Closure Recap Day 12: Last Day of Principal Photography

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 11. Next up, the last day of principal photography.


Do you have a favorite birthday memory? I’ve had some memorable milestone birthdays and a few I’d like to forget, like the time my parents got lost on the way to the park and we only got to spend five minutes there before we had to turn around and go home.

But spending my birthday directing a feature film I wrote… well, that may be the best of the bunch (so far).

Yes, hard to believe that our 12th and final day of principal photography, April 22nd, is also my birthday. And this is exactly my wish. Well, maybe a cupcake and a shot of bourbon. The latter I knew was going to happen; the production assistant who drove my car most recently left the stickie note with Catia’s list of my favorite bourbons, presumably as a gift for me. But I kept my mouth shut…

…and my nose to the grindstone. Because even though we are down to one actor today, we have a lot to shoot. Nina has many brief scenes in her sister’s bedroom, and while most of them are short, they involve a number of costume and light changes. It won’t be an easy day.

I tried to savor every moment, but we were quickly falling behind. Not only did most of the bedroom scenes involve lighting and costume changes, but we were having trouble getting text messages and phone calls to come through on the prop phone (a.k.a. my phone). I could see the minutes ticking away, and the number of shots we had left. And I was pissed. And I yelled at the team. How could we move so quickly for 11 days, but now people were getting sluggish as we approach the finish line? People picked up the pace, but the idea of us wrapping by 9pm was quickly fading. We’d be lucky if we got out before midnight.

But there is still time for me to reflect on this great group of people, nearly two dozen of them, most of whom I had not met two weeks earlier. After today, I won’t see 90% of them until the wrap party, the opening of the movie, the next time we work together, or possibly never again.

They all poured their hearts and souls into this movie.

IMG_9147.jpg

Second A.D. Kat Marcheski and Set P.A. Michael Wilson wait to jump into action.

For very little money.

IMG_9089.jpg

Costume Designer Jennifer May Nickel makes a final adjustment to Iskandar (Marcelo Tubert). (Photo: Justin May)

All the time with positive, professional attitudes.

IMG_9428.jpg

Second Assistant Camera Joey Skaggs (photo: Herb Hall)

 

IMG_9451.jpg

Prop Master Ashley Cradeur and Art Dept. P.A. Paul Martin (Photo: Justin May)

My days were long, but theirs started before me and ended after me. Without complaint.

IMG_9443.jpg

Makeup/Hair stylist Celina Dalnim Yun puts the finishing touches on Jack (John Sloan) (Photo: Herb Hall)

Hard to believe that less than a month ago it was only four of us, including producer Beau and line-producer/co-producer Steve. Beau had been working on the script with me for over two years now.

But before that, it was just me and the muse who inspired me to write the story: my best friend, my wife, and my favorite actress.

Photo Apr 18, 1 52 24 PM (1).jpg

Late last year she said her new years resolution was to make a movie. And here we are.

Despite falling behind early, we managed to finish while it was still my birthday. Barely. Paul called out “that’s a wrap on principal photography” at exactly 11:59pm.

Happy birthday to me!

thumb_IMG_3639_1024.jpg

Not pictured: a delicious shot of Basil Hayden.

We all briefly celebrated the end of the movie and my birthday. The moment was slightly ruined by a very anxious babysitter who kept texting, saying she didn’t think we were going to go that late and had to go because her mom was waiting out front. Ah, show business.

The following day was slightly relaxing, and we were able to take joy in that we had met our very ambitious schedule, and made all our shots…

…so far. There was still 10% of the movie left to shoot.


Coming up next: Three splinter days, and guerrilla shooting.

Advertisements

Closure Recap Day 11: How to Shoot (my wife in) a Sex Scene

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 10. Next up, getting near the end.


Spirits are better today. We can see the finish line. We are down to three actors: Catia, Milena and John, and two of them will wrap today. Now, with most of the film in the rear view mirror, it finally hits that we are almost finished.

Not going to be an easy day (what day is) but at least we are back to our home location for the rest of the shoot, which makes all of our lives easier. Now we can focus on sex.

Set.jpeg

“I want you to go in there and have sex with another guy. And we’re all going to watch.” (Photo: Beau Genot)

Those familiar with my writing are aware that sexual content frequently pops up in my script. This movie is no exception. I wrote previously about shooting the sex cult scene but today brings on new sexual situations. In multiple scenes Nina is trying to sleep when she hears her neighbors Jack and Prudence either having sex or arguing. And those sounds have to be recorded. A few days ago I mentioned to Milena Govich, who plays Prudence, that we will likely pick it up in post production, and she said “why? Let’s bang it out now.” (Her word choice, not mine). Indeed. We have the equipment and the personnel. Let’s do it now.

IMG_9475.jpg

Milena Govich: ready for anything (Photo: Herb Hall)

So while the camera team is working on the next set up, I steal the actors to the other room. How do you direct a sex scene for audio? Say something like “okay, when I say action, pretend you are having sex. Jack, you are enjoying it slightly more than Prudence. And… action!” And they did. Got to hand it to the actors, they jumped in and did it, with gusto. When you hear it in the movie, keep in mind that in reality it was two actors sitting on opposite ends of a couch, in broad daylight, while a boom operator hovers over them with a microphone.

15 minutes of moaning and slapping later, we walked out of that apartment and Greg, our G&E team swing, sat there, grinning. He said “it took me about 10 minutes to figure out you were recording sound in there.” Now that would have been a way to spend my break!

We picture-wrapped Milena, then while preparing to shoot a Nina scene in the kitchen while she is on the phone, we realized we never got the other side of the conversation. So we called Marcelo Tubert who plays Iskandar to see if he was available. He was, so we briefly un-picture wrapped him to grab his scene, and then we moved on.

As time flew quickly and slowly as it does on a film set, day turned to evening and we prepared for the big sex scene. Actually, it’s a near sex scene that is interrupted, but no spoilers here. I had a chance to do some rudimentary blocking with our actors, so we were good to go.

thumb_IMG_3622_1024.jpg

Nina (Catia Ojeda) and Jack (John Sloan) pretend to take my direction while planning the big scene.

People asked if it was difficult directing and watching my wife in a make-out scene. It was honestly not a problem. First, it is such a technical thing, stringing together beats, moments and camera setups, that it doesn’t feel real or honest (although I hope it does on screen). And second, after nearly two weeks of long days, I was purely interested in getting the shots done correctly, and quickly, so I could go home and get some sleep.

However, we did have two unforeseen obstacles to overcome: first, due to a scheduling conflict with the actor playing Franklin, we had to wrap him yesterday which mean that the fight scene had to happen yesterday. Therefore, our lead actress now has bruises over much of the skin she is about to show on camera (she’s an easy bruiser, I HOPE we didn’t beat her up too much last night). Our makeup artist worked double time and managed to cover her with makeup.

The second obstacle was financial. The art department couldn’t afford a real bed and wisely decided to not grab an abandoned mattress from the highway overpass. Instead they purchased an air mattress. Under sheets and with bed posts (as you can see above) it looks very realistic. However, once our actors started going through the motions there was a loud sound every time they moved. And not a pleasant sound. Basically, a farting sound.

Sure, we can cut out a lot in post production. But it certainly was a mood killer, even more of a mood killer than having a small crew of people watching while the making out occurs.

So we adjusted the blocking to minimize the amount of noise, at least when dialogue was happening. In all of my film studies, no one ever advised “make sure you adjust your sex choreography to minimize mattress farting noises.” Another day, another lesson.


Coming up next: Day 12, the last day of principal photography. Also, it’s my birthday.

Closure Recap Day 10: Aftershocks, Staging a Fight, and a Little Light Breaking & Entering

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 9: Hell Day. Next up, the hardest day of the shoot.


Even though our first location of the day was on a picturesque tree-lined street in a glorious block in Burbank, everyone looked a little shell-shocked. Sure, one could say it was showing up for 10 of the last 11 days, but we all knew that the day before was brutal, and not everyone survived. To add to the stress, our replacement sound guy was running late, and would likely be up to an hour late. AND, he was replacing two guys, so he would be doing both the mixing and the boom operating. A great start.

The crew looked like they were going through the motions, and they probably were. But there was something deeper going on; most troubling, Paul our First A.D. and Senda the D.P. weren’t talking to each other. Normally they have to communicate frequently to keep on schedule, but they were barely acknowledging the others existence.

I could have said something. I should have. But I couldn’t massage egos at this point. I needed to stay focused on the script.

Photo Apr 20, 12 55 05 PM.jpg

Just because I’m sitting in a comfy chair on the lawn doesn’t mean I’m not working. Note the red pen: still making cuts on the third to last day.

Tonight we were shooting our big fight scene and I was still not confident in how we were going to pull it off. Sure, I got a sex choreographer on board, but I naively thought my theatrical fight experience was enough to cover. As I reviewed my notes, I wasn’t sure I was qualified enough.

But that was still hours away. First, a house in Burbank. This time, we waited for the Fire Marshall to show up before we started shooting so everything would be on the level. We got the shots off all right, but there was a definite gloom in the air. Catia and James Walsh as Detective Franklin were giving great performances, but it was a struggle for the rest of us. Senda looked like all the energy was gone. Even her ready for action call (which I still haven’t figured out what she is saying!) was low.

Of course, the struggle led to a slow down which meant we were once again behind schedule. We needed to have a company move to our abandoned apartment complex location, find a location for our parked car scene and shoot it before we broke for dinner.  That way we could spend the entire time after dinner working on the fight sequence.

Senda and I raced ahead and found a location where the light was kindest. The crew and actors arrived, and we quickly got into place. If we could magically pull off two setups of a two page long scene in 40 minutes, we would be back on schedule.

We did it in 25 minutes. James and Catia were brilliant. The photography was great. Even our new sound guy said everything sounded perfect. We actually broke for lunch early.

After “lunch” (since we started our day at noon, lunch was at 6pm) we started to set up for the establishing shot from across the street. The sun started to set. The light was perfect.

thumb_IMG_3616_1024.jpg

The camera team (Brie, Senda and Joey) is ready for action.

We did a take of our actors approaching the fence. Officer Franklin pretends to unlock the padlock and remove the chain, which can easily be faked as we are far away and he’s blocking it. Then he and Nina walk into the gloriously decrepit abandoned apartment complex we had rented. The take went well, but now the light was perfect and we needed to do it again. And then, a production disaster: on the walkie we heard the P.A. from across the street say “hey, who has the key to this lock?”

Yep. The P.A. locked the padlock. Totally unnecessary. There was one key. And that key was with our location manager Sean, who had left us for a few hours to work his other job, backstage at a theater. During a play. With his phone off.

Of course we should have kept the key. And of course we should never have locked the lock. But we did. And here we are, with the cast and 1/3 of the crew outside the locked property, and the rest of the crew locked in the property. Rather than explode in front of the crew (which would have done nothing) I went around the corner, cursed and punched things. It felt better, but didn’t solve anything. Someone ran out and bought bolt cutters and we were back in business, but we lost 45 minutes in the process. And the clock was ticking.

The fight scene was meticulously planned, but it involved many different shots. Each shot that took minutes longer than normal set us back even further. We blew our power generators, but bribed nearby neighbors to utilize their power. Tick, tick, tick.

Staging the actual violence took time, and adjustments had to be made. Tick, tick, tick. Beau glared from the corner, reminding me that we need to wrap up immediately. I was wracked with regret. I should have had a fight choreographer; while I had experience I wasn’t completely versed in how to get what I wanted to achieve. Our costume designer Jen doubled as our actors’ safety monitor, and that helped, but we just didn’t have enough people (stunt people might have helped) and time. Tick, tick, tick.

Got the last shot at the 12 hour mark. How did it all look? Absolutely no idea. It felt rushed and at times, crappy. To top it off after we raced to wrap I congratulated the crew but left my lead actress, who did all the heavy lifting, standing alone, shell shocked from the trauma of being beaten up and thrown around for the past few hours. Not checking in with her made me both a bad director and a bad husband.

After wrap, I drove home our exhausted and justifiably angry actress. We made our day, but it took its toll. Two more to go, but I don’t know if I can take another one like today.

Making a movie is VERY difficult.


Coming up next: back at home base, and saying goodbye to all but one of our actors.

 

 

 

Closure Recap Day 9: Hell Day

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 8: building a police station in a bedroom . Next up, the hardest day of the shoot.


Many filmmakers have compared making a movie with going to war, with apologies to all those who have served in actual combat. But there are similarities: the days are long, there are a lot of logistics to work out, things can go wrong, and often do. And it is physically exhausting and grueling.

We knew today was going to be a battle, for many reasons:

  • It is our longest day, page wise. Initially 11 pages, I had cut it down to 8 1/2, but even then it was still a long and ambitious day.
  • We have a finite amount of time in the location. We have access to the place at 7am, and we have to be out by 6pm. And “be out” doesn’t mean stop shooting. Wrapping the location could take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, so we were aiming to finish shooting by 5pm.
  • There are only two ways in and out of the building, and both are narrow passageways. This means the high possibility of traffic jams.
  • At six actors, it is one of our largest cast days. And this doesn’t include:
  • 20 background actors. In our other scenes with extras, we were able to use friends and volunteers we knew. Today, over half are strangers, responding to a call on either Craigslist or Facebook. And these strangers are working for free.
  • We have no space inside for departments to set up camp. Which means holding, makeup, wardrobe, and craft service are all outside, in the warm California sun.

So here we go. I arrive at set 15 minutes early. Much of the crew does as well; they know the stakes. Nothing much a director can do this early in the game, so I help the production department hump craft service tables and supplies from the van to the holding area. The sidewalk between the bar and Burbank Avenue was wide, over 20 feet, so we were able to set up three pop up tents for shade. This area, roughly 30 feet by 10 feet, would hold our wardrobe, hair and makeup, craft services, and actor holding. All actors together, from principals to background.

Photo Apr 19, 11 29 37 AM.jpg

The glory of show biz: the tent in the foreground (on the right) is craft service, catering, and hair and makeup. The tent in the center is for wardrobe (notice the tiny changing room behind the beige curtain). Oh, and that table that looks like more craft service? That’s the props department setting up drinks for inside. The tent in the back left is a luxurious holding area where supposedly 25 actors will hang out. (Photo: Katie Rosin)

Everyone maintained good spirits. People painted the corners and stayed out of the way. But we could feel the creeping doom as everything took a little longer than normal, especially since the shots were not easy.

I had already sacrificed pages to make the day work, and in the first hours of shooting I made another sacrifice: I didn’t get to to work as much with the actors as I would have liked. I couldn’t push for the quality that we had on all other days. I’m giving notes, but it’s not enough notes and not enough time. We have to keep going.

And Paul the First A.D. is pushing us. Hard. Maybe too hard? This is definitely the most stressful day for him, and with each passing minute he becomes more agitated and stressed. He’s only level of communication is yelling. And whomever is on the receiving end jumps to it, for sure, but as the hours pass, I can see the glaze in the P.A.’s eyes. The yelling is consistent, so it’s hard to discern what is really important from what isn’t.

And it’s heating up, literally and figuratively. It’s crowded, and the air conditioning goes off for our takes. We’re starting to feel it.

Photo Apr 19, 2 07 04 PM.jpg

Fatigue setting in. (Photo: Katie Rosin)

As we approach our lunch break, we are already behind. The first shots of the day were the most complicated so we are already playing catch up. And there is noise coming from outside the bar, ruining takes. Paul runs outside, screaming at the P.A.s and the extras. This happens over and over again. Turns out that on either side of our locations are restaurants open for lunch, so the noise we hear is from the patrons, not our people. In fact, our people are being awesome, not uttering a peep during shots, only to be on the receiving end of Paul’s wrath moments later. Not fun for anyone.

For the second day in a row we push to get a scene finished by lunch. If we make it, it will be huge: most of our background actors could be released, and we’d be in a good place to come back from lunch. Once again, we ask for grace. Once again, every department grant it to us, except for sound.

Seething, Paul tells me in a loud voice for everyone to hear, that as long as I call “action” before we hit the six hour mark (we were minutes away) and as long as I don’t say “cut” we can keep going. This is not uncommon; it’s called shooting a sequence. Some times it’s easier to reset rather than cut, have everyone step away, have hair and makeup step in again, etc. We’ve done sequences throughout the shoot. But this time, it’s political as well as practical.

I call “action” with one minute to spare. The crew (except one department) is focused on getting the shot, no matter what it takes. We do the sequence, I announce “hold” and “back to one” and we reset without cutting. We do the scene a second time. In the middle of it, the boom operator has had enough. He loudly throws down his boom pole into its holder, and storms off the set, slamming the door and ruining the take. We do it again, and it is great (well, good enough) so I call “cut.” We break for lunch exactly six minutes late.

As people grab lunch I go around to each department head and as a courtesy, thank them for giving us grace. No one is bothered by it, but all are a little shaken by the day, not to mention witnessing a fellow crew member deliberately sabotaging a shot.

I go to the sound board operator and thank him, even though his department was the problem. He stares at me and says “we are never giving you grace again.” I was floored. They haven’t given it to us yet. Shocked, I made my way to Beau the producer to get his take on it.

“Have you seen anything like this before?” I ask. Beau has been on far more sets than I have.

“Never. I’ve already made calls for replacements,” he replied.

And after lunch, the day went from bad to worse. Paul the A.D. never recovered from his early freak outs and not only stopped yelling, he stopped running the show entirely. The actors were tired and frustrated from getting their makeup done while the crew and background actors were inches away, refilling on coffee and donuts. The sound mixer was scrolling through Facebook during takes (!!!), and I later found out was communicating with other sound people who were just offered his job. This was the time for me to stand up, whip people in shape, and keep this boat afloat.

But I couldn’t. Not because I didn’t want to. But because I was neck deep in getting the shots, and shots for a scene that I felt we were selling short because of the location limitations. I was (figuratively) banging my head against the wall, trying to figure out what I could do to make this date scene more exciting. But there wasn’t time. We just had to shoot it and hopefully it works out later. Hopefully.

Photo Apr 19, 8 04 22 PM.jpg

Portrait of a director as a tired man. (Photo: Katie Rosin)

We made our day. We wrapped out of the location with 10 minutes to spare. We got our shots. But at what expense? How will it look? Is the last scene going to be completely flat and boring?

In the midst of it all we picture wrapped Tom Choi, who played Nina’s love interest Hugo today.

Photo Apr 19, 10 42 37 AM.jpg

Tom Choi (Hugo) doing a fairly good Robert DeNiro impression. I might have been napping at this moment, which is no reflection on Tom’s impression. (Photo: Katie Rosin)

An unceremonious end to his work. He worked his ass off, continually pushing to give a great performance, make bold choices, and through it all he was extremely nice and friendly. A class act; it was just unfortunate that his final minutes on set were upstaged by fatigue and infighting.

But on the bright side, this was supposed to be our toughest day. And we made it. We all lived to see another day of making our movie…

…except the sound guys, who were fired immediately after we wrapped for the day.


Coming up next: the aftershocks, staging a fight, and a little light breaking and entering.

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.

Photo Apr 17, 9 49 36 AM

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.

Photo Apr 17, 11 16 55 AM.jpg

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.

IMG_9254.jpg

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.

IMG_9249.jpg

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.

Dee Wallace and Catia Ojeda_Photo by Katie Rosin.jpg

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.

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.

Photo Apr 15, 1 03 41 PM.jpg

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:

Photo Apr 15, 3 51 41 PM.jpg

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.

Photo Apr 15, 8 50 04 PM.jpg

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 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.

Justin and Paul.jpg

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.

thumb_IMG_3582_1024.jpg

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.

thumb_IMG_3575_1024.jpg

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).