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


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!


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?


State of the Company

Never fear, I have a bunch of inflammatory posts I'm working on - my feelings on crowdfunding, hiring (or begging) for crew, Seattle vs. LA, and much more! - but right now I wanted to talk about where we are as a company and what 2012 should bring.

To be honest there's not that much to report. It's just me over here for the most part. I don't have an army of people updating the site, posting to twitter, making our Facebook page the social hub it's meant to be and so on. Not to mention folks to help me make movies. So I've been working on a couple things, some you know about and some you don't (if you're anywhere near a regular reader of this blog).

The big thing is still House of Yhargoth, the Lovecraftian webseries I've been working on with Faye Hoerauf for a little over a year. The wonderful script by Faye is done, our pitch package is complete. We're now setting up meetings around town with some potential networks. It's very exciting. No, it's more than that. As much as I've prepared myself I know that this is something I've wanted to do for a long time. I love the story, I get goosebumps every time I read it, and I know it's going to be awesome. I also know it's going to cost a lot of money to produce. If these pitches don't pan out I'm not sure how we can move forward with it. So it's a very daunting possibility. I'm determined to produce this one way or another. Thanks for all continued support you've thrown my way.

I've been so wrapped up in developing HoY that I've been neglecting any actual filmmaking! I hope to rectify that over the next few months. Will we do our annual 48-Hour Film Project? That remains to be seen. I love doing them... once they're over. 🙂

I'm also in the early early stages of a few other webseries properties. Developing those which should be fun. I have a pub trivia series that I think will be really cool if I can work out some of the kinks. If you've ever witnessed a trivia night with me you know the shenanigans that go on.

Movies are still hovering. I'd still love to shoot Plight of the Living Dead, the horror-comedy Faye and Jessica Baxter co-wrote that was supposed to be our follow-up to Snow Day, Bloody Snow Day. It's a great script but zombies are hard to sell these days. That will be a passion project for sure.

If this sounds fairly whimsical, it kind of is. I realized recently that I've been making videos (films, movies, flicks, what-have-you) for nearly 12 years now. Reflecting on my career over those years I still see huge room for growth but man... the things I've learned. I love it! I love teaching, too and I hope to continue learning and passing that knowledge on to other filmmakers.

So there you go. 2012 is shaping up to be a year of growth for GadZook Films. We'll be making more stuff and, as always, telling you how we did it.


Myth of the “no-budget” anything

For some filmmakers the perfect budget is $0.00. Many of these filmmakers tend to believe the project itself is the reward and everyone should be happy (even enthusiastic) to work on it for free. When anyone tells you they can make something as complex as a film for nothing you should immediately be wary. Even (especially?) if it's me. Making shows is never free. There's always some cost, hidden or otherwise, that should be accounted for. So just what is a baseline of "no-budget" filmmaking?

Costs come from various sources. I'm not going to give a line-item description of all those costs (that's a whole 'nother blog - do you even know of a good budgeting blog? I don't.) but you still need to know what these line-items are. Without an accurate picture of what goes into making a show (be it a webseries, film or TV project) you can't adequately plan what you need to beg, borrow, or steal. Costs breakdown into a few categories: cast, crew, equipment, food.

When you're planning to shoot with a next-to-nothing budget you need to be more diligent in your pre-production, not less. You've gotta be clear about your vision, what you're trying to accomplish and what your endgame is. Having a clear plan from concept through distribution will help win people to your cause.

The #1 cost associated with filmmaking - and subsequently the one most filmmakers try to avoid - is crew salaries. Obviously, hiring people will send your budget skyward. Bringing on volunteers will reduce the budget considerably but it also, in some cases, makes things infinitely more difficult. Suffice it to say, if you're not paying people to work on your show you'll need to give back to them and be flexible. This goes well beyond simply offering a credit and some cold Nalley's Beef Stew.

The question should never be "Can I get a cast and crew to work for free." It should always be "Do I have to?" Once you commit to not paying anyone you have a lot more hanging on the project than just your reputation. Give them a reason to come work on (and finish!) your project. More on this in a follow-up post.

Moving on... At the very least, assuming the production is an intimate, contemporary, talking-head, one-location snooze-fest, you're still going to shell out money for equipment and food...

Some people try to argue that they'll just buy the equipment outright and resell it when they're finished production thus resulting in a $0 balance for equipment. This reasoning fails to take into account any possible reshoots where the equipment might be needed and the fact that even the cheapest camera, lighting, and sound set-up will cost a couple thousand dollars, and even the best equipment will suffer a depreciation in the marketplace once used. And what if it breaks? You're out the resell value and will have to either buy or rent new equipment. You'll probably have to buy insurance too.

Sure, plenty of indie filmmakers have shot hours of footage on a used DVX100a without a hiccup. Plenty of indie filmmakers have also never made more than one movie because of their cheap-ass ways.

If you've got someone who wants to be a chef and is up for cooking 30-40 meals a night and keeping them warm and ready to go the next day, someone with that kind of kitchen space and basically no other life... great. You can't do it because you're the filmmaker, you've got other things to do and don't even try to kid yourself into thinking making chili every day of the shoot will satisfy your obligation to your cast and crew. You're gonna need to go to Costco and get a shit-ton of crafty, and plan out hot meals for any day you'll be shooting more than 8 hours. You might be able to get a local restaurant to donate meals but you cannot count on this.

There are a bunch of other factors that could cost money. Don't even get me started on post! Oh man, from editing to music to color grading to distribution (yeah, you gotta buy those DVDs you want to send to fans), you either know it yourself or have a friend you can pester for months on end to get it done. Otherwise it's wallet time again! And locations! Geez... if you want to do something even mildly dangerous (say, having a guy chase another guy with a fake gun that doesn't even go off) you'll probably need to buy insurance to secure a location. Unless you shoot in your apartment and how boring is that?

If your goal is to spend as little money as possible your script needs to mirror that. You shouldn't come to the table with the next Avatar unless you're also willing to do most of the work yourself and do it for the years (YEARS!) it will take to finish it. Regardless of your script's scope, you need to budget out all real and potentially real costs before you can move on.


Cross Promotion is Tricky Business

And now for another entry in: who really gives a shit ya dirty so-and-so?! Likely no one, but I thought it warranted discussion. So, here ya go...

Let me say this first; I think the idea of cross promotion is great! There's one big caveat involved and that stems from what, exactly, you're cross promoting.

Some questions jump out at me every time someone asks me to help spread the word about their show or crowdfunding campaign. "Who are you? What are you promoting? Are you just asking me to just shill your project because we're friends or do you think I would actually like it?" And perhaps more importantly, "what does MY audience stand to gain from this?"

See, when your friends are creators in their own right they need that promotional network to trust them. They need to know that when they send their own links out these people will click on them. If you're sending them a lot of bung links to projects and videos that are crap, they'll remember that. It's like crying wolf. They just might stop clicking on anything you send.

You are curating material for them. If you just link whatever any of your friends ask you to repost your other friends will hold that to you. By blindly linking to projects and campaigns that are poorly run, poorly made or poorly thought out it reflects poorly on you.

I'm prepared to sound like a dick (surprise!) by telling you you shouldn't help out your friends when they ask. Some people may see this as something that further divides artists rather than uniting them. We should support each other, not tear each other down! Here's my problem with that attitude - if you support without critique, no one learns anything. If someone has a shitty idea for a project, wouldn't it be better to tell them than to send all our friends there to donate money to it?

I understand that by noting a personal connection some may find that comforting. "Well, if Dom is friends with them, it must be worthwhile!" Let's be honest here, that's not always the case is it? Just because I'm friends with someone doesn't necessarily mean I think their work is the best it could be. In a few cases I know people are capable of better. I'd much rather a friend contact me first and ask my opinion on things before asking me to share the link. They can take or leave my opinion, it's their project, but they shouldn't be surprised if I don't tell my contacts about it.

If we take away the fact that our friends made it would we still be promoting it? Does it meet our own strict criteria? Would you fund it if you didn't know the people behind it? I try not to back crowdfunding campaigns I just don't believe in and I never link to a campaign I haven't already contributed to.

So what's the answer? Cross promote with conviction. If the only reason you have to promote a project is because your friend is involved then commit to that. Own up to it. "You should check out this guy's video because he's awesome." If you think the storyline is worth producing regardless of the person producing it, play up that aspect instead. Perhaps promote aspects that may work for each audience like region (all filmed in a certain location) or genre, or plot, or actor...

Bottom line we are what we link to.


Producing is Creating

Inspired by an old post I found over at SOLO: The Series I decided I'd give you an update on our own webseries and just why it's taken almost a year to get to this point from the initial conception of the idea to a finished script.

So just what the hell have we been doing? When last I wrote about the show I had the über-idealistic goal to have a webseries screening on your computer by... uh... now. Whoops! The time has not been wasted, however, as we've been hard at work making these characters live and breathe.

Tasked with taking my initial concept and making sense of it all has been my good friend and frequent GadZook Films collaborator Faye Hoerauf. Let me just go a little more into this enigmatic dynamo behind a lot of what we do here. If you're a GadZook fan you know Faye's work as the award-winning co-writer/co-director of Snow Day, Bloody Snow Day and as an award-winning co-writer of Hook Her as well as the sole writer of Old Tricks among quite a few others.

I turn to Faye so often because she's not simply a good writer, she's a good storyteller. She asks questions and is able go well beyond the scope to make sure the story is holistic and not self-serving. Over the last year she's woodshedded a lot of the story I had initially come up with and turned it from a wispy scotch pine to a full blown working canoe. Terrible analogy. Bottom line: Faye's great and the series is in excellent hands with her writing.

Conceptualizing. Reading. Writing. Brainstorming. Designing. The world of this show has taken shape. All the little things we do as we (the producers) prepare a project to release into the wilds. Reading Lovecraft is not like reading, well, there's almost no comparison appropriate. You read one story (say, "The Dunwich Horror")  and that effectively eff's you up for a few weeks. It's a strength and a curse of his writing. So good. Anyway, I've been going through his stories for inspiration (of which there is plenty). So for the last year we've been trading back and forth: I'll come up with an idea, Faye will write; Faye will come up with an idea, I'll give feedback and she'll write some more. Around February this year we sent the first draft to some friends we trusted. The feedback was invaluable. And we went back and started cropping, re-arranging and tightening.

Last Tuesday I put together a small read-through with some friends of mine to see how the whole thing sounded. Using the most recent version of the script finished literally hours before the readthrough. Frequent readers of this blog may notice that this is - OMG - precisely what I think ALL creators should do. Get it read and get feedback. As this was the 2nd round of feedback we were anxious to see if all the work had been for naught.

I'm happy to say the readthrough was a big boost of confidence! Everyone seemed to really dig the premise and the characters, the pacing and length. Is it perfect? No, of course not. But it's grown from this crazy idea I had over a year ago (another OMG moment!) to a living, breathing show.

I just wanted to share my excitement with you, dear reader. And I hope to share more as we inch our way closer to pre-production! Stay tuned!


Why Do (Most) Webseries Suck? part 3

Welcome back to this ongoing pontification about webseries. In Part 1 the topic was focusing on originality to set your show apart. Part 2 discussed the need for a compelling story over all else as your main audience development tool.

Let me be very clear, these are basic concepts familiar to many filmmakers regardless of what the destination format may be. But webseries production introduces new limitations for writers that make it very different from your typical traditional media production.

Most narrative webseries (those with a story arc, as opposed to informational/reality series) are harder to write than your traditional media projects because of several inherent issues:

Time Limit - optimal web videos destined for virality are between 1-3 minutes long. If they can impart their message faster than that they have an even greater chance of being passed around. By contrast most short films bound for festival runs are between 12-20 minutes in length. And TV shows are somewhere in the 22-48 minutes range.

With shorts and TV shows and movies there are very clear broadcasting standards as well as programming considerations. With webseries there isn't such a clear guideline.

You have to take the brevity of the viral video along with the production considerations of the short film plus the episodic nature of a TV show. But there's no magical logarithm to find your ideal time limit.

You have maybe 6-10 minutes to tell your story in each episode. Trust me when I say even just 5 minutes can have the emotional impact of a half-hour TV show if you pace it right. 5 minutes can also feel like a half-hour and have NO impact whatsoever.

I've seen many filmmakers with episodes that are way too long. This is often seen with comedic series where episodes are written around a single lame joke for about 5 minutes... long after the audience got the joke and finished chuckling. Aim for the 2-3 minute mark when editing, but if your story is good people will watch more. Just don't bank on it.

Once you have your audience hooked on your character's story, they'll want more. The webspace is fairly unique in that your audience can easily access past episodes, recaps, character bios, etc. through your website and get caught up. In my opinion you don't need to spend 10-20 seconds recapping your previous episode, or have a minute long credit sequence. There's some dissenting opinion on this regard, of course, but for my money I believe if the audience is interested in your content they'll do the research to catch themselves up - naturally disregard this if you crowdfunded your show and offered a credits listing on the show as a perk.

Accessibility - This may sound contradictory to my previous posts about uniqueness and niche, but I assure you they're very separate.

You do not have the time to develop one character for 15 minutes before you introduce another. Or drop in your first major plot point three episodes down the road. The more shows I watch the more I see the good ones like Solo or GOLD or JourneyQuest introduce the characters, the basic plot and the construct of the world in the first episode. Further episodes expand at a more gentle pace once you've established who everyone is and what they're after.

So you can see when writing a webseries you need to make it both accessible and thrifty with time. Keep that first episode under 10 minutes if you can with the knowledge that you want it to be only as long as it needs to be. All of this should help you develop your story. Hand off your script to friends who maybe aren't familiar with your concept. Ask them if, after the first episode, they know who the main people are and what they're after. If they don't have a clear idea after just one episode... you're in trouble.

What are your thoughts? What obstacles have you seen that set webseries production apart from more traditional media? Stay tuned for the final installment in this series next week! Please share with your friends and comment below!


Why Do (Most) Webseries Suck? part 2

Hey, welcome back! This is Part 2 of this multi-part series where I'll go into some of the roadblocks facing webseries producers and how they can improve their idea to get an audience and have a successful show.

2) Producers don't know what's wrong with their own shows.

There's a favorite argument amongst web-producers over the word "webseries". Many believe the word itself is the factor preventing audiences from finding or watching their work.

In last week's post I went on and on about the standard, blah, unimaginative "traditional" webseries. Some producers believe now that the term "webseries" connotes bad quality because it is overwhelmingly associated with this content. This isn't an entirely false assumption, but it's scapegoating the very thing that sets us apart.

We need the word webseries because we produce shows for the web. If we produced shows for TV then they'd be TV series. It's very simple and silly to want to change the term for what we do. But I'm getting off the topic at hand...

Still other producers choose to blame their own AUDIENCE as the reason their show isn't more popular. For some reason they call out their audience for not sharing the show with their friends, or for not "getting the premise" when they lambast the show on YouTube. Protip: If the people watching your show don't get it or in anyway don't like it - you're doing something wrong. Not cool, dude, not cool.

It's not what we call what we do, and it's not who watches our show - clearly it's the content that's king. A great idea does not a great show make. Beyond simple technical issues like bad sound or a shaky camera there's still the story and the performances - the things that audiences truly, passionately care about.

If you're not getting an audience to watch your show it's likely not what camera you shoot on or what editing system you use to cut it. It's what your show is about and how you tell your story. Filmmakers are often trying to shift the blame - I've certainly been guilty of this. "Oh," they say (I've said), "we'd have more fans if we shot in HD and bought a better mic." While technical skill is impressive, it cannot hide a shoddy or, more appropriately, uninteresting story.

Sure, not all people will get your show. That's not the point. The point is that you're squandering what small reach you have by alienating the people who are seeking your show out. In marketing, well, I'm sure there's a term for it in marketing... let's just call it "word of mouth." What? That's the term? Nice. Anyway, webseries need word of mouth advertising. We don't have the vast ad dollars of movies studios to plaster banner ads all over Facebook. If you think word of mouth didn't help nobody, I invite you to check out The Guild.

As a 7 year veteran of the 48-Hour Film Project I've seen my share of winners and losers. The winners tend to have a healthy mix of story and technical savvy. Fancy camerawork is impressive, and special effects (done well) can bring an audience to its knees - once. But if there's no story to back it up the audience doesn't have anything to latch on to.

When writing/producing your webseries think to the story - what makes it better? What makes it stirring? Funnier? Who you cast, how you shoot and what music you use. Every decision you make for your show should be for the betterment the story. That's what's wrong with your show... fix it.

Next week I'll berate those of you who think none of this applies to you. Naw, don't worry... it'll be fun!


Chick Flick & the 48 Hour Film Project

It's happened. Another 48-Hour film has been produced and screened. Now it's a waiting game to see if we measure up! It's interesting seeing the competition from year to year. Last year only a few teams had upgraded to HDSLRs or otherwise "fancy" cameras, giving their films a very professional look. This year nearly everyone had some depth of field advantage. The ones that didn't have this used their cameras in filmic and oft-times inventive ways. Ambition was high.

One thing I notice year to year, however, is that as technical skill goes up storytelling remains a constant. That is, it's either there or it's not. For 48HFs it's most often not. A script is thought of by some as an annoyance. A waste of time, perhaps. "We'll improv it!" is a popular refrain. Films then languish with exciting visuals that go nowhere and lead the viewer not on a journey but on a slideshow. And time after time the winning films have a story to tell. I've seen this in the screenings I've been apart of and had it reinforced when I attended the 2010 Filmapalooza screenings for the Best of City winners for last year's 48HFP. Each film told a story. Beginning, middle and end. Some of them were more powerful than others, some written more wisely, but they were all stories. Even the impressive, effects-laden masterpieces had something that drew the viewer in and kept them concerned beyond just nifty special effects.

My tips for anyone wanting to participate and, perchance, win - story. Brainstorm with anyone, but designate one person as your writer and sequester them around 9pm on Friday night. You'll get a much more focused story as a result. The "write by committee" scripts usually feel that way. Unless everyone is comfortable writing with each other, you end up getting a bunch of different ideas no one can agree on and you go out Saturday with an unclear idea of what needs to get done. Really these rules can be carried over to non 48HF Projects. Story is king!

Well, without further ado, here's our entry for this year. No awards have been announced, but I think we rocked regardless!

This film was made for the 2010 48 Hour Film Project in Los Angeles. This is the ORIGINAL cut of the film. A re-cut will be uploaded soon with improved sound and extra footage.

Team: GadZook Films
Genre: Film de Femme
Character: Jamie (or Jared) Woodnit, Actor
Prop: Keyboard
Line: "I have no idea."

Tagged as: 2 Comments

Crazy Train

What's this?? Another video?! Are we insane or just moderately productive? A little of both? After seeing this video you may lean one way on that notion. This is the first part of a planned trilogy featuring The Troubadour. I directed and edited this thing, in addition to my typical producing duties.

Next month we shoot "Turkey and Nathan" a short about self-worth, and then in August we sojourn back to the 48 Hour Film Project and attempt to kick ass. Without further adieu - "Crazy Train"!

Boy tries to impress girl. Girl is more than she seems. Ain't that the truth, am I right guys?
Starring Dan Gallo, Erika Godwin and Tyler Rhoades.
Written by Señor Rhoades.
Shot by Alejandro Zuniga.
Produced, Directed and Edited by Dom Zook.
GadZook Films