Jumpin' The Turnstyles

Alms For The Poor

Sweet Mother: Free Activation Series No.1

Played 135 times

Music for the Weekend: Jumpin’ the Turnstyles by Alms for the Poor / DJ Z-Trip & DJ Radar

My brain feels like this song. Really. It’s been a hell of week. Perhaps I might’ve taken on too much, I haven’t gotten much sleep as I’ve got some big deadlines looming. Been writing an eight-episode TV bible for a noir crime show that uses time travel. That’s right. Time travel. Never easy, because there’s so many loopholes / wormholes to navigate, and I want to get the science right. So while my days have been spent writing, my nights have been spent studying quantum physics, particle / string theory, uncertainty principles and predestination paradoxes, singularity, the heat death of the universe and Schrodinger’s Cat among many other things. Because if the internet proves one thing, it’s that everyone loves cats.

Also this week I had an amazing opportunity to meet two very important directors who have had a profound impact on my life. I got to hang out with Steve James, director of Hoop Dreams and Andrew Davis, the director of The Fugitive. Both men were incredibly humble, despite having created some of the most powerful and influential films in cinema history, and what really struck me was that they were infinitely curious and asked questions with the same energy of a debut filmmaker embarking on their first project. It was incredibly inspiring, and I made two very good friends who I know will be there when I need some advice, an extra set of eyes, and a solid opinion. I was honored and humbled, and aspire to follow in their footsteps of creating art without compromise.


Andrew Davis, yours truly and Steve James. Chi-city represent.

Have a great weekend!

Making of 7x6x2, Part 2: Monsters

For Part One of this series, click here. To see the film in its entirety, click here.

We didn’t waste any time once we got into Los Angeles, the clock was ticking and we now had six days to design, build, dress and cast the film before shooting. We were met with many skeptics and naysayers, but we plowed ahead with aplomb and confidence.

It’s impossible to say our “biggest concern was” with this production because everything counts, but we knew the component that would likely require the most time and resources would be the seven monsters that surrounded the campsite, and the downed mech robot that would comprise the campsite itself. We started with the monsters.

The word “monster” itself is a loaded word, and we didn’t want to create one-dimensional baddies. All animals are complex, with social structures, languages and rituals. Our script revolved around a pack leader and his clan, so our first goal was to find our leader and then design everything around him. Our good fortune and friendships brought us to one Mr. Paradox Pollack.

Paradox is a fight and motion design maestro - and founder of LA’s brilliant Alien Fight Club - who has worked on the highest profile films imaginable, from Thor to his playing the lead vampire in I Am Legend. Paradox is aptly named, as he is one of the most gentle and generous artists I’ve ever met, and yet he has an uncanny ability to tap an inner rage and ferociousness that gave both Paul and I chills. We brought Paradox aboard and he immediately went to work, bringing in six of his colleagues to complete the tribe. Within 36 hours, Paradox and his tribe, beyond designing motion choreography, had created an entire goddamned culture and language of the Rock People, bringing Paul’s two-dimensional illustrations to vivid life. Paradox had given each member a name, a skillset, a backstory and a series of hand gestures that served as battle communication. They operated as an organism, feeding off of one another, moving in concert like a tightly wound coil. It was simply brilliant to behold, here’s a little video I shot of Paradox and his tribe interacting with Paul in Griffith Park, in character:

While 99% of these details would never be seen onscreen, they manifested themselves as true menace from the characters. Our screenplay had a much more complex interaction between the Rock People and Bryce, but our shooting schedule would not allow it. Because the majority of the film took place at night, we basically had two nights and a few daytime hours to shoot - about 18 hours in total. Factor in time to get the Rock People made up and prepped, we really had no choice but to strip them down to their bare minimum. But the characterization was key - these creatures had to be a real threat, and this is where Paradox and his tribe’s preparation really shone through. I am forever indebted to Paradox for the sheer amount of heartfelt work he put in, and I look forward to working with him again in the near future - he’s got some amazing, world-altering, magical ideas up his sleeves.

With the Rock People actors and performances taking form, it was time to turn our attention to the design and look of the creatures. We enlisted the talents of creature company MORB-X, headed up by Eric Fox, who has his own SyFy show Foxy & Co and was a much loved winner on Face Off. We called Eric and he was on board immediately - he had to, because we basically gave him a 48 hour deadline to create seven creatures on a vaporized budget, and he went to work in his studio. We sent him Paul’s original concept drawings:

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And 24 hours and 500+ lbs of clay later, this is what Eric came back to us with, which blew our minds:

photo 1

We gave Eric the green light to build the seven creatures, including their hands, feet, and radio controlled faces. Despite the level of insane detail Eric was putting in to the makeups, we also knew that our Rock People, because of our budgetary restrictions, would also have to be built up in post-production, specifically CGI and sound. I’d never done CGI work before save for basic plates and mattes, and we’d referenced the creatures in the brilliant film Attack the Block as our desired effect, where bare minimum highlights would be made. This was our way of working around our budget to create the effects we wanted, the effects we could achieve within our limitations. We took the footage to Platige in New York City, and they darkened the creatures, lit up their eyes, and added small but powerful facial movements to the creatures.

Chris Stangroom, my Director of Sound on Lilith, went to work at Howard Bowler’s HOBO Studios in NYC on manipulating the original creature sounds that Paradox and the Tribe were making, and added more layers of animal sounds to the Rock People, including his own voice (I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve made Chris scream into a microphone). In our edit we limited the screen time of our creatures to very brief, quick extreme close-ups, which allowed us to highlight Eric’s sculpture work with punctuated emphasis. The final combination of character, performance, image, sound, music, edit and VFX helped us create a threatening sevenfold antagonist that was believable and palpable, all on a four-figure budget, all done in six days.

During this week we had to also bring our human characters to life, and before us stood the daunting task of building a giant robot in the middle of a desert. We hadn’t received our prototype camera from Sony, which was being shipped in from Japan. Every night, after an 18-20 hour day working with Paul, Gary, Elisa and our core team, I put my head to my pillow, trying desperately to figure out the puzzle of what lay before us.

To be honest, I was scared. More to come.

Making of 7x6x2, Part 1: The Beginnings

By now I hope you’ve had a chance to the see the short film I co-directed with graphic novelist Paul Pope. If you haven’t, you can see it by clicking here.

In the coming posts I’ll take you through the journey of the film, which is quite unorthodox but it’ll demonstrate one way to get a film made. The “x” factor in all of this, of course, is that Paul Pope is someone who film companies actively want to work with. He’s worked for almost three decades creating groundbreaking original stories (or “content” or better yet “Intellectual Property / IP” as the suits like to say), and he’s built a loyal and diverse following of readers over those three decades. That hard work and visibility invites opportunities, and it is well earned, no fluke, and beyond simple luck. Paul is a hot commodity in film for good reason, and he did it without nepotism or industry connections, so he can afford to be choosy about who adapts his material.

Most of us are not in that position to have people approach us to adapt our work, in large part because we don’t have a body of work that’s been through the gauntlet of distribution. Our goal therefore is to create that body of work, either on our own or through collaboration with the creative friends and people we do have access to. Just as Paul put brush to paper many years ago to create his first graphic novel, so too must we put pencil to paper, write ‘fade in’ and create a body of work that makes people want to work with us. It must be inventive, beautifully crafted and with something unique to say. It must be your voice, your talent, your worldview.

I’ve been fortunate to be friends with Paul for the past six years. Our relationship started professionally as I approached him, as a complete stranger, to option his book The One Trick Rip-Off as a feature film. Paul is very guarded with his work, as he should be, and it’s not his first time at the rodeo in terms of people / studios wanting to adapt his graphic novels. He’s been through development hell (he was a co-director for the proposed Kavalier and Clay adaptation before it went into turnaround), had promises made to him that were not kept, and he’s got the healthy dose of skepticism which is absolutely required when navigating the media business world.

Paul really liked my take on The One Trick Rip-Off, and more importantly, we both liked each other as men and respected each other as artists. I’d written some time ago that when I go into business meetings I’m not looking for money or a product, I’m looking to determine if this will be a good relationship. Paul’s the same way. We clicked, and over the years our conversations about the progress on The One Trick Rip-Off are always couched in great food, life hurdles, Battling Boy and Lilith, and whatever it is we’re feeling at the time. There’s a tremendous amount of fraternity and trust there.


Paul entrusted me with his baby, and we’re making it the right way. Four years of development and counting…

This sets up Paul being approached by Tribeca Films to make a short film. Tribeca is an extremely progressive company dedicated to independent cinema and pushing the envelope, and they saw the same qualities in Paul’s work. Paul had an idea of a space western, which is natural to Paul as they’re his two favorite genres. It was a great idea - a man surrounded by seven monsters has a gun with six bullets to deal with them - and it was prefect for the short film format because its core mechanic was simple, but its psychological depth was beautifully textured and vast.

Paul had been through pre-production before on Kavalier and Clay, so he had a good idea of what it took to make a film, but probably one of the greatest qualities of Paul Pope is that despite his overwhelming and otherworldly artistic talent, he’s humble enough to step back and say he doesn’t know something and wants to learn. He felt he needed to co-direct 7x6x2, to go through the baptism of fire with a trusted collaborator. He’d been enjoying our collaboration on The One Trick Rip-Off, and phoned me up. I flew out to NYC and we sat with producers Gary Krieg and Matt Spangler and talked cowboys on Mars.

Instant chemistry. Tribeca, Paul and myself were all on the same page from the outset, and we wanted to make this happen. It was an ambitious project, as it required the trappings of the sci-fi and western genres - alien planet, seven creatures, firearms, and a high level of production design to bring Paul’s universe to life. The budgets available to Tribeca simply wouldn’t allow that. I did many drafts of Paul’s original script to not only make it more cinematic, but also make it more affordable. After many rounds we came upon a script that was feasible, but we were at an impasse with money, and had to bench the film until we came up with an idea of how to fund it properly.

In the meantime, I’d done an interview with Blackmagic Media about Lilith and the interview, which was done over three days between Chicago and Australia, was amazing. I’d hit it off with the Blackmagic folks and we talked for hours. One of our conversations was about their development of small 4k cameras, and at that time Blackmagic was still in their R&D phase. In passing conversation I told Gary Krieg at Tribeca about the cameras and he being the genius he is, came up with a plan to get 7x6x2 financed.

This leads to a conversation about getting short films financed, and one way to do this is through sponsorships and product placement. A ton of short films are being funded this way, and it requires a deft business and artistic hand to balance the needs of art and commerce. It’s vital to learn this balance because it is the story of film finance, and you will face this battle every step of the way with all of your projects. You must find a way to get money for your films, and equally find a way to preserve your original vision. This is the core of the movie business.

Through Tribeca, Gary and Tribeca co-founder / super producer Jane Rosenthal got the ear of Sony, who were gearing up to launch their new flagship digital cinema camera, the F55. They’d already commissioned multiple shorts that were already in production all over the world, but there was a little bit of funds left over in their budget. Gary asked Paul and I to put together a mood document that would show not only what we envisioned, but also how we could showcase the technical capabilities of the new camera. Our story was perfect for testing a camera - hostile remote location, extreme low light, slow-motion, intense blasts of light, and day and night photography. We included in our mood document references to not only Paul’s work but also the paintings of Andrew Wyeth and screencaps of a variety of movies from Attack the Block to Once Upon a Time in the West to Achipatpong Weerasethakul’s brilliant Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. We submitted the document along with the revised screenplay and we waited. This was on October 24th and we knew that Sony was launching their camera with their array of short films on their lot on December 6th. It was a very, very, VERY small window.

On October 26th, we got the green light from Sony. They would provide us with the camera, technical support and a small budget. Key word was small, as it was the remains of their overall short film budget in their department. But it was more money than we originally had, and so we decided to go for it. On October 27th we flew out of New York to Los Angeles - just missing Hurricane Sandy by a few hours - with the shoot scheduled for November 3rd and 4th. Our producer Matt Spangler was grounded by Sandy, so Gary, Paul and I were down a man, which was frightening considering what we had to face.

We had seven days to prepare. Seven days to plan our shots, storyboard the film, find our crew, our actors, our locations, test a camera that was still in R&D, choreograph our alien tribe, build seven prosthetic alien suits, a crashed mech robot, and oh yeah do it all on a VERY small budget. After photography we’d have two weeks to edit, find vendors to execute our CGI elements, do an original score, color correct, sound design and mix, and deliver by Thanksgiving.

At that point all we could do was trust one another, trust the story, and let the film guide us. We’d partnered with Native Fims in LA, and their line producer, Elisa Morse, became a great ally in our battle against time. She met us at our hotel on the first night, and we got to brass tacks right away. In the middle of our meeting, a fortune teller came to our table and offered to tell our futures. I was dog tired, having flown from Chicago to New York to LA, and the time zone was not helping my fatigue as I’d been storyboarding during the entire flight. But at that point I was hallucinatory and got my fortune read. The lady made me put a rabbit puppet on my hand and she looked in my eyes and said “you will make magic in this next few weeks.” Elisa took a pic of that moment.

Fortune teller.

I took it as a good sign. We were going to need all the help we could get.

comicsalliance:

7X6X2: PAUL POPE’S NEW LIVE-ACTION, SPACE-WESTERN SHORT FILM

Graphic novelist Paul Pope has been busy of late. He released two graphic novels in 2013: Battling Boy and The Death of Haggard West, and another, The Rise of Aurora West, is on the way in September.

And yet the prolific artist found the time to work with film director and writer Sridhar Reddy on a brand new short film7x6x2, based on one of Pope’s graphic novellas. The story is sort of a sci-fi Western, a bit of a take on the effects of war, and absolutely full of nefarious, ape-like creatures

SEE THE VIDEO AT COMICS ALLIANCE (BECAUSE FOR SOME REASON IT DOESN’T WORK ON TUMBLR!)

Short films really compel you to think with a story editor’s mind, and it is important to remain in that mindset as you transition from short to feature filmmaking. It’s basically an incubator where you can experiment. You don’t have to mortgage your house to go make something that people will notice.

Sridhar Reddy

We talk to the 7X6X2 filmmaker about going to film school and why short films matter

(via tribecafilm)

Big Man With A Gun

Nine Inch Nails

The Downward Spiral

Played 129 times

Music for the weekend: Big Man With a Big Gun by Nine Inch Nails.

As I was writing about 7x6x2 for today’s and next week ‘s posts, I got word from a friend that there was another mass shooting in Seattle. I found it difficult to focus on film.

Two mass shootings on American campuses in one month. This is a time for sadness and introspection. Anti-gun advocates are foaming at the mouth, and while I favor strict gun control and abhor the NRA and their cronies, I also know removing guns will not solve the deeper issue at hand.

There is a deep-seeded wrath boiling in America. I can’t tell if it is the product of a struggling economy that leads people to feel all is lost or if there is a greater cultural shift at play here. The shooters are almost all exclusively male, Caucasian, and relatively privileged. Their grief is not over lost jobs or economic disparity. Their wrath is personal, directed and rationalized by some twisted logic. Being ignored. Denied. All solved with a spray of bullets.

It’s too easy to label these men as pure psychopaths who went crazy with a gun. It’s too easy to blame the gun lobbies. It’s the mind behind the man with the big gun. A violent alchemy. That truth is like drinking battery acid. But it has to be done.

There is a war being fought, and it’s not between lobbies, genders, or races. Those are just outward manifestations of the epic battle within ourselves, where decency and civility are being massacred by fear, loathing and cynicism. This is our real battle, and we must come to each others’ aid in this grave time of need.

The irony is that this is the anniversary of D-Day, where selfless soldiers put their lives on the line for the greater human good. To honor that spirit, we must fight our inner demons and come to the core of our own evil. Until then it doesn’t matter if someone has a gun, ball peen hammer, or a fork in their hands, their capability for mayhem will always be realized.

Have a safe weekend.

You On The Run

The Black Angels

Directions To See A Ghost

Played 173 times

Music for the Weekend: You On The Run by The Black Angels.

Finally back home after two weeks of work travel, been listening to this record nonstop during my travels. There’s something about traveling through America that calls for psychedelia. The ever-changing horizon, weirdos and shutouts peppering towns, paranoia-induced-love and love-induced-paranoia. People eating giant chicken fried steaks and washing it all down the gullet with a 48 oz. Diet Coke. Post fat-carb-sugar haze. Excess is a drug, and America is addicted.

I know between mass shootings, a misogynistic rape culture, racist basketball team owners who still get to make $1.9 billion in profit as a “punishment,” the government lending to Wall Street at 0.75% interest while student loans are being raised to 4.66%, and a gun law in Georgia that allows people to pack heat in churches, schools and just about anywhere except the state capitol building where the law was written, it can be all too easy to say that America is pretty fucked up right now. But I’m pretty sure ever since we landed on Plymouth Rock and spread disease and pestilence, people have been saying that America is going up shit’s creek.

But I was watching folks in the airport and I can’t help but think we’re actually there. We’re up shit’s creek. We’ve thrown in the towel, officially given up. Everything’s purchased on credit cards. Surcharges are being passed on to the customer and people just shrug because it’s a few dollars more to go in the credit card bill. People are eating themselves out of their own trousers, and just letting it all hang out because who the fuck cares anymore. Bad tattoos. Terrible English. A guy watching ‘Crank 2’ on his iPad because someone out there has to keep the ‘Crank’ franchise alive. Poorly made stuff being sold at a premium, people paying more for tuna salad that is gluten-free becuase, you know, fish is just packed with gluten. Five minutes of My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and I’m wondering what I’m actually “learning” on The Learning Channel. I’m gonna learn me somethin’ about polygamists, breeders and inbreeders. Yay. Go America.


The Learning Channel, once the pride and joy of NASA.

We’re turning into a nation of morons, and we seem to be cool with it, because we’ve decided the smart folks are out to get us and dammit if I wanna be stoopid then it’s my Constitutional right to be a fucknut. On the other side is an educational and economic elite that keeps threatening to move to Sweden and Canada if someone takes away their heirloom craft homebrew kombucha.

I don’t know. I’m not perfect and I have my moments of stupidity and selfishness, but I’d like to think I have some basic common sense. Maybe we’ve always been fucked up, and it’s part of our hard wiring to both complain and defend. Was there ever a “perfect time” in humanity? Probably not. But the tenets of our teachings about civilization is that every day we’re supposed to work towards progress, equality and the minimization of suffering whenever we can. Over thousands of years, through trial and error, we realized that hey - genocide is a bad thing, racism is detrimental, and looting money doesn’t do anyone any good. And yet it seems we’re doing just as much of it now as before, we’re just finding better ways to cover it up or justifying our selfish actions. We’ve managed to distract ourselves onto the precipice of oblivion.

We’re all fuckwit organisms, all of us, me included. Self-preservation is pretty hard-wired in all creatures, but the point of civilization was to look out for the person next to you first, before yourself. Somewhere along the lines we flipped that script.

Let’s do something this weekend. Go find a complete stranger and tell them you’re glad to be on this planet with them, and then ask them to tell that to another stranger. They might call you an asshole and to fuck off but that’s their insecurity speaking. Deep down they’ll appreciate it. And if you don’t want to do that then select some of the people who are following you on your Tumblr and write them a short letter, letting them know that in some strange, weird internety kind of way, you’re there for them. We’ve all been in those dark places, feeling lonely, misunderstood. We may not know exactly what is going on in other people’s lives but we can let them know that, despite not knowing what to say, we’re really thankful we have people around us who care enough to listen.

I know I judge harshly, and that is wrong. It’s easy to judge and complain, and harder to look into oneself to be the agent of change we need to be. It starts and ends with empathy, and not sympathy. Sympathy is detached, judgmental and pushes us apart. Empathy is what brings us together, puts us on level playing fields, and allows us to respect our individual positions. We can be better, bigger people, always. It is our greatest art project.

Have a great weekend.

You should be angry. You must not be bitter. Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. It doesn’t do anything to the object of its displeasure. So use that anger. You write it. You paint it. You dance it. You march it. You vote it. You do everything about it. You talk it. Never stop talking it.

Maya Angelou (1928-2014)

If this is not the perfect distillation of what it means to be a political artist, a conscious artist, a counter-culture artist, an agent of change, then I do not know what is. Anger is so often shunned because we are either scared or made to feel ashamed of it, or led to believe it is illegal. It is not. Anger is a fundamental, universal human right. Anger is powerful, anger is beautiful, anger is real. As Dr. Angelou says, it is bitterness that is dangerous, it is bitterness that leads to cynicism and wrath. Anger is altogether something different. It is a shout against injustice, it is an expression of courage. It is, when couched within civility, the greatest agent of change in human history. It is our voices at their most naked and honest.

Live it.

RIP.

Everybody Wants To Rule The World

Tears For Fears

20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection: Best Of The '80s

Played 269 times

Music for the Weekend: Everybody Wants to Rule the World by Tears for Fears.

Been traveling all week (sorry for the lack of posts) and I heard this song playing in the airport as I bought a sandwich and bag of potato chips for the flight. Was standing in the checkout line behind ten other travelers. The lady in front of me was taking some Advil and had a copy of US Weekly tucked under her arm. The woman behind the register, who looked to be of Ethiopian descent, wore a Chicago Blackhawks jersey and she looked smokin’ hot in it. A guy was talking on his cell phone about he never got that email but you could tell he was lying his ass off. It was one of those magical moments where it all made sense. Hard to explain, but it was kind of awesome. I had an epiphany of sorts.

Some great news on the horizon as we’ve officially been given a release date by Tribeca Films for my short film 7x6x2 that I co-directed with Paul Pope. Doing some press for it this week, and I’ll finally be free to talk about how we made it and some behind-the-scenes stuff soon. Next month there should be some big news regarding a theatrical release of Lilith, it’s been a crazy battle and it seems there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. I won’t hold my breath until it actually happens, but after three years of going back and forth with my distributor, it looks like my diligence has paid some dividends. If all works to plan, it’ll mean I’ve got two films releasing this summer, and we’re still awaiting word on the feature film I’m an executive producer on, Chuck Hank and the San Diego Twins.

For the past ten months I’ve been in the business of film, drowning in fundraising and distribution. My evenings and early mornings are spent writing scripts, and I’m itching to get back behind the camera to direct. With the LA feature I was hired to direct being delayed, I’ve basically greenlit my own micro-budget feature project, which I hope to shoot in August/ September. Right now its working title is 37b, and it’s shaping up to be a great script. I’m going to spend the summer working with my six actors for almost two months of rehearsal, where we’ll essentially rewrite the screenplay together, then we’ll do a one-week shoot. Should be fun and interesting. The majority of this summer’s posts will be about the development and shooting of this film, and it should provide great insight as we’re essentially starting from scratch. Follow along and you’ll get a blueprint of how to make a micro-budget film, soup to nuts.

I think the lyrics of this song encapsulate best what I’m feeling, my aforementioned epiphany:

It’s my own design,
It’s my own remorse.
Help me to decide.
Help me make the
Most of freedom and of pleasure
Nothing ever lasts forever.

Have a great weekend!