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Friday, May 27, 2011

Catma Project 2011: The feature now titled "What's the Use?"..for now

So, the first feature project we are attempting under the "Catma 2011" guidelines is now called "What's the Use?" At least, for now...

Without spoiling too much, it's about a young teen who goes out one summer night to seek revenge on a man who publicly humiliates and abuses her father at a barbecue party.  Along the way, she meets some interesting folks, has a brush with death, to learn that revenge is not always so sweet and the people we hate are more complicated than just your typical "bad guy."

Jason Tremblay is the writer.

We have no script...but, we have a set of scenes, seventy one of them to be exact, with the motivation of each character clearly defined.  It has begun as a series of color-coded sticky notes as in the picture above, and now it is in the process of being scheduled. I'm using EP Scheduling. This is the slow attentive part. Inputing each scene's costumes, characters, props, makeup, effects, vehicles, time of day, background characters, etc. It's a touch more complicated than a regular script as I'm working off a discussion with the writer and his sheet of scenes with descriptions like "J.C  wakes in Andrea's Arms."

After I have input each scene, I have to print "strip boards" for each scene which will allow me to move them around like bits of a puzzle around days in the calender for July and August of this year. This is the tricky part.  Working around people's schedules, trying to not move the locations much, blocking actors in chunks, etc...I actually really like this part.  I hate puzzles, which is odd, considering I actually like scheduling the shoot.
While I find this part of producing fun, it's also one of these processes that require a lot of focus, and an ability to be extremely thorough. If you forget to list a prop on one of these scenes or schedule an actor based on these breakdown sheets, your night of shooting might just be ruined. So I've just finished the first pass and will be coming through these sheets and least twice more.

Costuming is going to be tough as well as the presence of blood (there are a few gun wounds in this story) requires us to have at least 2 of each costume used in the scene where blood appears. For a tiny cast, my costume list has become quite long.  Sigh...

I'll also be scouting locations this weekend.  Most of the scenes occur at night, which helps with some noise issues and heat, but the lighting is going to be tricky. Can't have it all!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The new "Catma 2011" project continues...'s been two weeks since I posted anything about the new "Catma 2011" project. Instead of floating around philosophies about it, we've decided to put our thoughts into action. We are shooting a feature length film in 2011 based on this DIY approach.  So, here's the update.  

We've chosen an idea for the film's story.  Since Catma is supposed to be about utilizing your resources, we've based the characters on actors/people we know, bringing in their own distinct personalities and traits to the characters they will become.

Because we want things to feel more "natural" and spontaneous, instead of writing a script where the dialogue is given to the actors, we are creating a road map of the story, scene by scene, with clear goals and directions for the actors to work with.  This will require the actors to be quite capable of collaboration, improvisation, or at least willing to take some risks with improvisation and exploration. 

So far, we will be a crew of three or four.  An editor to review to footage after shooting and begin an assembly cut.  A sound recordist. A director of photography. A director. 

Challenges abound however.

As Jorge and I have been bouncing around the approach, we've found ourselves having to be careful about "getting too big."  We've found ourselves talking about choosing equipment that goes beyond the budget, or equipment that would require having a larger crew than the current three or four people we have, and simply having to say outloud "STOP. We're going against our motto." We've had to also maintain this "keep it simple, keep it small" approach for the story and cast size.

Locations.  To keep things simple, all of the scenes should be able to happen just about anywhere. This has been tricky because naturally, as one tells stories, one sets the story in certain places or chooses specific actions.  Every scene must be able to be stripped of any expensive prop, costume, or be shot in a way that suggests it rather than show it.  All locations must be flexible.  

The camera: We'll be shooting without special lighting equipment, relying on whatever we light we have handy.  (It will be okay to utilize any light kits...but only if they are free and don't require a massive crew to move and set up.)   I'm currently testing footage on my Canon Vixia HF M31.  It's an HD camcorder but captures 24p recording at 60i. I've occasionally noticed some artifacts in the image that appear to be the effects of interlacing the image, especially when there is a great deal of movement.  Red Giant software makes a plug in that supposedly gets rid of that interlacing look, but as I ran some tests, it appears that six and a half minutes of footage would take about 22 hours of rendering time., that's a mark against using the Vixia. I'm going to continue to work with the footage and try some coloration using Magic Bullet.  

We might be using an Canon 7D, but more to come on that.

I'm both both nervous and excited to see what will come of this.  Movie making can be such a highly-controlled process, and I tend to gravitate towards controlling things because there is so much at stake, that this sort of come-what-may and let's-go-out-and-shoot something approach is definitely a challenge for me.  I'm seeing it akin to finding a box full of tubes of paint, grabbing a few colors, squeezing them in a cup, mixing them together to see what weird color results.  

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Creation of "Catma 2011"

So, Jorge and I decided to break away from our normal busy weekend film-oriented chores, and just head out in the heat for sushi at Sushi-a-Go-Go and a walk on South Congress.  Of course, we always talk film. We always talk about projects, creatively and pragmatically. Nothing we really mulled over was that much different than usual, other than we decided to put aside our high expectations of a nice camera (for now) and embrace a "fuck-all" approach.

Let me elaborate.

Jorge and I have always felt that most aspiring filmmakers in this country are hindered by two things: the belief their immediate lives are not interesting, and the mental "colonialism" by Hollywood's standards and aesthetics.  As media consumers, we are so inundated by Hollywood films, that if our own films don't match in some capacity, they simply aren't good.  Even "indie" films can be incredibly expensive projects that are out of reach for most creators.  Obviously there are exceptions, but as most filmmakers do have even cheap camcorders, making a film can be a much simpler process if we can just let go of these extremely high expectations we place on ourselves as artists. 

So, as Jorge and I dug into some delicious crepes from a street vendor on South Congress, we decided that it was time to revisit the "Dogme 95" rules of filmmaking that were established in 1995 by Danish filmmakers, the most notorious of the bunch being Lars von Trier. The rules were meant to make filmmaking a more accessible process without the incredibly huge budgets most films require. While little rules were broken all the time, the end result was still achieved: new films with different visions, focusing on story not technological pomp and circumstance, shot on cameras my mom could figure out. 

So, laughing, we decided to begin the creation of "Catma 2011," as a humorous spinoff on "Dogme 95."  It's not a reaction to Dogme, but more to the economic realities faced today by filmmakers. Most wait until they get "greenlit," constantly searching for the pot of gold, shopping around projects, searching for investors.  Years will go by and a film never gets made.

Our goal: to empower filmmakers at whatever technological level they are, to use the vast amount of accessible and affordable tools we have at our disposal, to create simple but effective and compelling stories.  We are not against technology, we are for ALL technology, as long as one jumps into using whatever tools they have. It's about making good stories, cheaply, and exploring the dynamic life that is just outside our windows.

We haven't solidified the list of "rules," as this is an exercise for us as well.  But as we plan the feature we wish to shoot , we will propose and post rules we wish to try out. For now:

1. use whatever image recording device you have free access to, wether it be an EPIC camera or your iPhone video recording device.
2. you may certainly use elaborate post effects, as long as they are free. 
3. never ever botch on sound, but find ways to make your onset recordings sound clean and pro, for cheap. If there is ever any element of production you should spend on, it should be assuring you get the best production recording you can. 

Strangely enough, we've been getting some strange "hints" of encouragement, little coincidental discoveries in alignment with our new goals.  This weekend we discovered a filmmaker by the name of Joe Swanberg who creates large amounts of material which he directs, shoots, and edits himself, with a micro-budget. He literally just jumps into his work and does it. I have yet to see any of his work, but plan to attend the Alamo Drafthouse showing of Uncle Kent in June. 

In addition, we attended a birthday celebration of a friend, and as we all sat down to catch up over our recent film forays, our friend expressed the truth that so many filmmakers spend so much time trying to launch one project, that they lose out on other opportunities to work on other ideas.  And the myth of the success story. For any successful project an artist creates, digging deeper will reveal numerous other not-so-successful projects he or she made. 

So, essentially, filmmakers must continually be creating work, with whatever tools they have access to.  Why should the big boys in L.A. have all the fun? 

So, I will continue to put updates here on Catma 2011 and the film we are looking to make.

For now, let's just say we are researching good but affordable sound recording devices and mics to use on a boom. We'll be using my mini Canon Vixia M31 HD camcorder. It's the size of a kitten.