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Self Portrait Films

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Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat's Happening? [18 Jul 2005|04:19pm]

thomsworld

Um, yeah.  Riiight.

Yeah, so this space has gone unused for a while, and for good reason.  Danté and I are no longer collaborating, not even talking much.  (We're not on bad terms right now per say, but a wedge had long since been driven.)  And as for me...  Well, I've been procrastinating WAY too much.

But I'm gearing up again.

I'm planning a new story, one which I'll most likely write as a novel.  Yes, a novel, not a screenplay...  But I have a plan.  This particular story would be extremely hard to sell as a screenplay, as it would require a hefty production budget.  Of course, that also makes it a poor candidate to film indie-style.  However, since a novel is its own production, it shouldn't be any harder to sell than an intimate character drama.  (Easier, perhaps.)  And I think book publishing itself is considerably less competitive than filmmaking or screenwriting.  So my plan is to first get the book published, and make sure I reserve the screenwriting rights for myself.  Then, the story already being "tested" in one medium, it might be easier to get it optioned as a film, and that's my in.

(continued in private)

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Jean Pierre Jeunet [18 Jul 2005|04:01pm]

thomsworld
 "Sacre Bleu!  I just put in Amelie again. Watched half of it, realized I would never make it through this late, and fastforwarded to recapture some of the ending. It is oh so early to believe it, but something tells me this may be top the list of favorite films.  Shawshank? Can it compete? I don't know. But something tells me it is going to be lasting. It may very well become the most influential film. Look what it's helped with already... my creative juices have been envigorated and flow in amounts I scarcely remember having before. As of yet my hands haven't kept up on the keyboard, but my mind has been fluttering like the blue fly, down avenues and streets I've never seen."  - Me, two and a half years ago.

And here I am today.  Amélie is indeed my all-time favorite film, and though I haven't watched it in months, I feel as though I could recite nearly the whole film in my mind.  I'm sure I could speak the English translations, reading along to the film without subtitles.

And, having just finished watching A Very Long Engagement with the commentary track, I find myself similarly inspired.  Not to say that the film will become another favorite--though a splendidly made film, it just doesn't tug at my heartstrings as Amélie does.  But to hear Jeunet comment on his film, on the techniques involved and the homages to Leone and Kubrick and Speilberg, and to hear the obvious-yet-modest pride he takes in his accomplishments, scene by scene...  It just inspires me to want to do the same.

I feel like I've been on a bit of a creative surge in the past week or two, not actively so, but at least in terms of inspiration.  I read Brave New World nonstop (and, despite my complaints, was captivated enough not to become distracted) and am now working on 1984.  And I find myself more inspired, often with ideas not at all related to what I'm reading.  (I'm also dreaming much more vividly than I have in years...  Weird, huh?)  And now I'm even more inspired by Jeunet.  Last time I felt this way, it led to 30 pages of Day's End (which I have since decided to rewrite) and about as much of Goldfield.  Now I know I must make more use of my inspiration, and/or find ways to prolong it.  I may yet become a heavy book-reader.  :-P

Once work starts back up, it should be rather slow for a few weeks, so as soon as I finish 1984 I ought to get right on with writing.  Perhaps writing 2076 in a different format, I should try a different approach...  Less plotted, more open-ended.  I feel more comfortable with the idea this time around.  Being bigger than Day's End, it doesn't require so many tie-ins, such symmetrical story arcs.  Ooh, I like feeling creative.  It's nice.  I should be off to bed, though.  G'nite!
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Evolution of Crane [25 Nov 2003|01:16pm]

thomsworld


Darwin would be proud, were he a 21st century indie filmmaker.

I've worked out a basic design for a crane with a built in tilt mechanism, so a high crane shot will tilt the camera down toward the ground and vice versa. It might not look very effective as shown above, but it's just a matter of scale... making the arms longer relative to the size of the camera. I'm not entirely sure how stable this design would be as is, but it's certainly something to work from.
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Website [25 Nov 2003|01:16pm]

thomsworld
I've decided we should graduate to a full-on website in addition to this journal.

Keep an eye out at this address: http://spfilms.smart-popcorn.com
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Howdy Owdy, Buckaroos! [17 Nov 2003|08:44am]

thomsworld
Dante and I spent all day Saturday doing early location scouting to see where we'd shoot. We started by heading east, to Goldfield Ghost Town and Apacheland Movie Ranch. Then, on the suggestion of Dante's fiance Sarah (as well as a Goldfield townsman), we drove up to Tortilla Flat. We were hoping since it was so far away that it'd be this perfect, isolated, untouched ghost town, but instead it was the tiniest, silliest little tourist attraction, swamped with people.

After a brief return to Goldfield, we headed out to the other side of the valley. We hoped to check Cow Town and Pioneer Villiage, but we got some bogus directions from MapQuest and ended up in Wickenberg. So, we'll have to go back and look at the other two spots next weekend, but honestly, Goldfield is looking like the strongest contender right now. It's got a very rustic look to it, as opposed to bright "paint-your-wagon" colors as the new Apacheland is. Plus, it's a real town--well, rebuilt, anyhow--with its own history, however little that may be. Goldfield could easily provide the identity for the film's town... Maybe even the title. Between that and the connections I have there, I think it's a good bet.
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Sons of Guns! [14 Nov 2003|09:08am]

thomsworld
Yee-haw!

...ok. Now then, went to a concert with Danté last night. The concert was cool, but much more significant was our discussion about the story for the western, and what I'd thought of (and written about previously). When we got in the car, he expressed that he was "not very enthusiastic" about doing a western, but less than four hours later, he was stoked and ready to shoot. (Down, boy!)

At present, there are three interwoven plots to this film:

1) The Town Crisis - This one has yet to be fleshed out, but will serve as the cultural backdrop and general catalyst for the other plots.

2) Brothers and Friends - The four main characters begin as best friends, an imseperable camraderie. In a short span of time, however, their values are put to the test, and friends find themselves on opposite sides of issues--and guns.

3) The Texas Kid's Gun - Inspired by a true family story. The sons' father once rode with a man who went by the name of The Texas Kid. The Kid was killed and robbed by some lowlifes many years back, and his guns were among the stolen loot. His friend, the father, recovered one of the pistols. However, unable to find the other, he's always felt The Kid wasn't able to rest peacefully. His sons inadvertently carry on his quest for the gun.
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Nobody's seen Costner hangin' around here, has he? [13 Nov 2003|04:44pm]

thomsworld
(Just kidding... His westerns are alright, he just needs an aggressive editor.)

Yay. Story ideas are forming. I think I'm going to set it in the later days of the "wild" west, when it's getting pretty tame by conventional standards. Nothing new there, but most westerns with that setting usually involve some old cowboy who feels out of time, and proceeds to spend three hours moping about and not doing that awful much. Well, this story is about that aging cowboy's sons. They are the future of the west; they've grown up with the territories, and are more resistent to their father's old ways than the "times that are a-changing". They believe more in the new written laws than the supposedly dated code their father lived by. As they begin to live their own lives, however, and as civilization catches up to the west and cultures meet head on, the boys realize that the code isn't specific to any time or place, but is universal.
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For a Fistful of DV Tapes [12 Nov 2003|12:04pm]

thomsworld
New plan.

Though I love and plan to do Day's End, Fall Semester, and Trip eventually, we have decided to go, first and foremost, with a western. Yes, that's right film fans, cringe... I said, "a western"! Let me explain.

1. We live in Arizona. There are more old-west show towns out here than you can shake a stick at, and since most of them aren't having much business these days, we think it should be relatively easy to be able to shoot at one. We're not talking Old Tuscon or something, but maybe Gold Field Ghost Town or Apache Land (the latter of which was the location used for Charro and Blind Justice). So locations: easy.

2. My dad is a bigtime old west aficionado. He is a big fan of westerns but is knowledgeable enough to point out errors in consistency and authenticity. He's a "cowboy action shooter", which means he likes to cowboy up and go shooting with authentic replica revolvers and rifles. At a point in his life, he was even an actor at many of the aforementioned show towns, including sheriffing at Apache Land. I haven't spoken to him yet, but I am extremely confident he will be enthusiastic in helping us with this project.

But perhaps the most motivating factor in this decision...

3. The Western genre has been, overall, stale and stifling for the past few generations. Much of that can be attributed to a decrease in interest, but much was brought on by the Western filmmakers themselves. It's no big revelation to point out how cliché most plots tend to be with the genre, and pacing is a big problem as well. Because westerns are relatively unpopular these days, the genre has managed to avoid the uber-marketing pains Hollywood has imposed most everyplace else. (In simple terms, most westerns don't require $20 million advertising budgets.) Out thinking, then, is that it would not be hard to get a western picked up by a distributor, and get some recognition. If our western would happen to be a good one, especially relative to the norm (which whe feel will not be at all difficult), then we could quite easily make names for ourselves and move on as established filmmakers into other genres.

That's the plan, anyhow... More later.
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Eat My Shorts [10 Nov 2003|08:57am]

thomsworld
Went over to Dante's and discussed the short film idea with Dante. (Hopefully he'll be contributing here in a few days.) He seemed to be cool with it, but not terribly enthusiastic, I suppose because I didn't have any good ideas in mind yet.

My first idea was "First Man's Solitude", this weird pseudo-interpretation of an early passage of Genesis. It'd be artsy and kinda cool, I think, but maybe not a huge draw. So this morning I was thinking, and thought, "Hey, what if we started just filming ordinary situations using interesting cinematography, and then maybe have some poetic voiceover on top of it? Artsy, simple, and easy to experiment with.
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Rock & Roll [07 Nov 2003|11:21am]

thomsworld
In reading some articles about independent films getting noticed, it's quickly becoming clear that doing so, getting picked up and distributed, is becoming more and more difficult, largely because Hollywood has become so much more "conglomerated" over the past two decades. (Ah, The Hard C's of Reality... Conformity, Conglomeration, Consumerism...) Marketing costs are almost as important--if not more so--as production costs for films, and there are no real shortcuts to marketing. None that will get you sold.

At least not yet.

A lot of people hail the Internet as the savior for film distribution, but the problem is, you can't make money by sitting your feature-length film on a website and allowing people to download it. In fact, that would cost a ton of money for bandwidth. The success of Internet-aided distribution will require a whole new business model.

What if an independent film company acted like an indie rock group? Street teams, audio samples, and other freebies on their website, and so forth... That works well for bands because the visitors know they can't replace the best part of it--seeing the band in concert. Well, how can we apply that to film?

Shorts. Very, very short short films. I will call them "two dollar hookers", because they should cost no more than $2 per production (excluding camera, tapes, and editing equipment, which can be reused), they will "hook" visitors with very interesting or profound messages or images, and we'll ask those who like them to donate on $2 increments. We're talking films that will be about five minutes in length, will feature the filmmakers, family, and friends (and eventually, street team members!) in place of contracted actors... Films rich in theme and cinematics, despite the short running time and low production values.

What's the point in doing this? To fight the system! (Ok, this time without sounding like a maniac...) Filmmakers, even independent filmmakers, have fallen into the Hollywood paradigm, i.e. a film must be between 90 and 120 minutes, should have professional lighting, sound design, etc. By striving to compete with Hollywood production values despite shoestring budgets, I believe indies have stifled their creativity and, moreso, their stability and longevity. Even short filmmakers seem to be trapped in a "Sundance channel" paradigm, thinking their films must be 20-30 minutes long and focus around some silly situational irony.

Our "two dollar hooker" films will be perfectly adapted to generating local and online interest for our production company. They will be extremely inexpensive to produce, extremely inexpensive to publish online, and won't be a major sacrifice to internet piracy and availability as it would be to electronically distribute a feature-length or even a 30-minute short film.

I'm pretty excited about this idea now that I've thought of it, even though it's not exactly "my thing" to make shorts. (I do prefer some form of dramatic structure, which is hard to provide in a short film.) I think it will really encourage creativity on my behalf as a filmmaker, and will require the audience to use its imagination for interpretation, something films don't do enough of. Plus, I can have some fun with it, take some risks, and make a few stinkers.
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"Red meat! We crave sustenance!" [06 Nov 2003|09:51am]

thomsworld
(That was from Twister, by the way.)

I woke up this morning--if you can call it that after only three hours' sleep--and realized all I'd eaten in the past 24 hours was a stale bagel from the conference room yesterday and a tray of nachos at Matrix Revolutions last night. I've been reading those books so much, I'd forgotten to get any meals in. No wonder I thought I was coming down with something!

Hmm... I had started toying with the idea of making Day's End first, but I've decided against it again. My initial concerns were that the film would require some really a-list quality acting to do justice with the story, since it's almost entirely focused on two characters. Now, my main concern is that it wouldn't be a big draw for distributors... It's pretty bleak, grim... Not very chipper. Though I know it will be a great story to tell, I'm not sure if it would be given a chance to be told.

So, I'm thinking about Fall Semester again. It's a safer bet: almost an ensemble film, full of subplots, some funny, some almost tragic. It will have a lot of variety to it. There will be a ton of character arcs--they'll really grow from beginning to end of the film, nearly all of them. And it won't just be, "They all get laid." Some will end up in big trouble, but all the wiser for it. Of course, my main concern there is that distributors may just see it as a slightly grown-up teen comedy, which it's not. It's more like Swingers about college. I suppose it will be determined in how well I write it.

Just in case, I might also try working on Trip, my modernization of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. It will be pretty easy to write, would only require two or three locations, and oughtta be a pretty damn fun watch if I can balance the humor right--and this is coming from a guy who can't stand the original play. Plus, we'd pretty much get to spend the entire production camping out in someone's back yard up north. Who could complain about that?

There's still plenty of time to decide on this--I figure I'll write Fall Semester, Trip, and at least a rough draft of Day's End in the time it takes me to save up for a broadcast-quality camera. So by the time we're ready to start filming, I'll have figured out which it is we'll be filming.
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Not so rebellious, but... [06 Nov 2003|04:07am]

thomsworld
I bought two books from Amazon a couple weeks back and received them Monday evening. Here it is, 4:00 AM on Thursday morning, and I'm about halfway through the second book. I've never read this quickly before. The books? First, the informative and simplifying Digital Filmmaking 101 by Dale Newton and John Gaspard; second, Robert "El Mariachi" Rodriguez' Rebel Without a Crew.

I consider it a good sign that I never rip through books like I am now. That this is how I watch movies, soaking them up, yet it seems I can do the same with books that are about movies. The passion is definitely there. I worry, though, that I might not be so daring as I need be, as it seems Robert Rodriguez was to get his start.

I'm glad I got these books together because, though they are equally inspiring and really make me confident that my dreams are possible--quite doable, they also seem polar opposites as far as the filmmakers' attitudes, philosophies and such. the DF101 guys do their films non-profit (perhaps because they couldn't turn a profit), for the thrill of making a film and the education involved. It's a thrill for Rodriguez as well, and he did El Mariachi to learn about making a feature-length film, but a week after the final edit he was driving his way to Los Angeles to sell it, and (it's obvious though I haven't read this part yet) does pretty good for himself. A mantra of DF101 is, "You can't squeeze blood from a turnip," but bleeding is exactly how Rodriguez financed his film, actually partaking in a medical experiment for a month. DF101 does everything legally, by the book for tax purposes, and... well c'mon, do you think Mr. Desperado was that concerned about such things?

I see myself at a happy medium, philosophically speaking, between the two extremes. Though I probably would if I had to, I don't plan on donating my body to science in order to fund my film. I do plan on plenty of sweat & tears, however... long sleepless nights, cramping my hands up coding and driving myself bonkers making enough websites to pony up the dough. I will ask around first to see if the result would be legally sellable, but I don't plan on paying actors $6.00 an hour when I'm already putting myself in the hole, and they'd probably do it for free. Lord knows I will not be making any movie about an alien in some goofy foam-rubber mask. I don't know if my stories would be sellable, but they will be more sellable than that. Oh, and I won't be making any movies down the road like Spy Kids 3D.
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"Ultra-Low Budget, Incorporated" [05 Nov 2003|03:49pm]

thomsworld
Hello, one and all... This journal/community is something I've set up for all of us involved in Self Portrait Films to write in as we learn and go. I suppose we should begin with a little introduction.

"Self Portrait Films" is the working name of my production quasi-company (Hopefully we will be able to consider it a real company in the not-too-distant future.) I consider myself the writer/director/producer at present, but I may be sharing writing and production duties with my friend, Danté. Additionally, we'll probably enlist the help of Dante's fiance Sarah, my brother Phil, and aspiring New York thespian Adam Hughes.

Our desire is to produce an independent film with a budget at or about $10,000 or less. Right now, we're at $0... Zero broadcast-quality cameras, zero editing systems, microphone booms... Oh, we do have access to one tripod. But it's not frictionless, so we can't use it.

These numbers might seem discouraging, but what we lack in financial resources and equipment we make up for in creativity, ambition, and a love for film. With those fully stocked in our arsenel, I feel confident the rest will fall into place.
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