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Saturday, July 01, 2006


What kind of person names their cat, Cat?

What the hell does the title of this post mean? Read on and you'll get your answer.

How do you tell a dramatic emotional story when all the pretty pictures in your head are about chasing demons and fighting robots? The answer is, you just do it.

The second Words Pictures Movies weekend film turned out to be a week film -- and not weak by any means. What went wrong? And more importantly, what went right? So before you continue reading, if you haven't seen An Excellent Lover please do so now. Its about 8 minutes of filmmaking goodness!

Around the end of April we began to discuss how to tell an emotional story. You see I've never done a film that wasn't a cartoon of some sort. I asked Adam to write something where the story was of an emotional nature. I have thought for some time that this would be my biggest weakness considering the Lucas-esque direction to actors I like to give. So after some back and forth, Adam came up with the script for An Excellent Lover. It had a different title for a little while -- Fancy Pants.

Adam often talks about the movie that's in your head vs. the movie you end up with and how you have to accept that the movie in your head might be holding you back. Sometimes a filmmaker just has to let go and see what happens. For An Excellent Lover, I only had the first 20 seconds in my head and the rest I kept open and tried to just make as well as I could.

We set about casting it and managed to find a really great trio for our leads based on recommendations from friends and some of what we had seen. Josh, our male lead, comes from the world of comedy. Sue, our female lead, comes from the world of improv. J9 comes from the world that's at a 45 degree angle to our own, but she has done much film work from behind the camera so it was nice having an actor with that sort of experience.

We had some fun with someone missing rehearsal and actually did script read throughs via cell-speaker phone. The movie was slowly coming together.

On the technical end, Bruce & myself decided to not make as detailed a storyboard as we had for Frequency of Damnation. This may have been a mistake looking back since we forgot the fourth lead in this film, which is the blanket. Its really important to follow the blanket around the room in the film. If you pay careful attention to it next time you watch the film, you might notice something in the story you hadn't noticed before.

Karen and Siva (who starred with Drew in Frequency of Damnation) graciously lent us their home for use in the film. When I went there about two weeks before I was horrified to realize they have more windows than a window factory. And we were shooting during the day as if it were night.

I quickly figured out that all I needed to do was cover up all the windows with utility strength trash bags. Of course I ended up doing this at 3AM before the day of the shoot, with a call time of 6:30AM.

So the biggest problem with the film was probably that I lied to Adam & Bruce since I needed 2 more hours than we had, to do it justice. The problem was we were going to lose Josh around 3:30 PM that day and I did not want to lose him -- he was PERFECT as Philip. So I cut corners and cut out telling Bruce to get certain b-roll shots. I actually forced myself to forget them since it would keep confusing me as I'd keep thinking of what I want to get on tape and what I need. The problem was, we NEEDED some of those shots (see blanket comments above). Anyhow, we got the film done. There were minor crises but overall the shoot went well. We had lots of great moments, especially when Dave made his vomit formula and covered Neil in it. I had wanted to talk to our extras Stephanie, Genivieve and Dana to get to know what kind of people were nice enough to help Words Pictures Movies make a movie, but alas. I know all the other extras so I can talk to them whenever the hell I want...especially Melissa who is gearing up to shoot her next film in a few weeks!

So I just hope Karen never tries to move her couch....oh and its not the couch that's the, um, disrepair. Hmmm. Karen might never talk to me again if she finds it.

Oh and in case you're curious, we filmed on a Sony DVX-1000 on miniDV tape, using a 3 lamp Lowel Omni kit and recorded backup audio on a minDisc. Now that backup audio is real important kids. Always remember that. What's also important is to slate and shout scene & shot numbers. I'll tell you why in a moment.

So I got home, exhausted, around 7pm with the full intention of getting this film done by Sunday night. I began to play the dv audio track and realized that it had been recorded very, very hot. Unusably hot. I called Bruce and was a total jerk to him since he was on camera. None of us listened to the camera output...our audio crew (Neil) listened to the board & miniDisc output as far as I can tell. We had good audio on miniDisc but I would have to sync it up piece by piece. Do you realize how much brain that grinds to dust? My IQ dropped by 20 editing syncing up the sound...

So before Neil gets blamed for any audio issues, he worked with what he had. Josh lent us some equipment and Neil tried to do what he could with the echo-ish nature of the room. We really should have looped the whole film after it was done.

So after digitizing Saturday night, I went to bed feeling sorry for myself. That Sunday I did maybe 4-5 hours of work because listening to the noisy distorted audio gave me a headache. I spent every night working that week on the film -- 7pm until 1am usually. That next Sunday I handed it off to Bruce & Adam and we had a film!

So what are the problems? Lighting! Sound! It hurts me to watch if I let myself think about the lighting. Our plan is to now really focus on careful lighting technical work along with technical sound work. We are definitely not breaking our first rule, which is Thou Shalt Not Be Boring. However we are breaking a lot of technical rules and that just makes for distracting moments in an otherwise great film. Bruce & Adam did an amazing job with the sound mix, given what they had to work with. I begin to understand more & more why real films do a lot of looping. Also I'm not sure how clear I made what I wanted out of our cast but I think they figured it out and created characters you won't soon forget.

Also we will from now on ALWAYS take out some time to focus and refocus -- because if I don't give my cameraman time to refocus, it ain't gonna get done.

What are the successes? Great performances on the part of our cast, zero continuity problems, an excellent story that leaves people wondering what's on that piece of paper and of course Dave eating the popcorn. I think everyone had fun. There are really great little moments throughout the movie so even if you don't dig the story as a whole, watch for little second stories going on in the background. It is very worth repeated viewings to catch all those details...especially watch Drew. Lucky guy! ;-)

By the way, check out www.yesjasper.com home of Andrew Jasper who graciously lent us some tracks to use for the movie.

So finally I will explain the title of this post. Karen's cat is named Cat. What if she and Siva decide to have kids? Will they name it Child? Or Baby?

it's ok Eric. It's nothing a little sanding and a couple of coats of polyeurathane won't fix. Assuming the contractor starts work one of these days... I'm sure we're in for a lot more "disrepair"... Oh and, we'll probably go with "Kid".
If you need any help with the floor, seriously. There really is no excuse for any damage to your home...unless the script calls for it.
I still cringe when I think of the camera sound on this shoot.
You didn't have to listen to it every night for a week.

My brain is still trying to resolidify from that.
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