Sunday, August 26, 2012

Teaser Shoot Field Notes

As I've said in previous blogs, in a larger shoot, there are department heads who have their own lists to check, double check and final check. For this one, there were three of us. There was Sunshine Lliteras who had some makeup and half of the set dressing. There was the Home owner who lent us the location. He had to sign for the furniture we rented. Then there was my lists which was everything else. Jon Cunningham, the director, had the shot list and the camera rigging. Everything had be be cross checked the Friday before the shoot. We had everything staged for quick car loading before turning in for the night.

The call time for the location was 7am. Jack Donner (Bassett) and Donal Thoms-Capello (Saybrook) had a call time of 8am. We planned on rolling camera on them no later than 9am. Garett Maggart (Joe) and Owen Szabo (Simon) had a call time of 9am. The first glitch of the day was that Sunshine got hung up in traffic and would be late. My first executive decision was to take a cab with most of the items on all of our lists to the location which was ten minutes away. I had not planned to unpack the car and begin setting up everything on my own, but stuff happens and the clock was running. Once the clock is running on a production, a producer cannot let anything stand in the way.

In the cardboard container is that danged sandwich.
Of course, Jack was early. I had him come inside and hang out with Garett who is also always early. I suspected Donal was early, too, but I couldn't spot him in any of the cars parked nearest to the house. I set up the makeup station and put away the food first. I had just finished setting up the mike stand and the one light stand when Jon and Sunshine arrived. Since Jack was there, we had him get into his costume and makeup first. Jon and Garett set up the first room by rearranging the larger furniture. We don't dragoon actors into helping on set. I have had some volunteer on occasion. Scott Levy, for example, was very helpful with the military aspects of Demon Under Glass. Typically, I prefer actors focus on their lines and relaxing. But Owen wasn't due for a while, and Garett is a very handy guy, so his helping was welcomed. Donal had arrived by the time we needed a lighting stand in. We were delighted that he played chess often enough to help us set up the board. By the time Owen arrived, at just before 9am, we were ready to start the Bassett/Saybrook scenes. We rolled camera at 9:15am. A little later than scheduled, but not too bad considering how small a crew we had.

These new digital cameras are a marvel. They look like consumer cameras yet can shoot video at 1080p with ambient light. We had one light that was more for portrait photography than for film. It was enough. The lack of need for light and the camera's lightness made it easy to move from angle to angle without stopping to tweak light levels. That can take as long as twenty minuets per change in camera position. We were able to move from shot to shot almost without stopping. The actors never lost momentum nor got tired. We were able to wrap the room and dismiss both actors by 11am. Unheard of in our previous experience.

During the shoot, I had to dash out of the room to retrieve props like a pastrami sandwich and container of soup. During that time, I got a good earful of how Garett and Owen were reading their lines. I was really pleased at what I was hearing. They also seemed to be bonding on a personal level. That's always great when actors get on personally, especially when they will be spending a great deal of time together. [for more on the food props and on the actor bonding that happened on set, you can read my personal blog about the shoot here: While we were shooting the Bassett/Saybrook scenes, Sunshine was helping Garett and Owen turn into Joe and Simon. As soon as we wrapped the prison breakroom set, Jon and Sunshine started set dressing Joe and Simon's living room. We had black out curtains to put up along with alternative artwork than what was on the walls. The sofa also had to be moved and the sound and lighting equipment placed.

Our small crew moved from one task to another. The routine was familiar enough that instructions weren't necessary. We walked Jack and Donal to their cars after they changed out of their costumes. It's a custom on some sets that when an actor is wrapped – they have completed the job – that the director or producer takes the time to say goodbye and thank them. Sometimes they discuss their acting choices and how they will make the film better. We like to do that no matter how small the production. I think that gesture is more important to smaller projects. Jon was very happy with the first part of the shoot, and he wanted those actors to know why.

The second half of the shoot was all Joe and Simon. It was more complex than the first. There is way more movement from the characters. Rehearsal of movements as well as dialog was necessary, so Jon could figure how to move the camera around the actors' movements. At this point, we could have broken for lunch, but that would have really slowed down the momentum of the shoot. The actors wanted to press forward. We had snacks and fruit for in between takes. Sunshine and I started heating up the meal while the guys rehearsed. We figured that even if none of the actors ate (Jack and Donal opted to head on with the rest of their schedule), the food would be a nice gift for the owner of the house.

The Joe/Simon scenes went much the same way as the Basset/Saybrook scenes with the actors moving from shot to shot with very little time in between. As always, Garett adjusted some of his lines and made them funnier and more 'Joe.' There weren't many blown takes that didn't involve a technical adjustment (moving a light or the microphone). Sometimes, our set doggie got into scenes without anyone realizing it. He was really interested when it looked like everyone was going out the front door. He thought it was time to go bye-bye. We've always had luck with sweet set doggies. I'm glad that held true. Jon was able to experiment with camera angles and the actors experimented with a few different readings of the lines. I was pleased that the blocking caused a physical intimacy between the characters while solving some editing dilemma for Jon. It is clear that these characters have a close relationship. Despite the fears of Agent Saybrook, it is very clear that Joe does not fear Simon at all. It is also clear that, despite the razzing from Joe and the mayhem that follows, Simon is content with their situation so long as no one tried to separate him from Joe. We got what we needed for the teaser by the time that part of the shoot was done. [See Teaser Gallery1 in the MENU to the right for images of Joe and Simon together.]

We also had one more set to dress before we could wrap the shoot and eat. There was a quick photo shoot on a greenscreen that was to be the final shots of the day. This was to be a taste of the flashback scenes that will be a big part of the web series. We had to find a way to hang the green screen fabric that didn't damage the walls. In the end, we used the same 3M Command Hooks that we used to hand the black out curtains in the living room. There we used a thing curtain rod that fit nicely into the hoot. All of those items were deeply discounted at Target which was having a back to school sale. The two windows cost around $15 to dress. We had extra hooks and tabs from our Christmas decorations to use on the green screen. All of the hooks came off without any damage to the paint on the walls. The authentic Japanese table was on loan from Lucy Doty and Central City Studio. Lucy was our medical consultant on Demon Under Glass. She now owns a studio in Downtown Los Angeles. The tea set was a wedding gift. The men's kimonos are mine. I've embraced many aspects of Japanese culture in the last few years. The kimonos had yet to find a use at home. I had to make the sash or obi. Getting them into those kimonos was the silliest part of the shoot by far. The dialog reflects the absurdity of the scene.

As I said in my personal blog, the speed that the shoot finished was astounding. We had the house back to the way we found it and were largely packed three hours earlier than expected. Owen had to move onto another appointment, but the food was enjoyed by the rest of us. The home owner reports that he enjoyed the leftovers immensely as did our set doggie. Most importantly, we have the right kind of footage to give potential viewers and supporters a clear idea of what the web series. We also know that we need more crew including a photographer for the behind the scenes photos. I also must schedule the pod casts we'll do during the shoot in January so that we aren't trying to cram them in between shots.

Next up for Jon is editing. Meanwhile, I have begun actively scouting for the web series and talking to potential crew and cast. But all of that is for next time.

1 comment:

  1. Oh Deb, this sounds so exciting and it seemed like it moved very smoothly after the initial traffic delay. I only wish I lived closer so I could do some photography for you. Unfortunately, 3200 miles tends to get in the way. LOL. I can't wait to see the teaser when it's completed and maybe even consider a blooper reel if you have enough material for that. Of course that would be just for us fans, LOL. Onward ho!!