I have spent a week of vacation finishing my short film called "The Chronicles of Hernia: the Lion, the Ditch and the Studio." It has been rewarding and exhausting at the same time. I never wanted to make a short film, I wanted to jump into making one of the features I have written. I am the kind of person who likes to just jump in. At nearly 40 minutes, "Hernia" is really closer to a feature than a short. But, Sundance Film Festival considers shorts to be 69 minutes or less. So, let's say featurette.
I am glad I did this short first. I have watched so many other people's mistakes that I have learned a great deal. Making a short is so much cheaper and can be a thorough education. It can also develop your stamina and maturity in all areas, professional, spiritual and managerial. That is why making a 168 Film is such a good idea for anyone remotely curious about a career in film.
I have written an article on making "Hernia," which will (Godwillin) come out in the next Indie Slate Magazine (October issue). Indie Slate is also planning to run my coverage of the LATV Festival, which is best described as a boot camp for TV producers. I thoroughly recommend getting involved with that group as well.
Some of the lessons I talk about in the Indie Slate-"Hernia" Article are about hiring friends and managing your expectations. This is soo important. First you must know intimately what you want to accomplish and what the production is and isn't. Is it a $3000 budget? Is it SAG? Do you need stars? What if you don't make your money back? What is the marketing plan? What is plan A, B, C?
These things should be well thought out in advance if you want to succeed in making a short film that you will learn from, get exposure and create career capital that you can spend with studios and production houses, so that they will read your next script and take you seriously as a director, writer, actor or whatever.
In addition to writing and directing and producing, I was also one of the lead actors in making "Hernia." I would not advise this approach on your first film. But for this one, it made sense, at least to me.
I wrote the role for me (or some other repressed/explosive personality). I am sure there are actors who could have delivered the role, but I don't know them and I didn't find them when I went through the really lengthy casting process. With our short window, I didn't have a lot of time to teach someone what I wanted. I needed an actor who "got" my sense of humor as a writer-director. Finally, I would really really also recommend you hire a casting agent.
Stay tuned for the premiere of "Hernia" and pray it gets into Sundance. For more on "Hernia," see the next issue of Indie Slate and stay tuned to the blog for the premiere.
STREAMING MEDIA EXPO:
I just returned from covering this event in San Jose. I am doing an article on Indie Film and streaming distribution.
It was a small show, but that means much more intimate panels and networking.
I met with David Dolby of Dolby Labs, who expressed great interest in 168 and in "Hernia." I hope everyone loves the film as much as they love the title. Pray for partnerships like this to grow. With their help, I hope to offer the filmmakers a workshop on 5.1 sound production and editing.
I also met with a company/website called Tubemogul.com. This is a crucial, free marketing service for indie films of all lengths. This will allow you to have a much improved chance of getting traction with your short or feature indie film.
TubeMogul is the first online video analytics and distribution company serving publishers large and small who need independent information about video performance on the Internet and automated upload to the Web's top video sharing sites.
TubeMogul's analytic technology aggregates video-viewing data from multiple sources to give publishers improved understanding of when, where and how often videos are watched, track and compare what's hot and what's not, measure the impact of marketing campaigns, gather competitive intelligence, and share the data with colleagues or friends. Check it out.
The biggest question from all of the players, big and small was regarding making money on the web. When will it happen?
My favorite quote from the Streaming Media Expo: Let's not exchange analog dollars for digital pennies. This underscores the fact that for all the trends indicating a shift to online viewing, there are precious few digital dollars paying for online advertising and there is very little consumer willingness to pay for or watch anything but the program content and a very limited amount of ads.
The frog is in the skillet, so to speak and Madision Avenue is prepared to bide it's time with old advertising models while they wait for the killer app, the new breed of consumer and better metrics for tracking advertiser return-on-equity.
TED HAGGARD PLAY: THIS BEAUTIFUL CITY
So, I got this call to come as the guest to see a Ted Haggard Play at the Kirk Douglas Theater. What?!
Not knowing anything about the play, I felt a compulsion to go, like a moth unto flame.
"This Beautiful City" is a documentary-style play with music (a musical?), created from interviews with actual persons, that explores the Evangelical movement and its unofficial U.S. capital, Colorado Springs, CO. Ted Haggard's church, and numerous others are front and center in a play that highlights civic concerns and issues facing diverse parties in the USA.
The producing company is the Civilians from New York. They created the play based on hundreds of hours of interviews over the course of 10 weeks in Colorado Springs. Leading churches in the area participated in the project, as did numerous civic organizations, progressive/LGBT activists, and individuals from many walks of life.
As I drove to pick up my friend for the play, I wondered, what am I doing? There were really only two options in the treatment of the subject matter. A) Bash Christians and Ted Haggard, B) Portray both sides of a difficult complex of issues honestly and openly.
C) was not an option: To say Ted was a victim and defend him.
So, I got there and sat down and was greeted promptly with an ugly round of Christian bashing and lampooning that made me want to leave.
If you don't believe in evolution, stay out of science, if you want to restrict my life and my civil rights, than F--- you! Was one of the lines I remembered.
The crowd's uproarious laughter was reserved only for the most acerbic, vicious attacks on Christian foolishness and hypocrisy.
Up to now, the play was tedious and boring for me, a lecture on how ridiculous and myopic the Christians are. The big bad woolf is definitely Focus on the Family, no doubt due to their stature and power in Colorado Springs.
The anti-Christian players were bitter, angry, determined to expose and destroy. Why did I come here, I asked again?
So, at intermission, I planned to make my escape before they unveiled the lions den. I looked for my friend Phil Cooke, who had also gotten an invite.
It was a dark and stormy night...
The pensive, hunted, token Christians gathered in the foyer of the Kirk Douglas like so many sheep awaiting the clarion call of the chainsaw shepherd.
Just before we decided to make our exit, my contact Raul came up and welcomed us warmly. I desperately looked for a metal detector, but there was none to be found.
He commended us up to the reception hall after the second half of the play was over. "Will they be armed?" I asked wanly?
He laughed and made some apologies. And we were trapped. I felt I HAD to struggle thru the rest of the play. At some point I decided it would be cowardly to retreat.
The second half of the play was different. The portrayal of the anti-Christians was still accusatory and mean-spirited. The Christian portrayal was authentic! What? Authentic.
They showed two characters in a level of depth that made me care about them. Both were played by the same woman, Emily Ackerman, an excellent actor. One was a trans-gendered male who dressed as a female. She told the sad story of losing her job planning cities due to the way she looked. She'd also lost her faith.
Emily Ackerman's other character was warm and authentic and fascinating. She told the story of her victory over drugs and her love affair with Jesus. During her amazing soliloquys she often looked offstage to scold her kids. Maybe it was because she was so authentic and sympathetic that no one had the bad taste to make fun of her and her sincere beliefs. I wished for much more of her story to be told.
Remember these characters are all based on real people. And real churches.
Yes, they chose the most charismatic, often bizarre churches to portray Christians, and yes they made fun of them and of course Ted and his crew.
But, they showed the real deal from all accounts. A real slice of a prayer meeting that got very intense (complete with demonic deliverance), a worship service with authentic good music and respectful worship lyrics, and a group of Air Force Cadets who were sincere about being servants to their corps.
They were portrayed accurately and sympathetically (albeit a bit naive, with a touch of messianic complex). The antagonists were especially vitriolic, bitter and determined. I am sure that is true too.
After the play, we went up to meet the cast and crew, who had done much of the research for the play in "the springs". They recounted with wonder how open and welcoming the Christian community in Colorado Springs had been towards them. I wanted to ask if some of them had become Christians through the experience. They definitely all had gotten a different view of "Evangelicals" as they call them.
One of the initial presentations of the play had taken place at Colorado College in 2007. The question was asked, how did they react to it? The crew said that they liked it, but the anti-Christian people had complained that they portrayed the Christians too warmly.
The truth can hurt both ways. Yes, there are the phony TV-Vangelistas and the Ted Haggards, who lead a double life. But, when you come across the love of Jesus from an authentic source, it is hard to forget. When you come to destroy and ridicule and you find truth and love, how bad would that feel to lie about it or not to honestly try to portray the "Evangelicals" with integrity as they have.
It seemed that the second half of the play was, in part an apology for the first half of the play.
As the talk back went on to the end, they asked for one final question. I raised my hand and asked writer Steven Cosson this question: What is the purpose of this play?
He had obviously never gotten this question or even considered why he was doing a play of this ilk. He was quite dumbfounded.
He finally got it out that he was trying to promote discourse. It is pretty difficult to promote discourse by punching someone in the mouth. But, as I said the truth hurts. Some of the true portrayals of Christians in this play will make you ashamed.
Would I recommend the play? Really good question. I'd have to say no for Christians. But, it might just be the kind of thing you could take non-Christian friends to (especially burned, angry ones) and then have a really, really good cup-o-Joe afterwards.