Wednesday, October 31, 2007

"A Date Which Will Live In Infamy " (aka "The Day That They Greenlighted the 'Pearl Harbor' Script")

While making the final descent into Honolulu Intl. Airport en route to Guam, the pilot mentioned that if you peek out the window on the left side of the plane (my side) you'll be able to see the famous Pearl Harbor. I couldn't help but to think about how calm and serene it was. Then, unwillingly, my train of thought brought to my attention Michael Bay's interpretation of "Pearl Harbor" starring Ben Affleck. Then I thought about the movie "Godzilla" starring Matthew Broderick. Then I thought about "The Hulk" directed by Ang Lee. I think you know where I'm going with this...

Dollars and Deadlines
Box office blockbuster movie budgets, although a quick and certain way of improving production value in a movie, don't necessarily mean that it'll win the viewers over, no matter how much marketing you pour in. You'll still need a little thing called a storyline. I remember watching the "Pearl Harbor" trailer in theaters and to be honest, I think that the trailer moved me more in one minute than the movie did in two hours. Unfortunately, "Godzilla" and "The Hulk" fell victim to the same big-budget marketing hype as well, but had the potential to become something great with just a little more imagination. Something that big budgets - no matter how big - can't guarantee.

Care to Disagree?
Let's a take a look at "Batman Begins" and Frank Miller's "300". Both with Hollwood budgets, great visual effects and actors but both also with great imagination and storylines with depth, keeping the audiences in the theaters and filling the seats. This is a strong point for little indies to exploit. The imagination. Not to say that we don't have a choice (imagination vs. money) but more so because we're in a position where we can. With no studio pressures or millions of investor dollars riding on a little production, there is more of the imagination to explore.

I know what you're thinking. I just landed in one of the most beautiful destinations on the entire planet and all I can think of are movie budgets and Hollywood woes? Point taken. Aloha!

One Big Wheelie

The other day, I came across this YouTube video called "Wheelies 101". It features a local Guam guy doing wheelies on his motorcycle (and yes, unfortunately without a helmet).

The more Don and I began to compare filmmaking to motorcycle wheelies, the more we discovered how uncanny the two seemed so entwined (hey...we were stuck in traffic). And we amazed ourselves so much, that I decided to further my amusement and make a list:

Wheelies = Moviemaking

  1. If it goes right, people look on in amazement with congratulations abound. If it fails, you fall flat on your face and no one except friends and family would want to be seen near you.
  2. Both are temporary. You start one and try not to screw it up. When it's done, you do another one - only better this time. Repeat.
  3. Both are extremely risky, but the fun always outweighs the risk.
  4. If you succeed, you're labeled as "skilled" and "talented". If you don't, people just call you a "nut".
  5. Not too many people like watching the safe ones.
  6. Ask someone why they do it and you'll be lucky to get a straight answer.
  7. Just enjoy it and try not to think too much about it.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Independent Movies - "Tears of the Black Tiger"

Here's one that's sure to interest you - a Thailand indie flick distributed by Magnolia Pictures.

No matter what genre/style/period piece you desire, "Tears of the Black Tiger" (which my brother picked up from - believe it or not - Hollywood Video) is right up the DIY, never-seen-before, "I can't believe this!" kick in the butt that all no-budget filmmakers would find interesting. Why? Well let's start in the order that it took hold on us.

The Cover
How's this for starters: two Taiwanese guys dressed like cowboys and gripping revolvers, ready to kick some butt and take some names. The blown out saturated colors, deep contrast and fun fonts looked like a cross between "Crouching Tiger" and "Death Proof"!

The Origin and Genre
A Tawainese indie action movie? Enough said! To see that Magnolia signed on to something that - right off the bat looks so foreign (figuratively and literally) made me a happy Guam guy.

The Cinematography and Overall Vibe
It was unreal. No, really. Greescreen and stuff. It was definitely different in the sense that the movie seemed to portray a motion picture "play" than an actual "movie", which I thought was refreshing and surprisingly fun to watch. The color palette was strong, vibrant and eye-catching.

The Storyline
It was foreign, so I expected a few things to get lost in translation. There were a lot of musical numbers (one too many I think) and the editing as a whole could've been more discriminatory.

The Actors
Hey...if they're unknowns, then I already like 'em!

Final Thoughts
I can't remember the last time I was so excited to see a movie without hearing or knowing anything about it. For some reason, I just really liked the way this movie stood out and grabbed my attention and interest without ever crossing paths.

At first, I couldn't figure it out. Then it hit me - it was different.

Not knowing anything about it, ever hearing about it or seeing trailers for it actually enticed me to see it! Everything about it was a new experience. I've come across something that made me feel I just stumbled upon a buried treasure.

If you're in the process of a creating something...whether it's a do it yourself low-budget movie, writing a poem, a screenplay, whatever...think about this: will it make the experience unique? What elements make for an interesting piece? Marketing? Star power? Digital effects? A good ol' story? Most people would say that it all depends on the viewer in question.

From what I gather, just make the experience a unique one.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Brandon Mayer's CD Release Party

Kel's Brandon Mayer Pick
Title: To Feel Love You've Got to Give Love (03:05)
Artist: Brandon Mayer
Album: Nothing Without Love

Last night was a great reminder of just how powerful the spirit of the independent artist can be. We were invited to the CD release party of up and coming artist Brandon Mayer. The album was produced by David Rosa who my brother Don occasionally writes for.

Birth of an Indie Project
Within the same time that Don and I were getting the idea of Shiro's Head from concept to preproduction, Brandon Mayer was just beginning work on his album. Over a year later, the now released CD entitled "Nothing Without Love" reveals the work from an artist who has taken an idea and believed in it enough to put in years of his life's passion.

In the same time, Shiro has gone from preproduction through production and is now in post production as an independent project. Thanks to Mayer's CD release, it's provided an uplifting feeling to actually see the fruition and completion of a work that was born along the same timeline.

Indie Sandwich, Please...

At the release party, the grass roots elements were present. His parents were there for support, his sister flew in from New York to sing a number with the band, the location was cool and the music was great. Call me cheesy, but I thought it was cool to be able to share in the moment of an independent artist unveiling and releasing the work that he believed in and by the looks of it, enjoyed making along the way.

Only if more DIY artists did that.

Be sure to check out his site to listen to an accomplished indie artist in action.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Media Archiving - Storage Space is Prime Real Estate

Thankfully, the fires did not join forces overnight and the "Magic" fire has been about 40% contained, which is great news.

Nero Should've Archived His Home Movies
Being faced with the possibility of losing belongings in a fire puts things into perspective and also raises a lot of questions. "What should I take?" is the first that comes to mind. Regardless of having items insured or not is besides the point, because media is not necessarily a monetary item, it's more of a document of record that, once destroyed, cannot be replaced. So...asking yourself what media is/isn't important enough to archive is a very important question. One that I think everyone - and not just us media buffs - should think about.

Where Do I Put It All?
I have a boat load of digital media that spans the last 10 years. Photos, radio and television archives, web and print archives, film school documents, event videography footage and files and believe it or not, it wasn't until now that I decided to consolidate them onto a central format for efficient storage and access. Most people would just spend the cash and archive on a hard drive, but being a DIY filmmaker, I need all the hard drive space I have for film footage. So, I opted to use the standard 4.7 GB DVD disc for archiving since they're inexpensive, durable and never crash.

While going through my old media, I discovered that I had a lot of neat stuff and some useless junk that I've accumulated over the years (some of which I'll share with you in later posts). I also learned that in order to archive your media efficiently, you really need to be firm about what makes it into the archive and what doesn't. Storage space is precious space.

Making the Band
When you archive and find yourself uncertain as to keeping or trashing something, there's always the "When was the last time I used this?" rationale. Or the "Will I need this in the next 2-5 years?" question. The process of archiving is done out of necessity...not out of desire.

Two good rules of thumb to archiving are as follows:

  1. use your storage space sparingly and archive only what you NEED
  2. DO NOT SACRIFICE YOUR PRECIOUS MEMORIES (in the end, that's all we have anyway - photos should be at the top of the archive list)

Now or Never

I suggest that if you haven't already done a complete, centralized archive of your utmost important media, that you should do so sooner rather than later. Something's gotta give. Don't let your work - or your life's memories - fall victim to unforeseen circumstances. Take the time to do it. I had about 10 years of media to properly archive and it's taken me almost a day and I'm halfway done.

Also, I've reduced my evacuation load from four plastic bins to two. ;)

Monday, October 22, 2007

Magic Touch

There it was on TV. And - I kid you not - a little over a mile away. Unfortunately, the fires are still blazing. Fire officials predict that the fire closest to us, dubbed the "Magic" fire, might combine with two other nearby fires to form one big one. Yikes. They also say that the Santa Ana winds will simmer by tomorrow afternoon which is an extreme relief. Not to make any hasty moves, we're still keeping our items prepared and ready to go since they haven't ordered a mandatory evacuation yet. This means that with our computers and drives packed, we'll be down two days worth of editing. Hardly a sacrifice, thankfully.

Making productive use of the downtime from editing Shiro's Head, I've decided to consolidate and archive all of the personal and professional media that I've collected over the years (photos, documents, software, etc.) onto DVD's and to reduce the clutter by centralizing all of my "important" things for any future events. So next time I'll be able to take a longer shower.

What Would You Take With You?

Anxiously awaiting word from local officials on a very possible mandatory evacuation... with only a few minute's notice, we had what we thought were our life's immediate must-haves - prepared and ready to go.

Stacked in the middle of the livingroom are:

  1. Computers
  2. Hard drives
  3. Master RAW tapes
  4. Important Documents (passports, birth certificates, etc.)
  5. 3 paper bags of files
  6. 4 plastic bins of Photos, software, archived cd's
  7. 1 backpack's worth of clothes
When the news coverage stated that all residents in our area were to prepare for an evacuation, it was a surreal feeling. You see things like this on the news all the time. But of course when it happens to you, it's different. So, faced with the idea of having to gather everything that you think is important at a moment's notice - this is what happens:
  1. you develop the stress of a one-minute all-you-can-grab shopping spree
  2. the thought of "Is that really important?" crosses your mind when you reach for things that you think is important
  3. you can't remember just where all the 'important" things are
  4. you think about your life and what you have to show for it
  5. you forget about all the small stuff that just five minutes ago you thought were extremely important
  6. again..."Is that really important?"
  7. what clothes you want to spend the next week in
  8. you wish you were more organized
The first thing that came to mind when I found out that we might evacuate was to take a shower. Weird. It must be all the years of water and power outages during typhoons while growing up on Guam. It's become some type of "Jason Bourne" reflex to take a shower when subjected to a natural crisis. So after the shower, I calmly went around the house looking for all of the important things that I needed to take with me. While making my rounds I discovered two crucial things:
  1. I wasn't as organized as I thought (Now where did I put my wedding video?)
  2. I own way too much junk
But I didn't have the time to sit and ponder on the validity of each item, so I ended up packing a lot of stuff. Not a smart move. this is what happens when one does not have a contingency plan for evacuation or a quick getaway.

I'm just glad we had the sense to organize all of our film files, archives, tape storage and hard drive mapping from day one, so that all we had to do was easily disconnect the drive from the Mac and box it up. Everything else came in a close second.

So I suggest you take a moment to think about it yourself - without the threat of a wildfire in your backyard of course - and decide what you would take with you. The shower thing is optional.

Shiro vs. California Wildfire

The wildfires here in southern California have been spreading very quickly over the course of the last 24 hours. San Diego, Malibu, Santa Clarita, Stevenson Ranch...all have caught on fire.

I was editing the Shiro's Head rough cut (again) when Don steps in to bear the bad news (again). He tells me to pack it up as the fire was spread to our area and caused an evacuation status. At this point, over 500,00 people have evacuated in San Diego and some in the Santa Clarita, Canyon Country area. That's mindblowing. At this point in the year, the Santa Ana winds are always moody, but this year, it was said to have been the worst and has spread the fire across almost all of southern California.

Homes are destroyed, businesses are destroyed and it's been declared as a state of emergency. They went as far as to say that it's the most worst disaster since Katrina. Unreal. But yet, here we are, packing up our life's work and memories for an evacuation. Yesterday it was Malibu - today it seems as if it's everywhere.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Smoking While Editing


A couple of months ago, I spent a relaxing three day weekend down in Malibu with my wife, Don and his girlfriend. We were able to stay at this great beach townhouse in Point Dume right along the PCH Highway 1 near the beach. Over the course of the weekend, we did the beach, bar-b-q, Guinness, wine and the whole R&R deal. It couldn't have happened at a better time. We were even able to see the famous Castle Kashan for the first time as we were driving around. Prior to the trip, the stress levels were pushing a yellow to red on the frustration meter. Bleh.

The weeks prior to the little trip, we were dealing with the launch of the revamped "Why Go To Film School?" site while simultaneously editing the early rough cuts of the film. And as you may know... once you get going in a productive state of mind, it's tough to get yourself to stop. So...the weekend was able to tear us away from all the filmmaking stress, work and everything else in order for us to just spend time together and enjoy ourselves. Otherwise...what good is it all, right? One of the highlights - Jumping into the freezing ocean at 6am right after sunrise and being pushed by the waves. That was fun.


Hard at working tweaking the latest rough version of the Shiro's Head edit after cutting to a potentially great soundtrack (which I'll talk about in a later post). My brother Don comes in to tell me that Malibu is on fire and that the Castle Kashan has burnt to the ground! Whoah.

Turned on the news and there it was...Malibu is going up in flames. And right along the Point Dume area as well. Apparently, as close as the blaze was to the resident's homes, no one was reported to be injured. And the flames were close - right next to the roadside.

To give you an idea of the scope of this fire - now...Malibu is about a 25-35 min. drive from where we're located. From the time that Don told me about the Malibu fire news to about an hour later, we started smelling the smoke and ash that was coming from the flames at the coastline. From the time the smoke and ash arrived, to about thirty minutes later, the sky in our neighborhood turned dark orange. I mean eclipse style. It was nuts. BUT coming from Guam where we have our share of typhoons and earthquakes; I'm familiar with the occasional hiccups in mother nature's breath.

So, not thinking too much about it...I just kept right along editing the movie, keeping up to date with the news on the Malibu fires. But from time to time I found myself going back to the picture perfect weekend in Point Dume and remembering the castle on the hill, the beach and how lucky we were to experience it all when we did - reminded once again about just how fast things can change.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Why They Call It a "Release"

If you're working on a project - any project - music, movies, paintings as an will you know when you're done? When the divine spirits tell you that your movie is now complete? Or when you just get plain lazy and think your creation is "good enough"? Who's to say. I don't know...but if you're anything like me, you're probably your worst critic and won't be satisfied until your project is PERFECT.

With films as in most media production...especially if it's got some investors tied into it - whether it's a low budget mumblecore flick or a fully funded studio major motion picture, a production is never really done. The movie's production lifespan is usually determined by a number of factors - things like budget, time and executive decisions. I remember a professor of mine at film school mention the term "release" in regards to movie and album "release dates". At first, I thought it seemed obvious - that the latest album "release" or theatrical "release" was just a term for a methodically scheduled PR launch.

But what it REALLY meant was that whether or not the directors think the project is complete, the project will be released on time - not when the auteur says so. At some time, the work will have to be "released" - from the creator to the masses. The financial backers invest way too much dough to continue the project at the leisure of the "creators". Consequently, the movie MUST be RELEASED by its scheduled launch date or else there will be heck to pay.

The reason I bring this up is to demonstrate a point; and my point is this: learn to let go. For the sake of nothing else but your creativity and sanity. That's the beauty of DIY moviemaking. The rewards are so that we are in a position to go it our own pace and strengths. You can only do so much in a no-budget, DIY flick. Just do what's right for you and don't let your passion become a burden. Otherwise, it just won't be fun anymore. ;)

Today I was reminded about just that while watching the 3rd rough cut of Shiro's Head. I was also reminded that sooner or later (more sooner rather than later) it's going to be released. Am I satisfied with the work? I couldn't be more proud. Is it a perfect creation? Of course not...but it is what it is...a solid piece of DIY work from two Guam guys - and it looks like a million bucks.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

DIY Moviemaking: Spending Time vs. Spending Money

In most productions, you usually have just one or the other. And the benefits/drawbacks are pretty obvious, but some are not. For example, when Shiro's Head started to become a reality and not just an idea, we were looking for ways to get it done. "Can we actually make this movie? And if we can, then how are we going to fund it?". We got it! Let's get some investors to supply the finances while we focus on just the creative. This way, it'll allow us to keep our production schedule, move things along faster and we get the budget that we need. Needless to say, it didn't work out that way.

But It's My Baby!

Like most scenarios, the potential investors wanted to make a few adjustments before they jumped on board. Totally understandable. However, our direction of the project didn't gel with theirs and before anyone committed to anything, we decided not to go the route of investors and to just cling to the vision that we had for the project and to do it ourselves.

This forced us to take a long, serious look at what the project meant to us and how far we were willing to go to materialize the production ourselves. By doing this, it meant that we would have full control over the creative content of the project with no holds barred; but of course there's the yin to the yan - we'll have full control, yes - but without any money. Wow. That was definitely a wake up call.

Pondering Your Production

Even though investors might want to make changes, they supply the cash. To give this up means that you give up the luxury of a secured budget. At least the convenience of an instant budget, anyway. And without a secured budget, it compromises alot of the production ideas for your movie - talent payment, wardrobe, props, locations, overall production costs, etc. So before you make the decision to go about it alone...I suggest to take some time and think this part's not always for everybody.

No Money = Creative Cats = Tired Dogs
So once we decided to become a full-fledged do-it-yourself independent production, we had to make the adjustments. This meant that we were now not only writers and directors, we had become the Unit Production Manager, Location Scout, Casting Director, Sound Mixer, Craft Services, Production Coordinator, Script Supervisor, Hair and Makeup and pretty much everything else.

Now...don't get me wrong, being creative guys, we were more than capable of doing everything we needed to do to get this movie made, in fact, it's pretty fun to do everything yourself. However, (you won't realize this until you experience it) by going the route of a DIY flick and becoming everything to everyone - it won't cost you much money, but it will cost you alot of your time.

After the all the admin work and scheduling you'll have to do, you'll barely have enough energy. And if you're not careful, this is where your project will suffer. Then, before you know it, because you're short on energy, you'll grow short on creativity which will take away from your patience which will take away from your mood which will take away from your fun which (worst of all) may become evident and infectious to your cast and crew and before you know it, you'll be so miserable that you forget why you're doing this amazing movie in the first place!

Preparation and Perspiration
So, before you embark on a totally DIY project, do yourself a favor and consider the elements of risk and prepare yourself for it. We were lucky. There were two of us on watch all the time and we kept each other on our toes even when things got bleak. We were able to pull ourselves through it all and maintain our sanity. Sometimes I'll have a relapse here and there (like in my foley sessions), but then I'll be reminded to step back and remember to enjoy it. Heck, some DIY projects start and never finish. So just be prepared; know what it means to go the route of a DIY flick and be prepared for an adventure you won't soon forget.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

About Kel Muna


Kel Muña... co-producer/writer/director of the independent film "Shiro's Head" (official selection of the Louis Vuitton Hawaii International Film Festival and the inaugural Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival); co-author of the filmmaking book, "Why Go To Film School? - The Beginner's Guide to Filmmaking";

...and has produced content for independent and corporate projects for documentaries/television/radio/print and web for well over a decade.

You can visit the Muna Bros. Official Site, or read his Squidoo Lens, reviews of his book, reviews of his movie and what Google thinks of him.

After positions as Broadcast Director for an advertising agency, Program Director for two radio stations and a position at the San Francisco Bay Area's news channel KTVU, Kel decided to pursue the most fulfilling projects he has known to date - with various creative endeavors as part of The Muña Bros. duo.

Kel graduated as Valedictorian of his film class along with various honors and holds a degree in film and video production from the world famous Full Sail School of Film.

Hafa Adai!

Email is the best way to reach me. It may take a few days to respond since I actually check all my emails, but I'll get there! Thanks for dropping a line.