Sunday, December 28, 2008

HDTV Blues

A quick break from my editing cave in Charleston has given me some serious down time back in Indianapolis. All I really cared to do this break was catch up on a few movies I'd bought but hadn't had the chance to watch. However, my hi-tech parents replaced almost every tv in the house with an HD one. Now in two or three years this would be great because hopefully by then tv will be broadcast exclusively in HD and you'll be able to watch any movie you want through a magical black box. But that's clearly not the case now because we only get about 15 HD channels and Comcast's (aka the corporate mega-devil) HD On Demand selection is awful.

The thing about HDTV now is that if you watch HD it looks great, but anything else looks WORSE than it would on a good old fashioned tv. Not to mention frame rates look funky, and aspect ratios (my biggest pet peeve) are commonly messed up even by networks. So even HD channels will be stretched or squeezed, and sometimes they even have the nerve to broadcast "HD" films in a 4:3 aspect ratio with the sides cropped out!

All I want to do is watch some movies in the best quality I can, and a good old fashioned dvd player plugged into any of our HDTVs makes these films look like shitty video. What a bad time for television.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Back From the Border

Last night I returned from what was probably my last trip filming at South of the Border. The trip was a really successful. I put a to-do list of what we needed on my last blog and here's the follow-up:

1. More billboard shots. Check.
2. Kitsch b-roll. Check.
3. Dillon b-roll. Check.
4. Suzanne 2nd interview. Check.
5. Interview with Al Schafer's son. Yeah right.
6. The final shot. EXTRA CHECK
7. Miscellaneous... well that's a story on its own.

I came up to Dillon early Wednesday morning, stopping many times on the way to pick up shots of billboards. When I approached Dillon, which is a few miles south of SOB, I went for a back-road joyride looking for a road that had some billboards on it. While driving I saw two guys hanging outside a house. Now this is rural South Carolina so you can probably imagine that this residential neighborhood resembled a mix of a used car, scrap metal, and flea market lot more than the suburbia most blog followers are used to.

So I stopped and chatted with these friendly strangers for a while. And by chatting I mean I received a short sermon about faith in the lord before they referred me to a man named Bill Coward. Ah the irony! The only local that would talk is named Coward!

So I took a trip up the road to a convenience store that Bill owned and got a solid interview about Dillon and a local perspective on Al Schafer. After the interview I asked Bill and a few others at the convenience store where I could find some old timers that would be able to tell me some myths and legends about Al Schafer. They told me to go to Hardee's around 6am. A few hours of shooting, watching tv in my motel, and sleeping later and I was off for a wild goose chase of a morning.

I arrived at Hardee's around 6:30am. There were only two old timers there. When I approached them, one told me I needed to go to SOB and talk with the owner. He wasn't that friendly about it either. I don't really blame him because from what I can tell its not all that hard for people in small towns to hold grudges against each other.

I left Hardee's and went to Bojangles where a few more old timers were having their morning coffee and breakfast. They said they didn't know much about Al Schafer and directed me to, of all places Hardee's. But they said to go around 8:30.

So I filled up my gas tank, put some air in my tires, and wasted about an hour and a half worth of time before going back. This time Hardee's was jam packed with senior citizens. It was like walking into an American Legion. I approached one of their tables and although these guys were much nicer than the 6am crew, they didn't know much about Schafer either. They told me to talk with a Mr. Wiggins at the Herald down the street.

So I drove to the Dillon Herald, the local newspaper with high hopes of speaking with an old fashioned newspaper writer. But the Herald my pals at Hardee's were talking about was the Herald office supply store, which happens to be right next door to the newspaper office.

Mr. Wiggins was not at the Herald and the people working there did not know his number. More likely, they didn't want to give out his number to a stranger. Dead end galore.

I went back to my motel, watched some tv and checked out. At the desk I asked the twenty-something clerk if she had any leads for me. Before telling me to see a Mr. Watts at a car dealership she divulged that SOB facilitated drug trade and that her aunt was Al Schafer's "unclaimed" child. However she would never say this on camera, and I doubt either bit of information is true.

Mr. Watts, like Mr. Wiggins, was not at his dealership. But his secretary Sharon was nice enough to make a couple of phone calls for me. One was to a local Judge, but nothing panned out.

Finally, Nasty Nate arrived at SOB. After an SOL morning, we went to Mexico Shop East in search of a Miss Evelyn. The woman who wrote her masters about SOB quoted Evelyn several times and informed us that she was Al Schafer's half-sister. However she had no formal means of correspondence with Evelyn, and only knew that she "hung out" at Mexico Shop East quite often. I'd stopped in the day before looking for her and the employee told me she'd be working the next day.

I stopped by Mexico Shop East a few hours before Nate came and they told me Evelyn would be back later. A quick cig after Nate pulled up and we walked in to find Evelyn who happened to be there. Evelyn is a sweet 85 year old lady, and she agreed to do the interview as long as her "lines" didn't show up on camera. And her interview... couldn't have been better. Almost all of the scenes about Al Schafer were lack more sources, and she hit the nail on the head with great stories from the mouth of a relative. She gave us a perfect testimonial about Schafer's character, which is exactly what we needed.

Walking out of the interview I felt extremely relieved. While capturing the footage last night Nate called and I told him exactly what I think: we've finally got a documentary on our hands.

So my morning of dead ends aside, the (hopefully) final trip to SOB has left us with everything we need to put this film together. That is except for an interview with Dr. Walter Edgar...

I have a full 3 days to edit, hardly anybody left to distract me in Charleston, and high spirits going into the cutting room.

Monday, December 15, 2008

SOB Update

After a brief hiatus from blogging, I'm back! Lets just say that I've once again been forced against my will to spend the better part of the last few weeks preparing for finals.

This winter break will mark the beginning of the most crucial stage of the South of the Border documentary. From here on out we'll be transitioning away from filming and focusing in on the editing process. Don't get me wrong, I've been doing a fair amount of editing here and there throughout the semester, but its finally time to put a draft of this sucker together.

However, before I hole up with my computer I'm going with Nasty Nate for what will hopefully be our final trip to SOB. Though most of our interviews are done, here's what we still need:

1. More b-roll of the awesome billboards SOB is known for.
2. More b-roll of the "kitsch" that SOB sells.
3. B-roll of Dillon, SC
4. A special interview that involves footage from the last doc made about SOB
5. Hopefully we'll get an interview with the founder's son, but if not it wouldn't be the worst case scenario.
6. The final shot, which will be filed under top secret until further notice.
7. And whatever else we might stumble across while there.

Other than that, Nate and I have been trying like hell to get in touch with Dr. Walter Edgar from USC. He's a big-shot South Carolina historian who wrote the founder's obituary. He also happens to have strong opinions about certain SOB folklore. Though interviews with other people might not be such a big deal, we more or less need Walter Edgar for this doc to succeed (at least in my opinion). Hell, if I have to I'll drive to Columbia everyday until he agrees.

Finally, part of SOB's story involves the outlawing of video poker in South Carolina. Religious groups and other anti-gambling organizations supposedly ran a fierce anti-video poker campaign before a state-wide referendum. There's no doubt that they ran commercials. I need to track these down ASAP.

The icing on the cake is that we're now planning on doing a premier at the 2009 Charleston International Film Festival. That is if they take us, but lets be honest South Carolina people LOVE things that have to do with South Carolina. Either way, the deadline for submissions is sometime in January. Now what exactly does that mean?

Well, Virginia Friedman, who runs the Center for the Documentary at CofC, and helped get us our grant let me borrow a book about film festivals. According to this book you can screen film a film as a "work in progress" or WIP. Filmmakers often do this so that they can hold multiple premiers because a screening as a WIP doesn't count as a legit premier. This makes sense because I saw a WIP film about Hunter S. Thompson a few years ago at the Full Frame Documentary Festival.

But here's the bottom line: I need to have a working draft cut together by the end of winter break. Its as simple as that.

And the whole work in progress screening may sound like a novel idea. But the last thing I need is to stick around Charleston to finish a film. So more realistically speaking, this doc needs to be done before next April or I'll probably lose my mind.

The good news is that we've come up with a list of all the scenes that are going to make the film. Even better news is that I've made rough cuts of about 3/4's of these scenes. The bad news is that the rest of the scenes need to be cut together, and everything needs to be tightened up. Finally, the news that walks the fine line is that the scenes need to be organized into a watchable film! This friends is the most important and thereby hardest part.

Though part of me is overwhelmed, the thought of finally seeing a draft of this long and drawn out project is all the motivation I need to get it done.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Closing Time in Indy

I just got back from my Thanksgiving trip to Indianapolis. Unfortunately I came to discover that two of my favorite places had closed down since my last trip home.

Missing Link Records was a large mostly vinyl music store that recently downgraded to a tiny building outside of the arts district that helped give its former location(s) some character. I'm a huge fan of vinyl and at one point Missing Link had a huge selection. The worst part is how I found out about its closing.

My friend Zach and I drove to the new location and saw a sign on the door that said the location would be closed "indefinitely". Somehow or another Key Cinemas entered the conversation and when I went home to look up movie times I read about how it had closed too. This theater would show the kind of the real independent cinema that has at best a small chance of making it into the bigger chains. Last year the opening of an "art" theater that also plays popular Hollywood films probably helped seal the deal.

On a brighter note, I found a few issues of Carmel Magazine while at home. Carmel is a suburb of Indianapolis that is apparently worthy of its own monthly magazine. I found two covers particularly funny and my next blog will be those covers with fun captions.