Judge set down his empty glass and leaned back in the cushioned chair within the mayor’s office.
“So you got folk and cattle turnin’ up dead and your doc says they are all torn to shreds.”
“Do you know what it is? What are we dealing with?”
The mayor’s gaze was fixed on Judge, awaiting the expert’s answer to the deaths of his townspeople.
“Sounds like you got some wolves or coyotes to deal with…and I ain’t no trapper.”
The mayor sat back in his chair, a little disappointed in Judge’s mundane conclusion.
“Wolves and coyotes don’t usually walk like men, do they, Mr. Judge. You see, one of the ranchers actually saw this…creature…pick up a full grown cow and rip its throat out and then carry it off into the night.”
Judge leaned forward, and his voice lowered in seriousness.
“That’s a might more serious, there George. You got yourself a dang werewolf…maybe a pack of them.”
The mayor’s eyes turned a bit more worried than before. “Can you kill them? Can you rid my town of these things?”
“Sure as sound on the goose. This deal costs more than actual. These werewolves are folk just like you and me when the sun’s up and the moon’s down. More than likely, you seen or know these folk.”
“This is a stagecoach depot, Mr. Judge. New folk come and go everyday. Come to think of it, though, there was a couple gambling boys that have stayed a few nights at the hotel. They play faro every day at the saloon. Some say they had a mighty short temper between ‘em.”
“Sounds like I need to stop by the saloon for somethin’ more potent than Adam’s ale, George. I’ll go take a look at your boys…see if I can make one way or another on ‘em. Come on, Helsing.”
Judge got up to leave as he tipped his hat to the mayor. Helsing trotted along behind him.
My journey for the last 3 months has been a rigorous marathon to keep running before I collapse. Almost every weekend this summer has been a filming date for the series. Now that I know what it feels like to work long hours with little food and sleep for an entire summer, I would not want to work in Hollywood…ever.
To be fair, the filming of Season One of Steamworks and Shadows has been a very fun experience and sometimes a difficult learning experience.
Filming at amazing locations and watching the script come to life before your eyes is the most fun you could ever have as a Director. The vision you have in your head is complete and awe-inspiring, even when people are running around pretending to shoot at each other and it is obvious they aren’t actually firing any bullets.
Being able to guide actors (if you want to call any of us that, haha) through a series of actions that drive their emotions is a unique experience in itself. You get to know people better than you ever had before because (good) acting is very honest. If someone acts very convincingly, then they are being honest. If your actors are honest, it seems real. There’s a piece of ourselves that goes into our characters, and it becomes apparent on screen and in story.
Along with these fun and inspiring moments comes the learning experience. There are many things that go into filming, and there is no way to be prepared for anything that could happen. However, I’d like to share what I learned for any aspiring directors-to-be.
1. Once you make a shoot schedule, stick to it as much as you can. If you don’t force yourself to stick to a schedule, you might never finish your project. It can be difficult if you are filming with friends. You are probably not paying the crew or cast, so sometimes they can’t get out of their day job or have other commitments. I was scared to have to write a character out of a scene or episode, because I didn’t know if I could do it. I was forced to do it when cast members did not show up and didn’t call. So I followed my own famous advice: Surround yourself with people that are smarter than you. I called the cast and crew around me, explained the situation, and asked for ideas. Within seconds, there were rapid fire ideas coming at me faster than I could process. In the end, I rewrote the scene with the help of the rest of the crew, and we made it work.
2. Create a team of writers, and have one screenwriter. Having multiple writers on a story can turn out ideas that one person would never think of. You can create deeper, richer stories by using multiple people to help develop the story and get the details. It’s important that you have only one person translate these ideas into a screenplay, and make sure they are familiar with format and what goes into it. Of course, keep all the writers’ ideas as an outline for your “bible” and backstory to help you direct.
3. Never Give Up. This is by far the most important. There was a project I gave up on years ago, and I regret it ever since. I wonder what kind of director I would be now if I had seen that project to the end and what I could have learned. At times, it would seem your project is going nowehere, or that no one likes it. Take criticism and look at your own work with a critical eye. Keep at it until you love it.
4. Don’t do it alone. I have tried to write, direct, act, edit, etc, my own films before, and they do not turn out half as good as my group projects. Even if your entire crew quits on you, there are always more people looking for something creative and fun to do. You can find them, and you can finish the project.
After a short ride across the Arizona landscape from his camp in the early hours of the morning, Judge made his way into the stagecoach town of Fairbank. The dusty dirt road was lined with a few buildings and homes. Most folk stayed in what little shade the awnings had to offer as the sun made its way into the sky.
The town numbered about 100 people, but recently a few had turned up dead along with some of the local ranchers’ cattle. Judge was called into town to find whatever creature was killing them off and put an end to it…for a reasonable fee.
Judge tied his horse at the trough in front of the Fairbank saloon. He tugged the kerchief around his face down to his neck, and removed the goggles protecting his eyes from the dusty wind. Helsing shook off the filth that was caked in his fur from the ride across the sandy landscape. Judge could feel his lips starting to crack from being parched, so he took the few steps up to the porch of the local saloon.
Just before his hands could swing the doors open, a man in a well tailored suit exited the saloon and addressed Judge directly by tipping his hat.
“You must be Judge. George Kendall’s the name. I’m the mayor of Fairbank. I sent you the telegram about our little problem.”
“George, I got a dry throat that needs a quenchin’. Let’s say we talk this over after I’ve had a drink.”
Judge tried to push his way past the mayor, turning his head down and walking to the side. Kendall raised a hand and pressed it against Judge’s shoulder.
“Then let’s retreat to my office. We can talk in private and your thirst can be quenched, Mr. Judge.”
My first experience in directing Steamworks and Shadows, Season One, was a shoot we had scheduled for May at a place called Cowtown Museum. Located in Wichita KS, Cowtown is a recreated historical western town complete with buildings, streets, and reenactors.
Our steampunk group was invited there as part of their Steampunk Day promotion. In exchange for coming out and helping at Steampunk Day, they allowed us to film anything we wanted the day after. We decided to dedicate an entire episode of our series to the location, and designed a script.
The evening before filming, the Assistant Director and I laid out the shoot schedule, and decided the order of scenes to shoot. That same evening was also my first experience in holding a rehearsal for our main cast.
In high school plays and musicals, rehearsals are pretty straight forward. Get on stage, go where you are supposed to, and say your lines as written. I directed with these kind of result-oriented goals in mind throughout high school and my college days, until “Directing Actors” by Judith Weston turned my world upside down. The rehearsal I held for main cast was exciting as they caught on that rehearsal was about exploring your character and your options in a scene, not recreating it exactly as it was in the writer’s or director’s mind.
During the Steampunk Day at Cowtown, we made a shout out for extras, encouraging steampunk costumers to stay an extra day and help with the filming. We had 40 people show up, and I had never directed crowds for film before. The extras were enthusiastic, and excited when I gave them wild directions like “Now there is an earthquake!”.
We shot for over 13 hours that day. Although I was completely exhausted by the time we wrapped, it was the best “dive in head first” experience I’ve had, and it changed the way I think about filmmaking.
Judge sat at a saloon bar, holding the short glass of whiskey close to his chest with his right hand. A piano player plinked away at the keys in the background, and a multitude of conversations filled the atmosphere. Judge stared down at the smooth grained wood of the bar, lost in thought. The other patrons continuously glanced his way, staring at the strange figure that sat hunched over the bar. Judge knew they were staring, and he didn’t much care.
He had buttoned his long coat to hide most of his armor and equipment, but pieces of brass and silver still peeked through above his neck and through small tears of his outerwear. The hat he wore was pulled down over his brow, and his left hand was tucked away inside his coat pocket. His crossbow was still slung across his back, its intricate design a mystery to anyone who did not know the meaning of the scrawled symbols all over its surface. His ever loyal mutt Helsing sat on the floor next to him, ears perked in case of any food or drink that may fall his way. The dog was a sight himself, missing his hind legs and other parts that had been replaced with strange brass clockwork prosthetics.
Although he knew all eyes were on him, there was little chance anyone would approach or speak to him, save for the bartender. The folk knew him as Judge, the reaper of evil souls. When a monstrous blight came upon a town, he was the one they called upon to capture and condemn the evil back to whence it came.
It was almost sundown, and Judge had been in the saloon nearly the entire afternoon.
“Maybe we’ll get the day off after all…” Judge muttered under his breath to Helsing.
In Production News, director Ben Watkins dons a 1940s radio voice to tell fans about the recent youtube video, what we’re filming next, and information on the premiere of Steamworks and Shadows: the Web Series, Episode 1!
Ben’s guest, Mitch Shineman, goes into a few details about the Sunitori costume and the stories behind a few of his accessories. Ben and Mitch then find a few of their favorite movies to review that had characters with a lot of accessories that had stories behind them.
In the last segment, Ben and Mitch talk about ways you can accessorize a costume on a zero budget for filmmaking.
Next week, Ben’s guest will be Assistant Director and Editor Jashin Lin on the show, with a mystery topic!