Closure Recap Day 7: New week, new locations, and a great new actor

Closure is in the can (or on the drive to be more 21st Century) and editing has begun.  I have recapped each day of shooting, most recently the last day of our first week of shooting. Next up, another company move. 


It’s the weekend! Well, not a full weekend, it’s actually 33 hours from when we walk off set on Saturday until we are back in bright and early Monday morning. But it’s a great break!

For me, the break was about 15 hours. I did get to enjoy Sunday morning, going to the farmer’s market with my son and my mom; my parents came to town to replace Catia’s mom on grandson-watching duty. After lunch I dove back in on the script, working on cutting pages for our hell day (coming soon, stay tuned) and preparing my shot lists for the coming days. While I always have my big bulky script with me everywhere, I quickly figured out it’s easier to pull up my shot list on my phone, so I need to have it readable and ready to go. Also, Sunday evening was the only time to have a location scout as there were still two locations the creative team hadn’t seen. So Beau, Paul, Senda, and the art department team met up at Flame, a pizza place we are using as a location the next day. After dinner we drove across the valley to a bar we are using on hell day and checked it out. I got home around ten and rushed myself to bed so I could get some sleep before getting up at 5am to start the week.

First location, Flame Restaurant, less than 12 hours after the scout. Another day, another tight space to set up our universe.

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How you know you are in Los Angeles: when even the guy making the pizza has show biz experience. (Photo: Katie Rosin)

As the crew was setting up we did another Prius driving scene. It’s the first scene of dialogue in the film, as Nina encounters her first Angelino, an Uber driver played by the hilarious Amy Heidt. Amy did an excellent job of acting while driving, and after an hour we moved back into the restaurant.

And it was crowded in there. The back half of the restaurant was the set, an intimate restaurant with maybe a half dozen tables. The front half of the restaurant: holding, craft service, production office, wardrobe. Tight is an understatement.

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Catia Ojeda (Nina) waits to act while Gaffer/Key Grip Adam Unruh, Unit Production Manager Justin Kelley, and Director of Photography Senda Bonnet lament the loss of any personal space (Photo: Katie Rosin)

As on any ultra low budget movie, you make the most of the resources you have. So in the background of our restaurant scene were some familiar faces: our producer Katie, Donna (who let us shoot in our house on day 2), our second A.D. Kat, my brother, and my mother.

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The director and his mother. (Photo: Herb Hall)

Another added benefit of having people we know on set is that they are (hopefully) more forgiving of the tighter, cramped conditions.

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Our team is thankful for the working air conditioning. (Photo: Herb Hall)

The scene itself was fairly simple to shoot, once all the elements were in place, and we wrapped early and took a long lunch. Yes, a luxurious nearly 90 minute lunch as even though we wrapped early, we had a company move to our next location and couldn’t enter early. My only regret: we should have given our caterer the day off and let our chef/host cook for us. Our meal the night before proved that you can get great pizza in Los Angeles.

Our next location was a 10 minute drive into the hills for our scene with The Superior, the shady character who may have all the answers Nina is seeking regarding her sister’s disappearance. The Superior is like The Wizard in Oz; the one with all the answers and all the power. In my career so far as a writer/director one of the unexpected joys is getting the chance to work with talented actors I grew up watching on the large and small screens. I directed Billy Dee Williams in the movie Today Will Be Yesterday Tomorrow. Ron Palillo acted in the world premiere of my play I’m in Love with your Wife. And today, the incomparable Dee Wallace. You’d recognize her from Cujo, The Howling, and most famously, starring as the mom in E.T. She is also on Just Add Magic with Catia, who slipped her the script a few months back. She immediately accepted the part, gleefully saying “I get to smack Catia around? Sign me up!”

So here we are on a lovely afternoon, in the backyard of a lovely house next to a pool, watching two talented ladies face off. Just two women, sitting by the pool, casually reclining as they exchange cutting and at times brutal dialogue. As a writer, it was a joy to watch my words leap to life. As a director, all I really had to do was stay out of their way. I gave each actress a few tweaks and suggestions, but mostly stood back and let them do all the work.

And it was great.

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They are not really enemies… it’s all acting! (Photo: Katie Rosin)

Week two, day one is in the can. We are over half way finished with principal photography. We can do this.


Coming up next: creating a police station on a low budget.

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Closure Recap Day 6: Week One Draws to a Close

Closure is in the can (or on the drive to be more 21st Century) and editing has begun.  I have recapped each day of shooting, most recently day five. Next up, another company move. 


Last night may have ended roughly, but fortunately there is no time to overthink things. There is barely enough time to think about anything else. Every night this week we’ve come home, had a lovely dinner prepared by my mother-in-law (sadly, without wine, which I am forgoing the entire shoot), a half dose of a sleeping pill, and then hope for six to seven hours of solid shut eye. My system has been working so far, and even after last night I got some sleep.

Today’s first location is a parking lot. A scene between Nina and DJ Space Coyote (played by Demegio Kimbrough) whom she met in Club. This is a typical information dump scene. You see these all the time on Law & Order as the cops follow a construction worker around as he does his job while he answers their questions – doesn’t anyone actually stop to talk to the police? The trick to these type of scenes is to have something interesting happen visually while your brain uploads the important information. When I first wrote the scene I set it in a mattress store, as Nina accompanies the DJ as he buys a new bed. Throw in an offbeat Indian Mattress Store Clerk and you have an entertaining scene where maybe you learn something important at the same time.

But we can’t afford to rent a mattress store.

Throughout pre-production I kept having to rewrite locations to accommodate our budget. Now we have lots of conversations inside and out front of the apartment, and inside cars. My fear is that it’s too much apartment and cars, and will come off as boring. Catia reminded me many great films have worked with less. And I hope she’s right.

So instead of the mattress store we are in a church parking lot, secured with a donation to the church. All things considered, the scene still has its moments. And to make it entertaining, we reveal a little more about the DJ’s career.

The energy at the lot was pretty chill. It was the last day of the week, we had all survived so far, and no one (other than the production team) had to work insane hours. Katie, one of our producers who joined us from New York two days earlier, was pleased to discover that everyone was relatively happy and the energy was positive. And I couldn’t agree more. People were working hard, all thinking about how to make the movie better.

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Literally, we are made in the shade (Photos courtesy Katie Rosin).

For the last shot of the scene, Nina pulls her Prius out of the spot next to DJ’s Prius (in Closure California, everyone drives a Prius). The rest of the parking lot is empty. To get this shot we needed to be up high. And how do we do that without a crane? Senda wanted to climb to the top of the grip van. The view would be good, but could the roof support her and the camera? Adam, the key grip, looked at me with skepticism. And I agreed. I told Senda “if this was day 12 I’d say go for it, but we need you for another week.”

So we reached a compromise:

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Senda in action, and only putting half her weight on the roof. That’s me behind the van, most likely checking our insurance policy.

Shot achieved! After 3 4/8 pages of shooting, we head back to Denny Ave home base. Three scenes left on our week, two daylight and one evening. All three scenes featured only two actors, Catia and John Sloan. I’ve known them both for years. They work well together. It’s almost so easy that I forget we are attempting eight pages today!

We move relatively quickly, as people are keen to get out and enjoy their one day off. We were worried before production that shooting in this busy neighborhood on a weekend night could be a disaster. We heard horror stories from other shoots of irate neighbors who throw loud parties, looky-loos who hang out off set and heckle, or drunken arguments. The absolute worst: neighbors who hold the movie ransom. They do that by blasting music until a ransom is paid, which can cost hundreds of dollars.

Fortunately, this neighborhood was pretty relaxed. Sure, there were more cars going up and down Denny Avenue, but as we worked into the evening we had very few interruptions.

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Catia Ojeda (Nina) and John Sloan (Jack) do their acting thing while I do my director thing.

We actually got through our eight pages slightly ahead of schedule. Our workday started at noon and we wrapped just after 10pm… over eight pages in ten hours!

But does quantity translate to quality? What I’ve seen on the monitor looks good, but that’s not a complete assessment. We haven’t watched any dailies yet, although Beau promises we’ll have some by the end of the weekend.

As people quickly packed up gear and headed home, I thought back on what we have accomplished. We weathered a rough final days of prep when we had to replace a cast member, multiple people on the crew including a designer and first assistant director, not to mention a caterer. We cut shots, but we didn’t cut any scenes. The actors were doing a great job. We shot 45 pages in six days. And had some fun. Week two was going to be ambitious, but slightly fewer pages and not as many difficult scenes. Well, we had one big day we were already calling “hell day,” but otherwise we can do this.

Right?

On my way out (one of the privileges being director, less for me to wrap up so I can get out earlier) I walked around and thanked the team. My last stop was the grip truck, and I said thanks to Aaron, one of our grips. He just stared at me and didn’t answer back. I didn’t give it a second thought…

… but I found out on Monday that two minutes before I had my brief encounter with Aaron, he had just quit. Why? And I would soon learn that there were others who weren’t happy on our production. And would make that known to us very clearly in the coming days.

But I get ahead of myself. Week one is done. Our 33 hour weekend begins. Next week’s problems can wait for next week.


Coming up: next week is now this week. 

Closure Recap Day 5: Stretch limos and backyard fires

Closure is in the can (or on the drive to be more 21st Century) and editing has begun.  I have recapped each day of shooting, most recently day four. Next up, another company move. 


Day five, and our second full day away from our Denny Avenue home base. We are traveling a whopping 2.8 miles from base camp to a house. A 15 minute drive if traffic is terrible. However, despite the distance there are brand new obstacles to overcome…

…because we have left the city of Los Angeles and entered the city of Burbank.

For those of you unfamiliar with the layout of L.A., the city is spread out like an enormous concrete pancake ranging from the ocean to mountains. From Long Beach in the south to Sylmar in The Valley, that’s 50 miles of city. And in between, there are a number of smaller cities and towns that are completely independent from L.A., such as Beverly Hills, Santa Monica… and Burbank.

Which means a different permit office. And different rules. One rule is that if there are more than a certain number of people on set we need a fire marshall to be there the entire time. Our crew was about twice as large as the minimum required, so we had to hire the fire marshall… at nearly $100 an hour. That is not a typo. Which means as soon as the fire marshall walks on our location, he is instantly the highest paid person on our team by at least five times over.

But before we start shooting at the house, graciously donated my by friends David and Milena (the same Milena who plays Prudence in the movie) a splinter crew of us hopped in a limo for some driving footage.

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Trapped, with nothing to do, and I can’t find the time to take a picture in focus!

While it looks roomy, once the equipment and skeleton crew is in there with us, it got pretty crowded so I was forced to stay put. No complaints here.

We took some shots of the limo driving, then got our actors in for another drive, this time with dialogue.

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Catia is so good at this acting thing she can even do it with her eyes closed. Even Joe Coots (who plays Brock, a bodyguard) is impressed.

Then we parked in the driveway of our location house for even more limo stuff. At this time the fire marshall arrived, and was understandably angry that we started without him. (Well, he would have been angrier if he knew we were driving around town getting shots). Steve was tasked with the unpleasant responsibility of enduring the fire marshall’s lecture. Then we wrapped the limo, but not before the crew checked it out.

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It’s a pretty big limo (photo and limo rental by producer Beau Genot).

On to the house. Scenes on the front porch, then two scenes in the back house which was a perfect location for Hugo’s man cave of a living room.

And even though we were in the backyard of a beautiful house on a gorgeous day, something was off. Things weren’t going right, and were taking much longer to shoot. Shots took longer to set up. It took more and more takes to get one I wanted. It seemed that with every shot, helicopters would fly overhead ruining the take. Day turned into evening, and the clock was ticking.

The last scene was in front of an outdoor fireplace. Hugo and Nina share drinks after dinner and get a bit more personal. The first shot of the scene was a slow tracking shot behind our actors as they faced the fireplace.

Only we couldn’t get the fire lit. We tried switching out the propane tank, using matches instead of the starter, anything. We even brought in our fire marshall, who was pleasantly surprised to get to do something other than sit around and watch us work. Nothing was happening.

All day, Paul (our first A.D.) and I had been at odds regarding scheduling. It’s his job to keep us on time, and it’s my job to get the shots I need. We added a shot at the start of the day, and Paul voiced his displeasure. We made up the time, but Paul was still pushing us to make our day and now we had the fire issue. One option was to cut the master shot and not see the fireplace, only using the side angles. I didn’t want to do this, of course. I wanted the damn fireplace to work. Paul told me we would give our struggling crew three more minutes to fix the problem or we would have to move on.

“Fine,” I said. “I’ll be back in two minutes to discuss.” And I walked off, making a trip to the bathroom and the craft service table, maybe a brief conversation or two, and then I returned to our set to make the decision…

…and when I got back, Paul had already made the call and the crew was setting up the next shot. This big decision was made without me.

I was furious. I was told that the new setup would take ten minutes. I said something about my opinion clearly not mattering, and stormed off.

I’m not one to explode in public. I like to keep my emotions in check when I can. It does no good to anyone or to our group environment to throw a tantrum. But I think everyone knew I was extremely displeased. I walked to the front yard, stood on the end of the driveway, and stared at the night sky. What kind of ship am I running if I’m not making the call? And how dare a decision like this be made without my signing off on it? And how bad will the scene look now with this compromise? And why can’t they get a fucking one-year-old fireplace to light?

I was invited back to set (a silly formality, the actors and director are “invited to set” when they are ready for us, as if we can decline the invite) and Paul mentioned that if we move fast we can still get the shot I want. I told him whether I move fast or not we’re getting my shot anyway. A stand off.

We did move quickly thanks to the skills of our actors and the camera department, and set up for the master shot without a fireplace. My friend (and owner of the house) David suggested tea light candles in the fireplace. They wouldn’t look the same, but it would be a nice visual effect. I liked the idea. Paul did not.

“I’m not lighting a fire without a fire safety specialist on hand,” he said.

“It’s not a fire. It’s candles,” I snapped back.

“That’s a fire. And with the fire marshall around we could get in big trouble.”

“Well shit, let’s ask him.” I called him over and asked if he would be okay with us lighting tea lights in the fireplace WITHOUT a fire safety specialist on set. The fire marshall smiled and told us to go for it. The highest paid member of our team had approved our request, and we could proceed.

The crew hastily assembled the tea lights and we got our shot. Not exactly what I wanted, but better than nothing. Another compromise to end the day.

But what happens tomorrow? Will the crew still trust me? Or will I have to shout and throw things to maintain control? This was not what I envisioned when I set out to direct a movie.

More upsetting was the creeping thought: how many more things will go wrong, and will we have to compromise too much and wind up with a sloppy or amateur movie?


Coming up next: ready or not, week one comes to an end.

Closure Recap Day 4: Keep Moving Forward

Closure is in the can (or on the drive to be more 21st Century) and editing has begun.  I have recapped our last days of prep, day one, two and three, and now we move on to day four.


They say the most exciting day on set is your first day, and the most boring day on set is your second day. That holds true, give or take a day or two. Moviemaking seems exciting and in many ways it is. However, it is a slow process where things need to happen in order to get a shot:

First, the director and D.P. figure out the shot.

Then, the D.P. tells the grip and electric crew where to put the lights, and the stands that hold equipment that diffuses the lights, and if needed, where to plug things in, etc.

The G&E team take over the space, executing the plan. This can take anywhere from five minutes to hours. On our set, our team rarely takes more than 30 minutes. We don’t have time for more finessing.

The shot is then focused and tweaked. To do this, people will stand in place of our actors. On a bigger budget movie or TV show, “stand ins” are hired. They generally are the same gender, height, skin color, and hair color of the actors for whom they are standing in. On our production, our actors generally stand in for themselves. Occasionally, we get the luxury of crew members who can help out.

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U.P.M. Justin and First A.D. Paul share a tender moment in place of our romantic leads while the lights are focused.

After tweaks to lighting, the art department tweaks the set. Then the actors come in, we rehearse for them and for camera (camera moves and focus pulls need rehearsal too!) and then hair and makeup tweaks and then the room gets locked down and then we get the shot off. Phew!

So yes, it can take anywhere from 10 minutes to over an hour to get a shot off. Then, once we do enough takes (we are averaging 3 to 4) we move on to the next shot, and generally the process starts all over again.

Of course, during all the setup I’m not twiddling my thumbs. I have other scenes to work out in my head, problems to anticipate and address in advance, rehearsals and line revisions with actors, production logistics to consider… for example: I want a certain prop but we are out of money or the resource to get it, so how do I adapt? So the days are full.

But, after three days of shooting the adrenaline has evaporated somewhat. The anxiety of actually making the movie has passed. Now we are in the midst of it. And the days are long. And the work is hard. For the first time, working two six-day weeks with only one day off in between seems ambitious. And exhausting.

In other words, time to stop sprinting and settle into a marathon pace.

Which isn’t to say I wasn’t looking forward to day four. On the docket, a dinner scene with our four principal actors: Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Milena Govich, John Sloan, and our leading lady, Catia Ojeda. All four bring excellent comic skills, not to mention dramatic heft to keep the scene rounded and not jokey. My mantra for the actors this entire shoot has been to take themselves very seriously. If anything is played for a laugh, the joke will fall apart. I couldn’t wait to play, and even though it was the second to last scene of the day, since we were holed up in our Denny Avenue location all day (and there weren’t any major outside incidents to slow us down) we were on schedule and could spend some time playing.

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And it was a joy to watch. With actors like these, the best thing I can do is to stay out of their way, dropping in to offer tweaks and suggestions, sort of like chipping away at a sculpture as it nears completion. With each camera setup we got to experience the scene through fresh eyes. What does the scene mean when Jack and Nina are in the shot, versus Jack and Prudence? We’ll find out more when we edit, but it’s a relief knowing that the script and the acting are working well together in this scene. Added proof: the crew had to stifle laughter much of the time, waiting until I yelled “cut” to make noise. It is an interesting dynamic after decades of theater work to not have any audience response in the moment.

It’s hard to believe that at the end of day four we would be bidding farewell to one of our actors. We were fortunate to have Cynthia play Yasmina. We had a week to cover all her scenes before she returned to her “day job” as a series regular on the TV show Shooter. I’m sure she appreciated getting to use her comedy chops again, just as much as we appreciated her comic performance. And on a personal note, Catia and Cynthia have been friend since, like, forever.

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Clearly, these two did not get along our entire shoot.

They met waiting tables at a swank bar in Manhattan, both serving drinks to support their fledgling acting careers. And here they are, years later, having separately moved to L.A. and working steadily, becoming series regulars on TV shows, do they finally get to work together again. And, for the first time, they get to work together as actors.

Of course, a night waiting tables paid MUCH better than a day on our set.


Coming up next: we move to Burbank and put out fires (by starting one).

 

 

 

 

Closure Recap Day 3: How to Stage an Orgy

Closure is in the can (or on the drive to be more 21st Century) and editing has begun.  I have recapped our last days of prep, day one and day two, and now we move on to day three.


After our difficult and volatile day two, we were all happy to return to our home base. After all, nothing majorly went wrong on the first day, right?

Of course, one has to make it to home base first. I arrived on set on time and ready to forget yesterday’s problems and start the new day fresh when I quickly learned of our latest setback: the grip and electric truck broke down on its way to set. On The 101. I heard grumblings about an alternator needing replacement, and a P.A. was on the way to pick up the crew (who were stranded on the highway) and any “essential” equipment that can go from a large truck to the trunk of a car.

What constitutes “essential” when everything gets used on a near daily basis? And how long was this going to set us back?

We didn’t have the luxury of time to figure that out. Even though we were home it was a complicated first scene. We are dealing with four actors, and a group of “sextras.” More on them later. As we learned yesterday, time is too precious for us to wait. We can’t afford to lose a half day. Or an hour. So what do we do?

Improvise. Our art department quickly stepped in, raiding their own supplies and taking down curtains to become an impromptu grip department:

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Art Department MVPs! Paul and Cameron hold up a curtain from one of our apartments. The golf umbrella is from their collection as well. Notice the back of a framed picture being used as a bounce board.

Amazing. It wasn’t perfect, and the color might be off in some of the shots, but we were well on track when the real G&E team showed up on set. Almost back on schedule.

“Get to the sex orgy, Goldberg!” Ah right, of course. In the first two days I dealt with two actors at a time, or in one scene four actors, but the blocking was mostly simple and the two additional guys weren’t doing much talking.  Today, for the first time, I’m dealing with a complicated scene (on a small indie film, not as complicated as this). This scene involves four principal actors. And five sextras. Nina leaves her apartment to discover the neighbors Jack and Prudence in a fight. Prudence is leaving Jack, bringing her luggage to the curb. He struggles to find out why, all the while Yasmina provides positive “energy” via chanting and incense for Prudence’s journey. Lots of movement back and forth, different setups, and then at the climax of the scene, a blacked-out van appears to whisk Prudence away. And inside the van, a rolling sex party.

After conceiving (yep, a deliberate word choice) this scene, I knew I would need help. I can manage my principal actors and getting the shots I need. But casting and choreographing a moving tableau in a van, where it looks like people are having sex without looking pornographic (meaning, show the sex without showing man and lady parts) is a challenge. Fortunately, I knew where to turn for help. I’ve known Yehuda Duenyas since college and followed his remarkably varied career, which included being part of a sensational off-Broadway theater company, working at Disney’s Imagineering department, creating award-winning commercials and virtual entertainment experiences, and serving an interesting niche as a sex choreographer on Broadway. Also, he lives just a few miles from me in L.A. Weeks prior to shooting we met for lunch and discussed how to make it happen. We had no line item in our already thin budget to hire him, but I pushed Beau and Steve to find a little bit. They did, and he came on board.

And it saved the day. While I was focusing on most of the scene with our principals, Yehuda guided our extras, made them comfortable, and staged exactly how it would work. And when we were ready for them, they were ready for us. And it was fantastic. One of the first times in the process where we made something look how I envisioned it when I wrote it.

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You think I’m actually posting a photo of that? You’ll have to wait, like everyone else…

 

The scene may have taken an entire half day, setting us behind, but it was worth it. We played catch up for the rest of the day, and rushed to an outside location to shoot footage of two characters on a foot bridge, then a car sequence where Nina follows Iskandar, who she thinks will lead her to her sister. A simple shot when you watch it: side view of Nina driving. But practically, another matter. Senda sat in the passenger seat, lugging her camera. In the back seat I was in the middle, wedged between our sound guy (with his pack in the trunk) and Brieana, our first A.C.

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Senda getting it done.

Who would have thought my years of improv training would actually pay off in a real world situation? If you can’t adapt quickly, you will quickly fall behind. The shots need to be made, no matter the obstacle. And if it means contorting your body to keep a camera steady, or taking down part of the set to create makeshift grip gear, so be it. That’s the attitude we need to make our days. Let’s hope we can continue like this. But, let’s hope no more vehicles break down.


Coming up next: A big dinner, and a big farewell to one of our principal cast members.

Closure Recap: Day Two: You Can Make It If You Cut

Closure is in the can (or on the drive to be more 21st Century) and editing has begun.  I have recapped our last days of prep and first day of shooting, and now we move on to day two.


“I got this,” I thought as I zipped along The 101. Only at 6:30am can you drive 70 miles per hour in L.A. for more than five seconds at a time and I reveled in the pleasure. Day one was smooth, despite all my anxiety and all our last minute changes. Day two we leave our home base location and venture to the house of Herb and Donna, two friends who have been supporters of my plays, and have been actively involved with making Closure. They volunteered their resources, including their home. A free house cannot be passed up, and theirs is lovely. Equally important to its beauty is that Herb and Donna have no problem with two dozen of us tromping through their place. So they signed our paperwork, and we invaded.

As I arrived on set 15 minutes early I discovered our first problem: no one notified our hosts what time we were coming! When our production department showed up at 6:30am expecting to begin set up for the day, no one answered the door. Because people were asleep inside. Because it was 6:30am.  Our genial (and understandably bewildered) hosts said they would get up quickly and let us in, but it wouldn’t be until about 7:15am or so. So because of a simple error we started our day behind and on this ambitious day of over 9 pages to shoot, would be playing hurried catch up all day.

In addition, we would be breaking the law. Sort of. Not “the law” of course, but going outside our permit jurisdiction. To legally shoot a movie in Los Angeles you need to receive permits from the city production office. And that costs money. We had to get permits, of course, but over the past few weeks we had to scale back what we wanted based on permit add-on costs. For example, I had a lovely scene along the L.A. River where two characters walk and talk. Beautiful. Picturesque. La La Land-ish. But to be legal, we’d have to pay to park our vehicles on the street (over $50 a FOOT), pay for police to be with us on set, and pay for so much more. So no park shot.

For our current location we secured a permit, so it was all legit. But lets just say (hypothetically, of course) I want a shot of our character Iskandar entering his house from the point of view of Nina, who is sitting in her car. Well, to get that shot we need to set the camera up across the street so we get both Nina in her car and Iskandar entering his house. Could we afford a permit for the house across the street to set up our camera on their lawn? Could we afford the police presence to shut down the street so Nina’s car can drive forward five feet to its parking spot? No, we can’t. So hypothetically, one would have to steal these shots. And do it in a hurry. We have a good relationship with the permit office, but we know that one spot check (and there was no if, but when it would happen) could shut us down immediately. But we also know that the permit office doesn’t open until ten, so if we can pull off any (hypothetical) illegal shots before ten, we should be in the clear.

Shortly after ten, and a lot of rushing, we finally made it through those shots and we were back on the property for good. That was a relief.

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I’m telling everyone we can relax, because we are totally legit again. (Photo: Justin Mays)

But our problems only exacerbated from there. The shots took longer than we thought. The setups were slower than expected. And we kept falling further and further behind.

What made it harder was the cramped positions. We were spoiled on day one with our home base of three apartments. Now we were set up in and around a house, which is comfortable for a family of four, but less so for a cast and crew of 25. It was, to put it politely, cozy.

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The back of the driveway. Notice the grip and electric truck parked snugly between wardrobe in the foreground, and hair and makeup in the garage (next to catering). The grips kindly put up a flag so our actors could have shade while in makeup. (Photo: Justin Mays)

We were packed together. And the SoCal sun was, like almost every day, relentless. And there was nowhere to go.

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Steve and Beau successfully meet in private for 20 seconds before anyone needs a costume or something to eat. (Photo: Justin Mays)

We slogged through our day, and the inevitable came: sacrifices were going to have to be made. We weren’t going to get all our shots. Not only that, there was a scene we might have to cut. The question came up: could we come back to this location? Our hosts were certainly amenable to that, but the bigger problem was when. There were no days in our schedule where we could afford a company move to get a half day here. We’d have to add a day at the end. And we don’t have the money for that, certainly not on day two of 12. There would have to be cuts.

So Senda and I cut shots. One important dramatic scene had seven camera set ups. We reduced it to four. Another scene took place in a different room in the house, and we chose to do it without sound (there wasn’t dialogue anyway) to save on crew time. And we were still racing the clock.

To add to the stress was an unexpected outside variable: my mother-in-law, the generous caretaker of our son for week one, had locked herself (and our son) out of our apartment without her phone, and his bedtime was quickly approaching. The sun was setting, and we were at best 30 minutes away. Doing our job got harder knowing that the care of our child was being compromised. It does put things into perspective: everyone is working very hard, but we all have families and personal lives that take priority. We rushed through the final scene; the crew may or may not have noticed that Catia and I were slightly more manic than usual. We got it in, and Catia quickly raced home to let our family inside. 20 minutes later, after another post-shoot production powwow, I returned home as well.

On the drive home my mind raced with regrets. Shots we couldn’t get. Times when I should have pushed for another take instead of just moving on because we were pressed. The rushed last scene which no doubt looked sloppy. The frustration everyone felt with our tight conditions. This was not a fun day of moviemaking.

Did we make our day? Technically, yes. But at what price? We’ll find out in post-production. There is simply no time to reflect on what went wrong: must stay focused on tomorrow. That is all I can (somewhat) control.


Next up, Day Three: How to successfully stage an orgy.

 

Closure Recap: First Day of Shooting

Closure is in the can (or on the drive to be more 21st Century) and editing has begun.  Before memories fade, I will devote the next blog posts to daily recaps: the highs, the lows, and the long long days. Yesterday was the final harried days of pre-production. Today: first day of shooting.


Alarm was set for 5:45am. I was up at 4:30. Not a shocker, but I also wasn’t panicked, because 1) after the previous chaos of prep, things had oddly settled down and I could focus on directing, not producing, and 2) the night before I ate healthy, abstained from wine and took a sleeping pill. Last meal of champions. I was asleep by 10:30pm. Those six hours was the best night of sleep I have had in over a week. Catia didn’t fare as well. She told me she probably got two to three hours total.

Catia and I alternated showers and breakfast. Our son blissfully slept in his room, his nana asleep on the air mattress next to him. If you think making a movie is hard, factor in caring for a 2 1/2 year old at the same time. Sure, we could dump him at day care but they are only open from 8am – 5pm, and we are doing 12 hour days at least. The math is not in our favor.

Fortunately, we rigged a system with the grandparents. Catia’s mom would handle the first week and my parents would be there for the second week. Any worry I felt about neglect for my son I compartmentalized and pushed out of my head. There was still a few days of child care to cover, but that was on days 12 – 14. A lifetime away.

I walked on set right at call time: 7am. Set today was our home base: an apartment complex in North Hollywood that was being renovated, and through a series of connections and luck we managed to secure and rent three apartments for cheap. Two as set locations and holding areas for our art and camera departments, and one as our production office and home to crafty (a.k.a. craft service, a.k.a. where you get bagels, coffee and other munchies throughout the day).

Set was humming: nearly two dozen people briskly moved, doing various tasks. Over the past 96 hours I had met only a third of these people. Hell, exactly one week ago the set and our ENTIRE production team looked like this.

Move in day

One week before day one: Line Producer Steve Rousseau and Producer Beau Genot.                     This was basically the entire operation.

Oh how far we have come. And here we are now:

Day One

Our fearless crew. Spoiler: four of these 27 would not be with us by day 12.

An assortment of “good mornings” and various other greetings from crew, many of whom had been here before our 7am call to unload equipment, as it was our first day.

As boss, I made one smart move in advance of day one: initially scheduled (by our recently fired First A.D.) was to start the day with a car shot. Two actresses in a car. Simple to visualize, but difficult to make happen. First we needed to wire the car for sound, and then we needed to actually get on the road and shoot it, leaving the majority of the crew behind. I knew with that as our first shot, we would immediately fall behind. I wanted day one to seem like a typical day, which is all of us in one location. Of course, our days were not typical. A normal big budget movie shoots one, maybe two pages a day (One page is roughly equivalent to one minute of on screen time). A normal TV show will shoot three to five pages a day. To make our film in two weeks, we were scheduled to shoot 7 to 10 pages each day. Each day. Every day. Although day one was “easy,” only 6 5/8 pages.

Do you like how I called myself “boss” in the previous paragraph? Ha. Other than our production assistants, I probably had the least amount of set experience. I have directed two shorts and a feature. The feature had a budget of $25,000. And was shot over 15 years ago. The last thing I directed on camera was a promotional video for Johnnie Walker. Over 10 years ago. As long as the crew doesn’t find out…

I dropped my bulky bag filled with my giant script binder and laptop in the office and found Paul, the first A.D. He told me that normally he liked to start the day with a meeting of all department heads: me, him, the D.P., the art department, and sound. We would go over all shots for the day. But since this was day one, everyone was feeling things out and we would just aim to get first shot off at 8:30am and then meet up. First day jitters. “Speaking of first day jitters, I’d like to make a speech before first shot.” He told me that wouldn’t be a problem. “Also,” I tentatively added: “it’s been a while since I’ve done this. What’s the last thing I will hear before I call action?” It may seem silly, but if at least I can call “action” with authority people will respect me. I know that Paul announces that picture is up, sound tells us they are speeding, but what’s next? Paul gently advised that the D.P. will say that she is set, that camera is ready. Got it. I’m ready to direct.

We actually made it to first shot on time, roughly 90 minutes after call time. I gave my little speech, thanking everyone for being there and preparing them that we would be working very quickly to make our schedule. I also encouraged them to come to me with suggestions about anything. I’m comfortable listening to suggestions provided that they are all comfortable with me saying no. They took it to heart, and over the weeks many suggestions came forth, with over a dozen making it into the film.  And then we got started.

And the day went well. And was a lot of fun. Despite my early morning jitters I felt extremely comfortable at the helm. We spent the morning shooting exterior scenes with Catia and then Cynthia joined us, and we moved inside covering a bunch of scenes. The day flew, and in a breath we were at six hours and at lunch, which a few of us spent planning the next day. Since they were recent hires, Paul and the art department would be playing catch up every day for the first week.

As the day came to a close, we were faced with a big challenge: the last scene was simple logistically, just three camera set ups in the living room of Yasmina’s apartment. However, it was a bear for the actors: nearly three pages of dialogue. And I could see that Catia’s lack of sleep the night before was hitting her. That said, the two actresses pulled it off extremely well. We needed only two takes of each set up, then moved on. I learned that day that TV and theatre actors are perfect for memorizing and digesting tons of dialogue. Without these veteran actors, we certainly would not have made our day. We wrapped around 6:30pm.

Got home, had a nice dinner prepared by my mother-in-law, answered some emails, and made sure the next day’s shot list was on my phone for reference. Piece of cake, this directing thing. While the day was exhausting, I felt at ease and natural. I loved it.

Only one problem: I couldn’t figure out what our D.P. Senda says to cue me to say action! Paul mentioned it would be that she was ready. He didn’t prepare me that it would be in French, as she is a recent transplant from Paris. She speaks fluent and perfect English, but I was a little thrown by her “ready” call. Someday I’ll ask her what she’s actually saying. But for now, our rhythm is working nicely. We made our day. On to the next one.


Next up, Day Two: don’t get cocky, kid. It can all easily crumble.