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


Peer Review

I put it out there, and I mean it: if you'd like some peer review or advice I'm more than happy to help. But I stress that if your project sucks I'm not gonna sugar coat my response to placate your fragile feelings. So yeah, I put it out there but rarely does anyone take me up on it. Until now.

The Monday Knights is a new webseries created by Prescott Harvey and shot in Portland, OR. I was messaged via their Twitter (@MondayKnights) and invited to give some feedback on their show. So I did.

I watched the first three episodes to get a feel for the show and see if my initial reaction to episode 1 was gonna hold up. There were issues to be sure, but there was also some great stuff. I won't get too deep into the nitty-gritty of each issue but suffice to say there were problems (of varying degrees) in each major department: script, acting, camera, sound, editing.

I hemmed and hawed before sending my response. To be honest I don't like pointing out flaws, but I do think it's invaluable. With my own stuff I'm usually painfully aware of what's wrong before anyone else. I usually can't fix it, but once it's finished it's nice to hear who notices what I did and who didn't - or who picked up something entirely new from it. When I finally hit send on my email I had watched each episode at least three times. I consulted my books and other blogs to make sure I wasn't talking out of my ass. I did my due diligence.

I fretted about the response. But Prescott couldn't have been more receptive. Like many filmmakers he's passionate about his work, but he clearly wasn't wearing rose-colored glasses. He agreed with my points and sought clarification and advice for how to fix things in the future. In the end, it was painless. I'm really looking forward to his show growing because it has a good deal of potential. Plus Prescott allowed me to, if I so chose, go into that nitty-gritty in order to help other webseries producers in the future. Maybe I'll take him up on that. Set up a master class of some sort.

It's important to grow as filmmakers - especially in this emerging new media market. Even so it's not always great to hear what's wrong with the show you've spent months working on. You want it to be a homerun. But with a simple e-mail to a source you trust, it's easy to get feedback in a constructive, unintimidating way.

For added pleasure, ask me (or whomever you want to give you feedback) before you post to the world, if possible. You may not have enough time or resources to make the fixes, but it may better prepare you for the audience response. Audiences, in general, are pretty forgiving for most things - if the story is good enough.

Now if I ask you for a critique of my show, I hope you'll oblige.


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 SeƱor Rhoades.
Shot by Alejandro Zuniga.
Produced, Directed and Edited by Dom Zook.
GadZook Films


Canon Vixia HF11

Hey all! So for Christmas I splurged and bought myself a new camera with which I hoped to shoot more videos. Here follows a bit of drama about this camera and my ownership thereof. So here's the specs: Full HD, 1920x1080. AVCHD codec (just like the HVX-200). A revolutionary (for this price-point) 24mbps recording mode, which means more data in less space. And the big ta-da is the fact that this camera records to a solid-state memory card. Two, in fact. A built-in 32GB and a slot for any SDHC card you care to throw at it. Let me tell you the 32GB is a LOT. About 200 minutes at full rez, 1080/30i. Camera is tiny, like digital camera tiny. Images are crisp as you might expect from an HD camera, but it's also just a lowly one-chipper. Only with an insane amount of structured lights and a solid pair of sticks could you even hope of shooting anything longer than 10 minutes on this. Luckily, that's not my goal.

Anyway, I used the camera for a shoot a few weekends ago, the results of which can be located below. But first, here's my main issue: sound. I have a decent shotgun mic - the Azden SGM-1X. Now, this camera is a consumer model. It doesn't have XLR inputs or anything that fancy. You can't ride the levels or attach multiple mics or headphones. It has a mini 1/8" external mic plug located in the back, just above the battery. I have a few XLR-to-mini adapter cables, which, it should be noted, have worked perfectly in the past. So I get the mic plugged in to the camera, set up the shot and begin recording. Immediately upon hitting record I pick up some sort of electrical interference. I call cut, make sure all cell phones are off and resume shooting. The noise comes back. It's intermittent, like three rapid clicks, pause, a couple more clicks, pause, three more, pause... and so on. Seems to be fairly random. I call cut again, take out the mic and listen... no clicks. I review the footage and sure enough you can hear the clips in the source. What's causing this?

Well, we needed to shoot while we had daylight and to match people's schedules. I decide it's something I can cut around in post if I really cared. It was quiet enough that it would probably get lost anyway. Then we shoot the next scene. While the camera is rolling I look down at it to make sure my headphones are fully in and the external mic is connected properly and here another click. It was then that I noticed the clicks corresponded to the Access light. Everytime the camera was recording to memory that light came on, and each time it came on it caused a click in the audio which was transferred to the footage. Great.

After discussing options with some of my more technically inclined friends I tried all available options. Ferrite cores, different cables, recording while plugged in to the wall as opposed to battery... nothing helped. Then I contacted Canon. They were pretty speedy with a response. Unfortunately their ideas included turning on a TV so I wouldn't notice the sound so much to switching off an option that wasn't even available (the "wind screen" which is only available when you use the onboard mic and conveniently is automatically shut off when you connect an external mic). Great. So they told me to send it in. Which I did, today.

Who knows what will happen to my poor camera that I had for just a scant period of time. But until then, watch this little short I shot with a bunch of friends over a weekend. Fun times. Next short should be out in a few weeks.

Stray Doug from Dom Zook on Vimeo.


Shorts, a clarification

Let me explain my reasoning behind shorts and the feasibility behind them. There are two (possibly three) kinds of shorts. Those made to garner attention and those made to have fun. A third possibility are those made for short film contests which arguably falls into both categories. For now, however, I'll concentrate on the two kinds.

In the first kind, it's all about concept. And then the money to pull it off. Concept usually means more work - for you, your crew, your actors, nearly everyone involved. Having said that, you could have the most basic concept in the world. One location. One actor, maybe two. Minimal dialogue. Interior shoot, etc. That's great. But for this kind of short you are trying to demonstrate your ability to create a memorable and visually interesting movie. Something that translates well to audiences and will make producers trust your vision for future work. Quite frankly very few of us have this ability. So while you may've solved the whole expense of shooting issue, you may've compromised your concept irrevocably.

To shoot a concept short you can't just get your buddies together on the weekend and hope those worklights and lav mics will suffice. Unless your buddies are pros and experts in their chosen fields and able to wrangle every last bit of juice from the equipment, and unless you as a producer or director or writer are able to manage them efficiently so as not to waste their time while also balancing a superb script and actors, you're probably not going to be making Citizen Kane on $50/day.

It's nice having talented friends, but talent is subjective and unless you write and create FOR that talent, it's lost on all but the most keen observers. Which is to say most audiences and most of your potential benefactors. And by talent I refer to people both in front of and behind the camera. Your friend might be a great gaffer, but this sci-fi short you wrote is a bit out of his league. Your buddy might have the gear and the know-how to get great location sound, but you need to create new sounds on the calibre of Lucas for your short epic (oxymoron alert!).

So, for the concept short it's imperative to spend money on the things you need to make it right. Hey, if you've GOT the people that can make your short, which is what I'm talking about above, and they're all willing to do it for the fun of it, by all means full steam ahead. But after your third weekend with hardly any food on a difficult 12-hour day (if you're lucky) those same friends won't think this is so much fun anymore.

The next short is the one made for fun. There's always an off chance this short will have that certain, how you say, thing that people want to see. But who cares? If you're making it for fun to throw up on YouTube, it really doesn't matter. It's great to be in this mindset, but you have to realize this is not the territory for high concept. Your Star Wars fantasy short is not something you can hack out in a weekend unless it's a parody spoof and you're an incredibly frugal shooter.

For me I have dozens of tiny stupid concepts I'd love to shoot, none of which would take more than a day to shoot. But they'd also take a few days to edit, which I don't have time for. And I just can't bring myself to throw out half-assed work these days.

My next short probably won't be till the next 48HFP this Summer. The brilliance is the time comittment is set in stone for everyone involved. Pay is outlawed so everyone is doing it for the fun of it (if they have a free weekend of course). And the notoriety can be huge if you have a decent enough concept and script... which, well, isn't easy in normal cases let alone for a script written in a few hours. But still, contests like this provide the opportunity to bring concept with budget.


Investors or Presales or both?

Let me first acknowledge some of the comments from my previous posting. For my sanity, I'm just going to lump everything in together in a big mishmash of commentary.

Eric said "The investors in this town lack the sophistication to suffeciantly fund and see a project to distribution."

I don't disagree, but I think that's the whole reasoning behind securing SOPHISTICATED investors. And I'm not being facetious here, there are so-called sophisticated investors, that's their proper financial term and if you're a filmmaker in Seattle you'll do well to find out who and where they are. I can't help. Still, sophisticated investors have lots of money and can stand to lose $50k, $100k, $250k and not even bat an eye. They are hardened investors and know what a good investment looks like. They know the signs of a bad investment and they know exactly what questions to ask. They are termed "sophisticated" for a reason. Does Seattle have sophisticated investors? Yes! Do filmmakers often go to sophisticated investors? No!

Why? Sophisticated investors are typically the upper eschelon of society. It's hard to meet them let alone get them to give you money. So most typical filmmakers go with who they know best: Mom, Dad, friends and other family. These are NOT sophisticated investors (unless they are :). And the problem with friends and family is 1) they don't typically have the cash to spare and they 2) don't have the knowledge of filmmaking or the necessities of investing. Anyway, because of Microsoft and to a lesser degree Boeing, Amazon and other major software and bio-med industries in town, there are more potential investors than ever in Seattle. Whether they are sophisticated investors or not is another matter!! This is a point many filmmakers forget about when they hear the word "millionaire". For "Plight of the Living Dead," we are seeking sophisticated investors and I'll get in to the why and wherefore in a bit.

Is Seattle a commercial filmmaking town? Commercial, yes. Theatrical, maybe. Sustainable for either? Hardly. Commercial interests are shot in Seattle all the time. I know this isn't exactly what you meant, Eric, but it is possible to sustain oneself doing commercial filmwork like industrials, DTV and well, commercials. The market is easier to break in to, the equipment is attainable and for the level of work required it's fairly plentiful. What we lack is experienced crew, but frankly while the work can be sustainable up here, there's no reason to shoot something in Seattle while everyone is in LA. It's my understanding the WEIPA will help bring some of that work up to Seattle, or at least make it a little more viable. Still, it won't be easy.

Theatrically though, Seattle can't compete. We've got no proper sound stages within union distance, a tiny number of experienced crew members and frankly a dearth of really talented people who can put a full feature film together using the limited resources at our disposal. My dream of 5-10 $1-5M films made a year is difficult when the infrastructure can barely support one film. While I believe the money is here, the infrastructure lags sorely behind and it will be decades before we're able to have a SUSTAINABLE future in theatrical motion pictures.

HOWEVER, I do think that what happened in Austin can happen here. Again, more on that later...

As for real producers that you can pitch to... well there aren't any production companies! There are three that I know of which do theatrical motion pictures (from docs to narrative works): Vulcan, North by Northwest in Spokane and Paradigm. It's a vicious circle though because the production companies up here aren't like the production companies in LA. And that's a good thing, I think. But it can stifle some production. And again... more on this later.

Lastly, should you move to LA or at least focus your attention down South? If you want to make a living and/or don't care who makes your movie - YES! I don't care anymore, the people who are going to go to LA are going to go regardless. They have the whole scene down there and if you want to work in movies that's the place. It's like getting a software job up here - jobs are plentiful but competition (and req. experience) is fierce. If you have written a script (and rewritten and received coverage, etc.) that works and you don't care who makes it or if it gets completely destroyed in the process of bringing it to the screen, send it to LA. You'll make money. It'll be great.

If you still care about making movies YOUR way, move wherever you want because you'll find a way.