I recently went to L.A. to attend the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (www.asianfilmfestla.org) where our film, “Counter Measure” was screening. As is the custom with film fests, they have multiple events and mixers specifically designed to get you to meet people. Yes, it’s that thing we all dread:
Every night they had some sort of amazing party, and every night I found myself cowering in my safe corner so I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone. Actually, truth be told, my safe corner was not even at the festival—it was at home with my wife watching “Game of Thrones.”
Yes, go ahead and laugh, but deep down many of you feel the same way. In fact, I’d bet that if you were also in this festival, you’d be sitting on the couch next to me with a big bowl of ice cream.
A lot of people talk about how they don’t love these meet-and-greets, yet every time I go, I see groups of beautiful people laughing and hugging each other, and looking like they are having the time of their lives. I watch them and marvel at how they found so many friends before the end of the first day of the fest.
CAST 15th Freedom From Slavery 5/9/13 (L-R) Jericho Rosales, Lisa Ling, Chloe Flower, Willow Smith, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Nicole Scherzinger, Sara Rue) Photo credit Brittni Moten
Did they bring all these people with them? Are they so important that one has to be on the “inside” to know who they are? Are they just so charming that people are drawn to their awesomesauce when they enter a room? It’s like I’m an extra on the set of a TV sitcom and when they enter, the audience cheers because the star has just arrived.
It has long been known that business success depends largely on whom you know, and if you have the artist temperament like I do, you dread the whole notion of networking. So, how does one cope? I’ll be the first to tell you that I am not an expert in this, but I have actually figured out a way to take the sting out. And here’s the key:
Don’t use the “N” Word.
I think that the word “networking” is extremely intimidating, and truth be told, it is a selfish word too. If you are going to an event to meet people that can further your career, then you will be looking at everyone wondering what they can do for you. People can sense that, and it’s a little creepy.
Instead, use this idiom as your mantra:
Don’t go to events trying to find a network of people who can help you; go in search of friends. I have tried this, and believe it or not, I have actually found myself having fun. In fact, on this last trip I ended up meeting a really cool VFX artist named Jonathan Ng, who made an awesome short called “Requiem for Romance.” www.jonjonphenomenon.com. He was a cool guy and is probably someone I’ll work with someday. I also met a kick butt publicist at www.qle-pr.com, an entertainment attorney, a couple musicians, a few just really nice people, and a big star from the Philippines.
So, ask yourself this: Who will your new friends be?
Every once in awhile, a director loses his mind and decides to try to shoot an extended walk–n-talk like the ones so commonly used in Aaron Sorkin shows:
Or like this opening scene from Goodfellas.
If you are a perspiring film director, have completely lost your mind, and insist on shooting something this difficult, make sure you listen to your AD or Producer or client, and let them talk you out of it. I recently ran into this, and like most directors, I was too thick-headed to listen, and decided to proceed anyway. So, in a grand effort to make your life easier, here are 5 steps to building a successful walk-n-talk.
Step 1: Pick Your Path
The very first step to making a creative walk-n-talk is to pick an interesting course to walk through. Unless you are walking through a parade (which isn’t a bad idea), or a skateboard park (another great idea… hm, I should be writing this down), try to pick a path that is very interesting. Lots of corners work well, and stairs are a nice touch. One note of caution, though: Remember you are going to have a steadicam operator, 2nd AC, boom operator, steadicam guide, and possibly a director all walking in one big clump. Make sure your corners and stairs aren’t too tight.
Another thing to remember is that sound is a big issue. You are going to have several people shuffling along with the actors and you just might pick up the squeak and slide of all those shoes as they fumble across the floor.
Here is the path we took through the governor.
The path we took for filming "The Record Keeper."
Step 2: Get a lot of extras
This is a common mistake made on lower end productions. I know that it’s a big pain in the tookus to wrangle a large group of extras when you don’t have a lot of resources, but trust me, it will make your walk-n-talk sing. In the previous clips above, notice how many extras those shoots had and how often the actors interact with them. Don’t be afraid to loose your principals in the crowd either. Let them disappear behind a small group and reemerge somewhere else. This can actually work well as a story telling tactic.
One of the best ways to create tension in a scene is to frustrate the communication between your characters. If you have a crowd making noise or getting in the way of one of your characters, the scene can become a ton of fun. It will make the audience lean forward and really tune in to the scene.
Step 3: Get a crackerjack steadicam operator
I cannot over emphasize this. Doing long moves like this are very difficult and if your operator doesn’t have some chops, then you will be in for a very long day. There is nothing worse than watching your actors absolutely killing it, and suddenly your horizon goes horizontal and is never corrected, or the tops of their heads get cut off.
Caution: This shot is not level. Do not pass "Go." Do not collect $200.
A good tip here is to ask for a steadicam reel before your operator shows up. If he doesn’t have a reel, then there’s a good chance he/she hasn’t been at it for very long. Be wary.
Step 4: Have a good actors WHO KNOW THEIR LINES
This falls right in line with Step 3. If you have a cracker jack crew and operator but your actors can’t seem to get their lines straight… Well, then that is going to suck like there is no tomorrow. What you have to remember is how heavy a typical steady cam rig is. We were recently shooting with an Arri Alexa, and the entire rig ended up weighing in at around 50lbs. That’s a lot of weight for one guy to sling around, and you will kill your operator if they have to keep redoing it because of ill prepared actors.
If your actors are really struggling, here are a few things you could try to help out.
Suggest firing them. No no no, just kidding. NEVER do that. That will just make it worse. Actually, do just the opposite. Don’t tell them anything I just wrote, tell them you have all day and it’s no problem and that the steadicam operator is at the top of his game. Try to take the pressure off by telling them you think you already have a usable take. (Yes, you might have to fib a little.)
Make sure they understand their lines. This might sound obvious, but if your actor is saying something that they don’t really understand, or is contrary to their character, or is just way over their head, then it can be a hindrance to them remembering what to say.
Have them make the lines their own. This is one of the best tools I know of to help an actor out. They may have a real hard time saying, “She sells seashells down by the sea shore” while walking up stairs and handing documents to passerby’s. Just make it easy on them and change the line to “Jill works in Venice.” Problem solved.
Break up the shot. Have the actors pause at some point so that you can cut away to an over-the-shoulder or something similar.
This brings me to my final point.
Step 5: Stop Walking
Yeah, I know. After all this talk about picking your path and what not, you’re going to think I’m giving you contrary advice by saying this, but here me out. One of the best ways to break up a walk-n-talk is to have your actors stop at important points and have a quick bit of dialogue. This does a couple of things for you.
First, it gives the audience a break so that they don’t get seasick. With all those dynamic camera moves around corners and up stairs, it can leave you feeling a bit woozy. Give the eyes a break and have the actors stand still in a two shot or slide into a simple over-the-shoulder.
Second, it gives you a cutting option. During these breaks you can cut to a reaction shot or a reverse over-the-shoulder and now, if your actor is having a hard time with his lines, or your camera op just can’t keep up, you can split the action into smaller pieces. Yes, it will break up your precious unedited take, but chances are, your project will be better for it.
I was born into a family of high achievers. My father never graduated high school and taught himself how to be a mechanical engineer and went on to become a tool and die machinist. He also was a superb athlete and often won motorcycle races, did first descents of many rivers in the Northwest in a kayak, holds spear fishing records in Oregon that will never be broken, and learned how to ski – while on a hang glider.
My dad. Happy and bloody.
My mother was similar in this, but her pursuits led her into biblical studies where she now has more knowledge of the Bible than anyone I know and today teaches Bible studies and preaches on the weekends. She also excels at fitness, and at 66, still swims everyday and practices yoga. She looks better than women half her age. She is one hot mamma!
My mom eloping with a sundae.
It was destiny, I suppose, that I become a high achiever too. After growing up in that environment I just assumed that everyone else in the world was wired the same way. Since my ambitions were primarily in the film world, I was sure that everyone who worked in that industry also wanted to make big Hollywood movies with big Hollywood budgets.
I was in for a rather rude awakening.
One of my first mentors was a man who had grown up in the industry. He spent his childhood hanging around people like Steve McQueen and The Rolling Stones, and I assumed that his goal would be to work with people like that again. The reality was that he was tired of that industry and just enjoyed playing with cameras and doing small corporate videos. His ultimate dream was to have a small little office where we would all hang out, and we could “push our desks together.” I began to harbor deep resentment against him because he refused to aim higher.
From that day forward, “pushing our desks together” became a personal euphemism for someone with no goals.
The good folks at Option Talent have showed me how real professionals push desks together.
I have been toiling in this industry for several years now, and I have stumbled across many people like this. In fact, MOST people are like this. A lot of people enjoy the craft of film, but don’t like the politics, the stress and the time away from their families that the bigger projects require. These are good reasons. The big lesson I had to learn was to not be angry with them for being who they were. It has taken a long time for my maturity to grow enough to accept this. And now as the projects are getting bigger and bigger, I find myself in this situation more often.
I’m learning now, however, to accept it as part of growth. We are all on separate paths. It is inevitable that we will come together and separate along the way. It’s nothing to be resentful about (unless you’re in a business partnership, but that’s something to discuss in another blog).
As you move along and say your “hellos” and “goodbyes,” be mature enough to celebrate the great things you built together instead of focus on the pain of separation. Be big enough to support your colleagues who excel ahead of you, and humble enough to thank the ones you leave behind.
Besides, you never know, your paths may cross again. And when they do, you’ll be glad you supported each other way back then.
A few months ago we shot a short film titled, “Counter Measure.” This was an independent film with a very low budget, and in true independent fashion, we were trying to pull off the impossible with very little money.
This short film had tons of action and fight scenes, and it was imperative we not only make it look authentic, but we do it safely. I thought it would be a great idea to write a blog about how to do your own fight scenes so that you can aspire to do what the rest of us want to do:
Make scenes that look like this:
The first thing to talk about is how to throw a punch. If you want to see how to do this, click on the link below or you can read the blog.
When throwing punches, one of the most common mistakes is when the puncher swings short of his victim and you can see the air gap. The key to fixing this is to shoot the fight from an over the shoulder angle, and have the puncher swing all the way through. Make sure he punches quick, and that the victim snaps his head. If you have to shoot from the side, have the puncher punch past the victim’s head on the opposite side of camera. This way the fist breaks the plane of the intended target.
The head snap is key. In poorly executed fight scenes, the victim either doesn’t react enough or twists his entire body around after impact. Take a look at boxing footage and you’ll see what a head does when it has been hit for real. If you ignore this tip, keep in mind that your fight scene may end up looking like this:
Another common fight technique is choking. However, more so than in fist fights, this has a huge potential to hurt someone. The problem is that usually the ones doing the choking are much stronger than the victims. So, if you have a large actor choking a smaller one and the scene gets really heated, you have a perfect recipe for someone getting hurt. There is a very simple and effective technique that will look great, and the weaker actor will be able stay in control the whole time.
Finally, no fight scene would be complete without someone using some sort of weapon. I would be remiss if I didn’t say: if you can’t afford a professional stunt coordinator, please don’t add a weapon to your fight. However, I know that y’all will ignore me, so never mind. What I will say is never Never NEVER use a real weapon. It doesn’t matter if you use a knife, sword, club, bat, wrench or pipe: find a way to get a fake one before incorporating it into your scene.
There are a ton of places you can get fake props. In “Counter Measure” I found this fake pipe on Amazon.
The thing about using any kind of weapon, real or fake, is to make sure you take extreme precautions. Rehearse a lot so that all the actors are comfortable, and make sure your actor knows where the end of that weapon is. Trust me, getting clocked in the face with a rubber pipe still hurts like the dickens. Making fight scenes are a ton of fun until somebody gets a boo-boo.
Now go out there and make something cool.
(And then show it to me.)