Return to Sender: Cast and Crew Screening

It finally happened! The private screening for the cast and crew of Return to Sender took place recently, and despite all the nerves I had going into it, the whole thing went very well!

Getting everyone together was a bit of a chore. I’m working my summer job which is sapping up all of my extra energy. Other people have day jobs. The actors in the film have other gigs. We ended up settling on a brunch screening on Saturday, July 21st because that was the only day that worked out for the majority of the cast and crew.

We still were missing one of our actresses, and I really wish she could have been there, but I needed to move on to the next chapter of this project. Luckily, I know this actress personally, and I’ll be able to have her see it at another time.

Overall, everyone appeared to really love the film. The cast and crew were impressed by how their work came together. The friends and family that they brought used the words “mesmerizing”, “captivating”, and “effective” to describe the film, so that’s a win for me!

I was super nervous to show this film because it sits in a very interesting position in my mind. When I show the film to people, they are effected by it. They like it. Some like it a lot. For me, it’s weird though because it isn’t 100% the vision that I had in my head.

I guess that’s really the struggle of an artist though, trying to get that vision out of your head as accurately as you can. I’m not really sure if I could have done something differently with this film to make that vision come to life more than I already did. If anything, I probably would have continued conceptualizing it forever to try to get it 100% right, never fully achieving that goal, and ultimately never releasing anything at all.

That’s definitely not a scenario that I wanted. I’m happy that this film is done, and I can start showing it to people. I’m hoping it will bridge the gap that I’ve had with a lot of potential viewers who have been too scared to watch my films that are more along the lines of psychological horror.

This film is more of a general sense of mystery and suspense, so I’m hoping there will be more viewers who are willing to watch it. It may even end up being more marketable because of this. I don’t know.

Now that the screening has taken place, we are officially going to put it to the festival circuit. There are a few festivals that I’m thinking of submitting to through their extended deadlines, so wish me luck!

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Return to Sender Teaser

I’m a bit late to the punch here, but I released a teaser trailer for my latest short film Return to Sender over the weekend!

I’m pretty happy with how the promotional materials for this film are turning out.

Next up on my list is an official trailer that would give a bit more about what the story actually is. I’m unsure if this will actually come to fruition though because there is so much that I wouldn’t want to give away.

I guess we’ll see. I’m sure there’s some way I can give more details without spoiling it all. I’ll attempt working on that.

Return to Sender: Post Production

While I haven’t written much about it on this platform, we’ve been working on the edit for Return to Sender for a while. We were actually so excited about it that we had rough edits of the first and second shoot days within a week of them being shot!

Post production can tend to be a long (and to many, boring) process. When I make routine updates about it, it can often feel like I’m reiterating the same thing over, and over again. “The edit is underway! We’re making progress!”

For this reason, I decided to wait to post about the post production process until it was on the verge of being completed. It’s just easier to talk about that way.

So, we had the rough edit taken care of pretty quickly. It was really nice to see the footage come together to bring my story to life. I can’t thank my cast and crew enough for helping this become reality.

The biggest issue we had to tackle with the basic edit was getting the pacing just right. There was one scene in particular that involved the lead actress where this was very important. The pacing of this scene could make or break the film overall. It was very important for me to get it right.

This took a good chunk of time. We even had to take a step away for a bit in order to come back with fresh eyes. I felt it was necessary to break away from the fond memories of the shoot day in order to focus on what would be best for the edit. There may have been shots that I absolutely loved on the day of the shoot that just wouldn’t help in the big picture.

I needed the pacing to be able to tell the story on its own. I wanted the emotions to carry through, even if the film were to be watched with no sound. It was a big hurdle to cross, but I think we got there.

Once we finally got the basic edit the way we wanted it, the film was sent for color grading, sound design, and original music.

This portion took a good chunk of time as well, but it wasn’t nearly as difficult as the pacing. I really handed this portion off to my post production team here, and they did a fantastic job. I just had to approve things.

Ryan Cwiklik stepped in to provide original music once again. He has also done original music for my films Lights and ms and me in the past. This time around, he also took on the sound design. I really have to commend him for this because I’m not the best at translating my thoughts about audio work.

He understood all of my weird lingo. There needs to be more of the “ting ting” and less of the “groan groan” here. I’m a fan of this but when we get to this point, “it’s too much ouch.” Oh, I was a joy to work with. There were a lot of laughs at my expense.

Erik Leal took on the foley with a lot of my help. I always enjoy foley. It’s fun stuff. We recreated sounds that movie goers really don’t think twice about, but it all comes together to make a better viewing experience.

After that, it all came down to color grading and a small bit of visual effect. At this point, we’ve finished that up, and we’re doing final checks and creating credits.

It’s time! It’s almost here!

Return to Sender: Prop Design

In the same way that set design became an important factor in the production of Return to Sender, prop design became pretty integral as well.

I think, for the most part, the set design played hand in hand with props, in the sense that the sets helped solidify character traits. There was a whole other level though that, again, was entirely new to me.

One of the props was a huge factor in the film, and it took a while to get it exactly right. There is a box in this film, and it plays a pretty big role. My initial idea was to make it look like a package that had traveled the world, but I could never get it to look right, and it never looked good on camera.

The box that we ended up utilizing in the film fell into my lap after Valentine’s Day. I received a gift in that box, and after a bit of thinking, we realized that it would provide the best look on camera. This box ended up changing some of the wording with the script. It worked with the overall theme I was going for though, so I think it was a beneficial change.

This box will be used in promotional materials, so I feel comfortable sharing a picture of  it here. This is the final design for the box which was used in the film.

The other element of prop design that came into play was with our detective characters. We spent a good deal of time trying to figure out if it was necessary to get holsters and weapons for our detectives, but when we examined the script and where the detectives would be positioned, this was deemed unnecessary.

Overall, we ended up going with a sort of clip on badge. We designed the actual badges ourselves. They were placed inside of plastic lanyard style holders. We used the head shots we received from our actors as the pictures on the badge. We figured they would be small enough to be passable.

I’m pretty happy with how they turned out for what the roles in this film were. If the roles were on screen for longer and in more than just a sitting position, then we probably would have gone more in depth.

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As with my post about set design, I think my experience with props in this project will push me in the direction to pay more attention to these details in future productions. It’s about time really. I should be paying attention to things like this.

Writing Through Things

Recently, many people have been asking me to describe what my upcoming short film is about. As I struggled to find the words to describe it, I realized that, at its core, it’s a home invasion story. Once I realized this, I looked back on my previous short film 3:03. I realized that my past film was also a sort of home invasion story.

Suddenly everything clicked together for me.

A couple years ago, I had an experience. I was living in an apartment, and one day, while I was alone in said apartment, one of the maintenance workers just walked in. He didn’t knock. He used his own key. I had no advance warning. I was at my most vulnerable. I no longer live in that apartment, but for the rest of my time living there, I never felt safe.

While I was processing that immediate fear I was feeling, I wrote the script for 3:03. It was filmed in the apartment where the event occurred. The film was about a woman who woke up in the middle of the night to a disturbance in the hallway outside her door. It was heavily based on a nightmare that I had.

At the time, I took that at face value. I thought it was just based on a nightmare that I had. It’s only now, in retrospect, that I’m realizing that my scripts are reflecting the fears that I’m working through in my own life.

I guess it makes sense. Every film that I’ve written up to this point has been based off of real experiences I’ve had. From a creepy public restroom and streetlights turning off around me, to a sort of home invasion, it’s all been based on true events.

Maybe that’s why people say my films creep them out. Maybe it’s because the feelings are genuine. For me, it’s very real.

Of course, this got me thinking about the horror genre. I started thinking of all the recurring themes that come up in horror films. Good horror films reflect real life fears at their core, and this is why the genre has such a loyal fanbase. Watching a good horror film can allow the viewer to process fears in a safe setting. In that same way, horror films can be therapeutic for their creators as well.

I’m not sure exactly when I’ll be done with my phase of writing home invasion films. I’m not even sure yet what my next project will be. Since I don’t have anymore home invasion stories up my sleeve at the moment, perhaps you could say that I’ve worked through the fear at this point? I guess we shall see.

Return to Sender: Set Design

Before Return to Sender, I had never really put much attention into set design. I just used whatever was in the location I was lucky enough to get. If it wasn’t actively at the location, I didn’t really think about it.

For this particular film, that changed because one of my locations didn’t have any furniture. We had to make it seem like someone lived there. We had to start from scratch.

We hatched an idea that our main character was an artist, a painter to be specific. We had a lot of props at our disposal to work with this idea. We set up enough furniture to make our shots look lived in. We had canvases and paintings on the walls. I think we successfully made it look like a painter lived in the space we had to film in.

This character was curious and outgoing, so we used a lot of bright colors and creative ideas. We had the actress dress in red to work with this theme as well.

Our second location had more furniture already. We just had to cater it to our character. We didn’t want to overuse paintings on the walls again. We wanted to do something different that worked with the furniture and such. We ended up going with more neutral colors, photographs, and flowers.

This character was the more reserved of the two. If our lead character was the type to be the first one on the dance floor, this character was the type who needed to be coaxed out with her. I decided to make her a cat person with a photograph of my childhood cat. We had flowers around the set and a photograph of a beach. They were very subtle things, might not be very noticeable in the final cut, but the thought is there.

I think my favorite aspect of the set design that we chose to do was to add matching paintings. My production assistant Sarah Sofia Serrato and I had been to a painting class together in the past, so we both had different versions of the same painting of an owl with pumpkins. Sarah’s painting is in the background of one of the shots at the lead character’s house, and my version of the painting is in the supporting character’s house. We aren’t sure if anyone will really see it and make the connection, but we liked the thought behind it.

I’ll definitely be taking this experience with set design into future projects. Even if it doesn’t really show up completely within the shots of the film, it really helps solidify the character and their motivations. It created a mood on set. I liked that fact.

Of course, other elements that came into play with this project had to do with prop design. I’ll discuss those in another post.