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The Atomic Guide

Posted: Tue, 17th Nov 2009, 2:50am

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Atom

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Rating: +20



So you've opened this guide: awesome! As long as you're on board with the ideas presented here, I think you can go far. Maybe you've read Sollthar’s EXTREMELY comprehensive filmmaking guide, and feel educated, but are a little overwhelmed. Let's say you're still in high school or college, and are looking for tenets of the short but sweet 'student film'. No worries, good men, that's why we’re here!
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NOTE: This is a collaborative guide, which means some parts and segments have been written by Atom, some by ben3308. Some by both. The segments aren't meant to give differing opinions, but rather, work together- so don't worry if our voices bleed together or if you can't tell exactly who is writing what part- it's probably better that way.
Also, this guide is still in preparing stages, but we've pushed it to such great lengths over the past few months Ben and I decided to go ahead and release it in pieces- part one right now and the latter portions in the coming days and weeks.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________



First things first: Why are you doing this?

Sit down and really think this one out. What's your reasoning and motivation to be making something as difficult - and it WILL be difficult - as a student film? Is it fame? Money? Or just for fun?

In our experience, if you do something solely for money, then yeah, you'll probably make it, but will you have any fun? Seldom have we completed a polished product on time for a client and actually had a ton of fun doing it. Keep in mind that we say 'polished'. We've had plenty of 'alright' projects go by us that we had a TON of fun creating, but the money was bad. What's the point here? Make having fun your first priority and you're bound to succeed. After all, if you enjoy the hell out of what you're doing, really and truly, then how can you fail? Truth is, in the grand scheme of things, you can't. And what’s all that moneymaking about anyway, really? Isn’t it just a push for happiness to begin with?


But hey, that's why you're reading this guide, right? You've deduced that the 'fun' you can have from filmmaking is fleeting, and it's best your semi-large projects be completed expediently. No worries, you've come to the right place. We have a ton of fun on damn near every project we work on, and aren't ashamed to say most of the time we absolutely love how it all comes out. The genre, the material, the actors, the locations- they don't really matter.



You can do and utilize any any all of them if you have to, want to, whatever. Play to your strengths, experiment with your weaknesses, and stay grounded in what you think or know you can do. Any way it works out- if you're having fun and creating something solid, chances are you'll be really happy and proud of the finished product in a way you haven't been before. There's just a certain satisfaction to it all, and you'll love it. Just wait.

________________________________________________________________________


Welcome to The Atomic Guide: or How to Take a Movie from an Idea to the FXhome Cinema in Three Days or Less

Yes, I kid you not: if you put in the effort, in 72 hours you can have a film on here running in the top ten. I guarantee it. This isn’t baseless hype here, this is our experience at a very specific way of going about movies speaking- and at least one of us is cocky enough to believe it’ll help you out enough to produce a movie.

Listen carefully to what we say, though - it's going to take more effort than you've ever put into a film. We've been doing timed videos for half a decade and We've learned maybe two things: it's never going to get any easier, but it will always become more fun. When you want to get your film done fast, these are important virtues to abide by.

The goal here is to get people to make a presentable film in a short amount of time, but, perhaps more importantly, learn more about themselves as filmmakers in the process. To differ from Marco's guide, this will (attempt to) provide, more or less, an open-form template with which to produce a short film. The examples used in this guide will be a mix of Hollywood clips and segments from my own films, but will attempt to convey filmmaking information in the broadest way possible. But why am I eating up so much space just chatting here? Let's get right to it, shall we?
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Posted: Tue, 17th Nov 2009, 2:50am

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Atom

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Rating: +5





You’re probably thinking, "well this whole process starts with a script." Actually, it's not even that. In truth, most stories start with a simple idea - often based off of other material - that acts as a springboard for the entire project.





If you can come up with a mere tagline for the film, in my opinion you're more than halfway there. Knowing what you, in the most vague sense, want your movie to convey, and what kind of character you want to convey it puts you 90% of the way towards a completed script. So what, specifically, DO you come up with? Well, one example is 'save the girl'. That's a high concept that could go any number of ways, but sure enough it was the framework for my film 'Pages' I grabbed three simple concepts for filmmaking – complete a thought on film, convey a tone/atmosphere, and establish a resolve. It’s really all pretty simple and painless- it’s getting that idea produced, from conception to completion, that’s the hard part. Sometimes.....



.....is all it takes to begin a movie.

Let's face it. Look, the fact of the matter with scripting is that it’s just simply not always there if you’re, well, not really a writer- and while people can always complain about movies not having strong enough scripts, both on big budget projects and here, the truth of the matter is waiting around for the perfect, solid script to come to you or peddling around for a hotshot writer simply won’t get a movie done. It won’t. Accept that now. I’m not a bad writer, no, but I know I’m not the most cohesive of storytellers- and in accepting that and playing to different strengths, I’m still able to create movies without massively overhauling the way I think about scripts or finding another person to write for me. And I really like this. Sometimes good ideas, or rather, great ones don’t even translate to good movies- just as the most basic of ideas, even without a good script, can translate to the best of movies.





No, no, no. This doesn’t mean a script, a story, and compelling characters aren’t important. But as the writer’s strike taught us- they aren’t the alpha and omega of filmmaking. There are many important aspects. Even if writing is the first of them- it doesn’t mean not having the best script should keep you from making headway on your movie altogether. Take an idea, draw out a concept and a conflict- even the most basic of ones- and go with it. It never hurts, and you’d be surprised the results you can get.





Take our movies, for example. While this may seem a shallow leaping point- in movies like Redemption and Cover's Story we established a visual and narrative style based on what we liked in movies we had recently seen.


Redemption, just look at it. The movie's fulcrum is an interrogation scene riddled in smokey haze, greenish tones, philosophical dialogue, and two characters of different race. While this may seem like a cookie-cutter description of it, it's important to note that while we didn't copy it directly from other material- the whole style and many of the elements were taken from the movie Deja Vu. More-specifically, this interrogation scene in the movie is one we knew from the get-go we wanted to capture in our movie. It may seem cheap, but woe is the world of exhausted ideas- and as a student filmmaker you'll have much more success, happiness, and a much more solid and slick movie if you pull from what you know and what you like before pushing into new ground. This isn't to say don't be original, no. But in trying out aspects of your favorite movies- I guarantee you you'll have more fun in making the movie, and you'll already have a framework for how you want something to flow or look, or how you want a story to play out. Redemption, after all, ended up like this:



Look at the similarities. In retrospect- setting a goal like this, one that had a clear visual and narrative vision, was a good idea- as the end result came out almost exactly like we wanted it.

Narrative strategies are helpful. A narrative strategy, too, that we like that began with Cover's Story is the use of medias-res, otherwise known as 'starting the movie in the middle'. Like Redemption, we pulled this technique from a movie we liked, one we had just seen. In this case, it was Mission: Impossible III. See, M:I3 begins in the middle of the narrative for a few minutes before cuing the title credits.

Watch here, it's intense, gripping, dramatic- great.

See what it does? How it's effective? It draws you in, even if the rest of the movie lets you down. (For me, luckily, it didn't.)

In this time, we see a lot of dramatic exposition in a really intense setting. This is something, after seeing, I've liked to use time and time again- it's a really effective storytelling technique, and immediately draws in your audience.


With Cover's Story we did this by establishing him pulling up a gun and crying, you can do it many other ways or not at all.

The key here isn't the technique, it's how we came about it- pulling from what we liked and what was manageable. A few years ago, it was M:I3, and look where it's got us. Making sense? I hope so- the ground I'm covering isn't intended to tell you how to write, it's to give you an idea how to. It's not easy, but it doesn't require waiting around for a 'eureka!' moment either. Here we go:
________________________________________________________________________


-Take what you know, what you like in movies. Pull from that.
-Take characters you're fond of, that intrigue you (even stereotyped ones) and use those within the means of your actors.
-Make a manageable script. Don't write a 50-year old black man into your story if you don't know a 50-year old black man. If it really requires one, go out and find one. It's always worked for us, in truth. All it takes is a little prodding and confidence to call around.
-Don't get overwhelmed, but don't play it too safe either. It's always fun to be ambitious, but don't ever take on more than you can chew- you'll just end up disappointing yourself.


And remember, the key here is to make a movie and make it quickly. So let's keep moving!
________________________________________________________________________

Things in your head can get complicated, we know that. But that doesn't mean you should condense the descriptiveness of your script- remember, the more descriptive it is, at least with a short time period and perhaps the not most-trained actors, the better off you'll be. Seriously. Focus and concision is important in writing looking professional, yeah, but if you imagine a loud swishy boom noise before the credits, literally write "loud swishy boom noise- credits." into the script. It might look silly, but it will help you later on and save you a ton of time. Trust me. Which brings me to this:

When in doubt, 'write for the edit'. This is a term you normally see in production as people 'shoot for the edit' (meaning they shoot according to what they think will come out and look best in the editing)- but I subscribe to it in all areas of filmmaking. When you 'write for the edit', you're essentially building yourself a bigger, better, and more-solid framework for getting your movie translated from paper to pixels faster, easier, and usually better. Take 'No Rest For The Wicked', for example. Although it was written in a matter of a only a few hours, it's still full of descriptions that make it easier for the actors, directors, everyone to relate to. It's written 'for the edit', and therefore can save everyone time by going by it like a step-by-step book.



Formatting is nice, too. A note of importance that is sometimes pushed too much here, but is very important, is formatting. Proper formatting in your script will make your ideas clearer to others that read them, and overall make you look and feel more professional- and inevitably more confident in the movie you’re making. For this, there’s a simple solution: Celtx. Celtx is a free screenwriting/scripting application that will aid you.
Now, no. I’m not one to go on and on with a bunch of links you’ll never click- or even get that technical on how to go about creating something- so don’t think that. I’m mentioning Celtx because it’ll increase the speed and ease of which you come up with and get your idea down onto paper.

And finally, and this one is important.... find a badass ending to your movie. Badass ending. Say it with me, "badass ending". Compelling, cool, quirky- as long as you know your movie goes out with a good amount of class, or finesse, and with an appropriate climax- you can almost make up for a middle 20% of the movie of your choice that is decidely 'the worst part', but you can't come back from a bad ending. Endings and beginnings to movies are generally the most memorable parts- remember this and play off of it. What do you always notice about Atomic Production movies? Usually, the ending and beginning are the best parts. So know this and don't ignore it. If your ending isn't strong, your movie isn't strong. Like all things, it's always wise to save the best for last- the viewer will almost always appreciate it more this way.

Annnnnnnd, well well well, those things being said we move onward once more!
________________________________________________________________________




Obviously, we don't all know actors.
There's no getting around that one. What most of you should have, however, are friends willing to help you out- and possibly some adults as well. With this a few things can be said....
___________________________
-Always cast actors within your means. This one goes back to scripting- if you only have 16-year-olds, don't make a movie about seasoned CIA veterans. No one will believe it or take you seriously; and it'll come out looking silly any way you spin it. Even if you 'have to shave your beard so you can put on makeup' for the movie, which we all roll our eyes at to begin with. You're not really an adult, don't try and bullshit a bullshitter. Yes, yes. We all know you're not an adult, don't try and pretend- once again you'll just look silly.

-Don't be afraid to experiment, act in your own work yourself even. After all, even our friend, professional actor Brian Hunt, only realized he had an amazing knack for acting after biting the bullet and just offering to be in one of our movies.

_________________________

The truth to it is, most of Atomic Productions' success, and our paradigm shift in filmmaking, came when we accepted two things:

-You've gotta work with the actors in the ages you have them.
-If you want an adult, an astronaut, a Denzel-Washington-ish guy; you've gotta go find him yourself.


Subscribing to both of these mantras when it comes to casting actors, and you can't really go wrong. Yes, it is true, we've always been blessed with fairly exemplary acting in our movies- but this is only because we either went and looked for actual actors, or we found/had friends committed enough to give it their all and become actors.

For instance, here are a few notable 'atomic' actors from some of our movies. What is important to note is that each actor is, for better or for worse, typecast into a specific type of role for each movie we have, should they be an acting resource.



It's always important to keep this in-mind, as it'll yield the best results. Each actor has, for better or for worse, a specific strength in a certain type of role. We know, naturally, that Brian is our strongest actor and able to carry a movie- and thus on the off occasions when we've got him at our disposal, he's almost always assuredly the leading man. Put yourself into a similar if not the same mindset, and then expand that. After all...

The most important thing to it all is to remember your resources are limited to what is realistic. Don't dream up a scene including 60 extras running through a field- in the amount of time we're trying to go about helping you make a movie, that'll never happen. Just accept it. Instead, do this:

Go through your script and simplify. What used to take three actors can usually take two. What once required an old woman can sometimes be changed to a young man. Keep your options flexible and know what you're working with. In most cases, you can get much better performances, much better actors, out of your friends than you really expect as long as you treat them like actors and let the people in the movie know that they are, in fact, part of the movie and a talent themselves. Not only is it flattering, it's true. Actors are a piece of the talent in your movies, even if they're you're friends. Let them know it, it always helps the whole atmosphere get more professional- which is always nice. People will surprise you.

And look.... I'm not gonna tell you who your actors are or which characters they should be- that's all for you to decide.

And really, that's the best advice I can give you. Because honestly past that it's on you to make it work and know and thrive on your own situation. Take a deep breath, grab the people you can, and press onward!

________________________________________________________________________




Locations are tricky, because they differ so colossally from person-to-person; so there really isn’t much to say here as far as what to pick and use exactly. However, there are in fact a few staples to generally follow and know for good measure:

-Know that your locations are just as crucial to your production as the appropriate lighting and grading are. Your locations are the guise for your production, and a fair few excellent technical values have been trumped in the past by the ‘I shot this in my backyard’ syndrome. AVOID THIS!

No, we don’t all have vacant warehouses and cool lots like some people are able to get ahold of, but a tad bit of asking around in your community and figuring out how to dress up an accessible location (like, say, your dad’s work office or a family friend’s storage shed) to fit the feel of your movie will do you volumes.

-Remember that, when in doubt, ask. Asking people to use their house, calling the number on the front of a cool vacant building and talking to the realtors/owners, or simply calling the area police to let them know you’re shooting your movie on some public property aren’t just easy things to do- they can elevate your film just by the caliber of the locations.

-Think about the bigger picture. How many lights you need, how many people are going to be there, and how crucial the look or feel of the location is to your movie. This will dictate how long you’re going to be there and, more importantly, help keep you in control of your productions.

-Cool locations aren’t everything, no, but they do a great deal as a backdrop to excellence in production value. At least, I’ve always thought so. People remember the movie with ‘that cool warehouse scene’ more than they do the movie with ‘that scene in that guy’s backyard’.

Alright, moving onward!

Last edited Tue, 17th Nov 2009, 4:55am; edited 2 times in total.

Posted: Tue, 17th Nov 2009, 2:51am

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ben3308

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----------------------- This section will be developed soon. ----------------------------
Posted: Tue, 17th Nov 2009, 2:52am

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Atom

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----------------------- This section will be developed soon. ----------------------------
Posted: Tue, 17th Nov 2009, 2:53am

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ben3308

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----------------------- This section will be developed soon. ----------------------------
Posted: Tue, 17th Nov 2009, 5:06am

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Biblmac

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This is going to be sweet! Looking forward to reading it all! Cool stuff guys!
Posted: Tue, 17th Nov 2009, 8:09am

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fxmaniac

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+1 looking forward to reading the whole thing also biggrin
Posted: Tue, 17th Nov 2009, 9:08am

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Simon K Jones

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Nice one, guys. I've been looking forward to this for a while!
Posted: Tue, 17th Nov 2009, 2:27pm

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Sollthar

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Oho! lets keep it coming. cool

Good tips in here!
Posted: Tue, 17th Nov 2009, 3:16pm

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Axeman

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Shouldn't the post-production section be titled "Contrast"?

Nice stuff here guys. There's lots of people (myself included, sometimes) who get projects started but never seem to be able to wrap them up. The high-speed production aspect of this is great for overcoming that.

Some other good tips here as well, I look forward to the additional info as it comes.
Posted: Tue, 17th Nov 2009, 4:12pm

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davlin

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Absolutely first class advice for all of us there....well done fellas..
this should help a lot of newcomers to filmaking in a no nonsense way.


Dave
Posted: Tue, 17th Nov 2009, 4:54pm

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Koradin

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A very interesting read so far, am looking forward to the next parts.

Koradin
Posted: Tue, 17th Nov 2009, 8:42pm

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Junuc Kleen

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This is such a good idea. Making films in spare time has to be done fast, as there are not many days when all my friends can get together. This will really help get me more on track with making some decent films.
The only film I have ever done quickly was LEGO TEAM AMERICA EXTREME. It was planned, props made, filmed, edited, FX, sounds the whole thing in less than 2 days.
It was great fun and we got into the top 25 for the empire done in 60 seconds competition 2008.
I'm really looking forward to the rest of your guide.
Posted: Tue, 17th Nov 2009, 10:08pm

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Thrawn

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Wow, pretty awesome guys. I was just thinking about this kind of guide the other day, and thought you guys would be a rather good choice for writing it. Amazing how great minds think alike.. wink But yes, very cool, looking forward to reading the rest. It'll be helpful to a lot of filmmakers on this forum, I'm sure. I sort of wish you had this two years ago, as I had to learn a lot of this the hard way... through experience. smile +1
Posted: Tue, 17th Nov 2009, 10:11pm

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ChromeHeart

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I really appreciate you guys putting in the time and effort to do this, this is valuable info that many of us can learn from. Great post!
Posted: Tue, 17th Nov 2009, 11:37pm

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TheOutlawAmbulance

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Awesome Atom! +1! and bookmarked!
Posted: Wed, 18th Nov 2009, 1:51am

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Biblmac

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Once again looks great! But Kinda surprised it isn't a sticky yet... hmm...
Posted: Wed, 18th Nov 2009, 1:59am

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TheOutlawAmbulance

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Biblmac wrote:

Once again looks great! But Kinda surprised it isn't a sticky yet... hmm...
Just wait........
Posted: Wed, 18th Nov 2009, 2:04am

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Aculag

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Something tells me the Hype section is going to be the longest. wink

Really nice guide, yo. Good work!
Posted: Wed, 18th Nov 2009, 2:43am

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ben3308

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Rating: +1

We really have a LOT more information, but we're still going through what's salient enough to put on here, and what's not. Editing stages.
Posted: Wed, 18th Nov 2009, 3:15am

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doppelganger

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Haha say it with me "badass"
Posted: Wed, 18th Nov 2009, 10:15am

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Sollthar

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Yup, when it's finished and good, which it will be, it'll be a sticky. smile
Posted: Wed, 18th Nov 2009, 10:22am

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ashman

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Well done! It's refreshing to see so many +1's and well deserved. Looking forward to the hype thread as it can prove to be a double edged sword. Think we've both been a victim of that one in the past wink
Posted: Mon, 4th Jan 2010, 9:19pm

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TheOutlawAmbulance

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Anything happening soon guys? Im waiting to read it...patiently... crazy
Posted: Mon, 4th Jan 2010, 11:56pm

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ben3308

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Yeah, heh, we had a laundry list of stuff to get done by the beginning of the new year, we just had to reorganize some of it based on the time we have.

For instance, we both do 'end of year' reviews of all the movies we've seen each year, so that has to be finished first, as 2009 grows further and further away from us. Things like that. biggrin

No worries, though, we've got laaaaarge bits of it completed. Sadly, though, I write different bits on my iPhone in my spare time (on the Notes app) and recently had it wiped before backing any of it up. A small setback, though, nothing big.
Posted: Tue, 5th Jan 2010, 1:56pm

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Rockfilmers

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Awesome stuff guys! I always liked your visual style. smile
Posted: Wed, 6th Jan 2010, 8:39am

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Atom

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Rating: +1

Yeah, apologies guys. We're trying to get a good four movies out and into the cinema, in addition to the stuff we're filming during holidays and the other real-world things that are going on- we've just been a little bit sidetracked.

Like Ben said, we've also got end-of-year threads to complete. Same with large bits of the guide we've already polished up-we just don't want to give incomplete section, you know? It'll all be up soon.
Posted: Sat, 30th Jan 2010, 4:41am

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AwesomeFist

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I have the program that you mentioned and hope to use it in the future, its a great program, celtx. but back on topic, great guide this is helpful and can't wait till its finished, but i can't upload to the cinema but this is still helpful.
Posted: Sat, 30th Jan 2010, 7:11am

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ben3308

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Feel free, however, to upload online and post your films here in the forums. YouTube is a great venue, and if you're not comfortable with the quality they offer, you're more than welcome to use space on my server.
Posted: Tue, 27th Apr 2010, 5:45pm

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Fxhome Dude

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Any progress here?
Posted: Tue, 27th Apr 2010, 9:23pm

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ben3308

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Again, we haven't gotten the whole thing organized together, really. If it's the kind of thing we could do over a weekend, we'd have done it already. It's sort of a.....slow perfection over time. Admittedly, my bro was extremely hasty to post it before at least spring 2010.

Expect it soon, because there is constant work on it, but more conceptual and rough and not polished and concise as things should be. Also, we've got some more fully-featured tricks up our sleeves (PDF versions, demo videos?!?) that take time to organize and produce.

I also want to note, dunno if I've said this, that while we're both in college and do indeed have free time, we are both on full merit-based grants (essentially public scholarships) that if we were to lose, we couldn't continue to go to college. We're not the richest of folk! biggrin

Either way, feel free to email me if you'd like the disorganized version of things, etc. I'm more than happy to share.
Posted: Tue, 27th Apr 2010, 9:55pm

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Fxhome Dude

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No problem. I was just wondering how it's going and an ETA. Best to take your time and do it right. smile
Posted: Tue, 27th Apr 2010, 10:53pm

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Atom

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Also of note, we're refining a print copy version of it that will be available on Lulu.com or something like that soon, as well. Actually just in the middle of hammering out some photoshop designs for a few pages right now! smile
Posted: Wed, 28th Apr 2010, 4:20am

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ben3308

Force: 5210 | Joined: 24th May 2004 | Posts: 6433

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Gold Member

I call bullsh!t.
Posted: Wed, 28th Apr 2010, 6:15pm

Post 35 of 35

Limey

Force: 547 | Joined: 11th Sep 2005 | Posts: 752

Gold Member

Hey take your time. I know this will be great when you guys finish it.