Lost Creek - A Film by Colin Adams-Toomey

Welcome to Lost Creek.  Check out what's new.  Join us by the creek.  We've got a great ghost story, and we can't wait for you to hear it.

Festival time!

Hey guys!

Greetings from the Creek!  The season is changing.  Pumpkins are appearing, there's a bite in the air, the days are getting shorter...

It's almost the season of Halloween.  The season that belongs to Lost Creek, and those that haunt its waters.

And what better way to celebrate this Hallow's Eve than to watch Lost Creek at a horror film festival?!?!

The dark beings of Halloween and the spirits of that notorious haunted Creek are smiling upon you.  Just so happens we're going to be playing at some major amazing festivals!

PLEASE come check us out, you've got 2 chances coming this October:

First, check us out at the amazing FEARnyc Horror Film Festival in NYC on Sunday October 23rd at 3pm, at Cinema Village, Greenwich Village, NYC!  Q&A will follow directly after the film, and you will have a chance to meet Writer/Director Colin Adams-Toomey, Exec Producer/Co-Writer Dan John Witherall, Director of Photography Kevin Eikenberg, and the amazing 3 kid stars of the film: Oliver Stockman, Henry Stockman, and Brynna Bartoo!

For tickets and more info for FEARnyc, check out the website: http://www.fearnyc.com/

Second, we'll be playing at the amazing FREAK SHOW Horror Film Festival in Orlando, Florida!  This long-running Horror film festival is one of the best in the US, named by MovieMaker as "one of the coolest in the world" and "one of the top 13 horror film festivals to die for."  It's truly great!

The schedule hasn't been announced yet, but you can check out more at their site: http://freakshowfilmfest.com/festival-info/

And that's just the beginning.  We're working hard on getting a wider release for Lost Creek.  Hopefully soon, it will come to your living room, so you can turn off the lights, huddle in a blanket (hopefully with some Halloween candy and your best friends) and watch us to your heart's content.

The harvest moon hangs heavy in the dark night sky, and the world is getting ready to draw up, close the curtains against the darkness outside.  But don't worry.  We'll be out there in that Halloween darkness with you.  That's our element.  That's where you'll find Peter, Bill, and especially Maggie.  Take our hand, follow us out into the dark woods, to the banks of the Creek.

We've got a great ghost story for you.  We've been working on it for so long.  And now you've got two great chances to hear it this Halloween season, more to come.  We hope you'll join us by the Creek.  We'll save a spot for you.

Poster Time!

Just a quick one everyone...

We have a ton of amazing news heading your way really soon, but to tide you over, check out these amazing poster designs by our awesome design team lead by Rafael de Melo Krug!

Thanks so much to Rafa and team!  More exciting news coming soon Lost Creek fans!

How To Buy A Song

Welcome back to the Creek!  As we are hard at work finishing up the film, we’ve been going through a process we thought might be interesting to talk about here.  Especially if there are any new filmmakers out there who want to do this and could use some advice…

One of the things we are attempting to do for the film is purchase the rights to use a published song!  This would be a copyrighted song recorded by an artist, signed to a label.  The song we’re acquiring the rights to is “Lost River” by the band Murder by Death.  They’re a fantastic band, we’ve been longtime fans, and the song is PERFECT for the film.  In fact, it actually inspired some of the film!  You can check out more about the band on our website!

But getting the rights to such a song is a weird process, and maybe a little confusing.  Here’s what we learned, if it helps.

So, you’d like to buy a song to use in your film!  Cool!  The first piece of advice we could give is: explore your options.  This might seem a little daunting to a newcomer, something only “big” films would do.  You might assume that it would be far too costly or complicated for a small-time film.

Not necessarily!  It depends on a number of factors.  This is what you should take into consideration:

How big is the song, and how big is the artist and label?  That CAN make a difference.  For example, there are stories out there of how notoriously difficult it was to get the rights for Johnny B. Goode from Chuck Barry for Back to the Future.  He basically demanded an enormous price for the song, and stuck to it.  That can happen.  But if you’re looking at a smaller indie band, you may definitely be in luck.  And who knows?  It’s worth investigating even big songs.  One thing that IS true is that music labels and publishers have come to recognize that there’s a whole spectrum of filmmakers out there, from Spielberg to people like us here at Lost Creek.  They tend to judge price on a sliding scale.  Makes sense: small films can’t afford big prices, but for the label, why would they price small films out of the market?  SOME money is better than NO money at all.

So you’ve found this one song by a band you love, and it would be perfect for your film.  This is what you need to do:

Start by identifying the band’s label.  That can generally be found in the liner notes of the album, or if the band has a website, they’ll generally list those kinds of things.  That’s what we did.  Murder By Death listed a link to their label, Bloodshot Records, on their website.

Basically, you want to get in touch with the person at the label who handles licensing.  Once you’ve found that person, you’re going to need to give them some basic information to get going:

Obviously, identify the band and song you’d like to use.  What you’re looking for from the label are 2 things: the approval of the band to use their music in your film, and what’s called the Master Use rights.  This gives you the right from the label (representing the band) to use that particular master recording.  In order to get that, they will want to know:

Some basics of who you are.  Don’t write a novel about the film to them, but briefly and passionately describe the film, where you’d like to use the song, why that song is perfect for the film.  If you have a website for your film (which you should), provide the link so they can check out more on their own.

They’ll want to know HOW you’re using the song.  Do you intend to distribute the film, are you only showing the film at festivals?  Generally, festival Master Use is cheaper and easier to organize, and we’d recommend that for first-timers.  Distribution means you’re intending to sell the film, which means the label will want to negotiate some sort of royalties off of the film for the band.  Our feeling is, you may not know at this point if the film will sell or not.  If it DOES, you will end up reorganizing with the label or changing your option anyway.  But all you KNOW is that you want to show the film at festivals.  You can organize with them early on what will happen if you sell the film, and this is often called a Step Deal.  Up to you if you want to plunge into that right away, but we recommend one step at a time.

They’ll want to know WHERE you intend to show the film: US, Canada, the world, the universe?  Yes, the universe IS an option.  If your film sells and ends up selected on the trip to Mars, you have to license for outer space!  But to start, decide what festivals you intend to submit to.  If there are any outside of the US, either go for World, or specify the exact countries in which your film will screen.

They’ll want to know HOW LONG you want the rights for.  A month?  A year?  The end of time?  I’d say a year is a good place to start.  That gives you lots of time to show the film, and by the end of the year you’ll know whether you need to renegotiate because your film got sold, or not.

They’ll want to know duration.  How much of the song do you want to use?  Only a piece or Up To Full Use?

That’s the basics.  It helps the label take you seriously if you go into your initial request already able to give them the basic information they need.  They may ask for other things too, so be prepared to tell them.  Once you get approval from the band, the label will start to negotiate for Master Use.  A lot of labels have a basic price for Festival Master Use, and it’s generally not horribly expensive.  Especially if they know you’re low-budget.

So you got the approval of the band, and Master Use rights for the song!  But you’re not done yet.

You need 2 different licenses to use the song legally in your film.  One is Master Use.  The other is a Synchronization License.  This gives you the right to sync the song into your soundtrack, and show the film publicly with the song synced in.  You get a Sync License from the Publisher(s) who control the song.

There are a couple of different ways to find out who the publisher is, and we’d recommend trying more than one.  We found it very difficult to get in touch with publishers, maybe on purpose.  So that they only get serious requests.  One way is to go to ASCAP.

ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers) is a Professional Rights Organization (or PRO, more on that later) that protects members’ musical copyrights.  They have a searchable database online that will tell you basic info on the song you’re looking for, including who the publisher is.  There are at least 3 PROs operating in America, including ASCAP.  If you can’t find your song on ASCAP, check the other two.  They are BMI (Broadcast Music, Incorporated) and SESAC (used to stand for Society of European Stage Authors and Composers, but they don’t use that anymore.  Now SESAC stands for nothing, that’s the full name). 

BUT, sometimes this information is weird or conflicting.  We found this to be the case.  So we’d also recommend going BACK to the band’s website.  They will often list the most up-to-date info on their publisher, and you may get a more direct contact that way.  That’s what we did.  We tried the publisher contact info ASCAP provided, but when we got no response, we found that Murder By Death had a link to a different contact website for their publisher, which turned out to be the best one.

When working with publishers, it will depend on who they are in terms of how easy it is to contact them.  Some have direct phone numbers and emails.  Not all of them do.  The one we worked with, Songs Music Publishing, LLC, did not.  They had an online service where you request a quote and info for your song.  Work however they want you to.

Publishers will want the same basic info labels do, plus a bit more.  They are more concerned with how the song fits into your film, and what they want to know is more specific.  They’ll want to know how long you want to use it, how you want to use it (festival, distribution, etc.) and so forth but they’ll also want to know:

How MUCH of the song you want to use.  All of it?  Some of it?  This can affect price.

Exactly WHERE in the movie the song will be used.  Is it featured?  In the background?  Over beginning or end credits?  Do you use it more than once?  All of these things can affect price.

For both publishers and labels, be as open as you can be, and offer as much information as you can.  Anything from your film’s budget, the screenplay or specific scene over which the song plays, to links to your website, etc.  All of this may make them more willing to work with you, and might reduce the price they ask.

Although our experience was that both labels and publishers are pretty reasonable when it comes to negotiating a price.  The publisher we worked with simply matched the price of the Sync License to the price asked by the label for the Master Use license.  That happened to be their basic policy.

Our other advice is: be persistent.  They may not get back to you at first.  Email them and call them, multiple times.  Keep at it.  Don’t feel bad: you’re trying to do it the right way.  They’re all about protecting their artists and making sure the music doesn’t get pirated.  You’re offering to play ball their way, pay them for the right to use the song!  This is how it went with us.  We had a really hard time getting in contact with the publisher initially, when we tried to fill out their online questionnaire.  We had avoided calling them for a while, as we worried they wouldn’t enjoy an unsolicited call.  But when we DID eventually call them, they were super-nice and got the process started that same day for us.  Note: it definitely helped that we had already contacted the label, got the band’s approval, and set a price for the Master Use license.  That sped the process along considerably with the publisher.

Also, we’d recommend staying away from negotiating the rights for Soundtrack release, at least for your first film.  This would be if you’re planning on releasing the film’s soundtrack to sell, and you’d like to include the song you’re getting the rights to on the soundtrack album.  That involves a lot of royalty negotiations, for which you’d probably want a lawyer.  Up to you if you really want to do it, but for small-time films this may be too much the first time around.

Once you have the rights you need, there may be other requests: offering links online for fans to buy the music from the label, promoting the band through your sources, etc.  I’d say yes to that stuff, why not?  You might get some cool cross-promotion from the band if you link up with them on social media!

ONCE YOU GET YOUR LICENSES:

There’s a couple of things you’re going to need to take care of.  These will often be specified in your Sync License once you get it.  The first of these is a music cue sheet.

Basically, music cue sheets are for music rights organizations (often called Performing Rights Organizations or PROs).  These are organizations like BMI, or ASCAP.  The music cue sheet details specific information on what music is used in what project, how, and who controls what of the songs.  It’s so that PROs can make sure that compensation is distributed fairly to artists.

This will be more important if your film gets sold.  Once the film starts to make money, some of that money is going to have to go back to music artists as royalties.  Cue sheets help the PROs figure out how much money goes to whom.

A quick search online will get you good templates for a music cue sheet.  Basically the info they will all include is:

The name of the project

What it is (movie, tv show, etc.)

The music cues in order (each song that plays in the movie)

The duration of each music cue

The composer(s), their affiliation (do they belong to a PRO like BMI or ASCAP?), and their percent control over the song

The publisher(s), their affiliation (same thing) and their percent control over the song.

How the music is used

For this last one, music cue sheets generally use a standard code: BV is Background Vocal, BI is Background Instrumental, MT is Main Title, ET is End Title, etc.  Again, this code can be found online.

Most publishers will insist that you make a cue sheet and return it with the signed Sync License, failing to provide a cue sheet can result in the license being voided.  So make sure you do it! 

But the nice thing is that they will also GIVE you all the pertinent info.  They’ll specify artist(s)’ affiliations to PROS, what percentage of the song they own, and they’ll also specify that for the publisher(s).  So all you have to do is take the info they give you and plug it into the cue sheet.

Finally, you need to credit the song properly.  Below is the basic format for a song credit in film:

“Song Title” (in quotations)

Written by: band members.  You can find this info through a PRO like ASCAP, or through the publisher.

Performed by: band name

Courtesy of: label name

By arrangement with: publisher’s name.

Again, the publisher will often spell out the exact details of how the song credit should read.  They’ll often spell that out in the terms of the sync license.  This can be as detailed as exactly how the publisher should be credited, and the order the artists should be credited if there is more than one songwriter.  Make sure you do it exactly how they want, as it is a legal condition for getting the Sync license.

Finally, we’d like to shout out to those who helped us get the rights to “Lost River:” Bloodshot Records, Songs Music Publishing, LLC, and of course the awesome band themselves, Murder By Death!  You can check out more about them at our website, or follow the links to THEIR website as well as platforms where you can buy their awesome music!  You won’t regret it.

Cool guys!  That’s it for now, more soon!

Prerelease of film coming out soon!

Great news everyone, the official Prerelease of Lost Creek for Kickstarter backers is FINISHED, and heading out in a few days! Those of you who backed us get to see the film before ANYONE ELSE! 

Plus hi-rs copies of poster artwork by artist Katie Chen just went out to backers! 

Stay tuned, more exciting news coming soon! 

The Journey Is Almost At An End...

Welcome back to the Creek!  Sorry it’s been so long since we’ve posted anything here.  Rest assured, we’ve been hard at work putting the finishing touches on Lost Creek, and we cannot wait to share this film with you.

The journey is almost finished!  We can’t believe it.  Those of you who have followed along with us since the beginning know: it’s been a strange, amazing journey.  From way back several years ago when Colin had the tiniest spark of an idea, through the writing process, to fundraising and pre-production, to the crazy, exciting process of shooting the film…to now!

This post is mostly by way of updating everyone as to where we are right now in the process, and to thank everyone for hanging on.  It’s been a long LONG time, believe us, we know more than anybody.

But we are nearly, nearly there.  At this point, it’s all about putting things together.  For the last several months, our work has been divided into several different camps, each working fairly separately.

Recent post-production work on the film!

First, we’ve had the talented Chris Testa working on post-production visual effects.  His skill has added some awesome stuff to Lost Creek.  Some of it has been some magic clean up: “oops!  We didn’t notice the boom operator’s arm in frame there…don’t worry!  Magically it’s gone!”  But some of it has been very subtle, beautiful visual enhancement of the film.  I don’t want to give anything away…but Chris has added some effects to the film that definitely kick it up a notch.

Then we’ve had Colin and Kevin, hard at work fine-tuning the film, making minor editing adjustments, and choosing a beautiful color palette to help tell the visual story of Lost Creek.  It’s looking better and better!

Then we have the amazing Evan Chapman composing an original score for the movie.  I can’t praise Evan’s work too highly on the film.  We are very lucky to be able to work with him.  Some of us who have been working post-production have seen this film quite a few times at this point.  QUITE a few.  And it’s sometimes been a struggle to hold onto the emotional impact certain scenes are supposed to have, when one has viewed these scenes over 25 times.  But once Evan’s haunting, beautiful score was added, the whole film felt fresh and new again.  We can report that it brought both Sound Designer Sam Nuttle and Director Colin to tears during a recent sound mixing session.  The soundtrack is amazing.  It perfectly captures the feel of the film.

Soundtrack Composer Evan Chapman and Sound Designer Sam Nuttle hard at work on the film!

Then of course there’s Sam, our audio wizard.  His work on the film has been amazing from the start, and now he’s been able to flex his creative audio design muscles.  It’s been a fascinating and educational process to work with him to create the sound effects for the film!  Without giving too much away, Colin recently said to him in all seriousness, “That’s an amazing effect there, but maybe a little less bobcat in the mix.”

Sound Designer Sam Nuttle working on creative sound design for Lost Creek!

So the next step, happening this week, is to finally put all of these disparate elements together into a coherent film!  Once that is done, it’s a matter of doing one final cleanup to the whole film, adding the credits, and we’re off to the races!

We’ll be adding more to the website soon, including a new post on film festival strategies and checklists, how to proceed once you have a finished product, etc.  And of course we’ll let everyone know the SECOND Lost Creek is finished. 

In the meantime, we wanted to say thanks again: to all those amazing people out there who have been with us and supported us through this journey.  It’s been amazing and we could not have done it without you.  We cannot wait to properly thank you by sharing Lost Creek with you!

Till next time!

Let's say it again (a discussion on ADR)

Welcome back!

So, we’ve been hard at work on audio cleanup for the film, and it’s caused us to venture into interesting territory that I thought might be good to discuss here!

While going through the audio of the film, we ran across a problem.  In one scene, one of the actors has to deliver a very crucial line that sets up the next act of the film.  For one reason or another, there was only one take of this line that we liked visually.  Unfortunately, one of the other actors in this scene stepped on the crucial line, interrupting halfway through with his own line.  Both actors were individually miced, but because they were standing next to each other, both mics picked up both actors’ voices, and there is no real way to separate their voices.  As a result, while the take LOOKS good, its sound was more or less ruined.

What to do?

Well, sometimes an audio person can technically repair the line, rebuilding it out of existing audio from the multiple takes.  Sometimes, this is not possible.  Your options are then:

  1. Re-shoot the scene.  For us, this was more or less impossible.  The location has changed too much with the seasons, and some of the actors are not available.

  2. Use a different take.  Possible, but not desirable.  The other takes are just not as good, and for such an important moment, it might hurt the film to use a subpar take.

  3. ADR.

For us, option C is the only real option.  Which leads us to the subject of…ADR.  What is it?

Depending on who you talk to, ADR stands for “Additional Dialogue Replacement” or “Automated Dialogue Replacement.”  It is also sometimes called Looping.  No matter what it’s called, this is basically what it entails.

For location dialogue that is not useable, the actor will be brought into a recording studio during post-production, in order to re-record the line or lines of dialogue, syncing as exactly as possible to the original line delivery.

As you may imagine, this is a difficult, painstaking process, but definitely a necessary evil.  I heard an estimate that between 30 and 70% of dialogue in most Hollywood films is ADR’d.  Luckily for us, we only have to do it for a couple of lines.  But odds are, you may have to do this in your film.  So how do you do it?

Well first, you want to choose what kind of ADR you want to do.  There are two basic types: visual looping and audio looping.

In visual looping, the actor listens to the line that needs to be replaced on loop (hence “looping,”) to get a feel for exactly how it is delivered, and to give them a chance to practice syncing their delivery as exactly as possible, word for word.  This is the crucial point: the new delivery must match the actor’s original lip movements, otherwise it will be out of sync and won’t work.  Generally, the actor must be within 10 milliseconds of the original take for it to work.  Once the actor feels ready, the actor will simultaneously watch themselves and a recording of the original location take, visually matching their delivery.  While some people prefer this method because the actor is more likely to match the emotion of the original take, it is slightly harder to sync this way and a bit more technically difficult, as you must set up multiple monitors or a split screen so that the actor can watch both themselves and the original take.

Audio looping is similar, but with some important differences.  In this method the actor will again listen to the original line on loop, sometimes also watching the original clip.  Once the actor is ready, they will re-record the line, sometimes while the original line plays in their headphones, while watching the original take to help them match the lip movements.  This is the method we used, and the method I recommend for first-time loopers.  While some people say the actor is more likely to get caught up in syncing the line and may deliver a more lifeless take, you are more likely to get a synced line, and we will talk about ways to get the actor to deliver the looped line well.

So, how do you set up?

If you’re not using a professional recording studio, there are some considerations you want to take into account.  I would recommend working with your sound designer on this for a number of reasons.  They will often know how to ADR and will be able to help set up the equipment and position the mic correctly in order to catch the line properly.  Plus, if they recorded the original location sound, they will have the original mic, which you will want to use while looping if you can.  Each mic is slightly different, so you want to match the audio as exactly as possible.

If you’re not in a studio, take the same consideration you would while recording location sound, and then some.  Turn off air conditioners, fridges, anything that might corrupt the audio.  Deaden the sound in the room as much as possible.  Blankets over walls, towel under the actor (unless you have wall-to-wall carpeting), blanket over the music stand, basically over any surface that could reflect sound.  Get a hold of a pop filter if you can (small mesh screen that goes between the mic and the actor’s mouth to help deaden the “pops” from plosives like p’s and t’s).

ONCE THE ACTOR IS READY TO START:

This is where you tackle the “dead delivery” problem.  Often, first time actors will become more concerned with syncing their lip movements than line delivery, and will give dead performances.  You’re the director, so treat this almost like another take of the scene.  Get the actor into the moment, get them back into the scene.  Have them deliver the line for emotion first, before you worry about syncing.

Then…

Play the clip for them, with the audio in the actor’s headphones, as many times as the actor wants.  Have them practice.  A good tip here: pre-record a series of three beeps before the line starts, each beep at 1 second intervals, so the actor becomes used to exactly when the line will start playing, and when they need to start speaking.  They will come to recognize they have 1 second after the last beep before the line starts.  Like this: “BEEP…BEEP…BEEP…We’ve got to fight it, don’t we?

Don’t bite off more than you can chew.

Yes, this is a tedious process that no one wants to extend any more than they have to.  But remember: just because an actor STARTS in sync, does not mean they will END in sync.  If they are out of sync by the end of the line, it probably means the line is too long for them to do all in one sitting.  This will be especially true for first-time loopers.  Break the line up as much as necessary.  Look for natural breaks first: pauses, breaths, end of sentence, etc.  Break it up as small as needs be, so that the actor is working with chunks they can manage, and stays in sync.  You can always stitch the line back together in editing. 

Do it multiple times.  Same principal as multiple takes.  The more times you record the line, the more times you’re likely to get it right.  Since the clip should be on continuous loop, just keep recording.  Even if the actor messes up once, don’t worry.  It’s coming right back around again!  And again!  And again…the more the actor hears it, the more they’ll get into rhythm.  The more natural the lip-syncing becomes for them through habit, the less they need to think about that aspect, and the more they can focus on their emotional delivery.  Plus, multiple recordings give you plenty to choose from, to get it as absolutely close to the mark as possible!  But, don’t wear your actor out.  Once you have what you think are one or two great takes, that’s probably the best you’ll get.  I have heard audio professionals say that actors will often have one “golden” moment where they get it perfectly, and often will get worse and worse from then on.  Make doubly sure the take you like works exactly before you dismiss your actor (you don’t want to have to go through looping more times than you have to), and if it works, and you like the delivery, you’re good to go!

Thanks guys, more next time!

More Editing...

Welcome back to the creek!  We’ve been out of touch for a bit, hard at work finishing the film.  But, we’re happy to report back that we are close to achieving picture lock!  Hooray!

This leads us into some interesting discussions about post-production and effective editing techniques.

So to begin, what is picture lock?  To answer this question, we should talk a little more about editing practices…

So in the last entry, we started to touch on basic editing techniques, and good filming practices that could help you when you get all that footage to the editing stage.  But we didn’t really talk that much about the creative process of editing itself.

It’s an interesting process, to be sure.  For us, Lost Creek is by FAR the largest project we have ever edited.  It’s a full feature-length film!  This meant that Kevin (the DP and editor) and I approached it slowly, learning some as we went.  There was some trial and error involved.  I figured maybe you guys could benefit from what we learned!

Basically, the editing process for us has broken down into 4 distinct parts: the basic editing of the film, visual cleanup, sound, and soundtrack.  In order to get to the other three steps, step 1 (basic editing) has to be finished, ending in picture lock.  This is when the director and editor are happy with the basic cut of the film, and are not planning on changing it anymore.  There may be visual cleanup (color correction, noise reduction, etc.) and/or added visual effects, but the basic structure of the scenes won’t be touched (length, placement of cuts, etc.).  This is important, because the film HAS to get to this stage BEFORE you can start on anything to do with sound.  Basically, your sound designer and soundtrack composer will not want to start working on a cut of the film that might change, because then all their work will be out of sync with the visuals!

Ok fine, that makes sense.  But it leads to some interesting issues, especially in a film like ours…

So like I said, the editing process has been partly basic technical stuff: cutting the scenes together so they make visual sense, reconstructing performances if an actor makes a mistake, etc.  But it has also been partially on instinct for us, what feels right, how do we feel about the flow of the film, does it land emotionally, etc.  It’s a very subtle art.  For example, we very slightly changed the way the film opens, and that small tweak changed the feel of the entire rest of the film.  We’ve done a basic dialogue sync, so we get a sense of how the scenes will sound.  It will be Sam (our sound designer)’s first task to clean all this dialogue up and make sure things sound perfect, but we have a feel for the spoken words.  But we obviously have no sound or music yet, because we can’t get these things until after we’re done editing.

Herein lies the paradox.  I firmly believe that when it comes to scary movies, you can never underestimate the importance of sound design.  Indeed, many of the best monster films are more sound than visual when it comes to the monster itself!  And that is definitely true of several scary scenes in Lost Creek.  This means that there are scenes in the film that have no antagonist right now, and fall kind of flat, because they won’t come together until we have built the scariness out of pure sound.  Plus, many scenes lack their full impact without soundtrack.  You see the issue?  How do you know you’re totally happy with your film until you have all the elements, sound included?  But you can’t get those elements until you’re happy with the basic film.  What to do?

This is what I suggest, and what we’re doing.  You can still get a very basic sense of the scenes and how they will ultimately work.  Simply use your imagination for the elements that are lacking.  If there’s a scary scene that we know will be sold mostly through sound, we mute the film while editing, and watch it while trying to hear the way we want it to sound.  It’ll give you a general idea.

I also said in the last post, avoid temp sound tracks while you’re in the midst of the work.  I stand by that, but I’m not saying avoid temp music entirely.  Just cut the film together without music FIRST, so you can get a feel without relying on someone else’s score.  But, as you edit, you’ll start to feel when there’s not much else you can do to the film by yourself.  When you reach that point, THEN maybe use a little music.  That’s what we did, and it really helped.  We chose a film whose score fit the feel of Lost Creek pretty well, and layered it over the cut of the film.  It really revealed to us how the film might ultimately look, and where there were still minor issues/pacing problems.  At this point, we’ve only seen the film with the temp sound track once or twice, so there’s not much risk of us getting too attached to the temp music.

Finally, you need to just face the facts: you may need to change it again, even after you’ve done sound design.  There’s a few reasons for this:

Every element you add is going to change the film, and change your perspective.  That scene that seemed the right length without music might suddenly feel too long or too short.  Once you design sound for your scary scene, you may find you actually need to cut it together slightly differently to make it work better.

You cannot send your film out into the world having been viewed only by your production crew.  You don’t have enough perspective.  You’ve been working on this from the beginning and it’s your baby.  You need test screenings.  You’ll want to organize a few viewings of the film for people whose opinions you trust, but preferably not people who were directly involved with the film.  You want fresh eyes, fresh opinions.  And you’ll want to give these people as close to the full experience as possible.  That means you’ll need sound and music.  And chances are, you might get some good feedback from these test audiences that will cause you to tweak the film.  Just be aware of that.  Even after you lock picture, you’ll need to be in sync with your music composer and sound designer, so that everyone is ready to go back to the drawing board to fix things.  Chances are you won’t have to completely redo your film, but you want to send the most perfect version of your film out as you possibly can!

Cool guys!  Next time: the mechanics of sound design!

Post-Production

Welcome back Lost Creek fans!

Sorry for the long silence on our part, but rest assured, it’s for a good reason: we have been hard at work finishing the film, and we’re getting closer and closer to being able to share it with you!

We are now officially in post-production, so I thought this might be a good opportunity to discuss some of the ins and outs of this final, crucial step in the process of turning that dream we had almost two years ago into a finished film!  So here we go…

So you did it.  You had your vision, you wrote your script, you organized your production company, you sweated over fundraising, you worked like an insane person to shoot your film, and you got your footage!  Hooray!

But you’re not done yet.  Far from it.  You’ve got all this raw footage (many hours of raw footage in our case), what do you do with it?  How do you turn all this stuff into a finished, polished film?

EDITING.

This is a slow, meticulous art.  And I cannot stress that enough: editors are truly artists.  I would argue that a good editor is just as important as the film’s director.  It is the editor that actually puts the story together.  They’re like painters, and the raw footage is their paint.  A good editor can do amazing things with this footage: they can change the nature of a scene, even cut an actor or storyline completely out of the film without having to shoot a single extra frame.

So my first word of advice is this: make sure you’re working with a good one.  All that work you did to shoot the film, get a great cinematographer and sound mixer, cast wonderful actors, none of this means anything if you don’t have a good editor.  Luckily for us, DP Kevin has about 8 years of experience as an editor, so we’re in very good hands.

And editing, while slow and laborious, can be really creatively rewarding.  If you’re like me, you’ve been wearing two hats the whole time: director and producer.  That means that while shooting and directing was awesome and creative, I was always slightly distracted by practical matters: can we afford this in the budget?  Is it too cold to shoot?  What’s the weather tomorrow?  Why is one of the actors late?  And on and on.  Editing is a return to the purely creative storytelling process.  Not since writing the script has the film felt this purely creative.

So, you’re sitting down to edit your film…what do you do?  How do you start?

It can definitely be daunting.  Especially if, like us, you’ve never edited a project of this scale before.  But here are a few immediate words of advice going in:

Be disciplined.  I know it’s a relief that principal photography is over.  You don’t have to organize 16 different people’s schedules, you’re not worried about locations, or transportation, or the weather anymore.  You feel like you can finally relax.  It’s just you and the editor in a room together.  That is true, but do not therefore slack off.  I myself have experience here, and I can tell you: small-scale indie films can die in post-production.  People get distracted, other projects come along, editing is long and slow…you can see what might happen.  I’ve been a part of at least 2 films that never saw the light of day, because no one stuck through to the end.  Treat editing almost like a job.  Create a schedule, and stick to it as much as you can.  Work steadily, with the same motivation you had while shooting.

Go into editing knowing the film isn’t perfect.  It is so exhilarating to see it come together in editing, to suddenly realize, “hey, we have a MOVIE on our hands!”  But know that it won’t be perfect, and don’t get discouraged.  Even with careful planning, a good script supervisor, careful slating, you will miss things.  You will find some scenes, or parts of scenes, didn’t work out the first time.  Be ready for that.  Be ready for pick-ups and re-shoots.  It’s just part of the process.  We are very excited with how well the film is working out, but we still have about 2 days worth of pick-ups and re-shoots to do.  It’s just how filming goes. 

On that note, be open to change, and creative solutions.  I heard a saying once about filmmaking, something along this line: “There are actually three films: the one you wrote, the one you shot, and the actual finished film.”  Sometimes things will not work out the way you planned, but they might end up better, or at least different.  As long as it doesn’t destroy the intention of the film, be prepared to find creative alternatives.  That’s already happened to us at least once.  Going into editing, we were very worried about one of the scenes we shot.  And it didn’t work the way it was scripted and shot.  But, with some careful editing, we re-structured the scene, and now it is actually better than the scripted one.  Or in another scene, there’s a small but important emotional moment between two actors, conveyed by a line one actor has.  The actors never quite delivered the lines right.  But, they gave some great silent reactions that conveyed the emotions.  Since I think “show rather than tell” is better, we simply cut the lines altogether, and let the actors silently convey the subtext, and that works better.  So if things don’t totally work the way you planned, don’t panic!  Turn lemons into lemonade!  That’s the beauty of editing.

This is why we started our post production with a simple review.  We just sat down and watched everything: every take of every scene, in order.  It took us two solid days, but it was worth it.  We discovered what we had, what looked good, what we were missing.  That allowed us to take stock, create a list of pick-ups and re-shoots, and go into editing knowing exactly where we stood.

On this note, I think this is a good time to talk about the importance of some shooting practices, because you’ll see how important they are once you get the footage into your editing suite.

I cannot stress this enough: ALWAYS have a script supervisor, and ALWAYS record everything in your script log.  And ALWAYS slate scenes consistently and clearly.  I know some nights, you’re running out of time.  You’ve got thirty minutes to get six angles, and it is only wasting your time writing everything down and slating over and over again.  Do it anyway.  You’re going to end up with a ton of footage.  Some of it will be really bad.  If you have no idea what you’re looking at, or what is good and what isn’t, editing your film will be a nightmare.  Without a good script supervisor, maybe no one is checking continuity.  Maybe you’ll only realize your actor was wearing the wrong shirt between two scenes AFTER you wrap.  That means re-shooting that whole scene.  I’ll give you an example:

Halfway through shooting our film, our primary hard drive/monitor kicked.  It was fine, we didn’t lose the footage (it was recoverable from the hard drive) and we got a new hard drive.  But all these months later, while reviewing the footage, we realized we were missing a few scenes, and in some cases, halves of scenes.  Everything was still on that old hard drive.  Now, this could be a nightmare.  It’s months later, I would have no idea what the hell was on that drive, where it was supposed to go, what scenes, where they went, why we shot them in the first place.  But, because we carefully slated every scene and meticulously recorded everything in our script log, we know exactly what angles of what scenes we’re missing, where they go, why we shot them, and how it’s all supposed to work.  Do yourself a favor, and keep your film organized.  Use your script supervisor and slate well.

SHOOTING WITH AN EYE TO EDITING

This is also important, and a bit tricky.  When you’re shooting your movie, you have to strike a balance: you want to shoot efficiently, but you need to adequately cover your scenes.  I guarantee that some of those takes you thought were fine will have small problems that will drive you crazy when you’re editing.  Maybe your actor delivered the line perfectly, but accidentally glanced at the camera for a second.  This is why I say: cover everything really well.  There are several scenes in our film that were saved by this.  They don’t work as scripted, but because we had plenty of footage to choose from, we could re-edit them so they worked.  I’m not endorsing the Stanley Kubrick 200-takes-per-angle method because your actors will probably murder you.  But don’t skimp on coverage.  If you have the time, get that extra shot.  Do another take for safety.  Don’t just decide it’s “good enough.”  You’re short-changing yourself and your film.  Your “good enough” take may actually NOT be good at all.  If you don’t have any other takes to choose from, you may have to schedule a lot of miserable re-shoots months later, and do your best to match the original footage (which can be hard, especially if you’re shooting exteriors and the season is now different).  In some cases, you may never be able to get back to do a re-shoot, and then you’re stuck making do with whatever sub-par footage you have.  Make sure you give yourself enough time to cover each scene as much as you can.

Sound: a lot of sound design we’ll leave for another entry, since A) we’re not there yet and B) it’s a whole other artistic and technical process.  But, I’d say this: you should have set yourself up already by hiring a really good sound person.  Get the sound files and sync them.  Nowadays, there’s great software out there to do this.  Take advantage.  If you can’t afford the software, use the free trial!

Music

I’m not talking about soundtrack yet, that’s for another time.  But I thought it worth mentioning: some editors and directors like to use temporary soundtracks to help them visualize the movie.  That’s very subjective, and people come down on either side depending who you talk to.  Some people will say it’s a bad idea: you might get married to your temp sound track and won’t be open to other ideas, and maybe your temp music is unobtainable for your film.  I myself associate music and film, and songs often inspire film ideas for me.  So I personally think music is ok in small doses, but don’t use it as a crutch.  In other words, a good sound track can smooth over rough parts of a film.  Before you use music, listen to the movie without it.  Is the movie compelling enough without the help of music?  That’s what you’re aiming for, because then the soundtrack will only make it even better!

Finally, scheduling.  I said you want to be consistent and keep the momentum up.  But you need a goal.  Getting the film done in a reasonable amount of time is a good goal, but remember your ultimate aim: you want this film to be SEEN.  So, now is a good time to start thinking about the next step: festivals.  I’ll leave MOST of this for another entry because that’s a WHOLE different kettle of fish.  Then we’re talking distribution, marketing, selling your film.  But for now, I’d give this advice:

You know the next step after finishing the film is submitting it to festivals.  But festivals happen at different points throughout the year, and some festivals may be better for your film than others.  Now is a good time to do that research.  Read up on festivals, find which ones might be a good fit for your film, find out when their early submission deadlines are.  That’s important.  I’ve heard a lot of people say, submit your film as early as possible, it’ll give you a better chance of being accepted to that festival.  And that makes sense.  If you’re programming a festival, you need to know the run times of the films so you can schedule it all out.  If they receive a film they like early, they’ll be happy to pop it in a slot.  The longer you wait, the harder it is for them to fit your film into their line-up, no matter how much they like it.  So figure that out, and use that as your deadline.  That’s what we’re doing.  I know we’ll need a few months to finish, so I found the early submission deadlines for some festivals we really want to hit are in a couple months, so we’re working to finish on time for those!

Thanks guys, more to follow soon!

Make It Rain!

Make It Rain!

Welcome back everyone! I know it’s been a while since we’ve written here, and our apologies. It’s for a good reason, I promise: we’ve been hard at work filming Lost Creek!

So, part of the purpose of this blog is to help everyone follow on our journey as we create this film. But the other purpose is to provide assistance to people out there who, like us, have a great story they’re dying to tell, and are learning as they go. We recently went through an interesting learning process, and we thought it might be fun to share, in the hopes that it might help some other emerging filmmakers out there!

So…

We recently got to a scene in Lost Creek that involved a character lost in the woods during a rainstorm. Talk about hitting the ground running! But this brings up an interesting topic: rain on film. How does one make it rain?

The obvious answer seems to be: “well, since it actually does rain in real life, why not wait for it to actually rain?” There are a number of interesting and weird reasons why this is actually not always a good idea.

First, Mother Nature does NOT adhere to shooting schedules. If you’re like us, you’re on a tight schedule. You’ve got a lot of shooting days to get through, and you don’t necessarily have the time to wait for a rainy day.

Second, lots and LOTS of things can and will go wrong on a film set. It’s your vision, and you want to do it right. You want to get exactly the look you want. The more you can control, the better it is. And sadly the most demanding film director has not yet figured out how to control the weather. Say there’s a miracle, and it actually rains on the day you need it to rain. What if your script calls for a torrential downpour and it’s only drizzling? Or worse, what if it’s a torrential downpour? That means that you need to find a way to keep everyone dry and comfortable on the set, make sure none of the expensive equipment gets wet, etc. Real rain rains on EVERYBODY, not just the actors!

And third (and this one is weird), a lot of filmmakers will tell you that real rain is actually not good enough. Specifically, it’s not “fat” enough. In other words, real raindrops are too small to be picked up by the camera as they move past the lens.

So what’s the answer to these problems? You’ve got to make your own rain. Simple, right?

Well….

Obviously, in the big-budget film world, they do this all the time. There are professional rain rigs and rain machines. Huge frameworks that spray rain over a scene. Sadly, these rain machines cost far too much money for the likes of us, even to rent.

So we have to make our own.

And, there are definitely ways to do this! There are two basic forms of rain machine: a rain rig, and a rain wand. The rig is basically a scaffold that hangs over the scene and the actors, and sprinkles rain from over top. A rain wand is a pressurized boom that sprays water over the scene from the side. To make a simple rain machine, take a couple of two-by-fours of sufficient length, nail them together in an X pattern, attach a garden hose in a spiral pattern to the underside of the X, drill big enough holes in the hose, attach the hose to an outside spigot, hang it over the actors, and there you go! Instant rain. Or, simply take PVC pipe, attach a sprinkler head to the end, and ta-da! Rain wand.

Of course, for us, it’s not that simple. Why would it be?

We were out in the woods. Which means, no spigot. Plus, the terrain meant there was really nowhere to hang a rig.

But…we did have a water source! The creek! The question was, how to get the water from the creek into something to turn it into rain.

After a lot of thought, this is what we came up with:

First of course, we needed a water pump. Something not huge, but powerful. It had to draw water up an elevation of about 5 feet (from the creek up the bank) and provide enough pressure to jet the water out over the scene (since we had to use a rain wand).

After consultation, we settled on a trash pump. That’s a heavy-duty pump that one would normally use to drain a pond or a severely flooded basement. It provides plenty of pressure, and is actually designed to handle dirty water without getting clogged (which was perfect since we were drawing creek water).

Our Trash Pump

And, a trash pump (and the hoses you need) cost only $50 a day to rent from your local hardware store. You don’t have to rent a generator to operate the pump, as they have their own onboard motors that use normal, unleaded gas (such as you could easily obtain at a gas station). They’re very easy to operate. They’re small enough to transport in a car, and light enough to haul (though no picnic to haul into the woods: they weigh about 80-100 pounds, so we dragged ours in a wheelbarrow).  Only one issue:

Most rain machine ideas are predicated on the idea of a hose that is about garden hose diameter: about ¾”. An average trash pump uses a discharge hose (where the water sprays out) of about 2”. So, we would somehow have to reduce the diameter of the hose.

Or would we? I got to thinking: what other kind of hose is about 2” in diameter? A fire hose.

A quick check online, and one can easily purchase 2” diameter fire hose nozzles. Just make sure: some nozzles use thread screws, and our trash pump used cam locks to attach. You can also buy screw-to-cam-lock adaptors online. Both are quite affordable.

Hose for the pump

Fire hose nozzle with cam lock adapter attached

This was perfect for us, because it cut out a lot of working parts. The pump was so powerful that we did not need any other machinery to pressurize the water to make it spray hard enough. Actually, we found the pump worked best if we did NOT turn it up all the way! The nozzle created enough pressure to spray water 60 feet into the air, which was perfect because you want the rain to come straight down on the scene, as though it’s actually falling from the sky. Plus, the nozzle was adjustable, creating more “rain-like” drops, and widening the area we could cover with rain! And thus we had a home-made rain machine on a budget, and it worked amazingly!

Rain machine at work on the set of Lost Creek

Couple of tips:

Even at a wide spray, the rain we created covered an area of about 10 feet square. That was fine for us, because we only needed medium to close-up shots, and the rain was more than enough to cover the ground in frame. If you’re looking for wider shots, you’ll need at least 2, maybe three sources of rain. The pump is certainly powerful enough to run at least 2 fire nozzles, though probably not 3. Simply purchase a hose splitter to double your rain, and give yourself enough hose to move your “rain operators” around the scene to fill in the gaps.

LIGHTING.

Our lead actress in the water, and DP Kevin and Director Colin (in dashing yellow poncho) can be seen on the shore

Backlighting the rain is key, to bring out the depth and texture of the rain on the scene. Play with the lighting to highlight and take full advantage of this really cool effect!

Protect your gear.

Even though you control the rain, be careful. Make sure the camera is covered and safe. The spray can still go places you don’t expect.

Think about your location.

While the trash pump is not as loud as a huge generator, it is not quiet. I’d say it’s about as loud as an average lawn mower. So take into consideration the same kind of things as you would a generator: if you’re running sound, make sure you have enough length of hose that you can place your pump far enough away from the scene. For us, it didn’t matter since the scene was MOS. However, this brings us to another point: still think about your location. If, like us, you’re filming at night, running equipment, and there are houses nearby, be courteous. Obtain all necessary permits to film where you are. And take a moment to knock on the neighbors’ doors. Honestly, it makes a huge difference. If you let them know you’ll be there in advance, and for how long, and what you’ll be doing, they’ll be a lot more comfortable and less likely to get annoyed with you!

More coming soon folks!

Prop Making!

MAKING PROPS!

So, we're in the final stages of pre-production! It's so exciting to actually start filming soon. It also means we're taking care of some final pre-production tasks, one of which is prop fabrication! I thought I might be a nice time for a little DIY prop fabrication discussion!

While I fully endorse working with an accomplished special effects artist (since it is such a fascinating art and the people who practice it should be supported) there might come a time that you need to make something simple quickly.

SO I thought I'd lead you through the process of fabricating one of our own props!

HALLOWEEN MASK

This film has a LOT to do with Halloween, and trick-or-treating is going to figure heavily in the film. One of the props we needed to fabricate was a special Halloween mask worn by one of our kid stars!

So, here's a step-by-step process on how we made it!

First, start with your idea. What is the look of the prop, whatever it is? Make a concept design, sketch it out! Here's OUR concept design!

Concept design with early working title!

So, for making this mask we needed:

A template to work on. Since this is a pumpkin-shaped full-head mask to be worn by a child, we chose a 10-inch diameter styrofoam ball as our template.  You also need:

Modeling Clay

Sculpting Tools

Petroleum Jelly

Paper Mache (VERY fine-cut paper)

So, here's how it worked.

Taking our template (the styrofoam ball), we covered it entirely in modeling clay. In the clay itself, we sculpted the design of the mask.

The clay mold, with concept design!

Once the sculpt was finished, we then covered the clay mold in petroleum jelly. This is important! Since the final paper mache mask is going to be molded directly on top of the clay, the jelly will keep the clay from sticking to the inside of the mask, which is horrible to remove. Plus, if the mask comes off cleanly from the mold, you can keep the mold and re-use it if you need to make copies! If your mask has eyeholes or perforations like ours does, be sure to apply the petroleum jelly to the edges of the holes as well, to keep it from sticking.

Covered in petroleum jelly!

Then, mix the the paper mache. We ended up going with a special pre-mixed brand using ultra-fine shredded material. This makes the paper mache more clay-like, easier to mold and sculpt, and allows for finer detail. Also, paper mache is very light and easy to wear, but also fairly hardy. However, there are multiple materials you could use as a base: shop paper towels work well for smaller masks, as you can mold the entire mask using one or two whole towels which will give you a smoother finish on the mask. For an even smoother mask, you could mold in latex or foam. That, however, is a different process, and not the look we wanted. We wanted the mask to at least give some impression that a child could have made it. We wanted it to look a little rough.

Pre-mixed paper mache!

Once the paper mache is finished, apply to the clay mold! Add details and sculpt! For larger masks like this one, we also made sure to make it thick, to help it hold up and keep from breaking. Then allow to dry! We suggest allowing the mask to air-dry, as opposed to quick-drying in a low-heat oven. The faster you dry it, the more chance there is that the paper mache may shrink and crack. Air-drying will take at least 24 hours, and more for thicker masks. Ours took around 2 days to dry enough to remove from the mold. Be patient! The paper mache is dry when it is no longer cold to the touch, but instead feels room temperature.

Paper mache mask drying on mold!

Once the mask was dry, we CAREFULLY removed it from the mold. GO SLOWLY here. This is where things can go wrong if you rush. Either the mask will crack, or won't come away cleanly from the mold. That means scraping out clay and potentially ruining the mask, AND means that your clay mold can't be used again. This is why you need to apply the petroleum jelly: it adds a buffer and allows the mask to come away cleanly. For us, we deliberately made the mask in two pieces. This was partially so that we could take it off the mold, but also so that we could easily work on the inside of the mask (apply foam to fit the actor's head, etc. The two halves can be attached later.

Once we removed the mask from the mold, we allowed it to dry further. The wet clay and petroleum jelly will sometimes prevent the underside of your mask from drying completely, especially if the mask is thick like ours. Again, be patient! It will take a while. Once the underside is dry enough, CAREFULLY remove any remaining petroleum jelly from the underside. That'll help it dry faster.

Drying the mask!

Once the mask was fully dry and hardened, It's time to paint! We used acrylic-based paint for the mask. Acrylic gave us the look we wanted, and it drys very quickly.

FINALLY, to finish the mask entirely, we varnished it. This will help seal the paint against the bumps and scrapes of shooting (fewer chips), AND help to harden the mask to keep it from breaking. You can pick up varnish in any craft or DIY store. There are many different kinds you may want to use depending on your project, but we went for exterior paint varnish. It's harder and tougher. We also chose a semi-gloss finish to give it the right look, but you can use matte finish if that's what you're after.

Painted and varnished!

Hooray! It's painted and varnished. Now, time to stick the two halves together.

We wanted the mask to sit around the actor's head fairly closely, to get the right look for the screen-ready costume. This is the other reason for the mask being in two halves. First, we attached the two halves together at the top of the mask (under the pumpkin stem) using plain craft felt and epoxy. We would recommend reinforcing normal epoxy with both super-glue, and some sort of physical fastener: tack, staples, etc. The dusty, flaky nature of paper mache means that many glues will not consistently stick. The felt acts as a hinge, allowing the actor to open the mask and remove it.

To secure the mask, we attached two strips of velcro at the bottom of the mask on either side of the “neck hole.” Again, we recommend using super-glue to attach things like this, to ensure they won't peel off. Velcro, felt, epoxy, and super-glue can all be purchased at any craft store.

Then, to adjust the mask to comfortably sit on the actor's head (and not wobble like a dashboard bobble-head), we glued pre-cut foam to the inside of the mask, to make if sit more snugly. For this work, we recommend foam rubber. While more difficult to acquire (you won't necessarily find it in your local craft store), it is by far the most superior substance for padding masks and helmets. It is soft, firm, yet pliable (you can curve it easily to fit contours), and it is carveable. Many craft stores will only sell cotton batting or batting-like material. This tends to be stiffer, tear off in tufts (instead of clean carving cuts), it tends to pull apart and is difficult to glue in place. Go for foam rubber, which can be ordered easily and cheaply online.

Finally, we added one more touch: on screen, we wanted to give the impression that the mouth, eyes, and nose of the jack-o-lantern were filled with shadow (we did not want to see the actor's face through the mask). In order to achieve this look and still allow the actor to see clearly, we added a layer of thin black scrim material to all of the openings in the jack-o-lantern's face. This obscured the actor's own face, yet still allowed him to see.

Here it is!

Oliver (Peter) in his mask!

On set with the mask

Screen shot from Lost Creek

That's the screen-ready mask! Simple enough! BUT...

Out parting advice is: SAVE THE MOLD, and MAKE COPIES. While these materials are cheap, easy to acquire and easy to use, they are also fragile. Filming is a rough-and-tumble business, and accidents will happen. You don't want to be caught on set with only one copy of your mask when it breaks and you have a whole day's shooting!   

Kickstarter....

We've all heard about it. That wonderful crowdsourcing tool that allows filmmakers to raise funds straight from a supportive community online. We've all heard the fantastic success stories, films that raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in a matter of days.

 

And Kickstarter IS a great tool. It can often be the thing that makes the difference between a dream and fully-made film.

 

But, it is tricky to navigate, like anything else. Using kickstarter is as much an art form as any other means of fundraising, and there are lots of ways to go wrong.

 

First, it's best not to think of Kickstarter as a magic money tree. Yes, many filmmakers get their films funded to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, but they often have a lot going for them already: they or someone involved is a celebrity, for example. Or maybe they've already secured the backing of good investors or a studio.

 

If you're small-time like us, you have to be smart.

 

The first thing to address is how kickstarter works, because that will determine everything else about how you use it. It is an “all-or-nothing” platform. In other words, you set your monetary goal, and set the length of your campaign, and you then have that many days to raise your goal. If you make more than your goal, great, you get more. But if you make a penny less, you get nothing.

 

SO

 

First, set a reasonable goal. When you started working out your budget, figure out what you'd really need to start filming, and figure out how much you think you could reasonably raise. It's better to ask for $5,000 and get it, than ask for $20,000 and get nothing at all.

 

As you know, we've already been raising money on our own. That was the plan. We figured we'd need at least $20,000 to film our movie, but that we would probably not be able to get all of that money on kickstarter. So, we decided to raise as much as we could elsewhere, and fill in the gap with Kickstarter at the end. We settled on a goal of $8,000. BUT...don't just be satisfied with that! Make sure you make your backers understand that your goal would be great, but you need as much as possible. That will help encourage people to keep donating after you reach your goal, rather than just stopping when you hit it. Also, bear in mind that whatever you raise, kickstarter will take a 5% cut. So make sure you account for that.

 

SO, you've got your goal, how do you get it?

 

First, set your length of campaign. It'll help you plan the rest of your fundraising schedule.

 

You can set it yourself, and there's a wide range. HOWEVER, research has indicated that the best time range for a kickstarter campaign is somewhere around 30 days. Less than that means that it's hard to hit your goal in time, and even if you do, you won't have much time to raise MORE than your goal. More than 30 days, and people lose interest. You won't make enough beyond your goal to justify running a longer campaign. And that's important, because kickstarter is TIME-CONSUMING, as we'll see. So 30 days it is. That meant for us, the last month before filming should be devoted to kickstarter.

 

Then what?

 

You need to make your kickstarter page, and this is going to involve several things.

 

First, you need to use the page to pitch the movie to potential backers.

 

I would suggest doing a lot of research, that's what I did. Look at what people have written about using kickstarter, there's a lot of material out there. Also, check out successful kickstarter pages, to see what they've done. We'll talk more about that in a second.

 

Because you also need to decide on donation tiers and rewards.

 

That's how kickstarter works. It allows you to determine different levels of donation, and then you are obliged to reward backers at different levels with different rewards.

 

Obviously, both the donations and rewards need to go up in value incrementally. But value is a relative thing, and that's important.

 

First, what donation tiers do you set?

 

In other words, you could do something like: donate $10, $20, $30, $100, etc.

 

There is good research out there to help determine what are good tiers, but I'll also share what I've learned.

 

First, don't go too low, and don't go too high, and don't have too many tiers, because that's confusing and a waste of time. That doesn't mean you should be so timid that your top donation tier is only $100. You can be bolder than that. But, if you have too many low donation tiers, it'll drag you down. Research and my own experience has indicated that most people are most comfortable donating in the $20-$25 range. That's often the most popular tier. If you have too many tiers below that, not only will some people donate lower that might have donated higher, but low tiers won't add up quickly enough for you to hit your goal in time.

 

For us though, we knew many of our backers had limited incomes. We didn't want to exclude them, because every dollar counts. We settled on ONE tier below $25, but no more than that.

 

Then research indicated you could be pretty successful going up in this way: $15, $25, $65, $100, $250, and a top donation tier of $600. Some campaigns have gotten away with FAR higher donation tiers. But for us, we thought it best to set a top tier that was high enough to make a big difference, but one that wasn't so high that no one would bother even thinking about it. Consider the kind or people you know to help you set your top tier. Do you know someone with $2,000 to throw at your film? Great! No? Maybe think about a lower top tier to make it more likely SOMEONE will donate high. Research indicates you'll get a cluster of people donating at the $25 level, and only 1 or 2 at the high level. But even 1 or 2 is great.

 

So you've got your campaign length, you've got your tiers, what about rewards?

 

You want to give people fun things that relate to your project. Things that make them feel like they're a part of the project, because THAT'S what kickstarter campaigns are really all about.

 

And you need to be smart. You want rewards that people will enjoy and want to have, but you don't want to kill yourself giving out rewards. You're not a retail shop, you're a filmmaker trying to make a movie. Make sure whatever you promise as a reward, the cost of making and shipping those rewards won't be more than the money you bring in.

 

Good things for low tiers in a movie project are things like screen credit: special thanks, things like that. They cost you NOTHING to make or ship, and people like to see their name in the movies! Obviously that's not going to be enough for someone to donate $600, but for a $15 donation, I'll certainly thank you onscreen. Also, remember this: kickstarter donations are accumulative. That means, each higher tier comes with the previous tier's reward, plus something new. That should help you determine what you can afford to give. Also remember that if $25 is the most popular, you'll have to make and ship the most of that reward. Make sure it's cost-effective.

 

A word of advice: one thing that a lot of filmmakers think of having as a reward, is to be an extra in the film. On the face of it, that seems good. The filmmaker doesn't have to make anything, and who doesn't want to be in the movies, right?

 

Well...

First, if you're a little no-name indie film, people are less likely to care about being in your film. It's not as exciting as a big hollywood film experience. Also, remember that kickstarter campaigns go out all over the world potentially. It is good to bear in mind that most backers on most small-time kickstarter campaigns are likely to be that person's family and friends. BUT, not if you're ambitious, and I've learned some tricks to spread your kickstarter farther, which we'll get to soon. But that's the problem. Say you set your $600 donation reward to being an extra in the film. Say you're in, Delaware let's say at random, and someone from Ohio backs you at $600. Who's going to fly that person in and house them? You? That will cost you WAY more than $600. And it's not much of a reward if the person has to do it themselves. In other words, for a small-time film, having someone be an extra is not really the best reward. It's too difficult to make happen.

Posters, DVDs, digital downloads of the film, film-related goodies, screen credit: THESE are good donation tiers, and things people would like to have from a film. Determine which thing you could feasibly give someone at what level. For top donations, reserve something kind of super-special. You won't have to make many of them, since in all likelihood not many people will donate at the highest levels. Also, you can limit on your page how many of what reward is available. For us, we decided that we would give away actual props from the movie as the highest donation tier.

 

BUT

 

All this reward stuff is great, but never lose sight of the real truth of what you're doing on kickstarter. People aren't buying merchandise from you, they're backing an IDEA. You want them to fall in love with your film, and want to be part of making that film a reality.

 

SO...that's where your page comes in. You have to sell YOURSELF, your passion, your idea.

 

MAKE A PITCH VIDEO.

 

That's right. Make it. Put yourself in, even if you're not good on camera. They'll want to hear the idea coming from you. Be sincere, be humble, be passionate. Tell them why you absolutely HAVE to tell your story, and why they'd want to experience it.

 

MAKE IT GOOD.

 

Don't film yourself on your cameraphone. Get your DP, or contact someone with a good camera. Make it look good. Add pics, other video footage, clips from your trailer, make it fun. Find a good hook. But not JUST your trailer, that's not enough.

 

KEEP IT SHORT.

 

No more than 5 minutes, best to keep it closer to 3 minutes. Clearly convey what it is you're doing, why you're passionate about it, how you're doing it, what you need, thank them for supporting, and you're done. Fun, interesting, well-made, and to the point.

 

If you have a trailer or other video content for your film, include it on the page too. Pictures are great too!

 

The rest of your page should do what your video does, only a little more in-depth. Explain the film, maybe a synopsis, how you're making it, who you are, what is special about your film.

 

TELL THEM WHY YOU NEED THE MONEY.

 

Be clear what you need, and break it down for them. People want to know their money is GOING somewhere, and they want to know that you're a committed professional who knows what they're doing and knows what they need. You yourself should already know at this point why you need this money and for what, so that shouldn't be hard.

 

For an example, click HERE https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1788552448/lost-creek to check out our kickstarter page! And while you're there, maybe donate!

Gone Hunting...

Greetings from the creek!  Some very interesting goings-on of late!

Recently, I have been in touch with the fantastic SPRE paranormal research group, based in the Delaware area.  Their mission is to both provide education into paranormal research, and they themselves conduct investigations.  They've been talking to me about their work, consulting on ghost info with me, and will be doing even more fun stuff with us VERY soon (can't give too much away!)

BUT...

Quite recently, they invited me to go with them on an ACTUAL GHOST HUNT!  Below, check out some cool footage!

The chosen location was Delcastle Golf Club, built on the site of an old prison farm.  The owner had reported some interesting activity...Darlene and Rick (my first contacts with SPRE) invited me to meet them on a Saturday night, and join in the investigation...

Arriving at the club...

The beautiful and haunting grounds of the former prison site (by day, a little less creepy)

I arrived, and quickly met the rest of their fantastic team!  Including Smoke, the lead investigator, and Father Joe, a priest working with SPRE.  They kindly explained the process, and where they had come from and how they had gotten into this work.  Father Joe showed me the things he uses in the occasions where he must exorcise or cleanse a location!!!

Father Joe's ghost hunting gear!

Prepping equipment...cameras, full spectrum lights...

Darlene demonstrates the laser grid, to pick up spirits visually!

Here's Darlene explaining one of the experiments...

After that, we suited up...

Lead investigator Smoke suiting up...

And headed out into the night!  I joined Rick, Darlene, and cameraman/team member Bigsy, to investigate an old barn on the property, that had been burned down.

Entering the old barn...

Creepy...

Inside the barn...

Creepy tree growing in what used to be the barn...what else is still lingering inside?

It was here that we ran our first experiment...our "flashlight experiment."  Perhaps I'd better let Darlene explain...

Below is the result of our experiment!  And I've got to say...this was one of the spookier parts of the hunt.  I can vouch that no one is turning the flashlight on or off, I was there!  The odd mechanical voice you hear is an Ovilus (a device to help ghosts become audible).  Check out below...the video quality is not great (Darlene suggested leaving the lights off to not bother the spirits, but still...)

After this, we returned to the club itself...and conducted some more experiments!

The laser grid in action in the kitchen...which was the former prison barracks!

It was during this time that we learned that there might be more negative spirits on the third floor.  People reported nausea, bad feelings, and seeing strange things...As team member Matt explains below...

In the end however, we all survived!  At around 1 am, tired but triumphant, we packed up and left Delcastle behind.  It was an awesome, fascinating night.

Stay tuned everyone!  SPRE and Lost Creek have something VERY SPECIAL planned for you coming VERY SOON, to celebrate the upcoming filming!  Stay tuned...

Picture This...

STORYBOARDING.

This is one of those things that a lot of people know happen for movies, but maybe they aren't sure what the deal exactly is. It makes for cool art to be bound into expensive “behind the scenes” books to sell to collectors later, but what else?

It's definitely important. It takes time, but it's worth it.

So you've gone through the script, and it's yielded a lot of good general information. But you need specifics. Again, it's all about pre-planning. Why waste hours trying to visualize a scene on set while you're shooting it? Figure that out ahead of time. And if you're not the camera guy, they will need a visual reference to help them see what you envision. Really, YOU need it too, to help remind you as you're shooting.

So you storyboard. Basically, a series of thumbnail sketches that lays out the visual progression of the film, kind of like a comic book. You can get as detailed or as general as you want. As long as you are giving yourself a clear vision of what you want the film to look like, that can be used as a reference when your setting up your shots.

Generally, most storyboard templates will allow a little space for description of the basics too: lighting, sound, actor movement, camera movement, etc.

Not only will this be essential later, but it is GREAT for helping you pre-determine specifics about the scene. What kind of lighting do you want for a scene? That will tell you what lighting you need to acquire and the shooting schedule will tell you when you need it. Any fancy camera movements? That will tell you if you need a special rig, or dolly, or jib, or what have you.

And, when you're done, you'll have a good technical vision of the film in your head. This means you will go into each scene knowing how it needs to look, and some general idea of what you need to have or build to accomplish it.  That's the most helpful thing I've found about storyboarding.  It REALLY makes me stop and think about shots.  Rather than vaguely having an idea of what I want it to look like, I can plan shot progressions and visually tell the story exactly the way I want it to go.

BUT...

There's a difference between theory and practice. That's why Kevin and I are planning on going one step further.

It takes a long time to translate a scene from storyboard to reality. It takes a long time to set that up. ESPECIALLY on a film like this. We want almost every shot to be like a beautiful portrait. So our plan is to go through the scenes before we even shoot, and set them up to test as much as we can. That way, we'll have a great shorthand for when it comes time to set up for the shoot itself. Where to place the lights, where the camera should go, generally where the actors will play out the scene, etc.

Cool! But what else?

Work smart, not hard!

PRE-PRODUCTION.

So, you're raising your budget, and things are ticking along. That doesn't mean you get to rest! Oh no. There are ACRES of things left to do to get ready! Researching into equipment rental, revising your budget, securing your remaining cast and crew, prepping the shoot...

All this falls into pre-production.

I cannot stress enough the importance of being careful and thorough at this stage. Especially for a film like ours. We're facing several large challenges. First, we have a tiny budget. This means that every single dollar is precious. Botched shoots, last-minute purchases, wasted time...all of these things cost money. And wasted money feels like letting blood, especially when it's so hard to raise! Wasted money could have gone to making the movie that much better.

So the old adage “measure twice, cut once” REALLY applies here.

The first thing to do is to go through the entire script with a fine-toothed comb. I did this with Kevin the DP, to take advantage of his experience and expertise when it comes to the technical aspects of shooting. We went through every scene and discussed them in-depth. This allowed us to:

Talk about tricky shots or scenes: how are we going to accomplish this effect? That effect? Do we need extra equipment for this shot?

Discuss each scene to decide roughly how long it would take to accomplish. OVER-estimate here. Bear in mind that each scene is like a mini-production. You'll need to arrive to the location, transport equipment, set it up (lighting, camera, props, set dressing), prepare your “action station” (for the director, script supervisor, sound guy, DP, etc.). You'll also need to allow time to set up a place for the actors to live, change into costume, hang between takes, etc. Plus you want to allow yourself time to rehearse the scene both with the actors AND the crew before you commit anything to film. AND you'll want to allow for multiple takes.

This is all important because one of the FIRST things you want to establish is your rough shooting schedule. This is your key for all sorts of things.

Making a shooting schedule is an art. A boring, tedious art, but an art nonetheless. You have to be smart and intuitive. Take into account as many factors as possible.

How long will the scene basically take? How long can you reasonably call your actors and crew for? This is especially important for us. First, we're paying everyone on a low budget. This means we need to be respectful, and not ask too much of our crew. Plus, most of our main actors are kids. And they can only work for so long. So even if you want to be streamlined, bear in mind that some scenes may take a whole day to shoot, or even multiple days.

Pay attention to the weather, and be smart. This again was important for us. Lost Creek is set around Halloween, and the season is very important to the film. This means that a lot of exterior shots need to be set in the fall, to take advantage of the fall colors and environment. But...

Fall is cold! If you're outside for long stretches of time, that's a factor. It could rain, and that's a factor.  Allow wiggle room in case an exterior shot gets rained out. Plus, our actors are kids, and they need to go to school. That's a factor. That means during the fall, most of the shooting will need to be done on nights and weekends, which limits the hours you can shoot. Luckily the script works for that, since it's kind of written around kid's lives. That means a lot of the exteriors are late afternoon when kids are out of school, or they're at night. But still, this will stretch the shoot.

So, what can you do NOT in fall? INTERIORS! So we decided to schedule as much of the film as we could in the summer, so school was not a factor in our actor availability. The decision was made to start shooting in the late summer, to knock out all interior scenes. Plus, there's a few scenes where the kids have to get in the water. As you all know by now, we learned our lesson about putting people in the water in the fall. Since the scenes with the kids in the water happen at night, the decision was made to shoot those in the late summer too. The darkness means that the time of year will be less apparent, and the kids won't turn into icicles.

So it's taking shape. Still, lots to consider...

Be logical, and try to be respectful. If you can, cluster actor call times together. If you've got an actor that has several scenes scattered throughout the script, try to shoot them close together. That way the actor doesn't have to worry about a weird schedule, and it means they wrap more quickly (which means you can pay them accordingly. Longer calls for actors mean more money).

Think about locations. Group scenes together based on physical proximity if you can. Do you have three scenes that all take place in a school classroom? Do them together. The likelihood is, the same actors will roughly be called for those scenes. You don't want to shoot one scene in one location, then waste half an hour driving to a separate location to shoot the next scene.

And so on, like that. This is one of those places where you can save yourself time and money. Be efficient. It will also give you a really good sense of how long the film will realistically take to shoot. If you're hiring cast or crew, you can then tell them how long you'll need them for.

Cool! But what else can you do before the camera rolls?

Auditioning Actors Part 2...

SO...back to auditions. Let's say you've pre-cast several roles, but there are still a couple to fill that you don't have anybody in mind for. Time for an audition!

The mechanics of an audition are pretty self-explanatory, but let me offer some basic tips...

You want actors to send you headshots and resumes definitely. It's got lots of good info, plus the actor's e-mail and phone number will always be on the resume, so when it comes time to make your calls, you don't have to hunt around through your inbox. I often set it up when I advertise auditions that actors have to apply for a time slot by e-mailing me, and include a headshot and resume with that e-mail. It helps me make initial decisions about actors I would like to see. but...

A WORD OF WARNING: Do NOT judge an actor on their headshot and resume alone. I've seen plenty of people with impressive-looking resumes who aren't so good. Actors sometimes “massage” their resumes to appear better. I don't begrudge them, it's hard to get an acting gig, especially if you haven't done anything impressive yet. Just be aware that happens. Also headshots can be misleading. I once had a guy send me his headshot for a serious dramatic role. His headshot made him look almost whimsical, and seemed entirely wrong for the part. I called him in anyway. He turned out to be perfect for the role, and has become one of the longest-running actors with whom I work, and a personal friend. Think of headshots and resumes as guidelines. They'll tell you roughly if they're too young, too old, if they've done film work before and what kind, if they're in any unions, etc. They'll help you dismiss the OBVIOUSLY wrong-for-the-part people. Beyond that, see as many people as you can. You want options.

The next part is up to you. Do you give the sides (of the script) in advance or have the actors cold-read? I always give them in advance. It's weird enough to ask an actor to present who they are as a performer in the space of a measly 15 minutes. I would like to give them as much time to prepare as possible. Allow for some time to work with the actor too. See how they take direction, are they able to let their performance change and grow?

If they're reading sides of dialogue, they need someone to read with. And please, choose a reader who is also a decent actor. Dialogue scenes are all about partnership with your fellow performer. There's nothing more disheartening than having to perform with a dead-eyed zombie-like reader. Remember, you're looking for your perfect actor, and you want the people you see to be at their best. Don't make it harder on them and you. Find a decent reader. Not someone who's going to turn it into a mini-play, but someone who can at least give a little back in the scene.

FILM THE AUDITION.

This is for film after all! You'll want to see how the actors look on camera, and you'll want to see how they perform around a camera. Also, if you record the auditions, you can use the recordings later to help you decide!

So, the actors read the sides, and they're done! What next?

This part really can't be taught. It's up to you to decide who works best for the role, and you'll know when you find the right person. But I can give a little advice as far as etiquette and planning.

Generally, if the actor isn't right, you pretty much just say “thanks very much!”

I do a little more with actors I like, but we'll get to that. First, I want to address something.

What I actually say to actors who aren't right is, “thanks very much, and you'll hear from me either way.”

Now, this is an interesting issue. I've been on both sides of the audition table, and I can tell you as an actor, you almost NEVER hear back unless you got the part or a callback. And that's really annoying. It feels dismissive and discourteous. I try to be the director I would have liked to work with as an actor. So I have made the decision to contact actors either way after an audition. Actors always appreciate this. It takes away the suspense, it allows them to move on to other jobs, and they feel you have treated them in a courteous and professional manner.

BUT...

Now that I've been on the casting side of the table, I hate to say I kind of understand why you don't hear back. A lot of actors are gracious and professional. Some of them act like petulant children. I understand that actors want to improve and would love to hear what went wrong so they can fix problems. But some actors just throw tantrums when you tell them they didn't get the part. One actor actually demanded to know why I didn't choose her. As in “how could you be so stupid as to not cast me?!” Because I didn't! Whether or not they were good, it's my show, and my decision, and I don't owe actors any explanation really. So what I do is this:

If an actor gets the part or gets a callback, I contact them personally. First by phone, then by e-mail to make sure they get the info. If an actor didn't get the part but I thought they were good, I contact them and tell them so. Never burn a bridge. You might find a part in the future that's perfect for that actor. If they want to know what went wrong from a place of honestly wanting to improve, I'll take the time to tell them nicely. If they throw a tantrum, I never respond again and lose their e-mail. Bottom line, I'd rather work with a talented nice actor than a more talented diva.

For everyone else who didn't get the part, I send out a single e-mail to everyone, generally along the lines of:

“Thank you so much for coming in to audition for x. We saw many talented actors that day and it was a very difficult decision. However, at this point, all final casting decisions have been made. Thank you for sharing your work with us, and best of luck in the future.”

Firm, courteous. And that's all the explanation you owe.

Anyway, back to the audition.

Say you see an actor you like. That's great. But don't jump the gun. Say you see someone you like, but they're only the second person to audition? It's great you've found a potential so early, but you've still got 15 other people to see! You might find someone even better. Except in a couple of extreme circumstances, I never offer an actor a job straight out of the audition. Even if I know I'm going to cast them, I wait till I've seen everyone, and wait till I'm home and settled and have had a chance to think about it a bit longer.

Great! You've got your script, your LLC, you're building your crew, and you've started to cast! What next?

Auditioning Actors Part 1...

Auditions...how do you do them?

First, how do you advertise? There are always ways. There are some resources such as Backstage and Actor's Access, which are casting sites online, with Backstage also having a physical paper. But be careful: it depends on where you're shooting. Those two resources are mainly used by people in either the L.A. or N.Y.C. areas. If your shoot is in Ohio, you might not be able to pay actors to fly in from NY. So it might be a waste of time to advertise there. So what do you do?

My advice is talk to local theatres or film groups. They have to cast, and they'll generally know how to find actors in the area. They might even be able to give you recommendations! Don't turn up your nose at someone simply because they only do community theatre. It's your job to direct them and get the performance you want out of them, and talent is talent. Not every talented actor is on Broadway. If they give you a great reading, perfect!

For me, I had previously been advised to advertise on the Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia website. It's similar to Actor's Access, but used by actors in the Philly area. Which is WAY closer to me.

Here again, we come to another issue: union vs. nonunion.

It's going to come up, especially if you're paying your actors. Which I recommend trying to do, even if it's only a small stipend. If you're offering any money at all, you'll generally get higher-quality actors who are willing to do more for you. Plus, that puts your work with them on a professional basis, and means you can expect them to act like professionals off-screen and on. So if you can, pay them. Plus, people should always be compensated for their time and talent. They are trying to make a living with their art, the same as you. At the VERY least, make SURE you budget enough to feed them, and feed them well. But pay them if you possibly can.

For us, we went non-union. Getting involved with SAG means lots of restrictions, paperwork, and having to pay more money. And you won't necessarily get better actors. I know plenty of SAG actors who are good, and plenty of non-union actors who are just as good.

The main issue is that you have to say. If you want a SAG actor, your shoot has to be on SOME sort of SAG contract. SAG actors can be fined for taking part in a non-union shoot if SAG finds out they did.

This brings me to another point. Some indie filmmakers will recommend trying to get a B-list actor interested in your project. In other words, someone with at least a vaguely recognizable name. That will make distributors more likely to give your film the time of day, since a name actor might be an audience draw. It's up to you. What IS true is that any B-list actor willing to do a micro-budget indie will probably be older (not so worried about making it and willing to branch out and take on interesting roles, and maybe they also aren't as busy), but they will definitely be SAG. So the only way I see you might get someone like that is that you are friends with them and they're willing to do you a favor, or you pay for them. Which means negotiating a SAG low-budget deal, and again, be prepared to pay a lot of money to make that happen. Between SAG fees and the minimum possible fee we would have to offer such an actor, plus a fee for a casting agent, we opted not to pursue that. It is our responsibility to make an amazing film, and I'd rather reserve the money for that rather than spending it all getting one single actor.

Next time, a few tips for running auditions!

You're going to be a star!

CASTING.  Let's start talking about it.

If you're the director/producer, and especially if it's your script, that's going to be your job. And it definitely is an art. One that is part gut feeling, part learning experience. You'll make mistakes. But learn from them. And listen to your instincts. During a play audition, I once narrowed it down to two actresses. One of them read the sides for me slightly better. But my instinct told me the other actress was a better, more stable professional. So I went with her. And sure enough, the other actress, the one that I turned down, turned out to be a humongous diva. Go with your gut.

But here are some practical tips based on my various casting experiences. First, go on recommendations and personal choice as much as you can, before you hold an open audition. For me, I know several people whose opinion I trust when it comes to actor recommendations, and I always arrange one-on-one auditions with those people before moving on to open calls. And I always consider actors I know first. You have the benefit of being familiar with who they are as performers, what kind of people they are to work with, and you have the luxury of taking time to think about them in various roles.

Lost Creek was a bit more tricky, since all but two of the principal characters are children. As it happens, my mother is a teacher who runs a drama program, and I've worked with her a lot, and knew the kids in the program very well. So I basically used the plays she put on as an extended audition. I think my “go with recommendations” edict applies doubly to working with children. Kids are great, but a double-edged sword...if that makes any sense. In other words, you can work with professional kids, but they might be more expensive, come with pushy parents, be too difficult to book. You can go with amateur kids, who might be difficult to handle, not know the kind of discipline that goes into shooting a movie, etc.

My feeling is: if you've never worked with kids in any capacity, find someone you know who has. Use them as a consultant, constantly. I was lucky that I've worked with kids all my life. My advice is, never ever talk down to kids. Treat them seriously...even if they're talking about ridiculous things, you can tell them it's ridiculous, but never condescend. They take their world seriously, and so should you.

So, through that drama program, I found several kids who were that perfect combination: intelligent, hardworking and responsible, yet also very talented natural actors. Some of the scenes I was asking them to do in Lost Creek could be a little more challenging than things they were used to, but I knew with a little careful coaching, they could get there.

But it's a delicate thing, casting kids. Talk to the parents immediately. They will be making the ultimate decision, and they will be heavily involved no matter what. It's important that they're comfortable with the project too. For me, the first person I found and cast was the actress playing Maggie. She is a very talented young actress, and I knew she'd be great. I took her and her mother out for dinner, so that I could speak to them both at the same time, make sure I answered any questions either of them would have. Because not only do I want the parents to be comfortable, I want the kids themselves to have fun and enjoy it! Yes, there will be some hard work involved. But we are attempting to recreate the magical, strange, exciting world of childhood. If the kids are miserable, not only will that be no fun and terrible, but I think it will damage our ability to present that childhood world in all of its exuberance.

I'm in the process of casting the other two kids, and as part of that, I'm actually going to meet with the actors and work on some of the more challenging scenes with them. It gives me a chance to see how they handle the material, and it gives them the chance to see how it feels to work on something like this, and ask me any questions they want. This includes the scary parts.

If you're working on a film that could be scary to kids, I think it's important to make sure it's not scary at all for them. For the good parts, boost the magic, make it wonderful. Immerse them in the world you're creating. For the scary parts, kill the magic, at least for the kids. Kill it dead. Explain that it's not real, it's only a story. Make it very technical, and show them how all of the effects work. If you can, don't even explain the whole story to them, find safer analogies to help them get there emotionally. You need them to look scared. Good actors can get there with careful coaching. Find parallels to help them be that scared, direct them to look the way you want. But don't leave them having nightmares day after day.

For example, the actress playing Maggie is fairly able to handle things. But the actor I have in mind for Peter is fairly sensitive, with a VERY overactive imagination. That's why I'm interested in casting him, that's perfect for Peter. But, there are some sad scenes, and scary ones. Rather than help them feel scared and sad about what's ACTUALLY happening in the scene (which might be a bit too old for them), I'll find parallels from THEIR world, that they can handle. I probably wouldn't let them SEE this film, after all. So I have to be careful having them IN it.

So, working on casting the kids, several of the adult roles are cast already, but I've still got at least one to fill. How do I fill it? Open Calls.

Next time...

Adventures in Trailer-filming...

So now it's time to plan out some awesome publicity.

There are some things that I think you should always make sure you have ready for your movie.

Website. Every movie needs one. I'm going to leave a lot of the nuts-and-bolts stuff of publicity for later. Just suffice to say, you'll need a website and a presence on twitter and facebook. But what do you put on this website?

PICTURES. Take them all the time. I started setting up photoshoots to use in poster design, which is great. But also, anything you do all the way along the movie, snap photos. Production stills, behind-the-scenes...it's all useful. It's great promotional material. But also, when it comes time to send the film to the festivals, you'll need press kits. And press kits always want fun photos, both action shots and behind-the-scenes.

A camera taking a picture of a camera...and a DP!

A camera taking a picture of a camera...and a DP!

But it's a movie! We can't just have photos. There has to be something filmy! But what sort of video content can you include, if you haven't even cast yet, or shot a single frame?

This is what led us to decide to shoot some teaser trailers.

I had nailed down a lot of awesome locations already, Kevin had his editing equipment and camera. I sat down and wrote up a couple of 30-second to minute-long teaser trailers. Kevin drove up to me, and we shot some footage over a series of days. And THIS is where we all learned a few things about filming together.

Wiggle that grass again, that was great!

Wiggle that grass again, that was great!

I'm going to reveal a secret here, only to people who read the blog. There will definitely be more video stuff coming soon, but there's a lost teaser trailer. One that we planned and shot, but will likely never see the light of day.

So I coordinated with Kevin to come up to shoot some footage, and my friend (and AD on this film) Sky came down from New York to help. One of the teasers we were planning to shoot was going to have something emerge from the creek at night...and this was where we hit a problem.

It was November. It was already getting into the 50's on land, so we could only imagine the temperature of the water. On the night before the shoot, Sky and I sat in a restaurant for HOURS trying to think of some solution, any solution, that meant one of us would not have to get into the water ourselves and emerge from the creek.

We tried everything. We concocted all sorts of pulley-fulcrum schemes, flotation ideas, we even went to a toy store to see if we could find a life-sized doll as a stand-in. To no avail. In the end, we looked at each other, saw the life drain from each other's eyes, and knew: one of us was getting in that water.

And that's why Sky's a hero. He knew I was the director, and I needed to see what was being shot. Like the trooper he is, he volunteered. We bought a wetsuit, got galoshes, and bought a wig to obscure Sky's features and make it look a little more ghostly. Just imagine that picture for a minute. A grown man in a wetsuit, galoshes, and a long brown wig. Yep, we'll do anything to get the shot.

So the night came...and the water, if possible, was even colder than expected. And we were faced with a problem.

That fateful night of filming at the creek

That fateful night of filming at the creek

I had originally conceived the “emerging” shot as a wide shot, camera far back. But the lighting I ordered had failed, and when we looked at the camera display, the hastily-provided temporary lighting seemed to be too dim for the camera to pick up as a wide shot. So we pulled it in tighter for a close-up.

Sky's moment of truth came. I will never forget it: us clustered on the muddy shore, Sky shivering like a drowned rat in his wig and galoshes, me saying “ok buddy...just one more take, I promise”...5 times.

But we got the shot! Or so we thought...

And this is the lesson we learned. GET A MONITOR. A field monitor for the camera. We were using the little LCD display directly attached to the camera. Here's why that's a mistake:

The LCD display indicated that the light was too dim for anything other than a close-up. But when we got the footage into the editing room, we discovered the camera had in fact picked up more light than we thought. A LOT more. As in, everything. The wetsuit, the boots, Sky's beard and terrified face...it was completely unusable footage.

So what we learned is that the camera works great at night! Yay! But that we need a really reliable monitor in order to REALLY see what the camera is picking up, otherwise it's a waste of a shoot.

The only problem was, I had to call Sky and say, “hey man! Remember that horrible ordeal in the creek? Well...funny story...”

In the end, we had our footage for our main trailer. And Sky didn't kill me. My mom is a teacher and I contacted her to arrange for some kids to record some voice-over dialogue for the trailers. Elizabeth composed some original music. We bought some stock sound online (around $4 per sound file) to replace sound that wasn't useable from the takes, Kevin and I did a little extra foley art (such as me wiggling on a wobbly wooden piano bench to replicate the sound of a porch swing swaying in the wind). Katie designed a series of awesome logos for the title, and Kevin and I edited it all together at his house. Voila! We had our first Lost Creek teaser trailer, which could go front and center on our website. We would also use it to kick off our first publicity wave. And of course, we always had one of us with camera in hand to take fun behind-the-scenes footage of the process.

Stay tuned, there is some very exciting news in the works! Next time....

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