Finished shooting principal photography on short film Sunset in McDade

Well, shooting the short film Sunset in McDade was an unforgettable experience! And things aren’t over yet!

For those of you who haven’t followed this journey, this is the very first film I’ve shot that wasn’t written by me… I mean, the very reason I became a director was because I couldn’t stand the thought of having someone else doing it… I’ve a strong vision, and I’m as stubborn as they come.

So, this project was very special for many reasons.

First, if you know me, you know I don’t do art for art’s sake… art is a communication (meaning there had better be a purpose for it, at least for me) and I firmly believe that we as artists shape the woof and warp of society… we can either bring it up, or bring it down, by the content of our art.

Some folks prefer to glorify immoral and hateful deeds, and criminal behavior, but I prefer to put forth visions and ideas that raise the culture, and lift it up to the sky…

This project had so many great elements that spoke to me, spiritually, on the matter of love and connection, on atonement, and making things right, on the importance of self-defense, on the importance of realizing that our actions impact others, and its effects may last more than just our lifetimes.

There’s a Native American custom, The Law of Seven, which states that you must ponder the ramifications of any major decision, seven years into the future, to determine your course of action.

Sure, that can be daunting at first, but if you start with imagining a few days, then months and keep practicing with every major decision, soon years will be within grasp.

But enough philosophy! This is about the experience of making a movie!

So, armed with a love of the story, and the effects Angela Cecile Lee (the writer and producer) wanted to create, we set to work.

Now, as a writer myself, I can only applaud Angela’s courage… I’m sure this wasn’t unlike watching your children go on to their first day at school or grow up and leave the nest… it takes a lot of faith and personal courage… I don’t know that I could’ve done it. So, big thanks to Angela for letting me direct her project, and giving me and the actors room to fine-tune the story.

This was an amazing learning experience, and we got to meet all kinds of fun people, including some of the gracious townsfolk of McDade who welcomed us, and helped make this production happen (they found us an amazing convertible, made us some torches, let us use their homes to eat and use the facilities and even served as extras) — I look forward to going back to McDade and work with those folks again.

I also got to meet a gentleman by the name of James Brewer, who’s worked with the likes of John Wayne (one of my all-time favorite actors) and Marlon Brando, and others that I grew up with… an unexpected and pleasant surprise!

Our DP, Phil Curry, was very kind and courteous and never said no to me — if my idea was cockamamie, he’d give me a better idea… I absolutely loved the footage he took! He is an absolute pro.

I learned so much from everyone on set, I can’t even begin to elaborate! Suffice it to say the following:

  1. Have a shot list at the very minimum, and make sure you discuss that with your DP and editor – it was a great time saver (see my article on using Celtx for storyboarding)
  2. Rehearse your actors at least 2 or 3 times – it gives them and you the chance to fine-tune performances and come up with ways of complementing your story in ways neither the writer nor the director had thought up! Highly recommend this… you’ll have a happy cast and a better result (not to say you shouldn’t already have a very firm idea in your mind, but let others pitch in good ideas too)
  3. Trust in your crew and let them do their jobs – if you too let them have their creativity you’ll end up with a better product. Everyone has good ideas, and if you let them contribute, they will feel like the project is theirs too!
  4. If you’re shooting outdoors, check your weather forecast, or bring a weather shaman on set… LOL!
  5. Be nice to people – people like people who are nice and kind. Especially here in Texas, where the name of the state literally means “friend.”
  6. Plan your shooting schedule in advance. An AD will help you with this, and it is very important. You may end up running late if you don’t…
  7. Don’t leave the set without getting all the footage you need. Pick-ups are costly, and give room for mistakes.
  8. Not all scenes need to be as perfect as each other. A wife shot where you can’t really see the actor’s expressions doesn’t need the same amount of work and attention to detail as a close-up.
  9. The Texas Sun can singe your butt real good and real quick! So, if you’re shooting outdoors… get sunscreen! And if you’re shooting outside during and it’s hot or warm… bring bug repellent ‘cos mosquitoes in Texas are very devoted to their craft!! LOL
  10. Texas is the best place to shoot. Not only do you have the friendliest people in the US, you have absolutely gorgeous locations and more wide open spaces than anywhere in the union… except maybe Alaska. We got incentives, we got crew and we got talent!!! We also have some really cool people in the Texas Film Commission, who want to help!
  11. There’s no business like showbusiness… and in my case, specifically the filmmaking business… we are a breed of our own!

That’s all I can remember right now…

Next? Editing all the footage together, putting music and sounds effects (foley) to it.

Looking forward to getting it all done!

Ah, gotta leave one final thanks to the folks at – that is by far the strongest tool in my pre-production arsenal. Not only did I use it to write up my storyboards, I found other uses for it (topic for another article), especially during this project.

I still have a lot to learn about Celtx and how to use it, but what I already know has saved me considerable headaches!

A final warm thanks to my amazing wife and pro photographer Rita Quinn, for all her support, and really cool set photos, which we’ll be posting up on the film’s website: