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 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 Day 8: At the Police Station

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 7: Uber, a restaurant and Dee Wallace. Next up, day 8 of 12.


Each department serves an important purpose. They all work independently at their respective jobs, then at the last minute come together, like a moviemaking Voltron. Each department has impressed me with what they can do with limited time and budget. The Art Department in particular had a more difficult time than the others.

Why? Because of the budget? Not necessarily; every department made sacrifices because of the money. It’s because they hit the ground, already behind and sprinting to catch up. If you remember, we had to replace the entire art department less than 100 hours before we started shooting. And the team we fired had done absolutely nothing towards making our movie. I mean, empty rooms:

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This was Friday. We start shooting on Monday. (Photo: Alex Goldberg)

So out of the gate they were behind. Chantal Massuh-Fox, the Production Designer, assured me that they have created movies with less time, but I wasn’t sure it could be done. She started immediately with Art Director Cameron Barrett, Prop Master Ashley Cradeur, and Art PA Paul Martin to transform the space.

But they did an amazing job to get us going on time. Here we are, less than 100 hours later:

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Day 1. First location is dressed. Off camera, the art team is furiously working on another wall for the next camera setup. (Photo: Beau Genot)

A great start, but there wasn’t time for a full meeting to go over what I wanted. The previous designer and I had the luxury of a long meeting, plus weeks where I thought she was procuring set and prop items. She wasn’t. Now all we could do is try to stay one day ahead of the shoot itself, which meant conversations between takes, late night photo approvals, and frantic moments when we realized we forgot to cover something. It was terrifying.

Which brings us to today, day 8. Our second location is a police station office or conference room. I wrote it in an office or room instead of an open bullpen a la Law & Order because, well, I know we are not getting to shoot in an actual police station. All we need is some conference room anywhere, and the art department can dress it up, right?

But what if we can’t secure an office space on our budget? Spoiler: we can’t.

Ultra low budget filmmaking is all about using the resources you have. What do we have? Apartments in a building. And in one of those apartments is a bedroom we aren’t using. Hmmm…

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Top photo: the spare bedroom. Bottom photo, a screen shot less than 48 hours later of the same room, fully dressed, with our detectives O’Leary (Michael McCartney) and Franklin (James Walsh) (Photo: Chantal Massuh-Fox)

That’s right, the design team turned a bedroom into an office. Not a strange concept when you realize that sound stages are empty rooms that are turned into any location, but for someone who has spent his entire filmmaking career shooting on location, it’s impressive. And extra impressive that they did it all without going too far over budget.

The day of shooting itself was mostly uneventful. Mostly. We were at the Denny Avenue location so we enjoyed that stability. Our big wrinkle came around lunch time. Lunch is always six hours after crew call time. We generally work right up until the six hour mark. Today, for the first time, we were cutting it close. We wanted to wrap a scene before lunch so when we came back, we could start the next scene. However, things were taking longer that expected, but it was still possible to get our last shot before lunch, if we ran over a few minutes.

The protocol on a union job is to ask for grace. This means that the first Assistant Director goes around to all the department heads (art, camera, sound, makeup, wardrobe, grip & electric) and asks permission to work an additional ten minutes before lunch. Generally, if it isn’t abused, grace is granted and we continue. We are not a union shoot (other than our actors) but Beau and the production team did their best to keep us on a union schedule regarding hours, safety, etc. We didn’t have to ask for grace, but we did. And every department granted it to us.

Except the sound department. They said no. And we can’t question it. And it’s bad business to single out the department that denied it to us. So we broke for lunch without getting the shot, which frustrated and confused most people on set. After lunch we returned to the scene and got our shot, but damage was done. The next scene involved a shot when Nina enters from outside, and the light outside was too dark. If we got our other shot before lunch, we would have had plenty of time for this one.

I didn’t think too much about the politics behind this because I was preparing for our next day of shooting, which we had been calling “hell day” since we first created our schedule. “Hell Day” involves shooting in a bar, The Good Nite. We are shooting a lot of material there: two bar scenes with extensive set ups, and then turning everything around and shooting another bar scene in what will look like a different bar altogether. So three different scenes spanning 11 pages of the script. That’s over 10% of our movie in one day. And here’s the tricky part: we only have 11 hours in the space. We get in at 7am, and we have a hard out at 6pm so the bar can prep to open. So I have spent the previous week carving away at the script, reducing dialogue to what is most essential. I managed to get the script down to 8 1/2 pages. Hopefully it will go as planned.

As our day came to a close we had put the grace moment behind us. I gave a pep talk about the next day, reminding people that it’s going to be difficult. We have limited room, and everyone has to be aware of everyone else. Adam, our gaffer, wisely suggested that everyone “paint the corners,” meaning that if we have to be in the room and we are not doing anything essential, we stick to the walls and stay out of everyone’s way. Great advice.

We broke for the evening and Catia and I went home, early enough to see our son and have dinner. As I went to bed I wondered if we could pull off this big day. We made it through eight. Can our hell day be really that hellish?


Coming up next. Day 9: Hell Day. Spoiler: not everyone survives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it was great.

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

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.