20 Matches

“20 Matches” – Funded!

The 20 Matches Indiegogo campaign came to a close on March 4th, and I ultimately raised $7,120 (well, technically $7,140 – someone mailed me $20). As you can see if you read my previous update, I didn't believe that I'd even raise $6,000, so I am quite pleasantly surprised – and humbled – by support and generosity that this campaign engendered, mostly from friends and fans, but also from a handful of strangers.

Now I just need to make this film.

The next step is to finesse the script, make a valiant attempt to get it into the hands of a well-known German actress, and if that doesn't work out then I will start casting around for the best actress I can find. Ideally I will finish casting in early May and shoot shortly after that, finishing post production in the summer.

Happily, so much money was raised in the campaign that I should have plenty to spend on screenings and film festival submissions. Anything to get this spooky little short out there. Until then, I'll be spending a lot of time making the perks for my backers – I have around 100 tiny clay sculpted figures that I need to produce. It's daunting, as each one takes at least 2 hours to do, but I wanted the campaign and fulfillment efforts to be as creative as the filmmaking process itself.

Don’t you want this T-shirt?

The “20 Matches” Indiegogo campaign is live!

Yesterday I quietly launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise $1,000 for 20 Matches (click here to take a look at it)... and within two and a half hours, the whole thing was funded! Now, less than 24 hours later, I'm at over $2,000, and the campaign still has 19 days to go. (I thought I'd be clever by giving it a 20-day length.)

Whereas last year's ambitious Kickstarter campaign failed to raise $120,000 for Dial 9 to Get Out, now I'm in an opposite but equally awkward situation, asking for money when I theoretically no longer need it.

Of course, I hope enough additional contributions will come in to pay for a theatrical screening of 20 Matches and all the other short films I've made in the last decade, so that's one reason to keep banging the drum.

Also, a film is like the proverbial goldfish that grows as you increase the size of its fishbowl: I told people that I could make 20 Matches for $1,000, and I can. But I could also make it for $10,000 – or, rather, $6,000, which is more or less the maximum I can raise from this campaign. That would get me nicer camera and sound equipment, a more experienced (and thus more expensive) crew, a longer shoot time, a studio to film in, and more money to spend on film festival submissions. While $6,000 is not a likely scenario, I am curious to see how high I can get.

For now, at least I can relax in the knowledge that this film is fully financed. Now I just have to worry about producing all the perks.

20 Matches will look something like this.

Igniting “20 Matches”

We're now in 2015, and boy, do I feel stupid. My previous update, written way back in July, stated rather confidently that I'd make a new short film – specifically, a creepy little story called 20 Matches – in 2014. Obviously that did not happen. Let me explain.

This short has been on the back burner for years. I wrote it for an actress friend of mine who lives in Vienna. (The story is about a Vienna-based serial killer.) At the time, it seemed likely that she'd be able to fly out to Los Angeles and shoot it. But she's now an in-demand actress throughout Europe. Great for her, not so great for me. Simply put, she won't have time to come out here for the foreseeable future. So we decided that the project should go on without her.

The script is done, barring some fine-tuning of the dialogue, and the photo of me at left is more or less what 20 Matches will look like – only with an actress. The entire short will be match-lit.

I am now forcing myself to rise above the apathy of the world – and my own laziness – and make this film. To this end, I'll be launching an IndieGogo campaign to raise $1,000 for it next month. That's a bold statement, since I haven't even started putting the campaign together, but I can do it. I just have to shoot an intro video and design some of the perks, which should turn out cool. (I'll be hand-sculpting tiny matchbox figures in the likeness of certain backers, or of whomever they wish.)

Why not use Kickstarter again, like I did last year for Dial 9 to Get Out? Because for a micro-budgeted short that will eventually get made anyway, IndieGogo's "flexible funding" option is the better way to fundraise. In other words, if I fail to raise the entire $1,000, I'll still be able to use what I do raise to make a better looking and sounding short. I would never have used IndieGogo to fund Dial 9 because there was no way I'd have been able to pay for the balance of the film's $100,000 budget out of my pocket. (The Kickstarter campaign only raised about $42,000.) In contrast, even if I come up $500 short for 20 Matches, I can handle the rest. The film will get made.

Until then...

With my wife Miki at the Alhambra, Granada, Spain

No film news, but keeping busy

My silence here over the last three months hasn't been due to post-Kickstarter depression or anything. In fact, as you can see from the photo (the wife and I took a lovely trip to Spain and Italy in early May), I've been doing just fine.

There has been essentially zero fallout, negative or positive, from the Kickstarter disappointment. No post-campaign offers of funding from charitable friends or strangers. As far as Dial 9 to Get Out is concerned, I am back at square one. I did at least try to turn my loss into someone else's gain, so I wrote two well-received articles about my experiences on Indiewire, for whom I continue to write.

Speaking of writing for websites, earlier this year I was hired as a freelance writer for Fandango.com. It's been keeping me busy. I get paid to work from home doing essentially what I've been doing, unpaid, on this site for years: researching movie trivia and then writing about it. My work includes photo galleries, personality quizzes (yep, I get paid to write this stuff), multiple choice quizzes, and other interactive content. (Lots of links in that last sentence; click away!) It's a good gig, and I'm happy that it landed in my lap, just as I was once again pondering whether I will finally need to get a regular full-time job again.

I've also gotten other freelance writing jobs for opening sequences for big studio movies. I can't say what those movies are, as two are not out yet. The third was just released, and let's just say it has to do with dawn, a planet, and apes. But I don't think much of my actual work made it into the final cut of that one. Still, I got paid.

I do have lots of solid ideas for new short films. The only person I'm waiting on is me. I have to start the planning process: finding actors I want to work with, scouting locations, and landing a new cinematographer as I am not a good cameraman. Once I commit to a short and start assembling the elements, it should come together fairly quickly. The most immediately filmable short is a serial killer story called 20 Matches. In fact, why don't I just say this right now: I will make all attempts to get this particular film in the can before year's end.

A still from a 1928 film appropriately titled “What Next?”

After the Kickstarter, What Next?

The Kickstarter campaign for Dial 9 to Get Out is now over. We raised nearly $42,000 over the past month, but it wasn't enough to fund the film. Too bad, as I had a lot of fun on the campaign, and I think Dial 9 would make an excellent movie. We (meaning, frankly, I - though I've had help come and go) might go back to the old "raise individual investments" route to get the film financed, but we'll see.

In any event, I do have several short film ideas that are easily doable for no money. All I need to do is write the scripts, which will be easy, then find the right actors and locations. So while I may be throwing in the towel on shameless self-promotion, I'll still be making films, which is what I really love to do. And to be honest, right now the concept of quietly posting new short videos on YouTube or Vimeo, and not bothering to tell anyone about them, greatly appeals to me. People would then discover those videos out of chance and curiosity alone. If a video is only watched five times, but watched in earnest, that's fine by me.

The Internet is full of people desperate to be "Like"d. I don't want to be one of those people. I just want to make movies.

The film’s first victim, and her killers

Animating interest in Dial 9 to Get Out

The Dial 9 to Get Out Kickstarter campaign has just nine days left to go. Facing somewhat insurmountable odds in raising a remaining $90,000 by April 3rd, I spent the last week drawing and animating a funny 2-minute pitch video, which rushes through the first half of the DIAL 9 storyline.

You are welcome to view it on YouTube. Share it with friends and so on. It's actually pretty entertaining. And yes, the actual feature film will be live action.

For those of you just coming into this and somehow unaware that there is a Kickstarter campaign going on for my third feature, better check out the campaign and pledge a little something if you want to see this movie get made! Lots of nice rewards and amusing updates every day. But you only have nine days to help. Thanks!

The Kickstarter splash image. The film’s tagline: “Temping can be murder.”

Dial 9 is now live on Kickstarter!

It's been a very exciting day: After months of cautious planning, this morning I launched the Kickstarter campaign for Dial 9 to Get Out. That right there is the link you need to click on to see it.

The page itself was a lot of fun to build and hopefully you will enjoy looking at it, especially the intro video. We shot that on the set of the TV show Castle, which my producer Meta Valentic works on. Scott Spears, who was the cinematographer on Foreign Correspondents, shot the creepy hallway footage that opens the video. Christopher Farrell, who scored both of my features as well as my recent short A Trophy, contributed some scary music. And my good friend William Lebeda, who did the titles for my features as well as for half the Hollywood movies you've seen in recent years (he's Creative Director at Picture Mill), designed some fabulous titles.

All four of these talented people will work on the Dial 9 production - if we get the project funded.

So for those of you reading this who I'm not otherwise in touch with, I encourage you to visit the page, get the word out, share the link, become a backer, and so on. This is going to be a really dark, funny, over-the-top film with great characters, crisp dialogue, and lots of juicy tension. If you liked Claustrophobia, this is going to be about 50 times better than Claustrophobia.

We have until April 3 to raise $120,000. It was a stellar day today, in that we raised $4,000 in just the first eight hours. If we keep up this momentum, we can hit that goal. But I am very aware that the first day of a crowdfunding campaign is typically one of the biggest days, thanks to friends and loved ones helping out. So I'm already preparing for those grim times when I only raise $5 a day. But if the word spreads, that may not happen.

So spread the word!

The Chicago Tribune on my first crowdfunding efforts, 1999

Reviving Dial 9 to Get Out – Via Kickstarter

I think it's safe to finally tell you all that I am embarking on a Kickstarter campaign very soon, in hopes of raising the $100,000+ that I need to shoot my long-gestating third feature, the darkly comic thriller Dial 9 to Get Out. The only thing left to do is shoot my intro video, and I'm currently waiting for the resources to fall in place for that. If all goes well, the shoot could happen next week. Then as soon as I have the video edited, we'll go live with the campaign.

Why did I take so long to embrace the idea of crowdfunding Dial 9 - especially since I basically invented film crowdfunding (back in late 1997, when I launched my site for Foreign Correspondents)? Well, the thing is, I simply didn't consider this option until a few months ago.

Looking back at the smattering of media attention I received in 1999 over how I raised money for ForCor, I did wonder why crowdfunding - and of course, the term hadn't been invented yet - didn't take off right after that. According to Wikipedia (more reputable accounts of other early crowdfunding efforts are scarce), it would be five more years before another filmmaker dared to raise money online. My guess as to how this fallow period came about? The dot-com crash of early 2000. After that fiasco, all the people who had once insisted that their Pets.com stock would make them millionaires went off to lick their wounds while the economy recovered. Meanwhile, no filmmaker would dream of asking for money from total strangers online. And so the concept would lay dormant for a while.

The funniest thing is that, because ForCor's financial adventures were so long ago, I actually overlooked my own role in the history of crowdfunding, once the term began being used in earnest. I didn't make the connection until about a year ago.

That said, I'm excited about my upcoming Kickstarter campaign. Whether or not it's successful, it should at least be a memorable experience.

As for A Trophy and its film festival fortunes, I have no good news to share. I entered it into 17 festivals, with my final submission going out on December 31st. I decided I wouldn't waste any more time or money on this in 2014. Since then, I've gotten the first round of rejection form letters. The ones from foreign festivals weren't very painful, as they were all free or cheap to enter, and have a prejudice against American films anyway. (Don't believe me? Check this out: Barcelona's Mecal short film festival accepted 350 entries for 2014; only 2 were from the US. Tampere, Finland's highly-regarded festival? 61 shorts total, only 1 of them American. And so on.)

Even if I get nowhere with the festivals, it's been educational. Mostly, I've learned how it's like playing the lottery. I looked at the stats for the 2014 festivals who have announced their lineups. In many cases, these fests received over 4,000 short film submissions - for fewer than 100 final slots. Typically, only about 1.5% of the submitted shorts get accepted. A refreshingly candid festival director I spoke with confessed that while a third of the films he gets each year are simply terrible, perhaps a tenth are truly great films, all worthy of his festival (one of the major ones in the US) - and yet he has to reject 75% of those great films!

So as you can see, it's almost the luck of the draw: whether the interns randomly assigned to your film take a fancy to it, whether the highly argumentative selection committee can come to an agreement on it, whether your subject matter fits the festival's various agendas for that year, and of course whether favors are owed to other filmmakers, who can gobble up a healthy portion of those coveted slots.

Long blog post short: At this point, I'm not counting on any festival love for A Trophy (especially as its main character, a film festival winner, is not a particularly sympathetic person). But I'm glad I tried. And it is a good film, dammit.

At Jesse Pinkman’s house, Albuquerque

I Must Submit

So far I've submitted my new short film A Trophy to 7 film festivals, with about 7-8 more on my "to enter" list before year's end.

15 film festivals doesn't sound like much, especially as there are literally hundreds of them all over the world. But those entry fees add up quickly. Some European fests are free (though they rarely play many American shorts), but many in the US demand $40 or more per film. $60 entry fees are not uncommon, and I've even seen a couple festivals ask for over $80. Mind you, these are the fees for short films. Features cost even more!

Festivals have to struggle to survive, so I won't deny them this source of revenue. But those high fees explain why I have to be so selective about where I send A Trophy. If I had $50,000 burning a hole in my pocket, I could afford to submit the damn thing everywhere. But I don't, so I'm doing a lot of homework and entering only those quality festivals that attract good-sized audiences, don't charge an arm and a leg, are places where I could ostensibly attend if accepted, and first and foremost seem open to a weird film like A Trophy, with its tiny budget and troubling themes. In other words, now is the true test of festivals' claims that they care more about story and originality than they do about high production values.

In other news, I spoke again at the motion conference in Albuquerque earlier this month, which was fun, especially for the Breaking Bad sightseeing (see photo at left) just days after the show's finale. There are so many Breaking Bad tourists in ABQ now - far more than even a year ago. Funny how cults can grow so quickly.

I've also landed a couple of decent writing jobs, including an article on Indiewire, probably the most popular site for indie filmmakers on the Web. On the downside, I missed out on what was potentially a great little TV gig. Oh well. Win some, lose some.

And yes, I am thinking more and more about starting a crowdfunding campaign for my third feature Dial 9 to Get Out. I'm actually thinking about it all the time. So if it happens - and I see no reason why I shouldn't try - I may shoot for February as a start date for that. Dreaming up lots of fun backer rewards until then.

Finally, I caved in and joined Twitter. If you want to follow me, I'm @MarkTapioKines, what else?

A Trophy, after color correction

A Trophy – All Done!

What a joy to be able to say that I finished a film in 2013. A Trophy, clocking in at around 9 minutes and 30 seconds, is officially the latest addition to my filmography - and I think it's great. Christopher Farrell composed a haunting piano score to match the minimalist style of the film, and cast members Dom Zook, Virginia Welch, and David Galli White are perfect in their parts.

Now begins film festival submission time. I have a short list of upcoming fests that I plan to enter, and will keep you updated as to which ones I get into. I expect many rejections, but hopefully I will also get a few acceptance letters. I would love to have the film play in an actual theater, which is why I won't be posting it online for the foreseeable future. I will, however, cut a 30 second trailer very soon, and you will find that on this site.

Aside from A Trophy, I have a few irons in a few fires, though nothing's hot just yet. The good news is that I have ideas for at least five more short films that I can shoot in 2014, and an old feature project might also be revived in the near future. I don't want to promise anything about the latter, but let's just say that, since this year I've been finally touting my claim to fame as the world's first crowdfunding filmmaker, I may again try my hand at this means of fundraising.

Dom Zook and the titular trophy

A Trophy Now Has a Rough Cut

After putting it off for over two and a half years, I finally sat down to edit my most recent short A Trophy - and finished a rough cut in just two weeks.

Why the wait? Well, officially, up until now, I never had a large chunk of time in which I could focus on post production. While that is true, my friend Bill Lebeda put it best when he recently told me, "perfect is the enemy of good." In other words, waiting for the ideal circumstances to start editing was providing me with a built-in excuse to delay it. In reality, I could have finished this film back in 2011 just by taking a few hours here and there to work on it. (That said, I did love having two solid weeks to work on it, undistracted by other jobs.)

As I wrote earlier, I was also intimidated by the large and unruly amount of footage I'd shot. Without my usual storyboards to guide me, I didn't know where to start. But once I got going, the editing process turned out to be surprisingly easy - and lots of fun.

Regardless, I am extremely pleased with the results. My wife, who may be biased but nevertheless doesn't overstate anything, watched the rough cut and told me that this might be the best film I've ever made. So that's encouraging. I showed the cut to my go-to composer Christopher Farrell, and he loved it and is ready to write the score for it. Chris did the scores for my two features, and I've reused tracks from those scores in several of my shorts, but this is the first time I'm commissioning new work from him in a decade. I'm really excited about this, because Chris is a great talent, and his music can only benefit A Trophy.

Meanwhile, I'm about to color-correct the film (what you see in the image at left is not representative of A Trophy's final look), tweak whatever visuals and audio need to be tweaked, and then start entering it into festivals. As some of you know, I have a cynical view of the film festival submission process, as it's not nearly as open and democratic as festivals purport it to be. In short: getting into festivals is mostly about who you know. But I don't want to just upload another short to YouTube and leave it there. A Trophy is a more serious work than my previous shorts, and it would be great to screen it in front of a captive audience, so I'll give it the old college try.

Virginia Welch in A Trophy

A Trophy: Inching Forward

First off, I have once again been keeping busy with paid work. My most recent gig has been a long-term one, as I've been writing content for the second screen (iPad) app for the new horror/drama TV series Hannibal. Alas, the app is only available in Asia and Latin America for the show's audiences there, so I can't show you the final product. It's been quite a time-consuming job, and it's still got a month or so to go, but at least Hannibal's a great show. I'm proud to be involved with it in my small way.

I've still managed to carve out some time to move forward with my latest short film A Trophy. All the footage has now been logged, which is a big deal. At this stage, with the voiceover already recorded and edited (there is no live dialogue in the film), I just need to cut picture to sound.

But I now understand why Terrence Malick takes years to edit his features: by shooting a massive amount of footage without storyboards or shot lists to keep things organized, production may be a highly creative process, but post-production becomes incredibly complicated. I've always planned my shots out well in advance, and actually find it comforting to have a lean amount of material to work with, because choices are easier to make. But for A Trophy I wanted to try something new, so I eschewed my  storyboards and filmed the thing in a loose, free-form style - "Hey, this would be a neat angle. Let's shoot it!" As a result, all the footage I wound up with intimidates me - for instance, I have 55 different camera setups just for one 30-second scene!

I confess that this is why I've been postponing the editing process: I just don't know where to start. It's been a valuable lesson, though, for me as a filmmaker. Maybe Terrence Malick can cope with making a movie in this spontaneous manner, but I just work better when I know in advance what shots I'm going to wind up using.

One final amusing note: in the time since we shot A Trophy, the film's costar Virginia Welch has seen a major uptick in her career: she just played the infamous Casey Anthony in the Lifetime TV movie Prosecuting Casey Anthony, starring Rob Lowe. Way to go, Virginia. By the time our film is finished, you may very well be an A-lister.

I’ll help you defeat your bad guy (i.e. writer’s block)

My Lynda.com Screenwriting Course Is Now Live!

Well, it's been about a year since I first signed with Lynda.com - and I'd been speaking to them for several months before that - so I'm sure you can imagine how relieved I am that my Screenwriting Fundamentals course is now online. Take a look! You have to sign up to be a member of Lynda.com to watch the entire course (I think it costs you $25 for a month, although that also gives you access to all their other videos), but I think you can at least see the first video for free.

There's not much to add, except that I'm incredibly proud and happy that this thing has finally seen the light of day. I worked really hard on it, and a lot of good people at Lynda.com did too. What's next? Who knows? But I'll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, for those keeping track, I still have a few more Reviews and Lists of 9 to import from the old site. All the reviews are in place except for about 30 for movies starting with "S", and I've got just the lists from 1998(!) left to do. That will all happen in a week. Once the site is fully up to speed, and now that my screenwriting course is basically on auto-pilot, I hope to finish up this very long freelance writing project within a month or so and then I'll finally start wrapping up my short film A Trophy.

When I was redesigning this site, I was looking back at all my old Development Updates, and marveled at how frequently I used to write them. One of my goals for 2013 is to stay busy enough that I keep this section fresh, and that I don't let five or six months pass before I post something new.

Let’s throw a ticker tape parade!

The new site? You’re looking at it

I am thrilled to report that, after over ten years with the crusty old 2002 layout, I finally redesigned the Cassava Films website, with an enormous amount of help from my genius programmer friend Natalie MacLees. We just relaunched it today. If you're a long-time visitor, you will notice the changes immediately. For one, the site's now a lot bigger - in many ways. It's been redesigned to fit today's larger monitors (yet is also now scalable for mobile browsers), and it's also got literally hundreds of new pages, since I've broken every movie review off into its own page instead of lumping them together by letter. This process of importing over 700 reviews and over 300 Lists of 9 has taken more time than you can imagine, as I had to create brand new graphics to go with each and every page. I hope you will appreciate the improvements.

All the old content is still here. (The only thing I got rid of was the extensive "making of" section for my film Claustrophobia, which is all ancient history now anyway.) The big difference is in how you can access all this content. Reviews and Lists of 9 now have search functionality. You can browse reviews alphabetically as always, but now also by year or director. Lists of 9 can also be filtered via keywords, if there's a particular subject you're interested in.

Today is something of a "soft launch" as I still have over 150(!) reviews to import from the old site, as well as 30-40 ancient Lists of 9. I should get that done within the next week, just in time for the debut of my lynda.com screenwriting course, which is scheduled to happen very, very soon.

With the wife in Sydney

Still Here, Still Productive

I want you to know that, although this site's Updates section has been woefully underfed this year, I've actually been quite busy. The main reason I'd been postponing a new entry here is that I've been waiting to announce the launch of my lynda.com Screenwriting Fundamentals course. We filmed the thing in July and originally it was set to launch in late September. But the lynda.com team and I have been experiencing what could be called a "good problem": unlike many of lynda.com's other online courses, this one isn't just me in a white room. We are actually filling the course with animations and other little special effects, and the fact is that it's taking a long time to do. (I'm not doing them; lynda.com's resources are hard at work.) I've been assured that the course will be live before the end of the year, but admittedly I am starting to get a little anxious. I must emphasize that this course is a major project for me - easily the biggest thing I've done since I finished Claustrophobia - and I think it turned out really well, so I can't wait to see it online.

Meanwhile, I've been hard at work on other things. I wrote the content for two iPad apps that are tied in to major blockbusters: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and The Amazing Spider-Man. Both are "second screen" apps, designed to enhance your viewing experience of those films' Blu-ray discs, but they can be enjoyed on their own too. Best of all, they're completely free, so head on over to the App Store and check out my work. I've also had a lot more Blu-ray extra content writing jobs (my usual contributions for HBO's True Blood and Treme, amongst others), and have done my share of traveling this year as well, as evidenced by this photo of me and my wife Miki in Sydney, Australia (where I have actual fans - and I know, because I met them!), taken just over a week ago. I also gave another talk at the motion conference in Albuquerque last month, and that went well. So what's on the burner for 2013? Well, I promise to finally finish editing the short film I shot almost two years ago, for one thing. Also, people are starting to tease me about how antiquated this website is, so I plan to redesign this site when I can. Otherwise, what I do next year pretty much all depends on what happens with the screenwriting course. If it's a bust, then it's back to business as usual. If it's a hit, then it could lead to any number of fantastic developments.

From the lynda.com screen test

Professor Kines Will Teach You How to Write Your Screenplay

I had to wait a while to post my first update of 2012 because so many things have been simmering but not announceable. At least one project has gone public: This summer, I will be teaching an online screenwriting course on lynda.com! For those who don't know, lynda.com is a popular website that offers thousands of high-end training videos. Usually they teach stuff like Photoshop, After Effects and so on, but now they're adding more "soft skills" courses like this one. As far as I know, I'll be the first online screenwriting teacher in the world. It took a few months to plan for this (including a screen test shot last December, as seen in the graphic above) to work out, but we finally signed the contract and I am busy writing this extensive - and, I think, enjoyable - course, which we will hopefully be taping in May. I will tell you when it's online. Screenplay structure has long been a passion of mine, and I love telling people what to do, so this is the perfect project for me to get involved in. I'm really excited.

After 2012 got off to a very busy start, with a large writing project for the home release of a major Hollywood picture, over the next two months I hope to split my time writing my course and finally editing my new short film A Trophy, which I can barely even call "new" anymore since it's been so long since I shot it. But it's slowly moving forward, and once I gain some momentum on it, post production should go smoothly. As for that cool interactive children's book that I was hoping to oversee... well, never say never, but I think it's dead in the water. One of those situations where the producer just couldn't land the financing. Something I've been experiencing since 1997.

Still from The Road to Hana

Finally, Something to Show for the Year

I feel bad that 2011 has only allowed me to write three development updates for you, dear reader. I really do. It's not for lack of trying. I just don't like talking too much about things in progress if I don't have actual stuff to show you. So let me give you a little gift for the season: My first music video is now online! It's called "The Road to Hana" and it's for a one man band called State Shirt. I've known many acquaintances over the years who have attempted to make music, but I genuinely like this guy's work. If I didn't, there's no way I could have endured listening to this song several hundred times while editing the video (which I also conceived, directed, and shot most of). I'm proud of this thing, so check it out.

I also have news along the personal filmmaking front: I finally recorded the voiceover for A Trophy, the short that I shot literally one year ago. Getting the voiceover done was the one true obstacle (besides my own busy schedule) that kept me from editing. Now that this crucial part of the film is in the can, I should be able to get into post-production next month... Unless yet more freelance work gets in the way, that is. Without divulging too much, I can say that, other than a couple of design-oriented gigs I'm deep into at the moment, there are two really cool projects in the pipeline. One is an interactive children's book and one is an online screenwriting course. Yes, really. Neither of these has been written in stone yet - it all depends on somebody else signing a contract and a check, which will either happen this month or never - but they're far enough along for me to at least cite them as reasons why I've been so busy this autumn. If they don't pan out, this is the last you will hear of either of them, and the upside is that I will be able to concentrate on A Trophy. But if they do move forward, I'll keep you in the loop.

Oh, one more thing: I wrote Jesse Eisenberg's voiceover intro for the Rio animated Blu-ray, as well as text for the headlines for the newspaper montage in A Very Harold and Kumar 3-D Christmas as well as some phony Cosmopolitan-style questionnaires for the title sequence of the comedy What's Your Number? which was released a couple months ago to little fanfare. Yours to enjoy on cable someday soon!

Chad Evans and Katie Ty Warren in the 48HFP short I wrote

48 Hours (and 8 Months) Later…

Well, this is embarrassing. I've never taken so long to post an update. Apologies. For those who come here regularly, you'll note that I have continued to add movie reviews and Lists of 9, so it's not like I have neglected this site. That said, I've written fewer lists than usual this year, because I have been much busier than I expected to be. My freelance career has seen a marked improvement over 2010, and ever since January I have been very active with both writing and design work. For the most part, I've been supplying the copy for various special features on major studio Blu-ray releases, though as usual I'm not allowed to say what they are until they come out. (Things I wrote last year on the discs for HBO's True Blood and Treme were released in the last couple of months.) I will say that this year involved writing a voiceover for a recently Oscar-nominated actor and even jokes for a popular late night talk show host. Quite unexpected in both cases. On top of that, if you squint, you can see my text in the opening credits of the comedy Your Highness here, and two upcoming studio comedies feature my words in special animated sequences. I've also gotten back into the web design business, launching three brand new sites in 2011 already, with more to come. Finally, I made an animated video for a PR company, which is pretty cute. Feel free to check it out.

Meanwhile, my live action film career yet lives! I once again wrote the screenplay for this year's 48 Hour Film Project competition. Working for my producer friend Dom Zook (who also starred in Party Pooper and my upcoming A Trophy - more on that in a second), this is the second year that I have written for his team, after directing two years ago. All this went down just last weekend, so I haven't even seen the finished film yet. If we win any awards after our premiere next week, I will post a little addendum. And in July I directed my first music video, for State Shirt. It still needs to be edited, but I'll post a link to it when it's done. Speaking of editing, what is going on with that short film I shot last December (see previous update)? Well, the aforementioned A Trophy - that's the title for now - has been on the back burner because I kept waiting for a good lull in my freelance work to edit it. The noisy distractions of heavy renovations on the property where I live - nine months and counting - have provided another excuse not to get to it. But the freelance lull has arrived, the construction work is slowing to an end, and I promise I will finish this film.

A sneak peek at the new short

A New Year, a New Short

2011 is already off to an active start for those of me here at Cassava Films. To begin with, I shot a new short film in December, and over the next month or two I will be editing it. This is a much more serious film than my last few shorts, and if it turns out all right, I will even enter it into festivals - something I haven't really done in over a decade. But I think this film has the potential for better things than the YouTube dumping ground (though I'd like to live in a world where Party Pooper and Ron and Nancy would be welcomed by festivals). I can't tell you too much about it, except that it stars Party Pooper's Dom Zook as a lonely filmmaker who gets wrapped up in the dark side of Hollywood history, and that I shot it mostly outside, guerrilla style - kind of a new thing for me - all around Beverly Hills and West Hollywood. I haven't even nailed down a title for it yet. But I will keep you updated on its status.

At the same time, I continue to slog away on freelance writing, design, and even animation gigs. After my writing work on The Other Guys' end credit sequence earned a surprising amount of press last summer, I've been providing the company who designed those titles with "background text" for no fewer than four major 2011 releases (three theatrical features and one TV movie). I'll reveal their titles once the movies come out and I know my work has survived. As for my own third feature, I continue to play the waiting game. My potential financier had originally suggested a springtime shoot in Florida, but has informed me that this will be postponed, although he says he still intends to have me write and direct this thing. As always, until a contract has been signed and the check clears the bank, I remain skeptical - but hopeful. Happy New Year!

Chick Flick, which I wrote (and cameo’ed in)

Summer Wrap-Up

How was your summer? Mine was productive. Most recently, I participated in the Los Angeles version of The 48 Hour Film Project, where teams of filmmakers conceive, write, cast, shoot, and edit a short over the course of one weekend. You may remember that I did this in 2009 as a director. That film, Double Feature, won the Audience Award. This year I was the screenwriter (the short was directed by my own Party Pooper star Dom Zook). Once again, we won the Audience Award. It's a good team! The film is called Chick Flick. It's a comedy about, well, two women in chicken suits. Erika Godwin, who's appeared in several of my recent shorts, stars along with Brianne René and Dian Bachar, a cult actor whom you may have seen in the live action features made by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. I probably won't put this short up on this site, since I just wrote it, but you can find it on YouTube.

In other news, I recently did some writing work on the Will Ferrell/Mark Wahlberg comedy The Other Guys. No, I wasn't a screenwriter on the project, but the film's end credits, which have received a surprising amount of media attention, center around a series of infographics about Wall Street chicanery. I researched and wrote most of those statistics. My first big-screen Hollywood movie! I didn't get a credit, but the fine folks at Picture Mill, who designed and animated those infographics, made sure to mention me in interviews. There's a really good article about the credits (including a video) here. Enjoy! I worked again with Picture Mill on the opening credits of an upcoming studio comedy. I'll talk about that after it's been released. Meanwhile, I'm still doing what I can to get a new feature going, and slowly moving forward with plans for a new short.