To Eerie Horror Fest and Back

IMG_0519 A day on the beach at Lake Erie.

It’s been a little over a month since our last blog post, and quite a busy one at that. We wanted to touch on a few things, but just haven’t had a chance.

So let’s go back a little bit, and recap our journey to Eerie Film Festival, in lovely Erie, PA.

First there was the issue of the postcards we ordered, which we (for better or worse) had printed the Shriekfest screening date/time on. It took a few hours to print out and apply stickers to replace the Shriekfest screening time with the Eerie one. In retrospect, it would have been better to have ordered two separate 500-count postcard runs, one with the Shriekfest info and the second with the Eerie info, instead of getting the single 1000-count run. You never hand out as many cards as you think you will, and at the end of it you’re stuck with cards that have limited value.

On the other hand, we’d made multiple Blu-Rays of the film a while ago, so we didn’t have to worry about losing our only one at Shriekfest. And we’d also burned some copies of the EPK to DVD, which proved rather valuable later on.


The trip to Erie took a little more than ten hours each way. There were three of us – Arthur Vincie, DP Ben Wolf, and Arthur’s girlfriend Debarati Biswas. We had a couple of pit stops for food and bladder relief, and passed through some wonderfully scenic countryside. Of course we had to stop at the Twilight Diner on the way, for some coffee and dessert. The dessert and coffee were great; our only regret was having eaten too much at IHOP earlier, or we would have had dinner there.

Our first impressions of Erie, PA were that it was an industrial city that had seen better days. But it turns out that since it’s right by the lake, has three colleges in town, and is only an hour’s drive from Detroit, Buffalo, and Syracuse, the city has stayed afloat better than many others through tourism, culture, and education.


The festival wasn’t what I was expecting. The venue itself was magnificent – it was a classic movie theater, built during the golden age of Hollywood. It reminded me of the old RKO theater in the Bronx, where I first saw Star Wars as a kid. Even though I remember the RKO having a run-down look (it was shuttered a few years later), it still possessed a wonderful majesty to it, like a Broadway theater. The Erie theater had the same grandeur but had been maintained and restored, so it was a great place to see the film – on a truly big screen.

The screening of “Found In Time” itself was great. We had a smallish crowd, since it was early, but they made up for it with a terrific Q&A session afterwards. Big props to the folks from, who asked some of the best questions and then went on to do a really great podcast review of the entire festival (one ‘cast per day) and gave some nice mentions about our film as well.

We spent the afternoon munching food and beer, and hanging out with some of the folks from the fest, then went back in and saw Enchiridion, a really interesting period horror piece (it’s set in 1966), that’s hard to describe exactly. It’s about a priest who’s approached by a Federal Marshall to interview a captured vampire, and translate his “sacred” text. This leads down a lot of rather strange alleys. The film features some stop-motion animal puppetry that elevates the overall weirdness of the piece. Overall I have to say I liked the film, though I feel like it drifted a little in places.

Other films that were interesting were the shorts Lizard Girl, from South Korea, about a girl who seems to be running away from a group of horrible man-sized lizards. While this sounds bad, it’s not – it’s moody, well-shot and directed, and features some really good acting. I’m not sure if we’re supposed to take the lizards as metaphors for something else (criminals, businessmen, etc.) or straightforwardly as monsters, but they’re done well too.

We also liked the short film I Spyders, even though it might have gone on a touch too long. John is a cubicle slave who works long hours for crap pay, for Dave, an unappreciative jerk boss. Gee, I’m lucky I’ve never had a job like that. The one time Dave does something nice for John is when he offers him some grapes; however, a spider, hitching a ride to said grapes, climbs into John’s head. John is possessed by the multiplying spiders, but tries to manage his job until he gets his bonus, and keep from killing Dave.

The Mexican short film Shhhh might be the slickest film we saw. On the surface it’s a monster film, with a boy who’s afraid of an “imaginary monster” that of course is quite real. But the real monster is his sister, who bullies him about his “childish fears.” Until… well, it’s a great film so go catch it if you can.

There was a really good feature documentary that screened just before our film, Cryptotrip, which I started out being quite afraid of and ended up liking immensely. It’s a portrait of people who believe in and/or have seen strange creatures such as Big Foot, Loch Ness, and others (the title is a reference to cryptozoology). I was afraid the doc was going to treat these people as stupid or crass, or sensationalize the subject, but it actually takes their stories and research seriously. By and large they emerge as healthy, smart folks, who have found something that they can’t explain and have tried to cope with it constructively.


A cool building in Erie, PA

A cool building in Erie, PA

The screenings were the main, but not the only, attraction, of the festival. The lobby (which was huge) was filled with folks selling horror/fantasy/sci-fi themed t-shirts, videos, music, and jewelry. There were also some special guests from years past (including a good chunk of the crew and cast from Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead) who were selling photos and autographs. We actually spoke with the lighting director from Night of the Living Dead, Joe Unitas, who was a really cool guy. He ended up staying for the screening and told Ben he liked the film. But this wasn’t a crass commercial enterprise – everyone who was there was really interested in connecting with other fans, talking about the local film scene, and just enjoying the films.

One of the standout vendors is PoetJoe Gallagher, who’s a poet, performance artist, and cool guy. He was selling t-shirts that featured roadkill on them, captioned with brief poems. While this sounds gross, it’s not – the animals are not treated as mere objects but as real creatures, who lost their lives tragically. The poems are like an ode to their spirit. His work, in a way, mirrors that of the festival in particular and of horror in general – there is a way of looking at the darker, more mysterious side of life that is neither exploitative nor condescending.


Unfortunately, with a ten-hour trip ahead of us, we had to leave before seeing too much of the fun Sunday. We stopped in to say our goodbyes, dipped our toes in the lake (which was surprisingly warm for mid-October) and headed home. We stopped off at a couple of places on the way, including The Angelica Sweet Shop in Angelica, NY. Really good sweets and nice peeps.

Many thanks to the staff and volunteers. We had a great time and you ran a great festival! And it was great meeting so many filmmakers, fans, and artists. We’re definitely going to go back next year if we can – it was a lot of fun and it’s a great area. Arthur’s also thinking about shooting his next script there. Stay tuned for more news, and happy Holidays!

Found In Time Premieres at Shriekfest!

Shriekfest 2012 - next Stop!
Found In Time will have its world premiere at the 2012 Shriekfest Film Festival, in Los Angeles this October! The festival, now in its 12th year, has been rated as one of the ‘Top 25 Festivals Worth the Entry Fee’ and ’25 Festivals To Die For’ in MovieMaker magazine, and ‘LA’s Most Successful & Entertaining Horror Film Festival’ by LA Weekly. We’ve been to this festival before, and can vouch for how much fun it is. Here are the details:
Where: Raleigh Studios, 5300 Melrose in Hollywood, CA
When: Saturday, October 6th – 8:45pm, but stick around for the rest of the fest if you can, there’s sure to be some great stuff screened there

Thank you to the good folks at Shriekfest, and particularly to Denise Gossett and Todd Beeson, who’ve run a classy, filmmaker-friendly operation from day one! Check back here periodically, as we post updates on who from the cast and crew will be there. Arthur Vincie, writer/director, will be in attendance.

Geezer Filmmakers Rock On!

Tree On Its Side

A geezer tree

I thought I’d take a break from nuts-and-bolts stuff and talk about something I’ve noticed in the last few years, regarding the work of “geezer” filmmakers. Terrence Malick, Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott, Woody Allen, and Francis Ford Coppola have all achieved some hefty commercial and critical success over the years. Between them they’ve probably directed about twenty or so of my favorite American films. They’re like the “geezer” rockers – bands like the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Motorhead, Leo Reed, Pink Floyd, Metallica (the youngest of the bunch)… they know how to craft artistic films while also packing in the crowd.

In the last few years, it seemed like these guys were going to go on directing interesting but ultimately minor works like “The New World,” “The Rainmaker,” “Scoop,” “Shutter Island,” “Robin Hood,”… these weren’t bad films, but they were like finger exercises for master pianists, or the old chestnuts the aforementioned geezers play to the crowd at the end of the show. “Free bird!”

Then something interesting happened. First Coppola made “Youth Without Youth” (2007). This is an amazing film that divided critics and audience members. It’s almost impossible to describe the plot – an old Romanian scholar (Tim Roth), who’s spent his entire life writing a book on the origins of language and human consciousness, is struck by lightning in the late 1930s. Instead of being killed, he ages backwards in the space of a few weeks until he looks like, well, Tim Roth. Then he stops aging, and witnesses (and sometimes participates in) the horrors and pleasures of the 20th century. It was slow, mysterious, ambiguous, twisty… a lot of people walked out of the theater. I saw it with a number of friends, and only Ben Wolf and I wanted to see it again. Right away.

Then last year, Malick came out with “Tree of Life,” which somehow zooms from the beginning to the end of… well, I’m not sure if its earth or of time itself, while still focused on the childhood of the protagonist. Allen somehow crafted something genuinely new out of his old obsessions (perhaps even commenting on them) in “Midnight in Paris,” where a struggling writer is somehow transported back to the Paris of the 20s, his favorite hotbed of intellectual fervor. Interesting how the nature of time plays heavily into these films, no?

Then came Scorcese with “Hugo” – after years of working on pretty much only adult themes, he tackles a children’s story – one that also weaves in his old obsessions over film preservation and history. And Scott gives us “Prometheus,” a sort-of prequel to “Alien” that sets up some big questions – where do we come from? Did someone/something make us, and why? And, most importantly, how fast can I run after having had emergency abdominal surgery?

These films are all wonderful to look at. You know you’re in the hands of master craftsmen here – there isn’t a shot or a cut that feels sloppy. It’s like watching Mick Jagger strut around on stage – the old man still has the energy and knows how to work the crowd (interestingly, Scorsese directed a “concert doc” about the Stones a few years ago). But what’s more exciting about these films is that they’re reaching for something bigger. The stories are messier, with bits that don’t fit together 100%. When you first start learning something new – a different swimming stroke, another rhyming meter, or a new genre – your output may suffer a little bit. But those wrinkles and imperfections are sometimes the most fascinating bits in the resulting work. Other times they’re just flaws.

“Hugo” has amazing moments, especially during the flashbacks to Melies’ heyday in his “dream factory.” The depiction of his black-and-white magnificent fantasias, using the latest 3D technology, was so layered and “meta” while managing to be very moving. This is where it all began – without him and his wife’s work, we wouldn’t be sitting here watching this! The film seems to teeter on the brink of the “modern moment” – mechanical clocks and men mix with book shops and libraries, and the train station itself is a wonderful melange of the “new” and old. Unfortunately, the child’s story is lost somewhere in the mix. And left out altogether is the girl’s story – she’s reduced to being a conduit of sorts (presumably she goes on to write books about “Hugo.”)

“Prometheus,” likewise, has stunning moments – particularly the opening – but suffers from a second and third act that seems like Scott and the screenwriters tried to do a medley of their greatest hits. Or the moment when the geezers bring out a Very Special Guest and try to belt out a cover. Everything is off. The characters run around without much thought to what they’re doing (hey, aren’t most of these guys supposed to be scientists – you know, the people who think for a living)? The sense of menace present in the first hour devolves into pure silliness by the end. The film as a whole lacks the physical stakes of Scott’s best work – by the end of “Kingdom of Heaven” I felt like I’d been in the seige; by the end of “Black Hawk Down” I was ready to throw up (in a good way). Only the “replicant,” David, holds your attention – and shows that Scott still finds something in the sci-fi universe that he’s truly interested in.

These last two films were both shot in 3D, and I feel (though I don’t know) that this is a contributing factor. Scorsese has admitted in interviews that it’s like learning filmmaking all over again. Perhaps the transition to 3D (the first for both of them) was simply too distracting – it led them away from the tight storytelling that they’re capable of.

The other three films revel in their ambiguity. Even “Midnight In Paris,” perhaps the most accessible of all the films, has its moments of the unknown. How does the time travel work? How much of this takes place in his head (the film seems to suggest that desire creates nostalgia, which creates a fabrication of the past that isn’t quite the same as the past)? The films seem to say “we’re not going to explain anything. Figure it out, you’re smart.” In “Youth Without Youth,” there really isn’t an outside perspective – the film stays with its protagonist throughout. He doubles himself at various points, and though it’s pretty clear that this double is a psychic projection, it seems to be able to be able to move things around. The second and third act seem connected more thematically than narratively, and the political commentary comes and goes in a strange way. In “Tree of Life,” we seem to be watching a fairly realistically drawn childhood – but then the mother flies through the air. Or you notice that the father never changes his clothes, even when he’s fixing a car. These wonderful details contrast with the unfortunately empty “present-day” moments – Sean Penn walks around unsure of what he’s doing in the movie. It’s only when we move into Penn’s interior life – his walk along the beach towards the end – that he finally comes alive.

What’s really exciting about all these pieces is that the directors are working through their respective obsessions, and finding new things to create. That’s a big achievement, one which we can all strive for. Of course, they could also also just call David Cronenberg (69), David Lynch (66), Ken Loach (76), or “junior geezers” Agnieszka Holland (63) and Neil Jordan (63) – all of whom never stopped making interesting films (even the duds are fascinating) – and ask them the secret of their creative spark. Like Mick Jagger asking Leonard Cohen for career advice, it probably won’t happen, but it would be an interesting conversation.

Cost Savings Vs. Cost Shifting

An alternate poster for "Found In Time"

An unrelated alternate poster image for "Found In Time"

Sometimes you’re saving money, and sometimes you’re just moving the costs around. How do you tell the difference?

You’ve gone through the budgeting process and delivered a draft that’s over what the producer wants to bring the film in for. So you trim the fat first (an extra shoot day), then some of the muscle (smaller crew), and still you think there are some places to cut. But before you do that, think about whether you’re actually saving money, or just moving the costs somewhere else. Here are some specific examples.

If you can shoot the film in one less day, you’ll obviously save on everyone’s salary, plus equipment and location fees. However, you run the risk of going into overtime on at least one of your remaining days. Plus, you may have turnaround issues – you’ll have to push the call later the next day. I line produced a film a few years ago where the producer insisted on a fifteen-day schedule. The best-case schedule called for eighteen days. After talking with the director and DP about how they wanted to shoot the film, I told the producer that we would end up paying for the lost three days in overtime, but with worse results (since the actors and crew would not be performing at their peak after twelve hours). Lo and behold, when doing the final costs, the overtime (and extra location fees) came out to just one thousand less than if we’d simply had more days. Wow, we saved $1000, but we came out with a worse film.

On a shoot with three PAs who are each getting $100/day, the “Set PA” line item for an 18-day shoot will run about $8000, including pickup/return days (plus fringes, if you’re paying them). The producer will then ask, “why are we paying so much for PAs?” Firstly, free PAs are hard working but they can make mistakes, because they’re inexperienced, overeager, and haven’t slept. Secondly, they will grab paying jobs when they can so I’ll spend an inordinate amount of time finding replacements. If you’re making a $50,000 film, you may not have a choice. I didn’t when I made “Found In Time,” and I got very lucky with my PAs. But if you have any kind of budget above $50K, try to find a few bucks to pay at least one key PA.

If your plan is to pick up and drop off your gear every day, you’re either (a) insane or (b) shooting a documentary with no lights. As I’ve ranted in previous blog entries, your equipment will always take up more space than you think. Get a van or a truck and pay for parking.

The idea here is that you call the hair stylists, makeup artists, and cast in early so they can start working. This way the rest of the crew isn’t waiting around for the cast to get ready. A lot of producers are reluctant to do this because your cast and HMU folks may accrue meal penalties and overtime because they started earlier. Sometimes they’re right – having people start fifteen minutes or even 1/2-hour early isn’t going to make enough difference to justify the costs. But if you have all the cast members scheduled for the day, or have a scene with a lot of women in it, having a 1/2-hour or 1-hour precall can keep the rest of the crew from going into overtime.

One can go on and on, but the point is that you need to think through the process of budgeting, so you can be sure that you’re actually saving money rather than shifting costs around – or worse, creating the potential for unaccounted-for-costs.

Overhyped/Underappreciated in 2011

A completely unrelated but pretty image
An somewhat unrelated image that somehow captures my feeling about film viewing in 2011

My film-going experience in 2011 was a mixed bag. Some of the films everyone loved left me cold; others that I really liked no one seemed to care about. In very short order, here’s my list of the underwhelming and under-appreciated:

The Underwhelming

Marcy Martha Mary Marlene – … was interesting, but I never quite connected with it emotionally. It may have been the mood I was in that night, or that the cult seemed so obviously fucked up that it was harder to believe that people would fall into it.

Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows – all the inner gayness of the Holmes/Watson relationship came out, which was great. But it was a criminal waste of two really terrific actresses (Noomi Rapace and Rachel McAdams), and there wasn’t a lot of detecting going on.

Thor… was fun. But I didn’t buy the romantic relationship between the leads, and the film looked murky as hell (still not a big fan of 3D, sorry).

Black Swan – Yes, I know this came out in 2010. But I saw it in 2011. Apart from some really good, creepy monster/swan stuff, I didn’t really get what the fuss was about. The Red Shoes from 1948 is a much better film, with more to say about identity, objectification, reality and desire.

TinTin – After eight years of motion capture-based human animation, I think we should just use the technology for non-humans and call it a day. I liked the film’s aesthetics, but I forgot about it as soon as I threw out my empty popcorn bag.

Crazy Stupid Love – I liked the performances and the direction. But the underlying message of the film was rather conservative and ultimately uninspiring.

Super 8 – J.J. Abrams could have made a great film about a movie-obsessed boy reconciling with his father after his mother’s death. Or a fun monster movie. Instead he tried to mash them together. But unlike Cameron’s Abyss or Spielberg’s Close Encounters, the result was less than the sum of its parts.

The Under-appreciated

In Time – This is a terrific sci-fi ‘B’ movie with real social relevance, by the same guy who brought us Gattaca and Lord of War.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes – Justly praised for its overall intelligence and for Andy Serkis’ performance. What was under-appreciated, however, was the work of John Lithgow and Brian Cox. Without these two – especially Lithgow, whose plight is in many ways the driving force of the plot – the film wouldn’t have much heft. On a contrary note, when will screenwriters figure out how to integrate female characters into their plots (see Sherlock above). Freida Pinto is stuck with absolutely nothing to do in the film.

Certified Copy – Abbas Kiarostami’s understated, tricky film about a relationship (or is it relationships) – possibly fictional, possibly real, perhaps both – was just wonderful to watch, especially after ingesting a series of overdone CGI hamburger helper.

The Tree of Life – This film should get a medal for giving a big middle finger to everyone out there with short attention spans (and all the technologies that service them). Most of the people who complained (to me, anyway) about the slow pacing, ambiguity, and near-plotlessness are the same folks who text while walking down the sidewalk. This film demands patience and a serene state of mind. But while it’s not a perfect movie, it has a lot to say and can wrap you in its beauty, if you let it.

Mumbai Diaries / Dhobi Ghat – This did well in India, but is unknown here. And that’s a shame. This is a beautiful look at Mumbai, through the eyes of four interconnected people who each have very different professions, classes, and outlooks on life.

This year also marked a turning point in my own viewing habits. I watched films, tv shows, and webisodes on almost every type of screen and using a variety of providers, without really thinking about it. The quality of streaming video often leaves something to be desired, but after about two minutes I stop worrying about it and just watch the film. The main reason for picking one delivery method over another had more to do with my mood at the time (impulsive, festive, social, etc.) than anything else. The big entertainment companies are running scared, and for good reason – with the consumer in the driver’s seat, they can’t dictate the terms. This is not necessarily good news for film professionals, but that’s for the next blog entry.

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,, 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 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.