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The Proposal

March 17, 2014

Proposal LogoSo 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!

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  1. March 20, 2014 at 10:28 am
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