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Saturday, October 30, 2004

Mary Kraft's wild ride, 10/30/04

From Mary Kraft:

So, Jay and Arma and anyone else involved in scheduling were nice enough to deal with adding one more snag to their already snag-ridden, pre-production-engulfed lives. I, Mary Kraft, Carol the bass-player, was simultaneously in Stomp! Shout! Scream!, and in a nearly 2 month long run of Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical! at Dad's Garage Theatre here in Atlanta as Donna the Cheerleader . I had to be in Atlanta, GA, on stage at the theater, no matter what, at 8:00pm every Thursday-Saturday. Hmmmm. We're shooting the majority of the film in Bradenton, FL. Hmmmm. More on that in a bit.

It was tough, mentally, to be at the beach and not be able things.
Monday we got there about midnight--Cynthia (Jody) and Claire (Theodora) and I drove down together...that was the most time we had ever spent together and I thought we had a ridiculously good time. Topics discussed: Religion, politics, family, marriage, agents!, and why that Subway/Dairy Queen/Souvenir shop/alligator head emporium/gas station/giant sewer smelled like a giant crap took a crap on a crap. Interesting side note 1: Cynthia can start tearing up with sickness at the mere mention of a televised surgery.

When we arrived in FL at the house, Jay and the van pulled up shortly thereafter with 12-packs of beer and I can say it was a beautiful moment. We hung out at the beach and then back at the guys' house til way too late, but I still managed to get up and go jogging and swimming the next morning before settling in with Melissa for my daily hair/torture session. How did the women do it back then? Good Lord! To this day, whenever I see Melissa, my scalp starts tingling and my eyes water. (By the way, never a better makeup/hair person than, what a trooper, she did it all and did it with a great attitude)

We shot all day/night Tuesday, got back to the house, somewhere around 2 am?? Can't remember. Regardless, still in time for some cocktails. Chris Hines and Claire were nice enough to go grocery shopping while Cynthia, Jonathan and I shot our scene in an awesome light blue Ford Fairlane whose air-conditioning smelled like Brawny the paper towel giant had just taken off his socks which he’d had on for 2 weeks. We decided to go without the a/c…. Interesting side note 2: talking about the reeking socks made Jonathan sicker than the actual sock smell. The rest of the crew got back a little after us, and everyone fell right back into place, and another night of 4:00 am (or later) bedtimes.

No jogging/swimming Wednesday morning, just a quick walk and some shell-collecting. You know, the shells you pick up then get home and throw in the trash. Then straight to the hair chair with Melissa. Then Cynthia, then Claire. Then we all drive to Treasure Island... then... 3 hours later... the film gets there. Another story. Let's just say we had some down time at the old motel which was our location for the day. We finally get to shoot as the sun's about to go down, so now we (and by we, I mean gaffer/lighting director John Swindall) have to create daylight with lighting. It all works out, but it's a long, long night of shooting, as this is all of the Violas’ motel room dialogue scenes. We wrap that at about, oh, 3:00 am, then drive an hour back to Bradenton, so another 4 am bedtime....after a beer or two. Cynthia is slightly mentally disabled from lack of sleep, Jonathan tells me Travis and Ned are asleep, and I think Claire and Melissa are in their room asleep, so--thankfully--I go to bed. I found out later that Ned (Skunk Ape) woke up, Claire and Melissa were over there having cocktails, and stayed up til like 7:00am?? Good damn thing I knew nothing about that.

Interesting side note 3: The dietary necessities of the band and Melissa made for enough material for a movie within a movie. I’m a vegetarian, who very occasionally eats seafood, so I’m used to being the problem. This was a nice reprieve.

I had to wake up at 7:45am on Thursday to pack for Atlanta and get ready for my beach scene with Jody where we find the mangled body. So, I go into the hair chair with Melissa (who was up til 7) at about 8:30. We have to shoot this scene before 11:15 which is my absolute cut-off time, like, gotta be in the car at 11:15 and heading toward Atlanta. We're on the beach, we're shooting, it's 10:15, it's 10:30, it's 10:55, we do a couple more takes, it's 11:13 and we wrap, I hug everyone and run off to the car, hair NOT blowing in the wind, Cynthia running behind me (same hair, not blowing either) as pit crew for the quick change. I throw off my clothes at the car and hand them to her, pull on my shorts and shirt and realize I have to have something to drink for the trip, so we run back inside, Cynthia runs to the fridge, and we're like, "There's no water.... Where's all the WATER!!! Grab a Coke!" She grabs the fridge pack and stabs at the carton with a sharp knife to open it, pulls one out and we realize she's stabbed it with the knife, so it's spewing coke, "Get another one!" "Here!" "Thanks!" "We'll miss you!" "I'll miss you too!" "Bye!" "Bye!" ...Peel out.

I'm cruisin' making good time, listening to Bread: The Anthology, ("If a picture paints a thousand words.....", "Baby I'ma want you"), I round a corner just north of Valdosta and see traffic at a stand-still. As far as I can see, cars are stopped, inching forward. I panic. I try not to panic. I panic. I shouldn't have had the caffeine. I have more caffeine. Panic. Call my boyfriend, Dan, in Atlanta to start the ball rolling on getting in touch with those at the theater who I don't really want to give this information to but who need to know. The managing director calls me and is a very calm contrast to my inside-of-a-golf-ball-shredded-nerves-I've-had-7-hours-of-sleep-in-the-last-2-days mental state. She goes online to find out traffic/construction info, she gives me some alternate routes, she says they'll hold the show for up to 15 minutes if I need it and offer free drinks. Finally the traffic starts to clear after about 25-30 minutes--all of my "padding" I'd built in for a luxury like a shower before the show. I haul ass, which means 11-14 miles over the speed limit. Kathryn calls back at intervals to see how I'm doing, stressing that it's better that I make it back alive and we hold one show, than have to cancel all the shows. She says they've looked up some porn trivia that they will ask the audience in the hold if we need one. That's cool. How very Dad's Garage. I pull into the theater parking lot at 7:34pm. I run in, still in full hair (you can't get a brush through this stuff, people) and makeup. I wash my hair quickly in a sink in the workshop in back, dry it, straighten it, wipe off a little brown eyeshadow and replace with blue, add lip gloss, then some more lip gloss, put on my spankies and cheerleading outfit, grab my pompoms ("We're at Places, people!") and jump on stage. No porn trivia. No hold. At the buzzer. And so pumped full of caffeine and adrenaline that the show was barely containable. Great audience. Great rush.

This is so crazy.

Why do anything else?

- Mary Kraft
Carol, bass player
Stomp! Shout! Scream!

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Coming down from the shot, 10/24/04

Every night since we wrapped production, I've had dreams that wake me up in the middle of the night. I'm on set directing, and everybody’s working hard, but we can't ever get the shot off. Hours go by and my mind is just racing. I'm setting and re-setting up the shot, but we never roll film. It's one of those frustration dreams that never let's you get to any kind of conclusion. I used to have similar ones when I first started editing professionally, when I wasn’t as knowledgeable or experienced as I should have been to be doing what I was doing. I’d have some bizarre, frustrating dream and I’d wake up and think about it. When I got back to sleep, I’d dream it again, but with the scenes rearranged. I’d wake up again and analyze what I’d done differently in my re-edited dream. I’d go back to sleep and re-dream/re-edit it yet again. I’d do this all night long, never really getting any decent sleep. I called it the non-linear editor's nightmare. Anyway, it's back, but now I'm on set and I never get anything shot, let alone to the edit.

For the first time in over 2 years, I took all the garage rock out of the CD changer in my car. Garage was all I was listening to anyway, but in my obsession with this beach party rock and roll monster movie, I felt like I had to immerse myself in all things garage to prepare for the shooting of the film. Now that we've wrapped shooting, I can, at least while I'm stuck in traffic, finally think about something else for a while. Mostly I'll be thinking about the script for “Skunk Ape II”, in which the audience will catch up with lead character Theodora 5 years later, when she's playing early ‘70s country/rock music. I went out and got the Gram Parson’s Anthology to start my ‘research’ already.

Here's another recap of the shoot:

DAY TWO (Tuesday, October 5)
Location: Stockbridge Citgo / The Garage

Day Two is when we shoot the climatic scene of the movie with the band playing a party and the Skunk Ape attacks. It's just 3 scenes, less than 4 pages, but it's also lots of setups, wrangling extras and we have to finish by midnight. We have an early call on Wednesday and we have to return to this location later in the week, so we don't want to annoy the garage owner. Call is 5:00 pm, but the day starts for me at 2:30 when Claire, Mary and Cynthia arrive at my house for another band practice and session with Melissa Sandefur, our hair/make up artist.

On all my short films, the ‘cast’ has been my friends—mostly co-workers at Cartoon Network and Turner Broadcasting-- so this was my first time directing professional actors. I've talked to other film makers who have said that working with actors was their favorite part of the process. Having gone through it, I have to agree with them. Working with the actors at rehearsals and watching them turn my script into characters and my admittedly forced dialog into normal-sounding conversation was amazing. Everyone on the cast was remarkable, not one forgotten line and not one false performance during the whole production.

Anyway, back to Tuesday night. With our strict 5 to 1 shooting ratio, we can only shoot a few angles and then just a few takes of each scene. Nevertheless, DP Evan Lieberman and I plan 22 set ups for the climatic scene, half of them facing the stage where all the action happens and half of them from behind the stage. Due to the time it takes to flip all the lights around, we have to shoot all our shots facing one direction, then the other. Determining the most efficient order to do this is the job of the Assistant Director, Alex Orr. It's also his job to bark at cast and crew to make sure everyone is aware of the plan and is doing it. Alex did a fantastic job throughout the production, but especially on this day. We are able to shoot all but 4 of our set ups and those are cutaways and close-ups that we can pick up later in the week when we return to the garage location. I also have to thank all my friends who dressed up and showed up to be extras on a late Tuesday night 30 miles outside of Atlanta.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Wrap principle photography, 10/18/04

At 4:30 AM, Sunday morning, Stomp! Shout! Scream! principle photography wrapped. While there's a few pick up shots left to get, I think-- I hope-- there's a whole film's worth of film waiting to be edited. I'll get my first look at the footage this week. Over the next couple of weeks, I'll be just organizing all my materials to edit the film, so instead of detailing that kind of busy-work, I'll dole out some on-set anecdotes.

Location: Lenny’s / Dive Bar

The day starts with the actresses arriving at my house at 11:00 AM for band practice, then they are in makeup for a couple of hours. Call is for 2:00 PM, we get our first shot about 4:00 pm. I meet virtually all the crew members for the first time on set. The stress of directing has me more antsy that I realized it would. I'm most freaked out by how brightly lit Lenny’s is. In my mind, it's supposed to be a dingy, dirty dive bar and the last thing I want is for it to look like it's been lit for a movie. Evan Lieberman, the director of photography, assures me that is not the case. It's very hard to let go. I feel like I'm whining at every set up. Once I realize I'm just going to have to trust him and the crew he's assembled—- because, really, what choice to I have-- I feel much better. I can concentrate on the actors, the shot lists, and getting everything done.

Feature films usually try to average a couple of pages of script a day, but on our budget/schedule, we're shooting our 95 page script in 11 days. That's 8.6 pages per day and today we had just under 5 pages scheduled: a conversation over beers, the opening credits sequence where the on-screen band plays the theme song and the introduction of the love interest, Hector. We get it all with plenty of coverage and wrap at about 2:00AM.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

from the man behind the mask, 10/13/04

From Ned Hastings.

As both a co-worker of Jay Edwards on Aqua Teen Hunger Force and also as a – shall we say – feature player in Stomp! Shout! Scream!, I am adding my own diary entry on the production of Jay's little opus.

Well, week two of production is under way, and week one was a real blast for me. The first week was shot here in Atlanta, and this second week is being shot in Florida (or what's left of it). As you may know from an earlier diary entry of Jay's (with the accompanying ridiculous picture of me), I am playing the monster at the center of the movie. He is a Florida Skunk Ape, which is the state's native name for Bigfoot. The costume, cinematically, leaves much to be desired, but Jay promised me that he was planning to show the creature only in long shots, and shadows, and such. This I liked because a) I am not an actor and b) as I said, it's a pretty funny suit. Imagine my pleasure when I saw that photo on the Web.

That was sarcasm, by the way.

I kid because I love.

With Jay away for the two weeks of his shoot, I have been helping to hold down the fort at Cartoon Network. This has meant that I have had only two shooting days so far. But I've been to the set on two other days, just because it's so cool. In fact, I've been telling everyone in the office to go watch Jay shoot, because no one quite understands the scope of this project. There is somewhere around 25 to 30 people working or waiting to work at any given time, there's a 35mm camera with operator, there's a Director of Photography and an A.D. keeping the whole thing on track; and it's just really fun and totally cool.

And there's Jay at the center of it all, cool as a cucumber.

I, on the other hand, am usually anything but 'cool as a cucumber.' Besides the fur suit pictured elsewhere in these diaries, I am also wearing a black long-sleeved under-suit like the kind athletes wear. I also wear ridiculous feet (two different versions – the suit is evolving), and some black gunk all around my eyes. I'd like to say that wearing that stuff makes me feel like Michael Keaton in his batsuit, but it's closer to the truth to compare this to Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca. For a variety of reasons.

To put it mildly, that suit is hot as Hell. It's not too bad when I don't wear the mask and gloves, but as soon as they come on the sweat starts to pour. My chin sweats so much that the stuff comes out the mouth of the mask, making the creature appear to drool. Which, come to think of it, is not a bad way to play the poor beast.

Right, Ned – you're 'playing' this character.

Actually, I'm merely attempting to embody the character. I put on the suit, do whatever Jay tells me I'm supposed to do, and use my eyes a little to show what I'm 'thinking.' I knew I should have paid closer attention in those mime classes. So far, I've stormed a stage at a rock and roll show about 30 times, grabbing the heroine lustily nearly every time (perk). I've also killed one character, which is cool. What else? I've sort of 'danced.' Lots of people would say that whenever I dance, it's 'sort of dancing,' but this is different. It makes sense in the movie. OK, no it doesn't, but it was fun anyway.

I've also done a couple of 'stunts,' which involved a good bit of the usual movie-making chicanery to pull off. I will neither explain these moments nor divulge the tricks behind them here – you'll have to see the movie and/or the DVD extras. But, again, it was really fun.

I also had a fun moment on screen in which I do not play a rampaging, hairy, sexually aroused beast. Dana Snyder, who is the voice of Master Shake on Aqua Teen Hunger Force, was in town the latter part of last week. I didn't have to shoot on any of the nights or days that he was here, so I got to hang out with him a lot. I took him down to the set so that he could see how awesome it was and, lo and behold, Jay asked not just Dana, but also me to be in one shot of the film. That was cool. He had a line, and then we peeled out in a vintage car. Cool – my first appearance in a movie in which I wasn't wearing fur and make-up around my eyes. (I was also in The Birdcage. Again: sarcasm.)

I am jealous of my cast and crew mates. Everyone else went down on Monday via caravan, but here it is Wednesday and I am not going down until tonight. In fact, I'm flying in a few hours. Oddly, the guy I "killed" the other night volunteered to pick me up. What a stalwart band of troupers we are! Seriously, I've had such a good time hanging out with everyone that I hate not being able to experience these travel and shooting days with them. All of the actors have been really great to watch and to get to know. They actually treat me as an equal, even though they are all trained professionals and I'm just there because I'm the largest mammal the director knows. They are really great actors and watching them has been fascinating. I hate that I've missed out on these few days of travel, work, and bonding time with everyone.

But, I'm heading down soon to talk Jazz with Adrian, kid with the girls, and prattle on about movies with any poor soul who gets within earshot of me. Of course, I'll also put on the suit, "kill" a couple more people, and continue to attempt to drag off the heroine for my own nefarious aims; and hopefully sweat off a few pounds while I'm at it.

I'm looking forward to getting down there and back on set. This is in spite of the fact that the crew's tendency to call all of the actors by the name of their character means that I am called "Skunk Ape" by nearly everyone.

I thought I'd shook off that nickname back in ballet school, but it's back?

- Ned Hastings
Skunk Ape
Stomp! Shout! Scream!

Sunday, October 10, 2004

End of first week of shooting, 10/10/04

At the end of our first week of shooting, I can say, with out a doubt, this is the hardest thing I've ever done. I've been editing for 15 years and I do things a certain way. I get all my source materials right in front of me, figure out what the limits are to whatever I'm doing, and start making decisions based on all the parameters. Directing an indie feature film gives you plenty of limiting factors, but you also have endless options at the same time. I'm essentially trying to edit the film in my head, on set, on the fly. After a couple of hours of this, my brain in mush. Luckily I have people like Evan Lieberman, the D.P., Alex Orr, the Assistant Director, and Reagan Brandon, script supervisor, to help me out. They, along with a very talented, very hard working crew, are helping make a real feature film. We have shot almost every shot we've planned to shoot, which by all accounts is remarkable for an indie film, or any film. I have plenty of stories, but it's very late and I'm very tired. Here's pictures from our first week.

Saturday, October 2, 2004

last minute casting, costuming, 10/2/04

All that stuff I wrote last week about the highs and lows of the film making process-- well, there's been plenty more lows. On Wednesday, 5 days out from our first day of production, Frank Robert, our newly cast and rehearsed Deputy Tillis called to tell me he has a family emergency and will not be able to be in the film. He feels awful about it and I have no recourse but to let him go. I can't really say that I'm depressed, despondent or dejected because I'm just too weary of pushing this thing along with not much more that willpower and enthusiasm to feel much of anything. I know we'll find someone, but the process will be painful. Luckily, Frank called me 24 hours later with a recommendation. His good friend, Adrian Roberts (no relation) is qualified, experienced and available. I cast him over the phone without hearing him read a single line from the script. We'll meet for the first time at a costume fitting on Sunday.

Friday is my first day of full time movie making. I've been only available nights, weekends and the occasional phone call or fax during my day job with Adult Swim. I can't say that my brain is fully firing on all cylinders from the business and stress of the last two weeks and the cold that makes my nose and eyes run like a faucet. There's a production meeting at 11:00 AM to meet some of the crew and then go to our Atlanta locations. At the meeting is Arma Benoit Stephens, producer; Evan Lieberman, DP; John Swindall; gaffer; and Arma’s husband John Stephens, key grip. We talk schedule, mostly about what scenes Hector, the Latino Mechanic love-interest, can be written out of because our actor has some scheduling conflicts on the days when he's most needed on set. I dive into the final shooting script I rewrote two nights before and try to wrap my brain around that while the camera department talks in a completely foreign language of lighting and dolly and who knows what else. I scribble and work on my script but don't really get anywhere when it's time to head to our first location of the day, the garage. This is the location for our most demanding scene, where the Skunk Ape kidnaps Theodora in the middle of the band's performance. The garage doesn't have some things that we need so we improvise and come up with other solutions. I make John Stephens pick me up and carry me around like the Skunk Ape will carry around Theodora-- newlyweds-over-the-threshold-style. I think it's hilarious, but I'm not sure everyone gets me yet. We all start figuring out how we'll shoot this complicated scene and I go through it thinking out loud as we go. Many decisions are based on the fact that we can't find a special effects make-up artist to do a Skunk Ape face. We'll just shoot the creature over-the-shoulder or back lit. Later that day Arma and I come to the conclusions that all the compromises that we're making based on lack of money and time will only make the film better, more like the films we're trying to emulate.

Next location is a fabric warehouse where we're going to shoot our police station and doctor’s office interiors. The rooms are generic white (good for a Doctor’s exam room), but really small (bad for Police station). Matt, the assistant art director, shows us some of the older offices that are still in use and we hit gold. They're wood paneled with original 1960’s furniture-- perfect. We still don't have a police exterior or a doctor’s office exterior. We decide that we'll do without either of those locations, we'll just shoot ‘em as interiors.

The last location is Lenny’s, which is where we'll shoot the dive bar scene on Day One. It's the first scene where we see the all-girl garage rock band, The Violas, playing the theme song for the movie. Lenny’s is perfect and I run to meet the actresses for band practice and costume fitting.

One idea I wanted to explore was to try to record Claire Bronson’s voice on location to use when we mix the movie. I’d tape an iPod or something to her back and play the Catfight! theme song in earphones. That way she can just sing along with the song, but we'll be able to record clean vocals. We'd get one or two takes, then switch to shooting MOS (no sync sound recording) of the band playing along with the song. Claire hasn't ever sung publicly and this kinda freaked her out. At band practice Friday afternoon, the prospect of doing this was effecting her confidence and I killed the idea. While the Claire, Mary Kraft (bass) and Cynthia Evans (drums) are not quite ready to go out on tour, they'll be much better than any of the lip-syncing professional bands in the ‘60s beach party movies. Wardrobe Stylist Jason Sky come by with dresses and go-go boots and the actresses look amazing. What a great day of film making I've had.

Then, the actor I've cast as Hector calls and lets me know that he has been offered another very well-paying job that he can't turn down. Now, I have less than 48 hours to recast the romantic lead role. There goes the giddy high of indie film making. The calls go out, once again, to Arma, Evan, the cast and Amy Barratt, the casting director looking for a new Hector.

I give myself until 3:00pm Saturday to audition/beg actors and then I'll cast the best I can find. Costumes will have to be refitted, schedules reworked. Jonathan Green, who plays scientist John Patterson in the film, calls with a high recommendation for his friend Travis Young. I call and wake up Travis and he's at my house by 11:00 am to audition. I play Theodora and see if he can seduce me. It works and Travis is our new & improved Hector. I meet with Evan for a few hours to make our shot list for Day One, despite my total lack of energy. It's essentially where I direct the movie: Start with a close-up that dollies out to an establishing 3-shot; close-ups for these characters for these lines; 2 shot for these lines; etc. We are, of course, limited by a strict 5 to 1 shooting ratio, but it's totally invigorating.

Sunday is spent doing more shot lists for Days Two & Three and costume fittings for all the male actors. Luckily, the costumes bought for the old Hector fit the new Hector. Jason couldn't find the right suit for John the scientist. I pull a green thrift store suit of my closet and it fits perfectly. I tell Jonathan that I'll be wearing it to the premiere of the movie, so don't mess it up. Ned Hasting, my friend and work-mate on Aqua Teen Hunger Force, is playing the monster in the film, the Skunk Ape (the Everglades version of Bigfoot). He's is 6 foot 6 and as he puts it, "the largest mammal I know." But he's also an encyclopedia of film and a great resource to have on set.He tries on the $99 gorilla costume, but can't pull it over his gargantuan thighs. In the middle of my living room, I have a pair of scissors pointed directly at his crotch. Less than 24 hours from the fist time I get to yell action and I'm starting to enjoy myself again.