Master of ‘Indie TV’: Joe Wilson and his VMob funders

Joe Wilson is mastering the online realm of Indie TV where serialized stories don’t have to end, audience members become producers by donating funds, and the creator of a star-studded series shares dog photos and talks directly to viewers all over the globe through social media.

When he was in his early 20s, after attending art school to study photojournalism, Joe took jobs as a server and bartender in hotel restaurants. Some of his customers happened to be Mafia members and, although Joe didn’t know it at the time, they would later serve as character references for the web series he is working on now.

Joe experimented with various careers including video installations, acting, screenwriting, stand up comedy, and eventually moved from Boston to Los Angeles. He learned to make short films for the web, and won the Best Short Under Five Minutes award at the L.A. Comedy Shorts Film Festival in 2008 for writing and directing ‘The Swear Police’. In the meantime, he earned his living as a private investigator. It was while undercover on the job one day that he had the idea of combining the resilient genre of mob movies with the flourishing prevalence of vampires. ‘Vampire Mob’ was conceived.

Joe originally planned to make ‘Vampire Mob’ a short film, but upon mining his profuse creativity (and personal knowledge of the mob) he realized there was enough material for an online series. ‘Vampire Mob’ is now the story of a hit man who conveniently combines his night work with his new life as a vampire. His wife, in-laws, colleagues and neighbors make up the cast of characters.

Joe takes responsibility for all aspects of production, but says the biggest challenge is finding an audience in the crowded online marketplace. “Technically it's just a tremendous amount of work and I knew going in that shooting two to three cameras to speed up coverage, to make things look more expensive, was going to be more work in post. But as the storyteller, once you tell the story you've got to find somebody to actually listen to the thing.”

His solution is to dedicate substantial time to conversing with viewers and other filmmakers through Twitter, and sharing clips, blooper reels, photos and thoughts on his blog. “I think the advantage of being one guy is when people talk to me on Twitter they know they're talking to the person who made the show. In most cases that isn't available … And it's worldwide. I talk to people all over the world every single day who've sort of become friends because you know, they see the show.”

The appeal of making a web series is in having complete creative freedom, and not having a defined end to the story - like he would with a feature film. He is also uninhibited by executives or broadcasters dictating the style or content of the episodes. He says, “I do rewrites. I do table reads. So it's not like I think I'm some crazy genius who bangs out one draft and shoots it. But when you're working for a company that needs to make a profit, they need people who think it’s their job to make things that are going to make a profit.” The feedback he seeks from colleagues is solely aimed at telling the best story possible.

Joe filmed the first six-episodes in 2010, acting as producer, writer, director, camera operator, and full post-production department. He used a pair of old standard definition Sony camcorders, and gathered locations and crew from his network of neighbors, fellow comedians and artists.

The accomplished group of ‘Vampire Mob’ performers has collective credits including ‘The Simpsons’, ‘The Bob Newhart Show’, ‘The Sopranos’, and ‘Twin Peaks’. Most recently, Tony-award winning actress Rae Allen joined the cast. “It's just ridiculous the amount of talent that I get to work with on this project,” Joe says. “And everybody is in it just because they like the project; they're all having fun. And that's why I do this. There's no drama on my sets, we're all there to have a good time. Why wouldn't we be? Nobody is making any money. Just go have fun and tell a good story.“

With passionate audience response from wide-ranging viewers, and more story ideas brewing, Joe knew he would need a bigger budget and better equipment for the second season. He got active on Twitter, added PayPal buttons to the show’s website, established a dedicated fan-site, and managed to raise over $10,000 in donations from fans, whom he affectionately calls The VMob. Contributions to the show earn ‘Supporting Producer’ status in the credits.

Joe studied filmmaking blogs and talked with friends to discover the Canon 5D and 7D DSLR cameras. He recognized they would be affordable, nimble, and would probably work with his collection of Canon lenses. He also invested in a Zoom H4n audio recorder for good quality sound, which led him to the PluralEyes plug-in, which proved to be essential for audio synchronization.

Now completing season two using the new DSLRs, Joe directs and shoots along with other camera operators, and still uses gear that any resourceful person could rummage up. “The monitors we have are on-camera monitors. Everything is hand held; there's no tripod in the room. It's all lit with China balls or Home Depot lights, there’s no lighting kit. I either use two 5Ds and a 7D, or two 7Ds and a 5D, all three with a 24-70mm Canon L series [lens] on it because it's sort of the proximity we need.”

After backing up all footage fourfold, Joe employs PluralEyes to sync each camera’s footage separately to the master audio track before beginning his edit in Final Cut Pro.

Season one of ‘Vampire Mob’ is complete and online. Season two is being released serially as episodes are completed. Joe will continue making the show as long as he’s got the resources to do so, and the creative juices keep flowing.

The investment of his highly lauded cast members, and the growing VMob is a reflection of how generously Joe shares his enthusiasm for this project. His blog is full of behind-the-scene anecdotes and personal greetings from Joe and the crew.

“I'm hoping the audience will come and support the show, will share the show, and we'll be able to make something that can continue. Right now we're like a really tiny band that people think makes good songs, but not a lot of people have heard those songs. So it's really just trying to get the word out and let people know, ‘Hey, there's a show for adults out there that's funny, that's got really good acting.’”

Vampire Mob, now in Season 2. If you like your comedy with murder, we highly recommend it.

Writer Sara McIntyre is a Communications Consultant and Filmmaker who calls Vancouver, BC 'home'.


John Jeffcoat turns to hybrid filmmaking for ‘Big In Japan’

John Jeffcoat’s feature film debut as a director was about as successful as an emerging filmmaker from Seattle could ask for. 'Outsourced', which had been shot in India on 35mm film, toured international film festivals, collected awards, and then attracted the attention of NBC who picked up the concept and turned it into a primetime network TV series.

In the wake of this success, John wanted to get back into production on a smaller scale project that would let him get his hands dirty. He recalls, “People started talking about these little DSLRs that were producing amazing images and that kind of intrigued me. I wanted to find a project I could play around with them on.”

'Outsourced' film trailer, directed by John Jeffcoat

He got his chance with $5 Cover: Seattle, a docudrama web series for MTV about thirteen Seattle bands performing and touring over one weekend. As director and camera-operator for all of the 'Amplified Docs' band documentaries, John led a very small crew shooting on the Canon 5D DSLR, capturing audio with a Zoom H4n audio recorder, and editing on his Mac laptop using Final Cut Pro.

John researched the workflow for DSLRs and came across the PluralEyes plug-in that would help synchronize his separately recorded audio and video files. “I used to work as an audio engineer, and I used to do location sound mixing, and a lot of syncing audio - and it always seemed to me there should be some way we could read audio wave forms and make things sync up easily. And when I saw it [PluralEyes] I was like ‘my God, why didn't this come out 10 years ago?’ It would've been so amazing. I edit as well, so when I found it, it was like this thing I'd been searching for for a decade.”
‘Amplified Docs’ Tea Cozies – MTV $5 Cover:Seattle
directed by John Jeffcoat

John is now working on his next feature film, 'Big in Japan', which tells the story of a Seattle rock band that goes to Tokyo for one last shot at international fame. The project is a hybrid of scripted and documentary material and has been financed to date through Kickstarter.

This online funding platform for creative projects allows filmmakers to set up a project profile with video clips, photos and progress reports. Supporters can then pledge money to the film in exchange for their name in the credits or more advanced participation. Kickstarter is a popular alternative to seeking private investment, which usually comes with creative strings attached.

“We had no investors or anyone holding us to anything; it was all donations. It was exciting not to have to worry about a producer or investor not wanting us to go somewhere or do a certain thing. To be able to be your own boss, it's very liberating.”

The band in question, Tennis Pro, played eight high-voltage shows over two weeks in Japan that were covered with multiple cameras. John also directed scripted and improvised dramatic scenes to carry the story forward. With such a mixed bag of shooting styles and limited time to work in, he appreciated not having to slow down to synchronize cameras or to slate on the fly.

He says, “There wasn't a worry about making sure everyone's shooting the slate at the same time, because it was more ‘make sure everyone's got the same audio feed and we'll let PluralEyes deal with it in the edit room’. And that was great because we had a really small crew and didn't have all the assistants we would've liked. When you're working with a stripped-down crew tools like that are so great.”

Currently on a writing sabbatical with his family in South Africa, John has already begun editing the feature in advance of a second shooting trip to Japan scheduled for the fall of 2011. He and his assistant editor, who is based in Seattle, have mirrored hard drives of all the footage. They work on separate scenes and share project files through Dropbox to view each other’s work. John’s post-production toolkit includes PluralEyes to sync footage, Final Cut Pro to edit, and Magic Bullet for color timing and correction.

Creation of the story structure from documentary footage often happens largely in the editing process because shooting live events reveals drama rather than dictating it the way a scripted narrative would. With the hybrid nature of ‘Big In Japan’, there was a story outline before the trip to Tokyo, but much of the casting and drama unfolded as a result of daily events and interactions.

“We actually found the bands that we want to incorporate in the film. We were using the reality of what was happening sort of as creative fodder for the story, and to bring us to places we hadn't anticipated that were hopefully going to be more unique than what we'd have come up with just sitting in a room.”
'Big In Japan' film trailer, directed by John Jeffcoat

With PluralEyes handling synchronization of all his various footage, John has been able to keep his focus on the creative editing process. He is also dedicating time to completing the script by writing scenes around what’s already been shot. This script will guide the upcoming filming back in Japan and ensure he ends up with a complete, and marketable, story.

Keep an eye on the ‘Big In Japan’ Kickstarter page for upcoming fundraising campaigns and to see trailers. Based on John’s track record so far; this will be another film you won’t want to miss.

Writer Sara McIntyre is a Communications Specialist and Filmmaker who calls Vancouver, BC 'home'.


Mac-PC Folder Syncing in Lion (Solved)

We don't just think about audio-video sync here at Singular Software. We also like to keep files and folders in sync, across the various Macs and PCs we have. We've been using SyncBackSE from 2BrightSparks for quite a while do this. It's a Windows-only program, but that's fine—it just means that we drive all the syncing from the Windows side of things. SyncBackSE is very inexpensive, has all the features you'd want and just works very well.

Until we installed Lion on one of the Macs. For some reason, mysterious network errors starting showing up and the sync would fail. Apple has replaced the SMB code in Lion and perhaps that's the reason. I sent a message to 2BrightSparks tech support and got a prompt reply which said (I'm paraphrasing), "Actually, we don't support Windows-Mac syncing." Oops.

For an unsupported feature, it had worked remarkably well and we weren't keen to throw the product overboard and look for an alternative. I remembered that SyncBack also supported FTP as a protocol for the sync. Sounds good, went back to Lion to turn on FTP and ... it's not there. Turns out that Apple has removed it or obscured it or something in Lion, because it is not very secure. (It isn't.)

But SFTP, a more secure but still standard, version of FTP is supported in Lion. Just go into System Preferences and check the box for Remote Login. Then go back to SyncBackSE and check the box for SFTP and ... it's disabled. Turns out you need SyncBackPro. OK, got that, checked the box, entered the SSH credentials and it all works.



Chad Haufschild takes on ‘Blood Rites’ for Unfiltered Entertainment

Chad Haufschild began writing film scripts as a teenager in Nebraska. Then he had the epiphany about the LA studio system that many young screenwriters do - that the most direct route to seeing his stories realized would be to make them himself. So he picked up a camera and started learning how to make films.

It wasn’t long before Chad was in the process of his first volunteer-run, micro-budget feature film, ‘Declaration of Independents’ (2007), which he wrote, directed and co-produced. He now works as a commercial editor for a local television station in Nebraska, and on weekends makes feature-length horror films under the banner of Unfiltered Entertainment.

With the impending release of ‘Blood Rites’ his third feature as Producer/Editor/Cinematographer, Chad still uses the micro-budget, mini-crew, DIY approach to filmmaking, and is the kind of innovator who often pushes the boundaries of his gear and his team.

Wake the Witch’, the 2010 inaugural feature for Unfiltered Ent, was shot with local actors, crew and locations, over several weekends between rent-paying day jobs. Because of their modest resources, all audio was recorded in-camera on the JVC GY-HD250 camcorder, on two channels, using a combination of boom and lavaliere microphones. This meant the camera operator was responsible for monitoring audio quality since all controls are on the camera body. The resulting audio was useable, but not stellar.

Film trailer for 'Wake the Witch'

When it came time to begin production on ‘Blood Rites’ the producers wanted to improve audio quality. Chad’s modus operandi is to always progress beyond his previous production. He says, “If you really want to take a step up in production, picture is great, but it's true that 80% of your visual experience at a movie is the sound; and if you can get into dual system audio, bump up your sound quality for as little money as it takes to purchase the Singular Software product, do it!”

The ‘Blood Rites’ crew list contains no more than nine names, which is phenomenally efficient for a feature film production. Chad repeated his role as Director of Photography, and brought on a dedicated audio recordist. The upshot of having audio separated from picture is that the camera work also improved since Chad’s focus wasn’t being split.

The production used an Edirol R-4 four track digital recorder, forgoing jam sync timecode capabilities to accommodate their budget. This allowed them to record four tracks of audio at a higher quality than the 16-bit of a normal camera.

“It just made sense, why not record dual system this time? We have a piece of software [DualEyes] that will allow us to save time in post, just do that sync automatically without having to line it up manually, which is a long, ugly, dirty process that nobody wants to do.”

The post-production team on ‘Blood Rites’ is as modest as the production team was. Chad serves as lead Editor and has a few helpers for visual effects and sound design, but the crew doesn’t often swell beyond four bodies. His primary tool is Adobe Premiere Pro from the Adobe Creative Suite 5.

Chad began the edit using a scratch track that had been recorded directly to camera, while the first wave of audio sweetening was happening on the dual system audio. Because he had finished the edit before syncing the audio, he got in touch with Bruce Sharpe directly through the Singular Software forums, and ended up taking the advice to use DualEyes.

“It really worked great. I was able to replace the audio and basically create a whole new video clip. Rename my clips, open my Premiere project and, boom, it was all there just ready to go. And Bruce was quite instrumental during the process, the customer service was outstanding.”

Chad admits part of the fun of guerrilla filmmaking is using software and technology in ways they might not have been designed for. For character POV footage on ‘Blood Rites’ he employed a GoPro helmet camera, designed for extreme sports. The GoPro’s tiny microphone picks up ambient sound of a very low quality, and so Chad was extremely impressed when DualEyes was still sensitive enough to sync up the track with his timeline.

‘Blood Rites’ is scheduled for release in the fall of 2011, with a distribution model that will build on the success of ‘Wake the Witch’. In that case, the visibility of their Video On Demand streaming attracted a distributor who helped to secure a traditional DVD distribution deal.

Film trailer for ' Blood Rites' (warning: contains graphic images)

Unfiltered Entertainment also employs the power of social media to engage fans by blogging and sharing video clips throughout their production process. This spirit of community and collaboration seems to permeate all levels of company’s activities.

“Collaboration is really necessary to be able to pull off what we can pull off for the amount of money we have available. People think we've had much larger budgets than we've had, and the only way you do that is with the right people.

... Some people golf, we make movies. And I don't mean that what we're doing is a hobby, what I mean is we really love what we do. There are people who are incredibly passionate about other things. We're really passionate about moving pictures.”

Watch for news about 'Blood Rites' on the Unfiltered Entertainment website.

Writer Sara McIntyre is a Communications Specialist and Filmmaker who calls Vancouver, BC 'home'.