Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Indie Filmmaking: Never a Dull Moment

Had a long location scout today -- mostly productive. We found locations that will be suitable for just about everything in the film. Now the work of securing those locations begins.

And did I mention that I blew out a tire on this location scout? I know it's a minor thing -- just frustrating. We were driving through a not-so-great part of town (because, natch, it has all the best looking streets and sidewalks -- in terms of interesting stuff to look at). Anyway, there was some thing with spikes on it in the middle of the road. I didn't see it til the last moment and swerved too late.


Got back to the office after that to a note from Producer telling me that our able Director of Photography had (reluctantly) dropped off the project. His money situation was such that he couldn't afford to do a low budget gig like this right now. Which I understand. But which would have been nice for him to have given more consideration a month ago when he committed.

So a new DP search begins. I made a few phone calls, sent a few e-mails, we'll see what happens. But I'm generally freaking out right now because we're less than six weeks away, have no lead, no DP, very few locations locked down, and the budget is too tight (we now need an extra $1000 we didn't budget for to get the script cleared -- legal stuff to make it easier to get it distributed later).

But that's indie filmmaking, right? :-)

Anyone have an extra thousand bucks laying around?

Friday, May 27, 2005

Student Evaluations and Other Updates

This week, I got my student eval scores for the spring semester. Very high marks and great comments from my upper-level production and writing courses (my favorite comment on the back of one form: "Prof TerminalMFA f--king rocks!"). The numbers on the big lecture course (a history of cinema course) weren't as sterling. But, when you take the categories "Agree" and "Strongly Agree" together, the numbers really aren't bad at all (especially considering the relative number of students who appeared so bored that they were sleeping through both lectures AND screenings).

The only thing that concerned me was where my numbers are put next to some composite "comparison group" numbers -- I mostly fell a bit short in the Strongly Agree category on almost all of those. I really don't obsess over this personally, but I worry that the powers-that-be might. My department chair certainly does not, but in my first tenure review, the Associate Dean who attended to represent the College commented to me that some of the very small number of non-positive responses were probably 'first semester jitters.' Those comments were on a course where my eval numbers were VERY good, and I got the impression this Assoc. Dean was expecting ALL good responses.

As my department chair said, if everyone likes everything you do, you're not challenging them enough. So the only reason I worry is that I don't know what the tenure committee folks will say. The good thing is that I may not have a big lecture course all of next year, so my numbers will probably be pretty solid for Year Two.

Comments were almost universally positive. Students seem to really like AND respect me. Some of the comments really inflated my ego and had me feeling pretty good about my ability to get through to students with information AND make them enthusiastic and interested. So that was nice. I always dread reading the comments because I worry about personalizing some negative comments. Really the only negatives I got were about boring lecture style in the history course. I was aware of that and didn't have a strategy to change it, so I don't feel too bad -- there was a lot of info to communicate in a short period of time, and I did the best I could.

And next year, the new guy we hired will have that course, so I won't have to deal with it again.

On the film front, I still haven't cast the male lead. I have a few videotaped auditions coming from L.A. after a posting on craigslist.com los angeles. I don't have particularly high hopes, but I'm still pursuing all angles. I did cast the major male supporting role and am excited about that actor. The major female supporting role is still open, but I have a strong candidate. I'm just waiting to see a few of the video auditions that are still on the way from various places.

Major location scouting next week. We secured our biggest location -- a house that will serve as the main characters home, and a location we'll shoot in for one week of our three-week shoot. That's a big load off. Still plenty of locations to find -- street corners and parking lots and those kinds of things. We're looking for eclectic and unusual locations.

Production design meeting next week, too. That means I have to buckle down and make design notes and prop lists. I'd like to leave this to the production designer, but I'm not certain that's the best plan (remember we're using a crew that has a lot of students; production designer is a top-notch recent graduate, the departmental award winner for our program -- but she's still inexperienced and not being paid, so you never know how much you can count on them).

Speaking of not counting on students -- I was told this early on by the producer, a colleague on faculty. And I learned it this week when a grad student who we 'hired' as an associate producer basically decided to put his academic work ahead of the film with six weeks to go before production starts. Now, it's not that I don't understand that, but a commitment is a commitment, and it boils down to this student not managing his spring semester schedule well, not getting the stuff done we asked him to get done all semester, and wasting time on things he shouldn't have. And now he's not going to make up for that. So, in my book, that means "bye-bye credit" (i.e. he won't get the assoc producer credit), and don't count on me for a good recommendation. I don't mean that vindictively. He just hasn't shown me anything I can recommend other than ambition and the ability to overcommit himself.

But we're moving on. We have lots to do, and a short time to do a lot of it, so there's no stopping the train now!

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Casting Woes

I am really struggling with acting talent (or lack thereof).  We had auditions two weekends ago and, I'll be frank, I feel like we crapped out.  No talent whatsoever.  Okay, I exaggerate (slightly).  I found someone to play the female lead, I believe.  But no one to play the two main male characters.  This is VERY frustrating.  I really need character actors in the lead roles -- all the main characters are strange, slightly 'off', and are best played by character actor types. But everyone who auditioned (a) looks like a print model; and (b) can't really 'act' beyond simple articulate recitation. No one was capable of creating a character, especially someone a little strange.

I'm so frustrated that I actually auditioned for the lead myself.  At the end of a weekend of auditions, I sat down with the script, while we were waiting for the next actor, and read for the part. And, scary enough, I was the best of all the people who auditioned. And that's not me speaking -- that's the producer, casting director, and associate producer, all of whom were at the auditions.

So, I'm stuck with this dilemma -- I can keep looking and hoping I'll find someone better (and I plan to).  But the talent pool is thin -- especially for mid-30's actors who are willing to work for deferred pay.  If I don't find someone better, I have to play the role myself, but somehow change my appearance to make me look more nerdy (than I already so ;-)  Like, shaving part of my head to look really balding, and shaving my goatee and leaving just a moustache, maybe.  I'm even considering getting some high quality false teeth that will look a little less nice than my teeth. I really want to create a character here -- I've done some acting, but I need to go beyond just 'acting' and really inhabit this weird main character. If I do it.

Of course, directing myself AND other actors AND paying attention to the shots... I'm not sure I can do this.  But if it's between that and casting an actor who's no good in such a critical role... well, I'm not sure I'll have a choice.

Sigh... how does Woody Allen do it?  :-)

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Three Meme

I never do these things (insecurity – I am usually sure I am just too uninteresting to bother), but since I was personally called upon to do so by AiE, I guess I’ll give it a shot...

3 names you go by:
- Short version of my first name
- My full first name (on business cards and film credits)
- Christmas Tree (long story)

3 screennames you've had (besides blog psuedonym):
- all are variations on my first and last name

3 physical things you like about yourself:
- hands (I’m reaching here – I don’t like anything about myself physically)
- feet
- the fact that I lost a bunch of weight and now feel normal

3 physical things you dislike about yourself:
- thinning hair
- a little flabby around the middle
- the shape of my face (too oval, wish I had a squarer jaw)

3 parts of your heritage:
- Italian
- Norwegian
- what we affectionately call, in my family, ‘heinz 57’ – a little bit of everything

3 things you are wearing right now:
- grey t-shirt with my university’s name on it
- khaki cargo shorts
- a watch that doubles as a 128 MB USB storage device (gadget geek)

3 favorite bands / musical artists:
- U2
- Enya
- soundtracks – I love movie soundtracks

3 things you want in a relationship:
- comfort – just being able to relax with the other person
- independence
- similar interests in movies and books and etc.

3 physical things about the preferred sex that appeals to you:
- curves
- nice eyes
- soft skin

3 of your favorite hobbies:
- reading
- moviegoing (rarely get to indulge in this)
- I need more hobbies

3 things you want to do really badly right now:
- not have to get up early in the morning (I love sleeping late and miss it since I had kids)
- go to the movies
- have a good reason to listen to my new iPod mini

3 things that scare you:
- noises while I am laying in bed at night
- that anything might ever happen to one of my kids
- that my films will suck beyond words and I’ll be revealed as a total fraud

3 of your everyday essentials:
- coffee
- internet
- a nice hot shower in the morning

3 careers you have considered or are considering:
- lawyer (a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away)
- owning an antiquarian book shop
- running a retro art-deco-style moviehouse that serves full meals, wine, etc.

3 places you want to go on vacation:
- Great Britain
- Disney World (I have kids, I love to see the looks on their faces when they go to places like this)
- Italy (it’s a family heritage thing)

3 kids' names you like:
- Carter
- Evelyn
- Molly

3 things you want to do before you die:
- make a movie with a biggish budget and the actors of my choosing
- walk my daughters down the aisle when they get married
- earn enough money so that I don’t have to sweat the monthly budget

3 ways you are stereotypically a boy:
- I don't talk about "my feelings" – it’s instinctive. I just get quiet and watch TV.
- I love watches and buy new ones whenever I can afford to.
- I am obsessed with baseball and football; I follow the records of my favorite teams and obsess over stats and records.

3 ways you are stereotypically a chick:
- I am very concerned about my appearance.
- I actually like shopping for new clothes (at least, now that I can shop in normal-person sizes)
- I am a clean freak (I don’t know if this is stereotypically ‘chick’-like, but it comes from my mom, so I am equating it with her)

3 celeb crushes:
- Isabella Rossellini
- Tina Fey
- Kate Winslet

3 people I would like to see take this quiz now:
- Chuck – only because he never does this stuff
- Tina Fey (what the hell; she’d probably make it a lot funnier than I did)
- the main character in the movie I’m making this summer

Sunday, May 15, 2005

A Death in the Family

Grandpa J. died on Friday night, after two weeks of suffering in the last stage of congestive heart failure. His last two days were particularly hard. In his last moments, he was surrounded by his children and their spouses, and his grandchildren. But his last moments were particularly harsh and painful as the heart failure caused him to suffocate and drown in his own fluids. I am glad it is over for him, and glad I was with my family, to reminisce, celebrate his life, and reconnect.

R.I.P., Grandpa. Enjoy eternity with Grandma, and don't let her tell you how much to drink.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

An Eventful Day...

I hadn't thought today would be so eventful... first item, I finished grades and got them all turned in. I honestly thought it would take me til Wednesday, but I managed to plow through by working on it til 10pm last night, and so I was able to finish by about noon today. Grades are in, and I am free (moderately).

But I got the phone call from my parents today that I have been expecting all week. My grandfather is close to death. He has been inching closer for months, with congestive heart failure, but he entered the final stages last night, beginning to hallucinate from the lack of oxygen getting to his brain (admittedly, I have only a rudimentary understanding of congestive heart failure).

I have mixed emotions. I have never been THAT close to this grandfather, in spite of living right next door to him (and for a while, in the same house as him) for my entire childhood. I love him, but he has always been remote and distant. Unemotional unless angry. He never seemed to care about anything unless it ticked him off. So it's hard to have close feelings for that kind of person.

But my mom is in pain, and I am sad for her and sad because I love my grandfather and will miss him. I will miss knowing he is there. I will miss my kids getting to know him, as he's been much kinder and gentler in his last years than he ever was in my childhood.

And, in large part, I think I am reacting to the fact that my last living grandparent will soon be gone. It is that feeling of getting older and moving ever closer to the loss I actually worry about -- when my own parents die. That worries me a lot, because I feel that's when my 'in case of emergency' fallback for everything will be gone. My parents have just always been there, and not having them there will just be... I don't know... just hard to fathom. No one to call to tell me how to fix this or that. No one to help out with those big ticket items you just can't afford on your own (my dad mowed my lawn here once in the August heat and decided I needed a ride on mower -- that's the kind of stuff that will be gone).

It's not the financial benefits parents often provide -- it's knowing that the people who always have your back in case of deep need just aren't there anymore.

I don't look forward to that day.

I'll post an update when I hear more about Grandpa J.

Sunday, May 08, 2005


Auditions this weekend... I can’t say they went well. We did see a few actors who weren’t a complete waste of time, but most of what we saw were third tier talent at best, and so flaky that I’m amazed they remembered they were actually auditioning. Why do actors audition if they aren’t available for the stated shooting dates? And I’m amazed at the number of people with actual acting credits on their headshots who couldn’t act their way out of the proverbial paper bag. Hope I never end up seeing a show they're in (sorry, that sounds really snarky, but I was very unimpressed).

I expect, minimally, that an actor will enter the audition with an interpretation of the character (they had the pages in advance). Now, I don’t expect it to be the RIGHT interpretation, but at least give me a take on the character. Then, I’ll give the actor some direction, and I expect to see some adjustment at that point.

Everyone we saw, with very few exceptions, was just reading. As in, they just read the lines, and I guess they think acting is the ability to read a script well.

Of course, as my producer pointed out, it’s a deferred-pay, three-week shoot that’s an hour or two from the nearest big cities in the state. But even so, I expected some decent talent. It’s a very good script, and a great opportunity for a fledgling (but talented) actor to get some exposure.

So – if any of you know any good actors, especially men in their 30’s who are character-actor types and who would do a three-week, deferred-pay shoot this summer (July and early August), contact me and let me know. I’ll give you more details (such as a script synopsis and the location of the shoot).

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Idle Thought

I'm thinking of shaving my head this summer, for the film shoot. I've started to recede in the front and the hair on my crown is growing noticeably thin. My wife hates the idea, but I'm already trimmed down to the hair-as-skin-cap look anyway. So, bald is just the next natural step. And I'll keep the goatee, or maybe shave just the moustache.

Pretty sure I am going to do this, but generally curious about reactions (admittedly from people who have never seen me before).

Crew Stuff

Had first meeting with the DP today, and he asked such great questions. The film is a mock documentary, and his first question was about the hypothetical documentary crew who made this documentary -- i.e., how did they come upon their subject, how much money did they have, etc.

This all affected his visual approach. Since the hypothetical documentarians would be small budget filmmakers, he said he normally wouldn't want to shoot HD. He'd shoot it DV, since that's what they would shoot. Of course, we have access to HD, it gives us better chances at distribution and fests, so we're shooting HD (and he's fine with that and agrees with the reasoning)... so we're going to possibly grain it up a little with low lighting. We'll see.

I, for one, was impressed by the question. We traded film clip references, I have him some copies of films I wanted to discuss in terms of their documentary aesthetic. It was a rushed meeting because I had to get home early...

...to have a cookout for my senior level production class. I try to have one class a semester over for some sort of get together at the end of the term. So about 11 out of my 18 upper-level students came over for burgers, hot dogs, and hanging out for a few hours. It's always fun to relate to them as human beings and not as their authority figure. We talked movies, career plans. Two of them asked for a picture with me -- how incredibly flattering.

They had a student film fest in the department this weekend -- an admittedly small affair, but very important to the department. And I couldn't make it in this, my first year, because of the award ceremony I had to attend. They have been giving me such a hard time about missing my first festival, and even asked if I'd record a video intro apologizing for my absence (they asked me to get more and more arrogant about my big award vs. their 'little festival of videos' -- and I gladly did it. It was fun, and I am told got a lot of laughs at the fest).

Monday, May 02, 2005

I won...

Without going into too much detail (so as not to pierce the veil of my anonymity here), I took home first place in my category for a screenplay at a midlevel competition/festival this weekend. So that was nice.

Lousy trip there, nice to get the award, nice trip home. All in all, a pretty good weekend.