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.

Filmmaking is for Warriors: Does gender matter?

Filmmaking is for Warriors 2

I think it’s pretty clear at this point that I am a woman. I don’t consider that to be a good or bad thing especially. I am who I am.

I’ve been making films for 10 years. When I started I was a teenager so leadership was relative. I mean, we were all kind kids so me being in charge was just as valid as the next person.

Not that ANYTHING we made back then was good. But that was entirely due to ignorance and inexperience (ain’t nobody blaming equipment or money here – you can make a good movie on a zero budget if you are a good filmmaker).

College made it clear that the film sector, as far as the production side, was primarily made up of men, but there were strong women in my department. I mean, the main teachers were successful female filmmakers. But again, their gender had very little to do with their abilities as filmmakers.

Haters of Hollywood appear to believe that there’s some kind of specialness attached to filmmakers who are considered to be in the “minority.”

Good filmmakers are good filmmakers no matter what race, religion, gender, color, disability, ability, painting techniques, silliness quotient, bilingual status and whatever other demarcation is so popular by which to group individuals.

Are we not all human?

To quote Harry Potter, “…While we may come from different places and speak in different tongues, our hearts beat as one.”

I’m not a better filmmaker because I am a woman. A man is not a less interesting filmmaker or less capable filmmaker because he is a man. This silliness that is rampant in our thinking is just ridiculous.

Filmmaking is for warriors. There is no value distinction between us, just our work.

Filmmaking is for Warriors: Introducing Baby Cam #1

10 years this summer. That’s how long I’ve been living the good life and making films. Yep, that’s my first set. Aren’t we adorable?

Whats Life Worth
Sometimes it’s easy to make films. But mostly it’s like climbing a mountain while getting shot at by snipers and Stormtroopers in the freezing rain without the right kind of ropes and helping a 2-year-old climb next to you. Yeah, I’m not gonna comment on whether the 2-year-old is the cast or crew or your own childlike heart.

Maybe it’s all three.

Filmmaking is for Warriors 1

This is baby #1. She’s the best little workhorse of a camera that I’ve ever encountered. With the look of a cinema camera, the ease of use of a DSLR and the perfect in-between size from consumer to pro, the Sony FS100 gives guerrilla filmmakers like me the versatility we need to make a legitimate-looking film without the hassle of dealing with millions of dollars (what am I talking about, that’s not a hassle…).

Sony Handycam NEX-FS100UK Digital Camcorder – 3.5″ LCD – CMOS – Full HD [Camera]

Now, I didn’t originally get this beast from Amazon, but I have bought several of her accessories through the company and they have all arrived in good condition. Also, Amazon is cool because with Prime you can get things shipped cheaply and swiftly.

You should be asking me now what’s up with me calling a camera my baby. Well, you try braving the wind, rain, cold, snow, water, ice, woods, tics, blazing hot sun, grouchy cast and crew, lack of food, lack of water, lack of coffee (why is the coffee always gone?), car trouble, location trouble, cops, lost actors, lost crew, lost mind and forgotten shotlist and see if you keep thinking of the beast-that-never-stops-going as anything less than your own baby.

This thing is the only way you can tell your story. Treat it with respect. And you can show the world things like this. Filmmaking is for warriors ya’ll, we gotta fight to make the best story we can.

Kevin StillMargie Still

And that my peoples, is my Baby Cam #1.

As always, feel free to comment with feedback, comments or projects of your own!

12 Months of Movies: December

I guess you’ve probably noticed the gap between September and December.

Life. As it happens. Is rarely the way that you planned.

Actually those are song lyrics, but they’re good song lyrics. We have filmed a movie every month since September, but we haven’t finished editing them. October’s movie will be in post for a while, and is titled Fail the System. November’s film is an art piece that lacks a few imperative components. It has a crazy story of its own.

But this, this is December. And we finished a fun little film that I am very proud to call my own. We had some notable awesome help. We had a great location given to us by Officeworx, downtown KC.

So here it is…Three Single Guys.

As always, feel free to comment with feedback, critique or projects of your own!

Fail the System: A short film with a long process

I’m working on the short film for October. I’ve been working on the short film for October since…June 12th. Originally I wanted to write a short about a very controversial subject that I have never seen in a film. But when I started writing Working_Title Red I realized that I had to have a primary storyline that was more accessible to a general audience.

I wanted to write a drama. So I started doing research on dramas, especially dramas that were dialog-driven, which is not the way I have been writing for years. The above show was recommended to me. I watched A LOT of it and found that the representation of family drama is the best I’ve seen onscreen.

This show, Broadchurch, was also recommended to me as a quality drama. It’s about a small English town that experiences the murder of an 11-year-old boy and struggles to come to grips with the reality. It is one of the most cinematically beautiful stories I have ever seen. The editing is superb, the acting is flawless and the writing is arresting.

It’s also one of the most depressing things I’ve ever watched and I had to take it in parts to better deal with the emotions it brought on (I don’t like watching things that make me that sad, but it was very good).

The following images I found as a reference for very good cinematography composition. The DefineFast Productions film will employ this kind of style.

So what is Working_Title Red about? Well, it became Fail the System, and it is about a sister and brother who work together to outwit a devious college professor and deal with some serious relationship issues. Yes, a drama. With dialog. Although it is not as dialog-driven as something like Gilmore Girls.

Since Your Sister Sent Me, a short film DefineFast made in 2013, I have not made anything this intense as a large-scale project. The cast and crew is currently being assembled for this and I am excited to see it become a reality.

Just a little info into the process of making a short film. As always, feel free to comment with feedback, critique or projects of your own!

12 Months of Movies: July

I know it’s been a long time. I’m sorry. I got involved in a project in July that turned out to be a bigger commitment than I realized, along with a lot of other things (Like moving. Which I did this weekend).

Since I wasn’t the writer, producer or director of this project, I was hesitant for it to count as my July film. And it happens to be a web series, so that’s a thing. BUT, I was brought on board as the Cinematographer, which was HUGE. I’ve never been the cinematographer for anyone else’s project (Except commercially and for the TV show JDtR, of course).

So I really enjoyed working with the people from Masked, a modern retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel. I do have my own short films planned for August, September and October. 🙂

As always, feel free to comment with feedback, suggestions or projects of your own!

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.

12 Months of Movies: January

A truly collaborative project is unlikely.

Seriously.

Pixar does it.  Game design companies do it.  I suppose the Coen Brothers do it all the time.

My husband and I made a film.  When we filmed the majority of it I didn’t even know the ending.  Here’s some advice:  if someone wants to film something without a script and just wing and don’t even storyboard, don’t.  Don’t do it.  You’re gonna waste a lot of time and get frustrated.

That being said, this project worked.  In part because Joshua doesn’t really know what he’s doing.  He listened to me, he filmed, he set up shots the way I described and let’s face it, we are pretty happy together no matter what we’re doing.  That’s why people get married, isn’t it?

So here’s the film.


Special thanks to my dad for some props.

As always, feel free to comment with feedback, film suggestions, or movies of your own!