Director's Pass: Out the Window (part 4)

Every film shoot is blessed with one or two shooting days that just work out beautifully. This movie had two: last Sunday’s shoot in Ethan’s apartment, and last night’s shoot.

Last night was our final shooting day, and as per Gingerich’s Law of Time Discontinuity, we were shooting the first scene of the movie.

Our location was Pho’ 79, a Chinese/Vietnamese restaurant on Eat Street (2529 Nicollet Avenue—eat there!). Not only is it delicious food at microscopic prices, but it was the easiest time I’ve ever had securing a location. The management didn’t need any convincing, the owner was very accommodating, and he even got a signed location release back to me without me even needing to remind him.

This was our second day with Jim and Amity, who are really great people and bring a wonderful, cordial atmosphere onto the set.

ASIDE: I’m finding it difficult to write at length about yesterday because I don’t have anything to bitch about. So instead of complaining, I’m going to talk a little bit about performance and some of the fun things we did.

During rehearsals a couple weeks back, we decided that Jim’s primary performance characterization would be that he would take one phrase and repeat it over and over and over again, starting halfway through each of his scenes. On Sunday, his phrase was “We have to go.” Yesterday, it was “Is this about the job?” a question which he asks his son until he walks away, and then asks his wife. All the other characters ignore him. I’ll confess that the parents in this movie are a bit of a caricature, but I think it’s a very natural and honest exaggeration, rather than any kind of grotesque distortion. The parents are where the humor comes from, and they keep the story humble where it might be tempted into pretension.

Being that this was our last shoot and we had a bit of extra film, we were even able to play a bit, do a couple takes, shoot coverage, and execute some fun dynamic camera things, including a focus pull/slow zoom in on Jesse’s close-up! I do loves me some slow zoom in (I loves it on film, that is—on video it looks so… video).

We were on a skeleton crew—me, Matt, and Kathy. We took turns running sound, and did a damn fine and efficient job of it, if I do say so myself. I even had time to give myself a little cameo as a background extra to fill up the scene.

Watching a rehearsal. My directorial tell: I get a devilish grin on my face whenever I’m watching a performance I like.

We were shooting on a Frankencamera last night—made up of IFP’s SR body and magazines, and MCAD’s SR lens (for consistency, and also because IFP’s lens seems to vignette more than MCAD’s) and MCAD’s eyepiece. (The 16SR has a pressure-activated light trap built into the eyepiece that closes up when there’s no force against the eyecup—that’s great for many camera operators, but it makes it a real dog to try and run camera if you’re wearing glasses because you wind up smashing them into your face and fogging them up. There’s a way to lock the eyepiece open, but after much research I couldn’t figure out how, so I just took MCAD’s eyepiece, which is already locked open, and swapped it onto IFP’s camera. This fits into my overall life strategy of finding complicated solutions for simple problems.

Movie jargon time, folks! If you go on a commercial film set, you may hear an assertive and unfortunately-dressed man or woman with a clipboard bellow the phrase “CHECK THE GATE!” from time to time. Let me explain what’s going on.

That fashion maven is the first assistant director, or AD. It is their job to run the cast and crew through their paces while the director is off drinking. When they shout “check the gate,” they are telling the first camera assistant (AC) to inspect the film gate (the window that the film presses against when it gets exposed) for debris. This is important because if a hair or something gets trapped in the gate, it will leave a black outline of itself on every frame of film. So the first AC (Kathy, in the case of our shoot) will pop off the lens and shine a light in behind the shutter for a visual inspection of the gate after every good take. If the gate is clear, the AC shouts “gate is good!” and the production continues. If there is an obstruction, the AC tells the AD (or in this case me, since there is no AD on this shoot—I have to do all my drinking on my own time), who then determines whether or not an additional take is needed. If there is something in the gate, the AC cleans it out with an orangewood stick (canned air is a no-no because it can blow dirt deeper into the camera, and orangewood is used because it is a hardwood that won’t splinter or leave residue).

I’ll have one more post in the next few days to reflect on the principal photography period for this film, but I’d just like to say that every new film is a challenge, we were confronted with problems that at times seemed insurmountable, but we made it, and I’m unbelievably excited to see this footage!

In case anyone important is reading this, I’d like to thank IFP, Brandon Boulay, Matt Kane, Kathryn Criston and the rest of my amazing cast and crew, Sayer Frey, and everyone else who saved this movie and my ass time and again over the last month.


2 thoughts on “Director's Pass: Out the Window (part 4)


    2. In terms of simplicity in securing locations, what about securing the Hibachi Grill for Tracy? That was an easy get and we didn’t have to pay anything. Or did you mean that securing EAT STREET was the easiest you had in Minneapolis?

    3. I’d like to be thanked too. I… didn’t burst through the walls when you were filming great scenes and yell “THE VVINNI IS HERE! GIVE HIM PIE!”.

  2. I wold say that this was even easier than securing Hibachi. Here’s how the phone call went:

    “Hello, is the manager available?”
    “That’s me.”
    “Oh. Hello. I’m a film student at the Minneapolis College of Art & Design and I was wondering if I might be able to use your restaurant as a location for a film I’m shooting?”
    “Yes, that’s fine.”
    “Oh. OK, how’s Monday at 5:00?”

    I shit you not.

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