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.

Advertisements

A Few Thoughts on Film in General

The next important date for ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? is tomorrow, April 19.  It is the notification date for the New York Shorts Festival.  I’m really hoping to get into that one.  It’s run by the same group that handles LA Shorts, so I think it would be a boost to getting into that one too, which is an Academy qualifier.  Plus, it’s New York, my hometown, the center of the universe.  I will definitely be attending that one.

While waiting, I thought I would share a few thoughts I have about films.  I was in a discussion on LinkedIn about a blog article that named the blogger’s choice for the top 5 screenwriters of all time.  Woody Allen was number one.  No argument from me.  In the discussion, a gentleman acknowledged Woody’s genius but commented on how he deals with the same themes and asks the deep questions, but has no answers.

The way that I see it writer/directors always have common themes that run throughout their work.  A personality emerges and a connection to that individual is there for the viewer.  It’s common to all great filmmakers who write their own scripts and for film buffs like me, it’s a major attraction to the artist’s work.

As far as not having answers, I don’t think that’s possible or necessary.  When we are dealing with the biggest questions of existence and humanity, no one has the definitive answers.  There are many beliefs, but honestly, who really knows?  I think it’s enough to pose the questions and explore them through story and character, allowing the viewers to draw their own conclusions.

This is how I try to operate.  I’ve only made one film thus far, but if you were to read the other screenplays I’ve written and watch my movie, you would find common themes and concerns.  And no real answers.  I think that’s the beauty of art.

All about me questionnaire

I know, my posts have been few and far between lately.  Sorry.  ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? is just about finished and I’ve been busy working to promote it, as well as seeking out suitable film festivals and other avenues of distribution.  I’m also working on two major writing projects as well brainstorming ideas for my next film.

I came across something that may interest my minuscule group of readers.  I found it on the one of the excellent blogs I follow, “shoegaze and cats”.  It is a questionnaire designed by Ania.  I think it’s fun to learn about the writers I read, so I’ve decided to post my answers to the questions here.

1. What are your values/priorities in life?

I value my family and close friends.  Honesty with others and myself.  I want to constantly grow as a person and to reach my full potential.  I want to continue to express myself through the medium of film, entertaining and hopefully enlightening others.  Maybe if I’m fortunate, there will be one person out there I can touch in the way that my favorite filmmakers have touched me.

2. What is your zodiac sign? Do you match its description?

I’m a Gemini and it’s uncanny how closely I match its description.  At the risk of sounding less than humble, I am intelligent and creative with a very fast mind.  I’m spontaneous and impulsive, very good at improv and extremely energetic.  I also have dual sides to my personality, kind of a light and dark, yin and yang kind of thing.  More on this in the introvert/extrovert question.

3. Do you have a pet? If you do, what kind of a pet is it?

Yes, I have a cat.  I never came up with a name for her, I just call her Kitty.  Very original, huh?  She’s very independent and keeps to herself most of the time.  She only wants attention on her terms, but she’s very affectionate sometimes and keeps me company.

4. Are there any quotes you particularly like?

There are actually two and they come from somewhat bizarre sources.  The first is, “It’s fun to have fun, but you have to know how”.  It’s from Doctor Suess’ “The Cat in the Hat”.  I remember it from childhood and I think it’s so important to have fun whenever I can.  The other is from “Amazing Fantasy # 15” the comic book that launched Spider-man, one of my heroes.  “With great power, there must also come great responsibility”.  That’s the original quote, it was altered in the Sam Raimi film.  Corny, I know, but I truly believe it and it’s one of the guiding principles of my life.

5. What song would you pick up as a soundtrack to your life? If you cannot choose one, take several :)

This is tricky.  I would have to choose an actual soundtrack, with different songs for different aspects of my life.  In terms of my work as an artist I would choose Annie Ross’ “Twisted”.  It’s an obscure jazz tune that Woody Allen used under the opening titles of DECONSTRUCTING HARRY.  If you’re curious, you can find it on YouTube.  Basically the song is about my analyst thinking I’m crazy, but I believe my eccentricities are a sign of genius.  I recently told someone this and she thought it was a little self-absorbed.  I have to say I agree with that, but I’m a confident guy.  At least when it comes to my talent.

Another song that I’ve always loved that has a place in my life is Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”.  I prefer the Sinatra version to Frankie Valli.  Over the last year I went through a pretty intense experience.  I was insanely attracted to a female friend.  I seriously have never wanted a woman more in my life.  The lyrics of that song matched how I was feeling exactly.  Especially the part about “the warning voice that comes in the night and repeats and repeats in my ear, don’t you know little fool, you never can win”  I didn’t win the girl of my dreams (no surprise there) but I did confess my feelings to her, she was really understanding and we became closer friends because of it.  Very cool.

6. Who are the most important people in your life?

My son would be first.  He’s a terrific kid, a bio-chem major.  I’m very proud of him and we have a great relationship.  My mother and brother.  I am very close to my family.  They are so supportive of everything I do.  Also my writing partner and co-star on ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? She is by far the best creative partner I have ever had and I can honestly say, the movie would not have been made without her.  We plan to continue to work together.  We’re a really good team.

7. Do you believe in life after death? If yes, how do you imagine it will look like?

I don’t.  For that reason, I don’t want to be buried in a suit.  What am I dressing up for?  Put me in something comfortable.

8. What are your greatest passions/hobbies?

Naturally, first would be film.  I love writing in general, especially screenwriting and now that I’ve experienced it firsthand, I love the entire filmmaking process.  I also love music and reading and sports, especially hockey.  Philosophy is something I’m passionate about as well.  I love to ponder all of life’s deepest questions.  I will never have the answers but it really is all about the search.

9. If you could choose any job in the world, which one would you choose?

It would be exactly the career I am pursuing, writing and directing films.  I also plan to find the time at some point to get back into stand up comedy.  I really miss it.  I could not be happy if I wasn’t expressing myself creatively.

10. How do you like to dress? Do you stick to a particular style?

I wear what’s comfortable.  I am the least fashionable person on the planet.  I don’t begrudge those who have a style.  To each his own, but I have never believed that clothes make the man.  Who I am is not something I can put on and take off.  I’m very low maintenance.  Besides, it’s doesn’t matter what I wear, nothing looks good on me.  I’m just not an attractive person.  Not physically anyway.

11. What’s your most favourite book/writer?

Tough question, there are many writers I admire.  Since the question mentions books, I will go with my favorite novelist/short story writer, Ernest Hemingway.  I got hooked in high school and reread his work all the time.

12. Are you more of an extrovert or an introvert?

Ah, back to being a Gemini.  I can be both to an extreme degree.  There are times when I am in social situations and feel uncomfortable.  I will just blend into the background, not say a word and no one even knows I’m there.  Other times, I can be the absolute life of the party.  I talk to everyone, joke with them, make them feel comfortable.  It was something I was proud of when I shot the movie.  My actors all commented on how I made them feel appreciated and on my warmth.  Fascinating aspect of my personality and something I don’t have a lot of control over.

13. If you could perfect one of  the skills you already have or dream of having, which one would it be?

Interesting question.  I am tempted to say my writing.  I’ve always said, I am first and foremost a writer.  But I am very confident of my writing skills and I work to improve them all the time, quite successfully.  So, I  would have to say my business skills.  Right now, they are pretty much nonexistent.  But to be a successful filmmaker, I have to get really good at promotion, networking and raising money through investors.  I’ve got to be a salesman.  That is one of my goals for this year, to improve those skills.  I’m actually doing fairly well so far.  To perfect them would free me to make the films I want to.  Nice to think about.

14. Do you have a role model? Is there some historical figure/celebrity/family member you admire?

I don’t model myself on anyone, I like the fact that I am, like everyone in the world, a unique individual.  I do have a number of influences but to single out one is very easy.  Woody Allen.  I’m talking about the artist, his personal life is not something I would emulate, but it is none of my business.  I admire the way he always strives to grow as an artist, trying new things.  I like that he is not afraid to fail and that he makes the films he wants to make and serves no master.  It’s what I strive to do myself.

15. What do you usually do to lift your mood?

Music is very helpful.  I love jazz and there are a number of recordings that make me feel good.  There are also movies that I watch that can snap me out of a funk, and now that includes my own.  Not that I’m saying it’s on the level of the others, just that I am proud of the accomplishment and it reminds me of what I am capable of doing.

16. What are your top 5 websites that you visit daily or most often?

My GMail account, I get tons of emails and many of them are important.  My film’s Facebook page and Twitter account because I am still promoting it.  IMDBPro.  I love researching films and filmmakers.  LinkedIn.  It’s a great networking site.  I’ve gotten work from it and found people to help with my projects.  My profile was one of the top 5% viewed last year.  I’m learning!

17. Where would you live if you could choose any place in the world?

My hometown, the greatest city in the world and the center of the universe, New York. (Okay, I’m just a little biased)  It’s such a great center of culture and the arts and I feel more comfortable there than anywhere.  I still live very close and get into the city all the time.  But I’m going to move back when I can finally afford to.

18. Do you like your flat/house or would you like to move somewhere else?

My place is okay, but it’s small.  I would love to have more space.  I’m here for financial reasons, but I am working very hard to change that.

19. What do you carry in your bag?

Being a guy I don’t carry a bag but in my pockets I carry my wallet, my keys, my phone, my money and a small picture of my son as a baby in a lucite case.  I keep my cash in a separate pocket and not in my wallet because when I was a child my father told me that people from New York never put money in their wallets.  I don’t know how true that is, but he never did and neither do I.

20. Which countries would you like to visit?

Italy for sure.  France, England and Sweden.  I have family in Sweden.  I would love to visit Japan too.

21. What’s your biggest dream (if you can tell, of course)?

To be able to make whatever films I choose.  Making a lot of money and winning awards would be nice, but as long as I can make them, I would be happy.  Since we are talking dream here, I will throw this in.  I would love to win an Oscar, preferably for Best Original Screenplay, but Best Director would be cool too.

22. If you won the lottery, what would be the first thing you would buy?

I can think of a few things, but the question is the first thing.  A ’63 Corvette Split Window Coupe.  My favorite car of all time.  I’ve loved them since I was a kid.  Very impractical, but you’re supposed to have fun when you win the lottery.

23. If you compare yourself five years ago and now, what has changed?

I’ve made a lot of progress in that time span.  I am much more confident.  I am actively and aggressively pursuing my dreams and goals now.  I’ve made tremendous progress in dealing with my depression and anxiety issues.  I am happy to say that I am in a much better place.

24. Do you speak any foreign languages? Would you like to learn any in the future?

Language fascinates me.  I speak Italian fairly well and some Spanish.  There is a growing Latino community in the town I live in and I like to make small talk in Spanish when I can .  As I stated earlier, I have family in Sweden and I do know a little Swedish.  I would love to become fluent.

25. What are your biggest strengths and your biggest weaknesses?

My strengths:  My intelligence, talent, sense of humor, determination, toughness, compassion and ability to read people.

My weaknesses: My temper, impulsiveness at times, my difficulty making phone calls (getting better though) reluctance to ask for help even when I need it, procrastination, inability to focus and the way I sometimes skip meals and sleep while working on a project.  Not healthy.

26. What skills do your friends ask you to teach them? What kind of advice do people turn to you for?

I’m proud to say my fellow writers often ask me to read and critique their work.  This goes back to my stand up days when my comedian friends would always ask me to write with them and wanted my opinion on their material.  Other filmmakers also ask my opinion on their movies.  My brother is great.  He looks up to me and asks my advice on many different things.  It’s a good feeling to be respected and I love helping him.

The Rough Cut Looks Good!

Danny smiles in at Diana with the reflection of the inn they've traveled to in the car window.

Danny smiles in at Diana with the reflection of the inn they’ve traveled to in the car window.

Another big step forward in the filmmaking process.  Over the weekend, I completed a rough cut of ISN’T IT ROMANTIC?  It is, admittedly, a very rough cut.  I don’t have the sound we recorded, only my editor has it, I used the in camera sound, which is of inferior quality.  I also only have a basic knowledge of editing techniques, but I must say, the cut looks “pretty darn good”.  My co-writer agrees with me and in fact, the words in quotes are hers.

We are very excited.  My editor has twenty years of experience and is creative and talented.  When he does his cut and we polish it, using the quality sound, color correction and other post production techniques, we’re going to have a very good film.  It will get into festivals.  There is not a doubt in my mind.

This is quite different from how I felt just a few weeks ago when I was having panic attacks worrying about the quality of the finished film. At that point, I hadn’t gotten a look at everything we had and was experiencing the type of self-doubt many artists go through.  Now, with all of the footage at my disposal and sufficient distance from production, I have a bit more objectivity.

I’ve been making efforts to promote the film as well.  I’m posting updates and outtakes on IIR’s Facebook page and on YouTube.  I’ve also been adverting it on LinkedIn.  We have several festivals targeted so far.  SAG has invited us to submit it to their short film showcase.  We’ve also been invited to submit to a film festival in Wales.  That is quite exciting.  Another venue is the Love Actually Film Festival, which takes place in Ridgewood, NY on Valentine’s Day.  It’s specifically for short films about love, sex and romance.  It’s right up our alley and I really hope to get into that one.  It will give me something to do on Valentine’s Day other than celebrate the fact that February is half over.

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!

An Uninvited Cast Member Named Sandy

Production on ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? is scheduled to resume this Friday.  We also have a production meeting planned for Tuesday.  However, Mother Nature has thrown us a curve in the person of Hurricane Sandy, on course to wreak havoc on Connecticut Monday.  We’ve managed to overcome several obstacles and while this one may prove the most difficult, we’ll work through it as well.

Schools have already been closed for both Monday and Tuesday and coastal areas are being evacuated.  Predictions are that many branches and trees will be down and there will be power outages throughout the state.  It could be quite a mess, but I’m adopting a “wait and see” attitude.

Tuesday will probably a full day of recovery, so there’s a good chance the production meeting won’t come off.  I can work around that, using emails and phone calls to coordinate our plans.  We’ve already worked together for the first two days of shooting and the crew has the hang of it.  I have no actors traveling in from out of state, as the remaining scenes feature only our two leads, me and my co-writer.  So canceling the meeting really will pose little problem.

The shooting days scheduled for the weekend could be tricky.  Friday, we are shooting all exteriors.  Although the rain will be finished by then, fallen trees and branches and possibly rain soaked muddy turf could adversely affect the final scene.  We have to get some pick up shots of Danny and Diana arriving at an inn in their car.  That shouldn’t be a problem.  The final scene though, takes places outside in a yard next to the building.  I’m going to prepare a couple of different ways to shoot, just to get around any problems we may have.

If the power is out at the location house, that would pose a problem as well.  By Friday, one would think power would be restored everywhere, but last year, at the same time, late October, we had a freak snowstorm that knocked power out all over the state and some areas did not have power restored for two weeks or more.  That would not be good.

It might not affect us too badly.  We’ve been running the camera off the battery and we can make sure we bring enough replacements.  We may not need lights to shoot outdoors, depending on conditions.  The owners of the home also have a generator, so they will have lights inside.  We should be able to shoot no matter what.

Saturday will be a different story if the power is out.  We will need lights for the interiors and I’m not sure their generator can accommodate movie lights.  I’ll just have to hope for the best.  If need be, I’ll reschedule.

So far, we’ve been able to work out everything and I won’t allow anything to sink this production.  There’s a great saying, “If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way.  If you don’t really want to do it, you’ll make excuses.”  I really  want to this.  I’ll find a way.