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Making Arrangements – Day Three

12 Nov , 2007,
Chip Street
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How did we get everyone to show up on a weekday? Don’t these people have jobs? I don’t know… but it’s a Monday shoot and we’ve got a bunch of dedicated volunteers here again.

Today we’re shooting the first and last scenes in the story… funny how that worked out. We’ve got a small white empty room that we’re turning into a doctor’s exam room, and another small empty green room that needs to become a mortuary lab. Both are empty when we arrive… we have to dress them both. Fast.

First scenes first… we’ll shoot the opening in the doctor’s office. It’s a super simple set… intended to look kind of surreal, like a doctor’s office might look in a dream. Not a lot of dressing or equipment, just the icons of a doctor’s office… a padded exam table with paper stretched across it, an eye chart, and a wall clock. One short rolling stool for the doctor to sit on, and we’re done.

Of course, we have no exam table. We have a folding table with a vinyl chaise cushion on it, and a length of paper across it. We frame the shot just at the bottom edge of the pad, so we don’t see the table… Bill (Chad Davies) sits on the table, centered in frame, buttons his shirt and then waits uncomfortably for the doc to show up. It’s what we call our “lonely guy” shot, and I hold it for an uncomfortably long time before signaling the doc to enter scene. Again, it’s all played out in one long take as the doc enters and delivers the bad news to Bill. No cuts, no inserts till the end when the fantasy sequence kicks in (more about those another time).

There’s some medical jargon… “The infection’s responding to the broad-spectrum sulphanimides…” but luckily, our actor (Ken Keonig) who plays the doctor actually is a doctor. Not only is medical jargon familiar to him, but he was able to provide his own lab coat and stethoscope. Sweeeet for a no-budget shoot…

The scene, again, is designed for that long take… so all the dialog, medical jargon and all, has to go off end t0 end without a cut. We go at it several times, we try one alternative setup, and we grab an insert shot of the clock on the wall. I’ve also brought along the Felix the Cat wall clock that I wanted to have in Kayla’s apartment. We used it on that set yesterday, but never got the insert of it. So we hang it on the wall here, and shoot it… of course, the wall color’s all wrong, but we’ll fix that in post. The editor loves to hear that.

Now it’s time to shoot the “fantasy sequence”, one shot of which is Bill in a hospital bed with his wife Cassie (Kimberly Parrish) at his side. We get Bill to lie down on the same “bed”, throw a sheet over him, hang an IV and a shower curtain behind him, and then call Kimberly to come on down from work (a few blocks away). No dialog, MOS. Bing Bang Boom, we got our shots. Outside for one more fantasy shot in a planter in the parking lot (again MOS – Kimberly runs dirt through her hands) and we break for lunch.

After lunch we’ll be shooting the final scene in the movie… Kayla and Bill together in the mortuary lab. It’s the last scene to shoot, and it’s literally the last scene in the film. I’ve been troubled with the last scene (in particular the last lines) from the beginning. It’s a great little script, with a cool hook and good story structure… but I just haven’t been able to wrap myself around those last lines. The writer (Skot Christopherson) is very dedicated to that scene and those lines… I asked for a rewrite, but he really wants it to stay as is. Or at least, if it gets changed, he’d prefer it were someone other than he that makes the changes… I’ve discussed it with a number of people, and I’m getting a lot of support for a change… what to do?

During lunch, I take off to the cafe next door. I’ve got a blank pad and a pen, a copy of the script, and a sandwich.

I stare at the pad for a long time. I re-read the scene. Skot had inserted some changes into earlier scenes that I’d asked for, which conceivably would support the sort of ending I was thinking about. I write a few lines of dialog… I can’t go way off book, since nearly the balance of the film is in the can. But something starts to flow. I think about who the movie is really about (to me anyway) — who’s scene should this final scene be? Kaya? Bill? Kayla and Bill? What about Bill’s wife Cassie? In the context of the film, we won’t have seen her since the third scene… and now, Kimberly is back at work.

Just then Gina drops by the table with her hubby, Greg Camp (of Smashmouth fame) to say hi. He’s a very nice guy, and he ends up hanging around the shoot for a while. In the end, Greg and Gina help us out with some amazing music for the soundtrack… more on that another time.

I finally put something together that I think will work, and I call in the actors… Chad and Gina read it through with me, help me refine it. I think it’s gonna work… we’ll see what happens on set.

The little green room we had has been filled up by our Art folks… a white melamine exam table, a table filled with bottles and jars and stainless steel sharp things, a work lamp. I have no idea what a mortuary exam lab looks like (save the usual Law and Order/CSI insight) but this looks cool. It’s a family mortuary, after all. More like Six Feet Under. I like it, and it looks good on screen.

We shoot out the scene… it’s getting later and later, our DP Matthew has to get home really soon. I keep asking for more takes… again, it’s a long take with lots of dialogue. There’s a pan in it, some business (flipping back the sheet, walking around the table, hopping up on the table) and so a few takes are needed to get it all down in a take. But again, our actors come through, it all looks good, and we’re finally done. Matthew is really ready to go.

BUT – I also want to shoot the original end, the writer’s end. It’s only fair. We need to try both, to give it its fair due. So we run the scene two more times, with the original dialogue. We’ll make a final decision in the edit.

We break down the set and once again (hopefully) leave our location just as we found it… and I think Matthew made it home in time.

The last scenes are outdoor scenes… one, a long conversation walking down the sidewalk. We’ll be steadicamming that one. Another, a long conversation in a moving car (truck, actually) which we’ll be towing behind my pickup. Lastly, a short scene outside the Mortuary… for which we got permission to shoot outside an actual Mortuary. There’s a mini-jib in that one.

We’ll be shooting that all out next weekend, in one day.

That should be fun.

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