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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Production is wrapped!

We wrapped. I am overjoyed. We are done.  Kind of.  I have a few more minor scenes and a pick up scene to shoot due to lens flaws, but it's pretty much over.

Our apartment is a mess. My cat misses me and bites me in the mornings to let me know it. I look aged with fatigue and want nothing more than to find some body of water somewhere and just lie down near it, nap, drink beer, eat expensive cheese, and watch the sunlight bounce off the water's surface. I'm mentally exhausted.  This has been the most grueling production I've been on.

This is due to two reasons: working a full-time job while shooting, and...multitasking on set to the point of being overwhelmed.

The small crew meant that most of us had to take on more than one job. Some jobs were learned on-the-fly. Not really a problem but I've had to babysit more than usual. When I attended a talk and screening with Joe Swanberg at the Alamo last month, I recall him saying how much he really disliked having to spend so much energy on set attending to the egos of his crew, that he basically got rid of the crew and shoots his films mostly on his own.  I understand this issue greatly after this film. I guess it's like a relationship.  Things might seem rosy at first, but the more time you spend together becomes the true testament of your ability to really create a harmonious relationship.  Hand pick your crew very very carefully even if you have a small crew, and if you can afford it, get a good sound recordist.

Generally, with the exception of that chubby man walking his dogs I mentioned in the last article, most of the people in Austin have been wonderfully accepting of our presence.  Police have passed us without as much as a glance, letting us shoot unbothered. A convenience store owner allowed us to shoot in his shop, and even acted for us. A barber allowed us to shoot him giving a character a haircut in the shop he worked in.  A few days ago, a bus driver permitted us to shoot in his bus without charging us fare, and even asked other passengers boarding to keep it quiet so we could shoot.  While out in public, we've had people try to to convince us to shoot their rap videos. People wait for us to finish a take before crossing frame.  Strangely enough, the one individual that has been the biggest pain in my side has been my landlord who had some false logic about us shooting in our own apartment complex.  Her rationale that we were making noise and shooting on private property honestly makes no sense as I am a paying tenant.  I am not shooting other people's apartments, and kids screaming and shouting at a pool while their parents blare their radio make more noise than a crew of four and one actor swimming. This further contributes to this notion that some people are more threatened by the process of making a film as opposed to other artforms.  A group of musicians playing in public are unbothered while a group of filmmakers shooting is suddenly a big deal. 

Anyhow, it's over and now comes my favorite part of this long process: post-production.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Misery and Joys of Production

So we are in the 12th day of shooting.  I had about two hours of sleep last night before having to head into the day job today, so these thoughts are probably going to be a bit random. 

Production, as always, has been a test of patience, endurance, diplomacy, and leadership. I generally don't like production.  I always feel rushed, and bombarded with technical issues. I've always found production, due to having to cram so much into so little time, almost too high pressure to be truly relaxed and explorative creativity.  With a crew of three, executing a rather ambitious story in several spots all over Austin, we've all had to take on multiple tasks.  Thankfully, we've been shooting mostly at night, which is the most pleasant time to be outside in this grueling Austin summer.  (It's been consistently over 100 most days.) We did have a very difficult shoot during the day at the pool near my apartment complex.  The heat was so bad it shut the Canon 7D camera down three times.  We had to take it inside and place it near the air conditioner each time it stopped working then come out and shoot a bit longer until it shut down again. 

The worst night by far was the evening our Zoom H4n audio recorder pooped out.  We were so pumped for shooting that evening. The weather was in the 80s, slightly breezy.  We had found an incredible location near some train tracks where the city skyline was in view.  We had done two takes when suddenly the Zoom stopped working.  The cast waited around for about an hour while the crew and I called everyone in town we knew to see if another recorder was available.  Being after hours, none of the production gear rental houses were open.  To add to my frustration, as one of the producers was examining the Zoom, a fat ruddy-faced man out walking his numerous dogs aggressively questioned us.  He seemed very unhappy we were shooting a character sitting on a bench doing nothing.  I was not the one who spoke to him, but I really wanted to remind him that we were on a public sidewalk, in a public space, not defacing property, nor making noise.  There were only eight of us.  We were facing a public bench, not shooting his apartment or even pointing to the apartment complexes that were very far from us.  I just find it funny that if I had been drawing or playing music on that damn bench, he probably would have said nothing. What is so threatening about filmmaking in public spaces? Why is filmmaking considered more problematic of an art to create outside in the world?  As a tax payer, I have every right to film in the places I help pay for.  I know my limits when it comes to privacy, but let's face it, filming an actress sitting on a bench is not a threat to anyone, so fat man with your ugly dogs, let it be. Art is not a crime.

So, to continue on the Zoom audio recorder issue, we ended up having to move on without it, and pop off some shots where there was no dialogue.  I'll have to go back and get some ambient recordings of that area. Not a big deal.  But as I had scheduled some dialogue scenes that night, these scenes had to be moved to another day, which has put us about a day behind schedule.  I hope to be able to shoot some of those scenes tonight in addition to the scene already scheduled.

The best part of this process is being able to come home and watch the dailies and consume large amounts of red wine.  Even at 5 a.m., exhausted, there is nothing like looking at the rewards of the grueling process of being on "set."  Something I did not expect from this project is the tone it is starting to take.  Reviewing the footage of the day has brought a lot of unexpected laughter which has surprised me.  Before shooting, the film appeared to be a pretty twisted and rather dark. As this is an improv-based project, and I am not the writer but the director, I never know what the actors are going to bring and what the writer is helping them to understand about the scenes until we shoot.  So, I am getting many unexpected nuances in performances from the actors that I am really amazed by.  Actors have also brought in characteristics of their own lives and shaped characters in ways we never expected.  Because of this, it has made me rethink the purpose of scripted stories. This is a whole different topic, but basically it comes down to the saying that reality is stranger than fiction.  Scripts make my life easier as a director/producer, and I'll happily stick to this format in order to best plan my shots and schedules.  But rough outlines of scenes and unscripted dialogue brings out some very pleasant surprises. It's just hard to schedule around this sort of format, so perhaps for the future, schedule days a bit thinner to allow these improv scenes to really flesh themselves out.

The imagery as well is quite stunning, and I can't believe we are pulling this off with the small crew we have, and with just two extra small battery-powered lights.  This is truly the most collaborative production I've worked on, and has taught me a lot about both the power and the difficulty of collaborative filmmaking at this level.  This is not "auteur-driven" filmmaking by any means as it is a combination of many voices and perspectives and everyone moving C-stands, holding batteries, etc. etc. at some point while shooting.

So, I trudge on through production, through the heat, the mostly curious passers-by and sometimes hostile dogwalkers, surviving off tea and potato chips on set, to amass the data on my harddrives at home, the beautiful puzzle pieces that continue to grow and delight. I cannot wait to cut them up and assemble them.

I'll post some stills here I've taken while on set.

More to come...