Sunday, August 26, 2012

Teaser Shoot Field Notes

As I've said in previous blogs, in a larger shoot, there are department heads who have their own lists to check, double check and final check. For this one, there were three of us. There was Sunshine Lliteras who had some makeup and half of the set dressing. There was the Home owner who lent us the location. He had to sign for the furniture we rented. Then there was my lists which was everything else. Jon Cunningham, the director, had the shot list and the camera rigging. Everything had be be cross checked the Friday before the shoot. We had everything staged for quick car loading before turning in for the night.

The call time for the location was 7am. Jack Donner (Bassett) and Donal Thoms-Capello (Saybrook) had a call time of 8am. We planned on rolling camera on them no later than 9am. Garett Maggart (Joe) and Owen Szabo (Simon) had a call time of 9am. The first glitch of the day was that Sunshine got hung up in traffic and would be late. My first executive decision was to take a cab with most of the items on all of our lists to the location which was ten minutes away. I had not planned to unpack the car and begin setting up everything on my own, but stuff happens and the clock was running. Once the clock is running on a production, a producer cannot let anything stand in the way.

In the cardboard container is that danged sandwich.
Of course, Jack was early. I had him come inside and hang out with Garett who is also always early. I suspected Donal was early, too, but I couldn't spot him in any of the cars parked nearest to the house. I set up the makeup station and put away the food first. I had just finished setting up the mike stand and the one light stand when Jon and Sunshine arrived. Since Jack was there, we had him get into his costume and makeup first. Jon and Garett set up the first room by rearranging the larger furniture. We don't dragoon actors into helping on set. I have had some volunteer on occasion. Scott Levy, for example, was very helpful with the military aspects of Demon Under Glass. Typically, I prefer actors focus on their lines and relaxing. But Owen wasn't due for a while, and Garett is a very handy guy, so his helping was welcomed. Donal had arrived by the time we needed a lighting stand in. We were delighted that he played chess often enough to help us set up the board. By the time Owen arrived, at just before 9am, we were ready to start the Bassett/Saybrook scenes. We rolled camera at 9:15am. A little later than scheduled, but not too bad considering how small a crew we had.

These new digital cameras are a marvel. They look like consumer cameras yet can shoot video at 1080p with ambient light. We had one light that was more for portrait photography than for film. It was enough. The lack of need for light and the camera's lightness made it easy to move from angle to angle without stopping to tweak light levels. That can take as long as twenty minuets per change in camera position. We were able to move from shot to shot almost without stopping. The actors never lost momentum nor got tired. We were able to wrap the room and dismiss both actors by 11am. Unheard of in our previous experience.

During the shoot, I had to dash out of the room to retrieve props like a pastrami sandwich and container of soup. During that time, I got a good earful of how Garett and Owen were reading their lines. I was really pleased at what I was hearing. They also seemed to be bonding on a personal level. That's always great when actors get on personally, especially when they will be spending a great deal of time together. [for more on the food props and on the actor bonding that happened on set, you can read my personal blog about the shoot here: While we were shooting the Bassett/Saybrook scenes, Sunshine was helping Garett and Owen turn into Joe and Simon. As soon as we wrapped the prison breakroom set, Jon and Sunshine started set dressing Joe and Simon's living room. We had black out curtains to put up along with alternative artwork than what was on the walls. The sofa also had to be moved and the sound and lighting equipment placed.

Our small crew moved from one task to another. The routine was familiar enough that instructions weren't necessary. We walked Jack and Donal to their cars after they changed out of their costumes. It's a custom on some sets that when an actor is wrapped – they have completed the job – that the director or producer takes the time to say goodbye and thank them. Sometimes they discuss their acting choices and how they will make the film better. We like to do that no matter how small the production. I think that gesture is more important to smaller projects. Jon was very happy with the first part of the shoot, and he wanted those actors to know why.

The second half of the shoot was all Joe and Simon. It was more complex than the first. There is way more movement from the characters. Rehearsal of movements as well as dialog was necessary, so Jon could figure how to move the camera around the actors' movements. At this point, we could have broken for lunch, but that would have really slowed down the momentum of the shoot. The actors wanted to press forward. We had snacks and fruit for in between takes. Sunshine and I started heating up the meal while the guys rehearsed. We figured that even if none of the actors ate (Jack and Donal opted to head on with the rest of their schedule), the food would be a nice gift for the owner of the house.

The Joe/Simon scenes went much the same way as the Basset/Saybrook scenes with the actors moving from shot to shot with very little time in between. As always, Garett adjusted some of his lines and made them funnier and more 'Joe.' There weren't many blown takes that didn't involve a technical adjustment (moving a light or the microphone). Sometimes, our set doggie got into scenes without anyone realizing it. He was really interested when it looked like everyone was going out the front door. He thought it was time to go bye-bye. We've always had luck with sweet set doggies. I'm glad that held true. Jon was able to experiment with camera angles and the actors experimented with a few different readings of the lines. I was pleased that the blocking caused a physical intimacy between the characters while solving some editing dilemma for Jon. It is clear that these characters have a close relationship. Despite the fears of Agent Saybrook, it is very clear that Joe does not fear Simon at all. It is also clear that, despite the razzing from Joe and the mayhem that follows, Simon is content with their situation so long as no one tried to separate him from Joe. We got what we needed for the teaser by the time that part of the shoot was done. [See Teaser Gallery1 in the MENU to the right for images of Joe and Simon together.]

We also had one more set to dress before we could wrap the shoot and eat. There was a quick photo shoot on a greenscreen that was to be the final shots of the day. This was to be a taste of the flashback scenes that will be a big part of the web series. We had to find a way to hang the green screen fabric that didn't damage the walls. In the end, we used the same 3M Command Hooks that we used to hand the black out curtains in the living room. There we used a thing curtain rod that fit nicely into the hoot. All of those items were deeply discounted at Target which was having a back to school sale. The two windows cost around $15 to dress. We had extra hooks and tabs from our Christmas decorations to use on the green screen. All of the hooks came off without any damage to the paint on the walls. The authentic Japanese table was on loan from Lucy Doty and Central City Studio. Lucy was our medical consultant on Demon Under Glass. She now owns a studio in Downtown Los Angeles. The tea set was a wedding gift. The men's kimonos are mine. I've embraced many aspects of Japanese culture in the last few years. The kimonos had yet to find a use at home. I had to make the sash or obi. Getting them into those kimonos was the silliest part of the shoot by far. The dialog reflects the absurdity of the scene.

As I said in my personal blog, the speed that the shoot finished was astounding. We had the house back to the way we found it and were largely packed three hours earlier than expected. Owen had to move onto another appointment, but the food was enjoyed by the rest of us. The home owner reports that he enjoyed the leftovers immensely as did our set doggie. Most importantly, we have the right kind of footage to give potential viewers and supporters a clear idea of what the web series. We also know that we need more crew including a photographer for the behind the scenes photos. I also must schedule the pod casts we'll do during the shoot in January so that we aren't trying to cram them in between shots.

Next up for Jon is editing. Meanwhile, I have begun actively scouting for the web series and talking to potential crew and cast. But all of that is for next time.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

New Photo Gallery

The behind the scenes blog is in the works. Meantime, I have more photos. These are all smaller than shown in this gallery. Click on the photo for the full size.

The galleries are also under the links section in the menu on the right.

More to come.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Teaser Shoot Photos

I will post a full blog on the shoot later this week. Meanwhile, you can find some great photos from the shoot here:

This link is also in the LINKS menu on the right hand side of the page at the top.

More photos will be uploaded as soon as we can sort through them.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Early Pile

The pile as of 8-13. This covers many of the lists in the last blog.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Lists and Piles and Other Fun Stuff

We are less than a week from the teaser trailer shoot. Thus, today is all about lists. There are lots of lists necessary for a shoot. There is even a list of lists. That is what I'm working on right now. The Master List has items like:

  • Cast List (contact information, clothing sizes)
  • Crew List (contact information)
  • Equipment List (every piece of rigging and the support items like batteries, gaffing tape, etc)
  • Wardrobe List (listed by character and by scene)
  • Prop List (listed by character and by scene)
  • Set Dressing List (listed by scene)
  • Make-up list (items listed and character make-up schemes, fangs, blood, etc.)
  • Shot List (ever scene that is to be shot and who and what is in each scene)
  • Still Photo List (the must have images)
  • Podcast List (questions that must be covered)
  • Craft Services list (food, beverages, snacks, plates, cups, trash bags, etc)
  • Miscellaneous (First Aid Kit, cough drops, mints, gum, cigarettes, toothbrushes)

Every production, regardless of size, has lists like these. On large productions, it is the responsibility of the department heads to make sure that they have everything they need and to check off everything on the list. On our feature, it was the line producer and the 2nd AD who made sure that all the department heads handed in their lists with everything check off. On this shoot, it will be my job to go over each list and make sure all the items are where they are supposed to be.

To make filling everything out easier, it's a good idea to have a timeline during which all the items on the list are checked off. For example, I have either ordered all that I needed for the shoot, or I have a shopping schedule that allows for a leisurely and sane acquisition of everything. The timeline also has tasks that must be completed by certain dates. For example, last week, I scouted the location for the photo shoot and made a list of props and set dressing that was on hand and a list of what was needed. Today, I contacted all of the actors to make sure they had kept their availability open. I also needed to verify clothing sizes and find out if anyone has been getting very tanned in the summer sun. This was of particular concern where Simon was concerned. Adjustments in make up would be necessary If Owen turned up in shades of George Hamilton. Tomorrow, Jon and I will scout the location for the teaser. Then, we can complete the prop and set dressing lists. The scripts go out tonight (Saturday), so there is ample time for questions and, possibly, adjustments.

This all sounds very reasonable and trouble free. However, I know from experience that on the Wednesday before the photoshoot and the Friday before the teaser shoot that I'll be running around all day. There is something staring me in the face that none of us can see right now. It's happened with not just every shoot of mine, but every one I've seen from ringside. There is always someone running around looking desperately for something that got missed on a list. As of now, I am not planning on running around too much.

A spoiler free pile. That was difficult to put together.
Once there are lists, soon there will be piles about our home. Piles are inevitable as the items on the list are acquired. They can be inconvenient and even a safety hazard, but piles are far preferable to leaving something behind. Following this sentence was a fifteen minute, mildly intense search for a set of fangs. As it turned out, they were in a bag with some of the items that arrived earlier this week. Turns out, we're more on the ball and far early than is the norm. I still think we need an extra set of fangs. At any rate, it is preferable to move the piles to a staging area at the location as soon as possible. However, that's often not practical. If the location is being rented by other productions, we would have to rent the place from the moment we put down a single bag. And even if that weren't the case, stuff gets lost at a soundstage. Things get moved to make room for other people's things. Then, there is the fact that one producer's bag of props or set dressing is another producer's bag of trash, and out it goes. The move from home to location is a chore, but it's far better than discovering that items on the list have gone missing. The great box and bag relay is just part of the gig like the gallons of coffee and dozens of bottles of water.

That's it for now. There will be some photos posted of the shoots next week, but it won't be a full blog. There will be a blog about the shoots the following week. If all goes well, there will also be a podcast with the actors from the set.

If there are any questions that you want asked during that podcast session, you can submit them in the comments below or via the contacts listed in the menu on the right side of this page. 

Until next time.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Vampire Pants, Bonsai Trees and Other Necessities

This has been a crazy week where Demonspawn is concerned. I had to gather up the assets that we could depend upon before writing the script. Early on, I was getting a bit panicky, because the budget for this teaser is tens of dollars. Meanwhile, we have to produce something compelling enough to attract crowd funding. I found myself asking many incongruous questions like 'Do I still have those fangs?' 'Why are bonsai trees so expensive?' 'Why do costume versions of prison jumpsuits cost more than the real thing?' 'Does Simon really need pants?'

The Vampire Has No Pants part two

Those who followed the field notes for Demon Under Glass know that there was a problem with Simon's pants – in that, he had none as of the day before the shoot was to begin. Somehow, they were left off a list of wardrobe items. On the first day of the shoot, Phil McNamara and I had to find a thrift store and find some pants that fit and went with the rest of the outfit. That wasn't the biggest disaster of the day. That would be the queen sized mattress on the 405 freeway. But that's another story. The pants problem this time was a matter of expense. The skimpy budget for the teaser doesn't not allow me to get some of the outfits – even with the frugal methods I detailed in the first blog. I toyed with the idea of only filming Simon and Joe in half costumes. However, that wouldn't help the actors get into character. It would also set the wrong tone for how the web series shoot would be. I also believe that it would cause a lot of frivolity on set while we're on a tight schedule.

It was a puzzler. I had the modern day costumes, and I had one era for period costumes. But I needed one or two more. Then as I was crewing up, the answers began to present themselves. I was talking a friend that goes way back in our filmmaking efforts about bringing him on bard as cast and crew. Robert Lento worked with us on The Privateers. He lead a stage combat troop called Have Sword Will Travel (HSWT) that provided our pirates for the pirates' den. Since then (wow, it's been a long time), he's been honing his skills in front of and behind the camera. In fact, he has a long running, award winning webseries on his Youtube Channel. I realized that his show was set in many eras and that he had a lot of costumes for the troop's performances. Eureka! Simon will have pants and perhaps pantaloons. I can't reveal. Nor can I reveal the part Bobby will be playing in the webseries. The only thing I can say is that he plays Simon's favorite TV character for reasons that confound Joe.

I was also a bit concerned about set dressing. It has to be as period appropriate as possible down to drapery fabrics to dishes and glasses. In present day, the set dressing has to match Simon's taste for the lush and comfy as detailed in the books. Everything must make the shots look interesting. I must admit that set dressing is not a strong suit. I can gather the elements, but putting together a room that conveys a mood or a feel is something else entirely. Fortunately, Sunshine Lliteras is and she is back in Los Angeles. Sunshine was in Portland for several months working on FX for Paranorman (this film premiers on august 17th. Go see it, and take everyone you know). Sunshine is amazing with set dressing. She has an eye for it. I'll collect the items that we need, but she will turn them into magic. That shoot will be a bit of old home week for all of us. Though our productions have been very luck with hiring crew with only an exchange of emails, it will be nice to do such a tight shoot with people we know really well. It'll be fun, too.

Now that we have the production elements in place, I can write the script. It's pretty much all in my head now, so it shouldn't take very long. I will not post it until after the video is online. There are some really cool surprises that I don't want spoiled. Next time, I will go over the character interactions that we want to convey and the tension that we're trying to develop. Although, there may not be a blog next week if we get really crazy setting up for the shoot.