Film Craft 101

Running at top speed for several days in a row isn’t nearly as easy as it once was for this old thaumaturge. After a grueling weekend of film shoots, it took me a few days to feel refreshed again. I was well and truly exhausted, but definitely in a good way. Friday we wrapped our final episode of Platicas second season for PRC Productions. Saturday and Sunday, I handled directorial duties on a short film written by my friend and colleague Kent Harkey. Two very different film projects; both enormously fulfilling in very different ways.

The Platicas shoot was bittersweet in a way, because the decision has been made to make this second season our last. We just have too much on our plate in the coming months to tackle another season of half hour documentaries. We’ve all enjoyed it and have learned a lot from the experience, but it’s time to move on to bigger and better things. I don’t know if I’ve said it often enough, but working for and with the Scoughtons at PRC Productions has been a dream I keep expecting to wake up from any minute now. The fact that I don’t makes every day a pleasure. I mean that wholeheartedly.

The PRC crew at work on the last episode of Platicas.

Troy Scoughton Sr. has reminded me what it means to be a filmmaker and continues to fulfill dreams I never really allowed myself to entertain. I’ve worked in the film industry before, anybody who knows me, knows that. What I hadn’t done, until very recently, was get the opportunity to use my creative talents in productive and innovative ways that have expanded my repertoire to the point I almost don’t recognize myself anymore. That’s quite a feat when you’re a jaded and burned out pragmatist content to simply fade back into the woodwork rather than face the rigors and disappointments of day-to-day hindrance and restriction.

Heavy, huh? Sometimes life is like that, but I reiterate this has been a very valuable life lesson for me. Just about the time you’re ready to simply give up and remove yourself from the fray, something new and interesting comes along that could very well change your life. It did for me and for that, I will always be grateful.

Another person I credit for this transformation is my buddy Kent. Though he is still only a student and a almost three decades my junior, it was this young man who initially forced me out of “retirement” to tackle script writing and directing on a much more intimate scale than I had experienced previously. I’m not really sure what he saw in this exhausted, old husk, but his challenges pushed me to reinvent myself in a time when I didn’t realize I needed reinvention. Without his blind faith in my abilities, I doubt I would be where I am today.

And so it is that I found myself spending an entire weekend working in a passionate environment I have grown to love in ways I never anticipated. With the future at PRC Productions looking more promising every day, and yet another challenge from an unlikely acolyte, a daunting weekend became a staging ground for creative expression and yet another very satisfying series of efforts.

Filmming the Starman segment of Kent’s short film, Light Signs, with Donny Prosise before the camera and Jorge Villarreal on sound.

Now, at this point, I have to admit to having approached Kent’s project with more than a little trepidation. It’s a testament to my faith in him that I took it on at all. I mean, I loved the concept for Light Signs (the short film in question) and happily helped him flesh it out into a workable script, but the execution of the production was an entirely different deal. Why? Because I knew I would be working with an all student crew and past experiences have been less than stellar.

The difference here, however, was that these guys and gals were doing it because they are passionate about filmmaking and NOT because they were in pursuit of a grade. It more than renews my faith in the university’s Creative Media Institute, although I must admit, much of what I saw over the weekend had more to do with the innate talent and motivation of the “students” I worked with than it did the fact that they are taking classes to “become filmmakers.”

Student filmmakers prepare for a long day of shooting on Light Signs.

As with most things artistic, it has been my long-held belief that you’ve either got it or you don’t. Yes, you can take classes and improve your knowledge of the artform in question, but that doesn’t necessarily make you an artist. There has to be a deep-seated passion for that artform present within the student, or the exercise is no more than simple bookwork. You either are a storyteller, or you aren’t. All the technical expertise in the world isn’t going to make you a great one.

Understanding the intricacies of what is being attempted and rising to the challenge when placed outside your comfort zone, that’s the true test. Especially when dealing with a director with which you have never worked before. Or without the benefit of a budget. It meant relying on creative thinking and working together as a team. Most of these young filmmakers stepped up because they were asked by Kent, to help with his latest project. In the end, they came together as a cohesive team, exerting every effort to get the job done, simply because they love their craft.

Walking through a scene with actress Stephanie Drake.

On the final day, over the course of what turned into a 12-hour production, Kent and I put them through their paces with difficult set-ups and extended takes that pushed them beyond what their past experiences had required of them. They did so without complaint and with an eagerness I found refreshing. The result, based on what I’ve seen of the footage, is promising and very, very exciting. There’s a sense, amongst cast and crew, that we’ve all done something really special. The anticipation of waiting to see a final cut is already mounting.

This is the sort of experience that keeps me in the game. It’s what makes me proud to involve myself in projects like this. It’s what being a filmmaker is all about, for me. Despite the fact that I am not as young as I used to be and was one big ache for a couple days afterwards…


Bonus: Here’s a hastily assembled teaser of Light Signs. Yeah… you saw it here first.

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