Sunday, January 24, 2010

Launching Into Post-Production

Some pick-up shots are planned for next weekend, Jan 30-31, which will include a scene we cut out of the bridal shop shoot and some additional dialogue I'm working on. We're planning to shoot against a green screen so we can experiment with beach or vacation-like backdrops. After that, we're heading into post-production.

At the moment I'm reading "In the Blink of an Eye" by the renowned editor Walter Murch (The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Apolcalypse Now, The Godfather II, The English Patient, etc.) to get in the mode for cutting and organizing scenes. Walter has some great metaphors about editing, but my favorite concept is his theory about blinking. His philosophy is that although we live in a 3-D world of continuous time, we blink not only to water our eyes, but also to "cut" our own internal film, and shifts in pace according to the nature and frequency of our thoughts. While in film we can assume that someone has moved from the entry to the door without seeing them walk there, we don't do that in real life, but we BLINK, which in effect cuts the scene for us. We blink to separate and punctuate ideas, just as a cut should do in a film.

One of his great tricks to keep perspective is to put paper cut-outs of little people next to his editing screen to keep the 'big screen cinema' in perspective. I like that. I'm adopting it.

From the animated film entitled “Dead All Along” by Giles Timms. Cut-out figures, inspired by illustrator Edward Gorey.

I'll be meeting with our post-production supervisor on Monday night and with another investor on Thursday, so everything is moving forward. First step, buy a new editing system to put together a clip. I'll also be listening to a lot of CD's over the next few months to get the pacing and energy and vibe together. Production may be over, but the film still has a long way to go.

In graduate school, I studied the arts as social and political expression... reading plays, novels and watching films for political content. My thesis focused on Czechoslovakia, whose arts community was instrumental in overturning the Communist government. Playwright Vaclav Havel became their first president after the Soviets left. Coincidentally, the most well-known Czech writer is Milan Kundera, a long-established refugee in France, and author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being (a film edited by Walter). You can check out the trailer for The Unbearable Lightness of Being here. It's very avant-garde and has a uniquely strong European feel to it. Haven't seen it in years, but I think I'll be previewing it before we start editing.

For a little Q&A on Walter Murch, you can read this article here.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Last Supper: Day 4 hits the books

Today was GetItDoneDay. We moved fast and furious through all the coverage shots we needed.

I had fallen asleep at the end of Day 3 so there was no Call Sheet and no Shooting Schedule. So from 10:30 pm to 11:30 pm I reviewed the daily schedules, eliminated what we had done, reviewed the script, and listed all the people and shots we needed for the day. This was it. If we didn't get it, it wasn't going to be in the film. By 12:15 am on Thursday I was on the set going over the final shots with AD Wyatt Norton, Gaffer Art Phelps and DP Mike Epple.

I walked in and had my own little issue: Why didn't I have the actors look at the camera during the hallucination scene? It wasn't going to work! People tried to reassure me, but it took me an hour or two to get over it. Day 3 was done. There was nothing I could do anyway.

We set up in the middle of the room to shoot all the coverage we needed first. Vikki was late so we pulled in Jennifer to shoot her key final scene. She looked beautiful. I told her it was HER scene and she was perfect. Editor Scott Daigle showed up. Glad he could see the back end of the hallucination scene. Vikki was just stunning. So perfect for the part and the best hallucination reactions. Wow.

In the middle of this I kept going. Energy was flowing. I was in it. All those years of observing, production, looking at details on the screen, made me eminently qualified to do take after take. Every flair, detail. I saw it. Get it right or why bother.

I focused. Didn't take a damn picture all day. Before I knew it the clock said 5 am. We set up for the other POV and broke for breakfast. Morning waffles. Biscuits and gravy. Mushroom sauce. Very tasty. By 7:15 am we were shooting the coverage of Holly Nugent (bride #1, Helen) in THE gown. Then we moved to the corner to shoot the other coverage we needed.

Time started to slow down. We wanted to get outside by 10 am, but then we weren't done getting coverage. I started to get wound up. We had two big scenes to shoot outside, THE KEY SCENES around which the whole movie revolves, and we hadn't set them up yet.

The Angel scene -- the money shot -- took 45 minutes to set up. It was gorgeous. A full frontal, so to speak. The chorus of angels was singing. Loved it.

By noon we were outside. Two hours later than planned. Overtime. Shooting the scene wasn't ideal. Light was changing. Shadows and light played over their faces in different places each time we pulled the camera down the dolly tracks. A big red alarm sticker was driving me nuts. I told Sam and she said she had nothing left to give. So I got a Starlet Bridal sticker and taped it over the alarm logo. We kept changing the lighting set-up. No one could remember when she picked up the cigarette. The actors flubbed their key lines. Both of them. Sirens blared during every other shot, almost every time I said, "Action." Airplanes flew over. People kept walking by yakking loud on their cell phones or gawking in the background of the shot. One guy revved his motor in the parking lot. Another guy was blaring his Texano Spanish tunes while cruising for a parking spot. Key moments blurred in and out of focus. It could have been funny, but we were all toasted. 4 straight night shoots. All on-set brains were fried. We had hit the wall.

So finally the shot was set up. Sunlight was still and mellow. We're ready to call it, and suddenly Vikki disappears to go to the bathroom. It was the only moment that Mike nearly lost it. I saw him put his hands on his head, then he suddenly sat down and meditated in the sunlight. Bless him. I screamed, "Who told her she could go to the bathroom?!" but no one copped to it.

So we ran it. The combined scenes 13/15 are long. But we got something to use. Not ideal. I have no idea what we can cut away to. But hopefully enough is there, and in focus. We got close-ups. By 2pm, we were wrapped. It was done.

It took over an hour to clean out the green room and load up the van. When I got home, my uncle showed up from Long Beach and we went to watch O's volleyball game. We had dinner with O at Don Pancho's (the best Mexican food in Petaluma) and I came home to get a phone call from my mother that my grandmother, the lovely Elizabeth Sundeen, was dying. That night I said goodbye to my grandmother on the phone. I cried. Then I slept for 12 hours. She passed away on Friday morning, January 15, the day after production wrapped. She was the best grandmother you could ask for, with the biggest heart of anyone I've ever met. The world has lost a beautiful soul.

Day 3, the Long and Winding Road

Started the day with the keys locked in the running van. Waited 45 mins for AAA to unlock the van and made everyone wait an hour because inside were the keys to the green room and the shop. Ouch. Director's fired.

Also started about 1/2 a day behind shooting the montage and realized pretty quickly that we weren't going to be able to get full-length gown shots, so we went for attitude. Another thing I learned: Getting a wide shot takes a lot of time because you have to set up lights to light each area in the shot. No shadows, no dark corners. So you limit your wide shots. In the future, I will plan for this. Need to have enough time to make sure to get those wide ones.

Got aggressive today. We were behind. Camera and lighting are perfectionists, which is great, but we had to move. Tried to keep the train going and decided to move into Coach mode. 10 seasons of coaching 18 little girls in soccer pays off.

This was the last day of our full cast/crew set-ups and it was a full house. After the montage, we went right into the hallucination scene. Called Matt Rhodes, our post-production/special effects master, and got some guidance on framing and what should and shouldn't be done in post. Bought some Saran Wrap to draw morphing placement on the screen. This is guerilla special effects work, that's for sure. No green screen today. The masks are stunning. Can't wait to see them in the film. Holy moley.

Brian Cary, our 2nd on-set photographer, showed up again and stayed clear of production while capturing more than 700 shots. Glad for that. Lunch was spaghetti and meatballs with salad. Awesome. Not that I ever had any time to eat much... but glad the cast and crew could get some nutrition.

Tried to work with the actors to encourage the right touch, the warm moment. Teresa Navarro, our cousin Mimi, stepped up to give a great non-speaking performance and somehow just knew where to be in the camera. It's hard to know when the actors are young and inexperienced but she performed flawlessly. Kudos to her. In fact, the entire cast was phenomenal today and just impressive. Juliet Heller was perfect and we created a couple of special shots just for her... the "muppet shots" will be priceless. She has created a real character out of only bones, and I let her know that I would absolutely LOVE to work with her again. In fact, I'd be happy to work with all the cast again. Just spectacular.

I kept reminding myself that we were creating a comedy, not a farce, and to draw out the emotions and sentimentality. The comedic spots were easy enough to create and people were having so much fun with them I had to try and soften them up. Hopefully it's a good sign when everyone's laughing while you're shooting it.

We didn't get as much done today as we had scheduled either. During the break Lisa and I sat down to cut scenes. Four scenes were cut right away. And then the sun came out. We did our exit walk-out scene and I pulled Allison, the bridal shop owner, onto the set. We had a really nice conversation over and over (6 takes, I think), and I got my Hitchcock moment.

But the day was long. I wanted to do more but couldn't do it to the crew. We ended at 12:15 pm. Everyone was fried. No telling what Day 4 was going to bring, but I knew we had to be efficient.

Got home in time to pick up O from school. Hadn't seen my daughter in days. Took her shopping and then back to volleyball practice. Went home. Passed out. Slept until 10:30 pm. No food. Day 3 was on the shelf.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Day 2 Production... in the heat of it

Today we fell behind in a huge way. We shot only half of what we had scheduled, but managed to fit in the outdoor shot of the gals coming in. At least we have a minimum entry shot locked in.

After the first 12-hour session, the midnight to noon schedule was still okay. I tried to organize each shot according to section of the room so we didn't have to move too much furniture or lights. It made for some weird segmenting of the script. As in.. oh no, we're shooting the middle of this scene, start on page 13. Actors are cool with it though. Good thing. You do what you do.

Today was the first big day of two huge days. Full cast and full crew = 40+ people. We shot all the Salinas family shots and asked the most of the actors. Improvise. They were great and it was here the casting process worked. Gracias a dios.

Sam Murphy, our amazing and wise Associate Producer/Art Director/Set Designer (see, she's so amazing she even has 3 hats!), had to track each gown for each scene and where it was supposed to be -- on the rack, on the bride, or in the dressing room. I realized then that there was no way I could do that, or anyone else could have done that. She is like a magical elf.

Paul G came in to take pictures. Lunch was Mexican food with homemade tortilla chips. Things felt all chopped up, but the story, the structure, the plan is all there in my head. Good to have AD Wyatt Norton as my Assistant Director. He works great with the actors and keeps it all flowing.

Our 2nd hair person Amber decided the project wasn't for her so it put a lot of pressure on Heather. Delays in hair & makeup are never good but she handled it all with a smile.

Fatigue was a part of the day. Saw lots of yawns. Shelly, our key PA, kept her cool at all times, had control of the restroom keys, and never once slept on the job. Turns out our other PA Troy has lots of lighting experience, so he pitched in with this handy gloves with gusto. He became the off-camera stand-in for the actors. They loved Helen of Troy.

Whitney Giraud, a local Petaluma high school student, popped in for her first official day as a PA and immediately began moving racks of gowns and assisting the actresses/brides into dresses. She was great and was happy to pitch in and learn.

Tired. Came home, Lisa made dinner, and we sat down to see how far production was behind and how many more scenes we needed to shoot. Then planned a new shooting schedule for Day 3, sent out emails. Passed out.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Production: Day 1 Down

It was long and cold, but also fun and engaging. Doing an all-night shoot is dreadfully painful on the feet, at least that's the first thing I have to say.

The crew is top-notch, and I'm ever so grateful for my core team -- Sam Murphy, Michael Epple, and AD Wyatt Norton. And my sound and light crew is simply superb. The PA's are hard workers, and my continuity supervisor is my other brain. Lisa works hard and she's very detail-oriented.

We shot 5 scenes out of 17. The actors did a great job. So happy for good casting and a happy team. Food always helps. Catering is worth it. Saying "Action" is more fun than saying "cut"... I hate saying "cut" and hardly ever do. Drives the crew crazy. They all started yelling "cut" for me. I have no idea why. Do director's always feel left out of "tech talk?" Maybe it's part of their secret language. I'm always looking at the transitions and bigger story, and sometimes I can't think that fast when I'm trying to visualize it all. Sometimes I just need a moment of meditation time. The crew didn't like it when I tried to think. Maybe it made me look indecisive but I was running through the movie, you know, in my brain like a little projector.

What I learned first: what you envision as the writer happens in a 3D real world, but what you shoot doesn't. I wanted one specific shot that I had to fight for... and in the end it wasn't what I really wanted, but needed. Totally different worlds.

Hopefully Day 2 won't be as fuzzy. I have a better idea how to run it now, and prepared a shot list. Wish I really had the time to work with the DP on a real shot list and understand what we can and can't do ahead of time. The better scenario is to never have a "can't do." I like that idea.

Going to bed now.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

MEET VICTORIA D'ORAZI... and her inspiration

People have asked about the inspiration for our characters, but there is really only one that emanated from a real live person, or two people actually.

This story really revolves around Joan Everett, Helen's mother, the mother of the bride. It is her journey we see, and her back story is the catalyst for everything. At one point, I remembered my father telling me a story about my grandmother, about an old boyfriend that she remembered fondly and her "what could have been" reminiscing. And that is where Joan's past comes into play.

My main inspiration, however, is the lovely Ann Dennis. I love Ann because she's girlish, sophisticated, warm and playful, all in one. I've seen her other side too... the principled, strong-minded woman whose "right or wrong" take can cut you like a knife. I appreciate that about her. I have sat at many family dinners with Ann and some good bottles of wine. The Dennis family always likes to say that Ann "takes off"... "There she goes!" Don Dinsmore would say. It's sometimes surreal and always funny, because whatever she's saying is just the way it is.

So... with a little exaggeration, and Elizabeth Sundeen's memories thrown in for good measure, we arrived at the character of Joan.

So Joan, the star of this film, really came from a combination of different events and people. Our actor has to not only emulate them, but also capture the spirit of the character -- serious, warm, stern, funny, confused.

Needless to say, casting this part was huge. We saw more actresses for this part than any other. We even called back a couple to see what they could do. And we were so close to making an offer... then Vikki's submission magically appeared. (Actually, I confess here. It had been buried in my email.) I brought her in and had her read in my kitchen. (This was new for me, but since my favorite director recently did this with his leading lady, I thought it was okay.) She was good and seemed comfortable. Her look was perfect. And then we went out to view a tape she had brought, a little comedy persona/sketch she'd done for a friend. I laughed out loud, and hard. Just super.

So after months of frustration and fear and hope, we had our Joan. For this, I thank the movie gods, and Victoria D'Orazi. Despite the message and melancholy of the story, we will surely have a comedy on our hands.

Victoria D’Orazi: SAG - AFTRA - AEA

Received her dramatic training at the College of Marin performing in such productions as "West Side Story", "The Birds", "House of Atreus", and "A Midsummer Night’s Dream". In 1968 she played Lucy to Robin Williams’ Snoopy in "You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown". She then went on to perform in the San Francisco productions of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,""You're a Good Man Charlie Brown," "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," and in Noel Coward's "Hayfever." She also performed the voice of Betty Boop in the animated feature film "Hurrah for Betty Boop" with Tommy Smothers. Victoria ran for President of the United States in the 1980 election as Betty Boop and was featured on tv, radio and national news.

Many Marin families have seen Victoria in such Mountain Play performances as Peter in "Peter Pan", Annie in "Annie Get Your Gun", and Ado Annie in "Oklahoma". She has also performed comedy at the Improvisation Theatre in Los Angeles. Victoria performed in two original plays performed at The Corner Stone Church in San Franciso.

Most recently, she has been songwriting and performing music at local clubs with Robby Gordon. "Gordon & D'Orazi."

Thanks too to Ann for her inspiration. She's an interior designer with great flair. When she and her husband Bill redecorated their home, my daughter marveled, "It's a palace!" ... Ann was beaming. Nothing truer then the words of a child.

For a little more background, you can check out Ann Dennis's beautiful interior designs here. I will someday have a shop like that. I had a dream about it once.

Monday, January 4, 2010

MEET JENNIFER LINKOUS, playing the Best Friend Katie

One of the things we learned during the casting process is that there are a lot of talented actors out there. We had a handful of actresses audition for Katie, including the talented Larissa Kasian, who gave us a powerhouse performance of the damaged Katie. Larissa was the only actress who nailed the reminiscing scene. But one of the other things we learned when casting is that you're looking for something specific, a flavor that someone brings to it -- maybe a different interpretation or a light that you didn't see before... some little flicker.

When Jennifer came in to read, she was auditioning for the part of Helen, the lead bride role. She also submitted her resume for the part of the Bridal Assistant. So she read Helen's part. As she started reading, I almost cut her off in the middle; I saw something but couldn't put my finger on it. At the end of her read I gave her the Katie script segment and asked if she would mind reading for a different part. I gave her a few minutes and she read with a nuance and a flair that had us all leaning forward in our seats. She got our attention. Jennifer has this energy, this zing for life, that Katie really needed. Sure, Katie is a drinker, had a damaged childhood, and was, by 30, already heading for marriage number 3, but this character is sharp as a tack and, most importantly, she's fun. Jennifer brought this inner light to Katie and showed a zesty side -- loose, relaxed, sharp, and quick. And after we had her walk around and do the improv scene she won us all over. She was funny and made her walk in the park look snappy AND joyous. No easy task. We're all glad she magically appeared to take on this role, and know she'll make it her own.

Jennifer Linkous got stung with the acting bug after becoming restless with her career in Broadcasting in New York City. She wanted to connect with people creatively and honestly, thus landing her at The Neighborhood Playhouse where she began her Meisner training and continues studying Advanced Meisner at the Bay Area Acting Studio.

Since moving west she has been thriving in the San Francisco and Los Angeles theatre communities. Having acted in such productions as Lovers and Other Strangers, Rookie’s Blue Ring, Hay Fever and On The Razzle, her film credits include “Once Beautiful Past”, “Child Of The Apocalypse” and most recently acting opposite Shah Rukh Khan in the upcoming Bollywood film “My Name Is Khan.” Jennifer is very excited to be a part of “The Once And Future Bride”

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Creating the Vision... storyboards and all that

The storyboards from our fabulous artist Karla Lozano are pretty much completed. All 20+ panels were ready by December 30 in preparation for my scheduling meeting with co-writer Mick Erausquin. Since no one knows the script better than we do, Mick stepped in to help schedule our shoot and review the boards for planning the shot list.

While features have Unit Production Managers, this short film doesn't have the luxury of a large crew to organize, plan and schedule the shoot. Mick and I put it in some order -- identifying outdoor scenes, shots that need daylight in the background, and grouping cast into workable chunks of time so they don't have to be there all day every day. This means important things like shooting scenes 4 and 5 to start, then shooting the final scene 16. Twenty-two pages for an indoor/outdoor shoot doesn't give us the luxury of shooting in order.

Today we had our crew meeting and a rehearsal for the lead actors for the key scenes. This also gave us a great opportunity to try on wardrobe, hairstyles and plan makeup and accessories. I'll be spending this week returning items that didn't work, but overall they looked fabulous. The gals sure have some swanky accessories.

The storyboards were a great help and once we get the last few scenes reworked we'll have a great set of plans ready for production. Karla is a talented illustrator and agreed to do her first set of storyboards for us. We provided a script, and she took 100+ photos during our stage rehearsal. Also, our Art Director Sam Murphy and I did a walk-through of the whole script at the location so I was able to provide her a DVD to draw from. You can check out Karla's work on her website.

Karla is a fine artist illustrator based in the Bay Area. She has a BFA in Illustration from California College for the Arts and is a graduate of the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. Her work includes surreal imagery, pen and ink detailed graphics, and colorful cartoon drawings. She is currently working on a new series of drawings.

Just putting all the pieces in place... like a big jigsaw puzzle.