January 20, 2014

Writer/Director Joel Guelzo Pours 2 1/2 Years into Sci-Fi Feature 'Norman'

Norman Kickstarter still 1

When you launch a Kickstarter campaign and track its position on Kickstarter's Discover page, you quickly realize you have Kickstarter neighbors. These are campaigns that launched around the same time as yours or happen to share the same popularity rating. Of course, I love checking out Kickstarter campaigns for films, and soon my Kickstarter neighbor Norman captivated me. After backing the project to help writer/director Joel Guelzo get funding to finish the film's VFX, I realized his DIY feature project would resonate with the NFS audience. So, I asked Joel a few questions. Check out our interview below to hear Joel tell us the background of his sci-fi labor of love, Norman.

Before we jump into the interview, here's Joel's Kickstarter pitch video, which starts with the trailer for Norman and then gives a great behind-the-scenes look at the project.

NFS: Give us the logline for NORMAN.

Joel Guelzo: A time traveler is trapped in the past with only his A.I. companion. He must build a way back to the future before the world collapses.

NFS: I'm intrigued. Tell us a little more about the story.

JG: Norman is a feature-length sci-fi film about a time traveler and his A.I. companion. Norman is a scientist who lives in the future, and is an only child. After his parents are killed in an accident, he realizes there isn’t anyone else he truly cares about that is alive. He has no close friends or family that he cares about, so from that day on, he pours his entire energy into his research.

The only thing Norman truly cares about is his work. He has never felt like he belongs in the world into which he was born, and his research into manipulating time has shaped his entire being. This film follows Norman’s adventure when he gets stuck in the past with only his A.I. companion to keep him company. Every day that goes by, the world becomes more and more unstable as Norman starts to change the future bit by bit. All he wants is to undo what he has done and to return to the future without causing any further damages.

NFS: Where did the story come from?

JG: This story has been brewing in my mind for almost eight years now. I originally conceived of the idea when I was at a friend's house, and after using the restroom, I noticed something funny with his sink. After shutting off the sink, I noticed it was still dripping very slowly. Suddenly, the pipes from the sink began to vibrate, and the walls of the bathroom began to shake. I quickly turned the sink off tightly and the vibrations stopped. This gave me an odd idea about a man who could stumble upon this weird happening, and as a result have a eureka moment that helps him create a fantastic device in which to travel through time. I toyed around with the idea of using harmonics and vibration patterns as the foundation of a time-travel story. I thought it was quirky enough to be interesting visually, and would be just a weird and new way to represent time travel.

A lot of the themes in the film focus on the idea that we as people are always searching around the corner for that next big thing, and that sometimes those big things never come around. Norman is led on a great journey because he feels he doesn’t belong, that there is something greater waiting for him, only to find out that the end he is looking for brings him back to beginning. Sometimes it's the journey that we should cherish rather than the final goal.

NFS: In your pitch video, you say you've been working on the film for two-and-a-half years. Is that how long the shoot has taken with starts and stops? When you started, did you think it would take this long?

JG: We started filming in March 2012, and we finished principal photography in November 2013. I started writing the official script in late summer of 2011, and production started in 2012. We didn’t shoot constantly for over a year-and-a-half because the budget was dictated by whatever means I had. The shooting dates were flexible because I couldn’t afford to take time off from my day job to work on Norman full-time.

We would film on the weekends usually, about two to three times a month. I was hoping to finish the filming within 2-3 months, but my main actor ended up getting a really good job in Florida and he moved there just as we were about to finish principal photography. This caused a filming delay of about six months.

During the delay, I prepped for the last 3-4 days of shooting, which involved building a custom science lab from scratch, coming up with dozens of weapons and costumes for a battle scene in my film, as well as securing locations, buying four giant work lights, getting a generator, painting, building props, etc. Having the delay was helpful though because it gave me extra time to fine tune the script. This extra time with the story sitting in my head gave me ideas on how to improve the story and to fix any plot holes I might have missed the first time through.

NFS: The cinematography and existing VFX look strong. What exactly do you need for VFX for the A.I. tablet to achieve your vision?

JG: This film has three main characters. Norman, his companion A.I. tablet, A.N.I., and Jenny, an online grocery delivery service employee. Norman spends most of his time alone with this device he uses to help build a way back to the future. Without proper effects for A.N.I., this film simply won’t work. I need to be able to track and composite a computer UI, or a "face", onto the glass display I built for the character of A.N.I. There are roughly 75-90 shots that need to be completed to bring her to life. She will be accompanied by a voice with lines that are very sarcastic and humorous. I am really excited to bring A.N.I. to life. She was my favorite character to write because I am personally very sarcastic, and I thought that would be fun to put a little of myself into the character.

NFS: Tell us a little about your writing process.

JG: I listen to a lot of music as I write. I love melancholy musical pieces. I tend to gravitate towards bittersweet realistic stories. I have never been a happy-ending type of storyteller. I am okay with happy endings, but they better really earn that happy ending. I hate it when a film has a happy ending that hasn’t been fully earned.

I tend to lock myself up in a room for hours at a time, pop on headphones and just write and write and write. I try not to fix what I write as I go, because I just want to get ideas down on paper before I forget them. I allow myself to go back days later and re-read what I wrote. Many times, I delete whole sections and change entire ideas. Allowing myself to, for a lack of a better word, vomit my ideas out all at once, then sort through them later, is extremely helpful to me.

I think one of the most important things about making a film, or doing anything, is knowing what you are terrible at. This may sound dumb, but I think this is so key to knowing what your strengths are. If you accurately know what your weaknesses are, and admit to needing help in those areas, your project or idea will go a lot further than sweeping it under the table, and pretending you're good enough to get by.

For example, I know I am not great at writing dialogue, so what I do is write my general idea down of what I want to convey. Then I have lots of conversations with personal friends I trust who are very good at wording things. They look over what I wrote, give me suggestions and ideas, and I change things from there. Never be afraid to admit something you're bad at. You can’t be 100% amazing at everything. Be amazing at a few things, instead of mediocre at a lot of things. If I know I can pull off an action scene through camera angles, I work that to my advantage rather than thinking I can get 100% realistic CGI effects to do it for me. Know your strengths, and know when to change your ideas if you’re not strong enough in that particular area.

NFS: Your Kickstarter is already successful with several more days to go. What will the stretch goal of $12K let you accomplish? And when do you expect to complete the film?

JG: The Kickstarter campaign has blown my mind actually. It is very hard for me to ask for money in any way. Seeing how people have reacted to my film’s trailer has been truly humbling, and also exciting. This great feedback has really motivated me again to make my film the best I can. Working on a film for so long, with only the money I can personally put towards it is really, really hard. There is no one out there foaming at the mouth to see this, no deadlines, no pressure really. The only way to push through is to give yourself deadlines, to keep pushing yourself. I have to be my own producer and whip-cracker. It is truly hard to keep yourself motivated throughout such a long period of time when you're not sure if the end product will be worth it.

Any extra funding that is raised with the extra days I have left for my Kickstarter will go towards polishing the finished product, as well as allow me to film a few extra scenes. These scenes would be a bit more elaborate to show off the world that Norman inhabits, from the future to the past. Any new scene will truly add something to the film that I wished I could have filmed in the first place.

My projected finish date right now is end of 2014, but I'm allowing a little extra time if need be. I have another project I have been hired to direct this year. So depending on how that project goes, Norman might be slightly delayed. Hopefully all will go well, and Norman will be completed and available by the end of 2014. I want to release it when it's completely done and I love it personally.

***

Thanks to Joel for taking time during his busy Kickstarter campaign to answer a few of our questions. What do you think about Joel's DIY sci-fi project Norman? Share your thoughts and constructive feedback with us in the comments. Links:

Your Comment

33 Comments

I love the dedication, looks like a great film.

January 20, 2014 at 10:09AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply

Well done these guys!

January 20, 2014 at 10:24AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

5
Reply
Kraig

Not feeling it.

#1 waxy DSLR look stinks like trash and ruins it (can be done well however - watch the 3rd letter on vimeo)
#2 cheezy story
#3 entire trailer is filled with closeups of lead characters face - cheap speilberg reaction trick that seemed way overdone and avoids the cost/skill of effective wide shots (but perhaps the movie has more so I'll give the benefit of the doubt ) to develop mood and location.

Good
#1 voice in trailer convincing
#2 kick starter campaign asking for specifics and director already nearing completion of project

Best of luck!

January 20, 2014 at 2:03PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply
Greg egan

The top-shelf lighting more than makes up for any DSLR-ness to the look (which I don't mind in any case but your mileage obviously varies). And from the sounds of things this is a character-centric story so the objective would be to get inside their heads and lots of wide shots, however skilful, wouldn't do much for that - that's what closeups are for. Also, I don't know what you mean by "cheesy story"? What's cheesy about it? Seems like a solid little backbone for a character-based sci-fi. What is your issue with it? If you're going to criticise, elaborate to make it useful.

January 20, 2014 at 5:28PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply
Lachlan Huddy

I like the squat rack with tin foil as the time machine (eyes roll)

January 23, 2014 at 1:26AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply
Chris

So um... where's your feature guy?

Get off your high horse you douche.

January 21, 2014 at 12:09AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

3
Reply
James

Youre douche because you inslut intstead of arguments. Greg has 5 points you zero.

January 21, 2014 at 6:19AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply
Kuk

No. Greg is an armchair cowboy and with comments like "cheezy story" before he's even seen it prove he's a douche.

I look forward to seeing it. Well done.

P.s. All DSLRs dont look waxy. 5Ds and 7Ds do etc but not the 5D3 and definitely not the D800.

January 21, 2014 at 7:09PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply

Yep but they want your money now, so you have to decide from what you see now so what you can do? It would be amazing for all investors to finance finished product, but it doesnt work this way ;) Its always risky, trailer and whole film all very different animals. One mostly promising and teasing, while second is showing how it really looks.

January 22, 2014 at 9:04AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

4
Reply
Kuk

The cinematography (even if its DSLR) is actually quite impressive. good blocking and choreography (assuming he did that too) and the Grading is possibly the best thing about the whole project, holly molly he makes that grainy schlock sensor shine!

January 20, 2014 at 5:16PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply
Pat

Hey thanks man. Really appreciate the compliments. I was shooting with the canon 60d that a friend had bought for me as a trade for me to shoot a commercial for him. I had the standard kit lens that came with the canon 60d and a 50mm canons lens. I'm using so y Vegas 12 to edit which is awesome but sometimes can be buggy at times. But I'm def a visual person that likes editing fast and efficient and I like how Vegas works. It was hard to come up with a trailer for the film without using a lot of the story and dialogue because almost all of the dialogue has to be re recorded because I couldn't get a consistent audio boom pile operator on set each time because of last minute shooting. Schedules because no budget. So I'd rather replace dialogue than have all over the place audio recording from various people helping run audio. I can't wait to show off more of the film and I'm hoping to release a final trailer late this year with dialogue and a lot more of what is going on. That's why the trailer is a lot more teaser like. Which honestly is my favorite trailers anyways. Also about 85% of the film I would only use natural light and reflectors. I only use lighting when absolutely need to because natural light always looks so much better in my opinion if you know how to utilize it. I got better as I went along too. Thanks for the comment. God bless and take care!

January 20, 2014 at 11:08PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

2
Reply
Joel guelzo

the movie looks fantastic, Joel. You really put that equipment and talent to use, and it shows. Please ignore those complaining about the DSLR look, etc....you put together a scifi feature length film on a no budget which is literally impossible. I have nothing but the upmost respect for you and hope to be able to accomplish the same one day. One question, I notice you arent using any special lenses but I do noticing a ver cool "sci fi: style flaring in a lot of shots. How did you achieve that? Also, Would you mind sharing the entire budget of what you put into it (including the lights u build etc). Seems u build a few very powerful lights (almost kinoflo style) as well for the action scene, mind pointing me in the right direction to build those myself? Im in need for some very intense lighting w/o the budget. Lastly any other minor equipment u used on this project, seems like a shoulder rig, tripod, slider and some lights. Sorry for the long question but im extremely curious!

January 22, 2014 at 12:26PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply

Thanks for asking. Some of the lens flares are real, and a few I had my visual effects guy who will hopefully be doing the entire film add a few in there via after effects. I'm definitely not going JJ Abrams lens flare style, but just a few here and there when there are big lights in the scene, to keep the scifi feel just a bit. My equipment was a Canon 60D, with a Birns Sawyer Shoulder rig ive had for like 7 years, a Glidecam 2000 or 4000, forget which honestly. A small jib. The lights, we mostly shot natural lighting with a reflector, and the battle scene we got a generator to power 4 construction lights, and a friend came that weekend to help do some fill lighting with a personal kit of his. I have personally put 12k into this project to get the film where it's at today. The film is 98% shot. There are only just a few minor closeups and journal scenes to film. If the Kickstarter makes it to the 12k stretch goal, I have a plan to film a few extra small scenes involving the future and possibly the civil war. We shall see. Thanks for the interest and compliments, I really truly appreciate it.

January 22, 2014 at 3:20PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply
Joel Guelzo

Greg, give the guy a break, he got off his rear and delivered a feature film from a humble financial base and that's more than I can say for a lot of readers on the this site.

January 20, 2014 at 5:42PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply
shaun wilson

Looks great, fantastic achievement thus far. I'd be interested to know how you prepared the device for VFX? Did you set up any sort of tracking makers or just shoot it as is?

January 20, 2014 at 7:16PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply
Ben

In the kickstarter interview part at the end of the trailer, there area few shots of ANI, and on it are little white areas, that i tried to make look like part of the device but also act as tracking points for whoever does the visual effects. Thanks for asking.

January 20, 2014 at 10:09PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply
Joel Guelzo

This looks fantastic, and very ambitious. Congrats to all involved. People who would attempt to criticize a grass roots effort like this - two years of hard work - are people who have no clue how arduous it is to make a feature film, and most likely are too cowardly to ever try it themselves. That's why they throw stones, they are really just criticizing their own failures as filmmakers. In the REAL world, no one gives a flying fuck about how a film "looks", they care about story, and characters. When the DVX100 came out, we oohed and ahhed at how marvelous 24p was. That was fucking SD! I think we are getting spoiled. Your footage looks freaking fantastic!! If the story and characters are engaging, you will be successful. No matter how much Dynamic range your camera has, or the size of its sensor.

I will definitely be following this, and cheers to your success and the finished film!!!! Bravo!!!!

January 20, 2014 at 11:36PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply
Steve

Thanks a lot! I don't think I'm some amazing writer, but I do think I can come up with some good sequences and ideas, and from that, I show alot of my personal friends my ideas to see what they think. I couldn't have done this without my friend who built all the props for me, and allowed me to film in his basement and keep my stuff there for over a year and a half. The story wouldn't be anywhere close to as good as I think it is now without the help of another friend who constantly disagreed with my ideas and challenged me to find new and better ways of telling the story. He has really helped me fix alot of holes I missed first time around, and I owe him a huge amount of thanks for being tough on me and catching the shortcuts I allowed into the script. The ending is all my friends after almost two weeks of constant back and forth, phone calls trying to figure out how to keep it simple, but adhere to the rules we set in the movie around time travel. If you want to make a film, don't wait for a perfect moment, do it now. No perfect moment will come around. Thanks so much guys!

January 21, 2014 at 8:24AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply
Joel Guelzo

Really impressive visuals and colour out of a DSLR.

Looks very 12 Monkeys

January 21, 2014 at 2:18AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply
Fresno Bob

I agree. The picture is beautiful. I didn't know it was DSLR until people started complaining. That's why they are popular, you can get impressive footage from an inexpensive camera.

January 25, 2014 at 1:47AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

3
Reply
Dandy Trooper

Hi Joel,

good luck in finishing the film. I am wondering if you plan to screen it in Europe or Germany ?
The other thing i'm interested in (as an education step) , is to translate the film to german, e.g. working with actors and translators on a german version of the film.

What are your thoughts about this ?

January 21, 2014 at 6:59AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

1
Reply

Jan,

Right now there is no plan to screen the film outside of the U.S., unless there is enough interest for it... If there was, I simply would create an M&E (Music & Effects) version of the film and then bring in German voice talent to re record the dialog for the characters.

Keep sharing and spreading the word around as we'd love to cater to Europe if there was enough interest from the community there.

-Jonah Guelzo
Sound Designer - NORMAN

January 21, 2014 at 8:05AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply

Fantastic work making all this happen. The biggest asset of starting out as a film maker really is the people you work with. This is the kind of dedication and hard work that needs to be admired. Well done Joel & Crew.

January 21, 2014 at 7:55AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

3
Reply

Thanks Daniel! This means alot. Alot of people say that their cast and crew were amazing, so that sometimes sounds so clique in most behind the scenes promo videos, but honestly, with so little budget, if I didn't have the people that helped me out, Norman would still be just a small idea in my head and nothing else.

January 21, 2014 at 8:43AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

1
Reply
Joel Guelzo

I like the music in the video love that 80s synth vibe well done as for the nay sayers who have been a bit negative in the comments. Ignore them, seriously ignore them, this looks promising.

I too have been working on a film for 2 years, redoing all the visual effects for a 80s flick. Its hard work, but worth it. Keep up the hard work and enjoy it.

January 21, 2014 at 9:03AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

2
Reply

I enjoyed what I saw overall. The narration over the footage was a little strange to me for some reason, but I would love to see the entire film based upon what I saw. And when I consider that you did on a shoestring budget and seemed to have done a lot of the work yourself, I think its very impressive. Most of the projects I see from filmmakers with limited resources doesn't do much for me, quite frankly. In terms of the critiques, take them with a grain of salt remembering that everyone has their own opinion and often the harshest critics are frustrated filmmakers themselves. Good luck!

January 21, 2014 at 10:57AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply
JTC

Good Job! I like the concept and the look of the film! The time machine looks really cool! I think that the toughest part of creating a feature is to put in the time every day until it's done. So stay focused even if it takes two more years. Work on it every day even if just for ten minutes. My feature Space Trucker Bruce has taken me six years to complete but now it's 90% done. It premieres March 14th at my local indie theater and on demand.

January 21, 2014 at 4:51PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply

In a way I agree with Greg. This looks good but the color grading at some scenes I saw in the trailer make it look cheap.

January 22, 2014 at 2:35AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

3
Reply
Gpod

The story doesn't appeal to me, but I love Joel for showing the much dedication. It's so amazing how some people are able and willing to spend that amount of time working on the same project. I hope it'll get backed, his film.

January 22, 2014 at 2:08PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

3
Reply
Emil

+1

January 22, 2014 at 3:36PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply

Wow, after my comment was taken off I will say it again, It always helps to have friends on NFS post your work because if you don't know anyone and try to contact them to submit a film they won't respond. Amazing that this comment was taken down. Ill just keep posting Boone

January 23, 2014 at 1:19AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply
Andrew Wallace

Gotta give this filmer credit due...he's doing so much with not a lot of production coin. And he's busting a gut doing his love for the medium of moviemaking. And in this digital age where every son of a bitch is a critic with not many, real concrete facts to back up their opinion? It's just idiots screaming then.
Hang in there filmer. Keep doing your work. All the best.

January 24, 2014 at 9:49AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

4
Reply
mark11

Wow Joel this is totally my taste in film, and what amazes me is how you captured it all with a Canon 60D. Looks great, and forgiving other people's picking on the story, etc - well done!!

It's your dedication to the project that stands out!

March 26, 2014 at 7:25AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

0
Reply
Rohan