Friday, December 4, 2009

Interview on Prime TV

I got interviewed by Greet Raemaekers for Prime TV, a Belgian television station dedicated to anything film. Greet interviewed me on the set of The Next Top Super Spy and even ended up playing a character as ... a journalist interviewing Elender Wall, the host of The Next Top Super Spy!

Friday, March 20, 2009

When a Belgian director meets two British Internet stars ...

Last night I was at an industry networking event in the heart of Hollywood. The email I received about it promised an interesting group of people, from producers to directors, from screenwriters to actors, even executives from major studios like Warner Brothers and Universal Studios. The latter is really the reason I was there. With my resume in one hand and a stack of business cards in the other, I paid my $10 entrance fee and found myself among a group of people who all seem to be there for the same reason. Finding a job! A bit disappointed that this night might not turn out the way I wanted it, I was ready to leave when I bumped into two British actresses. There was an immediate connection and there was one good reason for that: I had been following their skit show online for the last few months!

Fiona Hardingham and Violet Mathieson are the genius comedy duo behind the hilarious Fi & Vi Show. Both girls play a array of different characters, each one funnier than the other. There's the Northerners, two tourists from the northern part of the UK, visiting Los Angeles and its landmarks. There's Berry and Starsha, the two Playboy bunnies. And then there's Ms. Violet and Ms. Fiona, a couple of elderly ladies that seem to have discovered the benefits of the internet.
What's really amazing about these two Brits is their amazing talent in improv. Watching them use their webcam as Ms. Violet and Ms. Fiona, gets you in stitches every time. Their comedic timing is spot on and each one of their skits is a little jewel of web-entertainment. To me, they are the French and Saunders of the internet, and with Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders retiring this year after almost 25 years as the queens of British comedy, the heirs to the vacated throne might very soon be filled again.

So the evening wasn't such a disappointment after all. In fact, it was pretty successful! Meeting two of your favorite internet stars is actually quite exciting. And with both of their business cards in my pockets, I'm sure our paths will cross again soon. Who knows, maybe my urge of creating a brand new web-series this year will materialize. One thing is sure, if it does, I want those two gals involved, because the success of web-series revolves around one word: talent!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Advice to a Short Filmmaker (the film being short, not the filmmaker!!!)

For years I thought that as long as I wasn’t being paid to make movies I wasn’t allowed to call myself a filmmaker. But after reading Robert Rodriquez’ book ‘Rebel Without a Crew’, I knew that was just silly. He starts his book by saying that every person who wants to become a filmmaker should start by calling himself one! So this should really be my first piece of advice to all beginning filmmakers: get rid of the modesty. You are making movies (or will be making movies), so therefore you are a filmmaker!
First rule: Make your own rules and then break them!
My favorite line in the movie ‘Death On the Nile’ is the one said by Bette Davies: “Rules are made to be broken. At least mine are. By me.” That really sums it up. Rules are needed to have some kind of basis in making a movie. There are rules in terms of structure, storytelling, image composition, editing, … While it’s good to know all of them, don’t think you absolutely have to obey them!
So know the rules, but don’t let them limit you.
If you don’t have screenwriting software, this is really the first thing you should invest in to make your first movie. I use Movie Magic Screenwriter. This software lets you write a screenplay using the correct formats that are standard in the film industry. While this is particularly important for writers who want their screenplays to be read and eventually sold (readers will easily pass on a script if it isn’t written in the standard screenwriting format), I think it just makes sense to respect the formatting rules. This is the one rule I wouldn’t break!
Story is extremely important. That might sound like a given, but there’s so many bad films out there and most of the time it’s because they don’t have a storyline! Make it interesting, make it creative, make it fun, make it scary, make it anything, but above all, have something to say!
If you have never written a screenplay, get a book on the subject. There’s tons of them. Read existing scripts to get familiar with the format.
Also, have a cold read of your finished script with your friends or actors, so you can hear how the dialogue sounds like. This always helps when you want to perfect and make the dialogue sound more natural.

Surround yourself with people who are passionate. Not only should they be passionate about your project, but be passionate about filmmaking, passionate about what they do.

Some filmmakers like to work with big crews, in which everyone has a specific role. Others, like me, like to work with small crews. Makes it easier to film guerilla style. In that case, your producer will pretty much do everything: paperwork, catering, driver, AD, … you name it! Two other very important people are your director of photography and your sound person. If there were only two people you would have to pay, that would be them, because image and sound are the most important things … apart from a good story and good acting of course!

If you live in or near cities like New York and Los Angeles, finding actors for your projects won’t be difficult at all. It’s amazing the number of headshots and resumes you’ll receive after you place an ad in a specialized magazine like Backstage West ($25 the ad) or on websites like LA Casting (free). These actors are all willing to work for free because they want to create a reel. Go through the hundreds of headshots you’ll receive and select those you would like to audition. It’s always good to get a place other than your own home or apartment to have auditions. It just looks more professional. On the day of the audition, tape the actors the moment they come into the room. Have them read the lines first without any direction and then have them read the lines again with some direction. The first reading will show you if they got the character from just reading your script and the second reading will show how well they take direction. Consider an audition as an interview. Do they seem like people you would like to work with? Are they, once again, passionate? I personally like it when an actor tells me what they think of the overall script. This shows they went the extra mile and actually read the whole thing, rather than just their lines.

Make sure to get everyone’s contact information, like email address and phone numbers. While you may find the perfect actor for each part, you will need back-up actors. The reason is very simple. If your actor is not being paid and the day of the shoot they are offered a paying gig, which one do you think they’ll go for?

Preparation is golden
The more prepared you are the better your shoot will go. Of course things will go wrong, but if you are prepared, solutions will come easy…well, easier.

There’s a lot to be done in preproduction and getting help would be wise. That’s why having a great producer is very important. This allows the director to concentrate on the creative aspect of the movie (rehearsals with actors, production design, costumes, etc), while the producer will take care of the paperwork, the money, getting the equipment, etc.

If there’s something you want in your movie, but you can’t get it, be creative! Come up with something else. Think out of the box. Simple is most of the time better. One day, a director had to shoot a scene, in which you saw a girl that had just moved into her new and very expensive looking apartment. The production designer found a huge apartment and was going to fill it with expensive, designer furniture. Because this was a small budget movie, the director came up with a much better idea: find an apartment with an amazing view, add a view carton boxes in it and have a beautiful designer chair in the middle of it all. It was all there: the new apartment, the fact she just moved in (the boxes), that she had style (the chair) and that she had money (the view)! Yep, simple is the word.

The first thing you need to do, as a director is to turn your reading script into a shooting script. The difference between the two is that the latter now includes every single shot angle, size, and position. From that script you’ll create your shot lists, as well as your storyboards. Those will be very important documents/tools when working with your director of photography, with whom you should also visit the locations so you can create floor plans.

Once all that is done, you can start by creating a shooting schedule, which is not only based on the above-mentioned documents, but also on everyone’s available schedule! Because remember, if most people aren’t being paid, you have to shoot your project around their available time! A shooting-schedule is something a 1st AD would create. And finally, based on that schedule, call-sheets will be created and sent to everyone. The call sheets will have all the information needed: call time, location, what will be shot that day and who is required on the set and when.
Now everything is in place, we’re ready to shoot!

There are all kinds of ways of financing your project. The biggest portion of my budget on my first short I got through selling off the credits. By promising people 15 minutes of fame by having their name in the end credits, I ended up with end credits, from which 75% of the people had never put foot on my set! The more money people gave me, the bigger their credit became.

Shoot your most difficult days first. Days with lots of scenes, lots of dialogue and things you want to be done with as fast as possible! The rest of your shoot will seem easier and more relaxed once you’ve gone through the most difficult part of it. Of course, this all depends on your locations, because your shooting schedule is planned around them.
Your crew should arrive an hour earlier than your actors, unless they are required to wear heavy make-up. No need to have your actors wait for hours while lights, and such are being set up.

Make sure to stick to the shooting schedule as much as you can.

Remember that this is your movie. While it is good to be open to suggestions, don’t have people take over your movie. It is your vision and your final word is the law! Sound arrogant, but if you let people do what they want, you’ll end up with a totally different movie.

Because nobody is getting paid, you better feed them well. Good food will be a key element on your set if you want to keep your crew and actors happy. You would be surprised how easy that can be done. Go to Costco and get a huge plate of sandwiches or wraps. They’re delicious, easy and inexpensive. Have at least one hour to break for lunch.

Have somebody shoot extra footage with another camera, so you can have some behind-the-scenes footage, which you later can ad to your DVD! It’s also important to have a still photographer on the set, so you’ll have photos for your press kit later.

And don’t forget to tape room-tone (sound) for each location and to shoot some extra cut-aways or inserts of objects. The latter will save your life when you edit and realize you’re missing a shot. They are a cheap trick to cover up the missing shot.

For your first film, you can either edit the whole film yourself or have it done by a professional. For my first short, I paid an editor, but sat down with her for every session. Not only did I get to say how I wanted it, I also got a class in Final Cut Pro out of it. Result: I now edit my own stuff!
Make a rough cut as soon as you can, so you can see if any additional shots will be needed. In case you have a music composer, a rough cut will help in composing an initial track.

Movie’s done, what now?
Your film is now ready to be seen by everyone. First of all, organize a premiere party! But don’t just invite your friends and family. Invite people you think might help you in getting what you want: becoming a feature director!
I was very lucky with my first short film. The Belgian consul in Los Angeles was a big movie fanatic and a friend. So the premiere of my first short was organized through the Belgian consulate. Not only did they pay for the movie theater, they also paid for the postage to send out invitations to everyone in the industry and the media. They didn’t want to make this a Belgian event by only inviting the Belgian community in Los Angeles, but invited professionals, journalists and festival organizers. I didn’t have to pay a dime! Once again, all this happened because I was working with somebody who was passionate!

Have professional DVDs made of your film. Yes, nowadays iMac and other computer systems come with their ‘Do-It-Yourself’ DVD creators like iDVD but the results are never perfect. What looks better: a professional looking DVD or one that might skip during the playback?

Create a good poster for your film. I love creating my own posters and have always used PowerPoint. It’s simple and it’s fun. Have a look at your favorite movie posters and find a style in them that fits your short film. Make the poster look as professional as possible, because this will be the very first thing a potential viewer will see. First impressions are important, no matter how good the film is. Also, have postcard versions made of the poster so you can send it to people to let people know that the film will be shown at this or that festival.

Create a website for your film. There’s so much you can put on a site and people love going on them. The site can have photos, synopsizes, biographies, behind-the-scene-stories, etc. Note that all the documents you created for the site, can also be used for your press kit. Two birds with one stone!

First things first, sign up with WithoutaBox, an online-organization that not only keeps track of all the film festivals around the world, but also lets you apply to those festivals through their site at a reduced price.

If your movie is a specific genre, there will be a specific film festival for it. Find out which festivals fit that genre, which ones are the most important ones and then send in your film.

Most festivals will ask for an application fee, which doesn’t guarantee that your film will be shown! If money is tight, I would suggest concentrating on European festivals, because most don’t have application fees. I would also make sure you apply to the top festivals like Slamdance, Sundance, Cannes, Berlin and Clermont Ferrand.

A common mistake when it comes to budgeting for a short film, is that people will only think about production and post production. Once the film is done, they realize that there’s no money left for marketing (postcards, posters, websites), DVD copies, and postage to send to festivals. And travel expenses! Depending on the importance of the festival, it’s really up to you to decide if you want to attend the event when your movie is accepted.

Keep in contact!
When somebody shows interest in your film, make sure to keep in contact with that person. Don’t wait! You never know where it might lead you.
If you meet a distributor, a producer, an agent or whatever, at a screening or a party, and they tell you how much they loved your film, get their card! Who cares if they are just boosting your ego. What if they actually meant it? Grab the iron while it’s hot! Email them the next day and tell them how much you enjoyed talking to them (even if your just boosting their ego as well!!!). Be a go-getter it is all about networking!

What’s next?
The last piece of advice I would give is to make sure you have a feature screenplay ready by the time your short film hits the festival circuit and be seen by lots of people in the industry. As most short film makers want to become feature directors, the first thing people will ask is: “Do you have a feature script?” or “What are you working on?”. Ideally, your feature screenplay should be in the same genre as your short film. However, this is one of those rules again that could limit you. Why not show them you can actually write other material, by giving them a script that is a totally different style than your short? It will show them you are creative and can tackle any genre!

Create your own rules. Be in control of your vision. Show the world you can tell a story in every format. Have fun with it!!!!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Stroke of Genius!

As every writer out there, I have to deal with the treated writer's block. The story is in you, but this big block just doesn't let it out of your system. And it's frustrating. VERY frustrating. But then, there's the opposite effect. You see something, you read something, you experience something and at that moment, this 'thing' destroys the horrible block and the words just come out of you and end up on the page ... or your screenwriter's sofware computer screen.

And this is exactly what happened to me this morning. I have been struggling with this screenplay I'm writing for months. The story is there but the way the story was being told just didn't feel right. In fact, it kinda felt boring. I needed a new way of telling the story. While my first idea was to have the story told by the lead character and making it a story seen through her eyes, I was afraid I was limiting myself. Yes, it would be a little easier to tell a story through one person's point of view, but what with all the stuff that happened around her, things that were very important in the whole scheme of things, but of which she had no knowledge of? (by the way, the script is based on a real, historical event). And then I read something and something in me went 'Eureka!'. Instead of telling this woman's story from beginning to the end, why not tell just a slice of the story, an event (think 'The Queen', 'Mrs Brown' or 'Capote'), and intertwine it with other stories, told by people who knew her. Kinda like 'Citizen Kane', in which Kane's story is told through the people that were involved with him.

Anyway, I'm off to my favorite coffee shop and will be writing a brand new treatment of the script. Some of you may know what I'm talking about and which screenplay this is all referring to. For the others, keep your eyes open. The concept and story has already attracted quite a bit of attention from a producer who was so passionate about the story when I pitched it to him that he has made himself the promise that he will make this movie, but the written reassurance that the movie would not be made without me involved.

To be continued ...

Saturday, January 10, 2009

2009 ... Here I come!!!

Happy New Year everyone! Wow, if 2008 was a fantastic year, 2009 will be even better! Over the last 12 month I made four short films, including Trouble on a Plane, and started two internet series. I also started writing several feature scripts, which have all taken a little longer to finish than I expected, but which will be finished in the next coming months. Promise!

But 2009 will be the year of my first feature. How many times have I not written on this blog that I was done with short films and that the real work should start. I had several ideas for what would become my first feature. There is the Ghent project, but I think I'll give that one one more year. Because that film would be filmed completely in Belgium, I think we'll need way more prep time. And having a finished script for it would be a good start. Just a thought.

I was also considering shooting the comedy I had started writing. It would be do-able, but still a little too complicated for a first feature. But then again, why make is easy on myself. I think I would be able to tackle the challenge.

Then Yohei came up with a brilliant idea. Why not just turn 'Trouble On a Plane' into a feature length movie? The idea was intriguing at first but the more I was thinking about it, the more it started to make sense. Considering that every passenger on the plane has a story, why not turn these stories into their own segments. In other words, stories within a story. Stories that would become, in a sense, their own short movies. If there's three passengers and each one of their stories becomes a 20 min segment, all three stories together give us a whole hour. If the movie starts with a 15 min intro and ends with a 15 min closure, we would end up with a 90 min movie. Perfect!

I also obtained my OPT visa (Optional Practical Training) and will now be able to work and get paid! I'm concentrating on production work, so I can be an a set, meet new people, gain experience, ... With that in mind, I cut a reel for myself. Here's the result. Let me know what you think!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Trouble On A Plane - Trailer

Check out the trailer I just cut for 'Trouble On a Plane'. Enjoy and please leave me your comments!!!!