It's 5:00 a.m. The script is finally finished. We're supposed to be on location at 7:00
It's 5:10 a.m. and the script is emailed out.
Scott Cummins has an alarm set for 5:45. He says he'll wake me last. I know I'll never get any actual sleep, but I hope to power-nap for an hour. However, I never get to even the nap, because someone's alarm buzzes 5 minutes after I lay down. And after that it's a succession of noises. John Sugden or Scott using the bathroom. The toilet flushes. The shower runs. Someone knocks something over. All I manage to do is keep my eyes closed for 45 minutes.
And then we're up and trying to pull everything together. Gotta make sure we have all the paperwork that needs to be filled out by the cast and crew, a notebook to put it in, and a 3-hole punch. Gotta figure out what John and Jim are wearing. John needs socks. Gotta see if Becky Sackville-West can pick up Troy Vaden (costumes and props) and pick up actor P.A. Cooley. Gotta give Scott the phone list so he can call everyone and make sure they're on their way, and tell them we're pushing the set call to 7:15, and eventually 7:30. Director of Photography Tim Laurel comes by, but needs a crescent wrench and WD40 for his camera jib. Scott has to call Erik Braa and tell him we don't need him until later in the day, and he should start looking for an outfit for Mother Nature. etc. etc.
Finally, we're on the road and it takes only a few minutes to get to Metson Lake, which is our primary location. I am hopeful it will be an ideal spot, because it's on a road that does not permit through auto traffic, and is a bit off the beaten path. I'm warned there's some event in the park, which has me concerned, but we'll deal with that if/when we have to.
There are some interesting communication problems to work out on set. First, we have two Beckys: 2nd Assistant Director Becky Sackville-West and Script Supervisor Becky Wood. We also have Actor Erik Braa and 2nd Camera Eriq Wities, and then we have a bunch of Production Assistants, or P.A.s, as well as an actor named P.A. Cooley. We Later, we end up with two Scotts: 1st A.D. Scott Cummins and P.A. Scott Chestnut. Scott Cummins christens Becky Sackville-West "Beckster" for the day, and we take to pronouncing Eriq's name as "Air-eek". The P.A. thing we never get quite sorted out, though for a while we refer to P.A. Cooley as "Pa". Scott Chestnut is playing security for our gear and cars, so we're not running into name confusion there.
It's a typical San Francisco summer day in the fogbelt, which means it's gray and overcast. This is ideal shooting weather, because you don't have to worry about hot spots or contrasty shadows. The light overcast provides a rather diffused ambient light. if it holds up, no matter what time of day we shoot, the lighting will match.
First off I want to get an establishing shot of Jim Shelton and John Sugden as Harvey and Jessi Finkelstein (rabbits) down in Speedway Meadow below our location, before people start showing up and picnicking in it or whatnot. We decide to use the jib to swing the camera down through the trees to point down through an arched branch for the reveal, and it takes time to set that up. Meanwhile, Jim and John are dressing themselves as bunnies. Scott apparently told them to wear white, but Jim had several different colored short sleeved shirts in very Easter-egg hues, and he loans John a shirt and some light pants so they match. P.A. provides them with the rabbit ears and Troy converts some brown fur Beckster supplied into impromptu bunny tails. Neckties and an ascot complete the costumes. Now it's just makeup, and they go for a very theatrical painted nose and whiskers look, which I'm fine with. I'd rather get the performances than an inert mask. I notice that Jim is wearing a belt with a Human Rights Campaign symbol on the buckle, which is appropriate considering the subject matter of our film is freedom to marry who you love.
It's at this point I remember Tim doesn't have an on-site monitor for his camera, so it's not going to be possible for me to watch the shots as we make them, especially on the jib where the camera is on an arm swinging around. This concerns me.
We get John and Jim down in the field and work out how to do the shot. First I'm down with the actors so I can direct them, leaving Scott as Assistant Director up above with the camera. Since the camera has to do a big move before the actors start skipping through the field, and they can't see the camera from Position 1, we work out that Scott calls out "Action" for the camera to start moving, and then "Hop" as the cue for the actors. We're shooting this MOS (Mit Out Sound), so while Jim and John both have lines, we'll record those later and dub them in. After several takes and fighting the wind trying to take off the bunny ears (a constant issue), I run up to see the playback, but I'm not happy with how the shots are ending up being framed. Jim's head keeps disappearing behind a branch or other foliage. I swap places with Scott, and he goes down to the actors and I stay with the camera. First off I have Tim move the jib slightly to insure we don't get the offending foliage in the shot, but it's hard to stop the camera in the right place. Finally, I use a braced fist next to the camera's final position as a stop marker. After a few more takes, we "print" and move on.
As these first hours go by it turns out that while Metson Lake may be a semi ideal filming location, it's apparently impossible to find, and I field over half dozen calls where I have to explain to crew (who didn't print the map) how to find it. Frustrating!
I speak briefly on the phone to Music by guy Matt Levine, and he volunteers to bring coffee to the set. I ask him if he has an old fashioned ice-pack, cause I'd like to have one of the parent rabbit hold it to their head after learning the truth about their son. He doesn't have one, but says he'll go to Walgreens and look.
I really want to tear through these first scenes of Jim and John alone, so we cross the road, moving less than 100 feet, to an artificial stream feature in front of which we'll shoot the first close angles of the actors. We decide to use the jib here, too. The ground's uneven, so we have to use a sandbag under it to get it level.
Our 2nd setup: at the artificial stream feature.
From L to R: Eriq, John and Jim, Becky W., "Beckster", Natascha, Scott, Tim, Will, Colin.
I tell Script Supervisor Becky to note than in all these shots of the rabbits traveling home that we must maintain consistent camera direction, meaning since in the jib shot we had them crossing the screen from left to right, in all subsequent shots they also have to maintain a screen left to right heading. If we don't do this, they'll appear to have changed direction. It's an easy thing to forget and screw up, so I want to make sure someone reminds us if we set up wrong and violate it.
I want to shoot the film primarily in wide masters and medium shots. This for three reasons.
- We have a great location with lots of pretty scenery that I want to use.
- Most of the 48 Hour films I've seen tend to be shot in mediums and close-up sand have no scope, thus they feel claustrophobic.
- The rabbit ears vanish if we do real close ups, and without them the bunny factor disappears and we have guys with face paint.
So, we get a few takes from out first setup with the jib move and that's that. Now we move the camera and do a lock off shot of the same action from another angle. I see two problems looming: first, John and Jim are so funny that I have to put my hand over my mouth to prevent my laughter from ruining the takes, and second, my lack of sleep is not helping me think clearly and Scott pulls me aside for the first of several times when I'm not planning my shots correctly. This is elementary stuff I know in my sleep, but since I haven't had any, I'm just as foggy as our overcast, and I'm making mistakes.
My first moment of panic sets in when we hear some loudish music distant elsewhere in the park. My second concern is raised when the Tour-de-Fat comes down the road by Metson Lake. Literally hundreds of bicyclists go pedaling by, wheels clacking, people hooting, and bike bells dinging. Many wear funny outfits of amusingly decorated helmets, and many are tickled by our bunnies waving back to them. The strange meets the stranger. Fortunately, the Tour-de-Fat crowd is gone within 15 minutes and we can resume shooting.
Troy and P.A. as the Tour-de-Fat intrudes.
Around this time I decide I don't care if we're "on book". I tell the actors to just go for it, and as long as the dialog gets the point across, sells the main jokes, and is funny, I don't care if it's word for word accurate. In fact, the ad libbed lines are often funnier than what's on the page, so why fight it? I tell Becky to just note the dialogue changes and inform me when they go significantly off book on main jokes.
Erik Braa isn't here yet because his scenes are the last planned to be shot, so we sent him on a search to get together pieces for his costume. He calls from Costumes on Haight, saying he sees lots of stuff he could use, but is overwhelmed by the choices. I send P.A.s Colin Moore and Brad Wiggins to take Troy (props/costumes) to him to help him to help make it all happen.
Somewhere during all this I talk to P.A. Cooley about his costume and makeup. He's dressed in a hoodie and jeans to look like a young guy as opposed to the more conservative look Jim and John are wearing. He shows me that he's bent the tip of one rabbit ear to match the bend in one of Jim's ears, thus adding a family resemblance. Nice touch!
My worries compound a bit when Location Sound Will Spencer and Boom Operator Natascha Dimitrijevic note that they are hearing buzzing on their headphones. Will's worried that it's on the recorded video. If it is, we'll have to loop the lines in post tomorrow, since we don't have time to reshoot anything we've done previously. They fix the problem. Fortunately, when we review the playback later, the buzz isn't there. Yay!
A lot of the Production Assistants are standing around looking bored...a luxury I don't have. Between takes I'm trying to find a few moment to talk to the actors about the next scene, talking to Tim about where the next shot should be, checking in with Becky about the script and what we still have to cover, and running around trying to figure out where we can shoot this or that bit of action. While the location is great photographically, some of the action we scripted isn't going to be easy to shoot there. Notably, the script calls for Harvey and Jessi to bolt into the bushes to go at it like rabbits, with undercranked footage of the bushes rustling, but none of the foliage around is ideal for that and has a good angle that also allows the actors to go behind it. I put those shots off knowing they're not important and hoping to get them later.
Our next setup should be at the "door" of the rabbit's home, but nothing is looking good for that, either, so we decide to move the crew to the other side of the (very small) lake. As the crew moves, I suggest we get Jim and John to skip along a path where they would disappear behind some foliage that visually intersects in an interesting way, and then we shoot them on the same path, but from across the lake, where we see their reflections in the water.
Now we get the crew all together and try to shoot the bits where we see P.A. Cooley as young Gus Rabbit struggling with someone behind some brush or a log. We find some foliage that we can shoot over, and work out how to make the brush rustle using branches. but after doing a few takes of that action I start to realize that this location just isn't practical for the balance of the scene. Again, I'm not thinking clearly enough and I didn't figure out all the action before we got this far.
As we're in this location we notice a Police officer looking around at all our equipment on the far side of the lake. Beckster goes over to make sure there's no problem, but comes back to report that he's just seeing what we're doing and making sure no one messes with our stuff. Whew!
We decide to abandon this spot and try another. By this point Erik has arrived and he helps me looks at various spots, Finally, after realizing there's no one ideal spot to shoot the characters interacting over a single log or stand of brush, we decide to cheat it. There are a series of logs along the roadside, so we pick two of similar size and bark look about sixty feet apart, and we'll shoot over one as the view of the kids towards the parents, and then move to the other to shoot a simulated reverse. It's not ideal, but it'll do the trick, but it means moving everything back to close to where we started, wasting time.
First we set up to do the shots of Jim and John. It's here were I start to run into some problems with Tim's camera work, much of which I didn't see until we reviewed the footage in editing, later. I would tell him how I wanted a shot framed, and, when I saw it through the viewfinder it was right, but by the time I saw the shots, something was different. Also, we'd be shooting stationary shots and he'd pan because an actor didn't hit his/her mark, ruining part of the shot or screwing up the composition. I finally told him, "If the actor gets into the shot wrong, tell me and I'll have the actor correct it. Don't change the shot!"
Scott and I pull off to one side to discuss how to shoot coverage for this. Because we're shooting pseudo POVs over the log, coverage on four actors and keeping eyelines right is a tricky, and something neither of us has done. This is really important, because if it's shot wrong, no one will appear to be looking at whom they are supposed to be looking at. I decide to have the actors almost play camera neutral (looking almost into the camera), but slightly left and right of it, depending on who they're supposed to be looking at. I have actors P.A. (Gus) and Amy C. Gibbons (Gloria Lorenz, the bear) stand really close to the camera so that they can play to Jim and John, but in some shots they can't move correctly for Jim and John to match eyelines with. In one shot I use my fists to represent where their faces are, and was able to basically puppet what the actors were looking at. We are supposed to see Amy's arm as she shakes hands with Jim, and it's tough to get this right. Amy has a hard time hitting the same position consistently when she pops up, so I have Camera Grip Andrew Froilan brace himself behind her so that when she stands up, she can use his back as a stop point and prevent herself from swaying too far into or out of the shot.
When we change setups slightly we have to move the starting marks for Jim and John, else they hit their end marks correctly, but appear to be entering from an angle. If the camera moves right a foot, their starting mark goes left two feet, etc.
Although tedious to shoot, it's also a delight to see what business Jim and John have come up with. They don't just stand there: they trade places in the foreground a couple of times, ending with John standing back until he gets angry enough and just spins Jim aside. We have fun with the idea that Jim's Harvey character gets symbolically emasculated in this moment, when he hold up his asparagus spear "weapon", but Jessi pushes him aside and he comes around with it limp. We talk about bending it to symbolically make him impotent, but we have to move fast and figuring out how to do that while he's turning isn't something we have time for.
After a bunch of takes, and one setup which I know is mostly wasted, we have one last shot to get: the most tasteless joke in the film, but one I'm determined to get. When Gus declares "I love this bear!" Harvey drops a load of rabbit pellets, or, more accurately, Eriq dumps a half pound of coffee beans to represent the pellets. I hope to get this in one take, because cleaning up the beans, loading them back into the bag, and doing it again will take more minutes than I want to spare. We discuss how it should pour. Slowly? All at once? I tell Eriq to start tipping the bag slowly but increase the speed as he goes, so the beans will start as a trickle and then come down as an avalanche.
And...ACTION! Tilt! Pour! It's hilarious, even looking at it live. We look at the playback. We all crack up. It's perfect. Got it in one take.
We break for lunch, which Beckster has brought back. Now around this time bad luck hits. Scott says he's feeling woozy, and he eventually has to go back to my place to lie down, costing me my 1st A.D. for almost half the shoot. Second, in the middle of eating my lunch I break a tooth! It was one I'd had a root canal on in high school, and had a very big filling in the back, and I knew it was weak. In fact, I've expected it to give for three years, but it picks TODAY to go. I run home to see if some dental cement I have left over from a temporary crown will hold it in place, but it doesn't work. Back on the set, I'm stuck with a gap in my front teeth. Hooray for Hillbilly Director. But this is just one more distraction for my sleepless brain, and it takes me a while to forget it and get back into the groove.
It was THIS sandwich that did in my tooth!
We shift to the 2nd log, starting with the camera simulating the POV of Harvey and Jessi approaching, and seeing P.A.'s rabbit ears moving around behind the log. That done, we lock off and shoot P.A. popping up into frame followed by Amy, doing their side of the dialog. It's easier to shoot than the stuff with Jim and John because this stuff is just the actors talking, whereas Jim and John had props and some complicated action. It goes pretty smoothly, but it still takes time...the thing we're shortest of.
Metson's Lake is an ideal location in a lot of ways, but it's still not as quiet as I'd hoped for. We end up with more auto traffic than I anticipated, most of which drive by our location, reach the roadblock, and go back, apparently not realizing it's not a through street until they hit the end. At first we have Scott C. trying to stop the cars while we're shooting, but he's not always successful. Later, P.A.s Brad Wiggins and Colin Moore move down the road a few hundred feet and they are fairly successful at stopping most of the cars, explaining what we're doing and that the road ahead is blocked. Many turn around down there. That helps a lot and prevents too many ruined takes, but we still get clickety noises from non-pedaling bicyclists and the thud thud thud of joggers, which we clearly can't stop. Fortunately, it doesn't end up on the sound.
Now is when Scott tells me he really feels ill and needs to go home. He gives me advice that I should consider dropping some of the material we skipped over this morning, and while I'm loathe to lose those jokes, with time ticking away, I'm considering it. Beckster drives him off, and I stop to think about where/how to play what we call the Family Discussion scene.
I want to avoid the complicated eyelines and over the shoulder stuff we did in the previous scene, so I decide to shoot what I call a restaurant booth setup, with pairs of actors together and facing each other, and the camera off to one side pointing down the middle. Not only will this allow the actors to interact and do the whole scene together, but all we have to do is move the camera slightly and boom boom boom, we can get a master of everyone, medium shots of one pair, and then of the other. This will make it all about performance and not about the camera. The trick is, where to shoot it? I had previously selected a really beautiful spot on the far side of the lake where I thought a big tree trunk could represent the rigidness of the parents and the idyll of the calm water the idealistic kids, but it meant hauling all the equipment around the lake again, and I wasn't convinced I could shoot the way I wanted there. After Erik and I haggled over several locations not far from where we did the last shot, we decided to go right next to the lake and just use the span of the water as the background. Tim suggested we move the group into more of an L shape, and I was fine with it once I saw it. It also meant we'd have to move the camera less to get the coverage. Getting the mic close enough was a concern where when shooting so wide for the masters, but we managed.
By this point Beckster is back to cover for Scott, but she's new to this and isn't going to be able to push me the way someone with more experience does. Maybe in another film or two, but she's still learning, and I'm not at the top of my game..
Shooting this stuff goes pretty fast, with a few exceptions.
Ears keeps going wonky due to the wind and head movements.
There's significant traffic noise building up from outside the park.
Amy just isn't able to project as big as I want her to.
P.A. keeps saying "Shut your pie-hole!" when we need him to say "Shut your carrot-hole!" He finally gets it.
Amy is supposed to leap up and threaten the parents, but since we have the actors sitting on the ground, she can't possibly jump up like we need.
The sun comes out! We curse it, and finally it goes away again, but several takes are brighter than the others as a result.
Finally, all the major coverage is done, as we have to shoot just the special stuff, notably Amy rising into frame, and P.A. standing next to her as they play out the end of the scene. When we're done with that, I'm still feeling like we didn't get what we need of Amy rising up menacingly, so I lead her to a nearby park bench and have her stand on it. This way we can get the camera down to a worm's eye view. I have some of the crew stand behind and alongside to make sure she can't tip over and to boost her as she stands from a crouch so she pops up fast. That works.
With our consistent daylight starting to fade, I decide to abandon the shots we didn't get and cut around them. We got the main dialog scenes, we can manage without the rest. It hurts, but it's necessary.
While the crew starts tearing down, I let Erik Braa play second unit director and he directs shooting some extra footage of Jim and John skipping down a path, and of Amy and P.A. walking the path as they leave to find Mother Nature. After those are shot, they park the actors at the mic and have them improvise some lines and some noises that we can lay over some of the other scenes. Will and Natascha record two minutes of "room tone' of park ambience that we can lay under shots.
All this gives me a few minutes to just zone out.
Somewhere during this I happen to notice that there, in a box, is a brand new ice pack...Matt DID bring it, and no one brought it to my attention. Oy! Too late!
We "WRAP!" the primary location. Hooray! We're still in a huge hurry and there's lot to do, but we take a couple of well deserved minutes to snap a few crew photos. We lost a few P.A.s and Scott, and Matt's back at his studio, but we get most of us in the pix.
Cast & Crew at the wrap of the main shoot.
There's still three things we need:
- I send Eriq Wities off with his camera to shoot some "beautiful nature stuff" to display on Mother Nature's flatscreen TV.
- I send Erik Braa, Tim, P.A. and Amy to get some footage of the couple arriving at a MUNI bus stop at the edge of the park, and, hopefully, of busses coming and going.
- We have to get the lighting kit and the grip kit and the cameras and a smallish crew over to our second location to get our last scene.
Wrapped cast and crew, happy to be de-bunnied. L to R: John Sugden, James D. Shelton, VI (w/bunny tail in hand), Becky Wood.
Throughout the day I have to take a few calls from and make some calls to Michael Struck at NEO f/x, who will be doing a matte shot for Mother Nature's place. What I hope for is to get a shot of P.A. and Amy at a bus stop in front of the trees along the north side of Golden Gate Park, having been dropped off by a bus, and do an optical pullback to reveal an entire forest with a gigantic skyscraper of a tree complete with windows standing in the woods. I have a few conversations with Michael, but he doesn't think he'll be able to do the snap zoom I want. We talk about trying to get an image of a single large tree in the park that he can start with, but the density of trees makes this unlikely. As we send Eriq off to get the "nature stuff" I tell him to keep looking for a suitable tree for the effect, but he doesn't find anything. We'll have to find another solution.
We dismiss Jim and John, Becky, and all the P.A.s except Cooley. I drive home to get the grip kit and lights and to check on Scott, who is feeling better, but not great. I hurry back to where Erik is shooting the bus stuff, but it's not going well. The MUNI stop they're using is fairly busy, and some old codger won't consent to moving over two seats so they can get the shot they want, even when asked nicely.
I leave them to it and head to Matt Levine's. He's been nice enough to volunteer his home music studio to us as a location, and it's that room we'll transform into Mother Nature's office.
Here's where I fade back for a while as everyone arrives. I sort of wander around in a daze at first. Eriq shows up and he and Matt figure out how to plug his camera directly into Matt's big Sony Brava flatscreen, and we see the gorgeous HD footage of ocean waves that Eriq freshly shot from near Sutra Heights. It'll be a spectacular backdrop for Mother Nature. I tell Eriq what I want to shoot and how. We'll clear Matt's studio of everything we can and dress it to be Mother Nature's desk. We'll light and shoot that, and then, after we have the Mother Nature stuff, we'll move into the adjoining sunporch room and shoot Amy and P.A. in there as a reverse. This is going to take a while. So while they set up lights and dress the set, and P.A. goes to work on transforming Erik into Mother Nature, I start to seriously zone out. But, no rest of the weary. Scott is texting me about Michael Struck at NEO f/x, I'm drawn back into discussions about the lighting, and how to use the wheels for my tripod, and if those wheels can be used on a different tripod, etc.
Scott is feeling better and wanders over. I have my A.D. back for the shots of Mother Nature.
It's not nice to fool with Mother Nature's drink!
Finally, the set's dressed, Mother Nature's ready and gorgeous, and the lighting is adjusted. Eriq suggests that we put a light on Erik, but that we kick it on as he swivels around for the reveal. We try that, and it's good. Scott wants to diffuse it because of the hot spot on Erik's hair, but with the diffusion, the green feathers on the gauzy wrap don't show the way I want. I go for the green.
We're having a problem with where Natascha should be with the mic, and they end up having her on the floor. I worry that she's going to be in shot. They say she's not. (Much later, after reviewing the finished film, I notice that she ISN'T entirely out of shot.) Finally, we're ready, and I decide for forego rehearsals and just shoot it a bunch of times. Erik only has three lines, and we got a bunch of takes of that. We also had him just ad lib in front of the screen. When he's done, he says he thought we didn't find any of it funny, not realizing we were all stifling laughter behind him.
With Mother Nature wrapped, Scott heads back for my place as we move to get the last shot: the young lovers. We move into the back room, clear it, and prepare to set-up. I had intended to shoot Amy and P.A. against the wall there, but Eriq suggests we have them come in through the double glass paned doors from the yard. It takes some convincing, because all we'll see when the doors are open is the black of night, and that doesn't jibe time-wise with the sunset shot that NEO f/x will be delivering, but finally I relent because the action of coming through the doors is more dynamic than just having them against a wall, and it means we're shooting an entrance and can shoot an exit, the very thing I didn't get with Jim and John earlier in the day.
I notice that P.A. 's bunny ears are very droopy and point this out to him. He says he did it deliberately to emphasize he's tired after their long journey. Good call. I tell him to keep it that way.
Finally, after a few takes, we're done. It's a wrap!
I'm such a wreck that everyone tells me to go home...that they'll clean up and pack up the equipment. In a fog, I do just that. I drive the five blocks home, park, and make my way upstairs. Scott is asleep, and John has just turned out the lights. I am too wound up to just go to bed, despite my exhaustion of something like 39 hours without a minute of sleep, so I sit on the couch and talk with John for 15 minutes, then, finally, collapse into bed.