A little backstory...
Back in 2009, I took a class from a guy named Dove Simmons who was sort of the protege of Roger Corman, kind of a B-movie mastermind. It was just a day long workshop about making & selling your films, sort of a "how to" from start to finish. The one thing I really took away from the class was that short films don't sell, which is generally true. To do anything real as a filmmaker, you really had to make a feature. This completely clicked with me, and I knew what I needed to do.
Fast forward a few months and I had written my first feature-length film called "The River" about five guys abducted into an underground poker game where you lose, you die. It was going to be super cheap to produce and a strong concept that would be easy to sell to a distributor, especially internationally. Plus, poker was really popular in '09.
I held auditions, cast the best people I could find, bought the props, had the script reviewed by professionals, found the sets and costumes, the works. I was really doing this and all on my American Express card (seriously, don't do that, trust me).
We shot the entire film in six days for about $9,000. Of course, those six days were spent in a plastic-lined garage in the middle of August in Pasadena but you know, we survived. (If I had to do it all over again, I would have never put my actors and crew in that position and I would have waited until I could afford to pay them all fairly. Don't do what I did.)
The problem was that the nearby San Gabriel mountains also happened to be on fire that week. Like really on fire. Like mushroom cloud kind of fire which meant helicopters and airplanes flying over us every two seconds on their way to fight the fire. We ended up with almost every shot containing planes or helicopters in the background of what was supposed to be the middle of nowhere.
After months of editing frustration trying to eliminate that sound, I had given up. I was exhausted and truly disliked the project. I didn't have the money to hire a professional audio editor, and I didn't have the strength or talent to do it myself. So I put The River's hard drive on the shelf.
Five years later, I'm introduced to the wonderful world of "web series" through another filmmaker friend after moving up to Seattle. I knew the film wasn't good enough (with its problems) to sell as a feature, but maybe I could cut it up into a web series which seemed to have much lower standards. I was excited again.
I pulled the old hard drive off the shelf, blew the dust away in a cinematic fashion, and plugged it in. I now had five more years of editing experience, and noise reduction software was now tremendously better, plus I had just cut my feature documentary in Final Cut Pro X, and I had found a few tricks to optimize sound even though new software meant starting over from scratch.
I reorganized all the footage properly (like I should have the first time), spent weeks just finding the best takes, and started loading footage into the timeline. I heard the sound I hated: helicopters and planes and it brought back all of my disappointment but then I noticed something. In one little insignificant clip, the DP had zoomed in quickly. I froze. I played it again. There it was: the sound of the lens zooming in, like a sort of scrape sound, but the sound recordist's boom microphone was on the other side of the room. I almost jumped up and down and my heart was doing backflips.
What this meant was that ALL of the planes and helicopters and generally bad reverb/echo I had heard years before were coming from the camera's ON-BOARD MICROPHONE! EUREKA! Two seconds later, I clicked the audio info tab for the file and I saw, there in front of me, were multiple audio tracks I could enable or disable. I turned off the audio from the on-board camera mic and played it again... Crystal clear beautiful audio with NO planes or helicopters.
Looking back, this was a rookie mistake but to be fair, I was a rookie then.
I got to work editing my film/web series and chose an October 15th premiere date for what was to be nine episodes. It was a much better series than a film and was turning out far better than I'd expected or even hoped. Every five to ten minutes, somebody died. It couldn't have been more episodic if I'd written it that way.
I launched on October 15 like I planned and posted one new episode every week until the finale. The cast & crew, who appropriately thought I'd abandoned the project entirely, were thrilled to hear it was being published and all the new marketing and excitement about the show was great for them AND for me. Coincidentally, I had also just finished paying off that American Express card.
The River went on to play quite a few web series film festivals and even inspired me to join forces with two web series colleagues to start Seattle Web Fest which is now going into its 3rd year on March 11th, 2017.
I don't know what would have happened to The River had I chosen to finish it and pursue traditional distribution back in 2009, but I can say that I'm tremendously proud of how it's done in this format and where it's taken me, from feeling complete disappointment to co-director of a successful film festival.