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Sunday, January 30, 2005

Day 9 Recap

DAY NINE (Thursday, October 14)
Locations: Beach, Anna Maria Island, Florida; ‘Spanish Fort’, Egmont Key State park, Florida

After getting to bed about 4:00 AM the night before, Thursday starts at a hazy and blurry 9:00 AM to shoot one quick scene of Carol (Mary Kraft) and Jody (Cynthia Evans) discovering a Skunk Ape victim in the surf. It’s a minimalist crew call-- me, Evan as DP, Bill Burton operating the camera, Art Department-ers Lisa and Scott creating the dead body, and the sounds guys-- all of us working on no sleep.

We don’t have an Assistant Director or Assistant Camera, so we forget to grab the slate. I stand in front of the actresses and clap my hands at the start of each take, hoping I can sync this later. Our deadline is 11:00 AM since Mary has to be back in Atlanta by 7:30 PM to be on stage at Dad’s Garage Theater. Our goal is three shots: the actresses walk ‘n’ talk down the beach and we pan with ‘em and let them exit frame; the actresses then walk into a medium shot and react to the bloody, mangled body; and lastly the dead body cutaway. We get two takes of the walk ‘n’ talk and three of the MS with reactions and Mary is gone (see journal 8 for the rest of that adventure). The reaction shot is priceless, the classic shock and shuttering of seeing something horrific, one of those things that makes me giggle despite myself. Our Production Assistant Juston Rindlesbach grabs some quick shots of Cynthia and Mary on the beach rehearsing their reactions and they are the best production still of the shoot. Thank you Juston for these and all the great stills in this journal.

The majority of the rest of our day is spent traveling to and from our most beautiful location, The Battery at Egmont Key State park, an island out in the middle of Tampa Bay.

To get there we have to drive to St. Pete, then catch a chartered boat-- over 2 hours travel time each way. Like the rest of our week, we have perfect weather and shoot some beautiful, dramatic film. Arma buys water shoes for the crew since we have to pull the big pontoon boat onto the shore to get to the battery. The local ranger generously lets us use his 4-wheeler to cart our production gear. We have a hard out of 11:00 PM, so we hustle through our shots list, but get everything we planned to shoot and load up the boat. Since we couldn’t bring a catering spread out to Egmont Key, we treat the crew to the only open restaurant we can find at 1:30 AM, Waffle House.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

editing, Day 8 Recap

To update the post-production status, I’m about 70% through my first edit. I’m happy with it, but I’m trying to not judge the quality of things at this point. I’m just trying to get the scenes to cut together any way that works. It’s enjoyable-- lots of things make me laugh and exclaim, “I love this!”-- but I’m starting to feel the pressure of getting something done. My biggest concern right now is how am I going to get a film print that looks great and doesn’t cost more than the production itself. I was hoping the new Sony HDV format that comes out next month would be the Rosetta Stone of my post process. The deck is reasonably inexpensive and I thought I could cut the negative, do a color-correction film transfer to the Sony HDV, finish titles & credits myself in Final Cut, then strike a film print from the HDV master. Turns out the Sony HDV format isn’t going to work-- not enough resolution, not the right input/output capabilities, just not right.

I can still go this route, I just need to find film transfer & color correction to a real High Definition format. And find someone who can insert my titles and credits to that HD master. All this will be very expensive, but having a 35mm film print and an HD master opens up a lot of doors that a simple, standard-definition video finish does not.

This is all too much big picture stuff to worry about right now. I need to finish the editing of the film first, see how good it is and go from there.

Here’s another daily recap from the shoot.
DAY EIGHT (Wednesday, October 13)
Locations: Sarasota Jungle Gardens, Sarasota, Florida; Coquina Beach, Bradenton, Florida; Beach House Motel, St. Petersburg, Florida

This is the start of the longest two days of the entire shoot. Crew Call for me, Evan (DP), Bill (Camera Operator), Arma (producer), Claire and Travis is 9:00 AM for the drive to Sarasota Jungle Gardens. We’re shooting scenes of Theodora and Hector frolicking for the ‘love montage’.

Sarasota Jungle Gardens is an old-school Florida attraction, straight out of the ‘60s with talking bird shows, Tiki statues everywhere and flamingos that eat out of your hand. The location and the weather are perfect, absolutely gorgeous . They even let us use their golf cart to lug our camera & tripod around. We get 4 or 5 shots and head to Coquina Beach to meet the full crew for lunch and pickup one scene with the Ford Fairlane that we missed the day before. We shoot two takes of dialog and a couple of drive-bys, then pack up about 2:00 pm to start the one hour drive to St. Pete to shoot our motel interiors.

Unfortunately, our cube truck (with all our props and film) couldn’t follow the production directions because of weight or height or something and got lost, then got stuck in Tampa rush-hour traffic. The whole crew is on location, ready to shoot, and we don’t have any film. Everyone wanders up to the ‘Dairy Barn’ to get ice cream and sits around. I work on shots lists for the next couple of days. It’s quite frustrating, but not a bad break for a crew that’s been running pretty hard for a couple of days. After a 3 & 1/2 hour wait, we get our first shot at the motel at 7:07 pm. We shoot our interior daytime scenes first, using lights to cheat the Florida sunshine. Most of the scenes are dialog heavy with a little blocking to keep things interesting. We have two night exteriors that we save to the end of the day. I have to cut two scenes and we wrap at 2:45 AM. Nobody gets back to their rooms until after 4:00 AM.

Just to make things interesting, Gaffer John Swindall, who is driving me, Evan and Bill home, gets pulled over for speeding 50 yards from our beach house. Amazingly, the local police office lets him go without a ticket and offers to be an extra in the movie. I pass out the instant I make it to my room. That’s a good thing because we have another 9:00 AM call on Thursday to shoot Mary Kraft’s last scene before she has to drive back to Atlanta (see journal # 8). I guess if you don’t have at least one 20 hour day on your no-budget indie feature, you’re just not doing it right.

Sunday, January 9, 2005

Imaginary double feature, Day 7 recap

I’ve been trying to come up with films that would play with Stomp! Shout! Scream! at the ultimate drive-in double feature in my mind. Of course, any vintage beach party movie would set the mood. Or any 1950’s monster movie would work, especially those in the Roger Corman oeuvre. But of the recent, independent, no-budget films that have broken out to gain a wide audience, I think the original El Mariachi, directed by Robert Rodriguez, would work best. I saw and loved his short film, Bedhead, at the Atlanta Film Festival when I first moved to Atlanta in 1991. And I saw El Mariachi at the High Museum with Rodriguez there to introduce the film and take Q & A afterwards. I remember him admitting that the sped up keyboard-playing scene was shot that way because they were running out of film and wanted to get the entire scene shot. It was a combination of necessity and creative decision making and it played perfectly in the final film. It was an exhilarating, inspirational experience. He created a no-budget, silly, action film that was playing at an art museum. Fun. Funny. And artistic. I’m hoping my film can approach that very high standard.

Here’s another daily recap from the shoot.
DAY SEVEN (Tuesday, October 12)
Location: Coquina Beach, Bradenton, Florida

By far the most frustrating day yet.

It’s our first day in Florida, we have some new crew members and nobody really knows what we’re doing or where they should be. We’re all late getting to location and the production cars are there waiting for us. After a few chaotic minutes of finding everyone and everything, Evan and I scout around and determine that using the isolated beach roadside opposite the original location will be best for our day’s work and we start setting up. After a crew call of 2:00 pm, we don’t get our first shot off until 3:45. The 90 degree heat doesn’t help things. I’m just thankful it’s not worse. We have one visit from the local police, but our permits and proof of production insurance is all in place and they leave us alone after 5 minutes. It doesn’t hurt having a police officer from the St. Petersburg Police Department on set with the vintage police car we’ve rented for the day.
We have 12 pages to cover today and limited time with the production cars, so I have to consolidate my shots lists drastically. Instead of being able to get two or three angles of our driving and talking scenes, I can only get one. I also have to cut three scenes in order to get the more important scenes completed. Luckily Ed Sluss, the owner of the Ford Fairlane, is willing to come back the next day, so we can pick up one daytime scene we don’t get shot. We have to wait for it to get dark to shoot our night scenes, but our dinner order doesn’t arrive until we have to get back to work, so nobody really gets a dinner break.

The actor with the longest day is Travis Young (Hector). He has one scene, where he’s walking down a lonely road by himself and the Ford Fairlane passes him, shining it’s headlights on him. He doesn't even have any dialog. We end up shooting it at the very end of our day, about 12:30 that night. We fake the headlights with production lights since the Fairlane had to leave. Travis was on set for over 10 hours and ended up working-- walking down the road four times-- for 20 minutes. At the end of the day, we still got 10 pages of script shot and no major catastrophes.

Sunday, January 2, 2005

New Year's Reflections, Travel Day Recap

It’s a new year and I guess it’s time to try to reflect on Stomp! Shout! Scream! Two years ago, there was only the idea that I should make a beach party feature film. One year ago, there was just a script and a business plan. In January, I starting fund raising in earnest, meeting with lawyers, trying to get a contract in place. In February, I started meeting with casting director Amy Barrat and collecting head shots. In March, Rob Gal recorded Catfight!’s original songs for the film. With only 20% of funding in place, we went forward with two (long) days of casting in May. One month later we had a cast in place and I was picking up all the extra editing and producing work I could find. By September, it looked like the film would have it’s $100,000 budget, and I spent a weekend in Florida location scouting. And October 4-16, we shot the damn thing.

For most of the process, it was just me making phone calls, asking for favors, pushing this thing along. Nothing was exactly easy (I talked to 8 different lawyers before I found one who would write the contract I wanted), but every few months, there was an energizing step in the process-- hearing the original songs, seeing actors read the script, finding the perfect motel & beach locations, having band practice with the actresses. It’s hard to put any true perspective on what I’ve accomplished to this point. A whole hell of a lot in some respects, but really nothing if the film doesn't get seen or isn't really that good. This is why I don’t like to look back and reflect. Tying to focus on the big, big picture makes the process too daunting, down right overwhelming. I’d rather just go back to my basement edit suite and make the smallest of decisions one at a time and keep doing that until it’s done. Worrying about weather it’s a great piece of art doesn't do me any good, I have to just keep working and making it the best I can.

Another daily recap.
Monday, October 11
Travel Day
Producer Arma Benoit secured a passenger van to accommodate the cast and crew who didn’t take their own cars on the 8 hour trip from Atlanta to Bradenton, Florida. Cinematographer Evan Lieberman and I take the van so we can work on shot lists for the first several days in Florida. The highlight of the trip is stopping at the most appropriate of all truck stops on I-75. Once we get to Florida, we have to spend way too much time figuring out who is sleeping where in our triplex beach house. Thankfully, Assistant Director Alex Orr sees our plight and takes over. It’s his job to be the bad guy when necessary and this is a great occasion for him to do just that. A few crew members will have to sleep on couches, but once everyone gets there, it’s a free-for-all and the summer camp attitude takes over.

To escape the chaos of people arriving, Claire Bronson and I jump in someone’s car to find a convenience store for supplies. I dump all my stress on her and immediately feel better. On our way back to the crew beach house/ compound, we pass Art Director Lisa Yieser and her assistant Scott Dupree in the ‘60s station wagon that they’ve driven down from Atlanta with bad breaks. They’re turning around in the middle of the road, lost and frazzled. Just then she calls me on my cell phone and asks where I am. I hop out of the car and tell her that I’m the guy in the road walking toward her car. I get in with them and take them to the compound.

A huge thank you goes to Amanda at Edge Sharff Properties who gave us an incredible deal on our production housing. While I wish I could stay with the majority of the crew, Arma, Evan and I will sleep at another beach house which also serves as our production office while in Florida. Stories of the crew staying up all night, every night, to see the sunrise, make me thankful for the privacy and the precious few hours of sleep I do get.