Shooting Diary - Day 19

I awoke at 4:45am this morning ready for the final day of shooting this film. Today was our "steadicam day" which called for the shooting of three major scenes throughout Manhattan. The plan was to trim down the crew, bundle into a single 15-passenger van with people, camera, support, wardrobe, etc. The van would serve as our "base camp" and major mode of transportation. I arrived to the location early to  wrap my head around this daunting last day. I was sitting in an empty Starbucks reading through the scenes when Zak happened to walk in. We chatted about the day's agenda and how tough it would potentially be. After guzzling our coffee, we went to meet the rest of the crew to get ready. The team was lean and mean: Cinematographer, Assistant Camera, Steadicam Operator, Sound Mixer, Wardrobe, Production Manager, Makeup, Assistant Director, and three Producers. We had actually anticipated less hands on deck for this day, because we couldn't afford much more than the Steadicam itself. Our team of producers as well as some volunteers came out to flesh out this crew and it was truly all hands on deck.

First scene up was a simple dialogue scene that leads into a running sequence. The second scene was the running sequence itself which took place in Chinatown. In addition to our able steadicam operator, Dave Ellis, we utilized a custom rickshaw built for mobile camera operation. We needed to be able to keep up with a runner at sprinting speed, so we perched Dave in the seat of this metal contraption pulled and/or pushed by Alex and Zak. For those of you who have ever been, you'll know how hard it is to even walk through Chinatown let alone sprint through it with a Steadicam operator ahead of you. I've had anxiety about this day for a long time. But we nailed it. It was insane. Check it out.

 

We captured amazing stuff all day. We stopped around 12:30pm for a Chinatown lunch. I ate very little as I was still pretty nervous and knew I had a good deal of running to do. My legs were killing me from all the running. That, coupled with the heat and exhaustion were taking their toll on me. Brad ran the day like he always does with  deliberate and steady urgency without any inkling of panic. By around 3:00pm we were done with the rickshaw and moving up to Midtown to shoot our final scene of the shoot.

The wrap party followed the day's shoot. Everyone was there from actors to crew to friends. It was truly awesome to sit on this NYC roof-deck and know that we have this thing in the can. (I made Brad promise me that we shot everything we needed to.) We still have another two days of pickups in a couple of months, but they are just for icing on the cake. The story is there. We have it.

I can't articulate much more at this point other than to say thank you to all of the many people who did me the favor of helping me to make this movie. The filmmaking process is massive collaboration and the past three weeks have been supremely fulfilling. More thoughts to come, I'm sure.

Thanks for watching.

s.

Shooting Diary - Day 17

We wrapped our final Interior location today. Things went smoothly and the scenes were all lots of fun. We started slow, but had a relatively light day ahead of us. After lunch, I made a last-minute decision to cut a sequence from the movie. It was little more than a cute character sequence that most likely would have ended up on the editing room floor. At this point, I also just felt that it wasn't worth the added stress to squeeze it into the day. Tomorrow will be an all day exterior shoot as well as a grueling bonus day of Steadicam on Monday. I'm extremely exhausted today, so forgive the lack of detail. Alex just sent me this little video from some of our Jib shots yesterday. It's just a snippet, but something to consume nevertheless.

 

Tomorrow is our final day of official Principal Photography. I can't believe it. I still feel like there is so much left to shoot. There actually is a lot of remaining stuff to shoot. We have three large scenes to shoot on Monday with a pared-down crew as well as two scenes to be shot later this summer. Our wrap party is Monday night, so it's just around the corner. With only two real days left of the shoot, it's sort of like we're making a short film, only longer.

Shooting Diary - Day 14

Too fried to write much today. We shot our Broadway Theatre interior today. Not such an easy task to light and film a 2,500 seat house with such a measly budget. We had to be resourceful, so Zak and Luis pulled off quite a few tricks. We needed a large, soft fill light for the actors who would be playing the scene while sitting in house seats. Instead of putting the lights we have to that purpose, we called on the actual theatre lights to help us out.

First, we lowered in the large white psych as well as all of the rails of instruments. We put blue gels on every other light and focused them towards the large white canvas at the back of the stage. We flew the lights up so that they were firing into the psych form a distance and ultimately creating a massive soft light source to illuminate the theatre. As these lights were connected to a house dimmer, we could easily control them from the light board while shooting.

Having established a decent exposure with no efforts from our "movie lights", we could use our few strong units to backlight from the back of the theatre. This way, we could have some terrific edging on the seats as well as a strong rim/hair light on the actors.

First up was a dolly shot of our main character, Saul, entering the vast space.

Form there we moved to a few different angles and then an overhead shot from the balcony. It took an eternity to set up the space, but once we were rolling it was fairly smooth.

After wrapping the theatre location we did a company move to shoot the exterior of a different theatre where our actor could walk into the lobby. After some patience with the sun (longest day of the year), we knocked off the three required shots for the scene and successfully wrapped Mark Blum for the entire picture. It's amazing to think that his life as this character is now over. I cannot wait to edit his performance together. There will be so much good stuff to choose from.

Because the day never ends, we squeezed in a phone conversation scene with me and my character Ethan. We stole the shot on 6th Avenue and West 44th Street. Free extras all around. Plenty of fun so long as they don't look into the camera.

Amidst all of this, we lost our final interior location. The apartment we had reserved for the last two days of the shoot fell through due to Co-Op boards being movie-hating fascists. We scrambled for alternatives all day and ultimately found a solution to the problem thanks to the resourcefulness of our Producer, Nicole Ansari.

The fun never ends and neither do the obstacles. Tired as ever, good night!

 

 

 

Shooting Diary - Day 11

I can't believe we're almost done with Week 2 of shooting. We are a little ahead of schedule and things are going pretty well. Each day has its own unique stresses. Some days those stresses are manageable, other days they can be incapacitating. Today we were at a our second and last day of our "Fiona's Apartment" location. I was filled with stress throughout the day, as we had a crazy long scene to accomplish with lots of coverage and blocking. In fact, this particular scene had more camera setups than any others in the film.

With a 7:00AM call time, we started the day off like we usually do. Brad, Zak, and I all sat down to go through the day's shot list and map out the order and amount of time needed for each setup. After a thorough game plan, we diagrammed the day's shot list using overhead sketches of the room layouts. We then pencilled in the locations of the actors and their blocking for the scene. After that, we drew in all the various camera setups and angles with which we would cover the scene.

One the game plan was in place, I went to Hair and Makeup to check on our two main actors for the day. They were in the makeup chairs running their lines, and of course they had questions for me about the script. Their questions were good ones, and ultimately resulted in me changing a line or two. I'm not usually a push-over for that sort of actor rewriting, but they were making a terrific point (and I was exhausted). After the actor chat, we brought them in to run through the entire scene from top to bottom for the DP and crew. I usually use this as an opportunity to fine-tune blocking and get a head start on how I want to shape their playing of the scene. I usually just take my viewfinder and watch them rehearse the scene from various angles. There is almost always bits of inspiration that pop up during blocking rehearsal.

After the blocking rehearsal we waited another half hour for the Grip and Electrics crew to prep the kitchen for photography. We were only up and running after 10:00am, which is lame. I felt like for all our planning and organization, we ultimately got off to a slow start. The rest of the day would feel like catch-up. I hate doing it, but I end up looking at my watch when I should be focused on the scene at hand.

All things considered, we got some terrific stuff from the day. The performances were top-notch and the crew did their thing like they do it. The last few shots ended up being a bit of a compromise of what we had wanted to get and what we could manage with given time constraints and budget/location constraints. Ultimately, things got done. I haven't seen any daily footage yet because it is still logging.

More tomorrow. I'm tired. I already fell asleep halfway through whatever I'm writing here. In fact, today I actually fell asleep for a second while watching a scene on the monitor. How's that for encouragement? I fell asleep watching my own movie! Then I drank too much coffee and became stressed and jittery. So the cycle goes.

I'm out.

s.

 

Shooting Diary - Day 9

With a 4:00am production call and a 5:00am Seth call, today was an early one. We were filming in a restaurant in the East Village and had a monster day ahead of us. The idea was to take this one restaurant and shoot it as three different locations in the film. We had this in our minds for a long time and planned accordingly. We mapped out the day with the shot list, extras, and we were very specific about our camera angles, lighting schemes and design.

First up at 7:00am was the bar scene. I wanted to shoot most of the day with economy, which meant no coverage for each scene. Having minimal setups for each scene also permitted us to shoot the restaurant for one main angle for each script location. That means we need to do as many takes as we require to get the scene and camera work to happen the right way from beginning to end. The bar scene was only two shots that each featured more than one character, dialogue, and our dolly and track. The dolly keeps the camera moving so we don't find ourselves getting stale with one-take shots that are locked off on a tripod. Because the bar scene takes place at night, our crew blacked out the windows and Zak and his team lit the room like a night club. With a little help of Brad managing the background actors, the place looked like a hot night spot in no time. Speaking of no time, we had to jump into our next scene at 11:00m, right after our lunch break.

After we lunched, we let the sunshine back into the restaurant, switched the shooting direction, and re-laid the dolly tracks. The second scene was also a single shot moving on a dolly. We did multiple takes of this one and had a blast. We had three terrific actresses on-set today and none of them disappointed. The only real hurdles we had today were the Avenue B street sounds  and the fact that I was in front of the camera for every scene today. This was the first day to be so acting heavy for me. I enjoyed it, of course, and it certainly keeps me thinking on my toes.

Hair and Makeup and Wardrobe were all stationed in Alex's apartment upstairs from the restaurant. Production management and our DIT also camped out up there in the comfortable air-conditioned rooms. My favorite part was the home-brewed coffee.

Last up was another scene in a restaurant (to be shot in our restaurant). This time, we turned around and shot directly into the windows to have a slightly backlit look. The room transformed yet again and made for a convincing third location. We shot this last scene in multiple setups and coverage, so we felt free to screw up and retry things as needed. Because of our comprehensive coverage, I've no doubt that  I will have many options when editing.

That's it. I'm tired. Good night.

 

 

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.