Movies That Changed Everything: The Sixth Sense

October 7, 2010 at 8:25 am

Movies That Changed Everything: The Sixth Sense

I’m an aspiring filmmaker.  Like every filmmaker out there, I have a lengthy list of films that have inspired me along the way.  This series will examine twelve of the films that changed the way I looked at movies forever.  Films that have greatly influenced the filmmaker I hope to become someday…

The Sixth Sense

Movies That Changed Everything: The Sixth Sense

M. Night Shyamalan is one of my favorite directors…

I’m sensing a lot of people rolling their eyes but I stand by my statement because 4 of his films are spectacular.

Love him or hate him, you can’t doubt that at one point, he was one of the most entertaining and original filmmakers out there.

It’s movies like The Sixth Sense that gave him the fame he has (or doesn’t have) today.

Why is it a movie that changed everything?

Pacing.  Story.  Character development .

Most importantly:


The entire film is essentially one giant build up to it’s phenomenal twist ending.  However, such a giant plot point has to be carefully setup without giving too much away.

Watch the film again…  It wasn’t easy but Shyamalan pulled it off.

From the very first shot he is skillfully planting the seeds he needs to sell the incredible finale.  From the cold breath to setting Bruce Willis’ character up as a sympathetic child psychologist.  Everything is important.

Personally, I think it’s one of the best openings sequences in film history.

From there, the director tows a fine line as he builds up his characters and raises hairs on the backs of your neck.

I love how this film is paced.  Very slow yet deliberate.

Sometimes, slow paced movies can become long and boring but The Sixth Sense is as entertaining as thrillers get.  Beyond that, it’s an intelligent film that gets you thinking about what is possible after this life.  It’s gets you to think about what frightens you.

Great movies tell stories that resonate.  Stories that ignite conversations between friends.

The Sixth Sense achieves all that and more before blindsiding you with a legendary twist.  M. Night Shyamalan wasn’t given the key to Hollywood for nothing.

He earned it by creating one of the best thrillers of all time.

I watch that movie and immediately, I’m ready to write simple yet effective stories that get all the details right.  It sounds simple enough but it’s a balance that’s hard to nail.  When I feel like I’m not getting there I always look to movies like The Sixth Sense for inspiration.

It’s definitely a movie that changed everything.

Movies That Changed Everything: Pulp Fiction

August 15, 2010 at 11:02 pm

Movies That Changed Everything: Pulp Fiction

I’m an aspiring filmmaker.  Like every filmmaker out there, I have a lengthy list of films that have inspired me along the way.  This series will examine twelve of the films that changed the way I looked at movies forever.  Films that have greatly influenced the filmmaker I hope to become someday…

Pulp Fiction

Movies That Changed Everything: Pulp Fiction

My favorite filmmakers come up with their own stories and usually write the screenplays themselves.

This is where Quentin Tarantino shines.

I definitely love his movies.  Pulp Fiction, Resevoir Dogs and Inglourious Basterds are among my all time favorites.

Yet it’s his unbelievable command of the screenwriting craft that inspires me.

I love original tales and when I saw Pulp Fiction, I saw one of the most original and entertaining movies ever produced.

Pulp Fiction literally changed the way people structured their movies.  Since it was released, countless writers have stated their new scripts have a ‘Pulp Fiction Style’.

Broken time lines became common place once Tarantino made it cool.

Everything he does is cool.  Pulp Fiction is cool.

It’s impossible not to be impressed by the simple nature of the story and the complex way it’s presented. As a screenwriter, it made me pay more attention to the way I structure my screenplays.  Not to make them more like Tarantino’s films but to truly ask myself:

“How can I make this better?”

It’s an important question and a lesson I’m thankful I learned.  You have to constantly ask yourself if there are ways to make the story better. You have to create new elements that raise the bar.  Screenwriting exists eventually to entertain an audience.

Pulp Fiction definitely entertains and it’s entirely thanks to Quentin’s incredible imagination and vision.  The risks he takes truly shows the confidence he has in his knowledge of film.

Take the brief case for example.  Inside is a strange orange glowing light.

I have no idea what that is.

Yet somehow, Tarantino was secure enough to leave that information out.  It’s fascinating to watch. It’s seems simple but leaving out information like that could back fire so easily.

It’s a testament to his immense knowledge of movies.  The man is an encyclopedia.

His attention to detail literally changed the way I looked at my own work forever.  I now consider every little detail I can.  Every line in a screenplay should accomplish multiple things.  Tarantino taught me that a single line of dialogue can move the story forward, tell us about the characters and be entertaining.

I feel like writing now just thinking about all of the genius lines in Pulp Fiction.

Countless people have studied and written about his skills as a writer and director.  I just happy I have legendary movies like Pulp Fiction to turn to when I need inspiration.

Movies That Changed Everything: Pulp Fiction

The Making Of TACTICS: A Short Film

January 4, 2010 at 8:03 pm

17 West Productions Independent Film Toronto

Let’s go back 3 years…

Eric and I had just moved to Toronto and taken jobs in the film/television industry.  We were also making the final arrangements to incorporate 17 West Productions.  The basis of our company is simple.  I write.  Eric directs.  However, a funny thing happened over the last few years.  Our plan never worked.

Surface was our first collaboration.  Eric decided to shoot the film in North Bay but at the last minute, I was forced to work and missed the entire shoot.  The same can be said about 4 Stops.  While I had the night off, it wasn’t ideal for me to be on the trains with them.  The last thing you need is a crowd begging for attention on the subway.  For Playing Through, I was seated in the director’s chair and Eric was always moving around behind the scenes.  So in reality, we’ve never actually collaborated on a set.

Enter 2009 and more specifically, Tactics.  For the first time, we were on a set doing what we love most.

The day began on a sour note for me.  I had just finished working 14 of 16 days and got to sleep around 3:30 am.  I blinked and it was 6:30 am.  It’s important to note that I constantly brag about my limitless energy and addiction to working.  But that morning I was angry at the world.  This happens to me once or twice a year.  I was completely drained and had no intensity or excitement at all.  The lack of energy then leads to depression and I drag everyone around me down.  (Sounds bad right?  I snap out of it very quickly most of the time.)

Things worsened when I got outside and experienced the windiest day in the history of wind or days.  It didn’t stop Eric from bouncing around though.  I could easily understand why.  Too long he has waited to get behind the cameras again.  We haven’t filmed anything since June and Eric’s brain was about to explode with anticipation.  It reminded me of how annoying I must be when the energy levels are at full blast. Honestly, my overall mood aside, I couldn’t wait to make a movie again. I love this stuff!

The crew assembled at our cast’s apartment.  I don’t think there are many romantic comedies out there that have the luxury of casting an actual couple and filming in their home.  Alyssa and Jamie single handedly saved us a production budget and a desperate search for chemistry.  Above all else, they brought talent and even more energy to the team.  The combined enthusiasm of everyone involved finally snapped me out of my ‘screw off’ attitude and my idiot comments returned.  It was time.  Eric was directing, our crew was ready, our cast was prepared and I was awake.  Let’s make a movie.

This film had a very distinct style to achieve.  You would watch this movie like a home video shot by our couple.  There are a lot of logistics involved to make it work but Eric did a great job.  Immediately, I abandoned my fear that the scares wouldn’t look realistic.  Alyssa and Jamie showed that they have a knack for improvisation.  Every take was the same and every take was different.  It was nothing but fun from there.

This was our first film without a budget and without time constraints.  It’s pretty liberating to be able to shoot 20 takes and not have to worry about bumping the schedule.  There are instances where this can back fire on a film set but this wasn’t one of them.  The film got funnier with every take.  The entire set was light and relaxed and it was a perfect way to return to filmmaking.  (Oh and by relaxed I mean roooooom tonnnnnnnne haha.  Apologies for referencing an inside joke.  You had to be there to appreciate how funny that was.)

As the day progressed, Eric and I fell into a groove.  We were constantly bouncing ideas off each other without stepping on either my script or his shots.  It’s great to be able to work that way.  Personally, I loved my new roll on set.  My job was simply to ensure that Eric wouldn’t be bothered by petty things.  I have no problem admitting that I order pizza like a true professional. (I worked at a Pizza Hut for 4 years…  Not a big deal.)  Truthfully, it was nice to just be a writer/editor for a change.  I had so much fun directing Playing Through but fell behind in my writing.  I may direct again someday but it was way too much fun being on set that day with Eric at the helm.

He was in his element.  The dude had a permanent grin on his face the entire time.  I know for a fact he was a little nervous to direct again but after the first take he was back in a big way.  It was the first time I had ever seen him direct and he didn’t disappoint.  There were moments throughout the day when I thought about a statement he made a week prior to shooting.  He said “After Tactics, I’m going to wait until the end of summer before I shoot another one.”  His thought was justified.  There is still a massive amount of promotional work and organization to do for Playing Through’s release.  I think it took five minutes for him to change his mind.  Anyone could have predicted that.  I’ve met hundreds of creative people and there is one thing they all have in common.  They all share a desperate need to create.  Eric is no exception.  We’re already discussing our next project.

The day absolutely flew by.  Our crew was extremely small but everyone involved worked hard and laughed throughout the entire shoot.  I have a theory that you can love your job but if you can’t stand the people you work with it’s still a pain to get up every morning.  The memory of sleeping 3 hours was long gone for me.  Everyone was having a blast.  As for our cast, Alyssa and Jamie were never a concern for us.  Alyssa is now 4-0 when it comes to 17W’s films.  It’s getting to the point where I just assume she’ll be in every film we ever make.  Jamie was absolutely incredible when it came to improv.  There were so many subtle lines he would sneak in.  These lines were constantly quoted by the crew.  Between takes, I believe my exact words were “Quit fucking around and go say those funny lines I didn’t write!”  Alyssa was as good as ever.  She has a show stealing scene in the shower that I’m still laughing at.  This film was about the unexpected and our cast delivered exactly that on every single take.

As the day came to an end I was completely exhausted.  Actually, I think shattered is a better word for it.  It took two minutes to fall asleep once I got to bed.  15 hours later, I came back to life.  I put on my editor’s hat and Eric and I got to work.  We watched every take and it was great to be able to plan how we will package the final film.  While we worked we found ourselves discussing the different types of movies we wanted to tackle next.  These conversations are the number 1 reason why I love filmmaking.  For the first time we were talking about a big film that’s almost done, another film we just shot and future films that will raise the bar for 17 West.

What comes next will remain a mystery for now but it will definitely arrive sooner rather than later.  I can’t wait to get back on a set and I know Eric can’t wait to direct again.  The only difference is going to be the wake up call.  It’s my company too and getting up at 6:30 is mean!  I’ll be paying extra close attention to the call sheets from now on. Stay tuned in the next few weeks for more on Tactics including artwork, clips and the film’s home page.

Episode 1: America’s Funniest Home Videos

What does Bob Saget have to do with our new short film?  Truthfully, our film is about a couple that narrates each others lives using annoying cartoon voices that all sound identical.  Are you excited yet?

So what is Tactics exactly?  The story begins about a year ago.  Like many from the YouTube generation, I spend my “bored as hell” time watching endless videos and laughing my ass off.  There was one specific evening where I spent a great deal of time watching people hide and scare each other half to death. There are at least ten billion videos of people reacting to those ghost emails. We’ve all been there. This is what makes AFV an awesome show to watch.

Okay I admit the last video doesn’t really fit the profile.  I just thought it was a wicked idea.  For me, it’s the anticipation and the scheming that makes these pranks priceless. True scare tactics is an artform I intend to master someday.

Tactics, the short film, was born that night while I watched countless videos of people jumping out of there seats and running for their lives.  I pitched the idea to Eric and then to Alyssa and Jamie.  It took a year to finally sit down and write something.  Besides not having any free time to write, I also struggled to find a story to tell.  Finding a concept is easy but wrapping a story around it is much more harder. (Microsoft Word maintains the previous sentence has grammatical errors.  I disagree…

That little green squiggly underline can kiss my ass.)

With a script already in Eric’s hand we will hopefully get this one shot in April.  While Playing Through essentially took a year to complete, Tactics should be wrapped by mid May.  Not too bad.

I’ll be updating this blog regularly as things progress. In the mean time, why don’t you find a good laundry hamper or closet and scare someone to tears.

Here is the synopsis for 17W’s Tactics:

Tammy and Shawn are living together and loving every minute of it. The only problem is how much time they spend plotting to scare the hell out of each other. Who will win?

4 Stops Director’s Notes

January 4, 2010 at 7:56 pm

4 Stops Short Film 17 West Productions


A month before shooting SURFACE, Jay handed me a tiny script called ‘4 Stops’.

I had just come back from a casting session in North Bay.  I read it standing in the middle of the living room with my bag still slung over my shoulder.  I laughed out loud and immediately told Jay I was going to shoot it next.

A few months later, with Surface locked, I moved my attention to the little subway story. I spent an entire day ridding the subway, blocking the actions and shot listing the film. This is when I decided that we were going to shoot 4 Stops guerrilla style.  While the cost of shooting on the subway wasn’t ridiculously expensive, it was too much for our non-budget film. This run and gun approach also informed the style of the film. There would be no room for mistakes and very few opportunities for multiple takes. Technically speaking, we shot the film on a consumer MiniDV camcorder my parents bought me during college.  This also allowed me to pretend to be a tourist on the subway, should we have been caught. There was no way we could get a tripod on the train without standing out. We also couldn’t have any type of sound recording equipment. This meant we had to ADR the few lines of dialogue later.  I would also have to shoot without a crew.  This is what excited me the most about making this movie.  It would just be me, the actors and a camera.

When it came to casting the film, I immediately thought of Alyssa LaPlume. We had just worked together on Surface and I knew she would be great in the film.  As for her creepy counterpart, I was stuck. I was looking over headshots and resumes when I checked out a show by Rep 21 (Canadore College’s Theatre troupe). Jamie Mitchell was great on stage, funny and endearing, an every man.  It just so happened he was also Alyssa’s boyfriend. What luck!

For me, rehearsal is an important part of Pre-Production. The actors and I go through the entire film and iron out the details, blocking, etc.  When it came to 4 Stops, the process was vital. Things that are typically left to be worked out while shooting had to be decided before in the comfort of my living room. Using kitchen chairs as benches, we ran through the entire film several times. I even shot the rehearsals, testing camera angles.

Finally, it was time to shoot. After working a 14hr day on The Incredible Hulk as a VFX P.A., we all met at my place. We ordered a large pizza and our amazing makeup artist Alex Rotundo got to work.

Afterwards, we made our way to the subway.  We had a little less than 2 hours to shoot the 4 page script.  This would be pretty tight on a normal shoot but we had no control over anything. We needed an empty car and we needed it to stay empty for 5 or 6 consecutive stops.  For anyone who’s even been on the subway, you know how rare that is.

Ding. The subway doors open and the car is EMPTY!  Alyssa and I had gone a station behind Jamie, who was waiting on the platform of the following stop.  Alyssa got into position and I got the camera ready. The train moved along.  We approached the platform where Jamie was waiting to board.  Would the platform be full of intoxicated partygoers coming home from a night on the town? Would there be subway employees waiting to board the train to get to another station? Finally the train pulled into the station. The platform is EMPTY!  It’s a go.  We only have one shot getting this shot (really?). Ding. The subway doors open.  Enter Jamie, in character. The camera is running and Jamie plays it perfectly, just like we rehearsed. With a little luck we got the first shot in the can!  It was as good as I had hoped. However, there was no time to celebrate.  We only had an hour before the subway shut down for the night and a lot of stuff to cover.  What a night.


4 Stops is officially in the can. Things could not have gone any better. In fact, I’m confident we could not duplicate those circumstances. We captured something interesting and exciting during our “in-the-moment” filmmaking.

Later that morning Jay watched the footage and confirms my suspicions, it looks good.

We cut the film that night and concluded the 48 hours of work it took to complete the film.

Click here to watch the film.

Click here to for Jay’s take on the movie.