It's All About Story

It's All About Story
Following on from last week's episode we document the creation of Colin Levy's short film Skywatch. This is a story of how sometimes you need to give something up to make things happen.


How to Get a World-Famous Actor in your Short Film:

This week we follow Colin Levy's seven year journey to completing his short film Skywatch and how there was more on the line than you may realise.

The episode looks takes a look at creative focus, the process of getting something made that's not attached to any previous intellectual property and how projects change as they grow. Colin's story is an inspiring yet difficult rendition of the process of getting to work on something you love.



Ollie: [00:00:00]

[00:00:14] I'm Ollie Judge. Last episode, we left off our story with Colin levy. After a successful career in animation, working with the blender animation studio and picks up Colin had a decision to make, like most storytellers, Colin had a story he wanted to tell. But there weren't enough hours in the day.

[00:00:34] If he was going to be able to tell that story, he would need to quit his job at Pixar. This is the story

[00:00:39] of Skywatch.

[00:00:45] Since I was 15, I've always had a movie. That I was making always had a project. And for the first time, once I got to Pixar and I finished up my senior film, which actually took another year, I found myself without a project of my own. And I was at basically my dream job. And I didn't know where life went from there.

[00:01:05] And I actually got more depressed. This is 2012. Uh, at that point then ever in my life, because I, I just, I felt lost and I realized that I definitely. I need to be making something of my own. And so it was kind of in that mindset, I started thinking about what kind of project I wanted to do, and really I'd never made something that truly represents my favorite type of movie and the type of stuff I would.

[00:01:37] Love to one day, get to make at a big level. And that is Saifai thrilling with kids. I don't know why, but it's like, I love young adult stories. ITI is my favorite film of all time. Actually. That's not true. Iron giant. And ITI, which are very, very similar. They're almost the same movie. Those are my two favorite movies.

[00:02:02] And I, uh, you know, minority report growing up, I think that's the, the movie I watched that made me fall in love with the genre of sci-fi and specifically like the conspiracy thriller. And so just there's a genre that was like the framework, like, okay. Um, And then I was watching a lot of success stories of folks who were making proof of concept shorts and getting them set up, getting them sold.

[00:02:30] It was like, it seemed like an Avenue towards taking the reins on your own career and maybe making something of it. But a lot of them were just spectacle. And I wanted to like find a story that I really loved and that I thought was really had the potential to, to, to become a feature film or something. I mean, I sort of learned this lesson with Syntel.

[00:02:53] What brings you to the land of the

[00:02:54] Music: [00:02:54] gatekeepers

[00:02:59] I'm searching for?

[00:03:02] Colin Levy: [00:03:02] Syntel was

[00:03:02] Ollie: [00:03:02] blenders, a chalk film directed by Colin. It's the story of a young woman who befriends a dragon

[00:03:13] Colin Levy: [00:03:13] So Syntel, uh, in 2010 it was released and there was a, there was a moment of interest. There was a moment of excitement on the internet. And also in Hollywood, there was like, you know, I was getting calls from agents and, and, and producers and people were like, what? What's the feature? Uh, w what are you doing?

[00:03:32] What do you want to make? And like, I was so unprepared for that moment and it came and went this opportunity. And so I felt like, um, just big picture would love to make something that could maybe achieve a similar thing for, for my career. Uh, just generate a moment that I can potentially capitalize on that can help me, uh, con I can leverage sky watch, uh, into a real project.

[00:03:59] KIRO was working 50 hour weeks at Pixar coming home, creatively drained, wanting to do projects in my free time, but feeling like I just was out of gas, then I have the weekend, you know, that's like, My time, but I was doing my laundry. All story comes

[00:04:16] Ollie: [00:04:16] full circle. We're back at the

[00:04:18] Colin Levy: [00:04:18] grocery store. So much of my weekends were taken up by life maintenance.

[00:04:23] Colin

[00:04:23] Ollie: [00:04:23] is daydreaming about what if everything was done for you. So he didn't have to waste so much of his free

[00:04:28] Colin Levy: [00:04:28] time. Like this would become the core of Skydance delivering something, but there's an, uh, beautiful, like seamless infrastructure in an, in an apartment complex. For example, that will help take, uh, a pod.

[00:04:41] From a drone from the roof, you know, and route it into your home.

[00:04:49] Ollie: [00:04:49] Colin got to work building out his world. It came from a place of curiosity, but also started satisfying that itch, that itch to meet your own story.

[00:04:58] Colin Levy: [00:04:58] I just started sketching and doodling, and that was, it was the world came first. And then knowing I wanted to make us sort of a conspiracy movie and something with kids.

[00:05:07] Like it. Trying to find the right characters in the right sort of. Window into, into that world. And I actually wrote for six months, probably 10 different versions of the script that we ended up shooting. So definitely was experimenting with so much potential. You know, it is a pretty big world, um, that it took a while to kind of settle into what it was.

[00:05:40] You know, and I'm a pretty visual person. And so when I read a script or when I read. Anything novel, like I can't help. Um, I'm, I'm seeing. Um, and so I definitely had a lot in mind, but the process of making movies I have discovered is obviously it's a collaborative art form. And, um, you know, my senior film at SCAD, uh, the secret number, which was live action really gave me a lot of respect for the production design process.

[00:06:08] And. I mean, we, we built sets for that particular movie and really the look was crafted, uh, more than any live action project I had done prior to that, I knew for me, it was just kind of a matter of finding the right people to help bring this vision to life. Cause I kind of had the loose idea and I knew that I wanted it to feel believable, grounded.

[00:06:34] But sleek and something that you could really see in the near future. Sure. What

[00:06:38] Ollie: [00:06:38] Colin had in mind was bigger than just him. He needed help to build this world, the short film, wasn't just something you could choose in your backyard. He needed people that could bring life to a

[00:06:48] Colin Levy: [00:06:48] world of the future.

[00:06:49] Initially, there were, um, two concept artists, Matt bell, and Matt Kennedy who were incredibly talented and got the vision. And Matt bell in particular kind of had this, um, industrial design background. So he's already, he's thinking about products and he's thinking about vehicles and he's. Just everything that he sketched out looks so much better than what I could have done.

[00:07:15] And it just had this sensibility to it. So, uh, he ended up doing most of the designs for everything in it, and I thought it made a lot of sense to have one guy kind of define. The look of all next port products. So the, the drone and the pod and the portal, the next portal, they're all designed by the

[00:07:36] same

[00:07:36] Colin Levy: [00:07:36] company.

[00:07:36] So they had to kind of relate to each other in some, some way, he just turned out so many different ideas. So it was kind of a process of whittling things down. And then of course, bringing something into three dimensions. Always reveals a lot of challenges. And so that was it's on process, but you're talking about like the look and design of the homes, like the interiors, that was like, that was really, that came from my production designer, Julie Chen, who, who really took a character centric approach to what the.

[00:08:10] Each location might look like, like the yoga girl. She has a different looking airy space that has a lot of greenery and the couch potato. And that was super fun. Look, can you project,

[00:08:22] Ollie: [00:08:22] the fun started to wear off a little and the hard work set in. Sky watch would go on to take seven years to finish this wasn't something Colin could let go of.

[00:08:31] It was his, it had some bumps along the way, and wasn't always easy

[00:08:35] Colin Levy: [00:08:35] to get over. The finish line is the longest project I've ever worked on. I hope that I never worked on anything else. As long as I've worked on this short film, I wrote it in 2013 and I released it at December of 2019

[00:08:52] because

[00:08:52] Colin Levy: [00:08:52] I would not allow it.

[00:08:55] To cross into a new decade because it was less than one month, five, 20, 20. Um, so yeah, seven years, six, six years from production. So, I mean, by far the biggest challenge was like, just keeping the engine guy, just keeping the motivation, just keeping the faith that this was worth it, uh, without much resources trying to chip away.

[00:09:18] And that's really what. The process was at every single stage. It was just chipping away at this seemingly unconquerable mountain, as opposed to writing which I'm doing now, which is very, it's not a linear process. Making movie to some degree is linear. And so when you see progress, at least you're one step closer to an actual.

[00:09:43] Finish line. So I've made enough movies that I know that I can finish them. If only I spend enough time and effort. And money on it. Um, so yeah, I mean, I think a lot of it was, was honestly motivation and personal interpersonal finding the team, keeping the fire going. I had a couple of really close collaborators who.

[00:10:08] We're so dedicated. And, um, the chief chief among them are Sandra Blattner, my visual effects supervisor who truly put in years and years of his life into this. And man, just having one guy who's in it with you makes all the difference. Cause then I'm working for him. I'm trying to. Give him what he needs and he's trying to give me what I expect.

[00:10:35] And like, it just it's becomes a self perpetuating kind of thing. Uh, cause if I was just doing it myself, how can I keep going?

[00:10:44] Ollie: [00:10:44] When you have other people relying on you to make things happen, doubt starts to set in. It's not just your thing anymore. It's theirs too. But the responsibility is with you to keep it alive.

[00:10:54] There's not too many people that I know that would drop everything and run straight at the thing they want to build. But sometimes that's exactly what you need to

[00:11:01] Colin Levy: [00:11:01] do to tell you your story. This process has been truly frustrating, but mostly because. Of how much time it was taking. I actually love the work, but the speed of the work is just demoralizing.

[00:11:15] Um, for me, the most frustrating moment though, was when I have this burning desire to get, to make progress happen. But, but life is not allowing me to even put in the time. And that means I have other priorities. And in this case, it was literally my job at Pixar because I was working so hard at work and just having so little to give to sky watch.

[00:11:46] And that's part of the reason it took as long as it did is because it was just a passion project that had to fit into nights and weekends. For two thirds of this period of time, it got to the point basically where I, after finding Dory, after my work on finding when I was wrapped a, I took a leave of absence and I was, it was six months.

[00:12:10] And the hope was that I could just finish the movie or get a huge chunk of it done and release this frustration that had been building up. And, um, by the end of that six months, I'd made so little progress. That I knew I had a decision to make. Uh, it was basically either I give up on this short film because at this rate I'm going to be 40, by the time it's done, or I quit my job and, uh, and go full time on the short, you know, at that point, because of the amount of time I had put into it and the amount of.

[00:12:52] Promises I had made to people. How many? Yeah, there's a lot of dreams wrapped up in this and it wasn't just me anymore. Not to mention other things. It was money. I felt like I, the answer was clear, you know, I ha I had to, I had to leave Pixar and work full-time on sky watch until it was done. And of course I couldn't.

[00:13:12] Do that entirely. And I had to balance freelance and I took time away to do, uh, agent 57, moved back to Amsterdam for a period, but at Pixar, which is sort of a regular nine to five, which is incredible. It was something that kind of stretched on into eternity. And with freelance projects, they have a beginning and end date and I could for a month or two work full time and then do something else for a few weeks.

[00:13:41] To, to pay the bills. And I was basically though just siphoning all of my savings throughout this period of time and put really everything I had into just paying rent while I worked. And that was part of the, the idea of the Kickstarter, uh, which helped us get through post-production right around the time that I was now.

[00:14:01] Full-time on. The short and, uh, yeah, we, we ended up raising $50,000 and that, you know, I would still be working on it without, without the Kickstarter

[00:14:15] Ollie: [00:14:15] Colin pressed on with sky, watch it started coming together. The world felt real, but it felt like something was missing. It was an impressive project, but it was lacking that one thing that would make it stand out from the crowd then came the hunt for that moment.

[00:14:29] That would set it apart. That moment would be a cameo.

[00:14:33] Colin Levy: [00:14:33] I'm going to need some texts or

[00:14:36] Ollie: [00:14:36] Colin has an amazing video charting his journey that led him to London to shoot very quick. Seemingly Jude law. I highly suggest you go and watch it. You can find the link

[00:14:43] Colin Levy: [00:14:43] in offering a tutorial

[00:14:46] Ollie: [00:14:46] for now through a series of range connections slowly but surely Colin managed to get an email to Jude law, making his case for why he should work on sky.

[00:14:54] Watch Jude law agrees to

[00:14:56] Colin Levy: [00:14:56] read a couple of lines. Step five. Wake up in an alternate universe where you're a list. Actor has watched your film, likes your film and has written you an email personally, to say that he wants to help you with Colin

[00:15:08] Ollie: [00:15:08] travels to London pots together, what crew he can and shoots the lines in front of a green screen.

[00:15:14] This moment would become the final conclusion to sky. Watch Jude law, playing some kind of mysterious figure, signifying that there's more to the story than just what's in the short. So after a fair bit of editing, tightening visual shots and cursing of teeth, sky watched is released to the world. But the film itself has been on a bit of an interesting journey on where it's been and where it's going.

[00:15:36] Colin Levy: [00:15:36] There's some stuff I can say. And some things I can't say the entire goal, as I mentioned from the beginning, was to make a feature film or to, to, to leverage us in, you know, like, you know, I've been making movies since I was 15. For over, over half my life. And the goal has always been to direct, to find a way to make a living, directing the sky watch was like, this is all my chips were in sky watch.

[00:16:03] And during the period of time that I worked on the short film, I was also writing a feature script. So for the past few years with, um, my co-writer Mike Sunday, who, uh, is a friend I met at Pixar. He and I have been basically, um, writing the full version of a story that I want to, I want to make, you know, here's the feature film, um, based on the short and basically when we released the, uh, the short online, I started.

[00:16:38] Pitching the thing around and you know, I, I moved to LA a couple of years ago and it's really all been, uh, in service of this moment. And I have to say, uh, I am so relieved that something happened because you can never really know what, what the future holds. And one thing that I am so apprehensive about is like, my comfort zone is in front of a computer.

[00:17:07] Turning out shots. I like to dream up movies. I like to work with my friends. Like I'm not comfortable walking into rooms with like high powered executives and like pitching a vision for something I haven't made already. Trust me. I'm I'm just not a salesman. I get so nervous. Public speaking is like not my forte.

[00:17:29] Anyway, I fortunately Rose to the occasion enough and. I had actually gotten, uh, some practice in November. It was really interesting. Actually, we did. Um, we went out for some like preliminary pitches after sending a private link of sky watch to variety of producers and the private link. You know, it was enough to get people interested in having me come in to kind of talk about the future.

[00:17:59] And for me, that was practice. But. You know, obviously I wanted those things to work out and, um, the, the response was very tepid. I mean, people were positive, but it wasn't, it wasn't overflowing only enthusiastic sick. It's pretty lukewarm. And like, we, we shared the feature script that we had written and we were starting to get passes.

[00:18:21] And I was like, Oh no, is this it is this, it's all come down to this. And the feature script, isn't lighting people's imaginations and like, Wow, what a waste of seven years of my life, but then we released it on YouTube and for whatever reason that changed everything. And, uh, it didn't go super, super viral, but I think the right people were seeing it and there was the right level of enthusiasm from those people and really fueled by the interest of the short film.

[00:18:54] We went out for a new round of pitches and these were people who are already. Well, I already kind of wanted it, you know, who are really rooting for me in the room. And basically the week after, um, we got multiple offers, um, to develop it

[00:19:13] both

[00:19:14] Colin Levy: [00:19:14] as a TV show and as a feature film. And so, uh, we had a really amazing decision to make you know, about where we wanted this project to.

[00:19:27] To go, who we wanted to be with. Um, and you know, there were some streamers in the mix. There was, you know, sort of a traditional theatrical film kind of. Option. And can't say who we went with yet. Uh, I don't know if it will, I assume it will be announced at some point. Um, but, uh, but we are developing as a TV show, which was never my plan, but seems like, um, our best shot at actually getting it made and it's just.

[00:20:00] Development, you know, so we're basically charged with adapting the feature script to a pilot, and there's a whole multiple step process that, you know, a lot of hurdles to clear before anything gets greenlit. Of course. So it may be. Years before we know what really came up sky watch. But what I'm excited about is that the door is cracked open and we have the chance and very relevant to my life is I'm theoretically getting paid to, to write.

[00:20:35] And, um, if, if there weren't any dollar signs, like. Associated with this deal, basically option. Then I would have another decision to make like w yeah, it would again be like a part-time like between the cracks thing. So for the first time in my life, basically, I'm getting to work on my passion project and getting paid to do it.

[00:20:57] So what's

[00:20:58] Ollie: [00:20:58] the secret to getting to work on your passion project. What's at the core of bringing your, all of this to life. Well, it's going to be something quite familiar to the listeners of the show. I'll give you a hint. It isn't visual effects and

[00:21:10] Colin Levy: [00:21:10] working for pixel at the end of the day. And this is a process that I've, I'm still coming to appreciate.

[00:21:16] And it's going to sound like a platitude or whatever, but it's all about story and story is the hardest thing. But writing truly is so important and it's never been my goal that that's the frustrating thing is like, I just want to direct, like give me something great. I'll make it. But, um, apparently, uh, it's really hard if you have, I haven't directed something already or you don't have millions of dollars or connections, you can't just become a director without having.

[00:21:52] Uh, made a great film. And the only way to make a great film is to write something great and, or find someone who new script you can make. But it's just like, it comes down to story and character and writing. The impulse is to get, make it, to create something, to just dive in. And I think that if you can hold that back and really take your time with the craft and be an iterate and do multiple drafts and get feedback and just on the script level and make sure that's really airtight before you get going, it'll pay off in droves as much as we love

[00:22:33] Ollie: [00:22:33] the realm of audio, we can't do sky watch.

[00:22:36] Justice just with sound. You can check it out, using the link in our show notes or search for it on YouTube. Make sure you keep an eye out for what's an X from Colin by following him on Twitter and Instagram at college. Once again, a big thing. Thank you to Colin for coming on the show. We hope your story inspires you to get started on your own thing.

[00:22:55] No matter how big the world is that you need to create.