[STILL] Post-Production is Complete!

Thanks to the hard work of my colleagues, I have finally been able to complete post-production on STILL. And this is wonderful because, while I am pleased with the final cut of the film, I am also¬†so sick of looking at it. I’m definitely ready for others to be the ones watching instead of me. ūüôā

Unfortunately, the whole thing is a little anticlimactic because I can’t post it for public consumption until we’ve completed the festival submission process, which probably won’t be for some time. ¬†But hey, I can show you guys this little poster!

STILL, a short film by elizabeth ditty

Right now, the film is on its way to several festivals. ¬†This is my first time submitting a film, so I’m sure there will be a big learning curve here as well. ¬†In any case, I’m excited to see what happens next.

Thanks again so much to my cast and crew.

  • Michael Burgess, the best human statue Kansas City has ever seen
  • Amy Elrod, my amazing and tireless director of photography
  • Kate Dittmann, my disgustingly talented art director
  • Meg Cloud, the most stunning statue bride
  • Ross Bruns, the next big thing in composing
  • Jon Arnold, my trusty, patient sound mixer
  • and my lovely supporting cast: Scott Burgess, Lisa Hood, Jillian Hood, Danny Burns, Ashley Burns and the People of Kansas City
  • (and a special thanks to T for encouraging/bugging me to get this thing done)

Obviously, this was a huge team effort, and I am so grateful to have so many talented people in my life.  Stay tuned for (hopefully) more news in the coming months!

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Life Has a Funny Way

After a fun and informative trip to the Austin Film Festival, I was returning with renewed motivation to get to work on STILL, a desire I’ve expressed sporadically for the past, oh, 15 months or so. ¬†I attended a number of panels on independent filmmaking, and I was excited to get back to my own, but I was admittedly a little unsure of the logistics, what with NaNoWriMo just around the corner and my ever-heavy freelance load. Not to mention that whole, preparing-for-a-baby thing.

But then I got a phone call at the airport. ¬†And it turns out I’ll have a¬†lot more free time on my hands for a while.

The downside of doing the bulk of your freelance work through one client is that, when they decide to hire two in-house writers and inform you they won’t be needing you to write those 30-4o blog posts a month anymore, you’re kind of SOL. ¬†I’m lucky since the freelance work was on top of my day job, and I’ll still have projects here and there, but I’m essentially looking at an extra one to three hours on my hands every single night.

Which is to say, if you have any copywriting, editing, proofreading, document formatting (including screenplays), ebook formatting or direct-sale navigable PDF creation needs, I’m for hire!

While I’m obviously disappointed not to be pulling in that steady cash, I’m actually pretty excited to have that time back to work on my own, horribly neglected projects. ¬†I took yesterday to catch up on everything you have to catch up on when you go out of town for 5 days, but tonight I hopped right back in.

A still from STILL, a short film by Elizabeth Ditty

Even after something like 14 hours of shooting, both my amazing trooper of a human statue, Mike Burgess, and my fabulously talented DP, Amy Elrod, were still pulling off gorgeous shots like this.

I can’t quite say I’m finished with the rough cut because I’ve got to do some tweaking and rewriting of the voiceover, but I do have every single image that’s going into the film in the film (sans credits). ¬†And that’s been a¬†long time coming. ¬†We’re getting there, slowly but surely, and now the biggest remaining task is to find someone to do the voiceover.

Like this guy (the one on the left).

Neil Gaiman marrying his own human statue, Amanda Palmer

Consider this the beginning of my campaign to convince Neil Gaiman, who has his own love affair with a certain human statue, to voice my short film. (Image courtesy of Amanda Palmer, credited to Kyle Cassidy.)

In all seriousness, while I’d obviously love that to happen since I’ve always heard Mr. Gaiman’s voice in my head when envisioning the final film, I know he’s obviously a super busy guy, so I’ll be pursuing more traditional channels in the meantime.

So, all this to say, sometimes life has a funny way of redefining your priorities when you’re having trouble finding a way to do it yourself. ¬†When that happens, remember it’s OK to have yourself a bit of a cry (even in a totally awkward place like in line to board a plane) and that sometimes there are forces at work that simply know better than we do. Mourn, then move on to the adventures ahead.

Existential Crises and Pregnancy-Induced Mania

Can I be honest with you? ¬†After completely zeroing out on all the contests this year (the first time that’s EVER happened since I started this whole screenwriting pursuit), I was ready to totally give up on writing. ¬†I had excuses. ¬†I have a full-time day job. ¬†I spend another 10-15 hours a week (sometimes more) on freelance work. ¬†And there’s that little item about getting ready to have a kiddo in 5 months. ¬†It would have been easy to justify giving up on writing for myself and my own dreams.

Except when it is your dream, what you feel put here to do, you just can’t. ¬†Not without sacrificing a part of who you are.

And so after a good eight hours of teary-eyed existential crisis and a good talking down by my boyfriend, I started thinking about what to do next. I definitely wasn’t ready to start anything new. ¬†I knew I could reach out to a few people for notes and thoughts on scripts I’d already written. ¬†And I knew I could focus some energy on finishing my short film that’s been in post-production for something terribly embarrassing like a year and half now.

And then LEON stumbled into my life by way of a link to an open writing assignment for Amazon Studios. ¬†I’ve historically had mixed feelings (like much of the screenwriting community) about Amazon Studios’ spec opportunities, but the terms of the OWA looked inviting, and it was a relief to be able to focus on a story that didn’t come directly from my own heart and soul. ¬†And I figured, if nothing comes of it, it’s good practice in writing a treatment and learning how to respond to OWAs, in case I ever¬†do make it anywhere in the industry.

Ditty Writes a Treatment

An actual scene from Ditty Writes a Treatment. Because writing treatments (just like screenplays) includes taking breaks to take instagram photos of your coffee and iPad and notebook. (And if you’re wondering, that is a Venti Decaf Nonfat Half-Pumpkin Spice, Half-Sugar-Free-Cinnamon Dolce Latte, which I’ve earned the privilege of ordering without enduring massive barista hate by ordering plain coffee for something like 700 days out of the past two years. Pay your dues, folks. Pay your dues.)

I’ve never been a fan of treatments for my own specs. ¬†It always seemed like my time would be better spent outlining and then actually writing the thing. ¬†But I did enjoy the process of creating a narrative version of my take on the script, and I think it’s a nice way to work out a story you don’t really know too well yet, as well as a story you’re not quite sure how to fix at first glance. ¬†So now that’s submitted, and I’m back to staring at my own projects.

So, here are my goals for now through the arrival of the stork.

NaNoWriMo in November. – It’ll be Year 8 for me, which is ridiculous, and also makes me feel like I can’t quit now despite everything going on. Besides, the No. 1 rule of NaNo is there’s always someone busier than you. ¬†Plus I’ve got a story up my sleeve I’ve always thought would make an excellent screenplay (in fact, I’m baffled it’s not been done before), so it’s a good chance to do a super thorough treatment version of that.

Finish post-production on STILL. – If I don’t finish this thing before the baby is born, then I just don’t know, guys. Post-production is hard. I’m really not a fan of it. But it’s kind of a necessary evil if you actually want to show people your film, which I do. ¬†I’m hoping the Independent Filmmaker Track at the Austin Film Festival will both give me some inspiration as well as some practical tactics on how to make this process go more smoothly in the future. ¬†(Tip No. 1: If you don’t like doing post-production, maybe recruit someone who actually does.)

Choose a script to write whilst on maternity leave. – Now, this may seem kind of nuts, and it may¬†be kind of nuts, but I’m going to have 8 to 9 more hours in the day than I’m used to having. If even three-quarters of that is taken up by the kiddo, then I’m still coming out ahead. ¬†I know folks who have done it and more, so I’m going to do what I can. ¬†(Alternate goal: Plan and shoot another short film, which I think is the crazier option of the two.)

And that’s it. Not so bad. Leaves plenty of time for the pregnancy-induced mania* that’s starting to hit. I’m not going to admit how much time I spent on Pinterest today. But I also spent a couple of hours on a screenwriting project today, and I’m going to call that a triumph, my friends.

*I am not a bird and thus refuse to call it “nesting.” Come on, people.

[STILL] Post-Production Begins

First things first, at about 11:30 p.m., which was approximately 15 and a half hours into our shoot, we somehow managed to come up with a name to replace the sort-of-awful THE HUMAN STATUE.¬† So, from here on out, I’ll be referring to this little creative endeavor as STILL, which we thought was pretty clever since it’s a series of stills, and it’s about a human statue who must remain, you know, still.¬† That was the logic when we were all about to drop, but I think it holds up now, too.

As for where things are now, a couple of weeks ago I finished sorting through all the images from our shoot, doing a broad “edit” of the shots I thought I might want to use for the film. We ended up with close to 1200 images, and I sorted them into scene- and content-related categories.

I got the proofs for about half the scenes yesterday, so this morning I set to narrowing them down the shots that will actually go into the film along with the order.

Here’s that process:

  • Write image number corresponding to file names on backs of photos.
  • Lay all photos face up.
  • Freak out a little because you have no idea where to begin.
  • Remember you have storyboards; get them.
  • Remember you have a shooting script; get that, too.
  • Use storyboards and script to pick and order photos into what will someday be a scene.
  • Flip photos over & write down the numbers so you know which ones to use later.
  • Celebrate!
  • Remember there are still many scenes more to go.
  • Sigh.
  • Get back to work. (Or write a blog post instead.)

So that’s how the next couple weeks of my life will go.

Despite the still-long road ahead, it is pretty exciting to see it starting to come together into something that might someday resemble a film.

[STILL] With a Little Help From My Friends

As I enter into production weekend, I’m reminded how lucky I am to have the support system I do.¬† Having to use little effort to convince someone to stand around in silver paint all day not moving.¬† Having an incredibly amazing photographer jump at the request to lend her talents (for free) to my creative endeavor.¬† Coercing my family into lending me time and resources.¬† Having a friend offer up her wedding dress for her own costume (and also being willing to stand around in paint all day).¬† And then there are the folks on the sidelines, encouraging and rooting for me, and writing me e-mails like this one (shared with permission):

Hey Ditty,

I wanted to wish you good luck for your shoot tomorrow. I don’t know if that in itself is bad luck, or if ‚Äúbreak a leg‚ÄĚ only counts for acting and not directing. But whatever, I’m not going to suggest you break your legs, even under the guise of superstition. And anyway, you don’t need luck. Luck is for people who don’t know what they’re doing.

I’m sure you’re having sleepless nights and grumble-belly days thinking about all the things that could go wrong. Oh, that pesky Universe! But here’s the thing. I have no doubt that you’ve planned and scribbled and sketched, and have everything under control, so most likely, almost definitely, everything is going to run smooth as you like, but, let’s not pretend moments don’t sometimes happen. Outside forces you can’t control, or forgetting to carry the 1 in your formula of greatness; sometimes, occasionally, something will go a little outside of the plan. And when it does, there’ll be that crazy beat of panic where you feel like you’ve just swallowed the whole sky.

But say that does happen, you know what? You’ll make it work. Smart, creative people always do. And you’re one of the smartest, most creative people I know. I mean, when do artistic things ever really totally fall apart? Almost never, right? Talented, creative people use those moments, like a frog on a pond getting a leaf blown into his face ‚Äď just cling on to the leaf and steer it home. You still get where you were headed, it’s just, sometimes you have to take an unexpected detour down a road that’s strewn with only happy accidents. It might be hairy at the time, but if making art is easy, you’re doing it wrong.

I hope that hasn’t put ideas in your head about things going wrong. I sought only to highlight these things to prove how powerless they are to those with the skills to weld them like weapons. And anyway, it’s all going to go great. So, sleep soundly tonight, knowing that you’re Elizabeth Fucking Ditty, and that tomorrow, you’re going to tip some of that magic that lives inside your head out into the world, and that’s all there is to it.

And instead of good luck, I’m going to say ‚Äď have fun. Among all the stress, rush and panic, try to find moments of enjoyment. Revel in the situation you find yourself in ‚Äď a situation of your making. Art out of nothing. A situation, people, moments; all out of nothing, because you dreamed it up, and because you made it happen.

And hurry up and get it on Youtube so I can watch it.

–Stuart

In the midst of what is admittedly a bit of a rough season of life (I guess they must come around from time to time), I really can’t properly say how grateful I am for the encouragement and support of all kinds.

To my family & friends helping out this weekend, THANK YOU.

To the people (like Danny Stack, who’s just debuted the final episode of his fun little webseries, Liquid Lunch) who have taken on these sorts of creative challenges and are so generous in sharing what they’ve learned along the way, THANK YOU.

To my friends (like Matt, who writes fiction as well as insightful, humorous and sometimes infuriating things about movies, and Stuart, who writes books and blog posts and various other dark and amusing things) who are always supporting my creative fancies, THANK YOU.

You all are awesome.  Really.

[STILL] Waders, Wedding Dresses & Ditty Freaking Out (aka, Gearing Up for a Short Film)

I’m about two and a half weeks out from my next venture into short filmmaking, which means my brain will be shooting near constant levels of stress hormones into my body until about 5 a.m. on Sunday, June 26th.

I’m still working on casting, and at the end of the week I’m sending out the big invite to get as many people to show up for an as huge-as-possible crowd sequence on Saturday afternoon.¬† This is perhaps the most stress-inducing bit, as it’s the most important shot of the entire film, and it will not work if I only have six people.

So, if you’re going to be in Kansas City on Saturday, June 25th, mark off your afternoon and come help a girl out, will you?¬† I will even let you in on a little secret: THERE WILL BE COOKIES and COLD DRINKS.

On Wednesday I’m heading out to the JC Nichols Fountain with my director of photography so we can scout out the location and figure out the logistics for the shoot. I have a feeling we’re going to need to get her a pair of those big boots people wear for fishing in streams.

Filmmaking is so glamorous. See?

I’m also the reason for this:

Because I am the sort of friend who asks people to wear heavy clothes and thick make-up and stand very still in the heat of Kansas City’s late June. (It was 102¬ļF here yesterday, if that’s any indication as to the sacrifice.)¬† I don’t know what that says about me, but I know what it says about my friends: they’re fantastic and slightly masochistic people.

So, for the next two and¬† half weeks, here’s my to-do list:

  • Convince one more person to don hot clothes & make-up to play the Groom to Meg’s Gorgeous & Starving Bride.
  • Convince at least several dozens of folks to trade their Saturday afternoon on June 25th to for a cookie & me shouting at them (but in a kindly way!) through a bullhorn (if I can procure one) or cupped hands (if I cannot).
  • Find costumes for the all-important Human Statue and for the almost-as-important Groom.
  • Figure out how to do Human Statue make-up, in both silver and white.
  • Teach someone how to do Human Statue make-up, in both silver and white.
  • Have him or her do a make-up trial of Human Statue make-up, in both silver and white.
  • Procure whatever we need for the logistics of the shoot (e.g., waders and a ladder).
  • Secure craft services for the folks who will be there for long portions of the day.
  • Finish casting the smaller, non-human-statue parts.
  • Draft and then finalize (as much as one can finalize) a shooting script and schedule.
  • Avoid complete nervous breakdown until 5 a.m. Sunday, June 26th.

The worst part of that list is I know I’m forgetting probably half of what needs done. Wish me luck and sanity. (And if you’d like to help out, leave me a comment or shoot me an e-mail at izzi dot ditty at gmail dot com. There may even be extra cookies available. And hugs. Just FYI.)