The Bard And The Troll – Part II

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….Continued from: The Bard And The Troll: Part I

Part I explained the background of the situation that gave rise to this subject; namely, the introduction of my internet troller who worked for me on my first dramatic short (See Below).

I hadn’t heard from him in years, since he refused to do his ADR audio work that was needed to finish the film, demanded that I give him a finished copy of the film and then when I couldn’t (for obvious reasons) blocked my communications. He recently popped up on social media and slammed me with made up statements about my actions and my integrity. I have to address it but, I reiterate that I won’t resort to recriminations. But instead I want to lay out the situation for those unfamiliar. A director/producer has to make decisions based on what’s best for the project in spite of the fact that unexpected difficulties will arise. This is a challenge for anyone in the indie film space, but particularly for a 23 year old undergrad student in a right to work environment where the contracts are more de facto, contingent on changing conditions and dependent upon teamwork and cooperation of all participants. The begrudged states that he is upset about benefits to the cast and crew. While the most important benefit is the experience gained, there is the question of footage for the actors reel. For a producer, it’s important to always consider the marketing and PR demands of the project. Here’s the problem. Once you get public interest in your project, you have a very limited window in which to exploit that interest before the world moves on to the next buzz feed. Blowing that opportunity would be irresponsible for those in control of the film’s elements. And, on top of that, you never release footage that is not finished (which was the case with this film at the time). While changing technology (the death of film and the un-affordability of the digital intermediate workflow) and technical problems with the sound were causes for putting the production on hold, another was the lack of cooperation from talent. Earlier, I alluded to the responsibility of all involved to chip in to make the indie film happen. It’s so necessary, that its the dominant expectation among independent film directors and producers that the actors will engage themselves wherever necessary to help pull off the show, particularly with unknown actors, which was the case here. The person that holds contempt for me and my so called failure as a filmmaker is the one who refused to do his ADR work, which was needed to finish the film. In independent film, sound problems are ubiquitous and they often don’t reveal their nature until the post-production phase. This is because sound is technically complex and we often do not have a dedicated sound mixer to handle the meticulous job of capturing good sound elements that the sound editor will need to create a professional sound track. It’s also important to note that if you have problems with picture, the audience will often fail to notice, but with sound the opposite is true. The audience always notices and bad sound leaves the impression that the film crew did not know what they were doing. As you can imagine, this will also negatively affect any shot at getting programmed into high profile film festivals. Talk about a missed opportunity! Even though its common sense with reasonable people, past experience has shown me that, for future reference, I should go ahead and make the statement explicit: On future films, I expect that the actors will make an effort to be available for any unexpected/additional sound or picture recordings that crop up and these are expectations shared by filmmakers everywhere. They are also expected to support the film up to its release. Based on one of the comments made by the critic, I’ll also make explicit another expectation that should be common sense: In general, actors on short films do not get paid. This is always the case on student films and that goes for the crew as well (I had upwards of 15 crew members on some days and non of them have called me in anger about the film not being finished). My critic knew of this expectation at the time but has since decided to insult my integrity with the insinuation that there was some kind of expectation of monetary compensation. There was not and the subject never came up.
With regards to the Directing work: Dealing with the technical problems that caused the shelving of the project would fall under the purview of the producer. As a director, I succeeded in getting a locked picture within 10 months of wrapping production and this was cut on a flatbed editor, not digital NLE. Honestly, just getting to that stage was a phenomenal development because of the many problems encountered in production. The script was 80% exteriors and it rained on us each of the four weekends of our schedule. I admit to a few deficiencies wearing the producer’s hat, however this was my first time out of the gate and I had no funding. This film was floated on my personal credit cards and on the bank roll of family members who helped feed the cast and crew as we went over budget on time and money. I also provided a room for all out-of-town actors and crew but this person did not want to stay on location, an arrangement that deviated from expectations shared with everyone in the pre-production phase (another lesson learned about contracts). This film was also made possible because of the hard work I did in the two preceding years since it relied upon my reputation for the support needed from classmates and others in the film community. This is a huge, scary commitment when a young person is starting out in any entrepreneurial field. Anyone who thinks it’s easy to navigate the harsh waters of independent film and hold steady the rudder of craft is mistaken. Any critics out there, I challenge to try it themselves. And while putting yourself at risk, keep in mind that the key word here is “craft”, not “content”. Anyone can do “content”in an afternoon. Craft however takes decades to master. There were so many problems with this production, I could do an entire blog series on it but I’ll save those stories for the festival circuit. In short, I attempted to go BIG with this one by shooting in CinemaScope. To do that, I had to build a rig since the format does not technically exist in 16mm. For most people, its common sense, but again…I’ll be explicit for the benefit of clarity. This was a risky proposition for several reasons: 1) I was 23 and 2) not an engineer and 3) had a budget of about $300.00 a timeframe of around two months to re-engineer an optical widescreen format not used in Hollywood in three decades and test it before going out on my first shoot that would wait for no engineering mis-haps. In spite of the exhausting doubt, the final decision to move forward with my plan happened on a whim…a “no guts, no glory” play which is the kind of attitude needed for anyone on an entrepreneurial journey to press on, and succeed by creating something unique that the market and audience both crave.

Lastly, since trolling exploits the weaknesses in the conventional mind-set from the dying modern era, I want to touch on the subject of conventional wisdom vs. alternative (trolling is accomplished by resorting to a sort of fundamentalism that distills reality down to a positivistic argument void of any truth, a tactic meant to deceive that is as old as humanity, evidenced by it’s documentation in a multitude of western history books and scriptural narratives both). When I was 23, I was as conventional as anyone in the way that I planned projects. After all, Its the formal training environment of higher education that demands this conventional mind-set. Since I was in school at the time, my script was necessarily accompanied by a storyboard, filming location arrangements, and the optional optical anamorphic rig and lighting/electrical plan. In spite of all the planning, the only thing that did not blow up in my face was the one thing that, conventionally speaking, was an unjustifiable risk…the unplanned gut move; the CinemaScope.
Convention 0 – Alternative 1. Who would have thought? Not me! So….lesson learned. Since this was news to me, my advice is more to myself than anyone else. When conflict arises, take a break from finger pointing, walk a mile in the “other’s” shoes and take a risk by producing a well crafted story with your own money and reputation on the line. And if you’re feeling extra competitive, don’t harass. Instead, do more work. This job is a numbers game. If it takes 20 films to get one good one then reason dictates that one should participate in 20 rather than trying to force one to be a magic carpet ride to a dream job. And do this work with integrity which means a good attitude, an affinity for cooperation and good will towards my creative team…you know…with a “conscience”. Western society and American industry was built on it.

About Blake

Blake is a Filmmaker, Writer, and Sports Media professional from Austin, TX. He studied Film Production and Advertising at UT Austin. When not supporting University TV crews and NBA Entertainment on live sports productions, he likes to excercise, travel, hang with Snoop his Jack Russell, read, write and collaborate with other writers, directors, actors, editors and producers on new ideas for storytelling in the film/TV medium.
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