Marvelous Marbella (and a look behind the glamour)

Spent a glorious week celebrating our European Premiere at the Marbella International Film Festival on the Costa del Sol in Spain. And as you can imagine, it was a tremendous experience. Hotel near the beach…

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The lovely view from my hotel room balcony.

…meals with views…

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A nice relaxing meal before our first screening.

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Just your run of the mill fancy restaurant on the beach.

…visiting new places…

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Me and co-Producer Laurence Leonard and behind us, the glorious view of Ronda.

…meeting filmmakers from around the world…

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Me and Ashley Barrie, the Scottish producer of the Spanish movie Luz.

…getting to enjoy Spain with some of our team…

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From left: Sarah Tubert, Marcelo Tubert, V. Lucas, Alli Joseph, me, Jane Ojeda, Gabriel Ojeda (not pictured, Laurence Leonard)

…lively entertainment…

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…and of course, watching movies…

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Hey, look at us outside the theater!

The festival gave us seminars, mixers, and parties that went late into the warm, breezy night with seemingly endless amounts of champagne and appetizers.

However, one thing was noticeably lacking:

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The above photo was taken three minutes before our second screening. Not pictured is the ONE audience member awaiting our film. By the time the film started there were 11 people in the theater, and EIGHT were from our group. That means three people outside of Team Closure watched the screening.

Fortunately, our first screening was better attended.

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A bar in the back of the theater, how cool is that?

We were lucky to have our first screening on the opening night of the festival, immediately following the kickoff reception. About 40 people attended the party and most took their champagne down the steps to the seating area.

And we were lucky. Many screenings had less than 20 people in attendance. I attended a few screenings with less than 10. One film, Morine, had two people in attendance and one was the director. And for the last movie I attended for most of the screening I was THE ONLY PERSON IN THE THEATER.

So how does this happen? Clearly the festival (in its 13th year) is not focused on audiences. The parties and networking was great, well planned, and heavily attended. People just weren’t interested in the film part of the film festival.

But should it matter? We make movies to share stories with people. Whether it’s watched in a theater or on your TV in the comfort of your home theater, we are nothing without an audience. While it is always fantastic to see the movie on the big screen, it’s somewhat depressing when there is no one in the audience.

Some film festivals have a built in audience. The Sundances and South Bys sell out theaters right and left. Those communities crave seeing new movies. But other festivals I guess are just about the parties and networking.

I certainly don’t regret going to the festival. It was a fantastic time. And it’s an extra laurel on the poster. I’m just bringing it up to show that this experience is very much an analogy for show business in general. We like to get dressed up and celebrate and hype ourselves, but frequently behind the scenes it is hard to get people to see your product. We promote the successes, and try to bury the struggles. And there are a LOT of struggles.

Oh,, and another reason there is no regret… we won an award! Well, more specifically, Catia won Best Actress!

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The 2018 Award Winners! And me, of course, accepting on Catia’s behalf.

The festival would have been an unforgettable experience even if we didn’t win an award, but taking home the hardware does make it a bit more of fun. And in the end, that is what everyone can see.

Oh, and as for the movie Morine which had less than 10 people combined at two screenings? In the center of the above picture is Tony Farjallah, a Lebanese filmmaker, who won Best Director! Tony was a very nice man and he and I had numerous conversations throughout the festival. I’m glad I got to know him a little bit.

And maybe THAT is the real reason we go to film festivals.

 

 

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What goes up…

Less than a month ago we won Best Feature in the D.C. Independent Film Festival.

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The post screening talk back, featuring Producer Beau Genot, Catia Ojeda (Nina), Writer/Director Alex “Top of the World” Goldberg, Producer Katie Rosin, and Milena Govich (Prudence). Photo: Elias Savada

Three weeks later and I’m engaged in a bitter email feud with the head of a mediocre script competition about being unfairly judged in a contest where my EXCELLENT script didn’t crack the top 100.

Oh, and this competition ended LAST YEAR. I was notified of my rejection five months ago.

So… how does this fall from grace happen so quickly?

A show business life exists on a rollercoaster. The highs are awesome and the views are amazing (Look, I can see J. Law’s ankle tattoo from here!) but in an instant it all drops out from under you. Then you are in a dark tunnel, can’t even see your own shadow, and the heights are a distant memory.

YES the movie life can be glamorous, especially our time at the festival, but I share the following with you because it is hard. And there is often rejection. Relentless rejection.

The downward spiraling began at the fest, actually. Before leaving D.C. we found out about two other film festival rejections. Not a big deal.

Upon landing in Los Angeles we returned to normalcy. There is still a lot of administrative work to do on the movie. So we kept at it. We didn’t have any pending festivals in March, but there were five in April so it would be great to get things in order before then. But the downward slide continued…

  • I received a rejection from a prestigious writers conference for one of my plays. No shocker, but still disappointing. Even more disappointing: within an hour two writer friends were celebrating their acceptance to the same festival on Facebook.
  • Another film festival rejection: guess we aren’t going to TriBeCa.
  • Was notified that my ranking on a technical writing website (the bulk of my income for the past few years) has dropped from 4 stars to 3 stars. This will make a big difference in my income. I appealed the demotion. My request was denied.
  • Another film festival rejection: guess we aren’t going to San Francisco.

“Now wait a second,” I hear you say. “You’ve been in this business for a while. You know all about rejection. Stop yer bitchin’.”

Valid point, imaginary you. I signed up for this. And should be prepared. In fact, we’ve been doing some lobbying on our behalf. Yes, you could submit your film to a festival, do nothing, and wait until you get the response in your inbox. Or you can lobby. We still have nearly a dozen festivals pending and there are multiple festivals where we have networked heavily, utilizing personal contacts from investors, artists in our movie, and other supporters. One of our investors premiered her recent film at a certain Midwestern film festival where we applied. She set me up with the head of the festival and we have been corresponding. Our prospects look good. Great, even.

But as we wait for the official decision the slide continues…

  • I attended an acting class with the Antaeus Theatre Company where the students did scenes from one of my plays. For this I was paid a stipend. It was a great experience. So why is this part of my downward spiral? Because I realized that when my check for the stipend arrives it will be THE FIRST MONEY I HAVE MADE IN 2018. Which is because-
  • -I am unemployed. Other than my technical job listed before, which has been dry so far this year. My wife, forever a freelance actor, is unemployed until the next job comes in. But she hasn’t had a single audition in two months, right about the same time she told her agents she was pregnant. So if you are keeping score that’s two unemployed artists, and a mortgage, and a three-year-old in preschool, and another kid on the way.
  • Tax time. Pulling receipts together to meet with our tax preparer. Looking at all the submissions for competitions and festivals from 2017. While some are still pending, most were rejections.

And that’s when I noticed for one submission I did not receive the feedback I paid extra to receive. And that was the last straw. I hastily wrote the competition, waited a day, and angrily wrote again. The head of the competition cheerfully wrote me back and sent my coverage, which he claimed was sent two months ago. I didn’t receive it.

I read the coverage and it was glowing. The reader loved it. Gave only one slight note. I quickly wrote back, (almost) calmly explaining that this barely constitutes as feedback and since it was so glowing, how did it not make the top 100? His answer was less than convincing. Clearly, this competition was not worth my time or money.

But rather engage in a back and forth, I took a step back and realized that it IS a roller coaster. And I’m at the bottom. And things will turn up.

Then we got the email from that midwestern festival we were eagerly anticipating:

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Shit.

I guess this coaster still has some downhill before we climb up again. Out of five potential festivals we could attend in April, only one is still pending.

Keep pushing. Keep climbing. We won Best Feature at our first festival. We’ll get into another.

Right?

Our World Premiere

Well, here we are.

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A badge, a bozo, and a bourbon-based beverage (photo: Catia Ojeda)

It’s been a long journey to get here. No, I’m not talking about this entire process, I’ve said that frequently and you can read past posts to back that up. No, I’m talking literally getting here. We left our house at 6:30am and it took 90 minutes to get to LAX, then a struggle of getting three suitcases, two shoulder bags, a stroller, a car seat, a monkey backpack filled with kids books, and a three-year-old from the car to the shuttle bus to the terminal. Then a cross country flight (no nap for any of us), a frustrating 10 minutes of installing the car seat in my parent’s car, and then a rush hour drive to my parent’s place.

But we did have something to ease our travel woes: our first review. While I try not to hold too much stock in reviews (if you listen to the good ones, then you’ll listen to the bad ones) I was pleased that the critic understood what we were trying to achieve. He had positive things to say about the cast, the script, and the tone. Maybe there is an audience for us out there.

So here we are, a day later, attending our first festival. The D.C.I.F.F. team has been very gracious and responsive to all of our questions, so I was glad to finally put faces to names. Catia and I grabbed our quick dinner, watched a movie, and then went to the afterparty where we met more filmmakers. Milena Govich, who plays Prudence, joined us as well, as she also has a short film she directed in the festival. And it was great to hang out, have food and drink, and just talk film. An added bonus: since we were staying with my parents there was built in babysitting for our kid.

The next day was our premiere. Very excited not only to show the movie to an audience, but to people I know throughout my life as D.C. is my home town. Family, friends, even a few teachers were planning on coming. The big wrinkle: after days of pleasant sunny weather in the 60s, it got colder. And snowed. And then warmed slightly. And turned to ice. Some people starting texting and calling in their regrets. Would anyone show?

After leaving our kid with a sitter, my parents took us out to a great dinner before the screening. And as nausea set in, we made it to the venue. And there were people there! And a bar, and food, and live music as pre-screening festivity. It’s the Saturday night and the festival staff pulled out the stops.

We gathered our team for a photo:

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From left to right: Milena Govich (Prudence), producer Beau Genot, Catia Ojeda (Nina), composer Jamie Christopherson, me, and producer Katie Rosin. (Note to self: get the photo from the camera where we were all looking.)

In addition to me, Catia and Milena, our composer Jamie flew in from Los Angeles. Beau left his vacation early, departing from a cruise stop in the Caribbean. Katie drove down from New York with her family.

The prior movie and discussion ran long, so we continued eating, drinking and talking, which was a blessing as there were so many people from my past with whom I wanted to reconnect. And then, it was time.

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D.C.I.F.F. Executive Director Deirdre Evans Pritchard introduces our movie.

Beau, Catia and I took our seats in the back of the house. The lights dimmed. Here we go.

I have sat in the audience for many of my plays, ranging from full house opening nights to sparsely attended matinees, and it is always a gut punch. Some jokes don’t get a laugh as big as you want. Some don’t get laughs at all. There can be shifting of seats, indicating boredom. There can be stillness, indicating that an audience is on board. Usually, my nervousness ebbs and flows throughout the performance.

But tonight the nervousness vanished pretty quickly. The laughs came where I intended them. The audience was focused and into it. Beau and I looked at each other in the first few minutes and nodded; they were with us. When I grabbed Catia’s hand she didn’t recoil or tense up, a sign that she was comfortable with what she saw (as comfortable as one can be, seeing themselves projected 20 feet high). We were doing it.

Knowing that the Q and A would immediately follow the screening, I ducked out to go to the bathroom. On my way back in, I watched the crowd for a moment:

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Nina (Catia Ojeda), Franklin (James Andrew Walsh) and an audience’s gaze.

The movie ended. Applause. And the questions began. Comments were positive. Questions were insightful. I was pleased to see two former high school teachers of mine in the audience, my film teacher Bill Blackwell and one of my drama teachers, Frank Shutts. It meant a lot to me that they made it, and they certainly had a great influence in the work I make today.

And then, it was over. I fielded a few more questions and then a tall, thin guy tapped me on the shoulder.

“This is yours.” He handed me a box. In it, a hard drive. Our movie.

I thanked the projectionist for his great work (not everyone can accurately screen a movie, it’s harder than you think) and walked out to the lobby, clutching five years of work.

That next few days consisted of viewing features, dozens of shorts, attending a brunch and a closing night party. I only saw four of the ten narrative features so I had no idea if we would get an award, but I naturally liked our movie the best.

And then, the announcement.

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My first acceptance speech. Don’t let the shocked face fool you: I’m thrilled. (Photo: Elias Savada)

A shock. Pure joy. Our first festival. Our first award: Best Feature. A great start to our festival tour. I gave a little speech. When I finished Beau grabbed the mic and THANKED THE FESTIVAL. Oops. Note to self for the next time. If there is a next time. God, I hope there’s a next time!

The celebration was short-lived. The party ended at 10:00pm. The next morning we were up at 4:45am to fly back to L.A. Back to the grind and the hustle. Back to more festival submissions. Back to writing more scripts. Back to finding more work. But this helps:

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Looking forward to the next steps on our journey. Stay tuned!

And with the quickness it was over.

Our screening day approaches. This Saturday.

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Put down that book and get dressed, we have a premiere to go to!

This means that last week we had to finish the movie. We had to color correct, add the credits, place music under the credits, create a DCP (which is how the movie projector reads the film and puts it on the screen) and send the hard drive off to Washington D.C.

And of course, there were complications. Point 360, where we were doing color correction and the DCP, would proof the audio files from Stand Sound, our audio facility, and lines of dialogue would be missing, or there would be original temp music playing simultaneously with the permanent music, or other oddities would occur. I had to zip back into Hollywood and do some audio correcting, then back to Burbank for more proofing. Again, I was fortunate to live so close to Point 360. The producer calls, and I’m there in five minutes.

Finally, everything was straightened out, a DCP was made, and we went back into our edit room one final time.

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Our edit room. Since this facility lives and breathes movies and TV, the decor is refreshingly rock and roll. Lots of rock art on the walls, and every edit suite is a different iconic album.

It was a small group: me, Beau, Senda the D.P., and Justin Kelley, our intrepid Unit Production Manager, who hasn’t seen one frame of this movie but it’s always good to get fresh eyes in the room.  And for 90 minutes we sat and watched the complete movie for the first time.

There are still some mistakes; we noticed a misspelled name, there is the wrong music during the closing credit roll, and a few other tiny gaffes that no one will likely notice, but I noticed. For the premiere, what we just watched is what will be screened (there is no time to make changes now).

We walked out of the room, blinking in the midday Valley sun. Well, I realized I forgot my sunglasses so I walked back in and alone, looked around the edit room.

This was it.

Even though there might be further tweaking, this is basically the last time in the room on Closure. It really hit me; I put in nearly five years of work, with the bulk of it happening in the last twelve months. Three weeks of shooting, and then nearly ten months of editing. And once I walk out of the room, this chapter is over.

I soaked it in and briefly considered stealing all the snacks on the table, grabbing the bottled waters, the comfy rolling chair, holding on to ANYTHING to keep it going. (I have hoarded food before; Catia and I are still using the large bottle of hot sauce that was on the craft service table back in April). But it’s time. Time to walk out of the room. Time for the next phase.

So tomorrow Catia and I get on a plane (with our three-year-old “assistant”) and cross the country to attend our festival premiere. Hopefully we can make changes in the coming weeks, but for now it’s time to soak in the festival experience and have a good time. It’s time to show our baby off to the world.

 

Heading Towards A Finish Line

It’s Tuesday. Our movie screens in 11 days. There is so much to do.

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Photo courtesy Katie Rosin

It has been a lot of fun receiving congratulation texts, calls and emails. And I’m getting excited for friends, family, and even some cast and crew to see our movie on the big screen. But we still have one slight hurdle to jump:

We have to finish the movie.

I know what you’re thinking. “Why would you submit your film to a film festival if it’s not finished?”

It’s a common practice. Film festivals are used to looking at unfinished cuts and can anticipate what the final product will look like, just as long as your running time is very close to final, and your music is in the same ballpark. Since September we have submitted our unfinished version, which was missing audio mix, score, color correction, VFX, and contained many temporary tracks in place of score and permanent placed tracks.

In the past few months we have finished our audio edit, approved almost all of our VFX, put together all our music, and are halfway through with color correction. But the clock is ticking. And there is no better deadline then actually having to screen the music in front of a live, ticket-buying, audience of 250 people.

This afternoon I will return to our lush Burbank post-production facility (they have snacks within reach of my greasy fat fingers! Fresh berries! And someone to get us hot or cold beverages whenever we want!) where we are in the final days of color correction.

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Another day, another edit bay.

Color correction involves going shot by shot, cleaning up the images. For example, if the streetlight in the background is too distracting, we can turn down the intensity. Or, if an actor has a zit poking out through the makeup, we can zap it. Or it can be big picture stuff like deciding how blue we want the sky, or the ocean.

It’s time consuming, but at the hands of our colorist Jake Weathers we are moving along. It helps to have our Director of Photography Senda Bonnet sitting in. She knows far more than I do about coloring (and filmmaking in general). My mantra for this process has always been “surround yourself by people who know more than you.” And that mantra has been working out for me.

But we are under the gun.

The plan is to finish color correction tomorrow, sync up the audio mix, work in the VFX, then add the credit roll and music to go under it. We on the production team have been scrutinizing our credits, double-checking all names. Getting information wrong in the credits would be embarrassing (and expensive to fix) so the time is now.

Once everything is imported we need to watch it in its entirety and make sure there are no glaring errors or admissions. Then we need to create DCP (Digital Cinema Package) which is a collection of files on a hard drive. These files, combined, make up the movie. The hard drive needs to be shipped to Washington D.C. this Friday so they have plenty of time to test screen it.

Going to be a busy week. Let’s hope we make it.

And Here We Go!

This film has been in the works for years. Don’t believe me? Well, check out this blog’s first entry… from February 2nd, 2013.

That’s right (or… write?)! I have been working on this movie, in one way or another, for five years now. So much has happened since then: the birth of my son, a number of film scripts written for hire, even two moves which includes-

STOP. There is no time to reminisce.

Because our film is about to have its World Premiere!

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Here we go!

That’s right, on February 17th all of our work comes to the next stage of development, which is BRINGING IT TO THE PEOPLE in the D.C. Independent Film Festival. And while I’d love to reminisce about everything that has happened in the past years, all the struggles and rejections and triumphs and little victories that make up this journey, I don’t have time.

Because we still have to finish this movie.

Wait, what?

Audio Post. And color correction! And VFX! And the final credit roll. And we are less than four weeks from premiere. I mean, tickets are already on sale. So what do we do?

Four weeks is long enough to get it all done (after all, we did shoot most of this movie over two weeks.

First, the final audio mix. This past Friday Beau, Katie and I watched the entire film with the sound team and attacked the few trouble spots. Now we are immersed in the world of color, and there’s so much to do still, but-

-but take a minute. Scroll back to the top of the post. Look at those laurels! Actually, don’t scroll back, I’ll put them here again so you don’t strain your scrolling finger:

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It’s important, after five years of hard work, from writing to developing to fund raising to everything else, we now have the wonderful opportunity to look at time differently…

…a milestone time:

Saturday, February 17th
7:45pm
Burke Theater
Naval Heritage Center
Washington D.C.

And here we go!

Closure Recap: Splinter Days, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Beach

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, from Day 1 to Day 12. Next up: our splinter days.


Shooting a movie in 12 days is a complete lie.

Yes, we had only 12 days of principal photography. That is what we could afford, two six-day weeks of crew, locations, equipment, meals. But even though we had limited location, very few special effects, stunts, crowd scenes, or complicated set ups, not to mention talented actors who could handle 7-10 pages of dialogue each day, it still isn’t possible to shoot our 103-page script in 12 days.

To make it work Beau and I planned to have splinter days, which is when a smaller group splinters off from the main production team. There are certain scenes that can be shot outdoors (so no lighting) and without audio (so no sound team) and with fewer actors. A smaller crew is definitely cheaper to maintain. And, a smaller crew draws less attention in case you happen to be shooting in areas where you did not secure permits NOT THAT WE WOULD DO ANYTHING LIKE THAT OF COURSE, THIS MOVIE IS A LEGITIMATE PRODUCTION AND WE WOULD HAVE NO NEED TO SAVE MONEY BY NOT GETTING PERMITS SO WHY ARE WE EVEN TALKING ABOUT THIS? NO FURTHER QUESTIONS!

So technically we shot about 95 pages in 12 days, leaving roughly eight pages of the script we still needed to get. Beau, Paul and I planned out three additional days, and the biggest crew day would be first. Then we’d reduce our footprint each day until our third day would just be me, Senda and her camera, and Catia.

We were scheduled to shoot Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in the week immediately following our wrap of principal. Taking Sunday off (and even that involved running a lot of errands and scheduling) Senda and I spent Monday scouting locations and even picking up a shot or two. Then, we were back in.

Splinter Day 1: The Beach

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Senda and Brie set up for what will become the final shot of the film.

We had multiple scenes to shoot, so our stripped down crew met at an out-of-the-way beach at the county line (no need for permits). In fact, the beach was so popular that there were two other shoots going on simultaneously! First we did some driving shots on the PCH. After our grueling schedule, this felt like a vacation…

…only it wasn’t, of course. Next we went to the beach itself. Our stripped down crew included me, Beau, Catia, another actress Ellen Karsten (who will be playing the soon to be memorable “Ha Ha Yoga Lady,”) the full camera crew, our AD Paul, our UPM Justin, Jennifer our Costume Designer, and Celina, our hair/makeup one person team, who also used her car as the makeup room.

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Catia probably now misses her dressing room from last week.

The last link was our sound department. Or rather, sound guy, our fourth to be hired this movie. He was hired last week and as a favor to Beau, cut his rate to fit our budget. Unfortunately, we may have cut the rate too much as he backed out on us at the last minute. Undaunted, Beau called sound guy #3 (who was the best of the bunch, actually) and he was free and within an hour, joined us.

Because of the sound delay, we had to do some rearranging and wound up staging the first scene without audio, making sure to get the back of Catia’s head at the crucial time she had dialogue so we could add it later. No one will notice (we hope). The sound guy did show up for our last beach scene, and miraculously we got clean sound, which is next to impossible with crashing waves just off camera. A minor miracle. And, as quickly as he came, the sound guy was wrapped. And there would be no more sound recording for the rest of the movie.

Splinter Day 2: The Park

Even though we are no longer worried about blocking out external sound (like planes flying overhead, loud car radios, etc.), today won’t be easier. We are shooting the climax of the movie, a montage set to music with a little voiceover we will record later. Two wild cards: working with a young child, a friend’s daughter, who isn’t an actress and is usually camera shy. We’ll have to trick her into performing. The other: Catia is playing two roles today, both Nina and her sister. This means we have to shoot the full sequence twice, and in between give Catia a chance to get into the other wardrobe, makeup and hair.

Fortunately, everything worked out (although big lesson learned: don’t shoot in a strip mall parking lot during lunch hour). We wrapped on our adorable child actress late in the afternoon, took our lunch break, and then an even smaller crew (just the camera team, Catia and me) went back to the abandoned apartments from Day 10 to pick up some shots that we missed when we ran out of time. Senda commented on how nice it was to move with a stripped down crew, and I agreed. That said, as we wrapped that night we bid a fond farewell to Brie and Joey from the camera department. We need to be completely stripped down for our last day.

Splinter Day 3: The Airport

IF one was to shoot a scene from a movie at an airport (and I’m not saying we did), then I imagine the best way to do it is have no one know you are shooting a movie at an airport:

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Just two people going to the airport. Is that a cart loaded with bags, or is it a camera dolly?

I am not advocating shooting a location without a permit. Nor am I acknowledging we did anything of the kind. Hey, look behind you! (Alex runs off).

After “looking” for “our luggage” at “the airport” we broke for a glamorous cast and crew lunch for the three of us. For the past two weeks we enjoyed on site catering. Today: a Wendy’s that is attached to a gas station. The glamorous show biz life!

Then a few driving shots. Then, we unceremoniously picture wrapped while in the car. It was a small group: me as director/producer/production assistant, Senda as director of photography/first assistant camera/second assistant camera, and Catia as actress/makeup and hair assistant.

Catia and I dropped Senda off at home, then we drove home ourselves with a few hours to spare before having to pick up our son at day care. We sat mostly in silence, stunned that after years of writing, rehearsals, fundraising, preparation, we had set out to do what we wanted to do: make a movie.

We did it.


Coming up next: QUICKLY diving into post-production.