Lessons Learned: Playing Through vs The Climb

February 16, 2012 at 9:01 am

Lessons Learned: Playing Through vs The Climb | Independent Film Blog

THE IMPORTANCE OF YOUR CHOSEN MEDIUM

About a year ago, I took a step back and really thought about where I want my creative career to go.  Am I a screenwriter or a director?  At the end of the day I’m neither in the professional sense.  I don’t apply for directing gigs and I still struggle to REALLY put my screenplays out there.  No, I’m a professional editor.  That’s my trade.  I work in a fast paced live television environment and I’m still addicted to it after nearly 6 years.  At work, I tell stories through highlights, reports and features.  I love it.

Still, at home, I’m a passionate screenwriter and an aspiring filmmaker.

Like any job it’s important to have a clear focus and a year ago, I felt like I lost that focus.  I was still messing around with the footage we shot for The Climb and promoting Playing Through as much as possible.  These two shorts are the focus of this post as they are the only two shorts that I wrote and directed.  I love both of those films because they taught me something very important about myself:

I don’t want to be a director anymore.  I want to be a screenwriter.

I came to this realization for two very distinct reasons.  First, I read the original screenplays for those films.  They were so much more visual than the film on the screen.  I’ve learned that I’m better describing images than making them a reality on set.  Second, during the production of both short films, I desperately wanted to write something else.  You can’t do both.  You can only focus and I fell behind on my screenwriting goals.

XTRA | Rewriting Your Screenwriting Goals

However, I’d like to take a second to make one thing clear.  I do not regret making Playing Through or The Climb.  Those films didn’t scare me away from directing.  They just made me realize how badly I wanted to write instead.  And so those two short films serve as inspiration for me now.  I learned so much by getting out there and yelling action and cut.  (Even though I felt self conscious doing so.) Directing has given me a unique perspective that has changed the way I write scripts.  But that’s a pretty generic statement to make.

So let’s get into specifics.

PLAYING THROUGH

Lessons Learned: Playing Through vs The Climb | Independent Film Blog

It’s official.  Playing Through will go down as my most successful film.  It played in three film festivals and won a few awards along the way.  Beyond anything I’m proud of the fact that people laughed and some cried.  I saw Playing Through in a packed theater once and it was both terrifying and gratifying all at once.  People laughed when I intended them to laugh.  I can’t really confirm that they cried but many have told me over the years.

The film won’t reach everyone but I sleep well knowing that it DID reach people.  I loved Playing Through.  The entire experience with the cast and crew was one I’ll never forget.  But looking back, there are still some major lessons learned.

It’s too long.  That’s the major criticism I’ve heard since we released the film.  When we realized the film was going to be close to 20 minutes long it became a concern.  But the way I wrote and directed it left little to cut out without affecting the story.  We reordered it a bit and lost a minute or two but the film is still 19 minutes long.

When it comes to writing short screenplays, you have to get the most information across as possible.  The script for Playing Through contained one major plot point per scene but I think I could have been more creative and made each page more efficient.  It would have been shorter and the pacing would have increased dramatically.

Proof that there are always lessons to take away from a project no matter how happy you are with it.

THE CLIMB

Lessons Learned: Playing Through vs The Climb | Independent Film Blog

I wrote The Climb a year before I finished the script for Playing Through.  Right off the bat, my biggest mistake was ignoring the screenwriting lessons I learned directing Playing Through.  The script was nearly 5 years old by the time we started production in May 2010.  I didn’t apply what I had learned…

However, I did rewrite the screenplay with length in mind.  The original script was 24 pages long.  The script we filmed was 16.  There were a lot of great moments in those lost pages but I was so concerned with length that I shredded it mercilessly.  When I was cutting, I did so with simplicity in mind.  We were shooting the film with basically no budget at all so I eliminated complex locations, merged scenes together so they could be filmed easier and deleted entire characters to avoid casting and scheduling conflicts.

That was a mistake.

It’s fine to edit your screenplays but this was a massive lesson that I’m thankful I learned.  When I cut those scenes, I lost sight of the story I wanted to tell.  The essence of the story is still in there but it’s a lot clearer on the page.  I wish I had gone back and stripped the story down and rewrote it entirely.

I learned the most when I was editing the film.  It becomes clear right away which lines work and which lines don’t.  I mean that from a screenwriting perspective.  I got rid of so many lines that weren’t really needed to advance the story.  That’s one of the first things you learn in virtually every screenwriting book ever published.  You have to make every line count.  EVERY WORD.  I feel like I failed in that respect because I caught so many that sounded good on the page but didn’t work on screen.  That’s not a knock against my actors.  That’s fundamental screenwriting.

Editors will agree that when a line doesn’t work, you really have to get creative to keep things moving.  Especially when it comes to continuity.  I think that’s why The Climb feels choppy in places.  From an editing perspective, I’m happy with the way the film turned out but that’s because I eliminated about 3 minutes of dialogue by the time we released it.  That’s a lot of dialogue.

It made me realize how many moments I could have saved when I was cutting scenes and characters before we started.  If only I had simplified the dialogue.  From a story perspective, the film comes across as a first act instead of a tale with a beginning, middle and end.  Actually, it’s kind of like a prologue.  On the page, I had two great characters with really interesting back stories and as the film evolved, I fell in love with those back stories and that became the focus.  A back story is supposed to lead you somewhere.  In the script, these characters changed but I don’t think it comes across in the final product.

There was a time when I planned to turn The Climb into a feature screenplay.  I wrote a great scene in a cemetery where ‘Cameron’ faces his past and it helps him.  I really can’t explain why I didn’t put that in the story.

Having said that, I do enjoy the theme of hope these characters talk about.  There is more to their dialogue than simply words that have to advance the plot.  There is subtext.  This is a lesson that’s truly important when you are shaping your creative style.  No matter what you don’t like about your films, your writing, your paintings or your music, do not let these things blind you from the things you do like.  Every creative endeavor moves you forward.

Screenwriting aside, I had so much fun working on The Climb.  It was stressful on set with weather issues and bitter cold but our cast and crew laughed together and created together.  These are experiences I wouldn’t trade for anything.

XTRA | Read about the entire production of The Climb.

MOVING FORWARD

The two films I have made are based on screenplays I wrote 6 and 7 years ago respectively.  I think that’s why leaving directing behind is so important to me.  I never stopped writing but I do not have anything recent that showcases what I can do.  Every writer gets better by WRITING.  I’m 100% confident that my work has improved but nobody knows that except for me.  I write about passion and dedication all the time on this blog but I never really follow through by sending my work into the world.  To be honest, I don’t think it’s fair to the people who read this blog regularly.  I intend to change that.

Obviously, I’m refocused now and hopefully that will change in the coming year.  It’s time for something new.  It’s the reason why I put screenwriting aside to finish The Climb and the new website.  I wanted to clear my slate.  I wanted 2012 to be the year I put the past behind me while bringing the lessons I’ve learned along for the ride.

I’m obsessed with movies, I’m addicted to filmmaking and I’m deeply passionate about screenwriting.  Most of all, I want to tell stories.

  • We are the sum of our experiences.
  • Why do we fall?  So we can learn to pick ourselves up.
  • You learn by trying.
  • Find a job you love, never work a day in your life.

These are just a few of my favorite quotes and words I live by.  But I think one quote in particular describes my personal creative journey:

There are many paths to the top of the mountain but the view is always the same at it’s peak.

At the peak of the mountain is a successful screenwriter.  I know it.  I just have to find my way up there.

Click here to check out 17west.ca and watch Playing Through, The Climb and more.  Have any thoughts on the films?  Comment below!

Lessons Learned: Playing Through vs The Climb | Independent Film Blog

Producing A Low Budget Short Film

January 22, 2012 at 3:58 pm

Producing A Low Budget Short Film | Independent Film Blog

50 POSTS ABOUT INDEPENDENT FILMMAKING

We filmed The Climb over a weekend in May 2010 for about $300.  It was the first project we developed after I launched this blog so there was a ton of coverage here.

There are posts about every topic including budgets, screenwriting, stories from the set, post-production, marketing, promotion, trailers, posters and more.

Now that the film is completed I thought it would be useful to gather every post in one place.  So check out the entire story of how we produced The Climb.

WATCH THE ENTIRE FILM HERE

Pre-Production

Low Budget Filmmaking: The Climb’s Budget

The Climb’s 1st Location Scout

Screenwriting: Rewriting The Climb

Meet The Cast Of The Climb

Storyboarding When You Can’t Draw

Designing The Tattoos

The Director Of Photography

First Tattoo Sketches And Tests

No Budget Filmmaking: Producing A Short Film

The Need To Edit A Movie

Improving The Screenplay

Pre-Production Day

Final Make-Up Tests

Wardrobe And Props

Rehearsing A Short Film

Tweaking Your Screenplay

Directing Short Films: The Calm Before The Storm

Making Progress

Making A Short Film: The Little Details

Final Location Scouts

It Begins!

Production

Technical Specs

Can’t Complain About Early Call Times

I Dislike People Who Honk During Filming

Destiny’s Tattoos

I Don’t Like To Hold The Camera

Rushing To Capture Footage

A Computer, Some Footage And Me

How The Weather Almost Killed Our Short Film

Directing Short Films: Playing Through vs The Climb

That’s A Wrap!

Post-Production

Editing A Short Film: Little Moments

How a dialogue heavy script became a quiet movie

Short Film Editing: Is This Scene Boring?

Tough Cuts: Letting go of a scene

Taking on the opening scene

Editing a short film you directed: The Annoying Part

Editing a short film: You have to start somewhere

I got stuck editing my short film

We Have Picture Lock

Marketing & Promotion

Short Films, After Effects & Video Copilot

The Climb’ Trailer

Planning The Trailer

A new poster for The Climb has arrived

First official still from The Climb

Does this poster sell my independent short film?

The Climb’s poster is here

Commentaries

The Climb: A Journey Ends

The Climb is finished

The Climb: One Year Later

Playing Through Now Available Online!

January 19, 2012 at 12:18 am

Playing Through Now Available Online! | Independent Short Film

Playing Through is finally up on YouTube!

The film tells the story of Brandon & Nathan. Two friends playing a round of golf terribly. While Brandon does his best to distract his friend, every thought Nathan has rests on a looming phone call. A call that will reveal whether or not he has been diagnosed with cancer.

The film stars John Steptoe, Michael Clarke & Alyssa LaPlume.  It was written and directed by Jason McKinnon and produced by Eric Gamache.

Playing Through Short Film Festivals & Awards | 17 West Productions

I had an absolute blast making Playing Through.  It was the first film I directed with a professional crew and it was also the first film I edited using Final Cut Pro.  Software I purchased along with a sweet new iMac in order to complete the film.  I’m extremely proud of the work our cast in crew poured into the short.  I also have to thank Clear Springs Golf course in North Bay, Ontario for allowing us to make this film on their course.  It was a gorgeous week I’ll never forget.  I’m extremely happy it didn’t rain!

Hope you enjoy the film!  Pass it along.

There is still one more giant announcement to come regarding this movie in 2012 so stay tuned.

Playing Through independent short film 17 west productions

Short Films, After Effects & Video Copilot

November 2, 2011 at 8:49 am

Short Films, After Effects & Video Copilot | Independent Film Blog

I’m an editor.  When it comes to making a living, I do it editing live television events for a major sports network.  In my spare time, I enjoy editing short films and pretty much all of them are films produced by 17 West.  Post production is expensive so it’s always nice to keep costs down and do things on your own.  This approach can lead to satisfying results but it’s also frustrating at times.  I’m learning this now while completing the sound design for The Climb.

I can balance audio and remove unwanted noise and such but I’m not an expert in the world of sound.  Thankfully, I know enough to finish The Climb without hiring on a sound guy.

One thing I am NOT is a motion graphics artist.  I have decent Photoshop skills and they translate well into the world of After Effects but I’m a beginner.  However, I refused to simply put a white title card with ‘The Climb’ at the end of the new trailer.  I also refused to create a static logo in Photoshop and simply fade in and out.  I wanted the title to have some movement.  It had to be better than just a still image.

So I turned to After Effects and the skills I learned visiting Video Copilot on a daily basis.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Video Copilot, it’s a site full of amazing tutorials and resources created by Andrew Kramer.  The popular site is home to hundreds of in depth (and free) tutorials that covers everything from motion tracking to lightsabre battles.  It’s also a great place to learn Motion Graphics design as most of the effects he produces are visually stunning.

I’ve also purchased several of his products and they’ve been a massive help over the years.

[NOTE: I am not affiliated with Video Copilot.  I’m just a huge fan of the site.]

Action Essentials 2:

The value you get for $100 is remarkable.  Hundreds of pre-keyed elements including smoke, glass, fire, explosions and more.  It’s difficult to see because I wanted it to be subtle but I included one of the dust elements in the background to give the logo some life.  Combining elements with certain techniques I learned on his blog made this logo possible.  For example, the background isn’t just a solid color it’s a dark texture that’s been masked and feathered to highlight the text.

Speaking of which, I created the font in Photoshop and used a similar texture to match the overall style.  Once I was finished, I brought it into After Effects.  Again, I made the effect subtle so it doesn’t jump out at you but the logo is also animated and moves forward very slowly.

Finally, I added some particle elements to it using free files provided by Video Copilot.  What I love about VC is how he doesn’t just upload a couple files, he includes a tutorial as well so you can learn how to apply them to your work.

Check out the particle blog post on Video Copilot here.

I’m just an independent filmmaker addicted to learning new skills and techniques.  I’m fully aware that I’ll never be an expert in the art of Motion Graphics but websites like Video Copilot have made it possible for me to produce better quality videos.  You don’t have to settle for static logos and simple fonts.  All you need is a little creativity and some great tutorials and resources.  Video Copilot is one of the best because you gain access to the elements you’re looking for and the tutorials to help you achieve the look you want.

VISIT VIDEO COPILOT AND SEE FOR YOURSELF

The Climb Trailer!

October 5, 2011 at 9:36 pm

The Climb Trailer | Independent Short Film
NEW SHORT FILM FROM 17 WEST PRODUCTIONS

Last week, I finished the rough cut of The Climb and while a few final tweaks are being made, I decided it was finally time to release a trailer for the drama.

The Climb is the story of Cameron and Destiny and their struggles living on the streets.  Each of them must face their terrible pasts in order to move on.  While Destiny lost all hope long ago, Cameron holds to his belief that he will find a way to change things one day.

Expect more on the trailer soon!

Check out www.17west.ca for more information about our films and upcoming projects.

Follow the project with regular updates posted here.

A New Poster For THE CLIMB Has Arrived! | Independent Short Film Toronto