Let’s have a little discussion about Production; is there a standard way to make a film? The answer is an overwhelming NO.
On May 1st and 2nd I shot my short film “Pork Chop Night”. I wrote and directed it (I haven’t shot anything of my own in almost 4 years) and through Kickstarter I was able to raise $1,000 to fund it. The script was 18 pages. We shot it in just two days- two 8 hour days (not full days by traditional industry timelines). In those two days I was able to get all the shots I wanted and then some, I was able to get the performances I wanted from my actors and then some, I got some gorgeous lighting and sound…
18 pages… 2 days…
The more common belief is 4 to 5 pages a day when making a film. And sometimes, depending on the production, that is the case. Location moves can take up to whole hours away from your day; depending on the amount of gear, you’re looking at an average of maybe half an hour to break down the gear and pack it, up to half an hour to move, and another ten to fifteen minutes to load into the new location and another half hour to set up (again, depending on your gear). I had one location for Pork Chop Night. My crew was incredible; all people I’ve worked with before. They’re very professional, very experienced and were more committed to getting me the shots I wanted than I was expecting. I was worried about aggravating them to move a set up because of our tight time constraints (our lead actor, Phil Berry, was in a play an hour away), but they were more than willing to take the time to get the shots I wanted and to make them look good, and thanks to my incredible Gaffer, Brandon Meadows, they look great. The boy can light a set like I’ve never seen and he’s not willing to settle for “good enough”. The last thing I wanted was even the slightest shred of anger, frustration or aggravation on set, because that spreads like a virus- faster than a virus, and you’ll never really get the top quality you’re looking for, so I tried to make the set as lax (yet professional) as possible, I think we achieved that and also had some fun. Long story short; I like working with these guys, they like working each other, I want to do it for every production, and most importantly, we actually have fun together.
All funding went to paying crew and data storage, that’s it.
I had a very small crew:
1 x DP – Mikel Wisler (also my editor)
1 x 2nd Camera/1st AC – Bryant Naro (not part of my original plan, but a great bonus)
1 x Gaffer – Brando Meadows (If you don’t hire this man, you’re a fool)
1 x G&E Swing – Brian O’Connor
2 x Sound Crew (Boom and recordist) Mike Lamantia, Jr. & Frank Raposo
1 x Part Time Still Photographer – Diane St. Laurent (who also provided the food)
So that’s a crew of 7 people.
What I didn’t have:
A 2nd AD
A Production Manager
A Script Supervisor
A Production Designer (although Robert Jachim gave his opinion on my art direction, as well as some amazing Storyboards done by Tara Howe)
Did I need these missing crew members? Not really. It would have been great to have them, but the Production suffered no loss in their absence.
As for my actors:
The actors gave me the performances I needed. My method for directing actors has changed over the years and definitely varies project to project. For this short, I gave them the background they needed to understand their actions, but allowed them to develop their own personalities. I’m a minimalist in that regard; I will rarely tell them what I want, but I will definitely, always tell them what I DON’T want. I believe that’s the best way to allow them to develop themselves for this project. If what they gave me didn’t work or didn’t fit, we did another take and by telling them what I thought didn’t work, they were able to portray what I was looking for; even going beyond.
Tyler and James, the child actors, were much more intuitive than I was expecting. I had only one problem; James (who was also a backup for another child actor) would often look at the camera, so we did the most takes with him more than any other actor, but I was able to get what I needed from him and then some. He had what I can only describe as “a reserved and thoughtful cuteness” that was inescapable. So much so that he couldn’t turn it off, and that only became an issue in one scene where I had originally hoped to have him be a bit “meaner” However, thanks to the quick wit of Jen, she was able to work his cuteness into the scene and it actually came off as more organic and natural than I had originally written.
Tyler had an incredible energy and was anything but camera shy. He hit every note right on and memorized his lines with incredible ease. He and James were the perfect “Good Cop, Bad Cop” pair of brothers and had wonderful chemistry together.
Phil and Jen also had a great chemistry. Due to Jen not being local, this was the first time they had actually been in the same room; they really had no rehearsal and after the first scene they had together, you’d be hard pressed to tell. Phil has a natural temperance that I was extremely happy to see and lucky he possessed; it gave him a natural connection to his character; a husband and father with a secret he was ashamed of, but should really have been anything but. When he needed that temperance, he had it full on, when he needed to turn the energy on to be on the offense, he had that hidden under his welcoming smile. He gave me a performance I had hoped for and definitely one I was not expecting; I couldn’t be happier. Phil also gave us one of the most memorable bloopers I think I’ve ever seen, so I’ll try and put that up on YouTube and Facebook as soon as possible.
Jen, I had worked with before. I knew what to expect, I knew what I was getting and I also knew she could do things I wouldn’t expect. She was never once shy to express her opinions, which I always welcome (and prefer) and, like Phil, would always hit the note we were looking for. She had a naturalism that allowed for Phil to play off of very well. Both actors wanted to give me more than one style of delivery, whether to flex their own muscles or to test my limits, and I couldn’t be happier.
Also, a special mention to Chuck Lafond for just being Chuck, which is all he needed to be for the role he literally “phoned in”.
THE CREW & THE SHOTS
I can’t really talk about the crew and the shots without referencing the other. I have nothing more than praise for my crew. I had worked with all of them before and they get better all the time.
Lets start with the camera. Mikel Wisler had recently purchased a Canon t2i, which he shot one short film with before “Pork Chop Night”. He was initially supposed to be the only camera, but through Brandon Meadows, we also welcomed Bryant Naro to set with his Canon 7D. (Both the t2i and 7D are the new video DSLRs) Naro had been doing a lot of test shooting with his camera and was very, very eager to actually shoot a project on it so he was more than happy to drive down from New Hampshire and help us out.
Both Mikel and Naro knew those cameras in and out, and sweet lord, it showed. We moved from sticks to handheld so frequently that their setups were less than a minute, their focus pulls were possibly record breaking and their ideas were always taken and put into place, I don’t think I ever said “No” more than once, and that one instance was simply because of a matter of time. Their handheld work is really something else. Most of the shots were on sticks and handheld. We had 1 jib shot and 2 dolly shots, although I had originally planned three, my lack of any cohesive shot list made me forget about it, however, we actually filmed the same scene in a different and simpler, more straightforward way, and I actually like that better.
However, the beauty of these shots were not simply camera, but also lighting. [I’ll admit that I actually have a handicap as a filmmaker; I’m colorblind (although I’ve always felt it should be called Color Confused)- I do horrible with flesh tones & shades, and I’m absolutely blind when it comes to color temperature (unless its extreme).]
Brandon and Brian were a great team, and as I said before, Brandon can light a set like no one I’ve ever worked with and with time to spare. We were somewhat limited with our equipment, but honestly, you’d never be able to tell. Brandon is quite receptive and was able to interpret my sometimes inarticulate desires for shots. Well, actually, let’s not be that self deprecating, as the clock ticked closer to Phil’s departure time, I became less descriptive in what I wanted, but again, Brandon could easily tell what I wanted, which was really nothing complex. He could also communicate with Mikel and Naro very well. They merged into an unbeatable camera department, the T-1000 of camera departments.
For sound we used a boom. Originally I wanted to use lavs as well, but after talking with Mikel and Mike, we decided against it for mostly practical reasons. Rather than go on and on about how great a job Mike and Frank did, I’ll keep it simple, perhaps the most simple and descriptive compliment when it comes to Sound in a film; it didn’t suck. Audiences of all types can follow just about any kind of cinematography and camera work, but they really can’t forgive bad sound, and I don’t blame them; I’m with them 100 percent. Nothing says amateur more than bad sound. Nothing. My biggest fear on anything I work on is sound. Especially in New England. Outside of Boston, good sound is hard to find. The experienced crew pool is quite small, but there was no chance in Hell I’d risk bad sound, so I scoured the North East looking for good sound and found it in Mike and Frank. We have yet to edit the film, so I can’t speak to the final product, but the mix I heard on set was music to my ears and one could easily pick up ambient sounds that should be more than easy to fix. So again; the sound didn’t suck!
Also, a special thanks goes out to Diane St. Laurent and Steve Lisi for providing food and taking some stills. I would have done the food myself if they hadn’t volunteered, and that would have taken some time.
WHAT I WANTED TO ACHIEVE
My initial motivation for shooting this short was simple; its been almost 4 years since I shot something of my own, I’ve been a work-for-hire on everyone else’s projects for so long now and I was going absolutely nuts. I needed to recharge my batteries and shoot something, and soon, or I might have started to slide and get complacent, and we can’t have that, no sir.
The plot is relatively simple; a husband is hiding something from his wife, and while she tries to get it out of him, the kids are left unsupervised with the house to themselves. The kids and adults go through a role reversal. I missed working with actors, so I wanted to shoot something with some dialogue. This short isn’t anything experimental (don’t worry, I’ll do some crazy experimental stuff soon, believe me) and I wasn’t pushing any boundaries. I wanted to give audiences something they can relate to, something simple with simple humor and some beautifully composed shot. I wasn’t trying to say anything more than wanting people to think about how they talk to each other and how much time they put into what other people might think about what they think about. There’s nothing dark in this Short, nothing demanding, I’m not asking much from my audience other than their attention and appreciation for our work. We want to take this to festivals and get it to the right audiences, not EVERY audience, but the right ones; the ones who, again, appreciate the little things and would like a good chuckle at the antics kids can go through when unsupervised.
I couldn’t be happier with the shots we got, the work we did and the team we had. I look forward to having all of you see it.