Director's Pass: Out the Window (part 2)

On movie sets, things have a funny way of working out in the most inconvenient ways possible. Take yesterday, for instance. Sunday the 28th was Melissa’s first shooting day, and the second shooting day of the production, and our first scheduled scene that day was by far the most emotionally intense scene of the entire film.

Melissa and Jesse rehearse. You can’t necessarily tell from the picture, but they’re doing a really great job.

We were shooting in Ethan’s apartment, which is on-campus housing but it actually looks nice and, you know, like somebody might actually choose to live there. Our crew call was at 4 PM and Melissa and Jesse arrived at 5:30.

Then, I flew into an inscrutable directorial fit and decided that we were going to shoot an extra scene, and we were going to shoot it first, outside, with available light, and we weren’t going to exceed our film allotment for the day even though we were shooting an extra scene, and we had to do this RIGHT FREAKIN’ NOW, or we were going to lose our light.

This was actually a good and well-considered decision, but it kinda sounds crazy, dunnit?

Anyway, it was a scene that I wanted to get out of the way that had originally been snuck into the schedule for next Sunday even though we really didn’t have time to do it then, so it made sense to do it yesterday, because we had plenty of time, and the light was right, and so we just did it, ok? I don’t have to explain myself to you! Besides, it looked purty, and it gave Jesse and Melissa a chance to act together before the emotional deathmatch in the following scene.

Speaking of which, after we stole our little exterior scene, it was back inside to finalize lighting and blocking, run through the scene a few times, and prepare.

Melissa Hoppe as Rachel—working on blocking

Let’s take a brief moment to talk about performance. I’m all about performance, I think it’s the most important element of any film. Your lighting can be cheesy and your sound can be hissy, as long as the performance is there. That’s why I’m a director. (Incidentally, if my DP and sound guy felt that way, they’d be fired as soon as I got the chance—the reason this movie is going to be so great is that Matt is not satisfied with a setup that is just so-so, even if the read is good.)

Rachel, Melissa’s character, is first introduced in a scene where she is a total emotional wreck. Thirty minutes prior to the scene, her boyfriend proposed to her, she said no, they got in a fight and he stormed out saying he was “better off dead.” We join Rachel at her wit’s end, with nowhere left to turn for comfort or stability. I don’t want to give up too many directorial secrets (not that there are many secrets involved in directing a performance like this), but ultimately what we did was block out the entire scene, pre-plan the camera moves and focus pulls and lighting cues very carefully, and then everyone in the crew stood at the ready while Melissa took a couple minutes in another room to prepare.

There’s something very magical about a crew standing silently at attention, ready to spring into action at a moment’s notice and capture a scene of incredible power. When Melissa came out and got on her mark, everyone was where they were supposed to be and I was able to call action within ten seconds.

The crew prepares for the master—a fancy handheld shot complete with dynamic focus and full sound. Lookit the fancy mixed lighting!

Melissa and Jesse knocked it out of the park on the first take. We did another one for safety (using the same procedure) and got another great take. Then we popped in for a quick cutaway, and then we were done, beating our schedule by 30 minutes and our film allotment by 140 feet!

I’ll leave you today with another audio take, this time of the full take 1 master. Click here to listen.

Director's Pass: Out the Window (part 1)

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!

We Have An Opportunity To Make America A Better Nation

This video was made for MCAD’s “Dear President [Blank]” project, a school-wide assignment that I have mixed feelings about.

The text is from Dr. King’s final speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” delivered April 3, 1968—quite possibly the best oration in the history of the English language.

In search of limerent individuals for documentary

I’m currently trying to put together a short-subject documentary about limerence as a social and personal phenomenon. My goal is to gain a better understanding of the effect limerence has on people, and why it seems so all-consuming. It is very important to me to find and interview actual limerent individuals in order to accomplish this.

If you or someone you know is currently or has been affected by limerence, especially if you are in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, I would very much appreciate your contacting me.


Andrew Gingerich, a film student at the Minneapolis College of Art & Design is casting for Out the Window, a short film for Exploding Goldfish Films, LLC to be shot in September and October. Interested parties will be provided with sides for rehearsal, but this is an open call and walk-ins are welcome.

Shooting schedule will depend on availability of actors and locations, but expect 3-4 shooting days in late September and October, probably on weekends. Shooting days may be long, 8-10 hours.

Sunday, September 14th from 11am – 5pm
If these times do not work, an alternate audition time can be arranged.

Minneapolis College of Art and Design, 2501 Stevens Ave. Free parking is available on the 3rd avenue parking ramp.

Auditions will be held in the “black studio” (room 345) on the third floor of the MCAD main building. Go up the main stairs in the lobby or take the elevator, then go past the large windows and turn right. Signs will be posted.

VAL: Male, 20-30, a mild-mannered, career-oriented guy placed in a stressful situation
JERRY: Male, 20-30, Val’s friend, a good person but a bit unstable, confronted by a personal crisis
RACHEL: Female, 20-30, Val’s friend, Jerry’s girlfriend, a strong personality but overwhelmed by Jerry’s breakdown

Please RSVP by sending headshot and resume to If you have a specific time you’d like to come in, please include it in the body of the email. We will make every effort to accommodate your schedule.

Compensation will consist of a DVD of the final film. Food will be provided for shooting days, and transportation is negotiable.

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