Little Earthquakes: The Best Movies I Saw in ’15

madya_apu My half-assed mashup of two of my favorite movie-going experiences, Apur Sansar and Mad Max: Fury Road.

By any account, I consumed a crapton of tv. Jessica Jones, Red Road, Daredevil, The Walking Dead, Orphan Black, Game of Thrones (oh and Helix and Defiance)… days of my life I’m not getting back were spent staring at the screen. But this wasn’t a passive experience – those were moments where I felt intimately connected with the lives of fictional people. Debarati and I talked about them as though we knew them. It’s that cliched tv-as-modern-campfire experience, and it definitely reached some kind of peak for me this year. It could be because I’m studying these shows with an eye towards breaking into the medium, or it could be that the creators are counting on the binge-watching experience when they’re crafting the stories.

On the other hand, it’s been a surprisingly lackluster year on the film front. I saw a handful of truly great features, most of them at least 25 years old (or older). But Avengers (especially), Spectre, Terminator: Whatever, and others… they were technically brilliant, good looking commercials, but had little lasting emotional value. And an even larger percentage of films – Ex Machina and The Martian come to mind – were gripping while I was watching them but really didn’t leave much of an impression later.

Surprisingly (or not), my most memorable film experiences of the year came from a handful of indie films and older, ostensibly more quiet films. So here’s the list of films I saw in 2015 that I will remember for years to come.

THE APU TRILOGY, Pather Panjali, Aparajito, and Apur Sansar – three incredible films, made by Satyajit Ray, from 1955 to 1959. The trilogy follows the fictional Apu, from his impoverished childhood in rural West Bengal in the early 20th century, to his later childhood in Benares, to his adulthood in Kolkata. After many years of hearing how awesome these films were, I finally got the chance to see them projected, thanks to a new restoration that screened at Film Forum. Ray does more with a single shot of two children running through the field to see a train go by, than Joss Whedon did with $200+ million and all the CGI toys and top-drawer Hollywood talent that you can buy with that. The careful composition of each shot, the amazing performances, the fact that you feel like you’re a part of someplace you’ve never been – it’s epic filmmaking, but done in a very understated (and therefore underappreciated) way.

HEAVEN’S GATE, released in 1980, is famous for being the film that bankrupted United Artists, and ushered in the beginning of the end of auteur-driven Hollywood filmmaking. On the surface it seems obvious: it’s a slow-moving, not very action-oriented Western about a lawyer from Harvard who ends up on the side of small homesteaders, immigrants and cattle rustlers in a remote part of Wyoming, as they’re targeted by big-time cattle ranchers. An epic of American greed, as immigrants who are fleeing Europe try to scratch out a decent living, and are targeted by ruthless, bigoted businessmen… sound familiar?

Time has been kind to this film, as many critics slowly unpacked what was really going on with the film. There are many repeating visual and sound motifs – concentric circles, mazelike interiors that contrast with the wide-open exteriors, locomotion of various kinds (horses, carriages, railroads, roller skates). The visual density, the telling of the story through movement and sound, the moral ambiguity of many of the characters – those alone are worth seeing the film for. Again, I felt like I was living in Wyoming over a century ago. I wasn’t in the theater any more.

NIGHTMARE CODE: This is a sneaky indie sci-fi/thriller. At first, you might think it’s just a ‘found footage’ project, playing on themes that have been worn to death – the dangers of surveillance, virtual reality, and so on. But it’s much more interesting than that. A troubled hacker trying to get out a big legal mess takes on a job at a startup. He’s tasked with finishing up their sophisticated behavior recognition software prototype, right after their lead programmer went postal and shot half the staff and himself. But the code proves to be far more than just predictive – it seems to be changing the behavior of its programmers, and not for the better. This film tells its story using split-screen security cameras, webcams, body cameras, and computer screen, in a way that’s really effective. The acting is really great – you feel as though you’re in a real startup shop, with folks trying to cope with real development problems. The realism makes the spooky goings-on that much more effective.

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is amazing. It had no reason to be anything than a stupid action film with lots of over-the-top effects and no depth. It was a license to print cash. Instead it had a heart, a real point of view, incredibly well-done characterizations (especially considering the sparse dialog), and yes, awesome action (achieved through a magnificent combination of practical effects, CGI, and let’s not forget the sound design)!

UNTIL THE END OF THE WORLD, the director’s cut. When I saw the original version – 2.5 hours – back in 1990, I was both bored and intrigued. After seeing Wings of Desire, I was in love with Wim Wenders and thought he could do no wrong. But the film was so muddled and gave me no real anchor to guide me with. I could tell there were some great ideas floating in there, and had heard rumors that there was a longer cut out there.

The completely restored version, presented this year at MOMA, was amazing. It clocks in at nearly 5 hours, but you’re not bored at all. Instead, you’re incredibly grounded in what’s going on. The ostensible plot is about a woman who’s drifting through life in 1999, and gets seduced by, and then chases, a mysterious man who’s carrying around a camera that can record reality for playback to the blind, while the whole world is waiting for a potential nuclear disaster (a satellite carrying a nuclear payload may be crashing to earth). The plot takes the viewer from Europe through America to Japan to the aboriginal homelands in Australia. The themes of the film carry you through the wonder, fears and joys of modern life and tech, issues of community vs. individuality, the struggle to distinguish between the real and the virtual (and the real environment of dreams versus the virtual reality of our concept of nature). It’s a deep, dense movie, well worth the evening.

JESSICA JONES – yes I know it’s not a film, it’s a TV show, but hear me out. This is the project that will forever change the way we look at the superhero genre in film and tv. The craft on display is amazing – the performances, fight choreography, direction, lighting, sound design, music… but it’s the multilayered story that makes it work. By opting not to do another “the world ends if we don’t stop the bad guy,” the show instead delves into the internal world of the characters. It seems like it’s about a hard-drinking PI who is trying to take down a clever psychopath with a special talent for manipulation. But it’s also about the nature of abuse and manipulation, and the damage that abusive relationships can cause to one’s psyche. It’s about the difficulty and high cost of doing the right thing, when society as a whole rewards ‘following the program’ (even when that program turns you into a killer, a la Nuke, or a victim, like Patsy).

IMAGINE I’M BEAUTIFUL – this is a really tense, slow-build psychological thriller, written, starring and produced by Naomi McDougall Graham, and directed by Meredith Edwards. Without giving too much away, it’s about a young woman, Lana who comes to the city and answers a roommate ad. She moves in with the very troubled Lana, and the two slowly form a deep bond. But their friendship turns and twists in unexpected ways, and you’re kept wondering where the hell is their relationship going? It’s a great handshake of style and substance, made more amazing by the fact that it was made on such a low budget.

At first glance these films seem completely unrelated. Pather Panjali, Imagine I’m Beautiful and Nightmare Code were low-budget first features. Mad Max is part of a franchise, with top stars and made by George Miller, who’s pushing 70. Until the End… and Heaven’s Gate were both regarded as mid-career commercial and artistic failures at the time of their release. Jessica Jones was a thoroughly collaborative effort, produced by the Marvel machine (which has had better years, frankly).

But what unites all these films is their focus on what Tori Amos called, in her fantastic album and title song, Little Earthquakes. “Oh, these little earthquakes / Here we go again / Oh, these little earthquakes / Doesn’t take much to rip us into pieces.” When you listen to that song (or just about any of them on the album), you’re shown that someone’s sanity and life and dreams can matter as much as the whole world’s, and can depend on the simplest of things. Stolen fruit, the one tree that’s still standing in a marsh, the lucky find of a typewriter in a commune… these films, like little earthquakes, obliterate boundaries. I’ve never been to Apu’s remote West Bengal village, nor did I grow up in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. But while I was watching them and for some time afterward, I wasn’t here in NYC in 2015 anymore; I was standing next to Apu while he was walking down the tracks by his apartment, or hanging on to Furiosa’s rig for dear life. These films accomplished the miracle that the medium has always promised and seldom delivers – to connect you to someone else, somewhere else, and change you in the process.

At some point I’ll write about the great TV I saw in 2015, so stay tuned! Happy new year!

Happy 2015


Miami Sci-Fi 2015
As a fitting start to 2015, we’re returning to Brooklyn for a free screening at Videology! Join us on Monday, January 5th, @ 10pm at this unique bar/video store/screening room in the heart of Williamsburg (308 Bedford Ave, Brooklyn, 11211). For details and RSVPs hit up the Facebook event page.


After that you can catch the film at the Miami Sci-Fi Film Festival! It will be screening Friday evening, January 23rd, at the beautiful beach-side Regency Hyatt. For details and tickets, visit!


As 2014 draws to a close, we salute all the wonderful people we’ve met along the Found In Time journey. Our family, friends, cast, crew, location owners, vendors, fans, festival programmers and staff, distributor staff… it takes a city, never mind a village.

This was a year of promoting and delivering the film, which has proved to be nearly as much work as making it was. We did a lot of research on promotion and publicity, and scored some great interviews and reviews – in “Starlog”, in Sci-Fi Saturday Night. We brought home four more awards, from Art of Brooklyn, Intendence, and Phoenix Comic-Con. We had some special screenings in non-festival venues – conventions, sci-fi meetup groups, and college campuses. We signed up with a foreign sales agent, TomCat Films. Our domestic distributor, Green Apple, worked tirelessly with us to get the film ready to go out on all the various platforms.

It was also a year of new beginnings. Every producer, at some point during a project, begins to yearn for something new. I certainly did. This year we launched two new projects – a supernatural war mini-series, “The Spectral City,” and a low-budget supernatural thriller, “Bitter Child.” While “Bitter Child” may get made first, we’re going to try a different approach – keeping two projects in the air at once.

We also – at Chaotic Sequence – expanded our efforts at film education. We’re still pushing my book on preproduction, Preparing For Takeoff, and pairing it up with one-day seminars on film prep. We’ll be doing more one day seminars in 2015 – on preproduction, visual storytelling, and more.


Probably the hardest part of 2014 was keeping so many irons in the fire – two projects in development, a book and workshops to push, a film to deliver and promote, and the everyday grind of making a living at budgeting, writing, teaching, and consulting. I’m at a point where I need to make some decisions as to how much effort to put into which projects, while having to acknowledge that I can’t do it all. So one of my goals for 2015 is to DIWO – Do It With Others. “Found In Time” was a wonderful collaborative experience. Now I need to replicate that on a larger scale.

Have a great new year!

Art of Brooklyn Film Festival Screening!

Just a quick reminder that we’ll be screening at the Art Of Brooklyn Film Festival!


WHEN: Thursday, May 8th, 8pm (reception) / 9pm (screening starts)
WHERE: St. Francis College, Founders’ Hall, 180 Remsen St., Brooklyn, NY
TICKETS: $10 for the evening – includes the reception, 2 shorts, Found In Time, and a Q&A!

I’ll be there with DP Ben Wolf, editor Dan Loewenthal, costume designer Ghislaine Sabiti, and other crewmembers for a post-screening Q&A!

We Have Distribution For The Film!

Found In Time

First, the great news: Found In Time has been picked up for domestic DVD/digital distribution, by Green Apple Entertainment! Many thanks to our producer’s rep, Glen Reynolds at Circus Road Films, for working so hard and never giving up in the film.

Second, it’s time to take stock a bit and figure out what, if anything, we learned about distribution during the past year of trying to chase it down. This will be an ongoing process, since the actual distribution phase of the film has just started, but here are some initial thoughts.


When my girlfriend heard that the film had gotten a distributor, her first reaction was “that’s great.” Her second was, “so that means you can move on, right?” For better or worse, no.

Unless you’re one of the lucky contestants who win the jackpot – a decent all-rights deal with an actual advance – distribution is really the third act of the very long (melo-)drama that is the making of your film. Distributors want to make money. You probably want money too, but you also want other things – fans for your next film, a sustainable filmmaking career (whatever that means these days), and some exposure for your work. Sometimes exposure runs counter to income (as anyone traveling the festival circuit knows).

Once you have a distributor, you now have to put together your deliverables.


The last few deliverables contracts that we’ve seen (both for our film and others’) have specified that the projection master be delivered via QuickTime. Tape delivery (on HDCAM-SR, DigiBeta or other formats) has mostly gone by the wayside. This is great news, in that at least you don’t have to shell out for dubs at the point where you can least afford them.

On the other hand, it may mean that the distributor is fronting those costs through post house deals they have, which also means that they’re going add them to their list of expenses. Which means you may have to wait even longer to see any money. Find out if that’s what’s going on. Perhaps your post contacts can even outbid theirs?

Artwork is key. If you have a poster, postcard, DVD sleeve, etc. artwork, then make sure to provide them to the distributor, preferably as layered Photoshop (PSD) file. Don’t forget to include font files for any custom fonts you’ve used.

Make sure you get good stills, or know how to intelligently grab still frames from your film and resample them properly for print. Learn the difference between web-friendly and print-friendly graphics! If you don’t know this stuff and don’t have time to learn or just don’t feel confident that the results will be any good, find someone (and pay them something) to do it for you.

Get a music cue sheet from your composer! This is nothing more or less than a list of all the music cues in your film, named, with the beginning/end timecode of each. Didn’t get it from the composer? Track done your sound post folks. Is neither an option? Then it’s time to watch your film in your NLE and write down cues!

A timed dialog list is very helpful to have. That’s a list of every line of dialog as it was uttered by your actors (you’d be surprised how different it is from what you wrote), along with the timecode start/stop points. You also want to include title cards, written words on screen (like on someone’s phone), voice-overs/off-screen dialog, and even “human sounds” (laughter, grunts, etc).

This list will be used to create subtitles and dubs of your film, if you happen to get foreign distribution. It’s incredibly tedious to make these, but if you can stand to do it yourself you’ll save some bucks. Here’s an Excel template with some example lines from Found In Time to show you what one looks like.


Found In Time will be distributed on DVD and digitally. There’s no guarantee of what exact shape that distribution will take, or how long it will take to get the film out there. While that’s happening, we want to publicize the fact that it’s getting distribution, so that more people will still be interested in buying it when it’s finally available.

The best ways to do that:

  • Taking it to festivals
  • Four-walling it
  • Sending it to film critics (though this can work against you if you don’t have a “critic-friendly” film)
  • Using social media and your friends to evangelize
  • Connecting to fans
  • Personal connections (to the cast, crew, vendors, mentors, helpers, friends)

We’ve taken the film to festivals and critics, and have used Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and our monthly e-blast to get the word out. We could be doing more with social media, but honestly there aren’t enough hours in the day.

We’ve also sent out personal emails to people we know and love, letting them know about the film, and offering quid pro quo if they’ll get the word out. So if they have something going on they’d like us to publicize, we’ll be happy to do it. Not only is this good networking, it’s also a decent way to be.

One of the things we’re considering right now is whether to do some kind of limited theatrical distribution. We could use an intermediary, who will charge a service fee; or use a company like Tugg, that does ‘event-type’ screenings and doesn’t cost very much up front; or do something non-traditional. We’re considering the latter option right now. Since we made a sci-fi film, we’re reaching out to sci-fi conventions to see if they’d screen it as part of their film sidebar (if they have one).


Our strategy is evolving, and we’re still learning, about this amazing (and sometimes frustrating) game. But we’ll post more details – and of course, the street date for the DVD and streaming – soon. Until then!

Good News, And Sustaining Your Career


First, some good news! Found In Time has been selected to screen at the upcoming GenCon Indy Festival! That’s right, the oldest and largest gaming convention in the world also runs an independent film festival, and has selected us to screen there. Some details:

WHERE: GenCon Indy Festival, Indianapolis, IN
WHEN: Thursday, August 15- Sunday, August 18th (screening times to be announced)



I’ve been promising an article on rolling your own DCP package for a while now, but the first draft came in at a whopping 6000 words, so obviously I need to do some trimming or I’m going to bore everyone to death. In the meantime, I’ve been preparing an English dialog list for the film (and writing an article on that as well), updating all the promotional material, and working on a secret new project.

So in the meantime, I figured I’d write about something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately – sustainability. Specifically, sustaining a career as an independent writer/director/producer-type in this environment.

A couple of years ago, it seemed like the bitchfest would never stop – every panel, interview, article, and workshop I went to/read about focused on how much the independent film world sucked to make a living in. To some extent it’s never been easy, but with rising staples prices (housing, food, gas), wages that have been frozen in time for the last 15-20 years, lower budgets, the quest for “stars” that would eat up what budget was left, and the increasing crappiness of distribution deals, it seemed like a hopeless cause.

But in the last two years, while we were posting Found In Time and then sending it out, something happened. More avenues of cheap direct distribution have come along – (for limited theatrical), Amazon direct (for digital), smaller-scale aggregators, the Film Collaborative (digital and VOD). If you make it cheaply enough, you might be able to make ends meet, or at least not go completely broke. Even Ted Hope sounds positive – which is saying a lot (love you Ted, don’t ever change).

The problem is how to get past this stage of Ramen noodle filmmaking to where you can pay your rent with it. How many first films can you make? I’ve made two so far, for approximately the same budget. I can make another one in a few years, if I’m lucky. But that’s not a career – that’s a very expensive crack habit. Here are some solutions I’ve been thinking about, talking about, and reading up on. Thank you to Ted Hope, Steven Soderbergh, the Filmmakers Collaborative, Stacey Parks, Jon Reiss, Francis Ford Coppola, Filmmaker Magazine, and as always my friends and collaborators Bob Seigel, Ben Wolf, Adam Nadler, Dan Loewenthal, Quentin Chiappetta, and others who’ve listened and offered suggestions on this).

Make Films Cheaper

With production costs going down, one strategy is to keep making films cheaper, and make them more often. This is the turtle method – lay a thousand eggs, and hope that a few won’t get eaten by predators. If you produce enough films, you can get some paying work. The Mumblecore folks embraced this method, and while I can’t say I enjoyed most of their early efforts, by the time they got to Cyrus the Duplass Brothers definitely knew how to direct, simply because they’d done it so often.

Make One Bigger Film

The other method is to carefully nurture the $1 Million film, package it, and find the money. This can take a lot longer, and you’ll have to play it safe a little bit, but it’s still doable. This is the method advocated by Stacey Parks at Film Specific, and it’s closer to the mammalian model – have fewer kids and take better care of them. You can get most of your expenses covered and even take home a small salary, so you don’t have to try and work a day job while making your film.

But in both cases, how do you pay the bills while you’re developing these films? Well, theres…

Work On Other Films

I did this (and still do, to a limited extent). I worked on a line producer on many first features. It was great fun, even when I thought I was going to have an aneurysm. I learned a LOT about filmmaking that I wouldn’t have otherwise. The only problem is that it’s insanely difficult to develop your own projects while working on others’, unless you’re working on a really low rung. So perhaps you should…


Find some folks who want to work on films also. Then you all make films together. With everyone taking turns supporting each other, at least one project will take off. This makes a lot of sense, and a lot of successful production companies have started this way. The danger here is getting through the first film to the second, without going through all your cash/favors/patience. I’ve seen a lot of partnerships go down in flames because everyone burned through their resources, contacts, friendships, and favors on the first film, leaving nothing left for number 2.


When things were slow on the line producing front, I worked as a payroll accountant. I’ve also worked as a web production coordinator at a festival, as a post supervisor, and as a production manager on music videos, shorts, and other projects. I’ve gone back to computer programming a few times. I wrote the nonfiction book. I teach. I write spec scripts. Most of my artist friends do multiple jobs, some of them related to their field, others less so. If you take the right attitude, none of these is a waste of time (though some days it’s really, really hard not to feel like your life essence is draining into a puddle at the bottom of your cubicle).

The Present and Future

We may have to come to grips with the idea that television (either online or over cable) has eclipsed independent film as a medium in terms of diversity, depth and flexibility. What really exciting, well-written, character-driven stories have I been watching? They’ve been produced by NetFlix, Amazon, HBO, AMC, or other cable companies. They’ve decided that owning the whole pipe – from creation through distribution – is the way to go. They then hire us filmmakers to work on their projects.

So should we all start making web series as a calling card intro? I’m not sure about that either, but compared to creating a feature the costs are lower (somewhat), and the emphasis is not on production value so much as on good writing and acting. It may not be a way to make a living but it’s possible to put together a good web series without breaking your bank, and having it actually reach a sizable audience. And you get practice, which is very important.

I don’t have an answer, and there probably isn’t a single one. You’ll probably have to combine all these techniques to make it work. I do know that if you’re starting your professional life in film, you have to think about how you’re going to sustain it in the long-term. Sounds like a big duh, but it does require a large headset adjustment.

Here’s a picture of my cat to cheer you up. Good luck!



Phoenix Film Festival!

Standing under the poster at the party pavilion.

The last six months have been rather wonderful. To date, we’ve traveled to four film festivals (Shriekfest, Eerie, Nevermore, and now Phoenix/IHSFF), and each experience has been a positive one. We’ve been treated well by the organizers and staff, met some great fans and filmmakers, and seen some terrific films. Phoenix was no exception.

DAY 1:

The festival itself takes place in three separate spaces, that are part of a large (huge, actually) strip-mall. The Harkins Plaza cinema is a multiplex – and very well maintained, with good seats, tasty popcorn, and decent-sized theaters. The ticket office is located a short walk away, and the main event space – the “Party Pavillion” – is in another event hall at the mall. Several vendors and companies rented tables in the Pavillion. They also ran events and kept a bar going. On Sunday, a miniature version of the local Comic Con occupied the space. Having a central hang-out is a great thing – it lets filmmakers and audience members connect more easily, and provides some space for the occasional chill-out.


At 1pm I was on an education panel, talking to about a hundred high school students about independent filmmaking. This was a lot of fun. I had no idea what to expect. Fortunately, I was in great company – Leya Taylor, the DP and producer of Found., Alev Aydin, star/writer/producer of Lonely Boy, Ben Shelton, writer/director of Waking…, and Gerry Santos (producer) and Drew Thomas (writer/director) of Channeling. The event, organized by Bob Marquis, was really focused. The students asked some really good questions. We talked about preproduction, coming up with creative solutions to budgetary problems, and the “glory and grit” of independent filmmaking. Scott Schirmer, director of Found., recorded some of it – you can find it here.


Then it was off to see a film I’d been wanting to see since meeting Scott, Leya and some of the team down at Nevermore – Found. This film is great. Our hero is a twelve-year-old boy, who’s being bullied at school and trying hard to figure out who he is. Oh, and his older brother is a serial killer. It’s a coming of age story, a meditation on the nature of horror and sexuality, and a family drama, all wrapped up in one disturbing package. Winning performances, great cinematography, solid writing – and they made it for $8000, with a tiny crew. This film is tearing up the festival circuit, and deservedly so. It won the Best Horror Feature at Phoenix!

Then I wandered over to the Party Pavilion, met up with the great folks from Sader Ridge – and hung out with them and walked the vendor booths. There were some pretty cool folks there, setting up shop, including the Arizona Film and Media Coalition (, who are fighting the good fight to keep production in Arizona; the Phoenix chapter of the IFP, who are doing a great job of putting educational events together (; and the local Screen Actors Guild chapter.

Sader Ridge

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to check out Sader Ridge while at the festival, but Matt Medisch (writer/producer) and Jeremy Berg (writer/director) gave me a screening copy, which I watched later. This is a really terrific film! It’s also one of the more unsettling psychological horror stories I’ve seen in a long while. When Samantha inherits a house from the family she never really knew, she takes a trip to inspect it and the surrounding property. But as soon as she arrives her memories start coming back to her – or are they hallucinations? Her friends start acting strangely – or is she witnessing normal 20-something jealousy? As her sanity starts to unravel, she has to figure out what’s real and what’s not, and where this trip down memory lane is leading her. It’s done really well, with an emphasis on building tension. The film features some really strong performances, and beautiful cinematography, music and sound design. It’s also having good luck on the festival circuit.

After checking into the hotel, freshening up a bit, and grabbing a quick bite of *delicious* Mexican at Filiberto’s, it was off to the Friday night screening of Found In Time. The film got a good reception, and the audience asked some great questions afterward.

DAY 2: Lonely Boy

I managed to drag my ass out of bed early for the 9am screening of Lonely Boy, and I was very glad I did. This is a wonderful film. Written and starring Alev Aydin, directed by Dale Fabrigar, and produced by Alev and Troy Daniel Smith, this was a beautiful portrait of Frank, a man who’s trying to date while in the middle of job, family, and psychological crises – he has schizophrenia. This film somehow threads the needle – it portrays Frank, the lonely boy, as a real human being, and not just as an object of horror, ridicule or slapstick humor. The performances, editing, music, direction – it was all totally there. Good stuff.


Suddenly it was time for Channeling, a really terrific sci-fi/thriller written/directed by Drew Thomas, and produced by Laila Ansari, Gerry Santos, Thomas, Kelly Andrea Rubin (co-producer), and Kip Brown (post producer). This is a “near-future” sci-fi film that combines a lot of different genres, and does it well. The “gimmick” is an EyeCast, a camera that works like a contact lens – it affixes itself to your eye – and livestreams what you see to the world. The more radical things you do, the larger your follower stats. A lot of eyecasters want to get sponsorship. But how far would you go to get it? When one “bad” brother is killed while EyeCasting (an accident that might really be a murder), his older sibling comes home and assumes his identity, to try and figure out who did it and why. Good performances, a really slick (in a good way) look, and a compelling story make this is a really enjoyable film.


I took a break from features to check out some shorts, and was suitably impressed. A few standouts: Life on the River, by Chris Remerowski, was terrific. On the surface it’s a gritty drama about two homeless people who end up camping out by a river, which becomes a kind of sanctuary for them. But who are they? Where did they come from? The twist is too smart to reveal here. The cast is really good and the music is haunting.

Menschen also gets a special shout-out. It was written and directed by Sarah Lotfi, whose last short The Last Bogatyr was a national finalist for the Student Academy Awards. Menschen follows an Austrian captain who’s trying to keep his remaining troops alive at the end of World War II. Desperate for shelter and recooperation, they occupy a farm. A woman and her developmentally disabled son live in the house. After a raid by partisans, the boy loses his mother. The captain, to everyone’s surprise, takes the son under his wing, and takes him with the troops. This has to be one of the most unusual World War II films I’ve ever seen, and it really works. It’s touching without being maudlin, and feels very curent despite being a period piece. And it looks damn more expensive than it cost, thanks to some very sharp technical and producing work.

After a delicious dinner at the local diner with the Found. and Sader Ridge crew, I caught Errors of the Human Body. It was a very good film, but it didn’t really draw me in. The basic idea is that a famous, but now disgraced, American cancer researcher ends up working in Germany, invited by his former grad student (and crush) to work on an exciting new tissue regeneration project. But there are other folks at the lab with less benign motives, and our hero is fighting the inner demons from his past.

After seeing the film I was able to catch up with the Channeling team a little more and talk about the film and their work. Then it was off to bed.

DAY 3: Found in Time Again and Panels

The last screening of Found In Time, at 11:55am on Sunday, sold out! The crowd was very generous and had some terrific questions. The projection was noticeably better as well – I was told later that the bulb in the other room was a bit old (it’s amazing how much of a difference these things make).

Then it was off to check out the panel discussions. First up was the “Writing Horror” panel, which featured Scott Schirmer and Leya Taylor from Found., Matt Medisch from Sader Ridge, David Pruett, director of the Dark Carnival International Film Festival, and Tara-Nicole Azarian, who at the age of fourteen has directed several award-winning horror shorts. They had some really good advice on writing horror, working on a budget, how to make it compelling and scary (instead of merely gory), and why it’s such a good genre to work in. Check out the YouTube video of the panel.

I was on a panel with Gerry Santos from Channeling and Professor Carl Varnado from Scottsdale Community College, moderated by sci-fi writer, Sci-Fi Programming director, and cool guy Mike Stackpole, on world building. This was a LOT of fun, as we dished about sci-fi films that “got it right,” those that “got it wrong,” how to build a believable world on a budget, and other topics.

There was much more to this trip – friendships started, conversations had, food eaten – but that’s all I can fit in one blog entry. The staff at the Phoenix Film Festival were just awesome, and they made us all feel very welcome. This is one of the key things about festivals – if the staff is cool, then everyone else is too. All the filmmakers I met were generous with their time, answering a ton of questions from me (where did you shoot/what did you shoot on/how long did it take you to post/etc.). I can’t say enough good things about the experience, so I’ll just stop now. Until the next festival!

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:
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!

2011 Was Quite a Year

Happy holidays

This year will one day be seen as a critical juncture in the project of world democracy. Citizens across the globe spoke out against state corruption, dictatorship, lack of civil rights, the squeezing of the 99% in the name of false austerity, egregious corporate greed, and the broken situation that many of us are in. Governments and companies have reacted in typical fashion, largely trying to beat the crowds into submission, pen them up, or paint them as freaks. But we need to pay attention to these movements. As film professionals, we are in the same boat.

Most of us didn’t get into making movies because we thought we’d become moguls. But I’d bet most of us (myself included) thought we might be able to at least make a living at our craft. Sadly, that has become harder and harder. Working below the line on indie films means watching your salary shrink year after year. Forget about taking a salary as a writer, director or producer. The unions and guilds are stuck in a constant battle with corporations that can outspend them on lawyers and workarounds, and still make money. Distributors are outsourcing a lot of their work to producers and directors, which will have the long-term effect of slowing down independent production (you can’t really create your next project while you’re trying to distribute the current one).

During economic down times, people who work in the arts and entertainment are looked at as expendable. Why spend money on that when we’re lagging so far behind other countries in education? But when presidents talk about education, they discuss mathandscience. They rarely talk about the root skills that scientists utterly depend on to actually do science – verbal and written communication, problem solving, logic, spatial / temporal analysis, visualization, patience. Where can you learn those things? In art, music, and writing classes.

In addition to scientists, all people look to media to help them get through their day, to inform and inspire them, to relieve their stress, maybe even to change their lives. So we have a role to play in this world.

Which brings me back to the world democracy project. Wherever you are, in whatever way you can – by donating some time, money or resources, going to a demo with your camera, spreading the word, incorporating the themes into your next project – try to support the Occupy movement and its affiliates. This is not about politics. This is about what matters to us as a society. They are asking the real questions of the 21st century. How can we all live sustainably, with dignity and respect? How can we have some say in our lives rather than have them be pressed upon us by economic, gender, racial, age, and citizenship status inequality (to name a few)? In other words, how we can we create and live our life story, instead of having them handed to us like scraps from the table? As storytellers, we can both learn and teach in this situation.

Have a fantastic holiday season and new year! Good luck to everyone in the new year with their projects!

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.