Saturday, May 28, 2016

It's a Copyright Jungle Out There

As it turns out this film is kind of illegal.

One Night Near Bedford Falls

I did this last November.  It's really a love letter to one of my all time favorite movies, It's A Wonderful Life, because I remember watching it at one of my darkest periods and it definitely rescued me.  As an artist making my own films I am also well aware of copyright.  I remembered that there was a case about AWOL falling in to public domain so I started searching.

In the 80's the film fell in to public domain after the studio dropped the ball and failed to refile the paperwork.  Everyone could, and did, use it which was a good and bad thing.  Stations were able to show it for free and it filled a big time slot during the usually low rated holiday hours.  In one way this brought about it's resurgence.  People who hadn't seen it in many years, or not seen it at all, got the chance to watch it again and fell in love with it.  On the bad side of things every hack in the world could use it and there were dozens of releases on video including Ted Turner vandalizing it in color.  

In the 90's, however, there was a change.  After several court rulings it was decided that when the film went in to public domain the rights to music purchased for the film, Buffalo Gal Won't You Come Out Tonight, went back to its original holders.  Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed dance to it, sing to it, there are call backs to it, and it is played during the credits so it's a major part of the film.  If you wanted to use it you would either have to pay them whatever they asked or rework so much of it you'd hurt the final project.  It stopped a great deal of misuse and, thankfully, AWOL was able to maintain it's integrity.

That was how I got involved in it.  When I wanted to use it for my tribute I had to carefully choose what scenes to show to avoid the song.  I even had to recut the sound for a brief clip and replace the music with more bells.  It put it out there and it was well received.

Earlier this week I put it on youtube and, in a few days, I was contacted by YT that there was a copyright notice from Paramount Pictures on the use of the film.  They didn't demand it's removal but they wanted to make the complaint known and offer me a chance to defend my actions so I started researching again.  As it turned out there had been a recent change in the copyright that I wasn't aware of.   

AWOL is based on a short story called The Greatest Gift.  Paramount had successfully petitioned the courts that since the movie was 'a derivative' of this story and they still owned the story that, therefore, they owned the film.  The courts agreed.  At least it's a relief to know that the future of this film is in safe hands.

As for my film it gets to stay out there.  I can't deny I was pretty surprised that the short film under a different name was able to catch the attention of Paramount.  Maybe because it's used respectfully someone decided it wasn't worth making a fuss about.  I probably will never really know.     

Friday, March 25, 2016


I entered the pilot script for In The Shadows of November in a script festival.  It wasn't accepted and they sent me back a rather detailed description of what they liked and didn't like about the script.  The interesting thing was their description of the pilot.

In the Shadows of November (PILOT)
By Bill Albert
In the Shadows of November - From Out of the Clouds is a sci-fi pilot set in a near future in which society struggles to survive in the aftermath of a series of nuclear attacks. Set in Louisiana, the story focuses on Austin, Lisa, Ross and Sean, a group of friends who rely on each other to survive, trading now useless electronic items for food. Unable to communicate with the world beyond their town, the group try and piece together what cities have survived and if they can ever leave. Two strangers arrive at the group’s home, bringing news of the world beyond but also untold danger to their door.

The thing that struck me is they were looking at it all wrong.  The story isn't about the four people in Louisiana, they only appear in the pilot episode, after that it follows the character of November as she travels across the United States.  It's about how she effects people as she goes and, steadily, we learn what a mystery she really is.  I felt that since it was called In the Shadows of November and the character is November it was clearer that the story was about her.  
They invited me to tell them what I felt about their comments and I very nicely responded.  I explained to them where the story was headed and that I would work on a rewrite making it clearer.  I'm completely true about that, I will rewrite it and stress the series that would follow is about this main character. 
Hopefully better luck next time.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016


I've noticed that over the past year or so my writing has become more political and contemporary.  I don't know if it's because it's an election year or I'm just becoming more socially aware and want to say things.  
A few weeks ago I wrote a short script called A Good Guy With A Gun.  It was in response to NRA spokesperson Wayne LaPierre who promoted gun rights by saying "The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."  Though I agree with most of the 2nd Amendment I am not much a fan of the NRA and this catch phrase is really over simplifying the situation.  It is careless and dangerous and I showed how bad it was in a script.
There are two characters in this story, Jerry, a younger male, and a public defender lawyer assigned to him.  It takes place in one scene in one room so it would be easy to shoot.  I put a listing on FB and got a response from a man looking to play the lawyer.  Well, he sent me the URL for his IMDB page.  He was quite experienced so I went a head and started talking to him.  When I told him what the premise and message was he went in to offense.  The question I ask in the script his how do you know the difference between a good guy and a bad.  He said that was not a problem and it was very easy to always know the difference.  The situation I had set up was to far fetched to ever happen.  I asked him how he could guarantee that and he said it just wasn't possible to confuse a good guy and a bad guy.  He went on to tell me my protests were unfounded. There was no reason to restrict guns and I was just wasting my time.  
It was the first time I've had to defend my writing.  After a few rounds it occurred to me that he was not interested in getting cast in one of my films.  The original posting made it clear the direction this film would take so, after a few rounds, I politely said goodbye to him and signed off.  
I've never ever had to defend my work before.  Luckily it was a minor skirmish, just a few lines with a stranger online, but it was an eye opening experience of what I could face if I continue to to write in this style and fashion.  I kept calm and deliberate and refrained from any personal attacks.  I just stated my beliefs.
Honestly, it felt good.  I also made me realize how much I've changed on things.  A year ago I wouldn't even have attempted to write something like this let alone defend it.  Despite everything I never really felt like an author.  I'm realizing that yes, I am.    

Saturday, March 5, 2016


Things have been going along great this week despite some bad, and some good, technical issues.  Wish they were all this productive.
The bad thing was the new format for footage for The Burning Room.  It looks good but it comes out as huge files that aren't easy to transport and even harder to work with.  Getting them compressed into a more usable format wasn't very easy either.  Maybe it's just my puter is 5 years old but some programs just won't work right.  It could be a PC vs Mac thing but the program everyone swore about at PATV froze up at home.  It would sit for hours and hours preparing to run and then nothing would happen.  Finally loaded the footage up in to Premiere Pro CC and exported it to mpeg files.  I can finally edit them now.  I understand mpeg is becoming the standard for video files because it can adapt to either system better than the rest.  
It brings up to one of the things that still gets me about video.  You will eventually get to that point where you hit the button and just wait, and wait, and wait.  Despite the magnificent things that puters can do really fast that is one thing they don't do in a hurry.  Today was made up of lots of things going on with going back every 30 minutes or so to start a new export.  Finally getting it done.
On the good side of things finally got the dictation software up and running.  This is making putting the books together very easy.  I can sit down and do a whole page of hand written fiction in about 20 minutes.  I'd definitely recommend it. 

Sunday, February 28, 2016


What a day Saturday, the 27th was!  

I spent a few hours on Thursday putting the set together.  I had to take out the carpet in that area of the studio and then the dance mat that had been underneath that for a long time.  It gave us the floor we needed and helped create the feeling of confinement in an old abandoned place.  Added wooden crates, an vent from a dryer, and girder to make it look good.  I think it came together really well.  Last thing I did was scatter book ashes around the room before I left.

The first thing we did was just sit down and read through the script.  That way we had one definitely good soundtrack of the dialogue in case there was any loss or contamination that we missed on the set.  It also worked out some of the kinks in the script and got everyone in to the flow.
After that it was make up and costume work for a few minutes.  I felt bad because we had talked about putting stage blood on Chelsea's hands.  I was just going to smudge a bit but it all came pouring out and completely covered her right hand with blood.  Holy shit!  It was all over the place.  Luckily we were outside so it didn't stain anything but it'll look like something really bad happened for a few days.  Had a green army jacket for her to wear.  It was a bit big but it fit the character and gave the nice feel of someone on the run.  Alice gave herself some bruises with the make up and it looked like she took a hit or two on the way down.  Yes, she wore it home when we were done.  I'm not surprised how many actors do that.  Honestly, I would do.
We started shooting on the set about noon and just kept going.  Josh took over the camera work, he's forgotten more about the tech side then I will ever know, so I could concentrate on the performers and we covered a lot of territory.  It's much easier when I can trust someone on the camera side.  This was the most experienced cast with professional television and stage work.  They knew that there were times you just kept going.  It also was a benefit because Danny, who plays the State, knew to keep his locations continuous so he's saying the same thing in the same place every time.  He also kept the actresses on guard and I remember Tera admitted being actually frightened the way Danny grabbed her hair at one time.  Perfect.

I had divided the filming in to four blocks.  The second and biggest block was the actual interrogation.  We spent most of the time on that one so there are lots of opportunities for editing choices.  Then we set up a dolly and just went through it once non stop slowly moving the dolly back and forth for establishing shots.  One point I thought it looked so good I just let it sit there awhile to film them.  There are very few shots with all four characters on the screen at the same time but I wanted to make sure there was at least one.  I purposefully want to hold of an establishing shot to give it a nice Hill Street Blues feel.
About 3:00 or see we finished the actresses and cut them loose.  Literally.  As prisoners they spent most of the day zip tied to the chairs.  They really gave it their all putting up with it being uncomfortable for much of the day.  They were really professional.
After that there were just a few shots with Danny.  We had talked about how the State would react to everything and we shot it several ways so I'll have more choices in editing.  Danny also gave it a lot as we don't see his face so 99% of his performance is in his voice.  
Finished the last shot about 3:30 and spent 20 minutes tearing the set down, transferring footage, packing everything up etc.  We ran a bit long but I had spoken to Ray, who had the studio after us, and he was really cool about things.  There might be a few pick up shots to get later but I think they will just be details of the set.  It's just be close ups and easy to do without having to build the entire room.
Off to editing!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016


I've realized that my favorite part of film making is editing.  I love that point of putting the story together so much that a few months ago I got Adobe Premiere Pro so I could work at home instead of having to go to Iowa City.  This has made things easier and it's given me the chance to work on things I normally wouldn't get to do.
After I finished the "More Than A Performance" documentary I was cleaning files and got rid off all the interviews and excess footage but kept all the footage I got during rehearsals and the one performance I was allowed to shoot clips from.  To get used to the new program I just started editing one of the scenes and thought it turned out pretty good.  So good I did another scene, then another, then another.  I've finished it and have the entire play now.  Every word of it.
I'll admit it's not perfect.  Some times the actor speaking is off camera, the darker moments are grainy and sound can be kind of wonky as the actors were facing away from the mic.  Still, considering it was three different cameras, three mics, three performance and three audiences it's at least 90% good.  There are great moments that are crystal clear and have just as much of the power and emotion as the live performance.
I've watched it several times in the past week and it's really impressive.  To make it a complete, watchable piece I even added opening and closing credits including actors, designers, stage managers, author and director.
I can show a small clip.  I had to put this on youtube because that way I can keep it private so only the link from here will get you there.  Youtube quality isn't as good as Vimeo but you'll get the idea of what the final product looks like.

Introducing the Mustangs

The challenge now is finding something to do with it.  It's a bit complicated because, right now, there are three owners of the piece.  Naomi Iizuka owns the script, UI Theatre owns the production, and I own the film version.  What can I do?
I contacted the director of the play and UI Theatre to see what he thinks and he's very excited about it.  He wants to see it and then will check with Naomi and see what they can come up with.  I'm hoping I can at least make it available o the actors.  
Deep down inside I hope there is some way we can get this seen.  Personally and professionally I think this is a very important play.  To important to be forgotten.  I also think having it seen would be a big win for everyone involved.  I keep asking myself what the downside of having this shown be?  So far nothing has come to mind.

Sunday, February 14, 2016


While fiction isn't going well film making is working out quite well.  I've got several short films in various stages of production and casting   The biggest we will shoot on the 27th called The Burning Room.  It's a very politically charged film with lots of things going on.  All of the cast, Chelsea Wing, Alice Doherty, Tera Cooling and Danny Peterson are experienced performers.  It's the most experienced cast I've ever had and it shows.  It's really unique in the rehearsal process for this one.  Lots of times rehearsal and take one have been the same thing.  Also got Josh Goding to take over the camera work and invited a few others to join us.  I've learned the more eyes you have on a film set the better.
Yesterday I went in and built the set.  I don't want to leave anything to chance so I put everything together.  I had been worried about the floor a lot.  I didn't want the carpet of the studio and considered shooting elsewhere even though that would mean lots of equipment getting moved, or not being used.  It was a big move put I was able to pull back the carpet in the studio and the floor mat underneath it so I could get the cement floor.  I added some rusty bits of metal and a chain for details and it gives the feel of a dark and dangerous place.
I've reserved the studio on the evening of the 25th so I can get in and build the set again.  That way when we get in on the 27th to film it's be ready to go.


It's really slow going writing fiction this time around.  I don't know what it is.  I'm excited about it, I want to do it, but it's just difficult for me to sit down and write.  I'm going to try and improve things with dictation software again.  I've done that before and it worked a lot.  Now the problem is Windows 10 and the Nuance software don't play well together. 

Sunday, February 7, 2016


I've realized how bad it has been just letting the Starpoint Mountain series fall by the wayside since I started doing films.  I really am embarrassed by it.  I should have been smarter and I better get my ass in gear and make up for things.
I'm back up to writing every day.  Some days I get out a sentence, some times, a word, but at least I'm working on it.  It's harder than I expected to get back in to the flow of things but I'm forcing myself to get moving.  When I am sitting and working on it I 'm very excited about it.  It's just sitting down and doing it that takes lots of concentration.
To help jump start I've started advertising again, ordered some promotional items, and changing everything over to Create Space.  This will help me get in to Barnes and Noble in some ways. 

Saturday, January 30, 2016


Early last year I was contacted by two professors at the University about doing some film work for them.  They were recreating a version of the Milgrim experiment.  This was a psychology experiment done in the 50's where people were asked to do word association tests.  If they got the words wrong someone would push a button and the subject would get shocked.  The more they missed the worse the shock until it would eventually seriously injure them.  The true meaning of the test was to see how long the person would keep pushing the shock button when they knew someone was getting hurt.  It was all staged, recorded, and no one was really getting shocked. Even knowing it was fake the set up was so authentic it was difficult to keep watching.  It was quite a challenge to recreate that feeling.  We put it together, they wrote the script, I cast it, made a board to use as a shock table, and we shot it over two sessions.  We weren't sure which would be accepted by the ethics board so we shot two versions of the final stages.  One with blood and burns on the victim and one without.

It was the first time I'd ever done this as a hired job for someone else.  I didn't have total control and made changes from my original plans.  I was putting more drama in to it than it needed.  It wasn't a dramatic story I was telling.  It was creating a plainly done experiment that was, in effect, torture.  I'm glad this happened this way.  In the real world it is rarely a one person show.  Even a producer and director has other people that have input and have to be dealt with.  It was a good real world film making experience.  We finished in June, the professors were both excited about the final product and the ethics board approved the more intense, blood versions fairly quickly.  Once they approved the project completely the money would be released and I would get paid.  Fair enough.
Then the wait began.  Wait, wait, wait.  The problems the ethics board had was not with my work, it was approved, but with the way the professors were going to conduct the experiment.  Who was going to monitor?  What details and who the subjects would be and how they were chosen, etc.  It just kept going and going.  I kept in touch with one professor who kept me updated.  Missed deadlines, misunderstood instructions, all sort of things that kept pushing it back month after month.  
At the start of November I was told it was going to be finished. "It's a good bet."  The November meeting came and went without approval.  I had been trying to be nice about it, not wanting to burn bridges and prevent any recommendations for future work, so I just waited.  Finally when the end of December came around I hit another missed deadline.  I was also informed that one of the professors had completely lost interest in the project.  One of the reasons they had missed deadlines was because he was dragging his feet and not answering the ethics board's requests.  I was also told that after it was approved and I was paid, it was most likely going to be dropped.  It would never be seen or used.  
So that was it!  Hard work to put together something very effective and 8 months of waiting went by for nothing. 
After the new year started I decided it didn't matter anymore about burning bridges.  Since it was never going to be seen there would be no other professors taking an interest in what I could do.  It had been such work it was obvious these two professors would never do it again.  I spoke with a friend, a lawyer, who've known for 15 years about what my rights were.  Though we never had a contract with the professors I had kept all of the emails we'd shared and there was enough proof that backed up my claim to be paid.  I considered going to small claims court,  He suggested that just contacting the legal council at the university would get things moving.  Even for small amounts they do not want public records against the university so I sent two requests for information.  One to the ethics board and one to the V.P. of the legal council.
Within 90 minutes I got word back from legal.  They had checked out the ethics board and the professors about the delay and instructed them to get it done.  There was some wrangling after that, a few more delays, but last week I filed out the proper paperwork, invoice, social security number, etc so the budgeting people are setting everything up.  A few days to go, maybe even today, and I'll finally get finished.
I really expected better from the University.  I'm especially angry at the ethics board who ignored my requests for info, even though they are a publicly funded institution, and send nasty emails to the professors.  Ethics board?  Hopefully the other work that I've done, an award winning documentary on the University theater, will be seen and get people interested in more work.  Since I never actually got the court system involved I believe it'll just be forgotten by the legal council so there are no bridges burned.
I couldn't help but feel it was because we were artists, film maker and actor.  Had they purchased a piece of equipment it would have been taken care of along time ago.  Since it was artists we could wait.  No hurry.  Maybe we'd just say "Ok, that didn't work" and let it go.
How many other artists were waiting to get paid for their work?  Were we the only ones?  Don't treat the artists like they are second class workers.  Never ever forget that.

Sunday, January 24, 2016


Rehearsing this week for a new film called The Burning Room. It's really the biggest thing I've ever written.  10 years ago I wouldn't even have considered doing this, but here it is.  It's a very politically charged piece dealing with censorship, voter suppression and media control.  I've done things in the past few years with this going on in the background but this is really in your face.  
It helps having 4 very talented and experienced actors.  Chelsea Wing, Alice Doherty, Tera Harvey and Danny Peterson are excellent.  When watching them rehearse yesterday I was so thrilled because they were all on the same page together.  They are all equally excited about it.  

Alice Doherty as Petra and Danny Petersen as The State

Tera Harvey as Jess

Chelsea Wing as Dallas
 Three prisoners in The Burning Room

Saturday, January 16, 2016


Well, here it is.  It has been to damn long since I've been here.  So many things have happened, some good and some bad, I'm not really sure where to start.  I'll start this revival with just a bit about what I'm doing now.
I'm getting back in to the habit of fiction writing every day.  Only getting a few pages a week but it's getting things going again.  I was a bit worried that it had been so long since I was working on Starpoint Mountain it would be difficult to get back in to character.  I'm doing okay with the people and places and story but I have to admit I've forgotten some of the details.  What did I name that god?  What was the color of the vest her was wearing?  Some of the names of the supporting characters I have to go back and check up.
Still, it's going.