Before Dead Men Hiking – Origin Story
Filmmaking has always inspired and amazed me. Like just about every kid these days, I have grown up loving movies and the way they can make people think and feel. While my love for watching movies has never diminished, it has been joined by a love for making short movies. When I started thinking about where my love for making movies began, I was surprised. This story falls extremely well into the “3-Act Structure” that defines most movies!
Act I –Inciting Incident
My movie-making career began when I was 7 or 8 years old. My older brother Joseph and I, being homeschooled, had to take the Iowa Test every year to prove that we were learning. This particular year my mom proctored the test and a junior high-schooler named Eric came over to take his test at the same time. I don’t remember a thing about the test, but I was intrigued by talking with Eric. You see, he and his brother filmed short stop-motion Lego movies. The last day of the test, he brought his camera and showed us how stop-motion film-making worked. He animated a Red Imperial Guard Lego mini-figure moving across a chair. I was mesmerized—like an archaeologist having just discovered a cave full of prehistoric artifacts. Next, Eric plugged his camera into our TV and showed us one of their Lego movies. I loved it. It was full of lightsaber duels, blaster fights, spaceships, and enemy droids.
Act II—Rising Action
Eager to begin making our own Lego movies, Joseph and I permanently borrowed our grandparents’ RCA videocassette camcorder and set to work making our own stop-motion Lego films. We meticulously placed each minifigure on our carefully constructed sets. We recorded a second or two of video and then stopped the tape. We moved the minifigures a “bump” farther and recorded some more. When dialogue was required, we let the camera roll while Joseph improvised conversations. Our filmmaking style would have been an insult toHollywood—no scripting, no storyboarding, no editing, no color correction. We did everything in-camera, then popped the tape out and watched our movie.
And apparently these short stories were entertaining. A visiting preacher who spent the night at our house, being a Lego fan, liked these movies a lot. He even requested that we show them to his wife on a subsequent visit! Unfortunately, we’ve either lost or taped over these movies (although one never knows—maybe we’ll discover them one day).
Not content with stop-motion, we made a detective/robber live action movie for a friend’s birthday. I played both the detective and the robber for most of the movie, except at the climax, where my brother Joseph stood in for the criminal. The detective (me), armed only with a sharpened pencil, fought and eventually killed a robber (Joseph) armed with a vicious-looking rubber knife. Needless to say, our friends thought this short movie was hysterical, despite our non-existent production values (production value—anything in the movie that looks like it cost a lot of money to get—an expensive looking car, a realistic looking rifle, a massive explosion, a camera angle from way above the ground, etc.).
Act III—Utter Defeat Transformed into Glorious Success
After these pioneering forays into filmmaking, Joseph and I took a break (except for our sit-com Brother Knows Zilch—it’s called a sit-com because I sat on my bed throughout most of the show and it’s a comedy because I made idiotic remarks). We tried to write a real script about a couple of World War II soldiers, incorporating a Christian message of love and self-sacrifice. Then we watched the movie Saints and Soldiers, and gave up, seeing our movie had already been made (we didn’t get the memo that the main character was a Mormon, not a Christian, until later because the movie says nothing explicitly that he was a Mormon. Oh well…). I read way too many books on filmmaking, and I became increasingly interested in 3D animation. And then computers sucked our life away! As a result, we stopped actually making films. We took a hiatus from filmmaking….
Until March of 2011. I woke up on a lazy Saturday morning and said, “Joseph, want to make a short film? It’s called Licensed to Grill.” It’s about an ex-spy fixing to grill hamburgers—when a CIA spy sent to kill him shows up! Sounds like a hit, right? No? Well, that’s about what Joseph thought of the idea—Joseph wasn’t crazy about it—until we started filming. But we finished it, and our hiatus from filmmaking was over, which brings us up to the present…
We’re back! We’ve made a couple other movies since Licensed to Grill. Also, our production values have increased, thanks in large part to the cheapness of digital-single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras and Goodwill products. We are currently in the process of filming what will probably be our final film because Joseph leaves for college at the end of August. It is a short monster movie. Title: Dead Men Hiking. We’ve got a script this time, along with an actual storyboard, actors, props, a camera, and costumes. Lord willing, we’ll be wrapping up filming tomorrow (August 19th).
Also, be on the lookout for posts in the near future where we chronicle progress on this short movie as well as tutorials and how-to’s.