Abhaya in the world….

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First sketch from costume designer Shpetim Zero of “Abhaya in the World.” (As opposed to Abhaya…in the monastery).

Look out for an interview with Shpetim soon! We cover everything from costume design vs fashion design, creating a look on a low budget and the spiritual challenges of creativity. Plus, Shpetim reveals the three movies with best costume design ever. (Hint: They all have the word ‘Beauty’ in the title).

Abhaya in the world copy

“Abhaya in the World.” Sketch by Shpetim Zero, who is prepping the costumes for indie feature film “Inside-Out, Outside-In.”

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Storyboarding a Sequence: To investors and beyond…

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This latest set of storyboards from “Inside-Out, Outside-In” is being used to bling out our investor powerpoint pitch and accompanying proposal. I chose to dig into this early audition sequence because it reflects the DIY sensibility of both our protagonist Nathaniel Quinn and the film itself. The storyboards were drawn by the talented Monte Patterson, who curates the amazingly successful and fascinating film blog, “The Final Image,” recently featured on The Sundance Channel (and deservedly so).

In the audition sequence, we open on a completely dark stage. The lights come on and we reveal Nathaniel standing alone on the stage. Unobserved, he raises his fist triumphantly and says, ““Enter Stage Right. A young man, filled with hope, crosses to the most beautiful girl he’s ever seen.” Nathaniel realizes that his face has softened with tears, feeling the opposite of the sentiment he expressed.  From behind him, we hear a woman enter….it’s his best friend Dorothy, arriving at the theatre to help Nathaniel audition actors for his latest strange movement theatre piece.

This short scene sets up that although the auditions may seem harmless and fun, Nathaniel is covering up a wellspring of unprocessed grief and powerful unrealized hopes that won’t be satisfied with a theatrical piece alone…

We then go to the auditions, where we see a couple of goofy guys introduced – an adorable twink Eli, who bounces up from behind a cube for his audition and Clarence, a hip hop enthusiast who interprets Nathaniel’s deadly serious material via breakdancing moves. Finally, we introduce one of our lead characters, Jason Quinn, as he energetically crosses the stage on a Z-axis towards Nathaniel. The idea is that Jason has unstoppable momentum so that we know he’s destined to crash into our director. The solo shot of Nathaniel back to the solo shot of Jason are different from the previous actors, showing us that Nathaniel has now met someone who will change his life and cause it to go out of control, unlike the two more symmetrically framed auditions we saw previously, where Nathaniel’s status as a director was unquestioned. He has now met the character capable of throwing him off balance, into his grief and, through the course of the movie, back into the hope of a fully realized life.

In our industry staged reading, Nathaniel was played by Hunter Lee Hughes (um, yeah that’s me), Dorothy by Holly Elkjer, Eli by Daniel Berilla, Clarence by James Lee Hernandez and Jason Quinn by Jerod Meagher. They all served as the visual inspiration for the attached storyboards.

We’re confident these boards will help our investor proposal so we can raise the additional capital we need. We’ve found two major investors so far and once we raise another $80,000, we will begin our crowdsourcing campaign. So let’s hope these storyboards help us ignite the imaginations of a few brave investors….

We're in darkness.

We’re in darkness. (Storyboard drawn by Monte Patterson)

Lights flip on. Nathaniel enters the stage...alone. (Storyboard drawn by Monte Patterson)

Lights flip on. Nathaniel enters the stage…alone. (Storyboard drawn by Monte Patterson)

Nathaniel, carrying a bag of groceries, looks around the stage wistfully. (Storyboard drawn by Monte Patterson).

Nathaniel, carrying a bag of groceries, looks around the stage wistfully. (Storyboard drawn by Monte Patterson).

Nathaniel raises his fists in mock triumph saying, "Enter Stage Right. A young man, full of hope, crosses to the most beautiful woman he's ever seen." He holds back tears as he says the line, ironically. (Storyboard drawn by Monte Patterson).

Nathaniel raises his fists in mock triumph saying, “Enter Stage Right. A young man, full of hope, crosses to the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen.” He holds back tears as he says the line, ironically. (Storyboard drawn by Monte Patterson).

Dorothy enters from backstage, startling Nathaniel. He quickly gets out of his "hero" pose. (Storyboard drawn by Monte Patterson).

Dorothy enters from backstage, startling Nathaniel. He quickly gets out of his “hero” pose. (Storyboard drawn by Monte Patterson).

Nathaniel and Dorothy realized they both bought food and drinks for the actors auditioning. Overkill. (Storyboard by Monte Patterson).

Nathaniel and Dorothy realized they both bought food and drinks for the actors auditioning. Overkill. (Storyboard by Monte Patterson).

Nathaniel and Dorothy prepare to watch an audition. (Storyboard by Monte Patterson).

Nathaniel and Dorothy prepare to watch an audition. (Storyboard by Monte Patterson).

We see the top of a cube on the stage. (Storyboard by Monte Patterson).

We see the top of a cube on the stage. (Storyboard by Monte Patterson).

From behind the cube, Eli pops out, finishing his audition with a flourish. (Storyboard by Monte Patterson).

From behind the cube, Eli pops out, finishing his audition with a flourish. (Storyboard by Monte Patterson).

Nathaniel and Dorothy watch the audition intently. (Storyboard drawn by Monte Patterson).

Nathaniel and Dorothy watch the audition intently. (Storyboard drawn by Monte Patterson).

Eli looks for approval after his audition. (Storyboard drawn by Monte Patterson).

Eli looks for approval after his audition. (Storyboard drawn by Monte Patterson).

From between Nathaniel and Dorothy, Clarence enters. (Storyboard drawn by Monte Patterson)

From between Nathaniel and Dorothy, Clarence enters. (Storyboard drawn by Monte Patterson)

Nathaniel and Dorothy watch Clarence's audition. (Storyboard drawn by Monte Patterson).

Nathaniel and Dorothy watch Clarence’s audition. (Storyboard drawn by Monte Patterson).

Between Nathaniel and Dorothy, Clarence interprets the material in a unique, hip hop way. (Storyboard drawn by Monte Patterson).

Between Nathaniel and Dorothy, Clarence interprets the material in a unique, hip hop way. (Storyboard drawn by Monte Patterson).

Clarence really goes for it, diving on the floor. (Storyboard drawn by Monte Patterson).

Clarence really goes for it, diving on the floor. (Storyboard drawn by Monte Patterson).

Nathaniel and Dorothy have to change their view to see the action as Clarence dives down. (Storyboard drawn by Monte Patterson).

Nathaniel and Dorothy have to change their view to see the action as Clarence dives down. (Storyboard drawn by Monte Patterson).

Jason powerfully crosses the stage in a Z-axis towards Nathaniel. (storyboard drawn by Monte Patterson).

Jason powerfully crosses the stage in a Z-axis towards Nathaniel. (storyboard drawn by Monte Patterson).

Nathaniel is taken aback by Jason's performance. Note: It's a solo shot, unlike the other two auditions. (storyboard drawn by Monte Patterson).

Nathaniel is taken aback by Jason’s performance. Note: It’s a solo shot, unlike the other two auditions. (storyboard drawn by Monte Patterson).

Jason finishes his audition and takes in Nathaniel's feedback. (storyboard drawn by Monte Patterson)

Jason finishes his audition and takes in Nathaniel’s feedback. (storyboard drawn by Monte Patterson)

Hunter Lee Hughes is a filmmaker and actor living and working in Los Angeles and the founder of Fatelink. His current feature film Guys Reading Poems is touring film festivals and this blog is dedicated to the process of making his second feature film, “Inside-Out, Outside-In.” If you enjoy the blog, please support our team by following us on Facebook, Twitter (@Fatelink) or Instagram (@Fatelink).

Inside Storyboards…

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This week, I began collaborating with filmmaker and storyboard artist Monte Patterson to design the look of “Inside-Out, Outside-In.” Monte just moved to Hollywood from Indiana, emboldened by his successful short film “Caught” and his intriguing film blog “The Final Image,” which already boasts well over 100,000 followers (more on this in another post soon). So I knew I was in good hands as Monte stopped by my office. We flipped open the script and started talking shots.

As an “Actor’s Director,” I know I’m not going to go on the set and think up shots on the fly. Visualizing shots requires me to master a new language beyond the realm of acting and creating narratives, so storyboards become an even more essential way of testing out ideas and working things out in advance. It’s also insurance that I’ll be able to communicate what I want to the cinematographer and other departments. With enough preparation and hard work, your biggest challenge can become your biggest asset (or so I believe. More on owning your own skill set as a director in the next post…). With my skill set, background, taste and ambition, I can’t imagine doing a feature film without storyboards for each and every shot.

I knew I wanted to contain the action in as few shots as possible, both because I don’t see the film as a frenetic, fast-paced film with lots of arbitrary close-ups and to keep camera set-ups to a minimum. Also, it’s important to me that we have fun with the play-within-a-movie motif and to use a little savvy as we employ the illumination provided by the theatre lights.

Here are the results of our work together. Monte beautifully rendered two shots from a scene described in a post here. From darkness, stage lights suddenly turn on to illuminate a lone figure standing on stage in a wide shot. We cut in from the wide to see erstwhile performer Nathaniel Quinn enjoying a moment of theatre play, recapturing glory days, only to be “caught” by his producing partner Dorothy as she enters backstage in anticipation of their day auditioning actors.

What we’ve got so far:

Storyboard by Monte Patterson.

Storyboard by Monte Patterson.

After the punch in from the wide, Nathaniel lifts his fist in mock triumph on the stage and says, “Enter Stage Right. A young man, filled with hope, crosses to the most beautiful girl he’s ever seen.” Nathaniel realizes that his face has softened with tears, feeling the opposite of the sentiment he expressed. From behind him, we hear a woman enter….

Storyboard by Monte Patterson

Storyboard by Monte Patterson

Nathaniel quickly puts his fist down and turns. The camera dollies and pans to reveal Dorothy entering from the darkness of backstage. She says, “Sorry, I’m late.” Nathaniel replies, “You’re not late.”

OK, so I don’t want to give away the whole scene, but that’s enough to give you a taste. Huge thank you to Monte for his beautiful drawings and I look forward to sharing more with you. In the meantime, hope you will check out some more posts about our movie and enjoy Monte’s blog at “The Final Image.”

What do you think of the first storyboards? Ideas? Questions?

– Hunter

Hunter Lee Hughes is a filmmaker and actor living and working in Los Angeles and the founder of Fatelink. His current feature film Guys Reading Poems is touring film festivals and this blog is dedicated to the process of making his second feature film, “Inside-Out, Outside-In.” If you enjoy the blog, please support our team by following us on Facebook, Twitter (@Fatelink) or Instagram (@Fatelink).

Lost Youth Revisited via Don Bachardy Nude Portraits

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In 2003, I took a month-long stint as a nude sitter for legendary portrait artist Don Bachardy. He captured the mash-up of my youthful confidence and a burgeoning sexuality still defining itself in the midst of its aesthetic peak. I took the job seriously despite my woeful ignorance of Don’s importance in the art world at the time. But something about the manner of the man, even more than the evidence of his accomplishments hanging all around, jolted an instinct that my earnest cooperation might aid in the creation of something memorable.

Just yesterday, with ten years of aging and life experience under my belt, I arrived once more at Don’s studio inside his idyllic Santa Monica home. The task was to select one of Don’s paintings as a set piece my upcoming film, “Inside-Out, Outside-In,” since the plot of the film includes my character’s history as a nude model in youth. Don generously agreed to the inclusion of one of his real life paintings after a nerve-racking phone call pitch. In preparation for my arrival, Don had laid out fourteen paintings in a square formation on an oversize table with two paintings he clearly favored filling up the center of the square. As I looked at them, I couldn’t help but wonder if my small contribution as a model in his collection of portraits might outlast any and all of my own creative accomplishments in a lifetime. It’s an exhilarating but humbling realization.

Artist Don Bachardy

Artist Don Bachardy

Back in 2003, Don was in his late 60s, I believe. His stamina and work ethic really stunned me, especially considering the physical strain of his job. We worked eight hour days, with Don creating four paintings a session. A quick ten minute break occurred in between each painting. During the breaks, Don brought out some water and we’d make small talk, although it was small talked charged with the difference in our wardrobe. Some nuggets of information about his process were forthcoming during these breaks. At the time, Don believed in working quickly, creating something, then moving on to the next painting. From our short conversations, it seemed to me that the present moment was of cardinal importance to him and he trusted it more than the desire to perfect or alter something after the fact.

In our case, the nature of the artist and his subject seemed fortuitous. Indeed, Don relentlessly provoked and captured the erotic experiment of a somewhat dangerous young man. I didn’t take the job for the money, although I was well-compensated. Two years after a significant, five-month love affair, I had lost all sense that my sexuality was important, sacred, meaningful. I was uber-resistant to the hookup scene so powerfully seductive in Los Angeles but  when I saw the ad for nude sitters, I sensed an opportunity to explore a powerful latent sexuality that I had no clue how to harness or express. Don sensed this as well, but was either too smart or too kind to acknowledge my motives.

As a novice sitter, Don told me to simply and naturally find a pose, then hold it for two hours or so. I took his direction literally. Once you’ve sat completely still for hours, you realize how often we move our bodies to relieve slight discomfort or just to change things up. When forced to stay frozen, the areas of your body that bear weight tire, then rebel at the increasing physical pain experienced. But, seeing Don’s seventy-something muscles moving the entire time I was sitting was more than motivation enough to “hold the pose” at all costs. So I tolerated some major discomfort without moving, sometimes softly crying as a result of the effort. Sometimes the tears weren’t about the strain on my body.

I remembered those tears when looking at Don’s work. He had included them on some of the faces of the Hunter from so long ago.

My fashion designer friend Shpetim Zero and Don chimed in on which one would be best for the film. It came down to a debate between which pieces interested us the most versus which were most likely to be displayed by the character in the movie. I was torn and unsure, undoubtedly distracted by the sense memory of my life ten years ago. Finally, Don offered to frame and loan me five of the paintings, which was the best result possible, stemming from my indecision or his enthusiasm or both.

Before I left the house, I gave Don a hug and thanked him for the generous loan of his work. But the quality of the hug communicated – hopefully to both of us – that I was thanking him for more than a huge favor in 2013…I was thanking him for valuing my sexuality and erotic sensibility at the moment I needed it most.

Don Bachardy in youth

Don Bachardy in youth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hunter Lee Hughes is a filmmaker and actor living and working in Los Angeles and the founder of Fatelink. His current feature film Guys Reading Poems is touring film festivals and this blog is dedicated to the process of making his second feature film, “Inside-Out, Outside-In.” If you enjoy the blog, please support our team by following us on Facebook, Twitter (@Fatelink) or Instagram (@Fatelink).

Industry Reading: Holly Saves the Day

Eugene Delacroix once famously said, “To be a poet at twenty is to be twenty. To be a poet at forty is to be a poet.” Maybe Delacroix’s sentiment explains one of my favorite lines from the screenplay, “Inside-Out, Outside-In.” It comes from a seemingly unimportant scene when movement theater director Nathaniel Quinn, alone on an empty, dark stage, mutters aloud, “Enter Stage Right. A young man, filled with hope, crosses to the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen.”

Once spoken aloud, Nathaniel chokes back tears, knowing the statement embodies the polar opposite of his current state of mind. “Inside-Out, Outside-In” follows a man whose experiences with corrupt Hollywood, whose personal and professional failures have robbed him of the hope of outer achievement so brightly felt in younger years. But nonetheless, he has become – despite himself – the real deal “poet” as he approaches middle age. And that, in itself, is its own strange comfort, providing the fuel for his march towards a destiny that the screenplay documents.

Making a movie like “Inside-Out, Outside-In” feels like war and a spiritual revival all at once. War because the sheer number of tasks and daunting resources required demand strategy, stamina and allies. Spiritual revival because the work being created isn’t simply an objective science project about someone else – it’s you up there and every decision reflects, in some way, your own conscience and authenticity. Sometimes the two are linked. During the crazy lead-up to our staged reading of the piece, our event planner Louise Miclat asked me to write something for the program. I quickly turned to our Fatelink mission statement, adjusted it a bit and Louise threw this into the program, “Hunter Lee Hughes founded Fatelink, a production company whose mission is to create compelling stories and empower others to tell their own…”

I didn’t give the statement a second thought until after the reading was over. We had too much drama unfolding to waste time on philosophy. Our original cast member for Adrian Quinonez as ErnestoAbhaya was forced to drop out less than a week before the reading due to a serious illness in his family. Finally, two days before the read, we found Adrian Quinonez to play the part. I thought I was done with last-minute cast changes, but at around noon on the day of our performance, I lost our “Dorothy,” one of the lead roles, due to a last-minute unavoidable scheduling conflict. The actress was near tears explaining things and I did my best to reassure her that we’d be okay. Downing my coffee at the PaliHouse hotel in West Hollywood, I immediately walked out in a panic…and forgot to pay my bill.  Luckily, I didn’t get far before realizing my mistake and went back, just in time to preserve my relationship with the waiter who’s down for me to order one cup of coffee and park there for two or three hours at a stretch.

As I paid the nearly abandoned bill, I realized that I wasn’t at all convinced that we would be okay, not just because we were down an actress. We never even ran the entire script at our two rehearsals. We built a pre-show that involved ten actors doing living theatre that seemed risky for a screenplay reading. Some had asked, “What is this? A table read? A staged read?” I tried to explain it, “Nathaniel’s a performance artist so we have to create a screenplay reading that reflects that…otherwise, we won’t embody the character and it won’t work. We have to create our own performance art to connect them to our story.” Some people got it. Some people faked it. And some “got it” but seemed to think there wasn’t enough time to pull off such an intricately staged experience.

I scrambled my rolodex looking for an actress. This one’s too old. This one’s too young. This one’s too big a bitch. This one’s not tough enough. For anyone who’s ever had to replace an actor on the day of the performance, I’m sure you appreciate the special kind of anxiety that accompanies the experience. Finally, scanning an old phone list from the master class at the Ivana Chubbuck studios, my adrenaline pumped an extra wave of holly1hormones when I saw her name – “Holly Elkjer.” I immediately called and offered the part. Must’ve sounded like a crazy man in the message. Within a half hour or so, I received a phone call back, “Hunter….you know I haven’t acted in a year,” said the ever-modest Holly. “You’re in,” I shot back. It was already 2:30 p.m. Our show started in less than six hours.

Holly studied at the Ivana Chubbuck Studios for at least five years, consistently doing excellent work. She cared deeply about her work as an actress, but not necessarily for the traditional Hollywood machine that might’ve made her an acting success. Maybe the veneer required for that sort of ascension clashed with her South Dakota upbringing. She also spent a lot of time painting, with the results intriguing enough that I felt confident that she could have a career as a visual artist if she found connections to the right group of people. But I also could imagine the fine-arts set easily overlooking a woman whose values and spirit strove to find a traditional life as a wife and mother, despite the hardship of doing so in the narcissistic breeding grounds of Los Angeles. Still, Holly tried, on all fronts, and at least has been rewarded for channeling her sharp eye into a hairstyling career at a top notch salon in West Hollywood.

Our tech operator Phillip Wheeler highlighted Holly’s script as I sped towards the salon. holly3She warned me that she’d be doing extensions right up until 7:00 p.m. The earliest she could possibly arrive at the theatre would be 7:30 p.m. Just four hours before showtime, I ran in with the highlighted script. As Holly twisted and clipped the hair of a client-turned-theatre-bystander, Holly quizzed me about the character, her objectives, her past history. I answered the best I could, then later sent a text, “She’s one of these ppl who’s trying too hard…”

Thirty minutes before we were scheduled to walk on stage, we were still missing Holly and Rex Lee, (Entourage’s ‘Lloyd Lee’) who was set to play Steven Park, the sharp-tongued talent agent of our leading man. By 7:45, they had both showed up. We quickly ran the entrance and exits on and off the stage and Holly settled in for a ten-minute stretch of trying to understand the script. “Who am I even referring to here?” she asked Marlyse Londe backstage, who did her best to guide the newcomer. Within minutes, we all walked on stage as if this was the plan all along. The show goes on.

You might say the night belonged to Jerod Meagher, our leading man. Jerod – another fascinating human being – has lived in Los Angeles for two years and has spent most of his time training and doing low budget work, in addition to three “day jobs.” He hasn’t even attempted to find an agent yet, believing it more important to develop himself as an actor and man. He couldn’t be more right for “Jason Quinn.” And, wow, did he pull off the performance and prove that he’s more than ready to play on the big screen….and not just in my film. You might say that the night belonged to our two monks from the past life story, Adrian and Gopal Divan, a brand new Los Angeles arrival. Adrian noted that I exhaled dramatically after he nailed his monologue. Going into that part of the script, I realized I’d never even heard him say it and didn’t have a clue what was going to happen. It turns out my trust was warranted. And Gopal also delivered in a big way on a crucial scene, which can’t be described for fear of ruining the suspense of the film. holly2You might say the night belonged to Rex, who consistently elicited laughter with his character’s witticisms, or Marlyse, who startled the audience with her beauty and audacity. You might say the night belonged to Betty Jones, whose penetrating singing voice moved us all. I could nominate almost anyone from the cast, but I think the best case is that the night belonged to Holly, who pulled off a lead role with only ten minutes preparation. I guess, actually, she’d be preparing her whole life, through dreams delayed, hopes revived, skills gained, lost and developed again. As my friend Richard observed from the audience, “Holly came across like sunshine, with her red hair, her smile, her presence. You just can’t deny how genuine she is.”

As I walked her to the valet station after the show, Holly told me that she wanted to return to Ivana’s class and resume her career as an actress. I looked at her, then gave her a hug, no doubt that Holly will be the “poet at 40.”

More than any of us, I guess the night belonged to an idea: whether you are Nathaniel or Holly, whether you’ve been slighted by the industry or rewarded, you have to keep going, do your work and see what happens. And sometimes, something good and unexpected comes along. And that gives you the courage to keep going…a courage that an unknown stranger down the line will need from you.

As I left Holly and walked back to the Bailey’s/Coffee party in full swing, I realized that the Fatelink mission statement I dashed off for the program…had been accomplished without us even really trying.

For the record, here’s the cast list of the first public reading of “Inside-Out, Outside-In” (in alphabetical order): Daniel Berilla, Camille Carida, Marilyn Chase, Gopal Divan, Holly Elkjer, Jason Fracaro, James Lee Hernandez, Hunter Lee Hughes, Betty Jones, Rex Lee, Moira Leeper, Marlyse Londe, Jerod Meagher, Shon Perun, Alexander Popovic, Adrian  Quinonez, Tracey Verhoeven.

We give a special thanks to costume designer Shpetim Zero, technical operator Phillip Wheeler, event coordinator Louise Miclat, volunteer Pete Willink and the McCadden Place Theatre, along with its manager Ken Basham. Additional thanks to J. Parker Buell, Alesandro Piersimoni and Richard Scharfenberg.

Hunter Lee Hughes is a filmmaker and actor living and working in Los Angeles and the founder of Fatelink. His current feature film Guys Reading Poems is touring film festivals and this blog is dedicated to the process of making his second feature film, “Inside-Out, Outside-In.” If you enjoy the blog, please support our team by following us on Facebook, Twitter (@Fatelink) or Instagram (@Fatelink).

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Invitation – “Inside-Out, Outside-In”

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Very excited about our first public reading of “Inside-Out, Outside-In,” scheduled for Thursday, February 7th.

Top Ten Things I’m Packing For Sundance

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Tomorrow morning at 5:30 a.m., I will brew the last of the Christmastime Urth Cafe coffee, pour it into a thermos, pick up my friends and drive the 11 hours from Los Angeles to Park City, Utah for a potentially epic Sundance road trip. Here are the top ten things I’m bringing with me (if I’m forgetting something, tell me now!):

10. Bottled water.  Because I don’t care if bottled water gives you cancer. This weekend, I want to stay hydrated and avoid altitude sickness.

9. My grandfather’s four woolen shirts – Because I want to layer up and strike up some apple orchard memories while in the midst of industry small talk. Keeps you grounded.

8. E-Tip Gloves – Because I want to stay warm and still operate a smart phone at the same time.

7. Cute bathing suit – Because you never know what hot tub parties might send invitations your way.

6. Nine hard copies of ‘Inside-Out, Outside-In’ – Because even when you’re soft selling, you just never know…

5. ‘Dumbass Filmmakers!‘ postcards – Because it’s good to have them set out in the hotel room as a talking point with guests.

4. Thermal Underwear – Because I want to look like Michael J. Fox in “Back to the Future, Part II” and stay warm at the same time.

3. Business cards – Because not everyone has a smart phone and, you know, I may get asked for them every now and then and don’t want to look stupid.

2. Snow Boots – Because they were 50% off at Target and preventing icy, mushy snow from reaching my toes is worth a lot.

1. Wool Socks – Because my grandparents from Ohio gave them to me and again, preventing icy, mushy snow from reaching my toes is worth a lot.

For the record, Team Sundance includes: Jason Fracaro, Hunter Lee Hughes, Jerod Meagher and Richard Scharfenberg.

The next post comes from Utah…

Hunter Lee Hughes is a filmmaker and actor living and working in Los Angeles and the founder of Fatelink. His current feature film Guys Reading Poems is touring film festivals and this blog is dedicated to the process of making his second feature film, “Inside-Out, Outside-In.” If you enjoy the blog, please support our team by following us on Facebook, Twitter (@Fatelink) or Instagram (@Fatelink).

Stripboard Heaven: Top Five Strategies for Scheduling my Indie Feature Film

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Last night, I sat in front of Gorilla (and no, not the primate variety) and whipped up the rough draft schedule for my feature film, “Inside-Out, Outside-In.”

Sample of a stripboard for the web series "Dumbass Filmmakers!"

Sample of a stripboard for the web series “Dumbass Filmmakers!

My previous producing work on the short film “Winner Takes All” (a four day shoot) and the 68-minute web series “Dumbass Filmmakers!” (a 13 day shoot, including re-shoots) taught me quite a lot about what works and doesn’t work when it comes to scheduling. But neither project required as much ingenuity and brainpower as this new schedule for the feature film (a 24 day shoot – hey, a boy can dream!). Here are the strategies I used in drawing up the schedule.  Do you agree with my approach? Please tell me now before I screw up my movie!

Top Five Strategies for the Schedule of “Inside-Out, Outside-In”

1. Location, location, location.  The most obvious consideration in scheduling a low-budget feature is location. Thinking creatively about which locations can double up for different scenes is a big part of the process. The most stressful part of a shoot for me is a company move and especially stressful are two company moves that take place within the same day. Under the schedule I drew up, we’d be at one location for six days in a  row (an entire week for us), a second location six days in a row (another week) and three locations for three days each. I’ve tried to schedule in a way that minimizes company moves and maximizes use of location.

2. Starting with scenes where I don’t have to act. Since I’m acting in the film as well as directing, I thought it was important to start out shooting scenes in which I don’t have to act. So, I’ve made sure I wasn’t acting for the first three-and-a-half days of the schedule. I feel this is about the right amount of time needed for a crew to start to get into the groove of shooting before absorbing the shock of the director needing to be both in front and behind the camera. This strategy worked well on the web series, so I’m keen to repeat it.

3. Keeping the days for potential “star parts” to a minimum. There are three parts for which I’m considering well-known actors. The first part – a delightful part that’s been played by a talented celebrity friend at the last two readings – I’ve arranged to shoot only TWO days. This is incredible to me.

Sample 'Day out of Days' report for "Dumbass Filmmakers!"

Sample ‘Day out of Days’ report for “Dumbass Filmmakers!

The second potential “star” part shoots three days. And I’ve managed to keep the main antagonist “star” part to eight days. Very manageable. The rest of the film will be populated with less-known actors who have fewer scheduling conflicts. Making the schedule easy on potential “stars” makes it that much more likely that they will say, “Yes.” At least, that’s my thinking. Plus, if you end up having to pay them more than other folks, you’ve limited the cost of that star. It just makes sense. To call an agent and say you’re producing an indie film and have a great three-day part for so-and-so sounds more reasonable to them than expecting a star client to headline your film when not many have heard of you. Plus, sometimes stars bring additional headaches on the set, however inadvertently. The crew might be distracted by them or you might need more resources to deal with a star, like an extra production assistant assigned to them. So limiting the days they work limits the amount of resources going to them. In both “Winner Takes All” and “Dumbass Filmmakers!” we had known personalities and in both cases they only shot two days.  Remember, no matter how many minutes a star appears in your project, they are still in your film! So for super low budget productions, I think it’s smarter to use stars for meaty, juicy supporting roles that can be shot out quickly than for huge lead roles that might require 15 days and weigh down the production.

4. Shooting the subplot last (in case we run out of money). My film includes an intricately designed subplot that supports and pays off the primary plot. It’s essential for the film. However, God forbid, if we did run out of money somehow, I think it’s more important to have the main plot in the can before the subplot. Worse comes to worse, I can always go back and raise more money and shoot out the subplot a few weeks or months later. But I would hate to interrupt the momentum of the actors from the main plot for any reason. And it is the subplot. So if we’re behind and have to shorten it from six days to two or three, we can make hard decisions without it affecting the bulk of the story.

5. Shooting the scenes that require extras on the same day (and on a Saturday).  There are three scenes that require extras in the script and all are relatively short. One takes place outside at a rally, the next indoors at a conference room and the final scene takes place at a house party. If the scenes were long, I’d say I was crazy for scheduling them for the same day. And maybe I am. But my thinking is…we get the scenes with extra’s done all at the same time. Obviously, this is the day we’ll have to provide more food, hire more production assistants, etc. And we’ll have to ensure that we find locations very close to one another or even on the same grounds. But the rally can easily take place outside a building that would house a conference room. Then, I’m just hoping we find the “house party” location nearby. And it’s certainly reasonable in the realm of the story that some of these extra’s can double up and appear in more than one scene. If I’ve got willing extras, might as well use the hell out of them. So I scheduled these three “extras” scenes for the first Saturday. Granted, it’s gonna be one helluva day. But since we’re scheduled to take Sunday off, at least people have some recovery time to deal with all those extra people on the set before we go to a much more controlled setting the next Monday. Plus, since we’re going to be under the SAG ULB contract, we don’t have to pay the extras and I figure it will be easier to recruit volunteers on a Saturday than any other day of the week because of the work schedules involved.

So…that’s my strategy on the first rough schedule, What do you think? Wisdom or foolery? Let me know, my fellow DIY filmmaker friends.

Hunter Lee Hughes is a filmmaker and actor living and working in Los Angeles and the founder of Fatelink. His current feature film Guys Reading Poems is touring film festivals and this blog is dedicated to the process of making his second feature film, “Inside-Out, Outside-In.” If you enjoy the blog, please support our team by following us on Facebook, Twitter (@Fatelink) or Instagram (@Fatelink).

So you’ve raised $2,500. What do you buy first? Filmmaker-distributor Rob Williams discusses DIY indie filmmaking

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Rob Williams isn’t just a filmmaker, he and his partner Rodney Johnson have created Guest House Films, which distributes movies primarily for the gay audience. I met Rob after they acquired rob williamsFatelink’s film “Winner Takes All” for their “Black Briefs” collection, which went on to hit number one on TLAGay.com‘s sales chart for LGBT titles. Rob talked with us about his new film “The Men Next Door” and about the process of making a film from incorporating to casting to finding the right distributor. And, yep, he answers that question. What should you do with the first $2,500 you raise?

Hunter: You’ve gotten to the promised land of indie filmmaking and by that I mean, you haven’t just directed one film. You’ve directed six! How has the craft and business of filmmaking changed between your first feature and “The Men Next Door“?

Rob: For me, filmmaking has become easier for two reasons – (1) I’ve gained experience on each film, which lets me better anticipate problems and hopefully be more creative with my work; and (2) changing technology makes for easier camera purchase or rental,  software availability, distribution options, etc. And we have spent a lot of time working on building Guest House Films since we shot our first film, and while the business end of it never gets easier, perseverance definitely pays off.

Hunter: I’m beginning to get a little suspicious of aspiring filmmakers who tell me that the only reason they haven’t made a movie is they have no one to finance it. What advice can you give filmmakers to get over that hurdle? Or, with digital technology, is that just an excuse at this point?

Rob: I think the combination of digital technology and crowd-sourced fundraising (such as Kickstarter and IndieGoGo) make it easier than ever to make a movie without any excuses. You can buy or rent a high-quality digital camera for very little money, find actors and crew members willing to work for little or no wages (though I always recommend paying every member of your cast and crew), edit the movie on your computer, and release it online. That’s where the real indie filmmakers are turning these days, and with a little imagination and a lot of hard work, anyone can get their movie made. Now, whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is another question!

Hunter: Are you functioning as your own movie studio in terms of owning equipment, editing facilities, in-house graphics? How much stuff do you rent/farm out versus keep in-house? And if an indie filmmakers has $1500-$2500 to invest in equipment or software, what would you advise as the first purchase?

Rob: We have always believed in doing what we can do well, and then farming out the rest. For us, that means hiring a good director of photography, editor, music composer, graphic designer and all of the other positions that make a movie stand out, and allowing us to focus on the writing, directing, producing and distribution. But we’ve never really invested in equipment for one reason – technology changes incredibly fast. That amazing HD camera that costs $2,500 today might be completely obsolete in a year or two. My advice to an indie filmmaker with that amount of start-up capital would be to find a good attorney and use that money to incorporate their business and get the basic legal paperwork done so that they can move forward with building their brand.

Hunter: How do you keep the casting process streamlined and efficient? Casting is one of those things that a lot of indie filmmakers don’t budget for – they figure it’s two days borrowing an office and buying some doughnuts for the guy helping you video the auditions. But if the casting process takes a month…well…that gets expesnsive, right? Time is money. How do you keep on track?

Rob: Casting should never be an expensive process. We keep track of actors we like, and if there is an opportunity to work with them, we’ll try to bring them in. It’s much easier to find an actor you like and who is good, and approach them directly, than to hold a huge cattle call. But if we have to, we post on online casting sites, carefully comb through submissions and keep the audition process to a minimum. And if that doesn’t work, we ask fellow filmmakers – referrals are the absolute best way to find good actors. If another director or producer can vouch for someone’s talent and work ethic, that goes a long way with me.

Hunter: Of course, as an old school romantic, it seems totally awesome that you make movies with your partner Rodney at your side. Is it fun to be able to develop as a filmmaker with someone you care about so much?

Rob: Absolutely! It’s great that we have been able to start our company together, work together to make it grow, work on each film together and share in the rewards. We are both passionate about filmmaking and dedicated to producing the best films we can.

Hunter: You and I have talked a little bit about the evolution of LGBT film. Are you seeing any trends in how the films are maturing? Or are they maturing at all? Should a young LGBT filmmaker still make his “coming out” story if that’s what moves him? Or are certain stories deemed too “passe” and others “hip”?

Rob: It’s tempting to say that we’re moving into a “post-gay” world of filmmaking, where the characters’ sexual orientation is irrelevant. But that’s just not true, especially for people like me who want to make gay-themed films. Hollywood films may incorporate more and more gay characters in a nonchalant way, but indie gay films are made for the gay audience. Our viewers want to see their lives reflected onscreen (or perhaps see what they wish their lives would be). I wouldn’t ever tell a filmmaker to stay away from any particular genre, because we need filmmakers to tell stories that are important to them, that move them and that could resonate with their viewers. Sure, coming-out stories have been done to death, but if someone has a fresh take on it, they should go for it. Good storytelling transcends genre.

Hunter: You’ve now branched into distribution with the “Black Briefs” and “Blue Briefs” collections of gay shorts. (And we’re especially grateful since it includes our own “Winner Takes All”). How did this bridge to distribution happen for Guest House Films and why did you feel it was important? Is being a distributor more or less fun than the producing?

Rob: After dealing with distributors for our first four films, Guest House Films made the decision to get into distribution with our fifth feature film, “Role/Play,” taking advantage of the relationships we had built over the years and the increasing ease with which filmmakers can get their own products out to the public. After the success of “Role/Play,” we saw an opportunity to get other people’s films out there, particularly short films. There are so many amazing gay-themed short films produced every year, and so few ever get seen outside of film festivals, and we’re glad we can help filmmakers get their work seen. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also very gratifying to see these great films reach a wider audience.

Hunter: I know and many others in the community know your reputation for honestly caring about LGBT filmmakers and being honest in business, which is amazing in a field rife with piracy and “creative accounting.” What are the biggest ethical pitfalls that young filmmakers face and what are some strategies for staying true to yourself?

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Rob’s collection of dark short films landed on the top of TLAGay.com’s sales chart in 2012.

Rob: The biggest pitfall young or first-time filmmakers encounter is accepting the first offer they receive or not doing their research about distributors. Before signing anything, filmmakers should ask around and find out exactly what they’re getting into. If they want to stay true to themselves and to what they want to do, they should focus on developing good scripts and finding good actors, and then simply make the movies they want to make. Don’t let anyone tell you what you should or should not make – create the movies that mean something to you, and that will make it resonate with others.

Hunter: Thanks for your time, Rob. I think it’s exciting that you’re going all the way with DIY and distributing product yourselves, making more money on your own films and providing a platform for newer artists to gain exposure and a financial foothold in the market. 🙂

Hunter Lee Hughes is a filmmaker and actor living and working in Los Angeles and the founder of Fatelink. His current feature film Guys Reading Poems is touring film festivals and this blog is dedicated to the process of making his second feature film, “Inside-Out, Outside-In.” If you enjoy the blog, please support our team by following us on Facebook, Twitter (@Fatelink) or Instagram (@Fatelink).

Version 2.0: The Second Screenplay Reading

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An intimate, elegant screening room fittingly served as the locale for our second reading of “Inside-Out, Outside-In”, unconsciously expressing the ethos and hopes of the project. At first scheduled for the more grand space on the 5th floor, I decided to relocate our reading downstairs so my WeWork colleague Kristin Nedopak could more easily access the 5th floor screening room to celebrate the release of her webseries, “Skyrim Parodies.” At first obstinate over a change requiring more emails and a slightly smaller room, I relented. After all, the number four is the number of spiritual wholeness and maybe a bit of good luck might follow a bit of a good deed. Turns out, the fifteen actors and three invited guests fit perfectly into an imperfect circle of chairs of differing sizes, styles and fabrics.

Like all readings, despite my best efforts, we started late. Still, as director, I felt is was my responsibility to properly frame the evening and send us in the right direction. So I somewhat awkwardly told our group that the script was intensely personal to me, hoping that such a revelation would increase the chances that they would also bring an intensely personal approach to the night. Building on that notion, I asked the actors to let go any sense of a “professional veneer.” Lately, I find the acting in studio films so boring because a sense of the actors’ professionalism prevents me from relating to them no_egoas human beings.  They almost know the beats too well – it’s like watching an emotionally resonant cuckoo clock. Even at an early stage, I didn’t want to see that happen to my actors. So I suggested they see the reading as a “practice round” and encouraged them to just be a human being in a situation, not a professional actor at a reading.

Just before we dove in, television’s Rex Lee once again blurted out a quote of the night, “Is that buzzing, like, going to go on for infinity?” Apparently, a smoke alarm needed more acknowledgement than a roomful of actors and went off with annoying regularly throughout the reading. But something amazing about a good story and good acting – once we got past page 10, I didn’t hear the buzzing anymore and not because of a decrease of its decibel level.

I’d made a number of changes in the cast of the reading – about half the people were new. Sometimes, it was a result of a desire to try a new angle with the character, sometimes a scheduling conflict forced a change. Also, my friend Zsa Zsa Gershick, an accomplished playwright and director, previously implored me to see different people in many of the parts before settling on someone, as part of the process of understanding the character as deeply as possible. Indeed, the fragility of casting and character development pervades my thinking at the moment – add a few years to this character’s age and another character needs to be younger. If we go with a more quirky sensibility for one character, it requires a different character to step up as an authority, changing the requirements for the actor playing him.

An interesting addition to the evening was Jerod Meagher, an unrepresented actor just starting out at Ivana Chubbuck’s studio, where so many of us have trained. He stopped by the office a few days before the reading in hyper-ripped jeans to get some direction on the Jerod Meagher, actorcharacter. I immediately liked that he took notes with a pen and crudely folded piece of paper rather than an iPhone or some other secondary device. It’s a good thing if notes are fragile enough to be lost. He apparently made a good impression on at least four female attendees whose comments after the reading ranged from, “He’s got something” to “He’s sincere” to perhaps the most powerful – “I don’t know, I just like Jerod.” The ever-quirky and entertaining Tracey Verhoeven went a step further and said, “He’s just like a little angel. I mean, not like one of those fat cherub angels but like a good-looking one.” Also new this time were talented veterans Whitney Anderson, Luke Massy, Ethan Rains whitney aand Charles Hoyes. Whitney, who recently forwarded my acting reel to a director for a mind-bending fright flick for the role of a juicy psycho guy, is one of the most helpful people to know in terms of making recommendations. She’s savvy about seeing when colleagues might be a good fit and has no problem connecting them, a refreshing attitude in this town.

Afterwards, the approval of the adjustments I made to the script were heartening and the discussion turned more to “which way to go” with certain characters and practical concerns for the shooting rather than folks suggesting major overhauls. I even got one, “It was fuckin’ awesome” from a guest. That felt good. I am still worried about the climactic scene being too talk-y and Ann Russo echoed that concern. But we both felt the visual element of the choreography in that section might compensate for a dialogue-heavy stretch. Ms. Russo easily could’ve been a colleague of mine as a story analyst. She consistently airs notes that my foggy unconscious hasn’t yet articulated, so I was especially grateful for her feedback throughout the night on characters, plot and pre-production. There’s always a chance people are holding back their doubts out of respect or fear, but I now feel confident enough with the script to go ahead and create a shooting script to schedule the film and start getting more detailed with the budget.

Speaking of budget, the one startling bit of feedback came from high fashion designer Sphetim Zero, who passionately declared that he would need $50,000 to properly costume the feature. I appreciated his ambition, but warned him that was impossible with our current budget constraints. He encouraged me to open myself up to receiving more from the Universe. I agreed to be more vigilant about hoping for the best, but warned him to think of a back-up plan. We both agreed that he would help me clothe people from their closets for the industry read in February and take it from there.

Once again, a core group ended up at Bossa Nova for late night steak. This time, Dumbass Filmmakers! producer Jason Fracaro joined myself and aspiring social media guru Richard Scharfenberg (more on this effort in a future post). Jason, back from a 10-week basic training for the Army and his inclusion in the National Guard, has a reputation as one of the best guys to know (and one of the worst gaydars – ask me privately) and he gamely filled our quota for at least one “straight guy” at the dinner. Rex arrived late and this time, we were able to order his “ribeye steak cooked ‘medium rare plus’ with plantains, extra pico de gallo, extra salsa” before he arrived. But, just like last time, he paid for all of us with the quick move of a credit card and a declaration that, “I don’t believe in splitting checks.” He’s one of those guys that picks up the check when it’s kinda expensive or a big group and lets you return the favor at a hamburger joint. Ah, friends.

Correction: Ah, friends…and filmmaking.

Cast of the 2nd reading of “Inside-Out, Outside-In” (in alphabetical order): Whitney Anderson, Camille Carida, Marilyn Chase, Jason Fracaro, James Lee Hernandez, Charles Hoyes, Hunter Lee Hughes, Marcus Kaye, Rex Lee, Luke Massy, Jerod Meagher, Ashley Osler, Ethan Rains, Ann Russo, Tracey Verhoeven. Invited guests included Mr. Richard Scharfenberg, Mr. Jay Walters and Mr. Sphetim Zero.

Hunter Lee Hughes is a filmmaker and actor living and working in Los Angeles and the founder of Fatelink. His current feature film Guys Reading Poems is touring film festivals and this blog is dedicated to the process of making his second feature film, “Inside-Out, Outside-In.” If you enjoy the blog, please support our team by following us on Facebook, Twitter (@Fatelink) or Instagram (@Fatelink).