105 Ways to Give a Book

“Close Quarters”

Close QuartersHow was your weekend? Did you, for example, MAKE A MOVIE?

I will start at the beginning, for all those who wish to know how a group of ragtag cast and crew put together a short film in two days for the 48 Hour Film Project.

Bill (our director, not to mention my husband) and I went to the kickoff meeting at 7:00 on Friday night; a friend of ours (who had flown in from Chicago just to participate in this) met us there. When all the teams were present, we drew our genre out of a hat (literally). Each set of teams (ten to twelve per showing) drew a unique genre from a single group — so there would be one (and only one) of each kind during the screening. Each time “Musical or Western” was drawn, everyone cheered — either in support of the poor team that drew it, or in relief that it was now out of the hat for the rest of that set’s screening. As we talked during the drawing (we were in the “H” set), we talked about how the only one that would be really hard for us was “Drama.”

So, of course we drew Drama.

The “required elements” — all of which must appear in your finished film — for the D.C. contest were: A fire extinguisher (prop); “This is absolutely the last time.” (line); Tina or Tim Tate, Gay Glass Sculptor Extrordinaire (character). The audience groaned at that last one — the character is usually a little more conventional, like a photographer or rock star. We left the facility saying “What if it is the glass that’s gay, not the character? Like, ‘Doesn’t that glass sculpture look gay to you?’” Politically incorrect, perhaps, but probably no more so than sticking a caricature up on screen. We were off and running.

The three of us went to dinner, meeting up with another actor to write out the story. Unfortunately, our team had lost its original writer a few days before the event, so we had to team-write it.

Writing a seven-minute drama as a team is hard.

We were joined by another team member/actor at 11:00, and we were not nearly as far as we had hoped we would be. The five of us hashed out the story, and then the script until 4:00 in the morning. We went home to bed, only to get right back up at 7:00 to start filming at 9:00.

First problem Saturday morning: We were going to film the first scene outside, but there was loud construction going on two doors down. I made my first producer decision to film another scene inside and come back outside when the construction workers were at lunch. I walked over the construction site to confirm their lunch break. As soon as we finished that scene, I had everyone get set up outside and do run-throughs so we would be ready to go the minute the construction noise stopped. As our actors arrived, I briefed them on the scenes and background story, and I stood in for actors in scenes before they arrived. I went over their lines when they weren’t sure we were getting our point across. I made suggestions to the director about acting choices or additional lines (we were still rewriting on the fly). I kept track of which actors were arriving at what times and which actors needed to leave sooner. I made sure the sets were ready (we filmed in an actor’s townhouse and it needed some “girling up”). I kept us on schedule, making sure the actors were rehearsing their next scene while another scene was being filmed. And, of course, I did the only two jobs Bill was able to pin down for me as a producer — get the release forms signed and make sure we had lunch.

The previous paragraph was all about me (because I had shared my concern that I wouldn’t know what to do), but I don’t mean to imply that I was the only one keeping things together. Far from it. The actors were top-notch, bringing the emotion to the film that we needed from them — including some very hard... well, dramatic scenes. Our actors were incredible. Our crew was totally on the ball, knowing what we needed before we even realized that we needed it. Our director of photography had our vision in mind for every shot, and framed it all flawlessly. As we did different takes, our script supervisors made detailed notes, so that in editing we could just go back to the best take right away and/or incorporate excellent pieces from other takes. Our editor started logging and capturing footage the moment it was available, and even started cutting together preliminary versions of the scenes. And, of course, our director knew the vision from the start and gave the actors positive feedback and constructive suggestions to get the absolute best out of each scene.

Our long night in writing the script turned out to be a crucial investment in the filming the next day. With three of the six actors there for the writing, they knew exactly what to do when we started filming. They knew the back story. They knew the point each scene was trying to make. They had made up half the lines themselves. The actual filming, which we had thought could go late into Saturday night, was over by 8:00. The actors went home, the crew went home, and Bill went to the office to put together a rough cut of the film to have ready for the morning’s editing. As everyone left, some at different parts of the day, I was pleased and proud to hear every one of them say how much fun it was. Because it was fun. Given our limited filming time, things never seemed frantic. And while there were disagreements about dialogue, it never came to the point of real conflict. The whole thing was so calm and pleasant and fun.

On Sunday it was down to Bill and our editor to put the piece together. Oh, and add sound effects, music, credits, and a title. As Bill and I drove in, we worried that we had lost the storyline for one character (thanks to the continually evolving script) and that it might be difficult for an audience to know who everyone was. When some people turned up in Bill“ office (where we were doing the final edit) first thing that morning to actually work, we ran the film by them to get some opinions. People liked it, but weren’t nailing the relationships like we wanted them to. I suggested another scene that took place at the beginning, that would help set up the story and recreate a little of the lost storyline. Bill was afraid it was too obvious, but was willing to give it a try. So at 11:00 on Sunday morning, we scripted a new scene — that would also set up the so-far elusive title — and went out with two actors and the director of photography to shoot it. I was now, by default, a director.

(Just as I was directing my first scene, there was a little child-care crisis. Do you think Steven Spielberg has to put up with that crap? It was resolved, thanks to some very helpful friends, allowing me to see the film through to the very end.)

We added the new scene to the beginning, amidst some controversy among the team. It was a little “on the nose,” but in the end, we decided that was better then having the audience confused at the end of the movie. We realized that in a full-length drama, you have time to subtly establish the characters and back story. But in a seven-minute drama, not so much.

After the scene was filmed, my job was mostly supportive. Checking in on the process, looking at the cuts for a second opinion, and keeping track of the time. Most important was keeping track of the time. We had said that we were going to pretend the movie was due at 7:00 so we wouldn’t have a last minute rush, but we needed every minute and did end up making a last-minute rush to get the film turned in by 7:30. We made it, with a couple minutes to spare, and toasted each other with a beer before heading home to get some rest.

This morning, as I caught my reflection in the mirror, I realized two things. One, that my left eyebrow was a little over-plucked. But two, that I was looking at the face of a real producer. And it felt good.

The film is “Close Quarters” and will be available on the Tohubohu Productions website after the screening (at the AFI Silver Theatre) on Friday, May 12th. (Of course, if you’re in the area, and would like to see it sooner, you can always come out to the premiere itself — we screen as part of the 9:30 show. The more the merrier!)

4 comments:

Bryan said...

Look forward to seeing the film..oh, and your curiously over-plucked eyebrow! :)

Gregory K. said...

All I saw in this story, using my Hollywood corrected vision, is that the producer and director are SLEEPING TOGETHER. Typical. So typical.

Sadly, I cannot make the premiere. I'll eats some cyberpopcorn when I watch it online, however.

the Happy Booker said...

congrats on your film--finishing is a big deal, many teams don't make it--and your cool blog. I appreciate the blogroll link (i think we're neighbors!) and will happily do the same when I update next. keep on blogging! Wendi, the Happy Booker

Bill Coughlan said...

Gregory --

I figure if it works for Robert Rodríguez and Elizabeth Avellán, then we should be able to handle it.

Oh, wait a minute, those two just separated last month... maybe this isn't such a good idea after all...