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One Month!

August 23, 2013 2 comments

We are officially one month away from the Conway Premiere of Sympathy Pains. UCA’s Reynolds Performance Hall, Sept 23, at 7:30pm. And to celebrate, I finally got around to making a very sophisticated trailer. Enjoy!

Still Editing

December 20, 2012 Comments off

Haven’t done an update on Sympathy Pains in a while. The schedule says we picture lock on Jan 7th. My gut says different, but my head tells me the schedule exists for a reason. It’s crazy – Table at Luigi’s taught me that the big, difficult choices come now, in the last couple of weeks. All the things we should have been doing the last 5 months finally happen now, because the pressure’s on. All the “we’ll decide that later” notes that I’ve been making – it’s now “later.” And there are a lot of them.

So what are we doing? We’ve added a scene to the beginning of the film to help cement the main relationship. Audiences have been responding well to the film, but in very interesting ways. They love Danny, played by Chris Fritzges, but have been a little cold to Stephenie, the female lead, played by Courtney Bennett. That’s definitely not about Courtney, who is AWESOME in this film – it’s a script problem. I love her character so much, it never occurred to me that the audience might not feel the same. She’s a strong, opinionated woman, who supports her husband incredibly, but can come across as a bit of a bitch. I never saw her that way, but audiences aren’t seeing the wonderful person behind her edge – and that’s what the scene we’ve added is about.

We were looking for ideas for the new scene since the first screening a couple of weeks ago, and finally solidified the idea at the Fayetteville screening on Sunday, with the help of Kenn Woodard, who plays Jim. He had a couple of great suggestions that will help the film incredibly.

I wrote the outline for the new scene while driving home from the Fayetteville screening (with Kat taking notes in the car), got everyone scheduled on Monday (including the awesome Loony Bin comedy club in Little Rock, who will be letting us in to film- I suspect the manager will be closing the place at 3am to let us in at 9am, and I can’t thank them enough!), then actually wrote the scene over the last couple of days. Four quick drafts later, I emailed it out to everyone this afternoon.

We’re also doing a few other quick pickup shots, and a lot of ADR to reinforce plot points and other ideas in the film. I think people don’t realize how often this is done in films – adding dialogue off-screen to help the story move along. I have a lecture I do in class about what a useful technique ADR is to help massage parts of the film that aren’t working, without having to do reshoots. In Luigi’s, we basically cleared up a huge plot hole with about 3 off-screen lines of dialogue over 3 different scenes.

I’m taking Christmas week off from the film, then coming back full force to finish it up. My editor (Brandon Bogard – who just graduated and will be done with the film in a couple of week – you should hire him as soon as I’m done with him!) will put the new scene and shots in while I’m away, and then I’ll disappear in the edit bay for that final week. Wish me luck!

 

The Home Stretch!

August 8, 2012 Comments off

After a long night of shooting (first scene ended about 1 hour after scheduled, but we finished about 1 ½ hours early!), we’re looking at the home stretch. Which is good, because the long night became longer when Emma decided at 3am (after I went to bed at 2am) that she didn’t want to sleep. Turns out that meat-lovers pizza doesn’t agree with a two-year-old’s stomach. She wasn’t crying, she just couldn’t get comfortable and wanted to be held, so Kat and I took turns until we figured out that it was her stomach and got her some gas relief. I think I’m running on about 2 hours sleep.

Today’s is one slightly tricky scene, then a lot of small, pretty simple ones.  Four not-too-tricky scenes on Thursday (though two of them include Emma), then lots of simple small scenes on Friday. Then we’re done shooting at the Dull home– I can’t wait to get my house back (and neither can Emma)!

Saturday is a simple scene on campus (we’re still looking for a few extras there – here’s the link to info for that), and Sunday’s our final day at Stoby’s, who was generous enough to let us use their space. It’s a “two guys in a booth” scene – doesn’t get much easier than that.

Let me say again that what makes all this go so well is my awesome cast. I’ll be working with our four leads for these last few days – Chris Fritzges, Courtney Bennett, Kenn Woodard, F.E. Mosby, and Dahren White. Really, it doesn’t get much better than those guys – they bring so much to each scene, it makes my job easy. So when I say the next few days will be easy, there are actually some pretty tough scenes emotionally for the actors, but I know what they can do, and they’ll be great!

Time to get back to work on prepping for today – we have to make the house look like a Cinco de Mayo party, hide the Christmas tree for later scenes, and trade out the painting in the living room for the Warhol sonogram. Don’t ask.

Turns out doing a film that takes place over nine months is kinda tricky – Kat keeps a database of what time of year everything is, and what changes in the set design from scene to scene, and we’d be lost without that!

Rain Rain Go Away

August 1, 2012 Comments off

Our last outdoor shoot tonight, so here’s hoping (and planning) that the rain passes through. Everything looks that way, so I think we’re good, I just wish the rain we did get didn’t bring the humidity with it.

Late filming last night, until about 2am, and tonight will probably go past midnight, too. I’m hoping to catch a nap when Emma does, and then get a bit of time with her this afternoon.  She asked where Mommy was today, and I told her she was at work. The response: “She’s always at work.” Emma’s two – she shouldn’t be able to put that thought together, yet.

Man, were Courtney and Chris on their game last night. They’re always good, but they really did some awesome work. And Chris’ last solo scene was amazing – that guy can act!

Tonight we shoot the penultimate scene of the film, so we’ll have the entire ending section in the can by midnight. Can’t wait to see all this put together! And can’t wait to be indoors for the next two weeks!

Sympathy Pains – 28 Days Left!

July 15, 2012 Comments off

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.

Our Kitchen, Fake Toilet

July 9, 2012 Comments off

And that’s how you fake a “through the toilet tank” shot: by finding a random toilet someone put out for trash, storing it in your garage for two months (cleaning the toilet is an important step in there, too), putting it in your kitchen, which matches the floor in your bathroom, putting a door and a shower curtain as backdrops (it helps to have a spare door that matches the bathroom door handy, because you’re replacing all the doors in your house, because you’re filming a movie there and are trying to make the place look like someone with better taste than you lives in it), and put a bowl inside the toilet to let the actors feel free to actual spit if they want to. They didn’t want to. I’m very appreciative of that.

It was such a fun phone call when Kat told me a neighbor had put a toilet on the curb and I needed to grab it on my way home from work before someone else snagged it.

Movie magic, ladies and gentlemen. I’m so looking forward to using Emma’s stroller as a camera dolly on Thursday.

And it has begun…

June 28, 2012 Comments off

Officially, principal photography begins this Sunday, but we filmed a short piece on Tuesday that went fantastic! First off, kudos to Jarrod Beck, my first Asst Director, who is not only excellent at running the show, but is also fantastic at helping the students who are learning their positions stay positive and understand what they need to do. Few things are more important that a good AD, and we’re really fortunate to have Jarrod, both for the professional running of the crew, and to help our students get up to speed as they learn.

Possibly more important is a great producer, and may I remind everyone that my wife Kat is an awesome producer. As I said, everything went smoothly, even with the 10 extras that she called in. We’re going to need about 200 extras over the next month and a half, and she somehow has lots and lots of people lined up (though we always need more – here’s a link to find out how to volunteer to be an extra!). Thanks, honey!

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the great camera team, led by Mike Gunter, my DP. The shots looked beautiful, and we were never waiting for camera. Mike – you and your team rock!

And the last most important part is the actors, and man, did we do it right. Chris Fritzges and Courtney Bennett are awesome! This is such a silly thing, but the business of the scene we shot was a simple visual gag that Chris really brought to life and spontaneously added another gag. That’s why you have to keep looking for actors until you find the right ones. The good ones make your job easy – now it looks like I’m a great, funny writer, because I brought Chris and Courtney to the film. I can’t wait to get into later scenes where Courtney gets to shine.

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