Saturday, June 27, 2009

Things heating up...

30 hours until we start shooting, and so much is happening so fast. Bad news is that we lost one of my favorite locations, but some of the good news is that all of our locations are still great. We did a tech scout today, which is when the heads of each crew department visit all the locations to make sure all the practical needs can be met, and everyone agreed the locations looked and felt great.

I've got an interesting bet going with a few people on the production team. I'm betting that I can keep our "2nd meals" at 3 or fewer for the 15 day shoot. What's a 2nd meal, you may be asking? Every day is supposed to go 12 hours. By law we have to feed people "lunch" at the six hour mark, and if we go longer than 12 hours, we have to feed them at the 12 hour mark. That 12 hour mark meal is called "2nd meal." If you give it, it means you've gone into overtime, which no one likes.

I believe I can keep the production from doing more than 3 second meals in our 15 days, even though our schedule is tight. I'm betting $100 with a few people who believe I'll do more than 3.

Kevin Sorbo and Kristy Swanson got in tonight, and the three of us went out to dinner. It was great. Both of them are really sweet and cool, and it's obvious we're going to have a good and productive time together. When you're going to be in the trenches with people for three weeks, you typically want to like them, and we've got that covered here. Kevin and I are buddies anyway, but tonight was the first time I've met Kristy in person, and she was terrific.

Tomorrow we do some wardrobe fittings to make sure they like their clothes, and I'm meeting with my cinematographer Todd Barron to prepare a shot list for the first week. A shot list is when you literally plan out all the shots you plan to make for each scene, type it up, and give it to the production staff so they can have a decent handle on how long things will take.

More to come...

Cast filling up...
Published: June 23, 2009
Today was my best day of pre-production. Great news all day.

Kristy Swanson is officially booked as Wendy, our lead female character. We're getting quite a cast. Kevin Sorbo plays Ben, the hot-shot investment banker who gets a glimpse of what his life would have looked like had he followed his calling to be a pastor and stay with the right girl. Kristy Swanson plays Wendy, the right girl. John Ratzenberger plays Mike, the angel who gives Ben the glimpse and acts as a guide through the process. And Debby Ryan, big up and coming Disney star from "Suite Life On Deck," plays Kimberly, the older daughter in Ben's "alternate life."

Had a little scare with Disney, as they wanted to make sure it wasn't a "right-wing fundamentalist" movie before they released Debby, but they read the script and were fine. Hearing that news this morning got the day started right.

We're also finding some awesome locations. The opening and closing scenes of the film take place in a bus station, and we're going to turn a huge warehouse into a de facto bus station, which will look very cool. Most times the locations you find force you to compromise in some way, but occasionally you get the cool experience of finding locations that open the movie up even more and give you better opportunities than you thought you'd have.

One week from shooting...
Published: June 21, 2009
Woke up this morning to the news that we've cast our Wendy! The great thing is we got someone who will bring a little name value to the project and has a ton of experience. We'll make an official announcement about all our cast as soon as they're all official.

It all happened very fast, which was cool. Got her the script a few days ago, she said "I'm in" last night while I was sleeping.

Auditioned a girl today for the part of the 6 year old. Sometimes it's good to cast locally (saves money and is easier), sometimes it's better to find someone from L.A. who has more experience and fly them in. The girl today doesn't have much experience, but she's absolutely adorable and could be great. We'll make a decision there in a couple days. I should have the whole film cast within the next 3 to 4 days.

The locations are all coming together; spent some time today with the production designer and art director going through the house where we're shooting all the family scenes. We had to make sure that every scene could be shot there without any problems. For instance, there always has to be enough room for lights, the camera, and all the actors, obviously. So you're not only looking for rooms that have depth, but you're looking for places where you can place the camera that will take up as little room as possible, even if that means the camera being outside the room (shooting through a doorway or window).

Whenever you don't have depth in the film, or enough distance from the camera to the subject, the film always ends up looking cheap.

One thing cool about the house is that it's owned by a couple that LOVES my Dad's books, and they share the values of the film, so they're letting us pretty much do whatever we want. We've already chopped down three huge evergreens in their front lawn, and we're choosing colors with which to paint their interior walls. Most of their walls are white, which never looks very good on film. I'm trying to depict the home life as warm and inviting, so we're looking for light, warm colors. Light browns, greens, oranges, etc.

Gonna make a few more tweaks to the script based on locations we're finding, and then next week is going to be crazy as the crew and cast start showing up.

Still don't have a Wendy...
Published: June 17, 2009
Man, this is frustrating...we're trying to cast our lead actress but have been failing for over a month. Every time we've got someone, something gets in the way, whether it's schedule or money or some other silly reason. We're less than two weeks from shooting and we don't have a lead girl!

Last night I saw an online audition from a girl in Chicago who was fantastic. I'm driving 3 hours to meet her today, so we'll see if that works out.

In Michigan...
Published: June 16, 2009
I'm in Michigan now, and we start shooting in less than two weeks. Wow. Everything's going quite well, actually. The producers we're working with at Pure Flix Entertainment are terrific; totally on top of everything. Yesterday we drove around looking at and choosing locations. When choosing locations, it's all about the balance between art and commerce. One location looks perfect but has bad sound issues, or lack of parking, or will be too expensive. Another location doesn't look perfect but has all the perks we need. Another important aspect is that you want the locations to be as close to each other as possible. Every time you have to move all the trucks and cast/crew, it takes time and costs money.

We're completing our casting right now. Kevin Sorbo is the lead, John Ratzenberger is Mike the Angel, Debby Ryan (upcoming Disney star) is one of the daughters, and we're about to close a deal on our lead female. Most of the rest of the cast is coming out of Michigan and Chicago, so I'm spending half the day today looking at online auditions for "day player" roles (roles where the person works for one day). Local casting is always an adventure. Sometimes you find diamonds, sometimes you get people like from the opening weeks of American Idol.

I'm going to be video blogging every day from the set, so stay tuned for more regular updates...

Shooting one month away...
Published: June 1, 2009
Right now we're holding auditions for the female lead and are down to a few options. I'm doing callbacks tomorrow; we've seen about 15 women, gotten them on tape, watched the tape a few times, and are seeing a few tomorrow who will read a different scene. This is such an important process--80% of directing is casting properly, so we have to get it right. Never ever ever settle for someone less than your best available option, even for a small role, because a bad performance can kill a film.

We're closing deals on two of our key parts (announcement coming), which is great. With one of the parts, we're getting a great performer, but we had to expand the role a bit to get this person involved. Some star actors are willing to take less money to do a role, but it needs to be worth it for them, which makes sense. We added a few scenes and moments within the context of the film because of the value this person brings to the film, and it looks like it's going to work out. We're very excited.

We start filming on June 29th, and we still haven't really nailed down all our locations, so we've got a ton to do. Scheduling and locations are the hardest parts of a low budget films. You have to schedule so that you can work around the schedules of your actors, but you also have to make sure you're being smart about WHERE you shoot. It's a juggling act. As the director, I've got to constantly make adjustments, because sometimes the Assistant Director (who does the scheduling) or the line producer (who pays the bills) will say, "You can't have this location because it's too expensive," or "We need to make this scene take place outside because we won't have time to go inside," or "Can we lose this character in this scene because we can't afford him on this day?"

I could be a selfish artiste and get riled up, or I could make some compromises and do what I can to work within the limitations I'm given. I choose the latter, because I need to get my film made on time and on budget.

I'm spending some of my time fine-tuning the script, some time working through the schedule, some time auditioning the actors, some time choosing locations, some time talking to the production designers and cinematographer about the look of the film. I'm leaving for Michigan in a couple weeks, where I'll have a little over two weeks to get ready to shoot. It's going to be a whirlwind.