Scene-By-Scene

15 Jul

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Good day, humans.

…At the starting of this blog, we are less than seven hours away from deadline for turning our film into the 48 Film Festival, and the entire house is “plugged in”…all contributing to some form of the final editing process. Except me. I’m merely on reserve as general consultant…when eyes and ears of designers are so bugged they can no longer process whatever the hell they’ve just finished, and need to know what it looks and sounds like to a person who isn’t bleeding from every sensory orafice.

We’ve learned some stuff…which is prob’ly the most gigantic understatement of the year so far. These things have included the following:

1.  Go Aaron Sorkin On That Shit.
By this, I mean: use people that you will be comfortable living on top of, for an extended amount of time.  People who you have worked with before.  People who have the same sense of humor and personal depravity.  People who you don’t mind seeing you in every possible form of human dilapidation, including complete loss of personal hygiene and dignity.  Because you will be reduced to this point, before the completion of even day one.  In other words: pick “family.”

2. The Pox! The Pox! (And Other Plagues)
Be prepared for the most outrageous of circumstances to befall …because they probably will.  This includes random childhood illnesses, revisiting you in adult form at the most inopportune moment.  Also aggravated allergies.  Also hormonal hot flashes.  They are shameless attention whores, the whole lot, totally willing to make a starring appearance in any film, even if they aren’t getting paid for it.

3. It Was The Greenest Office I Ever Ate
When selecting a location for a shoot, always assume that even the most mundane of things called for (including  mere set-dressing) will need to be provided as props.  It will be a natural inclination to trust that when filming at “an Office,” as stand-in of: ” an Office”…all the incidentals that go with that, will be on location for the picking.  What you would not expect (however), is what comes with working in a nearly 100% green and recycled materials work-place, in which even the cubical walls and carpeting are compostable…no staplers, hole punches, printers or paper are in evidence due to only “online” worksourcing, and I’m pretty sure even the markers for the white boards were made of totally eatable vegetable and rice by-products.

4. My Kingdom For A Cone!
Sometimes you have to “borrow” stuff.  There is just no way around it really. When making a film in 48 hours, your Props and Costume departments are gonna have to be incredibly innovative…because  random lists will be thrown at them from all departments like it’s no big deal that they require things like Horses, Indians with tomahawks, Aliens in a spaceship, a garden gnome, Cup O’ Noodle soup, an S & M Villain, and traffic cones.  Sometimes your department heads will come up with willing donors of said requirements…and sometimes they will not…because the item in question isn’t a readily available resource.    But either way, it is a “Gentleman’s agreement” that said item will be accomplished anyway, and sometimes it’s best not to ask “how.”  Where I’ve sworn to protect our film-family to all ends …I WILL state that (by and large) there were doubtlessly more unguarded potholes and sidewalk cracks than usual in the naked city this weekend.  At least fifty (according to number of film crews.) But it wasn’t our fault.  The prop was a requirement.

5. Hey, Look! Dead Guys!
Filming in public is an interesting and exciting venture.  Especially to people who aren’t your crew.  The Public (in general) will go completely out of their way to watch you do it…and we know this because we tried our best to lose them at the time. Car after car of curious bystanders will roll onto your location, their heads hanging out of car windows like dogs out for a Sunday drive..just to view the action.  And shot after shot will be rendered completely useless because of it.  Understand that by “filming in public” I mean only “not on private property”…this was not anything like sidewalks, or near business buildings, or at a public park.  We were in a removed parking lot off a side side street belonging to a restaurant that had been gutted easily a year ago…down by the docks.  The squiggy end of town.  And though I totally understand the bounds that a human’s curiosity can expand…purposefully driving up to a seedy location where a film crew is shooting dead bodies on the ground, would prob’ly be where I guess the line would be drawn.  It isn’t.  There is no “line.”  People are idiots. Let it be known.

6. Dogs & Babies
People (who are in the know) always tell you that the worst thing to do in this biz is work with animals or children.  After filming (non-stop) across a twelve-hour shoot, I can tell you the real secret of “why.”  Because, they are better on accident, than you are on your best day on purpose.  Also: they are  cuter.  Both our mascot (Rizzo) and our youngest cast member hit their marks and performed perfect takes every single time.  And one had to cry on cue.  The grown up humans needed over an hour of film roll to get across what will edit down to seven minutes of film, in order to achieve the same thing.  This is not to say our grown up humans suck…they don’t.  It just proves what we’ve known for years: we are not the smartest lifeforms, and we don’t like looking bad.  Hence, “never work with animals or children” was born.

7. The “Practice Will Never Prepare You To Throw It All Out Twice And Write It Again” Rule
I did three…THREE mock-ups of this event, following the exact rules as stated in the regulations section.  With the special “secret” requirements and genre each time being sent from our Director…I would write in an appropriate time allotted for what he thought it should take, then send it back.  After reading, came the notes: things to avoid because of tech or other difficulties, ideas that he liked or didn’t…style suggestions and general Q & A. In other words: I beefed up for this shit…I TRAINED…which means nothing at all WHATSOEVER.  Because this isn’t a boxing ring.  So now you know. Where I performed to expectation every time during training, come the big night, I managed a first draft containing twelve pages of confusing crap. So, I grabbed The BFF, and we went off to do some drastic edit and try it again. And then it was two in the morning, we were sitting across the room from everyone else, looking back at collection of totally blank faces, whose abnormally high-pitched voices attempted to assure us that “one more pass” would do it. This is when I started to really flipping panic.  Post Q & A made me even more confused.  I had no idea how to write myself out of or into the notes that everyone had given, and we literally could start doing nothing AT ALL until the fucking script was completed.  So script three was instigated and completed by four.  4 A.M…three scripts and 22 hours without sleep later, we had a winner.  Not because it was particularly good. Only because it wasn’t as particularly bad as the rest. Which taught me that the writing part of the brain isn’t a weight lifter in training. It’s a random receptor to inspiration-at-will. Sometimes it’s a clear night and that shit’ll pick up Oscar and Pulitzer-winning genius.  And sometimes…it only picks up, “better than the last crap.”   The important thing (I’m told) is: I tried.

8. Instant Zombie (Just Add Water)
Sleep is important.  There are plenty of times in your life when you go without it…but if you think about it: those are the extenuating circumstances of being young, or mid some horrible onset of stress or drama.  Being in theatre, most of us get updated booster shots of this in the form of Tech Week for any show we happen to be working in at any given time.  But film, is different.  And the term we’ve come to know as “The 48” is even different-er.  First off: Theatre people are like Vampires…we exist mostly at night. Film people are freaks.  They exist mostly at 5 A.M..  This was bound to launch us into a sticky wicket to begin with.  Add to that the 48-hour angle, and you are awake for both…one leading into the other, and back again.  Time ceases to be a mathematical certainty and becomes a sort of random grab-bag.  “This” hour will feel like it borrowed and ate 35 others…”that” hour will feel like we skipped it altogether.  You aren’t sure what to call “tomorrow” or “yesterday” because usually those are gauged on a sleeping  pattern of some kind, and when you don’t, there isn’t any. Add to that the fact we are now putting the bulk of you on camera, in 1080 HD, after multiple relocation, fight sequences, and weather conditions…and we have a whole new world of epic proportions to deal with.  “It’s just the ’48!’,” becomes the most quoted saying of the weekend…mostly when a room full of anal-retentive perfectionists start sucking time up on things like light gels, set dressing, fight choreo, shot set-up, music scoring and action sequences.  I think what it means mostly is that “When you’re a zombie on a time schedule: something’s gotta go.”  And the “something” will always be “anything but your sense of humor.”  If it isn’t, you should find another hobby to do.

9. Looped And Foley’d
Giggles will set in.  You get to a point where you’re just too punchy to care anymore.  This usually will happen during the last shots to hit, and post-production necessities.  Ours did.  A sadistic German villain threatening our heroine roped in a cellar, was the point where whatever remaining self-edits we had left, flew out the window.  This continued on into the next day with sound build and FX.  Which is fortunate, because at this point if you ain’t laughing…you’re crying.  We did both.  But in the good way.

10. If John Williams Can Do It, So Can I
Sound and Scoring is this whole other deal.  I’ve always been partial to film soundtracks, because if done well…they tell a story all by themselves. When you haven’t got the time to sit and write an entire score (however) you do the next best thing: go trolling the internet for freebee files that match all the sounds in your head.  Problem is: have you been on the internet trolling lately?  You know how it becomes a time suck of the worst degree?  In “The 48” it begins sucking the last minutes of life away that you have left.  It sucks in leaps and bounds.  An hour is only a second, and two hours is less for reasons that I just don’t know or understand. What I do know is that three people (plus looping and foley artists) have been doing nothing but that all day long.  As I write this, we are less than three hours from Film turn-in, and our Sound designer just (literally) ran his collection of built files into the Director for Editing.  28 cues completed in all…3 still being built.

11. Oh, The Clapp
Other than writing I had one other job on the film: Clapper.  That’s the dude who marks the  beginning of scenes on a marked board in front of the camera.  It may seem like a mundane job, but it really isn’t…mostly, cuz they have to work with continuity and the shot list to make sure that every shot we need at each location is captured, logged and numbered.  If you fuck up, the story will not make sense and you will have to do reshoots.  In “The 48” (of course) that is just not an option.  Let it be know that where I lacked in total screenwriting awesomeness, together with the Continuity Dept, we rocked in THIS.  We got everything we needed, logged and in the can.  Over an hour of it.   And this morning when I woke up, my war wounds were evident.  Twelve hours of chalking, hanging, clapping, marking and noting in every POV, and angle possible.  The Boom Mic fella wins me in weight heft held over time…but I still did a job of it…and feel cooler today because my muscles hurt, I learned stuff, and finally got to make the clapboard I’ve had since I was in the eighth grade: legit.  Better late than never!

12.  When Theatre Actors Do Film (And Other Bad Ideas)
Our Director/Editor  has been cloistered in his office since before dawn.  Occasionally someone goes in to check on him, and by breakfast we cleared out the food plate and empty cup graveyard that had accumulated throughout his secluded residency.  Post breakfast, it was mostly chuckles emanating that would bring us to his doorway.  “Even with continuity, these people never say anything the say way twice!” is his basic main quote of the day.  And he laughs at it in both frustration and in amazement, I think.  Because he’s right.  Even if the physical placement was corrected on set…you can’t fix exact inflection and every head turn and smile and look and beat.  And because we are Theatre actors, we think in terms of “infinite.”  MORE ways are ALWAYS “better.”  It’s fresh and playful and plyable.  Film is static, exact and repetitious…the art of it more in editing than anything else.  An actor’s job is consistancy, from scene to scene, even if shot totally out of order, and on a different day, down to which hand they reach out for the cup with and what kind of smile they gave at which beat on which point after turning their head.  And it all needs to look like it’s totally natural. NOTHING about that is “natural.”  And it’s specifically unnatural, to theatre people.  Which is how I know that our Director really likes working with us.  Because though we’ve made his job today like 500 times harder…he is still speaking to us and would like to do this again some time.  Which means he’s either a gigantic masochist….or…we’re such forgivable, charming bastards, he just can’t help but like us.  It’s prob’ly the former.  But we like him anyway…and would work with him any time he yells our way.  I’m pretty sure that’s unanimous.

…And with that, we are at less than two hours to turn in.  And I am off to help clean the house.  It looks like MTV filmed a season of “Real World” in here, (minus the pee stains and impregnated teenagers.)

~D

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