NBGTF: Chapter 4 - TEASER

So you've been writing, you've been shooting the shorts, and finally you decide you're gonna try a full-length or a solid short film or forever regret sitting on your rear wondering why you didn't at least try. Shorts are great, and some of them are impactful, but personally, it be the full-length movies that I love most. I'll always quote Biff Tannen's "make like a tree and get out of here," and I'll always remember Andy Dufresne mailing his senator once, then twice a week asking for funds for the buildout of the prison library (until they finally caved and sent him the funds he requested). There's something unique about that two-hour window - just long enough to leave a lasting impression, just short enough that you don't feel like you've vegged for 5 hours on Netflix.

Trouble is... you gotta have a teaser - even for a short film; it helps to build momentum. How? Find a few actors, audition them, and go shoot your scene. If you've been shooting shorts for a while, this should be cake for you, and you can edit it in a short amount of time, and poof! Put that video out there! But why? Crowdfunding campaigns on sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo more often than not have a video. Think of it like the trebuchet folks hauled around in the old days when it came time to lay siege to a stone castle, and maybe this example is overkill, but a video on your crowdfunding site is just another tool on the belt for getting the machine going and cracking the surface of this beast you call making a movie. It gives the rest of the world a sneak peek, and its production affords you the opportunity of testing out crew and actors. Bottom line: you need it.

What? Crowdfunding? That's a topic for our next section. For now, get that teaser going. Call up your crew - start it now. A full-out trailer is hard to come by when you're "living in a van down by the river." Settle for a scene or a short commercial in lieu of the traditional 2-min trailer that maps out your movie (which you can easily assemble in post-production). Chances are you don't have everything lined up for a longer treatment (and by everything, I mean actors, locations, script, etc). Hopefully you're starting way ahead of production with these details and not waiting 'til the last minute. We acted as soon as we had the idea, but we rushed pre-production; thankfully we were spared any mishaps. You might not be so lucky. Allow plenty of time to map out pre-production BEFORE production starts.

We shot our teaser over the course of a day by the Saltair. It’s this beachy, smelly place outside Salt Lake City, nestled right up against the interstate I-80. The brine shrimp poo (I’m told) fills the air with this musk that sometimes reaches as far into the valley as the Salt Lake suburbs. It was May of 2013, and I hadn’t even finished the script to 12 Til Dusk. All I knew was I had to get something promotional going, so I scrambled through the story that had been juggling around in my head ever since the original western’s version, the one I wrote during my first year of film school at the University of Utah. The original western didn’t feature this idea, but my modern rewrite did. See, a lot of the great stories have this sense of urgency to them. Urgency, when crafted right, keeps the plot going because it’s sustainable conflict and conflict is what propels your story from A to B. For the western, modern though it was, one of the biggest hurdles I faced was the copious amount of costume changes that you normally have in a movie, so when rewriting the story, I realized I needed something connecting to keep the story limited to the span of a few chronological hours and yet maintain tension. I decided my hero Seth would be poisoned.

It was one of my favorite scenes. The hero winds up on some beach (I grew up in awe of Saving Private Ryan), dazed and confused and with a pulsing pain in this chest and abdomen. A shadowy, foul-mouthed figured would arrive on the scene and immediately be hostile when he found a person there in the middle of his drugs shipment. It takes place about 16 minutes into the story, and it kicks off act 2 with a bang. I ended up reshooting this entire scene by a lake in a small town called Stockton, Utah because the Saltair location was home to too many concerts and attracted lots of attention and casual visitors. When I phoned the marine patrol to shoot the teaser, they were okay with me hauling a 12 gauge out there in the desert. Clearly others had as well - used shells littered the sandy floor. Or was it really sand? Again, the shrimp poo story is what a lot of locals stick to and maybe it’s true, but I’ve never looked into it. It looks like sand and smells like something fierce; that’s all I know. When I called the officials a second time to shoot the real scene (and this time around, my actor Marcus would have a full beard), they hit me with the red tape and a 60-day turnaround to any sort of permit request. Guys, gals, I’m an indie filmmaker. You are too or some sort of craftsman where some measure of rebellion is the norm. Take that word with a grain of salt. By rebel, I mean you have to innovate. You have to think outside the box, and you have to take “no” in stride. When it comes to lugging around guns as props in a movie, especially in this post 9-11 culture we live in, I wasn’t about to show up a second time, not without the parent blessing of the local authorities. But you have to be rebellious. You get a no? You go elsewhere. If you’re told your art is too cliché, too niche, you pack your bags and try elsewhere. Seth Godin went to 900 or more publishers to release one of his books, and they all said no before he finally found the one. You just have to go elsewhere, which is why we ended up in Stockton, Utah.
Shooting outdoors can be tricky, especially when being blown away by gale force winds. Sunscreen, coolers of food & water, a tarp/tent, a blimp and cat tail for your mic, and shooting at midday all work together to mitigate the challenges of shooting outside. Pack 'em up. We brought in a DP/camera operator and a makeup artist who ultimately did not join us for the real shoot. They're both very talented individuals, but time, family, and other commitments pulled them away from the longer project, but we're thankful to have had them along on the teaser. And that's a benefit of being in this sort of indie outfit: you get to try some talent out, figure out what works, and if nothing else, extend your network that much further. We got to the Saltair beach around 9 am and we wrapped and were out of there by 6 pm. I was working with a DP that I had never worked with before and so our chemistry was developing on the spot. Again, great guy who I have respect for, but we didn’t vet one another out before the shoot so the whole process took about 7 hours from start to finish instead of the 2-3 hours it would have taken under other circumstances. That’s my fault and no one else’s.

If you’re told your art is too cliché, too niche, you pack your bags and try elsewhere.

The edit took another day or so. It was a whole scene! What would normally have been a 3 minute scene boiled down to 30 seconds, give or take. TEASER. There’s - reason we use that word. It’s a promo. You’re not promoting some mundane household item like bleach. It’s not a TV spot for Henry Ford’s new pickup. Get your crowd pumped. Show them what you’re up to, but for Pete’s sake, don’t show them a 3-minute clip. We are in the age all of things instant. Attention spans diminish by the day. Keep that in mind.


Las Vegas

I want to encourage others and bring honor to the Almighty in everything that I do with film and video. My goal is to take the first 11 minutes of my tv pilot and seek out decision-makers who can further the conversation about developing it into a show. If my team and I can do that, then we can teach 100,000 other microbudget filmmakers how to do the same thing so that we might tell stories of hope to millions. In the meantime, I'm a son of the King, a family man, a lifelong student of film, and the author of two microbudget filmmaking books.