Author Archive for John

Screening at the Roxy Theater

Roxy Theater Logo

Screening at The Roxy Theater

The Twilight Angel world tour continues! We will be screening next month at The Roxy Theater in Missoula, MT, 718 S Higgins Ave, on Saturday April 11, 7PM. John Witham will be hosting a Q&A afterwards there at the theater which may include Skype with James Koskinas and Julie Schumer.

 

Preparing for the Premiere

After almost a year and a half of working closely with James and Julie to produce the Twilight Angel, preparing for and promoting the film’s premiere at the Jean Cocteau Cinema in Santa Fe has been a strangely insular process.

Being self-distributed and self-promoted, we had to get word of the film out as best we could ourselves. James was working the street like a madman, spreading the word face to face. My first priority was to get him the tools he needed, flyers and photographs, to support this part of the campaign.

I was also working the back end of our promotional activities, updating the website and Facebook, making sure the old and new video shorts on YouTube were showing up and linking back to our site and the event. For instance, James did a bit of performance art painting on Canyon Road in front of Selby Fleetwood Gallery, I documented it on video and then put an edit up right away. It was almost like the old broadcast days for me: shooting a piece, editing it and sending it out that same day. James wrote a blog piece about the efforts at marketing with authenticity.

TwilightAngel-poster4-smallA little bit of postproduction work also remained for me to do. There were a few frames of the motion graphics in the intro that I was not happy with so I fixed that before I encoded the DCP, the Digital Cinema Package, that we would use to distribute the film to theaters. I also did the layout for the movie poster. It was shocking in a cool way the first time I walked into the Cocteau and saw it displayed. I thought, “Wow, this is really happening! They are going to show our film.”

James had an invite to participate and show a painting in support of Mental Illness Awareness Week in the Inside Out Show at James Kelly Contemporary Gallery. It was a good synergy to work with this group and helped emphasize the connection between groups doing art therapy with folks that have mental or emotional illness and the process going on with the character in our film.

The particular painting James showed was the iconic “Turner” which we have used as an identity graphic for the film. We sent out a press release about the show that helped result in an article by Michael Abatemarco at Pasatiempo. I then also shot video interviews at the event and posted them up on YouTube right away, helping to publicise the Inside Out cause and, by association, the Twilight Angel.

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So, I would see James occasionally at these overlapping events, but mostly I worked from my studio – as usual, editing, writing and publishing these connecting pieces. And when we did get some press or make a connection with an affiliate, I’d make sure all our social media knew about it by giving James the links.

And it was during this time that it happened I was also working with Eric Martinez of Los Foodies Marketing Group, shooting and editing promo-pieces for local restaurants and the non-profit organization St. Elizabeth Shelter. There are no coincidences, Eric is a mastermind of social media marketing and we tapped his talents to help promote the Twilight Angel premiere.

James is a big advocate of working with affiliates. The most obvious starting point there was the Selby Fleetwood Gallery where both James and our Producer, Julie Schumer, show their work. James made an agreement to place Twilight Angel flyers at the gallery and to post an announcement to their email list. We would have Selby Fleetwood Gallery postcards promoting James’ other work available at the Jean Cocteau Gallery, where the paintings from the Twilight Angel were going to be on display.

Eddie Buchbinder, from the Selby Fleetwood Gallery agreed to come down to the JCC and be interviewed on camera about James’ work. He spoke marvelously in this piece, an excerpt from the full interview.

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The Jean Cocteau Gallery showing of paintings featured in the film (our “supporting cast,” as we like to call them) was enabled by Sam Atakra Haozous, the manager of the gallery at the Jean Cocteau, and an artist himself. HIS work was hanging in the gallery during this time and he chose to take it down a few days early in order to facilitate the concurrent exhibit of art and film. It was a great opportunity, made possible two years in advance of getting into the regular schedule of the gallery, through this gesture of support by Sam and the JCC General Manager, Melania Frasier.

The Twilight Angel has been blessed by many angels in the course of it’s development and deployment into the world. This recent effort by Lenore Gallegos, who got us the gig at JCC, and Sam and Melania is an affirmation that this unique little film has an appeal and resonates strongly with an audience.

And there was more. In addition to James’ direct action at spreading the word about the screening, Ron Whitmore, the owner of the local artist’s supply mecca Artisan also affiliated with us in sending out an email blast about the show. The connection to artists everywhere is clear and we appreciated the synergy.

Many in James’ network of associates and friends have also helped publicise the screening. From the start it has been a grassroots effort and our early fans have supported and sustained us during the production. And now the network continues to grow.

As a follow-on to the Pasatiemo piece about the Inside Out show, Michael Abatemarco interviewed James, Julie and I about the Twilight Angel and wrote this insightful article.

James Hart helped announce the event on Facebook. And, as mentioned earlier, Eric Martinez not only helped spread the word to his social media network, but helped me put together a video production plan for documenting the premiere. An excellent videographer he has worked with, Jorge Paez, was recruited to do the filming,- resulting in this piece.

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My gratitude is continually refreshed by the reaction the film garners. I am honored to have been able to do my part to create this fim and enjoy the process of getting it out into the world.

Dirk Norris, CEO and President of the New Mexico Film Foundation had this reaction, “When the opportunity comes around again, I suggest you see this film. Impact-ful, beautiful, heartfelt. This is fine New Mexico independent filmmaking. Everything about this film is good.”

Well, the opportunity has come again! The Twilight Angel movie will return to the Jean Cocteau Cinema for a reprise screening after the sold-out premiere. This next show will be Sunday, December 28 at 3:30 PM.

Snip, Snip… the Twilight Angel gets a Final Edit

Hot on the heels of the Twilight Angel being awarded a Silver Remi in the WorldFest Houston film festival, the team decided a little re-edit was in order before finally unleashing our creation at public venues.

Our process during pre-production and the early post phases had always been to encourage comments and get feedback at the test screenings -and from private audiences. We paid attention to what was said and took notes on what people liked, how they reacted, etc. To compliment these notes James, Julie, Linda Leslie and I also did our own critical review. It was decided we would trim down and rearrange the film slightly before we sent it out anywhere else.

Re-edit_discs

Witham with discs of Twilight Angel footage

It was also a bit intimidating to think of re-editing. As the editor and music producer, I’d put hundreds of hours into the original post production. I knew we didn’t have much time. Even if everything went smoothly it was a big commitment. And then there is always the, “what if…” Several flavors of the unthinkable could happen.

Just to be able to start the re-edit, I had to round-up the hard-drives where the original footage was stored, all five of them, and load the data into the edit system. Which itself had been rebuilt and the software had been upgraded recently. It actually took a surprising amount of time just to do this and get all the paths in the old media database pointing to the right files on the right drives.

Technical issues aside, it was also very exciting to be back in the world of the Twilight Angel. With fresh eyes I could see the sets, hear the voice, the music and feel James weave the story again. Our story.

So I dived in and started with some new voice-overs. They formed the basis for re-cut scenes and tightened up pacing of the early expository material.

The new sequence flowed together so much more smoothly. Almost a year later, the story had distilled and it’s essence was so much clearer now.

The principals got together to review the results. Our stalwart producer, Julie remarked several times, “Is that a NEW scene?” The fresh juxtaposition was working it’s magic.

We were playing the film directly out of the editor timeline. We got to the end and all of us had the insight to cut one more of the scenes right near the end. We talked briefly, all concurred and then made the final edit together.

Done deal. Let’s push it out into the world now.

Artist Became the Story

Twilight Angel Concept development

Koskinas tells a war story

As we plan where, when and how to launch the Twilight Angel, I am mindful of how this whole thing began, a year and a half ago.

After we had firmly committed to do “something” based on James’ war stories, we convened in my studio to work on the concept. Sitting around the coffee table James would read a bit or tell an anecdote from memory.

Kayla comforting Koskinas

Twilight Angel script team

There was so much love and grief, so much power in his voice as he told these stories. We knew that this was to be a big part of our narrative. As James emoted the terrible beauty of the the relationships and events from that time, my dog Kayla would come over to comfort him. She didn’t want him to be sad.

The Artist's Story

The Artist’s Story

We came to feet that our movie’s story should be about the Artist, and how his past shaped his work and his process. We knew there was energy there. The ghosts were a powerful force compelling him to work. And we also knew that there must be some transformation, some way that our character reversed the spiral and claimed his own power.

war graphic

The war in the art

We dug deeper into our character’s painting. His war would turn inward and become enacted on the canvas. Like a graphic novel’s pages superimposed on each other he would paint the stories they commanded, yet now each became a self-portrait.

Koskinas and dog

a love story

As we worked Kayla stayed very close, helping James hold this deep place he was exploring within his Artist-self. The story flowed out, the Artist recreating himself, reframing his history.

Our story would be this process – a love story!

Kayla approved.

Creating the Music of Twilight Angel

Back in the Fall of 2012 when we were just trying out production strategies for the Twilight Angel, we decided to put together a little experimental short based on James in the process of painting. It needed music to help hold the editing together. My legacy of producing music-videos asserted itself in the pinch for putting this thing together in time for an event we were using to drum up support for our Indiegogo fundraising campaign.

I shot the footage one night so James and I could get a feel for working together in the intimacy of the artists’ process. We got some good material, but it wasn’t part of a narrative yet. So, to edit something together, I chose as the foundation a piece of music I had created with Rusty Kirkland about a year earlier.

It was sort of an exotic groove with a lot of polyrhythmic guitar and percussion that I knew would be fun to cut the video to it. I layered-in a spoken word recording I had of James’ and the short “Duende” manifested itself.

When we showed it at the fundraiser it got such a great response that it served as a model for most of the painting scenes that we did for the movie. Based on the feedback we got, it seemed like the music was a good fit. James encouraged Rusty and I to come up with more contributions to the soundtrack.

Months later, after the narrative story and the production strategy was more nailed down, we revisited the need for a substantial amount of music. We felt like it was essential to balance the monologue parts of the film and had evidence that viewers liked the way music worked with the act of painting.

Witham and Kirkland in the studio

Rusty and I go way back as co-creators. We were friends and had done some music together in college in the mid 70’s. A few years later he came into the studio in Chicago to help me out when I was working on finishing some of my own ideas after my band, the Free Lunch Theory, drifted apart. He was awesome on guitar, and adapted well to improvising within a context. Plus, I think he had a lot of fun immersed in the technology of the recording studio environment. We liked working together.

For Twilight Angel I knew Rusty and I already had about 4 or 5 pieces that might work well in some of the scenes that we had finished shooting. There was another test screening of substantial portions of the film coming up in 6 weeks and I needed some more new music to edit in to what we would show to our supporters and new fans.

After that first screening of Duende, James had been very supportive of Rusty and I doing the majority of the music for the film. We finished shooting all the principal photography and I began editing, I needed the tracks to integrate with the editing. James sat in with us one day at Rusty’s studio to get the ball rolling for creating the rest of the soundtrack.

Rusty Kirkland, guitar

I recall so clearly being at the recording console that afternoon. After the three of us had some discussion, Rusty strapped on the guitar and started to play, just improvising freely based on thematic concepts we had talked about. After pacing about a bit, James settled on the studio couch, leaned back and closed his eyes. Rusty played and I provided some minimal beats for timekeeping. I recorded everything.

At one point James exclaimed, “Oh! That’s Grandma’s house.”

We kept on. Rusty exploring an ambient approach at some point later elicited, “That’s me going AWOL” from the couch. Each time I annotated what got a response and then over the next few weeks we produced something from those seeds. We finished 6 more pieces for the test screening and another 3 soon thereafter. There are 15 Witham-Kirkland pieces in the full feature.

Studio Collaboration

Studio Collaboration

That first afternoon in the studio epitomized the creative process for me: you put several artists in the room together, and they will invariably make something dynamic and evocative. I believe it is a testament to the cooperation of the individuals involved that we ended up creating such a wonderful soundtrack for the Twilight Angel in such a short time.

Poised

As we close in on the finishing stages of the editing process I find myself lingering a bit on watching the raw footage on either side of the take. It’s one of my ways to get refreshed for the next stage of this long process.

There is a thing that happens invariably just before a good take. I’ve come to enjoy seeing these moments – the camera is rolling, James has been bantering with me or working himself into the state required for the particular scene. Then there is this briefest of pauses before he goes into action and delivers the next line. As an editor now, that is my cue, “oh, this is going to be a good one.”

Koskinas-In the Dark Place

James Koskinas is in the dark place

It is like the energy of the wave he has summoned slides up the beach and when it reaches its furthest extent, rests in a moment of stillness before plunging back into the ocean.

When I see that, I know to mark it “in,” to start now. We will not see that moment in the finished film, just the result – James diving back into the story. It is one of the pleasures I’ve had being so immersed in making this film. I get to see moments like that, see him work, feel that moment of still energy poised at the edge of creation.

OK, two more scenes to go…

It’s a Wrap!

After 6 months of pre-production: camera tests, trial scenes, script re-writes, readings, set-building and (of course) fund raising – then another 3 months of actual production – we now have all the principal photography completed for the Twilight Angel.

Witham Preps Camera at the Dunes

Witham preps the 5D rig at the dunes

Fittingly enough, some of the last scenes we shot were the rare exterior scenes of the film and they were done in locations that are quite amazing. After weeks of shooing “noir” in our little studio, the expansive dunes in southern New Mexico created the most striking contrast.

 

Koskinas on location for Twilight Angel

Koskinas on location for Twilight Angel

The space and the light were perfect for the reverie of the scene we called “AWOL.” I won’t divulge the details of that part of the film, but I’m sure you can get it’s essence.

 

 

Linda Leslie and Julie Schumer scouting locations

Linda Leslie and Julie Schumer scouting locations

We had timed the shoot to follow a trip to Tucson for a gallery opening of Linda Leslie’s paintings at Jane Hamilton Fine Art. Our Exec. Producer Julie Schumer’s paintings are also at that gallery, so it was a natural field trip for the core crew.

It felt like a celebration of the completion of this phase of the movie. Day-in and day-out James has done a tremendous job of performing this heart-felt story. We’ve worked hard to capture that narrative in a way that we all feel is visually appealing and does justice to the subject and the art.

 

The Artist

The Artist

Of course, the art is the subject… because it is inseparable from the story of the artist – and vice-versa.

Keeping that in mind, we go into post-production: the editing, animation and sound design that glues it all together. I love this part as much as the photography… maybe even more so. For me editing IS storytelling. It is an artform unto itself.

As I ardently prepare for many hours at the editing workstation assembling and shaping this film, I’ll remember the openness, the space, the light of the dunes and how for me that symbolized the freedom to create this movie, to put something beautifully true into the world, to hope that it touches somebody and that it resonates something in them.

Witham captures the last light

Good Shoot

We had a really good shoot last night. We did the first of James’ monologues and he put in a solid, tight performance. Tanya’s skill at preparing everyone for the scene and then directing on-set is invaluable. I am honored to be able to do my part in such a team. Thanks to everyone that is helping make it possible. You should be pleased by what we shot last night.

More to come!

Going for Picture

We are shooting tonight!

Thanks to the great support showing up for us on Indiegogo and anxious to see action to accompany the powerful Vietnam stories we’ve been recording , we’ve built part of the set (or, a “sub-set of the set,” as I like to say) and will do our first filming tonight.

I’m very excited to get this rolling and look forward to working with James and the material we’ve been evolving. Who knows how it will go?

I’m just very glad to get a chance to do what I do best for this project, …and to start doing that tonight.

Thanks to everyone who has had encouraging things to say to us in person or write in our comments here on the blog, on the campaign page or on Facebook. We are up against some steep challenges and it means a lot to hear those things from friends and supporters.

It means a lot too if you share this project or forward it to YOUR friends.

And to everyone who has helped fund the project: thanks for making this exciting moment possible. You will see what you’ve helped to do!

 

Now is the Time to Go for It

I’ve been a huge fan of James’ work since first meeting him a few years ago.  He is an amazingly powerful and creative storyteller in all the manifestations of his art: his paintings and sculpture, the one-man play, and his readings. I’ve always felt a personal connection to his work and to him as an artist and performer.

A year or so ago when I started filming sessions for Santa Fe Salon Files which featured James – and Executive Producer, Julie Schumer – we also started tossing around the concept of working together on something more dramatically narrative. This past summer James decided to do a feature film based in-part on some of the stories from his one man play. As the concept has developed, it has become a much broader, richer tale.

I am very, very excited to have been asked to participate in the production, to film and edit the piece and lend my other expertise. I’ve been professionally involved in so many aspects of production – for over 30 years – that I feel like I fit this compact, efficient team quite well. I feel like I’ve been becoming prepared to make this film, in this way, all my life.

It has been said that a paradigm-shift has happened regarding companies that make money off of enabling independent filmmakers. We are right NOW on the cusp of the time when the power to have something produced is less in the hands of corporate distributors and middlemen and more in the hands of the creators themselves.

What has enabled this transformation is two-fold: crowd-funding platforms and digital distribution through video-on-demand services and digital downloads.

These Do-it-Yourself techniques are allowing independent creators like us to break out of a restrictive, sluggish corporate system that can interfere with some productions being both original and good.

It is wonderful for me personally to feel like I can contribute a wide range of creative juice into the process of rendering this unique story for our audience. I hope you will be interested enough to support us in some way, so that you too are involved in making this happen.

In addition to your patronage through Indiegogo, you can be a part of this by talking about the project with your friends and forwarding interesting updates to your networks on Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter.

We will be posting regular updates here on our blog, Indiegogo campaign page and Twitter. You can start being a part of this by following our Twitter feed or “Liking” the project on Facebook, so that you get the updates too. And, if you see fit to forward any of those to your contacts and friends, that will be a huge help in getting the word out and helping people who may be interested in the film to know about it and seek out a download or go see it at a festival.