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.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Shoot the Unexpected

Last Sunday, my 24-year old daughter Kallista appeared in the film I am shooting -- her first film scene ever -- as a Nurse administering morphine to a dying magus. I was uncommonly impressed by her composure and the naturalness of her presence. It was a fairly complex scene where I shot multiple angles, a geometry of cat's cradles, to cover the reactions of numerous characters in a small room. Later that night, I shot the regal Felecia Faulkner and the enigmatic Cody Cates Phoenxi in a restaurant scene fueled by a bottle of Merlot and secrets shared between women of the night.

Yesterday I shot all the car scenes with those lovable thugs Man #1 and Man #2 (Nick Walker and Russ DeGregory) and the blindfolded magus (James Wagner). Shooting scenes inside a moving vehicle can be tricky. Between the constant bumps in the road, the lack of distance between lens and subject, and the perpetual audio problems, car scenes are hands-down amongst the most challenging to shoot. We drove across Tilden Park to the backroads of Orinda for five hours to obtain maybe five minutes of usable footage but I got what I wanted and that's all that counts in the end. These frustrations carried hidden gifts. They pushed me to make new adjustments in a key scene that may not have been made without first confronting these difficulties.

Today we returned to shoot more warehouse scenes, an underground zone where crimes are negotiated. However, we could not shoot anything with audio for the first two hours due to the screeching squeals of joyous children in the trapeze workshop next door. So, I shot audio-free cutaways (visual moments and close-up reaction shots) until the screaming stopped.

We then shot the Russian dialogue scenes. Russian, when spoken, always sounds so ominous to me. Maybe it's my Finnish genes but hearing those crunching Russian consonants makes me just want to reach for my revolver. Fortunately, Ilya Parizhsky (who plays VLAD) was there to help us navigate these moments. I was also impressed by the commitment shown by Clody Cates Phoenix to learn some Russian for her dualistic role.

After eight shoot days, I finally have four no-shoot days before me. Friday, I meet with Jasper Patterson and Brian Livingston, two charming actors, to schedule their shoot scenes for the first two weeks of August. They play Adam and Craig, two apprentices to a career magickian named Jack Mason, who are also in business together as clowns who perform their version of "Jack and the Beanstalk" to young children. This film and its story is like a triple-decker fractal funhouse hall of mirrors. It's CRAZY! What guides me through all this spiraling madness is something very simple and uplifting: I look for the unexpected and then, I shoot it.

"To Dream of Falling Upwards"

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Happily Exhausted

Whew. The first five days of shooting are in the can (approx. 3.5 hours of footage). Today I review it all to see if any scenes or moments need re-shooting. I've been doing double duty as Director and D.P. and so, it's very intense. I've done this double work shift before on two earlier features ("HYSTERIA" and "UNDER A SHIPWRECKED MOON") but it's been seven years and coming back to this process was a bit bumpy at first.

Last night, I shot my first sex scene EVER. None of my previous eight features had any sex scenes because none of them needed it but this story demanded a sex scene, especially one in a Golden Dawn temple replica, albeit slightly more aesthetically stylized.

We staged it completely under candlelight (13 pillar candles) and the low-light capacities of my XL-2 camera did not disappoint. The footage came out as I hoped (slightly grainy and with flickering shadows). The actors (Clody Cates and James Wagner) were awesome -- they showed serious courage and grace under pressure. I told them we were shooting an anti-porn scene that would, in the final cut, evoke beauty, power, and mystery. I am confident it will. Kudos to Beau Caughlan who did art direction on the gorgeous set and who also served as water boy to the actors -- dabbing them with aqua between takes. And also, many thanks to our magickal consultant, Sam Webster, M.Div., Mage.

After shooting five days in a row, today is also my first day off. I will be focusing on tomorrow's two shoots -- one complex scene with multiple actors will be shot between Noon and 5pm and another much easier scene will be shot later that night. And then this will be followed by more intense shooting days on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Next Thursday and Friday are no-shoot days but are filled with meetings. I'm happy to say I'm happily exhausted.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Temple of Horus

Today I planned to shoot the first scene, on the beach with "Jack" and "Maggie", but the weather brought foggy overcast conditions. Usually, this would be ideal for shooting but I need the Sun in this scene. I need sunlight to help show a certain discomfort one of the characters, Jack, has in nature and I think this can be better exposed without the moody fog.

This gives me another day off to prepare for this coming Sunday night's set dressing of Jack's temple/home. The protagonist, Jack Mason, lives a hermetic life -- half of his living quarters is a temple where he performs his rituals. Art direction impressario, Beau Caughlan, has been painting wall art and altar art depicting Egyptian imagery related to the godforms, Anubis and Horus -- what I've seen so far astonishes. Properties meistro, Duncan Cook, has been at work finishing the six foot pillars (one black, one white) for Jack's "Golden Dawn" temple setting which will be completed with a 12' x 12' floor plan -- black and white checkerboard design (32 white, 32 black). Jack is a Magus in the Temple of Horus, a subsidary of a larger magickal order -- a loose hybrid of The Golden Dawn and the O.T.O.

Saturday, July 3, 2010


After the MUSES LAB ended, something stirred in me that could not be ignored. What happened to me throughout this LAB sparked the scripting of my next (and ninth) feature film project, "TO DREAM OF FALLING UPWARDS", a zany occult thriller involving parallel magical personalities -- the desert bruja and the city magus -- tending their respective rituals, apprentices, and struggles. After a 3-year break from my last film, I feel rested and ready to burn.

I have been quietly astounded by how rapidly the large cast (sixteen in all) has come together and how ready I feel to take on the dual responsibility of director and D.P. (main cameraman). Eight production assistants have volunteered to help out on set and to keep things moving along. I also purchased my first video camera in seven years, a CANON XL-2 (the big brother of my Canon GL-1), and I am very happy so far with all its features and, high level of image and audio quality. I decided not to jump on the HD or the SLR bandwagons and return to the reliably retro tape format instead.

We start shooting July 7th and continue pretty much nonstop through August 16th until 53 scenes are in the can and only god knows how many more undiscovered scenes I will find along the way. Each film project represents an epic era of discovery and learning for me. It's the only way I can justify the investment of so much time, energy, money, heart, soul and brainpower. The primary source of discovery with this project is shooting the film without any rehearsal of the script itself (with the exception of a high-octane story theatre version of "Jack & the Beanstalk" to be choreographed and rehearsed). I decided to cast individuals courageous enough to find their most honest responses to the underlying reality of each scene, as reflected in the text and more essentially, the subtext.

Arranging the shoot schedule for a large cast and crew remains for me the most arduous of all preproducton tasks. In lieu of my ultra-low budget process, this schedule must almost always slave itself to the existing schedules of everyone else. Anyone who's done this knows it's a minor miracle that it comes together at all. So, the July schedule is done and I'm still amazed that it worked. I'll finish the AUGUST schedule around July 24th. So, that's a big weight off my shoulders.

Now comes the adventure of showing up on set, finding the shots (I never storyboard), talking with my actors, and shooting the moments that speak to me. The moments I am looking for in this production run the spectrum between lo-light and backlight silouetting, capturing unexpected reactions from the actors and moments of shared connections.


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Part 4 - April 19, 2010 (final LAB entry)

The Muses Lab itself is over and now the echoes begin -- the waves of influences absorbed over the last twenty sessions now settle and rise, descend and ascend, throughout my daily course of living. I find myself tending to a new inner action, a movement similar in feeling to the tiny convulsions of seedlings breaking ground as they reach for sunlight. This feeling informs my daily decisions about what to do, where to go, who to meet, and also around what, who, and where to avoid contact. Certain elements of the new film script story incubating in me for the last year or so have begun to converge, bringing new complexity and texture to previously segregated ideas. I also find myself reaching out more to situations and people that might inspire me, regardless of previous preconceptions, beliefs, and standards.

The bardo tunnel realm enveloping me for the last two years is gone. What's before me feels open and lit up yet requiring the second attention to navigate the phenomena (first attention linked to language and the machine of thinking; second attention linked to presence, energy, phenomena). All the trinity source work -- our groundwork in the Muses Lab -- has formed a kind of internal foundation from which I am discovering new contexts to view my daily experiences and the artistic direction of this next film project. I am feeling ready to start scripting the story within the next few days, which is to say, I also don't feel ready but am willing to start the effort of articulating what has been gestating in me. Fortunately, this assumption about needing to be totally prepared before initiating a creative process was long ago exposed as just another excuse, a sorry-ass justification to procrastinate. Excuses! Excuses are for wimps.


Friday, April 16, 2010

Part 1 - April 1, 2010
I do not know myself as "artist" or "creator" but as vessel for the expression of forces guided by Muses. This is neither pretentious bullshit or false humility but a confession of love for creation itself and the real artists working deep inside the engines of dark flow creation: the Muses. For the last 28 months, I have been a tunnelman, walking the bardo limbo zones between Muses -- marking the longest fallow period of artistic expression in my adult life. Doing next to nothing I have discovered what I know and don't know about surrender, patience, and faith. After 28 lunar cycles, I am finally opening up to a whole new reason to serve creation.

Tonight, the Muses (paratheatre) Lab enters session #16 of 20. At this point, all previous doubts have collapsed regarding the palpable numen of this autonomous archetype the eight of us are courting. At first, the Muse was nowhere to be seen, heard or felt and now, It has made a home near the edge of our group mind where It is free to enter and exit according to Its will. In our persistent appeal, the Muses have found us appealing. My ego still throbs from last session's one-two suckerpunch of hot blessings and cold slapdowns -- I hope to never fully recover.

Part 2 - April 3, 2010
After the sudden death of my second daughter Zoe in late 1992, I was torn asunder and exposed to multidimensional sources of overwhelming power, vision, and magic. These potent inner sources fueled an almost nonstop run of film production for the next fifteen years. During this era, I surrendered myself as a love slave to the plutonic Muse that transforms Tragic into Magic with films that doubled as vessels for a heady mix of tragic insight and magical realism. After the 1/11/2008 premiere of my last film, "The Invisible Forest", this Muse suddenly abandoned me, initiating a two-year journey through the bardo tunnels of undoing. Here I learned to relax my desire to create and simply walk the internal landscape -- which was everywhere and nowhere -- until I became just another shining babe in the abyss. Now I know what Buddhists mean when they say that fertile void expresses true nature.

Having recently exited this tunnel, I am thankfully walking in the Light wide open to communiques from whatever Muse will have me, that finds me appealing and useful. In session #16 (of 20) in the Muses paratheatre Lab, a revelation appeared. I had assumed that the Muse that transforms Tragic into Magic was done with me and that a new Muse would appear and sweep me along to vistas unknown. In session #16, a new Muse did appear and it was free of the power and magic of tragedy -- this new Muse was radiating the white-hot fires of pure joy. As I physically passed back and forth between these two sources, between the dark flow and the bright radiance, the revelation presented itself: I was not leaving one Muse for another but becoming the bridesmaid of their wedding. The two Muses seek marriage within me.

Part 3 - April 6, 2010
In this Muses Lab we have been working a series of charged trinities, any trio of sources showing strong resonance in our lives, as a bridge to the realm of the Muses. Through these trinity sources we have been able to approach the Muses indirectly (to minimize impotent manipulation) while maintaining the integrity of our personal energy amidst the often highly charged impersonal presence of the Muses. I must say the Muses have been acting on my daily life processes and behind my back when I wasn’t looking -- as they typically will.

Over the past 18 months, I have uncovered three separate stories for a film I want to make yet I have been unable and unwilling to move forward on any one of the stories. Since I don’t force creativity, I make peace with patience. My observant partner Sylvi suggested I look to these three stories for my next Muses Lab trinity and in session #17 (of 20), I did just that: Magician, Clown, Shaman. Each of these characters, or archetypes, link to entire stories with their own charged forces and unknown fates.

The ritual space was dark except for four lit candles atop four separate pillars: three pillars formed a large triangle in the room -- the fourth candle/pillar was placed in its center and designated to the Muse. Everyone worked their own separate trinity in this trinity temple by traversing the pathways between each of the three outer pillars/sources. Our intention was to journey through all the pathways to connect with each source, feeling the process of leaving each source behind and approaching the next source in a continuum of trinities.

Magician > Shaman > Clown > Magician
The Magician revealed the source of knowledge and vision. Here there was repose, study, and clarity of architecture and universal design. While leaving it behind and approaching the Shaman it felt like I was walking backwards in time, centuries with each step, to the originating source of magic -- the Son pays homage to the Father . The Shaman revealed the source of wisdom and power. Here I immediately united with the living Earth, the animal and plant and mineral kingdoms became my allies, all forms I embody to fulfill my purpose in service to creation. While leaving the Shaman behind and approaching the Clown it felt like I was becoming human for the first time. The Clown revealed the source of joy and folly. Dancing and yodeling the goofball celebration of the fool I was, I was also completely free to express myself. The slaphappy human. While leaving the Clown behind and approaching the Magician, I became aware of squandering myself and the necessity for temperance and sobriety. Once returning to the source of the Magician, I felt sorrow for the loss of the Clown’s spontaneity and the disconnection from the Earth I felt with the Shaman. Too much understanding has its price.

Magician > Clown > Shaman > Magician
As I left the Magician and walked towards the Clown, my innocence was immediately restored as unbridled joy subverted all my heavy hearted magical knowledge. In the Clown, I danced my goofy dance and sang my whacky song in a joyous cacophony of infinite chaos. The world was my circus. Walking towards the Shaman I collapsed to the floor, slowly crawling in the dark towards the single flame before me. Yelps and squeals of wild animals filled the space above and around me as I slowly took on the form of a panther, sauntering into the Muse realm, stealth and hyper-aware. Returning to the Shaman pillar, I rose and sang my heart to the Earth. Leaving the Shaman behind and walking towards the Magician, I brought with me ancient history of paleolithic traditions, connecting the Shaman’s archaic legacy with the Magician’s modern views of the world.

to be cont.