By Kim Voynar Voynar@moviecitynews.com
Adventures in Filmmaking: Scripting and Casting and Crewing. Oh My.
Bunker Production Journal
October 31, 2011
So, last time in Adventures in Filmmaking, I shared with you our recent trials and travails around having to replace our DP kind of last minute. But now, no fear! All is well in Bunker-land, and now that we have our crew and our cast all lined up, I thought I would share with the group a bit about what our process was in getting this done, because if you’re a new filmmaker, or want to be a filmmaker yourself, you’re maybe wondering how other people go about this process. And if you’re an experienced filmmaker, you can snicker behind your hand at the things I did wrong, or didn’t know how to do at first, or made harder than they need to be. From my perspective, everything I do on this film, whether I nail it out of the gate or screw it up and have to fix it, is part of the learning process that will make me a better filmmaker eventually, right? Right.
So, first, the script. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been working toward this transition for roughly 15 years, and in that time I’ve read pretty much everything I could get my hands on about screenwriting, story, structure, what have you. And, of course, read many, many scripts, mostly from films I like, but also, years ago when I belonged to a screenwriting group, a good many that were so incredibly bad that you couldn’t help but learn what not to do by reading them. I’ll spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say that if your feature script begins with 21 pages of fairies flitting around a garden and no dialogue, you maybe have some tightening up to do.
Over the past 15 years I’ve written and discarded six-and-a-half feature length scripts, most of which went through no fewer than eight rewrites. I wrote these scripts knowing that I was likely to never do anything with them other than use them to learn the process of writing in this form. And in some ways, yes, it sometimes feels like a colossal waste of time to have spent so much time writing just to discard, but on the other hand, the experience of doing that has made me, I think, a much better writer. It’s taken that long to get to the point that I feel I can write a script that’s good enough to justify investing time, money and energy into shooting it. So now I have a feature script that is humming along nicely in the rewrite stage, three other features in various stages of development (one of which may end up getting tossed if it doesn’t start behaving itself) and this little short, Bunker, which came out of a late night conversation my husband and I had. It’s taken 10 rewrites to get it tightened up to the shooting script. Now we’ve done our script breakdown, and we’re ready to do a shot list.
We also needed a set, and I’d had a house in mind as I wrote the first draft. The house belongs to my awesome friends Donna and Michael Nolan, and their teenage daughter Kendra, who’s also my daughter Neve’s BFF. They very graciously are allowing us not just to shoot in their home, but to completely empty out their living room to restage it and paint their hallway the color I need it to be (fortunately, it also happens to be a color they like, so that was a win-win). Donna is also our line producer, which means she gets the task of telling me where I am on budget and what I can’t have that I really, really want. Or that I can have it, but then I’ll have to trade out something else to get it. She’s great for that task because she knows how to keep me in line and won’t give into me pouting. (Donna and Michael also allowed us to use their home in September to shoot Joe Shapiro’s short film, White Knights. Which either means they really enjoy movies, or they really love me, or they’re secretly plotting a way to get back at me for disrupting their lives.)
Now for the rest of the crew. I knew going into making this that I was not going to do it on $200 and a camcorder; if I was going to actually learn from making this short, and make a movie of the level that I want to see when I’m watching or jurying short films, I wanted to do it with a solid cast and a professional crew. My first call was to Melanie Addington, one of the brilliant folks at the Oxford Film Festival. Melanie co-wrote Where I Begin with director Thomas Phillips, she’s worked crew on film sets, she’s a leader in the Oxford arts community, she knows a ton of folks on the Southern fest circuit, and she’s one of my best friends. She’s smart and thinks on her feet, she’s loyal and reliable and I knew I could count on her. She agreed to come on board as co-producer and 1stAD, and her experience has been invaluable. She flies out to Seattle the week of the shoot to help get everything set up, and she’s also assisting with production design.
The next crew member to commit to the project was indie musician extraordinaire, Ken Stringfellow (The Posies, REM, Big Star, The Disciplines). I realize it’s not always the thing to do, bringing on the composer very early, but Ken and I have already been collaborating on my feature project for months, and it was natural to ask him to do the score for Bunker first, so we can get a feel for working together on a project that’s somewhat less of a huge undertaking. We’ll be composing the score in Seattle, and I’m beyond excited to get into the studio and work with him on scoring this film.
Our DP is Sam Graydon; he’s been working in the Seattle film community for a few years now, he’s shot commercials and worked on a lot of shorts and features, and he is ambitious, energetic, and passionate about this project. What he’s brought to the table in just a few days organizing his crew has completely impressed me. In just a couple days, he’s lined up pretty much everything we need for his end of things: grip truck, camera package, lenses, his crew. He is pretty stellar so far, and if we work together as well as I think we will, I anticipate working on many future projects with Sam. Sam’s brought on some of the best crew for his end that Seattle has to offer: Seth Wessel-Estes on 1stAC, and Richard Williams and Matt Bunker on gaffing. My husband Mike is working 2ndAC on the shoot, so he’ll get to learn by working under some great, experienced crew.
On editing we have one of my favorite editors, Joe Shapiro, who edited Police Beat and Zoo. Joe is fastidious and artistic and really a brilliant editor, and I’m thrilled to be working with him on this project. I’d had him in mind when I posted the call for an editor, but never thought we’d get him. I was surprised when he sent his info in and leaped at the opportunity to interview him. I knew ten minutes into the conversation that he was my guy. We’ve already worked together on another project, and we work together well. I know a lot of indie directors edit their own films, or want to be tightly involved with the editing process. I do, to an extent, but I hired Joe as my editor for a reason — because I think he knows how to cut a film in a way that tells a cohesive, artful story, and because like me, he thinks very visually. Cheryl Cowan, one of Seattle’s busiest script supervisors, is on board as scripty. She’ll be making sure we don’t screw up things like continuity and crossing the line, and generally making sure we get all the coverage we’re supposed to get for Joe to edit, organized in a way that allows him to do his job.
Sound, for me, is one of the most crucial parts of indie filmmaking that I see many, many films get wrong. Bad sound in a film drives me batshit crazy. I needed a crack sound guy on this crew, so I asked a bunch of Seattle filmmakers who they’d recommend and they all gave me the same answer: You need your sound to be totally on point? You’ve got to get Vinny Smith. So I
stalked tracked Vinny down, and met him over coffee, and we very quickly nailed down an agreement for him to handle set sound, post sound, and the 5.1 mix at Bad Animals.
I have the technical skills to handle hair and makeup, but since I’m handling art direction and also directing and producing, I figured it would be smart to get an experienced film and video makeup artist to be in charge of that. I put out a call, checked on some references, got some recommendations, and hired Anne Sellery for the job before we’d finished our chai lattes. I also wanted to steal the fabulous coat she wore to the interview, but I decided that probably wasn’t the best way to establish a relationship with my makeup artist, so I refrained. My oldest daughter, Meg Phillips (who, gods help me, just turned 26) brings on board years of theatrical experience as wardrobe supervisor and set dresser. We have PAs lined up, and we’ll have a still photographer on set as well.
And then, the cast. Because without solid, experienced actors, I could have all the great crew in the world, but they’d have nothing to shoot.
My lead actress was cast right off the bat. Her name is Rachel Delmar, she’s a Seattle-based actress who I’ve known for nine years through her involvement with Bellevue Youth Theater, where she’s now a resident director. Rachel’s a USC grad, and she’s professional and absolutely solid. Fortunately, she was excited to take the part once she read the script, and came aboard. Now we needed a male lead, and for that I needed to cast a wider net. I don’t like auditioning actors off artificial sides, so I auditioned them off an early version of the script (I know, I know. I registered the script with the WGA and had them all sign paperwork about it). Rachel read with eight actors for 30 minutes each at the first round, then an hour each with four of them for callbacks. We videotaped all the rehearsals and uploaded the callbacks so Melanie and Mike and I could watch them together.
It came down to two actors that we both liked a lot, for different reasons, and it wasn’t an easy choice to make, but the night before I headed to Toronto, I woke up at about 3AM knowing instinctively which guy it needed to be, and I trusted my gut. Our male lead is Stefan Hajek, a recent LA transplant to Seattle. He’s SAG Fi-Core, which means he is able to work on indie projects. Together they are fabulous, great chemistry, great banter, exactly what the film needs. They’ve been working very hard in the rehearsal process, drawing their individual and relationship backstories, working out the details of who they are. Totally professional, very on the ball.
That’s about where we are with regard to the script, cast and crew. Next time on Adventures in Filmmaking: designing the set, lining up catering to keep a crew happy, and deciding on and finding props that enhance the film and help tell the story visually. Until then, Happy Halloween, and may you have more treats than tricks in your day.