Life’s Rough

I know things have fallen into silence around here lately.  We’ve been hibernating for a little bit over the Christmas holiday.  But things are picking back up, I just watched a rough cut of the film and sent the first set of notes off to our editor, Banu Debre.

We are still looking for musicians and composers to help with the music for the film and that need is now URGENT.  I am specifically looking for musicians who play original compositions on acoustic guitar, with a more country or folk sound.   Please contact me at ninehourfilms at gmail dot com if you have any music to share!

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Today’s kids and old technology

So, @thinkgeek posted a link to this video today:

In it, young children try to identify the purpose of old gadgets and electronics.  While the whole video is amusing, at 2:42, there’s a great moment where he shows the kids a rotary telephone.

The kids are all fascinated by the old phone and start playing with it.  I can tell you first hand how amusing this is to watch, since the same thing happened on our set:

Since half of Catching Up takes place in “the past,” we made sure that the Sergeant’s office didn’t have anything post 1985 in it.  Logan had never seen a rotary telephone before, so whenever she wasn’t actually filming she was at the desk playing with it.

Photo Courtesy of Katie Neff

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What’s Next? Catching Up in 2011

So, it’s the last year of one of the most momentous years of my life.  It’s been a completely crazy year, and I can’t believe everything that I got done.  Last spring, I won the first award for Catching Up and had my first reading at the DC Film Salon.  I completed a major rewrite of my feature script Pictures of Egypt.  I was the script supervisor for an amazing short called Man With a Bolex Movie Camera, and I worked in various capacities on industrial films in the DC area.

I also worked non-stop for several months as a member of the crew for Stage Fright, a ten episode web series that we wrote and shot in a single semester.  I co-wrote the final three episodes (with the wonderful Jason Fraley), as well as working as the production designer and script supervisor.

I started the summer with a bang by directing a short film, Extraction.  I turned 30, I took summer classes, I won the AU Filmmaking Grant, and I fundraised my heart out to try to get Catching Up made.  I was a finalist in DC Shorts, which I didn’t win but I didn’t let that stop me.

And of course, there’s that little thing where I directed Catching Up, shot on location in Southern Virginia on 16mm film stock.  That’s of course, my greatest accomplishment of this year.

So how in the world do you follow all of that up?  Well, I certainly have some pretty amazing plans in the new year.

-We have a new website for my production company, Nine Hour Films, in the works from Creastra.  It’s going to have a lot of great features, and this blog will finally be something that looks as pretty and works as well as I’ve always wanted it to.  It’s going to become the perfect hub to follow not just Catching Up, but all of my projects.

-I have already passed on the footage for the film to my editor, Banu Debre, and her assistant editor, Colin Foster.  The two of them predict that there will be not just a rough cut of the film in January, but also a trailer for you all to enjoy.

-There’s also the rest of post production!  Along with color correction, I’m going to start on a quest for music for the film.

-Of course, there is also festival submissions.  In January I’ll be working in more detail to build up a plan for submissions and screenings.

-I’m going to start the educational outreach portion of my plan for Catching Up.  The film, at it’s heart, is about more than just prison and I want it to make a difference.  I’ll start looking for organizations that might want to work us to spread it’s message and any other way that I can get it out to the world.

-Of course, we aren’t done with fundraising yet!  We still need several thousand more dollars to cover the cost of post-production and make sure the film looks and sounds as good as it possibly can.  You can find out more about donating here, and I really hope that you can help.  I’d like to start the New Year with this film in the black instead of the red!

There’s a lot of work left to do on this film, but we’re going to keep working as hard as we can to get it all done and done well.  I’ve got a new favorite quote that I’m using as my inspiration in the new year, from pro-gamer Greg Fields: “Hard work compensates for anything, and you can’t be good without working hard.”

So that’s what we’re going to do, and I can’t wait.

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Season of Thanks: Everyone

When I started the Season of Thanks, I honestly didn’t think I’d manage 31 posts of thank you’s.  Last week I realized that I was going to run out of days before I ran out of people to thank.  I combined quite a few but I still managed to run out of time.

So thank you to everyone.  Every person who donated any money to the film, every crew member who gave me their time and talent, every cast member, every friend, every loved one, every business, every stranger who listened to me talk about the story, every person who attended either of our readings, every reader of this blog, every fan on Facebook, every follower on Twitter.

All of you are the reason that this film exists, and the reason that it’s going to be so amazing.

There are a few people that I would still like to name specifically:

Cody Gallo, 2nd AD.

Katie Neff (pictured), our 2nd AC.

Annie Coburn, production manager and donor.

Nicole Neely played May.

Darren Van Dyke and Taylor Copenhaver played inmates.

Mike Holcomb lent us his car trailer for the night shoot.

Andrea Teague, my friend who always let me know when a new article had been published since I wasn’t in town to see them immediately.

Jeanne Bowerman (@jeannevb) read an early draft of the script and sent me notes.

Tac Tacelosky, a donor who also let us use his audition software during our DC auditions.

Donors Marcella Selbach, Tom Vaughn, Araven, and Jennifer Knight.

I know that I’m forgetting people.  Probably entire swaths of supporters and fans.  If you think of somebody I haven’t named, then by all means say something and I’ll add them to this list and the main page of special thanks.

But really, just generally and completely, thank you to everyone, for everything.

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Season of Thanks: American University

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m currently an MFA student at American University in Washington, D.C.  While I consider Catching Up to be a professional (if low budget) production, it also is serving as my thesis project for graduation.

AU doesn’t have the mainstream reputation that some other film schools might have, so I often am asked “What do you think of it?” when people find out I’m a student there.  The one thing I always have to say is that AU’s faculty, staff, and students are wonderfully collaborative and supportive.  I’ve largely felt that my professors wholeheartedly want me to succeed and make great films.  The department themselves have always worked with me on whatever I could need, and they have really come out in support of Catching Up.

American chose this project as their nominee for the Princess Grace Filmmaking Grant, and though we did not win it meant the world to me that they felt it was a strong contender.  We were also chosen to receive one of AU’s inaugural Filmmaking Grants, which still comprises over half of our raised funds.  We might still need more money to finish this film, and my donors were all wonderful and generous, but in the end without that grant I would have had to give up on this movie, or have made a vastly inferior project.

My crew largely consisted of fellow students who lent me their expertise and talents, and I am happy to say that as I continue to direct and I am able to hire crew members I will continue to look to them first.  I have the utmost respect for their abilities and if anybody is looking for good crew members, please just email me and I will send you a list of amazing people you should hire.

The biggest thing that AU has provided to me though is a huge wealth of knowledge and experience in the form of my professors.  In the two and a half years I have been there I have learned so much more than I ever would have thought possible.  These are teachers who were most concerned with helping me to be a better filmmaker on my own terms, and with my own voice, than just teaching me to follow some formula or to sound just like they do.

I want to specifically thank a few people:

Claudia Myers: I started at AU the same year that Professor Myers did, and my first class was her Writing for Visual Media course.  More than any other writing teacher I have ever had, she has forced my writing to change and grow.  She has made me really look at what I write, and why.  I have learned so much from her.  She also teaches Directing for Camera, which I still consider the single most informative class I have taken in all of my experiences in higher education.  It changed the fundamental way that I thought about the task of the director, and made me a better storyteller, a better leader, and a better communicator.

Professor Myers also serves as my thesis advisor, which means that for the last four months (when she had much better things to do, I promise) she has been walking with me through every step of this process to get Catching Up made.  She met with me to work on the five rewrites I did of the script, helped me do my break downs and pre-production planning, listened to me talk about casting for goodness knows how long, and generally has been the first person I go to whenever I need advice.

Garry Griffin is also on my committee, and served as an advisor to my cinematographer as well as myself.  Every fall, his Dramatic Production class fills up within minutes of the start of registration, and for good reason.  As my friend (and crew member) Colin put it, there is a sort of nebulous and artistic quality to everything that we do, and it’s very difficult to teach.  But Dramatic Production is the class that accomplishes that task best.  It’s a class that isn’t about production and just the mechanics and technical aspects of making a film.  It’s about story, about voice, and about the filmmaker as an artist.  One of Gary’s favorite things whenever you present him with a script or a pitch is to ask how you would make the same film as a silent.  This forces you to really concentrate on your visuals, on the action, and makes you stop using dialog as a crutch.  I went through this process with Catching Up, and it made the visuals a hundred times stronger.

Brigid Maher rounds out my committee, and is there to help me in the coming months as I approach the scary task of post-production.  I’m not going to lie, her advanced editing class nearly killed me.  While I am not editing Catching Up myself (that task goes to the wonderful and talented Banu Debre) I did learn so much about the post-production process that I had never known before.  Brigid’s insights as an editor are invaluable, and I’ve never sat down to a critique with her and not come away with a page of notes on how to make the project better no matter how complex or simple the actual film was.  What I’ve learned from her has made me not just a better writer, director, or script supervisor but just a better filmmaker.  I can’t wait to start meeting with her about cuts of Catching Up.

I also want to give a special thanks to members of the faculty who are not on my committee but have helped with the project in one way or another:

John Douglass is the head of our department, and has been a huge help getting the project off the ground.  Any time that I needed a piece of paperwork, a letter, or a signature he’s been able to get it to me ASAP.  He was instrumental in the process of most of our grant applications.

Larry Engel served as an informal advisor to members of our camera crew, and was always available for a quick question or an encouraging word.

Gilles Wheeler gave me probably the best combination pep talk/career advising session I have ever had in my life last Spring.  The things that he said inspired me as a writer but really had a huge impact on my ability as a director.  It is an absolute blessing to meet somebody in your life who is able to look at you and your work and give you a straightforward and honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses.  But to have that person also give you concrete and achievable advice for overcoming your weaknesses?  Even more amazing.

Jeff Heibein had the misfortune of being my Digital Imaging professor this semester.  I was only enrolled in two classes, Masters Thesis (which meant working on Catching Up) and Digital Imaging.  Obviously one of them was taking up the bulk of my time and energy, but Jeff was willing and able to help me juggle the time commitments of both.  He also is the sole reason that we have such an amazing teaser poster for the film, since it was completed as an assignment for that class and I used a lot of techniques that I learned from him to make it and his advice to make it even better.

Robert Johnson, a member of the faculty in the Justice, Law, and Society program, was the professor who actually prompted me to write this script in the first place.  It was for his class called “Crime, Media, and Culture” that I created Catching Up.  As a writer himself, Prof. Johnson encouraged us to make our final project a creative piece inspired by what we learned in the class.  Early on, when I mentioned growing up with my dad as a member of law enforcement and a guard he mentioned that he had read a lot of works from and about the inmates point of view but there weren’t as many pieces out there in the voice of the guards in our prison system.  Catching Up came from all of those things, and was directly inspired by a wonderful documentary he showed us called “How Do You Spell Murder.”  I encourage you to look it up.

Also, Geoff Turner at the SOC Equipment Room has always been a huge help.  I’m sure that I drive him absolutely crazy, but he’s never failed to come through when I needed him.

There are many, many other people at AU who have helped me over the last few years.  I’m afraid to start listing them because I know I’ll forget somebody unintentionally.  But please rest assured that I am grateful to all of my professors, and every member of the faculty and staff that have helped me out in any way.  From my advisor to my fellow students, everybody has been really great.  Thank you!

Photo courtesy of Jeannie Truesdell

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Season of Thanks: My Friends

When you have something that is as important to you as this film is to me, you start to really see how wonderful your friends really are.  I had so many people come through for me in a huge way, from donations, to working on set, to spreading the word about the film.

I would love to thank each and every person with an individual post, but wow am I out of days for this project.  So here’s a select few amazing people:

Cindi Weatherington: Cindi has been my best friend for sixteen years, so she’s had plenty of time to raise the bar when it comes to being the most awesome friend ever.  She’s always been one of my top supporters as a filmmaker, she’ll show up to any set I need her on to do any task I need (well, within reason), and I think she posted the link to my fundraising campaign more than I did.  She donated her time, her money, and her support in spades over the course of the last year.  She also was a great go-to person so that I could just say, “I need this…” and she’d help me figure out a way to get it.

James Dunson: I’ve known James since I first attended Technicon many years ago.  I first contacted him to help me out with securing walkie talkies for the crew, because I’d seen how difficult a set can be when you’re trying to work in a large area without reliable communication.  He not only showed up with the walkie talkies, but also went in and made a list for me of things I might need that he could provide.  He came in with a van load of supplies, many of which we ended up employing before the end of the shoot.  Throughout the day on the shoot, I would mention a particular issue I was trying to work out for the next day and he would start thinking of solutions, and in the case of the fog machine implementing the solutions in a phenomenal manner.  He also made sure that I ate, that my crew had enough hand warmers for our night shoot, and on and on.  I can’t even begin to list all the things that he did for us.

Daniel and Rebecca Gow: I’ve known the two of them for a few years now, when we met at a write-in for National Novel Writing Month.  They both supported the film not just financially, but also by helping me out with anything and everything I could have needed over the last few months.  On a personal level, they’ve worked hard to save my sanity on many occasions and listened to me gripe to no end.

Brian Weatherington, who loaned us his truck to serve as Suzanne’s broken down vehicle.

LeAnn Rogers, who helped orchestrate some of our food and has been a fantastic supporter.

Katy Colbourn and Jessica Musgrave, who helped promote the film through a partnership with their Etsy shop.

And of course, the friends who helped financially by donating to the project.  I am eternally grateful to all of you, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart:

Nicole Hutchison, Steph Waechter, Holly King, Jessica Lynch, Annie Coburn, Alasdair Wilkins, Gisele Feijo, Kelly Parker, Kristin Pitt, Stephen Ratliff, Daphne Lao, Antoinette Fisher, Jacob Richards, Heather Russell, and Matt Grubb.

Thanks again everyone.

Photo courtesy of Jeannie Truesdell

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Season of Thanks: The DC Film Community

I had a huge outpouring of support from people in Pulaski when it came to this project.  But I also found an amazing and supportive community of filmmakers in DC as well, and I cannot let this month pass by without thanking them.

First, of course, DC Shorts and festival director Jon Gann.  I highly recommend that you check out their competition.  First of all, their submission fees are pretty low compared to other fests that I’ve seen.  But the value that you get with that fee is enormous because every single submission gets to see their judges comments and gets feedback.  The feedback that I got was one of the first steps to my process of going from draft to shooting script.

As a finalist in their screenwriting competition, I also was able to work with a fantastic set of actors (including Dave Bobb, pictured, who read Martin).  Working with them during rehearsals also helped me bring the project into focus and understand my own goals better.  I have to say, you should do a live reading with professional actors before you finalize your script, it was one of the single best experiences for me to figure out what to change and what worked as it was.

I also was able to meet and spend time with Joe Flood, who has been a great person to get to know and who took that fantastic photo.  He recently posted an alumni update for all the scripts in the competition, and his twitter and blogs are all full of great information for filmmakers, photographers, and writers.

Of course, DC Shorts was not my only live reading.  In April the script was chosen to be read at the DC Film Salon by the DC Film Alliance.  I was able to work with some of my favorite actors in that reading as well, and since I didn’t have the blog then I’ll take a moment to recognize them:

Martin: Daniel Lyons

Tom: John Robert Keena

Suzanne: Katie Foster

May/Joy: Maya Jackson

Again, what the actors brought to the reading was invaluable.  I also was able to hear from members of the DC Film community about their reactions to the script, what they felt was working, and received some great suggestions for the rewrite.  It was a great experience, and you should definitely check out the DC Film Salon for the different great opportunities they provide.

The DC Shorts competition is held during ScriptDC weekend, which is largely sponsored by Women in Film and Video.  I attended ScriptDC last year as well, and I plan to make it an annual event.  It is a great conference, and I always learn so much from the wonderful speakers there.  On top of that, WiFV has been one of the best local resources I have ever come across.  Melissa Houghton, their director, has been fantastic and the members have really come through for me whenever I needed assistance getting this film together.  It’s a membership that is worth every penny and then some.

They aren’t specific to film, but I can’t forget to thank the National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts, who allowed us to use their space for our auditions.  Vanessa, my wonderful casting director, is an alum of their program and I have to say that some of the best actors I’ve seen in castings this year have come from there.  They are worth checking out.

During the various events that I attended this year, I met numerous people who helped in one way or another.  Even just by being a supportive voice and telling me they enjoyed the script.  Thank you to everyone who has helped spread the word, listened to me ramble, and been there for me this last year.  It’s meant the world to me, and my film is better for it.

Photo Courtesy of Joe Flood

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Season of Thanks: The G&E Crew

You can have a fantastic camera crew, a really amazing script, and the best cast you could possibly hope for, and if nobody can see an image on the film then there was no point in making the movie.

People talk about how film sets are a lot of “hurry up and wait.”  That’s true for some people, the cast, segments of the art department (depending on the day), etc.  Even the director gets some down time while everything is getting set up for the next shot.

But the people involved with setting up for that next shot don’t get to stop and wait.  There are two groups that don’t get to do a lot of standing around, the camera crew and the G&E crew.

G&E stands for “grip and electric” and they’re the guys that make sure everything is lit beautifully.  They’ve got a hard job, and it’s constant.  Usually when you’re shooting one location they’re at the next one setting up.  They’re always getting harassed to work faster and told to pick up the pace, when they’re already usually working faster than anybody else around.

My G&E crew worked miracles.  Drew Louis, our gaffer, did an amazing job.  Every frame looks gorgeous because of his skills.

He had help from an amazing crew:

Silvio Carillo, who also took some of the beautiful set photos we’ve been sharing with you.

Colin Foster, who suffered for his assistance with a broken toe AND has stepped up as our assistant editor.

Jeremiah Horan, who was always willing and able to help with whatever needed doing.  They all traveled long hours late at night to get to set, and went above and beyond what we needed.

We also had Matthew Pickett, who read about the shoot in the local paper and contacted me to come out and help.  It was great to have that extra set of hands and we really appreciated his assistance.

I owe all of them a huge debt of gratitude.  Just wait until you guys see the footage, you’ll see what I’m talking about.

Photo Courtesy of Katie Neff

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Season of Thanks: New River Valley Rent-All

There’s a moment in scene four that goes like this:

[Suzanne] finds the catch and raises the hood. Smoke boils outfrom the engine and she waves her hands in front of herface, coughing.

The sedan pulls up behind her. Tom gets out and walks towards her through the smoke.


Having a little trouble?


I don’t know if it’s obvious to you, but well, I’d written myself into a corner again.  I needed a smoking engine, preferably without blowing up somebody’s truck.  I had worked on a shoot last summer where they did a similar gag, and they used smoke grenades planted under the hood.  The only problem was, that started a small fire that burned some wiring on the truck, and while none of it was major damage I wasn’t really in the mood for it.  Especially considering it wasn’t my truck, or even a crew member’s truck.  It was loaned to the production by my best friend’s brother, Brian.  So we definitely wanted to take care of it.

Lucky for me, James Dunson had been helping out since pre-production and had been mulling over a few ideas.  We had thought that a fog machine would work best for us, but the fog machine we thought we had turned out to be missing (filmmaking is problem solving, just keep saying that).  So James spent most of Sunday calling around and trying to procure one.  As was expected, he wasn’t having a lot of luck.

At least until he tried calling New River Valley Rent-All, where Dan Leary just happened to be in on his day off while the store was closed, and he just happened to answer the phone.  Apparently he must just be one of the nicest people ever, he agreed to rent us a fog machine on a Sunday.  Let me just point out one more time: the store was closed, and he still hung around until James could pick up the fog machine.

And let me just tell you: it was so worth it.  I absolutely cannot wait to show you the shot we got out of it.  It never would have happened without Dan Leary picking up the phone when we needed it most.

Photo Courtesy of Daniel Lerch

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Season of Thanks: my family


I would not have half the good things in my life if my family wasn’t so wonderful. They came together for me in a big way when it came time to make this film.

My dad, of course, was the inspiration for the movie. I wrote it after spending an hour on the phone with him talking about his memories of working at the jail. He also gave me his  old badge when I had my first reading, and it has served as my good luck charm ever since.

My mom was the best set mom ever. In the week before we started shooting, she helped me get food together, organize what I needed, and basically was my go to person for anything and everything. She came to set on Friday when we were working at the jail, and she has been my biggest cheerleader.

My brother saved all of our car scenes on Saturday night by picking up the car trailer, and towing it behind his truck. It wasn’t an easy job, since he had to drive in circles at a specific speed towing a car with a camera and a crew member mounted on it. Plus the cab and truck bed full of crew members. Not to mention all the work that went into securing the car and the crew.

My sister helped my mom feed us, helped me organize and spread the word about the project. She also opened up her home and guest room for crew members both at the casting and during the shoot.

My in-laws came through at the last second by providing the car that we used for Tom’s car.

From helping me find props and wardrobe to feeding everybody, my family came through for me on every level and I am eternally grateful.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Photo courtesy of Jeannie Truesdell

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