Monday, August 24, 2015

A Late Summer Break

August 24 2015 by Tom Wilton:

Anybody who swings by this blog once in a while will notice I've been MIA for a month or so. Basically, I'm swamped.

Between traveling, producing duties and screenplay gigs, there hasn't been the time to spend on the site, so things have gotten a little quiet around here. Basically, I should have taken the summer off to get everything done. I didn't, so now I'm going to take a month or two out to play catch up on all the things I need to do.

This also gives me a chance to figure out just what to program (and whether that's a must right now - I'm not sure it is). Also, there's so much I want to write about, talking about film and this ever-changing scene. And I've got 4 feature scripts to wrap up, so having an original thought outside of that is a little taxing.

I also have a great interview to still post (different slant to what I've discussed before), plus some guest posts on the way also, so yeah, there's all that.

However, whilst I'm gone for the summer embers, check this out. It came to me as a recommendation last week, actually. And it served as the perfect antidote long hours hacking away at the to-do list, worrying that there'd never be enough time.

Till I'm back with more, enjoy the last of the good weather.

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Friday, July 10, 2015

Friday, July 3, 2015

Now Screening: Buccanearly

July 3 2015 by Tom Wilton:

If you grew up in the UK, chances are you experienced at least one cloudy summer's day on the beach with your family.

From building castles and digging trenches to scooting down amongst the pebbles to find seashells, it's almost a childhood rite of passage.

Buccanearly from directors Jack Lowson and Ryd Cook is a simple look at a day on the beach for one family, with an added dose of swordfights and searching for buried treasure.

Typically unremarkable in its style, it's as free and loose as the kids playing at being pirates. The handheld camera grabs snatches of shots, as the dialogue swifts over and amongst itself. Buccanearly would almost feel completely improvised, if it weren't for the assured hand of Cook and his frequent collaborator, Dave Clark serving as co-writer again.

What really makes the film standout though is it's use of stop motion animation (Lowson's contribution), which opens and closes the film. The effect is well placed, allowing the short movie to punctuate the value of the human imagination at play, all while allowing us to sit back, reminisce and smile.

You can catch Buccanearly now on Cinema Zero or after the fact on YouTube

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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Now Screening: Looking for Kathleen

June 28 2015 by Tom Wilton:

Recently, I wrote a small four-part web-series for Maria McIndoo to direct. Maria and I have been making films together for a couple of years now, but this time, we wanted to do something different.

Looking for Kathleen is a simple drama that follows Amy (Fiona Graham) as she searches out her birth mother.

Starring alongside Fiona are Tina Alexis Allen (Bushwick) as Ella and Steve Carrieri (Random Acts of Violence) as Amy’s husband, Nick. Richard Gallagher of Orange Is The New Black rounds out the cast playing the role of Kevin.

Featuring Looking for Kathleen on Cinema Zero is a first step toward showcasing more web-based series, and exploring the cracking open of this still nascent storytelling format.

You can catch the short episodes for a short time screening here on Cinema Zero, or after the fact on YouTube.

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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Malady with Jack James

May 31 2015 by Tom Wilton

Jack James is an interesting filmmaker in the fact that he's almost an accidental one. Initially a fine artist, he turned to creating videos and animations based around his work, before eventually creating his debut feature Malady.

On the leap to directing, James says much of the inspiration came from working with fellow filmmaker, Kemal Yildrim"He kind of saw something in me at the beginning I guess," said James. "He said 'You just need to make your own film.'"

Find out more about Jack James' journey in our conversation for the Cinema Zero Podcast, and follow jack on Twitter via @Jackohblivion, as well as finding out more about the film on Facebook, Twitter and its site,

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Thursday, May 28, 2015

I Have a Monster in My Chest and its Name is Ego

May 28 2015 by Tom Wilton:

I have a monster in my chest and its name is Ego.

Maybe you know what I mean because you, dear filmmaker, have a monster of your own also.

It’s that pulsing feeling inside your rib cage, releasing all that determination into your muscles, giving you the courage and strength to go out there and do superhuman things in the world of cinema.

You know what I mean, right? When you come off a long, difficult-to-set-up film shoot, dazed and confused by the sunlight. And though you’re exhausted, you feel bulletproof, like you just did something that so few people ever actually achieve. You directed a film.

I’ve been there several times. 5 features, countless shorts. And all thanks to my monster called Ego.

But now it’s time to step away, at least for a little bit, because for all the learning that being a micro-budget film director has given me, I know it’s only half the story. I need to get better at not only raising budgets, but also how to properly work with them. Fees. Agents. Insurance. Schedules. Rewrites. Rentals. Meetings. Lots and lots of meetings. Sure, I’ve got experience of all of these things, but can I really do it at scale? Can I hold my own with the heavyweights?

It’s time for me to find out and to put my Ego in a box. For the next two years, I intend to work primarily as a writer and producer, assisting other directors to make their movies a reality.

The reasons are varied of course, but I guess mostly, it’s because I already know how to make movies for nothing. And whilst shooting three films in a year makes great copy (and you learn a ton), it doesn’t necessarily catapult you into the The Big Leagues™. In fact, it’s kind of the opposite. I got an offer or two to shoot more films of course, just as long as the budget was in the 4 digit range. And that’s fine - I’ll certainly continue making no-budget films down the line, but I’d rather they were financed by me. After all, when there’s no salary, you do it for the love, not for somebody else to try and get a breakout hit for no investment.

And that’s the other truth about making no-budget movies, almost nobody ever sees them. That’s a hard break for anybody to deal with (and of course, a dent to the Ego). Yeah, yeah, I know there are film festivals (which I’ve fallen in love with all over again), but I’m talking about a life post-festival. Most small movies just aren’t heard from again. Yes, they will land somewhere (VOD, small theatrical, YouTube), but without the marketing dollars, a micro-budget indie is a paper boat on a blustery ocean.

Of course, when it comes to advertising movies, the incentive to spend is primarily around who is in the film, because familiarity sells. The economics of selling a film really do go: stars, genre, quality - in that order. If your top down list is: great actor (though not well known), talky-drama, really, really good - it still doesn’t matter. Not in the wider market. And that always hurts the Ego.

Again, I love making small stories with not-yet-stars. I’ll keep doing that forever. But right now, if I ever want to stand a chance at graduating that universe, I have to spend some time swimming in the other half of the industry - making films where people get paid.

So here I am - a writer and producer on several upcoming projects. I don’t want to oversell this here, we’re not talking Michael Bay-budgets, but rather small indies where they can at least afford some craft services.

I’m coming in as a writer first and foremost a lot of these projects, as really, money doesn’t denote anything, at least on a first draft. Personally, I always write as if it were to be made for no money (so no big explosions or wildly ambitious locations), and I always keep the cast small. Beyond the producibility element (you can always go bigger if the budget allows), it’s really about giving actors something to do. Again, the economics come into play; names sell movies, and most actors are after something challenging. Even if I feel that these projects are big because the financials are exponentially larger than anything else I’ve worked on, for Hollywood A-listers, these numbers are chickenfeed. So less characters means more screen time, and (hopefully) more a complex persona for Hollywoodlander to explore. At least, that’s the theory.

Still, writing is not my only run here, I’m also a producer on much of this slate. Again, I’ve been producing my own work for years because, well, when you’re broke, you have to. And so coming from a background of problem-solving without money means I’m bringing a different experience to others. That’s not to say it’s better of course, as oftentimes, the cheap way isn’t necessarily better or even the right way to do things. Sometimes you have to spend money. Lots of it, it seems.

Indeed, there have been times where I’ve swallowed uncomfortably as we’ve signed off on for equipment quotes bigger than whole budgets for my own films. You realize that when there’s money on a film, people just assume there’ll always be more coming from someplace else, and so it gets spent fast. The trial for me has been when to let that happen and when to press on the brakes a little. It’s definitely a curve.

And so it is. I’m learning as much as I’m contributing. I’m filling up the Rolodex with fancy names as much I’m challenging talent. It feels good. But I’m not the boss. And honestly, sometimes that’s hard. There are times as a seasoned director that you want to call the shots, but you don’t. You mustn’t. This was true on Elsewhere, NY (writer, producer, budget under $500), and indeed, even Communion (associate producer, budget around $15,000). Even though I’ve been a producer on small films, I’ve never let the Ego dictate the action. That’s not what you’re there for. You’re there to learn from the director, the actors, the crew. You’re there to facilitate all these people in doing their job, and to spend the small amount of money you do have as wisely as possible.

And now here I am, helping to spend slightly more money, but the same rules apply. Facilitate, don’t dominate. Keep that Ego locked down. Learn how to say yes to the things you had doubts on, but also staunchly defend against decisions you know are just plain terrible.

I’m not sure that even a year ago, I would have been happy to put down the proverbial director’s megaphone in order to work for others. My own Ego needed to be the director. And I served it well for a long time happily, charging forward, shooting movies, attending festivals and then tuning into the radio silence on the other side.

It’s a rough run for a micro-budget filmmaker, that’s for sure. But, for me at least, I recognized that, in order to graduate, I needed to lean on that skillset all those years of experience had given me. And I have to commit to it. If I want to do this right, I need to be a writer-producer-gun-for-hire for a little while. I need the new learning, the new relationships and a place to challenge myself all over again. 

So if you’re like me, on the endless hamster wheel of no-budget write, produce, direct, straight then onto the next one, might I suggest you take a beat also? Not forever of course, just long enough to put that skillset into somebody else’s work. Sure, you might not get the spotlight, but you’ll at least be building relationships with those that you wouldn’t otherwise find in your own universe.

There’s a monster in my chest called Ego. It’s served me well, but it’s time for it to step out the way a while, just so I can try and get better at this business we call film.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Now Screening: Like

May 27 2015 by Tom Wilton:

The internet can be a wicked place. That might not be the most the most revelatory statement you've ever read, but it doesn't make it any less true. Online, bad people fester.

This is the central conceit of Like, the latest short from Swedish filmmaking collective, Crazy Pictures.

Taking the very current themes of internet trolling in all it's nasty forms (misogyny, racism), the story follows Morgan as he launches a spite-fuelled attack against popular blogger, Millan. Of course, this is the internet, and soon, not only is she standing firm, but so are all of her followers, igniting an epic flamewar.

Like is not necessarily easy viewing. The language is as coarse as an old rusty saw and the amplitude of the aggression can certainly make you want to turn away from the screen. However, it's the smarts of the filmmakers themselves that makes sure these blows land properly - supplanting the characters in the offline world, but keeping their online behaviors. It makes for compelling viewing, and indeed, allows us to realize just how unreasonable any of us can be when trying to fight for somebody else's honor. It's a smart device that never becomes a gimmick.

Life played at Tribeca Film Festival in NYC just last month, and yet here it is already, on YouTube, with a ripe comments section immediately below, ready and fertile for spikes, barbs and personal attacks. Or not of course. For the message here is that we have a choice on not just how we treat each other online, but also in how we respond to those who troll us. And it's a good message to put out into the world, especially with the ugliness of #gamergate still in the media's rearview mirror.

You can catch Like now on Cinema Zero now, or after the fact on the Crazy Pictures YouTube channel.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Sound on Film: 5 Resources for Royalty Free Music

April 22 2015 by Tom Wilton:  

You know how it is, you need music for your film, but you don’t know anyone who can create it on your budget, or you simply don't have a budget.

Of course, you could just take a risk and use something without getting the rights, but that’s a crazy, and totally unethical. So don't. 
However, if you are broke, the awesome power (and creativity) of the internet is on your side. 

These days, thanks to the wide adoption of Creative Commons and free-thinking artists, there are a lot of great places to find all kinds of great music across a whole array of genres, but knowing which are the best places to look can be a real headache.

So, with this in mind, I've curated a short list of 5 great sites for finding free music that you can use for your films.

Free Music Archive (FMA) -

The Free Music Archive is literally just that - a very large repository of songs and musical scores, free to download and use.
The site covers a wide range of genres and subgenres, with everything from blues to EDM, shoegaze rock to spoken word available for you to sample and download.

Navigating the site is simple enough and you can easily search for tracks based on tempo, mood and BPM, thanks to their considered filtering system. You can even search for tracks that fit the license you need, ensuring that you're not inadvertanly breaking any copyright laws.

Good curation is also a big part of the FMA experience - something that is sorely missing from some of the other sites on this list. Just having suggested playlists available from the landing page is a huge bonus for sure.

Previewing tracks can be a little cumbersome as songs often take a moment or two to load, and once they’re playing, there’s no way of skipping ahead or rewinding. Ideally, a dedicated player with a waveform would make the whole process leaner (especially if you only need a small segment of a track). Still, as with any music library, patience is key, especially in a repository this well stocked.

Tracks are easily downloaded as MP3s, which might bother the more discerning audiophile, but they seem to have been compressed at a pretty good bitrate which I find more than suitable for my own projects.

The FMA works on the Creative Commons licensing model, so if you’re going to download a lot of tracks from the site, it is absolutely worth noting the name and title clearly so you can sure you're giving correct attribution. The filenames can get a little muggy, especially with lesser-known artists, so save yourself the embarrassment of mixing up artist and song names by noting them down as you download.

You can check out the FMA here, and they have a pretty expansive FAQ if you need to dive deeper.

Moby Gratis -

If you were of an age in 1999, chances are you probably had a copy of Moby’s Play on CD, or would have seen Christina Ricci in the video for Natural Blueswhich was on pretty heavy rotation at the turn of the millenium. 

Quite simply, Moby's music was everywhere: on the radio, TV commercials and in the movies. He just seemed to have a sound that permeated media. Thankfully though, he didn't forget those creatives working on smaller budgets. 

Moby Gratis started a number of years ago as an outlet for filmmakers to download his songs and use it in their work.

The site includes a whole raft of tracks from his career, with many well-known songs sitting right alongside unique remixes, demos and unreleased tracks. It's a real treasure trove of his most film-friendly work. 

Of course, this is library of one artist - not several, but many of the available tracks do feature guests vocalists and differing styles. As you sample the catalog, you'll find there’s a surprising range of tempos, moods and styles to be had, and sifting through it all is pretty easy - including the option to search by instrument. The site also has the best player I've found on (based on Soundcloud's play bar), which definitely makes things a lot easier.

Unlike the other sites here, getting a license to use a track is not immediate.  When you find the song you want to use, you have to request a license for it, explaing how it will be used. This process can take up to 24 hours before you're able to download anything, and you apply on a track-by-track basis. 

It's also worth noting that there are two licenses available - a commercial and noncommercial agreement - so you’ll need to be upfront with what you’ll be doing with the film once it's completed. If you're planning on pulling any revenue from it, you'll need a commercial license (the proceeds of which go to the Humane Society)

If, however, you don't think you'll be making any money on it (at least not in the immediete future), a non-commercial license will suffice. This will allow you the right to screen your movie at film festivals and even upload it to web for folks to enjoy. Of course, the moment you begin to make any money from it (including ad revenues), you will need to replace your license for a commercial one. 

Bear in mind that if you do you upload your film to Vimeo or YouTube, it’ll probably trigger their automatic copyright robots, warning you of potential violations. Usually, you can file against these types of notices in a few clicks, clarifying that you do indeed have a license, and hopefully resolving all issues quickly enough. Just be sure to keep a copy of your licenses on hand for just such scenarios.

Bensound -

The work of a French musician who simply goes by the nom de plume Bensound, this is a surprisingly rich catalog of tracks with a decent sample across a handful of genres.

Though there are less tracks on Bensound than other sites, this is to the benefit of the user, as it makes navigating the site a breeze.

From cinematic to jazz, the available songs are of a high standard and quickly kick to life via the basic player. Though a bigger player/waveform combination would be useful here, the interface is never impeded upon, and hopping from track to track is fast, never leading you out of the page.

As with FMA, Bensound uses Creative Commons licensing, meaning you absolutely have to attribute the tracks you use. Also listed in the site's FAQs - no remixing allowed - so bear that in mind, especially if somebody else is doing your sound mix and is tempted to get creative.

Downloads come as an MP3 and a higher quality WAV file (which is a bonus), along with a copy of the license. If you are looking to use a lot of the tracks on offer, Bensound does have some restrictions on just how many tracks can be used commercialy. However, the site does offer a subscription package (details can be found within the help section), and promises there are even more songs available behind that paywall, so the choice is yours.

Open Music Archive (OMA) -

There’s no way other way of saying this, but the Open Music Archive is not the most attractive website out there.

Of course, when it comes to music, the looks really shouldn't matter  - it’s the size of the repository that counts. And in this instance, they’re definitely sitting pretty.

The OMA is a project started by artists Eileen Simpson and Ben White who have made it their mission to source and digitize out-of-copyright tracks, giving them a new (creative) life in the internet age.

Pretty much all of the tracks on offer lean toward old recordings (think 1920s), and therefore have that unmistakable analog crackle and hiss. This is absolutely music from a pre-autotune era. If that's the kind of music you need, you can't go wrong here. But if it's the latest hot sounds you're after, this is not the place to hang out. And you'll probably find yourself hanging out for a while, because the navigating the place is far from user-friendly.

The search option is a little misleading (most searches return zero information), and even downloading tracks is not as obvious as it should be. In fact, the best way to browse the library is via the tags (which are mercifully laid out on the home page), but again, it's hit and miss. Instead, accept that you'll be clicking around for a while and just let that be a joy as an old-time tune warms to life.

It is also worth noting that, when it comes to copyright, the rules vary wildly country-by-country. So whilst these songs are old, it's not guaranteed that the copyright has passed in your corner of the world. If you find a track you like, do your due diligence and see whether it's rights free where you are. (Wikipedia has a good country-by-country overview here.)

Opsound -

Much like the Free Music Archive, Opsound is all about inviting musicians to upload and distribute their music free under Creative Commons licensing. 

As site, it's one of the easiest to figure out, as it makes great use of whitespace in it’s stripped back style. However, searching for music is not as easy as FMA or, and even previewing a few tracks fast denigrates into a click-heavy process.

Still, there is a lot to love, especially if you make use of the sidebar menus for navigation. Click through on genres or artists, and you get an exhaustive spill-down menu of names and styles to sample. When you find something you like, there even are links through to the artist’s website and contact details also, allowing you to reach out in person (if you so choose), allowing you to tell them how great they are.

The repository is certainly well stocked, and as an alternative resource to the FMA, it’s well-built, but the lack of a search function for the site really does put it on the wrong side of awkward. Hopefuly that'll improve over time, and they're even teasing a radio tab (offline at the time or writing), so it's clear that there's still work being done in the lab.

Round Up

Finding great music for your film is certainly a process of patience and waiting for inspiration. However, as long as you're happy to sift through the various sites (and their idiosyncracies), the rewards can be found.

One last caveat; as in any other situation where you’re using the creative output of others, be absolutely certain that you have the correct license for your use case. It could be that you get a non-commercial license upfront, but sell the film at a later date. In this instance, you would need to either get a new license that allows you to use the music commercially, or strip it out entirely and find something new. Either way, keep copies of your the licenses granted (I store mine in Google Drive for easy reference), and be sure to check them over in advance of any scheduled public screening or sale.

Have something to add? Drop it in the comments below.

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