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 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 6: Week One Draws to a Close

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


Last night may have ended roughly, but fortunately there is no time to overthink things. There is barely enough time to think about anything else. Every night this week we’ve come home, had a lovely dinner prepared by my mother-in-law (sadly, without wine, which I am forgoing the entire shoot), a half dose of a sleeping pill, and then hope for six to seven hours of solid shut eye. My system has been working so far, and even after last night I got some sleep.

Today’s first location is a parking lot. A scene between Nina and DJ Space Coyote (played by Demegio Kimbrough) whom she met in Club. This is a typical information dump scene. You see these all the time on Law & Order as the cops follow a construction worker around as he does his job while he answers their questions – doesn’t anyone actually stop to talk to the police? The trick to these type of scenes is to have something interesting happen visually while your brain uploads the important information. When I first wrote the scene I set it in a mattress store, as Nina accompanies the DJ as he buys a new bed. Throw in an offbeat Indian Mattress Store Clerk and you have an entertaining scene where maybe you learn something important at the same time.

But we can’t afford to rent a mattress store.

Throughout pre-production I kept having to rewrite locations to accommodate our budget. Now we have lots of conversations inside and out front of the apartment, and inside cars. My fear is that it’s too much apartment and cars, and will come off as boring. Catia reminded me many great films have worked with less. And I hope she’s right.

So instead of the mattress store we are in a church parking lot, secured with a donation to the church. All things considered, the scene still has its moments. And to make it entertaining, we reveal a little more about the DJ’s career.

The energy at the lot was pretty chill. It was the last day of the week, we had all survived so far, and no one (other than the production team) had to work insane hours. Katie, one of our producers who joined us from New York two days earlier, was pleased to discover that everyone was relatively happy and the energy was positive. And I couldn’t agree more. People were working hard, all thinking about how to make the movie better.

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Literally, we are made in the shade (Photos courtesy Katie Rosin).

For the last shot of the scene, Nina pulls her Prius out of the spot next to DJ’s Prius (in Closure California, everyone drives a Prius). The rest of the parking lot is empty. To get this shot we needed to be up high. And how do we do that without a crane? Senda wanted to climb to the top of the grip van. The view would be good, but could the roof support her and the camera? Adam, the key grip, looked at me with skepticism. And I agreed. I told Senda “if this was day 12 I’d say go for it, but we need you for another week.”

So we reached a compromise:

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Senda in action, and only putting half her weight on the roof. That’s me behind the van, most likely checking our insurance policy.

Shot achieved! After 3 4/8 pages of shooting, we head back to Denny Ave home base. Three scenes left on our week, two daylight and one evening. All three scenes featured only two actors, Catia and John Sloan. I’ve known them both for years. They work well together. It’s almost so easy that I forget we are attempting eight pages today!

We move relatively quickly, as people are keen to get out and enjoy their one day off. We were worried before production that shooting in this busy neighborhood on a weekend night could be a disaster. We heard horror stories from other shoots of irate neighbors who throw loud parties, looky-loos who hang out off set and heckle, or drunken arguments. The absolute worst: neighbors who hold the movie ransom. They do that by blasting music until a ransom is paid, which can cost hundreds of dollars.

Fortunately, this neighborhood was pretty relaxed. Sure, there were more cars going up and down Denny Avenue, but as we worked into the evening we had very few interruptions.

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Catia Ojeda (Nina) and John Sloan (Jack) do their acting thing while I do my director thing.

We actually got through our eight pages slightly ahead of schedule. Our workday started at noon and we wrapped just after 10pm… over eight pages in ten hours!

But does quantity translate to quality? What I’ve seen on the monitor looks good, but that’s not a complete assessment. We haven’t watched any dailies yet, although Beau promises we’ll have some by the end of the weekend.

As people quickly packed up gear and headed home, I thought back on what we have accomplished. We weathered a rough final days of prep when we had to replace a cast member, multiple people on the crew including a designer and first assistant director, not to mention a caterer. We cut shots, but we didn’t cut any scenes. The actors were doing a great job. We shot 45 pages in six days. And had some fun. Week two was going to be ambitious, but slightly fewer pages and not as many difficult scenes. Well, we had one big day we were already calling “hell day,” but otherwise we can do this.

Right?

On my way out (one of the privileges being director, less for me to wrap up so I can get out earlier) I walked around and thanked the team. My last stop was the grip truck, and I said thanks to Aaron, one of our grips. He just stared at me and didn’t answer back. I didn’t give it a second thought…

… but I found out on Monday that two minutes before I had my brief encounter with Aaron, he had just quit. Why? And I would soon learn that there were others who weren’t happy on our production. And would make that known to us very clearly in the coming days.

But I get ahead of myself. Week one is done. Our 33 hour weekend begins. Next week’s problems can wait for next week.


Coming up: next week is now this week. 

Closure Recap: Day 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.

 

Closure Recap: First Day of Shooting

Closure is in the can (or on the drive to be more 21st Century) and editing has begun.  Before memories fade, I will devote the next blog posts to daily recaps: the highs, the lows, and the long long days. Yesterday was the final harried days of pre-production. Today: first day of shooting.


Alarm was set for 5:45am. I was up at 4:30. Not a shocker, but I also wasn’t panicked, because 1) after the previous chaos of prep, things had oddly settled down and I could focus on directing, not producing, and 2) the night before I ate healthy, abstained from wine and took a sleeping pill. Last meal of champions. I was asleep by 10:30pm. Those six hours was the best night of sleep I have had in over a week. Catia didn’t fare as well. She told me she probably got two to three hours total.

Catia and I alternated showers and breakfast. Our son blissfully slept in his room, his nana asleep on the air mattress next to him. If you think making a movie is hard, factor in caring for a 2 1/2 year old at the same time. Sure, we could dump him at day care but they are only open from 8am – 5pm, and we are doing 12 hour days at least. The math is not in our favor.

Fortunately, we rigged a system with the grandparents. Catia’s mom would handle the first week and my parents would be there for the second week. Any worry I felt about neglect for my son I compartmentalized and pushed out of my head. There was still a few days of child care to cover, but that was on days 12 – 14. A lifetime away.

I walked on set right at call time: 7am. Set today was our home base: an apartment complex in North Hollywood that was being renovated, and through a series of connections and luck we managed to secure and rent three apartments for cheap. Two as set locations and holding areas for our art and camera departments, and one as our production office and home to crafty (a.k.a. craft service, a.k.a. where you get bagels, coffee and other munchies throughout the day).

Set was humming: nearly two dozen people briskly moved, doing various tasks. Over the past 96 hours I had met only a third of these people. Hell, exactly one week ago the set and our ENTIRE production team looked like this.

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One week before day one: Line Producer Steve Rousseau and Producer Beau Genot.                     This was basically the entire operation.

Oh how far we have come. And here we are now:

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Our fearless crew. Spoiler: four of these 27 would not be with us by day 12.

An assortment of “good mornings” and various other greetings from crew, many of whom had been here before our 7am call to unload equipment, as it was our first day.

As boss, I made one smart move in advance of day one: initially scheduled (by our recently fired First A.D.) was to start the day with a car shot. Two actresses in a car. Simple to visualize, but difficult to make happen. First we needed to wire the car for sound, and then we needed to actually get on the road and shoot it, leaving the majority of the crew behind. I knew with that as our first shot, we would immediately fall behind. I wanted day one to seem like a typical day, which is all of us in one location. Of course, our days were not typical. A normal big budget movie shoots one, maybe two pages a day (One page is roughly equivalent to one minute of on screen time). A normal TV show will shoot three to five pages a day. To make our film in two weeks, we were scheduled to shoot 7 to 10 pages each day. Each day. Every day. Although day one was “easy,” only 6 5/8 pages.

Do you like how I called myself “boss” in the previous paragraph? Ha. Other than our production assistants, I probably had the least amount of set experience. I have directed two shorts and a feature. The feature had a budget of $25,000. And was shot over 15 years ago. The last thing I directed on camera was a promotional video for Johnnie Walker. Over 10 years ago. As long as the crew doesn’t find out…

I dropped my bulky bag filled with my giant script binder and laptop in the office and found Paul, the first A.D. He told me that normally he liked to start the day with a meeting of all department heads: me, him, the D.P., the art department, and sound. We would go over all shots for the day. But since this was day one, everyone was feeling things out and we would just aim to get first shot off at 8:30am and then meet up. First day jitters. “Speaking of first day jitters, I’d like to make a speech before first shot.” He told me that wouldn’t be a problem. “Also,” I tentatively added: “it’s been a while since I’ve done this. What’s the last thing I will hear before I call action?” It may seem silly, but if at least I can call “action” with authority people will respect me. I know that Paul announces that picture is up, sound tells us they are speeding, but what’s next? Paul gently advised that the D.P. will say that she is set, that camera is ready. Got it. I’m ready to direct.

We actually made it to first shot on time, roughly 90 minutes after call time. I gave my little speech, thanking everyone for being there and preparing them that we would be working very quickly to make our schedule. I also encouraged them to come to me with suggestions about anything. I’m comfortable listening to suggestions provided that they are all comfortable with me saying no. They took it to heart, and over the weeks many suggestions came forth, with over a dozen making it into the film.  And then we got started.

And the day went well. And was a lot of fun. Despite my early morning jitters I felt extremely comfortable at the helm. We spent the morning shooting exterior scenes with Catia and then Cynthia joined us, and we moved inside covering a bunch of scenes. The day flew, and in a breath we were at six hours and at lunch, which a few of us spent planning the next day. Since they were recent hires, Paul and the art department would be playing catch up every day for the first week.

As the day came to a close, we were faced with a big challenge: the last scene was simple logistically, just three camera set ups in the living room of Yasmina’s apartment. However, it was a bear for the actors: nearly three pages of dialogue. And I could see that Catia’s lack of sleep the night before was hitting her. That said, the two actresses pulled it off extremely well. We needed only two takes of each set up, then moved on. I learned that day that TV and theatre actors are perfect for memorizing and digesting tons of dialogue. Without these veteran actors, we certainly would not have made our day. We wrapped around 6:30pm.

Got home, had a nice dinner prepared by my mother-in-law, answered some emails, and made sure the next day’s shot list was on my phone for reference. Piece of cake, this directing thing. While the day was exhausting, I felt at ease and natural. I loved it.

Only one problem: I couldn’t figure out what our D.P. Senda says to cue me to say action! Paul mentioned it would be that she was ready. He didn’t prepare me that it would be in French, as she is a recent transplant from Paris. She speaks fluent and perfect English, but I was a little thrown by her “ready” call. Someday I’ll ask her what she’s actually saying. But for now, our rhythm is working nicely. We made our day. On to the next one.


Next up, Day Two: don’t get cocky, kid. It can all easily crumble.

 

Here We Go

This is our first location:

Location

INT. Yasmina’s Apartment

This photo was taken Friday afternoon, about 60 hours before we start shooting the movie. In the past few weeks we’ve hired our actors, secured locations, and hired 25 people for our crew. There have been meetings upon meetings, location scouts, conflict, firings, rehearsals, compromises, emails, fundraising shout outs, negotiations, scheduling, and the list goes on. Every night I go to bed wondering if I have done enough that day, because I know when I wake up in the morning that we are one day closer.

Will everything be ready? Will we have enough food for everyone? Will we have enough time to get our shots in every day?

But I can’t stress about that. I can only focus on what I can control: honing the script, knowing my shot list backwards and forwards, and getting the best performance out of my actors (who proved in rehearsals that they are all bringing their A game). Everything else is trust, and a leap of faith. Trust that everything will fall into place. Trust that we move quickly and efficiently. Trust that everyone is good at their job, doing all the things that I cannot do, or know how to do (and what I don’t know could fill a film school). Trust that the story is good enough. And trust that the set will be built in time.

40 hours have passed since I took that first photo. Things have changed.

Location 2

Not pictured: all the furniture and props waiting in the other room.

Less than 20 hours from now, dozens of people will walk in and be ready to work. It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be long days. And if we do it right, it’s going to be a wonderful experience.

Here we go…