Obligatory end of year post [WARNING – may contain nuts!]

Feeling enthusiastic about the coming year? I am. Very much so.

I don’t mean to sound smug, but unlike the previous [bleak] most recent years 2014 was a productive year for me. I stuck to my goals and completed all but 2 of them; including relocating to Sweden to continue to pursue my happiness, giving up a perfectly good job, renting my house out and throwing myself into the unemployment pool, setting up my own company and then luckily finding a new job – with my first happy clients. All so that I could be where I felt I needed to be, do what I felt I needed to do with my life and ultimately, because my life felt like a trap. It felt stagnant and I felt like I was doing nothing with it; at least nothing that I wanted to be doing.

Some of the creative things I was proud of:

  • I made more films earlier in the year – not for public consumption. Merely for fun and to get back into making films. We even had a club going at work, where we each made a ‘Ten Second Film’ a week; purely to prove to each other that creativity was possible for anyone and there was a way to tell a story with a variety of methods and everyone came to the same story theme from a completely different perspective and often using very different techniques and tools. Want to know more about how this works?
  • I wrote a novel as part of Nanowrimo 2014. Yes it still needs to be rewritten, but it’s down – out of my head and on the page.
  • I joined two writing groups (one for writing and one for critique) – in order to overcome my shyness and seek out others, to help look at my work objectively and constructively and also to see if I could be of assistance to others. I made some new friends in a new country and I’m sure that it will be a great help in 2015.
  • I took a few online courses to help learn my craft. And I read every article that seemed relevant to what I was trying to achieve – in order to learn more.
  • I also sought out more books on my craft. And I downloaded any free screenplay that I could get my hands on – I suspect that 2015 will be very much about reading more of those scripts and learning form the best.
  • I wrote something almost every day – even if it was my journal or some short #VSS tales in Twitter; something I was never good at before.
  • I used meditation to help fight my way out of creative blocks / writing block.

I’m currently setting my goals for 2015 and I’m looking forward to using more of what this great online community / the interwebz has to offer – attend more courses, develop and refine my writing skills and seek more professional critical feedback and to also help others, where I can, to achieve some of their goals. This year was a rehearsal, to see if I could still muster the gumption to take this seriously and invest serious amounts of time and energy. I did it. But I can give more. Much more.

More on my goals in the new year. I tend to like to let them simmer for a bit to see which ones fight to the surface more.

But if I may be so bold, can I suggest that we all help each other to get a step further up the path to creative freedom and feel the buzz of a little more success!

Have a great 2015 all!! Don’t fight the good fight alone! Let me know if I can help in any way in 2015.

Oh and here’s the [random] Nuts.

Like meets Like writing game

This post is a minor break from my Nanowrimo – which has been going well by the way – thanks for asking. 🙂  but I hope you enjoy it.

So the game we played today in my Writing Group – was something I’ll call ‘Like meets Like’ – inspired by how film pitches to studio execs often begin with very simple ‘elevator pitch’ – to convey what your new idea might be like, by likening it to a previous successful movie idea, or changing the genre or the time setting:

Many successful / cult movies were pitched this way (and some not so successfully):

  1. ALIEN – “JAWS in space” – this very cleverly conjures up the isolation of being out in the middle of nowhere, paying a nod to the second half of JAWS, by taking the crew of a ship in space, fighting a man eating alien in close confines.
  2. ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 – was originally pitched as an exploitation / horror film, because the studios weren’t funding westerns – as RIO BRAVO in modern LA; where a homicidal gang that do not fear death, target the cops at a run down police station and mark them for death (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assault_on_Precinct_13_(1976_film)
  3. OUTLAND – “HIGH NOON in space” – this takes the classic Western trope and transfers it to space, where a lawman (Sean Connery) decides to take a stand against corruption, despite the hired killers coming for him and the fact that everyone else is turning their back on him.

I’m sure there are many more better examples. I’d be pleased if you could share them with me 🙂

One other way to approach this is to compare two movie titles and see if they conjure up a film idea – this could be to reinvigorate a tired film idea and give it a new spin.

The film FROM DUSK TILL DAWN (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0116367/) – is a good example of what happens when you take a vampire movie and put it together with a heist / gangster movie. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE WITH ZOMBIES (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1374989/) is another.

So why do it?

It’s fun to put different things together to see what combinations may inspire different ideas. And you never know, some interesting plot variations might come out of this experimentation, at least you get you on the road towards fleshing out characters and situations. And to that end, try then taking that film title combination and then trying to work that up into a logline.

For example – I might say “It’s like JAWS meets DUMB AND DUMBER – a tale of three incredibly stupid men, attempting to capture and kill a mythical Megalodon Shark that’s targeting the population of a small island – and it’s far bigger and more dangerous than any Great White – only they’ve lost their boat, and they’re too dumb to know anything about hunting sharks.”

I’d love to know the proper name for this activity – if there is one. For now the name stays. 🙂 Please let me know if you can think of a more well known technique term for it though.

Here’s the two I came up with: (they need work 🙂 )

1. Think RAVENOUS meets ZERO DARK THIRTY – A darkly comic action/horror film about an alcoholic CIA operative, recovering from a botched mission that went fatally wrong, who is forced to find the secret location of a cannibal cult, before they consume her kidnapped boss; the one person who stood by her in her hour of need. Ref: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt012…­ and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt179…­

2. Think REAR WINDOW meets L’APARTMENT – A drama / mystery / romance – about a bored advertising executive, recovering from an injury, who is forced to solve the murder he believes he witnessed, when spying on his new female neighbour; he’s already engaged to marry another woman. And he’s convinced that one of these women might be the killer. Ref: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt011…­ and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt004…­

The others in the group thought of an even better spin on the game, for the random factor, to throw different film names, genres into a hat and to pick them out at random. That way, no one has to struggle for good combinations to work with, but instead can just practice the technique when using ideas purely for fun and practise.

Why don’t you give it a try, in those moments when you might be short of inspiration? they don’t have to be keepers, those ideas that you’ll eventually pitch to an exec, in a Hollywood meeting, but they might help you practice starting to develop that elevator pitch – so that you can later take the meeting that launches your career.

Please let me know if this was useful – and if you prefer a variation, tell me what works for you. And also, especially in time for next year’s Nanowrimo, why not use this technique to inspire your next novel plot.

Production plan for Open Movie VFX film using Blender

Production plan for Open Movie VFX film using Blender:

This video – Open VFX Movies – has a very interesting take on using Blender (the open source 3D programme) as part of your production workflow for VFX films)

  1. Screenplay (CELTX)
  2. Concept Art (Krita and the GIMP)
  3. Storyboarding (CELTX
  4. Animatic (Video Sequence Editor in Blender) and Crappymatic (Animation with animated characters)
  5. Shooting (prepare props, casting, recce locations etc) – Used Blender to plan design of the sets
  6. Prepare footage
  7. Tracking
  8. Masking
  9. Layout
  10. Animation
  11. Compositing
  12. Grading

Check out Blender here.

Films watched recently

A few of the more notable films I’ve watched (in Alphabetic order):

30 days of night 2 dark days

  • 30 DAYS OF NIGHT 2: DARK DAYS – Yawn, blah… this b-movie sequel fails to live up to the promise of the first film. Right from the first movement when we see a quick actress switch and tiresome flashback monologue you can tell the film will suck worse than the hissing vampires this actress is trying to warn everyone about. It tells the tale of the female survivor travelling around and trying to convince people what happened after an apparent cover up, who is then sought out by a useless band of supposed vampire hunters to hunt the vampire queen. Only these tossers have no clue, inappropriate ideas about suitable weaponry and we don’t care what happens to them as none of them are anything more than cardboard cut-out characterisations, including the Ripley-esque lead. It really outstayed the welcome and stunk up my night’s viewing and was only memorable for the pain it induces when I think about watching it again.

Blood Creek poster image

  • BLOOD CREEK – a strange mix of atmospheric horror and sporadic, outlandish CG gore. This tale of a Nazi warlock using an ancient runestone to reanimate the dead and do his bidding proved entertaining, if a little predictable in places. Surprisingly good cast for what felt like a low budget schlocker. The main plot had more than a few plotholes, but entertaining and innovative enough, despite it’s obvious desire to create a franchise. Worth repeat viewings.
  • CASTRATION MOVIE – Round a friend’s house I was told a tale of a tape handed down from a cult film director by the band who released it. The bizarre nature of its footage and the murky provenence seemed like too good a chance to pass up the opportunity to watch what may be an actual – albeit bizarre – ‘fake’ snuff-type movie; as released by Psychick TV. The movie features the shoddy home movie road trip footage of a potential serial killer, featuring various 70s Mexican and White rentboys playing with electrode sexual stimulation / drug induced highs, with not altogether successful and sometimes fatal results. My friend had never watched it all the way through, so we did. You can’t unsee this type of film, so think twice before deciding to check it out. – if you wish to check out what others think about the film and find out more about what is shown CLICK HERE. I certainly think it is a film that deserves more research into it. Not sure who would want to though.

Machete poster image

  • MACHETE – Danny Trejo (FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, HEAT) stars as the titular badass Mexican cop with a penchant for overly large shiny knives. The bag guys underestimate his gift for survival, when he is forced to watch them kill her, before being left for dead, stabbed and left to die in a burning house. He soon appears in the US as an illegal immigrant and is forced to take part in the fake attempted assassination of a candidate for State Senator (De Niro), using immigration as his ticket to office. Soon everyone is out to get Machete, but this unstoppable force of chopping and slicing carves his way through them all, until he gets his revenge; only stopping for the love of some hot Chicas – including a great pool scene with Lindsay Lohan (the Senator’s daughter) and Alicia Rachel Marek (the Senator’s wife). If you don’t mind your action extra bloody CG, and can handle the idea of Trejo being an irresistible stud, then this film will float your boat. It did mine.

Ong Bak 3 movie poster

  • ONG BAK 3 – Another flawed martial action film starring Tony Jaa – picks up right where the second one finished. We find out more about the power of the Evil Crow assassin character, whilst Tien (Tony Jaa) is healed and regroups to fight another day. Flawed, but still amazingly shot and featuring some unique action sequences – this time a more yoga / Thai dancing style of fighting. Well worth a view.

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 poster image

  • PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 – The much hyped sequel to the original haunted house tale – where a family bring their first born male home and all hell breaks loose. I fell asleep through the first film and wasn’t entirely keen on going to see the second one. It does suffer from the same repetition and painfully slow build-up, and ‘just-in-time-exposition’, but it does deliver in the end. I was impressed that I felt the classic hairs-standing-up-on-the back-of-my-neck feeling, and that others in the cinema were jumping left right and centre and the unhappy ending. But I could have done without the pool cleaning equipment porn moments and other repetition. The film could easily have been 30 minutes shorter without sacrificing the experience. If I’d watched this at home on my own I doubtless would have slept through the good bits. I may now actually bother rewatching the first snooze fest.

REC 2 movie poster

  • REC 2 – a brilliant sequel to the first excellent Spanish Cinema Verite zombie movie, which blends the occult, possession and zombism into a terrifying unrelenting mix. This film picks up where the last one left off, the same night, with the female reporter being carted away by a possessed freak, and throws two new bands of curious people into the apartment building looking for answers. As one would expect, each band fall prey to their own stupidity and the hunger of the building’s inhabitants. This film should be watched late at night, alone, in the dark. It will scare the pants off you and make you reach for the light switch when you go to bed. It has a very clever spin on how to make a monster truly terrifying and make use of night vision; something that is rarely seen in the tired horror genres of the last few years.

The collector movie poster

  • THE COLLECTOR – amazingly dark and unflinchingly twisted take on the Slasher film genre, with a thief breaking into a family home, only to find the house rigged with booby traps (ala SAW) and the family all trussed up in various states of disrepair. The titular killer is always one step ahead and seemingly unkillable, or rather the victims are seemingly intent on only maiming and not finishing the job. if you don’t mind that sort of cliché fare then it is well worth a look.

THE LOSERS  poster image

  • THE LOSERS – a weird comic book action movie about an A-TEAM-like band of Special ops characters who fall afoul of an evil CIA operative and barely survive an assassination, when they go against his orders. Their quest to restore their honour and avenge a Helicopter of kids didn’t really float my boat, despite the very slick action sequences. Nor would it interest me to read the original books. But I may rewatch this when I’m in a better frame of mind and hopefully learn to love it.

Anyway, there are far more to mention soon. But that’s it for now.

Transcoding DSLR footage and Radial Dolly

Great article video on using FCP Studio’s Compressor app to Transcode footage for your editing workflow. Obviously the same principles apply to working with iPhone 4 footage etc.

The article: http://filmmakeriq.com/2010/01/the-dslr-filmmakers-workflow/ – and check out all the other articles on the site. There’s some really useful material on there.

The video:

Here’s a great example of what can be shot on the 550D – if you know how – and combined with CG to create a stunning final product:

The 3rd Letter (aka “36 stairs”) trailer from grzegorz jonkajtys on Vimeo.

Nice.

Here’s another great video to show the kind of audio setup you can use to record separate audio and when to use software like Plural Eyes to sync it up later on your timeline for post:

How-to: Shooting ENG style with Dual System Audio on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II from Createasphere on Vimeo.

Yes, my brief encounter with a Canon 550D DSLR has inspired me. I am geeking out on the kind of footage that can be acquired. Especially when you factor in this cunning design for a tabletop Radial / Micro Dolly!

here’s the video to show you how they made it, with example footage:

Of iPhone 4 film shoots and more

Zombie Mints - Litter

Yes, I’ve been a busy film geek of late. Not only have we attempted to shoot a short film entirely on the iPhone 4, but I’ve been getting to grips with FCP Studio and learning how to edit the footage; as I am sick of trying to do it in the totally unintuitive and limited iMovie 09 or iMovie app.

It has not been the easiest of times. But as with each of my shoots I have learnt from it.

The main objective was to shoot a spoof commercial / short horror comedy film in 1 day, with mainly found objects / objects I already had, amateur actors, natural light and do it all on the iPhone 4 – and for £50 including food. It did not go to plan.

The End result – was shot in 4 hours, on the iPhone 4, is not edited on it though as that was doing my frickin’ head in, features the usage of one red head light as the weather was not with us on the day, I had to buy makeup and marigolds as props. Total budget – including feeding the crew was about £60.

Firstly, always check your makeup prior to prepping your shoot. I found that the latex and powdered makeup I intended to use for my zombie makeup had gone off, since I bought it after a special FX course that I took. Cue hurried calls and a mad dash by one of the crew to go and pick up some replacement makeup; only to find that it was vastly substandard, but by then we had to crack on and make a go of it. Not ideal. Periodically check your makeup, just like you would any piece of equipment.

Secondly, I must say that if you’re going to attempt to shoot anything meaningful featuring actors, that requires intricate zooms or moving the camera, don’t bother using the iPhone 4 unless you really want to keep retaking your shots to get them right. It’s difficult enough to shoot anything with actors and enabling them to hit their marks without having to ensure that you capture the shot. All it takes is the focus to suddenly become unresponsive or a slight knock to the camera itself or the tripod you’re using and the shot is ruined. This happened often. It’s fine if the shoot is simple or just shooting live action as it happens – after all that it what it was designed for.

I have noticed also that the compressed format of the iPhone 4 AVCHD footage doesn’t hold up well in blocks of colour, especially on blacks of shadows. It often looks blocky or patchy, even when the scene has plenty of light. My main actor brought a Canon 550D and I have heard amazing things about the video capability of this camera. If he had known how to use it and I could have quickly learned, I would have been sorely tempted to ditch the iPhone and do it right. However, the object was to have a fun shoot, using the iPhone 4 and not falling back to any of my other cameras – not even the fully charged Semi Pro DV cam I had upstairs; no matter how tempting it was!

Zombie Karl

The real point of contention for me has been the edit. iMovie just doesn’t cut it as an editing app, not when you’re shooting multiple viewpoints / angles and intercutting them. A 30 second sequence took me 4 times longer to edit in iMovie and it was far from polished at the rough cut stage compared to the same edit in FCP. That is the point though isn’t it. Although you may want to shoot a fun movie – fun is relative and if you approach it with a Semi Pro sensibility then you must use Semi Pro tools.

But the iPhone 4 footage is still relatively new. Few programmes automatically come with the codecs / settings as standard, so I found that FCP did not have suitable setting for me to use, which would retain the audio on the timeline. That is, until I stumbled across the article “Topic : Iphone4 video to Final Cut pro – giving away a droplet to help you out.” – which came with a link to download a droplet. This droplet converted over 62 clips in an hour – into better quality ProRes 422 LT footage that FCP could understand and could play back the audio. Nice! Thanks Jeff Greenberg!

Anyway, it will be while yet before the finished movie is ready for derision and mockery. But I am in the middle of editing it right now, and must stop procastinating. Let’s hope it’s worth the wait.