We Win Best Sci-Fi Feature At Shriekfest!

Found In Time at Shriekfest 2012

MacLeod Andrews (Chris), Mina Vesper Gokal (Ayana), Denise Gossett (festival director), Arthur Vincie (director)

We won the Best Sci-Fi Feature Award at Shriekfest last night! Congratulations to the cast, crew, crowdfunders, family, friends, supporters, loved ones and pets for your help, patience, and love these past years. This is just the beginning! This coming Saturday, October 13th, at 2pm in Erie, PA, the film will have its East Coast premiere at the 8th Annual Eerie Horror Festival. See you there Some photos of Shriekfest are on our Tumblr page, and stay tuned for interviews and more info! Congratulations also to our fellow winners and finalists – we had a great weekend watching some really cool films!

Found In Time At Eerie Horror Festival

East Coast Premiere Eerie Horror Film Festival

More great news! Hot on the heels of our world premiere at Shriekfest, Found In Time will have its East Coast premiere at the Eerie Horror Film Festival, in Erie, PA. Details:
Order Tickets: www.eeriehorrorfest.com
Where: Warner Theater, 811 State Street, Erie PA
When: 2pm, Saturday October 13th! But stick around for the rest of the fest if you can, there’s sure to be some great stuff screened
About Eerie: Now in its 8th year, the four-day event (October 11th-14th) includes screenings, workshops, celebrity appearances, and fun events that connect fans of sci-fi/horror/fantasy with independent filmmakers.

Thank you to the good folks at Eerie and to our fans, friends, cast and crew!

Applying To Festivals, Joy and Pain

First off, our trailer is now on YouTube!

The festival application process just plain sucks. You start by making DVDs and sending them out. Then you wait, and wait, and get ready… for more waiting. On some level, you’d rather be writing the next script. But you have to pay careful attention to what fests you apply to and in what order. It’s a game where small errors can have catestrophic consequences.

For starters, there are many festivals out there (every town has one). But rather than shotgunning your film to every one of those – the application fees and postage will kill you – do a little research ahead of time, and figure out your priorities and overall distribution strategy.

Here’s a few of the big outcomes I’d like to see happen from a festival screening of Found In Time:

  • The film attracts the attention of a distributor and/or sales agent
  • The film gets some positive reviews
  • We get some fans who’ll spread the word and maybe buy some tickets down the road
  • We get some laurel leaf clusters to stick on every piece of packaging and on the website
  • We sell some DVDs and merchandise
  • We get some honest acknowledgement from peers and fans
  • We get to see the film on a big screen with an audience

Chances are, no one festival is going to fulfill all those expectations, so which ones are the priority? And how does it fit into the overall distribution plan?

The approach we’re taking is to go for the genre fans first and the prestige fests second. So in addition to looking at some of the top fests, I also researched some genre (sci-fi and fantasy) festivals, and some non-fests (comic and fantasy conventions) as well.
I then narrowed things down by excluding fests that:

  • Require 35mm prints or DCP exclusively. DCP is probably the future of digital projection, but I’d rather not shell out the $6.5-$8K to convert the film or spend one-two weeks attempting (and probably) failing to do it on my own.
  • Are less than 3 years old. Fests tend to become a little more organized and well-known over time.
  • Have conflicting dates with each other. I usually went with the more targeted (genre-wise) festival.
  • Have exorbitant or scam entrance fees (where you basically pay to have your film screened).
  • Have gotten negative feedback from anyone I know.
  • Don’t seem like they attract much distributor attention.
  • Are focused on specific sub-genres (robots! anime! role-playing games!)

What I ended up with was a database of good candidates, along with their submission deadlines, entry fees, website URLs, and any other pertinent information. After staring at the list a bit, I picked out a few with close deadlines, and applied to them first. Play close attention to premiere requirements – if you get into one fest in a given country/continent/medium, it may box you out of a “bigger” fest in the same “territory.” Some festivals (like Sundance, Toronto, Berlin) prefer world premieres. Others don’t care. Generally, the higher the prestige value, the more picky they are about it.

Leave some time for the application process itself. You have to QC your DVDs, pack them correctly, label them as per the submission instructions, and type up a cover letter with your contact information and some basic technical info (region, running time, title, etc.) If you’re not up against the deadline, send the packages Priority or first-class mail – you’re not gaining anything necessarily by sending them Express or FedEx.

Spend some time writing the synopsis and logline. Adhere to the letter of the application – this is not the time to get creative, go over the wordcount, or send superfluous materials. Don’t send a press kit unless they specifically ask for one. But do have your material ready, just in case. When you get into a festival you’ll have to crank out your posters, postcards, stickers, press kits, and duplicated DVD pretty quickly.

Behind The Scenes Parts I and II

Check out the first two behind the scenes videos for Found In Time. In the first one, I pontificate about the story, the crew, and the cast. In the second, cinematographer Ben Wolf talks about creating the look of the film – lighting, camera work, blocking. Featuring some clips, interviews and on-set footage.

Behind The Scenes – Part I (interview with Arthur Vincie, writer/director)

Behind The Scenes – Part II (interview with Ben Wolf, cinematographer)

Waiting Gracefully

Stop thinking about it

Actors are the only people I know who talk about this much, but everyone who works in film production has to deal with it. It’s the silent killer of hope, the thing that keeps us up all night, and makes us into smokers, coffee drinkers, and sometimes alcoholics. I’m talking, of course, about waiting.

Once you’ve finished writing a script; once you’ve sent your feature out to festivals; once you’ve wrapped up your last gig and recovered from the wrap party; once you’ve auditioned… you’re in the horrible position of waiting. There’s always plenty to do, but it’s hard to muster up any energy. You socialize for a bit, catch up with all the people you’ve been neglecting, try (for the latest time) to make things up to your spouse/sweetheart/squeeze. You write the next script, scan the want ads, prepare for the next batch of festivals. But some part of your day is spent thinking about the call or email you haven’t gotten yet. If the waiting goes on long enough, the mental black hole that it creates grows.

A few years ago I finished a spec script, and did the usual thing of sending out query letters. A production company whose films I much admired wrote me back asking for it. I sent it off the next day, then spent about three months in various states of agony. I really tried to forget that I’d sent it away, and succeeded to some extent. But the nagging feeling of unfinished business was always there, especially at the end of the day when I was trying to go to sleep. I was almost relieved when I finally got the rejection slip.

The process of sending out Found In Time to festivals and agents is bringing back similar feelings, but I think I’m dealing with them better. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
It’s pointless to ignore your feelings… so you might as well admit that you’re unhappy waiting for a response. Then try and get back to work.
Focus on specific tasks with measurable goals. We all need something to occupy our minds. It might as well be something that we can gain some sense of accomplishment from.
Commiserate with your friends but don’t bitch. There’s a fine line and I’m not really sure where it is. But if you keep circling around a topic with your other film friends over and over again and it makes you feel worse, chances are you’ve crossed it.
It’s not personal. This is the tough one. When you receive a rejection notice you feel like crap, but you can always say that they didn’t like the script/performance/resume because of a difference in taste (which it often is). When you have haven’t heard anything, you start to feel like a loser. Once I worked on four back-to-back features in seven months as a UPM or line producer, but then didn’t work for two months. By the end of that stretch I felt like hell. Of course, this was at the beginning of the recession. While it was pretty obvious to everyone around me that the whole ship was on fire, I just thought I sucked.
Use the tension. The anxiety can be put to some use. When I’m waiting, my workouts tend to be harder and my writing a little sharper. If I can’t sleep, I’ll try to do something productive with my newly-found time. This doesn’t always work, of course.
Don’t give in to depression. Depression is like a warm grey blanket. It’s a great way to keep from feeling anything, and it is useful sometimes (particularly when the emotions involved are too painful to really process). But it’s very easy to live in it every day. Rituals and structures often help. When I was out of work I still woke up in the morning, showered, and changed clothes. Even though I could sit around in my bathrobe all day I found it kept my mind fresh to change. My actor friends take classes – acting, dance, continuing education, anything to keep their minds sharp.

The best thing to do is to find another project to work on. I’m starting my next script, in part so I don’t think too much about the festivals. I don’t want to lose sight of my long-term objective – to get Found In Time sold – but I do want to keep from obsessing over that which I have no control.

How do you handle waiting? How do you keep it from interfering with your life? Do you accept it, fight it, or keep it out of your mind altogether?

Leaving the Dock

Ayana and Chris at the Tree
Chris and Ayana find each other by a rather ominous-looking tree.

So, after a year of writing and development, six months of preproduction, and ten months of post, I feel like I’ve finished the film. But, as a producer once told me, “you’re half done.” Now comes the scary young adult stage, where you see how your baby does in the big, bad, cold world.

So – the last month has been about research, cranking out artwork and other promo material, and reading. I can’t recommend Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul enough – it’s a great guide to distribution by some very smart people. The hybrid/DIY distribution model they advocate, as made concrete by their case studies, is the smartest thing I’ve heard in a while. Also, check out Film Specific. It has a huge collection of articles, blogs and instructional videos, all centered around distribution and financing. It also has an extensive list of agents and distributors. Keep in mind that you’ll have to subscribe to get all the goodies (a 12-month membership is around $250) but it’s definitely worth it.

This is a learning process. On the one hand, I’m handy enough with graphic design, web development, and wordsmithing to do a fair amount of the grunt work (cranking out site content, artwork, blurbs, etc.). But I find it hard to gain enough distance from the film to figure out how to BRAND it. The very word BRAND is horrible to me, in fact. The connotations are unpleasant – I’m going to take Found In Time, with all its individuality and rough edges, stick it in a harness and apply a red-hot steel poker to it. But it’s a very crowded media landscape, so you do need some way to decisively mark your film so your audience can find it.

I wrestled with this initially when I was writing the business plan. The fundamental question is – who, besides your friends and family, will see your film? When I wrote the script, I was trying to explore something about the nature of time, so naturally I thought the audience would be geeks like me. To get to the geeks, I figured I’d bring the film to where we like to hang out – conventions, comic book stores, genre festivals, local comics/reading/gaming clubs, and (possibly) seminars. Some of these venues would serve as springboards, spreading the gospel about the film and leading to other screenings and, hopefully, customers.

But, we didn’t want to rule out a wider release or audience, so we’re first pursuing the traditional strategy of hitting up the “top tier” festivals. We’ll see if this bears fruit. While we’re waiting for that to happen (or not), we’re putting together a list of sci-fi/game/comic conventions; fantasy book/movie clubs; and distributors and sales agents who specialize in genre material. The key with special event screenings is to make money on the DVD and merchandising sales (t-shirts, broadsheet posters, and possibly soundtrack albums). If you break even on the screening, you’re doing well. You usually have to split the box office with the venue; but the merch is all yours (just like the popcorn and drinks is all theirs).

While DVD revenues have fallen off a cliff compared to a few years ago, they’re still the strongest distribution channel for independent films like ours. People still buy CDs and DVDs because they’re physical, and generally offer higher fidelity than you can get via streaming. They’re also convenient – you get the media, the artwork, and the extras all in one package, rather than having to download bits and pieces. For DVDs we’re going to try to self-distribute at first, and see if we can self-fulfill as well (burn-on-demand services can take away 30-40% of your revenues).

The other piece of the puzzle is streaming and video-on-demand. We think Found In Time will find a home as a genre film, something folks will download who are looking through the “fantasy/sci-fi” section on Netflix or Hulu or Amazon. I’ve done this myself – that’s how I came to see Eden Log, Ink, Franklyn and other films that I had never heard about. We’re fortunate in that our title starts with a relatively early letter in the alphabet (scary, but it makes a difference).

So, great, now we know the niche to go after… how do we stand out to THEM? There are a bunch of time/reality-bending films out there right now, and a few more coming down the pike. Some (Source Code) are good, others (Adjustment Bureau) over-promised and under-delivered. Fortunately, a few low-budget sci-fi/speculative films (Bellflower, Another Earth) have come out, so I think the fans are looking for good stuff regardless of budget level or effects.

Okay, that’s it for now. Check out our trailer and poster. Also, look for the first Behind The Scenes video, coming next week (just after Halloween)! We’ll be making several of these and releasing them on the web. Hopefully you’ll find them fun and informative!

Lessons Learned During Post

2 Chrises
Anthony (Eric Martin Brown) and Two Chrises (MacLeod Andrews) have a stare-down

Quick Self-Promotion: I will be teaching a three-part course on Visual Storytelling at Brooklyn Brainery! The course looks at the tension between showing and telling in films. The first session will focus on existing films. During the second and third sessions, students will bring in works-in-progress (films, scripts, poems, novels, etc.) and discuss ways in which they can show their stories.

Where: The Brooklyn Brainery, 515 Court St., Brooklyn, NY
When: Thursdays, 6:30-8pm, October 6th, 13th, and 20th
Cost: $45
Register on the official site


I’m just starting the promotion/marketing journey, but I wanted to step back for a minute and talk about the lessons I learned during post. What follows is a brief look at what I learned during post.

Make Time For VFX in Production

After Dan Loewenthal and I had scanned through the film a few times, and discussed/vetoed/decided on a few tweaks, we figured it was time to lock the picture. Up to that point, I’d put together some very rough visual effects shots, just so we had something to look at, and to give me some idea of what I wanted. I figured that few, if any, of these attempts would survive through the end of post (though a couple did). The VFX shots came in three basic flavors:

  • Hiding/Erasing booms, boom shadows, lights, and other gakk
  • Compositing plates together (there are a few shots where we extended sets and doubled characters)
  • Creative work – adding tazer effects, glows, blood, and other things that weren’t there during the shoot

What I’ve learned is that I have to pay more attention during production when setting up VFX shots. Ben Wolf, my DP, is really good at setting up and executing low-budget VFX. But I rushed through the process a bit, creating more work for Vickie later. A good example is of a composite shot called "Two Chrises". In the foreground plate, we had Anthony (left) and Chris (right) arguing, then turning around as a second Chris enters the room.

There are several problems with this shot. First, foreground Chris moves into the area that the background Chris occupies. If you’re going to shoot a shot like this without using a greenscreen, then keeping the layers separate is pretty important. Second, the lighting from outside changed slightly between shooting the foreground and background plates, so Vickie and Verne Mattson, our colorist, had to spend more time in post evening up the shots.

Ben did a superb job framing and executing the shot. And the actors’ performances were great – MacLeod Andrews (Chris) and Eric Martin Brown (Anthony) are, after all, reacting to someone who literally isn’t there, and they sell it. The problem is that I didn’t schedule enough time to proceed just a little more slowly and make some minute adjustments, so we had to rush through the shots.

On the other hand, this shows you what you can do even without a lot of money or a greenscreen. We could have tried setting up a portable greenscreen, but placing it far enough away from the actors and lighting it properly may have been very difficult in that location (it was a small office).

Regardless of these oversights, Ben, Vickie and Verne were able to put together a wonderful shot. Dan Loewenthal, the editor, broke it up into two pieces and put a reaction shot by foreground Chris in between, to heighten the impact of the shot.


I am not affiliated in any way, shape or form with DropBox. However, I totally swear by it. It is worth it to upgrade to the Pro Version ($10 a month). With Vickie in Queens, Quentin in Brooklyn, and Verne in New Jersey, it would have been very inefficienct for me to shuttle files back and forth. YouSendIt is a great option for sound files (Quentin and I used it a few times) but for video files, DropBox is key. It works like a virtual hard drive that synchronizes a directory on your hard drive with its online counterpart. Stick a file in your local Dropbox directory, and it will be uploaded. If you give other people permission to see your account, they can download it. No more shlepping drives and DVDs back and forth.

Amend the Script

After the picture edit is done, you should go back to your script and amend it to reflect the locked cut. You’d be surprised how many differences there are between what you wrote and what was said on set, and between that and how it was cut together. I found little chunks of dialog had been added, others taken away, and some bits rearranged within the same scene. Presenting an amended, as-edited script to your sound designer will help him/her out immensely.

You Can Never Have Enough Drives

I started out with a 2TB internal drive and a 500Gig Camera/Sound Master drive. Since then I bought three 2TB external e-SATA/FW drive – one serves as a backup of the internal drive, a second is for Vickie (and contains everything) and the third is for Verne. I also purchased a second 500Gig "shuttle drive" which went back and forth with me on those occasions when I was meeting with someone had to grab a file from them or give one to them. I will need another 2TB drive pretty soon, to back up all the behind-the-scenes footage, the various QuickTime exports I’ve made, and the VFX final files. Since space constantly gets cheaper, I only bought new drives as a I needed them.

Life After Post

Okay, that’s it for now. There’s a lot going on at the moment – we’re in the process of building a new website for the film, and creating publicity/promo materials. I’ll have more to say about that next time.

Breathing Out During Post

Ayana (Mina Vesper Gokal) and Chris (MacLeod Andrews) share a rare laugh in the field.

Next week I’ll be working with Quentin Chiappetta (sound designer) on the mix for the film. He’ll be mixing, I’ll be gulping ice coffee and requesting minor changes. Bring this up, take this down, that sort of thing. With luck and hard work on the part of the team, the mix will be done by next Saturday, and then I’ll be sitting down with Vickie Lazos (VFX) and Verne Mattson (color/conform) to match up the locked sound with the corrected picture. Then I’ll be making festival screeners!

The End Of The Beginning

My role at this point is somewhat more managerial – I’m working with a group of very talented professionals who have good taste, so I’m there to help each of them with whatever they need, and lend a critical eye to the results of their efforts. At this point, it’s not really possible to fundamentally change the nature of the film, so I feel like my job is to reinforce the strengths. On a more practical level, I’m making sure that:

  • The sound and video stay in sync during the mix, color correction and VFX creation
  • Shooting an insert shot that we’ve needed, inserting it into the locked picture, without changing the total picture length
  • Finishing and outputting the end credits
  • Coordinating between Vickie and Verne
  • Creating new Quicktimes for Quentin that include the insert shot and the end credits, so he can score and sound design them
  • Approving the VFX shots as Vickie finishes them up
  • Grabbing Quicktimes of the color-corrected reels from Verne so we can check sync before we go into the mix
  • Getting the festival applications ready
  • Preparing a bare-bones DVD

While that may sound like a fair amount of work, it’s not really – especially since it’s spread over several weeks. And with a little help from a post schedule I created in Excel, Dropbox.com, and frequent emails, it’s actually pretty painless.

Next Steps

The current strategy is to submit Found In Time to a couple of top-tier festivals, and send one or two screeners to producers and agents as a calling card for my next project. While waiting to hear back from all these sources, the next step is to build up the promotion machine. While social media is an important component of that, it’s not the whole story. A good, well-placed "how-to" article (either in print or online) is sometimes worth more than upping the Facebook friend count.

I’m currently putting together a revamped website for the film. Found In Time currently lives in two places on the web (three if you count the Facebook page): here on Blogger, and as a section on the ChaoticSequence.com site. I set it up this way so I could focus on the more pressing job of getting the film together, but now I have to figure out how to retain the domain but migrate the content to another platform. On the coding side, I’m looking at Joomla, WordPress, Drupal, and my own PHP code (which I’ve used with minor modifications on about a half-dozen sites so far). For design guidance I’m looking at tons of film websites.

Most film sites have the same structure (story/about/cast/crew/buy it here/press/images/trailer/contacts), but employ a wide variety of approaches. Some use Flash and Quicktime extensively; others are fairly bell-and-whistle free. Some are super-slick, while others stick to the familiar blog format. The biggest challenge in web design, as I see it, is how to communicate information effectively. Generally, people hit up websites to find out things, rather than to engage in a ‘rich, multimedia experience.’ Look at the design of Craigslist, Google, Gmail, Mandy, Wikipedia… even Facebook. Words are primary; pictures support the text.

Having said that, there is a way to make a film’s site more attractive, without relying too heavily on Flash. After developing with Flash for two years, I was very happy to leave it behind and go back to more traditional tools (though I still use it for animation, logo design, and video). Also, for the first time in a while, I’m thinking about smaller screens – designing pages for phones and tablets.

In the next series of entries, I’ll start talking about the marketing process. This is critical to a film’s success, but is often a bit of a challenge for filmmakers. You almost have to start from the beginning again.

Day To Day

Denzil and Shawn on setBoom operator Shawn Allen and PA Denzil Thomas on set in the Bronx.

Reading over the last few posts, I realized I’ve been focusing almost exclusively on how-to’s and haven’t included too many updates on the film itself. So here’s a brief post on the progress of the film itself.

If preproduction is training, and production is a sprint, then postproduction is best described as a marathon. You’re exerting a constant, slow effort, but you can’t overexert yourself. Rushing through post is nearly always a mistake.

Right now we’re about a little more than a month away from finishing. The Visual Effects Artist, Vickie Lazos, is doing a great job with a mix of shots – some very challenging boom removal shots, composites that were shot without greenscreen, and a few nifty touches that hopefully people won’t even realize are effects.

Verne Mattson, our colorist/conformist, is nearly done; he just has to grade the effects and titles. Quentin Chiappetta and his team at Media Noise are nearly done with the sound design – our mix date is mid-to-late August. For my part, I’m revising the titles and working on a last, stubborn insert shot.

I spend a good deal of time trying to think about the next steps – what festivals to apply to, who to potentially approach for distribution, what the poster should look like, etc. I confess that the social media explosion of the past few years baffles me. I know that I need to take greater advantage of it; however, I’m not sure if there’s a payoff at the end. Do Facebook fans turn into ticket buyers, DVD renters – or just bit torrent streamers? Does it prove to a distributor that you have an audience, or does it just mean you’re really good at marketing your film?

I’ve “liked” a bunch of films and do follow their posts, but it’s a very passive experience. When these films are finally done, will I go out and see them? I don’t know. I’d like to think so.

So I throw out this question: does social media campaigning have a good ROI (return on investment), or is it just one more thing you “have to have,” like a press kit or website?

When Sh*t Happens

Going Wrong

Despite your best-laid plans, at some point during the prep, shoot or post, a monster fuck-up (or a few small ones) are going to come along and take a dump on said plans. Apart from the obvious (try to stay calm, get your plan B ready) what do you do?

Shoot Something

For some reason (that’s still not clear), we lost our NYPD TCD (Traffic Control Division, who are also responsible for police presence on set) on a particular day we needed them. In New York City, you are not allowed to shoot scenes with “film cops” without real ones being around. Otherwise, some other real cops might wonder what the hell is going on.
Since we had a full day of shooting scheduled with Morton and Jess, our ‘Psychcops,’ I was in real trouble. My DP (Ben Wolf), sound mixer (Anthony Viera), and I sat down for a few minutes and figured out what angles/parts of the scenes we had scheduled that we could shoot without Morton and Jess. Meanwhile my crack PAs called Curt and Mollie (who played Morton and Jess) and told them they weren’t needed that day. According to SAG regulations, I had to pay them for the day, which sucked, but it was better than trying to pull a fast one on the police. If we had been caught in violation of our permit they could revoke it and then we’d be really screwed.
As it turned out, we were able to shoot about 80 percent of what we had scheduled, and we added a scene that we’d originally scheduled for the next day. So despite not having a plan B, we were able to salvage the day. The lesson here is to keep shooting despite the obstacles. Come up with something – anything. You can’t afford to be down for more than a couple of hours on a low budget shoot.


Sooner or later, someone will become an obstacle in your path. It could be a crew member with an attitude, a cast member with a schedule conflict that can’t be worked around, an agent who’s putting the hammer to your balls on ‘behalf’ of his client, an investor who insists on a LOT of special treatment before signing that check, a location owner or vendor that keeps changing the deal on you. These people may be your friends. They may be acting from completely benign motives – anxiety, loyalty to their client/organization, a misunderstanding, or because they’ve been burned by producers in the past. In any case, you have to make a decision: is this aggravation worth it? It may not be. Start looking for a replacement.

The horrible thing about being the boss is that you may have to replace someone for the good of the project. You will have to put your loyalties to the person to one side.

Chances are, the replacement person will be better than you’d hope for. The knot in your stomach will go away surprisingly fast.


Chances are, your crew has been through whatever fire you’re going through. In fact, they’ve probably encountered it a lot more often than you – a DP can work on many features in a year, whereas you can probably only direct or produce one every two to three. It’s not weakness to ask for advice – it’s common sense. It also invites people into the creative process, which is a good thing.

On Found In Time, we were shooting in a narrow corridor, and I couldn’t figure out how to make the script blocking match the location. I knew going in that it was a tough location but didn’t have much choice – I’d run out of time to investigate alternatives and the price was right. On the day, I was still figuring out how to position my leading man between the two leading ladies, even though it clearly wouldn’t work with the geography of the place. Ben came up with a solution instantly – just change the door that one of the characters was coming out of – and then everything snapped into place. Instead of me staring into space for an hour trying to figure it all out we were shooting in about fifteen minutes.


On Found In Time, we had a monster 15-hour day on our soundstage (as a result of poor scheduling on my part) on day 11, so everyone was pretty tired by the end of day 12. The shoot was dragging and I wasn’t getting what I wanted from anyone, including myself. My brain was the consistency of cottage cheese. I realized that if I pushed us up to the 12th hour, that we were still not going to wrap out of the scenes we needed to shoot, and the work was going to suffer. By pushing the scenes to the next day – our last day of shooting – I was taking a chance. We already had about 8 pages to shoot, and a hard out on the location and some of our cast members. Adding another 2 pages seemed insane.

But on the other hand, we WERE coming back to the location the next day. After looking at the existing 8 pages we had to shoot, we realized that we could tuck the owed scenes into the end of the day without screwing anything else up. This proved to be the correct decision – people got some sleep, we were able to start a little earlier, and we got better work done.

Consolidate, or Break Apart

Sometimes consolidating your setups is a good idea – unless it results in a complicated pretzel-twist setup or creates other problems that you’ll never get out of.

On Windows, a film I lined produced, one ten minute scene was supposed to be shot in one take. On paper it looked easy enough – two characters in a room, talking, then arguing, then fighting. But the location turned out to be full of mirrors, and the blocking got very complicated. So there was no way that the DP WASN’T going to see himself in one of the mirrors at some point.

After trying to shoot it all in one take, Ben and Shoja Azari (the director) talked it over and decided to shoot ‘sort-of’ coverage. This meant shooting moving masters from different angles, trying to avoid the mirrors as much as possible, and emphasizing different elements from take to take. By shooting the scene this way, the editor had enough material to cut with, without sacrificing the ‘feeling’ of the single take. Some people who’ve watched the film aren’t aware that it’s actually several shots stitched together.

On the other hand, on Caleb’s Door (my first film), I had the opposite problem. I was three hours behind and we were shooting a four-page dialog scene between the two lead characters, Liz and Caleb. Liz and Caleb were sitting side by side at a bar, looking at each other. This would normally call for four-to-six setups. A master shot looking down the bar at Liz, a reverse looking at Caleb, then CUs of both of them, then cutaways, then a double (if possible) from behind the bar. There was no way to accomplish this and make the rest of the day.

Then something wonderful happened. Ben put the camera on the bar for the master on Liz, which would normally just get the back of Caleb’s head. But Carl, the actor playing Caleb, ended up playing the scene looking AWAY from Liz and at the bar. In other words, he was in profile for nearly the entire scene – so we were able to get both actors’ faces in one master shot. Plus, since he was closer to the camera, it worked as his CU except for three lines, when he finally does turn to Liz. So we shot the three lines as a separate CU, then shot a CU of Liz. This gave us enough material to cut with, and saved us three setups. I wish could take credit for it, but the main point is that it got us out of a major jam. and it worked really well.

Failure Is Just Another Opportunity To Learn

It may be that nothing works, that the shoot falls apart anyway, and you don’t get everything you need. It sucks, and it’s the worst feeling in the world. But it’s not the end. There isn’t a single great painter, sculptor, writer, business owner, scientist, parent, cook – a single great anything – that doesn’t have a failure in their past. A script that didn’t come together, a restaurant that never opened or failed, an experiment that blew up, a novel that bombed. Sometimes what separates the wheat from the chaff in the film business is what you do after you fail. Do you pack it up and do something else, or do you learn what you can, file it away, then get up (after a good night or two of drinking) and get back in the saddle? I’ve had my share of failures, and it’s taken me years in some cases to see them in anything but a negative light, but now I recognize them for what they are: learning experiences.