Hey,

 

Things are rolling at Johnny Tao Productions, LLC!

 

We opened our production offices four weeks ago at the Television Center in Hollywood.  Special thanks to Ana the manager of the building and  Betsy and Ron Isroelit of RBI Communications for graciously providing us with the means to move in.  Sadly, Ron Isroelit passed away just a few days ago after two years of living with cancer.

 I will miss the sublime poetry of his words and the comfort of his love.  This filmmaker’s journal is dedicated to him.

 

March 25, 2005

 

Good Friday. 

 

The script itself is attracting a lot of attention from actors, agents, and crew.  We get a lot of positive feedback on its structure, humor, and message.  Our previously shot fight scene in the desert gets a lot of people excited about the project. 

 

Casting Director Jeff Hardwick has been selecting actors and helping us assemble our cast.  We took a group of them down to Stunt Coordinator Marcus Young’s training facility and watched them choreograph fights with professional stuntmen.  Some are better than others.  The stunt guys are awesome and will do anything for Marcus.

 

We’ve also got some recognizable actors coming on board.  Kelly Perine from “The Drew Carey Show” and “One on One” currently in it’s fourth season on UPN will play  “Lenny” the town deputy.  James Hong from “Big Trouble in Little China” and “Blade Runner”  will play the kung-fu teacher.  Michael Gregory from “Eraser,” “Total Recall,” and “Robocop”  is “Vito” the owner of the pizza place and right now, we’re about to offer the part of Johnny’s father, “Jimmy,” to Jason London, a popular young actor who starred in “Dazed and Confused” and who’s starring in a film for Miramax later this year.  Check him out on imdb.com.

 

For shooting locations, we’re scouting gas stations and warehouses, biker bars and donut shops almost every other day.  We’ve got Production Designer Jim Thompson designing sets and props, and Producers Don Poquette and Artie Glackin are reviewing the script, crunching numbers, making the shoot schedule, hiring crew members, filing permits, and making deals.

 

We’ve been meeting with Computer Generated Imaging companies (CGI houses).  These are the guys that will do the computer special effects. They read the script and give budgets.  This stuff is really expensive.  These guys always love the fight scene.

 

 

 

All the details that need to are coming together.  It seems like we’ve got a really great project developing!

 

We’ll make final casting decisions next week and start rehearsals and fight choreography practice.  We’ll also begin to lock locations and assemble costumes.  More to come.

 

Onward and upward,

Kenn

 

March 27, 2005

 

Easter Sunday.  Auditioned the final “Johnny’s.”   A few guys with different qualities.  Some better actors, some better martial artists, some better looking.  I think I’ve got the three leads in my mind, Mika, Eddie, and Johnny.  We will make final casting decisions by late Monday and hopefully have deals by the end of the day Tuesday.

 

JJ Perry, a top Hollywood stuntman, has signed on as Marcus Young’s Assistant Action Coordinator and will also play the role of “Lido,” the town bully.  I’ve know JJ for a few years, ever since we met at a martial arts demonstration.

 

Production Designer Jim Thompson has hired Prop Master Don Varley and an Art Director. We’re securing industrial workspace for the art department to build sets and props..

 

Matt and I are storyboarding the film.

 

Thursday, March 31, 2005

 

We’ve got our lead actors!  Two guys who are multi-talented.

 

Matthew Twining (“The Frightening,” “One Life To Live” ) is going to play Johnny.  He’s an actor, a gymnast who can move like a monkey, and he sings in a band.

 

Matt Mullins is going to play Eddie.  In addition to being a good actor, this guy is a world class martial artist. 

There’s going to be at least three guys on set named Matt. 

Jason London has agreed to play Johnny’s father, Jimmy.

The weapons are being built.  The Dragon Spear.  The swords.  Mika’s Bracelet. 

Today Jim and I went to look at a 1966 Airstream Silver Streak trailer to be Johnny and Eddie’s home.  It’s awesome.

Don and I tackled a lot of Screen Actors Guild paperwork in the last two days.  Thank goodness that’s just about over.

J.J. Perry is going to start training the actors for the action scenes on Saturday.

 

Onward and Upward.

April 1, 2005

 

We signed Chris Yen to play “Mika.”  She’s an American actress and fantastic martial artist who’s been in two Hong Kong action films.  

 

Tomorrow I bring the three actors together for the first time at 10:00 a.m. at the stunt team’s training center.  I’ll introduce them, we’ll do some acting exercises and then they’ll train with J.J. and Ryan, Matt, Danny, Ming, and other good stunt performers that I can’t think of right now.  They’ll stretch and kick and begin learning choreography.

 

Artie told Don he was quitting.  April Fools!  He got Don.

 

On Tuesday we’re going to have callbacks for “Jenny” the other lead female in the film.

 

I need to work out.

April 4, 2005

Art is in the details. A never ending stream of creative and executive decisions requires thorough preparation in a myriad of areas. Managing the creative details and ensuring their appearance during production requires both a mindful, overall artistic vision of the film and the ability to herd cats.

Our crew is growing, as is the speed and intensity of the work. This last two and a half week period before shooting is going to see a lot of elements coming together very quickly: actors, costumes, locations, make-up, etc.

I'm very excited to participate in the process. Sometimes, I have to remind myself to breathe.

Tuesday, April 5, 2005

 

We had final callbacks for “Jenny.”  Matthew Twining (MT) came in and read with them as “Johnny.”  I’m very excited about the choices.  It was great to see the scenes come to life.   Tomorrow we’ll watch the video and make our final decisions on “Jenny,” “Angela,” she’s the deputy that rides with “Lenny,”  and “Mama Ling.”  Kudos to Jeff Hardwick for putting together a great cast.

 

We had a meeting with a CGI company to create all the visual special FX.  Those are pretty cool meetings.  We talk and act out moments in the movie that require demon clouds of energy to be created, wires to be removed from our stunt team, or shooting stars to crash in the desert.

 

We also met with a post-production finishing house.  These are the guys that perform all the high-level technical processes for creating professional deliverables; final full-resolution edits, color correction, quality control, etc.

 

The art department has started working in the warehouse downtown that will play as Mama Ling’s Fortune Cookie Factory.  First they will use it to build sets for Lenny’s police station, Johnny’s bedroom, a concert stage, and Mika’s lair.

 

Jim and Mark, our production assistant (PA), put red and white contacts in their eyes to see what the demons should look like.  The red ones look cool.

 

Did some acting exercises with the cast.  We’ve got a table read on Friday with most of the cast.  Awesome!

 

Saturday, April 9, 2005

 

Our Art Director quit two weeks before shooting.  This person was offered another job on another film for more money and decided to leave.  Welcome to Hollywood.  Production Designer Jim Thompson is boldly taking on the challenge to replace this person and has the department completely under control.  The sets are looking great and the props and set dressing are growing in volume everyday.

 

The actors are doing great with the fight choreography.  Now we have to start shaping and editing the fights to fit the locations and the desired amount of screen time.

 

Sunday, April 10, 2005

 

Matt and I met with Dragon, the sculpter of the Dragon-Spear.  His name is “Dragon”  and he is a teacher of Kendo and Ken-jitsu.  He also makes swords and armor for a living.  Sometimes he uses the swords and armor to fight.  We had a great time walking around his shop looking at all the suits and weapons he has forged over the years.  The central workplace in his shop is a circle of oak tree stumps with deep etchings for hammering metal into shapes.  He and his step-son make their own hammers with intricate heads and handles carved in ornate patterns.

 

The really cool thing is that Michael Gregory, the actor set to play “Vito” the owner of the pizza shop in our film, introduced us.  They have known each other for several years.  And then, it turns out that one of Dragon’s best friends is also an acquaintance of mine who I met with one of my very good friends.  I was even aware of a film Dragon helped produce, a short I really liked called, “Batman: Dead End.”

 

 

Laura Brody, our Costume Designer is gathering all the clothes needed for kung-fu demons to get messy at the donut shop.  I’ve been collecting the appropriate remnants of old jeans, leather jackets, and shirts over the last few years.  People I know have donated garbage bags of the same, especially a guy named Kevin Sherry.  We can mess these clothes up and no one cares. 

 

Ron Perret recently retired as a Deputy Chief with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.  He is a great guy with a great family.  I met Ron because he organized a charity event currently in its 9th year called “Desert Thunder.”  Harley-Davidson riders (and non-Harley riders) from across southern California and Nevada converge at the state border and raise money for a collective of charities benefiting children and their families.  The Sheriff’s department was fortunate to have Ron in every position he served.  We’re fortunate because Ron has helped our filmmaking efforts in the past.  It’s no different now and Ron is graciously supplying us with the uniforms for our deputies, “Lenny,” and “Angela.”  Thank you for everything, Ron.

 

We’re trying to amass resources for motorcycles, calling people we know.  We have to find a make-up artist who can manage wigs well.  Two of our lead actors will be doubled by stunt performers that require wigs. 

 

This two weeks (especially next week) is going to be an anxious and intensive manifestation of all the planning.  Shopping, renting, buying, locating, casting, stroyboarding, accounting, rehearsing, all down to final execution.  Every detail must be accounted for.  The eve of action is upon us.

 

Oh YEAHHHHHHHH!

 

Tuesday, April 12, 2005 

 

What a day today.

At nine, Don, Matt and I went location scouting with our Location Scout, Dana, in the city of Piru, thirty miles north of Los Angeles.  It’s a tiny town, kind of like Mayberry.  That’s where we’d like to shoot the exterior of the donut shop.  It would make “Dry Springs” more real in the film.  On the way back, Don and I had a very intensive discussion about production.

 

Upon returning, after Elissa, the office coordinator and I dealt with some paperwork and script copies, I learned that we got sponsorship (“product placement”) from Coca-Cola.  One of their movie liason companies, made a deal with us to put Barq’s root beer in the film.  That means we get free soda and water for the duration of the production. We’re also in line to get use of a Harley Davidson motorcycle. 

 

Today we got three guitars delivered from Gibson Guitars. They’ve sponsored us with six Wildkats  for use in the film.  We also filled out paperwork to get product placement for a whole lot of other props and costumes.  We also got some checks from investors in the mail.  That’s always a great day.

 

My friend Tina, as busy as she is running Tibetan Tea, Inc, has been awesome in helping us out.  She’s gathered labor and resources for our company through an impressive and efficient use of modern communications technology (e-mails and Internet postings get things done quickly!).  In the last twenty-four hours, she had a lot of people knocking on our door looking for jobs and contacts who wanted to give us free stuff to use in our film.  She also supplies us with all the Tibetan Tea we can drink and lots of snacks.  That tea is a damn fine beverage.  I wish I had one right now.

 

Laura, the costume designer brought in her two assistants, Tania and Jade and started dressing the actors.  She’s finding  some great wardrobe at great prices. 

 

At four, Lindsay Parker, playing “Jenny,” came to the office to discuss her character and the script.  We met for about an hour.  She’s a very good actor.

 

At six, all the lead actors came to do a table read of the script.  My friends Kevin and Jonisha read all the supporting characters along with our narrator, Michael Gregory (insert thunder crash here!)   It was a lot of fun to see the actors take the film from top to bottom.  It was easy to see what traps the actors might fall in as individuals.  It was a good learning experience for everybody.

 

Then from 8:30 to 10:30, production designer Jim Thompson and I discussed the project list for his art department.  I had a fish sandwich (grilled).

 

There’s more, but I’ve gotta e-mail my mom.  Goodnight.

 

Thursday April 14, 2005

 

Thank goodness I’ve already done my taxes.  There’s no time for anything else.

 

Today we saw the actors go through their fights.  Marcus and his stunt team have done an amazing job of prepping them.  They were all awesome.  The two Matts and Chris are all dedicating themselves to fully realizing their characters, both physically and dramatically.  Other stunt guys are hanging around now and impressed with what these guys are doing.

 

I also visited with Dragon and his wife Wanda and we set up the manufacturing of the dragon-guitars.  The sculpture is amazing.  Inspirational.

 

Don and Artie have been doing a great job assembling the crew.  We just signed our Assistant Director.  His name is Eduardo and he’s the guy that will be running the set, keeping everything moving.  He’s going to be my right-hand man throughout the shoot.

 

Don is dealing with our location manager, Dana, and setting up the best deals.  We’re trying to decide which locations offer the greatest ease in setting up our shooting schedule and our budget.  One guy might want three thousand dollars to use his donut shop and another guy might only want one thousand.  It’s like bargain shopping and Don is a great deal maker.

 

I’m now finally doing my laundry for the first time in two and a half weeks and waiting for my neighbors to complain that I’m using the machines too late at night.  Better to deal with that then smell like an old sweatsock.

 

With all the time involved, production is having to by new underwear so you don’t have to wear keep wearing the same ones anymore.  Thank goodness for the Hanes 3-pack.

 

Onward Ho!

Monday, April 18, 2005

 

The last week of prep.  I mean, c’mon.  How exciting is that?  My mom will be coming this week to visit before we start shooting.  This is great.

 

Last night, Milton Caylor, one of the best singers I know and the lead singer for a great band called “Four Shadows Fall,” recorded the vocals for “Wanderin’ Love.”  This is the song that Johnny’s father, Jimmy, records before disappearing in a plane crash.  Jason London is playing Jimmy and will lip sync the song on stage before a crowd of fans for the flashback scene when Johnny tells the story of his father.   Matt Sohn and I wrote the words and music, Doug Johnson, bass player for the band “Birthday Suit” recorded the bass line, and Bill Otis, drummer from “Birthday Suit,” is laying down the backbeat.  It rocks!

 

We’re doing our final location scout today and hoping to make the best deal for our gas station set.  Yesterday we found some great places for our exterior desert locations and even the interior and exterior of our “biker bar.”  Dana Graham, our location manager is doing a great job of finding locations.

 

We should be collecting all the custom made weapons today; some swords, a couple of knives, and the jade-dragon bracelet that Mika wears and gives to Johnny when he becomes the new hero.

 

I’m so excited but also riddled with anxiety about making sure we have all the details covered.  Art is in the details.  The more we pay attention to every little thing, the more real the world of our movie will seem.  I can see why movies have so many people working on every aspect, every little thing has to be accounted for, from duct tape and potato chips, to film and handi wipes.

 

Oh yeah, the Annabelle Candy Company is sponsoring our show with a months supply of Uno Bars, Big Hunks, and Abba Zabba candy bars.  These will be the candy bars that Johnny and his friends eat and trade each other for old car parts. 

 

There’s more, but I’m sitting here in a towel and I have to get ready for Don, Matt, and Dana so we can go scout.

 

HERE WE GO!!

 

Friday, April 22, 2005

 

Crazy, crazy, crazy.  A tech scout of locations from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.  Then a page by page breakdown of the script with all department heads from 8 to 12:30 a.m.  That was a seriously long day and everybody was wiped out by the end.

 

Everything is falling right into place in the last 4 days before filming.  D.P. Matt Sohn has picked up our Panasonic Varicam High-Definition video cameras and tomorrow he picks up the truck filled with lights and grip equipment.

 

Tomorrow we will do the photo shoot of Jimmy Dow, played by Jason London for the old-time publicity photos that hang in the museum Johnny has built in homage to his father.

 

Costumes are being fitted and Laura Brody has made a kick-butt hero jacket for Johnny to wear in the final fight. 

 

Marcus and the stunt guys have perfected all the fights with the actors and they look great. 

 

Harley Davidson is giving us a motorcycle to use.  Smith and Wesson is giving us guns.

 

The dragon spear looks awesome and Jim Thompson’s art department has built beautiful sets.

 

We had a pre-filming cast and crew party that was a lot of fun.  A chance for everybody to get to know one another before filming begins on Sunday.  We keep marching forward and it’s getting more exciting every day.

 

Rock-n-roll!

 

Saturday, April 23, 2005

 

Okay, it’s 4:30 in the morning and sleep doesn’t seem to be part of the overall plan.  Went out to dinner with a few friends and my mom last night.  She and her friend Pat are in town and decided to extend their trip an extra day so they could be here for the first day of filming.  Sangria is good.

 

No matter how much money you spend and how hard you work to put good stuff in front of the camera, it doesn’t really matter if someone forgets to pick up the little glass filter you have to slide into the camera lens in order to get the movie to look right.  Last night, our production office was in overdrive looking for this little two inch piece of glass, calling every camera place in town at 7:30 p.m. on a Friday night so we could start shooting on Sunday.  Would you be in your office Friday at 7:30?  Yeah, neither were they.  Hopefully it was solved after I left at 8, but if it wasn’t, a friend of ours over at Panavision said he would help later today.  I tried to call Matt the D.P. several times, but I think his phone went dead trying to solve the problem as well.

 

Sunday we shoot our first scenes with Kelly Perine playing “Lenny” and some cool candlelit stuff with Chris Yen as “Mika” and the legendary James Hong as “Sifu.”  I’m really excited about working with all the actors, but I feel especially lucky to open the film with James. 

 

Matt and I are excited because our producer Artie was able to contact Chapman Inc. and work out a sweet deal on a dolly for our camera.  This is going to give us the chance to do some nice camera moves and really up the production value of the movie.

 

In terms of value, our friend Dragon has really gotten into the project.  He’s using his amazing talents to create the final guitars, both the “hero” for close-ups and the stunt guitar for fighting.  The “hero” guitar will be made out of molded resin and the stunt guitar will have a rubber dragon’s head.  Dragon is also helping us by outfitting our bad guy’s leather coat with armor plating (how cool does that sound?).  He’s making rubber swords, retractable blades and he’s even gong to play one of our kung-fu demons.

 

I just ran out of things to say.

 

See ya later.

 

Sunday, April 24, 2005

 

Okay, it’s 3:14 a.m. before we start shooting.  I just finished putting together all the materials I need for the day.  Call time is at 8:30 but Matt and I are going to carpool down at 7:15 and enjoy the breakfast burritos at our catering truck.  That rocks!

 

Yesterday I said I was thrilled to open the film with James Hong.  I am and I met him today for the first time.  He actually called me on my cel phone later and offered character and costume suggestions.  He immediately recognized the Arthurian origins of the script and likened his character to Merlin.  Sweet.

 

Anyway, we’ll be shooting him later in the day, but the very first scene we film will be Kelly Perine as “Lenny” the deputy.   It’s going to be great to start with Kelly because he is so good at what he does.  In the table read, Kelly, who used to be on “The Drew Carey” show and now stars in “One on One,” showed impeccable comedic timing.  He will set a standard of excellence for everybody and people will see the potential of the whole project.  Kelly and I have known each other for many years and used to perform in a band together called, “Birthday Suit..

 

Today during a photo shoot downtown, somebody backed into Jason London’s car and took off.  Jerks.  His daughter Cooper came down to visit the set, she’s a powerful nine-year old martial artist.

 

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

 

Well, it’s already the fourth day of shooting and this is the first chance I’ve had to sit down and write.  So much is happening.

 

The first day we spent shooting in a warehouse we rented downtown.  Jim and the art department built interior sets of a concert stage, Lenny’s police office, little Johnny’s bedroom, and most importantly, the interior of the Jimmy Dow Museum (located in the back of Johnny’s gas station).  The sets look incredibly real on camera and Matt’s lighting, along with his team of grip and electrics (these are the guys that do the lighting and moving of all the heavy film equipment) are doing a great job creating a mood with light and shadow.  Our opening shot was Kelly Perine calling for help on the phone in the police station, and once again he proved why he’s the star of a sit-com.  He’s one funny cat.

 

Then we shot Matt Twining (Johnny) entering the museum and playing his father’s guitar.  Finally, we shot James Hong, the legendary actor from “Big Trouble in Little China,” as he and Chris Yen (Mika) reveal the destiny of their family to find the dragon spear and defeat the evil Tai-Lo.  It started with Mika doing a kung-fu form in a room lit with about two hundred candles, it looked great.  She looked great.

 

The second day was kick-butt.  Jason London came in and played the concert scene.  With dragon-guitar in hand, my buddy Bill on drums, and our A.D. Ed on bass, these guys lip-synced to “Wanderin’ Love,” the original song we wrote for the movie.  The whole crew was dancing or tapping their feet.  It was gone, man, real gone!

 

Finally, the third day, yesterday, was spent shooting one six-page scene outside the donut shop.  This was a real challenge because, not only are six pages a lot, but we had to release one of our actors by three o’clock in the afternoon.  And this scene took place between seven actors.  That’s a lot of dialogue and a lot of blocking, plus there was a brief fight in the middle of it.  Well, we did it and actually finished the day early.  That’s a testament to the speed and efficiency of our crew.  I’ve met several people on this film that I certainly hope to continue working with over the next few years.  When somebody is professional, on time, and provides answers and solutions rather than complaints and excuses, man, that makes all the difference in the world to how your film ends up looking.  Like our Production Coordinator said the other day, it’s all about getting things done.  And that’s the truth.  But, that wasn’t our only scene that day, we had to film our horde of demon bikers riding up to the donut shop and assaulting its walls.  We had about eight thunderous motorcycles ridden by stunt men and women, including Bridgett Riley, the women’s boxing world champion, and Dragon, our armorer and special effects master, ride up to the shop and park in an impressive state of disarray. Then they jumped off like crazy possessed demons and headed for the delicious taste of “Donut Hop” donuts.  It looked really cool.  Already I can start to see the trailer for this movie coming together.

 

And thank goodness for High-definition video.  Not only are we getting a great, professional look, but we have the ability to do multiple takes and not worry about the cost of developing film.  It’s really the way to go for an independent filmmaker.  Even Robert Rodriguez and George Lucas use high-definition.  “Sin City,” Spy Kids,” and all the latest “Star Wars” movies were shot on HD.  God bless technology and the Internet.  Now, you can make your dreams come true a lot faster.

 

My mom came out for the first few days of pre-production and decided to extend her ticket to include the first day of filming.  She and her friend Pat came in and they really didn’t want to leave.  They saw what I see when I say a film set is my favorite place to be.  Creative people working hard and bringing fantastical visions to life.  It’s hard work, but it’ like being a dream weaver.

 

Today my dad and his wife, Judi, are arriving and in a few days my brother gets here. 

 

I have to go now because my friend from the San Bernardino Sheriff’s office just called, and I have to go pick up a deputy’s uniform.  Ahh, the work is never done.

 

We are rocking and rolling!

Saturday, April 30, 2005

 

Early in the mornin’.  I said it’s early in the mornin’.

 

Well, here we are on Saturday at 5:33 a.m..  We actually had two days off on Thursday and Friday.  Friday is our normal day off, but Thursday there was 30-50 mile an hour winds out in the desert and we weren’t able to put our “condor” up.  A condor is one of those mobile cranes with a boom that extends up to 60 or 70 feet in the air, we put lights on top of it or we use it to hook up the stunt performers’ cables so they can fly through the air with the greatest of ease.  We were supposed to shoot the demons taking over Mama’s Pizza and then a chase between Michael Gregory as “Vito” and Kelly Perine as “Lenny” accompanied by “Angela the Deputy” played by Gillian Shure.  Instead, everybody got two days off and we got a chance to catch up on some extra work behind the scenes.

 

Today we go into “Mama Ling’s” fortune cookie warehouse and we learn where Johnny gets his love of kung-fu.  We’re also going to see the demons break down the door and bring “Eddie’s” body there to recover from a near deadly fight with “Mika.”

 

On Wednesday we were shooting about 50 miles away in Palmdale (out in the desert), my friend Ron Martinez brought a group of his Harley riding friends out and they all rode behind the “Demon Van” in order to make it look like we had a growing demon army taking over the town.  It was great and really increased our production value.  They were only supposed to hang out for a couple of hours, but they were having so much fun, they stayed until midnight and put in the red contact lenses in order to play a demon horde that comes out of the darkness and envelopes a car occupied by a young couple making out.  The couple was played extraordinarily by my friends Jonisha and Andy.  Jonisha was our first horror movie screamer and she was awesome.

 

Gotta go,, time to shower and head to the cookie factory.

 

Keep kickin’!

 

Sunday, May 1, 2005

 

I’ve lost track of days.  What day is it?  No, really.

This is one wild, educational ride.  You can learn all bout people if you’re willing to listen.  Everybody deals in a different coin of the realm.  It seems that a rich man has some of each in his pocketbook.  I’m still picking up all the loose coins I can find.

 

We just had our first day of kung-fu fighting.  We’re in the fortune cookie warehouse right after the demons invade and tear the place apart, eating everything in sight.  The boxes with the stencils of the cookie company’s logo are awesome but now they’re all shredded and destroyed from the carnage. The art department even made themselves t-shirts with the red dragon logo and everybody wanted one…including me.

 

My dad Marty and his wife Judi visited the set and played demons in the film.  They run into the warehouse and lay the demon lord’s body on the table to heal.  Then they all tear into the cookie boxes and fight over the cookies.  You’d never know, fortune cookies can be hard and sharp.  My dad and a couple of other people ended up with bloody lips from mashing the cookies into their faces.  But the stuff looked great.  I was a little afraid that our common “townspeople demons” might play cheesy in the movie, but they’re actually looking and playing awesome.  The scenes look better than I hoped.  The great part is, we’re actually bringing to life some of the very images that have always been in the movie in my head and they look great (to me at least). 

 

We have to have demon school with our extras before we shoot.  I always tell them that a demon acts like a ravenous, rabid bobcat

 

I can’t express the utter joy I feel when I see the images we’re capturing.  The actors look fantastic and Matt’s grip and electric department is lighting the heck out of these things.  The wardrobe, set design and props are complemented by a camera department that knows how to shoot Hi-Definition video as an art.  If I try to explain it any further, I think I’ll cry.  

 

I like Joseph Campbell.

 

And now, a note from my brother Dr. Steve Troum, who is visiting for the week from Dallas, Texas.  My family rocks.

 

HELLO FANS, this is Steve, Kenn’s brother.  I just got in town and spent the first day on this set.  All I can say is “AWESOME”. The whole project is smooth and looks great. I was very impressed and my expectations were surpassed.  You know, you always hope that your brothers or sisters do well and can develop a great talent, but we all know that doesn’t always happen.  Well, I knew that Kenn was good at his craft, but I didn’t realize how good until today. He was all over it!  A true artist and master of his domain. I almost forgot that he was my brother. It was obvious that the entire crew also knew that he knew what he was doing. I see great things in the future for this movie and for the careers of many that are working on it. I can’t wait for tomorrow.

 

Monday, May 2, 2005

 

Okay, today was a day that challenged us.  I don’t mean things went wrong, but we set out to accomplish a tremendous amount of work, our full final battle between “Johnny” and “Eddie.

 

Every department needed to rise to the occasion in this second of three total days allotted to it.

 

The actors, Matt and Matt were tireless in their fighting and they did it with style.  Except for a few angles, you pretty much just have to turn the camera on and Marcus’ choreography will make your movie.  These guys have practiced so much, they are often too fast for the camera and we have to cheat them back. 
We’re lucky to now have Mike Gunther on our set.  Mike is one of the top Hollywood stunt coordinators and just returned from working on “Underworld 2.”  He and Marcus are a team.  He’s also a fun guy.

 

I hope to get some photos sent to me of the wardrobe and set to post on the website.  One shot that Matt Sohn’s wife Melissa took of Matt Mullins as “Evil Eddie” standing in front of the remains of the fortune cookie warehouse looks like a poster.  It’s like some kind of comic book come-to-life.

 

The grip and electric department worked with Matt Sohn to set-up and light more than 50 different camera positions (set-ups).  On a film set, people might ask, “How many set-ups did you get today?”  We got a lot.  Some bigger budgeted movies might only get a couple of set-ups a day, but that’s why they take five months or a year to shoot.

 

There’s still so much to do.  We have to shoot the other half of the fight next week.  It’s good, it gives our actors a chance rest before continuing the action.  Tomorrow we go to the interior of the donut shop and play out much of the dialogue scenes.  The day after that, the biker demons attack the donut shop and tear it to smithereens.

 

Alright, sometimes I start these journals late at night and there’s so much to say, but eventually I just have to give up my train of thought and go to bed.  My brother is asleep on the couch right now.  This was his first full day on a movie set and the extremely early call time and hurrying up to wait can be a little overwhelming if you’re not used to it.

 

Everybody did great today!  Thanks to everybody involved.  Our ship is sailing with steam.

 

Wednesday, May 4, 2005

 

Yesterday was my birthday.  Being on the set directing my first feature ranks it up in the top three birthdays of my life.

 

We were up at the donut shop yesterday.  That’s about forty five minutes away.  We shot all interior dialogue scenes with the main actors.  It was a great day to follow right behind our big fight the day before.  It was a calm, quiet location with op quality actors like Marianne Muellerleile playing “Kate” and Lindsay Parker playing “Jenny.”  Matt Twining and Kelly Perine always deliver top quality performances, but it was also a real treat to see two women bring such high levels of professionalism to our “action” movie. 

 

My brother played “Clyde,” a guy in a gorilla suit.  Man, he was funny as hell.  More on that later.  I gotta wake him up and go pick up Matt.

 

Wednesday, May 4, 2005  (at night)

 

Back at the donut shop for the fight between “Johnny,” dressed in a gorilla suit, and a horde of demon bikers.  Ryan Watson, a fantastic stunt man with fifteen years in the business doubled Johnny in a hot-as-crap black furry costume.  The same one my brother wore yesterday.  That thing was soaked in sweat.  But, Ryan never complained once.  The sweat was actually dripping out of his gorilla pants and covering the floor, having to be dried with a towel every few minutes.  Once again, kudos to Marcus Young and his most excellent action team.  And a special note to stuntman Danny Hernandez for his full-tilt “barrel roll”  today. 

 

My brother, Dr. Stephen J. Troum, has played “Clyde” in a gorilla suit, “Cowboy Hat,” Bandana Head,”  “The Sprinkle Eating demon,”  “Clapping Man,” and he is working as Set Medic. 

 

I have to go now.

 

Friday, May 6, 2005

 

It’s Friday and we have today and tomorrow off.  Finally, a chance to do laundry and clean my house.  A little bit of grocery shopping, as well.

 

Later today, Matt and I are going to a post-house to look at some of the footage we shot last week.  I hope it looks good.  Yesterday, we did “Mika’s” fight scene with Chris Yen at the donut shop.  She kicked biker-butt.  This girl is about 5’2” and a super martial artist.  She was going toe-to-toe with big strong stunt folk, including Bridgett Riley, the women’s boxing world champion.  She even got to beat on Dragon who came out to play a demon and had a ball doing it.

 

I’m continually amazed by the level of expertise and foresight shown by some of my crew members.  Often times I will ask for something or look for someone and the thing or the person is already on the way in.  When that happens, I love it, these are the people I hope to continue to work with as a director.  Great things are happening on this show.

 

Now, on this day of rest, I am going to sleep.  Goodnight.  

 

Monday, May 9, 2005

 

Wow.  Yesterday was a fourteen hour day with a couple of hours of wrap time (that’s cleaning up, putting everything away and driving all the equipment home).  But we got our climactic fight and it looks great.  We got a chance to see some of the footage we shot at a post-production house and it looks fabulous.

 

Today we shot the interior of the biker bar.  This is where Eddie comes in, meets the local motorcycle gang, beats them up and turns them into his kung-fu demons.  The stunt team once again proved their mettle and came through like champs. 

 

The days start off nice and easy paced and before you know it, it’s lunch time.  Then we have six more hours to get everything and we start moving like speed-demons.  Today, we spent a good amount of time shooting story points and then the second half of the day was dedicated to the fight scene.  Fortunately, our stunt team and our actors know their routines like old friends.  Matt Mullins, playing “Eddie,” has just been a fantastic asset to our film.  His dedication to his martial arts and acting work has really paid off in a great dramatic performance and stunts that actually have people asking if he’s being pulled up on a wire (he’s not).  To see him and Matt Twining go at it was a real treat at the cookie factory.  

 

I can’t say enough positive things about the crew we’ve got.  Each department has really taken great care to make the most of this film. 

 

It’s one thirty in the morning and I have to pick Matt up at ten tomorrow to go to Mama’s Pizza out in Little Rock, California.  I can’t wait.  Tomorrow I get to work with my long time friend Michael Gregory.  Michael has been in over three hundred movies and television shows including, “Robocop,” “Total Recall,” “Eraser,” and “Beverly Hills Cop.”  He rocks.

 

Goodnight!

 

Thursday, May 12, 2005

 

What a week.  We started with our fourteen hour day in the cookie factory, made it to the biker bar, finished up at Mama’s Pizza, and now for the last couple of days, we’ve been up at the Blue Cloud Movie Ranch shooting at Johnny’s gas station “Dry Springs Petrol.”

 

Basically, “Johnny” and “Eddie” live in an old Silver Streak Trailer behind the station.  Johnny practices kung-fu in the back and tries to entice passing motorists to pay a dollar to look at his “famous” father’s guitar in the “Jimmy Dow Museum” set up in the storeroom.  The location is great because we’re outside breathing fresh air and getting sunshine, but boy, it’s hot in the desert during the day and cold as a mother at night.

 

Yesterday, we shot a scene where Johnny is walking through the gas station and gets jumped by “Tiny,” Eddie’s friend now possessed.  Tiny is trying to steal the donuts Johnny was carrying to bring them to feed Eddie.  You should have seen the fight that these guys did.  Short, powerful, and sweet!  Matt Rugetti, a young stunt performer who will do just about anything, plays Tiny.  Both Matt Twining and stuntman Ryan Watson fought as Johnny.  Well, one time, I shouted action and these guys went at it.  Ryan pretended to throw a punch and all of a sudden, Matt Rugetti (Tiny), hurls himself into the air and lands flat on his back on the pavement.  Now, I’m not talking like he just fell down, I mean he threw his feet straight up into the air, got about five feet of height and crashed directly onto his back on the blacktop.  I was sitting at my video monitor watching the take and had no idea he was going to do it.  “Holy Cow” I screamed out loud.  I think I messed up the sound take.  Luckily, Matt Sohn, our D.P., who was also ignorant of the action before it happened, but has a great background in “reality” based camera work allowed his quick eye and hand to follow the movement all the way into the air and all the way down to the ground.  It was totally cool!  Then they did it again. 

 

Another kind of funny thing (it’s funny because nobody got hurt) was that during the fight, Matt Rugetti (Tiny) jumps in the air and kicks “Johnny” in the chest.  Well, during the take, Marcus Young (Action Producer) and I were watching on the video monitor. Matt Rugetti jumps up and kicks Matt Twining (I told you we had a lot of Matt’s on set) in the chest.  Now, there’s a thing that you notice when you’ve done stuntwork or practiced martial arts of any kind, and that’s when somebody gets hit pretty good.  Well, Matt R. jumps up, snaps his leg forward, and plants his foot right on Matt T.’s chest…and Matt T. get’s ROCKED back out of frame.  “Oh my god,” I shout out loud (I have a very visceral reaction to certain types of action or physical comedy.  A lot of people share my secret love for “America’s Funniest Home Videos”)   Well, Marcus Young also jumps up to move towards the actors and make sure he’s okay.  But, Matt Twining never missed a beat, he kept the fight going and I say to Marcus, “No it’s okay, he’s still going, he’s still going.”  Fortunately, he wasn’t hurt at all, but just took a good reaction to a really good kick.  In the end, it was the kind of thing that Matt, myself, Marcus, and the stunt guys all think is really friggin’ funny.  That reaction will definitely be in the film.

 

There’s a lot more to tell, but I have to do my laundry.

 

Oh yeah, I almost forgot.  I was driving home with Matt Sohn the other night (we carpool to set everyday, get there early and figure out our shot list for the day) and I mentioned this to him.  I used to think acting was the best job in the world.  You get paid really well to perform very little and all your needs on set are tended to by other people: wardrobe, make-up, food, transportation, etc.  Well, I think for me, I was wrong.  Directing is the greatest job in the world.  I am loving every single minute of every day, even the challenges and obstacles.  It’s a hell of a lot of work, and a hell of a lot of responsibility, but if you can manage it, oh brother, it’s the real deal.

 

Monday, May 16, 2005

 

Here we are in the home stretch.  We’ve basically got one more week of filming.  It’s an exhausting process, but I really don’t want it to end.  However, the next step, editing, is going to be great.  This is where I sit in front of a computer and put all the pieces together.  It’s when you really get to see the story and vision come together.  It’s debatable between filmmakers which of these processes is the “best” part of filmmaking. 

 

The last couple of weeks have been a ball.  My childhood friends, Jim Turley and Craig Thompson came out from North Carolina and Georgia to visit the set for a day.  It was their first time on a movie set and I think they had a great time.  They came on the day when we did a lot of wirework and kung-fu fighting in the cookie warehouse.  My buddy Angel, who actually is the webmaster for this site came up from Mexico and worked on the set for a couple of days.  He’s a great guy with a new baby on the way and he does an awesome job keeping Johnny Tao.com running.

 

I also had one of my mentors, Eric Karson visit the set.  Eric has been in the movie business a long time.  He directed the martial arts classic “The Octagon” starring Chuck Norris and produced and directed several movies with Jean-Claude Van Damme.  It was a real honor to have him on the set.

 

This week, my friend Mike Schultz is coming from San Diego to stay and work for a few days.  We’ve known each other since were fifteen.  He’s in for an experience, this week we move into night shoots.  We go to work at sundown and work until sun up.  It’s really my favorite time to be on a movie set.  The rest of the country is sleeping and we’re working.  When we go home in the morning after a long day, everyone else is just getting up and going to work.  It’s a great feeling to be on your way home after a full day of work, going against the traffic, while everyone else is just getting up for their day.  There’s something about working all night that is very peaceful and satisfying because you realize, you’re not missing anything going on since all other businesses are closed and everyone’s asleep.

 

Anyway, there’s always so much to say, but so little time.  More to come…

 

Rock On!

 

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

 

First night shoot last night.  5:00 p.m. to 6:30 a.m.  Man, are we exhausted.  I’ll be okay because I’m riding high on the energy of the project, but I’ve got to keep an eye on the crew to try and make sure they get their rest and food.  These are the times that burn through labor.  Luckily, a lot f crew members are getting their own hotel rooms to stay out near the next location for two days.  Our furthest (farthest?) location is about an hour away out in the middle of the desert. 

 

Last night we finished at the gas station.  Due to budgetary constraints, we had to shoot six days worth of material in five days.  Fortunately we got it all.  It’s just a question of compromising some shots and not getting all the takes of a scene that you would like. 

 

Oh well, we’re still making a kick ass movie.  Once again, the action team took some serious wrecks during the fights and pumped up the level of the film.  Matt Twining has been exceptional in his performance with both acting and martial arts. 

 

I can’t wait to see this movie.

 

Keep kickin’.

 

Saturday, May 21, 2005

 

Just got back form 4 days in the desert.  Long nights.  Lots happened.  Stories to come.  Stay tuned for…

 

The Adventures of Dr. Robert Myles

The Long Ride Home

Attack of the Vehicle Batteries

Kenn and Matt Go to the Desert

 

And much, much more!

 

This is the last weekend of shooting.  Cool, rockin’ fight scene!

 

Later.

 

Monday, May 23, 2005

 

So, principal photography on “Adventures of Johnny Tao” is now over.  It’s kind of bitter-sweet.  The process can be grueling and I’m sure some people are glad to be done, but I will certainly miss the energy of a moving, evolving set.  So many people contributing their efforts into a single focus is a pretty powerful experience. 

 

We shot 23 days and we pushed the envelope in a lot of directions: lots of locations, lots of action, lots of actors and extras, but we did it.

 

Last night was one of my favorite scenes in the movie.  It was the first time we meet “Mika” played by Chris Yen.  She meets a couple of gangsters in a dark alley and battles them over possession of a briefcase full of money.  Not only were our gangsters impressive as played by Ilrom (I don’t now his last name), Mike Lee, and Ron Yuan, but Chris Yen certainly proved herself as a powerful screen presence.  Not only is she a beautiful girl and looks great on camera, but her ability to perform the fights (she’s been studying martial arts under her mother’s tutelage since the age of four) was second to none.  Her moves are clean, graceful and strong.  After watching her performance last night, it only supports the feeling I have that this film has the potential to make great things happen for a lot of different people.  I can’t say enough about the dedication of our actors to making the most of their performance.  Now I only hope that we did what was necessary to capture their essence and power on film.

 

Not once did I ever question the casting of this film.  Kelly was funny, Lindsay always delivered, my supporting players all had their moments, and my three action leads, Matt, Matt, and Chris brought their roles to life.  I thank them for being dedicated to their art, diligent in their practice, and trusting enough to follow my direction.

 

As far as last night’s fight scene, the gangsters were all dressed in crazy, colorful “zoot” suits (not really “zoot” but something like that), and bounced off the walls of the alley like grasshoppers.  Marcus Young really went out of his way to bring the vision of this scene to life.  We had about ten extra stunt guys on set last night in order to build the rigging system and pull the wires.  In one shot, we had two stunt guys hooked up to two wires each, one to pull them up and one to bounce them back and forth between the walls.  It was incredible to see the guys hopping from wall to wall all “pimped” out.

 

Speaking of fight scenes, a couple of days ago (I’ve lost track of time), one of our original executive producers, Dr. Robert Myles came to visit the set from Texas.  Robert is a highly-skilled spine surgeon, but he’s also a fifth degree black belt Shotokan karate instructor.  He and his lovely wife Patricia came to the set and got to participate in the demon invasion of Johnny’s gas station.  The first scene we shot was a horde of thirty demons running up the street following a trail of donuts.  It was pretty insane looking.  But then, we got to the big gas station fight.  Matt Twining (“Johnny”) did an incredible job doing his own fight.  They hooked him up to a crane, yanked him up in the air and he did his own 360 degree kicks and jumps, it was great.  My only concern is that while we’re trying to do fight scenes in a single day that other movies might take a whole week or two to film, we’re not able to get all the coverage we want.  I wish I could take more time to highlight each of the actor’s talents, but hey, that’s the next film.

 

Anyway, back to Robert Myles…he worked with our stunt coordinator Marcus and got to do some featured action in the fight.  He had a fight sequence of his own laid out with “Lenny” as played by Kelly Perine who was also doubled by a great stunt guy named Larnell (who I actually thought was Kelly Perine when I first walked in the room).  It was a lot of fun to see Robert put the red contact lenses in his eyes to play a demon and then to see him transition his martial arts skills into movie fighting skills.  There’s little techniques of movement and choreography that you learn in order to make the fights seem more energetic and less “staged” and Robert got a crash course in those.  He did great.  I can’t wait to see the footage during editing.

 

Also, the last week saw us out in the desert to film the penultimate fight between “Eddie,” played by the incredibly multi-talented Matt Mullins, and “Mika” played by Chris.  It was out on a lonely desert highway in front of an abandoned fruit stand.  The demon horde pulls up in all the vehicles they’ve stolen from the townspeople and on all their motorcycles.  They get off, surround Mika, and then separate for Eddie and Mika to fight.  I could go on and on, but I’ll say that both Matt Mullins, who only required a stunt double for one single shot in the whole film (and that was just because we didn’t want him to get hurt crashing through the wooden fruit stand) and Chris Yen, who actually did pretty much all her own stunts, (here I also want to give credit to the incredible talents of J.J. “Loco” Perry who crashed through the stand, and Ming Qiu, who helped Chris throughout her fights) blew me away.  All in all, this film has basically been one big love fest up to this point.

 

Okay, I ‘m going to sign off now, but eventually, I want to talk about one of the best shots in the film, Jason London as “Jimmy” discovering the meteor crater where he finds the dragon spear.  Boy, did the art department really come through on that one, kudos to you guys and thanks for your time making it all happen.

 

Lot’s more to come, especially now that I’ll have more time to write.

 

Thursday, May 26, 2005

 


Well, the movie is coming full circle.  It was February 2003 when Marcus, Matt and I took a small crew of people out into the desert in Victorville, CA to film the opening scene of the film.  We shot an action-packed wire-work fight between two ancient Chinese warriors (one of them played by the talented Johnny Ngyuen) battling over the dragon-spear.  We shot it on 16mm film and used the edited fight scene to raise the rest of our financing.  Well, we’ve wrapped photography on everything else for our movie this past Monday, but now we have to go out and shoot the opening scene again on High-Definition Video so the format matches the rest of the movie.  Not to mention, the dragon-spear is a whole new prop now and doesn’t look anything like the old one.  Well, we’re going to do it the same way.  Matt, Marcus and I are taking a crew of about five people to the exact same spot near Victorville.  We’ll stay at a low-budget motel for a couple of nights, rent a crane for the wirework from a local construction company and shoot the opening scene, again with the very talented Johnny Ngyuen as the good warrior.  This is true guerrilla filmmaking.  A couple of the crew members will come out to help us, but most of them have moved on to other work already.  Fortunately, our optical lens-technician Danielle will be coming with us.  She rocks!

 

Matt and I just got back from scouting the location.  Upon our return, my car had a flat tire, blown air conditioning, and a loose power steering fluid reservoir.  Man, has this production put the “love truck” through some paces.  Fortunately, Matt was able to drop me off at my mechanic’s in his new Prius.  It’s one of those hybrid cars that’s as quiet as a ninja.  It looks like a little electric sneaker, so I call it “the Shoe.”  It’s pretty cool.

 

Speaking of vehicles, the vehicle gods played havoc with this production.  Not only did somebody hit Jason London’s car on one of the first days of shooting, but somebody backed one of our picture vehicles (cars that are used on camera) into another crew member’s car.  Then, when we were filming the fruit-stand fight between “Eddie” and “Mika,” the demons all pull up in their stolen cars.  Well, for two nights, the headlights of these cars had to illuminate the fight.  Needless to say, batteries were going dead left and right.  Fortunately, our gaffer, Nate Starck, (called a gaffer because in days of yore, men used to walk the streets at night and light the streetlamps with a long pole or “Gaff), figured out with Matt a way to set up lights in front of the vehicles to act as “headlights,”.  It looked great and I can’t wait to see the footage.  Then, one of our Production Assistants fell asleep at the wheel and hit a curb damaging his tire and rim.  Then, one of our production trucks blew a piston and all it’s valves.  That’s going to cost a pretty penny, hopefully insurance will help.  Finally, one good vehicle note, besides the fact that nobody got hurt in any vehicle related accidents, is the story of our hero car.  And it goes a little something like this…

 

From the very get-go, I pictured Johnny Tao driving off into the sunset in a badass 1957 Chevy Bel Air with flames on the hood.  Well, we picked one out and ordered it from the picture vehicle company.  A couple of days later they said it wasn’t available and our only option was a red ’57 Bel Air.  Now, the red is a beautiful car by itself, but when you’re talking about a super-hero’s ultimate mode of transportation, man, you’ve got to have something with extra “uummph!”  And that was the black Bel Air with orange flames.  That’s the kind of car you want to buy with an action figure.  Unfortunately, I had to take whatever I could get, but I wasn’t happy about it.  The vehicle company delivered the red car to set so we could shoot the end of the movie.  Well, when we finally got around to starting the engine so we could shoot it, the car started smoking.  “Shut it off!  Shut it off!” the producer cried.  Well, we shut it down and it turns out it was missing some kind of fluid cap, but we were so far away, the company wouldn’t be able to fix it in time.  They came back, towed the car away, refunded our money and a week later delivered the black Bel Air with flames.  When this thing showed up on the flatbed, everybody knew we now had the right car.  It’s the same car that Shania Twain hitch hike’s in for her video ”That Don’t Impress Me.”  Wait’ll you see it!

 

That’s all for now.  Gotta eat and start setting up the edit system so we can cut this puppy together.

 

Sunday, May 28, 2005

 

We have to prepare for our shoot in the desert on Tuesday and Wednesday.  I’ve got a car full of director’s chairs and a gas leaf-blower to produce the windstorm effect.  Only problem is the gas can that accompanies the leaf blower makes my whole car smell like gas.  That’s gonna be one crappy ride up to the desert (2 hours).

 

We’ve had a lot of rain this past Spring, so the desert doesn’t  exactly look like the Sahara.  It’s actually covered in scrub brush and brown grass.  We’ll try to solve that problem by shooting from low-angles.  This will also make our warriors look larger than life.  One cool thing that’s happening, we might have a cameo appearance by Gerald Okimura  in this opening scene.  Gerald is a familiar face to martial arts movie fans having appeared in “Big Trouble in Little China” and is an accomplished martial arts instructor as well.  He’s also good friends with Marcus Young.

 

Our friend Dragon now has hold of all the costumes of our main characters.  He’s setting up a display to be exhibited at his workspace along with all his magnificent suits of armor and aliens and weapons, etc.  When the time is right, we plan on taking the display on the road to comic conventions and movie memorabilia shows.

 

We’re already starting to get great publicity thanks to the efforts of many of the actors.  Check out Impact magazine this coming week.  If you can find it, Impact is a colorful magazine out of England dedicated to the action film industry.  Chris Yen has already gotten coverage with regards to her participation in Johnny Tao.  I used to read Impact and wonder what I would have to do to get in there.  Now I know, you have to direct a super-badass action kung-fu movie.  And you have to know Chris Yen.

 

Matt Mullins has a lot of interest from Inside Kung-Fu magazine and Black Belt, and Matt Twining actually received a call from Soap Opera Digest about covering his new film..  This stuff rocks!!!

 

Wednesday, June 1, 2005

 

Okay, just got back from two days in the California desert.  We re-shot the opening scene of the movie because the original version was done on 16mm film and was incompatible with our High-Definition version.

 

Get this…after four weeks with a crew of thirty-five people to shoot the rest of the movie, we went to the desert with a crew of four people.   Besides me directing, it was: Matt the D.P. who handled all the camera responsibilities by himself; Danielle, our most excellent make-up artist, and Tonia overseeing all our wardrobe.  Now, in addition to their regular duties, these lovely ladies of Johnny Tao served as general production assistants in every way and chipped in doing everything that needed to be done.  We really had an “A” team going to work.  Of course, we had two excellent performers in Marcus Young as “Tai-Lo” and Johnny Ngyuen as “Black Warrior” the original ancestor of “Mika.”  An interesting note, Johnny just got back from Thailand where he played the villain in the new “Ong Bak II,” the biggest movie ever to come out of the Thai film industry.  He plays opposite Jet Li and all the big stars of martial arts cinema all the time.  We were lucky to have him come do his thing.  We also got help from J.J. Perry and Mike Gunther, the best comedic stunt-rigging team around.  They came out for a day and pulled Marcus and Johnny around on the wires.  It was a real treat to have them come help.

 

We also lucked out by getting Rich Robago to come out and play the teacher for “Mika’s” ancestor.  He was in “Big Trouble in Little China,” a favorite among many martial arts movie fans.

 

Anyway, there’re a lot of details, but basically, we are now finished shooting the movie.  HOORAY!

 

On Friday, I meet with Don Poquette and Artie Glackin, the producers, to map out our post-production schedule.  The first thing we do is purchase our editing equipment and build an edit suite right in my home.  It’s going to be awesome.  I get to sit and assemble all the pieces into a coherent story.  It’s funny to see people’s reactions when they see pictures of guys in gorilla suits fighting and fortune cookie snowstorms, or giant meteor craters in the desert and motorcycle thugs in helmets with horns.  People get really curious about how all the elements will come together.  I’m kind of curious too, but I think we’re going to have one very entertaining movie on our hands.

 

More to come…

 

Friday, June 3, 2005

 

Right now there’s a brief lull while we wait to purchase and set up the edit equipment.  I hope we have it up and running by the end of next week, I’m very excited to begin assembling the film.    The brief respite is giving me a chance to focus on closing out the production business arrangements and also pay attention to publicity.  Right now we’re in contact with Mike Leeder over at Impact Magazine.  He’s expressed an interest in publishing various pieces in regards to the film, even excerpts from this journal.  We’re also doing pieces with kungfucinema.com and received requests for articles from Inside Kung-fu Magazine, one of the most widely read martial arts publications in the U.S. 

 

Dragon and I are talking about making an appearance at Comic-Con this year.  Hopefully we’ll have some footage and possibly appearances by our actors to generate some buzz.  Dragon is now the official curator/archivist of the Johnny Tao movie props and costumes.  In addition to setting up a display in his company headquarters, he wants to take part in offering the exhibit for use at comic conventions, sci-fi/fantasy conventions, and martial arts competitions.  If only we had more resources in terms of labor, we could really take advantage of all the opportunities that lie before us. There’s only so much time in the day.  But I think this production will continue to unfold as it has from the beginning.  People feel a certain energy around this project and get motivated with each step along the path to completion.  It just keeps rolling along.

 

I’m really excited about heading over to Gentle Giant Studios next week with Chris Yen.  This is a Burbank, California company that makes action figures and busts of movie characters. They have already scanned Chris’ body measurements into their database.  Hopefully, they’ll be interested in doing a mock-up action figure of Chris as “Mika.”  What a great tool that would be in demonstrating the franchise and ancillary market potential to distributors.  One thing I have definitely learned in this business, it’s always better to show someone exactly what you’re talking about, rather than have them imagine it.  Make it real and they’ll see the magic right away, ask them to see it in their mind’s eye and the tangibility factor goes way down.  It can be the difference between making it happen or not.

 

Tomorrow I have to return the last of the production elements to their respective rental houses and go say thanks to the ladies at the Television Center where we had our offices, as well as giving props to the guys in the maintenance department.  I’ve worked in various capacities in that building for ten years and have come to know the entire physical plant staff from administration to maintenance and security.  As a matter of fact, the head security guard, Stone, even recorded a voice over for me in one of my early short films.  It was truly awesome to have our production offices in a historical Hollywood building.  It used to be the headquarters of Technicolor.  I think it was built in 1936, I’ll have to look on the plaque out front to make sure.

 

Saturday, June 4, 2005

 

Trying to take a small vacation is nearly impossible.  I’m constantly thinking about all the things that need to get done.  It’s an obsession really. I find it hard to walk away from the computer.

 

This weekend, I’m working with Angel to try and update/redesign some of the website.  I also have to write a press release and gather digital photos to release to all the magazines.

 

On Monday, Don and I are having lunch with Terry Chaffe.  Terry is an editing guru and is helping us determine the correct gear we need to purchase to edit the movie.  We’ll compare notes with Artie’s guru and make our purchases on Tuesday.

 

Right now we’re finalizing how much money we spent in production and we’ll move forward into making our deals with CGI (Computer Effects) houses and sound designers.

 

If you haven’t found the guestbook on this website, click on the picture of the desert warriors at the top of the home page.  Then sign up.  It’s fun to see who’s out there.

 

Tuesday, June 7, 2005

 

Today is a very exciting day.  I’ve had my new office space set up for about a week now, but no equipment to put in it.  Well, Don is on his way over to pick me up and we’re heading out to the store to pick up a whole new Mac-based edit system.  This is like an editor’s dream; going out and buying the state-of-the-art equipment to start a new project.  I can’t wait to start cutting the movie together.  It’s probably going to take about a week to set up the computers, configure the system, orient the utilities, etc.  Then I have to go through thirty hours of footage and pick out the takes and shots that I want to use.  That’s a lot of footage to go through.  Digitizing the scenes into the computer is the most laborious part of the process, it’s sort of like grocery shopping is to a chef.  That is, sure it’s part of the process, but it’s what you do with the ingredients when you get home that is your true art and passion.

 

Other than that, it’s been about trying to take some time off from working (several hours here, a night there, sleeping in a little) and publicity.  I just wrote an intro piece for Impact Magazine that I hope to post on the website soon.  I’m not good at manipulating photos on a computer, so trying pick and assemble photos for the various magazines is not my favorite thing to do.  It’s easy to pick out photos for the site (we’re hoping to have the captions back soon) because that’s anything that’s fun, but picking photos for the magazines, you wanna find just the right ones.

 

Okay Don’s here, gotta go!

 

Tuesday, June 8, 2005

 

O.K.  so people move to Hollywood everyday.  Everybody wants to be a star.  You find a place to live.  You figure out where you’re gonna eat.  You try and go to the coolest nightspots.  “Hi, my name is_______and I’m an actor.”  You go to the newstand and buy Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and Backstage West (known as “the trades,” three weekly newspapers that list film and television productions in Los Angeles).  You try to figure out how to be a part of one of those projects.  All those little paragraphs listed in the trades; the famous actors, directors, producers.  Each little description represents a hope and dream for an actor or filmmaker.  Well, get a load of this…

 

The Hollywood Reporter, Production Listings…

 

 Click on newspaper clipping to see full size image

 or CLICK HERE

 

By the way, check out kungfucinema.com.  They just published an article on the film.  (Matt Mullins, I’m dong everything I can to get them to fix your name at the beginning of the article).  Special thanks to Chris Yen for putting it together with Jean Lukitsh.

 

Thursday, June 9, 2005

 

Well, all of our edit equipment is being set-up today.  I can’t wait to start cutting.  It’ll probably take me a couple of days just to get used to the new system.  I’m used to editing on a Media 100 system (sort of like the professional Avid edit systems used on most television shows and movies).  But now, Final Cut Pro is an affordable technology that allows almost anyone to acquire the technical skills needed to edit professional quality video.

 

I’ve been playing the movie over and over again in my mind thinking about the shots we got.  And in some cases, the shots we didn’t get.  Editing is an evolutionary process for the film because as you move through it, you find that you have to change things around to solve problems or use tricks to cut away from dialogue or action, many things that actually change the film a little bit, hopefully for the better.

 

The past few days have been good.  It’s given me a chance to get back in the gym.  When I saw all those production photos with fit, fresh faced martial artists and then I’m standing there next to them looking like I just got back from the Mr. Taco Bell competition, I knew I had to take action.  I bought a bunch of healthy food, started hitting the gym in the morning and feeling the need for change.  It’s exciting.  And it feels great.

 

Remember kids, don’t smoke.

 

Friday, June 10, 2005

 

The new computer is set-up but the monitor was no good.  Have to exchange it and hope it’s not the computer itself.

 

We shot our movie on the Panasonic Varicam High-Definition video camera.  Unlike other hi-def video cameras, this one allowed us to shoot in slow or fast motion, a very important factor when making an action film.  Many other hi-def cameras only shoot one speed and have to be slowed down or sped up in the post-production process.  This kind of speed manipulation, as technology stands right now, tends to look kind of shaky or strobe-like.  Recording the action in “real-time” whether slow or fast, produces a much more true or pure image.  Plus, the camera was lighter and more portable than other hi-def cams and this allowed Matt to really get in on the action and move with the fighters. 

 

Anyway, that particular camera records the information on high-definition tapes, little cassettes about the size of those now outdated audio cassette tapes we all used to use.

 

Well, you don’t want to use your master hi-def tapes to import scenes into the computer.  The risk of breaking or stretching a tape as you shuttle back and forth looking for just the right take or line is too great.  Each one of those little tapes is worth the tens of thousands of dollars it cost to assemble all those people and equipment it took to film those scenes. 

 

So, what you do is make down-conversions.  The post-production house will take our tapes and for a fee they will play each tape once from start to finish and record it onto a DVcam tape (Dvcam is another one of the overwhelmingly many video tape formats that exist, forget about it).  This gives us work tapes to use while they store the masters for safe keeping. 

 

When I enter those work tapes into the system, the computer reads Time Code off the tapes and marks the beginning and end of each shot and what tape it’s on.  When it’s time to assemble the movie in full-resolution high-definition video for distribution, we simply take the edit list to the post-house and do what’s called an “On-Line.”  This means the post-house takes the master tapes and puts the edit list into their computer,  assembling the movie shot by shot, balancing the colors according to the needs of the movie, and doing a quality control check of the entire piece.  Then they kick out the magical D-5 master.  This is an internationally recognized hi-def video format that can produce DVDs or be used to make 35 mm film prints for theatrical distribution.  It basically allows your film the ability to penetrate any distribution outlet and maximize the potential for return on investment.

 

Well, we had a lot of tapes to convert.  About twenty-eight to thirty hours worth.  And the ones that were shot at slow or fast motion, they have to be dubbed through a special “frame-rate converter,”  another machine we have to rent.  That’s a good example of why it takes some money to make a quality movie.  Little pieces like that add up, but it sure looks a lot better than crappy slow-motion.   Definitely worth it.

 

I’m supposed to pick up some of the tapes today. 

 

This is a good transition into this process.

 

Saturday, June 11, 2005

 

Okay, the edit system is up and running and we’re supposed to pick up all our down-converted tapes on Monday.  Everyone is pretty excited about seeing the footage cut together.

 

All of a sudden, our article goes up on kungfucinema.com and then the story gets picked up by MTV in Poland.  How crazy is that?  Poland.  Thanks to Jean Lutkish for writing such an internationally enticing article.  I hope we can do many more together.

 

As you can see, we’re trying a lot of new things to update our website and keep it evolving.  We implement new areas and then we refine them little by little.  Angel is doing a great job as the webmaster.

 

More to come.

 

Monday, June 13, 2005

 

Today is my brother’s birthday.  Happy Birthday Dr. Stephen J. Troum, otherwise know as Sprinkles the Demon.

 

And now…

 

It’s all like that now.  Edit is up in yo face.  Press release just got to get out.  Computer wanna be all like, I don’t know about that.  But you can’t stop.  You can’t sit down and say, “Oh yeah, that’s gonna happen by itself.”  You got ta get up and read that manual, ‘cause you got to know how it works.  And you got to go get the thing from the store and bring it all back and be like, this is going to storage, this stays, I need that, don’t need that.  Oh, yeah, you gotta file taxes with the governement.  Don’t forget to send that letter out, who needs a press photo, what do you mean you didn’t get paid?  How long is this meeting going to last?  Two hours picking up tapes, invoice from the contact lens.  Call technical support, what abut this warranty card?  Is this thing on?

 

I love it.

 

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

 

Well, we’re pretty much navigating the waters of post –production.  I guess a more apt metaphor is that we’re outfitting our ship to navigate the waters.  We want to sail as smoothly as possible, so it’s important to make sure that the ship is constructed with the best possible materials.  This means making sure that every stage of this constantly evolving High-Definition technology is accounted for and addressed correctly.  Because the technology is changing so rapidly, many “experts” in the industry have differing methods of achieving the same end, some cheaper and more efficient than others. 

 

Digital technology is completely revolutionizing the industry.  Eventually, all projects, except for “nostalgic art” will be shot on digital video (eventually tape will be eliminated and it will be direct recording to hard drives.  Once this happens, there will be no more film or tape industry to speak of, just think if you worked for Kodak.  What would your business plan look like?) 

 

Delivery to television and theaters will become completely digital.  Theaters will download their latest films to high-density servers and show them with digital projectors.  Most major theaters in America already have digital projection and more are getting it every month.

 

When I was a kid, I used to go to my father’s corporate office in Greensboro, NC.  A real treat was to go into the basement of the large office building and watch the enormous computer reel-to-reel tape decks spin intermittently.  My dad would set me up at a workstation and let me punch my little fingers out on the old punch-card typing machines.  Remember, this is back in the day when computers read cardboard sheets for input.  In my mind, that computer lab went on forever.  It seemed so big, I don’t even remember it having walls.

 

My father held up a key chain the other day.  The size of my little finger.  “This has ten-thousand times the space of that basement,” he said. I mean Holy Cow!  What huge steps forward society is taking and has the potential to take through this technology.  Communication, information.  Information empowers…like one of my heroes used to say, “Knowing is half the battle.”

 

Monday, June 20, 2005

 

Alright, alright.  The post-production process is rolling along.  These advances in technology move so quickly, you really have to be ready for change at any time.  What’s funny is everyone has their own opinion on how things should be done and many of the options are feasible.  You just have to pick one and go. 

 

Right, now, it’s a debate between using Final Cut (a desktop video editing program that has the capability of producing professional grade video output) and some of the other, more traditional methods of finishing film.  Editing is only one aspect and that I’ll be doing on a Final Cut system, but  it’s also about color-correction, quality control, titles and graphics, sound mixing, image resolution, etc.  The outcome is all the same, but the cost, time involved, and the vernacular are all different.  I imagine it’s like being an ambassador and being told you are moving from Sweden to China.  In a very short amount of time, you have to learn the customs and language of a whole other society of people in order to do you r job well  Sure, they’re all still people, but they don’t use chopsticks in Sweden.

 

Right now, I’m editing some of the scenes together.  I started with a simple dialogue scene between two actors in order to get familiarize myself with the “workflow.”  

 

(By the way, “workflow” is the present buzzword for the post-production industry.  A relatively new term, it refers to the pipeline of computer and software applications you will use to completely finish the film and deliver it for distribution.  “Off –line” editing applications and media need to interface with sound mixing programs, music recording studios, and special effects computer houses in a specific timeline.  Digital technology.

 

Nobody delivers film cans on a bicycle anymore.  Delivery companies are being replaced by attachments in e-mails and portable hard-drives.)

 

Anyway, then I moved on to editing a fight.  Johnny meets a demon in a dark alley and employs a shopping cart as his measure of defense.  Stuntman Danny Hernandez, in the words of Action Designer Mike Gunther, “put on a clinic on how to be a demon.”   He and Matt Twining, along with stuntman Ryan Watson, fought with beautiful savagery.

 

The fights are fast paced.  I edited together Mika’s fight n the alley against three thugs.  This was one of the scenes I most looked forward to shooting.  And man oh man, did eveybody come through.  Mike Lee, Ilram Choi, Ron Yuan ,all performed like gangbusters on camera.  The wardrobe rocked and Marcus Young and his daring band of high-flyers had our cool-suited thugs practicing “Grasshoppah Style” all over the alley.  Chris Yen was totally kicking ass as Mika and the crew made it all happen in one night.  The original point being, the fight is about 45 seconds long.  Right around where we thought it would be.  It’s like a testoserone dose of Gene Kelly. 

 

Okay, I’m now digitiziing the footage of our two warriors fighting in the desert.  Johnny Nguyen, (Oong Bak II) was great, but another special kudo to Marcus Young for lying on the sand while Matt points the camera and I turn a gas powered leaf blower on him and cover him in dust.   Looks great, I gotta go edit.

 

Friday, June 24, 2005

 

Well, all that’s really been going on the last few days is the round-up of all the bill paying and production accounting.

 

We’ve sort of been on hold with the editing because we needed to solve our “workflow” issues.  Yesterday I spent about three hours down at a post-house trying to help them figure out what computers needed to be set on what settings in order to digitize the Hi-Def tapes into the system.  It turns out that we are so far on the cutting edge of filmmaking technology as independent filmmakers that the well respected and  established company we are dealing with for post has never even performed the operation we need done.  I was in a room with three or four of their engineers as we discussed how to go about it.  As a matter of fact, they have to purchase software products in order to catch up to speed with the software “Johnny Tao” is using.  In some ways it’s kind of a neat feeling to be the van guard, but in other ways, I just want the work done so I can get to the creative part of editing. 

 

Outside of that, we’re still talking to a couple of magazines and I’ve begun working with veteran screenwriter Neal Tabachnick on a follow-up film project.

 

Today I will return to the post-house to double check the work that’s going on.  We had to hire an editing assistant.  It’s his job to sit in front of the computer until midnight and oversee the digitizing process for the tapes.  We should have everything done by Monday so that we can begin the actual editing of the film.  Then it’s gonna move quickly…I hope.

 

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

 

Extra!  Extra!  Read all about it!  Impact Magazine out of England has begun continuing coverage of “Adventures of Johnny Tao.”  Impact is a magazine that caters to the action film industry, both east and west.  They cover action cinema from around the world, focusing on Asia and America.  Fortunately, they love Chris Yen (who doesn’t?).  She introduced us to the publishers who were more than happy to announce the upcoming film and proceed with various articles over the next several months.  I think the next thing they’re going to publish is a two-part article that actually features this continuing journal.  I guess they’ll leave this entry out because that would be like the lizard eating its own tail.

 

Anyway, I couldn’t be more excited.  I’ve read this magazine for years and always felt a certain jealousy at reading articles about all the other action’ers.  Well, now it’s time for “Adventures of Johnny Tao.”   (Special thanks to the Yen’ster, Mike Leeder, Neal, and the rest of the gang at Impact.)

 

Matt Mullins and Chris will also be appearing at Black Belt Magazine’s hall of fame awards later in July.  Both actors will be featured for their contributions to the martial arts world.  Chris will also be attending in her mother’s place, a revered martial arts instructor who has taught Chris and her brother since childhood.  Matt Mullins is also going gangbusters with his martial arts demo team Sideswipe.  They’re about to put together a full-length live theatrical presentation of martial arts prowess.  Good luck guys!

 

More to come…

 

July 4th 2005

 

It’s July 4th weekend and everybody’s doin’ the barbecue thing.  Independence day.  I like to think of it as Independents’ day (as in independent film).

 

Truth be told, I’m still waiting for our hi-definition master video tapes to be digitized onto computer hard drives for the editing process.  All the work should be completed by Tuesday and we can dive right into the full editing of the movie.  It’s a very exciting process, but this whole waiting game of passing time until the post-production house gets the computer files in order is killing me.  I don’t know what to do with myself…for almost three weeks now.  I’m trying to keep busy by keeping the publicity and distribution pipelines flowing.  In addition to Impact magazine, Dave Cater, the editor of Inside Kung-Fu Magazine is publishing something on “Johnny Tao” next month and both magazines have offered to do continuing coverage.  We’ll get something out to MovieMaker Magazine next week.  They once gave us a feature article on our short film, “Better Never Than Late.”

 

I’m also reading a lot of Dashell Hammet and Raymond Chandler books, watching some old film noir movies and breaking down the mystery genre on paper and in my mind.  In addition to being prepared to make “Johnny Tao II: Revenge of the Demon Quellor,”  I want to make sure I have another couple of projects lined up and ready to go.  I read an interview with an independent filmmaker once who said, “Be ready to go with your next script, because if your first film is successful at all, everybody’s going to want to know what you have that’s ready to go, and if you’re not prepared, they’ll move on to the next filmmaker.”  Well, I’m certainly hoping “Adventures of Johnny Tao” will be all that it can be and then, whether JT II gets made or not, I’m eventually hoping to make an action-packed detective thriller.

 

I started collaborating with Neal Tabchnick, an excellent and successful screenwriter who has sold scripts to Sylvester Stallone, Columbia Pictures, and Producer Dean Devlin (“Independence Day” ).  Neal and I have been friends for a while.  He was the saxophone player in my former band, “Birthday Suit.

 

Other than that, I’m going to the gym everyday because I saw all the production photos and realized how easy it is to get out of shape when you’re behind the camera.   And I’m watching a lot of Dodger baseball games.  GO BIG BLUE!!

 

Happy fourth everyone!

 

Monday, July 11, 2005

 

I got so excited about editing, I have completely forgotten about writing my journal. 

 

Finally, after four weeks of waiting for technical glitches to be fixed, I got the hard drives with all the footage on them and I have begun assembling the film.  Hooray!  Now’s the chance, after being overwhelmed on the set with hundreds of details and questions, to be able to look at the image on the screen and really study the execution of every aspect of the film and learn what we did right and what we could have done better.

 

When you’re on set directing, there’s so many things you have to pay attention to in order to keep the whole production moving forward, that inevitably, little details or points of interest may escape your notice, both good and bad things.  Now, as I sit and watch every actor, every costume, every piece of set design, and every camera angle and lighting over and over again, I can really drink in fine details that I didn’t get a chance to notice or knew that I could “not worry about” on set.  Often times, I’m impressed by the subtle performance of the actors.  So many times did our cast really find the nuance of character that makes a situation or role seem so real, that’s a real pleasure to see.  Other times, I’m disappointed in the shot or two that I may have missed, maybe an establishing shot of a building or a close-up of an actor at a key moment.  Nobody else will notice, but when you know what you could have gotten, it can be a little frustrating.  But not so frustrating that I don’t think this is awesome.  The movie has a great look to it.  Vibrant colors and interesting costuming give it a real comic-book feel.  I’m extremely pleased with our decision to shoot the movie on hi-def video.  It looks great, it allowed us to shoot multiple takes where film would have been too cost prohibitive, and it allows for a great degree of technical manipulation in the post-production process.

 

To edit, the first thing you do is open your hard drive and see seventy quicktime movie files that correspond to each of the tape reels that were shot.  Each reel has various shots that make up a particular scene or scenes shot in that particular location.  Some tapes are all about actors acting and some tapes are shot at fast or slow motion for the action scenes so you may have to use four or five different tapes to cut together one scene.  After you locate these files, you have to go through each one and watch the various takes, figure out what each one is, separate it, label it, and put it in a folder or “bin” with all the various shots that make up that particular scene.  This is a very tedious process, but it’s also a  lot of fun to see the various outtakes and moments from production.  What’s kind of cool is that just before and after each take, you can hear various crew members, mostly Matt the D.P. and myself, talking about what’s going on, giving direction to the actors, and responding to what just happened in each take.  Sometimes the comments are pretty funny.

 

Anyway, after you separate and sort all the takes, you can begin to assemble them into contiguous scenes.  This is the best part of editing and with computer or “non-linear” editing, it’s so fast.  You really get to see the story start to come together.  All the little pieces start to fill in the puzzle and it is extremely exctiing.

 

So far, I’ve been editing the movie in sequential order.  It gives me a point of reference from which to work.  I can watch actors’ character arcs and keep track of continuity issues at the same time.  Plus, it’s all about storytelling, and each time I have to go back and watch what I’ve done, seeing it as a sequential story helps me understand pacing and timing within the film.

 

Staying up late.  Editing until 3:00 a.m. and loving every minute of it.

Friday July 15, 2005

Okay, now’s a real cool rush of water.

 

Editing is going great.  I’ve got about 25 minutes of the film edited together.  I started with scene one and am going chronologically right through the script, this gives me the chance to get a feel for continuity, pacing, character development, etc.  Current technology allows for such a great organic process to take place in producing a commercially deliverable film.  All the ingredients can be so readily manipulated.

 

When you produce a film, the industry recognizes that one page in a script is equal to about one minute on the screen.  Therefore, you write a story about a boat that sinks underneath the Artic ice shelf and Johnny Depp discovers the lost people of Atlantis, if it’s 120 pages, a producer immediately assumes that, as long as you’ve formatted your screenplay correctly, this will be a two-hour movie.  Of course, editing takes place, entire scenes are cut and the actual running time of the final movie may be quite different.  Johnny Tao is a 91 page screenplay.  Really the minimum a movie has to be (this is not by law) is about 88 minutes long.  Anything less than that and you’re getting a little too short for industry comfort.  Now, a lot of shorter films use such devices as long credit sequences at the end or longer title sequences to stretch the movie out a few minutes here or there.

 

When I wrote Johnny Tao, I set out to make a ninety-minute film.  This seems to be the ideal length for many reasons.  Besides budget constraints and various marketability factors, I just like shorter movies.  In many of today’s Hollywood releases, I often enjoy the high polish of the product, but many times I find myself having a wandering thought of how much longer the movie is going to last, maybe glancing at my watch, and at that moment, the movir has lost my “willing suspension of disbelief.”  I like great movies and many of them are long, those don’t bother me, I get enthralled in the development of the story, but every cop movie and action film doesn’t have to be some epic two and a half hour blockbuster.  Give me some action, some thrills, make me laugh, I’ll have some popcorn, drink a coke, enjoy my self, I go home and I still have the rest of the day to do what I want.  And I still have a desire to see more movies because I didn’t burn a half a day on a piece of crap.  Today going to the movies can be a big investment.  I guess people want longer movies because they are paying more.  Well, here’s a little secret…

 

THEATER OWNERS HATE LONG MOVIES!!

 

Sure, if it’s a blockbuster that people are coming from all over to see, they don’t care how long the movie is, but because there are only so many hours in a day, a theater owner can only show a movie so many times in a day.   Let’s say your Johnny Depp movie is two hours and forty minutes.  The theater doesn’t open until eleven or noon, they only get to show your move three or four times and potentially sell a total of three or four hundred seats.  If a new comedy film starring Kelly Perine called, “Big ‘Taters” was only ninety-two minutes long, they can sell that same 100 seat theater six times over in the same day.

 

Okay, I have to get back to editing, but the rest of this entry was supposed to talk about the International Comic-con this coming weekend.  This is gonna be awesome!  And I do mean awesome.  Matt Twinning (“Johnny Tao”), Matt Mullins (“Eddie”), Chris Yen (“Mika”), and myself are all heading down to the San Diego convention center for the world’s largest annual gathering of comic book, sci-fi, movie, and fantasy, fans and industry.  This is a long established event and a click over to the website is worth it just to check out the scope.  It actually started today and runs through Sunday.  We’re going down just to check it out, make a few appearances, and watch our friend Dragon and his wife Wanda judge the costume contest.  And this is probably one of the best contests in the world.

 

Peace. Please.

 

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

 

Things are moving.  I’ve been sitting in front of the computer for the majority of every day piecing the film together.  I started at the very beginning and now have about forty minutes of the film all cut together.  It’s coming together really well.  It’s exciting to see the story unfold and see the characters take on life.

 

The overall process of creating a film consists of going out into the field and shooting all the different pieces of the script, then going into the edit suite and attempting to put together the puzzle with all the pieces we’ve made.  The challenge is to make sure you shoot all the shots you think you need and, if you don’t, to find creative ways to edit and bring the story together.  For instance, as I’ve edited, I’ve compiled a list of about seven shots that I think I need in order to make the movie work.  We’re talking single shots here, for instance, a close-up of an actor, or an establishing shot of a building, etc.  Little pieces that help make the movie seem more contiguous.  Well, as I became a little dismayed at the growing number of shots on my list, I began to investigate alternatives in editing. 

 

During one of our days off, Matt and I had driven out to the desert with the camera and shot a bunch of material by ourselves; shots of the desert landscape, storefronts in desert towns, cacti, desert flowers, lizards, ant hills, etc.  We didn’t know what exactly we would use them for, but we figured it couldn’t hurt to have them.  Well, after incorporating some of these shots into the film and creatively editing some other parts, I was able to eliminate my entire list of needed shots.  The scenes of the desert flora and fauna really “open up” the film and give it a bigger feel.

 

Even a scene or two that I didn’t think was going to work, actually turned out to work very well.

 

Now, I’ve got to figure out how to burn DVD’s off of our system.  It’s time to start presenting the movie to sound FX houses, computer fx houses, and distribution companies and they don’t always have the time to come to our edit suite to see the film.  Yesterday was spent trying to figure out how to correctly export an anamorphic (widescreen) Quicktime movie.  I’m still working on that, have to have it figured out by 4:00 p.m.  today.

 

Other than that, this past weekend was the Comic-Con in San Diego.  Matt Twining, Matt Mullins, Chris Yen and I all went down to check it out.  What a crazy gathering of folks.  People spend months creating costumes of their favorite super-heroes or Star Wars characters and then just walk around the convention center all day looking at comic-books, video games, DVD’s, etc.  Grown men and women dressed as elves, Jedi warriors, and video game characters.  Some of these people are incredibly dedicated.

 

At night, we were fortunate enough to attend the highlight of the event, the “Masquerade.”   This is the costume contest held on Saturday night.  Our friends, Dragon and Wanda were judges of the contest and hooked us up with the best seats in the house, except for Matt Twining who had to sit behind a guy dressed like “The Crow” with a stuffed crow sitting on his shoulder that Matt couldn’t see beyond.  Fortunately, the Crow’s mother removed it from its velcro mount for us.

 

We had such a good time watching all the different people come out in their costumes.  Everything had to be homemade, no rentals.  Some people just walked across the stage, but others had whole lip-sync routines they performed.  Some where very entertaining and some were more like watching a train wreck, but I give everyone of them credit for getting up there.  My personal favorites were “General Grevious” from the latest Star Wars movie and a guy who dressed like the evil aliens from the video game “Halo.”

 

The ballroom was filled with about three thousand spectators who hooted and hollered the whole time.  One of the highlights was watching the movie trailers they showed just before the contest.  This crowd went crazy for the new Harry Potter movie.  It was pretty cool, the studio knows what a big buzz they can generate for their movie at Comic-con so they actually released a trailer that had incomplete computer effects in it.  You could actually see the half-done animation figures with no color or detail in them. 

 

Okay, time to go and figure out how to burn a DVD.

 

All the best.

 

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

 

Okay, here’s some of the many things going on…

 

Comic-con with the actors was a lot of fun.  The costume contest was both impressive and funny.  I ran into a guy named Ric Meyers.  Ric is the resident martial arts cinema expert/writer for Inside Kung-Fu Magazine.  He also has a business, Drunken Master, that sells martial arts films.  Ric is a walking encyclopedia of martial arts cinema.  He also wrote a series of books I read when I was younger called “Ninja Master.”  It was an action series like “Rogue Warrior” or “Mack Bolan”  for the martial arts set.  Ric actually took over the series from another more hard-boiled writer and transformed it into a more metaphysical exploration of the subject in a second series.  He autographed a set for me about fifteen years ago.  Ric and I met when he did an Inside Kung-Fu article about my participation in “Ninja Turtles.” 

He met Matt, Matt, and Chris and we made plans to talk further about “Johnny Tao” coverage.  He’s a very nice guy, you can tell when you listen to him explain the finer points of cinema to his customers.  Man does he know everything that goes on in those movies.

 

Editing is going well.  About forty five minutes into the movie.  I had a break for the last six days in order to travel to Texas and visit with family and business associates of Johnny Tao Productions, LLC.   Now that I’m back, I’m jumping back into it. 

 

We’ve begun our quest for distribution.  Signing with a company to represent the film soon will allow us to have a supported presence at the American Film Market in November.  Advertising, posters, trailers, and announcement of availability in trade papers alert international buyers of our presence.  These things need to be planned and manufactured soon.  Otherwise, we wouldn’t be for sale until the Cannes Film Market in France next May.  “Johnny Tao” is a film that would fare better at the AFM than Cannes.  A small film like ours might get lost amid the hype and glitz of Cannes and the American Film Market caters more to our type of product anyway: independent action-adventure films make up the greatest percentage of product at the AFM every year.

 

Had an attorney look at legal documents pertaining to a truck that broke down on our set.  We think insurance should cover it.  Insurance companies don’t stay in business by paying claims and ours’ denied our first attempt.  I believe we are covered, thanks to the assistance of a super-human legal mind that gets a little loose on a pint of whiskey and unfiltered cigarettes.  Now, we’ve just got to get through the paperwork and appeal process.  That’s a bunch of crap. 

 

My friend Angel (who is the webmaster for this site) and his beautiful girl, Melissa, just had a gorgeous baby boy named Aidan.  Angel and I don’ t get to see each other much because they live south of the border, but I love them and I am very happy for them.  I can’t wait to go down and see their boy.  Congratulations you guys.

 

Lots of technical work coming up in this post-production process.  When all is said and done, there won’t be much we won’t know about making a movie and that rocks, but man, I am looking forward to future projects when  more labor is delegated to the proper qualified experts.  

 

Producer Don Poquette has been unceasing in his efforts to close out all the invoices, accounts, SAG deals, and production paperwork.  Keep it up, Don.  You rock!

 

Followed through on getting in touch with C.C.  This  person responded to my inquiries and expressed interest in working on the film.  This is very exciting.   More to come …

 

Monday, August 1st 2005

 

Things are moving along.  So much to do, I haven’t really been able to keep up with my journal as much as I would like.

 

Lots of meetings taking place.  Working out all the final financial details of the production company.  Talking with attorney’s about distribution contracts and trying to get ready to start selling the movie at the American Film market in November.

 

The editing is great.  As much as I keep getting done, I continually revisit earlier portions of the movie and edit out all the long, drawn out shots or moments that might get a little boring for the viewer.  I think every shot is great and should linger as long as possible in order to set the mood, but the reality is, you’ve gotta keep the picture moving, keep the audience interested in every moment.  The best way to get a feel for this is A) watch the film with someone who has no vested interest in stroking your ego and B) step back from the film for a little while and then return to watch it with a fresh set of eyes.  Both methods allow you to see when you’re just showing too much, when you can cut out of a shot even 3 or 4 frames earlier to keep the pace moving.  Well, what that ends up doing is taking away from the overall running time of the film.  Once I crossed into the forty minute mark, I haven’ t been able to get to fifty.  Sure, I keep editing more scenes and the film gets longer, but then I end up cutting an entire minute or more out of the first ten minutes to keep the first act running along.  If buyers watch your film and it gets even a little “draggy” in the first ten minutes, you could lose your fifty thousand dollar sale to Australia.  It’s gotta move.  So anyway, I keep taking two steps forward and one step back in terms of the length.  I’m right at forty seven and a half minutes.  Today I’m hoping to break the fifty minute mark.

 

Great news!  And another element being added to the film that just makes it more unique and gives it a real chance for success.  Charlie  Chesterman is a prolific musician and recording artist who lives in New England.  He used to be the front man for a band called, Scruffy the Cat and now he leads another band known as Chaz and the Motorbikes.  My dad is a big audiophile with a huge record/tape/cd collection and a lot of great (and I mean GREAT) stereo equipment and he first turned my brother and I on to Scruffy the Cat when we were in college after reading a review of one of their albums.  Their music has been defined by some as punk-a-billy (however, I think the “punk” prefix is a bit misleading).  Basically, their music ROCKS!  Well, my brother and I each got hooked on this album ‘Tiny Days.”  Charlie wrote the majority of the music and lyrics and sang.  Ripping guitar, classic rock-a-billy beats, and an edge that defies description.   My brother (Doc Rock, aka Sprinkles the Demon [who, by the way, Steve, will make it into the final edit]) and I went to three different Scruffy the Cat shows when they toured through North Carolina.  Anyway, without going too crazy, I can honestly say that album is one of my favorite of all time.  Well, I went on-line to see what ever happened to Scruffy and figured I’d take a long shot and see if we could get in touch with them and get some of their music for the soundtrack.  Well, I discovered that the band broke up over ten years ago and discovered more about their frontman Charlie at charliechesterman.com.  I sent an e-mail to Charlie (never having spoken to him before) and asked him to visit our website and contact me if he was interested in learning more about the project and getting involved on the soundtrack side.  Well, a few days later I get a phone call from him and we talk a little bit about the past, both his and mine, and then we get to the film.  When all was said and done, Charlie indicated that he had never worked on a soundtrack before and he’s very interested in the project.  He then sent me a package with a collection of CD’s encompassing the last ten years of his work for my review.  I mean how cool is that?  His work really touched my life and now here we are talking on the phone and he’s sending me his entire library of music.  When he returns from his out of town trip, we’re supposed to talk further and see if anything he’s got works for the film.  The cool part is, I’m already dropping different pieces of music from different sources into the edit just to keep it exciting and some of Charlie’s music fits perfectly. 

 

That’s it for now.  I have to go put new tires on my car.

 

Sunday, August 7, 2005

 

Today at six o’clock, I’m taking a couple of the executive producers to a meeting with a potential distribution company.  Everyone wants to make sure we’re on the same page when it comes to the detailed points of the agreement.  I’m pretty excited about the company.  They’ve been aware of “Johnny Tao” for some time and are very interested in marketing the film worldwide. 

 

Editing-wise, I just crossed the sixty-five minute mark in the film.  It’s moving along pretty well.  One thing I’m having to do is edit scenes to remove dialogue that just doesn’t work.  Sometimes the scenes are overly written, sometimes the actors made a choice that doesn’t fit with the overall flow of the scene, sometimes a joke I thought would be funny just isn’t, and sometimes I failed as a director to pull out the appropriate performance from an actor.  Regardless, you have to expect some of this stuff when editing any piece together.  Not everything that was filmed makes it into every movie, that’s why DVDs have all those “Deleted Scenes” sections you can click on.  What it does do though, is make the film move much more quickly and keeps the focus on the important story points.  In the end, removing those things simply makes it a better film.

 

The music is really helping the film along.  I’ve got pieces from our new friend Charlie Chesterman, pieces that I wrote and recorded, and pieces that my brother wrote and recorded either by himself or collaborating with me.  It’s amazing how each step in the process really takes the film to the next level.  It’s funny to be with people when they watch one of the fight scenes because, in all honesty, sometimes they just don’t make any sense without the sound effects. 

 

I am a little concerned that removing all the various scenes or extraneous dialogue is making the film come up a little short in running time.  When all is said and done with all the action and the credit sequences, we won’t have a problem making the film the required ninety minutes, but our script was so lean and mean to begin with that I really don’t like removing chunks of dialogue.  Oh well, they say editing is the most painful part of the process because you have to choose which of your children you’ll leave behind.  But, it’s also the most exciting because you really get to see the story come together.  Unfortunately, we can’t all be like Quentin Tarantino and remove all the scenes that slow down the movie and release those scenes as a separate film, ala “Kill Bill I.”  But, hey, I like being me anyway.  

 

More to come…lots more.

 

Sunday, August 13, 2005

 

Entry # 50, HOORAY!

 

Okay, okay, okay.

 

Meetings are going good and everything’s kicking into a higher gear.  We seem to be in sync with the distribution company on the terms of the agreement.  The truth of the matter is, when you’re an independent filmmaker, the distribution companies pretty much have the upper hand.  If one of them doesn’t agree to carry your film (like most independent films), you can’t really sell it to anyone anyway, so not only do they need to like your film and like you enough to want to be in a business relationship with you, they also have the ability to set the terms of the agreement.  Now, granted, there are a lot of standard points of agreement within the industry as far as distribution, but there is always little points here and there that filmmakers need to be sure they get in writing so they are protected as well as the distribution company.

 

Now, for those that don’t understand what a film distribution company does, basically they acquire the rights (not ownership) to license your film to the thirty seven international primary territories throughout the world, and then they also handle (or you can make a deal with a second company) licensing the rights to North America (i.e. U.S. and Canada).  This includes licensing the film to theaters, television, video stores, cable t.v., etc. 

 

There are hundreds of distribution companies working at various levels of the system all over the world.  The major Hollywood studios have their own distribution companies.  However, this gives rise to some of the creative accounting that goes on in Hollywood.  For example, one famous case: Eddie Murphy sued Paramount Pictures because he felt he did not receive correct profit-sharing compensation for his film “Coming to America.”   Allegedly, even though the film grossed over one hundred million dollars, Paramount Pictures claimed that it did not make any money off the film and therefore had nothing to share with him.  One reason they might have said this is because Paramount Pictures Distribution is a “different” company than Paramount Pictures and since Paramount Pictures Distribution had “millions of dollars” in advertising expenses (including salaries of high-level executives), there was no money to be passed back to Paramount Pictures, the company that Eddie Murphy had his agreement with.   Anyway, there are big studio distribution companies and independent distribution companies.  Each year, these companies gather once in Los Angeles and once in Cannes, France to sell their films to buyers from around the world.  These are the film markets and they basically operate like movie-bazaars.  Hundreds of companies rent suites in the designated hotels and foreign buyers walk from room to room picking which movies they want to buy and show in their countries.  Each country pays the distributor a different price depending on the size and population of their respective market.  Malaysia might pay $25,000 for the same film that Germany has to pay $200,000.  Eventually, after about one year of traveling to the different markets you can tally up the different prices that each country has paid and figure out how much your movie has grossed.  Then you have to subtract a distributor’s fee (usually 20-30%) and subtract expenses (usually about 10% of the gross sales). 

 

The distribution company will also get on the phone to every major video rental chain and theater chain in America and try to make deals for them to carry DVD’s or show your film.  If you get a wide theatrical or video release in the U.S. it can greatly increase the popularity of your film overseas.  The drawback is, with today’s technology, if your film comes out on DVD in the U.S. first, some fool can walk into the video store, buy your film for fifteen bucks and fed-ex it to his cousin in the far east who will have it duped and out on the streets in forty-eight hours.  This is called video piracy and it is literally putting some of my friends out of business.  So, if you know anybody that’s stealing cable t.v. or buying pirated movies, just let them know that they are truly affecting other people’s livelihood.

 

Anyway, one of the great things about our project is that we are getting a distribution deal at all.  The fact is, most independent films end up languishing on the shelves somewhere, never getting picked up, or get picked up by fly-by-night distribution companies that participate in the aforementioned creative accounting processes.  Most indy films never get distribution because either the filmmaker didn’t have the ability to get the film in front of credible companies, or as is usually the case, the film sucked and nobody wanted to risk their relationships with foreign buyers by selling them a piece of crap low-budget drama or romantic comedy that wouldn’t translate well into Balinese anyway.   All that being said, while our company is excited about representing the film, they still have the right to refuse it once they see the finished product, so there is still a chance that they might think our film sucks and we’ll be sitting on the shelf.  I certainly hope that’s not going to happen.  At the very least, I’ll rent a u-haul and drive around the country projecting the movie on the outside of Wal-Marts around the country.  There we shall find an audience.

 

Sunday, August 21, 2005

 

So, I’ve just about completed the first cut of the film. 

 

Usually, while a production company continues shooting a film, a separate hired editor is taking the footage everyday and assembling it into a rough cut, so that by the time you are finished shooting, the director or producers can walk right into the edit bay (that’s what you call a desk in a little room with an editing system in it) and start making detailed changes.  Of course, with me being the editor, that wasn’t the case.  As I discussed earlier, I had to wait about a month for the post-house to get our video tape conversions done correctly, then I had to start editing from scratch, which included learning how to use a Final Cut Pro Editing Software System.  I originally projected that it would take me eight weeks to get the film cut, so by the end of August, I should hit my mark.  Then there is refinement work to be done.

 

I’ve recognized an interesting cycle that takes place that allows me to better adjust to the demands of the work.  When I first start editing any scene together, I grab all the different shots and throw them together just to see if the scene is actually there.  This actually takes a while because you have to watch every take of a shot and decide which one to use, some have better moments than others and you may choose clips from several different takes just to assemble one character’s side of a conversation.   Did the actors get all the lines?  Is the lighting appropriate from shot to shot?  Are there any continuity gaffs that really stick out? 

 

Usually the first assembly of a scene is pretty clumsy.  Shots might run a little long, all the dialogue is included (some of it might eventually be removed to keep up the pacing of the scene), and it’s not always the appropriate takes you first include.  Also, the first rough cut of a scene doesn’t usually include the “reaction shots” that make a scene flow more easily.  Watch any movie and you’ll notice tricks that editors use to keep a scene moving and flowing naturally.  For instance, when one person is talking, either they cut to the person listening while the talker is still uttering his last few sounds, or they may hang on the talker until he/she finishes his sentence, the listener begins to respond and then cut to the listener, now the talker, after they’ve already begun their sentence.  This smooths out the transitions from shot to shot, makes it not seem so jarring.   Also, when someone is talking, it is not uncommon to cut away from them altogether and show the listener’s face for chunks of time.  Again, notice in any movie, if the star of the movie is having a conversation, chances are there’s a lot more shots of the star just listening than his co-actors talking.  There is a lot of power to be gained by showing people listening or reacting.  When you see Bruce Willis listening to someone talk, it is not uncommon for us to assume he is having some profound thoughts about his exchange with the person in front of him.  If we see his face while the other person is talking, we project our ideas of what he might be thinking and it creates a more intimate experience with that actor/character.  Depending on what the other person in the scene is saying, we might project thoughts of defiance, unrequited love, jealousy, or concern, onto our hero.

 

A good example of proving how this works was done by a Russian filmmaker named Lev Kuleshov.  He took a shot of a popular Russian actor with a single neutral look on his face and intercut it with scenes of a crying baby, a bowl of soup, and even a coffin.  After showing the piece to an audience, the viewers praised the actor’s performance while noting how well he portrayed paternal concern, hunger, and mourning.  Yet, it was always the same shot.  The point of this was to demonstrate that editing was in control, context determines meaning. 

 

Anyway, even though editors do a complete rough cut and then refine it under their own expertise or the guidance of producers and directors, because I serve all three of those positions, I have been refining as I go.  I haven’t assembled the last three minutes of the film yet, but I sure have refined the first forty minutes over and over and over again.  As I watch the rough-cut now (as I did with my longtime friend Jamie last night) we both remarked on how the pace of the film really moves along for the first 40-45 minutes and then there is a noticeable slowing of the action.  Yes, but only because I have not started the refining process on that section yet.  This is where I go in, cut out all the long drawn out shot, boring dialogue, and dead spaces between words.  Invariably the film gets shorter and shorter, but that’s okay, this film is a quick exciting ride.

 

Well, to bring it all back to the original point, the cycle that I’ve discovered is that I am often not happy with the initial cut of a scene, but once I refine it, add the reaction shots, and smooth out the sound, the scene starts to take on a life of its own and really comes together nicely.  It’s the same way with the whole film as one long scene.  Upon initially putting it together, I was greatly concerned about the overall quality of the movie.  It seemed that some scenes weren’t working well, the pacing wasn’t tight enough, or there was no reason to care about what was happening next.  

 

Now, I remembered a story of Sylvester Stallone going with his manager to see an initial rough-cut of “First Blood.”  When it was over, Stallone thought he had made the biggest mistake of his career, they had an un-releasable film.  As we all know, once the post-production process was finished, that film became his biggest star vehicle next to “Rocky.”  So, I took comfort in the fact of that story and that every other experienced filmmaker I know has been through the same process.  No music, no sound effects, no computer FX and uneven dialogue volumes can make a rough-cut film a real chore to watch.  Each element contributes a great deal to the overall telling of the story,  If you think about it, music basically tells us how we’re supposed to feel in a movie.  If it’s a scary moment, scary music plays, if it’s a comedy, funny music plays, etc. 
Example, if a boy and girl are sitting in a coffee shop, not even at the same table, and the boy looks up from his magazine and sees her, imagine all the different moods you can create by either playing romantic violins, tension filled piano strains, or comedic sound FX (“boing”).  Likewise, watching somebody get possessed by a demon-cloud of red electric energy is much more entertaining when the demon-cloud is actually computer generated into the film.  Otherwise it’s just an actor opening his mouth and falling down. 

 

So, at first I was concerned with the rough-cut, as I knew I would be, and even told my friends and family that right now was the hardest part of the process.  I was feeling a tremendous amount of pressure and anxiety and I felt that I was at the lower point of the sine wave that maps the flow of any cycle, up and down.  One of the essential principals of Taoism is that everything cycles.  What goes up, will eventually come down, and fortunately, even though I wasn’t happy about the way everything was looking, realizing this never allowed me to despair.  I knew what was on the other side of all the hard work, it was just a question of dealing with all the crap on the way there.  So, I kept plugging away, kept refining, and kept moving forward, and lo and behold, the sine wave is curving back up.

 

I’m very excited about where the film is at now.  I’m starting to meet with composers, special FX houses, sound houses, etc, to start setting up the actual work schedule. 

 

So anyway, there’s a glimpse into the trials and tribulations of moviemaking.  I’m happy to say that everything that is happening is moving right along according to the business plan that was initially presented to our investors.  We are right on schedule, on budget, and turning out a film that is already gaining notoriety before its release.

 

This really is an incredible journey.  I’m sure over the next few months I’ll be dealing with a lot of seemingly overwhelming issues.  But, I know that we are fighting the good fight.

 

Peace.

 

Thursday, August 25, 2005

 

Picked up three copies of the August ‘Impact Magazine.”  They’ve got an awesome tagline on their cover, “Refreshes the Parts Other Action Entertainment Magazines Can’t Reach.”  This magazine covers every kind of action film from “Die Hard” to “36th Chamber of Death.”  It’s published out of England and is difficult to find in the states.

 

Mike Leeder creates a section of the magazine called “Chinabeat,” and he basically covers movies with an eastern origin or influence.  He knows Chris Yen (the Yen’ster), he checked out the website and they just published a four-page spread with photos and reprints from my filmmaker’s journal.  It’s so cool.  Chris Yen will be featured in an upcoming issue of “Inside Kung-Fu” magazine.  Though the majority of Americans out there read neither “Inside Kung-Fu” of “Impact Magazine,” the truth remains that these magazines do cater to our target audience; people with an interest in martial arts and fans of International action cinema.

 

As far as editing the film, I just typed “The End”.  Finally, through the dark waters and just past midnight, we have resurfaced into the great light of almighty glory with spirits strengthened for having been borne through the twists and turns of despair.  It’s pretty much all put together, I just have to adjust some stuff here and there as we beign working with music and FX..  It’s fast, colorful, cute, entertaining, blah, blah blah.   We’ve got a very salable project. 

 

I went through and learned the value of the razorblade. When editors work with actual film prints of a movie, they physically cut the celluloid with a razor and tape the pieces together.  On a desktop editing system like Final Cut Pro the mouse icon becomes a razor blade when you trim down shots.

 

As a filmmaker, I know from my past work, I have a tendency to cut long.  I linger on shots or meticulously match physical action of an actor from one cut to the next.  This can pace a piece out and make it seem to be “draggy” though an audience member might not know why. 

 

I recognized that going in, so I decided to cut everytime I raised an issue as to whether a piece of a scene or a whole scene at all needed to exist.  If it didn’t move the story forward, it wasn’t necessary.  Each shot should reveal some new piece of information (not always possible), keep the thing moving forward, keep revealing to the audience.  I would battle with myself as to whether some joke was worth keeping in if we had to get through twenty seconds of dialogue to get to it.  So, rather than lose the joke, I would cut the intervening conversations in a way so that they worked as shorter conversations that still had all the payoff.  So, it all helped create a tighter, better movie.

 

As my mentor Eric Karson has said, the first commandment of filmmaking, “Thou shall not bore.”  So I kept that in mind as I cut and trimmed all the fat.  That’s what eventually let in the first rays of light.  Next week, I watch the film with composers, CGI guys, and sound designers (sound FX, sound mixing, etc) and we talk about specifics and they develop budgets.

 

Sunday, August 28, 2005

 

Let’s see…

 

Marcus, Matt, myself and various friends and colleagues have watched some or all of the film together and made notes.  Technically, it’s not really a film at all because it was shot on video, but the word “movie” is a little too casual.  You don’t say “An Alfred Hitchcock movie” unless you’re trying to remember what you saw last night, as in…”Yeah, I was watching Turner Classics and I fell asleep on the couch, some Alfred Hitchcock movie was on.”  You do, however, when discussing projects with actors, directors and producers at the highest professional levels, use the word “picture,” as in…”Yes, I understand that Steven Spielberg is directing Orlando Bloom’s next picture.”  Traditionally, “Film” is used interchangeably with these terms when discussions take place amongst devotees, critics, professionals and film students, but with the changing video technology, people aren’t always making “films.”  Relatively speaking, it would be technically proper to call them “videos”, but that has a whole other meaning in the MTV generation.  So, how do we refer to it?  I don’t know.  Who cares.

 

I do, however, care about speaking with Charlie Chesterman.  He’s recorded some great music over the last twenty years (Scruffy the Cat, Chaz and the Motorbikes, et al.) and has made a bunch of songs readily available to the film.  What’s so great is just how well some of it is working.  I’ll be editing a scene and drop one of the tunes in and, no kidding, the song will be almost exactly as long as the scene is, or the music will make various twists and turns just as the action does.  It’s a unique blend of [I have removed the words I used to describe Charlie’s music, because ‘can words really describe any music, or any color, or the flight of a bird…or the feel of a banana peel on your skin, or the sound of a jealous walrus?]      Everybody has given positive responses to the music, it’s right on target with the feel of the film.   An added value to Charlie’s music is his distinctive voice.  Not only does it sound great, but, as the music plays under the movie, it’s as if we’re getting a chance to hear Jimmy Dow’s library of music recorded before he disappeared.  Even more exciting though is having just spoken with Charlie on the phone, he expressed his interest in writing and recording some original stuff just for the movie.  I mean how cool is that?

 

Tomorrow I have to figure out how to burn DVD’s of the movie with timecode on them, so post-production vendors can reference the film frame-by-frame.  Timecode is a tracking system that tape decks read and you have to burn a timecode “window” onto your movie so composers and CGI artists can sync up their work by eyeballing it on a video screen.

 

More to come…

 

Tuesday, September 07, 2005

 

Today I have to go through the edit and pull out all the individual shots that require CGI (Computer Generated Imagery or Visual Effects) and assemble them on a DVD for the CGI house to make their final appraisals.  This is going to be “the” process where a low-budget film has to make choices that satisfy the financial aspects of production, and hopefully leads to creative choices that actually enhance the film.

 

I have a lot of administrative matters to attend to.  Keeping the information flowing is the most important aspect of moving the business forward; investors, post-production houses, the press, lawyers, accountants, a webmaster, e-mails, phone calls, bill paying, mail, etc.

 

I have to go through the film and select sound takes.  This refers to the fact that each line spoken in the film by an actor was covered by two microphones, one pinned to their clothing and one suspended from a boom pole above.  (That’s what the guy you see listed in the credits as “Boom Operator” does, he holds the boom mike just out of camera range in every shot.  Much to the chagrin of many D.P.s, they don’t always keep them out of range.)  Anyway, I have to listen to each take of dialogue from both microphones in order to find the best version of their line.  Sometimes it’s easy and you know that one microphone alone (usually the “wireless” mic pinned inside their lapel) produced a good recording so you simply delete the track with all the other mic’s data.  But  sometimes, a wireless signal can be interrupted (radio waves, sun spots, crappy equipment, etc.) and we have to use the “hard-wired” boom microphone track instead.  This is okay, but they usually don’t sound the same.  A lapel microphone is generally a unidirectional microphone that picks up a good, solid, audible signal of the speaker’s voice.  A boom mike, however, tends to be held several feet above the actors’ heads and therefore picks up all sorts of ambient noise, like traffic, dogs barking, or heavy-metal rock bands playing next door in the heat of an old warehouse with all the windows open.

 

I’ve got to pick all the best audio tracks and balance them out.  I then export an OMF (audio based computer file) and give this to the sound house (any of many companies that add sound effects, supply dubbing services for actors to re-record dialogue, balance out the dialogue (called re-recording), and ultimately mix the music, dialogue and effects together in a 5.1 Dolby surround mix.  I am presently meeting with various sound mixers to do this.  We originally thought we had a deal set up for a specific amount of money at a particular place, but upon further discussions, the original quote has doubled, so we’re now investigating other possibilites.

 

Monday, September 7, 2005

 

Things to do today: 

 

Call Sound Designers and discuss budget estimates

Call CGI houses and discuss budget estimates

Call Composer and get him a DVD to watch

Call Charlie Chesterman and update him on the music needs

Meet with animation designer about opening sequence involving comic book illustrations

Fine tune the edit:

            Add various shots of suns and moons to show passage of time

            Replace dialogue in one scene with better takes

            Edit together a video of Jason London singing “Wanderin’ Love”

 

Write opening narration for Johnny

Write closing narration for Johnny

Write narration to accompany flashback sequence

Create a list of all the actors’ lines that need to be replaced in ADR

(Automatic Dialog Replacement or ADR is the re-recording of dialogue by actors in a sound studio during post-production, usually performed to playback of edited picture in order to match lip movements on screen. ADR is frequently used to replace production track of poor quality (e.g., due to high levels of background noise) or to change the delivery or inflection of a line. ADR can also be used to insert new lines of dialogue which are conceived during editing, although such lines can only be placed against picture in which the face of the actor speaking is not visible. Definition from IMDB.com)

Go to the gym

Pay bills

 

This past weekend, my friend and mentor, Eric Karson came over and watched the film.  Eric directed the American martial arts classic, “The Octagon” starring Chuck Norris and produced and/or directed several films with Jean-Claude Van Damme, including “Lionheart.”  Eric has been a constant source of inspiration, education, and support.  We first met when he was working as a producer for the same company that made “Showdown” starring me and Billy Blanks, way back in 1993.  Ever since then we’ve spent many a lunch discussing the trends, history, and schematic of Hollywood.

 

It was great to show it to Eric because he was able to ask questions and point out issues from an objective viewpoint.  If something doesn’t make sense to the uninitiated viewer, it’s not like I can go stand in everyone’s home or local movie theater and explain that, “Oh, yeah, in this scene, the demon possesses his victim’s body, but we didn’t have time to shoot the shot that shows this.”  Instead, I have to make sure that the film makes its case clearly and definitively the first time through.  People watch a movie once and form their opinion after that.  With today’s technology and movies going straight to DVD, a lot of people can and do rewind the movie if they miss something, but they should only really have to do that if they missed something because they were getting a bag of Cheetohs from the kitchen, not because the movie itself isn’t making sense.  Now, that being said, I find myself rewinding videos quite a bit and asking my friends, “What the hell just happened?”  But I think that may be more due to the fact that, after years of playing in a band next to one of the loudest drummers in the world, my hearing is getting worse.

 

Anyway, Eric had some great suggestions about things we could do in various parts of the film and he also had very encouraging things to say about the marketability of our project.  So, all in all, it was great to sit with him and watch the project after all these years of development.

 

In a couple of weeks, the second part of the Impact Magazine article will hit the newsstands.  We’ve got the first one posted on the home page of the website underneath the cover of the magazine with Jet Li on it.  That was an exciting article, not only because it was about our movie, but because my friend Mike came to set one day and snapped some photos, and lo and behold, they used one of his as the title picture for the article.  It looks great and it’s the first time he ever had one of his photos published.  Unless you count that picture he took of himself for “Studd: The Amateur Edition.”

 

Friday, September 23, 2005

 

In the opening credit sequence of our film, our hero, “Johnny,” hooks an old t.v. up to a rusty car battery and watches a VHS of an old “chopsocky” kung-fu movie.  He imitates the moves in order to learn kung-fu.

 

Well, the whole time I’ve been editing the movie and showing it to people to get their feedback, I have to either A) stop the film and explain the following or B) explain it real fast as the movie keeps playing.  Either way, it sort of interrupts the flow of the movie and definitely ruins the viewer’s “willing suspension of disbelief.”

 

Basically, as Johnny works out, he puts a tape in the VCR, but then we just show the blank t.v. screen.  He does a couple of kung-fu moves and then we show a blank t.v. screen again.  This goes back and forth until he is supposed to watch the very last moments of the “chopscoky” movie and tries to imitate the movie hero’s ultimate fighting technique and become the Supreme Warrior.  The reason we have to show a blank t.v. screen is, we didn’t have the rights to any particular kung-fu movie to use in our movie, so we had to make up moves for Johnny to do and then (going backwards) we would have to film a kung-fu movie of our own that had the fighters doing the moves Johnny was supposed to be imitating (make sense?).

 

Anyway, our friends Alex and Roel, two excellent martial artists, jumped on board to help make it happen and yesterday we shot our old-school kung-fu movie.  It was totally cool!

 

We had to get nine shots in all, one opening shot so we would all know what kind of film Johnny was watching and about eight shots of our hero training and fighting his opponent, including the final shot of him completing his “ultimate move,” the Dragon’s Flight.

 

It’s easy to grab a video camera and shoot some guys fighting, but in order to make it look like a real 1970’s style kung-fu movie, we had to do a couple of things.  First, we had to have good costumes.  Luckily, from my days as “Funk-Fu” in the band Birthday Suit (click on -  birthdaysuittheband.com and then click on “The Band” to see a pretty entertaining photo), left me with a closet full of ornate Chinese robes, perfect for an ostentatious villain.  Secondly, Alex is a national Wu-Shu competitor and had his own collection of Chinese silk uniforms that really look great. 

 

So, besides costumes, we needed good locations.  Again, it’s real easy to just go in the backyard and shoot your friends doing kung-fu, but then again, that’s most likely what it would look like, a couple of guys jumping and kicking in front of a fence and some shrubs.  The Chinese countryside, does not look like a backyard in Los Angeles (unless you have Marcus Young’s hot tub).  Besides, even though this was just a few shots, it’s the opening of our movie and we had to make it look like Johnny was watching the real thing.  So, in order to make it look vast in scope, we set out to find good backdrops all over L.A.  I remember reading years ago that George Lucas, the director of “Star Wars,” and “American Graffiti,”  said, when you make a movie, you should try to have it take place in three distinct environments.  This gives variety and texture to the story and keeps the audience from getting bored with seeing the same old location.  So, in his movies, they go from desert planets, to lush forest covered worlds with little teddybears, to the cold, hard world of an insidious space station.  Well, we wanted to do the same thing in our kung-fu movie.  So, we packed up our equipment, took our two performers, and hiked about a mile into one of the canyons in the San Fernando valley where Matt and I live.  Years ago, while hiking, we had discovered a little forested grotto with a running brook, several fallen tree trunks, and vast spaces dappled with sunlight peeking through the treetops.  It truly looks like a little bit of the Garden of Eden.  So, we set up our tripod, got the guys in costume and had them exchange techniques,  This is where the third thing we had to do to make the film look genuine comes into play…camera moves.  If you ever happen to see an old Hong-Kong style kung-fu film, you’ll notice that the camera does these crazy movements that you never see in Hollywood movies.  For instance, the most telling move is the “Snap Zoom.”  This is where the hero may be fighting someone and you see both parties separate after a furious exchange, when all of a sudden (and I do mean sudden) the camera will zoom in to the hero’s face as his lips move and we hear him say something inane like, “Hey, that hurt me you bastard, now I’ll get you.”  (Unfortunately, the big misconception in America is that the inane dialogue we hear in English is a literal translation of what they are saying.  Not true.  It’s just what the cheap companies who dub those movies decided fit into the space.  Most times they create their own dialogue with no regard for the actual words being said.  Not that they’re speaking any great Shakespearean pentameter, it’s probably crap, even in Chinese, but it’s not as ridiculous as dubbing makes it sound.)  Anyway, that snap zoom in or other sorts of floating camera moves are tell-tale signs you are in “Chopsocky” country.  So, it was incumbent on Matt to imitate the techniques of those filmmakers.  We had to time the moves just right to create that dynamic energy and still feature all the kung-fu action.

 

So, after shooting in the woods, we drove out to Malibu beach and stood by the giant rock formations of Point Dume.  With waves crashing in the background, we changed Alex’s costume and had him perform individual training moves to match Johnny’s moves.  We even rented a couple of old fashioned redwood buckets with rope handles to perform a traditional kung-fu movie training sequence in which the disciple must execute techniques while holding filled buckets at arms length. 

 

Then for the final moment, we drove up into the mountains of Malibu Canyon in order to shoot the vast expanse of the Chinese landscape.  WE changed costumes for the guys one more time and had them perform the last moments of the final fight.

 

When all was said and done, Matt and I returned to the edit system, digitized the footage and conformed it to fit on the television screen within our movie.  Upon playback, it looks like Johnny is watching a real 1970’s kung-fu movie and copying the moves exactly.  The illusion is perfect.  Alex and Roel did such a fantastic job.  Their techniques were flawless, they gave a hundred percent, and they knew exactly what we trying to create and they added their own flash and ideas to the mix.  The locations, costumes and camera moves all paid off.  The hiking to various locations was well worth it.

 

Anyway, there’s a lot more to say about a lot of things, but there’s so much work to do, I have to get back to it.

 

Rock on!

 

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

 

So, things are moving along swimmingly.  I’m burning DVD’s, getting final bids, and getting to “locked picture.”  “Locked picture” means no more edits, the final movie is assembled and composers and other post-production artists can start to work on the film with the confidence that it’s not going to change anymore.  I just need to have a few more people look at it and give me their critiques.  People who are unfamiliar with the story or the production process are able to look at the film in a more objective manner and tell me what works and what doesn’t.  I’ve now seen the movie about 20 or 30 times, so I’m a little too close to see it objectively.  Plus, I wrote it, so I know what’s supposed to be happening.

 

The major hurdle I have to overcome at this point is raising a little more money for production.  Due to some unforseen circumstances (like a $16,000 repair bill for a production truck and higher post-production costs) I have to raise about $75,000 more to complete all the computer effects, sound mix, high-resolution assembly, and purchase of Errors and Omissions insurance.  While that is a lot of money to me, it is not a lot in the film production world and only puts us slightly above what I thought we would ultimately spend.

 

The mission now is to assemble current business plans and seek out investors. 

 

A filmmaker must wear many hats.

My e-mail has been down since September 30.  My hosting service switched my mail platform and, at this point, they believe they have re-routed the mails to a non-existent box somewhere.  I don’t like things like that. 

 

Besides that, on the very exciting side, the Visual Effects Designer for “Adventures of Johnny Tao” is Richard Kidd.  I am very excited at what Richard will bring to the table and I’ve enjoyed our meetings up to this point.  Richard is presently in Guatemala working on “The Chronicles of Narnia” and has done some pretty amazing visual effects design in “The Matrix,” “Castaway,”  “Titanic,” and “Bulletproof Monk,” a kung-fu movie staring Chow Yun Fat of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” fame (“A Better Tomorrow” for those in the know).  Visual Effects are a huge part of this movie, while not constant through out, their brief appearances and implementations are vital threads to the overall tapestry.  As is the music.  As is the sound design.

 

Right now I’m spending a lot of time generating DVD’s for the various parties involved: composer Gerard Marino, songwriter Charlie Chesterman, CGI sections for Richard Kidd, etc.  As each of these post-production department heads take their first look at the completed film, they may have suggestions that help mold the film in the best possible shape to meld with their contributions.  I’m also trying to screen the film for a few people I know to offer critique.  Some friends, business associates, etc.  So, right now, changing the edits and screening updated DVD’s is good for me because it allows me to watch the film on various television or projections screens with some of these people, and so I’m able to watch it with a different perspective, and see it from a different angle than staring at the edit computer.  It’s so easy to get locked into that computer screen and get lost in the trees, forgetting about the forest.  But, here’s the crappy kicker, in order to view this thing on a televison, or give one of the department heads a copy,  it can take up to six hours of work and waiting to generate an updated copy.  Here’s why…

 

Most people have televisions that show picture in traditional television aspect ratio (Width:Height) of 4:3.  Our movie is shot and meant to be seen in a the more cinematic aspect ratio of 16:9, or widescreen.   If you play a 16:9 show on a 4:3 monitor, it squishes the picture all up and you look like your watching a movie in a funhouse mirror (it’s just off enough that you might watch it, but the stretched feeling can be disconcerting after a while because nothing is quite right.)   In order for me to give useful copies or even screen the film at my place, I have to convert the film from true 16:9 to miniature version of itself that will fit on a 4:3 screen, thus leaving black space at the top and bottom of the picture.  In order to do this…  

 

The film is broken into four sections because the movie as one continuous computer file is too big for just one.  Each of the four sections needs to be rendered, that takes about 35-40 minutes.  Then each section needs to be exported as a Quicktime movie, another 35 minutes, then the Quicktime file is burned to DVD, 25 minutes.  With the render, export, and burning time, it can take up to 6 hours to generate one copy.  So, with all the other things going on, it’s really into the later hours or very early hours of the morning that I can get that done. 

 

Speaking of which, I’ve kind of made this shift in time.  Where earlier in the edit process, I worked into the wee hours of the morning, I’ve now gotten into a cylce of rising very early in the morning and working as the sun comes up and into the late afternoon or early evening.  You start working at like 6:00 a.m. and it’s so peaceful and sort of invigorating in a new dawn, springtime kinda way, that before you know it, 11:00 or 12:00 o’clock comes rolls around and a lot of work can get done without a lot of phone calls or ice cream men distracting you.

 

 So anyway, I have to burn some of these DVD’s as I update the edit because in addition to find tuning the overall edit, I’m playing around with putting some deleted scenes back in and seeing if they work.  Today, Monday, David huey is coming over to screen it.

David Huey is an independent producer/director that I have known for some time.  He has his own distribution company called Cine Excel and I’ve attended the American Film Market as their guest.  One of the best opportunities that arose from that was last year when we attended the closing market luncheon for all the distribution companies.  As a filmmaker, I got to sit in the room as the heads of these distribution companies discussed the challenges and needs of the marketplace.  It’s kind of funny to see that the distribution executive in the suit with the cold shoulder on the fifth floor that you might have waited to see all day and been a little nervous about finally meeting with, is really just a whiny, obnoxious kid who, at the luncheon, takes the microphone during “open mic” time, and bitches and cries to all his peers about how he doesn’t like how some other company has done so and so, and he doesn’t think it’s fair that he doesn’t have first dibs on the blah, blah blah.  Everybody’s the same.

 

 

Okay, but now, it’s later than I thought and I’m just gong to stop writing now.

 

Saturday, October 15, 2005

 

So, I’m cruising through the Internet doing some research for my next script and I happen to come across people who write essays about when they knew for sure that they were vampires; when they came out…of the coffin, if you will.  Now, I’m not saying they’re not vampires, but man, that does not really seem like something that’s the norm in my world.

 

Anyway, tomorrow I’m meeting with Richard the visual Effects Designer.  He’s got a brief period in L.A. before he has to head back to Guatemala for “The Chronicles of Narnia” and we’ve got to discuss design issues and workflow.  I’m really looking forward to seeing how this working relationship develops.  I just hope he’s not a vampire.

 

My trip to Texas to raise more money was very successful.  The original investors told me they were very impressed with what they saw at the presentation and we had some new people there who are very excited and getting involved.  The truth is, most independent films lose all their money, but the package we’ve assembled, I think, transcends its budget, and has something unique to offer.  We get positive response from every post-production vendor we deal with and now, as we start sharing it with distribution companies, sales reps, etc.  it doesn’t seem that we’re having any shortage of interest in carrying the film.  So, not only are these guys and girls getting involved in a project with certain competitive advantages, but they’re having a hell of a good time becoming co-executive producers on a Hollywood movie.  The whole idea of this film was to create a viable business opportunity with a product manufactured at a low cost-point generated with a love and passion for the craft of filmmaking.  I think the quality of our crew and the look of the film are a testament to that mission.

 

There’s a lot of little details going on right now with re-edits, CGI design, musical score design and final negotiations for each vendor, but the big picture still remains pretty much the same, that is, we’re in the post-production phase and we’ll probably be there until February.  The holiday season certainly slows things down in Hollywood, so we’re trying to push ahead and get as much done as possible before people start taking off to their lodges in Aspen.

 

In the meantime, I’m writing, researching and tossing around ideas as well as meeting with other writers to look at their scripts, trying to generate more publicity for the film, and recently our Executive Producer, Fred M. Davis of Hollywood funding orchestrated a meeting with a company that cross-markets intellectual properties via films, television, animation, trading cards and video games; seems like a perfect match for “Johnny Tao.” They loved what they saw of the film.  Now, it may sound like an exaggeration, but I played the first twenty minutes of the film for this company and the two execs in the office laughed their asses off, I mean at everything.  They were the best audience yet.  They were very excited about the film, were very grateful to us for having shown it to them and they wanted to see if they could get their investors involved.  It was a lot of fun, but I always remember what one of my friend said, “The most dangerous thing in Hollywood is a good meeting.”  Meaning, it’s great to hear and talk about how great everything is, how good your film is and how much people want to get involved, but you can’t bank on anything until contracts are drawn and then, more importantly, MONEY IS IN THE BANK. 

 

I’m sure there’s more going on, but that’s all for now.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

I hate to admit it, but I’ve allowed myself to go through some Kafka-esque metamorphosis during this post-production time.  I’m turning into a slug.

 

 I keep telling myself I’m gong to hit the gym regularly, but with so much to do, all the time, I wake up, wander out to my computer, sit down in a towel or my underwear and just start making all the edit changes, exporting digital files, manipulating the soundtrack, telephone calls, bookkeeping, etc and, next thing you know, it’s four or five in the afternoon.  Well, by then, some kind of baseball playoff game is on, or the L.A. Kings (thank goodness hockey’s back) are playing on t.v.  and I just want to rest my brain, so I kick back for a couple of hours, have some food, and then, after getting antsy sitting in front of the t.v. for too long, I wander back over to the computer and work until the early hours of the morning.

 

Now the good thing about sitting in front of the computer is, when I set up the edit suite, one of my friends and Fitness Training clients, the inimitable Brian Howard, was kind enough to give me the deal of the century on an Aeron office chair.  It’s my understanding that these chairs run around $700.  Now, I don’t know how many people out there know specifically about these chairs, but once I got one, I realized why it’s often referred to as “more than a chair, it’s a sitting machine.”  First of all, it comes with an 8 page instruction manual…for a chair!  Once I got one and experienced the heavenly comfort of sublime support of body and limb, I then began to notice everyone else that had one and all of a sudden it was like I was part of an underground society of sorts.  I walk into an office and see an editor or computer tech sitting in one of these Aeron’s and I’m like, “Hey, isn’t that chair great,” and for the next 3 or 4 minutes, we’ll talk about how awesome they are.  Pretty much all the major edit and post-houses equip there offices with these chairs because people can sit in them for hours at a time and not suffer back problems or anything else.  There’s nine different levers and adjustments you can make to custom fit it to your body.  The ultimate “secret society” reference was once, as I watched an episode of “The Simpsons,” Homer had to go before God to answer for his actions.  When he got there, the artists had drawn God sitting in an Aeron chair.  Never mentioned it, just drew it in with all the details, knobs and ratchets.  Of course, if God needs a chair, shouldn’t it be an Aeron?  Find one to sit in and I’m sure you’ll agree.

 

Anyway, the more I sit in that comfortable chair, the bigger my middle gets.  Take out food is so much easier to prepare when you’re working away.  Not only that, I think my eyes are getting bigger from staring at computer screens in the dark and my skin is white from all the time indoors.  I think by the end of the year I may complete my transformation, I’m not sure to what, but perhaps I can dedicate my body to science and offer hope to mankind in the form of understanding.

 

Now I have to go call for a pizza.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Fundraising was successful! I hesitate to say that until all the checks come in the mail, but my trip to Texas to present to investors and some dealings here have totaled up to all the committed funds we need to finish the movie.  It’s very exciting. 

 

In the meantime, I’ve been sort of continually test screening the cut with various individuals and compiling the notes and opinions they offer.  Everybody, no matter whether they are in the film industry or not, has something constructive to say.  Anybody can comment on whether they like a film or not.  Everybody’s opinion is valid.  So, I like watching and seeing people from different cultural or age demographics watch the film; they laugh or notice different things.

 

I have to finally “lock picture” by the end of next week so everybody can get their workflow going.  The sound design house needs about two months to:

 

1)      Spot the film – this means going through the film with me, scene by scene and discussing all the spots where sound FX need to be added, whether dog barks or police sirens, or a horde of donut hungry demons tearing apart a donut shop.  It’s really neat, I have a scene where a couple of characters walk out of frame.  They leave, but we don’t know where they went.  Well, once we add the background noise of a motorcycle driving away, not only do we know they’ve left the area, but everybody assumes there was a motorcycle in the scene (it actually helps the film achieve greater production value).  The composer, Gerard, and I spotted the film the other  day and it took us about 3-4 hours to get through the movie.  It’s going to be a lot longer for sound FX.

2)      ADR  (Automatic Dialogue Replacement) – this is where all the actors have to come in at different times and re-record lines of dialogue or add completely new lines that we have them say when not on camera.  For instance, I realized that as the character of Mika explains what’s happening with demons in the town, as a writer, I left out an important piece of information that I thought the action conveyed by itself.  Well, so many questions were raised by various viewers of the film, that I simply had Chris Yen come over to the office, record a line of dialogue on my digital recorder and then inserted it into the scene while I show a shot of Jenny and Kate listening to her.  All of a sudden, with one simple line, all the confusion is cleared up.  I knew that ADR would help us fix any sound problems we had, but after this experience, it taught me as a filmmaker, that through a well thought out combination of cuts and strategically placed dialogue, you could really mold and shape the story beyond what I originally perceived. 

3)      Foley and Sound FX – this is where the sound guys stand in a room with a microphone and run across cement or carpet, drop tools on the ground, open a soda can, or do anything else that the characters do on screen.  A deep detailed sound-texture creates  an almost hyper-real version of the sounds of the characters’ lives and creates the details that make the moment seem more visceral for the viewer.

 

 

Then when they finish all that, they have to bring the songs in and mix it all together.  That’s a hell of a lot of work.  When I produced my short film, “Better Never Than Late,” I did the sound editing on that.  Each fight scene, even more so in “Johnny Tao,” is a collection of, literally, thousands of sounds.  Think about it, when somebody punches in a movie, you don’t just hear the impact as one sound, first, you hear the effort of the person punching, like a grunt or breath, then you might hear the sound of the arm traveling through the air (a subtle “whoosh”), then you hear the impact on the other person’s body, then you hear the victim’s grunt from being hit.  That’s four sounds for every punch.  And that’s not including the mixing of sounds you can do to create just the right sound.  Let’s say you wanted (and this is a pretty violent example, but it makes the point) someone to get hit in the mouth with a monkeywrench.  Well, first you get the initial effort of the attacker and the whoosh of the wrench in the air, but then when it comes to impact, there’s a whole lot of things happening.  First, you might want to record someone taking a wrench and hitting a raw turkey.  This gives an effective sound of the smack of hitting skin and the thud of impact.  It may sound good, but it may not have enough high end pop to sound like someone’s getting hit in the face (remember, body blows are lower in frequency than the face hits), so you might layer in the sound of a hand-clap to get that “smack” that you need.   But, then, that’s not really enough.  At the exact same moment, you may want to layer in the slight sound of dropping a porcelain dish on the floor.  This would give the effect of breaking teeth. Etc, etc.  As you can see, it’s really an inventive and creative way to create sounds.  Because we must remember, you have to create these kind of sound effects, there is no library of sounds out there on CD for ‘Hitting Someone with a Monkeywrench”  or “Kicking someone in the Liver.”  One of the coolest stories I ever saw around this stuff, was the sound recordist for the original “Star Wars” film.  There was no real recordings of what a laser gun was supposed to sound like.  Mostly, all that had come before was the old movies with the modulating ‘wooo-wooooo-woooo-wooooo”  that sounded almost like a European police siren.  Well, this guy took his microphone, placed it up against a steel cable that supported a telephone pole, took a tiny little hammer and tapped the cable, and as he did so, he quickly ran a stick along the cable away from the microphone, creating a lower frequency swoop, much the same as a guitar player sliding his fingers down the strings of his instrument.  It’s impossible to describe the sound in literal terms, but suffice to say, he created one of the most duplicated and recognized sounds in the industry that way.  Right outside his house.

 

That’s all.

 

Rock on!

Monday, November 7, 2005

Here’s what’s going on, and as I list them, I may go off on some detailed tangent so I may not get to everything that’s happening.  And if you think about it in life overall, you can never write about everything that’s happening.

 

The American Film Market is taking place this weekend here in Los Angeles (down by the beach actually, near the Santa Monica Pier.  Which is a totally cool place to hang out, but sucks to drive to.)  I am attending under the banner of Cine Excel Entertainment, a production and distribution company  owned and operated by my friend and colleague, David Huey.  Basically, I walk from room to room in this hotel that’s rented out for the event and I meet and greet with the owners and executives of some of the 350 distribution companies that are using the rooms to sell their films to the thousands of buyers from all over the globe.  This place is a total circus.  Actually, it’s more like a wild animal safari.  Not only are there legitimate individuals and business entities engaged in commerce, there is also pretty much every entertainment industry stereotype available for viewing as they hang out in the lobby and sweet talk each other into “a deal that just can’t lose.”

 

I visit with executives that I have established relationships with over the last few years of attendance and I meet new ones when the opportunity arises.  I have a pass listing myself as a Producer/Director and I have put together press kits for “Johnny Tao” to leave behind.  Each kit is a folder containing: a description of the movie and who is in it, a synopsis of the story, copies of all the magazine articles that have been published so far, notices to visit the website, and a DVD of a couple of select scenes from the film, as well as a sweet little business card.  In order to really get people interested, I bring a small, portable DVD player with me, whip it out of my briefcase and throw a fight scene in front of their eyes before they know what’s happening.  The response has been great.  The continual positive feedback on the mis-en-scene  has been a real testament to everybody’s work on the film.  Art is in the details.

 

Fred Davis, one of our Executive Producers has also been there working away and making contacts.  I was amazed at how many times Fred and I ran into each other.  He's a fun guy to hang around.  Also, our Executive Producer Paul Silverstein was there with Michael Baumgartner, the director of Paul and Fred's other movie, "Monster Mountain."
 

 

Different companies are expressing interest in the film, which is a good sign.  We’ll be looking to lock one of these companies into a deal come February.  That way we can get the film selling in time for the Cannes Film Market in France in May.  It’s the exact same kind of market as is happening here, but it takes place in France in late Spring.

 

As for the film itself, I’m really excited because our Visual Effects Designer, Richard Kidd, is back in town from Guatemala and excited about getting to work.  He and his boy Norris have been designing different elements (the monster, Eddie’s chi sucking hand, etc) but Tuesday, he and I are going to watch the film, spot it for effects work, make adjustments as necessary, and then that will be it.  Picture will be locked over the next few days.  

 

The sound designer, Jeremy at SoundTrax  is ready to go.  I’m very excited to see the textures he’ll bring to the film.  He’s ready to have some fun and he’s excited about designing the sounds of this fantasy world we’ve created.  Quietly, I fear that he may not comprehend the amount of fight effects he’s going to have to create, but… eventually he’ll see.   And our composer, Gerard Marino, who is awesome, is now working with Charlie Chesterman out in Massachusetts who is providing the original rock-n-roll music.  This is going to be totally bitchin’. 

 

I’m working with Neal Tabachnick on a new script for “Johnny Tao II” as well as a couple of other ideas.  I’m also reading scripts from other writers.

 

This past week offered a cool experience.  I think I may have mentioned this before, but Marcus, Matt, Dragon and I entered a short-film contest.  They provided us with one 50 foot reel of 8mm film.  That lasts about two minutes and thirty seconds (2:30).  We had to  shoot a film IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER, with ONLY ONE TAKE PER SHOT, and then when we were done, we send the UNDEVELOPED film back to the contest along with a CD of music or sound that we think will fit with the film.  They develop the film and put it on a tape with the music we sent.  The first time anybody in the contest (28 films) sees their movie is the night of the festival when they project it on the big screen.  Get it?  We don’t edit it or even see it after we shot it.  We just have to hope that everything is in the shot, and you can tell what’s happening.  Before each film, the filmmakers got a chance to say something before the viewing.  Most of them said “I hope it’s in focus.”

 

Our film was about an alien invasion.  It came out pretty cool.  I’m anxious to see it again. 

 

Right now, I’ve got some kind of cold in my head and the medication is wearing off.  I can’t see the purple frogs anymore, so I’m going to take some more cold medicine.

Monday, November 14, 2005

I’m sitting here waiting for the nearby computer to boot up so I can export some video and audio files.  In just this last couple of minutes, I finally locked the picture.  Every shot is selected, all the decisions are made, it’s the culmination of a lot of people’s work.  The accompanying feeling, like so many others during this process is deeply meaningful.  The project, so long in the making, is now, in some ways, set in stone.  There’s no more going back to change things, no more hoping for ‘this’ or wondering if we can change “that.”  It’s like saying goodbye and sending an old friend on their way.  Like sending a child off. 

 

 

“Out of the Nest”

(or “Boy, Get the Hell Out of My House”)

by

Kenn Scott.

 

“Time for you to go now Johnny and stay with Richard and the CGI family for a while.  I think they’ll take real good care of you.  You’ll also be spending some time with uncle Gerard the composer.  He’s real sweet, you’ll like him a lot.  And you’ll spend a lot of time with Jermey and his buddies at Soundtrax.  I’ll probably see you over there quite a bit when they mix your sound, but when I’m not around, he’ll be whipping you into shape.  It’ll be real good for you and you’ll be glad you went.

 

I’m going to miss our time together.  Day after day.   Early mornings, hot afternoons.  That summer in the valley.  Those late nights over the computer when everything just seemed to work.  We’d laugh.  Those early mornings where we soldiered through the process and came out better on the other side.  Even when things were tough, we knew we’d be okay.  Those are great times.

 

What now?  No more getting up at four a.m. to feed that crying idea.  No more worrying about whether you’ll be strong enough to make it in the world.  No more wondering…

 

But, I have faith in you.  It’s time for both of us to do other things.  You have a life to lead, people to meet, places to go.  I have to concentrate on other things.  I have other films to direct, meetings to take, scripts to write, a gym to rediscover.  A vacation to take, eventually.

 

Oh, don’t you worry, I’ll be watching you every step of the way through post-production process.  I’ll hold your hand when you need it, or drive you across town at a moment’s notice, and I’ll still be managing all your affairs.  But, this time, this time together is over.  I am glad we had it.”

 

And I’m so glad it’s over.

 

I can’t F#@*NG tell you.  What a load off!

 

I love this whole project, but no matter what you’re doing, such deep and angst ridden immersion in anything for a sustained period of time will drive you nuts. 

 

The work is far from over, what with post-production and then finding a distribution deal, but I am so excited to deliver this stuff to the next guys in the post-production line.  I have to export Quicktime files of the movie for video and then export what are called OMF files (I don’t know why, yet) of the audio tracks.  Then, I drive the portable hard drive over to the sound house in Burbank, hook up with the composer somewhere in the valley, and deliver a hard drive to the CGI guys in Marina Del Rey along with a list of the 225 effects shots and a description for each one. 

 

Then these guys go to work.

 

Just watching a test of the CGI effects the other day at Richard Kidd’s office was a real thrill.  It’s very exciting to hand off the materials to someone and then have them add a whole other element of their own doing, whether music or CGI effects.  Sound, Music, and Effects are all separate characters in the movie.  Anybody who has seen a rough cut up to this point is actually being denied the performances of these missing contributors and as viewers, did not actually experience the complete storytelling process.  When this film is done, with the full soundtrack and Charlie Chesterman’s original music is added to Gerard’s score, and the CGI and soundmix are complete, it is going to be awesome.  I can’t wait.

 

Richard and Norris at Catalyst Media (CGI) did one test of the demon rushing out of its underground prison and one of Evil Eddie sucking the chi right out of one of his victims.  Just as a test, they made Eddie’s hand translucent so you could see the skeletal structure within.  Man, was that badass!

 

Sunday, November 27, 2005

 

I’m getting very excited about seeing the final product of “Johnny Tao.”   After spending time with each one of the post-production department heads over the last two weeks, I can’t wait to see what the film looks and sounds like when they are done.  I am however having second thoughts about whether to run the opening credits over the film itself or just over black before anything happens.  I like the excitement of running the credits over the images, but the truth is, if I run the credits over black before the film starts, we can add one and a half to two minutes of running time to the project.  The international market really wants your film to be as close to ninety minutes as possible and we’re just a few minutes under that.  No big deal really, but the closer we can get to what they are used to the stronger our sales potential.  The reason they want films to be at least ninety minutes is because that’s what they turn into two-hour television movies, ninety minutes of entertainment, thirty minutes of commercials.  Any less than ninety minutes and all of a sudden their viewers are getting pissed off because there’s too many freakin’ commercials.  Regardless, there are many successful films that are well under ninety minutes.  

 

On that same note, I hate commercials in movie theaters!  And you should, too.  They’re taking advantage of a captive audience.  The reason I pay money to watch entertainment, whether DVD’s movies or pay television like HBO, is so I don’t have to count on never-rich-enough corporations to pay for it (i.e. commercial television) and subject me to all the crap that they have cleverly disguised as entertainment.  And let me tell you, most of the time, it’s not so clever.  It’s actually pretty insulting.  If your local theater shows commercials, complain to the manager and try to find a theater that doesn’t and then tell that manager why you are patronizing their theater.  It may not change anything, but you should sure as hell voice your opinion, you’d be amazed at the things people have changed in the world by doing just that.

 

Anyway, back to the film, I’m really excited about collaborating with Charlie Chesterman and his group Chaz and the Motorbikes for the soundtrack.  In addition to Gerard Marino’s score Charlie is providing ten to twenty original rock-n-roll/rock-a-billy songs to the film.  Though he lives in Boston and we’ve never actually met face to face, I did drink quite a few beers and see him and his previous group “Scruffy the Cat” play when I was in college in North Carolina.  I actually saw them play a few times as they toured the states.  My brother Steve and my college buddies really loved that group as well.  But, anyway, Charlie is very excited about the project and is a real pleasure to deal with over the phone.  Angel the “Johnny Tao” webmaster put a section on the website a while ago to feature excerpts of the soundtrack for the film, but after initial development of the idea, we were so overwhelmed with other aspects of production that we never really took it to the next level.   He created this killer jukebox with buttons to download the tunes from the movie, and after throwing a few experimental songs up there, we kind of left it behind.  But now, after solidifying some of the tunes we’ll be using, I hope to bring that portion of the site up to date over the next few days. 

 

Each time people have watched the rough-cut of the film, there is invariably comments on how much they like the music.  Not just Charlie’s, but even Gerard’s temporary score pieces we put in.  I grabbed orchestral music that Gerard composed for some video games and dropped them under some of our key fight scenes just to have something to listen to, and man, let me tell you, they almost work perfectly for our film.  It also really allowed me to get a taste of how truly epic our “little” movie can be.  

 

The difference between “score” and “songs” in a movie soundtrack is that “score” is the orchestral music that is written specifically to sonically illustrate the moments in the plot of a film and “songs” are just that, songs played by a band or individual, usually including lyrics.  Songs may simply be part of the soundtrack for the entertainment of the viewer and to propel the energy or story of the film, but they can also show up in the actual environment of the movie world, that is, they may be what’s considered “source” music or tunes that are playing from a radio or coming from a singer on a stage in the scene.  The actual word for music created within the fictional world of the film is “Diegetic Music”  “Score” music, on the other hand is non-diegetic and isn’t actually ever heard by the characters in the film.

 

For “score”, whether it’s the shrieking strings that accompany a cat jumping out of a closet or the action packed orchestral movement that buttresses the rebel attack on a villainous space station, score is music that tells a viewer how they are supposed to feel at that moment; excited, scared, heroic, sad, etc.  What’s really cool about score music is that it can add a whole level of emotion or understanding that might not be obvious in the visuals of the film.  For example, let’s say in our movie, a guy walks into a coffee shop and orders from the waitress.  All he says is, “Can I have a cup of coffee and a waffle” and she says, ‘Sure, coming right up.”  Well, when he wants to order and the girl turns around to face him, if the score is playing a subtle melodic love theme, we all know what these two are feeling as they look at each other.  On the other hand, if, when she turns around, the score is some sort of “Psycho” violin strains, well, he may not know it, but we all know he’s in for big trouble.  So, as you may able to see, music is a huge part of what makes a movie work.  Fortunately, because of Gerard and Charlie and his guys, our music is going to KICK ASS!!

 

Oh, yeah, I get to throw a couple of songs in the soundtrack as well.  With the help of Matt Sohn, I wrote the song “Wanderin’ Love” that Johnny’s father sings to become a star in the story and my brother and I recorded a couple of songs that will find their way in as well.  So here’s a shout out to my brother Doc Rock and his totally bitchin’ recording studio in Dallas, Texas, “The Jam-nasium.”  Let’s keep rockin’ bro!”  

 

Happy Holidays to everybody!

 

Thursday December 8, 2005

 

Based on the approaching tax season, Don the producer and I got together the other day to work out the spreadsheet for the production company’s expenses.  Basically, we have to account for every dollar spent on the film so we can write off the appropriate items and file with the government.  This entailed us going through every check, bank transfer, debit card expense and bank statement and logging everything into an Excel spreadsheet.  The idea of undertaking that task and the responsibility and accountability that goes along with it was weighing on me like a ten ton elephant.  Fortunately, by Don and I working together we got through it pretty easily.  The only hitch came at the end when we couldn’t account for almost a hundred thousand dollars we knew we spent.  Though we both tried to remain calm on the outside, each of us was sweating and feeling the growing frustration.  Where was the error?  What stack of checks did we not have?  What bank executive were we going to have to deal with to get statements sent to us?  WHERE THE HELL WAS A HUNDRED GRAND?  

 

It was then that I realized one of the Excel columns was just one space off.  Once we moved it to the right place, everything worked out.  As you can imagine, I was so pleasantly surprised and relieved I can’t even explain it.  We knew how much we spent (approximately), we put it in item by item, and the math worked out perfectly.  That’s awesome.

 

The very next day, Matt the D.P. came over and we had to go through the entire film and do an ADR spotting sheet.  ADR is Automatic Dialogue Replacement and it’s where actors stand in front of a microphone, watch the movie on a monitor, and replace any of their lines of dialogue that didn’t get recorded cleanly.  Also, we can add lines of dialogue that were never written or spoken in the first place.  For instance, I need a main character to explain why kung-fu demons like to eat donuts to somebody else but I never shot the actor saying the lines because I didn’t realize at the time we needed it.  So what I do is edit in a shot of the other person listening and while the audience is looking at that person’s face, I have the character’s voice say the line.  Next time you think about it and you’re watching television or film , see how many times you hear people talking but don’t actually see their face at the same moment.  It happens all the time and we never really notice.  Well, Matt and I logged about ninety different lines that need to be added or re-recorded.

 

I have a saying in the film business, “Good production work goes unnoticed.”  What that means is, if we have to re-record a line, or write a new one and record the actor, or if we have to visually color correct the sky in the background of a shot because it isn’t as blue as all the other shots around it, well, the audience should never notice that stuff.  They should never look at a shot and say, “Wow, those guys did a great job of making that sky blue.”  The moment you do that, you’ve broken your “willing suspension of disbelief” and you are now aware of the filmmaking process itself and not wrapped up in the story.  The sky should look natural, the lines sound smooth, and the continuity remain consistent from shot to shot.  That way everybody is caught up in the world of the story.  It might take three hours worth of work to balance out the color of the sky, but the audience should never be aware of the work it took to do it.  So, as you can see, the hard work of that Colorist who spent so much time getting the sky just right is never recognized because his work should go unnoticed. 

 

The colorist is really an artist whose exceptional talents are only recognized within the industry.  These are individuals who spend their entire working hours in a darkened room staring at high-resolution monitors and operating one million dollar machines with names like the DaVinci Color Correction System.  They go from shot to shot in a film and make sure all the colors are balanced and consistent.  It sounds simple, but there’s a real art to it.  They also add coloring effects to films to give them a specific feel.  For example, in a western, they might go through the whole film and give it a slight amber tint to make it feel like the hot, dusty old west.  Lately, there’s been a big move toward big budget films doing what’s called a “Bleach By-pass.”  In the days of film, developers could run the actual film through a bleach bath and it would give the film a washed out look.  Now, with computers, they don’t need to physically change the film, but they do the same thing through digital manipulation.  “Three Kings” is a film that’s a good example of that, it’s got sort of a washed out look with a lot of muted color.

 

It’s amazing at how many shots in most movies today are somehow enhanced or cleaned up through computer manipulation.  Whole buildings are removed from shots.  For instance, after 9/11/2001, a lot of films that had already been shot, went back and digitally removed the World Trade Center towers from their shots.  Nobody was trying to deny their original existence, but during the first Spiderman, producers knew that if they didn’t remove the towers, the moment they showed up on screen, they would have lost the focus of their entire audience because everyone would have been thinking about them and focused on the events surrounding their fall.  By removing them, most people, except those familiar with the traditional New York skyline, would never give it a second thought and the movie would keep people’s focus.

 

So, in terms of not noticing good production work, next time you are made aware of the filmmaking process during a movie, or if something jumps out at you and draws attention away from the story and to a technical process, that’s not really such a good thing.  I personally believe that the proliferation of music videos and the style of filmmaking that it promotes is not such a good thing.  Directors can get caught up in stylish editing techniques or really complex special effects shots and the story itself becomes secondary.  It’s not hard to tell when a movie is made by a director who cut his teeth on music videos or 30 second commercials; there’s a lot of slow-motion shots focusing on insignificant moments and complex camera moves or dissolves that are so much eye candy.  These guys/girls have made livings trying to pack half a minute to three minutes with the most dramatic images they can think of.  So whey they shoot a ninety minute movie, they approach every moment with the same visual intensity.  I mean, when a character lights a cigarette and the whole thing is in slow motion, it becomes full of bogus self-importance.  OOOOh, how dramatic and powerful this guy must be because we’re showing him getting out of a car in slo-mo.  Well, when the little things like cigarette butts falling to the ground are emphasized with slo-mo, the actual points that are really important become lost.  Anyway, I don’t have a beef with those people, may the world bless them and their work, but I think visual trickery is a cheap way to cover up an inability to tell a story.  Oh, I’m sorry did I say Michael Bay out loud?

 

Tuesday December 20, 2005

 

Just finished writing all the narration that has to go throughout the film.  Our hero, Johnny, tells some of the story in voice over as it transpires and he gives the film narrative “book ends.”

 

I also had to write all the dialogue that appears incidentally in the film.  That means, all the D.J. voices coming from radios, all the background sounds of televisions, and all the dialogue that comes from a “chopsocky” kung-fu movie that Johnny is watching.  All this stuff is very distinct and an important part of the narrative and needs to be written just like a main character’s dialogue and then recorded by specific actors who can produce the needed voices or vocal characters.  I was thinking about being the D.J myself, kind of like Wolfman Jack in “American Graffiti,”  but my good friend and D.P. Matt told me I could probably find somebody a lot better to do it.  We’ll see.

 

Most of the other background voices, like customers in the donut shop, or people at the gas station will be done in one day with a group of voice over artists talking into a microphone and producing what’s called “Walla.”  That means the non-descript conversations and background noise or “Walla-walla-walla” you hear with extras or “background performers” in the…well…background. 

 

One of the director’s tricks of the trade is when you are on set, if you want your background performers to look like they are actually carrying on conversations, tell them to say the words ‘peas and carrots” over and over without making any sound.  This makes people look like they are actually talking.  As opposed to extras who simply open and close their mouths like a ventriloquist dummy.  Then you look like your world is populated by offspring of Howdy Doody.

 

One of the biggest nightmares sound editors or filmmakers in general can run into is when you are sitting in the edit and you realize that one of your extras in a party or crowd scene, or wherever, is standing right on camera and just jawing away, right over the lead actor’s shoulder.  They may be not be making any noise, so you have no idea what they are saying, but you have to try and figure it out and then use an actor or actress to dub in their voice, even at a low level, so it seems real.  Watch a lot of films or television, and you’ll hear sound coming out of peoples’ mouths, but often, it’s just not perfectly synced because it’s not actually their voice, they were just some extra who tool an opportunity to get some real ‘face time’ on camera.

 

Eventually, the vocal performers can then come in and add dialogue or jokes into the tapestry of sound you are weaving.  Ultimately, it will be edited down to such low or incoherent volumes that you don’t really know what they are saying anyway but you will be aware that there are conversations going on and it gives the story world a sense of depth and reality.

 

Sound editing is really amazing and goes above and beyond what most people would think.  Again, “good production work goes unnoticed.” 

 

I was working with Tony, one of our assistant sound editors at Soundtrax in Burbank and we actually cobbled together a sentence for one of our characters that was made up of three different sentences from various parts of the film.  After he smoothed it out and stretched words ever so slightly here and there, it sounds like one uninterrupted sentence.  Amazing.

 

Films = 50% visual + 50% sound

 

Tomorrow I get to go to the composer, Gerard’s studio and check out some of the music he’s creating.

 

If everything goes as planned, and it pretty much has, the film should be completed by the first week of March. 

 

I am just as excited as I was at the start, maybe even more so.

 

Sunday January 8, 2006

 

Well, it certainly has been a while since I’ve sat down to write this journal.  I’ve been busy cleaning out the old and bringing in the new for the new year.  Cleaning out filing cabinets, computer files, closets, old clothes, my mind, and the Johnny Tao storage facility.

 

Matt, Don, Dragon, and I all went down to the U-Store it place and cleaned out all the stuff we were holding onto.  In case we had to re-shoot some insert shots for the film, we had to save a lot of wardrobe and set dressing pieces.  Finally, after locking picture, we knew we didn’t need them anymore and our company could save two hundred bucks a month by getting rid of the storage space.  Although it was hard work, it was fun to see all the props and costumes as we pulled them out of the piles.

 

Right now I’m scheduling all the actors to come in and do their ADR next week.  They will come in one at a time and re-record all the lines that didn’t come out audibly or clearly in the original filming of the scene.

 

I’m also really excited because tomorrow I get to go see the first real display of the CGI (computer generated imagery) shots that Richard Kidd has created for the film.  We’re going to take a look at about fifteen or twenty different shots of lightning striking, a shooting star crashing to earth, and spiritual energy being passed from one character to another.  I can’t wait.

 

I’ve also had to spend a lot of time organizing the financial aspects of production; logging expenditures, calculating percentages, and generally just making sure everything is in order for the tax man.

 

That’s it for now.  More to come soon…

Friday January 20, 2006

 

Alright, alright!  After the holidays, things are back up and running in Hollywood!

 

Tonight I’m actually going to a screening of “Undisputed 2” a ring picture that J.J. Perry, our assistant fight choreographer, directed 2nd Unit on.  That means he was responsible for staging and filming all the action sequences.  J.J. really knows his stuff so it should be fun.  Plus, the screening is on the Paramount Studios lot, and it’s always a neat feeling to be on a movie lot.

 

Speaking of being on movie lots, last week I got a call from our Action Producer Marcus Young.  He and his Co-Stunt Coordinator Mike Gunther produced and directed a “behind the scenes” show for M-TV about the stunts in the current film, “Underworld 2.”   It was a very impressive operation and hopefully the first in a series called “Inside the Action.”  I think it aired last night and it probably will again.  I got to participate because I was brought on as an Assistant Director, which basically means I tried to assist them in running the set and keeping the operation moving forward.

 

It was a lot of fun because:

 

1)                  I love being on a set.  Besides scuba diving in Hawaii or being significantly intimate, there is no place I’d rather be.

 

2)                  We got to close off part of a downtown Los Angeles city block with traffic cops and cones and everything. Right in the middle of the business day.

 

 

3)                  We had a 150 foot construction crane extended in front of a 14 story hotel.  Our lead stunt person, Karen, who doubles for Kate Beckinsale in the movie, dressed in a black leather vampire-killer outfit, stepped off the roof of the building and descended on a wire (very rapidly) all the way to the street, where she landed in a crouch, stood up and walked away.  It was awesome.  I had an unsure feeling in my loins as I went up on the roof and looked over the edge, flat on my belly, inching my eyeballs over the parapet.  But she walked right up to the edge, stood there for a minute and a half while we filmed her cape flapping in the breeze, and then stepped right off.  Next time you have the opportunity, look down from fourteen stories.

 

4)                  I got a chance to work with my friends.  I knew a handful of people on the set and it was great to see Mike and Marcus’ show in action.  

 

 

When it comes to production work, not only do I love being on the set, but really, any activity that has to do with the production of the film.  This post-production phase we are in now is a ball. 

 

Last week, I took a group of actors into the sound studio and we did all the ADR.  That’s recording all the additional dialogue for the film.

The leads in the film all jumped in and tore it up.  I can’t say enough about their performances from the very beginning of this project.  Each one recorded all the lines we needed and then sat through each of their fight scenes and grunted and groaned with every punch and kick.  It’s fun to watch them moving around as they watch the screen and act out the fights.   Even the sessions with J.J. playing “Lido,” and Ralf playing “Bucky.”  Ralf is so funny, he actually had our assistant sound editor Tony laughing so hard he was crying, continuously.   It was a lot of fun.  I do want to give major props to three other entities in particular: my “Wallah” group, Dennis Yen, and Chuck Madden.

 

First, the members of the ‘wallah” group are the unsung heroes of sound; Michael Goetz, Giovanna Maimone, Brooke Deeonitch, and Angel Frost (Angel, by the way, is our webmaster, and came all the way from Ensenada, Mexico by bus and train to take part in the ADR session, then had to go home the next day). 

 

These guys created all the voices, conversations, and sounds for all the background characters, fighters, demons, etc.  We took turns having different conversations to be mixed into the background of the donut shop, we had the girls try to do different “horror screams,” (what up, G!), and we recorded all sorts of character voices that will play out of the various radios and televisions scene in the movie.  We had to do a soap opera, a nature show, a kids cartoon voice, a “Jerry Springer” show, etc.

 

The most challenging part was creating the demon sounds.  The best way I can describe the sound I want the demons to make is to imagine a pack of rabid bobcats or Tasmanian devils (like the cartoon) going crazy.  Try making that sound.  Then imagine making that sound continuously for three to four minutes, four or five times.  Your throat goes out pretty quickly and believe it or not, you can even feel the challenge in your abs as well.  But, man, did these guys come through.  Michael had a deep guttural growl in his version and Brooke and Giovanna had incredible stamina for creating feline aggressiveness and Angel is actually able to manifest evil incarnate anyway, so he was never a question.

 

Now, Dennis Yen (no relation to Chris) contributed his acting chops and Chinese speaking skills in the original short film we produced to raise money for “Johnny Tao.”  Because we re-shot those scenes with new costumes and props for the current version, we had to re-write the lines for the Chinese speaking warriors at the beginning of the film, and re-record them.  So, again Dennis translated all the lines and performed as three different characters each one convincingly.  He was a good guy, an evil demon guy, and an old man.  And he did the fighting sounds for all of them.  He did a great job.

 

Last, but certainly not least is Chuck Madden, professional on air radio broadcaster.  He does sports radio here in L.A.  I met Chuck at a mutual friend’s poker game and Chuck walked away the big winner that night. 

 

Big winner. 

 

Well, I asked him if he would do me a solid and lay down Big Dick as a favor and he very graciously said yes.  He’s a good man, that Chuck.  Not everybody can give you Big Dick, but Chuck proved, over and over again, that he could.  Matt, the D.P. was right, Chuck’s Big Dick was much better than mine.  And he could do it a lot longer.

 

Big Dick Bradley was the actual on-air name of my very dear friend, Ron Isroelit when he was a radio personality in the 60’s and 70’s.  I thought it was a great name.  The opening words of this filmmaker’s journal dedicate the work to his memory.

 

Anyway, Chuck was great, he read one line,“It’s five a.m. you crazy cats and it’s…blah blah blah” and his voice was golden, but it took him like thirty seconds. 

 

So, I punch in on the headphones, “Hey Chuck, that was great, but now I need you to do the same thing in twelve seconds.  It’s the opening of the movie and it has to fit between this alarm clock and the opening of this song.”

 

“Twelve seconds?”

 

“Yeah, can you do it?” I asked.

 

“Got a stop watch?  Ready, on me, in three, two, one…It’s five thirty…”

 

“I clicked the watch stop.  “Eleven and a half.  Perfect.”

 

From that point forward, Chuck brought forth one of those great voices of “a.m. radio.”  His clarity and presence, deep and soothing timber, and enunciation allowed him to slide any piece of writing into whatever the allotted time space was and still have it be legible and filled with compelling excitement.  Bravo Chuck!

 

There’s other great stuff going on, too.  I just saw the opening of the film synced up with the orchestral score written and recorded by Gerard the composer.  He’s playing around with great choruses of Tibetan horns.  It’s really cool to see individual moments, or “story points” indicated by the music as we see them on screen.  The string-filled despair you feel at the killing moment of two blades coming together, or the orchestral swell that accompanies a resurgence in the hero’s energy level.  When that music punctuates the images, the whole experience becomes more visceral, a more total human experience, and in turn, much more satisfying.  

 

We also got our first recording of an original tune written for the film by Charlie Chesterman of Chas and the Motorbikes fame.  He tailored lyrics to accompany scenes of Johnny opening the little museum dedicated to his father, rock-a-billy singer, Jimmy Dow.   

 

The joy I get from dealing with such great artists, to see their work, arts within themselves, contributing to this project and to see it all come together, is a real blessing.  Again, my thanks to everybody whose thrown their hat in.

 

Sunday January 29, 2006

 

So, I’m not writing as many journal entries because I’m writing another script.  Writing a script can be an obsessive pursuit.  As with many things in my life, it is for me.  I’m not a very prolific writer, so when I sit in front of the computer to pound out some work, I tend to want to focus on moving the script forward.  With my humblest but most confident mind I believe that when “Adventures of Johnny Tao” comes out, we will have an opportunity to make another film.  That being said…

 

 

 One lesson I hear over and over again is the “What project do you want to do next?” paradigm.  When the executive from Paramount Pictures says, “What are you doing now?”  You should be able to pull a script out from under your arm and proclaim, “I want to make this film!  This is the film I want to make next and this is how I am going to make it.”  Whether you write it or not is beside the point.  You want to have a good idea, ready to go, keep the energy moving forward.  If you have to stop and say “Well, I have this idea…and I wrote it on an index card…it goes something like this…:, well, you may still get a development deal from someone, and that would be great, but in the time it takes to write a viable and GOOD script, the heat generated may wear off and people are on to the next thing.   Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. 

 

I’m very excited about the script, an action-adventure.  It does not have a title yet.

 

Speaking of titles, I have a question for you.  The final title of “Johnny Tao” needs to be determined.  The elements involved (in no particular order) are this:

 

1)                  Rock Around the Dragon

2)                  Adventures of Johnny Tao

3)                  The Dragon’s Flight

 

Various parings might be:

 

ADVENTURES OF JOHNNY TAO

:The Dragon’s Flight

 

ROCK AROUND THE DRAGON: The Adventures of Johnny Tao

or it could just be

 

Adventures of Johnny Tao Rock Around the Dragon

 

Or it could just be one of the phrases by itself, like Adventures of Johnny Tao. or Rock around the Dragon.

 

I would like to do a mini market-research study and see what anybody else thinks.  If you want, think about it and Click Here to tell me your thoughts.

 

The first question I would ask is:

 

1)If you knew nothing of this movie, which title would intrigue you to see it the most.

 

Then, whether you know something or not about the movie, try to imagine the television commercials for it, or the poster, think about the announcer’s voice when you imagine trailers that play in movie theaters.  Does one of these names appeal to you more than another?  I hope you’ll let me know.

 

Thanks.  I’ll leave it at that.  Now, I’m going to go write.

 

Sunday January 29, 2006

 

So far, I’ve seen about fifty percent of all the CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) shots.  There’s evil demon plasma that has to erupt out of the ground, there’s magical spirits that are passed between characters in a kiss, and there’s shooting stars crashing into the desert, amongst other things. 

 

The challenge with CGI, just like with every other aspect of filmmaking at this budgetary level, is to find a real Visual Effects Designer who can create effects with anthropomorphic  qualities and contribute to the movie rather than detract from it.  In other words, if you make a low-budget horror movie and your friend, who knows computers real good, knows a guy who lives in a garage and he designs a monster on his laptop and puts it in your movie, there’s a good chance that people are going to laugh at it and not be scared like you really want them to be, just like they laughed at the cockeye’d rubber-suited monsters of the low-budget drive-in movies back in the day. 

 

Now, I certainly realize, that there’s a good deal of goofy-ness inherent in our movie already, but it’s supposed to be goofy because of the circumstances and not because it’s cheaply made.   You don’t want your effects to stand out because they look cheap (which they often do on lower budgeted movies).  You want people in the audience to feel that any sort of “magical” effect that happens is just as organic to the place and time of your story as if it happened to them.  As much as they are willing to accept that ‘magical” things can happen at all. 

 

Fortunately, we found a guy who can do this in Richard Kidd.  With his team at Catalyst Media, Richard has thrown his hat in the ring and is managing a team of effects artists, with some as far away as Peru, and creating some really great stuff.

 

Just like every other part of this substantial creative and collaborative endeavor, as a director, I conceive what I think the story needs, generally speaking, and then I ask the department head to exercise his or her artistic craft within the parameters of those needs.  Whether it’s choreographed fights, selection of camera angles, or deciding what texture an intergalactic demon is supposed to have, I should have some idea of direction, and then we should be able to bounce back and forth until we get where we need to be.  Hence, “directing.”  To me, “directing” means, to offer direction to the efforts of others.

 

I call it the ‘evolutionary process.”  I’ve got an idea, you get an idea, that gives me a different idea, then you think of something based on that, and before you know it, we’ve had a stimulating creative discussion and reached a conclusion that nobody thought of before and everybody usually feels good about using.  It’s fun, creative, and a great way to spend your professional hours.

 

A director I know explained this method as the “King Arthur and Knights of the Round Table” method of directing.  He said, listen to what all your knights have to say and then ultimately as director, make a decision based on all the information gathered.  Then the knights should do everything in their power to make that decision come to fruition.

 

The hard part for me is that, sometimes, many times, as director, you do have to say “no” to people’s ideas.  The last thing creative people usually want to hear is, “no.”  They are sensitive souls who think they have something special to offer and saying no is hard.  But, as a director, you have to keep the overall vision of the movie in mind and serve those needs.  Often people may well be on board for the project, but they may not always see the larger idea being assembled.  Good communication skills are an important part of the job.

 

It’s interesting.  And VERY, VERY exciting.   Because I’m seeing all the elements coming together now; music, CGI, sound effects, etc, I’m now starting to see the movie I imagined taking shape.   And it seems to be a movie nobody else really knew we were making.  What I mean by that exaggeration is, even though elements are written in the script, many story points or environmental subtleties are not really noticed by objective readers, they can’t really put together the multi-layered elements in their mind when they are just trying to keep up with who’s who in the script.  I don’t do it so well with other people’s scripts until I have a chance to read them more than once.  And unless you’re involved in making a film, why would you read a script more than once?

 

People may have vague mental interpretations of things happening, like music playing over a radio, or trash cans crashing during a back-alley fight, but until they see and hear every element that makes the scene real and poignant, there is no way to fully comprehend what message the movie is delivering at any given moment.  It’s an amalgamation of elements between sight, sound, and events transpiring that give any single moment in a movie its emotional weight. 

 

I’m not sure if I’m making my point clearly, but I will give this personal example of revelation on my own movie.  

 

I went to Gerard the composer’s studio the other day and listened to the grand “Demon Theme” that plays when Eddie is possessed.  Right after that, the next scene is the old kung-fu teacher passing the “good” warrior spirit to Mika so she can pursue their nemesis.  Well, with the tension filled orchestral score that Gerard put under both scenes, it really draws your attention to the fact that both spirits in the movie, good and evil, have now been passed on to their respective participants.  It’s a very significant moment in the movie, and, to be honest, I didn’t even realize how significant the juxtaposition of these scenes was until Gerard’s score brought it to my attention.  It created depth and texture to the story that was not readily discernible without it.  The movie became even a little more than I thought it would be, if that makes sense.

 

So, as the writer/director, I was always in the subjective position of knowing what depth and texture was going to be created by other production elements, while others were not.

 

As Matt the D.P. pointed out, until we shot our own chopsocky kung-fu movie and overlayed it onto Johnny Tao’s television set when he’s working out at the beginning of our movie, nobody really understood why our main character was staring at a blank t.v. screen and then doing kung-fu.  I always said, “Oh, see, he’s watching a kung-fu movie and doing what the guys on the t.v. are doing, that’s how he learns.”  And then people would say, “Oh, okay.”  But, then when we finally shot the kung-fu movie and put it in there, then people said, “Oh, now I see.  Wow, that’s cool.” 

 

It was then I realized that no matter how much you explain things, nothing takes the place of the visceral knowledge gained through experience.  People only see what’s on the screen and only hear what’s on the soundtrack, and if it ISN’T there, well, they will have no reaction.  That is why you are NEVER supposed to show a rough-cut (unfinished version of your film) to distributors.  They say they understand because they are in the film business, but they are human just like you and me, and if the sound effect for lighting isn’t there, or your monster looks like an angry sweet potato because the CGI isn’t finished, you can kiss that distribution deal goodbye.  It’s like an artist showing an art collector a painting that he’s only sketched out with pencil.  They may understand what you are trying to accomplish, but they do not have the sublime connection that a great finished painting offers and therefore nothing to merit its value.  No sale.

 

So, anyway, after going through some of this evolutionary process with Richard, I feel like he’s providing some great stuff for the movie.  Red fire-worms that make up the demon’s body, exploding goblins, and “life energy” being sucked out of the victims.  It’s really taking the film to a whole other level.

 

When all the elements come together at the end of this month, it’s going to be great.  I’m really excited about seeing it all together.

 

There’s still a lot of work to do, but the movie should be completed by February 27 and then we will begin screening it in March for distributors.  I am still trying to negotiate for time and a space to throw a big Premiere out here in L.A., but rental on the theaters is a little more expensive than we had originally budgeted for.  The prices have gone up. 

 

Maybe we’ll have a bake sale.

 

Tuesday February 14, 2006

 

What a week.

 

My brother Steve came in town on Wednesday and we’ve had several days of raucous fun, but also a lot of movie work.  And some of it a lot longer and more involved than even I expected.

 

The final sound mix of the movie, (the amalgamating of the sound effects, dialogue, music, etc. into a single soundtrack) starts today at 10:00 a.m. over at Soundtrax Studios.  It’s now 6:30 a.m. and I have yet to go to bed.  We went over to Gerard the composer’s place last night to give final approval on some of the music and to assemble the various tracks that make up our main theme song, “Wanderin’ Love.”   Well, when three in the morning rolled around, we were still trying to get the one song right and we still had ten other musical cues to listen to.

 

We didn’t get home until six in the morning and then I had to assemble materials for the mix in a couple of hours.  I’m exhausted.  Steve’s asleep on the couch and said he feels like a medical school resident again.

 

Noe, I’ve got to go to the…ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

 

Friday February 24, 2006

Man.  This is actually a little too much. 

 

Today we wrapped the sound mix.  I mean, all the music, all the sound effects, all the dialogue editing, all the tweaking and fixing on the soundtrack is done.  Walk away.  No tradebacks.  No second guessing.

 

It was exhausting.  A week and a half of watching sections of the movie over and over again, making sure every punch sounds right, every line is intelligible.  Don’t get me wrong, it was really cool and very exciting to see the movie projected on a big screen and listen to the sound over a big, fat, THX, 5.1 surround sound theater system.  Jeremy, the sound mixer, an incredible talent whose credits go all the way back to “Airplane,” was awesome.  During certain portions of the music or even certain sound effects like thunder and gunshots, he’d crank the mix to the sub-woofer so you could feel it in your body.  He’d also pan sounds all the way around the surround system so it sounds like demons are coming up behind you or a shooting star explodes off to one side.  Even little things like panning the sounds of motorcycles from left to right as they cross the screen makes the movie experience that much more complete for the viewer.  Again, it’s little details like that which audience members may not be consciously aware of, but all their senses are telling them that what they are seeing or hearing is real, and ultimately it is a much more satisfying movie-going experience.  That’s why some lower-budget movies seem flat and unimpressive, even though the stories may be intriguing. 

 

I really loved it when the huge score music by Gerard kicks in.  I kept saying to Jeremy that I want Johnny Tao to be the movie that shakes the walls in the multiplex, so that people in the next theater watching the three hour drama about a kangaroo farmer are wondering what the hell people in the next theater are watching.  I liked Jeremy’s philosophy every time I thought we were pushing it a little too much.  He’d say, “no man, you gotta crank it up and give people a ride.  They want to be entertained and get a lotta bang for their buck.”  Well, I’ll tell you what, just like many other aspect of this movie, we really pushed the envelope and created a very ambitious soundtrack. I keep thinking about my dad putting the DVD for this movie in his home theater system with THX surround sound and cranking it up.  I think he’s going to get a kick out of what he hears.

 

I loved working with the guys (and girls) at Soundtrax because they really paid personal attention to the project.  They tried to make it the best it can be and I think it shows in the final product.  I felt really good about what was happening after Tony, the dialogue editor of the movie said that this was the most fun he ever had working on a film there.  His excitement showed in the quality and care he put into working on the film.  They all put in overtime and worked extra hard to make it as good as they could and everybody who sees it will reap the reward.

 

Still, there’s a lot of pressure in finalizing the elements of the film.

 

There’s a lot of these kinds of decisions and sign-offs going on right now and it’s an incredible amount of pressure.  Are the credits final?  Is everybody’s name spelled right? Did I forget anyone?  I hope not.  I want to thank everyone, acknowledge contributions and not feel like a heel when someone comes up to me at the screening and says, “Hey, where’s my name?”  Then I’ll feel like sh*t.  I know how special you feel when you see your name go by on the screen and I want to make sure that everybody who contributed gets to feel that way.  I hope I don’t forget, but with so many people involved over such a long period of time, I think it’s inevitable that I’ll miss somebody.  But, eventually, I have to let go of reading and re-reading the credit list and move on.  If anybody reading this had anything to do with the production and I forgot to include you, I’m sorry.

 

Tomorrow I’ve got to sign off on all the color correction, CGI, credit rolls and everything.  Talk about feeling the weight of making that commitment.  I already have trouble with commitment, so this is killing me.

 

Today, I actually took about two years off my life through worry.  It’s a long story, but suffice to say, as I was on my way to sign off on the entire movie mix, I discovered, through a random event, that I didn’t actually have the rights to two of the songs that were already mixed into the movie.  That’s a legal and financial nightmare.

 

Well, after a few furious phone calls, I was able to isolate the problem, and with Jeremy’s help, we replaced the songs and remixed those portions of the film.  Thank goodness it got taken care of, but I pumped two years out of my heart and sweated out two pounds of worry in the interim.

 

Now, I gotta shut my brain off for a little while.

 

Peace.

 

Thursday March 2, 2006

 

It is done.  The movie is done.

 

Except for a few issues which I may revisit at a later date and a later evolution of the film’s business life, “Adventures of Johnny Tao: Rock Around the Dragon” is now a completed movie.

 

We combined the full resolution high-definition video footage, the full resolution CGI shots, and six channels of 5.1 surround sound with two more channels of a stereo mix onto a single D-5 digital video tape (The video tape by itself, still in the wrapper, is a giant three hundred dollar cassette).  We then cloned that tape onto an HDcam cassette in order to

 

A)        Have a High Definition quality back up tape 

B)                 Have a tape that we could use to screen the movie or make copies without risking damage to our master tape. 

 

The HDcam tape is different because it only holds the two channels of stereo mix audio and does not support the 5.1 surround channels that a DVD can hold.

 

We then cloned that HDcam tape onto a Beta SP cassette (an inexpensive analog tape format) so that we could more easily and more inexpensively make copies or have the ability to show the movie in  more facilities.

 

We don’t make DVD’s.  Whatever company distributes the film will do a mass production of DVD’s with box art and liner notes.

 

Our job is to safely store the D-5 master tape and use the other tapes to facilitate showing the completed movie to various entities within the industry, i.e. distribution executives, film sales representatives, agents, managers, and the press.  However, we’re also planning to have a big premiere screening including all the cast and crew.  The big problem there is trying to find a theater that not only has the ability to show High Definition movies but has the right amount of seats as well.

 

A few of us associated with the film, perhaps naively, are expecting anywhere from 400 to 600 people to attend that screening.  It’s a little nerve wracking because it’s like expecting that 50 people are going to come to your birthday party and maybe only six show up.  You’re lucky if one of them brought a cousin visiting from out of town.

 

But, at the same time, this movie has been in the making for so long, and so many people have expressed a desire to be at such an event, I kind of feel like we need one of the bigger theaters.  See, there’s a lot of screening rooms available around the city, but some don’t have digital equipment and the rental for that equipment would add three to four thousand dollars to the price.  Some have digital projectors, but they only seat two hundred and fifty people.  That may sound like a lot, but I walked into a three hundred and fifty seat theater and immediately thought, “Man, we’ll fill this room in a heartbeat.”

Some of the rooms seat six hundred people, but the rental is seven thousand dollars.  A lot more than we need to spend on a single screening.  Some don’t have parking, some need insurance certificates, some only seat twenty three people.  It’s a lot of phone calls and visits to screening venues to find the right one.

 

You have to be prepared to screen your movie multiple times.  The big cast and crew screening is not where distributors will see your movie.  They don’t want to see it with  an audience weighted like that.  At a cast and crew screening, people are cheering at each name that comes up, everybody’s excited and it’s great, but distributors can’t get a true sense of how the film plays to general audience.  

 

If you want distributors to see your movie, it’s going to happen by either, playing at a prominent film festival (like Sundance or Toronto), a private industry screening for their eyes only, or as it usually happens, they want you to send them a DVD screener.  The last is the worst thing you can do (though sometimes necessary).  DVD’s allow people to watch your movie, the thing you’ve sold your blood for, with phones ringing, people walking in and out of the room, bad televisions blinking, unexpected visits from mother-in-laws, and vomiting dogs or babies vying for their attention. 

 

Besides, movies, especially action movies, are meant to be seen on a big screen, where the spectacle of action can give you the larger-than-life thrills that make it so exciting.  The most readily observable of this phenomena is the car chase.  Watch RONIN with Robert DeNiro or LIVE AND DIE IN L.A., or SPEED on a television and you miss out on the total visceral experience that such a movie provides. 

 

It’s not only the dialogue or story of a movie that keeps you interested, it’s the racing heartbeat caused by a monster jumping our of the closet, or the sweaty palms caused by the hero dangling from a building ledge that make it a totally engrossing experience. 

As opposed to a television in the middle of the living room with a reflection of the kitchen window tearing across the viewing screen, cliff hanging thrills pay off to a greater extent when your vision is filled with the thirty foot image on screen, when the edges of projection subtly wrap around and encompass you.  It’s like you’re there and not just watching it happen to someone else.  That’s how you want people to see your movie.

 

So, we’re going to have a big premiere screening to celebrate the completion of the film, but in the meantime, we’re also going to offer private screenings to industry professionals.  At this point, because of all the above reasons, but also because of a fear of video piracy, we’re going to refrain from sending out DVD screeners.  Piracy is a big, big problem in the independent film industry.  A friend of mine who owns his own distribution company is wrestling to stay in business, strictly because of piracy.  He made a deal with a prominent distribution company for one of his films, provided them with tape masters of the movie for conversion to DVD, and somewhere in the process, someone took one of the DVD’s and the movie showed up on the streets of mainland China and Hong Kong before it was even released.  Therefore, they lost that sale because no distributor in China wants to gamble on selling tickets to a movie that’s already on the streets.  It’s literally putting independent distributors out of business.  Be wary world, if that happens, you end up with a steady diet of “The Shaggy Dog” and “National Treasure.”

 

Anyway, we’re starting that screening process.  The other important part of that process is just getting industry people to come to a screening.  With the press materials and footage we have to show, I think we’ll get a good deal of interest, but it’s hard to even know who to ask.  You have to do detective work and figure out:

 

-                     What distribution companies might want to handle your movie

-                     Which of those companies seem reputable and approachable

-                     What executive at that company is it that needs to be aware of your film and its availability

-                     How can you get in touch with that executive

-                     What materials can you provide them with to generate interest in your film

-                     Can you get them to seriously consider investing time and money into the sales and promotion of your movie

 

After you figure out who to call, you’ve got to provide them with quality marketing materials, like a good press kit, in a timely fashion.  I believe that you want them to feel the sense of immediacy with which the project is evolving and the velocity it’s gaining as it moves towards the marketplace.  At least I hope they feel that.

 

For me, I have many connections within the distribution world, and we may continue to exercise them, but I also believe this film can reach out to the major distributors, like Sony, Universal, Paramount, or Disney and I don’t know those people.  I’m literally relegated to calling information, getting the number for the distribution company, calling the receptionist and asking for the acquisitions office, and then when someone answers at that department, I’ll just start pitching the movie.

 

Funny enough, a cool thing happened with regards to these calls.

 

The other morning, I knew it was time to finally start making the calls.  I have been very busy with post-production, but I was also a little intimidated to get started and had been putting it off for a few days.  I knew in the back of my mind that if I didn’t call, they couldn’t say “no,” so I just didn’t give them the opportunity to reject me.  I delayed taking the action so I wouldn’t have to deal with the possibility of failure.  When I think about that, it seems true about so many things in life.   

 

Well, the other morning, I knew I had to begin the task, so I opened this book I had bought about “Directing your directing career,” because it had a list of phone numbers for different agencies for representation in the industry.  I wanted the number of the William Morris Agency, the oldest and most established talent agency in the business.  Even though they are not a distributor, like many of the other larger talent agencies, they have a division devoted to representing films themselves.  They represent the film to major studios and basically act as a sales rep, probably the most well-respected sales reps in the business.  It’s a challenge to call Universal and pitch a movie to an executive you don’t  personally know.  He/she might be interested and might not, and you may never get a return phone call to begin with.  (That’s the way it works, you call somebody in power, leave a message, and your name goes on a call-back list, organized and prioritized by their office assistant.   But, on the other hand, if someone from theWilliam Morris agency calls Universal and says they’ve got a film for them to see, that screening will be arranged before you can say “MUNICH was too long.”    So, I figured, before I started calling these major distribution companies myself, I would try to ask the best people in the business if they would help me.  What’s the worst that could happen?  They could say no and I’d be doing it myself anyway.

 

So, I called the front desk of William Morris and asked for the office of the most famous independent sales agent in the business.  “Thank You,” said the receptionist.  The phone transferred over and started ringing.  It rang about four times.  A long time for an agent’s office.  Usually, the assistant picks up on the first or second ring.  “Hello?” It was a male voice.  Not uncommon, most assistants are usually young men training to be agents.  But, they don’t say “Hello.”  They usually say something like, “John Super-Agent’s office.”  And this voice didn’t have the crisp enthusiasm of a young assistant who knows that any phone call could be from Hollywood elite, and they better be on their energetic best.

 

I hesitated for the briefest of moments.  I wasn’t sure what was happening, but I had an idea.

 

“John Super-Agent?” I said.  Actually, I didn’t even say his last name, I just said, “John?”

 

“Yes,” he said.  I couldn’t believe it.  By some random occurrence, he either picked up the phone to make a call and there I was on the line, or his assistant was in the bathroom and he answered his own phone.  Either way, here he was, the big buck locked in my sights.  If I hesitated for a second, he’s bound into the bushes and leave me holding my limp gun in my hand.  I launched into a blast of names and sales talk and pitched “Johnny Tao.”

 

After I got a little bit out, I knew I had to go for it or I’d be summarily dismissed, I had to get some balls and ask him to go to the prom.  “Would you be interested in attending a business hours, off-site screening?” I asked.

 

“Yes, that might be interesting,” he said. 

 

“Uhh…when would be good for you?”

 

“Talk to my assistant Phoenix, he takes care of arranging things.”

 

“Uhh…okay.  Phoenix?”

 

“Yes, like Arizona.”

 

“Okay, thanks, John.”

 

“Yes, goodbye.”

 

I hung up the phone. 

 

Now, granted, he was being polite and may have been simply moving the conversation to a brief and inevitable conclusion, but we spoke and I told him about the movie.  How cool is that.

 

I then immediately re-dialed and asked the receptionist to connect me to “John Super-Agent’s” office again.  I was a little nervous that he might answer his own phone again and I’d seem like a pest, but another voice answered, “John Super-Agent’s office,”

 

“Is this Phoenix?”

 

“Yes, it is.”

 

“Hi, Phoenix, my name is Kenn Scott and I just produced and directed this film ‘Adventures of Johnny Tao,”  I just got off the phone with John and he told me to call you about arranging a screening.”

 

He had confusion in his voice. ”You spoke to John?  Did he call you?”  Obviously, if John had called me about acquiring a movie, Phoenix should have known about it.

 

“No, I just called and he answered.  I guess it’s serendipity.  We talked and I told him about the film and he asked me to give you a call.”

 

So, his assistant and I proceeded to talk for a few minutes.  Regardless of what had transpired, I already understood the true nature of our relationship.  It was my job to communicate with Phoenix.  He’s the one that I need to convince the film is worth checking out.  It doesn’t really matter that I had the exceptional luck to get John on the phone, the assistant is the one that controls the flow of information.  If he doesn’t think the movie is worth pursuing, John Super-Agent will never see the materials.  But, I was certainly going to continue to play the strong hand of having already spoken with John. 

 

At his request, I sent an e-mail describing the project.  I then got in my car, drove down to Beverly Hills and dropped off a press kit.  What’s funny about a place like William Morris, you don’t go to somebody’s office and hand them something, or even hand it to the receptionist.  You take it to the mailroom.  It’s basically the post office for the large infrastructure of the agency.  It’s an office and storage space populated by well dressed twenty-somethings.  This is the entry level position in any major agency.  Lots of young industry college graduates populate these places and become the mailmen of the office building, delivering pictures, tapes, contracts, photographs, scripts, and anything else.  It’s how they work their way through the system, eventually hoping to become agents or producers themselves (if they don’t burnout first and go back to Indiana).   So, I dropped off the package and then followed up with e-mail.  Now, I’m trying to set up a screening in one of these really nice small screening rooms right in Beverly Hills.

 

Hopefully they’ll be interested.

Friday March 10, 2006

 

I woke up at four thirty this morning thinking about parking. 

We’re having our first screening of the film next week and we’ve invited a bunch of representatives from various distribution companies.  The theater only seats forty people and the RSVP list has filled up pretty well.  And I don’t mean filled up with people that we told and they may or may not show up, I mean I’ve got executives, secretaries and assistants calling me back to confirm that they will have a seat available for their respective representative.  The theater only gives us four free parking spaces in the garage, everyone after that has to be paid for.  Six bucks each.  So I woke up this morning at four thirty trying to figure out if we should validate.

 

I woke up at four forty five this morning thinking about schedule K-1’s. 

These are the documents that need to be sent to the investors in the movie.  It allows their tax representatives to note whatever benefits they receive from investing.  Our accountant Liz worked long and hard to get these things ready.  I spent all day yesterday organizing financial statments, writing post-its to attach, providing self-addressed-stamped envelopes, filing documents and mailing them out.  I hope they’re all in order. 

 

I woke up at five this morning thinking about the sound mix.  After having watched the movie the other day, I realize that there are a few things (in a perfect world) that I would like to go back in and fix.  Maybe the fight sounds are a little too loud on one scene, maybe the music is a little too low on another.  No great shakes, but little things like lowering the “whoosh” on a sword can make the difference between parts of the movie coming across as exciting or cheesy. 

 

Because of time and budgetary constraints, we didn’t have the ability to mix the whole movie and then, as you might do at a major studio, watch it at various venues over the course of a few days and go back to mix and adjust sounds accordingly.  We did get a great sound mix, but now that I’ve had a chance for my brain and ears to rest, when I view the movie now, I realize there’s just a few things I’d like to change.  Art is in the details.

 

I woke up this morning at five fifteen thinking about Beverly Hills cops. 

And I don’t mean Eddie Murphy.  I’m talking about real spit and polish Beverly Hills motorcycle cops. 

 

A lot of this portion of work on the movie is bringing me into a new zip code.  I live in the valley, a sub-urban sprawl of Los Angeles that is often scoffed at by those who live on the “other side of the hill”  but I like it because it’s not quite as congested as over there (But, it is hot as a motherf%#er in the summer).  Well, a good  part of show business that pertains to agencies or distribution companies can be found in the Beverly Hills area, on the other side of the hill. 

 

Now that I’m dealing with these companies, I find myself n Beverly Hills more and more, at least every other day.  It’s a great feeling, because there’s lots of companies not in Beverly Hills that do this stuff, but the ones that are there are usually well respected and established and these are the ones that, at the moment, seem to have a strong interest in Johnny Tao (hopefully, that will continue once they see the picture on Thursday).  Unfortunately, as I excitedly pulled away from one of these agencies yesterday after a good meeting, I pulled away from the curb, started to make a u-turn, legally, and got pulled over by a motorcycle cop.  Now, I’m a pretty good driver, I handle my car with confidence, and I ALWAYS wear a seatbelt.  But, sometimes I don’t buckle it until I’ve driven a few yards.  Well, this guy saw me pull away without buckling it and, “Wooooooo,” pulled me over.  Hundred bucks.  My fault ultimately, but c’mon.

 

I woke up at five thirty this morning thinking about press kits, e-mails, tape duplication, artwork, cutting a trailer, getting product placement releases from candy bar companies, converting the film to digital files to be projected at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, music contracts, publishing companies, rental agreements, writing checks, faxing clearance documents, calling agents....so many things, I don’t have time to write about them anymore.

 

Ain’t it great.

 

Thursday March 15, 2006

 

I am feeling an incredible amount of anxiety about the upcoming screening.  Like everything’s riding on black.

 

If I take a lesson from everything that has transpired before this on the project, I know that everything will work out fine and the film will achieve the outreach it needs in order to fulfil its potential.  I know it will attain whatever level of success is complementary with everybody having tried the best at their job.   But, regardless of the outcome, the paradigm of work and emotions is always the same and it’s really come to light in the post-production process.  Whether editing the picture, working with the visual effects, or collaborating on sound design, it hasn’t mattered, the evolutionary process and my subsequent feelings about the project seem to follow the same course.  And this process of finding a distribution deal is no different.

 

First, whatever the task (focusing here on post-production), there is a great deal of mentally exhaustive technical labor done to assemble the initial foundation.  Editing forty hours of raw footage into ninety minutes of cohesive scenes, initial programming of visual effects for monsters and shooting stars, or laying in thousands of sound effects all require a lot of time and repetitive action, usually by one guy/girl in a dark room staring at a computer monitor.  It’s long, lonely work.  Some people involved in this aspect of the business often take to smoking so they have a reason to go outside and see the sun. 

 

But, even though these initial tasks in the processes can be mentally and physically exhausting, they certainly leave one with a strong sense of accomplishment.  Rubbing the computer stare out of your eyes, stepping back and realizing that the metaphorical ditch has been dug and the foundation laid provides a sense of exhaustive excitement, like you finally did your taxes.

 

Unfortunately, this is also the phase of work when an inadvertent keystroke or an ill-timed power outage can undo minutes, hours or even days of work that hasn’t been properly saved.  These are some of the times in my life when I curse the loudest (the others are when I’m driving by myself in Los Angeles or I stub my toe).

 

Lesson One on computers:  Command-save.  Command-save.

 

After the giddiness of moving out of the first phase dies down, the second phase is marked by looking at the initial work and, while some things may seem alright, experiencing an overall sense of despair.  While some things are perfect right from the start, like a scene just works, or part of an effect looks great on the very first pass, on many fronts nothing looks like you thought it would or should.  Maybe the story doesn’t work, it’s not funny or compelling.  The monster isn’t the monster of your dreams, it’s a big purple jellyfish.  The swords sound like hammers and pipes.  What have we done?  What is this film?  Who thought this was a good idea?  What hath God wrought?

 

This is where it is easy to get depressed.  A great feeling of isolation and a desire to run away.

 

But the truth is, the real work is just beginning.  This is where a good director (or creative producer) can really shine.  Collaborating with r department heads, this is where they can pool their creative visions and together, sculpt the proverbial elephant out of the marble block.  From the raw footage, a talented editor can create pacing, tell story, and drive humor.  A good visual effects designer will do his/her best to refine computer generated images and achieve the greatest organic interaction possible and a great sound mixer will add just the right amount of equalization and reverb to make those swords sound like elegant samurai blades echoing off the mountainsides.

 

This is the phase most readily exhibiting the concept that, “art is in the details.” 

 

As each artisan applies their craft, the details of the elephant become more apparent.  The story begins to come to life, it makes sense, some of those jokes really are funny and it looks and sounds like a real movie.  From despair, this brings on great sense of joy.  To be able to laugh out loud or be startled by the sound of invading demons and realize that it does in fact work is very exciting.  Certainly, some things fall into place more readily than others, but with determined and dogged effort, most issues can be addressed, and if you started with a decent script and everybody did their job, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to carve out a really respectable elephant.  It may not be perfect, but it’ll be damn good.

 

This path of “accomplishment-excited satisfaction, despair, accomplishment-joy” happens in each process.

Right now, I’m in the “despair” phase of the process I call “intra-industry marketing.” 

 

I followed my business plan, put out calls to the majority of distributors and sales reps that I know and tried to network every way I could think of to get people interested.   Now, I’m basically waiting to show them all the movie and see how they react. 

 

Will the distribution world embrace “Adventures of Johnny Tao?”  Is there someone out there who can take this movie and drive a hundred-thousand video units?  Or will the executives get up and walk out ten minutes into the movie?  That’s not uncommon for execs to do at a screening.  If they’re not interested, why would they sit through a movie and waste their working time?  They are not beholden to the filmmaker to make him feel good about his accomplishment.  They want to know if they can make money.  That’s it.  So, if they can’t, they walk.  Will they walk out on us?  And if they do, how will I handle it.  Personally, I think I’ll be heartbroken.  But, I recognize it’s part of the business and it will probably happen.  After George Lucas’ first rough-cut screening of “Star Wars,” his friends told him he made a huge mistake, including Brian DePalma.  Lucas was resigned to the fact that he had made a ‘silly little film.”  Yeah, silly like a gazillion dollars in the bank.  

 

Everybody in this town likes to tell you that “you can’t…”   They tell you that you can’t raise the money to make a movie, you can’t shoot in all those locations with all those stunts, you can’t shoot 115 set-ups in one day, you can’t, you can’t, you can’t.  Well, I’ve heard that from the very beginning of this project and I’ve learned that, in fact, “yes you can…”  But, that doesn’t mean people still don’t tell you “you can’t.”

 

Right now, I have all the doubts those “You can’t’s” leave in your mind.

 

But, like I said, this is not uncommon territory.  I’ve felt the anxiety and despair of each portion of the journey so far.  I know that, even though I want this first screening to produce wild offers of huge advances for our movie, the truth is, it’s the first assembly of the process.  The first gathering of outside industry people to be exposed to the film. 

 

A lot of constructive criticism about why the film works or doesn’t work will arise.  Some companies will pass without a word.  Some might say they’d be interested if we go back and change something or re-shoot something.  Some sales-reps will be anxious to sign a consignment deal right away and some distribution companies might even step up with some kind of offer while others will want to screen the film for the next person up their chain of command.   

 

Regardless of what happens with this screening, the key to “accomplishment-joy” in this part of the process is going to be the continued legwork involved in seeing this process all the way through.  Whether it’s promoting the film to other companies or acquisitions executives, making solid strategic alliances with any of them along the way, analyzing deals, consulting attorneys, or signing the deal of a lifetime, as much as I like instant gratification and I’m ready for this film to get off the launching pad, I know it will take months for things to actually happen.  So, the best thing to do is treat it like every other process so far; hunker down, do all the legwork, hope for the best and then do everything in our power to make it come true, and enjoy the ride along the way.

 

Sunday March 19, 2006

Well, everything is happening and it is mentally and physically exhausting. 

 

About lunchtime, the day before the screening, I had done all the marketing work I could do and now it was time to wait and see if anybody would actually show up.

 

Waiting is very tough for me.  Meditation is a good way to pass the time, no matter where you are or what you’re waiting for, but I haven’t been so good at that lately and in this situation, I needed something to occupy my time and my mind and I didn’t want to do anymore work.  I needed to “get away.”

 

Luckily , Matt the D.P. just wrapped up another season of shooting “The Office” on NBC and he’s got a few weeks off.  Matt and I have known each other since we were six years old.  I called him and we decided to go get lunch.  After that, he suggested we go to the bowling alley and play some video games.  Now this is not something I would ordinarily think to do on my own, but I think he and his wife Melissa do it pretty regularly.  But, it’s a great idea, so we go.

 

We’re killing robots and bad guys, racing through Chinatown, and slamming the air hockey table.  It’s great.  Then we actually bowled a couple of games.  At least one member of our party broke a hundred each time.  Afterwards, I stopped by his house to hang out with his wife Melissa for a little while.  It was a good way to spend the time and they are great people.  Then I think I went home and went to sleep.

 

Next morning.  Screening day.

 

I get up and put together all the materials for some press kits.  Confirm e-mails, return calls.  I go through the closet and figure out what to wear.  A few last minute details and off to the theater.

 

Quick set up of materials.  Double check the arrangements.  Eventually, the first people start to walk through the door.

 

I stand by the entrance meeting and greeting everyone that arrives.  We exchange handshakes and business cards.  Everybody files into the theater. We wait fifteen extra minutes and the last invited guest shows up and we can start the show.

 

Fortunately, everybody that was invited and RSVP’d for the screening showed up.  Apparently, that doesn’t usually happen, so I give thanks to all the nice film angels that watched over those people’s schedules. 

 

My friend Brooke, who also plays a demon named “Demonella” in the movie came out and helped me meet and greet people as they arrived.  We set up a posterboard in front of the screening room with all the magazine articles we’ve received and we give everybody a project synopsis sheet and color copies of those same articles all packaged together as they walk in.

 

I got up and spoke just before the screening to let everyone know who I was and how long the movie was.  I don’t usually get nervous speaking in front of people, but I was feeling it a little bit.  There is an old Taoist saying, I think by Chuang-tsu, that says something to the effect of, “those that are not grounded in the Tao choke on their own words like vomit stuck in their throat.”  Well, I know it doesn’t paint a pretty metaphorical picture, but that happened to me, I did one of those things were I got halfway through a sentence and it was like my glottis closed up and my saliva glands kicked in to overdrive.  It only takes a split-second to place your fist in front of your mouth, say “excuse me,” and move on and it probably doesn’t look like a big deal to anyone else, but to me it felt like a meltdown.  Regardless, I spit out the rest of my little speech and then went to sit down.  The lights went down and the picture started…this was it.

 

Being so close to the film for so long, I cannot watch it objectively.  I know what I think is good about it and also what I think is bad about it, but my opinion doesn’t matter anymore.  So I just monitored the projection and watched and listened to the crowd.

 

One guy did walk out of the screening about forty-five minutes in, but he told me he was going to leave early anyway.  Everybody else stayed and it was close to the most grueling ninety minutes of my life (in its own unique way).  Basically, I sat in the back row, in one of those big, plush executive chairs and I watched the back of everybody’s heads as they watched the movie.  What’s that person leaning over and saying to their partner?  Why is that guy’s head canted to one side, is he sleeping?  Did that girl laugh at that joke?  Oh, no, is he going to the bathroom or is he leaving? etc.

 

The one unfortunate occurrence in the screening is attributable to  the variance amongst emerging technologies in digital projection.  While our original business plan has us going for an international and domestic DVD release, it’s certainly better to have people see your movie in a theater and every filmmaker dreams that their film will play in a theater.  So that’s why we’re showing it there (for the former, not the latter), but having never had to fine tune a digital output for projection, we were never aware that the projectors would have different capacities in terms of projecting the data.  The short point of all this is that the specific brand of digital projector we used at this theater offered a great disparity within the contrast and brightness ratios.  So, when our day scenes were balanced correctly, our night scenes were too dark (or more dark than I would like) and vice versa.  This is a real drag because it doesn’t allow the viewer to see the full, radiant color and palette of light and shadow that Matt used.  So, I wasn’t so keen on that, but at least now we know.  Our next screening is going to be at a larger theater with a whole different kind of digital projector so I’m looking forward to seeing how that looks.

 

With about ten minutes left in the film, I went and stood outside the screening room door.  I then thought better about it and moved further into the lobby. I didn’t want anybody to feel pinned in as they left.  If they didn’t want to talk to me, that was fine.  I’d give them enough room to leave, but close enough so they’d still have to give me the obligatory nod as they did.  I don’t mind if people say “no” to me, I just want them to acknowledge that we are indeed having a conversation.

 

Surprisingly, I think most of them stayed all the way through the credits.  But, one by one they started to file out.  The first faces came to light.  Were they going to be smiling?    Was everybody looking serious?

 

A business card was placed in my hand and someone mumbled something about talking next week.  A couple of friends exited, passed on a quick congratulations and left.  A few more people stopped and stood in front of me for several minutes and we talked.  My friend Eric Karson (director of the legendary “The Octagon,” starring Chuck Norris) had his twelve year old nephew Brett with him and they ran off to soccer practice.

 

A couple of literary agents (people that represent writers and directors in the industry) emerged from the theater.  “I’m looking forward to talking to you,” I said to their leader Tom.  “I know you’ll shoot straight.”

 

“Call me later,” he said.

 

A couple of our producers, Richard Kidd, Matt, and my friend Brooke finally emerged.   “How’d it go?” asked Matt.

 

‘I don’t know,” I said, “You tell me.”

 

The truth was I had no idea how things went.  I’ve seen the movie a hundred times.  I know every frame.  I know its strength and its weaknesses.  I know what it sounds like and what it’s supposed to look like.  Yes, people laughed at times, I even saw a couple of people jump every now and again when startled, and there seemed to be positive energy in the room, but, I have no idea what anyone might really be thinking and they’re all gone.  It’s over just as suddenly as it seemed to begin.

 

There were no two million dollar offers for the movie (not that I believed this would happen, but it represents the dream).  Nobody screamed that cinema had found a new champion.  There was pleasant conversation and everybody left.

 

Matt and I got in the car to drive home and basically reconstructed the whole event.  I was already feeling so much mental anxiety about the whole event that now I began to feel terrible doubt as I explored the negatives.  I had noticed that my friends from the Cartoon Network had left so quickly.  Just a smile and “good job.”   Same with Eric Karson, my mentor.  These were people I knew well, and they didn’t seem to want to face me.  Good lord, what had I done?

 

Some executives had expressed positive reviews of the project and pointed out some of its qualities; the action scenes, good looking cast, etc.  But, everybody just seemed to be about as cocktail party pleasant as you can be.  Who knows what they’re saying in the locker room after the game?

 

I couldn’t wait.  I needed some kind of objective feedback.  God, if only I could be a fly on the wall during some of the executives car trips back to their offices.  Do we have a marketable product?  I need to know because I’m doggedly determined to return equity investment to our producers.  I want to learn.  Regardless of the success of this film, I plan on doing this again and I need to be graded so I can adjust performance accordingly.  Maybe they loved it, maybe they hated it.  It doesn’t matter.  If it was pure art, I wouldn’t give a sh*t what anybody thought, but this is business and I need to know if our product performs.  Does the movie, as they say, “play?”

 

I called Tom, the literary agent.

 

“Tom.  Kenn Scott, thanks for coming today.  I really appreciate it.”

 

“You gotta lotta movie there,” he said.  I have inklings of what he means by that, but I don’t understand totally.  “Lots of action and effects, you did a good job.”

 

“Thanks,” I said, still unsure of where he would end up with all this.  Was this goodbye, were we breaking up?

 

He continued, ”Yeah, you got a movie there.  It plays.  The action is good, I like the lead kid…”

 

Did he say, “It plays?” 

 

“You could probably edit down to about twenty minutes of stuff for a director’s reel.  I’d like to show this to Norm Goldstein over at…

 

Wait, he did.  He said it played and now he’s talking about showing it to other people.  That’s a good sign.  We set up time to talk next week and I hang up to tell Matt about the conversation.

 

Matt is reality.  Matt gets neither too excited or too depressed about anything, at least on the outside (I know we’re lifelong friends because of our differences as well as our…”same’s?”)   Anyway, Matt will listen to everything that I have to tell him and then he comes back at me with interrogative statements like, “Well, that’s good…Right?”  And I’m like, ‘I don’t know.  I’m telling you this because I need you to tell me why it’s good and how it’s going to work out.”  But he doesn’t know, anymore than I do so we both sort of hang out in the car in this sort of filmmaker’s purgatory. 

 

FILMMAKER’S PURGATORY - Matt used to experience this whenever we would go out and shoot a short or something on celluloid film.  There’s a couple of days where you have to wait while they develop the film and then you go in and pay three hundred dollars an hour to sit in one of the dark rooms and watch them transfer the film to videotape (the “tele-cine” process) so you can edit it.  Well, Matt used to feel sick and nervous for the several days between the time we finished shooting and the moment when we sat in the tele-cine room and they showed us the first image as they laid it to tape.  He was always concerned there might not be an image at all on the developed film or maybe it was too dark, or too light, or any hundred other things that could go wrong.  A great visible sense of relief would wash over him each time he saw the image flicker up on the screen.  I think I kind of enjoyed watching him be nervous then, but I wasn’t enjoying feeling it myself now, so we rode on together in futile but therapeutic attempts to analyze everybody’s reaction.

 

Then, I went home, ordered some Thai food, ate it and fell dead asleep on my couch at 7:30 p.m.

 

Sunday March 19, 2006

 

I’ve been unable to write a journal entry for a couple of days because:

A)    I needed a day to take care of things after the screening

B)     I needed a little time away from the office over the weekend

C)    so much has been happening since last week that the work has been non-stop.

 

 

Here’s the short of it…

 

We got a lot of great response the very next day.  Phone calls, meetings, other people who want to see the movie.  Various conversations with different individuals that are both funny and extremely enlightening.

 

Subsequently, we scheduled two more screenings for this week and next, but instead of the little 45 seat theater, we’re projecting it at the 410-seat Fine Arts Theater in Beverly Hills.  State of the art digital projection and popcorn.

 

But, I don’t want to screen it for a handful of executives in a big empty theater, it would feel like overkill.  So, we’re going to try to fill the place with a real audience and see how they react.

 

We extended invitations to the Big Brothers Organization of Los Angeles, called a lot of the local martial arts schools, and with departmental approval, we invited all Los Angeles Police Officers to bring their kids, all for free.  We’ll see if anyone shows up.

 

Now I have to get back to work........

 

Wednesday April 5, 2006

 

The tension is killing me.

 

Friday April 21, 2006

 

Well, it certainly has been sometime since I posted a journal.  The reason being, we have all kinds of activity with companies who want to secure the rights to our film so they can take it to the Cannes Film Market in France in May and I can’t post anything about it because our lawyer said “NO WAY!”

 

The Cannes Film MARKET is not to be confused with the Cannes Film FESTIVAL, which takes place at the same time in the same city.  They are two different events.  One is a festival that gives out awards for cinematic achievement and is attended by big celebrities and the other is a film market where buyers move from one hotel suite to another in order to purchase films for their countries. 

 

There’s about two hundred foreign sales companies out there who acquire the rights to independent films and then sell those rights to the buyers from all the individual countries of the world (or as many as they can).  They do this about five or six times each year in various locations throughout the world.  After they make their sales, they take a percentage (usually 20-30%) of the gross and pass the rest back to the production company.

 

We’ve got a handful of highly-reputable companies offering different terms to make a deal.  The big factor is everybody is rushing to make the deal because of the impending market.  I’m writing this entry on Tuesday, April 18 and I just got off the phone with our lawyer and we will probably have to close our first deal by the end of business today.  More on this later, but suffice it to say, this is a very exciting and pressure filled time.  I am trying to balance the needs of the investors, the needs of the distributors, the needs of the director (me), and the time issues.  It’s really, really, difficult.  But I guess it’s a great dilemma to have.

 

Outside of that, one of the things we have to do when we take the film to market is create what’s called Key Art.  This is basically the poster for the movie that will be used in magazine ads, displays, and video boxes.  Oftentimes, the key art is created from still photos taken during the film’s production.  This is an extremely important part of the deliverables and should not be neglected by any filmmaker…like we did.  Originally, I thought we had set aside a little money to have a still photographer on set during some of our more intense action days, but I guess that money got eaten up in other departments.  Too bad. 

 

Regardless, we have some still digital photos, but, more importantly, I know Drew Struzan.

 

Drew Struzan is probably the most well known movie poster artist working today.  He did posters for Star Wars, Raider of the Lost Ark, Rambo, Harry Potter, Hook, etc.

 

I met Drew several years ago at a friends house and he sat and watched my short film, “Better Never Than Late.”  We had a really nice conversation afterwards and his calm, earthy tone left a lasting impression on me.  Well, I called Drew up a couple of days ago and went to his house.  He’s got a really great house in the foothills of Pasadena, decorated in a very clean Euro-Asian style.  Black lacquered shingles on the sides of the house and a well kept garden are reminiscent of a Japanese meditation retreat, but the frog with the umbrella standing in the middle of the fountain intimates visions of Disneyland-Paris.  The brass plaque on the door says “If no answer, go to the studio around back.”

 

There was no answer at the front door so I ventured my way down the garden path feeling like I was in “The Last Samurai.”  Funny enough, when I reached the separate studio structure designed in the same style as the house, Drew answered the door and I noticed his easel , holding his current work in progress, displayed a charcoal drawing of Tom Cruise and ken Watanabe in full samurai gear.

 

After a friendly hello, I inquired about the piece and he told me that some guy in Japan wanted it for his private collection.  It was then, looking around that I was awestruck by the magnificently framed works hanging around his studio; all original portraits of some of the most well known movie posters ever.  “Are these all originals?” I asked, realizing how dumb the question was just as he answered, “Why would I have anything else?”

 

After inquiring about the giant cape buffalo head hanging on the wall, we got to talking about “Johnny Tao,” and I told him what a thrill it would be if he would consider doing the poster for our movie.  Now, mind you, this is a guy that makes A LOT of money for a single portrait/poster, much more than is in our budget, MUCH MORE!  But, Drew said, “Look, when you talk to the distributors, tell them that you and I are buds and we’ll figure out how to get it done.”  Ding-ding-ding-ding!

 

Now, I’m not exactly sure what that means, but, like many of the other things that have transpired on this movie, I hope it’s a pathway to ratchet our key art up to the next level.  I mean c’mon, Luke Skywalker, Indiana Jones, and now, Johnny freakin’ Tao. 

 

The downside of this is A) we may not have enough time to allow Drew to create art before Cannes, which sucks, but ultimately, I’m hoping we can do it for the domestic video release, AND B) one of the international distributors said that foreign buyers don’t like drawings on the key art, they want photographs.  “Yeah,” I said, “but this is Drew Struzan.  Drew “The Terminator” Struzan.” 

 

Anyway, nothing has happened yet, and we may not follow through on that path, but, if everything works out, maybe we will get a Drew Struzan poster.  How cool would that be?

 

Friday April 28, 2006

 

You finish a film, you have to get two distribution deals, one with a company to handle the United States/Canada (“Domestic”) and one to handle the nearly forty other foreign territories around the world (“Foreign” or “International” sales). 

 

A foreign sales agent will sell the rights to the film to several different venues in each country; television, DVD, theatrical, etc. for a one time sales price to each.  The foreign sales agent will keep 20-30% and return the rest to the production company (“us).  The Foreign sales agent doesn’t produce any DVD’s but sells the rights to do so to others in their respective countries.  Most of the income from a film like ours will be based on sales to foreign television broadcasters: Johnny Tao in Lithuanian prime time.  It can take up to two or three years to penetrate the total world market and get all the money a movie is going to make back.

 

A “Domestic” distributor, on the other hand, will actually produce DVD’s of the movie and sell them in quantity to Blockbuster, Hollywood Video, etc. as well as trying to get the DVD’s positioned in Wal-Mart or Best Buy here in the U.S.   It will also try to sell it to Showtime, Starz, the Sci-Fi Channel, etc.  The chances of a low-budget, independent film with no major stars attached playing in movie theaters is pretty slim.  It can happen, but try competing for ad space or theater screens with films like Mission Impossible III and The Lion King.

 

We have not secured a domestic distribution deal yet.  We went after a foreign deal first because the Cannes Film Market is next month and by focusing on getting it there, we have a chance to start making sales right away and returning money to the investors sooner.

 

As of last week, we have secured a Foreign Sales Agency agreement with a very well respected company called Mainline Releasing.

 

After the initial screenings a few weeks ago, we had a handful of really solid companies that were making offers to distribute our film in the foreign market.  After hooking up with esteemed entertainment attorney Neal T., who also played saxophone in our band “Birthday Suit,” we were able to communicate with the companies and negotiate the best overall terms for recouping the budget of our film (“Negative Cost”).   Ultimately, Mainline was able to meet a greater percentage of our needs as a company.

 

I fostered a relationship with Mainline several years ago by approaching their Head of Acquisitions Joe Dickstein at the American Film Market.  He has followed the project from concept to fruition and is no pushover.  He’s been in the business a long time and everybody really likes him.  He always gave me the time of day but I also felt like he had seen a thousand other filmmakers talking about the film they were GOING to make, and he wasn’t about to be impressed by any talk of kung-fu demons and rock-n-roll, until he could see them.

 

After a couple of years, he eventually got his chance when I scheduled a screening specifically based on his calendar.  He couldn’t say no.   I rented an entire movie theater based on the fact that he said his Tuesday night was free.  He came, he saw, and he left.  Couldn’t be sure what he was thinking.

 

The next day, much to my pleasant surprise, Mainline and some other companies scheduled meetings, showed the movie to their sales departments, and began talks with myself and Neal.  It was a very exciting time.  It was also really stressful because there were intangibles involved in the decision: relationships, reputations, conjecture, opposing viewpoints and strategies.   

 

At last, one executive from a different company was offering certain terms but could not match the benefits of Mainline.  “Look, Kenn,” he said, “I’d like to tell you that we’ll do a much better job than Mainline and sell your film for more money, but the truth is, I know those guys, I respect those guys, they do a good job and we’ll probably sell within a hundred thousand dollars of each other, and it could go either way.  So if I was you, I’d go ahead and take that deal.  You’d be approaching it the right way.” 

 

I will always respect that guy for doing that.  Like Santa Clause sending me to Gimble’s.

 

Anyway, once we came to final terms with Mainline we had to immediately start putting together the ad campaign in order to be ready for the Cannes Film Market in 4 weeks.

 

First of all, let’s talk about Drew Struzan, the single most famous movie poster illustrator working today.  Does he illustrate all the Star Wars posters, YES!  Does he do all the illustrations for Indiana Jones, YES!  Did he do Meatballs 3, YES!   Now, he’s doing, Johnny Tao. 

 

Joe Dickstein, the Head of Acquisitions at Mainline Releasing was very excited to find out that Drew was willing to do our poster.  Joe is a fan of movie illustration and knew who Drew was the moment I mentioned his name.  Joe’s office is decorated with framed movie posters, all illustrations.  So, Joe and I discussed what the world market would require in a poster and compared that to what we could see of Drew’s work on the web.   

 

Drew and I spent several hours looking at photos, costumes, guitars, props, and books of his work and we sketched out ideas (Drew Struzan draws some of the most unintelligible sketches I have ever seen).   We spent a good deal of time discussing the imagery and composition.

 

After running the sketches by Joe, I got back together with Drew, finalized the idea and then this morning, he took photos of a couple of our lead actors and is now creating the poster for our film!!  I mean holy f*#k! 

 

He keeps the original, but we’ll get some copies.

 

The Foreign sales company only makes about five posters to take from market to market, so they don’t make copies to give away, but I have permission to order as many as I want while they run them.  They cost about $100 each.  If anybody is going to want one, all they have to do is send me the money (plus postage and handling, I don’t know what it is yet) and I’ll get them a poster.  As it gets closer, I’ll put something on the website (maybe).

 

The other thing we have to contend with is the title.  Apparently, names like “Johnny” or cultural idioms like “Tao” don’t mean anything to foreign buyers.  You want to have a title that communicates the idea of the movie to somebody who might not speak English as their first language.  Also, you have to be careful about American idioms like, “rock-n-roll.”  Right now, advertising your film as distinctly American is not necessarily the best thing to do in the world market.  Recent politics have changed the perception of American values throughout the world and softened the appeal of the “Good Ol’ USA.”

 

So, Joe and I wrestled with different words and phrases:  dragon, battle, demon, fighter, Kung-Fu, etc.  Something that would communicate the action and adventure, but still retain the fairytale quality and youthful accessibility of the story.  I enlisted the help of my friends and family.  My brother called me in the middle of the night, “How about, ‘Dragon Song,’ or ‘Spirit of the Dragon?”   Good ideas.

 

My dad called me, “Legend of the Dragon Spear.  Okay, bye.”

 

I ran it by Drew, by Matt Sohn, the D.P., Matt Twining, who plays “Johnny.”  I even wrote all the different words on index cards and scattered them around my living room floor so that I could come up with different combinations.

 

Ultimately, I e-mailed Joe a list of ideas and he coupled them with his own.  After a general consensus was taken and because we were facing a deadline in a couple of hours (literally), it was decided that the film would be sold to the foreign nations of the world as “Quest of the Dragon: A Kung-Fu Fable.”

 

Now, once another country buys it, they have to put all the titles into their own language anyway so they may choose to call the movie, “Kicking Magnificent Demon Vampire.”  Our title is really only an interim title in order to sell it to the foreign countries themselves.  Make sense?

 

Tomorrow I actually leave to go back to North Carolina for my 20 year high school reunion.  This should give me some good stories to tell, but when I get back, I hope to see some really cool artwork.  It’s really exciting!

 

Now, only to conquer America.

 

Tuesday May 16, 2006

 

It’s been a little while since I’ve written an entry, but so much has been happening and I keep having these episodes that I can’t write about because of the legal or business propriety that exists.

 

Screw it.  Here’s a brief synopsis.

 

My high-school reunion in North Carolina was awesome.  To see old friends, get to know some people a little better, visit old haunts.  It was great.  Except North Carolina still allows people to smoke in restaurants and bars, so by the end of the night, your clothes, skin, and hair smell like an ashtray.  I had to take a shower every night before I went to bed.  I also got to visit the International Furniture Market in High Point, NC.  My mom is an interior designer and designs 50,000 square foot show rooms as well as the lobby and entrance ways to some of the main industry buildings.  It was really great to get a chance to see her creativity and work.  In many ways, she is just like a film production designer, building facades and laying out floorplans in order to create an environment and a specific feeling.  She’s one of the most well respected designers in the industry and I was really proud to see her work be such an integral part of the largest industry showcase of its kind.

 

The poster for our movie was done by Drew Struzan.  It looks freakin’ great.  Eventually it will be available for viewing on the web, but we have to keep it off-line for now so people don’t pirate it.  It’s a full color portrait of Johnny Tao holding swords and a guitar, Mika, Eddie, and a glowing dragon.  People’s first impression is that it reminds them of Star Wars.  Well, that’s about the best association people could draw from it.

 

All the marketing materials, including the poster, were shipped off to Cannes, France last Friday for the Cannes Film Market.  This will be the first exposure of our film to the international market place.  I think the marketing materials look great.  When I first showed the poster to our distribution company, some of the executives had an initial reaction of disappointment.  “The guitar is too prominent,”  they said.  “We’re not selling a musical, we’re selling kung-fu.”  But, in my mind, this movie is a musical.  When I first set out to create it, I told people that we were making “Singin’ in the Rain” with kung-fu.  I didn’t plan for the poster to counteract their ideas, but I was walking a fine line of letting Drew know what they needed and letting him bring his artistry to the task.  Unfortunately, it all had to happen so fast, and so many people were out of town, and people aren’t always good about returning phone calls, that we got what we got.  Which is fantastic!

 

Now, I know that they know their business better than I and I am not about to begin to tell them what they need to sell a movie.  But, this illustration is pretty cool, it reminds people of Star Wars, it’s got class and artistry and I think it will help our show do great business.  As Drew said, it’s not about the individual items that exist in the painting, it’s about the feeling that the whole piece gives you, it should make you feel like you want to see the movie.  And boy does it!

 

On other big news, we finally had our private cast and crew screening.  Along with several other events associated with this production, it was one of the best times I’ve had in my life.  The theater was packed with 350 people, they cheered the fights, laughed at the jokes, and gave a rousing ovation at the end.  The film could not possibly have played any better.  My family came from all over the country.  The cast was there, Matt Mullins pulled up in a stretch limo, and we had a wide variety of ages and demographics there.

A common reaction we got was, “This was so much more than I expected.”  Which is great, but inside I was like, “What did you think we were making, a piece of crap?”  I guess the answer was actually, “Yes, we did think you were making a piece of crap.” 

 

I realized that, once again, nobody really knew what we were doing in the big picture, so to see all the fights, all the music, all the special effects, and the comedy come together, it was a real surprise to anybody who knows anything about the usual results of low-budget, independent filmmaking.  I loved it because Marianne Muellerleile, an extremely talented actress who is on every other commercial on television today as well as in the current hit “Thank You for Smoking,”, and plays “Kate”  in our movie, wrote me an e-mail later that night after the screening…

 

Dear Kenn,

 

What a triumph!  The movie is positively fantastic.  I am so proud to be associated with it.

Congratulations Kenn on this huge accomplishment.

 

God bless,

Marianne Muellerleile

 

And this lady don’t play. 

 

One of the reasons the movie played so well, the theater where we screened it just bought a brand new 2K digital projector (that’s the best kind).  As opposed to our first couple of screenings to test the picture with the older model projector, this time the picture was vibrant and bright, colorful and alive.  I was all prepared to make a speech before the screening about how the projection doesn’t look as good as the DVD, but when I discovered the new projector and Michael, the owner of the theater, put the tape in for a test, I jumped up and down and punched my brother in the arm because I was so excited.  This is how the picture is supposed to look!  I was a little down on digital projection up until that moment, and now I can’t ever imagine having to shoot film to make a movie ever again.  Needless to say, Matt the D.P. was ecstatic with the new picture.

 

Combining that picture with a Dolby stereo mix turned up full volume, we put on a real show.  Banging, thumping fights, thrilling special effects, and the comedic timing of Kelly Perine, what more could you want.  The crowd reaction said it all.  I never sat down once during the screening but paced back and forth behind the last row with my brother and Matt and his wife Melissa.  I guess I was nervous at first, but as it played and the laughs got louder, I knew we were doing okay.

 

Seasoned industry professionals contacted me afterwards to talk about other projects, directing their scripts, and the possibility of our film having a broad theatrical appeal like “Napolean Dynamite.”  I’ve met with agents, producers, and now we’re considering how to go about getting the next project into production.

 

Until then, I’m digging through my drawers to find quarters for the laundromat.

 

Friday May 26, 2006

 

Things move kind of slowly and then they move real fast. 

 

There’s a lot of little details that keep moving forward: a quick job assembling the art campaign for foreign sales was first.  They turned the poster into a smaller version called a “one sheet.”  It’s got the poster on the front and a written synopsis on the back.  Buyers take these with them when they leave the booth.

 

Now, it’s time to finalize all the technical deliverables that we have to give to the foreign sales agent, as well as providing a stack of paperwork and legal documents tracing the “Chain of Title” of the movie.  This is an amalgamation of all the copyrights, contracts, producer agreements, cast contracts, crew contracts, location agreements, trademark releases, music rights, and pictures of Aunt Ethel that you have.  And you better have all of it if you want to make a deal.  Many of the elements are deal breakers; sales agents or distributors won’t touch your film if they think there’s even a chance they could end up in litigation.   Also, the more of this stuff you have organized and ready to go, the easier it is to get Errors and Omissions Insurance to cover any disputes over rights that might arise.  You don’t really need this insurance for sales in the foreign territories, just in the U.S.  And if you don’t have it or can’t get it because your paperwork isn’t in order or you don’t have the release signed by the candy bar company whose butter brickle bar is eaten in scene two and you can see the label, a domestic distributor of good repute will probably not handle your film.

 

It’s a lot of organizing, a lot of xeroxing, a lot of filing and acquiring documents, sending away for copyrights, etc.

 

At the same time, I had to assemble the materials to submit to the Toronto Film Festival.

 

Which brings us to the often asked question, “Are you going to try and get it into film festivals?”

 

Yes and no.

 

Our film was never meant to be a festival movie.  It was designed with a specific business model in mind that catered to the needs of the international marketplace: a combination of kung-fu, monsters, and special effects.  Put that on a poster or in a trailer and you’ll get a big fan base really excited about a movie.

 

However, because of a simple issue of timing, I’m submitting to the Toronto Film Festival.  Along with the festivals at Cannes and Sundance it is considered one of the top three film festivals in the world and recognized as an industry related festival.  Industry people descend on Toronto and deals are made on films that have “heat.”  The festival only accepts films that are being shown publicly for the first time in North America and they specialize in debuting first time directors.  Sounds perfect for our film, but it’s certainly very competitive and I’m not sure of the chances of a kung-fu zombie movie getting into a prestigious festival.  Maybe we’ll be the first.

 

Anyway, it just so happens to be a lucky timing that the deadline for the festival is this month.  We didn’t apply to Sundance or Cannes because those deadlines had already passed by the time our film was finished.  It just so happens that if we submit to Toronto now, we’ll hear if we get in by August and the festival is in September.  Hanging around for a month or two before signing a domestic deal might be a good idea in case we get into Toronto.  It’s only a few months away and maybe we’ll get lucky and appeal to their “Midnight Madness” category.

 

In the meantime, I won’t spend the time or money to apply to other festivals because, while I do believe that film festivals are a great thing, I support them, I go to them, and I encourage others to go to them, they don’t necessarily create industry opportunity for sales/distribution.  It also takes a great deal of time and submission fees to send your film in for consideration, much less get accepted.  And when it gets right down to it, it doesn’t really drive our business model forward.

 

For example, getting into the Nashville Film Festival is a great thing, but no acquisitions executive from Paramount is going to Nashville looking for the next big thing, or Charlotte, or Miami.  Yes it’s good if you enter a lot of festivals and win a lot of awards, but those festivals are meant for the people of those cities and those towns.  It’s their chance to see independent movies not offered at the multi-plex.  The industry pretty much hangs out at the big three festivals and cruises the New York Festival as well (a very prestigious festival, I think they only accept twenty four films total).

 

So, we’ll see what happens.  We can’t enter any before that because it would disqualify us as a North American Premiere for Toronto.

 

Also, constant revisions of legal contracts for sales agreement with sales agent.

 

Talking to a couple of different magazines about doing a story on the film.  Mike Leeder, one of the editors of Impact Magazine out of Great Britain, actually called from overseas to tell me how much he enjoyed the film.  It was a real treat to hear his message.

 

Working out, eating really well, totally motivated by Ultimate Fighting and the reality show, “The Ultimate Fighter.”  If you know what I’m talking about, you know.  

 

Dropped 17 pounds.  Feeling very healthy again, but boy oh boy, it takes longer to recover from injuries.  Getting older.

 

Friday June 9, 2006

 

Thank god that’s over.

 

Domain name registration (by fault of the company) lapsed.  I transferred it back in March and paid for 8 years, but it seems that someone never unlocked the registration, it never moved to the new registrar, and I had no cause to doubt it was taken care of.  Then, I get the calls.  “Hey, I tried to show someone your website and it was down.”  What?  My website down? 

 

Sure enough, you click on it and get that lame screen telling the whole world that your domain name is now a free agent.  Immediatey, and I do mean immediately, I called the service numbers at all the appropriate companies and eventually, because someone else didn’t do their job, they had to refund my whole original purchase, then I had to call the original registrar and get them to unlock and release the name, then you’re supposed to wait 24 hours, then call the new company back and purchase a new set of services.  Once they okay the sale, it’s a 5-8 day process for some magic to happen out there in computerland and all the information is transferred.  Then, when you get the e-mail telling you the transfer is complete (as I did today) you go to your site and hope the actual webdesign and functionality transferred as well.  If not, you have to get in touch with the host and find out your Domain Name Servers, inform the new registrar and give them time to type in the numbers.

 

If I had to do that last thing about the domain name servers, I would have been totally pissed.

 

Friday June 9, 2006

 

It’s crazy times.  Incredibly exciting, but also, incredibly drawn out.

 

The Cannes film market was a good initiation for “Johnny Tao.”  It allowed the foreign sales agency to do some research and focus the ad campaign.  There was initially some question as to what elements would sell the film the best, kung-fu, comedy, music, etc and our initial poster art, while beautiful, doesn’t necessarily capture all the various images we need to demonstrate the film’s cross-genre appeal.  We’re now in the process of developing a different take on the campaign.  This will be ready in time for one of the world television markets that’s approaching.  A movie like “Johnny Tao” makes most of its foreign income from television sales and about a third from DVD rights.  Because we’re family friendly and just about the right length for a two-hour broadcast, we’re really good for t.v. 

 

In the interim, it sure is a pain in the ass to put together all this paperwork and video tapes, deal with lawyers and accounting, all the while trying to stay cool in the 100 degree plus San Fernando Valley.  Today, I was at a stop light and the compressor on my Jeep’s air conditioner went out.  I started sweating immediately.  And I don’t like to be hot in life in general, I sweat a lot.  By the time I got home, I had my shirt off, my belt pulled out of the loops and my jeans were wet.  For the first time in a long time, I yelled some expletives out loud to God.  Tomorrow I have to take that thing in to be fixed or I might kill somebody.

 

We’re waiting to hear from the Toronto Film Festival, so in the meantime, I went ahead and applied to the Austin Film Festival in Texas.  They accepted my short film “Better Never Than Late” a few years ago and it takes place right after Toronto so, once again, it was lucky timing.  We’ll see if they select “Johnny Tao.”

 

In the meantime, I’m writing my next film. 

 

Thursday June 29, 2006

 

This past weekend we had a private screening of the film in Washington, DC.  It was totally awesome.  My mom put the whole thing together (which is reassuring because it tells me she’s not embarrassed by it).  Anyway, here’s how the evening rolled: 

 

1)                  A private screening at the Landmark Cinema’s E-Street Theater.  Landmark is known for being on the cutting edge of digital film projection and it looked awesome.  In addition to friends, family, colleagues, and potential investors, James Perine (father of actor Kelly Perine, who plays Lenny the deputy in “Johnny Tao”) extended invitations to many of his former co-workers in the D.C. area, they brought their families, we packed the theater and everybody had a great time.  Kelly was on hand to sign autographs.

 

2)                  Then she hosted a private after party at a restaurant called Les Halle.  Need I say more?  Crab cake appetizers, wine, little quiches, beef satay, and bowls of french fries that you have to call pom fritz.

 

3)                  Then it was on to the roof along Pennsylvania Ave for champagne, deserts, and a midnight view of Washington, D.C., with the Capitol Building at one end and the Washington Monument at the other.  The sky clustered with dark clouds and we were treated to a rooftop show of some of the most spectacular lightning I had ever witnessed.

 

4)                  Then the festivities moved downstairs into the abode of a friend and everybody partied the night away with Kelly Perine holding court and telling some very funny fu#*ing jokes.  I went to bed at 4:00 a.m.

 

It was a great time for me because Kelly and our friend LaMonde came all the way from L.A. to be there, my buddy Tony who originally moved to Los Angeles with me in 1990 and now lives in Virginia showed up, my second cousin Jerry flew his own plane from New York with his beautiful wife Gail, my “Uncle” Mark came in from Texas, and I got to meet a wide assortment of my mom’s friends and associates.  Oh, yeah, and my friend Lloyd showed up and laughed his ass off.

 

Now, it’s back to the computer, phone calls, e-mails, package deliveries, and further sales efforts.  I’ve got a call in to the San Diego Comic Con, the largest comic/sci-fi/fantasy convention in the nation.  I’m hoping that they’ll show a trailer of the film at their Masquerade event. 

 

It seems like I might apply to a few more film festivals than I originally believed.  They happen to be coming up and it can be good publicity.

 

Let’s see.

 

Tuesday July 11, 2006

 

So, we’ve been looking at new poster ideas for the foreign sales campaign.  When I first opened the computer file to look at the new comps they sent me, I was very excited to see totally new ideas that looked like real movie posters.  The new artist combined images taken from the film with photographs they took of their employees dressed in our costumes.  When Matt the D.P. and I looked at them, we were like, “Where the hell did they get that picture?”  Overall, they looked really cool.

 

The hard part is that art or creative work like this can be so subjective.  I thought some of them were great, but our producer Don Poquette felt like they were un-impressive while our executive producer, Paul, felt like they needed to show more comedy.  Paul is a big believer in trying to convey the three elements that make up our film: comedy, kung-fu, and horror.  The trick is trying to balance those images in a single unified composition.

 

I’m supposed to meet with the foreign sales agency on Wednesday to go over the ideas and we’ll figure out where to go from there.

 

The San Diego Comic-Con is upon us again next week.  This is the largest gathering of comic book/sci-fi/superhero/Dungeons and Dragons/Star Trek/Star Wars/Lord of the Rings people you will ever see.  It’s kind of crazy.  But this year, they are going to show a trailer for “Johnny Tao” at a couple of their events.  It seems like just yesterday that I and some of the cast went down there for the last one, but it’s been a whole year.  Time sure is flying by.

 

On the domestic distribution side, we are still in ongoing discussions with a couple of companies.  It goes like this: somebody from the company sees the film and likes it and then they have to show it to all the different departments within their company to get approval before they can sign it.  As I’m learning, that can take a while.

 

Outside of that, I had a major freak-out the other day.  Here’s why:

 

Every September there is a film market in New York called the Independent Feature Film Market (they actually changed the name over the last couple of years, but I don’t know what they call it now).  This is a market where independent filmmakers, like us, pay about five hundred dollars to submit our films.  If our film is accepted, we are awarded a single screening time in the Angelika movie theater in New York during the five day market.  Executives from film production and distribution companies come there looking for a diamond in the rough.  “Clerks” was discovered there, as was “The Brothers McMullen” and a lot of other famous independent success stories.

 

About six years ago, Matt the D.P. and I went there and brought our short film, “Better Never Than Late.”  We handed out flyers, wore t-shirts with our movie logo on it and promoted the hell out of our screening.  It was a lot of fun, but also a lot of work.  Finally, when our screening rolled around, we had a packed house.  Fortunately, they really liked the movie and we got a lot of attention at the market.  Afterwards, our film was written about in Premiere, Spin, MovieMaker, and several other magazines.  It was a great experience and we made a lot of great contacts.  That sort of gave us the ammunition to move forward and raise the financing for “Johnny Tao.”

 

Well, the other day, I went online to fill out the submission form so we could take “Johnny Tao” there this coming Septemeber.  In all honesty, I thought we would have signed our domestic deal before then, but like I said, things move more slowly than I thought.  So, anyway, I go online thinking, “Man, this is gonna be great.  We’ll go to New York, we’ll screen the film for a packed house, and when they see it, I know they’ll love it like all the other screening audiences so far.  And then we’ll be the new success story of the market.  It’ll be great!”

 

At least, that’s what I was thinking until I went online and saw that the submission deadline was May 15.  WHAT?  May 15?  But all the other film events going on in September have July deadlines.  What the hell are these people doing?

 

Then it dawned on me…I had been completely negligent in my responsibility to the film.  I should have known when that deadline was months ago.  I’m the only one running the show here, so it is totally incumbent upon me to know exactly when that market is.  I mean, c’mon, it could be the single most important event in terms of finding a domestic distribution deal for “Johnny Tao.”  It’s the INDEPENDENT Feature Film MARKET for cripes sake.  And I missed it.  What an idiot!

 

So, I’m crestfallen.  I get in my car to run some other errands and I’m beating myself up.  How could I be so stupid?  How am I going to explain this to my executive producer?  “Oh, hi, this is Kenn.  Yeah, remember all that money you gave me to make this film?  How we both gambled on grabbing the brass ring?  Yeah, well, I was busy watching the NHL playoffs and cruising Internet porn so I missed the single most important market we could have been at.  Sorry.  I guess I’ll just go over here and sleep under this rock.”

 

I cursed out loud and punched my steering wheel.   Then I decided, No!  I wasn’t going to stand for it.  I had to put every ounce of energy into trying to remedy this situation so I wouldn’t have to crawl with my tail between my legs to my producers.  I turned my car around and headed home. 

 

I got on the phone and called the office in New York.  “Hey, my name is Kenn and I have a movie, and my last short film was a hit at your market, and I was out of the country, and someone told me the wrong deadline, and I was busy saving babies from burning buildings, and I’ll be flogged if I can’t show my film at your market, please help me before I kill myself (or at least pretend to and disappear).”  The girl on the other end said, “Okay, hold on, I’ll put you on with the admissions office.”  Good, now I was making headway.  I will not be defeated.  Never despair, never surrender (my motto throughout this production).

 

A very nice guy named Andre got on the phone and I lit into my sob story, “I’ll pay any amount of money to get this to you, I’ll ship it over night.  For God’s sake, in the spirit of independent film, help me save my career.”

 

So, he asked me a couple of questions,” You have a completed film?”  Yes.  “It’s a narrative work?” (That means a fictional story as opposed to a documentary)  Yes.  And then he said the words I never thought I’d hear…”We don’t show those films anymore?”

 

What?

 

He then explained to me that, in the last few years, the management of the market felt that the narrative films that were being submitted to the market were not up to the level of excellence they deemed appropriate and the market now only handled documentaries and short films.

 

“So, lemme get this straight,” I said, “I have a completed feature film, I know they used to show them at your market, but now you’re telling me I didn’t miss any deadline, you guys wouldn’t have accepted my film anyway because it’s a narrative?”

 

“That’s correct,” he said.

 

“You’re sure?”

 

“Yes, sir, I’m sure.  Good luck with your film.”

 

So I hung up the phone and I felt like the powers that be had given me a reprieve, a second chance on life.  It was like having been in a car accident and all the turmoil that comes with that and then, closing your eyes, wishing real hard, and finding that your sitting safely at a stoplight and ready to continue about your bright, sunshiney day. 

 

Thank goodness.  So, I figured that with all that worry, I probably took about another two years off my life, and I know for a fact that I have three more gray hairs, but no opportunity was missed and the prime directive of creating sales for “Johnny Tao” is still intact.

 

Whew!

 

Friday August 4, 2006

 

In many ways, my journal entries have been more intermittent because I’m trying to write another script. 

 

But, the work goes on for “Johnny Tao.”  

 

I finally got the last contract signed that I needed to provide all the deliverable paperwork to the foreign sales company, I just applied to another film festival, and I’m setting up a public screening in Los Angeles in September and helping my brother put one together in Dallas. 

 

I’m in current discussions with the foreign sales agency so they can complete the new ad campaign and make impressive sales at the upcoming international television market in France this September.  I just went to their office and saw the new poster.  It’s really cool.  Sort of like a kung-fu X-men.

 

Comic-Con was in San Diego last weekend and it was awesome.  Biggest comic book, science fiction, gaming, movie convention in the country (maybe the world, I’m not sure).

 

Matt Mullins (Eddie) rode down with me while Chris Yen (Mika) met us down there with photographer James Louis.

 

We all got there about three in the afternoon and walked around the convention center floor for a couple of hours.  We met some artists, shook hands with a few people and Matt was recognized for being a contestant on M-TV’s “Final Fu” reality show.

 

We met up with Ric Meyers at the Drunken Master Video booth.  Ric is at the top of the game of Asian Cinema.  He writes a monthly column on Asian action cinema for Inside Kung-Fu Magazine (a large niche market), has written several books, and is a professor at Bridgeport in Martial Arts Studies.  Years ago we met when he wrote a column about my involvement with Ninja Turtles.

 

That night, he would be hosting the 7th Annual Superhero Kung-Fu Extravaganza, a three hour program of clips from noteworthy martial arts films produced all over the world.  Last year the audience was 2000 people.  This year he expected the same.

 

We talked for a while about Chris Yen’s mom, Bow Sim-Mark, a world recognized kung-fu/tai chi master.  Ric told us a story about seeing Bow Sim-Mark raise one leg behind her until she rested her heel on her own shoulder then challenged two grown men to push her from her spot.  I don’t think they succeeded.

 

We went our separate ways for a little dinner and met back at the auditorium for the seven o’clock show.  When we got there, it was full to capacity and they weren’t letting any more people in.  Luckily, we knew that Ric had saved us a few seats down front. 

 

We settled in, watched the show and listened to Ric and had a really great time.  It was very engaging and Ric was a very witty and capable emcee.  His knowledge of Asian cinema is beyond reproach.  Near the end of the show, he said something about being glad to see this style of filmmaking influencing American filmmakers and introduced “Adventures of Johnny Tao” as one of the best examples he has seen.  He then showed a trailer for the film.  The audience clapped and then he introduced Matt, Chris and I.  We got on stage, were seated behind some microphones and Ric led the audience in a ten minute panel discussion.  It was great.  We all answered questions, laughed, and got a chance in the spotlight.   Ric was an excellent host and kept things moving with excellent questions. 

 

My favorite question from the audience was, “Did anybody get hurt?”

 

“No,” I proudly announced, “Nobody was hurt during any of those fight sequences.”  I forgot that Matt Mullins got kneed in the jaw and knocked silly, but he got right back into the swing of things and finished the scene.

 

“That’s not what I’m talking about,” said the audience member.  “How did you keep the actors from fighting?”

 

I wasn’t sure what he meant.  “Well, everything is choreographed so they know what they’re doing ahead of time and they just don’t hit each other.”

 

“No,” he replied, “what I’m saying is, like, when Bruce Lee was making movies, he used to get in fights with people all the time who wanted to challenge him.  Didn’t your actors fight one another?  I heard that L.L. Cool J and Jamie Foxx got in a big fight during the filming of “Any Given Sunday.”

 

This guy was confusing 1970’s karate legends and Hip Hop beefs. 

 

I wasn’t there, but legend has it that during production of his films, Bruce was constantly challenged to fight by other martial artists (usually extras) who thought he was unworthy of such popularity or wanted to usurp his crown.  But, that was a different time and usually in China.  We had professional actors who all worked well together in order to make a movie.  As far as LL Cool J and Jamie Foxx are concerned, who the hell knows what that was about…and who the hell cares.

 

We finished the questions and they showed a clip from the film, Chris Yen fighting blue suited thugs in an alley.  The audience loved it.

 

Then we stepped outside and signed autographs for about a half-hour.  I think Chris and Matt had a great time.  James also did a great job running around and snapping photos.

 

When everything was over, Ric came over and asked for a picture as well.  He told me that the whole thing went over better than he expected and he was thrilled with the outcome.  I told him I was, too.  We then talked about doing an article in Inside Kung-Fu Magazine (it sounds silly to the uninitiated, but this is a widely read publication), we also talked about his ability to call some people he knows at a few major distributors for North America.

 

It’s funny because earlier in the day when I first saw Ric, I asked him if he ever watched the movie.  Up to that point, I had received no feedback from him despite having provided him with an industry screener several weeks before.  All he said was, ‘Yes, I watched it.”  And he left it at that.

 

It was only after his introduction of the trailer did I know how he felt about it.  Then, after the autograph session, he said, “You know, I never would have shown this if I didn’t like it.” 

 

It was about midnight.  I thanked Ric, the actors said their goodbyes and we took off.  Chris and James went their way and Matt and I piled back into my Jeep Cherokee for the ride back to Los Angeles.

 

That’s when the real fun began…

 

Saturday August 13, 2006

 

So, it’s twelve-thirty at night and Matt Mullins and I are driving back from the Comic-Con in San Diego.  We pull my ’98 Jeep Cherokee onto the 5-Freeway North and start the 120 mile journey back to Los Angeles. 

 

We’re recapping the night’s events and talking about the great time we had at Ric Meyer’s 7th Annual Kung-Fu Extravaganza.  The trailer was well received, the question and answer panel was fun, and the autograph session lasted for over a half-hour.  We had a ball.   Several days later, Ric would call and tell me that this was the best show he’s ever had (not necessarily because of us, but we were there).

 

About ten miles away from the convention center, my car starts making a funny noise and the steering gets sluggish.

 

“I think something’s wrong,” I said.  So, we pull off the freeway and pop the hood.  My power steering pump had burst, fluid was everywhere.

 

Matt and I looked under the hood and realized we were in trouble.  “Great,” I said, “we’re 120 miles from home, it’s one in the morning, and this car’s not going anywhere.”    So, I called Triple A.

 

Luckily, two weeks before, just because I felt like it, I had upped my Triple A membership from Classic to Plus.  That gets you 100 miles of towing instead of the usual seven.

 

While we’re waiting, Matt and I walked to Quick Mart nearby and bought a couple of sodas and some potato chips.  We sat on a bus stop bench and talked about all the challenges Matt had to go thru on the M-TV show “Final Fu.”  It’s kind of like “Survivor,” but people karate fight to see who gets kicked off the show.  Matt had been on recently and was even recognized by people at Comic-Con.

 

So, after about a half hour a flatbed tow truck shows up and winches the Jeep onto its back.  “It’s a hundred and ten miles back to your address, “ he said, “That’ll be six dollars for every mile over one hundred so that will be sixty extra dollars.  We’ll figure it out for sure once we get there.”

 

That seemed fine, but it was a little after one o’clock in the morning and I was ready to get home and be done.

 

“We have to stop and get gas,” said the driver, “I just got back from L.A. and we’re going right back.”

 

The three of us piled into the cab.  “You’re in the middle,” said Matt.  I couldn’t really argue with him, it was my car that put us in the situation.  Then we went to the gas station.

 

While the driver filled the truck, Matt went inside to get himself a drink.  I was left alone in the middle of the station.  It was 1:30 of the morning, I was standing by myself looking at my poor Jeep up on the back of that truck.  Just two hours ago we had been movie stars, signing autographs, basking in the spotlight, and now here we were, and more personally, here I was, standing at a lonely gas station off the freeway, in the middle of the night, looking at my broken down car and wondering why I had just spent $750 dollars on repairs last week.  Money doesn’t grow on trees for independent filmmakers.

 

I hung my head in a little bit of despair.  I was feeling the pressures of my career path and wondering what was going to happen.  As I looked towards the ground, I saw a penny.  It was heads up.  (If a penny is heads up, I’ll pick it up and make a wish, then toss the penny over my shoulder so that it might land heads up and somebody else could make a wish later).

 

I picked it up and rubbed it between my fingers.  I looked up to the sky. 

 

“God,” I said out loud, “If ever I needed a little bit of help, this would be it.  I’m doing everything I can to make this film a success.  I’m trying to do it honestly and treat everybody well.  I just need a little help.   I just need some kind of financial assistance from the home office.”

 

I paused and then said out loud, “And God, I don’t want any of this “Twilight Zone – Be Careful What You Ask For…”  money.  Like I don’t want to wake up tomorrow and collect life insurance money from my parents.  I want good money.  Some kind of big sales for “Johnny Tao” at the upcoming market, or landing another directing job soon.  Something good and honest.”  Then I tossed the penny over my shoulder.

 

At that very moment, Matt Mullins walked out of the Quick Mart.  “Hey, Kenn, I got you this.”  He handed me a lottery scratcher.

 

He dug into his pocket to hand me a coin.  “No, wait,” I said, “Lemme get this lucky penny.”  I went over and picked it up.

 

I scratched the card.  I was trying to read the instructions and scan the various shapes I was uncovering simultaneously. 

 

“You’ve gotta be kidding me,” I said.

 

“What is it?” said Matt.

 

“I won six dollars.”  I had revealed three matching money bags and won the lowest prize on the scale.

 

“I think I just used up my favor from God,” I said.  I then explained to Matt what I had been doing for the previous three minutes.  I then reasoned that God was a busy guy and it just so happened I had gotten through the switchboard for that brief previous moment and here was his response.  The cynical part of me reasoned that, if Matt had not bought that scatcher, maybe God would have found some other way to answer my prayer in greater abundance at a later time.  It seems like a busy guy like him would check off his obligations towards me, move on to the next person and not get back around the list for another hundred years or so.  And here was the answer to my deepest prayers, six dollars.

 

Well, we couldn’t help but laugh and climbed into the truck for the drive back.

 

The driver started the engine and there was a horrible explosion.  Smoke burst from under the hood.  “Oh, shit,” said the driver.

 

We all jumped out of the cab and stopped short as we came around the front.

 

The truck’s oil filter system had exploded and threw a pattern of oil across the cement lot of the gas station.  The oil landed in a perfect silhouette of the Virgin Mary.

 

I’m just kidding about this last part.  Actually, we just climbed back in the truck and drove back to Los Angeles.

 

Thursday August 24, 2006

Comic-Con 2006 - San Diego, CA

Director Kenn Scott signs autographs for fan's of "Johnny Tao"
 
A crowd gathers to meet the stars of "Johnny Tao"
 
Matthew Mullins and Chris Yen answer a little Q & A for the fans
 
Chris Yen signing an autograph for one of her fans
 

Matt Mullins signing autographs for his devoted fans
 
Matt Mullins, Chris Yen, Kenn Scott, posing for that Kodak moment
 
 Ric Meyers, host of the event, talks with Chris Yen
 
Watching a clip from the movie.

 

Thursday September 7, 2006

 

I kind of lost my journal momentum.

 

So, in an effort to build up momentum again I am going to write brief shotgun entries.  I don’t know how interesting they will be to read, but it’s basic journal kung-fu and I have to get back into it.

 

Went to see Ric Meyers at Sci-Fi Convention in Anaheim.  Really good time.  Ric is a learned man.  Just came from China.  No sleep, no home in 3 weeks.   Good luck with jet lag.  Looking forward to reading his review of the movie in INSIDE KUNG-FU.

 

Chris Yen going to Boston.  Forgot to tell her to call Charlie Chesterman before she left.  Left message, hopefully she’ll call.

 

James Louis took pictures at Comic-Con.  Thanks you James.

 

Great review coming out in Impact Magazine by Mike Leeder out of Hong Kong.

 

Working with lawyer, submitting to producer’s reps.

 

Talking to Epic Level Entertainment about repping film to domestic distributors, festival strategy, and publicity.  Possible packaging of next film if we come to agreement.

 

That’s it for now.

 

Wednesday September 13, 2006

 

Completing contracts with producers’ reps, John-Frank Rosenblum and Cindi Rice of Epic Level Entertainment.  They will help us find our domestic distribution deal. 

 

Going over legal contracts with Neal the lawyer.

 

Anxious about hearing back from Austin Film Festival this week, although now we have to consider whether or not to apply to Sundance.  May preclude us from showing in Austin.  I hope not.

 

Delivering final Digi-beta tapes to foreign sales agent, man does this crap take a long time.

 

Today I’m drawing up investor agreements for development on the next movie.

Friday September 15, 2006

 

 

Friday September 26, 2006

 

The screening in Texas was a big success.  All the co-executive producers from that area were there and everyone seemed to have a good time.  One of my favorite comments I heard was in the theater during the movie, when Mika is kissing Johnny Tao and passing on her spirit, a magical green glow passes between their lips and Dovie, one of our co-execs, turned to her friend and said, “I want a kiss like that.”

 

The Harkins Theatre in Southlake, TX was great.  The picture looked good, the sound was loud and the staff was really helpful.  Kudos to my brother Steve for putting the whole event together with the help of co-execs Tony Tisdale and Robert Myles.

 

Jean Weaver, a local reporter was there and spent some time interviewing myself and some of the co-execs.  Hopefully she’ll get a nice article out of it.

 

Just got final approval on the press kits I assembled for the foreign sales agency.  They’ll use about thirty of them to promote sales at next month’s MIPCOM television market in France.

 

Impact magazine finally hit the newstands in the states and the review is great.  It’s just in time and a nice addition to the press kit.

 

Believe it or not, we’re still waiting to take one more picture of one of our actors for the poster for the market in three weeks.  Talk about cutting it close.

 

Friday October 13, 2006

Getting ready for Mikomicon on Saturday October 14 here in Northridge, CA.

 

We’ll be screening the movie and Matt Mullins, Chris Yen, and Kelly Perine will be on hand to sign autographs and participate in a panel discussion.

 

Cut an action reel for foreign sales agency to use in France.  I think it looks pretty good.  We’re using it here to promote the film.

 

Making lots of DVD trailers with different labels for all the different phone numbers and titles of the movie.

 

Epic Level Entertainment’s Cindi Rice and John Frank Rosenblum (Co-Executive Producers) have submitted us to Sundance and put together a great one sheet for promoting the film.

 

Impact Magazine finally hit the newstands and it looks great.  Three pages and a very positive review.

 

Trying to deliver final digital tapes of movie to the foreign sales agency.  Have to make one version of the movie widescreen, then we have to go in and adjust the whole movie so it fits on a 4x3 television screen.  This means changing the subtitles so they fit on the screen and going through the whole movie and figuring out which shots need to be “Pan and Scanned” in one direction or another. 

 

Let’s say there’s a scene with two people talking.  On the movie screen, if the two people are standing far apart, one may be on the left edge of frame and the other on the right.  When you go to television, you’re only going to see one of those people because the screen is so much narrower in proportion.  So, we have to digitize the footage into the computer and shift the picture one way or the other to feature at least one of the actors, otherwise you have an unbalanced composition with a lot of dead space.  Sometimes you have to shift the picture to the left or right because an important piece of information is being revealed visually.

 

Simple shifts to the left or right are easy, but many times, you have to shift back and forth in a shot to keep up with the action.  These are more difficult and time consuming to create.  You can perceive these computer-created moments when you watch movies on T.V.  The image will pan quickly one way then another, more quickly and less organically than a real camera move, and there’s a subtle strobe effect that occurs. 

 

The lesson is, try to watch all your movies in widescreen.  The cinematographer is an artist of composition.  Film is a visual art.  When you cut off the sides of the picture and digitally select what to show, you miss a great deal of the impact of a film.  It may seem trivial, until you see a comparison side by side. 

 

Many filmmakers in Hollywood are adamant about this cause.  Martin Scorsese narrated a wonderful documentary about it in which he showed A/B comparisons of great movies.  The narrative effect is tremendous.  Once you realize what you’re missing, anything less can be disappointing.

 

So, we did that.  Matt Sohn, Richard Kidd, Mike Hugo and I all coordinated our efforts and did that.

 

The original point of all this is that I have to deliver four digital tapes of the film to the foreign sales agency; one widescreen, one 4x3 for television, and then duplicates of these two, converted to PAL broadcast standards for Europe.  Europe shows video and television at 25 frames per second (FPS).  It’s called the PAL standard.  I don’t know why.  The U.S. uses video technology that plays at 30 FPS.  It costs anywhere from $500 to $1000 to make those dubs.  Then, they have to be of a high enough quality that countries with strict standards, most notably Germany, will accept them.  Many films are often refused on the merits of their transfer quality.  I don’t forsee that as a problem for us, but you never know.

 

Tuesday November 28, 2006

 

Long time no journal.

 

I thought I was going to keep writing, but I’m spending all my writing time trying to complete my next script.

 

I guess I’m not a very prolific writer, but damn, I’m getting tired.

 

Tuesday Journal 4, 2007

 

Well, well, well,…2007.

 

The journey of making and selling an independent film can be a long one.  Even longer than I expected actually.

 

So much has happened over the last few months that I just got so far behind on journaling and trying to keep other projects moving that I just lost my motivation to write about it.  So, if anyone else is still reading this thing, here’s a little bit of what’s been happening.

 

We screened the film at a couple of comic book conventions.

 

We just played at the Beverly Hills Hi Definition Film Festival, so that was a good thing.  We achieved a little bit of credibility by getting into a festival.

 

The film is being looked at by some major domestic distributors.

 

We’ve been trying to do some selling in the foreign market through our sales agent, Mainline Releasing and achieving some degree of success.

 

We’ve gotten some mention in a few more magazines here and there and continue to get positive critical response.  The Sci-fi channel saw the movie and really liked it, but unfortunately they don’t show martial arts movies.  However, they were so impressed with the look of the film that they actually thought we shot it on 35mm film (thanks to Matt Sohn’s great cinematography, a lot of people within the industry assume we shot this on film as opposed to HD video) and they are opening discussions with me about directing one of their original films.  We’ll see.  We also had a brief discussion about developing ‘Johnny Tao” as a series with more of a “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” feel.

 

Technically, I’ve had to deal with so much detailed work regarding delivery.  Believe it or not, we are only able to deliver the final quality approved video tapes to the foreign distributors in January.  It took that long to get all the specs right, have the copies made, make all the corrections, and wait for everybody to come back from vacation so we could get it together.  What a pain in the ass.

 

Oh, you independent filmmakers out there…make sure you know what you’re getting into.  I would do it again in a heartbeat, especially now that I have the experience of having done it once (at least to this point, domestic distribution is going to be another whole set of challenges).  But you better make sure you have a plan from the start and the right amount of money to complete, deliver, AND market your film.

 

Anyway, that’s it for now, hopefully we’ll have some more exciting things to report as we move into the Year of the Pig.

 

Onward and upward…

 

Tuesday Journal 9, 2007

 

So, an interesting bit of new on the soundtrack.  In addition to all the great original rock and roll music in the movie written and performed by Charlie Chesterman (with his group Chaz and The Motorbikes) my brother Steve and I recorded a couple of songs that were in the film, as well.  We’ve been playing and recording music together since back in high school and our first band called “The Dipshitz.”

 

We recorded an instrumental song called “Pieces” for the movie.  It plays under a scene where Jenny tells Johnny he shouldn’t leave town.

 

Well, Steve posts a lot of the music that he produces (some that we write together, a lot that he writes and records on his own) on a website called www.broadjam.com.   People can listen to music on that site and then they rate it, review it and can even buy it if they want.

 

He put “Pieces” up there and just got word that it broke into the top ten in the soundtrack division.  Pretty cool.  The website also gauges how well the music does regionally within the country and “Pieces” broke into the Texas top ten and the United States south central top 10.

 

So maybe you can pop a visit over to Broadjam.com and type “Troum” into the search engine and check out his homepage and music.

 

Keep rockin’!

 

Thursday February 8, 2007

 

So, this past week, “Adventures of Johnny Tao” won BEST FEATURE at the Back lot Film Festival in Los Angeles.

It was a lot of fun and pretty exciting to win.  Ben Stiller was there, as was Budd Schulberg, a 92 year old writer who wrote “On the Waterfront” with Marlon Brando and several other famous films.  They showed several of his movies at the festival as a tribute and they were great; really timeless writing.  One movie in particular, “A Face in the Crowd” starring Andy Griffith and Patricia Neal was a great film about a hobo who becomes famous after appearing on a local radio show and how his rise to celebrity gets him drunk with power and eventually leads to his downfall.  Really good.  I recommend the rental.

This was the second festival to which we were accepted.  The other was the Beverly Hills Hi-Def Film Fest.  We basically filmed our movie withleading HD technology and to have it recognized and then projected in big, beautiful, full resolution HD on the big screen is awesome.  We get to show the film in a tape format called D-5, this really big wide cassette tape.  It's got full resolution and 5.1 surround sound.  Not only does the picture look great, but when we did the sound mix, on both music and effects, we really pumped up the low end bass.

When you see a movie theatrically, not only can you hear the music, but you can feel it as well.  Low-end rumbles and big bass pads affect your body physically through the vibration caused by their frequency.  By manipulating the technology and capabilities of light and sound,  the theatrical movie going experience becomes a more "complete" experience.

We also got this great review from Ric Meyers, the most recognized Asian Cinema columnist and author out there.

"Get ready for a whole new world of martial arts action, comedy, and good ol' rock 'n' roll in the promising premiere feature from one of the best of the new generation's kung-fu filmmakers. Rock on, Johnny!"

-- Ric Meyers
Inside Kung-Fu
Asain Cult Cinema

Ric's a super nice guy.

Cindi Rice, part of Epic Level Entertainment, the company that is representing "Johnny Tao" for sale to the Domestic Market, is creating new artwork.  We are combining the images used for foreign sales with several still images and creating a DVD case for our submissions to distributors and festivals.  I think it looks pretty cool.

When it's done, I'll get it up on the website.  Which I haven't really updated in a long time.  I need to.

 

Thursday March 1, 2007

 

Well, a lot of cool things are happening, but boy, it’s an emotionally exhausting ride.

 

The film continues to receive critical praise from journalists and movie industry types, but we’re still navigating the waters of domestic distribution.  We’ve gotten a couple of offers, but we feel like there’s a better one out there for us, so we continue to plug away.   Hopefully, out festival wins and growing press awareness will open some more doors.

 

One thing I am proud of as a director is that we receive repeated praise on the performance of our actors.  They all did a great job spending time preparing for their roles and it really shows in their final performances.  Our three leads, Matt Twining, Matt Mullins and Chris Yen, all spent several weeks not only rehearsing the action sequences, but doing dramatic homework as well.  The tool that was most helpful to me in working with dramatic technique was a workbook by acclaimed acting teacher Anita Jesse here in Los Angeles.  It’s a book called “Let the Part Play You,” and when I was an actor, it changed my life, and my career.  Her insight into the actor’s process and synthesis of that insight into exercises and acting games provided a wonderful set of tools to get the actors into the right state of relaxation and preparation.

 

The biggest challenge with actors, especially young ones, is getting them to do “presentational” acting instead of “representational” acting.  The difference is this:  If I was to ask you to play the role of a cab driver in New York, many inexperienced actors would think of what a New York cab driver is supposed to sound like or look like, then they would attempt to dress like that and change their manner of speaking to say things like, “Hey, buddy, where youse wanna go?”   Often times, this ends up with an actor doing their impersonation of what they THINK a cab driver is SUPPOSED to sound like, resulting in a cartoon-like interpretation of the character with a forced manner of speaking and an unnatural delivery of lines.   The is “representational’ acting; in other words, the actor is performing their representation of what they think a New York cabbie is supposed to be like.  

 

The other side of the coin is “presentational”  acting.  This is when an actor actually becomes a cab driver in their mind and fills the character with their own subtle nuance and history.   The key is for an actor to create a history and then let that history create the motivation and nuance of their performance.  For instance, a young man asked to play the cab driver would make a big mistake trying to act like the old, gruff cab drivers he has seen in other films.  What would a young man from Ohio have in common with a 60 year old man from the Bronx who’s been driving for 30 years?  Nothing.  That’s why he would have to create his own history and not imitate the IDEA of a cab driver.  Maybe he’s driving a cab to pay for college.  The combined work of going to school and driving all night would probably make him tired, maybe irritable because he didn’t have time to study for a big exam.  Or maybe he was late to work and the boss yelled at him this morning, or he’s not spending enough time with his girlfriend and they got in a big argument the night before.  Or maybe he got a big tax return in the mail the day before.  If one of these histories is created by the actor, his reactions to his customers would have the underlying tone and colors driven by that circumstance. 

 

Everybody has a story and the history and details of those stories color the way we interact with the world.  Even if these things aren’t mentioned in the script, it’s important for the actor to build this foundation so they seem real and deliver their dialogue with the background and depth of a real person.

 

I may not do the explanation justice here, but one simple example comes to mind.  One time when I was watching “Cheers” on television, Ted Danson was playing Sam the bartender and he was talking with some of the customers.  As he did so, he was cutting lime wedges throughout the dialogue.  This is a simple task done by bartenders everyday.  They don’t have to think about it while they are doing it, it’s second nature.  Well, he looked just like a real bartender, going about his mundane task, thinking about how he had to stock the bar and get it ready for business.  He didn’t talk about it and carried on conversations  about completely different topics.  He was actually BEING  a bartender and it made the scene real.  He didn’t draw attention to it, he didn’t make a big deal out of it, as if to say, “Look at me, I’m doing something a bartender would do, so I must be a bartender.”   He was just doing it and letting the motivation of his ultimate task, stocking the bar, imbue his actions with the reality of the situation.  He was not representing a bartender, he was being a bartender.

 

Anyway, performances of actors can ultimately be the life or death of a film.  Fortunately, the actors in “Adventures of Johnny Tao” did their homework, created off camera histories and filled their performances with “reality.”  My hat goes off to them.

 

 

Thursday March 22, 2007

 

The illustration I drew about presentational acting in the last entry was not very well written. 

 

 

I actually made the issue more confusing by introducing two layers of performance by Ted Dansen, one as a working/believable bartender cutting limes, and the other as Sam the ex-baseball player turned saloon proprietor.  In this case the actor is actually responsible for two layers of history: one that provides Ted Dansen with the physical confidence to move around behind a bar, and the other to provide Sam the baseball player with a history and past.

 

I should have indicated more specifically that what made Ted Dansen portray a great bartender was not that he demonstrated that he could cut limes, but that he had done his homework to the point where he could forget about cutting the limes and relegate it to second nature, that way, he could carry on a conversation filled with the history and nuance of Sam the character, not Ted the actor trying to think about cutting limes  correctly. 

 

 

Anyway, that makes it more specific.

 

Friday August 24, 2007

 

 

Well, it certainly has been a long time since I put up a journal entry.  Unfortunately the process has been a slow and frustrating one.  I know I’ve said this before, but it seems that we have a film that audiences and even some critics like, but finding the right home for distribution is a chore.

 

We’ve had a few companies look at it and we’ve even had some offers, but either the offers don’t meet our needs or, in some cases, we’ve actually had to be wary of unscrupulous business practices and avoid certain deals.  I’ve experienced a bit of that throughout the filmmaking process.  Even in the beginning when it was time to raise the financing to make the movie, I encountered a parade of characters who promised financing in one way or another and when it came down to it, if a deal for easy money sounded too good to be true, it was too good to be true.  Funny enough, before I share one particular story, let me give a warning to all filmmakers out there, if people approach you with a business deal or an offer to finance or produce your film, look at their teeth.  If they’re missing teeth or have a rotten set of choppers, walk the other way…or hang around and listen to their proposals for entertainment’s sake.

 

One time, at the American Film Market in Los Angeles, I was cruising around the venue carrying a large conceptual poster of ”Johnny Tao” and showing a DVD of a short film I made to interest financiers, when I encountered a guy that I refer to as “the cowboy.”  Along with all the other “lobby dwellers” who won’t spend the money to buy a pass to get to the upper floors of the hotel where most of the legitimate business is done, this guy, in his threadbare suit and Texas-sized cowboy hat gets there early every market, every day, and stakes out one of the small cocktail tables in the lobby.  He opens his old briefcase, pulls out a laptop, and sets up his office for the day.  I’m not sure what his overall objective is, but he’s certainly trying to put together deals for himself or glom onto some unsuspecting filmmaker and carve a piece of the pie for himself, if he can make the right introduction or convince somebody to give him money for his low-budget horror film.  Well, he saw me wandering around with my poster and asked me to sit down.  Right away I should have known it was a foolish endeavor by the rank of his body odor and the state of his teeth, but heck, I had nothing but a poster and a script, so I had nothing to lose by just listening.  He listened to my pitch and told me I had a good idea.  Now, if I would just sign some papers with him right there, he would make a call and introduce me to somebody who he guaranteed would want to make this film.  Immediately I felt like Elvis signing a napkin deal with Colonel Tom Parker for 50% of my life earnings.  Even though I was desperate to make a film, I knew that any guy in his apparent state of personal disarray and smelling like he did, was not going to put me in touch with the right people.  Hell, he didn’t read a script or anything, didn’t know me, didn’t really know anything about the project, he just wanted me to sign a ready-made contract.  I don’t think so.

 

I actually encountered another guy outside the film market.  Again, a guy with bad teeth.  I mean he was actually missing teeth.  I don’t remember who actually introduced me to this guy, I think it might have been somebody from the gym who knew I was trying to make a film.  But anyway, this guy sits down with me and tells me he can get the money I need to make my film.  All I can do is stare at his teeth while he proceeds to lay out the scenario.  Unfortunately, he can’t get the million dollars all at once, but in monthly installments.  All I have to do is give him $20,000 and thirty days later he’ll give me back $50,000.  Then each month after that, he can get another chunk until we’ve acquired the entire amount.  I mean, c’mon.  Now let me digress for a moment…

 

I was already wary of scam artists because of an experience I had a couple of years earlier.  A very close friend of mine knew a woman from Texas who was visiting California for a week and was trying to get in the movie business.  Apparently she had access to quite a bit of money and was eager to make a film.  Well, my friend set up a lunch meeting in Venice Beach.  We went down and met the lady and she was very nice.  She said all the right things and she was excited about working with my friend who would have been an associate producer on the film because he was putting the whole deal together.  After we pitched the idea, a martial arts western, she thought it was a great idea.  All she had to do was return to Texas, get some paperwork in order and we’d be in business.  As we finished the meal, she said to me, ‘Aren’t you excited, you’re going to get to make your film.”  Of course I was excited.

 

Well, she goes back to Texas and about two weeks later I get a phone call from her.  “Hi Kenn.  I’m here at the lawyer’s office.  I have the same lawyer as George Foreman and he just left (notice the name drop for credibility)  Well, we’re getting the papers in order for your movie but the lawyer won’t release them until I pay his bill.  It’s $250 and since I just moved here, I only have temporary checks and he won’t accept that, so if you can just wire me the money, we’ll get it all done and start making the movie.”

 

Needless to say, I was a little perplexed.  Here’s this woman who acts as if she’s got money, talks about how she has access to a million dollars or more, and she’s calling me to ask for $250.  “Well, I’m not sure what to do,” I said, “maybe we should call our mutual friend.”  She replied, “Oh, you know how busy he is, I don’t want to bother him with this little thing.”  Well, I know our friend better than she does, and he’s not so busy that he can’t take time to take care of something that has to do with producing his first film.  So I hesitated for a moment and she says, “C’mon Kenn, don’t you want to make your movie?” 

 

“Well, of course I do, let me figure out what to do and I’ll call you right back.”  So she says, “Well, make it fast, the lawyer’s going to be leaving his office soon and then he’s going out of town, so if we don’t do it now, I don’t know if it will happen.”  And I’m thinking, “Shit, this is weird.”

 

So I call our mutual friend and explain the situation to him.  Now remember, he knows this woman for a few years.  So he tells me, ‘It sounds like she’s trying to scam you.”  No shit.  “So what should I do?”  My friend tells me to hold off for a while and then call her back and tell her that I would really like to but a friend of mine just got arrested and I needed to use all my cash to bail him out.  It was a crazy story, but it seemed to meet my needs.  So that’s I did.

 

Well, she wasn’t happy about that at all and told me I would never be able to make my movie if I didn’t do this.  “Sorry,” I said, “there’s nothing I can do, but maybe you can call our friend and see if he can do it.”  She didn’t like that either.  Suffice to say, she never called him.  Now my friend happens to have a lot of friends in law enforcement, so he called them up and actually ran a check on this woman and it turns out she had quite a substantial rap sheet for fraud and forgery.  They haven’t spoken since.

 

So, back to my story.  Being wary of scammers, I realize this guy with the bad teeth is pulling my leg about all this stuff about giving him money and him getting the budget in installments, so I don’t commit to anything but I listen to his proposal.  “I can’t come up with $20,000,” I said, “so I guess we can’t do this whole installment thing.”  Then he proceeds to tell me he’ll see if he can work something out.  So, I go home and forget about it, and he sends me the following e-mail (I have left his grammar and spelling just as it appeared in the e-mail):

 

GODD NEW  before the year is up it looks like I can do the hold thing but these people don't do small budget so see about making it bigger and I will get them the package right away they just gave a filmmaker moeny not to long a go

 

I write him back and tell him to keep me posted.  So the next day, I get this e-mail:

 

hears the deal I can get you 10 million dollar for your movie all you have to do is get a letter of incorporation fill out some form two years tax returns and 15000 dollars up front(which isrefundable if loan is not released) (last time it took ten days)you get your moeny within three weeks after paper work is turned in they have already released twenty million already to some one else and they want to see your package I am telling you this is the real thing they are giving filmmaker money let us do this

 

I’m looking at this guy’s e-mails and can’t believe how stupid this is.

 

He follows up with a phone call.  I tell him I can’t come up with $15,000.  So he tells me that he can probably do it for half or $7500.  All I need to do is (here’s the best part) bring the money, in cash, and meet him outside the gym by seven o’clock that night.  He even tells me that if I don’t have all of it, that’s okay, he can still get things started.

 

Are you kidding me?  Meet a guy on a street corner and hand him $7500 in cash.  Screw you.  So I told him I would meet him and then I never showed up.  I never heard from him again.

 

Filmmakers be warned, as much as you want to make a film, this is not the way business is done.  The film industry is full of hard-working individuals with good character and strong work ethics, but it is also filled with the lowest form of con-men and thieves.  There’s no license, no certification, and no governing body to determine who is and who is not a producer, but there is a contingency of people out there who rely on their own erudition and the gullibility and desperation of others chasing their dreams to steal whatever they can. 

 

And it’s not just relegated to financing, there’s even small sales agents out there, doing business today, that actually take screeners of films from filmmakers and secretly make duplicate copies and sell them to foreign countries under the table for quick cash and with no accompanying paperwork and never tell the filmmaker.  It happens all the time.  Some times, these nefarious perpetrators of piracy are caught and barred from the markets, but just as often, they are never caught because they’re making a quick sale for a few thousand bucks to some third world country that no independent filmmaker will ever be able to track or discover.  I mean, heck, you would have no idea if your little horror movie about teenagers hiding in a mountain cabin and being eaten by a giant lizard man is playing on T.V. in Malaysia.  Would you?  And if you did, what could you do about it.

 

Screw those people.

 

Monday March 17, 2008
 

 

So, as we prepare for the long-awaited, exciting DVD release of our film this summer from MTI Home Entertainment, a few items are worthy of note.

 

The title of the film will be changed to "Adventure of Johnny Dow." as opposed to "...Johnny Tao."  While everyone appreciated the reference to eastern philosophy, we noted that a lot of people had trouble pronouncing the word TAO ("dow").  we often heard people say "Tay-ow," or "Tah"  If people can't pronounce the movie, they are less likely to talk about it.  MTI really liked the use of the word "Adventures" so they opted just to change the end to match the English spelling of the character's last name.

 

The other item worthy of mention is our MPAA rating.  After reviewing the film, the often-controversial MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) gave the film a PG-13 rating.  That's good because it won't scare people away only saw a PG rating on the box, and with a less than "R" rating, parents won't be afraid to let kids watch it.  They gave it a PG-13 based on "Violence and Martial Arts Action"

 

While I'm completely satisfied with the rating, it's kind of funny to see how the MPAA operates.  First of all, you have to pay a fee to have your film rated, about $1500.  It's supposed to be "voluntary," because the MPAA wants to make sure that nobody thinks they are interfering with a producer's business an his/her ability to make money in our free economy, but you have to get your film rated if you want certain retailers to consider it or theaters to show it.  Some places won't carry un-rated films because they may be too violent or sexual for their family customers.

 

Now, as the MPAA considers films, nobody is exactly sure of the formula that they use to determine a rating.  As a matter of fact, I don't think there is one.  They just have members watch the film and make an arbitrary decision.  Many times, they will determine a rating that is more restrictive than the filmmakers might want and can ultimately, affect their profits.  This is bad for producers who want their films to reach as wide an audience as possible (and who doesn't?)  Sometimes, certain retailers will not carry R-rate films or television networks can only show R-rated films after 8:00 at night.

 

A movie about a serial killer might get an "R" rating because of the violence of his actions or the general subject matter.  So, if the producers want to get a lower rating, like PG-13, they ca ask the board to re-review the film after they've made "significant" changes.  However, the MPAA won't tell the producers exactly what they need to change or delete to meet the new requirements.  therefore, the producers go back in and make edit guesses and then re-submit, along with another fee.  they can do this over and over

again until they either run out of money, or realize the film is not going to be rated any lower

 

There have bee examples where films got a heavy rating, because of one particular scene of violence.  I have forgotten which movie it was, but one film went back to a particular fight scene and edited it down so the attacker punched his victim 5 times instead of 10 and they were successful in getting a lower rating.  Sometimes just removing a shot of someone's naked butt or breast can also lower the rating.

 

With "Johnny Tao,'' I'm kind of surprise they gave it the "13" caveat, because our film has no blood or serious violence( I consider the martial arts stuff " action as opposed to "violence", because of the lack of blood, decapitations, or bone breaking). When George Lucas and Steven Spielberg put out the second Indiana Jones movie.  "Temple of Doom." The MPAA gave it a "PG" rating.  Parents complained bitterly because the bad guy literally rips the hearts out of his victims and they didn't think it was appropriate for young kids.  Well, Steven Spielberg lobbied the MPAA to create the PG-13 rating.  The means, Parental Guidance suggested and no children under 13 years of age would be admitted without an adult. Now, for anyone who has seen our film, there is no question, it is definitely suitable for kids 13, just as much as a episode of the television show "Power Rangers."  I mean, we didn't rip out any hearts or anything.  So why is our film the same as "Temple of Doom," which is rife with shootings, stabbings, death, blood and HEARTS BEING RIPPED OUT?  Many say that the answer lies in the unwritten rules of "preferential treatment" for studio produced films as opposed to independents.  Oh well, no big deal.

The most ridiculous ratings discrepancy I've seen lately is for the film ' Hostel  II" This film, about a group of girls who travel through Europe and end up at a private club where members pay money for the pleasure of torturing and killing others, was actually really good.  I mean it's totally gross and violent and extremely bloody, and I don't particularly care for horror/slasher film in general, but I think the director Eli Roth is a really good filmmaker and I liked it.  ( If you can stomach that kind of stuff, you should watch "Hostel I" then see "Hotel II"}  Anyways, this film was rated "R"  Now, that may not seem like a big deal if you haven't seen the movie, but let me put it into context

 

Years ago, when "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" first came out, it was rated with an "X", the same rating as a porno movie.  This was a rating given to any film that had "Adult content."  The MPAA actually doesn't rate porno movies and only gave an "X" rating to commercial "Adult" fare, like "Midnight Cowboy" or " A Clockwork Orange," but any movie that chose to be released and not get rated, like a porno, could voluntarily put an "X" rating on their film.  Oftentimes, producers of horror films would do this to create controversy and drive people to see the "taboo" film.  Porno producers put "X"  on there own free will just to let people know it was a porno movie, but once other producers started putting the "X" rating on their own horror films and low budget movies, porno producers felt they need something extra and created the "XXX"  label. Eventually, the MPAA created the NC -17 rating (nobody under the age of 17 will be admitted} in order to separate " legitimate" films with a "adult" subject matter from porno movies associated with the letter "X".  Anyways, I digress...back to "Hostel".

 

 

"Hostel II" is a very violent movie with scenes of sadistic torture and killing, mutilated bodies, etc.  If you look back at some of the other legitimate films that received "X" when that rating existed, they are certainly less shocking than what you might see in "Hostel II."  So, even though values have changed, this is a film still very worth of consideration for the NC-17.  The reason I say this is because {SPOILER ALERT- I WILL NOW REVEAL SOMETHING THAT HAPPENS IN THE FILM  "HOSTEL II"} in the movie Hostel II, in addition to people torturing others with knives and chainsaws and a scene where a women bathes in dripping blood of a victim hung over her bathtub, there is a scene where a girl CUTS OFF A MAN'S PENIS WITH GARDEN SHEARS.  I mean cut it off right on camera....oh my god! Outside of having sex with a barnyard animal, what could you possibly have to do to an NC-17 rating?  How can a movie like this qualify for an "R" rating, one step above "Johnny Tao"?

 

 

Anyway, that's a little bit about the ratings world.  If you want to read some interesting stuff, check out the wikipedia entry on the MPAA.

 

That's really all I have to ramble about right now.  I'll let you know as we move into publicity and marketing
aspects of the film.

 

Rock on!

 

Thursday April 3, 2008
 

 

Here it comes....

 

Finally, ADVENTURES OF JOHNNY TAO (notice the spelling is still the original way) is set for a July 29th street date.

 

That means it should be in a video store near you on that day.  Let's hope the retailers find the film as entertaining as all our test audiences did.

 

Apparently, the film is already playing on television in Russia.

 

We're hoping for a nice take off here in the states because the distribution company feels we have a good cross-over film:  families, kids, action fans, and (get this) the Christian market.  Because we have positive moral messages and no "bad words" or blood, the film is a ripe candidate for the faith based market.  How about that?

 

Rock on!

Saturday June 14, 2008
 

Wow, so much has gone on, I got caught up in all the work and neglected the journal.

 

The film is finally coming out on July 29, Hooray!  It will be released by MTI Home Video and be available in Blockbuster and all the other major chains, as well as Netflix and Amazon, etc.

 

The company produced all new artwork for us and it's getting great compliments.  They really did a nice job of capturing all the elements from the film.

 

we have a publicist assigned to us by the distribution company, Ed Baran, and he's doing a great job of getting the word out to all the various publications and websites.  You can check out his site, along with a press release, photos, and our new artwork at http://www.edbaran.com/mtihomevideo/

 

when you have a movie in distribution for home video, the distribution company spends thier advertising dollars appealing to the retailers (Blockbuster, Netflix, etc.) as opposed to the public.  There are various trade magazines that the retailers read to see what's coming out and to get reviews on it before they decide to make a purchase.  Some of the publications are "Media News" and "Video Business."  I just got an e-mail from the publicist and he said that "Video Business" reviewed the movie and (I quote), "They LOVE IT. Expect a rave review in the next couple of weeks...space permitting."  How cool is that?

 

I also got a call from my friend and mentor, Eric Karson, who directed the martial arts classic "The Octagon" with Chuck Norris as well as a few Jean-Claude Van Damme movies.  He said he saw the advertisement in "Media News" and thought the artwork was excellent.  That's always good to hear from a knowledgeable veteran in the industry.

A couple of magazines are also supporting the release.  “Inside Kung Fu” is scheduled to mention the film on the cover and do a give-away of five copies of the film.  “Impact” magazine is also set to mention it.

I recently got a call from an old friend in Hong Kong who works for Bloomberg Television and they have scheduled an on-camera interview for me later this month.  It will be featured on their Pan-Asian network as well as broadcast here in the U.S.  In addition, the publicist has set up various television interviews with a few stations in other parts of the country.  In order to do that, my friend and D.P.(Director of Photography) Matt Sohn, will set up a Beta Cam camera and film me answering questions the station has provided.  We then send them the tape with a copy of the movie and they will edit it together into a feature story.

There’s no release party of any kind or major event, but I may try to put together a gathering of friends and people who worked on the film to celebrate the release.

Originally the distribution company was going to change the title to “Adventures of Johnny Dow” because they thought people had trouble pronouncing the “Tao” part.  But, after consideration, they kept the original for it’s integrity to the story.  I’m glad they did.

I’m really excited about all the special features that will be on the disc.  In addition to the standard director’s commentary, with the help of some friends, we put together an 8-minute behind the scenes piece that talks about the making of the film, including the auditions, the stuntwork, the production design, etc.  The disc will also include the original 4-minute fight scene that we shot on 16mm film to raise money to make the movie.  We’ve included 3 deleted scenes and a director’s commentary explaining why each one was nixed from the film.  We also have a music video scrapbook.  I really wanted people to be able to hear the entire song. “Wanderin’ Love” that Johnny Tao’s father, Jimmy, recorded to become the one-hit wonder he is in the film’s story.  I took footage of the concert scene we shot with Jason London as Jimmy, and intercut it with behind the scenes footage of various crew members doing their thing.  Finally, one of the things I’m really excited about is the “Easter Egg.”  In the DVD industry, an Easter Egg is a hidden bonus feature on the disc.  It won’t appear on the menu, but if you use the remote to shuffle through the choices of what to watch, by pushing the indicator icon in a certain pattern, you can eventually highlight some mundane object on the screen and, if you select it, you can view the hidden bonus feature.  Our hidden bonus feature is my award-winning short film, “Better Never Than Late.”  For those that have seen it before, I hope you find it and can enjoy it again.  For those that haven’t, I’ll just tell you that it’s an action-comedy that has gotten a lot of laughs over the years.  I don’t want to spoil the surprise regarding the story.  Easter Eggs exist on a lot of DVD’s and can usually be found by doing an internet search to see what videos have them and how to highlight them.  I’m excited because I think it will make the disc that much more special over time.

Outside of that, I’m watching the Lakers make one of the biggest blunders in sports history as they fight for the NBA championship.

Tuesday June 15, 2008
 

Hey everybody,

I hope you will tell everyone you know to put "Adventures of Johnny Tao" on their Netflix cue tight away.  The more requests they get, the more copies they will purchase.

Also, tell everyone to rent it at Blockbuster if they don't have Netflix (or even if they do).  The more the film rents, the greater chance there is to do a sequel.

It's coming out July 29!  Spread the word and the love.

Rock on!

 

Wednesday June 16, 2008
 

We are only a couple of weeks away from the domestic release of "Johnny Tao."  It's exciting.  I'm doing interviews for television stations (just a couple), they are going to show a trailer for "Johnny Tao" at Comic-Con International in San Diego just a few days before the release, and the distribution company printed up 1000 of these great little postcards that have the new artwork and a description on the back with the release dates.  I'll be going to Comic-Con to support the film and make sure the word and the postcards get out there.  I hope to go with Matt Mullins, who plays Eddie, as well as Kelly Perine, who plays Lenny.

Last year, Matt Mullins and I went and we had a whole nightmare coming back.  We were at Comic-Con all day with Chris Yen having a great time, sitting on panels, signing autographs, meeting people, and then on the way back, my car blew it's power steering pump.  Matt and I got stuck in San Diego and had to get towed by Triple A all the way back to Los Angeles at 2:00 in the morning.  Matt was a good sport as we sat outside this gas station waiting and eating Hot Cheetos.  Hopefully, this year will be auto problem free.

As exciting as it is for the movie to come out, I'm also disappointed in the video pirates that are out there.  Apparently, someone already stole a copy of the film and put it up for illegal download somewhere on the internet.  Screw those guys.  And there's like thousands of downloads already.  Also, a friend of mine found a copy on the streets of New York City already, but we are unsure if this is a pirated copy or a store that put the film on sale before the assigned date.  Video piracy has a direct affect on a lot of people, but everybody thinks it's okay to copy this movie or download that movie.  They feel they are getting something over on someone, but in reality, they are just feeding the very machine they are trying to subvert.  When people pirate movies, it may not affect Robert DeNiro's pocket book, but it definitely affects the pocket books of independent producers and filmmakers.  Their investments become devalued, or in some cases, even worthless.  When that happens, the pool for financing independent movies dries up.   That in turn only leaves the big boys to make their big studio pictures with big movie stars to play on big screens and make big bucks and show up on ads on Big Macs.

Fight the Pirates!
 

Tuesday July 29, 2008
 

Here's some of the first reviews to come out...
 

1.  Cinema-Suicide

http://www.cinema-suicide.com/2008/07/26/believe-in-yourself-the-adventures-of-johnny-tao/

Believe in yourself. The Adventures of Johnny Tao.
Jul 26th, 2008 by Bryan White

You know what?  We’re not always about blood and Satan up in here. True, I’ve reviewed some harrowing stuff in the past and it seems like blood and gore is always in stock, but it’s nice to get something like Johnny Tao that twists the format.  I almost don’t know what to do with myself right now.  To review a movie like Johnny Tao, I almost feel like I’ll be doing a great disservice to it and the potential audience for a movie like this by filling it with my usual heaping spoonfuls of shits and fucks.

Johnny Tao wasn’t really made with the Cinema Suicide readership in mind, nor is it your average martial arts flick.  It’s meant for kids, really.  Cool kids, that is.  Parents who show this to their kids will probably one day find their kids digging through their DVDs or whatever the hell we’re watching ten years from now asking questions like, “Dad, who are the Shaw Brothers? What’s the 36th chamber and who is Jackie Chan?” At least, I hope that’s how it goes down and my daughter does not, instead, turn to me and ask, “How the hell could you watch this crap?”

Johnny Dow lives on the edge of Death Valley in a sleepy dust-swept village that looks like the set of any given episode of the A-Team.  He gets up real early, powers up his TV and practices kung fu in accordance to his martial arts video tapes.  He’s really good, too.  When his UFO obsessed roommate recovers a sword possessed by an ancient Chinese demon while looking for space junk, he becomes the demon’s latest vessel and builds an army of kung-fu fightin’ sugar crazed fighters out of everyone he comes across.  Johnny, devoted to the memory of his father, a rockabillly legend that never was, must join forces with the bungling town sherriff and Mika, the latest in a line of warriors trained to fight the demon Tai Lo, wherever he rears his head if he plans on saving the town as well as the whole world.

Johnny Tao comes out of nowhere.  I had never heard of it and to this day, I’m still trying to figure out how I caught wind of it but I’m glad that I did.  Director Kenn Scott knows a thing or two about martial arts and how to entertain kids.  After all, he was a fighter in a Foot suit in the first Ninja Turtles movie and was the guy in the Raphael costume in the one with Vanilla Ice.  I’ll admit that even though it’s been some time since I’ve seen it, I’m pretty sure that I would still like the first Ninja Turtles movie.

The problem that I have with most children’s programming these days is that it is so heavily focus grouped and even the tiniest details go before test groups, child psychiatrists and marketing companies that specialize in selling shit to kids, so everything has a tendency to look like everything else.  Everything for the age group that this movie is directed at has a tendency to look like whatever Disney is schilling at the moment.  The Suite Life of Zack and Cody if you’re a boy and Hannah Montana if you’re a girl.  Don’t ask me how I know this shit.  Johnny Tao isn’t terribly interested in any of that and just goes for the throat.  It’s pure fun for all ages and even though it’s a violent movie, it’s not the kind of violence that I would be uncomfortable with showing a 6 year old.  It’s mostly just a lot of punching and kicking.  There’s not a drop of blood and no one, save for one character in a dramatic plot device, is ever hurt so bad that they don’t get up.

Johnny Tao entertains to the last second.  It moves at a brisk pace and never feels cheesy or too silly.  The comedy is often very funny, which is a rarity in these cases but most of all, the fighting is top shelf.  I’m hard pressed to find a white people kung fu flick these days that doesn’t feel forced or doesn’t concern itself heavily with wushu’s flowery excesses.  The people who made this movie are martial artists, co-star Matt Mullins is actually an accomplished competitive fighter along with much of the stunt staff so the fight choreography has a rhythm to it that feels organic and looks like full-contact fighting.  There are also many impressive fight scene stunts that blow minds.  The sort of thing you only find in Thai action movies.

The story is also a nice hodgepodge of more mature movies such as The Terminator and any zombie movie that you can think of.  Nobody is having their guts torn out and eaten and Matt Mullins’ possessed Eddie certainly doesn’t shoot up a police station, but one look and you’ll understand.  Eddie’s gang is a crazed mob of fist fighting goons hungry for sugar and short on brains.  They make for some fantastic many on one fight scenes.  If I really had to draw comparisons, though, it’s like a much less violent version of Big Trouble In Little China, complete with an appearance by James Hong.

The cast has it where it counts, too.  A strong, fun story is carried in equal part by a strong cast of able actors and talented martial artists.  The Adventures of Johnny Tao is big on charm and the sort of movie that you, dear Cinema Suicide reader, can feel comfortable sharing with your kids.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

2.  Home Media Magazine

http://www.homemediamagazine.com/news/html/breaking_article.cfm?sec_id=2&&article_ID=13177

Adventures of Johnny Tao
 Street 7/29
 MTI, Action, $24.95 DVD, ‘PG-13’ for violence and martial arts action.
 Stars Matthew Twining, Matt Mullins, Chris Yen, Kelly Perine, Lindsay Parker, Marianne Muellerleile, Michael Gregory, James Hong, Jason London.

Adventures of Johnny Tao is a throwback to family-friendly martial arts films of the 1980s such as The Karate Kid and The Last Dragon.

 The adventure follows Johnny Dow (Twining), an altruistic gas station owner/mechanic whose best friend, Eddie (Mullins), unleashes a demonic spirit that takes over his body.

 Eddie becomes a superhuman fighting machine who uses his powers to transform the townspeople into an army of doughnut-craving kung fu warriors. Now the fate of the small town, and the world, lies in Johnny’s ability to use the martial arts skills he’s acquired from watching old movies.

 Luckily, Johnny gets some much-needed help from a mysterious Chinese warrior named Mika (Yen), who has been training all her life to fight the demon spirit. They work to prevent the spirit from completing an artifact that would give the demon the power to take over the world. Their best weapon turns out to be a guitar of Johnny’s musician father.

Adventures of Johnny Tao is a highly entertaining film that combines fast-paced kung fu action with toe-tapping rockabilly music. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and the violence is mild, which makes it a film that can be enjoyed by audiences of all ages.

 The film is filled with young actors such as Twining (“One Life to Live”), but its real draw is world-champion martial artist Mullins (a rising action star who appeared on “America’s Got Talent” last year and is in the upcoming “Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight” series). The film also won Best Feature at the 2007 Backlot Film Festival. – Matt Miller

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3.  Video Business

http://www.videobusiness.com/article/CA6581790.html

Adventures of Johnny Tao

By Buzz McClain -- Video Business, 7/28/2008
MTI
Street: July 29
Prebook: now
> A family action-adventure that’s entertaining for all ages.


There’s terrific pedigree in this action fantasy, including the director, Kenn Scott (he was Raphael the Ninja Turtle); Marcus Young (xXx: State of the Union), credited as the “action producer”; and the CGI producer Richard Kidd (The Matrix, Titanic). The reported $1 million budget is all on the screen in this fast-moving saga involving an ancient magic spear, which has wound up as an ornament on desert garage attendant/Kung Fu fan Johnny Dow’s (Matthew Twining) electric guitar. An evil spirit wants the amulet and transforms a band of bikers into crazed zombies to do its bidding. The lively fight sequences are a lot of fun, some of them using wire work and all of them showcasing superbly edited stunts.

Shelf Talk: MTI is rightly putting a push behind this impressive pickup, targeting martial arts magazines and other venues where the demographic is likely to reside (YouTube, MySpace, movie blogs, etc.).
Color, PG-13 (fighting violence), 90 min., DVD $24.95
Extras: commentary, behind-the-scenes footage, deleted scenes, music video
Director: Kenn Scott
First Run: DVD premiere
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4.   Independent Website

http://leoweekly.com/?q=node/7368

ADVENTURES OF JOHNNY TAO

2007; $24.95, PG-13

A wonderfully original, great little action/martial arts/romantic comedy about a loser teen whose hand-me-down guitar — carved in the shape of a dragon — is actually half of an ancient weapon, the only hope in ridding the world of a hungry demon … with the help of smokin’ Chris Yen!


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5. Switchplanet.com

DVD Review: Adventures of Johnny Tao, A Kung Fu Fable

http://blog.switchplanet.com/dvd-review-adventures-of-johnny-tao-a-kung-fu-fable/#more-477

July 23rd, 2008 |

 Adventures of Johnny Tao, A Kung Fu Fable is the story of Johnny Dow. Johnny is a down on his luck guy who it trying to squeak out a living by running his gas station in a nearly abandoned rural town. The gas station is not just a place to fill up however. Inside is Johnny’s museum of memorabilia of his father’s musical career. The centerpiece of his collection is his father’s guitar, which, according to legend, was carved from an ancient spear that his father found in the crater of a shooting star.

In actuality, there are 2 pieces to the spear. When Johnny’s bumbling best friend, Eddie, uncovers the other piece, He becomes possessed by the spirit of a demon with the intentions of taking over the world. The Eddie Demon has the power to turn the locals into sugar craving zombies and quickly builds a small army to carry out his plan to find the second half of the spear and harness it’s power. The beautiful Kung Fu warrior Mika comes to Eddie’s aid in defeating the demon and restoring his friend Eddie. Mika is descended from a long line of warriors, trained to defend earth against this very scenario.

The acting in this movie is pretty average. Everyone holds their own but there is not glaring performances as far as strong or weak. There was no one actor or actress that stood out as either remarkably bad or good. The actors and actress all did quite well in the fighting sequences, which added to the overall quality of the film.

Adventures of Johnny Tao reminded me quite a bit of the Power Rangers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movies. I do not mean this as a put down as those franchises epitomise family friendly action films in my view. They have a lot of kid friendly action scenes and explosions. The fight scenes themselves were excellent. The film itself looked quite good and the quality of the production was above average for this type of film. Carrying on the Turtles theme, Johnny Tao is directed quite competently by Kenn Scott, who actually played Raphael in the 2 live action Turtle movies.

I did not have the opportunity to view the bonus features, however they seem pretty straightforward. To me this isn’t really a film that I would care to watch with a commentary track but I wouldn’t have minded checking out the Making Of featurette.

I watched Adventures of Johnny Tao with my son and found that of the stacks of family friendly dvds that we have, he asked to rewatch it the next day. To me this is a good litmus test of its rewatchability with kids. Unlike many movies today, I was able to sit through multiple watchings with my son without being miserable. I also appreciated having a movie to watch with him that while there was multiple fighting scenes. they were done in a PG way and I did not have to worry about his possibly picking up any new phrases that children ought not repeat. If you are looking for a family friendly action flick for the next movie night, go ahead and pick up Adventures of Johnny Tao. Your kids will love it.

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6.  ThisIsSomeScene.com

The Adventures Of Johnny Tao- a Ken Scott film

http://thisissomescene.com/?p=467#comment-1512

July 23, 2008 ·
I was dreading watching this movie because it’s not my style or something I would of chosen for myself to view. Johnny lives in a dirty little town and makes his living by charging tourists or who ever else is interested to see the famous electric guitar that his deceased father had a one hit wonder with. Business isn’t over flowing but it is managing to keep him a float for now.

The guitar has it’s own legend that says it’s actually partially made out of an ancient spear that Tao’s father had found in the crater of a shooting star. So when Johnny’s friend Eddie finds the other half of the spear an evil angry demon is released and it is hell bent on causing as much chaos and destruction as it possibly can with powers of the mind that will make a person do whatever he commands.

My son loves martial arts of any kind and was flabbergasted by this flick. He loved the effects, storyline and all the complex fighting scenes. I liked how Tao’s way of training was the wax on wax off kind of way that Ralph Macchio had in The Karate Kid. Mika shows up to help out Johnny with his quest to save his town from complete and utter destruction. 

Mika is a martial artist genius and feels bad enough to help him improve his moves in between kicking some major demon tush! This flick was fun to watch and holds your interest with it’s low dose humor and silly synopsis. It’s almost like a fairytale or urban legend you might of heard about when you were a kid. People of all age ranges will slide into The Adventures Of Johnny Tao with ease.

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       7.  Terrorhook.com


 What you get when you combine Martial Arts, Rock-A- Billy music and hungry demons? You get a fun film, and it's name is ADVENTURES OF JOHNNY TAO! I have reviewed and seen my fair share of MTI VIDEO releases in the last few years, and I do have to say that ADVENTURES OF JOHNNY TAO, has to be one of their best releases in a long time!

 Writer/Director Kenn Scott(He played Ninja Turtle "Raphael" in TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES II : THE SECRET OF THE OOZE, as well as choreographed the original TURTLE film), manages to do the seemingly impossible here, and that combine Kung Fu, Rock-A-Billy and horror and actually make it work. When thinking about this combo, more than likely, the element that would spoil it would be the Rock-A-Billy music, I mean it doesn't actually blend will with the other two - but Scott has done it here, and the ending results are great! The film's plot moves along smoothly and quickly like a saga. or more appropriately, and adventure", as the title surely suggests. This is a story of a dreamer, whom comes up from nothing, then when given this special ability, hr suddenly has the opportunity to create dreams for the ones around him, as well as the ones he will find along in his journey. The late 1970s and early 80s had a number of these feel good quest movies, but in this, the "day of the remake", so to speak, we rarely get them anymore. One film that ADVENTURES OF JOHNNY TAO reminds me in some way of, is THE LAST STARFIGHTER. No, STARFIGHTER didn't have Kung Fu, but what it did have was a dreamer. The main character in that film was really good at the "Starfighter' arcade game, and as fate would have it, he is later in the film asked to report to space to perform a real mission. In JOHNNY TAO, it is more or less the same scenario. All his life, Johnny has idolized the art of Kung Fu and his idols, but little did he know that he would have to become one of those fighting heroes when his small town is overturned by "hungry for anything" demons. Johnny's adventure as told here is all things; funny, musically driven and action packed with fast paced martial arts!

 The story tells itself nicely through the great acting achieved by the cast members, all of them did a great job of making the characters likable and and fun, None of the performances were over-the-top as they easily could've been due to the film's subject matter. the film is more or less a serious Asian comic book come to life, as it does have all of the fast paced fighting and special effects found in one. It will surely make a fan of any Martial Art happy.

 Overall. ADVENTURES OF JOHNNY TAO, is essentially a "common man's Kung Fu story", I say this because although we do have a small mythological back-story, it's not the film's one and only focal point, as the film is built around it's strong character development.
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GORE  METER
 NA - I don't remember seeing any, nor was it necessary in my opinion, this film would be appropriate for everyone
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MUSICAL  SCORE
 5.5/10 Since one of it's characters was once a Rock-A-Billy singer, we appropriately have some Rock-A-Billy sprinkled throughout the film. At first, I didn't think it would work, but it turns out that, yes, Rock-A-Billy and Kung Fu can work surprisingly well with one another!
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OVERALL  IMPRESSION OF THE FILM
 ADVENTURES OF JOHNNY TAO, was surprisingly good. As a fan of Martail Arts flicks, I found myself really wanting to like this, and it turns out I did! If you are a fan of a film with a great story, fast paced fight scenes, and a little bit of comedy thrown in, check this out.....it's a great film!

 

 

Saturday August 30, 2008

Latest Review on the Johnny Tao DVD...

ADVENTURES OF JOHNNY TAO

Reviewed  by:  JimmyO on DVDPub.com

Directed  by: Kenn Scott

Starring:

 Matthew Twining
 Matt Mullins
 Lindsey Parker

There is an ancient evil about to surface, one that can make your average Joe turn into a mindless zombie serving his dark master. To stop the baddies, it is up to the son of a one hit wonder, rockin’ roller, and a young girl trained to protect the world from this donut-loving demon.

I have a confession to make. After watching the teaser trailer for Adventures of Johnny Tao, the last thing in the world I expected was to enjoy it. But here I am, about to write a positive review for what is essentially a cheesy kid’s flick. But the truth is, if I were a kid I would have had a blast with Johnny. Maybe it is the lively music featured throughout by “Chaz & the Motorbikes”. Or it could have something to do with a mostly likeable cast including Matthew Twining as the “unlikely” hero Johnny Dow. But for some reason, I had a good time watching this ninja flick that includes zombies with a taste for donuts. Trust me, I’m surprised that the film even got a PG-13 rating, except for the local DJ that calls himself Big Dick (you can almost hear the writers laughing their ass off every single time they write that characters name). But even with Master Big Dick, this is a darn safe feature. Let’s crack open a root beer shall we?

It all begins 900 years ago. Two ninjas are fighting for some sword. One of them seems to be possessed by an evil force. I guess if someone has creepy glowing eyes, you should avoid them. But the evil is destroyed, and a magical power is passed down to another generation. It is a family that has sworn to protect the world from a dark and mysterious baddie who turns people into donut craving undead. Is this great cinema? Hell no. But I did find it sort of refreshing to see an adventure film that is made for a younger crowd, but didn’t feel terribly condescending to its viewing audience. It seems that kids flicks tend to insult their viewers by offering up too cute and too obvious situations. But Johnny Tao has the ability to balance between violence and something that is accessible to those looking for something not quite as intense as say, The Dark Knight or even The Mummy franchise.

 In many ways, Johnny Tao had elements of Big Trouble in Little China or even something like Spy Kids. While there are definitely things that are a bit hard to swallow, it is after all an adventure flick. But director Kenn Scott has fun with the genre-bending flick. It is never really scary, but it is not boring either. I had good times with the fight sequences even though Kill Bill this ain’t. It is funny that early on in the film, when Johnny has to go kung fu on his enemies, he always seems to be wearing something to cover his face. Whether it is a gorilla suit or a football helmet, it seems that it made for an easy way to use a stunt man. But in the end, it is Johnny minus the face cover, although I’m guessing not minus the stunt man. I will say that Matthew Twining is really good here. I liked him a lot. He had the all-American thing going on, yet he actually gave a pretty credible show given what the script allowed.

 Yes I enjoyed The Adventures of Johnny Tao, but there are quite a few problems with it. I felt some of the editing seemed a bit choppy in parts, especially during the fight sequences. I also felt that the bad guys were just kind of silly and I didn’t care either way about any of them. Yet I don’t think that is the point. This is a kid friendly action flick that plays with the rules but doesn’t go too far to break them. It is an independent film that is basically a movie you can take your children (or little brother or sister) to, and at least have a little fun. And again, just think back to when you were a kid as to how much fun you would have had karate chopping each other after a cool ninja/zombie/donut flick.
 A big reason that Adventures of Johnny Tao works is a very likeable performance from Matthew Twining. The role doesn’t really require much, and it seems like he should’ve been a bit goofier looking, but I liked him quite a bit in the role of Johnny. It’s a very charismatic performance. And for the most part, this is a competently acted and directed kid’s flick with zombies and ninjas. The undead are not feasting out on people, they seem to like donuts much better, but at least they are zombies of some sort. And that is cool if you are like ten or eleven. I for one would of loved to have this baby back when I was a kid. Not a perfect movie, but certainly one that you might even enjoy if you are in the mood for a “nice” genre-bending hour and a half. And for all you Jason London fans, he makes a cameo appearance as Johnny’s rockin’ and rollin’ dad. Johnny Tao is a bunch of fun and silly nonsense for the whole family that has the good sense to add a funny dick joke.


http://www.joblo.com/arrow/dvd_reviews.php?id=2053
 

Wednesday December 10, 2008

One of the things I’ve been trying to do is get a poster together.

When you make an independent film, people always ask if they can get a poster…hell, even I want a poster.  What most people don’t know is that they never make a poster for a movie that goes straight to video.  There’s no reason for them to because it’s never going to be advertised in theaters or displayed in those cool “poster holders” you see in the hallway of the local Cineplex.  The only thing they do is try and create really cool box art for the DVD.  This is what catches people’s attention as they parade along the new release section in the local Blockbuster.  Box art is a key component to successful sales of an independent film and luckily MTI did a great job with our art.  I don’t know the name of the artist that put it together, but he/she did a fabulous job.  People often tell me how much they like it.

Anyway, there was never a true poster made, only the key art for the box.  Luckily, my dad is pretty handy on the computer.  He took the key art, as well as the credit block and all the particular logos (i.e. dolby sound, PG-13, etc) and assembled an official movie poster.  It looks great.  Check it out!

 

 

 

http://www.theamericasgroup.com