My short film Going Through the Motions is again available to be seen on the RCI site. This project was an experiment of sorts, a documentary – fiction. We shot it in a couple of days and edited in one before sending it out, so looking back it’s pretty rough. But it has some nice moments. Shot about four years ago, it’s also the first fiction film I made with my HVX / Cinevate Brevis combo, somewhat before I knew how to use it.
The screenings are from all reports going excellently all the way out in Zanzibar, which is great to hear (but only slightly dulls the pain of not actually being able to go out to Africa). Toiling away, in admittedly beautiful summery Montreal, Jawad (sound) and I put together a trailer for the film. Enjoy!
Even as we rush the fine cut of the film, we took some time to take some promotional photographs of the cast a few days ago. Graphic Designer extraordinaire Jessica Burt of UrbanHanded Works is designing ours, and she is hard at work putting something together as I type. She also did the poster for “My Cultural Divide” for me back in ’06.
So here are a couple of the photos I took, but lots and lots more to come.
Director Phad Mutumba and Producer Xena Bantarizah just got word that their feature comedy / drama “Making the Band” will be the opening film to the 2011 edition of the Zanzibar International Film Festival. For those who are keeping track, I served many roles in this production: screenwriter, cinematographer, and editor, as well as playing a producer role in the background. Oh, and I even filmed myself in a cameo.
It’s a great honor to be playing at this festival, the most important for East African films, as both Phad and Xena are immigrants from Uganda, right next door to Tanzania. They are obviously overjoyed, as is the cast and crew, and we look forward to having it screen to what I am sure will be a enthusiastic audience.
A lot of work remains to be done – we only sent them a very rough assembly cut, and the festival happens in about a month. Xena will definitely be going to present the film, and we’re looking into how we can get anyone else (including yours truly) there as well. It would be wonderful if we could present with as many people as possible involved, especially the talented cast who shine on screen.
More information to come on screening times, but we know for sure it will play on opening day, June 18. Here’s the announcement from the festival.
The cinema was packed, and from all accounts they loved Only Sky & Water, and especially liked how the two films (with The Pirate Tapes) worked well together. Two more showings next weekend – catch it while you can.
Speaking of which, the feature presentation The Pirate Tapes is a startling film that more documents a filmmaker putting himself into mortal danger than investigates Somali pirates. It’s questionable judgement perhaps on his part, but some parts of this life and death account are riveting.
I’ve been editing the feature fiction “Making the Band” for Ugandan-Canadian filmmaker Phad Mutumba over the last couple of weeks, since we wrapped shooting. It’s a very tight schedule so we can get it out to festivals, which is a lot stressful, but the film looks great. It had better be, since I shot it…
Still doesn’t stop me from internally yelling at the DP for shaking the camera at the most inopportune moment, or not framing in a better way. But considering he had only a few lights and usually only 1 other person helping him with the equipment, not bad at all.
Here are a few stills from the shoot, enjoy.
Generally the films I make or am a part of take a long time, a great deal of pre-production, and a lot of loving and caring in post. Things don’t always work out that way, case in point, the music video I produced for UrbanHanded Works last month. James Hoffman directed yet another video clip for the United Steel Workers of Montreal, this one funded by FACTOR, and not from the band’s pockets which was nice for a change. The song’s name is “Little Girl” off the album Three on the Tree. Our budget was still quite tight, and we had to call in a few favours, but I have hope that this signals a new stage for the band so next time we can pay our great volunteer crew.
We went from greenlight to production in about three weeks, and James edited the piece in less than 3 days. Our reasons for being rushed were complicated, but basically we had a deadline to send back to FACTOR we didn’t want to try to extend further. It all worked out, and we got the project in on time, which I am very happy about. Deadlines are great because they push us to finally call something “finished” even if we could probably work on it for another few weeks, if not months.
My own short film, Mr. Crab, has taken a long time to produce because I waited for crew to become available and the summer to arrive to shoot. Then in post because I took my time with the picture edit, and gave my musical composer Jawad Chabaan and sound editor Emory Murchison a great deal of breathing room so they could fit in a few other projects. That and festival application season wasn’t upon us. And then… it was.
The result? Rushing at the end. I haven’t worked on a film where we weren’t rushing at the end yet, and I don’t think I ever will. Perhaps it is human nature. We need deadlines to give us a reason to move onto the next project. When you’re an independent artist it can be too easy to work on that project you’ve been nurturing forever, for – well, forever. But there is a bell curve to the benefit that extra time will positively affect the project. Some would argue too much tweaking can hurt a film, and I tend to agree. But where is the healthy balance? I say, make a realistic deadline, and stick to it.
Unless you have to break it, so you can slightly change that shot that has been bothering you for a while. Trust me, I’ve been there.
I do a lot of things for work, my favourite ones being writing and directing. But I also edit, act, produce, and do camera. I occasionally cater the sets I work on too, just for kicks. I always have fun being the cinematographer of a film, even though I usually get someone else (like Osheen) to shoot my own fictions to keep my focus on the actors. I also think he’s far better than me, which is why eventually I’d like to stick to the writing/directing angle. That said, right now I am shooting a feature film for Phaz Entertainment, directed by Phad Mutumba. I edited his and Xena Bantarizah’s first feature, the award winning My Policy (Chairman’s Award at the Zanzibar International Film Festival), and this time I am taking on a lot more responsibility.
Phad is making films for the (very) low budget African market, centered in Nollywood, although Phad himself hails from Uganda. Nollywood films have a fairly low production value as a result of some of the features are actually made in as little as a week, which to any other standards would be considered insanity. We’re trying to go a number of steps past that though, and make this something special. It takes a lot more time than a week (more like 10 weekends), but so far the movie is looking really great.
I am very involved in this film. I am the screenwriter too – having rewritten a draft Phad and Xena wrote based on their original concept. Add to that I will be editing – so that’s three roles in one movie, which is why I call myself a Jack of All Trades.
We’re only about a third of the way into the production of this movie, and so far I am really happy with the images we are capturing. The talent is superb and Phad’s doing a great job getting them ready for some really difficult scenes (did I mention that this is a movie about a musical act?). In any case, considering we only have a handful of lights, and roughly 1-2 other person(s) other than myself working behind the scenes, I am happy with what we’re doing. More on this film as we move along with the production…
I have been doing a lot of writing lately, trying to get my next projects in full swing before I have finished my last one, which is either a good idea or foolish, I am not sure which. Regardless, I thought I would share some thoughts about the writing process, and how I go about working on a new script.
I recently saw an interview with Darren Aronofsky (whom I admire greatly) where he said that the first draft of a script should be written in a burst of energy, not taking time to rework anything, and not worrying about it being a piece of garbage. I tend to agree, however I find it difficult to do so. I take a little more time on my first draft because it is where I am crafting the story for the first time, although I would be being generous if I was to say that my first drafts are any good. On the contrary, they are always terrible.
What I have started doing though is giving first drafts to my trusted collaborator and writing partner before even going through it too much myself. I used to never do this – partially because I didn’t have someone I trusted enough with my raw ideas to give a script to – and mostly because showing someone a first draft can be embarrassing. It’s like being naked in front of a jury. A jury that is very critical, and doesn’t hold back about any shortcomings that you may have.
Finding a collaborator like that is like striking gold. Certainly you can pay for advice and script analysis, but knowing someone who knows you, and what you are probably trying to do, is so much better. And not to mention free. But you have to be open to the criticism, and you can’t take it personally.
I think the key to improving at anything is taking criticism well, and knowing where to look for it. I have gotten loads of criticism from sources I have ignored completely. And some that I have taken to heart more than was intended. Understanding who the person is that is giving the advice is as important as the advice itself, and it is why I treasure good writing partners.
It’s in the second, third, and subsequent drafts where I like to be in any case, it’s where the real shaping and storytelling happens. It’s where the idea becomes more than a flash in your mind, but a fleshed out fully thought-out story. It’s where the magic of writing happens: where the tone and pace start to take form.
The script I am writing right now is a feature drama called “Path of Light”. It’s a story that’s been in my mind for literally years, but once it came out written down on a page, the idea shifted. I didn’t imagine this story was the one I was going to tell at first, but over time I realized it is the story that I want to tell, and a much more interesting one than I thought of when I had my initial inspiration. Initial inspiration is beautiful, it’s kind of a full movie told in splendid moments in your mind, one that no one ever gets to see other than you. Tragic, but dreams are a personal thing, and as similar as it may feel, movie making is not dream making. That’s the illusion.
I say all of this knowing my professional experience is limited. I have made a couple of good professional short films, ones that I am proud of. This would be my leap into long form, and I hope I am ready for it. When I was much younger I made what amounts to a medium length fiction on video, and consider it a student film since I was just out of school, and had written it then. I learned quite a bit from the experience, but the main thing I learned was to not go into production if you are not ready. Not ready because your script is not working, not ready because your idea isn’t fully formed, not ready because your actors aren’t prepared, etc… Now, as I embark on a true professional fiction feature, I hope I have learned enough lessons to make a film I can be proud of.
And I know it all starts with the script.
I’ve spent a lot of the last month working – not on my film editing, but on the job that pays the bills. It’s a necessary evil most of us independent filmmakers have to deal with, and I try to keep my consumption level low so my expenses are not too bad from month to month. That way I can live on a part time income, and spend more hours working on what’s important.
The argument can be made the other way of course. I could spend a lot more time working a really good job, and save to make my films. Instead of spending time writing proposals and looking for (mostly) government funding for my work, I could use that time pursuing an alternate career. The fact of the matter is often I would be getting the same kind of funding either way. But time to me is more valuable, even leisure time.
I’ve been very fortunate in Quebec for funding. My Cultural Divide got money for both pre production and post from CALQ, and my first professional short fiction Useless Things was funded by SODEC primarily, and then also the NFB and the CBC (who purchased a broadcast license). It also got the English award from the Writers Guild of Canada during the Cours écrire ton court! competition. I consider myself very lucky, and even more so for getting another grant from CALQ for Mr. Crab. Still, these grants pay for the films, and like any other kind of freelance work, if you don’t have a backup plan you might be setting yourself up for financial disaster.
Often, the backup plan is the credit card. Certainly the worst idea possible, but I don’t fault people too much because I have been there. I don’t believe in funding a film with a credit card, but I definitely think they can come in useful in emergencies when no work can be found. Again, yes, I’ve done it, and when I say it’s a bad thing that can take you down a dark financial path, I speak from experience. It’s something I vow never to do again.
Well, until the next time I absolutely have to make a movie I don’t have money to make, I guess.