Archive for June, 2012

Ep7 Shoot Days 9, 10, & 11

Posted in Hypothesis the 7th on June 28, 2012 by PoPS blog

Last night we wrapped our June shooting for episode 7. We have two more shoot days before Ep7 is finished, one at the end of July, one at the end of August (that’s just the way schedules are lining up), but we have 59 pages of a 68-page script shot, and that’s not too shabby.

Shoot day 9. Thursday, June 21st. We got to our location on the north side of the city a little before 8. A little early considering that we wouldn’t be able to shoot until it was dark out and we find naturally well-lit alleys to shoot in without us adding more lighting because it looks dark and shadowy that way and the mark ii is a low light beast. We started shooting at around 9:15 and ended at around 11:30. No major hitches, just grinding through getting our shots. One of my favorite things about production is hanging out with everyone after wrapping and that night we headed to a great Mexican food joint called Arturo’s and I had my first ever Piña Colada. It was delicious.

Shoot day 10. Monday, June 25th. A grab bag night. A lot of times in PoPS episodes we end up with small little one-shot scenes that run 1/8 or 2/8 of a page. So I always try to find a central location and shoot a bunch of them in one night. Monday night was our grab bag night and it started out pretty rough. We had an 8 p.m. call to get one little daylight scene before all of our night stuff, but one of our cast members had a hard time getting to location so we missed out on the natural light and we had to fake it. But we ended up getting it. We were at our next location by around 9 and getting all our lighting in place. I don’t know what it was about Monday night, but we drew a lot of interest. People in the suburbs are REALLY fantastically production friendly and Monday night they were out in droves. At our second location we had two groups of people stop by and ask us about what we were doing, all smiles. We were back on the road by 10 and headed to another suburban town, Highland Park, with streets that better approximate a city look. The only problem was the barrenness. The streets are empty after 10 in the suburbs. So we were shooting on this well lit intersection in front of a new restaurant called In The Raw. Now, ordinarily, we do our best to not shoot directly at a business we haven’t cleared because that’s a great way to get the cops called on you, and there were still people clearly moving around and noticing us inside In The Raw, but they’re on the best lit corner in Highland Park, so what were we supposed to do? I was just trying to get everything done as quickly as possible and get us out of there when the proprietor pops his head out the door with his two daughters behind him. I go into damage control immediately with a friendly, “Hi. How you doing?” I’m readying my, “Oh we’re just a few young upstarts with a YouTube show and no money” spiel when the guy says, “If you get my business in that shot I’ll give you guys some food.” For real. I thought he was joking. But a couple minutes later, when we’re between setups, out comes his 10-ish year old daughter with a tray of assorted cookies for us. Then the whole lot of them ended up walking around in the background during our shots to have a little street activity. It was the greatest. We moved off the street by around 11 and had one more quick scene in the back alley and we wrapped it up around midnight. Then a few of us went to Steak and Shake. Oh, man. Steak and Shake is awesome after-production food.

Shoot day 11. Wednesday, June 27th. With us being nights and weekends shooters, some of our retail working cast and crew miss a few weekend shifts to attend shooting. I wanted to do at least ONE weekday shoot for them where myself and the 9-to-5’ers had to cash in a sick day for a day they normally have off. We spent the whole day in the Humboldt Park area of the city at a bitchin’ coffee house called Star Lounge. We arrived at noon and sat around waiting for cast because traffic was really bad yesterday in bizarre fits and starts. Only two cast members out of seven actually made their call time yesterday. That ended up being okay though as I had scheduled huge blocks of time for scenes and we did a fair amount of sitting around and hanging out between things. There was just one problem. The mark ii records to CF cards. It’s just digital information on a memory card until it’s backed up to external hard drives. We had wrapped the first scene and one of our actors headed back toward her far northwestern suburb. After lunch we were moving on to the second scene when the camera just froze up. Ryan (DP) said he had seen it before, it’s no big deal. Then we do another take and watching playback it just froze. Playback froze. Ryan said, “I have not seen that before though.” We decided to shut the camera off and try again. As soon as he turned it back on there was a message that read CARD NOT FORMATTED, FORMAT CARD FOR CAMERA. Translation: Nothing on this card, bitches! I was ready to scream. It ended up being fine. David (sound, crew, everything guy) ran the card to his place and dropped the footage to a hard drive and his computer and after a little bit of bother everything showed up, but it was a nerve wracking section of an otherwise fantastic shoot day. We wrapped at about 8:30 p.m. It was a really great day and the location looked fantastic. We then went and had the best burrito in Chicago, a Chicken Chipotle Burrito from a place called Picante.

Long entry. But three shoot days. Now I’m heading back into VFX on episode 6 after work.

Thanks for reading.


PoPS video update 120-Ep7 Production Week 5

Posted in Hypothesis the 7th on June 24, 2012 by PoPS blog

Ep7 Shoot Days 7 & 8

Posted in Hypothesis the 7th on June 20, 2012 by PoPS blog

On with the recounting of shoot days.

Day 7. Saturday, June 16th. We had 3 dialogue scenes to shoot in the 2nd Sanctum, which is what I call the apartment that houses our 4 protagonists. It was wonderful. After weeks and weeks of difficult (but gorgeous) locations, where we were doing a lot of difficult setups, it was fantastic to be shooting dialogue coverage in a familiar location. Ryan arrived at 2 p.m., we got the lights set up, were going by around 3 p.m. and wrapped at 9:30 p.m. The performances were great, everything was very calm, we shot an update in the middle of everything, ate pizza from down the street on a relaxed dinner break, and had a few beers after we wrapped. It was absolutely wonderful. One of our leads, Carlyn, had been picketing the fact that she was the only member of PoPS-core who hadn’t yet seen a largely effects-less draft of episode 6, so we showed her. She loved it and it was nice to watch it again after being away from it for a few weeks while we’ve been working on Ep7. It made me excited to get it finished, because it really is the best episode we’ve done yet and I want other people to see it finally. Ryan watched it too and I think it made him excited to get the effects on it done too. He also got to see some of the effects I did for the opening for the first time and he liked them a lot, which was a nice payoff for me. At any rate, it’ll be great to get that sucker done.

Day 8. Tuesday, June 19th. Back to a live location. We shot in an open bar called The Silver Dollar Tavern. We got there at 7 p.m. and wrapped at 9 p.m. It was supposed to be a slow night for them, but there was a surprising amount of people for what was supposed to be a pretty empty place and a couple of the guys in there were determined to shout occasionally obscenity-laced invectives at each other any time we started a take. I think we got a few clean takes, but it’s going to be a rough edit for sound. The location looked fantastic though, dark and mirrored with a ton of neon signs. Our cast was awesome, including a really great guest appearance by Derek Elstro, one of the minds behind Chicago’s burgeoning action-films-as-theater movement including Point Break Live, Reservoir Dogs with an all-female cast, and Predator the Musical. Afterward, the cast and crew had a couple of beers on production, although I was shocked to find that left to their own devices on an open bar tab they only ran up 56 bucks. Shocked! That’s me being shocked.

Day 9 is tomorrow night on the streets and alleys of Chicago without a filming permit. We only got a filming permit once and no one ever asked to see it so it was a total waste of 25 bucks. I’ll let you know how it all goes next week.

Thanks for reading.


PoPS video update 119-Ep7 Production Week 4

Posted in Hypothesis the 7th on June 17, 2012 by PoPS blog

Ep7 Shoot Days 5 & 6

Posted in Hypothesis the 7th on June 14, 2012 by PoPS blog

So when I last left you we were getting ready for shoot day 5.

Day 5. Wednesday, June 6. After work we drove down to a new location for the first time, a crew member’s apartment that we hadn’t used before, rearranged all of the furniture, set up a couple lights and got our first shot off around 9 p.m. We had about 3-ish pages to get through, including a location move, but my shotlist was very minimal—I don’t like shooting coverage, that’s lazy storytelling—and the core PoPS crew is hard core, so we moved pretty quickly. We wrapped our second location at around 10:30 and decided to go out for a drink and some dinner. The only main cast member we weren’t shooting with that night was Craig, but he lives in the area so he came down to join us too. We so rarely all get together like that when we’re not actively shooting; it was nice to have us all at one table.

Day 6. Sunday, June 10. Another day in a basement. Turned out to be the hardest day of the shoot so far. Got to location at 10 a.m. and had quite a bit to put together before started rolling shutter. Once we did get going, some of the shots that I wanted were a little complicated and we were also trying to invent a new methodology to integrate practical elements inside complicated VFX shots on the fly. By lunch at 3:30 we had only gotten a handful of shots. Granted, they looked amazing, but we were beeeeeehind. I had Monday and Tuesday nights set aside as backup days, but I also don’t care much for spilling over onto backup days. We picked it up after lunch and got through everything mandatory on my shotlist by 9:30 p.m. Or so I thought. Once everything was packed up, I realized that we had missed something crucial. We do a ton of compositing on the show, meaning locking down the camera and filming different elements separately and then merging them into the same shot in After Effects through rotoscoping. It’s the way we do the Sebastian clones and a ton of other things. So the climax of the sequence we shot relies on a composite shot. The shot worked beautifully, great performances, everything, I just forgot to have the actor I’m compositing into the shot do his action separately while we had the camera set up and locked off. By the time I remembered, everything was broken down and everyone was exhausted. I probably could have saved the sequence in the edit by cutting into the shot later, but that’s not how I designed the sequence to play. I ended up using the Tuesday backup day. Ryan (D.P., producer, VFX dude extraordinaire), the actor, and myself got together, we hung up the lights in the same places, repositioned the camera in the exact same angle—I brought a printout for reference—and the actor did his motions. Three takes took all of two and half minutes. It was a half hour (minus the hour and 45 minutes it took to drive to and from the location) from set up to break down and I got my shot back.

Side story: Occasionally, making independent content leads to strange incidents that an unassuming, middle-ish-class fellow such as myself wouldn’t otherwise experience. Take, for example, the evening prior to day 5. One thing that bothers me about low-budget movies and series is prop repetition. There’s no money, so things have to be used over and over. If it’s something innocuous like a pen or a briefcase, that’s fine; I can see a coincidence like that. But the one that really bothers me is gun repetition. If two completely different characters are using the same gun in different environments, I’m going to notice that and it feels cheap. Guns are very loaded (tee hee) props, meaning the appearance of them immediately changes the course of any narrative, so they are SUPER noticeable. Since good-looking replica guns are expensive, I started looking at rentals. Chicago is a very gun conscious city, there are no gun shops, shooting ranges, or anything, so you can’t even get your hands on decent-looking Airsoft guns within Cook County, so I started investigating property masters. I found a dude with a gun replica arsenal on the Illinois Film Office website with an IMDb page that scrolls forever and starting talking to him. Having not done the fundraiser for episode 7 yet, we couldn’t afford the rates to have him on set or the rates for his cooler gadgetry, but his replica rentals were by the week and reasonable enough for us to rent a couple of the more conspicuous guns in the episode. Once we reached an agreement I found out the dude lives in Indiana. We agreed to meet halfway. That’s how I ended up in the parking lot of a strip mall of the south side of Chicago trading an ex-cop cash for a couple of guns. As I leaned against my car waiting for him to arrive, I had one of those—Yep, this isn’t my usual Tuesday night—moments that a guy like me only has due to the unfortunate collision of imagination and ambition. (Of course, I mean by making up content that involves shootouts, but now that I think about it, REAL gun hand-offs in shady parking lots are probably the result of imagination and ambition too.)  It felt all kinds of shady, the only difference was that I got a receipt and the guy—really really really nice guy, Kyle Holden Props—said he checked out the show and was really into what we were doing. Much less shady.

Wow. Pretty talky this week. Thanks for reading.


PoPS video update 118-Ep7 Production Week 3

Posted in Hypothesis the 7th on June 11, 2012 by PoPS blog

Ep7 Shoot Days 3 & 4

Posted in Hypothesis the 7th on June 6, 2012 by PoPS blog

Oh, man. What a weekend. I had spent a ton of time trying to theoretically troubleshoot what we would do once we got to this location. We spent the weekend in an amazing abandoned warehouse in a shady-ish neighborhood in the far north suburbs of Chicago. How did you end up with a location like that, Jake? Glad you asked, internal projection of imagined reader. When PoPS Episode 3 was voted into the finals of the NexTV Web Series competition (also going on now) about 90-ish weeks ago, my mom brought it to the attention of a local internet-based newsgroup. They wrote up a little story, which was read by a surprising amount of people, one of whom sent me an email mentioning he had this abandoned warehouse if we wanted to shoot in it. Turns out when the Nightmare on Elm Street remake came through town a scout went through it and raved over it, but production ended up somewhere else. Ever since then, he’s been looking for people who want to shoot in the building, or better yet, as he said to me before we started shooting, “All I really want is for someone to come and blow it up.”

Production diary time:

Day 3. Saturday, June 2nd. I woke up at 7:30 to get our rental tables and chairs for the scene when the place opened at 8. I had already driven an hour out of town the day prior to get a projection screen we rented for the scene as well. I got to the location at 9:30 and hit the ground running, we were all over the place all day, moving like crazy, getting amazing footage and wonderful performances from the largest assembled cast in all of episode 7, some of who we were meeting in person for the first time. The building had no power, so we were running it through about 300 feet of extension cords from a neighboring building, and every time we plugged in something new, everything else would dim by about 25 percent. We got everything I was hoping for including a serious reel shot I thought would take about an hour and a half that the crew nailed in around 30 minutes. I gotta tell you, these folks I got, they’re something else. We ran about an hour and a half over schedule; gotta work on that. Afterward, Ryan, Eliza, and I went out for those beers you saw in the video update and some dinner.

Day 4. Sunday, June 3rd. Back to the warehouse. Everyone brought their A-game once again and we were off and running. There were two very brief fight scenes that we had to choreograph and execute, and fight scenes are just a hell of a day-killer, but they looked SO COOL. Ryan and Chris (1st A.D./Screenwriter/apparently Production Designer) hung up some sick-looking chains they found and after about an hour of arguing rigged the coolest environmental lighting decision of the whole episode. It turned out so good. So very well indeed. By the time our scheduled eight hours rolled around, we had quite a bit left to do and it was getting dark in the ABANDONED WAREHOUSE we were shooting in. I had the following night scheduled as a backup day, but if we had to come back for it, we wouldn’t be starting until after dark anyway, which would make getting started in the evening much harder than usual, given the location’s hardships with lighting. So I made the call to try and finish everything Sunday night. I thought it was all over when I heard David (Gaffer/Sound Guy/Dolly Grip/Everything Extraordinaire) say, “Did you see that bat?” I couldn’t believe we were going to get shut down by a bat flying around in our dusk-deepening location. Everyone did the whole “What?!” “Where!” “There!” thing until everyone had glimpsed it zipping in and out of the far side of the room. I kept waiting for someone to say the production-killer: “Uh, guys…Maybe we should get out of here.” But in the moment of silence that followed the first appearance of the bat I waited a beat and said, “The next shot is…” And people just kept moving. Around an hour later we were out of there, only slowing briefly between shots for nervous glances in the direction of the bat. Cast was out at 9:45 and we had cleared the place out of our stuff by around 10:30. Lize and I got some T-Bell and watched an episode of Veronica Mars around 11:30 p.m. before going to work the next morning and returning all the rented props on lunch breaks and after work.

Tonight, after work, we have 2 and a half pages to get in the city. Thanks for reading, guys.


PoPS video update 117-Ep7 Production Week 2

Posted in Hypothesis the 7th on June 3, 2012 by PoPS blog