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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Shot List and Storyboards

I’ve done enough whining in my recent posts.  Time to get back to filmmaking.  With the start of production exactly four weeks from today, it’s time to get down to business.  I’ve been spending this week working on my shot list and storyboards.  Both are essential tools to facilitate the shoot.

Most people are familiar with storyboards.  They’re drawings laid out in panels like a comic strip, depicting the shot by shot action of a scene.  They are vital in designing action scenes that contain stunts.  My film, a romantic comedy, has no heavy action.  Nevertheless, my editor has requested I do storyboards.  They will be very helpful in giving him an idea of how he will put the film together and in making sure we get the necessary footage.

It’s funny because although I am a multitalented person, drawing is not among those skills.  Productions with more money hire professional artists who draw beautiful, detailed storyboards.  We don’t have the budget for that, so it’s me scratching out stick figures. They look terrible, but they are effective in picturing what the scene will look like and how we need to set up the camera.

A shot list is exactly what it sounds like.  It is a list of each shot we will capture in a scene, the type i.e. wide, medium, close up, etc., angle, any pans, zooms or moves and a description of the action.  When you watch a film,  you see a serious of individual shots that were put together by an editor.  In a good movie, they cut together so smoothly, you don’t notice.  That’s the number one sign of good editing.  There are many shots and each one is planned ahead of time by the director.  It’s a big job.

The reason is that the shots are not arbitrarily chosen.  There is what is known as “standard coverage”.  For example, in a dialogue scene, you would shoot a two shot of both actors, and then an “over the shoulder” shot or close up of each one.  It could then be cut together showing either both actors, or either one speaking or reacting.  It’s effective, but boring and lacks creativity.  The way to do it is to analyze each scene in minute detail, finding the moment to moment essence, the subtext, what each character is really doing.  Then, the shots are designed to convey that information to the audience.  The most important information has to be made crystal clear, even if it’s on a subconscious level.  That is the challenge the director faces.  Choosing the individual shots and then putting them together to tell the story in a coherent manner.

It’s going well.  I watch films over and over, studying and analyzing scenes in great detail.  It’s a terrific way to learn techniques.  I also have the ability to visualize what my film will look like.  I’ve already seen it in my mind.  Now, I’ve got to get it on the screen.  I intend to be fully prepared but open to any inspirations that may occur once on set.

I’ve already visited my main location twice and my movie theater once.  I’ve got dozens of photos of my sets to aid me in the process.  Something that I find fascinating is how my idol, Woody Allen works.  He never looks at his sets ahead of time and does not make a shot list or storyboards.  He shows up without a single preplanned idea of what he will shoot or how he will shoot it.

This is very rare among directors.  Even the very best tend to prepare.  It’s really amazing that he can work that way.  It’s something I think would be cool to try someday as an experiment.  But not now.  The fact that I’m directing at all is a big enough experiment.  I’ll wait until I have a considerable amount of experience before I think about trying to do it Woody’s way.

Well, back to work for me.  I’ve got stick figures to draw.