stuff, written by me

Monthly Archives: June 2015

Just yesterday, I posted about  our final day of shooting and the fact that it’s “over”.

it must be over, because I'm doing normal things like being awake during the daytime and sipping fruit punch!

it must be over, because I’m doing normal things like being awake during the daytime and sipping fruit punch!

Over is, of course, a big overstatement. Now we have three to six months of post production work ahead of us. Our (brilliant!) editor has already started assembling the dozens (if not hundreds) of hours of footage that we shot over sixteen long days into something resembling a movie. The first version we’ll see is probably going to be twice as long as the final film, and the process of whittling it down will take time.

There’s also sound mixing to be done, and sound design. Our (very talented) composer has to layer on a soundtrack. The film has to be colour graded*, too.  All of this will take time.

So, as I’m sure you understand, it’s far from “over”.

I will still have lots to do in the days and weeks to come. The funding paperwork will descend upon me like an avalanche, because cost reports and contracts and all sorts of other documents are now required by the folks who gave us money.

What is “over” is the nerve-wracking, panic-attack-inducing, exhilarating actually-shooting-the-movie  phase of the process. And, fun as it was, I am greatly relieved that it is behind us. Even more relieved that we have all the footage we need to make a great film.

If we’d failed to get it all in the can during our ambitious 16 day schedule, we would have been in huge trouble. The costs of trying to make up for it outside of this month of production would have been astronomical. Two of our lead actors live on the west coast. We dyed two actors’ hair and they probably aren’t going to keep it that way forever. Half our cast was jumping straight from this project into others, because they’re in demand and their time is tightly booked. The locations we used were only available to us for a certain period of time. Many of the props and costumes were rentals and have to be returned.

Orchestrating an extra day of pickups during our three week window (which we did – originally the shoot was going to be 15 days, but we ended up doing 16) was only a matter of extending everything by a few days – slightly challenging and somewhat costly but very doable.

Trying to pull it all back together for a day of pickups in, say, July, would have been … I mean, I’m no pessimist, but “impossible” is a word that comes to mind. Impossible unless we raised another hundred grand between now and then, I mean. Nothing’s impossible in the movies if you have enough money.

The pressure to get all the footage that we’ll ever need during that 16 day window was extremely intense, and now that it’s done I feel wildly relieved. The work that is to come is going to be stressful, but the pace will feel less pressure-cooker-esque. Even more importantly, for the next few weeks the bulk of the work will be on someone else’s shoulders, so I’m going to get a tiny bit of time off from Birdland.  I’ll be right there if anyone needs me, but  I will also have time now to shift to other projects, which is a blessing as I feel like I’ve been neglecting a whole lot of stuff.

I have shiny new draft  of a  script to read for the project that I’m taking to Frontières this July, for example. I have been ignoring  The Royal and REEL CANADA for so long I’m starting to feel guilty. I have a backlog of about a dozen scripts to read and several screeners to watch because people are waiting for me to get back to them about stuff. I feel like I’ve been away in some parallel universe for a few weeks. I had a great time there, but it’s good to be back.

*Aside: colour grading is the part of the post-production process that I’ve been most fascinated over the past few years  because it feels the most like pure magic. I could wrap my head around what editors and sound designers do, but what a colourist does was harder to understand until we got a friend (not totally coincidentally the same colourist who will be working on Birdland) to help us do some colour work on The Demon’s Rook before the film’s premiere. In some scenes, the change was so dramatic it was as if he went back in time  and changed the lighting  on set.  As I said: magic. 

It’s hard to believe that it’s already over. On  Friday – just two short days ago, as I write this – we completed our last full day of shooting. That’s a picture wrap on Birdland, people! Four months ago, I wasn’t even sure it would ever happen. Three  months ago, I wondered whether it would ever start feeling real. Two months ago, we were nearly starting. And now it’s over!

Our shoot was originally going to be 15 days, but as we went along we realized there were little bits and pieces that we wouldn’t have time for, and scenes that required a bit of extra time to get right. We added the 16th day to give ourselves a bit of breathing room, and it was a very smart decision. We did need the extra time – we never would have squeezed those scenes into our original 15 days. But we also needed the space to add a few scenes that we dropped along the way.

the crew huddled on the corner of Queen & Strachan, getting one of our final shots of the night

the crew huddled on the corner of Queen & Strachan, getting one of our final shots of the night

What started out as an extra half-day with a skeleton crew ended up being a full day with the whole crew, and while I wanted to be mindful of the cost of adding that time, I also think it was a very smart decision.

The cost of adding a day at the end of a shoot when you’ve already got all your actors and crew assembled (and all your equipment and props assembled too) is smaller than the cost of realizing a month later that you’re missing something crucial.

After a long and successful shoot, everyone was in high spirits and the final day went really well. Nothing major to report because it was so damn smooth.

Even the weather cooperated with us. It was raining during the indoor portion of our shoot and cleared up by the time we moved to exteriors. For me, the final shot of the whole film couldn’t have worked out better – the location was half a block from home, at Midfield, and we arrived just before last call so I was even able to order myself a celebratory glass of wine before strolling home to bed.

On Saturday, after a bit of sleep, we got together for a wrap party to hug and swap stories and celebrate the fact that we got it done and drink and eat snacks and stay up late for fun instead of for work. I can hardly believe it’s over. But, like, woooooooooooo!

The universe sometimes smiles on poor wretches like us. Clearly, after a tough Day 14,  someone decided that we’d suffered enough, and handed us a wildly productive and positive Day 15.

One of our actors was a bit frustrated because we’d cut a number of his scenes on Day 14, but on our second day at the crazy (beautiful) mansion we managed to make up for lost time and re-add all of his best moments back into the schedule.

In the end, I think everyone was pleased with how the day went, including him.

I have a great amount of respect for the work all our actors have been doing – but that particular actor has been absolutely nailing every moment on screen and his role is challenging and intense, so big changes to the game plan at the last second are understandably frustrating, and I thought his feelings about it were 100% legitimate. He wasn’t being a diva. He was being totally reasonable and trying to do his job well. He’s not a magic puppet who turns on and off when we tell him to. He actually prepares for each day’s scenes and it’s difficult for him to jump into an entirely different emotional zone when we switch the plan on the fly.

It sucks to have your scenes cut (because it means you’ll get less screen time in the end) but it also sucks to have them re-added on short notice, because it means you have to throw part of your preparation out the window and redo it without enough time to do that properly. Good actors make it look easy, but I know it isn’t, especially when you’re playing an intense character whose scenes are all emotionally draining (and in some cases, physically exhausting as well).

Watching actors do their work in short bursts (because that’s how films are shot) sometimes makes me feel like “pfft, anyone could do that” but the vast majority of the time it fills me with an enormous amount of respect for what good actors do. Because clearly, anyone couldn’t do it, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many cringe-worthy performances out there. Our whole cast is very, very good at what they do, and watching them work is impressive.

Anyway, the point is, we stopped freaking out about being fast, and we ended up being much faster than we’d been the day before. Day 15 was a wild success and left everyone feeling pretty optimistic about our final day. I can’t believe there’s only one left. Holy.

goodbye, crazy mansion!

goodbye, crazy mansion!

This was a pretty challenging day. First of all, it was crazy ambitious. We had about ten pages scheduled and we all knew going into it that it was going to be tough to get through them. The first few scenes were time consuming through no fault of anyone’s, simply because they were tough scenes. One involved some tricky nudity that took a while to “stage” and the other involved a stunt that had to be rehearsed and shot multiple times, from several angles, in order to make it look right. There was sex, there was action, there was all kinds of stuff that can’t just be shot in a single take.

birdcages at the location

birdcages at the location

The first half of the day went smoothly enough, but after lunch we got caught in a trap of our own making. We tried to “hurry”. This meant that through a sequence of events that I won’t bore you with, we ended up painting ourselves into the corner of having to use a shot that the director really hated. We were stuck, people were slightly on edge, and we ended up taking a breather and deciding to redo the entire scene  from a different angle. Yes, that ate up a lot of time, but the end result was a much better and more beautiful shot.

oh, the many birds of Birdland

oh, the many birds of Birdland

The day was about as difficult as any we’ve had so far,  especially because we’ve run out of “later” to reschedule the scenes we had to drop to, but I still feel pretty good about the footage we got. Yes, we got less of it, but we didn’t compromise quality, which is way more important. Our actors, bless their sweet little hearts, are all brilliant, and we would be nowhere without their continued dedication and the amazing performances they’re delivering even when things slow down or get a bit chaotic on set.

I got home from this day more tired and also more amped up on post-show adrenaline than I’ve been in a while. It took a long time to wind down and be able to go to bed. Which is kind of awful, given the fact that it’s the fifth day of a six day week and the final day of the week will be a MONSTER.

It’s ok, though. I’m the  Monster Killah.

fancy bathroom selfie

fancy bathroom selfie

Our final day in the studio went well enough, though we ended up calling in three extras who we paid to sit around and then go home, because we never got to their scene. It’s an expensive lesson to learn about the importance of realistic planning, and I guess I have learned it now.

We did the first half of our day in studio – two weird and challenging shots, a stunt of a woman falling to her death (in reality her falling about six feet onto a mat against a black background) and a scene of her dead body being found in a freezer (an actual walk-in fridge that we rented for the day).

Both were fiddly scenes with lots of details to consider, so they took a bit longer than we hoped. By the time we got to the second, more physically demanding half of our day, everyone was already pretty tired.

The second half of the day was all exteriors – driving shots, mostly. It would have been a breeze if the eve of June friggin’ first wasn’t freezing cold and super rainy. Standing outside under a leaky tent (or under nothing at all) for several hours is a bummer. I had immense sympathy for the actress who had to drive a convertible up and down a road over and over again for us to get a shot (with the top down, of course). She was a serious trooper.

beautiful (cold) woman in vintage Fiat Spider

beautiful (cold) woman in vintage Fiat Spider

It ended up being a really good day. We got most of what we needed and were left set up pretty well for the following two days – incredibly, mind-bogglingly ambitious days that will both thankfully be indoors at a crazy boutique hotel downtown.

It’s weird how quickly the whole production has whizzed by. And at the same time, week one feels like it happened a year ago. Oh, the mysteries of time.

Today was one of those strange days during which I felt like everything was going very smoothly and we were totally nailing it and I had relatively little to do, which felt great, and yet … we were pushing the generosity of our host at the studio a little far. We were supposed to be out of his hair by 10pm, but we pushed it to nearly midnight and I spent the last two hours of the night feeling terrible even though he was being very gracious and accommodating.

We managed to get through an ambitious 30+ pages in three days – nothing to scoff at. The studio time definitely helped us pick up speed, and our host’s willingness to be taken advantage of a little toward the end was deeply appreciated. But still, it was one of those “if we hadn’t had leeway about our end time, we would have been screwed, and that is an important lesson to learn” type of days. I feel like I’ve learned that lesson about a dozen times in 12 days, if not more.

the view from our studio

the view from our studio

I know I’m not saying anything revolutionary, but it can be very difficult to balance the needs of the actors, the crew and the director all at the same time, because those needs can be radically different – even competing, and that can slow things down quite a bit.

In this case I was also trying to remain mindful of our host, a (pretty brilliant and very generous) working artist whose work and home space we were imposing on. Of course, he’s the director’s good friend and I didn’t need to worry that he would kick us out or that a friendship would be actually ruined, but when someone looks like they really want to go to bed because you told them you’d get out of their home two hours ago and you’re still there, it’s hard not to feel uncomfortable – on behalf of yourself and the entire crew.

I know we have a couple of days coming up when we truly won’t have any leeway about location in and out times, and that does worry me. My friend Jeff posted this article about locations-related lessons learned on an indie shoot, and it could not be more timely. I’m gonna have a book’s worth of “lessons learned” to talk about when I’m done this sucker.

Those minor hitches aside, on day 12 I managed to get a lot of planning work done for the next few days and I witnessed a really gorgeous sunset (me and everyone else in Toronto). So, it was a raging success as far as I’m concerned.

Who even remembers what day it is anymore? Not me! The days have blurred together and we’re in a studio and not running around to shift the set every five minutes, which  makes the passage of time feel very strange indeed.

I barely made it to set on Day 11 at all. I mean, I was there, I just wasn’t near the camera. I was behind the scenes in our holding area solving eight million problems.

It was a day full of wacky disasters, all of which we fixed in the end, and all of which just ended up making me too tired to write a blog post until … well, three days later. Which might not seem like a long time to you, but in set time, it’s about six months.

To be totally honest, as I write this I’m having a hard time even remembering all the things that happened on Day 11, even though I do distinctly remember at the time thinking “wow, so many things happened today, it’ll make a great blog post”.

Joke’s on me. I guess I have to be more vigilant about staying up the extra half hour to write these after getting off set if I’m going to capture anything of note.

The one thing I can say about the problems that arose on Day 11 is that somehow, miraculously, we did actually solve them all. And meanwhile, on set, a whopping 10 pages of interrogation scenes got done and everything looked terrific.

bird's eye view from the studio balcony of our set

bird’s eye view from the studio balcony of our set

The real lesson here is that time during a film shoot flies by so quickly that there’s never time to catch your breath. Three days ago I had a “day full of problems”. Today, I barely remember what those problems are. That doesn’t mean that they were insignificant. It only means (thankfully) that we solved them in time, and my brain was able to delete all worry related to them (permanently, it seems) from the ol’ memory banks. In a week or two I will only remember Day 11 with the greatest fondness, as a day when we got all our pages done, and not as a day when ten things quietly went wrong. And that is probably as it should be.

actresses are super not into wearing high heels between takes and I love that about them

actresses are super not into wearing high heels between takes and I love that about them