Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Likes of Us - November '07

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.

The Likes of Us - October


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 Likes of Us - September


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…

The Likes of Us - August

I think it’s about time for another update on my little summer project. Before I start, I just want to explain how our little production company 700 Shades of Grey got it’s name. It comes from a conversation one of my partners had regarding his old black and white TV. Someone had the audacity to complain that the TV only got two colors. My partner correctly pointed out that it not only got black and white but 700 shades of grey as well. If you click on this link (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lVzLjZ3n_Nw), you’ll be able to see our corporate tag in all its glory. The production is still in the “pre” phase at this point. Our starting date has been pushed back a couple of weeks as we struggle to get our cast and crew together. My stress level continues to rise in direct proportion to number of problems that we’ve experienced at this point. Our original plan was to start shooting next weekend. Those plans went by the board when we realized that our casting was not going be complete by that date. It seems impossible to imagine that in a city with about 1 million out of work actors, we can’t to put together a cast of twenty. The auditions were actually very interesting and exhausting. It was a two day marathon. I was impressed by how prepared the actors were. The painful part wasn’t having to sit through bad auditions (of which there were very few); it was having to listen to the same parts of my script read over and over again. I’m not sure how other writers feel about this, but listening to my own writing is quite painful. After a very short while it begins to sound as appealing as nails across a chalkboard. It’s the same as hearing your own voice on tape. It always sounds much cooler in your head. Thankfully the actors that we have cast at this point appear to be extremely committed to the project. I guess as the writer of the script, it should make me feel good that the actors like the material. It’s just that I know that actors will, for the most part, say anything to get cast. Actors are just like the rest of us and I know that I’ve been absolutely thrilled with every company I’ve ever interviewed with. As I said in the first installment, I was expecting some bumps in the road and along with the casting issues, we are also having budget issues. We probably should have stuck to the old axiom of planning on twice as much as you think you need. Instead we planned on exactly what we thought we would need, which is proving to be totally inadequate. That means that it’s time to discard whatever little pride I was attempting to hold on to and once again go hat in hand and ask for additional funding. It may be time to resort to the Max Bialystock method of financing. I think the most important advice that I could give to anyone who might want to follow us down this road is to get more money than you think you’re going to need. You’ll definitely find ways to spend it. I’m fairly confident that my next script is going to involve two characters talking in a room for a couple of hours. Actually the thing that keeps me up at night is my concern as to whether the script is worthy of all of this time, effort and money. Writing was essentially a one man job. My partners and a couple of friends certainly provided me with notes and guidance along the way, but I did most of the heavy lifting. Sitting at home in front of my computer doesn’t really involve anyone else. I could take and hour or a day to write a page or a line without any consequences. Now as we get closer to the actual start date, I begin to have a lot of doubts about how this is all going to come off. I have complete confidence in my partners and their abilities, but belief in my own script is another story. The delays in starting are certainly not helping those doubts any. I can only hope that when we do start filming, that I will begin to feel more comfortable with my own work. My partners are confident in the material and as I stated before, the actors are very happy with the script. I have no choice but to sit back and hope that what I have written is worthy of the considerable efforts that it will take to complete the project. The start of shooting on The Likes of us is closer than ever, but in some ways it seems just as far away as the day we conceived of the idea. Until the Director actually yells “action” on that first day of shooting, it will still feel somewhat unreal to me. I know that we’re getting closer, but it seems everyday brings more challenges to the fore. I’m confident that we’ll get it done, but it is much more of a struggle than I ever could have conceived. It has been an interesting experience however. And as the saying goes, what doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger (Although I wouldn’t be too keen on a maiming). So besides the casting, budget and my rising anxiety level, the production is proceeding swimmingly. Oh, that’s right, I forgot about our scheduling issues. Using deferred payment contracts to secure the actors is great for a no-budget film like ours, but that also leaves you at the mercy of the dreaded “PAYING GIG”. We have already had to change our shooting schedule to work around one of our actors being unavailable for one weekend because of another commitment and I’m sure that we’ll have others as we go along. Our start date was postponed not only because we have been unable to cast a couple of key roles, but also because a couple of the actors that we did cast were already booked through Labor Day. Budget issues, casting problems, scheduling changes, rising anxiety level; I think that gives you a snapshot of our current situation, although I’m definitely being a little over dramatic (but who would want to read a story without drama). The truth is that while we have had a few issues crop up along the way, we have had more than our fair share of good fortune as well. So tune in soon boys and girls, for another exciting entry of No-Budget Theater. Same blog time, same blog channel. And in closing I’d just like to leave you with a few inspiring words from the great philosopher Socrates or maybe it was Casey Kasem who said; Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.

The Likes of Us - July '07

I wrote a serious of blog entries for Manhattan Movie Magazine last year documenting the making of our first feature film. I'll reprint them here, hoping that it helps someone who might be embarking on the same journey.

“Let’s make a movie”, and with those seemingly innocent words from my friend and now business partner, I was propelled down the path to the constant state of anxiety I now find myself in. As I type this blog we are sitting about a month out from our first day of shooting and with every day the pressure grows. A year and half ago when we hatched this hair-brained scheme, shooting a movie seemed like it would be a piece of cake. All we had to do was come up with a script, get a couple of actors together, point a camera in their general direction and voila! --instant movie. Of course as with most things in life, it just hasn’t been that easy. First of all it took me the better part of a year to write the script. Well, that’s not exactly true. I wrote the script in about two months, but then spent the next ten or so revising it. I think at least my partners are finally happy with the seventh draft. One of the major issues that you have to deal with if you’re going to tackle writing a script is that as a writer you never think it’s done; that’s where having someone to bounce ideas off of comes in handy. I’m pretty sure that if I didn’t have a couple of partners, I would be working on endless revisions. Just as an aside, the best thing that you can do when taking on a project like this is to have other people to work with. Your partners (who may be annoying at times) will help to keep you sane and centered. While everyone has their bad moments, hopefully you won’t all be having them at the same time. So, we have a script (fantastic!). As a writer, my job is pretty much done, but when you’re making your own movie, you have to wear a lot of hats. Next up and definitely my least favorite part (so far, anyway) is trying to get funding. Here I would suggest a couple of things; First, be independently wealthy (we are not, so that’s strike one); Two, have rich parents (again no luck, strike two); Three, have a trust fund or win the lottery (Strike three and four although I’m still working on the lottery). Lacking all of those, I did the only thing I could. I went to my most successful friend and asked him to be the Executive Producer. He agreed to give us half of our planned budget. While that’s good news, the rest of the budget is going to have go come out of our collective very shallow pockets. Asking people for money, especially friends, is one of the hardest things that I’ve ever had to do. But in order to get an independent movie made, you’ll have to do a few things that are at best embarrassing and at worst downright humiliating. Pride, unfortunately, has no place in the movie business. Our next challenge was to put together a crew. Fortunately my partners have some contacts in that area. One of them is in the production end of the advertising business (he’s also responsible for sound on the film) and the other has been in and around film making for many years (he’s also the Director). We were able to secure a DP (that’s a Director of Photography, for those not in the know) fairly easily and we are planning to fill out the rest of the crew with interns and friends. The good thing about making a movie in New York is that there is no shortage of talented people who haven’t been able to find paying jobs in the film making business. If you ask around, you’ll probably be able to find people who have fairly impressive resumes and are willing to be a part of a project if they think that it’s worthwhile. Finding actors has been more of a challenge. I, for some reason decided to write a movie with over 20 speaking parts. I swear that when I started writing I was trying to keep it small, and I never realized how out of hand things had gotten until we sat down to look at the number of actors we would need. We had a reading of the script a few weeks ago and even though we had eight people, everyone had to double up on parts. By the way, I would recommend that you have a reading of your script at some point. It’ll really help you see where the dialogue needs to be tweaked or which scenes don’t work. New York is filled with actors, but for the most part they make their money doing something besides acting. They act whenever they can, but they also want to be paid for their efforts. We are simply not in the position to do that. The actors from our reading have agreed to take part in the film because they like the material, but we can’t exactly get a copy of the script to every out of work actor in New York in the hopes that they’ll like the script enough to work for no money. There are simply too many parts to pay the actors and our hard costs (equipment, transportation, food, locations, etc.) will quickly eat up our tiny budget. This is where flexibility comes into play. Scenes may have to be cut or rewritten in order to make sure that we don’t get into serious deficit spending. We’ve also spent some time securing locations. Thankfully the film mostly takes place indoors. Our apartments and our friends’ houses will get lots of exposure. We also have a bar to shoot at on Sundays. Getting the bar was key because about 1/3 of the movie takes place at that one location. I happen to have a pretty good relationship with the owner (my liver is definitely the worse for wear) and thankfully they are closed on Sundays. We do have some exterior shots, but we’ll try and get them done before the police show up and ask for filming permits. At this point, we are still taking a lot of things on faith. I’m sure as we get closer to the start date we’ll have more unexpected issues to deal with. With some luck, we’ll be able to overcome any major obstacles that pop up. Anyway, that’s all for now. I’m hoping that in my next entry I’ll be able to tell you about our successful first week of filming. We are planning on a 16 day shoot over eight weekends, so the goal is to give you updates on this blog as the process goes forward. Wish us luck. May the force be with you, live long and prosper and na-nu, na-nu to you all.