How I wrote, produced, directed, and shot a short film as a one-man-band.
In late June of 2014, I left my full-time gig as the 'quarterback" of Southern Reel, Zac Brown's production company. After running point on all projects for 3 years, from music videos to documentaries to touring, I was tired to say the least. Without much to fall back on, I immediately decided I would take the time to write, shoot, direct, and edit a short film. With no funding, I drove down alone to an old family cottage on the west coast of Florida, sat down and started writing. I had already contacted a few friends to gauge their interest and surprisingly to me, they were willing to see what I came up with: Jeremy DeCarlos, the best actor I know and fellow Winthrop alum, and Chandler McGee, Front Man of Atlanta's own The Law Band, who I worked with on the Georgia Music Award-winning music video, Crazy Lonesome.
With a few ideas rattling around and an idea of who my actors were, I sat on the front porch and looked out as I began to write and thought "Man, this would be a good set, huh?" Logistics aside (I live just outside of Atlanta, GA and travel means $$), I started writing. Being your own writer affords you a couple of things that make life a lot easier for production. Take props for example. Knowing I had a ton of old pictures, cameras, fishing equipment, and the location, I used it in the script. After a couple days and a Dali museum visit, I came back to Atlanta with a script and started to make lists. Props, shot lists, shooting schedules, and gear needed.
Gear-wise, I was anxiously awaiting the DJI Ronin to ship. I had pre-ordered it months before and knew it would be a game-changer for more reasons than one. Not only could I get the cinematic/Steadicam look, but I could also setup shots A LOT quicker than normal. No need to setup the slider, tripods, tracks, on every shot. Just light the scene, rehearse (OK, sometimes) and shoot. Fortunately, I got it 4 days before shooting. It was just enough time to dial in the settings, troubleshoot, and practice my moves.
With the DJI and Phantom 2 quad-copter, I was getting the shots a small feature would want, at a fraction of the price. With zero budget (still awaiting that sponsorship DJI), I used what I already had from years of touring with Zac Brown Band and Tim McGraw: the Canon 5D mark iii, a set of super sharp Rokinon cine lenses, my compact Ikan LED dual-light kit, and the GoPro 3+ on the Phantom 2 w/ the H-3 Zenmuse Gimbal, which is a must for stabilization when flying.
They say the weather changes every hour in Florida. Except during our 2 day shoot. The first two days were absolutely miserable. Pouring rain that rarely stopped and atrocious humidity, I embraced it and adjusted the shooting schedule in order to keep the continuity in case the storm blew over. It was windy too, but not putting the surroundings in danger with the drone, besides, I was all in. I flew in actors, secured hotel rooms, rented a truck, bought a ton of props, so there was no way I wasn't shooting, even when raining. After seeing the storm shots--the clouds with the impending wrath on the horizon, Jeremy driving the van in the rain, Chandler fishing in the gulf, it gave the short an eerie feel that would have been hard to recreate. Even the Ronin held up in the rain, even though it's stated as not being weatherproof whatsoever. Luckily.
One of the most important things for me as a shooter and director is to leave room to improvise. While I have shot lists, I don't have storyboards. I have reference shots in mind (Jeremy's shot outside the window from below is my Kubrick homage), but I leave the majority of the shots to find when I'm shooting. A lot of this has to do with lack of prep time, but working live events has allowed me to get better at finding a shot quickly. That said, I attribute a lot it to being an editor as well: knowing what cuts and what doesn't makes getting a shot in the first couple of takes makes it a lot easier to move on with confidence.
As for the actors, Jeremy and Chandler were amazing to work with: they took their jobs seriously, even though the shoot was grossly small and independent, which I was worried about at first, but I think by knowing exactly what I wanted, keeping them abreast of what we were doing at all times, and sticking to a schedule, they had the confidence to do whatever I was asking of them, which is all you can ask for as a director, even if it did involve a gopher trap, shady motel, or going fishing in a storm.
In the end, I have to say I'm excited about the final cut. Shooting, directing, and editing gives you the luxury of having complete control, but if I could do it again, I would definitely invest in having another set of eyes on set and maybe another editor give it a look. Since I was so close to the shoot and script, it would have benefited for someone foreign to the film to critique.
As for the viewer, I've noticed each person takes away something differently, sometimes even different conclusions from what you expected. But as I hear from other filmmakers, once you release a project, it isn't yours anymore, it's the viewers. That said, I hope you enjoy it. It's rare a group of people get together to make something for the sake of art, but that is exactly what this is; a chance to entertain people with our art, whether it be Trappers Cabin & The Law Band's music, Jeremy DeCarlos acting, or my first attempt at narrative film-making. It's honest with the hope that by enjoying what we are creating, you will too.
Point of View will be released online 12/31/14. Watch it here.
Viewer Discretion: Strong Violence & Language
insta: colecassell twitter: @colecassell email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Gear used: Canon 5D mark iii, Rokinon Cine-lenses, Canon 70-200mm ii, Singh-Ray Variable ND filter, DJI Ronin, DJI Phantom 2 w/ ZenMuse gimbal & GoPro 3+, Sachtler FSB-8 Tripod, Kessler Pocket Dolly with manfrotto monopod head (a little ghetto, I know), Zacuto Z-finder, Marshall 7in HDMI Monitor, Ikan LED Dual-Color light kit, Zoom H6N w/ Rode mic boom pole & NTG-2 shotgun mic.
Edited with Adobe Premiere Pro 2014 cc
Special thanks to:
Mike Williams-- my drone op for a day and great friend who needs to get more rest. Kyle Rippey-- After Effects, second eye, and great friend. Jeremy DeCarlos- We hadn't talked in 10 years and it didn't feel longer than a week. Chandler McGee- Channeling his David Mamet, Boom Op skills, and music. Aaron Hill-Sound Engineer/Foley Sound- See you on a holiday. Beth Moore- For helping me get this project off the ground. Joel Nettesheim- (Or Trappers Cabin) For making an epic song The Law Band-For your psychedelic western sensibilities.