Friday, April 29, 2011

Magic


I've been lost in this thing for almost two days.

I knew I wanted one, that it would be VAST improvement over my old phone, and that I would be very happy to have it.

However, thought I, surely I will endure some disenchantment. It can't be as wonderful as it seems from a distance.

But then I bought one and found out. The iPhone is made of magic.

OK, let me try to stop wasting your time. Here are some things that took me...too many hours to figure out. If you have an iPhone now, or are planning to get one soon, this might help you out.

  1. Task Manager - The best app I've found so far (by far) is Wunderlist. It's beautiful. And it's free, with no ads. 
  2. Email syncing - If, like me, you're still a Googlite, and you can't live without Gmail, and have no desire to mess around a whole lot with Mac's version of Mail, then go here. I still find myself preferring the mobile version of Gmail on my phone's browser, but that tutorial is the easiest and best way I've found to get my phone synced with my Google mail and calendar accounts (it works for contacts, too.)
  3. Here is a list of apps I'll have to have forever. I list these in particular because this is a blog about being a film student, and I think all students of film would be benefitted by them. (I'll link to them or their non-mobile counterparts)
That's not a lot of stuff. Probably most of them aren't surprising. I'm new, as it turns out, to this whole app thing. What am I missing? Have you found apps that are particularly helpful to you in filmmaking or film studenting? (Feel free to discuss either iPhone OR Android apps.) How do you feel about smart phones in general? Are they necessary? To everyone? Anyone? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

***

If you haven't yet, I'd sure appreciate it if you'd do me a solid and click on "Like" over there on the Facebook page... (there I go begging again)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

$500 a Minute

Everyone knows filmmaking is expensive. I've belabored the point enough by now (or maybe just for now). Even student filmmaking ends up being grandly expensive, but in a much different way.

I've talked about this idea before, the principle that what you don't spend in money you spend in time. I'd like to reemphasize this point on the eve of our third (and probably last) fundraiser for Weighted.

Because we started pre-production for this short film so far in advance, we had time for fundraisers. And fundraising takes So. Much. Time. Allow me to briefly elaborate, and then we can consider, with one another, whether the money we were able to raise was worth the effort we put into it.

TRON Dance Party:

Fundraising Team = 10 people
Average time spent per person = 16 hours

Net funds raised = (approx) $300
Total man-hours = (approx) 160

Value of average man-hour = $1.87

Have you ever worked for one dollar and eighty-seven cents an hour? You did if you worked on Weighted's first fundraiser.

Let's move on to a more lucrative effort.

Kickstarter:

With this effort, we spend the majority of our time putting some interview videos together to share with the people who visited the site. We hoped that if visitors had the chance to see our lovely faces, they would be overcome with pity and love, and give us money. It worked.

I'm not going to try to give the breakdown cost of the man-hours we spent here, but my guess is that we did a little better than a buck eighty-seven, and this method of fundraising was certainly our most profitable. What's interesting is that it was also our most straight-forward: "Please give us money."

Weighting for Spring Concert:

This one hasn't happened yet, but it has already cost us overwhelmingly more in man hours than any of our other fundraising efforts combined. The thing that's been killing us is having changed our plans over, and over, and over again. It turns out putting on a concert is, like, hard.

Originally, this was scheduled all the way back at the end of March. That means we started planning for this event back in February. It was going to be a rooftop concert. We found out later that was an impossible idea. Then it moved to another date, and another location. And then the date changed again. And then we had to pick a different location. Then we moved the date and location one more time. Oh, and through it all, our musician line-up changed constantly and totally.

Thankfully, it's all locked down now. You can read all about the event, which is happening tomorrow night, here.

We figured at the beginning that this ten-minute film would cost $5,000 to make. Hence the title of this post. The college (bless them) gave us 3K to start, and then it was up to us to raise the rest. We're all crossing our fingers that we can meet our goal. I think we will.

All told, 5K is not a lot of money for a film like the one we're making. I mean, shoot, we're making someone fly, right? It would be an interesting exercise to figure out what this whole thing might cost if everyone was getting paid, and we had to rent or buy everything we're using to make this movie. The RED camera alone would cost 500 a day. That would have been half our budget, just for the camera. Man.

Well, I've probably said way too much about what we're doing. My producer might kill me. Ah well, I've had a good run.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Against the Green

Well, we made a man fly.


(More pictures here.)

This is a film about a girl who can't fly. Which means, incidentally, that someone in the film can fly. Which means we had to figure out a way to make somebody fly. That someone was Ben Isaacs, who plays Damon, brother of Maya (played by Aurora Florence, lucky to have dodged the fate of flying--i.e. harnesses, ropes, pulleys...torture.)

Am I posting about this to show off? Yes.

BUT, there's a more legitimate reason. I'm also singing the praises of people who know what they're doing. Nick Dixon is our VFX guy, and without him, we might has well have just given up. 

Therein lies the important note, which is one I'll stress over and over and over again: Nothing is more important than working with the right people.

Nick pulled this whole thing off by:
  1. knowing what he was doing,
  2. planning out every single detail,
  3. hunting down people to help him solve problems he couldn't solve on his own,
  4. more planning,
  5. following through on everything he said he'd do,
  6. and generally being awesome. 
Last week, as we went through the shot list a final time before shooting all this stuff on Saturday, he informed me, "We've run into three problems, two of which I was able to solve, and I'm gonna call this one guy to confirm whether my solution for the third problem will work." By the end of the day, he had, and it did.

NOTHING is more important than working with the right people.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Stingy Triangle

Alright, I've made an executive decision (I am, after all, the executive of this blog). This will be the last post I spend talking about how we've managed to save money on Weighted. I promised to dedicate a couple of posts to the subject, but now I feel trapped by that promise, and I've become bored. And if I'M bored.... Right. Moving on.

There is a secret, you know, to saving money. It's time. No matter what, filmmaking is expensive, and it will exact its costs one way or another. So you don't have money. Guess what you do have? Time is actually way more valuable than money, which is why film is such a demanding god to serve. It's like the tax collector saying, "Oh, you're broke? That's fine, I'll just take your son."

"Oh well that's a relief. For a moment I thought I wasn't going to be able to pay you."

There's only one effective ingredient that will catalyze the process of converting time into money, and it's planning. A LOT of planning. Guess when we really started rolling with pre-production on this 10-minute film we're trying to make about a girl who can't fly? January. And we're shooting the first week of May. Don't worry, I won't make you do math--it's four months. Four months of pre-production on a ten minute film.

Who knows what the ratio would be? A month for a hundred dollars? Less? Probably. It's kind of obscene. But that's the way it goes.

Here's an image that will probably end up making you feel sad inside:




Pick two. No film will ever be all three. Ever. So now the only thing you really have to remember is that you should never pick the top two (and you'll be lucky if you can manage to end up with the bottom one.)

***

Thank you to the 3 people who clicked the "Like" button on the Facebook page widget. 100 points to the next three people who click it!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Costuming: Take it Seriously

Before I forget, I will here encourage you to take half a second and click the "Like" button for 2190's Facebook page. You'll find it just to the right of this post.

***

Alright, I promised I'd mention some specific things we've done to save money on Weighted. So here's thing number one: Wardrobe.

This is one of those things that can end up costing a whole lot (and for good reason) in any film. In the professional world, a good costume designer is always worth the money. Most people think that costume design is only important if you're doing something "out of the ordinary." Like werewolves or 16th century London (or superheroes, or....)

But it turns out that in any film, the decision of what the actors will wear is crucial enough to merit careful attention to costume design. You want someone who knows what they're doing.

On a student film, however, this may be an area where you can save a whole lot of money. 

We were lucky enough to cast the perfect actors for Weighted, both in acting ability and in personality. We made the decision early on to do our best to dress them for the film out of their own wardrobes. Yes, this involved our designers (lovely girls, both) going into each of the actors' bedrooms and sorting through their clothes. Sure, it's creepy, but guess what? We got what we needed, and we didn't spend a dime. 

This won't always be possible, but it should always be attempted. 

The other thing that could have cost us a good part of our budget was buying climbing shoes, which, if we had been lazier, we might have easily justified doing. That would have been about 300 dollars, which would have been a big chunk out of our student film budget. Gratefully, we were able to borrow two pairs, which was tricky, because if you know anything about rock climbing, shoes are the last thing you're likely to be able to borrow. 

All told, it's likely we won't have to spend anything on wardrobe. Go ahead and call it luck, but as any filmmaker knows, making movies wouldn't even be possible without a whole lot of it. 

Oh, by the way, we recently uploaded a short interview with our actors on our Kickstarter page. Aren't they great? 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Beg, Borrow and (don't) Steal

One of the reasons today's post is late is that I went out begging on behalf of my capstone. Me and another guy visited four restaurants, explained who we were and what we're doing, and gave them a letter as proof of our student-hood. Judging by their reactions, two out of those four businesses will probably come through with either direct food donations or gift cards.

Big budget movies boost economies. They come in some city or town (or several) and spend a bunch of money. They hire local labor, they rent rooms in hotels (or whole hotels), they pay a whole lot for a whole lot of catering, etc. etc. etc. Big budget filmmaking is big budget for a reason. The production accountants do their best to keep things thrifty (why pay 200 million when you can pull it off with 150?)

That is NOT the way student filmmaking works. And the best film student will learn this rule the fastest: never spend money on anything you don't have to

In that vein, here are two lists:

Things you should probably spend money on:
  • Actors - Even if it's not much, it's almost impossible to find good talent for free
  • Food - Starving a crew is unforgivable, especially since most all of them are working for free
  • Design - If it can't be begged, borrowed or stolen ...borrowed, it must be bought
  • Festival Submissions - if a film isn't going to get seen by someone, don't bother making it
There will be other expenditures, which is why the next list is more important.

Things you should NOT spend money on:
  • Crew - Film students ought to work with other film students, and none of them ought to get paid.
  • Equipment - Use what your institution has available. Don't spend money on rentals if you can possibly help it. Need a crane for that one shot? No you don't. Not unless you've got an extra few hundred dollars just sitting around.
  • Design - This cannot be overemphasized - the VAST majority of what you'll need on almost any set can be found for free. Someone on your crew has got it, or knows someone who does. The exceptions to this rule are period pieces, which you should probably avoid as a student (ask A. Todd Smith.)
  • Food - You will be amazed at how much food you can get donated. You'll have to spend money, but not nearly as much as you think.
Of course these lists aren't comprehensive. But you get the idea. 

Over the next few posts, I'll talk about specific things we're doing on Weighted to save money, and how those things could potentially inform other projects. 

Meanwhile, is there something you'd like to hear more about, specifically? Do you have other ideas about how student filmmakers can save money? Good news! That's what the comments are for.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Enslavement

These days, I'm barely hanging on.

My friends and family tell me that it's because I've taken too much upon myself. I'm overcommitted. I have too much on my plate (isn't that a strikingly overused metaphor?) 

But that's not it. The real problem is that I keep forgetting that freedom is only possible through obedience and discipline. Consider the following: budgeting facilitates savings and financial peace of mind; obeying the law prevents fines, jail time, and all sorts of other unsavory things; time management prevents those who effectively do it from losing their time. 

It's that last that's hardest.

We really need to enslave ourselves. I mean each of us, individually. Are you in control of what you do with your time? I haven't been, lately. In an effort to initiate some accountability for myself, here's an outline of what works for me when I'm disciplined enough to do it:
  • I have two Moleskine notebooks
    • The big one is for a daily log of events (no touchy-feely journaling for me)
    • The little one is for whatever. Ideas, tasks, recipes, directions, doodling
  • I'm a recent initiate into the club of Macbook Pro owners, and now I'd be lost without it:
    • I use Gmail's "Tasks," which can be organized by due-date and synced with
    • Google Calendar, which I also use
  • In the morning: 
    • I record the previous day's events (bulleted) in the big Moleskine
    • I review any goals I've set
    • I go through my master task list and pick out the ones I want/need to get done that day
  • On Sundays:
    • I review what I did and failed to do the previous week
    • I make goals for the upcoming week
    • I populate my master task list as thoroughly as I can

None of this is particularly difficult. It requires setting a reasonable sleep schedule, so that I have enough time in the morning to do this stuff justice. But it is personal enslavement, or, my effort to force myself to work for me in the manner and time I dictate. 

Why do so many artists starve? Is it because the world doesn't appreciate them? Is it because God sees fit to abuse them? Is it because they enjoy the torment of failure?
Of course not. It's because this whole planning, goal setting, task list making stuff is anathema to most artistic personalities. Discipline is hard, and many artists (myself included) are naturally lazy. We're dreamers, not doers. We get caught up in trivial things because we find beauty in them, or because deep down we're terrified of what true success demands. 

Success in any field requires a certain level of self-starting, and this is abundantly true with filmmaking. Rarely will anyone be telling you what to do and when to do it. You have to go out and do stuff on your own. You have to be your own boss, which is awesome, and intensely difficult. 

What do you do to enslave yourself? What do you wish you did? What can you commit, today, to do to better use your time and achieve some of the things you've been dreaming about? Please, share your thoughts in the comments below.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Interwebosphere - Part 1: The Upstart Reality

From: xkcd.com/802
Isn't Facebook annoying? And YouTube? And Twitter? And blogs? Doesn't the Internet suck? It's like this upstart reality.

"Hi, I'm the Internet, and you now have to live ME, as well as your life." 

Wh--hang on--just--hey wait a minute! Who do you think you are? I've got more than enough on my plate with REAL life without having to worry about you

But the Internet is oblivious to this conversation. It acts as though it's been around forever, and seems to believe unquestioningly that it matters every bit as much as your other, more conventional life does.

No one can get by entirely without it. If you don't have an email account, you might as well not exist within the modern society that has completely fused with the virtual world. There is no escaping the circumstance (not that many people seem to want to).

But if you're an aspiring filmmaker, you've got to actually set up shop. You can't be a visitor, you have to be a resident. You have to make friends with your neighbors and work to improve the online community and contribute something. You've got to make a life within the upstart reality. 

What does that mean? Well, as you can see, this is "Part 1" of this topic. In future installments, I'll talk about Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, blogging, websites, and so on and so forth. I'll get more specific. I'll share what I've learned from my own experiences and from others'. I'll be looking for advice from you, who may very well have been more successful at all this than I have. 

For now, though, I just want to hammer this point home: You must work to build an online presence. That doesn't mean customizing your Gmail account. It means staking out a place in all of the digital venues that matter. It takes planning, consistent effort, and time. 

That's actually one of the reasons I started this blog. I need to be more consistent with my contributions to the online community, and build a more robust virtual image. Like it or not, the aggregate of what I leave behind within this digital world will largely determine my future opportunities. 

I need to promote myself, and so do you. 

So what have you done, to that end? Do you have a YouTube channel? Do you use Facebook often and effectively? Do you blog? Tweet? Tumbl? If you haven't done much to establish an online presence, what do you plan to do in the future? What would you like to see me talk about?

Also, be sure to click "Follow" (it'll make me look more popular, which, I know, is what everyone really wants.) And if you like this post, share it!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Everyone Should be a Film Student

I've been a TA for BYU's introductory film class for three years now. I became convinced some time ago that this class (TMA 102) should be a general education requirement for all students. With each passing semester, I feel more passionately that this is true.

Here's my reasoning:

An "Introduction to Literature" class is a GE requirement in most schools, and for good reason--books are and have been a fundamental method by which society communicates with itself. The class's purpose is to attempt to open the door for its students to the world of literature, so that they can then become informed participates in the ongoing conversation of that medium. In short, books are really important, so any education worth anything must attempt to help students achieve a certain level of literacy.

Books used to be THE primary medium of cultural dialog. Popular books would enter into the public's awareness, and achieve a broad audience. Now, however, a "bestseller" will get ready by, comparatively, a tiny fraction of its society's population. It is very, very seldom that a book sells more than a million copies these days.

I'm not going to say that movies are more important than books, but it would be easy to make a strong case that they have become more relevant. If you ask a crowd of a hundred random people how many of them had read the latest "bestseller," how many hands would go up? How about if you asked them to raise their hands if they'd seen Toy Story 3? Or Inception. Or the latest Transformers.

Everyone should be a student of film. Yes, I also believe everyone should study literature, but I think it is imperative that we study the dominant medium of our era. I don't think everyone should go to college and major in film, but I do think it has become incumbent upon us as members of this modern world to become literate in our primary mode of cultural communication.

It's about keeping our freedoms of thought, and our intelligence. In other, older civilizations, the literate controlled the uneducated. It is no different today. If we refuse to study the language of our media, and instead content ourselves with consuming upon our lusts, as it were, we will lose our intellectual and emotional freedom. Not that anyone will take it from us--we'll simply give it away.

Perhaps you have some thoughts on the subject? Am I taking this too far? Not far enough? What are some ways that you study film? Share them in the comments below.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

BYU Final Cut

I didn't plan on bringing up film festivals in my first post here, but I'd feel pretty stupid if I didn't take this opportunity to talk about one of the biggest things I've had the opportunity to work on since I became a film student.

Final Cut is BYU's film festival. It started all the way back in 1993, and ran all the way through 2008, when it died at the hands of insufficiently attentive film students in BYU's film program. The pain of the loss was felt pretty immediately, but it took a couple of years to get a group of students together who could handle really bringing it back in a big way (and take enough responsibility to keep it going.) Enter the Student Film Association, who's been working themselves to death to get it going again.

That's maybe a little more history than you wanted or needed. But there you have it. 

Over the past couple of years, I've been astonished by the lack of enthusiasm student filmmakers have for getting their work seen by more than just their close friends and family. Films need an audience, or what's the point? If a student filmmaker refuses to take the initiative to get his or her work seen by as many people as possible, that student will never improve or succeed as a filmmaker. 

Filmmaking is about conversation, and without an audience, there is no conversation. It's like a visual diary, which is neat...sort of. But really, no one should waste their time making movies if they don't try to get an audience for them. This medium of art demands dialog, and the communication between practitioner and spectator is a holy thing.

Thankfully, the Final Cut fever caught enough of BYU's film students to supply a pretty admirable set of films to screen this year. It'll be a great program. 

But it was a tough process. Getting these students to submit their work took constant begging, and I just kept thinking, "What's the matter with you?" Don't they know that films need an audience to really matter? To allow the filmmakers an opportunity to learn and improve? 

I've decided the problem must be that film students simply don't think enough about it. They're anxiously engaged in the process, and that's a beautiful thing that can be all-consuming. I know it because I'm a filmmaker. But the difference between the filmmakers who improve and find work later on, and the ones who end up working at Office Depot, is the realization that this art demands an audience. The filmmakers (students or no) who work hard to get their work seen are the ones who end up successful. And guess what that means? They get to keep doing what they love AND not be homeless. It's a pretty good deal.

I'll post more on the subject of film festivals (and in more specific detail) in the future. For now, here are some pertinent links for Final Cut:

Get your tickets here (or at the HFAC ticket office)



----

Do you have suggestions for other things you'd like me to post about? Thoughts about Final Cut? Opinions about the need for films to get an audience? Put it in the comments, and I promise to respond. 

Follow by Email