Can We All Improve How We Do What We Do?

Can we and the people we work with actually get better at the things we do?  And can we get better, faster?  Are there things that we can do for each other that might expedite the process?  How do we transcend the plague of doing well enough? On low-budget indie film shoots, the collaborators are of a wide range of experience levels.  Such  films are also chronically plagued by a paucity of funds and time.  Too much to get done, and not enough resources to really get it done perfectly, or sometimes even just well.  With a hundred things needing to happen at any given time, your head will pop if you concern yourself with everything that goes wrong.  It does seem like those that often do best are those that have learned not to sweat the petty, or perhaps some sort of zen-esque understanding of the world (that is combined with the sort of hyper-focus of concentration in the things that make all the difference -- and that will some other post further down the line).

The Serenity Prayer that Alcoholics Anonymous has adopted always seems fit as a method to manage the creative chaos that defines most film production.  Granted, I get some criticism in life for having too great expectations of people and things, believing always that one time we all will hit our high point, but I really think by dropping our ego, finding a way to point out what can be done better, explaining the reasons why, we can rise to the occasion and one day truly get it all in sync and do beautiful work.  I want us to do more and to do it better, myself included.  Let me get to that, but first, I think it's worth looking beyond the first three lines of the Serenity Prayer, and look at the rest of it:

Serenity to accept things we cannot change,
Courage to change the things we can, and the
Wisdom to know the difference
Patience for the things that take time
Appreciation for all that we have, and
Tolerance for those with different struggles
Freedom to live beyond the limitations of our past ways, the
Ability to feel your love for us and our love for each other and the
Strength to get up and try again even when we feel it is hopeless.
This post is about how to have the courage to change the things we can.  Let's assume we recognize what those things are.  What do we do to get them changed?

Many times on film sets, I see folks hesitant to say what they feel, not wanting to complain, not wanting to demand that things are better.  When things are sloppy or unsafe or could be handled in a better manner that will most likely yield a better result: SAY SOMETHING.  Don't be cruel, but be direct.  Explain, why you think it will work better if they did something differently.  Speak of the result you want to obtain.  But speak up.  Maybe you have to pause and wait for the right time to be truly heard, but speak up.

And when they don't get it right, take action.  Step in, get it done, and recognize when you have to make a change.  Be it a director or a producer, if I have heard it once, I have heard it a 100 times: "whenever I considered firing someone, I end up always wishing that I had done it then and there, and when I haven't done it, I always regret it."  Under the right circumstances, people can learn from those mistakes.  What are the right circumstances that help us all learn?

The Douchebag Process: A Look Inside

Guest post by "Douchebag" writer/director Drake Doremus. We actually shot "Douchebag" in two separate sessions over the course of a year and a half. The first time we went out we had a very specific outline from which the actors improvised from and the second time we had a loose script with lines actually written.

The first scene in the film for instance where Sam is laying in bed with Steph was mostly written and shot during the second session when we knew exactly how to set up the film. A lot of the rambling lecture scenes -- like the scene on the beach about kites, the credit card fiscal responsibility scene, and the scene about our hands not being designed to tear flesh -- were all shot the first time out when we had more character than story.

It wasn’t until after editing the first session’s material that I knew the exact pieces we needed to finish the story. The filmmaking process was very exciting and challenging for me but also very creatively freeing because I could keep writing and coming up with ideas after I'd shot, the film kept evolving that way and there was always a way to make things better. It's really the only way I would work now I think. I learned so much.

In pre production a lot of what I was doing was watching Woody Allen films. I really admire him and his process on his films. I hate it in movies when actors wait for people to finish their lines before they speak. He really has a way of making things seem real and unrehearsed.

I read somewhere once that thirty percent of his film budgets are dedicated to reshoots and pick ups. That sure is a luxury but I sure love the idea of knowing you’re gonna shoot more and no matter what get it right for what you were trying to make.

I love that he makes at least a movie a year it seems, I’d love to be able to do that. I just shot my third feature this past June called Like Crazy and I’m very excited about it. It’s the story of a seven-year long distance relationship between a young man in Los Angeles and a young woman in London. It was mostly improvised from a fifty page outline, so I’m continuing to use this format. I’m cutting that now and I’d love to do my fourth in 2011. It’s hard to keep going so fast but as long as I have ideas that I’m passionate about I won’t stop.

After I’ve shot and have time to reflect and gain perspective on where the story wants to go, in a way it tells ME where it wants to go. The footage we had on Douchebag spoke to us and the rest of the story just kind of filled itself in and it was very clear at a certain point of what we needed. The story was always about two brothers and one was always getting married and they always went on the road to find Mary Barger so it was really just finding a support structure that finished telling that story. The ending for instance was literally filmed last on purpose always knowing that we wanted to build up to that and find what it was last just like the characters do in the story.

I guess you could say I’m always striving to find everything organically. I never want anything to feel forced or on the nose. I love subtly and and organic characters who are reacting genuinely to their environments and the scenarios that are thrown at them. That was always my goal on Douchebag. I love those moments on set when the camera is rolling and the actors don’t realize it for a while and then the scene starts organically without an ”action” or a mark being hit. There’s nothing more exciting then when the actor and the character become one.

To back track to the start of this whole thing…I was in the edit room with Andrew Dickler (who is a picture editor and not an actor, in fact never had acted ever before in his life) in 2007 and about a month in to working It hit me that I had to make a movie about him. It was a lighting in a bottle type moment. I had known Ben Jones since we were 16 doing plays in my mom's theater basement and I had this idea that the two would have an anti chemistry, if you will, where there would be this natural conflict onscreen. The two become friends but always had the perfect onscreen anti chemistry. I always knew they had to be brothers at odds. The road trip aspect came later, It was much more interesting than the brothers sitting in a room and talking for 80 minutes.

I think the autobiographical part spawned from my real life relationship with Andrew in real life. We became fast friends but I always found myself in intense conversations about things with him that I never discussed with anyone else before, like weather figure skating was a sport or a dance contest and his opinion after he learned that I did not have a credit card and of course listening to his theories about eating meat and the environment. The character Andrew plays in the film is a very exaggerated version of himself and that was always the plan. Given that Andrew had never acted before I was and still am blown away at his ability to commit to the moment.

Check out the DOUCHEBAG trailer.

Friend DOUCHEBAG on Facebook here.

Relish these reviews (and see it this weekend!):

"A bubblingly sharp, fresh, dark and winning comedy! A minimalist Sideways." - Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly

"Surprisingly hilarious and cutting, this lo-fi comedy about two ill-matched brothers reconnecting while looking for one's old sweetheart is distinguished by sharp dialog and terrific lead performances by Dickler and Jones." -New York Magazine

"Smart, surprising, and funny! Hollywood could learn a few lessons from this indie sleeper." - Leonard Maltin, Maltin on Movies, ReelzChannel

"Dickler gives an inspired comic performance!" Keith Uhlich, Time Out New York

"Refreshingly original! Tremendously effective." -Metrosource

Drake Doremus, 27, a graduate of the American Film Institute, is the youngest fellow to be accepted into the program at the highly lauded institution. Doremus' first feature film, SPOONER, premiered at Slamdance in 2009 and Won Best Feature at the Louisville International Fillm Festival, Mt. Rainier, Sonoma International, Newport Beach International and Lone Star International in Dallas. The film will be released theatrically by Moving Pictures in January 2011.

Doremus’ second feature film, DOUCHEBAG premiered in dramatic competition at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival to rave reviews.  The film is being released by Red Dragon and Paladin and will open in New York on Friday October 1st, followed by Los Angeles on the 8th and several prominent cities throughout October.

Doremus recently completed principle photography on LIKE CRAZY, his third collaboration with Jonathan Schwartz of Super Crispy Entertainment.  LIKE CRAZY stars Anton Yelchin (STAR TREK, TERMINATOR SALVATION), Felicity Jones (THE TEMPEST, CEMETARY JUNCTION) and WINTER’S BONE sensation Jennifer Lawrence.  It will be completed in 2011.

Four Reviews of SUPER: "instant cult classic"

"if there’s any early favorite on that list of bidding-war candidates coming out of Toronto. This would probably be the one. " "Remember that movie Kick-Ass? About that kid and his cohort of ordinary folks who strive to battle crime in bad costumes and without the benefit of superpowers? Yeah, well, you probably won’t after this."Movieline

"Super is destined to become a cult classic, this film is pure movie magic, it has everything, gore, comedy, violence, hot ladies, hell of a lot of heart, story and it's got something to say." AintItCoolNews

"Chock full of insanely graphic violence, awash in thoroughly un-PC perspectives, and more than willing to keep on punching long after the audience is virtually incredulous, Super is fun and funny, dark and twisted, semi-schizophrenic and certifiably insane. What I liked most was its simple audacity. And Ellen Page." Cinematical

"Filmmaker Gunn, who previously spoofed creature features with the well-reviewed but disappointingly performing "Slither," really goes in for the satirical kill here, with a take-no-prisoners tone -- and a generous amount of exaggerated "RoboCob-style" ultra-violence -- that deserves to realize its cult calling." The Hollywood Reporter

A Return To Cool: Anton Corbijn's THE AMERICAN

Watching my business partner's production of Anton Corbijn's THE AMERICAN the other night, I was struck by how few truly cool American films there are.  The American is certainly one, but cool is an aesthetic that few truly dare to tread.  The cool that I refer to, is not something that is just neat or novel.  My cool differs from the way my son uses the word. Cool is a committed style.  Cool is a discipline.  Cool embraces both content and all the elements of execution.  In a cool movie, everything other than cool is truly secondary, and ideally non-existent.  Cool movies thrive on an existential protagonist.  Cool is about the sustain and not the flash.

What are the cool American films of relatively recent vintage?

  • The American
  • The Limey
  • Stranger Than Paradise
  • Out Of Sight
  • Jackie Brown

This list is far from complete.  What have I forgotten?  Yet, the real question is "why are there so few truly cool films?".

Kodak 1922 Kodachrome Test

The first color film tests -- that perhaps ever were -- are pretty damn beautiful. But here they are, 1922, and then how long did it take to make color films the standard?  Sure everything happens sooner these days, but change sure takes awhile, even when the tools already exist.

Back twenty years ago, I was hired several times to write business plans for indie films.  I included a paragraph for the anticipated windfall of profits from VOD.  I see a version in many a plan that I stumble across in the present day.  We can dream, but I don't think $100K is exactly the windfall I was fantasizing about back in the day....

Gunn Was First. I Am 23rd!

Our director broke first with this photo forecasting some of the mayhem that The Crimson Bolt and Boltie will get into later on  in our film SUPER (and as the caps tell you, you pronounce the title LOUD, like at eleven), but hey I am always late to the party. [caption id="attachment_4271" align="aligncenter" width="590" caption=""Boltie" & "The Crimson Bolt" manufacture mayhem."][/caption]

And if you haven't yet, please "like" our Facebook Page.

The Repercussion Of Your Choices

"The New Breed" kicked off Episode One with "Nothing You Have To Have". It's a great series on the creative process brought to you by Sabi Pictures courtesy of Filmmaker Magazine and The Workbook Project.

NEW BREED LOS ANGELES - Episode 1 from Sabi Pictures on Vimeo.

Engineer Serendipity

"Beginning, middle, and an end -- but necessarily in that order" -- so today it's Episode 2 from "The New Breed".  Featuring Julius Onah, filmmaker Jeff Malmberg, actress Trieste Kelly Dunn , director Brett Haley, and yours truly.

NEW BREED LOS ANGELES - Episode 2 from Sabi Pictures on Vimeo.

Protect The Integrity Of The Story & The Emotional Truth Of The Characters

I was fortunate to take part in episode 6 of Sabi Pictures' "The New Breed", a co-production of Filmmaker Magazine and The Workbook Project. They shot seven episodes around the LA Film Festival this year and really put together something nice.

NEW BREED LOS ANGELES - Episode 6 from Sabi Pictures on Vimeo.

Writing For A Low Budget (Pt 2 of 2): THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED

Today's guest post is from writer/director J. Blakeson.  J's THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED opens TODAY!!!  If you haven't read yesterday's part one, please read that first. As I was writing I was always looking for tricks to make the film even cheaper to shoot. But I had a strict rule that they also had to make absolute sense to the story. I smuggled quite a lot of tricks in. Here are a few of them...

  1. After the opening sequence, each character only has one costume. And they are very easily manageable costumes (ie. track suit and boiler suits), so if we had to shoot this thing at evenings and weekends over a few months, then the costumes would be easy to manage and very replaceable from high street stores.
  2. I used props over and over again (the gun, the keys, the bullet) to maximise their cost-effectiveness and reduce the need for more props.
  3. I made the location an abandoned apartment so we didn’t have to fill it with furniture.
  4. I had the characters cover the windows of the apartment with wood  to hide what they are doing from the outside world – but also because it meant I could shoot daytime scenes at night and vice versa (a nifty trick lifted from Kevin Smith’s “Clerks”).
  5. I put ski-masks on Vic and Danny and a hood over Alice for a lot of the action. Of course this works because Vic and Danny want to hide their identity and keep Alice passive, but it also meant that if we got any “name” actors for 2-3 days, we could shoot all their scenes on their faces in that time and shoot the rest (wides, over-shoulder, out of focus in the background etc) using stand-ins wearing hoods and balaclavas...

However, I never actually needed to use these tricks whilst filming – thank god. There are no stand-ins for actors and we shot on a sound-stage rather than in my apartment. And this happened because I got lucky. Cinema NX read my script and loved it. They decided to take a gamble on me and agreed to let me – a first-time director – helm the film (I was once told by a producer that a first-time director “is like cancer to financiers”). I’ll always be grateful to Cinema NX for giving me my break (especially as 40 other companies read the script and passed). So Cinema NX put up all the money to make the film. And I got myself an actual budget. Sure, it was low, but it was way more than I could have ever afforded on my own. So luckily I didn’t have to make the film the way I’d originally intended. I didn’t have to put my hand in my own pocket.  And I got to build a set. I got an amazing crew. I got fantastic actors. I got to shoot my film exactly the way I wanted without compromising for budget.

So was all my penny-pinching on the page a waste of time?


Because the reason it all happened the way it did is precisely because it was written for no budget.  Not only because Cinema NX saw it was achievable, and a worthwhile gamble, but because writing it for no budget meant that we could make a really good version with a low budget. As the limitations had been set on the page, we didn’t have to compromise while we were shooting it. We just had to concentrate on making it the best it could be.

In short, by embracing my budget limitations in the writing stage, I protected myself during the shoot. Plus I had to use my imagination more as I wrote it. And that can only be a good thing.

-- J. Blakeson

“The Disappearance of Alice Creed” is out in selected theatres Friday August 6th

Twitter: The Disappearance Of Alice Creed trailer

Part One: Writing For A Low Budget


Today's guest post is from writer/director J. Blakeson.  J's THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED opens tomorrow, and is the latest in a glorious wave of incredibly strong genre films from all over the world that have graced our shores of late, including  MOON, THE SQUARE, BRONSON, HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, and THE PROPHET.  This is part one of a two parter that will finish up here tomorrow. Part Two is here. No-one was going to give me money to make my film. That was a near certainty. I started with that fact in mind, then I began writing the script. People are always telling budding film-makers to” write something that can be achieved on a low budget”.  That sounds like pretty good advice, but it’s also dangerous advice. Because it assumes you’ll actually somehow manage to get yourself some kind of a budget at all– albeit a low one. It presumes someone will actually put their money into your movie. And that tempts you into trying to squeeze a bigger budget movie into a smaller can. This is a mistake. Because the end result will most likely be a scrappily made, cheap-looking movie that needed more money behind it. What these advice-givers should tell you instead is this: write for no budget at all. Write as if you were going to make it yourself with your own money. Write as if every frame of film was coming out of your own pocket.  Only then will you realise just how expensive even little things are. Like feeding an extra actor for 4 weeks. Or blowing shit up. Explosions sounds like they should be cheap and easy, but actually they’re expensive and complicated. So don’t blow shit up. Concentrate on what you already have and what comes for free. Story and character are free. Dialogue is free (except recording and filming it isn’t... so avoid being too self-indulgent on the speechifying, because you’re only wasting your own money). But always remember that writing within your own limitations doesn’t mean you have to be less ambitious with your movie. It actually means you have to be more ambitious, just smart about it. Look at films like “Primer” or “Brick”. They’re both ambitious as hell, look and feel cinematic, but cost next to nothing to make.

When I wrote the script for “The Disappearance of Alice Creed”, I assumed that if I wanted to direct it myself, I would probably have to pay for it myself. So I knew I had to keep it small and contained. Even before I had a story, I had a set of rules...

  1. Use 1 location for 90% of the film.
  2. Only have 3 characters
  3. Don’t write anything that I couldn’t achieve myself on my own money.
  4. If you use a prop, keep using it over and over (because why source and pay for something that will be only screen for just under 2 seconds?)
  5. Keep it simple. But make that “simple” as complex and difficult as possible.

But why these rules? Purely practical reasons: There are only three actors (and not, say, 4 actors) in my film because I happened to know 3 actors who might agree to be in the film. The reason I wrote most of the film’s action in an apartment is because I live in an apartment. So I had a free location. No expense. You get the idea...

And with these rules in mind, I started thinking about a story that would be as dramatic and cinematic as possible. With limited locations and actors, there is a risk it will feel like a stage play rather than a film. So I wanted a story that would lend itself to cinematic sequences and set-pieces rather than extended talky scenes. Very quickly I thought about a kidnap story. Not only was it immediately understandable (no  “Inception” style exposition scenes needed to describe the hard-to-understand jobs of the protagonists... everyone knows what a kidnapper does. Everyone understands the stakes from page 1), a kidnap story also has drama and tension inherent in it from the get-go.

So I started writing.  And as I was writing the script, I enjoyed having the limitations I set myself. It was like a game. It gave me boundaries to push against. Gave me a strict focused framework within which I was free to do anything I wanted.

But all the time, in the back of my mind, was the fact that I had to make it for no money. So I set all the exterior action in manageable locations – places that required no extras and where I could probably shoot with a skeleton crew without permits (if need be). So instead of setting it in crowded streets or train stations, I set it in wasteland, empty car-parks and abandoned warehouses. Of course all these locations make narrative sense in the movie, but this is only because I chose a story that works for these kinds of locations. This is one reason why early on in the script process, I decided to not show all the usual moments you see in a kidnap film – police, phone-taps, a money-drop in a crowded place – because I simply knew I couldn’t afford to shoot them with my own money. But then I embraced this idea and made it the defining characteristic of the film. Instead of trying to hide the confined nature of the film, I played to it. I’d always loved the fact that “Reservoir Dogs” was a heist movie in which you never saw the heist. So I decided my film would be a kidnap movie where you don’t see any of the kidnap (or rather, you don’t see the stuff you expect from a kidnap movie). And when I decided to go that way, the idea came alive for me.

End of Part One.  Part Two concludes tomorrow with "Tricks To Make It Even Cheaper!".

“The Disappearance of Alice Creed” is out in selected theatres Friday August 6th.


What is SUPER? James Gunn speaks

Earlier this week, our directed posted from his blog his description of what our film is:

“Yes, I know, there have been other films that are superficially the same as ours, movies about real people becoming superheroes – including some very good ones. But ours is the first that, although funny, focuses first and foremost on the emotions of the characters involved. It is a dark, gritty, violent, no-hold-barred independent film that is, I promise you, not at all what you expect.”

Check it out.  James throws in some photos of his girlfriend for good measure.

"On Casting With The Director" via The New Breed

When I was out in LA for LAFF, I got an opportunity to sit with Kevin & Zac of Sabi to talk about the casting process for their series "The New Breed" that they are doing with Filmmaker Magazine and The Workbook Project.

NEW BREED LOS ANGELES - Episode 4 from Sabi Pictures on Vimeo.

SUPER Comic Con Mega Dose

If you didn't make it to the panel in San Diego, have no fear; most of it is up on line now.  Wow.  What a rush to read and watch all of this.  Hopefully some distributors will take notice. First the panel:

Now the press (courtesy of the good folks at 42 West):

LATIMES.COM / John Horn July 26th, 2010: Posting on SUPER panel.

WIRED.COM / Hugh Hart July 26th, 2010: Posting on SUPER panel.

SCREENCRAVE.COM / Mali Elfman July 26th, 2010: SUPER panel coverage.

IO9.COM/ Alasdair Wilkins July 26th, 2010: Posting on SUPER panel.

IFC.COM / Stephen Saito July 26th, 2010: Posting on SUPER panel.

COLLIDER.COM / Matt Goldberg July 26th, 2010: SUPER panel coverage.

GEEKSOFDOOM.COM / Staff July 26th, 2010: Posting on SUPER panel.

OFFICETALLY.COM / Staff July 26th, 2010: Posting on Rainn Wilson and SUPER.

SLASHFILM.COM / Adam Quigley July 26th, 2010: Posting on SUPER panel.

VERYAWARE.COM / Staff July 26th, 2010: Comic-Con Friday roundup. Includes SUPER.

CINEMABLEND.COM / Eric Eisenberg July 26th, 2010: Posting on SUPER panel.

EMPIRE MAGAZINE TWITTER / Staff July 26th, 2010: Tweet on SUPER panel.

AINTITCOOL.COM TWITTER / Jeremy Smith July 26th, 2010: Tweet on SUPER panel.

AINTITCOOL.COM TWITTER / Eric Vespe July 26th, 2010: Tweet on SUPER panel.

COMINGSOON.COM / Silas Lesnick July 26th, 2010: Posting on SUPER panel.

FIRSTSHOWING.NET / Ethan Anderton July 26th, 2010: Posting on SUPER panel.

ZIMBIO.COM / Staff July 26th, 2010: Photo gallery of SUPER panel.

ADVANCESCREENINGS.COM / Matthew Fong July 26th, 2010: Posting on SUPER panel.

SCREENRANT.COM / Vic Holtreman July 26th, 2010: Posting on SUPER panel.

FILMSCHOOLREJECTS.COM / Cole Abaius July 26th, 2010: Posting on SUPER panel.

ACESHOWBIZ.COM / Staff July 26th, 2010: Posting on SUPER panel.

ENTERTAINMENTTODAY.US / Staff July 26th, 2010: Posting on Ellen Page and SUPER.

MYREMOTERADIO.COM / Andrew Marcec July 26th, 2010: Posting on Ellen Page and SUPER.

BUZZSUGAR.COM / Staff July 26th, 2010: Posting on SUPER panel.

DEADLINE.COM / Luke Thompson July 26th, 2010: Posting on SUPER panel.

GUARDIAN.CO.UK / Ryan Gilbey July 26th, 2010: Posting on SUPER panel.

MOVIENETNEWS.COM / Staff July 26th, 2010: Posting on SUPER panel.

FANDANGO.COM / Elisa Osegueda July 26th, 2010: Posting on SUPER panel.

MAKINGOF.COM / Staff July 26th, 2010: Photo gallery from SUPER panel.

IGN.COM / Scott Collura July 26th, 2010: Posting on SUPER panel.

USATODAY.COM / Scott Bowles July 26th, 2010: Posting on Liv Tyler and SUPER.

EONLINE.COM / Jen Yamato July 26th, 2010: Mentions SUPER panel.

POPTIMAL.COM / Erin Biglow July 26th, 2010: Posting on SUPER panel.

UGO.COM / Jordan Hoffman July 26th, 2010: Posting on SUPER panel.

411MANIA.COM / Jeremy Thomas July 26th, 2010: Posting on SUPER panel.

THEVINE.COM / Simone Mitchell July 26th, 2010: Posting on SUPER panel.'super'-is-the-talk-of-comic_con20100726.aspx

NBCSANDIEGO.COM / Lindsay Hood July 26th, 2010: Posting on SUPER panel.

OLOGY.COM / Natalie Zutter July 26th, 2010: Posting on SUPER panel.

TOTALFILM.COM / Josh Winning July 26th, 2010: Posting on SUPER panel.

And then here's a longer video of the panel too. Unfortunately, whomever shot it, decided to edit out all my answers! But I swear I spoke, and not just when Rainn had me be his monkey.

More links of the panel Pt2: Pt3: Pt4:

And here's ET Canada's visit to the set earlier:

Let's Make Films That Support The World We Live In

Vanessa just pointed me to The Bechdel Test:

  1. Does the film have two women with names in it?
  2. Do these two women talk to each other?
  3. Do they talk to each other about something other than a man?

What is particularly surprising is how few movies can pass this test.  Every screenwriter should give this thought before hitting the keyboards.  

And I should point out that although they claim ADVENTURELAND failed this test in that the women only talk about men, it passes;  Em (Kristen Stewart) talks to Francie (Mary Birdsong) about how much she hates her, and to Paulette (Kristen Wiig) about work.