Friday, December 21, 2012


I very sadly pass my well wishes and sympathy to all the family and friends of the extremely talented David Fetzer who passed away at his parents home last night of unknown causes. David was the star of a great little film called Must Come Down that I had the priveledge to line produce. He was very talented, a genuinely good soul, and someone who left us far too early. My last little bit of conversation with him was when I was trying to find an actor to help out a student friend of mine for a project... even though it was a student film, and no pay, he was happy to do it, just to hang out and help out. Just a great guy who will be deeply missed.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Yes, I have a Kickstarter

So, I recently launched a project on Kickstarter. While I have had multiple projects get some funding via Kickstarter, I have never run my own campaign. Fortunately I was able to learn as I watched many friends run successful campaigns and was able to plan a strategy by watching them.

I plan on spending a lot of time evaluating the success (or lack there of) of my campaign once it's over... but now I'm way to stressed out and consumed with the slow creep toward our goal.

For two weeks I have been pleading with everyone I know to share our page with everyone on their blogs... without doing it myself (shameful).

So please, PLEASE, help us out by supporting our Kickstarter campaign for our feature film FACING EAST. If we haven't raised $65,000 by December 14th, we don't get any of the money currently pledged. For a pledge of just $35 you get the DVD long before it will be available in retail, plus there's lots of other great rewards.

Check it out here:


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

SAG ultra low budget salaries... hidden costs

SAG Ultra Low rates are $100 a day. There are, however, some hidden costs. The most notable being that technically that is for an 8 hour day. The final four hours of a standard 12 hour day are calculated at  time and a half, which means $175 for a day. SAG also expects you to be fully payrolled. Meaning they expect you to pay for Unemployment Insurance and taxes etc. When you're shooting for only 25,000 these are significant additions. My go-to accounting guys charge a minimum of $700 for payroll services for a feature. That said, I don't know what the understanding at SAG is, but I've made several ULB shows that did $100 for a 12 hour day without doing payroll expenses. I think for the smaller films SAG often looks the other way, and figure that as long as none of the actors are complaining they'll let it lie... but don't take my word for it.

Updated rates: In 2015 SAG raised the rates of the SAGIndie contracts to: Ultra Low Budget: $125; Low Budget Modified: $335 daily or $1,166 weekly; Low Budget $630 daily or $2,190 weekly.

Happy birthday to the National Film Society

Congratulations to Patrick Epino and Stephen Dypiangco on their first anniversary of launching the National Film Society. They started the National Film Society with the intent of taking over the world. Well, that may not have been their intent, but it's been the result. Since they've launched they've been picked up by PBS and have been lauded for their unique and quirky style of reporting. They've been very generous to me, naming Surrogate Valentine as their film of the year (or something like that) last year. Anyway, I don't need to promote them here, because the only people who read this blog are people who know me, and consequently are well aware of Patrick and Stephen. So, simply congratulations guys. Love what you do and keep at it.


The anxiety of the man uploading video to withoutabox on deadline day...

Monday was the deadline for the Sundance Film Festival and myself and every other filmmaker in the world was anxiously trying to get our submissions in on time. Being rejected from Sundance is an annual event coinciding with Christmas that allows me to be just a little less jolly during the holiday season, and just a bit more bitter when I go watch the films that did somehow get in. Seriously, living in Utah I do try to see some of the festival every year, mostly to cheer on my friends who did get in. It's a great festival and I do not envy the programming department which seemingly has to view every movie made that year.

Most festivals in the US let handle their entries. Withoutabox is a web site where you can search festivals and in a one-stop sort of way, apply to as many as you like. The web site is owned by Amazon, which owns IMDb. One of the conveniences of withoutabox is that you can upload your video to their site for festivals to view, so you don't have to submit DVDs to all the individual festivals.  Withoutabox's video feature is an extension of IMDb's video content platform. Well, it seems like a good idea, but so far the technology doesn't seem to be there yet. Hopefully reporting on this will help others in the future as they try to upload their own projects.

I went to upload my latest project THE LEMONADE TRADE, which is an 8 minute movie, and a 500MB Quicktime file. My first attempt didn't seem to be working...

"Do not leave this page during the upload," it says quite clearly. So, do I listen?
The status bar is empty and the bar above where the URL seems to be stuck at only a quarter. But what should I do? It tells me that it's uploading, and in no uncertain terms says DO NOT LEAVE THIS PAGE. Well, I let it run for several hours, finally started again and got the same thing. This I let run for about six hours. In the meantime I had sent a help inquiry and had finally gotten a response.

I was told I should be using Chrome or Firefox. I was on Safari. That information up front would have been helpful. Since the day was already up, I was granted an extension due to technical difficulty.

Firefox or Chrome weren't much of an improvement. The status bar was showing that it was reading the file, but it would freeze up after three hours or so. Then the Help Message I got suggested using an mp4. Again, that would be good information from the beginning. On their website they say only Flash Videos (with Sorenson or VP6 codec compression) or Quicktime.

Firefox finally showed me something going on in the status bar. Every thing looked good. Finally, after a total of about 15 hours of attempts it looked like I was on my way. After about five hours, however, I discovered it had frozen up.

Well, it was time to get Old School. I burned a DVD in about four minutes and dropped it in the mail. So much for convenience.

Monday, July 23, 2012

More hard lessons on a micro budget shoot...

It's been quite a while since my last post. During this time I have line produced one film and executive produced another.

The film I line produced had a working title of WONDERFUL WORLD and was produced by Eleven Arts. It starred Kkobi Kim, Akihiro Kitamura, Adam LaFramboise, Julian Curtis, and Andy Maloo. This film was a hard shoot for many reasons. Mostly because everything you want to avoid in a micro-budget film we attempted. Including shooting extensive night exteriors, shooting in a location that required extensive travel and/or lodging, large cast, special effects, and crafts people who didn't quite get the idea of what is needed to stay small. We had a great group of people working with us, and for the most part we had a lot of fun, but it was harder work than it should have been. Not to mention we had to deal with snow, rain and cold. Murphy's Law is the supreme ruler of a film set, and at the outset of this project I told our producer that if we had any problems... delays, rain, car trouble, etc. it would put us over budget, as we had no room for mistakes. Of course we had all types of problems... including more car trouble than I'd ever seen on a movie... I think we had four flat tires during the shoot.

So once again PLEASE write to your budget. A film that has extensive exterior night scenes will cost you much more money. If those scenes take place somewhere that doesn't have power handy, it'll cost more to provide a generator. If you're working in the 50k range, as we were, make sure not to get too complicated.

In the photo below you see dolly track, a heavily over-tricked camera, lighting supplied by a generator, and lights on a boom lift to light the world. Not micro-guerrilla style filmmaking at all.

Crew working hard overnight. Note the lights on the upper right coming from a 9 light mounted on a boom lift.

We were working on a very tight budget, and unable to pay for a lot of gear or grip and electric... well the incredibly generous gaffer volunteered to bring his own one ton truck, but since we didn't have man power to handle all that equipment it only served to slow us down. We couldn't get the look that everyone wanted, so everyone felt like they were compromising. On a micro scale you need to have lighting equipment that will fit in the back of a sedan. Any more and you don't have the manpower. It's always better to have more people than more equipment. I'd much rather have two grip/electrics and a pickup truck of odds and ends than two grip/electrics and a one ton truck.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Must Come Down premieres at Cinequest

I'm happy to announce that Must Come Down, a film I was line producer on, will make its festival premiere at Cinemafest in San Jose next month. I came on board MCD after a few days of production at the request of my friend Dominic Fratto who was producing. Up until then they were continually going over twelve hours each day. I worked with the 1st AD, Dave Moppert, and we came up with a new schedule that seemed to help get things under control. The film is directed by Salt Lake artist Kenny Riches and was literally a bunch of friends getting together making a movie. It was a very fun set and I enjoyed being on it. Congratulations to Kenny and lead actor Dave Fetzer and all the gang.

Go here for times and ticket information.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Knowing when you're making a micro-budget film, or something entirely different

When I first was approached by Kevin Barker to help him and his wife Amy Miller produce Last Kind Words we discussed shooting on a micro-budget, or at least under $100,000. As I read the script I felt like that would certainly be possible. After all, most of the action takes place in a forest and on a farm. The script I learned was written to be filmed at the lovely Mook Farm in rural Kentucky which was owned by a friend of the family. The idea was that our small crew and cast would stay at Mook while we shot. It seemed easy enough. At the time, I was shooting Dave Boyle's Surrogate Valentine, on a much smaller scale. Piece of cake, I thought.

Director Kevin Barker discusses a scene with Brad Dourif in Last Kind Words
However, several factors quickly changed that vision of low-budget ease into a much more complicated procedure.

  • Director's Vision: To make Last Kind Words for the cost that we hoped for we needed to take a visual approach similar in look to Blair Witch Hunt, or some other down and dirty project. However, this wasn't Kevin's vision for the film. As he spoke with his cinematographer it became clear that Kevin wanted to highlight the beauty of Western Kentucky and to make a film that was genuinely great to look at. This would require a much bigger crew (of course, we settled for only a slightly bigger crew) and a larger equipment package. The plan was just to use reflectors in the forest, but eventually we paid for a few extra generator days to be able to have better lighting options. We also needed to have a jib shipped out from Los Angeles (cheaper than renting one locally), a condor, and other toys. Fortunately fellow producer Amy Miller agreed with Kevin's vision and was able to make some financial magic happen to get some additional cash for the project.
  • Travel Costs: It turns out that we couldn't stay at Mook with our expanded crew so we had to look elsewhere. The nearest hotel that could accommodate us at a decent rate was over a half hour drive away. Because we were an hour and a half from Louisville we even had to put up local crew. Almost all of our crew came in from elsewhere, however, because we didn't have the network needed to get willing low pay crew from nearby. We had crew from New York, California, Utah, Arizona, Kansas, Nebraska and a caterer from Virginia. We rented out an entire motel for the crew which turned into quite the party, but the crew travel/lodging costs alone was $20,000.
  • Mr. Brad Dourif: Once we started talking about spending more to make it more of a "real" movie, we started talking about finding a name actor for the lead role. Brad Dourif was an early consideration and his agent was really great to work with. However, he insisted on a rate quite a bit higher than we had budget for, so we had to make an adjustment there. Dourif delivered a dynamite performance and having him in the role certainly helps as we sell the film.
As the producer it was my job to keep abreast of these expenses and to warn Amy, who was handling more of the investor side of the team, about them as they arose. I had several nights when after number crunching I had to knock on her door to bring her more bad news. The news was always, "If we want to make this movie like we're currently making it, we're going to need to do this..." (followed by something that would cost more money).

But we always agreed that it was worth it to try to make the movie the way we wanted to make it, as long as we could figure out how. Thanks to a very skilled director (Kevin), a very crafty Executive Producer/Producer (Amy), a brilliant cinematographer (Bill Otto), a skilled 1st AD (Eric Sheehan) and a great cast and crew, we were able to endure a very hard and taxing shoot and make a pretty good film. 

This is not what micro-budget filmmaking looks like.

As I prepare projects now I make the considerations above before moving forward. It's important that everyone is on the same page as far as vision goes. If we had wanted to make LKW on a micro budget we could have. We could have shot in upstate New York or another rural area that could actually house us, that would be closer to a film center where we could easily have gotten equipment and crew. We could have given it a down and dirty look without jibs or dollies. But, then again, the film ended up costing much less than most (though more than we initially planned) and its beautiful look and high production value is one of the strengths of the finished film. 

The key lesson, however, is simply don't think you will be able to have a slick, polished looking film on a micro budget. If your vision is to make something stunning, you have to budget for it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Latest tip: SAG Ultra-low salaries

The SAG Ultra Low Contract has a base salary scale for actors at just $100 (for an 8 hour day... if they work a standard 12 hour day it comes out to $175). If you can afford it, and if your project has a small handful (four or five) leads with mostly just day players below that, I recommend that you pay your leads at the next level. The next level is SAG Low Budget Modified and the pay rate is $268 a day (for a ten hour day). When you send out your casting breakdowns, you'll get a much better selection of people submitting. Most agencies won't submit to a ULB project, but many will to a LBM. You can still pay day players $100 a day, and you don't HAVE to pay non-SAG actors at all (though you probably should). If your project is Low Budget Modified, you may consider hiring your leads at the Low Budget scale ($504 a day)... in fact, you might consider hiring your top two or three at the Low Budget rate for a ULB project.

For my movie Last Kind Words (directed by Kevin Barker) we did this and were glad we did. A few last minute changes pushed our budget into the Low Budget Modified range and we went ahead and made the adjustment with SAG (though we may not have had to). Because we'd already hired at the higher rate we didn't have to negotiate contracts with anyone except our few day players.

Hiring at Low Budget Modified scale allowed us to hire super talented Spencer Daniels for our lead. I'm sure his agent wouldn't have submitted him at the Ultra Low Budget rate.
We were also able to make offers to Canadian teen actress Alexia Fast (above), as well as Sarah Steele. Their agents were willing to consider the offers at $268 a day. It is unlikely they would have for $100.

That said, if you're shooting super small don't feel ashamed to offer only $100, but be aware that your best casting opportunities will come through your connections, as not a lot of agencies will submit.

Updated rates: In 2015 SAG raised the rates of the SAGIndie contracts to: Ultra Low Budget: $125; Low Budget Modified: $335 daily or $1,166 weekly; Low Budget $630 daily or $2,190 weekly.

Back after a long holiday break

Hello, I'm back after an extended holiday break. Not because my holiday has been so busy, simply because I've been too brain dead to have anything to write. That hasn't changed, but I don't want this to languish away, so I'll do what I can to keep it up.