A podcast about movie making and the scifi featurette, Daughter of God, with Director Shri Fugi Spilt, (Dan Kelly). Daughter of God, Resurrection.
Hey, hi! Episode 028 of the Daughter of Godcast. We’re back and about to unpack more treasure from the vault, starting back where we left off last week, spring of 2011. We’ve dug out about 7 years of ancient history, and 6 more will bring us up to now-ish. So don’t worry, there’s still plenty of podcast ahead!
Right here in 2017, I bumped into one my genius interns from back then and having not seen each other since 2013 or so, we had a catch up in Oryana, while I scarfed a tempeh reuben sandwich and a flagon of tomato soup. I also ran into Tanya from episode 025, skateboard guru, Tyler, and in-lovers Jesse and Gwenan who have taken over Keanu Reeves’ Airstream tonight after romping in the Sleeping Bear. Just a typical afternoon in the Coincidence Control Cafe.
Cody was my last intern before I threw in the towel on mentoring high school kids, and a smidgen of his roto work survives in the current version of DOG.
In 2008, Michigan had one of the top three film incentive programs in the USA, championed by Governor Jennifer Granholm. When Rick Synder took office, changes were made to the incentive in 2011 that didn’t protect existing deals, so the big studios took their projects elsewhere. Having invested in Michigan and been burned, Hollywood was now wary of our unpredictable incentives, and the torrent of high end cinematic opportunity was gradually pinched off.
One version of the backstory involves Michael Moore, a fixture in Traverse City. Conservative Michigan legislators viewed Hollywood as Moore’s crowd, and the last thing they wanted was to encourage rival political influence in the state.
Micheal Moore showed up in Traverse City and helped save the historic State Theater and pretty much all of downtown from irrelevance. When he launched the Traverse City Film Festival in 2005, rabid regional conservatives retaliated with a sort of Freedom Festival, which disappeared after the first year.
After a brief flowering, 2011 marked the beginning of the end of Michigan’s subsidized cinematic renaissance. IE Effects’ Traverse City office from Episode 027 came and went, blindsided by political machinations. Even if Jonathan and I had been hired there, we would’ve have been SOL within a year.
But regional independent filmmakers were too excited to read the writing on the wall, we were Michigan’s newest economic juggernaut.
Michigan Movie Makers
James Weston and I had reconstituted the Michigan Movie Makers for at least the third time. Before James, M3 had an incarnation in the 70s. Our 2011 incarnation met for the first time at the Traverse Area District Library on June 22, and 20 or so movers and shakers showed up, including Micheal Moore’s chief valkyrie, Deb, who encouraged us all to volunteer for the Traverse City Film Festival, just a month away. My trusty nephew Patrick was also there and my first intern, Louise, who was too shy to introduce herself.
Other notables included Jeff Gibbs, David Marek, Andrea Maio, Andy McFarlane, Scott Tompkins, Joe Carter, Matt Kinne, Damon Knight and Brad Kinnan. Iconic filmmaker Rich Brauer even made a cameo to offer blessings and encouragement.
James announced our first initiative, the Micro Movie Marathon, a festival of 3 minute or less movies, solicited from every niche of the regional movie ecosystem, from student to pro, a sort of inventory of our production power.
Shortly after the ambitious relaunching of our affinity group, my rabbit brother and partner in crime James Weston announced he was moving to Montana to take a job as a carrot, leaving me to herd those movie cats all by myself. That’s a lie, everyone chipped in.
We launched our web presence, and met monthly to build our community, network and self educate. We swelled the volunteer ranks of the TCFF, pulled off the first hilarious Micro Movie Marathon, learned about and supported local projects, hired each other, facilitated mentoring programs and internships and did robust community outreach. Establishing a searchable resource database was one of M3’s organizing goals.
Jeff Gibbs offered a lot of great and annoying advice. He emphasized audience over creators and sold me on the practice of test screenings, we attended several together at the State Theater.
Jeff also donated a pump organ to my trove of useful post civilization collapse technology. I brought it home strapped to a Hobie 16 trailer.
The Traverse City Record Eagle discovered M3 on July 31.
Managing this affinity group was a huge distraction from my own projects, but after years solo screen staring for DOG and producing two expeditions of Around Lake Michigan, I realized having help was optimal. I needed a team. Patrick had been heavily involved in the reconstruction of Hello World. My nephews and I had pulled off a demo reel together and were pondering how to dive deeper with our mad schemes.
People are changeable, even nephews! A few enthusiastic 20 somethings does not a robust production team make, even if they are bad ass Kellys. I needed a talent pool.
The Michigan Movie Makers was my attempt to identify the most reliable and competent collaborators in the region. Perhaps even to grow new collaborators, which is how I got involved with taking on interns from the Film and New Media program at the Traverse Bay Area Career Tech Center and eventually working with Cody.
The summer was delicious as always and what with swimming, forest runs and facilitating a thriving indy cinema scene in Northern Michigan, I didn’t back to my movies until August. Around Lake Michigan required a functional boat which I currently lacked. Until such time as I healed Hello World, I was land bound.
Daughter of God seemed to be the obvious candidate for completion.
Before we revive DOG, here’s a smattering of eventfuls from the second half of 2011.
Several side projects were a bust, like my brilliant bumper for the TCFF (rejected), forming a dance company with Gretchen Eichberger’s (failed), and bringing consumer culture to a screeching crashing halt (not yet) but along with facilitating Michigan Movie Makers, I did have a series of significant slam dunks for pay or strategic gratis such as the promotional trailer for the Elberta Solstice Festival, music videos for Dede Alder, documentation for Gretchen Chaotic Harmony, and acquisition of the Traverse Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Holst the Planets.
I also had a brain wave for a top secret kooky culture jamming project involving a cast of 50 or so. I pitched the idea to Dede and Emily who were both up for collaboration. My sultry Polish entertainment lawyer Innes Smolansky helped craft very special releases. We scheduled a rehearsal for October but had to cancel the day prior due to unforeseen complications.
Six years later, this top secret project has only gotten more intriguing and is somewhere in the master queue, waiting for planetary alignment. Last night, after reviewing the original posts, I had yet another brain wave about an approach that would be a lot easier to organize. Maybe we’ll see it this year?
I test drove parenting for a few days when my girlfriend left the country and put me in charge of her 5 year old daughter, Star. I had help from Dede, but by and large I got my ass kicked. I like kids a lot and was willing to try, so I’m totally giving myself an A for effort! Breaking up with girlfriends who’ve got kids means there’s way more people to miss :/
Remember Jack, my father’s brother from way back in Episode 002, who was miffed at my ironic war signage? He died in August, transitioned or re-emerged into pure positive energy, as you prefer. I remember the fun I had with Jack when I first moved to Beulah in the late 80s, Barbara Jo Steel and I making dinner with him, breaded perch cooked in an iron skillet over the fire cauldron by the lake. Watching Forbidden Planet and 2001 A Space Odyssey with him, and my pals, Mark and Bob. Jack had personally worked to transmute ICBMs into space exploration vessels, as described in Episode 015. So glad he’s not mad at me anymore!
My nephew Patrick had a dream of building and racing baja cars. He needed a workshop. I was also hungry for a fabrication space. Hello World’s reconstruction had happened mostly in and around my garage, and I’d often climbed into bed with minute glass fibers embedded in my tender hide.
The shack was a mouse infested out building on my family’s farm that was packed with random crap. Patrick and I decided to clear out and renovate this building to realize a collaborative shop for our various mad schemes. Since our ambitions were vast and fluid, we wanted the space to be as flexible as possible and envisioned having all our equipment and shelves on heavy duty wheels, so the space could be reconfigured to suit any situation.
As with all projects, this one had a few unexpected twists. Engineering plans drawn up, a new slab and footings for lolly columns installed and the roof reinforced. The carpenters didn’t realize the exterior cedar siding encapsulated much older asbestos panels. They drilled about 40 soffet vents contaminating the entire building with asbestos. We had to have environmental testing, remediate the whole space with a coat of paint and then test again. Sheesh!
In September, Daughter of God’s arranger and his lovely wife and their two little girls rode Amtrak from Penn Station to Kalamazoo where I picked them up for their first Michigan vacation. I had a blast with Ndong and Cecile and the girls, I can’t describe how wonderful having my New Yorkers in the Michigan crib felt. Especially after having Anastasia here in the spring, such an excellent family I have.
In October, Steve Julin organized a conference for production and post professionals, Postapalooza in Mt Pleasant, Michigan. Heavily attended by academics, (we’ve got a lot of colleges and universities in Michigan) and a smattering of indy geeks like myself. I got to hang with my heros, Trish and Chris Meyers, authors of After Effects Apprentice and Creating Motion Graphics with After Effects. Heaven!
After decades of squatting, paying rent sporadically, funding significant repairs and radical, unauthorized renovations including a gradual earthship conversion, I negotiated with my family to acquire the Artist house. How lucky can one guy be? My luck knows no limits.
Atheists Love a Christmas Party
What would a year end be without an uproarious Christmas party with lots of dancing and a sleepover. My brothers and sisters even showed up though they didn’t sleep over. We got sleepovers out of our system after living together for 18 or so years. Here’s the party’s promotional poetry.
Awash in wildflowers…
…and basking in beauty, that’s the summer of 2011. Hello World has been beached (blossomed) for a solid year following her crippling injury 30 miles north of Chicago that ended our 2010 expedition. She’s communing with the flox and vetch across the street, waiting for repairs. Patrick and I are converting a storage shed into a workshop and that’s where she’ll be before the snow flies. Meanwhile, she’s watching over another exploration of sustainability – the Lauren di Scipio memorial vegetable garden. I’ve followed the weed free (layer cake) method – with commercial organic soil in some beds and composted horse poop from Willy and Marijke Steenstra-Church in others. Unfortunately, the entire plot is shadowed by the backyard bluff and misses most of the morning sun. The corn patch is growing in a wedge shape, plants are progressively lower the closer they are to the bluff. There couldn’t be a clearer demonstration of solar power. [snip] The next expedition of ALM will have to be re-thought if it’s going to accommodate sailing, movie making and distribution all at once. After Fukushima, I’ve been thinking about all those reactors I sailed by. What chance does a powered down civilization have surrounded by nuclear bombs? 10,000 years of toxic threat seems pretty daunting, maybe ALM needs a tighter focus.
And now ladies and gentlemen, after many errant episodes, heartbreak, abandonment and wandering in the wilds, we now return you to our feature attraction! The 11 year saga of a movie almost made, sequel to the prequel, Act II.
Episode 028, Daughter of God, Resurrection!
Because we’ll be jumping back and forth between the then and the now, I’m establishing a convention. When you hear the reverby voice, that’s the distant past, and when you hear just me, then that’s 2017.2017 here. In mid May 2011, I cracked the vault of past projects and peered in.
The aesthetic and what’s next?
[snip] I think DOG is the priority over ALM. [snip] DOG certainly needs plenty of After Effects intervention to get airborne, and that’s where the reel SFX [version .9] overlaps. I’m clear that motion graphics and SFX figure prominently in both archival and future projects and what exactly does that look like? What are the critical skills to master? What’s the guiding aesthetic? [snip] Keep it Simple and Subtle has been a cornerstone of the Trickster Pictures SFX [VFX] architecture. That’s both a pragmatic and an aesthetic choice. Pragmatic because we don’t (yet) have the chops or resources to pull off an effects tour de force. Aesthetic because so many mainstream films are effect heavy and content light. Where’s the story?! Perhaps Simple and Subtle should be replaced with Serving Story. That’s what we want our SFX/VFX to do. On a metaview, it’s a choice between awareness and delusion, we can either enhance or blunt perception. Engaging stories expand consciousness, right? On the other hand, prolonged exposure to mediocrity tends to narrow and limit understanding. Schlock art can be either unintentional or deliberate. The paranoid set (myself included) see most mainstream movies as mediocre by design, they are ignorance machines. Filmmakers in the studio system apparently are trained to make shitty choices. Whoops, talk about cliche – here I am boiling everything down to an epic struggle between the powers of light and darkness! It’s convenient to point to something and say, “no!” and maybe that’s a starting point for defining what’s worthy. [snip] I’d like to make art that awakens. It’s not enough to just flip what’s served up by oppressor culture, I don’t want to define myself in contrast but by discovery. There’s great hunks of the human experience missing, and my aim’s to reclaim ’em. [hints of an emergent cosmology] Nuff with the bluster, let get down to cases. God only takes the stage in disguise. The projector in Avenues (iCar) is a lovely example. The changing colors of the slides spill onto the face of the executive. This creates a connection between the synthetic slide and the live action talent, they are in the same room. It is a relationship that is perfectly obvious once established, it’s not even recognized as an effect. To merge elements into a coherent unity, that’s a primary principle. It’s hardly worth stating that less is more, a slight intervention is less work than a major intervention and creates fewer complications. Adding variables decreases predictability, slows digital processing and clogs human cognition. There’s a step beyond less is more though, let’s call it elegance. An elegant solution does much with little in a way that’s thrilling and even profound. It’s evidence of humans in tune, encouraging to anyone paying attention. Elegance reminds us of our higher natures, the wonder that we could be. Another principle – we practice less is more and aspire to elegance. Perfection rejection is yet another principle which stated proactively would be the Quest for Good Enough! Constant application keeps the project moving forward. [snip] The primo principle is identifying what experiences and techniques intrigue. What kind of projects would be fun? The energy generated by following bliss is infinite, but in the past I’ve gotten confused and lost track of what really matters. The price of freedom is constant vigilance.
VO Tucked into the pragmatic, there are lovely hints here of what I would know, in my pondering I almost knew. So exciting!
and oh, so action oriented. Nothing gets done without my two hands, right? Two hands dancing in a great swirl of stuff. I am making fun of here. Optimal hand dancing is a conjuring of the unseen, an invitation. If the showing up was limited to what I personally touched, creation would be hard work 🙂 Looking back at 2011, let’s pretend action is all there is. So where’s the optimal next action, where should I attend? There has to be a plan, but the best part of the plan is the pondering of the plan.
and welcome back to 2017 again. In the summer of 2011 Daughter of God is 26:40, too long to be a short and too short to be a feature. Cutting the running time in half was the obvious solution, but how?
DOG post-production meeting
After updating the archive’s catalog the last couple of days, (40 terrabytes worth), I was finally ready to crack the DOG project this morning. Upon reviewing the major sequences, I had a series of epiphanies. Inventory Cataloging the possibilities will facilitate good decisions. Along with the main acts there are elements of back story, exposition, plot nuance, character development, premise, world mechanics… after principle production I found many facets of my story to explore, there’s quite an inventory. Unfortunately, the interface of FCP is like looking down a tube, it’s too narrow to see everything, to visualize the relationships between scenes. I need peripheral vision. There’s index cards certainly, but I’d also like to have images of the scenes to spread over a bulletin board. The process of printing visuals for every major moment will build my inner inventory, hook the neurons up. I, Edit It’s an old adage – a movie is made three times. Once with the script, twice with the production and thrice during the edit. I might argue that SFX [VFX] is a fourth movie (motion graphics, foley, etc.) but let’s keep it simple. [There's not only a fourth (VFX) but a fifth, (distribution). Hitchcock faked us out, 03-09-17] [snip] Since I wrote and shot DOG, I might have fixated on those achievements and forgotten that there was a new movie to make. What is the story that the edit will tell? Now I’m fresh and feeling very free, ready to dance and deliver. I am excited to re-engage with the content and extract the magic… and you guess what? There IS magic! I made lots of mistakes on location and coupled with the usual unforeseen catastrophes, the raw material isn’t ideal. Welcome to my first film. Even so, I must say… there are moments. Enough I think, maybe just. Milestones The current cut is 26:40 in length. For film festivals, a working edit of approximately 12 minutes is the grail. How to get there? 1) Feeling like an editor and 2) establishing inner and outer inventory are key. Another strategy is to limber up with an audacious exercise – cutting a 3 minute version. To make this fly, only the essential elements can survive. If I can bust it down to 3 minutes, then 12 minutes will feel like extravagance. I’ll start with revisiting the actual script… What’s essential to the story? Any fat? Simplify! August 6th is drawing to a close. By Wednesday August 10, I’ll have my 3 minute version. That’s 3 days or a minute per day! The next objective is to complete the inventory by August 15, 8 days from now. With the inventory in place, I can then begin the 12 minute cut using placeholders for SFX elements. I want a working version by September 5, when the lady returns from Spain. I may then take a short break and visit NYC for a week. After all this, I’ll project the next set of milestones. The remainder of September will probably be dedicated to testing with anonymous audiences. Depending on the results, I’ll either do another edit iteration or move into SFX. Faisal in the house Faisal Azam has generously offered to produce DOG, which basically means riding herd on me. We talked on the phone today and he gave me the green light on these deliverables. 3 minute version, here we come!
She’s back! Daughter of God is in the house. 3:30 minutes The first objective was to post a micro version of the story (~3:00 minutes) by Wednesday 8/10. Between Sunday 8/7 and Wednesday 8/10 I was able to dedicate 11 hours to extracting the essential moments from Acts 1 and 2. The last time I had tried to cut DOG down was 2009. While going from 26:40 to 12:00, I had explored the “Previously on Dexter” approach, borrowing from the recap style of episodic TV – DOG as an orphaned episode from a trans-dimensional dramedy. The 3 minute cut was feeling like that, which was fine. Even so, I experimented with adding just enough back to soften the jarring continuity breaks and jump cuts. The final 3:30 version points to a possible hybrid between recap and traditional editorial, an accelerated narrative, sleek. How many shots are needed to depict action? <1. What is needed to feel flow? Can I develop a hand cranked compression algorithm for cognitive coherence? Imagine distilling a story down to essential information rich packets, streaming across the screen. To be continued… Two versions were posted by 8:00 pm on 8/10 – the no frills 3:30 cut and a 5:20 version with an Uncle Joe beginning and ending tacked on. So what was the objective of the 3 minute version? From the previous post… A working edit of approximately 12 minutes is the grail. How to get there? 1) Feeling like an editor and 2) establishing inner and outer inventory are key. Another strategy is to limber up with an audacious exercise – cutting a 3 minute version. If I can bust it down to 3 minutes, then 12 minutes will feel like extravagance. Feeling like an editor means feeling competent and inspired. Reacquainting myself with the material to the point where I could pull off a 3 minute version has been exhilarating. Though there are gaffs, blunders and horrible errors to deal with in DOG, I know I can find a way. This confidence is both authentic and vital. Finishing a first film is tough, especially 5 years after shooting. Every aspect of the plan should generate energy and enthusiasm. Momentum is everything. The 3 minute cut illustrated how a comprehensive inventory is clearly the next step – I’ll want a full palette. What I don’t have I can make, but there’s no point remaking what already exists. It’s amazing how many intriguing exploits I discovered rooting through the archives. Cutting the project down to 3 minutes showed the way. The 12 minute cut now feels totally doable, especially since I have the “sleek” technique in my toolbox. I know the 3:30 is going to be the basis of longer cuts, as the 5:20 illustrates. I could even do several 3 minute variants, just to be sure I’ve got the best of all possible cores. Faisal out the house On Thursday 8/11 a slight snafu. After Faisal had checked out the shorts, he and I had a rather rushed and one sided conversation. I was excited to share my lessons from the latest achievement, what the 3 minute edit suggested for the future and why I was so energized to be back in the saddle. Rather than listen and get the report, [rapport] he started giving unsolicited… creative… opinions. Thus was revealed our mutual mistake – we hadn’t clearly defined the Producer’s job description in writing. [snip] Jeez, how many times do I need to get my ass kicked about contracts, letters of agreements and the like? [snip] Nine months later, what I wanted and what he [Faisal] was offering were completely at odds. So, I fired him. [snip] Stepping up as Producer pro tem is El Carne Loco. He’s been building sweat equity on DOG since it’s inception. Here’s an interview transcription.
2017 again. Who was El Carne Loco? Me! Yo soy El Carne Loco! I wanted to have the conversation I was looking forward to having with Faisal. To soothe out any residual trauma from jettisoning him and further stoke my rekindled motivation, I imagined a conversation between myself and my ideal vortex version of a producer.
ECL interviews DK – 3:30 milestone
A transcription of pro tem Producer El Carne Loco’s interview with Director Dan Kelly regarding Daughter of God’s first milestone completion in 2011. ECL: Regarding the 3 minute version, what do you feel was accomplished, did it meet your expectations? What did you learn? How does it bring you closer to completion? DK: I expected the 3 minute edit to open a window on the 12 minute edit. 12 minutes is 4 times longer than 3 minutes after all, so if I could extract a 3 minute core, that might tell me something about how to achieve 12 minutes elegantly. Certainly my expectations were met and exceeded. Not only did I extract a core, I also stumbled onto a technique I’m calling sleek. By adding back tiny chunks of context, the core started to become much more than a recap of last week’s episode. This isn’t a huge leap – there’s an awful trend in big budget fight and chase scenes where everything is happening so fast you have no idea what’s happening, and somehow that’s become stylistically acceptable. What I am proposing is a visual dynamic that’s chopped and accelerated but at the same time comprehensible and relevant. This reminds me of Marc Garanger’s Regard for the Planet (1989) which was a huge influence. So not only do I see how I might achieve a powerful 12 minute cut, it feels very doable. It’s not scary any more. Perhaps the answer has been percolating for the past few years and was ready to pop out. Also, I was reviewing sequences and tinkering with the footage before I cut the 3:30, and made a prototype opening that emphasizes the character of Uncle Joe. He’s watching all the other characters via a remote viewing app on his personal geek spy thingy. I tacked that onto the beginning and then book ended with another surveillance shot at the end. This new version was 5:20 and it really snaps the middle two acts into focus. It’s pretty clear that if I reinsert a bit of exposition between the two acts (like Christina’s infamous clothing dance), I’ll have a functional framework. After I get the inventory in place, I’ll be ready to rough in all the components of the 12 minute structure. It’s kind of hard to believe I’m saying this, but I think two weeks is a reasonable time to execute the final cut, sans motion graphics of course. ECL: You have a milestone of having the comprehensive inventory ready by 8/15. That’s 2 days away. DK: Probably I’ll miss it. [snip] I’m going to push the inventory milestone back 5 days to 8/20, which could delay the delivery of the final cut to around 9/7. I’m going to say 9/4, because I have a hot date on 9/5 and I’d like to have my plate clear. ECL: Why is the comprehensive inventory important? Why not just dive right into the final cut? DK: Why not cook an omelet without eggs and butter? If there’s one thing I’ve learned about sailing Hobie Cats on the open water, it’s this – get organized and be prepared, your life might depend on it. Ditto for making movies. While sorting through the DOG archive last week, I found wads of clever little experiments. There’s tons of discarded takes that I really ought to review, there might be a few seconds of cutaway that could save my life. By making the inventory, I’ll have the content bright and big in short term memory. I’ll know just where to put my hands on it drive wise. With instant access, I can really move. My dreams will be full of DOG and I’ll wake up with 10 ways to solve any riddle. Here’s another way to look at it – imagine a swimming pool full of water. If you magically took all the hydrogen away, you could sit on the bottom of that pool and breathe the oxygen, but could you brew a fine porter? ECL: That last part was a little slushed, but it’s getting late. Last question. What’s the inventory consist of specifically? DK: Says you. I’ll identify and describe the main sequences. Some of these contain unique combinations of components, so I’ll make a brief analysis of those. For example, the shortwave radio broadcasts might be under a post apocalyptic montage in one sequence and under Christina changing in another, it’s worthwhile to review what the benefits and drawbacks are of both approaches, what connections they might suggest, etc. I’ll identify the strongest alternate takes of Acts 1 and 2 and riff on what they might be good for. I want to find every DOG analysis and publish them on the blog. There’s supplemental material (b roll) that ought to be reviewed and described. I’ll have to revise the motion graphics and VFX roster and figure out if anything can be intelligently contracted to other artists. I was also thinking of creating a printed reference bible that could be deployed on the bulletin board for rapid visualization, as a supplement to standard index cards. That about covers it.
2017 again. So Daughter of God started out as 10 minute movie, ballooned to 26:40, then got pruned down to 3 minutes? Haven’t you been saying Dan Kelly that Daughter of God is now a featurette, like 40+ minutes long? If you could do the whole thing in 3 minutes, what’s the point of an extra 37 minutes?
Do we listen to music just to hear the final crashing chord? Do we watch movies with a hot friend just to get to the credits? Likely you’re going to kiss your hot friend during the movie, I would. Is the point of kissing to finish kissing? To accomplish kissing? We live in a time based experience, if there’s any point to all of this maybe it’s just to fill up the time with loveliness.
You’ve been listening to Daughter of God episode 028, Resurrection. She’s back, and we’re filling up our shared time with the loveliness of this podcast. We leave DOG sitting up on the slab, radiant with new life. Next week, she’ll roll the stone back, knock the dust off her cloak and go looking for nice cup of sencha green tea. In the meantime, find your own new life, transcend conditions and be more you than ever.