Working With A Comics Illustrator Pt. 1

by Jimmy on June 5, 2018

After having no luck searching for and emailing illustrators to request their skills (and yes, I said I would pay), I decided to let the illustrators come to me to do my graphic novel, Los Poncheros.  I went on the contracting service Upwork and put up a detailed job posting for a graphic novels illustrator.  I received over 15 proposals within a week.  I was pleasantly surprised that the majority of them were quite skilled.  I got proposals from male and female illustrators in the U.S., France, Brazil, Vietnam, and Poland.  I shortlisted the candidates down to five and I asked them to do a free sample page from my script.  All of them agreed, but only four returned actual samples.  For a graphic novel, I think receiving samples from an illustrator is important because most can replicate many styles.  However, you just don’t know how that style will mesh with your writing style and the tone of your story until you see it.  After two weeks, I received all of the samples back and I settled on one illustrator.   

*Note – My proposal ended up being for 20 illustrated and colored pages, so one sample page (penciled) was a relatively easy ask for the illustrators.  If you have a smaller project, you might have to pay for a sample, which could still be worth it to make sure you got the write person.      

Working with an illustrator on Upwork is pretty convenient.  All of your messages, contracts, and attachments are stored on the website for eternity and can be searched by keyword.  Upwork acts as the impartial intermediary.  Still, the relationship between writer and illustrator is just as susceptible to miscommunication and arguments as if you were working with a good friend.  As the creator/writer, you are paying the illustrator and you are in charge of making sure the work is delivered the way you want it, but you should still treat the illustrator as your partner, if not equal.  When your graphic novel takes off and gets picked up by a publisher, you may need them on your team.  There should be some give and take to keep the relationship healthy.    

The key is to have a very detailed comic script ready for the illustrator from the start.  I learned that pasting in actual images into the comic script to go along with my word descriptions was extremely helpful.  Early on, when I was receiving samples from illustrators, I found that their interpretations of my script could vary a lot.  For me, I already had a visual image in my head of what each scene should look like and to see it executed differently on the page was very jarring.  Most of the time, I didn’t like it.  Mere words were not enough.  So when using Dark Horse’s script format, I decided to embed images so the illustrator knew exactly what I wanted.  

Los Ponc

As you can see from the embedded comic script, for one of my characters named Turbin Corbett, I wanted him to look like a red-haired John Brown.  Instead of only writing it down and forcing the illustrator to find an image of John Brown, which can be different depending on his age, I put in the exact image I wanted.  On page two, in earlier comic script versions, I didn’t specify what color the river should be even though I said it was somewhere in the “Upper Missouri.”  If you Google Image search Upper Missouri River, you will find images that have it containing blue, grey, brown, or even green water.  When the illustrator, operating off limited information, made it a green river, it looked like they were in the Amazon rainforest.  On the updated script, I specified the river should be “aqua blue” and I threw in an image for added measure.  

For the Los Poncheros contract, the illustrator and I agreed to two milestones.  50% would be paid after the penciling and lettering was completed.  Then 50% for the inking and coloring.  The illustrator would send me two pages at a time to review when he finished them.  I would request or recommend changes.  Here is one for instance.  This is his first draft for page two with only penciling.   

graphic novel penciling

And this is the change request that I made: “Looking real good. Yeah, I think I put too much dialogue in there. Can we take out the “Nary would the day arrive” line? Also, can you have the Big Blackfoot Warrior higher up on that bank. Like he just appeared over the ledge. At the top, for more dramatic effect. Otherwise, looks great.”  I tried to be clear and encouraging. 

And this is how it turned out.  
graphic novel illustration coloredPretty dang good if you ask me.  Of course, you need an illustrator who knows comics and is able to think independently, allowing the illustrator to make changes to your script when necessary.  When first embarking on this project, I was relatively new to comics.  I hadn’t even read Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud for goodness sake.  I knew I was a greenhorn and one of the first things I asked people in my proposal/request for bids was “What are some of your favorite graphic novels?”  This illustrator that I eventually chose mentioned, East of West and Southern Bastards.  Luckily, they had both of these titles at my local used book store and I bought them.  Although, not as well-written as one of the few graphic novels I’ve read, The Watchmen, East of West and Southern Bastards helped me understand the illustrator’s taste.  And that is important because you want the illustrator to work on a project that they would actually read themselves.  They will be much more joyful and invested if they are interested and it will show in the work.    

Besides, you know, actually drawing everything, the illustrator was also invaluable when it came to the nuances of panel layout, dialogue placement, expressions, and character perspectives.  Here is an example.  Originally, I had laid out page four with six panels.  However, I told the illustrator from the beginning that he could change the layout anyways he wanted, deferring to his expertise and allowing him to interpret the script more. 

Los Poncheros - Comic Script page 4

He ended up interpreting the page with ten panels.  

graphic novel page colored I think the change is good.  It adds more tension and surprise to the page than I had originally written.  Another subtle change he made was switching the gutters from black to white.  I didn’t even realize how much this improved the page.  Stay tuned for part two of my blog posts on “Working with a Comics Illustrator.”  I’ll talk about subjects on which I had to go back and forth with the illustrator several times: daguerreotypes and Asian faces.   


los poncheros graphic novelMy story, Los Poncheros, went from feature script to TV pilot to graphic novel

First, here is some background on my story, Los Poncheros: 
 The racially diverse members of an outlawed, poncho-wearing gang find themselves on opposing sides of a conflict in a turbulent Western territory. The former friends must choose between their old ideals of cooperation and diversity and the current ideals of individualism, greed, and segregation.

After completing the feature script of Los Poncheros, I was able to get my wife and my best friends to read it.  I even had a women-only book club read it and was invited to their meeting to discuss it with them.  Although, only two of the six members actually read it.  I learned something from everyone that provided feedback.  I learned which characters and scenes they liked and didn’t like.  Most importantly, I found out about which parts were confusing.  As a writer, you will think your story is super clear as well as super brilliant, but oftentimes the reader will get lost in your script.  You could just say, “Well, it will make sense on the big screen,” but it should really make sense in the script first.  

After exhausting my network of free readers, I realized I had to get some professional feedback.  I needed people that read scripts for a living to dive deeper into my structure, plot, tone, arcs, and themes.  I needed notes on the script written out as opposed to coming in casual conversation.  There are many script reading services that you can find online or in the Reddit community, but these are the three that I used: The Black List, ScriptGal, and The Screenplay Mechanic.  My primary goal for using all of these services was to improve the story.  Of course, I secretly hoped that they would all love the story and boost my ego, but really, one’s friends and family should serve that role.  

Here’s what I learned from the three services.  I have also attached their full evaluations.  

The Black List (Cost: $75 for evaluation + $25 to host the script on their service), date of review: May 23, 2017

Snippet from review: “LOS PONCHEROS has an ethnically diverse cast with lively characters and colorful dialogue. But the story and character goals/arcs are somewhat lost amid the protracted dialogue and action description, and the few females in the script are objectified and marginalized.”

How I fixed the script:  My initial reaction to this review was disappointment and anger.  I thought the reader was overly sensitive.  This was a violent Western after all.  But after thinking about what the reader said about the script marginalizing women, I realized I was wrong.  Although the overwhelming majority of people out West in the 1860s were men, there were also brave women out there, who were not prostitutes or there simply to take care of the children, while the men went off on adventures.  Women had a large role in shaping and taming the Wild West.  I made a concerted effort to strengthen the Navajo female characters and even the prostitute in my story.    

I knew I needed to shorten my dialogue, but having a paid reader call it out helped drive the point home.  I love writing dialogue, but sometimes it can become too long, especially with a complex story like mine.  I cut back the dialogue a lot, but was still aware of the fact that dialogue doesn’t have to be quick and snappy just because it’s easier to read and just because a great writer like George R. R. Martin said so.  Quentin Tarantino’s scripts feature large chunks of dialogue that translated well to the big screen.  It worked for Tarantino because he is a good director and the dialogue is in his stories is interesting, not expository.  

Read The Black List’s full review of Los Poncheros

ScriptGal (Cost: $125), date of review: June 26, 2017

Snippets from review “It’s really hard to distill this very complex, ensemble story down to a single logline that conveys any of the excitement, humor, and intricacies of this script. The writer has done nothing short of a heroic job weaving these different yet connecting storylines together, while incorporating flashbacks to show what the former gang were like in their heyday.”

“So overall…. I really enjoyed this script! It felt, at times, like the Quentin Tarantino version of SILVERADO! In a good way. As mentioned, the characters and dialogue are really very strong. And we are invested in the story of these four former brothers-in-arms.”

How I fixed the script: “Heroic job.” “Quentin Tarantino version of SILVERADO!”  Obviously, I liked this reader and her comments.  I was feeling myself after reading her review.  But after calming down, I noticed that she too was confused with many points in the script.  There are just so many characters and storylines to juggle.  She offered a very simple solution: add text in the form of supers to introduce new chapters or acts.  I followed her advice and went back through to make sure everything made sense to the reader.  

Read ScriptGal’s full review of Los Poncheros 

The Screenplay Mechanic (Cost: $129), date of review: July 28, 2017

Snippets from review: “We want to underscore the positives in this material. There are technical issues to fix and plenty of criticism below, but some of the elements at work in these pages are genuinely a great deal of fun.  Above all else, the characters are great, the tone is a blast, and the “world” of the story and the themes swirling within are compelling. From there, it’s a matter of taking a chainsaw to these pages to both fix some technical glitches and to reshape the plot into something with more clarity and commercialism.”

“Westerns are tough business. There’s no way around that cold, hard reality in the current landscape. A decade or so ago, the domestic box-office ruled the world and whatever a movie grossed in the U.S., producers only expected 50% of that amount at the international box-office. Consequently, the pictures which fared well with American audiences ruled the day. Now, in recent years, this formula has flipped. International box-office is now worth double or triple domestic. As a result, producers, studio execs,and financiers want project which will work globally. Unfortunately, there are several genres which are very culture-specific. Comedy and drama are in that category. What’s funny in, say, Kansas may not get laughs in Romania. Here, where LOS PANCHEROS is concerned, our worry is that the western genre has very limited international appeal.”

How I fixed the script: After the high of the ScriptGal review, I was brought back down to Earth from this review.  Although he had good things to say about the script, I was more focused on his thoughts on the prospects or lack thereof in making a Western.  He also said I needed to take a chainsaw to the script.  Yikes.  After the ScriptGal review, I had decided to add a fake Ken Burns-like documentary as the opening to help with explaining the story quickly to the audience.  Intersteller had an actual Ken Burns documentary in its story, so why not me?  I thought it was clever, but The Screenplay Mechanic tore it apart.  He was right. 

Another comment he made was that he wanted to see the members of Los Poncheros together earlier.  I had deliberately written the script to have their storylines separate until the middle when they reunited.  However, in doing so, the audience may not have had a real strong connection to them as a group.  They may have asked, who are “Los Poncheros” and why should I care?  So I added an exciting opening that showed Los Poncheros together as young men exploring the Upper Missouri River and I took out the faux-Kens Burn opening. 

Still, the opinion he gave on the viability of Westerns was hard to let go of.  Then I thought of something that ScripGal had told me in our telephone conversation (more on that later).  She said that my story would have a better chance as a TV series or graphic novel.  I ran this idea by The Screenplay Mechanic and he said, “TV isn’t a bad idea. Features are plot, TV is character. Your script leans towards character big time.”  Then in November 2017, Netflix premiered Godless, a Western mini-series.  My dreams of getting Los Poncheros out into the world was reinvigorated. 

Read The Screenplay Mechanic’s full review of Los Poncheros

Conclusion:  $354 is a lot of money to spend on reviews for one script.  I probably will not do it again.  It was my first feature script and I was overly excited.  Until I build up a network of writer/movie-making friends, I will probably stick with ScriptGal for future scripts if I need professional feedback.  It’s not just because she flattered me with her positive review, but she offered good and simple suggestions to fix my script.  She also offered me a free telephone conversation to talk about the script and from this, I built up a nice rapport with her.  She is a nice person and it’s always good to have another writer and reader as a friend on the lonely journey of writing.

The only other service I would consider is The Finish Line Script Competition.  For $100, you get 5-6 pages of development notes and entry into their screenplay competition.  The beauty of their service is that you can resubmit a revised script after digesting their development notes free of charge up until the last competition deadline. 

After all these reviews and notes, where am I now?  First, I turned the feature script of Los Poncheros into a TV pilot.  Then I used the TV pilot script and turned it into a comic script following Dark Horse Comics’ script template.  Then I used Upwork, the online contracting service, to find a talented graphic novel illustrator to draw 10-20 pages of Los Poncheros using my comic script as a guideline.  The beauty of Upwork is that I got over 20 different artists who replied to my proposal.  Some of them even offered to do free sample pages for me, which I accepted.  When I asked some of the other artists that I thought would be a good fit for my project if they could do some free sample pages, they readily agreed.  I think the key to getting free samples was the strength of my proposal.  I was very clear in what I wanted and was expecting.  After receiving free samples from five different artists, I chose the best candidate and we are now currently working on Los Poncheros, the graphic novel.  From these first pages that we complete, I will then shop it around to different publishers to see if they will pick up the series. 

My hope is that people will love the graphic novel series so much that it will gain a large following.  Then maybe it will get picked up as a TV show or turned into a movie.  Just trying to keep the dream alive as best as I can.  More updates to come.  

Page one from Los Poncheros, the graphic novel


Chicken On Wire

by Jimmy on November 28, 2012

To fulfill his destiny and experience the highs of glory, a man prepares to walk across a slackline with his beloved chicken.

Making the Movie:
Man On Wire is one of my favorite movies of all time.  Not only was the movie a remarkable work of art and clever docuthriller, but Philippe Petit’s grand imagination and single-minded focus on achievement influenced me greatly.  Philippe, like other steadfast documentary protagonists such as Jiro Ono of Jiro Dreams of Sushi or Steve Wiebe of King of Kong – A Fistful of Quarters, taught me that no matter how straightforward (making the best sushi) or trivial (high score on an arcade game), making reality of any dream is one of the greatest highs in life.  Dreaming is a comfortable bosom in which to lay, however, after a pause you should come to realize that she’s a nasty old mistress who will keep you prone and intoxicated your whole life.  Be prolific in accomplishing those simple, trivial, wild, inexplicable dreams and real life will essentially become one long, sweet dream.

My whimsical dream: learn how to slackline across my yard.  My practical dream: learn how to raise pastured poultry.  My lifelong dream: make great movies.  Combine the three dreams and you get Chicken On Wire.  It took me almost one year, although I did not practice regularly, to learn how to walk across my yard (approximately 50 feet) on the slackline.  Learning how to slackline takes much longer than learning how to ride a bike, but it is similar in that once you learn it’s almost as if you never forget how to do it.  There were times when I would go months without slacklining and then take it out one day and I would not miss a step.

Learning how to raise chickens took some science and a little bit of folk art.  The science came in the form of Joel Salatin’s Pastured Poultry Profits and the art came in the form of country wisdom on forums.  I even got a design for my A-frame mobile chicken coop from the website.  Chickens are generally easy to raise.  It’s really in the first 2 months of their life and after a year of laying when they are susceptible to death.  To elaborate, they’re more likely to die from the cold, diseases, or predators when really young or be culled by the farmer after a full year of laying when their egg production slows.  To reiterate, raising chickens is easy, but keeping them happy and healthy takes extra effort like moving their mobile coop to fresh pasture every morning or putting drops of apple cider vinegar in their water to main their digestive health.  For those of you who are wondering if I’ll cull my hens after their second year of life, I’ll calm your fears by saying that since these are my first chickens I’ll let them live out the rest of their lives without having to pass through a killing cone.

I pursued these two dreams of walking a slackline and raising backyard chickens independent of each other.  The idea to combine the two into a movie only came when I realized that traditional slackline tricks like doing bounces, front flips, back flips, yoga moves, and juggling would take too much time or risk too much injury.  Moreover, for video purposes it was much more unique and easy to walk across a slackline with a chicken under my arm than to do any of those other tricks.  I checked on YouTube and there are suprisingly zero chicken slacklining videos, but dozens of videos with people jumping the hell out of some slackline.  Also, walking across a slackline with a chicken under my arm kept in the grand tradition of silly tightrope stunts.  For instance, the Great Charles Blondin was reported to have walked across the gorge of Niagara Falls on a tightrope while pushing a wheelbarrow that contained a small stove.  He then proceeded to light a fire and cook an omelette while suspended on the rope, and then lowered the omelette down to passengers on the Maid of the Mist, who ate it before Blondin continued his crossing of the gorge.

Indeed walking across the slackline with my Rhode Island Red under my arm was quite easy after having mastered the slackline with the use of both arms.  I was able to walk across the line with my chicken on the first two takes without falling off.  Full disclosure: my hen was not harmed in the making of the movie and seemed to enjoy being a movie star.  You would have thought she was another traditional farm animal because she was truly “hamming” it up for the camera.

Movie Poster - Chicken On Wire


Shielded Metal – A Welding Documentary

by Jimmy on November 1, 2012

A documentary about the gritty beauty of welding. Professors and students from the Northern Virginia Community College arc welding class star in this short movie and help give a brief history of welding (including the grand history of women in welding), their motivations for pursuing a career in welding, and the great assortment of things you can create from metal and heat.

Making the Movie:
It’s been almost a year to the day since I posted something on the Jimbob Movies website and what better way to get back into the swing of things than to premiere a new documentary.  Hopefully, this will assuage the fears of the few Jimbob Movies fans out there, if not my own fears, that I have not and will not stop making movies.  I just took a hiatus to focus on starting a small farm.  I recently bought a 13 acre farm in Fauquier County, Virginia and leading up to that purchase I decided to enhance my on-farm acumen with some needed technical skills like welding.  Welding and farming have been a natural match since the early 20th century when tractors slowly started to replace draft animals on the family farm.  Farmers were able to using various welding processes to repair and modify their tractors and the attachments that were pulled and pushed by those tractors.   Of course, you don’t really need to be a good welder to be a good farmer.  You just need to know enough and have a steady hand.  In fact, often times people call a bad weld a “farmer’s weld.”

"Confederates in the Attic" describes the city of Manassas a little too accurately

In that grand tradition, I wanted to learn how to weld as a good as a farmer so I enrolled in the Arc Welding class at Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC) during the Spring semester of 2012.  The classes were held in my hometown of Manassas, Virginia.  A quick profile of Manassas for those of you who don’t know is best summarized by Tony Horwitz in his book Confederates in the Attic: “Modern Manassas, a fast-growing bedroom community for Washington, was so hideous that some locals called it “Manasshole.”  The town had gained modern renown as the place where Lorena Bobbitt hacked off her husband’s penis and tossed it in the grass outside a 7-Eleven.  The town’s historic railroad junction, which had caused North and South to clash here twice in the space of thirteen months, was now swaddled by miles of housing tracts, fast-food joints and car dealerships.  Civil War entrenchments had been bulldozed to make way for bowling alleys, shops, offices, and access roads, many of them named for the history they’d obliterated: Confederate Trail, Dixie Pawn, Battlefield Ford, Reb Yank Shopping Center.”

I guess Tony Horwitz can get away with saying that stuff about Manassas because he’s an “unbiased” author, but if anyone outside of Manassas said that I’d punch them in the face.  I actually lived on a street named “Confederate Trail” at one point in my life.  Indeed Manassas is a gritty, blue collar, strip mall kind of place and it was the perfect setting for a welding program.  The class cost a little over $300 when the price of the textbook was calculated in.  A small price to pay to learn a trade that will last a lifetime.  I was excited for my first class to begin; however, when I walked into the classroom on that first day I did have my reservations.  Here was a class full of white, blue collar, tobacco-chewing guys, some of whom had the thickest Southern accents I had ever heard in my life.  I guess I had grown up in the more northern part of Manassas.  Needless to say, I was the only Vietnamese in the class.  I had expected at least one hipster/artist in the class who wanted to start a bicycle repair shop or boutique welding shop that built intricate arbors for the McMansions in McLean.  Sadly, I was that hipster.  For many of the guys in the class, welding was going to be more than a hobby.  They wanted to pursue a career in welding and were taking all of the welding courses to earn their Welding Certificate.

Welding Professor Carrie Rossi

Welding Professor Carrie Rossi pounding away at some hot metal

Not to be anti-climatic, but things turned out just fine after the initial stock-taking that happens when a group of guys who don’t know each other get thrown together into a confined space.  Maybe I was the oddball at first, but that luster began to fade.  People who work with their hands for a living respect hard work more than anything else and you can’t bullshit that.  In the end, everyone accepted me as just another Manasshole Man.  It also didn’t hurt that the professor was a lovely, petite woman who had a charming laugh.  Her name was Carrie Rossi.  She was from a family of welders and her dad had taught welding at NVCC.  Now she was taking up his legacy as a welding professor.  Carrie was patient, encouraging, and balanced the male egos in the shop with her grace and quiet confidence.  She had quite a career in welding working on the Hubble Space Telescope, military vehicles, and various welding projects on the estates of the rich and powerful like an unnamed Senator.  She made me feel instantly comfortable and at home in the shop.

After passing all my weld tests (flat, vertical, horizontal, and a butt joint), I decided that my class project would be to make a documentary of my professor and fellow classmates.  Most of my classmates were open to being in the movie and some agreed to be interviewed.  They were open and honest and I loved how none of their dreams included spending years in a cubicle staring at a computer.  They wanted to work with their hands and they wanted to produce.  The b-roll footage turned out crisp and I hope that I was able to capture the arcane beauty of being under that welding helmet and seeing metal burn, crack, and glow at unnaturally high temperatures (over 11,000 degrees F).  There is something calming and magical about welding that has drawn me in.  Or maybe it was all the hydrocarbons that I was inhaling.  Either way, I hope to show off my farmer’s welds along with my farmer’s tan one day.

Director and welder Jimmy Nguyen

Future Welder of America


If making a movie is tantamount to giving birth then a movie premiere can be akin to showing off your newborn at a family reunion.  At both events, you are among people who connect with you on a personal level.  These people will usually see your newest creation as something to be adored, if not appreciated.  Everyone is joyful.  You are happy.  Now if we can extend the movie production/baby-making comparison further, we might say that submitting your movie into an actual competition can be compared favorably with entering your child into preschool or kindergarten.  The event is filled with some trepidation as it is the precise moment you unleash your creation to the cannibals.  You tell yourself that it had to be done, but you know full well that something will be gone forever.  On rare occasions, if disciplined, you can still look back with nostalgia at how brave and pure your original pursuit once was and how at one moment during that transcendental time when day begins to creep into night, when you in your glorious solitude, half-naked, sleep-deprived and high on adrenaline had held in between your hands for what seemed like a lifetime something undeniably, absolutely perfect.  But after this moment,  that perfection will disappear and once again become a myth.  But what of love, you ask?  Yes, there will always be love.  The love still remains for your creation, but it will be of the ordinary, unconditional type.

Disclaimer: I have never had a child, but I do intend to have one.

Jimmy Nguyen wins 4-H First Place Blue Ribbon for moviesFor me, it’s all about the feel of that blue ribbon on my cheeks.

So with all that being said, I want to share with you the results of entering my last two movies, Warm Clothes and The Golden Mother, into the 4-H Short Film Contest at the Fairfax 4-H Fair, which took place this past August 2011.  Before we proceed, a bit of background on the 4-H Fair.  The fair is a place where 4-H kids are allowed to show off their wonderful creations (artwork, photography, sewing), talents (barrel jumping with horses, gardening, floriculture, tractor pulling, dog agility), and animals (dogs, rabbits, cows, goats, pigs, and things made from dead animals).  It really is a wonderful atmosphere that allows children and teenagers to show off their amazing potential or rather how amazing they are right now and how lackluster and unproductive you were at their age.  All of their creations, talents, and animals are also judged and awarded ribbons.  So what was I doing entering my movies into a 4-H Fair for kids?  Well, I did enter my movies into the “Open” category designated for adults who want to try and muscle in on the excitement.  Also, my wife is the 4-H Extension Agent for Fairfax County and she asked that I enter my movies.  You see, she kind of organizes the whole thing.  And this was the first year the movie competition took place at the fair and so there were not a lot of entries.  And, who am I kidding?  I wanted that damned blue 4-H ribbon.  Because blue equals First Place.  And First Place equals winner.

4-H Judges’ comments and scores on “Warm Clothes”:

Judge No. 1 –
“Believable characters”
“Very interesting – connecting scientific study to real world”
“Dragged a little”
“Wonderful variety of shots and angles”
“The section where the zebra dryer was created seemed a bit long”
“The accompanying music selections were very nice – added to the tone of the piece”
“After watching this movie I wanted to ‘scrow up’ – a combination of scream and throw up’” (okay, I made this one up)
Final score: 52/60
Judge No. 2 –
“He should have defined the “warmth” part a little clearer- why they were putting on warm clothes – its effect on their lives”
“Random people and the violinist should have played for us to hear.”
“I didn’t know that the dryer was actually working or if they were just sticking their clothes in there.”
“Definitely original”
“The Zebra Dryer making was too long”
“dragged a little parts were confusing”
“Movie lacked someone who can command your attention like that guy John Stossel does to me when he turns to the camera during one of his investigative reports on that 20/20 show and he starts to furrow his brows and flare his nostrils and I think the behind the scenes people might start dimming the lighting because I notice his complexion changes and gets all serious like and you can tell he’s fed up with something and he starts to say things, powerful things, only I don’t remember what, all I know is that I get lost in the way his mustache moves up and down and up and down and – this movie didn’t have that and it was sorely missed by this judge.”
Final score: 50/60

Final award: Blue Ribbon – First Place Winner

John Stossel from 20/20

For Judge No. 2, Warm Clothes lacked John Stossel.

Judges’ comments and scores on “The Golden Mother”:

Judge No. 1 –
“Fascinating topic and talent”
“Nice choices in complimentary clips”
“Loved this film!” (I did not add the exclamation point)
“Interesting framing, panning, etc.  Very professional feel”
“Great use of the ‘classic’ clips with interviews”
“The piece was a good length – kept my attention the whole time
Final score: 53/60
Judge No. 2 – “Unique”
Final score: 50/60
Final award: Blue Ribbon – First Place Winner
(Editor’s note: The judge’s comment about John Stossel was made up)


Warm Clothes movie – Watch it here

by Jimmy on June 4, 2011


Movie synopsis: Inspiration comes to Matt as he sits in a landromat, listening to a Radiolab podcast.  From the perfect confluence of events, Matt, an everyday provocateur, decides to build a social experiment to see how much difference a little warmth can make in people’s lives. Much to his surprise or intended plans, a beautiful woman becomes part of his experiment and the seed for a boy meets girl story is sown in the fertile cylinder of a zebra dryer.

Starring: Mike Wissner and Dana De Filippi
Guest appearances by: Raycurt Johnson, Portia Richae, and Lenah Nguyen
Music by Stan Getz

Making the movie (spoiler alert, watch the movie before you read): Warm Clothes is a movie that suits my style perfectly.  No script, ever-changing, actors and actress casted on the fly, and an orgy of stolen shots in public places.  Running around Virginia and D.C. with that zebra dryer felt like I was peeing in my hot tub.  In other words, it felt like I could do anything I wanted because I owned the place.  I don’t actually own a hot tub, but I do pee in them.

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Movie Synopsis: The community of Kings Park in Springfield, Virginia is just like Any Suburb, U.S.A.  Uniformity and familiarity prevail as you pass through the neighborhood up until you spot the 30-foot golden statue rising up from behind a house.  That house belongs to Michael Meredith, a general contractor, part-time sculptor, and unconventional suburbanite.  The documentary is a light-hearted history and exploration of  the eponymous statue and its creator and the reactions they get from neighbors, aspiring artists, and commuters, who are witnesses.


Making the movie (spoiler alert, read only after watching movie): Who doesn’t love listening to This American Life and the extraordinary stories they tell of “ordinary” Americans?  Some of my favorites episodes are Superpowers, DIY, My Experimental Phase, and of course, Home Movies.  These stories tell of people engaging in activities that range from the remarkable (spending decades trying to get your best friend out of prison) to the whimsical (a boy trying excitedly to find his superpower) and they are all very approachable.  So much so that it kind of inspired me to go out and make a documentary about something in my immediate world.  Well, there was no better subject or less subtle one than the 30-foot statue that stood 5 minutes from my house.  I am being a bit bold when I say that the large statue was an obvious choice for me because in reality it was my wife who told me about the statue  even though I had probably driven down Southampton Drive, where the statue stands,  more than a dozen times without seeing it.

After my wife’s half-hearted attempts at explaining to me what I should be looking for and where, I rode down the approximately 2 mile drive several more times and still didn’t spot the statue.  Our roommate at the time came home one evening and exclaimed that she had indeed seen the statue with her very own eyeballs.  I felt the same type of dread when those Magic Eye posters were popular, which is to say not much.  I can be patient for these magical moments.  I wasn’t going to sweat it.  Okay, maybe I was a little jealous. [click to continue…]

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Did Sean Mullen like Warm Clothes? Find out below.

Warm Clothes Review by Sean Mullen

In Director Jimmy Nguyen’s latest short film, Warm Clothes, the filmmaker shies away from the comedic narrative that we’ve come to expect. Instead, what we get is something that is more like cinema poetry, where each viewer can have a different interpretation of the meaning.  Regardless of what the abstract story might mean, the ending result is sure to leave you feeling….warm.

The film kicks off with a man (Mike Wissner) in a laundromat listening to a segment of a podcast that tells a story of a social experiment conducted by a college professor at Yale University. The voiceover used here will captivate the audience immediately as they then begin to wonder how it will tie into the plot and title of the film – an excellent way to kick things off.

Moving forward, we are shown a series of shots that follow the man who is working on a unique project with a dryer (which is, for some reason, separated from its partner- the washing machine).  We get a few snippets of some feel good music as we follow the man and his special project across town.  It is interesting to see how the public reacts to the dryer as Nguyen’s trademark documentary-like filming style is used in full force. The camera stays stationary for a good part of the shots which gives us a very honest and organic experience. Unfortunately, this is where we lose some of the mojo from the opening act.  After awhile, this section of the film becomes a little redundant which contains practically zero dialogue.  It would have been nice to hear a bit more of the voiceover from the opening scene, perhaps a thought-provoking quote of some sort played over the music would have been a nice touch.

The end of the film is where the audience will regain the interest they had and is probably the best part of this picture. A woman (Dana De Filippi) crosses paths with our protagonist’s project.  The film concludes with the two characters becoming involved in the beginning of a boy-meets-girl romance and leaves the audience hopeful for their relationship.

Due to the originality of the story’s concept, the effective camera technique and the chemistry between the two actors, this is my favorite film of Jimmy Nguyen’s so far.

Come watch the premiere of Warm Clothes on May 28 (Saturday).  Email for directions.


Finally finished my first two movies for the year.  It only took me five months, but I think the extra time spent on each movie will make it that much more enjoyable.  Hope you can come.  Email me for directions to the movie premiere.


I have been talking about finishing a documentary on D.C. street musicians since February 2009.  That was the month and year in which I filmed my first street musician, Trumpet Man John, at L’enfant Plaza.  In 2009 and 2010, I must have filmed and interviewed over 25 different street musicians in D.C. and NYC and recorded over 35 hours of footage all in the hope of putting together a documentary that was the realest movie ever made about street musicians.  Alas, it is 2011 and I haven’t filmed a street musician in over 8 months and haven’t even looked at all the footage I had acquired in the previous years.  Will I ever finish this movie?  I hope so.  I need a devoted editor!

However, I will always remember fondly those warm summer days when I walked around for hours from metro station to metro station listening for the sounds of music trying to decipher whether it was a trumpet being played a few blocks away or if it was just a metro bus braking abruptly.  So why am I sharing all these warm, fuzzy memories?  Well, a week or two ago, Nick Broad from the Busking Project emailed me and asked if he could showcase my Busking D.C. trailer on his website.  Of course I said yes and now it’s featured on a probably more visited website.  Check it out here.

And if you want to support their project, check out their kickstarter page.

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