Making A Feature – Part 1

I want to make a movie.

Some people recommend making short films, a really nice short film to show at festivals and gain attention. Some people recommend making a web series, something to post on YouTube to get attention and maybe pick up some buzz. Some people even recommend making a TV Pilot first, something that could be put online and maybe get an executive’s attention. But I ask you, if you’re home on a Friday night and you want to be entertained what are you most likely to watch, a webisode, a short film, or a movie? Unless the webisode features Kevin Spacey, I think you’re most likely to watch a movie. I think that’s why I want to make a genuine over forty minute (technically over forty minutes qualifies as a feature film according the Academy) beginning middle and end feature motion picture, if only because those are the things that I like watching the most. I see tons of people making good quality short films and web series, but I never hear people talk about watching short films or web series (unless its House of Cards).

Carrie, my wife, came up with a cool story and we’re going for it. We’re making a movie. So far we have:

  • A story
  • 45 pages of a screenplay (a couple weeks ago it was 89 pages, but it got crazy town). Eraserhead only was 41 pages.
  • 1 Canon T3i DSLR camera with a M42 adapter for vintage prime lenses which currently include 28mm, 55mm, 135mm, and 250mm, found on ebay and ShopGoodwill.com — they take beautiful pictures.
  • 1 camera stabilizer I bought on ebay.
  • 1 double suction cup camera mount to stick on a my car.
  • 1 Zoom H4N. I used this to record part of my comedy album.
  • 2 Condenser microphones for voiceover recording.
  • 1 Audio-Technica AT835b Shotgun mic
  • Too much XLR cable.
  • 2 tripods with vital pieces missing.
  • One actor – me.
  • One antique car, namely a 1988 VW Fox.
  • A movie poster, thanks to sammigirl on Fiverr.
  • A musical theme, thanks to carlocastellano on Fiverr.
  • 1 book on how to make lighting for video on a low budget.
  • Around 5 old paperbacks on how to make movies/basics of photography.

 

Lesson: Key Fees are Bullshit

It was sometime around 2003 in New York City. I had the chance to move into a studio apartment on Central Park West. It was small, sweltering (located right above the boiler), dirty, and dark. But it was Central Park West! Right across the street was Central Park. Down the street a mile or two was Times Square and across the river to the east was Astoria, Queens where I lived, tired of having roommates. And they were probably tired of me.

The opportunity for the apartment came through a friend who’s neighbor was moving to another apartment in the building. Moving forward, I’ll refer to this gentleman as “Neighbor.” Neighbor was a nice guy and told me he’d do everything he could to help me takeover his place.

“My word goes very far in the building.”

I would receive a preferential rent: $800 a month! (The legal rent was around $1100, which is about what I was paying 7 years later when I moved out of that hole). There was one more thing, Neighbor told me the building manager would require a “key fee” of $500.

In cash.

Hey, I wasn’t paying a broker fee, which sometimes ran people back a stiff grand, and I was paying less than a thousand to live in Manhattan, home of Gray’s Papaya. I thought a little shady cash deal wasn’t out of the question.

I went to sign the lease, paid the deposit and first month’s rent. I think I remember my preferrential rent being written in pencil on the lease. Neighbor waited outside the business manager’s office. When I came out, Neighbor asked me if everything went well. I told him it did.

“Did you pay the key fee?”

“He didn’t ask for it.”

“What?”

“Give it to me, I’ll handle it.”

Then I gave the neighbor the cash.

WHY DID I GIVE THAT GUY FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS IN CASH?!!

He then went into the office and came back out.

“It’s cool.”

Now, your speculation on what happened behind those closed doors is as good as mine. Did the neighbor take a cut of the cash? Or maybe he just wished the manager a happy birthday and kept all the cash to spend on Propecia?

The lease was already signed, if the building manager wanted cash from me, he could have just asked.

Lesson learned: Don’t give people money just because they ask for it. I was so nervous about signing my first lease, getting a Manhattan apartment, and handling money that I didn’t stand up for myself.

I could really use that cash now. Maybe that old neighbor is on Facebook.

The transition moving into the apartment was hardly smooth. Neighbor took a couple weeks moving out. He even let some European tourists crash there, on my lease, while I suffered in Queens. I wish I held my ground but I was afraid of making enemies.

Do me a favor, if someone insists on a key fee in exchange for a crummy dark Manhattan studio, fight it.

 

 

Movie Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

I’ll be honest, I didn’t like J.J. Abrams’ first Star Trek. I thought there were some fun moments and visuals, but it felt more like a standard summer action movie than the enticement for us to all beam up and explore space. It was like Starship Troopers but without the satire. Perhaps I was just bitter about the casting choices.

While Star Trek Into Darkness is definitely still a high velocity action romp, J.J. Abrams artfully adds some solid questions about war and killing. Kudos. The movie even opens up on Nibiru, a nod to all us crackpot conspiracy minded kooks (and the nods don’t end there).

The movie starts, like the first one, with some strong 9/11-War-on-Terror parallels which had me already judging this film as another boring vengeance driven pro-militaristic summer spectacle. But then right as we’re getting ready to go blow up the bad guys, Star Trek finally emerges from the explosions and lens flares: Scotty resigns, exclaiming they’re supposed to be explorers not a military operation. Then Spock delivers some gems about the morality of war. And we’re off on a fun action packed adventure with some food for thought.

I saw the movie  as a smart sci-fi take on the pursuit Osama bin Laden. How do you pursue someone who is a great danger to the peace? Are there those who profit from such a villain? Where would our space program be if we didn’t spend so many lives and resources fighting terror? Maybe I’m pushing my own agenda with that last one. There’s even a scene questioning the use of private security forces. And everyone might not agree with me on this one, but Abrams pulled a move that would have made Roddenbery proud: having Kronos sit in for Afghanistan. I loved this movie.

However, here are my complaints:

  • I didn’t like how future earth was portrayed. It looks exactly like our society but bumped up a couple decades (taller buildings, flying cars). I know this choice sounds practical, but think of it: Star Trek takes place in a time where humanity has matured. We all get along and work well together. I think that world would look different, especially the bars.
  • I had some problems with the portrayal of women. I remember reading the The Making of Star Trek (nerd alert). Roddenbery originally wanted to make the crew of the Enterprise 50/50 men and women. The studio said this would make people uncomfortable. He tried. Now it’s 2013 and in this Star Trek movie there’s a scene where all the captains of Starfleet are assembled; they’re all men. Come on, really? This is the future. That being said there were some good Uhura scenes. But while weapons specialist/science officer Carol Marcus was a nice addition to the crew, the movie makes sure to throw her in her underwear while having Kirk ogle her. I know this is standard movie fare, and other blockbusters treat women far worse, but it’s unfortunate to continually portray women as objects (at least make them Captains of space ships). However, there is a scene where Spock eyes Marcus jealously which is a nice touch. There’s also a healthy mix of men, women, and aliens in the Enterprise crew.
  • When they beam people up, it looks all swirly. I think they should have kept the old beam effect.
  • There’s no scene after the credits. I thought all movies had these now.
Here’s what I liked:
  • Classic Trek ethical dilemmas!
  • Classic Trek sound effects!
  • Classic Trek references!
  • Klingons!
  • Great performances – Benedict Cumberbatch gives us a slick villain.
  • Lots of standard Trek humor – Thanks, Scotty and Bones!
  • No shortage of cool visuals – I really like the look of the Enterprise, there’s even uniforms reminiscent of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
  • The start of the credit sequence, especially the music.

I saw this movie in 3D. It was cool, but I don’t think necessary. I’m not a 3D fan. I didn’t even like Avatar in 3D. Fast movie cameras (as opposed to a stationary frame), lens flares, and rack focus don’t tend to translate well into 3D. But space, especially in the final credits works well. I’d recommend seeing it with your normal eyes.

MOVIE RATING: Three Vulcan Ears.

BONUS: Before Star Trek, I saw the trailer for Man of Steel. It looks like there’s some fun Jesus allegory being packed into this movie: Superman works on a fishing boat, has a beard, gets arrested… looks good!

 

Improvised Stand-Up Set

I got on the stage and started going off on nicknames and it led to this mostly improvised set. It was fun. I think I improvise best when I already have something planned. Maybe it gives me confidence? When I just get up to improvise, I tend to try to remember things. I had a complete list of jokes ready to go, but when I started whining about nicknames, it set me off on a rant. I find the energy involved in improvising stand-up helps the performance.

Magic: The Jeffersons Theme Song over The Jetsons

You can’t move up much further than the Jetsons.

Gather Ye Rosebuds

I was meditating last night and got the idea for this short. I shot it on a Canon T3i, edited on iMovie 6 and added music in Garageband.

Here is the description I wrote on YouTube:

Gather Ye Rosebuds, a chilling cry to cast aside our responsibilities and engage in frivolities. Or perhaps, a cry from space? Is poetry an artificial construct or is the human experience coming from somewhere else? Are we destined or do we trudge along in a statistical maze on uncertaintly? Gather Ye Rosebuds is a film which examines these questions in the guise of a monster movie. To the astute observer this is merely a web video, but the untrained eye it is a gateway into the inner recesses of doubt. Are we who we think we are? What do we truly remember about our existence. Is the sun a giver of life or the remnant technology of a collapsed universe? Questions not answers are what give each of us breath. Join the mystery.

Review of Michael Crichton’s Rising Sun

Rising SunRising Sun by Michael Crichton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ll say this, I found the book hard to put down. Rising Sun kind of comes across as a bizarro version of Isaac Asimov’s Caves of Steel, with John Connor playing the role of the robot, and the Japanese substituted for the Spacers. Don’t worry, Asimov fans, I didn’t ruin anything; they have completely different endings.

The question this book posed to me: is it racist to criticize a country for its business practices? After finishing the book, the answer is no, but with a big asterisk. While I found the insight into Japanese culture and business interesting, at times I felt the Japanese were painted with a broad brush. Not all the Japanese characters came across the same way but there are few blanket statements thrown around which made me wonder if the author was writing to stir up some prejudice. However the book is equally critical of the United States (and rightfully so, Crichton’s concerns for the future of American business seem to be playing out, although not with Japanese-American relations as the culprit). Every time the Japanese are characterized as aggressive or ruthless (or racist), Americans are characterized as lazy, stupid, and not capable of caring about the future (and also racist). Is the wise elder hero in this book, John Connor, an American fluent in Japanese culture is supposed to be symbolic of the greatness that happens when these two cultures work together? Maybe it takes a bit of independent thinking to keep the distracting undercurrents of Crichton’s bias in check, but by the end of the book I was genuinely interested in finding out more about Japanese culture.

Maybe since I’m reading this in 2013 the book comes across less as xenophobic paranoia as it does as the beginning of a discussion of two cultures meeting. But I thought some good points were raised. There is a lot to be said about the brain drain happening in the United States as well as the high level of crime (none of which Crichton blames on any other country). And while I’m no fan of nationalism, is it healthy for foreign countries to economically manipulate the government of another country? For the U.S. as a villain in this scenario, check out Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins.

But wait, is Rising Sun an essay on Japanese-American relations or are we reading a murder mystery? While at times it’s hard to answer this question, we are reading a murder mystery, which reads like a suspenseful movie as Crichton is gifted at doing. But he does have an annoying knack for building up tension then as you’re waiting to read what happens next, BAM! you get hit with a character unleashing pages of exposition on either Japanese culture, business relations, or how video cameras work (all things Crichton urges us to further read in his bibliography). Don’t get me wrong, I think the extensive research Crichton packs into the story makes it all the better.

If I have any issue with how a group of people are portrayed in this novel, it’s women. We have a murder victim who got off on being beat up, we have a couple more prostitutes, we have an adorable toddler, we have a nasty career driven ex-wife not interested in being a mother.. a cleaning lady… a beautiful computer savvy grad student who’s unaware of her beauty… come on… seriously… Forget questions of Japan bashing, what’s Crichton trying to tell us about women? In fact, I think the book would have been more suspenseful and engaging if the main detective were a woman.

But all in all, the book held my attention and got me thinking. Like all noir detective stories, there’s good mixed with the bad.

View all my reviews

The George W. Bush Presidential Library Jokes

This week the United States dedicated a library to a President who stole an election (or two?), tricked us into war, and started us down the road of torture and illegal detainment. Here are some jokes I wrote about it.

The Environment and The Executioner

I’m sorting through my old paperbacks and came across this one: The Executioner #27: Dixie Convoy by Don Pendleton.

This is from the back:

Mack Bolan finds that the Mafia is moving over one billion dollars a year in stolen goods, drugs. and contraband along the Dixie Corridor into Atlanta. Then they repackage the hot stuff and sell if via seemingly legitimate marketing operations.

The Executioner has a different kind of recycling program in mind as he moves into the Southland and pursues his one man open war against crime.

I don’t understand what the war on crime has to do with recycling. I’d be interested in seeing the Executioner’s program down on paper.

Joseph Taking Jesus to Try to Lift Thor’s Hammer

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