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Saturday, 4 April 2009
Write On
Mood:  a-ok
Topic: Makin' Movies

It's surprisingly easy to let a project stall, and of late, I'm afraid Jim and I have allowed circumstances to rob some of the momentum from our work on our superhero TV show concept. Part of it's my fault as I've been doing some traveling, and when we got together the other week I suggested we discuss 48 Hour Film Project strategies as opposed to working on the show. But, now, it's back to brass tacks and other cliché phrases about getting on track.

On Wednesday we got together and tried to write the big finish to the episode we've done the most work on, but it was one of those sessions where the more we worked on it, the more stuck we got. The idea is clever, but the mechanics and logistics of the scene were just overwhelming. After struggling with it to no avail, I suggested that when we get stuck like this, we table the troublesome scene and move onto something else. We agreed that next time we'd shift to a different episode and different characters, and come back to the problem scene later with a (hopefully) fresh approach

We also agreed to make a regular weekly Wednesday writing date, and try to slip in a second writing session on a different day if our schedules line up and allow for it. We were both free today, so decided to get lunch and get back to it, and the new episode.

After discovering they now do brunch at Garibaldi's over in Presidio Terrace, then an errand at Office Depot, and a stop at BevMo to get some delicious Cel-Ray soda, we headed back here to my place to sit down and do some writing on a new episode. The story, titled "Unsafe At Many Speeds" is the first time we'll focus on one of our favorite new heroes. After hashing over the main thrust of the plot, I suggest we start with an action cue where we set up this hero, his power, and how to reveal the downside/weakness with it. Jim quickly hits on a gimmick that will allow us to cover these bases, and I suggest we set it at a baseball game, which allows setting up a big problem for the heroes to solve in very little time.  After a few hours we have a five page scene with quite a few jokes in it, and get to feature a ridiculous minor character I've been itching to use. The tricky thing is that it's a superhero comedy, but not a sitcom per se, so we have to make even the action scenes. So, while I'm happy with what we've written, I'm left feeling like the action itself needs something funny that we haven't hit on—

—But, as I'm typing this, I suddenly have an idea!  Pardon me. I have to assault a notebook!


 


Posted by molyneaux at 7:17 PM PDT
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Saturday, 21 March 2009
The Road Back to Wellness
Topic: Makin' Movies
A week ago I was in Portland at the invitation of Scott Cummins to attend a DVD release party for the cast and crew of the short film "The Road to Wellness" that was done for the 48 Hour Film Project last August. As usual, I wasn't just a guest, I got roped into helping prepare. I gave Scott advice on how to "age" the DVD covers, wrote the text for the back hat describes the film and DVD features in a style that fits with the fictional book cover design of the case, then helped Scott set up the bar, and put out all the food. Why is it I'm always useful and not purely ornamental?

Anyway, the party was a success, with a bartender paid to keep the evening well lubricated, and even Scott's kitty, Gloria, braved the crowd to see what's up, rather than retiring to the bedroom for the evening as Scott had anticipated.

It was good to see the crew and cast...especially Kelly Guimont (who acted as 1st A.D. and also brainstormed story ideas with me), and Kyle Vahan (who played the nameless hitchhiker in the film, but was previously Solar-Man). I was disappointed by two significant no-shows: makeup tech Janet Price and Production Assistant (and Sheila in "Secret Identity Crisis") Jenny Criglar.

When everyone was there Scott screened the revised cleaned up (color corrected and minorly edited) version of the film he'd made for the DVDs, making a big show of his new Riverscape Pictures logo, and getting a laugh by using Erik Braa's joke Movie Trailer Guy voice at the end (not on the DVD).
Since I wasn't in Portland long enough to see the film screened after we completed it, I'd never before seen it with a largish group, and even though this was a lot of people who'd worked on it and their friends, it was still a different experience with 20 than it was with a handful.  I was pleasantly surprised that people laughed at the following exchange:
DESTIN:  You need a jump.
JANE:      How'd ya know?
DESTIN: Your heart is on your sleeve...and your hood is up.
Surprised because the actor who played Monsieur Destin is French,  and I thought his accent and delivery sort of mushed that joke, which was a favorite bit of mine. It was nice to see it still works.

Of the three films I've worked on for 48 HFPs to date I've been involved in the scriptwriting of all of them, and I find this one the hardest to watch. I'm conflicted, because I'm actually proud of what I managed to write overnight. It was a very unusual piece of writing for me in that it was just a series of conversations about where these people were going, and how the woman's car, which never gets her to her destination, represents how she's on the wrong road with her life.  It's not perfect, sure, but it was a good stretch.  But the execution fails the story on some level, and I feel partly to blame for this. Because I so burned myself out on "How the Bunny Got the Bear" I made a deal with Scott where I would sleep in the morning of the shoot, since I'd be up most of the night writing, and then come onto location later.  It was a good idea in terms of making me functional, but it was a bad idea practically speaking.
The pace of a 48 HFP shoot leaves little to no time for reviewing a script. The crew has to just blast through the shoot and get all the scenes done. As such, without the author there it's easy for the crew to miss some of the subtleties of the script. In this case it hurt the film a lot because a lot of things in the script are metaphorical and representational, with lines not necessarily meaning what they said, but addressing the character attitudes and the theme. When under-pressure actors change a line, or drop a word, the meaning can be affected. In the film as shot, this is particularly true of the climactic action, where it was vitally important that the character of Jane hook up the jumper cables wrong, is nearly zapped, and realizes that she has to reverse the connections. Since I wasn't there when they were planning the shots, the crew misread the action I'd described and had the hitchhiker do the incorrect hookup. That tiny change of action guts the ending, because it's Jane who's the screw up, and has to realize she's got to turn it around. By simply putting the cables in the wrong hands, it undermines the point and robs her decision of motivation.

If I'd been there for the whole day, I would have noticed when the crew strayed off key points and could have steered them back, and explained why it was important that this or that be done this or that way. I didn't. I got sleep and failed the project on some level. I learned my lesson there.

Posted by molyneaux at 10:20 PM PDT
Updated: Tuesday, 19 May 2009 10:18 PM PDT
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Sunday, 28 December 2008
Flashback to the 48 Hour Film Project
Topic: Makin' Movies

I had two entries written about last July's 48 Hour Film Project in San Francisco that I never got around to posting.  Below are links to them:

Click for: Day 3 of the 48 HFP: Sunday

Click for: The Public Screening 


Posted by molyneaux at 2:33 AM PST
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Saturday, 6 September 2008
A Little Pick-Me-Up
Mood:  happy
Topic: Makin' Movies

It's seven weeks to the day from when team Fogbelt 2880 hit Golden Gate Park to shoot "How the Bunny Got the Bear".

During that long shooting day circumstances forced me to drop several short scenes and shots that, while fun and funny, weren't necessary to get the main story points across. However, I always regretted losing some of that material, because it was fun stuff, and its absence changed the story balance slightly because the son bunny Gus's original introduction was lost, and it makes him a smaller part of the story overall.

Well, today's my chance to try to make up for that, as some key members of Fogbelt 2880 reassemble to do pickup shots that will allow the film to be completed more as it was originally intended.

I tried REALLY hard to be prepared in a way that was not possible for the 48 Hour Film Project. I had written a custom script of just the material we’re going to shoot. I had storyboarded some of the shots I wanted. I'd made a fairly comprehensive shot list. I'd captured frames from the original footage and printed out sheets of these for continuity purposes. I had sent checklists to the crew of what everyone should bring (the costumes, for instance, were all over the place... ears here, tails there, shirts elsewhere), and asked Tim if his camera has a composite video out I could plug a small LCD monitor into. I'd even printed maps to show where all the potential locations were and how to get from my place to them.

Furthermore, I had spent three hours yesterday biking around the west half of Golden Gate Park scouting locations that we could use. I had my digital camera with me to shoot reference photos and a map of the Park on which I could mark said locations. 

  1. I was looking for a place the parent rabbits could bolt into the bushes. I found some perfect shrubs near a playground.
  2. More important, I needed something that could serve as the "door" to the home of the rabbits. I noted four possible places where trees or paths made what could pass as a sort of figurative entrance. This was the main location we needed, because two scenes take place there. I found several possible spots for this, two near our original location, and one a short drive away. I knew where I really wanted to shoot it, but when I'd driven by it a few days earlier, there was grounds work going on around it.
  3. I figured we'd return to our original location for Gus's introduction and to shoot a new set of lines of the parents to set up a new "PTA" joke.
  4. Finally, we'd need a place to shoot the PTA joke itself. I knew we could shoot that almost anywhere, but, if time permitted, I found a beautiful spot next to the lodge building by the park's fly fishing ponds.

The crew was to assemble at my place by 7:30, but I start getting phone calls before 7.  One Becky calls to say Jim was getting the clothes together that he and John had worn, but he can't remember who had worn which pants, so I have to review the film in hi-def to study their behinds and say who had worn pants with back pockets with flaps and who hadn't.  Then "Beckster" Becky (in team vernacular) calls to say she only had one of the bunny tails, not both as she'd thought, etc.

Our crew for the day are actors P.A., Jim, and John, and behind the camera the two Beckys, cameraman Tim, sound guy Will, and Erik "Mother Nature" Braa, and myself. Roles are fluid because it's a small crew and we'll all have to pinch hit, but mostly the actors act, Will listens, Beckster booms, Becky slates, Tim shoots, I direct, and Erik does anything else we need.

Everyone but Erik is at my house on time, and P.A. shows up already made up, as he has a limited availability and needs to be done by 11 a.m. We saddle up and head for the first location.

As above, I'd located seveal possible "door" locations the day before, but as I was heading home, I'd decided to bike by my first choice for the location...and the grounds keeping equipment was gone! I told the crew this is where we'd try to start. We all head to this location, and will move to an alternate only if it's unworkable. That location is Lloyd Lake and the Portals of the Past. The Portals is what was once the portico of the mansion of A.N. Towne, and was all that remained standing of the home after the 1906 earthquake. It was moved to Lloyd Lake as a symbol of the perseverance of San Francisco. (Click here to see the house that once bore this entrance, and here to see the portico standing in the aftermath of the earthquake with ruined City hall in the distance.)

We find parking and decide to go for it. We hurriedly get our gear unpacked and head around the small lake to the Portals. I love the idea of this as a location, for, as the "interior" of the Finkelstein (rabbit) family home is outdoors, the Portals are perfect as they are essentially a gateway to nothing.

There are obstacles I knew of going in: there's a concert going on in Speedway Meadow--smack between our two main locations--and there's the weather. The summer fog petered out last week, and it's been clear skies. At Lloyd Lake the sun's shining and there's already lots of cars parking along the road. I hope we can get in and out before it becomes unusable. The bright light could be a problem, but since this scene is "outside" the house I figure we can live with it being somewhat brighter than the later "inside" scenes... and, heck, if that doesn't work I'll be spending a lot of time in post adjusting the video.

While Jim and John get made up we start shooting P.A. as Gus in the scene where he answers the door to find an off-camera visitor and reacts in surprise. I coached P.A. on what I wanted him to do, telling him come out from the pillars in a skip-hop fashion and to do a little nose twitching that would match what his parents did in the original shoot. We first do the take from a wide angle where you can see the entire structure and that it isn't connected to anything, and after that, we move closer and change the angle slightly to focus on him. I’d written one line for this, but tell P.A. to just play with it and he delivers something different almost every take. Fun fun!  By this point Erik has found his way to us, shorn of beard he looks less dazzling than Mother Nature... or something...

Two technical problems provide my only real vexations for the day. First, Tim was wrong about his camera... there is a composite signal out, but he doesn't have the right connector, so again I can't use a monitor, despite the fact I have one with me! Second, Will points out that the sound we're getting is likely not going to be entirely useable because there's a nearby sprinkler which he can hear clearly over the headphones, and there's noise from the concert setup across the way. I reply we'll just have to plan to loop the dialog later in Matt's studio, as we don't have the luxury of coming back another time, and what we record here is what the actor's will listen to and match when looping.

With P.A.'s scene done we shift to the parents arriving home. Jim and John's asses are the subject of much discussion as we try to get their tails to match the previous shoot. As with P.A., we first shoot wide as they tiredly skip-hop to their mark and run their dialog, then tip-toe into the portico when they hear off camera noises. After getting it wide, we go closer for a medium two-shot and do it a bunch more times. With all that done we're almost ready to move out. I send Will and Beckster and Erik and P.A. to start loading up the cars, while Becky, Tim and I hurry over to a point across the water from the Portals, from which we shoot a wide establishing shot of the location with Jim and John arriving, reflected in the water. Pretty!

My goal was to be fiished by noon, and I need to get P.A. done even sooner, so we need to get a move on. We drive over to Metson Lake where we'll shoot P.A.'s only other scene. The trouble is, the concert stuff is starting and the noise is a problem. We're definitely going to have to loop.

I'd originally planned to shoot at the same log where Gus and Gloria are discovered by the parents, but that's now impossible because the parks people moved said log over 20 feet, and its previous spot is in directly sunlight, which wouldn't match what we'd shot previously. I pick a different log that's in some shade and someone smartly points out that Gus could be in a different "room" in the "house" in this scene; they're right...no one's going to notice. This was the most important scene I had to get, because it's P.A.'s "entrance", and where his character gets established (in the film, it'll appear just before the scene of P.A. we shot at the Portals). I had carefully storyboarded this, so I knew exactly what I wanted. I coach P.A. on his action. I want him to lean on the log like a teenager with his schoolbook propped up on a sofa back. He's to hold his book in front of him, so at first we just see the bunny ears above the book covers, then lower the book to for his reveal, and deliver his dialog. He then needs to toss the book aside, then react of a "doorbell" and exit in frustration.

About the book: I'd spent the equivalent of one entire day getting the prop ready for this shot. Originally I'd planned to have a book titled "How to Multiply" that looked just like the one Bugs Bunny is reading in the cartoon “Easter Yeggs,” but then I'd hit on the idea of making the book a parody of one of those "For Dummies" books. I spent many hours laying out and then printing and assembling a book titled "Multiplication for Bunnies" in the "Dummies" style. The cover was printed on shiny card stock and looks just like a printed book, with in jokes and twists on "Dummies" slogans all over it that you'll never be able to read on screen, but which the crew found hilarious. Also, I'd designed two custom pages for the book interior, featuring two improbable bunny style "additive multiplication" problems.

To make sure the book was functional as a prop and would not cause us any shooting delays, I'd constructed it in such a way that it was relatively foolproof. I'd taken a trade paperback and used heavy duty adhesive to adhere the new cover over the actual cover (and had two backup covers printed in case one got damaged). I spray glued the custom pages into the book near the middle. Then, to make sure the book always opened to the same spot, I'd poured white glue onto the bottom of the book near the spine, then prssed in into the page edges and wiped it off the surface. I then put a plastic bag between the two custom pages to keep them from getting stuck together, then closed the book and put weight on it while the glue dried. The result is that the pages still flip (sorta), but if you drop the book on the ground on its spine it always opens to the custom pages. Sometimes I be smart!

We got the shots of P.A. relatively quickly. The camera starts tight on the book cover, then zooms out just enough to see the ears and the top of the log, P.A. lowers it and does his shtick. Since we had to do multiple takes, and as such it's not a good idea to let the book get damaged, I asked Jim to try to catch the book each time P.A. threw it off camera. Jim said "you've got the wrong guy", but, despite his worries, he caught it one every take.

Finally, we hurried to another log to shoot a reverse over P.A.'s shoulder so we can see the improbable math problems that are vexing him.  With those done, we wrap P.A. and send him on his way. Thanks P.A.!

Next, Tim and I find a spot to shoot an insert of the book landing after Gus tosses it. We shoot a number of these, me dropping the book on the ground, always landing open to the correct pages. These shots are my safety, because with it and the over the shoulder, I have two options for showing the Math problems, and I can use whichever works best in the film rather than being stuck with only one option.

The sun's climbing and it's getting hotter, and shade of any sort is becoming a scarce commodity. As it is, we have all the important stuff needed to finish the film's opening correctly, but there's still the new gag I want to get in.

This gag was not in the original script, but was inspired by a line John improvised in the sound booth, where he said, "What are you thinking?! What will my PTA think?" I loved that line, and it gave me an idea for a sight gag. The trouble was, when I reviewed the footage we'd shot previously there was no good spot where I could just shoehorn the line in. But I knew roughly where in the scene I wanted it, so I decided to do a retake of one small part of the family discussion.

It went like this...

GLORIA: We're going to be married.
HARVEY: Over my tanned pelt! Look what you've done!
(as Jessi does her "I'm a comin' Jesus" moment)
GUS: What's the big deal?
But I want it to be this...
GLORIA: We're going to be married.
HARVEY: Over my tanned pelt! Look what you've done!
(Jessi does her "I'm a comin' Jesus" moment)
JESSI: (to Gus) What are you thinking? (to Harvey) What will my PTA think?

Again, the sun's making it difficult as the place where we'd originally shot this material is in direct sun and won't match no way no how. So, we move the actors to a spot in the shade about 50 feet away, in front of the pussy willows that were at the very edge of the frame in some of the existing footage. I had Tim shoot from farther to their left than we had previously, hoping that this new angle will hide the fact that we aren't in exactly the same spot. But, to ensure the action matches and increase the chances it'll cut together neatly, I'd printed screen captures of Jim and John during that sequence, and when we get them set up, we review the scene as it exists now on my laptop, so the actors can see exactly how they'd been sitting and what the action was. With Erik sitting-in as a Gloria stand-in and delivering her line, we shoot it. Jim and John are hilarious as always. I hope it works!

There were two other bits I'd hoped to shoot with Jim and John, but they would have required moving to a third location because nothing was workable where we were, but I feel that stuff, while fun, isn't really necessary, and decide to let it go. Jim and John are wrapped!

This leaves only one thing left to shoot: The PTA gag.

This one's just a sight gag that occurred to me on hearing John's PTA ad lib. I imagined a cut to a PTA meeting where the little forest animals react to the news that Gus is marrying a bear. I imagined blank, shocked stares of these characters, holding teacups, and one of them drops the cup. Then we cut back to the action.

To accomplish it, I basically cannibalized the crew except for Tim. Both Beckys, Will, Erik and I are made up and don animal ears (I'd bought some ears for different animals, so we had three other animals and two rabbits). I brought a set of four dainty little flower-patterned espresso cups my mama had given me, and my fellow PTA members hold those as I hold THE book, as if we are discussing coursework. We sit in a tight semicircle.

But is Jim in or out of character?

John directs, deciding that we should all start out laughing at something, then turn as if we're hearing someone tell us some news, and then react in horror to the news, at which point teacups fall. Our cues are: "Laugh. Spot. Shock. Drop!" After a few takes it's obvious that something isn't working because we all have to look at a spot directly below the camera, but going from the laugh to finding this spot with your eyes isn't instant, and I have a particularly hard time because I am seated somewhat in profile and have to turn my head. Jim takes to shaking a small water bottle, and the movement allows you to look at the spot on cue.  We do several takes with everyone dropping their cups, and then just Will dropping his.

Then, with many teacup drops completed, we wrapped the shoot.  Hooray!

As it turns out, I realize we missed one shot on my list, but it's so unimportant that I decide it's not worth bothering with.

I'd promised to but lunch for everyone, but Jim and Becky head home, and Tim gets lost and never makes it. The rest of us went to Tommy's for food and celebratory drinks. Erik quickly wiped off his makeup, but the rest of us went as we were... ears and all. We got many bunny looks, but that's another story...

  

The Fogbelt Fables PTA meets with Mother Nature's lesser known younger Brother Nature to discuss the shocking news of the day.


Posted by molyneaux at 12:01 AM PDT
Updated: Monday, 8 September 2008 1:13 AM PDT
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Thursday, 24 July 2008
On the (sorta) Big Screen
Topic: Makin' Movies

RETRO-POST (I wrote this ages ago but apparently forgot to post it!)

Thursday night (July 24th) was the screening for teams in Group C of the 48 Hour Film Project in San Francisco. I was eager to see my team's film "How the Bunny Got the Bear" in a theater with an audience, and I held off showing it to most of my team until this, because I wanted to share the experience with as many of them as I could.

The screenings were held at the Roxie Cinema in San Francisco's mission district, but the Roxie's a fairly tiny theater with only about 240 seats. Fortunately, they had two screenings of each group per night, doubling the number of possible viewers.

I had two dates for the show: Carol and my friend Gene. Carol and I arrived early, but the box office nor will-call were yet open, so we went across the street to Ti Couz for a quick crepe. John Sugden and his lovely wife Laura Lee showed up right after us, and after toasting with champagne and wolfing down my crepe, I hurried across the street to try to coordinate all my teammates and friends who were showing up.  It was a bit of a zoo because people were confused about what line was what, and people started showing up that I hadn't received confirmations from, so while at first I worried that I might have extra tickets, by the end I was starting to worry I had too few!  But, it all worked out in the end, since one of my actors had friends cancel and she released her tickets at will call to me. Yay!

Of my crew, those who attended were:
Jessi Rabbit                      John Sugden
Gus Rabbit                       P.A. Cooley
Mother Nature                  Erik Braa
Director of Photography     Tim Laurel
Music                               Matt Levine
Second Camera                 Eriq Wities
Boom Operator                 Natascha Dimitrijevic

Actress Amy C. Gibbons couldn't make it, and, sadly, our 2nd Assistant Director, Becky Sackville-West, was unable to attend due to having been hospitalized for appendicitis!  She was home, recuperating, and we all wished for her speedy recovery!

John Sugden in the middle of our group.
Also in attendance at that first show were Erik's girlfriend Amy, mutual friends Jack and Nicole, my friends Christopher and Russ, Matt Levine's wife Diana, her brother and Matt's parents, and a few other friends and loved ones of the above. We certainly did "represent" team Fogbelt 2880!

So, about the screening...

Our film was the 3rd of 13. I wasn't nervous until just before our film came up, and then my heart started thumping and I started sweating. How would I feel if we got no laughs? The two films before us were, I felt, not as good as ours, but that's my opinion. I was worried what they would think!

What worried me most was the sound. There was something wrong with the audio and it kept dropping out. It affected every film to one degree or another.  Grrrrr.

The 7pm showing we attended was packed with mostly with the competing filmmakers and their friends and supporters, but we got a lot of laughs from them, which was reassuring.  We got a few laughs right off ther bat with the title card and the first appearance of the bunnies, but once the comment about "multiplying" came up and got a good laugh, I relaxed. Clearly, the audience got what we were doing.  Whew!

Not surprisingly, the bunny pellet joke got the biggest laugh in the film. Potty humor sells! But that wasn't the only laugh. "Shut your carrot hole!" got a bigger response than I expected, and, to my surprise, quite a few people responded to the "foot lotion" joke.  Jim and John's affectionate rabbit chittering got some pretty good laughs...and our post-credit stinger with Mother nature got a nice big laugh. There were lots more! And we got a good round of applause over the credits. Huzzah!

Of the 13 films in our group, I definitely think ours was in the top quarter. A clever film about miniature cops from LITTLE Little Italy called "187" was huge fun, and a film called "Button Man" had a clever gimmick and ended literally with a C4 explosive bang (I noticed Grant Imahara and Tori Balleci hanging around before and after the show, so I suspect some Mythbusters crew participation in that film), but violated its genre by not really being a thriller/suspense film. I wondered how that would affect it in judging.

Afterwards, a few of the crew and some friends popped over to the Delirium club a few doors down for a celebratory cocktail, and then we called it a night.

Oh, and my friend Jim Green called after attended the 9:30 screening and related that our film got the biggest laughs of that one. Yay!

All in all, I think we did great given 48 Hours. I think some of the other films illustrated how rough the results can be. I think our film held up as pretty well polished. So a hearty thanks and congrats to everyone who helped make it happen!

 


Posted by molyneaux at 1:23 AM PDT
Updated: Tuesday, 30 December 2008 12:17 PM PST
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Sunday, 20 July 2008
48 Hours...yet again Part III: Fixing it in Post
Topic: Makin' Movies
CAVEAT: My memory of everything that happened on this day is fragmentary and I'm sure I've conflated things and got some out of order. So much happens in these 48 HFPs that I'm surprised I can remember as much as I do. So bear with me!
Somewhere after 8 a.m. I've started to stir. I'm still exhausted, as 8 hours sleep doesn't make up for the 39 consecutive waking hours that concluded the night before.
I stumble out of my bedroom to find John awake, reading, and Scott busily editing the rough cut of our film. Cameraman Tim brought a hard drive over in the wee hours, so Scott was able to start editing at 6. He says he's making good progress and we'll have a rough cut by noon, if not sooner.
First order of business is to get some breakfast, as I've not really eaten much in the past 48 hours between all the madness and breaking a tooth. I shower and John and I go to the nearby Seal Rock Inn to eat, where I'm very conscious of the broken tooth. We discuss what needs to happen today, for although we've wrapped the shoot, we've got something like 9 hours left to do all the post production. I collect an omelette to go for Scott, and we head back home.
ROUGHING IT
It's noonish and Scott has completed the rough cut. Like all rough cuts, it sucks. It's flaccid and clumsy and badly paced and it just doesn't flow, but I'm already laughing, so I know there's gold in that there cut...we just have to pan out the sediment.  But there's a fair amount of sediment:
  • Although we filmed  scenes 1, 5 and 7, we couldn't get to 2,  3, 4, and 8, ergo some of the action doesn't transition very well.
  • We have the initial jib shot down to Jim and John (scene 1), but without the scene of P.A. reading the book, we have to cut directly from that to Jim and John's first dialogue scene, so it's like we're revealing them twice.
  • Since we didn't shoot the "door" where P.A. reacts to his to-be-revealed visitor and where Jim and John arrive and overhear growling, we have a problem where Jim and John just appear standing near where P.A. and Amy are supposedly making out.
  • The second unit stuff of P.A. and Amy waiting for a bus isn't usable. There's a man in shot who we don't have a release for, and, further, the shots of the bus aren't good because--
    • they don't feature our actors
    • they break the line of action (a.k.a. the 180 degree rule)
    • the reflection of the sun on the bus's back window blows out (too bright).
    --which means we don't have transitional footage to get from the end of the family discussion to the Mother Nature scene.
  • Scott can't find a shot of Jim and John doing "flirt" lines we'd planned to lay over the initial jib shot and some other shots.
After some discussion, we decide to do the following:
  1. Drop the initial jib shot. This hurts, because it's the biggest camera move we've got, and really sets the forest setting, but it's gotta go.
  2. Drop the bus stop scenes.
So, Scott's got his hands full.
To fix the transitions, I suggest we do title cards in fable style, as in "The parents arrived home to a surprise". This will cover the missing footage neatly, and help keep the running time down (since we have a 7 minute max, minus end credits), even though it's a total cheat and I hate doing it.
BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE!
Aside from the edit, which is Scott's main responsibility, there remain the following items to be tended to:
  1. Extra dialogue and sound recording
  2. Main Title and end Credit cards
  3. Musical Score
  4. Sound Effects
  5. Foley (custom sound FX work)
  6. One optical effect to establish Mother Nature's place.
  7. Paperwork required to be submitted with the film at the Drop Off event.
  8. Collect the lighting kit, mini grip kit, and boom mic from Matt's garage
With this to-do list ready, I get to work on as many of the miscellaneous elements as possible whilst Scott works on the edit. John and I collect Jim and head for Matt's studio.
SOUNDING OFF
Matt hasn't been sitting on his laurels waiting for the film. Once he had the script on Saturday he started roughing out musical ideas for the themes, including a sped-up piece of a main tune that was intended for the bunnies in the bushes stuff we couldn't shoot. He'd played these samples for us last night between setups of "Mother Nature", but I was so groggy I didn't remember it much.  Once he has he rough cut, he'll start taking his ideas and timing them to fit the edited sequences.
In the meantime, we'll take the opportunity to record some dialogue pickups and such. Since Scott can't find the 2nd unit shot of Jim and John flirting and doing "Oh Jessi!" "Oh Harvey!" for the opening shot, I put them in the sound booth and have them record a number of versions of these lines. Also, since we're there, we decide to record various shocked and outraged sounds that can be dubbed in where useful. As with yesterday, it's hilarious, especially when we put both of them in the booth at the same time to record lines of rabbit flirting (which Jim informs me they were doing out of mic range in some shots). Whoever would have thought, "I want some of your peanut butter" could sound dirty? Whilst John is ad libbing an outraged "she's a bear!" I catch his eye from through the glass  and mouth the line back to him with one naughty word added, and he turns back to the mic and cries, "She's a $@&#ing bear!" He hits the line so hard he spikes the meter, so Matt has him do it again. John's outrage kills me, especially when he ad libs, "What are you thinking? What will my PTA think?!"
I ask Matt if he signed the Music Releases. He hasn't. I make him print them and sign them.
Erik is on his way over to help, so I tell him to just go to Matt's in the event we need him to loop and lines or do any new lines we might need. I have this idea for a narrator, but I doubt we'll have time to do it.
PAPERWORK, PAPERWORK
With Jim and John's sound booth work done, we head back for my place. I ask Jim if he can stay and take over the task of getting all the required paperwork together. He says yes. Then I have to ask him another favor. I'm out of printer paper and toilet paper (too many guests!). Can he bring some back with him?
From last year's 48 HFP experience I knew that keeping track of all the paperwork, contact info, etc., can be a pain, so while I was prepping the crew for this shoot I created an Excel spreadsheet that contained everyone's names, with columns for phone numbers, email addresses, their on-screen credit, etc. This became the "New Shimmer" of the shoot ("New Shimmer is both a floor wax and a dessert topping!"), as the sheet served as a master phone list for making calls to cast and crew, and now it's a checklist for the paperwork. Jim quickly realizes that the one person we don't have a Liability Waiver for is our cameraman, Tim! Fortunately, Tim lives nearby, and needs to get his jib out of John's vehicle, so Jim calls him over and gets the form signed.
Tim's gear collected from John's SUV, John departs for home and his lovely wife, and I miss him already.
Jim makes a thorough double-check of every form, noting every single error and inconsistency, none of which are serious and are easily dealt with. He also calls a few people to make sure I have the correct credit for them.
The amount of paperwork is daunting given he short schedule, and includes the following:
  • Team Roster: Tells who was on the team, their job, and their e-mail address.
  • Certification Statement: a form I must sign to certify that all creative work took place during the 48 Hour competition period.
  • Liability Waiver Form: A limited liability form that protects me and the 48HFP, one for each member of the cast and crew.
  • Talent Release Form: For actors and other talent, allowing their images and voices to be used.
  • Music Release Form: To prove I either own the music in the film or have rights to it.
  • Location Release Form: To prove we had permission to shoot in any private property...namely Matt's House. We don't need anything for Golden Gate Park since it's public property
  • Materials Release Form, which we'd need if we used photographs and other materials. We're not, so we skip it.
  • Wrap Up Form:  This must be filled out on on-line, and I can't finish it until I know the final running time of the film, etc. So Jim can't do it.
The finished pile ends up being nearly a quarter inch in thickness, but, thanks to Jim, it's all in order. All I have to do is complete and print the Wrap-Up form when we're done.  Thanks, Jim!
When Jim finishes the paperwork I toss a new task at him: I ask him to take a stab at writing the intertitle cards that we need to cover the missing shots. I ask him for three, one to set up the story after the title, one to transition from the parents to the "house", and a final one to transition from the family discussion to Mother Nature's place.
CLOSE TO THE EDIT
Scott's past experience with Final Cut is very helpful, especially with some shots that have problems we can't easily get around, notably by compositing bits from other takes to fix a few problems with the shots that were chosen for the edit. For instance, a woman's head is visible behind some reeds in the deep background, and a bit from another take overlaid over that spot obliterates her. In another shot, there's a continuity mismatch between Amy's hands between an up-angle of her standing and a medium shot of Jim and John where she's visible at the side of the screen, but Scott fixes that with a piece from later in the same shot.
We discuss blowing up a few shots to fix framing problems, and while neither Scott nor I is fond of this, some quick calculation shows that we could conceivably enlarge any shot by up to 300% without any quality loss because we shot at high def and the 48 HFP requires the film in standard def....which is exactly one third the horizontal resolution of our source footage. Scott does blow up a few shots slightly, but never takes it to the 300% size.
The tilt down to the poop gag is too slow. Scott plays around with accelerating the footage during the tilt, and that helps a lot. It's still not perfect, but time for finessing is a luxury we don't have.
MUSIC PART DEUX
Adding the music's been an interesting process.  Once we got the rough cut to Matt he adjusted the pieces he composed to fit the length of the scenes, which keep changing as the editing continues. There's a lot of improvising here, as Scott tries to use all the bits Matt sent over, even music for stuff we ended up not shooting (like the fast music for the parent bunnies in the bushes).
Additionally, we ask Matt for some foley work and some audio variations on Mother Nature's "Love"? So, while we're over here working, Matt is recording Will dumping coffee beans on the floor of his sound booth, and Erik saying "Love?" with a dozen different intonations.
The only piece of music that we have any real problem with is the underscore for the family discussion scene. The music for the first scene is great and hits the right storybook tone, but the music for the family discussion is all wrong: it's too somber, too dark. I give Matt the feedback that it needs to feel related to the other pieces.
Later, Matt sends over a new idea for the family discussion. He's taken the same music and changed the instruments, so instead of sounding orchestral, most of what you hear is a toy piano type plinking. What's great about it is its naked simplicity. Matt's done nice job of hitting the notes just slightly off of when you expect them, which gives the thing a slightly tentative, off kilter feel, and which also gives the impression of a music box winding down.  The favorite bit is what he did when the bear threatens the bunnies: there is cliché Psycho knife stab-esque music played said toy piano!
The music and sound files are moved around via email and courier. Poor Will Spencer keeps getting sent back and forth between Matt's place and mine.  Fortunately, we live only a few blocks apart!
VFX
Yesterday Scott kept making me or trying to make me get on the phone and talk to Michael Struck of NEO f/x up in Portland to describe what I wanted for the establishing shot of Mother Nature's place. I told him I wanted a ginormous tree with windows on it like a skyscraper. I'd hoped Eriq could get a good shot of a Golden Gate Park tree that could be supersized, but there just wasn't time. In my heart of hearts I wanted a shot of Gus and Gloria standing on the curb in front if a mass of trees and looking up, then to do an optical tilt up to reveal this skyscraper like tree towering above. Since we didn't get the plate of the actors, and Michael Struck thinks it would've been hard to do, we agree on a simpler establishing matte painting. What he delivers is a composite of various stock photo elements of a sunset and trees, with one tree rendered appropriately huge. There's a slight push in on it (like a slow zoom), shifting rays of sunlight and a few distant birds, but the kicker is the huge scrolling digital signboard on the tree that reads "MOTHER NATURE INC."  It's pretty and kinda storybook.
CREDITS
Scott's a great guy, but he gets really impatient when the pressure is on, and he asks me for things over and over, sometimes a minute apart, as if asking me again will make it happen faster. "I'm dancing as fast as I can" I think. He starts pestering me more and more as he gets to the point where he needs stock SFX (mostly purchased from sounddogs.com) and the title cards and intertitles.
For the credits, my handy-dandy master spreadsheet saves the day here, too, because I can quickly rearrange the rows into the order the credits need to be, then can cut and paste each name and credit field into the Photoshop file I'm using to compose the end titles. This makes putting the cards together fast, and prevents typos and omissions (well, mostly, I accidentally lost two of the P.A.s off the credits...I'd get them into the director's cut).
Speaking of the credits, a thing I didn't like about the end credits in Secret Identity Crisis was that when reduced to web size the scrolling credits got "crawly", jittery, and hard to read: so for this film I make the end credits a series of slides with nice big text so that everyone's name should remain readable even when YouTubed.
Somewhere during this I had to decide on the final title of the film. The script was titled "B'ear Rabbitt", with the nod to Uncle Remus, and that's what appears on the slates, but, as we had discussed on Friday while debating what a fable was, I liked the sound of the titles of Kipling's Just-So Stories, like "How the Camel Got His Hump" and "How the Leopard Got His Spots". Using this as inspiration, I came up with "How the Bunny Got the Bear", which is enigmatic enough to not give away the story, but does explain what ultimately happens in one sense of "get".
There's a lot of back and forth as I save files to a memory stick and pass it between Scott on the Mac and me on the PC. I knew I shoulda set up a home network!
DOWN TO THE WIRE
Scott, Will and I watch a near-final edit, and as the intertitle card that reads, "By bus, train or plane, the Couple travel for Judgment..." Will comments it should be "and" instead of "or", which implies they did all three. This is funnier, since the judges and the audience at the screening know the requirement of the ticket, and should laugh at that we did all three. We also argue over the spelling of "judgment", but that's easily resolved via dictionary.com.
The cut's working pretty well, but there are things I'm not in love with. Scott has cut up the Mother Nature reveal shot, so first Erik spins around, then the shot goes back to P.A. and Amy, and then it returns to Erik for the required line. I see what he's trying to do, but it doesn't work for me, because Erik didn't pause after turning around. He just spun and hit the line. This means Scott cuts right as we get our first look at Erik, which sort of steps on the joke.
Upon reviewing this proposed final cut, I notice that Scott has left out the first of the intertitle cards. He didn't think it was necessary. I think it breaks the model of using the cards to set the scenes. However, we're running out of time so I let this one go. I could argue over this or that, but Scott and I have different approaches to editing, and the number of changes I'd make are impossible to accomplish given how short time is. I decide that since I asked Scott to be the editor and he took on the responsibility, it's fair I let him have the edit. If I decide I want it different, I'll do a top to bottom re-edit later and do my own cut. But for this 48 HFP, it's Scott's cut.
At some point during this madness Beckster calls, and I am blunter than I've even been: if it's not desperately important, I can't talk. She says it's not. I'll say I'll call later. Click.
UH OH...
Last year we were late delivering Secret Identity Crisis because of a technical issue where Scott couldn't get the camera to record the output from the computer. We pre-tested the output system earlier, and we know we can write the video out to my camera, so that won;t be a problem. We're planning to stop cold and lock the final cut at 6:30 so we can output to tape and also write out a data DVD disc backup, ensuring there's no way we can fail to be accepted because of bad media.
All's looking good, but then, just as Scott saves a few changes, Final Cut Pro crashes, hard. Scott tries to reopen it. Crash. Will and I are trying not to panic. We're cool as cucumbers...on the outside. I know the worst thing that I can do is to freak out, so I keep about what I'm doing while Scott tries to figure it out. It looks like the project file got corrupted, so he opens the program without opening the file then tries to open the most recent project auto-save. It works! He only has to make a couple of tweaks to get right back where we were.  WHEW!
THE FINAL SPRINT
Finally we're ready. Scott outputs the finished film to my camera and to tape. He then burns a data DVD as a backup. I finish the Wrap Up Form online as required.  That done, I'm triple and quadruple checking everything to make sure I have all the paperwork in order, every form in place, plus that I've got the DVD disc and the Mini DV tape, and the required submission envelope.
It's 7:03 and we're ready to roll. We have 27 minutes to get the package turned in, and our destination is 3.5 miles away, or about 10 minutes distance. I tell Will I want him to drive there. He thinks I'm asking him to take us there, but I till him that i want him to follow us there, "If my car runs out of gas or has a mechanical breakdown or if a little old lady steps out in front of me, you grab Scott and the package and run!" After we missed the deadline last year in Portland, I'm taking no chances that this film won't be in on time.
The trip is uneventful, and we make good time there.  As we pull up in front of the cafe that is the drop-off location, I tell Scott to jump out and get inside and be ready to turn in the package while I find parking. I tell Will to beat it back to Matt's and we'll call when we're done.  I circle the block a few times, but there's no parking to be had, so I double-park the car on the street and hurry inside to find Scott in line. He says they've taken the disc and tape and are verifying that they work. Once that's confirmed, we're done.
I take a moment to look around. It's almost 20 after with only minutes remaining before the deadline, and there are literally people with their laptops burning DVD discs while standing in line! As close as we got, we did great, having delivered the film in two different media.
And we're good!  Hooray!  We're done!  WE DID IT!!!
Back in the car, I start dialing key members of the cast and crew to tell them we're submitted, and that we're heading to Matt's for a celebratory drink.  Turn out Beckster was in the city and waiting for word. I call John in San Jose, and he's thrilled. I tell him to have a drink in honor of our success, and he tells me that he and his wife are well ahead of the game: already on their second bottle of champagne!
Those who gather at Matt's are Scott, me, Beckster (who waited at the beach after I hung up on her), Erik, Will, and Eriq.  After the first toasts, I step into the back yard and go down the crew list, calling just about every single person on it to tell them we finished on time, and to thank them profusely for their help. I make a point of telling those who did the most unglamourous jobs how important they were, as everyone from the script supervisor to the guy who stops traffic is essential to getting a film made.
Calls done, we take a walk to the Beach Chalet to get dinner and celebrate further, with Natascha joining us. And here ends the story of the 48 hours.
I'm sooooo happy.
I'm sooooo ready to sleep.
And I'm soooo ready to go to my dentist early the following morning to get my mouth repaired. But that's a different story.

Posted by molyneaux at 12:01 AM PDT
Updated: Tuesday, 19 May 2009 10:23 PM PDT
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Saturday, 19 July 2008
48 Hours...again PART II: Saturday
Topic: Makin' Movies

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.

  1. We have a great location with lots of pretty scenery that I want to use.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

  1. I send Eriq Wities off with his camera to shoot some "beautiful nature stuff" to display on Mother Nature's flatscreen TV.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

 


Posted by molyneaux at 12:01 AM PDT
Updated: Tuesday, 19 May 2009 10:24 PM PDT
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Friday, 18 July 2008
48 Hours...again PART I: Friday
Topic: Makin' Movies

Now that I've recovered somewhat from the experience, I can catch up on my blog and tell of the experience of doing the 48 Hour Film Project (www.48hourfilm.com) here in San Francisco.

And a tale it is!

To back up: I wasn't certain I would enter, albeit I wanted to. I just dropped a large brick of money on a new Mac Pro system and software, and smarted at the costs I knew a 48 Hour Film would pile atop it. But, finally, I decided I'd do it, but try not to go crazy on the film budget (ha).

I registered a team with the name Fogbelt 2880: because I live in the fogbelt, and 2880 is the number of minutes in 48 hours. Sometimes I'm too obscure for my own good.

Scott Cummins—who directed and edited Secret Identity Crisis—volunteered to come down and help, and I assigned him to be my 1st Assistant Director and Editor, because while I have the new Mac and Final Cut Pro Studio, I have to get up to speed on the software...and I needed someone who knew it.

Getting the crew together was interesting, as I pulled people I knew, friends and co-workers, and also put ads on Craig's list. I landed quite a few off the latter, including two cameramen (with their own HD cameras), a boom operator, an actress (and some standbys) production assistants, etc.

The afternoon before the contest started I remained worried that we might need extra equipment that our camera guys might not have, so I broke down and rented a small four light kit,  boom mic kit with boom pole, and a mini grip kit (flags, c-stands, etc.). In retrospect, I'm glad I did, because we ended up using most of it.

Scott attended the launch event with me. This is where all the team leaders show up and get their assignments. The way it works is like this:

  • Teams are assigned to one of four Groups (A, B , C or D)
  • Team leaders draw a genre out of a hat. Once each genre is drawn, it's out of the running for that Group. As such, each Group will have only one instance of a given genre (like Romance), but there could be four films in that genre, since there's one instance of the genre for each group.
  • After the genres are all draw, all teams are told the required Elements that must be included to prove their films were made in the 48 hours. For this competition, the elements were:
  1.  
    1. Character:  Gus or Gloria Lorenz, Trade Expert
    2. Prop:  a ticket for a bus, plane or train 
    3. Line of Dialogue:  "Forget it. I already have."

There are 14 genres. This year's:

  1.  
    1. Comedy
    2. Detective/cop
    3. Drama
    4. Fantasy
    5. Film de Femme (strong female character)
    6. Historical Fiction/Period Piece
    7. Holiday Film
    8. Horror
    9. Musical or Western
    10. Road Movie
    11. Romance
    12. Sci Fi
    13. Spy
    14. Thriller/Suspense  

When it was my turn to draw, to my horror I drew...Horror. Of the genres, this was the one I wanted last, and the one I had the least interest in! I was dying for Comedy, Sci-Fi, Detective/Cop, or Road Movie. I could have lived with the others.  But Horror? F*@%!

I asked Scott's opinion. He agreed with my gut reaction to reject it.

If you reject the genre, you have to take a random wildcard genre, and there's no changing your mind.

The Wildcards this time included: 

  1. Animal Film
  2. Fable
  3. Fictional Biopic
  4. Ghost Movie
  5. Political Drama
  6. Silent Film
  7. Sports Film
  8. Tragedy

Of these, I wanted Silent Film most of all (I love Silents), or even Animal Film. I wasn't too keen on Sports Film, but I had some ideas of how to go crazy with it.

I got "Fable". My immediate reaction was, "Ok, I can do something with that!"

Scott and I hurried out to meet our team...but Scott was unclear on what a Fable actually was, so he looked it up via his iPhone, confirming that it is—in the classic sense—a story with a moral that is told with anthropomorphized animals or plants (whereas a parable used humans).

After collecting actor P.A. Cooley, we headed back to my place where a lot of the team was assembling. The primary group consisted of cameraman Eriq Wities, script supervisor Becky Wood, 2nd A.D. Becky Sackville-West, and actors Jim Shelton, John Sugden, Erik Braa and P.A. Cooley.

We encircled the coffee table and started discussing ideas.

Story bashing, about 10 p.m., and at the instant we realized Scott had a pink bunny on his t-shirt! Clockwise from bottom center: Scott Cummins, Eriq Wities, P.A. Cooley, Becky Sackville-West, Becky Wood, James D. Shelton, VI, John Sugden (blue shirt), Erik Braa (in doorway), Maurice. Tim Laurel is hidden behind Maurice.

It was a blur of  concepts and bits, and I have a hard time replying it in my mind. Fortunately, I had the foresight to set up my video camera and record most of it, in the event I wanted to go back to write down ideas we might've missed. Reviewing the footage didn't prove to be necessary, but it'll make a fun add-on to a future DVD!

After a few hours we'd hammered out the idea of a fable that was a sort of twisted take on the very topical gay marriage issue, but with all the genders and norms set on their heads. Our bearded actors would play the cute little bunnies, our one actress would play the bear, and the biggest, burliest guy in the group would play Mother Nature. Fun!

Partward through the process, Director of Photography Tim Laurel arrived and worked with Scott on making sure we the raw footage could be offloaded from his camera, and later yet Matt Levine and his Audio Engineer Will showed up for a brief discussion of music production. Once all that was done, we kicked out everyone except Jim, John, Scott and I. Scott worked in the back and then went to sleep while the rest of us sat in the living room and blocked out the story.  John wrote the lines and action on a yellow pad as we hashed it out. Finally, it was roughed out, and I sent Jim home, put John to bed here, and sat down at the computer to turn John's handwritten pages into screenplay. I gave it the working title "B'ear Rabbit" (ackowledging Uncle Remus).  Writing it took far longer than I thought, and I finally saved it and emailed it to the whole crew at -- eek! -- 5:10 a.m.! And we had a 7:00 am set time.

Oh, this was not boding well for any sleep!

 


Posted by molyneaux at 11:25 PM PDT
Updated: Tuesday, 19 May 2009 10:19 PM PDT
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Tuesday, 24 June 2008
Secret Identity Crisis once again
Topic: Makin' Movies

 The email to Scott read, in part:

We are very pleased to inform you that Secret Identity Crisis has been selected for the 21st Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival, from September 3-7, 2008.

CONGRATULATIONS!!! We are excited to include you in our program. 

Hooray!

The website for the Austin festival, or AGLLIF is here (clicky).


Posted by molyneaux at 8:53 PM PDT
Updated: Tuesday, 19 May 2009 10:26 PM PDT
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Friday, 2 May 2008
More Milk stuff
Topic: Makin' Movies

Was looking for something on YouTube today and found some videos people had shot while Dana and I were extras for the filming of Milk.

This one is from our 2nd time playing extras.

There I am!

Click to watch the video.

In the video I'm in a brown corduroy flat cap, shirtless. I'm visible in various points of the linked video above, but if you watch between 3:43 and 3:50 you can see me pumping my fists in the air.

And here's some video of the recreation of the Candlelight March we did, shot by someone parallel to the marchers.

 


Posted by molyneaux at 11:03 PM PDT
Updated: Wednesday, 20 May 2009 12:40 AM PDT
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