Make it look good first and how work in progress can destroy expectations

While I’m a film maker. More writer than director at this point, I want to make movies. However, until I can get paid to do that I write code for a living. More specifically I write C# code using the .NET framework on the Microsoft stack. To be even more general, I wrote back-end code. Still confused? Okay. You know how you are reading this? This “post” is stored in some database somewhere. Well how does it get there? Well some sort of process or function writes the data to a database. That’s me. I do that sorta thing. What don’t I do? I don’t make it look pretty. On Stackoverflow I remarked that web designers make a site look good, web developers make it work.

So I’ve typically been the guy who makes it work. I don’t concern myself with making the front-end look pretty. That’s a front end devs job. I’ve done some pretty niffty things with back end code as far as capturing data and manipulating it, but I don’t spend much time making it look pretty.

And in all honesty, that’s typically what people will care about and it’s what they should care about. While the functionality is superbly important, if it looks like crap, who cares? Think of MySpace. Why did they lose to Facebook?  Facebook created such a seamless and clean interface, and a uniform look that it was easier for people to navigate. How many god awful Myspace profiles were there? Almost all of them.

So this brings me to the studio building my animatic trailer. They really liked the idea of creating a trailer for a film that doesn’t exist yet, in the crime/mob genre, and wanted something like that for their protfolio so they cut me a deal. They initially sent me a rendering of the boss’ office which totally set my expectations high. It looked so good.

They then sent a few more sketches. Very rough sketches. Which seemed a bit out of place. A bridge in the trailer which is going to take place on the State Street bridge in downtown Chicago looked like a bridge you’d find crossing a pond in rural Vermont. So they corrected that. Then they started with the character sketches. While they were okay, they were far from what I imagined. They just didn’t look good. A buddy of mine quipped that “I hope you didn’t pay for that.” That really got me worried. This isn’t a massively expensive project, especially with the deal they’re giving me, but this whole trailer approach is somewhat critical to my Kickstarter appeal; and appeal to other possible investors and production companies. So, with the really bad voice over work and now the sub par sketches I was really alarmed. I let it be known that I was alarmed. They got back to me and let me know that with the low-budget nature of this, they were showing me a lot of work in progress stuff so that they wouldn’t need to do much revision once the animatic started being animated in After Effects. They offered to cancel the project if I didn’t like what they did after seeing the first 20-30 seconds of the animation they did.

I agreed knowing full well that there have been several pieces of software I worked on that if I showed anyone in the very early stages, they’d be appalled since nothing was lined up, the wrong font was being used, and the wrong colors were being used – even though it worked, it wasn’t close to being complete.

This whole “working on my film” has definitely been a coming to Jesus moment for me. I now realize what the creatives I work with see whenever I’ve shown them something that wasn’t to their exact spec. Even if I let them know ahead of time that it was rough; they know exactly what it should look like and it doesn’t they couldn’t care less how cool my validation script is or how I’m using AJAX to do something.

Last night I was sent the first 25 seconds or so of the animatic.

I was extremely nervous about watching it. Along with any VO auditions I’ve received lately, I’m hesitant to touch the play button because with each bad audition I am convinced more and more thatn my dialogue sucks and it’s not that I’m just getting bad reads, or under/non directed reads.

So I hit play.

It opens on the city, in all it’s glory.

Chicago in an animatic

Chicago

What you obviously can’t see here is the city in motion along with the music over it. The music currently chosen is “Just Like You Imagined” from Nine Inch Nails on The Fragile. Once the animatic is complete we’re sending it to Nine Inch Nails‘ licensing lawyers for their approval or disapproval. If they disapprove we can still use Ghosts Track 34 since it’s released under Creative Commons.

The second part of the animatic is when John gets on the train, sits down and stares at the photo of Natalie.

John Collins on the Blue Line

John Collins on the Blue Line

This shot is obviously a real photograph with some serious Photoshop filtering done to it. I was told they took the photograph, removed all the people, removed the outside world, and re-did the windows to add proper reflection. It really looks great in motion as you see the lights whiz by the outside windows.

The remaining parts of the animatic still need work, so again like the title says; seeing work in progress can really screw with your expectations. The next scene is Mikey in Vincent’s office. The character placement was completely wrong, the characters looked like agents from The Matrix and it was just all wrong. I’m not too concerned about it as it’s not done yet. It’s work in progress. And on this project so far, work in progress is going to give me an ulcer.

I will have more to come as the trailer finishes up and actual actors perform the voice over work.

A bump in the road and why using radio actors for dramatic readings doesn’t work

Anyone who’s been following along – very few of you for now I know – but any of you know that my idea for the Kickstarter pitch is of course to show a trailer. You can read all about the idea in my post about.

The trailer has seven speaking parts. Danny, Mikey, John, Tommy, Vincent, Nichols, Natalie and Donovan. Shit that’s actually eight parts. As I’m writing this I’m somewhat realizing that maybe I should scale back, but we’ll leave that for another time.

Natalie has one line and Christina Rose provided it and she provided it well. If we get funded I can’t imagine using anyone but her in the role. She seriously matches the look of the character so well that it was definitely a “holy shit” moment when I saw her on twitter the first time. So Natalie is solid and done.

Nichols had a line which required swearing. The line doesn’t work without him saying “fuckin” twice and the voice actors we were going to use had a problem with using profanity so I decided to do Nichols’ line. I had my friend Chris try it a few times but it just wasn’t working. He did a great job with it but it just didn’t match up with what I was going for. Perhaps with some more direction and being in the same room with him he could’ve gotten there.

Vincent. Originally was going to be done by one of the VOX “actors” but after hearing his take, which wasn’t too bad, I went with my buddy Heath – who also did a great job.

So what’s left are the four main characters – the most important parts.

I got the files yesterday.

My mother told me that if I don’t have anything nice to say I shouldn’t say anything at all. Actually she’s never said that at all, and my Mom has said pretty bad things about people, as we all have.

I obviously won’t name names because I think I asked these guys to do something that frankly isn’t in their skill set. They’re radio guys. They do those radio commercials you here and some television spots. That’s why they wouldn’t swear. When I heard their demo reels, I honestly didn’t like any of them, because they all did radio voice and I couldn’t really gauge if any of them would be good for any of the roles.

At that point I should’ve just insisted on finding my own talent and directing them, but I didn’t and ended up wasting money and peoples time. This also sets the animation schedule back as they can’t animate until they have the voice work done.

On that note.

I’m now rethinking the entire “trailer”.

Do I get rid of all the dialogue, save for Christina Rose’s excellent reading for Natalie?

Perhaps just write some voice over narration. Hire a guy with a nice deep voice who has done some trailer work — ya know, the “In a world…” type stuff. .. should I?

After reading this it did dawn on me that there are eight characters in a two-minute trailer. That’s a lot. Albeit no one speaks more than two or three lines and most just have one line.

I’m still not sure which route to take.

I reached out to Aaron Tripp, the guy who actually played John in the first part of our kickstarter video. He expressed an interest in doing VO work. I think I’ll give him a shot at it and if it still doesn’t work, then I’m going to go with the narrator, no dialogue approach with just visuals. Might work? Maybe.

We’ll see.

Still excited about this – just a slight snag in the road to Kickstarter launch.

Voice actors object to using profanity in a mob movie of all things

In case you aren’t aware, I’m creating an animatic trailer for my upcoming Kickstarter video. Almost every character from the screenplay has one thing or another to say. This is a movie about criminals, and federal agents, and drug dealers and while not necessarily “bad” people – they aren’t boy scouts.

They swear.

They swear quite often.

If I were to guess, the use of “fuck” and it’s awesome derviatives occurs at least 150+ times througout the screenplay.

So in coming up with a 4-5 page / two minute trailer animatic, dialogue chosen contains some profanity. Nothing outrageously offensive by any means. Lines such as this:

Have you heard of blowback? It’s the unintended consequene of fucking with other peoples affairs. – John Collins

I certainly fuckin‘ hope not. – Tommy Frenzetti

I’m fuckin‘ with you Tommy, there ain’t no fuckin bright side. – Nichols

The animation company sent me several recordings for people they work with. Now let me tell you, hearing someone do “radio pitch voice” and then trying to figure out how they would send giving a dramatic read of a line isn’t easy. But I listened to them all and picked the “cast”.

I then found out that some of them will not use profanity. They wanted to use the word “frickin” or say “effing”. I obviously said no to that and have decided to find other voice actors.

I spoke to an actress and she couldn’t believe that an actor, even just a voice actor, would turn down work due to using profanity.

I’m learning all sorts of interesting things during this process. We’ve got several new sketches up on our Facebook page.

The only set back now is that I need to find actors who aren’t afraid of saying the “f” word.

I might actually enlist a few friends of mine to do it – as we were originally going to do – until I realized having professionals might be a better idea as we not being actors might make the whole roduction come off quite amateurish. I guess we’ll see.

How to make a trailer for a screenplay that hasn’t been filmed

After shooting the initial part of my Kickstarter video, my friend and fellow screenwriter Kelly Anelons watched it and remarked on why I wasn’t showing what the movie could be. She brought up the old adage about “show it. don’t tell it” which is sacrosanct for screenwriters – at least it’s supposed to be.

So how do you show a movie that hasn’t been filmed?

Let me back up.  My initial idea for the video was simple. Shoot page one of my script.

To give you an idea of page one, well here it is:

FADE IN:

INT. BATHROOM – DAWN

A trembling hand reaches out and turns a faucet.

Water flows over callused hands. They pull up and splash water on an unshaven face.

JOHN COLLINS, 20s. Chiseled. In the mirror, his dark eyes meet his own.

He clenches a Polaroid photo, and stares at it.

He withdraws a nine millimeter pistol; loads the magazine and chambers a round.

KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!

Startled – John points the gun at the door.

SOMEONE
We’ll be outside.

The gun lingers in the air.

BAR

Poker table. Empty bottles of beer on the bar.

The rising sun casts light around the front door. John clenches the gun tightly.

He marches to the front door. His hand reaches out, grabs the door handle.

He raises the pistol as he turns the knob – the door opens – the morning light blasts into the room.

THREE SILHOUETTES turn.

John’s finger wraps around the trigger.

The screen fades to white as gunshots ring out.

TITLE CARD: FOUR OF A KIND

So that’s page one. I like page one. I think it totally sets the tone for the film. There’s a guy in the bathroom. He’s looking at a photo you don’t see, and he’s loading a gun. Why is he doing any of these things?

If you care enough to form that question, than I’ve done my job on page one. Propose a question, give you a reason to turn to page two.

So to me that felt like a perfect way to to do my kickstarter video.  In fact we shot some of it, and you can see it right here.  It’s still rough, and needs a quicker edit, but for now, feel free to take a look:

Four of a Kind – Page One from Jack Marchetti on Vimeo.

After that, I give a pitch, which wasn’t very good, and consisted of a lot of rambling and word vomit and about my dreams of film making and why I’ve wanted to make this movie; all solid and needed for a Kickstarter pitch, but after watching it myself, I wouldn’t give me $5 – it just needed more.

So I thought – let’s shoot a trailer.

My camera man immediately said “if you can shoot 4-5 scenes for the trailer, you can shoot the entire thing.”  Not sure that’s possible, but I saw his point.  If you’re gonna hire actors, scout locations and shoot a trailer, just start shooting the movie. Well we weren’t there yet, so what else could we do?

My friend D. Forrest who did the story boards, as well as my friend Matches Malone are both really good artists; so I thought what if we did a moving story board, or an animatic. That seemed like a really cool idea. Well how do you make a trailer for a film that doesn’t exist?

Apparently I’m not the only one with this dilemma, as you can see from this IndieGoGo project.

So what did I do?

1. I immediately thought of all the memorable dialogue from the movie. My script is a character drama, with some action, but it’s mainly about the characters. Dialogue is what I’m best at so what were the scenes that had really cool lines? The best way to get actors interested in a project is to have them say cool things.  Matt Damon did “The Bourne Identity” almost entirely because of this scene.

2. Tell a story. Unless you’re doing a complete teaser, theatrical trailers tell you a story. Most often they tell you the entire story and there’s not much left to the imagination, but tell a story. My script is about four friends who ultimately betray each other – not necessarily on purpose. The pivotal moments are when three of them accidentally kill the others sister in a botched robbery, and the other is when one of them is ordered to murder the other three. So I worked that in there, by pulling out scenes that reveal that.

3. Less dialogue. Okay in point number one I said make sure to include cool things, however, nothing will bloat your trailer or slow it down more than lots of talking. Terse, simple, declarative phrases. My first draft of the trailer script was about 9 pages, which would’ve been about a seven minute trailer which is ridiculous. 90 seconds to 2 minutes tops. The less talking the better.

4. Music. Think about the music. This is important. Nothing will set the tone or emotion more than a song. Nine Inch Nails released Ghosts under Creative Commons. It’s 36 tracks of pure aural pleasure. Seriously, it’s fantastic. As long as you’re not using the song for a commercial purpose you’re free to use. However, keep in mind, “commercial purpose” is vague and if you use one of these trucks you’re agreeing to allow your creative work to also be used under Creative Commons. Pay it forward folks.

5. Elance is a site where you submit a job proposal and have people around the world bid on it. My first run in with Elance didn’t go so well as I had someone create a one-sheet poster for this project. They did a horrible job. What makes Elance good is that it completely protects you. If you hire someone to do the work, and they’re bad, or they don’t do it, or whatever you can modify the terms with them and not pay them, as you shouldn’t if their work is subpar. So if you can’t do the animations/editing/sound yourself, Elance isn’t a bad idea.

That about sums it up, as far as I can think of right now. An animation studio called MayoFlux is in the process of rendering backgrounds, prior to receiving portraits of the characters to use. Christina Rose has also agreed to provide voice over and her likeness for one of the female characters. You can check our her site here, or her video reel on vimeo.

I’ll post an update once the trailer is done, as well as the script I used.

## Update ##

Got the first comp from the animation company showing the “office” of the crime boss Vincent where he will order Mikey to murder his friends.

The office where Mikey is ordered to kill his friends.

Vincent's office.