Thursday, June 30, 2011

Wrapping "Where We Started": Actors and Acting

I spent some time today with Matt and Cora, the lead actors from Where We Started. Cora departs for her next destination tomorrow, and Matt the next day, so I wanted to spend some more time with them.

I wanted to do this because, well, I had such a terrific time on this production. I was reflecting on this with Matt and Cora when we hung out today. I have known Matt for almost 20 years, so our reconnection on this film and my last one (Endings) is always a treat. And getting to know Cora was great. I felt a real connection with them as friends and creative people, and I'm hoping to work with them again soon.

I'm constantly in awe of great actors and how they do what they do. I wanted to act a little when I was in high school and college, so I've thought about this a bit, and I've acted a bit. But I never really trained in it after high school, hence my awe.

They are able to slip into these emotional states that defy my imagination. I wish I could do that! And to get two talented actors to work on my film? That's an great coincidence. To make a creative and personal connection with them? That's an honor.

So I'm dedicating this post, for whatever that's worth, to Matt and Cora and their incredible work on Where We Started. Thanks, both of you, for your commitment and your talent.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Goodbye 30s

Well, the day is almost here when I must bid adieu to my 30s. It hasn't been a bad decade. In my 30s, the following things occurred:

  • we had two terrific children (we had the other two terrific children when I was in my 20s); (also, note that I didn't say that *I* had two children, since, well, I'm a man, and we're biologically incapable of that);
  • I made four films (three features and one short) that have played in 40+ film festivals, and the latest one isn't even out yet;
  • I got a job teaching film at Baylor University;
  • I earned tenure at that job, which essentially means I can keep it for life;
  • I was appointed head of the program in which I teach;
  • I edited a book of essays that was published by an academic publisher;
  • I contributed a chapter to another published book of essays.

    So, that's not a bad decade of accomplishments, I suppose. I'm wondering if my 40s are going to be able to top that. Well 40s - are you up to the challenge?
  • Tuesday, June 28, 2011

    Shooting Where We Started: Wrapping the Set

    Today, the crew had to tear down our set. What took over a month to build was gone in hours. A set is by definition a temporary structure, but it's still sad to see it go after so much work and money went into it. Producer Brian Elliott documented the process.

    After an hour and a half:

    After two and a half hours:

    After three and a half hours:

    And that's it. Poof - like it never existed. It's just scrap wood now.

    Tonight we had a wrap party. Great food, and no worries about getting back to production after the meal. We settled in to watch a few videos - funny and serious - that the students had made behind the scenes. But before that, the crew surprised me with happy birthday wishes and a Boston Cream Pie (one of my favorites). Since I turn 40 on Friday, I'm bidding adieu to my youth - and I received plenty of ribbing.

    The videos were good fun, and the company was great. I gave a few gifts to some of my collaborators - tokens, really, but just a way to say how much I appreciate them. And I received a nice album of production photos from my actors.

    What a great experience. I certainly hope the film is good, but in the end, regardless of the outcome, I need to remember that this part of the experience has been terrific.

    Shooting Where We Started: That's a Wrap!

    We finished. Principal photography on Where We Started is complete. I left the set at 2am, and tomorrow is equipment check-in and set breakdown.

    I'm almost out of things to say. So maybe the blog will be brief tonight.

    We managed to save probably the most difficult scene in the movie for the last day of shooting. We tried to schedule the production roughly in chronological order, and though that went awry at some points (I'm looking at you, motel in Marlin), we did manage to have large chunks in order, which helped the actors maintain and track their character arcs through the film. But it also meant that the emotional climax of the movie was shot today, the last day of production. It was a tough scene that required lead actress Cora Vander Broek to be more or less emotionally naked. For an actor to ramp up to that level of exposure on screen, it takes time and energy. And if you know anything about production, you know that you have to cover every scene from multiple angles, so Cora had to reach that level multiple times over several hours. Not easy. I have great respect for her talent and drive.

    Like most nights on set, things just seem to drag on. People were getting giddy (with anticipation, I imagine). But we still had some serious stuff to shoot. In the end, we shot what will likely be the final image in the movie. And then we spent another 45 minutes or so picking up some insert shots of objects around the room to use as transition shots if necessary.

    After that, I shouted, "That's a wrap!" Everyone cheered. There's a real sense of accomplishment. I opted not to try to make a speech - there was still much work to be done in cleaning up and loading the van. Plus we have a wrap party tomorrow night, and wrap parties are for speeches.

    Somehow I managed not to take many photos today, so I leave you with just these last two.

    On-Set Post Supervisor Grant Hall is at his station, capturing footage to an external drive while we also capture to the camera. He was also working on syncing picture and sound on his laptop.

    And Nelsyn Hill, one of our undergraduate students who served in a variety of capacities on the set (including her gig tonight as boom operator) poked her head out through the set curtains, and I snapped a picture of it.

    I'll probably take some time off from blogging - not much to say in the immediate aftermath. But I'll be posting updates as things happen, and perhaps reflecting on various aspects of the process.

    And finally, because I think it needs to be said, I want to thank Brian Elliott for his work as Producer, Taylor Rudd for his beautiful images, Matthew Brumlow and Cora Vander Broek for their beautiful performances, and everyone else who was involved in the film for their hard work in helping translate this vision to the screen.

    Sunday, June 26, 2011

    Shooting Where We Started: The Penultimate Day

    Before I compose my thoughts on today's shooting, let me just state this: tomorrow is the last day of principal photography on my third feature film.

    And that, my friends, is a really nice feeling. The mushy middle of the shoot, when the days and nights have grown long and the shoot feels like it will never reach a conclusion, gave way to a countdown of days where I realized I was doing what I loved, day in and day out, and I didn't want it to end.

    Now, to be sure, I am exhausted and couldn't go on doing this indefinitely. But I get to work with committed creative people all day. What's not to love? At one point tonight, while the DP was relighting for a new scene, I was sitting in the green room with the two lead actors talking about the ephemeral nature of theatrical performance, about how a performance on the stage is there for only a moment, captured only in memory, and is then gone forever. This is in contrast to the performance captured in the cinema - which is recorded for posterity and can be seen, always the same, forever and forever. It's an interesting difference, one which Stephen Tobolowsky was discussing on his podcast, The Tobolowsky Files (highly recommended, by the way; Tobo is an excellent storyteller and a really thoughtful guy).

    Anyway - that's the kind of experience you get on the set just in the waiting between takes, if you're open to it, if you make yourself available. Like most other people in this day and age, I'm easily distracted by my iPhone, iPad, and other electronic devices. It's easy to waste the hours between shots and setups by focusing on those. But I love chatting with the actors, the director of photography, the producer. I'm a naturally quiet and introverted guy, but the opportunity to engage in these talks energizes me.

    Today's shoot was longer than expected. We had to finished scene 27 (we shot about three-fifths of it the day before), and then also shoot scene 29 (which was very simple - a page of dialogue in one or two setup). I knew we would get through those quickly, so I also planned to do several of the next day's setups tonight, so that our final day of production, which features some challenging material, wouldn't be too rushed. But the setups that I thought would be simple were not, it turned out, so simple. I should know by know that everything takes three times longer than what I think it will take (and half the time that the DP wants to spend - no offense to my excellent DP, Taylor Rudd - he likes tweak, as does every DP I've ever met, but he's also respectful of the schedule).

    The night dragged on, but since we were working with a skeleton crew today, we just pushed through. We did start to get 'punchy' at around midnight (early for us, but everyone's exhausted from the overnights last week). People were making silly jokes, the crew was tempting me with late night goldfish snacks, and the reading of the slate whenever we marked a shot was turning into an exercise in bizarre non-sequiturs. I'm amazed Matt (the actor) was able to perform his somber scenes amidst such cutting up. We were hardly professional tonight (my apologies to Matt - though I don't think he minded too much).

    I made it home by about 1:30am and am once again too wired for sleep just yet. And tomorrow we wrap it all up.

    Finally, some more pictures for you. Sorry about the color and quality on some.

    As we were tweaking lighting on a shot, Matt decided to turn this into a very different type of movie. Cue the Psycho music...

    The next two shots were my attempt to show the DP what the actors and I had decided on for their positions for the next scene. I posed them on the bed and took a few shots while Taylor was working on a different lighting setup in the other room.

    To achieve the lighting Taylor and I wanted for this setup, he created what he termed "a Tweaker's Dream" - a maze of c-stands and flags around a light, so that it would only illuminate a very limited space.

    Here, Taylor prepares to actually shoot that scene. I wanted a high angle/overhead and very wide shot, so we had a wide angle lens on the camera, and Taylor had to get a little higher on the ladder than he was comfortable doing.

    In this shot, Matt and Cora are clearly happy with that shot - they are reviewing it on the monitor.

    And the last shot of tonight - some of the diehard late nighters - from left to right: Grant Hall (Postproduction Supervisor), Brian Elliott (Producer), Heesung Song (2nd AC), Tyler Ellis (Production Designer), Rob Norman (First AD). Good work to them and all the others on set. One of the reasons I posted this picture - and one of the things I really like about it - is that there is a real sense of camaraderie on the set. People like each other and enjoy being together. In spite of the hard work, people are having fun. Making movies is hard work, no doubt, but it also can be really enjoyable. It's hard work in the service of art and entertainment.

    So tomorrow - did I mention that it's the last day of production?

    Saturday, June 25, 2011

    Shooting Where We Started: The Final Push

    Today represents our final push on the production phase of the movie. We have three studio-bound days remaining. They are full days of emotional material, but we are very happy to be on the set again, away from the elements and in a location we can control. It feels more like "home" - and it's nice to have a home base.

    It was a mostly uneventful day. The machinery of moviemaking marches on. Master shot, close up, next set up, etc. One bit of excitement occurred in the middle of a take when our boom operator, Lauren, began to pass out. She apparently got a bit overheated and/or dehydrated. In mid-take, those of us who couldn't see her wondered why the boom suddenly started making noise. Then Cora jumped up from her position on the bed to support Lauren. Everyone quickly rushed into the room to help.

    Lauren recovered quickly and was probably embarrassed that we were all asking her if she was okay for the next hour. She was fine but light headed, but regardless, we sent her home for safety.

    Never a dull moment...

    A few photos for your enjoyment:

    DP Taylor Rudd prepares to shoot an overhead shot from above the set. Note: this is, as Taylor said, a good example of how not to do this, but I didn't come up with this shot until this morning, so we just went with it. I have tried not to be overprepared on this shoot. It's easy to be a slave to your notes, and I've tried to practice what I preach on this film by letting the actors' natural blocking dictate the shots. And on occasion, like with this shot, it's just that you think of a different way to see something, and you roll with it. Taylor is more than happy to roll with it (in part because we often are rolling with ideas that he came up with).

    Here, I caught Cora and Matthew in an unguarded moment between setups.

    This is a shot taken from my monitor at Director's Camp.

    And finally, just for fun, I captured this picture of Matt's foot. It came to our attention tonight that he has rather long toes - so long that it is a bit of an inside joke in his family. Here' Cora compares the size of her finger to Matt's toes. Impressive digits, Mr. Brumlow.

    Thursday, June 23, 2011

    A New Title for An Affair

    Okay, so the title "An Affair" was always a bit of a placeholder. And now, after much effort testing titles and playing around with ideas, we have some up with the title for the movie.

    An Affair is now titled: Where We Started.

    Shooting An Affair: Day Thirteen (our last overnight)

    It's 6am as I sit down to write this. The sun is already rising, which means I should be trying to get to bed ASAP. We just finished our last overnight of the shoot. We will be back on a more sane schedule after a couple of days off.

    It's funny - a shoot is such a difficult and tiring process. In the first third, adrenaline propels you. In the second third, you start to long for the finish line. And in the last third, you start to mourn the fact that you won't be able to do this much longer. Admittedly, I'm exhausted and looking forward to being done. But I'm making art with friends. It's fun even though it's hard.

    I was reflecting tonight on what a great environment we have on our set. One night, DP Taylor Rudd's family dropped by while we were setting up. His father is a colleague of mine (in another department) at Baylor University, and Taylor's brothers were passing through town. So his entire family, including young niece and nephew, stopped by. The kids played on our swing set while we talked for a bit. Some people would think of this as an interruption. For me, this kind of work environment is exactly what I want. There are certain times when we need more focus and less people, but in many cases, I think it's great to have family stop by. I want family involved whenever possible. And the crew works such long hours together that they become a sort of family. I love seeing the bonding happen and getting to cut up with the students and have fun.

    Tonight was a good and uneventful night. It was our second night at the Elite Circle Grille, and we concluded our restaurant scene in plenty of time for a planned 6:30am wrap. I really hit a wall at 2am. I was having a hard time keeping my eyes open in between setups. As the crew was working on lighting, I was just waiting, and waiting at 2am is hard to do. But I got through it. I know everyone is dragging, but the fact that this would be our last overnight shoot gave us all a boost, I think.

    Finally, a few photos for you. Here, Taylor Rudd sets up a shot with actor Matt Brumlow.

    In this photo, Matt awaits the next shot as he talks with producer Brian Elliott.

    I was sitting right next to camera as we shot part of the scene, and this image struck me. It's a notice on the side of the matte box and rail system.

    Finally, actors Matt and Cora prepare to shoot. This was my vantage point for watching the scene - right next to camera.

    Two days off to get our bodies to adjust to normal schedules, and then we start back on Saturday.

    Wednesday, June 22, 2011

    Shooting An Affair: Day Twelve (Power is our friend)

    Just another crazy night on the set of "An Affair"...

    I woke up around 2:30 this afternoon, still recovering from our long night in the vacant lot. I didn't feel well all day; my head was pounding, and I just couldn't seem to get it to stop no matter what I took. It finally started to clear after an ice pack, with only an hour to go before I had to leave the house.

    I met with the actors before the shoot to go over a few things, including a title change for the film. We have been discussing this on and off since we started writing. "An Affair" was always intended as a bit of a placeholder. I think we've settled on a new title, but I'll make a bigger announcement of that soon.

    So tonight began two nights in a restaurant shooting a long dinner scene. We were very fortunate to get permission to shoot in the Elite Circle Grille (so named because it is situated on Waco's only traffic circle). It's a great place with a long history in Waco. We had to wait til closing to start, of course, so we couldn't get in until about 9:30pm. This was also one of the nights when we needed a lot of extras to fill out the dining area and make it look like it wasn't just our two lead actors by themselves. These extras of course had to commit to being there all night with us - we were very fortunate to have some brave souls commit to this! One of them decided to be an extra as a way to write a piece about the film (and his experience of being an extra) for the local magazine, The Wacoan.

    We knew there was going to be a thunderstorm tonight, but of course we were safe inside, so we weren't worried.

    And then the storm rolled in at 2:00am or so. And got worse. And worse. The rain and thunder really weren't impacting us, and the power flickered a couple of times but wasn't a problem. That is, until 3am, when the whole area went dark. We were in the middle of a take when everything died. The restaurant was pitch black.

    So we all sat quietly and waited to see what happened while the Asst Producer called our restaurant contact to see if he had any numbers at the city we could call.

    3am turned into 3:20am. We were hoping it might come back on, so we took our meal break. Everyone sat in the one room with emergency lighting. I sat alone at the bar because I just didn't feel like talking.

    After everyone had finished eating, and we had already discussed strategies since the lights were not coming back - and after I said, "Excuse me" to a potted plant because it was so dark in there - the lights flickered and came back on. 4am. We immediately got back to work.

    Fortunately, the extras in this shot had stuck with us (and the extras we needed for later shots agreed to come back tomorrow!). We managed to finish a good bit of the scene and get out of there before dawn.

    All of the craziness aside, we really are getting great footage. That's because our actors are ready to go all the time. Tonight, it was a wonder to watch Cora Vander Broek - we were shooting her medium shot when the power went out. When it came back, we picked up right where we left off, and she didn't miss a beat. And then we moved on to her close up, and as we were nearing 5am, she was still giving a great performance. I watched her bring this beautiful sadness to her scene, and Cora is not a sad person. She is sweet, funny, happy, and thoughtful - and then she clicks into character and just creates this awesome melancholy; it's a treat to watch. I am thankful they are so dedicated and committed. And I'm not leaving Matt Brumlow out; it's just that he gets his turn tomorrow when we shoot his coverage.

    I'm also thrilled at the way the crew snapped back to attention after the lull of the power outage. We were back up and running in no time. Good work, Baylor FDM students!

    Finally, I remembered to take some photos tonight so I could post them. Here, Keith Lindley (right, first AC) and Jordan Crumpler (left, second AC), prep the camera for our next shot.

    Actors Cora and Matthew discuss their scene. It only looks like Matthew is eating a light bulb...

    This is the setup for the food that is brought to their table in the scene. This has to be replicated for each shot, so continuity is important. And when the actors begin to eat it, we have to keep track of where things end up.

    The next two shot show the "behind the scenes food" - the stuff that our props department has on standby to replenish the plates on the actors' table after each take. As you can see, it takes a lot of food to shoot one dinner scene (and this isn't all of it - just a sampling).

    And finally - you get a look at something very few people get to see. This next shot shows you what producers look like when they "work." Look at how they lounge with such intensity.

    I am kidding, of course. Brian Elliott (left, Producer) and Lauren Woodruff (right, Asst Producer) are the reasons that we are getting this done in spite of the bizarre and challenging occurrences. They are there to smooth things over when police drive up and challenge the fact that we have closed the street (with permission from the city, though the police say they should have been told, even though we were never instructed by the city to do so), or to call the restaurant contact when the power goes out at 3am, or whatever is needed at any time. I am so thankful for their hard work and commitment. Nothing ruffles them, and that is more valuable than you can imagine when chaos is all around you.

    Tuesday, June 21, 2011

    Shooting An Affair: Day Eleven (vacant lot = rocky terrain)

    I'll be honest: it's 5:30am, I'm tired, and I realize the post title is lacking in wit. But I'm just too tired to think of anything else.

    We started shooting at around 6:30pm in a vacant lot where we had set up a swing set. This swing set was supposed to be on the property of the motel where we had previously shot. You might recall from previous blog posts that the motel decided they didn't want to honor their contract and allow us to finish shooting there. So we had to move this beast of a swing set out to Marlin, then move it back to West (where the studio is - because it's the only place we have to store it). Then it had to be brought back to Waco today and set up for the shoot. Did I mention that we were going to give it to the motel after the shoot was done. We bought it and were just going to let them have it. Yeah, that's not going to happen now. And it wasn't easy to make this look like it was taking place just at the edge of the motel parking lot, but DP Taylor Rudd did a really terrific job with that.

    Anyway, we got two shots done before the sun went behind some buildings. That was what we needed to get, and we managed, but we were fighting the heavy winds the whole time. Not only does the wind make the actors look funny (hair and clothes blowing everywhere), but it really impacts the sound. Microphones with wind blowing into them don't yield good sound. A good sound person knows some tricks to counteract this, but they only work so well.

    So as we waited on the sun to set for our night scene, we circled the taller vehicles of our crew members around the swing set to kill some of the wind. And that helped.

    I could tell at the start of the night that people were just moving slow. Fatigue has really set in, and I include myself. I was moving at half speed, frustrated with the compromises and difficulties of this scene (which had moved location three times), and just not feeling well, to be honest. And I could see that others were having the same problem. A few people left early because they were feeling nauseated or unwell.

    So once we started shooting the night scene, I was pleasantly surprised when it started going well. The shots looked nice, the scene played well, and we got our coverage rather quickly. I thought (knock on wood) that we would surely be done earlier than our planned 5:30am wrap.

    Sigh - it was not to be. Our final shots were on the Steadicam, and between our inexperience with it and the heavily uneven terrain in the vacant lot, this became a really difficult shot to get. We reached take 20 on the main two-shot before we felt confident that we had a few solid options from which to choose. I had planned on doing some coverage in the form of close ups of each of the main actors in the conversation, but we simply couldn't achieve a desirable level of focus at the closeness I wanted. You need a certain amount of light to focus. We were working in low light conditions. We had more lighting instruments, but we were out of power options. We were so far from our power sources that we had run out of "stingers" (extension cords). So we didn't have enough light to maintain sharp focus on the close ups. So we just had to decide to live with the single shot coverage - which means the scene really can't be edited at all. That's frustrating, but it was all we could do.

    At the end of the night, in addition to packing up all equipment, we had to take apart that darn swing set. I didn't want anyone to decide to play on it and get hurt. So while the crew was putting up lights, camera, and sound equipment, I hopped on top of the swing set with a wrench and started pulling out bolts from the crossbeam. That's harder than it sound at 5am in the dark. I just wanted that darn thing apart, and if I'd had an axe, I might have used that.

    Got all the bolts out, then started in on the many screws holding it together as well. Power drill/screwdriver died, so me and several grips started working the remaining screws manually. Producer Brian Elliott jumped in as well. It was a team effort. We finally got it all apart and laid all the pieces down. No one on the crew has a truck large enough to haul it, so the engineer from my office (who has a trailer) has been helping us move it. Now we just have to determine what to do with the thing. If anyone wants a swing set for free, it's still in the vacant lot on 6th street. I have all the hardware.

    With that done, I was more ready to go home than any other day or night on this shoot. Tomorrow night, we at least will be indoors. If you're going to spend the whole night out shooting a movie, it's at least better to be in a nice restaurant with air conditioning and bathrooms (did I mention we had to drive several miles to find a bathroom when shooting at the vacant lot? It being a vacant lot and all, we didn't have much access to bathroom facilities).

    I didn't take any pictures because, well, I forgot to and I was tired. Or I forgot because I was tired. Five more shooting days.

    Edited to add: I completely forgot that at about take 9 of the 20-take marathon Steadicam shot, some student crew members who were stationed at a corner to make sure our traffic barriers were obeyed came back to the set to report that they were completely freaked out by a homeless guy who came by their station and talked to them at length about killing a congressman who he claimed to have killed his wife. So - I don't have a whole lot in the way of details on that, but I owe it to those kids to include it. And, of course, as soon as it had been reported, the first words out of someone's mouth was, "Hey Chris, there's soemthing to blog about tonight!"

    Monday, June 20, 2011

    Shooting An Affair: Behind the Scenes prep

    We don't starting today until later (it's going to be another all-nighter, since it's an exterior night scene). But there's a lot of prep going on regardless.

    We're closing some streets tonight - so that means we need to pick up the barriers from the city this afternoon before we set up.

    We are using a swing set today, so someone had to go pick up the set where we were storing it and set it up on the property at which we're shooting.

    We are 'borrowing' power (with permission) from a local merchant. He is allowing us to run some extension cords from his business so that we can use the power after hours. That means our Gaffer has to head over there this afternoon to run all the power cords. It also means that if we blow a breaker, we can't reset it. So our electrical planning has to be very precise.

    Did I mention that the wind was blowing so hard that my hat blew off my head several times? I'm hoping the wind will die down before this evening.

    Also, our prop/art direction folks are working on tomorrow night's shoot, which takes place at a tapas restaurant. I wrote the scene, but I've had tapas only once or twice in my life (and I let someone else order when I did). Translation: I know nothing about tapas except for what I looked up online. So my art director is having to prep the tapas for the scene tomorrow night.

    A long day before a long night. As you can see, it requires a lot of coordination and a lot of people to pull this off.

    Friday, June 17, 2011

    Shooting An Affair: Day Ten (I want these snakes outta my studio!)

    Today's shoot was a more difficult and emotional scene. There was also some awkward moments to shoot, so we were working with a skeleton crew, just to make the actors more comfortable.

    I find directing scenes like today's challenging - but I'll save that discussion for a later day because I really don't want to talk about some of the film's details yet.

    The biggest event today was the arrival of a new mascot - a chicken snake slithered into the studio as we were loading equipment into the van. We actually didn't know what kind of snake it was then. So we called the studio owner, Ben Ranzinger, who was nearby with a friend who he considers his snake wrangler. So Ben and Paul came over and started moving stuff from where the snake had slithered. Soon enough, they found him, and Paul "wrangled" him quickly. Here he is - name suggestions?:

    Some more photos...

    My hat atop the wave form monitor and my monitor at "Director's Camp":

    Lead actor Matt Brumlow posing for my phone's contact picture. He wanted it to be iconic:

    The slate from a shot from today:

    DP Taylor Rudd setting up to shoot a slow dolly shot, with Dolly Grip Rob Norman to his left and 1st AC Keith Lindley to his right:

    Lead actress Cora Vander Broek in a shot (taken from the monitor at Director's Camp):

    A lighter moment - Cora trying to pose for a contact photo picture that would equal Matt's rather impressive one:

    Not happy with that one, we tried another pose:

    We have the weekend off, then we pick up with a few grueling days Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of next week.

    Thursday, June 16, 2011

    Shooting An Affair: Day Nine

    Today was a studio day, which is always more relaxed. As I've said before, it feels more like 'home,' and everyone is able to settle in a bit.

    It felt a bit today like we had turned a corner and were in the home stretch. That's not to say we don't have plenty more to do, of course. But we shot one of the more challenging scenes today, with another really heavy/emotional scene tomorrow. Once tomorrow's shoot is done, we have only one really difficult scene left.

    The other positive today was that we got a little ahead of schedule. We finished scene 21 today (a really long scene), and then shot scene 25. We were scheduled to shoot 25 and 26 tomorrow, so this makes tomorrow's shoot of the emotional scene 26 much more relaxed. We can take our time. That is going to be really important tomorrow.

    So - a short post tonight. I still like directing without shoes. I feel so relaxed.

    A few pictures from today. First, the actors talk about the scene (Matt Brumlow on bed, Cora Vander Broek in foreground, DP Taylor Rudd with camera, Gaffer Stephanie Saathoff behind him):

    And I took this photo from my monitor at "Director's camp" (where I sit to watch and listen when I'm not watching from the set). A really nice shot of Matt and Cora in a tense scene.

    More tomorrow after the shoot.

    Tuesday, June 14, 2011

    Shooting An Affair: Day Eight

    Tonight's shoot was in a liquor store. You might be surprised, or perhaps not, that it's hard to find a liquor store in which to shoot a movie. Liquor store owners are not in love with people traipsing through their stores after hours. We actually had to call in a favor from a longtime friend of our productions and a former city manager. He still has a lot of friends in the city he used to manage, and he vouched for us, so we were able to work tonight in a terrific liquor store in Bellmead, TX.

    One of the odd quirks - not surprising when you think about it: our entire crew tonight had to be 21 or older. Since we work with a largely student crew, that meant several people had to stay home.

    This was a comparatively light shooting night - we had three very short scenes to get, a total of about a page of script at the most. We took our time and got some really nice shots. You know there's production value when the dolly comes off the truck.

    I had the pleasure tonight, too, of involving another good friend in the film. Stan Denman is the chair of Baylor's Department of Theatre, and he has been a friend of mine since I arrived at Baylor. He graciously agreed to play a bit part in the film, and it's always fun for me to work my talented friends into my films. Stan played a surly liquor store clerk, and he played it well. I really love it when an actor with a single line asks me about his character's motivation. Some people might think that's silly, but I think of it as real dedication to craft. Stan knows that he has to make a choice about his character, even if there's only one line, and he spent time thinking about how to play it. That's dedication.

    We had a couple of shots in the parking lot of the liquor store. Unfortunately, this liquor store is situated on a major trucking lane, so there was a good bit of loud traffic. In situations like this, the boom mic is somewhat useless, and the lavalier (lapel) microphones are what you're going to use. That means we'll have to EQ the sound later, but it was still pretty clean.

    So - a comparatively easy night, and I'm thankful for that. Tomorrow is an off day for everyone. I plan to enjoy some family time after sleeping in late!

    Finally - if you're reading my blog and haven't yet "liked" or visited the movie's facebook page, please click over there and check it out. We have added a bunch of preproduction, rehearsal, and production photos, and I think you'll enjoy checking those out! (Special thanks to lead actress Cora Vander Broek, who had the night off from acting tonight and spent the evening uploading and tagging a ton of photos! That's commitment!)

    Shooting An Affair: Day Seven

    An uneventful day? I'll take it.

    We were in the studio today, on our motel room set. I will take a shoot in the studio over an exterior location any day. It's so civilized. Restroom facilities are nearby. A kitchen and fridge, too. I can walk around in my socks. This isn't advisable, but my shoes just aren't comfortable for hours and hours on my feet, so this is how I like it. I can sit there watching the action in my socks, holding a hot cup of coffee. This must be how Hitchcock felt (except I bet he wore shoes) and why he was so reluctant to shoot on location.

    We were shooting scene 21 tonight. We had started it on another day, and we still aren't finished. It's quite a long scene, actually, and it's helpful to think of it like a musical piece, with several movements. We were shooting the second and third movements tonight, and the start of the fourth. Matthew and Cora continue to put in fantastic performances. The third movement of the scene is quiet and intimate, and they were so good it made my skin tingle. Here's a picture of them on the set today:

    They were not in character here. This shot is just two passionate actors discussing the scene. I love watching them argue about a moment in the script; they're so engaged and on top of things. I told them the other day that in most cases, a writer-director feels like he or she is the custodian of the ultimate meaning of the script and each character's intentions. But I feel like I've reached a new understanding of the process, wherein I realized that the actors and I must work together on their intentions. I have my ideas, and they have theirs, and neither of us is objectively the owner of that answer. It's only through our collaboration that we find the answer. I'll often start a conversation about a line with something like, "When I wrote that, thew character was trying to say (something). What do you think you're trying to say here?" My intention is a starting point. It's not that they would drastically change things. We're talking about fine tuning, about small modulations, but they're often important ones. I love agonizing over the delivery of a few words. I love being that engaged with it.

    Another interesting thing tonight - a little more crew bonding. In a lull in the action, I had posted something on Facebook about having reached my "maximum allotment of human contact" for the day. It concerned that point in the day when you're just done talking to people and interacting. When you're directing a film, you can reach a saturation point with interaction pretty quickly, because everyone needs to talk to you. The DP, the actors, the producer, everyone. None of these are necessarily negative interactions, but every human interaction takes engagement an energy. Anyway, I was just tired of hearing myself talk, and I can be quite introverted at times. So, at one point, I was called to come off set and look at something on the monitor. As I exited set, the student crew mobbed around me and shouted "group hug!" They were giving me an additional overdose of human contact. I laughed out loud. As they dispersed laughing, I was struck by how quickly we bond with others on a set. I'd say that I had never met more than half the students on the crew before we started shooting. And now we're all friends and joking around with each other. The process of shooting creates fast relationships, and though professors often keep their students at arms' length, that somehow doesn't feel right in this context, when they're working so hard to fulfill my vision, and when the crew/set context creates such camaraderie. So in tribute to that realization, here's a picture of the crew chowing down at meal time (we provide a meal every day on set, no matter how late we're shooting; sometimes we're eating at 1am, but there's always one good meal provided through a caterer):

    And finally, just because the day was a good one and people were in good spirits, here's a photo of lead actor Matt Brumlow doing his best little kid impersonation (which came about because we were "cheating" him higher in his chair by seating him on what we call in the industry an "apple box"):

    And now it's 3:30am, which is early by my current standards. What will I do with the time?

    Monday, June 13, 2011

    Shooting an Affair: Photoblogging from the Set

    I'll give a full update after the shooting day is done (it's just starting now). But for now, here are some photos from the set...

    First - Grip Heeseung Song prepares to mount a light on top of the set.

    Below, First AC Keith Lindley is setting up the camera (a Panasonic AX100) for the day's shoot.

    Here, Production Designer Tyler Ellis is cutting and preparing a print for framing on the wall of the motel room set.

    Key Grip Rob Norman tells grip Heeseung Song where to place a light fixture.

    Gaffer Stephanie Saathoff prepares to mount a light on top of the set.

    That's it for now - more later if I have time. Which I probably won't, since we have 18 pages to shoot today.

    Shooting An Affair: Day Seven (Goin' Back to Marlin)

    I just got home at about 5:35am. I can't believe how many all nighters this shoot has entailed, nor that I'm always wired and wide awake when I get home. Tonight, as I was throwing out some trash in the kitchen, I was scared out of my mind when two little arms reached around me from behind. I spun around to find a sleepy eight year old hugging me. Apparently, I'd woken her as i came in, and she wanted to see me. I gave her a hug and a kiss before sending her back to bed for some more sleep. It reminded me of the toll that filmmaking takes on my family...

    Tonight, we were back at the inn that threw us out last week. We finagled one more day to wrap up some really critical scenes. It was a good night overall. The actors were "on," as they always are, the crew was working pretty well, and the night still seemed to drag on interminably, until the actors were pretty much out of steam.

    Part of that was my fault. I chose, unwisely, to shoot a scene wildly out of sequence because we were already lit for certain angles. This was the more efficient choice, since it would enable us to get all the later shots in the scene in one spot, then go back and shoot the first part of the scene at the end of the night.

    The problems came from the fact that the early part of the scene was some heavy emotional stuff, and also that we were finishing at almost 5am. The actors were spent, and they really had to turn it on for a long and fairly complicated take at the end of that long night.

    I really should have just not worried so much about efficiency and worried first about the actors - so my apologies to you guys, if you're reading this. Mea culpa. That was my mistake, and I'll try not to make it again!

    Regardless, they did great - I could just tell it was wearing on them. And I felt bad that I put efficiency before performance. I got lucky that they still did a great job, but it really wasn't fair to them.

    One picture I took tonight: my shadow on the ground...

    And I'll keep it short tonight, because I have a meeting at work tomorrow, and the sun is already coming up.

    Saturday, June 11, 2011

    Shooting An Affair: Crew Bonding

    Tonight, the mostly-student crew of An Affair went as a group to see Super 8. It was an event intentionally designed for bonding.

    I don't know why, but I'm very pleased by that. I have seen upper classmen (and women) take on teaching and mentoring roles, and grad students taking on significant leadership roles. I have seen students meet and make new friends.

    In fact, a couple who met on the production of my last film married today.

    There is something more here than the filmmaking, which in itself is important.

    Friday, June 10, 2011

    Shooting An Affair: Day Six (Is it only day six??)

    Back home from another day on the set. We were back on our standing motel set at the studio today, which was nice after all the location stuff we have been doing. This set feels like home. I joked to someone that I especially like directing when I can do it without wearing shoes.

    We had a lot to cover, and were slow to get started after a really late night the previous evening, so the day went long. But Friday and Saturday are off days, so going late tonight was an option.

    The crew, however, started to get giddy as we rounded 2am. We had cut several people and sent them home since there was no real reason everyone needed to be there til the bitter end. But the ones that remained were so tired that they just had the giggles. They were making strange jokes, having bizarre conversations, and the like. I'm not complaining - it's actually a wonderful form of bonding that reminds me of my college days (and I get to re-experience that a little by working on a film with students as crew). They're fun to be around, and I get to bond with them myself. We form close relationships with the students who crew our films, and I enjoy that. I see it as an extra perk of having them on board.

    One thing was especially fun tonight. As we set up a shot of the two main characters chatting with each other through their adjoining motel room doors, I stood back and looked at the room, the layout, the shot. And it occurred to me that this was pretty much exactly how I had visualized it when I wrote the scene. That's a rare treat, so I took a picture.

    In addition, tonight we had to put the 'false ceiling' on the set for the first time. One of the angles from which we were shooting was a slightly lower one, meaning we might have caught a bit of the ceiling (or, if it wasn't in place, we would have seen that there wasn't one!). The two pictures below show you the outside view and then the interior view.

    The ceiling actually covers a lot more than what it's shown covering here. But some lights that were being used from above blocked it from going any further on this particular setup.

    We really hit a wall around 1am. One of the actors was very tired and was having trouble with his lines in a scene he knew quite well. I was considering wrapping for the night, but he insisted on pushing through because we were already set up. After a few blown takes, he got his 'mojo' back, and we were able to finish, albeit two-and-a-half hours after our intended wrap time. Still, in spite of everyone's exhaustion, it's nice to know we made our day.

    Drove the 35 minutes home, got stuck in a traffic jam (I think there was an accident on I-35 in addition to the nightly construction), took the trash out, washed some dishes, and sat down to write these thoughts before drifting off to sleep.

    We are off for two days, so likely no blogging again til Sunday night or Monday, depending on how things go and how exhausted I am. Thanks for reading.

    Thursday, June 09, 2011

    Shooting An Affair: Day Five (nothing bad happened!)

    Just wanted to start this blog off with the reassurance that all went well on tonight's shoot, given how many negative occurrences we've had thus far.

    No, tonight yielded some good results. We started out shooting a walk-and-talk scene on 6th Street in Waco. We had gotten permission to block off several blocks of 6th, just adjacent to the downtown area (so you can see downtown in the distance).

    So we had the entire street to ourselves, which is really very nice when you're shooting. You don't have to worry about cars messing up your shot, or even about having people work from the middle of the street. We can't close down streets every day, so this was nice.

    We were using the Steadicam on the shoot for the first time today. Several of us on faculty had trained on it with Dan Ikeda, Tiffen's terrific trainer. He got us up to speed, but we all needed a lot of practice to become experts. I felt all along that Brian Elliott, my colleague and producer, would be best suited to shoot the Steadicam shot, and my faith was not unfounded. He is very particular and exacting, and he did a terrific job. Our Steadicam walk-and-talk scene looks great.

    After wrapping on 6th Street and having a late night meal (fajitas), we headed over to Lake Shore Drive in Waco to shoot scenes of the two lead characters driving a motorcycle. I won't go into the plot or script specifics, but I was a bit worried about how well these shots would come off. The city wouldn't let us close the streets (though they did tell the Asst. Producer that we could shoot there without closing them). Not having it blocked off didn't matter much - we started shooting at about 3 or 4am, so there was virtually no traffic. The motorcycle stuff involved the DP (with a handheld rig) and sound recordist (with a boom mic) in the back of a pickup truck, with me in the front seat watching a monitor.

    Sounds like a recipe for disaster, I know - but it went off without a hitch. We got really great footage, and everyone stayed safe.

    So now I'm home and it's 5:40am. We have a short turnaround tomorrow - we start at 4pm, but we're on the main set, so things should go easier.

    I was joking around with the students about pulling all-nighters, since we've been doing so for several nights now, and it occurred to me that, though I am tired, I don't feel like I'm about to succumb to sleep at any moment. Making films puts me on full alert. When I'm directing, I feel like I have this laser focus. It's as though, no matter the hour, I will be able to make it through. I'll be exhausted later, no doubt, but while we're doing it, I just love it.

    And now some pictures from the set. First, me in my new production hat:

    This one is of Matt and Cora (the lead actors) - with the production crew facing them. In this shot you can see Brian Elliott (Producer) on Steadicam and Taylor Rudd (Director of Photography) holding a lantern on a boom pole to provide light for the scene. This was a really complicated set up for us.

    Here you can see a still from the footage we shot of Matt and Cora on the motorcycle. I shot this image of the monitor as it was sitting in my lap in the front of the truck.

    This next photo shows several of the students where they had camped out, waiting for it to get completely dark so we could start shooting. The building to the left behind them is actually illuminated with one of our HMI lights from more than 100 yards away.

    Another long day, but I feel less exhausted when we get such good results.

    Well, the birds are starting to chirp and the sun is starting to rise. I guess I should get some sleep!