You like me! You really like me!

I started taking acting classes every Sunday a few weeks ago. No plans to be an actor (it would be cool, but that’s not my goal). I’m doing it to inform my writing, and to make me a better actors’ director. The instructor, Ralph Peduto (site here), is a local pro, and a friend of mine. It’s been a lot of fun (and instantly humbling — so much more appreciation for my actors — not that I didn’t already appreciate).

Anyways, Ralph was kind enough to let me know about a local audition for an upcoming commercial. I was unsure, but decided the experience would be valuable (I find that most are). So I went for it just the other day.

Got the call today — landed the part! I play the inventor of the micro-chip, Jack Kilby. Not a speaking role, btw. Which is probably why I got it. ūüėõ

I’m so stoked. Looking forward to the shoot next Friday. I’ll keep you posted.

Thanks, Ralph!

Last House On The Left (1972)

Just like with Night Of The Living Dead, I felt I had to see Last House cuz it gets such rave reviews from horror fans as an important genre film.

Just like with Night Of The Living Dead, I won’t spend too much time on it. In fact, I’ll spend less.


Sorry. Yeah, I know, it broke new ground and opened creative doors yadda yadda yadda.

What a waste of time. No story. Badly directed. Laughable acting. God, was it edited by Helen Keller? It’s billed as the “story of what happens to bad guys when the victim’s parents trap them in their house” (to paraphrase), but that part comes in the last four or five minutes, after essentially watching a snuff film.

Whatever. Blegh. There’s 72 minutes that felt like 4 hours of my life that I’ll never get back.

If I had a Nicholl for every screenplay contest I've entered…

I’ve done lots of poking around and by and large the people who should know these things say that the Nicholl Fellowship is the gold standard. It’s run by the Oscars (which is also the source of one of my favorite reputable screenplay format documents – PDF) and it’s got the best track record for providing a real boost to the careers of folks who make into final rounds, not to mention winners.

And now it’s time for the 2009 submissions! Hurry, you’ve got till May 1st 2009.

Sundance Screenwriters Lab also has a great reputation.

I’ve heard some good things about Bluecat — they offer written analysis for every script, which may just be worth the price of submission.

One other consideration is the genre contest… a good friend won the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival and CthulhuThon Screenplay Contest 2008 (whew!) and while the niche is very specific, the fanbase of said niche is dedicated. Jeff Palmer’s “The Sleeping Deep” screenplay has gained some well deserved attention (and it’s little known that his winning version was a first draft) and now he’s on to shooting a trailer to generate more interest in mounting a production. So if your screenplay fits a niche genre, the benefits of a lesser-known niche contest may be worth considering.

Beyond that, tread carefully. While the contests may be legit (and no, they aren’t all legit), the point is that you want your win/place/show to add perceived value or legitimacy to your script. If nobody’s heard of the contest, how’s that gonna help?

Making Arrangements – Day Six Plus

So it’s all in the can.

The rest is all about editing, sound and music.

Jay Kensinger is our editor. He did a manly job juggling this project, prepping for another film (he’s got one of his own in prepro right now) and launching his new band “Isadora’s Scarf”. Consequently, getting to a final edit was a challenge and took longer in calendar days than we’d hoped, but eventually we got it locked.

Jay’s work on the composited shot of Gina getting hit by the truck is perfect… still makes people jump.

The sound we got on location was great… some balancing of course, but we didn’t have to loop anything, so that’s good.

And the music! Man, did we score on that account. Jay himself is a musician, and created an couple of instrumental themes. Plus, as I’ve mentioned one of our stars Gina Marie is a musician herself, and is married to Greg Camp of Smashmouth fame (All Star and Walkin’ on the Sun, anyone?). Greg is newly solo, and was readying a new album for release, but was able to allow us rights to some of his work, as well as some of Gina’s.

  • Wrong
  • Down With You
  • Right Side, Wrong Bed
  • Pucker

So we’ve got a world class soundtrack for our little film.

Nice work, everyone! It was a great experience. A great crew. We finished on time or early every day. And nobody had a tantrum! The writer is happy, the actors are happy, I’m happy. Wish they all went this way.


Arrangements” was accepted to, and premiered at, the Santa Cruz Film Festival in 2008. Since then its “ownership” is a little shaky as the organization that produced it, Cinemar, has kind of folded its tent. But the film’s been submitted to a few other fests, and we have hopes that it’ll get seen again.

The trailer was completed and is posted on the site. It’s not the trailer I’d outlined, but it works okay. Someday, in all our spare time, maybe we’ll cut a new one.

Making Arrangements – Day Five

Time for pickups. All shot MOS, just a few of us required… here’s what we needed.

It’s important to me to establish “Bill” and “Cassie”‘s marriage as a healthy one… Bill makes some questionable ethical decisions, and it’s important that those are weighed against a good relationship, not mitigated by a troubled one. No time to add more scenes to the story, so I wanted some shots for the opening title sequence… kind of “home movie” looking shots of them walking around a pond, feeding ducks, chatting and laughing. We shot around a local pond, and along West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz… ending on a nice shot of them looking off into the sunset.

Also needed a shot of Kayla’s purse flying into the air, to cut into the car hit shot. Really wanted a close shot, SLOMO, against blue sky… keys and cards flying out. It’s both a stylish impact shot, and a plot point shot… we’ve got a shot of her “organ donor card” lying on the ground splattered with blood. I wanted to see it fly out of the purse to set that up. We stood in the park, surrounded by onlookers, as I threw the purse into the air repeatedly while Matthew hand-held the shot. Took quite a few tries to keep it in frame, but we finally got a usable shot. Not exactly what I wanted, but close enough to work. Next time I’ll put it on a lazy susan against a green screen or something.

We’ve got the party scene in the can: Bill throws himself a “goodbye” party once he gets the news. We had two huge banners that read “SO LONG BILL” but for various reasons they didn’t really read in the wide shots, and we didn’t get inserts. So I wanted a “collage” poster, a “BON VOYAGE BILL” sign with old photos of him through childhood and adulthood. We set it up on a tripod at the park against a backdrop of bushes, and it’ll cut in fine with the party footage.

That was all we needed, I think (as memory serves). That’s it for shooting. Now it’s on to editing. You’ve got the ball, Jay. ūüôā

Making Arrangements – Day Four

Okay, I’m writing this long after the fact, but I’ll try to remember as much as I can…

We’re shooting all the outdoor stuff today, on a cul-de-sac in Live Oak, in front of my friends Brian and Adriana’s place. (Brian is the Production Designer that got me my first real gig, on Fat Rose and Squeaky. They’re wicked cool, as the kids used to say)

We have a long “walking along the sidewalk” conversation between Chad and Gina, and no tracks… just a steadicam. Matthew is pretty adept at the steadicam (he used it at the party scene) but now he’s gotta walk backwards with it, and that’s tough. Nevertheless, we get the shot off in a master, then some OTS singles. Looks pretty good, and we got a couple alternate reads too. I’m happy.

Next is the “accident” scene. Here’s where Gina gets hit by a pickup truck… she steps off the curb, in front of a speeding truck. It’s for the fantasy sequence (oops, spoiler) and needs to be good. We’re not really putting Gina in harm’s way… we’re doing it with a cutaway and some After Effects magic. So she steps out, screams and throws up her hands, then calmly steps out of the road. We leave the camera locked, then cue the truck to roar past. Simple, right? This is where it’s great to have your editor/fx guy on set… Jay Kensinger directed these shots himself, so the editing ended up going great. It’s a shot that still makes people jump when the see it, even if they’ve seen it before.

Next up? The INTERIOR truck shots… Gina and Chad talking in the old panel truck. We had rented a car dolly to tow the panel truck behind my pickup, so we loaded everything up and (given that we were on a cul-de-sac with no traffic) proceeded to stack the camera, DP, Scripty, and reflector grips into the pickup bed. Another reflector grip literally hanging off the fender of the hero truck, and a mic inside the hero truck and wired to the camera in the tow vehicle. Easy Peasy, right?

So we tow the truck down the long block, get two or three takes straight through the windshield (we’re moving slow) and then go for the turnaround at the end of the block. Except there’s not enough room, and the car dolly starts to fold up on us. We can’t damage the panel truck (dammit) so we unload and rethink. Time is flying. Wot to do?

We’ve got six people… how hard can pushing the panel truck be? So Matthew hangs on the open driver’s door with the camera, framed for the single on Chad, and we PUSH that sucker for a hundred yards. No, it ain’t easy. Those old trucks are friggin’ heavy! Then, once more back again to get the shot from the passenger side. We’ve got some stills and video of this whole thing… I’ll get it posted one day. Suffice it to say everybody pulled their weight, and we got what we needed… ultimately some of the best looking shots in the film. Something about getting moving car shots makes your movie look so much more professional!

But we’re not done.

Still need an exterior of the Funeral Home. We’re lucky to have gotten permission from a local funeral home to shoot out front — since it’s a weekend, they’re pretty dead (pun intended). It needn’t have been a funeral home, of course, any practical location could have doubled, but the building looks perfect, and it’s only a ten minute drive away.

But the SUN is SETTING.

So a skeleton location crew takes off. I ask Matthew to ride along in the panel truck, get some traveling interior shots and some engine noise (since we were towing/pushing the truck, we’ve got none) and we all meet at the second location. The sun is setting, we’re scrambling to set up the crane (I want a nice crane establishing shot — it ends up looking great). Then, a two and some singles as they converse under the portico (only a few lines… it goes well) and we’re nearly done.

As the sun is setting, we need a few shots of Gina getting zipped into a body bag (again, a fantasy sequence). We’ve got a black vinyl zippable wardrobe bag which we slit open across the bottom… Gina slips it over her head and lies down, we splatter her with some blood (and Turbo pales her up) and then we zip it shut over her face. Looks outstanding. Then we realize the hands zipping shut need to have rubber gloves on, and we don’t have any… they’re back at the first location. However, there is a tattoo parlor a few doors down, and they’re happy to give us a pair, so we’re golden.

A few other little inserts, and NOW we’re done.

Man. What a day. But that’s pretty much the whole shoot. We have a few pickups that a crew of four can get next weekend, but essentially we’re wrapped.

Congratulations, everyone!

Now for some sleep.

Making Arrangements – Day Three

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.

Making Arrangements – Day Two

It’s a big day. We’re shooting the party scene where Bill throws himself a going away funeral party… twenty extras in the yard, around the pool, food and drink flowing… outdoor shooting so we deal with wind noise, sun, and…. rain? Last night it rained hard. What’s the location going to be like?

On arrival, it was kind of cloudy and cool… we’re on a 14 acre farm (Glen Alba Gardens), top of the mountain… so we should be above any weather, we hope, but tough to tell what to expect. Our “So Long Bill” banner that we’d set up near the pool yesterday has been ruined by the wet weather overnight… sagging and tearing. It looked good in yesterday’s shots, the post-party scenes… so we’ll just have to shoot away from it today. Art department (Antonia Gunnarson and Summer Lange) can make me another to hang on the house, for the reverse angles… so they set to work getting the set dressed, and another banner made.

We asked everyone to bring hawaiian shirts, and we provided leis, and drink cups with little umbrellas. It’s a festive set, and as the sun breaks, everyone’s in a good mood. Of course our start is late… we waited for the sun and now that it’s broke, it’s almost too sunny. I of course wore a long sleeved black thermal – I’m overheating. No scrims, so we deal with direct sunlight… our PA’s hover around the actors with umbrellas to keep the sun off them and salvage their hair and makeup.

Turbo and his crew, by the way, are an amazing hair and makeup team… what dedication. Everyone looks great.

Once the party scene gets under way, Art Department will retreat to our next location, an indoor lodge room with a very cool stone fireplace, and start work on making it look like Kayla’s apartment.

Meanwhile, the shoot progresses… not nearly as many extras as we expected have shown up, so any crew not working are drafted as party goers… my wife, daughter, hair and makeup, anyone not holding a bounce card or boom is in front of the camera.

We get a great jib shot, rising up off the blue pool water to reveal the party under way… people milling about, chatting, drinking… our new “So Long Bill” banner on the house was too rushed to be completed properly – the letters are just outlines, not solid black, so it’s kind of hard to read in the blasting sunlight. I’m worried about that… the reveal on that banner is what starts this scene off with some humor, so it’s kind of critical that it’s easy to read. Ah well, we’re burning daylight… make it work.

We move in to some mediums and singles as Bill and Cassie chat with Bill’s work buddies, Lou (Linda Pearson) and Sandy (Char Johnston). There’s a little business where Lou hands Bill a beer, and Cassie crosses to grab a bottle of water, and returns to Bill’s side to swap it with the beer (he’s a sick man, she doesn’t want him drinking). It complicates the scene, and comes back to bite us later (in editing), but everyone does a great job, we get the shots off and move to the next scene.

Now it’s time for Bill to chat with his guitar teacher Terry (Carlo Matteucci), who has come to the party with a date (Kayla). Everyone’s standing in full sun, and again, no scrims… a little squinting going on, but everyone toughs it out. Everyone pitches in, and extras who aren’t on camera are holding bounce cards. Again, we’ve got some business with a handshake/bump between Terry and Bill, Terry hands Bill a beer and they clink and toast… lots going on in a short scene. Maybe too much. The shooting style I’ve chosen for the movie demands some long takes with few cutaways, so we don’t spend much time getting inserts on the action… it needs to be choreographed for mostly medium shots. We get through it, pick up some reverses just in case, and one critical single on Kayla. This is really her scene… it’s the first time we see her, and though she has no lines, we have to see that she’s fascinated by Bill’s take on his impending demise… she’s a mystery girl. I hope we got the shots to bring that home. I think we did.

In between shots, while makeup touches people up, Our awesome DP Matthew Galvin works the steadicam, picking up little party scenes, inserts of people chatting and drinking, the blender going.

Finally we’re done outside. Before we retire indoors to shoot the apartment set, we break for lunch… the folks at the location are also providing craft services, and they’ve set up the patio with tables and an array of truly awesome food. Everyone is well fed, and we just relax and hang out for an hour. Many thanks go out to all the extras and volunteers… it was a good morning.

After lunch, we’re inside. The room is long… maybe twenty five feet, and twelve feet wide. At one end is the fireplace – very cool, rustic stone. We need the room to feel smaller… it’s supposed to be Kayla’s apartment. We start with the set (couch, side tables, coffee table) at the far end, away from¬† but facing the fireplace, and set up equipment facing the couch. We get all those shots, then slide all the furniture toward the fireplace and shoot the reverses over their shoulders, toward the fireplace… makes the room look much smaller and intimate, leaves plenty of room for crew and equipment.

Again, we’ve got business… coffee cups, binders and brochures to leaf through… It’s a romantic, intimate scene… the proprietors started a nice fire in the fireplace, our lighting is moody (we depended largely on practicals here) and again, very subtle stuff going on. It’s the moment Bill decides where to take his relationshiop with Kayla… If I tell you too much more I’ll be spoiling some plot points, but trust me, the scene looked great. Art Department did a great job creating a home in the room, and our actors really worked it out.

Again, we wrapped ahead of schedule – even with our late start waiting for the clouds to clear. Everyone stayed after to help break down the set, load up all the equipment, props and set dressing (including furniture), and we left Glen Alba Gardens looking just as it had when we arrived (I hope… at least, we haven’t had any complaints).

Tomorrow, we’re on location in downtown Santa Cruz, where we’re using some empty offices in¬†“The Mill” – the¬†building where Turbo runs his cosmetology school.

Time for some sleep.

Making Arrangements – Day One

Day one of shooting Arrangements.

Today we’re on location at Glen Alba Gardens. Figgered we’d keep it pretty simple, and do all the interiors… They’re pretty easy setups, only a few actors, and¬†we can control light and sound so it’s¬†an easy way for the crew to find its mojo since we haven’t all worked together before. Besides,¬†it’s threatening to rain.

We started with the scene at the front door… Kayla comes to visit Bill. Gina (as Kayla) rocks the performance with some very subtle stuff, Chad¬†(as Bill)¬†is great too. It’s kinda complicated, since the reverse on Bill from outside shoots all the way through the living room and out a picture window¬†to the backyard, where we can see his wife Cassie cleaning up after the party. So I’m directing action at the door, as well as action fifty feet and two walls away simultaneously. We got some funny outtakes, where on “action” the folks in the backyard didn’t know we’d started and were gesticulating a “when do we start” signal during the scene – ah, my kingdom for a set of walkies. But we got the scene off, both setups, including a nice subtle jib shot as the huge moving guy shows up to pick up the tables…¬† makes a truly huge guy look even huger. Huger? Is that a word? Ah, it is now…

Anyways, the rain is threatening, it’s getting cloudy, cold and moist… we’re done with all the stuff¬†at the door, and¬†manage to get to the kitchen scenes. Bill is sitting at the table, alone, while outside the window we can see Cassie cleaning the yard… again, directing two locations at once with no walkies, but it worked.¬†A simple scene, no dialog, but lots of subtlety in Chad’s performance.

Then, on to the conversation (different story day, different wardrobe) that Bill and Cassie have at the same table. It’s a tough scene to get right… again, very little dialog, but it’s the early scene that sets up everything we need to know about Cassie as a character, and their relationship – against which the audience will measure all their other actions through the rest of the movie. So it’s gotta be on point.

We had shots we needed to get pointing at the window, and reverses pointing away from the window into the kitchen hallway. We made the mistake of starting with the shots away from the window… so, at the end of the shoot, we were pointing toward the window, and racing the light as it got darker and darker outside. The darker it was outside, the more of a mirror the big window became, so of course we struggled with avoiding reflections of the crew standing around watching… but we managed it. The outdoor angles are darker than I might have liked, but in the end it adds to the mood, so it works. Both Chad and Kimberly (as Cassie)¬†gave us great performances, and I think it’s really touching.

Believe it or not, we finish ahead of schedule and get everything we wanted. Damn! What a great crew.

It’s ready to rain – in fact it’s starting – and tomorrow we’ve got a big exterior shoot…. 20 extras, a pool party, barbecue… shows it’s clearing, so fingers are crossed.

Arrangements: Director's Diary – auditions and other stuff

We held auditions at the Digital Media Factory (thanks, guys!). We had a pretty good turnout, though not as deep as I’d expected… but it was cool, cuz I got lots of time to just chat with each person. We just ran camera, and talked about the script, the character, and their thoughts on both.

Then, I had them read a scene. Our writer, Skot, got to read with our first actor, Kimberly Parrish (she read for the part of Cassandra, Bill’s wife). Skot was quite moved, as much by her performance as by hearing his words come to life.

I gotta say, we had some talented people show up. I was super impressed with everyone’s commitment to the material and their craft… good actors are a joy to watch. I had some tough decisions to make, and I have to say to those that weren’t chosen it wasn’t for lack of effort or talent… I had lots of great actors to choose from, and fell upon a combination of¬†“look” and minor subtleties in performance.

Congrats to Chad Davies (Bill), Kimberly Parrish (Cassie), Gina Marie (Kayla), Ken Koenig (Doctor), Char Johnston (Sandy), Linda Pearson (Lou), Carlo Matteucci (Terry) and Dave Johnson (Huge Guy).

Now it’s on to more crazy making.