Sunday, November 9, 2008
Sunday, October 5, 2008
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
It’s over. When we started work on our little project, I never thought that I would be able to say those words. I remember thinking after the first week of shooting that November seemed so far away. There were many days along the way when I thought we’d never make it. We faced some roadblocks that seemed insurmountable. Somehow, someway, we managed to make it past all of them. And now that it’s all over, I can look back and feel not only satisfied with what we have accomplished, but also feel a great sense of accomplishment at having set a goal and then gone out and met it. We are only at the end of the first step of our journey, but I’m almost sure that we have passed the biggest test. As the Director Sandy Jimenez said to me recently, almost incredulously, “We shot a film!” Even when we wrapped it didn’t sink in that principle photography was over. It wasn’t until the following Saturday that it began to sink in for me. During shooting I absolutely longed for the days of nothing to do. I remember thinking about all the things that I would do when I had free time again. Well the time had come and I had nothing to do. It was almost like being finished with school when even though all your exams are done, you still feel like you should be doing something. I can’t say that I missed it exactly, but I did feel out of sorts to a degree. I found myself wondering what exactly it was that I used to do with my free time. At least for the first post shooting Saturday, I had the wrap party to look forward to, but still just sitting around my apartment, playing video games and watching TV, somehow felt very strange. The cast party was a blast. It took place at Antarctica, which also happens to be the location for our bar scenes in the movie. It was nice to just be able to hang out with the cast and crew without having to worry about call times, or writing lines or location issues or contracts or anything of substance. The only issue we had to contend with was how much we could drink while we still had an open bar tab. We just hung out and had a few (some had more than a few, but I’m not saying who) drinks and talked about the film. It was great to see everyone together for the first time. We were missing a few members of the team, but for the most part everyone was there. We took the obligatory cast and crew picture, had more than a few shots (car bombs anyone?) and generally had a great time. And now comes the nasty post-production process. Thankfully, I don’t have a big hand in this part. I’ll be along to take a look at the rough cuts and offer my opinion, but I will let the editor do his job. As with the filming, you have to have confidence in every person on the crew. It would have made Sandy’s job a lot harder if I was constantly second guessing his choices as the director and I’m sure the same can be said of our editor. The last thing he needs is someone looking over his shoulder and making a running commentary about his choices. Our DP was saying that cinematographers don’t make very good directors because all they care about is the composition of the shot. They don’t care if there’s an actual story, just as long as it looks good. Writers probably wouldn’t make the best editors either, because they would want to preserve every scene that they wrote. I know that our editor is going to have to cut scenes for various reasons and while I may not like them, I have to allow him to do his job. After editing, we will hit the film festival circuit and hope that we can drum up some interest in our little project. This will be a first for Charlie (Sr. Producer) and me. Sandy has some experience in these matters, but it will be first time that he has his own film to show. I’m not sure I’m ready for the comments that will come with the first public showings. We will have all the cast and crew at our premiere (whenever that may be) and I can only hope that they like what they see. I would hate to let down the people who worked so hard and gave so much in order to make this film a reality. I’m not particularly worried about critics because there is no one who is going to be harder on me than I am on myself. I’ve already told Sandy that I don’t think I’ll be able to watch the premiere of the film because the pressure will be too much for me. I think I’ll just be at a bar until it’s over. Hopefully the actors won’t want to hang me at the end of it. So what have I learned now that it’s all said and done? I’ve learned that making a movie is a lot harder than I thought. I’ve learned that I’ve got a lot of really good friends. I’ve come to appreciate Charlie and Sandy more than ever. I’ve learned first hand that New York is filled with talented people and that I was very fortunate to be able to work with a few of them. I’ve learned that nine weeks isn’t forever, even though it may feel that way at times. I’ve learned that you never have enough money. I’ve learned how to order lunch for 15 people. I’ve learned that eggs, bacon and coffee are essential to a good day’s shoot. I’ve learned that if you ask, sometimes people say yes. And I’ve learned that sometimes the best plans really are hatched over a couple of drinks at a bar. Thus ends my odyssey. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about it. It’s hard to believe after a year and half of work, that shooting is actually done. I only hope that one day you’ll be able to go to the theater or local video store and actually see The Likes of Us. And since you’ve been reading this you’ll have at least one person’s viewpoint about how it all went down. I’ll leave you with words of my famous ancestor Confucius or was it Billie Joe Armstrong from Green Day who said, “So make the best of this test, and don't ask why. It's not a question, but a lesson learned in time. It's something unpredictable, but in the end it's right. I hope you had the time of your life.” That’s all folks.
We are now in the home stretch of filming. And although we only have three days remaining on our shooting the schedule, we still won’t be done until almost the middle of November because we are taking a weekend off as one of our actors is running in the NYC marathon. At this point it feels like WE'VE been running a marathon! We haven’t had a day off since Labor Day and while we can see the finish line, we still have some work to do to get there. It would be really great to get this wrapped up in two weeks but I’m actually looking forward to having a weekend off. Our Director, Sandy Jimenez has the additional task of running rehearsals for all the actors, so Monday is the only night that he isn’t doing something related to this production. I have no idea how he does it. In the last posting, I talked about losing actors and gaining others. We have now filmed multiple scenes with all the primary actors for the movie and I couldn’t be happier with the group of people that we put together for this project. The cast and crew still show up every week energized and ready to go. One of our actors was commenting about how tired he is at the end of a day, but the work is worth the effort. I think that’s how we all feel. All the actors have fit seamlessly into the film. People, who before this production had never met, have an almost instant connection with each other. My partners and I would love to take credit for that, but it’s just one in a series of lucky “accidents” that we have been blessed with during this project. I’m always shocked at the generosity of our friends. We’ve filmed at the homes of two more of our friends recently and they couldn’t have been more accommodating. One of them even allowed us to use their baby in one of the scenes even though the script switched the sex of their son. When you show up at someone’s house with a dozen strangers and they go out of their way to make sure that everyone feels welcome, it makes you feel very fortunate to have such incredible friends. We certainly couldn’t have filmed this movie without depending upon the kindness of the people in our lives. We have imposed upon them in various ways and for the most part, they’ve been there to support us every step along the way. We have reached our final location for filming. Outside of a few short exterior pick-ups, the remaining days will be spent at a bar. Normally I’d be thrilled, but it’s hasn’t been quite the experience that I usually associate with spending 10 hours at a bar. First of all we can’t drink, so that basically negates the biggest advantage. Do you know how annoying it is to have to go to the deli to buy beer when you have a bar full of beer in front of you? Secondly we can’t watch football because the NFL isn’t supposed to be in season during the time that the movie takes place (plus we are trying to avoid being sued by the NFL). Third, we are in a fairly isolated location. Outside of the deli next door, we have a long trek to find anything else open on a Sunday in the neighborhood. It is, however, a fantastic location. If I had a choice of every bar in New York, this is the location that I would have chosen. There’s enough space for the camera and actors to move around freely and it just seems like a place that a group of friends would be happy to call home (I speak from experience on that point). My biggest remaining issue as a producer (besides money of course) is trying to secure extras. It’s one thing to tell an actor to be ready to film from 9 until whenever on a Sunday, it’s quite another thing to ask a friend to show up all day and stand around waiting to possibly be in a shot. Asking people to show up to a bar is fine. Telling them that they can’t drink while they are there is not so fine. Also, as the film has gone along, I think I’ve used up just about every favor I’ve had coming to me. I’m not really sure what the answer to this dilemma is going to be. However, as the project has gone along, I’ve found that we usually manage to find an answer to the problems that we’ve faced. We have made a few small changes to the script during shooting, so my job as writer isn’t quite finished. Sometimes during rehearsal the actors will ad lib a line that will end up being filmed. Sometimes the Director takes it upon himself to change a line or two. The actors usually consult me before they change a line, but I can’t say the same for the Director. I don’t mind though. I would say that most times the instincts of the actors and the Director have been correct. I certainly don’t think that my script is sacred. If someone can come up with a better way or a more comfortable way to get a point across, then I’m all for it. There is some specific language that I wouldn’t want changed, but for the most part I feel like this is a collaborative effort. The actors who have to say the lines should feel comfortable with the language. If they have a real objection to something based on their understanding of their character, then I am more than willing to give them their day in court. And more often than not, we go with their suggestion. My willingness to change the script is based on the fact that I know how everyone associated with the project is absolutely committed to making the best film possible. We were filming some “behind the scenes” interviews this week and one of the questions I was asked was whether we (700 Shades of Grey) would make another movie. I said that this experience hadn’t soured me on the idea, but it would at least a year before we tried this again. Being in the middle of the process makes it hard to have any real perspective. I do know that this is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in terms of time and commitment. There are certainly some days when I go to sleep thinking that making a movie is the worst idea we’ve ever had. Of course there are times on the set when I see the actors bring something to life that before had only been words on a page and I think that making a movie is the best idea we’ve ever had. I do know that I’ll never have an experience quite like this one ever again. We may indeed make more movies in the future, but they won’t be our first movie. The experience of bringing this script to life has been an amazing, interesting, frustrating, enjoyable, maddening, invigorating, exhausting ride. As they say, you always remember your first time, and I know that I’ll remember this one for quite some time. That’s about it for this latest installment. The next entry will include the end of filming and the wrap party. I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to being able to say that we’ve finally finished this thing. Of course we’ll have months ahead of us of post production, but then that’s a different blog, isn’t it. In closing this week, I’d like to leave with the inspiring words of Ghandi or was it Billy Joel who said, “A few more hours to be complete, A few more nights on satin sheets, A few more times that I can say. I’ve loved these days”. So until next time boys and girls, keep on truckin’.
The production is finally under way as my little summer project becomes my fall project. We are now in the third week of shooting and it has been interesting, to say the least. First of all it’s hard to believe that we’re really shooting this movie. When I started writing the script about a year and a half ago, I never really thought about it actually being made. It was almost a surreal feeling when the director called action on the first shot. I think we were all pretty giddy the first morning of the first day of shooting. That feeling didn’t last for long though. As the reality of the long road ahead of us set in along with the realization that we wouldn’t be getting much sleep over the next 2-1/2 months, I found myself asking, “whose idea was this again?”, with regularity. My primary job as writer is basically over at this point. While there are minor tweaks to made to the script, most of time is spent on my other job as Junior producer. One of my partners happens to be a week older than me, so he has claimed the title of Senior producer. The truth is that writing the script was simple compared to the demands of being a producer. There have been many issues to deal with from the first day of shooting. Because this is our first major production, we have been caught off-guard on more than one occasion. We’ve had location issues, we’ve had prop problems, and we’ve had an actor drop out without ever even coming to the set. At times it has seemed like God himself is working against us. We have a scene in our film that is supposed to take place in a funeral home. Now the problem with filming in a funeral home is that you are literally at the mercy of death. People dying when we need to shoot is just a little inconvenient. We had funeral homes booked twice which were ultimately cancelled because someone had the nerve to die. What I’ve learned on this adventure is that being a producer means never getting any rest. My free time is spent trying to make sure that we have everything we need for our next days shooting. When we are shooting I’m already worried about getting what we need for the next day. We are only shooting on the weekends because everyone has a day job. This would seem to an advantage from a producer’s standpoint because you have five whole days to figure something out for the following weekend. While having the extra time has been beneficial at times, I’m beginning to hate that extra time because it just gives me more time to think about all the things that could go wrong with the shoot. This week I devoted many hours of my time to making sure that we would have a parking lot to shoot in this weekend. You would think that finding a parking lot to shoot in would be fairly simple. That is simply not the case in New York. Space is at a premium in this city and apparently so are parking lots. I managed to find a great location and all I was waiting on this week was for the approval to shoot, which I was assured by the manager of the property, would be no problem. We did get our approval on Thursday with one tiny, little condition; we needed to send over our proof of insurance. We, of course, didn’t have any insurance. This may seem like a major hurdle to most, but not to a full fledged Jr. Producer. I sprang into action and searched all over the internet for someone who could provide us insurance on very short notice at a reasonable price. It took a little while but I managed to find an insurance company that specialized in short term insurance. We completed the application (thank you internet, I knew it would come in handy for more than email and porn) and got our policy back the next day. We sent off our proof of insurance and on Friday afternoon we had our parking lot for the weekend. The best part of my producing duties is that it keeps my mind off of the actual movie. As long as I’m working on fixing a problem, I don’t have to think about the fact that the film that I wrote is being filmed. I know that I wrote the script, but I am so far removed from it that I find myself asking other people about the details of particular scenes. The Director keeps on reminding me that I wrote the script, but it’s almost as if I’ve purposefully pushed it out of my mind. One of the unexpected things about making this movie is how attached I’ve become to everyone. It feels like we’re a crew of a ship, with the Director at the helm and the actors and crew manning the deck. The Sr. Producer and I are below deck looking at charts and trying to chart a course through stormy waters (wow, that’s just an awful analogy; I hope the script is better than that). We are actually losing one of our cast members at the end of this weekends shoot and it feels as though we’ll be losing a major part of our group. Because of the scheduling of the film, a few of the major cast members will be making their first appearances in the next couple of weeks, so as we lose one member of our little troupe, we’ll actually be gaining about four more. It’s all just part of process I guess, but this my first time experiencing anything like this. I’m still amazed at the commitment of the actors and the crew to the film. They all seem to have taken ownership of the film to some extent. I think they feel that if they don’t do their jobs, they’ll be letting down everyone else. It’s a very nice feeling to have people who are fairly new to the project compared with my two partners but yet still feel just as committed to making sure that we produce the best work possible. That at the end of day makes all the work and worry worthwhile. My goal is to make sure that I show the same level of energy and commitment that they are giving to the project. I can tell you that doubts and certainly exhaustion sometimes almost make me want to give up, but I know that I can’t because I’d not only be letting myself down, but I’d be letting down a much larger group of people who have given their time and energy to bring my script to life. I also have to say that my partners have been absolutely fantastic during this whole process. We had a dream a year ago to make a film together and now we’re doing it. And even through all the problems and through all the worrying, I’m still amazed that we are actually living that dream. I can’t thank them enough for that. Well that brings us to the end of this episode. I hope you’ve all enjoyed the ride. It’s like a rollercoaster really (okay, I promise to stop with the terrible analogies). Some people enjoy them, some people hate them, but everyone has to agree that they are thrilling. Anyway, I’ll be back in another month with more tales from the set. I’ll leave you with the words of the great philosopher Socrates or was it Mick Jagger who said, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need”. Happy trails everyone, until we meet again…