Crystal Castles


Played 809 times

Music for the Weekend: Kerosene by Crystal Castles.

As a result of the interest in my short film 7x6x2 (which hopefully everyone will be able to see soon), I’ve been asked to create something I haven’t had to do for the past ten years: a director’s reel.

All of the work I’ve done in the film industry to this point has originated from two sources: my own brain and through the generosity of friends, friends who at some point I helped along the way. I haven’t had the need to put a reel together for new work. But I’ve found that in my pursuits of financing my next film, people want to see what I’ve done, and truth be told they don’t have the time to sit and watch all my films - they need something concise, to the point, and effectively displaying my talents. Hence a reel.

Being that I’ve never put a reel together before, I’ve been at a bit of a loss in terms of where to start. My writer/ director instincts keep trying to tell a story, and that’s not really the point of a director’s reel. I’ve watched countless director’s reels online (just type ‘director’s reel’ into YouTube and Vimeo) and they largely seem to be a series of images stitched together by music. There’s no narrative, and it’s all peppered by an occasional outburst of performance.

I totally understand the purpose of cutting a reel this way, which is to largely draw attention to advertising work. I’ve been told by many agencies that I’m an outstanding ‘image maker’ and that I know how to put together a composition right there alongside some of the best in the business. These are platitudes that humble me immensely, but my inner artist wants to tell stories - I just don’t want to make images for the sake of making images.

Perhaps I’m being unrealistic here. The bread and butter of many filmmakers is doing ad work, and I’ve done my share from an art direction and storyboarding standpoint. But I made the conscientious choice to focus my directing energies on narrative film; it’s the reason why I left a lucrative career in science, which is to not make Chevrolet ads, but to create my generation’s versions of Blade Runner and The Shining. As the cliche goes, what I really want to do is direct.

Taking a few much-needed steps back, I have to shelve my directing ego and see the bigger picture here, something which every stubborn indie writer/ director/ producer must do. There is a fine distinction that must be made, which is the difference between the business of art, and the art of business. The business of art is to create something truly amazing - something that stands above its competition and innovates - and to do it on a budget that guarantees a return. Think of a film like Looper or Beasts of Southern Wild or Drive - all films done on budgets ranging from modest to micro, all of them pushing the envelope of what we expect from movies and what is currently out there on the market. They all have a distinctive artistic vision that is largely uncompromised, and because of that they stand out from the pack and have garnered the attention of audiences willing to pay for a new experience.


The art of business doesn’t care about all that. There is no such things as new experiences and artistic visions. If you tell a potential investor that you have a distinctive artistic vision, they’ll kindly show you to the door because in the world of return on investments, artistic vision is synonymous with box office poison. Business by nature is a conservative venture, and not in the sense that business people don’t take risks - they do that every day - but rather that they take risks on the things that won’t sink them in the long run. Business favors a sure thing that delivers moderately over a maverick that has potential to explode any given day. The art of business is therefore packaging a high risk venture as a calculated risk, and not as a shot in the dark. Which is where a good, solid reel comes into play.

I have to assemble my reel with the eyes of a conservative investor, which is to see narrative films existing first and foremost as advertisements, as trailers, as television spots. It’s done this way because these are the things that primarily get butts in seats. Narrative dexterity and nuanced performances aren’t what sell a film in a trailer - its beautiful images, electric pace, recognizable faces and a really kickass song/ music composition. Thinking as a conservative businessman, I know in my mind the project worth investing in is the project that I can outright sell. If the project is a hard sell, then it becomes more and more difficult to rationalize financing it.

A good reel filled with beautiful images, a memorable music track, and expert pacing is the first indicator that a director knows how to create moving images that first and foremost sell. It’s not just “this kid knows how to put a movie together,” it’s moreso “this kid knows how to sell a product.” And that’s what you need to display if you want to get money to make movies, because it takes the very rare investor - or your parents - to invest in a filmmaker who can’t demonstrate marketability.

But the art of business is also being a chimera, which is the most exhilarating challenge of all. I simply refuse to sell out - again I didn’t quit a beautiful life as a scientist to make middle of the road movies - I want to stay as bold, odd and indie as fuck. And there’s no reason not to think this way, because some of the greatest filmmakers working today - from Quentin Tarantino to Danny Boyle to Kathryn Bigelow - continue to make widely distributed films that refuse to compromise, but ultimately their films are genre films that can be sold, and sold well. These folks refuse to sell out, but if you were to cut a director’s reel together of Kathryn Bigelow’s work, it would seem like she makes ads for the US Army and Chevy trucks. Danny Boyle’s reel would look like a compilation of music videos. They don’t need to sell themselves as narrative aces, they just have to sell movies.

Amazing drama or an ad for the US Navy? On a reel, it doesn’t matter.

So now I’m on the quest to find that perfect piece of music to cut my reel to, and it’s taken me through the deepest depths of my music library. And anyone that is familiar with my music library knows that it’s pretty much a bottomless abyss of music. Over the past twenty-five years (I’ve been buying records since I was twelve), I’ve amassed a collection of over three thousand albums, ranging from northern soul to death metal to the sounds of southern baptist doomsday cults. Of course that music won’t be appropriate for a reel, but I need to find something that is not only beautiful, atmospheric and catchy, but also very true to my aesthetic. If I had a dime for every reel cut to Linkin Park’s “Cure for the Itch" then I wouldn’t need to be cutting a reel in the first place. But that shit sells, and who am I to argue with that? I’ve narrowed down my musical choices, and will start cutting in earnest this weekend. We’ll see what comes of it!

Have a great weekend!

'Lilith' DVD now available!

So we’ve officially upgraded from ‘pre-order’ status to 'now available' as the DVDs have been printed and are actively shipping. Thanks everyone for the unexpected number of pre-orders, we’ve had quite a rush!

The DVDs contain two commentary tracks which we’ve spent a lot of time putting together. The first commentary track is by me and focuses more on filmmaking, film studies and film theory. It contains tons of info that isn’t on this blog and really gets into the nuts and bolts of making a feature film. It’s my attempt to do a ‘film school on DVD’ segment, and I’m really thrilled with it. Total film geek stuff.

Eat your heart out, Slavoj Žižek. There’s a new film nerd in town.

The second commentary is by Julia Voth and myself, recorded at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles. We had a really great time making the commentary, and it’s a wonderful record of what we went through to make the film a reality, as well as a ton of really great insight into Julia’s preparation for the role. We did the commentary off the cuff, and the results were pretty hilarious. She’s an absolute riot.

As funny and smart as she is beautiful.

I put a ton of effort to make the DVD the best it can be, and I hope you enjoy it. As of now you can order it from the distributor’s website by clicking on the link below. In the coming months it’ll also be available on Amazon and iTunes. In January we’ll be doing theatrical screenings of the film in select cities, starting with New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. We’ll also be doing a really cool, limited edition vinyl release of the soundtrack, more on that in the future.

So top off your Cyber Monday basket with a cool DVD of a really great little film that needs your support. Spread the word and some holiday cheer! Thanks!

You can buy the DVD by clicking the link below, as well as the direct download of the film (which doesn’t have the extras):

Buy the ‘Lilith’ DVD.

Paradise Circus

Massive Attack


Played 249 times

Music for the Weekend: Paradise Circus by Massive Attack.

Circus is the right word. It’s a tenuous weekend as I’m waiting to hear back on a very exciting project. Script’s been approved, the financiers like it, and it just has to get the stamp of approval. So far so good, but nothing’s a guarantee in this business. Worked really hard on this one, I hope it comes through.

I’ve been going on about two hours of sleep a day for this past week, and I’m dreadfully exhausted. Between releasing Lilith on download and DVD pre-order, getting this new project off the ground, uploading the new trailers, further rewrites on my Paul Pope project, and doing my volunteer work for the Obama campaign, I’m absolutely bushed. But it’s a good kind of tuckered out.

A lot of times people forget that we have lives outside of our profession. Cars need servicing, pets need to go to the vet, homes need maintenance, food needs to be picked up and somewhere in there we try to squeeze in a social life. The fall makes for beautiful late afternoon walks. Leaves are turning, a slight chill in the air. Local shops have pumpkin pies. Kids with grass-stained knees playing football in the park for hours. Spirited political debates with friends and strangers while sipping hot drinking chocolate at the corner coffee shop. Reading comics (current titles: Saga and Punk Rock Jesus) on a park bench while my wife reads a cozy mystery novel. These are good times. Cherish them.

Have a great weekend!

Alternate Lilith Trailer and new HD trailer!

So there’s an alternate 2-min trailer that I cut which has TONS of new footage from the film and music from the score by dälek. It’s on the ‘Lilith’ facebook page if you’d like to see it PLUS the new official HD trailer of the film!

Yes. This is my fey attempt to guide traffic.


The New ‘Lilith’ teaser…

Is here!

As we gear up for our Fall 2012 release, please help a brother out by spreading the word. Reblog, repost, retweet, and please join the Lilith facebook page.

Cutting a new trailer as we speak - it will debut soon - but for now enjoy this little taste! BTW the music in the teaser is from the original ‘Lilith’ score by dälek.

Much more on the horizon. Thank you for your support!

Work ramble.

Been working a lot. Between finishing all the legal paperwork and deliverables for the distribution of Lilith, I’m also doing fundraising and my rewrites on my Paul Pope script. As it turns out, Paul and I have another venture on the near horizon, a short film based off one of his amazing sci-fi short stories. It would be my first legitimate crack at science fiction, and I’m really excited about it. We’re in our final polishes of the script and our funding is promising - we have some amazing partners contributing and it’s a huge step not only for us personally, but also in terms of building blocks for future projects. If all goes to plan, we’ll tentatively start shooting in September / October. More on that as events warrant.

Spirit animals are the subject of the day. Image by Paul Pope.

We’re now deciding on the dates for Lilith's release and we'll start platforming in various formats soon. We're experimenting with some newer forms of theatrical release - I'm all in for supporting these upstart companies who are trying to change the fossil that is studio theatrical distribution, whose costs of marketing and exhibition are exorbitant and unsustainable. The idea is to get as many people to see the film - in both small and large markets - without killing the margins for both the exhibitor, the distributor, and for me. It's always a bit scary trying out new strategies, but it's become more of a necessity that an option - we simply don't have that kind of capitol to roll the film out traditionally. The film is nontraditional in every aspect - from its conception to its execution, so I figure why stop there? Let's give it a rip - embrace new technologies and strategies, and let's see where it takes us. My next step is that I'm going to be doing my DVD commentary track with Julia soon and then do the final assembly of the DVD product. Things are moving slowly but we're always moving forward, never back. I know that's something most indie filmmakers don't have the luxury to say, so I'm counting my blessings.

In addition to all that, I’m editing my culinary documentary which I did a few months ago. It’s had to take a back seat to my other work and there’s been a few changes at the restaurant, so we had to adjust a few things on the fly. I did my interviews with the chefs last week and now I can begin the assembly in earnest. Editing a doc is so much more challenging than a narrative feature - I’ll write about it soon. But for now I’m combing through shots of delicious food into the wee hours of the night, taking a break by writing, and then starting the day anew with emails and legal documents about money, formats and regions. Then a few hours for fundraising meetings, a few hours for domestic responsibilities, and then the cycle starts all over again. Somewhere in there I’m doing my weekly sharpie portrait and trying to write on this blog consistently. Been spotty as of recent, so my sincerest apologies for that. As I mentioned in previous posts I don’t have the luxury of a staff, so I’m pretty much doing all of this by myself. Who knows down the line I might hire a few interns, but I need more organization and clarity to get to that point. I try to give my interns interesting and meaningful work, not crap like dropping off my mail. It’s an internship, not indentured slavery.

But as much as this all sounds like a grind, I enjoy every minute of it. I’m working on something I love and am getting paid for it, so I’ve no reason to complain. Sure it’s frustrating, but I remind myself that I volunteered to put myself in this position - nobody forced me to write a script or go out and raise money. Or do this blog, or shoot a culinary doc. It’s all choices I made, and it’s part and parcel of creating something from scratch. It’s the business of being an artist, and while sorting through legal documents and rights agreements may not be an artistic endeavor, it’s what brings art to the world, it legitimizes and protects your work. It’s as vital to the artistic process as picking up a pen and writing ‘fade in’ on a blank piece of paper. And it’s where you ensure that you can make a living being an artist. A career artist, and not a hobbyist who posts cat videos on YouTube.

I get a lot of cynical responses from people with 9 to 5 jobs when I say I’m busy with work. They tend to think that being a filmmaker is a flight of fancy, something akin to the folks on Entourage. I try not to get upset but I remind people that I’m an independent contractor, an entrepreneur, and my work day doesn’t end at 5pm. I start at 7am and end at around 2am. Every day. Even Sundays. And it’s work. It’s not kids playing with toys and playing pretend. It’s making something from scratch that involves coordinating a lot of people from every corner of the planet, and trying to find the money to pay them. All the while you’re taking criticism from people who might like you, but who don’t believe in your ability, and who would rather bet their house on the guy who directed Wild Hogs, because Wild Hogs made good money. And during that time you’re constantly questing your own choices, because hey - Wild Hogs did make a lot of money and Lilith is just too weird and dark.

'Wild Hogs' vs. 'Lilith.' I think I made the right choice.

It was exhausting just to write that last paragraph. This is a tough job, a career choice that makes you face uncertainty every day. If you’re an actor you walk into an audition not knowing if you’ll get the part. You have to prepare yourself for rejection, because that’s what will happen to you 95% of the time. If you are a producer you have to put everything you have into a pitch, travel on your own dime, and say the things people want to hear without compromising the very reason why you became a filmmaker - to tell the stories that mean something to you. And like an actor, you will get rejected 99% of the time. But you pick yourself up and start again, because you have belief - faith - that someone out there will see the world the same way you do. You adapt and adjust, never losing sight of who you are and what you want to accomplish. I feel like this is where a lot of artists struggle - they lose themselves in the journey. They may get a paycheck but it’s a brimming unhappiness inside, because we’re not immediately doing the work that we set out to do in the first place. Becoming a professional artist is taking a huge risk, and we don’t take such huge risks to muck around in the middle for the rest of our lives.

So insist on quality. Use the lesser projects to get you to that place you set your goal to reach. Never be satisfied. Do that local used car dealer ad and put everything you have into it, make it the best it can be, and make your client impressed with your skill and professionalism. Be proud of your work. If your name is on something, it should be associated with excellence. Hold yourself to that absolute highest standard, and do everything to raise your own bar. Study, rehearse, research, and just keep working, working working. It’s taken me ten years to get to the point where I could buy the rights to a book I loved and not have people question whether or not I’m qualified to make that film. Ten years of doing small jobs, seemingly unrelated work, banal shit. Somewhere in there I accrued enough experience to where I felt I could make Lilith, and that’s what I did. I made a lot of mistakes but Lilith is a high quality film. It speaks of our meticulous craft, it shows we cared and believed in what we were doing, and I’m proud to have my name on it. It’s not the film I always dreamed of making, but it was absolutely required as a step to get me there. Nothing is a loss, there was no time wasted, no dollar spent unwisely. It’s a great, ballsy indie film.

I’ve rambled in this post but I wanted to take a different approach to describing work. A lot of filmmakers have a bad habit of embellishing / lying about how busy they are - one of my favorites in LA is when people tell me they’re “in development’, which can be anything from scribbling an idea on a napkin to getting a promise from an actor they’re sleeping with to star in their film. They talk about how they’ve got a bazillion projects lined up, making it sound like they’re producing all of them at the same time, when in reality they’re a 2nd AD or an art dresser. Which is fine to be a 2nd AD or art dresser, because that’s what we all have to do, myself included. Unless we’re Steven Spielberg, we’re all struggling to make it. So I don’t believe in talking a big game, I believe in my work talking for me. Bullshitting doesn’t impress me, good work impresses me. A love for making film impresses me. People who hustle to make films a reality impresses me. Those are the type of people I want to be around, whom I want to help, and who I’d be honored to have help me. Genuine relationships formed on a common bond, which is to just do good work, and make an honest living doing it.

Hope this post makes some sense. Wrote it from the hip, so it’s more how I’m feeling than any kind of cohesive subject. Back to work!


The Antlers

Burst Apart (Amazon MP3 Exclusive Version) [Explicit]

Played 139 times

Music for the Weekend: Corsicana by The Antlers.

Today is a good day. Not because anything in particular happened in regards to Lilith or any kind of small victory in work. No, because today when I was having a lunch of leftovers, my wife turned to me and smiled. And in that instant I remembered the fifteen years we’ve known each other, and how many wonderful memories we have, and how many more we are yet to have.

I asked her what she was smiling about. She said “no reason,” and kissed me on the nose.

Hey don’t forget to check out the new trailer for Lilith, and also to subscribe to the new Facebook page for the film, where you’ll find exclusive stuff that won’t be on this blog.

Thanks, and have a great weekend!


Long Distance

Played 70 times

Music for the Weekend: High Hopes by Onra feat. Reggie B.

High hopes indeed. Been a solid and hectic week with the launch of the trailer and the Kickstarter campaign, and the response has been tremendous. In less than 24 hours we had almost six hundred views of the trailer, and we reached 3% of our funding goals. I know that’s not Transformers kind of business, but hey we’re a low-budget indie, and that’s the way it goes. It’s all about building momentum and promotion.

I’m getting prepped for the final mix and color correct, and I had a reader ask me a technical question about color correction, about what kind of software was best for color correction. Truth is, it doesn’t really matter what software you use - you can use the 3-wheel color corrector on Final Cut Pro and achieve professional results - and whether you use Color, or After Effects, or higher end software like Luster, Inferno or Smoke, there is one consistent thing that will give you the professional look you’re seeking.

And that’s to just shoot good footage in the first place, with the colors and textures you want.

It’s been a consistent thing throughout post, which is that because of our attention to detail during production, i.e. shooting the footage with the exact colors and textures, and gathering the best sound we possibly could, I think its freed up our post-production collaborators to really push the creative envelope in terms of their craft. It’s easier to think outside of the box when you’re not completely buried in fixing up the fuck-ups of production.

And that’s a pervasive attitude towards post-production that I think really needs to change. Post-production is too often seen as a stage of “fixing” things, as opposed to the natural progression of a film’s creation. The idea of “fixing it in post” is an insult to post-production, because we’re viewing post-production artists as mechanics and nurses, and not as artists. Truthfully it is in post where the film is actually made. The glamour may be in shooting, but the core of filmmaking is in the assembly and the fine tuning.

I’ve had a really enjoyable run on post with this film, just as much fun as production. And I think in large part it’s because I never came into post as a way to fix my problems. No doubt there were problems to be fixed, but that’s just a small fraction of what actually goes on in post-production. I like to think of it in agricultural terms, where in production we are the farmers, growing and cultivating the raw ingredients. We create something from nothing, nurturing life from the dirt with skill, love and artistry, and collecting it all together. Post-production is the restaurant, where the raw ingredients are shipped to and turned into delicious cuisine by application of the culinary arts. Just as a chef takes a beautiful cut of fish and impeccably grown vegetables and turns them into a culinary gift, so do the editors of a film take the meticulously curated bits of footage and sound and cook them together into a cogent film. The way a vegetable is cut will give the dish a specific texture, the way the fish is cooked will affect the overall tone of the inherent flavor. And the right combination of vegetables and proteins, in aesthetic proportions, will determine the overall impact of the entire culinary experience.

It’s a simple way of looking at things that really brings perspective to what we do, which is an ancient practice that has been replicated in just about every pursuit that civilization has undertaken. We’re not doing anything special, but what makes it meaningful is the attention to detail and thoughtfulness that goes into our pursuits. And we should always aim for perfection. Mediocrity or “just good enough” is never an option. This is where we fail, and where we get lost in the crowd. If you put your name on something, have pride in your work and make sure it represents the very best of your efforts. Know in your mind that you can push to evolve your craft, make it more bold, more visionary, more representative of your overall image and worldview. Educate yourself, read books and volunteer to be mentored by the very best of your chosen profession. Don’t use lack of money as an excuse - mentorship is free if you really pursue it with respect and dignity. Initially you may not make films or cook in the kitchen, but you will be in that world, and you will learn. And the minute you become comfortable in your role, that’s when you know it’s time to take the next step and move your experience to the next level. Remaining in a comfort zone is the killer - it means you’ve stopped looking ahead. Let us be explorers, not knowing what lays in front of us, but relying on our skills, intuition and friends to face whatever challenges that may lurk in the fog.

I hope this blog has given you that feeling of being an explorer, because that’s what it’s done for me. I went into Lilith not knowing what the future holds, and with each passing day I learned something new, and I had good friends who stood by my side on the front line as we took on each successive challenge. We’ve overcome a lot of obstacles, but the biggest challenge still lays ahead, which is releasing our child into the world. It’s scary, and the cloud of failure and rejection always looms. But as the song says, I have high hopes from the initial response to the trailer and the longtime support of this blog. It’s a cliche but your support gives me strength and confidence. So for that I am eternally grateful.

Have a great weekend, and three cheers for the Harry Potter finale! What an absolute monument to cinema.

p.s. Julia posted a much higher-res version of the trailer on her YouTube channel, you can actually see the details in the frame. Check it out below! And please don’t forget to promote and / or contribute to the Kickstarter campaign, thank you for all the help!

Trailer - YouTube.

I’ve added a cool new goodie to the Kickstarter campaign benefits - a personal phone call from me if you contribute five bucks. Seriously! I’d like to get to know ya and your interests in movies!

We’ve reached 1% 2% 3% funding! Nice! Keep it coming, and reblog, tweet and FBlike whenever you can. It’s all about momentum with these campaigns.

Tomorrow I’ll get back on track with posting, as we enter the final mix and color correction on the film in the next two weeks. Yesterday we had record traffic on this blog, thank you so much for your support!