The Old Man In the Woods         

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I mentioned in another post how some friends and I decided we wanted to make a movie together and how it lead to the movie I now have. Here’s the behind the curtains stuff.

When we first started, the idea had been that the three of us would work together on our films – three shorts that would join forces for an anthology feature. One of us had a proposed budget that he’d provided and bit by bit we started talking about ideas. It was going to be an anthology, that much we agreed on. And we agreed on the concept – something happening in the woods. And so as we all started to flesh out our ideas I began working on my story and the film’s wraparound narrative.

My idea had to do with an old man that lived in the woods and would leave out his treasures and horrors for wandering people to find and then he would punish those who became too nosy. It was a skeleton that needed meat but it was a good start. As for the wrap, I tied it into my story and had it extend so that in the end we had nods to all the stories. I liked the idea and the story but I am no good with writing a screenplay. Years back I wrote a couple for a friend but I don’t know that they were any help for anyone. Thankfully I was the director this time around so I just had to make it so that it was understandable to me and the cast. I wrote the screenplay and it became a constant work in progress as I honed it and worked on making it make sense. It’s funny looking back, how much changed in the screenplay but, I’ll get to that.

Now that I had something to work from I started to realize that I wasn’t the most comfortable having someone provide equipment for me to use. This was my project too and I needed to have skin in the game so I bought myself a camera and some accessories and started to remind myself what it was like to make a movie. I had never made one like this. When we shot movies, I was either actor or cameraman/director and we improved everything save one movie where I was just an actor. I was directing this time.

Yikes.

Next I had to cast this thing. My film focused on mostly young people with roles for three adults. I turned to my friend Paul and his family to fill my cast. He has a big family and a family that makes movies and is used to what that entails. After a lot of talking back and forth the cast started to take shape. The thing was though that I needed the core characters, the Old Man and the Old Woman. The Old Woman was going to be my friend’s mother but when her health turned we needed a replacement so I turned to another friend, who I decided would do the male and female roles to make it weird. With the cast set we all got together in the winter of 2016, a year after we had started working on the film project. One friend had shot most of his film by then and two of us were waiting to get going. During the waiting, I worked on my script and commissioned two friends to work on wardrobe and a mask for the film. Both are incredibly talented artists and I liked the idea of supporting local people and having them create something unique for the movie. Man, did they. The cloaks that one friend made were perfect and added a hint of mystery and creepiness to the characters and the mask that my other friend made was perfect as well and changed what I thought about the character. At one point the Old Man was going to be more mysterious and weird, with my friend, who is bald, wearing a bad fake wig with blood coming out from underneath it but by hiding the face you gain a power with the character in that ANYTHING could be beneath the mask. It was just what I needed. I set about distressing the cloaks and working on what I could before I got shooting. We did a run through of the script with the full cast in the winter of 2015 and I showed them the costumes. We made plans to start shooting as soon as the weather broke and next we had to find a forest.

Not an easy task.

There are a lot of woods around but I wanted to keep my project as secret as possible, the plan we had had initially, and I needed property that I could legally be on.

We started shooting in the early spring at a local church my friend whose family I was using for the cast went to. It was a great shot and we started to make a lot of hay and got a lot shot but we ran into the first of many problems. The sound was muddied because the church was near to a highway and scheduling was running into problems. Finding days where everyone was available and the weather was OK became a problem. We ended up switching locations to a friend’s family property but the fam was selling the property soon so we had to hurry. The problem was now that one of my actors had disappeared. He had some things going on and after waiting and waiting and waiting it was clear we had to move on. We tabbed another of my friend’s family members to join the other two young men in the cast and we got back to shooting. We shoot the first half of the film and I started re-thinking things. The person who was to be the villains of the movie was unavailable for a long stretch so I re-cast the characters with myself, knowing what I needed and how I wanted them to sound. It was weird but made the most sense. I also started to re-think the rest of the film. I wasn’t sure of the availability of the young girl I needed and so I started to re-think everything. My film began to change. The story grew more complicated and I needed more cast members. I turned to someone I know that acts and she reached out to some friends and I lucked out and found a young woman and two young men to fill out the cast. The age difference in the young woman I cast to what I envisioned made me re-examine the movie and what I was planning. The story changed. With the story change I started to drop lots of dialogue. I was asking people to act in something that I was still learning to shoot and the film was overly talky. That was the style I was going for but I didn’t want that to become a burden. As I moved along with the film it went to the second of three sections and I shot with the two new young men. I needed new woods now that my last site was unavailable to me so I went with some woods near where I live. Great spot but again, the sound. At this point though I needed to shoot and hope for the best. Schedules were getting more difficult and by now it was getting towards the fall of 2016 and I needed to get this thing done.

The new woods were great and we managed to shoot everything thanks to the cast members, who, having acting experience, were easy to direct. The problem came when some guys parked not far from where we were shooting (the woods were part of a former community center area). One of them asked me if I was ‘straight’ and I took that as asking if I wanted to buy some manner of drugs and knew that we needed to get out of there. When my wife showed to shoot some film – I was about to join the film as a character and needed a camera operator- we notified the father of one of the boys that we were moving spots (dad had been parked nearby as well for safety since I was a stranger to these guys) and got our stuff to move. The two young actors walked past the guys in the car, their costume masks on, and one was told that there’d be trouble if he wore his mask near them. We got right the heck out of there. The last thing I wanted for any of us is trouble from some idiots playing at being tough.

We got everything we needed in one day and so we moved forward and I started working to edit the film. As I did I found that I really liked that aspect of things. It helped me focus on what was working, what wasn’t, and as I put things together I saw that I needed to lose some things. They were fun moments but they didn’t help the film and I got the feel for the film’s rhythm. As I was cutting I found some temp music to put in, Creative Commons stuff, but I wanted an original score. I turned to one friend who plays Viola but she wasn’t able to do it. Another friend, the one who had made my mask, is also a talented musician and he was game to do the music.

Things were moving forward.

I found that the footage with the guys was muddy at points because of the ambient noise but I was at a point where I had to move forward. If I have one regret on the film, it’s the sound. I feel bad that there’s some issues here and there but within the parameters I had we made things work.

I was able to get my last two cast members together to shoot the end of the film in the fall of 2016 but scheduling and daylight were against us and the footage we got turned too dark too fast so we had to shelve things until the spring of 2017. I worked on the edit. I worked on the script. I worked on the things I could and I waited.

We finally found a date that worked to shoot and we got the last of us together and made a final push in Mid-Spring. With me in front of the camera and another friend operating it we could lock down the last of the film, the ending, and we shot the wraparound as well. I was afraid if we waited to shoot the wraparound that we’d lose the young woman so I wanted to get the footage in the can.

Done.

We were done.

WE were, but I wasn’t.

Editing was still fun and bit by bit the story came together. I cut the film down, I moved scenes around, and suddenly I had a movie. When my friend was able to come over to work on music he and I worked on music together and created some really fun and weird sounds to go with the film.

I got back to editing.

I got back to cutting.
I got back to moving.

And now I have a movie.

It has gone through a name change. Cast change. Script change. Location change. Music change. Crew change. It took two and a half years to come to life. Over and over I kept wanting to scrap things but couldn’t because people had trusted me to make this movie and I couldn’t betray their work on the film and trust in me so I pushed on.

We scrapped the big plans we had for the films – hiring an FX artist we knew to have a great big ending – but I am happy with what I have. It’s not perfect. I have regrets. But it’s my movie. I am surprised by what I made but I am happy.

I hope everyone else is too.

…c…

www.meepsheep.com

Zero/Sum

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When we look up we see sky.

We see freedom.

We see the bonds of the earth thrown free and the opportunity to soar just out of grasp.

We see an open tapestry that shows us the stars and the dreams beyond them.

It’s only when we’re caught up in their branches though do we see the trees.

Only then do we feel their clawing hands pulling us down, holding us close, grabbing us and whispering – No.

Stay.

The problem is that the trees see us leaving and don’t want us to go.

The problem is the sky is calling us but doesn’t need us.

The problem is that we want to abandon one for the other when we don’t quite see how we need both to be whole.

We need the dream and the reality.

We need the earth and the air both.

Ah, but we get lost in one and caught up in the other.

The same goes with the blinding glare of self-awareness and the need to spread it out to all we see.

We mock that feeling and casually call it being ‘woke’ but there is an awakening, an act of seeing the whole of yourself and where you stand and the briefest glimmer of where you want to be. You see too how you were before and when you do that there’s a shame in the past and in seeing the foolish, angry, hateful, and sometimes bigoted things. It wasn’t that we meant them, not in the deeper sense, but we said them just the same, wielding words like swords and flailing about to put on a show. Some of us did worse things but that, that sort of thing is a well we won’t look into today.

The thing with that awakening though is that now that we see the world differently we want the world to be different and to have always been different. We want the liberty that should be there but isn’t. The notion of social justice has grown barnacles, being used to describe a movement and then to admonish the same. At its heart it means that we need to level the field so that people don’t feel automatically hated, hunted, and harmed. It means that we see all people as human first and that we care enough about their humanity to want them to have at least what we have. It is meant to start what will be a long conversation about how we treat one another and treat this world.

It won’t be an easy conversation, which is why so many people hate and avoid it.

Any time you want to change the status quo you will get the same anger, fear, and backlash.

The thing is though that it isn’t fair to turn your awakened eye upon all you see and damn it outright.

Context is still part of the equation.

As is the sheer fact that not everything done is meant as a slight.

It can feel that way and I am not here to tell anyone not to feel pain at the way that people of color were portrayed in the past. I am not here to tell anyone that the way that gays were portrayed was OK. I am not here to tell anyone that the casual way that trans people and people who crossdress were portrayed was OK. I am not here to whitewash, literally or figuratively, the past and to say ‘get over it’.

No.

Don’t.

You shouldn’t have to.

Never get over it.

But we can’t always wield the past like a weapon against itself. It’s convenient, but not fair.

Some things are absolutes – genocide, murder, rape, slavery – none of those things should ever have been part of our fabric – but it is our nature to fear and distrust that which is not ‘us’. That is who we are as a species. It comes out in casual ways and in caustic ways. From the moving across the street to the hateful words spewed. It will take a long time for us to start smiling at one another and welcoming one another and not distrusting each other. A lot of time and a lot of work.

Keep working.

It may feel like banging your head against the wall but while you may not change the hearts of this generation you will start changing the hearts of the future.

Show them the world you didn’t get to see.

A world that was hidden before.

Don’t point your finger and point out every shame people should feel, screaming as you do.

Point it out and tell us why we could have done better and why we need to do better.

And that’s the thing.

Patience.

And it sucks, and I am sorry that you have to wait for the world to change so you can feel more accepted.

It isn’t fair, if fairness can ever be said to be a true thing, but it’s the way it is.

Change comes slowly.
WE change slowly.

It’s not about being passive.

It’s not about accepting that things are as they are.

It’s about learning and teaching.

It’s about knowing that yes, we have a lot of work to do, but that you are going to help.

It’s about saying – that portrayal is lacking/offensive/hurtful/wrong and I want to tell you why. And tell us why and keep telling us. Don’t shame us into seeing what you see but help us to see it. Help us wake.

Don’t scream it.

The message is lost in a scream.

Tell us.

Over and over.

Until we finally shut up and listen.

Until we start to see that wow, I am not sure how I feel about that.

Until, how did they get away with that?

Until, that can’t happen again.

I wish that it was as easy as showing the world our true selves and being accepted and embraced.

But it isn’t.

It never has been that easy.

It never will be.

It’s work.

And we’re all going to have to work on ourselves if we’re ever going to soar.

We cannot forget the ground where we stand, the place we come from, but we have better things, greater things, grander things ahead of us when we finally choose to change.

When we all finally decide to wake.

…c…

www.meepsheep.com

That One Time I Used To Do Stuff

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As much of a movie person as I am I can’t say I ever had aspirations to direct, act, or really be involved seriously with film. I have an awful memory, I am not a leader, and I can barely balance a pencil so forget a movie budget. I am a film voyeur, not participant. I will say though that there was a time when I loved making movies. From about seventeen to nineteen some friends and I would make the most ridiculous and (in retrospect) offensive movies and we loved it. My main friend and I were movie geeks who lived and breathed films and loved to quote to one another from them. When he got a PXL 2000, the world changed. It was a device put out for kids which allowed them to film for up to five minutes in black and white on a cassette tape. It still blows my mind. They were crude but there was a beauty to the device and the magic it could create and we loved it. We made about half a dozen films with it, all horror and all lost now, and my friend even knew how to do blood effects in black and white (good old choco syrup!) and for the first one we did together he even did the fishing line tied around things to create ghost effects. It was incredible to have a sleep over and shoot all day and night and have something finished to look at when we were done.

We graduated from PXL to VHS when my folks bought the family a camcorder which I became the sole user of, which I think was expected. Now we could shoot in color and time was no constraint. We made improv comedies that ‘borrowed’ from our favorite films, mostly Scorsese’s urban dramas, which, though oddly charming, were way too long in their run times. When I was seventeen I was desperate to get into a horror film class at the local community college and jumped through the appropriate hoops to get into it. The final project for the class was to write a paper or make a film. I am pretty sure you know which one I went with. We made a strange film about a young guy who meets a serial killer and they become the best of pals. It was weird, silly, and it was totally us. I was but an actor this time around and was wholly awful due to my having to remember lines, but we had an amazing time, came away with some interesting stories, and I made one of the best friends I had as a young adult. Alas, the film wasn’t finished in time for the class and I took a WOMP which I had to make up.

My filmmaking days ended in my early twenties. The friend that I made all of those films with exited my life and I just didn’t have friends that either wanted to make movies or who I wanted to make movies with. I turned my focus to writing and here we are.

Only…it’s funny how the wheel comes back around from time to time.

Around the end of 2014/Beginning of 2015 a simple idea brought me back to my teen years in the best of ways. A friend made a proposal – he had some extra cash and thought – what better way to use it than for us, three of us friends who do a podcast together, to make a film together. We talked and talked and the idea became – let’s do an ANTHOLOGY together. That was the match that lit the inferno that has lead us to where we’re at, two and a half years later – two of the three shorts finished, one gearing up to shoot and another, a last-minute addition, moving towards the cameras. I never expected to get back behind the camera, let alone in front of it, but that’s where this brought me. There’s more to tell about my film itself, and more for me to say, so I’ll leave that for another post, but it’s been an incredible journey. I love that the spark to all of this came from a friend and that I got to work with friends on the film. I got to be a part of one friend’s film and had another friend (as well as many others) to be in my film. I love that I got to craft my own process for things and to find my way through it. More than anything I love that I stuck to it, even when I wanted to quit, I couldn’t because I owed it to the people who had worked on it to see it through.

I can’t say anyone will like the film, nor whether the people who gave their time and talents to work on it will be happy that they were involved but I am happy with what I have, I am shocked to see it done, and I am anxious to see what happens next.

http://www.meepsheep.com