Archive for the ‘Director Preparation’ Category

Pushing the Boulder Up the Hill: Getting That Dang Film Into Production

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

Girls can do anything!

If you didn’t already know this, I’m back from directing my first feature film.  We wrapped July 1st, a little less than a month ago.  I’ve recovered enough to start blogging about the experience.

I had a spontaneous Q and A today and there were lots of questions. But, this was the biggie that overshadowed them all…  How did you get that dang film into production?

This is a particularly poignant question because it took so long for me to get a film into production.  I worked on Saturn Returns for 5 years before we rolled camera.  I worked on a feature project before this one for 5 years.  I worked on another one before that for three years.  So, it’s taken a lot to get here.

As you can guess, there are several answers to this question, but let’s just start with commitment.  A year ago I came to a new place of commitment.  Let me tell you what it looked like:  I was going to shoot Saturn Returns in June 2014 or I was going to walk away from the project and from being a filmmaker.  No joke.  I didn’t come to this from a place of being mad or fed-up or desperate.  This decision was passionate but very calm.  I simply realized that the amount of work I’d done, the capacity I had to keep doing that amount of work, the patience of my husband and my supporters, all of this had a shelf-life and I was near the end of it.

So, I decided to pull out all of the stops.  Now, many of you know me and know that I’m a very committed, hard-working person.  So, this was a whole new level of energy, time and work.  I worked pretty much every night and weekend for an entire year.  This is in addition to my coaching business and to being the mother of three year old twins.  (No, I don’t have live-in help and I have very little family support besides my husband.)  It meant that every trip to Mammoth I had as many meetings as I could and sacrificed R and R.  It meant I worked every day of Christmas break.

I don’t tell you this to impress you.  I’m just telling you what it took.

But there’s more to it than just the hard work.  Because I’m not suggesting you live your life this way, far from it.

Simply put, I got willing to leave my dream behind if we didn’t go into production.  And I got clear that if I were to do that, I didn’t want to feel like I’d left anything on the sidelines.  I wanted to leave it all on the court.  No regrets for what I hadn’t done.

I didn’t make this decision because I thought it would be powerful, but it turned out to be extraordinarily empowering.  Every time someone came up with an objection, a concern, an obstacle, I weighed it against my commitment to go into production in June and my willingness to totally walk away from the project forever.   Push another year?  Sorry, no can do.  Push to September?  Same answer.  Wait for an actor?  Nothing doing.

Besides demanding that I work nearly every night and weekend for a year, this commitment had me doing things that were so far outside my comfort zone it surprised even me.  It had me asking things of people—investors, team members, actors and more—that I had previously been afraid to ask for.  And it had me doing it fast, with zero of the usual hand-wringing.  It had me doing things at a new level of ballsy, and I am no shrinking violet.

Really facing the prospect of walking away from my dream of directing a feature film had me look at my fears in a much more profound way then I ever have before.  I had to ask myself what I was willing to do for my dream.  No, the answer isn’t “anything.”  There are things I won’t do.  I won’t lie or cheat or steal or behave without integrity.  I won’t leave my husband or children for it.

But, I got willing to fail publicly.  That was a very, very big one for me.  And, I think it’s harder to risk failing publicly then it is to behave without integrity, frankly.

The other big answer to the question of how I got this dang film into and out of production is that I had one die-hard who was with me no matter what.  He happens to be my husband, Gregory.  And without him making this film wouldn’t have been possible.

It’s important to talk about this because big projects like this one don’t get done alone.  They take a team, as you know.  But it’s more nuanced then that.  Before the “team” there’s the one true believer that you absolutely must have.  You need one true believer who will stick by you no matter what.  And let me tell you, there was a time a few weeks out from our start date when everyone else dropped like flies.  We suddenly weren’t cool any more, and everyone else who’d been on for years fell like dominoes.  Though Gregory had doubts and concerns, he never stopped believing in the project and in me.  You gotta have someone like him.  Period.

So, this is the big answer to the big question of how I pushed this boulder up the hill and finally, after more then a decade, got my first feature into the can.  There’s a lot more to talk about and I promise I will do so.  Keep your eyes peeled for a blog on casting, one I’m going to call Riding the Bucking Bronco, aka Production, Coming Back to Earth (aka Transitioning Back to Your Real Life,) and more.

Hit me with questions, comments and thoughts.  It’s good to share it with you.  And, again, thank you so much for your support.

 

 

 

Production Diary #3: In the home stretch

Friday, August 15th, 2014
Here are some shots from the last two weeks of production …

Director of Photography Michael Alden Lloyd and I set up a shot in the house!

I’m working on a scene with Jordan Belfi and Andrew Dits, Doug and Nathan, respectively!

Michael Lloyd and I watch the monitor while Alison Haislip sleeps on Miles Gaston Villaneuva’s shoulder!

More shots and updates soon!

Production Diary #2: Gotta love being at 11,000 feet!

Friday, August 8th, 2014
So, we promised you behind the scenes peeks at the making of the film, and here we go again!
I did a lot of  prepping with Michael Lloyd, our Director of Photography.  We scouted the gorgeous Lake George to see if we could shoot the sequence where our characters Katie and James fall in love.  Here’s Michael and Gregory talking shop under Crystal Crag in the distance!
We also went to the top of Mammoth Mountain (that’s 11,000 feet!)  As someone who skis there all the time it was pretty trippy to be at the top with so little snow!  Although, you can’t tell from this photo…
Also, here’s a look at Bodie, an awesome ghost town we’ll be using for the movie.  If you’ve not seen my Bodie video, check it out here: https://vimeo.com/96675460.  It’s totally fun!
Finally, the final cast! We’ve got Jordan Belfi as Doug.  Erin Chambers as Sienna. Andrew Dits as Nathan. Michael Cory Davis as James. Alison Haislip as Johanna. Miles Gaston Villanueva as Robbie.  And, of course, Nicholle Tom as Katie! It’s a great cast!
We’ll have more production diary updates soon.  Keep your eyes peeled!  Can’t wait to share some more with you!

Production Diary #1: Gotta love actors

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

So, we promised you a behind the scenes peak at the making of the film, and here we go!

At 3 weeks out, we moved into high speed. Casting, locking locations, production meetings with the department heads— DP, production design, costumes and more.

One of the things that took up a lot of our time was casting. Because, if we don’t have actors to play the roles, then it kind of doesn’t matter where we shoot or who shoots the movie. So, casting becomes this 800 pound gorilla that must be fed and fed now. And more to the point, if we don’t get really great actors playing the roles, we won’t care about the characters– and who wants to see a movie where you don’t care about the characters? Not me.

We had an amazing casting session known as callbacks. Callbacks are when you bring in a group of actors culled from all the auditions and pair them up with other actors to see how they play off each other. This is sometimes known as “chemistry reads” because you want to see chemistry between the characters! Needless to say it was so awesome to hear the script I’ve worked on for so long come out of the mouths of some truly amazing actors! It was quite magical, to tell the truth. It came to life before my very eyes.

Here we are above with Michael Donovan, our casting director on the left, Gregory at the camera and me looking at the monitor. Hard at work having so much fun!

And, I’m excited to announce that we cast Nicholle Tom in the role of Katie! You might remember Nicholle from The Nanny many years ago. She’s been working steadily ever since and was just on the Showtime series Masters of Sex. (Don’t worry, she grew up a long time ago. 🙂

We’ll have more production diary updates coming soon. Keep your eyes peeled! Can’t wait to share some more with you!

It Takes A Village

Friday, May 23rd, 2014

I am writing, as I promised, to share about the Saturn Returns process.  As we gear up for our shoot in June I’ve been learning so much!

One of the things I most want to share has to do with the idea of team.  Now, you probably know that I spend a lot of time talking about team building and leadership in my various classes and coaching.  Today I want to talk about something a little different.  To borrow from Hilary Clinton and the Nigerian Igbo culture, I want to talk about the idea that a project (or your career) “takes a village.”

You might have heard me talk about the idea that nothing of any scope or magnitude in life happens alone.  We can’t even procreate by ourselves, right?  Yet, this business can be extraordinarily isolating if we’re not careful.  We write alone.  We go to auditions alone.  We sit at our desks making calls or sending emails alone.  When we get to be a part of a group making something, it’s often short and fleeting, preceded and followed by a lot of work all by ourselves.

When it comes to Saturn Returns I’ve found myself using the phrase “it takes a village to make a film like this” over and over again.  And while that, in and of itself, has not been a big surprise, what that actually looks like and really means, practically speaking, has been surprising to me.  Here’s what I mean…

It takes a village, and you have to love the village. A lot of actors I meet tell me “I just want to act.”  A lot of writers I meet tell me, “I just want to write.”  Ditto with directors, sound mixers, wardrobe stylists, you name it.

We feel we have a calling. There’s something that we love doing and we’re good at it.  If only all this other junk would just go away, we’d be so much happier and fulfilled.  We come to resent all this other stuff we have to do.  All the people we have to meet, the calls we have to make, the events we have to go to, the hustling we have to do.  Ugh.  When does it all end?

This is the village I’m talking about.  This is the village we have to love.  It would be so easy for me to resent how long it’s taken to raise the money for Saturn Returns, the number of meetings I’ve had that have gone nowhere, the number of people who’ve told me they’ll invest and then backed out, and on and on.  But one of the things that I’ve come to learn is that the village is every bit as much a part of making Saturn Returns as the actual filmmaking.  They go hand in hand.  There’s an idea that you can be a filmmaker without all of this other stuff, but, frankly, I think it’s a myth.  At least in this day and age.  And the sooner we kiss the myth of the pure filmmaker or pure artist, actor or writer good-bye, the better.  It’s like kissing the myth of Prince Charming good-bye.  Hard but so freeing once we do it.

So, my lesson is love your village the way you love your art.  You can’t have one without the other.  It can be hard to love your village, I know.  But, truth be told, some days it can be hard to love your art, right?  Your village and your art demand a lot out of you.  But it’s in the service of something important, something extraordinary, something you’ve dedicated your life to doing.

Gotta love the Village.

On the Creative Process, Part I

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

On the Creative Process, Part I

The mountain that is love defies solo ascent.

This is an example of what my directing teacher Gerald Freedman would call theme. Or, what Lajos Egri would call a dramatic premise.

I articulated this dramatic premise for Saturn Returns after reading about Andrew Stanton of Pixar in the New Yorker Magazine. I was inspired to break out my journal and chip away at my director homework.

I am asked every so often what a director does. This question is usually over dinner, a drink, or at a meeting with someone who is not in the film business. It is an impossible question to answer, certainly impossible to answer over one meal.

That said, it is an important question, and one worth pondering over, writing about, and discussing. For me, the question is an inspiring one. When I ponder it, I want to get down to work.

This series is my occasional attempt to answer the question, “what does a director do?” Each time, I will come at it from the point of view that is where I am in the process. So, tonight, here goes…

Right now, I’ve written the script and rewritten the script many, many times. I’ve also got my producer hat on currently. I’m raising money with the business plan I’ve written, with the help of my producing team, making lots and lots of phone calls.

What that means is that there’s not a lot of directing work going on. But what little I’m doing is critical to the process.

Lake-Mary-Saturn-Returns

Lake Mary, Mammoth Lakes, CA

Basically, I’m looking for inspiration. I’m watching lots of different movies and television, always with Saturn Returns in the back of my mind. In Mammoth, I’m searching for the main house location, driving around town, looking at houses and trying to envision my characters in them.  I’m also looking for other seeds of ideas and images—the sign I pass on the way into town, the way a certain mountain rises above a lake, the shadows of the trees as the sun sets.

And then there is “director homework.” This is where the premise I talked about above comes in. One important part of director homework is asking the questions: What is the movie we’re making? What holds it together? What is the engine that drives it? How can I boil down all my ideas into one or two lines that I can use to convey my ideas to the cast and crew?

I’ve come at this question as a writer. Now, I’ve got to basically clear my head and reapproach it as a director. The answer to these questions will be my guiding principle, my North Star when I make decisions and choices. The more specific I am, the more this homework will serve me when I’m overwhelmed.

So, how did I come up with The mountain that is love defies solo ascent?

Well, first off, I started by asking, at the most basic level, what is the move about? Answer: love. Specifically, in this case, romantic love. More to the point, true love and what is necessary to experience true love.

In this film, our characters think they are in love, want to be in love, and deny their feelings of love. Some of them try to go it alone, immune to the power of love, or so they think. What they learn is that love is bigger than anything they want or plan or design. Indeed, love is bigger than any one individual. They learn that love demands sacrifice. They learn that love can’t be experienced alone.

One of the reasons that I set the movie in Mammoth Lakes and Mono County has to do with the salt-of-the-earth authenticity of the place. In my experience, it really is what it looks to be. People are who they say they are. It’s a place that strips one of the layers of façade. In my film, my characters are forced to confront their real selves.

So, in trying to convey the power of love in my premise, “mountain” captures it well.

Then we come to the verb. The verb is the litmus test. The conflict of the movie is often powerfully captured in the verb of the premise.

In this case, “defy” is a very human verb. So, I’m ascribing human qualities to the mountain of love. And, the verb “defy” juxtaposes solo ascent, a mountaineering phrase, with the concept of love. Basically, you can’t conquer the mountain of love alone.

I find that the best premises paint a picture. The verb conveys energy and conflict. There is a sense of irony in that expectations are confounded.

That’s all for now. For more on “premise” read Lajos Egri’s The Art of Dramatic Writing, or William Ball’s A Sense of Direction. For the article on Andrew Stanton and his work at Pixar, go to NewYorker.com and look for the Oct. 17th issue. It’s a great read.