An Uninvited Cast Member Named Sandy

Production on ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? is scheduled to resume this Friday.  We also have a production meeting planned for Tuesday.  However, Mother Nature has thrown us a curve in the person of Hurricane Sandy, on course to wreak havoc on Connecticut Monday.  We’ve managed to overcome several obstacles and while this one may prove the most difficult, we’ll work through it as well.

Schools have already been closed for both Monday and Tuesday and coastal areas are being evacuated.  Predictions are that many branches and trees will be down and there will be power outages throughout the state.  It could be quite a mess, but I’m adopting a “wait and see” attitude.

Tuesday will probably a full day of recovery, so there’s a good chance the production meeting won’t come off.  I can work around that, using emails and phone calls to coordinate our plans.  We’ve already worked together for the first two days of shooting and the crew has the hang of it.  I have no actors traveling in from out of state, as the remaining scenes feature only our two leads, me and my co-writer.  So canceling the meeting really will pose little problem.

The shooting days scheduled for the weekend could be tricky.  Friday, we are shooting all exteriors.  Although the rain will be finished by then, fallen trees and branches and possibly rain soaked muddy turf could adversely affect the final scene.  We have to get some pick up shots of Danny and Diana arriving at an inn in their car.  That shouldn’t be a problem.  The final scene though, takes places outside in a yard next to the building.  I’m going to prepare a couple of different ways to shoot, just to get around any problems we may have.

If the power is out at the location house, that would pose a problem as well.  By Friday, one would think power would be restored everywhere, but last year, at the same time, late October, we had a freak snowstorm that knocked power out all over the state and some areas did not have power restored for two weeks or more.  That would not be good.

It might not affect us too badly.  We’ve been running the camera off the battery and we can make sure we bring enough replacements.  We may not need lights to shoot outdoors, depending on conditions.  The owners of the home also have a generator, so they will have lights inside.  We should be able to shoot no matter what.

Saturday will be a different story if the power is out.  We will need lights for the interiors and I’m not sure their generator can accommodate movie lights.  I’ll just have to hope for the best.  If need be, I’ll reschedule.

So far, we’ve been able to work out everything and I won’t allow anything to sink this production.  There’s a great saying, “If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way.  If you don’t really want to do it, you’ll make excuses.”  I really  want to this.  I’ll find a way.

Gray Skies Part 2

My favorite sky over the beauty of autumn leaves.

In an earlier post, I discussed how I prefer gray skies in films and in life.  In just six days we resume production on ISN’T IT ROMANTIC?  Weather permitting, all the shooting will be exteriors and that includes the climatic final scene.  There is a hurricane that is supposed to move through our area early next week.  We should see quite a bit of rain.  It’s supposed to be gone well before we shoot on Friday.  I certainly hope so.  But, I so badly want it to leave the overcast behind.

I went into this in a fair amount of detail in the other post.  However, I went for a long walk this morning and took a good look at my surroundings.  I snapped some photos with my cell camera.  I’m in another one of my melancholy moods.  Not depressed at all, and honestly, I’m in really good spirits overall.  I’m very pleased with the way the movie is going and excited to get back to it.  I’ve also started a feature screenplay with my writing partner.  We’re off to a great start and I am very excited about that project as well.  My future abounds with possibilities.  It’s just the contrast between what’s happening in my movie, to what happens in my life.

As I looked through the haze at the warmly colored leaves under the gray expanse of clouds, I thought more about why this atmospheric condition affects me the way it does.  Why do I associate love and romance with what other people would consider dreary weather?

More beautiful foliage under a melancholy sky.

Fall for me, has always been a melancholy time of year.  Summer is my favorite season and seeing it end makes me feel a little sad.  As a child, summer was a season of freedom, and although I loved learning, the return of school was a loss of that freedom.  So autumn has always made me a little blue.  Over the last decade or so, I’ve grown to really appreciate the beauty of the changing leaves and even enjoy the brisk cooler weather that fall brings.  Also the anticipation of the start of the holiday season beginning with Thanksgiving.  Still, though, the sadness lingers.

I was originally planning to shoot ISN’T IT ROMANTIC?  in the summer.  For financial and logistical reasons, that wasn’t possible.  I’m glad it worked out that way because I’m much more satisfied with the story taking place against the backdrop of fall.  Today, I dug further into my thoughts and feelings and came up with more reasons for why I like overcast days.

What do people think of when they hear the words “love” and “romance”?  For many, I suppose it’s reasonable to say they would think of a spouse or significant other, the person they love.  Others might think of traditional symbols, hearts, flowers, candlelight, moonlight.  I’m sure weather wise,  most people think of the warmth of the sun, blue skies and clear nights, traditionally happy conditions.

I can’t think of a significant other when I hear those words because I don’t have one.  I’ve never been married and I haven’t had a girlfriend in a long, long time.  To be perfectly honest, it’s unlikely that I ever will again.  So for me, romance is an abstract concept.  Actually more than abstract, it’s fictional.  It only exists in literature, plays and films.  Only in my dreams.  That’s what gray, hazy and overcast days do.  They impart a dreamlike quality to everything.  That’s why I need that in my film.  It’s pure fantasy, a dream.  I need it to look that way because what happens in the movie is so implausible.  It could never happen in real life.

It’s such an important part of why I do what I do.  I’ve always had little fantasies.  We all do.  I just need to play them out someplace.  That’s why I write and why I’ve started making films.  I have all this stuff inside of me, things that I feel uncomfortable sharing.  I have to get them out.  If I put them on the screen, it won’t change my life, but at least I can do something positive with them.  Entertain people and maybe make a slight difference in somebody’s life.

Keep your fingers crossed for me.  No rain on November 2, but please give me my gray sky.

Danny and Diana’s Trip

Danny Kresky’s Vanity Plate

Production on ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? officially resumes when, weather permitting, we will be shooting our exteriors.  This includes the final scene, as well as our lead couple, Danny and Diana Kresky, arriving at and entering a beautiful, New England country inn.  We also have to shoot their journey to the inn.  That will take place this week.

The Kreskys live in a beautiful home on an estate in Connecticut.  The inn is located in Vermont.  At least in the fictional world of the film.  In reality, both places are the exact same building, an amazing house in Middlebury, CT.  It’s big enough that w can use it for both locations.  Very cool and very convenient.

One thing we are doing to sell the fact that the house and inn are so far apart is to shoot a montage of the Kreskys’ car traveling to the inn.  I’ve scouted some locations with my DP and we’ve got some nice shots planned.  We’ll have the car exiting a driveway with a gate, coming over the crest of a hill, rounding a corner, those types of things.  There is also a beautiful covered bridge not far from where I live.   We’re going to get a shot of the car crossing the bridge.  We also are planning to simulate an aerial photo by placing the camera up on a ridge with a telephoto lens.  Movie magic.  I’ll have my audience convinced that a 30 second or so montage is a 3 hour trip.

In the first shot, I plan to have a close shot of the above license plate.  It will establish whose car it is as well as be a visual joke about Danny’s rather large ego.  It’s always nice when an element of a film can serve more than one purpose.  For me, it’s great that I can get a solid visual.  My films tend to be more literary in design with dialogue carrying the story more than in a typical film.  It fits my genre and my personal style.

We were originally going to find an expensive car for the scene.  I wanted a sports car, since Danny is a fun loving guy, much like me.  I found a man willing to let us use his Corvette for just $50.  The caveat was only he could drive it.  I was going to do that, but it would have limited the shots I could get to ones that did not show the driver.  We made a change based on a suggestion by my 1st AD.

I drive a 97 Mazda Miata.  Sports car, lots of fun and very nice, but certainly not something that says, “Success”.  He felt it would work because it could be a classic that Danny has held onto.  We could then take any kind of shots we needed with me behind the wheel.  I considered it and wasn’t quite sure.  Then, an experience convinced me.

A few weeks ago, I went to see LOOPER.  It was a good movie and featured a scene with Joseph Gordon-Levitt racing around in a 97 Miata.  The car looked great on the screen!  I was sold.  My car would be making its big screen debut.  I’m going to have to wash it better than I usually do.  Can’t have the Great Danny Kresky driving a dirty car!

Day 2

Me (left) with my editor, Matt Epstein, on location at the Warner Theater in Torrington, CT on Day 2 of production on “Isn’t It Romantic?”

Sorry for the delay on this post.  There are so many things to do each day, even on non-shooting days.  I’ve finally found some time to file a report.  Day 2 went well, less hectic, but the inexperienced crew members have a few things to learn.

This Sunday, we shot the opening scene of ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? at the Warner Theater.  It was a much shorter day as the scene will only run about thirty seconds and it required fewer shots.  Additionally, I’m not in that scene so I was able to focus all of my attention on directing.

Things went very well.  I made a change on the fly on Day 2 as well.  Not nearly as dramatic as my move to get us back on schedule on Day 1, but I did substitute a different set up for the purpose of a smoother transition in editing.  Flexibility is always important in filmmaking and I am fortunate to have my editor on set to advise me in these matters.  That’s an important part of being a good director.  Listening to your department heads when it comes to their fields of expertise.  Unfortunately, you also sometimes get advice from non-experts who wish to help.

I have a number of crew members who have solid experience on movie sets.  I trust their judgement and listen carefully to what they have to say.  The final decisions are always mine, and they understand that.  The less experienced members of my crew are a different.  I need to speak to them at our next production meeting before we resume shooting.  They mean well, but cause distractions.

My 1st assistant director is terrific.  He’s been involved in filmmaking for forty years and gives me the space I need.  I need to instruct everyone in protocol.  A movie set is not a democracy.  The director is the emperor and his or her word is law.  There is a chain of command, much like in the military with a movie crew.  Any questions or concerns are addressed to one’s department head.  The department head reports to the 1st AD, who then goes to the director if necessary.

Sunday was not too bad.  Saturday was worse.  I had inexperienced people following me around commenting on whether or not I had enough make up on, telling they didn’t hear a line when they were twenty feet away in another room.  That kind of thing.  It was worse that day because I had my role to play as well as direct.  I’m going to tactfully go over set etiquette.  I’m sure they will respond well.

Margie Ferris (left) and Madeline Jaye rehearse their scene on the set on Day 2.

Sunday was a very pleasant shooting day.  My actors were terrific and so nice to work with.  They told me how much they enjoyed working with me and complimented my directorial style.  Not bad for a rookie.  I had a nice group of background actors too.  My co-star and writer brought a group of teenage girls who were so excited to be in a movie.  The kids were amazing.  I let them improvise some dialogue and they were natural and energetic and added so much to the scene.  It warmed my heart to see the joy on their faces.

I felt very good all day.  I was so excited after Day 1 that I only got about two hours of sleep, but my adrenaline keep me going.  I was on my feet all day, no director’s chair for me.  I was really comfortable with the whole process.  I’ve always picked things up quickly and directing seems to be following suit.

I’m really looking forward to resuming shooting on November 2.  Many things for me to do in the meantime.  I want to plan some nice camera moves for the rest of the film and I’m in every scene that we shoot from here on out.  More rehearsal time.  On November 2, we shoot my first onscreen kiss.  Lucky for me it’s in front of the camera.  I’ll have no problem because I’m performing.  In real life, I would be terrified.

At any rate, I’m pleased overall at how things are going.  There’s room for improvement and I plan to have an even better Day 3 and 4.  I’ve got to do this again.  It’s so much fun.



First Day On Set

Well boys and girls, yours truly is now an experienced director.  Okay, so it’s only one day of experience, but even Woody Allen was a rookie once.  My first day on set was a success.  My actors were a joy to work with and gave me terrific performances.  My crew worked hard and we got some great footage.  I even made an adjustment mid-shoot.

My DP and I had planned about a seven or eight hour shoot.  At the start, things went a little slowly.  That’s to be expected.  After all, it was our first time working together.  After we had gotten about a third of our shots, my unit production manager informed me that at our current pace, we would end up shooting for about twelve hours.  Time for a creative solution.

While cast and crew were on a break, I sat down with the shooting script and made some on the fly changes that saved us a lot of time.  I eliminated a number of shots of a section of the scene from an alternate angle.  The angle was my close ups.  We only shot the coverage where my back was essentially to the camera.  I was only seen in profile.  No problem.

We picked up the pace and I finished the shots with my other two actors and I let them go home.  Then, I set up my close ups as I performed my dialogue to an empty sofa, while my script supervisor fed me the other actor’s lines.  I got everything I needed and we finished in seven hours.  I’m pretty proud of myself.  On schedule and under budget.  And still got the shots.  Morale was high on the set and everyone really seemed to enjoy themselves.

I can’t wait until tomorrow.  Now that I’m experienced, it will be even easier.

This Is It!

Today was quite hectic.  It is now about 8 PM.  I just ate dinner.  I arrived home about an hour ago after running around the state of Connecticut since about 7 this morning.  Last minute details.  I had to go to pick up my prop camera, pick up a rental van, pick up my DP,  pick up the equipment we rented and get to my location.  Everyone one of those places in a different town.  I’m tired but happy.  We got our set ready to go and we’ll get off to a good start tomorrow.

As I looked around at the lights, C-stands, silks, flags and other equipment, I experienced some of that surreal feeling I had last night while shooting the marquee at the Warner Theater.  I’ve observed the action on film sets a few times in my life, but this was different.  This was my set.  This time, I’m the guy calling the shots and a huge responsibility sits on my shoulders.  I walked around, moving through the blocking for the scene, imagining what it will feel like when I’m performing and directing for real.

How many times have I thought about this?  Wondering what it would be like, if I would ever get the opportunity.  How would I handle it?  It’s been a long time coming, but the last several weeks flew by.  It’s pretty incredible how much we accomplished in a pre-production period that lasted only eight weeks.  My director of photography told me he thought what I’ve done is amazing, that he thought it was impossible to prepare for production that quickly.  Nice to be able to amaze.

Huge day tomorrow.  Not only do I have to direct my cast and crew, I’ve got to play my part well.  I want to make a great film.  I feel the pressure and the enormity of the situation.  It’s quite a load to carry, but when I push past the layers of insecurity, the little neuroses and get right down to my core, the truth is clear.  This thing is in the bag!  Like I have my entire life, when the heat is on, I will rise to the occasion and deliver the goods.

Production Has Begun

The opening shot of “Isn’t It Romantic?”

Although our first shooting day with the full crew is not until Saturday, October 13, production on ISN’T IT ROMANTIC?  technically began tonight when my director of photography and I took a trip to our movie theater location, the beautiful Warner Theater in Torrington, Connecticut, to get the opening shots.  The head of maintenance at the theater graciously dressed the marquee for us to display the title of Danny Kresky’s latest film along with my fictional counterpart’s name.  It was a cool but clear night and it went off without a hitch.  We got terrific shots of the marquee from several angles.  It will be a nice way to start the film.

I experienced a true thrill when we pulled up in front of the theater and I got a look at the marquee.  Throughout pre-production, although the majority of my attention was focused on the film, it still felt abstract.  It was all planning and as busy as I was, I never truly registered exactly what was happening.  Tonight, as I stood behind the camera, looking at the shot on the monitor, it all sunk in.  It was actually happening.  I was there capturing the first ever images for my first ever film.

Kind of a surreal moment.  How does one describe the feeling of finally experiencing a long time dream?  I was a bit overwhelmed and I wished my still photographer had been there to record the moment, at least for me.  But, no matter.  The sight of that gorgeous marquee lit up against the night sky displaying an image that I had created and placed on paper is permanently burned into my mind’s eye.

This is not only the first film I am directing, it is also the first of my screenplays to be produced and it will be my film acting debut.  As a writer, I got a charge out of seeing a scene in front of me that previously had only existed in my imagination.  It was different.  Much better than I initially saw it.  The theater I envisioned when I wrote the script was just that: a theater.  I ended up shooting it at a movie palace.  Very nice upgrade.

Saturday will take things to the next level.  We are shooting the longest and most complex scene of the film and I will have my actors and my crew to direct as well as my role to play.  A challenge to be sure, but one I eagerly await.  No matter what I accomplish in my filmmaking career, this first one will always be special.  I want to remember this thrill, the childlike feeling of a new and exciting experience and let it carry me in all my future work.

I’m not dreaming.  I’m really making a movie.