05 Nov

Cleverness is Overrated

Commentary on my latest short film, Morning

Last year during the press tour for his film, Don’t Think Twice, writer/director/comedian Mike Birbiglia said something that stuck with me:

“Cleverness is Overrated, Heart is underrated.”

He goes on to elaborate in a New York times interview: “There are fewer people competing for heart, so you have a better chance of getting noticed. Sometimes people say, ‘One thing you have to offer in your work is yourself.’ I disagree. I think it’s the only thing.”

In trying to figure out what to make for my next short film, I found this sentiment profoundly inspirational. It’s not as if Birbiglia was revealing top-secret info; he’s essentially just rephrasing the classic “write what you know” advice that is tossed at screenwriters. But, still, it struck a chord. After two bigger production fan films, I was feeling a little lost as a filmmaker. Enough with the high concept. Write from the heart.

So, I made Morning. Thematically, it’s connected to the single take film I made last year: two characters, dialogue driven, one location. But, whereas Getaway was about a relationship falling apart (at sunset), this film was designed to be the opposite—capturing a brief moment as two people become stronger together (at sunrise). It’s, ultimately, a warm film about good people. It’s weird to think, but, honestly, how often do we see that on screen?

The concept is undeniably simple (as is the resulting film). But, the goal was to  tell something honest and, hopefully, it would resonate emotionally. Parenthood is often presented from a very artificial lens—an “all smiles, life is great” facebook-post-sheen that has ruined authenticity in the online age. There’s a literal industry that has been created, programming us on how we should feel about becoming a new mom or dad. It’s like we curated the correct reaction, and it usually involves some sort of dumb gender reveal party with blue or pink cake hidden in the center. I wanted to challenge this surface-level presentation and probe the uncertainty and scariness that comes with finding out you’re going to be a parent. Yeah, it’s something you always knew that you wanted…you just didn’t think it would happen…so….soon…

That’s the weird thing about becoming an adult. There is no initiation party where you suddenly transform into the wise sage you always thought your parents were. Rather, you become an adult when you realize all the other grown-ups are just as terrified and self-doubting as you are. If you’ve met someone who claims they’ve figured it out, be very, very wary of them.

So, enough babbling, here is Morning. It’s film about two people who don’t have it figured it out. But, they love each other enough that they know that they’ll get there…together. It’s not clever—there is no high concept pitch or shareable facebook headline that will garner clicks (You’ll never believe what these two people say in this short film!). But, screw that. As Birbiglia succinctly said, that’s overrated. For the time being, I’ll stick with the heart.

Production Breakdown

This proved to be popular in the post for my Dr. Doom fan film, so I thought I’d break down the behind the scenes process a bit (crew size, budget, etc).

First off, I’m indebted to my cast and crew. I didn’t really direct the film. Rather, I found two incredibly talented actors (Casey Killoran and Ahmad Kamal) and just let them do their thing. It’s not exactly a complex visual picture. But, I’ve never been a visual stylist (probably to my own detriment). This was about finding good people and getting out of their way.

Speaking of good people, the film was shot by my friend and talented cinematographer John Grove. John is just a great dude. It was a blast to watch him work. The film is full of small, subtle details that you’ll probably never notice, but they just make me so happy. Next time, John, I promise to give you a bigger space to work with.

We shot on a RED Weapon with a Helium sensor provided by our AC, Brandon Haduba. Thanks, Brandon. We shot in 8K with geared Leica photography lenses. The lenses aren’t the fanciest, but I dig how it looks.

Just in case you were wondering, the RED workflow is surprisingly easy. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I don’t have the best computer in the world (a late 2013 Trash Pro), and I was able to edit the 8K .R3D files natively without a problem in Premiere (turning the viewer to ¼ resolution)

Finally, just a quick thanks to the rest of my supremely talented crew for coming out and making this small picture with me:
Gaffer: Jaime Nudd
Sound: Mack McLaughlin
Grip/Swing: Joe Austin
Grip/Swing: Matt Crosby
Location Manager: Brian James

The cast and Crew

The Budget

But, on to the good stuff…How much did the film cost me? Okay. Here’s the breakdown. As a note, I paid for the film out of pocket. I’ve shared my annoyance with the over-reliance on Kickstarter by indie filmmakers before, so I won’t expand upon that here. Needless to say, I won’t make this money back with the film. But, I look at it as an investment into my career.

The film took essentially three days to make (a setup and prep day, a day where we shot the majority of the dialogue, and then the early morning where we shot the final moment)

Food: $312.00

Costco is your friend. My parents fed the crew for free for dinner and breakfast, so I saved a bunch on food costs.

Crew: $1542.46

Everyone worked either for free or for reduced rates (for instance, John Grove, the cinematographer, worked for free). Brandon let us use his amazing RED camera essentially for free. Still, I paid some folks a small stipend to say “hey, thank you for coming out,” especially if they’ve worked for me for free in the past

Actors: $705.00

One of the actors was SAG, so I worked under a SAG New Media contract and used a paymaster (who takes a cut) to handle payroll.

Production Design: $29.25

This was actually really cheap. Turns out old Dawson’s Creek posters on ebay aren’t that expensive. My targeted Facebook ads are really weird now, though. Hazard of the profession, I guess…

Gear Rental: $616.48

We rented the lenses, a Teradek (for wireless video), and a wireless follow focus. We got the lenses for a reduced rate, as John is friends with the owner.

Location Fee: $200.00

My friend, Brian James, let me destroy his home for three days for such a low-low price…

Music Licensing: $300

There’s only one song in the film. And, I licensed it from indie Artist Kyle Cox for $300 as a sign of respect.

Post sound: $500

The talented Jordan Eusebio, did the post audio work for me on the cheap.

Random: $332.86

This includes miscellaneous stuff: hard drive for footage transfer, Duvetyne purchase, bus travel for an actor, etc.

Total Budget: $4,638.05

Okay, that’s it. I hope you enjoy this small little film. If you have any more specific questions about the production, feel free to hit me up on twitter or e-mail. I’d be happy to answer them.

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