Saturday, May 28, 2011

Big Yacht Repower - Post Production

This is about a documentary I produced, shot, and edited. The shoot began November 2009, ending in July 2010.  It was aired on Detroit Public Television in 2011. The On-Line version LINK is HERE at YouTube.   The video is embeded below.

Disclaimer
I put this in my moral premise blog because I don't have a production blog. It's out of the ordinary post for the others found on this blog because it does not deal with a mainstream feature film. However, Big Yacht Repower does have an imperfect protagonist: An Old 53-foot Hatteras that leaked oil and went slow.  The moral premise could be stated like this:
Old, leaky diesels lead to slow passages and low fuel economy. New, high-tech diesels lead to fast passages and high fuel economy.
Production notes and jacket copy below.





If the video doesn't play here easily, click on the YouTube icon  to watch on my channel at YouTube. 


Retrospect

Producing this took me back to my days of directing technical training video discs for Ford Motor Company. But back then I had great budgets with decent size crews,  Ford's engineering departments to prep props and set pieces, a huge studio just 50' feet down the hall from my cubicle, and often a travel budget. Big Yacht Repower was just the opposite in about every way, with one exception. Back then we were editing on 2-inch wide Quad tape and the best editing equipment available in the world. Each hour of tape in it's aluminum 15-inch diameter reels weighed 20 pounds. Big Yacht Repower was shot on a nearly obsolete SD, tape based camcorder. Each hour of 1/4-inch wide tape was in a tiny plastic case that weighed a few ounces. In the Quad-tape days I needed a study hand-cart, a van, and a strong back to take tapes to an edit facility. With BYR I could stick everything in my pocket, and thanks to Apple's Final Cut Studio suit of applications, edit on my laptop with sophistication I couldn't dream of back then.

Jacket Copy
BIG YACHT RE-POWER is the gritty inspirational documentary about the repowering of a classic Hatteras 53-foot motor yacht with two massive new diesel engines. It's a fast-paced forty-minutes featuring a handful of savvy marine technicians at the Gregory Boat Basin, a 100-year old Detroit marina, who upgrade the engines and technology on the old but beautiful boat, turning it into the faster boat of its kind on the water.

The doc was shot during the winter of 2009-2010 at the Gregory Boat Basin in Detroit. The boat is "Signature One" owned by Scott Gregory. That spring and summer we edited the project. We did it as a marketing piece for the Gregory Service and Restoration Departments. The whole story is told with visuals, music, and superimposed type. Pure visual storytelling.

Production Notes

I shot it on a Panasonic DVX-100A at 24P 16:9 with the help of a wide angle anamorphic lens adapter. (Standard Definition). I shot everything at 24P; but should have shot it at 24PA. The 24P mistake required I remove all the 2:3 pull down elements via Final Cut, and then adjust all the special effect time maps (time lapse) elements.  But in the end I had a true 24 fps timeline. (Note to Stan: Shoot 24PA from now on.) The combination of the small size camera, the low-light sensitivity, and the extra wide angle adapter allowed us to get in spots that even with the Panasonic 200 DVX HD would have been impossible. Lots of fun, a truck load of work, but very satisfying.

After months of editing I showed it to WTVS (Detroit Public TV) thinking it might make a good midnight 40-minute filler. They enjoyed it so much that they offered to use it as prime-time pledge break if we could find a matching sponsor. There were enough companies involved in the project, but no one could afford the matching pledge liability (they must have thought a lot of people would be watching) -- Duh!  So the premiere airing got bumped to March 19, 2011 (a Saturday) at noon and very few watched.

But before airing, I spent weeks color correcting the project (actually more black and peak level adjustments with some additional tweaks at the gamma) and preparing the elements for up-resing from standard definition to HD.  With the competent advice of editor Don Thompson at WTVS I upgraded my Final Cut version, and then recreated all the superimposed type and chapter headings in HD. The SD was up-resed to HD (1080x1240) and imported into a Final Cut HD timeline, into which all the HD type and Photoshop elements were added. That timeline was then rendered to produce the HD end product.

Seeing this on PBS in HD, and being a guest on the pledge-break that aired it, was a rewarding experience.

My thanks to Scott Gregory who bartered years of slip and storage fees for our 41-ft ketch, FAMILY TIES, and support of Dan Miller and his crew who did the expert work and didn't complain when I was in the way or asked them "Can you do that again?" and Scott Gregory, Jr. for piloting the camera boat for the final on-the-water at sunrise shots that cap off the project.

The completed project with a couple of bonus tracks can be ordered on SD DVD HERE.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Rollercoaster Charts

Just finished a couple of revision passes on D.K.N. (Naughty Little Nazis) a screenplay by Nikita Mungarwadi that we're developing.
Log Line: A 14-year old German girl battles an Nazi S.S. officer and his platoon to rescue her Jewish friends from the ghetto before they are liquidated.
The most recent revisions dealt with pacing. Since this is a war-time action picture, we had to make sure there were no long slow spots. In fact, while producing this graph we eliminated six pages that slowed the story down.  The numbers on the bottom indicate "calculated" pages based on Final Draft's 1/8 page as the smallest scene length... the actual script is shorter than the chart indicates.

Click to Enlarge

The top chart (Progress vs. Regression toward Goal) measures the scene's portrayal of the protagonist's progress or lack of it toward her goal. The Moment of Grace is near the center of the chart at the GREEN ARROW. Until that scene the protagonist's efforts are up and down, without any great progress. But after the protagonist learns some tough lessons that takes her to apparent defeat (end of Act 2) -- she rises to apply the moral premise and finally make serious progress toward her goal. Yet, there are repeated set-backs of ever escalating danger all along the way.

The bottom chart shows how much reflection vs. action exists and where.  As we should hope, as the story progresses the action becomes more intense, with the clear majority of the story above the line, well into the action arena.
The RED arrow is the Inciting Incident. BLUE the beginning of Act 2. GREEN the Moment of Grace. PURPLE the Climax to Act 2. YELLOW the beginning of the Final Conflict, with the Act 3 Climax occuring there the action and the coaster action gets the most fierce. These turning points are not positioned perfectly, but they respect the dynamics of the story. As we move forward we may find the need to adjust them.

If you want to know how these charts were created, HERE ARE THE INSTRUCTIONS. I began with Final Draft's Scene Report and used Excel 2011 chart generator.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Indexed Values

Recently I subscribed to a blog post called INDEXED. Occasionally the creator, Jessica (whom I suppose a wannabe atheist (*) based on some of her posts), produces a Venn diagram or graph that touches eloquently on the conflict of values that we use in creating stories. While some will claim that her interpretations of things are not universal, I think they do, for the most part, connect generally with the human condition.

I also like them because they are mostly visual, which is what movies are all about -- show, don't tell. Pictures are worth thousands of words and her little index cards are great examples of this truth.  I hope you can see protagonists and characters carrying around these cards (figuratively) in their pocket, and at a particular turning point in their story, they take the cards out and study them.



The challenge, perhaps to my students, fans, and clients is this: Take your story and create a graph or Venn diagram for the Conflict of Values your protagonist faces. Put that card in YOUR pocket, and when you're waiting in line, or stuck in traffic take the card out and imagine that your character is in your situation at that moment, sitting next to you. How would they see your current predicament in terms of the conflict of values that is illustrated on the card?

(*) I call all atheists "wannabes" because logically they have no rational basis for declaring there is no God. To do so, they would have to be omniscient... an attribute assigned to the essence that knows all things perfectly without error or contradiction. You can't claim something does not exist when your knowledge of the universe and reality is microscopically small. I'll accept agnostic, but not declarations. Every human discipline offers only a spec of knowledge of what is potentially possible. Science and theology are no exceptions to this. Some of what was known as universal truth by science 100 years ago, today is bunk... and the thousands of Protestant Christian faiths that all disagree with each other suggests a similar uneasiness. I'm Catholic for a host of reasons, not the least of which the Church does not claim to have all the answers. It has always embraced mystery as a tenet. That there is mystery in the universe/reality,  is what makes stories, in part, work. We are bounded by time and space. Stories working through our imagination allows us to see reality from a perspective that transcends space and time.

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I wrote the above on May 20. On May 25 Ms. Hagy posted this index card:


Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Moral Premise is Now Likable on FACEBOOK

I've desired to carry on discussions with my many readers, and answer their questions form time-to-time. Nearly 100 people visit the Moral Premise blog each day. So, we have finally created a PAGE on FACEBOOK for The Moral Premise. Please "LIKE" us and join in the discussion about popular story structure, motion pictures, novels and comics. I'll do my best to keep up. LIKING us will also allow me an easier way to communicate to you about new features, workshops, and story ideas. Here is the link:

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Produced by Faith

I just finished reading Produced by Faith: Enjoy Real Success Without Losing Your True Self, by DeVon Franklin, VP Production at Sony Entertainment. I picked up the book because DeVon was the studio executive from Sony/Columbia on Will and Jadden Smith's KARATE KID (2010). DeVon also worked with Will Smith as an intern some years back during his USC days.

If you're a regular reader of this blog you know that I'm a fan of metaphors, and all successful movies use them. Produced by Faith uses the creation of a successful movie as a metaphor for creating a successful life. DeVon also recounts some of his experiences during his rise to VP Exec. at Sony Entertainment.

But the reason I'm blogging about it here is because he spends a whole page (70) talking about The Moral Premise.  In part he writes:

FINALLY, AS YOU'RE WORKING on your script, you must know your moral premise and live by it. In his book The Moral Premise: Harnessing Virtue & Vice for Box Office Success, Stanley D. Williams, Ph.D., says that a popular movie always contains a moral premise that we all hold to be true. In The Karate Kid, it might be "Live in fear and you will die, but face your fear and you will triumph."

Most good movie scripts feature a powerful, universal moral premise that audience members can identify with. Your story must be built on a similar bedrock. What virtue do you extol in your work and what vice do you condemn? What do you stand for and what do you stand against? The moral premise of your faith should be the arbiter of how you act in business.

I'd like to point out that the Karate Kid (2010) MPPS statement he articulates works for the movie quite well, although it's not one of the several possible that I mentioned in my other post on the movie, nor is it one that came up during the multiple times I interfaced with Will and his team about the movie. DeVon's insight in what the movie is about adds an understanding that successful movies are true on various levels allowing them to connect with multiple sensitivities of broad audiences. 

I highly recommend this book.... and not because it mentions TMP... although that always helps.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Michigan Film Incentives - Entrepreneurial Motherload

Below is testimony given by Detroit 187 (Now Cancelled, thanks to Gov. Rick Snyder) actress Erin Cummings before the Michigan State Senate Economic Development Committee 5-13-11 at the new Raleigh Studios in Pontiac, MI.  The subject is whether or not to continue the State Incentives for the Film Industry. She says briefly what we've all been saying for years. When you bring smart, entrepreneurial people to an area, their presence is felt in a multitude of ways.






MOVIES ATTRACT SMART ENTREPRENEURS
I voted Republican, and for Gov. Snyder for a host of reasons, most of them economic. But Snyder's arrogance on the Film Incentive issue, and his stupidity about what attracts people to a state for business puts him on my recall list. His former company, Gateway, is now just 40 miles from Hollywood. They're there, I conclude, because of the intelligence of the work force, which in part is in the Los Angeles area because of the immense intellectual requirement that motion picture development, production and distribution requires. L.A. attracts many of the smartest people in the world due to the movie industry. But not all of them end up making movies, nor do their off-spring -- which are born with the entrepreneurial smarts in their DNA. The result is a host of other industries and businesses that foster products and employment. It's not just the weather. And it's definitely not all about lowering business taxes... which the incentives do.

Unlike any other industry, the motion picture industry requires workers from every imaginable discipline on the face of the planet. There is not an industry that it does not touch. Name a job title, and you can find someone doing that to help make a movie. There is no other industry like it in the world. And while many motion pictures lose money (some would say most do), the financial upside is so great that it produces billions of dollars in total revenue each year, around the world -- to say nothing of the entrepreneurial charity work that Erin mentions.

 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

WRITING GOOD LOG LINES



A key ingredient of the Log Line is the Story Hook. Here's a link about Hooks

Also, another explanation of this graphic and the log line is found HERE.

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This is the last article you’ll ever need to read on log lines. Our goal: a strong, pithy pitch for a movie that will keep you focused as a writer and get your audience into the theater.

Because I teach, consult, write, and direct, I am always in desperate need of a good log line. If not for the story I’m currently working on, then to explain to my wife what I did all day long at home while she was off earning money to pay for our groceries. I’m always having to come up with them, or help others figure them out – the log lines, not the groceries.  So, I needed an easy to remember formula that worked. But first, I needed a motivation. Don’t we all?

WHY LOG LINES?
Originally, log lines were long thin ropes on a spool with knots tied in them that mariners unreeled behind their ships to measure their speed – in KNOTS. They counted how many evenly spaced knots passed through their hand as the sand in the hour-glass drained from the top to the bottom. The mariner’s log line was a necessity in helping them navigate their journey and not get lost. It told them how far they had gone in a certain direction and when to turn the boat to find their destination.

[The other advantage of the marina’s log line was that if the boat got lost, the sailors simply had to follow the log line back to port. As time went on, and captains become more adventurous sailing to distant lands, the log lines got pretty big. But, after a few ships sank from the enormous weight of the reels, ships never got lost again. Why? They learned their lesson and never ventured far from port.]

Now, if that last part in brackets sounds like a joke, it wasn’t intended as such for the writers reading this. It’s the lie that tells the truth -- about the importance of log lines. Log lines help us navigate our writing. They also help to steer funding and attachments to our projects. And they direct audiences to theaters. Log lines are a necessary tool that keeps us focused in writing our story, and helps convince “names” to spend their time and money to get our story made and distributed. A good log line tells us how far we need to go before we arrive at a turning point in the plot. And, if we get lost, a good log line will lead us back to the beginning where we can start again.

ELEMENTS
Fundamentally, a good log line will be a single sentence that will includes five elements.

The subject of the sentence will describe (1) an imperfect but passionate and active PROTAGONIST. The verb will depict (2) the BATTLE. And the direct object will describe (3) an insurmountable ANTAGONIST who tries to stop the protagonist from reaching (4) a physical GOAL on account of (5) the STAKES, if the goal is not reached.

The formula graphic at the right show you one possible way of organizing the log lone sentence. Notice that the terms (i.e. placeholders) I've chosen for the formula should be replaced or implied with specific nouns and visceral terms that fit your story. You don't have to be explicit, but you do need to communicate the moral and emotional tone that causes your protagonist to leap off the page with passion. That is, the log line is better if the words chosen enhance the story's marketability by suggesting the movie’s:
  • Values
  • Genre
  • Setting
  • Visual
  • Ironic hook
  • Relationships in the balance
  • Emotional context, and
  • Visceral action.

VERB
The verb you choose to depict the struggle must be visual and active. After all this is a movie, not a play or a novel. Thus, the log line verb should be one of the following, or one like them that best suits the genre:

struggle, battle, contends, wrestles, grapples, scuffles, fights, wages war, jousts, duels, spars, scraps, opposes, takes on, clashes, quarrels, feuds, or crusades.

STRUCTURE
Now, take all those elements and put them into a compelling sentence in this order:

[protagonist]…[verb]…[antagonist]…[goal]…[stakes].

What it doesn’t sound right? Then, rewrite it. You do know what a rewrite is, don’t you? As formulistic as all this sounds, expect to rewrite your log line many, many times --- not necessarily at first, but over the time that you develop your story and script. 

MORAL PREMISE
Having written the book The Moral Premise, it’s only fitting that I reference it here. While the log line describes the PHYSICAL essence of the story, the moral premise statement describes the inner working, or the PSYCHOLOGICAL essence of the story. If you’re not familiar with the moral premise statement construction, here’s an example. Its purpose is to articulate the arc of the story from psychological value to physical consequence. For instance:

Fear leads to paralysis; but
Courage leads to action.

The log line only hints at the context of the moral premise statement. Both are necessary to write a strong story that touches both physical and psychological beats.

Again, it’s worth repeating, log lines tell us what the movie is about PHYSICALLY; it is why people go to a particular movie. And the moral premise statement (or moral premise line) tells us what the movie is about PSYCHOLOGICALLY; it explains the motivations of the characters the PHYSICAL action they take.

Audiences leave the theater thinking well or ill of a movie based on their subconscious awareness of the moral premise’s truth and consistency. Start with a good log line. Then, establish a true and consistent moral premise statement. With those two tools in hand you’ll be well on your way.

4 QUESTIONS AND 4 ANSWERS
My friend Jeffrey Alan Schechter makes the justifiable claim that a good log line should clearly and unambiguously answer these FOUR QUESTIONS:
  1. Who is your main character?
  2. What is he or she trying to accomplish?
  3. Who is trying to stop him or her?
  4. What happens if he or she fails?

The answers to those questions, which MUST BE embodied in the log line, are:
  1. A sympathetic character, who is
  2. trying to accomplish a compelling goal while being opposed by...
  3. a powerful and committed opponent, over
  4. life and death stakes.

Log lines, as I said above, are the place that writers start. Log lines help to focus the filmmaking team as they moves through the process of writing, development, attachment, production, and then marketing. But the best log lines are usually written AFTER the movie is finished. Why? Because movies are made three times: in the writing, in the shooting, and in the finishing. And it's not until it's all over that we really know what the film is about, and what the characters are REALLY about.  At any rate, log lines are critical to understanding what makes a good story. 

EXAMPLES
Here are a few good log line examples.
•   A naïve young man battles heartless authorities to protect the life of his girlfriend when it’s revealed that she’s not human— she’s a mermaid.
•   A police chief, with a phobia for open water, battles a gigantic shark with an appetite for swimmers and boat captains, in spite of a greedy town council who demands that the beach stay open.
•   A Parisian rat teams up with a man with no talent to battle convention and the critics that anyone can cook and open their own restaurant.
•   A lawyer who loses his ability to lie for 24-hours, clashes with his ex-wife for the affection of their son and the healing of their family.
•   A young farmer from a distant planet joins the rebellion to save his home planet from the evil empire when he discovers he is a warrior with legendary psychokinesis powers.

GIVE IT TIME – BUT DON’T STOP
Nothing good comes easily. That adage begins and ends with log lines. Their importance in the movie industry (and in all storytelling efforts) cannot be overstated. The human mind requires a respite from time-to-time to reach its full potential. Within your mind is the capacity to not only write a good log line, but construct the good story that goes with it. Write hard each day. But then relax and do something that involves physical activity aside from sitting in a chair and bending over a computer. Writing is hard work -- but you need exercise, too. I spend the mornings writing. In the afternoon I chop logs, garden, sail and chase my wife around town. You’ll be surprised how your mind assimilates and solves problems when you’re not trying to force it. As your project develops never stop coming back to your log line and see if you can make it that strong, pithy pitch that will sell your story.


Dr. Stan Williams, author of The Moral Premise: Harnessing Virtue and Vice for Box Office Success, consults on story structure, screenplays and the film industry from his home in Michigan and from the road in Los Angeles. You can reach him through his website at http://www.moralpremise.com.


Copyright © 2011 Stanley D. Williams