Sunday, February 20, 2011

Reflections from a Cinematographer

A lot of BTS stuff is basically just talking about how great the crew was/film will be, so I’ll get that out immediately: the crew rocked, and the film will be awesome. These are givens. Now onto the nuts and bolts:

Murphy’s Law was in full effect at the outset. Prep was extensive for such a simple show. On paper, it’s two people in one location -- a house. After I met Eli, we had months to take care of planning as we wrapped up our work elsewhere. We talked tone, story, character -- giving me a firm grasp of just what was going on behind the action, not just "where to put the camera." Long in advance, we worked storyboards of every shot, which we followed nearly to the letter.

We actually stopped our location scouting after the first house. The one we found was perfect in most ways, except that the boy’s bedroom was a bit small. Beyond that, it was ideal. Jackpot!

Then some problems cropped up: the character of Max, being so young, can only legally work for so many hours of the day, and only certain hours (not too late). For a movie that takes place half at night (and my desires to light from outside the window), this is a serious concern. Then, the location did not want us to be in the house very late (out by 11pm). All of this happened in the face of a pretty significant budget cut and re-crewing as well. Production dug their way out of it, though, with some careful scheduling and budgeting, and we rolled on.

Our first day saw a surprising cornucopia of catastrophe. Our power runs ended up not working out, so we had to power our lights off the house (which meant we had to use smaller lights -- not ideal). Then an essential lens arrived busted. Then a schedule conflict. And a half dozen other things. We worked around it, but I can’t honestly tell you we made our day -- but we weren’t really worried. Like every set, it’s growing pains, and we were prepared. The next three days blazed by.

Working with Eli can be described as serene. We were on exactly the same page. He knew that I knew what he wanted. Instead of hanging over me during set, he was working with the actor -- the most important thing. We had packed our lunchbox up tight with the storyboards/shot list, as well as some lighting research and tone pieces, so the shots were ready to go between us, and we simply had to execute them.

Also, I have to give credit to the talent -- Chrystie was a consummate professional, and Griffin, at 10 years old, knew just what to do and delivered a stellar performance around my technical meddling.

Now we head into post, and again without fear. I know just fine that it’s in the can. Same thing as I said with working with Eli, it’s already there -- it’s all legwork at this stage.

- Aaron Moorhead, Director of Photography

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Diary of a Director

Like a bolt of lightning, and now it’s over. Production lasted a whopping four days with minor casualties, minimal collateral damage, and a victorious ending. Honestly, I feel I’ve been immersed on the battlefield – a troop of soldiers fighting to survive against the clock. However, after 48 hours and several beads of sweat, we finally can say we’ve won the war. Did we lose some along the way? Of course. Well, not really. Nobody actually died. Though, we combated hurdles that often arise with any production. Hurdles that inexplicably makes us stronger and much more wiser.

Each morning and each night I kept a mini-journal to give you a glimpse of what I thought throughout production. Be warned: It was early! I may not be the most articulate - I may not even make sense - but I spilled words on paper with hopes of sharing any and all insights within my cluttered, little brain.

Day 1 – February 11th, 2011

Morning -- I made it to base camp (i.e. the set of ‘A Boy’s Life’). Right now I’m the first one here. It’s kind of cold and this Starbucks Caramel Macchiato hasn’t kicked in yet. I didn’t sleep well last night because the adrenaline sped through me – ultimately keeping me from a peaceful slumber. Actually, wait. I think Luke is here. He’s the man with many hats – our Executive Producer, Stunt Coordinator, Caterer, Crafts Service… I get scared just thinking about the amount of work he has in front of him. People are showing up. I best be going.

Night -- Exhausted. Today was an extremely long day, however an amazing one. On every set I’ve directed, I feel really strongly that the first day must set the tone of the entire shoot. Well, let me assure you, a tone was definitely set. We completed a vast amount of scenes including one of the most emotional ones. The cast and crew were immediately hardworking and just all-around enjoyable. I’m a firm believer that making a movie should be professional, but also incredibly fun. Today definitely proved that theory correct! Oh, btw, Melissa (our Production Designer) designed the most incredible boy’s room. I’m ready to move in immediately! Alright. Bedtime.

Day 2 – February 12th, 2011

Morning -- I’m sitting in Starbucks going over the storyboards and shot lists. Man, we have a lot of scenes to get through. Our AD – Joe Papa – has his work cutout for him (he’s fantastic, btw.). I hope I wasn’t too ambitious with the amount of footage I want to get done in four days. I’m not too worried – though today we have some very difficult scenes. Our boy, Griffin Gluck, will bring his A-game today. I’m sure of that.

Night -- Wow. What an amazing day. I’ve worked on a lot of fast-moving crews before, and this one definitely joins the ranks. Towards of the end of the day, we completely moved through the shots like they were popcorn. Wait. Does that make sense? I’m sorry, the deliriousness has set in. We didn’t make it to Scene 20 tonight (the ending) – I’m a little glad we didn’t get to it yet because it’s one of the most difficult in the entire film. Time to hit the hay. See you tomorrow.

Day 3 – February 13th, 2011

Morning -- Coffee! The game plan going in today… fast decisions and amazing time management (Go AD team!). We have the long monologue scene happening and this means there’s no time for lollygagging (what a strange word). Let me just tell you, I was encouraged yesterday to cut the monologue to shorten the scene (and time to shoot it), but couldn’t bring myself to do it. I went through at least 6 revisions of completely changing the monologue and I wouldn’t know where to start in the cutting process. Ugh, f*&k this monologue – although it’s one of my favorite scenes…

Night -- Three days in. I’m in love with this team. We’ve blasted through the day (I tried not to blink) and captured some amazing footage! Aaron (DP), Evan (1st AC), Bob (Gaffer), Jorge (Key Grip), Igor (BBE) and the rest of the camera department painted a freakin’ canvas. Swoon. And we got to set off the traps today (another awesome collaboration with Melissa and Luke). Go team, GO! BTW, the more I write upon arriving home, the less I seem to make sense. It gets this way during production.

Day 4 – February 14th, 2011

Morning -- Happy Valentines Everyone! Last day and it’s going to be a great one! I can’t believe this production has zoomed by this quickly. Honestly, I’m going to miss this crew and really did my best to stay present during the making of this film. I know I get really caught up in the scenes, so it’s really crucial to take in everything and enjoy moment. Last night was definitely an eye-opener because having the boy on set for a limited amount of time really pushes all of us to really concentrate. Concentrate on the scene and stay focused. That’s what we have to do today. Let’s do this!

Night -- What. A. Day. It’s 1a.m. and I’ve had a very interesting last day. We got everything we needed to compile a movie and all the footage looks fantastic. I couldn’t be more proud to be part of this team and can’t wait to show everyone what we created. Yes, most of the hurdles hit us this morning (let’s just say, our Producing team really were beyond amazing! The cops were called, but that didn’t deter us one second. They handled it flawlessly!), but with this teamwork and collaboration, we did everything we needed to do to get ‘er done. Congrats everyone on an awesome shoot!

There you have it. Sure, I may not be the most articulate while I’m in my REM haze (caffeine may be my best friend), however it was a very small look inside my mind during the shoot. Looking back, I wish I got into more specifics – moments that stood out, memorable dialogue from the crew, or perhaps silly anecdotes. Though, I’m not sure it would really make much of a difference. Much of these experiences can’t be repeated. Most of these experiences can’t even be shared. They just have to be felt. Like I said on Day 4 – I had to stay present during this production or it might slip away. That’s exactly what I did – stayed focused, enjoyed every second, and remained present throughout the process.

I couldn’t be more happy with the people I worked alongside, and as I put the final touches on the Production phase of A Boy’s Life, I’m eager to enter Post-Production and promise to enjoy every single second of this special little film.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Production Eve

Hello Team (Production, Post-Production, and Donors),

Just wanted to send a word or two before we begin production tomorrow and thank you all for your hard work, contributions, and willingness to go on this adventure and bring this little film to life.

As you know from the script (or synopsis), it’s a basic tale with lots of heart to it – and for a short film, it’s definitely being handled with the care and professionalism as a feature. It ain’t going to be easy, but it should be fun.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

We’re trying to make a film about a mother and son who’ve become stricken by the same tragedy and are coping with this loss in completely different ways. On one side, we have a woman who lost her way. She’s become disconnected from what she knew and in some ways, forgot how to be a mother. On the other side, we have a boy who has conjured up his own monster in place of his father. The film "look" will be constructed in the same manner – two different people in two different worlds. The ambience will feel different until they’re finally on the same page and she feels she needs to enter her son’s world to cope with her own fears and save him from his own. That works, of course, until she brings that monster into her own world…

Many of the shots will be moving (dolly and/or jib) as we are setting up this fluid, cinematic world. The shots will be stylized. The visuals even somewhat dramatized. It’s a very modern-day Twilight Zone – heart meets horror.

Everything is shotlisted and storyboarded, and Aaron and I have a firm grasp on where we need to go visually.

I think we have a great opportunity to do something special. Every single person working on this film is equally a part of it and I hope we can all take pride in it as a group.

Thank you again for your hard work and desire to jump in.

Now hold your nose and close your eyes, here we go.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Just Go With It Premiere

A monstrous CONGRATS to Griffin on the Premiere of Just Go With It! In theatres this Friday.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The End is Near

One week left. That’s all. One week!! We can see the light. The end of the tunnel approaches. Just 7 days until we reach the day all this prep work and pre-production has been geared towards. Time has definitely zoomed by, but everyone on this team has been unbelievable. Each department has pulled out all the stops – meticulously handling this film with the same care and diligence as a full-fledged feature.

Within the last month, we’ve merged as a united cinematic team and couldn’t be more excited to begin shooting. For those who have been supporting us throughout our pre-production process, we just wanted to fill you in on all the progress.

- Location, Location, Location: We’ve locked down our house – we begin moving in next week.

- Table Read/Rehearsal: Just last weekend, the department heads and cast met for our first official gathering. Our first table read was a success and the actors are fantastic. One more rehearsal to go, then we’re ready to tackle the camera.

- Dressing the Set: Our fearless Production Designer, Melissa, has been scouring the city looking for amazing set pieces and props.

- Dressing the Cast: Joslyn, our designer, had a wonderful fitting with our actors and collaborating with each department to get the perfect garb.

- Equipment: Our Production team (Allison, Luke, Melanie) have been organizing the camera, lighting gear, and expendables amazingly. This isn’t an easy shoot, everyone. This takes a well-oiled team to put this together.

- Food: Luke & Ian has spearheaded this department – a task I undertook myself for my last short, and it definitely takes a lot of work to put a menu together.

- Stunts: Yes, we have stunts. And a stunt team choreographing the precise movements for some of the more crazy scenes.

- Visuals: Aaron and I have created storyboards and a shot list – detailed enough to provide the team with what we’re planning to create visually.

- Lock & Load: This upcoming week will be filled with confirmations. Confirming equipment, crew, and budget – eye on the prize!

This is just a drop in the bucket, but we’re all confident that this production won’t only be hardworking, but above everything else… fun. That’s why we make movies, right?