Archive for the ‘Directors’ Category

‘Lifted’ Begins Production

Monday, August 17th, 2009

In 2003 director Lexi Alexander teamed up with Hunter Films to produce Johnny Flynton, a short-film that went on to receive an Oscar nomination. Now, Alexander returns to Alabama to shoot Lifted, a feature that centers on a young boy striving to make life better for himself and his family through his passion for R&B music. This production will be taking advantage of the filmmaker tax-incentive legislation that was recently passed by representatives in Montgomery. Hopefully, Lifted will mark a new surge in film production across the state.

The film starts shooting today and will run for the next three weeks. I will be on set for at least four days shooting behind-the-scenes footage that will ultimately be used in the film’s marketing efforts. Our goal is to capture the southern flavor of the locale and highlight the capable and talented Alabama crew that will be working tirelessly to see this film through to completion. Not only do we hope to promote the film as a whole, but we want to promote Alabama as a great place for filmmakers.

The Initial Consultation

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

Video is an artistic medium, meaning that the final product is always influenced by a certain interpretation and aesthetic approach. Give four directors the same subject and tell them to create a promotional video on that subject, and invariably you will receive four very different videos.

This means that a budget for any one video can run from one extreme to the other. The final cost always depends on several factors. That’s why it’s very difficult to nail down an accurate bid, simply based on the question, “How much do you charge for a commercial?” Video production is something different from an item you find on the grocery store shelf. Every commercial or promotional video can’t always be packaged and priced with a nice, neat little label. Businesses are different. People are different. Therefore, directors that strive to give clients unique content that speaks directly to their audience will want to sit down with you for a creative consultation.

I always try to meet with a potential client face to face to gather information for a particular video project. In that initial consultation, I like to find out the following:

  • Basic information on the company; history, products, services
  • Main selling points that make this company different from their competitors
  • Values the company holds
  • Perceptions about the company (both internally and externally)
  • Marketing goals that the company has for themselves (more specifically, what do they want this video to achieve?)
  • Information on current customers (why do they buy from this company?)
  • Their target market
  • Problems that this marketing effort will help solve
  • The reasons why they contacted me
  • The role they want me to play in this project
  • Ideas they have for a video (both in terms of content and aesthetics)

These items are incredibly important to me as I move into any video production, because it helps in developing a concept and a script that will be most effective to the client. I want the client to know that what interests me most is helping them gain greater public exposure and increased profitability.

Lessons Learned From No-Budget Filmmaking

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Last night marked the end of production for my latest short film If Only. I think everyone is relieved that we have finally wrapped. This particular project was plagued with delays and some unexpected problems, but I feel confident that we will make a solid film with high production values.

I have made several short films over the years and I have learned a lot about no-budget independent filmmaking. So, for those who also share my passio, allow me to pass on a few lessons that will hopefully help you in your endeavors.

Don’t let the lack of money prohibit you from getting out and making films. If you have something to say, then say it. But also remember that low-budget

  1. Low budget doesn’t mean low production value. The fact that you have little or no money doesn’t autmatically mean that your film will look horrible. But you have to study the ins and outs of cinematography. Ask questions. Practice your craft. Learn by watching what others are doing. Solid execution will give the impression that you spent more than you actually did.
  2. Surround yourself with knowledgeable people. In 2004 I wanted to produce a short comedy. However, I was just getting back into production full-time and I didn’t know too many local filmmakers. So I decided to take on every behind-the-scenes role myself. I was the writer, director, producer, editor, cinematographer… I did everything, and as a result the quality of the film suffered. When you make it a goal to direct your film, recruit others to work in key positions. For example, having a talented DP on set to light the scene and run the camera will give you much-needed time to rehearse and direct your actors. It’s easy to get caught up in the technical details and neglect the performances from your talent, unless you have others working with you on set.
  3. Things will not go as planned. This is true of even the biggest Hollywood blockbuster, but even more so on low-budget short films. Expect the unexpected. A location will not be available when you need it to be available. An actor will have to reschedule at the last minute because of a conflict with his or her day job. You will get rained out. The police will tell you to shut the whole thing down. You will be forced to eliminate certain camera set-ups (or perhaps entire scenes) due to uncontrollable circumstances. That’s just the way it goes.
  4. Always have a plan “B.” This point is a direct result of point #3. When things go wrong, you need to have a contingency plan in place. If it rains and you have to be outside, how can you re-work the story to incorporate the rain? When the owner of a location needs to pull the plug on you for some unforeseen reason, what can you do to complete the scene? A good producer will help you think through these potential problems before they even happen, so it’s important to go over these issues in pre-production.
  5. Maintain a comfortable pace while in production. When everyone is getting paid thousands (or even millions) of dollars to be involved with a movie, you can afford to work everyone for 16 hours a day, six days a week. However, when you’re on a low-budget short and everyone is working for free, it’s important to remember that they are doing you a tremendous favor by being involved with your film. Pad out the shooting schedule so it isn’t too demanding. At the same time, be up front with those involved and remind them that filmmaking is a time intensive process. You can’t shoot a five-minute film in thirty minutes. Be respectful of their time, and be honest about expectations.

In my experiences as an independent filmmaker living in Birmingham, I have met a lot of gracious, wonderful people who are eager to see the production industry thrive in this region. And I’m certain that in your own film projects, you will be just as fortunate. Be professional, prepared, courteous, and respectful, and people will want to work with you again and again.

Michael Bay’s PR Damage Control

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

For marketers and PR professionals, timely communication with your audience is important to maintaining a strong brand. In a world where news, opinions, reviews, and customer feedback is almost instantaneous, issues must be dealt with now, not later. You must actively engage in an upfront and honest manner. Consider the following story about director Michael Bay’s recent PR mishap (from Cinematical.com)

Never keep hundreds of people waiting in the rain for hours. Michael Bay, Shia LaBeouf, and Megan Fox did just that in South Korea on June 9. An estimated crowd of 600 fans and press lined up in Seoul early to see the red-carpet premiere of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, according to Screen Daily, and were then disappointed when the Transformers entourage arrived 80 minutes late, spending only a few minutes with the crowd. Members of the press were further distressed when the group arrived 30 minutes late to a scheduled news conference the next day, and some staged a walk-out.

Bay has now issued a written apology, explaining that “traveling from another country, and not allowing enough time for airport delays, city traffic and hotel check-in,” and that the press conference delay was due to the “serious pain” he was experiencing from a pulled back muscle. (The group traveled directly from the premiere in Tokyo, Japan.) Damage control was necessary, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because bloggers had started a campaign to boycott the film in theaters, while local distributor CJ Entertainment insists that interest in the film remains high.

As in the U.S., Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen opens in Korea on June 24. The first Transformers made even more money outside the U.S. than within, so it makes sense to court international audiences, but this incident demonstrates once again that no one likes to be shortchanged or taken for granted.

I particularly like the last line of this article, “No one likes to be shortchanged or taken for granted.” Let your audience know you appreciate them. Communicate with them. Ask for their ideas and input. And utilize the power of video to get your message out to a mass audience.

Keys for a Happy Film Shoot

Friday, April 17th, 2009

Most people watch the behind-the-scenes featurettes of their favorite movies and see a happy, magical world of glamor. The lights. The cameras. The exotic locations. The smiling faces. Wow, who wouldn’t want to be a filmmaker?

What these documentaries don’t show you is the grueling day in-day out lifestyle of making movies. People get frustrated. The days are long. There are constant physical and mental demands. There are logistical issues. Things go wrong. People lose their cool. Filmmaking is not as glamorous as some make it out to be. For an incredibly honest look at filmmaking, check out Hearts of Darkness – A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse.

As a filmmaker, it’s important to keep everything running efficiently while keeping your team and your actors as happy as possible. Here are a few things to keep in mind for making the set a happy place.

  1. Feed the cast & crew. This is probably the most important thing you can do. A well-fed crew is a happy crew. And a happy crew will put forth more effort. Always have adequate snacks and drinks available. And always break for meals.
  2. Don’t keep your actors waiting. Nothing is worse than a bunch of actors standing around doing nothing. Make sure the call times for your actors are at the last possible moment. There’s no need to have your actors on set when you’re still setting the lights and the camera.
  3. Pad the schedule. On my call sheets, I always try to pad the schedule. I prepare my cast and crew for a long day, so that when we wrap early, they will go home feeling productive.
  4. Don’t lose your cool. Things will go wrong. You will get behind schedule. Someone will frustrate you. However, as director, you need to remain professional. No one wants to work for someone who feels the need to yell at everyone and everything. Respect others and they will respect you.
  5. Know how to communicate effectively. Your film is your vision. You have to know how to communicate that vision to your crew and your actors. When you have a director who can’t answer questions about lighting, or what lens to use, or where the camera should be, or where the actors should go, you will have people who feel as though their time is being wasted. Soon you will find that you have lost their respect, because you haven’t prepared. Know what you need, where you need it, and why you need it. A director who can communicate clearly and effectively is a director people will want to work with again.

Here’s to having a happy shoot. Cheers.