Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Shooting the Movie...The Dark Side

Okay, so it's not really a dark side, but I don't want to paint a bunch of roses. We did have our difficulties.

The very first day of the shoot, my scene was to be shot at night. This is never a good plan. We didn't have our rhythm yet, didn't know what we were doing, and I should have allowed myself more time to prepare.

"How did you really feel, Chris?"

I had mentally prepared myself as best I could to step out of the producer role and into the acting state of mind, but it couldn't be done completely. We shot till about 1AM when we filled the audio recorder. Because it was the dumb, expensive one, it required a cable...that the rental company forgot to pack. Nobody had one, so I had to drive home, grab a spare firewire I had laying around, and come back to set. We didn't wrap till about 2:30, which was far later than we wanted to go. Robert was a real sport about it, though, and he hung in for it.

Fortunately, most other days didn't go that late. We were usually packed and out by about 1:00...except for that one, fateful day.

The day we were shooting the final scene was the day we, for some reason, put the two hardest scenes on the same freaking day. We were a little lagged, second to last day of the shoot, and a couple people couldn't make it that day. I was running a camera, taking notes for some of it, doing the producer thing, etc. For some reason, we scrapped our plan for the final shot of the film and did something way more complex that took a long time to set up and execute. It also didn't really work and we never got the thing we originally planned to do. That scene ran late and we were all feeling kinda bummed on it.

The second scene was the one that takes place in the kitchen. We had our biggest name, Aris Alvarado, on set that day, so we were hoping to be super professional and impress him...but that sure didn't happen. It took us forever to figure out the totally new lighting conditions of the kitchen (lots of metal everywhere does NOT make for a fun shooting environment).

The's not going ANYWHERE it needs to!

After that fiasco, we got to shooting the most complicated scene of the movie in there (the one with the most blocking), and it was going okay, but then we wanted some shots of Aris cooking. Unfortunately, the pilot somehow went out. No one had a lighter (seriously, film set, no one was smoking?), so I had to go to 7-11 and buy one at like 2AM. The gas, it seemed, wasn't on at all, so we couldn't do it and we were pretty sure we broke something. We got the actors out by like 3:00 and Toshi and I left at nearly 4. It was pretty crushing.

I got really sick from the stress/lack of sleep this day. I was also getting up pretty early to prepare all the on set food, making last minute calls and preparations for the shoot, so I didn't really get any rest. The last day, I just sorta stepped back, begged my full crew to come so I could take a little break, and did all the paperwork I should have been doing all the other days (whoops). That last day, we really hit our stride on how to run our set. It was sort of a perfect close to it.

Ultimately, there was nothing to worry about. The film totally works with what we got, and the stuff we missed we likely would have cut anyway.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Oh Yeah, We Actually Shot A Movie

So all that prep work is crap we have to get through for what, to me, is the real joy of the process: actually shooting the movie.

And unlike past projects, here is the evidence that it actually happened.

We'd usually show up at around 3 and wait for the last customers to leave. We'd unload gear and figure out what we were going to do until Mike gave us the go ahead to move our stuff in, at which point we moved all the stuff around to suit our purposes. We tried really hard to keep everything super orderly so it all went back in the same places, and we mostly did an okay job at this.


I managed to do the whole shoot's craft services table for about 150 bucks at Costco, and it was a pretty sweet spread. Except for the fact that I bought the two largest jars of peanut butter in the world, ignoring Toshi's horrible, horrible peanut allergy.

We'd shoot two scenes a day, except for our one half day when we only did one, and our strategy was this: Shoot one scene against the windows until 7 when the sun went down, then flip around and shoot a second scene somewhere else in the restaurant with lights to fake daylight.

This worked pretty well, as I mentioned before the Wall-o light actually sold daylight better than the real thing.

Actual daylight

Middle of the night

The worst part was actually the day when we shot our final scene. It was against the windows, so we had to be done by the time it got dark out, but numerous delays, some prolonged discussions about shots, and a short handed crew led to us pushing this VERY close. Some of the last few things we got were way too clearly night and therefore unusable, but luckily the scene came together anyway.

Supposedly a SAG rep was going to come check out the set and make sure that everything was up to code, but that never happened. I think we were too far away and too small of a player for that to ever happen, but they did call and pretend like they were going to.

Since they didn't, this set was pretty much a dream. It was me, my friends, and the select few I'd personally chosen to all be there, hanging out, making a movie. A couple friends stopped by here and there to check things out, it was all very relaxed, and a generally great time. Of course, me being me, I'll have things to bitch about in the next entry...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

SAG: The Second Nightmare

Beyond the WEEKS of my time spent doing the bidding of my union overlords, there was an exceptional amount of financial cost associated with what they wanted me to do. Keeping in mind that I was the only one doing any of this work (and I sure wasn't getting paid for it), the total costs due to SAG and their requirements ended up being HALF of the film's budget.

"I'm from the union, and I'm here to help you!"

Because I had to hire all of these people as employees I had to, pay employer tax, pension and health, and numerous other fees. I noticed that $130 came out of my bank account for every $80 check the actors would walk away with (their actual wages were $100/day on our ultra low budget shoot). This is before factoring in the cost of having the payroll company do this service for me, issue my W2s, etc. With a rough estimate of including those costs, I paid around $160 for every $80 my employees got at the end of the day.

Most of my actors would have worked for free. Or cheaper. And certainly as contract labor, for which they'd be responsible for reporting their own taxes on. Unfortunately, all of these more efficient solutions would defy union regulations.

A number not included in the final tally but should be recognized by new filmmakers is the Producer's Deposit. This is a handy little thing that SAG does where they require a filmmaker, depending on the length of their shoot, to pay 100% of the amount they must pay actors, taxes, and pension and health to the union to hold in case the business side falls through.

This is something I can get behind and I understand where it comes from. I'm sure there are a lot of shady producers shafting people out of their hard earned money. I get it. This ensures that proper financing is in place, at least for the actors, before production begins. In a further intelligent move, SAG requires that all payroll checks go through them so that they can verify they are for the right amounts before giving the production the okay.

Yes, he looks smart now, but you keep watching because you know that in a moment he'll do something unspeakably dumb.

Unfortunately, they don't allow this fund to have money come out until everyone, including themselves, is paid out of a separate account. That's right, you need to have enough money to pay everybody TWICE in order to make a film with the Screen Actor's Guild.

...and there it is.

Of course, the more efficient solution would be for them to act as the payroll company, charging a small fee for their service, and disseminating the checks themselves. Or at least pay themselves from that fund. Or they could forgo a fee as they would have access to that money for investments, essentially making it an interest free loan to SAG. Or to avoid doing any more work themselves, they could require that the payroll company secure these funds and send them notification that it has been done.

But then, of course, there'd be less paperwork. This would make SAG very angry.

At the end of the day, SAG is only one of the many things you'll throw your money at that has nothing to do with actually making a good film. Equipment and talent are relatively cheap compared to unions, lawyers, publicity...

Toshi and I had a saying on set that our entire project was held together with enthusiasm and duct tape. Off set, though, it was a checkbook and a pen.

SAG: The First Nightmare

Once I had my cast, crew, location, and equipment all set, I got to begin the real fun: dealing with all the legal hurdles between me and making a movie!

More appropriately, these would be labeled "SAG," "Finance," "Publicity," "Contracts..."

The Screen Actors' Guild (SAG for short) is the union that represents actors. If you wish to use a single SAG member in your film (and not have them banned for life from all other union productions), you must make the whole production a union piece. As Schoen and Ben were both members, this was something I'd have to do.

What this means is paying every actor, member or not, as though they were one. As an employee. Through your legally established company with an Employer ID number from the IRS. Through its own bank account. Tied to a payroll company. So after you've spent a week running around to all the banks and payroll companies and filling out the right paperwork, you're rewarded with even larger stacks of paperwork from all of these places.

Welcome to the production office. Make yourself comfy behind the W-2s.

Now, all of the companies you have to work with are fairly efficient. It's annoying that they all want the same information, but at least they only each want it once. Also, most of their stuff is on digital forms, so copy and paste become your best friends.

SAG likes to take this nightmare to a whole new level. They give you copies of scans of faxes that are off center, frequently cut off, and almost wholly illegible, and they explicitly demand that they be filled out BY HAND. I tested the limits on a lot of this by using Photoshop to type stuff in, but creating my own cells and rotating things to fit these horribly set boxes took forever.

Now, a lot of the things they ask you for are good for you to have planned anyway (a specific shooting schedule, what actors you'll use on what days, etc), but in their effort to never cross reference any of your other papers, they require EXTENSIVE amounts of duplicated information on every page.

This is astonishingly good practice for being a producer.

This was only the beginning of the SAG nightmare, though. Stay tuned for the rest of the saga.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Gear Log - For the Nerds - Part 3: DIY Dolly

So we've all been suckered at one point by DIY camera gear that sucks. The $14 steadicam, the PVC ring mount, or the Sega Genesis Menacer light gun handle trick.

What, no one else ripped the handle off this thing and rubber banded their camera to it as a shoulder stock? Nobody?

We avoided most of these, but here's a trick we used that actually worked pretty well.

We knew we wanted a few dolly shots, but getting those super nice dollies with track was expensive and difficult to work with, so instead, we rented the cheapest dolly they had. It was basically a furniture dolly with a handle on it, so DIYers out there, feel free to steal something from the garage and give it a handle add on till it looks like this:

This one, cleverly, has steering capabilities, but your shot will probabloy be straight so you needn't bother with that.

Then we went to Home Depot and picked up one 4' x 8' particle board sheet.

It's perfectly smooth on one side, and the other is rough and grippy, which is perfect. Then we had the guy in the store cut them down to four separate one foot strips, and voila, you have 16 feet of track.

You line up one track under each wheel, then you stick another on the end of it and cover the seam with tape, and it works awfully well! The more weight you have on it and the tripod, the smoother it will be.

I don't want to oversell it, it's not the PERFECT dolly, and it's certainly no match for some of those ball bearings rigs, but if you need a length of track that's fairly decent and super cheap, I recommend this method.

As a side note, I actually rented something that was basically exactly like the Menacer shoulder stock except that it cost $100 for a week's rental. Boo.

Gear Log - For the Nerds - Part 2: Lights and Sounds

When I discussed this movie with DP extraordinaire Ryan Chambers, he gravitated towards wanting to use mostly Kino Flo lights for everything.

Meet your new master.

The reason for this was that we didn't want to spend a lot of time setting up a million hot lights in this small space when one daylight balanced Kino could achieve this easily. We would be shooting a lot in the evening and needed to fake mid day sun, so these were perfect.

Our main sun faking instrument was this bad boy:

The Kino Flo Wallo light: have the brightness equivalent of a nuclear fission blast on your own film set.

This light is 10 separate 4 foot long Kino tubes and puts out the equivalent of a 2.5k fresnel light. In layman's terms: it's massive. We'd only kick this guy on once the sun had actually gone down and we had to fake it, but now our night shots look more believable for mid day than our day shots! It's absolutely insane.

We also rented a couple of standard hot lights, but I think we used them all of twice. They were only like $15 for a week though, so whatever.

As for sound, we made a stupid expense mistake. We rented a decent mic and boom and some audio recording kit that I don't remember the name of. Remember, kids, your DSLRs have crappy sound cards, so don't try to go direct with your microphone! Not that the D90 has an XLR port on it, but some others do. Just don't use them.

So anyway, the kit worked just fine and all, but the recording unit alone cost $300 for the week. Why was this dumb? Well, when we needed to do post sound, we had the option of renting something like that again...or we could just freaking BUY a Zoom H4N for the same price.

The handiest little audio recorder on the planet

So that's what we ended up doing. And I could have saved $300 by doing it earlier.

That little guy can take in two XLRs, has two of its own built in mics, and can record in just about any format and bitrate you can dream of. Records to a standard SD card, so if you have a couple, you'll never need to break to dump sound.

One of the problems we had with our giant, stupid, expensive sound box was that it used some sort of non standard card, so dumping required a firewire cable. Of course, the rental house forgot to pack one, so I got to make a 1AM trip back to my house to find one in the middle of shooting the scene I was in. Awesome.

Gear Log - For the Nerds - Part 1: Cameras

A lot of people ask me about the gear we used to make this movie, so here is the definitive cheap ass movie gear log.

Two of these, Nikon D90s

Our schedule was going to be really short and the entire movie was conversation based. For those reasons, I had a strong inclination to shoot with two cameras. Not only would it speed up our coverage, but it'd provide us with more natural cuts that would match perfectly when we put them together.

I also wanted to make this movie on a DSLR of some sort. Big cameras actually made for movies are cumbersome, difficult to use in small spaces, and usually your friends won't have one, which means renting instead of borrowing. Even if you do manage to find someone who will let you borrow it, you'll likely have only one lens to work with.

Photographers, however, always have a bevy of lenses. The advantage to shooting on a Nikon D90 or a Canon Mark II 5D or some other similar camera is that you can use all of the still photo Nikon or Canon lenses, and you probably know someone with a few of those.

After taking inventory, we found that our friends had a lot better models of cameras for this (The 5D and the Nikon 3000S, for example), but the only one of which we had a matching pair was the D90, so we went for it.

The D90 was one of the first DSLRs to do HD Video very seriously at all, so it has some issues. Overall, it's a great experience and worth doing, but in the interest of fairness, here are the worst things you'll deal with:

1) There is a maximum clip length of 5 minutes before it cuts automatically. This is not something that can be overridden, at least in any way I can find.

2) The reason for this is that it has an overheating problem. Recording video or using the live view (LCD screen on the back so you can see what you're shooting) causes the camera to heat up, and it will automatically shut off to prevent itself from getting fried internally. This is a nice feature in terms of not wanting your equipment to die, but it is frustrating when a combination of a long scene and hot lights cause it to cut in the middle of a shot.

3) Perhaps its worst flaw is that it only remembers its settings as long as the live view is on. So let's say the camera guys painstakingly set up the shot, get the colors and apertures all set, and then the director wants to talk through the scene with the actors. Unfortunately, you're going to want to click off the live view to prevent overheating later. When you click it back on, you'll find that it has forgotten everything you set up before. This meant setting and resetting the settings (wow, say "settings" much?) many times through the course of a scene.

4) This flaw is actually kind of a bonus as well, but the D90 shoots in only 720p. While that's no 1080p, it's actually way easier to edit. You don't have to render out a low res version to cut with, and it'll play a lot smoother on a decent computer system. Also nice is that Nikon's codec rules. I edited on Adobe Premiere, and with one simple free codec that I installed (PC only, Mac users, you're on your own), it was an absolute breeze. In my experience, Canon's files are a lot bigger in size and much more difficult to edit with. To give you an idea of how efficient these files are, all of the footage for my entire final runtime of 75 minutes movie is about 100 gigs. We shot HOURS of footage with a relatively small digital footprint.

I haven't yet tried it, but I understand the Nikon D3000s has fixed these problems. I'm pretty sure every DSLR has a little overheating trouble an a max clip length because of it, but the times have gotten longer than 5 minutes now.

So before you make your movie, or dump a bunch of money on some expensive P2 rig (or God forbid anything that shoots to tape, eww, gross), look around to see what DSLRs your friends have. You may be able to borrow or buy one that's MUCH cheaper than those bigger rigs and will provide you with way more flexibility.

These little bastards are the source of my nightmares

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Audition From Hell

Having held an audition before, I knew that less than half of the people that you book a time for will actually show up, so I compensated for fear of not having enough people.

And sweet balls, was I ever wrong.

Every single person showed up. All of them. It was just a huge flood of people.

Even a random homeless guy from the Venice area. I'm not joking.

We were trying our best to race through people but still give them a shot to really work when they were inside with us, but the mass of people grew and grew until I started freaking out. I apologized profusely to everybody, offered to take head shots and call people for a second day (which I had no intention of doing, but just to make them all feel better about leaving), and took no small amount of verbal abuse.

I recall at one point rushing Toshi through an audition when he said "Chris, it's not a big deal, let them wait." I made him come outside with me between the next person. Then he got it.

We ended up staying really late to get through everyone, but it all ended up working out. We got some great talent out of it, and even better, some amazing horror stories. Highlights include:

1) The strangest man in the world who was apparently read the script as some outlandish slapstick comedy

2) The really shy Asian girl who reluctantly handed us her nearly soft-core pornographic "head shot"

3) The woman who did drugs in the bathroom over and over and ended up having a breakdown in the middle of her audition

None of those are lies, and I have video proof of all of them.

Probably my favorite person that came in that I actually cast, however, was Robert Fleet

Robert, this is a lot of plug. You owe me.

He was auditioning to play the father of the character I would be playing, and not only does he look eerily like me (not so much in that photo I posted, but in real life it's startling), he acted a lot like me too. I'm fully convinced that time travel is invented about 30 years from now and I will come back in time to be in my own film.


But beyond the things he couldn't help, like being my future self, the way he came in and presented himself was perfect. He had clearly read the whole script, discussed it, had questions and opinions (including one where he accused me of having an incredibly bleak view of the world), and inserted himself like he was one of us right away. Within about 20 seconds, there was no question that we were casting him.

So note to actors: be more like Robert and less like the whiny, pretentious douche bag that you actually are.

Casting - A Beginner's Guide

It would have been nice if we'd been able to cast solely with our friends, but there are way too many parts in this movie for that to have been possible. The only answer was hold an audition.

The fine folks over at Box24 Studios (Dan, Tom, big thanks) let us use their space so that we didn't appear to be completely sketchy.

"Say that line again, but this time I'm going to take my pants off."

A lot of people have asked how I got people to show up, and it was really simple: LA Casting, Actor's Access, and Craigslist. They were all free, so that was a big incentive. LA Casting and Actor's Access have pretty much the same user interface, which is initially confusing but ultimately pretty useful. Hot tip if you use Craigslist: don't put "send your email address and/or phone number" in your post. It causes it to be flagged for removal. Very frustrating.

What happened next blew me away. I got literally 10,000+ replies for the 13 parts I was casting. It was really overwhelming and I started picking people for dumb reasons. "Hey, she looks like that one girl I know," "That's can NOT be his real name," " he smoking a cigar in that headshot?" These were all REAL reasons I used. Actors, it's true. Cheap gimmicks are the only way to get noticed.

Yes, sadly this guy is probably getting more work than you.

Other things actors might be interested to know about the perspective of someone on the other end of their submissions is that I rarely looked at anyone's resume, and only if I'd already picked them and was just curious. Just finding people with a look that might work is hard enough, I'm not going to take the time to read about you too. Reels are good, but I cared very little about your one line cameo in CSI, I'd rather see a solid scene in something I've never heard of and looks terrible just to see if you can act.

If you are not Justin Bieber in this scene, please do not put it on your reel. Seriously.

My last bit of advice here was something that I did because, as an actor, it pissed me off when others didn't do it.

Producers, writers, directors, what have you: make your entire script available for potential actors to read. It helps them decide if they even want to do your project for little or no money and it helps them prepare better for the character than one or two pages (or one or two pages from a DIFFERENT MOVIE as one student director tried to make me do).

Seriously, what are you afraid of? First of all, your script is likely not good enough to steal. Second, if it is, what are you going to do once the movie's made? Lock it in a vault so no one can see it? It's just as easy to steal a joke or concept or anything else from a movie as from a script. Get over yourself and let people read your work.

End rant, tune in next time for the actual audition.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Assembling the Team Part 6: Dane and Drew Van Oort

This is the last of these, seriously, I promise.

My mom grew up with Dane and Drew's mom, Karen. They were friends for years, and then I think they kinda fell out of touch as they went on with their lives. I could probably call either of them and get a more accurate story, but that'd be more work.

I'm lazy. Sue me.

But whenever I went to my grandma's house, they were around. We hung out as kids whenever our parents were in the same vicinity, but we didn't live near each other so there wasn't much more to it.

But then came the internet.

Sweet, glorious internet.

We reconnected on AIM, and they even took me to my first concert.

Suburban Legends. They're adorable.

Dane got to be real good at art, and Drew got to be real good with cameras. Especially useful since he also owned a D90, Drew came on as our second cameraman. The only way our shoot was possible on the schedule we had was to roll two cameras at all times, so thank the lord we had him on board.

I frequently consult Dane with ideas on scripts and harebrained schemes, so Brickwalk was no different. He also ended up designing the website. And this is their super awesome sticker website [end plugs].

We're supposed to all get together to do the poster soon, and I've got plans for the end credits that I haven't told Dane about yet, but I'm hoping he'll help (Dane, if you're reading this, please help with the end credits).

And now, as it's the only picture I actually have of one of them, I present me and Drew as babies.

Shh, I'll be gentle.

Assembling the Team Part 5: Schoen Hodges

I kinda already talked about him, but he didn't really get a proper introduction, so I'll do it here.

Schoen Hodges...ladies?

Schoen and I met at CalArts in the summer of 2002. We caused only small amounts of trouble, but we stole a whole lot of water bottles. Like seriously.

At what point does it become a felony? Because we may have come close.

And since then our greatest adventures together have been when we've had nothing at all to do except for live life itself. Oh, except for the times we made horribly offensive television segments, the time we were sent to Rome with no money or guidance and expected to produce a film out of thin air (and almost succeeded), or when we went fact finding about that diamond smuggler in La Habra.

Yes, all those stories are true, but I'll let you guess which one this was from.

We've written a lot together, including Brickwalk Cafe, so obviously Schoen got to call dibs on which scene he wanted to do.

Assembling the Team Part 4: Ben Foy

Ben and I met during my brief and his extended stint at Pepperdine University.

Where dreams go to die.

We both made the mistake of studying acting in college and were going nuts as a result. Neither of us were particularly suited to an overly structured environment, particularly where we felt like we were learning so little, so we were both going a little nuts.

Benjamin Foy: Nucking Futs.

We had a class together and quickly realized that we were the only mischievous warlocks in a room full of human beings and started teaming up together. We embarked on a string of destructive outings that were always fun to do, but even more fun to read about in the Public Safety Reports later on.

One of a couple of pictures that won't get us in trouble, from when Ben and I tried to sneak into and sleep in every building on campus

Later we had a couple of shows on Malibu's public access. One of the strangest was the faux children's show Presto! Magic Show! in which I played a creepy semi-pedophile host and Ben was a vampire who wanted to ruin things...and it made about as little sense as this explanation of it.

You're on your own here.

Ben, of course, had to be in the movie and he's perfect. He's so strange in person that he merely needs to let the camera reflect about 1/10th of it and it's captivating to watch.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Assembling the Team Part 3: Brian Nenno

Brian Nenno and I met at church when I was in 8th grade. He was that really cool older kid who made all the videos of the trips we went on. This meant that he had tons of attention starved kids always trying to be as cool as him by telling him what to film, and it was never a good idea.

Enter me, on choir tour, doing exactly that. I believe I pitched him some idea about me in a scarf and ski goggle in the middle of a park in San Francisco fighting other kids, and bless him, he saw it through. It was a horrible idea that Brian was patient enough to shoot when he could have easily said "you're dumb" and gone back to the cool kids.

Brian Nenno, so cool he might be the Unabomber

After that, we kept making videos together. The most notable were likely the History Project Theatre: Full Throttle series which included 2 Fast 2 Alamo, Apollo 13 Going on 30 (the best of the series and sadly not online), and Magician Impossible (link is only the trailer). These were spawned from history class assignments which we churned out typically with little to no script in short periods of time.

And sometimes Brian had to dress like this

We moved into public access television shows and web shorts, all featured on the 51 Productions site, but ultimately we always wanted to do a feature. Unfortunately, Brian has a real job and can't take a whole bunch of time off to hang out in closed cafes with weirdos.

He also has a wife. Ladies, hands off.

Fortunately, Brian was available to edit the movie. He somehow juggled a full time job, a wife, and this project but he managed to kick out a really good product. I say we applaud him for that.

And also for this photo. Bottom left.

Assembling the Team Part 2: Ryan Chambers

The next thing I wanted to do was make sure that this movie didn't look crappy, like all other 51 Productions movies had. The problem had always been that none of us knew anything about lighting or really how to work a camera. If we could see the actors, then we considered ourselves to be doing pretty well. This would not be the case this time around.

Enter Ryan Chambers.

Ryan and I met at Rolling Hills Prep School in junior high. He was dating my sister, so I didn't exactly hang out with him, but he, fortunately, had an obligation to not see me murdered.

This was no easy task as in sixth grade I weighed about 70 pounds and had a tendency to run my mouth a lot. As one can imagine, this is a poor combination.

One day I'd said something unconscionably dumb to a group of 10th graders and was about to have my ass beat deservedly. As I cowered to receive my punishment, I saw an object doing at least Mach 2 fly across my field of vision, and suddenly my opponent disappeared. I found him on the ground, pinned by the significantly smaller and younger Ryan who was making various threats on my behalf. Intimidated, the 10th graders left me alone.

When he wasn't saving my life or making miracles happen with my crappy passes on the soccer field, Ryan was taking the best photographs in the world.

And yet, this is the best picture I can find of him.

You should seriously check out his website or his other more commercially driven website. He's amazing.

One day he posted some video he'd shot of rain when testing the video feature of his Nikon D90, and I was blown away. When it came time to do Brickwalk, I had no doubt that this was the guy who could finally give us a little production value in one of our movies. If you've seen the trailer, you know that he was successful.

All the nice things I can say about this kid, and I still can't explain this picture.

Ryan is currently working on color correcting the movie, one of the final stages of the process. I'm glad I'm not doing it because I have about a 0% clue of how it's done.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Assembling the Team Part 1: Kevin Senzaki

Probably the most embarrassing picture I could find.

Kevin Senzaki (who is referred to as Toshi because of this video), was my friend in preschool. WAS.

He, Jason Park, Bobby Atkinson, Perry Zagha, and I were best friends at Broadacres Preschool. There's a super adorable video of us bowling at Gable House for Toshi's 4th birthday that I will totally find a way to post clips of if people nag enough for it (Twitter, FB wall, or comments here are acceptable forms of nagging).

After preschool, we grew apart. I mean, we were both just such different people by the time we hit (preschool) graduation, that we honestly wouldn't have recognized each other as Kindergarteners. We never saw each other again.

Somehow, more stereotypically Asian than the last one I posted

That is, until nearly 20 years later. Somehow, the moms of the aforementioned group got together and decided to plan us a little play date. We all agreed that this was thoroughly lame to be 23 and have our moms plan to get us together, and also that it'd be super awkward to hang out with guys we scarcely remembered being forced to play with as toddlers.

And then we were promised Korean BBQ prepared by Jason's mom. Down.

Reuniting friends since the dawn of time

Leading up to going there, my mom started saying things to me. "You know, Kevin went to USC film school. He's a director." So of course what I heard is "Kevin is a pompous asshole that thinks he's better than everyone else and entitled to a film career when he's really a talentless hack." I mean, right? Who else has met a USC film student? This is typical.

Simultaneously, Toshi's mom was saying to him "You know, Chris is an actor. He's in some play right now." So of course what he heard was "Chris is a drama queen attention whore who thinks the world revolves around him and is a complete waste of organic material." This, having met actors before, is almost universally true.

Toshi, fooling no one.

So we reluctantly acknowledged each other at the table with forced small talk. Slowly, that grew and before we knew it, we'd hung out till 2AM talking about movies. Then once he showed me his short (Infamy), I was sold that this guy could direct. Once I had everything in place for Brickwalk, I brought the script to him and he (stupidly) agreed to sign on.

Additionally, you should read his awesome web comic, Savage Tongue.

The Set Up (You Need This)

Script in hand, there was a lot that had to happen before we could actually start making a movie.

The biggest hurdle was location. We wrote this whole freaking script predicated on the fact that it'd be easiest to shoot in a single location, then we set it in a diner knowing full well that none of us knows anyone who owns a diner. It was kind of a dumb move, but I had a feeling it'd work out. Of course, I'd also previously felt that financing would work out for all of my past projects.

Fortunately, the South Bay (of Los Angeles, not San Francisco or wherever else you may think I'm referring to) is full of restaurants that are breakfast/lunch only. This means they open early, but close by 3PM. That would leave us plenty of time to shoot with the whole place to ourselves.

What was borderline miraculous was how easy this was to do. I only went to two places, and both were very open to the idea. Buffy's (in Old Torrance), was very interested. The downside there was that the layout of the restaurant was going to be very difficult to work with, and while it had a great diner look, it was going to get a little monotonous for an entire film to be set there.

Shot from our early scouting missions

The second place we went, on an offhand recommendation from a family friend, was Mike's Brickwalk Cafe in Palos Verdes. Mike Giglia, the owner, is probably one of the nicest guys on the planet. I'd never heard of his restaurant before, never been there, and had no connections, but he immediately wanted to help me out. He told me to leave him a script and pay him whatever I could, but not to let it be a barrier to making the film happen. We also offered to name the film after the place, which he accepted as a marketing contribution.

He basically gave us the run of the place. We'd show up to do our preproduction and planning as he was closing, and he'd head home asking only that we turn all the lights off and lock up when we were done. I would have never trusted some idiot kid like me, especially one claiming to be a film maker, but Mike, apparently, is just a better person than that.

Now there was nothing really standing in our way except for finding people to help us pull this off.

By the by, title is a reference to a Reel Big Fish song, and that's why you didn't understand it.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Writing Myself Into a Corner

It was January 2nd, 2010 when I went and met with Schoen Hodges.

Also pictured: Schoen's powerful headlock skills, Ben Foy, and a man wishing to be called upon by the teacher.

We sat at his house and outlined the list of constraints we had to work with. Knowing that making a feature would be ridiculously difficult, we wanted to do everything in the planning process to make it easier for ourselves. What we came up with was this:

1) All shot in a single location
2) Lots of dialog, it's easier and faster than action
3) A variety of actors all shooting for a single day in order to reduce time commitment and scheduling problems

Once we had our constraints, we were off to the races. A lot of ideas floated around, but ultimately we settled on the one we centered the movie around (no spoilers, I promise). We began writing vignettes and ultimately ended up cutting around 1/3 of them before settling on the final script.

When I breeze over it like that, it sounds really easy. I assure you, it wasn't. Schoen and I eventually grew apart on what the story should be, and there was a certain amount of creative tension for a while. We had a conversation about it, however, and I, narcissistic asshole that I am, decided to take the reins on this project while Schoen moved on to a different (better) script with another of our friends.

We continued to work together, with input from other people on the project, on revisions to Brickwalk Cafe up until the shooting day, but the script was basically done in February.

Advice to anyone trying to do this: Spend more time on your script than I did, but not forever. People have a tendency when working on a project for a long time to lose sight of what it is that compelled them to take it on in the first place. If it was compelling to you in the beginning, there's probably still something valid about that, and you owe it to yourself and your potential audience to see it through without changing it in millions of revisions into something unwatchable or perpetually unfinished.