So I've spent the last year developing a short romantic comedy called "The Serpent Bearer." After lots of writing, rewriting, planning, shooting, editing, more editing, even MORE EDITING, and reshooting "Misaligned" is finally complete and being submitted to festivals. It's been an exhausting roller coaster of all sorts of feels, but I couldn't be happier with the results. Here's what I learned along the way.
1. Be prepared for late (and early) arrivals.
Call time was 12pm on Saturday. I had planned to pick up my gaffer at the train station, so I would be home by 11:40am to greet my incoming crew. Little did I know that they sped through NYC traffic and arrived half an hour early, but I wasn't home to let them in. So they had to stare at my lawn for 30 minutes until I returned. Sorry guys!
2. Your camera CAN and WILL overheat in 40 degree weather.
We were shooting on the Blackmagic 4k outside in the garden, and it was probably the most beautiful scene in the whole film, but the camera suddenly shut off in the middle of the take, and it wouldn't turn on. It was as warm as a toaster. But it was 40 degrees outside! We could see our breath! How can a camera overheat?!?
Well after shooting 8 hours straight, I suppose these things happen. We let the camera chill outside while we warmed up inside. 15 minutes later, we were back to it. Save yourself a heart attack and turn things off when you're not using them.
3. Don't just feed your crew. Dine with your crew!
If you're shooting for 8+ hours, it goes without saying that you must feed everyone a hearty breakfast, lunch and dinner, with plenty of coffee and snacks throughout the day. But in those 2-3 days that you're filming, your crew becomes your family, and it's so important to take that time to appreciate the people around you. After we wrapped day 1, my mom helped set a nice dinner table with loads of Thai food and plenty of wine to go around. It was the perfect end to a long day of filming.
Take the time to set up a proper lunch & dinner, so everyone has the chance to relax. Because when you're stressed, you can't think straight. And when you can't think straight, you get grumpy. And when you get grumpy, your film turns to crap. And nobody likes that.
4. Sometimes, you have to be "extra" creative.
The whole film is set at an engagement party, and party scene calls for lots of party people. I called all my friends, family, aunties and uncles in the area. 10 told me they could come, but only 5 showed up.
I asked my crew to bring an extra suit/dress just in case we had to throw them in the shot. And I'm glad I did. Your DP and sound mixer may not be able to join the party, but feel free to throw your grips into the scene once they're done setting up the lights. Keep in mind, not every gaffer may secretly want to be an actor (but you never know).
5. Yes, there is such a thing as "too much coverage."
The climax scene required two wardrobe changes, so I wanted to shoot the entire scene twice, once with each wardrobe change, since I didn't know how I wanted to cut it. I was too focused on getting "enough" coverage instead of getting the coverage I was actually going to use. This is where a (good) shot list comes in handy.
I did spend several hours writing up a detailed shot list, but when I was on set, I was so intimidated by it, I ended up never using it. If I had planned our shooting schedule better, I could have saved several hours of shooting.
6. Reshoots are expensive.
Looking back a year later, I realized I had a script, a cast, a crew and a budget, but something was missing. I had an "idea" of what I wanted the film to be, but it was very loose and constantly changing. Little did I know, this would bite me in the ass later.
When we finished filming, it took 4-5 months of editing to realize our key flashback scene just wasn't working. The story that was being told in the script was not the story being told on screen. So I decided to rewrite and reshoot the scene so it fits the story perfectly. We also shot a new intro scene, and a few pick up shots I forgot to get because of the forgotten shot list above. ARGH!
A half-day shoot might not sound like a big deal, but when it comes down to budgeting your cast, crew, transportation, and pizza - it all adds up. I ended up spending my post production budget on a reshoot and had to pay for post production out of my piggy bank.
Moral of the story: Don't step onto set until you know your film, know your characters, and know your story. If that requires another rewrite of the script, do it!
7. Bad music will kill your film. Great music will bring it to life.
I spent hours scouring Reddit and Audio Blocks for music that I "thought" was a perfect fit, but it wasn't having any impact on the audience. Magical Realism is a HUGE part of the film, and nothing I was finding could bring those elements to life.
I recently started a new job and met an incredible composer right at my office! All it took was one happy hour and Sammy knew exactly what I was looking for. His first pass at the music BLEW ME AWAY! It was almost as if he stuck his headphones in my brain and played whatever came out.
Find a composer who not only understands the story and the tone of your project, but who can hear its heartbeat, and can highlight those feelings that you can't really put into words.
If you want to check out Sammy's work, clicky here: http://www.sammygallo.com/
8. Never compromise.
Your cast & crew are giving you their time and energy to make your idea a reality. Make it worth it. Get that one last take. Take that extra minute to tweak the lighting. Fix that last strand of hair on your actor's face (even if your crew starts making fun of you). Do whatever it takes to make your film awesome. Because you won't get a chance to do it again (except for re-shoots, but ain't nobody got time for that).
A big thank you to my incredible cast and crew! Be sure to check out our Facebook Page and stay tuned for more updates.
Note: 100+ votes later and I am OVERWHELMED by all the love and support for the #ProjectFilmSupply contest. Thank you! If you're reading this and have no idea what I'm talking about, click here. If you want to know how I got this crazy idea, read on:
Around this time in 2011, I was getting ready to start class again at NYU and I had to come up with an idea to pitch for my screenwriting class. That's also when Hurricane Irene was about to hit. So what do you do when you're procrastinating and have to brace for a hurricane? Watch Netflix!
I found this cheeky Bollywood movie called "What's Your Raashee?" which means "What's Your Sign?" It's a 3 hour comedy about one man's journey to date his way through the Zodiac to find his perfect match. It was delightfully cheesy and painfully long, but it inspired me in a weird way.
Then I remembered this Huffington Post article about the discovery of a 13th Zodiac sign that was going to screw up the entire Zodiac, and push all the signs' birthdays back! I was a Capricorn, and now I had to be a Sagittarius? So I thought, why not combine these two elements, and make my own love story?
So I wrote the first draft of The Serpent Bearer with that in mind.
The first draft was a steaming hot mess. It was littered with plot holes, weak character arcs, and was possibly a little sexist. It was also my first feature film, ever. After the semester ended, I just shoved it deep into the depths of my hard drive and forgot about it.
Since then, lot of things have happened:
- I had the pleasure of working for one of my favorite film directors for 2 years
- I walked the red carpet to my first film festival screening ever
- Made a web series and a bunch of short films (all dating/romance related)
- Went on MANY internet dates
- Acted in a short film about internet dating
- Wrote a book on internet dating
It seems like dating and filmmaking seem to go hand in hand for me. So I decided it's time to awaken The Serpent Bearer and give it another run. But I'll start small. I'm going to film it as a short, and use that to make the feature film I've always dreamed of.
Just as I was finishing up the script for the short film, this contest popped up in my newsfeed. The timing couldn't have been more perfect, as this would give me almost everything I need to make the film.
So what's next? We keep collecting votes until August 31st. Share it with your friends and family. And keep an eye out for the short film soon!
A lot of big filmmaking contests have been popping up in the past few months, like the MOGA Mega Video Challenge last year (which I entered, you can watch my entry here), the My Rode Reel contest that just ended, and now The Music Bed is hosting their own! I plan to enter that as well.
But the biggest talking point amongst these contests is "What's the point?" These are big international competitions with huge prizes (The MOGA challenge gave a way 6 Red Scarlets!). Obviously the guys with the big budgets and Red Epics are going to win, right? And if the winners are picked by votes, obviously the popular kids are going to win, right?
Often times, these contests have judges pick their grand prize winners. If that's the case, the best film should win right? Then who is going to be the most experienced filmmaker? The 17 year old with an iPhone who's studying video production in school? Or the 30 year old who's been working in the industry for 10 years whose buddy has a Red Epic?
Instead of asking "What's the point?" You should ask "What do I have to gain?"
What do I have to gain?
- A new film to add to your reel, that you can send to film festivals and host on your YouTube channel.
- The experience and knowledge from creating another project
- New connections/friends during production
- Your work is being seen and judged by influential and groundbreaking filmmakers
- Publicity for you as a filmmaker and your project
- The chance to win a big prize
What do I have to lose?
- The contest (obviously)
- Time & energy spent making the film
- Hard drive space
There will be always someone else who will have a bigger camera, a larger budget, a more famous actor, and more minions on twitter. But what it really comes down to is making the most of your resources. If all you have is an iPhone and an annoying little brother, go make something cool with that nobody else can. Don't like your iPhone? Ask a friend to lend you their DSLR. Don't like your little brother? Ask one of the drama students at your school to act in your film.
Just do it. The positives will likely outweigh the negatives, and even if you lose, it may open new doors for you. I didn't win the MOGA contest, but my video helped me land a few acting gigs!
Side note: Read the fine print of the contest's terms! If you have to surrender ownership of your work, you may want to think twice on what you have to gain from this contest.
It started out as any ordinary day.
I woke up. Brushed my teeth. Took a shower. Made some eggs. Tested my Zoom H4N before packing my camera bag, but the sucker wouldn't turn on. So yeah, I panicked a little. This $300 recorder had saved my butt on numerous occasions, and it helped me make my first (real) short film Strangers. There's sentimental value as well!
So I put fresh batteries in - still wouldn't turn on. I put "stamina mode" on and played with a hundred other settings - still nothing. Maybe it fell one too many times during my impromptu voice over sessions? Maybe it sat in sun too long? Maybe it just decided to take a nap.... forever.
I didn't spend too much time worrying why my Zoom H4N decided to take the eternal nap. I was wondering what the heck I'm going to use for audio now. I did a bit of digging, and turns out there's some much better options.
If you google "DSLR filmmaking" and "DSLR audio" chances are you'll see recommendations for the Rode NTG-2 shotgun mic, with the Zoom H4N. Big shotgun mic plugs into the zoom, and it records on the SD card, and all is right with the world. But in practice, not so much.
In my experience, the audio quality is not the greatest, unless the subject is 6 inches from the microphone. Great for voiceovers. Awful for filming. The signal levels are stupidly low, and when I bump the gain to 100, the noise is just overwhelming. With a little tough love in post with Adobe Audition (another life saver) the end product is manageable, but still a headache to get even that far.
As a microphone, the Zoom is great for recording ambient noise. But as a mixer, it just can't handle a mic like the Rode NTG-2. The pre-amps are too weak, and the noise is too high for it to be used as a proper mixer.
So I went shopping for a new audio companion. I picked up the Tascam DR-60D, and I'm now in love with it. Sound quality is great. 4 audio inputs, 3 levels of gain, plus a nice, big, round knob the adjust the input levels. It plugs straight into my 5D's audio input, so I can have a scratch track to sync with. Or if I play my cards right, it can record straight to the video and not have to sync anything at all! It also fits perfectly right under the camera, so I don't have to worry about dropping anything when I try to hold the boom, the mixer, and my sandwich.
If you get the Tascam DR-60D from B&H Photo, they also throw in PluralEyes 3 for free (a $200 software that magically syncs all your audio at once). What would take me 1 hour of dreadful, manual audio syncing will now take me 2 clicks and 5 minutes of waiting! Magic I tell you.
My Zoom H4N served me well. In its 2.5 year run, it has seen me through my first short film, an entire web series, and numerous emergency ADR sessions. But fear not! Just because I can't use it to record audio, doesn't mean I no longer have any use for it. I do have a lot of papers on my desk that need weighing down.
The thing about comedy is that everybody thinks they're hilarious. You're out with friends having a beer, you tell that awkward online dating story, and suddenly the whole bar loves you! So why not do it in front of a live audience of 250 people? Well, because it's terrifying!
This past Thursday, I had the pleasure of performing at The International Incident, a comedy show hosted by Anish Shah at the world famous Caroline's on Broadway. It's called The International Incident because... Well, it's a very international crowd, and by international, I mean 75% Indian. So there's that.
I wrote my set around online dating because I can shamelessly self promote my book, and talk about my awkward online dates. That's always funny right? It's even funnier when your parents in the audience too. The plan was to give them a shout out, and go on about how awkward it is to talk about your dating life in front of a room full of strangers, AND your parents. But of course, nothing ever goes according to plan.
So when they finally call my name to the stage, I jump on there like a boss and grab the mic, ready to make some funnies. I try to look at the audience and see where my friends are sitting, but I can't see a thing. The audience is sitting in the dark, and the stage lights are right in my face so I literally can't see a thing (probably for the best). I start with my opening line: "So, I wrote this book about internet dating..." and everything just went blank.
I knew I had three lines relating to my dating stories after that, but I just hit a wall. And now I had 250 hungry people staring at me - hungry for jokes, hungry for my flesh. And I've got nothing. But somehow, I opened my mouth, and some words came out, and I hear some giggles and snickers. I finish my sentence, and suddenly I remembered the second half of my set. Yippie! From then on, it was smooth sailing.
I have a ton of respect for performers, especially comedians. Because it's hard to take the stage, period. And it's even harder when you have a room full of people demanding you make them laugh. All in all, it was a great night. I got some good laughs, had a good drink, and a few people even tried to touch my butt (more on that later). And now I can say I performed stand up comedy at Caroline's!
Big thank you to Anish Shah for letting me perform, Arpita Mukherjee for the picture, and Raj Belani and Mahesh Kotagi for their comedic wisdom!