I’m having one of these days – feels like every day is like that at the moment. And it is wonderful. Things are happening so fast with One More Day. I feel blessed and energized. What have I done with Jean? Am I on drugs? Who knows, and no.
Archive for the ‘dodge college’ Category
We made a movie. Another short movie. A whole bunch of people exist who didn’t exist before. It makes me feel like a god. A small flawed god, but a god.
Birthday Girl is an ensemble cast comedy about how every person has an inner brat just waiting to come out, for our own reasons. And that’s why I haven’t blogged in a while. I’ve been OBSESSED. And at last it’s a wrap.
Despite a crazy schedule, five kids on set one day, lots of learning on legalities and cake flying around, it was a great set, thanks in no small part to Carol, our host, who was also the best caterer ever. So hiring her again! Also my amazing A.D. Alyxandra Press, who kept her cool despite the set turning into a virtual swimming pool in summer, and Max, my tempestuous and passionate D.P. The Amazing Amy Shirly did us proud on the production design and set dressing front. I was so happy to have Dan Risk (from Indio, CA) as Gaffer, Nate Lertpreechapakdee (from Formaldehyde) as Key Grip and Jules Paholio (from my future) as 1st AC. I love cines. Special mention also to assistant producer Mady Muy, who did an amazing job as UPM and kept the set a happy place, and to Danni Zhao, who produced.
It’s over to my editor Paul Danforth and Sound Designer and recorder Sherry Xie now.
I have a confession. I should have been a guy. My best memories of my dad from when I was a kid are all about the smell of sawdust. He tended to be stressed and grumpy in that garage, but he let me help, he taught me how to use a circle saw and a screwdriver and fit things together, and he bought me my first and only set of power-tools (they were stolen out of a friend’s garage when I stored them there after my 2nd big breakup.) He also made me my first crib, my first rocking chair, my double bed, my pencil case and various salt bowels – all out of cherry pine. I always think of him when I smell sawdust. And he’s not even dead.
He recently helped me improve on an Indymogul build for a rain machine, which I used in a movie. It worked out really well, and I thought of him a lot as I woke up this morning and set about making my own slider / speedrail for a directing project I have to shoot and edit by next week (or one of my personal heroes, Prof. Martha Coolidge is gonna give me her disappointed-in-you look. I don’t want that to happen.)
I know there are better, and quieter ways, to build a slider. I went this way because I wanted swivel wheels on the cart, so that when I need to do circular movements I can make that happen with just a flat surface or maybe a circle slider, if I can figure out how to build one. No luck so far finding something that curves and could act as track.
Thanks to Pete Vanderpluym for stapling the rail (cheap plastic edging from Home Depot) to the pine planks (also home depot) as well as for recessing and drilling a bolt hole and making me some starter-screw-holes. I secured the rest with duct tape and then screwed it together once I’d tested the placing, using a leatherman. The whole thing could have been done with hand tools… I just skipped that pain cause I could.
Film is a universal language, but English is not. And even the universal language of film is spoken differently in the USA and in Korea.
I’ve been taking a travel course, for which I directed a short film called “FORMALDEHYDE” in Korea, in Korean, shot by Nuttanai Lertpreechapakdee (a US student from Thailand) and key crewed by students of various nationalities from my school, Chapman University with the Dongseo students taking oddly-named but essential roles and supporting us in every possible way. It was an amazing experience relying on someone else – Director’s Assistant Woong Yoon, the best English speaker on the Korean team – to help me direct actors. For a director, your performance is your most important (but not only) job. So he and I built huge trust over there, which is coming in very handy as I production design their film and we try to make our days with the ever even-headed Tom Derr keeping the clock while Woong doubles as translator and AD. It’s also taught me to trust my instincts over my intellect when it comes to what is truthful behavior from actors and what is “acting”.
PD isn’t really a key role in Korean student film culture, so I’m executing their vision creatively at the last minute more than I’m truly production designing in this case. I make suggestions, they make the choices. Now and then I dig in my heels about continuity. We have a five minute argument about the number of sausages that should be in one shot today. When it comes to sausages, I tend to get stubborn and autocratic.
In a way, there are two directors, two producers, two cines, two everythings, on each of our productions. It’s if we each have a Korean or “American” counterpart who doesn’t quite do the same job we do, or even the same job we think we do. (PS. My Cinematographer Nate/Nuttanai Lertpreechapakdee is Thai and I’m South African but for these purposes, we’re all from the USA.)
We made our day today – more or less. Three more to go and “NEIGHBORHOOD” (Directed by Jaehwan Lee, working title) is looking good. There have been times both on Neighborhood and on Formaldehyde when I’ve struggled with doing things a totally different way. But in the end, working with people creatively is all about accepting that you can’t have it all your way all the time, and that to do what is best for the film, you should always, and always will, work as hard as you have to, and keep smiling.
Yeah, I’m inspired.
What a great day on set. That’s all I’ll say. Well no – I’ll say it particularly because it was a day that made up for other days that weren’t as great as this, and reminded me once again why it is that I am studying what I’m studying, and why I hope of doing what I am doing now for ever.
I love the feeling after the first day, when some of the movie’s in the can, and you know it’s going to be decent. And this all happened largely thanks to the talent and drive of the producer, Steve Heller and his co-writer Jessica R. Goldberg.
I’m exhausted, sore, excited and looking forward to tomorrow (and hell, the rest of my life) like you won’t believe.
I fought with a very close friend after a film shoot recently. He did a whole bunch of crazily unprofessional things on set that led me to be somewhat annoyed with him on the day – things that I would consider commonsense no-nos in any professional situation. I started off explaining, hit a brick wall, and wound up pretty pissed off, and momentarily distracted from my work. The atmosphere was briefly soured by his actions and my reaction to him. As he was someone who claimed to have film-school experience, I was counting on him more than most to be a useful crew member. Instead… well I won’t go into details.
Anyway, the whole stupid, depressing, miserable, heart-breaking thing got me thinking about the mistakes most people new to a film set (and this includes me) have made while learning the ropes. I wish I’d had this list when I started crewing on student things a couple of years back. I wish everybody who worked while I was A.D. or director had a list like this.
So my top # DON’Ts of an indie film set are DON’T…
SHOW UP LATE / NOT SHOW UP
Films are made at weird times of the day – when the light is diffused, or pretty, or when the story calls for it, or when the wind isn’t blowing. This may not suit your sleep cycle, but that’s why God invented alarm clocks. I had someone show up three hours after the shoot started and waste everybody’s time by being confused about what to do. Being late means missing the crew meeting (see below) and will be seen by the rest of the crew as an insult to everybody. They were there on time. What makes you special?
If you’re late… Play catch-up. Be very polite. Introduce yourself and offer to help. Fetch people water. Whatever… you owe them.
MISS THE CREW MEETING (aka safety meeting)
At the crew meeting (it kicks off the day), everybody gets to meet each other (duh) and, sometimes, roles are even clarified. It depends whether you’ve been able to meet before the first shoot day, or not. We hadn’t been able to. At the meeting, the Assistant Director will also give important legal, safety and other information. It’s where you find out what to do and where to do it, and who is in charge of what. If you’re not there for the meeting, you will piss people off all day long by fucking up continually.
If you miss it… be patient, and find things to do. Don’t expect people to know your name until after lunch. They’re busy working.
MAKE SNIDE COMMENTS
Everybody on an indie film set is indispensable. This of course doesn’t mean you’re busy all the time (more on that later) but it does mean that everybody deserves respect. Comments like “just a grip”, or “a grip is just basically a pack mule”, specially from some idiot who is trying to pretend s/he knows more than s/he does, when they probably don’t even know how to assemble a dolly properly, will not go down well.
If you slip just stop as soon as you can. Don’t explain. Just shut up for a bit.
Think of a film set like a 12-step meeting. People are doing something very hard – baring their souls (actors). To allow them to do that, there needs to be a focused, respectful atmosphere on set. Commenting on proceedings might get you a laugh, or pass those long hours spent standing around waiting to work, but it’s a sign of insecurity and a need to be the center of attention. It’s not only distracting for everybody on set, and unhelpful to the process of getting things done as quickly as they must be, it also means not one, but two people are out of the loop – gossips usually need someone to talk to, as well as about. I have been guilty of talking about other films / future projects on set (I was gripping, and thought I had nothing better to do at the time). This is one of the worst forms of gossip as it takes everybody out of the moment, and also makes them wonder what you’ll say about them once this is over. I was told off once – and not politely.
If you start, say “sorry” and stop immediately.
BREAK THE SET RULES
The A.D. will go through these in the meeting but sometimes, a few get forgotten. For instance, the A.D. may assume that nobody in their right mind would smoke while on duty, or leave the set without informing someone. But if you do find yourself being told something is against the rules, you should assume there’s a good reason for it. For instance, film sets are full of flammables, such as cloths in metal frames that you might need to pick up and hold. Or you’re shooting in a nature reserve / a non-smoker’s house and could lose your permit just like that. This isn’t high school. Being a rebel isn’t cool. It’s just annoying.
If you mess up just do as you’re told – don’t make people act like your mother.
EQUATE “PROFESSIONAL” WITH “PAID”
Of course we all want to be paid to do what we love. But the chances are the director of an indie film is paying for everything themselves – and they can’t pay you too because the food for the tiny little crew and the equipment they had to hire is costing at least $400 a day. So you’re easily replaced if you just say no in advance, because there are plenty of people who want to make films and want the free training they’ll get on set. Yes you are there as a favour to the person making the film. And of course they’re grateful. But you’re also presumably there because you want to be, and to learn something, and to make contacts, and to have fun working. If you think that doing a favour means you can show up late, do sloppy work, refuse to take orders, or expect people to remember your name on the first day, you should never have said yes to the gig in the first place. Film sets are hard work.
If you realise you hate making films… work your sentence. And say no next time.
GET INJURED / KILLED
A grip on one of my shoots saved a poly by hanging on to it as he flew 3 metres through the air… he could have died trying to save a piece of equipment that’s only worth a few hundred dollars. Of course, he had all the best intentions. But had he been seriously hurt, I would never have forgiven myself. The shoot would have been shut down. A few of us could never have worked again. And oh, he could have been dead. Not worth it. Tied to this is the logic behind everybody being focussed at all time, not chatting, or messing around. It’s not cause the A.D. is a bitch. It’s so nobody gets hurt. Without blaming anybody, there’s no way he should have been holding that poly alone in the first place.
If you’re hurt… admit it. It’s only a movie. Nobody should die for it.
BREAK STUFF AND NOT TELL
Stuff gets broken sometimes. It’s not great, it costs money, but it happens. The funders will pay the cost, not you. What’s important is that you own up, so that the crew can make a contingency plan to replace the equipment or do things a new way, and the director can replace anything that might belong to, for example, the person who lives at the location you’re using. I’ve never had this happen to me – I’ve been so lucky that way. But I know of many sets on which someone messes up and is too scared to talk.
If you see something’s broken… tell someone asap. You don’t have to tell on anyone. Just get the info out there.
BE SCARED TO ASK FOR HELP
Particularly when you’re new on a set and working for free, you have a right to learn. That is your payment, really. So if someone tells you to “go and fetch a half apple” and you don’t know what that is, ASK. Someone on a set once literally went and fetched an apple, cut it in half, and rushed it over to the shoot. We’re all glad they did, cause it was hilarious. But what they were really looking for is a six sided wooden box that comes in a “family” of apples, and, if a “full” apple, can be used New York, Chicago, or LA.
If you don’t know… right. Also there’s always google.
TAKE IT PERSONALLY WHEN YOU’RE TOLD OFF
This is the hardest thing of all. BY FAR. Film sets are stressful environments. There’s a lot at stake! Money, time, your reputations… This is what’s fun and exciting about them. It’s also what makes you feel so bonded as a crew when the film is finished. It’s also what makes the place a hotbed of emotion. If someone messes up my shoot because they can’t let their ego go, I will probably not work with them again, ever. So it’s tempting to explain why you’re right when you’re told off, or to lose your temper when someone makes an honest mistake. I know how hard this is. When I second A.C.d on a shoot once, I clashed with the first A.C. A lot. Not for any real reason. I wound up in tears. There is footage of me slating while bawling. So embarrassing. But I stayed on that set. And I’m stronger for it now. I’ve learned that losing your temper is not worth it in the end. Your ego, and dignity, are not the same thing. Even if the person who pissed you off is wrong / to big for their boots, the film is what’s important.
We all screw up – be forgiving and remember what matters.
AND THE WORST THING YOU CAN DO… THE VERY WORST?
Jump ship. You do that, you’ll never get back on set, ever. Maybe that’s what you want! But don’t think anyone will ever be okay with it. The day of the shoot (or the day before) is way too late to find new crew. Once you say you’re in, you’re there for the whole thing. And if you do jump ship, there’s no reason that justifies it. For safety reasons, you should also always tell the A.D. if you leave the set – they are responsible for marshaling people as well as making sure nobody gets lost or injured on set.
Done it already? An honest apology free of accusations might save your relationship with the key creatives.
A lot of this is commonsense. As in, don’t make people wonder why your mother didn’t teach you any manners. I’m sure I forgot a bunch of things. There are so many ways to embarrass yourself on set, without even becoming an actor. But as with most situations in life and work, you can make mistakes and nobody will hate you for it, so long as you learn from them and move on. Caring about the important stuff counts more than being perfect – at least in my book.
My film school doesn’t allow students to work on school projects with kids or animals until thesis year. Which I consider ridiculous. Even as extras, they’re part of the fabric of society and as a director, if you don’t know the pitfalls from personal experience, you’re useless for most mainstream projects and many indie things. And why would you want to be learning this thing while making your final project – your industry calling card? Anyhow. I don’t need film school to make films, luckily. And I’ve been curious about childhood lately – not in a morbid way, but because there was some crazy innocence in me deciding to spend my retirement savings and everything else becoming a filmmaker. And actually, kids take direction really well, at least, Storm and Layla did.
What surprised me, after the whole experience, was how great it was to work with kids – at least, the kids I got to work with. I had done it before – helping a summer school USC student as AD, and thought I just got lucky with that child. And I assumed I’d struggle. But Layla and Storm were twice as professional as the average over-40 prima-donna LA veteran. Storm (who knows his way around a set) even insisted on slating for us because he has this boundless energy. Layla (who has never done film before) was a natural storyteller, so I asked her to improv a lot of scenes. It’s just play. It has to be honest. That’s not different to directing adults. The biggest thing I struggled with was not swearing, cause I swear a lot.
Dogs? Well that’s a lot more difficult.
My amazing crew – most of whom were also new to film – seemed to get that this was our film, not mine. For that, I’m eternally grateful.
I’m glad I tried making a film in South Africa. It’s different in so many ways to the USA – from what equipment is called to what is expected of roles. To the fact that here, I have a community, and there, I’m nobody to most people. I am sure it’s the best thing I’d done. And when I say I, I mean we. My producer, Ashlin Simpson, was so determined and fought against all odds to get this done. When budget issues hit us, we needed to cut the parents and she suggested using Cow and Chicken POV, so crew members could step into the roles. A creative solution to a financial problem.
My Director of Photography shotlisted with me days in advance, walked the location, talked story, gave days of his time… and brought his experience and expertise to the set.
My Assistant Director Michael Klein noticed performance issues and pointed them out when I was distracted by random problems. He ran the show without shouting.
Yay, filmmaking. In South Africa. Yay, getting up at 4.30am. Yay making something that didn’t exist before.
Since I started film school I haven’t
– spent a whole day doing nothing except relaxing (except for my birthday, or my boyfriend’s)
– been out for drinks more then once a month
– wondered how I was going to fill a day
– looked at something beautiful without wondering how I could work it into a story, thereby creating work.
So this is what my lounge floor looks like right now.
Working with animals is a lot harder than it looks. And it’s not something they bother to teach us at Chapman, for some unknowable reason. Probably financial. So I decided to give it a shot early in my career. The result was a short film my production teacher didn’t like very much, for good reasons, but that I still think is sort of fun – and not bad for 12 hours’ work – writing, casting, shooting and editing. Take that, 48-hr Film Festival!
Thanks to all that helped out. Especially Daisy the dog, Vinny the actor and dog wrangler, Anirudh the cinematographer and Megan, the actress, who came all the way from LA to star.
For those interested in filmmaking, here’s how the dog made things trickier than they would have been with a human star.
1. She had to be enclosed and on a leash at all times as she isn’t a stunt dog or trained to sit and stay. This meant we had to shoot in the doggy park – otherwise she could have run into the street.
2. She isn’t used to playing with strange dogs, so she was nervous.
3. I didn’t know her before the shoot, but she bonded with me first. So it was hard to make her bond with the actress.
4. It all took so long that we couldn’t move locations to the more ideal place to shoot the scene where she sees the poster. I wanted to make it a different place. Shooting in the doggy park also made the dog being lost at all seem much less plausible.
5. Dogs drool, put hair all over you and have to be taken care of. It’s hard to direct when your first priority is not the actor, or the cine, or even the shotlist, but this slightly helpless hairy creature who doesn’t speak English. Have a handler on set – this stuff is not suitable for student skeleton crews.
Still, I’m not sorry I tried.
PS. Mom if you’re reading this and you want to watch the video you should click the play button (it’s a triangular thing in the middle of the video thing in the page). And I love you.