Friday, August 19, 2016

How to Make a Short Film: Happy Never After

I just released my latest short film Happy Never After this past week. Of all the films I’ve made in my time filmmaking, this is the one that is most personal to me and of which I am the most proud.  It is the first where I explored expressing my faith in film, and learned to grapple with far darker material. I also wrote this story during my father’s illness and he passed away when I was in post-production.  So the story’s theme—death—holds an added importance for me.

(Watch the movie here!)

It was also where I learned some of my best lessons about how to make the kind of films I want to make: (SPOILERS BELOW.)

How Do You Express Faith in Film?

I made Happy Never After to find a way to express how my faith shapes my view of death. I’ve always struggled to express my faith in film. Why is it so hard? Because we have very few good models to go off of. People think a faith movie means arguing with the audience about what to believe. Usually in speeches that go on too long.

Not that I'm talking about anything specific...

I wanted to, instead, invite people to share in my experience of joy at being a Christian. So I wrote my thoughts about death as an exciting cosmic tale of good vs evil where you are drawn to root for a couple to choose faith over the alternative. The villain has the main speech in the film, and the “come-to-Jesus” moment is done with a simple look toward the cross.

How Do You Collaborate With Others?

The two biggest things I learned about collaborating was a) it should be done early and thoroughly and b) you need to know what you are willing to compromise on and what you’re not. Forest Erwin’s cinematography and Kyle Trivanovich’s performance as Jacob Applegate were so amazing partly because we spent so much time together getting on board with the same vision.

One of the best shots by Forest and best performances by Kyle.

Pre-Planning is Important

We did the entire film over three days with pretty much no budget. How? By lots of pre-planning by dedicated people. We had all the shooting days picked out and filmed all the scenes in close locations to each other. So everything to be filmed in the FiDi we filmed on the same day; everything at the church the same day, etc. There were screw ups, of course. But when there were, it was because we didn't pre-plan enough.

What About When Things Go Wrong?

I learned the best thing to do when things go wrong in filmmaking is to keep calm, figure out what’s really important, and cut out the rest.

One day we were filming in the park and some of the equipment was late getting to us. It was so late that we knew we wouldn’t be able to film everything before the actors needed to leave. So Forest and I cut down drastically the number of shots we needed to take before they left. It was rough, but we got the shots we needed to make the film work.

Everything Works Out

The biggest thing I learned filming this though was that God is in control and everything works out. This is something you learn making films for a while. For some reason, when everything goes wrong, things still work out.

Comment by Forest: "I caught a barracuda thiiisss big." 
Before I finished the script for Happy Never After, most of my school’s filmmaking club—of which I was president—dropped out. I had no crew so I was pretty sure the film couldn’t be made.

But two coincidences happened that made the project possible: My friend Hope Epperson (now Hope White) told me she still really wanted to be a part of the film. So she worked to get her friends to be the actors. I had also just reconnected with Forest Erwin. So, since Hope really wanted it to happen, I called up Forest to see if he wanted to be DP. And he said an enthusiastic "yes". If these two things didn’t happen, Happy Never After probably would not have been made. And I wouldn't have had had the tribute to my father or the God that makes seeing him again possible.

The best films not only teach you about filmmaking, but also about life. This film did more: it because one of the best parts of mine. Thank you, everyone, who shared it with me and made it possible.

Friday, August 5, 2016

How to Create On-Set Community Like Suicide Squad

Want to create a real community on set like the director David Ayer and cast raved about on the set of Suicide Squad?  Filming can be a lot of work. When people on set bond, and begin to feel like more of a family, then the experience is a lot more fun for everyone. Yourself included. Frowns become smiles. And smiles mean people might agree to work with you again. Also… smiles are just awesome.

Well... some smiles
I looked into their interviews to see if I can find what the secret was. And I’ve found some tips that have matched my own experience working on films: Particularly my webseries Churchill on EverythingThe first time I realized how much fun you could have filming because of community. (See the video below.)

#1. Pick the Right People.

If you work with great people who work hard and have great personalities, building chemistry is really easy. David Ayer picked for Suicide Squad people like Margot Robbie (Harley Quinn), Will Smith (Deadshot) and Jai Courtney (Captain Boomberang), great actors everyone loves working with.

The Churchill on Everything team: Me, Nathan Sherrer, Alex Foley, David Wright
 and Jordan Best (not pictured)
I picked Alex Foley for the titular role and other friends of mine, Nathan Sherrer, David Wright and Jordan Best who were the crew to be the crew because they were all real professionals and also just tons of fun to work with. I knew those qualities would make the atmosphere very chill. . 

Of course, just like David Ayer got such a great cast only because they liked his previous work, Alex Foley agreed to this project because he loved how our previous film Kelly vs The Philosophers turned out. So make sure you do good projects that can attract great talent. 

#2. Give it Time 

Jai Courtney put rehearsal time is a reason that such great community was made on the set of Suicide Squad

"It was probably the rehearsal time that we were afforded, I think that meant that there was this period of concentration where we got to trust each other"

With Churchill on Everything, pretty much all of us were already friends. So we had a built in comfort level and chemistry. So the community was easy.

We've all been friends for a little while...

#3. Pick the Right Location.

Margot Robbie points out filming in Canada where none of them knew anybody as a reason for why such great community came out of Suicide Squad.

"[A] lot of people are married with kids and stuff and if we were shooting in their hometown, they would just go home to their significant other, their kids, their life, and their friends that they've known since forever.  But since we are all away from home you stick together even more.

Beside Myself squad left to right: Zeke Ward,
Ashley Morris, Rachel Sheldon, Deryka Tso,
Joseph Holmes, Tianna Halldorson

For Churchill on Everything, we all camped out in the apartment of one of our apartments. Between filming we played video games and had great food. For Stars we road tripped through Brooklyn singing songs in a car and for Beside Myself we all took a train out to New Jersey. Having adventures where it was just us really helped us pull together as a little dorky family. 

#4. Let Your Crew Create Community.

Because Harley Quinn giving you a Tattoo seems
 like such a smart idea. Good thing that 
didn't backfire. Oh wait... 
On Suicide Squad, one big thing cast and crew talk about in building trust and community was how much David Ayers gave them room to have fun and create their characters and their dynamic with each other.

One of the big things I learned on Churchill on Everything was that, as a director, I didn’t have to make everything happen. I picked the talent and picked the location, and gave people direction and space to have fun. And you know what? They made the experience amazing.

Want to create community like director David Ayers on Suicide Squad? Pick the talent, pick the environment, and give people space to be the amazing people they are. You might just create a lifelong squad of your own.