Three Quarters, In The Can

An update on my Treasure Hunt movie (crowdfunding link)…

Due to scheduling conflicts, we had to take two weekends off. We filmed last Saturday and Sunday and will do next weekend, then that’s probably it. There are some insert shots (someone holding a phone, computer, picture, etc.) and some transition shots (showing some iconic shots of the countryside while the characters are traveling) that need to be filmed, but I may not have the budget or time to do pickup shots or ADR (automated dialogue replacement), so it may have to be exactly the way it is.

The weekend was quite productive. We did, though, have a very long day on Saturday. Started at 7:30 AM (everyone was there on time, though the DP hadn’t slept at all Friday night) and I think it was after 9 PM when we wrapped the final scene. It was the day with the most scheduled pages AND scenes. And we dug a hole! The DP actually wound up digging most, he seemed to really enjoy it, but I don’t think the women did any at all. The DP wanted the hole deeper, but we hit a flat slab of bedrock and no one wanted to gamble another location would be better, so we covered the slab up with a little dirt and trusted to movie magic. We needed a couple of shots at the ‘blue hour’ (which was actually only about 20 minutes; it’s the brief time when there’s enough light to film things without lighting them, yet dark enough that ‘practical’ lights show up), which had us racing around a little, but it was almost all at our property.

The one location was at the Zirkle Mill. Naturally the day I choose to film is the same day that the next door neighbor decides to have a yard sale.  Thus, the parking lot we used, which I swear to you has been totally empty of cars for years, had a constant stream of people pulling in to park, then lazily lollygagging their way back and forth across the road between where we were shooting. Oh, there were also like 10x more noisy trucks on the road than I ever remember hearing/seeing since we’ve been there, which included two days we were putting in our driveway and were originally told we needed someone on the road with a flag (fortunately, they backed off on that before we left with the borrowed ‘road work’ signs). I was all set to quit and (possibly) try again some other day, but the DP insisted we give it some more time. He was right; we were eventually able to find the minute-long window we needed to get the shots.

The back of the mill was beautiful and the DP loved it so much he insisted on a wide angle shot that probably means we’ll have to do ADR of the actor’s lines. Boy, was that creek noisy! The DP almost was in the water he wanted to get so much of the mill in the shot. This is supposed to be the exact same physical structure that was there during the Civil War and which figures prominently in my plot and story.

We did a lot of day-for-night shooting. Almost all the scenes on Saturday are, in the script, at night, but I didn’t want to be up all night (neither did the actors) and we convinced the DP to shoot during the day instead. Naturally we had a largely gorgeous, clear, PAINFULLY blue sky, so I’ll have a lot of work in editing blackening that brilliant thing. We did a lot of walking on Saturday, from nearly one end of our property to the other. The driveway is a third of a mile long, so I expect we all did a couple of miles over the day. Which, of course, cut into the time we could be filming, hence the really long day.

I had to drop all my ‘bro’ scenes. The actor who was supposed to be the bro partner to my son sent an email around 4 PM Saturday (which I didn’t read for several hours) that he didn’t have a ride for Sunday. So I delete the parallel scene with the Velma character and am toying with revamping (the now deleted) almost final scene where the bros were going to dismiss the treasure. I’m now thinking of having Max go to the landlord instead, but haven’t made up my mind. Sigh. Getting actors for these scenes has been a nightmare from the very beginning. I’ve probably had at least a half dozen say ‘yes’ to a bro slot, only to back out later. I’ve never been able to get actors lined up for the parallel scene (they’re both meant to be background comic relief for an otherwise dull scene in the foreground; now no dull scene), though had come up with a way to film it later, so I had more time to try and get people (I had two tentative relatives, but they couldn’t make the scheduled day).

On the whole I think I got what I needed. Next weekend will be a challenge as well, it has the second highest pages, but half them are same location and scene, so I hope we can film it quickly.

While the process certainly hasn’t been without frustrations, on the whole, I think I’m happy with how things have been working out. I wish I had more focus to work on editing, so I could catch things we could recover from while still filming, but we’ve largely been so busy each weekend I doubt I’d have the time or energy to squeeze in any shots anyway. But I am learning a whole lot about movie making, lots of little things that can make things smoother. Like scheduling scenes with complicated wardrobe together, or, alternatively, if wardrobe is simple, scheduling all the shots from the same location/setup at the same time and have the actors change several times.

Background

This post is devoted to providing background to how I got to the point where I created a crowdfunding page for my first movie.  It’s intended for the friends and family I haven’t contacted in a while (in some cases a very long while; sorry about that) to give them an idea of how I got from hither to yon.

With my failure of various inventions, business ideas, etc., I struggled for a long while to find something to get passionate about.  I thought to give writing a try, which is what lead to this website.

I tried writing novels for a while, but ultimately decided, as much as I enjoyed the process, I just didn’t see the economic payback (me being a mercenary and all).

Then, when a beta reader ‘complained’ that my first novel read like a screenplay, I decided to learn about movie making.  I’ve always been intensely interested in movies.  For decades, one of my best friends and I would get together to watch movies and then discuss them.  I love to watch the behind-the-scenes stuff and had read with some interests about the arcane rules of Hollywood accounting.  But I hadn’t learned anything about the nitty-gritty elements of movie making.

The more I learned about directing, the more I felt called toward the subject.  The same was not true for any other element of movie making, though much of what I learned about producing meshed very well with my broad business education (self-taught as well as formal with an MBA).  When I wrote my stories, I was basically describing a movie I had in my head, so the more I learned, the more I thought I could be happy as a writer/director.

But, after having learned about the dismal prospects of making a living as a writer, did I really want to dump more time, energy and money into another low probability project?  I mulled over this for a long time.  Though based largely on gut feelings, honed over decades of entrepreneurship (but mostly guesswork), I felt that the chances of making it as a successful novelist (somewhat arbitrarily designated as making $100K+ per year doing full-time writing) was one in 10,000.  I did note, as I did my research, that almost all the millionaire authors (very few, actually) were such because their novels were turned into movies.  Perhaps I could cut out the middle man and make my own?

After some deep analysis of the prospects of making a living as a writer/director, I came up with the gut conviction that the odds of success (basically, the same $100K/year income) was around one in 500.  Still quite abysmal odds, of course, but 20 times better than as a novelist.  Still, did it make sense to devote so much effort to something with such terrible chances of success?

When it comes to being a novelist, my education and experience really bring zero as any sort of competitive advantage.  Meaning, nothing distinguishes me as a novelist, when compared to the 10’s of thousands (perhaps 100x more, who knows) of other novelists out there.  However, directing isn’t quite the same.  Directors are managers, in addition to being the creative driving force.  As I researched directing, I felt more and more that my expensive business education and years of experience as a manger would give me a competitive advantage over other directors.

More than that, movies are about packages.  No matter how great a script is, without the money to make it, nothing will come of it.  Producers are the prime movers behind getting the money, and while I didn’t feel called to producing like I did to directing, I certainly know their motivation and can speak their language.  And I’m comfortable acting as a producer and tracking the 1,001 things that all must come together in order to take a script to the big screen.  As a writer, in addition to director, I’ve already increased the package when approaching any investors.  If I can get myself plugged in enough to find the right actors, then I have a huge head start over other directors, even experienced ones.

There is a massive Catch-22 to being a director, though.  In nearly all cases, no director is ever hired to be a director without having first been a director.  WTF?  Well, this conundrum is usually ‘simply’ resolved by producing (and paying for) your first project.  So I decided to research how cheaply I could make a movie.

In principle, you can make a movie for zero dollars.  That only works in very rare cases, and I wanted something people could watch.  After much research, I felt a few thousand dollar budget would let me have the potential to make something people could enjoy.  That depended, though, on getting cast and crew to work for ‘reel, beer and pizza.’  ‘Reel’ is examples of your talent.  In the case of a cinematographer, what their imagery looks like, lighting, angles, etc.  For an actor, how they comport themselves, emote, etc.  Everyone starting out has the same Catch-22, can’t get any experience without first having some experience, so, based on much of what I read, I felt I could get my start that way.

Not so much luck, though, in finding people for that level of compensation.  I got lucky during this research process in finding a mentor who has made several shorts and a feature.  He insisted it was possible to do things for reel, but if I could pay, even a little, I’d have a much better selection of actors, and it’d be much more likely they’d stay the course to get the movie completed.  I recalculated and figured a larger, but still small, budget, and started a campaign to get that funded.  That meant going to my boss and executive producer (wife) to get the funding allocated.  Well, she wasn’t very interested.  Over the years, she’d put in at least $50K in my various business ideas, inventions, etc. and had yet to see a cent in return.  Plus, after having just dumped a bunch of money into novels, she was skeptical I would have more to show for my movie making efforts.

Intellectually, I agreed with her assessment.  We were taking money that would otherwise go toward our retirement, so there were very real and fairly immediate consequences to diverting that to something with such a low probability of success.  However, after much navel gazing, I decided the only thing I could get passionate about any longer was the idea of making movies.  After much whining, pleading, puppy dog eyes and perhaps some sniveling and blubbering, I convinced the boss to back me in finding out if I have the potential to make a go as a writer/director.

But what to write and direct?  The first screenplay I completed, “The Dominatrix Wore Red,” while overall inexpensive to film, when compared to Hollywood blockbusters, was still way out of reach of the paltry sums I could rationalize extracting from our retirement.  The first one I worked on, but didn’t complete until later, had too much international travel for a first-time, micro budget feature.  I asked a friend for ideas. Since she’s obsessed with the Civil War, she naturally suggested that as something to explore.  I thought the idea of an adventure in treasure hunting that all happened on our own property could be just the thing.  I set to writing, got the input from a couple of editors, and started the casting process.  With my expanded budget to pay cast and crew, I’m happy to report I got lots of very good quality applicants, and was off to the races.

So there you go, the background to my request for crowdfunding a feature from a first-time writer/director.  My goals for this project are fairly simple: do I enjoy making it and is what I wind up with watchable (broadly defined is will people who see it willingly recommend it to a friend)?  If I don’t like making movies (I have, so far), then that’s the end of that.  If what I write/direct/produce isn’t watchable, then I seriously need to reconsider my efforts.  That said, movie making is, first and foremost, a collaborative endeavor.  Lots of people have integral parts to play. On the one hand, it can dilute some of the aims of the writer in the initial script. But on the other hand, with cast and crew that really care, they can make it better than it was on the page.  My goal with paying for the experienced cast and crew was to help ensure against my naive mistakes causing the end product to be worthless.  Time will tell on this, but I’m optimistic.

So what happens if I like making movies and what I turn out is watchable?  Well I have a number of projects in the pipeline for just such an event.  I think my second project might be a horror movie, as horror seems to be the only genre where a low budget independent movie has a realistic chance at distribution, hence profit.  I’m toying with a third project as a Civil War biopic on Jessie Rupert, the Angel of the Shenandoah.  Even though a period piece, I believe it’s feasible to film it ‘inexpensively’ (my arm-waving budget is $500K, so everything is relative) by taking advantage of lots of interest in the Shenandoah Valley.  I think I can make this profitable through self-distribution, so don’t think I need to rely on outsiders to pay back my investors.

A fourth project is one I came up with a year or so ago.  I’m big into road bicycle racing (think the Tour de France) and would love to tell the story of the domestique, those riders who support the team and its leader.  While I expect I’ll need a couple of million dollars to adequately tell that story, because of the global following of bike racing I think I can self-distribute it and get that budget back.

Then my Dominatrix movies.  They’re ‘cheap’ by most standards, with a small cast, few locations and no travel.  But most movies need to have at least one ‘name’ actor in order to have any realistic chance at distribution, hence profit (self-distribution is extremely time consuming and requires a substantial investment of money as well), and to do that it’s fairly commonly accepted that budgets need to be at least $2.5 million.  But if I can get this far, I should have enough of a reputation to get a realistic chance of getting these movies widely distributed.

If I’m still having success, I have other concepts I think would work very nicely on the big screen.  They’re much more expensive to film, requiring stunts, sets, guns, etc., but I think the stories are interesting enough to put butts in theaters.

A very long shot indeed.  Not quite lottery-like odds, which I equate to the chance of being struck by lightening, while dancing naked, on a golf course, at midnight, but slim nonetheless.  However, gotta play to win, and as someone once said, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.  I’m taking this shot at movie making, and, if you’ve read this far, perhaps you’ll consider donating to the cause.

After all, someone has to get struck by lightening.  Why not me?

Less Funky

Saturday morning I awoke and it was like a switch was thrown.  Instead of feeling heavy each time I thought about Treasure Hunt (or, really, anything), I was motivated and excited.  So weird.  Anyway, I finally completed my crowdfunding website (https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/shenandoah-treasure-hunt-movie#/) and began the arduous process of identifying people to email about it (Gmail tells me I’ve communicated with over 1,800 people, but only a small fraction of them will ever care about my movie).

My expectations for the crowdfunding aren’t that high; I really don’t have any experience with social media.  Pretty much my only efforts are blogging and I’ve never promoted any of them.  I used Google Analytics on one and was quite depressed to find that when I put out a new post I got a ‘spike’ of visitors that averaged a whopping 10.  I probably got around 1-2 unique visitors a day, and this was when I was blogging on nearly a daily basis.

I don’t Tweet, nor Facebook.  I used to LinkIn a lot, having been practically an alpha customer, but when they decided to have an IPO they made so many changes I lost any interest.  I comment occasionally on the news sites or blogs I follow, but don’t make any sort of concerted effort to promote myself, keeping the focus on whatever article/post I’m responding to.

That doesn’t mean I don’t see the value, it just means it’s not something built-in to go out an trumpet myself.  Assuming I go forward with this making movies idea, getting a social media manager is a very important step.

I haven’t bothered to check metrics to see if any actual humans were visiting this blog, not wanting to get depressed with the answer.  But if you are out there, first, thank you for visiting.  Second, please tell your friends about the crowdfunding page and I encourage you to be the first to donate.  I’d prime the pump myself, but doing so is strictly verboten.

In a Funk

Halfway through filming, but barely started editing.  Why? I’m not sure. My birthday is coming up, and they always depress me (another year older and deeper in debt no closer achieving any of my goals (beyond getting my trophy wife, of course)).  I had some technical issues: my brand spankin new computer wouldn’t read the SD cards we record the video/audio on, which was only resolved with my wife’s genius suggestion of not using the built-in reader, but a USB adapter instead.  But beyond annoying (really annoying! I. Hate. Computers.  I hate even more that that’s how I make a living!), no real reason why I should be depressed.  Yes, I was down in the dumps after our second weekend of filming, but by the time I finally started editing end of last week I actually felt really good about the imagery captured.

It could be the normal wishy washy nature of my ‘moods’ (I consider myself mildly bipolar, or dealing with cyclothymia, as a friend educated me about yesterday) and it’s a ‘this too shall pass’ sort of thing, but it feels deeper than my usual down-in-the-dumps days (and has lasted longer as well).  Last year, around my birthday, I was really down and it lasted for nearly a month.  It either naturally resolved itself or was helped along by my decision (and wife agreeing to support) the notion of making this very movie.  But, on a global scale, the things that were dragging me down last birthday aren’t replicated this year.  So what the hell is up (down) with me?

One of the reasons I put off this week’s (well, last week’s, as my reminder comes on  Sunday) blog post is because I’ve done so little this week.  I have a dead period right now and am not motivated to work on anything else, so decided to do this blog post. Maybe this Sunday I’ll be out of my funk and the next post will be more upbeat.  Or not.  The problem with this whole depression thing is I just don’t give a damn either way.

 

Oh, forgot to mention: I still haven’t done the crowdfunding site.  Thinking about that failure tends to depress me even more than thinking about the editing I’m not getting done, which is probably why I forgot to mention this when I first wrote the post.

Day 3 and 4, in the can

Saturday was a critical day in filming Treasure Hunt, as I had three locations with hard schedules (and a fourth, but that’s at a friend’s house, so could be moved, if necessary (the first weekend’s thoughts)).  The Shenandoah County administration offices, where I was going to make use of the Virginia Tech Extension offices (thanks Bobby and Mary Beth!), the WO Riley park in Woodstock (thanks to Mandy!) and the Edinburg branch of the Shenandoah County library (thanks to Sandy and Dallas!).  Changing those shooting times/dates would most likely be a long drawn-out affair and one I really didn’t want to have to deal with.

Things started out well at the admin offices. Bobby was already there by 8:30 and I had my sound guy and two of my actors, so being ready to shoot at 9 seemed like a shoe-in.  Not.  My DP forgot the camera when he left that morning and had to turn back and if memory serves, he didn’t get there to around 9:40.  Which took some of the pressure off the other three actors, who were late (I’m detecting a theme here).  It was around 10 when we started to film, so we rushed, rushed, rushed to get all the scenes filmed before Bobby had to leave at noon.  We manged to get them all, but several were one takes, so not much fodder for editing.

There was an amusing moment (well, amusing in that after all of our rushing we had to wait because of it).  A scene called for one of the actors to drink from the water fountain. No sooner did he finish when the very noisy cooling mechanism cut on, for what seemed like 20 minutes.  Then, in another take, the actor inadvertently leaned back on the water fountain and turned it on, getting his shirt wet.

We piled everything into the car and hied off to the park, where I had done about 10 seconds of scouting that morning (though I did view a number of pictures online).  We set up for the exercising-in-the-park scenes, but it took a while for the actors to get ready and I was getting antsy.  One of my leads had to leave by 2 and we didn’t get setup until almost 1, so we did his scenes as fast as we could.  We ate lunch afterwards, even though the schedule had us eating first, because the actors, since they weren’t wearing that much, wanted to get those shots before they ate.

We packed and ran off to the library, where we had to arrive before 3, but couldn’t start shooting until after.  One of the actresses wasn’t scheduled to shoot anything for several hours and was stuck with what to do with herself.  She lives about an hour away, so wasn’t sure it would be worth going home, so hung out in New Market, getting antsier by the hour.

The library scenes went well, I felt, capturing what I had in my mind when I wrote the scene.  I intended to be out of there by 5, but it was after 5:30 before we left and headed back to the park to get some later-in-the-movie scenes with two of my leads.  We went with hand-hold camera, which is really shaky and I personally hate, but we were running out of time because these scenes all needed to be in daylight and the sun was heading down.  And my idle actress began asking if we really were going to hit our later scheduled scenes, since she knew one was outdoors.  I was trying to get everyone moving to start filming the park scenes and still held onto fantasies we were going to get those final scenes in, so was a little short communicating with her, through texting, via my wife and her phone.

About half way, she called. While she was friendly and polite, it was clear she was really bored and resentful she’d been wasting her whole afternoon.  She convinced me that there was no way we’d be set up in time to get those late shots, so I agreed she should head home.  With that pressure off, now I could focus exclusively on getting the park scenes done.  For the final scene at the park bench we needed to set up lights because it was getting dark so fast.  Then we had to go without coverage (shooting from more than one angle) because we simply ran out of time and light.

A marathon day with travel everywhere, so I was really hoping Sunday would be better, since it was all at our house and most was in one room.

Yeah, right.  It rained off and on all day, so my exterior cafe scene became an interior coffee house scene.  That went fairly well, so we shifted to the dining room in the house.  Because of a wardrobe change, we wound up putting off a couple of scenes, which got postponed all together later when we (well, for sure I) ran out of energy.  After that the real fun began…

The actors were all told with the original ad they’d be singing.  I had them all sing (except for the first).  I sent them a link to the music recorded for the scene.  The musicians recorded it in key of G (whatever the hell that means) and asked if the actors were happy with that.  I asked them and got no response, so assumed yes.  The poem to be sung isn’t that long to begin with and for the movie I cut half of it out, but wanted them to sing the whole thing so I could use it for the end credits as well as a possible music video.  I’m sure I mentioned to them all about the plan to record them singing to the music before the camera rolled, then they’d lip sync to the recording when the camera was rolling.  And yet, when it came to do this scene, now, ‘all the sudden,’ there were all sorts of issues.  They were uncomfortable with the key, they struggled with the words and pacing and didn’t like how they sounded (but they sounded fine to me).

I worked very hard not to let the ‘real me‘ out with all these last minute objections (one of the actresses had all sorts of objections to how I wrote the intimate scenes, many of which were really good, but _all_ of which I wanted to discuss _before_ the cameras were set up; do I sound bitter at all?) and eventually the sound guy suggested we all take a break.  Eventually we decided to skip filming that specific scene and get the rest done.  Which didn’t include the other two scenes we initially skipped because of a wardrobe change.

My wife ‘complained’ that I wasn’t my normal raging, yelling asshole self around the cast and crew, yet I drop into that mode so easily around her and our son.  I’m not sure why I find it so difficult to control myself around my family, though I must point out I was struggling very hard to control myself over the weekend around the cast and crew.  I wound up totally exhausted when we got home on Sunday and struggled with the same on Monday (which is why I’m writing this on Tuesday), yet all I really did was stand around all day (boy, did my back and feet hurt!).

So, my overall thoughts?  As aggravating as I felt during most of the weekend, we now have around 38 pages filmed out of 84, so almost half, and we’re half way through.  I expect things will smooth out a bit as we’ve learned to work together, so I’m still thinking it’ll be possible to get everything filmed in the time scheduled.  We have, though, started discussing the idea of an extra day or two to do pickups (scenes that need to be reshot, or angles that got missed), but getting everyone to have the same time available is hard.

I’m really frustrated that I can’t get all the cast and crew to show up early so we can start shooting on time.  Car problems, traffic, rain, they all sound plausible, but they happen over and over again and seem entirely predictable (well, not car problems).  I’m really frustrated when the actors want to change up how the scene is written when I asked them several times if they wanted to discuss any aspects of the script, and had _specifically_ mentioned that I wanted to resolve any such issues, and alter the script, _before_ we started filming.  Which makes me think they didn’t actually read the script ahead of time, which robs me of a sense of professionalism.  Not all the actors all the time, but everyone knew we had a very ambitious shooting schedule, so would have little time to have these discussions when the camera was set up.  I wound up largely going with what they wanted to do because we have to get the scenes shot in the time allotted.

I’ve read many places that directors often undergo acute depression after they’ve wrapped.  I didn’t feel that so much the first weekend, but I sure felt it this last weekend.  I looked at a lot of the shots and, almost all the time, all I could think of was how I would rather we did something else.  But we just don’t have time.  That being said, rewatching a couple of episodes of “Major Crimes” last night, I saw many of the same sorts of shots that we (or, rather, Nate) took, so perhaps things will smooth out during editing.

Which I haven’t started yet.  We have the next two weekends off, so almost three weeks to learn to edit. That way, I can learn what pickups I might want to get, so I can get them when the cast and crew are available.  I’m getting tired writing this, I guess from reliving the experience.  I know every project has its ups and downs, but I feel, on balance, this last weekend was more discomfort and stress than fun and rewarding.  I’ve been rethinking this movie making thing, particularly on the long ride home Sunday.  If chronic lateness and actors not being willing to put the time in the script before shooting is the norm, at least at the budget levels I expect to operate, then I’m not sure the hassle is worth the reward.  And this assumes I have a watchable movie when all is said and done.

Of course, I might feel better later, after I’ve had a chance to work with the imagery and sound…

First weekend, in the can

So this has been an interesting learning experience.  We started filming Treasure Hunt Saturday morning, but not quite at nine, like I had hoped.  Hopefully I can get people moving a bit faster in the morning, though John, the sound guy, did arrive at 8.  We started off with a continuity error on the very first scene: one of the characters wears glasses (without lenses, as the curved lens was creating bright spots; it looks funny on the closeups), though the rest of the day seemed to go well.  The day went quickly and the material we recorded all seems good (well, not all, of course; we had to do a number of takes on a few scenes).

We tried to do one of the important scenes the way I had it in my head, but without a dolly (basically, tracks to move a cart the DP sits on) it had to be handheld, and I hate the shakiness of handheld, so wound up discarding that approach.  However, Nate (the DP) did a quick edit when he got home and used one of those takes and we discussed the idea of using software to stabilize the image, so maybe I can make use of it.

The schedule proved both easy and hard to deal with.  Sunday started on the schedule with a call time of 4:30 AM, which no one was wild about (for a night scene that couldn’t be faked, and one of the actors had to leave by 5 PM Saturday, so we couldn’t do it during the evening).  Because we seemed to be making slightly better time that I had estimated, I suggested to everyone that if we moved a couple of scenes from Sunday to Saturday, then I could do the zero-dark-thirty scene on another day (got to be sure I don’t forget that!) and we could start at 9 in the morning again.

The only wrinkle?  We were shooting those scenes outside, which proved to be noisy. I picked a location where I had never seen any cars go by, yet there must have been 15 of them while we were (trying to) shoot.  I think we got good audio, though that was interesting.

Wrinkle two was the inconsistent results of asking the actors to turn on/off their lavs (lavalier microphones).  Since they had to hide the recorders, sometimes it was difficult to get at them.  Eventually, we (rather, John, the sound guy) decided, since the file sizes were small relative to the storage medium (100’s of megabytes vs 32 gigabytes), we’d (or, rather, John’d) let them run until we got the whole scene done.  That, of course, means I need to wade through sometimes 10-15 minutes of audio to find the 10-15 seconds I need, but such is life.

My wife/boss/executive producer and I watched some of the ‘footage’ last night and she seemed a little impressed, which bodes well, I think, for the project.  The images Nate is capturing look great and he’s conscientious about getting the shots he thinks are needed for editing.  John offers lots of suggestions as well.

And the actors are doing great.  Sometimes I have to explain what I was envisioning when I initially wrote a scene, then we’ll discuss it, and often they come up with better ideas.  That’s what I was hoping would happen, that the cast and crew would take the raw material from the script and improve it with their input.  I’m starting to get cautiously optimistic that I’ll have something watchable at the end.

We managed to film 8.5 pages on Saturday, Sunday, originally scheduled to be 10, got shortened substantially. We wound up putting off 4.4 pages, had moved 1.5 to Saturday, leaving us with about 4.7 pages.  I figured it’d be a breeze.  Half the pages, half the time, right?  Well the first scene we shot was in a bathroom, and Nate needed a while to light it.  Then, when we set up for the second scene, Nate and I got at cross purposes when we initially discussed it, and he spent a lot of time setting up for a shot I didn’t want.  AND the paint in that room was some kind of avocado or something, which was giving him fits trying to get the lighting right.  So the first two scenes, which together represent less than 30 seconds on screen, probably took around an hour and a half to film.  We did pick up the pace the rest of the day, but instead of being half the time to film half the pages, it took the same 8 hour day.  But less than the originally planned 10 hour day.  I can’t imagine what it would have been like if we stuck with the original schedule.

The the first real acid test is next Saturday. The schedule calls for almost 18 pages to be filmed.  Which seems absurd on the face of it, but they are three location shots.  The first we can’t start until 9 AM and have to be out by noon, so we must finish the 6+ pages in that time, then we can’t start at another location until 3 PM (relatively short, a bit more than 2 pages), so we have a three hour window (though we’ll need to grab a bite to eat) to try and squeeze in almost 5.5 pages.  I think it’s possible, based on the last weekend’s performance, but it’s going to be hectic.

The poster artist send a work in progress copy end of last week and I showed it to the cast and crew and they all seemed to like it.  Once she’s done (hopefully later today), I’ll update the images on the website.  I also re-recorded the voice over for my crowdfunding video, so that’s going to be the first thing I plan on working on this week.

Now it’s about editing.  I have all week to go through the learning curve and to try and cut together the material already filmed.  I’m really not looking forward to that learning curve, though I totally accept that it will be beneficial, assuming I stick with this whole movie making idea.  The good thing about editing is it’s non-destructive, so if I decide I just can’t get the job done, I can try and persuade my executive producer to cover the added expense.

I was surprised at how tired I got from what was basically just standing around all day (toward the end I had to spend a lot of time sitting; it’s tough being an old fat man).  And sore as well, which initially didn’t make much sense.  I suspect it’s a combination of lots of furniture moving, as we slid stuff around for various shots, and awkward leaning/reaching to work the slate.  I’m still having a great time, though, and am feeling that I can, probably 80% of the time, just let the actors do their thing and all I have to do is call ‘action’ and ‘cut.’  Which is not to say there aren’t 1,001 decisions that need to be made.  One thing I probably do need to do more of is looking at the camera while the scene is being set up.  That probably would have saved some time on Sunday when Nate spent all that time lighting for a setup I didn’t want to use.  Live and learn, eh?

Filming starts tomorrow!

At long last, tomorrow at 9 AM I officially become a director.  I figured I’d be excited or nervous, but mostly I’m tired.  I expect I’ll be more tired still by Monday, but building a house and greenhouse/pool has prepared me for finding weekends exhausting.

My poster artist is almost done taking the images of the actors and incorporating them into the poster she made for me, using stock images she found.  Pretty amazing stuff she’s able to do, and I can’t wait for it to be complete so I can show it off to all and sundry.

Last Sunday we were scheduled for some rehearsal time.  It’s been remarkably difficult to get everyone scheduled, which has made me think that if I do any future projects I’ll want to make them full-time for the duration so there’s less of that headache.

Anyway, we had a few hour window where everyone was available and I picked out several scenes I felt would benefit from practice.  Not only for the actors, but for the DP and sound guy (Nate and John, respectively), so they could think about issues they’d need to address.

It didn’t start off well.  The start time was 7:30 AM, but weather was lousy and the first person to arrive (John) was on-time, which translates to being late in the world of movie making.  Then Nate made it a few minutes later, then the actors started to straggle in.  The last one didn’t get in until almost 9:30 and we had to wrap up by 11 because one of them had another prior commitment.

We wound up doing very little rehearsal, but we did get them to try on their wardrobe (my beautiful wife enjoyed shopping the second-hand stores to get a collection) and got the pictures for the poster.  We discussed a number of logistical items. And it became clear to me that most, if not all, people making movies are insane, as several were there with barely any sleep.  And they that considered normal!

I also learned something very important about myself: I can’t act.  I had a very simple video to record, for the opening and closing of the crowdfunding video plea (the rest is voice over while I show images/video of the cast), yet it took me nearly 20 takes to get the single sentence done.  And even when I was _reading_ (as opposed to memorizing) for the voice over, I still struggled to get the damn thing done.  I can talk extemporaneously for hours without any problems, but I can’t read a prepared speech.  What a moron!

This is important because up until that moment I was intending on playing the part of Ken, the property owner where the students are digging.  That was primarily a liability issue, as Ken is scripted to use the backhoe for digging and I didn’t want anyone else to operate it.  After my debacle of ‘acting’ for the crowdfunding video, I knew I couldn’t handle the real deal, so started to think how I could use movie magic to make it look like the actor was driving/operating the backhoe while I was doing the actual work.

Then I remembered an obscure comment my sister-in-law’s husband (brother-in-law once removed?) made the night before at a birthday party.  Something about which was his best side for the poster or something.  I have trouble hearing when the ambient noise level is high, and in any case was focused on stuffing my face, so probably just smiled and nodded (though in the past I learned that can be dangerous).  But once I realized I was incompetent as an actor, I figured I’d see if he was interested before I went and started advertising.  Lo and behold!  My BIL (once removed) used to do theater in high school and college.  He had to be at least 1,000x better than I would ever be, so he was hired on the spot.  The only wrinkle is that role was scheduled to be done over two days and he could only make one, so I needed to re-shuffle the schedule.

Speaking of reshuffling the schedule… Hurricane Florence was threatening to run up the east coast and, at a minimum, drown us under several feet of rain. And I had several outdoor scenes scheduled for right when she was to arrive.  Fortunately (for me and my neighbors), Florence decided to terrorize North and South Carolina instead (not so fortunate for them; sorry).  Anyway, originally the first day of filming was only slightly less than the highest number of pages we were going to try and film in one day and I’d read in many places to try and make the first day the lightest, so the cast and crew can get used to how everyone operates.  And the permit was going to cost me $350 for the location.  So, after some research and head scratching, I decided to try and squeeze those scenes in next Saturday, at the expense of making that day even longer (logistically, I think it will work, but it’s intimidating to schedule nearly 18 pages when the typical average is 3-5 per day).

I rejiggered the schedule and will no doubt do some rejiggering on the fly (I can’t shake the thought that, despite my extensive efforts, I’ve forgot some scenes and will get bit on the ass when I’m doing editing).  I thought about adding onto the dates for filming, but beyond that reducing the cast and crew’s daily rate (since they’re being paid at a flat rate for the job), it seems getting everyone with another free day, let alone weekend, might take this into November.  I really hope we can get everything filmed without it looking like I yelled ‘Print it!’ to every first take.

Next week I really need to buckle down and figure out how to use the editing software.  I elected to start with Kdenlive (if I struggle I may try something else).  I played with it for about a half hour before accepting I’m going to have to follow a tutorial to get started, I’m not able to intuit the interface.

Tomorrow is going to be interesting…

Book Club

Last night I watched Book Club.  I freely admit that I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it.  It didn’t feel like my kind of movie, but my wife was really interested.  It had a lot of big names, so I figured I’d watch the first few minutes, confirm that I wasn’t grabbed, then shuffle off to bed.

It was hilarious!  I couldn’t have left if I wanted to, I was grabbed from the get go.  I found the four lead women to be instantly relatable and the dialog believable.  Indeed, I’ve taken part in some similar conversations in the last few years, even though I’m not quite in their age demographic.

I did, though, keep getting popped out of immersion in the story because of what I feel strongly was extensive use of greenscreen.  In a few instances I could be sympathetic, as a director getting started in the business, as one was the sun setting over a harbor, something with a very narrow window of opportunity to film, so the idea of filming them separately makes sense to me.  But there were a few other instances where it was the middle of the day.

We watched the extras and the writer/director (Bill Holderman) and writer/producer (Erin Simms) talked about how they filmed it like an indie, with a small budget, even though they mentioned they were working with a studio.  Always scrambling to keep the costs under control, using real locations instead of sets, etc.  So today I check to see what they meant by ‘small’: $10 million.  Of course, I have no idea how much of that went to the cast (lots of big names!), though I believe they mentioned they had the usual crew for a Hollywood movie.  It was interesting listening to them  (Bill and Erin) talking about how they ‘struggled’ to get the film made.

Movies are always challenging to make profitably, no question, but when you’re Hollywood insiders and have the ability to directly contact big-name actors and get them to read your script, you’re already light-years ahead of someone like me.  I’m not trying to minimize their fortune in getting their project greenlit, just that I’d love to have their resources.

Anyway, most viewers probably won’t be distracted by the greenscreen, but I cursed myself by studying image compression and manipulation and my eye is drawn to the subtle artifacts.  I wish I could turn it off.  I found it brisk and expect to rewatch it at some point, as they were fun to hang out with.

Chemistry Tests and Table Read

So I cast my four leads, then got some bad news.  The actress I initially cast for the role of Velma was basically being forced to join SAG and could no longer work non-union projects.  While the incremental cost/effort of making my project SAG compliant isn’t huge, it isn’t trivial and has potential long-term consequences, so I thanked her, wished her the best of luck, and recast.  I got incredibly lucky that another very strong contender for the role was not only able to commit within hours, but could make the chemistry tests and table read in less than 24 hours!

Wednesday we did chemistry tests, where I ask the actors to read together to see if they look like life-long friends, in the case of Max and Harry as well as Kayla and Velma, or could become lovers, as is the case between Max and Kayla or Harry and Velma.  The actors all looked fabulous, though there was a small change.  The new actress, Natasha-Lee, is Hispanic (born in Puerto Rico, to be more precise) and normally has an accent.  She said she could go accent free, and I believe her, but as amusing as I thought it would be to cast someone ethnic as Velma, we quickly decided that swapping Natasha and Crystal for the roles of Kayla and Velma would be best for the project.  It does make the story easier with a white woman in the role of someone who has roots that go back to colonial times, but I had all sorts of ideas for what I felt were cute ways to address this in the story.  Oh well.

I was surprised, nay, shocked, at how well I felt the actors handled the table read.  Not that I was surprised they did a good job, I mean that I was surprised how often my dialog seemed to flow smoothly off their tongue.  While I do think I’ll tweak a few lines (being an old guy, I have a lot of old turns of phrases, but, for the historians, I may leave those phrases in there), on the whole I felt it went very smoothly.

Even John, the sound guy and my mentor, felt much better about the idea of the quartet after the table read.  He was initially skeptical and felt it would be a tighter story with just two leads, but I felt that would cut out the core of my original intention for the story.  He also liked that I increased the level of conflict from when he initially read the story, so thanks to my editors Jacque and Jennifer, for giving me such good suggestions.

We have a shooting schedule, after several headache-inducing days (not full-time, of course) trying to mesh everyone’s prior engagements.  The next wrinkle is setting up a day or so for rehearsals.  Mostly blocking and the physical action, I don’t think I have that many scenes that need a lot of detailed exploration from the actors in order to nail, but, as with the chemistry tests and table read, getting all the cats herded into the same room at the same time is proving challenging.

With shooting starting in just three weeks, I still have a number of things I must get done.  Biggest is I’ve got a quote for insurance to cover the locations, but need to execute it, so I can get documents for the locations so I can film there.  Slightly smaller, I have a number of very specific props I need to make arrangements for, as well as a few wardrobe ensembles to assemble (though I expect to push that last onto my wife).  Probably 101 things to do, at least, before I’m ready to legitimately say ‘Action!’ for the first time.

I’ve been having a blast so far and I feel optimistic that I’ll have a watchable film when I get done.  I’m feeling good that I’ll want to take the plunge and try my hand at this to make money, but won’t make that decision for sure until probably early next year.

Below are my four leads.  I tried to make their images smaller, basically thumbnails, but it seems WordPress ignores my attempts to do so.  I’ve also cast several other of the smaller roles, but since these images are so large, I elected to not add them here.

Crystal Day as Velma.
Crystal Day
Resume
Reel
Website

Natasha-lee Loyola as Kayla.

Resume

Parker Damm as Harry.

Resume
Reel
Website

Marquis Davis as Max.

Resume

Song for a Lost Kingdom, Book I – Steve Moretti

I beta read for Steve a while ago (over a year, according to my notes) and really loved his story.  The only thing I didn’t like was that it didn’t end and I have to wait until he can make time to finish the story.

Amazon link.

The idea of two lives connected across time by a cello, of all things, really intrigued me when I first heard about it.  I have a soft spot for time travel stories (and dragons; imagine time traveling dragons!), so was willing to take a gamble.  Well, it was a gamble that paid off handsomely, as Steve is a great writer who weaves a great story with memorable characters.

You don’t have to be a time travel aficionado to enjoy the book, the story and characters are so well written that there’s no need for artifice to hold your attention.  I can’t recommend this enough.

I copied this review to Goodreads but couldn’t to Amazon because, it seems, by letting my wife buy everything via her prime membership, I no longer qualify.