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.



  1. Very interesting. My best friend Sean and I are in the process of obtaining some financing to direct our own independent feature length film. It seems as though we may be where you were three years ago or so. From one filmmaker to another, any advice?

  2. Well, you and Sean really seem to be headed in the right direction. Getting commissioned to do ads for a company is a serious feather in your cap.

    If you want to do a feature, there's a shit ton of advice I could offer, but I'll start with the following:


    1)If you're looking for financing, I'd suggest you guys build a website (with a good, memorable domain/URL), either for your LLC or the feature you're working on (preferably both). The website will give your film and your entity legitimacy to the business world.


    2) Write the HELL out of that script. Write a draft, then burn it, then write another, then feed it to the dog, then write another. When you're ready for it, you should have people you have respect for (definitely not your parents or siblings or friends) or know a thing or two about writing or literature or film to look it over. Get as much constructive criticism on the script as you can. There are plenty of workshop entities out there, to which you can send your script and get expert or near-expert advice on what you've got.

    Remember, the writing phase is the cheapest of all. Get it right before you're on set, burning through capital and time.


    3)Get into the film network in your community. Many cities (I'm sure Colorado Springs included) have film commissions, from which you can get information on industry forums, workshops, meet-n-greets, etc. If there's no such organization in Colorado Springs, you should build one, then connect to one in another city. You'll meet a lot of great people doing exactly what you're doing, who can point you in the direction of advice and (hopefully) resources.