Monday, November 15, 2010

Statement of the Director

Props and mad hailing to anyone who completes a flick. It’s lotsa work, work, WORK... the whole darn way. How does one do this sort of crazy thing when EXTREMELY short on resources? Look at what you actually have, write a script utilizing what you got, call in every favor, find a cast and crew as insane as you are, and GO FOR IT. Amazing thing is, when you have what some would believe to be an original compelling project ya just might get a few of those talented folks to throw down.
The first mantra of making Night of the Alien was “follow your gut”, no matter how illogical choices might seem. Here was subject matter and a cast that would never get ‘green lit’ under any other circumstances, yet it was was also a chance to create something no one had ever really seen before. Magic ALWAYS trumped logic, decisions made according to what just ‘felt’ right. Bottom line being not to have some ‘higher purpose’ or change any lost souls one lost soul at a time, but purely and simply to JUST ENTERTAIN, with a seamless mix of story-acting-visuals-music and tone. 
A directors role is to inspire, providing an environment that facilitates the artistic self-actualization of every person involved. Movies are truly a group effort and when there’s no monetary reward the bliss comes from a satisfaction of being part of creating something uniquely special, exhausting yourselves eighteen hour days not to just follow some trend or find ‘distribution’, but to make the super coolest movie possible. 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Entertainment is commerce, so every possible effort must be made so every element in place guarantees the investment put in to said project makes a profit. Thus, it is most prudent to secure elements with a proven track record of success... actors, directors, producers, writers, who have knocked something fiscally out of the park. Another big hedge is tried and true story concepts, things people have seen, enjoyed, and bought lots of tickets for in the past. The understandable mantra of the big boys, the system. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, as long as formulas work, they will go on and on and on. 
We also got the indie ‘studio’ world, where more ‘chances’ are taken, but all that bankableness is still there, gaining cred rather than getting that fat paycheck. The formulas are still there too, just done in a more thought provoking artsy kinda of way. Good stuff, sometimes. 
Last and for sure least, is those flicks where hopeful ammeters fly by the seat of their pants to make something, anything. Most of what this particular group makes pretty much sucks. Even if it’s kinda pretty good, there’s still none of those hedge betting wonders to make it worth marketing. That’s why professionals make movies.
So, we as the public movie watching audience can always be guaranteed of fairly consistent choices of entertainment. But then again, novels had a their consistent ‘things’ through out time too, as had plays, painting, and music. 
Yet every once in a while Picasso has to brush some cubes, four lads from Liverpool make a ‘concept’ album, James Joyce writes Ulysses. Something unbelievable, un-understandable. And those formentioned artists were already proven commodities. 
You still need the math, mastery of technique, and structure. But art can not evolve unless that math, technique, and structure is every once in a while presented in an original way. ‘Original’ that doesn’t initially ‘seem’ marketable, at least to the hedge betters in charge. What’s this all mean? I don’t know, that artistic evolution only comes from ‘established’ artists every once and a while being ‘allowed’ to think out of the box.
But wait, there’s more. The fluke, something coming out of nowhere that shouldn’t, a force of unique creativity so strong, it takes hold of people’s imagination, defying the logic of the powers that be, undeniably making it’s way into mass conscious, thus becoming the next ‘big thing’ those ‘powers that be’ begin chasing. 
Like everything, movies as an art form have to evolve, they must. The rougher road much less taken.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Pickin’ up some inserts

Actual production over? Nope.
After this little cast and crew screening in the depths of the show cave, where members of the posse, who hadn’t seen the movie like a thousand times, finally got their little peek. Super human man of a thousand jobs Kelly Jones, pointed something out. We needed inserts of characters, who after appearing early in the film, come back much later. There’s dialog in the movie summoning said characters to their destinations, but with out a visual, said characters were getting lost in the audience’s mind.
Real Deal goes into producer mode and a time is set to shoot inserts of LUCKY and EDDIE.
The day starts at the Real Deal’s ‘secret’ hideout parking lot, where a little set of Lucky’s lair has been built with some flats. Kelly Jones, Raz, and the actors arrive, joining Lord and Lady Deal, ready to DO THIS.
RD begins dressing the set, Kelly starts lighting for the movie camera, Raz sets up the behind the scenes camera, the actors put on their make up, Lady Deal is helping all.
After a tweaking issue with the monitor, we begin shooting Lucky. Since no sound or coverage is needed, everything goes quick and smooth for a change. Main issue being making sure the action syncs with the dialog we’ll be L-cutting over, being at picture lock means messing with that now would cause all kinds of work flow issues later. 
As the set for Eddie is being set up we decide to take advantage of having an actor in character and having a set. So proceed with interviews of Lucky the character and Lucky the actor.
Next is Eddie’s insert. RD’s created a little intentionally low budget looking video shoot for Eddie to rock out to, we got this custom guitar from Hot Picks USA, Kelly is positioned way up high in his shooting perch. Away we go. Once again, no audio or coverage, so all goes well.
Kelly has recently become the kingpin of Wrightwood, so just having him around makes Raz suggest we interview him for the EPK. In typical KJ fashion, sound bite after sound bite flows out of his lips. The Deal does an interview as well and we wrap.
Easiest day ever.... MONTHS after we ‘thought’ shooting was wrapped.
PS.... these inserts have been dropped into the time line and work great.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Neil Lisk

Neil, an exceptional person. Truly. Kind, hard working, funny, dedicated, loving husband and father. A gentle soul. His talent as an artist, unparalleled. Rare it is to know someone who actually makes those around him better people. Not by any conscious effort, but by simply being humble, real, and true. One could not help but be the best they could in his presence. First to arrive, last to leave, no aspect of anything ever being ‘beneath’ him. He believed in others. A major facilitator in manifesting dreams. Light, angles, blocking, set ups, movement, depth effortlessly kept in his head. Multiple jobs unbelievably executed simultaneously. Never letting pettiness or ‘politics’ get in the way of larger goals. Kind and patient with anyone struggling, kept his opinions only for ears who needed to hear. Everything he worked on was better because of his monumental talent, everything. Thought the world of his wife and daughter. Genuinely cared about creating meaningful art. Always gave 100%, always. Intense and focused, yet finder of just the right moment to be light and joking. A true friend. He would never let you down. Fragile at times, with moments of frustration, worry, and doubt. Always believing one could do anything one set ones mind to. An influence and shining example in his craft, art, caring family life, and attitude toward life. Not a day will go by where someone does not think about Neil and smile, for every life he touched, for the rest of their life. 
I was fortunate and blessed to direct his first feature and his last. Neil Lisk, a wonderful presence to forever ponder upon, irreplaceable on every conceivable level of what it is to be human. I love you :)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Thursday, September 9, 2010

story telling & editing

This ENTIRE movie was pretty much hella tweaked, rebuilt, and rewritten during the editing process. Some of the story concepts that seemed pretty cool on paper just didn’t end up translating all that well on screen... so measures had to be taken.
Scenes were shuffled, moved, and split LIKE CRAZY... since a good part of the story is told in non-linear flashbacks, there was a lot to play around with and no real ‘wrong’ way of presenting things. The real time part of the tale remained linear, but any part of the story that didn’t have to be exactly set in time became fair game for being shuffled around. The non-linear or FLASHBACK sequences we’re placed every which way possible until just the right combination was found to give the story proper flow, comprehension, and sense of magic. Yeah, the first half of the movie was pretty much Frankensteined, inclusive of actually pulling lines from one scene and sticking them into another.
The second half of the flick presented a whole nother slew of issues. The movie becomes linear at this point(though flash backs in the original script went well into the second half of the flick), many of the scenes ‘felt’ long, slowing the movie down big time. So lots ‘o lines got cut, and lots of scenes got cross cut with other scenes. Any dialog that didn’t serve the story got axed, yeah this included lots ‘o funniness, but if it didn’t have to be there... GONE. In order to make the story pop and flow scenes featuring different characters taking place at the same time in different locations were cross cut. Longer scenes became many shorter scenes intercut between each other. Once again lines were pulled from one part of a scene and moved into another.
The goal is ALWAYS to make the best, most entertaining movie possible. So going to what ever lengths, and taking what ever time necessary to get there was a given. Being independent and answering to like, NO ONE, means we have that time... and though it’s taken a lot of blood, sweat, and tears... ultimately FOUND A WAY of making this movie work in an entertaining, magical way.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Thursday, August 5, 2010

editing on FCP

The movie was, and still is, edited with Apple’s Final Cut Pro, which is the gold standard for indie filmmaking. FCP is fairly easy to use and once familiar with, can pretty much cut at the speed of thought.
EVERYTHING we shot got ingested, almost two whole terabytes of raw data. The footage was then separated into scenes, set ups, and takes. Proper documenting is the most important element of editing. The time you spend sorting stuff out up front saves WAY more time figuring stuff out later.
Each scene got it own sequence, making it easy to logically jump around the footage. The ‘final cut’ actually ended up being nothing like the original script, so having all these sequenced scenes at your finger tips proved to be very handy.
EVERY zero and one of digital HD footage was looked at. First cut being the ‘string out’, or every scene laid out in it’s entirety in the exact order of the script. String out number one totally SUCKED, causing the director to go on suicide watch. BUT, this is just a starting point, NOT the finished movie, what happens before all the hours, hours, and HOURS of tweaking needed to get everything just right.
Biggest bitch was dealing with continuity, performance was top consideration, mostly trumping continuity in the decision making process. Lighting, great ad-libbing, and sound we’re factored in as well.
All in all it took getting up to version a 5.2 to get to picture lock.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

work flow

One of many things that can make or break a production, especially when going at break neck speed, is work flow. How images get in and out of the camera, then into an editing program.
What really saved our butts was SD memory cards(the same ones used in digital cameras), the format of the Panasonic HMC150. A 32 & 16 gig card gave us over 6 hours worth of recording time. Thus never having to stop to down load footage, bring an extra lap top, or hard drive, which would have been the case using the P2 format.
Each night after shooting, the SD cards were plugged into an adaptor(same one used with digital cameras and cell phones) plugged into the USB port of a mac pro tower. The footage was imported, binned, and documented before being backed up on a second hard drive. The SD cards were then cleared for the next day of shooting. Made for some pretty long nights, but luckily the ingesting was able to be multi-tasked along with documenting and binning. Backing up was done over night, clearing the SD chips early the next day.
Over all this work flow ‘worked’ pretty well. There was some downloading on set the days we were using the X200 camera with P2 cards. The only downtime when actually shooting was waiting for the SD cards to be cleared when they weren’t. Easy workflow is one good reason to shoot with an HMC150.

Friday, July 9, 2010

SHOOT RECAP - continuity

If there was one thing, just one thing, to have more use of during this shoot(besides of course TIME) it would not be camera gear, locations, lights, grips, gaffers, craft service, or sound equipment... it’d be... FULL TIME continuity.

Oh how this little project would have gone so much smoother with someone, taking note of all those actors being here, there, who’s hand was doing this, head turned like that. Yes, you can edit around this stuff when ya got lots of coverage, but shooting up to ten pages a day didn’t allow much of that. The actors did remarkably well, considering, but still TOTALLY paid in post... totally...
Paid in other ways too with basically no one keeping track of all those lines of dialog? In one example, the script had to actually be modified, solely to fix when one of the actors referred to on thing one way here and another way there... a flub that would need no correcting if we had a freaking continuity person.
Yes, the Real Deal had his crew were constantly taking pictures of sets, but props still kept moving around all over the place. A continuity person, any continuity person, would have been just what the Real Deal needed to keep his peeps spending more time on their real jobs.
And speaking of real jobs, it was left to the actors to keep track of their wardrobe, where and when. Luckily, our story takes place during a small amount of time, meaning very little ‘costume’ changes. But sure would have ben nice having someone besides an actor keeping track of all that stuff.
Having said all that, we actually did have a continuity person for about two days, inclusive of the 11 page mother of all scenes when we REALLY needed it.... and needless to say for those two days, Tom was the most popular person on set.
photos by Suzan Jones

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

SHOOT RECAP - modifying scenes

When each day is a new adventure of craziness and ain’t no time or $ for much pre-production, you’re gonna go a little off script... not necessarily a bad thing.
In the indie movie making world TIME is always a major issue. There is NEVER enough of it. So on those days(like, every day) when you is running behind, ya gotta make some modifications. This usually means cutting what ever possible out of a scene, still move the story, and save on set ups. Yes, this can and does usually come back to bite you in the ass so need to be very careful about what does go, but when you can’t get said location back... You’ve got to. For example, all that extra banter in the band rehearing scenes... in a room which took too WAY long to light, didn’t lend itself to master shots, and contained multiple characters... GONE
SOME STUFF PLAYS OUT NOT QUITE AS PLANNED Yes, there are times(on a movie no matter how big or small) where the initial vision of the flick is not necessarily what you end up getting. So gotta make the most of what you DID get. In our case, we actually ended up getting a more streamlined work... For example, the apparent tragedy of one of our actors almost dying, seriously HE ALMOST DIED, forced the production to take some time off during his recovery. Thus providing a bit ‘o unexpected extra time for the script to get tweaked, plugging plot holes, and smoothing out all that didn’t quite play out as ‘planned’.
ACTORS LIKE AD LIBBING the script was pretty much kept to, but a couple of those crazy thespians also just happen to be EXCELLENT improvisers.. so just let ‘em roll, getting in and out of scenes. Some of the funniest stuff in the movie came from this. Feeling out scenes also got better as the actors got to know each other. We shot the second part of the movie first and the first part last, which ended up working wonderfully. In the second half of the movie our heros(Fran and the Lord of Evil and Darkness) are in some rather weird and bizarre situations... tentative and ‘by the book’, good. In the first part of the flick our heros are just having a fun, drug induced, good ‘ol road trip.... actors being comfortable with each other, freely messing around, good too!
photos by Suzan Jones

Sunday, June 20, 2010


Sitting around jawing one night with some of the other weird outsider-ish compadres working on this movie sorta got us coming to a bit ‘o a conclusion... that we’re kinda like rebels fighting the Empire. Ya know, strapped into beat up little x-wings, trying to blow up the mighty Death Star.
EMIPRE: LOTS of $ at stake....... the Empire is HUGE and under it’s far reaching umbrella A LOT more than just movies are made. They gotta keep making the big bucks to help pay for their enterprises losing $...
REBELS: $?? At stake??? We’re just trying to make something cool, different, and entertaining.
EMPIRE: It’s about math, HEDGING, we were just talking about $ at stake. Do we have the right ‘proven’ screenwriter-director-producer? Does the packaging add up? It’s not so much how good or what the project actually is, it’s who’s the ones creating it. No one’s gonna get fired if a movie staring Kelso and the chick from Grey’s Anatomy tanks. Kelso and that chick from Grey’s are money.... and if their wonderful work of fiction actually makes some bread, don’t even matter if it’s watchable.
REBELS: Just trying to make something cool, different, and entertaining here.
EMPIRE: Will test-test-TEST their product with the dumbest audiences possible in order to taylor their wares for the largest demographic possible.
REBELS: Cool, different, entertaining. Anyone?
EMPIRE: Keeps relaunching the same assets over and over and OVER again. But they’re proven franchises, right? Franchises that make.... there we go with that $ thing again.... Jaden Smith rules :)
REBELS: Don’t got any rights to 80s franchises, action series, or sitcoms.
EMPIRE: Has bucks, BIG bucks, enough to shove ANYTHING down ANYONE’S throat.
And yes, we are even Rebels even in the indie world... doing the EXACT OPPOSITE of what an indie flick is SUPPOSED to be doing. Cuz even in the indie world in order to get your work seen you STILL need stars, a ‘defined’ genre(preferably action flick), your protagonist needs to have ‘defined’ goals, and there must be a ‘defined’ demographic who will go see your little movie. 
We got NO stars, NO ‘defined’ genre, our protagonist is a pot smoking slacker, living off her dad, with absolutely NO goals... and demographic?? Who the hell knows.
All we set out to do was make something cool, different, and entertaining. 
Is all that time shooting womp rats gonna help find a break through??... stay tuned...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

SHOOT RECAP - make up and wardrobe

In order to get proper looking aliens, crack heads, slackers, strippers, death metal lead singers, high maintenance mistresses, stoners, and thugs at least some form of make up is required. And we had exactly one, count ‘em ONE make up gal... the ever mighty Suzan Jones, also doubling as set photographer, boom operator, sound mixer, sometimes actress, and mom.
How’d Suzan pull this one off. Well, no one really knows for sure, but somehow SHE DID. Usually one of the first to arrive(after a one and a half hour drive... that’s right ONE AND A HALF HOURS) Suzan would immeaditaly tear into the actor in need of the most ‘camera ready’ make up, usually being one of the girls, who could all actually do their own make up if need be with Suzan doing touch ups.

There were some specialty ‘looks’, like the dark circles under Lucky’s crack head eyes and sores around his crack head mouth. The ‘alien’ required quite a bit of preparing as well.
Most fun was watching Suzan continually hopping down from the boom ladder to touch up an actor, before taking another behind the scenes pic... THAT was some multi-tasking.
Wardrobe was a whole nother matter. In the beginning we ‘thought’ the actors would be able to keep track of all their garb. Then there was DAY 4(see earlier post), making the Real Deals set up a ‘wardrobe central’ to keep track of stuff. 
There wasn’t really a ‘costume designer’, so before we started shooting all the main actors brought several wardrobe choices to the Real Deal for review. The Deal being THEE production designer(and not being color blind) would then pick what worked best in context of the ‘look’ of the movie. All the other actors brought several wardrobe choices their first day on set and Deal would do his thing. 
Everyone’s favorite Thug Julian got his whole get up at the 99 cent store.
Any wardrobe question became a Real Deal question(just another one his eighteen or so jobs).
All and all everything worked out pretty well, considering all the running and gunning. Suzan and RD have like 35 years production experience between them, so it really helped that they knew what the hell they were doing. The actors did a great job creating all of their ‘looks’ too. 
So ya don’t always need rows and rows of Star Wagons to get results.
photos by Suzan Jones

Sunday, June 6, 2010

SHOOT RECAP - blocking

No storyboards were used in the making of this movie. Really? How could we? Well, running, gunning, and unknown quantities abounding. 
Blocking was done according to time and coverage.  Actors would rehearse the scene as they might ‘play it out’ naturally, the Set General would get all the coverage in his head and then shoot.
As per usual there was never enough time, so many times we’d have to just stud one take in order to get EVERYTHING in a master. This usually meant a little more time blocking, putting actors in just the right spots where we’d need the least amount of set ups. 
The biggest blocking challenge was the mother of all scenes(day 10), where up to 11 characters were interacting at once. The General had ‘em go through the scene as they would naturally, which ended up looking like a stage play, not working at all. Waiting for their next marching orders, the actors started chatting in small groups, each one irrespective of the others. There was our answer. 
The ten page scene(which has since been cut down and checker boarded), was split in two parts, each taking over an hour to block. But got all that time back in well conceived set ups, which were broken down to the minimum amount necessary. 
Moral of the story... block-block-BLOCK to get the most out of your time and coverage.
photos by Suzan Jones

Friday, May 28, 2010

"Everybody hold for the train!"

I was cast in this movie the way every actor dreams of being cast. I walked into Jetset Studios one day, came face to face with Rob and Vaughn, and Rob asked Vaughn, “How about him?” Vaughn nodded, turned to me and asked, “Want to be the lead in a movie?”

After a great table read where I got to know the most of the cast (many of them were people I already knew, which is always fun), we were off and running. There were many things that impressed the hell out of me on this shoot. The main thing was everybody’s unflinching commitment.

Many of us have been on countless movie sets, so we all know what a difference it makes if everybody is in good spirits and is, as Vaughn says, “Throw Down.” Well, everybody here was about as “Throw Down” as could be and it made for a great shooting experience. That’s not to say there were some drawbacks, of course. There always are. But they were quite minimal considering this was a no-budget movie where the majority of it was shot in a space where a train crossed every few minutes. (Poor Kelly.)

It is now months later. Shooting has finished. I can only imagine Vaughn is close to picture-lock. People ask me all the time what the movie is about and to this day I can’t help but say, “You got a minute?” After about five minutes of an explanation and seeing the wide-eyed expression of the listener, I always end up saying, “You’ll just have to see it.”

I for one, am very excited.

SHOOT RECAP - sets built and to build

When you’re budget is less than it takes for Tom Cruise to exist for five seconds, ya gotta pick and choose where to go full auto. Luckily we had the Real Deal doing the sets, his over 20 years in the biz didn’t hurt either. Deal did all the picking and choosing, deciding what extremes, from leaving a location exactly as it was to building an entire set from scratch.
On the very first day was one such extreme, where Real Deal, his trusted Art Director Katia, and sidekick Hector(also an actor that day) built the Lord of Evil and Darkness entire lair from an empty room in the Kid Friendlies basement. Deal also created the front porch of Marty’s trashed house, using a bunch of props already around the KF’s front yard area.
D$ pad went to both extremes. $ abode is a production designers dream. Real Deal took one look at this wonder and said “gotta use this place and not changing a thing’. D$ back porch looked so AMAZING we switched up a scene just to use it. Back yard didn’t need much changing, just a puffy sword hitting 4x4, which kept getting knocked out of it’s base. The living room was an entirely different situation, where Deal did do his dealing, completely transforming the place with props-props-PROPS, inclusive of a big Asteroids arcade machine.
And speaking of props, the Deals went all out on ‘em for this flick. The downtown location and Gina’s we’re pretty much left intact, cept for ALL THE PROPS the deals got from all over Los Angeles, fully transforming said locations to fit our needs. 
Over at Jet Set the Deal moved every piece of furniture to get just the right look for the master shot, transforming the place with what else, props. Most of ‘em this time made by master craftswoman Katia and the Deal himself.
Shannon’s place was the other extreme. A location as so perfect nothing was needed to be done. Just shooting. 
Same went for Squaresville and the Candy store too.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

SHOOT RECAP - locations

One of the Real Deal’s main mantras is GANG UP LOCATIONS, and who wouldn’t want to listen to the Real Deal. So to stay on schedule we shoot out as much as we could at each and every location. 
Schedules being the BIG mess that they were, this turned out to be a great strategy. Not  only did it allow for less days of shooting, it also meant being able to set up camp in one place then shoot, shoot, shoot.
Here’s the break down:
The Kid Friendlies pad was Marty’s house, the Lord of Evil and Darkness’ bedroom, and the location of an outdoor pay phone.

D$ pad was Ronald’s playroom, Reed’s kitchen, Reed’s backyard, Reed’s porch, and Lucky’s lair.

Gina’s pad was Ronald’s house, Ronald’s living room, King Taco’s bedroom, a mysterious place Fran walks to.

T Barlo’s was Esmeralda’s house and Reed’s living room.

The Jones’ was Fran’s family room, Fran’s Bathroom, a nondescript room, a random city street.

Shannon’s old pad was Fran’s kitchen, Fran’s bedroom, Fran’s living room.

Our mysterious down town location was all things the vortex of destiny interior and exterior, where characters play music, get stoned and talk shit about each other.

A road off the 14 served up all kinds exterior scene stuff.

So did another road WAY off the 14

Jet set was Voltage management’s lobby, Rick’s office, and a place to shoot green screen.

The Set General’s another place to shoot Green Screen

So was a Church parking lot

There were also some one offs like Squaresville

and the Candy store

And just out on the road and city in general.