Friday, September 18, 2009

Lessons Learned

It's exactly a week since we arrived back in New York after making DR in Albuquerque, and with a week of R&R mixed with watching and reviewing the footage, I've had the chance to digest what it is we did in those two weeks in the desert, and how we can do things differently next time.  Next time???   I know, we just got back and there's still work to do on this one, but I'm so excited about the footage I can't help but believe "next time" is going to come before we know it - I'm already churning with ideas. 

So here are a few lessons learned in the making of Desert Rain:

This one is a maybe...still thinking about it, but I'm thinking next time I will NOT shoot in sequence, or at least not shoot the 1st scene on the first day.  The reason?  The opening of your film should be strong - in our opening, our leads get evicted and have their car repossessed.  The strength is there in content, but when I say strong, in this case I mean strong technically...the camera work should be solid, performance solid, direction solid...all across the board.  On the 1st day of shooting you're probably NOT going to be there yet.  We needed time to warm up - we really hit a stride a few days in, but up front we were still searching, and though the audience may still be searching early as well, still getting to know us, I think you want to start with something less significant on the front end of your schedule.  I said maybe to open this statement - the maybe lies in the fact that MAYBE the actors benefited from starting at the beginning.  They really grew into the characters as the story evolved and the drama heightened.

Which leads me to my next lesson - rehearse.  We had the opportunity to do this, but I chose NOT to.  I get bored easily, so I thought it would benefit all if the scenes were fresh to us, especially me.  I was wrong.  I SOOO enjoyed working with the actors, that I wish I would have spent a little more time rehearsing scenes.  There were plenty of discussions beforehand - we really searched for answers together - but maybe we should have played some stuff out before the cameras rolled...again, maybe...I know, I'm so wishy washy.

If you want to direct, get a DP!  I have plenty of experience shooting and operating camera.  Some people actually think I'm pretty good at it.  Most of the footage in DR is striking, but some of the shots reminded me of the fact that I was wearing 10 hats at once, and if the direction didn't suffer, the photography did, and if the photography didn't suffer, the craft service did.  Point is, you can't do it all, especially if you're directing.  I tried to get a DP but it didn't work out.  In the end, I hope most people think I'm crazy for suggesting anyone else could have shot this film the way I did, but that may be wishful thinking.  Next time, I get a DP, even if I win awards for the photography.

Use a friggin' monitor!  I had all these wonderful ideas in pre-production.  One of them was, if we want to make a feature in 10 days (we needed 11 plus a b unit day) you can't have people standing around looking at a monitor.  I figured the flip screen on the camera was enough, well guess what, it's not!  The damn thing lied to me!  The actual image projects slightly wider than the screen, and in some shots we see things in the frame, like boom poles, and camera filter holders, that I did NOT see when shooting.  We'll need to crop and resize a few images because of it.  I think we did work faster without the monitor, but a little 7" screen would have been just fine, even if it meant an extra day of shooting.  Use a monitor people - I will for sure next time.

Work with what you have.  We DID do this, so in this case I'm stating something that worked for us and allowed us to achieve our goal.  We shot with the money we thought we could actually raise and did not aim higher - we can get X amount of dollars, that's our budget.  We used locations we knew well and had ties or ins to, we used cast members we knew or came referred, wardrobe and props we owned, and so on and so on...the car Dan and Skye drive throughout the film is actually owned by our lead actor, Dan Van Hart!  That's the way to make a no-budge film!

Here's another thing we did - we were ambitious in our story.  We raised the stakes.  Many indies think they need to have two people in a room talking about shit no one cares about, except the filmmakers and their friends and family.  We took an indie, maverick attitude toward our production technique, and applied that shooting method to a film with high stakes, action, and drama.  We have fights, a kidnapping, a car crash, a crazy number of locations, police vehicles, and guns.  Our characters make tough decisions that lead to real consequences.  The story twists and turns.  There's little sit and talk here - we really went for it.  We're taking the audience on a ride.  That's what you need to do at any budget level.  It's not easy.  You have to be ambitious and find a way.  That was our greatest strength - making big things happen with the very little we had.  And you know how we did it...

Don't take no for an answer!  It takes a lot of effort to make a film - ask anyone who does it or anyone who was around us when we made the film.  It also takes a lot of guts and moxie.  Use that moxie.  Let someone know when they say no, that's not acceptable - you're blood and guts are in this thing.  We shot at a popular restaurant in ABQ.  We had permission to be there, but there was one issue - the music was on.  We asked to have it turned off while we shot our scene for sound considerations (and music clearance issues!) - keep in mind, they were still operating as we filmed.  We were told no, they couldn't turn it off - it would turn off their whole PA system.  I told the manager, look, we've been out here making this movie for 10 days now, we're working our ass off to create this thing, it means a lot to ALL of us this little thing we're doing and if he could take one minute to go downstairs and turn this music off for no more than 20 minutes I would really, really appreciate it.  I pleaded with the guy - he saw how much it meant to me, and he did it.  We got the shot.  We had moments like this everyday, weaseling our way in and out of locations and trouble...our will and determination guided us past these obstacles.  We NEVER took no for an answer - not once.  With no insurance.  With no money to offer.  With no permits - we always pressed for a yes, and we got it.

Last thing I'll say here, and we did this, so I guess again it's not REALLY a lesson learned, but sometimes we DID lose sight of this simple idea - enjoy yourself!  There's nothing more exciting to me than making movies and if you're going to do it, enjoy it, the whole process, good and bad.  There's no experience like it, it comes and goes so fast, so enjoy it, relish it, have a laugh, live in that moment...and then do it all again next time. :)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Wrapped and back in Brooklyn

The wonderful and exhausting experience that was Desert Rain has officially entered the next phase.  We finished shooting Thursday evening and got sloshed on homemade margaritas.  Of course, we had to watch dailies during the wrap party and in the course of our celebration we somehow lost track of Tape #7.  Thankfully it's backed up to hard drive, but losing tapes is not something you want to do when you work so hard to get the footage.  We couldn't look thoroughly enough before leaving Albuquerque Friday afternoon, but I'm praying it shows up in the next day or so.  A running line throughout shooting was "lucky take 7" - it's fitting that the number 7 has taken center stage in the missing tape saga.  

In the end we recorded just under 30 hours of footage for a 90 minute film.  That's roughly 20:1 on the shooting ratio, which gives us plenty of choices in post.  My gut feeling tells me we have 97% of the film, if not all of it.  There's a phone call we need to shoot (we'll shoot it here in NY) and there could be one or two beats missing from the story. Technically, we have some sound and camera issues that can probably be salvaged in post, but maybe not.  Put all of this together and it could mean another day of shooting back in Albuquerque to complete the film. I hope to avoid it - we all do - but 11 days to shoot a feature is a ridiculous pace, and if we need a day of pickups, I can live with it.  We may have no choice.

I'd like to take this moment to thank my super duper cast and crew - everyone worked so hard.  I saw this movie in my head well before we started shooting, and all involved helped me realize that vision.  It was incredible to see shots and scenes come off exactly the way I envisioned, and I owe it all to them - they worked like dogs and never wavered.  We all came together, we all believed.  The experience was like no other, for me personally, and it was largely because of the people around me.  Thanks guys!

I'm excited to be back in Brooklyn, relaxing some, and even more excited to be dropping the footage with my editor, Matt Zoller Seitz, this coming Monday - I truly feel we have a great little film.  Shooting the movie was an ambitious venture, and I'm counting on that ambitious spirit to drive us through post and beyond.  Our sights are set on the SXSW November deadline - yeah, quite ambitious indeed.  

Monday, September 7, 2009

More Fun In The Sun


This has been an exhausting experience, but even more than exhausting, it's been amazing.  I always adhere to the Goethe quote about commitment - to paraphrase, when you commit to something, anything, all else follows.  The commitment to make our film has proven this to be true - everywhere we've turned in Albuquerque there's been a helping, welcoming hand, and every time we were challenged or needed to get something done, it's happened.  We've truly been blessed through our first 8 days of shooting (plus a 9th day of B Unit).

The next three days will be our last days of filming.  We have a jam packed schedule for the next two, with a little less to do on our last day, Thursday the 10th.  We're close to realizing the goal we set out to achieve - getting a feature film in the can.  11 days of principal and 1 day of b-unit have us right on the cusp of having all the footage needed.  My only concern in falling short is our ambitious schedule these next two days.  On the other hand, I find solace in the fact that we've averaged 9-10 pages a day thus far - we've made every day without fail - and I'm confident we'll find a way once again.

Shooting here in the 'Burque has been a joy.  It's always sunny (probably like LA before all the smog), there's no noise, or distractions, or parking issues.  Everything comes cheap and easy it seems...maybe a little slow. :)  But all of us have been amazed with what we've been able to get on a daily basis.  We have no insurance, no permits, and no money, but we shoot at will, wherever and whenever we want.  It's so liberating.  For instance, on Day #6 we shot a scene in the film that calls for Dan, our lead, to run into a gas station and rob the store at gunpoint.  We secured the location (for free, like most of the other locations) but we failed to tell the owner about the armed robbery...ooops.  No problem.  We talked him into it, and he ran his business between takes, as we had our guy running in and out of the place with a gun and then speeding away.  This is the story throughout - on most days we show up at a place, stage our shot, roll it, cut it, and get lost, no questions asked, no disturbances, and no cash demanded.  Try that in NY or LA!

As we come down the stretch, I can't say enough about how much of an impact this experience has had on me personally.  Anything is possible if you believe.  I think the crew and cast feel it as well.  We're like modern day cowboys in the wild west just taking what's ours, and it feels incredible.  I owe the world to our minuscule, multi-tasking crew - Angie Morrow (Producer), Ryan Pearson (Producer), Tito Sanchez (Co-Producer), Miles Vedder (Sound), and Olajide Kashu (Production Assist).  Without them, we have nothing.  This small group, including myself, are handling all the duties usually reserved for a crew of at least 50 on most indie productions, and up to 250 on major motion pictures.  We're not cutting any corners, we're simply trying new ways to make it happen and we're working our asses off.  The dailies look great - I couldn't be happier, and I can't wait to share Desert Rain with all of you.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

30 Pages "In The Can"

That's right, 4 days in, 30 pages done - that's a very fast pace.  We're all working like dogs, and I barely have enough energy to write this entry, so I'll keep it brief.

Day 3 was our first bump in the road.  We shot some incredible footage (the dailies were encouraging) but it seemed everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.  We did make our intended page count for the day, but it was tough as hell...and hot as hell!

We picked ourselves up nicely today.  It seemed all of us were determined to make today a good one, and it was probably our best yet. Brea Cola killed it in her performance, and all around the cast and crew worked at a high level.

Enjoy the pics - I need to get some sleep.  I have a 645am wakeup for a 930 call.  No sleep till Brooklyn. :)