I’m inaugurating a new series on the blog called Director’s Pass—a way to take you behind current productions and show you pieces of work in progress.
On Saturday we started principal photography on my semester-long independent study: Out the Window, written by Ethan Holbrook. Ethan posted an early draft of the script on his blog; you can read his comments and download the script here. This is the second script Ethan offered me, and I instantly connected with the characters. I had originally wanted to make more of a zany comedy since I’ve been so preoccupied by intense character drama lately, but this offered me an opportunity for characterization (and subtle humor) that I couldn’t refuse.
Early this semester I brought Matt Kane (of 11:32 PM and Who is Landyn Banx? and countless other projects) on to DP the film. After discussing the look of the movie with him, I came to the conclusion that I needed to shoot on film, even though I couldn’t really afford it. Turns out that, using some fuzzy math, I could (just about) afford it as long as I used short ends and unused film stock from other projects and limited myself to only two or three takes of every scene, and I could even spring for a transfer to high-definition (I’ve always found it silly to shoot in gorgeous 16mm and then scan it to standard-definition video for editing). This is thanks due in major part to a donation of nearly 800 feet of film from Sayer Frey, my editing/documentary professor and faculty adviser for this project. This saved me nearly $200, but unfortunately most of the film was on 100-foot reels, rather than 400-foot cores (more on this later).
Matt checks the framing for an exterior shot. We are shooting with the Arri 16SR, MCAD’s one and only sync-sound camera.
A few weeks ago I had a casting call to select the proper actors to fill the roles. I had a general idea who I wanted for most of the roles, but they all needed to be cast perfectly, so I wanted to keep my options open. I ultimately arrived at the following cast:
- Val: Jesse Griffith, who played Dr. I. Learned Scholar in my Intro final two years ago (I promised him that this time around he would not have to wear a plastic animal on any part of his body)
- Jerry: Mike Burns, who starred in 11:32 PM last spring (an won a much-deserved award for it)
- Rachel: Melissa Hoppe, a gem culled from the auditions. I hadn’t worked with Melissa before but was attracted to both her understanding of the character and her responsiveness to direction
- Don: Jim Westcott, seasoned actor and all-around great guy, he played Elder Paul in Higher Purpose last semester.
- Lucy: Amity Carlson, whom I discovered from her performance as an extra in Higher Purpose; her improvised exit message blew me away and I’ve been wanting to work with her again ever since.
Fake magic hour—Lookit that dappling! You think that’s just some happy accident? No f’n’ way! that’s 1650 watts of light and some custom-made branchalorises! Also, note the nice, art-directed kitty headstone. Both thanks to modern renaissance man and miracle worker Matt Kane.
It was at this point that I made a tactical mistake. “Minneapolis is literally nothing but suburbs,” I said to myself. “Surely it will be easy to find a house to use as a location.” Turns out that yes, there are lots of houses in Minneapolis, but no, nobody was all that eager to let a film crew into theirs. And so it was that I became panicked, and there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth, until only a day before our first shoot, when Brandon Boulay, another MCAD film major, agreed to let us into his home, in return for which we agreed not to poop on the carpet.
Our first shooting day was Saturday the 27th, and we had three scenes to get between the hours of 3:00 and 10:00 P.M. Furthermore, my goal was to nail everything on the first take, and Jesse and Mike hadn’t had time to rehearse together until the day of the shoot, so we had a lot of rehearsal to do. Luckily, Matt was more than up to the task of spearheading the crew while I handled the actors.
As a side-story, I was helping Matt shoot a lighting assignment in the studio the other day. He turned a light on, moved it back a foot or two, looked at the lighting, said “f-2.8 and a half,” then walked up in front of the camera, and took a meter reading. It was f-2.8 and a half. It was at that moment when I realized that I made a good decision by not pursuing a career in cinematography.
Anyway, not to kill the suspense, but the shoot went well. We got what we needed in the time allotted, and it looked real pretty, and Mike and Jesse both gave great performances.
It’ll be another month or two until I can see the footage (it has to go to Maryland for processing, then to California for transfer, and I’m holding onto all the film until I can send it out in one batch after we wrap), so I obviously can’t show you any of that. But our sound is digital (Ethan has been running sound, so he’s had the unenviable experience of seeing his beautiful script being torn apart by an arrogant director), so I can give you a little piece of that; this clip is from one of our last shots of the day, Val’s close-up in INT. VAL’S LIVING ROOM – NIGHT
So there you go. That was the 27th.
Coming up soon: Sunday the 28th: efficiency and emotional intensity!