Saturday, February 26, 2011

Opening Night Success

A very full and enthusiastic house turned the world premiere into a wild success. Technically, everything went off without a hitch. I was impressed with the great picture and sound quality; the new Optoma HD20 DLP projector delivered in spades! It was great to see so many new faces and reconnect with those who I have come to know over the years through various film projects and paratheatre labs.

An ecstatic night!

Last night also launched the film's west coast tour which moves across the bay to San Francisco in March, San Jose and L.A. (April) and then up to Sacramento, Portland, Seattle (May) and points in between. The tour and screening schedule is now posted at:

Over the next several months during the tour, I will be taking notes and scripting the screenplay for my next film based on a short story by Swedish writer Carl Abrahamsson (that I recently obtained the rights to use). Compared to all the twists and turns of the more complex "FALLING UPWARDS", this will be a much smaller, simpler and more personal film. I hope to cast it in early summer and shoot it in late summer.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


The world premiere of "TO DREAM OF FALLING UPWARDS" has been scheduled for Friday February 25th at 8pm, THE HUMANIST HALL, 390 27th Street (near Broadway) in Oakland. Admission is $10. Filmmaker and cast in person.

details at:

Saturday, January 1, 2011

the final stages of post-production

The final stage of editing will occur over the next two weekends as I travel to San Jose to assist my online editor, Chris Odell, with all the transitions, audio balancing, color corrections and inserts of voice-overs, sounds, and music. We are, miraculously, on schedule for a cast and crew preview screening sometime in the last two weeks of January. This private screening will also serve to test the movie for projection and audio quality in case any further corrections are needed before going public with the film.

The running time will be somewhere between 2:10 and 2:20 -- clearly the longest film I have made. And this comes after dropping four entire scenes and many other moments. Yet this story demands as much time for its twists and turns to do their thing and for the ending to make sense in its own wicked way. With a cast of twenty and a crew of twice that many, this is also my most populated film to date. After this project is over, I see only one way to go and that is down down down. As much I am enthralled by working with large casts, I look forward to returning to a much more intimate setting such as I knew in my 2002 film, HYSTERIA.

Soon I will be scouting venues to premiere "TO DREAM OF FALLING UPWARDS" and possibly a May/June west coast tour through Seattle, Portland, Sacramento, Nevada City, the SF Bay area and beyond.



Sunday, November 14, 2010

A sexy, zany occult thriller

After two months of daily editing, the rough cut of my film is now done. This means I am ready to begin editing and finessing the film online on Final Cut Pro, a process that will last another month or two. I had no idea this film would run over two hours and that's after dropping six entire scenes. As it stands, two hours and change is what the Muse called for and since I'm not making my film for any target market or demographic, I happily follow the internal dictate.

The talented Michael McWhirter, CGI FX wizard for all my features, flew in from Austin TX and spent three days with me to start prototype designs for the four dreambodies appearing in three dream sequences; the dream aesthetic is "tres bizarre". Sylvi and I are now developing a soundtrack that promises to be dynamic, colorful, and tilting towards cirque de weird. Today, I meet with an Final Cut Pro editor to see if our schedules can mesh. If we can work it out, we'll be on track to premiere the film in February as planned.

So, what is this film about ? As far as I can tell, TO DREAM OF FALLING UPWARDS is a sexy, zany occult suspense story about the twisted fates of two dominant magical personalities from diverse esoteric traditions whose lives are enriched by their lovers and their apprentices and, challenged by their final encounter with each other. The only other thing I can say at this point is I've never seen a movie quite like this before and look forward to sharing the vision(s) with others.

For updates, check out the Movie web pages:

Friday, August 27, 2010

D.I.Y. FILMMAKING: The Olde Skool Rough Cut

The film is in the can. I am now reviewing 20-plus hours of footage for the 90-120 minutes of selects for the final cut. This 10-to-1 ratio feels good to me, since I know many other filmmakers end up shooting two or three times as much before arriving at final cut.

The editing process is simultaneously the most tedious and the most creative aspect of the filmmaking process, especially the way I do it. I transfer all my work footage to VHS tapes (you read that right) with timecode recorded in the upper right corner. Then, I review and log each tape for the shots and moments that hit the highest notes on three levels: 1) audio, 2) performance, and 3) picture, in that order of importance. Audio is King and Picture is Queen. It's far easier to bear poor picture quality than poor sound quality -- sound waves hit the body more directly than light particles. Those cuts reaching high notes in all three areas are marked with a star; those reaching 2 out of 3 remain unmarked. The rest are not even noted and automatically find a home on "the editing room floor".

After all the 20-plus hours of VHS tape are reviewed and logged, I start assembling the rough cut onto a VHS tape using two VHS VCR players, an A/V mixer board, and a CD player to manually edit the project (you read that right). At this point, my filmmaker friends tell me I have gone mad. Why don't I just transfer all my work footage into a computer and do the rough cut on i-dvd or Final Cut Pro? It would be so much easier, they say.

Alas, in my world, easier is not always better. I have a deep need to limit my computer time. I like the hands-on feel of tape and more physical distance between my eyes and the monitor. I also appreciate how this olde skool rough cut method requires and builds Patience, a necessary virtue for me and an invaluable attitude adjustment for editing any feature-length project.

This process of finishing a rough cut takes me anywhere from six to ten weeks. When I have my VHS rough cut, I also have an edit list of each and every shot of the movie according to frame-precise "in" and "out" points. I also know where most of the music, voice-overs, and special FX will be inserted. Preparation is everything when it comes to editing.

After 90% of all my edit decisions have been made, I bring the rough cut/edit list into online nonlinear editing (Final Cut Pro) to finesse it all -- tighten the transitions, sweeten the audio, do color corrections, adding plug-in filters, audio effects, make titles, and the rest of it. Since I lack expertise in Final Cut Pro (a great edit program), I pay my FCP-skilled friend Chris Odell to help me finish the film (Chris has done seven features for me in this way). With all my preparation, we arrive at final cut after 25-50 hours, depending on the film.

Since all my films use at least some CGI-FX work, during online editing I am also dialoguing with my CGI artist, Michael McWhirter, who lives and works in Austin Texas. Michael and I have great rapport in the realm of dream imagery and bizarre visual patterning. He's also a consummate artist who manages to out-do himself with every project we tackle. Since we have done most of our collaborations online and over the phone, I am thrilled to meet with him in person this November to discuss the visionary aesthetics of this new film. But this feels like an eternity from now.

For the next three to four months I am an urban cave-dweller transfixed by the flickering images on the cave wall of my video monitor, while notating the most worthwhile passing moments into my log book. To counter-balance this ridiculously sedentary and uber-mental era, I visit the gym 2-3 times a week alongside one weekly night of paratheatre work. With any luck, I will have a preview cut to share with cast and crew by mid-January. Until then, I will be periodically updating the movie site with new images and music:

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Final Stretch of Shooting

The film is now 95% shot with one final scene to go, a live performance of JACK AND THE BEANSTALK, a 15-minute clown duet I will shoot two versions of -- one with audience and one without. Though I have sent out invitations to those who might know of parents with children ages 3-7 to attend our free show, I have no idea who will come or how many or how few. I have been seriously out of the Parents With Children loop for the last fifteen years.

Since almost none of my current friends have young kids, I'm half-expecting tofilm this performance to an empty house -- the other half of me isexpecting a miracle. I am also prepared to film whatever happens as an honest expression of the story at hand: two guys apprenticing to anoccult magickian who assigned them the advancement ritual of going into business as clowns. This very premise is hilarious to me but also, a little sad and a tad perverse.

I am officially spent and reduced. One big reason I make these underground feature films is to fully exhaust my resources where I can discover the outer limits of my talents, skills, and knowledge. I live for this experience of total offering of self, the deep emptyness that follows, and the new perspective born from their uniquely exhilarating processes. This offering of self has also manifested literally and physically -- since starting this project last May I have dropped twenty-five pounds. I have just enough energy left to show up the day after tomorrow and film some clowns performing a fable about giants, castles, a goose, golden eggs, mothers, cows, a cupcake goddess, and strangers in marketplaces.

Over the next four months the plan is to review all twenty hours of footage, create a rough cut of the film and then, finesse this rough-cut online using nonlinear editing towards a final cut version (onFinal Cut Pro). My fantasy is to have the film, "To Dream of FallingUpwards", ready for its world premiere here in the SF Bay area on2/11/2011 and then, to tour it along the pacific coast arthouse circuit in May/June. Before all of this, however, I plan to fall asleep on the beach for a few days and nights to the sounds of waves lapping and crashing through me.

"To Dream of Falling Upwards"

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Shooting at Stone City

Thirteen of us just returned from a high desert region an hour's drive outside of Livermore, a pagan sanctuary called Stone City, where we shot all the backwoods scenes with the two bruja characters (Nancy Leatzow and Erif Anduin) and others. Nature can be unpredictable and I was ready for extreme heat and howling winds to challenge our personal and technical processes but, in the spirit of almost everything in this project so far, grace prevailed. The winds slowed down for us and the Sun was not nearly as angry as it could have been (and was the week before we arrived). Our gracious Stone City stewards, Morpheus and Shannon, were there to address any needs or problems we might have -- lo & behold, our self-organizing crew made things very easy for them.

We shot all our scenes over two mornings and two nights with a few smaller scenes in between. The final night most of us sat around the big fire pit drinking rum (and young coconut juice! thanks Ilya and Flo) and beer (thanks Duncan!) and, sharing pirate stories and bad jokes. I was concerned that the late night of hilarity might deter the cast and crew from waking up in time for the 7am shoot the next morning. But they proved me wrong. Everyone showed up at the crack of dawn and nailed the scenes like the champs they proved themselves to be. What a terrific cast and crew! Everybody got along famously, bringing the all-important spirit of joviality to ease the otherwise more difficult aspects of filmmaking.

One difficult aspect of filmmaking includes setting up the right series of shots that work for each scene (this film has over 50 scenes) while minimizing the wait time for actors. Sometimes when actors wait too long their energy can become stale or flat, especially so with non-professional actors and most of the actors in this production were non-professionals. However, these actors often deliver a naturalness that trained pros sometimes lose touch with, no thanks to over-training. This is why I also love working with non-actors. On my next production shoot, I vow to wear a T-shirt that says NO ACTING PLEASE (it's the best kind of acting).

I have seen too much talent destroyed or distorted by over-training which threatens to domesticate the feral, creative child. This is why I never recommend people go to acting or film school to learn the craft. Instead, I strongly suggest that wannabe actors just go out and audition for as many parts as they can and treat each audition as a free acting class (never pay for an audition!).

Same goes for wannabe filmmakers. Use the thousands of dollars you'd spend on film school to buy a camera, a decent microphone, and start shooting whatever catches your interest. The movie is whatever you are paying attention to, wherever you point the camera, and why it pays to pay attention. I tell wannabe filmmakers not to make a feature first -- make a series of short films to get to know your camera, your subjects, and your style. Discover the miracle called light. I have been doing this since 1992 and am happy to say that this very spirit of discovery still guides me and that I am still awestruck by the magic of cinema.

At this point, 3/4 of the film has been shot.