Went to see the movie "Stardust" with the S.F. Moviebears group.
Found a voicemail from my sister when I emerged. From the tone of her voice, I knew what happened before she said it.
Mama's passed away.
Went to see the movie "Stardust" with the S.F. Moviebears group.
Found a voicemail from my sister when I emerged. From the tone of her voice, I knew what happened before she said it.
Mama's passed away.
Just back from my first trip to Portland, Oregon. It's the longest solo car trip I've taken by myself, as I tend to fly anywhere over a couple of hundred miles away. It's about 660 miles each way. I drove a straight shot back, which took about 10 hours (including a stop for gas, a stop to stretch my legs, and a stop to get dinner).
Lots to think about. I wanted to make time to work on films, and now I've done one. The bug's definitely bitten me, and bitten hard. The question: what next?
On the way I finally get a good look at Mt. Shasta, the upper elevations of which were lost in the clouds when I drove by last week.
Our film is to be screened Thursday night, but I feel like I need to get back and take care of some work, so, much as I'd like to hang out in Portland, I decide I need to head back tomorrow.
However, since Scott had takem the day off, we now have the whole day to hang out and decompress after the madness of the previous 48+ hours. We look at the film a couple of times, and both agree that it's better than what we expected for such a compressed shoot. We discuss briefly how to make some adjustments to improve the film before submitting it elsewhere. In 48 hours there ain't much room to polish!After breakfast at a Cameo Cafe, a local place famous for its pancakes, Scott suggests that we drive out to the number one tourist attraction outside of Portland: the Multnomah Falls, part of the beautiful Columbia River Gorge. It's a fairly short drive, and the falls are very pretty, and going at a good clip for August. We decide to hike up to the top. It's a long set of switchbacks, and my slightly bum right ankle forces me to pause a few times, but we make it.
Scott & I on the trail
Upon our return to Portland we get some shaved ice and stroll through the city's beautiful municipal rose gardens. Ahhh.
Afterwards we stop in a neighborhood that's home to a number of Portland's gay bars, but there doesn't seem to be a gay neighborhood like you'd find in San Francisco or Seattle. The hardest thing for me is that they still allow smoking in the bars there, which tends to make me want to finish my drink quickly and flee.
Next we meet Scott's friend Paul for dinner at an Ethiopian place called Queen of Sheeba that Scott really likes. Afterwards, we adjourn to a really cool venue called Ground Kontrol that is full of arcade video games, most old, and also has a bar. Mmmm...beer and Burgertime. That's the ticket!
Sunday (continued from Saturday's entry)
2-something a.m.: A knock at the door. Brendan delivers a hard drive with all the footage from yesterday’s shoot captured and catalogued.
6 a.m.: Scott is up and starting to work on the rough cut. He send the shot that needs a big visual effect to the effect house NEO f/x so they can get started. There’s no way I can really help at this point, so I bury my head under the blankets and sleep more.
12:30 p.m.: The rough cut is done and sent out for comment and review. Ben Jasmine down in Monterey, CA, will be doing music for the title and the opening action cue.
Sometime in the afternoon: Lots of tweaks. I hover nears Scott’s shoulder and make lots of suggestions about tweaking the edit. The film has to be no more then 7 minutes long (minus credit roll), and the rough cut was about 8. Scott worries that we’ll have to whack a lot out. I suggest we just methodically go through it shot by shot and “let the air out” wherever possible, meaning tightening the edit, trimming pauses between lines, shortening reaction shots, etc. 10 frames here, 20 frames there, it all adds up. Before long the edit is down to 6:58... 2 seconds to spare!
NEO f/x delivers the first version of the effect where Solar-Man and Ice Meister throw their powers at each other and the beams meet and cancel each other out. The effect looks good, but it feels a little pasted on. I tell Scott it needs a little interactive lighting, and suggest that the effects guys cast a glow on the ground below the beams, “as if there’s a neon pole between them, casting a glow on the sidewalk”.
2ish: I need to eat something, but Scott’s not about to take a break, so I take a walk, find a pub and get a big salad and some beer. I try to clear my head of everything that’s happened since Friday night so that when I return to Scott’s I’m looking at the film with fresh eyes and able to make suggestions that’ll really help.
3:30 p.m.: Kelly comes by and bring us donuts, to make sure we’ve eaten. Scott barely nibbles at his. She laughs at the edit, which is encouraging. She comments on the line “Do you really think your henchmen are going to take you seriously once they find out you’re Sister <snap> Freeze? <snap>” and says we should have done “you’re an Ice <snap> Queen? <snap>” We get a laugh out of this...it’s only that we were in such a hurry that we missed out on the joke that our leads are an Ice Queen (Ice Meister) and a Flaming Queen (Solar-Man). Still, I’m glad we got “Sister Freeze” in because it’s not an obvious a cliché. Plus it’s a play on a Batman villain’s name.
Late afternoon: NEO f/x delivers a revised version of the energy blast and it looks great. Not only did they get the glow on the ground that I requested, but they added a little explosive blast when the beams finish, followed by a drifting puff of smoke that forms a roughly heart shape as it rises. Scott and I both love it, and he says it’s too bad we can’t use the puff of smoke. I encourage him to tweak the edit to get it in there, because it’s the kind of little touch that buttons off the action in a way we need. He does. It’s great.
Ben delivers a great action cue for the opening scene, but Scott is a little perplexed by the music. He said he asked for something that sounds Batman-esque, but I point out that Ben probably thought he meant Batman circa 1989 with the Danny Elfman score, not Batman circa 1966 with a jazzy Nelson Riddle score. We got the former, but it works fine. Ben also sends over music for the nightclub scenes. One piece is used as a loop in the first nightclub scene, and the longer one is played under a later scene. The first one sounds awkward when it loops, but by the time Ben delivers a revised non-looping version time’s running short and it’s dangerous to start monkeying with the soundtrack, so the looped version stays.
6:30 p.m.: Closing in on the deadline. I start pulling all the paperwork together, and then notice that not all of the forms are properly filled out. Each person on the set had to sign a liability waiver, and anyone who appeared on camera had to sign a release form, only I can’t account for them all. It takes a while to sort this out.
Scott scrambles to get the credit roll done, and it’s sloppy and somewhat erroneous, but we’re out of time.
9:30 p.m.: I’d like to say we rushed out the door and delivered the film just in the nick of time (whoever "Nick" is), but we run into a snag. Scott can’t get the film to output back to the camera so it can be recorded on tape. He’s never tried this before with this camera (which shoots at 24 fps instead of 30), and it’s not working. Ultimately, it turns out that the switch that puts the camera into VTR mode isn’t obvious, and Scott’s got a few settings wrong in the editing software, but it puts us into a position where it’s not going to be possible to get the film output in time to get it over to the competition by the 7:30 p.m. deadline. Scott burns a data DVD of the film instead, but it pushes us over the deadline. If we get the film in before 9:30 p.m. we’ll still qualify to be screened and have an opportunity to be voted on for an Audience Favorite award, but we won’t qualify for all the other awards for best directing, acting, screenplay, etc.
Scott is devastated. He feels like he let everyone down. I remind him that a finished film can be entered in other festivals, so there will be other chances to be recognized.
The film is delivered, and it’s over.
Wow, I’m tired...but I can honestly say I haven’t had this much fun in...well, maybe ever.
Saturday (continued from Friday's entry)
Midnightish: Scott now asks me to write up all the notes and send them to Don, whom he has contacted about writing a script. I tell Scott that since it's my idea and I heard all the brainstorming, I'd like to take a stab at writing it, and then will send that to Don, and he can clean it up or totally rewrite it if he deems fit.
1 a.m.: I send Scott to bed in hopes he'll get some sleep. I face the blank page in Final Draft. I have to figure out what the characters should be based on the actors available, and we have two interior locations lined up, plus we can do a guerrilla shoot outdoors somewhere. The film has to be between 4 and 7 minutes. With these parameters in mind, I start writing.
3:05 a.m.: I finish my draft of what is called "Secret Identity". Wow am I tired. I can't even tell if it's funny!
3:30 a.m.: Finishing some notes about the script, I shoot it off to Don. I collapse onto the air mattress Scott set up for me. I actually have a tough time going to sleep. The brain is still spinning.
6:45 a.m.: I'm blearily awake. Scott, who barely slept, has already received the script back from Don and emailed it out to the crew. Apparently, Don didn't totally rewrite it. I guess even at 3 a.m. I don't suck at writing. But the title's been changed to something better, now it's "Secret Identity Crisis".
8 a.m.: After picking up five gallons of coffee and two dozen pastries at Peets, we arrive with the grip truck to the first location: Casey's nightclub. Scott's plan is to shoot the scenes that take place in the bar first, then shoot the opening action sequence, then finish with an evening shoot at a house.
Our first monkey wrench: no one is there to unlock the location as promised, and Scott keeps leaving voice messages. Kelly and Janet and I take a quick survey of the various bits of athletic gear and clothes that have been brought as possible super suit elements, then we hurry off to a local discount store that opens early. We find little shorts to be worn atop the tights, a great jacket we can adapt for our villain's tunic, gloves, and some odds and ends. We then stop at Janet's and grab some costuming bits she has, including a cheap Vegas-era Elvis costume.
9 a.m.: We return to find the crew has moved to a nearby park in front of an official looking structure. Since the nightclub location's still not opened, the plan is to shoot the action sequence first. As the camera crew sets up everything to shoot, we madly scramble to cobble together the super suits for our hero Solar-Man (Kyle) and his arch nemesis Ice Meister (Bill). We throw everything but the kitchen sink at the costumes. I'm using art tape and colored electric tape to add details, sticking rubber appliance feet (don't ask) over unwanted branding on Kyle's shirt, and fitting aluminum appliance knob covers to Bill's jacket chest and to cover the branding on the backs of the gardening gloves. Kyle's arm covers are red socks we slice the feet from. Ka-razy!
Supervillains aren't born...they're made!
10 a.m.: Shooting is underway, but it's slow going. The early hour means the sun is shifting in such a way that the shadows from the building in the background are moving a lot, and the actors marks have to be cheated to keep them out of glare. We have to deal with gawkers driving by (sometimes in shot), and then there are funny little costuming problems. Kyle's goggles are constantly fogging up, and the silver discs on Bill's gloves tend to pop off mid-take during action!
Lunchtime: The nightclub location is finally open, so we hurry over there to set up.
Unfortunately, it's not soon enough for one of our actors, Illya, who has to depart with his scene unfilmed. Something will have to be figured out to get around this.
The nightclub is fairly large, with an upstairs and a downstairs bar, a pool table near the door, and booths. Depending on how we set up, it could serve as a bar or a cafe or even a restaurant. Since the script calls for a bar, we haul the equipment downstairs to that bar and start figuring out how to set up. I'm technically the Property Master and well as the de facto Art Director, so I have to "dress" the set. I arrange bottles and glasses, set up the bottle and drinks for the action (loaded with water or iced tea). I convince Scott that one white wall is much too blank and that they need to break up the light on it with a "cookie". They do that, and also move an animated light fixture to project onto said wall. Someone brings down a gay pride flag, and I tape that to the wall. That finishes it!
After we all scarf down sections of a six foot sub Scott had delivered, we're back to business and the shoot resumes.
Jenny—who plays Sheila the bartender—has some trouble remembering her lines. She's also not quite getting the character as written. I wrote "pushy" and she's playing it too nice. There's a half dozen extras in the scene, in the background and walking through a few shots. Kelly is recruited to play the non-speaking role of the D.J. in the booth in the background, but as the afternoon progresses the black mesh on her outfit's top starts to tear, and we literally hold her outfit together with black gaffer tape!
Mid-afternoon: With the first bar scene wrapping up, Scott pulls me aside and tells me we have a problem. Since our morning shoot got all rearranged because the club wasn't available, we're behind schedule, and we're not even done at the bar, yet. He says it'll take at least an hour to repack all the gear in the grip truck, then the time to get to the next location and set up again. There are TWO setups required there (interior and exterior), plus costume and makeup changes. I also learn that we lose Bill (Ice Meister) at 9:20 tonight. Scott says that if we don't figure out a way to shoot the rest of the film at the bar, we're liable to not finish before we lose Bill! He basically drops it on my shoulders to figure out how to change the script.
After nearly snapping at our D.P. when he gets on me for getting the bar dressed for the next shots, I put Scott's problem aside long enough to take care of the needs of the next scene. That done, I grab a copy of the script and go back to a corner and start rewriting. I have several problems that aren't easily solved, because a big reveal is tied to a costume gag that I now can't do. I struggle with this, but in what seems like 15 minutes I have my rewrite. I try to preserve as much dialogue as was in the previous draft so as to minimize the memorization task for the actors.
This is also the first chance I've had all day to look at the script Don sent back. He hardly changed anything...just a few words here and there. One change I don't like so much, but it's not important enough to fight for.
Late afternoon: The script change requires that the final scene take place in the bar at closing time. As such, the set has to be redressed and the lighting changed. The extras aren't needed for the final scenes so they're all thanked and kicked out. While this occurs, one part of the crew sets up to do an insert shot of Solar-Man's goggles falling to the floor, while most of the crew grabs one light and goes upstairs to shoot Roy's entrance into the bar. This is done all with handheld camera work to speed things up. A big gag here involving the required balloon prop gets changed because we lost Illya, who had been willing to play the scene naked except for a strategically placed balloon, and the guy who is talked into taking the part isn't willing to go that far for his art.
Evening: The bar's been transformed for the final scene. A pile of bottles and glasses covers the bar where our principles are to be seated, and a Kino fluorescent light has been mounted against the ceiling overhead to stand in for non-existent house lights when the lights come up as the bar is closing.
Scott asks me if the actors have been running their lines, and I point out to him that he hasn't even read the new ending to see if it's what he wants to shoot. He grabs my shoulders and says "I trust you", so script supervisor Brandon and I talk, he makes handwritten copies of my changes, and Bill and Kyle retreat to the D.J. booth to rehearse for 20 minutes. Then it's back on set.
It becomes a bit of a blur after that. They run the dialogue and do a pretty good job at it given the last minute changes.
A new gag requires Ice Meister (in his alter ego) to freeze a glass, thus revealing his true identity to Solar-Man. There's no time to actually freeze a glass, so one idea is to use a fog machine in the club to drop vapor onto the glass. Great idea, but the machine won't work. Finally, someone goes to the grip truck and comes back with a chemical fire extinguisher which is used to shoot white powder into the glass with a resulting cloud that looks like vapor. It looks great, but after several test shots the bar is covered with gray dust and the air is suddenly atmospheric with something I don't think we want to be breathing.
Some final action weirdness. The animated disco light can't really be shut off when the lights come up, so it's necessary to drop a flag (black card) in front of it on cue. I volunteer to sit on the floor and do this. Then, as the action is rehearsed, we find the actors keep bumping into their barstools, so myself and another guy also take on the task of yanking the stools away when the actors stand up. Here I am, sitting on the floor, blocking a light and then crawling over to pull a bar stool out from under a grown man. Glamorous ain't it?
Since all the extras were dismissed, Kelly is told to ad lib a good night as she—as the D.J.—exits, so now she has a line: "Sheila, I'm out!"
Oh, and Illya's back. There's no more speaking parts...so he gets a walk-on as the janitor sweeping up.
The last hurdle: The script calls for the two characters to embrace, and in rehearsals it's a hug, and it just doesn't work. The only way this works is if they kiss, but our two male leads are both straight. Scott talks to them, but they're both pros and express no problem doing it. Kelly cheers after each take. I guess she likes seeing men kissing.
Most of the Crew as we wrap (Kelly's taking the picture)
8:20 p.m. That's a wrap! Photography concludes...one hour before we'd lose Bill. The next hour or so is spent packing up all our gear and cleaning up the mess we made in the bar. I daresay we may even have left it cleaner than we found it!
The end of the night: Goodbyes said, a few of us retire to find some food. After some pizza and beer we go back to Scott's to grab a little sleep while we can. Brendan's off capturing the video from the mini DV tapes to a hard drive, so there's nothing to be done until the footage arrives.
A billboard on the roadside of I5 somewhere out of Grants Pass, OR features a man at one end, and then morphs him over several frames into a chimpanzee on the opposite side. The billboard reads, "Are they trying to make a monkey out of you?" as lists a website of whosyourcreator.com.
If that wasn't enough, surfing the radio gets me a whole lot of religious music stations...more than any other kind.
Clearly, Toto and I aren't in Kansas any more...or maybe we are and that's the problem.
But Back to where it started...
The 48 hours of the title of this and the following posts starts officially at 7:30 p.m. tonight.
The day starts early as I leave my motel in Grants Pass and drive the final four hours or so to Portland. There I meet Scott Cummins at his apartment. We quickly hurry out to get lunch at the Widmer Gasthaus pub (home of Widmer Hefeweizen) and starts discussing strategies for the 48 Hour Film Project.
7:00 p.m.: Scott and I meet up with Bert, our Director of Photography (D.P.) and arrive for the kickoff of the 48 Hour Film Project. There are something like 53 teams signed up. I quickly see how this works. Teams are divided into groups, and then reps for each group are called forward to draw a genre out of a hat. There is only one instance of each of the 14 genres in the hat, so for each group only one team will end up with a given genre. I have a great idea for Buddy Picture, so I sort of want that one. Scott, on the other hands would love to get Superhero, but has said previously that he knows he'll never get it.
Scott nearly explodes with delight when he draws our genre: Superhero!
7:30 p.m.: Next all the teams are given 3 elements they must include in their films, this to prevent people from submitting films they made previously. The elements are:
1. Character: Roy or Rachel Schwarz (no T), a Quality Control Expert
2. Prop: A Balloon
3. Line of Dialogue: "Do you smell what I smell?"
8:15 p.m.: We've relocated to the Kennedy School (an old school that is now a series of bars and restaurants to meet much of our team. Here I meet actors Kyle, Bill, Jenny, Illya and Harold, as well as our makeup tech Janet, location manager Kelly, and Script Supervisior Brendan. Scott anounces the genre and elements, and over dinner and drinks a lot of ideas are kicked around. The main idea that comes up is about a sort of DMV of superheroes, where Rachel Schwarz is rating heroes and failing them. Out of this come a couple of gags, including Bill's suggestion of the name Walter Ego.
Me with Kelly. Geek Girl Extraordinare!
Midnight: After a conference call with Dave in Minnesota—in which he suggests the villain have a line "Hello? Lawyer?" to describe how he's evil in his day job—we become concerned that the DMV of Superheroes gag is too obvious. Three different people on our team independently hit on the idea, and this worries us because of that many of our team hit on the idea, it's possible a team in one of the other groups did, too, and since we're in the last group, ours would be the last to be seen. We also kicked around ideas for a dramtic story, but nothing gelled. So, I make the case for the idea that struck me a week or so ago, in which two guys meet in a gay bar and hook up, not realizing that they are actually arch nemesis superhero and super villain in their alter egos. Scott agrees that it's unlikely anyone else will try it, so we agree to go that way.
Now, there's just the small matter of, oh, a screenplay...
I5 through central CA is one boring road though...so boring I'm not going to write anything about it, save to say I'm very grateful for cruise control, Podcasts on my iPod, and the AC which makes me forget the 97F outside temperature that my car's video screen constantly displays.
So, why am in on this enless stretch of gray asphalt in the middle of August?
A few weeks ago I was told by Scott Cummins—who directed Starship Exeter: The Tressaurian Intersection—that he'd gotten a team together to enter the 48 Hour Film Project when it lands in Portland. I immediately volunteered. Scott told me I'd be the Property Master.
So here I am, en route, with the car loaded with as much stuff as I could fit that I thought might be useful: tripod, varizoom controller, christmas tree lights, odd goggles, art tape, leftover construction elements from the Flight Control set, etc., etc.
I'm not usually much for driving long distances. In most cases I prefer to fly. But, as I'd never been to Oregon before nor could I put all the stuff I had with me in airline bagage, it made sense to hit the highway.
After dinner in Redding I push on north. The scenery gets more interesting as I5 approaches Oregon, but the upper half of Mt. Shasta's lost in the clouds, so I don't get a good look.
I wasn't planning to push on all the way to Portland today, figuring I'll drive until I get tired and then find a motel somewhere. I cross into Oregon, pass Ashland, gas up in Medford, and decide to do one last half hour and call it a night in Grants Pass.
I figure I'll read for an hour, but I turn on the TV out of curiosity and discover the AMC show Mad Men that Jim was telling me about. It's about an advertising agency in 1962. I get sucked in, enjoy it, decide I'll have to see more, and then I'm out like a light.
Knowing I was coming to Vegas for a while, I had chatted up a few locals via the net to see if there was anyone worth hanging out with. Of the guys I chatted with, one fellow named Keith seemed a sane enough fellow, so, I met up with him and two of his friends and went to breakfast at a local restaurant some distance from the strip.
Now, mind you, I grew up in Vegas, and I lived in BFE Northern Nevada for far too long, but I cannot for the life of me see what the attraction is of Vegas. Once you get outside the tourist trap that’s the Strip, it’s just endless suburban sprawl, Houses, too few trees, and sandy empty lots between neighborhoods. Bleak bleak.
Keith returns me to the Strip where I meet up with a buffet-stuffed Matt and Diana at the Bellagio. We almost go into a Picasso ceramics exhibit there, but end up moving on.
It’s still hot. Not as bad as yesterday, but still up there.