Development/Mysterious Behavior

I feel like over the last few months my project update posts have been fairly derivative of each other, in that there’s a looming shadow over some of the projects we are working on. For some it’s that it would be too early to make any announcements or post updates on the status of these projects (and while I’m not superstitious, I don’t want to jinx the progress we are making) or say too much too early. The other projects come down to the post production process being slow, arduous and honestly fairly uninteresting to talk about. Unless we start making tutorial videos, most aren’t curious about dealing with a difficult color grade.

But the good thing is that things HAVE been moving, and I feel like once some of the gears are further in motion, we’ll have more things to share consistently. I wish I didn’t have to be so vague for now, but it’s the closest I can give to a tease.

On the bright side, I’ve been practicing my patience a lot more as of late. Good things take time and require you to respect the process it takes to get there. Until then, we’ll just keep plugging away at these exciting endeavors. Stay tuned 🙂

  • Alex S.
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Creative Momentum – Starting 2019 Off Right

Photo credit  @ Martin Vlach

The above image is something I came across in the midst of research for a new project I’m working on, and it’s been on my mind since. Art moves us in ways that often avoids expression through language, and can only truly be derived by feeling and intuition. It maneuvers around our ability to articulate meaning through a limited scope, and transcends us to multiple plains of emotion.

This particular photo stands out to me not just in it’s simplistic beauty but in what it awakens inside me. It’s sort of the opposite of how I’ve been feeling, which is why I find stumbling across it to be at a perfect moment of inner reflection. I’ve recently pulled myself out of a chasm of depression, and at this moment in time I’m just relishing in the reignited flame that was snuffed by the downward spiral I had recently endured.

I was in a state similar to the figure in the photo, free fall into the unknown, into something much larger than myself. But now that I’ve had time to lay in the grass, resting only arms length away from the chasm, seeing this image only reminds me of why I love to create visual works. When something like this speaks to you, it awakens something that cannot be ignored and must be nurtured. It reminds us of our experiences, past and present and what the future might bring.

The transition into 2019 might have been the most appropriate new year to date to relate to the idea of rebirth, of a newly energized sense of self and creativity. I ended the year creating more visual art than I had in any previous year, which has become a very big part of my day to day life and a source of my overall fulfillment. So to start off a new calendar year riding this creative high, I feel many good things to come.

It’s very early in the process, but I’m to be collaborating with some really amazing people over the next few months and I think the art that we make in the process is really going to turn some heads. Between some future music video work and some shorter, more snackable content in the pipeline, I think you’ll soon see why I am so excited and feeling a surge of creative energy. But until then, there’s a lot of work to be done so that we can guarantee these things make it from being in my head to a screen near you.

Keep on keeping on,

-Alex S.

2018 Retrospective

As the year comes to a close, and the work schedule begins to slow down, I’ve had time to do a lot of reflecting on this last year and begin planning for the year ahead of us. Creatively speaking, 2018 has been a very fruitful year full of opportunity, challenge and growth.

The first half of the year was almost solely dedicated to shooting and editing Way Out of Here so that we could meet deadlines for festivals, which took a lot out of me internally as any passion project might. It’s such a personal story full of emotion and old trauma that by the time we had called the film locked on all ends, I felt both relieved and drained simultaneously. It’s an awfully conflicting feeling, and since then I haven’t really been able to to write much of anything.

Earlier in the year I discovered an interest in painting and digital photo manipulation, which in the downtime between film projects has become one of my main outlets. Since then I’ve found myself focusing heavily on creating more visual related works over writing, which I feel plays on my strongest attribute as a storyteller and artist. This doesn’t mean I’m hanging up the towel when it comes to writing, but given these personal revelations I foresee more room for collaborating with other writers so that I may really emphasize my strengths as a visual artist.

As a whole, the goals looking forward are to continue my growth as a visual artist over being a writer/director, to continue establishing a visual language and aesthetic. We have some potential projects in the works I’m very excited to put out in the world, though still too early to talk about explicitly.

I’m also proud of Way Out of Here’s reception so far in it’s limited screenings. Having it screened at Hollyshorts was a truly humbling experience and I’m stoked for the future opportunities it has. Thankfully, we get to close out the year knowing our film will be screening in early 2019 at the Mammoth Film Festival in California, so be on the lookout for more information as it comes out.

With all of that said, I’m happy to end this year feeling inspired and to enter the 2019 empowered and with a sense of vigor.

Let’s make next year count, and to further boundless creative opportunity! Keep on keeping on.

– Alex S.

 

Short Late Fall Update

As the weather gets colder and the days shorter, the film production world here in the PNW tends to come to an active crawl. This means that while the world of freelance video production thins out for a couple of months, there needs to be something to fill the gap. Thankfully, there’s always busy work for to us to fill our time with, especially since we won’t be jumping back on set for a Fresh Cup production for some time as we work through post production on a couple of projects as well as maneuvering Way Out of Here around the festival circuit.

The next couple of months I’ll be editing together a new demo reel alongside doing some very much needed touch ups on one of my previous short films, Burden. Some of you who have been following our journey for some time now know this film had been shot some time ago, but due to priority’s of other projects and work, really giving this film the post production polish has fallen under the radar.

I had completed the last cut of the film in early 2017, but didn’t have the means to give it the proper sound treatment the film most definitely needs. Thankfully, alongside some tweaks to the cut of the film, Burden will be getting the attention it deserves this winter so we can hopefully start to bring it to you all in the coming months on the festival circuit. Stay tuned for updates on that front.

– Alex S.

The Film Will Speak to You

I’m 25, so to hell with this advice.  I’m not preaching, or trying to say I’ve gotten to the essence of cinema, or anything goofy like that, I’m just sharing something that I’ve learned that I feel might be able to help a few filmmakers in my position.

As a film director, one of the most reductive things you can do is ask “why”.

OK, so let me explain.  As an artist, you need to know your theme, your baseline, what your characters are about and what you want you overall visual style to convey, but the minute you start thinking in terms of what any individual shot is about, or why cut here, or why is that object in the frame over there, than you’ve killed your creativity.  You’re no longer making art, you’re doing math.

The way you tell whether something is right is simply by feeling it, does an idea or an image light your soul ablaze, make you jump for joy?  Well then, that’s the idea you go with, and if anyone asks you why you want to do it that way, just tell them that this is where your gut, or the universe, or God or whatever you want to call it has taken you, and they’ll eventually come around, even if at first they proceed with some reluctance.

A good film needs to be like visual music, flowing like water from a very clear source.  Worrying and nitpicking is no good in anything in life, at least that’s been my experience, but it’s especially bad in filmmaking, because cinema needs to be about being in the moment and sensing what reverberates with you, what moves you, and if you try and manufacture something that’s moving, it just won’t work.  On my last shoot, I got bogged down in “why?” several times during the preparation, I was constantly worrying about what every shot was saying, rather than just letting the film speak for itself.

Like I said before, it needs to be like music, every shot is a note, and the notes need to flow into each-other with ease, by all means, have ideas about the meaning behind the shots, but don’t sweat it if you can’t find the exact words, because the meaning will be there whether you can articulate it or not.  Sometimes, you might not even know what the meaning behind a shot is until you cut the film, and that’s fine, because the meaning is there, it’s just not tied to language, if it was, why make films?  Why not write novels?

The only “why” you need in moviemaking, generally, is “This idea excites me.” That’s it.  The deeper whys and wherefores are there, being dictated by the film itself, not by you, and once you see the film, you’ll realize that what you’d been doing all along, was following the spirit of what the project wanted to be.  It’s my belief that, once you’ve learned to do that (and I’m still very much in the learning phase) is when you’re a true artist.

– Ben Johnson

Beside Myself

This film has been a bumpy ride for all of us.  Re-shooting  alone is a heck of a thing for a short, but reshooting  it with the kind of anxiety we had (weather!) and admittedly a number of things that could have been better prepared, and the ways that the script intersects with my personal life that I’m still unpacking, led to an experience that took a lot out of us, and this may show you why it’s taken me so long to get around to writing about it.

The screenplay for this film is about 5 pages.  Writing it took me six months.  Balancing the needs of a coherent narrative against my desire to make a movie that was dreamlike and “outside time” while also trying to keep it as short as possible, made it probably the hardest of my scripts to write, and more than anything else I’ve done so far, I had to mess up, rewrite, rearrange and whittle-down until I had (and I can say this without feeling egotistical) the exact little gem I was after.  I almost didn’t want to make it into a film, the screenplay by itself felt so self-contained to me that the idea of filming it seemed like a kind of betrayal, but of course it had to be filmed.  It was a visual story, and there was no other way for the seed I planted to grow.

To do this I was blessed with an amazing cast and crew.  Our great cinematographer, Tom Ciaburri, was so on his game throughout the making of the film that I started calling him “Eagle Eye” to myself.  He really knows the mood and tone that I’m going for, and cares deeply about serving the story, so every shot we planned was carefully designed for real emotional impact, rather than to just look pretty.  If I had a central tenant to my beliefs about directing, that would be it, serve the story and create emotional impact.  That would also seem to be Tom’s central belief about camerawork, and I’m deeply grateful to him for that.

A huge thanks also to my long-time friend and partner in crime for this little company, Alex Sylvester.  He’s been so patient as a producer, the quality of the film being his top priority at all times. He went through so many difficulties and jumped through so many hoops to make this re-shoot possible.  Alex and I have been working together for as long as we’ve been doing films, but if his faith in me would ever falter it would’ve been on this project, but it didn’t (well hardly at all), he pushed forward, and made it possible against all odds (as corny as that sounds) for me to make the film I wanted to.  He also helped me structure the script to keep it from being to free-floaty.  Anyway, pal, thanks.  You’ve been really indispensable.  Then again, you always are.

I would be making a real mistake if I didn’t give a shout-out to our wonderful young leads, Jack Lindsey (Sam) and Peyton Pich (Janie).  These kids were everything I could have hoped for and more.  They were both so perceptive and took direction better than most adults I’ve worked with.  I was amazed by their shared talent to express deep and full feelings in just the tiniest gestures, like only the best actors can do, and by the depth of their understanding of the essence of this project.   Thank you guys so much for bringing all that kindness, humor and enthusiasm to the making of this film, I won’t forget it.

Huge thanks to our entire crew.  I can’t name you guys all here, but rest assured, your contributions were essential and are deeply appreciated.  The guys in the trenches like you are the ones who make any movies possible.  Thanks so much!

Lastly, this is a very personal film for me, so I’d like to take a minute to thank people who were not technically involved in it’s making, but who’s belief me and the project gave me the guts I needed to go on with it.  Many, many thanks to my dear friends Stephen Bosch, Emily Ross, and Xoe Amer for being some of my biggest artistic boosters, and especially to Xoe for suggesting that I change the bullying scenes I had in early drafts.  Also, endless love and thanks to my parents, Allen and Jill Johnson, for always encouraging their son to pursue his crazy dream of making films, and thanks to my good friend and colleague Andy Akada, for helping me make Janie a more fully-formed character.

Thanks, most of all, to the main inspiration for this movie, my twin brother Sam.  I know you’re out there, bro, making sure I’m OK, and I want you to know that wherever you are, I love you.

– Ben Johnson

Quick Update from the World of Pick Up Pre-Production

A sense of urgency is a necessary trait when you are working in film production. It’s a survival tool, and often is what gets you through some of the most challenging adversity when working on film projects.

That’s about where I am at the moment as we finish up last minute planning and tying up loose ends before we go into shooting pick ups for our film “Beside You”. So it’s with a sense of urgency that I write this week’s entry in between locking down some crew members and location information so we have a smooth two day pick up shoot next weekend. But once these last few bumps in the road are totally handled, we’ll be able to roll into our shoot with a solid footing and head on our shoulders (which, in production, often looks like a hydra between your department heads trying to coordinate multiple worlds to land on a common ground for the final product).

We will likely be radio silent the next week or two as we finish up preparations on our project, but there will be some exciting news to come in the near future, just you wait! Stay tuned 🙂

– Alex S.

Exciting Things Are Happening for Fresh Cup Films

The last several weeks have left me in a whirlwind of anxiety fueled excitement. A few weeks back it was announced that Way Out of Here was selected to screen in this year’s Hollyshorts Film Festival in Los Angeles. In the time since we received and accepted the official selection status, it seems like there’s been a nonstop drive to push forward on a handful of tasks and projects.

For starters, getting the film ready to show at the festival. We hadn’t had a DCP completed yet, and I haven’t had the luxury of time to really troubleshoot the process. But thankfully, the festival partners with a company who makes DCP’s for a relatively affordable price. That helped expedite the process immensely. Especially, since I wasn’t totally prepared to spend hours testing the waters on something that is the difference between showing our movie to the public (in a world-famous theatre no less) and NOT screening at this year’s Hollyshorts.

Second, I’ve been getting a handful of promotional material slapped together alongside planning my trip down to LA for the weekend. It’s only a couple of days away until our film screens alongside a handful of other PNW films and that feeling of “this is really happening” only grows stronger with each passing hour. Hollyshorts marks the first major festival (for shorts that is) that Fresh Cup will have gotten into. I feel especially honored that the film that got in is Way Out of Here, since it’s such a personal and intimate project for me.

Admittedly, I haven’t been to LA before this trip, so I’m equally as excited to enter the unknown and throw myself into the fire (hopefully not literally this time around…it is August…). I hear there’s so much to soak up in the greater Los Angeles area, I barely even know where to begin. I have a small itinerary set, but I’m embracing that I will likely change plans on the fly regularly throughout my four-day venture.

On top of that, we are working out ways to schedule and plan our pick ups for Ben’s film “Beside You”, which has been a slow and arduous process. That’s the other side of filmmaking, a part that takes up more than 2/3rds of what we do. But with what have already, it’s clear that we don’t only need these pick ups, we owe it to the strength of the story we have before us to make this the best film we can.  Once we’ve got these last few missing pieces shot, it’s only onward and upward from here.

And lastly, this is only a small taste of what’s to come for both films and some previous projects of ours. I have a lot of plans in the works at the moment, a lot of moving pieces and busy work to attend to. This of course has left me slow to finding time to give effective and worthy updates for you all. I am hoping that things will start to come into light sooner than later so I can fill you in on what’s got me so excited these last two months.

Thank you all for being a part of the journey with us, and I can not wait for the opportunity to have Way Out of Here’s world premiere be at the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood this Sunday at 12pm.

Keep on keeping on,

– Alex S.

Awakening the Unified Spirit

One of my favorite routines from the great comedian Bill Hicks (1961-1994) is the one where he talks about sitting alone in a WaffleHouse, eating and reading a book.  A waitress walks over to him and asks “What you readin’ for?”  Not “What are you reading?” Bill clarifies, but “What are you reading for?”  “Why read when you can just flip on the tube?” She asks, “Cause it’s not the same!” Bill fires back.  “What do you think I’m reading? ‘Hee-Haw the Book’!?”

Even though Hicks died in the 90s, this whole bit perfectly sums up what bothers me most about the 21st century.  The obsession with speed and stimuli, computers get faster and screens get brighter by the day, while we get slower and more passive.  Less willing to do the work needed to live our own lives.  Why would we?  Our phones can do it for us!  We no longer take time to appreciate the beauty in small things, to find joy in every day details like a blue sky or the smile of a stranger.  We want to talk to a friend, do we call them?  No!  We send them a text of course!  Who wants to hear another human being’s voice?  What’s cool and trendy about that?

Art now has the lifespan of a fly.  I’ve actually heard people call Fight Club an “old movie”, when that film’s younger than I am!  The language is being degraded almost by the minute.  We have abbreviations for slang now, for crying out loud, and I don’t care how much of a rush you’re in, it takes no effort to type Y-O-U!

Whew.  That got away from me.  I know these are all gross generalizations, plenty of people still read, and human connection is still very possible.  I just worry that it’s getting harder and harder, frankly, because more and more people simply don’t care.  So many of us practically lead our whole lives on the internet.  Not bothering to think or question anything, and the way the internet is set up, this leads to one outcome:  Anger, and lots of it.  Hell, you just saw a heaping helping of it from me, and it’s not productive anger, it’s a double-edged sword that cuts you deeper than the person you’re attacking. The rage we feel towards each other over race, religion, gender and overall political affiliation is exactly what the people in charge want, because they know that as long as we’re at each other’s throats, they keep power.  The illusion of difference that they’ve fostered will stand firm, we won’t realize that we are truly all one, and we won’t take back our lives.  

Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Hicks may have been angry, but underneath his anger, there was a deep-rooted hope for humanity, his apparent cynicism was due to so many people being willingly-manipulated, so many people lulled into thinking that a kinder, better world was a ridiculous idea, it just wasn’t in human nature they said, and as our governments continue to pit us against each other, they say it today.

Well, I for one think they’re wrong.  There will come a day, very soon, when all our weapons will be laid-down forever, racism and gender inequality will be a thing of the past, and good food and clean water will be readily available to everyone, all we have to do is come together.

How?  Well, we don’t do it with Facebook groups or “Hashtags”.  We don’t do it with youtube or reddit, we do it through great stories and art, we do it through feeling the beauty that exists all around us every day, in this world we are blessed to call home, and most of all, we do it through meaningful connections with each other, as thinking, feeling human beings, not 1s and 0s.

So take some time out of your day to leave your computer, turn off your cellphone and go enjoy the sunshine, or hell, a walk in the rain.  Have a coffee and drink it slowly, savoring the flavor.  Think about how lucky you are to be alive, to be able to enjoy the little things.  Say hello to someone, anyone, even someone you’ve never met.  Or if you don’t feel like talking, just smile at them.  You’ll make their day better for it.

And please, next time you go to a WaffleHouse, Make sure to bring a book.     

  

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