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Making a Comedy Shortfilm – Top 8 Tips I’ve Learnt

in Comedy by
myself and gang filming a shortfilm

I starting writing my own comedy shortfilm as a way to create something I thought I never could. I realised too that, in order for them to be made, I would have to make them.

So, I may have learnt a couple of things along the way that most would never know, some know only too well and others forget.

1. Write your comedy shortfilm properly…then ask a friend if it’s funny

It all starts with the story. I have no specific way of writing anything well, as I haven’t as yet. Everything I write down is an experience in line with an experiment.

The format is key too. Learn to write in a screenplay format, there’s tons of tutorials out there, like this one for my last sketch, the Driving Test. It helps because everyone knows the format.

Don’t wait. I could easily wait until a buddy of mine would show up at my pad, beers in hand and ready to dish out some cool anecdote I’ll be inspired to write down, but it’s not so easy for those that don’t come around to mine.

Don’t look to anybody else for inspiration, just write your story. You can, and should however, look to someone else for guidance after writing it. Get their take, receive their input gladly and follow along with whatever advice they give.

Most times, they’ll be right.

2. Get a better camera than what you’ve got, cos yours is crap

Comedy Shortfilm Poster for Driving Test
Our released shortfilm “Driving Test”

Filming your comedy shortfilm with an iPhone is actually ok. In our first one I used two when myself and Joe Emilio filmed our Driving Test one, and it was easy to use.

However, you can tell the quality is lacking, with depth of field and quality of view. So, get a better camera.

If you’re lucky, get a friend who knows cameras. Maybe he is a cameraman. I know one, he’s cool and wants to do more sketches. I’ll keep at it.

3. Keep it simple, don’t try to redo Police Academy

The first time was with me a Joe, the next with Nathan and a few more. The following was a huge undertaking and it didn’t pan out as well as I would’ve liked.

Focus on the simpler tasks first. Write all your stories, but then focus on the ones you can practically pull off on a shoestring budget with minimal fuss.

It takes a lot to coordinate extras, props, main leads and continuity. Keep it between friends. The bigger stories can be created later when more people follow and believe in you.

4. No beer on set, your grip will let go

I learnt that from my last big production. Don’t bring alcohol to the set as people will start fooling around and make unnecessary noise while director and cinematographer speak.

Keep to simple snacks, drinks and sandwiches. But no alcohol, trust me. It will spare you time.

Behind the Scenes of our shortfilm. We had beer. Don't.5. Learn to edit yourself, cos no one else will

That’s my biggest joy of the whole process, the editing phase. I love taking what Iv’e written down, then organising all the clips into one big mess.

And be prepared, this is the most time-consuming part. You will get frustrated with the files you have to sort, the audio you have to bring together and syncing both all at the same time.

And it’s learning the programs. Adobe Premiere is the industry standard, while Final Cut Pro is the layman’s lazy “professional” movie editor. Go for the latter, it’ll save you time.

As for the art of editing, I can’t teach you that. Watch other things and then mimic them. Reproduce the editing in some of the best films you’ve seen and avoid the worst ones. This will take some research.

6. Take care of the special effects and they’ll take care of you

I mean more about the titles and the lighting, as these affect the mood and how audiences perceive your shortfilm. I’m busy reediting my latest short because the lighting is all wrong on so many places and it bothers me.

Where you can, learn about filters and effects. In one comedy shortfilm I filmed long ago, I’m learning Adobe After Effects to turn it into an old 80’s movie complete with broken film (to hide that we never shot the connecting scenes). It’s excruciating, but in the end worth it.

And invest in taking time to make a cool introduction. There’s plenty of title templates to choose one, so use one that’s right for you.

7. Listen to your sound and make sure they can hear the punchline.

Need I say more? Don’t pass up the opportunity to better your sound. If you feel you can’t hear that one thing, fix it and fake it if you have to.

8. Release it and then don’t expect anything

Marketing your comedy shortfilm is the second hardest thing, as nobody would’ve heard nor care about its premise. And it won’t get many likes.

Mine hasn’t. I know. But I gotta keep trying, as I love the process of taking a story to film. Eventually, someone’s going to like it.

What I do/don’t want from Comedy

in Comedy by
want from comedy

I think about what I want or don’t want from comedy, and I find that I do this little thing and enjoy the standing up in front of a strange crowd, telling jokes about my past awkwardness and misadventures, while at the same time edge quietly towards being edgy as a host, but I’ve got the feeling my public persona doesn’t fit a profile that either hits the mainstream hard or swims in the obscurity of cult status.

So, to explain my motives, here are my ambitions and avoidances of Comedy:

  • DO: want to eventually be performing in front of big crowds. I feel at home with a lot of people warmed up to the idea of a stock comedian making them laugh.
  • DON’T: want to continue into my 70’s performing in front of tiny open-mic crowds.
  • DO: want to work with talented people I gel with, to brainstorm awesome ideas and create a semblance of community that serves the general public in many forms of entertainment.
  • DON’T: want to work with guys looking for a quick jump-start to short-term fame.
  • DO: want to develop television or radio schemes with others and be part of a creative group with resources to turn it around in a short space of time. I’ve already written a few, need to start pitching it to a talented guy I’ve recently met.
  • DON’T: want to agree to flimsy promises that never take fruit thanks to ignorance.
  • DO: want to write for a magazine, newspaper or website that accepts my unexplored views on everything from life, love to laundry.
  • DON’T: want to be limited only to this blog.
  • DO: want to make the people I love proud, to show that their support for my abilities aren’t unfounded and that they can share in the fruits of my efforts in hichever way they wish.
  • DON’T: want to be told I’ll never make something of myself because I’m white, single, foreign or never attained a degree/diploma (that one was based on funds).
  • DO: want to “stand before kings, and leave a name to be remembered.” – Benjamin Franklin
  • DON’T: want to be forgotten.

On a dark and stormy night… (a writing exercise)

in Life by
going online mastrubation
In most occasions, I tend to try and write specifically about a subject, but on this occasion I don’t have one…yet, as I just described to my sister-in-law, I do enjoy using the first line, “On a dark and stormy night…” to meander off into subsequent variations of the theme before reaching the point, in order to jump-start the creative process.

And here’s the result.

On a dark and stormy night…

…well, a slightly dark and stormy night, really. In July in the southern hemisphere. And but slightly, I really mean sort-of dusky with a small chance of drizzle.

And when I mean by stormy, really some drizzle with the possibility that your eyes will seem accustomed to the African sun after a few months of the blanket of clouds hanging overcast like a comfort pillow thrown over by an over-protective mother that still loves you despite yelling you a few hours before for leaving your bike out in the yard.

And when I mean drizzle at dusk, I really mean an occasional smattering of one or two droplets descending upon the earth like a few Spartans entering a battle…without their mates, resulting in totally defeat by the Persian horde, that sort of smattering.

And dusk is such a relative term. I would say about 9am, the sun easily penetrating the window like a geriatric peeping Tom with a pace-maker that ticks away like the timepiece in the crocodile that ate Captain Hook’s hand from Peter Pan, the old badger ruffling through the plants trying to find a good view up your nose as your bed faces feet first towards the window.

So anyway, on a slightly morning-ish time of the day with a slight smattering of droplets…I discovered you can get Jews on a train far more easily if you charged them half.

The End.

Comedy not Jazz background

in Comedy by
comedy not jazz background

Ever heard of comedy not jazz background for your conversation? So tonight I had the joy of opening up Comics@Work at the Armchair Theatre in Observatory, and a small table began to talk amongst themselves.

Which is fine for any Tom, Dick and Harry comedian, as it portrays a lack of enthusiasm for the comedian and the show itself on most occasion, and it is up to the performer to entertain the crowd to a point where everyone’s attention is suddenly transfixed at the silliness, the punch lines, the charisma.

But knuckleheadedness reared it’s fat, ugly, greasy sonofabitch head tonight with this table.

What began as simply each comedian getting slightly distracted by this group of fascist actor/jobless knowitalls turned into an all-out conversation throughout the entire show, with compere Christopher Steenkamp having to request their silence at the interval for the second-half, only to be met half-heatedly with a biligerent “no”, like the man himself held the crown jewels of England between his legs and his own ass was made from gold and reeked of nutmeg.

After the show, a stand-off occurred where said compere (balls to the max) confronted them once more and a shouting match occur, whereupon said Crown Jewels man gave a comment I will never forget:

“Hey, freedom of speech, k?”

As a comedian pointed out so thoughtfully tonight, they basically sat there talking about their amazing yet fruitless and wasted lives with the comedy as jazz music background. Thank you, actors, thank you so much for belittling the spoken word craft that you cannot succeed in yourselves. You’ll be seeing at least some of us in magazines touting our comedy shows and DVD’s long before you get to be extras in porn films as pot-plants.

Comics@Work

Love Star Trek much?

in Life by
There are few subjects I can usually relate to people about. Sports are as functional to me as sex, I just don’t know the people performing in both. Even an ex-girlfriend successfully stood me up when I tried to open up the fuel-tank for a van I hired to move home.

But I love Star Trek…hold onto your ridges, Mister Worf.
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Going Offline: Day 54 – Going Online

in Life by
going online

I know, I know, ironic huh? Nelson harped on for ages about his addiction to going online on Facebook and wanted to get off it as it was so time-consuming and affected his relationship with other people, his performance in work, and wrote a few short blog-posts bleeding his heart to the wide world of human beings about his fragile ego needing a rest from a virtual fashion show of people’s lives.

And then he’s back on it.

Well, if you haven’t seen by now, I’m in South Africa spending time with la familia, my dad having been ill for so long and me wanting to be around him before time runs out. But since 2 weeks ago, this I can see will impact greatly on my career in the videogames industry, fragile and precarious as it once was before.

And now, I need Facebook…to contact people.

For all my good intentions of shooting the proverbial shit with my dad and the rest of his brood, no one needs a producer in little ol’ Cape Town, and I found that out the hard way after 2 months of being strung along by someone. It’s time to step up, get off my bum-bum, rewrite my Curriculum Vitae and become a full-fledged rat-race chaser, doing whatever odds and ends necessary to pay for petroleum for a run-down ve-HIC-le that will take me places for work purposes AND for comedic endeavours.

In terms of Facebook, that means being exposed to people again, promoting comedy shows and varying my repertoire, talking to long-lost “pals” and convincing them that I’m a gorgeous good-looking, charming little piece of ass-et that you can’t do without.

AND THEN I’ll be offline, keeping my head down.

So, you can call me a hypocrite for being weak-minded…OR you can stand-up and say, “Nelson…there’s a guy that needs a handyman, I’ll send him your number.”

Yes, yes you can do that.

Cape Town Blog – Waking up to a brand-new world

in Life by
And a wonderful to you all from a finally overcast Cape Town, South Africa.
From my little room I share in my brother’s wonderful house in the suburbs, I woke up dazed and confused early this morning to find two things that perplexes even the most astute of single gentlemen that walk the earth as directionless as I am:
1. A phone call from my sister demonstrating a cheap car on Gumtree called a Ford Lazer (yes, I write this wishing I could show my fingers making the Dr. evil signature move)
2. A black cat called Peanut licking itself in area devoid of appropriate testicular contents.
It’s been a surreal week and a half getting to know my family once again, regaling them with wonderful anecdotes of stories from the colonial master land that is the United Kingdom, and wishing them health and love as best I can without sounding TOO droll. As yet, I have not had the chance to meet up with old friends due to a distinct lack of transport (public utilities usually consists of a man driving a van with a monkey-wrench for a steering wheel) but when I do, I hope it will be fun and interesting.
And yes, hun, I’m still waiting for you to answer.
Monday night saw me perform my first set for over a year at a lovely little bar in Rondebosch, expecting droves of UCT students eager to giggle their sides, and to be fair the 10 guys staring at me gave me the challenge I wanted most: a chance to test my mettle as a all-round entertainer.
And true to their word, they tested me.
Still, it was nice to walk off stage and blokes coming up afterwards saying, “China, you was ace, eh?” followed by a handshake and a shoulder-bump, a clear sign of me being accepted into the audience acumen of approval.
Ever been shoulder-bumped? It’s like an audience Jay Leno nodding and saying you’ll go far.
So today I’ll be setting up a portfolio of shots thanks to a wonderful photographer I know, looking for menial work, openings up the money-grubbing bank account and reading up on the day’s stories for new and exciting material, to mold and shape it into wonderful jokes that will leave them thinking that their lives can be for the better if they look past the errors of yesteryear and just accept that inside, we…are all…pink.
Cape Town, bring it on.
See me Thursday night at the Chilli Bar in Southfield where I’ll be sweating it yet again.

I don’t have a Title, you can call me “Sir”

in Life by
old man in south africa looking for work

I live without a title all my life, and I’m still looking for work.

I see a fresh new yellow-brick wall in front of me, a stark contrast of the life I’ve been living for many years now. I wrote in pieces of paper, “Beginning”, “Development” and “Conclusion” and I’ve stuck them to this very same wall, hoping that the words may empower me in some bizarre Ancient Egyptian incantation that encompasses my entire being.

I’m talking bullshit, this is my brother’s room in his house and the only thing encompassing me is a hug from my mother tomorrow.

I’ve laid out the photographs of all the important people in my life in front of me, my parents and nephews/niece, I’ve laid the iPad next to me like it’s going to spring out a great idea that only digital media gurus can conjure. A glass of mediocre red lays half-drunk and my tongue feels like its berry goodness has already stained it with the shame of self-defeat.

My breath stinks of smoke. It must be from all the rolled cigarettes I’ve forced myself to ingest. Poor me.

The soundtrack to “Scott Pilgrim vs the World” is playing through tinny speakers on the desk which, too, shares the space for my affections. You know what, I have tried and successfully “attempted” to write something creative, a bleak outline of my only year in CityVarsity, a city college I attended back in 1999 in Cape Town, which really opened my eyes to progressive society that lay beyond the walls of suburbia and all the racism I swam through.

I also found out that my dad is extremely funny and quick-witted, and I’m so glad I’ve spent time with him. He is a genuinely warm and funny man, and my mom is the same person that throws up jibes that, had you been in her company were you down in the dumps, could’ve encouraged you to jump in the lake for her lack of empathy but yet her warm embrace which melted many a chill.

Yes, people, I’m back with my family…and by golly gosh, I’m loving it so far.

Now, can that person please call me back so I can work, earn money, get a car and do f***cking comedy?!!!!!

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