Thursday, March 5, 2009

Mitchum Man - The Spec Commercial

For those who hate to read director's notes; especially a first-time director's notes, please skip to the credits at the end of this post >;)

So, I directed my first piece for distribution outside of college, a semi-parody of recent Mitchum deodorant ads playing on the phrase, "You're A Mitchum Man!" The concept was created by my producing partner, Chris Allen, who says something similar to this happened to him, and he wrote the concept two years ago intending to direct it himself. When he told me about it, I wrote up a quick treatment and pitched it back to him, he loved it and we set about pulling the resources together to make it happen.

Chris had his buddy and right-hand man, Kristofer Sharkey, do a lot of heavy lifting while he called just about everyone on the planet to either participate or donate what they could. One of our lead actors, David Smith, provided the home as our shooting location, and whipped up a great meal for our cast and crew; he also found other members of the cast and crew in Connectdadots where we shot the spec, for which he earned a Producer credit as well.

Our last bit of business was locking in a DP; after a very last minute change, we signed on the talented Ms. Alexa Mignon Harris, with whom I established a great set repoire and I hope to continue to work with on more projects in the near future.

The shoot was absolutely what I expected it to be; Chris Allen is a fantastic AD as well as a producer, Alexa exceeded my high expectations, Sharkey was a rock and a great confidant; our Hair & makeup team of Sharon Smith and Bethany Little did fabulous work on our actors, and David plus his co-star Sherese Reddick looked special on camera.

Me? Well, I had fun. Chris said that there was a moment in between takes when I looked over at him, grinned and nodded my head, as if to say, "This is what I've always wanted to do." To him, I looked as natural as one could be, as though I had been doing this directing thing for a long time. Although I don't remember the instance, he hit the nail right on the head.

The ride home, well, that was not so fun. Our NY contingent consisting of me, Chris, Alexa and Sharkey (who's really from Bayonne, NJ) hit the rode at dusk, embarking from somewhere between Bridgeport and New Haven, back to Brooklyn, Manhattan and the good ol' BX. It began to rain hard while we were on the New England Thruway, and I was so tired I almost nodded off while driving at least 60 mph to keep up the pace of traffic. When we crossed the border into the Bronx, I took the first exit I saw and drove straight to a gas station to load up. I'm not a coffee drinker, but I told them I needed to put something in my system.

There was dead silence for a moment. "Coffee," said Chris, "really? You??"

Well, whatever. When I came back out, I had a large steamy cup in my right hand. "We were laughing about you wanting coffee," Chris taunted me, "I said when we pulled over; 'watch, I know he's gonna want some coffee."

"Well, I knew I needed to get something in my system before we ran off the road or something, " I replied, "but I really hate to disappoint you; I got tea instead."

But as arduous as driving through hard rain from the middle of nowhere when you're dead tired was, it was nothing compared to the beast that was editing. Chris fancied himself a fairly sharp editor, having downloaded and teaching himslef how to use Avid Express Pro on his laptop. So after digitizing our footage, we began to assemble the storyline and do the editing thing. Here, both Chris and I learned a couple of key points:

- You have to have an extreme amount of patience to be a good editor. Chris, between tweaking clips and effects, fighting and learning the program some more and listening to me either change my mind several times or ask him to do something he didn't already know how to do, decided midway through that he would never edit anything we shot again. As far as he's concerned, he's strictly a producer. I wouldn't say he did a bad job, but I had a strong issue with timing each clip properly while we were cutting this. Thankfully, it never came to blows and I doubt the average viewer will nitpick.

- Editing is the time when a director realizes how difficient and vulnerable he/she really is. There's a reason why the Oscars give away a Best Editor statue, yet it's often to the director's detriment. Good editors will often say, "if you don't notice the editing, you did a really good job." Truly, if you look at some of those fine films that have won the Oscar in the past, more often than not it's because of the engaging story and performances, which is to say you didn't notice the cuts, cutaways or other editing effects that make the whole movie seamless. But if it wasn't for that unnoticable transition from one shot to the next, the movie would look like something someone did in their backyard, and the director would likely look like a fraud.

Fortunately for us, we had zero budget when when we made this (that is, only a few hundred dollars at most was spent toward producing this spec), so if it looks fraudulent, that's okay; we're not going for Oscars just yet.

Lastly, I'd like to give a big hug of appreciation to our own Macedonia for his contribution; he allowed us to use a segment of his podcast, Radio BSOTS, which is heard in the background during the action before the product shot. I felt it was important to have an ambient sound to fill the background during the scene, and what ends up doing the that task actually adds to the humor of the piece. I find often that coincidence and Macedonia have gone hand in firmly hand throughout the lifetime that we've been friends, and the timing of the dialogue in the background sound and the action on the screen was another happy accident...

Okay, so I'm obviously overexcited and over analyzing a simple spec. But hey, it's my first of many, so gimme that. Let me know what you think >;)

Mitchum Man - Spec Commercial


David Smith ...... Boyfriend
Sherese Reddick ...... Girlfriend

A Broken Chain Production

Chris Allen ..... Producer, A.D., Editor
David Smith ..... Producer
Kristofer Sharkey ..... Associate Producer
Alexa Mignon Harris ..... Director of Photography
Sharon Smith ..... Hair Stylist
Bethany Little ..... Make-Up Artist
Will Jackson ..... Director

Music Contributed by Jason R. Smith for Radio BSOTS


macedonia said...

i think i watched this three times in a row before going to bed. in terms of my podcast intro, i'm guessing that it was the phrase "pitch a tent, nod your head, feel the vibe" that you were referring to, with "pitch a tent" being the happy accident. (i could hardly believe it myself when i saw it, and the more sleep deprived you are when you witness that, the funnier it is...)

nice going, man. a mere preview of things to come, i'm sure. BRING IT, BRUH MAN, BRING IT. :-D

KJ Sampson said...

Not bad. I agree that the editing could use some work for the comic timing and pacing, so yeah, no nekkid gold statues for y'all YET. :) But as a first effort with no budget? Spot on.

Anonymous said...

uh... attractive thoughts )