Earlier this week I read a tip on The 99 Percent site, titled, The Beta Principle: Skip Perfection & Launch Early – the post made a strong argument for start-ups to avoid the drag of over-refining and take to advantage of early user-feedback. But, when reading, I couldn’t help but see how this “launch early” argument applied perfectly to filmmaking.
In the last few years, since running this production blog, I’ve talked many, many, many times to other filmmakers who want to wait till after they raise funds / after they cast actors / after they finalize the script / after they location scout / after they finish principle photography / after they finish their film’s first rough cut… all *before* worrying about a website.
There’s an impulse to get everything as close-to-perfect before putting it out there infront of people – now, I’m not making a case for releasing the roughest parts of your feature film, I wouldn’t know how to go about such a thing in a constructive way – but it’s important to put as much of your project out in the open as early as you can.
One point I found interesting in the post was this: “On a psychological level, a team thinks differently once the first version of a product is up and running. Rather than working for a hypothetical group of customers, everything you do affects real people. Your team will become more expedient and start to think of the project in smaller chunks rather than as an insurmountable giant.”
Amanda and I released the 1st five episodes relating to Pedal before many components of the film were “ready”. The episodes themselves are rough and are sometimes hard for me to watch without being overly critical. But they shifted the mindset we were working in dramatically.
There is no comparing the day-to-day urgency in working on a project with only yourself to answer to… only yourself to disappoint if you don’t come through on schedule – as opposed to being public about your project’s intentions, ambitions, and missteps. The difference would be similar to rehearsing a speech infront of the bathroom mirror and giving that same speech infront of a crowd of hundreds; everything changes.
Amanda and I have tried to sneak as much of the finished film, For Thousands of Miles, into the supporting episodes and stories (64 Days) as we could. Hitting on specific moods or story-telling styles which allowed us to see not only *how* people reacted but, more importantly, *what* they reacted to. This feedback has had a very strong affect on the film’s narrative – really in a way that I never would have expected.
I can look through each page of the script and find specific lines that have either found their way into – or remained in the script – because of a comment someone left on an episode, or because of an email we received that said a certain line from episode one meant something much larger to them personally.
I understand that in the earliest stages of planning; things will change greatly – but in launching your project early, in making public your ideas and goals; which specific things will change between planning and release will be guided in a much more constructive and rewarding way.
Posted in For Thousands of Miles
I was going through my unread Instapaper list tonight – cleaning things up, watching videos I had saved for later, etc – and I came across a post by Ted Hope, from his blog, Truly Free Film, titled: 50* Ways You Can Do Something Different On This Production.
There were a few points that I particularly liked – that got me thinking about ways in which I could change the way we’re doing things on Pedal. I thought I’d write about them here and get people’s feedback.
#2: Do something stylistically just because you like it. Allow something to be “outside” the film, something that doesn’t fit so right and is only there because you dig it. Why does it always have to fit?
This is one of those suggestions that seems like it would come naturally – but I have found that there is an incredible amount of self-sensorship or filtering with ideas during the creative process.
I try to write everything down that comes to mind – and find ways of working it in, or at least discussing it with Amanda as an option. But many ideas get dumped too quickly because they don’t “fit”, and what does that really mean? Doesn’t fit how? Doesn’t fit with things I’ve seen done before?
Reading this suggestion helped remind me that there is a difference – albeit a fine lined one – between something not “fitting” and something not “working”. As the story of FToM gets closer and closer to being locked down – I need to add in ideas that really feel creative and new… maybe they’ll only make the deleted-scenes in a DVD extra… but at least I’ll have tried hard to make them work.
#9: What would be a different business model? Could you give it away? Free it? Never plan to screen it theatrically? What if the movie was not the main event, but something else was?
Although we do have solid plans to release FToM freely – I want to think more about the idea of the film not being the main-event. What could we structure around the film that would give it more meaning… more interaction… more momentum?
I don’t have an answer for this yet – but it’s something I want to revisit often as we work through post-production.
#12: What if you built your audience base prior to shooting? And maintained significant communication with them throughout the process? How might that change your final work?
I feel like I’ve tried very hard to do this during every step of Pedal. Sometimes I’ve not done as good a job as I would like… I let things get in the way of being open and keeping a conversion going around the project – or around storytelling in general.
But I like how Ted ask, “How might that change your final work?”, because this blog has lead to a back-and-forth that has dramatically changed the project itself and the final film. So much so I’m not quite sure I would even know where to start… I feel very fortunate for this site and the people that it’s helped introduced me with.
I now know that, for me, storytelling will always be a very empty undertaking without this kind of community from day-one.
#13: Innovate. Try some new equipment on every production. Improve a simple process. Isn’t production about the communication of information in the service of art, as efficiently, economically, and aesthetically as possible?
I wanted to mention this idea for one specific reason – when the crew, The Black Sheep, flew from Belgium to Los Angeles, they brought a handful of different equipment with them to use on the road. They packed their main camera of course, an Fx1 with a SGpro 35kit, a 16mm hand-crank camera – but also several small mp4 cameras. These small low-quality cameras turned out to be incredibly helpful for both the 64 Days series as well as FToM. The jump in quality and frame-size really helps add another layer to the story… the footage feels personal in a way that the HD footage does not.
When Amanda, Karen and I leave for Northern California to film additional scenes with Larry, I intend to have a camera in my hands at all times filming little details.
I’ve been working hard to storyboards specific shots and have been busy editing those into a timeline with temporary voice-over tracks – and these shots will be the main focus, they’ll be scheduled out and planned in detail. But there’s so much I could miss if don’t take the time to step back and record things the way I see them in the moment without the filter of “how is this going to fit into the film”.
Posted in For Thousands of Miles
The Filmmaker Summit is
just two days away tomorrow – the event is a collective effort of the teams behind the Workbook Project, Open Video Alliance and Slamdance. I’ve been spending some of my free-time keeping up with the discussions on WBP, many of which dealing with festivals, distribution methods, social media, and DIY culture in general.
There’s a long list of tiny steps that have to be taken before For Thousands of Miles is ready to distribute. My goals for this year are highly ambitious – and I know that my chances of reaching those goals on-my-own are remote. Amanda and I have been fortunate enough in the past to bring on people who are not only amazingly talented, but incredibly supportive in their confidence of Pedal.
But there is one area of this project that is very intimidating to me. And for as far as we’ve come alone with this film… for all the obstacles and dead-ends and set-backs… the one area where I do feel increasingly isolated is: distribution.
I have heard over and over again – the last three years especially – the importance of a distribution plan *before* you even start your film. This is not to say that Amanda and I have zero plans for the release of FToM – we actually have a strict idea of releasing the film for free online (see Nina Paley). But with this model of release comes an overwhelming amount of preparation… preparation that I feel hasn’t been done.
For example – On Peter Broderick’s website, he goes into some of the key points behind a distribution team, which include: strategy, foreign sales, outreach coordinators, theatrical and semi-theatrical bookers, and print and online publicists. Do all of these points apply to FToM? No. But enough of them do to make it clear Amanda and I must find a way to really lock down our plans, to really fill in the lines between point a and point b of saying “we are releasing our film online for free” and actually making it happen.
I’ll end this post with a few questions: How have (experienced filmmakers) / do-you-plan (aspiring filmmakers) on releasing your film? How did / will you form a distribution team? Was / is this team included in your project’s budget? If your film, like many 1st time filmmakers, has no real financial foundation – how did you still go about forming a team of people for something global like this? Any advice could really help put my mind at ease and get Amanda and I pointed in a more constructive direction.
Posted in FILMMAKER SUMMIT 2010 For Thousands of Miles
Amanda and I had already been struggling to get Pedal off the ground for 3 years by the time we released Episode One (in Dec of 06). Even at that stage in pre-production, the story driving the feature length film had evolved quite a bit since day 1 of planning.
The project was always growing, and always structured around a current understanding of our own personal experiences with long distance traveling.
Now it’s been over two years since following Larry McKurtis across the country, and Amanda and I have gone through several variations on roughly the same story during the writing and editing process. One of the most important changes has been the interview segments, which I wanted to talk about in this post.
During our 64 Days on the road, we filmed as many interviews as possible, with people taking their own bicycle adventures. We always expected these interviews to fit into the film as the driver for a reflective, post-trip narrative.
After two years of writing and editing and more writing, I’ve been more and more accepting, specifically the last 4 months, of the reality that these interviews don’t fit smoothly with the rest of the film. They don’t need to be in the film… they don’t bridge any thoughts or moments that otherwise feel rough. The only reason it feels that we would use the interviews is because… well, typically you see interviews in documentaries.
And that doesn’t seem like a very good reason to use them.
The other day, Amanda and I had a long brain-storming session over iChat, we did a full read-through of the script as it stands today, and discussed the few pieces of the film that are still just notes in an outline. One of the most important things we talked about was “what” For Thousands of Miles has evolved towards.
We both agreed that FToM closer resembles a documentary like Earth, or March of the Penguins then it does Man on a Wire, or Dig!. I’ve always heard that documentaries really find their story in the editing room – I just hadn’t assumed that FToM would become the film it has.
I remember pretty distinctly, for whatever reason, watching Earth in the theater and thinking a lot about the basic format being used: visuals of different animals making great journeys, and an (all knowing) narrator talking about those journeys. Elephants traveling across great desserts… Birds migrating over some of the highest mountain ranges in the world.
And I started to really consider this format for the film… I wanted to treat FToM like a case study. Like we were learning about this species of animal; people, that sometimes would travel impossible-to-imagine distances for seemingly no reason. Sometimes alone, sometimes in small packs. A big focus of this study would be the after effects that these youthful adventures would have.
Pedal has never been a project about someone’s personal experience – it was never intended to tell stories from one person’s trip. And although visually we follow one person from coast to coast, there are many layers in the narration that feel more generalized… That these emotions aren’t unique to Larry’s experience – that most people go down a long and exhausting road internally after they’ve come home.
Also, one last thought before I sign off – I’ve never been able to explain Pedal as a *this* meets *this* kind of pitch. It’s been 6 years of working on this film and I just could never do it. But after talking with Amanda and really going over things – I think I’m finally comfortable with mashing two films together as a close’ish representation of what people can expect.
So, here it goes, you’re the room full of execs / producers and I’m the awkward, sweaty, unproven filmmaker pitching his film in 5 words or less: Winged Migration meets The Mirror. Now comes the part where I wait nervously for someone in the room to say something.
Posted in For Thousands of Miles
There are days, weeks even, where this project can feel stuck in the mud. That no matter how hard I try; I just spin in place – and it goes without much saying that it’s a difficult feeling to put up with. Whether it’s accurate or not.
And I’m not writing this post to whine or sulk – I’m writing to say that I feel quite the opposite right now. A month ago I was still running over and over the same 4 pages of script and barely making any real progress… I was also starting to worry that I wasn’t able to reach out to enough new people for our current Kickstarter campaign.
I felt like I was dragging my feet on both fronts. I know a lot of people find themselves in these situations, that no matter what it is you’re working on or busy with, that there are times when you just want to crawl under a rock and sleep.
And, I admit, that I did that for several days… not literally, but I would sit at my typewriter and blank out… I would walk around in circles with the script in hand, reading the same 4 pages out-loud on repeat. I would see that we had a slow day on Kickstarter and instead of pushing harder to get the word out, I wouldn’t mention it anywhere.
But last week, something finally shifted and I began to make leaps and bounds with the script. Long lost pages and narration began to fit together and tell a story that felt smooth and progressive. Which, I believe, lead to the burst of confidence and momentum I needed to re-record and re-edit a new intro’ video for our Kickstarter campaign.
The morning I uploaded our new intro’, we currently had raised 20% of our goal – a handful of RTs, a few dozen diggs, and a wave of status updates later – and by the time I had gone to bed we jumped forward to an amazing 60%!
Which means a few things: a) we might actually be able to pull this funding campaign off after all (which means lots of exciting progress just ahead)! b) that in the next 52 days, I should be able to piece together large and completed sections of the film (writing, editing, voice-over, etc). c) that we are reaching all kinds of new people out there… and that we are very anxious to make a lasting connection with them. d) I felt like I a fourth point… but it is past my bedtime and I’m feeling groggy. So, I don’t think it’s coming back to me.
Now I’m sitting here on the floor, listening to The Wind, and blanking out in the direction of my typewriter – and I just want to finish this post by saying: Everyone gets into a slump. Everyone. But in my personal opinion, it’s important to let it to depress you… to let it eat away at you and your confidence… to let your lack of action get under your skin and leave you feeling anxious.
Because when all that gives way and eventually comes out in full force – you can use it in your favor. You can come out swinging harder… as if you’d been up against the ropes with the timer running out. It might not be the most efficient way of working, but it does feel damn good sometimes.
Posted in For Thousands of Miles