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Sympathy Pains – 28 Days Left!

July 15, 2012

And six of them are days off!

What a fun day – I got to have my “big three” on set today: my three leads: Chris Fritzges, Courtney Bennett, and Kenn Woodard. They can really do wonders with my lousy direction. :)

Special thanks to Jerry and Arlene Biebesheimer who, beyond playing Opera singers in our film, also graciously and foolishly allowed us to film in their house. We hijacked their furniture – they’re going to be a bit surprised when they see their living room in the film and how little of it they recognize.

Timing is a bitch! We had two scenes that needed actors to come from a distance and hit their marks at a specific time – it’s a very specific talent to time that just right. We had some characters coming from a long ways in one direction, and others who were just a few steps away off camera, which makes it extra tricky. I like to write it all out so I can quickly glance and see who needs to get called next and be ready for the cue. And by about take four we got the timing down. But that’s so important, so you don’t have to worry about re-timing it in the edit bay.

That’s one of the things you only learn after making a few films – the timing is everything. What seems like a perfectly reasonable length of time on set is a small death on the screen, because you’re asking your audience to just sit there and wait for the next event to happen. Something interesting needs to be happening EVERY MOMENT to keep the audience engaged, and figuring that out on set, when so many interesting things are happening off-screen, is really hard.

I also played outside of my comfort zone today. I like to stage the action before, either in rehearsal or just on paper, and set the camera angles with Mike, my DP. But today had a lot of motion, so we had a rough idea of the shots we wanted, and then put the scene on its feet in rehearsal on location. After that, we figured out some camera moves that would capture the whole scene. Nothing too crazy, but, again, I like a more controlled shot list. Hunter Moore, our camera op, did a great job on the steadicam, and we got some strong footage that feels kinetic and helps make a wild scene even more exciting.

Today was just a day of throwing caution to the wind – we also re-wrote a scene on set. The final moment between Chris and Kenn just wasn’t quite working, so while the crew reset the lights, I pulled myself away and worked through the dialogue. The re-write (primarily just editing out some unnecessary lines) worked great, and suddenly, we had a strong, emotional scene. You can only do that with a well trained cast who can roll with the changes.

And speaking of, another quick gush about my cast. Anything that I’m able to do in this film is because I have such complete faith in them. It’s interesting – Courtney is so amazingly funny, and that comes through wonderfully, but she also knows when to be a rock for Chris to play off of. And Chris is such an incredible, controlled goofball! He keeps reminding me of a young Woody Allen – it’s that level of manic energy. And every time Kenn smiles, it’s such a knowing smile – he’s really playing someone unlike himself (his character is not easy to get along with, and Ken is incredibly friendly), but he can just turn into Jim like a light switch.

It really is so important to cast well. While some actors may be easier to cast for whatever reason – maybe they’re more available and can make the schedule easier, or you just like them personally, any of a hundred other reasons to cast someone – but you have to cast correctly for the role, and find real actors who can give your words meaning and depth. And for our film, they need to be able to find the humor. I can’t say enough good things about what our awesome casts brings to this project. There were a few scenes that I liked, but didn’t love, and they keep bringing new things that raise the scene to where I can love it! And the scenes I love as written are becoming INCREDIBLE with what they give!

And of course, all of this is possible only because my lovely wife Kat makes it so. Aside from handling the crazy details that are impossible for ordinary humans. she is also my co-conspirator. She helps me keep centered on what matters in the scenes and rights the train to keep it from derailing. She gives me the freedom to play because I know she’ll keep it working and let me know when it isn’t. And she’s nice to look at, too, which helps when she tells me I’m screwing it all up. :) Having partners that you can trust is so important in this monstrous undertaking, and I’m fortunate to be surrounded by them and married to the best one.

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