Meet the Mayfarers

The Importance of Fun

We’re two days behind schedule, the pig’s guts are rotting, and we haven’t slept in two weeks. I was directing a feature horror film, and I was miserable. Cut from that set to the set of “Meet the Mayfarers.”All of us are Dancing next to people dressed in mascot outfits – particularly a Bunny Rabbit and a Parrot suit. And we are laughing hysterically.

Standing there on that original set, blood on my jacket, sheep’s guts oozing out of the cooler and onto my hands, I realized something profound: I’m not having fun. So what, you say? Is anything suppose to be fun? Making a film is, by its very definition – a difficult experience. You’re up before sunrise, working through the day, and lucky if you fall asleep before midnight, then do it all again.

There’s a difference, and that’s passion.

So I’m sitting there with a film I’m not passionate about and then I see what people are doing online. There was a lot to be impressed about. Within a few months, some of the channels received more views than any of my filmmaker friends. But more important than any of this – they were all having fun. Or looked like they were anyway.

I sat down, and realized what was wrong. I wasn’t having fun.  For me the happiest moments, of both childhood and high school were having friends come over, and “make a movie.” Of course some, (many) of these are laughably bad. But they were fun to do. We’d make ‘em, have a blast shooting them, and had a laugh watch them. The perfect way to spend an afternoon.

But somewhere along the line, when I started making features it didn’t become fun. At first I thought, this is what it is to be professional, and truth be told, there is a lot of work, from scheduling, to figuring shots, to dealing with on set divas. But fun and professional are not mutually exclusive. Fun doesn’t have to be lazy and professional doesn’t have to be bland. And on that horror film set, a crew member said to me, “Not every project can be fun” But I disagree. We can’t control many things on set, but we can have fun.

I remember sitting in one of countless screenwriting courses, and the teacher kept saying that writing “shouldn’t be fun.” She said that writing should “make your head bleed.” On one level, I understood what she was saying – that writing is rewriting, and to make the script work you need to keep rewriting it. But I think she’s wrong. Time and again, the scenes that I’ve had the most fun writing, the scenes where  I’m so into the scene and I’m writing one character talking to another and I’m “in the zone” are invariably, so much better than the scenes that I’ll slave over for months, or years even. I see that it my colleagues scripts as well – when the passion isn’t there, it isn’t on the page. That doesn’t mean one should “toss off a script” with no rewriting, nor does it mean neglecting and shortchanging the very difficult architecture like importance of structuring a script.

But still – it needs to be fun. Writing – filmmaking – it should be fun.

At the end of the day, in filmmaking, as in life, there are no guarantees. Try as you might, you can’t be sure certain a film will sell, you can’t be certain people will latch onto it, you can’t even be certain that the scene you’re shooting won’t eventually be cut from the final film. But you can control your enjoyment. This career is too difficult not to have fun.

I love this web Internet space because the cost of projects have gone down, but the possibilities are limitless, and there’s no excuse not to have fun. I think it shows on the screen.

For me, that’s what “Meet the Mayfarers” is. A chance to reclaim the “fun” of filmmaking. A chance to bring the level of fun I had as a kid, making movies with friends in my backyard, but hopefully with a more professional sensibility. Whatever becomes of the show, it totally rekindled my love for the fun of making movies. And I’ll be forever grateful for that.

I can’t wait to shoot more episodes, to shoot more series, and then use this passion to do more features. In many ways, I feel like a kid again, and that’s important.

I hope you enjoy the show, and I hope that passion and fun plays through your computer monitor and gives you a smile.

It did for me.

Lasts updated on January 1st, 2010. Tags:
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Why I Love Webseries

There’s been a lot of recent blog posts alluding to the rumor that the web series is dying. Most of the articles are looked at from the business side of it.

I’d like to add my two cents into the discussion as a content creator myself and a “small grasshopper” in regards to putting material online. From my own point of view, as someone who has been in the independent film world for a long time, creating web series is the best single damn thing to ever happen.

Is it a crowded space?


Is it hard or near impossible to make a buck or attract advertising or sponsorship?

Of course.

Are the huge view counts attainable on a consistent basis?


Hard? Challenging? Feel like your banging your head against the wall impossible?


But this is nothing compared to the indi film world. You’ve got – dried up film financing, artistic compromises made for investors, diva talent, a distribution platform that has dried up, and has been proclaimed dead – an atmosphere of downright swindler ship with most low-budget foreign distribution companies, an over saturation of the marketplace leading films to wither on the vine, all of these are a daily occurrence in the indi film world with far, far more dollars on the line.

Perhaps it’s a result of me still being “buzzed” from being a newcomer in the online video world, but the sense of creative satisfaction I’ve gotten in the past few months has surpassed all my experiences in the indi film arena.  I’m making a show that I like, not what other cooks in the kitchen want to see, I’m making it with friends, shooting it in the style I want to, and above and beyond anything else, enjoying myself. This is not even taking into account the viewer ship we’ve gotten, which, while by web standards is fairly minuscule, is for my own experience in showing films to festival audiences, far and away amazing.

No DVD screeners that fail to work, no dealing with unscrupulous sales agents who won’t return calls, no barrier to pushing your material out to an audience. The ability to be completely and totally in control of your destiny.

Is it still hard to make money online? Do you still need some kind of recognizable talent or element? Is it still a momentously uphill battle? Of course, and those debates and challenges have been written by voices in other far more established blogs. But for web series creators who have been around for a few years, who have become disillusioned that things haven’t changed, don’t forget the tremendous power that doing these shows have given you – and don’t forget what the alternative could be – because doing a web show, with all the inherent challenges in doing so, is far, far more creatively satisfying than any alternative in the independent realm.

Lasts updated on October 1st, 2009. Tags:
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A Great Movie

My definition of a great movie is solely based on one thing:  Is it rewatchable?

Forget if the “Subtext was important” or it was about some historical event, or an “important’ social issue. All that matters for me at least is – after I finish watching it, could I pop it right back into the DVD player and watch it again?

That’s why the movies that usually win all the awards never do it for me as much as the ones that are just additively re-watchable.

What’s your definition of a great movie?

Lasts updated on September 18th, 2009. Tags:
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Reshooting is not a Four Letter Word

“Writing is re-writing.” How many times have we heard that phrase before? And it’s true. The first draft of a script is never the final one, and the real magic comes from looking at it weeks later from a different perspective, and reshuffling scenes, cutting some, and adding some more. It is critical.

And yet, conversely, the idea of “Re-shooting” is somehow a no-no. The standard mode of thinking is that, if a film has to be “re-shot” that means that something was wrong with the original shoot. It is a Scarlett letter on a filmmaker who attempts to do this.

This mode of thinking is outdated and wrong. A lot of that stems from the corporate backwards way most studios run. Every word, phrase, and story beat has to be planned and approved months ahead of time, with no movement or room left for improvisation. I find that the one of the biggest bursts of inspiration I get creatively is seeing the first cut of the film. When its on its feet and the characters are moving and talking one can instantly see what works and what doesn’t. One can easily cut the fat out of the scenes, and streamline the narrative. I find that the film is now “alive” and I get ideas for new scenes. I’m inspired by what the actors are doing, and get excited about new ways the story could go. These are things you can’t see on the page.

This is how the creative process works. It’s totally natural. And smart filmmakers should budget for re-shoots. Even if the first cut works perfectly (and it almost never does) there is a benefit to adding new cutaways, shots, and potential scenes. True, its difficult. Actors and crew are onto other projects. Hairstyles have changes, as have seasons, but its a challenge that is beneficial.

And the top filmmakers budget for this. Woody Allen always schedules at least three days of re-shoots on every one of his films, months after the original cut.

I did this on “Mayfarers.” In the original cut we never saw Porter Mayfarer, the grandfather. In re-watching the first cut I saw how much this phantom character affected the other characters’ lives, and thought how great it would be to have cut-aways to him, and eventually, episodes about him.

I hope that with new, cheaper technologies filmmakers will look at the filming process more like the writing process, and throw off the corporate rigidness that has dominated the field the last 100 years, and instead embrace the idea of re-shoots.

Re-shoots are not a dirty word. They are a necessity.

Lasts updated on August 28th, 2009. Tags: ,
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Beautiful Weather

sunsetAs media people we often get really excited about images. My flatscreen TV is 1080! The Red camera shoots at 4 K! Marvel at how real IMAX can feel! Look at how beautiful and crisp that beach looks on the screen!

We often forget that beauty is right outside our door. Today is a beautiful summer day. Best to try to put the computer down and enjoy it while you can. Real life is much more more beautiful than 24 frames per second.

Lasts updated on August 14th, 2009.
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TV vs. film

film-reelI’ve been doing something startling to myself over the past few years – I’ve been watching TV. And I rarely, if ever, watch movies. And from talking to friends and audiences, it seems I’m not the only one. And this isn’t necessarily an issue of the hassles of “driving to the theater” or theater prices, etc  – but more of storytelling in general.

This is most surprising to me. As a filmmaker, I’ve always loved film, and for me, TV was always in the backseat, or at least riding shotgun. But over the past five or six years that has completely changed. I enjoy the long, drawn out story arcs. I love getting lost (no pun intended) in a multitudes of characters’ lives. With the rare exception, from a writing perspective, even the best movies are quite easy to see the strings of the narrative structure behind them, and where they are going.

Of course this is nothing new – serialized content has been around for decades on film, and even before that. Star Wars was a reworking of a lot of Flash Gordon serials, and was in it’s own way, a log story arc.

Yet in TV I am constantly surprised. Surprised both in narrative – with many twists and turns, but even in more straightforward shows, surprised in the different type of characters, with various degrees of morals, who are more true to life and fascinating than most movie characters.

I always find it frustrating in even the most laugh out loud comedy feature films where the characters have to change in the end to become “good.” While sometimes this works, often times in a very funny broad movie it throws the tone off – and yet filmmakers and studio execs feel compelled to do this because they have only two hours with the characters, and they need to please the most amount of people.

I certainly don’t mean to say that TV is the death of film – but the many amazing shows should force filmmakers to be more unique and innovative. And I wonder where will audience’s tastes be in ten years from now? Will we all be loving watching ten second story arcs? For my part at least, I’ll continue to try to go to films, but my true joy is spending a weekend burning through a season’s box set worth of my favorite shows.

And I don’t think I’m the only one that feels this way.

Lasts updated on August 10th, 2009. Tags:
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Back in my Day

rocking-chairs“Back in my day” is always a common phrase in any business. “Back in my day it was better.”

But in my experience, in the film world, “Back in my day” sucked.

My first film project was shot on film. I had grown up on camcorders so it was a shock to my system to not to be able to see the image you were setting up, not to know indeed if you actually got it “in the can” until the “dailies” came back. And these cameras were sensitive. You needed a mass amount of lights needed to run a small country to actually get an image going.

And it took forever. Actors had more pressure than normal, because each take cost money. Everything was on the line.

And that was only the beginning of it. You had to develop the film. Yup, more money. You had to edit it, on these ridiculous machines that can only be described as close to a sewing machine, but much harder to use. If you wanted to find a shot you were working on that morning…yeah, good luck finding it in some “bin.”

And finally, when the film was done – you had to create a final print. Lug it around to theaters. Project it. Or put it on DVD and hope to god that the DVD wouldn’t freeze in the player of the festival judging staff or agent who might be watching it.

But today’s it’s different.

Today, even on my worse day on set, when I’m looking out to this amazing small camera that records HD images, that doesn’t need a crap load of lights, that can show me the image as I’m recording, that is super-user friendly, doesn’t cost money for takes – I am relaxed. Relaxed knowing I can spend the time to do the things that really matter. Get the performances right, get the story right, and actually enjoy myself.

And then when I edit, it’s  like I’m playing a video game. And when you send it out to people? Yup, you just send them a link. And it will play.

Some purists might want the technology to be back to “the good old days.”

Me? I think the “Good Old Days” are happening right now.

Lasts updated on July 31st, 2009. Tags:
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In thinking about this past 4th of July holiday my mind turns to giving thanks to what we have in our country. We certainly don’t appreciate it as much as we could.

Along those lines, there are many people in the film biz who don’t appreciate where they are. For instance, I’ve never quite understood divas on sets. One always reads, and sometimes as a filmmaker experiences, people behaving ridiculously. And you wonder, what fuels that? What fuels childlike behavior on set – yelling, demanding, and not seeing the whole picture?

I’ve always wanted to be a filmmaker. And when I’m hired to write, direct, or act, I’m beyond grateful to actually be fulfilling my childhood goals. And of course it’s never perfect. On a big professional set there are always compromises. But still…you get to be following your dreams.

So I would ask filmmakers and actors, when the going gets tough on the set – don’t throw a tantrum, don’t yell – and just remember that we’re getting paid to make magic. And if your younger self (the one who was struggling) ever saw you act like that, they’d slap you across the face.

Lasts updated on July 8th, 2009. Tags: ,
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Oh, I get it now!

lightbulbI’ve never been interested in documentary film-making. I enjoy watching them, certainly. And there are many docs out there that are better than narrative features. But it never interested me as a creative endeavor.

I would listen to doc filmmaker friends tell their experiences and I thought I would never want to do anything like that. I couldn’t imagine walking to the set, with no clue if you’re going to get any good material that day. Let alone the editing process where there is no clear direction.

A few weeks ago I saw something that made me “get it.” We were shooting a corporate gig, interviewing “testimonials” and in the interview process found so many random, fun quotes. Each person we interviewed was in essence, a “character.” It was fun seeing these magic moments come to life. I turned to my friend, who is a doc filmmaker and said, “I get it.”

In that moment I get the allure. I get the thrill of going out and discovering new people, new stories, new worlds, of using reality to paint a a picture on film, rather than trying to create reality out of nothing. He even said it was easier, because it’s “already real.”

It doesn’t change my love for narrative, for the “ah-ha” moment of getting story ideas, having actors become characters, or the thrill of turning fiction into film. I don’t want to make a documentary anytime soon.

But now, finally, I get the appeal.

Lasts updated on June 8th, 2009. Tags:
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Madness and Creativity


King Ludwig II. I visited his castle in Bavaria recently. Picture this: He had a wild idea – to build a number of castles, surrounding his kingdom, fairytale castles at that, in a time (1800′s) when castles we going out of fashion. In addition, he did this all in tribute to Wagner’s operas. Each castle would be designed in one way or another with Wagner in mind. One of them even went so far as to put a Grotto where the operas could be performed for the King.

Everyone believed he was mad.

In many ways it is no different from a producer. Spending an insane amount of money trying to create fiction out of reality, and in some cases succeeding. The only difference here is that Ludwig was killed under mysterious circumstances, while your average producer is usually just killed at the box office.

So was he really mad, this “Mad King Ludwig?” Well, he was creative. And ambitious. And that in itself is its own form of madness.

But hey, look what he created!

Lasts updated on June 2nd, 2009. Tags:
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