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Posts Tagged ‘Maine Media Workshops’

I am honored and excited to announce that the feature documentary that I produced with director Nicole Torre, “Houston We Have a Problem” has been invited to the Documentary Fortnight at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. This is a high profile event, so we hope to have a good crowd for both the 1pm and 3pm showings on February 20th, 2010.

For those of you that don’t know, “Houston We Have a Problem” is a feature film, shot on HD, about the history and future of US domestic energy policies beginning with the Wildcatter’s discovery of oil in the late 1800’s. The film premiered at AFI-DALLAS in March 2009 and has gone on to play at over a dozen festivals to critical acclaim, nationally and internationally, including the International Documentary Festival in Amsterdam.

That following day, February 21st, the feature comedy that I produced, “Tales from the Catholic Church of Elvis” will be in competition at the Big Muddy Film Festival in Southern Illinois. I’m glad to have the film playing there since this is the very same film festival that I won my very first film award 22 years ago for “Travelin’ Trains” (Best Narrative Film) That film can now be viewed on IMDB.

I’m also excited to announce the world premiere in March of another comedy I produced, directed by Diane Namm, “Telemafia” at the Dingle Film Festival in Ireland.

In regard to upcoming projects, I am reviewing a few proposals, but like for most of us, funding is tight. I’m still trying to get my documentary feature “Witness Trees” and narrative feature “Press>Play” financed, but am also producing/line producing and Assistant Directing for other production companies again. I have also partnered with Jeff Seckendorf for commerical productions at Snaproll Films. Check out the body of work at the website.

Luckily, I also do have some post production rentals coming in to Unconventional Media through Stefan Rhys, a terrific editor. Check out his reel at www.CoffeeCartProductions.com We are also starting to see a return on the 4-hour DVD of the “BrandU – Conscious Entrepreneur Experience” presentation and talk show that I produced and directed through Unconventional Media last year. You can get a ten minute taste of the show at www.BrandU.com/FreeCEE

I also continue mentoring new filmmakers with the OneOnOne Film Training program and have been scheduled to teach another one of my week long workshops on Line Producing/PM/AD work in Rockport, Maine at the Maine Media Workshops in late June.

Looking forward to a productive 2010. As always, you can get updates at my website, EricMofford.com

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As a follow up to my previous blog on mentoring, I had the privilege yesterday of attending a director’s retreat sponsored by the DGA.  The subject was the best tools for directing actors in feature films and television.  It was a wealth of information that I’ll only be able to touch on here.

I came into the retreat with more experience then some from my theater directing background (I’m still a directing member with Theatre Neo) and having read Judith Weston‘s wonderful book “Directing Actors” and Sidney Lumet’s important book, “Making Movies.”  Both books were mentioned more then once.  I’ve never taken any of Weston’s workshops but have worked with director’s that have gone through her course and met her a few times at the International Film and Video Workshops (now Maine Media Workshops).  I can’t recommend it enough.

Director John Badham (Saturday Night Fever, War Games), opened with a keynote address promoting his new book, “I’ll be in My Trailer.”  Badham, now directing episodic television, has been in the business for over 35 years.  He outlined five common mistakes director’s make that the other director’s (Neil LaBute, Kimberly Pierce, Jamie Babbit, David O. Russell, Jeremy Kagan, and Gordon and Helen Hunt) reiterated in the panel discussions.  First mistake, especially common in television is the “anonymous” director.  They all discussed the importance of introducing yourself to the actors, especially the nervous Day players.  Many directors get caught up in the technical and get flustered when the actors appear on the set with their own ideas.  Rehearsal is the most important thing and time with the actors must be scheduled into a production.  Television is harder because of time, but even a read through will help the director and actor’s relationship.  Come in early and go to the trailers while the actor is getting make up, introduce yourself, address their concerns before you go to the set at call time.

All the directors found it better for the production if they had enough rehearsal time.  Neil LaBute discussed respecting the actor’s process, no matter how crazy it seems.  Casting is so important especially with short rehearsal times, but if an actor is forced on you because of financing, you’ve got to research what that actor is capable of doing, rethink how you’ll approach the project.  At least, get a lunch meeting before you meet on the set.  Some actors know the camera, understand lenses.  They can deliver their performance in a few takes, others only really deliver after many takes.  The more you know about the actors personalities and previous work, the better you can plan your schedule, shooting the coverage of the actors based on their strongest ability to deliver.

The second mistake is hiding behind video monitors and yelling out direction or saying “nothing,” which is even worse.  Now, I’ve worked on a few feature films with directors like this and it never fails that the end product suffers.  If nothing else, say “great” after “cut.”  “More energy” is not good direction.  Action verbs that mean the same thing but at different degrees works much better then “Make it bigger” or “Make it smaller.”  Directors need to be by the actors.  Kimberly Pierce wears a small video monitor around her neck, so that she can do both.  Helen Hunt felt a little distance is good for sex scenes, certainly a limited crew around the actors.  All the directors hate the “village of idiots” that gather around a video monitor.

Both David O. Russell and Neil LaBute are doing their next film on digital so that they can just keep rolling, let their actors play, but Helen Hunt has been on a couple of digital features and finds them “too loose, not enough focus.”  Kimberly Pierce likes the ability to do more takes by changing the film lens and asking for the actor to give a different performance.  She sees no use in having the same take over and over again.  All agreed that having a second camera (B camera) will save you in the editing room.

Another big mistake is the director wanting to be the nice guy and never creating his or her authority.  Discipline actors that haven’t done their homework or learned their lines.  Failure is OK, but not reading the script is not.  It’s also useless to explain the scene to the actor, they can read that in the script.  They need to understand what their character wants in the scene and why?  But don’t give them the answer, they need to own the reason, then they can bring it to their performance.  Notes are important to the actor, but give it to them privately, a secret note, not a public shout out.

What if the actor doesn’t do what you want them to do, for the blocking of the scene or the line reading you expect.  It’s a big mistake to just tell the actor where to go, you need to help them find it out on their own.  Another big reason for the rehearsal process.  Gordon Hunt, Helen Hunt’s father and a long time television and theater director, including numerous episodes of “Mad about You,” suggests using the term, “how about” when prompting actors to try a blocking idea.  If the actor states that his character wouldn’t do that, then ask what his character would do, most of the time it isn’t the action, but a word that bothers the actor.  Hunt also revealed his secret to getting a line reading.  On the next take, if you are the director, you yell out to begin the next take at the particular line you want corrected and you give the exact line reading you desire.  It’s worked for him almost every time for close to fifty years.

The fifth mistake is saying “No.”  You need to help the actor get out of their personal polite space.  If an actor has an idea, let them discover it doesn’t work on their own.  I certainly have discovered this technique in many of my theater productions.  Actors have come in with some strange concept or prop and usually discover if it isn’t working.  On the other hand, they sometimes added a richness to the character that I didn’t think about before.  Be open.  “We will do it” is better then “you will do it”.  Also, realize that if an actor has a problem with his or her wardrobe, don’t ignore it because usually it has nothing to do with wardrobe and everything to do with the character they are portraying.  That’s an issue that needs to be resolved immediately.

Helen Hunt added much to the day because of her experiences from both in front and behind the camera.  In her view, all directors should take acting classes to understand the actor’s point of reference.  I agree and certainly find myself falling back on those Emerson College acting courses to guide my directing work.  Neil LaBute started as a student actor and many of his best films have been done working with actors like Aaron Eckhart that he has known since those days.  One of my favorite times directing was when I made the web series, “Unconventional,” because I pulled about fifteen actors that I had worked with in the theater, here in Los Angeles, and we created these characters based on my notes and the actors ideas.  There was no script, it was just me, a camera and the actors.  It was exhilarating and fun.  It’s the reason I got into this business in the first place.  It was nice to be reminded.  To quote director Martha Coolidge, “the most important role of a director is to work with actors.”

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820-afidiff09_laurel_cs31This last week I’ve been in the editing bay cutting down the video we shot of the Conscious Entrepreneur Experience workshop presented by Kim Castle and W. Vito Montone of BrandU.  I previously wrote on this blog about the amazing experience, but as I look over the footage something new is resonating.  A discovery that the importance of any business is to give back and mentor the next generation.  That’s how good ideas stay fresh and grow.

I never thought about teaching, other then the occasional workshops that I lead for One on One Film Training or at the Maine Media Workshops (formerly the International Film and Video Workshops), but as I get older I’ve started to realize how much I enjoy the mentoring process.  Maybe it’s because my parents were teachers or that my children are now young adults and no longer require as much guidance, whatever the reason, I enjoy sharing the experiences that I’ve had in over twenty years in the film and television business.  Hell, it’s probably why I’m writing right now.

Lately, I’ve been asked to sit on some media panels and every time I’ve not only enjoyed the experience, I’ve walked away with new contacts and some bit of new information.  Last week, I was asked by the posthouse Secret Headquarters to share my experiences as a producer using the RED camera on “Need for Speed:Undercover” and the Panasonic 900 on the documentary “Houston We Have a Problem.”   Not only was the food great and the folks at Secret HQ terrific, but the other panelists Sandy Collora, Drew Brody and Mary Liz Thomson had so much to offer about their own experiences.

I had the same feeling a few weeks earlier when we premiered our documentary, “Houston We Have a Problem” on March 27th at AFI Dallas.  The film, directed by Nicole Torre of New Angle Media is about the Oil Barons, Wildcatters, and roughnecks and their long struggle to feed America’s ferocious oil appetite.  A real inside look into the energy culture and just how our country became so addicted to oil.  The good news is the city of Houston and many of the oil honchos believe we must go “Green” for a secure domestic energy future.  AFI Dallas posted an interview on Vimeo.  The film played very well with great reviews on KERA (local Dallas PBS station) and even on IMDB.  I was asked to be on a panel about documentaries and the changes with online media, joined by “Rock Prophecies” director John Chester and Pete Schuermann of “Haze;” monitored by online SpoutBlog writer Karina Longworth.  The end discussion grew sticky with what is considered fair use in docs.  Once again, I enjoyed participating and learned some new things, as well as met some great new contacts.

I was extremely disappointed that I couldn’t serve on the panel at NAB when I was asked by PixelHead Network for Promax.  They had interviewed me a few months back at a Cinema Innovators Event about  my company Unconventional Media and our commitment to New Media.  I’m not going to make it to NAB this year because of memorial plans for a recent family loss, but really would have loved to share my production  experiences with a larger crowd.

I know that there are a lot of people exploring a new career for themselves as a “Life Coach.”  I’m not interested in that and don’t see that as a fufilling role.  To be honest, I’m not convinced many of these other people (some friends) should take that role either.  However, if someone wants some guidance, I’m open to help.  Some folks don’t believe they have the time in their business to assist others.  I think they’re wrong.  There is an interview with Joe Sugarman on the upcoming BrandU DVD.  Joe created BluBlocker Sunglasses and ran JS&A (forerunner of  Sharper Image), a highly successful mail-order company in the 1980s, the largest supplier of innovative electronic products in the U.S.  He pioneered many of the sales and marketing techniques widely used today, as well as introduced household products like the calculator, cordless phones, and digital watches to the world.  He declares that the most important thing in a successful business is helping a fellow human being.  It’s not how we usually imagine business people thinking, but as my own production business grows, I’ve come to realize it is the only way to think.  I’ve always been into helping others, I thank cutting this BrandU DVD is helping me understand why.

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The amazing musical artist, once again known as, Prince has recently been quoted as saying, “the Gatekeepers must change.”  This was in reference to his frustration with the major labels and the creation of his own record label and his three upcoming, yes three, releases.  The man is prolific.  He’s got a new interactive website, www.lotusflow3r.com, that has some of his new music and soon will carry videos and idea blogs.  It really isn’t that different then what any musician can create on a MySpace site.  He and many musicians have found the Internet to be the best home for their personal creative visions.

There was an article a few days ago in the LA Times by Randy Lewis about music Industry A&R guys.  Don Gierson, a music label veteran that teaches A&R classes at the Musicians Institute in Los Angeles, believes that it is critical now to understand and learn how to anticipate trends and harness new technologies to better serve the artists.  Jeff Blue, another seasoned pro and teacher there is quoted as saying the music industry is “evolving – and devolving-and more and more artists have to be their own record label.”  The article goes on to state that the harsh reality today is that few record companies have the time, money or interest to nurture acts anymore.  As I posted in a recent blog, we all have to be our own distributors.

We’re hearing the same thing in the film and television industry.  A new webisode series, FilmFellas, showcases influential and emerging new filmmakers discussing the challenges of the new independent film scene.  The full screen HD tells the story, it looks fantastic (I’m guessing the RED), a viewing pleasure.  We’re not going to be looking at compressed video much longer on YouTube.

The FilmFella guys and the A&R guys at the Musicians Institute are mentoring us all in how the Internet is changing entertainment.  I try to do this with this blog and the courses I teach at the Maine Media Workshops and with Jeff Seckendorf at One on One Film Training.  As the studios and record labels get bought up by congloms like Time Warner, News Corp., Disney, Viacom and Sony, we’re all discovering that we don’t need them anymore.

Well, okay we still need them financially, but hopefully not for long.  It still seems like the only way to make any money for your Internet projects is through sponsorships and advertising banners.  In these economic times, that money is not readily available.  Look at www.Hulu.com.  It’s television on the Web, with advertising.  It’s a great source for finding a television show or episode we may have missed, but at this point, no one is making any money from the convenience.  Which brings me to the potential SAG strike.  Because of all my actor friends, I promised myself I would stay out of that mess, but as I see traditional production slow down with the talk of another strike, I feel I must speak out.

I’m pro-union, a proud DGA member and certainly believe there are issues that need better resolution in the current contracts.  One of the biggest is how money is to be disseminated to the creative parties when projects are produced for the Internet.  The problem is, at this point in time, the Internet is a creative playground, but few are making any money including the big studios.  I think the WGA and DGA and even AFTRA were wise to table Internet discussions until the next contract meetings.  SAG should do the same.

Now is not the time to strike.  Too many other non-actors in this business will be affected, including Unconventional Media.  Few have recovered economically from the Writer’s strike.  SAG needs to work out their divisions within their own union first.  It’s getting ugly, according to the January 12th, Hollywood Reporter, SAG board member Frances Fisher (Mother in “Titanic“) distributed an email suggesting that SAG members use their upcoming SAG Award ballots to punish nominated actors — including Alec Baldwin, Steve Carell and Sally Field — who have advocated abandoning the strike-authorization vote.  Making it political, not about acting performance – for the SAG Awards.  Come on!  That’s just one example, it’s really become civil war.  Unify first please, before you put everyone out of work.

SAG needs to work with all of the other union members to get through these tough economic times instead of making them tougher.  Don’t sink the ship, Mama!  Go to www.nosagstrike.com for more information or go to the SAG website for SAG’s MembershipFirst side on authorizing the strike.

I agree that the Gatekeepers must change, let’s just be responsible and know what those changes really are going to be first.  As Tina Fey warned on The Golden Globe Awards last night, “there’s this thing called the Internet…”  It’s still in development.  I don’t believe you should set the rules before you know if the actual experiment worked.

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I first met Jeff Seckendorf on the feature film, “Finding Home” starring Genevieve Bujold, Louise Fletcher and Lisa Brenner.  I was impressed.  I found his cinematography and his visual understanding of how to tell a story the most impressive thing about the feature film.  We’ve remained friends ever since.  A few years later I had the opportunity to produce a short film that Jeff directed entitled “The Crux,” starring Misha Collins and Wilie Garson (Sex and the City).  Still liked his understanding of film and how to tell the story visually.

Jeff Seckendorf has taught the “Art of Cinematography” for years at the International Film and Television Workshops (now the Maine Media Workshops).  It was because of Jeff’s introduction that I began to teach a course on producing at the Workshops.  One of my favorite highlights each year.  More info at my website at www.EricMofford.com.

A few months ago I completed production through my production company Unconventional Media on the live action elements of the Electronic Arts (EA) video game, “Need For Speed:Undercover.”  We shot a 25-minute narrative film that is interlaced into the game.  Jeff was the Director of Photography and he did an amazing job.  We chose the RED camera for a variety of reasons: the large chip allows full control of depth of field, and the camera records in a ‘raw’ mode which allowed us to deliver a 4k intermediate.  Check out my RED Camera blog for more info.

So the long story short, Jeff has a wonderful training course for directors, cinematographers, editors, production designers called One On One Film Training.  This is not a film school, but a confidential consulting and mentoring program that teaches visual storytelling.  It doesn’t matter if you have a feature film or a video short, a TV commercial or music video, the process is the same.  How to tell the story!

I saw the success of this program when I produced Diane Namm‘s short film “The Sacrifice” starring Chris Mulkey, Jon Lindstrom and Darby Stanchfield (Mad Men).  Diane is a terrific writer and theater director but it was with Jeff’s One on One Training that she had a much better understanding of the filmmaking process.  I’ve worked with many first time directors, on bigger budget shows, that didn’t know what to do.  That wasn’t true with Diane Namm.  She was a professional throughout production.  I credit Jeff and his course (and I believe Diane would to) for this knowledge.

If you are not in Los Angeles, I know that One on One is available via ichat and podcasting.  In fact, I join Jeff on the audio recording “Making a Short Film.”  Check it out.  Check out the program.

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