Friday, June 24, 2011

Filmmakers, Be Good to Yourselves

Making a film is incredibly challenging. I have talked with many local, indie filmmakers and it seems pretty common to put passion for filmmaking before being healthy. So today's post is brief: filmmakers, be good to yourselves. Here are a few simple ways to do it.

Filmmakers, Be Good to Yourselves
  • Eat well.
    Don't eat too much. Eat plenty of fruits and veggies. Don't eat too much fast food. Buy stuff from the local farmer's market. Learn to cook. Stock your fridge like a vending machine so you always have a healthy option.
  • Remember to relax.
    Spend quality time with family and friends. Drink some wine. Do something that has nothing to do with films like sailing, swimming, or golf. Find your way to relax, and do it often.
  • Get at least eight hours of quality sleep each night.
    You may pretend you need less than eight hours a night, but very few people actually do. Allow yourself the luxury of enough quality sleep. Fight for it. You'll think better, be healthier, make decisions faster, and eat a less.
  • Exercise every day, even if it's just walking.Don't sit behind the camera or at your computer too long. Get up, walk around your block for a while, and come back to what you were working on. Eventually add a little jog. When that's no longer challenging, start running faster, join a gym, or lift weights. Exercise. Everything works better when you're in great shape.
  • Drink plenty of water.Do whatever it takes to make drinking lots of water convenient and easy to do. It's worth it. You'll feel the difference. Plus, if you're a starving artist, choosing water while dinning out will save you money because it is almost always free.
These are things I recommend because once I started doing them, I felt infinitely better. Feeling healthier made me happier, and allowed me to work faster and better.

Don't sacrifice your health for your passion for filmmaking. Be patient, and take the time to be in good health. I think you'll make better films because of it.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Prologue

The Vietnam War happened nearly 40 years ago. Many people, like me, could tell you very little about it. I knew two facts when I first started working on Abandoned Allies: (1) the war wasn't supported by the American public like WWII was, and (2) it lasted longer than any other war in our country's history.

Since I knew so little about the war when I started working on this film, it was tough for me to make sense of how the Montagnards began fighting with the U.S. Special Forces. For years I have felt like going into details about it during the film would take too long. It was the setting, and therefore we shouldn't dwell on it. It just wasn't key to telling the story succinctly.

Now that I'm sharing the film with small audiences, I see the need for more backstory shared in a way that people can easily process it before interview clips start coming on screen. There are very basic details that need to be shared to set the stage a bit better before we jump in.

Therefore, for the past week I have been adding a prologue. It's been a challenge. I know just enough to be dangerous now, and it's hard to distill down facts so that the audience can absorb it quickly.

For example, I want to say that the war started during a certain year so that people have an idea of where this story started. But to say that the Vietnam War started during a certain year excludes so much information. Just that particular name makes it an American perspective versus a global perspective. (It has different names in other places like the Vietnam Conflict or Second Indochina War.) It also excludes so much of the conflict that happened before the United States started supporting South Vietnam militarily. It also could be argued that the war started during a different year. Did it start with military advisers or when combat troops arrived or when the first battles took place?

The truth is, those are the specifics that derail the entire film. They're important to setting the stage, but they aren't all that important to telling this particular story. What matters most is that Americans started coming to Vietnam during the mid-1950s, the highlands were key to a military victory, and the highlands have been home to the Montagnards for thousands of year, and that's where these friendships began to take shape.

Who knew writing a few introductory sentences could be so difficult?

I'm doing the best I can. I know that the people who know these specifics may argue about it all, no matter what I choose to include. As a filmmaker, though, I have do to my best to inform the audience of certain details while simultaneously entertaining them.

While I have gotten stuck in the weeds, I don't want my audience burdened with such information. I want them to know these few facts so that they have an idea of where we are in history, and how these pieces fit together so that they can then enjoy the story as it unfolds.

The prologue is only about a minute long, with just a few sentences to set the stage. It's taken about a week or two to get it in place, but I think it works well. I just want audiences to love these people as much as I have come to love them. I hope that I can take viewers on the same emotional journey I've been on while learning these things. And I hope, with all my heart, that this tiny little project might lead to some very big changes for the better.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Quotes from Todd Phillips

Yesterday I told you how refreshing it was to talk with Andy Poe, David Iversen, and Mark Garske about filmmaking. Part of my conversation with Andy over brews was about how filmmakers talk about filmmaking. He suggested that I listen to The Treatment, and I've been enjoying it.

So far I have listened to Kevin Smith (Red State), Paul Feig (Bridesmaids), Joel McHale (Community), and Greg Mottola (Paul). Each person's name links to the interview, should you want to listen to them as well. I really love listening to the podcast while I'm driving. It's so much fun to hear filmmakers talk about what they do and how much they love it.

This morning I listened to Elvis Mitchell interview Todd Phillips (The Hangover Part II). 

Photo from

Phillips commented on making documentaries during his interview. Since I'm working on a documentary (and this blog is about said adventure), I thought it appropriate to share some of his statements. What I appreciated were his thoughts on directing a documentary and how that influences the point of view. Enjoy:

"I always felt like, what is a documentary director? How do you direct something if not by instilling your point of view?"

"No one else could’ve made this film. It was made by a director. Otherwise you’re just a documentary producer."

"You learn how to make movies in editing documentaries. I mean, Martin Scorcese use to edit documentaries. It is where you learn what writing is, what a first act is, how things flow. I mean, really, it’s just … you learn more from editing a documentary, I think, than anything you can do as far as starting out in film."

-Todd Phillips, producer 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Friday with Fellow Filmmakers

Last Friday afternoon, I met up with fellow filmmaker Andy Poe of boulder mountain filmworks in Raleigh, N.C. We met at a filmmakers networking event held at Trailblazer Studios in early December 2010.

Triangle folks met at Trailblazer Studios to chat about filmmaking in December 2010.

As usual I was one of the last to leave the networking event because I'd been running my mouth too much. I had accidentally left my big, knee-length Chicago coat behind. I had to retrieve it from the large, dark stage at the back of the Trailblazer Studios which had previously been bright, and full of conversations and introductions. The building had become cold and creepy since it emptied out. 

I was afraid to go into the pitch-black studio because I'm terribly clumsy and would most certainly break something expensive while stumbling around in the dark. I was also scared. The atmosphere had changed so drastically that it felt like the beginning of a horror film: a happy idiot willingly enters a dark room and gets gruesomely murdered by some treacherous, evil thing. Such a death would have been too scripted, and I could not let that happen.

So I turned and asked Andy to lend me some brave assistance. He used his cell phone to help me find my coat in the dark, and I've been forever grateful.

Andy loves telling unusual stories. He can do the corporate web video, but seems especially attracted to a project that will get him outside or on an adventure. It reminds me of the adventurous girl I faintly remember being; the one who was always out sailing, swimming, hiking, or camping.

Andy works out of Brite Spot Collaborative, which is a coworking space similar to Designbox (where I was lucky enough to work for about 30 days thanks to Jon Williams of shovemedia). The collaborative space is close to downtown Raleigh (off of Peace Street, a few blocks from Glenwood South), and is home to a few filmmakers.

Andy introduced me to David Iversen and Mike Garske, and we watched a joint demo reel. Beautiful footage, I must say.  (You, too, can watch it here.) Talking to people who are passionate about their craft is incredibly rewarding. We are all nit-picky because we want to show our best work. Those are great people to hire, for sure.

Here are some photos of the Brite Spot space ... makes a girl dream, eh?

Sound booth

Edit bay

Lighting studio (foreground) and meeting space (in background)

After we watched some of their work, Andy and I walked down the street for a beer.

Have I mentioned how much I enjoy locally-brewed beers? While Andy and I chatted on the patio, I sipped on a seasonal ale from Mother Earth Brewing. As luck would have it, my fellow ComedyWorx improvisers walked by and I got to say hello. Stuff like that makes me feel like I'm in a small town, which makes me quite happy.

To say the least, last Friday started the weekend off right. Chatting with fellow filmmakers is delightful. I need more conversations like this because it helps me stay energized, enthusiastic, and optimistic.

Making a film--no matter the length--is a challenge. It's really wonderful to talk with others who are passionate about what they do, and want to do it really well. I absolutely love this collaborative form of art.

The past year has been especially tough, and I needed a little uplifting last week. Working on a project as big as Abandoned Allies is challenging for so many reasons. It was wonderful to drop the tough act for a while, and confess how tough it is to fellow filmmakers who understand.

The weekend was packed full of film-related goodness. More on what happened later. Thanks, always, for the encouragement, my friends. Talk to you soon.

Great Links
Brite Spot Demo Reel
Andy Poe: boulder mountain filmworks
David Iversen: One Stop Web Video
Mike Garske on Vimeo