EL GANZO sneak preview Sunday

EL GANZO will have a special screening on Sunday (28 June) at 1pm as part of the Free State Festival in Lawrence, Kansas.  I will be there with Susan Traylor and some of the cast/crew to do a Q&A after the film.

The day prior (Saturday 27 June), at 10:30 AM, I’ll be giving an introduction to my process used in the Maverick Filmmaking Workshop for the festival which is FREE to attend.

Both the EL GANZO screening and the Maverick Filmmaking Workshop will happen at the Lawrence Arts Center.  For directions, visit the FREE STATE FESTIVAL website at that link.

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GOING GLOBAL

I grew up in a small Kansas town, and when I returned home from film school it seemed the most logical place to begin making films.  Of course, people on the coasts thought I was nuts, but where else can you close down an entire street without having to worry about the police or any passers-by bothering you?

My first three features were filmed in Kansas.  It was only when I traveled to Macon, Georgia, for a film festival there, that I felt so comfortable in the town, I could see how easily it would be to make a film there.  So I did.  It felt like I’d graduated to the next level somehow.

After shooting in Macon, I decided to venture even further from the roost and shoot something in Palm Springs.  It was an exhilarating shoot.  Partly because it’s allegedly against the law to film anything inside Palm Springs city limits without having permission from the Powers That Be, permits, insurance, and all that.  So we just didn’t tell anyone, and made our movie anyway.

The next year, when we were headed to the Raindance Film Festival in London, I thought, well, if we’re all going to be there we might as well make a movie at the same time.  It was an absolute thrill.  Much like with the California shoot, London is beyond strict when it comes to permits, insurance, and permission from the Powers That Be, and so forth.  And, like our prior escapade, I decided to do it stealth and not say a word to anyone.  We got away with it.

I don’t do drugs.  And the rush that came with filming guerrilla style, essentially illegally, became so addictive I couldn’t stop!  After stealing London and Paris (for a quick scene at the Eiffel Tower), I set my sights on Hong Kong.  We filmed a week in LA and then flew to Hong Kong where we filmed an additional three weeks.  Hong Kong was more relaxed, and filmmaker-friendly than all the other cities, but it was still under-the-radar and more than once we filmed someplace we weren’t supposed to be.

How does one accomplish these things?  Well, it’s pretty easy, actually.  Google Earth and Google Maps makes it possible to “walk around” the streets and find locations, restaurants to eat in for lunch, alleyways to hold a staging area, and directions for subway travel times and so forth.  We didn’t need to hire any location scout or send someone to take pictures.  Google had already done all that for us!

It was pretty easy to post casting calls in both the UK and in Hong Kong, and all auditions were held via Skype, or on password protected YouTube or Vimeo pages.

In both places I had great help “on the ground” from the actors who would appear in the film.  We took advantage of shooting in areas they knew about, or perhaps places they lived.  In Hong Kong, our local producer even arranged for us to film the climactic fight sequence in a penthouse with terraces and more!

It might seem daunting at first to go to a far flung destination and shoot a movie without ever having been there before, but I’m here to say it can be done.  And, it is highly recommended.  The pure joy you’ll have coming home, knowing you made a movie in a foreign land… It’s something you can treasure forever.

FILM WEATHER

Unless I’m on a beach wading in perfectly clear seawater, the ideal temperature for me to exist in is 65 degrees F (that’s 18C for everyone else on the planet except the USA).  I keep interior temps at 65F all year long.  I sleep better, think better, and create better.  But, there are times when I can’t control the climate.  So before scheduling a movie shoot, it’s always best to consider where you’re going to shoot and what the temperature will be.

Dennis Hopper once told me it’s better to shoot in sweltering heat than it is to shoot in bitterly cold.  He was right.  It wasn’t until my first winter shoot that I realized how debilitating it is to shoot a movie in cold weather.

When the temps get cold enough, and the wind chill kicks in, it can be beyond miserable.  In addition it can be dangerous.  Frostbite is a concern.  It’s really hard to operate cameras and things with huge padded gloves.  Imagine being an actor, trying to compose yourself and stay in character when your body starts involuntarily shaking.  Or what about the blood draining from your face and leaving your nose bright red and cheeks pale?  These are problems that one must deal with when shooting in the cold.

There are some dangers when shooting a movie in the heat.  People are at risk for heat stroke and the sort.  But, tolerating the temperature impact on your body is manageable.  It’s easier to provide water to people, make sure everyone stays in the shade whenever possible, and avoid heat exhaustion.  Sometimes it happens, of course, and usually when the heat index is higher than normal (this is like a wind chill but reverse).

I’ve filmed many movies in warm temps.  My first film PEP SQUAD was produced in the humid Kansas July and August.  It was disgusting.  Actors make-up sliding down faces, and several people on the crew just smelled bad.

STUCK! was even worse.  Filmed during early summer in Macon, Georgia, where the humidity is so thick you can cut it and put it on a piece of toast.  The place we filmed the jail cells was on the second floor of a building with no air conditioning.  The owners refused to open the windows at night to cool it down for us.  So we had to work in miserable conditions.  Visually it looked great: everyone a little shiny with sweat and the contrast in B&W worked out in our favor.

During CASSEROLE CLUB we filmed in Palm Springs, and I made sure the air conditioning ran throughout the shoot.  Some people have the belief you should shut all the appliances off, or turn off the AC when you shoot.  That makes no sense to me, because you’ll just add room noise back in later.  It’s super easy to match the frequency of the room noise and air nowadays.  Maybe back in the day this was harder.  Anyway, I’ve never worried about shutting off the AC or Heat.  Or unplugging the fridge.

Likewise, think about other factors such as: is it hurricane season?  Tornado season?  Rainy season?  Dry season?  Allergy season?  How many hours of daylight versus night will you have?  In real life, it would always be ideal to live and work in an environment steady at 65F.  So think about that when you get ready to shoot your next movie.

Mark your calendars: BLOG START

On Wednesday, 14 November, I will post the first of many articles about lessons I’ve learned and my experiences during the past 15 years of making and selling films globally.

This blog will be a detailed look at my style of filmmaking.  As a believer that there are nearly 7 billion people in the world with 7 billion different perspectives, far be it for me to proclaim that this is THE style of ALL low-budget filmmaking.  I’m relatively certain that other filmmakers exist in the world today and have developed their own methodologies for bringing their visual works to fruition.

There are two pioneers in this world of ultra-independent filmmaking that I want to call out.  First is John Cassevetes.  The other is Stan Brakhage.  I bring them up, not to pretend to be in their league, but to simply show the reader that from the earliest periods of film, there have been mavericks – independent and strong-willed individuals with a story to tell, who have refused to follow the rules as they existed at the time.

John Cassevetes worked in a world of classic cinema.  He was a well-respected actor who was sought after for traditional films.  And yet there was another side that embraced “doing things differently.”  When I met Gena Rowlands (Mrs. John Cassevetes) at the Stockholm International Film Festival in 1998, where she was receiving an outstanding achievement in film award, I was struck by her comments about working in that independent environment.  There was a devotion to the art and a devotion to the craft, and neither had to be compromised to reach the final outcome.

I never had the privilege of meeting or knowing Stan Brakhage.  Ironically, he was a Kansan, as am I.  And my earliest mentor, Eric Sherman, was a dear friend of his.  I learned about Stan through Eric, and became intrigued by his work.  Here was a man who explored the world of film without even subscribing to the notion that there had to be a narrative.  It was an exploration of the visual sense – a journey into the brain as wired directly by the optic nerve.  Though I remain a committed narrative storyteller, I have been influenced greatly by Brakhage, and have tried to find my own way of using color and visuals to provoke the viewer’s response.

What is the point of mentioning these two greats?  It is simply this:  no matter where we are, or what we have done, others have gone before us.  We can derive much wisdom from their journey, and their experiences can have a positive impact upon our own journey.  No, we cannot simply make their journey again.  That is the ultimate problem with Hollywood – it can only emulate, copy and reproduce.  Originality is lost.  What we can do is be inspired and encouraged by those who have gone before.

In and of itself, the above is not enough reason to put this blog together.  When I embarked on my filmmaking odyssey in 1996, I was a recent Cal Arts dropout.  I had been obsessive about filmmaking from the time that I talked by grandfather out of his Betamax video camera when I was 8.  I wanted to make films.  Cal Arts was the right place to be if I wanted to be independent, but it was not the place to be if I wanted to dive in and experiment with narrative, live action filmmaking.  Being a stubborn, 20 year old first born, I simply quit and said to my dad, “I’m ready to make a real film.”  He simply said, “If we can do this in a business like manner, then yes, I will help.”

What has followed, since Pep Squad was filmed in 1997, has been a series of lessons and experiences that have resulted in my approach to filmmaking.  Each new project – and there have been 11 of them – has taught me valuable lessons about what to do next time, and what not to do ever again!  It is my hope that sharing all this with you, the reader, will be of benefit to you as you move down your filmmaking journey.

Good luck!