Rebel Blog

Helpful tips, techniques, and occasional ramblings from the contributors to the Rebel Heart Film Workshop.

Posted in Film Projects, on 13 February 2015, by , 0 Comments

Last Monday I went out to the desert with a small gang of crew and cast to shoot some test footage for a new film. I want to share with you something of the experience and why I think it embodies the Rebel Heart Film way of making movies.

Here’s who went out with me (and I tell you this not just to give a grateful shout out, but also to share who you might need for your own test shoot):

  • my partner in crime and producer, Chris Byrne
  • three amazing actors: Michael Piccirilli who starred in my first movie Obselidia, David Zaugh and Marianna Palka
  • the super gifted cinematographer Zak Mulligan, who shot my first two films
  • inspired production designer Julia Van Vliet who worked on my second film
  • magician of light, gaffer Brant Beland who worked on my first two films
  • wonderful Liliana Soto, Camera Assistant, first time working together, but surely not the last.

We stayed and shot at the desert escape home of producer Matt Medlin, who I first worked with on Obselidia and couldn’t be more happy to be working with again.

The purpose of the shoot was twofold: 1) to test visual out ideas for the film and thereby develop the story that way; 2) to gather footage for the purpose of raising finance.

I did a similar thing when I was developing my first movie, Obselidia, and honestly I can’t recommend it enough.

Too often movies are developed by a screenwriter sitting alone at a laptop, often responding to and accommodating notes from producers and financiers. A long time is spent developing a script in an intellectual way, and the script is very much geared towards attracting talent. When the film is cast and the script is signed off on, the director is not free to make significant changes as they arise organically during the shoot. The name of the game is “shooting the script”, not making a movie.

By developing your script with actors, a DP, a production designer, a composer (ie with the creative collaborators who are ultimately going to be crucial in bringing it to life), I think you have the best chance of making great work.

From the start, you are focusing on the film, not on the script. You are building it with the people who you will trust and depend upon to make it sing. With their input from an early stage, you expand your idea of what the film can be in an organic, rich, unforced way. You have the chance to better tap in to the subconscious currents of your film, rather than approach it in a more analytical, intellectual way.

You also start to build a solid foundation of camaraderie with your team, the importance of which cannot be underestimated when it comes to making your film. You talk, you shoot, you get serious, you work, you laugh, you play, you experiment; you stay up far too late together around a campfire in the desert drinking wine and toasting birthdays. To make a good film together, there has to be a great deal of trust, respect, and openness. To have an atmosphere on set of focused permissiveness that encourages creative exploration and play, where no idea is too silly to be considered, a community of inspired co-conspirators, all invested in making the best damn film we are able to make. I am so deeply grateful to the people I work with and to how they bring their talent, vision, hearts and souls to the set, it’s a privilege to work with them.

One of the best things about a test shoot is that the film starts to feel real. Out there in the dust, I saw it; I glimpsed what we can make and it was all I hoped for. We caught moments of this film’s essence and that fills me with excitement as we move on.

In coming weeks, I’ll share more about the details of what we shot and why; the lowdown on how to shoot an effective concept trailer. And of course, we’ll share the footage and the trailer itself.
In the meantime, I’m dying to get my hands on the transcoded footage and start the edit. It’s a good sign: I just can’t stop thinking about it.

Hope your filmmaking journey is also getting you excited this week.


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