Jack's first

We just moved from Columbus, Ohio to Los Angeles, California. Jack turned one a week later. We took him to the Santa Monica Pier so he could see the Pacific Ocean and play in the sand for the very first time.

Shot with a 5D Mark III and a Canon 35mm f/2.0 IS lens. Edited in Aperture + VSCO and Photoshop.

Happy birthday, Jack.

Perfectionist filmmaking

If you're making a short film, don't be a perfectionist. There's a time and a place for David Fincher's 99 takes for a single scene in The Social Network. But I'm not so sure it's on the set of a no-budget short film.

There are, of course, always exceptions. But when you're making a short film, I truly believe the best goals to have are to learn and gain experience. Making a short film that launches a career just doesn't happen that often. That's not to say be lazy, or don't care about the end result, but it's important to maintain a perspective on what you're doing–and why. 

I personally gravitate towards the philosophy of Terrence Malick, especially on short or low-budget film projects. Here's an excerpted quote of Emmanuel Lubezki, cinematographer for The Tree of Life, Gravity, and Children of Men on preparing for Malick's To the Wonder:

He said, ‘If you want to read the script you can, but you don’t have to — in fact, it might be better if you don’t, so you can act like a documentary filmmaker and come onto the locations and capture these ideas we’ve been talking about. I don’t want to prep a movie the way they prep a movie in Hollywood.’ 
The approach to shooting the movie is connected to the kind of movie he wants to make — the form and content are fundamentally connected. For example, when we talk about using natural light, it’s not because we don’t want to have a truck with lights, but because what we want to capture can only be captured accidentally as it happens in front of us. So we prepped in a very unconventional way. 
We were trying to find a more cinematographic approach to filmmaking and a way of using film language that was less connected to theater and literature and other art forms. Terry wants this art form to have its own way of expressing ideas and emotions, and that’s what was very exciting about the movie.

Shoot what you can. Adapt. Don't let it sit and rot. Get the idea out and move on to the next thing. 

Perfectionism in short films leads to death by a thousand cuts, "the way a major negative change, which happens slowly in many unnoticed increments, is not perceived as objectionable." It leads to people shooting a film and never releasing it. Of course, just because you film something doesn't mean you need to share it on every billboard in town, but I do believe there's value in showing all parts of the process.

No film will ever be perfect. Even feature films have small little errors or imperfections that I'm sure the director notices and wants to fix. Unlike major motion pictures, short or low-budget films may not have deadlines, release dates, or investors that push the project forward at all costs. It still doesn't mean you should let it sit. Releasing something–anything–is better than nothing.

We just finished our move to California. The good news is that before we left, I was able to finish filming my short film, The Lost Detective. But moving right after completing production means no pickup shots. No redos. We have what we have. I can't go back to Ohio if I forgot something, or if a scene didn't turn out how I'd hoped. Because of the move, I didn't even really have a chance to review what we shot before getting in the car and driving away.

But no matter what, I'll release something. I'll have to make something work. I owe it to myself, my cast and crew, and everyone else that's shown their support. Like everything else, it won't be perfect, but it'll be a learning experience. And it'll be worth it.

House of cards

Planning to make a film feels like running around a table while simultaneously trying to build a house of cards. The only difference is - you know it can be done. Especially when you’ve done it before. And then you start wondering if the other film projects felt this way, and like having a child, you’ve subconsciously blocked all the hard parts out.

There’s never enough time. No matter the list of tasks, if you have two days, it will take two days. If you have one day, you’ll make it work. Or maybe it won’t. That’s the beautiful and terrifying thing about creative work. You never know if that idea in your head will translate, if your skills match your vision, or if anyone will care.

But you do it anyway. Because you’re compelled to do it. Because you feel like you have no other option but to try to be creative.

This project (like all of them) has seen its fair share of changes. People dropping off the face of the earth unexpectedly. Schedules not matching up. But when I set out to make something, that’s just what I do. 

I’ve rewritten the original script into an 11-page short. The chaotic past month considered, I’m really happy with what I have and the team we have behind it. They’ve stuck with it so far, and that means I will, too. That’s the great thing about a team, really - they get out and help push the car when you’ve run out of gas.

Changes

Life can change in an instant, and even when that’s a good thing, it still flips everything on its head.

I wanted to shoot a feature film by the end of summer because I was tired of talking and waiting. The idea that you need to ask permission to follow your dreams is put in place by those with control. The truth is - people who do great work don’t always ask for permission, and often break some rules in the process.

But then a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity came along, and we just couldn’t say no. We’re moving to Los Angeles.

It’s fitting that I started out the first post about The Lost Detective by writing, “The end of an old idea and the start of a new idea,” as that’s what is happening, again.

So what’s next? The Lost Detective will be a short film. For now. I wrote the script with Columbus’ resources (and constraints) in mind. For example, in Columbus, you don’t need a permit to film in any public space with a group smaller than 10 people. That’s not gonna happen in Los Angeles. So those simple constraints to make a film on the cheap would actually cause the film to be really expensive to make in another city.

Filmmaking is creative problem-solving. This is just another change of course I didn’t expect. But we’ll make a film. And early next year, once I’m settled in sunny Southern California, away from the cold winters of Central Ohio, I’ll figure out what’s next.

Preparing to make a movie

Once you get past the fun stuff like writing a story, designing a poster, and setting up a website, the real work hits: I’m trying to make a movie. And unless that movie involves one person sitting in a room talking to the wall for 90 minutes, working with a lot of people is required.

You quickly turn from writer/director to casting director to scheduling manager to what sometimes feels like production intern. If you don’t know how to work a spreadsheet, you’ll learn. You have no choice.

These are the tasks that you want to put off, but these are the tasks that movies are made of… and it’s why surrounding yourself with passionate, determined, and fun people is so important.

If I stop now, I’ll remain a short filmmaker with some freelance work to my name. If I keep my head down in the spreadsheets and email for a few more weeks, we may just get this camera rolling.

The end of an old idea and the start of a new idea

I’ve had an idea for quite some time.

Like any other filmmaker that’s seen Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, I’ve had an itch to make a small independent film that’s fueled more by passion than resources for a long time. Something that’s set in one location over the course of one day and relies more on substance than style (but it has some style, too).

But like anyone else who’s written a screenplay and actually tried to turn it into a film, you quickly realize that these things cost so much money for a reason. Whether it’s the things you don’t initially consider–like food and transportation costs–or the gear that every filmmaker lusts over shooting with, it’s almost impossible to make something truly great with spare change and parts you find around your house.

Yet, I can’t help but think about Shane Carruth’s Primer, Joshua Caldwell’s Layover, and Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity. It is possible to make a movie on an almost non-existent budget that doesn’t suck. It’s just really really hard. And that’s ok. There’s a reason not everyone does this.

Earlier this year, I finished Ain’t Love Grand, by far my best screenplay to that point. It was the first script I wrote in which I didn’t hold myself back because of an imaginary budget or list titled, “Locations that are available for free.” And while I’m really excited to pursue that film, I eventually realized that I could write something good on a scale that wouldn’t take two or three years to make. So I shelved that script, temporarily. Over the last few months, I’ve turned my attention to another idea, The Lost Detective.

Not only do I want to make a film for less than the cost of a semester of film school, I want to share the process along the way. I intend to use this tumblr to track progress, share behind the scenes pictures and videos, and keep a journal to hopefully look back on at the end of our journey.

I don’t want to hold anything back. I don’t want to hide anything. Because ultimately my success or failure will be whether or not others want to watch this crazy experiment.

The End of Enemy

Originally posted on Medium.

 

Enemy, Denis Villeneuve’s (Prisoners) latest film, leaves you with a lot to think about — whether you want to or not. It does something relatively simple throughout the film and does it without apology, taking the dread and tension of Prisoners to an unsettling extreme.

I’m purposely writing this without having read many reviews or theories, aside from David Ehrlich’s review of the film. This is the kind of film that makes you want to think, read, and talk about it, so these are my initial thoughts and scattershot ideas, with full acceptance that there may be deeper connections and theories that I’m not yet considering.

It’s not a perfect film, but I like the idea of a piece of work that leaves room for interpretation. A viewer can bring their own baggage into the analysis (for better or worse), and in turn, change the experience of thinking about Enemy.

The film can come across as pretentious, and shots and sequences go on for a good 10 seconds longer than you want. Maybe that’s intentional—to draw attention to the fact that you are watching this film and forced to think about what you are seeing, and not simply swept up in experiencing something.

 

Massive spoilers for Enemy below. Not only will it spoil the end of the film, it probably won’t make a bit of sense if you haven’t seen Enemy.

 

Jake Gyllenhaal as Adam Bell, the history teacher, leads a monotonous, nearly miserable life. To escape from the monotony, he’s created a dream world in which he has everything—a very mildly successful character as an actor, a beautiful wife with a baby on the way, and an apartment to match.

But, as True Detective’s Rust Cohle puts it, “Like a lot of dreams, there’s a monster at the end of it.”

The spiders represent Adam’s biggest fear. Perhaps it’s the fear of being consumed into nothingness. The thought of just being one in a billion. Maybe it’s representative of buried guilt.

He lives out the monotony of his real life, not pushing back too much. Slowly, just like his life, his dreams have become overrun by his greatest fears. Then his dream world begins to fight back.

I think it’s important to reiterate that he’s created a dream world, not simply a fantasy version of himself, or that Anthony St. Claire, the actor, is a manifestation of a split personality disorder. And even in this dream world, he can’t escape his greatest fear.

The idea of a dream world explains a few things — first, the giant spider walking over Toronto. This shows that it, too, is not reality. Second, the scene with Adam and Helen (Sarah Gadon) outside of the school. She’s his illusion. Her call to Anthony, while played up for thematic tension, is meaningless. It’s two whispers of a thought trying to connect.

His subconscious dream world, led by Anthony, rebels from the thought of his fears bleeding into his dreams. In its revolt, his subconscious destroys the only real thing he has—Mary (Mélanie Laurent), who he’s long since grown distant from, preferring the slightly more perfect dream version of his relationship.

Finally, Adam chooses the dream world, letting Anthony get his way, but he only realizes this at the very end, when he sees the spider.

And maybe his look at the end, rather than jolting awake, is his acceptance of not waking up and returning to reality.

I hate spiders.