Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Making of HellthClass... & Big News

Did you like that video?  I didn't.  Not at all.  To me, the sound of my own voice just ruined the whole thing.  But hey, maybe you liked it, and I suppose that's all that counts. 'Cuz I do it for the people!

And just look at all those happy people (they were only happy because this was the start of the first day of shooting, in their minds, making a film was only going to take a half hour... my how they were wrong)

Anyway, something I didn't bother covering in the video, was the overall look of the film. When I first set out to make this, I had imagined a very harsh, contrasty aesthetic like this:

("City of Lost Children" 1995 - DP Darius Khondji) 
(...and also, the exact face I made during the entire production)

However, getting a look like that requires lots of lights and that nasty little thing called time. 
And I had neither. 
So, because I was shooting all natural light, the contrast levels and general form of the light ended up changing to something considerably softer, almost dreamy. 
In the end, I went from a "Darius Khondji" to a "quasi-Bruno Delbonnel" (and I don't have the photographic talent of either of them).  
A huge stylistic difference, of course, but still suitable for the subject matter.

("Dark Shadows" 2012 - DP Bruno Delbonnel)

I ended up making a custom LUT for this film in Photoshop. It's actually a simple process which, for the sake of time I'll not retype. Instead, how about a link to a tutorial -- click here
No wait, not there, HERE.
Anyway, after applying the LUT, I then put an edge blur and slight vignette on an adjustment layer, then added film grain, and an overall warp to the corners of the image to give it a vintage anamorphic feel.

It means I wanted it to look weird and dreamy and old and it was a lot of work.

Art Department Stuff

I made a ton of props for this -- all very last minute -- but, thankfully, I've amassed quite a collection of random posters and illustrations over the years that have come in handy.
The comics on the right are from my year as a cartoonist for a local paper called The Far Corner.

The poster (right) I made in Photoshop, Frankensteined out of stock images and vintage fonts. The page from the book (left) I made, printed, and taped into a random book I had around the house. I changed the page color and printed an appropriate page number so that it appeared to belong in the book from the beginning.

Some posters I threw together just for this short. A big thanks to the folks at OfficeMax for doing such a great job on these, they really reproduced well.

Now, for the bedroom location -- I couldn't find a room that looked how I wanted on short notice, so I ended up converting my own room into the "set" for part two.
Everything had to be rearranged, a complete overhaul.

I moved the bed into the little nook in front of the closet and attic doors. To make it seem like that was just another wall (and not just a stupidly impractical way to arrange furniture) I bought a cheap night sky tapestry and tacked it up over the doors -- I also removed the doorknobs so there wouldn't be any weird lumps poking out behind the cloth.
And of course, everything was tied together by an enormous amount of posters, X-mas lights, and general clutter, to really give it that lived-in feel.

About Music

The "score" if you will, was pieced together from royalty-free tracks from Purple-Plannet Music and other bits that I created in Garageband. 
This piece is one of the bits I made that I'm not too horribly embarrassed to showcase:

And finally -- the 'Big News.'  ...Drumroll please.

I've been given the opportunity to do some VFX work for the guys over at Small Town Monsters! Their new documentary "The Flatwoods Monster: A Legacy of Fear," will be coming out this April.

So keep your eyes tuned for that!

Thursday, October 26, 2017


It's here!
Let us not spoil this moment with words.

Ok, now let's spoil it with words, lots of words.

First of all -- I wanna say a huge THANK YOU to all involved.

This short has been a real gut-punch. So many things to do that I had never done before and so little time to do them in.
For example, just getting everything together in order to shoot this thing was a huge challenge.
The timeline on it went something like this -- 

March:  Start looking around for schools. Do storyboard and concepts.

April:  Found a school. Great! Wait for location release to be approved.

May:  Still not approved. But hey, don't let that stop you, start looking for a cast.

June 1st:  Ok, still not approved, but at least I've got a few kids in mind. This should be easy.

June 7th:  No word yet -- all potential actors want a shoot date so they know if they can do it. Only problem, I still don't know if I have a location.

June 9th:  Ok, just tell 'em a date and hope for the best... July 12th is still a month away, you'll be fine.

June 20th:  Finally got approval! This is great! Cool, this is finally gonna happen -- OH CRAP! I don't have a monster yet! (well I wasn't going to spend $300 making a monster until I knew I had a film, that would just be stupid. )


July 4th:  Just threw together a mold and an armature and tried to cast the foam -- but something's wrong with the foam! Must recast. Not enough foam! Must overnight foam latex from Georgia, $70!

July 6th: Finally got a decent cast, must patch-up seams, fix huge air bubbles, paint and test before shoot. Finally rehearsed with my lead actress. All kids' schedules are locked.

July 10th:  Last minute props.  Rental gear arrived. Test EVERYTHING. Just had a kid drop out. Gonna shoot myself in the face.

July 11th:  Get up early. Set-up location. Do light tests and see if all the shots I drew in the storyboard are even possible in this space which I'm just now able to fully survey, adjust accordingly.

And finally, on the day of the shoot, we had another kid drop out an hour before filming.

So that was a really long example, but necessary, I think, to better convey the chaos of the entire production.
Part two carried on like this -- 30 days to get a whole new cast and location together, one day to rehearse and one (8hr) day to shoot.

And now for a pie chart.

As you can see, the budget on this one was considerably larger than the last -- 'Bait' having only cost me $660.
As before, a pretty huge chunk of that went to rental supplies. 
I shot the whole film on a Sony A7s. And used two different lenses for the two parts of the story. For part one, I used a Sony/Zeiss 16-35 f/4 Zoom and part two used a Canon 18-55 kit
Using zooms allowed me to move extremely fast; not having to worry about changing lenses between shots.
And boy did I have to move fast.
I've already posted about the shoot schedules for each day, so I won't bore you with that info again. But the speed at which I needed to work was continually being undermined by the high shoot ratios that I kept incurring.
When you're acting as director, cinematographer, cam-op, lighting, and VFX supervisor, all at the same time -- and all without the aid of a field monitor -- it makes getting a decent take kinda tough. 

For the CPR manikin, we made 3 different heads:
The "Good Anne Head" which was made of Sculpey and styrofoam. And the "Evil Anne Head" cast in foam latex.

One "Evil Head" had an articulated mouth and the other was a lightweight 'stunt' version with a mouthpiece that enabled our actress to hold the prop in her mouth without a harness.

For most of the film, I tried to shoot on a tripod. But some shots required handheld and subsequent motion stabilizing.
One shot that broke this pattern was the lateral tracking shot toward the beginning. We didn't have the time or money to build a dolly like this, so we borrowed a hand truck from my uncle and mounted the tripod on that -- it worked beautifully! No post stabilization required.
So, to any of you no-budget filmmakers out there, keep that in mind; hand trucks are good for more than just toting Hannibal Lecter around.

Anyway, I'll be releasing a BTS video next week on all the sweet VFX that I did.

Till then, here are a few fun facts that I'll cover in more detail later: 

1) When working with kids, the phrase "don't look at the camera" is like telling a kitten
"don't jump on the counter."
So for some shots, I ended up cutting out their eyes and rotoscoping them
back into a new position away from the lens.

2) 9 out of every 10 shots has some type of visual effects in it.
Most of these are (hopefully) invisible effects. Like the 'eye thing.'
Sometimes it was as simple as adding dust or a vignette.
Other times it was as complicated as split-comping 2 different
takes together to get one performance.

3) The clock was fake. The real one on location didn't work, so I had to track 
and replace every shot where it was visible.

Ok everybody, that's all for now. See ya' next week with some cool stuff.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Post Production -- Finish Line In Reach

Good news to any who are hopefully keeping up with this project: I'm 95% done with the new short!
For the last couple months, I've been up to my eyeballs in editing, sound, VFX, and other random bits and pieces -- and now, it looks like it may just be nearing a close.
Now, let the record show that I'm definitely not the most organized person in the world.
In times past, I've been guilty of hastily labeling miscellaneous audio with such unintelligible monikers as:
"HorrorWSH For the Wldrness"

And my hands-down, no contest, all-time favorite:

Yes, I've actually named an important bit of foley, "Randomsound 1."

But lately, I've been trying very hard to be more organized.
I've watched tutorials on all the different things I didn't know about working in Premiere Pro (and took notes, except the notes were chicken scratch and stupid... but hey, wudda'yagonnado?).

I took the proper steps toward streamlining my workflow -- which up till this past year just looked like this:

Now, I know what you're thinking: He did all that and now he's cranking out films like a pro.
Well, let's just see what you think of what my timeline looks like right now.

WOW! Check that out. Look at all that organizational insanity!  Good thing I watched all those tutorials.

But really, despite how it looks, that's actually a rather decently laid out timeline. I've got all my adjustment layers in pink, sound fx are green, ambiance red, and music blue.  I've also color coded my video clips to tell me what is raw, what's been finished in AE, and what needs to be reworked for timing issues.
Oh my GAWD, it's soooooo organized!

(This gif cracks me up every time.)

Anyway, I've been very busy recording foley and trying to get a good mix.
As usual, I could only afford to rent professional equipment for a few days, so I tried to get as much good location audio as I could.  Unfortunately, as is the case with most wild takes, there were very few that I could actually use, so I've resorted to doing foley in my bedroom with my Tascam's built-in stereo mic.
And of course, trying to get clean sound using non-directional mics while living in the city -- that's a bad combo.
So my process for literally every clip (and unlike most "millennials" I do use literally when it's called for) has been to record, then drop into Audacity to boost gain, remove noise, and EQ. Then export uncompressed and mix in Premiere.

Of course, there's probably an easier way to deal with such big loads of audio -- probably a method involving Adobe Audition -- but I don't know how to use that program as of yet. Hopefully, when I'm finished with this production, I'll use some of my downtime to learn more programs.

So keep your eyes peeled for the new short. As it looks right now, I'll probably have it up in the next couple weeks (barring any issues or festival problems).

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Part 2 Down!

Stopping in quick, just to say that shooting on part two is in the can!
Much like P1, this shoot was fast and furious.
I only had time to rehearse once... the day before the shoot -- and we had to get everything I needed in just 8 hours.
Thankfully, I got it all and in exactly the 8 hours allotted!
Now I'm moving into deep post production -- basically, just a crap ton of color grading (and editing).
I'm about 65% done with post on P1 and still have all of P2 to do yet, but things are moving along.

Figured I'd post the official title card (since I don't have anything else I can show you).


Sunday, July 16, 2017

Part 1 is Done (aka: Who Knew Kids Had Short Attention Spans?)

Part one of the craziest shoot I've ever done is in the can!
We managed to get nearly every shot needed -- some things had to get cut, however. But that's just  the way things go when time is ticking and you've got no budget.

We were on a 4 day schedule that went something like this:
Day 1) 9am-4pm.  Set-up the room. Hang posters, arrange chairs, check light levels... sharpen pencils with the worst pencil sharpener in Ohio.

(of course I didn't sharpen them, I'm the director, my job is to delegate, not sharpen pencils)

Day 2 & 3) 10-4pm approx.  Shooting, panicking, shooting some more.
Day 4) 10-3.  Clean-up: put the room back as we found it, leave no evidence!

Our first actual shoot day went by like a breeze. We were even a little ahead of schedule. 

That should've been a red flag.

Because once day 2 came, all bets were off!
Basically, we ran into all the same issues that any indie filmmaker does: No time, light changes, various things breaking or just going wrong, etc. 
However, all this was made 5 times worse by the fact that we were only able to shoot 6 hours for both days.
Why... KIDS, that's why. 

With such limited time (and of course, limited crew) I was forced to move as quickly as possible, only grabbing the most essential parts needed to tell the story.
So, in the end, I'm saddled with two extremes: shots that are absolute gems, and others that just don't work.
Naturally, I'm going to have to do the best with what I've got, and if it's one thing I've learned over the years of doing things by myself, it's how to "polish the poos." (-- insert image of super shiny bear of very little brain.)

Anyway, I'm working hard in post -- color correcting, compositing, all the usual.
But there's one new trick to add to my bag this time around: Split-Comping.
If you're not familiar with this concept, check out this link here.
I think it's going to be an incredibly useful, if not incredibly difficult, technique that I'll employ to try and fine-tune the performances of my child actors & extras.

I'll be moving forward with part 2 next month. Which means rehearsals, casting, a whole new location, and set decoration are all in the process as we speak.
So, it'll be another whirlwind week, and then a long, tedious time in After Effects for the rest of the month.


Monday, July 10, 2017

One Day Away From The Big Shoot & Teeth

Hey hey, everybody (I say this as though thousands read these ramblings).
Got some big news!
I'm going on location tomorrow to setup for the new short being filmed this Wednesday and Thursday!
And yes, I can even tell you what the title is:

This will be -- and I am aware that I say this every time, but it's always true -- the biggest thing I've tried to do to date.
Now, "big," I realize is a relative term. When I say 'big,' I don't mean big as in this kind of big. 
What I really mean is, 'big' in terms of how many people are involved, how much work it's been/going to be, and how many new things I'm having to learn just to make this happen.
This will be the first time I've every had to shoot with synch sound. 
It will be the first time I've ever had to shoot with child actors, or shoot a location that wasn't my house (or a friend's). 
Just like last time, this production will stretch the limits of what a few people and a shoestring budget can do -- maybe to the breaking point, who knows! Everyone keeps telling me they can't wait to see it, and frankly, neither can I.  It'll be just as much a surprise to me in the end.

It's interesting, well, I find it interesting -- that one could call this my No-Film-School-Film-School-Blog, as I've been chronicling my adventures in independent filmmaking for the past 8 years now.

Honestly... I don't really know where I was going with that tangent.... maybe I was going here.

Anyway, this film is gonna be (hopefully) really cool when it's done, and the date for release is most likely going to fall... somewhere in the fall. 
So, keep an eye out for it.
I will try to post as much as I can, without spoiling too much.
But in the meantime, here's some teeth!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017



Once again I find myself absent from the blog.
Well, the thing is,  I've been working furiously on a new project. And of course... I can't tell you what it's about (isn't that always the way).
However, I can give you a few hints -- the first being: that it is another live action short.
The second: that it has a cast of 15, and it takes place in a school!
Yes, I seem to be moving into bigger and (hopefully) better territory.
So, until I can say more, check out this weird interlude:

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Orson Played AIFVF

Just a quick update here, 'F' for Formula was selected to play at this year's Athens International Film + Video Festival!
He was also featured here on Film Shortage a little while back.

I know I'm a little late with this news, but I've really been busy pulling strings behind the scenes -- gearing up for a new short (or maybe two, if I'm lucky).
Last year saw a lot of new challenges met -- like shooting my first ever live action short, the fastest turnaround in (my personal) animation history, and getting into film festivals.
I hope to continue in this momentum and push forward with more new and exciting projects -- of course this means even more live action, and way more VFX!