THE IDEA FACTORY- Make A Mini-Movie!
By Bob Ketchum

Because Advanstar Press ceased publication of Newtekniques Magazine recently, all links to the original articles are down. Due to the number of requests for the content of my Idea Factory and Hear Ye! Hear Ye! columns, and in the interest of making the information in these articles available to the public, I have posted them here through my site. I am told that the original html docs and image files are being released soon. When I get them I will add the extra text and images and the columns will LIVE AGAIN!.

Idea Factory
Subject: Make A Mini-Movie!
AUG 2000
By Bob Ketchum

"I'm ready for my close up, Mr. DeMille……."

Just about the time I figure I've extinguished all the ways I can earn a buck with my trusty Toaster Flyer, something new and weird comes along. When this latest job presented itself, I could not help but smile at the thought of sharing it with you readers. But where to begin?

I guess it all started about a month ago with a phone call from a lifelong resident of this area who I had attended school with many years ago. They had a concept to produce a "movie" using family members for the cast and a popular theme with their own "family slant". The movie was only intended for family as a project designed to just have some fun. The only thing was, they had no idea how to go about this past the writing stage. I set up an appointment with them and they came out to the studio with what they had at the moment.

It turns out that…… we will call her "Ms. DeMille" and her husband ("Mr. DeMille") were taking this project on and had been trying to get all the family members involved for quite some time. "Ms. DeMille" had spent (believe it or not) the better part of a year developing the script, which was….. are you ready for this?………… "The Wizard Of Oz".


Now, first of all, this is a large family who have always been close and had done many fun projects together in the past. Nothing quite as complex as this, you understand……. But when other family members talked more and more with Ms. DeMille about her project, they actually got excited about it and agreed to make the trek back to the Ozarks and to even act out their parts (in costume). In my humble opinion, that in itself would have been quite a task. Nevertheless, Ms. DeMille (who had whittled her husband down on this over the previous year) made all the costumes and developed all the set ideas for the various areas we would be shooting at, mostly around their home and some nearby scenic backdrops. She had even arranged to "borrow" the local shopping Mall and build an elaborate set for MunchinkinLand and the final scenes for their epic.

After reviewing her script I instructed her to go home and develop a simple shooting script with scenes color coded for locations, characters in the scene, and whether on-location music playback would be needed. I also discussed several scenes which would require special effects (the twister scene for instance) or that we would just have to do without or even adapt to our shooting situation. As previously stated, these people had a idea what they wanted but no idea about how to get there or what it would take to accomplish it. They owned a camcorder and that's about it. Just enough knowledge to get into DEEEEEEEP trouble in a hurry.

Initially, I think they just came to visit to bounce ideas off me and get some concept about how to go about this more than even hiring me to do something for them. And because we were friends I stepped cautiously into the water. But after a 90 minute discussion and after hearing my input they had decided that if they could afford it the best decision would be to enlist my help on the project. My problem was that I knew they didn't have a budget for this sort of thing, and I also knew if they tried to do this all themselves it would most probably become a nightmare for them, especially when it came time to edit. But at the same time I was not quite comfortable with charging them a "token fee" for my services and then spending five production days shooting and editing it.

After carefully going through the scenes and discussing how we would shoot it, and then taking the time to talk about how music would be integrated into the program, including some live performance and "lip synching" by the (non) actors…… I began to get a better picture of what it might take to pull this off. I knew I would be using several methods of capturing the dialog (wireless mics, shotgun pole, etc.) so I would need a couple of assistants. My wife Jane took on the continuity chores, as well as script girl and slate marker. And I enlisted the aid of a buddy who had some audio/video experience and who would also have the right attitude to help put these people at ease when it came time to place them in front of a camera.

Now, just a word about copyrights here. Since this was "work for hire" for me to produce this video for my clients, and since it was solely for family use with no provisions or intentions of distribution or broadcast, I felt we were pretty much out of the woods concerning copyrights. Therefore I liberally "borrowed" the soundtrack from the original MGM movie. Also, I didn't dwell on legalities of copping the Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, Scarecrow and other prominent characters or costumes. My client had furnished all these elements, including the music tracks (from CD) so I do not see where we could be held liable for anything except perhaps some amateur acting, lame sets, and a certain lack of continuity in the story line. I suppose if MGM were to see a copy of this video and present us with a statement of accounts payable I would have to pay them for making four private VHS copies of the movie. Go ahead and sue me. Just think of the great publicity we'd get!

There were a few ideas I brought to the table, such as reinserting a scene with snow in it as they could not figure out how to make it snow. I simply told them I would add it later (thanks to NewTek's "SNOW OVERLAY" effect) and they were thrilled. Another big concern was the Twister scene. They couldn't come up with anything and had just about decided to scrap the scene. BOB TO THE RESCUE! We wound up using three leaf blowers and six people with handfuls of leaves (and a lot of camera shaking). In the scene where Dorothy gets conked on the head with a window screen, we simply rigged it with fishing wire and then when Dorothy falls onto the bed I just had her lay there while rolling video. Later in post production I used Lightwave and WaveMaker's "Mysterious" LW scene to create a nice animated transition during the tornado. The WaveMaker script creates a nice blue smoke tunnel. I took a still frame from the end of the scene where Dorothy falls unconscious on the bed and inserted it directly in front of the LW camera position. Then I rotated the frame while making it appear to be sucked down the "funnel". I added a flying cow (complete w/"mooooo's" sound effect) and debris swirling about, and a couple of light flashes for "enhancements". After adding some tornado and wind sound effects, the transition was complete.

I used the Toaster's TBC to make the intro and outro in glorious black and white. I even added a 2% strobe to give an old movie feel. I also added the "Old Movie Overlay" effect for good measure. For Glenda the Good Witch's appearance I simply locked down the camcorder, shot the scene with just the Munchkins in it, brought in the Glenda actress and used one of the Flare effects to swish her in. Luckily I still have a couple of smoke machines left over from my 70's touring days, so I had plenty of smoke for the Wicked Witch scenes. The "DeMilles" were just blown away! I also suggested some easy cutaway shots to make posting go more smoothly. It was these little things and extra touches that helped ease the pain on the wallet when it came time for a financial reckoning with the DeMilles.

Why did this project turn out so well? The costumes were convincing. The sets were well thought out. The locations were colorful and visually exciting to look at. The amateur actors really got into their parts and had fun with the family. And they were able to have fun because the Producers chose to hire a professional to assist, thus giving them a break from the more mundane production chores and freeing them up to enjoy the moment more. Yes, my services DID cost them more than they were initially prepared to spend, but when it was all said and done they came to me and told me in no uncertain terms they felt the expense was well worth it. For the record, I did one half-day shoot and one other day shooting 4 hours in the morning and then another 4 hours that night. I spent probably a day digitizing footage, running the special effect sequences and animations and adding titles, sound effects, music soundtracks, and CG work It took about four hours of editing on the next day to produce a finished master. Total time in working hours was in the neighborhood of 30 production hours. I charged my clients $1500 for the package and paid my assistant out of my money. Obviously, this is much less than my standard charges. However, I liked the spirit these people had and one of the perks of owning your own company is you can do whatever you like when you choose to. I knew these people were not so well off they could just blow off $1500+ on a "whim" and yet they committed to doing just that for the sake of some family quality time and to have something "special" to pull out years from now and amaze their friends and grandchildren. I applaud them and am proud to have helped "Ms. DeMille" achieve her dream. At the same time I made some decent money and paid a few bills…. Not to mention I have expanded my portfolio in an entirely new direction: FILM-MAKING!!!

(Well, sorta'……)

Bob Ketchum, the Clowned Prince of Audio, could become the "Weird Al" of Moviedom

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