Make Room for Creativity

****KICKSTARTER UPDATE**** Thanks to the overwhelming support of so many readers of this blog, Facebook, Twitter, and many more, we are on track to meet our funding goal tomorrow night at 11:03PM EST. The amazing thing is, people are still making pledges! The more the merrier, friends. Thank you!!!

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With Pre-Production underway, Kickstarter drawing to a close, and our start date set, I am now shifting gears a bit to get back into creative mode. I've had a running list of notes on the script that I've been waiting to address. Rather than changing things bit by bit as I go, I prefer to keep a tab of things and integrate them all at once. This way, I can see how everything is affected at once and give myself some serious time to consider any changes. Also, with new people being sent drafts all the time, I'd rather there only be a few new drafts after the first, just so I don't have to worry whether someone received a script dated April 10th or April 19th or April 20th, but rather just "revised" or "old".

This past weekend I set aside some time to begin the script-polishing process. I made my way through a web of neighborhood construction to a nearby coffee shop to get to work. This was my first revisit to the script after nearly four months from the initial draft, so I started with a timid polish of technical notes. I clarified locations, character descriptions, scene chronology...you know, the easy stuff that requires no creativity. Sitting in my local coffee shop, I was simply proofreading and tweaking with a cheat-sheet of things to integrate. Once that technical polish was done, I realized I had to get my creative hands dirty sooner or later.

Why was I so hesitant? Shouldn't I be excited to perfect, refine, and enhance my own work...especially if I thought it could benefit? I stared at my notes, a list of questions with no answers. I knew to some degree what needed to be done to certain scenes and character developments, but I was still  finding it so difficult to dive in.

The reason for all this heady hesitation, is that re-writing is so much more difficult than writing. In your initial state of writing a screenplay, there are no constraints. You can let your imagination run wild and write whatever you please. Free reign. However, in re-writes, you are slave to your own structure. If the adjustment isn't seamless with the rest of the script, than you have to iron out a wrinkle throughout the whole draft, ultimately changing the whole thing much more than you orginally wanted. Like that stupid construction in my neighborhood, you have to destroy something in order to fix it.

Off and on for the rest of this week, I am trying avoid any major construction (re-construction) and instead, I am trying to operate with finer tools. It's odd, a good day of writing for me is not necessarily a day where I've written that much. Rather, a good day of writing is one in which I am able to find any shred of certainty or clarity. I spend probably 80% of my writing time just looking at the script, reading a scene, visualizing it, judging it, and maybe, just maybe changing it. If I read a "problem scene" thirty times trying to fix it, and all I come away with is the reassurance that it's fine just as it is, that's a good writing session. At least know I'll know why something works.

So, like this I go, bit by bit. Still working. I'll let you know how I do!

Meet our Production Designer, Marie

****Kickstarter Update**** We are almost there! We are now 94% funded and are so close to being funded! If you've donated already, THANK YOU! If you haven't, please click here!

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Although independents often overlook it and under-support it, production design plays a massive part in the aesthetic of a film and ultimately, the film's production value. A production designer is the key creative person responsible for the look and feel of everything on-camera that does not talk or breath. More or less. Sets, paint swatches, props, you name it. On Passing Harold Blumenthal I am lucky to have at my disposal the brilliant and creative Marie Lynn Wagner. So, who better to talk about production design in indie film than the production designer herself? Take it away, Marie...

Hello internet! As the Production Designer for this film, I must disclose a few things.  There will be no explosions. Boats will not sink.  Our film is nearly devoid of large blue aliens and it is also not set in Victorian anywhere. I hope, despite these shortcomings, that you are still interested. Production design for an independent film is tricky. When one thinks of film set design, the movies that come to mind often have millions of dollars to spend. The idea of “sets” as an affordable concept for an independent film can seem so far away that you’d rather just pretend they’re unnecessary. But just because a movie isn’t Titanic, doesn’t mean it can’t benefit from a thoughtful (and frugal!) design.

For me, design starts with people.  The amazing thing about working with a writer is the ability to create and understand exactly where these people come from.  The script and the characters are living, changing entities that deserve as much attention as any visual choice.  A few weeks ago when speaking with Seth, I said “I have a million questions about these characters.” His response was “So do I!” Through the course of our conversation I came to better understand the people and the story, but more importantly we both had a chance to look at the script from a different angle.

Through the process I start to consider my characters as real people who need a life.  The bulk of our movie does, take place in the homes of our characters and I find these to be the most exciting spaces to create.  A movie gives you just a brief window into the lives of people, but looking at someone’s personal space speaks volumes about who they are.  The first part of my job is to ask the questions.

  • Are their figurines immaculately dusted and arranged, or do they frequently lose their remote control under their New Yorker hoard?
  • Do they proudly display photos of their children or is their abstract expressionist art collection their pride and joy?
  • Do they have an amazing mid-century furniture set, or have they never actually unpacked their boxes?

There is an infinite difference between walking into a room set up to host guests and walking into one where there is one chair pointed at the television. Working out these unspoken, unwritten choices is my favorite part of the job.

As we nail more and more things down I’m excited to further understand the world and the story of these people.  And, of course, I can’t wait to share it with all of you!

Watch Me Schedule a Movie

*****KICKSTARTER UPDATE***** We are now a little more than $3,000 away from our goal! The past couple days have pushed us to 92% and we couldn't be more excited and grateful. Thank you to all of you who have made donations to get us this far, each and every one of you is now a part of this collaboration. Keep spreading the word!

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Scheduling a film shoot is one of the less glamorous parts of the movie-making process. In fact, it's one of the bigger pains in the butt...or pain in the butts? I digress. No matter how you describe it, a shooting schedule can make you or break you. And, with a little bit of foresight, organization, and question-asking ahead of time, you can count on a smoother, faster, and more efficient shoot.

We are currently in the throes of tightening our schedule now. As Jean-Raphael Ambron (Raff) at Act Zero Films said to me in an email, "The key to winning any battle is preparation." I'm sure Sun Tzu gets the credit for that one, but boy does it ring true in filmmaking. Between myself, Raff, and Alex, we are kicking around all the different possibilities and approaches to best achieve what we want in the most economical, expedient way.

The first thing to consider is timeline. How long do we have to shoot? Over the past ten years, a sort of golden number of shoot days has prevailed for many indie films: 18 days. That number may seem arbitrary, but it's understandable why filmmakers often settle on or around it. With a small, efficient crew (and no children, dogs, or explosions), it's quite doable to shoot an average of 5 pages a day, give or take. That's fast, but time is not a luxury we can afford. The average independent feature script is usually around 90 pages or so (PHB is around 93 pages). So dividing 90 pages by 5-page days yields 18 shooting days. Easy enough. But what if your script is ten pages longer and you need two more days? Time to consult the budget...

A film crew works either five or six-day weeks. One is faster and one is less exhausting. For Blumenthal, because we are indie (and cheap!), we are shooting for six-day weeks. So, three weeks of shooting total. What about those two extra days? If we shoot two more days, that goes into a fourth week which could potentially increase our cast, crew, and equipment rental costs by a full weekly rate. That's an expensive two days! So something must be compromised somewhere. Of course, if every page of your script is sacred and you don't want to rush anything you already have scheduled, you're going to have to spend some extra money. If you don't have any money to spend, then it's time to get creative, both in scheduling and in writing. Getting creative is where we are now.

In the early stages of pre-production, everything sort of needs to happen simultaneously. The schedule depends on the locations and the actors, the locations and the actors depend on the budget, and the budget depends on the schedule. As you can imagine, there is plenty of back and forth on the phone and email before anything is nailed down. The other major factor in pre-production planning is the script. That one should be more obvious than it is, but long after a script is written or locked, we tend to stop thinking of it as a living thing, which it is! Just as I've addressed the effect of a script on location demands, the same applies to the broader scope of the shoot. Today, I noticed a particular day in our one-liner schedule that I couldn't remember writing. It was eating up more than half a day of shooting, which is a good deal of time for something you forgot was even in the movie. I am now on the brink of axing that particular scene, or at least severely paring it down. What's more, I think the new edit ultimately serves the story and characters much better!

All told, we are angling for an 18 day shoot of principal photography with one or two extra days of shooting later in the summer. We would likely squeeze those extra days into the principal shoot, but can't due to actors/logistics scheduling.

After a few (several) more passes at the schedule, we can move easily into production with a comprehensive battle plan. Armed with the schedule, our First Assistant Director will be able to guide us through the shoot from scene to scene, and everyone onboard will have the confidence that everything will get done on time. Most importantly, that schedule roadmap will give me a sense of security, lower my blood pressure, and permit me to make clear-headed creative decisions...in theory.

From the Blumenthals in New York,  Happy Passover!

Location Location Location! (On a budget)

****KICKSTARTER UPDATE!***** We are now 86% funded on our Kickstarter page! Thanks to all of you WMMM readers out there for supporting this film. We are now at the home stretch with only a week and a half to go, so please continue to spread the word! If you haven't donated yet, go ahead and click the Kickstarter link in the sidebar!

Things should be getting pretty interesting around here in the next few weeks with pre-production revving up and so much to do. Be sure to check out our featured article on Sundance.org. It's a great way for all of you new readers out there to catch up on the earlier parts of this crazy process.

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Since the last post, I've been getting a tremendous amount of questions regarding film locations and location scouting. Where do we find them? How many do we need? What are we looking for ? How do we manage to secure them?

Because of the do-it-yourself nature of this project, we are operating without a designated location scout. Instead, myself, my producers, and our production designer, Marie, are all doing the legwork of finding worthy locations for our movie. Although it is extra work, the amount of people looking for these locations permits us to cast a wider net and hopefully come up with a variety of choices as opposed to one "use-it-or-lose-it" choice.

As it stands, there are 12 locations for our film. That may not sound like a lot, but for a low-budget independent film, it is a fairly ambitious number to have written into a script for something this small of a scale. Beyond those locations, there are also a good deal of non-specific exteriors to be used throughout New York City. But, those locations should be relatively easy to secure once we have our city permits.

What do we have to work with? Well, there's no real location budget to speak of, so whatever we can't get for free, we will squeeze out of our budget somehow. This is why one should try to write around locations that they already have. But even if you've written around your resources, there are always unforeseen issues. Each location has its own specific needs to fill, but there are a few critical things to be considered for any location.

  • Space
  • Light
  • Cost
  • Aesthetic

Space -  Even a small film crew tends to take up a lot of space quickly. In New York, space is a such a luxury, that even if you can find a space large enough to suit your needs, it ends up being cost-prohibitive. But the space consideration goes beyond logistics. The layout of the particular location needs to suit the action of a scene. For instance, if a scene requires a character to throw a spatula at another character from the kitchen to the living room, the space layout has to facilitate that. (No spatulas in this film, unfortunately...but I still have some rewrites to do.)

Below is a shot from a recent scouting of a theatre we are hoping will serve as our "Broadway Theatre" location.

Light - Our goal is to always take advantage and find value in what's available... and what resource is more available and adds more value than natural sun light? It provides beautiful illumination for the action onscreen and also cuts down on the amount of artificial lighting we have to pay for and set up. The less lights there are to set up, the faster we can move.

Cost - We try to avoid this word as much as possible. Unless there is a location that we absolutely cannot do without, we will always try to find a friend or relative that will let us use their home or office or restaurant for free. But that's not always in the cards, especially in New York where every business has a pre-printed film location rental form. If we do have to pay, we search long and hard for the most affordable option, but sometimes we end up either re-writing or getting a little creative with how we shoot what we have.

Below, an apartment under consideration for our main location. All criteria must be met for this one to work!

Aesthetic - This sounds like a superfluous luxury for a filmmaker on a budget, but if you take the trouble to be a little picky, it can really raise the production value of the movie and save you money in the long run. For instance, when you have little-to-no money to spend on production design and set dressing, it's incredibly valuable to have a location that already suits the aesthetic you are looking for. The less a location needs to be camera-ready, the greater the savings on art department materials and labor. This kind of fringe benefit also extends to the camera department, who may have to light around awful paint jobs or lighting that just gives the wrong mood for the scene.

These four things to consider come in varying orders of priority depending on the specific needs of the location. The reality is, I'm not willing to sacrifice any of these criteria. It means a little more work for me and my people, but the payoff will be great.

So how do we go about finding them? My mantra throughout this journey has been that if I don't know the person who can help me, I probably know the person who knows the person who can help me. Or at least the person who knows the person who knows the person. So in addition to doing all the googling and phone-calling to find our locations, we continue to talk about our location needs to anyone who will listen. Hopefully, we can get all of those nailed down in the next couple of weeks so we can fine-tune the schedule and technical needs of each location.