“The Real Kids of Super 8”

October 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

I had a great time being interviewed by entertainment journalist Todd Longwell for “THE REAL KIDS OF SUPER 8” Parts 1 & 2 now up on THE LONGWELL FILES website.   Read how a teen Super 8 festival in Los Angeles launched a community of new film & TV talent including Matt Reeves (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Let me In, Cloverfield),  JJ Abrams (Star Trek 1 & 2, Super 8, MI:3, Lost), Larry Fong (Watchman, Sucker Punch), Chad Savage (Friday Night Lights, Alias, Felicity), Greg Grunberg (Heroes, Alias, Felicity), Larry Trilling (Parenthood, Alias, Felicity), and—me!

Click icon below for link to Todd’s article:

“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.” —T.E. Lawrence

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My new interview: “The Real Kids of Super 8.”

September 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

Check out the great new article “THE REAL KIDS OF SUPER 8” Parts 1 & 2 now up on THE LONGWELL FILES website. Read how a teen Super 8 festival launched a community of new film & TV talent.  I had a great time being interviewed by entertainment journalist Todd Longwell and it brought back great memories of my start as a pre-teen filmmaker.

Read Todd’s article here:  http://www.thelongwellfiles.com/1/post/2011/07/the-real-kids-of-super-8-part-1.html  make sure to click on Part 2 at the end of article.

THE SUPER 8 DIARIES: VOL IV “Our neighborhood: Hollywood’s backlot”

August 1, 2011 § 2 Comments

When I was a kid, I was lucky to grow up in my hometown of Santa Monica, California where many of Hollywood’s most popular TV shows and movies of the time were always filming on location somewhere around town.  My friends and I actually watched and followed many of these shows that we saw being filmed like “Charlie’s Angels,” “Quincy,” “Barnaby Jones,” “Starsky and Hutch” and “The Rockford Files.”

One of us would see a location shoot and tell the others, and then after school we’d head off to visit the set and even miss dinner to watch the entire production process.  Usually the first assistant directors or the gaffers would take us under their wing and say, “okay, kids sit over here for a better view.”  They must have figured that after so many hours of us watching that we were really serious about learning, so they helped us out.  Our excitement was palpable and our main desire was to see how they actually filmed the shows with plans on watching the episode when it aired to see how it would eventually look on television.  We felt privileged to have a “behind the scenes” view of the filmmaking process in our own neighborhood.

I remember one afternoon riding in the backseat of my parent’s car in downtown Santa Monica when suddenly, the “Starsky and Hutch” Gran Torino peels around the corner with stars Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul inside!

It was right out of the movies and I spotted a camera rig attached to the driver’s side and they were filming a chase scene.  I hoped that our car might end up in the background of the shot, but later I saw the episode and we never did.

I also fondly remember a location shoot just up the block from my house of the hottest new show on television at the time “Charlie’s Angels.”  I think it may have been on a Friday evening, as my friend and I stayed at the location from early evening and well into the night.  It was star Kate Jackson’s birthday and the crew had a birthday cake on at the craft service table.  I remember we got autographs from Kate Jackson and guest stars Fernando Lamas and John Larch.  I have to laugh because us twelve-year old kids actually knew who these veteran film actors were.  Again, we knew from watching a lot of television shows, but also old movies that aired on the local channels at the time.

We stayed on the location for so long that the crew called us “the neighborhood kids” and we stayed at the shoot for what felt like all night.  Kate had to leave, but the crew served up the birthday cake and they allowed us to each have a piece too.  We thought we were part of the “in crowd” that night, I mean getting autographs and sharing a star’s birthday cake? 

I remember later watching the episode on television and recalling the scenes we watched being filmed that night.  We felt like “insiders” having hung out on the location and meeting the stars.  We told our parents and friends, “I was just off camera when they filmed that scene” and then explain how it was done on location.  It was all part of the filmmaking bug that we caught during that period.

Another time we watched the crime show “Quincy” being filmed at an apartment building near the ocean.  We certainly knew who Jack Klugman was and we had watched the show enough to be excited about the location shoot.  Jack was gracious enough to sign autographs for us, even adding “nice kid” to it.  Classic. 

Becoming a filmmaker didn’t seem like a crazy dream because Hollywood’s backlot for location shooting was our neighborhood.   As the big movies and tv shows were constantly being filmed around us, we also filmed our own Super 8 productions in the very same locations.  It felt like we were real filmmakers but just on our smaller level.  Our dream was always to someday do it for real and the constant location shooting definitely helped keep our dream in sharp focus.  I feel blessed to have grown up in Santa Monica during that seemingly magical period.

Don’t miss reading VOL. I thru III of this series previously posted on the blog.

THE SUPER 8 DIARIES: VOL III “The mechanics of production”

July 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

Our mainstay film stock for shooting our Super 8 films was Kodachrome 40 color reversal film.   The film came in plastic light-proof cartridges containing coaxial supply and take-up spools loaded with 50 feet (15 m) of film.  This was enough film for 2.5 minutes at the U.S. motion picture professional standard of 24 frames per second, and for 3 minutes and 20 seconds of continuous filming at 18 frames per second.  When we shot sound, I recall it was at 24 fps and that used more film and meant bigger budgets.  Again, you have to remember that Super 8 film has no negative, so the footage you developed was it.  Any damage to the film was permanent.  If you ripped the sprocket holes on the film, you could add splicing tape to fix it, but many times it would make the film a little too thick and it would cause the film to jump and stutter as it went through the projector gate.  I remember a few times we lost precious frames of a shot that we could not get back.  A scene could survive losing frames at the beginning or ending, but never in the middle.  We had a deep respect for the film itself, because we knew there were no other copies and we couldn’t just access a hard drive and edit another version.  We were editing the master and only copy.

Back in those days we’d have to wait to get our Super 8 film developed and sometimes it would take four or five days.  The wait felt like an eternity and production could not go forward until we saw the last footage.  We never knew if a scene worked or if we needed to do re-shoots until a week later.  I remember always looking forward to getting the film back and being able to screen it to see if our shots worked, the acting was okay, and if the footage would cut together.  I could only imagine how different our creative choices would be if we had instant access to seeing our footage and we knew immediately if a shot worked or not.  

At the time, Super 8 film stock and developing was expensive and I had limited funds to make my films.  I remember asking the key players involved to “invest” in the film and help pay for the budget.  In return they would own a piece of the film and receive a highly coveted PRODUCER title.  One year the price of silver went up and caused the price of Super 8 film to skyrocket.  We had to adapt and work within a budget because we were NOT going to shoot video.  I did not have unlimited funds, but I’d spend whatever it took to film what I had written in the script.  I figured that my film “Ironside: The Motion Picture” would have cost over twice as much to produce today.  We definitely would shoot on digital if making the film today to save money but also for speed in production. 

We only started to edit after we had filmed the entire movie and not during the shooting.  We of course did all the “editing” ourselves.  It was really called “splicing” because we never did coverage of a shot and didn’t have a master shot, medium shot, and close up to choose from.  We made those decisions on the spot during filming, as we were really editing in the camera.

The Super 8 editing consisted of a small reel to reel viewer and a splicing block with editing tape.  We’d splice the film pieces together with the splicing tape that looked like a small strip of clear Super 8 film and would go on both sides of the film.  Once we got into Super 8 sound films, editing became considerably more tricky as the sound was actually recorded on a magnetic strip on the film and was always 18 to 24 frames later.  This was because the camera’s sound recording head is at the base of the camera and the film hits the aperture first as the sound records 18 frames later on the film.  We never shot sync sound with a separate recording device that would need a clap board to match the sync.  If we edited scenes in the camera, I would tell my actors to take a breath and then say their lines as we couldn’t do sound editing either.

If we wanted to cut from a master to a close up, we’d stop filming, move the camera and resume filming.  It seemed that simple.  The only problem was if someone made a mistake or missed a cue and we had to do another take.  That’s when it really messed up our system of editing in the camera.  We stuck with our cinematic decisions and I think that made us really consider our shots carefully.  We didn’t have a ton of coverage to choose from – what you saw was it.   This method seemed easier to do and it would give us less editing to do later.  We didn’t quite realize the art and craft of film editing yet.  That really came later from our studies in film school.

Read VOLUME IV  in “The Super 8 Diaries” series, “Our Neighborhood: Hollywood’s Backlot”  https://scriptcat.wordpress.com/2011/08/01/the-super-8-diaries-vol-iv-our-neighborhood-hollywoods-backlot/

THE SUPER 8 DIARIES: VOL. II “My first real audience”

July 2, 2011 § 1 Comment

My first public screening of any film that I made was my 9th grade English project.  As we loved spy films, we chose to make a James Bond movie titled “License to Kill” and I played Bond (of course!).  We had no idea that nine years later, Timothy Dalton would star in the sixteenth Bond film with the same title!   It was Dalton’s second and final performance as Bond and my first and final performance as the dashing secret agent.  Again, I was in the 9thgrade.  I remember wearing a safari jacket that I thought was the coolest wardrobe ever.  Our “License to Kill” had action, adventure, intrigue and all the things that made a great Bond film great.  The film was a team effort and we were responsible to turn it into our teacher on schedule.  We had a screening in our middle school auditorium during class and I think some of our actors who weren’t in our English class even got out of their classes to attend.  I know they got extra credit from their English teachers if they worked on our film.  I remember during production, we received a lot of buzz around school and it was certainly the talk of our crowd.

After the big screening, our teacher gave us an “A” and he was very impressed at how it all came together.  He had seen other film projects go badly and never end up fully realized, but that didn’t happen to ours.  He didn’t fully understand that he was dealing with kids who had made films for three years already!  I don’t remember who ended up with the only existing copy of the movie, but I still have a three-minute reel of outtakes.

My second public screening was the The Best Teen Super 8 Films Festival at the Nuart Theater in Los Angeles when I was a junior in high school.   I write about that in length in my first article “THE SUPER 8 DIARIES: VOL. I – “The genesis of a pre-teen filmmaker.”  We sold out the theater at both screenings and even had an article and photo in the LA Times calendar section. 

It was then I formed a production company with my friend and co-producer James called Titan Productions.  We wanted a cool logo and chose a mighty griffin.  We even had stationery printed with the logo and used our company’s name at the beginning titles of our films.  We treated our filmmaking seriously.

My third public screening happened about a year later when I was a senior in high school.  Titan Productions had just completed our first comedy, “Ironside: The Motion Picture” and it was a forty-five minute epic.  It was a parody of the 70s tv show about the wheelchair bound detective Ironside.  Leave it to us to make a comedy out of it. 

I premiered the film during lunch for the entire high school and I remember the place was packed.  It was an important screening, as these were our peers and we wanted to be known as filmmakers while others were known for being on the Varsity football team or whatever.  The film received a tremendous response and the slapstick humor played perfectly to our audience.  The immediate feedback and energy really brought another dimension to our filmmaking.  This was my third film to publicly screen for an audience and we were now making films that would be critiqued by an audience.  We were no longer just making films to watch with our friends and family.  I think this is when I grew as a filmmaker and the public screenings brought another dimension to the work.  There was now an audience to please and not just ourselves.  We were taking artistic chances and having to believe in our choices as we unleashed our films upon the world.

My buddy at the time was also taking a ROP class at the local public access studio where he was able to get a copy of “Ironside” on VHS tape using their equipment.  That was huge.  Now we could watch the film at home on our video machines – another milestone.  It opened up a greater opportunity for people to see the film and not have to wait for us to screen it using a projector.  We had finally come full circle with our production company’s vertical integration – development of projects, production of the films, public screenings and home viewings – just like Hollywood!

After our successful public screening with “Ironside,” I felt the movie was good enough to take to another level, so I decided to enter my first film festival.   I was reading about festivals in “Super 8 Filmmaker” magazine and other places and entering a festival seemed like the next logical step with the film.  I entered “Ironside” in the Photographic Society of America’s Super 8 teen festival.  Much to my surprise, my film received an honorable mention certificate and competed with films from around the country.

My friend Matt received a first place award for his film and an actual plaque.  We traveled up to San Francisco to the awards ceremony and the guy who was running the festival didn’t know I was coming, so he didn’t have a speech ready when I showed up at the luncheon.  He did his best to improvise a speech about my film and said it “had a lot of meat.”  Meaning it was forty-five minutes long and had a lot going on.  Hell, I’ll take that review!  I had to laugh.  He had already sent my honorable mention certificate in the mail and had nothing to present me during the ceremony but a handshake and an improvised speech.

During these high school years, I had moved into another level as a filmmaker with public screenings for a real audience and competing in film festivals.  At the time, I didn’t realize that I was preparing myself to do it for real when I eventually got paid as a filmmaker and my films premiered on television, DVD and in festivals worldwide.

The “Super 8 Diaries” series continues with Vol. III – “The Mechanics of Production.”

THE SUPER 8 DIARIES: VOL. I “The genesis of a preteen filmmaker”

June 25, 2011 § 4 Comments

This is a new series that I’ve added to the blog called “THE SUPER 8 DIARIES” where I’ll fondly reminisce about my adventures as a pre-teen making films of many genres.  It was a magical time for me during those formative years of Super 8 filmmaking and this is where I started to learn the craft of visual storytelling.  When I was eleven years old, my friend Matt Reeves received a windup 8mm silent camera from his grandpa and it’s the event that sparked our passion to become filmmakers.  We made up our first script as we went along and co-directed a secret agent film that we starred in called “The Revenge of Dr. Von Stolk.”  The film was full of action and we even had a stunt where a guy gets thrown off a second story balcony and lands on the street.  We crafted a dummy using pillows and clothes.

This was the first of many Super 8 films we made together under our “R & S Studios” banner and then separately with our circle of young filmmakers.

We only moved into sound recording when our parents bought us Super 8 cameras that recorded sound on the film.  Not only was our collective group of filmmakers the ultimate fans of the movies, but we were actually making them ourselves. We were influenced by the movies that we loved and would try to mimic those films in style of the movies that we produced — sci-fi adventures, spy films, and martial arts movies complete with choreographed fight scenes just like we had studied on the big and small screen.

We were lucky to be living in Los Angeles at the time and to have a local TV channel that would air these genres during Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Now remember, this was before cable television and access to 500 channels.  I recall fondly looking forward to the “Family Film Festival,” a weekend afternoon feature on KTLA 5 with host Tom Hatten screening a classic movie, often from the 40’s, 50’s or 60’s.  During breaks in the show, he would offer anecdotes about the film’s history or its actors, or even conduct brief interviews with a cast or crew member (a practice that originally predated American Movie Classics and Turner Classic Movies).  That’s primarily where these movies played in reruns and it exposed us to the classic movies.  This was also just around the advent of home video machines.  In those days to buy a movie on video was horribly expensive and rentals were just coming into existence.

As a younger kid growing up, I gravitated toward the comedies of Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Peter Sellers, Jerry Lewis and absurd extravaganzas like “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,”  “The Great Race,” and the “Pink Panther” movies.  The local channels also showed their share of action films too.  I thrived on the spy/action/martial arts/heist film genre.  I remember seeing “The Man with the Golden Gun” in the movie theater by myself as a kid and loved the Bond franchise.  I was an avid reader of “Martial Arts Movies” and “Kung Fu” magazines and they gave updated stories on the making of the current action films and their stars.  I was a huge fan of Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris too and would see every martial arts film I could.  When I finally saw “Enter the Dragon” — I was hooked.  

It seemed like the spy/action-martial arts genre would be easier films to create than a comedy.  We even dabbled in the sci-fi genre with an epic patterned after “Planet of the Apes” meets “Star Wars” where we played astronauts who crash landed on a planet and were hunted by gorilla guards.  We used our neighborhood locations and even filmed a jungle scene between the next apartment building where the vegetation was overgrown.  We kept the shot tight on the vegetation and it was a perfect location for the jungle on our planet.

We were always thinking of how best to get production value from our lack of budget and resources.  I remember when I moved on to direct my own films, I wrote and directed “Appointment with Death,” and we filmed a fight scene in the parking lot of the All America Burger in Santa Monica (never asking if we could of course).  We set up the camera, I called “action” and David Liu (the other lead actor) and I walked from the restaurant to our car and we were attacked by two henchmen who worked for a crime boss who wanted us killed.  A fight ensued and we ended up on the ground allowing them to escape to their car. We stopped the camera, changed the angle, and had my friend’s mother get into their car.  She floored it out of the parking lot and sped down the street.  In the same shot, David and I ran to “our” car, climbed inside and we stopped the camera.  My mom got into the driver’s seat of our car, I set up a new angle and she drove it out of the parking lot in pursuit.  This was our first ever car chase on film and it gave our action tremendous production value.

We tried to edit as much as we could in the camera and luckily these scenes had no mistakes and needed no editing.  When played back the fight and car chase were seamless and with the magic of film, it looked like we were actually driving the cars.  To really sell it, I then shot the next scene inside from the backseat of our car of me in the passenger seat and being careful NOT to show who was driving.  We had to constantly think on our feet as young filmmakers who were not old enough to drive!

The titles of the film were very important too.  As most were martial arts films, I remember we had to have “DEATH” in every title.  Some of my early Super 8 films had titles like “Dictator of Death,” “Appointment with Death,”  “Two Days Till Death,” and then there was “The Last Silent Swordsman.” 

This was a martial arts film with Ninjas and sword fights that premiered at a teen Super 8 film festival in Los Angeles at the Nuart theater and garnered us a photo and article in the LA Times.  This was by far the biggest moment in our filmmaking careers to date.  The line for the first screening was around the block and the second screening was nearly full as well.

We had studied movies enough to know the importance of movie posters and advertising, so I created a poster and even a tag line for the film, “HE WAS THE ONLY MAN WHO COULD STOP THE EVIL.”  All movie posters need a tag line, right?

The LA Times article called us the “Beardless Wonders of Filmmaking” because our filmmaking idols Spielberg, Coppola, and Scorsese all had beards, but we didn’t have facial hair and weren’t even old enough to drive.  It was a magical time to have our films screen in front of hundreds of paying audience members and receive an article in the newspaper.  The festival coordinator had big plans to strike a 35mm print of our short films and tour the country with it.  Sadly that never happened.

Those were magical days when I started to make movies as a kid.  “The Last Silent Swordsman” would be my last martial arts film.  During my senior year of high school, I moved into making comedies first off with “Ironside: The Motion Picture.” It was a parody of the old 70s tv show “Ironside” about a wheelchair bound detective who hunts down the assassin who shot and disabled him.  Leave it to me to find some humor in that character!  

The next film after that was “The Party Crashers of ’65,” a period comedy with thirty speaking parts about the nasty world of high school politics in 1965.  I’ll talk more about those in the next post.

I try my best to keep my wide-eyed child alive inside and bring that same love of cinema to every project that I create.  Many of my childhood friends whom I made films with as a kid continued on and are still working in the film industry today.

Read Volume II of my new blog series “The Super 8 Diaries: My First Real Audience.

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