The video update below chronicles a few sections of our journey while making ...Jack. Specifically, the first wound test and a couple of snippets from when we were shooting. Plus a look at what Jack's box looked like before Carlyn made it grotesque and amazing.
Now, the title of this post doesn't mean you have to do what Jean-Claude Van Damme did and join the Time Enforcement Agency in 2004, when time travel finally becomes possible. Although, if given the opportunity, I'd recommend joining the force. What else do you have to live for? You've already lost Mia Sara. Put all that anger, regret, and karate into the job and stop some time crimes.
What it does mean is that in order to accomplish anything as an independent content creator, you have to police your own time. There are a thousand things you should be doing instead of working on a web show for which you are only compensated in creative freedom. Things I will do this week in addition to working on PoPS: Go to my job every day, get to the gym, call my sister for her birthday, go to my friend's birthday party one night, spend an entire evening going out to dinner for my day job (restaurant review), celebrate my wife's birthday one night, and go to a museum exhibit. Sure, this week has an uncommonly high percentage of celebrating birthdays, but those weeks happen, man. Not to mention the fact that I need to spend a portion of my evenings rewatching season 3 of Veronica Mars because the movie's coming out in a week. A week! It's all happening.Unfortunately, our show is never going to get done if I don't sit in that chair in front of the computer and make it happen.
So how do you force yourself to spend time on it in the midst of a busy life. The sad thing is, there's really no trick to it. If all you can do is put an hour into it, get in the chair and put in that hour. My only suggestion is to do it before doing anything fun for the evening. If you think—Oh, I'll just watch an episode of something and then do my hour of work, guess what? You probably won't be working. It's far harder to stop having fun and work than it is to reward yourself with fun after putting in your work time.
No matter how busy you are, you've gotta force yourself to find the hours to get the show put together. It's a little harder when your footage had to be shot ridiculously out of sequence to accommodate cast schedules and you have to spend a lot of time picking through footage to find all the pieces of one scene from different shoot days. I should have kept a better production log this time for easy allocation of material months after shooting it, but it's usually not this complicated a web.
Oh. And here's our little horror short: ...Jack (30 Seconds of Terror)
Thanks for reading.
I rarely take the time to customize the thumbnails for the weekly updates, but I had to this time. The opportunity to buddy up with Freddy and Michael was just too exciting. This week's video update lays out the reasons I like horror movies, as I get ready to upload a 30-second horror short tomorrow.
I'm finally on the cusp of releasing that 30-second horror short. Finally! Releasing something in the horror genre. We shot it two nights ago and I spent a good portion of last night putting it together. Next week's video update will lay out a bunch of the behind the scenes.
I don't know why I have to complicate everything by finding the most difficult way to shoot something, but I sure seem to. The entire short is only three shots and we spent probably three or three-and-a-half hours setting up and shooting the first shot. A tracking shot and a series of focus pulls with precisely timed choreography. Plus, the whole shot is kicked off with poor Eliza trying to make a prop land on the ground in a specific way. We had about 30 false starts between the completed takes we did get.
During all that time, while Eliza was hanging a prop off of fishing wire wrapped around her fingers, my friends Carlyn and Shawn had to be crouched on their knees on a hard wood floor for hours, waiting for their signal to go. That's why this post is called hurting my friends. Their knees got wrecked. Eliza's circulation to her fingers kept getting cut off. Everybody was getting a little frustrated with the pain and precision by the time we called that shot good. Plus they were covered in fake blood. Gotta get covered in fake blood, right?
Anyway, everyone suffered through it and we've got a fun little short film that I hope to put up on my channel tomorrow. Then it's back to piecing together PoPS. It's been a fun couple weeks of diversions, but it'll be good to make progress on episode 8 again.
Speaking of the diversion, here's the video short I worked on for Craig, Clone Hard:
And here's an extended, 42-minute interview I did with Harold Ramis for work a few years ago. He was wonderful to speak with:
Now a lot of you are probably asking, “Carson, why the hell did you pick Cast Away for a script breakdown?” I’ll tell you. Because it’s different. Because it took chances. Because it’s something that shouldn’t have worked. And I love breaking down scripts that shouldn’t work. I love exploring the deviations and figuring out why they succeeded (when so often else, they fail). The film itself famously teamed up Robert Zemeckis and Tom Hanks and took a YEAR BREAK in the middle of production so that Hanks could lose weight and look like a real castaway for the second half of the film. That story overshadowed screenwriter William Broyles Jr.’s own escapades to get the script right. The Apollo 13 and Planet of the Apes scribe deliberately stranded himself on a beach in the Sea of Cortez for a week to force himself to search for food, water, and shelter. For today’s tips, I’ll be reading an earlier draft of the script in order to see some of the changes they made.
1) If your protagonist cares about something enough, so will we – The success of Wilson The Volleyball defies just about all rationale. Many people actually cried when he was swept out to sea at the end of the film. Although rumors persist that I was one of those people, I steadfastly deny my involvement in any Wilson-related crying. The question is, why did this happen? Well, if your protagonist really really cares about something, whether it be a family member, a goldfish, or a volleyball, we will too. And you can use that tool to create moments like this one, where you rip that something away from the hero to provoke an emotional response from the audience.
2) The Set-Up World needs to be exciting – The “Set-Up World” is that 10-15 pages BEFORE the inciting incident. The inciting incident, of course, is when something happens to throw your character’s world into disarray (in Cast Away, this is when the plane crashes, obviously). Here’s the problem I see in a lot of scripts. Writers believe that because they’re just “setting things up” and the exciting inciting incident is right around the corner, that The Set-Up World can be boring. They can show their protagonist doing boring things and it’ll all be okay because the fun is coming soon. NO. It’s very important that during The Set-Up World, you set up your character in the most interesting way possible. So here, we show Chuck (Tom Hanks) running all over the world, desperately trying to ensure that Fed-Ex packages arrive on time. He’s yelling at people, busting his ass to get all the packages on the trucks. Things are HAPPENING. You can intersperse a few slower scenes in this section, but be careful. Too many and we’ll get bored before your inciting incident even arrives.
3) Know what you need to set up in the Set-Up World. Set up those things and nothing more – Make a list of the ESSENTIAL THINGS you need to set up about your main character. Come up with those scenes and don’t include ANYTHING MORE. This will keep your setup streamlined. In the early draft of Cast Away I read, there was all this extraneous stuff about the FEDEX headquarters and Chuck’s family that JUST WASN’T NECESSARY. Broyles Jr. and Zemeckis figured out they needed to set up Chuck’s job, his relationship with Kelly, and that was it. So those other scenes were excised.
4) If your protagonist’s life is boring and therefore uninteresting to document, get to your inciting incident sooner. - If your protagonist is someone who doesn’t have an interesting life to set up, such as The Dude in The Big Lebowski, try to get to your inciting incident even sooner. We establish The Dude in a robe at the grocery store. Then in the very next scene, when he gets home, two thugs attack him and piss on his rug, which is the inciting incident that starts the story. Exciting characters can have longer Set-Up Worlds. But do NOT give us 6-7 scenes of a stoner being stoned before the inciting incident arrives. We’ll give up on the script before it happens.
5) IRONY ALERT – Remember, always add irony to your script if possible. Double points if it’s a part of your premise! Chuck is the man who’s always on a tight schedule, who never has a second to spare. All of a sudden he’s on an island with all the time in the world.
6) Recognize when you have a good character and expand his role – Surprisingly enough, Wilson was barely in the draft of the script I read. But someone recognized how powerful he could be and so majorly expanded his role. If you have a show-stopping (or interesting or memorable) character, make sure to give him as much time as you can in your story. An example of a writer missing the boat on this was George Lucas in Episode 1. He had a badass villain in Darth Maul, but didn’t recognize it, didn’t expand his role, and therefore missed an opportunity to do one of the only things right in that script.
7) MID-POINT SHIFT ALERT – Remember, a good mid-point shift SHIFTS the second half of the movie in a slightly different direction so it’s not the same as the first. We have a pretty clean mid-point shift in Cast Away. We cut to 3 years later, with Chuck no longer being the green timid survivalist, but an aged vet of the island who’s figured out how to survive.
8) If you are going to jump forward in time, use an event to motivate it – Staying on that topic, I always see writers insert huge time-jumps into their scripts that come out of nowhere. We’ll be sitting with a family watching TV, and then the next line I read is… “8 months later.” If you’re going to make a big time jump in your screenplay, try to create a weighted moment to initiate it. Cast Away does this with Chuck’s tooth, which has been killing him for weeks it hurts so badly. He finally has no choice but to take it out. He does so with a rock, and the pain causes him to pass out, which leads perfectly into a FADE IN and a “3 years later.”
9) We need to be constantly reminded of the motivation if we’re to care about your hero succeeding – In this draft, Chuck did not have a picture of Kelly (his girlfriend) that he kept looking at to keep him going. I was shocked by the effect it had. In the movie, I so wanted him to get off the island. In this draft, I definitely didn’t care as much. The more I thought about it, the more I realized how big of an effect that picture of Kelly had. Because I was reminded of her, I constantly wanted Chuck to get back to her. Getting off the island to survive is selfish. Getting off the island to get back to Kelly is selfless.
10) The 10 Draft Rule – Every script should go through at least 10 drafts. The Sixth Sense had 20+ drafts. Good Will Hunting had over 50. And by ‘draft,’ I don’t mean going through a script and casually rewriting scenes you don’t like. An official ‘draft’ is where you read through your script and assess all problems (what is and isn’t working) in order to come up with solutions to apply to those problems. I read way too many scripts that feel like early drafts, such as this Cast Away draft which includes ten early pages of family scenes that are totally unnecessary to the story. That unfocused stuff drains its way out of the screenplay after ten drafts.
BONUS TIP – Good Chuck, Bad Chuck, Fuck Chuck – Here’s proof of the above. In this draft of the script, Chuck starts going crazy and is therefore split into two personalities, Good Chuck and Bad Chuck. Clearly, this was a method designed by Broyles Jr. so that Chuck could logically speak out loud and we could learn what was going on in his head. It was also a very cliché EARLY DRAFT choice. By going through many more drafts, he eventually realized that Wilson The Volleyball could take on the roll of someone for Chuck to talk to. I read too many scripts where writers don’t get past Good Chuck, Bad Chuck. And the script suffers for it.
Posted on July 2, 2013 on Scriptshadow.net
The video below talks about the favor-for-favor nature of low budget filmmaking. When I talk abut favor-for-favor it makes it sound like there's some sort of tally in place. It's not that specific. It's just like—Hey, the person who helps me needs some help; I can do that. I guess what I'm describing could also be called “friendship.”
The best way to stay engaged is to never set a date. The span betwixt a ring and a legally binding contract ain't just 30 steps down an aisle. Here's a helpful tip, if you never make any decisions, it's impossible to plan an event. Wait. Why am I—a happily married person—trying to help people not get married. OH! I mean how to stay engaged in a project. Got it. Sometimes I get so confused by the titles of my posts. Why must the English language be so malleable and filled with double entendre?
When you've been working on a series for five years—and this post actually marks five years, our first shoot day was February 7, 2009—sometimes it's hard to keep yourself engaged. I've been ruminating on the machinations of four super-powered roommates and one confused, inter-dimensional ne'er-do-well for 1,826 days now. Prior to this, I'd plan out multi-episode storylines and they'd fizzle out within a couple episodes. Either because of a falling out within the production team or because, without an active audience, the story would lose it's new-story luster. This story just happened to be the one that we were working on with YouTube started picking up steam. It happen to be the first one with a cast member capable of generating some traffic our way. It the first time where a significant amount of people kept wanting to know the answer to the big question: What happens next? That does more than anything else to keep me engaged as a creator. PoPs was always designed as a 10-episode thing. Did I think we would still be working on it five years later? I don't think I would have been able to conceive of that. I've always been interested in each of our stories. The time they took to make never seemed to mean anything, prior to this. I mean, it's not like we were doing anything else. Being in production on something like Green's Nursery or Twisted Thicket held nothing but vague ideas of festival submissions and the feeling of working on SOMETHING. I wasn't just wasting my time. I was telling stories. I even made episode one of PoPS because I wanted to enter it in a pilot competition. That was the main impetus. Putting it online was essentailly the afterthought when it didn't get selected. Now I only submit to festivals with a web series category and it's just to get the submission requirement for an IMDb page.
Still, five years of thinking on one story can start to wear a little thin. Every once in awhile you need to break it up. That's why we made Channel Battle:
We shot it in one night and a week and a half later I was putting it up on our page. It felt great. Sometimes I've worked on projects for friends that were a switch-up. My buddy Suede, the villain on PoPS, is a musician and he needed a show of his edited:
It was like 20'ish songs, 3 cameras, and then several editing passes based on notes. After that project I was relieved to get back to working on PoPS. Back to the land of linear storytelling in a fictional land.
But I've planned maybe three shorts in the last year that I've back-burner'ed because I didn't want to lose momentum on PoPS. I was seriously trying to get one together to shoot in October, but I realized it would conflict with trying to get episode 8 exteriors shot before the cold season. PoPS took precedent. Still, I'm feeling a little restless. We have to get our last 3 shoot days of episode 8 done, and it's looking like early March for those, but I need a little side project. Enter the Studio 360 Scary Short Film Fest. A 30-second horror film, to be judged by Wes Craven. There's no real prize to speak of, it just sounds fun. Surely, we can make one of those happen in the next month.
So I suppose the best way to stay engaged is to take little breaks if you start to get worn down. Focus on a different story, if only for a couple days.