Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Row, Row, Row Your Boat

As we head into the home stretch, we're putting the final pieces in place. This means finding the right crew to make this film come alive. Although we don't have the biggest budget, there are some really skilled people out there -- generous, excited, creative and talented -- all interested in working on this little film. We put out three postings for some key crew and got more than 100 responses. It's interesting to see who responds and more importantly how they respond.

What are the things I responded to? People who actually read the ad. We're looking for specific skills, so don't tell me you can do everything. And positivity. People who were sincere and enthusiastic always got a response. And if you followed up, even better. Don't give me too many links. At least give me a list of your projects and your experience with the right equipment. Sometimes people might not have the time to detour through your extensive projects posted all over the net.

Our DP, Mike Epple, has been a great leader in helping develop a list of skills and helping select his crew -- Gaffer, Key Grip, Head Sound Master, AC. So far, our team looks rock solid.

For the next few days, we'll be checking off the little things to take care of... insurance, food, location details, and creating the schedule and final shot list. It's like planning a wedding, except of course you're marrying 25 people. Nice. So I'm rowing slowly along to make sure I don't forget anything. Frantic rushing doesn't accomplish much, except of course for creating stress and ensuring that you forget things. Merrily.

Illustration © Deborah Cavanaugh

The joy of working in film is that we all do it for the love of what we do. None of us - at least at this level - makes any money to speak of. We are all, cast and crew, just enthusiastic to be involved in creating a visual story and working on a real project. We are blessed to be following our dreams and it doesn't come without some blood, sweat and tears.

It's nearly 2010. My hope is that everyone follows their dream, whatever it may be. It's not easy to follow the right path and stay the course. It never is. But the reward is that much greater. Happy New Year to everyone.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Climbing the Tree

As we have moved forward with production of this film, we've written two grant proposals, but really relied on people who have known about the film and close family friends for funding. The budget isn't high-cost. I was hoping to get $8500 from 3 investors. And with each request we have heard great supportive words:
- Sounds wonderful
- Can't wait to see it
- Great work
- Impressive
- What an amazing script

While I wish each of these words came with a dollar value, they don't. My DP is very concerned that we won't be able to have the equipment and crew that we need to make this film look decent. And I agree with him. We are concerned. Times are tough. And it doesn't help that our production schedule was pushed up three weeks, which means we're doing heavy fundraising around Christmas. Not an easy time for anyone.

But I think we've developed a fantastic Investor Prospectus. After reading this, who wouldn't want to be a part of this amazing film project?

The script is great. The cast is amazing. And we have a talented and skilled production and post-production crew. But ultimately, it's all about the story, which is inspiring, funny and bittersweet. The little film has the potential to go ALL THE WAY. We just need one person, or 3 people, with enough faith in that. $20,000 worth of faith. Better yet, can 100 of our film followers donate just $50 each to get us going?

Our first (and so far, only) investment has come from a single parent with 3 kids, who's working PT as a teacher at CSU Sacramento. That is true giving. And when I'm rolling quarters to buy bread for my daughter's lunch, I wonder about those NO's that I have gotten. It's disheartening. At the same time, I know that it's all relative and I can't begrudge those who have their own lives, their own families, and their own travels they're involved in. What is their motivation to invest in this dream?

I have done my fair share of fundraising, and film has always been the most difficult. People will give to charities, to cure diseases, even to performance groups and art museums, but film is its own beast. At some level it's perceived as a luxury. People love movies, going to movies, fantasizing about movies. But even experienced investors know it's a huge gamble, and for many potential investors, they just see a big black hole. But film itself is bigger than that. It's the place where dreams are made. Everyone loves a good movie. It's like good music. It touches something deep inside our humanity, going back to drawings on cave walls.

So I am climbing the tree, and moving forward with faith that someone, somewhere, will believe in this film and help bring it to life. I do truly believe that it will be good enough to recoup everyone's investment, including my own, which is substantial already, not counting the soul points I'm paying out. It's wicked funny, which in the end I think life should be... full of laughter.

May everyone be blessed this holiday season,
Maria Collette Sundeen

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Nine Days of Christmas... the good, the bad, and the ugly

Today is Tuesday, Dec 15. A lot has happened in the last nine days. Let's start with rehearsal. On Sunday, Dec 13, our entire cast, the DP, Art Director, Storyboard Artist and Makeup/Hair crew all came to the Flux53 Theater in Oakland to work on character development, rehearse the lines, block the scenes, and prep for the shoot.

We launched the day by sharing with the cast the story behind the story, what each character represents, and the journey each character makes in the arc of the film.

While small groups went to hair/makeup/wardrobe, the rest of us went through the script to work out movements and interactions for each scene. It worked out perfectly, and I have to thank my DP Mike Epple and Art Director for making it seamless and smooth. Most importantly, big kudos go to my brother, who whipped up two fritatas and a big bowl of pasta, and brought it over for everyone.

We laughed and ate and joked around all day. Everyone was just great, and we got to hear the story unfold. It is really funny... even the cast was laughing out loud and hamming it up. The best part is that we have actors with the chops to carry it off.

On Sunday Dec 6, AD Wyatt Norton and I celebrated the end of casting by hitting the local pub for a celebration beer. Our lovely casting director Emmanuelle should have been there, so we toasted in her honor. It's thanks to her we got actors that rock.

Throughout all this, while in pre-production, I'm still in the middle of that insane IRS audit, and spent the last few days crunching two years worth of deposits and receipts. Today, two of my potential donors declined, while a potential third said he's leaving town until early January, all of which leaves the film high and dry for now.

But we plow onward. I have a few final presentations up my sleeve. At the moment, however, I'm a little disheartened. This film has been more than a labor of love, and up to now it has been relatively smooth. My birthday is Friday. I'll have to sleep on it and figure out my next move.

And I dedicate this posting to the memory and soul of Ted Beason, my cousin, who was killed last Tuesday when he was hit by a car while walking his dog in Malibu. I'm still in shock. Ted was full of life and positivity. His spirit will stay with this film ... he was the kind of guy who lived to have fun and didn't let any of it get too serious. Bless Ted's soul. May he rest in peace.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Rounding UP the Cast

After Mick and I completed the script we asked a few people to read it. One very astute friend/reader (I forget who) said, "Wow, you're going to need some good actors to carry this off."

In that sense, the film has been blessed so far. But on Saturday, we will take on the final missing pieces to the casting puzzle -- the father CARLOS, the bride CARMEN, and of course the replacement for our beloved Mawiyah (who can't ever be completely replaced), the shop HOSTESS (affectionately named STELLA).

Scheduling is as follows:

3:15 - Angela Nicole Davenport (Hostess)

3:30 - Roque Gutierrez (Carlos)

3:45 - Teresa Navarro (Carmen)

4:00 - Andrea Covington (Hostess)

4:15 - Josie Alvarez (Hostess/Carmen)

4:30 - LaToya Johns (Hostess)

4:45 - Shannon Turner (Hostess)

5:00 - Reuben David Garza (Carlos)

And hopefully after that I'll be in such a splendid mood I can pop over to The Warfield to see The Black Crowes. Everything goes better with a little rock'n roll, that's my motto.

Break a leg to all.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Mini-Production on the way: The Casting Process

As part of our use of the facilities of the Community Media Center, we are obligated to produce a short piece from our sessions there. So while we have been casting, negotiating contracts, meeting with crew, talking with the cast, etc., we've also been editing a 27-minute piece together showcasing the actors that have auditioned and including interviews with our Associate Producer AD Wyatt Norton, Casting Director Emmanuelle Antolin, and the director, yours truly. We also got a great local actor Jeffrey Weissman, who stepped up to take part in the interview and share some of his hard-earned knowledge about the casting process from an actor's point of view.

My part-time shooter JC has taken all the casting footage and cobbled together something unique and interesting. Over the holiday, he showed some of the Campbell Clan the rough 18-minute cut and got some great feedback. We're making some edits to smooth out the rough edits, but I wish I had more time and some good lighting and maybe one other helper to really set this up. I'm not happy with the bad lighting, the out of focus moments, and the profile shots -- plus, I could have done something with that hair. Ah well... my hope is that the viewers -- and the funders -- will enjoy it.

Tonight I came home and reviewed 60 minutes of footage, took notes on which quotes/clips to use, and sent out another proposal for funding.... and that's after putting in a 9-hour day at the office. I'm tired, and still achingly optimistic that our film will get the funding it needs and look fabulous.

The 27-minute short, "The Casting Process," will be ready by mid-December.