Thursday, October 19, 2017

How I Illustrated a Children's Book for the First Time

Hey all,

It's been a while. I know. Sorry about that. But I ILLUSTRATED A CHILDREN'S BOOK.


You can get it here, and see some sample illustrations on my site and on my Instagram and Twitter page. Oh yeah, I'm getting REAL promotional here. Oh, I also have an Instagram now. Lots of changes.

But I'm also going to write about what it was like for me to work and complete a children's book.

It all started when Ashley Lauren West, a writer contacted me, asking if I'd be interested in illustrating a children's book.

I have to be honest - during the first couple of weeks of talking with Ashley, it all felt like a joke, like it wasn't serious, like how could I be the one to do something like this, surely I wasn't good enough, has she seen my work, is it even children-material?

And so on.

Fortunately, Ashley was wonderful, encouraging, and really helped me believe in myself while also allowing me to creatively approach the children's book in a way that made me feel very comfortable and confident.

I'll write separate blog posts for each illustration in more detail - here I want to talk more about how I approached such a big project and some of the struggles I had to overcome.

I've written about impostor syndrome, doubt, and self-defeating thoughts before and BOY does that come into play when you're tasked with a major project, especially one with so much weight as 'children's book'. This became much more apparent as I was telling people it was something I was working on.

"A children's book, that's amazing/wonderful/fantastic/great" was usually the reaction I got after talking mentioning that I had a project in the works. I loved the enthusiasm my friends had but their very genuine reaction concerned me. Of course, my thought even before I put pen to paper (and even after putting pen to paper) was always "what if I don't do well?"

It's something that I often think and can usually ignore, but when it keeps surfacing through the lifetime of a project, it becomes harder to ignore. Fortunately, there are pros and cons when working on projects like this.

1) They're collaborative projects.

I worked pretty closely with Ashley, getting her feedback and thoughts with sketches, color versions, and final pieces. What was most encouraging was that Ashley liked basically everything I was doing. Given that I was particularly sensitive, especially in during the beginning of the project, it was very rewarding to hear positive feedback.

2) You're working on multiple 'problems' rather than one.


I sometimes consider illustrations as 'creative problem solving' in a literal sense. That's especially true when I'm farther along some illustrations and I'm trying to figure out what's missing in an illustration. Sometimes if it takes too long for me to figure out, it gets frustrating but when working with so many illustrations, it was easier for me to just move to a different illustration and get farther along that one.


3) You see success along the way.


The book consisted of 12 illustrations and a cover. I worked on the 12 at the same time so it was very rewarding whenever I finished one, knowing that, hey, I can do this, and just had to continue doing it the 2nd, 3rd, 11th, and 12th time. This became especially helpful once I was more than halfway done. By that time, I knew where nearly every illustration was going, directionally, and it was an exciting pace to continue finishing each piece.

So those are the pros to the project. There were some cons - although I admit these are small complaints and one all illustrators need to get used to.


1) I couldn't show any of the work!


This was the biggest one for me. I constantly felt prouder and prouder of my illustrations but I couldn't be vocal or public about it. Since I want to continue my career in illustration - it was difficult knowing my portfolio was missing these images that I felt were some of my best work.


2) It didn't feel as personal


I know. On one hand, it's collaborative. On the other, it's collaborative. We're a complicated species and very often, contradictory. I wanted to work on images that were strictly mine. Although, that's probably the 'artist' speaking, and not the 'illustrator'.


3) I felt bad working on personal projects


This is a con I need to get over. I felt like I couldn't devote any illustration time to my own work because I had a children's book to finish! Of course, this is the wrong mindset and while it's easy to talk about how wrong it is, it's a little harder to put it in perspective.

Anyway, those were the specific pros and cons to my illustrating this children's book. But ultimately, it's been a HUGE opportunity that has led to so much more and I'm forever happy and grateful that I've been give this chance to do this.

As the weeks (possibly months) pass, I'll talk about some specific paintings, my process, my struggles, and what I learned along the way.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Process Post: Oh, To Be Free!


This painting happened accidentally in a way. After having finished my children’s book, which, at the time of this writing, is still yet to be published, I had many conflicting and contradicting feelings. I was both drained but energized – the children’s book took a lot out of me but I learned so much that I wanted to create something new. In a similar way, it felt good not having to create an image for someone other than myself, but then, it seemed difficult for me to create something without a prompt. Where would I start from? Where was my base?

I had started working on a big piece that tried to incorporate what I learned and utilized an existing sketch. However, that got nowhere fast after I quickly got to coloring it. I’ll likely pick it back up but it stalled me.

I often have feelings similar to writers’/artists’ block but I’ve always told myself that those things don’t exist. If you’re stuck for ideas, just start working. Start drawing, start painting, start writing.

I don’t always follow my own advice.

While I created small sketches here and there, I didn’t think much of them. There’s a very different mindset between what I create in a small sketchbook and what I end up creating digitally. In a funny kind of way (funny to me), I consider my digital work much more painterly than my non-digital work.

But then, I just got hit. I’m not sure it could be described as a bout of inspiration. More like an image in my head flew at me and smacked me in the forehead. I don’t believe in inspiration, but I do love when that happens.

Lucky for me, it happens a lot.

So I started sketching and ended up here. Unfortunately, I don't have the original version of the figure, but it went through a TON of refining to get to this place. Anatomy is still a weak point so my first attempts are always rough and I'm always trying to get better. So this black outline started off very differently and I had to keep redrawing it to get the positioning right.


Things were moving in the right direction – there were a few things I needed to fix, namely the positioning, the lighting at the top, and how I would position what you’d later see as the dissipation elements (for lack of a better/more accurate phrase) - which is what seems to be falling off the figure. You can see that the black line drawing looks very different from what I ended up moving forward with. I also have a different color-only version that I deleted from the final version.

For very personal reasons, I was pretty committed to using very primary and heavily saturated colors - blue, red, yellow, white (ish). Non-personally, this was new to me. As you may have noticed (or not, I don't mind) my color palette is largely, not saturated. It's very pastel, light, unsaturated.

This was not the case here, as you can see with the figure, and the background, which I played with a lot.

This was also the first time I used a mixture of brushes in my painting, starting with a flatter 'Oil' brush by Kyle Webster, creator of Photoshop brushes extraordinaire. You can see the first background here by itself here.


I've been playing with the idea of using his brushes because I know they're used by a number of artists I admire. The brush was helpful in laying down large swaths of color but it was too smooth. It felt unnatural, almost too easy, and definitely too much like it was done via computer. This isn't a knock against the brush. Actually, it means I need more practice with it to make it feel like it's not totally computer-generated. After all, the brush I use now is computer-generated, but I've found a way to use it without having the painting look too computer-generated.

So I started using the other brush to develop more texture within the painting itself. I painted over the background, and the figure - and you can see that the initial oil wash was helpful in just putting down a base color. This may be a technique I'll use in the future. You can see the textured version here. (This is only slightly different from the final background. I duplicated the 'stars' layer to make the brighter and then added a upper-right corner light, using Kyle's brush because it needed to fade)


However, I kept going back and forth with the additional flowy material (named 'flowy' cause I have no other better name for it). This took a lot of time. When I started with color, it didn't look right. And then I would draw it in like but then when I colored that, it also didn't look right. I needed to take some time to really think about it. Sometimes, it helps to draw it in another medium.

I came to a solution via another drawing which you can see here.


Interestingly enough, while this drawing started out as a study of how to solve the problem, it ended up turning out into an entirely different painting.

I came back to 'Oh, To Be Free' and started working on the 'flowy' elements much in the same way I did in the drawing and came back here, really enjoying the way the element made the limb disappear in a way.

I ended going in a different direction but still based on the pencil drawing. The 'flowy' elements ended up creating a void in the figure, which allowed me to play with space. From there I added the stars, the invisible elements (which I'm noticing is a pattern in my work), and cleaned up the figure a bit.

Again, while this piece comes from a very personal space, it's interesting because I was still able to learn and play with new tools. After a long bout of commissioned work that taught me a TON in terms of visual communication and problem solving, it was nice to take what I learned and apply it to a new piece.

Please enjoy, 'Oh, To Be Free!'


Monday, January 16, 2017

Process Post: Antigone, The Poster



Welcome to another process post. I'm really excited to discuss a piece that I felt really proud of and loved working on. This may be out of order with what I've created (I'm missing a process post I think) but whatever, I've been waiting to write about this for a while (though that's more my fault than anything else...)

Anyway.

The reason I value this piece so much was that it was a poster for a show I performed in! Before we even started rehearsals, my director, knowing that I was an illustrator, knew he wanted me to be the one to create the poster. I was pretty excited as 1) I had no knowledge of the play before so it was interesting to have something new to work off of and 2) posters weren't something I had much of experience with.

So. I started by reading the play for both role and art purposes. This was actually a pretty interesting process because I had to read with more attention than I usually do. Whenever I read a script, it's only natural that I prioritize attention to scenes with my character or that revolve around my character to get a stronger understanding of who I'm playing and why. But this time, I had to also focus on major themes, strong visual elements, and even specific scenes that could be called back to in the poster.

The story of Antigone, if I can put it simply, is a story of defiance. A young woman defies the King and tries to uphold tradition. The translation and interpretation that we were playing off of was a little more complicated, offering an honest approach to both sides, making it interesting. Still, Antigone is the clear protagonist and I wanted to show that. There were a few moments that stuck out to me visually. I quickly drew some sketches and sent them to the director. Here's what I had.


Sketch 1 was the most visually interesting to me. Antigone, multiple times [SPOILER ALERT], digs up a grave so her brother can be put to rest (against the King's wishes) or else his soul is doomed to torment. The act is constantly referred to, comparing Antigone to a mad woman or animal, ruthlessly digging up the ground. So, that's what I drew.

The next two images are a little more traditional, so to say. The end of the play [SPOILER ALERT] has a classical ending where Antigone is put to death, and her lover, the King's son, finds her and kills himself. Sketch 2 is a pretty basic representation of that but sketch 3 has what is, in my opinion, the most dramatic moment, where the King finds his son with Antigone. While in the play the King [SPOILER ALERT] finds his son dead with Antigone, I chose not to draw that in order to not give it away (in hindsight, these sketches also give it away).

My director liked the third option but thought that specific image of the prince holding the protagonist was done before and fairly cliché (he was totally right). Instead, he wanted to play up the themes of standing up to authority, tradition, and tyranny, major themes of the play. He asked to see revised versions of the third sketch and also one with just Antigone. I agreed with his feedback and gave him three new options.

This sketch phase was a lot of fun as it gave me a lot of play with different poses and emotion. My absolute favorite was the second one (click the image to see a larger size) because there is so much emotion behind it. Note that the king was holding a cane, as the play's description mentioned but in the first sketch below, I tried to make the king thicker to reflect our play's casting.

The director immediately chose the third one, finding that it best fit the story we were telling. By this time, we had already started rehearsal and it was clear that the third was thematically best. Antigone wasn't a love story, it was a story of conflict between the King and Antigone. The romance between the Prince and Antigone is more of a B-Story and provides an emotional anchor attached to the King.

I quickly moved to make the final piece. Honestly, it wasn't too much work. I kept nearly the identical pose - Antigone holding her toy spade that she used to dig up a grave (the first time) and standing up to the looming king. It was a good pose that conveyed confidence but also a bit of fear, given how small the character was in comparison to the shadow. You can see it here.



I didn't go with a black background because black stands out too much but I did go for a tunnel-like feeling. And after fiddling around a lot with the king's shadow, I settled on an abstract shape to represent the king rather than aim for a more accurate representation of the shadow. Note that the shadow is much darker than the background itself.

Looking back at it now, I'm not sure about whether or not I should've have added more detail, or at least a crown. But keeping it abstract works better because the play speaks very much in abstraction and principles. It reads like a philosophical debate, framed in a story from the past. For this same reason, I also didn't give Antigone a face. While I did work on it initially there were two reasons why I decided against it.

1) it didn't read well at that size and,

 2) I, again, wanted to keep an abstract element to the poster and I liked how it removed some of the human aspect of it. I also changed her hair and dress to better match the actor playing Antigone.

The other interesting part was the title. I went for something dark and angular because the play, ultimately, is a pretty dark tragedy with [SPOILER ALERT] nearly every important character in the play dying somehow, even a character we don't even hear speak! We just know that the character kills themselves as a result of the ending.

Anyway, that was a fun little image that I made. I didn't go out of my comfort zone too much (dark, pastel colors) but it gave me a totally different frame of reference to base my work off of. I also really enjoyed working with the director who had a really strong point of view regarding the play, giving me a confident sense of direction that was needed to create a strong image for the poster. You can see the total poster below, credits and info and all, if that's something you're interested in.



Sunday, October 23, 2016

Process Post: 'In a World'





Alright - after my long foray into how I made a movie, it's back to process posts, where I take a detailed look into how I made a specific painting. I'll be picking up from my last process post which was...BACK IN FEBRUARY 2015?!?

Oh boy. I've a lot to catch up on. Luckily, since then, I've been doing a lot of painting and sketches so I'll be covering all that and more in future posts. Today, I'll be focusing on In A World, seen above.


This one is an interesting painting for a number of reasons, both good and bad. First, it was created in a completely unplanned manner. I was on a flight to, or from San Francisco, or Cleveland. I can't really remember. But it was a work trip and I brought a sketchbook to just play around with during the flight. After a few hours and getting motivated by the person next to me who was watching what I was doing, I ended up with this sketch in pencil. Ignore the clouds at the top, it was just me playing around with what I saw.

It was some kind of creature flying in the air because of obvious inspirational reasons (airplane, flying, clouds, etc - aren't I creative?!)

I quickly scanned it and colored it, which brought me here (ignore the floating foliage near the creature). Note that I added a few elements, the clouds, the plants, and the creature's scepter to add more balance to the picture as a whole.


At this point, there was a ton of back and forth. I'll just show you the final version again and talk about what I had to keep shifting back and forth.

First, the outlines.

Outlines is something I've always had a ton of trouble with. Sometimes I want completely black outlines akin to a comic, sometimes I want thick outlines that are darker, more saturated versions of what's being outlines. And most recently, I've played with light outlines that more just accentuate what's already there (which is likely the more correct decision, as that's the point of outlines).

Here, however, I have something else to consider - the original sketch's outlines. These are pencil/pen outlines that add a lot of texture to the drawing. Coupled with some of the other textural elements that the paper brought (see the clouds on the upper left hand corner), I thought keeping those elements intact would add a bit of an interesting flair to the piece.

Then I moved on to the bottom part of the image. I wanted to give the image a larger sense of depth, a sense that we were looking up at the creature. So I played around with the bottom foliage a lot, shifting the positioning and the colors. Ultimately, I took a little technique from some images I had seen: the blur tool.

It's a technique digital artists often employ to represent movement or depth. It's a camera function, not a painting function, bringing elements out of focus in order to further pinpoint focus on non-blurred elements. What I wanted to do was blur the plants and foliage and make the character much more in focus.

Here, I played around with the Gaussian blur tool, shifting how much the plants were blurred. Ultimately, I don't think it worked out for a number of reasons.

1) The blur doesn't add much.

There's no reason to try to add more focus to this character using the blur function. The character is clearly the element a viewer is drawn to because of the negative space around it, so a blur doesn't do much.

2) The blur is distracting.

The blur looks so different from the rest of the picture, which is more painterly and very non-digital because it's a mixed media piece (both pencils/inks and digital coloring).

3) The blur is not very well-done.

The blur would look better if it was done better (duh). The reason I highlight this is that it's done digitally and it's very obviously a digital technique. If I tried to apply a painterly technique and blur it manually (which I don't know if I could do, really), it would blend in better.

While I took this time to semi-crap on this piece, I like the rest of the piece in general and overall, looking at it again, I'm really happy with it. The character feels really original, despite taking from a lot of inspiration, I love the clouds, and the colors are a little bit off from my usual color palette but familiar enough that I was able to paint comfortably with it. The more I look at it, the more I also enjoy the feeling it brings. A strange sense of wonder and discovery. It works for me. Would I try the blur technique again? Yes, but in more subtle and careful ways. I'd like to practice with it a little more before using it in a final image and I'd also work on painting the blur rather than applying a blur. In other images, I've been paying attention to how other artists use and apply blur. Hopefully by next time, it'll work out better.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

How I Made a Movie: Part 6 of 6 - Fear. It's always Fear


Previously on part 5
I had finished editing the movie...
It was, in every way done...
but I still did nothing with it...
Why?

After I had finished the movie, I let out a tentative breath. It was a relief but there was still a bit of hesitation. For some reason, the rewarding joy that follows the end of every project was missing here. This project took so much more out of me than any painting, piece of writing, or performance. I guess it was partly due to my insecurity because there was so much I had to do on the fly, with little knowledge, and very little preparation.

So maybe it's not that surprising, in hindsight, that I was scared to show it to people. I was scared to release it to the public. Simply put, I was just scared.

Why?

Well, this is a much bigger problem, one exacerbated by my own doing. With any project, there comes a period I like to call the fraud period, or 'impostor syndrome' as it's known to others. It manifests itself most strongly during my illustration work. At some point, when I sit down to continue to paint - I look at what I've done and I think any number of the following things:

'This is awful'
'Why would anyone ask me to make something for them?'
'Wow, I suck'
'There are so many people who are better than me'
'Can I even accept money for this?'
'My client is gonna be so disappointed when I'm finished with this'
'I'll never get another commission'
'I should give up'
'Why do I do this?'

and so on.

If it sounds like I'm being harsh and cruel to myself, I am. And there's nothing good that really comes out of this. It's an awful funk that is an unfortunate part of my process. But, because most of the time, especially recently, my illustration work has a stronger sense of responsibility attached (someone is expecting it, I'm being paid for it, or I signed a contract for it), I have a real motivation and sense of duty to finish it. If it was my own piece, there is a very real chance that I would give up on it. Hell, I have a folder full of half-finished paintings because sometimes, that voice inside myself is too much, I believe what it says, and I stop working.

Most of the time though, I can rationalize the voice shut. This is done with some of the following retorts:

'It's mid-process, it'll look fine in the end'
'It's not supposed to look good right now'
'There is no 'better' when it comes to art/illustration' (this is a half lie I tell myself)
 'They came to you for a reason'
'They might not be able to get someone better'
'This is how you keep learning'

and so on.

So how was this relevant to my lack of action after I finished the movie?

Well...there were a number of issues at hand.

First, I thought the movie wasn't great. My expectations were insanely high. When I thought of the final result for the project, I expected something akin to a contemporary comedy show. You know, the kind with millions of dollars and hundreds of people behind it. Reasonable expectations.

Second, I thought I had failed everyone involved in the project and I was scared that they would see it and hate it. This (and all the reasons) all go back to my unreasonably high expectations.

Third, I had told so many people about the project for such a long time that I was embarrassed to show it to them. This was my fault completely. When I first started the project, I wanted to insert continuous motivation for me to finish the project because I thought there was a real possibility that I wouldn't and I wanted to avoid that. So I told almost everybody about the project so they would ask me about it and because I would hate to then say 'we never finished it.' Social pressure is real and I wanted to use it to my advantage.

Unfortunately, it backfired and came the other way. Instead, I was embarrassed to release it because I had been talking about it for so long.

I didn't really know what to do until I finally said it out loud to someone and they gave me an insanely good piece of advice. One that any creative could use and one that, honestly, I knew and for some reason didn't apply what was my problem at the time. Funny how blind you can be to your own lessons sometimes. Here it is in big big letters.

YOU'RE GONNA SUCK. THAT'S OKAY.

By the way, that post-it is on my wall, where I keep nearly 20 post-its on a variety of different things - mostly on life lessons-ish stuff. I'll likely write about them one day.

This helped and was extremely eye opening. It really put my first issue, that of expectations, to rest. I was comparing myself to work that takes an exponential amount of effort to create. That just doesn't happen given the resources and people involved in my project. So, how could I even expect what's sometimes done with 100x more people and money?

Then I thought about how selfish I was being to everyone who worked just as hard on the project. They would want to see a final product - how could I be the only person saying "no, it didn't meet my expectations, so no one's going to get to see anything they made"

And lastly, regarding the expectations I set for everyone - 1) they probably don't care that much, and 2) the ones that do will support me. Even if they didn't like it, they would either be nice about it or offer constructive criticism.

I was making a huge deal of the project when it didn't need to be.

So I released it. People told me how much they liked it. How much they laughed. How good it was. What my next project was going to be. If anyone thought it was awful, I didn't hear it. If I'm ever to be a success in a very public-facing medium, I should cherish this moment as people you don't know often love to tell you how much they didn't like something.

Regardless, my biggest takeaway was that I need to have a better perspective of what my expectations should be and I should be less harsh to myself. When I started out in illustration I knew I sucked. I knew that it was a process and I would get better with each painting, learning new things along the way. I never expected perfection and I never expected to create illustrations like a seasoned professional would create. Because that's unreasonable. So why did I think, on my first try, knowing nearly as little as possible, that I would create something that could parallel what hundreds of people spend years perfecting?

So with that, the movie was released. You can, again, watch it here. I'm incredibly happy and proud of what we made. I'm very thankful to everyone who contributed in a variety of ways. I'm already thinking of the next one - it'll get easier I hope. At the very least, I won't be re-learning this lesson again.

I hope.

Thanks for reading - I promise the next post will talk about illustration!

Monday, July 25, 2016

How I Made A Movie: Part 5 of ?: Editing - the Hidden Monster


Previously, on part 4

After a long break in shooting due to weather, we finished!
In the interim, I had edited together one scene.
But now it was time to put it all together...

The shooting was done. I had all the footage on my computer. I subscribed to Adobe Creative Cloud to have access to some of the best film editing software out there. I knew it wasn't going to be easy and I would have to learn while I was going along. I read some tutorials, re-read some tutorials, and re-re-read the same tutorials when issues popped up the tutorials told me would pop up. But I was enjoying myself to an extent. Editing has its own system of mini rewards. Once you finish a scene, or finalize a transition, seeing it again in its final version as a standalone piece of work is rewarding.

Unfortunately, that reward only takes you so far. The farther I got into the film, the more times I had to see it from the beginning, and the more I grew tired of seeing the exact same thing. Another problem was that I just wasn't really sure if what I was doing was the right thing. Unlike a painting, I didn't really have a final idea in my mind. I mean, I kind of did, but I couldn't see the way to get there. There was one good sign - I was still laughing.

After a long slog of editing and laughing by myself in an empty room. I had a first cut of the movie finished. I was very proud of that first cut. A little too proud. It got me through a lot whenever I would mention the movie in conversation or one of our cast or crew members asked me how the editing was going.

"I just finished the first cut."

"Well, the first cut is done."

"I have a first cut!"

And so on.

But I was stuck with my first cut, not knowing what the next step was. I quickly realized, as much as I thought I had to do it alone, and as much as I pride myself in doing things alone, I couldn't do this alone. So I asked for help.

I reached out to one of the original directors who didn't have time to direct the film to see the first draft and offer notes. The notes I received were a big learning point from me. I was expecting a big pat on the back "this was your first time? good job!", "there were a few little things here..." and I thought the process from first draft to final would be easy.

That wasn't what happened. My first draft wasn't ripped to shreds but the notes and comments were much more extensive and critical than I expected. And it was the best thing to happen to me.

It felt like I was trying to look at a painting by zooming in close and identifying colors and brush strokes. The notes I received was akin to a hand pulling me back and letting me see the painting at its entirety. And I had the same kind of epiphany. The notes and comments pointed to the storytelling aspect of filmmaking, something I wouldn't have even thought of.

A film is a story. And I kind of forgot that. I thought just the script was the story. But that's not the case. The actors, the cinematography, and the editing, are all part of the storytelling, and those tools are just as essential to the script. The notes and comments were pointing to the fact that my editing was weakening the story in certain points, which brought down the film as a whole.

So that meant I had a lot of work to do between the first draft and the subsequent draft. But it was refreshing to know that I had a lot more freedom and there was a lot I could do to make sure certain story points were hit as high as they needed to. Unfortunately, just knowing that wasn't enough and I still needed help. I hit a wall pretty far into the editing phase and the actual work that editing was made up of was starting to really hit me hard. So I solicited help from my two co-stars.

This was a HUGE help because they brought an entirely new perspective and were also looking at the film from a film perspective, not a script perspective, which is a distinct difference. What I was doing with this editing was 'how can I make the best kind of movie given our script?' when I should have been thinking 'how can I make the best kind of movie given our footage?' What I shot was following the script but the end product doesn't have to match the script word for word. And that was a freedom I wasn't aware I had. With that in mind, we cut a lot of different scenes and trimmed down some of the dialogue, making for a cleaner and more streamlined video. I would be lying if I feel a little weird knowing my script was cut heavily but overall, it was the right move.

So even though it took a long time, I kept at it and ended up with a new cut of the film. But I didn't release it. Why?

That's a big question. So big, it needs another blog post. But on the plus side, it's probably my last one on the project!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

How I Made a Movie: Part 4 of ? - I've never said I'm NOT ambitious



Previously on Part 3...

Shooting went somewhat smoothly for our first day
I had to take charge as a director, but I also had to listen to my crew
Now, I had the confidence or the foolishness to shoot a big, big scene...

If you play Mugging: The Show, at time 3:13, you can see the beginning of the audition scene. In my head, I knew it would be a quick-edited scene and be a little crazy. But I had no idea what the process would actually be like. Production-wise and process-wise, I had to figure it out on the fly.

We put out a casting call for a mugger on Backstage. This served two purposes. We were hoping to find someone for the final scene but also use the audition as an improved scene using most, if not all, of the people who auditioned. The improv would become the scene that made the final cut.

I was basically unsure of every factor involved in this shoot.
- would the actors be okay with us filming?
- would the improv work?
- would the cameras give us the right footage?
- what about sound in a very enclosed area?
- would we able to hide under the cameras?
- what if we didn't find a mugger?

It was nerve-wracking to say the least and I wasn't even thinking of the normal factors involved in shooting like cinematography, lighting, and cast performance. We had no script and 90% of the used footage, with the exception of the beginning and Randall's audition, was improvised.

Surprisingly, the day was my favorite of the entire shoot. We were having a TON of fun. Everyone who came to the audition was willing to participate and each of them brought something different to the scene. With every audition, all I could think of was 'this is gonna look great!' Because every audition was a different improv, we (the cast) was very much getting into the groove of improvising to the point of doing it for standalone reasons.

So, it was onto the next day of shooting which posed its own set of problems. There was a large span of time between shoots and winter came on stroooooong. We were scheduled for one full day of shooting near Riverside Park. Afterwards, we would wait until nightfall and then shoot the mugging scene in the park. But we didn't foresee how bad the winter weather would be. The daytime scene was extremely uncomfortable for everyone involved and no one thought the nighttime shoot was possible as the temperature was expected to drop even more dramatically.

We called it off and decided to wait for another day.

Unfortunately, the temperature did not let up and when I looked at the footage we did have from that day, it was unusable. Everyone was in thick coats, rubbing their hands, shaking. It didn't look good and we essentially wasted an entire day. It took a huge toll on my morale and worse still, we would have to wait until the weather got warmer before we could even think about shooting. That meant waiting until Spring, which would take months.

To not completely drop all my momentum, I decided to edit the audition footage we had recently shot, the majority of which stayed as the final. It was the one thing I could really hold onto while I waited for the warmer weather.

MONTHS LATER...
We finally shot the last two scenes easily with one large exception. I didn't realize how heavily the change in daylight affected footage. Just an hour made a huge difference (and an hour goes by REALLY quick). If I were to do it all over again, I would start shooting once the sun went down, rather when it started going down.

It was here when I learned another thing about filmmaking (a lesson I've learned about writing, drawing, and acting so it was only natural I'd learn it here as well) - lose your ego.

There was a scene I had written that both my actors thought were something else. The beginning of act three originally had a scene where, in part of the pumping up of Daris, he smacked him for motivation. I had written it as one of those standard scenes where a trainer is giving the trainee a good motivational talk and then slaps him for motivation. BUT, both the actors thought it was a spanking scene similar to when athletes smack each other on the butt. That also made sense and I thought it was funnier. I had zero hesitation in realizing that what the actors thought the scene was was a funnier representation of my written scene. So we shot it with that scene in place.

Unfortunately, because I hadn't storyboarded that specific scene, I totally forgot a key aspect, which was having the camera on our principal actor. Despite our best efforts, in the editing room, the entire scene was cut.

After a long night of shooting, WE WERE FINISHED.

It was amazing to know we were done filming but it dawned on me that the next step would be one I would take by myself. I'd have to edit all the footage we shot into a 9-12 minute short. How the hell was I going to do that?

Looks like that's a story for another blog post....