Archive for April, 2013

Documentary Films, A Retro Wave of Comfort?

Sunday, April 28th, 2013

I read an article this week at – and wanted to do more than drop a mention and a tweet, however time was slim, as somehow this week’s been action packed.

Still, the thought lingered for more than a minute, so I was convinced it had me wanting to open it up for discussion. Why are documentaries somewhat hip now, where they used to make people cringe back in the days?  My thought was that not only are the stories more in depth, but visually because the gap has grown between how documentaries and mainstream films look – that the visual feel of these movies have that natural sort of comfort to it.

Films at home on DVD or in the theater are “sharp” these days.  Too sharp perhaps.  But VHS tapes with a slight decay to the visual sharpness were just as captivating too.  Film tries to look too refined, too real these days.  The art has perhaps transitioned from story line to presentation and technique.  But who’s really buying all this CGI “that” much more than handcrafted effects in the past (you could fit the blade runner city on your desk and it may look amateur now but did it affect the movie that much?  would it have been that different if they replaced that with a fully customized effect with a living population?). Has it changed the experience of the movie that much? If so, please chime in. Personally though one of the great things about documentaries is that it has a bit of a blur to it. Its not as sharp visually or audio-wise.  Plus the storylines are pretty good too these days.

PS: Warmth in these documentary images below was taken from the article pic, linked above and also in New York magazine, though I couldn’t find their version online. If so, I’ll link to that too.


Almost Halfway There – Or What I’ve Learned in 6 Months

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

Almost 6 months to the day, we thought about finally getting our act together, taking things a bit more seriously perhaps. We always had an interest in film and writing, but couldn’t quite get it off the ground. Life got in the way.

We had to make ends meet, we weren’t quite ready for the critique yet, confidence fluctuated, ideas came and then became blurry. Time flew by. The latter continues to keep going at an increasing pace – backing my firm belief in how life is proportionate. For those that don’t know, its the whole theory that when you’re 10, a year is 10% of your life and thus seems like quite a long time (even summer breaks took a while).  Where as when you are 33, each year is just over 3% and things become a bit more blurry.  When 50, this drops down to 2% and so on.

However, that’s perhaps best reserved for another post. This is more for Dead Red Eyes, which was started in late October 2012. For some background, its probably no shock that I’ve always been inspired by writing, inspired by film. At least I used to be. The last few years were not the case, and very little was written once other immediate requirements occupied my life. So perhaps this is about putting that effort, making it count this time.  Only problem is some things haven’t changed since my early 20’s, other than I can actually pay my rent and not have to crash around and move all the time, yeah that’s probably a plus! I may have gained experience work-wise in a completely different industry, thus my writing and film knowledge has receded – or has it. Perhaps more experience in any manner of life helps, if you have the time to harness it.

Several things inspired these last six months for me.  While I can’t fully speak for everyone else, here’s what I think kicked things off.

Motivation and People. I’m glad to be working on this with people who are motivated (somehow managing to squeeze in acting on stage, filming, writing and multiple jobs), especially when I might not be at times (my day job takes up the biggest cut of my time, but there are other factors too – whether personal or creative) and need to keep things on track, or at least a reminder. Props to all those that can go it alone, however I’ve recently realized I am not one of them. Especially nowadays, when other aspects of your life are fighting for time, you need to manage things as well as you can.

Unfortunately, if its not as pressing, you push things back. That’s why I think we’re all grateful for the collaboration element. Sometimes you need others to push things forward. Back in October, I was able to help Justin finish off a screenplay he had been working on for a while, but perhaps wasn’t quite ready to let go of.  Later on in the year, Bryan and Justin were able to collaborate on getting a couple of short scripts and film them in very quick succession with the help of some great actors and people overall. The least I could do was help out where possible with the scripts and the soundtracks to them (as per my other current push with music, which I also couldn’t do by myself, as much as I used to once think so). Have also had a hand in getting the word out there, whether with this site, or by testing the waters of various film festival events.  Pushing the name is certainly something I want to be able to dedicate more resource in the coming months too.

So far we’ve fared ok. Nothing spectacular, but a start. We’ve submitted the two short films – “Alphabet Soup” & “The Torment” to just a few festivals, however its a slow turnaround, and some of these are several months away still – so I guess we’re in suspense for the most part.  Going against the unwritten rules, we’ve also been rejected a couple of times.  Of course, we’ve also pushed the screenplay, in this case “The Havenots”.  It’s early days, and we’d be naïve to think we’re going to rack up awards from the get go – and so some of it is to build a bit of a portfolio.  We had some positive feedback including The Havenots making it as a finalist (but missing the cut on the top 10) at the Richmond Film Festival, which was a nice tease for the first stage perhaps.  A few years ago it might have hit home a bit more, but instead it felt like we finally shook off the rust and could improve on it – and thus we’re working on a few different screenplays, some of which I’m pretty much narrating how the process goes for, as per my recent obsession with outlines for instance.

Without sounding too cheesy, that’s the main lesson we’ve learned. It takes a while to establish oneself, and we’ve only just begun. That said, we’re looking forward to turning things up a notch in the next six months, and then likely realizing 6 months later that we still have a ways to go.  But we’ll get there.

P.S: Other miscellaneous learnings include:

– Over 1,100 visitors have been on this site, which might not be saying much, as I’ve worked on sites that get way more.  But considering we had nothing a few months ago, its a start.

– Feb was our biggest month for overall visits, which is when the films went live on site too I think.  Though April has already brought more search traffic than any other previous month.

– 90% of them are from the US, 4% from the UK, then its pretty evenly split with one or two visit each amongst 19 other countries

– We get a fair bit of search traffic for “baseball movies 2013

– Twitter brings us more traffic than Facebook

– We made 32 posts in 26 weeks

– There are two short films on the site, though more people went to the trailer page than the full length

Movie Sequels, Trilogies, Prequels & Correlations in the Economy

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

We often hear about how Hollywood is churning out sequels left and right more so today than ever before. Even movies that were not that big are getting sequels these days (example: Grown Ups 2), or even movies that were full on flops (Smurfs 2?!), or sequels that should have long been killed (Scary Movie 5, Fast and Furious 6 – and part 7 is set for a 2015 release, Bourne 5, etc). But it’s not ending any time soon, because the business is of playing it safe and releasing “sure shots” when it comes to movies generating revenue even if the actual movie is crap.

Interesting list of sequels in the works at

Even movie sequels you left for dead “The Last Exorcist, Part II”, let alone “Bill And Ted 3” and “Blade Runner 2” are looking to cash in. And while “A Good Day To Die Hard” would technically be Die Hard 5, they’ve already planned a part 6!!! Or 21 Jump Street 2 (which isn’t even based on the TV show, but taking the branding of it as a marketing chip). This lack of creativity in Hollywood perhaps?! Even first parts are based on existing stories such as comic books or novels. And while many of these blockbusters are not my thing, I’ve seen a few of these in the cinema thanks to various friends of mine convincing me its worth a shot. Perhaps there are a couple that I didn’t mine, but then again, some of these movies that people loved, I felt were horrendous. Even the special effects looked too much the C in CGI. This used to really frustrate me when I was younger. WTF is with these movies, where’s the plot, etc.

It doesn’t bother me anymore though and I attribute a good portion of it to a couple of people telling me (on separate occasions but within the same month) several years ago that its mainly because when they go see movies, they want to “escape”. They want to veg out, escape their day and be entertained. Upon hearing this, it clicked. Not everyone is a film snob, wannabe writer, director, actor, etc. Most people don’t mind playing it safe and seeing a sequel to something that they know they liked, or seeing a movie because a one-liner and some special effects that make fictional things come true on the big screen looked cool and can compensate for any bad acting. Movies don’t always have to be memorable or meaningful I learned. So I thought and realized, yeah sure, I like a lot of comedies that in many people’s eyes are pretty stupid perhaps. However, its unique, it’s focusing on the acting, the delivery. But there’s more to it than that. Escapism indeed is a big source of why people watch these movies. And that factor peaks more at certain times. When times are tough, more people want to escape. When attention spans are short, more people want to escape. And both of these were factors recently.

When the economies are good, more descriptive flicks make it to the big time. Think about the wave of documentaries that crashed ashore in 2004-2008 (actually there still is a lot of strong documentary films out there, but its reverted to a more artist/critic based fan base). Or how movies transitioned in the 80’s to 90’s and then blew up into more of a business model. Thinking about compiling research on this, I looked around for info and things that could back up or counter this argument: and for the former, things like this piece from the LA Times –

Or this detailed research piece at – where he “went through every year from 1936 to 2011 and tallied how many movies in the box office top 10 were a sequel or adaptation”. Though this can be misleading, as a top 10 list does not a market overview make, however still a great start (and way more time spent than I could pull off, so much thanks to this person, who has a few really good reads on his blog overall by the way) – and this graphic shows the recent explosion of sequels.

However, the level of adaptations (usually a book that gets made into a movie, so still more unique than say a sequel) has been around for a while. The study and blog post around it, compares movie sequel trends and escapism to some extent with homicide rates rather than economies, however traditionally crime and bad economies do go hand in hand, so I felt that this was a good resource of info when looking to get some data myself. And it backed up my thoughts about creativity in movies correlating with “boom times”, such as the 60’s and 80’s, and lack of during down times like the 70’s, early 90’s, and the 2008 wave when the economy took a hit (which in years prior such as 2004-2007 was a big documentary run).

Despite the recent recovery, there was been a down trend in box office revenue, as feeding sequels out one after another seems to be running out of gas. And maybe people want substance sometimes, or at least the right mix of it. As per this quote on – where “Stephanie” a woman in her 20’s commented “The end product doesn’t have to be a mishmash of expensive stunts and large explosions. If there’s something a little more interesting happening underneath the surface with that script and with the main characters, I’m going to walk away from the theater much more satisfied and likely to return” – so perhaps its not just me after all?

Overall, its a piece I’d like to build on when I get more time, but the thing is, its not a surprise to see that film is a business like many others, and like in other industries, it takes a few standout pieces to revolutionize it and push things forward within that industry. Do we think we can contribute that? We hope so, and that drives us. But unlike when I was in my youth, I know not everything has to have that message and there are many reasons people will like something. Good acting, good stories, good scene/visuals that feel real, and most importantly good delivery, that’s something we want when putting down money to see a film whether as a means of escaping or not.

Note: This post was tweeted with the hashtag #2013movies – and I discovered that there’s a lot of enthusiasm for this summer’s crop of movies, mainly commenting about the more anticipated sequels.  One guy even commented that movies need not be good for this summer’s crop, just get them out in 3D. Escapism is in full swing I guess!

How To Write A Screenplay in One Day

Saturday, April 13th, 2013

So, one thing I’ve been working on with the three screenplays currently in progress is efficiency. Outlining, writing when you are in a good flow, a good state of mind is key. Some days I am full of ideas and hooks that come from every direction. Some days I am useless. However what used to happen is when I was on the wave of creativitiy, I’d start writing, and a few scenes and pages later, it might fade or the time may have passed and I’ve got to leave/go/sleep/work/eat/acknowledge others. And while I’d be happy that I fit in a couple of hours and got some ideas down, I wish I could get more value for that.

I’ve already gone on about how outlining a screenplay is so important and the element of modern convenience is useful too, in an age and time where we seem to have a lot of the former but none of the latter. As I am still a long way away from developing an iOS app for screenwriting, let alone testing out the competition – I am still concentrating on what I’d want it to do in the first place. And I found an odd candidate for doing this. Microsoft Excel! I hate Excel, as what it stands for is something that eats up a fair bit of my work day, but at the same time, I see myself use it in more and more non-work scenarios.

The other day I had a couple hours to spare. And this was rare. So I knew I needed to make the most of it. One of my recent screenplay ideas was scribbled on a piece of paper. This is the first tip on how to write a screenplay in one day HAVE AN IDEA IN THE FIRST PLACE. So anyone expecting some magical trick here is out of luck. You need to know what you’re going to write about, how it will start, what sort of story it is, and how it will end.

But lets say you have an idea and you know how it will flow, how it will start, end and some main character elements. Open MS Excel. Create a spreadsheet with the following columns in the first row. Scene number, Outline, Location, Characters, Estimated Time, Notes, Hook Relation. Don’t worry, this isn’t advanced Excel 101, just some basic ways you can use it to your advantage.

So in this chart, we show how writing is a business and an art.

The “scene number” explains itself, the first one is 1, and so on. Outline is basically a summary of what the scene is, what’s the message, who’s in, and maybe a snippet of dialogue or how the vibe of that scene is overall. Then for Location we are looking at the traditional Location line, such as “EXT. PARK – NIGHT” for a outdoor scene in the park at night time.

“Characters” – this is where you list the main characters of the scene, so you can track who is involved where. Estimated time is a column formatted as a number where you indicate how many seconds you think the scene might take if you imagine it. No need to be too specific, think 15 for quick transitions, 30 for visual layouts, 45 for regular scenes, 60 for longer scenarios, 90 for large scale transitions with scenery/dialogue/interaction – use your judgement. Set yourself a total number of seconds as a target and put this as an equation on the sheet if need be. I do something like =SUM(E4:E150)/60
Where I total up the time estimates and divide by 60 to see an automatic update on how long into the plot I am.

“Notes” are more for you, if you have an idea of what should be in the scene or what should be referenced, put it here. Last but not least “Hook relation”. Every scene has to mean something in the plot. And sometimes its hard to keep track of a scene you wrote in page 7 when you are up to page 77. So desginate a hook note if its something you want to parlay into the script later – so as you build your plot, you can reconnect the hook into a loop, and thus layer your plot lines accordingly.

When you are in the flow, this is a great way to get your ideas moving and when you have a 2-3 hours with the creativity flowing, I was able to get close to 40 minutes of the story in place, as well as loose ideas for later scenes, open hooks that I need to close and how the ending will work out. I figure if someone gave me a whole day for this or a couple more 3 hour sessions, I’d be done with the outline. Then when I have less time and less creative flow, I can write out according to the outline.

Moving back to the spreadsheet though, there are other ways it can help you with establishing the outline and thus making the write up much smoother. Remember when I mentioned to make each column a different element, such as location? Highlight that top row and in the top menu of Excel (in the home menu tab on Excel 2007 at least) go to “Editing” and select “sort filter” and then “Filter”. Little arrows will go next to each of your column headers. Click on it and you can sort each column by location, character, scene number, etc. The filter option allows the rest of the columns to follow suit when shuffling up the spreadsheet. This way you can see which characters are getting more usage, which locations you have overused, etc. And to reset it back to “Scene order” just order by the first column of “scene number” and we’ll be back to the order of the scenes. I didn’t even really need to use this till after I had 30+ scenes in the spreadsheet, but its useful if you have a full length layout and need to polish up some aspects and/or make sure your plot hooks are closed up before doing your final write up.

Then from that, doing the final write up in proper screenplay format – well, its going to be faster than you’ve ever written up a screenplay before. And you’ll be able to freshly reference the excel sheet (which perhaps you have printed as reference for when you write the full version) in a way that you’ll remember each little bit about the plot, and make it more layered and cohesive overall. Was able to write up 20 pages from it in a 2 or 3 hours, so given a long day, it could be done. However, you will probably need to give it another final look at a later day, and read through, act it out accordingly (if you’re lucky enough to have a co-writer, that is one huge benefit). So its more like outline day 1, write up day 2, review day 3 and you’ll be pretty exhausted, but it can be done, and if you have that great idea, you dont want to let it fade. I’ve heard of books that say how to write a screenplay in 10 days. This method will at least reduce that.

Disclaimer: In reality, these days are spread out. Most people are only lucky enough to have an hour here and there to spare (as is the case with me doing insane hours at work, trying to have a life and not annoying the wife). So when saying a day or two, I mean two sets of 8-10 hours. If you have full 12+ hours to spare every day, well…. make the most of it! And obviously the question of a screenplay being “done” is another discussion.

Note: Some people don’t have Excel nor are willing to pay for it. However, Google Docs or Open office offer similar programs for free. I haven’t used them in a while, but for the basic spreadsheet layout, I assume these would suffice too.

Testing post

Sunday, April 7th, 2013