Next I tried my hand at directing. We at Mindbeside Studios had two films under our belt. The director for those moved on to do his own thing and we needed someone to step in. I volunteered since I wrote the script already and I had a clear vision of how I wanted this one to look. I had written a short story based in a shared campaign world that my brother had created and he told me that it would be cool to make into a short film. I instantly saw the possibilities and converted the story from a medieval pseudo-Japanese setting to a modern pseudo-Japanese setting set in Lowell Massachusetts. (It makes sense once you see it, kind of.)
We had made some connections with the independent film making community around Boston so we had access to talented people who had the same drive to create a cool Samurai based modern fantasy. I just finished reading a complete history of Japan when I wrote the script so I had all these ideas running through my head, but my main inspiration was the Lone Wolf and Cub manga by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima. I wanted to capture that feel in the characters; the stilted dialogue, the deliberate pacing, the subtle stare before an explosion of action.
We had a meeting to go over everything I envisioned and went to work. It was a huge undertaking that required months of planning and practice. I had notes and notes written down and a nearly full comic book of shot layouts. We scoured the land for locations and applied for filming permits and police details.
The main shooting took place all in one extended weekend. It was a whirlwind of sixteen hour days, four days in a row. All of us had to take time off work because at this creative crossroad, we weren’t messing around. I think we were stunned at our own success at having planned everything nearly down to the wire. The next few months were spent in post-production and planning out how, when, and where to show it.
The actor who played the lead in our film, Virtue: The Way of the Modern Samurai, had many connections with some of the indy film scene in Boston and got together a bunch of other short film makers who had recently made more action based films rather than the artsy dramas you usually see in film festivals. With our help he put together a program at the Somerville Theater and our film headlined. Some of the other films shown before ours were very good. One was so stylistic and well produced that I was a little intimidated until I realized that as good as it was, the story wasn’t that different from ours. Different setting, different characters, same idea; two warriors facing off at the end. It was a great time. We had a Q&A session at the end and everything.
My brother is a spectacular graphic artist so he put together a lovely DVD package that we could sell wherever possible. It even had a trailer for our feature film at the beginning, just like a real DVD you buy at the store.
Then, we got accepted to the Newport International Film Festival in Rhode Island. This was great news for us! A well known festival accepted our entry into their stable of local filmmakers. This was big time! Michael (a producer and musician responsible for the score, and best friend) and I were able to attend the festival. We were eager and very excited. Got there early and got the best seats we could. We sat through about 5 other films, some good, some meh, until finally, up on the screen “Mindbeside Studios Presents”, and the clink of piano keys on a dark screen. What!?!? We both looked at each other in horror. This was the wrong film!
Well, it actually wasn’t. The DVD we sent was playing the preview from The Killing Hand, our feature length film (see earlier blog). Nobody at the theater knew who we were but we both sunk into our seats in embarrassment. Then the preview ended and the options popped up on the screen to either: PLAY; EXTRAS; PHOTOS. Through a strange glitch in the DVD the invisible cursor sat on EXTRAS instead of PLAY, and whoever was operating the DVD player just hit go. So the extras we worked so hard to have as a bonus feature on the DVD started playing, a boring essay of Japanese History that correlates with the colors used in the film that nobody saw. (I wrote that history, and was proud of it, but it was NOT what we were there for.) The DVD person quickly took out our film and moved on to the next one. Michael and I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. We realized later that the people who run this famous festival didn’t even watch the film. They just took our entrance fee and stated we’re in. Either that, or they just didn’t care that our “film” was an advertisement for another film.
This was a rough lesson for us. But, we didn’t let it get us down. On to the next film…
If you’d like to see this film, go to @MichaelBLive on You Tube and click on the Films playlist.