1k Feature

Milestone

So yesterday evening I was visited by the one... the only JVS, and we set out to catch up on a little editing - seeing as I've recently lagged a bit behind. I am happy to say that 10 hours and a couple of bourbons later, we had completed a pretty major sequence, and now... today we have officially 1 hour of assembled movie.

Thats kinda rad.

Now, when I say, assembled... I mean that in the most minimal way possible of course. The transitions are rough, the image qualities are raw, the audio has not even been touched. But ... its a step in the process.

So... here is to having an hour of movie, and being a little closer today than yesterday.

Film as Cheesesteak

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The experience of The $1,000 Feature can be summed up by a guy named Mike and a boatload of Philly Cheesesteaks.

Mike is a guy who makes things happen. He’s been part of the Digitribe crew and extended family since, well, the beginning. He’s good people. For this project, Mike has offered to do battle with the demon of Craft Services, and we have graciously ceded the task. See, when trying to stretch $1,000 into a movie, feeding people is a concern. A big one. Run some quick match calculations. I’ll wait.

“Let’s see. McDonald’s for 15 people is about $100 a day. Times ten days of shooting. Equals…… bugger.”

The math is never great, but Mike is working to make it tolerable. At our last several production meetings, he’s stormed in near the end of things with plastic grocery sacks and a wild look in his eye, like Ben Gunn sprung loose from the Food Lion. “I’ve found a way to feed ten people on $30,” he’ll say one week. “Fifteen people, $20,” he’ll say the next. I’m afraid of where this trend might be leading.

"25 people for $1."

"30 people for a net profit of 25 cents."

"39 people by sacrificing the 40th."

It was as I noshed on his latest concoction – super filling, super good cheesesteaks for some mere fraction of actual money – that it dawned on me. This is as good as it gets, baby.

We might be insane for taking on such a daunting challenge as making this film on ten Ben Franklins, but I couldn’t be more excited by what I’m seeing out of our crew. This is homespun, hand-crafted movie making. In past films, the answer to every problem was inevitably money. More lights, more equipment, more, more, more. In this film, we’re discovering new ways to answer every question and solve every riddle. You should hear Jason’s theory on lighting streets at night.

Filmmaking is hard

We are getting closer to wrapping up pre-production on the $1000 Feature Film. Over the last several weeks we have been struggling mostly with locations and props - spending our weekly production meetings tracking down various set options that were appropriate and free. (For a glimpse into this process as it relates to props, check out Andy's recent blog post.) We are finally close to closing that door, which means we are closer to an actual plan of how we are going to shoot this thing.

Next, its time to lock down a tentative shooting schedule, and start to staff up. We're looking for crew help of all types. If you are local to Atlanta, willing to work hard and show up day after day ... leave us a comment. Also, be on the lookout in the coming days for an official announcement regarding Open Call Auditions this month!
More soon.

Locations: The Reason We Invented Green Screen

I'm more of a "classical" George Lucas fan. Classic Lucas gave us Indiana Jones and Star Wars and the wackiness of THX-1138. Modern Lucas gave us midichlorians, whiny Vader, and Indy vs. Aliens. I consider my position to be one of considerable strength.

One quirk I've consistently given Lucas hell for, though, is one I'm reconsidering. I never understood, and actually outright loathed, his obsession with creating these digital, video-game locations to put his actors into. It's difficult to drag out a proper performance, it overwhelms the story, and, worst of all, it just doesn't look or feel real.

After a few weeks of working on locations for the $1000 Feature Film, I'm definitely not saying I want to paint every wall in the DigiCave green, throw some actors up against them, and who-gives-a-shit if they can't act, they'll act poorly in an awesome location. I'm not ready to say all of that... but I get it.

Finding locations is hard work. You start with words on a page, a loose description of a building or a field or a towering spire of obsidian rock. Most of the time, these words do not correspond to any real life spot, but rather one the writer dreamed up out of the mulch pile in his or her mind. Sometimes, as was the case with many of the 1KF's locations, the spot is some dimly remembered set from the writer's childhood, something that may or may not even remain in existence. In either case, it's now the crew's duty to take these vague specifics and translate them into an actual real-world location. To do this, they simply have to find the 20 or 30 perfect spots, narrowed down from every physical location on the surface of the earth.

Building Bones

Developing a shot list from a screenplay is a little like plotting your newborn baby's path to the presidency. One minute ago, there was infinite choice -- two minutes ago, this thing was just an idea -- and now all possibility must be stripped away until there's only one plan, the plan that will become the movie.

As the writer, the process is humbling. I typed out the scenes imagining how a great master with an unlimited budget might shoot it. Now, reality has checked in. Perhaps I won't be able to shoot the Army of the Deep emerging from their aquatic caves to slaughter their gill-deprived cousins. At least not for $1,000.

(For the record, there is no Army of the Deep in the $1KF... or is there?)

As the director, however, I've had an enormous amount of fun. I feel very fortunate, as I've been able to watch this movie again and again in my head. I've probably seen the $1KF 40 times and we haven't even shot a frame of footage yet. To structure out a scene, I lock my brain into Tivo mode -- stopping, rewinding, skipping ahead. Every time I see a new shot, I log it and move on. I can do Tivo one better, though. If I decide I don't like the framing of the shot, I get to re-shoot it on the spot. If only editing was this easy.

Which, of course, leads me to the point of the entire process. It's my job to be sure that we capture all of the pieces our editor is going to need to build the movie I want to make. One method is to shoot every scene from a set of standard angles: Put the actors in place. Shoot a wide. Shoot a medium. Shoot a close-up of actor A. Shoot a close-up of actor B. Move on to the next scene. Repeat.

That approach will make you a movie, but it probably won't make you a good one. It's the directors job -- shit, duty -- to put his or her stamp on every scene so that the edit can't help but reflect that director's plan.

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