Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Camera Man

Now that you've seen some video, I suppose it's time to introduce everyone to the cast and crew. (Even though I'm fairly certain that right now it's predominately the cast and crew reading this blog).

First up. Chris Heeney

CODE NAME: "The Business"

Let me first point out that we don't actually have any code names on set. However if we did have code names, or if ever we felt it was necessary to create some code names, I'm pretty sure I would insist that Chris' be The Business.
I have been making movies, in one form or another, with Chris for nearly ten years. Of course that's a bit disingenuous considering that we weren't really filming anything new for many of those years. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I BEGAN making movies with Chris almost ten years ago. The first movie we made had a cast of only three characters. Two of them were Chris and myself narrating improvised dialog directly into the camera. The other main character of that first film was a stuffed "Playboy" bunny. I suppose you could say there were four characters if you count my girlfriend at the time acting as our "tripod" for one shot.

After that first short film we continued to make completely improvised, skit type shorts using a Sony 8mm Handi cam. We shot almost everything we did in black and white because we felt it looked more acceptable than using the color feature on the horribly cheap camera. For anyone unfamiliar with an 8mm handi cam , remember those cameras dads used at basketball games circa 1998? Basically a home video camera with horrible picture quality and even worse on-board sound. For about a year, or a little over, Chris and I (along with one other fellow Dinosaur World citizen whom I'll introduce in a later post) made a handful of these short films.

Back then it was not possible for us to edit anything. This was before the days of Final Cut Pro or any the other non-linear editing suites currently available to the public at bargain basement prices. At least it was before the time that a 19 or 20 year old could afford such things. So the only thing we could do was to shoot everything in sequence and edit it in camera. This sounds like a disaster but Chris was a genius at it. Everything we shot took only one night. We typically started by devising a basic and horribly stupid plot line. Then we would rough out, via group discussion, what character each of us would play and what we would do. Mind you this was all a verbal writing session. I think we only ever wrote down one actual script. After discussing the idea, the characters, then the story, we simply pointed the camera and began acting. Chris was almost always in control of the camera except when he needed to be in front of the camera. After a sufficient amount of time improvising had passed Chris would cut the shot. Then he would cue up the tape for the second shot, we would discuss what shot would cut in well with the previous cut and then hit record again. Rinse and repeat. This would go on anywhere from 4 to 10 hours. Usually we shot at night and stopped at sun up. Then after an 8 hour overnight shoot we would all gather in front of the TV and enjoy our work. Then we would promptly forget about it and move on to something else.
Eventually Chris did get his hands on an editing suite. By today's standards I'm sure what he had would be considered unacceptable but it meant that we could put all of our shorts on a DVD. Which Chris did. And I still have them. And I still watch them occasionally. I continue to be impressed by the fluidity of each one. Yes they are dumb, and the acting is often horrible. But the camera work is solid. The cutting techniques really quite amazing considering no editing has been done.
Chris is practically a film encyclopedia. Movie quotes, directors, writers, actors, titles, I can name a lot. But Chris goes a step further. Want to know who did the score for a low budget French film made in 1974? Chris could probably tell you. He could probably tell you who the cinematographer is as well.

The Business harnesses the power of
the mighty Chimera light.
Those things are great and they make for wonderfully fun conversations for which to annoy our wives. However, Chris is invaluable to this production for so many more reasons. Number one of which is his camera work and amazing eye for detail. I hold the camera like a drunk with the shakes, but Chris is like a surgeon. Not only that his eye for composition is far beyond anything I could dream up myself. It goes beyond just his technical abilities though. Chris and almost always understand each other. I don't have to say much before he get what I'm talking about, and vice versa.
He also helps balance me out. If I'm losing my mind, or getting frustrated or feel like I'm hitting a wall, or if I just don't know how to do something or even what it is I want to do, very often Chris steps in and makes the suggestion or finds the solution. I couldn't imagine doing this without him.
I have only ever made one movie without Chris' involvement and honestly I don't think I'd want to try and make another without him. This sounds like a love letter to the guy, I guess it kind of is.

Now Chris and I are working on second feature length film. We have more actors, more locations, a better script, lights, camera, external sound, editing suites. It's wonderful. Hopefully in ten years we'll still be making films, whether anyone is paying us to do it or not.

In short....Chris Heeney: the stone pillar of Dinosaur World.

Stay tuned for more cast and crew bios.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Rained Out

I had hoped that this weekend would be the final shoot for Dinosaur World. Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate. I spent most of Saturday in a field building a fire pit. If you watched the video I posted last time you saw a section of the video I entitled "fire light test footage". The scene too be shot is to take place around a larger than usual camp fire. Since we are shooting on Mini DV lighting is crucial in order to get the correct exposure, that is to say we need to be able to see what is going on. Typically we light everything. If it's an interior location, no problem, we can usually have the lighting done for an interior location in less than hour. If you're shooting outside things become more problematic but not impossible. If you're shooting a night scene outside things become even more problematic. To shoot a night scene you have to have light no matter what. Obviously the goal in any movie is to make sure the lighting seems natural, you don't want a harsh 1000 watt light source blasting your characters in the face if you're characters are meant to be standing in a dark alley or a field. If you're shooting on a front porch or a parking lot, no problem. You can take some time and position your lights in such a way as to fool the audience into the thinking the light source is natural. A street light for example. A street light doesn't give off enough light to successfully light a scene for shooting, but you run a 1000 watt light up a pole and angle it so that it LOOKS like it might be coming from a street light, no one will know that it's not.
However, shooting in a field in the middle of the night artificial light becomes a lot harder to hide. If everyone is meant to be basking in the warm red-orange glow of a camp fire, you don't want a blinding white light shinning down from out of nowhere lighting there faces. If you're making a movie with money you can purchase certain add on fixtures for your lights. They have lighting kits specifically designed to simulate fire light called flicker boxes. Or you can use array of colored gels to make your artificial light seem like natural fire light. Unfortunately we are not making a movie with money. Our budget for Dinosaur World falls between the ranges of 0 dollars to whatever amount I can afford to withdraw from my checking account that week which is usually a pretty small sum. So the only way around it is to actual build a fire and use all natural lighting.
The test footage was an experiment to see how much fire I would need. I built that fire in a charcoal grill behind my house and had my actors stand in various locations in proximity to the fire. I concluded that I would need a huge fire, close to bonfire size. The point of this overlong explanation of lighting on a budget is to say that we didn't get a fire started. We didn't even get the equipment out. After spending the day begging for the rain to let up long enough to film, I dragged all of my cast and crew to an empty field only to say we had to cancel. I'm pretty sure I was the only person totally disappointed. I wanted very much to be finished with filming this weekend but it just wasn't in the cards. So instead we had a PRE-WRAP wrap party. Which basically consisted of me and the cast and crew playing rock band until the wee hours of the morning and thinking very little about the movie. It turned out to be a nice relaxing time with zero stress involved.
Of course now we must rally the troops and try it one more time. Which we will. Nothing can stop a group of penniless, desperate, and determined artists. Not even mother nature.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Short Video

We had a very productive weekend of filming Dinosaur World.   We had a great time and despite some poor weather were able to complete about 5 scenes. As promised, I took some time and cut together a little video. 
In this video you'll be treated to Aaron Tinnin, my lead actor, discussing his obsession with Ghostbusters era Sigourney Weaver and various between take hi-jinx and still photos.  I must apologize to my sound guy Ross though as he was too busy working to get in front of the camera so I couldn't find any still photos or video to put in here, sorry Ross.  Also I want to say thanks to Eddie Riebel sacrificing a Sunday morning to wear a cop uniform which, lets face it, was way too tight. 

We've got just one more weekend of principal photography left on our feature and then will likely be working on post for many months. I'll continue to post updates as often as possible. If you stumble on this movie blog and are entertained please pass the link along to your friends. Low budget movies need all the free advertising they can get! 

Thursday, September 10, 2009

An explanation of sorts

The Dinosaur World movie blog should have began months ago when we began the pre-production process. However, making independent films with such a small cast and crew means several people wear several different hats. That is to say, we don't have a marketing department, or an advertising firm to help promote the film. As the writer and director and, for all intensive purposes, "producer"of Dinosaur World the responsibility of a production blog really falls upon me. Since I have a day job, a family, and a film to make I have not had time (or should I say I have not MADE time?) to begin the in depth and possibly shameless process of Internet self promotion.
The point of that explanation is to say that the film has been shooting now for two months and the "principal photography" process is nearing completion. Explanations and/or understanding of high-faluten film terms like "pre-production" and "principal photography" can be found by referencing your own DVD library and listening to commentary tracks from more established and well funded film makers. We began shooting Dinosaur World the weekend after July 4Th 2009 and we hope to be finished by the end of September. Of course that is only the end of one journey and the beginning of another. While we may complete shooting relatively soon, there is still editing, soundtrack, ADR work and a host of other obstacles that lie ahead. So I'm sure there will be plenty to blog about in the months ahead for anyone that is interested in reading more about a group of no names making a movie in small town America.

I promise for future blogs I will attempt to add more information, pictures, video clips, trailers and funny anecdotes that you can carry with you to the office and relay to your highly interested co-workers around the water cooler. Oh the laughs and fun you will have reliving every aspect of the Dinosaur World movie blog on a daily basis. You are certain to laugh and laugh... even when you're by yourself.

Next post I hope to entertain all who care to read with brief profiles of our dedicated cast and crew. Perhaps these brief profiles will be accompanied by embarrassing photo's, tell all videos, or behind the scenes hi jinx! If you are truly fortunate perhaps even a synopsis of the film itself will find its way to this blog. I'm sure anyone still reading is on the edge of his or her seat, or even on pins and needles. Even now I can picture the faces of befuddled readers, scratching their heads and pondering "Is this movie about a world populated by only Dinosaurs?" Only time will tell. Keep an eye on this space.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Dinosaur World Movie

Hello and Welcome to Dinosaur World

Dinosaur World is an independently produced narrative feature film currently in production in the Northwest Arkansas area. The cast and crew of Dinosaur World are a dedicated group of local artists and film lovers committed to the creation of inventive, original films. Our group of participants range from professional, experienced film makers to amateurs who want to learn more and be a part of a communal art project.
Most of our cast and crew have worked together on several projects before Dinosaur World. Beginning before the explosion of digital cinema our cinematographer, director and one of our lead performers were making films with nothing more than free time and an 8mm Sony "handi-cam" video tape recorder. Since then we have progressed, with the help of technological advancements (and better paying day jobs!) into the world of independently financed and produced narrative films. Check back at this site for updates on the progress of Dinosaur World, from production to distribution, information on our dedicated cast and crew members, and clips from the upcoming film.