On Haugesund’s wet red carpet

Back from Abroad

Over the last two and a half months I have been in four countries, 16 U.S. states, slept in 23 beds, tried to learn three languages, saw a ton of movies, got horribly sick, and ate food both incredibly delicious (Savannah's got some good eats) and unquestionably appalling (when in Spain, do not order the "veal cheek"). But since this is a film-oriented site, I will keep the news to matters of professional significance.

The big deal was late August's Norwegian International Film Festival, in the charming town of Haugesund. It was a great week. The "official" world premiere of Claustrophobia was well-received by a large film festival audience made up of both Haugesund locals and industry types from around Scandinavia. Poor little Foreign Correspondents did not attract as big a crowd, but the response was just as positive, if not more so. The best part was that both films were picked up for distribution in Norway on DVD. I hesitate to say this, as no contracts have been signed yet, but it seems pretty solid. Hopefully my Norskie friends will be able to rent either film at their local video store in early 2004.

One of many highlights of the festival was my very first night, when I was invited along with the other "special" guests to a fancy formal dinner right out of Ingmar Bergman. (Yes, I know Bergman is Swedish.) Though I was still groggy with jet lag, I managed to enjoy the surreality of sitting between American Pie's Jason Biggs and Swimming Pool's Ludivine Sagnier, with the tantalizing Christina Ricci across the table from me. I felt like a housewife from Iowa who had just won some "date with a star" contest. Unfortunately for my lungs, they all smoked like chimneys. Actors!

Anyway, still no news on when Claustrophobia will be out on DVD in the US and Canada, though I've learned that it has officially gotten its MPAA rating. (As expected, it's rated "R" for language and violence.) This at least is a sign that my distributors are making progress on preparing the film for release.

A full house at the San Jose screening


So much has happened in the past two months, it makes my head spin. The big news is that, two weeks after the Los Angeles premiere of Claustrophobia, my reps got an offer from a distributor called filmnic. And I took it! So now this film is going to hit video shelves across the United States and Canada. I've been told that it won't necessarily be released as a "filmnic" picture, so I'll let you all know which home video company will actually be putting it out there, and when that will happen. All are pretty certain that it will be before the end of the year. Whether they use the poster art that I designed is unclear, but I wouldn't count on it.

This sale has been a bit of what they call a "Pyrrhic victory": It's great to get the film out there, and there is a little money coming in for it, but it's not enough to break even. I think about the amount of paperwork I have had to fill out, and the money I've had to spend just to get the video masters prepared, plus a complicated situation with the Screen Actors Guild, and it's almost made this seem not worth it. I'm kidding, of course. I'm thrilled to get this movie out to the public.

Aside from that, I screened Claustrophobia a few more times, once in my hometown of San Jose to an enthusiastic (and much larger than anticipated) audience, then twice back here in Los Angeles. Great responses every time have reassured me that, however humble this project is, it still connects with people, and makes them laugh and scream. I also spent a few days in Las Vegas at the end of July, speaking on a panel about self-distribution (which is how I eventually tried to sell my first film Foreign Correspondents). Not sure if that was a totally successful trip, but I met some cool people who will hopefully become good friends. And yesterday I recorded the director's commentary for the Claustrophobia DVD. I think that will be the only "special feature" on the disc. The next step is overseas: I depart Los Angeles tomorrow, and fly to Haugesund, Norway on August 17, to attend the Norwegian International Film Festival. They've invited me to show both Claustrophobia and ForCor, and it looks to be great fun. That commences two and a half months of travel for me. I will be back in the swing of things around Halloween.

That’s me at left, introducing the film

The Premiere: They Came, They Saw, They Screamed

I finally showed Claustrophobia to about 180 friends and acquaintances last Wednesday, June 18, 2003. June was an appropriate month for the premiere, as the event was something of a wedding, graduation ceremony, and father's day (me being the father) combined. For all the trouble involved in preparations, things went so smoothly and quickly that it's mostly a blur for me. I regret not having an official photographer there to capture the evening, but oh well. I have a handful of snapshots to prove that it did, at least, happen. The good news is that the response from the audience was very positive. They jumped, gasped, and laughed at the right moments and I have yet to hear any serious criticism. Of course these are my friends; they're going to be encouraging. But it's one thing to say "Great film, congratulations!" as you rush out the door, and another to take the time to send an email during the next few days to say "I really liked the film." Luckily I received enough of the latter to feel reassured.

Of course this is LA, where everybody is busy busy busy, and a lot of people couldn't squeeze the screening into their schedules (including Melanie Lynskey, who deemed a Nick Cave concert as being more important to go to; fortunately, the rest of the cast showed up), so I'm being asked by all the no-shows to have another screening. Maybe in early August.

In the midst of all this, it's strange to have any news about my first film, Foreign Correspondents, but I'm happy to report that it's now available for rental on Netflix. Just in case you wanted to see it but didn't want to shell out the $20+ to buy the DVD on Amazon, which is understandable. Getting it on Netflix took over a year and a half - they have some pretty flaky characters working there - but all's well that ends well.

The end of the end credits


Finally, we finished what could be called the "extended dance mix" - only there was no dancing, the mix was just extended. It seemed to take forever to get the audio right, but it's all good now, so I have a new premiere date later this month in LA and will play it up in the Bay Area in July. My relief in completing Claustrophobia is palpable, but in fact the turn of events was strangely anti-climactic: On Friday, May 30, my sound mixer and I completed the final fixes (which involved a couple of last-minute sound effects - picture me holding a microphone up to my stomach while punching myself to get a good "thud" noise) and then I ran home to get ready for a dinner date. The next day, my editor Marc Wade and I took the final audio and married it to the final picture, which took all of ten minutes to do. No champagne, no party, just two guys sitting in a house in Valencia saying, "Well, I guess that's it. Good job." Hopefully the premiere will involve some sort of actual celebrating.

Marc pointed out to me some interesting trivia: In terms of production and post-production, this film took exactly one year to make. June 1, 2002 was when we first started shooting, and May 31, 2003 was when we were finally done. Of course I'm not counting the several months of pre-production (scripting, casting, etc.). In any event, once the premiere is taken care of, and the final tape transfers are done, it's up to the good folks at Integration Entertainment - my producer's reps - to sell the film. And up to me to start working on something new. Already people are asking me "what's next?" Yikes.

The vanity shot will have to wait

A Bit More of a Home Stretch

On May 13, I was meant to premiere Claustrophobia to about 250 people in Los Angeles. If you asked me even four days ago whether this was still going to happen, I would have said yes. Then we ran into a little snag: Not long after we began the final mix - at 4am on a Friday morning, mind you, which I can now tell you is a stupid time to have a final mix - my sound mixer informed me that all the dialogue from the first 30 minutes of the film, which we had mixed two weeks earlier at a different venue, was screwed up. He said he could clean it all up and remix it in a week or so, but what was I to do about the premiere? For a few minutes, I thought, "Well, I'll go ahead with it on May 13 and just explain to the audience that the audio they're going to hear won't be quite right." Then my co-producer Julia Stemock, there with us even in the wee hours, suggested simply postponing it until the sound was perfected. I reluctantly agreed that this was the best course of action, though I dreaded having to email everybody that I had harassed for two weeks for RSVPs, and tell them that they'd have to wait a few more weeks. Which actually caused me so much grief that I barely slept on Friday morning, after getting home around 5am. The lack of sleep and stress about the decision made me catch a cold. In the end, of course, nobody minded the postponement, so there was really nothing to worry about.

I suppose it's best that it happens this way. Now when I do have the premiere - next month - it will be with a completely finished film (I won't set a new date until that happens), I won't be sick, and also I'll be comfortably settled in my new house, into which I'm moving next weekend. Bad idea to premiere a film and move during the same week anyway. The good news is that everything else - music, color correction, color re-correction, digital clean-up, titles - is done. Done! And I am indeed signing with producer's reps this week, so the film has a bright future. Huzzah.

Titles designer William Lebeda

The Home Stretch

Tonight, Easter Sunday, I just finished the lengthy process of color correcting Claustrophobia. Meanwhile, Christopher Farrell is basically done with his score, and I must say, his music is spectacular, certainly far and beyond what would ordinarily be expected of a film with such a modest budget. The sound editor's painstaking work cleaning up sound and adding effects should pay off soon, too: our final sound mix is next weekend - on my 33rd birthday. Meanwhile, I hired my old friend William Lebeda (I get to call him Bill) to design the titles for the film. Bill rules. He did the titles for my first film as well as for some other little movies like Panic Room, Signs, Hollow Man, and The Sixth Sense. So I feel like a real hotshot now.

On top of all that, I was contacted by a pair of producer's representatives a couple of weeks ago. A producer's rep is best described as an "agent for movies" - they help sell films and get a commission from every sale. It's a better idea than trying to sell this movie on my own, and right now better than most distributors. They seemed to have liked the Claustrophobia rough cut to the degree where they will want to work with me, but time will tell. So anyway, including the news that I found a nice new house a mile north of my current place (which I will soon have to vacate) and was just invited to a film festival in Norway this August, everything is going very well. Oh, except for my being taken to small claims court on Tuesday. I have a new maxim for all budding producers out there: If you make a film, expect at least one lawsuit.

I had to remove a mic from this scene, frame by frame

Busy Busy

It's strange. On a day-by-day basis, I still find myself having a lot of free time, enough to occasionally mope about how busy I'm not. But when I think about everything that's been happening over the past three weeks, it's pretty remarkable. First of all, my editor and I achieved picture lock. This means we have completely finished cutting the visual part of the film, so that my composer and sound editor can safely work with the movie knowing that I won't be monkeying around with the cut in the meantime. That's the other news: I now have a composer and a sound editor. Christopher Farrell, who did the amazing score for my first film Foreign Correspondents, agreed to come back on board to score Claustrophobia. So I'm excited about that. And I have a great sound editor whose background ranges from sound editing The Young and the Restless to being the live sound mixer for punk band Bad Religion. Interesting guy.

Today is a historic day, as far as that first feature of mine, lovingly nicknamed ForCor, is concerned, for it was four years ago today that the film was finished and premiered. And now, four years later, it looks like it is finally getting sold to video stores. The film's producer Julia Stemock gave me the good news last week. Now, frankly, I've heard so much "good news" which amounted to nothing that my standard reaction to it has become "yeah, sure". But this time it looks like the real deal. You could have knocked me down with a feather.

This comes at an oddly appropriate time. The day I started working with Chris Farrell - February 4 - I was out at lunch with a girl I'd dated not long after the premiere and ran into ForCor star Corin Nemec! It was a real 1999 flashback. Also, recently I broke even on the money I paid to have the ForCor videos and DVDs made. Now that that's out of the way, any money that comes in from now on will be divided amongst the film's investors. Which is funny, because I had gotten to the point where I was telling investors "Hey, we did our best - don't expect to see any money ever." I should say that more often. And speaking of which, I just got an investor for Claustrophobia. I wasn't looking for any money, but I'm not going to tell him no. It's certainly welcome.

With my old CalArts classmate David Fain at a Slamdance party


I just went to the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. It was my first time, and it was all right. I wasn't there to "shop my projects around", since it's not like there are distributors sitting in chairs lined up and down Main Street. No, I went there because I've been knocking Sundance for years and I thought it was hypocritical to bash it without actually having been there. Also, I wanted to see some of the movies. I wasn't that taken with the festival's programming, but I met a lot of nice folks while waiting in line (many of them, surprisingly, just Salt Lake City movie lovers who trek into town every year to sample the wares) and found some new friends in the people who drove me home from Utah. There were also a lot of interesting film folks with whom I shared a condo (though some of them were a bit too obsessed with parties and their careers). But the best part was simply running into old friends and hanging out with them.

Here's my advice: Attend Sundance once. It's exciting to be there. However, there's no need to go again unless you have actual business there. There's nothing but long lines, celebrity stalkers, more non-Sundance film festivals than you can shake a stick at (even though Sundance rules Park City with an iron fist), and the usual stuff you see in a ski resort town: snow (much of it peed in), overpriced restaurants and little chalets. I suspect there isn't nearly as much "networking" as everybody thinks. The parties are mainly about people trying to a) get in, b) see celebs, and c) score free drinks.

Meanwhile, Marc Wade and I tweaked the Claustrophobia rough cut a bit last Saturday, so I think it's safe to say that I now have a final cut! At least visually. And Marc, who still works at my ex-employer Paramount Pictures, screened the rough cut to 10-12 former coworkers, all of whom enjoyed it. That's encouraging.

My patient editor Marc Wade and his even more patient wife

Ladies and Gentlemen, We Have a Rough Cut

Happy New Year! I have big news: Today my editor Marc Wade and I finished the Claustrophobia rough cut! And happily, the film is going to clock in - factoring in the yet-to-be-created end credit crawl - at between 78 and 80 minutes. Which is a far cry from my earlier fears that it would wind up at a mere 63 minutes. So I'm immensely relieved. And I think our movie is great. It's very suspenseful and engaging. Marc and I will tweak a few scenes and play with some of the temporary sound effects later this week, the next goal being to achieve "picture lock" - that is, all the visual cuts finalized and more or less set in stone (though with digital there's always room for change) - by the end of January. Then I will sit down with the material throughout February and clean up the sound myself. That will be fun, in a tedious sort of way.

With Judy O’Dea and our wacky PA Matt

That’s Really a Wrap

This weekend we shot the scenes for the Claustrophobia prologue and epilogue. Once it's edited together, it should add at least five minutes to the movie's total length. Shooting went well, despite the terrible timing (the first major rainstorm to hit Southern California since February decided to roll in during the very weekend we started filming). On the wet Friday night, we filmed actor/filmmaker Phillip Darlington (who survived wetter and more abusive conditions working for James Cameron on The Abyss), playing a newscaster featured in the epilogue. Then a drizzly Saturday was spent recording voices for a call-in radio show, heard in Grace's (Mary Lynn Rajskub) car as she drives to the fateful Claustrophobia house under the opening credits.

Sunday was the busiest day, when we filmed the prologue. Thankfully, the sun came out and made life easier for everybody. As did Judy O'Dea, who played the hapless first victim in the string of violent murders that the film's story revolves around. Judy is a super great lady, not only because she's game for anything, polite, talented, and professional - but also because she starred in George Romero's original Night of the Living Dead. Which is awesome.

Basically, it was the kind of filming I enjoy most: a small crew, everybody feeling like they're participating, fun times for all. It was probably the least stressful shoot day I have ever had. And the funny thing is, we shot and recorded all this footage at my editor Marc Wade's house. So as we were recording one part of the film, he was down the hall, cutting together another part. In any event, I've got all the sound and video I need at the moment. Now it's all about the editing. Don't expect much more news from me until that's done.

The amazing Fonthill, in Doylestown, PA

Back from the Dead

Greetings. Yesterday I returned to my home in Los Angeles for the first time after two and a half months abroad. I explored everywhere from St. Ives to Salem, from Washington state to Washington DC, from San Francisco to Edinburgh, and many parts in between. During that period, I slept on no fewer than 23 different beds/couches/floors. That's a lot of bedbugs. I drank Bath (UK) water; consumed several H&H bagels; went to the second smallest post office in the United States; enjoyed the lovely WaterFire in Providence, RI and endured the horrible "World in Miniature" in Goonhavern, Cornwall; ate oatmeal inside the U.S. Supreme Court; learned that it is a bad idea to ride Air India and to take the train to Scotland instead of flying; and visited the extraordinary Fonthill.

In short, I had a fabulous time. Although I do look forward to forging ahead with Claustrophobia, in truth my return to LA has been somewhat depressing - mainly because, shortly after my arrival, I was informed that I have to cough up some hefty cash to pay for reputed "damages" to the house where Claustrophobia was filmed. Also, my landlord wants to remodel his house, and it may be so drastic that I'll have to vacate my little guest house in back. Which would suck, as I've been here for nearly eight years and I love the place. I wish I could just go on traveling, where my biggest worry is wondering how much to tip the waiter.

Be that as it may, I'm eager to complete Claustrophobia, and because it looks like it indeed will be much shorter than I planned, I have decided to write a prologue and an epilogue in order to stretch it out to feature length. We'll be shooting those scenes - without the principal cast - in mid-November. Editing should recommence shortly as well.

Where we are in editing right now – literally, not metaphorically

This Site Goes Public and I Go Missing

Today was the day I was going to "officially" launch this site to the public, by sending out my usual spam to the hundreds of people on my mailing list, but as I am leaving tomorrow for two and a half months of traveling (to the Pacific Northwest, the San Francisco Bay Area, the East Coast and England) I spent all my time tying all my loose ends together this week. So alas, I couldn't finish the major part of this site, which is the section dedicated to my new film Claustrophobia. But then, I thought it would be pointless to alert the world the day before I go incommunicado for so long anyway. Besides, the public has mostly discovered this site by now, so the "launch" is not really news at this point.

A little update on the making of Claustrophobia: my editor and I have now cut together about 30 minutes of the picture. Unfortunately, we've gone through 40 pages of script! For those of you who don't know, one page of script is supposed to equal one minute of screen time. So 40 pages of script should amount to 40 minutes of movie. Not so in this case. Which makes me worried, because the script is only 82 pages long! I would rather not have a 60-minute film when I'm done, so unless the second part of the film (which has a lot more suspense than the dialogue-laden first part) takes up more screen time, I am already considering some possible additions to the film, namely a prologue and/or epilogue set in a different locale with possibly different characters. Just so I don't have to go through the mess of renting out the one house we used for the location again, or tracking down the three busy actresses who starred in the film. I'll have a better idea once we finish the first cut of the picture, hopefully in November.

The venerable Sahara


I went to Las Vegas for the first time in my life last week. I avoided it for so long as I considered it a cesspool. It took business to drag me there, in this case the VSDA Home Entertainment Expo, a convention of video retailers and distributors. You also get companies who make their livings connected to the home video industry - from those who make DVD display cases to those who sell popcorn in video stores. The candy company PEZ was even there!

So why did I attend? Well, the VSDA decided to give struggling indie directors like me the opportunity to pitch our films directly to video store owners, eliminating the middle men (distributors). They chose a baker's dozen of films this year, and we all wound up in Vegas trying to do our best. I was representing Foreign Correspondents with the film's producer Julia Stemock. Although the expo was held at the hip-and-happening Rio Hotel, Julia and I stayed at the Sahara, a once-legendary Sin City landmark, now a modest but tidy hotel. Home of $1 blackjack tables, the cheapest buffet in town, and Charo.

Anyway, despite my misgivings, I actually enjoyed my four days in Vegas. I met a lot of really nice people and even managed to sell a handful of copies of ForCor - so if you poke around your local independent video store, you just might find it. Other than that, I can sum up my experience in Las Vegas as this: slot machines are depressing and anti-social; the hotels pump oxygen into their rooms to keep you awake and alert (so you can keep gambling); VSDA award recipient Sylvester Stallone now looks like Matt LeBlanc after a stroke; the Mandalay Bay was the prettiest hotel/casino I visited, and Circus Circus was just a miserable place - practically a Third World country.

On an unrelated but significant note, my editor and I started cutting Claustrophobia on Sunday.

Are we done yet?

That’s a Wrap

Principal photography has now been completed for my second feature Claustrophobia, a horror/thriller shot handheld on PAL DV in one Los Angeles house and starring Melanie Lynskey , Sheeri Rappaport, and Mary Lynn Rajskub. It was a chummy set, as several crew members had worked with me on Foreign Correspondents, Mel and Mary Lynn had acted together on the Reese Witherspoon comedy Sweet Home Alabama, and a quarter of the crew were all good buddies from New Zealand.

Other than that, it was the usual hell of production: trying to film everything within a very limited amount of time (nine 12-hour days, with the weekend off), having to deal with technical difficulties (setting up more lights than I thought we'd ever need, microphones that didn't always work, avoiding telltale boom shadows), personal difficulties (our sound recordist had an impacted wisdom tooth on the first day of the shoot!), location difficulties (limited parking choices at the house where we filmed, homeowners who would freak out over every smudge left on their walls and floors), noise difficulties (construction on the building across the street from the house, garbage collectors, LA's notorious police helicopters), etc. Though I'm happy with the results, I wish we'd had more time, so that I could have collaborated more with the cast rather than just telling them "stand there, walk there, we gotta get this shot before the guy across the street turns his leaf blower on." But they put in fantastic performances and the crew was amazingly professional and talented as well. It was so moving to see everybody working so hard on my tiny little horror flick. I got a big, big bang for my buck. To put it in perspective, I saw Insomnia during our weekend break and, knowing that film's budget, I concluded that I could have made over 1,600 Claustrophobia-sized films for the price of one Insomnia. And say what you will, there's no way Insomnia could possibly be 1,600 times better than my film! Now comes the post-production process. I can't wait to start cutting all this footage together. My editor and I have a lot of great stuff to work with. So for all of you who worked on the film in some capacity: Thank you. I am truly grateful.