Week 42: “That’s How It Felt” by Apollo Run

•October 22, 2010 • 7 Comments

(Watch in HD and TURN UP YOUR SPEAKERS)

{First, a litany of thank yous.  Thank you to John McGrew, Graham Fisk, and Jeff Kerestes of Apollo Run for allowing me to use their baby for this episode.  Thank you to Eileen Little for choreographing this with me, and her incredible dancing and acting.  Thank you to C. Bay Milin for his genius cinematography.  Dylan Ricards for shooting the interiors.  Stefanie Daehler, Sarah Delp, Rachel Duvall, Graham Fisk, Max Livingstone, Ariela Morgenstern, Stephanie Arsenault, and others, for the tons of help from set up, moving ladders, pushing us in a trapeze… everything.  And to the Brooklyn Lyceum for cutting me a bit of a break on the cost of renting the space.}

This was, by far, my most ambitious 50in50 to date.  Here’s the story of how it came to be.

From the get go, I knew that I wanted to do a 50in50 on trapeze.  The concept being to explore how character is expressed (and story is told) through movement.  Low-flying trapeze (the type you see in the video), believe it or not, was one of the cornerstones of our movement training at the National Theatre Conservatory.  Eileen Little, who you see in this video, was my classmate.  So, for months Eileen and I had been talking about what we might do.  Then, one day, I heard “That’s How It Felt” by Apollo Run, and I knew.

I fell in love with that song.  I would listen to it over and over, feeling that it perfectly expressed how I felt during a tumultuous breakup (or two) I’d been through.  John McGrew of Apollo Run had recently come into my circle of friends (which is how I was introduced to the song), and I asked him if I could make a piece with it.  He checked with the band and they gave me their blessing.  I was over the moon.  They’re insanely talented, and I have little doubt that they’re going to be huge one day very soon.

Eileen and I got together about six times over the next seven months or so (with large gaps in between).  We did a lot of improvising, and slowly but surely I started to see how I wanted it to flow and come together.  By July we were ready to shoot it, but we couldn’t find a space that we could afford that had high enough ceilings or walls far enough away so as to avoid light-spill (I had very specific images in my mind and I refused to compromise them).  Eventually, Eileen moved up north to go circus school (her trapeze skills absolutely put mine to shame), and we were on hold once again until I could find a space.  It was incredibly frustrating.

In September I saw a play at the Brooklyn Lyceum, and realized that it was the space I had been dreaming about.  I went into the office the next day (unannounced), and started talking to the manager about it… and started trying to talk him down, price-wise.  Much negotiating later, I’d booked a seven hour slot on a Saturday when Eileen could be back in town.  I was hoping for five hours on one day, then five hours on another, but we had to take what we could get.

The entire trapeze sequence was shot in about 5.5 consecutive hours.  It was non-stop and was one of the most physically (and mentally) exhausting things I’ve ever done.  We had a shot list and we knew we had to average one shot (meaning we do all of the takes and move on) every five minutes.  When dealing with lights, and continuity, it was insane.  Bay and I had done some storyboarding the day before (a first for me), and so we knew what we needed (he was an absolute pro).  We also had a bunch of friends there who were all ready to move something, adjust a light, and fling us on a trapeze, and somehow, miraculously, we managed to get almost all of the shots we were hoping for.  I couldn’t believe we pulled it off.  We shot the apartment stuff the next day, and that was it.

This was one of the toughest edits I’ve had.  Cutting to music is always tricky, but in this case I was also trying to deal with motion continuity.  All of the footage that made the video was shot with one camera.  We tried having a second, smaller camera going, to get a different angle at all times (thank you Stefanie!), but unfortunately the footage just didn’t match and it wasn’t usable.  This meant that whenever there’s a cut to a different angle, it’s a different take.  The rotation would just be slightly off, or the speed or arc would have changed.  Sometimes we would be rotated the wrong way for an important moment (in all of the takes!), and so I’d have to go with something else, which I complained loudly about.

All in all, I’m incredibly happy with how it turned out.  We were really trying to make a music video that cost $20,000 and took two weeks to shoot, and we did it for about $400 and in under eight hours.  Considering that, the end result is so close to what I dreamed up that I really can’t complain about anything.  Actually, I’m just really, really happy.

Again, I want to thank everyone who helped to make this one happen.  I don’t know how many times I’ve heard the song now — my guess is between 300-400 — but I still love it.  Apollo Run just dropped their EP, and I highly suggest picking it up.  There are also some free downloads at www.apollorun.com

I’m currently in Ashland, OR doing a new plays festival, but I’ll be back with more very soon.  Thank you very much for your continued support.

Best,

Brent  10.22.10  11.56am

Week 41: Guided Meditation with Judd Frazier

•October 8, 2010 • Leave a Comment

(Watch in HD)

[Thank you first and foremost to the lovely and talented Ms. Jillian LaVinka, not only for her wonderful performance, but for her camera work as well.  Thanks to Mr. Daniel Loeser, for shooting all of the interiors (hopefully you'll see him in front of the camera in an upcoming episode).  And thank you once again to Mr. Kevin MacLeod of Incomptech for the royalty-free music (bless you, sir!).]

I’ve been getting into meditation more in the last couple of months.  It helps me with the insane juggling act I’m trying to pull off.  One of the things I’ve tried is listening to some guided meditations.  Some of these guys are very good (and some are very bad), and I stole a lot from them for this character (inflection, cadence, diction, etc).  There’s this one Scottish guy who has the most soothing voice ever.  Anyway, this led me to one of my “what if” questions, which was, “What if one of these meditation tape guys guided you into a deep relaxation… then touched you inappropriately, in your mind?

It’s creepy, weird, and fairly non-sensical, but that’s the idea that led to this little exploration.  I wanted to ride the line between funny and really unsettling.  How’d I do?  This episode crosses the dreaded five-minute mark.  There’s this strange internet taboo about comedy being over five minutes.  I’ve kind of stopped caring about that.  I care about pacing, for sure, and keeping it moving, but I’m less interested in arbitrary time-limits.  I had a specific idea for the flow and build of this one, and it took as long as it took.  If it hurts my view count, so what?  It’s art.

Let’s talk about how this one was made.  First off, I wrote it.  There wasn’t much room for improv because I knew it was all going to be voiceover, and anything we did had to fit that, or vice versa.  Once I’d written it I recorded scratch voiceover tracks for each of the scenes.  We’d roll camera, hit play on my phone, and then adjust our performances so they’d line up (more or less) with the recording.  It was always tricky at first, but as we got to know the rhythm of each recording better (through repetition) we got better at knowing what marks we needed to hit and when.

Quick aside here to say how great Jillian was.  Acting, when limited to silent reactions, is really tough.  There is a very fine line between not revealing anything and going cartoony, and I thought Jillian gave a perfect and nuanced performance.  She didn’t have to say anything in order for you to get a sense of the character she was playing.  Talent + training, y’all.

One of the toughest things about this shoot was the fact that we didn’t have anyone to operate the camera when we were shooting in the park.  Usually I can find somebody, but the timing was bad that day.  This meant that I had to get creative with the shots.  The establishing shot in the forest, for instance: I panned the camera past Jillian until she was out of frame, then I locked it on the tripod, and I ran to behind that tree while Jillian jumped behind the camera, so it looked like it was all one continuous take.  These are the tricks of the no-budget filmmaker.

The condom on the rock is an inside joke for anyone who knows that waterfall in Prospect Park (all exteriors were shot at Prospect Park, incidentally).  There are always condoms on the ground around that area.  It’s really nasty.  Apparently it’s a big pick-up spot.  Climbing into the waterfall itself was pretty sketchy.  I had to climb down the high wall on my right, and the lip of the waterfall was very slippery.  I probably should have dipped my feet in bleach after that, but I still seem to have ten toes, so no harm no foul.

On the post-production side of things this one turned into a monster.  Final Cut was acting extremely buggy and I kept getting these weird audio anomalies.  Ghosts in the machine.  There was a lot of audio to deal with, too, as I had to rerecord the voiceover and find background music/transition sound-effects.  Kevin MacLeod of Incomptech really saved me on the music front, once again.  Best resource for a no-budget filmmaker, ever.

Things slowed down even further once I added some filters to make it more dreamlike (a vignette filter and high saturation filter) and built the transition pieces.  It takes me forever to render when working in HD, and every time I make a change I have to rerender.  I don’t even shoot in 1080, anymore, even thought it would often be advantageous, because my computer just really can’t handle it.  This is, of course, because 50in50 is edited using a 2.5 year old MacBook Pro.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great machine, but it’s really just not powerful enough to edit HD video.  I find myself constantly fantasizing about one of those new 12-core Mac Pro towers, all maxed out.  Oh, the things I would do…

Anyway, I’m off to Oregon for a couple weeks to do a new plays festival.  Not exactly sure what my days are going to be looking like, and obviously I want to focus on the play I’m going to be in, but optimistically, I’m hoping to shoot one while there, and cut together episode 42, which I shot last week (it was the toughest 50in50 shoot ever, by a huge margin).  We shall see.  In the meantime, got questions or comments?  Please share ‘em!

All the best,

BR  10.8.10  4.59pm

Week 40: The Boxer

•September 22, 2010 • 8 Comments

(Watch in HD)

[Thanks, once again, to Mr. C. Bay Milin for shooting all of the gym and park footage.  Thanks to my tripod for shooting the rooftop interview.  Thanks to the lovely and talented Mr. Greg Keller for doing the voiceover for the interviewer.]

Holy crap, WEEK FORTY!  Only ten more to go!  I’m not sure if you’d call it the home stretch, but I’m on the last lap, I think.

John Faison is named after my friend Eric Faison who made it to my birthday party despite being mute from having had throat surgery earlier that day.  If that’s not a fighter, I don’t know what is.

This was an episode I’ve wanted to do for a long time.  The concept the sparked my interest was, “A boxer preparing for a fight he can’t win.”  There was something sad and poetic about that that I liked.  The reason I postponed shooting it so long was training.  I had to get back into practice with the speedbag, and I had to be in shape enough to get a bunch of heavybag footage.  There were a couple things out of my real life that I used for this episode.  When I was in 5th grade or so, my (step) Grandpa Jim really did get me a speedbag, and I really did love it.  I loved it so much I got one at my mom’s and my dad’s houses, and eventually got a heavybag, too.  They were my main form of exercise until I moved to New York when I was nineteen.  I used to be really fast and consistent.

Speedbag is one of those things you never forget how to do, but you get slower.  Heavybag, too.  I have more power than I did when I was a kid, but I’m not as fast, especially not after several “rounds”…  maybe I can work back up to that, though.  I haven’t used a speedbag regularly since I was 19.  I managed to get to the gym three times to prepare for this episode the week before we shot, but before that it had been well over a year since I’d even touched one.  I felt properly beat-up by the end of the shoot, but I think I’d like to keep up the bag work, as it was just incredible exercise.  Oh, and I really do count in eights.

We had to shoot this guerrilla-style.  We used my tiny camera to get all of the footage inside the gym.  We knew if we asked permission they’d say no, so we just went for it and tried to be discreet.  While shooting like that adds an element of excitement… I’m over it.  As an actor, wondering whether or not we’re going to get caught is just a distraction I could do without.

Also, I learned some important (but painful) lessons about audio this week.  Specifically about audio-matching.  I’ll go into the details if anyone asks in the comments, but for now, suffice to say, it sucked.  But knowledge is good, even if (or perhaps especially when) acquired through adversity.

Anything else?  Nah.  I’ve got a cold, and I need some sleep.  Got questions?  Leave them in the comments.  I’m pretty good about responding.  Should have another one for you next week.  Keep checking back.

Cheers,

Brent
9.22.10  4.09am

Week 39: Stop Stealing Porn!

•September 15, 2010 • 3 Comments

50in50 is back!

[First, huge thanks to C. Bay Milin, cinematographer extraordinaire.  Bay has shot a ton of 50in50s and they always look great.  Thanks again to Kevin MacLeod of Incomptech for the royalty free music.  Kevin's stuff has come through for me once again.  Thanks also to Bizzle Ltd. for photoshopping porn posters.]

Today is my birthday, and I could think of no better way to celebrate another year of increased maturity than releasing this video.  If you would like to get me a birthday present, here’s what I’d like: please take a quick moment to send this Funny Or Die link: http://www.funnyordie.com/videos/ad155ada1d/stop-stealing-porn to any/all of your friends who you think would enjoy this video, ask them to vote “Funny” and check out my other videos.  I’m really trying to generate some buzz on Funny Or Die, and that would be a tremendous help.  OR, if you have no friends, I did break a mic while shooting this episode (doing a bit that didn’t even get used), and there’s always the Donate Page

Let me start by saying that it feels so good to be back.  I hated (HATED) putting 50in50 on hiatus.  It really weighed on me every single day I wasn’t working on it, but it had to be done.  Frankly, it was almost entirely an issue of finances and time.  In the late spring I managed to pick up a couple ongoing freelance gigs, which was what I had been hoping for (sort of).  I mean, if I had to work on something that my heart isn’t 100% into, I wanted to see if I could at least set my own hours, and these were both decent gigs and at least semi-creative.  It was one of those “be careful what you wish for” things, though, because I quickly realized that I am not so practiced at advanced time management.

More so, I realize I have a natural inclination to rebel against structure.  Have had since I was a kid (just ask my mom).  50in50 is a good example of that, really, in that each episode is different from all the others.  Anyway, I needed to step back in order to generate some sustained cashflow.  Then I needed to streamline that process (and the rest of my life) in order to make time for 50in50 again.  Essentially, I needed to embrace structure.  I’m multitasking on a pretty intricate level, and I had to set a schedule and keep myself on it.  This episode is the result of week one of my experiment in structure, and so far so good.  50in50 is back.  Tweaking needs to be made to the schedule, as it’s a work in progress, but I’m encouraged.

Some fun-facts about this episode:
-I came up with this idea at the movies a while ago, when they showed one of those anti-piracy ads before the previews.  I quickly ducked out of the theatre and recorded a voice-note on my phone.  Griff originally sounded more Polish.
– The episode was going to be shot in Prospect Park using the side of the Bandshell as background.  Upon arrival, however, we realized that it was right by the playground, and thus was swarming with kids.  Fearing incarceration, we called an audible, jumped on our bikes, and went looking for a new location.
- Visually, the location we found was PERFECT.  Audio-wise, it’s hard to imagine a worse spot.  This should have been a pretty quick shoot, but I’d say we shot two to three times more footage than we should have, all due to bad audio.  Trucks constantly going by, planes flying right overhead, and random alarms going off for seemingly no reason.  It’s really frustrating to have a good take ruined by something beyond your control.  I found myself looking forward to the day when I’ll be shooting in a big studio lot.  That day is coming…
– On the video, the shorts I’m wearing don’t look so absurdly small.  Standing around on some random Brooklyn street, however, I was sure I was either going to get beat up or arrested for soliciting.

That’s about it.  If you’re disappointed that my first episode back was something so puerile, tough luck.  You’ll be happy to know, though, that I’m hoping to make up for it with next week’s episode.  Who’s looking forward to Week 40?

On a personal note, thank you for sticking with me and with this project.  It’s the toughest thing I’ve ever attempted, and though I wasn’t able to make it happen in fifty consecutive weeks, each video is still made in under a week, and I think the spirit of the project has been maintained.  That wouldn’t have been possible without your support and encouragement throughout.  I want you to know that I’m grateful to you, my viewers, friends, and fans.  If all goes well, episodes should start coming fast and furious now.  Stay tuned…

-Brent

9.15.10 (my birthday) 2.50am

A Very Quick Check In

•August 18, 2010 • 1 Comment

Friends,

50in50 has not been abandoned. The series will be continued and finished.

What’s happening is that I’m figuring out how to balance this series with the rest of my life, most specifically with regard to my finances.

Not a single day goes by that I don’t think of this project. It’s always on my mind, and in my heart, and it weighs on me for sure. More than anything, I’m looking forward to making twelve more episodes, and doing them right.

And that will happen. And it will start happening soon.

I’m just looking to find balance within the evolving circumstances of my life (which I suspect will be a lifelong quest).

While waiting for more, check out the body of work that has come before. There are 38 characters to sort through, already. Click on All Videos, or just skip to some of my Favorites. Please share them with friends, family, and movie moguls.

More soon,

Brent 10.18.10  12.50am

The Truth of Many Cumulative Moments

•June 16, 2010 • 5 Comments

Dear readers,

When this project started out, part of it was that I was going to blog about my experience, openly and honestly.  Over time, however, these entries have been more and more closed off about my journey.  You’d get little insights here and there on a per-episode basis, but lately I haven’t said much about my over-arching “through-line”, and I haven’t said much about much about the project as a whole.

There’s a time and a place for such things.  I think tonight is it.

I write to you now from South Carolina, a few days into a two-week playwrights’ lab that I’m participating in as an actor.  I’d hoped to put out a new episode today.  I shot all the footage last week before I left New York, but I went through it, and it’s not good.  Or, rather, it’s not good enough.  I’ve never felt okay about putting out sub-quality stuff, even though I have, once or twice.  In earlier episodes I felt it was more important to just keep on schedule no matter what and to put out SOMETHING.

I don’t feel that way anymore.

I have twelve episodes left, and I want them all to be good.  Quality has become more important to me than the arbitrary deadline I set at the beginning of this project.  And while we’re being open and honest, let’s finally talk about that.

I started this project on April 1st, 2009.  If you can add, you know that it’s been way more than fifty weeks already.  So, if you want to take a narrow view of the project, you could say, in the respect that I set out to create fifty characters/short-films in fifty consecutive weeks, and haven’t, that I failed.  You could say that, and you wouldn’t be wrong.  I made the rules, and I broke ‘em… but I broke other rules LONG before that, which fundamentally changed the project.

Exhibit A:

“The quality is going to be pretty universally shitty… That’s really part of it… I don’t want to spend a lot of time on the video editing…”

Ha.  I broke that rule on week one, and virtually every single week that followed.  I spent at least thirty hours (per week) on almost every single episode.  Some of them took sixty hours.  Upgrading my camera (to HD) while not upgrading my computer slowed things down even more.  So, again, I failed in creating a simple project that wouldn’t take up much time.

But I also said that if the project wasn’t making me happy any more, that I would just stop.  I said I might only do twenty episodes, then walk away.  And I haven’t done that.  I’ve adjusted the project to fit my life, because, well, because I’ve had to.  Because I have to keep food on the table and a roof over my head.  And because while 50in50 has received some great attention, press wise, but I can’t put all of my eggs in one basket.  When a show comes up like Richard II or The Farm, or when I get invited to participate in the WordBRIDGE playwrights lab, I feel like I have to take it those gigs.

It’s tough, though, when the very TITLE of your project implies a timeline.  Mea culpa on that front.  But still, I’m only spending a week (or less) on each episode.  And the title isn’t “50 Characters in 50 Consecutive Weeks” even if, I admit, that was my original intention.

This project was something that I started to keep myself improving as an actor, and I have.  I wanted to learn about character creation, video editing, writing, cinematography, improv, and I have.  I set out to raise $10,000 to buy better equipment (again, not in the spirit of what I set out to do), and I did.  I wanted to create a new body of work for myself.  Wanna see something?  Click over to the ALL VIDEOS page, and just scroll all the way down to the bottom.  When I look at that and consider that I made all of that between last April and now (with some large breaks in the when I was fundraising or working on other projects), I don’t feel like I’ve failed at all.  I see a ton of short-films, most of which I am very proud.  I see a body of work that I stand behind.  I see a body of work I can cut into a reel that I can be proud of.  I see something that will, hopefully, someday be seen by the right persons and help take my career to the next level.

That makes me feel pretty damn good.  It makes me not care so much that my original fifty-week timeline has expired.  The work continues, and I am going to do my damnedest to get to episode fifty as soon as I can, but I am not willing to sacrifice quality.  I want these last twelve episodes to sit up there among my very best.

The ideas I have for my last twelve are all going to be tough ones to do.  I’ve saved them for last not just because I think they’re great ideas (I’m really excited about a lot of them), but because they’re logistically complicated, and will require more planning, more time, more energy, and more help from my friends.  I hope you’ll stick with me, though, because the best is yet to come.

So.  That’s how things stand, and that’s where I am.

Thank you for your continued support.  Not a day has gone by since late March 2009 that I haven’t thought of 50in50.  This project is something that will define a period of my life.  I’ll always look back on it as “The 50in50 Year”.  Thank you so much for being a part of it.

Stay tuned…

-Brent Rose  6.16.10  2.21am (Clemson, SC)

Week 38: The Poetry of Mason Looms

•June 4, 2010 • 2 Comments

[Thanks muy mucho to Mr. Max Livingstone for shooting this one, all stealthy-like.  Couldn't have done it without you, my friend.  The moral support was as important as the camera work.]

{Note: 50in50 has a new Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/50in50 There you’ll find stuff like stills from various episodes, updates, and insider info.  So if you haven’t already, check it out and click “Like”.}

I’ve been wanting to do this episode for a long time.  It was probably one of the earlier concepts I came up with.  It just, somehow, never seemed to line up, though.  Either I was ready to do it, but there were no open mic nights happening, or I was waffling about what character I wanted to do it as.  Also, originally, I’d planned on writing and memorizing a piece.  When I finally decided that this was the week to go for it, though,  I wanted to start fresh.

I decided to start from scratch, character-wise.  My main inspiration was a friend of mine when he’s drunk (he’s fairly bi-polar), and my secondary influence was Bill Hicks (who was a hero of mine).  So I started working on that.  Then I started working out his backstory (his education, where he’s from, what his day to day is), and as I did, it started to become clearer that this was the type of guy to go into an open mic night and just start speaking from his gut.  Great, I thought, I won’t have to write or memorize anything.

When it came down to it, this was terrifying.  I hemmed and hawed all day, trying to come up with an excuse to back out.  I tried to sabotage myself by showing up extremely late (so I probably wouldn’t get on the list).  I mean, as I’ve said before, I don’t want this project to be a Borat type of deal, and I don’t like lying to people or tricking them in any way.  It just makes me uncomfortable.  So there’s that, plus the idea that I was going to go up in front of these people and I have no idea what I’m going to say… I was really nervous about it.

It wasn’t until I got there and realized that they were almost through their list, and it was now or never, that I sucked it up.  I dropped into my character, and I just went.  It was scary, but it was really fun and freeing.  I felt safe in the character.  I couldn’t fuck up, really, because the character was just making it up as he went, too.  As long as I stayed in character, there were no mistakes.  I mean, I have no idea what the hell that Leslie Nielsen bit was about, but hell with it, Mason didn’t know either.

I really had worked a construction job that day, and I decided to use all of that.  I just decided not to change and just show up filthy, ragged, and smelly to see what happened.  Nobody at the bar was in on it.  Max shot it with my tiny point-and-shoot still cam (that happens to shoot 720p30).  When I was done, I left the stage, knocked over a music stand, and just kept going out the door.  Kind of a dick move, but it’s definitely what Mason would have done.

In the end, it was like ripping off a band-aid, and I’m really glad I did it.

From an editing stand-point, this is the second easiest 50in50 ever, which is fantastic.  I recognize that this episode is a little longer than usual, and it’s certainly a different format, but in a way I think this is much more in the spirit of the project than a lot of the episodes I’ve done.  It’s not about the editing or the writing, it’s about the acting and character work.  More process-oriented, and less product-oriented.  Back to basics.

So, I’ve got one more week in NY before I head to South Carolina to do a playwright’s summit for two weeks (as an actor, not as a writer).  I’m going to try to keep busting these out, but we’ll see what happens in S.C.  Regardless, I’ll be back next week with something fun for you, so come on back now.

Hope the world is treating you well,

Brent  6.4.10  1.07am

 
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