Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Zone

"To make a fighter, you gotta strip 'em down to bare wood. You can't just tell them to forget everything they know, you gotta make them forget it in their bones. Make them so tired they only listen to you, only hear your voice, only do what you say and nothing else..."
- Morgan Freeman, Million Dollar Baby

I (the director) am the boxer, the film's the trainer.

It suddenly hit me this morning that I feel this way, and it's the way I have felt for all the other films I've directed. Once I start getting this close to the film shoot, I get tunnel vision and I forget everything else. The film is it. Everything I say, do, see or hear somehow loops back to the film, reminding me of it in some way. Making me think about it in a different way.

This morning I was shocked at how tired I was. In my fatigued state, as I was thinking about the film, the above quote came to mind. Then, I started thinking about why it came to mind.

I've been up late two nights in a row working on this film (well, late for an out-of-college guy like me) and it struck me that I am letting the film "train" me. I also realized that I think that's a good portion of what good directing is. I need to submit myself to the film's story and act out of the things I discover as I delve into the story, characters and themes. Directing isn't so much about being in charge as it is about being the champion of the film, the "fighter" for the story. The director is (or should be) the one who acquires the most intimate knowledge of the script, who relates to it the most personally, or is trained to operate within the fictional world of the script more than anyone else. He then takes this knowledge and relays it to his team.
This has proven to be good brain-fodder for me the past hour or so and is actually quite encouraging and challenging, too. It encourages me to keep on digging deeper and deeper into the characters, themes, story and world; rehearsing them over and over in my head until they become instinctual knowledge to me. Just like the fighter learns to fight instinctually.

Okay, I'm going to cut this post short because I don't want stretch the analogy too much!

Yay for external processing!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Gettin' down to it!

The shoot's only two weeks from this Friday! It's really coming down to it now and I can feel the stress mounting. So many things that have come together, but so many things that need to come together still, or get finished before this shoot happens. It's difficult to produce a film like this and, with so many practical things weighing on your mind, still be creative.

Judith Weston's books, "The Film Director's Intuition" has been helping a lot though. I do feel that, with a combination of my experience directing and some of my recent self-educating attempts, I am better prepared to direct a film than I ever have. This confidence has helped my script breakdown process and story boarding process to go faster than ever before, with better results. The saved time and anxiety on the directing end has helped me focus my attention on the producing end, when it needs to be there.

I say I'm a confident director now... but at the same time I can't truly say that. I don't believe any director should ever be totally confident. There should always be some measure of humility when approaching a film. You don't know what awesome moments may come up while you're shooting that have nothing to do with you, and you don't know what ideas you're coming up with that may be completely horrible ideas.

I'm excited that, after all these months, I haven't lost the vision I originally had for this film. My ideas haven't stayed the same, but instead of changing completely, my understanding of the characters and events of the story has only deepened. That's what excites me about this film. That's what makes me think this will be a short film that a lot of people will be able to relate to; even though it's set two thousand years ago and involves a mythical creature.

Anyway, I'm kind of rambling now... TWO WEEKS!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Break it down!

I'm Breaking down the script for Valley of Mist right now. It's a challenge! There are so many possible themes to be mined in this story and I want to make sure I focus on the right one, but still keep all the elements there that need to be there. I've been spending time every day this week reading the script over and over again trying to internalize the characters and discern what all is happening "beneath the surface" of this story.

This script break down is both easier and harder than break downs I've done in the past. Because I wrote it, I already have a pretty clear idea of how I see this movie tonally. I also have a good idea as to who the characters are, their backgrounds, their relationship to each other, etc. But, what I am finding to be more of a challenge is discerning their motivations, deep desires, and what it is in this movie that they're not saying to each other (the beneath the surface stuff). This is turning out to be a good exercise for me in that way. It's actually forcing me to look a little deeper into myself and why I wrote this script the way I did. And, somehow, as a consequence of that, I am beginning to let the story and the characters take on a life of their own, separate from me. So now the story is becoming something larger than just a cool idea I had in my head one day, but it is hopefully becoming something more transcendent.

I am doing all of this before I determine the visual style or storyboard the film, because the story, themes and character's relationship are going to strongly dictate how this film is shot.

We'll see! It's fun for me to externalize my thoughts like this. I'm an external processor so having a blog to let my stream of conscious flow onto from time to time is very helpful.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


I know it sounds cliche, but I honestly do feel overwhelmed by the amount of support I have received, so far, for Valley of Mist. In five days, I have raised $500! It's a staggering thought that people believe in you enough to put their money towards something you want to make. It feels good! And not in a "I'm so great" way, but in a challenging way. I now know that there are people out there who want to see this film and want to see me make it. That challenges me to do a great job! If anybody who is reading this blog has donated, THANK YOU.

I have now made contact with Richard Applegate phd. He spent years researching the Samala language and wrote the Samala dictionary (their first and only dictionary). He is probably the most knowledgeable person on earth when it comes to the native language of the Chumash people. I am very excited to possibly have him translating the lines with me.

On a slightly separate note I just finished reading "Making Movies" by Sidney Lumet. It's been challenging me to think a lot about movies, and mainly, trusting my intuition when it comes to scripts. I've also been watching a lot of Judith Weston interviews and am about to order her book "The Film Director's Intuition." She also talks about trusting your instincts and intuition when it comes to directing a scene, or deciding how it will be executed. I have been hanging on to that feeling, that vision, that first attracted me to Valley of Mist. I've been realizing that I've had a tendency to sacrifice my vision, what I intuitively feel is right, from the early stages of production on the altar of practicality. On set conditions aren't ideal to get a shot, I'm afraid of looking silly for being really excited about something, or I'm just too plain lazy to spend the mental energy it would take to translate that picture, that emotion, I had in my head to the screen. What I am trying to do with this film is trust my intuition. I've done it before and never been disappointed. I need to hang on to this movie I have inside my mind and not let go of it. Because I know if I can make the movie that way, it'll be great.

Now I need to throw in a disclaimer (as much as people hate them). I love collaboration. It makes films better. Part of my vision for this film is to push everyone involved to treat their specific job as their own artistic expression. Hopefully, this film will come through as a collaboration of artists, who all believe in something. Who all believe in this movie.

Okay, I'm rambling now. Just thought I'd give an update: the main one being, $500 so far! I'll repeat myself and say it really is overwhelming.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Goals for my new film

Well, I have finally jumped into production mode, full throttle, on a short film titled "Valley of Mist" (working title). The film follows the story of a Samala man and wife, 1500 years ago, as they journey through the mountains trying to make it into the Los Angeles Basin. They're lost, tired and scared, and to make matters worse, they quickly realize they are being pursued by a mysterious spirit.

My goals for this film are ambitious. I want to create a creature/spirit that looks really good. Scary, yet beautiful. I love fantasy, I love movie creatures, and most of all, I am fascinated by Native American culture. I want to portray the Native Americans in this movie in a unique, authentic way. Their relationship is the focal point of the entire film and I can't wait to explore the dynamics with the actors. I'm also really excited to get a chance to show a glimpse of what Native American culture was like back then. These people have been here for such a long time, and I think it's fascinating that there is so much history in this region that we know nothing about. So many people who have lived here, so long ago, who we'll never know anything about. I hope to, in some very small way, delve into that ancient world. Truly, I wish I could make a feature film to provide an even more immersive experience. But, at this time, there are limits to what I can do financially!

This is the link to my fundraising site:

I hope to raise $1000 for the film. It's not much, but I think it'll do the trick.

And finally, I'm really excited! I'm excited to be directing something again! Pray that all the needed funds come in, the locations work out, the costumes work out, basically that everything works out. Because, in pre-production, almost anything can go wrong, which is nerve wracking. But, I feel really good about the team I have assembled so far and I'm at the point where I'm confident we can do this!

Friday, May 7, 2010

What makes movies work?

Okay, this post is going to be very elementary at first, and then a bit abstract. But, it's something I have been thinking about lately, and I have always thought about a little bit. I want to write it down so that I can organize my thoughts. Feel free to leave a comment giving your input!

What makes movies work? Movies are composed of a bunch of shots, cut together to make a scene, and then a bunch of scenes, that skip over periods of time, and sometimes jump around in time, that make the movie. There's also music involved and usually sound effects that actually sound nothing like real life. So, why do they make so much sense to us as we watch them? Music is what I find most intriguing, so that's what I'll focus on most.

Why focus on music? Because it seems so unnatural! I mean, when we're walking and experiencing drama and excitement, we typically don't hear music burst forth from unknown origins, timed perfectly to our actions and emotional state(s). Yet, somehow, when we watch a movie, it makes so much sense.

I envision movies as memories. I think the way our minds remember things is one of the reasons why movies make sense to us. In our memories, we often times cut out the boring parts, exaggerate the exciting parts, and in the end, we link events, items and sounds together that seemed completely unrelated at the time.

Example: The day I proposed to Kerri. Well okay, a little bit further back than that. Throughout our entire relationship we loved listening to certain kinds of music together. Simon and Garfunkle (nicknamed "Simon and G-funk eventually) and Disney music to be precise. One of the songs that we always LOVED (in a "it's so cheesy it's great" way) is the old song from Bambi "Love is a Song." Look it up. You'll love it.
Fast forward again to the day I proposed. I'm nervous, she knows nothing, we're up in Idyllwild for a day trip and I'm planning on proposing later that evening as we look over the valley and watch the sunset. Right now, we're chillin' out in a coffee house listening to an old hippy couple play songs and they actually sing some good ol' Simon and G-funk! We're happy because, this music is special to us. Then, when they're done, I realize the time has come. This is it! I march her up the mountain side, plop down on one knee as the sun's setting, tell her I love her, ask her to marry me and BAM! We're engaged!
As we're driving back down the mountain, what starts playing on the mix cd I made? Love is a Song. I know this is shapin' up to be REALLY sappy here. But, I promise we didn't hold hands and look googley eyed at each other all the way through (I was driving!). Actually, we laughed at the song and sang to it in funny voices and then laughed and joked about how funny it would be if she walked down the aisle to that song.
Guess what song she walked down the aisle to?
Love is a Song.

So, there you go. A memory. Boring parts cut out (at least I hope so for your sake!), associations with music, everything. I mean, that's a movie scene right there pretty much. Picture a montage of us dating, getting engaged, and Kerri walking down the aisle all set to that song.

Any significant part of my life plays like a movie in my memory. When I came out to California to go to college. It was the first time I had ever been to California at all. I came out by myself, driving all the way from East Texas. I was excited, I felt independent and like my life was finally starting. When I look back, I remember listening to particular songs by the Supertones and Five Iron Frenzy as I drove. I don't remember the long, boring hours of the drive, I remember cruising down the interstate through the desert with my music blaring and having a great time! Then, in a flurry of awesomeness, arriving at Biola. Again, kinda like a movie scene.

I think our brains accept jump cuts, montages, music and other "unnatural" things in movies because that is how our memory usually ends up playing things back for us. I think it is why sometimes it is hard to articulate what makes the pacing of a scene good or bad. I also think this is something significant to think about because, in the past, breakthroughs in cinema (with editing, cinematography, etc) usually come through studying people and how they interact with movies. Memories are what I am currently considering.

To make me look smart, I end with a quote:

"He [the magician] gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion... The play is memory...
In memory everything seems to happen to music. That explains the fiddle in the wings."
- Tom, The Glass Menagerie



Wednesday, April 28, 2010

New movie!

Okay, it's been a long time since I've written anything. I feel obligated to the world wide interwebs to write something new.

I've had a few ideas (for blog posts).

I'm going to post about my new film, first.

I'm making a new film! I'll post more details on the film as I move further along in pre-production. Right now, I have a second draft of a screenplay, and my friend Brian's working on the third draft. It'll be a short one, only about five minutes long (tops). I am excited about this film because the goals of this film are really quite different than the goals of my last few films.

I naturally tend to gravitate towards seeing myself as an entertainer, when it comes to my films. In the past, I haven't really tried viewing what I am creating as a work of art. Mainly because in film school I saw a bunch of kids who were doing nothing but blatantly ripping off all of the latest "artistic" trends and calling it art. I got kind of fed up with their pretentious attitudes. My "entertainer" tendencies probably have a lot to do with this. Don't get me wrong, I think it's a good thing to always have the audience in mind. When you forget that you're making a film for an audience, it becomes totally inaccessible and means nothing to everybody in the world except you.

With that said, I am also beginning to recognize the value, as a filmmaker, in seeing myself as an artist in addition to an entertainer. When I focus too much on making things flashy and fun to watch (my crutch) my films begin to lack substance and, as a director, I breathe no life into the film. I don't give the film that extra heart it needs, that can only come from me, that would move it from being a pretty good film, to a great film.

So, that's my goal for my next movie. To truly put myself into it, express myself as an artist, and be more intentional than I ever have before. Kind of general sounding goals, I know, but for me they're just right.

As I said, I'll be posting more on the movie and what it's about in the months to come! Stay tuned!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

You worry about yourself, let me worry about Peter.

This phrase, or something like it, was fairly common in the Hellmuth household. Peter was my young brother and that phrase, often times, was directed right at me. And rightfully so. I was pretty obsessed with making sure he wasn't ever doing anything wrong and, more than that, just making sure he was doing things my way. The way I thought was best or, more often than that, simply not annoying to me.
In the past couple years I have found myself coming back to this idea of worrying about myself. I had never thought about it much after I hit high school. But, I began to realize, after graduating from college, just how difficult it is to keep myself in check. Just little ol' me. I'm not talking about usual day to day kinds of things like paying the bills, or holding down a job. That stuff comes relatively easy. What I find more difficult is living a moral life. It seems that the more bad habits I do away with, the more aware of more bad things in myself I become. And the more aware I am that it was never really me who got rid of those bad habits of mine, it was God giving me the strength to do it in ways I have never thought possible. I begin to realize that it is almost all I can do in my life, just to make sure that I am living a somewhat moral life. It's really hard!
Just a quick note. I don't want to sound legalistic here. I know that I'll never be perfect. And I know that my salvation does not hinge on my attempts at morality. But, it's still the goal that God wants us to aim for.
Why this thought of worrying about myself instead of others? I have been noticing an ugly tendency within the church for Christians to worry about others, when they should be worrying about themselves. Shoot, I fall into it all the time, so I write this with much hesitation and humility (hopefully!). I think this idea of working out our own "salvation," so to speak, is extremely relevant for Christians today. I think that this could mean it's time we stop trying to make all the non-Christians in America stop acting like Christians. It could mean that we forgive people who wrong us in some way more quickly. It could mean that we stop trying to figure out the moral problem with other people, our church, or our country and start trying to figure out the problems within our own hearts. When I start looking at all the areas of imperfection in my life, I find I just don't have time to think about how to solve the problems in other people's lives.

So that's it.

My extremely ironic post.

Do you get the irony in this? It's me telling other people not to worry about wrong things other people are doing when they should just be worrying about themselves. Thus... becoming the very thing I hate.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Here's a post that DOES matter!

Isn't she a peach?

That's what I couldn't stop thinking when I first saw her around Biola's campus. I noticed her long before I even knew her name. Of course, I did figure out her name in a not-stalker-like way at all by eves-dropping on conversations either involving or regarding her. I was tempted for a long time whenever I walked by her and she would smile and wave at my to just stop her real quick and say, "You know what? You've got a pretty face. The prettiest on campus I would venture to say!" I'm glad I didn't. I would have totally freaked her out.
Anyway, at the time we were just getting to know each other, I would have never guess that we would be married someday. It's bizarre to think about, but really cool! It being Valentine's Day and all, I want to spend this post just rambling a bit about my wife, Kerri (and that's exactly what this will be. Rambling. Don't expect it to be organized or thought out!). Dating and marrying her is easily the best thing I've ever done in my entire life. We just click so well. When we were dating, my roommates would always tell me it was freaky because I found the one girl in the world who is exactly like me. Now, we're not exactly alike, but I still think that we're pretty darn close! I remember one day, before we were dating, I was walking Kerri back to her dorm, and I made some joke about cannibalism. I quickly fell silent after I made the joke because of the sudden realization that she, being a girl, might find it gross! But, to my surprise and delight, she laughed just as hard as I wanted to laugh! It was at that time, that I knew she was a keeper.
Okay, so that's not the only thing that's great about Kerri. We have the same sense of humor, which is great. But, another thing I've always loved about her, is her sweet and tender spirit. She is good for me. She doesn't really know how wonderful and uncommonly kind she is. Oh yes. She's also humble! Another character trait I need to be around as much as I can manage (good thing I married her)! Everyone I know who has met her just loves her. When she used to work at Finley Holiday, where I worked, she quickly learned everybody's name and seemed to know everything about all of the employees, after about two weeks. She knew more than I had figured out in an entire year! She doesn't work there anymore. So, my source of knowledge at work has now disappeared. :(
The picture at the top is a picture taken right before we got engaged. Well, not RIGHT before, it was about thirty minutes before I popped the question. SO many thoughts were running through my head when I asked her to marry me. What will marriage be like? Does she want to get married right now? Will she say we should hold off a bit? Will I screw up my awesome proposal line (I didn't)? No doubts though. I've known just about since day one of dating Kerri that she was the one. Everything just fit so perfect. I was more nervous about driving down and asking her parents for their blessing than I was about asking Kerri to marry me. Notice, I said asking for her parent's blessing, not permission. I mean, no offense Tim and Shelley, but I was going to marry this girl no matter what anyone else said! Luckily, all of her family loves me. And I love them too, so there was a wonderful lack of drama about it all. Okay I'm off the subject! Being engaged to Kerri was great. It was like an explosion of love and ideas all of a sudden. We made a point while we were dating to save talking about marriage for when we were engaged. That way, when we were dating, we could just focus on getting to know each other really well. So, as soon as we got engaged, all of the things about marriage and our wedding that we were thinking just started shooting out of our ears! It was a blast! I will never forget our amazing two hour drive back to Biola after getting engaged and all the awesome ideas about marriage and our wedding that started to fly around. It was great!

The above picture is, of course, from our wedding day. I love her smile here! When she smiles like that, at me, it still takes my breath away. Our wedding day was great. Perfect really. Just the way we wanted it. But, it was only one day. We have the rest of our lives together, and that's the truly exciting and awesome part of it all. There are so many things I want her to know, that I try to tell her as often as I can. I love her. She's the most important thing to me here on this earth. I will take care of her as long as I'm alive. She gives me so much grace when I mess up and do something stupid, I pray that I will always extend the same grace to her. I'm glad that she's always so close so that I can tell her these things as much as I want!
Kerri, I know you'll read this. So, know that I love you and I hope that this is a fantastic Valentine's Day for you! You're my favorite!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

First post of all time!

I figure since it's the first year of a new decade... why not start off the decade with a blog? I can't say how often I'll post on this thing... how good they'll be, or if I'll give up blogging completely in a month, or after this first post. I've just been reading a lot of top ten lists recently so, you guessed it! A top ten of the decade list from yours truly (that's me) comin' right up! These movies are movies that came out in the last decade that dramatically changed the way I see filmmaking in some way or another. They're not, by any means the most influential/best films of the decade (who am I to say what those are anyway?). And they are in no particular order. But, I tend to think of things chronologically, so they'll mostly be in the order that I watched them.

10) Mystery Men (a movie I started quoting in high school and am still quoting)
9) Gladiator (the first film where I actually noticed the cinematography)
8) Gran Torino (this movie is definitely Clint Eastwood's strongest statement. Do I agree with all his statements? Not really. But, there are some really great messages and themes in here. Plus, it's just a really great film)
7) A Beautiful Mind (the plot of this movie just really pulled a number on me in high school)
6) Dancer in the Dark (this movie made me realize the power of story above anything else)
5) Unbreakable (the first Shyamalan film I ever saw. It's still my favorite)
4) Million Dollar Baby (such a simple and relaxed pace to the movie, yet it's so gripping. I had never seen a drama bring me in so completely)
3) Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (Lucas accomplished some VERY epic shots in this movie that I did not think could ever be pulled off. Say what you want, he did something no one had ever done before)
2) Up (made me realize how simple and elegant a story you can use to communicate profound messages)
1) Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (When I watched this for the first time, I was literally pushing myself against the back of my seat I was so tense. This movie moved me in a way no other film has before. Ever. I literally did not know a movie could be this good.)

With all that said, I'm not even sure if these are truly my top ten films of the decade. One or two films are bound to pop in my head that I'll probably wish were on this list instead of some of the films that are. In fact, I've already replace a film that used to be on this list.
So, there you go. William's top ten movies of 2000-2010! Probably one of the most trivial things I could think of to post for my first post (well okay, not THE most trivial). But, I think that it's good for my first post to be nice and light. That way I have fun and don't get burned out.... and I'm not burned out! And I did have fun!