Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"Ink & Water" : finally complete

After over a year and a half, our sort-of-a-music-video is finally complete! Ink & Water was made with no CG, just water, ink, and some creative lighting. Shot by Boa Simon on 35mm and on the RED, the project was edited by Nate Orloff to music by Brian Andrews, who wrote the score after being inspired by the footage we'd shot.

Turn up that bass and enjoy!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Le Zola and "Contentment"

Cinema Le Zola in Villeurbanne

Last weekend I had the privilege to join a number of other international filmmakers at the Villeurbanne Short Film Festival, in Lyon, France.

There were long shorts, short shorts, and Contentment played for the first time in front of an audience on the big screen. It looked great, and though it didn't win any prizes, the audience cheered me when I went up afterword for the interview, and told them how we made the film using equipment borrowed from a commercial we were shooting at the time. I have the feeling the audience was made up of mostly the rebel generation of filmmakers.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

"Contentment" selected in France

Contentment has been selected for the 32nd Villeurbanne Short Film Festival! Villeurbanne is a suburb, part of the greater Lyon metropolitan area, so I'm excited to attend and check out the scene. I love film festivals.

The only (hilarious?) caveat is the more I correspond with the festival folk, the more they keep mentioning that I was selected for the "First Short Film" section. I have a sneaking suspicion this means the first short film you ever made. Well, it's not exactly the first I've ever made...more like the 25th. I wonder how that confusion happened. Hopefully I won't be publicly assaulted on the subject.

I also have to do subtitles in French. Now Contentment can be as pretentious as possible! What's more pretentious than French subtitles, amirite?

Huzzah to movies!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Boa and Jenny Do France - and 3 new projects

Glory upon glories, my great friends and cinema collaborators Boa Simon and Jenny Hou actually flew from LA to Lyon, France, where I'm currently living, to stay with me for two full goddamn weeks.

Well, we didn't waste the opportunity - we made it a working vacation! And out of it we got three pieces. All of these were shot with the three of us as cast and crew, on the Rebel T2i with a set of lenses, a tripod, and a handmade shoulder mount.

The first two are spec ads. One is for Velo'v, a bike service in Lyon where you can pick up a bicycle, ride around, and drop it off in another part of the city. All automated, very convenient. My storyboards looked something like this:

The idea is that it stays at the POV of the biker, changing backgrounds as he travels throughout his day. Boa, genius that he is, built a rig out of a steadicam vest:

The hat is my protection
Using this clever thing, we got exactly the angle I drew in the board. Then we rode all around Lyon, filming in various picturesque locations with Jenny:

In order to get the right angle, one must bike with
their ass out and chest up, like a moron

Passers-by were surprisingly unimpressed.

The cool part about this spot is it required very little, and I think the effect will be visually very interesting. It looks like we got a bicycle handle rig, when all we needed was me riding like a fool and a 12mm lens.

After Lyon, we took a five-day trip to Paris, up north. There we stayed with a friend of mine, and filmed a spec spot for Coke - a kind of spontaneous travelogue. We tried to capture little moments and hints of narrative as we simultaneously toured the city's sights.

Shooting out the train window
In Versailles

In a Parisian cafe
Getting up at 6am is worth it
We found this one conceptually very difficult to shoot. There are plenty of commercials out there that are abstract and "moody" rather than narrative (see previous post), but to actually execute it, when you're trained to shoot for narrative content, is tricky. We tried to grab small glances, smiles, gestures, and light, and we're hoping the free form can be crafted into something emotional.

The end result is that we have a ton of footage - which I'm handing off to Billy Peake, an editor and Chapman alum, who will make signal of the noise.

Our final project is - yes, you guessed it - the 5th episode of our famous and influential web show, Danger! Relax, Please! : "Baguette Brawl." It's French themed. In a way.

I play the villain. There's a knife in the bread.
That's a real brain. A brain is involved.
This one was actually the most challenging to shoot. It was rainy and cloudy, so we fought that, and also in the winter it doesn't stay light for very long during the day. The final challenge was the brain - it smelled awful. I still can't get brainstink out of my kitchen.

But my philosophy with DRP has always been to try to get the most out of the least - find interesting locations, props, and costumes, and make it just pop like a cartoon.

Watch "Baguette Brawl" right this minute! The other two, the ads, are forthcoming...

Monday, October 17, 2011

Keeping busy in France

I updated the Drawings page to include storyboards from a few films I've done, animations that I did (stop-motion and hand-drawn, crude but entertaining as hell) when I was 12 or so, and illustrations for an upcoming children's book series.

Next next week, my good friend and talented cinematographer Boa Simon and his producer girlfriend Jenny Hou are flying out to France to visit me. We're going to take the opportunity to film some stuff!

First up we have a commercial spot for Lyon's "VĂ©lo'V" bicycle system, a sort of pick-it-up and drop-it-off-somewhere-else deal. Pretty neat, and I came up with a first-person POV ad we'll do that's simple and effective.

Next we're going to travel to Paris and do something atmospheric, ambient, and freeform, in some sense like the recent Levi's "Go Forth" ad campaign. We'll take advantage of Paris' lesser-known avenues and nooks, and capture something visually exciting and emotional.

And finally, I know nobody asked for it, but you know you want it - another episode of Danger! Relax, Please! will be coming soon. How can I resist? 

Friday, September 2, 2011

Working with my hands; getting plagiarized by BBC

I decided I wanted to build a model. So much of the work I do is on the computer that sometimes I get the need to work with my hands again. It's important. 

The picture above is a drawing I did of the good ship the Merry Mariner, an adventuring vessel that I invented for a kid's book I'm writing. A windmill-powered boat? Can't buy that model in the store, gotta do it myself! 

So I bought a thousand-pack box of popsicle sticks, a hot glue gun, and set to work.

Beginning stages...shirtless with cardboard

Cutting! Gluing!

Found the material for the windmill's sails in the trash

Painting! Red! White highlights!

So much red!

And she's done!

For scale

There you go, a scale model of the Merry Mariner, done from scratch. I can't tell you how much I'd love to make a stop-motion film with a model like this. But of course, it'd be 100 times bigger, and the sides would come off, and you'd see all the rooms and stuff inside...awesome.

BBC Knowledge

In other news, a friend of mine sent me this link. To the left you'll eventually find a video ... a video which is eerily similar to my spot series for the Albuquerque Film Festival. 

Glowing ball of images unraveled at dusk by a gathering crowd? Seems a little familiar, doesn't it?

Did the BBC rip me off? Who knows?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

New 'do

The site's got a new color scheme and new layout. Rough edges are still being smoothed - feel free to let me know if something looks crappy, or broken, or doesn't work.

Or just keep it to yourself. No one likes a complainer.


Monday, April 11, 2011

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Procrastination 

As is probably most unwise when trying to write, I'm reading a book on writing, called "Rules of Thumb," in which a bunch of writers give writing tips. Most are crap, but there are definite gems every now and again. One of them notes that a graduate research project revealed that 100% of writers of all varieties procrastinate. This must mean that procrastination is part of the writing process.

Which is great news, since that's what I'm doing right now.

I've also discovered a new medium of writing (aside from screenwriting) that is incredibly rewarding: children's fiction. Why that, of all things?

Here are the constant limitations that I find myself consciously or unconsciously imposing on myself during the normal screenwriting process:
  • Restrict the story and setting to feasibility on a low (or low-ish) budget
  • Avoid stereotype or cliche characters; make sure each one has a compelling arc and a complex multi-layered personality
  • Generally follow a three-act structure as a basic skeleton
  • Remember that adults want to see adult things like violence, sex, and profanity; at the very least explore the depths of emotional turmoil and the human experience
  • Deliver something new and fresh, but package it in a way that's familiar and accessible
Here are the limitations I'm finding writing prose fiction for children:
  • None; as long as your inner 8-year-old isn't bored, do whatever the hell you want
My kid's book is about a family that lives in a windmill-powered ship. They travel to strange lands having odd adventures. That's it.

It's incredibly therapeutic. Whenever I'm tired of chiseling away at dark, emotional stories of philosophy, death, redemption, and conflict, which take place in accessible locations, and feature characters with pages of background and soul-searching needs and desires, I write a little light-hearted tale about an awesome ancient city under a desert populated by mummies.

Let me tell you, after over ten years of writing stories which I knew I could go outside with a camera and make the next day, it's lovely to reach way back into my imagination and see what was locked in the "never gonna be possible" box (of course, it would be a dream to one day make these stories as a stop-motion animated film or TV show...).

'Cause I'm feeling charitable, here's a rough cross-section I did of the Merry Mariner, the adventuring ship.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Of Second and Third Drafts

I'm discovering that I write in two-draft cycles. The first draft is a messy splatter of ideas, roughly kept in line by spotty and sometimes vague ideas of plot and character. Draft two is the clean-up. Characters and dialogue are straightened out and correctly tuned, scenes are combed straight of excessive description and other unnecessary frills, and themes, motifs, and plant / payoff elements are identified and strengthened.

This all sounds very orderly, but draft two is still, generally, a mess. It also at this point has existed entirely inside my own skull, and desperately needs outside opinion. So I send it to my closest and most trusted confidants, for what will hopefully be a vigorous and merciless review.

Then I wait, because they've got more urgent things to do than read my scattered, bloated script. I pace the room purposefully and drink a fair amount of wine (I'm in France, dammit, leave me alone), generally feeling lousy about my abilities.

I've now received their stern but fair input, and am working on draft three, feeling reinvigorated. It can be fixed! It can and must be made better! In order to allow myself to get back into the swing of things, however, I need another messy draft. While this one won't be as messy as draft one, draft three will still require a draft four clean-up. My writing cap and my proofreading cap rest on very different pegs - it's impossible, for me, to do both at the same time.

This "free" draft gives me a lot of room to screw up, which is what writing is all about - screwing up over and over again, less and less as you go on, until at the end there's something that is, ideally, in its Least Screwed Up state. Like radiation, of course, it never goes away completely. You just chip and carve at it until you can say, "well, that'll have to do for now."

Most writers have to leave it at that. Luckily, I'm also a filmmaker, so the tinkering's just begun. The Least Screwed Up script is just the beginning. Then begins the process of Least Screwing Up the casting, design, rehearsals, production, and editing.

Anyway, enough procrastinating. Back to screwing up writing.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Of Features and Web Comics

Ten (10) days after landing in Lyon, France, I have conceived of, outlined, plotted, written, deconstructed, re-outlined, rebuilt, and re-written a feature film script. It's on draft 2 and going out for external review (aka, my friends will tell me what sucks). After that and a third draft, it'll be out to ex-professors and other more practiced eyes.

This wouldn't be notable (I've got a shelf of failed first runs at feature scripts) except for a few things. First, I'm excited about it from beginning to end. Most script ideas rely on a single spark of inspiration which guides you through the tedious (to me) process of writing a 90+ page screenplay. With this one, I want to dive right in to doing more and more drafts as often as possible. It's almost obsession - and I think that's a good thing. I haven't felt the same tug since La Nina del Desierto.

Second, it's designed to be made on a shoestring if necessary. All the parts were written specifically thinking about actors I know that I've already worked with before. Most of the locations are places I already have access to or feel confident stealing (shooting at without a permit). Assuming all the ducks lined up, I could get this baby started in less than a month, if that's what it came down to.

And that leads directly to the third reason why it's notable, which is that because I potentially have nothing to risk, I've written it for no one else except myself. I never allowed the external world to sit on my shoulder and say, "does this have enough drama? Is it funny enough? Is it interesting enough?" If something wasn't funny or interesting to me, it was taken out of the script early on. As such, it's a pretty niche film, but god damn if it won't be fun to make.

In other news, I'm still updating my weekly web comic about living in Lyon, Le Spleen en France. It's silly.

Finally, I'm working on redesigning my website. While I like the current style, I feel that it doesn't properly organize my work in an accessible way. It also fails to showcase other things I do, such as cartoons and web design, which are worth putting up (gotta make money somehow).

I've come up with this, and I'm pretty happy with it.


Now to actually make it functional...

Sunday, January 30, 2011

And you thought you'd had enough

Well, more absurdity is here. Episode 4 of Danger! Relax, Please! has arrived. Dare I say, this is the best one yet.

Fortunately for you and the rest of the internet, this will be the last episode for some time to come...I'm leaving on February 1st to France for six months. There I will be writing, reading, and also drawing a weekly comic for a web publication of which I am a part - Public Organ.

Au revoir!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

You're in Danger of not Relaxing again

It's a big, angry family! Episode 3 of Danger! Relax, Please!, my so-called "web series" (called so by me, reluctantly, at a loss for an appropriate term for web shorts celebrating narrative anarchy) is now online! This one features Cornelius the muppet, Angry J's twin brother. WARNING: not for anyone who hates or likes postal humor.

Episode 4 is forthcoming, much sooner than you might think...

In other news, I'm going to be moving to France for six months, starting in February. While this will put a halt to any actual productions I'm currently working on, it will allow me to set aside distractions (see above) and begin writing in earnest. This page will become more about the process of writing for the duration of the spring, until I'm back Stateside, at which time I will begin work on my first feature film.

Happy 2011!