Thursday, September 30, 2010

Oh Finally!

It seemed that Gmail engineers were simply incapable of understanding WHY someone would want to turn off "conversation view". Because they never sent out an email to multiple people which then generated a variety of responses each of which had to be answered differently.

Or they never had to search for an address which was buried deep inside a thread and had to look at each and every email in the thread just to find the one piece of information that you searched for, and got hits on, but couldn't find because Gmail turned up the thread as a result instead of the actual email.

Well finally, they fixed that. You can turn off threading now. Whew.

Oh good grief. Tomorrow is October? I gotta pay rent again?

What's In, What's Out

Now I'm not 100% convinced that genre really dictates sales -- not sub-genres certainly. Not to the final customers. But buyers aren't so convinced. And we sell to them.

They have no crystal ball which tells them what will sell well and so they go with what rules they can figure out from the market. And if the buyers aren't even selling to consumers -- but rather to other distributors or to retailers then "conventional wisdom" is even more important because the retailers/sub-distributors can only go by "well, this sold well last year". So just keep in mind who our buyers are: not regular people but rather people who have to market to people who in turn have to market to regular people.

So I'm talking here about the bottom of the well of the indy-feature market:

What's in?
  • Vampires. Of the non-sparkly variety. Right now they want horrible vampires, not sexy ones.
  • Creatures. Everyone loves creatures. The more creature-y the better. Mythical creatures. Creatures from the deep.
  • World Destruction. If you can put the numbers "2012" in your title, you're ahead of the game. Don't ask me why. World monuments must be destroyed. Empire State Building, Eiffel Tower. St. Louis Arch. That sort of thing. Blow 'em up. 
  • SyFy likes movies which are out-of-doors. Big. Out in the open. Not in confined spaces.

What's out?
  • Zombie pictures. Right, they do very well in North American theatrical but for whatever reason they don't do well overseas. And SyFy can't make a zombie picture work. Maybe AMC can -- we'll have to see. Maybe there's just been a glut of zombie pictures. Who knows? I have this whole theory about how a "zombie picture" isn't even a genre but that's a whole 'nuther story.
  • Pretty vampires. Apparently that market is already being well served thank you very much.
  • Non-descript aliens from the sky. Apparently we want creatures we have some sort of familiarity with. I dunno, like "octoshark" is better than some sort of new Alien. Apparently.  
So I have a script with zombies and alien creatures, a dude in a Mobile Infantry suit, a digital holographic cat, and a witch. They're just gonna hate that aren't they? I'm on page 42. All I have to do is that amount of work again and we'll have a feature. Well, maybe it should be 90 pages. I gotta get our main crew back out into the Wasteland again to fight dinobots...

    SyFy [Business Plan Part 8]

    The big trick is that to become a SyFy producer they will have had to have bought at least a couple pictures from you first. Only then will they let you make movie or them. That's why The Asylum, for instance, is in.

    Now we've gone over the numbers before (they, there's even a New York Times article about it from a few years ago) which SyFy presumably uses to produce their "original movies" -- they guarantee $750K against a budget of 2 million dollars (which means you have to get guaranteed sales outside of N. America for the remaining $1.25 million in order to get a bank loan against those guarantees so that you can shoot the picture.) I don't believe those numbers are legit anymore. I suspect that it's nigh on impossible to get $1.25 million in foreign guarantees for a sci-fi/horror flick with a "B"-level name actor in it anymore.
    So, SyFy -- I don't believe they do that $750K against $2M anymore. They just can't be doing it. The Asylum wouldn't be putting up with it. So how much is SyFy spending as a guarantee on a "SyFy Channel Original Movie" nowadays? I actually have zero information, so I'll make it up. I suspect it's $600,000 to deliver an approved program with an approved star. But remember, I'm just making this up.
    In any case, we'd still be doing great with those kinds of budgets. Depending on the size of the star they need even if you're probably looking at somewhere between $5000 a week and (again, I'm guessing) $250,000 for the whole movie to pay him/her/them. The remainder is up to you to not overspend.

    What's not in our corner there is that SyFy tends to hate actors if they've never heard of them. So we really will have to fly someone out 1st Class from LA who used to have a lucrative TV gig work for us for a week or two or three. And that gets expensive 'cause they need to be transported by car each day, etc., but even talking about this now puts the cart before the horse -- we're very far away from becoming an approved producer for SyFy. We have to get SyFy to buy a couple pictures from us first.

    On the plus side our visual effects have been steadily improving. Clonehunter was a big step up. Day 2 is even a bigger step up. And I think that Earthkiller will begin to look like a movie with a real budget.

    Unfortunately SyFy hates zombies (they can't make money on zombie pictures -- go figure) and robots (same thing, with the exception of "T2"). What does the Pandora Machine do? Make zombie robot pictures. OK, we won't be a SyFy approved producer anytime in the next couple o'years.

    What other things does SyFy like/not like?

    SyFy likes "open spaces". They don't like cramped, interior, movies. I suspect this is because filmmakers know that cramped interiors are cheaper to do and so cheaper pictures come to SyFy that are cramped. Or, just statistically, they just don't work for SyFy. Just like zombies. Man, I'm glad I'm not in their business. Well, not yet at least.

    They don't like "space operas" (which is ironic because Battlestar Galactica works for them). 


    So none of this SyFy talk serves our immediate needs -- increasing revenue per picture over the next 12 to 24 months.

    And for that we're going to (I can't believe I'm saying this) look at cable TV video-on-demand. [See part 7 of this lengthy business plan tome.]


    Via screenwriter Joshua James, Script Structure in a Nutshell

    Today's annoyance fixed

    Yup, I'm just re-running old pictures from my blog. A Suicide Girl. With sword. In the desert.
    So I had this really irritating problem in Firefox on one of my computers where whenever I went to Google I'd get redirected to some malware "search" site called "CL-finde" or some such thing. And no amount of anti-spyware or anti-malware or even HijackThis would help.

    Until I discovered this thread which showed exactly what you have to delete to get that obnoxious hijacker gone. Jeez Louise that was annoying.

    And I'll admit I was lax in my use of anti-virus because I was using a program which had a key generator which kept generating a false positive in AVG anti-virus. I know. Completely my fault and probably the result of bad karma for me using pirated software.

    On that note I use a lot of open - source software nowadays. You'd be amazed at how little you need Photoshop when you spend about 20 minutes working with GIMP. And of course Blender is my choice for 3D software. On the non-open-source side my biggest anti-virus now is (gulp!) Microsoft's own free "Security Essentials". On my Macs we don't really use any anti-virus programs. They just sit there waiting for someone to get really bored and try to hack them.

    Now if someone would only hack them so that they'll reliably make DVD's I'd be happy. Ha!

    A Funny Thing Happening on the Appian Way

    Wherin I ramble incoherently about theater. Here goes.

    So... here's a funny thing about off-off-Broadway. First of all, the size of what constitutes "off-off-Broadway"* is freakin' huge. Although the New York Fringe Festival has a lot of out-of-town companies putting on shows, I'd guess that it somewhat fairly represents a solid percentage of the off-off-Broadway world.
    They're running something on the order of 197 shows in 18 venues this year. And that's just a festival in freakin' August.

    So off-off-Broadway is alive and there are a LOT of producers producing it. And most of them are willing to spend thousands of dollars only to get hundreds of dollars back from ticket sales. And then do the whole thing again next year.

    Why can they only get pennies-on-the-dollar from producing? It's because it's so hard to get people to buy tickets to your show, that's why. If you're only doing 12 shows and you have a 50-seat house you have to get 600 people to buy tickets to sell out.

    Unfortunately, getting butts in seats (to put it crassly) is usually the last thing on the producer's mind when producing a show. They have lots of other problems. The lighting company wants more money. The lead actress lost weight and her costume has to be re-built. The lead actor decided he forgot that he had to go visit his great-aunt in South Carolina during the second week of your show and now you need to replace him (and be talked down from having him shot by a professional hit-man.) But the show will go up, don't worry about that. The big problem is that you have to sell tickets.

    And the reality has been that the theater world in NYC has been held hostage by the New York Times. Now honestly in the off-off-Broadway world a terrible review in the Times (if it comes out early enough in the run) can still add upwards of a dozen tickets per night sold to a show. And a dozen tickets at the Equity mandated ceiling of $18 for six nights is an extra $1296 in the producer's pocket which will certainly help defray costs of the cast party at the end of the run, but it ain't buying you a set for next year's production.

    So anyway, for an off-off-Broadway show a review, any review, by the New York Times (if it comes out during the run and not after the show has closed) is a goode thinge.

    But at the same time a show with larger ambitions -- like moving up to off-Broadway, or (egads!) Broadway, is for all intents and purposes dictated by the New York Times giving a good review.

    The Times critics' can simply close a play at that level with a stroke of a pen. A bed review = pretty much instant death unless Disney is producing Uptown or you have lots of naked boys with perfect abs in the show downtown. Otherwise one reviewer will decide whether you break even or take a bath on your show.

    Just one. From the New York Times.

    Not Newsday. Not the New York Post. Not the Daily News. The only one that matters is the damned New York Times.

    I mean, until now.

    [And to aside here: once at Theatresource a review from the Times' came in for "Title of Show" (which actually is our only show to go on to a Broadway run). The review was very good and the producer started singing in a sing-song voice "I'm not going to take a bath on this show! I'm not going to take a bath on this show!" And I thought -- deal Lord! That's the upside! Not taking a bath. Theater is worse than the movie business. I found it much amusing. I honestly don't think she realized she was singing it out loud until I congratulated her. ]

    But that "one reviewer from the Times" issue is getting less and less important for off-off-Broadway. Primarily because of OffOffOnline. Arguably the editorial stance of OOO is so adamantly pro theater that they really don't give a lot of points to their writers for writing witty and scathing reviews (unlike the Times').  So they tend to be more fair. Maybe even over fair but that's another story (and one I don't care about).

    The important thing is that people will actually buy tickets to a little off-off-Broadway show based on a review in OOO.

    Buy tickets. And come see the show.

    And that's a big freakin' deal. Because it's so hard to produce a show and get people to show up to it. You can do normal publicity, you can hand out postcards everywhere in the world, but basically your audience is the friends and family of the actors, the writer, and the director.

    [So only hire actors, writers, and directors, from broken homes (so there are two sets of parents) and who hang out at bars at night and have a lot of friends.

    And no, I'm not kidding. The "broken home" thing only works with child actors though. Does this aside need an aside? Of course it does. I have a friend who used to produce shows at the Kraine and he did a show where he hired this gorgeous woman, who really didn't act, to do a walk-on part. She was a very popular girl and had a lot of friends who helped sell out the show. True story. And a lesson in economics.]

    In any case. It's nice to see that off-off-Broadway has a way around the New York Times. Now, off Broadway producers? Broadway producers? Not so much. But at least the little guy in the off-off-Broadway works has a screamin' chance to... well... not take a bath.
    *"Off-off-Broadway" is actually a technical term which relates to the particular contract the producer has with Actors Equity. So you can have a "Broadway" show anywhere in the city, and you can be "off" or even "off-off-Broadway" and actually have your theater on the street called Broadway. Yes, it'll likely be below Canal but it will be on that same Broadway. All you really need to understand is that the contract has to do with the size of the theater and the amount the actors get paid (if any).
    From Allatok. Via Bill Martell.

    Tuesday, September 28, 2010


    Unmanned shuttle will do some damage.
    Today is "pile o' deadlines" day in the Pandora Machine. We just got our mid-October deadlines for delivering as much of Earthkiller as we can for the American Film Market.
    The big effects shot I want to get is the one where the dinobots are eating David Ian Lee while an unmanned shuttle comes and destroys the docking bay. That will, of course, involve all the darn elements of CG all in one shot. Dinobots, the shuttle, and the Earthkiller station.
    We also have to finish Day 2. So hooray!
    What does all this mean for us beginning photography on a third feature this year? Well... there's always November, right?

    XMarks c'est morte

    Sometimes I just re-run the "best of" my pictures on this blog. This is one of those times.
    Dang. XMarks is going away. Firefox sync doesn't look to bad except that I'd like to be able to sync Chrome and (egads!) sometimes Internet Explorer.

    Ruling by Fiat

    I've decided that what we're going to do with Tyrannosaurus Mouse is simply split everything four ways. Like communism but with a Mouse.

    We're splitting songwriting credit equally, we're splitting merchandizing rights equally, we're splitting publishing equally.

    Note that there was no vote, I simply decided I was King and that was my first dictat.

    It's not that there hasn't been a lot of discussion about how we should split things. There has. But sometimes it's less oppressive for someone to take hierarchical control of a particular issue. This was one of those times. And I was the one to do it.

    Note too that should I attempt to make a move by (for instance) adding violins to the mix of any Tyrannosaurus Mouse songs, there will be revolution and my kingly throne will be upended. So this isn't actually the case of one person making all the decisions (as much as I make a joke about that). It's just that this is the sort of decision which needed to be made that way.

    And I can't tell you how much happier I've been since I made that decision.

    What decisions will I not be making? How about "Which takes of which songs for which sections will we be using?" Yeah, I'm waiting on Ethan, Lou, and Arie, on that one. In the meantime I'm only working on songs we only have one take of...

    Making a Business Plan Part 7 - VOD Technology

    So we just have to increase the amount of money we make for each picture. Because we have to increase the amount of money we spend on each picture in paying people. And other things. The only way we can increase how much we SPEND however, is to increase how much we get PAID. We have to make more revenue per picture. Have to. Must. Do.

    If we were able to bring in $35,000 on each movie we might be able to (egads!) actually pay people. Ha! No, of course we wouldn't do that. But we would have a little soundstage in Jersey City where we could keep our sets built. At least for the duration of a particular movie's shoot.

    The real number is somewhere around $100,000. If we could bring in $100K per picture we'd be able to have an actual editor assigned to each picture. We'd be able to pay minimum-wage salaries. Cigars and hottubs. If we were doing 3 pictures a year like that we'd have what we might laughingly call "good times and financial security". If we did 10 pictures a year we'd gross a million a year.

    None of those things are likely to happen any time soon. So let's figure out what we can do realistically.

    The big trick is to increase our North American distribution money.

    Now the big ol' Interwebs was supposed to do that for us, but that doesn't seem to have panned out for indy filmmakers (or really anybody other than Joss Whedon, and there really only the one time for him.) The other thing which was supposed to change the game (er, like 12 years ago) was Video On Demand. VOD exists, but the numbers I'm hearing are that you're lucky to get like $2400 a year with VOD.

    The other option is cable TV. [But NOT in this post.]

    So we'll look at cable TV and VOD (which is also "cable TV" but let's not get confused between the two of them.) But we'll look at cable TV (SyFy) in a future post. Just remember that.

    Now, I heard of what I actually thing is a good idea for VOD. That is that there are ads you can buy on cable TV which have a bit of text above and/or below which say "for more information, press 'select' (or whatever) now."

    So you have a trailer or a commercial for your movie, and all someone who's bored watching "Manoctapus" or whatever's on TV has to do is: press one button to see your movie.

    This requires three things:

    1. Having a decent trailer for your movie.
    2. Getting your movie onto the VOD of the cable companies.
    3. Having a cable company which has that service where the remote can select stuff depending on the commercial which is running.
    1. Now the first of these things we manage to get by not cutting our own trailer. By and large the filmmaker makes a terrible trailer editor. The purpose of the trailer is to sell the damn picture*, not "show some pretty images and not tell anybody what the plot is" (which is what filmmakers typically do when they cut their own trailers). Now, sometimes we have to cut a special version of a trailer -- but we wait 'till a professional trailer - house (which cuts trailers for movies that get sold for big bucks) cuts the first version.
    2. Getting onto cable VOD. Hoo - boy. Well there you're just arguing with them all day long as far as I can figure. Maybe, just maybe, if you tell them you're spending a few thousand dollars on ads with them it'll help. Nobody knows. 
    3. But the third one is the kicker. I believe that out of the six big cable companies only TWO of them have this technology. Aargh.


    OK, so can you actually make any money putting ads on cable TV to direct viewers to your movie which is running on that cable system's VOD? Well, I heard an anecdote about an unsubstantiated rumor that once a non-pornographic film made $38,000 gross doing that. Yeah, I know. But that's the best intelligence we've got right now.

    Note that cable TV ads are not terribly expensive. A few thousand dollars gets you a couple hundred of 'em. So as an experiment, this is certainly worth trying. Because even if we end up splitting some $30,000 extra bucks with a distributor well... at least there's something to split.

    By the way "Why don't the major studios do this?" That's the question you're asking, right? The answer is, they do.


    *Interestingly, there are typically two kinds of trailers for movies: the ones aimed at buyers, and the ones aimed at the general public. By putting commercials on Cable TV you're actually aiming at the consumers.

    Sunday, September 26, 2010

    Internet Reason

    I have no idea why I like this picture so much.
    John Scalzi is seriously one of the most reasonable people on the Internet. Here he is talking about how the people who complain about the tax code either 1. don't know anything about the tax code or 2. are members of the "taxes are theft" crowd:

    I really don’t know what you do about the “taxes is theft” crowd, except possibly enter a gambling pool regarding just how long after their no-tax utopia comes true that their generally white, generally entitled, generally soft and pudgy asses are turned into thin strips of Objectivist Jerky by the sort of pitiless sociopath who is actually prepped and ready to live in the world that logically follows these people’s fondest desires.
    Which is the funniest sentence on the Internet today.

    A Bluescreen Day

    Today we shot Robin against a blue screen in my apartment in Jersey City. A very relaxed day after which the four of us (Henry Steady and the Queen of Mars) went to a civilized dinner at what I think is the best soul food restaurant I've ever eaten at, Soul Flavors, in Jersey City -- very close to the Grove Street PATH.

    Of course, I only got one still the whole hour we were shooting and this is it. If you want to see wind in an android's hair as she falls gently to Earth, you'll just have to watch the movie.
    Spent the day shooting and all I got was this lousy plate.

    Saturday, September 25, 2010

    A Pretty Fair Clonehunter Review

    Ha! Over at DVD Talk, Tyler Foster reviews Clonehunter.

    My favorite quotes:
    • Clone Hunter is the perfect curiosity piece.
    • It looks patently and completely fake 90% of the time, and you can tell there isn't any real flexibility in how the the movie is designed, but at least it's consistent.

    Earth War Character list.

    1. Crypto -- lean tech dude who's in charge of keeping the generator working.
    2. Bakunin -- the head of the operation. Quiet, level-headed.
    3. Rune -- F. Herc pilot.
    4. Killday -- an out-and-out crazy chick. Insufferable. Unfortunately her night vision is better than any else's so she's their sniper.
    5. Grappo -- big dude. 

    Hadalay is the android.

    Right now the witch's name is Morgan. Thinking about changing it to Sowana.

    The bad guy's name is Raut. 

    I'm on page 30. In the middle of the fun 'n games. 

    Friday, September 24, 2010

    I just love these little birds

    When my friend Sebastian was visiting from Buenos Ares he stayed at my place in Jersey City. Unfortunately I was under the weather most of the time he was here. He left these drawings for me.

    How Will We Be Live?

    I want Tyrannosaurus Mouse to look like this.
    So now that we've recorded basic tracks for our album, we're talking about playing live. I have all kinds of ideas about what we should do when we play live. Most of those ideas have the band looking at me, scratching their heads, and then subtly trying to change the subject. But I keep pushing for nude dancers and a psychedelic light show while we wear groovy mixtures of jackets from the 17th through the 19th Centuries (but with paisleys.)
    My thinking is that we have to play in a theater because a club just won't accommodate our dancers or our light show.
    In looking at theaters, The Triad came up. That venue looks pretty groovy. They seat 130. I imagine we really need to get 130 people in there in order to break even.

    How are we going to get 130 people in? We'll have dancers and a psychedelic light show. But how will anyone know about that beforehand? That's something we'll have to work on.
    Next weekend in the New York Burlesque Festival. I think that when Tyrannosaurus Mouse plays live we need a fan dance during our "Arabesque". And we need psychedelic lights projected on our dancers at other times. Have I mentioned this?
    Carvin gives away a $500 gift certificate every month if you sign up.
    Here's a groovy interview with my friend and mastering engineer Alan Douches in Tape Op magazine.

    Here's the Problem with Being a Rockstar

    Everyone I've know who'd become what I would describe as "successful" as a musician (had a major label recording contract, etc.) had been unbelievably miserable while doing it. I have an old friend who was with a nationally-known act (that was pretty big in North Jersey just 'cause they were a "Jersey Band" but they had a big following across the country) and they were on CBS Records. Their first album sold a hundred thousand CD's back in the early 90's. They toured with Sarah McLachlan. The president of CBS flew them to Hawaii in his jet.
    And my friend, who was a guitar player in the band, just hated every moment of it.
    He hated the feeling that he "owed" the record company over a quarter-million-dollars* and basically the band ended up all hating one another (everyone hated the singer). So they did another album which didn't do nearly as well as the first one and they all broke up.

    My friend went back to playing acoustic guitar in coffeehouses on weekends and became vastly happier.

    And that would be just one example except that everyone I've ever heard of who has a record deal was miserable while they had it. My friend Raphael Rudd worked with Pete Townshend of The Who and even played with the band Renaissance (remember them?) and he'd tell me stories of all these big stars he knew, or knew through other people and they all. Every. Last. One. All of them. Were miserable. I mean like the guys in The Police? All hated one another and would argue about publishing points in rehearsals. Really? Dudes -- you're in The Police. You have cool tunes. You're rock stars. Just... get along!

    So that's what I don't want. I'm really enjoying Tyrannosaurus Mouse. I love the guys in the band. I love the music. I love the sound we get. I love going out to eat with the guys after rehearsing. It all feels really good. And it would be nice to make a little money from the Mouse. But if it involves losing some (or all) of those things I love then I'd rather get a job as a mailman** and keep Tyrannosaurus Mouse fun.
    *He didn't owe the money in any kind of literal fashion, it's just that you don't make royalties from record sales until you'd "recouped" monies put up-front by the label. For some reason my friend took that really personally.

    **I used to be in a band where almost all the guys were mailmen. My brother is a mailman. I'm sorry "letter carrier". In any case, the default job of "mailman" has always seemed funny to me because I just happened to know so many people who've done/who do it and were/are musicians. I'm probably too old to start with the Post Office though.

    Memento the Cat

    Apparently there's a book out there called Save the Cat. It's a book on screenwriting. You may have seen me in a Mardi Gras mask, wearing no pants, talking about it at length. If not, I won't point you to the link.

    One of the things Blake Snyder says in the book is essentially "This doesn't apply to the movie Memento and so shut up about Memento."

    I'm banned from Picasa but I can access my albums with the new Blogger interface.
    Well, I never really thought that was true. I always felt that Memento really could fit in the beat sheet if you worked on it. It's just that Memento is harder to "beat out" than other screenplays because it runs backwards from scene-to-scene. But this dude, Tillery Johnson, did in fact create a Blake Snyder Beat Sheet for Memento. And it works.

    So now it's proved scientifically (with science!) that the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet works for everything, including the most art-house-y of art-house films.

    Right now I'm using the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet in my structural re-telling of The Road Warrior. The picture is called "Earthwar" and it's about a Mobile Infantry soldier who's mind has been wiped, a combat witch, and a Corvette-class android. In other words, a typical Pandora Machine film.
    I haven't worked out the 5-point ending yet though...

    Melissa Riker

    Melissa Riker is kickstarting a dance piece. Send her a dollar. Send her more!

    Proof of Bachelorhood et al

    Sexy picture of Pushkin from a couple years ago. He's still sexy.
    I haven't had my cell phone for four days now. It's probably in my stepmom's car. And I haven't missed it. Which shows you my love for telephones.

    But more than that it's been almost a year that I haven't had gas for the stove in my apartment. I finally got it turned back on this week. Oddly, the gas company was still charging me about six bucks a month for gas. I think I've used the microwave three times -- twice for popcorn and once for some microwavable sausages which weren't that good but were much better than they deserved to be.

    My refrigerator has a 1/4 bottle of vodka in the freezer, a jar of pickles, and some wine in the door.

    I'm glad most women think they can "fix" a man, because I'm clearly broken. My apartment is relatively clean though. Sometimes I am too.

    UPDATE: oh and ladies! Instead of the RAST I got  the IKEA PS organizer. At $30 I was gonna get me TWO of 'em (one for my apartment and one for my parent's place) but the little orange terror machine (I mean Meydl the kitten) at my parents house thinks that socks are her pets and she'll drag them all around the house if she can get to them. I don't mind the PS organizer becoming a cat condo, because it's basically built for that (make sure you have all your dark clothes on top please) but I'm trying to avoid feline looting...

    Thursday, September 23, 2010

    Mouse Coats

    Nice tails for a uniform.
    Would this piping be annoying with a guitar?
    These images are from this UK store, Sutlers. I suspect that the tails I want are simply not going to be available on a military jacket. And the things like the nice collar I want won't be available on a civilian jacket. Plus, you know I need epaulets. Right? Everybody needs those.

    Maybe I need to start looking at 19th-Century Russian military. Or maybe I need to find a cutter/draper who will actually make one of these things for me!

    Indeed, my friend Vinny Marano has a tie (which he insisted on giving to me but I'm taking it only as a "lend") which has the perfect paisley material for a psychedelic jacket. Now to find a few yards of this material...

    Wednesday, September 22, 2010

    Ian Controls a Shuttle

    Ian Hubert does it again.

    Here are the controls we'll use in Blender to animate the shuttlecraft in Earthkiller.

    It's All My Fault

    But it needs paisleys.
    I take the blame for Bandcamp changing their "free download" policy. Basically it's because I've been using Bandcamp to upload rehearsals and recordings for the other guys to hear. Actually, the policy change doesn't affect us because we only have a few downloads anyway (and I suspect that the very few times one of the other members of Tyrannosaurus Mouse actually listens to one of our rehearsals -- ahem -- they're streaming it anyway.)

    The Bandcamp policy is way more than fair.  And honestly it's the best service for audiophile recordings too. You upload in full-resolution (typically 44.1kHz 16-bit but you can go higher if you like) and downloads can be in lossless FLAC format. So even classical guys should be happy.

    But that's not what's important right now. You can get this French Napoleonic officer's jacket for only 600 British pounds.

    But what is underneath?
    Other options abound. This is more of a fantasy "pirate" coat for 255 Euros.  The cuffs look a bit big for playing guitar though.

    In general there are nice cutaway coats here but they all have regular lapels and I'm specifically looking for a "Mandarin"-type collar.

    Brown here , but comes in other colors.
    All the best coats are made in the UK seemingly. This one is relatively inexpensive at $271 Euros (but has no collar). 

    Tuesday, September 21, 2010

    The Mouse in the Studio (with Pictures!)

    Here are pictures of Tyrannosaurus Mouse in the studio. We're at Trax East in fabulous South River New Jersey, our favorite studio.

    I think all these pictures were taken by Liz Rosenblatt other than the picture of Eric, me, and Eric (which was taken by Ethan Rosenblatt).
    Action pic with Ethan Rosenblatt, Andrew Bellware, Arie Uyterlinde
    Lou Clark on drums with Ethan Rosenblatt on bass.

    Eric Rachel, Andrew Bellware, and Eric (through the glass.)

    Ethan Rosenblatt with Eric Rachel at the Neotek console.
    I really love recording with Eric Rachel. His studio has always felt like "home" to me. He's such a terrific guy and a great engineer.
    If you want to hear what we're up to just check us out on Bandcamp where we hide nothing. Not even the worst takes.

    Our 2nd Session in the Studio

    Our second session at Trax East had us in record for about 80 minutes. And basically I paid for the session with my old Fender Twin Reverb. And a couple JDV direct boxes. I'm glad I traded the Twin for studio time with Eric Rachel because although I don't use it, it was the first amp I had and I've owned it for 30 years. Now that I think about it I can't believe I've been carrying that thing for 30 years but that's another story.

    Emotionally it's easier that a friend has it rather than selling it on EBay or Craigslist or something. I could have probably got more money for it otherwise but it'll be fun to see it at Trax East and honestly, the amp is all stock -- stock tubes, stock transformers, even one stock speaker (the other speaker is missing).

    Tyrannosaurus Mouse. We do very silly things. We can get fundamentally lost in the middle of a song -- like "are we going to a verse or a chorus here?" lost. But we can end a song stopping on a dime.

    This is largely because we are the most loosy-goosey about our song structures (as much as we try -- you should see the paperwork we generate in order to try to all literally be on the same page -- we still manage to mess it up.) And the same joke still applies: "We can't even play the song the same way ONCE!"

    Still, we're very happy with the quality of the work. This is what we recorded:
    1. Road Song v1
    2. Road Song v2
    3. One Last Drink v1
    4. One Last Drink 04 rough 05L (Yes, it has a weird name, just stick with it)
    5. Mouseverture v1
    6. Jabberwocky v1
    7. Am Thing
    8. Mouseverture Ending
    9. Road Song v3
    10. Jabberwocky v2
    11. One Last Drink v2
    12. One Last Drink v3
    I felt we were a bit more comfortable and possibly a bit stronger as players this time 'round. I felt like Lou really led the band which I feel is really what the drummer should be doing in a rock band anyway. Now I'm just waiting on notes about what versions/takes/parts of what songs we'll be doing and I'll start editing it all together.

      My Tyrannosaurus Mouse Dream

      There are some things I'd like to try on this Tyrannosaurus Mouse album.

      1. I'd like to make it a "16-track" album. I'd like to pretend we only have 16 tracks to work with and make the record work with bounced-together elements. Now, that doesn't mean I won't do 5 tracks of vocals before comping them to one track, because I will. And it also doesn't mean that we'll "checkerboard" tracks because that's just impractical. If we had, say, electric guitar on the verses and acoustic on the chorus I'm just not going to put them on the same track because we'd have to go to way too much trouble to re-EQ and set new levels and compression between choruses and verses. But the basic fantasy is there -- I want to see if we can make this a 16-track mix. That might be extraordinarily difficult with the drums but I'm willing to try! 
      2. I want to make different sections of the song have very different sounds and really play with the textures. The fact is that there's a really cheap and easy way to make different sections of a song sound very different -- bring up and down the room microphones. 
      3. Vocals. I'm going to do vocals right this time. For 30 years I've been singing in rock bands. And I've typically gone for kind of a smooth sound. But going a bit unhinged is better. My old partner, Raphael Rudd, pointed out to me once that every famous singer had an instantly recognizable voice. Whether you liked them or not it was easy to pick out Bono or Phil Collins, Michael Jackson, et al (can you tell we were working together in the mid-80's? ;-) And another story is when my friend Alan Douches was working with the Whirling Dervishes -- a cool New Jersey rock band -- and they did a cover of "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch". The cover is pretty brilliant and the vocals are completely unhinged (and very unique). And that song became their biggest hit. What does this mean for me? Somewhere between Jethro Tull and the Doors is where my voice sort of naturally sits (I'm a baritone, albeit not a terribly strong one, but I can sing out of the side of my mouth so there you have it.)
      I'm not saying that all these things are going to happen come hell or high water. I'm just saying they're directions I'd like to try. And who know what the rest of the band will think? They're very good about telling me what they think (I think) and they have good and tasteful opinions so we tend to get good advice.

      Dog rocking out via.

      What Drives Me Nuts Today

      My heart palpitations drive me nuts. Apparently they're nothing to actually worry about but it's really really freakin' annoying. Basically my heart rate goes up from about 77 to about 90 for about 40 minutes. And. It. Drives. Me. Nuts.
      Otherwise everything is normal.
      So yeah, I try deep breathing. I've already tried all sorts of things like Xanax (which basically puts me to sleep). Even exercise doesn't really do anything for me.
      And the most annoying time is when I'm trying to go to sleep. Because invariably my heart is all like "Hey let's GO!" at about midnight.
      I can't wait 'till we get those nanobot-constructed replacement Special Forces bodies which last for 300 years before they need to be replaced. I'm going to get me TWO of 'em.

      Monday, September 20, 2010

      The Word on the Street

      Bands selling less than 100K or 150K units are being dropped by independent labels because the labels just can't make any money from them. Plus, contracts are now "all in" -- meaning that the label gets a piece of touring as well as merchandise revenue. Otherwise the labels will just go broke.

      It's a cruel cruel world out there.

      Roger Corman Depresses You

      Here's the man himself on the state of indy film:

      I’ve been making films for over 50 years. We are at the lowest point ever for low-budget and medium-budget independent films. We are making a little bit of money on DVD. We are making a fair amount of money on cable sales, and still making some money out of foreign. But the profit margins are the lowest they’ve ever been. The only ray of hope I can see is the Internet. I think we’re beginning to see it. It’s not there yet. But we’re seeing a little bit of money coming in from the Internet, and I think that will grow. So we’re staying in there, taking our tiny profits now and hoping that we’re building out libraries that will hopefully pay off in the near future.

      Thanks (or not) to Chance.

      Oops. Little mistake

      The Japanese version of "Alien Uprising" is called "Alien Revenge".
      My last sales report was based on old sales. This is what we're up to so far in very recent sales:

      Clonehunter -- Thailand (I can't wait to get a copy!)
      Alien Uprising -- Malaysia/Brunei
      Day 2 (!) -- Thailand and also Indonesia.

      Whew, that means we gotta finish Day 2 right away don't it? ;-)

      Tyrannosaurus Mouse Future

      We had our second recording session yesterday at Trax East. I'd say it went even more swimmingly than the first. Probably because we were a little more used to recording with one another.

      Odd thing on the guitar front: I'm playing my custom "Blattocaster" with Seymour Duncan pickups and the amps keep having some ugly breakup -- like "solid state" overload (in Ethan's words). So after sussing out everything I turned down my guitar. Fairly substantially too. It's weird to think that passive pickups could be that hot and cause that much trouble. I played with the Lil' Dawg Mutt and with Ethan's '65 Princeton Reverb. They both went through some Shep "1073" preamps and the Princeton had a Royer ribbon and the Mutt's 10" Weber had a Sennheiser 441.

      Sally Rand's agent says she's "unavailable". I'll try to get her home number.
      But that's not what the band's big discussion was about. It was all about how we're going to play live. I think that Tyrannosaurus Mouse is essentially a burlesque circus. Somewhere between the fan dance at the end of The Right Stuff and a 19th Century conjurer's show. Theatrical. Giant inflatable rabbits. You know what I'm talking about.
      We're gonna need a lot of feathers, that's for sure.
      Mostly we need a proscenium stage. I asked Ethan how much the Met was for a nightly rental. He said something about how included in the price is at least 130 Local 1 stage hands so I guess we're going to have to demur from that.

      So we find a stage in New York with a proscenium that's somehow cheap. We figure out how we can quickly hang a tasteful backdrop and possibly a scrim for back lighting or front lighting someone upstage. The other trick is figuring how to light all of this in one day.

      Lastly projections. We can certainly come up with suitable psychedelic images for projection but projectors haven't improved as much as I'd have liked in the last 10 years. Certainly not for the price. Because we'll want to splash the dancer(s) with light.

      Ethan and Liz suggested The Triad in New York City as a venue. We'll have to check them out.

      Saturday, September 18, 2010

      Friday, September 17, 2010

      Road Warrior

      Now that I'm doing a scene-to-scene structural ripoff of The Road Warrior (which is, incidentally, impossible to do and I have no idea how I'm going to deal with the compound or how the "feral kid" is now an android and the dude in the helicopter is now a witch, but you get the idea) I've been watching the movie again. And that picture is spectacularly well filmed. I mean the cinematography and the camera work are simply excellent. Unbelievable.

      But instead of the post-apocalyptic desert it's about this dude who's a super-enhanced human soldier. And he's been dumped off on the Earth after the alien apocalypse where there's just old war-machines running around the place. And he runs into a combat witch and eventually an android who, among some other people, are holding out in an industrial park in Jersey against the alien "bogies" which roam around trying to wipe out the last of humanity.

      But this dude, in a cool suit of servo-powered armor, is looking for himself. When they built his new body they wiped his mind clean. At least that's the way things are so far. Or maybe he does already know who he was and he wants to get back...

      How am I going to make these mechs work? And will the lead's servo-powered armor also be a rocket powered suit? Will he fly? How does that equate to Max's supercharged V8 interceptor? Will it be destroyed? Or should he have a bigger suit, one he steps into? What a pain in the tuchus that sounds like. And will you be able to see his face in the armor or will he be taking his helmet off all the damn time?

      Will the feral kid and the blonde woman be the same character in "Earthwar"? And will it all take place in Brooklyn?

      The feral kid is the cat Mel saves. Hmm... it's too bad Mel turned out to be such a douche.

      The problem with modeling a screenplay on The Road Warrior is that the picture is almost too perfect. Sure, you can see some tropes of Star Wars in it, and there's the general craziness of Australian mondo cinema, and of course the chase scene in Bullit.

      But our hero "John Keynes" (let's see how long that name will stick in the script) must certainly end up facing down a combat witch's crossbow, doesn't he?

      And the way Max loses the Interceptor always seemed to easy to me.  I understand why he has to lose it but it's a bit like Han Solo losing the Millennium Falcon if it had just self-destructed. And I have zero idea of what the Starship Troopers equivalent of that would be.

      A few more sales

      Solar Vengeance, Clonehunter, and Alien Uprising have sold to Thailand and to the Middle East. Not all of them to both markets but a mix of movies and markets. I'm guessing that we'll get a few $K net to our coffers once all is said and done with such and things and expenses on our end and paying our rep and such but I don't have the specifics.

      What would be cool is if we finally pass the $50,000 mark on Alien Uprising and start paying people percentages out of that picture. I doubt that'll happen without a TV deal in North America but maybe after a half-dozen more small deals with the picture that's where we'll be? We'll see. Like I said, I don't have specific number yet.

      Earthkiller Post-Mortem

      1. As already established, I have to be nicer to the boom operator. I've started work on that. Early reports are that I'm doing much better.

      2. We have to do something better with transportation. New Jersey Transit has raised their fares significantly. It now costs $22 to go round-trip from New York City to Metuchen. We were hoping to put people on the PATH and drive most days to Metuchen from Jersey City but that didn't work out. So our transportation budget went up by about a thousand dollars by putting everyone on the Train directly from Midtown to Metuchen.

      3. As always, it doesn't matter how good the screenplay it, how great the actors are, or how well the movie is shot. All that anyone cares about is how good the CGI is. So that's what we're working on. CG. That being said, we worked with a great screenplay and actors and:

      4. This was the best-looking picture we've ever shot. We had exceptional sets. Every single set was amazing and looked different which is certainly a first for us. One issue we had though was that although normally we're able to leave sets standing. But not this time. Because of the fact that the now-closed Broadway show Tale of Two Cities is, weirdly, storing their old sets right where we used to be able to work -- we had to take our sets down completely each weekend because we were working in the part of my dad's shop where people were actually... er... well working. That added about an hour of take-down at the end of each weekend but also added an hour (at least) to the beginning of each weekend to re-build stuff. Actually, maybe two hours.

      It would be awesome if we had our own sound stage. In Jersey City. With all sprung Marley floors. Ooh. Nice floors.

      I can dream, can't I? Yes, that's what the post-mortem is for.

      5. It's nice to have a combat android whom you simply know could beat you up, and Robin Kurtz did a great job of that. We had a very strong cast and we were lucky to get Maduka Steady to actually play the part written for him this time. But really everyone was fantastic and we had a nice gamut from the whiny-comical to the deadly serious to the weirdly insane -- each character carefully delineated in such a way that they're all memorable and their interactions with one another was very clear and motivated.

      Also: I can't believe I spelled "delineated" correctly without asking the spell-check.

      A corridor set in mid-construction.
      6. Joe Chapman and Libby Csulik went way above and beyond in the building of those sets. It was funny -- as the DP realizing I could turn around in any direction and shoot. I can almost NEVER do that. Even when shooting outside. Maybe especially when shooting outside. But lighting was very easy and kind of delightful to not have to keep saying "I can't shoot in that direction because there's no set there."

      7. I should either drink more or take better drugs so I'm calmer on set. We need a blender for the fruitier cocktails. Maybe the first set should be a Tiki bar...

      8. For the call sheets we did everything we could to keep every single day with the same call time. I think that helped lower confusion levels.

      9. I'm sure our producer will have a list of things I should be doing better. As long as nobody is actively hitting me I'll be OK. Or using any sort of stick or club. I hate that.

      Thursday, September 16, 2010

      Battle Mech

      Don't think I won't do a scene-to-scene rewrite of The Road Warrior but have it about a dude in servo armor who meets up with a combat witch and an android trying to protect the last refuge of humanity from mechanized dinosaurs in the post-apocalyptic future.
      See? You're thinking I won't do that. You are so ever so ever so wrong.

      Over at Volpin Props they have a suit of mechanized armor. But this dude made some male and female armor which is excessively cool. Whoa. That's a LOT of work.

      But the real trick is making a mech. That would be the equivalent of the 18-wheeler tanker truck of the movie. Can we build a two-legged one which is practical? Can we build a damaged one and then build a modeled one which is animated?

      The Most Boring Blog Post Ever

      Why do criminals wear Yankee caps? The bigger question is: why wouldn't they?

      No really, you have no idea how little I care about the Mets/Yankees/Everybody else.

      I think there's a more exciting blog post over there somewhere.
      What I do care about is the $30 RAST chest of drawers from Ikea. Somehow out of the three places I live in (Jersey City, Metuchen, and Princeton) I don't have a single chest of drawers. You can imagine what that means for organizing my laundry. Yes. Dirty clothes in the hamper, clean clothes on the bed/chair/floor/wherever.

      The girls' and boys' locker rooms in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series are hands-down the creepiest lit and scariest places in the whole series. All of a sudden you have rusty dripping faucets and under- lit lockers in and amongst the otherwise lit-like-it's-named Sunnydale High. Every time we go to the locker room it makes me laugh.

      Sean McHenry is a guy who contacted me about my feature Hamlet.

      And today I refoamed my speakers. Getting the old glue off the speakers and the frame-thingy was the hardest part. But now it's all good. And we can have a party at my apartment again.

      A Power Trio Rehearsal

      But we didn't record anything. Even though we wrote a new song. Ha! Of course. And we didn't record it do I have to try to "sense memory" it if we're going to remember it for Sunday.

      Wednesday, September 15, 2010

      The Earthkiller Shuttle

      An important element in Earthkiller is the shuttle which docks with the space station. And the always amazing Ian Hubert made one. Here are some stills. (Modeled in Blender.)
      The wings swivel.

      What is a Story?

      Often people tell me "I've got a great idea for a story!" and I think "uh oh."

      "It's about how everyone has personal jetpacks but sometimes they fail."

      Voight Kamf causes heavy family dynamics.

      "Cybernetic dolphins!"


      "What if your house came alive?"

      Those might be nice ideas, but they aren't stories. Alex Epstein, whom I've been following since he wrote his screenwriting book on the web back in the day, has a good post today on story.

      A story is (a) a compelling character (b) who has an opportunity, problem or goal (c) who faces obstacles and/or an antagonist (d) who faces jeopardy (e) and can win stakes.

      Tuesday, September 14, 2010

      Making a Business Plan Part Sexo

      So, we've already determined that it's theoretically possible to have a business which brings in $250,000 a year in revenue by making (egads!) 10 pictures a year.

      But that's only $25,000 a picture. Is that really sustainable?

      If you do a 12-day shoot with an average of 10 "men" on set each day (including cast and crew) it's going to cost no less than
      $150/day in food
      $220/day(!) in transportation (if they're taking NJ Transit from New York City Penn Station to Metuchen -- I will gripe about this in another post)

      That's $370/day or $4400 for the duration of the shoot.

      Now you might be able to save some money from that and, say, rent a van and drive rather than taking public transportation (don't get me started). But let's start with that $4400 number.

      If you're going to pay salaries, which your accountant would appreciate if you did, you'd have to pay minimum wage which is $7.25/hour. And lets pretend each day is 10-hours (but you aren't doing more than 40 hours a week so no overtime is involved.)*

      Now let's assume that the employer's side of taxes and SUI and the cost of a payroll service costs a total of 1.22 the wage you're paying. So the gross daily pay for someone is $72.50. Multiply that by 1.22 and you get the total cost to the employer for employing them: $88.45/day.

      There are 120 man-days on the shoot so 120 times $88.45/day is $10, 614.

      Production cost are $15,014 (and you haven't even made props, costumes, or built sets or found a location)
      $10,614 in salary costs
      $4,400 in "fixed" costs

      That leaves only $10,000 to do all your pre-production, write the script, create all your art, props, and sets, and do all your post-production editing, mixing, visual effects, amortize the costs of your camera, lights, and sound gear and pay for repairs, AND pay yourself 1/10th of your yearly salary (whatever it is that you need to live where you are -- $20,000 to $40,000). And that's just to break even.

      Hmm... it doesn't look like we'll be paying salaries any time soon, does it?

      Also, I'm going to have to talk to my dad about why he wasn't born rich so I could have a drug problem. I mean a trust fund. Man, why did I say "drug problem"? I meant "trust fund"...

      OK, so what if we chopped the size of the cast/crew in half and had only an average of 5 men on set per day? We could just divide the above number in half:
      $5,307 in salary costs
      $2.200 in "fixed" costs

      So now we're at $7,507 in production costs before sets, art, costumes, equipment, and post-production. That's certainly more reasonable.

      But you have to be making 10 of these dang movies a year. You're going to be run ragged.

      So right, as Joe pointed out in a comment on the last business plan post, you're going to need to work with other directors. And... here's the thing with other directors. How many directors do you know who absolutely can't finish a short film? With this business model we simply can't take years and years to finish a feature. We can't do that. Nope. No way. The picture, with all its visual effects, a complete edit, and a mix, have to be done within three or four months from the beginning of principal photography. Finished. Out the door. Moved onto other things. Done. Finito.

      This is how the producer feels.
      Our producer once had a brief conversation with David Rimawi at the AFM a few years back. He was watching a fight scene in our movie Millennium Crisis and he said "How long does it take you to finish these movies?" Because he knew that at the time it was taking us a year. We're much faster now. But he knew that even with some decent action scenes you have to be done in three months or you're just losing money.

      And doing a movie in three months is hard. Especially when everyone is working for free. Heck, we're not even getting much in the way of economy of scale by making a whole bunch of movies a year. Who is going to write 10 shootable pictures a year? Who (more importantly) will freakin' edit 10 pictures a year? To do the sound mix I estimate it'd take a total (dialog, music, and effects, mix, and changes) of... 4 days (maybe 3) for every ten minutes of picture. So let's say (being all libertine about our numbers) that the picture is 80 minutes long and takes 24 days of full-time work on the audio. Good grief, that's 240 days per year of working on the audio alone!

      So we're going to need to increase the denominator side of the equation of costs/revenue.

      But how? How how how?

      Just look for part 7 in the ongoing exciting series of "How the heck am I going to make money making movies?"


      *I believe in California that isn't the case and going overtime after 8 hours starts the time-and-a-half clock, but New Jersey and New York base overtime after 40 hours weekly.