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I've completed three independent feature films, plus countless shorts and adverts. My first feature was a no budget slasher I shot in 2007 for a budget of $600 called "Wulf". It played a few festivals and then I buried it, considering it my trunk novel. In 2009, I turned my back on horror and decided to be the Christian I considered myself to be. I still wanted to make movies and had an idea to combine parkour and the last days into a movie that was ultimately called "Leap".
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I shot it in 2009 on MiniDV (a Canon ZR800) for a budget of $200. I spent three months teaching my actors parkour and they did most of their own stunts. It screened at a local theater and we sold 200 DVDs. Let's be honest though- it's bad. My heart was in the right place, wanting to share what I was finding in my own personal Bible studies with the rest of the world, but it was poorly executed.
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In 2010, I made the sequel, "Leap: Rise of the Beast". It was the first feature film shot on a Canon Rebel T2i and we only had the kit lens. The budget was $2000 and continued the story I began in the first film: a group of college kids trying to save the world while the Vatican hunts them down. My goal was to make a Christian version of the Bourne series. We had a theatrical screening for it, sold 100 DVDs and then I stuck it on YouTube in 2012 and it now has over 1.5 million views and has made over $10,000 over the past ten years. Most of that money has gone toward purchasing better equipment because hey, tax write-offs :)
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Immediately after Leap 2 came out, I wanted to do something different before finishing the story. So I wrote a supernatural Christian thriller but everyone kept begging me to do Leap 3 next instead. I caved and wrote the script called "Leap: Revelation". It picked up in the middle of Leap 2, followed a new parkour crew and took us to the end of the world. The only thing stopping me from shooting it was the financing. I figured that I'd need $20,000 to do the movie on a "low-budget" while paying for actors and a few key crew members. Unfortunately I never raised the funds.

The past ten years saw me being homeless, getting a dream job as a VFX supervisor, losing everything I owned (including my dog) in a house fire, rebuilding my life, getting a wife, a new dog, and moving back to Montana. Now I run my own production studio called Pyro Studios and I feel like I'm at a point where I want to revisit this material again. I've grown a lot as a person and as a filmmaker and finally feel like now is the time. I've been keeping a production journal on my computer and I'll be sharing that here.

I hope it is useful and I welcome you all along this journey.


Ten Years Difference
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Day 07

We're almost halfway through production! It already feels like it's been over a month.

Yesterday was our first day shooting in the expensive house. It's beautiful in there! We shot a dinner scene where we are introduced to the Owens family and the lighting we did came out looking really nice! The we shot some quick scenes of Blake in his childhood bedroom. Those scenes took place at night and darkening the room to be night really screwed with my internal clock for the rest of the day. At 3pm, it felt like 6pm. We finished the evening with some scenes of the parents in bed talking about how great it is to have Blake home, while his mother also voices concern for him.

We're headed back today to start getting into scenes where Blake begins to disagree with his Catholic upbringing.
Day 08

Halfway there! We got a lot of scenes shot today at the house and the shoot went well. Not a lot to update beyond that.

After the shoot, my wife met up with us, and the actors who play Blake's parents took us on a boat ride across Flathead Lake where we had dinner and drinks. The sunset was beautiful and we had a great time! Wish every day filming could end like that :)
I guess there was one cool thing to note-

In one of the scenes we shot, Blake's mother gives him a letter from his university stating that the school is shutting down due to lack of students returning from spring break because of *the second coming of Jesus* (which ends up being false). I didn't feel like spending the time to write a letter that would only be mouthed as the actor read through it, but thought it would be cool to have a real letter rather than nonsense on a piece of paper.

Enter ChatGPT. I gave it the prompt: "Write a letter about Drift University being shut down due to lack of students returning due to the second coming of Jesus". Here was the result:

Drift University
1234 Knowledge Lane
Cityville, State Province
Zip Code: 56789
August 15, 2023

Dear Students,

We hope this letter finds you in good health and spirits. We would like to extend our heartfelt gratitude to you for being a part of the Drift University community. It is with mixed emotions that we write to inform you about a significant decision that has been reached regarding the future of our institution.

Over the years, Drift University has strived to provide a nurturing and intellectually stimulating environment for its students. We have been dedicated to offering high-quality education and fostering personal growth. However, it is with a heavy heart that we must announce the discontinuation of academic activities at Drift University.

In recent times, we have observed a substantial decline in student enrollment, as well as a significant shift in the priorities of our student body. A large majority of our students have chosen not to return to campus due to their beliefs related to the second coming of Jesus. While we respect and acknowledge the diverse perspectives of our students, this has led to an unfortunate decline in our student population.

After careful consideration and consultation with our faculty, staff, and administrative team, we have come to the difficult decision that it is no longer financially viable to continue our operations. It is with a heavy heart that we announce the closure of Drift University, effective [Date of Closure].

We understand that this news may come as a shock and disappointment to many of you. We share in these sentiments, as the decision was not made lightly. Our priority now is to ensure a smooth transition for our students, faculty, and staff members. We are committed to providing all necessary support during this period.

For our current students, we will be working closely with partner institutions to facilitate transfer opportunities. Our academic advisors will be available to assist you in this process and to help ensure your educational journey remains uninterrupted.

To our esteemed faculty and staff, we extend our deepest gratitude for your dedication and contributions to Drift University. We are committed to providing resources and assistance during this transitional phase as you explore new opportunities.

Please keep an eye out for further communications from us, as we will be sharing more details regarding the closure, transfer options, and other pertinent information in the coming weeks.

While this chapter is coming to a close, we are confident that each of you will go on to achieve great things in your future endeavors. The memories and experiences shared within the walls of Drift University will forever be a part of our collective journey.

Thank you for being a part of the Drift University community. We wish you all the best in your future endeavors and may your paths be filled with success and fulfillment.


[Your Name]
[Your Title]
Drift University

The entire thing took five seconds of my time. I created a custom letterhead, printed it out, and shoved it in an official looking envelope. Worked out great!
One last bit to add - It's hot. Very hot. We have fires going on all around us. Temps are in the high 80's, mid 90's. My camera doesn't like that. I bought a 4x6 diffusion with a stand a little over a month ago in hopes of using it to diffuse the harsh sunlight on my actors, but unfortunately we've had to use it to keep the camera shaded while we shoot as that's the only thing keeping us going. Looks like I'll need to get a second one for the actors.
Day 09

We only shot one scene. It's a scene where Blake comes home after the earthquake and his parents are watching the news. The report is that the earthquake was caused by "Jesus" appearing at St. Peter's Square. Blake doesn't believe this and he and his parents get into an argument.

We tried staging this in the kitchen of the house, and I ended up shooting 10 minutes there but it just wasn't working. We weren't feeling it. So we stopped and reworked the scene from scratch. We moved it into the den, added a bit of humor and suddenly it came to life! None of us felt bad about only getting once scene because it turned out so great!

Everyone is really finding their stride now. The acting is good, shots are looking great, and Roman's brother is starting to anticipate what I need which makes things work much better.

All in all, a good day. Aside from this smoke. You can't even see across the lake right now.
Day 11

The morning started off early. We had agreed to meet up at 7am to shoot the marriage proposal on the west shore of Flathead Lake. That meant getting up at 5:30 am. Ouch. We got to location and everything was perfect for shooting dawn for dusk. The light in the sky, the performances, the location of the sun, it all just worked.

Then we busted out two intense dialogue scenes today. One of the scenes includes an Easter egg to the previous films, so I had a lot of fun with that and posted part of the rehearsal on the Facebook page. The actors had a lot of good questions about the theology of the film, so I took the time to fill them in on why things are playing out the way they are. I think it helped. Now we get a day off and Sunday we have a pretty long day shooting out the cabin location.

In any case, I'm beat and ready for a day of rest.
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Day 12

We shot all the cabin scenes today! The day began with a private wedding ceremony, followed by a scene discussing the need to make plans in case of marauders.

We then took a break for a few hours to wait for it to get dark. My wife made a picnic dinner for everyone and we enjoyed it down on Flathead Lake.

Around 8pm, I went back to the cabin and started setting up for our night shoot. The scene involves Blake and Liz escaping the cabin as someone tries to break in. We shot our biggest stunt yet, a leap from the roof, as well as practical SFX using a camera flash to simulate a shotgun blast. All in all, another great day!

Tomorrow is Monday, meaning I have a client shoot at 9am. Then I come home, offload the card, and we gear up for a full day of shooting in the mountains.
Day 13

I'm beat. Went to bed around midnight thirty, woke up at 3am for a few hours and couldn't get back to sleep until 5am, then up at 7am for my client shoot. Got home at 11am, and had to turn and burn for filming the movie.

It was raining all day, so I gaff taped an umbrella to the camera. Got the actors in makeup, grunged up their clothes, and we were set. Also, my new XLR cables arrived today just in time for filming today (they've been buzzing off and on the entire shoot). In spite of the rain, we shot all of the day one scenes of the kids in the mountains. Tomorrow we shoot the Second Coming, a few death scenes (one by shotgun, one by wrath of God) and a few other fun bits involving a river of blood.

Just another day on the set of "Leap".
Day 14

I meant to post this yesterday but had too much going going on. Day 14 was our best day yet. We shot all day and got all the scenes we had planned. Had a few minor hiccups with sunlight coming and going, as well as some makeup continuity that I'll have to fix with Nuke, but otherwise, this was my favorite day on set!

When I started out making short films on MiniDV, many of them were set in the mountains as I thought it was a cooler location than my parents house. My first feature was set in the mountains as well. Getting go back into nature to film again was a blast from my past. I was in my element and it was amazing. I just love how the image looks when you're out there in the rivers, rocks, and trees. On top of that, we also shot some action bits, which is always fun. I think I need to do an action movie in the mountains next. Not sure what that will be, but I would love it.

Here's how we worked with firearms on a scene in an independent movie:
We had a scene where a character blows another away with a shotgun. Not wanting a repeat of the Alex Baldwin incident, safety was our biggest priority. The shotgun was checked before every take and the cast and crew were required to look and see for themselves that it was in fact empty while the actor responsible for it held it. Nobody else was allowed to touch the weapon.

We came up with a neat way to show the actor firing the shotgun and the actor being hit in the same shot: I locked off my camera on the tripod and we got two shots - The first was the hit actor falling back onto a crash pad that was placed out of frame. Then we cleared the location, and have everyone stand at least ten feet behind the actor shooting the firearm. With a clear space downrange, I hit record and moved to safety with everyone else as well. Once we were all in a safe location ten feet back, the actor (who owned the weapon and who I trust), loaded one size 8 shot shell into the shotgun. Size 8 shot is used for quail hunting and doesn't produce a lot of kick or noise. Once the rest of us had our ears plugged (not needed, but we wanted to as safe as possible), he was allowed to fire the single shot (again, in a safe direction). I called cut, he ejected the shell, and I ran back around to stop the camera. I realize that this isn't how they would do it in Hollywood, but we're out in Montana and firearms are a part of life out here. We go shooting all the time and aren't even THIS careful when we're shooting together. We were also in bear country so I carried my .44 magnum on my chest all day, and a few of the actors were armed as well. I also made sure that all my cast and crew were comfortable with the idea before proceeding. If anyone were to not feel safe, things would have stopped immediately.

Since the camera was locked off, I can do a simple split screen with the two shots and stitch them into one. I want to stress again for the sake of anyone reading this: while we were safe, THIS IS NOT THE RIGHT WAY TO DO IT. There is ALWAYS a risk when a real firearm is on set. We mitigated the risk as much as we could and felt safe doing so, that's the only reason we proceeded.

Once that shot was done, we wrapped up a few loose ends, sent some of the actors home, then my two leads and I finished up with shots of the Second Coming.

We finished by 5pm and had a small wrap party bbq for the two lead actors since it was their last day. I grilled up burgers.

Roman and his brother took off this morning. I now have a day off and am working on a new teaser based on the previous 14 days. I now only have one full day left with Blake's parents, and once insert of Hank.
Looks great man! Really solid colorist work here, framing and composition is good, everything is way above expectations for this budget range. Very close to the classic 35 look.
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Thanks a lot Nate! I really feel like I've reached the limit of what I can personally do with no crew. On my next big project, I want a scripty, hair/makeup/wardrobe, and two all purpose assistants (helping with sound, lighting, and anything else).

I want to talk about the makeup for a quick moment, for anyone that's interested:
With a background in horror films, I've always loved SFX makeup and have played with a lot of latex and blood over the years. We have two main makeup effects in this film: pus filled sores on the bad guys, and a sweaty look with minor cuts on the good guys.

For the sores, I just use liquid latex and apply it with Q-tips wherever I want a sore to be on an actor. Make sure the actor is not allergic to latex and have them smell the stuff first- it stinks! While the latex is drying, I take the dark red from a Ben Nye bruise pallet and apply it lightly under the eyes for a sickly feel. Once the latex is dry, I take a metal makeup spatula with a point on the end and "prick" at the latex until it starts to bubble and come loose. Rip and shape into your desired look. The result should look like popped blisters. Next I take that same dark red color and paint the actors skin inside the blisters and finish the look with cheap triple antibiotic ointment for a greasy, oozy look.

For the good guys (pictured above), I purchased a bottle of L.S. Reel Dirt (its the same stuff they used on Pirates of the Caribbean). Have the actors hold out their hands and give it about five spritzes. Next, instruct the actor to scrunch up their face and rub the stuff all over their face. Pay attention to the eyes, neck/chest and ears. Rub that stuff into every wrinkle and pore that they can. Then have them repeat with their hands and arms. The process takes two minutes. For the small cuts, I came up with a simple method years ago that I've never seen anyone else do, so I'll mention it here. Get a copper scrubby brush for doing dishes. The kind that looks like a little ball of copper wire. Get some Ben Nye fresh wound makeup (bright red) and pull up a little section of the scrubby. Use the scrubby to apply fresh wound color in quick, light strokes across the actor. In a matter of seconds, you have realistic cuts and abrasions. This also works for road rash.

I'm sure there's better ways to go about this, but when you're doing the makeup yourself, you can't afford to spend hours on it. These techniques let us get it done quick and then start shooting.
Day 15

Yesterday we shot a scene where the father encounters a demon pretending to be his wife. I don't want to spoil any more than that. Filming took four hours and we worked hard with the lighting to create an unsettling atmosphere. McKenna (Liz) was available so she helped me with lighting and sound since the guys are gone now.

After that, we shot a couple scenes in the bedroom and called it a day.
Haven't shot anything new yet, but I've been working on the teaser trailer. Showed a rough cut to a few people and they loved it, so hoping that I'm on the right track. I've spent the past few days working on the VFX for the trailer and now I'm about ready to do the sound. I really wanted to focus on getting this teaser right and looking good so that six months from now, when I'm hating my life, I can watch and and be like, "Oh yeah... that's what this can be. That's why I'm doing this".
Day 16

It's a wrap on principal! We shot the few inserts that I needed, as well as the final scene, which I don't want to spoil, but lets just say that this was a very cold night shoot that saw us filming from sundown until after midnight. I acted as well and had to really trust the other actors to help gauge my performance. I knew what I wanted to see, communicated that to them, then they helped me gauge and refine it. I think it worked well, but we'll find out today when I get to editing.

While we were shooting, a thick fog rolled in, which really looked great on camera for the scene we were shooting, but it started condensing on all the equipment. It's a miracle that the camera didn't shut down. The only issue we had was that the audio dropped out on playback at one point, but a power cycle fixed the issue.

So that's it. The movie is in the can! Now it's time to get cutting. I've really been looking forward to this as it's my favorite part of the process. Once the teaser is done, I'll see if I can sort out the issue that I've been having with bringing the edit from Avid to Resolve for the conform. If not, I'll cut it in Resolve - which I've setup to work like Avid as much as possible - and have to decide if my beast of a computer can handle it all online, of if I need an offline workflow.

Also, on Wednesday, I treated myself to a little gift: Costco has M2 Macbook Airs on sale for $900, so I now have a new laptop to run my business and work on future scripts :)