About half-way through this process, I wanted to do a recap. It seemed like a good place to pause and reflect but I eventually decided to wait until I was totally finished so I could get some perspective on the project as a whole. I’ve decided to go back and re-watch all the films, writing a little summary for each one, so here we go:
January - Flying South
I was already a week or so into the year when I got around to writing this script. I had been recovering from holiday travel and finishing up some work when I realized that I had already told people that I was going to be making one short film every month. I had to get on the ball and write something.
I opened up my screenwriting software and started a conversation between two characters which is often how I like to start writing. With a quick pause to go shower about halfway through the morning, I finished it quickly. A couple little revisions and it was ready to shoot. Casting went quickly and the shoot went relatively smoothly apart from a blown day when the wind kicked up so badly that we’d never be able to record audio.
Flying South, more than any other of the Twelve, is a perfect example of me trying to do too much. I didn’t plan ahead enough, took too much for granted and the film suffered because of it. The audio is distractingly bad and I didn’t know enough about the camera to really make it look great. Still, it was the first and holds a very special place for me, if only because it was just me and Matt Ryan on a freezing cold day shooting the first of the series.
The film also started a trend within the narratives in the series...the conversation film. All of the narratives (except for Heist-Off! which I’ll talk about later) are simple conversations between people, which are the kind of films that I really love.
February - Thirty Years
Here’s where things started getting better. I decided to up the production value a little (and test out some gear that I wanted to buy) by renting a slider and a focus pulling system and I think the film looks worlds better than Flying South. It also SOUNDS a lot better due to renting better mics and finally figuring out how to run the audio.
Shooting another narrative, I was trying to play to my strengths a bit more in the beginning. I had directed more narrative than anything else and so I was living in my comfort zone a bit while I got better on a technical level.
My biggest issue with this was timing. Sadly, I got no rehearsal time with the actors except for a few read-throughs before we started shooting and I think it shows. I feel like the overall timing of the piece, the dialogue and the back and forth between the actors is lagging. They did a great job, I just wish we had more time to work it before we started shooting.
March - Stars Fall
I’ve known Andrew Rosas for a while and have always been a big fan of his music. When I heard this song, I really loved it and wanted to make a music video for it. After making two narrative films, I wanted to step out a bit and do something different which is why I asked him if he wouldn’t mind running around downtown Austin with me for a few nights.
As it turned out, we had a lot of fun and managed to get some really good looking footage just using available light. I also got to stay within my comfort zone a little by shooting the green screen stuff and really utilizing my post-production experience to make the video pop.
One thing I got to try on this was speeding up the song and the frame rate of the camera so that, when everything was slowed down, it would have a dreamy quality to it. I only got to do this when we were shooting the green screen, but it was a good test and something that I would be able to use later.
April - 360
After buying my camera slider in March (I got to use it on a couple shots for Stars Fall) I decided to do a project where I got to use it a lot so I could get good with it. Sliders are deceptively difficult. It looks easy enough (just side the camera along the rail) but getting good at timing and slow moves was a lot more challenging.
I had seen some of Philip Bloom’s “mood pieces” before, where he would pick a location or a subject, shoot pretty shots of it and then set the edit to music. I had been inspired by them because he would use those pieces to get good at a new camera or tool in his bag of tricks. So I decided to do something similar and chose the 360 Bridge in Austin (one of my favorite landmarks) as the subject of my April film.
I really love this one. The music is wonderful (a cut from The Rentals album, Resilience) and shooting this was a huge challenge that ended up being a lot of fun. The bulk of the shots were taken from the top of a cliff that overlooks the bridge and I (by myself) had to lug not only my camera gear, but the slider and tripods as well, up some very slippery steps in pitch black. Since I wanted to get timelaspe shots of the sun coming up over the bridge, I had to get up there and set up around 4am. Once I was up there and done shooting the timelapse, I set up the slider and shot all of that. It was a blast, but a lot of hard work.
May - Farm to Trailer
Wanting to break out of my comfort zone even more, I decided to try my hand at making a short documentary. I’ve always loved watching documentaries but had never considered making one.
Julie and I had eaten at Odd Duck and Barley Swine and loved Bryce’s food. When I started thinking about documentary ideas, the “farm to table” concept really jumped out at me. I called Bryce and left a message, but what I didn’t know was that when I left that message, he was in New York accepting the Food & Wine Magazine Best New Chef award.
When I learned that he had won, I figured I’d need a new subject since he’d be too busy or maybe even too important to talk to me about doing some little documentary. But a few days later, he called and we talked for a while. I met him down at his restaurant and explained what I’d want to do. He agreed and we shot his interview a few days later.
Shooting this documentary was a lot of fun and it really taught me the importance of a pre-interview. Apart from our phone conversation and meeting at his restaurant, Bryce and I really didn’t talk before the interview and so I only went in with the questions I came up with based on research I did online. I feel like, if we had spoken more before the interview, I would have had more information and better questions. Still, I do love this doc and think it was a great way to open the door to that world of filmmaking.
On a side note, Farm to Trailer was accepted into the Sedona International Film Festival recently which was huge for me. It was the first of the 12 Films to be accepted into a festival and, as my first documentary, I’m very proud of it...and Sedona is an amazing festival, so that made it even more incredible.
June - Heist-Off!
When I started the Twelve Films Project, Matt Ryan said that there was bound to be one of them that just wasn’t very good. This was it.
Looking back, I’m amazed how good it was given the 48-hour time constraint. And when we went to the screening and saw it up against many of the other films that had been made that weekend, I felt a lot better about it.
It’s a goofy little film filled with many mistakes and some pretty awful storytelling, but there are also moments in there that make me laugh every time I see it. Looking at it against the other films in the project, it’s pretty awful, but looking at it for what it is, it’s actually not too bad.
July - Charcuterie
For my second documentary, I decided to focus on something that was near and dear to my heart, cured meat. The Kocurek’s had been on my radar since I moved to Austin, only because they make some of the finest charcuterie I’ve ever had. Their bacons are wonderful and their sausages are inspired. What’s funny is, when Julie and I looked at their website about a year earlier, we said, “We should be friends with these people!”...and that’s what happened.
I got in touch with them and asked if they’d be interested in participating. Originally, I had wanted to make the doc about three different charcuterie companies here in Austin, but when I met Larry and Lee Ann and saw what they were doing, I knew the doc should only be about them.
Learning from my mistakes with Bryce, I spent a lot of time with Larry and Lee Ann in their kitchen, shooting them making their charcuterie as well as talking with them and getting them comfortable talking to me. We developed a bond that made everything a lot simpler when it came time to sit down for the interviews.
In the end, Charcuterie is one of my favorite of the Twelve, if only because I made some amazing friends out of it.
August - The Cathedral of Junk
I won’t lie...this was a quickie. I was buried under a lot of work and was struggling to find time to get something done for August. I knew of the Cathedral and had thought about doing that for the June film, but the 48-Hour project seemed like a better idea (ha!). I got in touch with Vince Hannemann, who owns the Cathedral, and he was open to having me come out and shoot.
I decided to go early as August in Austin is pretty brutal. I arrived around 7am and shot for 4 hours. I got everything I needed and had it edited in a few days...pretty easy, but it’s actually one of my favorite pieces. The simple piano music plays against the chaotic visuals that are full of things to look at and I was very happy with the camera moves and how that helped to show off just how big the Cathedral is.
September - Layover
Until moving to Austin, I never really had much in the way of allergies. Usually, when the weather turned from Summer to Fall, I’d get the sniffles for a few days, sneeze a few times and that was it. This year, my immune system (or whatever it is that controls allergies) decided to go on vacation. I got the worst sinus infection/allergy/whatever that I’ve ever had. It seriously destroyed me, sending me to bed and even for a quick trip to the emergency room. Of course, all of this was happening while I was trying to make Layover.
The original idea came to me when I was directing a web spot for a cell phone that never made it on the market. We shot for a day at the Austin airport and it was a very cool experience. The people at the airport were very accommodating and, even though we were shooting right next to an active gate all day, the whole thing went off without a hitch.
Since the web spot was never going to be seen, I decided to go back and shoot a short film out at the airport. We shot the whole thing in one night, from 8pm to 3:30am and I was in quite a bit of pain for the whole thing. I had started taking steroids for my allergies, but they hadn’t kicked in fully yet and I was a bit of a zombie that night. Fortunately, I had Paul Toohey with me to help with the shooting and general “keeping shit going”. The shoot went well and because we were shooting with two 7D’s, we were able to get a lot of angles in a short amount of time.
I think this is the narrative piece that I’m most proud of in the 12 Films. There are some fun moments and it really does feel like something that might happen at some airport late at night. There are plenty of mistakes, but I think it has a real organic feel to it.
October - Instant Lovers
Hands down, the most fun I had shooting any of the 12 Films. I was introduced to Deano by David Barrow of Applebox Imaging who knew I wanted to do another music video for the 12 Films. Deano sent me his upcoming album and when I heard Instant Lovers, I knew that was the perfect track for a video.
The song is kind of a throwback to those great “butt rock” songs from the 80’s when the men were men and the women were hot and in bikini’s, so I decided to make something that had that feel to it, but was a bit of a satire on those videos as well.
I had shot at the swimming pool location before when I directed a web spot for Verizon. We shot there at night, and so I thought it would be cool to go back and do it during the day. Putting the band in the water was an idea I had when I started looking at the location and figuring out how I would shoot it. I knew I could speed up the song and the camera’s frame rate and get some really amazing shots.
I assembled the same team from the Layover shoot and got on Craigslist to find some used musical instruments that we could trash by keeping them underwater all day. The weather looked like it was going to hold, but the night before the shoot, a cold front moved in, chilling the air a little which made it a bit uncomfortable for the band, but they were troopers and the day went off without a hitch. Playing the “hot girl” was Natalie Monstanto who I directed in Sketch last year. She came out and really nailed the mix of sexy and gross that it needed.
November - Local
This originally started as an idea for a documentary about farming, and how the dynamic of farming has changed in the past 3-5 years with the rise of the “organic” and “local” movements. I had the idea in June after interviewing Farmer Kris Olsen out at Milagro Farms for the Farm to Trailer documentary. In the months between June and November, I learned a lot more about local food and the differences between that and “organic” food and, in the end, I decided to expand the scope of the film to include, not just the farms, but the people who supported the farms and brought that produce and protein to the public.
I wrote down all of the people I wanted to interview and the list was about 17-20 people. I knew I wouldn’t be able to interview everyone and still have time to edit the doc, so I culled the list down to 10 people and got started near the end of October. The shoots went well and it was a beautiful time of year to be out on the farms. I got lucky with a couple of my interviews including Valerie Broussard and Paul Hargrove at the W Hotel’s restaurant, Trace. In the end, I had about 14 hours of interviews and another 5 hours of b-roll from the farms and restaurants.
I finished the interviews around the 13th of November and started going through the footage, synching the interviews and getting a sense of all the b-roll. I knew going into it that this was going to be the biggest of the 12 Films. The scope of the doc was big and after going through all the interviews and b-roll, I decided to go for a 30-minute running time. I probably could have made a 40-45 minute film and still had a lot of great stuff left over, but I knew I’d never be able to really focus on a film that long. The 30-minute mark was realistic and it worked out well.
Local was probably the hardest of all the 12 Films, mostly because it was the only film that took up the majority of the month. I was also finishing up a lot of work for my “day job” clients at the same time, so I ended up editing on Thanksgiving while my wife and family was making dinner...that was a long month. In the end though, I think I’m most proud of Local and what I was able to do in the limited time. The film has got an amazing amount of positive feedback, both online and within the Austin local food community.
December - SB 81
I originally had planned on making a narrative film for my final entry, but I just couldn’t come up with an idea that felt right. I read an article by my friend Melanie Haupt at the Austin Chronicle that caught my eye and I decided that I would use the article as the jumping off point for the doc.
SB 81 is by no means my best work, and I was kind of sad to end on what I considered a low note. The doc is fine, but by the end I was just exhausted and ready for the project to be over. Mix that with the holidays and my need to take a small vacation before the New Year started, meant that I just didn’t have the time or energy to really knock it out of the park.
Still, people in the Austin food and home baking community liked the doc and the State Representative for Austin, Eddie Rodriguez, did a blog post about the doc, saying how much he liked it, so it wasn’t a total disaster.
In the end, the one thing that I had hoped for was that, if someone was to watch all the films from January through to December, they'd see a progression in quality. Watching all of these back, I feel like that happens, both technically and in the degree of difficulty.
I learned a lot while doing this project, but the thing I learned that surprised me the most is that I really love making documentaries. Don't get me wrong, I still love scripted narrative films, but there's something thrilling about finding the thread in the edit and crafting a story out of many hours of footage. I think I'll always make scripted films, but I really was bitten by the doc bug.
This blog is finally winding down and I think this might be the best place to end it. I'm moving on to a few bigger projects this year and none of them would have been possible without this project, what I learned while doing it and the people that I met in the process.
This past year was incredible and I wouldn't trade it for anything. Thanks.
January 2011 - January 2012