Writer / Director

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Filming ‘The Reckoning’ down under.

The film industry is an amazing family to be a part of. You’d be hard pressed to list many careers that allow frequent travel to so many locations all over this big blue sphere. But it’s something extra special when a project arises which allows you to return to your home town for work.

reckoning2

Born and raised in Perth Western Australia, I’ve been fortunate enough in my early career as a film maker to have work opportunities pull me to the mecca of the Film & Television industry; Hollywood, California where I now live. So when John V. Soto called to ask if I would head back to Australia for 5 weeks and come on board his latest crime thriller The Reckoning as 2nd Unit Director, I had re-arranged scheduled projects in L.A and booked my flight back to Perth before he had even finished his sentence.

The Reckoning stars Jonathan LaPaglia, Luke Hemsworth, Hanna Mangan Lawrence and Viva Bianca. It’s a crime thriller revolving around a detective who discovers footage at a murder scene, shot by two teenagers, that provides clues to the identity of a killer. The teens have since gone missing, and as the detective retraces their journey, he soon uncovers a trail of deceit and murder. It’s the latest work from Filmscope Entertainment’s writer/director John V. Soto and producer Deidre Kitcher whom were responsible for Crush, and the globally distributed horror film ‘Needle’ which won a multitude of festival awards.

The story is set in and around Perth, Western Australia, paying homage to local suburbs and landmarks. It was fantastic to work with local Perth crew again, several of which had also worked on a short film I shot down under called Ronan’s Escape. It was more of a filming reunion than anything, and many down times in between takes were spent catching up and telling stories with the crew. It was reuniting with the Perth film production family and sharing our stories and passion for film making that highlighted how important it is for films such as The Reckoning to have the support of government bodies such as ScreenWest.

Shooting with the Perth CBD Skyline

Producer Deidre Kitcher & Director John V. Soto.

We shot in the tail end of summer, and over the 5 week filming period, mother nature threw all it had at us. Gale force winds, thunderstorms and torrential rains made an appearance on set.. and surprisingly conveniently on cue. The majority of times when weather arrives on a film set it usually postpones or even cancels shoot days, but we were simply graced with some free production value. I remember one day in particular shooting on the beautiful W.A coast just south of Fremantle, the rain was falling sideways. Normally this would be call for cancellation, but we had scheduled a dark, gloomy crime scene that evening so the weather added the perfect essence to the story. So the crew battened down the hatches, pushed forward and completed the scenes on time.

Last looks before rolling with Jonathan LaPaglia and Luke Hemsworth.

As 2nd Unit Director on this particular film, I also spent a good amount of time working with the stunts unit lead by Stunt Coordinator John Walton and Sam Elia. Most of the time rehearsing and shooting was done at the RAC training center by the Perth Airport on a closed racetrack. Together we worked on choreographing, blocking, and shooting the more intricate stunt scenes. The extensive rehearsal period provided a great opportunity for me to produce some live storyboards too. Director of Photography, Jason Thomas was very collaborative and gave me free reign on where to put the lens which was very refreshing for a director with a background behind the camera.

DP Jason ThomasFor one particular stunt scene involving a high powered sports car, the team and I rehearsed for 3 days in preparation for the final shoot day. During the final stages of rehearsals I filmed the sequence from 5 different angles with a Canon 5Dmkiii digital SLR and a few lens options. When I had all the angles I wanted in the bag, I went back to the main set and spent a few hours on the laptop during lunch editing the sequence together and produced a moving storyboard. It was a hybrid between a still image cartoon storyboard and the final action sequence that would make it into the film. It consisted of not only the vision I had shot, but on screen text stating what lens I had used for each shot.

Final checks before a stunt scene.I cut 4 different versions of the action sequence at varying speeds and angles for John to view so he could pick and choose which angles he liked best, and for Jason to have an advanced look into which angles would be dramatic and powerful and which would not. The stunt team also found the sequences invaluable in validating their choreography and how it would translate to the screen. Producing this pre-visualization sequence also enabled me to identify and solve potential logistical problems that would have arisen when it came to filming the sequence for real.

Slate- The ReckoningWhen the time came to film the high powered car scene, it was just after 2am when the cameras began rolling. Because of the vigilant rehearsal time and moving storyboard sequence we produced, the final stunt sequence went off without a hitch and the sequence in the film only lasts momentarily, but it looks amazing.

A.J Carter - 2nd Unit Director - The ReckoningWith the short shooting schedule, unpredictable weather, and logistical challenges of shooting in the most remote capital city in the world, the producers at Filmscope and crew ran a tight ship and solidified an on-schedule completion of principal filming. It was a fantastic experience flying back to my home town to work with the Filmscope team, and a great opportunity to spend time with family and friends in between shoot days.

Sales Agency outfit, Lightning Entertainment, have acquired worldwide sales rights and will be representing the film at the Berlin Film Festival/EFM and other major markets around the world. I’ll be sure to drop a quick blog post on its release and where you can see it.

Links:
IMDb
Official Facebook Page
FilmScope Entertainment

A.J. Carter autograph

 

 

 

-A.J. Carter
Writer / Director

Ronan’s Escape- In depth interview with Scribe Magazine

I don’t usually bother to blog about publicity articles as it’s a little wanky, but this latest article by Cam Allen on a short film I did Ronan’s Escape just hit Scribe Magazine, and it’s a great resource of info about the film its self, why we made it, and the ‘behind the scenes’ of the film making process.

Scribe- P1 Scribe- P3 Scribe- P2

 

 

 

 

 

After the film made its way through the world film festival circuit and was released in its entirety on YouTube, I’ve gotten a constant flow of emails from all over the world- from teachers, school kids, and parents. Many sharing their own personal stories and thanking our team for making the film and generating awareness on school bullying. Most also ask about the actual making of the film, what inspired me to write it etc. I’ve managed to reply to a good chunk of e-mails over the last year, but not all, so I think this article would be of value to a lot of you.

– Read the Full Article on Scribe Magazine.
– Watch Ronan’s Escape on YouTube.
– Buy the DVD at the Ronan’s Escape Official Website. Support us and enjoy lots of cool bonus material.

Thanks again for all your support, and enjoy the article!

A.J. Carter autograph

 

 

 

-A.J. Carter
Writer / Director

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‘My own worst Critic’ – Promo shoot with Perth photographer Luke Martin

When Perth photographer, co-writer, and long time friend Luke Martin and I decided we should do a composite photo a little outside of the box, we never anticipated such a memorable image would be the result.

'My own worst Critic' - Director A.J. Carter

‘My own worst Critic’ – Director A.J. Carter

After initially posting this photo, I received a lot of questions about how it was done, so I thought I would do a quick blog post for all the HDSLR and still photography nuts out there.

Luke and I have been co-writing a spec T.v series called The Pictures which takes a leaf out of The Office (UK) and the creative geniuses that are Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. We can’t say too much about the project, but it’s a comedy set in and around a movie theatre, so what better location to do a little promotional photography for the project! Using to our advantage the large key-chain which Luke was endowed with, being the Manager and projectionist at Hoyts Cinemas, the hardest part was getting up early enough to shoot before the steady flow of eager moviegoer patrons (usually slow moving, quiet, elderly patrons supported by walking frames and electric wheelchairs watch movies this early in the morning, but for the purpose of generating urgency I used the verbs ‘Steady Flow’ and ‘Eager’) began to arrive. So, at 7am we slipped into the cold, dark cinema armed with only a flash kit and a Canon 5Dmkii, and thanks to my early morning procrastination (it was cold), we knew we only had about 20 minutes to do the shot before we were bombarded with elderly Clash of the Titans fans.

Note: The awesome limited edition Clash of the Titans popcorn cups in the photo. Needless to say, our photo has provided more entertainment longevity for the public than Clash of the Titans did.

We quickly threw the flash kit together and placed one to the front left of camera as the key light and the second was mounted high in the rear which not only acted as a rim light, but also doubled as the ‘projector light’ in the theatre. Now it was time to snap and get creative. We shot this amazing photo composite in under 10 minutes. The composite is made up from over 60 individual photos, and because we had no time, the process was very simple; Jump from one seat to another and sport some alternate character expressions. Rinse and repeat every 10 seconds… 67 times. The trick was remembering what I was doing in the surrounding seats and trying to ‘interact’ with the previous shots to make the photo more dynamic and interactive.

All of the character expressions are based on the more memorable moments I can remember going to the movie theatres as a kid. I think just about every expression reared it’s ugly (and pretty) face, from frustration and anxiety at morons talking or disrupting the movie, to spilling that pot of gold.. namely the grossly overpriced, unfordable yet necessary freshly made popcorn all over the patron next to me.

Co-writers A.J. Carter and Luke Martin

Co-writers A.J. Carter and Luke Martin

Despite our early morning fun, the post editing process which Luke endured in solitude, was where the real magic happened. Aside from a few small color correction tweaks, 16 of the 17 hours of the Photoshop editing came from meticulously stitching multiple photos together in order to graft a single shot. A few small additions we added included the spilling popcorn which was anticipated during the photos, but no popcorn was present during the photos.

I have this image printed on a 1 metre canvas and the detail is incredible. Luke shot the original images at a huge resolution and the canvas really does the photo justice, far more than the Internet.

For all the DSLR nuts out there who want more info, I probed Luke (in a metaphorical sense) for the following details:
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Location: Hoyts Millennium Cinemas, Cinema 3. Perth, Western Australia
Time: 8am-ish
Camera: Canon 5D Mkii
Lens: Canon 24-105mm F4L
Accessories: Two Wireless Camera Canon 580EXII flashes, 1 with 50x50cm softbox as main light source in front, 1 with diffuser at back to replicate the projector light, Manfrotto tripod, Wireless trigger.
Nitty Gritty: 24mm @ ISO 1600 @ f8, 1/40s, Large Raw
Total images used in composite: 67
Total time: 16-17 hours

The process:
A total of 67 individual layers were imported at 16Bit 300dpi into Photoshop CS4 and were subject to only minor adjustments in contrast, brightness and saturation directly to the Raw files.
I started with a back plate of the empty cinema. I then cut out each one of A.J’s characters from the back to the front and from left to right. I began the composite starting from left to right because the main light source at the front was to my left and cast a slight shadow to the right. The natural shadows cast proved VERY useful in compiling each A.J as I could use the shadow to add realism and depth to the character next in line, as if they were actually all there at once.

With each character I had to painstakingly cut out each AJ at 200-400% zoomed in to ensure I had each outline perfect. To finish the shot I added in Popcorn to the buckets and did another minor tweak to contrast, saturation, sharpness and noise. A very cool and memorable image is the result of 10 minutes of fooling around in a cinema.  – Luke
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Here’s some Wheres Wally moments..(Where’s Waldo for the American readers)
– Graffiti
– Wally sliding 3D glasses on and off.. amazed at new technology
– Wally waking another Wally up
– 14 shoes
– High 5 Wally
– Wally with popcorn bucket on head

Thanks to Hoyts Cinemas (better ask forgiveness than permission), and Luke for putting together such a memorable photo. Luke was also responsible for the much talked about image composite on the Ronan’s Escape movie poster. You can find out more about Luke and his amazing work at www.digitaljellyfish.tv

description of the photo

-A.J. Carter
Writer / Director

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Ronan’s Escape official film release

What an incredible roller coaster the past year has been! Ronan’s Escape went above and beyond what any of us could have ever imagined, and January 2012 marks the close of the film’s festival circuit. While the public screenings draw to a close, the ride is only just beginning as we will officially release the film worldwide on YouTube for everyone to view.

The film encourages the audience to subconsciously delve into, and reflect on their individual experiences and sometimes sensitive memories, in order to convey its powerful messages. Its worldwide release will no doubt stir up some emotion and controversy, and we expect it to draw opinions from both ends of the critique spectrum.

Some will love it, while others will hate it, and we welcome the comments and debates which the public release will evoke. In celebration of its viral release campaign, I wanted to share the epic journey we undertook to bring this film to the screen, highlight a few of the accolades we earned along the way and extend my gratitude and appreciation to each and every crew member and organization who made the film possible.

Ronan’s Escape has featured in numerous USA publications and blogs and key crew members have engaged in discussions with various related media forums including print articles and radio interviews. The film was openly denied screenings in several film festivals because of the controversial nature of its content, and was encouragingly featured at others where it went on to win both director and people’s choice awards. We’ve had hundreds of heart wrenching emails from students, families, school teachers and adults from all over the world who were transported back to their childhoods after watching the film triggering them to share their personal stories to us.

**The full length film is now available below. Please click ‘360p’ and change to an [HD] setting and view full screen. Please also click the ‘YouTube’ button and share your comments and stories after the film.

**Please support the film and purchase your copy of the DVD at www.RonansEscape.com The DVD contains some great behind the scenes information, the script, behind the scenes photo gallery and more.

Director A.J. Carter wins award

Ronan’s Escape was screened at a total of 17 film festivals world wide and earned a total of 12 international film nominations of which it won 9 of them. Some of the accolades achieved include ‘Best Short Film’ at the prestigious 16th Annual Sedona International Film Festival, the 2010 Director’s Choice Awards for ‘Best International Film’ at the 6th Annual HollyShorts Film Festival in Hollywood, ‘Gold Winner’ at the 2011 Australian Cinematographer’s Society Awards for Best Short Narrative, both the People’s choice and overall ‘Best Short Film’ awards at the 2011 Peace on Earth Film Festival, and the Van Gogh / World Cinema award for “Best Director” at the 2011 Amsterdam International Film Festival, just to name a few.

Ronan’s Escape, albeit only a short film, was a mammoth collaborative effort to say the least and was only made possible because of more than 170 crew members who donated their time to work on this film. The nature of the script and its unique screenplay which somewhat defies traditional storytelling techniques, was the catalyst for securing many of the crew involved in this film however it was also the sheer relentless drive inherent in W.A film makers which was the real key to putting the script onto the big screen.

Director A.J. Carter on set of Ronan's Escape with Kirstie Francis - Perth, Western AustraliaAfter the script was passed around, the array of professional talent who volunteered to work on this film astounds me. From university students who had never stepped foot on a real film set before, to industry professionals such as Director of Photography David Lemay, Academy Award nominee Martin Mhando, Special Effects & props maker Jeremy Shaw who’s past works includes Lord of The Rings and King Kong, and post production sound designer Frank Lipson from Romeo & Juliet and Happy Feet.. just to name a few.

Ronan’s Escape was not made purely to convey an important message, or just to provoke discussion about the devastating effects of bullying and youth suicide, it was also made to test ourselves as film makers under one of the harshest filming climates in the world and with extremely limited resources. To throw ourselves in the deep end and either sink or swim. Perth is by definition, the most remote capital city in the world, then, travel a further 2.5 hours out of the city and into the hot and dusty wheat belt of Boddington where more than half of the film was shot on location. Take with you more than 40 teenage school kids as extras and throw into the mix a few eskis full of ice to keep the film stock cool in 38 degree weather and you have the makings of Ronan’s Escape.

Director A.J Carter  works with actor David Lazarus on set of Ronan's EscapeThis film enabled more than 170 Western Australian film makers the chance to work on a traditional film set, shoot real film and be a part of a production that wasn’t graced by the luxury of HD cameras, replay monitors & hard drives. In this new world of High Definition cameras which are slowly but surely replacing the traditions of film, it’s becoming less and less often that film makers, especially in Western Australia can experience the gentle sounding flicker of film passing through a camera gate on set. While shooting on film is typically more expensive and slightly more complicated, the traditional nature of the script cried for the warm feel and gentle grain you naturally get from film, so it was always going to be the right medium to capture Ronan’s Escape on. It was also a chance (and probably one of our last) to get back to the traditions of shooting on film for our established crew, whilst providing an invaluable opportunity for up and coming local W.A. film makers to work on a real film project.

Director A.J. CarterI am proud and privileged to have been at the creative forefront of this film and to be surrounded by so many talented people who believed in this story and who donated their time to make the film possible.

In particular, producers Brad Major, Kate Separovich, Jennifer Carter & Martin Mhando, Director of Photography David LeMay (who won GOLD for Ronan’s Escape at the Australian Cinematographer’s Society awards for ‘Best Short Narrative’), my entire cast who worked so hard; David Lazarus, Kirstie Francis, Ashleigh Zinko, Ryan Cammiade and Matt Hennighan just to name a few.
Thanks also must go to our investors, Giancarlo Trettel, Frank Tomasi and Santino Castelli, and to Screen West, Murdoch University & Local Community Partnership Hotham, Pallinup Lakes for your generous support.

This film belongs to each and every one of you. It would not have touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of people around the world without your time, talent, and support. Thanks to you, many audiences from around the world will reflect on the images they see in Ronans Escape with an open mind and allow for their own personal interpretations of the film whilst being reminded of the devastating affects which bullying has on all of us.

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-A.J. Carter
Writer / Director

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Shooting with Cameron & Schwarzenegger in Hollywood

It’s amazing how often the more memorable projects which present them selves in this industry arrive when you least expect them. I’ve been fortunate enough in the still primitive stages of my career to work with some amazing people both in front of and behind the camera, and filming ’23’ with two of my childhood heroes was obviously no exception. It was 11am when I got the call from Winner & Mandabach, a marketing & campaign company which I have worked with previously. I was informed about a special, last minute project scheduled to begin filming in 28 hours time, and whilst still on the phone discussing the project, the laptop sang the song of an incoming email, or in this case, script. Once I read through the initial concept and saw the names attached, the 28 hours pre-production deadline we had now felt like 30 minutes. In that time, we had to book the film crew, refine the script, brief them on my vision, and design how the commercial would look and flow. The foundation of the commercial was of a political nature, however like the past commercials I had directed for this particular marketing company, this commercial allowed for a ‘different’ approach as well as some unconventional rule breaking which fell right into my niche.

To get you up to speed: The commercial we had to produce was to entice voters to vote NO on Proposition 23. For those of you outside of California, Prop 23 is a proposition funded and backed by two Texan oil companies which if allowed to pass would essentially devastate the current Californian environmental laws in a bid to relax pollution & clean air laws, in turn fueling environmental health issues & destroying thousands of ‘clean energy’ jobs. No on Prop 23 website. That is it in a nutshell, but as is with every proposition there are two sides to the story. This is not the right forum for debate, but I personally am all for being conscious about the environment, so thankfully I was already passionate about shooting this commercial with Jim & Arnold and making a difference.

Along with various other outspoken environmentally aware celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio, both Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron have felt strongly for the environment for many years. Cameron has in fact donated a ‘substantial’ amount of money to help promote the ‘No on 23’ campaign and wanted to finish off with a viral commercial starring himself and long time friend & college Arnold. James’ love and concern for the environment has also been evident in several of his films including his latest film ‘Avatar’ from which the foundation of the narrative highlights the theme of environmental destruction.  

The commercial was written and directed specifically for viral marketing online through YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and email, so the commercial had to be quirky enough for fans to want to forward it around, yet still retain a serious motive and successfully deliver the  message contained within. To do this, we blended a serious political message with a short dose of lighthearted comedy. The bulk of the script was layered with the use of specific verbs encompassing subtle references to previous films which Cameron had written & directed… “terminating our air pollution standards, sinking our clean energy economy and exploiting our environment for profit.” To add an extra element of viral appeal, we pulled in Arnold Schwarzenegger for a short cameo at the end who served as the catalyst for the comical element of the commercial.

Being a high profile political commercial, ’23’ had to undergo a rigorous  approval system which included the spot being passed through several layers of hierarchy within the marketing company and screenings for both James and 3rd party focus groups. So why all the fuss over approvals and focus groups? Politics & comedy are rarely married together, so the biggest risk the marketing company had with such a commercial was that the opposition (Vote Yes on 23) would play dirty and extract the comedy aspect inherent in the commercial and use it against Cameron and Arnold’s campaign. Because we were uploading a full High Definition version of the final piece to YouTube, it would be very simple for the opposition to download the spot & create a nasty TV commercial portraying the comedic value in a negative light and out of context. During the approval process, I cut almost 20  versions of the commercial, all slightly varied in one way or another, from music timing, graphics, fonts and multiple comedic endings. The original cut (which was never released) runs for an extra 10 seconds at the end and provides us with a little more comedic interaction between Cameron and Schwarzenegger, poking fun at Arnold’s Hollywood stardom as a Cyborg. Both Cameron & myself liked the more risqué cuts where he and Arnold played up a little, but the marketing company would always reel us back into line, which was surprisingly entertaining to see how much we could get away with.

After much discussion and several days of testing and feedback from focus groups, we all agreed on the final version which was a nice compilation of a serious political message with just enough comedic quirkiness to ensure the commercial reached the target audience and dominated viral online forums. And here is the final piece…

** Please pause the video until it has fully downloaded to avoid skipping. Then click play.

[xr_video id=”49555143ce124f5ba90c1d9bfee2918e” size=”md” width=”600″ viewonxr=”false”]

On Set filming with two of the most influential men in Hollywood was a very humbling experience. It was the first time in 16 years James and Arnold had been together to film since the Hollywood blockbuster True Lies in 1994. This special reunion combined with the nostalgia radiating from hundreds of movie prop pieces from Titanic, The Terminator and Avatar neatly displayed throughout James’ office, filled the set with an enlightening energy which was almost indescribable.  Working with James & Arnold was an absolute pleasure and was surprisingly not daunting at all. I was extremely confident and refined in what I needed to do and the time frame we had to do it in, which I think they appreciated.  There was even some downtime in between takes where the Accademy Award® winning Avatar director joked “so this is what it feels like!” in reference to him being out of his element and now in front of the camera taking direction. There were also a few times where I needed Arnold to adjust the timing of his line delivery, and he just listened intently before following through perfectly on the next take. They were both true professionals and gentlemen which undoubtedly aided in rendering any nerves I may have had non existent.  

The Release, thanks to a sneaky tweet or two from Schwarzenegger during the weeks leading up to the shoot, was met with much online hype as whispers emerged of Cameron and Schwarzenegger reuniting for a mysterious commercial project.

The commercial was proudly unveiled by Cameron and Schwarzenegger during a live broadcast at 3pm October 27th 2010 Californian time, 6 days before the final voting date. Within hours of its release on YouTube, the commercial went viral and made news headlines in newspapers all over the world. Within 96 hours the spot had received over 50,000 YouTube hits and became the most successful campaign ever run by Winner & Mandabach resulting in a landslide win – 61% No on Prop 23 vs 39% Yes.

It is a wonderful feeling and an honor to have worked with such esteemed & influential members of the industry, who for a few hours afforded me the rare opportunity to collaborate and share my creativity with them, all whilst doing my small part in making the world a better, cleaner place. This is one slice of the film career pie I’ll never forget, and the landslide political victory we had as a result just made it all that much sweeter.

I must thank Neal Krone, Leo Wallach and the entire executive team from Winner & Mandabach for presenting me with this wonderful opportunity and entrusting the vision of this project in my hands. My entire crew who came to the party with only a days notice, in particular, my Director of Photography Guy Livneh who made the spot look fantastic with such a short amount of time and limited resources. And finally a big thank you to James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger for taking a few hours out of their busy schedules to make the shoot possible and for their dedication to making the world a better place.. one Cyborg at a time.
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-A.J. Carter

EXTRA: For more behind the scenes photos and more information from a technical point of view, Brodie Butler has done an exclusive writeup on the shoot based around the camera equipment we used. You can check out the article here. Still Photography: Rafael Leyva

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Ronan’s Escape wins ‘BEST INTERNATIONAL FILM’ in Hollywood!

CONGRATULATIONS! Yet again, Ronan’ Escape takes out another top prize international film award in 2010, this time at the star studded 6th Annual HollyShorts Film Festival held in Hollywood, Los Angeles. Ronan’s Escape won ‘BEST INTERNATIONAL FILM’ amongst a lineup of films featuring Will Ferrell, David Arquette, Mena Suvari, Kate Bosworth, Dick Van Dyke, James Franco and Kirsten Dunst just to name a few.

The festival began with a star studded gala red carpet event held at the Directors Guild of America in Hollywood. The red carpet was entertained by hundreds of successful film makers, celebrities and media and was an amazing prelude to what was to be an even more amazing week long film festival. Lead actor David Lazarus was able to fly in all the way from Australia to be present on the Red Carpet, which made it a truly wonderful experience.

This year, more than 200 local and international films were enjoyed by thousands of film fans as they filled the seats over 7 days in August at the famous Laemmle Sunset 5 cinemas in Hollywood, California. The HollyShorts Film festival, USA,  was entered into as part of our long list of festivals which makeup our festival circuit, so to win the top prize for international films is a complete surprise to all of us and hopefully a sign of further success ahead.

Thanks to the amazing festival directors and staff who did an amazing job to make the 6th Annual HollyShorts International Film Festival was easily the best, well organized, jam packed festival we have attended so far. Special thanks must go out to several of the festival directos and staff who we were lucky enough to personally meet, namely Daniel, Theo, Nicole, Philippe and Crickett.  Thank you for allowing us to be a part of the festival and for honoring us with this wonderful accolade. Another huge thank you and congratulations to my entire cast and crew on the award for making it all possible!

If you want to join us on the Ronan’s Escape festival journey and follow the films’ progress, you can visit the Official Website and join our mailing list. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

-A.J. Carter

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Gracie Jiu-Jitsu T.V Commercial

Working with the Gracie family- A privilege & a delight.

Several months ago I was fortunate enough to work again with the fantastic team from Pinnacle Marketing and with Rener and Ryron Gracie. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the history of the Gracie family, they are the most famous family in the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu arena after their grandfather Helio Gracie effectively founded Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in the early 1900’s as we know it. Gracie Jiu-Jitsu has become a household name through popular MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) TV shows and events such as world wide phenomenon known as the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship).

Riding on a marginally successful ‘Gracie Combatives’ advertising campaign, which adhered to the template ‘1800 number infomercial’ styles you are relentlessly hounded with during late night television,  it was time to up the ante and as with the previous Criss Angel commercial I had done (see my blog here), I wanted to go out on a limb with the Gracies and try something different… break the rules yet again and just see what would happened. Again, the guys at Pinnacle were very receptive to a new approach and gave me relatively free reign on the concept of the commercial.

So what infomercial rules did we break? Well, basically all of them. After several sit down meetings with the Gracies in Los Angeles, Rener and I agreed we would do two things;

First of all, do away with the whole ‘1800 call now’ authoritative voice over, brainwashing garbage which in my opinion automatically installs a subconscious pulse of channel changing into the viewers finger tips and replacing it with a simple website address to go to. This was probably the single biggest rule to break in the infomercial industry & no doubt made Pinnacle Marketing a little nervous! You see, the final 20 seconds of a standard infomercial is known as the CTA (Call to action). This is the, most important, never to be tampered with, crucial few seconds of the script where the viewer is so caught up in the wonderful product they have just been brainwashed to buy, that they pickup the phone and in a bid to avoid missing out on the greatest product in the world which will inevitably change their lives, they dial the 1800 number and order.But if there is no 1800 number or voice telling you to order, how or why would anyone part with their hard earned cash for the product?

Well, the second element I wanted to add to the commercial was intrigue. Install an element of intrigue into the viewer which was derived from the images they were seeing on screen, so instead of wanting to change the channel, they wanted to know answers, they had a wiling to ‘investigate’ further and therefore the commercial’s CTA was now internally driven by the viewer- they wanted to see more about the product on screen.

Now that we had broken the biggest fundamental infomercial rules in the business and were staring down a marketing campaign which was against the grain of 1000’s of successful commercial before it, we were ready to shoot.

As Smooth Motion Films USA had done before, we chose to shoot in the old CBS Studios on Sunset Blvd. The character and ‘smell’ of years and years of history in live television radiates through the walls and gives you a sense of nostalgia with no matter what production you’re shooting… Not to mention the beautiful 45 foot green screen! Led by producer Jason Baguio, we set out to find the right crew behind the job. The biggest decision for the shoot was the right Director of Photography. I wanted the images to look dark and mysterious. I wanted this infomercial to look nothing like the bright, colourful, plastic traits possessed by a regular infomercial, so I brought on feature film Director Of Photography Guy Livneh (Brothers in arms and Second Unit DP for the Academy Award winning film ‘Monster’ starring Charlize Theron). Guy had only shot high end narrative films before and had never shot an infomercial in his life – this is why he was perfect. To me, we were not shooting  an infomercial, we were shooting a small slice of a movie. If viewers were channel surfing with their remote and stumbled across our infomercial, they would stop and watch.

Now that we had the right crew in place it was down to half a day of fun working with Rener, Ryon and the crew. Shooting was extremely streamlined thanks to a previous night of storyboards I had drawn up and the several meetings I had with Rener prior to shooting. Director of Photography, Guy was extremely efficient but precise with lighting setups. Every shot in the final commercial is exactly how he wanted it lit and with the whole CBS studio and lighting rig to ourselves, we were able to quickly and easily run a 12+ lighting setup for some of the shots.

[xr_video id=”269f64168fd84da48da9e1f671cc5f61″ size=”md” width=”600″ viewonxr=”false”]
**Note: The free training video on Lesson1.com was only made exclusively available for the duration of the advertisement campaign.

Rener and Ryron Gracie were as one could expect from champions of mixed martial arts; incredibly disciplined guys. It was an interesting dynamic; a fairly scrawny Australian guy telling two incredibly dedicated, disciplined fighting machines what to do and sometimes, how to do it so their movements adapted well to our on screen visions. Despite their confidence and MMA family fame, they were incredible receptive to taking direction on set and humble in their ways. After spending quite some time working with the boys both on and off set, I personally believe that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and the legacy they hold on their shoulders, has not only made them disciplined to the highest level in the cage and under the limelight of international fame, but kind and honorable human beings in both their personal lives and in business. I now have an immense inner respect for both the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu craft and for the honorable Gracie family.

All in all, the shoot was a delightful experience and although we broke some fundamental rules making the commercial a fairly big risk, and the big wigs at the top a little nervous, it proved that sometimes you have to go out on a limb, because that is where the fruit is. Oh, and by the way, after our new ‘Lesson 1.com’ commercial went to air on USA cable television, sales quadrupled from the 10% generated by the old ‘1800 Call now’ commercial to an impressive 400% ratio… Success.

Thanks to the following key cast & crew members for a successful shoot and another happy client. -A.J. Carter

Executive Producers: John Linton, Jonathan Flicker, Brett Saevitzon / Pinnacle Direct Marketing USA
Cast: Rener Gracie, Ryron Gracie
Producer: Jason Baguio
Director of Photography: Guy Livneh (Official Website)
Production Coordinator: Niv Gat
Production Company: Smooth Motion Films
Marketing Company: Pinnacle Direct Marketing

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T.W.A.T- my first [3D] project.

First of all, I am extremely excited alongside many of our notable industry professionals currently engaged in this film, at the prospect of shooting possibly the first [3D] short film on location in Western Australia using a certified [3D] mirror rig. It is not every day that the film industry progresses through such a radical advancement in story telling technology and to be an integral part of locally pioneering this new film making technique is something very unique and special.

T.W.A.T. (Tactical Women’s Anti-Assault Team) is an explosively charged, action / comedy blend with topical themes and sexual innuendo thrown into the mix. Professional athletes world wide- Beware! Set in the year 2020, ‘Guy Champ’ has it all; looks, fame, women and money. He is the king of the sporting world and reaps the rewards of a professional athletes profile financially through lucrative endorsements. When he decides to take home ‘Charlotte’, a sports star loving groupie, home for some late night fun at his apartment, he quickly realizes he has brought home more than he bargained for when the T.W.A.T team storm his apartment to mediate and put a dampener on his one night stand plans.

The topical nature and primary theme of T.W.A.T. along with a cleverly articulated screenplay co-written by Myself and Lukas William Martin, with Story By credits to Pete Healy,  provides a solid foundation for a film with a unique ability to encapsulate audiences world wide. Through scene composition and clever dialogue delivery in the screenplay, T.W.A.T. allows audiences from different backgrounds and cultures around the world to interpret the film in such an individual manner, that they can tailor the sport category to appropriate their culture.

T.W.A.T. is about making a statement, and a statement it will make. From the incredibly refined, carefully crafted screenplay to breaking new ground and pioneering 3D technology in Western Australia, T.W.A.T. is an exciting culmination of the talents and resources of some of the best industry professionals in Australia who are ready to scream in the faces of the big Hollywood power houses and show ’em what we can do down under.

March 2010- Our new [3D] rig arrives in Perth! Watch out for my next blog where I will take you behind the scenes as we prepare and test our new [3D] rig and delve into unchartered territory of live action 3D film making.

Exciting stuff! Now off for a little Poker! :)

-A.J.

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Ronan’s Escape wins ‘Best Short Film’ – Sedona International Film Festival

Sedona International Film Festival SIFFSedona International Film Festival- Ronan's Escape WINNERRonan's Escape- Official Movie PosterWOW! What a fantastic beginning to the 2010/2011 film festival circuit for Ronan’s Escape! We were just informed via email and press release that our latest film ‘Ronan’s Escape’, shot in Perth Western Australia has taken out the top prize in the directors awards at the prestigious 2010 Sedona International Film Festival (SIFF).

This year, more than 100 films were enjoyed by 9,000 film fans as they filled the seats in front of six screens at Harkins Theatres and three off-site locations over ten days during the 17th annual Festival. Special guest for the event was Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Michael Moore and in addition to also screening three of his films, was honored for his impact on documentary filmmaking.

Film maker Michael MooreThe Sedona International Film Festival held in Arizona, USA, is actually the very first festival Ronan’s Escape was entered to as part of our long list of festivals which makeup our festival circuit, so to win the top prize first up is a complete surprise and hopefully a sign of further success ahead.

Thanks to Patrick Schweiss and the rest of the crew at SIFF for allowing us to be a part of the festival and for honoring us with this great accolade. Another huge thank you and congratulations to my entire cast and crew on the award!

If you want to join us on the Ronan’s Escape festival journey and follow the films’ progress, you can visit the Official Website and join our mailing list. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

-A.J. Carter

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Mindfreak ‘Criss Angel’ TV Commercial

Recently I was approached by one of the leading marketing company in Los Angeles, Pinnacle Direct Marketing to write & direct a ‘different’ commercial for their client Criss Angel. Criss is a hugely successful and well known entertainer throughout the USA and the world for his amazing, death defying and stylistic illusions on the TV Show ‘MindFreak’ which is now in it’s 6th successful season.

Criss Angel-Believe, MindfreakIn respect to Direct Marketing, I was fairly green on the dynamics and tactical, systematic approaches typically found in the “call now and we’ll throw in a set of steak knives” type infomercials. They follow a very precise, and to be honest, dead boring structure with specific allocated content partitions depending on the 60 second or 2 minute durations of the commercial. I have always steered clear of these ‘system’ based commercials as I’d rather not have my creativity crushed by format boundaries, 1800 numbers and generic content partition rules. Not to mention that most of these commercials are written and filmed by cheap ‘run of the mill’ video companies with little to no budgets and with the objective of.

SO WHY decide to write an infomercial!? I was the first laugh and highlight that I had never written or directed these types of long form marketing commercials before. ‘Perfect’, said Pinnacle, “That’s exactly why we want you to do this”. I was now slightly intrigued and further discussions came to fruition with Pinnacle agreeing to give me entirely free run on the long form concept, style and execution of the commercial… as long as they could have their 12 second ‘Call to Action’ (CTA) at the end. This was music to my ears. We had a deal.

1 Criss Angel - A.J. Carter Storyboard2 Criss Angel - A.J. Carter Storyboard3 Criss Angel - A.J. Carter Storyboard

Surprisingly excited and now armed with this new found enthusiasm at the prospect of breaking lots of rules, I thought I would at least educate myself in the regular boring structure templates which infomercials religiously adhere to. As intense as Trinity downloading the flight program to a Bell212 helicopter in ‘The Matrix’, I ingested a full day of research and analysis of infomercial production, discussing the typical infomercial structure with the pros at Pinnacle and learning the do’s and do-not’s. I was now perfectly educated and poised to break all the rules I had just learned.

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My Angle on Angel- Criss Angel’s talent along with his unique style is what has given him his edge amongst other illusionists and it’s what has aided in solidifying his unique performances and CRISS ANGEL branding. For this reason, I felt it necessary to retain this style and image throughout the commercial. Many infomercials follow a standard, corporate style formula which is very creatively unappealing and not complimentary enough to Criss’ unique styles and image. I wanted to abandon the dull repetitiveness of the infomercials which the industry as subscribed to and include certain colors, gothic themed artwork & text, high energy music, visual effects, on screen attitudes, signature moves, and editing techniques & styles similar to Criss’ highly successful TV show ‘MindFreak’.By injecting these important elements into the backbone of a successful infomercial structure, we maintain an instant continuity with every other piece of circulating media associated with the Criss Angel brand and image whilst still presenting an effective and visually attractive commercial which sells the product. By visually hitting home and encapsulating all who watch, our viewers will not want to switch channel. Our viewers will be driven to purchase the product by genuine intrigue and their underlying want and need to be the center of attention, not just through a persuasive ‘buy now and save’ V/O at the conclusion of the commercial.

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The final, approved TVC Synopsis:

Commercial begins with a hook in the form of a ‘Breaking News’  report read by a wide eyed TV news desk reporter. This alone will prove to be an extremely effective element to grab and retain the audiences attention for the duration of the commercial.  The breaking news will outline several strange phenomenon occurring throughout the USA and show live news feeds of regular people levitating and doing various other freaky illusions. A girl walking in mid air in a park, a man levitating a laptop on a subway train etc. People around are shocked at what they see, some are even scared. Home video and cellphone video snippets will heighten the mystique and credibility of the broadcast.

11 Criss Angel - A.J. Carter Storyboard12 Criss Angel - A.J. Carter Storyboard13 Criss Angel - A.J. Carter Storyboard

The live news feed begins to break up, static rips across the screen and we see Criss in a similar visual stance as demonstrated on www.crissangel.com . Criss says several lines in a quick direct to camera piece and informs us that anyone can do what you have just seen. Some quick visual effects and rock music form the transition which takes us straight onto the streets of Las Vegas. Background rock music creates atmosphere and anticipation as we enjoy a quick montage of Criss performing at his best. The audience is in disbelief and is amazed at the insane illusions which are performed right in front of their eyes.

We then return to the visually stunning studio shots where Criss informs us that any of these illusions can be performed quickly and easily by anyone, anywhere and he is going to teach us how to do it.

The commercial enters the final 12 seconds by a stylish CTA accompanied by rock music and a mysterious/deep voiceover outlining how you can perform these illusions yourself just as quick and easily as what you have just seen an that Criss’ kit contains the secrets and the necessary tools you MUST have to perform the illusions. We are informed that due to secrecy, there is only a limited number of Criss’ kits available for release so secure your kit now.

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The commercial is concluded by a ECU of Criss’ eyes as he says ‘Are YOU ready to believe?’

Thanks Criss Angel and his Manager and to Pinnacle Direct Marketing for their trust and allowing me the freedom to break the rules they re so accustomed to and going out on a limb with this project.Thanks also to my rockstar storyboard artist, Mercer Boffey for boarding the TVC and bringing the vision to life for the pitches. I will post the video of the final commercial once it’s completed and released with a copyright waiver.

– A.J.Carter

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