Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Odds and Ends

Some random tidbits from the corners of my mind:

We Need to Talk About Kevin - a tremendously effective and masterfully controlled thriller and the best use of the color red since Suspiria.

Boss may just be the 2nd best show on tv right now (behind Breaking Bad of course), too bad no one's watching.

JESSE: "Vamanos."
SKYLER: "I wish..."

Two characters summed up beautifully in one off-handed exchange.  Brilliant writing from Breaking Bad.   Oh yeah - and one more from the same episode:

MIKE: "Shut the f--- up and let me die in peace."
Pretty much his entire state of mind for the last two seasons.

The exponential nature of the 'net: It took us 9 months to get our first 1,000 views of Enter the Dark on YouTube. It then took us just 7 days to get our next 3,000 views.  Now over 5,000 and counting! 

Somehow we got linked to this site - 1channel which is just a big linkfest to online video - some legit, some clearly ripped and bit-torrented, and now our short film has been propagated on multiple other sites.  The good news - from what I can tell, on all those other sites combined, we now have over 40,000 total views.  The bad news- we're getting absolutely no Google AdSense revenue from all those views - someone else is!  I'll choose to concentrate on the good news of all the exposure we're now getting.

Some cool documentaries I stumbled upon via Netflix:

If you're interested in mysteries, conspiracies, street art, or 2001, check out Resurrect Dead.

Do you have noisy neighbors, like to make crank phone calls or are you interested in what makes something art vs exploitation?  Be sure to check out SHUT UP LITTLE MAN!
But please... turn the sound down so you're not annoying the neighbors! 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

A Stiff Dose of Reality

It's every film maker's worst nightmare.  The lights go up, an uncomfortable silence envelopes the theater.  A moderator walks to the front, microphone in hand.  "Let's talk about the film you've just seen" he says, innocently enough, and unleashes from the audience a chain reaction of hate-filled vitriol, all aimed squarely at your baby - your carefully crafted, defenseless little speck of a film.

And yet, the cruel reality of any artist is that any art they manage to make, be it a painting, sculpture, novel, or film, no longer belongs to them once they share it with the world.  It is now out of their hands.  It has a life of its own. Whatever ideas they were actually trying to represent have no relevance to the effects that the art actually has on an audience.

And the reactions that it may elicit from an audience are wide, varied, and entirely dependent on a seemingly chaotic range of variables specific to each and every person: do they even like horror movies; does the lead actor remind them of someone they hate; are they hungry, tired, hot, at the time of viewing; did they just get in a fight with their boyfriend; did they once have an idea similar to yours and now hate you for having finished this movie?  Who knows.  Somehow, all these variables get wrapped up into a hazy glob of something called "taste". 

Two people, sitting right next to each other see the same movie - one says, "I thought it was very clever and effective.  It really drew me into the story.  I was engaged throughout and was shocked by the ending - very well done."  The next person says, "I thought it was cliched and boring - totally obvious and had no sense of what it wanted to be.  I hated it."

It's easy for an artist to want to go around defending their work - "yeah, but that's not what I intended...", "I originally wanted to do that, but we ran out of time...", "no, I wasn't trying to rip that off - what, no I've never even seen that film!"  For me, with Enter the Dark, the most obvious bit of criticism is that it's a rip off of Paranormal Activity.  The cruel reality is that I had my idea before PA was ever released and had to watch in horror as accolades were showered upon a film that closely matched many of my ideas.  I knew that most people would assume that my short was just a reaction to PA, but I didn't care - I did it anyway, knowing that at least some folks would be able to discern the difference.
And so, I bring to you, actual unfiltered reactions to my defenseless baby, Enter the Dark after a screening at Toronto's WILDsound Film Festival this past April.  These are some responses from your average film fans - not particularly horror fans mind you.  And some of the reactions are quite brutal.  If I had watched this soon after I finished the project, I might have been quite crushed, but having some distance of almost two years, and many successes later, I can take a (somewhat) more objective viewpoint.  Still, it does sting a bit.  Thank goodness however, for the ever astute viewer that shows up around 4:30 in the video - finally someone who was actually paying attention!!  Oh thank you, thank you Mr. Dreadlocked Dude - you actually make film making worth doing!

Well, what's a film maker supposed to do, given these types of reactions by seemingly equally intelligent and reasonable folks.  How do you judge if your ideas are coming across to an audience?  How can you tell if you are an effective film maker?

Well for me, before I finished Enter the Dark, I was very careful to show it to a group of people whose opinions I trust.  These were friends and family from a wide variety of backgrounds.  Some who love horror films, some who never watch them.  Some who are also film makers, and some who have never created anything close to "art" in their lifetime.  I asked them to be brutally honest.  I asked specific questions pertaining to what was working and what wasn't.  I asked them specifically about the ending of my film, as I was unsure whether I was giving enough information to explain it.

After the screening, we talked about the film in general, but I also handed out response sheets so I could look over their reactions at a later time and sift through the data.  What I realized is that you can never take one single piece of criticism at face value.  Never ever take a note from one individual and assume that it is correct.  Each and every person has such a unique take on things, that to try to please everyone is a fool's game.  You will end up with a film that has no relation to the personal insights you originally intended.  You must ignore any criticism that isn't corroborated by multiple people's responses.

If one person says they don't understand the ending of your film, then fine, take a note - but do nothing.  If THE MAJORITY of people get and like your ending, you are golden - don't mess with it!  However, if you continually get the feedback that folks are having issues with your ending YOU MUST FIX IT!

Always keep in mind that you will never get 100% of your audience to like what you are doing - nor should you even want that.  Any idea worth doing is going to piss some people off - if you're not offending someone, then you're not trying hard enough!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Fits and Starts

The life of an indie filmmaker is one of fits and starts:  you have a flash of inspiration; you carefully and lovingly coax that spark into a fully formed idea; you motivate your friends and colleagues to join you in making this dream a reality; you toil through the process of production and post production; you do the dance of the press and film festival circuit and then...

Well then, your real life slaps you in the face.  Stuff happens. You get buried under the avalanche of your daily life. You need to pay your bills - do your taxes - find paying work - chauffeur your kids to baseball practice.

You know - real life.  And not that it's all awful - it's not, it's just really time consuming - which leaves almost no time for flashes of inspiration to spark in your brain.

So, while I've been doing lots of work this past year, sadly none of it has involved directing my next short film.  What has been going on is my usual assortment of editing corporate videos, documentaries, local commercials and various odds and ends - a typical freelancers bounty and one that I'm grateful to have in these tough times.

Recently, I completed editing, sound mixing and doing graphic work for the Goldman Environmental Prize videos.  These videos will introduce and tell the stories of this year's recipients of the prize that is awarded to everyday folks who do extraordinary things to protect their local environment.  Each year we also re-edit the stories together into a half-hour show which airs on PBS called The New Environmentalists.  It's always a pleasure to work on something that highlights such inspirational and compelling people, and we've been fortunate to have won a regional Emmy Award for this show twice in the last couple of years.

I'd love to show you the videos for this year, but you'll just have to wait until their names are officially revealed.  I can tell you that one of the stories was very interesting to do as it revolved around an issue that got major worldwide attention recently.  I was in the unique position of knowing about some of the elements of this story just a week or so before it exploded in the press.

On an entirely different note, I had a very troubling experience as an editor recently.  As a freelancer who works from home, I am sometimes put in a peculiar position of having strangers in my house.  Most of the people I work with I've known for a long time and consider them friends as much as clients, but with more and work coming through Craig's List and other online sources, this is now not always the case.
So, I was in the position of working with a new client when he decided that he wanted to come over to finish up work on a demo video we were doing for a new piece of software.  Nice enough guy, so no problem.  We finish up that video and he mentions he wants to do a small thing and edit some footage that he took of his family around his house that will be included in a little "happy face" video to open up some meeting.  Easy enough - I do these sorts of things all the time.  Nice guy, nice family - no worries.  We finish the videos, he pays promptly - says the videos worked great, everyone loved them, he'll be sure to be back on any new projects that come through.

Months later, I get a rather strange call from one of his colleagues at the company he works for.  So, I call him back and he says "I just wanted to let you know if you hadn't heard from John (not his real name) lately, that unfortunately he's been out of the office for a while."  He continues, "Actually at this moment we're not sure if he's coming back."  He sounds really uncomfortable and I can tell he's sitting on some bad news.  I'm expecting him to say that John has some terminal disease and how awful it is.

Then he says, "We wanted to let you know before you heard it on the news..."  I'm thinking, wha?

"John killed his wife."

My head spins.  I can't believe what I'm hearing.  All I can think about is this guy in my edit suite, in my house, watching video of his kids - laughing and playing outside the home where this guy will soon kill their mother.


It's hard for me not to question my judgement on people.  How can you know - how can you really know what someone else is thinking.  What inner demons they are fighting with.

You just never know.

On happier news, I'm pleased to announce that a film I did some editing work on last year just had it's premiere at the Atlanta Film FestivalWithout a Net tells the story of four kids from the drug controlled slums of Rio de Janeiro, who become involved with a local circus.  It's really a great story and I'm so glad that my friend Kelly Richardson has completed her project and is making the festival rounds.  Check it out if you get the chance.

Speaking of women-produced filmmaking, I also recently funded this cool looking film noir project on Kickstarter called the Lilith Necklace by Melanie Killingsworth.  It's always nice to have the opportunity to help others see their visions fulfilled.  I figure, "Hey if I can't get my project rolling right now, might as well help someone else get theirs off the ground."

As for Enter the Dark, it is still going strong, with upcoming festival screenings in Chicago, Toronto and even all the way up there in Saskatoon.  It's now running on its own momentum, as festival directors are now contacting me and sometimes even waving the entree fee!  This is the advantage of a film that has already screened in many festivals and won a few awards.  Once a film starts getting some buzz, it creates a life of its own.  Starting the buzz is always the hard part.

Which brings me back to my starting point - fits and starts.  I've struggled through a couple of ideas, but I think I've settled on a nice, tasty little moment of darkness to work on next.  I don't want to give away too much of the piece yet, but it is inspired by very real events in my lifetime.

And also this famous image:

If I can pull this off successfully then perhaps bigger things are on the horizon.   But for now, I'll take things slowly.

One step at a time.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Artist... really?

Thanks a lot Oscar nominators - you wrangled 10 bucks out of my pocket.  Oh yeah, Golden Globes, you didn't help much either.  And to all you Yahoo! movie reviewers who gave this 4 1/2 stars - I'll see you in HELL!

After all the buildup and buzz, I felt I finally needed to see The Artist.  You know, on that one night out in like 6 months when I actually get to see something in the theater that doesn't require 3D glasses, or multiple trips to the restroom to track down my restless 6 year-old.

I really wanted to like this, I tried... really. The Artist is clever and well-made, but c'mon already, it's PAINFULLY predictable. I guess it would've been ok if it was a 20-minute short film... and it didn't suck.

Ok, ok, I'm being too harsh, it doesn't actually suck, but best picture? no effing way.

It doesn't even belong in the same conversation as Drive, Tree of Life, 13 Assassins or the Descendents.

If you want a heartfelt, nostalgic look at the magical beginnings of cinema, watch the truly inspired, Hugo.

If you want a clever and romantic look into the past, please check out Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris.
And if you actually want to sit through a black and white silent film, do yourself a favor and watch Mel Brooks' Silent Movie.  It actually does all that The Artist tries to do, but it's actually funny - and good - and clever - and original.

All through the film my mind kept wandering, hoping that something unexpected would happen - dreaming up twists and tangents that would elevate the film past a simple, pedantic homage.  At the end (spoiler alert)  when he finds all his old belongings in the home of Peppy Le Pew ... I mean Miller,  I was desperately hoping she would turn out to be a psychopathic stalker, jump out from under the sheets and knife him through the chest while the dog lapped up his blood.

Hey, I can dream can't I?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Spend a buck to help a starving artist!

Ok folks, I don't ask for much and I rarely beg, but I just got this email, so hopefully y'all can help me out:

"Dear Todd,
With two days left we wanted you to know that your film "Enter The Dark" is only 12 purchases away from being in second place in the Social Shorty Contest.
In other words, if 12 of your friends purchase your film for $1 each, you will be in second place and you could win the $1000 second place prize.
You are so close! Good luck!"

So please, if you have a second, bop on over to  sign up and search for "Enter the Dark". Fork over the ungodly sum of $1 and watch with the lights out (or not).

Hopefully with your help I can win this baby and scrape together some cashola for my next short film project!


Thursday, February 9, 2012

Top Horror Flicks of 2011... sort of

Since it's February, I thought now would be the perfect time to post my year-end best of list.  You know, to beat out all the competition from the rest of those other bloggers and get my list out first to show how smart I am and stuff.


Truth be told, it's just too dang difficult to get my arse out to the theaters and see new flicks as they premiere.  With two young kids in my house, I'm lucky if I can get to the movies once a month to see the latest singing chipmunk flick.

And so, I'm left with waiting around until Netflix or On Demand can provide me with the movie that everyone was buzzing about.

Five months ago.

So, since I'm finally sort of caught up with what the cool crowd was into, I can now present you with my definitive list of the


Wow.. ok... Well, I'd love to to that, but just between you and me, here's the deal.

This year kinda sucked for horror.  I mean, really.  There was not one single horror movie that really blew me away this year - no Let the Right One In, no The Ring, no The Devil's Backbone.  There was some kinda good stuff and lots of not so good stuff. And as usual, the best stuff wasn't even produced by Hollywood.

So, I've had to expand my horizons a bit and open up the list to thrillers, sci-fi and grindhouse movies as well to be able to field a proper team.  So here we go:


- I Saw The Devil  Ji-woon Kim's masterful ultimate revenge flick.  I don't know what it is about the South Koreans, but they love themselves some revenge!  Please tell me you've seen OldBoy.

- 13 Assassins  ok, I know this isn't even a horror/thriller/sci-fi/grindhouse film, it's a samurai action flick, but it was still better than most anything I watched last year, so it makes the list.  It's my list dammit! 

- Troll Hunter  A hilarious mockumentary that brings storybook trolls to life.  What's cooler than hunting a 200 foot mountain troll with a UV gun to try to turn it into stone?  Nothing.

 - Stake Land  Yes, I know, technically this came out in 2010, but I've had stuff to do you know - so gimmie a break.  A great post-apocalyptic zomie-ish vampire western road movie.  With tremendous attention to character development and tone.

- Super 8   The first big ol' Hollywood film on this list.  A great premise and it absolutely nailed the late 70's early 80's vibe of running around with your buds with a Super 8 camera.  I was there.  I was that kid running around. I should know.
I loved the first 2/3rds of this movie but then it kinda fell apart at the end.  Too bad.
Do I really need to mention all the gratuitous lens flares that J.J. Abrams has fallen in love with?

- Grave Encounters  I almost saw this low-budget indie film in Chicago in 2010 when Enter the Dark premiered there.  But then the festival was running way late and we had to bail.  This is one of the better found-footage horror flicks out there.  A predictable setup of a tv ghost hunting team spending the night in a spooky location is handled well with some nasty twists and turns. 

 - Tucker & Dale vs Evil  A very funny entry in the now well-established horror/comedy genre.  Best one since Shawn of the Dead and Slither.

- Rise of the Planet of the Apes  For a big tent-pole summer blockbuster, I thought it was very entertaining.

- Black Death  Well-done medieval-witch-hunting flick.  'nuf said.

- The Woman  Lucky McKee, the deranged director of cult favorite, May, brings you this very sick and twisted tale of a family man and the feral woman pet he keeps in his basement.  And shares with his family. Pretty standard setup... right?

- The Rite  Well-crafted, serious take on demonic possession and one man's faith.  Oh yeah, and Anthony Hopkins is his usual awesome self.  A lot of people didn't seem to like this film.  I think they've burned out their retinas and brains with too many episodes of The Kardashians and Jersey Shore.  Settle in and watch a mature and thoughtful movie every once in a while, willya?

- YellowBrickRoad  Another cool indie film that leads a team of investigators into the woods to research the mysterious deaths of an entire small town.  Another great setup that slowly builds its tale of madness gets under your skin.  It may take a wrong turn here or there and you may not like the ending, but it sure sticks with you days afterwards.

 - Attack the Block  The darling of last year's SXSW festival is a hyperactive tale of British street kids duking it out with space monsters.  Think Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels meets, oh I don't know, any alien invasion flick. 

- Dead Hooker in a Trunk  Yes, yes, once again this little gem actually came out in 2009, but it didn't get its wide release until this year.  If you haven't heard of this film yet - where the hell have you been??  The Soska sisters' loving tribute to all that is grindhouse-y, Dead Hooker makes up for its no-budget shortcomings by being relentlessly entertaining.

- Hobo With a Shotgun  Speaking of grindhouse... With a little more budget, a pissed-off Rutger Hauer and lots of colorful lighting, Hobo more than delivers on it's exploitation promise.

- Paranormal Activity 3  The problem with these PA flicks is they all fit the same pattern - slowly establish weird goings-on, give the doofus guy a reason to relentlessly videotape everything, ramp up the thrills and then give us a little twist at the end.  This installment works because of the clever use of the oscillating fan-o-cam and it's Wicker Man-esque finish.
- Insidious  I know I ripped on this film when it first came out, but I've changed my mind.  No... not really.  After seeing it again however, I really like the film up until the stupid ghost busters show up.  So I'm recommending the first half of the film. Then turn it off and go do something useful with your life.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What I learned from the festival circuit

After more than a year and almost 40 festival screenings, Enter the Dark's World Tour 2010 - 2011 is finally at an end.  It's been a great experience and I've learned quite a few things that will help me as I move forward with new projects.  I figured I might as well pass along some of these hard-earned nuggets to anyone who dares venture forth into the world of indie filmmaking.

First, in order to keep track of all the festivals I submitted to, I created a big-ole spreadsheet, including festival name, date of upcoming deadline, cost of entry, dates of the festival, location of festival, date when they would notify filmmakers of their decisions, whether I got in or not, and if we won any awards.

From these magic columns I can extrude the following data:

YES:  40
NO:    42

Almost a 50% batting average - not too bad.  I can tell you this - in the future I would not submit to as many festivals.  Since this was my first time, my main goal was getting as much exposure as possible and finding out which festivals were worth the entry fee.  Having submitted to that many festivals, I now have a pretty good idea which are the good ones, and which are the shady ones.