Making of “M is for Madness” – Part 2

Here’s Part 1 if you missed it.

We’re on day two of the shoot, and this is a mistake that I repeatedly make, but it seems to be a pretty common one when it comes to filmmaking. I had the whole cast and crew show up at 9am, but we weren’t ready to shoot till after 1pm.  That’s how long the makeup took to get done. So I felt  guilty having folks sit around on their day off doing nothing for over 4 hours.

The morning wasn’t a complete waste.  I did put most of the crew to work shooting the close-ups of the arm getting sawed off.  Now to back up a bit, this was something I was seriously stressing about in pre-production.  I wanted a quick, close-up shot or two of the girl cutting her arm off that was seriously gross.  I wanted it to be a shocking moment in the film.  I was looking around the internet for ideas on how to do this and came up with nothing concrete.  I ended up calling a Hollywood FX guy, because his was the one site that I came across that seemed to have a solution for what I needed.  I talked to him on the phone for a bit and after he gave me a long description of how he’d do it, of all the materials he’d need to buy to make it possible, after promising me to charge me a lower rate than usual, he came up with a $3000 price tag.  This was about 10 times the amount I planned to spend on the entire film, for a shot that was going to last around one second.  That may be how they do it in Hollywood, but not me.  So I continued to stress about it.  What if I took a fake arm and stuck a bone inside of it? That might work… finally I just thought of calling a butcher and getting a pig arm.  That would have the skin, flesh and bone look that I wanted and all for under $10.  So fast-forward back to day two of filmming, and we spent a good hour playing around with the pig arm, sawing into it with a hacksaw, squirting blood into it with a syringe, shooting it all in extreme close-up.  We were giddy with the grossness of it all.  Then it was back to the waiting.


Gore Close UpShooting some gore!

What was taking so long was that Mez, our brilliant makeup artist was slowly crafting a very realistic skinless look onto Mig’s face.  About halfway through we realized how much trouble Mig had had getting her zombie contacts in the first time.  So she went to do that again, which went a bit quicker than the night before, but she ruined some of the makeup job doing so.  Mez went back to crafting the faceless look, she had the brilliant idea of gluing prosciutto to Mig’s face, which when you look at it, looks like raw skin with bits of fat in it.  But it was a painstaking process.

Finally after four hours or more, we were ready to role. We’d lost our 2nd makeup guy, who was supposed to help us get a realistic bite taken out of our double’s arm.  We tried to postpone that shot, in hopes that he’d come back, but that didn’t work out as planned and we had to improvise.  Now I also made the mistake of shooting outside first, it was another hot day and while we got our shots the prosciutto was cooking in the sun. In turned into a hard stinky mess over the next few hours.  Poor Mig suffered through it like a champ.

Makeup Mez applying some more blood to Mig’s face

The other big problem was we didn’t have a double on set like the day before.  I’d written into the script that at the end of the film she would bite her own arm, creating a circle of madness, an everlasting loop that would play out in her head.  But I wasn’t quite sure how to shoot her chasing down somebody who wasn’t there.  So I came up with a few shots of her running and attacking, we had her bite into the one girl’s arm on set that could kind of match our actresses.  I wasn’t confident about it working, but I felt that pressure cooker that I only feel when directing, of having to get through it and making it work. I had our actress suffering under a disgusting mess and still had quite a few other complicated shots that we needed to get through.  Plus I’d promised everybody that it would be a much shorter shooting day.  I feel like on the outside I remained calm, but inside I was boiling away.  You can understand the stories of James Cameron, Micheal Bay, etc. yelling maniacally on set when going through these kinds of complications, and I had no pressure, but my own.  So we finished up the outside shots, I wasn’t really happy with what I got, not sure if it would cut together, and we moved inside.

Now this is where I realized I’d made another mistake, the prosciutto was a hard mess, not the fresh skinless look I’d hoped for.  But we had to forge ahead.  We slapped some more blood and fake skin that our makeup artist had made for us to peel off and I was about 80% happy with it at the time.  On camera, those shots turned out well, and Mig gave another good performance.  We grabbed a couple more shots, some extreme close-ups on her eyes, to suggest that we were inside her head, and I called it a wrap.

That night, while I was replaying everything,  I knew that I hadn’t got what I needed to make the ending work the way that I planned.  I started to stress all over again.  It was confirmed the next day, when I tried to cut the final scene together.  It was hysterically bad how it all cut together, I couldn’t make it look like she was biting her own arm… I’d shot it wrong… I didn’t know what to do.  The only thing I could do was start editing the rest of the film and hope that inspiration hit.

Which thankfully, it did. I was probably only about halfway into my first rough cut that I realized “I’m calling this Madness” the editing and story doesn’t have to make sense, because we’re seeing what’s in the head of somebody going through the transition of becoming a zombie. It’s probably the worst acid trip anyone’s ever had. That idea freed me. I’d already built it to be a crazy, time-looping type film, so it wasn’t too much to ask to push those themes even further with the editing.

I had a lot of fun messing with time, cutting out random frames, creating some double imagery, using multiple takes to create slightly different looks for the same scene… making it a bit of jumbled mess.  Cutting it over and over, I watched it hundreds of times, built in self meaning into shots that would take another 10 paragraphs of reading to explain. But that stuff was for me.  The casual one-time viewer of this film probably won’t see any of that, but I hoped to mess with their heads a bit, maybe take them into that mindset for 3 minutes. I also really enjoyed playing with the sound.  I built in more layers to this film than I ever had before.  The first layer was the basic sound effects of what was happening in the film, I then layered in some pre-made music from my usual composer David Helping, on top of that I added it a lot of weird creaks, groans, ticks, etc. to take the viewer further into the crazy mind.

The film didn’t turn out exactly what I wanted it to be from the beginning, they rarely do.  Who knows if the film would have been better if I’d shot it exactly as intended, or if my mistakes made me work harder and be more creative.  I could have kept cutting away for months, adding more “meaning” to random frames here and there.  But I like working with a deadline, it forces me to let go.  As the famous saying goes: “Art is never finished, it’s abandoned” – I don’t know if I’ve ever felt that way more about a project than this.


The Making of “M is for Madness”

First off please take 2 seconds out of your day and go “LIKE” my above film here: – It’ll go a long way towards helping me get where I’d like to be. Thanks!!!  Now on to the behind the scenes story….

You probably can’t tell, but the above film was highly influenced by Stanley Kubrick. That’s where the seed of the idea began. A few months back I re-watched 2001. It’s a film I have a difficult relationship with. I find it extremely well made, highly thought provoking, but also deadly boring. I always say that I love the short highlight version that plays in my head, but actually sitting through it is close to cinematic torture.  I was watching it with a few movie geek friends and I was seeing it with fresh eyes. The very end of the film where Dave has been taken in by the Monolith, he sees the rest of his life play out before him, through a sequence of ingenious shots where he looks upon himself and sees into his own future.  Afterwards, I realized that I hadn’t seen this technique used in any other film.  (Not saying it hasn’t been done, just that I can’t remember seeing it.)

I believe in the saying “Good Artists Copy; Great Artists Steal” and I wanted to figure out a way to use this technique in one of my future films. The first thought I had was that it would lend itself really well to horror. The scene in 2001 is creepy. So I thought, what would lead a character to trip out like that, why would they see themselves in the future that way? It took a little while for me to connect it to the changing into the zombie idea… but once it did, the film jumped almost fully formed into my head. I wrote a quick outline and filed it away with all my other brewing ideas. There it sat for a few months.

It’s always tough for me to push something into production. Once I commit to a project, I’m in 100% and it tends to dominate my life and thoughts until I’m done with it. With two kids and a busy life, these things only add to the chaos, so I never tread into them lightly. I’ve spent the last few years chasing filmmaking contests, it gives me purpose; there’s a goal, usually a cash prize, guidelines that help my aim and often most importantly a deadline. Without a deadline, I can tinker with something forever. So when I read about the ABCs of Death sequel looking for 3 minute horror films, this idea jumped to the top of my list and I quickly moved into pre-production. I dug up my outline and scripted it out, it was only 2.5 pages long, so it didn’t take long. I struggled a bit with the ending, I had a couple of other ideas of her coming across a loved one after her change, but ultimately stuck with it being something that all played out in her own head.  I struggled with what M word to use as well, but once my friend and cinematographer Levi Anderson suggested Madness, that helped nail down the script’s ending as well.

Then I started contacting my usual filmmaking friends, seeing who was down to help. I’m not sure if this is happening everywhere, but here in Southern Oregon there is a ton of filmmaking happening, so it’s fairly easy to find semi-experienced crew, the hard part is getting people to commit to specific dates and times without any promise of payment. As my productions have gotten more ambitious, needing more cast and crew, scheduling has become my biggest nightmare. It’s come down to which of the key cast and crew can I get together for the most concentrated amount of time, and I’ll figure out the peripherals on the fly… it’s just impossible to get 10 or so people to show up at the same time.

I focused on makeup and my lead actress, I’ve never done a film with makeup this ambitious, so that was my biggest concern. Mez Roberts was my first call, she did the makeup on my last short Self Inflicted.  She been studying and working on more horror related stuff, so she was excited to try something in this vein. She was key in helping me figure out how we were going to pull off a lot of these shots. But she’s not big into gore, so I wanted somebody else who had done that stuff. I talked a lot about this stuff with Randy Granstrom a local director and makeup artist (I’m Not Jessica), he had some great ideas on how to make it happen, but the faceless scene and her cutting off her own arm, still seemed out of reach.  A call out to my local filmmaking friends helped me dig up Matt Hendrix, he worked at a local special effects makeup store for years and had done some gruesome makeup on on a couple of local shorts… the kind of stuff that I was looking for.  With 3 makeup artists now at my disposal I felt like we could pull it off.


Director pretending to think during a makeup break

Meanwhile I was also searching for a lead actress. My first thought was Danielle Kelly who starred in my short films Self Inflicted and Robot Love, however I wanted a new face so decided against it. I talked to a couple local actresses, but landed on Mig Windows, who I had worked before with on Self Inflicted in a bit role. She was excited about it, and fully committed… I knew it wouldn’t be an easy role, not a lot of glamor, no dialog, just a lot of screaming and enduring the makeup process. She probably didn’t know what she was in for, but she was a trooper.

I’ve got more pre-production troubles to tell, but this is already getting long winded, so I’ll move into shooting. Saturday morning was the biggest production. We had two local filmmaker friends on set to play zombies. Matt and Randy started making them up, while Mez concentrated on making Mig look beautiful. We also had a double for Mig to show up in a couple scenes to make her seeing herself more convincing. I had a really tough time organizing the shooting schedule, trying to figure out the best way to get the most out of the double.  I only had her for one day, when I really needed her for two. There were moments when I needed Mig fresh and clean with the double faceless and visa versa, also some shots with them both clean, plus I only had two outfits. I was trying to figure out the timing of the makeup, the timing of the double leaving, the timing of how to get the most needed shots done. Usually I can edit a film in my head while we’re on set, but I had trouble figuring out the logistics of it all, and ended up screwing it up a bit… more on that later.

Back to the two zombies, they’re made up and waiting around while the girls get their opposing looks. It’s a hot day and the zombie makeup starts to melt off their faces and we’re still more than an hour from getting our first shot off. The next couple hours was a juggling act of whose face was going to melt off and can we get a shot off before it does. We shoot about 10 takes of the girl running away from her double and the two zombies… at the time it was an extremely important shot, it had a lot of moving parts, and I wanted to make sure we got it right. Which ultimately I didn’t… at least for my first intended cut of the film.

After that we moved into the house, lost the zombies and it started to get a little easier. We mostly worked in sequential order because we needed the lead actresses make-up to get increasingly more zombie like. From the start I had  a specific cut off point that I wanted to reach before we called it a day. Which was right before the scene where she cuts off her own face. I knew that would be a major makeup job, and we should probably make that its own day. We got through most of the 1st day pretty smoothly, but it took many more hours than I’d hoped for. I thought I might be able to send folks home before dinner, but we shot until 11pm. We slowly lost most of the crew along the way, until it was just Mig, Mez, Levi and I left.

Bloody ArmFiguring out how to cut off her arm

The garage scene was draining.  It was late and over 12 hours into out shoot.  Poor Mig had to pretend to cut off her arm many times, screaming over and over.  I felt bad, but hoped that her real pain would play into the scene, I think it did as her screaming in that scene is very convincing.  We were two shots from being done with the day, but we still had the final make-up to do and Mig had to get her zombie contacts in, which turned out to be a real pain, it took her almost an hour to do so.  But once Mez had finished her zombie makeup and the contacts were in, I wished I had more time to figure out how to get a few more shots of her in this stage into the film, it ended up being my favorite look.  But we were all pretty exhausted and had another hard day of shooting a night’s sleep away, so we got the two planned shots and called it a day.  I also wish I had the foresight to take some more photos of her, this probably would have been the poster… if I decide to make one.  We got some iPhone shots, which I’ll leave the best of with you now.

I’m breaking this into a part 2, I’ve got a lot left to say, especially about the editing process.

Mig's Zombie MakeupZombie Mig

Why I Direct – Part 1

The last few months, I’ve been taking an improv class to trying to get in touch with my inner actor. I wanted to get inside their heads and figure a bit of their process.  I think that’s one of the main jobs of a director, understanding what the actor needs to become the character they’re playing.  I’ve been having a lot of fun with the class, laughing a lot, learning a bit about myself, and I think I can hold my own when I’m playing somebody not far off from myself.

However, we had a class last week that focused on becoming different characters, and I found myself really struggling.  To begin, we all had to become chickens.  I couldn’t forget myself, and escape into the moment. My only thought was about was how silly I must look.  Towards the end of the class we did an exercise where there were three chairs, and had to create three unique characters for each chair and try to tell the same story from three different perspectives.  First of all, I absolutely hated being in front of everyone by myself, so immediately I felt exposed… we’d only played with other actors up to that point.  My 1st round, I did okay, when I became what was basically my family, and played a young brother and sister having a fight and the mom trying to mediate it.  But my second time around, I tried to tell the story of Star Wars from the perspective of Luke, Han and Darth Vader.  These are characters that I know inside and out, I can hear their voices in my heads, I can see their mannerisms, but when I tried to convey that through my voice and my movements, I wasn’t even close.  They all sounded pretty much the same, and for some strange reason, I kept giving them mobster style New York accents. (No idea where that came from.) It was funny to watch, but I felt so trapped inside my own body.

A few students before me, a talented actress named Cat Gould told Little Red Riding Hood from Red’s, Grandma’s and the Wolf’s perspective.  It was captivating. She created three very distinctive characters, with three very different voices, postures, mannerisms… she became each of those characters.  Being able to do that, is something I can picture in my head, but not express through my body. (At least without years and years of training, something that I don’t really desire.)  I’m the same way with drawing.  I can see a beautiful picture in my mind, how each curve looks, the shading and texture, but when I try to put it on paper, it starts looking like a child’s stick drawing.

See Cat Gould in Vampire Camp – She has the “…about as well endowed as an ant” line.

I was thinking about that after class and realized that’s why I direct.  I can see the artistry, but I don’t have the skills or know-how to pull it off.  A directors job is to convey those ideas to the talented folks around them, the actors, the director of photography, the costume designer, etc. The directors uses their skills to tell the story.  Spielberg didn’t make the E.T. puppet, but he knows how to make an audience fall in love with something that’s not much more than rubber. He didn’t sit down at a computer and design the computer generated raptors, but he knows how to scare you with them.

I’ve always had a great appreciation for all the arts, but never have I excelled at any of them.  I’m an okay photographer.  If I really sit down and spend a lot of time on some piece of art, I can create something that I’m slightly proud of, but I don’t have that desire to put in the time.  I think if given the chance to act, with a script, costume, other actors, time to rehearse, and a character that wasn’t too far off from my comfort zone, than I could probably create a decent performance.  But none of those call to me the way that filmmaking does.  I really enjoy creating a world in front of the camera, and even more than that, I love crafting the story from that world in the editing room.

So that’s one of the reasons why I direct.  Because I can see the vision, I know what I want the actors to do and how the picture should look. And I’m fairly good at conveying those ideas to people that have the skills and tools to help me create that vision. (I’m continuously learning on how to do that better.)  Directing is a lot of different things, but this is what it is when you boil it down to its core.

This is part 1 of a series I’ll  continue in the future, I’ve got a couple other ideas on why I have the desire to direct.

The Shining DrawingProbably my best drawing, from 10+ years ago in art school.


Back to Normal

It’s been a quiet couple of weeks since I released Self Inflicted and things have gotten back to normal.  I’ve had a few small paid jobs. A local commercial for a photographer in Ashland, she was great to work with and it came together easy.  I wish I could drum up one of these jobs every day to keep me busy, but they’re very hit and miss.

I may have wrangled in a new long-term client.  It’s not the most exciting of video work, but it’s probably going to be consistent for a while.  Something I haven’t had in my professional life for a few years.  Luckily my main job, being a stay-at-home dad, isn’t going anywhere for a while. My wife makes enough money to support us, and I can bring in a little extra and work on passion projects as well.

Speaking of my wife, she’s decided to step up as director again.  Something she hasn’t done in almost a decade.  Here’s her last film, 25¢:

This time out, she’s making a documentary called “Be Yourself”, it’s about following your dreams. She interviewed three people in various stages of doing so.  It started with our 8-year-old son who’s dream is to become a professional pianist/musician.  She met with a young dancer who’s going to college, and is on the precipice of entering the “real world”. Lastly she talked with Timothy Nishimoto, who’s a professional singer with the very popular Portland band Pink Martini.

Editing this film has been my main job the last few weeks.  She had about 2 hours of raw interview footage, another hour of B-Roll and no script with how it all came together.  I think that documentaries at this stage can be one of the biggest editing challenges, because there’s a million different ways to take it all.  I mainly just listen to the interviews over and over, slowly chipping away pieces that I don’t need.  Connections in the story begin to unveil themselves to me.  I go over the footage probably 100 or so times, until I’ve crafted into something that makes sense, writing it, through the editing.  Then I layer in all the B-roll to complete the visuals. The final film is about ten minutes long.  

Now we’re in the final stages of completing the film.  We sent the film off to a professional audio mixer, it’s one of the few post-production processes that I have yet to master, and he’ll make it sound 100x better than what I could.  My wife and I have been futzing over and over with the color correction, each of us has a slightly different take on it.  But I’ve got to default to her, since she’s the director.  The biggest issue still to tackle is the licensing of the Pink Martini songs.  We don’t have any plans on showing it beyond some film festivals and the internet, we’re definitely not going to be making any money off it, so hopefully we can get the rights to the music without much problems.  But we’ll see…

We hope to unveil the film to the public in the next few months. Keep an eye out! Follow along with the film’s progress on it’s Facebook Page.


Self Inflicted, the Online Release – Day One

So here’s what happened on day one of releasing my film online.

I spent 3 weeks trying to build this day up, putting the trailer everywhere, non-stop Facebooking and Tweeting about it. I emailed everyone I know. I direct messaged 400 people on LinkedIn. And we ended up with 220 views for the day. Probably only 50 to 100 more than if I had just released it without any expectations.

I directly tweeted around 150 people, with only one response. So don’t think that’s worth the return in time. I got banned from posting on Facebook pages for two weeks, because I posted the film someplace and somebody tagged it as spam.

So all the work and stress I put into it certainly didn’t feel worth it. I was hoping for at least 1000 views and I guess in my wildest dreams I wanted 10,000+ – So the lesson I learned is, you can’t do it all on your own unless you have an established name. You really need a partner with some clout.

The good things: I did seem to gain a few fans. A couple people went out of their way to tell me how much they liked the film. That’s always nice to hear.

Somebody donated $100 to our Indiegogo campaign. I don’t know if that’s because they liked the film so much or what… I need to find out.

No, David Fincher’s people didn’t call, begging me to make the feature version for them… so all I can keep doing is making my own films. That was the plan all along, so not much changed.

Indiegogo – Self Inflicted

Well the Pay By Tweet experiment went over like a lead balloon. I had two tweets, from the two lead actors in the film. Oh well… last time I said I’d try Kickstarter and I began to, but I ran into the problem of having to wait a week plus for it to start. With the premiere less than two weeks away, I needed it to start now. Plus I liked that Indiegogo doesn’t require you to meet the goal to get the money, with Kickstarter it’s all or nothing. If you don’t make it on Indiegogo, they just take a larger percent of the pie. I have no idea how this is going to go, so I figured that was the safer bet. About 24 hours into it and I’ve raised $28, so I’m at .00002% of what Zach Braff made in about the same time.

Mainly I’m trying to sell $1 downloads. Also offering DVDs, posters & a script to the TV pilot we wrote for Self Inflicted. I’m reaching for the moon and asking $500 for making a 30 second film to see if anybody will snatch that up. That’s a cheap, but well made commercial for some smart company. If you’re reading this please help out or share. Thanks!

Here’s the link: Self Inflicted on Indiegogo and there’s a widget on the side.