Thursday, January 31, 2013

Producing Someday

     Standing in a field prepping gear, a cast and crew of 25 or so people each doing their part, and the AD is asking how long until you are ready to roll... not to mention the pressure to live up to the expectations of the director / script-writer. The first shot is a simple camera on slider move of a tombstone in a field, with a 200mm lens - no problem. But the next shot is a Steadicam shot walking backwards in tall clumpy grass. Is everything ready, have you done your homework, read the script enough, thought through all the gear, can you see the film in your head yet? You know they will call action in a few minutes, are you ready to roll?

     That day was October 25th, the first day of a four-day shoot for the principle photography on a short film titled Someday. Written and directed by Stephen van Vuuren, produced by SV2 Studios and Mark Wagoner Productions, I served as the director of photography. My main goals were to not shoot a lame-looking film, to tell the story, and to have fun.

      While we are still shooting a few shots this winter, the bulk of the shoot was completed in four days last October. Now we are deep into dealing with the footage, the edit in the early stages with Stephen, and I am working out the post-production details for the look and color of the film. The overall look was laid out in the hours (really more like days) that Stephen and I spent discussing and looking at films.

     Working on this element is as exciting for me as shooting - very different, but exciting. The shoot is full of nervous energy and emotions, lots of people working for the final goal of producing the film, but when I am working on the color grading, especially at the design stage that I am in now, it is very different. I am sitting at my computer, thinking about the emotion of the shots, how far too push the color without it becoming too heavy-handed. Very quiet and delicate business, it is a bit like meditation for me. After the edit is done and these decisions are made, and we are applying all of the grading to the final film, matching shots, correcting for lens color and the like - that is more like work.

     Our design and pre-production process took nearly nine months. While Stephen was tightening the script, our art department was busy with some of the larger tasks that we knew would make it into the final draft. One of the most interesting was the collection of 50,000 sheets of office paper to populate the desk of the character Grim Man (and they also found a home for the paper after the shoot.) We were all busy with location scouting in addition to our other duties for the film. During the casting we had 2,000 people submit headshots, and we auditioned 200 people for the seven roles. By September 1, 2012, we had pushed our original shoot dates back a few weeks. The role of David was proving difficult to cast, and one of the primary locations was proving tough to nail down. But the film was coming to life, full of energy, and the pressure was mounting.

    During those last few weeks before the shoot, I was busy with tech scouts, lenses, batteries and all of the things that require attention before a shoot. We were pushing into some new waters for me on this project, remote wireless video monitoring, using the Canon C300 in five different configurations, but the most interesting of all was the plan for recording the song that appears in the film. After much deliberation and discussion, Stephen suggested we record the actors singing on the set live - yes, live. Stephen had seen the teaser for  Les Miserables directed by Tom Hooper, and after passing around the video to the main team members, it was decided that we would use this concept to shoot the song in the film.
     This was a really big deal, as it meant having a keyboardist on set, a way for the actors to hear music in their ears, the keyboard player had to be able to hear the actors, and we had to record all of the vocals, as well as a sync track for the keyboard, while filming the whole thing. Now in case you do not know, we did not have multi-million dollar budget, a sound crew 3 times bigger than a normal film shoot and weeks to shoot. We had a a sound budget in the hundreds of dollars, a small but dedicated crew, actors and a music director who were willing to put themselves out on a limb and believe that this could be done, and only a few weeks to figure out how to pull it off. It was crazy to attempt on a project like this. I can only say I am glad we did!

      The thing that I really like about this type of project is that it becomes an exploration space and a proving ground. It is a chance to test out new processes and artistic thoughts, and then we are able to bring this research to our commercial productions.

     For the film, we had assembled a great cast and production crew. Some of the regulars that I work with were there, including Jill Davis as script supervisor and Christian Parsons as gaffer and camera operator, plus we brought along some new folks that really helped bring this show together.

     With the post production process underway, it’s deeply satisfying to see that this goal is being achieved, beyond our high expectations. Every frame bears the mark of multiple creative contributors to the film – art, cast, production design, sound. But ultimately film is a visual medium, and I believe the hard work Stephen and I put into Someday will result in great addition to our body of work.

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