Machines

Soft Moon

Zeros

Played 1,101 times

Music for the Weekend: Machines by The Soft Moon.

Finally, it’s done. My short film - titled '7x6x2' - was delivered a few days ago and was screened at a special event on the Sony lot in Culver City, CA. The screening went very well, the film was universally lauded, and we’re moving on to the release strategy. I initially thought it would be available to release today, but Sony’s got a new release plan and we’ll get it all out soon for everyone to see, and at that point I’ll be able to discuss it in far more detail. In the meantime, here’s a sneak-peek still of the film:

So after five weeks nonstop on the road, I’m officially out of gas. I’m taking the weekend off to recuperate, kicking back with a copy of Alexis De Tocqueville’s 'Democracy in America' and listening to the new record by friend-of-Lilith band extraordinaire, The Soft Moon. (Their track ‘When It’s Over’ is featured on the 'Lilith' trailer.)

In the meantime if you haven’t already, make sure to pick up the ‘Lilith’ DVD or download it for a fun weekend watch. We’ve been incredibly thrilled with the show of support so far, but we still need your diehard support to make this little indie film that could a success. Spread the word, pick up a copy for you and your friends, and be a part of a true-blue grassroots indie film movement. I can’t do it without you!

Order the Lilith DVD and Download by clicking here!

Have a great weekend!

Going back to Cali.

Going back to California to shoot this short. It’s my first time going to Hollywood to actually direct and shoot something, and not just go for financing/ scriptwriting. It’s a big moment for me.

I’ve got a backlog of questions and messages to answer, so those who submitted to me I ask for your patience, as I’m averaging about 19-hour work days for this past week and for the foreseeable month. But my blog will soldier on - I’ll do my best to keep writing interesting stuff and progress updates.

In the meantime please remember to support Lilith on its facebook page. You can download the film right away and/or pre-order your copies of the super-cool DVD. Your support is appreciated!

'Lilith' now available for DVD presale and Direct Download!

The day has arrived! After years of waiting and faithful following, you may now watch ‘Lilith’ as a direct download, playable on iTunes, Quicktime or VLC.

OR you can pre-order the DVD, which has tons of goodies that the download doesn’t have, including two packed commentary tracks by yours truly and Miss Julia Voth. Here’s the cover of the DVD (Region 0, NTSC), which I designed myself:

OR you can order both, if that’s what your heart desires!

You can order directly from the distributor by clicking here, or by using the following link:

http://store.nehst.com/lilithdvd.html

There will be select theatrical screenings of the film across the country in the coming months (‘like’ our Facebook page to keep up with dates), where you’ll be able to watch the film on the big screen and take in the full cinematic experience which we’ve worked so hard to achieve. This is a full independent release, so I really need your help to make this film a success. Watch it and help spread the word by ‘liking’ and tweeting the distributor’s page. Please reblog this post and help a brother out. It’s been a long time coming for this, let’s make it count!

Thank you so much for all your support, we’re only getting started!

"We’ll just fix it in post."

In the process of reviewing the footage and making notes, it’s readily apparent that aside from the standard hard work of sound design, editing, mixing and three static CGI plate shots (no animation), our post-production requirements on Lilith are actually very, very small.

This is in large part due to our budget - we have no money for fancy CGI effects - but also to our commitment to doing as much as possible in-camera and with practical effects. We could very well do things like add CGI blood and wounds, but then nothing can ever replicate the real thing. We relied on old-school camera tricks to create effects, which are still remarkably effective and make my editing life that much easier and cost-effective. I can’t imagine doing this particularly grisly scene from Lilith with CGI blood:

Now I’m not eschewing the use of CGI, as it has become a staple and extremely valuable tool of filmmakers. But I do think that there is a growing trend of turning over more and more of physical filmmaking to the computers in post-production, a trend which personally irks me.

I was recently watching the amazing extra features on the Criterion edition of David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and was incredible to see that despite the CGI-intensive work on the film, the overriding philosophy was to physically capture as much veracity as possible during photography. Fincher’s commitment to physical authenticity rings true in all of his films, and the key to this is in his planning. Fincher knows exactly what the computer must do, and what the camera must capture. He doesn’t rely upon post-production to provide things that he can’t readily capture with his camera.

I feel this is a dying mindset, as I’ve been privy to film shoots where the director so-readily declares “we’ll fix it in post.” No. You don’t fix it in post, you fix it right then and there, by re-doing it. It takes valuable time and physical resources, but it’s all about maintaining the truth of the material and the moment.

This unfortunate idea of correcting flubs in post before even reaching post-production doesn’t limit itself to photography, it’s extending to performance as well. I was on a film shoot where an actor continuously flubbed a line, and the producer of the film made the executive decision that instead of doing re-takes to get the scene right, that the actor would just ADR (re-record) the line in post-production. My jaw dropped.

Our reliance upon the technological gifts of post-production has now extended far beyond the normal boundaries, and the skills of directing, cinematography and acting are being handed over to the tech wizards in a disparate number of post houses. This is not a slam on the artists of post-production, but rather an observation of a growing complacency in physical filmmaking.

We should only utter the term “fix it in post” after all other options have been exhausted, or when we are actually in post-production and we notice a flaw that went under the radar. We cannot think of post-production as a universal fix-it solution; it’s cold and distant, takes a lot of time, and costs a hell of a lot of money. It’s a band-aid on a bullet hole.

Are there things on Lilith that I wish I could fix in post? Honestly, no.(EDIT: at least not yet!) As I go through the footage, my crew did an admirable job in covering our bases. Are there things I wish I could re-shoot or gather more footage of? Absolutely. But that’s not about fixing in post. That’s just being able to capture so much in a given amount of time.

But with filmmaking becoming increasingly post-production oriented, our responsibilities and descriptions as filmmakers are evolving. Can we call the camera work in Avatar true cinematography? Of course we can. But now we have to include CGI artists along with the traditional gaffers and grips in the lighting team. It’s all becoming very gray.

I don’t know. I’m a bit old-school in that I like to keep it as real as possible whenever I can, and if I need a character to jump flat-footed into the Earth’s atmosphere then I know I’ll need to do that in post-production. I love that filmmakers like David Fincher, Spike Jonez, Kathryn Bigelow, Jonathan Glazer, Neil Blomkamp and Darren Aronofsky, all of whom fully embrace post-production, use it only as a tool to amplify what they physically shot. It boils down to these filmmakers knowing exactly what they want and not compromising the truth when it comes to telling their stories.

But we also have to acknowledge that less than two decades ago, some of the most amazing and eye-popping sequences in cinema were created without the benefit of high-tech computerized post production, and the budgets of those films were significantly less. CGI has its place in movie magic, but it has to serve the film, and not the other way around. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button uses cutting-edge technology as a narrative tool - the aging of a single character and actor - and not as a gimmick or a patch. The original Star Wars trilogy was not a slave to post-production, unlike their dismal prequels. Compare Ray Harryhausen’s work on the original Clash of the Titans and compare it to the 2010 remake, and the ‘updated’ version lacks heart, it’s only bells and whistles, in my opinion. It’s the classic case of post-production effects driving the principles of classic filmmaking, and it is a consistent result that these films lack the depth and heart of the epics of yesteryear.

Again, I’m not poo-pooing the use of CGI, but unless it is used for an entire film (i.e. what Pixar has accomplished) it is only a tool to bolster the original captured image. As is consistently stated throughout this blog, it is my opinion that the technology works for us, and not vice-versa. This applies at every stage of filmmaking, and for that matter for our lives in general. When I see the ad for the new iPhone that states “I don’t know what I would do without my iPhone” it makes me cringe. We could, and did, do a LOT of things before there were iPhones. Some might argue that we were actually more productive before apps like “Paper Toss” and “Pocket God” were created. Just a thought. :)


P.S. I highly, HIGHLY recommend watching the DVD extras for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” Many times we hear the term ‘DVD film school’ and this is one of those discs that embodies it. I might just make a list of DVDs with amazing extra features in a future blog post. These are invaluable tools for filmmakers, as it’s the next-best alternative to sitting with David Fincher in person or being on a major film set.

Grammar.

Oh, if there ever was a word that struck sheer terror and disgust in the heart of every student, it was the word grammar. I used to get hammered by my teachers and professors on grammar all the time, and being the insolent stubborn little shit that I was (I later learned that being stubborn and insolent is actually a positive trait for directing), I always used to argue with my instructors about the very nature of grammar.

My argument was that if grammar is a presumed prescriptive notion of the correct use of a language, by whose accord was it deemed as ‘correct’? Is not the use of language an art and not a science? I look back in hindsight and realize what a pain in the ass I must have been for my teachers, and they almost always set me straight, but in some ways I think I had a good, solid point.

Grammar works because it has proven to be aesthetically pleasing and functionally effective over centuries of use. It is like the process of shifting a hypothesis to a theory, where it must be tested over and over again with consistent, replicable results. People structured their language in a system that is effective and pleasing, and this became the standard, the base set of rules, the grammar of the language.

This applies to film grammar as well, which becomes very transparent in the editing process. The basic building blocks are in camera moves / positioning, lighting / focus, and editing transitions; for movement it is pan, tilt, dolly, crane, zoom, wide, close up, extreme close up and angle. For lighting it is key light, back light, fill, exposure, and depth-of-field. For editing it is cut, cross cut, match cut, jump cut, dissolve, fade, wipe, freeze, etc.. I’ve presented an oversimplified grammar here but pretty much anyone can build a very solid film from what I’ve listed. And if you don’t know this basic grammar, then you’re screwed out of the gate.

But going back to my argument that I had with my instructors, there’s no reason why we have to assume that these are the right ways to go about making a film. They may very well be the correct way, but as I’ve said many times on this blog, there’s no tried-and-true right way to make a film. This was best exemplified in the works of the French New Wave, as filmmakers like Truffaut and especially Godard pushed the envelope of what film grammar was by simply disregarding grammar altogether. They created a new grammar by experimenting, by putting hypothesis into action, and allowing the audience to ratify the language into theorem. It worked for them to brilliant effect, and the art of film is the benefactor of their bold experimentation.

But to my instructors’ point, the likes of Godard and Truffaut started their careers as film critics for Cahiers Du Cinema, where ad nauseum they dissected thousands of films frame by frame, and in doing so they gained a fundamental knowledge and understanding of basic film grammar. In fact they probably knew the grammar of film so well that it didn’t even register in their conscious, it was a purely instinctual and subconscious level of understanding. Even today, a bold filmmaker like Quentin Tarantino has such an encyclopedic knowledge of film because he schooled himself on the grammar of cinema by watching and analyzing thousands of films. There is truth to the adage that the best way to start becoming a filmmaker is to just watch a hell of a lot of movies.


So in the end, my instructors were right - we need grammar. But once we acquire it, it is our responsibility and duty to challenge it, to push it, to create new and more exciting languages. It’s happening all around us - if we look at a text message on a 14-year old’s cellphone, we can see the fundamentals of grammar changing before our eyes. Some purists might argue that this is a degrading of English grammar, but I think if that 14-year old demonstrates a fundamental knowledge of grammar outside of the texting lexicon, then they are free to reinvent the language as we know it. Emoticon away, young grasshoppers. But learn your language first.

Last Day.

Tomorrow night is the last day of production, and it’s going to be a tough one as we have to get the last of our shots in. It’s within reaching distance and we’ve made up a lot of ground in the past few days, but it’s going to be a challenge.

Lilith has been nothing short of a small miracle, as the quality of work we’ve gotten from a crew of less than thirty people, on an unrealistic budget and an impossible schedule, has been astounding. I couldn’t be more proud of my film family, they’ve taken care of me and made my dream a reality.

It’s bittersweet knowing it’s going to be over in less than 48 hours, but then all good things must come to an end. It’s hard not to get philosophical in times like these, where a group of people have suffered and toiled for such a comprehensive work of personal art. There is blood, sweat and tears behind our footage, and I hope that passion comes through in the final product.

And there’s that word. Passion. The Latin translation of the word “passion” means to suffer (i.e. the passion of the Christ, aka Christ suffered for our sins) and most definitely we are passionate about our craft, so much so that we are willing to suffer for it.

I remember talking to Julia after we shot a particularly disturbing passage of dialogue that dealt with personal pain and dysfunction. We noticed at that time, whether we knew it or not, the scene took its toll on us. I remember going back to my hotel room that night and not only feeling physically drained, but also emotionally battered. Going through those ranges of emotions and digging deep into the dark crevices of our minds really drained us all. We suffered for the film because we were passionate about it. But no fear, and my actors went there for it.

In all it has not been an easy shoot, but it has been a gratifying and fruitful one, and we’ve all maintained a positive and cheerful attitude throughout the entire process. Right now my focus is getting it all in the can, as we’re about 94% finished with the film with a day to go. Along the way we’ve had to modify and shift the story to accommodate the production, but overall the translation from script to screen has been exactly what I originally envisioned. I fear I may have missed a few details in the flurry of production but that’s what post-production and editing is for, where the film gets crafted into a cohesive story. By the end of tomorrow we will have collected a bin full of beautiful images, and it will come time to stitch it all together into a gorgeous and meaningful tapestry. The greatest challenges of making Lilith still lay ahead, but for now, in a day’s time, let’s not forget to celebrate how far we’ve come.

I couldn’t be more proud of what we’ve accomplished!

On Women, and meeting Bianca Christians.

I love all things in this world. Every creature, plant and inanimate object. But if there’s one thing I love the most on this planet, it is women. I think women are the most divine creation possible, and I adore them with all my heart. I find women to be instinctual, powerful, mysterious and sometimes dangerous. It’s the reason why every script I’ve ever written, including Lilith, has strong, interesting female leads, and I want to explore the female mind, body and psyche in my stories.

In Lilith I’m delving into the world of women’s relationships, of their responsibilities to their siblings, lovers and friends. Of where the nurturing spirit compromises with the sexual spirit, of where the huntress emerges when the family is in danger. Every woman in the Lilith script faces the challenges and specters of female identity and their relationship to the men they love, desire and protect. Most of the men in the story do not understand their relationships to the women in their lives, and it is from this complete breakdown of emotional connection that serves as the root of the horrors and atrocities committed in the film.

In Julia Voth I’ve got a stunningly gorgeous and talented actress with the amazing balance of vulnerability and joy-of-life, but there was another character in the film that was equally challenging to find, and that was of Lonza the Leopard (a character directly derived from Dante’s Inferno).

We went through dozens of actresses for the part and while each of them brought something amazing to the character, my gut was telling me to push further. After another few dozen I was beginning to feel nervous that I wouldn’t find the actress for the part, and in the 11th hour before the shoot, I received a video of an audition from one Ms. Bianca Christians, an actress who hails from South Africa, and within the first ten seconds of viewing the video I knew I had my Lonza.

Bianca simply is the character of Lonza. 100%. I really can’t explain it. When I saw her she became a cat, she had that alluring sense of danger that you knew if you got too close to what was precious to her, you’d get burned. Badly.

And after speaking with Bianca and finally meeting her (what a generous and deep soul she is!), I knew the right choice was made. In her first day of shooting she played off of Julia beautifully, and we’re shooting her major scenes today. I’m excited beyond words. Rare is the opportunity for the humble man to celebrate women as I have been able to in Lilith. I live for this stuff.

Happy Birthday, Julia!

Today is Julia Voth’s birthday! She’s been giving Lilith her all and it’s ironic that on her birthday, it’s she who’s given me a gift in the form of her dedication and kindness.

If you want to wish her a happy birthday along with us, you can find her on her twitter page twitter.com/juliavoth.

And in honor of her, here’s some lovely stills of Julia from the film.

Now you can understand why I’m so excited these days. Less than a week left on the shoot, and it’s in the home stretch where we really, really have to dig deep and finish strong. I know we’re up to the task.