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Dancing in the Sky : 12/03/14

greetings friends,

happy late Thanksgiving! hopefully your’s was as full of good company and great food as mine. I still have a little apple pie left… and I’m really looking forward to eating that for breakfast later.

BUT, I didn’t come here to wax poetic about food, I came here to tell you about my brand new short film – SKYDANCERS.

I’ve been working on this film for a while.… but before getting into how it was made, I want you to watch it. it’s only 2 minutes and 40 seconds, so go ahead–

the genesis of the project was pretty simple. the last few years I’ve had a strange fascination with those inflatable tube men you see out in front of oil change places, Halloween stores, and car dealerships.

they are just so weird. as the flap and flop around they have an insane smile plastered across their faces and it made me wonder “what are they thinking?” that led me to the question “if they think, are they sentient?” which of course pointed me to the notion that they were really a captured alien species we’d enslaved to do our advertising.

with that odd idea in mind, I began to research famous “freedom” speeches. I read Giuseppe Garibaldi “Encouraging his soldiers,” Malcolm X’s “The Black Revolution,” and Winston Churchill’s “We Shall Fight On The Beaches.” but the one that I drew the most inspiration from was Patrick Henry’s famous “Liberty or Death” speech. I used it as a starting point and modified it as needed for the Skydancers’ special circumstances.

after writing the script the next order of business was to find the dancers. they seem to be EVERYWHERE… except of course when you are trying to film them. I took a day off from writing to location scout. this consisted of driving in a criss-cross pattern through the San Fernando valley for HOURS. I think I drove about 200 miles that day… and never left Los Angeles. it was a little mind-numbing, but I found enough dancers to move ahead. I scheduled a shoot date with my cinematographer, (and talented director) Justin Mitchell and hoped the dancers would still be there.

this guy on the high-bike was talking about an upcoming altercation with a motorcycle gang.

it got up to 105º while we were shooting. I could feel the hot pavement through my shoes.

next up was recording the narration. I had a couple different projects I needed voiceover (VO) for, so I needed to find an actor that could do multiple characters. I listened to a few reels that people submitted. most were decent, but the stand out performer was Nick Shakoour. a fellow SFSU alum, Nick and I had met at a school mixer and I was excited for the chance to work with him.

like most serious VO artists, Nick has his own recording setup, which makes things very convenient. I drove over and we recorded: trailer narration for NATURAL ‘STACHE (a screenplay I wrote), an announcer for the Portland Beard & Mustache Competition, and finally for SKYDANCERS. it was so much fun to hear Nick switch between the different voices. he would go into the booth, clear his throat and lock in. all of a sudden I’d be hearing a different person through the headphones.

I also got to operate the ProTools rig. which consisted of hitting “start” & “stop.” haha

we still needed to shoot the visual effects plates, that is – the live action elements that would be combined together to make the final shot (you know, the one where they are shooting lasers out of their eyes…) but before that – I had a trip scheduled to visit Teal in Ann Arbor. I knew there was going to be a fair amount of “sitting around while Teal did homework” time, which makes sense, since well, she is getting a Phd in Statistics. but I was prepared. I had my laptop and the sound files from the recording – so I used the time to edit the audio for SKYDANCERS.

after returning to LA, the search for a green screen stage tall enough to shoot a dancer resumed. but, the stages that had the height to fit even a small dancer were, shall we say – “cost prohibitive.” fortunately, Justin was able to wrangle a deal with the nice folks over at Evidence Film Studios. (seriously you use their space, they are super friendly and helpful. and also rent cameras!) they had an opening in their schedule, a green screen, and space outside. so I got the appropriate grip equipment, hired a grip to use said equipment, and rented a dancer.

side note: the company that rents the dancers, Magic Jump Rentals, also has bouncy castles and they both drop-off and pickup your orders. how cool is that??

look I made a .gif!

after getting the pieces I needed for the final VFX shot, the next challenge was finding a VFX artist. you always have to remember the “better, faster, cheaper” triangle when making films. especially low budget short films. you only get to have two of them. since I had no deadline, I opted to go the “better/cheaper” route.

the downside of this strategy was that it took over six months to get the shot done. but the end result was totally worth the wait. my good friend (and talented director) Lex Halaby put me in touch with an artist he’d recently worked with, Sabour Amirazodi. it was amazing to get the chance to work with someone so creative and talented, he did things in the shot I didn’t even know were possible. but, as it was a low budget job, and he was giving me a great rate, the time came for him to hand over the project.

luckily for me, my good friend (and talented director) John Wynn was there to help.

side note: do you see a theme here?
double side note: I’ve edited for all three of these director-friends. #collaborations!

John is a VFX mastermind. he was able to take an already great shot and make it even better through the wonders of compositing. and in the process teach me some things about visual effects. this is an area I need to learn more about and I was incredibly grateful. sitting there watching him work, troubleshoot, and experiment was like getting a masterclass in VFX… and it only cost me a shawarma. (if you are ever in the Valley, Joe’s Falafel is the best.)

somewhere in this series of events I also edited the film.

with the shot finished the final step was music, sound design, and mixing. John put me in touch with Nathaniel Smith, a composer he’d recently worked with (maybe I owe John more than a shawarma?). in little time at all Nathaniel had composed an amazing piece of music. it hit all the right emotional beats and its energy helped drive the narrative of the story forward. you know, it’s really remarkable how much of a difference music makes and how if can provide an emotional background for a piece. but that’s a whole other blog…

with score in hand, I took the project to Steve Romero. he’s mixed and designed almost every project I’ve done in the last five years from THE REAL LUKE to CERTIFIED to APT. 5 and I have to say it is such a pleasure working with him. by this time he has a pretty good idea of what I like and honestly, I mostly get out of his way and let him do his thing.

side note: that’s actually a great strategy for directing in general. find talented people, give them guidance, get out of their way, then adjust as needed. but that’s another larger topic…

here’s what his timeline look like for the piece – you can see how much more complicated the design was for the final shot.

and that’s about it. thanks to the hard work of some incredibly talented people, I was able to make an absurd short film. hope you enjoyed the play-by-play journey.

are there any parts of the process you want to know more about? got questions for any of my crew? let me know in the comments below!


new director’s reel : 03/03/11

howdy fellow travelers of the intertubez!

I’m happy to share with you my brand new “Director’s Reel.” this has been a work in progress for the last several months. does it take months to edit a director’s reel? no. then why, you may ask, has it taken this long?

well, the answer is pretty simple. the music. finding the right track takes time. there are a lot of things that I look for in music track.

1.) Do I like it?

it is after all, MY reel. I should enjoy listening to it.

2.) Is it too [BLANK] for the casual listener?

some of my music choices can be a little too eclectic for the average listener. the goal of a reel is to have people get excited about the pretty images, NOT to be distracted by their dislike of the song.

3.) Does the tone of the song match the tone of the reel?

it’s important to have the song reinforce the images. for my reel, I wanted to combine playful and quirky with serious and cinematic.

4.) Is the song editable? That is, can it be rearranged, shorted, and modified to provide not only the desired DURATION, but also the right EMOTIONAL beats for the reel?

there are 4 different parts of the song used in my new reel. can you figure out where I made the edits?


once the song has been picked, the next step is to find the shots that best represent both the pieces they are from AND the overall needs of the reel.

since I’ve made a few demo reels, I already had the shots for some of the projects picked out. and the other projects weren’t that hard. because I the emotional beats of the song and plan for the impression I wanted the viewer to have, it was simply a matter of selecting the shots that best fit with those. this is sometimes referred to as “pulling selects.” back in the days of editing FILM, as assistant editor would literally PULL the best shots and hang them in a trim bin for an editor.

after I had my “selects” I began work on the order and timing of the piece. I knew that I wanted to start with “The Real Luke: Pursuance of Justice” and to end with “APT. 5” and “Certified.” the other projects I moved around a bunch until I settled on the current order. a lot of the order has to do with the transitions in between the pieces. for example, “Updating Paige” ends with a person jumping through the air and the “Got A Nerve” segment starts with two people flying through the air.

any ideas on other devices I used to transition between projects?  

well, enough talk…here’s the reel. enjoy!


New Orleans, Part 2 : 07/15/10

the final blog about our New Orleans trip is pretty much just about two things:

Music & Food.

and maybe not in that order.

on our 2nd day in New Orleans we took the street car up Canal St. it went almost all the way to the Fairgrounds. we didn’t really know where we were going, but we assumed that the massive group of pale, older, folding-chair carrying white people did. we followed the pack the 8 blocks or so and viola! the Fairgrounds and Jazz Fest awaited us.

it was sunny. and hot. and there weren’t many places to sit. we covered ourselves in sunscreen, camped out on the grass and started to watch music.

there are about 8 different venues that were simultaneously showcasing different sorts of music. each stage had it’s own theme (more or less). and each stage allowed for varying levels of intimacy. for example, on the “ACURA” stage, you’d be lucky to make out the performers features…if you could even make out their face. the “Heritage Stage” was one of my favorites of the festival. it featured local New Orleans musicians…and it was small, so I could get up close.

the Paulin Brothers Brass Band
brass band

after a couple bands it was time to eat.

crawfish Monica
crawfish monica

mango freeze & boiled crawfish
mango freeze & boiled crawfish

the crawfish was pretty tough to eat. there isn’t much meat in each “fish” and getting it out is tricky. Teal and I eavesdropped on some other “out of towners” who were getting help from a “local.” step one, pull the heads off. step two, suck out the juices from the head. step three, pinch, squeeze and pull out the tail meat with you teeth. not an easy task. by the time we’d finished the 30+ crawfish I felt like I was just starting to get the hang of it… another basket and I think I’d be good.

sweet potato pie
sweet potato pie

some of the other bands we saw on the first day include:

Coco Ronicheaux and the Swamp Monsters
Groupa – Nordic Folk Collective
Steven Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers
Tribute to Louis Prima

Teal and I were both pretty tired after the first day…and our feet were even more tired-er. (hehe) so we decided to pick up some of those folding chairs that everyone was lugging around. best $10 spent. EVER.
(make sure to go into the CVS on Canal St. and pick some up if you go.)

the 2nd day was overcast, windy, and just a little humid. after the blazing sun and windless heat of the day before this was a welcome change. being able to unfold our chairs and sit down at a moment’s notice made it all the sweeter.

watching Buckwheat Zydeco
fairgrounds grass

of course, the eating continued…

fried soft shell crab po-boy
fried soft shell crab po-boy

pheasant, quail & andouille gumbo
duck andou gumbo

even though we were tired, Teal and I stuck it out to the bitter end. our last stop was the Gospel Tent. there weren’t many people watching the act and we felt a little bad about leaving, but eventually we threw in the towel and headed back to our hotel.

some of the bands we saw that day included:

Hadley J. Castille Family & the Sharecroppers Cajun Band
Forgotten Souls Brass Band
Elvis Perkins in Dearland
Gospel Inspirations of Boutte

along the way we tried to sell our chairs. there were still two more days to the festival and we figured SOMEONE on the street car would have sore feet from standing all day. but no one would bite! it was very curious. we ended up giving them to the front desk clerk at the hotel, hopefully they found a weary festival goer to hookup.

later that evening the whole family ventured into the French Quarter for an ice cream place that Teal had found called la divina gelateria. the night was hot and muggy. people were out and about, it felt like a real city.

one thing I really liked about New Orleans was the coffee. it was good. and it was good at any number of places. even the drip coffee at this little spot was excellent. after tasting numerous varieties of ice cream, we sat outside and enjoyed our treats. I tried to convince the clan to go get some Absinthe with me…but to no avail, so we headed home for some much needed rest.

black coffee & black pepper cherry gelato
espresso & black pepper cherry gelato

our final morning in New Orleans we went back to Café Du Monde. it was just as good as our first visit. along the way we passed an art dealer selling paintings of the DOG that we’d seen all around the city including at Jazz Fest, on a big hotel, in various galleries, and in bus station ads.

rodriquez dog
rodriquez dog

smoking fish
smoking fish

our last stop before leaving was the famous Central Grocery where we purchased their equally famous “Muffaleta” sandwich…

Dad noms

it was quite a trip. we got to experience all manner of new food and new music. it was really special to try things that if we were back at home we wouldn’t have access to. New Orleans truly is an American gem. I highly recommend going there…and not just for Jazz Fest. there is music and food available on a daily basis there…in fact, it’d be hard to go and there and NOT experience it.

do you have any favorite food or music destinations? I’d love to hear about them!