Monday, August 31, 2009

That's a Wrap

Nearing 10pm last night, we got the final shot in the can of "Rising Stars." It was a bitter-sweet moment. Great to be finished and sad it's over all in the same emotion. The last shot was a wide angle of the control room for the reality show that records the finalist in the "Rising Stars" competition and included stars Fisher Stevens and Rebecca St. James.

Looking back, it was an ambitious shoot that we accomplished without going over, or compromising. If anything, the standards kept getting raised and there will be an incredible wealth of storytelling moments to work with in the editing.

Fisher was wonderful to work with. He's a great actor and well versed at improv. As a director, it was fun to watch him work. Kyle Riabko, in the words of Lauren Carter, was "perfect." Seriously. Don't know where to find any flaws in this guy. It's unreal. Lauren amazed me at her ability to go back, over and over to the well of emoting. Natalie Hall was made to dance. Leon Thomas and that voice. Jessie Payo. And all of them. Never before have I worked with a group poised on the verge of something big like this. My hat's off to the cast.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Some Movie Set Terms

Well, as mentioned, the producers don't want us to leak any juicy stories from the set, so I'll take this moment to educate those people not familiar with movie set terms. We did some heavy days with tons of extras recently and had some people ask some questions after listening to us talk on the set. There are a lot more than what follows, but it's a start. Feel free to add more.

On The Day- When we actually roll camera and yell action. Usage-- "You'll take a bite of the brownie on the day."

Setup- A camera position. When the camera moves, it's a new setup.

PA- Production Assistant (a jack of all trades on the set).

Bogies- People that inadvertently make it into the shot.

Lock Down- The area that will be seen by camera as well as the paths in and around that area that have to be controlled by PA's so that no "bogies" enter while filming.

Speed- When sound or camera is running and up to speed.

Department Heads- These are the guys that lead each department, like camera, art, AD (set operations), wardrobe, makeup.

Keys- These are the right hand people for each division inside of each department. For instance, under camera, is Grip and Electric. The Key Grip and the Gaffer are the Keys. In the AD department, the 2nd AD is the Key (the 1st is a Department Head).

Smotheridge- After a master is shot, coverage of each actor is usually shot. Usage: "We got the master, let's move in to smotheridge."

Sticks (1) - Tripod for the camera.
Sticks (2) - Dolly track

Last Looks- This is called by the 1st AD right before shooting (especially close ups) and means that hair, makeup and wardrobe can rush in to make adjustments on the actors.

Turning Around- After shooting one person's coverage, you "turn around" to shoot the other persons.

Grace- You have to ask crew for grace, up to fifteen minutes, cannot change a setup.
Flying In- Need something fast. IE: run. Usage: "I need wardrobe to fly in the actor's hat."

MOS - without sound. Everyone has a story, like the German director who couldn't say "without sound" clearly, that it came out "mit out sound" so MOS became the abbreviation. You decide if it's true. But it is the standard on the set, that MOS means without sound. The camera runs alone. Slate does not need to be "clapped."

Second Sticks- When slating a shot, if camera failed to frame it properly or missed the "clap", they might need to re-clap immediately. The AC will yell "second sticks" so that it's recorded for sound.

Dead Cat- The furry thing on the end of the sound boom, used for really windy situations, to help eliminate wind noise on the microphone.

Martini- The last setup of the night.

Abbey Singer- The next to last setup. The director used to say "last shot" then ask for another. Now he has a movie set term named for him.

New Deal- Moving on to a new setup.

Flag On The Play- Oops, we started to move to a New Deal, but forgot something and need to go back. Flag on the play is called and we reset for what we just did.

Back to One - "One" is usually a position for actors, the first one in the shot. When shooting, they might be asked to go back to "one."

Marks- Symbols, chalk, tape, little sandbags, a leaf, twig or other such mark to show an actor where to stand.

C47's- Closepins

Tag- Secretly placing a C47 on some unsuspecting person. You might even write some message on the C47.

Blocking- The movement in the scene. For instance, you might have actor blocking. Or camera blocking if the camera moves.

EPK- Electronic Press Kit. These are usually interviews of the stars and key players used to send to media and news organizations so that they can play them in the newscast when doing a story on the movie.

I'm out of time for now.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

Well, the lack of blog posts are clearly due to the brutal schedule that comes from directing a feature. Things are moving along. It's the usual long days and short sleep periods. But the footage is amazing and the performances outstanding.

I came down with a cold last Sunday which makes shooting even harder, but starting to feel better today. I have to say that the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) has been incredible to us. A motion picture can be a big nuisance and annoyance to any facility and they have had incredible patience with us, accommodating almost all our requests. I know that many of our production team from out of state have been real impressed.

I'll give some more details and thoughts on directing soon, when I can catch up. For now, we're going to have a big day tomorrow-- we're shooting the stage at Texas Hall, complete with light show and music performances. Extras are encouraged to join us there at 4:30 or so until about 10pm.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Commonly Uncommon

First up on my to do list this morning-- rip the note off the cooler. The Director's Chair is bad enough, but it was a gift from several of the production people including the producer.

So what's going on? On a movie set, the director and the actors are pampered. The production team works on keeping a protective bubble around them for the purpose of keeping the creative juices flowing. Getting in to the business side of things can take a Creative out of the moment.

Well, this becomes a big problem with my own struggle with Narcissism... my Ego. My Flesh that the Apostle Paul writes about. I do have a job, a purpose, a mission-- to direct to the very best of my abilities. This is not in question. Narcissism says "I am special (compared to others)." Yes, in God's eyes, I am special, but the Narcissist's "special" comes from a place of compensation.

You see, a Narcissists feels deep down that they're not special, so they work hard to convince everyone that in fact they are. So the balance here is that, yes, I am special, just like every other person on that set. And in the world. Each person has been uniquely and wonderfully made by God (Psalm 139). So I am commonly uncommon.

So the sign I saw on the cooler on set that read “Diet Cokes are for Dan only” violates this. I drink what everyone else is drinking. If there’s sodas for everyone, great. If not, then water, tea or whatever is available.

I missed this yesterday. I will not miss it today.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Prep is Over

Ready or not, when you finish prep (or pre-prodution), the shooting (Production) begins. To me, this is best described as a football analogy. You design the plays and you assemble the team. You practice and get everything ready. Then on game day, it's just executing what you've already worked out.

In football, the game is won in practice. Same with a movie. The movie is made in prep. Now that is over. In a few hours, as the darkness gives way to the light, when we have just enough to see, we'll do our first shot.

An interesting thing to note-- it's been right at 100 degrees, which in Dallas, with the humidity is extremely hot. I noticed last night, something unseen moved in and suddenly temperature predictions have dropped fifteen degrees starting on today's first day of shooting. Hmmm.

From this point on, I'll still blog about movie making, but the specifics about Rising Stars will go dark. There's a media ban as we take the strategy of keeping everything under wraps. No production stills or behind the scenes videos. But I will talk about how to make a movie. Just not RS.

As the shooting begins, let me know what you'd like to read about.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Call For Extras

Here it is-- many people over the year ask me when and how. We start shooting Tuesday (Aug 11) and finish Sunday Aug 30. We will be shooting every Tuesday through Sunday for three weeks. All of it at the University of Texas in Arlington (between Dallas-Ft. Worth).

For instance, this Wednesday, we need kids to play a pick up game of soccer between 730am and 11am (show up at 730am). A big night where we would easily use a thousand extras is Thursday Aug 20 in the evening at Texas Hall.

So if you'd like to be an extra, contact Jeff Rodgers, . Please don't contact me. I'm swamped right now and will be till the end of the shoot.

What's it like to be an extra? If you've never been on a movie set, it's hurry up and wait. It might take a lot of time to set up a shot, then it takes only moments to shoot it. Then you're waiting again while we take a long time for the next setup. And you really have to be there the whole time. A lot of people bring a book.

So come on out and join the fun!

Shot Lists

So with two days left before principle photography, I am working on Shot Lists, in between a thousand meetings with the production team. These meetings cover everything from what do I see the makeup and hair looking like, treatment of music videos, special things needed from the Art Department, etc.

In the past, I do a shot list the night before the day. I use the Tech Scout to really communicate to the different departments what's needed and on the night before I do "bird's eyes" of the setups. This means I draw a bird's eye view of the set/location and I diagram the basic blocking and where the camera will be.

But on this shoot, more communication is needed, so I'm working on have a "shot list" (SL) completed before we start shooting. Then I can adjust the day before. The SL comprises a list of every single camera setup. So it might look like this:
Day 3 Sc. 153 1A Dolly master, looking towards south wall

The 1A means that it's the first setup for Camera A (this movie has two cameras so the next entry would probably have something for 1B).

I just posted location photos on my Facebook... and these I took to work from on the tech scout to better create the SL. I believe it's imperative on indie films to be as prepared as possible yet flexible enough to catch the magical, serendipitous shot that comes along. I have to fight the temptation to go "I don't need detailed shot lists-- it will box me in." Because these departments, especially Art can help the movie bunches if they have a little bit of lead time.

Which mirrors and important life lesson I've had: The "hero" is not the one who, by the seat of his pants, cleverly thinks of ways out of the mess, saving the day. The hero is the one, because he thought ahead, wasn't in the mess to begin with. Of course the other is more dramatic. But I'm hoping the drama stays in camera and not behind the scenes. Don't need drama there.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Seeing The Imposter

Occasionally, we get a request from a pastor to preview "The Imposter." This makes a lot of sense-- if I were pastoring a church, I'd want to be sure of a message before presenting it to the flock.

We tried early on to send screeners to preview, but this didn't work. There were multiple problems. And the biggest is that it becomes an administrative mess. So Producer Jeff Rodgers and I talked it over and Jeff suggested this solution:

A full money back guarantee... that if you order the movie for your church and you preview it when it comes in and it's not right, then send it back for the full refund. So far, we've had churches order it this way and not a single return. We feel pretty good about the movie, the message, and the ministry that comes from seeing it.

We've got some more screenings coming up and as I have the details will let everyone know (especially the Facebook Imposter Movie group... join if you haven't to keep up to date). We're in the middle of negotiating another DFW theater screening(s)... in Burleson where we shot most of the movie. That will probably be in late September.

If your church hasn't ordered it yet, please go to the movie's website and order it! Right now, I'm throwing in a free soundtrack when anyone orders the movie church license.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Tech Scout

Yesterday, I got asked when talking to one person, what is a Tech Scout? We were on ours for Rising Stars so I thought this would be a good moment to explain the important Tech Scout (TS).

What many productions do, just before Principle Photography begins is to call a TS. The participants are usually department heads and a few keys (like gaffer, key grip, 2nd AD). We meet together and then go to each and every location. We walk the location. I tell the department heads roughly how I want to block a scene, what directions I want to shoot. I'll ask the Director of Photography and the Production Designer for their input on crafting a scene. The gaffer will look at the location, thinking about power and where he'll place lights. The Key Grip might hear me say "I would like a long dolly shot from here to there" and start figuring out how to make that happen. The 2nd AD might be looking at how many extras we might need to fill out the scene and where he's going to put them. And so on.

Usually a TS might take several days. We tried yesterday to knock it out in one due to the fact almost all the locations are at the UTA campus. But we still didn't quite get done. But close. I remember on my first feature, we did a TS on our day off right before week three, because we weren't able to cover them on the TS before shooting began.

From my point of view as a director, I like the TS because I can better flesh out the scene and how it plays by standing there at the actual location. For this movie, I've actually been doing a fair amount of just walking the campus and visualizing the scenes.

It's Friday before the shooting begins. We've still got a couple minor things to work out as far as a few remaining locations. I've shot listed the first week and will try and do week two and three before Monday. I'll be meeting with the actors as they arrive. It only get's busier from here.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Fountain of Life (or Algae)

Yesterday was camera test day. We have two reds and it was great to first put them on the bench together, shoot some tests and make sure they were matched. Then the camera team, gaffer, producers and I all met at UTA to shoot some test footage.

First, it was 103 degrees, so it wasn't too hard to act as the talent for the water test. At the big fountain, I plan on shooting a music video and wanted to try some different effect in and in one case, below the water.

First thing we learned-- the fountain needs some cleaning. A good shocking is in order. Second thing we learned-- the head under the water was interesting, but not quite right. But some of the other shots around the fountain work.

We also shot some campus life b-roll and a time lapse of the sunset. We might be able to use these in the movie. But all in all, it was great to get out with the camera crew and get started.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Producing a Director

One week and counting till principle photography begins on the feature film "Rising Stars." Today I'm going to spend a lot of time at locations, visualizing how the scenes will play out... blocking, camera angles and such.

One big opportunity on this movie has been the ability to begin focusing on just directing. All my past movies, I produced. Which is a big hat to wear while directing.

I got asked last night by a friend outside the film business what a producer does. "Don't they just oversee the editing and such?" I explained... The producer is the one that brings the whole movie together. The producer gets/finds/secures "The Idea." Then they get the idea written out (by bringing on a scriptwriter). Of course by finding a script, they lump these two things in to one.

Then the producer starts assembling the team, while at the same time, securing funding. Usually, whoever brings the funding to the table gets final say on everything, so that's normally the producer. The producer will approve the script, the cast, and anything that impacts the budget.

The producer during prep will assist the production team by filling in any holes. They also might test the team to find the leaks so that they can be addressed early.

During the shooting, the producer will generally stay out of the way and help where needed (usually administration fires that need put out). They protect the Director on the set.

Afterwards, they oversee all the post production, bringing all the elements together for the final version. Then the hard job begins (for the indie producer) where they work hard to find distribution.

On this movie, I'm very fortunate to have some good Producers who are allowing me to just focus on the creative... handling all the fires I usually take care of at this point.

So I'm just going to walk the campus today and visualize creative stuff.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Apollo 13

Lately, I keep envisioning a scene from Apollo 13. Not that while getting ready to make a movie I'm at all suggesting a "successful failure." But my son has been watching it over and over again and I keep catching the scene where Gene Krantz goes around the room for a "go, no-go for launch. EECOM, go flight, CAPCOM, we're a go..." and so forth.

In my mind, I'm continually going around the room. "Art Department, what do we have going on. What challenges in this last week?" "Camera/Lighting... how we looking?" "AD and set operations?" "Locations?" No answers me there because I have no location department. First thing in the morning is to assign someone that. I can get away without a locations department because the script is 90% in one place and we've got that taken care of (thanks UTA). But there is still the other 10%. I think I've found everything, but will need someone to go knock on doors and get the necessary permissions, etc.

Other departments going around the room-- like Music. We're good there. Everything's progressing. Choreography. We've got a challenge to overcome there. But I'll be addressing that on Monday. Housing and such our Producers, newly arrived from NYC have now taken care of this weekend (big item off the plate). Catering/Crafty is being taken care of.

I do wonder if I'm missing anything. But I've got some good people, like Line Producer Stewart Young, Producers Andrew and Bill, Co-Producer Jeff Rodgers, and Associate Producer Courtney Price looking around the room as well.