IFH 006

IFH 006: Indie Film VFX Masterclass with Dan Cregan


In this episode, we tackle what visual effects artists can do to help you in your indie film. Visual Effects in Indie Film is really hit or miss, mostly miss. Many indie filmmakers don’t have any idea what to do when it comes to visual effects.

Uber visual effects artist Dan Cregan takes you through a master class on indie film visual effects and tells us how he went from indie visual effects to huge studio films like Guardians of the Galaxy and The Hobbit.

Dan started working as a visual effects artist with my visual effects/post-production company Numb Robot over 10 years ago. We’ve worked on countless independent films and projects over the years, some good and some painful.

We even co-directed our Japanese Anime Short Film  Red Princess Blues: Genesis.

His road from indie film to tentpole studio films is a long and painful one but it has a very happy ending. I hope you enjoy to film geeks talking about the film business and hopefully sprinkling in a few nuggets of knowledge for you.

Here’s a list of a few of the films he has worked on:

The Martian
Fantastic Four
The Equalizer
Guardians of the Galaxy
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Game of Thrones
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Enjoy my conversation with Dan Cregan!

Right-click here to download the MP3

Alex Ferrari 0:00
This episode is going to be fun. It's it's our have a good friend of mine, Dan Cregan, who is a big visual effects guy now. When I started out with him, he was my visual effects guy on my small film broken. And also on my red princess blues. We've co directed the animated movie references blues Genesis, where he did all the animation on that as well. And, and involved with lipstick and bullets, my blu ray as well. So then I can call him one of my best friends. And it's been amazing to see how he is grown in the visual effects world. He went from broken to films like guardians of the galaxy's Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Games of Thrones, Mount Millicent 47 Ronin, and The Hobbit just just to name a few. And he just got done off of Fantastic Four as well, which we do discuss a little bit of Fantastic Four, as well in this episode. So it's a long one, it's about an hour and a half long, you know, it's a couple film geeks talking, but a lot of great information about visual effects visual effects in indie film, and, and just general good times. So without further ado, my good friend Dan Cregan. And thank you, Dan, so much. Are you there, sir?

I'm here.

Thank you so much for joining us on the show today. I really, really appreciate it. I saw I wanted to thank you, man. I wanted to talk a little bit about there's It's no secret I don't think that you and I have been real good friends for going on 11 years now. So I wanted to I wanted you to tell the audience how we met and all the fiasco that we've gone into since then.

Yeah, it's been a few. Well, where to start?

At the beginning is always at the place

At the beginning. Alright, um, well, 11 years ago, just about I was working as a professor at a digital art school that sent me to a film festival to do a talk about high definition animation. I think it was at this point, because that was like a new thing then.

Yeah, I remember I remember that panel. It was like, you know, HD is gonna change the world.

Dan Cregan 4:04
Yeah, it might catch on. Yeah. So it was like a panel discussing I don't know render times and how it was gonna change the workflow for animation, visual effects, post production and things like that. Because you know, it's like 2004 and it's just starting to get out there. Anyway, I do this panel as excited because, you know, I was pretty fresh out of school, and I was teaching and I was like, oh, now they now they want me to be on a panel. So I feel all professional and whatnot. So both so I knew so little, I knew so little

Alex Ferrari 4:36
That we all we all we all knew so little and we still do in many ways.

Dan Cregan 4:41
And then I was we were given the talk and my buddy Ken, who we also work with. He was on the panel with me and I guess we got two bantering pretty good on the panel and, and, and you were in the audience and and sure enough, you kind of took a shine to us, I think because you approached us after the panel and That's where it all began.

Alex Ferrari 5:02
The rest is the rest of the worst day in your life, I'm assuming.

Dan Cregan 5:08
I remember, I remember you asking if we had business cards, and I was like, really I don't, I'm a visual effects artist, I don't have a business card. And, and I said, but here, here's my phone number, whatever, here's my email address, I think it was at the time. And I don't think it was a day before you would contacted me and said, we're doing a short film. And I wondered if you'd come down to the studio in Hollywood, Florida. And

Alex Ferrari 5:33
Then for that distinction,

Dan Cregan 5:35
And check it out, you know, and, and see, if you want to be a part of this, there's no money, but maybe you'll be interested in working with us. So that's kind of where it started. And I just wanted to work at the time working on projects, that meant something or, you know, just film projects, I have done one movie at that point, and not even as a visual effects artist as a concept, designer, storyboard artist. And it excited me to have the opportunity to just work at that point, I was earning money teaching, I just wanted to work. So yeah, I came in and we did a meeting. And then the rest is, as they say, history.

Alex Ferrari 6:16
So what? Why did you decide to work with a young, independent filmmaker who had no real credits to his name? at all? I mean, I know I was, I was a working editor at the time. And I had us had a room, or an office in a production facility in Hollywood, Florida. So I know that might have like, legitimize me a little bit. But beyond that smoke and mirrors, what was it about the, the project about me? I'm asking this question, because I want other filmmakers to understand the reasoning why, and how I was able to, you know, get to work with someone of your caliber, for, you know, for free, at the beginning of basically the beginning of the real beginning of my directing career.

Dan Cregan 7:03
Well, I think the first thing was when I came in and did the meeting, it was a good location, I hadn't been in a studio setting before so location was one thing that it was impressed with, right off the bat. The other thing was your passion for your project. There was, I don't know if it was justified or not, but the secrecy that you had around the project, you were like, you got to sign something before you can read the script. And it's gonna be huge, and we're gonna make we're gonna change the world. And, you know, I was like, Oh, this is this is the real deal. This is something serious. Yeah, man.

Alex Ferrari 7:41
Well, you, you really just fell off the turnip truck.

Dan Cregan 7:45
I really, really did. And,

Alex Ferrari 7:47
And I saw you coming from a mile away, sir,

Dan Cregan 7:49
You did take advantage of me, I know, um, you know, I knew I had a lot of ability at the time. I just didn't know what to do with it. And I saw somebody who needed it at that point. And I thought, you know, I had been involved in, in one independent project before, and I've seen other independent projects go. And this was different. Broken was a film. And that's what it was called. And that was the start of our collaboration. It It was a film that had a lot of visual effects and action and it was a thriller and it wasn't the typical independent you know, talking heads drama, you know, it was it was more of a mainstream you know, just exciting thing to do. And I immediately said, Well, this is how I want to spend my free time I want to do this. The other thing was that I mentioned the production setting first. Alex that you also showed me your reel and like all this stuff that looked like you had done MTV promos, music videos, you know, mainstream commercials in like a dozen films before that. So to my eyes, you know, you always knew you always knew how to look pro and to my eyes, I said, Well, this guy's the real deal plus he's making me sign legal documents to read a script, he's got to be the real deal. And you know, I just I was taken in by the whole thing and like I said, I was young and naive, and and you know what, that can be a good thing. Because I think that's, that's when you do some of your best work is when you have nothing but passion. I think later on, you become a little jaded by the process and you kind of lose that spark. And I kind of missed that spark at this point. So yeah, it's a good time. It's really a good time.

Alex Ferrari 9:39
Well, I mean, I think just so just so you understand, I've been faking it till I make it since the beginning of my my since I was 19. When I when I started in this business. So all those demo that demo reel that you were looking at were all fake commercials. I happen to grab a bunch of footage at a at a commercial house that I was working on. I was a double I was dubbing reels I grabbed the whole bunch of raw footage that they had in the back, re edited it myself on the weekends and threw on a Nike logo and threw on different kinds of logos to make myself look bigger and that's the real that started getting me work so you know sometimes you got to fake it till you make it and obviously it worked with you so if there's a lesson swindled well if there's a lesson to be in and I think you've we've done a lot of work in the over the year so I'm sure you know you fake it till you make it thing is very viable and in many ways needed if not you can't even you can't even crack the door you know if you show you're very very true so so let me ask you a question since broken obviously your greatest work you've worked on massive massive movies hobbit guardians of the galaxy and the recent Fantastic Four as well how did you leverage or better yet let's let's go back I know how you got kind of got in because you and I were bumping around doing a lot of independent film visual effects and things like that for many years and and I know it's very difficult for you to kind of crack the door open for anyone to even give you a chance to even look at you can you tell me a little bit about the the digital domain experience and explain to the audience what digital domain was what happened at digital domain and Florida and how that you leverage that into where you are today?

Dan Cregan 11:30
Sure um you know it's everybody needs a first big break some people though they kind of wait for their big break you know working with you and doing other independent shows I think we did six years seven years of independent film well yeah you know, I'm just building a real kind of cutting my teeth on on on not all great projects but professional level projects you know as professional as you can get working in the film industry out of Florida you know, able to get myself to a certain level where when digital domain happened to build a studio in in Port St. Lucie Florida that I said wow you know, I just submitted my stuff and and hope for the best and you know, it kind of helped everything kind of came together the choices you make really do have an effect on on where you end up I mean, people ask me all the time How do you get there how do you get into the industry How do you break in there's no one way there's so many different ways and there is a great element of luck. I mean, but you got to work hard i mean you know my father always says luck is when you know preparedness meets opportunity and it's so true you just have to work and work and work and you may not get your big break right away. You it might come way down the line. But you know you it will come you know and some people do get that big break really quick. So you know, it's funny like seven years I worked on independent film six years seven years, I got into digital domain I started and I sat down next to a kid who was 19 my buddy rich and he's like yeah, I just worked on Thor and I'm like you know I just felt like

Alex Ferrari 13:26
You felt like slapping it yeah they

Dan Cregan 13:29
Digital domain pulled him out of community college to work on the program and brought him right in they were looking for a lot of young fresh you know potential talent you know they brought me in as an experienced artists but still I hadn't done the big shows and seeing everybody get an opportunity I felt good for him but obviously you start feeling like what have I been doing for seven years I guess you know, I know we talked about it a lot of times you always thought I should move out to LA and maybe I would have gotten into the industry sooner if I had moved out i didn't i like Florida I still live here in Florida and you know I kind of wanted to go my own way and

Alex Ferrari 14:08
Yeah so what happened what happened at digital domain once you've got in there? What happened with the the fall the rise and fall of digital domain and then how did you leverage that into the next phase of your career?

Dan Cregan 14:20
Well, digital domain lasted for me and for most everybody at the company for about two years. There's a lot of available out there on the internet, you can pretty much find the whole story. It basically you know, john texter who was running digital domain, you know, he had a lot of big dreams. He wanted to do so many things. And he wanted to do it in Florida, you know, and he wanted to, you know, kind of get digital domain, you know, into new avenues like an animated film and military simulation and video game design. And he wanted to do it all and he wanted to do it all right away. And you know, they They had a lot going. I mean, the animated film was the big thing. And I think that's what we were counting on to help us survive as a studio and grow and creating your own content is really important in this day and age. And the problem is that making an animated film, you know, is a long, long process, it takes four or five years, maybe, you know, best case scenario, from conception to theater, to get one of those out, you know, you know, the Pixar is the DreamWorks, they can do it faster, still not that much faster, but they can do it faster, because they've, they've got a good pipeline, we were building our own pipeline, you know, we were using digital domain Venice's structure, but for an animated film, they were creating it as they went. And you know, we had a lot of great people, you know, people from Pixar and from Disney, you know, and, you know, industry veterans, they all knew what they were doing and everybody had great intentions and you know, the money just kind of fell through you know, I it kind of comes to, you know, everybody going where they get help from states and help from governments and you know, it's just the reality of the industry right now and, and you kind of need that subsidy money to keep it going. And that wasn't the whole story with digital domain, but that was kind of part of it, you know, you know, kind of running the company on, on on government money, which was it's working to a certain degree he was we were employed 300 people here in Florida. You know, and you know, that's a lot in industry, a lot of people came from other studios and other places around the world. And, you know, they they wanted to get away and settle in a nice quiet place and go to the beach and have no traffic and, you know, they bought houses, but the problem is that when we fell when, when we were all let go and in the company restructured, you know, you can't work in the industry here. So a lot of these people who had moved here, had to move back or go someplace else, or switch industries. It was a, it was a tough time. But you know, for a lot of us for myself, and a lot of the people who started out with digital domain, it became the springboard to bigger and better things. You know, you can work on independent film for a long time, but until you've done some major films, a lot of studios won't really treat you like you're a veteran. But once you have a major studio on your resume, all the sudden you remember the club and it's like hey, you know, you were good filming You're good. You're in here

Alex Ferrari 17:29
And you've been vouched for

Dan Cregan 17:30
Yeah, so all of a sudden you know, the email start coming and you start having choices to make and it's not Can I work it's where do I want to work? You know, and, and I think I've said it many times I I was told this when I was in school and I didn't understand it and it was that artists would come into my my eyes where I went to school and say, networking is the most important thing if you want to work and and there is nothing truer people I met at digital domain I still work with at studios around the world. And you know, we kind of are a special group because we were a part of something that was starting up here and there's there's nothing like a startup there's nothing like starting out something new when people up those people become an extended family and, and working with them. You know, in other studios has been fun. But who you know, they're like, Hey, I worked with him in another studio here. Let's bring him in here. You know, it's the most important thing when people know you and you have a good reputation. That's how you get into other studios. So after digital domain, it wasn't really that difficult all the sudden, after seven years of, of trying to break in through the door. Now, everybody wanted me to a certain degree. I mean, it's still you know, challenging to get a job. But you know, you were taken seriously. And that was a nice change. So, you know, right after digital domain, I went up to New York and I and I worked at Blue Sky, which is really in Connecticut, but they put you up in New York. So it's kind of the same, you know, on a movie called epic and I got to see how animated films are made. And after that somebody I worked with a digital domain and at Blue Sky said, Hey, we're going to Ueda and they're looking for people. Do you want to come? I'm like,

Alex Ferrari 19:18
Yeah, they're doing. They're doing independent film called The Hobbit.

Dan Cregan 19:21
Yeah. You know, so it's like, oh, New Zealand. For 6000 I got to go there. Exactly. It was five months. And you know, and I said, Okay, that's a long time to be away from home. But how many times Am I gonna get paid to go to New Zealand to work on a, you know, a huge film, I mean, it's probably still the biggest film I've been a part of, you know, as far as worldwide coverage and events and, you know, Buzz and hype. You know, I'm not saying they turned out as good as Lord of the Rings because they didn't, but I was. I was really proud to have gone down there and worked with what I also got to do. Donna, the Planet of the Apes when I was down there. Which was an amazing film. I'm proud to have worked on that. So the weather trip was great. And then of course, you know, then people start looking at your rain on your reel and your resume go Oh, you worked at what a blue sky digital domain and then it just snowballs and snowballs. And, and before you know it, you know, you're you're in you can then it's just choosing where do you want to work and for VFX artists now, you know, it's, you know, Vancouver, Montreal, London, New Zealand, Australia, these are the places where the work is. So you kind of have to choose what you want to do. Do you want to go to move to one of these places? Do you want to stay at home and just take short contracts? Do you want to, you know, leave the industry, it's it. The industry is in a strange place right now. And, and you kind of have to decide what's best for you as a person, and how you want to move forward, you know, but you know, I love working on movies, there's no anything I've ever wanted to do. Really. I mean, they've been a passion of mine since I was just a kid. And I can't imagine doing anything else. Really. It's it's hard to imagine do anything. thing else.

Alex Ferrari 21:07
So that's awesome. That's a great story. I'm not I'm not jealous at all.

Dan Cregan 21:16
I couldn't get there without you, sir.

Alex Ferrari 21:17
No, no, no, no, it's too late. It's too late. Let's move on. So let me ask you a question. What are your experiences? And I've been on a lot of these experiences with you, but what is your experiences in visual effects? When dealing with independent films? As a general statement, what kind of problems do you run into what kind of issues things like that?

Dan Cregan 21:39
Well, I think for independent films, the worst, the worst thing is probably the lack of understanding about the visual effects process. So the people who are making the independent film tend to be a little bit less educated in how to VFX work. Therefore, when they're shooting, they don't prepare properly, either what they're shooting, how they're shooting it, what their expectations are, about what the result is going to be. I mean, the lack of knowledge is, is definitely the most difficult part, when you're working on independent film, when you have a tight budget, and you have a, a lofty goal, if you will, it's it's you, you have to plan, you have to figure out how it's going to get done. And you have to plan everything out precisely, you don't have extra money extra time, you know, you know, in big films, when I work at big studios, if, if there's something wrong, and it needs to be fixed, you know, big studios can just throw more money at it independent films don't have that luxury. So, you know, they have to plan more, they have to prepare more, and they have to get educated about what they're trying to accomplish. And the problem is that they often don't. So they often think they go to the movies, and they see all these things, and they're like, I want that I want, you know, a character a full CG character like Gollum in my, in my short little independent film, you know, you know, there's just a button on the on the, on the keyboard for that, isn't it, it can't be that difficult. And, you know, they, they don't really, they don't really think it through precisely. And, you know, and I think it's just, it's just not knowing, you know, so if you're an independent filmmaker, get educated about the process about what it takes the man hours, the computing power, you know, the preparation, how you shoot something, the difference between, you know, visual effects and a locked off shot versus visual effects and a moving shot. I mean, how to light a green screen properly. You know, we could talk hours and hours about just everything that needs to be done for things to work smoothly on the post production side. And I don't think enough young independent films makers really do that unless they come from a visual effects background, which you're seeing a lot of like, you know, on YouTube and whatnot, you're seeing visual effects artists doing short films, right, like, like, like the pixels short, which they bought and turned into pixels. And well, we

Alex Ferrari 24:13
Don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing at this point.

Dan Cregan 24:15
Well, it was alright. But you know, it's, I'm just saying those those those people maybe aren't the best filmmakers, but sometimes they are I mean, it's, it's what's Where are you coming from? Are you a writer that wants to be a filmmaker? Are you a visual artist that wants to be a filmmaker, there's many different types of filmmakers. And the problems are different for everybody. So there's never any one answer to any of these questions about, about how you, you know, do it correctly. It's just, it's just kind of a it's just kind of every situation is different. That's it?

Alex Ferrari 24:51
Yeah. So what like when I had a client of mine or a student, call me up asking for quotes on visual effects and general When we work together, I work as your visual effects supervisor. More for the client not supervising you, but kind of just the middleman. I can see I can speak your language they can so I translate for them for you. And the guy told me he's like, Okay, did you see that scene in Avengers? And like, you need to stop right there.

Dan Cregan 25:17
There is that that is the problem.

Alex Ferrari 25:21
If there is nothing in Avengers that we can do nothing, nothing at all. Just stop. Just stop right there. Nothing. So and I think there was a lot of that going on in indie film, and I've, I've gone I mean, we've dealt with it on God, numbers of numbers of features that we've worked on. And I agree with you, I think it's, it's getting a little better. But there's still a lot of lack of knowledge and just ignorance.

Dan Cregan 25:47
Well, yeah, I mean, if you think about it, the audience is becoming more knowledgeable. You know, people are you know, the the argument out there Oh, CG sucks, or this is too much CG or, you know, I'm you know, there is a, you know, a lot of visual effects out there. And these big tentpole films and people are getting tired of it. It's like a lot of noise and the filmmaking is, is what's being neglected in favor of a lot of, you know, razzle dazzle visual effects in the audience, though, is starting to understand and their eyes are getting more developed. And they're starting to see, you know, the process on their own. So if the filmmakers are going to come from the the new filmmakers are going to come from the audience, they are going to have a more, I don't know what the best way to put in a more thorough understanding of the visual effects process. But you know, it's still a little different tinge to knowing it when you see it, to knowing how to create it.

Alex Ferrari 26:44
Well, yeah, I mean, my wife, for God's sakes, who's who's not in the business at all, she will go to a movie and go, Oh, that was a horrible green screen, in major in a major motion picture, none that you've done, of course. So I find that funny, but if she's doing that, I can only imagine the, everyone's becoming more the visual effects literate, is as things go, as all the behind the scenes come out, and, and people have just got become much more knowledgeable about how the process is, in a lot of ways. I think it's kind of ruined the film industry a bit because the magics kind of gone. Because before you would look at, you know, King Kong back in the 30s. And nobody knew how they did that. They just, were amazed at the spectacle.

Dan Cregan 27:26
Now, what about Star Wars? 1977? I mean, when I was when I was a kid, you know, we could I couldn't even fathom what was creating the imagery I was looking at, I just accepted as real. And I feel bad that people aren't having the same experience today, and maybe they are maybe kids are nowadays, but sometimes I don't know how to look at something from that from that perspective anymore. And I wonder if anybody does, you know, because because, like you said, all the behind the scenes and the common knowledge and, you know, in all the technology that's available to every person, everybody has a video editing program that can do a key and they know what green screen is, and they and they can do basic stuff. So you know, Photoshop, you know, a lot of people know Photoshop and and, you know, they know what's possible. So, you know, it's a, it's, it's kind of a challenge now to actually Wow, people nowadays requires a crazy amount of, you know, you know, innovation, I would say,

Alex Ferrari 28:28
So, I agree with you, 110%. That's why avatar did what they did. Like when avatar came out, it was the kind of First time I've felt magic at the movie theater. Again, because I really, I kind of got what he was doing Originally, the technology hadn't been explained quite yet what he would he had done with Avatar with James Cameron did with Avatar, but it was amazing. If you watch it today, you're like, Jesus, man. It's like ridiculous. What is it, and I can only imagine what the next three movies are going to be like. But he's one of those directors that constantly is pushing the medium forward. And so it was exciting to see those kinds of films, which are rare and rare nowadays.

Dan Cregan 29:11
Well, they're always kind of been rare. The problem is that, you know, we all know, you know, hollywood does, what works. And so if something works, they copy it over and over and over again. So we as an audience, get to see the same product over and over and over again. And you know that that's the problem. But every once in a while, a visionary comes out and pushes the envelope. So you have the matrix in 1999, you've got Terminator two, you've got, you know, Jurassic Park. I mean, and all these things have in common is that they showed you something that you've never seen before. So that so that's like, you know, one of the things you have to do, it's either something you've never seen before, or you have to do it better than anybody's ever done it before. So you know, like, you know, Think recently, you know, gravity was impressive, I think, you know, Donna, the planet of the apes, I worked on at some kind of disqualified, but I thought the looking at the apes in that movie, I started to really, truly believe that digital, you know, actors were just a fact of life at this point. So but it's still have to take a studio to the level of what to do something like that. So independent films, no, not so much. So, you know, that's, you know, but independent films have their own place.

Alex Ferrari 30:35
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.

Dan Cregan 30:45
Do other things really well?

Alex Ferrari 30:48
No, I didn't mean to interrupt you. But I think now, are we kind of like 20 years behind in technology in the sense. So let me explain, like, Jurassic Park came out in 1992. So 9393, excuse me. So you know, to make a dinosaur back then was insanely difficult. Nowadays, you can almost, and I hate to say, touch a button or two, and get a dinosaur. In other words, it's a lot easier for us to do it today. Even in an independent film world, I wouldn't, and maybe dinosaurs, not a good analogy. But that technology is a it's a lot more accessible. So now before, keying used to be a huge event, now it's in every editing system known to man, and really good cures, especially if you know what you're doing. So a lot of this stuff, so like, you know, in 20 years, are we going to be looking at avatar, like, That was cute, and I think, and I think we will get to a certain extent, cuz you look at the matrix now, which is now what, 1516 years old, oh, 99, it came out in 99. So like, 16 years old, a lot of that stuff still holds up, like, most of that movie still holds? Very, very well. But a lot of the technology that they were using then, is much more accessible now. So do you, do you think that we're like about a 1520 year gap between the everyday man everyday filmmaker, the indie filmmaker being able to even attain that kind of technology? Or are we or am I just talking out of my butt?

Dan Cregan 32:23
Well, you know, I don't know about the gap, it's more of a knowledge gap and a hardware gap. And not the complexity of the hardware and software, just the actual, you know, amount of it, right. So, you know, if you have a really good gaming rig a good computer at home, and you've got a lot of talent, you know, you can do some pretty complex CGI. But you know, to really render, you know, a lot of it for a film, you would need a render farm that was massive. So like, transformers. So the so the alleyway scene, when you see them all transform, and we're all introduced to the Autobots. The first time, I think, that was taking four days a frame at ILM with their world class render farm back. So back then, you know, and and, and they're still doing stuff, and Noah, you know, broke their render farm with all those animals in the ark just a year ago. You know, so it, you know, it, it's not so much the technology change, it's the process, yeah, it's the horsepower or the sheer amount of computing power. And as you get more of it, you can do more of it. So it's never really a knowledge thing. It's never really a software thing anymore. It's Yeah, it's more of a actual horsepower, you know, you know, problem. And not only that, you know, it's, it's something I love to tell people, and anybody who will listen, it's the problem is that more isn't better. You know, the reason why the matrix, you know, holds up is because they, they could do what they could do on a budget they had and they had to be creative. The reason why jaws holds up is that the shark wasn't working. So Steven Spielberg had to come up with different ways to build suspense, and it makes for a better film. So over the years, with visual effects, more or less is better. So actually, from an independent standpoint, having limitations is good. And, you know, I think when you look at the matrix sequels, and they have all the computing power and all the manpower and all the, you know, the biggest and the best, and was the product a little bit inferior than the first one, well, maybe for a variety of reasons, but you see the seams more in the work in the second two movies than you do in the first one because they tried to do more and be more ambitious, and more usually equals something that's going to age badly when you have to be reserved, and just kind of sneak it by the audience. You actually get a better product. I In my opinion, it's just my opinion, but I think it you know, struggle breeds a better product a better art, you know, when when you have everything available to you, you know you tend to get lazy or not not try as hard, you know. So you know there is an upside to struggle, there is an upside to having limitations. And I think it's an important thing for every filmmaker to go through.

Alex Ferrari 35:27
Well, it's I'm going on that theme of less is more. Hitchcock famously said, What's more suspense? what's what's more suspenseful, to see someone get murdered in a bedroom, or to be outside the room and hear a murder happening in the bedroom? You know, it's obviously the second one, because your mind fills in all the blanks. So that is, that's what, that's why when you watch Reservoir Dogs, when they when he cuts off the ear, you don't see it. And he actually shot it with them cutting it off. And when he looked at it in the editing room, quit and said, No, no, no, no, it's much more powerful. Letting letting your imagination run wild. And that's exactly why people are so disturbed by that scene, because their imagination is much more vivid than any visual effect can ever be.

Dan Cregan 36:15
That's true that is that is 100% correct. And I don't care how good the art form gets, you know, it's never going to match what you could the worst that you can imagine, or the best or the best that you can imagine. So you know, it's it's it's good, it's good that that is a is an issue because I think filmmakers still need to learn that technique. You know, I thought, Boy, this is gonna get me in trouble but I thought m Night Shyamalan actually knew that pretty well you know in the early days in his career, and you know,

Alex Ferrari 36:48
You don't have to worry about it I completely agree with you yeah, you know,

Dan Cregan 36:51
I just felt like that's why he there was so much hope behind him and his work Yeah, because you know, it felt like he was a filmmaker that got that you know, and

Alex Ferrari 37:01
You know, he got a few films I'll give it to him he i mean but look, most of us will never have a sixth sense in our in our lives as a creative artist, you know, so I can't knock them too much. But or an unbreakable I enjoy science but but I agree with you yeah, let's make it on the M night bandwagon right now

Dan Cregan 37:25
Because that's a whole other show that's a whole other show

Alex Ferrari 37:28
We could just talk about what directors we're all directors have failed and we are so no joke a good joke all failed we've got and then some my friend and then some so um, so what advice would you give independent filmmakers when it comes to visual effects I know we went over a little bit but any specific advice maybe about I know you and I talked about green screen and tape among other things, so some basic stuff that that you see that we've seen come through the door and use Command if they could just get these three or four things right. Got it make things so much easier, so much more affordable, and a better product at the end?

Dan Cregan 38:06
Well, any any you know, we've talked about it in the past and I think that in our in our work, and I think anytime you have a lock off shot you you factor down the difficulty of the shot by 10 you know, it's it's so much easier to work in a locked off shot now. I know dynamically are I nowadays film you know, we're used to seeing the camera move a lot. But you don't necessarily need that to make a great film. You know, Fincher will have a lot of locked off shots so it can be done. A lock off will will save the digital artists a lot of work because it eliminates tracking, it eliminates You know, a lot of the complications, perspective changes, things like that, that come from a camera moving, so it allows you to cheat more when a shot isn't in motion. So I would say that's like the number one thing you could do to help a visual artist on a very low micro budget film or low budget film.

Alex Ferrari 39:07
Now the the other thing is also though, with technology the way it is people shooting 6k and now 8k, if your final output is going to be less a to K or or just HD. If you shoot something even just old, good old fashioned red camera, 4k and do the visual effects at 4k. You should be able to do small camera movements within the frame in post without losing quality issues. It's as a cheat. Would you agree with that?

Dan Cregan 39:35
Yeah, I think that's a really you know, good point. It's it's definitely better to do a post move you know, as far as it would allow you to still work as if it were a lock off and you would still get the motion that you want. So yeah, that's, that's a fair. That's a fair thing except you do introduce a couple new problems when you're working in 4k or five calves working on a hobbit and 5k boy, everything goes slower you know I think there's no I think way back 11 years ago we were talking about that HD in animation panel where we met you know we're talking about oh render times with HD and you know how is it going to slow down your computer? Well nowadays you know 4k 5k you know 48 frames a second like we did on the hobbit 60 frames a second like Cameron wants to do on the avatar sequels this creates it's beautiful stuff but it creates so much more work for the digital artist it actually slows down the process you know, so much to go bigger because every time it will every time you throw a paint stroke down the computer's got to think about it you know, twice as hard or four times as hard and 10 times as hard whatever it's just it's just so much more for the computer to deal with when you're dealing with large file sizes so there is that factor if you do go that route you have to be aware of it as well. So So yeah, but that is that is definitely something and as far as green screen goes for independent films, lighting it well is the key thing people think that you can put anything in front of green I've seen so many so many projects right they'll they'll throw a green towel over one part of the background behind the actor and be like oh you can just remove that right that's how official effects are done.

Alex Ferrari 41:16
No Don't you forget Didn't you forget that we had a movie back in Florida that we did that had four different visual four different greens is part of the green screen like they use like a paper than paint then a blanket and it was all and then of course the actor crossed all four of them and I'm like are you kidding me? Like seriously

Dan Cregan 41:41
What is it What is that supposed to do? I mean at that point you just wrote a scope but it was mastered you know what are you doing it's it's it comes back to what we were talking about it's a lack of understanding of how the process works so you know the whole point to throw an even color you know with with no variation is lost on people who don't understand that that's the whole point of a green screen you know,

Alex Ferrari 42:05
Right and then also the tape marks because I know a lot of a lot of filmmakers see on behind the scenes that there's a couple markers on the green screen Yeah, and they go a little nuts don't they?

Dan Cregan 42:15
Well, they immediately think we got to have those Well first of all, if we go back to my point number one if it's a locked off shot you don't need to have any tracking markers on your green screen because you're not tracking there is you're not tracking but if you are moving the camera Yeah, I understand you need tracking markers, but guess what, you don't need 600 of them, you know, all you need is more is better. All you need is a couple that the artist is head can see that is visible in the frame, you know, every frame so definitely you know yeah, it's it's on the hobbit we had a problem with that actually, there was there was a few too many tracking markers in the scenes. And it took the paint department quite some time to paint them out. So

Alex Ferrari 43:00
And then look at that even on a multi billion dollar budget No, not $100 million budget films. And I see I look I've seen $200 million movies with bad visual effects in it. So it happens. It's not it's not a perfect art by any stretch. It's always about the artist and the team behind it. bad decisions

Dan Cregan 43:19
Are made by people with $200 million and with people with a million dollars or $200,000 you know, dollars or $2 bad decisions are made across the board that's just life that's people so yeah, it's it's something that you're gonna have to deal with, you know, no matter where you go and what you do, and the only thing you can do is be a little bit more prepared and educated and do a better job than the people who do that because I guarantee you'll have less headaches.

Alex Ferrari 43:46
So I'm going to take you back for a second back in I just remember their story and I think you'll get a kick out of it. It kind of illustrates what we're talking about. You remember the Star Wars fan film?

Dan Cregan 43:58
Yeah, I do remember that. What a great example.

Alex Ferrari 44:01
So for the audience there was this Star Wars fan film guy was putting together you know that there was a run of star when there still are a lot of Star Wars fan films made out there are some very good ones some very very good some very talented people some are amazing like amazing. My favorite of the old school one was trooper as a troops true troops true true cop the cops parrot that was that was kind of like the first big one that kind of popped out right?

Dan Cregan 44:28
The one that hit the mainstream. Yeah, we're passing around on the internet, you know, or passing

Alex Ferrari 44:32
Around on DVD. I don't even think the internet could handle the load.

Dan Cregan 44:36
I saw it on the internet. I think I think it was the early days modem internet. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 44:40
Were you watching it on AOL, sir.

Dan Cregan 44:42
Yeah, I think it took like, you know, an hour load or something like that. It was well worth it. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 44:47
Um, so this guy came to us with this. This um, the Star Wars fan film, and he literally thought he was gonna sell it to George Lucas. He was Going to have he was going to be a director of one of the Star Wars shows he had a whole vision for this so we saw the footage that he had shot and he had worked so hard and had put together so many people to put this thing together and when we saw it we looked at him and we just go this is unusable it's going to cost you a fortune to fix he had wires everywhere he had green screens in places that didn't need to be green screens he didn't have any motion trackers he didn't have I just remember the stunts like there were there's camera gear in the way he's like oh you just you know you'll just take that out or just take this out and I remember sitting there with you Dan just tell it look at I'm like this is gonna cost you a fortune. Like first of all we can't do this you can't afford us to do this and I don't even know where the film ended up I don't even know if he ever finished it

Dan Cregan 45:54
But it never come out because I don't I don't know if I ever saw it come out

Alex Ferrari 45:57
I don't remember it either. We kind of looked for it you know months later and i'm not i don't i don't know if it ever got released or not but that was a perfect example of a filmmaker not not just doing their homework and figuring it out and being so in love with their own project and in love with their own and love themselves in many ways that the project suffered the art suffered and it was sad it was really sad for us to because we were excited because it was a cool Star Wars film. You know they'll be cool, but it it was just so grossly poorly done as far as visual effects when starred in a film that is visual effects heavy is almost unexcusable. Do you remember the whole process right?

Dan Cregan 46:46
Yeah, you know, I was just thinking it you know, I do admire his his ambition and it's kind of like what I was saying at the very beginning I missed that spark you know like that's a good spark to have you know absolutely just want to do it to say I'm going to do this and it's going to be amazing and you know I love that I love that enthusiasm but a little knowledge helps yeah the knowledge could have saved him you know it could have saved him a lot you know I thought it was a little ironic because I think I remember correctly on that project they were like yeah, and we're we got to this point of the movie and it looks like it's coming out really good but we're kind of out of money so can we do the visual effects for i don't know i remember the amount I think

Alex Ferrari 47:29
It was like 500 bucks or something like yeah for like for 4000 visual effects shots and oh yeah it was paint work and and then you know we were we're gonna bring in our buddy Sean, who also worked with us on broken and other movies. And we all looked at I'm like, You're out of your mind like you're crazy like I love Star Wars is next you know as much as the next guy maybe a little bit more. But I'm not I'm not doing I can't I can't do that that you Dan would be Dan you'd be doing this for what a year

Dan Cregan 47:59
It would have been bad we that was at least a six month project. I think it might have we could have done it if it was like our full time job. And you know, but there weren't enough of us to do it to the level that they needed to be done honestly they needed a small boutique visual effects house that was staffed with you know 30 people or something of that nature maybe they could have done it but

Alex Ferrari 48:21
We're also looking back I think that was like 2006 or something like that. And in 2006 the technology wasn't up to par just yet that there wasn't as much horsepower as there is to do that kind of job now it sounds like oh yeah, you could do this this and this because a lot of the Mac's coming out now have insane amounts of horsepower and you could buy video cards and render cards and all this kind of stuff now that could you could do some cool stuff but back then you really needed like a mini ILM to deal with yeah and there weren't they weren't around

Dan Cregan 48:51
He kind of he kind of did okay if he was a studio because then he could have just thrown out more money you see if he had more money all the problems could have been fixed but it's it's what you have to remember when you're an independent film you don't have more money so you can't fix these problems you know, they're people who shoot giant films still you know do what we're just saying that have bad habits you know, they they leave too many tracking markers in or, you know, they leave crew people in the shot or they leave camera gear in the shot. But they have the money to tell an ILM to just remove it. And I love Okay,

Alex Ferrari 49:32
Yeah I remember when you were working on the hobbit you were telling me that Peter Jackson like everything was being painted out. Like he just left everything he didn't matter. Like he just saw us paint it out. I'll just paint this out, paint that guy out. paint this out, paint that out.

Dan Cregan 49:46
And it was all the time but he's owns wetter. Yeah. And you can do that when you own what and that's that's an awesome thing. Like, like Joe like, yes, there are very few people who have this kind of power. You know, George did with his whole his whole empire. have, you know post production facilities and, you know, visual effects and all that and, and Peter Jackson built the same thing with weda and stone street studios and Park Road post, and he had the same freedom that George did. And that's, you know, I can rework this film until the day it hits theaters. And I can do it at a super high level, because I have the resources, having the resources changes everything, but when you don't have the resources, you have to think in a completely different manner. So yeah, I mean, there's a different ballgame.

Alex Ferrari 50:32
But there's literally like, you know, you can count them on one hand, how many guys on the planet can do that?

Dan Cregan 50:39
Yeah, it's true there, there are very few people with the kind of power I mean, it's not so much even power. It's, you know, besides, you know, Lucas and Peter Jackson, and maybe Robert Rodriguez, who kind of built a mini version of this, how many people have that whole control over their film and their process, you know, so they're, they're powerful directors of Chris Nolan, James Cameron, you know, these guys can get their films made, and studios will throw a bunch of money at them to do it. But very few guys have control over everything. And you know, like Lucas or Jackson and Cameron kind of does have the same I was

Alex Ferrari 51:15
I was about to say, the, the only guy do whatever he wants. Well, like I was saying, I forgot someone interviewed Cameron about avatar. And, and I think he said something like, I'm, I'm pretty much like one of two guys on the planet that could do this. Like literally, like what, like literally, who else is going to do avatar? Who else is going to be handed arguably what $400 million budget on a property that has never been seen before? It had to basically launch an entire property an entire brand, invent new technology along the way? How many guys right? It's just it's so rare.

Dan Cregan 51:56
You know, it's, it's absolutely, you know, miniscule the the percentage of people who get to play in that kind of sandbox. And the The problem is that they kind of give everybody a you know, like, James Cameron is kind of famous for saying go out and shoot it yourself. Go out and shoot something, you know, and it's just that if you do go out and shoot something, don't expect it to look like a James Cameron movie. You know, it's, it's, it's, it's so such different worlds, you know, that they play in such different fields. You know, in Cameron, I was gonna say the thing that separates him from a Lucas or, or a, or a Peter Jackson is that he hasn't really built his own Empire. But his films are so successful, that he can just borrow other people's Empire and they'll just hand them the keys and go, go ahead, go do whatever you want. You know, so he has a blank check all he does, because he's literally has a nearly unblemished record. I think his worst performing movie was the Abyss and I love the abyss. So he has a almost a perfect record of filmmaking. How many people could say that,

Alex Ferrari 53:01
And the Abyss being the arguably I think they rated it the toughest film shoot in history. Yeah, outdoing Apocalypse Now, you know, as as, like the most difficult film shoot in movie history. And if you ever watch that documentary on his on that blu ray, which I've watched a million times since I was in college, it just, you just sit there going. There's just there's just very few human beings directors on the planet that could do something like that. But we're going off topic, we've kind of swayed off into movie geek land.

Dan Cregan 53:34
Let me That happens a lot with us. We apologize.

Alex Ferrari 53:37
But but a lot of good information popping out. So um, what kind of advice can you give young visual effects artists starting out and trying to break into this extremely diluted market and difficult market to get into in the visual effects world?

Dan Cregan 53:53
Well, this this answer, it changes and it doesn't change. Because, you know, I think it's the thing I get asked more often than any other thing whether, you know, wherever I go, if people know what I do, they're like, oh, how do I do that? You know, they're, like I said earlier, there is no one way to get into the business. I mean, you could argue so many different paths, right? We could say, well, you go to school, but then if you go to school, and you pay an exorbitant amount of money to go to an art school and you build up 40 $50,000 in student loans, that's not exactly a good way to go. If you could have learned the same on the internet, which you can. Nowadays, the information is all out there. If you want to learn, you can learn on your own. But then what's important to get in the industry is to know people in the network, one of the best place to start your networking is at school. So you can go back and forth over which first step to take self learning or school. Either one of those is the first step. But you're going to have to make some concessions, whichever way you choose and once you taught yourself what to do, whether you You're in school or whether you self taught, then you've got to get in the door of a company and how do you get in the door? When, when nobody wants to give you a chance? When is visual effects is one of those fields that has a quote unquote, you know, a glamour, kind of, Oh, yeah, you know, around it. And it's funny because it's very unglamorous. You know, and I know a lot of people like to say that, you know, some people even say, being a movie star is unglamorous because you spend a lot of time in a trailer waiting on set. And there's a lot of doing nothing and you know, a lot of strange locations, but, you know, visual effects is very similar in that the idea of what you do is amazing, and what you actually produce is amazing, but the actual process of doing it is very difficult. 16 hour days, seven days a week, months on end, living out of hotels, you know, traveling a lot, which can be a good and a bad thing. I mean, these things are very challenging. So, the next thing if you want to do this, make sure that you love it, you have to love this more than anything else, otherwise you're going to fail, you know, so I've known a lot of people starting out who said Oh, kind of sounds cool, I like movies, I'll go learn to be a visual effects artist, but that's not enough. You have to you know, you have to love it and you have to want to work on a movie more than anything else in the world because otherwise this industry will just eat you up and spit you out. I mean, when you get in your first job, I mean, you're going to be excited and you're probably going to not understand how tough it's going to be. And then you know after you work three months at you know, seven days a week for 16 hours a day you start to feel not human anymore and you might at that point wonder whether you want to keep doing it or not. And it's an important question to ask yourself because the internet is full of people who will complain about this field and complain about how hard it is but you know if you love it, it's still worth doing and that's definitely for sure. As far as getting that big break you know, I would say even today the best place to get your start is in stereo I know that sounds a lot of people like oh I don't want to do 3d conversion or whatnot but a lot of places will hire inexperienced people to do stereo so it a break in

Alex Ferrari 57:27
I hate to interrupt the can you please explain to people what stereo is exactly

Dan Cregan 57:31
Okay. It's you know the process of making a film 3d a lot of movies that come out nowadays are 3d and you know, it's you know what it has to be done a lot of films are shot two dimensionally and then converted into 3d by VFX artists so the film has to be essentially dimensionalized or any other word you want to call it at any rate this is a good starting out job for a visual effects artists because there's not as much creativity I really hate to say that because because you know the people who do 3d well are extremely talented and have an extremely you know, specialized skill set and they they do really good work that that produce amazing effects good 3d is awe inspiring and the people that can do it I have so much respect for you know, but but a lot of 3d today is just done for the sake of saying our movies in 3d Let's charge $25 a ticket you know, so it's done for not artistic reasons like a Cameron would do you know, it's done more for let's get more dollars per head in the theater you know, and the rest of the world loves 3d so you know, that's a 3d is a whole discussion onto itself to got it but it's a good place to start out if you're a visual effects artist because you can they hire a lot of inexperienced kids and it's a good place to get in the door and you don't have to be kid if you just anytime you're in entering the industry, you know, it's a good place to get your start. The the trick then is you're not out of the gauntlet yet, if you get into a 3d company like legend in San Diego, stereo D in Toronto, prime focus, your next challenge is getting out of 3d and into 2d because there's a whole kind of invisible wall that tends to block those two disciplines and rightfully or unrightfully so I think unrightfully so there's plenty of artists who do stereo that can really do 2d, you know, normal visual effects as well. So, you know, after you get out of there, you can get another job, you know, that you know, is closer to what you want to do, you might have to do undesirable jobs. And that's that's the kind of the lesson here. The other thing you can do if you don't want to go the stereo route, you can kind of do what we did, which was more independent film much, you know, which a lot more painful because you weren't working on big films. You can you know, go out out there and, you know, push your services on every independent film that just needs digital effects done for very little money.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:09
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.

Dan Cregan 1:00:19
And so when you're when you're starting out, yeah, and when you're starting out, if you got good skills, but nobody will take you in as an artist, your best way to improve your reel is to work on independent films that look good. That's a kind of a different distinction than just independent films. As an artist, if you really you know, as a visual effects artists, your reel is everything right? So you're judged by your reel doesn't matter what your resume says, You're judged by that. Two minutes, you can put on screen that shows this is who I am, this is what I can do. And when you come out of school, or you have self taught lessons, you tend to look just like every other person of that level, either work tends to all look the same. And it's not even close to professional. So the best thing you could do is kind of offer your services to a good looking independent film. Now this is kind of like why I hooked up with you, Alex, because your stuff looked good. At the end of the day, when I looked at your reel, regardless of whether it was a real Nike commercial or not, you know, I liked it. Well, I knew what I was looking at was done by somebody with a lot of talent. And I said, Well, I'm going to combine my talent with his talent, and we're going to make good looking stuff, we may not make any money, but we're going to make some good looking stuff. And that's a good thing to have on your reel that pays off later. There's a lot of people, you know, and rightfully so who will say don't work for free, don't get taken advantage of. And it's true, you shouldn't. But sometimes, you kind of have to do some pro bono work to, to get the real looking good, you know, but make sure that you choose correctly, you know, you've got to be a good judge of project, if the stuff that they're shooting for their film looks terrible, any VFX work that you do is going to look terrible, because it's combined with that footage. So make sure that you're working with good looking footage, that's, that's number one, if you're going to work cheap, make sure the work comes out really well or free. You know, and then hopefully, if you do enough of these projects, the people you're working with will start paying you. And that's that's hope, number one. Hope number two is that you build a real that will grab the attention of a company that is looking for new artists then and be prepared to make less obviously when you're starting out you're going to be making the entry level and your greatest asset when you're an experienced to a big, big studio is that you work cheaper. So you know it's gonna be a long road up and you know, that's that's just the reality of it. And there will always be that person who knows somebody who has a some good student project that gets picked to go right into the Big Show, and gets paid a senior rate right off the bat that this is happens everywhere. Like, I know, I've heard you tell people Alex like, you know, The Blair Witch guys, or, you know,

Alex Ferrari 1:03:23
Rodriguez, Robert Rodriguez, Kevin Smith,

Dan Cregan 1:03:25
You know, this doesn't happen to everybody, right? It just doesn't. And everybody thinks, oh, I'll do that one great thing, and I'll be on my way and a lotto ticket, the lottery ticket Exactly. And if they do, it does happen to you. That's awesome. That's amazing. And, you know, and I'm not gonna, I'm not gonna downplay that, you probably earned it, and it's probably a great thing that had happened to you. But for the 99% of the rest of us, we're gonna have to grind and work and toil and and just kind of pull ourselves up under our own steam. And, you know, it takes time and you know, like, you know, an overnight success if, if, if, if somebody said, oh, wow, you know, you're pretty successful, you know, you know, it happened pretty fast. You might, you know, I started a digital domain in 2011 it is now 2000 you know, 15 and most of my big work has been done in the last four years, but guess what, the seven years before it, were what made me it'd be in a position to actually do the last four years. So you know, that's that's an important step. You know,

Alex Ferrari 1:04:31
So and if you told me correctly, that one of the reasons why you got hired at digital domain was because of our work together with non robot.

Dan Cregan 1:04:39
Oh, yes. Yeah. Though, those seven years of independent films, I picked the best of what we worked on. And, and the best stuff was the stuff we had done together and created together because we had control over what we were creating. You know, you're kind of at the mercy when you're working for a client. You're at the mercy of their I have their Once you know of their preferences, so, you know, the stuff that we did together ended up being the best stuff on the reel.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:07
But you also had some, it never hurts to put a star on your reel. Oh, no,

Dan Cregan 1:05:13
Well, that's that's a good point, too. I mean, you know, it's funny just, you know, just just being doing an independent film, when you're when you're choosing an independent project from where I said, choose good looking, you know, footage. The other thing you should choose is uname. Actor, if you if it has a name actor, and you can get shots with the name actor, people tend to take you more seriously, as I know, you worked on a professional project. Why? Because I recognize that actor, you know, I mean, for me, it was, you know, a couple things, but I think the big first big one was Richard Dreyfuss, right, like numbers first, you know, and, and having that on the reel helped. And so I went to digital domain. It's funny, it's it's a strange story, because when I interviewed with the person later on, that person ended up being my lead on the floor. And, and I asked him, How did I do in the interview? And what was it about my reel that got me hired and he said, You fell right into the right category. We weren't looking to hire really experienced people, because we don't have the money to pay really experienced people. And we weren't looking for people who do nothing. We were looking for somebody right in the middle segment. So the Goldilocks Yeah, it kind of worked out for me at that point, I had just enough professional work to where I look like I knew what I was doing. But I didn't have the big shows that look like I would have been way too expensive for for them. So you know that that worked out perfectly. And, you know, I'm really I'm really, it's been a strange road. It's been a long, strange road, you know,

Alex Ferrari 1:06:44
We're still on it, sir.

Dan Cregan 1:06:45
Yeah, I know it. Sometimes. It's a, it's, it's it, I don't know, it's, it's hard to wrap my head around at this point.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:55
So, um, we're gonna start wrapping it up. I have a couple more questions for you. I know, I know the answer to this, but I want you to answer it for the audience. How important is design, marketing and promotion when it comes to promoting yourself, or your film projects out to the world?

Dan Cregan 1:07:16
I mean, it's hard to quantify, but it's definitely one of the most important things I would say that you need to do. I mean, it's got to pass the eye test, everything you do has to pass the eye test, you know, we usually people see something they can tell right away, whether it's professional or not. And looking like a professional is more important than being a professional, when you have big dreams. So when when you're trying to when you're trying to impress people or get noticed or be taken seriously, let's just, we don't even have to change the world, right? You just want to be taken seriously, you have to look professional. So, you know, the presentation of something is the most important thing to me. You know, I mean, this is one thing about independent film that I've I am not particularly fond of, you know, since way back before I had any credits or any experience, you know, I would go to film festivals and and see a lot of the product and and I would be like that looks terrible. I mean, maybe the idea and the art behind it is in the right place in the hearts in the right place. But Wow, the audio is terrible. The lighting stereo terrible, or the or whatever they shot it on is an inferior camera. All that matters so much and, and then their movie poster, you know, looks terrible in the in the you know, everything just screams Don't take me seriously, I don't know what I'm doing. And that's unfortunate, because I want to take people seriously I want people to do well. presentation is everything to me. I can't make a blanket statement and say it's the only thing that matters because

Alex Ferrari 1:08:56
It is of course not. It's a combination.

Dan Cregan 1:08:58
Yeah, it's you kind of have to have everything you have to this is why this is a tough thing to do. It's not easy to make art. Because you have to put a lot of things together and, and even I won't even say go as far as art. I'll say something as commercial or because to make commercial something for public consumption. It has to be it has to hit so many notes. It has to look good. It has to sound good. It has to be good. You know, it has to, you know, be interesting, you know, no, but I guess good design and good promotion. That's got that's to get people in the door. If you want people to actually look at what you did, you're going to need that. Now maybe what you did is amazing, and you better hope so because if you can, but if you can't get the people in there, it's not going to matter. If if you do all this work and have all this heart and soul buried in a project and then 100 people see it on YouTube or on some film festival then I don't know, you could argue is that worth it? Or is it not worth it, it's not something that I want to do, if I want to do work, I want to be seen a lot of people, you know, doing the work is the reward. And I agree with that, too, that's perfectly valid. But if you want to go somewhere, if you want to be a professional, if you want to make more movies, if you want to make a living a living, you have to have an audience. And the only way to get an audience is to look like you know what you're doing, and to get the people in the door to actually see it. And, you know, I think even today, it's my favorite thing about what I do, you know, there'll be hard days, and we'll be sitting around and talking with other artists, and they'll be saying, wow, this is really bad, or this is really good. And, and, and I said, we'll just stop and go, how cool is it, though, that at the end of this process, our work will be seen by millions of people. And that's a great and that's, that's where it's at, you know, that's, that's an amazing thing to, to create something and maybe it's, it's commercialized, and it's watered down for the mass audience, and whatever else you want to get into, you know, an artistic argument about it, but it's still, you know, it's, it's an art form, and it's seen by millions of people, millions. And that is, that's what makes cinema so great. And that's what makes working on movies, so great. And, you know, and I think, you know, to even the most artistic, you know, outsider creatively, you know, a counterculture person, I still think they could benefit from from really good promotion, self promotion, you've got to, you've got to package stuff you have to, that's the way it gets out to the people.

Alex Ferrari 1:11:43
Well, I think with the gluttony of product that there is out there, and whether you're selling yourself with a gluttony of people vying for the same jobs, or the gluttony of movies out there, there's no way to kind of shift sift through that without presentation presentations, the equalizer at that point, it's the only thing that that equalizer is the only thing that's gonna make you stand out. So if you have a great movie poster, if you have a great trailer, if you have an amazing website, and you're able to build this kind of world around your project, same thing goes for your for yourself, if you have a great demo reel and a great website, and you present yourself in a professional manner, and package yourself in a professional manner. That makes you stand out from all the other guys, that's the only thing that you really can do, you will never even get a chance that's anyone to see how good or bad your work is, unless you know how to present it. And I think that is honestly one of my goals for indie film hustle is to show people how to present their work, how to get attention, how to package their work in a way that they can make a living, doing so and with all the options that there are out in the world now for self distribution, and Kickstarters, and all that kind of stuff that you can actually make a living, you're not going to get rich, but at least you can make a living and you can continue to make art and make a living doing it. So I do I believe like you it's it's so important to be able to package yourself or your project in the proper way. No, it's true.

Dan Cregan 1:13:15
And, you know, it's it's not even that hard to do, you know, out there, you know, how do we learn, we learned by emulating that since we're children, that's how you do it. So if you see an ad campaign, a poster, movie, anything, a trailer emulated, if you I mean, I know it sounds like copying or a key to or, you know, but it really isn't because this is how we learn when I used to be an illustrator. And like any illustrator, when you start drawing, you emulate your heroes, you emulate the artists you like the most. Same for filmmakers. Same for visual effects artists, you know, you start emulating what you do the most. So what you like the most. So I would still say this is a good thing, not a bad thing. So when you're starting out to fake it until you make it thing, emulate the best and emulate what you love. And really look, I don't think they look closely enough to really look at the details, what makes it what makes it great, what makes a poster look professional, what makes a website looks professional. And I don't care if you have to copy a professional website down to the letter, do it because that's how you're going to learn the actual form of what makes something good versus something that doesn't look as good.

Alex Ferrari 1:14:38
And generally when I when I do work, I always start with something I'm trying to emulate, let's say and then by the time I'm done, I doesn't even look like what I started with. But at least I got a starting point. And then it kind of grows from there. And that happens with every art form, whether that's painting, photography. I mean Tarantino has made an entire career out of that, you know, he emulates every movie. She's ever seen. He writes amazing dialogue and he's an amazing, you know, he's an amazing talent. But he's the first to say he goes, I can quote him. I steal from every movie ever made. And that is a direct quote from him and it's but everyone does it. You know, as a filmmaker we're all stealing from DW Griffith and from an Orson Welles like everybody, you know, who are who did the first two shot. Well, someone stole that, you know, who moved the camera first, someone stole that, you know, it's, it's there. Everyone's always stealing from everybody. And, as as Coppola said, steal from if you're gonna steal, steal from the best. It's true. And it's industry. I think it was Picasso. I think they said that as well. If you're going to steal steal from the best, so um, anyway, so um,

Dan Cregan 1:15:46
I don't know, his his line wasn't his line without great artists. Good artists borrow great, great artists steal or something.

Alex Ferrari 1:15:53
Yeah, exactly, exactly. Thank you for correcting me. So I know, it was awful.

Dan Cregan 1:15:57
I might be wrong, too. But it's what popped into my head.

Alex Ferrari 1:16:00
So um, are there any stories? We're going to wrap it up in a minute? So is there any stories, working any fun stories working in the in the big leagues that you would like to share that won't get you in trouble? Or deported?

Dan Cregan 1:16:16
Yeah, um, you know, it's, it's, it's tough, because, you know, when we're working, I think, you know, I would say that it's a general blanket statement, it's not specifically directed at one film that I've worked on or another. Now that that's my, my, my little my legal speak there. But I've noticed something that happens in the big leagues, and, and you don't feel like it's gonna come together until the very end. So a lot of the projects I've worked on, have felt like the film wasn't going to be a film six weeks from the time it's hit hits theaters. So you know, we'll work these horribly, long hours, and clients will have really crazy notes. So usually what happens is, about a month from the movie being done, you'll start you're starting to finish things. And when they start seeing the finished product, invariably, people have opinions. You know, the client always has opinions. So they'll say, No, can we just try it like this, this and this, and then it's like, well, we've just been working six months to get it to this point. And I thought we were done. Yeah, but you know, we've got a month let's let's try this, this and this. Alright, so we tried this, this and this, and then they'll send it back. And can we do a little bit more of this a little bit more of this. Another week goes by and we'll do it again. And we'll do it again. And before you know, we're right on the deadline, and they'll go you know, that shot, it looked good a month ago, let's go with that. And so that's usually what happens in the big leagues is this weird kind of circle of doing it good. The studio wanting to make tweaks making a bunch of tweaks for the client because you've got to please the studios, and then ended up right back where you started from? I can't count how many times that's happened in the creative process. And always feeling like the movies never going to get done. There's too many things too many moving pieces. We haven't nailed down this we haven't nailed down that. And then like two weeks before the film's supposed to come out you're like hey, it's looking pretty good. You know, I mean, it just seems to be that you know, we have to have our backs against the wall sometimes to produce what we need to produce you know, I wish it didn't have to be like that. Maybe it doesn't but that's kind of the way the business works now. And I always found that was kind of, you know, an interesting way to work to put it to put it out there. I don't know interesting would you call it

Alex Ferrari 1:18:48
It's basically art is never finished. It's abandoned?

Dan Cregan 1:18:52
Yes. I mean, I don't nobody wants to let a movie go to the cinema. You know, almost everybody wants to work on it another day. Do another revision, try another thing. And sometimes you have to have deadlines, because deadlines are the only thing that make you stop. You know, as an artist, absolutely. Yeah. Otherwise you'll tweak something to death. So you know, if you're experiencing that out there, don't worry. It happens all the way up to the all the way up to the top of the chain.

Alex Ferrari 1:19:18
So I'm, I'm going to ask you the question I ask all my guests when they come on, name your top three movies of all time. Oh, I know. And everyone's not there. I just picked three that you really enjoy and tell me why. All right, well, no order doesn't have to be an order. Yeah, there is no order.

Dan Cregan 1:19:40
Man, it's it's really tough. I've got to say Star Wars only because regardless of whether I think it's one of the best films of all time, it was one of the most influential films of all time for me, you know, so I would have to say there's no way to not have Star Wars in the top three. You know, I'm gonna have to go just off the top of my head because there's just too many movies that I love to death and watched a million times but I'm going to go with the Shawshank Redemption because whenever it's on TV, I watch it endlessly and each time it's like I'm watching it for the first time. And I think I've seen the thing hundreds of times hundreds of times and I love it every single time. I don't know what it is about that film. If I could bottle it, I would it's it's just such an amazing film. And for number three got to be jaws another film that I watch every single time I see it on TV good. And I'm captivated by it frame for frame. So if I absolutely am boxed into a corner off the top of my head today, those are the three I would choose

Alex Ferrari 1:20:43
The three very good choices to know one Spielberg one Lucas and the Darabont. Yeah, Shawshank and I'm going to just throw in my two cents on Shawshank Redemption because I have analyzed it in my own mind and this is my ramblings of why I think it's so so amazing and how it touches a chord with everybody. I have yet to though anytime any of my movies or any of my projects get a bad review. I always just look up online. Bad review for Shawshank. And there are out there so you got to be kidding me. Oh no, just google it bad reviews for Shawshank. And then I read some idiot. Shawshank Redemption in a negative light and I go Oh, I feel better now It happens to everybody and that's saying that my films or my projects are anywhere near as good as Shawshank but it makes me feel better that I'm not the only one that has to deal with bad reviews

Dan Cregan 1:21:38
So what you're saying is that there's hope for fantastic for yet

Alex Ferrari 1:21:41
And and absolutely not whatsoever for fantastic for sir. So the reason why I feel that Shawshank Redemption has touched his touched a nerve with so many people throughout the world and has has quietly risen above the Godfather is arguably the best movie ever on IMDB at least but considered in the pantheon of one of the best movies ever made. Is that I feel that in many ways, we all feel like any frame we all feel imprisoned, whether that be in our jobs, whether that be in our marriages, whether that be in our relationships, whether that be in any million of ways you feel imprisoned, and and wrongly imprisoned that that you don't feel like you deserve to be imprisoned. That's why a Count of Monte Cristo I think has as touched so many people that story over the course of so many 10s of 1000s hundreds of years well I don't know when was that written I forget when it was written but anyway and and I feel that one we all get when we see Andy go through that pipe full of crap it's us it's an analogy for us. We if we just go through enough crap especially as indie filmmakers if we go through enough crack crap we'll just break through the other other side clean ourselves off get the money from the man who's been screwing us all this time and move to Mexico and and sand the boat and wait for and wait and wait for your best friend to show up. You know I feel that's one of the reasons why it it touches everybody I've yet I haven't met anyone who doesn't like Shawshank yet.

Dan Cregan 1:23:19
I mean really have you I mean Yeah. Is there a person who doesn't I least like The Shawshank Redemption

Alex Ferrari 1:23:25
There are people out there because I saw the reviews so there were at least that you look there were people who gave Star Wars horrible reviews I remember George Lucas walking around with a T shirt that had that review on it and it's just ironic and hilarious that he did that. But but I've never met anybody who didn't like Shawshank nor do I really want to meet that person honestly. It says something about no I'm joking but I think that's one of the reasons why because it's on my top three as well that that that without question is on my top three

Dan Cregan 1:23:55
I think it's my number one I quite honestly I keep coming back to it over and over again. Whenever my head goes into the hole. How would you do and usually it's a top 10 or top 25

Alex Ferrari 1:24:04
And it's it's one of those but it's not it's one of those movies that it's not like you're not watching it because Spielberg or Hitchcock or Fincher did these cool camera moves or or Scorsese, like did this thing. It's just the purest storytelling that there is honestly and in so many ways it was just good writing, good character, good direction, good music, his scores, remarkable everything just jelled

Dan Cregan 1:24:31
Everything lightning in the bottle. I mean, sometimes I don't even think the filmmakers have absolute control. You know, Lucas himself has said, You know, sometimes movies just work and sometimes they don't and sometimes you all you can do is put the pieces together and hope you know that it works and sometimes it's just the perfect, perfect storm. And no, I think Shawshank is one of those perfect storms.

Alex Ferrari 1:24:54
Well, I mean, there's the famous, the famous screening of Star Wars that George did for all of us. Friends Brian depalma Spielberg and all those guys. And they all you know every one of them came out like poor George man, you know,

Dan Cregan 1:25:06
Except for Spielberg was the one who said it was gonna be the biggest thing ever

Alex Ferrari 1:25:10
He from what I from what I've read Spielberg was the only one that kind of got it he's like you might be onto something I don't think he predicted that it was going to be this monumental hit. But he did say I get it I get what you're doing I think you're gonna do well with it. But the other like Brian De Palma and and john melius. And all these guys like port George man, he spent all this time on this thing. It's gonna be horrible. And then the same thing happened for Quentin Tarantino. On Pulp Fiction. I just recently found out watching a documentary about him that he showed his he showed Pulp Fiction to a bunch of his friends and he's famously good friends with Robert Rodriguez who wasn't there he was in Austin shooting something so he couldn't make the screening. And then Robert called the friends and everyone was like, Quinn's gone man it's not this is not no one gets it No one's ever seen anything like that this is going to be a horrible thing. And one of the guys went as far so I don't think anybody got I think there was also the only person who quit and said that got it was Kathryn Bigelow. Kathryn Bigelow saw it and she's like, I get it. This is gonna be huge. And she like literally showed it to everyone she like went over to James Cameron's house is like, you're gonna watch this. You can't even imagine what you're in store for like you've never seen anything like this. And like the matrix and Star Wars, I think Pulp Fiction in the has also moved to cinema and moved cinema in a certain way, maybe not visual effects wise, but story wise, but even to a point where one of the one of his friends was going to have a quote and said, I had one of my friends was going to give me a call and had a stern talking to about Pulp Fiction need to do better work. And this is right before or right after he won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. He calls up because I was gonna give you a stern talking to but what do I know?

Dan Cregan 1:26:57
Yeah. opinions. You know, everybody's got them. You know, it's, you know,

Alex Ferrari 1:27:03
It's very true, man. Well, listen, let's wrap it up. Man. I really appreciate you taking the time. You know, talking to the indie film hustle tribe, and spreading out your your pearls of wisdom. And as always, then you know, you're one of my best friends. So thank you so much for coming on board and, and you have been with me for almost an hour and a half.

Dan Cregan 1:27:24
My pleasure, sir.

Alex Ferrari 1:27:25
All right. Talk to you soon, man.

Dan Cregan 1:27:27
Talk to you later.

Alex Ferrari 1:27:28
Hope you guys got a bunch out of that episode. I loved having Dan on the episode I've been wanting to have him on ever since I launched indie film, hustle, I thought a lot of the knowledge of visual effects, which is something we really want to focus on also on any of your puzzles, a lot of the post production and visual effects because that's where I come from. And Dan is a great teacher. He is also a teacher as well. So I thought he'd be a great guest. I hope you guys got a lot out of that. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below. In the after the show notes I'm going to put a bunch of cool links in the show notes as well. And if you want to learn how to get into film festivals for cheap or free, my six tips to get in are at Film Festival tips.com. That's Film Festival tips calm and I'll show you how I got into over 500 international film festivals for cheap or free. So guys, thanks again for joining me on the episode. I really hope it was beneficial to you guys. And I will see you in the next one. Thanks again.




  1. Bulletproof Script Coverage – Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
  2. AudibleGet a Free Filmmaking or Screenwriting Audiobook
  3. Rev.com – $1.25 Closed Captions for Indie Filmmakers – Rev ($10 Off Your First Order)

Free Training of The Week


How to Produce a Profitable Low Budget Feature Film

By Suzanne Lyons

Join veteran producer Suzanne Lyons as she shows you the three key secrets to produce a successful and profitable independent film.