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All posts tagged short film

origins of The First Year : 12/03/15

morning friends,

or afternoon? or nighttime friends? I guess with my international readership it could be all three. (haha) but who’s got time for that kind of question? okay I’ll stop. this is what happens when I start writing before I finish my first cup of coffee.

anyhoo – today is the first in a short series about a project I finished a couple of months ago. it’s been a rather… “eventful” time in my life, so I haven’t been able to tell you about it until now. the project is a collection of poetry titled “The First Year”. (you may have seen #FirstYear on twitter as I worked on it). it was written by Cece Iandoli and edited by me.

now you may say, “Luke – what do you know about editing poetry? or poetry at all?” and you’d be right to ask. working on this was a new and daunting task. but while my poetry knowledge is lacking – I’ve spent a reasonable amount of time editing. consistency of form, rhythm, brevity – this are all things that I practice in my “day job” as well as my own writing. I hoped that that experience, along the experience of “Found in Kitsap”, where I placed 100 random photos into a collection would would translate into creating a compelling collection of poetry.

but I think I’m getting ahead of myself.

who the heck is Cece? and why was she asking me to help with her poetry book?

in order to answer that I’m going to take you back to my days as a college student at San Francisco State University. part of my financial aid package was “work study.” this didn’t mean I got paid to study, rather it meant I could work a low-level job at the University. but first I had to find a someone to hire me. I had a friend who worked in the departmental office for the Design and Industry department (DAI). he said it was a great job and since it was in the same building as the cinema department – I’d always be close to my classes. I applied… and I got it.

the job was somewhere between “office assistant” and “secretary.” I’d work 12-20 hours a week, answering phones, responding to emails, making copies for professors, and filing papers. I’d also keep track of appointments for the department chair during her open office hours. overall, my main responsibility was to be a friendly face to our students. to help them or point them to the place they could be helped. that doesn’t sound like a tough job, does it? well, if you’ve ever had to deal with anyone at a university, they probably gave you the impression it was the hardest job ever.

bureaucracies are odd things. they often have suffer from a strange, self-propagating entropy.

arg, I have to step back AGAIN and explain a bit about my job history. my first “real” job was at a Safeway grocery store (don’t worry I’ll write about this at some point). this chain of supermarkets decided to implement a program called “superior service”. whatever the interaction with a customer, you had to go one step above – you had to provide superior service. if they asked “where are the capers?” you’d take them there. after bagging their groceries, you’d OFFER to take them out – you didn’t ask if they “need help.” as an employee you did this because you didn’t want to be fired… and if the store did well enough you’d have a chance for financial rewards.

well, no such program existed at San Francisco State. any interaction with the university was like going to the DMV. people were unhelpful at best. often they were misinformed and gave bad information. occasionally they were downright rude. it was exasperating trying to get an answer to any question, or to do anything outside the prescribed order of academic function.

nowhere was this more apparent than my own department – Cinema. I cannot remember ONE positive experience dealing with the department or any of its staff. and I wasn’t the only one. my classmates all experienced the frustration of a department who’s service to the students seemed to be their last priority. imagine showing up at 12:01pm and needed to turn in a paper, but finding the door locked. you can hear people inside the small office. you knock, you speak through the door, you beg to just be able to drop off your form, and you get no response.

when I started at the Design and Industry office, I vowed to be different. I promised myself I would never just tell a student “I don’t know” or makeup an answer. if I didn’t know – I’d ask other people until I did. I would be friendly. I would smile. I would give them the service that I wanted to get. in fact all the work study students in our office did this and it wasn’t just because of me – it was because of the example put forward by our office manager and our department chair. more often than not, during the lunch hour the office manager, Rosa would keep the office door open. sure, we were supposed to be closed – but she wanted us to be available to students, “just in case.”

DAI Staff

our department chair was no different. she was almost TOO available for students. if a student happened to catch her outside her office and ask her a question, she would invite them in and help them. she needed to be doing her own work, but she had such compassion and such a big heart for her students that she’d go out of her way at a moment’s notice. I acted like her guard dog, making people sign up for actual office hours when I could. I wasn’t telling students “no”, I was just telling them “later.” if every student got to see her whenever they wanted, she wouldn’t have been able to run the department.

she was also kind and supportive of me, both as student and artist. even though I was in a different department, she would always take a moment to ask me about my studies. when I decided to go live at the Kirkwood Ski Area, she let me take two independent study classes from her so I could make a weird video installation. when I decided to apply for the Interdisciplinary Digital Art program, she was right there, cheering me on and helping me engage in the process. she understood the bureaucracy of the school and gave me the tips to navigate it. she was one of the most encouraging and supportive people I’d ever met. and probably more than any instructor in the cinema department – she was my college mentor.

the name of this wonderful woman? Cece Iandoli.

after I graduated college, we gradually lost touch. I’d email every so often and most of the time wouldn’t hear back. then I sent her a sample of “Found in Kitsap.” she emailed me back and said that she had a project she wanted to talk about and wondered if we could chat on the phone. I said I’d love to.

when we talked I learned why we’d fallen out of touch… she had been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. I didn’t know what to say… (and I still don’t know now other than that it’s a horrible, awful, and brutal disease.) since her diagnosis she’d been writing poetry – about the disease, the experience, the fear, the small joys she found, and the memories of her life. she wasn’t sure if the poems were any good and wasn’t sure what to do with them.

she asked for my help… the prospect of the project scared me, both in a creative and emotional way. it had the chance to be a dark road… but I knew that this person who meant so much to me was hurting and this was a way I could show my love for them. so I said yes.

a week or so later I got an email with over 170 poems attached… now I just had to figure out what to do next.


p.s. here’s a little treat for you… a short I made during a slow day at work.

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!


a fun skateboard video : 09/04/14

hey friends,

sorry for the long absence. working on a new script collided with the World Cup, and then bled into getting a new full-time gig. I’ll write more about that later. but in the effort of getting back into the swing of blogging, here is a very cool skateboard video.

it combines a few of my favorite things, skateboarding, subways, and rhythmic editing. I hope you enjoy it!