Archive for category Video

It takes an artist…

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.

Then boom!

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.

To entertain…

It takes an artist!

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What happens next?

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!

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Modern conveniences

We are lucky, in 2017 to have a lot of modern conveniences to make this journey much easier.

We are so lucky to have escorts along the trail. These law enforcement and highway crews keep us safe.

I personally saw one incident where a driver was not going to obey the law. This driver was going to go around an emergency vehicle and drive – way too fast – into the cattle. That officer stopped that driver and protected us! These good people escorting us have kept us safe! Thank you!

What else do you need for a modern cattle drive?

Food!

The cowboys of old ate beans and biscuits, and maybe some dried beef jerky.

But in 2017, we are lucky. One of the support vehicles is a trailer with a refrigerator and freezer. It is powered by a generator. The drovers have had wonderful meals prepared in the open air over a campfire.

No day old beans and stale biscuits here!

What is another essential?

Down in the middle of the picture, you can see porta potties and blue stock tanks.

Each campsite has had these provided on site. They have hauled in hay and feed for the horses, cubes for the cattle and firewood for the fire.

Every single detail on this drive has been planned for and executed. There are a whole bunch of people – behind the scenes – who have made this once-in-a-lifetime event possible.

But who pulls this together, and keeps us all going? Who is the one out there taking care of business?

That’d be the cow boss:

Carmen Schultz.

Friend. Neighbor. A True Horsewoman!

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Visit the cattle drive!

Come visit the cattle drive!

This is a rare opportunity to see how things were and how things used to be.

The purpose of the 2017 Chisholm Trail Cattle Drive is to educate, celebrate, and commemorate the Chisholm Trail.

This is a chance to see history – live – right before your eyes.

This is the schedule of the Cattle Drive.

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Panic!

The Chisholm Trail Cattle Drive is getting closer.

Computing the issues of the sound parameters seemed so daunting – mentally – it was like a giant hill to climb, and it seemed to be too huge to even take that first step.

But Monday, I dove right in.

We are a tiny crew. We will be outdoors working with cattle and horses in a completely uncontrolled environment. There are no do-overs. And when you in Oklahoma, the wind never stops blowing.

I am recording sound on-board the camera. We don’t have staff or resources or equipment to record sound on its own – which would be added into the video feed in post production.

Nope! We’ve got to use the equipment we’ve got and make it work. They call this guerilla filmmaking!

I’ve got the 1) in-camera microphone – which seems to pickup tons of external noise. 2) camera shotgun microphone – which is powered. 3) donated wired microphone, omnidirectional, unpowered 4) donated wired microphone, hand held, unpowered, 5) wired lavaliere mike, powered, 6) wireless, powered lavaliere.

I put a sound meter ap on my cell phone.

Then you have to compute decibels of ambient sound; decibels of designated sound (what you are actually trying to record); distance from the object from which you are recording sound; wind; wind gusts; and who knows what else? Your eyes stayed glued on the on-board camera sound meter. Then you start adjusting gain. You want the gain to be down enough to cut out the background riff raff. You want the gain to be up enough to give you viable sound of the designated thing that you are recording. You need to have a computation for each mike, at different levels of ambient sound, at different levels of distance.

And – when we are out there on the cattle drive, these decisions have to be made in split seconds.

There are no do-overs!

I actually made some progress. This is all trial and error. Which piece of equipment – at which settings – at what distance??? Then you cross your fingers because there is a whole lot of luck involved!

The title of this post reads: Panic!

Where does the panic come in?

I took the camera – with my test audio – to the computer to download footage. I need to hear the sound – in the software – to see where we are at.

I could not get the camera to connect to the computer!

Panic.

The last time I downloaded footage was for the Chisholm Trail Scroll Ride video that we produced in May. I know the computer has the same settings and configuration now as then. I haven’t changed computer settings. Perhaps I changed something in the camera programming?

I tried three different computers – two different PC cards – three different softwares – (by now the panic is about to make me lose it). I called my partner to bring his camera. Since I hadn’t been adjusting the programming on his camera, it should still be in the last setting in which we used it.  Then I tried to get the computer to recognize the second camera.

Nope!

The only thing left that I can think to try – is perhaps the firewire cable which connects the camera to the computer has become damaged or compromised. It is the only component that was the same on all of these experiments. We’ve had the cable for awhile, and maybe a pin broke? Or who knows what?

I ordered two new cables and now I have to have enough patience to wait for them to come in.

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Kansas

Today I went into Kansas scouting locations for the cow camps for the Chisholm Trail Cattle drive next month. Along the way I saw the Country School Museum.

 

None of these photos are of the actual cattle drive locations, (one prairie field looks pretty much like another…), but these were some fun shots I took while I was out.

 

We are gearing up and making plans. All along the drive today, I was (in my head) editing video for the shots that we don’t even _have_ yet.

I love westerns. This isn’t a western movie per se, but it has horses and cattle and saddles and cowboys & cowgirls wearing boots and chaps. It has people cooking over a campfire.

It evokes the mental image of a cowboy playing a guitar under the stars, as the cattle are lowing nearby.

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Suffering…

Suffering…

The original title of this blog was going to be:
Suffering…for your art!

From time to time, as the opportunity arises…I take on an acting job.

For a few weeks, we have been getting casting notices for a major project that is being filmed in our area. It sounds like it’s a pretty Big Deal. So, I tell my partner “It’d be nice to apply for this (and possibly get hired) and get it at the ground floor (meaning…maybe they’ll use us again.)”

I apply. I get hired. Wow. That is something.

I know the day I will be working, and the city in which I’ll be working. Now, our state is geographically large. And so if you want to be an actor in this state, you make up your mind, “I’ll go where the work is.” That means you better make up your mind, real quick, that you’re gonna have to get in your car, and drive to these gigs. This particular gig was close to my home. Wow. Miracles! For once, I’m not driving Far Away to work.

The day before the gig, someone is trying to get ahold of me. Would I be available to work at 6 am, in another location (of course–this one is much further away!)?

So, I say I’ll do it. That means I’ll have to get up at 3am, in order to roll out to get there. Dressed. Hair and makeup ready. But I am game. I’ll treat this whole thing as a lark. An adventure.

Yeah. It’s early. This’ll be my third day on about 7 collective hours of sleep. But I am an actor. I am in showbusiness. I want to be a part of whatever is going on. So…it’s an adventure. I’ll leave in the middle of the night, and drive to the middle of nowhere, and be an actor for the day.

My call time is 6. I get there at 5am. Sun not even up yet. I kill time outside the set, but go in at 5:30. It’s a field in the middle of nowhere. I park my car. Other people are rolling in. I walk up this lonnnnnggggg driveway and try to find out where I check in.

They direct me to the catering tent…where there is a spread unlike anything I have ever had on acting gigs before: real, amazing food! Carved fresh fruit. Omelet station. Every juice imaginable. Choices. So at 5:30 am, for all this to be ready, what time did catering have to get there and be prepared?

I am used to sets where the extras are kept in a separate area and fed much “lesser” meals than they feed the crew. So for us to be welcome to such food is amazing.

When you are on these gigs, there is a certain way you behave. You do not engage people in conversation. We are all there to work, and ‘bothering’ someone is a disruption. As an extra, you go where you are told. You do what you are told. Either obey instantly…or do not even take the gig.

On this set, as I’m walking up this long driveway, the first person I see greets me and says hello. I say hello back. Another one greets me, then another.

Wow! That does not happen!

This set has the most equipment trucks of any I have ever worked. I’m gonna say probably 20 to 25 trailers and equipment trucks are there.

So, I still don’t know what the project is or what’s going on. They are not allowed to tell us any details. Finally, and not from any official channels, someone tells us what the project is.

And it is a doozy! Much more than I could have imagined. And YES…I want to be in on this, be a part of such a huge thing.

One actor had guested on the current most popular TV show a few weeks ago. One actor is on a show that is on RIGHT NOW. I am watching it on Netflix, right now…and HE IS the reason I am watching this particular show.

This is cool. Trained chefs. Amazing food. Actors that I admire tremendously. Of course, I can be entertained just watching the equipment go by. The setups. The choices they make.

On this scene they are filming cars on a highway, and they have two classic cars there to work with. That is fun!

But they have technical issues. We do not get to work the scene. I understand that. Things happen. But we are in this tent, with access to food, water, bathrooms, and they have ductwork with air conditioning piped in. So, that is pleasant and reasonable.

We got there at six. They have lunch ready before noon. Crew meal time was 1:00, but they let us eat the food that the crew ate – prepared by chefs, all amazing and wonderful and fresh food!

The extras still have not been to set, but at least we have shelter, food, water, provisions and bathrooms.

And after lunch, they start taking it all away. At 1:30, someone came over and said something about “You’ll do xyz paperwork to check out when you leave.”

And that was the last any of the extras heard. For hours. Catering packed up and took the chairs away. We had no shelter, and no access to chairs, baking in that Oklahoma summer sun for hours. No access to food or water. Just there. We all ended up lining up next to a fence, that had some shade.

From 6 to 2, I was having a good day – glad to be a part of something interesting.

From 2pm on….it ceased to be fun.
No shelter. No place to sit. No access to food. No provisions for water. No information.

IT WAS MISERABLE!

I finally went wandering and asked for a granola bar and said that we were baking out there.

Finally about 5:30 I texted the casting assistant (who had hired me, and was not on site), and explained all that and asked what to do. She said that that was unacceptable, and she was going to call them. At about the same time, one of the extras stopped a PA who came over with a handful of water bottles. I said “What about supper and chairs?”

Well, they brought us sandwiches, but still, we are stuck there, with no provisions.

Some of the teamsters had pulled 2 chairs out of a van, and I mean the van seats, and I had a lawnchair in my trunk, which I went to get. But that is not enough for everybody.

In 94* Oklahoma heat, you do not want to get dehydrated. So, up till 2, I kept drinking water and I had a Sprite, just to stay hydrated. So, that means you need to go to the bathroom, A LOT.

Then, they loaded up the bathroom trailer, and took it away.

Stuck: no shelter, most people standing, we had a sandwich, after several hours without – we now have access to water, and no bathroom.

And the extras still haven’t been to set to work.

Later, the PA came over to us, after being made aware of our plight, got some info, and said we can’t leave, because they might still use us in the shot. By now, we are all “over it”.

I don’t want to wait until I am in trouble, so after 7pm, I asked, “What do we do about a bathroom?” I mean, I can get in my car and drive 10 miles to the nearest town, but that means, going down the long driveway and getting on the highway – where they have traffic blocked for filming, and disrupting all that.

Oh…they have a bathroom trailer down at the highway, where they are filming.

It’s too far to walk. I say I can drive my car down there, but I wonder if that disrupts filming?  They get a runner to take us there in a van.

As I am coming out of the women’s room, I step down onto the ground, and the star is there. Waiting.

He was the nicest gentleman you’d ever want to meet. They tried to get him to go in line ahead of people and he would not do it. I said, “But you’re working, you go on ahead.”

So, I broke that rule, which is…”don’t bother the stars when they are working.”

The van takes us back to our fence where are standing.

By now, and it is starting to get dark, they come in from the highway. They haven’t used us, and the equipment guys are packing up. We aren’t going to act that day.

From 6am (actually 5am-since I am early) to 2pm, I was fine. After 2pm, it was NOT FUN ANYMORE.

Still, we stand around, when the equipment is being trucked out and we are obviously not going to be used anymore. I go ask, “what do we need to do to check out and leave?”

“You can’t leave yet, not until we get permission.”

The person who had filled out our paperwork got his box and left. Still we are stuck there, no shelter, no provisions, no chairs, no bathroom.

They finally say, “Such and such person will check you out and it’s probably going to be another 25 minutes.”

No shelter. No chairs. No food. No provisions. No bathrooms.

I have HAD ENOUGH!!!!!!

I gather my things, and I left. 8pm. Most of the crew is gone. We were not going to be used in the scene. Still they treat us like chattel without providing the basic necessities of life…..

and I walk.

I got my things, put them in my car, and left.

I wanted to be a part of this experience. But not like that.

I know that things happen. They had major technical difficulties. They were supposed to have this shot and be done by early afternoon. Things happen – beyond their control. I understand that.

They hired extras to play a role and play a part, and we didn’t get to do that. I am okay with that. Up till 2pm, when we still had provisions, I was okay with it. I was there to work, and if I didn’t get to, I am disappointed, but you roll with it.

After 2pm, to be stuck there, without basic human needs being met…That is not acceptable.

It was a miserable day – for everyone. I cannot imagine the brutality of working a crew job. Hours upon hours upon hours with a hugely physical job, in the brutal heat. It didn’t seem to bother any of them to not have a bathroom, but perhaps they had access to a trailer with a bathroom. They knew where craft services was, and could go get water, but no one had made that provision to us.

I soooo felt for the stars. In fact, I was worried about them, out in that relentless heat. Dehydration is not something you want to mess with. Sunstroke. Heatstroke.

I kept texting my partner throughout the day, and it went from “Wish you were here!” to “this is horrible…I’m glad you are not here.”

But later, on the phone, after I had left, I said, “We will never treat people like this! Not on our set!!!!”

What is the takeaway here? I didn’t check out on their paperwork. Do I get paid? I have no idea? Do I only get the base rate they offered, or since we had sooo much overtime, do they honor it?

Have I created a ‘black mark’ on my record with the casting office? I don’t know.

In the Oklahoma film industry, and I have a whole lot of experience there, this is not the norm. Yes, there will be bad days. There will be delays. I understand that.

But in the film industry in general – why are these working conditions tolerated? The crew acted like this was not unusual. I heard, more than once, “In New York, this is normal…”

It is normal to force people to work for hours on end, without basic human provisions?

What kind of industry is this? In every other industry, there are guides and limitations to what you can do to people? I mean…even truck drivers have limitations on the hours they can work at their jobs.

Why is the film industry the only industry lobbying to make people work MORE hours? Without having access to basic provisions like water and bathrooms.

Was it last year, or the year before, when the crew member on the Longmire set worked something like 20 hours, got in a vehicle, fell asleep at the wheel and died in a car wreck?

At that time, there was a lobbying effort called something like 12 and 12. 12 hours on. 12 hours off.

One crew member told me she had worked (I think not on this gig, but a previous one) 20 hours a day, been given 5 hours to sleep and get up and work another 20.

We have labor laws in this country. That is an unsafe working environment, under any circumstances.

It doesn’t take but just a little effort to treat people right.

What is the takeaway here?

All I know is….after getting up at 2:45 am (on less than 4 hours sleep), and driving a whole lotta miles to get to a gig, that I arrived at before dawn….then sat there, on the clock for 14 hours – without working, and I still have a very long drive ahead of me (by then…one of the other extras came by and saw me, and asked “Are you okay?” and I answered…I am worried about being safe enough to drive home.) … when I have baked in the sun all afternoon and gotten dehydrated…

By now – I am worried enough about my health to behave in an unprofessional manner. Yes, I walked out without permission. But if I am concerned enough to worry about my safety to even get home…is it worth it?

Both my mom and my business partner said, “LET ME KNOW WHEN YOU ARE HOME SAFE!”

Is it worth it?

I have had one other acting gig where it was this brutal. And on that one, we were indoors, had chairs, and had water – all day.

14 hours out there. 8 good hours. Then it went downhill. No basic provisions for the rest.

No it’s not worth it. I do not want to work for these people again.

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