December 2011

30 December 2011

The Unique Voice of Vinegar Hill

I've recently become intrigued by the filmmakers of Vinegar Hill. I first came across their short film "The Cosmonaut", and was captivated by their storytelling style.

THE COSMONAUT from Vinegar Hill on Vimeo.

They are currently working on a feature called Twin Reflex- their successful Kickstarter shows some great ideas:

Twin Reflex — Featurette #1 from Vinegar Hill on Vimeo.

I find this method of filmmaking interesting... it's sort of a fusion of cinéma vérité and role-playing. I like the fact that they have a solid technical background but are now approaching this feature in a fresh, albeit experimental, way. And I love it. It drives me to want to try it.

It's been a re-occurring theme in my posts, but I can't stress it enough: If you want to stand out, approach each piece of work differently with UNTESTED ideas and methods. Break yourself out of your comfort zone and truly challenge yourself. Techniques, like cameras, are only tools- use them to your creative advantage and to solve problems. Better, more refined tools will help you attain a better, more refined vision... but don't let them become the crutch that defines your work.

Enough of my soapbox. I really just want you to become a better artist, even if you think you don't need to. Personally, I know I have a long ways to go... but I'm confident I'll get there if I stay true to knowing I'll always need to improve, I'll always need to learn.

I certainly feel that the filmmakers of Vinegar Hill know this- and I'm anxious to see more of their work!

27 December 2011

...almost there...

It's been a tumultuous ride for Southside of Elsewhere... but I can say that we are 99.999% finished with it- and we are pushing to have it finished by week's end. With that, we're really proud of how it's turning out and we've decided to submit it to the festival circuit instead of releasing it online.

Right now we're in the process of sound design- the hardest and most rewarding part of putting a film together. Sound adds the texture of the world you're characters are in- it adds believability and life to the film.

One of my favorite filmmakers, Walter Murch, talks about "worldizing" sound design in this clip. Enjoy!

19 December 2011

Inspiration Monday 12/19/2011: It's not about the toys. It's about the vision.

I'm always excited for new technology as much as the next guy.  Canon C300? Sign me up. Red Epic? Pretty please. As nice as these toys are, without any solid artistic background or talent, they aren't going to improve your work.

Take this short film for example- it's amazing! The cinematography, direction, editing, performance, colorgrading, audio... it's a fantastic piece and it RIVALS many feature length studio released films shot on 35mm film- and it was shot on a little Canon HV20 consumer camera. 

White Red Panic (HD) from Ayz Waraich on Vimeo.

Now, I own one.  I am first to admit that you have very limited control over many of the camera features... but Ayz knows this and he worked within what he was able to do, and the results are amazing.  He relied on his directing, cinematography and editing abilities using only what he had available. His equipment limitations gave him parameters to work within, giving him the chance to explore ways to tell the story by problem solving his hindrances.  There are a couple of shots I would have done differently, but that's besides the point.

Blocking your actors, composition of the frame, designing your light, motivated camera motion... and knowing how you're going to cut it.

So, I challenge you: please don't film a scene of two talking heads and call it a finished short film. And PLEASE don't settle for what's easy- have your characters DOING something. Give your camera a reason for movement. Move your actors and keep it kinetic. And for God's sake, move your story into something memorable, emotional and unique!  How do you do this? Simply ask yourself- what could I do to make this scene fluid?

In the end, what's inspiring here is it doesn't take the best tools to make an incredible movie. Everything you need is in the creative side of your brain.

16 December 2011

And All I Ask is a Tall Ship and a Star to Steer Her By...

If you've ever read Sea Fever By John Masefield, and you have a passion for something, you know what I mean. It's simply time to redouble my efforts and narrow my focus. 2012 will mark finishing Southside of Elsewhere, creating another short with refined and better technique, and starting on my first feature.  If you've been to my main site-, you'll notice it's had a major redesign to reflect that.

So with all of that, I've decided to retire from freelance illustration and web design. While I'll still take on freelance graphic design, photography and video production jobs, they all fall into what I deem necessary to steer my ship to reach my goal- to do filmmaking fulltime, and support my family while doing it. 

In the meantime, please check out and like my new Facebook page-

Lost Skies Demo Reel from Juan Maestas on Vimeo.

Poor thing is sitting patiently, cold in the garage. I am going to replace the carburetor and fuel tank in March, then replace the entire break system and all the hoses and wires. I'd like to get this thing out on the open road- I really want to see what this baby can do!!!

I had mentioned before it will have a cameo in "Imprint", but will be in a starring role in my future noir.  Gotta get the thing running first!

12 December 2011

Inspiration Monday 12/12/2011

Well, it's been a hectic week.  I've been busy with some upcoming changes- of which you'll see by the end of this week.  I promise, it's huge!!

So, because of that, there isn't much to show this week in terms of inspiration- but I did find some pretty radical stuff:

EYE OF THE STORM  |  Lovett from Lovett on Vimeo.
This video is awesome- with all the steampunk elements, it blows my mind everytime I watch it.

The Gift from BLR_VFX on Vimeo.
While the FX are seamless in this video- as compelling as the concept is, it is a bit light on story.  Still, I added it here as an incredible example of blending live action with CGI.

I've been on a film noir kick, again lately.  A big part of that is the feature I'm working on with Aaron Colburn... but another is the current script I'm writing, well, rewriting.  This film school student's example of film noir lighting and mood is very inspiring.

Well, I'll be posting more this week- stay tuned for the big announcement :D

08 December 2011

On Set: The Lean Production

Sometimes it's just not feasible to have a giant crew. You may need to work fast and if the actors are willing to work with you (if they believe in the project), you can do it- but it will require discipline, focus, planning, creativity and resourcefulness to pull it off.

Of course, you'll have to make a few concessions- no cast of thousands, no opulent locations, no labor-intensive setups, and cast carefully- you'll want to work with someone who is willing to go that extra mile- and you'd be surprised at how many are willing. Unfortunately, the flip side is that many of those who WERE willing are now not, because their good graces have been taken advantage of by many an unscrupulous filmmaker. Said filmmakers can ruin it for the rest of us. But this post isn't about them- it's about you and your lean production.

First and foremost: You ABSOLUTELY have to have an incredible script with emotional depth. It has to blow people's socks off. A good script is gold into gaining the support you need. And it needs to function on the lean production philosophy.

And you'll have to have some VERY LOYAL friends willing to go that extra one hundred miles for you, and willing to do it for free.

With the advent of digital technology, and recent improvements, it's amazing at how much you can get away with using available light or even small kits to shop lights. On the equipment front, there are a ton of DIY projects- the Frugal Filmmaker is a fantastic resource for that. He has more than DIY projects- his site is a great resource, so bookmark it now!

If you do the DIY equipment route, make sure you're handy enough to do it, and that you don't end up spending all your time making tools. DIY is very easy to get carried away with, and sometimes buying the real deal is a better investment- especially when you're mounting a $2000 camera to the end of whatever contraption you made out of PVC pipe.

Made for under $700. Filmmaker Mark Cabaroy's concept is so deceptively simple: " [It's] story of Dora Allen, a twenty-something year old African American woman. Dora has the unique ability to hear people's problems and then provide them with concise helpful advice.

"This leads her friends, family and even complete strangers to depend on her help with their everyday decisions and for Dora things eventually become burdensome."

The high concept in and of itself separates itself from blending into the dime-a-dozen domestic dramas that are churned out time after time.  The following article is a lesson in how resourcefulness and a fantastic script can carry you very, very far.

Sometimes there's a party mentality that comes with being on set making a small indie short. Many are addicted to that- it is fun- there is a great sense of comradery that comes with that. But it's expensive, slow and at times, unnecessary. Keeping it lean means you can keep it fast and mobile.

Garath Edwards shot Monsters with a crew of three... plus the actors and an editor who was editing during production. Look at what they were able to accomplish!

video platform video management video solutions video player

Of course, the editor was on location editing the shots from the previous day- it allows them to see what they missed and how they can evolve the film.

Rebel Without A Crew- Write a screenplay and make a movie by going with what you have. In this case, Robert Rodriguez and his best friend Carlos Gallardo used Carlot's hometown of Acuña, Coahuila, bored locals, borrowed equipment, and flew solo on all fronts. His talent, innovation, courage and strategy more than paid off. Rodriguez himself said if it weren't for the cost of the film processing, he could have easily made that $7,000 movie for $5. Of course, it can be argued about his production value- not much in terms of amazing photography, but again it was meant as something to be consumed quickly. He got the job done.

In the end it's about what you want, and what you need. If you have a scene with many extras- having a large crew to help keep the talent happy and moving logistically is necessary.

05 December 2011

Inspiration Monday 12/5/2011

Well, here we are again! I've been looking for inspiration lately- particularly in terms of my new feature script. I want to do this one right: by that I mean I want to BE ABLE to do this by starting with a story that uses only what is available to me rather than spend years finding investors and making shorts or a webseries based on it (which is a strategy with merit, but is time away from just making the damn film).

But even though I've been in screenwriter mode, finding video to help with my visuals often helps me in both writing AND making plans on how to approach the film when I feel like I'm ready.


OFFF New York Titles from Rob Chiu on Vimeo.

I was told this is cubist editing- the quick flashes of items with the jittery editing could really give someone a headache if they had to watch an entire feature film like this, but when used appropriately, it gives the sense of dreamlike abstraction.


Canon EOS C300 = Awesome from Jonathan Yi on Vimeo.

I want this camera. Does anybody have $20,000 they can give me? Oh! and another $20,000 for some good lenses too?


The Narrative of Victor Karloch [Official Trailer] from Kevin McTurk on Vimeo.

I saw this featured on Often times it's best to find inspiration outside of what you're looking for. I LOVE the artistry and craftmanship that went into the making of this... and I jumped at the end!

01 December 2011

Feel what you mean, but not what you say!

Bar scene in Southside of Elsewhere (Antonio Lexerot, Katherine Joan Taylor, Ben Governale & Hailey Nebeker)
So I have been wracking my brain trying to figure out what I'm going to post today- since I have resolved myself in keeping this blog very active to AT LEAST two postings a week. I was planning on doing a post about ADR or cubist editing.

The day got away from me as started going through my lostskies email (it doesn't hold very much so I'm pruning out old emails) and I came across this advice I had posted on a forum a few years ago. I saved the text in an email so I could keep it for my own records. In any case, my foresight is helping us out here :)

The forum person asked why their dialogue felt so stale even though he felt his plot was exciting. This was my response:


Dear ******,

I know you didn't ask for tips, but I just felt that some advice on scripting dialogue might help you find out why you're running into some problems, and offer advice to others who might be in the same quandary.

Most of the time, as I've seen with many new writers when they feel that their dialogue all sounds the same or doesn't seem "witty" or catchy, is that they haven't found the character's voice.

"Mmmkay... what does that mean, exactly?"

It means you may be just throwing down what you want your characters to say, but you're not exploring on how they'd say it- or WHY they are saying it, or saying something other than what they are feeling. This is called subtext.

Dialogue should be motivated- coming from inquiry or demand on the part of the one, and conflict, confusion, manipulation, from the other. Once you've figured out WHY a character would say something, and the other gives an ironic response- especially with SUBTEXT- the rest will fall more easily into place and thus magic is born.

Read. Read as much as you can- and not just other screenplays, read from literature... read from graphic novels... read the newspaper! This might give you an insight on what may motivate people, and how they'd react when faced with conflict- especially with words.

Practice writing- even if it's one scene, one page.

Observe other people in the store- why is that new mom mad at her husband? Why does the cashier keep glancing at the door and ignoring you while you check out?

Also, it's also been in my experience that the actors can bring their own voice and SAY it better than you could script it. While admittedly it's saved my behind more than once, it might be counterproductive to what you are trying to SAY with your story... and suddenly something doesn't jive right. When an actor asks for motivation, again, in my experience, it's because it's not really there in the story... but the best screenplays, the motivation is clear. Everybody wants something... and everybody wants to protect what they have.

I hope this helps!

I've updated some of the text, but the jist is the same: trying to write witty dialogue without any substance from a thinking character will come across as being stale, or worse- phoney. Remember, your characters have feelings, use that to your advantage so your audience can connect to them. What do you think? I'd love to hear if you have anything to add- post below!