This fall and winter have been soooooooooo overstuffed with work and travel and life changes that it has felt a bit like the turducken of seasons. Once again, I turn to cooking when I am stressed out. I made this mushroom lasagna from Plenty a few weeks ago when I was overwhelmed by the task of filing for tax credits for Birdland. Spoiler alert: I am still overwhelmed by this task, which is not yet 100% done, in part because I am waiting on info from other people, which at least makes me feel better and less like a procrastinating, incompetent lump.
Mostly, I feel like a delightfully happy dumpling (i.e. good lump, not bad lump), good moods being the best symptom of pregnancy that I’ve experienced so far. I haven’t blogged about being pregnant because we just announced it on the social medias a couple of weeks ago, but here we go: I am nearly six months pregnant, so you can look forward to several exciting posts over the next three months about how sore my hips are and how much my walk has turned into a waddle. Whee!
I have been joking that I thought producing a movie would be the biggest thing I did in 2015! Turns out, I’m producing something waaaaaaaay bigger, to be released into the world in early 2016. In addition to good moods, I’m also experiencing a thrilling plethora of symptoms that I had never heard of before – insane dreams, an occasionally bloody nose, sensitive gums, a numb thigh (pinched-nerve related), constant exhaustion, post nasal drip, heartburn and occasional bursts of weeping. My skin is also super dry, but maybe that’s just “winter”. I have not had morning sickness or cravings, aka the only two symptoms anyone ever talks about.
For the past few months, we’ve been inching closer and closer to finishing Birdland, which is an absolutely thrilling fact, truly. I’m kind of sorry that I’ve been too exhausted and preoccupied by the crazy changes happening in my life (and body) to throw myself fully into the final few months of post-production, but I’m also incredibly glad that it’s no longer my job to steer the ship at this stage of the game. I’m also especially pleased that the completion date for the film (even if we fall a bit behind schedule) will be at least a month before my due date. Good timing! I never ended up writing about the pickup shoot dates that we rocked in August, but they went great, and our editor Caroline did a superhuman job of sculpting all our footage into a real movie. She is a wizard, truly. We locked picture last month and are now embarking on the next grand adventure: sound!
There are more fascinating aspects to the sound post production period than I really understood before. ADR (i.e. dubbing over lines that were mumbled, not recorded perfectly, or flubbed in some other way – in our case, we also added a few offscreen lines that weren’t in the script originally), foley (you know, like what the guy in Berberian Sound Studio does), editing the dialogue, adding the score (ours is being composed by two supremely talented musicians), crafting the sound design (the various non-musical elements that will shape the atmosphere of the film) and mixing it all together so that it sounds perfectly. It’s a lot of work. Many weeks’ worth.
Now that sound work is well under way, I can focus on tying up all the other loose ends – the aforementioned tax credit application, analyzing the cost reports to see if we’re over or under budget, get ready for the big job of submitting to film festivals, putting out press releases, promoting and marketing the film and working with our distributor / sales agent on the whole big plan of putting it out into the world.
In the meantime, I intend to focus on tying up as many other work-related loose ends between now and March as I possibly can. That includes finishing a few projects for REEL CANADA, delegating the bulk of my Royal-related work to other people, and getting as much Shudder work done as possible, so that we don’t risk falling behind during the baby-hiatus that is to come in late spring. It is all very daunting, but I have to say, I am very, very excited to be very busy with something that isn’t work in 2016. I’m a bit burned out on having five jobs. A few months ago I joked about how I could never decide on which job to quit because they all take turns being heartwarming. Thankfully, life has decided for me. I’m not quitting any of them, but I’m taking a good long break from them all. Perfect!
p.s. next time I’d add more parmesan & feta to the cheese in the very-cheesy mixture for this lasagna. It was delicious but kind of lacked salt.
After a month (nearly two?) of editing the film – a busy time for our director and editor, but less so for me, unless you count the crushing load of paperwork that needs to be filed to our funders, to the government for our tax credits, and to various other places – we’re back to shooting!
We managed to shoot about 95% of the script during production, and for a while, it seemed like it might be enough. However, once we assembled the thing into a rough approximation of a movie, we realized a few things:
First and foremost, we realized that while we had all the big, crucial, dialogue-and-plot heavy scenes, we were missing some smaller moments. Transitions from one space to another to establish the geography of a building. Intimate moments between characters that more deeply establish their relationships. Additional surveillance footage to hammer home the point that one of our characters really was obsessed with one of our other characters.
Secondly, we realized that those small moments would really flesh out the world of our film, and be the thing that takes it from “noble indie effort that falls a little short” to “really great movie”.
So, what do you do when that happens?
You look at your budget, you figure out where you can squeeze money out of, and you schedule some additional shooting days, that’s what. Or, you spend money you don’t have and hope it’ll all work out in the end! Luckily, due to some prudent money management during production, we actually had real money to spend, which was an immense relief that would allow us to get a lot done.
There are a couple of different types of “additional shooting” – reshoots and pickups. There are probably even more types, but these are the categories all our work fell into.
Reshoots are, as the name might suggest, do-overs of scenes or moments that you have already filmed, but that for some reason just don’t work. Perhaps the lighting was wrong, or you realize too late that there’s a flub in the continuity, or one of the actors was having an off day and it only shows in the edit even though it seemed fine on the day. Whatever the reason, sometimes you just have to do a scene again in order to get it right. Reshoots comprised only about 20% of what we had to do.
Most of our work was pickups. Pickups are scenes that you “dropped” before, and therefore have to “pick up” now.
In our case, about 50% of the pickups were indeed small scenes that were in the script but were dropped for various reasons. Usually, it was because we were running out of time and it seemed more important to get a big dialogue scene out of the way than to capture a bunch of little moments of people walking in and out of buildings, or whatever.
The other 50% of our pickups were moments that we didn’t necessarily have in the script but realized we were really missing, after the fact. An example: two of the characters in our film are having an affair – and their affair is a catalyst for a lot of what happens in the film. When we put it all together, we realized that we just didn’t have enough scenes of them together – walking down the street, holding hands, looking like two people in love. We needed “more affair”.
So, halfway through an otherwise reasonably relaxing summer, we started planning two additional shooting days, getting the old gang back together, as it were. Luckily, at least half of our original crew were available, but unluckily, the other half were not! Scrambling to find an entire camera department on very short notice is stressful. I’m grateful for the fact that my co-producer did most of the work of hunting down a crew while I dealt with agents, actors and tried to figure out how to manage the fact that only about half of the wardrobe pieces that we used in the shoot were still available to us (the rest were unique, one of a kind pieces borrowed from high-end and mightily generous consignment stores, and had since been returned and sold).
For the most part, having to find new wardrobe items isn’t the biggest problem in the world. That is, unless you’re trying to establish continuity between one scene in another in which the actor is supposed to be wearing the same thing. Then it’s a bit trickier. More on continuity in a future post.
We pulled it all together and shot two additional days earlier this week. How’d it go? Stay tuned and I’ll write it all up in the days to come.
Last week was a special week in Birdland. I got to stop worrying about paperwork, accounting, cost reports, marketing plans and fundraising for a few hours and enjoy the experience of watching the very first assembly of our actual movie.
The assembly is the very first thing the editor cobbles together, before there’s even a rough cut. It’s just the scenes, stitched together, in the approximate order of the screenplay. Watching assemblies is a great way to develop a deep appreciation of the editor’s craft.
An assembly isn’t a movie. It’s like the lump of marble that will one day become a beautiful sculpture, but it’s definitely not the sculpture. If you’ve done your job during production, your assembly will at least feel somewhat like a movie, in the sense that you’ll be able to see the narrative threads in it. Even with a narrative that’s as chronologically jumbled as ours, the asseumbly shouldn’t feel like a bunch of randomly connected moments. And in this case, it didn’t. It felt like a movie. Phew!
There’s a lot of work to be done, and possibly even some reshoots to organize later this summer for which we will have to raise additional money, but … it feels like a movie – and one that will be good when it’s finished. I feel immense relief and joy at this fact.
I’ve been taking a break from Birdland for the past few weeks, but now my to do list is growing again.
I have to make sure we get some footage to our sales agent so that they can start approaching buyers about it. I have to deliver paperwork to our funders confirming that we’ve completed principal photography in order to trigger our next round of payments. I have to make sure we’ve got a hot sizzle reel ready to show at TIFF in a couple of months to even more potential buyers who will be in town for the festival. I have to make sure we’ve got a decent festival cut done in time to submit to the fests that come up early in 2016. I have to start pulling together a marketing strategy and raising funds for a possible cross-platform project that will go along with our traditional marketing plan.
Oh yeah, and I have to get ready to go to Fantasia in less than three weeks to pitch a different project, which means I have to help the writer whip our script into shape, come up with a presentation, assemble the AV materials we’ll be showing, and write the copy for a handout that we will want to give to everyone we meet with.
There goes my dream of a relaxing summer!
Just yesterday, I posted about our final day of shooting and the fact that it’s “over”.
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.
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.
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.
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.