Thursday, June 30, 2016

How to Make a Short Film: Working with Your Editor

Benjamin Capitano (left) and Joseph Holmes (right). Director/editor dream team.
Editors are one of your most important collaborators as a filmmaker trying to make a short film. So how do you work with them well?

A film editor has incredible creative power over the final film product. It’s been said—not inaccurately—that a different editor gives you a different movie. A bad editor can make a good product look cheap and trashy. A talented and skilled editor can make a film look professional and exciting. (Provided you’ve given him or her something to work with; they are not magic. I don’t think. I sometimes wonder. I’ve had some amazing editors.) When you make your short film, you really need to have the good kind. I was blessed to have one of the best, Benjamin Capitano, work with me on my first short film Kelly vs The Philosophers

It's about college students. Fighting philosophers. With textbooks. And dropkicks. 
Here is what I learned on how to help a good editor do his best to give you a great final cut of your short film.

#1. Bring them in at the beginning. This is especially true on a smaller film, the editor is going to have a lot of say in the aesthetic of the film. So it’s good to get them on board and inspired with the vision in the pre-production stages. Ben Capitano doubled as a creative developer and the two of us had a blast going to comic shops and watching Scott Pilgrim vs The World as research. (I swear it was research.)

I'm serious! Debating for hours whether Romona or Knives is better for Scott is critical research for my film!
#2. Give it to them Organized. Once we got all the footage and audio compiled, I dumped it all on Ben like a pile of dirty laundry. Prompting a “uhhhhhh what is this?” to which I naturally replied “But aren’t u majik?” to which Ben calmly played Scotty to my Captain Kirk and told me that he was not a magician and needed to organize the footage in a way he could work with it.

"But, can't you just... I don't know, put all the footage in a sorting hat?"

"...You don't know anything about Final Cut. Do you, Sir."
Ideally, during production, you have the shots you got matched to the shots you wanted in the shot list, and the assistant editor would be responsible for organizing which is which, and you show the editor which shots you want used. But we were all students and this was my first short film so I combed through the footage myself and sent it to Ben. 

I do not miss those days.

#3. Collaborate. In order to do his or her best work, the editor needs to have a little freedom to be creative. However, the director usually has a very particular vision for what he wants. (At least I did.) I learned that there is a balance of give and take with the editor. On the one hand, most of Ben’s ideas were extra-ordinary: from the animated video game text and music, to using the final shot as an end-credits scene. But sometimes there were things I just insisted on doing a certain way. It was a balance learning which was which.

I’ll be honest, when I finished shooting Kelly vs The Philosophers I didn’t know how the film would turn out. When I first saw the edited footage of the film--that was when I knew my baby would be okay. I’m grateful to all the editors who I’ve worked with since. I hope I've been a decent director and learned something. Haha. You have helped make my films what they are.  

Which is awesome. 

Just like you guys.

Movie magic. Some After Effects required.

How about you guys? Do you have any tips working with editors or as an editor you'd like to share? Sound off in the comments below

Friday, June 17, 2016

How to Make a Short Film: Surviving Your First Day of Filming

The first day of shooting a short film—or any film—can suck. Here’s how I learned to make it suck less.

Chillin' on set waiting for the action (Rachel Kyle, Jennifer Verzuh)
At the point you are on your first day of shooting to make your dream project you have somehow convinced/conned a bunch of people to believe, a) you have a story worth telling and b) that you’re capable of leading that story to screen—keeping all the spinning plates in the air on set and managing every crisis that comes up. But when you get to set you prove you either can or you can’t, you either get the shot or you don’t.

Sometimes a sword is just the answer to your problems
And even when it's not it's awesome.
My first day filming my first short film (Kelly vs ThePhilosophers) was one crisis management after another. We had lost one of our costume people the other night and so the costumes hadn’t been tested. We were left with costumes that didn’t work and hadn’t been tried on the actors. Several actors had to pitch in to pull stuffing out of jackets or run back to their apartments nearby to try on different sets of outfits. Because the DPs and I didn’t thoroughly block things out beforehand, a lot of actors who came in their timeslots had to wait around for us to be ready. This was frustrating for them and stressful for me. (Remember this, guys? Ahhh good times.)

No, this is an actual scene. The set didn't come to blows. (Marry Cassella, Rachel Kyle)

But it worked out. Here’s what I learned.

Lesson #1. Do pre-production right. Almost all of these things would have been avoided if I put more work into pre-production. I’ve learned you can almost never do too much with pre-production. If we had planned out for costumes to be done long before, if I had planned more blocking of the scenes before the actors were there, things would have gone more smoothly.

Lesson #2. Work with forgiving people. It makes so much a difference when you're starting out--or anytime--to have friends who love you working with you. Because these were all my friends—as well as great at their jobs—everyone was on my side and wanted to make things work. During the whole debacle, I didn’t have one person act angry with me, annoyed with me, or give me a hard time. Everyone was helpful and supportive.

I say this over and over, but there is probably no better lesson to learn than that the people you work with matter. As a filmmaker your film family is your closest family for the time you’re filming. And if you can build as great a film family as I did not only will your filming suck less—life will suck less.  In fact, it will be great.

Lara Jane, Rachel Kyle, showing what we all feel.

Love all you guys. You are the reason that first day--and every day--didn't suck. It was amazing. 

Josh Shabshis, Hope Epperson, Alex Foley

Friday, June 3, 2016

How to Make a Short Film: Dealing with a Difficult Person

How do you deal with a difficult person on your film team who doesn't do their job but it's all volunteer and you have no money to pay anyone ?

Because running is not always an option. Believe me, I wish it was.

I’m going to be honest: I don’t like dealing with conflict. But as a filmmaker, the filmmaking business requires you to work with lots of people, and it attracts some people with egos the size of a small planet. (Including probably you.) If you are going to make a short film, or any film, conflict is liable to come up and it is good to know how to deal with it. 

Because you never know when an unassuming person will start kung-fuing you because why not?
So what do you do if you butt heads with someone who you can't just talk things through with? A lot of conflict is just creative disagreement and can be worked out. As long as everyone knows their job and is willing to do it and believes in the movie. But sometimes people just don't want to work out the conflict. If you can learn to spot trouble beforehand and don’t invite them on that's best. But if they slip past you, do these things:

Free these words of wisdom these are. Welcome, you are.
1. Make sure you are communicating clearly with everyone what your expectations for them are--and those expectations are public--so no one can say “You never told me to do that"

2. Try to make sure you know people who can fill in for the role if need be. So you aren’t stuck with them or not getting to make the movie.

3. Confront them about their behavior privately.

4. If they have complaints, figure out if there is legitimacy in them.

5. If you have to get rid of them, do it as early as possible.A difficult person will continue to add stress to a filmmaking experience that is going to have its own stress anyway.

Also bring a suit of armor. And shield. Just in case.
On my first short student film Kelly vs The Philosophers, I brought on an assistant to help out my main costume manager. I knew the girl was a bit snarky but I found that more charming than anything. I explained what we needed her to do and when and she was on board. But for weeks after the girl didn’t do any work and tried to pass her work onto other people, then complained when we were only a couple weeks out that we didn’t have enough time.

When even Loki can't make excuses for you.

The night before shooting I asked her where she was with things. She still hadn’t done them and was blaming me again, so I reminded her—someone sarcastically—that she had been blowing me off. At this point she threw a fit and quit.

Sorry not sorry?

What should I have done differently? I should have confronted her earlier about her blowing off the project. I should have confronted her with more love and less sarcasm—even if she deserved it. But I am glad that I solved the problem before shooting. And I'm glad we had someone else who could do costumes. Because it would have been a nightmare otherwise. 

And that's my first major conflict as a filmmaker not knowing what I was doing. Really, God was covering my back and I can't take much credit.

Do you have any stories about dealing with conflict in film? Any advice that you can share? Leave a comment below!