Posts Tagged ‘independent film’

Making a Storm

19 Feb

As you can tell from this week’s video, I’m looking a little worse for wear. Notice the bags under my eyes. I actually have a double bag under my left eye, which is a new look for me. I look this way because I spent three days in McCormick Park in St. Helens, Ore.,  filming storm FX. It was big, it was tough, and it was exhausting. Now a new phrase has been coined from my appearance: It was two bags deep.

Creating a windy rainstorm is difficult to do, especially on a budget. The big movies use jet engines and other nifty tools to create a massive hurricane effect, but in our case we didn’t have any of that. We were, however, able to make something very effective. This is how we broke it down.

First, there’s the rain. If you are creating your own storm, you might hope that you could use a little garden hose. That’s just not going to cut the mustard. Actual rain probably won’t do it either, so coordinating your shoot with the weather report isn’t the way to go. As you’ll see in the video Making A Storm: Part 1, rain provided by Mother Nature is sometimes thin and wispy. You need big, fat movie rain.

The mighty hydrant at McCormick Park in St. Helens, Ore.

To make our storm, we hooked up to a fire hydrant. We ran a fire hose to a couple of rain towers, and we made rain! Thick, wet, sloppy rain. It shows up great on camera. Keep in mind that if you do this, you need the right tools for the job. There are special fittings that attach to fire hydrants. I would highly suggest getting someone who is experienced at doing this. Working with fire hose can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. When that water flies through that hose, it could jerk about and snap a leg in a heartbeat, so BE CAREFUL.

Also, if you go this route, you can’t just hook up to any hydrant you want. You need to get permission from the city. Don’t worry, it’s not as hard as it sounds. They’ll issue you a permit and will track how much water you are using. All said and done, we were charged less than $100.

Rain Tower on A Perfect Storm shoot

Another tip for filming rain is to remember your lighting. One of the best ways to get your rain to POP is to back light it with an HMI. Even if you are outside, try to position a light so it rims the drops. You’ll have sexy Ryan Gosling moments in no time.

Sexy Rain

Another thing we did for our storm is add wind. Wind is an interesting animal. If you just pelt someone in the face with a leaf blower, you’d think it would really read on camera, but it won’t unless the subject has something that flutters in the breeze. Trust me, if your subject is just a guy with a crew cut and a skin tight shirt, all you’ll see is some guy squinting.

Give this a whirl. Try putting some sort of debris in the air. We used all kinds of bits, particles, and dust and you can really see what the wind is doing.

Fuller’s earth looks great on film, but it sucks to work with. It’s the consistency of hot chocolate powder. Have you ever put a spoonful of that stuff in your mouth and inhaled? That’s what it’s like working with Fuller’s earth. If you decide to use it, think ahead about how to minimize the discomfort to your actors or damage to gear. (That crap LOVES to wedge into places like focus rings and battery slots.)

Before you start hurling sawdust in front of jet engines and demanding your actors look into the wind, think about their safety for a minute. You don’t want debris that will cause injury. Some of the things we were able to safely blow at the actors were big leaves, oatmeal, dry cereal, and cedar pet bedding. At first, I didn’t believe that the oatmeal and cereal would work, but by golly it looks amazing. (Your crew can eat it during lunch break AND it’s part of this nutritious breakfast.)

Here is a tip you can use to really enhance your storm.

To communicate the power something, instead of trying to show massive winds, reveal the effect those winds have on something else. On this shoot, we took a windmill and used it to demonstrate the power of the storm by how fast the windmill was spinning, and we made it seem as if the windmill spins so hard that it blows apart and almost hits an actor (no actors were harmed in the making of this film). Showing the effect of something is a great way to tell your story if you don’t have a lot of resources to create on a grand scale.

It’s also helpful to stay in tight on your actors. If you’re up close, you don’t have to do your FX or set dress for as big of an area, and you can imply bigger effects through the emotions on the faces of the actors; reaction shots of your actors will help sell how powerful the situation is. I know it’s really sexy to show a wide shot of a tornado blowing past, but if you don’t have the budget for several big fans, staying up close will save you a world problems.

Those are a few ways I’ve found effective for making a project look big on a small budget. If you decide to go out and shoot your own storm, I would love to see it! Please send me your links and let’s see who can out do Jan de Bont.

I would also love to hear your thoughts about other things that would be helpful to build a storm. I didn’t even touch on visual effects such as the ones Video Copilot recommends.

Please share your thoughts and info below!


Time is on Your Side

04 Feb

I decided to write this post based on some of the things I’m dealing with lately. Specifically, on the status of different projects and their release dates. You can read the post below, or watch it here:

A lot of film students come up to me and tell me about films they’ve made for specific festivals. I repeatedly hear stories about aspiring filmmakers trying to get their films done in a rush so they can make the festival deadline. And then they cross their fingers, hoping it all turns out okay. That’s usually not the smartest choice.

So often in this business, you think that the enemy is time, but the reality is, when you have no money and you have very few resources, the one commodity that you do have is time. Following are three pieces of advice about how to use time to your advantage.

Number One

Never, never rush a film for a festival. These festivals happen every year. There’s a million of them out there. All kinds of them a tailored to the type of film you’re making. Get it done right.

Number Two

Never submit a film to an industry professional before you think it’s ready. I know, I know. You really just want to get it to some film industry executives because this could be your big break, but I promise you this, if you send your project before it’s ready, the execs won’t be interested in the “new and improved” version.

Number Three

If you have a project that is almost finished, and business it getting in the way, like, say, a distributor is interested in distributing the film, don’t release it. Take your time.

I have a project that I’m working on right now, a web series; I’ve been working on it for about a year and a half. Right now, it’s four months after the originally planned release date. My client and I are waiting. We need more time to get all the visual effects and the sound design done.

Yes, I know, there’s a lot of pressure from the audience. Yes, I know, there’s pressure even from the client. But we have to make sure this is right. We get one shot at this. If we release this before it’s ready, guess what will happen… The distributors will go away.

That would kind of suck.

So, remember, when time is the only abundant resource you have… use it.


Open Your Ears and You Will See

14 Aug

Over the course of the summer, I have been deep in post-production on a web-series called “The Record Keeper.” Several people have come in and out of the office during this, and many people have been watching my edits.

After several months of hearing the feedback on the episodes and my technique, I realized that I had a unique approach to editing that many hadn’t seen before. In fact, it is so ingrained in what I do that I can’t imagine editing any other way.  I’m sure there are people out there who do this, but I can’t say I’ve ever seen it.

The technique is simple: I edit for sound before I edit for picture.

This makes a lot of sense when you are cutting together interviews for corporate videos. You can see this in action on this video clip here:

When editing an interview, I try not to look at what is going on on-screen until I get the dialogue just right. Usually when people are getting interviewed they are a little nervous so there are lots of “ums,” coughs, repeats, restarts, etc. I cut all of that out and see what I am left with.

Once the sound is cut, the picture is probably jumping all over the place, and your client is really uncomfortable with the video. Not to fear! B-roll is here!

Just cover all those jarring picture edits with that sexy B-roll that you’ve shot, and all will be well.

I think at this point many of you are with me and probably have tried this before in corporate America. However, this works even better when you are editing drama. To see this live, watch the video here:

The day when my eyes were opened to the power of this technique was when I was delivering a film to a sound mixer. I was adding all the appropriate audio such as ambiance, room tone, a few effects and I noticed that as soon as I did that, I wanted to shift the timing the edit!

There were scenes that started to feel a little long, and some that felt too rushed. It was a perspective shifting experience. Now when I edit, I always try to build a soundscape first, and then add the picture. If you are wondering where I get my sound effects from, I get them from a few places. My main source is Sound Rangers. What I like about them is I can hand pick and download sounds one at a time. I don’t have to buy an entire library just so I can get that one woosh effect. Their site is easy to use for preview and purchase.

I also use the library from Video Copilot. The have some great wooshes, impacts and ambiance sounds.

You’ll really notice a difference if you are editing montages or scenic images. A whole new dimension will open up to you. You may find that when you are editing a storm montage and you add storm sounds, fabric flapping fx, thunder claps effects, and different wind noises that you may want to stay in that world just a little bit longer.


The Genius Without

18 Jun

I recently saw the latest J.J. Abrams film, “Star Trek Into Darkness” and I sat in my seat riveted to every image that floated across the screen. I’m a big fan of Abrams. He isn’t an artsy-fartsy director like Terrence Malick or Paul Thomas Anderson, and he doesn’t have the grit and grime of Quentin Tarantino or Nicolas Winding Refn. Abrams is straight up popcorn. The best kind of popcorn. His films have all the elements of great stories. They make you laugh and cry and feel good at the end of the day.

After seeing his latest slice of awesome, I watched the credits roll and a strange feeling came over me… discouragement. I felt the same way after watching Zach Braff’s first film, “Garden State.”

“Garden State” was Braff’s directorial debut, and it was a beautiful masterpiece. Well–written and filled with touching moments, interesting plot turns, and deeply developed characters. When that film was made, I was trying to get my first film off the ground, and I was certain that I could never be that good with my first project. How could anyone be that good at the beginning of their career? There was just no way I could possibly measure up, and I should probably just quit.

I often get this feeling when I watch the greats, and I can’t help but wonder if I have enough genius to compete on their level. If I’m not careful, these ponderings can spiral into a bout of depression that only heavy medication or a death-defying run down a monster river in my kayak can snap me out of it.

Praying to God I don't tip over

As I’ve thought about this, I’ve discovered two things: 1) I’m not the only one who struggles with this, and 2) I have a tendency to look at these “accomplished” artists as possessing something that I don’t have.

This epiphany has given me a bit of a perspective shift as I have talked with other artisans. I think it is a prevalent belief that those who we perceive to be successful have somehow found a secret ingredient, or potion, or were just gifted from the gods with genius that we missed out on.

To make matters worse, craftspeople today tend to get their artistic acceptance confused with their own self worth. It’s an easy thing to do since what you are creating comes from so deep within you. If someone doesn’t like your music or film or whatever, it often feels like they are saying they don’t like you.

The first step to squashing these myths is accept that you are not your artistic ability. That is merely a piece of who you are. That your art is an expression of who you are is a contemporary mindset that didn’t exist in the early days. Most early art is a representation of what the maker saw or admired. In fact, the original meaning of the Latin word “genius” didn’t apply to the human’s inherent abilities; it referred to the guiding spirit that influenced them, their family, or their location.

It really had nothing to do with the artist at all.

Second, is to fully realize that most of the time the only thing that separates the “successful” or “masters” from the rest of us is the amount of work they have put into their craft. Sure, there was some natural ability, but I promise you that most of those who rose to the top spent years of their life working. (And while they were doing that, they probably wondered if they were talented enough to “make it.”)

Success takes work. It takes years, and probably decades of unbelievable dedication to the craft to master it. Most people who succeed do it in their 40s and older. Very rarely do you see success when people are in their 20s. Ridley Scott didn’t direct his first film until he was 40. Alan Rickman’s first movie role was at 46. Tommy Lee Jones, Peter Jackson, Steve Carell, Morgan Freeman, Samuel L. Jackson, Ricky Gervais, Matt Lauer, and Patrick Stewart all found success after age 40. That’s because it just takes that much time to really get good at something.

Those who have found success will be the first to tell you that there is no magic to possess. In fact, they are probably more concerned than the rest of us because they are trying to measure up to work they have already put out. I can’t imagine how insecure M. Night Shyamalan must feel trying to measure up to “The Sixth Sense.” You can clearly see that every project he has released since than has an undercurrent of desperation as it tries to measure up to that film’s brilliance.

Even Hans Zimmer, the gifted composer for such films as “The Dark Knight,” “Inception” and “The Lion King” feels like this. In fact, while he was composing music for “Gladiator” he was concerned that if he didn’t create a compelling score, the world would discover that he was a fake.

When these people find success, they aren’t suddenly introduced to a secret society of artisans where they are given the magic code of genius from the fountain of awesome. They work. They worry, yes. They get discouraged. They feel threatened. They wonder if they can continue, but they keep going.  In other words:

They don’t quit.


Posted in Films, General