Happy New Year!

It's been a whirlwind 2011. In some ways, the months have flown by like lightning. In other ways, it feels like a lifetime ago that I was blogging about how to make a movie cheaply.  A lot has happened since then, from crowd-funding on Kickstarter to scrambling  for a new location at the last-minute during our shoot. I've had the pleasure of collaborating with some amazing people from producers to actors to blog readers. This has been a monumentally massive group effort to see this film made. With the loyal following of this blog, we managed to finance the film, start shooting, and spread the word about Passing Harold Blumenthal.

I am immensely grateful for all of the support we've had from our reader base as well as the actual producing team and crew who realized this film with me. An extra special thank you to my producers in the trenches with me. Garrett P. Fennelly and his awesome team at Act Zero Films deserve a medal or something, I want a Nicole Ansari app for my iPhone, Jesse Ozeri is a lesson in the value of chutzpah, and Alex Cendese could probably encourage me to move a mountain. It's a good year's work, everyone. Congrats.

I am so excited to share this movie with the world.  Just a few more finishing touches over the next couple months and it'll be good to go! Thank you all for being patient. We will be releasing some press stills later this month, so stay tuned!


Revving Up Again

A couple of days ago, we had a mini-production meeting for our remaining two shoot days. Specifically, we focused on our studio day coming. This coming week, will be on a small sound stage in Brooklyn to film several scenes in an interview setting. This will be a completely different vibe from the rest of the film, both creatively and logistically. The look will be simple and stark, with a deliberate  "TV" aesthetic. The logistics will be simple and clean, with a small crew of about ten or so people. The lighting setup will be basic, the camera will not move, and only one character will be seen.

The additional task for the day will be to shoot some staged stills of the character to be used in the film. This should be quick, simple, and fun. The real work will be done in Photoshop later on.

We've been planning our lives around this shoot day for many months now, so part of me can't believe that we are actually going to get there (knock on wood, please). After working for six weeks or so on the edit, I am desperate to integrate these remaining scenes to tie the whole story together. When writing and shooting the film, I never thought that this single day of shooting would be so essential to telling this story. The nice part of shooting these connective scenes after spending some time in the edit, is that I have a much clearer sense of what I need. I know what I'm after with the character and performance. Hopefully one day is enough to capture it. I think it will be plenty.

Beyond this upcoming shoot day, we are waiting on a location and date for the remaining tidbit scene for the film. All we need is a theatre with a stage and a set we can borrow for 2 hours. Some irons are in the fire, but we'll just have to see how things pan out. Beyond securing the time and place, this will be the simplest thing to shoot. More on that as I have it.

Scout Talk

I found this video from an early scout of one of our interiors for the film. In it, we are going through the shot list in the space and making notes for the sake of production design and the AD department. I've watched this a few times now and I'm still not quite sure what any of us is talking about. No wonder we had to go back three times! 


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!

Building Our Shot List

After many days and hours of work and thorough discussion, Zak and I have completed our shot list. This is a major milestone for us in pre-production, because we now have a much clearer sense of what we are setting out to achieve when filming. As we continue to scout and re-scout locations, our shot list becomes the reference point for everything. A shot list is literally a list of every single shot in a movie. Shots can also be referred to as "setups" as every shot has the camera set up in different way and location. The process of building a shot list is simply going through the script page by page and determining what you want to show and how. Even though determining your shot list is a creative task, the considerations are entirely technical and logistical. At present, Passing Harold Blumenthal has almost 250 different shots. I'd have guessed there would be more, but this is plenty.

Things to Consider when Building the Shot List:

  • What is the layout of our location?(Can a jib fit in the bedroom?)
  • What is the action of the scene that we are trying to convey? (How do I make sense of this? Who wrote this?)
  • How do I envision the final edit of the film? (How will this piece together?)
  • What is the overall visual style and approach to the film? (What would look cool? Or at least make me look cool?)
  • What are the technical considerations/equipment needed for a shot?(Can we afford the awesome tracking shot through the heart of Chinatown?)
  • How much time do we have to get this scene done? (We don't have enough time to get this scene done!)
Ultimately, the shot list will wind up in the hands of our First Assistant Director, Brad, who will scrutinize it for details, make notes and then use it as our guide-book as he navigates us through every day of shooting. On-set, the shot list is our bible. If we've done the necessary thinking ahead of time and accurately documented it in the shot list, we can trust that we've captured every angle, insert, and moment before moving on to the next scene. In addition to compiling a shot list, we will have  over-head diagrams of each location with notations of where the camera will be placed. I will also have some selected scenes storyboarded. I do my own storyboards as simple stick figure drawings, but I find it extremely helpful to go through the process of "seeing" the film.
More to come. I should start Twittering more.