I grew up having to get all my information from books, encyclopedias, magazine articles, or professionals, y’all. And I swear it seems like more people were willing to get up off their booty …
I asked Carol-Lynn Parente, the executive producer of “Sesame Street,” how exactly the first episodes were unsuitable for toddlers in 2007. She told me about Alistair Cookie and the parody “Monsterpiece Theater.” Alistair Cookie, played by Cookie Monster, used to appear with a pipe, which he later gobbled. According to Parente, “That modeled the wrong behavior” — smoking, eating pipes — “so we reshot those scenes without the pipe, and then we dropped the parody altogether.”
In 2008 I began writing “The Orbs,” which would become “Orbs: They Are Among Us.” I was ready to make another feature length film. I had learned from many years of making mistakes and was ready to prove to the world that I have learned from them.
I worked on the screenplay on and off for about three years. I wanted to really keep the film within my absolute limitations. I felt that keeping the cast down to just four people and having minimal locations was key. I also had a strong desire to make what I called “an actor’s movie,” meaning a piece strong in dialog and character development. I was highly influenced by “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” I often describe the finished movie as Virginia Woolf meets The Twilight Zone.
Casting took me no time at all, and quite soon I had Christy Johnson, Patrick G. Keenan, and David Joy. Warren Ray joined the cast later and quite frankly helped me make the film a much better piece. I knew that the bulk of the production would be Christy and Patrick as a bickering couple living in a small home in the middle of nowhere. David, I knew that I would be shooting at one small location for the debriefing scene.
Production went smoothly. I shot the debriefing scene first with David Joy in the basement of a club I knew in Greensboro over about 4 hours. The following five days were spent deep in the mountains of Western North Carolina shooting the scenes with Christy and Patrick. Crew consisted of me directing and running sound on occasion, Jason Ledford doing all of the cinematography and lighting, and Mitchell Metz running sound. We shot on the Canon 5D, which served us very well. All of the shooting went smoothly with the exception of a weed eater that kept interrupting a key scene near the end of the movie. It was a wonderful, easy production.
At first the pilots in flight were just going to be voices, but after speaking with Warren Ray (an actor friend of mine) I decided to shoot coverage of the astronauts in front of a green screen and I cast him as the second astronaut. Warren directed his part of the scene himself and sent me some impressive footage. I, in turn, shot Dave in front of a green screen. The space flight footage went from just a porthole view and voices to great composite shots of the men themselves. It worked really well.
It was the first film that I was able to get some 3D CGI effects for the orbs, the launch of the rocket and the capsule’s flight to the moon. 8 Bit Hero did a wonderful job with this work. I had some help from Joh Harp Effects as well with the alien costume.
I spent a few years editing the movie and had my first screening at ConCarolinas out of Charlotte, NC which went over very well. It has since gone on to win seven awards in the festival circuit. I owe my Producer Jaysen Buterin many thanks for showing me the ways of the festival circuit.
“Orbs: They Are Among Us,” is the second feature film that I have finished. Along with”F-3” it found distribution through Worldwide Multimedia and now is available on DVD and VOD. Thanks to my other Producer Matt Cloude for landing this distribution deal!
available on VOD:
available on DVD:
When I was wrapping up “F-3” I realized years have gone by since I’ve made a short film of my own. I made several in school and then I got lost in the bleak world of “F-3” for 8 weird, long years. More years passed by and I gradually began working on more and more indy productions that my filmmaker/friends were helming. Namely Mad Ones Films (https://www.madonesfilms.com).
I was really dying to work with some new material. I grew up a huge fan of the Mad Max films and had developed a healthy appreciation for anything post apocalyptic in theme. The gas mask has served me well on most of my films and to this day find them interesting. I suppose it has something to do with the basic human appearance that suddenly transforms into the large bug eyed creature. Anyway I wanted to make a small story that takes place during the beginning of the second American Civil War.
The production went smoothly and only took the better part of a day. The post-production didn’t take that long either and pretty soon I had a nice little PA (post apocalyptic) flick ready for the fests.
Some of my influences were Andre Tarkovsky and Ingmar Bergman. The inspiration for the opening scene most notably came from Tarkovsky’s “The Sacrifice” and Bergman’s “Shame.” The tension as jets pass low over a house is one of the main things I took from those films. The feelings of angry helplessness was what I was going for. The frustration with the world’s leaders builds up into a crescendo as the civil war rages on outside. I also wanted to bring in aspects of Kenji Misumi’s “Lone Wolf and Cub” movie series highlighting a father and son team that fight for survival and win.
I now have enough story to either make a feature film or an episodic series. For the story I want to combine some of the typical “struggle for survival” themes seen in series such as “The Walking Dead” and in movies like “The Road” and “The Road Warrior” and take them into the realms of fantasy and science fiction. I hope to shoot it in the Western North Carolina region.
I received the first award I’ve ever gotten for a film at ConCarolinas 2012 (https://www.facebook.com/ConCarolinas), the highly coveted “Lucid Auteur Award.”
“F-3” (my first feature film)
I was approaching 30 years old and living in Las Vegas, NV teaching at The Art Institute. This job was a Godsend at the time since the only work I had before that out there was working as a lifeguard at a health club for the old, rich and unhappy. After baking in the sun for a few years praying to the film gods to relieve me from my suffering, I happened upon an adjunct position at The Art Institute of Las Vegas by pure accident. I was actually interested in learning CGI at the time and then after meeting some folks there I thought to myself, “Man, I can teach most of these courses!”. I was invited to apply and after a fairly easy interview and presentation I got an adjunct position. I was very impressed with the facilities there and the encouraging atmosphere to learn. One of the many perks of this job besides no state taxes was the fact that I got to check out any equipment that I wanted. I loved the Panasonic DVX100!!! By far one of the best video cameras I’ve ever used up to that point. I loved it so much, I bought one.
The time had come for me to create a feature film. For some reason I had this strong voice in the back of my head screaming at me to make a feature film by the time I am 30. I asked several of my students for their help and they were all very enthusiastic about a chance to go out and work on a low budget movie… without a script… sort of made up as I went along… sigh.
Let me backtrack just a little bit. You see when I first began checking out the DVX from the equipment room I would just take it home and shoot obscure angles all around my apartment. The images impressed me so much that I thought to myself, “I think I have all I need to make my own film.” and it just ballooned from there.
I had many incredible shoots out in the NV desert surrounding the city. Some of those areas are now completely paved over. Yesterday a wasteland; today a shopping mall, casino and hotel. Vegas was like a forever growing protoplasmic creature of lights devouring the desert. You could literally sit on your porch at night and watch it grow.
I would usually get 5-10 eager folks dying to create, decked out in equipment and ready to rock. We had a great time and it was an incredible learning experience for us all. I will be forever grateful to those that helped me on this film. When I think of all the people who got involved in this and the process I went through I almost can’t believe it.
After a year of teaching and shooting scenes for what soon became titled “F-3” I left the West to go back to my homeland; the mountains of Western North Carolina. I have traveled and lived in many places, but my heart is rooted into the ground deep in the heart of Appalachia. I have always felt it was important for me to make films there beyond any rational thought.
I continued to whittle away at an edit of F-3 while I began teaching for a year at the school I got my MFA from, UNCGreensboro. When the year was up I went to my parents’ home and lived there for 2 years (I hadn’t been back home to live long term since I was 17 and now I was in my early 30’s). There I worked at getting my head straight while I slowly built the mountain range from Hell that appears at the end of the movie. I made them out of everything I could stick together and spray paint. All sorts of stuff, such at 10K in ceramic doll parts donated to me by a very great friend. I made a poor makeshift greenscreen and began shooting SFX plates that I stitched together Using Photoshop to create the matte paintings and then compositing them in Final Cut Pro 7 and After Effects.
The end result was beyond anything that I could have preconceived. I had created a psychedelic, sub-conscious horror film. It was a long journey that at times, I didn’t know if I would finish or not.
“F-3” Pinterest gallery: (Here you can find stills from the movie as well as pictures highlighting the process of building the mountain range from Hell)
The time had come for me to create my final piece before graduation, “Cancer Dreams.”
For this film I actually created a making of video that will go into detail of this film’s creation and execution.
I was still using the CP-16, but I decided to do all of the sound in post having the actors watch the footage on a monitor while I recorded them as they tried to match themselves on the screen.
I put everything I had in this film, taking it from script to screen in the period of a year and a half.
To me, “Der Wolf” was a prison of the normal, meaning it had a story with a beginning, middle and end never leaving the audience guessing what was going on. At the time I wanted to break away from what I’ve already seen. I wanted to create for my second practicum that which hadn’t existed yet in the film world (I now realize everything has been done within the 1st years of the silent era, but here’s to well crafted regurgitation augmented by the 4th dimension/3D objects hurtling through time & space). Anyway, I guess I wanted to make a weird film. I basically wanted to bring my drawings of strange beings to life.
The basic premise I came up with for “F-2” was a priest from the post apocalypse touches paintings and experiences strange, dark visions that lead him to his own end.
I made a set for “Static” so I decided to make a set for “F-2.” I worked construction for years, so throwing up a fake wall made from two by fours and cheap siding was easy enough. I just had to make it weird looking. In art school I used a texture on my sculptures made from polyurethane, sand and plaster. I would just slather it on, wait for it to dry and then paint it. It was really cool looking rusted metal texture; perfect for making ply-wood look like rusty metal walls. Add a few strips of corrugated drainage tubing and you’ve got another world. I use the set for two sequences of the film; the gas mask dancers about midway through and then the sacrifice at the end.
The editing took me forever for such a short film clocking in at just over six minutes. I remember the technology supervisor being kind of fed up with how much time I was taking up in the editing bay. After two weeks of work and many coffees and cigarettes I had the thing finished.
Link to “F-2”
I was pretty happy with this film and was more than ready to create my masters thesis that was to be “Cancer Dreams.”
So I wanted to make a World War II period piece for my 2nd 16mm film at UNCGreensboro. I may have watched one too many war films and I do believe my favorite back then was “Apocalypse Now,” so I was highly motivated to actually make one. I had a story, I had the equipment, I had the crew, I had the actors, and I had the locations.
The story writing process took only a few weeks and I compiled the ideas that me and the 2 lead actors had come up with.
“Der Wolf” is about a lone German sniper dying of TB while he waits for enemy soldiers to wander in his secter. It is basically a poetic piece, as the main viewpoint we hear is from the sniper in the form of narrated journal entries.
For this film I graduated to the CP-16 synch sound 16mm film camera and I got to use 400′ reels (about 10 minutes of 24fps film time) for the first time.
Sound was captured on Quarter inch magnetic tape on a device called a Nagra. We used a shotgun boom to mic our sound.
The crew was made up of my fellow film school compatriots whom I had developed good working relationships with up to that point. Production went wonderfully fast, even though we were a day behind schedule just looking for appropriate rifles from the WWII era. We found them and were on our way. Everything went great until I got the footage back. Wonderful blue scratches were present on a few of the shots from a few different scenes. Looking back on it, it really wasn’t a bad thing and I wished I had actually used the crazy scratched up footage now, but back then I wanted to avoid mistakes like that since I had first experienced these sorts of problems on “Static.” Needless to say I scheduled a re-shoot and had the entire thing in the can.
Final Cut Pro had just dropped and we got a few new mac G4’s with the software at school. None of the professors knew how to use it, so a handful of us students and grad students got together and proceeded to teach it to ourselves. Other than having to learn a new way to edit, the process wasn’t nearly as bad as one could expect and within a few weeks projects were being copied to miniDV tape and then dubbed down to VHS for departmental screenings at the end of the year. “Der Wolf” was well received, but I was ready to go to much weirder territory in my next film, “F-2.”
I have included a copy of the script along with a link to the finished film. They vary a great length due to what was available. Originally I thought I was going to have access to an old mill by a railroad, but opted instead to use a very cool looking barn in an isolated location. Though now, all these years later, I seem to remember having trouble with the sounds of a nearby blacksmith shop to contend with. Anyway, we got it and it turned out pretty well despite the script to screen differences.
Link to script:
Link to finished film:
Static was the first real film that I had time to actually plan out and develop. I had some of the most exciting feelings during this process, especially during the production phase. For the first time, I felt like this craft was made for me.
I grew up making art. My Mom gave me no choice. She was an art teacher and so at an early age I learned to build castles and fortresses out of card board, paper towel rolls, egg cartons, scissors and tape. What most folks would toss into the trash my Mom would save for me. When I was given plasticine, it was on.
Anyway, fast-forward to Graduate School. I was attending UNCGreensboro and I was taking Introduction to Cinematography. We were learning how to use and operate the Bolex 16mm motion picture camera. I learned to love this camera over the course of using it for “Static.”
While I was learning the basics of the Bolex, I was also in pre-production for the project I was going to use it on.
I was really into the rough textures of old WWI and WWII battle footage and dearly loved science fiction. I decided to go with a futuristic world where warring factions fight for technology in a decaying wasteland. I was highly influenced by “All’s Quiet on the Western Front” (the movies and the book) and wanted to capture that sense of desolation and decay that lay in war’s destructive wake.
I knew that I wouldn’t have many opportunities in life to make a movie (at least that’s what I thought then), so I really wanted to do this right. Even before I began writing the script I photographed all of these places that I passed by on a regular basis for several years that would make good locations for my film. An overpass over here, an old railway bridge over there, an old coal bin, a dry lake bed, barns, fields, anywhere really that looked like it was part of the world that I wanted to create.
Then I had to figure out what sort of characters I was going to populate this wasteland world with. I knew that it would make things easy if I could come up with costumes that would cover up the actors completely, so anyone could play any part as long as body sizes were similar. I love gas masks and heavy trench coats so I decided I would go to the local Army Surplus store to poke around and see if I could find anything. I found these great Russian and Israeli Gas Masks, Boots, Gloves, Packs, Snake Bite Shin Guards, Plastic Rain Parkas, and East German Trench Coats massive enough to cover the entire body when buttoned up. I added some cool looking medals, tubing, knives, side arms for the characters Agent 1, Agent 2, Agent 3, and the Enemy Agent. The other characters in the film are Mutants, who are covered in rags and burlap bag cowls. So with these costumes I could basically just use whoever happened to show up for call time. I know at least three people played the main character Agent 2.
I was able to do a bunch of on camera effects, such as a reflection of a monitor in the Agent’s Gas Mask, a door opening on the one wall set of the Agent’s landing craft, and lots of military smoke bombs to create a sort of smokey unfriendly atmosphere.
The shoots went well for the most part, though injury occurred here and there, but we were able to roll on and learn from mistakes. The main problem when shooting with a Bolex is that you have to open up the lens in many cases to see what the shot is and then close it back down and shoot blind. Not every time, but quite a few. Once I had the short in the can i sent it off to the lab and bit my fingernails until it came back. I love film, but it is too expensive. I greatly welcome this current era of HD cameras and the prospects of what is to come.
Editing back in those days, circa. ’98/’99, was not what it is today on a computer. Basically I put this thing together in the old control track editing method using two Super-VHS VTRs and an edit controller.
You need two VTRs (one to record from and one to record to on a blackened SVHS tape) and an Edit Controller (sets In and Out Points and carries out the edit)
Editing went well and I learned to embrace some problems that happened during shooting. There were a few shots where the film inside the camera wasn’t properly secured which created a very jumpy shot. I was furious at first, but then I ended up loving it because it looked somehow more realistic. A crucial life lesson was learned here. Be patient and sometimes accidents can really reinforce the vision.
We got to screen them in a large theater on campus and it was an amazing feeling to see my film so big in a room with so many people.
“Static” was a great joy to make. I don’t know if I’ll ever get that feeling again. That sense of newness to the world of filmmaking.
…and here it is. Enjoy!
Getting Your Product Out There: Reviews???
Want a review? Just ask. Who’d thought it would be that easy?
It actually took a kickstart for me. No, I don’t mean the kickstarter company; I mean it took a friend to hook me up with a reviewer he knew. Since this friend, Jason Ledford, was DP on my new film “the Orbs” and was 2nd unit DP and acted in my first feature “F-3” and happened to be in film school at Western Carolina University (a program I wish I went to, no offense UNCG, your training served me well) and was a friend of a student/reviewer I got the hook up from. The review was amazing and blew me away.
review of F-3:
After I got my first review, I got the idea to begin approaching reviewers online. I just went to google and typed in film reviewers and went down the line. I also altered the search to independent film reviewers as well as horror/sci-fi film reviewers. I found contact information on each site I went to and put together a nice solicitation.
So far I have about 6-8 reviews in the works just from simply asking. I guess it all is just a matter of “jumping off the high dive” so to speak. I was/am terrified of heights, but some times you’ve just got to jump. Just make sure you have some sort of project crafted together in the best of your abilities first.