I have wanted, for some time, to provide a project summary, the “Monitor Gray” story to date. Not the script itself, but how this all came to fruition and where we now stand. I offer this as an aspiring film maker who works hard to learn from his mistakes and success. I hope what I offer in the following reaches you as assurance that we are on track, but also as a reflection for what I, as the Producer, have learned.
A year ago March I rented an office in the Arts District of Downtown Phoenix. My intent was to produce a short film version of 3 short stories written some twenty years prior when I was in my final year of high school and first years of college.
I had, in the fall of 2010 and spring of 2011 attempted a feature version, but the then Director and I did not share the same vision and we parted ways. I was fortunate to be introduced to Joel Kaye in early 2012. His tenacity for detail (while sometimes overwhelming 🙂 was the kind of focus required to get the job done.
Joel and I met regularly during March and April. I worked to keep the story as close to my originals while Joel prepared a script, what will play well on screen. Six weeks spent, and surely we could have spent six weeks more. Joe’s passion for fine-tuning every phrase was a welcomed burden relieved for that is not where I am experienced nor do I desire to learn. A short story is one thing, but a screenplay is something entirely different.
Joel wrote while I worked on the organization of the cast & crew with help from Joel, Steve Briscoe, my brother Jae, and friends of friends in the relatively small, Phoenix film community. The team came together relatively smoothly, even with some down-to-the-wire casting calls.
We shot over the course of the subsequent six weeks (mid April through May), finding evenings and weekends when the cast & crew were available after work, and away from their families. Of course, it is always best to shoot an entire film consecutively, but without the ability to reimburse lost hours in the work place, we did well with an entirely volunteer cast & crew.
I edited the Kickstarter promo in June and July, and in August we raised $9500–some two thousand more than intended. After Kickstarter and Amazon’s margins, money set aside for the public screening, DVD production, and script printing–we had roughly $6000 to work with. Clearly, this is not the level of funding required for the time of all those involved in post-production. Our fund raising was intended to provide a base of engagement, a means by which we could entice those skilled in the arts to come on-board at a reduced rate.
In mid-August, I was given an incredible opportunity to move to East Jerusalem for five months, to work as a photo-journalist and film maker in Palestine. I sold my house, gave away much of what I owned, the remaining things yet in storage in Loveland.
My work in Palestine was overwhelming, emotionally, logistically. It consumed me in a way I was not expecting. What free time I had was simply not available for Monitor Gray, but for me to process what I was witnessing. What’s more, the teams who had engaged us during the summer were not available as they had intended. As you are aware, the project came to a grinding halt.
Joel was able to complete three VFX shots to a very high degree of quality. But it was clear, despite his good intentions, that it would take a long, long time for him to finish the film, single-handedly, even at the rate he was learning the tricks of the trade.
I departed the Middle East in February and established myself in Spain in March (having been robbed of all that I carried, save my camera bag, while switching trains in Paris). With a new computer, new clothes, a friend’s apartment rented, I was finally able to focus on Monitor Gray and search for a new VFX team.
Through the suggestion of my friend Josh Dean, who has worked with me as a VFX advisor and concept artist from the start, I posted our project on Freelancer.com. We chose Square Pixel, lead by the very capable Manish Kakkar. He is patient, responsive, and honest in his business dealings, and what’s more, willing to work within the tight confines of our budget, to help us see fruition to our dream. We could not ask for a better partner in this project.
Finally! A year and a half after I rented that office in Phoenix, and nearly three years into Monitor Gray (for me), we are seeing light at the end of the lens, and feeling confident we will finish in 2013.
So, you may ask, why does a ten minute film take so damn long? What were the lessons learned? What could we have done to improve?
Ah! Good questions. Thank you for asking. I am eager to share.
As with most Kickstarter projects, we are pressing the boundaries of what we have done as individuals and as a team. I am a former CEO, entrepreneur, and writer who has spent the last two years in self-guided film school. Joel is a veteran DP of eight years who has always wanted to be a part of something “done right” from start to finish; Steve Briscoe is a seasoned actor and associate of nearly the entire cast & crew; Jarrod Wilson is perhaps the South West’s most talented lighting designer; the actors (from Phoenix and L.A.) and their performances were outstanding.
The composer Joe Chilcott was welcomed just recently. Joe is highly talented and like Manish, Joel, and myself, in this to be a part of a high quality, independent production. The list goes on …
So much talent behind this film, and yet we are a year over-due. Why?
As one who never gives up, who sleeps poorly when I have not met my own expectations nor those of my investors, this is a question I have asked myself many times.
The answer is … 80%.
80% of Kickstarter projects run over. 80% of a well managed project is planning, not execution. 80% of the time required to produce a film is in post. And 80% of the stats you read are bullshit 🙂
Truly, given the hundreds of hours we have into this ten minute treatment of Monitor Gray, I recognize now, in retrospect, that unless we had a dedicated, full-time team paid industry standard wages for four months straight (estimated at a minimum of $50,000 total expense), we could have never completed the edit, VFX, score, sound design and colour correction for this film in the fall 2012.
It was, quite frankly, an incorrect estimate. I offer my sincere apology, for I have learned a great deal.
It is not about the length. Yes, a 120 minute film has more parts than a 10 minute film, but the team work, the systems that must be in place are similar. Like backpacking for a weekend or for a full week, you need the same gear, just more food, water, and time.
It is only now, in the middle of September, that I have come to understand all that is required to manage a film laden with computer generated art. It is not an easy endeavour, compounded by the distance from the U.S. to our Indian VFX team, and the time delay which limits the waking hours we share.
We have 48 VFX shots in a ten minute film. That is, on average, one computer enhanced scene every 12.5 seconds, and yet, the film is not an over-the-top, eye candy production. Not even close. Every use of computer generated art is tastefully blended, fully integrated such that it just feels like part of the story. The VFX is not its own character as far too many modern films have made this mistake.
But most of all, we now have systems of communication in place, fine-tuned over the course of June, July, and August. We maintain a detailed shot spreadsheet, timed to the latest edit. We maintain both Google Drive and local repositories which match the nomenclature and order of the spreadsheet. And the Adobe Premier project has an identical layout in the File Manager, granting us a 1:1:1 correlation for all shot data. If something changes in one place, it is updated in all three within 24 hrs.
And this brings me to the final part of this story (I appreciate your patience)—the Team.
In the movie industry, perhaps more than any else, there are strong opinions about how it should all come together. There are not necessarily rights and wrongs, just as there are not, despite the titles, ultimate boundaries for who does what at this independent film production level.
Joel and I have certainly had our moments of harmony … and those in which we were far from harmonious. We have, it seems, needed a year to learn how to work together such that we better know our roles and best applied responsibilities.
When do you let go? When do you take charge? When do you trust and when do you micromanage?
Therein lies the real test of a movie production team. The hardest part is not the manipulation of the software to product the best, photo-real image, but the careful movement through relationships such that everyone on-board remains on-board, and an important, engaging part of the game.
Monitor Gray is not coming from Hollywood (thank goodness!), nor is it a home movie. It is a project which continues to grow and evolve and improve as it (fingers crossed!) comes to a close in 2013.
I do appreciate your patience. I appreciate your steadfast enthusiasm. I appreciate your making the time to read this l-o-n-g message and do hope that you have learned from what I have shared, or at least, enjoyed this story.
Thank you! —kai