Why I Entered the Rode Reel Competition Even Though I Don’t Expect to Win- And Why You Should, Too

The Rode Reel short film competition is one of the largest in the world. Entries from 88 countries are all under 3 minutes long and must have been shot using a Rode microphone. In 2017 the prizes total over $500,000. If you watch finalists from previous years, many of them are just amazing looking, amazing sounding.

How can you or I, average independent filmmakers, compete? Why should we enter if we probably won’t win?

Perfecting your craft. Experience always teaches you. I made my first actual short documentary film. I learned a ton in the process and got to experiment with a new genre. Every project you complete has the potential to help you learn and improve. Do you think those Rode Reel finalists just woke up and magically were amazing filmmakers? No, they worked and worked. This is a chance for you to become a better filmmaker.

Exposure. We all have a sphere of influence. We have an existing audience, whether it’s just family and friends or something larger. But entering the Rode Competition will expose your work to potentially thousands of new viewers. Viewers who will meet you for the first time, who might find your social media contacts, who might subscribe to your channels. Viewers who could be fans of your work. And those viewers are available for free.

Free T shirt. And maybe more. If you’re among the first 1500(?) entries Rode will send you a nifty Rode Reel T shirt. Sometimes they throw in some of their small products. Who doesn’t like free stuff?

Deadline. Most of all, committing to enter places a real deadline in front of you. Talk is cheap. If you are actually a real filmmaker, what films are you making? A deadline puts a real goal in place. I wanted to enter last year, but I never committed. So I never entered.

So, want to see my entry?

You can watch it here: https://www.rode.com/myrodereel/watch/entry/3102 Hope you enjoy it. If you did, please take a minute and put in a vote for the People’s Choice award.

Before I submitted my film, I watched some of the finalists for that category in 2016. They were awesome. None of them were telling a story of an event. They were more like showcases, testimonies with nice B Roll. After completing my Rode Reel entry, I know why.

Trying to tell an actual story in 3 minutes, a non scripted story, is extremely hard. My film has a beginning, middle and an end. (Spoilers) There’s a mid point crisis and turn into the 3rd Act. But it all happens in 3 minutes. So it’s fast. I cut so much good stuff out I’m seriously considering an expanded version at a later date.

It’s not perfect, but it isn’t terrible either. And I can guarantee my next documentary will be better because of what I learned doing this one.

[Image courtesy of Greenleaf Designs at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]

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What Makes Something Go Viral

Konzept, Vermarktung StrichmännchenSeems like every week there is another viral post. Dresses with weird colors, kids or animals doing something funny or something else makes the rounds. People from all different circles of your life are posting it.

I’ve only ever been attached to one thing that went viral. It was the “Wrong Worship” video. The church I was on staff at did the parody, and one of the guys I worked with threw it on his Youtube channel to show his friend.

The next day the video had over 10,000 views. By the end of the week it had been stolen, put on “Godtube” and had hundreds of thousands of views. (The video was initially stolen from Youtube and posted there without attribution. That’s a whole other topic. As is the existence of “Godtube” in and of itself.) And the Youtube video was just a little behind that one. In no time the video had been seen over 1,000,000 times. Even now you can find posts where people have translated the video and reposted it. There’s another pirate copy with almost 300,000 views.

No one had a clue that would happen. The content struck a chord. People shared it everywhere.

What makes something go viral? It’s a combination of timing and interest. Content gets shared, and some sort of tipping point is reached. Enough people are sharing and seeing it that new audience members consider wit worth watching AND sharing as well. It’s the social aspect of social media at play. My friends liked this, several of my friends shared it, I should watch it.

Making that happen is very hard.

Think about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Once it finally reached the tipping point, there was maybe a couple months of viral video all over Facebook, over $100 million in donations, 28 million likes and interactions, and 2.4 million videos of people dumping ice water on their heads. There are several articles on why, but from what I can gather it was these factors: important cause, easy to do, social, it had a bandwagon aspect, and a few celebrity participants gave it enough exposure to tip.

The Ice Bucket Challenge had been around for a while, even making appearances on national TV. This Time article credits the start of the ALS version of the challenge to Florida golfer Chris Kennedy on July 15th, 2014. 16 days later the video challenge had reached baseball player Pete Frates who is suffering from ALS himself. He had a huge network, and it took off. By the next Monday the ALS Association had seen donations from over 300,000 new donors. And it was viral.

Did Kennedy plan this? No. Did our worship team expect it? Nope. But it happened.

Want to make your own content or idea go viral? Make good content, put it out there. If it’s good, people will share it. If things go well, it could take off. It may not take off quickly, but if it reaches that tipping point, it will blow up. If it doesn’t, then those who see it will be impacted.

There’s no secret formula. But it happens every week.

Pitch-a-Thon-a-go-go! (Seriously, you should go)

filmsummitlogosqrWhat would you do to have the chance to pitch your project to representatives from major studios, to producers and distributors? People who can help make it a reality?

Last year the new NRB Film Committee pulled together a pitch-a-thon with many of the major religious distributors. Participants had 5 minutes in front of up to 3 reps to pitch their project. The representatives gave honest feedback to every person who pitched. My project was well received, and if I had a finished film, I am reasonably sure those contacts would have paid off.

Even though I am serving on the NRB Film Committee this year, I hadn’t heard much about this year’s pitch event. When the registration opened up I was surprised to see some major additions to the panel. Representatives from 20th Century Fox and Paramount as well as some well known producers are going to be there. Later conversations with the guys setting things up hinted at a few more players that might attend.

So, the big reason to pitch at one of these things is to get practice at your pitch and hear feedback from actual professionals in the field.

Of course the dream is that one of the people hearing your pitch comes back around to find out more, and hopefully move forward. And this year many of the participants don’t require a finished project. They can take a script.

And if you’re going to do this, then you might as well swing for the fences. I asked to pitch to major studios and a producer. I’m pitching an idea that is bigger than my capability. I wouldn’t be able raise the production capital by myself, but the story will appeal to a broad audience. It’s something a larger studio could easily take on.

So I’m going to be pitching this project.

What’s you project? What are you pitching? You should sign up right now.

http://nrb.org/events/convention/pitchathon/

To participate you must register for the day or for the whole NRB Convention. If you register for the day you get a bunch of great sessions learning from people working in Hollywood.

New Job!

ID-100225146We are moving to Texas!

I have accepted the position of Video Content Creator at Mobberly Baptist Church in Longview, TX. The job has three main areas: media volunteer development and training, live multi camera video, and video production.

I start at the end of the month. And we are super excited! it’s a big answer to prayer.

If you’ve been reading this blog, you know God has been working for a while. For over a year I have been underemployed. That was after a year of doing freelance work while I worked on my TV show. So for 2 years we either didn’t have steady income or didn’t have enough income. I still vividly remember when my main freelance client evaporated in an ugly fashion. I remember when my car died, and we didn’t have money for a new one. I remember when we felt God wanted us to sell our home.

But God, Jehovah Jireh, provided. No bill was unpaid. No meal was missed. Every need we had was taken care of. In the meantime God began to work in our lives to bring us to Mobberly Baptist.

I can tell you, I didn’t just wake up one day and decide to move to east Texas. But if you look at what I have trained to do, what I have experience doing, and have been learning to do, this new position fits very well. And I really like the way they work, and the people I will be working with. Mandy and I feel this is God’s plan for us.

The very first project I will jump feet-first into is a major series of shoots for Christmas. Lots of locations and lots of cast.

Everyone is very excited about the move. Way too much to do to get ready for the transition.

Some of you may be wondering about the film projects I have been working on. I still have three short film scripts and a feature length one completed. I am still working on more feature length projects. I still expect to shoot those projects, but we will be based in east Texas now. One of the things I want to do there is what I was able to do here in Orlando: build a community of Christian filmmakers who want to create content with a biblical worldview.

I Refuse to Buy Air Time on Christian TV

Soap BoxPardon me while I step up on my soapbox and rant a bit about the Christian TV paid-time financial model.

Sure, it works great if you are a church putting your worship services on the air. You just make a line item in the budget and do your thing. Or if you are a non profit talk show, just spend 3-5 minutes selling your merchandise or asking for donations every show. No problem… in the short term. But long term this is a major problem. Audiences for this content are shrinking. Donations are drying up and donors are literally dying off.

Mean while, some of us are trying to create scripted content. Raising money outside the show. Trying to place it on stations and networks. Most see the need for this kind of thing. Almost none can (will?) pay for it. I sat with one of the big ones a few weeks ago. They would be happy to pay a licensing fee for a new show, provided it was good enough quality. But of course, the fee wouldn’t even come close to covering the production costs. Most are just happy to take the show for free.

But once in a while I run into one that likes the show, but wants me to pay them to air it. No. Never. I will give it away because we want people to see it, but I refuse to ever buy air time. It’s wrong headed, it’s upside down, and this practice has a very limited lifespan.

The other day I got an email from a foreign network. They were not asking for me to buy air time, but they wanted me to cover the cost of translating the program. I understand. It costs money to translate from English into another language. I declined. Partly because I didn’t have $3000 sitting around. Partly because my initial conversation with the president of the network had not included any mention of fees I would owe. Partly because in any other market (model?) they would be paying me for the content.

There is an audience for scripted and non traditional religious content. Our industry has to figure out how to get more of that created and on the air. Squeezing the producer for money to broadcast it isn’t the way. We had better figure it out soon. The clock is ticking.

Can Christian Media have Characters Who Swear?

noIn one of the scripts for the show I originally had a character use the word “hell.” That isn’t so strange for Christian film, since we talk about the very real place called hell sometimes. But in this instance, the word “hell” was preceeded by two other words: “What the…” I later changed that line.

Why would I write it? The use of that word in that scene accomplished two things:

It showed the emotional state of the character. He was angry. He was not in control of himself, and even though he normally would not use this phrase, it came out. He was not emotionally mature enough to handle the situation without resorting to use of this word. This guy was hacked off.

It showed the spiritual maturity of the character. He’s a kid. Grew up in the church, but didn’t have the maturity to respond in a more Christ-like manner. This line gave clues to later events in the script.

So, it had a purpose. It wasn’t just for shock value, but it illuminated the character.

A friend who is in the show called me on it. At first I was resistant to changing the line. But I relented. It wasn’t necessary to make the point.

But it brings up a good question: Can Christian media have characters who swear? Is there ever a time when using crass language would be acceptable. I’m not talking about taking the Lord’s name in vain. And I’m not talking about showing profanity in a positive light. There are plenty of passages talking about proper speech, and avoiding obscenity.

But in the course of story telling, is it sometimes more efficient and effective to place a curse word in the mouth of a character rather than try to show that same thing in another manner?

Frankly, I don’t know.

eBook Available

I’ve been meaning to post the link, but have been slammed with prep for the 2014 NRB Convention.

My eBook is live in the Kindle store. Get it here: Peculiar Programming

PP Book Cover

“An award winning Christian sitcom produced and broadcast around the world for under $9000? Yes, it can be done. Find out how a former Media Pastor led a cast and crew of volunteers to create a non traditional religious program that was seen on multiple networks, stations and satellites. Learn what you need to know about the Christian TV market, writing and producing your own show, and then getting it on the air for FREE!

12 Chapters, 14,502 words.”

It’s actually been selling more than I expected. $3 isn’t much to ask, and I hope a lot of people will be interested in the subject. We need more non traditional religious TV shows!

Did Your Pastor Advertise for a Movie on Facebook?

Recently I’ve been seeing a lot of these ads on my news feed.

Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 11.45.27 AM

Pretty inventive. Using Facebook’s targeting for advertising, the sponsor set the ad to show to people who like First Baptist Orlando, the pastor there is Dr. David Uth. Then they used the actual name of the pastor in the ad. It did get my attention, if for no other reason than to see if he was actually involved some how. He is not.

Another ad claims that many from First Orlando are going to the film. That one isn’t as cool as the one that uses the name. They did just a bit of research, personalized the ad, and made me look twice. In that regard it worked.

When I watched the trailer, I decided against going to the film itself. But I did watch the trailer. Could a similar ad work for you?

Notes From an Extra

The other day I was an extra in a new Dave Christiano film called Power of the Air. The cast and crew of this film was great. You should definitely check it out when it releases the end of this year.

dave c
Picture: Dave Christiano speaks to the cast and crew.

I had never been an extra before. I had always been on the other side of the camera. Last time I acted in anything was high school.

Having never worked with the Christiano Brothers before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But people always say that the best way to learn the business is to spend time on the set. So I was happy to be an extra. I was warned before I showed up that it would be a long day of shooting. There were a couple of crucial scenes to capture, and I was going to be a part of them. My day lasted from an 11:15 call time to about 8:00 PM.

So, here are some things I learned as an extra:

extrawait

Time is, well, not money exactly, but precious. Even the best planned shoots can have delays. On the production side of things, you do your best to minimize those, both for paid cast and crew and for volunteers. As an extra, expect to wait.

Picture right: Waiting area for extras. Picture below: Craft Services table.

craftInformation alleviates all concerns.
-Knowing where bathroom and craft services is. Two of the most important locations on any set.
-Knowing what is going on and what we are supposed to do. I knew what we were waiting for, where I could wait and generally everything I needed to know.
-A quick word about what’s happening, and how long the break will be. During shooting, sometimes there is time between takes. A quick word about the gear moves and how long we have lets people know if they should stay pt, or make a quick trip to craft services or the bathroom.

Bring something to do. There will be down time. Bring a small book, or tablet. Even needlepoint. Something small in size that can help you pass any time you have to wait, but can quickly be put away and out of sight.

No set is glamorous. Don’t expect a catered trailer. You will be finding a seat wherever you can. People will be moving quickly, and it may seem chaotic, but everyone has a job. It will likely be cramped, hot and sometimes noisy. This really isn’t something I learned yesterday, but it’ still true.

One thing I did learn… the Red Epic has loud fan. I had no idea how loud. The crew had to shut it off during takes, and then back on in between to keep the camera cool. Speaking of sound, faking words without saying anything can be hard.

In general, acting as an extra can be hard. You don’t have lines, or extremely specific blocking. But you do have to be in the moment every take. You are acting, trying to feel and react like you would in that situation. After several hours of the same scene, that can get pretty hard. And tiring. It’s definitely harder than I expected.

I think every person involved in production should spend a day as an extra. Just for the experience of seeing from that side of the set.

IMG_3176
Picture above: Me with the cast of the “Power of the Air”

Telling Stories in Interviews

cameraI have a confession. Even though I have worked in media production for over a decade, it wasn’t until a few years ago that I really had a strong sense of the components of story. I mean, I knew about story. But I had little need of writing content. Mainly I would do highlight videos and interviews. In interviews I’d have the subject tell me their “story” and I would pass the interesting parts along in the final video.

I rarely had powerful, gripping interview videos. And when I did, I assumed the content was just better, or the people were better on camera. Don’t get me wrong, the other videos were fine, but a lot of times they were just conveying information, not telling a story. Yeah, that’s embarrassing. I was a professional, but I didn’t have the concept down.

So, for the last few years I’ve been doing better at understanding the parts of story… but that still didn’t necessarily translate into my interviews. I read “Story” by McKee, I recently read “Save the Cat” by Snyder. I wrote 10 episodes of Peculiar, and have been working on my feature length project, Flawed. I am getting better at storytelling The other day I was editing an interview for a church, and I realized I was naturally editing with story in mind. I started identifying the inciting incident, the conflict and resolution, the parts of a story. It was all right there in the content. The final edit will always better if you keep this in mind.

So how do you always make sure to get the parts of the story recorded?

There are 4 basic things you need in order to have a story: A beginning state, and inciting incident, conflict, and resolution. There can be more parts to stories, but if you don’t have one of those 4, you don’t have a story. You have information. You can ask a few basic questions during the interview to make sure you get the parts of the story you need.

Interview questions that lead to a story:

Beginning:
This is the exposition.
Tell me about X before Y.
What’s the backstory? What were things like before the change? Describe what the life/the ministry/circumstance was like before.

Inciting Incident:
This is the event or idea that started the change or growth.
How did Y begin?
What brought this about? What changed? When did the problem first surface? Tell me how you first learned of this new opportunity?

Conflict:
This is the process of growing, changing, accomplishing the goal, overcoming obstacles.
What were the obstacles moving from X to Y?
What was the hardest thing about doing this? Tell me about the problems this caused, and how you overcame them. What happened when you tried this new thing?

Resolution:
This is the result.
Now that Y is here, describe your circumstance.
What’s the ministry/project/life like now? How have you changed?

That’s it, pretty simple. Obviously you can draw out more of the story in each section if you want. But if you answer these questions you will end up with a basic story for your interview.

Example of Interview with Story Elements:

Beginning: 0:00-0:30
Inciting Incident:0:30-0:55
Conflict:0:55-2:45
Resolution:2:45-3:53