Archive for December, 2013

PoPS video update 187-2013 in Review

Posted in Hypothesis the 8th on December 29, 2013 by PoPS blog

Set Dreams 2

Posted in Hypothesis the 8th on December 26, 2013 by PoPS blog

I’ve spoken previously of set dreams, but I recently revisited the post and it’s abysmally short. I must have been in some kind of rush, because they’re worth more examination. Mine have started up again as well, so they’re on my mind.

First off, when discussing set dreams, carefully monitor your pronunciation. It’s the same problem I had when working for a set construction shop. I’d tell people I worked in a set shop and they’d think I was involved in the pornography and sexual aids trade. I’d always try to avoid that particular conversation by saying I worked in a “seT shop, a seT-T-T shop,” lots of heavy emphasis on the T and hitting it multiple times. Of course, then people probably thought I had a speech impediment, so…there it is. You could probably leapfrog the problem of people thinking you’re talking about an different genre of dream by calling them “production dreams,” but they’re colloquially known as set dreams.

My first set dream came toward the end of a really grueling horror feature shoot. We were on for 13 days straight, mostly nights—no weekends, no breaks, to try and get the most out of our camera package. Our shortest day ran about 14 hours, our longest ran 21 hours. At around day 10 or 11 I had a set dream. In the dream, I was in my bed when the crew came in and starting setting up lights and camera, getting ready to shoot a scene in the bedroom. Everybody hustled around, framing up for the bed, all while I was telling them that this scene wasn’t on the schedule, it wasn’t even in the script. No one paid attention to me and continued in their tasks. I went to set the next night and told our DP about it. He said, “Oh, you had a set dream,” and that was the first I’d heard of it.

I’ve had them for PoPS before. But they’ve only just started up again. They seem to have amped up more now that most of the really stressful shooting on episode 8 is behind me, which I think is pretty surprising. I can remember two off hand, but there’ve been at least three in the last month.

The first came after a really low-stress shoot day. Again, the location was my bedroom. I was trying to sleep, but a couple of the crew members were trying to set up a shoot in the bed. They had the camera on the shoulder rig and were trying to light a simple visual sequence in the dark bedroom using only a strand of white Christmas lights. I was really interested in trying to make it work too, because the look we were getting was really cool. We were f-stopped wide open and had to use a really high iso, but it didn’t look grainy at all. It was a series of blown out hotspots and a really soft glow around the rest of the frame. It made faces look really cool. Even while I was getting sucked into the lovely result, I was annoyed that we were shooting this scene. I was positive it didn’t have a place in the episode and I knew I hadn’t scheduled this shoot. That was the whole dream. I think partial responsibility for it goes to the fact that I’d been watching a lot of the featurettes on the American Girl with the Dragon Tattoo blu-ray, and Fincher can keep a pretty dark set. Man, I wish he would direct an American version of ..Played with Fire. He’d nail that book.

The other one had us on a farm. It came after no shooting. We had just wrapped for December and were looking at two stress-free weeks of not shooting. Why would a set dream happen at that point? On the farm we were setting up behind the barn on a playground swing set. In addition to the regular crew, my Mom and Dad were there. It was taking forever for us to get started and my Mom kept asking me what was taking so long. We finally got everything set up, everyone was in their places, and night fell immediately. Since it was a day scene, we couldn’t shoot and I told everybody to head home. That was the whole thing.

Set dreams, y’all. Weirdness. I think that second one mostly has to do with the weather complications we’ve encountered throughout shooting. We’ve been shut down and rescheduled a few times.

In other news, on Christmas Eve I finally cut some of the episode together. It’s a little bit of an adjustment period because I’m cutting this one on Premiere instead of Final Cut Pro, so it took me a couple minutes to figure out how to balance our location audio, but I have a couple minutes of the episode put together finally and it feels really great. I’m going to work on it some more tonight.

Thanks for reading.


PoPS video update 186-Christmas Shopping

Posted in Hypothesis the 8th on December 22, 2013 by PoPS blog

Shoot Days 15 through 21

Posted in Hypothesis the 8th on December 19, 2013 by PoPS blog

You guys!!! I’m so behind on cataloging episode 8 shoot days. You can tell my dismay by the unabashed usage of trip-ex (That’s three exclamation points, I just invented the term. Proud.) Catch up time!!!

Day 15-Saturday, December 7th. Gathered at our place–called 2ND SANCTUM, given they blew up the THE SANCTUM in episode 3—at 10a.m. to shoot three day scenes. Had to wrap Craig by noon because he had to rehearse with his band for a show that evening. We finished with him about 15 minutes late. Shot the two other quick scenes and wrapped at 2:30p.m. It was a quick and relatively painless day. That night we went to see Craig’s band Driftless Pony Club play and it was a great time. Also, Tight Phantomz. Awesome Chicago rock band.

Day 16-Sunday, December 8th. 2ND SANCTUM. Originally, supposed to be a really long day, starting at 10 and going on into the night. Instead we had a scheduling anomaly in which Eliza had to work during all the daylight hours. Even though I fly off the handle at every last minute schedule change, this one was probably for the best. We had Craig arrive at 5p.m. to start working on a special makeup effect we needed before shooting with him and didn’t actually start rolling until 7:45p.m. because it was so hard to convincingly pull off. After I and Eliza tried to make it work, Carlyn was the one who cut the prosthetic down and made it practically perfect. Then we took the advice of the guys at K.N.B. Effects Group and covered up the least convincing part with blood. Nailed it. Shot until midnight. Notable that night: Eliza having to orchestrate a perfectly targeted blood drip from a height of about three feet using only her peripheral vision. Probably about 6 six takes. Nicely done. And our DP Ryan stripped down to sweatpants while I’m in the shower in my swimsuit. I’ll never be able to get rid of the image of him coming into the bathroom shirtless holding a camera, greeting me with “…Hey.”

Day 17-Tuesday, December 10th. 2ND SANCTUM. 7p.m. to 11:45p.m. We were short handed again so we called in new volunteer Scott to be a one-man sound team. We shot half of a really long and complicated dialogue scene. Complicated because it’s inter-cut with other small sequences and involved a lot of different camera set-ups to keep things moving over it’s many, many pages. Because of all the dialogue, we learned it in sections and then shot it. Stopped to learn the next section, shot it. On and on until it was time to call it a night.

Day 18-Wednesday, December 11th. 2ND SANCTUM. 7p.m. to 9:45p.m. Since we got more than I anticipated on the previous night, we only needed a few hours to get the rest of the scene. I’m getting a little better at consistently estimating time. A couple of our actors in this episode were just some of my non-actor friends back when we started who were willing to hop in front of the camera. They’ve both had increasingly active careers as artisans running their own businesses. So I try to keep the amount of time they’re sitting around on set to a minimum. I already feel like I’m taking up so much of their time. I called Marshall in for a 9p.m. call time. We got to his shots as he came up the stairs and I wrapped him in half an hour. Boom, sorted.

Day 19-Sunday, December 15th. A really weird and pleasant shoot day, more time sitting around than shooting. We gathered at a bar called Lake Bluff Brewing Company at 11a.m. to shoot a quick daytime scene in the hour before they opened. After that, we had a long lunch followed up by killing an hour at a Starbucks talking about movies, recycling/composting systems, sci-fi books, and watching Sellers do card tricks. At 3p.m. we arrived at our next location, Dreamland Comics. We shot a quick scene and read comics until it was dark enough to get a night exterior establishing shot of the location. At 5p.m. we headed back to the LBBC to shoot the night scene at the bar that follows the day scene we shot earlier. We had 11 extras show up–which might be a show record–and we shot from 6p.m. until about 7:15p.m. After that, we were beat. Headed home.

Day 20-Tuesday, December 17th. 2ND SANCTUM. Scheduled as 7p.m. to 11p.m., but actually finished up at about 10:45p.m. This was a scene I’d been dreading since I wrote it. It was logistically complicated, action’y, and I’d staged it all to happen in one of the smaller spaces in the apartment which narrowed our angle options (YAY!). But the first night went great. Our angles looked great, the performances were fun, and things moved along at a good clip. David was filling in as our D.P. and everything went great.

Day 21-Wednesday, December 18th. 2ND SANCTUM. 7p.m. to 11:15pm.. The second night of the same sequence. Some nights are just hard and every shot feels like an unnecessarily complicated battle. Part of the problem was that all of the VFX shots were scheduled for this night. Ryan rightly pointed out that those shots would be better handled on a tripod, so set-ups just took a little more time. Added to that, there was some really emotionally tricky stuff going on for the actors. We had some tough dialogue and it took a long time to find a rhythm and emotional energy that worked. The final shot especially. It was a long, dialogue’y take with a really tricky emotional balance and a need to be properly paced. 33 takes later we got it. That might be the most takes on a shot this episode. We must have been doing that one shot for an hour or more. We’d also made a huge mess for the scene too. It took Eliza and I an hour and a half after wrap to clean it up. We finally sat down at around 12:45a.m. I was exceedingly grumpy and had to keep reminding myself that I was doing this to myself and that our shots look awesome, so cheer up.

All caught up!!! No more shooting ’til January. This morning I felt like I woke up on the first day of Winter Break. I haven’t felt that since school. It was a great feeling to head off to work with.

Thanks for reading.


PoPS update 185-Clips and a Christmas Tree

Posted in Hypothesis the 8th on December 15, 2013 by PoPS blog

It’s So Much Easier to say “No”; part 2

Posted in Hypothesis the 8th on December 12, 2013 by PoPS blog

Let’s continue exploring the wonders of the people who say “Yes.” This week, instead of the folks who willingly open their doors to the whirlwind that is production, let’s take a look at an even bigger miracle: The people who continually show up to crew. I say continually because anyone can show up to crew once. It takes someone special to show up after that first time once they realize the big three:

  1. Production is unbelievably boring for sound guys, grips, and general crew.

  2. They’re not making any money.

  3. The people they’ve seen on the internet are just regular people and unlike all the fun clips they’ve seen of us making the show, see figure 1.

We’ve had a number of folks contact us and volunteer to help out over the years. I have taken people up on it on occasion. They do it once or twice, but soon after, I find that they become too busy to help out anymore. Somehow their schedule just filled up. Once that happens, I just cross them off the list and just do what we need to do to get the show done. I understand that it’s not always a matter of people losing interest, schedules do have a way of filling up. People have to work at their jobs, for example, or they have school. But there are also just a ton of things that are more fun than sitting around on a set. Going to concerts, reading books, playing video games, watching movies. These are all things that are more fun to look at while not making any money. So if someone you’ve only met a handful of times sends you a message that essentially says—Hey, I was wondering if you’d want to come over and be kind of bored tonight. It’s plenty easy to think—Yeah. I could do that or…I was planning on having a night to take it easy for two seconds instead of filling up my every waking minute. I don’t think it’s an incredibly difficult decision once you reach that juncture. Once they’ve “gotten busy” I usually don’t bother them any more. Production is hard enough without feeling like people don’t want to be around.

But we’ve had an incredible group of folks helping us out over the years. For awhile, the core was Ryan, Eliza, David, Chris, and Tim. Things are a little spottier now. People’s schedules are harder and the crew of episode 8 has been a patchwork of folks. We’ve even had to substitute out a different DP twice so far, and it’s looking like there will be more of that to come. I appreciate that after almost five years on the same show, this thing is old hat to most of them, so I’m grateful they give it as much time as they do. I just hope we can keep them around for two more episodes as well.

Thanks for reading.


PoPS video update 184-Prop Dressing

Posted in Hypothesis the 8th on December 8, 2013 by PoPS blog

It’s So Much Easier to Say “No.”

Posted in Hypothesis the 8th on December 5, 2013 by PoPS blog

When you’re working on a low-budg’, independent, passion project, you are at the mercy of so much good will. You need people all around you who want to help you make your show solely because they think what you’re doing is cool or possibly just for the sake of helping somebody. Today, I’m thinking particularly of those who control locations. If somebody you’ve never heard of arrives out of the blue and asks to film something in your store/bar/home, the path of least resistant is to say “No.” We’re all busy already. If you say “No,” you’re not adding anything new to that already heaping plate of activities and responsibilities. You don’t have to do anything. You can just go on doing whatever it is you do without having the hassle of dealing with something new and—for the uninitiated—mysterious. So let’s hear it for the folks who say “Yes.”

We’ve had the best luck with independent, one-location operations. If you can contact a place and get ahold of the owner and originator of a business within one transfer or by leaving a note, they’re more apt to help out. Maybe it’s because they know what it’s like to try and force something into being, maybe it’s just to try something new, but they’re the most laid back about the whole thing. The more franchised an operation, the more levels you need to move through, the harder it ges to reach that “Yes.” I think it’s because once you reach a certain level of the company, the person being asked already has so many different things under their purview they’d rather not have something else to have to remember. Plus, like I said, mysterious. If you don’t know all of the factors involved in what someone is asking you, why risk the disruption? It makes sense. That’s why Half Price Books was so unexpected. They allowed us to shoot back when we were recording on mini-dv tape and getting substantially less views. I have no idea why they did it, but I love them for it. They’re a franchise with a ton of locations throughout the US. They had literally NOTHING to gain by letting us film in their store. But they did it anyway. The super coolest. Not to say all the others aren’t. All the independent places that have opened their doors to us—Dark Tower Comics, Bridie McKenna’s Pub, Close Knit, The Honky Tonk, The Wooden Nickel—such nice folks. I love them all.

This is all on my mind because it’s friggin’ hard to find a parking garage to shoot in. Just saying.

Thanks for reading.


PoPS update 183-Thankful For

Posted in Hypothesis the 8th on December 1, 2013 by PoPS blog