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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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.

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.