Making Your First Feature Film: Lessons I Learned the Hard Way

Many of the lessons that I learned in the making of my first feature film, A CONVENIENT TRUTH, were originally written up in some form on this blog. However, as of October 2017, I’m happy to say that those insights have now been published as MAKING YOUR FIRST FEATURE FILM: LESSONS I LEARNED THE HARD WAY by McFarland & Company Publishers.

If you’re interested in making your first feature film, click on the cover image below to check out the book.

Making Your First Feature Film Book Cover

About the book:
The tools for independent filmmaking are more accessible today than ever. Yet there is much more to successfully creating a film than access to equipment and software. Chronicling the making of his debut feature film, A Convenient Truth (2015), the author describes the practical preproduction steps needed to take a project from early concept to the first day of photography—details most filmmaking guides don’t include. A scene-by-scene breakdown describes the transferrable lessons learned during the production and postproduction phases. Filmmakers’ options for what to do after completing their first feature are also covered.


Feel free to comment or reach out to let me know your thoughts about the book!


Tasteless Lyric Video

The Bryan Hansen Band has just released a lyric video for “Tasteless”, the first single from their upcoming album “When You Stop Pulling Back.” The album will be released on September 24, 2016, but Bryan asked me if I could create a lyric video for the song to help promote the release of the single.

Take a look at the video above and feel free to let me know what you think/share it. If you like the song, consider purchasing it and supporting a talented, young band.

Lyric Video

I’ve never made a lyric video before (and wasn’t even too familiar with the concept), but this was a fun, quick project. It was challenging and creatively fulfilling to be tasked with listening to a song and coming up with a visual concept from scratch. I’m happy with the results.

From a technical standpoint, it was an interesting limitation to edit to the music because in traditional editing I’m usually altering the audio to fit the visual needs of the edit — something that was obviously not possible in this situation.

All of the footage used in the video is sourced from Video Blocks, and it was edited in Avid Media Composer. Titles were created using Adobe After Effects.

You and Me… We’re Just Us

I recently had the pleasure of working with the D.C.-based sketch group, Brick Penguin, on a few of their comedy sketches. They launched the first of those sketches today. It’s a promo video for a CBS sitcom called “You and Me… We’re Just Us”. I had a great time working with these really talented comedians. If you’re in the D.C. area, definitely check out one of their live shows. You can follow them on Facebook here:

It was a fun experience to shoot and edit something that I didn’t write myself, which is a significantly different experience from directing things that I’ve imagined alone.

Please take a look, share, and feel free to let me know what you think.

Update: Brick Penguin has now released the second sketch that I created with them — “Ticonderoga Pencils.” It’s a commercial format. Take a look below and let us know what you think:

Magnus VT-4000 Tripod Review

I wanted to create a 2-minute review of the Magnus VT-4000 tripod now that I’ve had it for a few years. I know I love to do my homework and watch reviews before I buy any of my filmmaking gear, so I figured I’d add my voice for anyone deciding what to buy.

I bought this tripod on Amazon in September 2013, so I’ve had it for just under three years now. With any tripod, the durability is going to be a question, and I want to point out that it’s still going strong for me. I’ve used it almost weekly – both indoors and out – and it hasn’t failed me yet.

I mainly use the tripod for simple video work, but I have also used it for photography and it works perfectly well for that. I also wanted to point out that I use both a Nikon DSLR and a larger prosumer Panasonic HPX-170, and it’s really great for both. In fact, the fluid head is even slightly easier to get smooth shots out of with the larger, heavier camera. It feels very sturdy and not at all cheap.

I know when I was in the market for a quality but reasonably priced set of sticks there were a ton of options, and it was difficult to choose a specific model. All I can say is that I’m happy that I went with the VT-4000 – primarily because it can take the weight. It’s rated for 8.8 pounds, whereas the VT-3000 is only rated for 6.6 pounds, for example. When you start adding on-camera lights, a shotgun mic, a wireless mic receiver, an external monitor, et cetera, it’s nice to not have to worry about your tripod handling it all.

Also, I really like the quick release plate that the VT-4000 comes with. It slides on and off really easily but also secures nicely to the head. Practically, this is important to me especially when shooting with my DSLR camera because I often have to swap out batteries, and that’s something I have to take the camera off of the tripod to do. This way, the entire camera and plate can pop off, I can flip over the camera get to the battery compartment, swap in the fresh battery, and put the camera back exactly where it was before – with everything still locked down as it was.

Finally, when I was looking into buying a tripod, I found that a lot of reviews mentioned an issue with the carry case that it comes in. Many people have stated that the bag is too small or a pain to use. I almost didn’t buy the tripod for this reason, but I decided to risk it, and I see that those same complaints are still circling around. I wanted to clear up that the bag fits the tripod perfectly.

It’s snug so that the tripod doesn’t bounce around inside when you carry it, but that’s a good thing. The trick is to make sure that the length of the tripod head is oriented parallel to the zippers. You can leave the head loose if you want to let it have some play when you insert it into the bag. If you try to place the tripod in the bag with the head going sideways, it makes the whole thing fatter, and it won’t zip up properly. After you realize this, you’ll have no problem taking the tripod in and out of the case quickly.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this quick review, and I fully recommend buying the Magnus VT-4000 tripod if you’re in the market and trying to decide. If you do decide to buy, I’d appreciate you using this link:

30 Scariest Horror Movies to Watch This Halloween

30 Scariest Horror Films to Watch

With Halloween approaching, people all over are doing what I do all year long — looking for horror movies to watch. Others are actively avoiding horror movies because “horror movies aren’t scary.”

Or, even worse, I’ll hear someone say, “I like horror movies, but they’re not scary.” I don’t understand this. Are there people who like comedies that aren’t funny?

In the case of comedies, it’s understood that people have varied senses of humor, and we make recommendations based on the type of comedy sub-genre that someone is likely to enjoy. To that end, I’ve broken up the 30 horror movies below into five broad sub-genres of horror — to suit your “sense or horror”:

Click on any title to go directly to the film’s iMDb page. You can get all the information there. I’ve just supplied a trailer and a quick sentence or two about why you should watch each film.

This list is in no way comprehensive or definitive. What it is, however, is a list that I vouch for. With so many terrible horror movies out there (including many that make “best of” lists), I wanted to create a list that I have personally curated and that I believe will have an extremely high satisfaction rate among anyone who might read this.

If you’re looking for a scary movie and haven’t yet seen one of these 30, go for it without hesitation. And now, the picks:

Reality-based Psychological Horror

1. Se7en (1995)

Reason to Watch: Director David Fincher has never made a bad film.

2. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Reason to Watch: Don’t take my word for it. This is one of the few horror films to ever be acknowledged with the Best Picture Oscar.

3. Psycho (1960)

Reason to Watch: This is not Hitchcock’s best film, but it’s arguably his scariest.

4. The Strangers (2008)

Reason to Watch: This could happen to you. Like today.

5. The Orphanage (2007)

Reason to Watch: Visually stunning and constantly engaging. Plus, little kids are creepy.

6. Misery (1990)

Reason to Watch: One of the best adaptations of Stephen King. If you like feeling claustrophobic, this is for you.

7. Frailty (2001)

Reason to Watch: The horror comes from the reality of religious fervor. It’ll be hard to shake the feeling that America is filled with people like the protagonist.

8. Identity (2003)

Reason to Watch: Tightly paced with mystery elements.


Supernatural Psychological Horror

1. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Reason to Watch: Probably my favorite horror movie of all time. The credits roll, and you’ll feel violated for the next few days.

2. The Conjuring (2013)

Reason to Watch: This is the modern haunted house movie that so many in the past are supposed to have been (but aren’t). Amazingly executed.

3. The Exorcist (1973)

Reason to Watch: One of the classics. The religious overtones tap directly into the anxiety of anyone raised Christian — and will make anyone else glad they weren’t.

4. The Ring (2002)

Reason to Watch: The scariest and most successful American translation of Japanese horror.

5. Candyman (1992)

Reason to Watch: I feel like more people quote or reference this film than have actually seen it. Watch it. It’s scary.

6. The Shining (1980)

Reason to Watch: Stanley Kubrick. Stephen King. Creepy kid. This is actually lower on my list than it would be on most because the narrative is all over the place, but the scary imagery makes it a must-watch.

7. The Haunting (1963)

Reason to Watch: Proof that what you don’t see is always scarier than what you do.

8. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Reason to Watch: We all have to go to sleep sometime, and Freddy Krueger will cross your mind the next time you do. Really any film in this series is worth watching, except for the second one.

9. The Sixth Sense (1999)

Reason to Watch: It became an instant classic in a time when horror was not particularly strong. It also gets the creepy kid bump.



1. Halloween (1978)

Reason to Watch: Director John Carpenter is a master of horror, and this is still his scariest and most influential film.

2. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Reason to Watch: The title will pretty much tell you if you want to see this one or not.

3. Friday the 13th (1980)

Reason to Watch: A lot of the sequels are terrible, but you shouldn’t let that stop you from watching the original. If you forgot that Kevin Bacon is in it, it’s time to watch it again.



1. Let the Right One In (2008)

Reason to Watch: This is a foreign film in which the effectiveness is amplified by its otherness. Creepy kid bump x 2.

2. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Reason to Watch: The zombie movie that started it all — for better and (mostly) for worse. It’s a small scale version of zombie uprising that leaves time for the viewer to really contemplate being in that horrifying situation.

3. 28 Days Later (2002)

Reason to Watch: The opposite end of the spectrum in the zombie genre but also really scary. As far as I can recall, this is when zombies got fast.

4. Dracula (1931)

Reason to Watch: The oldest film on the list. Bela Lugosi transformed the vampire into something sexy and alluring with his performance without even having a mastery of the English language.

5. Hellraiser (1987)

Reason to Watch: This one is weird, folks. It involves otherworldly beings that live at the threshold of pleasure and pain. Don’t watch it with your parents in the room. Do watch it if you like a little kink mixed in with your horror.

6. The Descent (2005)

Reason to Watch: If you’re looking for another reason to never go spelunking.


Found Footage

1. [Rec] (2007)

Reason to Watch: This Spanish film is intense for its entire short running time. It was remade in America a year later as QUARANTINE (2008), but this original is far superior.

2. The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Reason to Watch: This one has been copied and parodied constantly for the past 15 years. It’s worth watching the original.

3. Paranormal Activity (2007)

Reason to Watch: Aside from the fact that this film was made for practically no money, it’s legitimately horrifying. If you can see it on a big screen, do so. The effect is that the room in which most of the film takes place is presented almost at full scale in the theater, so the audience feels like it’s sitting just on the other side of the room watching it all unfold. A significant amount of the scare is lost on the small screen with this one.

4. Creep (2014)

Reason to Watch: Proof that two actors and a camera can make a movie that will stay with you for days. It’s also the most recent movie on the list.


“Hey, You Forgot to List…”

There are a ton of great films that are often named on horror lists that I’ve omitted for very specific reasons. These reasons and films are:

No Science Fiction

Science Fiction is its own genre. Great films that I’ve left off for this reason include:

No Horror-Comedy

This is a list of 30 scary movies. Movies that make me laugh have no business on it. A few great horror-comedies are:

Suspense is Different

The list would have quickly gotten much too broad if I didn’t exclude films that are primarily suspenseful, rather than scary. I consider this to be true for the following great movies:


There are a few miscellaneous movies that are definitely worth watching and often appear on lists like these that I’ve ultimately left out, including:

Feel free to leave a comment about your favorite on the list below or to let me know what you think deserves to be on the list.