So first, a couple forum members from another thread suggested or asked that I post this. As a filmmaker of course I am thrilled to talk about my movie making experience, what filmmaker isn’t. But I would understand if this isn’t your thing. This will be a long post. It’s way too long, so don’t hesitate to skip all the boring story stuff and just watch the videos instead. As will become obvious, this is a great example of how not to make a movie. But like Tarantino, this was my film school. The First Time I actually wasn’t interested in making movies. I loved video production. But I figured, since I hadn’t made one before, I’d make a short film just to say I did. I had just a read a couple short stories that were very metaphorical (like ‘The Devil and Tom Walker’) and since that was in my head at the moment I ended up writing a short screenplay (12 pages) that was very metaphorical (somewhat similar to Pilgrim’s Progress, which I realize is not everyone’s cup of tea). I cast a good friend to play the protagonist and asked another recent acquaintance (Armando Sahagun) to be a producer, he has since become a very good friend and was the most important influence on the film by far. I decided that I wanted Morgan Freeman to play the role of the mentor. I had a friend who attended a mostly black church. He invited me to church that Sunday, and when I got there, up on stage was Morgan Freeman... or at least I like to think that. Larry Thompson was a natural. He had never acted before, and EVERYONE who sees the film is blown away by his performance. I was all amped up to shoot the film on a Sony EX1, which I was saving up for. I had been drooling over this camera for a couple years. I owned a couple FX1’s and was planning to sell them to help pay for the EX1. Just before making the leap, I was introduced to some new footage from the Canon 5D m2 (we all know this story), and shortly after that I heard about the upcoming 7D. Needless to say, I made a change in my plans. The 7D, a couple Tamron lenses, a wobbly indieslider, a Zoom H4N, and a cheap boom mic was my setup. After several rehearsals and weeks of planning, my small cast and a few friends went out to the desert for a 3 day shoot. That was April 2010. The trip wasn’t horrible, but we shot far less than I had hoped. Not to mentioned I realized at the very end of the shoot that my picture profile settings had defaulted back to factory, so what I had shot was not quite the look I wanted. There were also some problems with the story, and the performances. A couple weekends later I was back out in the desert to shoot some pick ups with my protagonist. When we stepped foot out of the truck we quickly realized that I had forgotten the pants to his wardrobe, and being that it was a formal suit and tie, that was a big deal. We traveled an hour and a half to the desert, only to turn right back around and go home. I didn’t say it out loud, but I decided right then and there to stop production on Luggage and start over. The Second Time I rewrote the script, which had now turned into an estimated 30-40 minute film, an odd length I know. I also decided to recast the protagonist, which was VERY difficult because I had to tell my good friend we were making that change. We are still good friends but it remains a sore spot to say the least. In order to get actors and maybe some crew interested in participating with production (for free because I had no money) I decided to make a teaser to capture the tone of the project and maybe that would create interest. In June (2010) I was back out in the desert to make the teaser. This time with another friend who agreed to pull luggage around in the sand dunes. Below is the teaser that we created that day. What I am most proud of about this piece is that we only had about an hour at most to shoot this before the sun went down. So we shot it with no audio, and then when the sun had set I had him do everything again and I recorded the audio in the dark. We also took some b-roll I had shot out in the desert and made another short teaser with our own personal Morgan Freeman doing some VO. Btw, the music (if you want to call it that) for both this one and the one above was created by me. Not saying it’s the best, but I think it worked somehow. The point being that a simple sound fx pad and few piano keys can actually work well sometimes. After posting these videos and an ad on Craigslist, my inbox went berzerk. I had loads of actors who wanted to be a part of the project (even though it was a no pay). I narrowed the choices down to 3 talented dudes, and ended up going in the direction of one (Adam Brotman) that was the least like what we had originally imagined our protagonist to be like. Ironically, all three actors ended up in the film for other roles. I even had an Asian girl respond to my ad for a caucasian male, but she was so awesome (Ivana Brooks) she ended up in the movie too (she’s in the trailer). Brinton Ward was one of the other finalists. He ended up playing the role that you see in the beginning and hear throughout the main trailer. I also decided to change my equipment set up. I sold the Tamrons and got a Sigma 50 1.4 (not Art) and 20 1.8 (I don’t even think they make these anymore). Those two lenses represent 95% of the movie. The others being a Canon 85 and Tokina 11-16. I also ditched the slider. To begin with, that one sucked, and the time I spent, even just a few minutes, to set it up was time I figured I wouldn’t have. I oversimplified the shooting plan and decided to eliminate basically all camera movement. And aside from 2 tilts and one rack focus, I basically just set up the camera and hit record. I’m not saying thats a good thing, but interestingly, when people watch the movie not only do they not complain about it, but the first thing they always say is how much they love the cinematography. I probably wouldn’t do that again, but at least I know you can get away with more static shots than you’d think. I upgraded my audio setup too. I scrapped the cheap stuff and went with a Marantz recorder, Sound Devices mixpre, and an ME67 with a blimpie. I think my audio package was more expensive than my camera package. I thoroughly believe this was one of the smartest decisions I made. We started production again in October (2010). I had a lot people who said they wanted to help crew the film, but I almost always had to scramble last minute to find help. Sometimes it was just my wife. Sometimes no one. We nickel and dimed production on weekends when we could for about 9 months. Even though I always checked the weather report, one of the days it was unexpectedly so windy that we couldn’t even keep our eyes open in the blowing sand. I tried to get a few shots but because of the wind, it looked so different from everything else we had shot I knew it wouldn’t match up with the rest of our movie. A half a dozen shots in I called it a day. When I got home I looked at the footage and was blown away (sorry about the pun). It was our coolest stuff yet. The sand blowing in the wind with our protagonist traveling through it was awesome. Much later in production I went out to the dunes alone to pick up some b roll. Another sand storm came out of no where. This time I stuck it out, and got some more tremendous footage. That coupled with the first sand storm and we were able to create a believable sequence that introduced that harsh element of the desert. Something that most people don’t think about when they see Luggage is that, because it takes place in the sand dunes, there was the potential for a bunch of unwanted footprints in the sand. This was important to me. The first thing I did when we rolled into the desert each morning was map out exactly where the scene would be shot and how everyone would walk to and from. Sometimes we’d even have to rake or sweep the sand to cover tracks after a take. In the whole movie there are only 2 or 3 places when prints can be seen, and even those are inconspicuous. Where we shot was sometimes very close to the US/Mexican border. One time the border patrol swooped in during one of our night shoots with a helicopter and hovered right over us for a while. One time a helicopter followed my truck around right overhead for a few minutes through the desert. Some mornings in the desert are very very cold. Days can obviously be very hot, especially for our poor protagonist pulling around luggage with a suit on. We wrapped in June 2011 and I began to piece the story together. Even though we had some awesome content, I just didn’t like the story. It was too abstract and artsy fartsy. I knew that going into the movie but I was disappointed to see how strange it was as it played before my eyes. So I decided to add more to the story, stuff that wasn’t metaphorical, and tie it all in with the metaphorical stuff. I rewrote the script again (adding another 20-30 pages), cut a new teaser with the stuff we already had at that point and then used that to inspire the cast to shoot the new scenes. Below is the teaser that I showed them. http://vimeo.com/27671087 The Last Time We started production once again in November 2011 and slowly drudged through our reshoots and the new scenes for several more months. One of the new scenes took place in a restaurant/bar (this is in the most recent trailer). I had only 1 night to shoot these scenes and I spent most of the time shooting the wides and masters, and with 10 minutes left we were missing the close up, which was the most important angle (poor planning I know). Brinton said let’s just do it in one take and he nailed it, like.... utterly crushed it… in 1 take. That was the most productive 10 minutes of production of the whole movie. Another new scene took place in an old church, at night. My lighting kit was a 500w softbox and 2 totas (please don’t laugh). I was thinking, how am I going to light this church? So we started playing with my lights and the house lights. It looked horrible. Then I had the idea to just start cutting all of the lights 1 at a time, and it turned out the church had 1 random par light pointed oddly down at the first row of pews. So I killed basically all the other lights and had my actors do their thing in the first row and it looked great. Here’s a screengrab from that scene. Post Production We wrapped final production in May 2012, and yes, it took me another 2 years to finish post production. The reason for that is probably due to a combination of several things, but probably boils down to the fact that I was tired and burned out. Production had felt like a long lonely journey, and post production turned out to be even lonelier. I don’t mean to be melancholy, but maybe you can relate. One of the other issues was the fact that I didn’t know exactly how most of the visual fx would look. I had some ideas, but a lot of trial and error went into them. The Temptress reveal (the black particles in the trailer) was done in After Effects with Particular 2. I tried a bunch of stuff but eventually just searched Youtube for some tutorials and just played with those settings until I came up with something that looked cool. Creating the mountain summit stuff was tricky too (for me at least, a real fx guy would do these easily and quickly). I came up with a set extension version pretty quickly, but it just wasn’t quite right. Finally I discovered Vue and one of their paid add ons and was able to create the basic mountain, then I textured it in Photoshop and composited in After Effects. The Temptress transform was done in After Effects too. I originally had intended to do something similar to Andrew Kramer’s demon face tutorial, but again it wasn’t quite right and I eventually landed on the lizard skin thing which came from lots of trial and error. The mountain reveal was actually more time consuming than those. For some reason that set extension just wouldn’t look right. I eventually got pretty close, but I’m still not sure it’s quite right. The single most difficult post production element though was the creature sound fx. You hear them a little bit in the trailer, but there is a lot more in the film. This was difficult for several reasons. First, these were not supposed to be totally real life natural creatures. Maybe a little dinosaurish or demonic, but they couldn’t be too big or scary because when we shot the scene, the protagonist reactions were scared, but not crap your pants scared. So the noises had to be a bit unnatural, but not too big or scary so that they would match the performance in the scene. Trust me, this was harder than it sounds. In the end I used a combination of sounds like my hand rubbing on a wet glass or a balloon, or just my voice warped and distorted in Audition. It’s no Godzilla, but I’m still proud of them. The soundtrack was a lengthy process too. I found Eric Cappello with another Craigslist ad and he was amazing. I mean, words can't express. It wasn't easy for either of us, only because of the time it took to do that, while balancing the rest of our lives. But his music (heard in the official trailer) is top notch. The color grade is something that I tend to get compliments on, but honestly I spent little time with this. At this point I was just ready to be done. Film Convert, with one of their presets with it dialed down a bit, is basically what I used. I think I used some curves in some areas to match colors or fix problems. My theory for why people are so attracted to the grade is that it is actually the art direction….. the colors of the desert, that they are attracted to. When you have no money, as most of us don’t, construct a story around locations that have the art direction built in. I’m not saying trade story for art direction, but find both. A good story and art direction (and you also have to have good audio) will overcome deficiencies in a lack of camera equipment. And your footage may ultimately grade itself. To be honest though, even though I get a lot of compliments for shooting this on a crappy 7D, the 8 bit footage left little room to stretch it when necessary. Banding sucks. I just can’t shoot 8 bit again. I won’t do it. Please God, no more 8 bit. Here’s the official trailer if you haven’t seen it. http://vimeo.com/103010031 All in all, I spent 4-5 years of my life, and about $7500 (not including equipment) making Luggage, an 80 minute film. Of course that wasn’t full time. I did other little freelance projects during that time. Had some kids. Bought a house. Built an addition. Found a dead body. Pretty much the normal stuff. I don’t know how this story ends either. The distribution stuff is slow, but not over. That’ll probably be another post, I’m assuming 4-5 years from now. But what I can tell you, is that I love filmmaking. Greatest experience of my life. And I can’t wait to make my next film. Where will I find the time or the money? I have no idea. But for reasons I can’t explain, I believe I am going to do it.