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.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Secret of Sarah Pennington - Never Apologize


I have a kitchen magnet with the image of Pop artist Andy Warhol on it and the slogan,” Never apologize for your art.”   Certainly moviemaking involves technical skill, involves money but it also is an art.  Movie makers struggle with negative reactions to our productions, some more than others, but if you find fulfillment in your craft and your production has achieved the goals you set for it, never apologize for it.  No matter how many people tell you they don’t like it.  You made it, it has your name on it, it reflects your artistic endeavor and therefore it is part of you. 

 Director James Cameron once said:

“Pick up a camera. Shoot something. No matter how small, no matter how cheesy, no matter whether your friends and your sister star in it. Put your name on it as director. Now you're a director. Everything after that you're just negotiating your budget and your fee.”


Now go and create.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Secret of Sarah Pennington - Going International!

We are excited to announce that “The Secret of Sarah Pennington” has been entered into FebioFest held in Prague, Czech Republic.  Here is their statement regarding the festival from their website:

FEBIOFEST was founded in 1993 by FEBIO, an independent film and TV company. During the hard transition period from communism to democracy and market economy, FEBIO provided a working opportunity to almost all important Czech filmmakers including Vera Chytilova, Juraj Jakubisko, Jiri Menzel, Jan Jires, Jan Hrebejk and many others.

Starting as an enthusiastically organized, basically no-budget event for a couple of friends and film buffs, FEBIOFEST has grown during the past years into one of the largest film festivals in the Czech Republic, which nevertheless still maintains its original profile as an audience-friendly festival.

We would love to travel to Prague for this festival! Follow “The Secret of Sarah Pennington” on Facebook to find out where it screens next!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Secret of Sarah Pennington - Givers of Civilization?

While low budget producers may not have a lot of money or access to the best equipment, there is one essential ingredient they must possess, passion.  I am extremely fortunate to produce “The Secret of Sarah Pennington” with Charles Stanley and Doug McAbee.  Charles is extremely passionate about visual storytelling and Doug is quite the genius in graphic design, creating visual effects and storytelling.  “The Secret of Sarah Pennington” has their fingerprints all over it.  We work together well because we all share this passion for production.  What I call passion, author David McCullough refers to as energy.  McCullough wrote Brave Companions a book of profiles covering such people as Harriet Beecher Stowe and the Robeling brothers.

McCullough states his surprise at how much the people he profiled in his book had accomplished in their lives.  He wrote:

Where did they find the time or energy – if only to write all those letters? Or to keep such diaries?  I wonder if perhaps it was because tuning out boredom had not yet been made so easy as in our day, before commercial entertainment took over in American life.  Those I have written about here nearly all led lives of active discovery and right to the last.  They are immensely charged, renewed by what they do.  Their work and interests are inspiring forces.  Harriet Beecher Stowe felt obliged to make herself useful.  But then, I see now, they nearly all do in these stories.  With the books they write, their bridges, pictures, their breakthroughs in science, the children they raise, their record journeys, the risks they take, they are givers of civilization.  

Am I bold enough to claim Charles, Doug and I are “givers of civilization?” Hardly, we haven’t written best sellers, built bridges or had scientific breakthroughs.  Yet I feel a kindred spirit to the people described in his book as I will say we are driven by our passion to see our goals completed.  No “The Secret of Sarah Pennington” isn’t an Oscar winning picture, but we broke new ground with this movie and I am pleased with the outcome.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Secret of Sarah Pennington - Thriller vs. Horror Movie

When our first feature, a campy comedy titled, “Beaches, Buns and Bikinis,” began festivaling, a number of distributors looked it over.  A common response was, “Had this been a horror movie we could have distributed it yesterday.”

Ok, so I wanted to create that opportunity – make a horror movie and the result is “The Secret of Sarah Pennington.”  This picture is a story about a drummer who, while performing at a high school reunion is arrested for the murder of the lead singer.  In trying to clear himself, he discovers that just about everyone thinks high school mass murderer Sarah Pennington has returned to kill more people.


After watching this movie with various people, the question arose, “Is this really a horror movie or a bloody thriller along the lines “Silence of the Lambs?”

How do we decide?  By looking at what’s being said about Horror versus Thriller on the Internet.

One anonymous person who claims to be a screenwriter for TV shows and motion pictures offers the following:

“Horror genre involves a protagonist dealing with terrifying situations or entities. It can include, but not limited to, their own psychological fears, creatures, aliens, ghosts, serial killers, inner fears, and more. The protagonist usually endures psychological or physical traumatic experiences that are unusually strange and/or frightening to them. The focus is on dark, twisted, and nightmarish fears of the protagonist. Horror does not necessarily involve graphic violence as this is a common misconception with the general public.”

Interesting, this person offers “Silence of the Lambs” as an example of a horror movie.

Wiki answers says this:
“A thriller is more interested in suspense, putting you "on the edge of your seat" or in plain terms, making you nervous for the fate of the characters. A horror movie wants to make you fear for your personal safety, to make you afraid that what happened to the characters may happen to you even after you've left the theater.

As a good horror movie often contains a great deal of suspense and as a good thriller can be pretty scary in spots it's more down to the intentions of the film maker and the subject matter of the film.”


Difference lists four differences between horror and thriller films:

1. Thrillers are meant to thrill while horror films are meant to horrify the viewers.

2. Thrillers are predominantly witty, usually twisted, and contain better plots while horror films are, more often than not, predictable.

3. Horror films are often less practical and less realistic than thrillers.

4. Horror films usually have more supernatural elements than thrillers.

Author Lisa Burkes suggests several items to consider when deciding if the genre is a horror or thriller movie.

Every film is written with a purpose, how it wants to affect the audience. Thriller movies are meant to thrill, to keep viewers on the edge of their seat - not shaking in it.

Thriller movies always have a good plot.

Thrillers are films that could happen. They're about stalkers, serial killers who stay dead when they die and practical phenomenon.

Horror films stray from reality, with killers returning from the dead and other supernatural elements taking place.

Horror focuses on gore and body count. A thriller might kill off a significant number of characters, but any grotesque deaths will only be implied, not shown.

Genre Mixing to Gain an Audience.  Many times genres are mixed and for the sake of attracting more viewers they are categorized in a non traditional way.

So lets combine these guidelines and see how “The Secret of Sarah Pennington” measures up.

1. Thrillers contain better plots while horror films are, more often than not, predictable.

“Sarah” we think has an excellent plot that is not predictable.  A couple of viewers indicated they kept changing their minds on who they thought was committing the murders

2. Horror films contain supernatural elements.

Our movie does have supernatural elements in it.

3. Thrillers are meant to thrill while horror films are meant to horrify.

A couple of test viewers remarked that after watching the movie, they had trouble sleeping because they were disturbed by the movie.

4. Perhaps this movie is a combination of genres.

“The Secret of Sarah Pennington” certainly has thrilling moments, has gruesome deaths, supernatural forces, and a strong plot.  So maybe it is both a thriller and a horror movie.  Watch “The Secret of Sarah Pennington” and decide for yourself!