Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Phoenix Inc: The Short Film-Writing

I'm not the greatest writer in the world, but I can get a story on its legs very quickly because I plan like crazy ahead of time. Before I ever put pen to paper (figuratively speaking) on a script I create a roadmap. This takes a lot of extra time, and some writers don't need it but I find that if I don't prepare properly my stories get sluggish in the middle. The best way I can explain it is to say that the story gets doughy in the middle. I'm great at coming up with beginnings, endings and scenes in the middle but making it all piece together nicely, and keeping a fast paced natural flow is not something I can do without preparation.

With this story I spent even more time than usual. Originally I wanted it to be a feature film, but I could see that I wouldn't have the budget for that and I was hoping to potentially use this as a stepping stone to fund a feature film. This made it horrible to write because I had to cut the idea down from something fairly complex, down to the simplest version of the idea. It also meant that I had to cut out several side stories that would have been very powerful. The real strength in the idea was not just in the story of my protagonist of choice, it was in the far reaching potential that the implications of a real Phoenix Inc. team could have. But there simply wasn't time and there weren't resources to include any other stories. This will come up again later.

It took me 2 years to get this script to a place where I felt like it was ready to go. Part of the reason for this is that I literally wrote the story to take place in the house I was living in at the time, but then we moved and this actually made a pretty big difference to the way a couple of scenes played out.

The funny thing is that even though I spent all that time on the script it turned out that when I showed the film to a few test viewers they pointed out a weakness and I had to write and film one additional scene.

I probably could have waited a lot longer to produce the film, working until I felt like it was perfect but I think I might have died of old age before I got there and I felt like this story needed to be told. After almost 7 years of dreaming, writing and planning the idea was ready to present to the world.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Phoenix Inc: Where Did The Idea Come From?

I've been a dreamer all my life and creating stories is something I have always done. Most of my stories tend to be more fantasy or science fiction. In a line up of my ideas Phoenix Inc stands out like a sore thumb, so where did it come from?
It probably will come as no surprise that the idea is actually founded in a fantasy concept. It was 2008 and I was at a Christmas activity. I was in the hall outside the main event on a phone call, when they started a slideshow of pictures about the season. I could only sort of see the screen and had no idea what some of the images were but I saw one image that struck a chord with me for some reason. I think it was a depiction of Jesus Christ in some sort of symbolic representation, but I'll never know.

What it looked like I was seeing was a man being consumed by fire, but not being burned if that makes sense. It was like he was being cleansed by the fire, not killed by it. I looked on the net and this is the closest image to what I saw, although this one is actually more obvious in its subject matter.

It got me thinking of a phoenix, and a place where people could go to have their old lives stripped away and a new life given. It was a cool idea but it ultimately didn't have any legs as a story.  I would revisit the idea from time to time but it never formed into a story. I thought about moving it to modern times instead of a fantasy time and place but it still didn't work.

I have a system for developing stories that many other writers probably have. It's what you might call a back burner system. When I get a good idea I think about it for awhile, but it usually doesn't take shape right away. I toss it into the back of my mind and kind of forget about it until I have a breakthrough and then the idea will come back to me and be easier to develop. Sometimes this happens many times, and it can take days or years depending on the story.

Fast forward from 2008 to 2012. I was still somewhat recently married, and both my wife and I were working jobs we didn't like that weren't paying us enough. I was a college graduate with a useful skill set but couldn't even get an interview most of the time at better jobs. I felt trapped. I wanted to walk away from my life and start over. I felt kind of desperate for a couple of years. There were times where I had some George Bailey moments. I never literally stood on a ledge but I feel a strong connection with Aiden's character in the short film because I feel like metaphorically I stood on the ledge many times.
It was during this dark time that I stumbled across the Phoenix story in my mind. Never before had any story of mine hit so close to home. Over a few weeks the story practically wrote itself in my mind.

Over the next three years I wrote, rewrote and prepared so that in 2015 I was able to officially begin preproduction on the short film.

Production of the short was amazing, a life changing experience for me, but I won't get into that here much, but it was on the set of the short film that the idea for a series was born. In a conversation it was mentioned that this would be a good premise for the TV show. It hit me like lightning and the stories just started coming out.

In the development of the short film I had come across at least a dozen other stories that I thought would be great side stories to incorporate into the main story, but it became too cumbersome. I was sad to lose those ideas because I felt that they were important, but they couldn't stay. When the idea to make it a show came along though, suddenly all those ideas found a home and the basic reason I wanted to make the short film found renewed purpose. I wanted this show to provide hope to those who feel as I did and with a series I knew we could explore so many more kinds of stories and hopefully help a lot of people to find more hope, and reasons to stay.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

I've Seen Home Alone A Million Times And Never Caught This

I've probably watched Home Alone at least once a year (probably more times than that) ever since it came out. It is a surprisingly tightly written movie full of far more clever writing than you would expect at face value. The slapstick comedy that makes up the end of the film seems to me like John Hughes inner child coming out and after watching his take on teenagers in so many other movies it's really fun to get his take on kids.

I know it's early in the season but I was watching Home Alone today and it was almost like seeing it for the first time. I was picking up on details I had always missed and hearing set ups and payoffs in the dialogue I had never heard before. I'll probably write at least one more post on the movie before the season is over, but there was one detail I noticed this time around that I had never seen before and it cracked me up. It's a detail so quick that if you blink you'll miss it. I actually had to rewind and pause to make sure it was what I thought it was.

The pizza place in the movie is Little Nero's, a fun jab at Little Caesar's, but what I hadn't ever seen before was their slogan.  Check it out on the car under the title.

This is genius. If you're not familiar with the significance of this here's a quick tidbit. According to legend while Rome was burning Nero, the emperor, was playing the fiddle which demonstrated how little he cared for his empire or his people.

Keep an eye out for more Home Alone posts, and more Christmas movie posts, they're sure to come!

Monday, November 5, 2018

Sneaky Detail In Zootopia No One Has Talked About

A few days ago I wrote a small piece about a detail I noticed in Coco. I'm not actually all the observant so I felt pretty good having found something no one else seemed to have noticed. I didn't really expect that to happen again anytime soon, but the other day a detail kind of jumped out at me that I haven't heard anyone else talk about. If you haven't seen Zootopia this will have a couple of spoilers, but more importantly you won't really understand the significance of the discovery.

My kids loved Zootopia when it first came out and we watched it quite a few times. Then they lost interest for awhile and just the other day they watched it again for the first time. I had seen the movie several times over and this still didn't sink in until that time.

In the press conference scene Judy is prepared for the press by Nick, and things are actually going pretty well for her. Then a reporter throws out a question that derails everything. The reporters question is technically a fine question, but seems a bit leading at the same time. It was the leading nature of the question that pulled my attention to the TV ( I was just passing through the room at the time). He says, "So, predators are the only ones going savage?"

The question feels panic inducing. Well, guess who asks that question. Doug. Yep, the same Doug who is going out by night and shooting the predators to induce their savage episodes. He is posing as a reporter just to ask this question and help the hysteria to build. Despite several viewings of the film I had not caught this little tidbit.

Technically it might not be Doug, it could just be another sheep, but that doesn't actually change anything. It was a sheep, and those particular sheep seem to pretty much all be in on the plot with Bellweather.

Monday, October 29, 2018

The Detail From Coco No One Noticed that Blew My Mind

As a filmmaker I pay attention to the details in films. Making a film requires so many people, and little if anything ends up in a movie by accident. In live action movies there are accidents here and there, changed lines on the fly, background characters who weren't supposed to be in a shot etc...but in animated movies literally nothing ends up in the finished product by accident. For this reason I try to watch animated movies even more carefully, but it wasn't until I really looked at Miguel from Coco that I noticed something.

     I'm no great artist, but I draw for fun and to amuse my kids (usually when they are getting rowdy at church). One particular week they were getting really bored so I asked what they wanted me to draw and they requested Miguel. I found a picture of him for reference and started drawing.

    I admire Pixar for their incredible storytelling, even the worst of their movies (everyone has a different opinion on which this is) is still great. More than their storytelling though I have come to admire their attention to detail. As I drew Miguel I felt like he looked just like I would expect him to, but then I noticed something that caught me off guard. His clothing is all a bit worn as would be expected, he dresses like a working class boy would likely dress except one small detail. His shoes. As I worked my way down in the drawing I kept noticing how nice his shoes were. They are beat up and worn, but they aren't the typical crappy tennis shoes I would have expected him to wear, they are (or at least were not long ago) fairly nice shoes for someone in his position in life.

     For a few minutes as I drew it didn't dawn on me why exactly this would be, and then it hit me. His family are shoemakers. Naturally the one nice thing he would wear would be his shoes. It actually occurred to the animators to plan for this. I'll include the reference image I used for my drawing so you can see for yourself. It's a micro detail but it floored me, and frankly inspired me to try to work harder on the details of my own projects.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Unexpected Push: Moving From Part Time to Full Time

This last month has been a confusing and tumultuous time. It has also been exciting and exhilarating. For the last 8 years Black Hat Media has been what I have referred to as a hobby business. It was a way for us to bring in a little extra money here and there, but on the whole we left that to day jobs. It has been my goal to move the business into my full time job for a few years now, but I was not mentally or monetarily prepared for that. But sometimes life offers you an unexpected push to make things happen.

Last month on a seemingly normal day things were going just fine when I suddenly got a message from the company HR rep asking for a phone conversation. Immediately my insides started to hurt. My dealings with HR at any company have never been great, in fact I feel the best depiction of HR is Catbert in the Dilbert cartoons. I was hopeful that I was wrong about why she was contacting me, but once she called me a few minutes later my worst fears were confirmed. The company that had taken incredible care of me for the last 5 years could no longer support most of its employees.

Fortunately I had been planning what to do in such a situation for a few months. I was not completely blindsided by the choice, but I did think I would have more notice. I spent the rest of the day planning what to do and we have been working at Black Hat Media full time for about a month now.

The change is difficult and frightening to say the least, but I have spent the last few years developing a skillset that was designed to make me "unemployment proof", meaning that with or without a job I would have a means to provide for my family.

30 days into this new way of life and I can honestly say that I never truly understood the power of networking until now. I had an academic understanding of it, but it was hard to see why it was so crucial. I have been a member of a BNI group for the last few months and until this last few weeks it had not become apparent what a powerful group that could be.

Thank you to all of our loyal friends and customers for helping us in this transition, and here's to many years of Black Hat Media to come!

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Phoenix Inc.- Festival Nominations

Phoenix Inc. has been an incredible journey for me as a filmmaker to go on over the last 10 years, and it's very exciting to finally see it getting some attention. I will be doing more writing about this project in the coming months, the journey is worth talking about in greater detail, but for now I just wanted to announce that it has been selected for the 2018 Web Series Festival in 5 different categories! This is a big step on the road I hope to take with this show.