Thursday, April 28, 2016

How to Make a Short Film: How to Hold Auditions - What People Don't Tell You

There is nothing that makes you feel more like a real filmmaker to have people audition for your film. I didn’t realize before I started casting Kelly vs The Philosophersabout to make my first short film. When people audition, that means they actually want to be a part of the story you want to tell, to achieve your vision. You feel just a wee little bit like a big shot. Enjoy it. When the filmmaking problems start you’ll get over it.

Left to Right: Taylor Pope, Jennifer Verzuh, Josh Shabshis, Hope Epperson, Megan Restine, Rachel Kyle, EC Hannah, Alex Foley, Bryce Lewis, Brian Stewart, Josh Simons, Lara Jane
When you're a filmmaker make your first short film, here are the things I learned you should look for in an audition that nobody tells you about. Unlike many of my stories, in this case most of what I learned was what I did right.

1. Lead the actors. You should know what you want from the actors communicate that with them clearly. They are depending on you to tell them what you want to see so they can give you their best performance possible.

I told my auditoners that they should bring their own script and that it should show ability to do comedy. Rachel Kyle (who would end up being Kelly in Kelly vs The Philosophers) and her friend Adriana Hanson (who would end up co-writing a script with me) did a two woman show that was really impressive. To help me decide, I told them to do the same audition but in the opposite role. You can see how amazingly that turned out.

2. Always record your audition. I was smart enough—in this case—to know that people look differently on video than they do in real life, so you need to see what they’ll look like on film. That’s in addition to how helpful it is to watch it later if you’re debating between two candidates. Watch Hope Epperson (who would eventually become The Librarian) nail hers below.

3. Ask to see a funny audition. This is more of a personal thing. But I find I learn more about the actor in funny auditions. Humor shows if someone can portray personality, spontaneity, and timing, things that are important in funny or dramatic roles. Of course, in this case I was casting for funny, but in cases of drama, I would still ask for two—one dramatic and one funny.

This is my favorite audition I received. Hope did a second audition with her friend Rebecca Averett and the two of them killed with a self-written parody two-woman show of Willy Wonka. You owe it to yourself to watch this audition and be amazed by these two.

4. Have Friends Who are Great Actors. This is a bit of a cheat. But you need two things when you are casting an actor: someone who’s a great talent and someone with whom you get along. If you have actor friends you know will work for the role that will cut down a lot on stress. Just be sure they really can act. Nothing is worse than casting a friend who’s a bad actor. Happily, Mary Cassella is not one of those.

So that's it! Have you ever held an audition or been in an audition? Tell me any of your stories or lessons in the comments.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

What I Learned at the Tribeca Film Festival

Tribeca Film Festival is something that every aspiring filmmaker loves. For five extra bucks on a ticket (and an hour in line for rush) you get to prove to everyone that you love movies more than everybody else and explain to them perfectly legitimate reasons why your movie didn’t get in but should have. Who cares if you liked the movie? The bragging rights are worth it.

So this year, my first time going, I got all this and also watched movies at Tribeca Film Festival I really liked and helped me improve my craft. Here’s what I learned from the movies I saw.


I loved Norah Ephron and so really wanted to see the movie that got her award this year (given to great female directors). Tribeca Film Festival’s Adult Life Skills was the kind of movie I normally hate, done so well that I really liked it. Few movies irritate me more than dramas about dysfunctional, privileged, dissatisfied people engaging in naval gazing. But this movie had real spunk, creativity, real, legitimate drama, endearing characters and great humor


I was interested in this Tribeca Film Festival movie because I’m really interested in knowing more about Scientology. But the movie began with the documentarian admitting that nobody in the church would talk to him, so the whole movie was about he and some ex-Scientologists attempting to re-construct the goings on in the church. There are a lot of good filmmaking tools used. But the best part was when the Scientologists started following them around with video cameras.


Waiting in line for Tribeca Film Festival rush tickets to My Scientology Movie I didn’t think I or my friend were going to make it in. There were too many people ahead of us. Then there seemed like a miracle: a lady offered my friend and I a free ticket. My friend insisted I take it even though it meant I might get to go in without her.

Yes, it is totally legitimate to take way too many pictures
of yourself at the film festivals.
But then there was another moral dilemma: behind us we discovered there was a group of friends behind us who all had tickets except for the one friend who would have to stay behind and attempt to get rush tickets. My friend looked at me and told me that I could solve that problem for the lady right there. And reminded me that if my whole group of friends went into see a movie I would be praying someone gave me an extra ticket to join them. I really wanted to see the movie. But I had just heard a sermon on how Christians should be a different kind of community who make different—more generous—choices.

I decided to give her the ticket, trusting that what God willed would happen.

And guess what? My friend and I got in anyway.

Life lesson: movies, and bragging rights about movies are worth the extra five bucks. But loving people is more important. Even more than the Tribeca Film Festival. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

How to Make a Short Film: Coming Up with the Story

How do you pick the right story when you make your short film?

Aside from using in a bathtub. That is assumed. 
Almost every independent filmmaker has to struggle between telling the story they want to tell and telling the story other people want to watch. Independent filmmaker Hal Hartley told No Film Schoolpeople don't go to movies unless you see sex and violence. So no matter what you are to address …, no one's going to pay attention unless there's a girl and a gun. And so I try to just wrestle with that.” The juggling of these things becomes something of a Faustian bargain between making something meaningful and something enjoyable.

I wanted to challenge myself with my first short film—Kelly vs The Philosophers—to effectively tell a story that was both deep and really fun to watch. Now, I have an advantage because my favorite movies are the ones that have appeal to the elites and the masses, such as Gladiator, Silver-Linings Playbook, Inception and Iron Man. So to me it’s not a Devil’s pact as it is just making the kind of movie I’d like to watch. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

The story for Kelly vs The Philosophers came about when my politics professor David Tubbs told the class that we should “struggle” with the philosophers he was assigning us to read. He believed if we argued mentally with what they were saying we would get a lot more out of them than if we just passively accepted or dismissed their ideas. For me, my first thought was? What if I too that idea and had a student literally fight with the philosophers, action-hero style? And what if I played against type and made the action hero an average girl rather than action archetype? From there the ideas came quickly and easily.

Our lineup of philosophers was actually pretty intimidating, right?

The film, when it finally premiered, opened to enthusiastic reactions at my school. Everyone enjoyed it and were—best of all, also—engaged with the ideas. That convinced me that I was on the right track with my self-challenge to make movies that are fun and important.

Four takeaways.

1. Don’t feel like you’re cheapening the story by also having it be fun. You don’t have to be. And it will mean more people will engage with the story you want to tell.

2. Play against type. A lot of the magic of the story came from gender-swapping the lead character from the expected guy to girl. That makes your story a little different and sparks creativity.

3. Know your audience. My college was very into philosophy. So taking an idea that was relevant to the student body meant that the people I would be showing it to could get excited about the idea.

4. Love what you’re telling a story about. I love philosophy and I love action and comedy. These are things that are worth celebrating to me. People love to see other people share what they love with them—even if they don’t already love them. People can tell, and believe me, it’s infectious.

Do you have a story about coming up with a story for your film and what you learned? Sound off in the comments below!

Monday, April 18, 2016

How to Make A Short Film: Finding Your Team

(Left to right: Bryce Lewis, Megan Ristine, Brian Stewart,
 Rachel Kyle, Josh Simons, Taylor Pope, EC Hannah, Alex Foley,
 Hope Epperson, Jennifer Verzuh, Lara Jane, Josh Shabshis)

I wanted to make a short film but I wasn’t going to a filmmaking school.

You need a lot of help to make a really good film. Orson Welles once said, “A poet needs a pen, a painter a brush, and a director an army. To make a short film to start on your filmmaking career you have to find a way to convince other people to join in with you. The people you have around you is going to very a lot so you need to know who’s in your circle and why they might agree to work on your project.

Orson Welles could get pretty bitter about the film industry. Later on he said: "I think I made 
essentially a mistake in staying  in movies but it’s a mistake I can’t regret because it’s like saying 
I shouldn't have stayed married to that woman but I did because I love her."
The spring of my freshman year I was talking to prospective students who might be coming next year. Everybody I was talking to wanting to go into filmmaking. Seemed to me there might be a market for someone to start a filmmaking club. We had one for theater. Why not this?

First thing I needed was to test to see if there really was interest in making short films. I came up with a story and hammered out a script. (Which became Kelly vs The Philosophers) Then I started asking around to the people I knew and people I thought might be interested

1. Theater crowd.

2. Filmmaker crowd.

3. Any Friends.

4. General advertisement to student body.

Immediately I got a lot of filmmaking interest in the general call for cast and crew, which made me very happy. I called up one of my friends who I had specifically in mind for the role of Machiavelli: Alex Foley, a guy who, if you knew him, you’d know why he was instantly the one I wanted for that role. I messaged him and he immediately and enthusiastically agreed. Another friend I had in mind to be my editor—Benjamin Capitano--I didn’t have to even ask; the minute he got wind it was happening, he jumped on it. Which I was really glad about because he was—and is—so amazingly talented.

 (Here Alex Foley is in another video series he starred in that I made--just to give you an idea.)

My filmmaking resources were the fact that I was going to a school where—although it was not a film school per-se—it was full of people who were interested in the arts and film. More than that, everyone I knew was a doer who liked to pull together a do things and do them well—whether that was to make a short film or not. So what are yours? Make a list of the ones you’ve got.

Do you have any stories about getting started on your filmmaking career or getting to make your first short film? Tell me in the comments. And stay tuned for more lessons I learned working on Kelly vs The Philosophers.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

How to Make a Short Film: Kelly vs The Philosophers

I often dreamed of making films. But like my goal to one day have superpowers they were just that: dreams. That is until college when I finally decided to put my money where my mouth was. (For film. Still waiting on the superpowers.) That’s where I made my first short film: Kelly vs The Philosophers. I didn’t have any experience filmmaking or making a short film. I wasn’t at a film school. But I knew this was what I wanted to do. So I decided to go for it.


First thing to make a short film I had to do was figure out if there was even interest in making films at this school. I had to gauge interest with my friends, filmmaking lovers at the school I knew, and the student body in general. I had to see if there were enough people who were willing to put the work into it. Check.


Second I had to make sure I had a story worth telling. That wasn’t hard to do, as I love telling stories and always have ones that I believe should be told. I’m really interested in making films that talkabout important ideas in a fun way. Since my school was heavy into philosophy I decided to do an action-comedy about a girl fighting philosophers.

(Left to right: Bryce Lewis, Megan Ristine, Brian Stewart,
 Rachel Kyle, Josh Simons, Taylor Pope, EC Hannah, Alex Foley,
 Hope Epperson, Jennifer Verzuh, Lara Jane, Josh Shabshis)


Then was the actual organizing and running of pre-production. To make this short film I needed to audition actors, be able to explain my vision, have a library to film in. I needed to have costumes (and therefore an amazing costume designer). I needed to co-ordinate schedules for filming days. Shouldn’t be any problem, right?


I had my first big conflict in this film too during pre-production. The person never did any work and kept demanding we move the date back. Eventually that issue resolved itself, but it taught me that this was something that was going to happen and I was going to have to learn to deal with it. 


First day making the short film was chaotic and stressful because I hadn’t put enough time into making sure pre-production was organized enough. But everyone was really good and pulled together and it worked out amazingly. But it still took way longer than it would have. Put a lot of time into that pre-production, boys. Things will go a lot smoother.

Close calls like this were very common on set


Once filming the short film was done, editing began. I was blessed to work with an amazing editor who helped turn all the bits of filmmaking footage into something magical. Making sure that you and your editor are on the same page with the vision will make sure he or she are able to be creative while still making the film you want.


After that, we set the premiere date for the film. A lot of people weren’t sure how good the short film was going to end up being. But the film ended with roaring applause from the audience. 

Now, three years later, that film has launched a filmmaking club that is preparing to have it's first year without me leading it and three more films.  That’s where my filmmaking journey kicked off and I’ve never looked back.

Watch the final film below and let me know what you think!

Monday, April 11, 2016

Filmmaking 101: Q&A with Cinematographer Ralph Linhardt

Ralph Linhardt

One of the best things you can do when you are trying to do break into the filmmaking world is to find a mentor. Well, I found one in Ralph Linhardt after he came to our school one time. I sat down with him the other day and got some great thoughts from him on what it takes to be the best filmmaker possible. 

What made you decide you wanted to be a cinematographer?

I’m not sure I would say I love working in the film industry.  The hours are very long. The best and worst of you will come out and not always at the right times. You are always fighting to get the near impossible, that is to say, something watchable. But when it does happen, it is magic and it hits you like a freight train. You love the possibility of making something good, so you put up with all the rest. I started as a still photographer when my Dad gave me an old Praktina 35mm camera when I was 11. After High schools I wanted to tell stories. I realized that many of my most emotional experiences had been watching movies so I wanted to join in making those events. I don’t think there is a more effective medium to express thoughts and ideas than movies. I also like being with people. Still photography is a lonely business. I’m still up at dawn to catch the sunrise but with film making they are more people around!

Why do you love working in the film industry?

One of my favorite quotes is from the director Joseph Mankiewicz. “A touch of clairvoyance would have come in handy… But you are never clairvoyant… you have no way of knowing, actually, that the film won’t wind up on it’s ass. So you go right on, functioning as you always have. You’ve done your best on the hits; you’ve done your best on the flops, too. In the end, the outcome seems to depend upon a magical intangible that no one has ever been able to define-much less control. I wouldn’t  have it any other way. That intangible is what the theater is all about.”

Many people want to join the film industry but they don’t know what the path looks like. Obviously it is different for everyone. What was your journey like to “making it” in the industry?

When I’ve "made it” I’ll let you know…. More important I think is defining early in your career what “making it” looks like for yourself. For me, I have traveled the world and made more money than I ever thought I would.  My dear wife of 33 years figured we would be starving our whole lives while I chased making films. We are still very happily married and I think our kids mostly like us. But I have not made enough of the kind of films I hoped I would and I don’t feel done yet. So have I made it?… Well I’ve made it this far and I’m very thankful. So far I did not loose the important things like family and self so often lost in the film business. I’ve had a hell of a ride!

What was the best thing you learned in film school?

To get out. And, thank God no one will ever see my student films. With that said, AFI was a very good experience. it was a film business Mini Me! All the same crazy stuff happens out in the professional world.  People at the highest levels of the industry, with every advantage, still make movies that go way over budget and still suck! It’s very hard to make a film.

What do you wish someone else told you before you started working in the film industry?

You can’t control it! You can do your best but there are so many factors that can ruin your film or your career. You do your best work when you are along for the ride. Work on your personal stuff!  See a therapist often!  What ever demons you have, making films will feed them and it won't be pretty! I try to read some of my favorite 14th century Monk before every shoot. Thomas a’ Kempis“The imitation of Christ” it really helps.  Here’s one of my favorites.


UNTIL God ordains otherwise, a man ought to bear patiently whatever he cannot correct in himself and in others. Consider it better thus -- perhaps to try your patience and to test you, for without such patience and trial your merits are of little account. Nevertheless, under such difficulties you should pray that God will consent to help you bear them calmly.

If, after being admonished once or twice, a person does not amend, do not argue with him but commit the whole matter to God that His will and honor may be furthered in all His servants, for God knows well how to turn evil to good. Try to bear patiently with the defects and infirmities of others, whatever they may be, because you also have many a fault which others must endure.

If you cannot make yourself what you would wish to be, how can you bend others to your will? We want them to be perfect, yet we do not correct our own faults. We wish them to be severely corrected, yet we will not correct ourselves. Their great liberty displeases us, yet we would not be denied what we ask. We would have them bound by laws, yet we will allow ourselves to be restrained in nothing. Hence, it is clear how seldom we think of others as we do of ourselves.

If all were perfect, what should we have to suffer from others for God's sake? But God has so ordained, that we may learn to bear with one another's burdens, for there is no man without fault, no man without burden, no man sufficient to himself nor wise enough. Hence we must support one another, console one another, mutually help, counsel, and advise, for the measure of every man's virtue is best revealed in time of adversity -- adversity that does not weaken a man but rather shows what he is.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

How to Make a Short Film: Filmmaking When the Cops Show Up

(Zeke Ward [Left], Coner Dee [Right]
Photo credit: Tianna Halldorson. Meme Credit, Ashley Morris.)
I took a one week filmmaking course a couple years back. (The extent of my formal filmmaking education.) Someone asked the professor how they get permits to film somewhere or what they do if they can’t film somewhere and the cops show up.

His reply? Don’t get caught.

Leaving aside misdemeanors as a go-to policy, as an independent filmmaker doing your independent filmmaking thing, you will rarely have the budget or time to get permits for everything. So what do you do in those circumstances? Encouraging illegal activity aside (something that I would never do, being both a boy scout and a coward), the first thing to do is to know all the laws in your area about where to film. In NYC the rule is basically, if it’s public property and you’re not obstructing anything, you’re good. (I'd recommend having a printout of the law in case you get stopped.) But not all laws are the same everywhere.

Last weekend, my final shoot filmmaking a short film as a student filmmaker with my filmmaking club King's Image Films (KIF), we had to deal with the cops.

We were filmmaking our short film in New Jersey, where we didn’t know the laws there as well. We saw these train tracks and wanted to use them in our shoot. They were amazing train tracks. We didn’t see the “No Trespassing” sign because we were rushed to finish filming.

We were just wrapping up the shoot when we saw the cop car roll up.

The cop was very nice. We stayed calm, explained the situation to him, that we didn’t realize we weren’t supposed to be here, we are just student filmmakers filmmaking a short film, and please be nice to us. He let us off with a warning and got one of us not planning to ever have a career in politics to volunteer our name for their records. He explained to us the dangers of hanging out by a train track (which we knew, but we nodded anyway).

So if the cops do show up?  In my experience, it's the obvious: Don’t act like a criminal. Be respectful, apologize, co-operate, have someone there willing to sign stuff. It’s not a big deal. They usually give you the benefit of the doubt.  I haven’t ever been in the totally regrettable situation where you haven’t finished getting your shots and the cops have already shown up.  My advice is, once again, not to get in that situation in the first place if you can help it.

Or you could just take the filmmaking advice of my professor.

Have light equipment and really fast legs.

Do any of you have stories of run-ins with cops? Sound off in the comments below.

Monday, April 4, 2016

How To Make a Short Film: Make Their Dreams Come True

So long guys. What an amazing journey it's been.
(Photo Cred: Tianna Halldorson)

This past Saturday I finished my last day of shooting a short film with King’s Image Films (KIF). KIF is a student filmmaking organization I started back in fall of 2013 as a sophomore. Now, as a senior, I am preparing to walk away.

It made me so happy to watch my KIF family taking charge of things. The short film was from a script by a freshman, Rachel Sheldon, directed by another freshman, Ashley Morris, cinematography and sound were done by two of my best friends and loyal exec team Tianna Halldorson and Deryka Tso. I am president of the filmmaking org but I was simply there to make sure everything went smoothly and everyone was okay. Soon, I will be graduating and no longer president. One of these people will be the new guy in charge. I feel a lot like a dad watching his teenage daughter leave for college.

Left to Right: Zeke Ward (star), Ashley Morris, Rachel Sheldon,
Deryka Tso, Me, Tianna Halldorson
(Photo Cred: Tianna Halldorson)

My KIF filmmaking family is the best. They are hard-working, talented, passionate and full of love for the film medium. They know how to laugh through the crazy production problems, improvise, encourage each other, and just tell amazing stories in a short film. It was and is a privilege to know them and work with them. I started this club so that people like them could learn to be the best filmmaker they could be in a community that loved and supported them.

When you’re a filmmaker you often get caught up in our own vision. It’s about me. My story I want to tell. My short film. My dream. But we forget that we inevitably bring other people with us. Other people dedicate their time, talent, to make our filmmaking dreams a reality. And in indie films, they’re not doing it for the money. They are not doing it for your dream. They are doing it because—for some reason—they have decided it is their dream as well.

You want to be a great filmmaker? Make other people’s dreams come true. Give that actress the role of the lifetime. Give that cinematographer the best stuff to shoot. Help that screenwriter make the best script she can. Be the person who allows them to be their best filmmaking self. And they will always come back to work with you again. And you will find something more precious than that by the end.

Remember Mad Max: Fury Road? That movie won every technical award for filmmaking there was to win at the Academy Awards. George Miller, the guy who made all that possible, didn’t get nominated for best director. But he made a space for other people to be geniuses who won awards. And everyone who did is glad they worked with them. Same with your short films.

Your film—short film or not—is not just about your dream. If you learn that, you will not just be a filmmaker or succeed at filmmaking. You will gain a family. Without even knowing what you're doing.