Friday, February 26, 2010

New Low/No Budget Camera:

Photographers and videographers alike have stood in awe over the last fourteen months, since Canon and Nikon (and Panasonic, the list is growing by the minute) have been releasing groundbreaking DSLRs that record HD video that is breathtaking. I remember friends ooohing and aaahing over the potential locked in the Nikon D90. Then, in January, 2009 came the Canon 5D, which was blowing minds because of its sensor, megapixels, and ISO capabilities. We shot Meditations on Beethoven on the 5D, and were taken aback by the footage it yielded (far beyond our expectations. I myself invested in a Canon 7D in September, and have been pleased ever since.

So, for all you indie filmmakers looking for an affordable HD camera, meet Canon's 550D, Rebel T2i. It's gorgeous, and coming in at just under $800 for the body:


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Creative Commons

Lawrence Lessig, Founding Board Member of the "Creative Commons"

Everyone is sampling user generated content these days. It's clear that "Youtube" and "Vimeo" are excellent platforms for the masses to launch ideas and art. A lot of beautiful and fascinating material is strewn amidst the more... parochial content that's flooding the "interweb." In any case, "Youtube" and related video broadcast sites represent the democratization of entertainment.

Lawrence Lessig is a Harvard law professor and political activist who believes we are witness to a cultural revolution, that youths with access to the Internet should be allowed to freely express themselves by mixing pre-existing media. New art and culture is built by changing old art and culture, so to speak. He's one of the founders of Creative Commons, and an advocate of changing intellectual property and copyright laws.

I find Lessig's material very inspiring and commendable. I feel that viral marketing through the Internet, new video technology, and new distribution channels have benefited me as an emerging filmmaker. More and more films are being done at the mircobudget level, and a democratization of the entertainment industry means all of us have a better chance of launching our voices.

But when is the line drawn? What if you want to make a living at this? Where's the cash flow? As a filmmaker, how can I protect my property (especially if I want to present it to the world through the Internet)? These thoughts apply to anyone in the arts.

In any way, I'm interested in learning more about this debate (the video is a couple of years old, but certainly worth watching):


Monday, February 22, 2010


Blake Logan (Simon Kraus) and Daryn Kahn (Evan Maxwell) on set.

I had the pleasure of watching our Assembly Cut on Friday. We wrapped the film on December 21, and after a couple of years of intimate association with everything related to Simon Kraus, I stepped back to let our talented editor, Eric Carden, work on assembling the footage. So, it was quite the experience watching all of the elements of the film come together after my hiatus. I've done plenty of short films (narrative and documentary), but watching a feature for the first time was an entirely different experience. Simon Kraus no longer exists on the page, nor in the minds of our cast and crew, but is alive and growing on its own. Editing it will be a matter of letting Simon Kraus evolve into the entity it wants to be. Our job is simply to help it along its way.

Our goal is to have the first cut done by the first week of March. Yesterday, Eric and I poured over the assembly, and began the painstaking process of rearranging elements to create a sense of form and style. On set, I emphasized to Marco Cordero (Cinematographer) and Ian Hernand (Production Designer) that the film needs to have a very sarcastic and understated handling of all the dramatic elements, punctuated by highly stylistic, romantic (not in the boy-meets-girl sense of the word) vignettes of Simon's perception of reality. Eric and I have begun by tackling the vignettes, and we're very pleased with where they're going.


Thursday, February 18, 2010


In film school, the faculty used to ask the undergraduates to fill out a report during post-production, summarizing their experiences while producing and directing their short films. That report was affectionately dubbed the "POST MORTEM," and stood as the student's last will and testament, his or her memoir or record of the ups and downs of production. I always found the term "POST MORTEM" a tad negative. The faculty, of course, saw it differently. The term "POST MORTEM" is, indeed, clever and succinct, conveying the visceral rigors of film production at all levels. Filmmaking is always difficult, and during the production of my feature I readied myself to produce my own, personal "POST MORTEM," a confession or testament of the difficulties I'd endured and asked many others to endure for little or no pay.

I do think I shaved a few years off my life while making this movie. We had our ups and downs, a stressful first week, torrential downpours (during Florida's dry season, mind you), a continuous battle against the lazy winter sun. It was difficult, to say in the least. I think this set photo of the Producer sums it up:

But it wasn't as difficult as the two times I was held at gunpoint by police officers during my days with a handicam. The first time, I led a team of a dozen or so adolescents dressed in fatigues and carrying airsoft guns (in the wake of the Columbine tragedy) through my neighborhood to make a "Vietnam" film for my social studies class, junior year. That ended badly.

The second time, I was determined to do things the "right" way on the shoot, to take all necessary precautions, to work within the established, decent way of filmmaking. I had no interest in attracting the attention of police again for doing a war movie in suburbia, no, those days were behind me. I enlisted the help of twenty friends, and we found a good stretch of woods in my hometown where we could film explosions and faux gunfire and storm foxholes and all the good stuff that kids with cameras would try to put on film... or tape. Mini-DV to be exact. We missed the whole permitting part of pre-production...

The fact that we had parked at a bank (the only place to access our beautiful little wilderness) nearly cost us our little "Youtube" movie. When a friend and I marched the long trek back to the parking lot, and emerged from the woods, we found one very nervous police officer waiting for us. I couldn't believe it; this place was frequented by all kinds of rednecks and satanists and sociopaths with shotguns and chicken heads and suspicious trash bags. Why the HELL did we always get busted for making movies?

I'll never forget the look on the officer's face when he placed his hand on his holster and shot a pair of beady red eyes my way, pointing in hysterics at my car, asking me in a shrill tone why the hell I left the door open. Billy and I just stood there, shaking in our flip-flops, and I said we were hauling stuff to the forest, that we were making a movie. He pointed to my car and said with skepticism, "Oh, that's for a movie?" He let me inch around him (at a respectable distance of course), and then I saw what had scared the shit out of him. We had a hollowed army storage tube, which was harmless and only filled with clothes and water. But, to the unsuspecting Sheriff, it looked quite a bit like a missile or something. It took me a few minutes to confess my idiocy, open up the tube and pull out the bottled water and clothes, and convince him we were just making a movie. I'll never forget his parting words, "Y'all have fun with your war games, but if I hear any explosions or bombs go off, you're screwed."

No such mistakes this time. After a few years of experience in the industry and a graduate education, I was off to make a feature. This time, the right way. The real right way. With permits and a company and a budget and insurance and all...

I spent two and a half years working on The Miseducation of Simon Kraus. The concept originated as a documentary and quickly evolved into a narrative, through which I wanted to explore my time at home after I graduated with my Bachelors (a useless degree in the humanities, mind you.). I had a lot of fun during that year off; I worked as a restaurant manager and reconnected with all of my old friends. I hadn't seen most of them for three or more years, and when I returned home, life was pretty much as it had always been for everybody. People got married, others tinkered with community college, and most worked, worked, worked. And for me, well I traveled twice to Europe, took a lot of time to read and think, wrote a lot, and wasted a ton of time. Before long I realized I had to get out, because the luxury of floating without want or responsibility was sure to seal my permanent residence at home.

The real world isn't too fun either, especially nowadays. I've spent tens of thousands to get an advanced education, and it hasn't yielded much in the way of money. Most people that I know who are just out of college are in the same boat. We do have "a recession on," sure. And, my friends and I have arts degrees, yes. Still, it's never been this hard to find work.

So, I am reminiscing quite a bit about the positive experience I had while making my first feature, The Miseducation of Simon Kraus. For years I wrote, for months I fund raised and produced, and for 19 days in December I directed a group of incredibly talented actors and crew. It was cathartic, to say in the least, watching these ideas and experiences and musings come to life on set. We shot everything in my home town, burned images of popular hangout spots, and made the character of Simon real. The crew connected with him, and I hope audiences do too, because for me, Simon Kraus represents the struggle that a lot of us face after graduating (especially those of us who have ambitions for creative careers).

It's an exciting time for everybody involved in film at the independent level. New technology is allowing filmmakers of all skill levels and ambitions to produce stunning visual media for little or no money. For the first time in history, filmmaking is accessible to the masses in the way that painting and writing and photography have been for generations. Moreover, people have the ability to show their work to millions via the Internet, as new modes of distribution evolve. As more and more consumers become producers of emerging media and film, I believe that we'll be witness to a renaissance in cinema. There are new, exciting success stories of filmmakers reaching audiences. Now, if your film doesn't get to the top tier festivals, there's still hope:

POST PARTEM is a better way to convey the end of our shoot. By the time we got to the "martini" shot, the crew had gelled into a family. I've truly missed working with everyone involved in Simon Kraus, and look forward to reconnecting with the cast and crew soon. In the meantime, James (the Producer) and I anxiously await our assembly cut's completion.