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.

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.