GADZOOK FILMS Producing independent film in Seattle, Los Angeles and beyond.

15Aug/13Off

What D&D Character Are You?

I'm working on a new project that's all RPG goodness! I'll release some more info soon but for now enjoy this:

I Am A: Neutral Good Human Ranger (5th Level)

Ability Scores:
Strength-11
Dexterity-12
Constitution-12
Intelligence-16
Wisdom-17
Charisma-15

Alignment:
Neutral Good A neutral good character does the best that a good person can do. He is devoted to helping others. He works with kings and magistrates but does not feel beholden to them. Neutral good is the best alignment you can be because it means doing what is good without bias for or against order. However, neutral good can be a dangerous alignment when it advances mediocrity by limiting the actions of the truly capable.

Race:
Humans are the most adaptable of the common races. Short generations and a penchant for migration and conquest have made them physically diverse as well. Humans are often unorthodox in their dress, sporting unusual hairstyles, fanciful clothes, tattoos, and the like.

Class:
Rangers are skilled stalkers and hunters who make their home in the woods. Their martial skill is nearly the equal of the fighter, but they lack the latter's dedication to the craft of fighting. Instead, the ranger focuses his skills and training on a specific enemy a type of creature he bears a vengeful grudge against and hunts above all others. Rangers often accept the role of protector, aiding those who live in or travel through the woods. His skills allow him to move quietly and stick to the shadows, especially in natural settings, and he also has special knowledge of certain types of creatures. Finally, an experienced ranger has such a tie to nature that he can actually draw on natural power to cast divine spells, much as a druid does, and like a druid he is often accompanied by animal companions. A ranger's Wisdom score should be high, as this determines the maximum spell level that he can cast.

Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?, courtesy of Easydamus (e-mail)

8May/13Off

Monetization of New Media – a panel recap

Hi there! I was lucky enough to attend a panel discussion at USC this past weekend featuring the likes of Freddie Wong (FreddieW YouTube channel), Mike Tringe (co-founder, CreatorUp), Matt Arnold (RocketJump), Jeremy Azevedo (Sr. Director of Original Programming at Machinima), Seth Jaret (CEO of ContentEngine), and Tarika Khan (Maker Studios). The subject of the panel was Monetizing Content for New Media Platforms. As this was a pretty common subject during my webseries meetups I thought it was prudent to attend. Here's what I picked up:

Note, if you're a frequent visitor to my blog you'll not see a lot of new info here.

Let me start out by saying the theater was packed for this. And why not? This is some juicy shit right here. We all want to know how to make that Google money. The general consensus across the panel was to diversify your revenue streams as much as possible - organic brand integration and Google ads being the top money-earners for YouTube channels. Other streams include getting paid to tweet, crowdfunding, merchandise sales, and licensing deals (work for hire). Of course none of these are really possible until you have an audience.

So we come back to content and developing your content along with your audience. Freddie, Matt, and Seth were very clear that your content is who you are - this is quite simply your business. Don't skimp out on content just to get shit up. Make something you're passionate in and research who might also like that. Target that audience - blogs, forums, Facebook groups, etc. Find wherever this audience may be hiding and direct them to your channel. Then work with them to improve and provide more of what they're looking for. But bottom line if you're not passionate about your work your audience is going to lose interest as well.

To be truly successful it entails a lot of work. You need to have a new video at LEAST once a week. Your audience is content hungry. The channel reps - Jeremy and Tarika - emphasized this point. Their channels aggregate millions of views and content is continually being uploaded and spread across their network. There's always something new. If you're releasing once a month or less (like I am!) you'd better be backing that up with content elsewhere like a blog, website, Twitter, or better yet all of the above.

I'm not sure who on the panel said it but you want to "establish your eyeballs" first. That is, grow your audience using your content. Once you've got a sizable enough viewership then you can start to make a dent in monetizing. I can tell you first hand that even 10,000 views on a video amounts to a pittance in Google ads. Something like $0.24 or so. But if you're posting multiple 10,000+ view videos a week, that can slowly add up and your content then becomes more valuable to brands looking to expand their own viewership.

Freddie had a good point in encouraging new producers to not rely on view count alone. Audience engagement can be worth a lot more in the long run than strictly views. If users watch the first second or so of your video and then turn it off or switch to something else you'll never keep them long enough to watch that mid-video embedded ad. An engaged audience member is many more times likely to follow an advertiser you link to, share your video, and donate to your Kickstarter campaign.

If you want to get yourself involved with a network like Machinima or Maker you need to establish yourself first. Both entities work with "personalities" and deal less with producers trying to pitch shows to them than they are incorporating producers who already have shows running with modest success. The benefit of joining a network like that is an increased viewership and a revenue stream that's spread over many similar channels.

The main thing to remember is that you are your brand. Owning your IP (as Felicia Day has done with The Guild) is of utmost importance. But, as Jeremy at Machinima stated, it should not kill you to keep your IP. Be prepared to negotiate in order to get what you want.

Lastly YouTube is not, as many people believe, a "meritocracy." No matter how good your show is it could linger at the bottom of YouTube searches for a myriad of reasons. Think "virality" when you create content in addition to production value. Work on tags and metadata. These will help bring in that audience to help you monetize your videos.

What do you think? Agree or disagree with the panelists? Were you there and think I missed anything important? Let me know in the comments!

30Jan/13Off

Old Tricks Revisited

Years before TV shows like Once Upon a Time and Grimm, GadZook Films made a short that brought fairy-tale characters to life in the real world. That short was called "Old Tricks". I wrote a bit about it when we premiered it at Local Sightings at the Northwest Film Forum back in 2007.

This is the first time the short has been available via YouTube and Vimeo, and also the first time in its original HD.

In that post I described how we shot the film, using a Cinevate Brevis 35mm adapter. They don't even make them anymore otherwise I'd link you to Cinevate's site. Due to the technicalities of getting the adapter to work on the camera, a Canon HV20, it left an inconsistent vignette around the image. As we were short on time my editor and I chose to add a full block vignette around the entire image. This made for a more consistent picture but chopped out about 10% of viewable area from the image. We knew going in there were potential downsides to the format, but overall it created a really dream-like image. Almost 16mm in it's effect.

Nowadays HDSLRs are all the rage and cost a fraction of what the adapter and HV20 cost and do the same job. And that's awesome! There are certainly other tools out there to enhance images; hacks for cameras, DIY steadicams, etc. The bootstrap appeal to indie filmmaking has kept me in the game.

Tell me about tips and tricks you use to get the look you're after! And please don't forget to rate the video on YouTube/Vimeo as well! Thanks!

15Jan/13Off

Never Give Up

Sounds like a pretty terrible self-help title right there. It's true, of course, but it belies the battle some creative-types struggle through to get their work out. I wouldn't say that I "never gave up" in connection with my latest release but I certainly had long periods of forgetfulness and apathy.

This is "Unfulfilled" which was shot for our typical $0 back in January, 2009. It was, at the time, one of the more technically advanced shoots I produced. We had a jib, we had real-life film lights (not the worklights I normally use), we had an HVX-200 which was top of the line at that point all on loan via the director. Shooting took most of the evening, and I recall we finished fairly late.

The problems began in editing. A scene where the protagonist, played by GadZook stalwart Erika Godwin, calls a friend for assistance fell flat. Shortly after making that note the editor's (at that time also the director) computer overheated and changes were never made. The original files were backed up prior to editing which was a relief, but with the majority of work inside a fried computer the decision to start anew was not an easy one. To make matters worse the project was edited using Premiere Pro on a PC and so, even if I had it, I'd need another computer with Premiere Pro on it in order to save out an edit decision list so I could edit on my Final Cut machine. Confusing... but more a logistic nightmare than anything. I didn't have a working PC at the time and certainly didn't have Premiere.

Years went by. Every year I'd make the resolution to go back and re-edit the whole thing. I'd open up a project file, edit about 3 seconds and promptly close Final Cut. The task of re-editing the whole thing myself seemed daunting. And every step I took into sorting the files made me feel even less sure. We were missing cutaways like crazy. It's an easy thing to miss when you're shooting. But those long takes were killing the pacing. And the project gets shut down for another year. A section works here but not there; project closed. Music doesn't work right; project closed. Line of action is crossed and there's no way to cover; closed.

Then, a few weeks ago, I realized I'd said "No" far too much. I needed to devote time to the project. If I gave it at least a half hour every night after work I would at least feel satisfied that I tried. So I began trimming. Adjusting. And gradually my concern over getting it perfect subsided and I had a new drive to simply get it done.

I can point out all the things I found wrong and learned from in this experience. Many of them are things I learned over the 4 years since we originally shot "Unfulfilled." The best thing I got out of this was just letting go. It's not so much "not giving up" as it is "not giving in." Make shit. Some people might even like it. Keep making shit until you don't make shit anymore.

I'm quite proud of the way "Unfulfilled" turned out and I don't mean just the film - but the journey getting to this point. It's opened my eyes. Expect more from me in the near future.

14Jan/13Off

Blue Wizards

Hey folks! Howdy! I'd say things are picking up here but in reality things are simply piling up. So my resolution this year is to try and clear out old projects to make room for new. Shoot ideas that have been languishing in a notebook for far too long. And, primarily, just start making things again. House of Yhargoth, the Lovecraftian webseries I've been pushing for almost two years now, is still on the edge of funding. But with that on a precipice what else have I to keep me busy?

The Blue Wizards Journeying East by Ted Nasmith

The Blue Wizards Journeying East artwork by Ted Nasmith

One of the concepts I thought I'd try and tackle concerns one of my favorite Tolkien mysteries: The Blue Wizards! I've always wanted to know what happened to these two. For those unfamiliar 5 wizards were sent to Middle Earth to help curtail the rise of Sauron: Saruman, Gandalf, Radagast, and the two Blues, Pallando and Alatar. In fact, Alatar was the second wizard chosen for the task after Saruman. Tolkien explains that they went into the East along with Saruman and essentially leaves it at that. They "likely" failed, he writes, similar to how Saruman failed although perhaps not as epically. But a few years before his death Tolkien gave the wizards a reprieve and rebranded them as heroes without explaining how they became so. I've got a good idea for a storyline that can tackle some of the other mysteries of Middle Earth. To whit: the Dwarf Lords and their rings of power. There are four Gandalf mentions as having been destroyed by dragon fire. But where, when, and how is never explained. And more! This is a fun one.

I've also been working on a project that's a little more personal. More details on that as I can wrap my brain around it.

I plan on releasing the first of some old projects in the next few days. This one has been sitting on the shelf for FOUR years.

What have YOU been working on? Any exciting projects in the future?

5Oct/12Off

Where Does Money Come From?

Piggybacking perhaps on my recent post about selling out, just where do you hope to find your financial backing? In the web-series world I think a lot of faith is placed on the nebulous world of online advertising. Still others are hoping some mysterious force - be it fans or sponsors - will see the work they do and offer to help out. But all of these methods insist you actually make your show FIRST.

This method has like a 20% success rate. That's a completely made-up and biased number based on little more than my impression of the industry. But go with me here. How many of you have started projects offering folks deferred pay with the promise of creating a stellar project which would - now here's the key - lead to financing for a 2nd season. Raise your hand. Now how many of you have successfully financed a second season. Like, raised everything you needed to fully pay everyone industry rates AND pay them the deferred fees agreed upon for the first season? Is your hand still raised? If so we definitely need to talk. If not, read on!

Truth be told most projects, including many Hollywood endeavors, start off as passion projects. At least one person commits the time and energy and (often) money out of pocket to get their project to a level where people with money will actually look at it. This could be a script to pitch, a Kickstarter campaign video, or an entire first season of a web-series. You can't really get away from it, you can just strive to limit the time-suck by getting your shit together before you ask other people to come on board.

OK, so let's say you've gathered your team and they have all agreed to work on this project for nada. Remember you've promised them that with excellent work and the kind of production value you expect from a million-dollar per episode television series, you'll be able to pay them because... ?

Sorry, how will you?

If your business plan is simply to make an exceptional project and hope for the best then you're not finished with that plan. I would hesitate to even mention it to anyone - be they potential crew or potential investors. With film business plans it's imperative to present to your investors (including potential deferred cast/crew members... yes they're investors too!) not just the sort of business you expect to do (comparables) but also how you hope to acquire that business (revenue streams). This info can easily be extrapolated to web-series as well, and I strongly recommend you go through and make a business plan now (or update it).

Think about it. No one expects you to make a shitty web-series. Everyone is gonna hope for the best of course! So promising to make the best one you can is a foregone conclusion. But once production is over how hard are you looking for your audience, aka your financiers? You MUST start before you hire your first crew member or cast your first role.

Trust me I'm a gold-winning overly-excited-filmmaker. When I have a project idea I want to MAKE IT. And that works if you don't care about making money. But if you are promising people that, yes, eventually, you want to be making money then you need to think about it.

OK. But where, pray tell, is that money? It could be via a distributor (XBOX Live), via a sponsor (Sprint), via audience support (Kickstarter). I will most definitely go into this in a future post but I want to hear from you. Where are YOU looking for money? You don't have to give specifics but what is your business plan looking like? Have you advanced beyond the "hope for the best" mentality? Have you approached backers somehow before you started shooting?

10Sep/12Off

Brief Update

Hey! I'm working on several posts but since they're taking a bit longer than I had hoped here's a little something to keep you sated.

1) Our 48-Hour Film "Coaching Me Softly" was selected as a finalist in the "Best of" competition for the Los Angeles 48 Hour Film Project. At the screening and awards ceremony last night we walked away with four nominations and one win. We were nominated for Best Writing, Best Actor, Best Use of Character, and Best Special Effects. Our lead, Dian Bachar, won for Best Actor and I couldn't be happier. The guy deserves it. He's super fun to work with and watch.

2) The script for our Lovecraftian web-series "House of Yhargoth" was submitted to the HP Lovecraft Film Festival & CthulhuCon. We're still waiting for word on that.

3) It was my birthday this past weekend! I bought myself an iPad because I've been dying to use some filmmaking apps built specifically for the device. Cleaned out my coffers but it's worth it. I am working on a post about all the lovely apps and hope to post that soon. If you'd like to have me review your app, contact me at domz at gadzookfilms.com or via my Twitter @GadZook.

That's it for now! More soon, I hope!

25Aug/12Off

Why I do 48 Hour Film Projects

Over the weekend of August 3rd I completed my 6th 48-Hour Film Project as a Team Leader and 7th overall. As usual it was a blast. I wanted to test several myths about making a better short. Most of these are things I'd never done before. I posted the video below if you wanna skip all this talk and see what we ended up with. I'm pretty happy with it!

Huge Cast & Crew

I still asked specific people whom I had worked with before to join me on this production. But I asked a lot of them. Some were people I'd worked with before, but many were friends and colleagues I'd never shared a project with. Where it worked was in the cast.

I am very lucky to have a bounty of talented friends available to work in front of the camera. In past 48-Hour shoots we've used the same 3-4 actors in lead roles because I know their work very well and my writers know them too. This time I wanted to shift things around a bit and use an almost all-new cast. A lot of people were around to help, but a lot of people were also sitting around with nothing to do. As expected. We've honed the shooting schedule of these things to an art form and adding bodies may free up one or two tasks, but it ultimately doesn't make the film any better or worse.

MYTH: BUSTED

Multiple Locations

We always have a pre-production meeting to assess our assets. Specifically we canvass our everyone involved in the production and jot down any costumes, props, or locations each person can bring to the party. So we've always had a long list of locations. In the past, however, we've generally tried to keep our actual shooting locations minimal - maybe 2 nearby locations. This saves time as company moves can be time-consuming and someone inevitably forgets something back at the other location.

This time I wanted to throw as many outdoor locations into the mix as feasible. I wasn't gonna jeopardize the shoot by driving all day Saturday to various locations, but I did want to get a variety. We ended up shooting at about 4 distinct locations, and used one location for multiple settings. It worked out pretty well and ultimately added about an hour and a half to the overall shoot. The locations weren't like jaw-dropping, but they worked.

MYTH: PLAUSIBLE

Fancy Equipment

This was the one thing I really wanted to test out but I'm broke and all of my friends are broke and I didn't know anyone with access to anything revolutionary. We had a nice tripod and a basic light kit and, frankly, that's more than enough. We didn't need a dolly (we actually used a furniture dolly for one shot but it was too bumpy to be usable and we cut around that footage, sadly). We didn't need a slider, or a jib. Would those have made a better movie? No, I don't think so.

MYTH: POSTPONED

So you've made it through. Here's our original cut! I hope you enjoy it. Let me know what you think in the comments below. Do you have a 48-Hour Film you'd like to share?

Filed under: General Shtuff 2 Comments
26Jul/12Off

Cloud Atlas and the Myth of the Standard Length Trailer

There are two things to get into with the release of the 6-minute long trailer for Cloud Atlas (and additional director preface). One, it shatters the concept that a trailer must be short. And two, these are industry pros making, essentially, a Kickstarter video package. Check it out. Go ahead... I'll wait.

Didja see it? Wow, right? Epic. I haven't read this book and I LOATHED the sequels to The Matrix, but this might have me back in the Wachowski's court. Let's talk about the trailer. It's long, but to me it's just long enough. It touches on just about every aspect of the story it seems and, to a keen-eyed observer, appears to give away several major plot points and narrative directions. In trailers I generally hate it when they give too much away - it feels like the movie as a whole then has very little to say. Why would I want to sit through a 2-hour movie when a 2-minute trailer does a better job of telling the story? But that's sort of been the deal with trailers for a decade or more. Trailer editors are experts at condensing a story into it's best parts. For some movies that means showing all the big explosions and set pieces. For others it's capturing that moment that echoes throughout the whole story.

Compare, say, the trailer for Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon... with the first teaser for WALL•E. Pretty different, I'd say.

In the Cloud Atlas trailer - can we even officially call it a trailer now? - there's all of that and more. It starts off more like a short film and then contracts into the typical trailer format but for an extended amount of time. With the prelude you only just start to care about the characters (especially Jim Broadbent), which makes the visuals later on have a slightly greater impact. It's a very interesting concept and one I think filmmakers working on short subjects could learn from. I know I did.

Now let's shift to the director's preface. Or commentary. Or interview. Whatever you want to call it. It's scripted, sure. And hey, that's Lana Wachowski (formerly known as Larry)! She looks great! But you really see the passion these three have for the project. It allows all three a moment to connect and works similarly to those, ya know, anti-drug/anti-cancer ads where a group of people are all saying the same thing but the cuts between them make it that much more meaningful because they're saying it in their own voice.

I think if you're planning to crowdfund you can take this VERY simple technique with you. It's about the passion. Why should we care about your movie? What drew you to the story? What do you like most about it? What is the call to action? All of those questions are answered in this piece. Plus it's a third the length of the actual trailer, which is ALSO good. We want to see passion but we also want to see you know what you're doing and can back it up. They didn't overdo it. It's exactly as long as it needed to be.

What do you think? Again, book adaptations aside, this looks like it could be pretty interesting. On a filmmaking level how did it play to you? Was the trailer too long? Did the directors convey anything to you that pushed you one way or another?

19Jul/12Off

When to “Sell Out”

This is the first of what will be an ongoing series documenting my attempts to get "House of Yhargoth," my Lovecraftian webseries, made. Some key details may be omitted as I'm actively in talks and I don't want to hurt my chances. But I'll fill you in as soon as I can.

Now, I hate the term "sell out" not because it's a derogatory term for anyone who appears to hold money above art but because it appears to be applied indiscriminately to anyone who accepts a paycheck rather than simply "doing it for the love." What many people fail to recognize is that art costs money, and love alone cannot pay the bills.

This post sprung to mind as I saw many of my fellow filmmakers successfully raising some funding via crowdsource websites like these guys for instance. And they're not alone. If you're one of the many hundreds of creators who have been able to fund your projects yourself, or with the support of friends and family through crowdfunding initiatives, congratulations! If I may be so bold, I'll assume your projects are restrained in scope to a degree you know you can fund and produce well. Or you just have a lot of fans and a good product. Or... you're terrible at budgeting and take a lot of the work on yourself and possibly burden your crew and overstretch your resources. Bottom line is you're making something and for that you should be congratulated!

Now back to me... I've debated using something like Kickstarter to launch my webseries for a long time now. In fact, I have extensive spreadsheets noting best times for starting campaigns, best practices once they're launched, ideas for pledge tiers, sample tweets, interested parties, and more. Lots more. Suffice to say if I were to start a campaign tonight I could probably whip up a pretty good one.

Would It Be Enough?

Here's where things get tricky. I've shot dozens of short films. I've budgeted & scheduled everything I knew would cost me more than $100 and take more than a day to shoot. I know how much things cost and I know how long things take. After going through the script for my Lovecraftian webseries and consulting with line producers galore, I came up with a budget and schedule. I had a number now... and that number did not scream "CROWDFUND!" to me. It was too large in comparison to my meager (but loyal and awesome) fanbase. And even if I was able to excite the audience the show was intended for, I wasn't positive I could get enough of them on board the crowdfunding train.

What Other Options Are There?

Here's where "selling out" comes into play. If you don't have the funds and don't have the network to get those funds, you need to go outside that network. To that end I've been seeking potential distributors to sell the idea to (with the intent of staying on board as producer with Faye as head writer). Shock! Gasp! I can hear you choke.

After you choke I can hear you guffaw: "But Dom," you manage through stifled laughter, "Just make something cheaper!" To which I retort, "Why?" I've played in those trenches and I'll definitely be back but I can't make this show in that field. I recognize that the level-headed amongst you will shake those level-heads and wonder why I don't simply prep a smaller, more intimate and affordable show to start out with. Frankly I find those types of shows are not my cup of tea. I got in this business to make shows like House of Yhargoth.

"Why don't you just shoot a piece of it, and see what happens?" I'm terrible at analogies but let me try to explain this one: Imagine having a piece of a pie. It tastes good. So good you want to tell everyone you know about it. You run out, send emails, and notify everyone you've ever met that you just had the best piece of pie in the world. When everyone comes back to try some you find the pie has been decimated by time, eaten away by flies and rats and is no longer edible. You can make a new pie but by the time you're done everyone has moved on to cake.

See, the internet is fickle - that pilot may hit like a hot poker and wow everyone. But if you have nothing to release the following week you're destined to lose any support garnered from the pilot. Crowdfunding for a single pilot is possible, but as I said it's how one can follow that up. There are ways to make this work, of course, but they revolve around having money... I'll reveal in another post.

Why sell off the idea you are so passionate about?

Well to be honest I'm SO passionate about this idea I'm not going to do two things:
1) Make it for anything less than it's worth.
2) Not make it.

That means I need to raise money somehow. Next!

Does That Make Me A Sell Out?

Depends on who you talk to, I guess. There are people who take great pride in eschewing the Hollywood system. It's a tricky tightrope to walk - retaining independence or paying people. And I don't say that blithely. Salaries are the single largest component of film budgets - and the reason why so many modern indie filmmakers become a jack of all trades doing the editing, shooting, writing, directing, etc. themselves. While I enjoy that component and it's certainly made me a better overall filmmaker, I prefer to use pros when possible. Wouldn't you?

Why Is It So Important?

My dream is to take this back to Seattle. At the budget level I'm proposing it would be a not insignificant project for the local community. Money would be fed back to local businesses and people - people who helped me out when I was just starting by donating their time, equipment, and a whole lot more. This is a sustaining project as well, being episodic and all. Not to mention Seattle has all the built-in locations a story like ours needs. It just works.

So that's what I'm doing right now and why I've been fairly incommunicado since my last major post about the show. Not much to report when at this stage it's all unreturned phone-calls or passive-aggressive e-mails. But that's gonna change...