I think today was our blooper reel day. There were really only three of us shooting today and for whatever reason our personalities meshed really well and we ended up having a lot of fun. There was more than one occasion of someone cracking up in the middle of a scene. Most of the stuff we were filming was pretty serious, so it was hard to keep a straight face the whole day. I think Ed started to get a little frustrated with us, but he's a trooper and didn't let it show.
I once again changed costumes a lot today. I lost count and am currently too tired to try and figure out the exact number of times, just know that my underwear got its vitamin D for the day.
This whole acting every day thing is teaching me some good stuff. Not that there haven't been times before where I've acted every day, but for some reason this is different. I think it's because I'm not doing the same thing every day. Each morning a new adventure starts. I'm learning to control my emotions, my facial expressions, and even my laughter better than I have before. It's very empowering.
Lunch: Panda Express. I got veggies this time. Ed got chow mein and orange chicken - apparently that's what he gets every time. He's a man of order. We learned at lunch that when he eats dinner at home he always has a plain chicken breast and rice. And if he eats lunch at home he PB&J and a banana. Always. I'm excited to go out to different places, just to see if I can guess what he'll get.
Wrap Time: 4:30
Today's shoot consisted mostly of changing clothes. I ended up changing costumes 7 times. We were getting a variety of shots involving the three of us who were there (Me, my roommate Danny, and his girlfriend Sylvia) and everything was shot at Ed's apartment, so we were able to get a lot out of the way, but that meant lots of changing clothes.
I think my favorite moment from the day's adventures was when we were filming in the bathroom and to get the shot Ed and June both had to stand in the shower. Such good times.
Today was also the first day where I had non-rhyming dialogue, which was different. I've sort of associated this picture with rhyming and it was a bit weird to just be saying normal things - albeit in a somewhat nervous frenzy. Still lots of fun.
Fun Fact: Ed has a naugahyde couch. It makes lots of inflating/deflating noise when you sit on it. It also interferes with good sound quality.
Lunch: Subway - don't worry, Ed got the cold cut combo. Also, their raspberry cheesecake cookies are delish.
Wrap Time: 4:30
Today's shoot was a breeze! All we did was montage stuff. I sat on the sidewalk while people walked past (We only had 3 people. Ed's supply of extra's consists entirely of his roommates and June), filmed me walking down some streets, and then headed down to Orange County to get some footage of me sitting by a playground making the mothers uncomfortable. A friend of Ed's lives down there and agreed to bring her kids by to be filmed. It took us all of about 10 minutes to actually film the scene, and about an hour each way to drive there. Go fig. I rode in the back seat of Ed's truck - which is one of those back seats that faces sideways. Remember those? Good times.
After lunch, on the way home we decided to stop and get a couple of extra quick shots for some montage buffer. Just me walking down the street. I walked past this adorable little old Mexican cowboy and just wanted to hug him. Then as we were driving back I spotted a guy with an ice cream cart and thought it might be funny (if a bit absurd) to film me buying an ice cream to ease my sorrows only to have it fall to the ground when I tried to eat it. Ed liked the idea, so we went ahead and shot it. I surprised Ed with my mad Spanish-speaking skills. Ice cream cart guy was not-so-fluent in the Inglais.
Easy day. Loved it.
Since it was such an easy day, now might be a good time to expound a bit upon my feelings regarding this film. I'll try not to get too long-winded here.
I had a bit of a moral dilemma at the outset of this film. As I've mentioned there is some vaguely implied inappropriate behavior and my character drinks quite a bit in the film. A while ago I was having trouble deciding why I was ok with playing a character such as a killer on a show like CSI or Criminal Minds, but I wasn't ok with extra-marital relations and things of that nature. I came to the conclusion that it depends on how those things are portrayed. In a show like the CSI's or L&O's, murder, rape, and things of that nature are still portrayed as wrong, whereas most of the time other things like drinking and schtooping are not. So as long as the portrayal of the character jives with my personal belief system, I'm ok playing that character. Does that make any sense?
Now to a current application. I came to the conclusion here that the things this particular character does that are of a negative nature are due, in large part to his circumstances. (Personally I believe in taking charge a bit more than that, but this character doesn't/can't, and that's ok.) He's sort of driven to the bottle, and in the one scene, as I mentioned, he lacks the courage to speak up against the lady entering his bed chamber. He doesn't necessarily believe these things are good, or even neutral, they're kind of just things that happen to him. In the end of the film he has a prodigal son kind of turn-around, and I felt those ends justified the means. It also helps that Ed is a super-religious guy and even though our personal beliefs don't mesh 100%, he's done a lot to make this a pretty clean film. Little language, and no taking of The Name in vain which I greatly appreciate. He has also avoided as much as possible filming on Sundays. Gotta respect that.
Lunch: 5 guys with what seemed like every corporate goon in Orange County.
Wrap Time: 2:10 ish
Today we filmed a montage (there are several in the course of the film) of me wallowing in misery on the couch, staring into the abyss of my despondence. The beer bottles pile up and I don't move an inch (one wonders where the beer bottles came from). Eventually we (my roommate and I) are evicted from our apartment and the movers just pick up the couch with me on it and haul it outside where they deposit it unceremoniously on the curb. (It was a WEIRD feeling to be sitting on a couch and have it suddenly lifted into the air)
I basically had no dialogue today and all I really did was stare at the wall and then get lifted on the couch. Pretty easy day of shooting...at least in the morning.
We picked up a shot of me at the wishing well - which was built by a friend of Ed's. That's right - BUILT! You can't see it, but this is mostly styrofoam. Pretty incredible.
Ed told me we were going to go back to the well and assume the "stance". (for this scene I pee into the well). It became a joke and for the rest of the day we were all talking about stance lessons, stance technique, and the newest hit reality craze, "Stancing with the Stars." This is probably much funnier to those of us that were there, but I wanted you to know that aside from all the boring filming of emotional drama that takes place on these movie sets, we do find time to have a good laugh.
In the afternoon we went back to Mom's house to get the rest of my scenes with her. She was an hour and a half late - even though she swore she'd be on time this time around. Poor planning folks. Poor Ed was just about beside himself with frustration between her late arrival and her trouble getting her lines down. But he soldiered through and I think we got some good stuff.
We rounded out our day with some more montage driving and a scene where I discover my car has been towed.
Fun Fact: For the last "Mom's House" scene of the day I had to shave. My stubble had grown out during my period on the couch and it was time to get cleaned up. If you end up seeing the film, I am actually shaving my face during this scene. I can count on one hand the number of times I've used a standard razor with shaving cream. Scary!
And scene! Enough rambling for today.
Lunch: In-N-Out. June had a craving.
Wrap Time: 2:45 ish
I arrived on set today to find that we were shooting a breakfast scene - on the verdant back patio - with my mom and step-dad. This included pancakes - fresh from the griddle pancakes, in fact. I'm told - by the cook, no less - that she used Bisquick, yogurt, and cinnamon in the recipe. The pancakes, it will not surprise you, I'm sure, were delicious. It all sounds quite picturesque, and I assure you it was. :)
3 important lessons learned from today's shoot:
1 - Be on time. We waited for almost an hour for one of the actors to arrive. That's just inconsiderate. All of our time is valuable, and for one person to be that late is inexcusable. "Traffic" is not an excuse. You live in LA. Plan for it.
2 - Be prepared. Mom and Dad were both actors in their late 50's, early 60's and had a bit of trouble with the dialogue. They've had the script for days, possibly weeks. If you know (and I have no doubt they do) that you have more trouble remembering lines than you used to, then you need to take it upon yourself to put in a little extra time so you don't hold everyone up.
3 - Listen. I was quite surprised by how many times Ed would give an adjustment, the actor would say, "Okay" and then fail to do what Ed had asked. Ed would re-word it, or find another way to clarify what he wanted, and the actor still wouldn't change anything. Listen people. If you don't understand, then ask for clarification. In the end Ed, in all his patience, just found a different way to get what he wanted with some creative filming.
These three lessons are things I hear over and over again in this industry. They may be the only three things you'll consistently hear from professionals. The other being, "Be nice," but I didn't include that here because everyone so far pretty much has that one down.
This was actually kind of a bizarre day for me because the scenes we shot were some pretty intense, emotional scenes. Following the shoot I had an audition, then a rehearsal, then a show, so I was in 4 completely different places emotionally today and that can kind of mess with you.
Lunch: Fried chicken and potato salad from Ralph's (the California version of Smith's or Kroger's). This was after having eaten probably 6 pancakes.
Wrap Time: 3:30ish
Second homeless day. For some reason it was a little bizarre to film more stuff with Jim since we'd filmed his death scene the day before. But that's the way it goes.
Today I get discovered in the homeless tent by a pair of gang-bangin' drug dealers. (Try to be as white as possible when you read that sentence, it makes it funnier.) "Tim" and "Pete". They discover I can rhyme and we have a small, and on my part unintentional, rap battle. One of them, I forget which, is pretty hot-headed and doesn't like that I can rhyme better than he, so he pulls a gun on me. The prop gun was very realistic which surprised everyone and made acting like there was a gun pointed at my chest easier to believe.
Actors have to pull things from all kinds of places to be believable. I have, in fact, had a gun pulled on me in real life. It was while I was serving as a missionary in Argentina. Oddly enough when it happened I didn't feel scared. The guy stole my coat (which had delicious American chocolate in the pocket) and left. So, the fear you'd think I'd be able to pull from, wasn't associated with that situation. I did the best I could anyway.
Tim and Pete, in real life, are actually two of the nicest guys you'll ever meet. Young industry guys just trying to do what everyone else in LA is doing. Not at all the hardened criminals you might see in the film. Though honestly the not-so-hot-headed one doesn't come across as very hardened in the film either. But it's all good, he's a good balance, in terms of characters, to the other one.
Fun day bein' white.
Lunch: Subway again. Ed likes Subway. Probably because he has coupons. Also, he always gets the same thing - 6" cold-cut combo on white bread. I try to mix things up a bit more than that. :)
Wrap Time: 11:30 a.m. SUPER early. Hooray for Ed's anal retentive planning tendencies!
For a portion of the film you'll find me living on the streets of LA. I am befriended by a homeless man named "Jim" who is quirky and probably a little crazy. We filmed a lot of my scenes with him today.
In real life Jim is an actor (obviously) and I don't think he does much else. He's pretty bombastic and not afraid to say what he thinks. I think he may originally be from New York. He has lots of stories - some of which I'm sure are true - about his time in LA.
The big scene from today was the scene where Jim dies. I don't really consider that information a spoiler because the crazy homeless spiritual guide character always dies. Anyway, this is another one of those intense scenes Ed wanted to get out of the way at the beginning. I find Jim sprawled out in his tent dying from a drug overdose. I attempt to get help, but he tells me it's too late and then dies. I am pretty broken up about it and actually managed some tears for the scene - even though on my close-up I was acting with a spot on the ground and not Jim himself (it makes a difference, trust me.) I felt pretty good about the whole thing and hopefully Ed got some good stuff out of it too. He didn't have any complaints and seemed to be pretty satisfied.
Something I learned from today that you don't really think about until you have to do it, is consistency. When acting in a film you almost have to choreograph every movement you make. I didn't necessarily think that was true. I mean, you're not going to see me say or do anything more than once, so why should it matter if I do it differently? Here's why: When you're watching a movie you don't just see a continuous scene. They're constantly cutting among different angles. If you're facing one direction in one angle and they cut and suddenly you're facing a different direction, that looks weird. (An example that comes to mind is from the movie "Valentine's Day". At the end Ashton K is talking to his lady love - the actress escapes me at the moment - they cut between to different angles. In one angle he's standing straight up, in the other he's leaning down.) So, you kind of have to plan out where you'll be and when you're moving that way it's easier for the editor to cut. It's a lot harder to do that than it sounds. I'm getting better at it, I think.
At the end of the day Ed wanted to get a quick shot of me walking into Skid Row. Like, the actual Skid Row in the middle of south-central Los Angeles - where all the homeless drug-addicted people live. It was kind of scary. But it was daylight, we were across the street from the police station, and we were only there for 5 minutes (which was still enough time to see a prostitute jump on the back of some guy's motorcycle), so it wasn't too bad. Luckily Ed decided against filming all the "Jim" scenes in Skid Row - which was his original plan.
Lunch: Subway. It was hilarious to me to have Jim with us because he was still in costume and looked 100% like a hobo. Plus he's kind of an odd guy anyway - which didn't help.
Wrap Tim: 4ish - which is still only an 8 hr. day. Some of these big budget films shoot for 16 hours a day or more. Livin' the dream folks.
I believe, or at least would think, that most film makers would save the hardest, most intense scenes for the end of the shooting schedule to allow the actors time to really build on those kinds of things and let their characters develop. Not Ed. He wanted to get the hard stuff over with and out of the way so that we (i.e. I) were not dreading them. I kind of like that approach.
Day two was the kissing scene. There's only one in the movie and we shot it on Day 2. We also shot a somewhat scandalous scene where a girl lets herself into my apartment and invites herself into my bed. Nothing is shown, but things are vaguely implied. At this point in the story my character A - still hasn't found his backbone, and B - is pretty depressed, so he kind of just lets it happen.
This scene is supposed to be at night, but it was about 9:00 in the morning, so Ed had to be a little creative with his limited resources. He made night-time happen by putting a quilt over the window. The more projects I do the more I realize you can get away with. (On a previous project we shot a night-time scene in broad daylight using shadows. Apparently that's the kind of thing you can fix in post.)
The girl I was working with - "Connie" - was super nice and for some reason super interested in Mormons. She about fell out of her chair when she found out I'm Mormon. It was kind of funny. She's also very religious, musically inclined, and happens to be Ed's piano teacher. Delightful girl.
Lunch: Panda Express. I got no vegetables. That was not intentional
Wrap Time: 12ish
Being that this is not a big-budget film, El Director (shall we just call him Ed from now on? Great.) decided to film as much as he could close to his house in Eagle Rock. It takes Phin and I about an hour every morning to get there. Which is great, especially since I'm riding into the sunrise - sarcasm. However, it is fun to do a little people watching along Alvarado street downtown. I'm surprised and delighted by how many parents walk their children to school in the morning.
On a normal set you have a crew of thousands: The director, director of photography (DP), assistant director(s) (AD), artistic director, sound, lighting, makeup, grips, camera operator(s), etc. etc. etc. Because of the nature of our little project we have a crew of 2: A girl who runs sound (We'll call her June), and Ed (who is also the writer and serves as the rest of the crew.)
There are some disadvantages to a small crew. For example, should the need to move furniture arise, we just have to use whoever is available i.e. the actors. Luckily we're all pretty chill and more than happy to help out.
There are several advantages to a small crew most importantly of which is speed. When working on a "professional" set (or even student/independent productions that have a larger crew) you have to wait for the lighting to get set, then the DP has to like what they see, the director needs to put in his or her two cents, actors need to be ready, sound needs to be ready and on and on and on. This often results in extremely delayed production schedules. (Small example: when I was on set for Raising Hope I was called at 2 and didn't start shooting until after 6) Because there's such a small crew here we're pretty much ready to hit the ground running as soon as we arrive and have few delays as the day goes on. It helps that Ed is sort of ridiculously organized (he had pre-printed highlighted scripts for each person during our table read - who does that?).
So, day one consisted of getting some montage shots for a...well, a montage in the movie when I'm trying to break my rhyming curse by concocting a potion I found in some old book of witchcraft. No sound was needed so it was basically me and Ed cruising around town shooting in random places and getting to know each other a bit. He had me hiking through bushes, climbing trees, picking fruit, catching cats and frogs (incidentally we used an adorable kitten and I may have become a cat person, don't judge me.), and driving up and down the freeway. If you're in the LA area and looking for a good place to go walking or hang out or whatever, I suggest Griffith Park.
We were going to film some stuff outside at the Public Library, but apparently they're SUPER anal about that here and some girl from the staff came outside and gave us the 3rd degree within minutes of us arriving in the parking lot. Word to the Wise, do not film at the library during business hours. So instead, we headed to the Subway for lunch.
It was a super chill day (though it was pushing 100 degrees outside) and we were done by around 2 if memory serves me. (Yay small crew!) Ed is a pretty cool guy and I think we'll get along famously during the next few weeks.
And so it begins.
As I mentioned previously I recently auditioned for, and got cast in an un-paid feature film. (I only clarify "un-paid" lest anyone assume they'll be seeing me up on the big screen just because I'm in a "feature film." Again, "feature" just means the film is long.)
I happen to be playing the lead in this film and will be in about 98% of the scenes, therefore I will be on set every day during shooting and thought it would be fun to give you all a little look into what shooting a film is *sometimes* like.
Let me start here with a little pre-production intro.
The film is called "Speak to Me in Poetry". It's one of those films where the main character is stuck in a rut, goes through some sort of harrowing experience and emerges on the other side with some new trait or skill that makes them and the people around them better. My character is shy and weak - especially around girls - so he wishes - in a wishing well, no less - to be able to speak like a poet. He wakes up the next morning and can only speak in rhyme. I won't give a full run-down, but in the end he discovers what he needs and ends up a better man for it.
Because this is not a big-budget film, much of the process is quite a lot different than what you might get from a main-stream studio production. For example, the director had auditions at his house to save money. Usually you would go into the studio or at least a public location specifically used for audition purposes. He was up-front about it though, so I didn't think it was too sketchy.
So, I went, I auditioned, got called back, and landed the role.
So, there's the set-up. I'm going to try and write a post for each day on set - about 20 - and let you in on some secrets of the trade, some things I've learned as an actor/filmmaker, and some funny stories as there are bound to be plenty.