Filmmaking is for Warriors: Our Greatest Weapon

Filmmaking is for Warriors Greatest Weapon 2.jpg

Here’s a question for you:

Before the use of social media, how did we know what filmmakers believed on certain important topics?

Here’s another one:

If I didn’t tell you outright, would you be able to guess what I religiously believe? What about politically?

Last question:

Is it important for you to know these things about me in particular or the filmmaking world in general for you to watch my films and appreciate them?

Debates swirl through our Facebook feeds. Name-calling and bullying abound. Twitter is increasing the source of hate-speech and calls to hurt specific individuals. It’s now fun to disagree with people so much that you now define them as your enemy and must mount a personal vendetta against them.

So in this war against your “friends” and followers, what weapons do we filmmakers use to defend our ideals, morals, point-of-view, personal convictions and desires? What do we have in our arsenal that has the ability to reach not just the American people or your neighbors or that guy you hate on your social media field? How can you be heard and understood and shown compassion for your differences rather than crucified?

Our most powerful weapon is our driven desire to make films. Real films. Films with heart. Films with action. Films about change. Films about the past. Films about the future. Films about people. Films about the galaxy, the universe, the stars.

Pick up a camera. Look through that lens. You see the world differently than any other person. And you have the opportunity to give that view to the world, to wield a weapon that has succeeded in changing the views of a nation (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?), keeping the political policies of a nation (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, AKA, one of the main reasons we still have the filibuster in the USA), connecting social injustice with audiences that wouldn’t normally choose to watch “that type” of film (District 9, apartheid), and showcased the bitter and painful struggles of war (Saving Private Ryan, Apocalypse Now, Black Hawk Down), protecting the innocent (Hotel Rwanda, The Book Thief, Shindler’s List, Argo) and making the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good (The Passion of the Christ, Harry Potter Series, The Iron Giant, Hercules).

Your weapons as a filmmaker can include social media. You can definitely impact people through the impersonal inter webs. But your impact will be greatest in the stories you tell, because the stories we tell show far more about our character and our beliefs than the brief words we spout on social media.

“Movies touch our hearts and awaken our vision, and change the way we see things. They take us to other places, they open doors and minds. Movies are the memories of our lifetime, we need to keep them alive.” ~Martin Scorsese (quoted from here)

“I always want to make films. I think of it as a great opportunity to comment on the world in which we live. Perhaps just because I just came off The Hurt Locker and I’m thinking of the war and I think it’s a deplorable situation. It’s a great medium in which to speak about that. This is a war that cannot be won, why are we sending troops over there? Well, the only medium I have, the only opportunity I have, is to use film. There will always be issues I care about.” ~Kathryn Bigelow (quoted from here)

“I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to express the views of black people who otherwise don’t have access to power and the media. I have to take advantage of that while I’m still bankable.” ~Spike Lee (quoted from here)

“I’m never going to be shy about anything, what I write about is what I know; it’s more about my version of the truth as I know it. That’s part of my talent, really — putting the way people really speak into the things I write. My only obligation is to my characters. And they came from where I have been.” ~Quentin Tarantino (quoted from here)

I have a voice here, and I’m using it as a secondary weapon against my world. But my primary weapon is my films.

I dare you to watch through my films and comment with what you think I believe religiously and/or politically. Start with this one, and let me know how far ya get before you have some ideas.

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12 Months of Movies: March

We set out to make a short drama, but that got put on hold.  So we made this other thing.  I came up with the idea, Cody wrote the script in about 30 minutes, then I revised it.  Paul and I came up with a rough shot list, mostly just coverage.

Then we filmed for about 3 ish hours.  We shot the barest minimum I’ve shot of any film since 2007.  That includes films made for the 10-Hour Film Competition and the 48 Hour Film Competition.  That made editing interesting.

Special thanks to Jeremy Wood, who allowed us to use his office.  And had grace with us when…well, you’ll see what we did.

Enjoy the tiny story that is night.

As always, feel free to comment with feedback, ideas or films of your own!

A Word on American Universities

I attended the University of Missouri-Kansas City.  I liked my school.  It was a gorgeous campus, great facilities, good teachers, mostly helpful administration, located not far from my home…I enjoyed my time there.

But it didn’t teach me how to make money.  It didn’t teach me how to get a job.  It didn’t even teach me how to make a good resume, something I learned the hard way when attending an internship brunch and a potential employer went on a rant and wrote all over my resume the things that were wrong.  There’s few things more intimidating than the representative of a TV station telling you how stupid students are getting with their resumes when you’re attempting to impress him.

Didn’t I spend over 5 years and thousands of dollars paying someone else to teach me something as basic as how to craft a good resume?

“Did they teach you about working with clients?” I asked my co-worker about an internship she did in college.

“No,” she said.  “I wish I had learned that…”

She majored in Graphic Design, focusing mostly on print and drawing by hand.  She told me she wished she had focused more on building websites and digital art.  Apparently we both graduated with ignorance, not knowledge.

Here’s the thing though, I knew that I didn’t have to go to college.  I knew that college was just a way to get to where I wanted to be.  I made a calculated decision–based on my introverted nature–that college would be the better option to prepare me to get to Hollywood.  I didn’t think I would get paid more.  I didn’t think it would be easier to get a job, per se.  In fact, I knew that it was in my future to be at working-class income (possibly lower-class, depends on your point-of-view).

Because I was pursuing art.  And really, how many people make a lot of money at art?

BUT.  I did expect that my university would provide a magic list of steps to take to get a job, equip me with a list of all the jobs (like real companies) that I could apply to, and/or automatically place me on the radar of top people in the media and film industry (like Disney, Pixar, Bad Robot, J.J. Abrams, etc).

Why did I expect this?  I have no idea.  I honestly don’t know who told me that.

Why do people keep expecting magic to happen when they just spent 4, 5, 6, 8 years working, studying, testing, writing, running to class, forgetting their parking pass, going into debt, paying a parking fee, staying up all night to fail a test, drinking too much coffee, watching boring class-required movies, eating ramen, lugging brick-like textbooks everywhere and hating their teacher who just assigned that stupid 7-page paper over the weekend?  Seriously.  Why do we expect that after all that–college–we should hop out of school and be ushered into the job force within the week?

Yeah, I paid a lot of money.  Yeah, I’m qualified to film and edit live events, commercials, web videos, training videos, short films, long films, competitive films; write papers, books, screenplays, blog posts; take orders, directions, feedback, and criticism and not DIE (honestly, I’ve not died once from too much work).  But did that entitle me to walk off the podium at my college and into a steady, paying position at a company within my expertise?

Why do we assume that getting a job shouldn’t require work?

I don’t know.  I know that all that time I spent sitting alone before class I should’ve spent chatting with the teachers, staff, anyone, about jobs in Hollywood, how to build a nice-looking resume, and how to sweet-talk a producer into letting me hold lights or equipment on set for a film.  And I should’ve been making calls, sending emails, messages, snail-mail, whatever, to companies and directors and producers BEFORE I graduated and let them know how awesome I am and that they should consider making me part of their team.

I mean, that’s kinda how I got into college.  I pursued it and they couldn’t say no.  I also paid them a lot of money, but hey, I want Hollywood so that might come with the territory.

But I didn’t know.  No one taught me that.  Or maybe they did, and I just wasn’t paying attention.

For Actors

andrews pic from filming                         andrews pic from filming2

Tips for Film Actors:

1. Don’t look at the camera.  But don’t “ignore it” either.  It’s there, but it’s not there to your character.

2. Don’t sweat the number of takes.  Some of them were bad because of the sound or camera or a tiny bug that landed on the lens or the director was being an idiot or your shirt didn’t have enough blood on it.

3. Be an actor.  I mean, this is indy filmmaking, and sometimes actors are expected to help with the lights or whatever, but don’t.  Not unless specifically asked ahead of time.  You are the actor, you have a huge job already.

4. Relax.

5. Trust the director.  And the DP.   And the sound person.   And that guy back there holding a reflector or someone’s prop or all of the fake blood that’s about to be poured all over you.  In other words, LET GO OF YOUR SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS.  These people want to make a good film.  They want you to be good.  Let yourself be VULNERABLE.  What a horrible thought, I know.  But you are the actor.  Your job is to be vulnerable and let others film it.  And if you don’t trust these people enough to do that…ditch them and make movies with someone else.  Or change careers.

6. Be the character, don’t act the character.

7. The camera is your friend.  The emotions you show it are the size you would show a friend, not an audience 100 feet away.  Give your friend a break and don’t over-act.

8. You were chosen for this part.  Or maybe you weren’t, maybe you were the only option or that one director just really wants to see how you react to being covered in gooey, sticky, red-dyed corn syrup.  Either way, you are this part now.  Make it yours.  Stake your claim.

9. If the director keeps giving you direction, and you’ve done the take ten million times, TRY SOMETHING NEW.  Maybe the director isn’t especially articulate or maybe you just don’t get it.  Don’t give up or go all pity-party, TRY SOMETHING NEW.

10. Have fun.  If it’s not fun, get lost.

I mean it.

mine from filming

(BTW, I had the best cast and crew last week at filming)

Christmas Eve and The Undead

It’s Christmas Eve.

And I am going to work on a vampire webseries.

Which sounds a little…awkward.  But who wants life to be normal, eh?

A few days ago I started researching vampires.  Most people don’t know that vampire legends actually started a lot like zombies are portrayed today.  People died, were buried, then became animated again.  Undead.

The Twilight saga has been beaten to death by now by too many haters, so I won’t add to it.  As a general rule though, vampire tales today do NOT start with someone climbing out of a grave.  Usually someone gets bitten.

And BAM!  They’re attractive, powerful and immortal.  And kinda melodramatic, too.

That’s fine.  I don’t mind creative people using their creative talents to imagine vampires however they want to.  I don’t even take offense at the sparkling.

But I’m ready for some mysterious, freaky, dangerous, demon-like vampire tales.  Gritty, evil, soul-less.  These things are like zombies, except not as crazed and far, far more frightening.  They won’t come at you slowly, and they don’t have to kill you.

They just drain you, little by little, while you sleep.

And no matter how many times you shoot them or try to decapitate them, they always come back.

It’s stake time, baby.

Merry Christmas!