Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Secret of Sarah Pennington - A Good Storyline

There are probably over 20,000 truly independent movies shot each year.  Truly independent movies are not associated with any studio, cost less than a million dollars to make with the majority of them being around 20,000 dollars.  They are made by all sorts of people, dentists, musicians, store owners and college professors.  The problem is that festivals and the low budget distribution channels are saturated with this stuff and often much of it is bad as dentists, musicians and store owners don’t always know how to make a movie.

So how do we get “The Secret of Sarah Pennington” to stand out, be noticed? 

There are certain things the movie maker can do or make sure are present in the movie to help its rise above the rest.

First, have a good storyline.  For years I subscribed to the belief that since I’m not in Hollywood I’m not going to produce a Hollywood picture!  My movie will have a different storyline!  So some short movies that I shot over the years would get comments like, “Looks like a lot of fun for you and your friends to make this but awfully difficult for the rest of us to sit through,” or “A well made movie.”

So “The Secret of Sarah Pennington” was written over a year’s time and then the end was rehashed by Doug McAbee.  And I must say the ending is spectacular!  Needless to say, much thought was put in to this movie's storyline.

We really concentrated on how important it was as the foundation for the movie. Some of the comments from test screenings included such things as “I kept changing my mind on who did it.”  And “At first I thought it was this person and then no wait it’s this person!” 

Yes “Secret of Sarah Pennington” is definitely a “Who – dun – it.!”

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Secret of Sarah Pennington - Telling My Wife

Charles, Doug and I all agree that we learned a lot from the first feature we produced with Dan Perrin called “Beaches, Buns and Bikinis.”  Much of what we learned we incorporated into our second feature, “The Secret of Sarah Pennington.”

One thing I definitely learned was to tell my wife who’s starring in the movie BEFORE we shoot the movie.  “Beaches, Buns and Bikinis” starred that American icon Ron Jeremy.  Something I neglected to tell my wife prior to production.  Think about it, how would you tell your spouse you’re making a movie with Ron Jeremy?  

After we completed principal photography in Houston, I came home and took my wife out to dinner where I was preparing myself to tell her.

We were seated in a booth and I could see the backs of a man and woman sitting behind my wife.  So it went something like this:

Me: “I have something to tell you.

My Wife: “What have you done now?”

Me: “Ron Jeremy starred in my movie.”

My Wife:  Ron Jeremy, Ron Jeremy, who is that?”

Meanwhile the man sitting behind my wife suddenly sits up and I can tell he’s trying to listen carefully.

Me:  He’s a porn star.

My Wife: ”I know you’re loud but could you say that any louder?”

Now the woman in booth behind my wife sits up and is listening.

So my wife, understanding soul that she is wasn’t mad about Ron being in the movie only that I hadn’t told her sooner.

We finish eating and get up to leave.  As we pass the couple sitting behind my wife, the man won’t look up, he’s looking down shoveling food into his mouth.  The woman, still seated next to him, slightly turns her head to peek up at us as we pass.   My wife keeps on walking but I stop and look directly at her.  I wink.

ME: That’s how I roll.

The woman turned three shades of red.

So What did I learn from this experience? 

Tell my wife who’s in the movie before we shoot.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Secret of Sarah Pennington - Formula

It has always been a goal of mine to produce a feature length movie.  To have a potentially successful low budget feature length movie it must contain several ingredients.  First and foremost it must have a great story.

There are all sorts of advice on how to write a great story or a successful screenplay Such advice as:
Don’t do a buddy film.
Don’t write a journey film.
The script must be a minute a page.
Write what you know.
Don’t do horror.
Don’t do comedy.
Don’t do drama. 
Watch a movie a week.
Write every day.
Don’t write in the screen formula and, 
Hold your pencil and walk three times around your desk before you sit down and begin writing.

Oh the bits of wisdom go on and on. 

Also to produce a low budget feature you need to have some money.  I am sure we can all share money woe stories for days.

You must have the equipment.

And you need to surround yourself with people you know you can work with.

But if you look at any good screenplay writing book you will read that there is a basic breakdown of a movie and it is three acts.  Act one is roughly pages 1-30 act 2, 30-90 and act 3, 90-120.  In act one the equilibrium is established and something happens to disturb this equilibrium and all main characters are introduced in the first 10 pages.  Act 2 the main character must proceed to fix what is wrong and reestablish equilibrium and in act three the main character has been successful, equilibrium is reestablished but the new equilibrium is different than the equilibrium in the beginning.

I’ve tried to stray from this formula and have discovered that audiences don’t care for those pictures as much.  People aren’t coming up to me and saying, “Ah, Act one was only ten pages and you introduced a new character on page 52.”  Often, disappointed viewers cannot pin down their dislike.

In movie making, I am a firm believer in “breaking the rules.” But there is a reason for the three act screenplay being written about in books and after all, over 100 years of movie making certainly has perfected this formula.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Secret of Sarah Pennington - The Importance of Trail Dance

Even with the rise you tube and other internet sources for hosting and watching movies and documentaries, I believe that film festivals remain an important venue for movie watching. 

Anthony Foreman and everyone associated with Trail Dance have a tremendous job putting together this festival.  Trail dance has been recognized at the state level by receiving the rose bud award and at the national level twice by Movie maker magazine for being a top 25 festival worth the entry fee and for being one of the coolest film festivals.  This is an impressive record for a festival that is only 6 years old.

Besides watching movies in the way they are meant to be watched, which is on a large screen in a darkened room, film festivals provide unique opportunities for people to get together to discuss and celebrate movie and documentary making. 

I hope you will take the time to come to Duncan to attend the Trail Dance Film Festival this year.  It is being held January 25th- 26th.  While we expect you to watch “The Secret of Sarah Pennington,” try to view some of the other pictures screening there.  See you at Trail Dance!

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Secret of Sarah Pennington - A Director Is...

A director is many things.  First the director is an authority figure.  Whether it is directing friends or a cast of 1000s with an expensive budget, the director is the one who must make the decisions and often make them swiftly and confidently.  The director is responsible for insuring that adequate shots are recorded the story does not suffer.

The director is also a technician.  This doesn’t mean that the director has to be an engineer but the director must understand such things as what a shot looks like when using a camera truck versus a zoom.  The director should possess an understanding of quality audio.  Non-technical directors will find it difficult to communicate with their crews and because of that difficulty that the project will suffer.

The director is an artist.  And what is the director’s first responsibility?  The script. A good picture is seldom made without an excellent script.   The director must look at the script to see what things can be brought to life.  The idea of director as an artist goes back to the idea of composing in the view space, selecting the elements that are necessary to further the story and create image and 


Charles Stanley, director of “The Secret of Sarah Pennington” is all of these things. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Secret of Sarah Pennington - Leaving Your Mark

Just before my grandfather died I remember his biggest fear was that he wouldn’t be remembered.  In regard to leaving our mark on this world, documentary maker Michael Rabiger wrote:

You and I as common people must not pass silently from life.  Future historians must have our testimony as their resource.  Documentaries are our grassroots visions, not just what was preserved by an elite and its minions.  You and I can use cinematic language – the 20th century’s great contribution to universal understanding-to create a record of family, friends, and surrounding; to pose ideas and questions; and to forcefully convey what we see and feel.  We can propose the causes, effects, and meanings of the life that we are leading.  We can bear witness to these times, reinterpret history, and prophesy the future.

In the aftermath of the horrific and terrible tragedy in Haiti, student filmmakers at a filmmaking school located in Haiti did exactly what Rabiger is describing. They recorded what was going on in that ravaged country and offered it to the rest of the world.  And so their views, their positions, will always be available for us to compare and contrast with the big media, the CBS, CNN and Fox that went to Haiti to bring us their version of events.

While Rabiger is talking about documentaries I think what he is saying can apply to many genres of production.  And I think his words are more important today than ever before.

Consider the following:

Anything posted to the Internet regarding you immediately becomes permanent and considered the truth regardless of what the content is and who put it there. 

The Federal government is now considering enacting laws controlling access to and content of the Internet. Recently the Washington Post published a large article proclaiming that the Federal Communication Commission is figuring out ways to control the Internet.  And if the courts rule what they are doing as wrong they will simply call the Internet a public utility and regulate it that way.  To me the Internet is the last great bastion of totally free access.  Granted people can put up earth is flat web sites and holocaust denial web sites but we can put up our own web sites as well.  We have the opportunity to tell our stories to the world through the Internet and I would hate to see our access or ability to put up video or information changed or controlled.

More and more television and radio stations are becoming owned by fewer and fewer people.

Newspapers are disappearing at an alarming rate.

Big studio movies continue to grow in cost and seem to have a shorter life span in the traditional movie house.

So who is going to tell your story?  Who is going to tell our story? Not the Katie Couric’s or the Oliver Stones or the Mark Wahlbergs or the politicians or the other prominent people who control government and the media.  They all have their own agenda.  Through movies and documentaries we will tell our story.

What kind of mark will you leave on society? How will your work be experienced by an audience? 
I’m proud of our effort in creating “The Secret of Sarah Pennington.”  No it’s not an earth shattering change the world production, but it is one piece of the mark I am leaving behind. Most likely your productions will outlive you.  After all we can still watch movies made in the 1890’s. 

We can still watch early television programming

from the 1940’s and fifties.  Most likely people who starred in or worked on these productions have passed away. So your movies and documentaries should be carefully protected and positioned so they can always be experienced.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Secret of Sarah Pennington - Jed Fox - Acting Jedi

In “The Secret of Sarah Pennington” we needed someone to play a police detective, that could portray a range of emotions, could handle a long speech, and convincingly look like a detective.   Mutual friend Sharon Cheatwood suggested actor Jed Fox.

Pat Bishow of Amusement Films once commented that he’s always nervous about bringing into a production someone new who he hadn’t worked with before.

I met Jed and he possessed the look for the role and lucky for us, he agreed to play Simon Garland.  He brought the perfect combination of emotional range to the role – the calm when needed, and crazy when appropriate.  Jed’s presence and acting raised the bar and everyone working on the movie performed better when Jed was present.  Plus he supplied his own wardrobe and brought needed props.  And, when the production faltered, Jed stepped in and offered a solution that greatly enhanced the production.

Should I have been nervous about bringing someone new in the movie?  Absolutely not, I look forward to working with Jed and his wife Shelli on our next picture.