Day 4 Is Done and We’re Wrapped!

This will be a quick report.  I will post a more detailed one about Day 4 and the entire production process this week.  I may have a few pictures too.  I’m just still a little tired.  Saturday was a long hard day.  Today, my DP and I got some pick up shots of the Kreskys’ car driving on country roads.  We’re finishing them on Tuesday.

We shot four scenes on four different sets and then got some extra coverage in the form of close ups of Diana for the inn scene we shot on  day one.  Twelve hours of shooting.  Long and tiring and things got a bit tense a few times between different team members.  We kept it together though, got the shots and it was a lot of fun.  Plenty of stuff for the outtake reel.

I kept up the jokes, something I normally do anyway in social situations.  Being a comedian is in my blood whether I am on stage or not.  I love making people laugh and it helps keep the crew loose and having fun.  We had some hilarious moments.  We shot a scene between Danny and Diana in their kitchen that involved the most intricate prop work in the movie.  Two large bags filled with groceries dumped on a counter and me pulling out a box of cereal and eating some.  Lots of little adjustments needed to make everything run smooth.  It was pretty funny.  I may post some video clips at some point.

One particularly funny moment was when we were getting our final shot.  It was a simple scene of Danny and Diana entering the inn and walking down the hall to the lounge area.  There was only one line of dialogue.  It was mine and a very easy one.  My final line to be captured.  In one take, I blew the line.  As I called cut, all of us, me included, broke into laughter.  My last line and I couldn’t get it!  Nice moment at the end of a long day.

That’s all I have time for right now.  As I said, look for a more detailed post coming soon.  There’s a lot more to tell.  This was quite an experience and hopefully I gave my editor enough good footage to cut a good movie.

Day 3 Is Done and I Got My Gray Skies!

Today was the third day of production on ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? and despite a late start and a shorthanded crew, things went extremely well.  We shot all exteriors and got excellent footage.  Overall, I would say it was our best day so far.  And the weather cooperated!

The first shots we captured were of Danny and Diana departing their home in their car and arriving at and entering the inn.  As I posted before, both locations in the same house.  My first day shooting exteriors, my car’s film debut and my first time driving in a film.  We got terrific shots of all the car stuff.  There’s one I particularly like with the car parked in front of the inn.  Diana is seen through the passenger side window, while Danny leans down to open her door.  Reflected in one side of the window is the inn, on the other side, Danny’s face.  It’s a really creative and beautiful shot and credit for it has to go to my DP.  Very well done.

We planned to shoot the Kreskys departing their home in the back entrance to our location property.  It didn’t look that nice though.  The house next door had beautiful pillars and looked really nice.  The owner of that home very graciously allowed us to get the shots of the car exiting his driveway.  Very nice.

I felt even more on top of things as a director than I did previously, despite the fact that I also had to act.  I felt much happier with my performance as well.  We shot the final scene where Danny and Diana argue and then make up.  It looked beautiful!  There were still nicely colored leaves on the trees, my sky was gray and it was all hazy and romantic.  The light was so beautiful, I almost cried!

I did pay a price for my gray skies.  It was cold!  I was in a mock turtleneck with sleeves rolled up and no jacket.  Just what the script called for.  It was cold  but I tried to tough it out, even when my co-star wrapped herself in a sound blanket between takes.  And she was wearing a jacket!  I told everyone how I was like the players on my favorite football team, the Giants, when they played in the 2007 NFC Championship game in Green Bay and it was forty below and they were in short sleeves.   The cold did get to me eventually and I took my script supervisor’s advice when she insisted I use a sound blanket as well.

Lots of fun too.  For the first time, we had a few forgotten and blown lines by both of us, which is always funny.  The crew also got a big kick of of my failed attempts to charge down a steep, stone staircase into the argument.  Much tougher than I thought it would be.  You know how you when you watch the outtakes of a film, it looks like they’re having so much fun?  Let me tell you, we do!

I also shot my first onscreen kiss and I was much more nervous than I would have anticipated.  I’ve done stage kisses before and normally never get nervous while performing, but I was tense all day.  My co-writer and co-star noticed it when I was talking non-stop.  As she well knows, I chatter at top speed when I’m nervous.  When we broke for lunch, I realized I was uptight about the kiss.  The problem is I am really attracted to my co-star and have been for a long time.  We’re just friends and I’m fine with that, but I can’t help but feel what I feel and it’s taking me some time to get over her.

I spent some time alone during lunch getting myself together.  When we were set up to shoot the scene with the kiss, my co-star, realizing what was happening, teased me about it.  That actually helped relax me, and after a few takes, I settled in and did the scene pretty well I thought.  It’s an authentic looking fight and love scene if I do say so myself and now I feel really good about it.  I even finally confessed to my friend and colleague how attractive I find her.  It was good to finally get that out of me and now I can relax and enjoy our friendship.

Good day for food too.  We have typical low budget indie meals, cold cuts and stuff.  But the owner of the house made us a big pot of lentil ham soup that was delicious!  Very pleasant surprise on a cold day.  After the shoot, I took my DP, 1st AD and Script Supervisor out to dinner and we had a great time.

We wrap tomorrow.  I’m looking forward to another great day and getting production done so we can move on to post and a finished film.  I will miss the shooting part of it though.  Making a movie is hard work but it is so much fun!

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.

One More Week!

The lead characters of “Isn’t It Romantic?” Danny Kresky (me) and his wife Diana (Cooper Campbell).

Only one pre-production meeting remains for my short comedy, ISN’T IT ROMANTIC?  That will be this Tuesday, October 9.  Then, next Saturday, October 13 shooting begins.  I’m excited, thrilled and ready to go.  My team and I have worked hard to prepare and we are ready.  A movie set is an unpredictable place where one needs to be ready to react to sets of changing circumstances.  That’s where careful planning comes in.  As my director of photography says, the object is to turn total chaos into mere chaos.

This project has been a blast right from day one.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve expended a tremendous amount of both physical and mental energy and had a few anxious moments, but thus far, directing a film is what I had hoped it would be.  One of my major reasons for shooting this film was as a learning experience and I have already received quite an education.

I feel so much more comfortable with all of the many tasks a director must perform than I did at the start.  I have always been a fast learner and that is proving to be true in this endeavor.  My newly acquired knowledge encompasses a number of different aspects of filmmaking, both technical and creative.  I’ve also become better at blending the skills and personalities of a group of diverse people.

This is perhaps where I have learned the most and where I surprised and impressed myself the most.  My team features a number of true alphas, people with very strong personalities and opinions.  That is exactly how I wanted it.  Those are the types of creative individuals who make the best contributions to any project.  Solid ideas and no fear at all about expressing them.  It is much harder to manage and stay in control of that type of group, but the results are well worth the effort.  I’m a guy who loves a challenge and it feels great to know that I did gain the respect and take the lead of this powerful group.  I feel like I fought my way to the leader of a wolf pack.

I’ve got a great team behind me.  I feel I am on top of my game.  Feeling confident and able to handle anything.  It’s going to be a great little film.  The first of what I plan to be many.

 

Melancholia: Why My Skies Are Always Gray

Things continue to progress nicely for ISN’T IT ROMANTIC?  Tomorrow, I’ll finish my shot list and storyboards and Sunday afternoon, I have a meeting with my director of photography, editor and first assistant director.  We’ll put together the schedule for each day of shooting.  Once we have that level of preparation, the shoot will go smoother.  We will be better able to handle any curveballs that may be tossed our way.

Other members of my team met today to work on set design, wardrobe and props.  I have a team of dedicated and talented individuals who believe in this project every bit as much as I do.  Just about everything is in place.  Of course, one thing that we can’t control is the weather.  We can only hope it cooperates during our exterior scenes.

Shooting in October in the Northeast will give us the beautiful colors of fall on the trees.  The final scene of the movie takes place outside, and there are numerous trees on the private estate where we’re shooting.  It should be beautiful, especially for a film about romance.  Naturally, we are hoping for no rain and mild temperatures.  Personally, I am also rooting for gray skies.

A bright, blue sky with a  few puffy clouds is the standard “perfect” weather scenario.  But I’ve seen enough movies in my day to know that a gray sky with a little haze adds a much more romantic feel to a movie.  It’s wistful, just a little melancholy.  It adds a dreamlike feel to the film.  After all, movies are often compared to dreams, and they sure as hell are nothing like real life.

I love gray skies in real life as well.  I feel as though they are the backdrop of my life.  They define my most common mood.  Blue and sunny doesn’t cut it, nor does dark and stormy.  Just gray, with the sun occasionally looking like it will break through, but it never does.  Melancholy.  That’s me.

I’m in a reflective mood tonight, so bear with me.  I know I’m rambling, but that’s my style.  I’m just throwing my thoughts down.  I’ve always loved going to the movies.  It’s about escape for me.  In the darkness of a movie theater, I am able to get my mind off all the things I don’t want to think about.  It’s the only place that happens.  It’s what I hope my films can provide for someone out there like me.

It’s often a difficult transition when the movie is over.  I watch a comedy where the smart, funny guy wins the girl; beats the really good looking jerk.  It’s a good feeling.  Then the lights come up and I look at the empty seat next to me.  It’s back to reality, where things like that NEVER happen.  Melancholy.  Gray skies.

Now, I’m directing my first film and also playing the lead.  I’m playing a married man with an amazing wife.  It’s more escapism.  That will never happen to me in real life.  What will it feel like when we’re finished with the film?  When reality rears it’s ugly head again.  No matter how well this film does, deep inside, I won’t be truly happy.  I will never be.

I’m very fortunate in that I’m a tough little bastard.  This would destroy a lesser man.

Woody and me: We’re not the same guy

Let’s change it up a little today and talk about something not directly related to ISN’T IT ROMANTIC?  We’re visiting the location house today and holding auditions in New York tomorrow, so there will be plenty to report on after the weekend.  Instead, how about if I discuss my filmmaking idol, Woody Allen?  Particularly how we are different.

As I related in the articles on my background, I grew up in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, the same neighborhood that produced Woody.  In, fact, a great number of film legends came from Flatbush, but that’s another story for another article.  Woody of course, is a big hero throughout New York, and especially in his home neighborhood.

I also told you about the short story I wrote in fifth grade about the suicidal cafeteria clock that won me a creative writing award and which numerous teachers compared to Woody Allen’s work.  It made me even more aware of him and I have followed his career religiously since then.  The stand up albums, the films, the plays, the prose.  I’m intimately familiar with all of them.  I couldn’t help but be influenced by his work.

There are other great writers who have affected me.  I’m a huge Neil Simon fan.  I love the late Nora Ephron.  Both have had a major impact on me.  Mel Brooks, and more recently, Larry David are other writers who I’ve emulated to a certain extent.  But no one has affected me as much as Woody Allen.

His work continues to inspire me and I’m jealous of the incredible situation he’s in.  He gets funding and distribution without having to show anyone a script or even have a title!  He makes the movies he wants to, with little outside interference.  I’ll never have that, but, hey a guy can hope.  Despite my great respect and admiration for the incredible Mr. Allen, if it were possible, I would not want to be him.  No matter what, I desire to always be me, a unique individual.  It’s something I strived for as a comedian and now, as a writer and budding filmmaker.

The truth is that the similarities I have to Woody are not things I’ve tried to affect.  We do have some things in common other than Flatbush.  I tend to be drawn to heroes with whom I can identify.  For example, I am honestly a very neurotic person.  I always have been.  That element of my work is like Woody’s, but it is genuine.  All writers invest themselves into their work, but some do it to a much higher degree.  It’s always been instinctive for me to do that, right from my stand up days.  Woody does it too, which I’ve always admired.  But I deal with personal issues because I need to, not because he does.

The differences.  You may find this one interesting.  Woody is Jewish.  Despite my last name, I’m not.  Most people, because of my name and the type of comedy I write, assume that I am Jewish.  My grandfather was, but he married an Irish Catholic woman and my father was raised Catholic.  My mother comes from a Dutch/Swedish Lutheran background.  What does that make me?  Confused and racked with guilt!  I was raised Lutheran, but long ago rejected my faith.  I’m agnostic.  Who knows if there’s a God or not?  But if there is, I’m convinced every religion is wrong.  Anyway, my characters to a certain extent have some typical Jewish traits, but not like Woody’s, since my protagonists are based on me.

Another very big difference.  Woody Allen was a professional gag writer at the age of fifteen.  By seventeen, he was in NBC’s young writer’s program.  He has spent his entire adult life at, or near the top of the show business world.  That’s the world his characters inhabit, the upper strata of literati.  I’ve only known the lower rungs of the ladder.  I never made it to “The Tonight Show” or Letterman.  My characters have a blue color sensibility, even the successful ones such as ISN’T IT ROMANTIC?‘s protagonist, acclaimed writer/director Danny Kresky.

Although we grew up in the same neighborhood, Woody Allen and I are a generation apart.  He’s a year young than my mother.  (Exactly a year, they share their birthday, December 1)  To paraphrase a line from his MANHATTAN, I grew up with television and the pill, he was World War II.  It makes a big difference.  My references and my outlook on many issues differ because of it.

The Flatbush I grew up in was very different from Woody’s nice, lower-middle class, blue color neighborhood.  In the 60’s and 70’s Flatbush was dangerous and crime ridden, once of the worst neighborhoods in Brooklyn.  My father was mugged at gunpoint one night. I had a younger brother and sister to protect, so I fought constantly.  In that neighborhood, you either fought or you ran, and I don’t back down to anyone.  Thus, my protagonists don’t have that nebbishy quality that Woody’s do.  They can take care of themselves because I can take care of myself.  Which leads us to the final difference.  I’m a fighter, not a lover.

A big part of Woody Allen’s persona, right from his days as a comic, is his problems with women.  He deals with it in a very funny way to which I could always relate.  It’s just as big a part of my persona.  However, with Woody, it’s an act.  Come on.  The guy dated both Diane Keaton and Mia Farrow.  Mia was once married to Frank Sinatra for God’s sake! And Diane Keaton was with Warren Beatty.  Woody’s on his third marriage.  This guy has no trouble getting women.

I’m the real deal.  Only one good relationship ever in my life, and I blew that one.  I haven’t been on a date since Clinton was in the White House.  First term.  Women don’t like me.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  I make a great “friend”.  Nice guys.  We’re always the friend.  But no woman wants anything to do with me as anything more.  When I write those characters there is great authenticity.  I’m going to die alone.  I’ve accepted that.  Sorry, Woody.  You’ll always be my idol, I’ll probably never be the artist you are.  But in the failure with women department, you’re not in my league.

Anxiety, Insomnia and Depression: The Neurotic’s Toolbox

The dates are set.  We got a sound man today and the crew is just about complete.  We have a casting notice out for the roles we need to fill.   Production is a mere eight weeks away.  I’m excited.  This is a long time dream.  I’m working everyday to prepare.  And my anxiety levels are rising.

If you’ve read some of my other posts, you know about my dysthymia, aka neurotic depression.  It’s something I’ve had all my life, but only became aware of about five years ago.  I can feel when it’s kicking in and deal with it.  But it’s always present and I have to be vigilant.  Does it hamper my day to day activities?  Absolutely.  My phone call phobia alone has cost me numerous opportunities.  But, there are ways to make it work for me.

Anxiety produces energy.  When I’m feeling anxious, I can’t sit still.  I pace.  My always fast mind works even faster, achieving incredible speed.  Physically, it’s healthy.  Panic attacks burn calories.  Hyperventilation is great for cardio.  The key is to channel it correctly.  Anxiety often causes people to overeat, smoke, drink and use drugs.  I put the excess energy into my work.

Screenwriting and filmmaking require creative problem solving.  With my mind in hyperdrive, ideas fly out of me.  I throw them out twenty at a time.  Most of them are no good, but that’s okay.  Eventually, the solution comes, and it comes quickly.  Plus, mental anguish and personality disorders are funny!  They are a great boon to any comedy writer.

Another issue I deal with is insomnia.  I haven’t slept through an entire night in months.  I was taking Benedryl.  Two of them generally knock me out within an hour.  But, I didn’t want to get addicted to them and they sometimes aren’t that effective.  I just can’t shut my mind off at night.  So, I don’t.  I just take a series of cat naps throughout the night.  Less sleep time means more work time.  I study films, I write, I make lists of things I need to do the next day.  The feature script I’ve been rewriting, FACADES will be shot in Singapore. The production team is in Asia.  There’s a twelve hour time difference. Perfect!  They email me in the middle of the night, I get the notes, make the revision and it’s done before morning.  Sleep is for suckers.

Tied into my dysthymia is excessive worry.  It makes me cautious.  That can be a very positive attribute.  I check, double check and triple check everything.  I obsess over details.  Exactly what a director needs to do in preparing a film.  There is much less chance of me missing something small when I can’t stop thinking about the little things.

Today’s world can be a very difficult place in which to live.  There are very few of us that don’t have some kind of issues.  They can cripple you if you let them.  But if you can embrace them, realize they are part of what makes you unique and special and turn them to your advantage, you can achieve greatness.   (This post is only slightly tongue in cheek.)