Archive for the ‘Musing’ Category


Pictofigo_-_IdeaSo you have your film (or book or poem or song or blueprint) finished. You are ready for the next step in your creation when you have a sudden inspiration – an epiphany – and realize that a major scene (or chapter or line or verse or room layout) would be better served later (or earlier) in your film. It will help clarify or raise the stakes (and the tension) if located in a different, more effective, spot.  So you move it. And then you start to second-guess yourself. Maybe this isn’t better and the original (you know, your first choice) is the best way to go.

How do you deal with these swings in inspiration? How do you determine which way is best?  And then how do you let it go and rest in your decision?



I’ve always done it, I continue to do it, and I recommend doing it. I’m talking about when you come across an article, a paragraph, or a quote, that really speaks to you, tear it out (or at least copy it) and keep it in a folder. This is a great folder to go through when you have that book or screenplay finished, and you want to give it one more “going over” to get it to your next level. (Of course, you can go through the folder at any time during the writing process.  In fact, some things jump out at a particular point in the writing process that might not mean as much at other times…) I think this always helps to keep one on their toes.
Flipping through a favorite book periodically can achieve the same end, too. Case in point: on a recent trip through Robert McKee’s “Story,” I came upon this insightful section on Exposition.
“Never include anything the audience can reasonably and easily assume has happened. Never pass on exposition unless the missing fact would cause confusion. You do not keep the audience’s interest by giving it information, but by withholding information…” (McKee, “Story” page 335-336)
I see this time and time again (and I am guilty, too!), especially in the faith-based genre. It seems so many times we have to explain that “he had a moment of epiphany/conversion/change of heart/etc” instead of letting the obvious speak for itself. (And don’t even get me started on all the voice-overs prevalent today…) We need to trust our stories, trusts our visions, trust our visuals, and dare I say it? trust our audiences.

So I’m doing this National Novel Writing Month thing, where we give ourselves thirty days to write 50,000 words that we can then call a novel. We are a little beyond the halfway point, and I am a little under the halfway count (24,000), so I am pleased at that. I didn’t know if I would be able to do it, but now that we are halfway, I think I can – I think I can – I think I can. (Like the guy who went to swim the Mississippi and got halfway across and realized he wouldn’t make it, so he turned around and went back…not gonna be me.)
So one thing I learned: sit down and start writing with a goal of 200 words or a page or a paragraph and not necessarily a big chunk. I found that just starting will lead to more words than I thought and the next thing I know is that paragraph turned into 500 words or more. I do this many times a day, instead of saying I am going to write for 2 hours (or 3 or 4), but I am going to write for ten minutes or while I wait in the car or at the next appointment, and all these 10 minutes (and 500 words) add up quickly.
Case in point, I sat down to write this, thinking it would be 200 words (because I don’t want to use up too many of my daily allotment, right?) and it turned into how many: 400. And ten minutes later I have at least updated my blog – which has become hard to do due to the NaNoWriMo thing.
Anyone else out there doing the NaNoWriMo?
Anyone else discovered this ten minute block thing (which in itself CAN turn into an hour or two 🙂 ?
Anyone else have any tips that can help us to write more? And what do you do when you realize that your 24,000 words is in reality 90 percent of the novel and you will not get anywhere near 50,000 when you write “The End.” What then? Please share!!!

(Now, back to the novel…)

OK – so the first hurdle in zero dollar filmmaking is equipment. This is where the beg or borrow aspect may come into play unless you have dollars to spend on a good camera (or RED rental!) and lighting kit and tripod/crane/steadicam and audio gear – in a perfect world, right? But most of us do not have access to the latest and greatest gear, but almost all of us have access to basic equipment that will get the job done rather nicely, thank you. Where is this equipment? Friends and family – someone should have a camera that could be borrowed for a short time (or better yet, have them be the camera operator!) And today, almost any camera sold at the local audio/video store is of a good enough quality to produce a film. A visit to the latest school function or game and you will see dozens of these in use by moms and dads – and the quality of the picture they shoot is simply amazing for the cost of the camera. In fact, most mobile phones these days shoot excellent HD quality video. There is no reason why a film could not be shot on one of these phones. There is at least one film festival that panders to this crowd, too – only accepts films shot on mobile devices. ( For a quick comparison, check out my film “There’s Something in the Basement” ( Most of the film was shot on a Canon AH-X1 which produces excellent HDV quality video. (I borrowed it from the school where I am employed.) At 1 minute 38 seconds in the film, I switched to a handheld device for the “Black Hawk Down” look I wanted. (Also look for my nod to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid just before that… 🙂 The quality of this camera is just fine. (And yep – it was made for zero dollars.)

Lighting kit: Another good thing about these inexpensive and high-quality cameras is that they shoot extremely well with existing light. Now I’m all for experimenting and creating special lighting for the tone and mood necessary, but for zero dollars (and foresight and planning), you can make good use of existing lighting. Exterior lighting in the shade of trees works very well, too, and is a good reason to think about shooting your film outdoors, but we’ll get into Zero Dollar Locations in a later post… For little dollars, I have used droplights that can be picked up at little cost from the local hardware store. I also always carry those half-dome aluminum clip-on lights that have given many of my scenes that necessary extra boost, and the clip-on function is just brilliant. Make sure to carry light bulbs of differing wattage, and you can further tweak on the necessary lighting for the mood and tone of your film.

Tripod: Who needs tripods these days? Everything is handheld and shaky (please note the sarcasm here…) but these little cameras are actually harder to stabilize than a larger camera. Fortunately, most people who would loan you their camera already have a small tripod that goes with it. If not, they can be picked up cheaply at the local store (or keep your eye open at garage sales and find one or two for a dollar – cheap!) Cranes and Steadicams will probably not be in our zero-dollar budgeting, but a little creativity in the field can create shots that have the look and feel of these high dollar shots. (Shoot off of a ladder. Climb a tree. Get on the roof. Get in a ditch. Use a skateboard. Use a wheelchair. Use a remote controlled car or plane! It’s do-able! More on this in a later post.)

Audio: One of the best keep secrets from the real world: this is one of the most important aspects of filmmaking. Bad audio is easy to get and hard to fix. And take my word for it: there will be someone weed eating or cutting grass or an ambulance going by – and don’t forget all the airplanes – this invariably happens whenever you yell “Action!” It’s a given. It’s going to happen. Every time. Believe me.

You’ll probably be forced to use the camera mic, and that is too bad, but it can be useable. You’ll just need to watch the outside element noises and keep everyone and everything as quiet as possible. And make sure the actors speak up as needed. Again, I’ll spend a whole blog post on this in the near future.

So now that we have our equipment, what’s next? More later…

I believe you can make a feature film these days for $0 and I aim to prove it. Sound like fun and something you want to do, too? Well, you can. Will it look like the latest blockbusting action flick coming out at the megaplex and starring the hottest A-stars in Hollywood? No. Can it look as good as the “small” films that win BIG awards? You betcha. I refuse to believe that a quality film must cost a million dollars, a half a million dollars, a quarter million, or even 100 thousand. Why? Because I’ve seen it done. And I’ve done it. And I’m going to do it again. And so can you. Will you have to beg, borrow, and steal? Yes! (Well, not steal, but that’s up to you…but for sure you’ll have to beg and borrow…) You can do it starting today. Right now. Just keep “zero dollars” in the front of you mind the whole time. Do the film well, and your second film may be done with (other people’s) big bucks. Let’s begin…right now.
It all starts with a good story. You can’t make a good film without a good story. You can’t write a good script without a good story. No – it won’t improve or get awesome “out in the field” nor will you be able to “fix it in post.” Good films and good scripts start with a good story. The good news for zero-dollar filmmaking is that a good story is about real people with real problems who overcome. And these problems and solutions happen in your own neighborhood. In my neighborhood. To you and to me. So that’s where we’ll find our good stories. Right where we are.
Let it be added here that if you have never shot a film and only dreamed about it, it might be a good idea to begin by starting small and gain experience by first making a short film. Oh, but wait, you say – you don’t want to make a short film. Short films gets no respect. There are not outlets for short films. No one watches short films. Short films are Grade B projects.
I say hogwash.
A well-made short film gets great respect. Many of todays top directors got their starts by first making a short film (or several). A quick search of your favorite directors will most likely list shorts films at the beginning of their careers (and perhaps even continuing today), and for those that do not have a short film listed, I bet most of them in fact made a short film or two early on and the films are just not listed.
Short films have many outlets, especially today. There are hundreds of film festivals that play short films. In fact, most film festivals love a well-made short film and would rather have a dozen of these instead of one good feature, if for the only reason that more films means a more diverse audience which means more potential attendees. And there are film festivals that want only short films. Add to that cable channels filling in time between features, cable channels geared towards only showing short films, even shorts that run on the big screen before features, or as an “extra” on a DVD. The outlets are there and plentiful.
And as far as people watching short films – it only takes a quick look at the numbers of viewers that the internet outlets get per day and you can see that these films are more popular than the longer ones playing at the movie theatre down the road. Short films are extremely popular and are not Grade B projects. The Academy Awards give out statues every year to two films, and those statues look identical (are identical) to the ones they give out for Best Picture, Best Actor/Actress, and Best Director.
So – are you ready to begin this journey to zero dollar filmmaking? Let’s go… well, stay tuned until next time…

MiddleAged Pumpkins

Posted: January 5, 2012 in Musing
Tags: , , ,

I don’t know why I’ve had this re-interest in the Smashing Pumpkins lately. I remember seeing the band in the 90s, and although the music was fine and dandy, in the middle of the set, Corgan goes into a rant about our city and its people – dissing the hell out of us. He literally stood on stage and said “You guys suck,” plus a lot more. (Anyone else remember this?) I’m thinking, I gave money to this guy to listen to him rip us apart. What a huge crybaby and whiner, I thought. I was not impressed and wrote the band off.
But lately, the music and lyrics have really been speaking to me and I am soaking it all in like a big ole sponge. As much as I can get, too. Why is this whiner band from the 90s speaking to these old middle-aged ears? Must be the whiner in me… I don’t know, but it’s getting me down the highway.

The Long and Short of It

Posted: December 26, 2011 in Musing

So I am slowly but surely finishing my novel.  The length at this point is 30,000 words, which would make it – what? – about 100 pages?  I believe I am getting near the end (of course I have two dozens rewrites to go), but I am wondering: does the length of a novel make a difference for you in deciding if you will read it?  My thought is that a story needs to be as long as it needs to be, but if something is too short (or too long?), would this make a difference in your reading choices?  Would you  consider reading a novel that is 125 pages long?  Just wondering… Any thoughts?