Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Is that thing loaded?

Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail, and editor of Wired Magazine, wrote a terrific article on how shooting digitally affects the performance of actors.

Big-name directors that Anderson spoke with, such as Tony Bill (Flyboys, Untamed Heart) explained that shooting digitally eliminates the actors' fear that every take was costing hundreds or thousands of dollars of film, and thus put the actor more at ease.

Photo by Larry Furnace

It also allowed directors to eliminate rehearsals and roll on every take:
It's "the difference between pointing a loaded gun at someone and a toy gun. You point a loaded gun at them and they're going to act different. A film camera is a loaded gun. Digital is not."
--Tony Bill
Having shot on both multi-camera 35mm sets and indie digital sets of various sizes, I have to disagree just a bit. It is true that film is expensive. For an indie filmmaker with a nano-budget, shooting even 16mm is often prohibitive. Robert Rodriguez' book Rebel without a Crew explains this well.

However, there are usually other factors at work that are even more prohibitive than the cost of film, such as crew costs, limited location availability, daylight, and the number of takes an actor (or director) has in them. Actors are like racehorses who wait, wait, wait, in their stalls, while the crew dresses a set, makes up the actors, rigs the lighting, sets the props, and grabs focus. By the time the director yells "Action!", the actors are often emotionally spent. It's like war: hours of boredom punctuated by minutes of sheer terror.

In the still shot above, for example, I am freezing my nips off on a 40' F morning, with a 30' wind chill, while pretending that it is 90' outside. [Photo by professional set photog, industrial videographer, and all-around mechanical genius Larry Furnace.]  But when director Kat Candler called action, we all had to be ready to go, knowing that we had limited time and resources for getting this shoot wrapped.

Even in my former life as a musician, digital media did not change the economics of hourly studio rental and producer fees.  When we rolled, uh, RAM... it was much the same as rolling expensive 2" tape:  time is money.  Time is always money.  Maybe not yours, but somebody's.  And if you are a professional, you appreciate other people's time, and do not waste it.

Digital definitely allows long tail movie-making. But it does not preclude common sense and pre-planning in the process.

Happy Thanksgiving- we're on strike?

Looks like SAG president Alan Rosenberg (pictured) is pushing for an actor's strike authorization. The threat of a work stoppage from one of the major artistic groups has put a crimp in productions for the last nine months, causing networks and studios to rush-release the properties they already have developed, and to hold off launching into any new productions.

A friend of mine is a 30-year veteran Hollywood costume and set designer, and has been suffering through the squeeze this past year by taking on jobs for Ringling Bros. and other clients. But his bread-and-butter business of TV and film costuming has been hurt by AMPTP fears that, once pilots and films are in the middle of production, actors will walk off the set, and have the producers by the short hairs.

I am not yet a SAG member; merely SAG-eligible. Living in Texas and shooting indies, it has not made sense to me to join SAG until I move to Hollywood.

Looks like we picked a good time to postpone our L.A. trip.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Bambino #2 on the way

Mary is pregnant!! Yea!!!

We were really hoping for two kids, but felt so blessed just to get one beautiful baby, Danielle, that we thought we were really pushing it to hope for two. We are thrilled. Danielle will make a great big sister, I know.

As for L.A., well... we are going to wait for another year. Again! Kind of ironic, since having a baby was what stalled our plans the first time. But not going enabled me to be here in Austin when I landed the Living and Dying and Prison Break roles (and a shot at a good role in Microwave Park), so, nobody knows anything, really. We are just happy to have another bambino on the way.

Currently scrambling to find a house and set up shop. We'll keep y'all posted!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I'd like to thank the Academy...

Dan Eggleston, of Zombie Musical fame, sent me a very nice little congratulatory note for making #25 on IMDB's Top 100 Texas Actors List.   Whoo-hoo!

I am glad Dan pointed this out to me.  I didn't even know the list existed!  Better start doing my research.  Thanks, Dan!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Shooting the Ninja

This is me running full-speed through a gaggle of school children on the set of Kat Candler's "Ninja James and the Beastman". I was so nervous that somebody would get knocked down! Short steps, quick-moving feet is the key.

Kat runs a smooth set. This was the first time I have worked with Kat in any significant role, and I was very impressed. She is relaxed, laid back, and perpetually sunny, much like my friend director Jon Keeyes. That attitude pervades the set. We got lots of coverage, and still finished early both days. Now that is cool.

Kat is one of the select Austin filmmakers that Get Things Done. She gets films written, made, distributed, and promoted. And that's why I wanted to work with her.

It's been fun so far, and I look forward to the next two weekends.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Nobody knows anything

Why is it that nobody knows anything?  William Goldman couldn't have been more correct when he said it, but why was he so right?

I am a business and marketing information addcit.  Been doing it since I was 13 years old.  Read Positioning when I was 15 years old.  I have been marketing myself and other businesses, large and small, on three continents for years.  I have even assembled business and marketing plans for movies and production studios.  Many others, way smarter and more experienced than I, have been doing it even longer.  So how come nobody knows anything yet?

Because: Art is not repeatable.  That's why.

Oh, a nicely-assembled marketing binder will give you the impression that it is, but don't be fooled.  They'll say this new movie has all the same winning elements as the latest Oscar-winner, or mega-blockbuster, and therefore, is guaranteed (pretty much) to be a success.  
Past performance is no indication of future results.

Science is, by definition, repeatable.  Everything else is a guess.  Wall Street types call it speculation.  In Vegas, baby, they call it gambling.  But every piece of art is unique in some way.  Any movie (whether or not you consider it art) is different from any other movie:  the director, stars, writer, producers, crew, budget, effects, storyline, locations, marketing, timeline, release date, and process of making the movie may all be different.  Sometimes only one or two elements seem different.  But there are always differences, and they are not easily isolated, or repeatable differences.

Movies are not creations that you can assemble or dissect on a lab counter and run through a spectragraph, even though there are many books, workshops, and studio executives who believe that you can. Movies are unknown, risky ventures.  There is absolutely no way that you can know in advance if your movie will succeed; you can only speculate- take the risk.

The very best thing you can do is to make what you believe in your heart and soul to be a good movie, and do your best to get it seen by as many people, as quickly as possible, so that it builds a rolling buzz, which hopefully snowballs into a "sleeper", which snowballs into a cult hit, which snowballs into a must-see, which snowballs into critical darling, which snowballs into a commercials success, which hopefully rolls the last mile into an Oscar winner.

Many people will tell you what is a good movie, and why yours is not.  Absorb what is useful, but trust your instincts, stick to your guns.  

After all, nobody knows anything.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


In her excellent book How to Sell Yourself as an Actor, K. Callan extracted this gem from Andre Braugher, speaking with the L.A. Times:
This business is not going to keep me warm. This business is not a priority. My priority is being a husband, a father, a son, a brother, and a citizen. I am not an actor. I am a man who acts. Everything that is important to me is about being a man.
Well said. I'll try to keep that foremost in mind.

Danielle does Disneyland


Danielle, Mommy, and Daddy took a whirlwind tour of Los Angeles, which served as a business trip, vacation, catch-up time with old friends and new, and a recon mission to see where (and if) we might want to live in L.A.

We answered the "if": the answer is yes, we're going, barring serious unforeseen disaster. Nevermind the foreseen disaster. Life is short, and we've been broke before, so there ya go.

As for the "where", we got lots of help from old friends, and new friends, like Dad's friend Cliff. In order of preference, it looks like:
  1. Santa Monica
  2. West or North Hollywood
  3. Burbank
  4. Glendale
  5. Sherman Oaks
  6. Silverlake
  7. Eagle Rock.

Meanwhile, Danielle's new favorite uncle and Disney Benefactor, Reagan Brown, scored us free admission to the Magic Kingdom. Danielle wasn't quite sure what was going on, but she was out of her mind with joy. I was amazed at the logistical precision of the place. Danielle was amazed at how many kids there are in this place!

I've created a photo album of some of our favorite pics here.