It's been several moons since i've even looked at this blog. Time to get it up and running again as it's the one thing I can do over the summer to keep dishing out some neat factoids, or toss out some movie suggestions to you fine folks. Well, those who read this anyway. To you, thanks.
So last year I was at a film festival over the summer. The Film One Fest is an international film festival held in the Atlantic Highlands. I was invited by some friends to check it out with them, and we had a great time. The whole festival is outdoors, where they have live music, a few vendor stands, some good eats and of course, films, projected on a big screen. On a nice summer evening, its awesome. The only thing that really caught me off guard were the quality of the films.
Some were great, some were good, some fell into that category of "cute" (which I'm not sure how that makes me feel at the moment). My biggest gripe was that some of them were not...really...good. At all. Now, I know this is all objective, as all art is, but these were barely films. A film is an creative artistic expression. A couple of shots of your dog playing in the ocean is not. I'm sorry. It's just not. Yes that was an actual submission and if for any reason the person who made that finds their way to this post well, then...i'm sorry. You're dog was cute, but an artistic expression that was not. Needless to say (in a non egotistical way) I thought I could do better.
I'm not the best writer, I know this. But I won't force a story. I gave it some thought here and there but nothing serious. As the summer continued, and I took more and more trips to the beach I fell in love with the drive. There is a cute/fun little back road that winds through Navesink (which is extra fun in the mini) where I pass this tiny little convenient store. I loved it. I had never been, but it looked so old school Americana it was hard for me not to find it charming. I filed it in the backlog my brain in the part that stores interesting locations to use for future video shoots. So I passed this store, and spent days on the beach.
Now the one obstacle I had (and i'm sure you can all agree) is that the festival submissions had to be under two minutes in length. So from a story standpoint, it had to be super simple, insanely abstract, or shots of a dog playing in the ocean. One day, while laying in the sun, a story starts to form in my head. Where do original stories come from? I don't know. They appear? Is that fair to say. This story wasn't crafted, at least initially. It just happened. Kind of.
With a location in mind, I started to think about what sort of conflicts would work in that type of setting (basically, I was doing a story telling exercise that I assign in TV1). Remember all story is conflict. We need a protagonist and an antagonist. Conflcit, an exciting climax and resolution...in under two minutes. I thought back to my associations with convenient stores. Slurpee's with dad as a kid. Wawa hoagie-fest. Quick meals on a lunch break from a crappy job. There was, on more than one occasion, a time where I went to a 7-11 and had some grungy looking "kid" ask for me to buy him cigarettes. I put kid in quotes because I'm pretty sure I was a kid too, but I guess I looked older. I always felt really uncomfortable about it. What does this loser want? First off, "dude, no." Second, it's illegal. And third, "dude, I already said no". Now I have to go inside and buy my toquito while you wait out here and judge me. How dare you. I should just take your money and run out the back. Or buy you like 9 toquitos and say "deal with it", or "what are you going to do? Call the cops?". Punk.
So with that tiny rant in mind, I go from feeling normal, to inquisitive, to annoyed, to angry, and then (through fantasy) satisfied via redemption. Perhaps the same thing a character in a short film would go through? Ehhhhhhh? See what I did there! Maybe I'm not so bad at writing after all.
So there we were on set at the Red Store. The first shot is usually the longest one of the day for me. Even if I know what I want getting started is such a big mental hurdle. It would only make sense that I pick the most complicated shot of the day to start. The sliding shot of the counter was the opening shot of the story and the first shot of the day. It was rough. On top of a long set-up, I discovered while editing that the shot itself was unusable. We took it twice, and both times the sliding track was in frame. While shooting I remember it looking like a big reflection off the counter, so I didn't think anything of it. The shot itself was supposed to feature blown out whites in the window, and warm 35K interiors near the register. The lighting was awesome, but I messed up the shot. I big encouraging factor as to why I will be looking to invest in bigger playback monitors for location shoots.
The day was smooth sailing from there. We had tons of traffic to deal with, as the sidewalk was not as wide as I remembered when I had scouted originally. We basically hung in the road, and made traffic work around us. The real obstacle here came in post when it was time to mix audio. The cars where a nightmare, and extending them through shots, or grabbing audio from clips not even used was a must. It took a lot time, and i'm still only 90% happy with it. At least the dialogue sounds clean. We used two mics on this shoot, one shotgun on the camera, and a boom. The final audio is a mix of the two, with other foley sounds to fill in some gaps. There was some ADR (advanced dialogue recording) too. About a week after the shoot, I made my brother and sister in-law record their lines at a Memorial day BBQ. They were less than thrilled but it what I was missing to make things sound good.
The light was our friend, as we used 150W (35K) lights inside to contrast against the bright exteriors. The sun was helpful too, as we had the day I wanted (hot, summery) and a overhang to kill some shadows. We ended up using simple reflectors and diffusers to bounce light were we wanted, and screen where it needed to look cleaner. For one shot we even brought out one of the 150W lights out to use as a fill. I wasn't concerned with the look of the added light, as I knew in post that I was going to color grade on the warmer side.
As I mentioned post production was kind of a grab bag of chaos. Some shots were almost unusable (see photo above) and others had audio issues. The one thing audio related I didn't concern myself with was appropriate scene calling. Syncing audio was a nightmare because each take was called as "another scene" or "same thing but again". Funny in retrospect and it was nothing to be upset about but it did make syncing take much longer than it should have.
So the final edit was 3:35 seconds. The festival entry needed to be no longer than 2. Oh joy. Not to mention I needed original music. And a defining title sequence. I reached out to my brother to see what he had in terms of score. He sent me a demo of a song he recorded on his iPhone. I dug it, he met up with some people to record it professionally. Two days later I had the songs, and they fit perfectly.
I had some ideas for the logo, but my drawing skills had taken a sharp declined since high school. I did some mock-ups knowing I wanted the title to incorporate a unique look. However, the title of the film was still up in the air. We worked under the production name "Smokes" but the general consensus was that it didn't seem to fit. In the same vein, I changed it to "Cigs" (since that what the character says) and asked a very talented student to see what they could do with it. After a few more additional mock ups, we selected what we thought was the best one and scanned the image to be redrawn in Photoshop. Still, while the title was unique I wanted a visually interesting way to introduce it. As a big fan of sound effects over title cards, I thought that syncing with the production logo would make a nice edit. I foleyed lighting of a match, and inhaling /exhaling from a cigar. It sounded great. The foley was mixed and paired with digital smoke to reveal the title using simple screening and layering techniques.
The video edits were simple, the audio clean up was a pain in the ass. Using a variety of filters in Premiere I was able to clean it up and make it sound decent. The difference between the two edits was the rhythm of the narrative which I am a big fan of finding and let play out (in what feels to me at least) like a more natural pace. I never a force an edit, and there were some shots I just wanted to let breathe. Hang on them for a moment longer, let them be. Which is why I feel the Directors Cut is my preferred version over the "festival edit". It feels less rushed and you're able to sit with the characters longer. Granted, it's only 1 minute and 16 seconds longer, but it feels like a world of difference.
So at the end of the day, we have this short film. And I say 'we' because as we all know, it can't be done alone. While I wrote and directed there were so many people that helped this become a reality. Without them this would not have been made, and I happily share this film with them. And because of the their help, It has been selected to be screened at the FilmOne Fest this summer, a feat which I am very proud of. So to my brothers, thank you for traveling from other states to help. To my students/crew. Thank you for volunteering your time, sacrificing a weekend, and helping as much as you did. It means so much to me. I hope you can all be a part of the screening on Saturday July 18th. The event is a lot of fun. An outdoor screening of 50-60 films (all around two minutes remember) live music, tons of eats and art vendors. Grab a lawn chair, a blanket, and some friends and join us under the stars where we watch the fruits of our hard earned, demanding, rewarding, artistic, inspiring, motivational, educational, team effort.
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It's Mr. Leonard. Teacher, Videomaker, Professional Goofball