Door to Door Failsman

Door to Door Failsman
2017 Chunky Milk Productions
Director: Owen Swerkstrom

Watch on Vimeo
Watch on YouTube

HD Downloads:
 Theatre quality 1.2GB
1080p compressed 385MB
 720p compressed 72MB

Companion piece:
 I Shouldn't Think

This was Chunky Milk Productions' third 48 Hour Film Project.

See also: I Shouldn't Think, a companion piece! It's the music video for the Vince Berman Trio song of the same name. We used an instrumental mix of the song in the final act of Door to Door Failsman.

Third Time's A Charm?

This year I signed us up early. My official story is that it was for the discount, but really I don't have a ton of time to spend making fun little movies, and I love to do it. Even under ridiculous time constraints. Entering the 48 Hour project ensures that at least for one weekend a year, we get to make and share something. I need that, and I know Mike does too.

But, this year, that's about as far as we got. Dave was still on board to supply us with tasty music, but Jed and Margaret (being the talented folks they are) had other engagements. So potentially this was going to be a bit of a return to our roots, just a guy with a camera and a guy being wacky enough to be worth recording.

...And yeah, that'e exactly what we wound up doing. There were many moments that felt like we were shooting an episode of Adventures of Mike nearly 20 years ago.

48 Hours

We drew genres and had, in theory, the choice of "dark comedy" or "film de femme". We enjoy a story with strong female characters as much as anybody, but neither of us would make a terribly convincing leading lady. Plus, comedy with something kind of sinister or twisted about it? I don't think we could have drawn a better category. Good job with that hat Mike!

We'd already thrown around a few generic ideas of how to make a one-man show. One side of an excruciatingly long phone call. Shadow puppets with goofy voices. A lonely guy talking to inanimate objects with crudely-drawn faces. You know, the kinds of ideas completely normal minds would come up with.

The required elements were a salesman named Chris Bowdoin, headphones, and the line "he said he would be here". Really that just saved us having to think too hard about who our one character would be.

Ready, Set, Go

After last year's many cooks in the kitchen and child cast, I can't express how easy of a production this was. We wrote up a skeleton of a script Friday night, I stayed up doing some storyboarding and shot group planning, and we recorded everything we needed between about 9am and 3pm on Saturday.

The shoot itself was crazy smooth. There were some boiling in the sun moments for Mike, and some specific visual gags that took me too long to explain, but in general we were both very pleased at how quickly we were burning through and getting our shots. Even the bits with Mike's dog Ole which we figured we may need to scrap, 'cause who would make plans that depend on a blind dog's behaviour, came together pretty quickly and with surprisingly solid results.

We started editing together, then Mike had to leave for a while in the evening. I chugged through during that time and had basically everything done except for the montage in the middle, talking to inanimate objects. This was the part that felt the most like an Adventure, and I was transported back to 1999 when Mike showed up Saturday night and we cut the sequence together. The only real difference was he sat to my left.

The Third Adventurer

It looks like a one-man show. My description sounds like a two-man team. But this was a three-legged ... hmm, what's movie-production-related and has three legs... Well anyway Dave Schwartz was not just on call for music and sound effects, he was absolutely vital. He and Mike go way back, and he lives in Florida now. All our collaboration takes place over phone, texts, and emails, which nobody would ever guess to see and hear the results.

Mike would describe a kind of mood he wanted for a sequence and Dave would immediately send us several pieces he'd worked on that fit the bill. We'd ask if we could hear a version without vocals, or with keyboard only, and in no time at all he'd sent me the files. We'd need some knuckle-cracking, a morning alarm, an electrocution. Bam, Dave would provide.

I thought it would be funny if the schlub salesman had a really goony ringtone, "I get knocked down, but I get up again" or something. The 48 Hour rules are very strict about anything copyrighted, so that was off the table. But what about a horrible old-style MIDI ringtone of that, or of something else cheesily bright-eyed and optimistic? Maybe "Tomorrow"? Boom. Dave sends me a cheese-tacular not-quite-the-right-notes completely-copyright-safe ringtone interpretation of "Tomorrow". Just incredible.

Mike's the guy you see, I'm the guy Mike says did all the work, and Dave is the guy who gave the whole thing soul and depth without even being able to see what we were working on. He's the magician.


We wanted to end with a big sweeping shot pulling back, straight up, from the recently-tased salesman, and Other-Dave was our man. (Sorry man, but if I can remember a person's name at all I call that a win.) He spent more time driving from Hudson than shooting with us, and the it around noon which made shadows a potentially huge problem, but he nailed it and got us a great ending.

Final Touches

I actually got to bed around 5am Sunday morning, and got a few hours of sleep. I was able to do that because the movie was basically done. I was awaiting a couple of tweaked audio files but had placeholders in just in case. I'd gotten all the timings done, I even had the audio and levels reasonably tweaked. I had a render going that would serve as a fallback, a final version to turn in if all else failed.

The only thing that failed was me. Twice over.

After putting in Dave's last sounds and revisions, I sent him the "final" render. We'd been using and adapting music from the album he's making as part of the Vince Berman Trio, but I only credited Dave himself by name in the end credits roll. Fortunately, we had time to spare for another render and the way I had it set up, inserting a credit line didn't alter any timings or positioning.

So after fixing the credits and giving Mike a copy to show his family, he called me Sunday afternoon saying there was no sound when he played the file on his computer. I had selected AC3 for the audio encoding instead of AAC, which I normally use. I didn't even realize any halfway modern computer would care, but I will always remember now that AAC is indeed more universal. So I had to do one more render with proper audio encoding. If I was really smart I'd have just re-rendered the audio and muxed it in using ffmpeg, but I'm not sure how to do that and was too tired to trust myself to figure it out.

The Screening

This year we saw our screening group's movies in a charmingly run-down cinema. Upon setting foot in the building, we could smell decades of popcorn. After making our way back into the theatre proper, we saw the patched-up audio system used for live shows and the big screen. Couches down in front. Weird paintings on the walls. This place had some character.

We were the first of the on-time films shown this year! ...Order means nothing, but that was kind of fun anyway. The variety of movies was really wide this year, plenty of serious drama and really fun experimental stuff, all in varying degrees of production values and just overall how well they were pulled off.

Our door-to-door failsman got some good reactions, I think, and of course Ole stole the show by being his derpy oblivious self.

One disadvantage to being shown in that particular theatre was some movies felt very dark (our shots held up pretty well but definitely lost some pop in the lower-light moments) and the sound system was not great. I'm always eager (and a little scared) to hear what our movies will sound like with giant movie-theatre sound, where ambient noise goes wild and any overmodulation or mismatched levels stick out like sore thumbs. Our dialogue was nice and clear, which couldn't be said of all the movies we saw, and the levels seemed consistent and right, but I wonder how well the audio would stand up through higher-end equipment.

After the shows, the team leads got pulled up on stage to answer some questions about our movies. I hope I represented Chunky Milk well, Mike would have been more entertaining but I think I got across the few things I tried to say.

Next Time

I still want to do a single sustained shot that's an entire short film. I'm not sure how realistic that is or whether we could pull it off but it's such a fun idea.

Shadow puppets would have been fun too. If we end up with minimal cast again, I'd like to see how big a story we could tell like that.

A couple weeks after the project, after the screenings and after the announcements of the top 10 and audience choice awards, I realized that I made a beginner's mistake. I broke a fundamental rule of filmmaking: show, don't tell. I relied on narration for storytelling. You don't come out and say "he wanted specs for soap"; you have Mike get in a frustrating one-sided interruption-filled argument with a tennis raquet. That was always the part of the movie I was least happy with, how the practice sales customers were introduced. It's too late for the project but I did eventually figure out how I would do it better. :^)

Lessons Learnt

Animated GIFs

Everybody loves GIFs right?

Captain Snorts Getting Ready Groove On

Color Bars

What are these? See here for more info.

Top: all Chunky Milk Productions films