Media Production Mentoring

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Short Film: Cyclical

This is a very personal project for me, exploring the cycles I experience of doing well and then falling back into self-destructive activities. The solution, I find, is not to try harder -- as if that has ever worked! -- instead, I must give up my personal ideal of saving myself. I cannot. And this project proved that again and again.

Behind the Scenes

I will not reiterate here what I cover in the BTS video above (there's far too much content). Watch it and enjoy. This post will delve into additional thoughts and comments.

Cyclical was blessed by the tremendous number of talented and funny people who participated. We laughed so much while making this movie. Probably the funniest moment was when we were getting the "leafleting" scene. My initial idea was to have one guy reluctantly take a flyer and the next flat-out refuse with his hand up. Then Megan asked if she could follow him. The result was hilarious! Megan admitted the idea was based on her own fear that people handing out propaganda would chase her down. Perfect. The full clip is fantastic, but I cut it up for pacing reasons. Here's the reaction of the four actors who have just seen the clip:


During another take, Megan was eating a pop tart and started eating the crumbs off her lap. She stopped when she realized she was doing it on camera. I told her it was perfect and hilarious. Because it was.


In many ways, these moments of levity made up for the private meltdowns and emotional freak-outs I had while stressing between shoots. This project was overwhelmingly heavy and difficult. Things kept falling apart and even when they were not, I was.

For years I've felt that I hate production, the act of being on set. There is so much pressure to get stuff done and get it right! But this film revealed that the issue is more pointed than that for me. Being on set can be fun -- like when we laughed and took fun pictures; it's the stuff I can't control that freaks me out, almost as much as relying on my technical abilities to use a camera (something I have much improved in over the last few years). There weren't any real technical difficulties with this shoot. The problems were all scheduling/availability issues or questions of if something would actually work. I did not count the number of times I was on the floor or my bed a puddle of raving lunacy. My poor wife.

I've got a lot of growing up to do.

The generosity of people never ceases to amaze me. Zero-budget filmmaking is cool because it forces us to use the resources available to us. But that doesn't mean we can't get cool stuff or great locations. We started out shooting at the park down my street (the same giant park where we shot Applejack) and just wandered through a neighborhood with apartments. Friends and family let me shoot in their houses, apartments and backyards. One friend let us into her art studio early on a Saturday morning so we could have access to restrooms while shooting in the parking lot out front:


I feel the most gratitude for the business locations that let me film in them. My family eats at Little Basil all the time. I've had their Chicken Pad Thai at least 200 times. It's that good. I think they let me shoot after their peak time -- 8:30pm -- because of our longstanding relationship. Headed West stepped up and let me film after my first location bailed on me; one employee was concerned that my film was cannabis related, as they are not a dispensary. It worked out and we got the few shots we needed. Thank you!

Initially, my plan for the beggar scene was to go downtown late at night and hope nobody bothered us (vagabonds or law enforcement). My wife suggested we go someplace closer. That's when I remembered the off-the-beaten-path storefronts in a shopping center 20 minutes from my house. It was perfect! We rehearsed the scene a few times just in case we only got one take before someone came along and kicked us out. Thankfully, no one interrupted us and we were able to attempt the complex single-take as many times as we needed. That ended up being my favorite shot of the film:


By the by, the establishing shot of the clock tower had a ton of shake in it because I grabbed it as an afterthought and didn't bring my tripod. I don't have any fancy image stabilization software, so I uploaded the clip to YouTube and used the Editor as a quick (and free) way to remove the wobble. It worked remarkably well!

One of the issues we encountered in a big way while shooting in "live" environments (places where we had no control over what others did) was the ridiculous amount of background noise. This was particularly bad at the park where a train for kids loops through and a water park bell clangs constantly from the hill. This is one of the many aspects of zero-budget video production that really hurts the overall production value. On the other hand, we happened to get one of our shots with the train, so that was cool. And having a bunch of people milling about the park gave it some nice depth.

The Train Whistle Ruins Another Take

The changing scene was originally set in a giant closet. But I couldn't procure one of those. Instead, I got into an incredible bathroom. Even with all the space (including a jacuzzi-style tub), my long lens struggled to get both girls in the frame. I purchased a new lens after the fact so I won't run into that again. The bathroom opened into a very large bedroom but, again, I didn't have space to get a feeling for the room. To compensate and communicate, I let the bedposts frame the shot. It was the best I could do with what we had (especially since we only had a few minutes before we needed to move to the next location). Out of necessity, I also ignored the fact that it was so bright out and the scene was set around 10pm. No one cares. No one noticed.


We were fast losing light when we shot in Izzy's apartment. The clip where Rex shows up and demands a drinking buddy was thus going to be a single shot. We took it a couple times and moved on. But when I sat down to edit, I liked moments from two different takes. So the next time I had Izzy over, I grabbed a similar bathrobe and snapped the cutaway. It worked.

(Root) Beer

As we approached the fight scene between the girls, they were convinced they couldn't do it without laughing. Their plan, then, was to fight silently, mouthing words but nothing more. This actually worked out really well and is an excellent example of how what is said doesn't matter. Words would cheapen the experience.

I don't have enough distance from this video as of writing this post to know how successful it is as a short film. I'm still too close to the writing and technical aspects to be able to see it as a movie. It's still just the pieces all put together. I'm happy with it, but like everything, I felt like I just had to stop and release it. You can tweak forever, so you have to just publish at some point. And now is that point.

As I mentioned in the Behind the Scenes video, I plan to release this film as an editing course. That is going to take a long time to put together, but keep and eye out. It's coming...

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

P.S. See more short films by Luke Holzmann here: