Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Chosen One - Homemade Flash Feature Inspires DIY Rules

I've seen too many bad, low-budget indie films and shorts lately that have everything going for them but are ruined by eager creators who can't recognize they need to step up and really look at what they're inflicting on us. So it's with relief that I found a fun, homemade animated film by creators who seem to get it. And they're getting lots of attention at Festivals, Ain't It Cool News and positive reviews from sites like Joblo.com.

I just finished ordering my copy of The Chosen One, a home-made, Flash animated feature by Chris Lackey and Chad Fifer, which was picked up by producer Andreas Olavarria. I believe that much of the work was done on their own but homemade may be a bit of an exaggeration. These guys are working writers and filmmakers and have a few key contacts.

Still, they spent their money on the right things; top notch voice talent and sound and a funny script that worked toward their strengths as animators. When you don't have the Disney or Pixar budget and can't make it smooth and realistic, follow South Park's lead and make it funny.

Here's the theatrical trailer from their The Chosen One Youtube page (There's a longer, more leisurely paced one for the Festival circuit).

All of the Do-It-Yourself hype around the movie makes it clear the script is what sold the talent and the buyers on it. What are the lessons for people considering making their own productions, whether live action or animated, webisode or straight to DVD, for Festival screens or Cellphone screens? Since there is a DIY wave washing over writers eager to get their work out over the net, may I suggest a few basic rules to consider before you start?

One. I'm talking about basic rules like be honest with yourself. Are you really a good director? If not, find someone you admire and trust. The flip side is, don't be afraid to speak up if you know you can improve something or direct it well yourself.

Two. If you do direct, listen to the input from those around you, consider it and take what you need. You can't see everything or consider every possible solution to a challenge without help.

Third, write a script based on what you have and can get. Don't be calling for a Bond-villain style set if all you've got is a bachelor apartment to shoot in.

Fourth, write a little beyond what you have or can get. I know, it's kind of bending rule number
three a little. Good1 That rule needs to be bent just a bit. You always need to be reaching a little higher than you expect to go, or it's all gonna be crap.

Fifth, don't scrimp on sound recording and mixing. Clear, clean sound well -mixed is a key to audience enjoyments. Even a crappy looking film can be helped by good sound. But your beautiful cinematography and clever script will seem horrible if the tinny dialogue and messy mix is giving the viewer a migraine.

Six. Seriously, don't scrimp on sound, man. Are you even listening to me?

Seven, always remember you want an audience to see your work. So step back and make it as polished as possible and don't assume they will get all your in-jokes and somehow know the convoluted backstory that's whipping around inside your brain but is nowhere on the screen.

Eight. Cast actual, bonafide actors. They're worth the money. Sure, it's hard to talk their language and you're not used to dealing with actual, you know, people. But they will bring your work to life and add elements to your work you never even knew where there. And if it really, really works, audiences will quote them. People will never remember you wrote it. Sorry. It's a sad fact. But they may remember your vivid character and the lines they spouted, or the moments they experienced with them. And they'll share them with their family and buddiss for the rest of their lives. That's IF your actor is good and not just one your drinking buddies from the indoor soccer team.

All these things make a difference if you want half a chance at actually making money. But you have to aim beyond scoring a few Youtube hits.

Nine. Find the story behind your film and why it was worth spending so much time and effort on it. you want your achievement to become part of the legend behind the film.That gets people interested and gets them talking.

Ten, go out and talk up your film yourself. The personal is the only way to get it to rise above the dreck everyone else is producing. Better still, you want to rise above the GOOD STUFF other people are putting out there!

Eleven, keep working to pay those bills. Everything stops if you're being evicted.

Eleven and a half. Ego can be useful but stow it when you're working. There's a time and place for it. You need everyone onside in the trenches and humbly is the way to call in favours. Do bring the ego out when you need to inspire those around you, overcome criticism and work through bullshit. You want to harness the power of ego, not let it control you.

Twelve. Soak up the glory when you finish and send your work into the world, everywhere you can. People will get to know you through your work and will watch for you again, hopefuly to embrace your next production and not to avoid the moron who ignored all of these rules.

Finally, it lives or dies on the writing man. you can save yourself a lot of headaches with a well-written and thought out script. Then all you have to do is make every stage that follows live up to and elevate it.

I'm curious to see what Lackey and Fifer accomplished. I'm curious to see what you and I accomplish too.

Live the adventure.