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SRM part 3: The Park Fiasco

December 10, 2013 Comments off

Part 3 of a series, going behind the scenes in the making of “Starring: Rachel Miller.” Here’s a blog about the whole film, and here’s part 1 and part 2.

So the guy in the tux is our producer. I thought the tux would be fun, so that you remember this character, who then gives her the umbrella a bit later. No great thought other than that, though it might have been fun to have him show up again throughout the rest of the film, to suggest that all these people are joining in and following her.  But that didn’t happen… live and learn.

The “Different” sign was made out of leaves, along with little light strips of cloth, so the letters would show up against the grass. It was made by my good friend, Rick Bristol, who also has a cameo coming up (he’s the tall tapper on the playground).

While we were setting up other shots, Rick laid out the letters on the ground, then we filmed later in the afternoon. But in the meantime, the sun had shifted and a giant tree shadow fell over the “D” in a pretty ugly way. We didn’t have time to re-do the letters so we just lived with it. Fortunately, in the many years between shooting and finishing the film, tech got good enough that another friend, Scott Meador (who you might know from most of my other projects) removed the shadow digitally.  Thanks, Scott!

We filmed the first ½ of the park twice. The first time, we planned to have a ton of people there, taking over a hill in the park. But 5 people showed up. We filmed it the way we had planned, and it completely sucked. We should have re-conceived the bit when we didn’t have enough people to fill the frame, but instead we just shot a lousy, sparse version of it. It was so bad, we decided to go back and re-shoot with a plan that would work if 5 people or 100 showed up.  Motion in the camera and in the staging is the main trick – who would’ve thought that putting the camera and people in motion makes it seem more dynamic, and helps make up for the lack of a crowd? Isn’t that why I made this project, was to work on my moving camera skills, just to forget them?

That’s me sliding past Rachel in the air at 0:38 as she travels across the jungle gym. If you pause it, I’m the blurry figure.

I don’t know why we didn’t add some rain in digitally, instead of just the sound.

Then, it’s the Singin’ in the Rain section. We filmed that the same afternoon as the original version of the park, but having enough time to think, we restaged and just had three of us perform, with the other few dancers in the background. That’s me and John Kerr, the choreographer, dancing with Rachel. The hope was that what we didn’t bring in dancing skill (John’s the only real dancer of the three of us), we’d make up for in that we like to play around with each other, and we have a lot of years experience performing together. This is actually one of my favorite parts, but I might be biased.

We made rain with a water truck that we rented… and I think I’ll save the water truck story for the next post, because it’s definitely a story.

SRM part 2: Rachel Enters

December 4, 2013 1 comment

Continuing the behind-the-scenes discussion of “Starring: Rachel Miller,” my original musical – this is part two. The whole film is here, and part 1 is here. Today, we’re looking at Rachel in the theatre section of the film.

This was a tricky scene for me. As a director, one of my hardest challenges has always been moving the camera naturally, and this being a musical, it needed some flair in the camera movement. I’m always struggling with putting motion into a scene – my natural tendency (as it is with so many people) is to start the scene with motion, and then stop it for the duration, leaving the bulk of the scene with no action.

So I mapped out a camera move with each line of the song, basically, and also covered the entire scene with a moving camera on a steadycam, and another on a jib. But choosing what type of motion to put in each section – sometimes I was just as clueless as “this panning shot could go here,” for no reason other than the shot could go there because it was different than the shot before and after it. But it turned out all right, I think.

That’s Darrin Presley, the composer, at the piano, by the way. We thought that’d be a fun little cameo for him. And it meant I didn’t have to cast yet another person in this monstrosity.

This section was originally even longer, with her pulling out a dictionary looking up the definition of “Different,” but we cut that, as well as a few smaller lines. I wanted to get to the good part, once it gets outside, as quickly as possible. This all felt a little slow (still does).

Man, I could have used a costumer. Anyone with an eye for video wouldn’t have put Rachel in a striped shirt – it flares out in the oddest place. It’s not too bad, but don’t stare at it too long, you’ll go blind. Video does that to small patterns – they’re to be avoided.

This is the only part of the musical where the vocal was recorded live. Everything else is lip-sync. But with the microphone right there, we figured why not? And with some of the quick lines (at 1:15), it would have been death-defying to record it any other way.

This was one of the last things we taped, as I recall, and Rachel was getting a bit worn out from filming. That fast-talk section went pretty long with a lot of takes for her to get it right. I remember her being so frustrated, and all of us just amazed that she was getting as much of it as she was. I wanted that in a single take, because I thought it’d be fun to see her really pull it off.

I do like the push-ins on the camera at “you haven’t got a clue” at 2:30. As the music crescendos, the camera motion works with it pretty nicely.

Getting to the end of the scene, we struggled in editing with how to get her into the hallway. I wanted the transition to the “dream sequence” to be obvious (well, not at first, but then people watching it were confused, so it needed to be obvious), and we tried a number of really lousy ideas (including her looking at the stage door, and hearing a repeated chant of “like everybody else”) but they were all slow paced, and often confusing, so we decided to go with a simple dissolve to a blank stage (in slo-mo, because the shot was too quick). Dumb-luckily that was a locked off tripod shot, so we could dissolve to the end of the shot (after she stepped out) and make it seem that she magically disappeared.

There’s another cut after she walks through the hallway – she originally got up on the steps and did a preacher routine to the crowd of auditioners, but it wasn’t great, and again it kept us from getting to the fun stuff outside the theatre.

And then they run out. I so wish we hadn’t lined the extras up in two lines – that they instead crossed more randomly in front of the camera, but live and learn.

Next we get to the big fun stuff – the park scene. Lots of stupid mistakes we learned from there!

Starring: Rachel Miller

November 14, 2013 4 comments

Here’s a film that got shot a LONG time ago (10 years ago?) and only finished about 3 years ago, and ready to be seen now. It’s a hybrid Documentary / Musical, and is the story of Rachel Miller, a really good friend of mine who had an accident.

Rachel fell three stories onto a concrete stage while performing, and through a miracle of nature and determination, she taught herself to walk again. Though most days you can’t tell, she’s still classified as a paraplegic.

The documentary is a behind-the-scenes look at the making an original film musical written for Rachel (by me and the much-more-talented-than-me Darin Presley, who also wrote this song), and it’s combined with the musical itself. The documentary is pretty interesting (if I do say so myself) as filming takes its toll on Rachel’s health, which I didn’t know until I saw the documentary footage, but if you just want to see the musical, it starts at 14:30.

I’ll be blogging about the making of the different musical sections, and the challenges each presented for the next while here on the blog, so for my couple of regular readers, you may want to watch so you know what I’m talking about.

Here it is!

 

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