Friday, April 30, 2010

A New Thing Bonus Feature: The Lone Gun Manifesto

Clive Davies-Frayne at the filmutopia blog (one of my new favourite reads for thinking about script-writing and film production) posted this film-making manifesto, which I found so inspiring that I asked him for permission to reproduce it in full. So, here's Clive, distilling 12 years of experience into how to make a film:

     The Lone Gun Manifesto

For the last twelve years I've been banging my head against the wall, trying to figure out how to deal with the insanity of the movie industry, whilst at the same time exploring the equally insane world of micro-budget movie making. The problem is that neither system works. The industry becomes more and more obsessed with playing it safe and the independents largely try to imitate the work patterns of the industry, only with less money. For people like me it's a nightmare, because what I want to do is make movies and have people watch them... and, to do that without investing three years of my life and all of my money into a project which then flounders around the ridiculous distribution system.

Anyway, after many years of pondering the problems of funding, shooting and distributing movies, I believe I have an answer. However, it means completely changing the way we think about movies. It is a production philosophy designed to let creative people make brilliant movies quickly, cheaply and without exploiting the people who contribute to its making.

Here are the headlines:

1) One DSLR camera, One person, One microphone (The lone gun shoots alone)
2) Strip movie making down to the basics - a camera, a great story and some actors
3) A lone gun never asks for permission to shoot at a location
4) Put something original and honest in front of the camera
5) Think like a photographer, not like a film-maker
6) Money is for food, transport and a dedicated hard-drive for each project and nothing else
7) Natural light only
8) Everyone who works on a movie, has the right to distribute that movie for free or for profit
9) No credits before the title ever, regardless of how famous someone is.
10) The end product must be cinema quality (capable of projection to cinema sizes without falling apart)
11) A creative common license for the movie (how open you go is up to you, but people must be able to share and alter it for free)
12) If you’re going to be a gorilla… you may as well wear the full monkey suit.

OK. In practical terms this means that you are shooting in public places,but never in such a way that anyone is aware you are shooting. That's why it is done best with a standard DSLR camera. (I really want to see someone figure out how to do this with the RED by the way!)

In terms of the sound recording there are two alternatives: radio mics for all cast - or the way I am doing it, a $30 pair of binaural mics, (which look like iphone headphones) jacked into a portable digital recorder. (I've tested this method and the sound quality is phenomenal, once you've got the hang of it) To use the binaural system, the actors have to set away the sound, which is placed in shot between them... and one of them is given a Zippo cigarette-lighter to clack at the start of a scene, which gives you the cue for syncing the audio.

In reality this means you are only filming mastershots. You can't control the environment to get coverage. However, this really, really speeds up the production process. Basically, you and the actors pick your location. You decide where you are going to place the camera. When you're set up, they walk into the set up, set away the audio and play out the scene. Because there is no crew and no lines to edit, the acting can be completely natural (think Woody Allen circa Manhattan).

Here's the list of kit I use (feel free to improvise better solutions):

1) A good DSLR camera
2) A portable digital audio recorder
3) A microphone (not the kind you’re thinking about.. The one I use cost $40)
4) A Zippo cigarette lighter
5) A small beanbag
6) A computer with some professional editing software on it
7) Some actors
8) A pocket sized notebook
9) A brilliant idea for a movie
10) A script
11) A dedicated hard drive
12) An idea about how you’re going to build an audience

One of the things that I think makes this philosophy work is that the writer/director decides in advance, to give everyone who contributes to the movie the rights to distribute the movie for free or for profit. My project has been running for four weeks so far - we’re in writing and pre-production. The first actor I attached has already told me he has friends at a European TV station, to whom he would like to give the finished movie... along with a raft of international arts festivals. Neither of those two distribution options would ever have occurred to me. I'm working on free distribution via iTunes and also on getting a US theatrical release via some of my US contacts. Once you take the rights shackles off a project, it's amazing what happens. Seriously amazing.

Finally, I know there are issues about working this way. It forces moviemakers to give up a lot. However, the freedoms it gives in return, to just work with a team of people quickly and creatively to make a movie, more than pays off for any restrictions.

And… finally, if you know of anyone who would make an outstanding movie, if only they had this one piece of paper, then give it to them. Pass this on to the people you believe it will inspire.

Thanks for reading this - up the revolution!

Monday, April 26, 2010

The New Thing (Part Two): How I got my head together

I spent a lot of last year seriously considering not writing anymore.

I began to realise that a bad thought had been bubbling away in my head, a belief that was subtly corroding my confidence in my ability to write. That belief was: I'm afraid of writing. Sometimes I phrased it as: Writing freaks me out.

Well, while the idea that writing freaks me out was slowly starting to dominate me, I was already doing a thing I call 'free writing'.

If you been reading my blog for a while, you probably
know about PLAY! It's a regular break I give myself 
from working on a big project where I play around
with a variety of different projects, putting absolutely 
no pressure on myself to finish or achieve stuff. 
I introduced it to try and stop myself from going stale
(and to fire up my enthusiasm for writing).(*)

(*) Thought I'd try a little side-bar action for once.

Free writing was like a micro-PLAY! Every day I'd sit down and write about whatever I wanted for 20 minutes. And doing this free writing was proving that writing freaks me out. Every time I sat down to write (or considered sitting down), I'd be thinking bad stuff real quietly in the back of my head. Every time: Writing freaks me out. I'm burned out.

I can't do this. 

I can't write. 

It took months for me to even acknowledge to myself that this was happening - and, weirdly, from there it took me a little while longer to acknowledge that it was a problem. But once I had, my question was: What can I do about something I believe?

OK, so the obvious answer is: Change it. And if you've known me for more than about a year, you'll know I'm in to personal development, and read heaps of books on the subject. One of the things that's never really worked for me in this school of non-fiction is the idea that you can quickly change what you believe.

I've found some good techniques for realising I'm thinking bad thoughts, and snapping myself out of them.
But making fundamental changes, and making them instantly? No.

In my experience, I can maybe change a self-destructive belief after 3 to 5 years of hard work, and - after that - manage it with constant repetition and monitoring myself. But there were no easy answers. No instant switches.


I can't remember where I found it, and I would totally link to that article if I did, but somewhere along the way my Google Reader feed threw up a link to This is a site that promises to teach you a technique that instantly changes your beliefs, and frak me it worked.

I'm not going to go into too much detail about how it does it - you can ask me in person or check out the site, which has a free, non-spammy tutorial on it. Basically it's a technique that involves three bouts of intense visualisation. First .you relive as intensely as possible your memories of when you started to form the belief. For me, that involved some difficult experiences with The Limit, Facelife, Shortland Street and a few other things.

Second, you imagine watching those memories with a group of your friends - personally, I imagine screening the memories for them on a 42'' TV in a dim, generic living room. While you imagine screening the memories, you talk about what you believe about them, ... and then you ask your friends what they believe about them.

Every single time I've had this imaginary conversation, I have been surprised at how reasonable, how divergent, and how empowering the beliefs of my hypothetical friends are.

In the case of writing, this conversation revealed that, sure, I could think of writing as a thing that freaks me out. I could also, if I wanted, think of it as a gift I give myself. A gift of at least 20 minutes a day where I could just write about whatever I wanted. Writing didn't need to be something that freaked me out; it could be an opportunity. An opportunity to discover what I'm really into at the moment. An opportunity to feed my soul and refresh my brain. God damn it, you look at it this way, and writing's the opposite of something to freak out about; it's an opportunity to get excited about something!

Using this Recreate Your Life method, it took about 20 minutes to get from: Writing freaks me out to  

Writing is a gift I give myself; it's an opportunity to discover what excites me and what's good for me.

It's actually humbling to realise that my brain tends to, over time, lock itself into thoughts that are bad for my life - if not actively self-destructive. But it's even more humbling to realise my brain contains everything it needs to completely flip that around, if it could just find the right techniques.

There's a third bit to this technique which involves replaying your original memories but telling yourself this new, empowering belief. I think this is the coolest bit (for the geeky reason that feels like travelling back in time and opening up an alternate timeline).

So, does this work? Does it ... stick?

Yes. It totally does. It completely flipped my attitude about how to approach writing and what I want to be writing. And once I'd addressed that, I discovered a deeper concern - that I was stressing about how to fit writing into my busy life.

I'll talk about how I decided to deal with that next Monday, in Part Three.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Links of Interest: March

Jesse Schell gives a talk on how gaming will transform our world and (in the wrong hands) utterly replace our values and desires with ones designed by someone else.

And he follows that up with a description of four different types of game designer (fulfillers, humanitarians, artists and persuaders).

Jane McGonigal's talk at TED 2010 about how gaming can change the world provides an optimistic
counterpoint to Jesse's talk. Her thesis: gamers are an untapped resource, and gaming fundamentally changes people's brains to give them advantageous personal qualities.

Truly Free Film links to a Bruce Sterling talk in which (as a tangent) he discusses how to solve problems now:

1. Write problem in a search engine, see if somebody else has solved it already.
2. Write problem in my blog; study the commentory cross-linked to other guys.
3. Write problem in Twitter. See if it gets retweeted.
4. Open source the problem; supply some instructables to get me as far as I’ve been able to get, see if the community takes it any further.
5. Start a Ning social network. Name the network after the problem, see if anybody accumulates around my problem.
6. Make a video the problem and put it on Youtube. See if it spreads virally, see if any media convergence accumulates around my problem.
7. Create a design fiction that pretends that my problem has already been solved. Create some gadget or application or product that has some relevance to my problem and see if anybody builds it.

Jill Golick gives a brilliant post on the bare minimum of web promotion you need to do. Some excerpts:

You don’t have an air date or a web site yet.  But that shouldn’t stop you from having a hundred followers on Twitter or 5000 hits to a blog.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if by the time you got your airdate a thousand people or ten thousand already knew about the project?  And all it cost you was a few hours a week on the web.  Let’s face it, you’re on the web already.  Just make the time productive.

... [Have] someone on the team contributing to a blog though prep, production and post, to have a Facebook fan page up from day 1 building interest, to start a Flickr account to house pictures from set and YouTube channel from some video.

The Department of Internal Affairs begins internet censorship in New Zealand.

Blogger introduces a new template designer. Behold its effects by looking at my blog.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A New Thing Bonus Feature: Ainsley Gardiner on making lovebites and Boy

Here's an nzonscreen interview with Ainsley Gardiner where she talks a little about Kahukura, lovebites and her film projects:

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

How is this series on the New Thing going to work?

This series on the New Thing has two phases. The first is going to talk about the head-space about writing that I've finally gotten into. I think there will be five posts about that, posting once a week.

In between those weekly posts, I'll have some Bonus Features which are filled with material that's related to what's going on. (One of the cool things about writing about the New Thing is that news and clips are popping up all over the place that feel inter-related to it).

At the end of those five posts (on 20 May), the series will shift into Phase 2.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The New Thing (Part One): Reasons to quit writing

I spent most of last year profoundly unhappy about writing. If you look back at the archives, you can probably tell: a regular series of posts entitled "Why I'm Not Writing", referring to the projects I was working on as 'Old Thing #1' and 'Old Thing #2'. I was frustrated, bored and had a general sense of being trapped in a grind that was only partially alleviated by doing PLAY! (my regular two-week breaks to play around with new and old ideas I'm enthusiastic about).

Most importantly, I was developing bad beliefs about writing. Beliefs like "I am afraid of writing". And "writing freaks me out." I was developing fears that if I started another piece of writing I'd get trapped by it - like my seven-year stint on The Limit. These fears and self-destructive thoughts were coming from some pretty reasonable places:

+ doing some spec rewriting on a project that didn't enthuse me
+ the high-pressure environment of working on lovebites and facelift
+ putting immense pressure on myself to finish stuff and make my projects live up to either the ideal in my head or their own potential.

Writing was turning away from being a source of joy and expression for me, and becoming a source of self-pressure, self-criticism and obligation. Not fun. As a result, writing was painful and slow. I became reluctant to commit things because no project seemed "good enough" to warrant the time I'd invest in it.

Ultimately, I began to consider stopping writing altogether. I started to mentally experiment with changing my identity to 'not a writer' and to consider what other things I could do with my life.

So there you go. I spent 2009 afraid of writing and thinking about quitting.

That's Act One. In the next two posts, I'll cover Act Two in which some help arrives from an unexpected source and I change my life (a little bit).

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The New Thing starts tomorrow

In preparation, here's an xkcd comic that sums up a little of where I'm going.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The New Thing is coming in 2 days

Bill Cunningham over at Pulp 2.0 tweeted the following: "Quit asking permission to create something."

He then followed up with this post (which I will now sample and remix):

You don't need anyone's permission to write, film, draw, compose - whatever.  You just need to fail at it for awhile.  

Anything worthwhile that's been created, invented, theorized and developed has been the result of failure. Lots and lots of failure. 

People look at the end product and get intimidated by its slickness. They don't see the many iterations - the many failures - that led to the success. 

Don't get intimidated by the end product. Keep trying. Keep failing. Learn from those failures

Do it, and if you like it - great. If not, if you can live without it - then you feel good about moving on.

The New Thing isn't about asking for permission. It's a discussion.

Oh, and Andrew and Lucy made this in an evening.

29,032 views at the time I wrote this.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The New Thing is coming in 3 days

Here's a post by Clay Shirky that made me question what I'm about to do. I've edited the quote I found most relevant:

In the future, at least some methods of producing video for the web will become as complex, with as many details to attend to, as television has today ...

(However ...)

The most watched minute of video made in the last five years shows baby Charlie biting his brother’s finger. (Twice!) That minute has been watched by more people than the viewership of American Idol, Dancing With The Stars, and the Superbowl combined. (174 million views and counting.)

Some video still has to be complex to be valuable, but ... expensive bits of video made in complex ways now compete with cheap bits made in simple ways. “Charlie Bit My Finger” was made by amateurs, in one take, with a lousy camera. No professionals were involved in selecting or editing or distributing it. Not one dime changed hands anywhere between creator, host, and viewers. A world where that is the kind of thing [means] complexity is neither an absolute requirement nor an automatic advantage.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The New Thing is coming in 4 days

Seth Godin wrote one of the most important things I've read this year: the implications of having an idea that infects others.

I've mentioned this post before - it ties in to the idea of 'stickiness' that I've been blogging about in my synopsis of Made to Stick. Stickiness is a way of describing how memorable an idea is and how easy it is to transfer that idea from one person to another.

Say I write a blog post that gets 12 readers. How many people does that first generation of 12 readers tell it to? How many people does that second generation tell? As Seth says:

If you start with 10,000 fans and have an idea that on average nets .8 new people per generation, that means that 10,000 people will pass it on to 8000 people, and [they'll pass it on to] 6400 people, etc.
... Pretty soon, [your idea] dies out.

On the other hand, if you start with 100 people (99% less!) [but your] idea is twice as good (1.5 net passalong) it doesn't take long before you overtake the other plan. That's not even including the compounding of new people getting you people.

But wait! If your idea is just a little more viral, a 1.7 passalong, wow, huge results. Infinity, here we come.

The New Thing takes this as its starting point.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The New Thing is coming in 5 days

This is important. Svend linked me to this great talk by Ed Catmull a co-founder of Pixar, about their corporate culture, and story-creation process (it's about an hour long):

Here's the big thing I took away from it:

When you start to make ... anything (a film, a game, anything) it isn't very good. You have to go through a lot of steps to get to good. You can feel you're making progress if you can see it's taking a step forward every three to six months.

So there's some success criteria from the people at Pixar: it doesn't need to be perfect; it just needs to be moving forward regularly. From my experience, there are many ways I can tell one of my projects has taken a step forward, including:
  • I've deepened my understanding of the material
  • I've found a simpler, more elegant way of expressing the idea
  • I've figured out what it's really about
What's important for me, though, is that I think this applies to more than just creating ... stuff. I think it applies to personal development, time management, and the feeling I want of being on top of my life. This principle (a step forward every three to six months) takes the pressure off needing the 'perfect' system that makes everything all right. It's shown me that it's good and reasonable to think of my life as a work-in-progress, as long as I'm happy that I'm actually progressing (taking those steps forward).

In the last two years the big steps forward have been PLAY, getting comfortable with dating, and free writing (which I'll talk about very soon). Next is the New Thing - which will be coming in five days.

More things I took away from the Pixar talk after the jump ...

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Made to Stick: Tell me a Story

The right story makes you act

In Made to Stick, the Heath brothers describe six principles that make your idea sticky - that make it easy for people to remember and tell others about. Those six principles (and the effects they have) are:
  1. Simple ideas help you remember.
  2. Unexpected ideas make you pay attention.
  3. Concrete ideas help you understand.
  4. Credible ideas make you believe.
  5. Emotional ideas make you care.
  6. The right story makes you act.
Principle 6 (the right story makes you act) is something that I've seen in a book I reviewed last year (The Elements of Persuasion).

Stories demonstrate how you can act - what steps you can take, what obstacles you might face, how to overcome them, and what results you might expect. In The Elements of Persuasion, Richard Maxwell and Robert Dickman talk about the role of the Hero - the character who embodies your message, and demonstrates "how to live your story".

A well-told story gives your audience enough information so they can mentally test how they would handle the situation. This mental rehearsal is the next best thing to actually doing something. As the Heath brothers say, stories are like flight simulators for the brain.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Made to Stick: Let's get Emotional

Here are a couple of anti-smoking ads for you to watch, and then I'll describe what Made to Stick has to say about the role of emotion in delivering an effective message.

Compared to this:

These two ads started airing at almost the same time in the US. When teenagers were asked if they remembered any anti-smoking ads, 22 percent thought of the first 'Truth' campaign, while only 3 percent thought of the second 'Think' campaign.

Why is this important? Why is it important that more people remember the highly emotive ad that creates feeling of rebellion, resentment and belonging to a peer group than the lighter, gentler 'Think' ads?

Made to Stick suggests a couple of reasons emotion is important:

1) Feeling an emotion means you care. When people care, they're more likely to remember and they're more likely to act on what you're saying

2) The more we reason and think, the more our ability to feel is inhibited. Analysis prevents compassion. Made to Stick cites several examples of ads in the 'World Vision helping children in developing countries' genre. That feeds back into Point (1) - basically, the less you think, the more you act.

Friday, April 02, 2010


With the A-Team and The Losers coming out,(*) it's going to be a good year for action movies in which a band of elite soldiers are betrayed by someone (causing them to seek revenge).

(*) And the Expendables, but I don't trust that yet.

I'm surprised at how fun the A-Team looks, and concerned at how the trailer for the Losers seems too fun - doesn't quite capture the tone I liked from the comics.

... Hmm. OK. After actually watching the new Expendables trailer - I've changed my mind. All three of these films have great casting, and look like they're going to deliver my fix of badass.