Archive for July, 2010

Most screenwriters at one point or another get stuck somewhere in the process of writing. It can happen anywhere in the process and sometimes it amounts to a small bump in the road and sometimes it causes writers to abandoned what they’ve written altogether. In On Writing, Stephen King writes that at one point he was so frustrated with his first novel that he threw the whole thing away. But his wife rescued the manuscript for Carrie and encouraged him to keep writing.

Writers develop all kinds of strategies of helping themseleves get through problem spots in their writing, including this practical way;

“I get stuck all the time. I just try not to panic as the time slips away. Something usually clicks. One thing, when I get into trouble I’ll switch the weather. I’ll write ‘it’s raining’ or ‘it’s snowing’ ‘ It makes it sort of comforting to me, and then I can get a sense of the scene, that feeling. It’s weird. I’ve done that many, many times. Then I write the scene and the ‘light rain’ will either stay or go.”
Screenwriter Eric Roth (Forrest Gump, The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons)
Secrets of Hollywood’s Top Screenwriters
by Lyall Bush

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In the short film I recently produced, No Day at the Spa, I actually used part of the quote by screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg, who wrote,“Don’t give up. You’re going to get kicked in the teeth. A lot. Learn to take a hit, then pick yourself up off the floor. Resilience is the true key to success.” It’s from an article she wrote for MovieMaker magazine called My Golden Rules: The do’s and don’ts of screenwriting.

It’s a quote I just posted earlier this month, but I feel the urge to post it again because I think it’s true and helpful. In fact, it just may be my favorite quote I’ve found in the two and a half years I’ve been doing this blog. What Rosenberg didn’t have time to mention in the article is just in fact who had kicked her in the teeth.

Perhaps it doesn’t matter, but I imagine if she was asked which kicks hurt the most it would be from the ones closest to her. The ones perhaps where she has helped their career only to have them turn on her and watch them do things she didn’t think their worst enemy would do.

Whoever it was, I’m sure it hurt the most when she was kicked in the teeth when her guard was down. When she least expected it. But perhaps the two key words not to miss in the quote are: “A Lot.” You’re not going to just get kicked in the teeth once or twice, but “a lot.”

Read any book on the film industry and you find that conflict is not limited to the big screen. So watch your back, develop a thick skin, and memorize that Rosenberg quote,  “Don’t give up. You’re going to get kicked in the teeth. A lot. Learn to take a hit, then pick yourself up off the floor. Resilience is the true key to success.”

Scott W. Smith

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No Day at the Spa, one of two films produced last weekend by the River Run Production Team for The 48 Hour Film Program in Des Moines. (Click 720p HD settings—not 360p— at the bottom of the screen to watch best version.)

The genre that was picked at random and for which we had to make a film of was Film de Femme (a strong female character) and the elements we (and all the other filmmakers) had to have were:

—Character: Carl or Carla Ross, Plumber
—Prop: Coin
—Line of Dialogue: “Who came up with that?”

Erin (The Director)—Emily Stortz
Kathryn (The Editor)—Tory Flack
Michelle (Director of Photography)—Emily Rozniek
Amelia (Writer)—Cassandra Milbrandt
Carl “The Plumber” Ross—Nigel Brown

Executive Producer—Marc Reifenrath
Executive Producer—Adam Lewis
Executive Producer—Cory Schmidt
Producer/Director/Writer—Scott W. Smith
Director/Editor/Writer—Josh McCabe
Director of Photography—Stephen Holm
Key Grip/Lighting—Jon Van Allen
Assistant Director/Editor—Tara McCready
B Camera—Zach Everman
Production Manager—Joel Laneville
Compositor/Graphics—Calvin Johannsen
Production Assistant/Audio—Alex Welsh
Production Assistant/Audio—William Byrne
Galleria De Paco
The Blackhawk Hotel, Cedar Falls, Iowa
Dan Tindall
Cherrie Zempel
Paco Rosic
Amy Anderson
Dale Lindquist
Linda Alexandres
“Stuck On You”
Digital Juice
Stack Traxx – Positive Aspirations [Disc 2]
“Together We Can”
Digital Juice
Stack Traxx – Groovy Stacks [Disc 4]
“Decision Maker”
Digital Juice
Stack Traxx – Corporate Stacks [Disc 1]
(Note: The second film we produced in the same 48 Hour period, The Masks We Wear, will be posted at a later date.)

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Paco Rosic & Scott W. Smith

Allow me to filibuster for one day before I post the two films that we made last weekend. (Need to double check the rules.) Since I’ve covered the major aspects of the production except for budget and equipment, let me cover that ground now. The total budget for both films combined was less than $500. with the majority of that being the $135 registration fee for two teams, River Run Productions & River Run Productions 2. Approximately, $150. was spent on food. And about $50 on misc. expenditures.

Of course, as the saying goes, “A number without a context is meaningless.” None of the talent or crew was paid and several drove 1-4 hours each way to participate paying for their own gas. We had one comped hotel room that was held for a possible location site and that one of the actresses used for one night. Thanks to Dan Tindall at The Blackhawk Hotel, in Cedar Falls. (Check out their website www.theblackhawk-hotel.com that was created by Spinutech featuring photography and videos by River Run Productions.

The equipment provided by River Run was as followed:
Panasonic HVX 200
Panasonic HPX 170
P2 Cards
Miller Tripod
Boom pole and Octavia mic
Arri IV light kit
Apple Laptop computer (Older G4 for transferring P2 footage)
Apple  Mac Pro, Final Cut Studio
Various hard drives
Nikon D90
Stedicam Merlin (used only as a prop)

Co-director Josh McCabe provided his Canon 7D & his Apple iMac loaded with Final Cut Pro, Adobe Photoshop & After Effects.

Jon Van Allen brought his small trailer full of grip and lighting equipment. (But we actually kept that down to a few lights, white boards for reflecting, and some c-stands.) Neither shoot was very elaborate lighting wise.

I’m not sure what the actual budget would have been if the talent, crew, rental equipment, etc., were paid their full rate but it would have been a lot. We toyed with the idea of shooting with a couple iPhones just as a challenge and decided that two films at once was enough of a challenge. We heard at least one team in Des Moines used a RED camera and I’m sure that their are some people crying foul over that, but welcome to the real world.

I remember being in film school making a $500. film when another student with wealthy parents was making a $10,000. film. (For what it’s worth, that student has gone on to have the most successful career in Los Angeles of anyone I went to school with. He directed Johnny Depp on 21 Jump Street, as well as episodes of ER, Entourage, The X-Files and one of episodes of Band of Brothers for Stephen Spielberg and Tom Hanks.)

Embrace your limitations and know that there are always people with bigger guns than you. But don’t use that as an excuse not to make films. You have to start somewhere. Our first 48 Hour Film in ’06 was shot with a Panasonic DVX 100 DV camera and a couple lights. And if you ever think you need a RED camera or whatever the newest hottest thing out there is just watch Pieces of April that was shot on a Sony PD 150 years ago.

As an old coach once told me, “It’s not the tennis racket, it’s the tennis player.”

I just received two phone calls that the screening in Des Moines went well tonight.  I was told the film “The Masks We Wear” was a favorite among the directors of other films. That’s good news indeed and the kind comments appreciated. That film was shot with the Canon 7D, a HDSLR camera which lists for around $1,200 and we had a couple of lens. We had a low-cost pipe dolly that rolls on PVC pipes you get at Home Depot, four people as talent, and probably four Arri lights.

Half of the other film we produced, No Day at the Spa, was shot in our conference room and the other half again at Paco Rosic’s studio. (While the films stand alone, they also intersect as well. Something that wasn’t easy to pull off, but hey, if you going to try to make two films in a row why not try to create an enigma? Ideally No Day at the Spa would play first followed by The Masks We Wear.)

No Day at the Spa was shot with the two Panasonic cameras running simultaneously, except for various pick-up shots.  Josh McCabe took the lead editing on Apple Final Cut Pro.

So we spread the love around with a mix of cameras, people and editing systems.

The Film: No Day at the Spa

Scott W. Smith

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Tomorrow is the big screen debut of the two films that the River Run Productions team produced as part of The 48 Hour Film Project/Des Moines. If you happen to go to the screenings at the Fleur Cinema & Cafe then we’d appreciate a big shout out for the films “No Day at the Spa” and “The Masks we Wear.”

Tomorrow is also when we plan on debuting the films online.

One question I was asked a couple times was, “where did you find all these people?” Meaning the 17-18 people we had working at various capacities on the films. The short answer is everywhere. I have long been fond of the Tom Peters phrase, “Always be looking for talent.” The main reason for that is when you need someone is the wrong time to begin looking.  It’s hard to find the ideal person in a short period of time.

But if you are always looking for talent you have a funnel of people you can tap into. It may be a photographer, a writer, or an actor that you saw months or years ago and you just wait for the right opportunity to be able to work with them. Ideally, you make contact with them and establish a relationship so when the opportunity comes it has a natural flow to it.

Here’s an example of how I was able to “find all these people.”

Actress Tory Flack: I met Tory’s mom at Toastmasters and a couple of years ago she told me her daughter was a theater major at the University of Iowa and gave me her daughter’s headshot. About a year and a half ago I used Tory as on camera talent for a video I did for an economic development group. Anybody who is willing to stand outside in zero degree weather in front of the American Gothic house in Eldon, Iowa for a video shoot is somebody I want to work with again. Recently she graduated from Iowa (remember the same school Diablo Cody and Tennessee Williams graduated from) and just finished doing a Shakespeare play in Cedar Rapids and will soon be moving to Chicago to pursue a career in acting.

Actress Emily Stortz: I had not met Emily until she walked into our office Friday night. But I had seen her a couple weeks prior in a local production of Joseph’s Amazing Technocolor Dreamcoat. She played Potiphar’s wife and did double duty as one of the dancers. While the cast of 50 performers did a fine job there was a “in the moment” quality about Emily that I thought would play well on film. (I was not wrong there.) I got a message to her and she called me on Thursday and two days later she was in a lead roll in “A Day at the Spa.”

Actress Emily Rozinek: Emily is a model from Cedar Rapids and who I worked with at the end of last year on a video for Beam Electrolux. She was curious about the process of the 48 Hour Film Project and was open to working behind the scene moving lights. But when you have someone who looks like Sandra Bullock when she did the movie Speed, it’s probably best to put her in front of the camera. She has a spunky/sassy personality and she brought that to her role.

Actress Cassie Milbrandt: I was Director of Photography on a short film a few years ago where Cassie was one of the actresses. She was just 17 then and you could tell she had not only talent but was committed to acting. She is now a student at the University of Northern Iowa here in Cedar Falls and it was great to work with her again.

Co-Director/Editor Josh McCabe: Anyone with as many tattoos as Josh has (and rides a motorcycle) has to be creative right? We found Josh about a year and a half ago when we called UNI and asked then to recommend their best student for a paid internship. So Josh quit his job at credit union and came to work freelancing for us. He went to LA for a few months to do an internship with Mark Steines at Entertainment Tonight, before returning to UNI to graduate last spring. Josh is part of the new breed of young creatives who can shoot, edit, and do graphics among a few other things. Josh and I co-directed the two films and he edited “No Day at the Spa.” (Josh was born and raised in Cedar Falls, Iowa so his passion for  film production is mixed with that good ole’ Midwest work ethic. (Which comes in handy when you’re kicking ideas around at 4:30 in the morning before an 8 AM shoot.)

Much of the crew was made up of various people I had worked with in the past mixed in friends of friends. The level of experience ranged from some who were working on their first film(s) to Jon Van Allen who not only has a full grip truck and 30 years of production experience, but has recently worked on several independent feature films shot here in Iowa.

I have no doubt that there are several people who worked on this film (even as production assistants) who will go on to make there own films. And there are probably a few who watched the messy process of making two films at once on little sleep and have no interest in ever working on a film again.

All that to say that there are talented people in every city and town—you just have to always be looking for them. Find ways to connect with them. That could be via Facebook, mutual friends, work situations, etc. Be bold. You never going to offend anyone by telling them you admire their work. Even if you have little experience do not fear approaching an experienced cameraman, editor, or actor.

Remember enthusiasm is infectious. When I was briefly  a walk-on football player at the University of Miami I remember a player telling me that he’d “walk through fire if Coach Schnellenberger asked him to.” When look back on the program that program that has won five national championships in the last 28 years (more than any other school in the last 30 years), I believe it was Schnellenberger’s passion and enthusiasm that laid the foundation for the program. Of course, mixed with his ability to always be looking for talented people.

Make Two Films in 48 Hours (Part 6)

Scott W. Smith

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Waking up after making two films in 48 hours must be like waking up after partying after two days—execpt instead of a hangover, you have two films. (And just for the record, I don’t think in my wildest days I ever stayed awake for two days straight.)

You know there is much written about what it takes to make a film. People, cameras, lights, etc., but there isn’t much written about how to make two different films at the same time. So this seems like a fitting time to address that since our River Run team this past weekend just completed that task by creating two short films for the 48 Hour Film Project.

Before I tell you what you need to make two short films at the same time there is one little thing that you don’t need to make two films—sleep. I’m not sure what the average sleep was for the crew but for Josh McCabe, who co-directed and edited one of the films, we averaged two hours of sleep. (And we did it without a single Red Bull.) Really, it would have been easy to do three films by simply having somebody edit a behind the scene making of video. It would have made a good zombie movie as various people stumbled around in the dark.)

Hmmm, three films at one time? That sounds interesting. Actually, with all the people taking stills and videos during the making of the films I am confident that we will in fact have a fun little behind the scene video. That sounds like a fitting ending project for our intern Tara who hasn’t had too much actual hands on experience this summer.

If you want hands on advice on how to make two films in one weekend this is the best I can come up with: Have a crazy idea and just find a bunch of crazy talented people who are game for the adventure. And a couple crazy ideas is what we had. We started with the crazy idea to do two films at once which I had been kicking around for a couple years. Since part of the 48 Hour Film Project is you don’t learn what kind of film (or films) you have to make until Friday night we didn’t really have a script when we started shooting just a couple loose ideas of where we were heading.

But like a seed everything grew out of those ideas. Since foreign films was one of the films we had to make I called artist Paco Rosic who speaks Bosnian and German and he agreed to help. So we invaded his loft after 11PM and shoot footage until around 4AM. Josh and I went to the office and pounded out the idea of the second film which was a Femme da Film. (A strong female character.)

When the cast and crew arrived at 8AM on Saturday they thought they were coming together to make a film about four girls coming together in a hotel room to go to a funeral about a teacher they all had who had passed away. We ended up trashing that idea because we were told that was kind of the storyline of Grown-Ups that is currently in theaters. Plus we also thought it lacked conflict and strong visuals.

So what the cast and crew found out when they showed up was we were going to make a film about four girls who instead of having a spa weekend were going to make a film together. That was a natural for conflict and strong visuals. We broke the concept down just like a feature film script. (Not that we actually had a script.)

Act 1: Set up. In a conference room the leader of the group (played by Emily Stortz) laid out the goal to make a film in 48 hours. Of course, the three other girls (played by Tory Flack, Emily Rozinek, and Cassie Milbrandt) not being filmmakers, think this is a stupid idea.

Act 2: Making the film. The girls would have to learn how to use the equipment and shoot the film. We gave each of the girls roles. Emily S. was the director, Tory was the editor, Emily Rozinek the DP/camerawoman, and Cassie the writer. Of course, there are some tensions on the set and a few cat fights as they race to make a film in 48 hours. We also decided to do some sitdown interviews (“The Office”-style) of each of the girls alone as they answer questions about the process of making a film in 48 hours.

Act 3: Basically the girls all reflecting on the experience of having learned filmmaking skills and having a sense of accomplishment of having done something that they didn’t think they could do. The film is titled, “No Day at the Spa.”

That arc we had in place when we began shooting. So though it may have looked totally scriptless to someone on the outside, it actually had a solid story structure. The actresses did a super job of creating a believable neophyte crew. (Even if they had no idea what J-K-L and shallow depth of field meant.)

What we really wanted to do was find at least a hint that the two films were connected. That the film we shot Friday night was actually the film that the girls made on Saturday.

We finished shooting the filmmaking film around 5 PM on Saturday and then went back to the office to begin editing it. After about 12 hours of editing (with Josh leading the charge) it was at a place at 6 AM that I could put my attention on overseeing the editing of the first film. Paco was the hands-on editor of a film that at this point only had a bunch of nice visuals.

So from 8AM-3PM we worked on the edit, wrote the script, recorded the VO, shot one needed shot, and exported the film. A nice mythic moment in that process was when artist Gary Kelley walked in and and gave us six little words that actually help make “The Masks We Wear” work.

Then it was back to the office as there were a couple of complications that were threating both of the films being turned in on time since we still had a two hour drive to Des Moines to make the deadline. The last hour of editing had a little tension. Josh and Alex Welsh left the office after 5:30 to try to make the 2 hour plus drive in hopes of making the 7:30 deadline.

I don’t want to know how fast they were driving, but they made the drop with 10 minutes to spare. I don’t know if anyone in the history of the 48 Hour Film Project has ever tried to make two films at once, but I don’t think it’s ever happened in Des Moines. My goal from the start was to be free to create something that either failed big time or that would be amazing. Hot or cold.

I’ll let others decide the quality of what we created. But overall it was a fun shared experience and I again thank all the people who were working hard and staying up late to help make two films in 48 hours. Special thanks to DP Stephen Holm from driving down from Minneapolis way, Jon Van Allen, grip/lighting specialist, for the use of his grip truck (and doing double duty on make-up as seen in one of the above photos), and Calvin Johannsen for jumping in to provide green screen motion tracking surgery at the last minute.

(I’m not sure what the rules are but I hope we can post the films online soon. If not, I’ll post some of the outtakes.)

Making Two Films in 48 Hours (Part 5)

Scott W. Smith

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It’s late Sunday night and I only have the energy to say that we did in fact make two films in 48 hours and our team made the delivery deadline in Des Moines with 10 minutes to spare. Thanks to everyone who helped make it an interesting weekend. More about the process (and the films) in the coming days…

Making Two Films in 48 Hours (Part 4)

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Okay, the two films we shot in the last 24 Hours were #1) A Foreign Film

And #2 a Film de Femme (strong female character):

Both films completed principal photography within 24 hours of the genre selection. Now both of the 4-7 minute films have to be edited and turned within the next 24 hours. Fun times with a great cast and crew.

Making Two Films in 48 Hours (Part 3)

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Starting tonight at 7:30 River Run Productions will be working taking part in the 48 Hour Film Project. That’s were you have 48 hours to write, shoot and edit a 4-7 minute film. This will be the fifth year I will lead a team to compete in the film project. It’s an opprtunity to work on a narrative project with actors, editors, cameramen, and other production people I’ve worked on other projects in the past and also a few people I’ve never worked with before.

There are 90 cities that do this throughout the year in the US and we will be competing in Des Moines, Iowa. Each of the past four years we’ve made it to what’s called The Best of the Cities which are the top dozen or so films. This year in Des Moines there will be 49-50 teams competing. Making a film in 48 hours is not hard. Making a good film in 48 hours is very hard. And just to make things interesting we’ve actually signed up to make two films this weekend. I can’t imagine we’re the first to ever try this, but I thought it would be an interesting challenge.

In the next several days I’ll document the process concluding with posting the final films on Monday.

About the only thing you are allowed to do is pick cast, crew, locations, and secure equipment.

We have a committed cast of six people and several others on standby. We have several locations on standby as well:
1) An updated motel room that has a retro 50s feel
2) A working artist’s studio
3) An office conference room
4) A hip bar
5) An old barn

There are a few others we could use, but those are our main choices. Just like a feature film moving cast & crew to locations takes time so we hope to just use one location. Though we could shoot at one tonight and one on Saturday which wouldn’t be too much trouble.

As far as equipment we have various cameras (Panasonic HVX 200, HPX 170, Canon 7D, and a couple Nikon cameras and lens), lights, tripods, dollys, etc., we have two Final Cut Pro edit bays, and a wide selection of library music & sound effects.

So equipment, talent and crew-wise we are in good shape. So everything is dependent on the script. Isn’t that usually the situation? Hollywood films are full of talented crews, actors using top-notch equipment all dependent on a good script.

For the 48 Hour Film Project you make a blind selection of genres. Since we are two hours away from Des Moines we’ll have two people at the selection kick off event.

The main genres:

  • Buddy Film
  • Comedy
  • Drama
  • Fantasy
  • Film de Femme
  • Film Noir
  • Horror
  • Mockumentary
  • Musical or Western
  • Road Movie
  • Romance
  • Sci Fi
  • Silent Film
  • Thriller/Suspense

If you reject your first selection they give you one of the Wild Card Genres:

  • Adventure Serial
  • Dark Comedy
  • Foreign Film (only used in the United States)
  • Heist
  • Historical Fiction/Period Piece
  • Mystery
  • Surprise Ending
  • Time Travel Movie or Doppelganger Movie

So at 7:30 tonight we’ll find the direction we’ll head. I’ll kick ideas around with cast and crew and then write the script(s). In the past I have actually started shooting without a storyline to take advantage of the soft lighting between 7:30-9:00. It’s basically been raining for the past 24 hours so I’m not sure we’ll be doing any exterior shots tonight.

If this is something you’d like to do check out the article by John Hansen, How to make a film in 48 hours. Back in 2005 Hansen’s team, Team Last to Enter, not only won Best of the Cities (Des Moines) with their film Mimes of the Prairie, but won the national competition that year.

Should be interesting.

Making Two Films in 48 Hours (Part 2)

Scott W. Smith

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“I was speaking at a conference in Florida recently, and a young guy stood up and said, ‘Don’t you think your job is obsolete?’ I said, ‘What do you mean by that?’ He said, ‘Well, anybody who picks up a digital camera today is a cinematographer.’ I responded, ‘Well, if I gave you an electric guitar, would you instantly become Eric Clapton?’ He didn’t know who Eric Clapton was so the point was lost.”
Michael Goi, ASC President & Cinematographer with 30 years of experience
American Cinematographer, April 2010

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