Archive for November, 2014
Production is always the best when there’s a little bit of room in the schedule for people to experiment with their acting and when there’s enough time to really get the coverage you want. Case in point: the only shoot day we had over the last week.
Monday, November 24, 7pm-11:30pm. Almost everybody gathered early for dinner—Panera again, and we were underway around 7:30. We had Eliza’s cousin show up for a portion of the evening. Whenever someone new comes to set they always remark how the apartment feels smaller in person than it does in the show. Only one person out of many thought it seemed bigger. That’s neither here nor there, just a little factoid. This revelation of real world spacing runs counter to the reality for people of the internet. When one constant viewer saw me in person for the first time, after having watched the show and my weekly vlog updates, her exact words were, “Jake Jarvi is TALL.” Whereas movie stars are often smaller than people think after seeing them on the big screen, most internet personalities are found to be much bigger in person. I think it has largely to do with the format. Again, a factoid I find interesting. Of no real consequence to the production day.
I was able to add a shot to the shotlist when I realized the audience would want a little geography refresher at the start of a particular scene, so we were running at a nice leisurely but productive pace. We got to use the 70mm-200mm Canon zoom lens I bought for the first time and it is a VERY welcome tool to the production arsenal. We have a little more wiggle room in camera placement and that’s great news.
Unfortunately, we had a huge snow storm that day. The last shot of the night was a GoPro car mount shot and the likelihood that I’ll be able to cut around the snow is very minimal. In all probability we’ll have to reshoot that shot once some of this stupid snow melts.
All in all, it was a great production day. Great footage, performances, and just enough fun hanging out on set.
Thanks for reading.
Ordinarily, we try to limit nights & weekends shooting to two weeknights and a weekend day. Three nights a week is a manageable production schedule for people with full time jobs. This week, however, due to the way actors schedules are all lined up, we did five shoot nights. Let’s break it down.
Monday, November 10, 7pm-11:30pm. I continued the trend of offering people who want to show up a half hour early a free dinner and we’ve been ordering from places that are between where I work and our apartment so I can grab it on the way home. That night we had Chipotle. We were shooting a lot of scenes were Carlyn has to play opposite herself, so we had Eliza in a wig for the over-the-shoulders and only about four shots where we had to lock down the camera to have her change outfits to play both characters in the same shot. I color-coded the shotlist at Eliza’s suggestion, which was a brilliant idea. That way we were able to shoot most of one outfit, then the other, and it really saved us a lot of time where the girls would have to be changing. It was a little stop-and-start feeling because of all the back and forth we were doing with her playing both characters. Given some of the complicated things we were dealing with, I’m surprised we only ran a half hour late. A good shoot night.
Tuesday, November 11, 7pm-10pm. Started the night off with some Chinese food from right down the street from our place. Awesome portions for the price, I had lunch the next day too. This night was all of the scenes that take place in our tiny bathroom. There weren’t a lot, so we wrapped quite early. Originally I had this shoot double booked with another block of scenes, but when Craig had to go out of town for work, we were shuffling to grab any scenes we could shoot in the apartment that didn’t have him in them.
Wednesday, November 12, 7pm-11pm. Soups, salads, and sandwiches from Panera. We started by picking up a couple of things from our first night of shooting. A shot of an actor who wears very reflective sunglasses, this time without catching our director of photography in the reflection. And the really hard Glidecam shot. I finally had to settle for getting most of it in the Glidecam and then cutting to a wide for the resolution of the scene. The integrity of what I wanted to see is still intact and I’m using an inline edit with the wide to really jar the viewer into the changing situation. Then we moved on into the bulk of the pages in the apartment and shut it down at 11pm, since we were at a good stopping point and we were going to be in the same space for two more nights.
Friday, November 13, 7pm-11pm. Chipotle again. This time for two reasons, 1: It’s delicious. 2: They have an awesome online group ordering system where everybody can order their own thing from their own computer and I just pay for it once everybody’s orders are in. This was a tough night. I’ve had a couple times when I’ve been frustrated on set because of various factors. This was one such occasion. Since a lot of this episode takes place in the main characters’ apartment, I wanted to try and keep things visually interesting with some good camera moves. Unfortunately, they’re really hard to get in our small space and the rolling of the dolly is very VERY audible on the largely creaky wooden floors of our apartment. After many many takes of one of these tracking shots, I finally scrapped it, but I was obviously frustrated and settling for less than I wanted. That’s a real mood-killer on a no budget set. So we moved on and wrapped halfheartedly at 11. This might be a good time to mention that despite my frustrations, we have a great group of actors who are doing an amazing job. Some new people are exceeding my expectations, and all the old standbys are really going for it and embodying their characters. As far as crew goes, people are trying to work us in to their very busy schedules as much as possible and splitting up different nights so that we at least have one of the core people available for crewing. There are just a lot of projects going on in our group now and PoPS isn’t anyone’s first priority anymore. Still, we soldier on. Not to mention the amazing people we’ve had volunteering for the first time. It slows us down a little bit with people having to learn a new skill set every night, suddenly put in positions of very high priority. I think we’ve taught four new people how to operate sound when they appear on our set for the first time so far. It’s just really nice that people are willing to come help us out.
Saturday, November 14. 5pm-11pm. Since it was Saturday, we could start as soon as it got dark and I delayed dinner until about halfway through the night. This was a miracle night. So far in production, we’d only had two nights where we’d gotten everything on the shooting list. In order to get back on schedule, we had to shoot about 13 pages of dialogue in 6 hours. It was about 2 and a half pages of camera setups. After the tracking shot problems of the night before, I woke up Saturday morning determined to cut out all the tracking shots from my shotlist and replace them with meaningful pans, racking focus, and mid-dialogue edits, thereby still heightening the experience and drawing audience attention to relationships and important moments, but without all the never-ending frustration of attempting tracking shots in our apartment with brand new crew members. We hit the ground running just after 5:30pm, paused for a dinner from Noodles and Co. just after 8pm, and wrapped up everything we had scheduled pretty much at 11pm exactly. And just like that, we’re back on schedule. It was awesome. Everyone was really worn out by the end of the night, but everyone perked up nicely whenever the camera was pointed at them, so we were able to get 13 pages in 6 hours.
Eliza and I planned to grab one little shoot night this week with Carlyn in the city—a quick 10-second scene that would only take a half hour to shoot—but I came down with a mega cold. Luckily, it’s stayed out of my brain so far, so I can still work and plan and everything, but it’s nothing I want to take with me into a night shoot for even a half hour. I think I’d only get sicker.
So we’re down for a week before we get another shoot night, but it’s a nice little section of calm in the middle of the storm.
Thanks for reading.
I spend so much time on this blog bemoaning the tribulations of making a web series, that some you must occasionally think—Good Lord! Why does this guy keep doing this if the whole process is something akin to self-flagellation? I actually spend quite a bit of pre-production asking myself that very question. It’s not solely for the final output. That’s still many, many months away at this point.
This week I was reminded of why. The actual experience of being on set is genuinely fun. There it is. Two of our four shoot nights so far, we haven’t even gotten everything we were trying to get. In both instances, it was mostly because of this one two-minute long Glidecam shot that always takes about an hour to get up and running. There’s just a lot of moving parts to get that thing as an uninterrupted take. I think we finally got it last night. I’ll know more once I cut some of this footage together over the next couple weeks. Still, even though we’ve been behind in our shooting schedule, the act of getting together to make the show is really entertaining. We’re a group of friends all getting together. And though it doesn’t feel anything like hanging out, it does have a really nice energy to it. There’s the feeling of the performances and the camera angles coming together to create something new. There’s the feeling of discovery when the actors bring something unexpected to their performance that makes you reexamine how the scene plays. The fun of finding little bits of business to thread in and around the words. The whole thing has this thrum of discovery, collaboration, and creation, and each shot you finish means you’re one little step closer to realizing that initial vision.
Most behind-the-scenes videos focus on what’s happening before, between, and after set-ups, because the nuts-and-bolts reality of watching camera set-ups happen and actors, constantly say the same lines over and over again is really boring. It’s only engaging to the people who are in that moment focusing on doing their part. Each actor trying to keep their performance fresh for themselves and the camera, to convey the same thing as the last set-up, but with that veneer of it being the first time this moment has happened. The camera team—or in our case—Ryan (or David; whatever one man is the camera team that night), keeping an eye on focus and framing, making sure we all hit our marks and that all the pieces are falling into their visual place. The person operating our Marantz sound recorder, making sure that the levels stay above -20 and below 0 for this take. The person operating the boom pole, trying to keep a VERY directional shotgun microphone pointed specifically at the mouths doing the talking, the feet doing the shuffling, or the clothes doing the rustling. All of these people bind together for a short span of time, usually no long than a minute, to make one thing out of many individual pieces acting in unison. Then chaos reigns for minutes at a time as we move the camera, the people, the lights, and the sound to the next set-up before pulling together for a minute of intense focus once again. And then again, and again, and again, until we have all the pieces that make up a scene. Then we do it for another scene, and another, until we have all the pieces of an episode. It’s a very unique feeling. And for all the stresses that lead up to it, and the stresses that having a large group of people and a lot of moving parts can bring, it’s really a lot of fun.
Everyone wants to do their best. For themselves and for each other. And when we all help each other do our best in the service of making something unique, it feels flippin’ awesome.
Thanks for reading.
Ever since Eliza showed me that the little toggle thing on the iPhone earbuds don’t just raise and lower the volume and act as a microphone for hands-free calling, but that it also starts and stops podcasts or music if you press it in the middle, I’ve become obsessed with listening to podcasts. Or really just one podcast. The Movie Crypt with film directors Adam Green and Joe Lynch. I started listening to it when someone tweeted out a link to episode 34, where they talk to director Darren Lynn Bousman, and said something along the lines of, ‘Anybody who creates anything should listen to this.’ It’s a great episode to start on because the Hollywood hell stories are sooooooo crazy. But I’ve been listening to every single past episode for months and they have over 70 episodes so far talking to all kinds of people from the film industry. Not just writers, directors, and actors, but sound designers, wardrobe people, directors of photography, visual effects people, agents, producers, a studio exec. It’s really outstanding. Their stories are really from the low and mid budget trenches and they’ve guided me to a lot of great people, the two hosts included.
One of the things that it’s really drilled into me over the last few months is that I’m probably having way more fun doing my own web series my own way than I ever could working within the film industry. Between the bowing and the battles within the studio system to the compromise and the money raising of the independent route. They talked to a guy who had a small studio actually give him a budget on $8,000 for an entire feature film. We just raised $21,000 for our ninth episode. It really puts things in perspective. I may wish our enterprise was considered more legitimate—YouTube shows and soft core pornography probably share a similar level of legitimacy in the eyes of the studio system—but at least we get to do the thing we want to do and with a better budget than many others. That’s what this excellent podcast has me thinking about.
In addition to my Movie Crypt plug, this week’s post signals the return of the PoPS production diary. We had our first shoot day of episode 9.
Monday, November 3—Since we were scheduled to shoot from 7pm to 11pm, there was technically no need for a dinner break, four-hour shoot and all. But I think a lot of working people have trouble getting dinner in before a 7pm call time. So I got a big box of sandwiches for the cast and crew and said if they wanted a free dinner to show up at 6:30. Eliza and I threw the rest of the set dressing together after work, and after a quick dinner we got to shooting. Five actors and three crew members. The first night is always the toughest. I had insanely scheduled us to try and get eight pages in four hours with a really complicated, two-minute long glidecam shot at the end of the shotlist. We had some lighting complications slow us down and a couple of tough moves, and we decided to finally call it a night at 12:15am, after trying to get the glidecam shot to happen for over an hour. But we were really close. So I’m pinning it onto the schedule for next week. I had a plan B ready for if we couldn’t get the glidecam shot, but our attempts showed us it will be possible, so why not get the shot that will best convey the energy and intention of the writing, instead of scrapping it for two easier shots. It’s not like I have any executives breathing down my neck. We’re a nights and weekends production, our only luxury is time. Even though it doesn’t really feel like there’s a whole lot of time to spare either once you start trying to synchronize the holiday season schedules of 10 talented people. Also, upon watching the footage there were a couple reflection issues with an actor’s glasses, so we’ll need to do a quick reshoot for some of that stuff. All in all, it was a rough start to episode 9, but the performances we caught we’re fantastic and it just feels good to be underway.
Thanks for reading, all y’all.