Last weekend I was bingeing on House of Cards
(as you do) and after one particularly riveting episode where blank and blank blank-out and they all blank (spoilers/adult situations) I finally noticed a familiar logo: Trigger Street Productions, Kevin Spacey's production company. Not that it's terribly widely known I guess, but the logo is burned into my brain (a folder within a folder within a folder from years ago, but it was there.)
In 2002, Kevin Spacey started a website called Trigger Street Productions (now called Trigger Street Labs
) for unrepresented writers and filmmakers. It was pretty phenomenal at the time. Years before YouTube, they were storing and streaming a massive amount of video for free – to give filmmakers a chance to get real professional (and not at all professional) feedback. The way the site worked was that you had to give reviews to get reviews. You had to be active on the site in order to get your stuff seen. As a result, the feedback you got was generally fairly thoughtful. If it wasn't, you could be reported and your credits would be taken away.
It so happens that I discovered the Art of Effing Cinema As I Know It in 2002, when I was like 15ish. I read about Trigger Street Productions in Moviemaker Magazine (I think, anyway) and bookmarked it. Later that summer, a friend and I spent a sunny day out shooting a short film. We got together at ten in the morning, wrote a quick ridiculous script, shot it, and then I was up all night editing it in the primal way editors do.
For my first REAL short (first one cut in a real NLE, as real as Premiere was in 2003 anyway), it was pretty awesome. It was about a girl who turns to online dating and finds herself falling in love with a goldfish cracker. I think our idea was that she's so desperate for love, she falls in love with a piece of garbage someone leaves on a door step. Or is the fish real? In any case, she has a torrid love affair and then her lover is killed by a jogger running by who steps on it.
Sounds absolutely ridiculous on paper but this thing had levels, man. And it worked on camera. I have no idea why.
I added this short film to my new Trigger Street account (on July 22, 2003) and for the first time, I got real people giving me real feedback on a creative thing I did. Up to this point, all I got were reactions from my mom and my friends. It wasn't all that easy to share video back then. I found server space here and there and put links to videos in my AIM Away Message (WTF) for friends to watch. But these replies, THESE were other filmmakers.
"There was some stuff that was a almost creepy though, certain innuendo that probably wasn't necessary."
"Seriously, though, WOW! That this piece was shot and edited in a day by high school students makes it very impressive indeed. If I were back in high school I'd definitely want to hang out with this bunch and make movies."
"Obviously, you guys are inate storytellers, and quite bright. I doubt that you've gotten much training, which means you watch movies and see what works. That gives you a head start."
"I liked the edit, I liked the camera work, and it was lit well, at least, I could see everything clearly and it fit the moments. Nice work from some talented young ladies."
"Cutting the voiceover would have really made it a film instead of a project done in one day. You should open up Premiere and click on the voiceover track and hit delete. Then watch the film, it will be much better. "
By the way, I didn't agree with that last one then and I still don't agree with it now.
I hadn't logged into Trigger Street since high school, so to my surprise there have been a number of reviews posted in my absence despite me not reciprocating in some time now. I was even surprised my account existed any longer. But there it is, along with all the old reviews and my Realmedia encoded microscopic videos with a bit rate of twelve.
Between the refreshingly interesting storytelling of House of Cards
and the very first reviews I ever got, I started to think about what editing was like when I was just getting started. Not that the evolution of a career isn't something amazing to experience, but when you're fifteen years old, there are no notes from clients. No difficult producers. There are no tricks or carefully written emails. There's just you and your imagination. There hasn't been time to over-think or stress about an editorial decision. It's all one big experiment.
It's amazing how much you can grow as an editor while simultaneously losing the ability to think from all these angles. I think most editors would say they're unwaveringly inventive and creative people, but the truth is that you start to become the sum of your experiences. You can do amazing things in your work, but nothing will ever be like when you were making things for yourself and yourself only.
Although, to be perfectly clear, I'm really
glad I'm closer to this part of the journey than the very beginning. I want to go back in time and tell that excitable kid with the Hi8 camera and too much time on her hands that it's a long, confusing road ahead - but stick with it, because it gets cool more often than not.
And it's worthwhile to read some of the stupid things strangers wrote about your first film project:
"Although this film has transitional difficulty in editing and lackluster camera work, it's kind of fun and very interesting."
Thanks, Internet stranger. You made my teenage day. And thanks Kevin Spacey. Hit me up if you need an editor.
It almost snuck by me, but I remembered! Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the premiere of The X-Files. And as a huge fan (I think they used to call us X-Philes) of the show who has recently been working through (almost) every episode from start to finish, I have a couple things to say about this.
This is the first chronological binge viewing I've completed on this show since I originally began watching -- something that happened pretty late in the series. Sometime in 1999, I picked up the show during season 7 and got hooked after the finale. That summer, FX played a couple episodes a night starting from season 1. By fall, I was fully engaged in not only watching the show, but also talking about every aspect of the show on the Internet. With other self-proclaimed "x-philes". Half cringe, half I ain't even mad.
Besides the phenomenal technical achievements of the show which I'm sure are discussed elsewhere on the internet on this happy birthday week, I have two major takeaways as an impressionable teenager, both of which have become a lot clearer upon this recent binge in adulthood, ten years after the show's series finale (sob).
The first thing: characters are everything, and not just the heroes. Yes, Mulder and Scully went through some fantastic character development (which, by the way, is even more impressively subtle when you view episodes back to back to back, there's some amazing mental breakdown slow burn). But how about Cigarette Smoking Man? How many shows give their nameless villain a whole subplot? An entire episode? It's a long journey to the reward, but these small hints build up to a pretty emotionally complex end to the main mytharc, with a lot of engaging and amusing stand-alones along the way. Even characters we saw once or twice -- the psychological mindgames of "Pusher", or the scary as hell hair and nail fetishist in "Irresistible" were way more captivating than a lot of recurring roles on other shows.
Interesting and likable (or at least relatable) characters are a difficult lesson to learn as a filmmaker, and even when X-Files was at its worst, it was still a great teacher.
Two: Dana freakin' Scully. Looking back, she was possibly my biggest role model as a teenager (plus I had a lot of Scully-related forum handles) -- and I wasn't alone. At a Comic-Con, Gillian Anderson said she had dozens and dozens of women tell her that they pursued a career in medicine, science, psychology, law enforcement, or another related field because they had grown up watching Scully kick ass every week. In another interview, I saw a lot of women mentioning their path into filmmaking began with Dana Scully. I'm not sure my hair would even be red without Scully.
Scully is complex character with layers and junk. She's a deeply flawed person without being portrayed as weak-willed. She's physically and mentally tough, but she worries about burdening her partner with her concerns and keeps a lot to herself. Early in the series, the show tried to occasionally show that Scully had a romantic life -- but then somebody realized that the audience didn't care, and it got way better.
It's interesting that the main thing taken away from her after her abduction was her ability to bear children, which made for an interesting dynamic to a character that already overcompensated for her gender as many women are prone to do in a male-oriented field. But she's, at least for 7 seasons, not defined by infertility so much as she is by wanting to find answers, like Mulder. Even when she's the victim, she's not truly helpless (nor is she truly unaffected.) And I think that's kind of rare for women in stories. Plus, infertility is such a trope for female characters anymore, but was anyone addressing such a thing in the early 90s?
I'll admit that Scully in seasons 8 and 9 was kind of crap though. The storyline that had sucked me into the show originally ended up being the weakest link for her character (make babies, protect babies, etc.) But still, we'll always have the ass-kicking Scully in seasons 3 through 5 (including the movie, especially the movie!) And girlfriend could wear them shoulder pads, mhmm.
Also, a majority of X-Files were edited by female editors. I don't really have a further point to make about that, I'm just saying it was a thing I realized upon this binge.
X-Files was awesome. Ya'll should Netflix it if you never watched it before. Great stories, great dialogue, best opening title sequence ever. Yeah, I said it.
Scully: Mulder, it's such a gorgeous day outside. Have you ever entertained the idea of trying to find life on this planet?
Mulder: I've seen the life on this planet Scully, and that is exactly why I am looking elsewhere.
This blog post is going to skate really close to rant territory. I'd apologize for that, but I'm actually not sorry. You've been warned.
(I did, however, take out all the swearing that would normally accompany this if we talked in person. That's a premium service. Contact me for an estimate.)
For some reason, I've been asked for my advice about getting started in an editing or filmmaking career or how to find indie films to work on more this week than ever before. I'm not sure why it's all happened at once, maybe I'm giving off a vibe. Or scent. Regardless, it's cool. I love sharing my experiences and opinions. Passing on advice that worked for me is a lot of fun and I'll always do it. Mutual curiosity about career stuff is a fun conversation topic.
you've really really
got to stop being lazy and making excuses for not getting what you want. Seriously. It's sad and it makes me sad for you. So sad in fact, that I've created this BEST OF compilation of stupid excuses. It's perhaps a little more brash than my usual fare. Don't mistake this for arrogance. I'm young and stupid too, but I'm still allowed to almost rant. Pseudo-rant. Pretend I made you cookies and you're eating them as you read this.
"I want to shoot/edit/work on some short films but I don't know anyone."
Okay, two options. Do it all yourself, or meet people who share your ambition. Which one sounds easier? (It's not the first one.)
When people ask me how I meet people in film, they're dismayed when they realize that I actually left my home and talked face to face with other human beings. Yes, it's true! Even here in Indiana we have a great filmmaking group called Indiana Filmmakers Network
. They meet once a month, every single month. I always pass along this information to locals that are interested in filmmaking. The general response? Maybe two in ten people actually look into it. Maybe ONE of those two people actually attends and starts and conversation with someone new. Repeat visitors to the group, even less than that. Yes, there are half-people wandering around meetings here. It's grotesque.
There are meet-ups and user groups like this all over the country, why aren't you taking advantage of them?
"I went to a networking event but I didn't meet anyone."
WHY? Networking also isn't a matter of simply showing up. If you go to a meet up with a group of people that know each other, you have to be the one to take initiative because they're all going to be busy catching up with one another. Elbow your way into a conversation, introduce yourself, and be interesting and useful. If you don't get anything out of a networking event, it's nobody's fault but yours.
"I met some people, but they never got in touch with me."
Why didn't YOU get in touch with THEM? You didn't call or email or write or carrier-pigeon them? Why should it be their responsibility to reach out to you? Come on, dude. And once you get in touch, it's also YOUR responsibility to continue to cultivate the relationship by the way. And while I'm on the topic, remember: people are people, not commodities. Treat them as such.
Networking isn't instant gratification, which is maybe the biggest turn off for people. It took me over five years of meeting people and working on their sets before I got to the point where I was even editing. These all started as side projects, purely for enjoyment. And that's how it primarily remains. But I get a lot of really great, professional experience, and I've gotten significant paid work from it too.
"I don't know why I'm not getting any freelance work at all."
(My response: how are you looking for work? Their reply: "Online
These days, it seems so common to rely completely upon electronic communications. Find a listing or company email, send an application or forward a resume, profit. Except the third one doesn't happen that much, does it? How many frustrated hours do people spend on the Internet, sending bits into the ether, hoping someone they don't know comes along and says why YES, this 40 word email is precisely what was missing in my life!
The best work I've gotten has come from knowing people who know people. I'm not saying the Internet isn't useful for job hunting by any means. Or for making initial contact. Or even for maintaining contact. But when someone is frustrated and lacking in work and they haven't done a single thing beyond sending formal emails to HR accounts, I want to slap them with a hand full of glitter.
Besides the networking events and meet ups, you should be doing everything you possibly can to make connections. Call a company directly (unless they say not to -- follow instructions for the love of *%&^). Make contact with individuals and ask for informational interviews or tours. Invite someone to coffee. Send mini muffins. Whatever! It takes up a lot of your time and it's a lot of effort, but the return on your time investment is going to be much higher than sitting in a dark room sending 1's and 0's to already-stuffed-full inboxes.
(But you do have a website, right? Okay, good. Oh wait, it's grammatically correct and stuff too? Okay, just checking.)
"But I'm an introvert, I don't like asking for things."
So am I and neither do I. Bummer. Do it or change careers, man.
"I did work for someone but they never contacted me with more."
Did you do good work for them? If not, then you're screwed. If you did good work, did you stay in touch with them and follow up about more opportunities? If not, do it now. I'll wait. Because you might not be screwed. But ya know, they may just not have any work or money. It shouldn't matter to you, you should be working on other connections. Don't take it personally. Just keep checking, move on, and have another plan.
"I'm too busy to look for work."
This makes no sense. If you're too busy to look for work, how are you not too busy to do
work? This is a time management issue that should be figured out before you take on clients.
The part where this becomes a rant is not the questions I'm being asked. It's the response I get. Physical effort? Feh, I can't deal with that. I'm skilled, people should be knocking down MY door to hire me.
That's not the world we live in. No one owes you anything, especially not if you put in the minimal effort of getting a college degree or doing an online course. I don't have an easy solution. I'm not luckier than you. While there is a big element of being in the right place at the right time, you don't magically find yourself in that right place. Most often, the right place is a consequence of forging a new relationship and working really hard. And not being a poopy person. The time is what you have less control over, so you can pray to the leprechaun in the sky or the holy unicorn for help there.
So stop making stupid excuses and get out there. Yes, put on your shoes. Socks go on first. Good! Here's a cookie. Now go out the door. You might need a coat, it's been pretty cold lately. Go find someone, shake their hand, and talk about stuff. It's flu season, so maybe take this hand sanitizer. Look both ways before you cross the road, call if you need anything. Good luck!
Earlier this year, I wrote a blog
about the movie that had the most impact on me as an editor in response to my attendance at Editfest NY. In the post, I stated that Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring
was my first instinct, but it was a wrong choice if we were talking specifically about being inspired as an editor. I also mentioned that Lord of the Rings
deserves a blog post all of its own, because it was a whole different phenomenon.
Well, The Hobbit
comes out this week, so in an attempt to be topical, here is that blog post. Fellowship of the Ring
wins the prize for inspiring me to tell stories.
I was a freshman in high school when Fellowship
was released. I had never read the books. Other than a healthy obsession with X-Files
and a couple of books here and there, I wasn't really into anything overly fantastical. But then one day when I was standing in my cousin's living room on Thanksgiving break, I caught a TV spot for it. It was basically a shortened version of the "Shortcut to Mushrooms" bit toward the beginning of Fellowship
where the four hobbits first encounter a wraith and Frodo nearly puts on the ring. I had no idea why, but I was completely hooked.
I told my friends we should go see the movie. I think a couple of them had been interested, but largely the group was just as in the dark on the plot as I was. We went to see it during Christmas break sometime in January 2002.
I can't recall a time before that when I was so utterly captivated by a movie.
Sometime before this, I had started playing around with video production and filmmaking in general. I had put together a few little shorts and been shooting a lot of random stuff, playing around with assembling it. Fellowship
flipped a switch somewhere in my brain: storytelling mode ENGAGED.
Funnily enough, my circle of friends and I became slightly obsessed with everything related to Lord of the Rings
. We all read the books, bought the merch, and speculated about the adaptations while we eagerly awaited December 2002 and The Two Towers
. We were all bookish drama nerds, so this was a pretty good fit to say the least.
I found a home video recently from a Lord of the Rings
party we threw. The day the theatrical edition came out, I was assigned to retrieve it as I was the only one who had a drivers license. I ran to Target after school, grabbed it, and ran to my friend's basement. Teenaged girls laid all over the dark floor, swooning over Viggo and Orlando, bawling at Gandalf, and lamenting the months until Two Towers
Screenshot from our party video. It's not much, but you can see how emotionally invested we are, right?
I went to a midnight release of Two Towers
. My (female) friend dressed up like Gandalf. To this day, I've never been in a more engaged, dead quiet movie theater. When Haldir died in Helm's Deep, the collective gasp of the audience actually scared me. It was fantastic.
Anyway, back to Fellowship
. The months in between seeing Fellowship
and buying it on DVD were probably the most important to me as a storyteller. Remember here that I was 15: I downloaded a bootleg version of Fellowship
(recorded in the back of a movie theater, had Chinese subtitles!) and watched it repeatedly. Then I made mash-ups with it. I recut it, made my own trailers and promos, and intercut things I had shot with it. No, I don't bootleg anymore. I only really ever did the once, for that film.
I've seen Fellowship
about a million times (lost count around 75) because of this experimentation. I've torn it apart and put it back together. It didn't teach me editing, but it taught me how to tell a story. A big, complicated story with a lot of moving parts. All the stuff that goes into telling an effective story I learned here.
But what it really showed me and what really inspired me to keep pursuing filmmaking full on was the understanding that large portions of this movie are completely made out of thin air. Like Rivendell, when Frodo is on his balcony? All that stuff is computer generated or miniatures someone built or a matte painting or a combination of everything. What the CRAP man! All the creatures populating Middle Earth? Pretty much built by people. The amazing landscapes? Meticulously scouted and enhanced with computers. Everything from the architecture of Lothlorien to the impossibly ancient ruins of Moria to the simple forced perspective camera trickery absolutely blew me away. None of this stuff exists, but it does. It could have all been AWFUL, but somehow these people managed to put it all together, and it's nearly seamless.
It felt real, but it was a movie. It was fantasy, but it was built on real emotion. And people
built it for my enjoyment. It felt flawlessly expansive, and it inspired the hell out of me to keep creating.
After Fellowship of the Ring
and the months that came after, I made more stuff, and I thought about it differently. I read more, wrote more, and played around with Premiere a lot more. I made a lot of stuff and I put it on the Internet. Things that had a beginning, middle and end. Things that had rising and falling action, twists, character development, and emotional appeals.
I've occasionally heard from people my age that Lord of the Rings
was their Star Wars
. It took me a while to understand that, but I really do feel the same way. Like Star Wars
, Lord of the Rings
became this all-encompassing experience
of an entire world built just for you, unlike anything you'd ever seen before. If I hadn't seen Fellowship
when I did, I'm not really sure I would have been all-in with the whole media thing because I might not have realized my own creative storytelling ambitions.
Despite all the controversies of frames per second or 3D or 2D or too many movies, I'm getting pretty excited for The Hobbit
. I'm really happy I can enter that world again and experience a new story in Middle Earth.
My butt will be firmly planted somewhere in the upper middle of a 2D showing for The Hobbit
by 11:30 PM this Thursday night. I hope you'll join me. Hairy feet optional.