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.

Week One Tasks

The first week of preproduction is now well underway. Cooper and I are up to our elbows in work, but we’re off to a great start and on track. Her organizational skills are vital to this partnership. I contribute boundless energy, dogged tenacity and the ability to do more than one thing at a time. I do need to have someone help put my focus in the right place., which takes us back to Coop. Complimentary skill sets, just like when we’re writing.

We formed a new production company. Last year, we called it Chegg Productions, a name coined by our editor Matt, a combination of “chicken” and “egg”, as in, which comes first. We are now 202 Productions, named after Cafe 202, a coffee shop on Route 202 where we did a lot of the writing of MY SPIRITED SISTER. 202 Productions is officially registered as a business, and we’ve got a business bank account for our funding. Much better for keeping track of the budget.

We’ve also got the first draft of our budget. In films, budgets are revised, just as scripts are. We have almost double the funding we had last year, but we still need to spend it wisely. Using what we learned while making ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? has been a huge help.

We also have our shooting dates locked in. Six day shoot, the first three weekends in November. No three week break in between like we had last year. What a momentum killer that was. So glad we don’t have to do that again.

We’ve got our Line Producer/Unit Production Manager, Director of Photography, Editor, Gaffer, Sound Recordist, Post Production Sound Mixer, Hair and Make up artist and our 1st assistant director for the first weekend. It’s a great start. We’ve got feelers out for a Script Supervisor, Production Coordinator and Production Assistants.

We’ve started discussing casting and a couple of actors have asked us for the opportunity to audition. Very nice. It’s a great project and people are interested. It’s always helpful when your cast and crew are excited about the film.

Casting is really one of the most enjoyable parts of the entire filmmaking process. Cooper and I both love it. We were very excited to discuss it today in a phone call. We’re really eager to start seeing actors as well as begin rehearsals.

Location scouting is also one the tasks we are starting. It’s fun too and essential to our success. We’re also hoping to find an art director/production designer. That was one of the areas where ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? was lacking. This time, we don’t want to neglect that aspect of production.

That’s enough of my rambling. You’re up to date. Nothing truly exciting has happened, but it will. Stay tuned.

The Script Is Finished!

Last night, Cooper and I finished the script for MY SPIRITED SISTER.  It’s a nice achievement and the last stretch didn’t come easy. We ran into a phenomenon that Syd Field describes in his book, “Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting”. It’s interesting and very common.

When working on a screenplay, as writers, we become intimately involved in all parts of it. The characters become real people, friends, acquaintances and even enemies. We enjoy the ride the story takes us on, get hooked on fleshing out scenes and moving it forward step by step. By the time we get to the end, it can be hard to let go. It’s like sending your child out into the world.

We found ourselves reluctant to jump in and start the final scene. We had our outline and a short treatment, we just resisted. Fortunately, we are veteran writers and realized what was happening. We pushed ourselves into it and it flowed. Mission accomplished. At least that part of it.

It’s very exciting now, because we get to move into the next phase. While still working diligently on the Kickstarter campaign, we can now move onto the later stages of development that bridge into preproduction. First, we can get the script into the hands of our lead actors. We want to give them the opportunity to start working on their characters, so they can show us their takes on them.. I’m a big believer in giving the character to the actor once the script is done. The characters are theirs to bring to life. Cooper and I will guide them of course in keeping everything in line with our vision, but we trust their talent and training.

We can schedule rehearsals and get in some work with the girls, further building a rapport with them and good actor/director relationships. We can also start thinking about casting the other roles. We need to know what we’re looking for so we can find it.

We can also get the script to our DP/Editor and start filling out the crew. We can meet with our department heads, showing them the script and start planning the look and feel of the film. It’s a very exciting time, the first step to taking the story off of paper and moving it toward the screen. It’s starts to feel real at that point.

I’ll keep you updated as we move forward. We’re very excited about this project. It will be a nice step forward in our filmmaking careers.

Our First Meeting

Yesterday, my partner, Cooper and I got together with our editor, Matt to discuss the script and our plans for MY SPIRITED SISTER. It was the first of what will become dozens of meetings as we make our second film.  Matt also cut ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? and did a great job with it.  He’s a terrific editor and the three of us are also good friends.  We all met at the first meeting of our former screenwriting group in 2011.  I honestly knew that day that I had met two extremely talented people and that I wanted to work with both of them.  Mission accomplished in that regard.  We already have one short under our belts and number two is on the way.

I find it very helpful to have my editor involved in the entire filmmaking process, not just in post production.  It goes a long way toward ensuring that we get all the shots we need to put together a solid film.  In this case, Matt is also going to shoot the film.  He’s got a better camera than we used on ISN’T IT ROMANTIC?, along with a lens kit and solid experience.  He’s very creative as well.  I needed to make a change in the director of photography position.  I am pleased with the visuals in ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? but it was not at all a good fit with the DP I used.  The director/DP relationship is essential.  That one adjustment will make a huge difference.  Cooper, Matt and I have mutual respect and the ability to work together for the overall good of the project.  That’s the main concern of all three of us: the quality of the finished film.

Matt liked the script we wrote and gave us just a few notes on things he thought would improve it.  We’ll do some revising.  In the meantime, the tasks of creating the schedule, budget, putting together the production team and fund raising are now upon us.  The start of a new project.  So exciting.

A Delicate Balance

I’ve already discussed the differences between writing and directing.  When writing, the sky is limit.  I can create anything my little heart desires.  Staging all those wonderful things and capturing them on camera is another story, especially when money and time are limited.

It is a balancing act.  I am staying true to my original concept for ISN’T ROMANTIC?, but I’ve got to plan my shots within the parameters of what we can afford and what can be done in a reasonable amount of time.  It’s not easy, but with the right effort, it is possible.  The key is effective communication and respect between myself and key members of my team.  Things are going beautifully in that regard.

I had a meeting this afternoon with my director of photography and my first assistant director, two of the most important members of my crew.  The DP is the eyes of a film and using his technical and creative skills, gives a director the images needed to tell the story in the way the director envisions.  The DP is the second highest ranking person on set and runs the crew.  The 1st AD runs the set.  He calls crew and cast to the set, calls for quiet and keeps everything running so the director can focus on the creative aspects of the film.  And in my case, playing my role.

The two guys I have in those positions are terrific.  Both are much more experienced than I am. They offer advice and suggestions without being condescending and with respect for my vision for the film.  They always explain why they are proposing their ideas and what the benefits would be.  They’re much more tech savvy than I am and understand visual storytelling.   I enjoyed myself very much at the meeting, learned more things about lighting and we are closer to being ready for production, which begins in a mere three weeks.

On a less positive note, we’ve had our first glitch.  I knew it was coming sooner or later, things were going much too smoothly.  The family who owns the house we are shooting in, will be out of town on the last scheduled day of our shoot.  A problem to be sure, but just a speed bump.  A good director solves problems and always has a plan B.  I proposed a couple of solutions to my guys, and my AD came up with a good alternate schedule.  It will push back the finish of production a couple of weeks, but will actually make things easier and give us more time to get things right.  And not cost us any more money.  I’ve got to run it by the team at our production meeting Tuesday night.

A huge positive is that we are in excellent shape financially.  I’m going to bring this movie in considerably under budget.  A very good thing for a director to be able to do, especially since I would like to make a movie with a big budget for a big production company some day.  Always a plus when you can save them some money.

Money, time, creativity.  It’s a juggling act.  So far, I’ve got all the balls still in the air.  I think I’m getting the hang of this.