Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Writer Duet - Screenwriting Software Perfect for Writing Partners

Along with producing films, I enjoy writing them too. And I really like collaborating with other screenwriters on projects. The one obstacle to collaborating is sharing work seamlessly between writing partners. If you can't work in the same document, it makes it difficult to know if you are working in the most current version. It also slows things down. You may have to wait for your writing partner to finish his or her changes and then email it to you so you can pick up where he or she left off. Not very efficient.

So in my search to figure out a good means of collaborating with a writing partner, I came across WriterDuet.com. It's an online screenwriting software that allows for collaboration. Like Google Docs, it allows you and your writing partner to be in the same document at the same time and it shows the changes your writing partner is making in real time. It's exactly what I was hoping for and then some!

I have shared it with my writing partners and it's been a really wonderful tool for our collaborating. It's a great program in which to write even if you don't write with a partner. And you can save your screenplay in most formats, including Final Draft and PDF. I really can't recommend WriterDuet enough. Below are some video tutorials that will explain more of the features of the software. And at the bottom is a limited-time discount from WriterDuet for my readers. Check out the software and let me know what you think! And more importantly, keep on writing!


Pro v. Free Tutorial

Limited Time Offer!

20% off discount code and direct purchase URL: INDIE, https://writerduet.com/purchase?discount=INDIE (price is usually $99 for lifetime Pro with free upgrades, or $7.99/mo subscription, so this brings it down to $79 one-time or $6.39/mo - and price is even lower for students!)

Here's to wonderful collaborations!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Interview with Editor Evita Yuepu Zhou

I always love featuring independent filmmakers on this blog. Below is a Q&A with Editor Evita Yuepu Zhou. She has an interesting story and a familiar love of filmmaking.

A Statement from Evita:

I was born in a small city in China in 1987 and moved to Shanghai when I was 9 years old. Since the age of 10, I knew I wanted to work in film. My pursuit of film was not an easy one: swimming against the cultural stereotype, which pushes its children to become doctors, lawyers or housewives and battling to become a female editor in the entertainment industry proved challenging. The entertainment industry is a rocky road and, oftentimes, is difficult to break into and maintain a steady career. Despite these difficulties, my career in film editing has been very rewarding. Stepping back and looking at what I’ve done and what I’m capable of carries with it a sense of adventure that drives me to keep creating. I am passionate about my career and strive to expand my editing skills to span all mediums. Whether it be a narrative film, documentary film, commercials, or reality series, each project opens up new and different worlds that allow me to expand and explore. I immerse myself in these worlds and connect emotionally and artistically with each story. Taking unrelated visual sequences and stitching them together to create a beautiful work of art is something I look forward to every day.
Still from Ablution - a film edited by Evita Yuepu Zhou

The Q&A with Evita

1) How did you get into editing?

Finding my passion and talent for editing was an interesting process of self-discovery. I will never forget the first time I finished editing my first documentary back in 2008. I directed that film as well. The moment when the final film was exported was one of my happiest moments in my life. That moment served as a catalyst for me to further explore the world of editing. Later, my work experience at IMSTEPF Studios made me realize that editing is something I love to do, enjoy doing, and is something I’m good at. Stitching those unorganized unrelated visual sequences together into an amazing piece of art is very rewarding.

2) What is a typical day like?

Working as a freelancer allows for a lot of flexibility in my schedule. It also means that there are no strict boundaries for work and free time and that the lines between the two are often blurred. Every day, I make sure I get a decent breakfast and then get my hands on the keyboard to start the day. No matter how busy or tight my schedule is, I always make an effort to get some mid-day exercise. It’s vital to keep healthy when a job requires you to sit in front of screens all day long. Work continues after dinner mostly. The hours are very long, but I always make sure I allow myself some leisure time on weekends.

3) What would you say your editing style is?

I wouldn’t limit myself to just one editing style. The technique and style of your work should reflect the content. Generally, I like to cut on emotion rhythms. Using those cues allows me to form rules and techniques as I go along. 

4) Who would you say, editor or filmmaker, inspires your work the most?

My favorite director is Roman Polanski. He is an absolute genius as a director. And my favorite editors are Dede Allen, Tim Squyres, and Hervé de Luze.

5) How does editing different genres (doc, web series, feature, etc.) affect your work?

Editing a wide variety of genres allows me to expand my editing skill set. Different genres definitely affect the creative process in different ways. For documentaries, editors need to be involved early on because editors are partially the writer of the film. Also, the editorial period often takes longer for documentary films. Narrative films are fluid and create different vibes when I work with the footage given to me although the process of dealing with stories, emotions and rhythms stays the same.

6) What genre or project type do you most enjoy editing and why?

As an editor, I prefer not to stick to just one type of genre or story. I always love to try different types of film as long as it has a good story and interesting characters. I like to immerse myself into the characters’ arcs and understand the emotional twists of the film. I always get positive feedback in that arena from different filmmakers.

7) How has working both in the U.S. and abroad influenced your editing work?

When I worked in China, I was working for a major broadcast television network in Shanghai for a documentary channel. Teamwork was vital for us at that time, so I learned a lot about working with other editors. Working with people that spoke different languages and came from different backgrounds also helped expand my communication skills.

8) As an editor, what are the challenges you face?

As a filmmaker, you always need to keep moving forward, not only in the professional arena, but also in the networking one. I think the challenging part for me is the insecurity that sometimes comes with being a freelancer and the need to constantly network and put yourself out there not only in-person but on social media as well. Often, that insecurity is going to be with you your whole life as a filmmaker, but the challenge of that can lend itself to new adventures in meeting new people.

9) Do you have any advice for aspiring film editors?

Film business is a rocky road for anyone who is working and wants to work in it. However, it also feels very rewarding when you find your calling and put yourself into it. It requires great amount of time and hard work, but it’s also amazingly fun to find out what you’ve done and what you’ll create in the future. It’s never the same.

10) If you weren't an editor, what do you think you'd be doing right now?

Although I’ve worked different jobs before editing, I cannot think of anything I would want to jump into right now except editing. Maybe I would be a writer for a small magazine or work in environmental engineering because that was one of my undergraduate majors, but if I had to choose something other than editing, I would love to be a film composer.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Q&A with Jacob Cooney, Director of Our New Film Pitching Tents!

I thought it would be fun to do a Q&A with the director of our new film Pitching Tents - Jacob Cooney. As all of you know by now, we are in the home stretch of our IndieGoGo campaign for the film and we are looking forward to making the film in August.

Jacob Cooney
Before we jump into the Q&A, I want to alert you to a new perk we just added today. We want as many of our supporters, friends and family to have their high school graduation photos in our end credits. This has been offered at the $250 Perk level, which gets you all the perks below it too. For the last two days of the campaign, we are going to offer to put your photo in the end credits of the movie for $50!! You will not get the other perks you would get for the $250 contribution but you will get your photo in the end credits. And what a perk that will be! You will live on forever in the movie with all of us. So please join us by selecting the "Your Pic into Eternity" perk, tell your family and friends and so on and so on and so on. And let's meet our $75k goal in the next 48 hours! Thanks everyone! Hope to see your high school mug in the end credits. This is going to be so fun! Bombdigity!! Here's the link to grab the perk: http://igg.me/at/pitchingtentsmovie/x/6178.

Now let's get to know more about our director Jacob Cooney:

Tell us about Pitching Tents and why you want to tell this story.

Set in 1984, Pitching Tents follows the story of Danny, a high school senior, whose future creates a tug-of war between his no-nonsense father and his crackpot guidance counselor… until an encounter with a goddess helps him uncover his destiny.

Heartfelt, hilarious and nostalgic, I was immediately transported back to my “ultimate summer” experiences while reading the script and because of that I knew I needed to make this movie. It’s not everyday you run across a project like this that has everything you’d ever want in a film and because of that, and the people involved, my initial thought was (and still is today) that this film deserves to be seen by the masses.

Why should this story be told?

Pitching Tents is a universal story that spans all audiences. From kids in high school looking to the future, to adults who have fond memories of their past, everyone can get behind a film that pushes you to reach for your dreams and become the person you were meant to be.

With movie theaters packed with super hero movies, explosion-filled action films and raunchy comedies, Pitching Tents will give the audience a feel good movie with heart, comedy and nostalgia. Everyone has experienced that “one crazy summer” or that one weekend that changed your life… and it’s that feeling that we’re trying to bring back. Pitching Tents will be a fun movie for everyone, and we’re really excited to be bringing it to life.

Why is it set in the 1980s? How is that era important to the story?

Two words… IT’S ICONIC! The 80s were a time of change all across the board. From music to movies, from politics to wardrobe, the 80s spawned a lot of what we know today. It was an era where teens came into their own and in some ways rebelled from the norm to discover their own path … and at its core, that’s what Pitching Tents is all about. It’s about finding your voice and reaching for your dream and the 80s was the transcending era that forged new ideas, new experiences and of course, giant hair! Why wouldn’t we want to set Pitching Tents during this time in history?!

What made you want to become a director? Why do you like making movies?

There’s a story my mom tells everyone about the time I was taken to lunch by my art teacher after winning an award when I was in kindergarten and when asked what I wanted to do when I grew up I answered, “I want to make movies.” Guess it was always in my blood.

After that I was continuously shooting short films (really bad ones) and fake TV shows with friends using my parents’ VHS camera. As I grew up, the cameras got a little better, as did the final projects … to some degree. To answer your question though, filmmaking (specifically directing) has been something I’ve wanted to do since I can remember.

How did you get your start in directing? Do you find it hard to be a full-time director?

After graduating high school, I went to film school at California State University, Monterey Bay. There my friends/classmates and I would shoot shorts on the weekends or help the older students with their thesis films. We really immersed ourselves in the idea of “learning by experience”, so we made sure we were always shooting or working on something.

After four years of working on student films, getting hired as a PA on commercial shoots when they came to the area, interning in LA every summer and shooting my own thesis film “Small Town Life”, I graduated and immediately moved to LA after being hired to dolly grip on an independent feature. From there I began working as a dolly grip on commercials and then got hired as an office PA at Nickelodeon. Throughout all the work though, I knew I wanted my focus to be on directing. While at Nickelodeon, I threw my hat in the ring to direct a number of independent projects that I found had postings for directors online. Somehow I managed to catch one producer’s eye (Jane Kelly Kosek) for a film they were producing titled “Fierce Friend” (still don’t know how I managed that). From there I went through the interview process and after 3 or 4 interviews I somehow landed the job.

I remember getting that call … I was 21 or 22 years old, still getting used to living in LA and then I got hired to direct my first feature. I was on cloud nine … still get that feeling every time someone lets me direct a film.

That said, getting hired to direct “Fierce Friend” started my path as a director. After doing the film I began directing music videos, commercials and shorts, which in turn opened the door for me to begin writing and making more films. Now I won’t lie … it’s been a hard road throughout the years, which has been riddled with ups and downs and “go projects” and “dead projects”, but it’s a road that needs to be traveled as the experience is worth everything. You have to always be working. You have to always be striving to get bigger and better with every project, and most importantly you learn to take rejection in stride as the “no’s” definitely outweigh the “yes’s”. But when you get that “yes”, it feels so good.

What has been the most challenging aspect of getting Pitching Tents made thus far? How do you plan to overcome the challenge?

Oh man … like all independent films, the biggest struggle thus far has been securing the financing to make the film. From emailing friends and family, to setting up meetings with complete strangers, to embarking on the insanely time consuming task of running a crowdfunding campaign, finding the funding for a heartfelt film like Pitching Tents has been the hardest thing yet.

I’m not sure why it’s been so hard … we have an amazing story, a great cast and crew and an audience yearning for more films like this to be made, but the independent filmmaking experience seems to always remain the same. It’s a struggle from start to finish, but with the helping hands of others and the drive we have to make this film come into fruition, Pitching Tents will be getting made … and in the grand scheme of things, that’s a triumph within itself. It’s all about staying positive, creative and most importantly staying focused on the story you want to tell while finding the best way to showcase it using the resources you have in front of you. That’s been my job as a director for the last 13 years and I love every minute of it.

Why run a crowdfunding campaign for the film? How important is crowdfunding to independent film?

When dealing with independent films your funding can come from a number of different places. You can get funding through friends and family, through investors who love your project or love the idea of getting into the entertainment industry, through small production companies who have internal funding or through crowdfunding sites like Indiegogo, Seed & Spark or Kickstarter. It really can come from anywhere and from anyone … and as we all know independent filmmaking is a hard road. It takes a village to make a film in general, and doing it independently you need all the help you can get.

That’s why crowdfunding is really helpful. You’re not only reaching out to untapped avenues for funding, but at the same time your promoting your film and growing a fan base… which is VERY, VERY important. Without the fans your film won’t sell, so it’s much better to start early and build your audience that way you know before the film is finished that you have people waiting and wanting to see it.

What are your hopes for the future of Pitching Tents?

Pitching Tents is a heartfelt film with a great story that resonated with me from the very beginning. It brought me back to my ultimate summer and that moment in my life where I figured out what I truly wanted to do with my life. Much like our lead character Danny, I struggled with the decision to choose my dream over what was easy and secure, and my hope is that the audience will find Danny’s story close to their own. Pitching Tents is a universal story that I feel everyone will love … not only because of it’s comedic elements and storytelling, but because it’s a film that has the ability to transport the viewer back to their childhood where being young and free was pretty much all you cared about.

Overall, I feel the film is destined for success on all fronts. We have an amazing cast and crew, an amazing story full of truth and heart and an audience looking for something different then the normal big budget summer blockbusters. To me, that sounds like a recipe no one could ever turn down.

What's next for you and your career?

Oh man. I currently have a number of things in the works both professionally and personally. The most important being that I’m venturing into a new career as a father this coming October. My wife and I are very excited and are looking forward to meeting the little one when she arrives.

Professionally, I’ve got a number of projects in the works that are all in different stages. I’m currently in post-production on my film BLUE LINE, which we shot this past January/February. The film is an action thriller starring Tom Sizemore, Jordan Ladd and Kevin Nash. Along with that, I’m also slated to direct a zombie film this coming September titled ISLE OF THE DEAD, which will be released by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment sometime in 2016. 

Do you have any advice for up-and-coming filmmakers?

Yes. Just keep creating and keep shooting. No matter if the project is small or large, with a production company or with your friends, just keep honing your craft. Keep the juices flowing … and most importantly, HAVE FUN DOING IT!

For more information on Jacob's work, check out his work at his Web site at: www.jacobcooney.com.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Join Us and Sam Jaeger of Parenthood and American Sniper for Dinner and a Movie!

Hi everyone! My good friend and often creative partner Sam Jaeger (aka Joel from the NBC TV show Parenthood and Bradley Cooper's Captain in the Clint Eastwood film American Sniper) just contributed $1000 to our IndieGoGo Campaign for my new film Pitching Tents. And he's made an offer that we hope will entice many of you to join us for dinner and our LA premiere!

Sam as Joel on Parenthood

Bradley Cooper and Sam Jaeger in American Sniper

As he states in the video below, Sam has offered to take EVERYONE who MATCHES his $1000 contribution to our IndieGoGo Campaign for Pitching Tents in the next couple of days to dinner the night of the film's LA Premiere. All the filmmakers, including me, will be there too!

Check out his offer here:

We're so grateful for Sam's generosity and support and hope you join him and us for the premiere and dinner beforehand. Your contribution will help us make this film happen. It will be a really fun night and you can watch the film you helped make possible on the big screen!

Here's the link to the campaign: http://igg.me/at/pitchingtentsmovie/x/6178. Make sure you select the perk at the $1k level, which ensures you two tix to the premiere as well. Thanks everyone! Help us reach our goal! We're in the home stretch - we hope you can join us!

You can also click on the box below: 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Q&A with Director Sean Ackerman about His New Documentary on Kelley Gibson

Sean Ackerman and I have known each other for about 15 years. I can't believe it's been that long. It feels like yesterday when we met on the production of Todd Solondz's film Storytelling. We have lots of stories about that production but that's for another day.

Director Sean Ackerman

In those 15 years, Sean and I have made two feature films together: Straight Line and The Diary of Preston Plummer. And during that time, Sean went to medical school too. He is now a child psychiatrist/indie filmmaker. I love working with him because he brings such a well-rounded vision to anything he does. His life isn't solely about filmmaking, which is nice. And he's a new dad!

On top of all of that, Sean recently told me he was going to make a documentary. I was really happy to hear this as I love doing both narrative and documentaries. It's nice to know others who like to create both kinds of films.

And he recently launched a Kickstarter for the film, which is doing really well. They are in the home stretch of reaching their $40k goal. I suggested that as he nears the deadline for his crowdfunding campaign that we talk about the project here.

So that's what we're going to do. Let's talk about the film he wants to make about Kelley Gibson - a really remarkable young man.

Kelley Gibson
But before you read the Q&A, watch Sean's Kickstarter video - it will tell you all about the story he wants to tell:


Q&A with Sean Ackerman

Tell us about your new project and why you want to tell this story.

I've spent the bulk of the last 9 years training to be a child psychiatrist. In that time, I've seen a lot of good being done by the mental health system in this country, but obviously there is also a lot to be desired that isn't being done. This story does great job not only pointing out what usually isn't done, but it also provides a way forward. That is, it's not a story that just complains about gaps in health care, instead it offers real solutions. Plus, it's just an amazing and entertaining story, and from a filmmaking perspective, that's the first thing.

You're a medical doctor and filmmaker. Do you see this project as the perfect marriage of both of your skills?

Perhaps? But when you make a movie, you're mostly just making a movie. I'm really just a filmmaker when I create this documentary. However, my medical/psychiatric knowledge, I hope, will bring some authenticity/authority to it that another filmmaker could not. These are really, really complicated issues, and I hope I can do them justice.

There's a strong music element to the story. Can you describe why music is so important to this story?

Well, music is important for a lot of reasons. Broadly, it represents the idea that people who struggle with mental health issues are way more than their diagnosis. In the past Kelley has been given diagnoses of bipolar I and autism. Those are the sort of things doctors like myself tend to focus on. But it's not what really matters. What matters is that Kelley is happy and active, and in part for Kelley that is due to music. Beyond that though, on a pure science level, there is strong evidence that playing music actually changes the brain, and being a musician can actually help people improve focus and mood. On a whole other level, in this story music is important to Kelley's family. Kelley's father, Eric, is one of the most popular and accomplished bluegrass musicians in the country. Bluegrass is a family thing, and family is more important than psychiatric medication. Family can help you recover, and family can tear you apart. So, music really stands in for a lot in this story: Kelley's personal identity, Kelley's family, and it also literally impacts the structure of his brain.

This project is a documentary but you have also directed narrative films. How is making a documentary different from a narrative film? Do you like one over the other?

From a creative perspective, I'd way rather shoot a narrative project. There is more freedom. However, from a public policy perspective, I think real life is more powerful. This project is in part about offering some ideas to improve outcomes in mental health, and so I think it's important to stay 100% in the real world. Thus, a documentary.

What are your hopes for this film?

First, I want it to be super entertaining because that is the first rule of storytelling. The ultimate goal though is for it to be seen by the important stakeholders and policy makers in mental health, and to hopefully influence those people a bit. Essentially, I would like to see mental health shift more towards helping people find their strengths and deal with their environments, and have less emphasis on acute interventions and medications. I mean, medications can be very important, but for most people, they are only a small part of the puzzle. For some, medications solve everything, but that's not the norm. Most people who suffer from mental illness have something going on in their lives that contributes to their psychiatric issues, and we need to spend more time working on those issues while also helping people build their natural strengths.

Why crowdfunding?

We are doing crowdfunding for a couple reasons. First: I wanted to see if the story resonated with people before I broke my back to make the movie. With that in mind, I didn't really put much effort into the Kickstarter video itself because I just wanted to see if people liked the feel of the raw story. Second reason: because we'd like for a big chunk of the profit to go to a charity, if we have fewer investors to pay back, we have more moola to give to our charity of choice.

What advice can you give up-and-coming indie filmmakers?

Know what you want. I have a weird career as a doctor and indie filmmaker. It's not easy to make work but I've made it work because I've been clear about what it is that I wanted for a long time. So know what you want and then you'll figure the rest out.

Click on the box below to check out Sean's Kickstarter campaign. I hope you can contribute and spread the word. This story needs to be told. Good luck Sean and Kelley!