies, it will be the end of PC's for me as primary computer.

Another downside for iMac specifically, because of the one piece construction, upgrading is difficult. But you can buy Macs that can be upgraded.

Unless something very specific calls for it, or some dramatic change occurs, I will not buy another PC. Yes, I have bitten the Apple and recommend to people who ask, to go Mac.

This blog was entered on a PC running Vista. For now.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

More Imposter Behind the Scenes

I've had a bunch of interview footage, recorded while on the set of The Imposter, of the principle actors. So today, I finally went through it and edited a 7 minute video were key cast members talk about how they got involved.

This isn't on the DVD (since I created it today), but it complements the interviews in the extras on the DVD (all the "Unmasking" videos). I hope you enjoy.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Can I show "The Imposter" to my group?

This is a frequent question... And more specifically, it's "can I buy the DVD from the store or from Amazon, then show it to my church group, even if it's small?"

The answer is usually "no." And the surface reason is that it's against the law-- when you "buy" a DVD, you're actually not buying the movie, you're buying a "license" to watch it. Because the movie stays the ownership of the producers and distributors. The DVD's at the store are all "home license" versions.

So what's the big deal? "I just want it to minister to the people at my church, or that we're outreaching to." Well, if you show the home licensed version to your group at church, me and my family won't get paid for the work we did... because, people who see it there now decide there's no need to buy it.

I'm not on staff at any church-- this is my livelihood and it's how I'm providing for my family. And the movie was made because investors believed-- so I have a responsibility to them. I'm not living in a fancy house, driving fancy cars-- my family lives in the same house my wife and I bought after we got married.

And what I'm really hoping to do is make more movies. I'd have no problem you showing the movie to your small group if most went out and bought the movie too. Or, PureFlix is setup to grant you an "exhibition license," click here. Plus, PureFlix can help you put on a strong event-- posters, tickets, trailers etc.

If you like the movie, please support us. Hopefully, we'll have more soon.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Kerry-- Another Story from the Set of Imposter (Redux)

I'd like to pull from the archive a great story from the set of Imposter. For those following on Facebook-- I posted a video on the Imposter Group with Dr. Mike Riggins. (I'll post it below). It goes hand in hand with this story about Kerry.

It was the second week of shooting and we lost some crew people due to the flu. We were shooting at Compass Church in Colleyville, Texas and we were shooting the scene where Johnny's evangelist dad (played by Mike Riggins) is preaching. The sermon he preaches hits a popular note, but I twisted we twisted it ever so much towards a narcissistic bent. What was amazing was that several extras came up to Mike playing the evangelist and told him what an awesome sermon that was.

At lunch, Kerry had arrived and we talked about it. He told this story:
You have a barrel of fine wine and you have a barrel of sewage. You take a spoonful of sewage and drop it in the barrel of fine wine, what do you have? Sewage. You take a spoonful of fine wine and drop it in the barrel of sewage and what do you have? Sewage.

I know in my own life, straining out the sewage is difficult but imperative. I also listen to many fine songs and hear just a spoonful of sewage. I hear wonderful sermons that have a spoonful of sewage. Lot of sewage all around. Phew.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Twelve

I've been doing a ton of research lately on the Twelve. There are some things that I find very interesting, and in light of Easter, seems appropriate to discuss.

Sure, we all know that Jesus picked twelve ordinary men-- they weren't super heroes, or world leaders. They were fishermen, cheats (tax collector Matthew), extremist militia-type (Simon the zealot), and full of ego. Yet these twelve spread a new religion across the globe. It was written that even just their passing shadow (Peter), the sick were healed.

I believe that in the three and a half years they were with Jesus, that they joked and laugh, listen to sermons and were taught by Jesus, saw the mundane, and saw the supernatural. I think that when Jesus was taken and quickly tried and killed, that their world went upside down. It was the ultimate gut-check.

Jesus taught them. He ate with them. Walked the countryside with them. They camped together, laughed together, prayed together. He talked about what had happened and told them a lot about what was to come. Yet in the gut-check time, they were still clueless.

During those three days, the twelve did not get it.

So people can spend that kind of face to face time with Jesus, the Son of God, and still not get it? Can people today, spend time with Jesus and still not get it? Of course. They're not even getting the face to face, full time exposure the twelve got.

Those people. Sheesh. I'm glad I'm not one of them. (oops).