Sword and Suburb: My Newest Loner Narrative

Loners have always fascinated me. Being a part-time loner myself, I’m compelled by the narrative force of a character who is alone by choice or necessity, striving to accomplish a goal by their single strength or choosing to do nothing and fade into obscurity. There is both a flaw and a strength to the loner. On one hand their absence from others shows their selfishness and fear, but on the other it shows their discipline and focus. Loners are more likely to become delusional and do foolish things because they have no one to correct them, but they’re also able to take risks that others wouldn’t take.

A storyteller can examine a loner character’s motivations simply by their actions because a loner isn’t performing for anyone–they wear their true intentions on their sleeve. As a filmmaker I think this is my favorite aspect of the loner narrative. Little to no dialog is required to express what a loner is thinking and I can focus on the true driving force of cinema–action. A story about a loner can basically be a silent film, told through visuals alone, and this has always been my favorite way to tell a story.

Back in 2012, two years out from Film School I made one of my first loner narratives, Black Cat Hallowmas, a silent film about a young vigilante who wears a mask and wanders his suburban landscape. That film is still sitting on my hard drive, unfinished, but it’s led to more refined takes on the subject, including my most recent short film, Sword and Suburb, about a young vigilante who wears a mask and wanders her suburban landscape. Though the narrative is similar, much has changed between the two films: I’m using better production gear, more refined planning and shooting methods, and my script is clearer and hopefully more coherent.

They say a film is never really finished, and I’m not the first filmmaker to make the same film over and over again. Black Cat may see the light of day at some point, and I’m sure I have more films with loner narratives to come. In the meantime, take a look at my newest film on the subject.

Summer Stories: Penguinarium

Here’s episode 2 of my new miniseries Summer Stories. In this episode I wanted to capture the essence of 1940’s and 50’s horror with silent film storytelling. I shot the entire episode on my new Sony A7S II with a vintage Canon FD 20mm lens for a slightly surreal, off kilter look, and I chose a penguin to be the antagonist because they are inherently funny. Actually, this is an example of a prop inspiring a script. I found a retro plastic penguin statue at my local antique store this spring and the script just kind of fell into my head.

Summer Stories: Make Films Until They Don’t Suck

Prolific indie filmmaker Jay Duplass once said “Keep making shitty short films until one of them doesn’t suck one day.” So I took his advice and earlier this year my friend Jeremy and I began shooting a series of shorts film scripts I had written. Originally I intended these shorts to be self contained, but as I looked over them I realized they all had some basic elements in common: they were all set in the Midwestern suburbs in the summer, and they all involved slightly paranormal occurrences. Now I’m releasing them about bimonthly on YouTube as Summer Stories, my first ever miniseries! Summer Stories is a loosely connected series of short films about the strange and mysterious things that can be found just around the corner in the summer suburbs. It’s also been a great learning experience for me, and I plan to continue writing and shooting the series into the winter, although I suppose I’ll have to change the name to Winter Stories at some point.

Here’s the first episode in the series, which I released last week, just in time for Halloween.

And here’s the trailer for the series, containing clips from some upcoming episodes.

Making a Magnifying Glass Lens

I’ve always wondered what using a magnifying glass as a lens would look like, and this summer I decided to give it a try. I’ve seen people online hold a magnifying glass up to an exposed camera sensor or lens for trippy freelensing experiments, but I really wanted to see how close I could get to building an actual lens. The build was super simple: all I did was tape a magnifying glass to a macro tube and attach it to my camera. Here’s a tutorial video I made for my company, showing my process.

I took my new homemade lens on a trip to Greenville, South Carolina last month and captured some video with it, which I then graded with a black and white film LUT. I’m pleased with how easy it was to get the footage to look like an ancient and weathered roll of motion picture film, mostly due to the crazy soft, single element of the magnifying glass optic.

I’ve shot photos with this lens too. Here are some of my favorites.


Shooting with this lens has been a fun challenge. The super lo-fi look it creates makes everything feel weightless and dreamy and forces me to think about composition, light and the emotional meaning of objects and poses. I don’t see myself shooting with it every day, but its a unique tool to have in my camera bag.