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.

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

For very little money.

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

All the time with positive, professional attitudes.

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Second Assistant Camera Joey Skaggs (photo: Herb Hall)

 

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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 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 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).