Friday, July 14, 2006

Getting Started!

The next step I needed to do after setting up the company and casting the parts for the movie was to set a date to start filming. At first the start date was in July, but after talking with the actors and crew August was a more realistic date. August 5th was the start date. On August 1st I checked the hotel reservation for cast and crew. Now of course had I an assistant that would have been great, but my assistant had a family emergency, and I was down a person, so that meant more work for me. I enlisted my wife for some of the grunt work, but I had to involve myself in readying the accommodations for cast & crew. Not only did my wife do some extra running around but she also acquired food for snacks and lunches for the first two days. All this while still going to her day job.

Now as you can see I would have saved some money had I hired actors within the Philadelphia area, but remember this all started with an ad in Backstage. I received a majority of the actor’s headshots from actors living in NYC, so I had no choice. It was do or die. At NO time did I have the luxury to say STOP. If I had stopped I would not have started again thereby never finishing the film, so I shrugged and did the best I could. The crew was mostly from Philly. I enlisted two film students from Brooklyn College that my former film teacher recommended. Both Ryan and Alex were the hardest working crew member’s I had, and I have no regrets in hiring them. They were the best, and they gave it their all. They drove to the Philly area themselves, where I provided hotel accommodations for them. Alexandria was to be my camera assistant. She loaded the magazines, and pulled filters, took light readings, set f-stops, and measured my focus. To say that I feel in love with her is an understatement. I owe her a BIG thank-you, and I’ve said this a thousand times, but I will never stop singing her praises. Ryan was my lighting demon. He set the lights in the fastest manner possible, and I NEVER heard him complain. At the end of the shoot I gave both of them some extra film-stock I had left over, which they appreciated being that they needed some filmstock for a project they were working on. My only regret was not giving them more. I had thought I needed more for cut-away’s, and stuff, but I over estimated, and had film left over.

Was it all bliss? No it was not. There were thousands of questions that people came to me for, and I did my best in answering them. I knew what I needed, so that was simple, but I did have arguments with my AD. They were good productive arguments, and I respect that, but my way of filmmaking is much different from the norm.

How’s that you ask? Well I believe in smaller crews where people do more then one job. This can be confusing, but it leads to a much more dynamic crew who can adapt to all kinds of situations. My AD on the other hand believed that I needed more people. More PA’s for instance, and in essence he was right, but I only had limited resources (read limited $$$$), so I was forced into having the crew compliment I had. It all worked out, and my AD adapted which says a lot.

You can get lost in getting dollies, cranes, and steadicams, but this was basic filmmaking. There was no room for all that equipment. I was shooting in existing locations, and I would not have had room for them, so they were not considered. Maybe in my second feature or when I have the budget to do so I’ll consider them, but at this point in the game I could not afford them, and I really didn’t need them. Would I like them? Sure, but not for this project. I needed to get good performances from the actors, and I needed to concentrate on that, yet I still was distracted by the technical things. The reason was that I was also the DP (director of photography). In essence I did too much, and extended myself. It hurt, and helped the film. It hurt during production where my attention was divided, but it certainly helped in the editing stage. By knowing ALL the shots I knew in essence how I wanted the footage cut. My shooting ratio was about 3:1, which means for every three feet I shot I used 1 foot of film. That is a small ratio. I could have gone 4:1, but didn’t. I knew when I liked the shot, and then moved on. There was a lot of dialogue in the film, and the actors had to get it right. They almost always did, but sometimes when they flubbed their lines mid way through the scene I sometimes would pick it up from that point using another camera angle. In essence I was editing it in my head. It helped with the film ratio, and that’s how I used less stock then I intended.

I had a twelve-day schedule, and only shot 11 days. I only extended Karen’s stay by a couple of days so I could get some extra scenes with her and Nick. I also had to accommodate for a change in location when I began to get grief from two of my neighbors on our filming activities. One being a traffic judge and another a retired Philadelphia police officer. More on that later, but needless to say my AD came through for me, and we filmed at his place instead. He even wrote a piece of dialogue that explained the change in location. It worked, and that’s a testament to the cast & crew I had.

The first day went well, but we were all getting used to each other. By the second and third day we found our rhythm. Those days were long days, and hard ones, but we managed. I believe we actually did 15 set-ups in one day. Throughout the shooting I managed to keep it together, but the nights were short, and the days were long & hot. It was the dog days of August, and the lights generated their own heat. Again we pulled through, and it’s because we were a team, and we believed in the project. More to come….

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