Guerrilla Filmmaking Hijinks: Part Two

Here’s another behind the scenes story.  This one is from the last day of principal photography in May 2007, and the moral of the story is that there really are people in this world with the hero mentality.

We were shooting the first chase scene of the movie where our main characters begin to butt heads, but that gets put on hold so they can save the day.  They chase a motorcycle riding criminal who steals from another principal character we get to know better later on. It was shot in downtown Baltimore, on a Friday, during the day.  Not exactly a secluded setting.  The cops never tried stopping us, but I guess they thought we were part of the crew shooting the tv show The Wire a few blocks away.  Thanks big time production!  While the cops gave us no trouble, a regular citizen made one take quite interesting.

During this shot, the motorcyclist (played by Chris Beatty) would steal the woman’s purse, turn the corner, go up an alley, then turn around to reset.  The guy in the car must not have seen what we were up to because when he saw the purse “stolen”, he took off after the bike!  When Chris tried to turn around, the guy blocked him in with his car and yelled “HAND OVER THE PURSE!”  While Chris was taken aback, our AD Matt Holder was sprinting up the alley frantically screaming “IT’S A MOVIE! IT’S!… A!….MOVIE!!!”  The hero was unconvinced and we had to show him the camera and production truck before he finally stood down!  If we had the time we should’ve interviewed him.

Later on in the film you’ll notice a different bike rider, but in the script it’s supposed to be the same rider.  We must’ve lost Chris’ contact info and couldn’t get a hold of him, and wound up using someone else. Sorry!

In other news…

I’m compiling a list of movie reviewers who we’ll send a DVD.  I doubt any will top the great review from Dan Frazier of Comic Hero News, but it helps to get some more quotes for our website.  Is there any sci fi/comic/action movie reviewer that you often read?  What’s their website?  We’d like to get those kinds of reviews since they interact more with our target audience.

Until next time!

Not Every Sunday Is Perfect For Guerrilla Filmmaking

The ending of the NFL lockout was a huge relief to all the football fans out there, including this one.  Since the league is so rich it almost prints money I knew a deal would get done, but it’s good to know that the season really is around the corner.  During this time, a fan can’t help but think about the beginning of previous seasons, how they felt about their team at that time, and how that team changes during each season.

The most memorable opening game for me was for the 2008 Baltimore Ravens.  I’ll always remember it because it’s the only opening game I haven’t watched.  Why didn’t I watch? It was because we were shooting outdoor footage for TPE, which A.) happened to be so close to M&T Bank Stadium we could hear the crowd and 2.) we had our one brush with Maryland law enforcement.

The shooting schedule for the day was in parallel to Derek Powers’ evolution from “guy who can’t control his super speed” to honest to goodness superhero.  We also got bolder in our selection of roads we used for shots- starting off on small side streets, then a four lane road passing the Baltimore Sun warehouse, and finally darting through traffic on Interstate I-95.  In that scene, Derek/Photon is chasing the motorcyclist who has been his  crime fighting target in acts one and two.  Mr. Cyclist has pissed off enough people to the point where the police are chasing him as well.

That’s how Dan wrote it in the script, but we didn’t have the money for fake police cars so we were resigned to selling the police action with sound effects.  However, through either a coincidence or fate intervening, when we started shooting a real police car happened to be in the passing lane of 95!  I’ve never seen a police car with that jurisdiction emblem before, so I’m going to call fate on that one.  So when shooting our motorcycle rider we widened out the angle a smidge and presto, our police chase!

That was our last road shot for the day, so we headed over to a side road, parked, and patted each other on the back for a job well done.  Little did we know, but that cop of unknown origin must’ve gotten in touch with the Maryland Transportation Authority Police, who sniffed us out like a bloodhound.  I was fearing the worst, that he was going to throw us in jail and take the camera setup we had latched in the bed of the pickup truck. Thankfully my worry wort tendencies proved untrue, as the officer told us to film what we wanted on the side streets, but stay off the interstate. Since we just finished, no problem there!

Another update on what I wrote about yesterday-  the website I contacted yesterday, prescreen.com, wants to see the movie!  We’re going to get a copy to them ASAP and who knows, that could be another channel where people can see the movie.

Maybe We Could Form Our Own Crimefighter Organization. The Indie Crusaders Perhaps?

Before writing yesterday’s blog I really wanted to compare TPE to another indie superhero movie, but was having a hard time finding one.  Then I remembered the recent release aptly named “Super” with Rainn Wilson and Ellen Page.

Make me stupidhead!

I frantically searched every online retailer, even trying to sign up for different streaming sites like Hulu (thanks OCD, you’re such a big help) only to find out it’s not available until next month.  Drats, foiled again!  I was interested in comparing because from the review I watched  Super isn’t “Dwight from The Office” in a costume, but a regular Joe dealing with personal struggles who becomes a crimefighter.  Has anybody watched this movie?  Without any spoilers, would you recommend it?

Speaking of the review I watched, it was from a funny and somewhat insightful show called “Half in the Bag” on the site http://redlettermedia.com

The two hosts review movies while drinking what I’m sure is real beer while “fixing” their customers broken VCR that must’ve been manufactured during the Carter administration.  They know enough about filmmaking to make you believe they went to film school, but sometimes they are intentionally obtuse just for the sake of being edgy and cool.  For example they ridicule the “shiny blue box thing” Red Skull has in Captain America, wondering what it is. You guys reviewed Thor for pete’s sake!  You know it’s the cosmic cube!  Anyhoo, other than that gripe it’s still a funny program and worth the 15-20 minutes each review runs.

While we’re at it, here’s an update on the production.  We’re reviewing the DVD commentary and getting it properly formatted.  We’ve also entered a submission to a new distribution site called prescreen.com.  They email members every day with info about one movie in their database, which definitely helps with exposure.  And since they’re a new company we know they’re motivated to get their catalogue out to as many people as possible.  We’ll let you know if TPE is approved!

If A Superhero Defeats A Bad Guy In The Forest, Does Anyone Hear It?

Today’s blog is inspired by Andre Joseph of AJ Epyx Productions.  When we asked our facebook Likers* for blog post ideas, Andre replied with:

“Write about the state of superhero movies in Hollywood and what makes Photon Effect so unique from the rest.”

Wow, talk about a loaded topic.  At first I’m tempted to say “well, the studios have a hell of a lot more money than we did” and leave it like that.  If I say these movies are all perfect I’m branded a dimwit who doesn’t appreciate the classics and if I say they all suck, I’m a whiny tortured fanboy.  Luckily my opinion is somewhere in the middle. Overall I think the state of Hollywood superhero movies has been getting steadily better since the great Superhero 180** of 2008 when Iron Man and The Dark Knight came out. I’m not saying they’ve all been great since then because…..

um....yeah some of them I wish I could unwatch..

….but most of them are good.  What makes the good movies good are when the filmmakers focus on making an interesting story, specifically the real human elements of the characters, then seeing how they can fit in the superhero and action.  For instance, at their core Thor and Tony Stark are arrogant, self absorbed pricks who need to be taken down a peg before becoming the best versions of themselves.  Seeing them go through their psychological changes from beginning to end (and across two films in Tony’s case) is just as entertaining as seeing them kick ass with their superpowers.

The Photon Effect offers the same, if not better character development and interaction. It’s not just about shooting beams of energy and running really fast.  The movie is about the underlying tension between two people and the effect the newfound abilities have on that relationship.  When stripped of the action and effects, The Photon Effect can certainly pass as an effective drama.

Of all the superhero films in the past 10 years, I think Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies are the best and (big surprise!) I see how The Photon Effect is similar to that film as well.  Not so much in plot or action, but in the creative process.

It’s pretty obvious that in most of the superhero film franchises there’s a ton of people involved in making creative decisions.  Of course there’s the director, then the revolving door of credited and uncredited screenwriters, and the producer(s) who own the rights to the property, and the second unit directors who handle stuff the director doesn’t have time for, and a bunch of other people I’m forgetting.  All this collaboration can be good when everyone is on the same page (Iron Man), or very, very bad (Spider-Man 3).

Nolan’s Batman movies are made a bit differently.  Christopher Nolan is the all powerful wielder of creative might in that universe.  The writing team is him and either his brother or David Goyer. There is no second unit- Nolan is there for every shot. The head honchos at Warner Bros. wanted the new movie in 3D- Nolan told them to know their role and shut their mouth. This arrangement works when everyone involved trusts the vision of the main storyteller.

On TPE*** set, everyone knew Dan Poole was on the right track with his vision.  He has his track record with his Spider-Man films, developed superpowers based on an occupation he was familiar with, and looked into his own past for character development.  Not to say input wasn’t given, but the final say on all things creative was Dan’s.

That’s how TPE is similar to the best superhero movies out there.  Now how is it unique?  The big difference is these characters are all brand spanking new, not adapted from any previous work.  This can be good and bad.  We won’t have a mob of comic fans trying to tar and feather us for making the slightest artistic change to long beloved characters, which is a relief!  But, this does come at a price.

Why does Hollywood keep churning out comic hero movies?  Because there’s an established fan base already in place that will make the movie a safer investment.  Hollywood is about marketing a film and turning a profit. This is nothing new, so people who keep whining about Hollywood need to either shut up or stop watching what’s being sold.  Wait, I was trying to make a point,  I think.  Oh yeah…

Since these characters are new, there is no fan base for them. There’s fans of our director, who we greatly appreciate and who we hope enjoy the movie. It’s just that having to grow an audience instead of having legions of existing fans is pretty tough.  So that’s why we’re blogging here, and on twitter (@Thephotoneffect), and facebook, and slapping up videos anywhere we can. We gotta get the word out, and we need your help.  Tell all your friends and family about the movie, which really is coming soon. Follow us on facebook and twitter. And please please please ask us questions and comment here or through those other sites.  We want to hear from you.

* What is the proper vernacular for describing people who “like” your facebook page?  I’m going with Likers until I hear otherwise. No they can’t be “fans”.  Facebook did away with that.

**Going from Spider-Man 3 and FF:Silver Surfer to Iron Man and Dark Knight was like trading from a Daewoo to a Ferrari.

***TPE is short for The Photon Effect if you haven’t guessed.  I’m getting tired of writing the whole title.

Hollywood Has Their Numbers. With A Little Work And Creativity, We Will Too

And no, I’m not talking about bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars in box office sales, then lounging at the country club, wondering what the poor are doing that day. That sure would be nice though…

Fetch my servant, I need my dinner jacket pressed

Say what you will about Hollywood and their marketing, but they do know how to reach their target audiences.  You don’t see photos from a Hollywood “indie” (which is anything but, but that’s another story) slapped on a Slurpee cup and you don’t see a Transformers trailer before a romantic comedy.  The big studios focus on demographics that will be interested in certain movies and then focus their marketing on those people.

Now, as real independent productions we simply don’t have the money to market on the scale Hollywood does, but the rise of social media has given us some powerful tools to help grow our movies’ audiences. For example, with The Photon Effect we’re on Facebook, twitter (@Thephotoneffect), imdb, this blog, and video clips on vimeo, youtube, and a tumblr account.  We know comic book, sci fi, and superhero flick fans may like our movie so we tag all our postings with those keywords so people will Stumbleupon our stuff.  Tomorrow’s brief blog will be a link to a great filmmaking resource I recently discovered, so be sure to check back!

I’m sure more than sure some filmmakers out there might think “wait a minute, when I get my movie into Sundance/Tribeca/Toronto/Cannes a distributor rep will give me a fat check and take care of all that marketing stuff!”  I’m sure of this because I thought the same thing. Pump your brakes there bud.  One, with the sheer number of indie films being made the odds of getting in are lower and lower each year. Secondly, the only marketing those distributor reps are going to do will involve posting a thumbnail image of your one sheet on their webpage and MAYBE sending out screeners to sales reps.  THAT’S IT.  How do I know?  The distributor rep we were talking to told us that.  That was a real punch in the junk.  Reading stories from other filmmakers confirmed that this wasn’t in isolated incident.

So don’t wait until the movie is almost ready for distribution like we are. Get out there and get your audience now!

Comic Con International’s Influence on The Photon Effect

No chatting with Stan the man this year. 😦

This year marks the first in several years that neither director Dan Poole or producer Doug Adams (who will be crafting most of the blogs, including this one) will be attending Comic Con International in San Diego.  Dan had a sweet gig as the PA announcer for Viz Media that unfortunately wasn’t renewed.  Good luck finding someone better on the mic!  It’s a shame since Comic Con has a lot to do with The Photon Effect evolving from an idea into a real moving picture show that will soon be out on the market.

For those not in the know, Dan has made a name for himself with some incredible fan films based on Marvel’s Spider-Man (which might still be on the web somewhere) and Wolverine (which definitely is http://youtu.be/c1YWJVK8X3g).  Back in 2004 he had the idea of making an Avengers fan film featuring Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America which he shared with folks in the biz at Comic Con, most notably G4’s Chris Gore.

While everyone loved the concept, the growing consensus was that Dan was too talented to spend time on another fan film, a stance on which I vehemently agreed.  There was no money in it and the big studios are doing everything they can to make sure indie filmmakers don’t go “tarnishing” their brand names.  Instead, it was advised he should try to make a movie with an all original story and characters that could be sold on the open market.  While Dan wanted to do it, how was he going to get the money to make this flick?  Well…….

Those words likely carried more weight than intended

2004 was my first trip to Comic Con and I gotta say there was something in the air that was infectious.  No, I’m not talking about the rampant B.O. that’s lingering in those costumes after Day 1.  It was having all those creative people, the actors and filmmakers that make the films I love to see, in one place that flipped a switch in my mind.  I started to think “why can’t I join in on their reindeer games?”  But where do I begin and how should I go about this?

Long story short, I found out I had some equity in my home that turned out to be very close to the movie budget number Dan had calculated. I think it was that night I told Dan to get cracking on his script because we have a movie to make!

As you can tell from the date, this movie has been in the works for a looooong time.  We’ll discuss why in later blog posts.  Until then, thanks for stopping by and if any of you readers are out in San Diego this weekend, stay classy.