Filmic Journeys #2: Cornered Episode 2: Training Days (2014)

So this episode had its moments…

For this episode I enlisted our fight choreographer Aaron Alexander to play the martial arts instructor to Adam Matrix. I had always wanted to shoot a training montage, as I hate how, in current martial arts movies, the fighter is already an expert with nothing new to learn, which flies in the face of even old-school Shaw Brothers kung fu films where the hero wouldn’t be strong enough to fight the main baddie until he became a better fighter himself. I shot those sequences in Bear Creek in Austin, but I should have scouted the area better, as we were eaten alive by bugs of every kind, and especially and particularly chiggers. I looked at the aesthetics of the location, but didn’t consider the time we shot at, the weather conditions (hot and humid), or the possible bugs that might be confronted. I did my best to keep the cast and crew happy, but this was probably the some of the most difficult days of the entire shoot. As always I was blessed with great actors to work with and a great crew and no one complained. I owed everyone pretty big for this day. Still do!

The scenes in the police chief’s office was shot in the supply closet of a local high school! We cleared out the closet, and then we decked out the desk with supplies from said closet. The camera angles and lenses made it seem like there was much more room than there actually was which was pretty cool. I wish I could have shot in an actual office location, but we made the best of it, which is really the primary challenge of making an extremely low budget/no budget film; how to get around the limitations of working with no money! But really, I wish I could have crowdfunded this, rather than make a go of it this way, but I would do that for my next production.

Filmic Journeys #1: Cornered Episode 1: Nowhere To Run (2014)

So here was my first real post-school production shot with an incredibly small budget. A martial arts web series that paid homage to the American martial arts films of the late 80’s and 90’s. We used our own DSLR cameras (Canon T3i) shooting in 1080 24p mostly using the kit lens. We were able to shoot at a western ghost town just outside of Austin, Texas, which brings me to my first lesson: If you are running a no-budget/low budget film, in order to maximize the look of your film, as you probably can’t build a set due to lack of an art director and a set crew, find an existing location. There’s usually one place most people can point to that has an interesting look, and this place was it. I was able to talk with the owners who were great and they let use the location for free. We shot the first episode there and all of the final as well. Lesson #2: I made sure that after every shoot things were put back EXACTLY as we found it. I always like to maintain a good relationship with the owners of any location we use. I’ve seen other productions mess up various locations and then piss off the owners so badly that they went from allowing no budget productions to not allowing them at all, and that’s a free avenue for local filmmakers now gone. I was determined to not be that guy! Our catering was made up of my wife and I spending all production nights making sandwiches and providing food for the next day. It was hell on the wallet, but waaaaaaayyyy cheaper than having anything catered in. I was determined to make sure our cast and crew, all working for free, were at least fed well (Let’s call that Lesson #3). And they had to be, because when we shot this episode the temperature was around 101 degrees. I swore after this to never again shoot a film in Texas during the summer. NEVER AGAIN. I had a nurse friend available during these shoot days as a precaution due to both heat and the stunts. I was lucky enough to have a friend, but you gotta make sure you have someone, preferably a nurse, to administer aid if needed. Bribe one however you can!

Since I wasn’t able to find a video editor, I had to take on those chores myself, and while I’m relatively happy with the end result, there are definitely parts I would tighten up. I also had to do the sound editing, and that’s a thankless job because if you do it right no one will notice but If you mess up they’ll all hear it. To this day I’m not happy with the punching and kicking noises and wished I had the better skill set back then to improve them, but it is what it is.

So when someone asks me what they need to do to make a film, I tell them the same thing: Go and do it. DSLR’s are cheap, but your cell phone can work just fine by today’s standards. It just takes some imagination and want to. As for problems? That’s what filmmaking is partly all about: tell your story and figuring out ways around the obstacles keeping you from doing so to the best of your ability.

When we get to Episode 2 I’ll go into some of the casting choices and that process, and how to turn a closet into a police chief’s office! And Bugs. Lots of Bugs.

Filmic Journeys

Hello! This is the first in a series of blog posts talking about the journey I have taken as a director, writer, and now a freelance videographer. I’ve learned some lessons along the way, and made some mistakes, but had some triumphs as well. Some posts will exist to simply impart my experiences, some will be more technical in nature, and others still be a little philosophical, but I’ll always stay in the realm of video and film! I’ll talk about them all, and if you have any questions feel free to post them in the comments below! I’ll either answer them or if its a big enough question create a blog post around that! I’m still making enough mistakes to have a lot to talk about, even at my (kinda young? Will you believe that?) age! Let’s get this started next week with my first post-school film!