Diary Of A Feature Film: A Place Apart
By Theresa Schwartz
Two years ago, David Roy and I began our collaboration on a new screenplay, A PLACE APART. We had known each other long ago as kids, and the year before, met again and fell in love. David is a filmmaker, a writer and teacher. I am a musician, teacher and counselor. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that I would leave my familiar world of public school teaching and music making, and move to California to try my hand at screenwriting and independent filmmaking
David has always been interested in uncovering the beauty and mystery behind the seemingly commonplace and familiar through writing and film. A band of enthusiastic French film theoreticians coined a word for this long ago – photogenie. Our central character is on a journey that in the end helps her rediscover the wonder and awe of the world and her special place in it. Our goal is to illustrate this woman’s journey in the most visually beautiful and compelling way possible.
Of course, most writers write about what they know. Who among us hasn’t questioned the path we’ve chosen in life, or allowed our fears to choose for us? I am currently going through the process of reinventing myself, and not for the first time. We’ve both had the experience of caring for elderly and ill parents. David’s mother suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, so he knows firsthand what it’s like to deal with a parent who didn’t always recognize him. From moment to moment he was never certain whether she was living in the past or present day. Our protagonist, Amy, grapples with all of these issues throughout the story.
A PLACE APART is a story about a young woman, Amy Sumac, who has a very close relationship with her successful architect father, George Baxter, who suffers from dementia. Amy discovers a secret her father has harbored for over 30 years, somehow involving a mysterious torch singer, an old drawing and a model of his fantasy house, hidden away in the attic. Her quest for answers leads her to re-examine the choices she has made in her life, as well as her relationships with husband Roger, and colleague Max, and ultimately questioning even her own identity.
After finishing the script, we of course wanted to make the film, but finding the time to do it was an issue. David was teaching full time with little time off. A last minute opportunity then came for him to take a fall semester sabbatical, but that created another problem – we now had only four months to do all of the pre-production and filming. Besides our shared creativity and ability to work well together, we knew between us we had a number of strengths, including David’s experience with the aspects of filmmaking and my organizational skills. We also had a number of key people interested in helping us, so we began gathering our resources and are now in the process of filling in the blank spaces.
The Production Team
We are incredibly fortunate to already have a great deal of equity wrapped up in our project – professional filmmakers, state of the art equipment, fabulous locations. David’s reputation as writer, editor and director of his 2003 movie MAD SONG (LA Times listed it as one of the “most promising directorial debuts of the year”) and documentary THE LUCKY MAN (he received an Emmy for his camera work) proves that he knows what he is doing as a filmmaker. My organizational skills and attention to detail should transfer well to the job of producer.
Many of David’s colleagues and former students have agreed to join us in this endeavor. Karl Ulrich, DP has worked in television as well as directing and producing award winning short films, documentaries, commercials and music videos. Paul F. Ryan, Producer, is a founder and partner of MOR Entertainment, a film production and financing company located in Manhattan Beach, CA with clients such as Miramax Films and the Weinstein Brothers. Julliard trained composer, Steven Argila worked with David on his movie MAD SONG, creating a hauntingly memorable soundtrack before going on to write for NBC’s comedy “The Paul Reiser Show” and a number of Nickelodeon TV Specials. Dale Angell, Sound Designer and Audio Mixer will work for us from his new state of the art studio in Salt Lake City.
The Equipment and Resources
Each of these team members bring an enormous amount of varied experience and resources with them. We plan to shoot with the Epic camera, utilizing an underwater housing where needed. Also available to us -- an extensive grip and electric package, dolly, steadicam, and full high definition post production facilities for picture and sound. We are also fortunate to have the use of professional sound stages at David’s school, where we will create some of our restaurant and bar scenes.
David found the key inspiration for our story a few years ago while scouting locations for another project. This amazing Gaudi inspired home is built in the vast wilderness outside Santa Barbara, CA. Ornately arched windows and doorways, spiral staircases and a reflecting pool set the illusion needed for the “Fairy Tale” house that the architect, George designed. We recently found another stunning location north of LA - a lovely three level home built on a wooded hillside. The entry level (living room, kitchen, dining room) is the top floor with a fabulous view of the back yard pool - three stories below! One location we thought we’d have to build on a sound stage at the school where Dave teaches. We needed a record store - one that sold only vinyl records that date back to long ago. We asked around and found a shop where the owner did business out of a storage garage, almost exactly as described in the script. The owner of the store could even be the shop owner in our story! These and a few other locations are pretty much locked down. Overall, the owners seem pleased that we think their property would be perfect for what we had envisioned for our film, and we are grateful that they have agreed to provide it at no cost. We are still looking for a large older home – one that is conventional and well appointed – for successful architect, George, preferably in the area near Ventura. We also need a small detective office for our gumshoe, JJ Kinser. We have our feelers out for these and will report back as we find them.
We have done some casting, calling actors that we know and asking friends for recommendations. We have found some highly talented people, but are still looking for some of our leads. We decided long ago that we would like to have a name actor or two (or three) to fill some of the smaller (yet integral) roles, hoping this would help generate funding and also Festival attention. The question is: Which comes first? The money or the name? At this point we do not have a casting director. The other question we are currently contemplating is whether to be a SAG or non SAG production. This for us is mostly a financial consideration. When we determine which course to take we will most likely post our cast breakdown on Breakdown Services.
The script is 86 pages and David would like to make this a 24 day shoot (approximately 4 pages per day). Our original start date was the end of October, and has already been revised to early November. Much of this has been determined by the availability of our crew, and will no doubt be revised again pending the availability of our cast. With David’s detailed class notes from the Producing class he teaches, I did a script breakdown the old-fashioned way – with a ruler and colored pencils. It was good practice for me even though our producer, Paul, did it all again later with a computer program. My “strip board” is index cards that I have shuffled and reshuffled to create a schedule (still being revised). I am happy to say that it is similar to the computer generated schedule! Right now the schedule is based on which actors we have cast and locations we have already procured. Since we have not yet raised all of the money we need to complete the film, we are considering filming for two weeks and taking a break to cut a trailer to use to help raise completion funds. This could also be used to potentially attract a name actor to the project.
I’ve mentioned above all of the things we have going for us. We have a beautifully written and poignant script that is lauded, especially by the actors who have read it. Then there is the incredible talent that has committed their time and sweat equity to help us realize our dream. We estimate that we have at least $150,000 worth of equity committed to the project in locations and equipment. As wonderful as these things are, we really can’t proceed without additional cash. Even with our actors agreeing to a back-end deferment, funds are needed to pay the crew and to cover all the fees and insurance costs required. And did I mention the cost of feeding everyone? It’s been a roller coaster of emotions as we go from “let’s do it!” to “how in the world are we going to make this happen?” David and I are generally very private people and it’s somewhat uncomfortable for us to ask for help with anything. But we have discovered that when talking about our film project, we hear a lot of “let me know what I can do to help.” People just want to be a part of a great creative project (of course we’re all hoping for a lucrative back end!). It’s amazing what you can get if you just ask! Most of the phone calls and emails we’ve sent out have had favorable responses. Enthusiasm is contagious. We are learning it’s to our advantage to think big!
I’ve been asked to write about our project as we go along, to maybe give readers an idea of the ups and downs and what’s all involved in making an ultra low budget indie film. This is my first film project, and I am learning a lot. Maybe it’s yours, too, so let me know what your questions are. If you’ve been around this block a number of times, please feel free to offer suggestions or advice. I am also continually updating and blogging on our website (also a new endeavor for me!) so check back often to hear about our progress!
A PLACE APART is Theresa's debut as a screenwriter and Producer. Prior to moving to California a year ago, she worked for the Iowa and Illinois public schools as a School Counselor and Jr. High School Band Director. Theresa is an accomplished clarinet player and teacher, playing for 25 years with the Classique Quintette and various other musical productions in the Iowa/Illinois Quad Cities. She is married to David Roy and has two children and three grandchildren.
David is a director, writer, visual designer and editor. His new screenplay A PLACE APART is in pre-production with plans to shoot in the fall of 2013.
In 2003 his feature film MAD SONG was cited as “the most promising directorial debut of the year” by The Los Angeles Times. National Public Radio lauded the film, favorably comparing it to Robert Altman’s early work. In 2004 David helmed one of five individually directed segments of MAN OF THE YEAR starring the late John Ritter. The film played in competition at the Slam Dunk Festival in Park City, as well as the Pasadena Method Festival where it won the “Best Performance” award. In 2005, David received an Emmy for his photographic contribution to THE LUCKY MAN, a documentary about one man’s tragic battle with ALS. David has been a member of the senior faculty at Brooks Institute in Ventura, CA since 2001, teaching writing and directing in the Film and Video Dept. In 2005 he was listed in the Who’s Who of American Teachers. Born and raised in Iowa, David holds BA degrees in History, English and Philosophy from Marycrest College in Davenport, and an MA in cinema from the University of Iowa where he also studied at its renowned Fiction Writing Workshop. His visualization of Heidegger’s “The Clearing” won him first place in the national Refocus Film Festival. After winning numerous local and regional awards for shooting and directing commercials in the Midwest, David moved to Los Angeles in the 1980s, where he employed his multiple skills towards a wide variety of documentaries and commercials, as well as music videos for such artists as Luther Vandross and the Beastie Boys.
The Production Diary
Stay tuned for their IndieGoGo campaign...
Friday, June 13
In many ways our movie project is stalled right now. We can’t move forward mainly because of lack of funding, and also because we still have to find locations and cast members. In spite of this (or because of it) we are busy talking with “the experts” now about crowd funding. We’re getting advice from two sources about raising funds and with yet another about whether or not to use a casting director or not.
We are learning that the more personalized our crowd funding campaign is, the more successful it will be. The wider we cast our net, the more successful we’ll be. The average donation on any campaign is $70. We’re being advised on what would be a realistic goal to aim for.
A colleague of David’s has told us that her daughter is willing to deliver our script to a name actor that she works with. We are drafting a letter of introduction to go along with the script. Fingers are crossed!
Tuesday, June 10
David has been spending time this last week with the Associate Editor cutting together one of the scenes from our week of filming. I got a chance to see it today and it looks great! David and Jeff are having fun looking at the many options there are for interpreting this scene and asked me to weigh in on some of their decisions. It’s interesting to see how a little smile or a look can change the emphasis of a line.
Thursday, May 29
Day 8 of filming!
Today we plan to film four scenes with Amy and Max in Max’s car. We start the day at our “scenic vista” location - a beautiful spot overlooking Lake Casitas near Ojai, CA. The sun came out just as we started and everything went really well overall. We used a doorway dolly for one shot, placed the camera (and the operators) in the backseat for several others, and used sticks for the remaining shots.
Our second location for the day was an alley off of Main St. in Ventura. We had heard that the mural in this alleyway was to be painted over and since we’d done some preliminary shots here, we were anxious to get these shots in to finish the effect. There were already some workers there and they graciously let us move in while they took a break. The results were terrific!
One final location was left with two scenes to film. The camera was mounted on the hood of Max’s car to get some of these shots. We arrived at the location expecting the parking lot to be empty, but discovered three vehicles parked there. We talked with one of the property occupants who told us we could go ahead with filming, but the cars would be there for the evening. With daylight beginning to wane, David and Karl jockeyed the car around to get the the best shots they could. The camera was also placed in the backseat of the car which was a bit frustrating for David because we didn’t have a wireless monitor and he couldn’t see what was happening in the car very well. This is when we are glad to have the expertise we have on the camera crew.
Tuesday, May 27
Karl, Aya, David and I went to one of our Thursday locations to determine what shots we could get without calling too much attention to ourselves and the fact that we would be filming. That particular location is an out of the way “scenic vista”. While we were there, a number of cars pulled up to enjoy the view - something we hadn’t counted on - so there was a discussion on how we would handle these “interruptions” on Thursday. It was decided that all we could do was to wait between takes if it was indeed an interruption…
We were also able to talk about needed equipment and logistics such as “where is the nearest restroom?” and “how many batteries and data cards will we need?” and the most important question - “what will we do for lunch?”
Saturday, May 24
It’s a Holiday weekend, but we’re busy calling and texting our crew to arrange to film on Thursday and Friday next week. It looks like we will have a very small crew (8 plus our actors) and will shoot at least four outdoor car scenes with Amy and Max. The locations have already been found and we’re hoping we can get it done quickly without calling attention to the fact that we are filming!
Friday, May 23
This morning we had coffee with our lead actress, Stefanie. She is such a delightful young woman, very intelligent and well read. She can talk about so many of the films that David is drawn to - many I’ve never heard of! She asked us if she could approach a producer she knows about finding money for us and will also see who she knows that could refer us to actors who might be right for some of the smaller roles we need to fill. She’s been a wonderful resource for us already!
As we were leaving the coffee shop, we literally ran into our camera operator, Keith. He has been a source of inspiration for David in so many ways - a wonderful example of a true independent filmmaker. We stayed to have lunch with him and talk about crowd funding. David has been talking with another gentleman about helping us develop a crowd funding campaign and Keith weighed in.
David and I also talked with Keith about his availability for filming in the next week or so, a question we also posed to Stefanie. We will check with the others in our crew about whether we can film at the end of next week for a day or two. We have decided we can afford to film for two days if we can get the key people together.
Tuesday, May 20
David and I met with the Production team for the first time since the shoot to determine what is next. I shared with them the costs of our week of filming and they were surprised - especially of the bottom line for transportation, catering and Art Department costs. We want to continue filming, but are trying to decide how we can get the most for the little bit of money we have. We have a couple of options and will look at which locations will be the most cost efficient at this time. We also have to arrange for a number of locations. We’ve got our work cut out for us.
We have a lead on someone who helps facilitate crowd funding campaigns. This person was recommended to us by our composer, Steven Argila. It will be interesting to hear his ideas about what we can expect to raise and how to go about it.
We’ve gotten some conflicting advice about getting a name actor and how much to offer them. One side tells us we need to offer a big chunk of money up front with a promise of a back end payout. The other side tells us that most older names just want to have a great role to play and don’t care so much about the money. Who’s right? Who knows!
Monday, May 19
I’d spent some time at the beginning of the month going over the receipts and checkbook and roughly adding up the costs we had over our week of filming. Today I went over the figures more carefully and typed up the numbers to share with the various departments. I was right in my estimation that catering was far over what we budgeted for. The Art Department also went way over as well. We underestimated our transportation costs by not figuring in gas money for our crew and actors. As a result, we had about $3,000 of unexpected costs. Now for most film shoots, that isn’t much, but for our uber-low budget it was about a third over what we had expected to pay out.
There was an article in today’s LA Times about how many low budget indie films were cutting costs. Many are not getting film permits and rely on favors from friends for locations and even acting. It all sounded very familiar…
Monday, May 12
While I was in the Midwest visiting family, David spent much of his time reviewing the footage we filmed during the week of April 21 - 27. Everyone has been very happy with what we’ve gotten so far. The plan has always been to cut some of this footage together to create a trailer to show potential investors and name actors. This would hopefully demonstrate the acting, directing and cinematography of our movie and would help us get the funding we need and also help us to complete our cast.
David and our 1st assistant editor determined there was not enough footage to create a trailer, but they were able to put together what they are calling a “reel of the dailies” from that one week of filming. They’ve even added music and some sound effects. The resulting reel has received many favorable responses from those who’ve seen it. David is very pleased!
Wednesday, April 30
I am on a plane to Iowa and am using the time to write!
David is spending time with Jeff, our 1st Assistant Editor, looking at the footage of what we filmed last week. Karl and Aya are also with them and everyone is excited about how it looks! I am a bit jealous that I’m not with them, but know I will spend lots of time in the coming weeks looking at the video with David.
During the shoot, I kept records of what we spent - the checks we wrote and the cash we used. My job now is to go over receipts and check registers to determine how much we spent and how close we were to staying on budget. My sense of it so far is that we overspent on catering. I also know that we hadn’t really budgeted for reimbursing people for gas money. Other items, such as the cost to rent the Movi wasn’t in our budget at all. It will be interesting when we get the final numbers.
Tuesday, April 29
There is still much to do, things we’d used from our house - props, lamps, pictures - all needed to be put away. Coolers and dishes used for catering needed to be washed and stored. Wardrobe needed to be laundered and hung up. And I needed to get ready for a trip back to the midwest to attend my niece’s wedding. We also needed to sleep!
I was so busy last week with everything, that I didn’t have time to write the diary entries or to write the blog for our website. I had really hoped to post something each day and only ended up posting a couple of times on our Facebook page. I took a lot of pictures and hope that will help me remember some of the more significant events that happened throughout the week.
Monday, April 28
I had set my alarm for 8:00 AM in order to call the piano company to find out what time they would be there to pick up the piano shell at our Woodland Hills location. Soon after I received a phone call from the movers - they were already outside the house ready to pick it up! The problem was that we were at home - about a half hour drive away. So off we went to let the movers into the house. While we were there we did a final check and contacted the owners to tell them the piano was out and we were officially done.
After a quick breakfast, we headed to Ventura to help unload equipment and return the van we’d rented. We were exhausted, but still had to unload things from our cars when we got home. Another long day after only a few hours of sleep.
Sunday, April 27
Day Seven - the final day of this stretch of filming.
The day today started at 5PM and we were scheduled to go until midnight. We set everything up for the first shot of the day and then waited for the sun to go down enough to start. Because we were uncertain about whether we could even shoot today, the original schedule and the schedule we were creating as we went along were completely different. At times I really didn’t know what scenes we were doing, which made it interesting because I was helping the actors with their wardrobe.
We were able to finish all of the shots we needed for this particular location, except for the scenes in the bedroom. It was decided we would find another location for the bedroom scenes and would schedule these for the next round of filming, hopefully in late May.
At midnight we packed up our equipment and began cleaning up, leaving things as we found them that first day. I made one final trek up the three flights of steps from the pool and cabana with the trash and turned out the lights. We all stood outside the house for a while longer, reluctant to see this week end.
Saturday, April 26
Day Six - We went until midnight (or so) last night and today’s start time was 6PM - an overnight shoot. Last night just as we were packing up, I received a text from the caterer saying that she would not be able to provide any food for the next day. I was in a panic about what to do! Should I cook or should we cater in? I decided to cook, so my day started early at the grocery store. No sleeping in for me!
I’ve mentioned earlier that the house at this location is three levels built on a hillside. We set up Craft Services on the lower level in the cabana by the pool. A lovely setting for our cast and crew to sit and eat and relax. The only problem was hauling all of the coolers and boxes and bags down three flights of steps! David made sure I had help each day carrying the cases of water and pop and bags of ice down. At the end of the day I hauled the trash up the stairs to take home. I didn’t want to leave anything more for the owners to have to deal with.
Today it was G&E who had a new toy to play with. We wanted to get a shot of the pool from the highest level of the house and needed more lighting than what the existing pool lights would provide. David and Karl also wanted to create the effect of shimmering lights reflecting on the back of the house, so we rented two Hydroflex lights to light everything from the bottom of the pool. Most of us know that electricity and water don’t mix, but these lights are designed to go in the water and the G&E guys had a great time setting it up. The results were exactly what David and Karl wanted and the house looked stunning on the outside as well as the inside!
The pool was lit and now one of our actors was scheduled to swim across the pool directly over a camera in an underwater housing. Only, the pool wasn’t heated and it was a chilly California night. Andrew was a brave soul to even agree to do it, but the shot turned out great with only a few takes. We also had one of the Art Dept. guys swim as a body double for the long distance shots from the balcony above. Those guys deserved their hot chocolate and warm shower afterwards!
It was a bit surreal to watch the sky light up as morning dawned. It was hard to know whether to say good night or good morning as we packed up for the day and headed for home.
Friday, April 25
Day Five: Each day we start by unloading the trucks - it takes about an hour and a half to unload and load.There is no place at this location to store things. We can only use half of the short driveway and one car parking space to set up. Our guys were amazing and just did what they needed to do with out complaint. They worked so well together! I can see a definite division in job responsibilities. G&E generally worked together and the Camera crew did their job and so on. Each one knew their job and that’s what they did. Over all they had fun.
Spirits were high and everyone was excited today because the Movi arrived. David had decided to use the steady cam in a couple of shots and Karl said the space would be too tight for that. One of the camera guys suggested we look into renting a Movi instead. It is basically a small steady cam-like piece of equipment. The camera is suspended within a frame and is controlled by a remote control with joy sticks to manipulate the camera. Only one of our crew had used the Movi before and the camera crew had fun practicing the shots and discovering what it could do. They did an amazing job getting David’s more challenging shots! At one point they handed it to me to see how it felt to hold it. The shots worked well that day and I could see that having the use of this new tool was worth the price to rent it.
Rain was in the forecast today. It was cold and overcast. You have to remember that our equipment was spread out on the driveway and lights were set up outside to light for day on the inside. Tarps covered the equipment truck and the guys put aluminum foil tents up to cover the lights. We just hoped the wind wouldn’t pick up too much! The rain was mostly drizzle at the end of the day, but over all much was accomplished and we felt we had made up for what we lost yesterday.
Thursday, April 24
Day Four: In Woodland Hills, CA today, at a beautiful three level home built on a hillside. We are scheduled to be at this location through Sunday. The owner greeted us first thing with the news that her mother was seriously ill and us being there Sunday was in question. We asked her if it would be better for us to reschedule and she assured us it would be OK to get started. Our schedule is ambitious - four pages each day. In the event that our time was cut short, it was decided to do the scenes only in the kitchen and living room and save the scenes in the bedroom for either another day or another location.
We rented a baby grand piano shell for some of the scenes here and set our start time back to coincide with the delivery of the piano. We were set and ready to go but the piano was late. We started the day already running behind schedule.
There were some parking issues for us today - a couple of the neighbors weren’t happy about all of the cars parked on the narrow street and even though we had a permit and were parked legally, we decided to shuttle the actors and crew to the location from a nearby parking lot.
We experienced a number of other complications today. As a result, we only got three shots done for the day. After consulting with the owners, it was decided that the best use of the rest of our day would be to prepare for day five so we can get a fresh start in the morning.
Wednesday, April 23
Day Three: Our location today was a record store in Ventura that sells vintage vinyl records. American Pie Records was the perfect location for “Bill’s Record Store”. David had seen in his mind’s eye a dark and dusty space filled with stacks and bins of records. Our DP, Karl, suggested using black lights to make the space seem a bit more funky and out of the ordinary, like the character Bill. We decided to open the scene using Karl’s suggestion and it looked great! Doing this of course took more time for set up and halfway through the morning it became apparent that we would spend the entire day at this location.
The store is actually a storage garage so we set up DIT, makeup and catering outside in the parking spaces. It was hot and there was no shade and I came home with a sunburn that day. At one point the lawn sprinklers came on and there was a mad dash to cover the sprinkler heads near the DIT cart. It was a serious situation with all the computer equipment in the line of fire from the sprinklers, but also a bit comical as the crew scrambled to cover things with apple boxes and trash bags.
Our lead, Stefanie tipped us off about an actor friend of hers that she thought would be perfect to play the role of the record store owner. We checked his reel and agreed. David Yow was perfect for the role and he was fun to work with as well!
At the end of each day, after everything had been packed up and everyone had been sent home, David and I would spend about an hour talking about our day. He was always on the inside with the actors and camera crew and I was mostly on the outside running that end of things and we didn’t interact much. He would then tell me how each scene went and I would fill him in on what had transpired with catering and outside events he might have missed. It was one less hour of sleep, but it was a good way to connect and stay informed about each day.
Tuesday, April 22
Second Day: Today we are in Ventura at the home of one of David’s former colleagues. This family has two young girls and their home is perfect for our character Max’s house - complete with drawings on the wall and toys on the floor. With all that already present, dressing the set didn’t seem to be necessary. I have learned that it’s not just making sure the props are there, it’s also about making certain the frame looks good with the background arranged as well
It was sort of a party atmosphere today. The homeowner knew most of the crew and was happy to see former students. This was the caterer’s first day and she cooked breakfast for us. A friend was with us taking pictures….Everyone was happy.
One of the first shots we did was a steady cam shot that started on Max in the kitchen and followed him to the front door where our lead, Amy was waiting. I was watching the monitor and tears literally came to my eyes! It was so cool to actually see this shot come to life exactly as David had planned it out. Our dream was coming true!!
As the day went on, it became apparent we would not have time for the company move that was scheduled. At one point David cleared the set of any extra crew. The scene he was shooting was a very emotional scene, a pivotal point in the movie and he wanted to remove as many distractions to the actors as possible. We did get the shots David wanted in that one location and he was very pleased with our actor’s performances.
The day went over what was scheduled and we had to provide an extra meal for the crew that wasn’t planned for and wasn’t in our budget, but what can you do? We have to take care of our crew and actors and I’m happy to do what is necessary. I even helped sweep the floors and take out the trash at the location!
I’m so glad we opted to stay overnight in Ventura!
Monday, April 21
First day of filming! This is the day we have been planning for with great anticipation! Every one is really excited to get started! Spirits are high as everyone gathers and the camera is set up. Our actors are in makeup and we do the final selection of wardrobe. Everyone knows their job and they get right to it.
We’re ready to go when David and the Camera Department decide to change a lens on the Scarlet. Now we are an hour behind schedule already! It takes a little while for everyone to settle in once we begin again, but the set is beautiful and the acting is wonderful. David keeps saying, we’re going to make a beautiful film!
Sunday, April 20
The day before…
I’ve decided to cook for the crew on the first day, so spent the afternoon chopping veggies for salads and cooking a crockpot meal. We have two vegetarians and a dairy allergy to consider when planning the meals. I think I’ll have it covered with Italian Beef sandwiches and a great quinoa and veggie salad.
The rest of the day was spent packing all of the wardrobe and serving dishes and whatever else we’ll need to make the day go easier. I want to make this a great experience for our crew, so have tried to think ahead to anticipate what all we might need for the next wee
Saturday, April 19
Two days before it all starts!
Yesterday there was quite a discussion with the DIT, the DP and the 1st assistant editor about the number of hard drives we will need. I’m told that this is not the place to skimp and hard drives are not cheap. They have suggested an 8 terabyte hard drive to store the footage as well as two one terabyte hard drives to transport. Karl will store footage on his hard drives at home and the DIT and 1st assistant editor will do the same. We will have three back ups all stored in different places. David and I will do some shopping today for everything we need.
I am a bit nervous about the catering - it’s not totally locked down for the week yet. I plan to shop at CostCo today to get some things for the first couple of days and if needed we can cater in food from some of the restaurants in Ventura like we did on Friday.
Friday, April 18
Today was a big prep day for our crew. They gathered together all of the equipment we will use for this seven days of filming coming up next week. I was amazed at the volume of stuff they had stacked up! Now I understand why those movie crews you see parked on the streets in LA have so many big equipment trucks.
The Art department has painted the set on the sound stage we will film in on Monday and has dressed the set. We will film two different scenes on the same stage. Half of the walls are painted red and half are green. One angle will appear to be a nice restaurant and the other angle will look like a beach bar. I guess this is what you call movie magic! If the camera doesn’t see it, it doesn’t exist.
Karl’s crew can now set the lights so we can be ready first thing on Monday. Our 1st AD had arranged for a friend to be a stand in for us (usually my job) which freed me up to run errands all day. I was able to pick up things for the Art Department, but my most important job for the day was picking up the food we had ordered for the crew and setting it up. At the end of the day they all thanked me for being fed so well
David spent quite a lot of the day going over his shot lists. Karl and Aya have been bugging him about getting things finalized for a while now. As important as this is, it’s been difficult for him because it takes a lot of focused effort and David has been so busy, first with his classes and school responsibilities, and also with a lot of producing tasks. It was a welcomed block of time to get this important job worked out and he was happy to have it completed. Now Aya can get busy on the shooting schedule.
Thursday, April 17
Our 1st AD, Aya is amazing! She has been busy filing insurance, applying for the permits and arranging for equipment rental. I know this is the job of the 1st AD, and she seems to know it well. She has created contact lists and is keeping in contact with all of the cast and crew, sending schedules and fielding questions. We are grateful to have her on our team.
Aya informed us that it was too late now to file permits for any alternate locations we might find. There are two holes now in our schedule that we will try to fill with scenes that can be done almost anywhere - some of the car scenes in particular.
Wednesday, April 16
David decided today that the location at his school we had planned to use for “JJ Kinser’s” office was not really what he wanted. The office we had selected was a bit too “institutional” than what he has in his mind’s eye. He has a couple of other locations in mind, so we will need to check them out.
Tuesday, April 15
I’ve been worried about feeding the actors and crew during this shoot. We had an inquiry out to a culinary student and discovered today that he would not be available. Fortunately, our actor, Jess, and his girlfriend had also asked us last Sunday if we needed anyone to cook for the crew. They are planning to start a catering company and thought our shoot would be “good practice” for them! Now to work out the details.
Karl, has now requested a box truck for equipment. After some research, I found that a box truck is not available for the dates we need it. It’s just as well, because the cost then goes up considerably per mile, and that does not factor in the cost of gas. Back to plan A.
Monday, April 14
I took Andrew shopping today and we found a relatively inexpensive suit for him in downtown Los Angles. Problem solved!
My focus was mostly on wardrobe today as I organized “Amy’s” wardrobe selections, washing and ironing a few things and hanging and tagging each outfit.
Saturday, April 12
Today David rehearsed with Stefani and Andrew, the actor playing her husband, Roger. Again, it was a great day with discussions about each character and how and why they would interact in the way the script was written.
Again, we spent some time discussing wardrobe and determined that we needed to get a suit for Andrew - an expense we hadn’t counted on! I’ll have to spend some time exploring our options.
Friday, April 11
Today is the first rehearsal day. We met with Stefani who will play the role of Amy and Jess who will play the role of Max and went over the scenes they are in together. These two are such fine young actors and David is very pleased with what they are doing. They both seem to understand their characters and motivation and there was a great chemistry between them - very important as Max is Amy’s love interest. We are very excited to have them on the team!
Both actors brought in clothing from their own closets and we also spent some time deciding what we can use and what else we will need to get for them. At one point in time our living room looked like someone’s suitcase had exploded!
Wednesday, April 9
Another long day today…We met for quite a while with the Production designer in the afternoon. David showed him some video of an audition scene we did last May to give him a better idea of what David wants for the Restaurant set. The Art Department is going all out for us with some of the sets they’re designing, but so much of it isn’t necessary. We won’t even see a lot of it because of the tight shots that are planned.
Our DP, Karl has requested a rental van or box truck to haul equipment in. The original plan was to load equipment in everyone’s car, but as the crew has grown, so has the equipment list. I understand how this will make the logistics of the shoot more efficient, but I am also adding up the costs and it is much more than we had planned. I think he is looking at that $19.95 cost per day and is not figuring in the cost per mile and the cost to fill up those gas tanks.
Tuesday, April 8
We had a very productive production meeting today! Things are coming together and those things that are still up in the air are being addressed. The crew has been determined. We’re finalizing the schedule. The sets have been designed and the Art Department is ready to get things set up starting next week. We’re in the process of locking down the equipment and props we need to rent. One of our biggest set design issues was finding a prop baby grand piano. We got a friend of a friend who is an Art Director help us with this and we were even able to get a better price with her help! We’re starting to have to pay for things and put down deposits now. A lot of companies want your credit card number for this…I have to remember to call my credit card company!
Monday, April 7
I got to stay home today for a change and spent part of the day sewing table cloths and napkins for one of our restaurant scenes. I also began gathering those things on the prop list that we already have and plan to use. Our living room is now a staging area and will fill up with boxes and equipment as we prepare over the next two weeks.
I also spent some time looking on-line for tips and ideas about catering and Kraft services for the shoot. Everyone seems pretty adamant about not serving pizza – only offering healthy food to keep everyone’s energy levels up. I’ve planned on taking care of most of the Kraft services and also a couple of meals. I thought that I would do a lot of baking for our crew, but I’ve come to realize I will not have the time to prepare meals for 20+ people that week on top of all of my other duties. Mostly, I’ve begun to see that my job as producer for this shoot is mainly to oversee and coordinate all that is happening. Either I will be very busy, or if things are well planned, I will get to watch it all happen!
Sunday, April 6
David and I spent much of the morning today going over the schedule and fine tuning it, arranging and rearranging the scenes according to the time of day in real time and in script time. We’ve found we will need additional night time to get the right look for certain scenes and I was a little apprehensive about asking the owners of the property if we can be there for one more night than we had originally asked for. We sent an email asking for the extra time and it turns out they were very agreeable to our request. As we look at the schedule, David is also looking to determine which scenes are essential and which scenes we can let go of if time runs short. The script is already pretty lean, so there really is not much we can drop. We’ll have to be efficient and also mindful of the time throughout the shoot. Our 1st AD has her work cut out for her!
Saturday, April 5
Our DP, Karl met with his crew today to go over the equipment they will be using. They put the camera together and tested a variety of lenses so they knew what all they had to work with and what all the equipment would do. A couple of the guys had not yet fully committed to the whole six days of shooting. Karl talked to them about the script and David’s vision for the shots and by the time the day had ended, all were fully on board for the week of April 21st.
We still need to find a couple of actors – day players. One role is very small – only a couple of lines. The other role is a bit more substantial, and we’ll need this person for a half a day of shooting.
Friday, April 4
At the end of the day, David and I went to one of the locations we’re waiting to confirm so he could get a few more pictures for the story boards and shot lists. We were also able to enjoy a great Vesper Martini there as we looked around. This is the sort of location scouting I like! We’re keeping our fingers crossed about being able to use this great place!
Thursday, April 3
The Art Department guys had given me a list of the props needed for the scenes we are shooting and I went through their list today and marked all of the items we already have. Hopefully this will let them focus more on some ‘specialty items’, as well as dressing the sets on the sound stage. They also shared with us a list and pictures of lights and lamps they’d found at the local big box hardware store. Guess I’ll be doing some shopping this next week.
Friday, March 28
We stopped by one of the local High Schools today to talk with them about whether we could use the school as a location and to get a look at how the building was laid out. Being a teacher from the Midwest, it is interesting to me that most of the schools here in California have outdoor corridors. The student’s lockers are in these outer corridors. Our script calls for students at their lockers in a more “traditional” situation. This may not matter in the long run. We also discovered what the fees were to use the school and it’s quite a bit out of our price range. Guess we now need to form an alternate plan…possibly using a private school or even the classrooms at David’s school.
David will spend time this weekend reviewing his story board pictures and working on the shot lists for the scenes we’ll shoot in April. He will also use some of the video from the auditions, looking at the timing of the dialogue in relation to the use of the space we’ll be working in. This is the part of pre-production that he likes!
Wednesday, March 26
We spent the afternoon doing story boards at another location in Ventura today. This is the home of a family with young children and it is perfect for Max’s house. It comes complete with children’s drawings posted on the walls and children’s toys all around. There is even a keyboard in the living room – Max is a Choir Director - We will hardly have to do any Art direction here! The owner is a former colleague of David’s and got a kick out of taking pictures of David and Karl “at work”.
Tuesday, March 25
Production meeting day today. We are talking now about using a new piece of equipment called a Movi which is used when a steady cam is too big for the space. We’re finding out that there are not too many of them out there yet because it is so new, and the ones that are out there are already spoken for. If we can find one, it will be fun to be able to use the latest equipment. There are still questions about who is available to be on the crew. I think this may work to our advantage in some ways. We will need a larger crew the first two days and then smaller crews until the weekend when more people will be available and there will be more to do. It looks like this will have to be another consideration when creating the schedule.
We are checking out some of the smaller and less expensive hotels in the area to house our actors when they are on location. I want to find the best hotels we can afford, but want them to be comfortable and feel like they’re being well taken care of.
Sunday, March 23
We spent the evening at the location we have for Amy and Roger’s house, taking still pictures and video for David’s story boards. At first it was a bit uncomfortable for me to go to this beautiful home and go through the motions of the scenes, walking around and taking pictures of everything. But the owners have graciously allowed us to do what we need to do. I know that the more we can plan our shots ahead of time, the more efficiently we can use the time we have while we are there. David was very pleased with what he was able to get.
Saturday, March 22
I asked David this morning at breakfast what I should write about for this week. We’ve had an up and down week overall. Some creative differences have surfaced, and there is also the anxiety over whether we will be ready to start on April 21st. We are somewhat concerned about keeping our energy levels high for this prolonged period of time. That’s one reason for shooting this film in chunks as we’ve planned, but in doing so we hope we aren’t creating another set of problems. It will be important for us to keep the momentum going for our actors and keep as much continuity as possibly with our crew. An advantage to them is that they would be able to work at other jobs around our schedule and could be making money to supplement our meager offerings. We would be able to use the time between filming days to prepare story boards and shot lists and all the rest. We need to feel we are on top of things as we go along and this type of schedule will give us the time to do that.
Wednesday, March 19
David had breakfast this morning with a former colleague who is helping us with locations. He is, in fact, our liaison for the Fantasy House location. It all seems to be still available to us whenever we are ready to use it, which is a great relief to David!
Tuesday, March 18
We’ve decided to have a production meeting each week on Tuesdays. David shared the pictures and ideas he has for his shot list at the location we visited last Friday. We’ll go back there over the weekend to finish the story boards for that location. We talked about the DP’s crew and who has made a commitment to the first week of shooting and to the project in general. These guys won’t be paid much more than gas money and expenses, and we understand they may not be available to us if a better paying gig comes up. We do, however, have a number of people just starting out who are willing to work for the experience and the credit!
Friday, March 14
An exciting day today! We visited the location for Amy’s house so David could start the storyboards there. He has always drawn out the storyboards as is traditionally done, but decided this time to use a camera to take pictures instead. We bought a Lumix LX7 several weeks ago for this purpose. It takes pictures in the 16:9 aspect ratio and also indicates the equivalent 35mm focal length for each shot. David had already created a shot list based on his memory and the photos we had, so in we went to try it out. It worked well generally, but the actually geography of the house dictated a much more mobile camera than he had originally envisioned. Because of this he plans to use the camera’s video capability on a return visit. The house itself is stunning with so many possible angles and perspectives. Overall, David is very pleased with the shots he found.
Wednesday, March 12
Our insurance questions have been answered and we’ve found a relatively inexpensive source. We are now also talking about the pros and cons of filming only 7 days instead of 12. If we shoot at one of our locations, we will have to go back a second time and finish with some of the cast we don’t have yet. Ideally, we would want to get that location shot out at one time. We’ll take another look at the schedule to see what will work best. David says that creating a shooting schedule is much like “juggling water.” When one thing changes it changes everything!
Friday, March 7
We met with part of the Production Team at noon today. We talked more about possible locations and tech scouting the locations we already have. There was also a great deal of discussion about the second week shooting schedule and we rearranged a few scenes so we can be more efficient with our time and resources. Karl wants to schedule two full days to test the equipment with the crew so they will all be versed in what we plan to use and how to set things up, etc. One of those days will include a lighting and makeup test for our lead actress.
Aya and Karl asked about the possibility of renting walkie talkies for the crew. Even David agreed that the noise level at a shoot with walkies was considerably less. Aya will get prices and we will take another look to see if the budget will allow for that.
We are up in the air right now about insurance and how much it will cost us. David and I need to decide this soon so we can determine what “extras” (like walkie talkies!) we can afford to add.
Thursday, March 6
Today was lunch with our actor who is playing the role of Roger. Andrew grew up in Switzerland and got his start as an actor there. He’s only been here 5 months or so and seems to have adjusted to life in LA quickly and is finding work. We feel fortunate to have him on our team! We also met with a potential makeup artist this evening. She and David had been emailing for several weeks and we finally had the chance to talk in person. We weren’t really certain we would need a makeup artist or whether we could even afford one, but after talking with her, we decided she would be an asset to the project.
Wednesday, March 5
I took some time today to drive around Ventura looking for our motel location. We need a structure with two floors and a balcony overlooking a parking lot. There were a number of places that would fit the bill and I took pictures to share with the production team later this week. David and I also looked around at some of the alleyways in Ventura and found a great “back entrance” to our record store location.
Monday, March 3
I met today with our 1st AD to start work on the 2nd week schedule. The list of things to do keeps growing! We are still without a couple of locations and David needs to find the time to do his storyboards and shot lists – all while teaching full time. It’s easy to become overwhelmed with all there is to do and we have to remember that we have a lot of people on our team to help us. I spent time today catching up on these diary entries and will have to do the same with my blog on our website. There was a time when I was struggling with what to write about and now there is much more to tell!
Tuesday, February 25
Another production meeting today, this time with talks about the camera package. We had been planning on using an Alexa, but recently learned that it will not be available to us as we had hoped. We will have a Scarlett to use, but will continue to look at any other options we can find. This is an incredibly resourceful group and I know we will come up with the best camera package available.
Monday, February 24
I am on my way to Chicago for a few days to visit with my daughter and her family. Erin has agreed to be our graphic designer so we will also talk some about the art and design of posters and logos for the film. David is reconsidering the title of our film, so she won’t be able to get started on that until we decide for certain.
David had a production meeting with the DP and 1st AD today. They went over the first week’s schedule and approved what we proposed. They also talked quite a bit about who the crew members will be and what the responsibilities are. It was noted that we are still looking for a couple of locations and will need to remember to start applying for permits soon.
I learned a new term today when a tech scout for two of our first week locations was requested. Apparently the heads of each department go on a tech scout for each location to determine what their needs are for that site. We will coordinate that with David’s visit to do storyboards so the home and business owners are inconvenienced as little as possible
Sunday, February 23
Earlier this week I made a list of the scenes we can do with the cast we have in place. David and I spent some time today going over that list and sketching out a preliminary schedule for the last two weeks in April. We should be able to film close to half of the script in that time frame. Some of this scheduling is complicated by the fact that I will be flying to Ohio the first weekend in May for my niece’s wedding. I am really torn by my responsibilities here and my desire to be with my family!
This evening we met with two of our actors over dinner. We wanted to get to know each of them better and also wanted them to get to know each other. They are both excited to be working on a feature and it seems the chemistry between them will work well for their roles together. We will meet with our other supporting lead sometime next week.
Thursday, February 20
David made a call today to the actress he’s chosen to play the lead role of Amy. She was “ecstatic” that we offered her the role and is excited to meet with us this weekend to talk more about what’s next. It will be difficult to call the other three and tell them that we’ve made a decision….
Now that we have our lead and supporting leads in place, we can start really planning the shoot. David will be on a break from classes during the last two weeks of April, so that is when we will start filming. Lots to do to get ready