When you are a writer, there is nothing quite like having an actor bring your stories to life.
This weekend, we went to the theatre to see our play, “The Stevens Sisters” performed.
The organizations that presented the play festival are the Town & Gown Theatre and Troupe d’Jour in Stillwater, Oklahoma. The proceeds from the festival went to benefit a local charity called Kickin’ Childhood Hunger.
This was the finest acting that I have seen on one of our plays thus far. It’s wonderful to see how talented actors can bring words to life. Before this, the play only existed as black ink on white pages.
Then you see it live and see it embodied. I don’t care how many times you see your work performed…this does not get old.
Theatre people are fun people! It’s fun to get to be around people who “do what we do”. For a couple of hours this weekend, we saw stories come to life in front of our eyes. The outside world drops away. You forget your troubles. You forget your cares.
“The Stevens Sisters” is by Amanda Ball and Karen Ball. This was the first time that Karen has had the opportunity to see one of our works performed live.
As a matter of fact, it was the first time she has been asked for an autograph!
Actor Shelli Aliff, Playwright Amanda Ball, Playwright Karen Ball, Actor/director Sharyl Pickens.
Long live the theatre!
…negativity all the time
…out the window
Love thy neighbor
…me me me me all the time
…everyone is wrong but ME ME ME
Stand up for one’s self
What Should Be
…the way it is
My new single!!
It’s been awhile since I released any new music. I started working on this song during a huge creative spurt last year. I recorded a demo, and really liked it, but it need some tweaking.
So, what did I do today? Lots and lots of tweaking! LOL And paperwork. And scorewriting. And editing and editing and more editing. Proofreading. Computer work. Computer glitches. Computer file formats. Rendering. More computer glitches.
But here it is.
This is the first time I have released a song that was created in my home studio. If you recall how many times I complain about audio engineering…it seems like it’s amazing that I even got this far. (And yes…full disclaimer..I do comprehend how much farther there is to go – in terms of me learning and being adequate in audio engineering.)
But something about this song captured me from the beginning. It’s one that I play over and over. It touches me on some base level. For me…music is about generating a response in the listener – whether that response is to tap your toes, or dance in your chair, or make a tear come to your eye, or touch your heart in a way that says, “I have felt that way before!”
I guess that’s why I’m not at the top of the charts. It seems to me that modern music has taken away the emotion. Modern music (ie the ‘popular’ tunes that are controlled by mega media companies) has taken away emotion. It seems to have no human connection. It is a commodity – manufactured to the lowest common denominator.
This, THIS is my stand.
Music – no matter what the genre, is about capturing the human condition.
As to the song itself…
every artist needs a muse.
This song is both inspired by…and dedicated to…
You make me smile.
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!”
Things are progressing on the post production of the movie.
A lot of the work involves us at a computer. Not a lot to blog about there, and that kind of work doesn’t seem to make for fun stories.
But…on occasion…you get to work with talented people who sure do make you smile.
Cowboy poet, Sam Wylie, entertained us with cowboy poetry. All along, I thought how neat it would be if we could include some of his poems in the movie.
I asked Sam, and he said yes, he’d participate. We arranged to meet at 10 am. At 9am, I am out on my porch, and the weather was nice and the wind was calm.
Then the wind hit. And a cold front. And lots of wind noise. We wanted to film outdoors, so we went to Carmen’s (the trail boss) horse barn, and used it to block the wind.
Sam (on the left, above) reads a poem, while Sonny Harrison (right) listens. Both of these men were drovers on the cattle drive.
Sonny gears up to read a poem.
We made it for an hour, working outdoors in that cold and wind. I didn’t want to stay out that long, but it was so much fun, working with these talented men, I kept asking them to do additional readings and additional locations.
We came back to my home recording studio, to record the cowboy poetry in some sort of controlled audio environment.
Sam Wylie reads his poetry in studio.
The whole session went well. It’ll be fun to see how all this comes together: video, audio, music, sound FX, voice over, poetry…the list goes on and on.
What has rocked my world?
Talented voice over actors – Keith and Tommy. Both of these voice actors delivered a performance above and beyond anything I could dream up in my head. The hardest part: maintaining silence during recording, because the work is so good, I want to laugh with delight!
What has not rocked my world this week?
Road construction to the north. Small yipping dogs to the south.
Add a recording studio in the middle into the mix. A non-soundproofed home recording studio.
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!