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.

 

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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.

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 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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: Last Days of Prep

We have emerged on the other side. Closure is in the can (or on the drive to be more 21st Century) and editing has begun. It was a wonderful, exciting, stressful, exhausting and at times terrifying whirlwind and I would do it all over again (well, maybe wait a few months). Before memories fade, I will devote the next blog posts to daily recaps: the highs, the lows, and the long long days. First up, the last days of pre-production which was a drama unto itself:


The last week of pre-production. So much work to do, and not enough time or resources to do it. But we were making it happen. I was rehearsing with actors at night and on the weekends. I finished my shot list with our D.P. Senda Bonnet early in the week, and in hindsight was glad I didn’t have the foresight to know that due to a variety of circumstances, most normal, we would throw out roughly 1/3 of our shots and create scenes on the fly. Stuff was coming together on the director side.

However, in the office is where we were all underwater. For years it had been just me and Beau. Then, in early March, we brought Steve Rousseau on board as Line Producer, who handles keeping everything on budget including staffing and allocating funds. For most of the month we were all doing many jobs outside of our titles, including location scouting, production coordinating, hiring designers and crew, applying for permits, for insurance, reviewing documents for investors, social media and crowd funding posting (although our other producer Katie Rosin took some of that off our plates).

To complicate things, we were waiting to officially announce our start date. We were aiming for April 10th, less than a week away. It all hinged on the availability of Cynthia Addai-Robinson, who we wanted to play Yasmina. She wanted the role, she had been involved for years, but she was also about to begin shooting season two of her show Shooter on USA Network. That show was scheduled to start shooting April 17th, which would give us enough time to shoot her scenes (we packed her schedule into three days). However, we wouldn’t know if she would be booked up the week prior to her official start. And wouldn’t know until April 4th. Which meant we couldn’t officially make the call until we heard. Once we got the go ahead, we made it final: shooting begins April 10th. And then it got crazy. It was too much. What we desperately needed was to bring in someone new to the office. And we didn’t have time to hire anyone outside of the mountain of work we were already doing. It felt like drowning. I was losing sleep, or more accurately falling asleep easily but waking up between 2am and 3am, mind racing, and staying awake for two hours. Not the way to be.

Then we finally brought in someone new. Justin Kelley became our Unit Production Manager. And with him in the room, we were suddenly able to breathe a bit. He brought us about 1/4 of our crew, ALL of the sex cult extras (more on THAT later) and found and booked us locations. Things were starting to come together.

Notice of Filming

Then four days before the shoot our first big snag. After not responding to our emails for nearly 48 hours, our Production Designer wrote a long email saying she was overextended with other jobs, could only give us 48 hours to get everything set up for day one, and recommending that we push our start date a week.

What was that? Now you tell us you can’t do your job in time and you want us to push? My instinct: fire her.

But it’s not up to me to fire a designer less than 100 hours from our first shot. Fortunately, Beau agreed with my instinct. Even more fortunate, within minutes Justin had three other designers reading the script and later that day, I interviewed two of them and made a decision. Chantal Massuh-Fox had great ideas, liked the script, knew how to work with our budget, and what may be best for the short notice, sounded like she was pepped up on lots of caffeine or speed. We hired her and her Art Director as well, and they got started right away. Steve called our (now former) designer and gave her the news. She told us there is no way we will find a replacement on such short notice. Which is why you don’t fire someone until you have a replacement on board.

Smooth sailing, right? On Saturday morning, I woke up to learn that one of our cast members had to drop out due to a sudden family illness. Totally understand; family comes first, and I have already had anxiety thoughts about someone in my family getting sick during production. Also, it wasn’t a big role which eased the sting. We had calls out to a replacement, Joe Coots, within an hour and by the end of the day Joe was on board, ready to shoot on Tuesday.

But that Saturday brought us three more personnel issues. Our caterer dropped out; turns out he had a day job as a private chef and while he thought he was in the clear for a month, his boss chose to come back to L.A. early. Sucks for us. Also, our props person had a family emergency and we had no idea if she would be able to stick with us. And our First A.D. was behind on paperwork and not returning calls. All bad signs for the final 48 hours.

By the afternoon the caterer issue was resolved. We had a replacement who could start Tuesday, and we’d buy lunch for our crew and do our own craft service on Monday. And our props person did have a family emergency but things looked like they were going to be okay, so no need to replace that person. But our first A.D. was a problem. After seeing a sloppy report she sent out, we realized that she was spreading herself thin and working another job until 11pm, and doing our job after then. Not the way to be. I learned right then and there that Beau is a loyal guy, but if anything gets in the way of our production he is not afraid to make an immediate change. He negotiated with a first A.D. he knew, Paul Holman, who came on board that afternoon. Beau fired our initial First A.D. and he said her immediate reaction was relief, a big sign that this woman had bitten off much more than she could chew.

The next day, we all sat in the production office, wondering if it would all come together. I feared our crew would revolt or worse, see through me and think I was a sham of a director. That they would look at me and Catia as amateur hacks who are married and making a movie just for fun. But I looked around and there was Beau, Steve, Justin and Paul working aggressively, all while Angela the P.A. came in and out running errands. They were proceeding as if everything was normal. So should I.

Around 6pm Paul, now on the job for about 24 hours, said he was heading home so he could do laundry before the shoot. I asked Paul if he thought we were ready. In the doorway, Paul turned around, smiled and said “we’re either ready or we’re not. Either way, we’re starting tomorrow.” Then he stepped out. I got home around an hour later, tried to go to bed at 9:30pm (to wake up at 5:30am) and wondered if we would be ready. And if I knew anything about filmmaking outside of writing.

We’d all find out, very soon.

Coming up next: first day of the rest of my life

R.I.P. Cheyenne

So how can we make our movie cheaper? As I detailed in the previous post, we set a modest budget, just north of $500,000. We would shoot for three weeks, have a modest crew, and everyone would be paid. Seems like a lot of money, but I guarantee it wasn’t extravagant: we wouldn’t be catered by Tom Colicchio, we weren’t hiring limos for everyone, Jennifer Lawrence wasn’t “on board,” and we weren’t putting the cast and crew up at the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons. It was pretty low key: just get in, make the movie, and get out at the end of the day with a decent paycheck for everyone else involved.

However, we only were able to raise about 15% of our budget via investors. So now what? Well, I suppose quitting is an option. But I’m not very good at quitting.

Our next step is to cut the budget. And I’m not talking a cosmetic nip and tuck. I’m talking major surgery. It’s time to cut, cut, cut. What can we lose, without sacrificing the story or the movie I want to make? To do this, I don’t need to be a script doctor, I need to be a script surgeon.

First off, there are some minor characters that can go. A few are only in one scene, and maybe with a few lines. So why cut them? That’s an extra paycheck, an additional meal, and more hassle. Is the character needed? Not necessarily. Do they have information important to the story that can be revealed in another way? Probably.

So I took out my trusty writer’s scalpel and killed off five characters. Five souls, all serving a purpose, albeit briefly, in the movie. (And five actors who will now not get cast.) As a tribute to the souls who no longer exist, in their memory here is a list of those characters who didn’t make the cut (cue the sad tribute music):

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“Did you ever know that you’re my hero…”

Lost Baggage Clerk
Bartender
Dog Owner
Receptionist
Cheyenne

Yes, EVEN Cheyenne. Who was Cheyenne? She was the server at a wine bar who arrogantly told our hero about her favorite wines, describing the Marcassin as “like a wet stone,” and at the same time providing crucial plot information to our hero. Alas, our hero will now get the necessary information another way. So let’s pour out that pricey Marcassin onto the floor, one for my homeys.

With death comes a new birth. I had to add two characters to make things flow, so it’s a net loss of three characters. Also, a net loss of three locations, which also saves money. Fewer locations mean fewer permits, fewer company moves, fewer extras. No significant sacrifice to the story.

Okay! Making progress. But slowly. What else can go?

My salary, for one. I’m making this film because I want to make movies, and sometimes I have to invest in myself. I had already waived my salary as the screenwriter, but now I’ll take the cut as the director as well. Sure, I’ll have points in profit sharing, but that’s WAY down the road. Fortunately, I have enough money saved to take a few weeks off from my other writing gigs. Our producer Beau did the same with his salary: slash it to zero, and gamble on some money coming in at the end.

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On my own project, at least. For someone else, you gotta pay me.

A bigger change: the shooting schedule. Initially we were planning on three six-day weeks. However, since many scenes involve just our lead character, it’s possible to have entire days dedicated to working with her. Which means we only need a stripped down crew. So we adjusted the schedule to two six-day weeks, with pickup days at the end for our lead actress and a skeleton crew. Cutting the crew time by 1/3 saves money. Also, as a parent of a two-year-old and with my wife starring in the movie, two weeks of figuring out constant child care is far easier to stomach than three weeks.

We’ve made a lot of ground. But we’re still not at our goal. More cuts to come this week.

The prognosis is good. At the end of the surgery, I promise the body will be healthy and vibrant. Albeit, just a little trimmer.

But this IS Los Angeles, so trim is good.