Shooting Journal - Day 21

With less than a week to scramble everything together, we had an awesome Day 21 in the studio. We shot at Fireproof/Nutroaster Studios in Bushwick and had a grand time. Lots of last-minute pieces had to come together including:

  • Garrett hiring a crew and securing a stage for the day
  • Alex and Ryan buying and assembling and disassembling  and returning a table from Ikea
  • David pulling upwards of ten outfits for actor wardrobe
  • Alex finding an actor to play our Interviewer, losing him and then finding another actor
  • Nicole flying Brian back to NY from the UK for 12 hours to shoot
  • Me writing and rewriting and hoping no one gets upset about the last-minute new material

Everything went famously. The vibe on set was the most relaxed of the entire shoot by far. The crew and production team were able to set everything up, sit back, and watch the actors work. Because our lighting and set were going to be the same for the run of the day, we set up a few rows of chairs behind the monitor and everyone sat and enjoyed the performances. 

Speaking of performances, I feel like I should have charged admission to the shoot. To watch Brian Cox and Bill Sage sitting at a table working for six hours is exactly the kind of thing I would pay top dollar for. Bill was our last-minute savior for the Interviewer (a small but awesome part, I think) and he really took all of the scenes to their full potential. Brian had actually worked with Bill before so they had a bit of a report together.

 

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We shot 6-8 takes of each scene with two sizes. We changed lenses only once and I am thrilled with that decision. For 95% of the day we stayed with the 35mm and switched to a 50mm only for the final shot. If I had to pick a single lens to live with for an entire film shoot, It'd probably be  the 35mm.

Technical hiccups reared their ugly heads as they always do on a low-budget shot. We had a couple of issues with some corrupt sound files, but we are sorting that out now. We also had a pain-in-the-ass fly that would fly into frame whenever the take was really great.  That's all though.

After the wrapping the film shoot. We transitioned to a still photo setup, where I took photos of Harold in various different outfits to be used in the film. We used a simple 2 light setup against a gray seamless backdrop. We fired all of those off  within about 20 minutes and then called it a day. A very good day.

Shooting Diary - Day Off 2

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I slept in till about 9:00am with some effort. I awoke three hours earlier but decided to close my eyes and make a concerted effort to capitalize on this opportunity to sleep. It was ok, I guess. Just not in much of a sleep pattern these days.

After a terrific morning of not directing a movie, I did some "movie work" and met up with the talented Mei Meloncon who is playing "Christina" in the film. She is in from Los Angeles and tomorrow is her first day of shooting. We met for coffee and ran through all of her scenes. Seeing as all but one of her scenes are with my character, "Ethan", it turned in to a full-fledged rehearsal for me, too.

This upcoming week will be exciting and fresh. The bulk of the week is covering a story line we haven't shot too much of yet. There will be a few new actors on set and some awesome new locations as well. Both tomorrow and Tuesday will feature big, inter-borough company moves midday. That means we will shoot one location in the morning, followed by a massive excursion over the East River to another location to film for the remainder of the day. Let's see how we do.

It's an early one tomorrow. Need to memorize and hit the hay.

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 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!

Cast Read-Through

Thursday was our day for a cast read-through. We circled up in chairs with our scripts, and plowed through the whole thing from start to finish. Although there were a few actors who couldn't make the event, it was terrific to see the shape of the whole thing and hear it flow out loud.  Everyone was so on point and the on-book performances were easily good enough to capture on film. It's time to get excited. This group is so incredibly talented. We start shooting in one day and I couldn't feel better about the actors playing these roles. Speaking of which, here is the cast list as it stands, with some other additions to come:

  • Harold Blumenthal - Brian Cox
  • Saul Blumenthal - Mark Blum
  • Cheryl Blumenthal - Laila Robins
  • Christina - Mei Meloncon
  • Fiona - Nicole Ansari
  • Lee - Kevin Isola
  • Isaac - Alexander Cendese
  • Emmy - Laura Jordan
  • Orchid - Maureen Sebastian
  • Sadie - Lisa Masters
  • Raphael - Teddy Canez
  • Karen Metzler-Worth -  Robyn Rikoon

Rehearsal

Today was our one and only real day of rehearsals for our actors. On a low-budget indie like this one, we are lucky to have any time at all. Needless to say, today was a real luxury and pleasure. Nestled in an empty, comfortable space in midtown Manhattan, the day started early with myself and one of our main actors. We jumped right in with some preliminary discussion about the character and some of the action. After the intro, we got straight to work on a few scenes that only required the two of us. It was great to finally connect as actors. (Did I mention I'm acting in this?)

Up next, a second actress joined the rehearsal and began delving into the scenes where both of the actors featured. What a thrill to watch/hear some of this stuff come to life! The screenplay has only a few scenes where we have more than two actors on-screen at any time, so today was almost exclusively spent working on duets. With many of the actors, it was the first time I've seen them in these roles as some of them hadn't auditioned, but were offered parts directly. I'd made my casting decisions based on my impressions and familiarity with their work, so I wasn't terribly worried. No one disappointed.  In fact, everyone brought so much to the table that I had a plethora of stuff to work with and shape where needed. It is a true delight to work with actors who can bring substance to a role, while being open and flexible to try different things in any given scene. These professional qualities give me a strong sense of confidence that I can work the way I want to on-set and keep the pace needed to see this thing through.

The rest of the day was a revolving door of cast members. There were friendly introductions and healthy discourse on the script. We did not work on any blocking (actors movement within a scene), but simply sat at the table with scripts. For me, rehearsal is about specifying the moments, the beats, the relationships, and overall pacing in a scene. Once everyone is on the same page, blocking becomes very organic for actors. Or rather, blocking becomes more apparent to me and I can direct the actors appropriately. Table work is also a terrific way to let the cast hang out, chat, and relate.

I took a few writing notes here and there, but for the most part everything played out how I had intended. In many cases there were actually some terrific surprises. Reacting to those surprises, I  would give adjustments and watch as the actors took the scenes to a whole new level.  Exciting stuff. All in all, today gave me a fresh look at many of these characters and scenes. The character relationships are only as vivid as the chemistry between the actors, and I truly felt that I was working with an exceptional ensemble.

Tomorrow is our company read-through of the script from start to finish. Can't wait!

Meet Harold Blumenthal - Brian Cox Cast

We are excited to announce that award winning actor Brian Cox will be playing the title character of HAROLD BLUMENTHAL in our film.  Mr. Cox has appeared in over 50 films including RED, Rushmore, Match Point, The Bourne Supremacy, and Braveheart...just to name a few. His impressive body of work has earned him BAFTA, and Emmy Awards as well as AFI, Independent Spirit, and Golden Globe nominations.