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Despondent

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Joe FalcioneInterview with Joseph Falcione
Independent Movie Producer, Director, Writer and Editor

by Holly Russo

Joe Falcione started producing movies as a kid when technology was much less available then today. He has won "Best Editing" at the 2003 Machinima Film Festival in NY and "Official Selection" at the 2006 District of Columbia Independent Film Festival and has also been nominated in several categories for his works: "Best Original Score" at the 2005 Machinima Film Festival, "Best Original Score," "Best Off the Shelf Machinima," and "Best Cinematography" at the 2006 Machinima Film Festival in NY, and has had over 3 million views to his website. Below he details his experience and current projects.


Israel Groveman
Israel Groveman, Despondent co-producer and actor.

Despondent film clip
Despondent film clip.

Joe Falcione filming
Joe Falcione filming Despondent.

Despondent
Tying a knot for the zip line to prepare for upcoming scene.

Despondent
Reviewing Despondent script.

Joe Falcione fliming
Joe Falcione filming from the trees.

Israel Groveman
A scene clip depicting Israel Groveman.

When did you start making movies? Did it develop as an interest when you were younger from watching movies or did it come later from playing around with videos and software?

I got started making movies when I was about 13 or 14 with a friend, we made Kung Fu movies... pretty lame. I was always interested in the concept of movie making but didn't have tools to do so, so we made use of what we had at the time. It came from watching movies and thinking about things, almost entire movies in my head. Then it grew when software became available and cameras other than a silent 8mm film camera.

What was the first movie you made?

A weak-sauce Karate movie, can't remember the name of it or if it even had a title, when I was 13. My first "movie, movie" was a movie called "The Search" which was made using the Dark Age of Camelot game engine. It was considered an animation short.

How long did it take (months or hours, or however you record time) to make?

Well, I think that took me about 3 weeks or so to make. About 70 hours... slow computer and the first time I really really edited anything using a non destructive linear editor.

How many movies have you made? (I know you have a few Machinima movies out there but not sure how many.)

If we count live action, weddings and such, I have produced... well, how about I list them?

  • (Stupid) Karate movie
  • The Cycle (Motorcycle stunt film)
  • The Search (Machinima)
  • The Definition (Machinima)
  • Tough as Nails (Machinima)
  • The Outcome (Machinima Part 3 of the 3 part series using Dark Age of Camelot, Winner "Best Editing" 2003 Machinima Film Festival, NY)
  • Giove Care Group, produced for Covenant Life Church
  • Baptism, produced for Covenant Life Church
  • The Objective (Machinima, Battlefield 2, Nominated "Best Original Score" 2006, Machinima Film Festival, "Official Selection" DCIFF - District of Columbia Independent Film Festival, 2006
  • EA Games Armored Fury Game Trailer's I & II, Official TV/WEB trailer for the Game Expansion (Machinima, Nominated for Best Original Score, Best Off the Shelf Machinima and Best Cinematography, 2007 Machinima Film Festival, NY)
  • EA Games Battlefield 2142, promotional trailer
  • EA Games Battlefield 2142, Northern Strike - promotional video, submitted to the web with over 3 million views, submitted to the 2008 Machinima Film Festival
  • APS Healthcare, Inc., HIPPA corporate training video
  • Ultimate Camo, Inc., nationally broadcast TV spot
  • Ultimate Camo, Inc., Online, tradeshow 20 Minute promotional video
  • Blizzard, XFIRE World of Warcraft Movie Contest, 2nd Place for "Empty Throne"
  • On the Mark, Machinima, Red Storm Rainbow Six
  • Intel Web Spot for the Core 2 Duo, Battlefield 2142
  • Despondent, currently in production; produced both trailers I & II for the web as well as co-written, produced and directed
  • Friends of Ray, comedy, digital short for brother's 40th birthday celebration

I've also done multiple weddings and slide show presentations for people and different industries.

(Editor's note: Interested in having a film made or working with Joe on a project? Please direct film inquiries to Joe Falcione at jfalcione@reliantfilms.net.)

What is the formal definition of Machinima movies (for people who have not heard of this)? How did you get into them?

Machinima - Machine Based Cinema (Not sure if I like the name or not) is the process of creating a movie, or telling a story in a real time 3D environment such as game engine or by using 3D animation. I originally got into it because I came to the conclusion that I could never create sets the way certain games actually offered through the game engines. If there was a way to "Capture" the game play, have real people act as virtual actors, my sets would be almost limitless. As it turned out, as I was making these movies, there was a film festival called the "Machinima Film Festival." I thought that was pretty Groovy...

How did you learn to produce movies?

Reading books and a lot of trial and error. I've watched so many movies, I study them, I remember them and I try to apply what I've learned on each new project.

What kind of software do you use?

I've used or use the following: Pinnacle Studio 8, Vegas Video Professional, Adobe After Effects, and Photoshop.

Can you use any old video camera or do you have one of those big huge movie cameras that I see on the sets of TV shows?

I have used small handheld cameras, a GL2 prosumer camera and now own an XL2 Prosumer camera and am looking to go HD. While you can get away with using smaller cameras, you really need at least a 3CCD camera with a manual focus/zoom lens. It's difficult, if not impossible, to get a professional look with any old video camera.

Do you have a regular partner you work with or do you assemble a team of people based on the script and your needs at the time? If the latter, where do you find people?

I've done it both ways. Mostly, I'll recruit for a project online or through my website for virtual actors. For Despondent, I've teamed up with a friend, Israel Groveman and we have used many of our other friends as actors. Sometimes I'll recruit based on someone's "Look" or just how I feel around them. If I think someone would do a good job, I'll just come right out and ask them. Each time I've had good impressions from someone, they've worked out great.

How regularly do you have to upgrade equipment (hardware, software, props, etc.)? Is it ever difficult to find what you need?

At least once a year I'll upgrade some component for editing, or get a lens or something. Software and computer hardware have been the big hits other than camera equipment. I try to limit how much I spend on this hobby. But if I see a good game with which may have potential, I'll usually pick it up.

Where do you get your ideas? Do you, say, find yourself out and about and suddenly think "OH! I have to use that!" or does inspiration strike while driving/sleeping/kayaking/hanging out with friends/etc.?

It all depends... Basically, everything you just mentioned has led to an idea or something creative while doing all those things. Many times I'll get some kind of inspiration from a "look or feel" from some movie I've seen although I do my best not to ever recreate a scene or a story from another movie. What's interesting, when we started Despondent, I thought it was a pretty original story. It was in my mind an original story since I hadnít seen anything like it; it was actually supposed to be a short. A Short Film as in a 10 minute movie. I hadn't heard about or had seen anything like this and then in the course of two years, four movies came out with very similar angles. Oh well, whattya gonna do!?

Israel also brought much to the table because he is an excellent writer which helped greatly to develop the story and the characters, which also inspires more ideas overall. Heís also a master Violinist which hey, you gotta work that in there somewhere. So itís like playing Jinga, you pull and prod until you have the perfect standing story, but one too many holes, everything can come crashing down.

Have you ever wanted to make a scene but was unsure logistically how to set it up? If so, how do you approach these difficulties? (For example, I am thinking of when you set up a zip line to get a small shot, did you know how to set up a zip line or did you figure it out in order to do the scene?)

Every time... It's like, well, think of photography. You know what you think you would like to see, you get up early, go out to that spot, take 1,000 photos and then you get three that you actually like. With film, the composition is very similar. For the zipline shot, although we had never made a contraption quite like it and weren't necessarily experts, we are pretty resourceful guys and my Dad has an awesome set of tools! So I had a pretty good idea of how to set one up safely.

I originally thought about it because the place we were filming at, a built-by-hand cabin, used to have a similar contraption. The cabin was built by a good friend of mine, Scott Hendricks, who made this beautiful cabin by hand. And "By hand," I mean, by hand. He used methods from different logger books and cabin building from the early days and applied his knowledge and die-hard determination to make that beautiful place.

To move the logs, he built a zip line. I was hoping it was still there from years past but it was not. Israel mentioned this idea again later down the road after we already shot and we both decided that we needed something like this to really get a great scene. I think we accomplished that.

When I asked around about a 250 and 400 lb test monofilament line, I got information on the place to pick it up from Scott. We went one Saturday, they almost had us sign a waiver when I told them what we wanted to do with it. :) We were still not sure where to set this thing up and basically looked around for an hour or two until we found the right location and started setting it up.

We used six clamps, two trees, 240 ft of the high tension wire, three guys, two ladders, one truck, one climbing rig, one camera, 3 D Rings, two pieces of climbing rope and about eight hours to get about one minute's worth of footage. Great fun though, it worked out well.

In order to make the shots work, we solicited the help of Mike Hartnett, a friend through my local church who also happens to have his own production business and is very talented. We asked Mike if he would be interested in just looking at some of our stuff. He gave us some constructive criticism and it was very helpful so we decided instead of trying to do this on our own to be humble and ask him for a little help.

Mike graciously came out and helped us work out some ideas, helped GREATLY with a particular camera setting which helped enourmously with the other scenes we shot. Despite a hurt leg from wrestling (Or was it a bar fight? Unknown) he stopped me from slamming into the tree at the end of the zip line... letís face it, I was movin baby! So it was a big team effort and we only got what we could because of the help from each participant.

While I donít want to ramble, I would like to point out that all the actors and the places we shot at were all made possible through friends; very unselfish friends who gladly allowed us to shoot at places that would otherwise be, well probably not possible and not free. Also, the actors, well, to be directed by us to basically get possibly hurt or in some cases killed just for a movie, they have my overwhelming gratitude. (Donít worry Mom, we were extremely safe and death was never an option!)

What is the most difficult aspect of the movie-making business? The idea, getting the supplies, assembling the people/resources, getting the locations you need, editing the video, marketing & promotion... of all those aspects, which ones are your favorites and which ones do you like least?

All of the above. The hardest thing about movie making is the coordination. There is a reason you have a Director, Producer, Gaffe, Administrator, Sound Guy, Lights Guy, Special Effects Person etc.... Ideas are always difficult because you ARE limited in the things you can get away with; if you can't get away with it, don't put it in your movie.

On keeping the movie "going" in the editing room... you have to have a story that flows for the audience and is, in multiple ways, masterful. If you have a disconnect and people are confused, you've blown it. These are just some of the nuisances of film making that I both love and maybe even like. but its all relative.

Have you traveled in order to make any parts of your current movie?

Israel (my directing partner for Despondent) traveled to South Dakota although it wasn't related to the movie. Out of sheer opportunity we took advantage of the Badlands. You cannot find a more intimidating or formidable place to shoot than the Badlands. Unfortunately, I was not able to be there to work the camera or help with those scenes, but most of the footage was done in Maryland. We have also gotten permits (well, permission) to shoot downtown in DC for this movie.

Unfortunately, itís difficult to act, direct and work a camera at the same time and we wish we could have a do over for much of the footage. Nevertheless, weíve used what we can from those trips and are trying to overcome functional challenges through editing and compositing to make the footage work the way it was meant.

Another interesting piece to this story was that, well through my gaming community Iíve had the fortune of meeting some really cool and talented folks. Two guys in particular were Eric Lebeau and Joe Baker who happened to be in North Dakota. I met both of them through a gaming clan with whom Iím now part of, Team Ten 24, www.teamten24.com.... We had never met face to face but had spent plenty of time shooting each other and hazing one another on a number of derogatory issues; Eric happened to have an XL2 camera and he and Joe just happened to be available during the weekend that Israel wanted to shoot out there.

So, cool as they are, they drove 10+ hours to South Dakota to work with Israel to shoot the footage from the Badlands. Got beat down and drove back the next day. We canít thank them enough and I wanted to make sure I mentioned them here.

Is Despondent your first non-machinima flick?

Nope. However, I would consider it my first "Real Movie Experience."

Do you aim for a certain runtime in minutes? Does this mean you have to cut a lot out or add things in?

We are aiming for about 40 minutes but it may run a bit longer, maybe a bit shorter. Its hard to tell since we are just now moving into post with our footage and we've cut a LOT, used a LOT.

Where did you get the script for Despondent?

On the plane ride back from the Gulf War in 1991, I thought up the script. I was jotting down some notes and the rest was in my head. The concept at that time was original but without the means to make a movie like this at that time, it wasn't feasible. I sometimes kick myself for not going to Hollywood to try and sell some of my stories or ideas or go to school for film. I think I'd be in a different place in my life had I done that back then.

The script, well... it wasnít actually a script. It was a premise, an idea. The short was very direct and intriguing but again, it was going to be a ďshort film.Ē We were originally going to shoot it without dialogue, completely by using facial expressions. Umm... boring.

So the script developed as Israel and I discussed more about the character and what he represents. Its not much different from my original concept, but it is much deeper, the characters involved. Is it better? Youíll just have to wait and see.

(Now this is a dumb question...) what is the difference between a producer and a director? (I know you are a producer but I wasn't sure what that meant.)

A producer, produces. A director, directs.... How can I put this so it makes sense? I am the writer, producer, editor and director in most of my productions. I write the story, I produce the footage, I direct the actors and the composer, I edit the movie and put it all together.

The producer gets you all the funding and backs the movie. Producers are like project managers. The director, ultimately works for the studio who hires the producers who hire the director(s). The directors work hand-in-hand with the producers to tell the story, hire the crews, get the gear the director needs to make things happen. I just tend to wear all these hats....

Do you ever act in your own movies?

I've done a lot of voice acting for my movies, for the animation stuff. In Despondent, I play a pretty significant role to the story. My character is pretty much a back pocket kind of guy and you don't know my role until the end. But its a major part for the story, although its a short role if that makes sense.

I want to ask more about Despondent -- the trailer is very compelling but also very mysterious. Is there anything you'd like to share about the film, to be made public about it before it is released? Like do you want to talk about what it's about or would you rather let the trailer speak for itself and draw people in?

The trailer will have to speak for itself unfortunately. It's a complex story and any hint will give it all away. I've opened my mouth about it too much but the next trailer will bring you a bit closer to the movie's core and Israel and I are definitely locking into the cinematic look and feel of the movie. Weíve changed quite a bit from the original trailers and the quality will be 10x better...

The one thing I will say is that the music alone will be absolutely, wonderfully beautiful....

As an independent filmmaker, I know you have to get creative with resources (time, etc.) when filming. How long did it take to put the trailer together?

The first trailer, after all filming was done and I created the score, was completed over the weekend. AND, I hate it.

The 2nd trailer, about a week. The 3rd trailer will take about a week as well but the quality, cinematic quality will be VERY Professional....

What are the biggest challenges with being independent?

No money. No real film options, no sound recording options other than what's at hand at the time.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

We will be showing Despondent at a local theatre and we are making this an open invite. It will be a red carpet type thing and newspapers and local TV will be onsite to help us promote the film. But it will be a self-funded deal. Things to know before anyone may consider coming out to see it: it is a VERY violent movie. In regards to violence, its not as bad as many things I've seen, not even close at all. But it is not gratuitous violence. We are not praising violence and in fact, look down upon it. But it is necessary when telling a story of this nature. We were careful to bypass any cursing. You'll just have to see what I mean :) www.reliantfilms.net for updates


For more information, please visit Joe Falcione's Reliant Films website .