New York City IS Independent Film!


March 24, 2011

New York IS Independent Film

A contact of mine out on the west coast asked me why I don’t come out to Los Angeles to make films. I told him I had considered it very early on and again about a year after I moved to New York. Both instances were brief – a flicker of an idea that I quickly tossed aside. I eventually spent a few weeks in LA to network and try to gauge the scene there. Sure it’s a union driven city where the studios have all the power, but that’s not what turned me off about it. The fact of the matter is that I was unimpressed. Of course I still have to do a lot of business in LA and there are some good people out there, so I’m not out to utilize this blog to thrash the city. Instead I’ll elaborate a little bit on why I chose to give New York a shot and eventually decided to stay.

New York, at it’s core, is a place where anyone from any walk of life can come and remake themselves in the image that they want – and most importantly, in the way they want… at their own pace. This is not something that is easy to achieve in a small town or a city that’s driven by one or two dominant industries. In places like that there is pressure… pressure to conform and be someone you’re not. Pressure to be like your neighbor and do the same job as your father and his father before. Where I hail from, there is often this ball busting “blue collar rhetoric” where your peers will make wise remarks or jokes about you if you’re a little different from the rest of them. If you have a damn good idea that’s new and innovative, they gawk when they don’t understand it. They gawk at positive change.

New York City allows for a freedom of individuality and no one will look the other way because they’re already looking the other way. If you walked ten blocks down upper Broadway, bare naked, you’d be lucky is someone did a double take. New York has always been a mecca for new ideas, for crazy ideas and this was one of the primary reason it has become the cultural and economic capital of the country. Even with all the laws, regulations, bureaucratic stupidity, I believe that this city is the ideal place for creative types. It has always attracted authors, photographers, painters and filmmakers because of this. Because there are absolutely no expectations, except as E.B. White said… you have to be willing to be lucky.

On Labor Day weekend in 2003 I decided that I was willing to be lucky. Punch after punch, I’m still here and still willing. Luck is all over the place. ‘Round the corner… maybe on the next block… maybe a few avenues over…


Cameraman Sued For Bad Wedding Video


March 23, 2011

Cameraman sued for bad wedding video… tragic.

In response to an ABC News report.

So obviously I feel like this is a good opportunity to talk about how difficult it is to produce a decent wedding video and how appalled I am that Heidi Shurbrook and her newly wed husband filed and won a suit against their videographer because they didn’t like their wedding video. This goes to show you how uneducated people are about the forces that often work against event video producers. Even the news staff who reported this story were clueless. They were comparing their camera people to event videographers – which are two entirely different fields. Studio news shooting is controlled and scripted. Wedding videography is quite literally documentary film making – in that there is no control and all bets are off. This was something I always made clear back when I produced event videos.


First off, some of the views/angles they were complaining about in their suit are common camera placements that are dictated by the event space and not necessarily the creative decision of the videographer. It appeared to take place in a church and churches are vicious when it comes to what they allow the videographer to do and not do. In fact, some churches have shown favortism toward the still photographer over the videographer, allowing the photographer more leeway in his or her movements than the video producer. Most of the best footage I got when I used to shoot wedding videos was taken because I broke the rules of the establishment. The bride and groom understood that I did what I had to do to please them. This person, in my opinion, is being stigmatized for following the rules.

Secondly, they claim that the videographer (company is called Lasting Impressions – based in England) ruined their wedding day and their memories. Which is absurd. Only they can ruin their own wedding day, not the videographer. Are they so “frazzled” by their wedding video that the experiences they had that day no longer matter? I do not believe this to be the case.

The fact that they only paid $500 (us converted from pounds) for their video is suspicious to me. Most wedding videos cost at least $3,000 to start and that’s usually with two camera operators and an editor. Unfortunately the uneducated judge who ruled in favor of the couple has no idea what goes into these things or how much “acceptable” videos cost. Five hundred bucks? Are you kidding?




A Momentary Lapse Of… Judgement


March 23, 2011

A Momentary Lapse of… Judgement

Yeah, I love Pink Floyd.

It’s early in the morning and I can’t sleep. My neighbors have me really worked up and the only way I can handle it is to come out to the computer and write a little bit. Writing always helps to blow off some steam. Anyway, prior to attempting to go to sleep, I was doing some off the cuff re-editing of a very important sequence in Caroline of Virginia. There is no picture lock on certain sequences, including the “hearing” montage – which is basically a sequence of things Caroline chooses to do during her first day as a person who can “hear”. It’s quite a moving sequence but the pacing never sat well with me… it didn’t “do it”.

Rather than trying to edit it in a linear, cut after cut style – I re-sized some of the shots and positioned them about the frame, including two or three shots in a single frame, allowing the sound effects to become meshed over one-another. This style of editing seems to work for this sequence – allowing each of her experiences to compliment each other. Now I’m happy with it. Now it sits well. Now it moves me more than ever. Now it’s ready for a full fledged sound design.

Sometimes thinking out of the box, on a whim, really works out. Hey, at least I got something from this streak of insomnia.

Festivals: It’s A Numbers Game…


March 15, 2011

Festivals: It’s a numbers game…

… if you have the cash.

So I’ve started sending out Work-In-Progress (WIP) Screeners for “Caroline of Virginia” to various festivals and I got to thinking about my AFFIC – a conceptual movement to bring about more oversight into film festival submission practices. The idea initially was to have an organization that festivals become members of, and thereby follow a certain set of rules regarding submissions, submission fees and so forth. Too many festivals out there are charging an arm and a leg when it comes to fees and many filmmakers have complained that the turn around time on the rejection of their films has created a suspicion that their films aren’t being watched.

Back when I interned for a certain magazine geared towards film makers (I cannot mention the name for legal reasons, but it’s a BIG publication), the owner was putting on a festival in the town where they were based. The people responsible for reviewing the submissions were the magazine’s editors (two or three people only). What they would do is open up a submission, put the tape or dvd in the player and then go back to editing their articles. They hardly watched the films and on occasion they would see a star (one that comes to mind is William Baldwin – although I don’t recall which film it was). The second he came on the screen one of the editors said something along the lines of “we should include this movie, it has a Baldwin”. I’m not kidding. Other times they would put in the media and give it three minutes, if they weren’t pleased in three minutes they’d eject the tape and move on. This is the same BS mentality that literary agencies use when judging work. They LOOK for reasons to reject or stop reviewing it – which is incredibly inappropriate since some of the best films start off slow and end up being great. Other films may be WIP’s like mine – which this particular group of people didn’t seem to care about. They didn’t have the vision necessary to review such work.

So far I have had no rejections or acceptances. It’s too early to tell. Additionally I’m not submitting to first time festivals, festivals run by organizations that won’t have a legitimate jury ‘nor do I submit to festivals that don’t have legit, well designed websites. Websites are important because you can research previous participants, winners and they usually have links to reviews that guests have posted about the festival. Also check out the pictures the website posts of their festival – it’ll clue you into the environment, audience and so forth. In addition I am submitting to a lot of them – a lot more than I have previously for any project. To yield the most positive of results I to qualify my project for as many festivals as I could – then I proceeded to break it down by region and how often they accept indie films that are experimental in nature. Not that my film is experimental, but I find that festivals that tend to gravitate towards nontraditional material will likely be more interested in a no-budget production like COV.

The goal is to have a submission for each region of the US at a different time of the year. I do it this way because each place is a different culture of sorts and it helps me as a filmmaker to understand what works and doesn’t according to different places. What New Yorkers understand and appreciate may not be the same as audiences in Austin, Texas. Once my list was fine tuned to include only the most likely festivals, I added in a few of the majors just for kicks. Now came budgeting – which is tough when there really isn’t any dough to budget. Suddenly a new criteria emerges – the festival submission fee has to be reasonable. This cuts the list from a page and a half to a half page. I then take a note of each deadline and make my deadline for five days before so I know I’ll make it. What I have when I’m done is a schedule, with submission fees and deadlines for each and every affordable festival that my film is qualified for.

And you don’t have to stick to it, but it helps to know what is available if you have the extra dough and want to send it out. I had Toronto on the list when the New Year started – but didn’t end up sending it in, but the week following the deadline one of my clients paid up and I used a portion of that money to submit to three festivals at once – so things do work out. You just have to have multiple plans in place. My festival submission list is due to be revised in August and I have alerts set up through WithoutABox to notify me when certain festivals I’m interested in have posted new deadlines. This helps prep me for a 2012 submission list.

Anyway, I hope giving you a glimpse into how I’m approaching my film submissions will be useful to some of you.


A Loophole For Finding Professional Actors


March 01, 2011

A Loophole For Finding Professional Actors

Hey all, this installment is for the kid who wants to make his/her first movie but has no idea where to get true talent.

The worst part of making movies is of course dealing with all the legal super powers like the film commissions who issue permits, the money people (if you’re lucky enough to have money people) or worse… the unions. SAG is notorious for demanding more than most independent producers can afford. The clerical costs alone (whether your film is distributed or not) is immense because of the consistent reporting you have to do. My company Norcross Media was a SAG signatory for about three months and we couldn’t produceANYTHING.

One loophole that I’ve found to be successful in finding professionally trained actors without having to sign these terrifying agreements is to cast stage actors. These actors are union, but they’re Equity. Equity is the union for actors who perform on Broadway and film and television is waaaaay out of their jurisdiction. While some try to be SAG and Equity at the same time, there are some Equity actors who aren’t part of the Screen Actors Guild but still want to do film on the side. These are the highly talented professionals you should consider auditioning. They take direction extraordinarily well and know how to project themselves. Heck, you may even pull in a few classically trained talents and there’s no better actor than an actor who knows Shakespeare.

If you’re not living in a large city, then most smaller towns have community theater organizations. You may not find professionals but you’ll certainly find passionate people, many of whom are supportive of local “fledgling” filmmakers. Trust me when I say, casting these folks are better than giving parts out to your friends and family.

Learn more about the three main actor’s unions.

Actor’s Equity:
Screen Actor’s Guild:
American Federation of Television & Radio Artists:

I hope this was useful or at least opened your mind up to new ideas.