(6/30/76 – 12-27-10)
Don’t you hate labels? Especially when it comes to art? Me, too. But I simply had to come up with something to describe this man. You can’t slap a traditional tag on him.
In the past several months, I’ve seen Daniel Pevar go from dreaming up and writing comic scripts to working on inventions to writing songs – music and lyrics – to performing at open mics in the Philly area. One day he’s out shooting keen-eyed photos. The next he’s sketching or coming up with original jokes or interviewing people at bars. Or talking his friends and acquaintances into yet another collaboration. There’s more (just wait).
It took some thinking to find the best term: How to express the ever-widening scope of this guy’s talents? I figure Renaissance Dude about covers it.
Though he’s all over the place these days, he’s been more than generous with his time. I’m grateful and pleased for the chance to interview Daniel.
And hey, Dear Readers: Historic, groundbreaking moment. First-ever Strangely Something interview.
Season: I’m in love with short films, and so was intrigued when you mentioned, months ago, that you were planning to shoot a zombie short in hopes of entering it in the West Chester Film Festival. When you ran the title past me, I was completely there. Zombies and Pizza. Two of my favorite obsessions!
In addition to your latest excursion into film, I know you’re also an accomplished musician, songwriter, performer. You’ve gotten into writing for comics, too, and I’ve seen and participated a bit in some of your collaborations (such as your word art; this is something I’ll ask about later), and you do quite a bit of visual art such as drawing. Let’s not forget the photography.
You explore such diversity that at first I wanted to focus this interview everywhere, then decided to go with looking at this particular film. Then I thought, well, let’s just get started and see where it goes. What I really want to know is, how did you first get interested in the arts? Did you draw or play music or write, etc., as a child, or did your interests come about later in life?
Daniel: Thanks for asking, Season. I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. I think I first realized that I was good at it in elementary school. My first art teacher was an inspiration, and I participated in an after-school art club, which was a lot of fun. My Mom is an artist, and so were two of my great aunts, and my cousin in-law. All of them inspired me, and sometimes they passed along their old art supplies, such as chalk pastels and oil paints.
I grew up in a musical family, and learned to play trumpet at a young age, then guitar in high school. Trumpet was fun, but I didn’t feel musically inspired, and it wasn’t until after I quit playing it that I learned what “improvising” meant. In hindsight, I think I would have continued with the trumpet for much longer if I had known that I was allowed to make things up.
When I started playing guitar in high school, I loved the freedom that I felt while song-writing. I learned 3 chords and wrote my first song right away. It took a while to really get good at singing while playing guitar, but practice does make perfect (laughs).
As far as writing goes, I wrote my first poems in middle school and have stuck with it on and off over the years. I love writing emails, comics, flash fiction, scripts, dream journals, poetry, haiku, one-liners, etc.
About 5 years ago, I got my first “real” camera and although I’m still learning things as I go along, I think I am a good photographer at this point. I took the plunge into film recently, too, and I really dig it as an art form, because it utilizes a lot of my other talents: writing, photography, producing, etc.
Season: What drew you to filmmaking, and to short films in particular?
Daniel: The West Chester Film Festival inspired me to make my first film 2 years ago. Up until then I had always thought filmmaking would be fun, but I didn’t know anyone who might want to collaborate. Then 2 years ago, I was introduced to a friend of a friend who had a friend who wrote and directed a film…(laughs). It was one of those things where it just fell together and I made an experimental short. It was a fun project, and it’s on YouTube here: What Happened to Jack
That short film was also inspired by the cheesy narration bit in the beginning of Plan 9 From Outer Space, by Ed Wood.
(Check out clip: “Best Lines” from Plan 9)
Season: Gotta love Ed Wood! Cheesy, yes, but classic.
How about your most current film project, Zombies and Pizza? Once you decided to make the film (on a $200 budget, you had projected early on), what was the process you followed to get things moving? I saw the script in its early stages, and watched it morph into something a bit different as you edited and revised – you and your compulsive need to revise! You posted a call for actors, got someone to do the undead makeup – for free, I’m thinking – and before I knew it, there were YouTube posts, such as your Zombie Montage with Monster Magnet music.
What I’m looking for here is a sort of “how to” for aspiring young filmmakers. I know this is a relatively new area for you, so how did you go about making it all happen? Were you able to keep it within your budget, or did you find that was unrealistic?
Daniel: Well, I am a beginner at making films, but I have learned some good lessons along my journey, which I’d love to share with other new filmmakers. I think it’s important to have some locations in mind before you start writing your script if you’re planning on filming it eventually. One real set-back that I ran into while filming Zombies and Pizza was that two of the locations backed out at the last minute, which could have been a total catastrophe.
Luckily, my co-producer, Helen Campitelli, helped book us a new location to film the pizzeria scenes. The original location backed out on Sunday afternoon at about 4pm, and I had about 20 people set to help do the filming that Monday, so it really was a miracle that Helen found us a place to film. She recommended that in the future I should give locations a small payment of like $50 and get something in writing ahead of time so that it’s a “done deal.” This makes a lot of sense to me. The location we ended up using for the pizzeria was a local apparel shop, which kind of adds to the campiness of the film, which is cool since it’s a freaking zombie film anyway (laughs). That’s me trying to look on the bright side of things, but honestly I am still disappointed that the original location fell through since I wrote the script with their layout in mind.
Anyway, the first step in writing a film is to have some locations, then you want to figure out how many actors to use. If you have access to a lot of actors, then write a script with a lot of characters, and if not, then write a script with just a few. Think creatively, and you can do a lot on a shoestring budget. Craig’s List can be a helpful resource for finding film collaborators. Around Philly, there’s a website called Film.org, a fantastic resource for finding collaborators. I found about 90% of the people I’m working with on Z & P from Film.org: editor, cinematographer, boom operator, actors, etc. They were all on Film.org and were willing to work on this as a speculation project.
I’m not sure if other cities have websites like Film.org, but I suspect there are other sites like it across the country, so depending on where you are, you might have a similar resource. To save money, I held the auditions at a local park, where people can use pavilions on a first-come first-serve basis. After the auditions, I wrote a few more characters into the script because there were some extra actors that I really wanted in the film.
In my life in general, I try to help people succeed, and I thought it would be helpful for me to include as many actors as I could by giving them time on the camera in the final cut. We’re all in the same boat. We’re just trying to do the best we can with what we’ve got, you know?
I spent about $400 on the film, but I had a donation of $100, so I’ve only spent about $300 on it at this point, and most of those costs were for equipment and props and food for the actors. Granted, I really cut corners, but I think it’ll all work out in the end. It has been a very rewarding experience, and I feel like I’m moving forward in a good direction.
One other thing that I will mention for new filmmakers is the Flip Ultra. I bought one a couple months ago and have been using it nonstop. It’s really a revolutionary camera, and I highly recommend it for beginners. Using it, I can shoot a video of a band at an open mic, then put that video on YouTube on my laptop while I’m still at the bar, and the video will be active about 30 minutes later. I think that the Flip Ultra is going to really fuel a lot of YouTubers into making videos quickly and easily for their YouTube channels. I know people with more expensive cameras who don’t like transferring their footage from their cameras onto their computers – it takes longer than it does on the Flip Ultra. The one downfall of the Flip is that it can only zoom in a tiny bit, but other than that it’s great. Oh, and the only other problem I’ve had with it is that the software that came with it sometimes puts my slide-shows slightly out of sequence – I think it’s a glitch in the program.
Season: I’m going to go all cliché on you now and ask that standard Wizard of Oz question: What did you learn (Dorothy)? Are there some things you would do differently, now that you’ve made some short films? Any tips for others who have the desire, but haven’t ventured into making their own films yet?
Daniel: I mentioned paying ahead of time to use a location. I’d also recommend that if you’re directing a film you periodically watch the footage to make sure everything looks how you wanted it to look. Sometimes you see things on the computer screen that you don’t notice in person. Also, I’d recommend having an extra camera man film a “making of” the film. Extra footage like that can be a useful learning tool, and is also fun to add as extras on DVDs. I would suggest having a script supervisor to take notes on exactly which shots the editor should use when they are putting together the rough-cut of the film.
I had a script supervisor for the first day of filming, then after that, David Kappler (the cinematographer) took the notes, but it’s probably best to have someone else do the note-taking to save time and let the cinematographer concentrate on the camera work.
Also, it’s a good idea to get all the actors and people involved in the film to sign releases. One more thing I’ll mention is that if you’re looking for a makeup artist you may be able to find a volunteer – or in my case volunteers – through a local beauty school. I was very fortunate to have a bunch of volunteers from Pulse Beauty Academy who worked on the makeup for the zombies in my film. I was really, really happy to have them on board, and they did an outstanding job on the zombies!
Season: Cool beans. I’ll add a link: zombie makeup tutorial.
Do you have any other film projects in the works? If so, do you care to share a bit with us? If not, that’s fine. I know plenty of visual artists and writers who would rather not discuss works-in-progress, though some find that the discussion itself fires them up.
Daniel: Right now I’m trying to split up my time between filming creative shorts, like under 2 minutes long, and doing paying video work. I’m just going to start testing the waters this week to see if I can land some paying gigs using samples from my YouTube channel. I do have a series of videos that I’m planning on making in about 2 weeks at a large local potato chip company called Herr’s Potato Chips. They’ve agreed to let me film their factory tour to use as a portfolio piece, so I’m really excited about that opportunity.
Anyway, I do aspire to write a full-length film at some point, but it’ll probably happen down the line, like in a year or two. For now, I want to focus on finding paying video gigs. I just got out of the hotel biz, and would like to keep goofing off with my creative ventures without having to get a “real” job (laughing). I just want to make cool videos for cool people!
Season: There’s something to be said for doing work we love, and if we can make money outside of the 9 to 5 and in the arts—yeah, that’s the best! I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you.
I’ve always been drawn to creative people, and have been writing since I can remember. I used to wonder where my urge to draw and write stories came from, but looking back I see that my parents were both extremely story-oriented. My mother’s idea of stories had little in common with the sweetened up, watered-down Grimms’ fare my friends’ parents told them. At our house, we had a Saturday morning ritual. My brothers and I would huddle under the covers with our mother (who’s Japanese). This was my introduction to kaidan. Yeah. Japanese horror stories were our mom’s idea of fun for little kids. (When asked about it now, my 80-year-old mother’s excuse is, “I didn’t know. I thought they were for children.”) We’d listen, in terror, as she conjured up gruesome images. After his hunting and fishing trips, our dad gave us play-by-plays of each season’s deer hunt, or the inevitable tale of the monstrous fish that got away.
Do you recall anything from your early years that stirred up your own desire to create?
Daniel: Other people have inspired me along the way, and I have had muses who were extra inspiring, but more than anything, I create art to satisfy my own yearnings to get better at what I do. I’ve never really excelled at most of my job jobs, so I kind of fall back on my art as a way to build up my confidence.
I’ve been growing in a lot of different ways over the last few years, but more than anything, I think that my singing voice has matured to a very good point. I don’t feel like I’m a mature songwriter yet, but I’m happy with my singing style. If a musical opportunity presents itself to me to join or form a band, I would like to do that and see where it takes me. I want to create as many good songs as I can and record them and make videos for them.
My older brother and my Dad both inspired me to learn to make music when I was younger, and I had some high school friends who I jammed with a lot back in the day. And I’ve always tried to use my angst (in general) to fuel my artwork, be it written or visual.
Heck, I even love telling stories verbally, because it’s just another form of artistic expression. I just try to be myself around other people, and I feel honored when they open up to me. I just want to live my life the way I want to without hurting other people.
Season: I think it’s cool that you’re so into collaborations. Where did you get the idea for your word art? When you asked me – sometime last year – for some words, I wondered what type of drawings you’d get out of them. I love where you took the words – it seems like a sort of translation, if that makes sense – and as a writer who digs visual art, I was pleased with the outcomes.
Would love to share a couple of those on the blog, if you don’t mind.
Daniel: Sure thing! You’re welcome to publish some examples of my word art on your blog, Season.
I think I first got the idea in 1998. That year was my most productive as far as my visual art goes. Around then I started making up Asian looking characters and using them as backgrounds in my abstract drawings. Then I revisited the idea of using words in my art around 2001, when I started doing tracings of found notes and doodles. More recently I’ve been thinking about doing collaborative word art projects. I tend to have tons of ideas, some of which I run with at the time, and some I like to let brew for a while. I wish I would hurry up and win the lottery so that I could focus on my art full-time (laughs).
Season: I’m backtracking a bit here, I know. But I thought I’d ask while I’ve got the chance. Does your photography background help with shooting films, or is this an entirely different creature with its own technical concerns? (So shoot me; I’ve never tried my hand at filmmaking before!)
Daniel: Photography is to filmmaking as learning the alphabet is to writing. You really need to know how to frame a shot if you’re going to do video work, and you need to know some basics about lighting and composition. The more photos a person takes and the more feedback he/she gets, the better/faster the photographer will become at taking decent photos, and the same thing applies with filmmaking.
Whenever I film a video, I like to watch it a few times right away, just to see what I did right and what I did wrong. Lately I’m kicking myself for not using my camera stabilizer enough in my recent videos. Without a camera stabilizer, the video camera bounces up and down a lot even if you’re holding it as steady as you can.
I’m also doing a lot of experimentation while I’m shooting my videos. One thing that I like to do that I rarely see done in music videos – live performances at open mics, for instance – is to walk around some and get crowd shots. I was filming The West Chester Restaurant Festival two weekends ago, and I filmed a band called Barakka, and when I walked around the crowd I came across a vendor grilling burgers, so I filmed that and you can hear the sizzling burgers while the song is playing…I love that stuff!
The biggest challenge I’m having with my video work is that I’m not used to walking with a moving camera and/or panning my shots. In still photography, when I frame a shot with my Kodak, I have all the time in the world to get it just right before I snap the shot, but with video if you’re on a shot and the camera is rolling and you want to pan, then you really have to be highly in tune with what’s in the viewfinder so that you don’t overstep the shot. That’s been the hardest thing for me to learn, but I am making progress. I’m finding that if I have a good shot and the camera is rolling, I will hold the camera still then turn my head and look around to find another shot to pan to, then I usually do a slow/medium pan to the new shot.
Doing videography seems much more physical than still photography for me, because with still photos I just walk around and snap landscape shots usually or do portraits, but with videography I really am trying to use my camera stabilizer, which takes two hands to hold and weighs about 7 lbs. I went to a local hardware store called Parkway Hardware True Value, and one of the employees there basically built the camera stabilizer for me out of PVC pipe. The whole thing only cost me about $30 and it makes a huge difference in the quality of my videos. Sometimes I get lazy and don’t feel like taking the extra time to assemble the stabilizer and carry it around with me on a video shoot, but I usually regret that afterward (laughs). My big tips to a new videographer would be three things: build (or buy) a camera stabilizer for your camcorder, study composition, and use a tripod whenever you can. Something else that’s helpful is to get more footage than you think you need. I guess that’s about it!
Season: Where do you go from here? Any future plans for all that diversity – your music, your writing, photography, filmmaking – toward one major project? It seems to me that with filmmaking, you could put it all together, adding your work in different mediums. Create your own songs for soundtracks, write your own scripts – which you do now already – etc. Now that I’ve said it, it sounds like too much work for one person, but you’ve amazed me with your ability to go in so many directions. And you get things done.
Daniel: I want to focus on my video work and see if I’ve got what it takes to be a freelancer. I’d like to transition into a videography career, so over the next couple of weeks I’m hoping to test the waters.
Also, I have a new invention that I’m working on which relates to the art field, which is exciting. I want to test the market with that invention, too, and see if there’s a market for it. If there is, then I’m hoping to find a manufacturer to team up with to make it.
But for now I just want to finish making Zombies and Pizza and have the satisfaction of seeing it projected on a screen at the screening party at the Kennett Flash in a couple of months once the film is totally finished. It’s been a very fun project to work on, and I feel grateful to have been introduced to the film biz through my friend, actor Tony Devon. He has been a total inspiration to me, and I owe him big time for his support and advice along my journey into the world of film.
Thanks for all the great questions, Season! Best of luck on your new blog!
Season: And thank you right back at ya, Daniel. Here’s wishing you great success with all your endeavors. Can’t wait to see Zombies and Pizza when it’s a wrap!