Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Stay Motivated - Finish Your Project

When I was asked to head the documentary for the San Francisco Bay Area's hip-hop group, "The Experts" back in the early 2000's, I knew it would be the perfect chance to showcase something great. They were artists with real energy, a strong, loyal following and a passion for music. The timing was right to get the potential of this group into the hands of people who, whether they knew it or not, were about to become part of the rise of such a powerful musical force in a city where only a few artists such as E-40, Too Short and Rappin' 4-Tay had that type of local admiration (Green Day too, if you cross genres).

Following Through
However, after principal shooting began, as with most DIY projects that quickly take off on a whim...things stopped. Over time it just fell by the wayside as everyday life took over and the project became something that was pushed towards the backburner. A common misfortune for most DIY ideas. (If you haven't already experienced this, then you've probably either been lucky or you haven't embarked on your own project yet.)

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Staying Motivated
Just knowing the potential of something great and not even seeing it get off the ground can be the difference between greatness and obscurity and it'll happen if you let it - that's almost a guarantee. Whether big or small, things won't happen if you're not there to make it happen. One of the most difficult aspects of being part of a project is seeing it through from beginning to end.

Now, if it's a DIY project it'll be even more difficult because you're contributing so much of your own time, effort, money, etc. that it becomes way too easy to call it quits. But you can't allow yourself or your team to do that. It's the downfall of almost every DIY project. I know...I've seen my share of them.

If you don't care enough to keep pushing your project forward until it gets done, who will? Just keep at it and make sure that you do something everyday that'll help get the project done. You'll soon find out that this is what makes or breaks not only a DIY filmmaker, but people in general.

Quick Tips to Staying Motivated and Completing Your Project
1. Set a deadline
2. Get everyone involved with the project to tell as many people as they know about it. This way, they'll feel a bit more obligated to complete it.
3. Don't overwhelm yourselves. Once it starts to feel like work and you're not enjoying yourself anymore - back off! Even if it's a labour of love, you'll need a break from it sooner or later. Step back, relax, recharge and get yourself back into the groove of production.
4. Get other people involved. Their new excitement for the project could be just the boost your group needs to help stay motivated until the end.
5. Take turns motivating each other and keeping the possibilities, rewards, potential and finish line within reach.
6. Stay away from negative minds and negative people. Nothing good ever comes from them.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Birth of DIY Filmmaking

...and I thought that Robert Rodriguez and digital cinema started the DIY revolution.

...I wonder if their shot was worth it.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Rose Laguana - "The Next Great American Band" on FOX

It was on my recent trip to Guam that I first read this article in the Pacific Daily News about Guam's very own Rose Laguana, the darling of "DOT DOT DOT". Tonight on FOX's reality show, "The Next Great American Band" I got to see Rose in action. She was absolutely amazing and was made for the limelight. Goo Goo Doll's John Rzeznik and Prince's former bandmate Sheila E. both commented that she single-handedly saved the band from elimination during tonight's performance.

Now, unless you come from a very small town (or in my case a small island), you'll never know how much excitement comes with the feeling of seeing "one of your people" do great things. It's almost surreal. It's almost like you're right there with them, along for the ride, experiencing their moments, albeit vicariously. I mean, I've never met Rose and she's never met me, but just knowing that she's from the same 37 mile-long "dot" in the middle of the Pacific Ocean that I come from, there's an automatic sense of support and a deep-rooted connection that makes me want to cheer her along every step of the way.

The likes of Rose Laguana, Julian Aguon, JR Hattig, Manny Crisostomo and other ambitious Chamorros have done great things and in the process have taken Guam into the spotlight with them. It's just too bad that we feel the need to leave the island to do so. Hopefully that'll soon change. Nonetheless, I'm proud of all my Chamorro brothers and sisters that set out to accomplish their desired goals. It's small town heroes like them that help make our small island feel just a little bit bigger.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Production Boost - Teasers and Trailers

Moviegoers usually have mixed feelings when it comes to deciding on watching a movie based on its trailer. That's because trailers have the potential to be pretty misleading. Trailers can make any bad movie look good. More often than not, trailer editors usually aim to take out the jokes that didn't work, the bad acting and dialogue and cut it all down to a 2:00 minute highlight reel, showcasing only the best parts of the film. Sounds easy enough? It usually is - if you're not the filmmaker.

Experiment with the Story
You have to remember that even on a DIY movie level, the movie business - whether or not you hold the rights to your own material is still just that - a business. And although they are for the most part entertaining, trailers and teasers are to be viewed as tools - marketing tools to help sell your movie. With that said, you're going to need the most compelling trailer you can cut from your footage even if it means experimenting with your storyline for the sake of editing a fantastic sequence for the trailer.

Get creative and give moviegoers a reason to see your movie.
Get them interested and get them curious.

Of course, the more it stays within the storyline of your movie, the better. What good is your movie if people don't see it?

Trailers
In a nutshell, trailers usually run long - anywhere between 2:00 - 2:30 min. These are usually the common versions that you see in theaters or online. They more often than not portray a very thorough overview of the movie; sometimes revealing too much information. They almost always feature a voice-over artist and soundbites of dialogue from the movie over different music beds. You'll find that most of these have three acts - just like in a story.

Teasers
Teasers on the other hand, usually run anywhere from :15 sec to 2:00 min and don't reveal too much information. A lot of times they more image or music based.

You should be aware that with most teasers, the work appears to be easier than it is, but be ready - you could have yourself a handful just for the simple fact that you have less time to make a teaser interesting to its viewers. For example, in the Shiro's Head teaser, it's all just music and visuals. No dialogue.

I wanted to heighten and then sustain the viewer's interest at a peak, so instead of the usual 2:30 trailer like you'd find on the Apple Site I decided to cut a teaser first - leaving the viewer wanting more. Don and I have also agreed that we'd like to complement the teaser by cutting two to three additional full-length trailers for Shiro's Head.

Amazingly enough, finding the direction for the teaser wasn't the problem. But scanning through all of the scenes, watching them over and over to find the most compelling clips to connect with this one particular song...this tacked on most of the time spent during the day. We shot over 75 tapes worth of footage (including delted scene footage) so, yeah, it's a handful.

DIY Teaser/Trailer Tips:

1. WATCH A LOT OF TRAILERS FROM MOVIES IN YOUR GENRE
2. EMULATE GRAPHICS, TITLES, FONTS and EFFECTS
3. EDIT THE MUSIC SEAMLESSLY
4. USE SOUND FX/AMBIENT SOUNDS

Timing
Try not to release your teaser and trailer at the same time. Keep your promo timing consistent and release them separately. The worst thing you can do is use up all of your promotional leverage by releasing too much too soon. On the flipside, don't keep your audience waiting too long - especially if it's your first film and you haven't established a following yet. You might easily wear out your welcome. Keep your promotional material on an even keel before the release of your movie and keep the interest piqued.

Remember, at the end of the day when all is said and done, although entertaining - trailers and teasers are tools; marketing tools that are help to sell your product. Ooops...I mean movie.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Production Boost - Pick-Up (or "Insert") Shots

When you get to the point in post production of finally watching a rough cut of your flick, you might become a little disappointed when you notice that some scenes didn't turn out the way you thought they might. If you feel that a scene falls a little short when you watch it, don't react too quickly on your instinct of giving upon its potential by tossing it into the deleted scenes bin. This happens to all filmmakers and not just us DIYers.

This is one of the reasons why post production usually becomes one of the longest phases in the production process. It's a tough job to try to put all the scenes together like pieces to a puzzle so that they fit the way they should. This sounds easier than it usually is.

The Quick Fix
One quick fix that can help this situation of pumping some life into a flat scene is to go back and shoot some pick-up shots for the scene. I'm not talking about going back and re-shooting the entire scene - that would be counterproductive. What I'm talking about is to go back and shoot some b-roll, close-ups, reactions, additional angles to help accent what you've already shot.

What's to Shoot?
For example, just a few pick-up shots of a character's face can help move a scene along in the right direction. But what if you don't have access to any of your actors during post production? Well, you have the option of shooting b-roll of certain key objects in the scene. For instance, a CU of the villain's gun as an insert can add to the suspense and thrill of a scene without using your actors.

You might need a similar hand model, though - but for an insert shot that'll only last a few seconds, you don't need to be too detailed for your audience. You don't even need to be in the same location, you can easily cheat it. Just be sure to shoot the complementing angles.

Haste Makes Waste
So for your troubled scenes - just keep them, play around with the order of the clips if you have to - and try out some new insert shots. It's amazing what a 4 second insert can do to a scene. But remember, if you're still not sure about what to do with the scene even after you've inserted the pick-ups - then get a few more opinions. Have a few different people look at it and get their response.

Follow your gut - if you think you must really get rid of the scene to help the overall movie, then go for it. Just make sure you try all your options before doing so. (The iconic John Travolta dance sequence in "Saturday Night Fever" was on its way to the cutting room floor until they were convinced to remove a few inserts.) Good luck.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Production Boost - Narrating Your Film

In the DIY world, filmmakers are known to be a resourceful bunch. Due to the lack of budget funds for production, we are often left to find creative solutions to boost the production value of our films. Along with the more common elements that DIYers turn to for quick and dirty cinematic worth such as color correction, aspect ratio, graphics and animation, etc., you might want to look towards a more analog/old school method that works every time: Narration.



He Said/She Said
With a bit of third of first-person narration in your film you instantly add a personable connection to your audience, bringing them right into the life or lives of the character(s) within your story - sure to strike an intimate chord with viewers.

More Writing? Ugh!
For writers, it can give a bit more depth to a story and stretch your writing skills a bit beyond what the characters have to say. It can also make the ties that bind your story even stronger for a more complete wrap-up in the final act. For the non-writers, it doesn't have to be profound at all. In fact, realistically, it doesn't have to make too much sense. Here's a quick and dirty way to do just that in just 3 steps...

  1. identify the overall theme/moral to your story (ie. Star Wars = good always prevails over evil)
  2. write 3 short paragraphs about it (2 to 3 liners)
  3. space the paragraphs apart to fit the timing and pacing of your movie, place it over some b-roll and you're good to go!
The beauty of it all is that you can conform your own verison/style to fit your storyline. Once done, viola! You've just added a more personal touch along with more depth to your production that didn't require more money, extra actors, more craft services or PVC pipes! Congratulations.

Check out the following TV shows and movies for examples:

Pushing Daisies, Scrubs, Grey's Anatomy, The Wonder Years, Magnum P.I., El Mariachi, Fight Club, American Beauty (warning: ending spoiler and blood), American Psycho, Bridgette Jones's Diary, Snatch (forward to 04:26 into the clip. warning: ending spoiler/mature language), Million Dollar Baby, etc.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Mom Syndrome is Alive and Well - Scenario #3

Don put up some screen grabs of Shiro's Head on DVXuser.com and within a few minutes he was getting swamped with questions of interest from fellow indie filmmakers and the like on the who, what, when, where and how of the movie.

So here it is: the antidote to the "Mom Syndrome" - you should have realistic expectations from the audience/viewer/market in regards to the type of project you're involved with.

Know you're target market/demographic and take it to the people who you know will have it. Don't sell the refrigerator to the kind eskimo and expect him to jump up and down in amazement. If you keep your projects strong, interesting and honest - you'll find your market. If your project's great, they'll find you.

Or...get a real job!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Talent Shortage on Guam?

Before the curtain was drawn, all I could hear from my seat was the mumbling of theater students' complaints of having to see the play for extra credit or something like that. I was there to treat myself on my birthday plus it was opening night. I couldn't miss it. I was one of the few people in the audience who was there voluntarily. How strange...after it all it was Shel Silverstein. Who doesn't enjoy Shel Silverstein? C'mon..."The Giving Tree"?! "Killed By a Coconut"?! Okay, what about "A Boy Named Sue" by Johnny Cash? (Yes he wrote that, too.) Well, the younguns didn't seem to care. At least not yet.



As the curtain draws, the moaning UOG theater students respectfully calm to a soft hush. The first skit was a great performance and the entire show excelled as it continued. By the time the "Wash and Dry" skit wrapped, the same moany/groany students were cheering with applause, laughter and whistles which lasted throughout the rest of the production - from "No Skronking" to "Rosa's Eulogy". Even I was amazed by the players' acting skills. I was most shocked by Professor Jim Seymour's talents showcased in "The Lifeboat is Sinking" skit (which happened to be my favorite along with "All Cotton" and "Do Not Feed the Animal").

The Evening's Highlight
I first met Professor Seymour when Don and I were first recruiting cast members for Shiro's Head in one of his Drama classes. I remember that day. All but one of the students looked as if they were taking the drama course just to get the "easy units". They all just sat around, blank-faced. Based on what I saw from Prof. Seymour's performance, believe me when I say that Guam's talent should be gauged by Professor Seymour's excellent performance in the skit. His flawless comedic timing, his delivery and confidence on stage set the bar for others to emulate.

By the final bow, the entire theater audience was all smiles, applause and even more cheers. It made me think...for such a small island with such raw talent, why aren't there more productions? Whether theater plays, television media or even webisodes? Guam is the place that has the most do-it-yourselfers I've ever seen per capita. DIY mechanics, musicians, shopkeepers, carpenters - you name it - they got it. Heck, I'm a DIY filmmaker. So why not ban together and create an industry? Some would say it's because Guam is too small. I say it's because no one has taken the lead. Yet.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Your Lasting Impression

Isla Center for the Arts at UOG began the exhibit of the Rainbow Series of prints from French-born Japanese printmaker, Paul Jacoulet. This particular series of prints were the results of his tour of the Micronesia islands back around the 1930's/40's.

While enjoying and studying his prints at the exhibit (the one I posted here was my favorite), the thought popped into my head - Where will my works will be in 80 years?

Although we know that long after any artist is gone, their work stands the test of time long enough to make impressions on future generations. But even through we're armed with that knowledge...what contributions will we make?

What will our work say about us as a generation or even just about you as an individual?

It doesn't matter if you're a commissioned artist, a freelancer or a hobbyist - if someone was walking through your exhibit 80 years from now, what would they think?

Saturday, November 3, 2007

The Mom Syndrome is Alive and Well - Scenario #2

Fast forward six months and I'm sitting in a restaurant having dinner with my parents-in-law. Since the rough cut was pretty much done, I wanted to share the progress of Shiro's Head, so I take out the iBook from my backpack, excited to show a two-scene rough cut. They attentively sat and watched the Inarajan Pool scene and the baseball field scene. When the clips were done, their response was, well...how can I put this...their own.

Weird Silence
No comments, no suggestions, no questions. Just a straight eye-to-eye-to-eye silent head nod.They just sat across from me and nodded silently. Wow - it was the "Mom Syndrome" alive and in concert. I love my parents-in-law and they're the nicest people, supportive and happy. But, as with my own mom, the diagnosis was the same - a case of the "Mom Syndrome".

My wife went on to remind me that her parents aren't exactly the demographic that Shiro's Head was directed towards. I know...it's totally understandable. At first, I thought that it was just the fact that it was the process of "moviemaking" that they didn't really understand or know how to respond to. Or maybe the clips were just flat out bad. But the more I thought about it, the I understood. I broke it down to two possibilities:

That's nice. What's on TV?
#1: They needed to see the scene in its entirety to fully understand the importance of the clips that they viewed.

#2: It wasn't that they didn't appreciate the hard task of moviemaking...it's just one of those "you had to be there" moments.The new porch you just built, the money you saved on your vacation, your kid's excellent report card...no one will actually really care as much as you do or be as excited as you are, because they won't understand the journey/effort/time that it took to accomplish it.

But...because all art is subjective, the arts are more susceptible to the Mom Syndrome since most people aren't able to relate to the feelings of expression through a creative entity. It's not that they don't care...it's just that they may not know how to relate. Either that or the material really is bad. Only kidding.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Global Media Awareness (aka "Is It Hot Where You Live?")

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I always wonder why the media outlets on Guam seem to never change. After I touched down last night - on the way up to Yigo - I wondered. Everything sounds and looks the same. The radio stations, the television station programming, bumpers and graphics all look the same. The newspaper layout, format and stories look like they did in the 90's.

What's Cookin'?
I've been home to Guam back and forth half a dozen times in the last five years, so I'm aware of the current changes in the media circle. But none that's too mind blowing. Why? Is "good enough" good enough? Maybe on an island rooted so far into its humble, local lifestyle they couldn't care less for the media-hungry/savvy ways of the mainland. But why not? They do it all the time on Guam - they just call it "gossip".

Regarding current media, one of the few notable "changes" on the island worth noting is that the newest buzz seems to come from a radio station that plays oldies. I love listening to KIJI FM 104! Great job Daryl, Ryan and the rest of the crew!

Although the lack of change adds to my homeland's "small-town" charm and timeless nostalgia, the island is also an international hub and melting pot to a new and media-savvy world.

Infrastrucure? Check. Media? Check. Oh wait a minute...
Back road to Andersen is paved and there are talks of building a new island road that connects the northern and southern military bases. A lot is happening before the military arrives in a few years. Because media changes constantly, I think that my beautiful island home needs to consider investing more into the media arena as well - not just for the sake of keeping up the media light for local radio skits, station promotions, political gain and typhoon conditions, but for the sake of commerce - and not the kind of commerce that is dependent on off-island resources (although it can help there, too) - but for the interest in and benefit of - local commerce.

With strong media in such a small, yet active consumer-driven community, the island should utilize the tools that are already in place and maximize the media to its full potential - shaking the island towards new methods of interest in addition to maintaining its traditional ones.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Mom Syndrome is Alive and Well - Scenario #1

Sure it's frustrating for us creative types to explain what it is we actually do to people who just don't get it. But, I think that some people really, genuinely and sincerely just don't get it.

I remember trying to explain to my dear mom that my brother and I decided to put our business on hold in order to devote a year of our time and efforts to making Shiro's Head. She had the usual questions one would have about the process of moviemaking, including trying to understand how we're going to generate an income by moviemaking. So I went on to explain that since we're setting out to do everything ourselves, we won't have any money to begin with and that if we even get to see any money, it'll be after the movie is complete - if it gets completed at all. The puzzled look on her face turned into the supportive, "mom" expression as if to say, "Whatever makes you happy."; classic Mom Syndrome.