Production Diary

FOREST BORN

03_head_on_treeTime for an update! After a thrilling shoot (during which, miraculously, no one got injured, though lead actor Eric Newcombe came close) and some long weekends of editing, we have locked picture and are prepping for the final color grade and sound mix. And of course, fundraising continues so that we can pay for all this – much is owed to many.
We also finally have a title: FOREST BORN. Stay tuned for more news soon…


Into the Forest

Forest_image_CD2We’re gearing up for the next short film, the Untitled Forest Project. These days are all about finalizing the camera package and other equipment, hiring the last crew members, and taking care of a million other logistical details.  Even more importantly, we’re brainstorming shots and refining and deepening the creative vision. Next Saturday the core Bay Area team will drive up to Portland, meet up with our local partners-in-crime, and the real work begins.


The Finish Line

Gary working his magic

Today we finished our sound mix with the great Gary Rizzo. Composer Alexis Harte and I got to hear the soundtrack come alive in 5.1 Surround. With color correction completed at ZAP Zoetrope Aubry Productions last week, there really isn’t anything left to do on Blood Makes the Green Grass Grow. We’re actually done!

I’ve already submitted the unfinished version to a few festivals, and in the next weeks (and months…) I’ll be submitting to more, now with the completed version in all its sonic and pictorial glory.


Goal Reached!

Sweet Success

Yesterday we crossed the threshold (and even went a bit beyond our goal), making our Kickstarter campaign a success. Thanks to all who contributed and spread the word. Now it’s on to the home stretch. I’ve already met with the composer and sound editor, and have set up a plan with the color-correction facility. Onwards!


First Cut

IMG_0504

Friday, May 20

It’s taken a while, fitting in the edit around various projects-for-hire, but I finished the first cut today at noon.  I’ve stuck with assembling the movie as written for the most part, and now the trick will be to take a step back and see if there are any outside-the-box structural changes worth making.  This will be a challenge, as I’m so deeply entrenched in the vision I’ve been elaborating since last September, when I began writing the screenplay.


Production Day Seven

Monday, Dec 27

Lincoln and Cortney graciously took time during the Christmas/New Year week for some more pickups.  Spent afternoon with Lincoln shooting suburban details in and around Belvedere, and got some great late-afternoon-light shots.

Capturing Suburbia

Then we met Cortney back at the scene of the crime, Betsy and John’s house, to get the opening shot of the movie, which meant me driving slowly up and down the street with Cortney shining a Dedo light out the car window (attached to a very long extension cord!) to get the perfect headlights-on-ceiling shot.  After that we went upstairs to reshoot the dream sequence, this time hand-held.  Lots of complicated lighting and elaborately choreographed shadow movement, so it took a few hours, but we got something great.


Production Day Six

Taking the Bus

Wednesday, Dec 15

Slept OK, considering…

Picked up Cathy at her place and drove to the station to meet the crew and extras for the bus scene.  The first available bus had a wheelchair on it (right where the scene has to play) so we had to wait an additional 45 minutes for the next one.  In the end it was a good thing, as it gave us some more prep time and delayed us until the Bay Area morning fog lifted and revealed the sun, which looked gorgeous streaming and flickering through the bus on our first takes.

We did two full runs and two partial ones.  The drivers and the very few real passengers took our presence in stride, and one driver even let us keep shooting during his layover at the end of the line (we did the extreme close-up inserts there).

Close Quarters

Then on to Naveana Nail Salon, which felt like a cinch after the anxieties of stealing the bus scene.  Lincoln suggested swapping the planned shooting order, so we did all the dialogue first and the pedicure closeups last, which was much better for light but meant the actors had less help getting into the deeply relaxed state necessary for the scene, which they managed just fine with a few extra takes.

Director Interfering with Pedicure

Wrapped at 5:30, then loaded out and took everyone to dinner at Britt Marie’s down the street.  Good fun.  Then drove to SF and returned Bob Elfstrom’s lights and equipment (what would we have done without him?) and finally home, not too late.  That’s 95% of the movie in the can – just a handful of inserts and pickup shots to grab when we can over the next couple of weeks.


Production Day Five

Monday, Dec 13

Back in the saddle for a skeleton-crew day.  Met Lincoln in Walnut Creek midday and shot the park scene near Don’s house, then a bunch of moody twilight shots on his street.

After sunset, we reshot scene 25 with Don in the car.  Great work from Don and Lincoln, as always.  Home in time for dinner!


Production Day Four

The Closet

Wednesday, Nov 17

Beautiful morning, though cooler.  Finished up the Bernsen photo compositing and drove up to Belvedere with Cathy again.

Closet scenes in the morning, with Betsy and John’s walk-in closet working perfectly as the much smaller Bernsen closet.  Lincoln ingeniously wired the lights to work off the actual switch.  Then we ran upstairs to shoot scene 8 (Tom and Mary arguing about the car) and wrapped Don for the week.

Diane showed up in a fantastically colorful “Vanessa” outfit and we shot scene 16, where Mary greets her at the front door.  Diane ad-libbed some priceless lines and business, and it brought out the best in Cathy – we got some beautiful reaction shots from her, too.

Wrapped the actors, then went back upstairs for the after-dark dream sequence.  Couldn’t get the shot I had envisioned to work, but Lincoln had some nice ideas, and came up with a brilliant poor-man’s dolly, dragging a weighted tripod on a furniture blanket down the hall.

Poor Man's Dolly – don't try this at home!

We were pressed for time when we got back down to the bedroom for the scene 1 shots  – Betsy and John were due to return home any minute – but Lincoln rose to the occasion and we raced through the setups as Cortney and the PA’s cleared and reset the upstairs of the house.  We were on our way out as Betsy and John arrived, and it looked as if we had never been there.  And so we wrapped our main location and our first week of shooting.


Production Day Three

Tuesday, Nov 16

More Photoshop work on the photos in the morning, and printed out the fake bourbon labels my brother Nick designed for scene 27.  Picked up Cathy (as I did yesterday) and we drove up to Belvedere for another day in Betsy and John’s beautiful house.  Everybody’s been eating lunch and hanging out during downtime on their deck, looking out at the gorgeous view of the Belvedere marina and enjoying the warm weather.  Almost like a vacation.

We started out with all the bedroom scenes except for scene 1; first day-for-night, then the morning scenes.  Cathy and Don are amazing together, and all the backstory improv work we’ve done seems to have really paid off – they are totally believable as a long-married couple.

It Was All a Blur

Then upstairs we went for the climactic series of scenes.  Very intense and completely successful.  We struggled a bit over how to do the final shot – I wanted to track back from Tom and Mary sitting at the table, but without a dolly (or the time to set it up) we were stuck.  Luckily I thought of trying a shot from out on the deck, with them framed by the big dining room window, which worked great.  A very successful day.


Production Day Two

Monday, Nov 15

Our first day at our main location in Belvedere, generously provided by my friends Betsy and John.  We started out upstairs, dressing the kitchen, dining room and living room.  Part of that included taking down the prominent painting (which we don’t have rights to) in the dining room, and when I saw that big blank wall I realize how much better it would be to have something there.  Had a sudden long-shot idea and called my friend Tony Grant, who manages the work of his father, the late San Francisco abstract painter and sculptor James Grant.  Tony was completely enthusiastic and generous, and we dispatched Ben in a wild last-minute trip down to S.F. – he was back with just minutes to spare, in time for us to put a James Grant painting up for the shot where we needed it, the second setup of the morning.

Cathy, Don, and James Grant's "Untitled"

Today was deliberately planned as a simple day with just two actors (Don and Cathy) and very little dialogue, but many of the scenes turned out to be surprisingly affecting due to the actors bringing marvelous, unexpected depth and subtleties.  On top of that, many of Lincoln’s shots have a surprising emotional punch of their own, visually.  The crew continues to grow together and everyone is in great spirits.

Finished just slightly over time again.  Completely wired in the evening; spent time working on Photoshopping Cathy and Don photos together to create the “young Tom and Mary” pictures we’ll see in the opening scene.


PRODUCTION DAY ONE!

Sunday, Nov 14

Didn’t sleep much last night, but not because of anxiety — just excited and full of ideas.  Finally just got up and organized a few last-minute things.

The Hot Box – Tom's crowded office

Drove deserted Sunday morning streets at dawn to arrive early at our first location, DC&E on Shattuck Avenue downtown, where I met our heroic PA’s Ted Hayden and Sunday Wang (our third PA, Ben Morrow, showed up later with the best of reasons — he had to pick up the food on the way in).  The next few hours were a fast-moving yet unstressed blur as we loaded in, dressed the location, prepped the actors, and set up the first shot — a wide establisher of “Tom” at his desk, seen from out in the hall, with Sunday and Cortney as extras in the foreground since our regular extras hadn’t arrived yet.  First shot at about 10:20 instead of 9 as scheduled, which seemed pretty good to me for Day One.

From there we moved steadily through our scenes.  Don and Micci (and the extras) were great.  The location was everything we had hoped for, with gorgeous sunlight streaming into the conference room for the last scene on our list, where Tom stumbles out of the presentation and runs through the lobby.  Cortney’s improv-class friend Damion stepped up to play the presenter and ad-libbed beautifully; a nice bit of on-the-spot casting.

Lincoln and Greg, having too much fun

We seemed to find our rhythm as a crew pretty quickly.  Of course, it helped that we were so few, but Lincoln, sound recordist Greg Miller, Cortney and the PA’s all threw themselves in to the work with great enthusiasm and professionalism.  We even managed to have fun.  Most importantly, I was able to focus on the actors as Cortney and the others kept everything humming along smoothly.

We got the last take of Tom’s presentation exit just as the light faded — we were about an hour behind schedule, again not too bad — and even got off a quick unscripted scene of him doing some photocopies, an idea of Lincoln’s for a possible setup moment before Tom and Gene’s big scene in his office.  By then the extras were all gone and our PA’s were putting the location back the way it was and wrapping out the equipment.

Don, Josh, and Micci, not having enough

Then we dashed down the block to shoot Tom in his car for scene 25, out in front of the home of our location contact Ken Garkow, the DC&E building manager, who made the whole day possible by arranging permission for us to shoot.  Ken has a pretty sweet commute of a couple hundred yards (for now — he and his wife just bought a house in El Cerrito and will be moving soon).  He’s also been a terrifically kind and encouraging fan of the project since I first approached him about the possibility of shooting in his workplace.

Lincoln and Ted worked some magic with battery-powered LED’s lighting Don in the car and we were done by 6:30.  A great first day.