Totally Random

I needed to try out some new film gear. I needed a blog update. I got a new, weird, giant robot toy that you have to see to believe. Somehow, it all came out in the form of a video blog that I threw together in a couple hours Wednesday afternoon.

It’s pretty down and dirty; just natural lighting and onboard sound. I really just wanted to try out this new slider system…which is sweet.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to make a habit of this. But you gotta see the crazy ass robot toy(s)!

(If the video doesn’t show up below, try refreshing the page.)

Mood Music

Last week, we brought on a new producer to help get some forward movement on this LEVEL 7 feature project I’ve been working on for a while now. The great thing about bringing someone new onto your project is that they bring all of their individual experience and ideas to what you’re doing, which forces you to take a look at the work from a whole new perspective.

One of the sales tools we’re using in presenting the LEVEL 7 project to potential financiers is a two minute trailer cut from the short film we made last year. The new producer thought it might be an interesting experiment to revisit this trailer, not only with some new visual material, but with different music than the score we currently have in it. The score, done by the talented Mr. Deane Ogden, is fantastic, but for the very quick trailer, this producer suggested we try sourced music as a way to hook the viewer and hold the whole thing together thematically. Sourced music is music that already exists and hasn’t been created specifically for your film project. In this case, we’re looking for an existing song that enhances the narrative and emotional content of the trailer’s visuals, and ideally is something familiar enough to the viewer that they have a positive reaction to the work overall.

Pairing music with visuals, whether it’s creating the score from scratch or finding the right song for the scene, is one of my favorite parts of filmmaking. I have absolutely no musical talent whatsoever, having failed at more attempts to learn instruments than I care to mention. Some would also question my musical taste, which I’ll simply sum up as eclectic. Nonetheless, for me, the right music makes the film, so I was up to this new challenge and immediately began combing my own music library, which currently consists of 5,225 items amounting to 13.9 days worth of listening entertainment, according to my iTunes calculation. (And this doesn’t include older CD’s that I have yet to load on the computer.) When I exhausted the possibilities within my own library, I began searching online. Talk about trying to find a needle in a haystack!

In desperation, I threw out a tweet looking for help in finding that perfect track. I got a lot of great responses with inspiration across the entire spectrum of music and I tracked down and listened to every single suggestion, comparing it to the current cut of the trailer I’m working with. Sadly, I haven’t yet found the perfect song to accompany this piece, but I do have a few contenders while my search continues.

I’ve uploaded a low res version of the trailer with no audio so you can see what I’m trying to match the music to. It’s no easy task. The trailer contains elements of horror, action, and science-fiction. Trying to find a song that communicates all of those different genres in one cohesive piece…well, that’s the reason films are scored! But I’m sure the perfect song is out there somewhere, and I’m determined to find it.

SilentTrailer — Click to View

Note: due to copyright laws, I can’t use a piece of sourced music publicly without obtaining the rights. The presentation of the trailer with the sourced song would only be in private presentations, so I can’t post it here. But I will give you the list of my contenders and if you’re so inclined, you can play them in the background against the trailer to see how they might match up.

I narrowed my list down to four songs that I think created very interesting and very different viewing experiences with the trailer:

My current favorite is Land of Confusion by Disturbed (thanks to everyone who suggested Disturbed, which led me here). This is a high-octane cover of the original Genesis song, which is a favorite from the 80′s. The sound pairs well with the trailer and the intensity builds nicely along with the visuals. There is some very cool thematic overlap between the lyrics and the story playing out in the trailer with this character who wakes up in a place that he knows nothing about, only to be pursued by forces he doesn’t understand. The downside is that the lyrics eventually go to a place where I think the parallel ends, and it sort of loses its relevance.

The next best pick is Dragula by Rob Zombie. This one works for me because of the sound texture and tempo. Thematically, there’s not much relevance, but you can’t really hear the words anyway, so that doesn’t matter too much. On the downside, I think it’s a little dated and a little loud for a presentation. Sometimes the folks we’re talking to are looking a little bleary-eyed from living the Hollywood lifestyle, and hitting them with Rob Zombie before they’ve had their third round of Advil and coffee might not be the best sales approach.

On a lark, and to try something different, I tried E.T. by Katy Perry (with Kanye West). Before you judge me, this one was NOT in my music library before this project started. However, I started searching iTunes with terms like ‘alien’ and ‘space invader’ and eventually stumbled across this bizarre song, and I was surprisingly amused by how it worked. But I think it becomes too much of a joke to be effective. ‘Playing against type’ is the term used when music is paired with visuals that don’t match thematically, such as a big bloody shoot out set to Jingle Bells. While the subject matter of the song and trailer possess some entertaining overlap, the genre of music seems to go against type in the case of E.T.

Speaking of playing against type, there was one more song that I tried, almost by accident, and this one was in my library already; Delilah by Tom Jones. There is absolutely no reason to pair this song with the trailer, but there is an suspenseful sort of intensity to the way Delilah starts that seemed oddly appropriate when I played it next to the trailer. It’s absolutely wrong for the presentation, but it’s a hoot to watch.

There’s about five seconds of black at the front of the trailer. If you do decide to watch it against any of those songs, wait until you’re a few seconds in and then cue the track.

For now, the search goes on. Now that you’ve had a chance to see what I’m trying to put music to and you know what I’ve been listening to, I’d love to hear any new suggestions!

 

 

 

 

The Glamorous Life

If you’re a regular diner on this little word salad I’m tossing here, you might have noticed some gaps in my updating schedule and that posts seem to be less frequent and creeping closer to the end of the week. A couple of hefty convention trips definitely contributed to the lag, but more than anything, I’ve just been plain busy. (I also find that I’m either very inspired to write a blog, or it’s a struggle to come up with something remotely interesting to say that even passably fills this space, as today’s entry is glorious testament to.)

I know there are those of you that think I while away my days, drifting through azure Caribbean seas on a plush yacht playing WARMACHINE while I drink 25 year old scotch through a straw.( Okay, none of you really believe that, but I would love to prove you right if you did.) As it happens, that’s as much a fantasy as is a steam-powered robot with a magical brain. The reality is that I’m pretty much glued to my computer in my cluttered little office (tastefully decorated in the finest action figures, import robots, and video game collectibles one can find, of course!) unless I happen to taking a meeting somewhere in Los Angeles, which generally results in a driving-to-meeting ratio of one hour of driving for every fifteen minutes of meeting.

So when I’m not stuck in traffic or daydreaming about my fantasy office on the S.S. Privateer, here’s a list of the different kinds of things that occupy my professional time. On any given day, I’ll shift gears every few minutes, and a normal day will comprise anywhere from 10-30 instances of the following activities:

• Art Reviews and Approvals — All concept artwork and much of Privateer’s finished illustration work is sent to me in various stages from initial thumbnail designs to final image. I offer commentary, direction, and do the occasion draw-over or sketch to help keep thinks consistent to our vision and quality standards.

Here’s what passes for a quick sketch when I’m trying to communicate an idea. This was done while working with Privateer Art Director, Mike Vaillancourt to hammer out the composition for the next IK RPG cover. (Really, I’m just searching for an image to decorate this blog with!)

• Reviewing Licensing Contracts — When we license our brands for products we don’t create, or license products into other territories for localization (translation to the local language), I have to wade through the contracts. Not my forte.

• Reviewing Distribution Contracts — Same as above, but all about getting the games into new parts of the world.

• Sculpting Reviews and Approvals — Like the art approvals, I’ll get images of sculpts in different stages  and have an opportunity to provide feedback.

• Story Editing — I get pretty involved with our fiction and like to be present for initial story-forming discussions and then final review on the longer tales. Recently, I’ve been up to my ears editing and guiding fiction creation for Privateer’s settings. If you like to read, we’re going to do our best to burn your eyes out next year (you know, in a good way.) Note: I’m not a proof reader or copy editor, I’m just about story — hence all the spelling and grammar mistakes present here.

• Marketing — it’s a broad topic encompassing a lot of different tasks. Privateer has a whole department for this and I do my best to work closely with them on the many different projects we do. Privateer’s approach to marketing isn’t so much about ‘selling’ as it is awareness building and support of our games. Daily tasks include press releases, web content and website evolution, convention planning, promotion planning, ad copy review, organized play planning — the list goes on. My involvement here is primarily at the inception of new initiatives and then at various checkpoints along the way. But there’s a river of material constantly flowing through my inbox as it’s a big, eclectic department doing so many important things.

• Game Design Review — Oh yeah, once in a while I actually do something related to making games! I used to design them, but these days it’s more about offering creative guidance and adding my voice to the feedback we give throughout our development process.

• Naming — Everything in our settings has a name, whether it’s the next WARMACHINE warcaster or a genetically engineered alien hybrid in LEVEL 7. We take great pains to come up with interesting, flavorful, memorable names. Just yesterday, we wrapped up a four way email thread spanning three days and about 30 individual messages to do determine the right name for a previously undisclosed Khadoran intelligence agency that will be appearing for the first time in a significant piece of fiction next year. All that for one name.

Another quickie done to communicate a pose for an upcoming war beast figure.

• Writing — I do a bit of my own writing as well. These days, I mostly write screenplays that will only ever be read by a select few, but once in a while I drop some words into published work at Privateer as well.

• Film Development — As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m developing a number of different projects. This could spawn a whole new list of tasks, but it primarily involves a lot of writing and art production and liaising with producers about the projects.

• Video Conferences & Conference Calls — Several times a week, I can be found as a choppy, pixelated image with stuttering sound on a small computer screen in the conference room of Privateer’s HQ in Bellevue, WA. When we don’t want to brave Skype, we’ll talk the old fashioned way on a phone. I do a fair amount of non-Privateer conference calling as well.

• Meetings — The live kind! As mentioned above, these generally involve copious driving. I do a lot of pitch meetings, the occasional development meeting, and sometimes really fun meetings like my field trips to WhiteMoon Dreams to look in on video game development.

• Vide Game Development — It’s an ongoing process and someday it will hopefully turn into ‘Video Game Playing’.

• Film Production — My current favorite pastime is being on a set directing. I don’t get to do this nearly enough, but I’m working on that. Not sure how I’m going to fit more into this schedule, though!

• Film Post Production — I have a love/hate relationship with this part of film making. It’s awesome to see the magic come together, but it’s also the pass/fail part of the process where you find out if you’ve made the right decisions along the way. It’s also long and often tedious due to a lot of waiting for things to get done.

• Concept Illustration — Occasionally, I actually bang out a piece of concept art for Privateer or for some film project I’m developing. I keep trying to hang up this hat, but every time I walk away, they pull me back in…

• Executive Management — The least glamorous of my day to day existence is actually contributing to the ongoing management of Privateer Press. It can involve anything from writing new company policy to coordinating physical facilities where we work. None of it has anything to do with making up new monsters or drawing robots, so for me, this is the price I pay to be able to do all the fun stuff the rest of the time.

• Blogging — This and other social media content generation! It seems to take up more and more of my time these days, but that’s because I’m enjoying it so much. Working remotely can be somewhat isolating, and the social media gives me a chance to connect with people I wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to speak with. I can find friendly voices online at just about any hour of the day now!

So that’s a pretty good cross section of what my day-to-day looks like. As you can see, it’s not all gaming and cocktail parties (do those things even go together?). But the truth is I really enjoy about 99% of what I do, even the more challenging tasks. Every day is different and I’m never, ever bored. Wouldn’t mind a little more time to play games, but as I’m fond of saying, no rest for the wicked…

 

 

 

 

The Fishy Business of Show Business

I don’t even like fish.

If I’ve learned anything from playing Hollywood these past few years, it’s that the more projects you can launch out of the gate, the greater your chances that one will actually cross the finish line, but almost certainly most of them won’t. (Actually, I’ve learned a few other lessons about show business as well, but those all lead to a great deal of curse-filled ranting that I think may not be appropriate for general consumption.) Specifically, I’m referring to those projects that are not entirely within one’s grasp to get done without the assistance of those rare few entities possessing the kind of money to get great looking images up on the screen. My past short film projects were self-financed and done for very little, but the objective, of course, is to do larger and more commercial work, and for that, I need someone to write a bigger check than I can write myself.

It’s a little like playing roulette and trying to cover as many different spaces on the board as possible so your odds of hitting anything are maximized. If you’ll indulge a somewhat lengthier analogy, though, I think it’s a lot more like fishing in a lake. Fishing is all about being in the right place at the right time with the right bait. If you’re fishing with just one rod, then you’ve got a single line in the water and just one chance to catch a fish. So if you want to increase your chances of a catch, you need more lines in the water. Only, it won’t do to drop them all in the same fishing hole because you really don’t know if there are any fish in that spot or not, so you have to spread them out all around the lake, hoping that the fish are going to be gathering in at least one of those places and that they’re going to be interested in what you’ve wrapped around your hook. (Hang on, we’re not done yet, this one keeps going for bit.)

Now this is where it gets really tricky. Fishing isn’t all about throwing your line out there and hoping a fish jumps on the end of it. You’ve got to coax those fish a bit, give a little tug on the line from time to time to try and get their attention. Sometimes you’ve got to reel it in all the way and recast the line, adjusting the position or hoping you land closer to the fish this time. While you’re babysitting this one line, though, all your other poles are going unattended. If you get a nibble on a line, you need to be there to give it a tug and try and set that hook or the fish is going to move on. So while you increase your odds of catching a fish with all those lines you’ve put in the water, you also end up running all up and down the shore line managing them each time you see the end of the rod twitch. It’s exhausting to say the least.

Now I could keep running with this whole fishing analogy, drawing comparisons to getting your hook stuck, having a snarl in your line, the frustration with the one that got away, or the abject disappointment of reeling in a bottom-feeding trash fish that wasted your bait, wasted your time, and delivers nothing suitable to the table. But I think by now you get the idea.

I believe this analogy could be applied to just about any sort of creative pursuit in which one depends on a publisher, financier, producing label, or similar entity in order to accomplish a goal larger than your available resources. But how does one keep sane in this kind of maddening situation? Well, maybe this is where the analogy breaks down because I think a lot of people who regularly fish would say they do so because they enjoy the act of fishing, not because they want to eat the fish. But assuming that your primary purpose for fishing is to serve up a tasty filet to a room full of assembled guests, it’s a good idea to know where you can just buy a fish when you need it. In other words, you’ve got make sure you’re not always relying on someone else to be able to satisfy your objective; you’ve got to have a project that is wholly in your control to be able to create, execute and present without the need for that other entity to write a check.

And that’s where I’m at right now: a dozen lines in the water, running back and forth managing the rods and reels, hoping to be in the right place at the right time with the right bait and to get a solid enough nibble I can set the hook.  But in the meantime, I need to be doing something that I can get done with my own available resources. For that, I’ve got a few ideas that I’ve narrowed down to, and I’ll bounce those off you in the next week or two.

Until then, happy fishing!

 

Knowing when to walk away…

Art is never finished, only abandoned.
— Leonardo da Vinci

That quote probably goes through my head a dozen times a day, especially when I’m in the middle of a project. You get bored, you get sick of looking at the thing you’ve been working on for god knows how long, you run out of time, you forget where you left off…there are a multitude of reasons that you might walk away from a piece of art, a film, a story, a song, or whatever creative endeavor has been feeding on your soul like some invisible, soul-sucking vampire that thrives on souls. But there’s another old adage:

You got to know when to hold’em, know when to fold ‘em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.
— Kenny Rogers

Like many ambitious or wayward young people (take your pick) I entered college almost exactly three months after I graduated high school. I enrolled in a state university with the ambition of becoming an illustrator and ultimately a production designer in the film industry. After two semesters of repeating the same curriculum I’d just had for four years in public school, and having the opportunity to take about one unit of art course for every four units of non-art-related courses, I folded my hand and dropped out. I took my tuition grants and bought a bunch of art books, then buckled down and actually learned to draw. I’m not condemning higher education (I’m married to a doctor, after all), I’m just saying it didn’t work for me. Possibly my expectations were misguided — I really wanted to focus on art. Or possibly, it’s because in the short time I was actually enrolled in college, I didn’t come across one art instructor in those lower division classes that I felt was helping me achieve any of my artistic goals. At the age of 19, I made a very difficult decision to go against everything that had been drilled into me since I entered the public school system and I walked away (ran away, really!) from my extended education with the newly adopted goal of becoming a professional comic book artist! But that’s a story for another day, what I want to tell you about is the one instructor in my life that taught me a single damn thing about art, and it wasn’t how to draw.

His name is Rock Newcomb (couldn’t find a dedicated website for him, so this is the best I could do). He used to teach at Troy High School in Fullerton, California, where I went to school my senior year. Mr. Newcomb (‘the Nuke’ as the kids called him affectionately) is an amazing artist (check out that link) and had a character unlike any other I encountered in fourteen years of schoolin’. He had a way of giving you just the right amount of shit that you were inspired to work harder and be better — if you gave a shit about art, anyway. He didn’t teach it, so much as he facilitated it. He’d give you free range to explore and create but there were always boundaries, and when you hit them, it was like hitting an electric fence. After one year with the Nuke, he didn’t teach me a single worthwhile thing about drawing or painting, but what he taught me was a lesson I’d never forget and I have to say that I probably wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today if it hadn’t been for him.

Each semester we had a certain number of pieces to complete and they had to coincide with specific subject matter that Mr. Newcomb had determined would be beneficial to our artistic development. The subjects weren’t necessarily interesting, but I learned that if I positioned a good argument to him, Newcomb would give me the latitude to stretch my creative wings. For instance, we had to do a portrait; he let me paint a human skull that was the centerpiece of a surreal anti-toxic waste campaign poster. We had to do a piece depicting wildlife; he let me paint a dragon inspired by one of Roger Dean’s ASIA covers. There was a give and take to Mr. Newcomb’s approach to teaching, and it encouraged me to solve my artistic challenges creatively. However, the one thing the Nuke wouldn’t let me do was finish a piece of artwork.

Working an hour each day in class doesn’t get you very far very fast, so boredom could set in quickly on the work. After a couple weeks, I’d finish an assignment and I’d turn it in to Mr. Newcomb. He’d look at it for about thirty seconds and he’d offer no constructive criticism. He’d simply say, “You’re about half-way done.” Demoralized, I’d return to work on this piece of art that I had no idea what to do with and I’d just keep working on it wherever it seemed like I could make a little progress. A week later, I’d turn it in and Newcomb would say, “You’re about a third of the way there.” What???

I fumed. “Look, just because my favorite class is Art does’t mean I’m an idiot — I can do the math, and a week ago I was further along than I am now? That doesn’t make any sense!”

He’d just smile. It was a terrible smile that said, I don’t have to explain anything to you because I’m the one in charge here, and then he’d say, “Yep.”

Eventually, after I was completely exhausted, fed up, bored and sick to death with the assignment, he’d accept the final piece and give me an A- on it. But then the next assignment would go exactly the same way. After a while, I got wise to what he was doing. He wasn’t teaching me how to draw or paint, but he was teaching me a valuable lesson. At first, I thought it was patience, but that wasn’t it. He was teaching me how to finish a piece of art.

Mr. da Vinci, in his famous quote, summed up the angst of every artist. It’s so hard to know when you’re done, when to put the brush down, when to write ‘The End’. You’re bored and you’re sick of it, or you’re lost and can’t see the forest for the trees anymore. More often than not, though, what the project needs is just a little bit more, that last ten percent, the final polish that will make it great. Whether it’s a painting, a film, a game design or a piece of dramatic fiction, you can always take it a little further and make it a little better, but it takes an incredible amount of stamina to get there. Eventually, though, you have to finish. You can’t work at something forever, especially if it’s got a commercial application with a deadline. Every project must come to a end, sooner or later. But knowing when to hold on and keep pushing, or when you’re actually finished and when to walk away from it — that’s the art.

And if I ever actually figure out how to do it, I promise to disclose the secret in an entry on this blog!

 

 

Gray Area

A few weeks ago, I was cleaning out the garage and came across something I had completely forgotten existed. There’s a reason I leave the sculpting to the professionals, but these little guys occupy a soft spot in my heart and I’ve never been able to throw them out. They’re the only miniatures I’ve ever sculpted or ever will. (The astute observer may recognize some pilfered bits from other games…)

When they're this cute, you don't mind the probe so much!

WARMACHINE wasn’t the first miniatures game I ever sat down to design. Almost two decades ago, I booted around a number of game ideas with a wargaming buddy. The one that made it furthest into development couldn’t look more different than WARMACHINE or HORDES. It was hard core sic-fi, deadly, highly complex, and took about five hours to play a game, which we thought was pretty good back then! There was also no world to it — it was purely an exercise in game design. But we each had our own ‘factions’ that we brought to the game, and mine definitely reflected my influences over the years.

It was the mid 90′s. X-Files was the coolest thing on TV, X-Com was my favorite computer game, and crop circles were regular news items. Being a lover of UFO mythology since Leonard Nimoy hosted IN SEARCH OF when I was a kid, I loved anything to do with the idea of extra-terrestrials, and I wanted to be able to play with them in my favorite hobby. A couple weeks and a pound of Sculpy later, I was raiding towns and abducting hapless victims with an elite tactical unit of well-armed alien Grays.

So, it’s almost twenty years later, and what am I doing? Making movies and games about bug-eyed aliens. I guess the more things change, the more they seem to stay the same…

(Don’t worry, I promise never to sculpt anything for Privateer!!! But if you haven’t checked out [WELCOME TO] LEVEL 7, please have a look!)

Completion Anxiety

Last night, [WELCOME TO] LEVEL 7, the short film that I have dedicated the last eight months of my life to, was released to the world via the magic of YouTube and the interweb. It was an exciting, exhilarating, and utterly terrifying moment.

I realized when this project was within hours of being completed that the prospect of finishing, the moment that I’d been dreaming about for months, wasn’t coming with any sense of relief. Quite the opposite, in fact. The end of this project was marked with a wave of anxiety and a question I wasn’t ready to answer: What next?

There’s a false sense of security one builds up when immersed in a protracted project with no defined sense of end. When you have your head in one project for so long, it infiltrates your identity, and your existence becomes defined by your daily effort on what can often seem like a task that may never end. And in a way, I think sometimes that’s what the subconscious wants, because the act of finishing the project means detaching yourself from what seems like your very reason for living. You’re severing the umbilical, cutting all ties free, pushing the bird out of the nest. I just can’t seem to figure who the bird is: me, or the project?

Completion of such an all-consuming project would seem like a time to rejoice, to pop the cork on the champagne and toast the project on its merry way. For me, it comes with a strange sense of emptiness. There’s a hole left behind that must be filled with another project immediately, or I start to get a little anxious. This neurotic separation anxiety comes from two aspects of the project’s completion. First, I have more dream projects in my head than one person could complete in a single lifetime. Knowing this, I have to select the next project carefully, for time is a scarce commodity and I’m capable of working on only a few projects at once with any degree of efficiency and competency. Second, there is a gut-wrenching reality one must face when they release a project into the world — judgment.

There is an idea that art no longer belongs to the artist once its offered up for view, it belongs to the audience. To the degree that ‘perception is reality’, I agree with this. If the audience at large perceives that something is great, then it will be successful and great. If the audience at large perceives that something sucks, then it sucks, man. As the old adage goes, numbers don’t lie.

Another phenomenon related to being so completely immersed in a project is that one loses perspective on quality. Where in the beginning, you might have enjoyed a vantage point of objectivity, eventually you can’t see the forest for the trees. The wise man seeks the opinion and feedback of wise people and prays they tell him the truth, and that can help mitigate the blindness that comes with having your head stuck in a project too long. But in the end, all you really have to go on is your planning and the hope that  you have done a decent service to the vision you set out to create.

After 17 or so years of sending art, stories, and games into the world for public scrutiny, I’m fairly familiar with judgment in all its forms. I’ve racked up both great successes as well as great failures. And while I’m in the positive overall, I’ve never released a major project without feeling the butterflies in my stomach. I think that’s why it’s so important to get right on to the next thing — it’s the need to fill that hole with something that will push the damn butterflies out.

So today, this little film goes out into the world, but it’s you who will decide if it has wings or not. I hope you watch it. I hope you like it. If you do, please pass the link on to anyone who you think might be interested.

No matter what, I’m already up to my ears in the next thing; excited, exhilarated, and terrified. Can’t wait to share it with you.

http://level7film.com/

 

 

The Suggestion Box

Maintaining a blog, I’ve found, isn’t easy. It’s kind of become a fourth job. The hard part isn’t the writing. I crank out pages of emails, stories, and outlines every day. For me, the difficult part is in coming up with that next idea that will make an interesting article. Some articles, like the Eiryss concept discussion, write themselves. Others are more timely and in the moment, springing from some fit of inspiration to become words and pictures on the page. But whether it’s focused content with wide appeal or the muddled musings of a mad man, I find it a bit of a trick to get out in front of my self-imposed publishing schedule.

Office for Emergency Management. War Production Board, 1942. Public Domain Image retrieved from Wikimedia Commons

I’ve had great success harvesting loads of responses from the new Eiryss design and WARMACHINE VS. Iron Kingdoms movie topics. Today, I’m looking for suggestions and questions on topics that would make content on this blog interesting to you. Broadly, my area of expertise is ‘creativity’, but I dual-wield writing and illustration, and I specialize in game design. I’m multi-classing as a writer-artist-filmmaker-game designer-businessman so I can cover a lot of topics that relate to the production side of genre-based media. I frequently get emails from college students working on papers or aspiring artists and game designers looking for tips or advice on how to pursue a career path, and I may start adapting these to blog entries as well, but I’d like to find out what interests the people who have eyes on this site — beyond just sneak peaks of new miniatures when I have something to leak!

So, be general or be specific and post your ideas in the comments section. If someone posts an idea you really like, give it an extra ‘Here here!’ and I’ll know that’s something I should give extra consideration to. I’ll use your suggestions and ideas to generate delicious content for future blog entries that will hopefully build this site into a resource for anyone interested in ‘creativity’.

The Office for Emergency Management thanks you for your support.

“It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage.”

Today I turned 40. Thank you for your condolences. But I’m finding it’s not so bad, really. I had a much harder time turning 30.

For me, the transition between 29 and 30 was accompanied by a major reality check. You might be an adult in your 20′s, but it seems you’re not expected to act like one. It’s almost like a free pass to enjoy the most irresponsible time of your life. You party, you take chances, you accumulate stupid debt on futons, lava lamps, and unwise automobile purchases, and that’s what you’re supposed to do. Thirty, though — at thirty, you better have your shit together. You’re way past your college years, way past that time where it’s okay to make mistakes because everyone knows you’ll learn from them, and no one is going to be bailing you out when you blow it anymore, at least they shouldn’t. When I hit 30, I found myself with no higher education to speak of, a pending layoff, and a fledgling company that at that time was actually on the express elevator to financial DOOM! I’d used up all my ‘get out of jail free’ cards, and had no idea what the next year would hold, much less the next five or ten. I remember spending a day soul searching, looking for some sort of road sign to life that would point me in the right direction and guide my way. I never found the sign. There was no bolt out of the blue or grand epiphany. Instead, I just kept doing what felt right in the moment, and everything seemed to work out okay.

I’m waxing nostalgic today — not because of the years behind me, but because I realized today why my birthdays as a kid were such a special time for me. Every year for my birthday, my mom pulled me out of school and took me to the movies, and for me it was the greatest day of the year. As long as there have been big, blockbuster movies, the biggest and the best have come out in May and June, right before school got out for the summer. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, BLADE RUNNER (technically released a few weeks later than my birthday, but I remember seeing the poster when I went to see THE WRATH OF KHAN)  — the best of the best usually dropped within days, if not weeks of my birthday! Somewhere, my brain re-wired to associate my favorite movies with my birthday and I’d look forward to the big event for months. Today, as I’m pining away for the release of Sir Ridley Scott’s PROMETHEUS, I realize that at 40 years old, 30 years after the release of BLADE RUNNER, very little has changed about me.

I love movies, toys, and games today just as much as I did when I was a kid and I think no amount of years behind me will ever temper that. I eagerly await every new phase in my son’s development, and quite selfishly, so that I can once again shamelessly indulge myself in these things I love (not that I’ve held back much, mind you). The one thing that has changed about me, though, is my perspective. The passage of time doesn’t provide any insight to life, but experience — the mileage — does. Between 30 and 40, I managed to rack up some serious XP. Most people would equate the mileage to the toll living takes on your body, and I’ve got more than my fair share of squeaky parts. But in my mind, I think unlike cars, that mileage has an upside — wisdom.

Some of the best wisdom came from those summer movies:

“Imagine what you will be, and it will be so.”
–Russel Crowe, GLADIATOR

“Goonies never say die!”
– Sean Astin, THE GOONIES

“No. Try not. Do…or do not. There is no try.”
– Yoda (Frank Oz), THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

You don’t have to be a Jedi master to be wise. You just have to learn from your mistakes. Unfortunately, I didn’t stop making mistakes in my 30′s like I thought you were supposed to, but I did keep learning from them. One lesson, looking back, is that I shouldn’t have feared turning 30. In fact, it’s turned out to be the best decade of my life. Worrying about getting old, I’ve realized, is a waste of time. Embrace the mileage. Just keep doing what feels right in the moment, and everything turns out okay.

Now I’m not saying I’m eager to turn 50 — that’s REALLY FREAKING OLD! But right now, 40 feels pretty damn good.

Thanks Mom.

 

 

 

[WELCOME TO] LEVEL 7

Back in September, I started preproduction on a short film titled, [WELCOME TO] LEVEL 7. The funny brackets around “[WELCOME TO]” are a stylized way of indicating that this film is part of a much larger family of projects that all fall under the LEVEL 7 property — a new sci-fi, horror setting that I’ve been creating for the past couple of years.

I don’t want to spoil all the fun of LEVEL 7 before you have a chance to see the short and the other upcoming expressions of the setting — half of the fun in exploring this setting is the mystery and the experience of slowly peeling back the onion to reveal more and more of the creepy, crazy, messed up world that it is. I will tell you that LEVEL 7 incorporates popular government conspiracy theory and well-known mythology unique to our modern culture (though present in nearly every culture on Earth). There are monsters, both human and inhuman. There are dark and dangerous places. And there are secrets, the answers to which will be revealed through a variety of experiences, including this upcoming short film, as well as the LEVEL 7 [ESCAPE] board game to be released this summer from Privateer Press, and some other fun experimental media projects.

Working out the kinks in our blast doors...

LEVEL 7 began as a feature length screenplay that I wrote about 18 months ago. The script establishes the world and the major conflict taking place within it. It’s the tip of a very big and horrifying iceberg. While writing the script, I also compiled a world bible that detailed the backstory of how everything came to be and who the players are in this deep, far reaching conspiracy that has been going on for over 50 years. While developing the feature script with my producing team, I also initiated the board game project at Privateer. The goal with LEVEL 7 is to explore it through as many different mediums as possible, and that’s where the short film comes in.

Quick convo with stunt coordinator, Ron Balicki and our soldiers

[WELCOME TO] LEVEL 7 is not an excerpt of the feature script, but rather, a tangential story with a different cast of characters that gives us a glimpse into the setting without revealing the greater scope of the conflict. I had several reasons for tackling it alongside the other projects we’re doing with LEVEL 7. For one, it acts as proof-of-concept for the feature project. Getting a feature off the ground is no easy feat, and the more ammunition at your disposal that can demonstrate the commercial validity of a project, the better chance you have of getting a green light on it. Second, it’s a fun and unique way to expose people to the new setting we’re launching at Privateer Press. I’m not sure if any other board game in history was preceded by a short film to help announce its release. (If there was, let me know in the comments section because I want to see it.) And last, as I’ve become quite addicted to filmmaking in the past few years, I was ready to jump into a new project and LEVEL 7 is a world I have a great deal of passion to explore.

Checking to make sure our star is still breathing.

So with a polished eight page script in hand, I recruited my producing partner, Tarik Heitmann, to help me assemble a fantastic crew and bring [WELCOME TO] LEVEL 7 to life. My great and very talented friend, Farzad Varahramyan leant me his artistic skills, and together we evolved the look of the film’s monsters until they were ready to be realized in the flesh. With designs in hand, I then had the opportunity to spend a month at ADI (Amalgamated Dynamics Incorporated), an Academy Award winning animatronics and creature shop known for their work in such films as SPIDERMAN, STARSHIP TROOPERS, and the ALIENS and PREDATORS franchises. There, I supervised the creation of prosthetics and even got my own hands dirty building the actual ‘suits’ that our creatures would wear. As a lifelong fan of special effects and animatronics, you can only imagine how much fun it was to visit the studio several times a week to see these monsters that were born in my head come to life right before my eyes.

Director of Photography, Ruben Russ

As it goes with projects like this, we finished up the creatures and costumes just minutes before we started production in November. Shooting on an amazing digital camera called a RED Epic, we stalked the basements of Los Angeles’s famously haunted Linda Vista Hospital for three days. This hundred year old hospital has been in constant use as a film location since it was shuttered in the early 80′s, and it’s notorious for being inhabited by ghosts. Aside from being locked in an unlit basement by a very live person, we had no harrowing experiences, but I will say that by the end of the shoot, I felt like the walking dead. It was three days of some of the most exhilarating work I’ve ever done. There’s nothing like seeing your words on the page get turned into real dialog and action right there in front of you. But we had a three day shooting limit, so we had to squeeze every minute out of every day. In those three days, we worked almost 60 hours total, but at the end of it, I was ready to come back and do it all over again.

Once production wrapped, it was time to get down to post. The goal with the edit was to give the film a very tense, fast, and frenetic pace. It’s very much an action-thriller that takes you on a high-speed tour de force of the LEVEL 7 environment and we wanted the film to reflect that in every cut.

Green Screen shot on final day

Meanwhile, Deane Ogden, a man who I have sung the praises of many times in the past, composed the original score. While he’d already created over 20 minutes of music to help develop the feature project, he started from ground zero with [WELCOME TO] LEVEL 7 and created an entirely new score, custom tailored for this film, and it’s amazing! To capture the tone of the setting, Deane peppered the score with mechanical and industrial sounds. It’s creepy, gritty, and totally gets your blood pumping.

Ruben prepares to be suffocated with his camera

Once the final edit was locked in March, it was time to get down to the final visual effects. We worked with Entropy Studio, an incredible VFX company based in Spain that went above and beyond anything we could have expected. They added atmosphere, digitally animated the creature effects, perfected and polished our green screen composite shots, and created an entire environment from nothing but our concept art, allowing us to realize visuals that would have been otherwise impossible with our limited budget.

With an almost final picture in place, I began working on the colorization process with a brilliant colorist and filmmaker, David-Aaron Waters, where we brought every shot into the same color space and gave the film a look that would enhance and increase the tension of the story. At the same time, the sound scape was designed by Michael Ferdie, a genius of sound design — I can almost guarantee you’ve heard his work if you’ve turned on a television any time in recent history. He filled the environment with textural sound and ensured that the subliminal experience would be just as visceral as the one in front of your eyes.

So creepy...

And for some icing on the cake, I recruited a little help from Privateer’s art and video team to produce the title and end credits for the film, giving it that last bit of professional polish it needed to feel like a real production. Maybe it’s the artist in me, but good credit design is very important in my mind — it’s like great package design on a product. It’s easy to go overboard with something like that on a short film, but the crew at Privateer struck a perfect balance between artistry and subtlety that I think perfectly speaks to the heart of the film.

Right now, we’re just days way from having the entire film completed, in the can, and ready to show to the world. So where can you go to see it? As soon as it’s ready, I’ll announce a website where it will be available to view. It’s been several months of constant work and I’m combing my hair over a few bald spots that appeared during the course of this project — but that’s the nature of the beast. I hope when we’re ready to unleash it, you’ll come have a look.

Working out the blocking with our very patient and generous star, Christian Oliver.

In the meantime, I’ll be running a little Twitter contest for anyone interested in grabbing an early copy of LEVEL 7 [ESCAPE]. Check out the details in last week’s blog post and thanks for staying tuned!