Days of Being Wrinkle Free, Part I

Well, I already did a post called Without A Wrinkle as a sort of preview for Days of Being Wrinkle Free. However, since I've been on a recent kick of actually getting films done and cleared off the hard drive, I had space to get started on DoBWF (hopefully I'll get it done by the time we start shooting Wildlifeless).

I captured the raw footage. It ended up at 1:21. That's hours, not minutes. A lot of footage for a short film, but less than the 1:30 I thought I might be dealing with. Well, I guess it's in line with some of the other films we've made. AGTC had about the same, and most of our films end up breaking across two tapes. However, it's the kind of sloppy shooting, camera always rolling style that gives us so much footage that drives you crazy when you have to deal with the huge files. Of course, the other side of that is shooting only when actually doing a take, which is nice and clean, but robs you of having cool extras and behinds the scenes for extra features. Oh, well.

Over a couple nights, I cut through the footage twice and now have it down to around 25 minutes. Again, compared to other films, where we usually have around 8-12 minutes of good footage to work with, this is a ton of footage, and a lot to put through my typical post-production process of deartifacting, deinterlacing, color correcting, etc, all in high-quality, massive-storage-requirement files. Fortunately, I do have a lot of space right now. The next step is to resequence some of the shots that are out of order.

Honestly, I am a bit lost in this footage. I have the script, but it is 90% voiceover. I know we were shooting scenes that matched with sections of the script in some way, but I'm not clear on what that was. This is the downside of not having a real screenplay. The upside is that we never would have shot it if we were waiting on a full screenplay, and we wouldn't have been as adventurous with the shots we got. I pitched the script back to Jeremy to see if he could remember what shots went with what thoughts.

Oddly enough, I decided to pull up an MP3 of the song from Wong Kar Wai's BMW Film The Follow. I was editing to that, and the ethereal music really opens up a lot of editing possibilities. With that music, it wasn't so strange to see jump cuts, and cuts that repeat the same action from different angles. The trick is going to be finding music like that (not sure, but I think it's got flute, bass, and Portugese vocals) that we can use for this film.

There is also the issue of how we will approach the voiceover. Hopefully, Brock's brother Chase can refine our translation and assist with the pronunciation. I'll probably end up voicing it. Then there is the English, gibberish English, gibberish Chinese, and maybe even a real Chinese speakers voiceovers. And the subtitles. I'm going to need new DVD authoring software just to put all of it together.

IFC Media Lab

Well, it's way overdue to let everyone know about IFC's Media Lab. It is a new web site from IFC that allows posting and voting on short films. The top films get aired on IFC.

Nearly all of the Matter of Chance repertoire is posted there, sans AGTC (too long) and Rendezvous (too new). So, please do check it out, sign up, and vote for your favorites. Let your friends know. This is a chance to get our films out to a much bigger audience.

The site is is, from what I can surmise, IFC's response to the overabundance of short films being produced these days. Put it out to the public, and let them pre-filter the content. This saves the channel the arduous task of individually judging all of these films to determine what to air.

Of course, with anything based on Internet voting, there are some problems. The rating scale is from 0-10, but the top films are only coming in at the high 4's. I would guess that since, at this time, it is mostly filmmakers voting on each other (the competition), that there is a bit of bias reflected in the scores. Personally, I have voted across the full scale, most of the time voting for even average films higher than their current average scores.

Just like Screen Wars, which was also a great venue, but also based on audience voting, the best films didn't always make the cut. I personally favor a jury process (obviously not possible with something on the scale of Media Lab), which is what makes the A3F so great, and why I am hopeful for the PFP's Dead of Winter film challenge.

In a way, there is some jurying going on, since IFC has requested to take Leonardo with them to the SxSW Film Festival, as a showcase of the quality of the films being submitted to Media Lab.

The films are also available on Studentfilmakers.com Bogen Imaging Contest, which has top prizes from $3,000-9,000. No need to vote on those, they will be judged, but that site does allow posting comments if anyone felt so inclined.

Leonardo, Part IV

It's a difficult step to call a film done. My inclination is to let all of the raw and project files brew on my hard drive for a good long time, in case I feel the need to make changes at any point. Cleaning all of that stuff off and keeping only the final AVI file is a painful step. What if I realize one last change just after hitting the delete button? Really, it's an unhealthy obsession. I just cleared off AGTC about a month ago, for goodness sakes!

I'm getting better at nailing down a project and clearing out the old. Rendezvous was in an out in under a week. Also just finished is Leonardo. We always knew it would end up longer than the Screen Wars-mandated 3-minute limit. The final cut is a shade over four minutes. No new material, just longer shots, longer transitions, longer credits. More to the intended European pace. Hey, wait, there is one new shot: a single domino bouncing in super-slow-motion.

To get the final version done, though, required a lot of rework. The audio in the first scene was always lacking, captured from an on-camera microphone fifteen feet away from the action. For the final cut, I ditched all of the location audio. Joe re-recorded his dialog in-studio, we recorded foley for the whole scene on Saturday evening (sorry Brock, wanted to bring you in for sound design, but had to get it done), and I got some traffic sounds as a bed off the Internet. Before, the technical failings of the opening scene really failed to sell the seriousness of the film. Now, I think it's there.

Some of the proposed changes ended up not making it after some review. There was a lingering panning shot across Leonardo's workspace that felt out of place. There was the sound effect of blaring horns rushing by Leonardo's car in the first car scene (the consequence of his staring at a picture and not keeping his eye's on the road), but that disrupted the brooding mental aspect of that scene.

It wasn't all me, though. IFC wants to bring the film to the SxSW Film Festival in a showcase, but they need all sorts of clearances. Every actor, every location, every prop not owned by myself personally, needs to be accounted for in writing. I've been bad enough so far in keeping all the wonderful people that helped Leonardo come together in the loop on when it was playing on TV, that I felt I couldn't just go ask for signatures empty-handed. Therefore, the impetus to get the final cut done, get it on DVD, and have copies to hand out in exchange for signatures.

We worked out the DVD packaging last night and made a Kinko's print run. It's not perfect and thoroughly thought out, but it does look pretty slick. I'll try to get a picture posted later, but the cover is the photograph of Isobel at the bottom and Leonardo looking at it on the top, with the title across the middle. The back has three stills along with the title, tagline, and synopsis, all the laurel wreaths, and full credits. The credits are movie poster-style in appearance. On the spine, Micah suggested we put those tiny little images of the leads, so we have Marco and Angie. That was a masterstroke.

So, they are all set, and I head out around the valley this afternoon and tonight to distribute them and collect signatures. I hope I can make the Thursday deadline to IFC!


Rendezvous, Part II

Congratulations to all! Rendezvous made the Top 20 films in the Almost Famous Film Festival. It will be screened this Thursday, March 2, 2006 at 7:00pm at the AMC 24 Arizona Center in downtown Phoenix. Tickets? Hard to come by!


Rendezvous, Part I

Another year, another 48-hour film challenge. Sure, there are others in Phoenix, the official ongoing series and the PFP-sponsored one, but the Almost Famous Film Festival is the real deal, always well-executed in every way.

Last year was a great experience, albeit one that I recall very little of. The whole thing is so fast and furious, it's tough to keep up. Of course, I remember the screening, a great event, and winning our first awards as Matter of Chance. AGTC and the impossibly complex plot and guerilla shooting at the public library. Totaling up 32 hours of actual work during the 48 hour period. Heck, the unused ideas from last year sparked many of the films to follow and ones currently in the works. Didn't we swear we would never do it again? Yet, here we are.

This time around, we again began very early, conceiving of film concepts that we would like to try out. All in all, there were about twenty ideas on the board. Many ideas, but most of them without any locations we could nail down in advance. Although we have gained much experience in the last twelve months, it felt to me like we didn't have anything solid, like we had no chance at following up on last year's effort. Brock, on the other hand, was uncharacteristically optimistic, playing the cheerleader role that I usually assume. "We've got it, no question," he would say with great conviction.

Friday at 6:30 the guidelines were announced: theme of mistaken identity, prop a plant being watered, line of dialog "I don't think this is going to work." As if that weren't enough, we wanted to self-impose additional guidelines so that a single film could qualify for both the A3F and the PFP's Dead of Winter film challenge. Fulfilling the PFP challenge would kill two birds with one stone, and, if well executed, get us a film screened during the Phoenix Film Festival. The additional guidelines were: genre of Suspense/Thriller/Mystery, prop of a pizza cutter, and the line "I need a line here." Come to think of it, maybe having both guidelines in mind was somewhat of blessing, in that it led us down a hard and fast path towards the film we were about to make.

We set up our house as the base of operations. Our favorite concept pre-guidelines was a strange film about a person who travels to other parts of the world through dryers at a laundromat, but it would have been a huge stretch to make it fit any of the guidelines, so we shelved it. Quickly, we whittled the list of twenty down to two top contenders. It was either the ensemble cast caper film, or the Hitchcock-inspired noir. Over dinner, we thoroughly explored both options. At first, most felt strongly about the noir, then some waffled to favor the caper. It was a toss-up and the availability of a location would break the tie. Any caper needs a good-looking base of operations. We asked the on-duty manager of Cucina Tagliani (where we were eating) if would could use one of the rooms, and got referred to call the owner sometime tomorrow. Not very promising. So we headed downtown to the Hotel San Carlos, the only somewhat classic hotel in the valley. The Mae West suite was available the following day (for a change, of course), so that settled it: the noir it was!

In typical fashion, Brock hammered out six and a half pages as soon as we got home. The whole team did a quick read-through and I noted changes and took the wheel, working through the rewrites. It was 4:30am when we got down to bed, already ten hours of hard work into the challenge.

We rose at 10:00am for a final polish of the screenplay, then headed out with a huge shopping list of props and supplies for the shoot. Chic-Fil-A was the lunch spot.

It was 3:00pm by the time we arrived at the hotel. We were already quite behind schedule for shooting compared to last year. We loaded everything up into the room and started tearing it apart. Fortunately, it was a suite, so there was a spare room we could use to stage everything. The room itself was terrific. Very classic, stylish, and even colorful, which in and of itself decided a key stylistic element, whether to shoot in black and white or color. While black and white certainly would have fit well, the room was good enough to shoot in color and not be bland. I found myself wondering why we they didn't show us this room when we were shooting Leonardo (though that worked out just fine).

Collaboratively, we worked out the angles we would shoot and tested lighting setups and camera settings while everyone rehearsed. Around 4:30pm, we rolled the camera for the first time. We started with the hardest shots, at least for Micah. I don't think it's giving away too much to say that Micah played a dead body, and did it as good as anyone could have done. Scrubbing through the footage later, it was evident that he never moved a muscle for at least an hour and a half while we shot wide angle shots from various angles. Impressive!

Then, we moved on to close-ups, nearly at the time when we were wrapping up shooting last year. Close-ups of Gabe. Close-ups of Brock. When it came time for close-ups of Angie, she wasn't quite ready, so we took a break for a few minutes. Then we got the shots with Angie and the shots in the hallway.

Around 9:00pm (when we arrived at the hotel we swore we'd be done by 6:00pm), we finished the shots in the room and went into furious clean-up mode, moving all the furniture back where it belonged and packing up our stuff. The all-important establishing scene in the lobby was still unshot and certainly in doubt, since we didn't have permission to shoot there. We packed up the cars and let Angie work her magic on the front desk clerk, who played along with us. He played the role of the clerk, and in one take each we got his and Brock's shots, and agreed to dial in the dialog in post, since there was a very loud wedding reception going on right off the lobby (you can see someone doing the Macarena in the background of Brock's shots).

That was it, 10:00pm and we were done with the San Carlos and blazing home to capture the footage and get to work on editing. About midnight, the editing began, and went on until 4:30 once again. I set the alarm for 8:00am, got my three hours of sleep, and got back at the task. It went smoothly and steadily. We picked up close-ups of Brock and the opening scene dialog in the kitchen at some point during the day, and captured those as well, working them in and matching them to the lobby footage.

By 5:00pm, we had ourselves a good edit, but no music as of yet. We hit productiontrax.com and selected six pieces from Victor Spiegel, the same composer who wrote the music for Arizona Citizen. We worked those in and began to output the film, only to get a strange "Unknown Compile Error" from Premiere, something I have never seen before. The result was that I had to really compromise on quality just to get the footage out to tape. At 5:45pm, it was done, and Gabe, Brock, and Micah ran out the door to make it downtown by the 6:30pm deadline, which they made with fifteen minutes to spare, an improvement over last year.

It's crazy, but we got it done. Personally, I put a little over 40 hours into the film during the 48 hours. Only now can I relax and reflect a bit on it. Honestly, I don't have a bad word or regret about any of it. Probably a first. I was impressed all the way around with the writing, acting, and the shots we got.

Once again, we jumped into a whole new genre and really embraced it. It was last night that I picked up the book on Film Noir that I picked up in San Diego, and actually read through it for the first time in earnest. It was amazing how many of the themes, characters, and stylistic elements we incorporated into our film, though sheer historical film influence (it must have been since I've only seen a handful of actual these films): the low camera angles, hard lighting cutting through the scene, hard-boiled dialog, and ruthlessness of it all. We've got some lines in there that are sure to become instant MoC classics.

The screening is (assuming we make the Top 20) March 2nd. It'll be tough to wait that long, I'm really looking forward to it. Now onto making a 3-minute cut for the PFP challenge.


The Worstest?

Is it the greatest Cat Power album of all time? No. Is it the worst Cat Power album of all time? Probably not. Does it have a couple of the greatest Cat Power songs of all time? Yes.

Chan gets a lots smoother here by teaming up with some first rate musicians. There's some real structure to some of these songs, especially toward the beginning of the album.

I would say the last three full length releases have all had the same feel for me. A couple of stand out, fantastic songs, a couple of real duds, and a bunch of stuff in between. Unfortunately, this pattern gives me just enough to keep coming back for more. The Greatest is no different. The title track and "Lived in Bars" are hands down superb.

Just as a tip for those who will be purchasing: make sure you purchase the limited edition digi-pak version of the album. It contains a decent bonus track. I found mine in person at a Barnes & Noble, which is not a typical music purchasing location for me but it got the job done. After I posted this I noticed that Barnes & Noble seems to have the digi-pak for sale on their website. Get it here. At least then you can deal in US dollars.

My feelings towards The Greatest remind me that at some point I need to write about my First Album Theory which basically states that the first album that makes you get into a certain artist always ends up being your favorite, never to be topped. Note that this is not necessarily the artist's first album, just the first for you. Anyway, that is a topic for another time.