Shooting Diary - Day 8

A 5:30am wakeup call. Have to shave because I'm in front of the camera al day today. I grab my DIT suitcase and backpack with my script and head out the door. Back up to the Upper West Side for the day. This is our main characters' neighborhood, and where much of the film's action is supposed to happen. Today should be fairly smooth running and straightforward as there aren't too many scenes on the docket. However, the forecast predicts definite rain and we must be ready to roll with the punches. After a quick discussion with our data manager about yesterday's footage, I hop into wardrobe and makeup to get ready for the first scene.

In a last-minute switch the, first scene up is a simple scene with me entering a building.  Upon looking at our shot list, we realize that Zak and I were overeager in our estimation of what this scene needs and condense our three shots into one, sexy dolly shot. Sounds good. The morning is beautiful, the crew is in a good mood, and we start the day off right by nailing  a fairly simple shot. We pat ourselves on the backs and move on.

With a mini move to the next block we shoot the exterior scenes of  the title character, Harold's apartment. Because we don't have any money for this location (spent it all last week), we place an actor in a doorman costume and stand him in front of a ritzy building on West 77th Street. Permitted for the sidewalks, we set up our shots and steal the location exterior with the support of the building amicable Super. By lunch, we have two scenes in the can, with a light afternoon ahead of us.

At lunch, I get to meet the newest member of the cast, Fred Melamed, who is on set for his costume fitting. I'm thrilled to have him in my movie as I am huge fan. Fred has appeared in a host of films over the years from Hannah and Her Sisters to A Serious Man. He will be playing my favorite character in PHB, "Jimmy Basmati".

After a hamburger, we knock out the remaining shots using the "stolen" building exterior. We are making terrific time, but it begins to drizzle as we set up for a long tracking shot for our biggest and final scene for the day. The rain starts and stops, but never really causes a problem. After being very pleased with the framing and camera movement of our master shot for the scene, we decide to forego doing any coverage and just continue to do take after take on a simple "walk and talk" down a sidewalk. This is all we have left to do in the day, so we go until the bell rings. Today, the bell rang when the sun left the clouds around 6:00pm and began to give us lighting issues.

Just as we wrap, the heavens open up and torrential downpour ensues. Lucky us.

Tomorrow is another interior. We will be in the East Village all day and with quite a few extras as well. There will also be two new actresses will be on-set, which I am very excited about. More tomorrow. Good night internet.

Shooting Diary - Day 7

Another full day of exteriors today. It was nice and cool out, and after a week in that hot box on West 9th, I can't complain. But, shooting exteriors has its own host of challenges, especially in Manhattan. For instance, there is a jack hammer on every block. This is just a fact of life. There are also pedestrians who look into the camera, angry tenants who live on the block you are shooting on, potential threats of rain, and inconsistent light/cloud coverage. All of these elements give a film crew plenty to deal with when doing a full day of exteriors. Today started off with the familiar challenge of working with a dog. This would be our third dog to play the role of Oscar in the film. Originally, the part was to be played by my own awesome dog, The Machine. Due to unforeseen obstacles, we had to recast the role. Even if a dog is well-trained, you are at their mercy and they can stall your day at any time. I would assume this is true of all dogs had I not seen my dog play this role already in the short film, Pretty Happy. I digress...

The dog stuff took us a minute, but we did capture it and move on. After the dogs, came the sun. If the sun comes out, you have a problem of harsh shadows and blown highlights. Both must be avoided and the only way to do it is to mount large silks (diffusion screens) to soften the light. This takes a while to do if you are short a Key Grip like we were today. Ultimately we got the light roughly where we wanted it, if not completely.

Right about the time we finished shooting  that scene, the jack hammers started. We managed to get pieces of usable audio here and there and I am confident I can piece something together. Nevertheless, it was not an ideal situation and had there been no dogs in the scene I might have re-shoot it later in the day.

I  had a delicious sushi lunch. Delicious.

The afternoon was a success through and through, we knocked off a wealth of scenes and coverage. We got funny stuff, cool camera shots, tracking shots, moving handheld, you name it. It feels good to be resourceful and it feels extra good to be resourceful and successful. With a hand truck, sand bags, and some skillful camera work, we pulled off some terrific tracking shots. See below.

 

All of this culminated in the shot of awesomeness that we nailed with the dolly and track at the end of the day. It was not an easy shot to execute, but execute we did.

Another exterior day tomorrow. They are predicting rain. I can't even think about that now. Must sleep.

Day Off

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I went to bed at 9:00pm sharp last night. I woke at 6:30am this morning feeling like a new man. After some french toast and coffee, I sat down to go through some footage from Week One. This has been the first day off since we started filming last Monday. But as you might expect, work has followed me home.

I've spent most of the day compiling a small collage of what we've shot thus far. Not a trailer or anything that exciting, but a simple edit of various shots to showcase some of what is already in the can. I'd like to have something to share with the cast and crew as we go into Week Two.

Going through what we've shot is equal parts exciting and stressful. I am not in the mindset to edit yet. It's hard for me to watch what I've shot when I haven't finished what I've started. Everything is looking absolutely gorgeous and the performances are smart, subtle, and incredibly funny. My team is definitely exceeding all expectations here.

As we move into this next week, there are some new things to look forward to. We are going to be shooting several different locations from day to day and I'm excited to have a constant change of "scenery" as opposed to camping at a single apartment all week. The flip side of this constant movement is that we will have less time to put down roots and get comfortable in any given location. Each day will bring new surprises and demands. As long as we can roll with the punches and just take it one shot at a time, I think we should be good.

Shooting Diary - Day 6

Day 6 feels a little different. We had an earlier call time today of 6:00am and we were shooting only exteriors. We woke up to coolish weather, which was a welcome change to the thickened heat of our West 9th Street interior location. However, the forecast predicted serious rainfall for most of the day, so we were ready to scramble at a moments notice. We pared down the crew for the day with no more than ten or so people on set. We brought the equipment truck and a fifteen passenger van to each of our three locations. From there, we would establish some form of "base camp" with a pop-up tent and cones to hold parking.

To hedge our bets on the weather for the day, we set our first scene of the day as one that didn't require any actors that weren't me and Alex. Under light sprinkles of rain, we hammered out a scene in Tribeca Park. We moved quickly and still managed to capture a terrific amount of coverage and have a great time doing it. Right as we were finishing the final insert for the morning's scene, rain drops began to fall. We all moved back to our base camp to load up and do a company move to the East Village where we would shoot three nearby exteriors with taxi cabs. We arrived amidst light drizzle and got settled before taking an early lunch. Seeing as it was Saturday, a few of us ducked into an actual restaurant for a quick "brunch". Meanwhile, the rain subsided.

After eggs and O.J. we only had our few no-dialogue scenes to catch, all incorporating a New York taxi cab. We hailed a cabbie and paid a fee and told him to leave the meter running.  The rest of the afternoon moved very quickly and smoothly. Once we had wrapped around 3:30pm, the trucks were packed and the footage logged on-site. After a slight scare of our media-managing laptop having connection issues, I made it home early enough to log footage and hopefully go through some of the past week's work.

It's great to have Week 1 done. We all feel a terrific sense of accomplishment to have conquered our first tricky location. More than a third of the film is now in the can and I'm eager to tackle the rest. Speaking of rest, I am eager to get some of that, too.

Here is a quick look back on our first week's main location and some of the obstacles we've faced.

 

Shooting Diary - Day 5

After a brief stint of sleep, we were up and at 'em again today. It was Day 5 of 18  for principal photography and our final day in our "Saul and Cheryl Apartment" location on West 9th Street. After a long and hard Day 4, I expected today to be a cakewalk. After a quick meeting with Brad and Zak, I sat down to review our shooting schedule for the day and make some notes for myself. There was plenty to do, but it all seemed very feasible with allotted time. The first and second shots up were long tracking shots, so it took a good while to get everything just so. To maximize the desired effect of the camera move, we placed a 4-foot camera slider on the dolly itself so that the camera could extend past the actors and pull back to reveal them in the frame. Did that make sense? Probably not. It looks great, anyhow.

We worked slowly the first half of the day, not meeting our target schedule before lunch. Brad and Zak didn't seem too concerned, so I gave myself some permission not to stress too much. We came back after lunch and hit it hard. Our actors were on point and the crew moved quickly to light ahead of each scene. We didn't have to skimp on takes and we even through in some dog inserts with a new dog. That's right, the other dog was let go. Or at least his owner was. Tough business, right?

We made our day with time to spare. It's hard to believe we managed to shoot every scene in the apartment within only five days. We were originally supposed to do it in six, so now we are ahead overall. Glad to be done with the first location. It was beautiful and served us well, but with all the heat, congestion, elevator construction, and angry neighbors, anything looks easy from now on. I'm sure there are plenty more tough days ahead of us, but I already feel like we've made it through some serious obstacles.

Here's a random snippet of us in Day 4. You'll notice the sun went down early, but our living room was still as bright as it was that morning.

Shooting Diary - Day 4

Day 4 of our shoot just so happens to be the hottest day of the year. What a great time to be bundled into a pre-war townhouse with twenty people, a labrador, and an insanely ambitious/presumptuous shooting schedule. Today was our "dog" day. We had nine scenes to shoot, five of which featured a labrador retriever. Nine scenes in one twelve-hour day is already a bad idea, never mind the added time hindrance of being at the mercy of a canine. The morning was slow as we watched in awe as our paid dog and wrangler struggled to accomplish the complex commands of "sit" and "stay". We ultimately got the shot, but it cost us dearly. I was forced to cut certain camera setups for a few scenes just  catch up. By the time we broke for our late lunch at 1:00pm, I was stressed, exhausted, and worried that we wouldn't make our day.

After several rounds of ideas and reworking of the schedule during lunch, we took a deep breath and hoped we would get the remaining seven scenes done by the end of the day. Tomorrow is also a big day, and there is no room to squeeze anything if we can't get things done today.

After a salad at Lenny's and a quick rally of the troops, I decided to own my dog-day afternoon and just get to it. Zak and his team set up lights for about three scenes that we would be revisiting throughout the afternoon. This way, setups could be switched fairly quickly. Brad streamlined the scenes further and our two main actors for the day were perfectly on point.

This was a tough audio day for us. With saws, jack hammers, and loud workers in the hallway. We had to hold for silence before or during every take. After a while, I stopped doing takes and just ran series. Whenever I feel pressed for time, I don't call "cut" unless I have to. I find that if I call cut, people start to tweak things onset (lights, wardrobe, makeup) and it inevitably takes five minutes before we are rolling again. When we are rolling, it is my only sacred time with my actors, so I use it. Within each take today I would give the actors their direction whenever it made sense. If we had to start over, we would. But very few real takes happened. This isn't ideal, because you can end up muscling the scene too much. It also makes it hard to organize for editing. I guess I'll have to face the consequences of that later.

My jolt of optimism came when we were shooting one of my favorite bits of dialogue in the film. Watching actors Laila Robins and Kevin Isola crack everyone up in take after take, I felt the room brighten tremendously. It was just one of those moments when you capture something terrific on camera, and it makes all the stress and hard work worth it.

 

Everything went swimmingly from then on until we came to more dog scenes. Cue the stress and frustration! The dog is cute, but the dog is not trained. With lighting wizardry to keep our "sun" up and the legendary patience and focus of our leading actress, ultimately made our day by around 7:10pm. After a quick preset for the room we are shooting tomorrow, the crew hustled out of the boiling, cramped location and into the cool evening rain.

Home finally. Footage just finished backing up. I need a shower.

Let's do this again tomorrow.

Shooting Diary - Day 3

Today was a day with relatively few scenes and setups to shoot. However, with one of those scenes being one long continuous shot, there would be much planning and lighting many many many takes. Our whole morning was dedicated to pulling off this otherwise relatively simple tracking shot.

First, I took my coffee and my laptop and found a corner to sit and re-write the first day's scene. At the end of yesterday's shoot, I had decided that this particular scene needed some work. I'd hoped to get the rewrites done last night, but I was blogging to you good people.

I hammered out the rewrites, handed the laptop to our production manager, Matt, so he could print copies for me and the actors. After interrupting the actors rehearsal of the old version of the scene to give them the new one, I began to run through it with them several times. This is not a fair thing to do to your actors minutes before they work, but I ultimately feel this was the best way I could serve them.

Next, we crammed most of our production and gear into the back half of this 19th century West Village apartment. People and stuff filled the back two rooms to the brim. Air conditioners must remain off while shooting so we can record quality sound. Makes for an incredibly stuffy and uncomfortable environment, especially when you have huge lights heating up each room. At the front of the apartment, lights and electrical rigging were placed strategically throughout as the shot would show the full length of a hallway, two rooms, and ultimately the front door. The art department (Marie and Andrew) covered the hot set from head to toe in detailed dressing and monitored picture frames that might reflect any of Zak's many light sources.

Once everything was in place, everyone cleared set to let me block the movement of the actors through the space. After getting a sense of the flow of things, I watched from the monitor as Zak and his dolly grip rehearsed the timing of the moves to follow the actors. Once we felt brave enough, we jumped into filming. It was three pages of dialogue, large-move blocking, and no coverage. Talk about a lot to think about. After about fifteen takes, we got it. Then I we did about nine more just to make sure. After the twenty-fourth take, we broke for lunch.

This was the first day I took a few minutes to run outside and see the sky for a minute while the rest of the team was on a break. We are doing "walk away" lunches which means that instead of catering the shoot, we hand out lunch money and give the crew more time to go out and get whatever they want wherever they want. It's a good system that suits our production model. I've been spending most of my lunch breaks talking about schedules, finances, and producer stuff. I need to start making a concerted effort to actually walk away during this walk-away lunch.

After the food settled into my stomach and seemingly drained all of my energy for the purpose of digestion, we were back at it. We tore through the afternoon setups, all of which were relatively simple and straightforward compared to the shot we'd done earlier. The only real challenge was to move a couple of scenes around in the schedule to suit the time constraints of both camera and HMU (hair and makeup). If one setup suits two different scenes with the same actor, we will likely keep the camera where it is and wait for the actor to change an outfit. If an actor has an outfit or look that takes a long while to prepare, then we will sometimes shoot everything requiring that costume before moving on. It is a constant juggle of priorities.

Rather than overreaching and trying to shoot any more scenes, we wrapped the day around 5:30pm. I'm a big fan of making the most out of my day, but with grueling 6-day weeks, it's good to shorten the days where we can.

Home now. Footage logged. Judged. Hated. Loved. Blog blog blog blog. Goodnight!

Shooting Diary - Day 2

If yesterday was a "light" day to get us started. Today was most definitely a heavy one. We moved into one of our most used room for this location and it deserves every bit of camera time we can give it. The room is extremely cool. In fact, the inherent production value/design that this room brings was a huge selling point when choosing the location. After a tricky first day of avoiding angry co-op board members, our lean and mean crew of about 16 people filed into the building around 7:00am today. Once we were in, we were stuck there so as to keep a low profile and not get kicked out. My producer tells me this angry neighbor problem will not continue for the rest of our time here. Hallelujah.

7:30am - While the crew set up our first shot and dressed the room, we held a script and shot list meeting in the wrapped kitchen. Watch us scramble to rewrite the schedule for our day to accommodate pressing time crunches as well as a creative whims!

 

By 9:00am we were shooting our first scene. The first few of the day were very easy, quick ones, so it felt like progress early. Nothing like some quick gratification to make you feel productive. After directing a few simple scenes with simple coverage, we moved into a scene where I  was in front of the camera. Same drill on the protocol as yesterday. We do a rehearsal, one take, then playback for me to review frame and give myself notes, and then we crank out 3 more takes. Once we moved into coverage for me today, I only participated in the initial framing of the picture, and then plowed through the takes. When needed, Alex gives me the acting adjustments I need.

I was relieved when I was wrapped as an actor for the day at lunch around 1:00pm. I spent the rest of the day directing. As a director I could change back into my comfy, destroyed  jeans and look like sweaty hell as I watched the monitor. Take a look at the video below. You can watch me watch me make a movie!

 

By 5:00pm, our light in our awesome room was fading, but Zak was on its tail in hot pursuit. The afternoon was a real hustle and thanks to a lot of sweat from the crew and Brad, our AD, we got through the day.

I'm home now. Backup footage is logged. I can't wait to greet my pillow.