Archive for category Filming
Do you read movie credits?
I have always read movie credits? I kinda baffles me when you are in the theater, and as soon as the credits start to roll, people stand up to leave.
Back in the olden days…when we had the gentle sloping movie theater floors….I’d have to stand up at that point, just to see the credits. Thank goodness for stadium seating – where I can now sit down to read the credits. But I got in the habit of staying thru till the bitter end…because they put the music credits at the end, and I’d want to see who sang what song.
Then, it became a measure of respect…it takes tons of people to make a movie. If something was on the screen for two seconds, well….that may have taken eight hours to film. People work hard to make movies, even if that amount of time is not proportionally represented on screen.
So, I read names…names that I have never heard before and will never hear again.
Then THIS happens:
A movie that I worked on years ago came on late night cable. I have not yet had the opportunity to see it.
I watched it to see if I got edited in. Boom! I did. Twice – not that you can tell it’s me.
Then you watch the credits. As an actor, I have made several movies for other people. I have yet to be included in the credits….
Until now! That’s me!
Seventh name down on the list.
When we were filming the cattle drive movie last September, Don pitched the idea that we should travel Highway 81 in Oklahoma, and film the historical Chisholm Trail sites.
It only took me a year to be able to execute that. We finalized the movie a couple of weeks ago. Obviously, the “historic sites” video isn’t in that.
But there are so many other video projects we want to do about the Chisholm Trail, and maybe a week ago, we started talking about this trip.
We set a day that worked for both of our schedules: Monday. Sounds great.
“What’s the plan?” Don texted me. I said, “Leave at 9.”
Our plan all along was to make it to Okarche, which happens to have the best fried chicken in Oklahoma, and have lunch. Sounds fun. Drive around some, film, laugh, enjoy the day, take photographs, have lunch.
At 9, Don and I climb in the car and head out. The first thing I wanted to find was when we were out on the trail, I remembered a little metal sign, hanging from a post. Well, we drove around and around and never did find it. Was it actually there? Or did I dream it?
That’s helpful. You know you are in the right location. There are several historical markers across the state. We plan to film a few of the historic sites, to use in a future video.
Now, keep in mind…our plan was to eat the best fried chicken in Oklahoma for lunch. So, I had a light breakfast, about 6am. I was hungry. After awhile, Don asks, “How far are we going to go?”
I said that I didn’t have a plan. I had planned to drive around and find some historical markers to film, and we’d eat lunch. But…if we got to such-and-such place, we could do this. If we got to such-and-such town, I wanted to visit a cemetery where I have family buried.
Don said, “Are we going to go all the way to the river?”
And we kinda looked at each other and said, “Why the hell not?”
And I am hungry and we are nowhere close to the best fried chicken in the state of Oklahoma. Don suggested we get a bite to eat on the way, and we’d have our chicken for supper on the way back up the trail.
And away we flew…down the trail, stopping to film things along the way, knowing there were some places we’d stop to film on the way back.
You know what? Oklahoma is a big state!
I started off driving. I had pulled a file off the internet, and when printed, it came to 9 pages. I got the highlighter and highlighted town names, (which were not in any kind of geographic order.) There was an atlas in the car.
I had figured we’d drive and we’d see those brown signs above, then we’d know where to stop.
Yeah, um, not so much. Don read the instructions, then translated them, and tried to figure out locations. At one point he was coordinating the printout, the map, a map we got from a museum, and his phone, trying to pinpoint the location of the Chisholm Trail. He took a lot of notes, about where we’d been, what we had filmed, and what was still to filmed.
As he said, this would have gone a lot better with better research and planning.
Planning? What planning? I had no idea we were going to go south of I-40! LOL
We found some amazing sites. History is mind-blowing!
A man named Bob Klemme engineered a project to place these markers across Oklahoma on the Chisholm Trail.
One of the most amazing sites was east of Addington.
This obelisk sits on a hill that served as a lookout on the Chisholm Trail.
If you make it that far, you gotta cross the Red River into Texas! I rolled down the window to breathe some Texas air, and we started back north. By this point, you gotta calculate the miles of where you are, where you need to go next, and how much daylight you have left.
Needless to say, we didn’t get to film everything. But it was fun.
As the sun set, the next worry becomes…what time does the fried chicken place close?
I called them. They close at 10.
At long last, after a FULL day, where we hadn’t planned enough, hadn’t researched enough, and didn’t know enough, we got to the restaurant that serves the best fried chicken in Oklahoma. Eischen’s Bar!
There are eight items on the menu. A whole fried chicken is at the top of the list.
The waiter asked what we wanted. I said chicken. Don said okra.
When the food came, we were happy, happy people! (We’d only been waiting All Day to get to some fried chicken!) (We’d only been crawling in and out of the car, in the near 100* heat and lugging cameras around All Day to film a project that we didn’t plan for nearly well enough.)
Don’s phone logged our locations and the trip.
On rest of the way home, driving in the darkness along the old Chisholm Trail, we put some western swing in the CD player, and sang along under the night sky.
Four hundred ninety-six miles.
And ONE WHOLE fried chicken later…we got back to the place where we started.
You’d think that would be enough! I mean, geez…come on! 496 miles. Only a glutton for punishment would do that, right?
So, what happens next?
We have a completed movie!
It still doesn’t feel real. This movie has been in works for close to a year. That’s almost one year of this project…a project which is so big, it seems like a mountain that is so high that you can’t climb it.
One year of a project so insurmountable, that you can’t even think how to approach it. To work through this, I had to break it into segments, then break that into segments, then break that into segments. Then figure out each segment. Then put it all together. And *hope* that there is something there that people will connect with.
Did we accomplish it?
I have no idea.
I *hope so*!!!
Not only do we have a completed movie, we made it in time to enter the Sundance Film Festival this year. As of today, we have that entry submitted.
None of this feels real yet. Maybe six weeks ago, I had this moment of disheartened anguish that we were not going to have a Sundance submission this year. This Cattle Drive movie is unique. This is our best opportunity to say to the world, “Hey…we make movies!” or “We are artists!” or…”Let us entertain you!”
So, the thought of things being delayed, even further, just sank me to a new low.
Then whammo! It all starts to come together. When those puzzle pieces started falling into place, they fell into place. And made a pretty doggone good movie!
There is still a lot of work on this project to be done (need to build our short film for children, need to build a trailer, press kit, incorporate subtitles in the big movie, build a movie poster, work some smaller youtube videos utilizing some of the other footage.)
My biggest problem with this project – once the movie was actually done, is to figure out the DVD encoding, processing and compression.
Why can’t there be a road map for these problems?
I *should* take a moment or two, and savor the “Look what we’ve done so far!” moment. But that moment hasn’t hit yet.
In the meantime…imagine your best Don LaFontaine voice:
“Chisholm Trail – Past and Present…..coming soon, to a film festival screening near you!”
Have you ever put a puzzle together? And I don’t mean one of those easy ones with the picture on the box.
What’s the biggest puzzle you have put together – when you don’t know what the finished project will look like?
The editing on the Chisholm Trail movie is almost done!
(Sigh of exhaustion).
We didn’t have a script. We didn’t a preset story in mind. We went out to film this, completely blind as to what the finished movie would be.
(See the September 2017 archives for blog entries about the Cattle drive and the filming.)
This is a documentary. We tried to tell a story. Did we capture the story of the 2017 Chisholm Trail Cattle Drive?
When you see the movie, you can answer that question!
Editing a movie isn’t easy.
Let me say that again:
EDITING A MOVIE ISN’T EASY!?!?!?!?!!?!
That statement is not intended to be a complaint. But it is a statement of fact. I keep using the line, “If we were in Hollywood, there would be sixty people doing what we are doing.” In our filmmaking endeavors – we have two.
My partner Don and I work well together. We each have our strengths and they dovetail together.
I have to build the structure of the project. But once there is something there to work with, Don can come in and edit it/work it/tear it apart/make it better….and still have enough energy to make me a cheesecake!
See…I TOLD you we work well together!! LOL
Once we were properly snacked up, fed, fueled up and ready to go…we dove in.
It took a lot of steps to get to this point. And I am not talking about the filming. This is “after” the filming is done, and we have the movie footage “in the can”.
Log the footage. View the footage. Evaluate the footage. Make notations.
Then THINK. Think of what this will be. Think of what to do and what not to do. Sometimes the decisions you make about what not to do, are more important than what you actually include.
Develop an intro that will “grab” the audience.
Find *something* that will touch the human. What tells the story? What makes you care? What makes you want to know more about a cattle drive?
Plan your video shots that tell the story.
You don’t just put a bunch of video clips together and then be done.
Plan, build and create your audio track. This was the big job on this movie. A cattle drive happens outdoors – in the wind and bugs and weather (and the cars, humans, dogs, lawnmowers, planes, drones, trains). We knew that a lot of the on-site audio would be questionable.
Plan your music fills. I have a recording studio, so I worked that and built the smaller music myself.
Write the voice over track. Record the voice over track. Import that into the footage and sync it to the video.
So, let’s say that you’ve done all that. Let’s say that you have put months and months of your life into this project.
Let’s say that at some random point….say today’s random point…you know that you are close to showing this project (which you have carried so close to your heart), to the world.
You have to face the reality: what if the world doesn’t like it? What if I didn’t do my job? What if we didn’t tell the story? What if the audience doesn’t care?
You have to get up your gumption and your courage.
Being an artist is about putting yourself out there. It is standing on your feet and making a declaration: Hello, world! I am a filmmaker and I have something to say!
One of our voice over artists has attempted to record the voice over (VO) on his own – with his existing equipment. The quality of his performance was great! But the quality of the audio was lacking.
The solution is to record him with actual audio editing software, so that I could engineer the session, and try to record the best original source material at a clean audio.
We met at a hotel this week, and I had all my equipment with me. (It felt like I had more electronics in the car – than I had left at home! Ha)
Now…the problems: an unknown environment. This hotel has a heating/air conditioning system that has a continuous fan. You can turn the actual air conditioner off, but you still have a background noise. Who knows what kind of interference you might get from any electrical appliances?
And you have walls and objects that are going to bounce sound.
At first I set up a location for him to sit on a chair and talk into pillows. Nope. That ain’t gonna work.
There was a recessed area next to the cabinet where the television sat. I got a hotel blanket and we created a makeshift vocal booth. We positioned a chair very close to the blanket, so that he was facing a blanket and *hopefully* that is going to absorb sound bounce/block the fan of the air conditioner.
Then it took a whole lot of monkeying with the audio software to find the best settings. That just takes time. There is no way around it. Do an audio test. Adjust. Test again. Adjust.
Finally we arrive at what…(I hope) is a good setting. Again, with audio engineering, there is no “one best way”. You make your best guestimate, and you dive in.
When you engineer a session like this…it takes all your concentration. It takes all your focus. So rather than me running the alternate lines, we had a volunteer who, ever so kindly, offered to help (ie–she said she was leaving the hotel room for us to work and I am going…NOOOOO! You have to stay and read lines!)
Her lines will not be used in the final recording. But it is critical to have someone help out in this way…to give your voice over artist something to play off of. You get a rhythm in your dialog, and having those lines spoken aloud really helps.
Bless him…Tommy Ball read take after take after take after take.
He put so much effort into this: first of all–being willing to take the gig in the first place. Then you learn your lines. Then you craft a ‘performance’ of how to sell your character. Then, you attempt to record your work in your own home on your own equipment. Whew!
Mind you – the other voice actor recorded his lines in my studio some weeks back. It’s not like the two voice actors were in the same room – working at the same time, and playing off of each other’s character.
No, it is that much harder – to work solo, to have no idea what the other actor is doing, and still “pull off” the performance.
What is the measure of a good performance?
Well, at our previous session – with different actors, we were outdoors, and the person who is on cam and on mike was so amazing. I glanced behind me, and one man had his hand over his mouth and his eyes were bulging out, trying to stifle laughter while we were recording.
This time?? Tommy “sold” that character soooo well, I had to clap my hand over my mouth to hold back the laughter, and hope like heck that I hadn’t made any noise that would ruin the take!
We have had so many volunteers, giving freely of their time and effort and energy – to help a movie get made.
But things are progressing.
“Head ’em up…move ’em out!”
I was speaking with one of the cattle drive organizers this week. In the course of the conversation about building our footage into a movie, she said, “It takes an artist…” …to do this. To build the movie. To tell the story. To connect to an audience.
Building this movie is not about stringing a series of video clips together.
Building this movie is about finding that “hook”. What will “hook” a viewer? What will “grab” an audience and make them want to stay along for this journey?
What story do you tell? How do you start? How do you end? What happens in between?
What do you include? What do you discard?
Building this movie is a process that is the complete opposite of any of my other normal work patterns. If I write a mystery, then I know all along what the end will be. If I take an original song and go into the recording studio to build a complete full instrumentation final track, then I have a pretty good idea what I am aiming for. If I am rehearsing a piano performance or a vocal performance, then I have an end result that I already know. The work involved is about getting it “up to snuff” so that the end result is what I want it to be.
On this project…we went in with no expectations. The story evolved as the cattle drive evolved. We were not shooting “to” any particular script.
It is only now…now that the cattle drive is over, that we can start to contemplate what the movie might be once it is done.
And for me…this is so contrary to my normal process, it feels like I am blind. The vastness of the unknown tends to overwhelm.
How do you take this footage that was shot – and build it into a piece of art?
Have you ever watched a movie, and for the entire movie, You Just Don’t Get It? You sit there and kinda stare with a puzzled look on your face, and when it is over, you can go, “I don’t know what happened?” or…”What were they thinking?”
I don’t want that to happen here.
Right now, I am still going over the footage.
On Wednesday, I had a couple of (tiny) ideas about where to take this project and where to go.
We are working with the possibility of using this footage to build three movies. Each will be different. Finally on that Wednesday, I gleaned an idea of how to start Movie #1.
It was about finding that perfect shot. This shot was filmed to the east against a morning sunrise. A cattle drive participant is in the foreground, in silhouette. I have been playing with a guitar line in my head for weeks now. But when I saw that shot, my head automatically played that guitar line.
Then you drop the video of that shot off into a complete fade out to black. Then grab another shot. Hold it for the same amount of time, then do the same fade out. Then a group shot, again in silhouette. Fade to black. Finally, and by complete accident, I have a shot once the sun is up, and it made a beautiful lens flair. The sun is on the horizon. The air is golden, and there is this perfect lens flair. One of the wagon drivers is in the foreground, holding the reigns of two horses, which are not yet hitched to the wagon. I didn’t plan that shot. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
On each shot, you have this same plantive guitar line.
The movie takes off.
If I am going to start it its way, then I will take movie #2 and start it completely different. That is still up in the air, but I thought up how to end movie #2.
Movie #3 will be built to educate and entertain young children – say ages eight and under. We know we can’t keep and hold their attention for long, so this movie will be very short in duration. But we have a great premise, and once we came up with that idea, which was about midpoint through the cattle drive, then we started to look for opportunities to film to that.
On Wednesday, when these ideas are starting to percolate around in my head, I wrote a good bit of the dialog for this children’s movie.
Speaking of how these shots came out (such as the lens flair sunrise shot above)…what is the status of the footage so far?
Well, what blows me away is – of the stuff I shot for the first week – what I thought was good…was probably 90% crap. I knew I was “shaky” on days 1 and 2. I don’t mean shaky camera footage, but I knew that mentally I was not dialed in. On that Wednesday, it felt like I finally “got it”. Out there in the field, it felt like I was finally “on”.
When I looked at that footage. Wow. Not good.
Therefore – what I thought was good – was not.
What has surprised me about the footage? Well…it was when I thought I only had “average” shots and things were rather on the boring side – those are the moments that are leaping up at me, in post production.
In this editing process, what are some of the problems? Well, for starters, I do not possess the face recognition gene. They call it face blindness.
I knew perhaps five of the cattle drive participants before the drive. For the rest, I met them out on the trail. And my head is already full of all the movie details, cinematography, heat exhaustion, sleep deprivation, etc. Under normal circumstances, I can meet someone. When I see them the next time, I am probably not going to recognize them.
On this cattle drive, the problem was amplified. I know that on day twelve, I said to one of the drovers, “I don’t think I have met you yet.”
When I look at the footage…well…now… he and I had a nice conversation on day three!
To all of the drovers, I apologize.
Now that we are editing…it’s the same problem. I am having to vidcap (capture one frame of a video) a still image and email it to find out who is who.
This has become a major problem that I did not foresee.
What else happened out there? On a few occasions, people might take it upon themselves to saddle their horse and ride along. If we filmed this, then we need to be aware of who is who and not edit that person in the movie.
Yes, it’s fun to go out and cowboy. If someone had a horse in a parade, and if that person rode along behind the drive…then …I can maybe comprehend that.
But when people rode their own horses, uninvited, onto private property, and inserted themselves, unauthorized and without permission, into the process…then that offends me.
Another issue: audio.
Yes. I have talked about audio issues for months now. When we were out there, and if the wind was blowing, then I had a “level” of gain at which I would set the microphone.
It turns out that that level worked. We cut the wind noise. But the audio signal was pretty doggone low. I hate it that it is so low. I will have to look at ways to “boost” that audio signal, and then reintroduce that audio line back into the video software. I haven’t worked this problem yet, but I probably don’t have the software nor technology here to do so.
As with everything else in the field of moviemaking, video editing, and audio production…it is all about trial and error. There is no one way to work. There is no one way to do this. There is no one process. There is no one answer.
And to continue along that line…there is no “one” movie. You can take the material we have, and material yet to be acquired (music production, external interviews) and use that data to make a movie. Or a million movies. The choices of possibilities are endless. The permutations are endless.
There is no right. There is no wrong. What you can do…hopefully…is find a way to…tell a story. To connect to a viewer. To capture an audience.
It takes an artist!
The cattle drive is over.
The active filming is “in the can”.
I took (and desperately needed) some down time. (And in truth, I am still not bounced back from that level of fatigue. Wow – that shoot was intense!)
Now comes the really hard part: post production.
If you are a big studio – with funded financial backing, then you have a full staff to execute post production. What happens when you are a tiny, independent film company?
Answer: You do ALL the work yourselves.
So, we log the footage.
We make notes. We see what is viable and what is not – both from a video standpoint and an audio standpoint.
We went into the project without preconceived notions. We did not have a script. We did not have a storyboard. If we had done that, then we would have been shooting “to” a particular story. In this case, we wanted every option to be open. This is a documentary approach to filmmaking. We didn’t want to “affect” the story. We wanted to “capture” the story – as it was happening.
We could have gone in and asked the participants…do this, do that, make this happen, go over here and do that. Instead, we tried to create the least amount of influence as possible. Yes, I did ask participants to do something for the camera. But it was usually something they had just done – of their own accord, and if there was time and if it was convenient, I might ask them to do it again. Usually, if I made that suggestion, it was something that someone said, but I’d say, “Come over here and say that for the camera!”
After we log the footage, then we need to create whatever external audio that we need. We knew, going in, that audio would be our biggest problem. Shooting outdoors, without an external sound crew, without any control over the production, was our biggest challenge. When your “live” audio is not viable, you need other things to lay over the video track.
We can do external interviews with participants (in a controlled environment). We can do narration. We will record music. In that instance, we will either use old time cowboy songs – that are in the public domain, or we will compose and record new songs – that sound old, but would be created just for this production.
Our plan – at least thus far – is to create at least two different movies. We want to create a documentary for the cattle drive participants. They can show it to their families and friends. They can use it as a teaching tool at schools and civic organizations. It is important to remember history and how things used to be. The 2017 Chisholm Trail Cattle Drive is both an illustration of history, as well as a modern event. Both of those aspects will be covered in the documentary.
But, as filmmakers, we intend to create a second movie with a much more artistic approach. This will be for our film company, to enter at film festivals. After all – how many other cattle drive movies are going to be out on the circuit in 2018? Um…I’d guess, not many?
What happens next?
Work. Work. More work. And…then some work. Post production isn’t for the faint of heart. Ah, heck. Expand on that. Moviemaking isn’t for the faint of heart. It takes a lot of guts and grit and determination to go do this. We do this because we love it.
Moviemaking does not have to be about: making non-union talent work 20 hours, giving them 5 hours to sleep, and then making them work 20 hours again. It doesn’t have to be about servicing grown adults and their overblown egos. It’s not about treating the latest wunderkind movie star with kid gloves so that you make back your $250,000,000 investment.
No…for us, it is about getting that camera and using that piece of equipment to tell a story. It’s about the satisfaction of arriving at a location, knowing that you have a very limited time to evaluate and set up, making the best plan you can, splitting up, going to your location with your camera, and doing your best to get the shot.
Then after the moment has passed, and after the cattle drive has moved on, you meet up with your partner again, and one of you asks the other, “Did you get the shot?” There is a tremendous satisfaction in hearing the words (regardless of who said them,) “Yes, I got the shot!”
As my partner Don said, “Anybody can make a bad movie with a big budget.”
In the case of a big Hollywood production, you have staff. Each person has their own duties. The director carries the load on his or her shoulders. The producers are responsible for making the production happen. But when you have staff – a significant portion of the work load is divided.
But then Don continued, “It takes somebody with talent to make a good movie with no budget.”
Time to dive in!