Part 3.5 of a series, going behind the scenes in the making of “Starring: Rachel Miller.” Here’s a blog (and video!) about the whole film, and here’s behind-the-scenes of part 1 (the theatre), part 2 (Rachel enters), and part 3 (the park).
The second half of the park scene is our “Singin’ in the Rain” homage, complete with actual rain. To get rain to our location in a public park, we used a water truck. Well, actually, we used a water tank trailer, which, it turns out is a very important distinction.
Our plan (which eventually, basically, worked out) was to have a water truck in the parking lot, and use long garden hoses to pump water to our location (downhill, using gravity as our friend). Then we’d split the hose into two separate hoses, one on each side of the dancers, and spray from two directions to give a better-than-one-hose look to the rain. It actually looks all right.
But getting there was a bit of a problem. I reserved a water truck with an equipment rental company for the weekend, and was told to show up at 5pm Friday to pick it up. The rental place closed at 5:30, so I showed up at 3pm, because of course something is going to go wrong, and there’s no time to solve the problem if the place closes in 30 minutes. I got there, they found my reservation, and then tell me that they don’t rent water trucks. Here’s what a water truck looks like:
What I could rent was a water tank trailer. The difference is that a water truck is a fully drive-able water tank, and a water tank trailer, which looks like this: … is not drivable. It needs a truck to haul it. What you’re supposed to do is rent a water tank trailer, drive it to your location, then a water truck comes by and fills you up. That way, you’re not hauling a ton of water to your location, and can use a smaller truck to pull it.
So someone there had taken a reservation for something that couldn’t be reserved, and now I needed a tank and a water fill. But there were a couple of problems. I actually had a truck we were using for the film that could pull the trailer, but a) the truck didn’t deliver on Saturday, when we were filming, and b) they didn’t have any tank trailers available.
So my first problem to solve was finding a trailer. The guy very kindly got on the phone for me and made a few quick calls, but no one had one available, and he gave me that look like “sorry, kid, I did what I could.” But of course, it was their fault – they shouldn’t have taken a reservation for something that couldn’t be reserved, and using that info I pulled out a trick that I reserve for moments like this, when I’m really screwed and it’s someone else’s fault.
I looked the guy in the eyes, and said (edited)… “I think you’re telling me that I’m f***ed. You took my reservation, but now I’m f***ed, but I need to hear it. I need you to tell me that I’m f***ed.”
The guy looked at me, sighed, then turned around and made another couple of phone calls. Five minutes later I had a water trailer.
I ran and got my truck and picked up the tank, then proceeded to fill it with a water hose from my apartment overnight and drove it to the location, hoping that no cops saw me. I have no idea if I was doing anything illegal pulling a completely full water trailer across town, but didn’t really want to find out.
Once we got on location, a very nice guy in the parking lot helped us figure out how to work the pump (after about 10 film guys spent better part of an hour on it), and we were set to go.
And that’s how we got rain for our Singin’ in the Rain section. Stay tuned (soon, I promise!) for tales from the Water Ballet.
Go check out THIS POST about “The Proposal” (if you haven’t already read it), and click the link to watch the film (it’s only 4 minutes!) and then “like” it in every way that you can, because we’re in one of those stupid online contests where I need to beg everyone I know to watch my movie and like it. Sigh.
We left off talking about ADR – there were two big tasks in the ADR of The Proposal. We’ll take the obvious one (Emma!) second.
The first problem we had was that as director, I had told Jim to aim for the laughs in this film, and he gave me exactly what I asked for. He’s a pro, and one-hundred percent nailed what I asked for, but in the edit bay we realized that I’d led him the wrong direction. It’s such an easy trap to fall into – this is a small little character piece, and we have to believe that the character believes what’s happening is real and important, and that feeling wasn’t coming across in the edit, because that’s not what I’d asked the actor to do.
Fortunately, we had lousy sound for the film. Not my recordist’s fault – it was a windy day, and we were fairly close to a road, and Emma rarely kept quiet over Jim’s dialogue, so we needed to re-record all the dialogue in the film.
I brought Jim in and we talked about the character, and we pulled back the performance to make it simpler and more sincere. And again, 100% pro, he nailed it, while syncing to his own lips in an ugly TV studio with a mic in front of his face and a script in his hands. ADR is tough – I don’t envy any actor having to slug through even a short ADR session. But the ADR is the performance you’re hearing in the film, and Jim did a great job!
Emma’s ADR was a very different experience. She was 14/15 months old when we were recording, and starting to say a few words, including “mama.” We made a checklist of all the sounds we needed – some were just generic grunts, laughs and cries. Some were more specific like the “huh?” after “I love your Mommy!” or the “Mama!” line. And we rehearsed them with her for a week or so before.
To get the audio, we brought her into a big quiet TV studio, with just her, me as recorder, and Mommy as baby wrangler. We all took off our shoes so that we could move around without making noise, which was very necessary, because she got bored quickly.
More than half of what you hear in the film was recorded as Emma ran across the floor of the studio, with me holding the mic in front of her, running backwards and trying not to run into walls and equipment. But she was mostly happy to make the sounds we wanted if she was allowed to run while doing them.
The other trick, especially with the specific sounds, was to hold her and swing her towards the mic – we’d say the word or sound we wanted while swinging her, then we’d stop her in front of the mic, and about half the time, she’d then say it. It was slow-going, but it worked.
I expected the ADR to take about 4 hours to edit and place in the film, but after about 8 hours, I finished the first pass. That’s for a 4 minute film (3 minutes that actually had ADR). “We’ll just get the audio in post” is always the dumbest thing you can think on set.
Another trick we did with Emma on Sympathy Pains, when we needed her to cry, was just to record at naptime and bedtime. About 50% of the time, we knew we’d get a cry, and sure enough, 3 tries into it, we had all the crying audio we needed. :)
And that’s the behind-the-scenes on The Proposal. Did I mention that you can watch it (and “like” it) here, and it’ll really help us?
So we’re in this contest… I completely hate to be one of those people who asks people to go watch my video because we’re in this contest, but we’re in this contest. This is a (very short – 4 minutes!) film I made a few years ago with my daughter and Jim and Carla Harris, and it’s only four minutes, and you should go watch it. Here’s the link to it on their website. And if you “like” it (both the thumbs up in the upper right, and on their little facebook like button in the lower left), that helps us, too. Thanks! And it’s only four minutes.
To keep this from being a “please go watch my movie” plea (exclusively, but please go watch my movie), I thought I’d talk through a bit of how we made the film – we did a couple of less conventional things to be able to get a performance from Emma, who was about 1 year old at the time. Make sure you watch the end credits of the film – there’s (to me, anyway) some revelatory stuff in the video playing under the text.
First, we shot with two cameras. That’s not that uncommon – I’ll shoot a close-up and an over-the-shoulder of a single actor at the same time if the scene isn’t too complex. I don’t mind doing that, because I can still watch the performance that’s going to camera, and my DP doesn’t have to think too widely about the difference between the two shots. It’s a quick and simple way to get some options in the edit bay to save the c/ups for the big moments in the scene.
But for this short, we actually shot opposing over-the-shoulder shots at the same time. I wish we had pictures (I know there are some, but they are not to be found at the moment), but there were a lot of strangely placed lights filling where necessary, and flags blocking out weird shadows and overexposure. Walking close to the set was a gauntlet to be approached at your own peril.
We shot with two cameras for the over-the-shoulders, because with Emma, if we got her to do something once, we’d never get her to do it again, and if both cameras weren’t getting it, it wouldn’t match. And I wanted Jim to be able to play and react to what Emma was doing, but we needed the two cameras for that, too. My DP still obsesses about a few blown-out bits in the background, because he couldn’t control everything with the two opposing cameras, but I think it looks great.
We rehearsed with Emma all of the key moments for about a month before, just a little at a time, so it’d be fun for her, and well-practiced on set. But of course, there’s a reason they say never to work with kids or dogs. Most of the prep went out the window once there was a boom mic over her head for her to play with, and ten filmmakers around who were more interesting than what she was supposed to be doing.
The other trick with Emma on set was carefully placing and hiding Mommy and Daddy. Often, Kat (my wife) was just out of frame over Jim’s shoulder, so that Emma would face towards Jim. We’d shuffle most of the rest of the crew behind Emma, out of her eyeline so as not to distract her, and Kat would try to keep her attention.
And occasionally, as you can see in the credits, I’d sit in for Jim. If it’s a c/up of Emma, and you see a hand enter the frame, that’s probably me. If there’s no hand, she’s looking at Mommy, because Kat’s better at focusing Emma than I am.
I made a list of every moment that we had to have of Emma specifically – the “Mama” line, the “judging” moment, looking at the ring, etc, and we checked them off as we got them. Sometimes, it was in the middle of a take, at the wrong moment, but we got everything checked so we knew when we could pack up.
Then in the edit bay, we assembled it all as best we could. Lyle, my editor, did a stellar job putting it all together. In retrospect, I think we made a mistake ignoring Emma as long as we did, once Jim realizes Carla is behind him. But that’s the direction I’d led Lyle- I’m completely the dummy who said don’t cut to the kid. Piece of advice – you should always cut to the kid. The first scene with Emma in Sympathy Pains doesn’t have enough of her either, because I don’t learn until I screw it up twice.
And the real problem of not enough Emma only presented itself in the ADR, which is another post for later this week. No really, later this week. I’m writing it at the same time and will definitely have it up sometime this week!