“Becoming One With The Cardboard”
A talk about the YouTube channel HOMEMADE MOVIES
and an interview with its creator Dustin McLean
Article by Robert Long II ©2014
CineFix is a YouTube channel where many creative filmmakers provide wild and out there content for the viewer to ingest. Out of all the shows under the CineFix banner, I gravitated to HOMEMADE MOVIES. Originally created by Dustin McLean (he is no longer with the show), the show did trailers and scenes from movies – shot for shot – but with the twist that everything is done homemade (no CGI) and is all done in camera. Dustin also did all the music and sound effects acapella.
Along with Dustin there was a creative team backing him up all the way. The person that has probably been with him 90% of the time (and is still working on HOMEMADE MOVIES) is Ben Martin. He is responsible for creating and co-creating several of the effects, props and costuming – not to imagine acting in several of the projects! Anthony Bosco was a full time production assistant. Sean Puglisis full-time was production assistant/editor (editing much of the behind-the-scenes), and Jon O’Brien.
There was also some core actors that show up in Dustin’s projects. These included Chris Senger (who does a wicked Luke Skywalker and Brad Pitt), Piotr Michael Walczuk (who is a master impressionist – Doc Brown, Harrison Ford, etc.), Hari Leigh (who sometimes helped with costumes) and Cat Alter.
But it wasn’t all fun and games at HOMEMADE MOVIES. Dustin tells me that it was a business and it was run like a business. It was a paying gig so this means schedules, hiring and firing (let’s hope not too much firing – looks like too fun and a creative job for that!), cost breakdowns, paying employees, etc. You name it, it had to be done.
Dustin worked on 2 seasons of HOMEMADE MOVIES and did approximately 50 episodes. As each scene or trailer also included a side-by-side comparison to the original – and a behind the scenes documentary – that number is more like 140 to 150 projects! Now mixing it up a bit, Dustin McLean and his team did a few different things on the channel. This included a couple of music videos based on IRON MAN and BACK TO THE FUTURE. Also, the original 1931 DRACULA trailer and the “MRS. BATES” scene from PSYCHO were presented in black and white (to excellent effect). A pivotal scene from RESERVIOR DOGS was handled using sock puppets! And there were a few misc. videos like “best impersonation” and “wildest explosion” type episodes sprinkled in for good measure.
I found the behind the scenes videos fascinating. Up and coming filmmakers and crew members can learn so much from them about practical effects, miniatures and costuming. Filmmaking is about the story and the imagination. It doesn’t have to be expensive and it doesn’t have to rely on CGI. The lessons Dustin and his team have demonstrated can be taken and refined, creating incredible imagery on a low budget.
Some of Rob’s personal favorites:
BATMAN 1966 INTRO: This is a fun one because of the effort Dustin and crew put into it. Because the original intro was done with cell animation, all backgrounds and costumes had to made from scratch. It is a brightly comic colored opening with great visuals (In fact many of the bright spots include all things Batman and Star Wars related with DustFilms).
Star Wars Death Star Trench Sequence: This by far is one of my all time favorites. The model work, costumes and sets are top notch. The effects team Dustin came up with for traveling down the trench is phenomenal.
Fast and Furious Final Race: Most of this was (if not all of it) shot outdoors in miniature. The natural sunlight mixed with the custom models work incredibly well. The only thing – and Dustin himself points this out – is that the backgrounds of the full size cars remained static.
Godzilla Trailer: You know – it’s in the creativity and the details sometimes. Dustin used a washing machine door as a contamination door portal. Stuff like this is pure genius folks.
JAWS – You’re Gonna Need A Bigger Boat: They built a friggin’ shark for this scene. Need I say more?
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1990 Trailer: The special costuming is jaw-droppingly amazing. The action sequences are well choreographed too.
Avengers Fight: The costumes, acting, practical effects and miniatures were phenomenal. I’ve noticed that scenes that take place at night seem to come off better. The black backdrop makes it easier to mesh live action footage with miniatures.
Back To The Future Clock Tower Scene: Brilliant costuming, great acting, and superb miniatures, props, and sets. This is also one of the rare occasions where Dustin used a store bought toy as the main prop (in this case the BTTF DeLorean)
Now, there are a few HOMEMADE MOVIES where a lot of effort was put forth, but for some reason they did not connect with me like most of the others. Here are a couple of examples:
Jurassic Park Chaos Theory Scene: Mind you, there was a TON of work done to make a car look like one of the Jurassic Park vehicles, and I also appreciated the moving background that was made. However, the scene comes across a bit static; not much happens within it. Or it could be because I was never crazy about Jeff Goldblum‘s character in the movie.
However, Dustin and the gang would go on to do the T-Rex chase scene from the movie which is just fire cracker crazy cool.
The fight from HOOK: Now major points go toward the costuming, as well as getting the original actor that played Rufio. However I found – for me – that it was hard to suspend belief that the cast was actually on a ship, when I could see picket fences, hedges and houses in the background.
Terminator 2 Bar Scene: This for me may be the weakest of the HOMEMADE MOVIES. This scene had a lot of internal robot display screens that were obviously a pain to do, but regrettably did not come off that well (however Dustin perfected the technique for his Iron Man projects). It seemed a bit of a stretch to get his living room/dining room area to look like the biker bar, and the actor standing in for the Terminator reminded me – in look – of Andrew Dice Clay. (I have found out that this was the first time HOMEMADE MOVIES decided to try a scene rather than a trailer – and they were not sure wether it would work or not.)
On the other side of the coin, Dustin would go on to do the “Your foster parents are dead” Terminator 2 scene with the same actor playing the Terminator – and the entire scene was done spot perfect.
Now you’ve read my “Monday Morning Quarterbacking” on some of the videos discussed. Please keep in mind that these are just my observations and opinions. It’s easy to give those when you are not the one on a budget and a deadline; remember that all in all, I have a tremendous respect for everyone involved at HOMEMADE MOVIES and the excellent results they produce.
Suggestions? I guess all fans – including myself – have a few suggestions for the creative crew. One would be to keep large neutral backgrounds always on hand. White, blue, gray, black backdrops can be hung up to obscure busy backgrounds. A second suggestion would be to keep face powder on hand. 5 O’clock shadow can creep in on faces when late hours are involved.
Enough about my thoughts – let’s get to talking to the man himself. Ladies and gentlemen without further ado… Dustin McLean!
Robert: What is the idea behind HOMEMADE MOVIES, and how did you get involved with it?
Dustin: The idea is to remake movie trailers or classic movie scenes shot-for-shot using only in-camera effects and all handmade props and costumes with a charmingly low-tech feel. I got involved by creating it, as a regular show. People have been doing “Sweded” type recreations for a while but those are not shot-for-shot like this. Some people had actually done shot-for-shot remakes before too but no one had done it regularly and no one was doing scenes. So I got together with Jon O’Brien and started making them for my channel and after the second one CineFix approached me and asked if we would be interested in doing it as a weekly show for their channel, so we did!
Robert: Can you give us – the audience – a breakdown of the time allotted for each “classic scene or trailer” and approximately the budget for each show?
Dustin: For the first year we released one episode per week (which is crazy for a show of this scale!) and we tried to stick to an overlapping 2-week turnaround for each. But that meant that we were constantly in a state of preproduction, production and post production constantly and I didn’t have a single day off for 5 months straight, no exaggeration. I won’t say the exact budget, but aside from paying ourselves to work full-time (at most we had 3 full-time people working on the show, out of my house mind you) the cost was insanely low. Part of the charm was seeing how cheaply we could create things so it was just a lot of thrift store clothes, hot glue, cardboard and toys, it really depended on what we already had around we could reuse or what we needed to buy new for a particular episode.
Robert: What self – imposed restrictions did you set upon yourself, your crew and your actors?
Dustin: When making the props and costumes we always tried to keep it as simple as possible (yet we always had a hard time not going overboard with details) and make it almost as if a really crafty kid was making this. I’d ask myself “how would I have made this when I was 12?” As far as shooting the basic rule was that everything had to be done in-camera. That means nothing is added or changed with visual effects, what you see on screen is what we captured on camera.
Robert: Did you ever break those restrictions?
Dustin: Not really, although I will say that color correction was not something I thought counted. Creating everything physically and capturing it on camera is one things but part of the fun of the movie magic is in the color of a scene, so I’d always do color or adjust the brightness if need be. That doesn’t count as a visual effects in my book. For instance The Matrix is very green, it wouldn’t be the same without that tint. Or Transformers has a very saturated push/pull type of color correction. So I loved matching those. We even did 2 black and white episodes and again, it didn’t matter to us that we shot in color (although CineFix recently did the Sin City trailer and they had a professional makeup artist paint every single person to look black and white! I would have never done that in a million years, it sort of wasn’t the point of what we were doing. It still looked great though, that’s their take on “Homemade”).
Robert: Lots of cardboard, bits of plastic, paint and odds and ends were used for your productions. What do you feel was the most ingenious set, prop, or special effect that came out of one of those shows?
Dustin: Oh man, it’s hard to say we did so many unique setups that you would never think to do in another situation and never need to do again. I was really happy with our Matrix “bullet-time” trick that was a huge problem to solve and it turned out great I think.
Robert: What do you think your biggest triumph was working on HOMEMADE MOVIES?
Dustin: The biggest triumph was the ability to do it as a job full-time not only for myself but to be able to hire so many friends and talented people to do it with me.
Robert: What was the biggest headache from it all?
Dustin: The entire thing was a headache ha ha. Not to be a Debbie Downer, but yeah it was insanely hard. Too hard really. We were operating in that crazy mode of burning on all cylinders that you would normally do to just get a show going or your first feature film or something like that, like the crazy stories you hear of people just starting out. Which we were, but it never leveled out into a “normal” production, it was absolutely insane for a year and a half and it never stopped. It’s a tough balance between being able to make art as a living but also going insane and living a miserable life in doing so, I’m sad to say that’s why I had to finally step away.
Robert: What was the craziest thing that ever happened when producing one of these programs?
Dustin: Hmm, I don’t know about craziest but I’ll never forget the group of kids that accumulated in front of my house when I was on the roof dressed as Iron Man. Or the group of homies hanging out in the park who reluctantly dropped their “too cool” attitudes for one minute while they took a big group photo with Ben dressed as Batman.
Robert: Several of your shows had incredible production values and passion behind them. What are – say – your top 10 favorite HOMEMADE MOVIES?
Dustin: Shoot that’s so hard to pick. Firstly I LOVED making the two music videos – You know what I can’t possible list any I seriously love every single one of them. I poured my heart and soul into every frame of every episode.
Robert: Out of the 50 shows that you did, what were – say – the shows that you are not that crazy about, or I should say you wished had worked out better? Do you feel it was a learning curve, or that maybe it was a case of biting off more than the team could chew?
Dustin: Like I said I love them all, I honestly don’t feel we could have done any of them better, we never compromised on the quality. But I was sad with a few that no one watched haha, like our Sock Puppet Reservoir Dogs (which has the most amazing Steve Buscemi impression in it!) and I thought our Dracula would’ve done better. Also I can’t believe that our Star Wars starring Chris Hardwick as Luke Skywalker doesn’t have 10 million views!
Robert: I feel there are a lot of techniques for design, construction, special effects, costuming etc. that can be learned from watching the Behind The Scenes of HOMEMADE MOVIES. How do you feel this has helped you become a better filmmaker?
Dustin: Every episode was a learning experience, it was always an exercise in “thinking outside the box” which is exactly what I love to do. I learned a lot about lighting too since every single shot has a new lighting setup and you are matching what the filmmakers did, you learn about how to light shots. (And keep in mind one trailer could have up to 60, sometimes 80 shots in it so that’s a lot of different lighting!)
Robert: Your lovely wife appeared in a few of the shows – as well as some of your professional projects. How was it for the both of you being involved and using your house for quite a bit of the filming?
Dustin: First I should say that she is the most patient wife ever for letting this all happen in the house because I should point out that our tiny house was not only a full-time workshop where we made everything, we shot almost every episode there as well which require totally tearing rooms apart and dressing them as something else (sometimes an entire forest or pirate ship, who knows!) So as fun as it sounds, that is a difficult thing to live with too. You can’t just go home at the end of the day and get away from it for a bit, you are always in it. She does have a few cameos here and there so that was always fun, my favorite was her dressed in the Ninja Turtle costume which was huge on her!
Robert: Dustin, you have gotten busy with professional projects and went on hiatus from HOMEMADE MOVIES. CineFix has continued on with different filmmakers during your absence. Would you be willing to come back and do more if it was more of a rotation-type deal for the show? Say you and 2 – 3 other filmmakers took turns? I’m sure the fans would love to see you back.
Dustin: I’d totally be willing to do that, I’d love to direct a few more. In fact I would’ve liked to have worked something like that out rather than just leaving cold turkey but I simply haven’t heard from CineFix at all, it just sort of ended and then I saw that there were making more. It’s a little too much for the entire burden of a show being solely on one person’s shoulders, I started up an entire production company to make it happen which operated entirely independently. It was great to have that freedom to just do our thing but at the same time I had to take care of every single thing from the ground up. It would be great to have more people handling the coordinating and producing and I could focus on directing and editing. But I’m a do-it-all-yourself kind of guy so I guess that’s why they reached out to me in the first place.
Robert: You are a Pasadena, CA based professional filmmaker. I have seen the rock and music videos you have produced, and they are incredible! Your youtube site is at www.youtube.com/DustFilmsOriginals and you produce professionally made videos with software and equipment that you couldn’t use on HOMEMADE MOVIES. Can you tell us the scope and range of the type of projects you work on? What is the best way for someone in the Hollywood vicinity to get a hold of you to hire your talents?
Dustin: Thank you I’m glad you like them! Mainly we would just never use After Effects which is a program used for compositing and visual effects. So in those music videos I did a lot more manipulating of the video and adding in effects and things which is something we never did in Homemade Movies. I’ve done a few live action music videos and I even directed a music video for the song “Ringtone” off Weird Al’s previous album. I’ve worked in animation for several years as well including an entire season of an animated show called The Cutting Room which I created simultaneously with Homemade Movies for CineFix for 12 episodes. I sort of just dabble in a lot of things from graphics and effects to full blown music production. I did all of the music and sound effects for every episode of Homemade Movies using only my voice but I play many instruments and have recorded several albums of original music as well. Check out our two music videos that I mentioned “I Love You Iron Man” and “Great Scott”, I wrote and performed the music for those as well! You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’m @DustFilms on Twitter and Instagram and on Vine as DustFilms too. Also www.facebook.com/DustFilms and the DustFilmsOriginals channel that you mentioned.
Robert: Dustin, thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, and we at Smash or Trash wish you continued success. Is there anything else you’d like to say to our audience?
Dustin: Thank you! Just be sure to check out my channel and subscribe, I’ve got a lot of cool things coming out soon but I have a very limited audience there at the moment and every view counts so I can keep making more! Also I am happy to reply to comments and questions and part of the fun for me is showing people how I do stuff in the behind-the-scenes videos to help encourage others to be creative as well, so feel free to hit me up!
So there you have it folks. Dustin McLean has some incredible videos to check out so make sure you subscribe to DUSTFILMS. His latest is a funny take on the STAR WARS bridge scene, and Dustin is appearing as an actor on an upcoming HOMEMADE MOVIES as Indiana Jones! What are you waiting for? Go check his stuff out!