New Production Dates for “My Spirited Sister”

Yes, I know. It’s been over a month since my last post. My apologies, but Cooper and I have been incredibly busy in preproduction on MY SPIRITED SISTER. Preparation is perhaps the most important part of the filmmaking process, and MSS is a much more ambitious project than ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? was. Plus, we had a bit of a setback.

As mentioned in earlier posts, we had retained our editor from IIR and he was going to serve as our DP as well. Unfortunately, he had to pull out of both jobs. He is always very busy and our project was more than he could handle with his very full schedule. So, in addition to every other job, we’ve had to search to fill those positions. As a result, we felt it would be best to postpone production.

We will now be shooting the final three weekends in January, including Monday, the 20th, Martin Luther King Day. The extra time will enable us to fill out the crew, finalize casting and locations as well as prepare our shot lists. It’s quite a task when you’re the writers, producers and directors, even with two of us. It was a little disappointing to have to wait a bit longer. We’ve been so eager to get going. But it was the prudent decision and will allow for a better shoot and final project.

We’ve got some good candidates for DP, including one we really like. He’s interested and we should be able to make a deal. Regarding casting, we ran a notice on Backstage and got a ton of submissions. We went through them all and chose and notified the actors we wish to see. We’ll be holding auditions in New York again, like last year. Similarly, we’ve got a good handle on locations.

We’re very happy with the crew we have too. We found an excellent 1st AD with plenty of experience. She’s organized and hardworking and is taking quite a load off us during preproduction. We also have a production designer this time around. That will make a big difference. Visually, IIR is adequate, but it could be a lot better. Some of that has to do with the lack of set dressings. We didn’t have anyone dedicated to that job. We’ve got an ambitious, young hair and make up artist, a good sound recorder and some good PAs. We have a gaffer this time too, Cooper’s fiancé, Jimmy. It’s going to be fun having him on set.

Speaking of which, Jimmy and Cooper have been planning their wedding throughout the preproduction process. Simply amazing. I don’t know how Coop does. If I go to the bank and the dry cleaner in the same day, I need a nap! Their wedding is two weeks from today. I’m really looking forward to it. They’re two terrific people and really good together. I’m also going to be shooting footage on the second camera for their wedding video. Now I can add “Second Unit Camera Operator” to my resume.

So, there you have it. You’re up to date and know when the shooting starts. I will try to be better about posting. I know my fans eagerly anticipate these posts. Both of you.

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Preproduction

Now that we have our funding, Cooper and I are moving on to the next phase in the filmmaking process for MY SPIRITED SISTER, preproduction. This is a vital stage in the process, where we will make sure we have everything we need to shoot this film when principal photography starts.

Those of you who were reading my blog last year may remember many of the steps in the preparation of ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? We will be once again using the standard eight week time frame. Preproduction officially starts this Tuesday, September 3rd when we meet with our Line Producer/Unit Production Manager and Director of Photography, but we’ve already started the work. I actually began the day after the crowd funding campaign ended.

Although production is my favorite part of filmmaking, I really enjoy every phase. There are many chores in preproduction that are not necessarily difficult or tedious, they’re just not especially fun. For example, the first chore is putting together the budget. Last year, I hired someone to do it, but I’ve learned a lot since then, so Cooper and I are doing it ourselves. It’s really not that hard, just a necessary task. It’s one of what I call the “paperwork” tasks, along with obtaining insurance, setting up the contract with SAG/AFTRA and creating the many documents needed.

My favorite part of preproduction is casting. I really like meeting new people and I love actors, so it’s natural that I would enjoy casting. It’s also fun because that’s when the characters we created start to come to life. As we did last year in ISN’T IT ROMANTIC?we already have our leads cast, but we do have other roles to fill. We’ll take our time doing it and run a professional casting session. I’ll discuss it in greater detail when we get there, but it really is fun.

Location scouting is another task I really enjoy. Much like casting, we get to see the environments of the movie take shape. We also get to meet more new people. We do have one location already chosen, We’ll be shooting a scene at Jimmy and Cooper’s house. This week, Cooper and I were doing some polishing on the script and it was pretty cool when we were working on that scene, while sitting in the location where we’ll shoot it. Things like that amuse me!

Analyzing the script is also great fun. It’s hard work but it’s a chance to be very creative. We’ll go over it with a microscope, visualizing the entire film and planning the shots, as well as preparing notes for our actors. With the help of floor plans and photos of the locations, we’ll create our shot lists. Our DP wants storyboards. You may remember my frustration last year with my failed attempts to draw stick figure storyboards. I’m not even going to attempt it this time. There is software for storyboard creation and that’s how we plan to do it. I have many talents, but drawing is not one of them. I will be better able to hold on to my sanity.

Filling out the crew is another fun task. Again, we get to meet people. I always chat with anyone that we consider bringing on to the team. I need to get a feel for their personalities to make sure we can work together even after long, tiring hours. There were a couple of personality conflicts last year that were very distracting. This time, we’re going to put together a more experienced and dedicated crew. 

Time for me to get back to work on the budget. Stay tuned, boys and girls. This is where the fun starts. The making of MY SPIRITED SISTER. I’ll be bringing it to you as it happens.

An Actor’s Director

As preproduction continues, things are going amazingly well.  I’m blessed.  Nothing has ever gone this smoothly in my life.  It’s scary because I’m waiting for the other shoe to fall.  But I am also making sure I am prepared for any conceivable setback.  If something inconceivable happens, I may be in trouble.  I better plan for that too.

This Sunday, we are holding auditions.  We posted a casting notice on the BackStage web site and got a ton of submissions.  There are so many actors out there looking for work.  It brings back memories of my stand up days and all the effort that went into booking gigs and standing out amongst one’s peers.

I’ve spent the better part of the last week looking at headshots and resumes and watching actor’s reels.  There are some really talented people out there waiting for their break.  Some of the stuff I watched was truly enjoyable.  I booked auditions for  a nice stable of good actors with the right look and personality for the roles.  I am very optimistic about having a great cast for ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? 

We rented a room at a studio in Midtown Manhattan.  Most of our actors live in New York and it adds credibility to our production to cast in that environment.  Very cool for me, a native New Yorker, to be seeing actors for my first film in the heart of the theater district.  Truly a dream come true.

One thing that is really important to me, is to give the auditioning actors every chance to succeed.  I sent them all a copy of the scene they will read.  I don’t believe in cold readings.  I want to see how they prepare and at their best.  I’m sincerely rooting for all of them and I hope every one of them blows me away and makes my team’s decision incredibly difficult.  I love actors.

Many directors I’ve talked to, or read about, express negative feelings toward actors.  A lot of filmmakers come from a technical background, especially film school graduates.  They learn everything they can about cinematography, sound, editing, writing.  But how many of them have ever taken an acting class?  I have.  A good film director should have a least a basic understanding of every aspect of filmmaking, and acting is of prime importance.

You can’t make a good movie without good performances.  To guide an actor to a good performance, you need to understand the process and what kinds of problems actors deal with.  It’s a very noble profession.  Actors are the most vulnerable people involved in production. They go in front of the camera and put it on the line, opening themselves up and exposing themselves in a very personal and profound way.

I have so much respect for that.  I want actors who are collaborators.  I want to hear their ideas and let them create the roles with just adjustments from me.  More than anything, I would love to be known as an actor’s director.  Don’t get me wrong.  I study the other aspects of filmmaking, ask questions of my crew and I can communicate with them in their language.  But I will never refer to an actor as a “necessary evil”.  I hope that I can gain their trust, make them feel comfortable and able to give me their best.  I appreciate them.  Can’t make a movie without them.