A Filmmaker's Journey

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Contemporary Women’s Care

I first met Pam Snook during my Biomedical Ethics class when Rollins Philosophy/Religion professor, and all around awesome person, Creston Davis brought her in to speak about ethics boards and the practical applications of maleficence, beneficence, and non-maleficence – principles we’d been discussing all semester. Dr. Snook had mentioned in class that she was opening up her own new practice and another student boldly offered her assistance during the upcoming summer. I too spoke up and offered her assistance with any and all video work she may want to do for her practice. A couple weeks later she emailed me, we met at Starbucks, and the ball got rolling rather quickly.

Dr. Snook took care of the hardest part of the shoot – the script. I have no medical background and considering that she is opening a new OBGYN practice aptly named Contemporary Women’s Care, I felt ill equipped to write her a worthy script.

We shot at Winter Park Hospital with a few of her patients and the rest of the CWC team. The first thing that stood out about all of the doctors was that they were all the most genuine, caring, and goofy people I had ever worked with, and I think you can see that in the videos. Dr. Snook very often would make the remark, “This is not how most doctors act, trust me.” Honestly, it’s a shame that they don’t. Their energy was infectious.

A couple highlights from the shoot were that we named the closing sequence “The Grey’s Anatomy shot” and that one of the patients that we worked with was none other than 106.7’s Jana, who lent her voice talent for our voice over track.

This was my first “client” outside of my Rollins videos, and as such it was new and uncharted territory for me. Besides the usual technical hiccups, everything turned out beautifully!

Here is the final spot:

 

The greatest thing about this shoot was the fact that we had enough time and enough high-energy personalities that a blooper reel was an absolute must. Check that out here:

 

 

For all your OBGYN needs, check out Dr. Snook and her team here!

In the News: Summer Blast from the Past

In an attempt to gather all of the news articles that mention me or my films, I ran across this article written by Rollins back in ’09 when I was part of a pilot program for the school’s summer camp.

I was a camp counselor for a filmmaking camp. It was the first time Rollins had tried doing something media related for the camp, and it was awesome. It was amazing to see how rising 8th graders learned the aspects of filming and editing so fast! By the end of the camp, the kids were showing me things in iMovie that I didn’t know existed. It was a very memorable experience and I wish the best to all of those kids…who I suppose are now half way through their sophomore year in high school!

In the News: Campus MovieFest ’11

Another write up from Rollins about this past spring’s Campus MovieFest, here!

In the News: Supernatural Feature Film

Last year, Nastassia Alayeto and I collaborated on a feature length Supernatural fan film for a class. I was just reminded of this nice article the school published before our premiere nights.

Check it out!

Ricart Automotive

The other day, I was catching up on South Park when a car ad came on. I cringed like I usually did, but then I was also reminded, hey I should probably update my blog. The two are related, I swear.

Two summers ago I interned with Ricart Automotive, Ohio’s number 1 largest auto dealer, in their Advertising Department. Ricart is best known for their parody commercials, and the signature line, “We’re dealin’!” I didn’t know what to expect working at a car dealership for a summer, but by the end of the summer I was glad I did.

My daily tasks were to edit the smaller Youtube videos of salesmen interviewing their customers, ingest old archival footage of Fred Ricart’s parody spots, and even help edit the Ricart radio spots. After I had proven my competence with these tasks, under the supervision of A.P., the in house editor that usually does all of these things, I was allowed to shoot and edit July’s television spots.

I am a self taught editor, filmmaker, writer – all aspects of filmmaking – kind of guy. And it was amazing working on these spots with A.P. not only because I got to learn Final Cut (finally), but because I was able to see how much blasted work goes into a simple 30 second tv spot. We would spend half a day on one 30 (mostly because I was still figuring out FCP). Every time I come across a generic dealership commercial, I instinctively cringe because I remember how tedious the work was.

By the end of my term at Ricart, I was given the golden opportunity to produce my own spot. Everyone in the department was hands off unless I asked for their help. Of course, my script needed final approval and such, but this was the highlight of my summer. The spot was more of an infomercial on the Ford Transit Connect Mobility Van. The most difficult process was writing the script. There were so many specs on the vehicle that needed to be highlighted, I found it very dry and boring, thus making my life miserable since I wanted this thing to be entertaining and informative. I learned the hard way though that sometimes the best way to make an infomercial is to stick to the tropes that already exist.

When it came time to shoot, A.P. came with me and helped me select my shots. The shoot took a few hours and it was wonderful working with everyone. When it came time to go into post, I was more than confident that I could cut this sucker the same day. And I did. I had learned most of the shortcuts and “formulas” for making this infomercial as good as it could be.


Like the car commercials, I cannot pass a Ford Transit Connect without going, “With the Ford Transit Connect Mobility Van you’ll…” Sometimes being an editor can cause you to go slightly insane. After this spot was completed, I headed down south for my final year at Rollins College.

It was great working with Ricart Automotive, and every now and again I check out their commercials and such on Youtube. Not too often though as I still cringe every time a car commercial comes across my computer screen.

Check out their Facebook page!

Until next time.

Detroit US Social Forum: One Year Later

One year ago today, the second annual US Social Forum (USSF) took place in Detroit, Michigan. One year ago today, a group of 15 students from Rollins College formed the forum’s largest media coalition – Rollins College Media and Justice Fellowship – and took part in a gathering that aimed to create a better America. One year ago today, that group of students got a harsh taste of reality.

One year later…things seem to be the same.

In the words of the forum itself:

The US Social Forum (USSF) is a movement building process. It is not a
 conference but it is a space to come up with the peoples’ solutions to the 
economic and ecological crisis. The USSF is the next most important step in our
 struggle to build a powerful multi-racial, multi-sectoral, inter-generational,
 diverse, inclusive, internationalist movement that transforms this country and
 changes history.

We must declare what we want our world to look like and we 
must start planning the path to get there. The USSF provides spaces to learn 
from each other’s experiences and struggles, share our analysis of the problems 
our communities face, build relationships, and align with our international 
brothers and sisters to strategize how to reclaim our world.

As a media fellowship we broke up into teams to cover the hundreds of panels happening over the next few days, but before the forum started, we toured the ruins of Detroit. Yes. Ruins.  This probably sounds quite melodramatic, but the harsh reality is that Detroit was, and still is in ruins. When we toured the city with DetroitUrbex.com’s, Al, we all got a nice taste of how bad the city was suffering.

Remains of the Packard Plant

It was interesting for me as a filmmaker to be completely encapsulated by the ruins. The buildings were in ruins, yet they were stunningly beautiful. There’s a very odd allure to the sad beauty that is a major building, such as the Detroit train station, and seeing it crumble away. One of the things that we kept saying in the car was that the areas we were driving through looked like landscapes from a Call of Duty: Modern Warfare videogame. We’d drive down a street and there’d be three homes, all boarded up, and then right next to them, there’d be a family living there. It was odd. What made it more odd was the fact that we were in a caravan driving through these neighborhoods with our cameras sticking out the windows! This experience set the tone for the opening march of the forum and really got us motivated to go out and make a difference.

The opening march took place on the 22nd at three o’clock. This was the most memorable part of the forum, because we were all runningto get that perfect shot. However, there was a point in the march where it wasn’t about getting the shot anymore. It was about joining the people. I put my camera down and joined the mass of people walking towards COBO Hall – the hub for the forum. The feeling was indescribable.

Team A "The A-Team" watches the Opening March.

The forum went well. We covered everything we wanted to, we wrote all the articles we were assigned, and we were even commissioned by The Michigan News Center to create a video explaining what the forum was about. With our leaders telling us there was no way we could produce a five-minute video in one afternoon, I was hell-bent on proving them wrong. We discussed our vision, got the b-roll and interviews that we needed that afternoon, and then spent the remainder of our last night in Detroit putting this piece together. Never have I been more proud of my peers. In one room we had two people editing, and one floor below us we had the rest of our group going in to film their part of the intro while everyone else was going through their footage from the week to see what we could use. As I was going back to my room where we had the main timeline being edited, it was around two o’clock in the morning when all of the pieces were on that one thumb drive that I knew we were going to make it.

Police outside of COBO during the opening march.

In the morning we left the hotel to go to a leader’s relative’s house. In the car, I was putting the final touches on the soundtrack, and when it was done I played it back. To this day I still get chills when the video ends. I finished the cut ten minutes before we got to our destination and showed everyone in the car. We all had the biggest shit-eating grins on our faces when we showed it to everyone else. For me this video had captured what the USSF was about. It’s about a small group of individuals coming together and telling the naysayers that they’re wrong. We can and will change the world. All it takes is enough motivation to prove everyone wrong.

A year has passed and that fire to change the world has dimmed. Outside of the USSF, the college environment and the nine-to-five environment doesn’t allow for that fire to burn. Sure, at liberal arts colleges, the fire may flare from time to time, but it takes a certain type of person to be able to commit to such a large calling – a revolutionary calling. I’ll be the first to admit that I am not that type of person. But there are hundreds, if not thousands, of those people who attended the forum last year.

I know I said things haven’t changed. At first glance, it hasn’t. But it is through forums like the USSF that groups of like-minded people are gathering, discussing, and most importantly thinking.

This is the first step.

We must first be aware of the problems before we must face them. Once enough people are aware, then it will be time to change things. In the words of the forum:

Another world is possible. Another US is necessary.

The Supernatural Feature Film

Pre-Production

Supernatural has been one of my favorites show since I first saw it during my first year at Rollins. The mix of horror, great writing, classic rock, and a 1967 Chevy Impala kept my attention from the pilot episode. One thing that this show is notorious for is going on what fans call Hellatus. Each year in the show’s schedule one or two very large hiatuses are taken. During my junior year, I decided that something needed to be done about these Hellatuses. So, my friends and I decided to write my own spin-off/tie-in series. The goal was to film an episode a week and then edit everything over winter break, this way we could release the episodes over the summer Hellatus. Long story short, we couldn’t get the project off the ground for another two years.

Flash-forward to last summer, where I was holding a 9-5 job at Ricart Automotive as an Advertisement Inter in Ohio, I was determined to make Supernatural Salvation work. I had been emailing Rollins Television’s station manager, Syed Johnson, begging him to get approval for our production. We were asking to come down with the RAs two weeks before classes started – one week of preproduction and location scouting and one week to shoot. We were approved for one.

While this was going on, I was also writing a feature film with Nastassia for Rollins’ first (and possibly last) film production course called “Making Feature Length Films.” We were charged with making a 70-90 minute film in one semester. This not being our first rodeo, Nastassia and I both knew we had to have a finalized script before classes started so we could have a complete schedule after Supernatural shot.

As I was working at Ricart, I’d use my down time between imports and exports to write episodes for Supernatural. I had already mapped out a five episode first season and a six episode second season, all that remained was to write the episodes and cast the production. Luckily between the two of us, Nastassia and I knew all the heavy-hitters in the Rollins Theatre Department.

The goal of the script was to create two college-aged hunters, or as I originally called them college Sam and Dean. This description quickly changed as the characters took a life of their own during the writing process. The plot was meant to tie directly into the show’s mythology. If Sam mentioned a case in Key West that he and Dean pulled a few years back, we would show it. Now obviously we didn’t shoot in Key West, but god did I try to make that happen!

I wanted this project to be something for the fans, by the fans. A lot of the scripts had shout outs, and inside jokes from other seasons of Supernatural that really added to keeping the tone of our mini-series the same of the real show. I will say this much about the first and second season. Nastassia and I both had the same vision for how the finale would go for season one. The problem with that though was, hind sight being 20-20 and all that, I wrote everything just to get to that moment. I feel that it could have been a lot stronger if I didn’t force things along. With that being said, I feel that the second season is much stronger because I was finally able to tell the story I wanted to, that of a man who loses everything and finds himself having to now deal with the fact that he is the very thing he hunts. Yes it was Sam’s storyline, but at the time I originally came up with this idea, Kripke had yet to pen the fourth season.

So, the summer ends, the production is cast, my other script has all together stalled because of Supernatural, and it’s finally time to move back down to Orlando. Just a week prior I still didn’t have a place to live and was still rewriting the entire production as well as scheduling the shoot around everyone’s schedule. The stress was oddly comforting. It meant things were gearing up towards the shoot week.

Production

I move into my apartment two days before we start to shoot, barely get a mattress in time to sleep before the days ends, and spend the week without electricity or hot water. None of that matters though because that week was the most stressful, frustrating, and rewarding experience of my life.

We were only given one week to shoot this instead of two. What this meant for us was that we were going to our locations cold. We’d arrive on location and be figuring out blocking and shots while on the rare occasion the actors would finish memorizing their lines. What would normally take an hour or two to shoot now took twice that.

Something that I’ve always reminded myself of is that you learn best by just going out and doing something. Go out and make a movie. Don’t sit there and say it would be great, but-. You can only learn so much from a book, and even then, who is to say that those authors are right or even know a damn thing about filmmaking. It’s best to go out and discover it for yourself. And that’s exactly what we did. We failed miserably a few times and ended up having to reshoot three episodes, as well as rewrite the series finale, but I wouldn’t change a thing. Personally, I learn best when I fail.

Here's a screencap of Jordan holding The Colt from the original series finale.

The typical day was 16-20 hours for Nastassia and I. We’d get up, shoot our scenes for the day, sometimes breaking up into two units, regroup for dinner, sometimes as a cast, sometimes not, and then when all things were said and done, I’d start planning the next day’s shoot with Nastassia.

My favorite day of shooting was when we shot 2×4 (episode 3 on YouTube). I wrote this episode and knew exactly how I wanted to shoot it – sunrise. I can only imagine Travis and Kaitlin’s faces when I told them that call was going to be 5am. The cool thing though is that when it was time to wake up, we all said that it wasn’t hard. Waking up for an 8am class though? Torturous. The way this episode came out was greater than I ever expected it to. Could things have gone better? Of course. We could have not had a lawn crew there to screw up our audio. We could have had that extra week to prepare for all of our scenes, but you make do with what you’re given. Never let an obstacle stop you from getting the quality production value you want.

The week felt like two, yet at the same time it went by so fast that it felt like a few days. We had one day before classes started to take a breather before starting our senior year as well as post-production.

Ezekiel and Ariel walk at sunrise.

Post-Production

Post started while we were shooting. We had a read through before the first day of shooting, and I had Akin Ritchie there to go over the visual effects with us. As soon as classes started however, Akin’s schedule became too crazy to help out with our ridiculous amount of VFX, so Nastassia took over VFX while I took over most of the editing.

Post took the entire semester. We tried our hardest to finalize all of our VFX in time for our premiere, but it turned out to be too much for us. We got all but two done. Not bad for Nastassia not knowing After Effects!

If there’s one constant compliment that we get for this project, it’s that the music is amazing. I have to take this moment to thank and blame Bear McCreary for this. When I write, I listen to some of his work as well as others from my collection, but it was through reading his blog that I began to better understand how one scores a film/episode of television. It was because of this that I took the approach I did in selecting music for Supernatural. I chose to use leitmotif.

Leitmotif can best be described as a recurring theme in association with a character or idea. In Supernatural there are a few themes and sounds that stick out.

The Crossroad Demon

Here I chose the sinister theme that Bear used in the film Rest Stop. There’s just something otherworldly to what I’m assuming is a heavily processed banjo that aided the scene. Every time the Crossroad Demon was mentioned or came on screen, I tried to bring this theme in. You’ll notice that this theme disappears after the Crossroad Demon tells Lilith, “I’ll see you next Thursday.” The next time we hear this is with Crowley. I chose this because Crowley, at the time of postproduction, was only known to be the king crossroad demon or something to that effect.

Lilith

I used a track from Christopher Lennertz, “And So It Begins” in which the Pilot episode of Supernatural starts with an eerie piano motif. As season one progressed, this theme was always associated with the Yellow-Eyed Demon. So I took this track and associated with our big bad of the series, Lilith.

Jordan

Jordan’s character was so unique to this series that I wanted her to sound to be completely different from everyone else’s. She thinks she’s the toughest, most badass hunter there is in the world, but the sad fact is that she sucks! She just doesn’t realize it! This was so funny to me that I couldn’t help but bring in the organ that’s normally recognized as Christopher Lennertz’s Brother Theme from the actual show. Jordan’s character is so stupid, and such a bad hunter that it just meshed perfectly with the whacky organ.

The Angels

I wanted the angels to have a much older sound than the rest of the series. Until we have Ariel and Ezekiel alone talking to each other, they don’t really have any theme or sound associated with them. They’re always seen with Alex and Casey, and their sound is that of the actual show – electronic, brass, guitar. I looked through my collection and was very glad to find a few pieces from Bear’s Battlestar Galactica days that worked perfectly for these scenes. The track playing during Ariel and Zeke’s big talk is actually a track from Murray Gold’s Doctor Who soundtrack. Luckily, the sound offered in that track was so similar to Bear’s music that the two composers work went together flawlessly. It was because of these Eastern instruments and taiko drums that it gave the angels an older and more powerful feel than any other characters. In fact, one of my favorite sequences to edit was when Ariel and Zeke hunt down Casey. Seeing these two angels walking around amongst the humans, for some reason, was the scariest scene for me.

The Choice/Free Will Theme

As the second season started to ramp up it’s mythology I decided I wanted to bring in a theme for one of our themes – funny, I know. We first hear this theme when Ezekiel is discussing Casey’s choice to refuse Lucifer with David in episode one. We then hear it once Casey ties up the demon informant, when David frees him and Ariel from Casey’s angel-trap (originally meant to be a ring of holy fire, but due to VFX and SFX difficulty we had to axe that), and lastly once Ezekiel dies. This theme is important because it highlights the fact that all of these moments are choices that both Casey and Ezekiel have made for better or for worse. Zeke decides to stand up for the human race and free will. Casey decides to embrace his dark side and take revenge on the angels for letting Alex die.

Anyways, enough about the music. Remember that other script Nastassia and I were trying to write over the summer for our Feature Films class that I mentioned at the beginning of this long ass post? It never happened. Luckily, our professor, Dr. Boles, was kind enough to let us use what we shot the week before classes. The catch was that our project, unlike the other groups, had to be 90 minutes. I immediately went back to the scripts to see what we could do and found a few things that needed fixing. We needed to establish Ezekiel’s doubts. This wasn’t covered too well the first time around, so we wrote an additional two episode, roughly twenty pages to flesh things out.

By the time we began to shoot these episodes it was half way through the semester. Hairstyles had changed, people had been cast in Main Stage and Second Stage productions, and midterms were swiftly approaching. We rushed to get the episodes done before, and sometimes between classes. But once that camera started to roll, all of the stress disappeared and watching the characters come to life again was like seeing your friends for the first time after summer break.

The new scenes were cut rather quickly and our focus shifted to music and VFX.

The Premiere

Like I said earlier, we were exporting the day of our premiere. What was great about our premiere though, was that since our cast of 30 was 90% theatre majors, and another of our classmates did a documentary for one of the Main Stage shows, both of our films premiered in the Annie Russel Theatre – one of our shooting locations!

Left: A poster I designed for the premiere. Right: Styled like the Supernatural DVD, I created this for the premiere as well

Around 40 people came to the premiere. A lot more than I thought would. My biggest fear was that people wouldn’t understand the film since it was intended for Supernatural fans, not everybody. Luckily, everyone laughed at the right parts, some even jumped in the right spots, and all in all everything went without a hitch.

Afterwards my advisor, Dr. Denise Cummings, came up and told Nastassia and I that she was very impressed and that if we were to submit it to the Florida Film Festival, a local film festival at the Enzian Theatre that of which she is a judge for, it would have been just below par or at par. This came to a shock as I thought it was complete crap, but I’m my toughest critic and rarely think anything I make is good. Later that night however, she emailed us both to say that after thinking about the film some more that she would say it is par if not above par for the films that get accepted into the festival. To me that email alone made every all-nighter and all the hair I lost from stress totally worth it.

If you’ve made it this far in this extremely long post, than good on you. I wish I could offer you a prize, but I can’t. Oh, wait! Yes I can! Here’s the blooper reel from the shoot.

And in case you haven’t seen any of Supernatural Salvation/Redemption, you can start watching from episode one HERE.

Currently I’m in the middle of writing my next feature film. It’s going to be very different. I try to make every project a different genre from the one I just completed. For this one I’m hoping to make it much smaller and easier than Supernatural, which had a cast of aprox 30 people, a crew of 4, and over 70 VFX shots. We’ll see how that goes, as I tend to forget that whole low/no-budget thing. Ah, independent filmmaking.

Katie helps Helene hold the very heavy Colt up while I get the perfect shot. Photo Credit: Rachel Murphy.

Until next time. Be well.

Peace.