The trailer shoot

February 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

There are two main differences in shooting a short and/or a  trailer from shooting a feature, the amount of time and the amount of money needed. The basic structure of the production is the same except it consists of a smaller crew with fewer resources and done in a much shorter time frame. Just as meticulous pre-production  is essential for a big feature production the same rule applies to a well oiled short or trailer shoot. Preparation is key to a successful shoot regardless of the scope. Part of this preparation includes enlisting the right cast and  crew.  For my trailer production I hit the mark, I was fortunate to find the right cast and fortunate to find a solid DP who brought in his own crew of top notch people. The basics were done and 99% was in place before the day of the shoot. A  few things were not finalized the day before the shoot but we got them resolved during crunch time and we were good to go before the day of production. I had very limited time and a few of my cast members were out-of-town and not available for a table read or any rehearsals but even if that was not the case I had no time to properly rehearse my cast hence the window of time I did  have was a mere few hours the night before the day of the shoot. I needed to use those few hours wisely. Having cast competent and professional artists I did not have worry about them be prepared in the sense of knowing their lines and such, all prep material was given to them with plenty of time to absorb. What  I needed to do was to make sure that their interpretation of the character and the relationships between all the characters was on the same page as me. Just as important, I needed to start familiarizing the actors with each other, to establish a comfort factor between them and erase being “strangers” from the equation. I have very defined methods on how to direct actors. I am not there to hinder their process nor am I there to teach actors how to act,  hence, I do not hire those who are not capable actors. Since every actor has their own system of preparation, I also need to know what that is and how I can assist them on this process. I am not there to stand in the way of a performance, I allow my actors to act.  That said,  this is done within a perimeter, I do not  let them run off page on any tangent. Just as the words that I write are not cut into in stone. There is flexibility in the lines, for the dialogue  must flow organic from the actor to sound authentic. My role is to guide and to fine tune the performances, get them back on path if they wander off path. As it has been said a thousand times before, the key to good acting is good listening.  If an actor truly listens to what is being said and what is happening within the scene their reaction to that environment will play true. Back to the point, in those few hours I wanted my actors to begin to feel comfortable with each other and also with the character they would be playing. For me, telling the back story of each character allows the actor to know their history which gives the actor access to the psychology and the state of mind of the character which will guide the motives and actions. If you know who the person is, where they came from and why they are there than knowing the “whys” of their behavior should fall into place.  As with actors, when hiring a crew, one must be specific to find the right fit. There were many considerations taken into account  when I hired my D.P. Certainly his reel had great influence but it was not the dealer maker. I sought a D.P who was passionate about being a D.P but not passionate about being a director. I was not seeking a co-director, meaning one who wants to change the script or direct the action within the scene, that is my job. As I wish for my creative realm to be respected I also respect others, meaning I left the camera/lighting and staging of the shots in the hands of my D.P. That is his realm. That does not mean he did not consult with me, but he designed the framing, the lighting, etc, based on what we discussed prior to being hired. That interview process included how he saw the project framed and lit, perspective, mood, ambience, etc, etc, and we were on the same page about those things. Also, he had a team of people that he had worked with many times before, a team he trusted, They would have a rhythm and a system that I would not interfere with. I allowed them to do their job. The key to any successful shoot is to create an atmosphere built on mutual respect, trust, familiarity and collaboration and done without ego. Since I had a great cast and crew in place the next matter was the logistics of the shoot. the order and the time in which the scenes were to be shot. We had four exterior scenes, ( including one NIGHT scene) and two interior scenes. The order in which they were laid out was not just about where the sun was during that time of day but many other considerations. The next to last scene shot would have the entire cast at a diner table, I too was in  that scene as an actor and director. I had arranged it so the dinner scene would be the next to last scene shot on that day. Reason being, it allowed the cast the time to bond  throughout the entire day, time to familiarize  themselves with each other. Also, all the scenes shot prior to the dinner scene had the actors  being in character, hence, by the time the big dinner scene was shot they would not only be comfortable  with each other but also with their character. The strategy worked. The very last scene of the day enlisted only two actors, the lead actor and myself. It was the most disposable of all the scenes hence if we did not get it  there would be no great loss. We  did not get it. We shot it but the footage was not up to par with the other footage. There were sound and lighting issues and no coverage to speak of. We had only a medium shot master shot with very few takes. There were unforeseen obstacles  that prevented us from properly capturing that scene. The obstacles included the neighbor’s barking dogs and fuse overloads every time we clicked on the lights. The footage could not be salvaged in the editing room. Another reason why I chose this scene to be the final scene shot was out of consideration for my actors. They could go  home after the dinner scene was shot.  I knew they would be exhausted from such a long day of shooting. But they did not go home.  They stayed and socialized, exchanged e-mail addresses and phone numbers, took  photographs of their fellow cast mates and the crew, They had bonded in these twelve hours as if they had just wrapped up a full length feature production. There was harmony on the set. While I did not get my last scene as I had wished, I did finish on time and within budget. It was not without flaws but it a well oiled production with only a few bumps in the road. I am very proud of what was accomplished on that day. It was a collaborative effort between professional and talented people.

How many hats can one fit on their head?

February 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

From the genesis of the script, through the drafts, all phases of preproduction and during production through post production I have worked in many capacities, excluding the valuable assistance of my producer who came on board later in the project,  I was a production team of one. Aside from writer/director/producer I served as editor, art director, prop master, casting director, PR person, accountant, UPM, caterer, my own production assistance, etc, etc. These self consigned jobs were out of necessity not out of want.  I had no money to pay others to perform these duties. Was it too much for one person to undertake?  It certainly was. Did the project suffer from the lack of helping hands? Suffer is a harsh assessment but the project was hindered creatively and financially. Yes, mistakes were made and and oversights did happen which all could have been avoided with more crew and money, which one cannot have without the other. More money = more crew. Overall I am pleased with what has been achieved thus far based on the resources available. I had other productions and experience under my belt to glean from, however much of this process was a learning experience. What I did not know I had to learn how to do and not without error. No regrets and one must always try to learn from their mistakes. It is a wise philosophy for life and for filmmaking. In Los Angeles,  in the Indie filmmaker arena , everyone and everybody has their own personal pet project they are trying to launch. While this can be an obstacle it can also be a opportunity, a time to barter services.  Example, I will do this for you on your project if you help me with this on my project. This business is about networking, negotiation and compromise. I love the creative process, be it writing, directing, acting, editing, however the business side of movie making makes me numb, however making movies is a business and one of the essential skills an independent filmmaker must learn is the business skills. One must be able and willing to pitch  oneself and their product and that product is your movie. A song and dance routine is required, even if just a few basic steps. Same applies to networking, one needs to market themself and their movie.  I took me a very long time to accept this part of the journey, for me it is a necessary evil.  Art is a commodity and one needs money to create this commodity so one must be able and willing to work with the money people, the people who can make the dream a reality. Hence, salesman ( or woman ) will be one of the hats you will wear.

Budget

February 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

Designing a budget is not a complicated task but it is a time-consuming task requiring many inquiries, research and negotiation. There are many movie budgeting software programs available, varying in price and capabilities. I did not use any budgeting software programs to assemble the trailer’s budget nor did I hire a line producer or a UPM to put together a budget for the project. I did it the old school way, with a ledger sheet and pencil. Regardless if you use some top of the line budgeting software or a pad and pencil, to make an accurate budget one needs to go through the entire script, scene by scene, page by page, to know exactly what is needed for the entirety, be it props, crew, cast, equipment, location, etc, etc, etc. & etc.   No two scripts are exactly alike, hence, each budget will vary.  I knew when I put together the budget for the trailer that some entities had flexibility and others did not.  I also chose to keep the budget at a very conservative figure, a dollar figure that would give me the essentials needed to shoot a streamlined but professional trailer. No need to seek the most expensive equipment and crew if the job could be done by trimming the fat. I needed to solicit a reasonable dollar amount from investors, an inflated budget would not serve me well when asking for money. Also, I did not construct a bare bones budget either because you do get  what you pay for. Student filmmakers will work on a film for the experience and credit and for no pay however one paid experienced P.A. will serve you better than three free students P.A.s , who may even hinder the production due to time and money wasted from mistakes made based on lack of experience. I am not suggesting to never use student labor or donated services but be prudent on what you scrimp on and what you splurge on. I could have shot this trailer basically for the cost of food for cast and crew, but production value and performances would most likely would have  been compromised. I chose the middle ground, I found key crew members that were willing to negotiate their daily rate, be it hair & make up, sound, whomever. I secured experienced and professional people who were willing to adjust their wage. These people I will use again, I am loyal. Almost all of my talent agreed to work for a deferred wage for the day. which could mean they may never get paid. The  actors involved believed in the quality of the project and believed that at the very least they would gain a solid acting piece for their acting reel. My location was secured for free by an actress from one of her great friends. Her work and contributions on the trailer earned her a well deserved producer credit and the she will also serve as a producer in the feature production, She enlisted an additional PA free of charge for the shoot and secured the use of a Corvette for the shoot, a sports car that at the very minimum would have added $300 plus to the budget. As for the location it would have added thousands to the budget if I had to pay for a comparable location. She brought the project to the next level. I researched for the best value be it for equipment, service, travel, etc. I negotiated cost, prices and wages where I could. In the end I shot 6 scenes/12 pages in a 12 hour day, I did not go over budget and I wrapped the shoot in time.  This was accomplished for around $3,500 ( about $1,000 for travel expenses ) If no wages were deferred, if all donated services including location and  automobiles, the shoot would have cost over $10,000. Regarding the location, I had a back-up location in case my quest for an alternative place failed, however, the back-up location, while functional, would not have added to the visual depth of the scenes as the  alternative did. I also had four sports-cars on my original prop list in which I believed at least one of those four cars would be available. None of those cars were available.  The sports car was an essential element in a key scene, I needed a sports-car  ( the script called for a Stingray Corvette ) or I would have to lose that scene. Yes, I was flexible in the make and model of the car but a  Camry would not pass for a sportscar.  To rent a sports-car would have brought me over budget. Melissa, my producer came through in a clutch with her friends’ Corvette, it enabled me to shoot that key scene and stay within my budget. When working with a very small and limited budget one must be able to adjust, to trim it the bone when necessary, there will be compromises in making an independent film. The key is to know what can be sacrificed and what cannot and that is not always an obvious choice. One thing I highly recommend is not to scrimp on food especially if actors and crew are deferring their wage or working for a lower wage. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches might be acceptable for one meal but always budget in at least one solid and decent meal for the people on your set, always feed your cast and crew well. Also of importance, if you cannot secure all the money needed to achieve your ideal budget be prepared to work with what you have rather than surrender the project. The collective resources of creative minds can create a high quality film  from a smaller dollar amount.

No $

December 9, 2010 § Leave a comment

I had no funding for a feature production and putting out “feelers” for funding to possible investors informed me that nobody was interested in financing my feature length movie that had no name talent and a no name director ( me ) and a script that nobody was interested in reading. I believed and I always will believe that the script, the story, is the foundation of any movie.  A huge studio budget with A-list talent will not turn a bad script into a good movie. I also believe a great script can be made into a great movie with a small budget and an unknown but talented cast and crew.  I had a good script however nobody was interested in actually reading the script. I needed to get people’s attention, even if it was an inquiry of curiosity about this tentative little movie and the way to do that is with a trailer. I needed to cast the trailer to shoot the trailer.  The actors whom I cast for the trailer would be the same actors that I would use in the feature. I had put together a budget for the trailer before I cast the trailer. I had one tentative investor that I knew at the very least would give the project his consideration. I pitched the trailer premise and presented him with the budget. He put in approximately half of what was needed to shoot the trailer, it was up to me to figure out how to get the remaining funds. Where does one go when one has no money and does not know people with money? The answer for most struggling filmmakers is friends, family and neighbors. Friends was my only avenue and my friends with disposable income was a short list. I reached out to about a half a dozen people who I thought might be able to pitch in and who might actually pitch in. Two of out of the six responded and offered to join in. One was a friend from many years past that I recently became reconnected to via the internet social networks and the other was a relatively new friend, a co-worker, who came into a small inheritance. Their contribution plus the original investor’s contribution met my projected budget for the trailer. I had what I needed to shot the trailer , however, my budget did not include a post production budget. If my limited personal connections did not come through I was prepared to go the fundraising route, via an internet campaign, There are several crowd funding sites out there and each has its advantages and disadvantages. Since I was able to secure the funds need to shoot my trailer, I would use the internet fund-raising option for my post budget if necessary. In my case  I was very fortunate to have a few friends that believed in me and more so wanted to support a friend who was chasing a dream. The support of these three friends made the production of the trailer possible, without their support I do not know if I would have been able to raise the capital. Securing the production funds was the first step in many to follow to get this trailer shot.

pieces to the puzzle

December 2, 2010 § Leave a comment

When I decided to post casting notices for the role of Chandara I also had decided to cast for the roles not yet filled. I had secured  some production funds for the trailer but not all that I needed, however, I decided to move forward and cast the entire project in tandem with getting the rest of my production money. More to follow on soliciting production funds.  As I stated before, this script is an actor’s piece, an ensemble piece, each actor is an essential part of the puzzle that must fit perfectly with the other actors. The story is about a family and the dynamics within the family. It is a complicated family unit, hence, not only does the audience have to believe the actor in their solo performance, they also must believe their role as an authentic member of the family. Since the subject matter that is explored is adult and controversial and bizarre at times, the actors breathing life into these roles  must all be believed as authentic beings or the story will not be believable, it is truly is the sum of its parts. I have served as casting director for all of my projects, be it theater, film, commercials, this is both a creative  and financial choice. Depending on the project and the role/roles I do not always use the conventional audition methods, such as cattle calls, cold reads and casting from sides. The convenience and immediacy of the internet has made the casting process a simplified process, still time-consuming but much more effective. The availability of on-line acting reels has given the casting director the ability to effectively gauge an actors on-screen presence. The headshot and resume offer a broad stroke outline of the actors qualifications but an acting reel offers a true visual representation of how an actor “plays” on-screen regardless of the role and/or genre one is watching. I use the on-line submissions as my cattle call, from the mass of submissions I select a specific pool of the actors that fit the bill based on both their physical attributes and acting experience. I will than go through that specific pool of submissions to select those whom I feel best represent what I am seeking for that specific character/role. Some times only one or two  actors will emerge as viable candidates. Since I write the material that I direct  I know exactly what I am seeking when casting. When scheduling the reads for the auditions I always allow ample time for the actor to prepare and I also provide the material they need to help in their preparation, this includes the sides, synopsis of the project, the back ground of the character and the what/why and when of the scene they will be performing. I do this for several reasons.  First, out of respect for the actor, I give them a toolbox to work from which also allows me to evaluate what should be a well prepared and top caliber performance. Also, by offering the actor prep material I can evaluate their level of professionalism and commitment, if I provided all the tools necessary and an actor arrives unprepared that informs me that actor did not take advantage of the material provided, it shows a lack of respect for the project and their craft. I believe an actor should be just as prepared for an audition as they would be on an actual production. Meaning, treat the audition if it was the job. I never cast anyone who shows up late or unprepared. Experience has taught me if they are unreliable during the audition process they will be unreliable during the shoot.  As soon as an actor arrives for a read, my casting process has already began. I like to engage the actor in a dialogue, not only do I like to discuss the scene and/or the character but also if time allows I get some background information of the actor while always ingesting their mannerisms, their body language, those nuances which are inherent to them while they are not performing. I welcome questions and thoughts, it shows me that the actor is already involved. As I previously wrote, there are times when I will send an actor the entire script to read. I usually do this when I really want that specific actor for the role. I want them to have full disclosure of the material. If they are passionate about the role and project after reading the script I will cast them without a formal audition, if they lack passion for the role or the script there is no need to pursue them. Yes, Chandara was an exception to that statement.  I also sent the entire script of The Last Anniversary to two actors that I had no idea if I would cast or not. Both these actors wanted to audition for  the same role and both actors lived far away from Los Angeles, an airplane ride away. They both were willing to come at their own expense just to audition with no guarantee that either one of them would be offered the role. Out of consideration for their consideration for this project  I thought it only fair to let them read the entire script before they committed their money and time to audition. They both loved the script, they both came in and auditioned, they both gave excellent performances. I could only choose one. I cast the actor that fit the family dynamic more than the other. It was one of the hardest casting decisions I had to make but I made the correct choice for the project. Having a few actors already cast for the project I utilized them during the auditions by having them read with the actors auditioning for the available roles. Many times I had my cast actors read as a characters  they were not cast for, simply so I could gauge the chemistry, the presence and the energy being exchanged with the auditioning actors. I never had to do any call backs, I know it when I see it, the piece to  the puzzle fits or it does not fit. You can force it to fit but it is always obvious that it is the wrong piece for the puzzle.

The Chandara Saga

November 16, 2010 § Leave a comment

Chandara

She's got the "Look"

There were two actresses who I contacted directly about the role of Chandara before I put up the casting notices. One of them aesthetically had the qualities I was seeking for the role, the other actress had a different look than I had imagined for the role  however she was physically stunning. I sent the first actress the entire script to read, the other actress I sent Chandara’s introduction scene, a synopsis of the script and Chandara’s back story/character analysis. To this day I do not know if either of them read the material I sent them. After NO reply from either of them, I made one more inquiry to see if they had read the material and if so, if they were interested in doing the role. Once again, NO reply.  There are two scenarios that I believed happened. I don’t think the first actress read the script and if she did read it she most likely found it to be a bore, she did not “get it”. She was 20 years old.  The instant gratification mindset of this generation is not familiar with storytelling and stories told well, if something does not grab their attention in the first 3 seconds they have already moved on. Whether she read it or not, is not of  importance, her lack of professional courtesy to not even respond told me that she was too immature for this project. I believe the second actress did read the material that I sent her and she did not like or understand it. Again no response from her told me that she lacked professionalism. I understood and accepted  that there would be people who would not like or appreciate this story, I expected that but I also expected a simple “no thank you”. Sadly, professional courtesy is not  familiar practice in the entertainment business.  The second actress had what I would call ” I claim to be an actress but the truth is  I want to be a celebrity and I  have no desire to learn the craft of acting” syndrome.  Her motive and goal was not about the money it was about  fame, specifically the quest for fame and it certainly was not about the craft of acting.  For her, it was about seeing and being seen, hanging out at the newest hot spots, in the tightest dress, it was about taking gigs in which she could fully promote her tits & ass. Yes, I needed a  smoldering hot actress but also an actress and who could act and wanted to act. I received almost two thousand responses for the role of Chandara. There may be more? I was not able to check every one of my casting notices.  Out of those two thousand only about two dozen actresses came close to my checklist for the role.  I eventually narrowed that 2 dozen down to 1 dozen.  My heart and my head and my gut told me that only 6 of that dozen might be right for the role. The woman who was my first choice, the one I really wanted for the role, lived in New York, on the opposite coast. I first came across her music profile on MySpace even before I had started writing “The Last Anniversary”. She had some clever tunes but it was her promotional photographs that seized my attention. She was a striking beauty, a smoldering Latina. I requested to be added to her MySpace  fan base and she granted me entrance, a wise artist always seeks to expand their fan base. Yes, I was a faceless number and that was what I expected to be. When Facebook became the next big thing I requested to be added to her Facebook friends and I was added, still a stranger and another number. I use these types of connections as a Rolodex of  talent  for future projects.  Her look was captivating, extremely photogenic. In the back of my mind I thought she would be a great candidate for the role of Chandara, but she lived in New York, she needed to audition and even if she did audition and I wanted her for the role how could I get her to Los Angeles and then back to New York? I had NO money. I needed to find money. I found money. More to be revealed later. I knew she was a singer/songwriter but did not know if she had any acting experience or ambitions. I e-mailed her and asked her if she was an actress and if so was she interested in doing independent movies. She replied that she had done theater and was indeed interested in acting if the right role in the right project came her way. I sent her my script. She read it but not all of it, she did not read far enough to discover that the character I wanted her to play was not the person the audience meets in the beginning of the script, Chandara has depth, she is not superficial, she has a soul. I did not know at this time that she was also going through a transitional period in her career, she had both obstacles and avenues to navigate.  She respectfully declined the role. Casting her as Chandara was a long shot and I had a half of dozen actresses in Los Angeles that I felt could give the role justice. at the very least one of those had to be right for the role. However I remained intrigued by this New York woman, she lingered in my thoughts, there was something about her. I googled her name and to my surprise her name came up in a music video. The video was several years old and during that time she was in  a “girl band”,  in her case , it was just her and another girl. Their song was well done, it had a hook but it was her screen presence that floored me. The camera loved her,  she oozed a raw and natural sensuality, she was saucy, bold, fearless and red-hot sexy, not forced, not affected, it flowed naturally through her and around her. She was Chandara.  If she could deliver a line she would be perfect. I e-mailed the link to her music video to a colleague of mine.  He is a long time friend and a close confidant.  He  had  read most of my scripts and he was  involved with “The Last Anniversary” even before I wrote one line. I had told him about the blog that inspired the idea for the script. “The Last Anniversary” became one of  his personal favorites out of all of my scripts. He had his reservations about my very first Chandara, he agreed she was beautiful yet she could be molded into the character but he always felt there was some key ingredient missing.  Concerning the two  actresses that I had contacted about the role of Chandara,  he did not see it in either one of them as well. When I e-mailed him the link to the video I did not say anything except , “What do you think about this girl for Chandara?” His response was, ” Holy F–K! That is Chandara! That’s her! ” He knew it and I knew it. However, she did not know it, yet. I wrote her again and addressed her concerns and hesitation, I asked her to reconsider. She wrote me back and asked if I would allow her manager and her creative advisor to read it.  Yes, was my answer. Both her manager and her creative advisor read it and thought it was a great script and a great role for her. Hence, she  finally read the entire script and after she did she wanted to do the role. I had my Chandara but I still scheduled auditions for  10 Los Angeles actresses as  back up plan, just in case my New York actress did not come through. Always have a back-up plan and a back-up plan for the back-up plan and sometimes that is not enough. On the day of auditions, out of my ten scheduled Chandaras not one of them showed up to read, zero out of ten, I had received a few e-mails that apologized for missing the audition but most did not even bother to offer an excuse. In my opinion, they missed out in a role of a life time. The good news was I had a flight and hotel room booked for my New York Chandara. I cast her without reading her or seeing her in person. I cast her on my gut feeling, based on her mesmerizing presence  in her music video. Some people thought I was crazy, but I felt it in my bones, she was the one. She was Chandara.

4 impossible hours.

November 12, 2010 § Leave a comment

That was the duration of the time that I needed to shoot my mini trailer, my one scene only trailer. I should explain why I intended to shoot one scene and only one scene for my trailer. NO money was the main reason. My two actors were willing to shoot the scene with deferred pay. My D.P was willing to defer his rate but I needed to come up with a small amount of cash to pay for his assistant and some production equipment. A few hundred dollars would do this, I could scrape up a few hundred. To shoot a full day of production, shoot 3-4 scenes, even with deferments and the best case scenerio it would cost me well over $500 dollars, I could not scrape up $500.00. The reason I chose to shoot Chandara’s introduction scene from all the other scenes in the script was for two reasons. The first reason was, as I previously wrote, Chandara was a screen presence, she had the WOW factor, she would command people’s attention. Secondly, her introduction scene did not contain spell binding dialogue or was it an unforgettable  piece of drama or comedy, rather it was clever chit-chat between one character and another character. On paper it would seem like a  “who cares” moment but on-screen it would tell volumes. I wanted to show potential investors that even the seemingly uneventful moments on page could light up the screen.  I wanted the  two pages of Chandara’s  introduction scene to be read on-screen before anyone watched the trailer  to illustrate  how the “very simple” was a whole different dynamic on-screen.  Yes, it was a gamble. I also knew that only shooting one scene would not offer enough information on what this movie was about. To compensate, I had planned to bring in a still photographer and shoot various stills and imagery that I would incorporate with music and various pages of the script. A movie trailer told with still imagery, music and the written word. Would it work? I don’t know, but it was all that I could afford. It was unconventional but that too is not a bad thing. It seemed very simple, two actors, a D.P and one camera assistant and I had my own sound/boom guy.  It was to be an exterior/day 4 hour shoot, if  properly prepared we would be finished before  lunch.  However, there is always the same problem when you try to shoot a small or zero budget project in which  people are not getting paid, they will take a gig that pays over the one that does not. Economically that is a wise practice but for those trying to establish or bring their career to the next level, as it pertains to show business, it might not always be the wisest career move. More on that later. I could not get all my actors and crew in sync, both my D.P. and my actress had busy schedules. My D.P. always had a full slate, I had to get  him on one of his very rare days off. My actress was getting auditions and getting cast in  a variety of projects. It seemed virtually impossible to get this very small cast and crew together for four hours on any day. I would schedule it, it would get canceled, I rescheduled, canceled again, this was the cycle for months on end. I finally told my Chandara that I had to start looking for alternative choices. I had to. I was not ready to cut my D.P loose, he is and was a brilliant cinematographer. I needed to cast new Chandara. I had a few actresses in mind, all were physically beautiful but there was some element that was missing in all of them. However, I would contact them and I would also put up a casting notice. I lived in Los Angeles, I knew I would get hundreds if not thousands of submissions. I certainly would find the right one for the role out of the so many. So, I thought.

” I don’t know what it means, I got it off a menu.”

November 8, 2010 § Leave a comment

That is a  line of dialogue in which Chandara talks about the origin of her name. Make no mistake, Chandara is nobody’s fool. Out of the numerous female characters that I have created in all of my scripts, Chandara is my favorite and one of the most fascinating. She is a presence, a fearless, sultry, streetwise, foul mouth, tequila guzzling beauty who takes no prisoners.  This role would be one of the easiest to cast and one of the most difficult to cast. It would be easy in the sense that I knew exactly what I was looking for, a stunning Latina who had serious acting chops and oozed a natural sexual magnetism. A  sexual magnetism that could not be affected or learned, it had to be inherent in the person. The difficult part was  finding that perfect recipe of all those attributes in one actress.  I didn’t put out a casting call for Chandara. An actor friend of mine had an actress friend that physically had “the look” I was seeking. I had never met her in person but the photographs in her portfolio stood out for me, she was a Latina,  beautiful with a great figure, she had “something”.  I inquired about her acting ability and he assured me that while she did not have a great deal of acting experience  she did have acting chops and she could effectively play the role with the proper direction. I contacted the actress and told her about the role and the movie and I sent her the script to read and told her to contact me after she read it. She read it, contacted me and she loved it. She wanted to play the part. We agreed to meet for lunch and talk about the project. I don’t always use casting notices or have auditions when casting a role, it depends on the role and the project. For the role of Chandara it was essential that I had a face to face casual meeting with the actress I was considering for that role. I needed the actress to  possess some specific qualities in herself, as herself, that were also inherent in the character. Sitting across a table, chit chatting over a sandwich gives me a great deal of information about an individual. Not so much what they say, for good actors know the right thing to say, rather the nuances of their behavior, how they use their fork, what they order, how they eat, how they treat the wait staff, what are they wearing, were they on time or late, a laundry list of  the “little things”.  I observed the male customers  having lunch at this neighborhood diner, I watched how they watched her.  This casual lunch was really her  main audition.  Lunch went well, we talked about the script, the role, about her background, my background, and some basic small talk.  She was as beautiful in person as her photographs had implied. ( Of note, quite often headshots submitted do not resemble the actors standing in front of you.)   She was intelligent, confident and enthusiastic. I offered her the role and she accepted. She was a solid choice for this role. I had my Chandara. Now I had to put together the trailer shoot.

Now what?

November 7, 2010 § Leave a comment

The script was done, so, what’s the next step? This script was not for sale, hence, no need to pedal it to the agents or agencies. The script was the blueprint of the movie I wanted to shoot.  As I stated before,  I am a fringe element outside of the Hollywood circle, I have no solid connections to any of the movers and shakers, the deal brokers, the studio people or the big agencies. I did send the script to the very few Hollywood people that I did know, as a feeler. I had a strong sense of what their reaction would be and I was correct. They were not interested, it was a script for a small movie, a boutique movie, they wanted a Hollywood script. Traditional Hollywood movies are packaged between the agencies and the studios, A-list talent, directors, producers, etc. My movie would have no name talent, no name anything, I placed my faith in the power of the story. I am realistic, yes, my demographic is not huge, but a small film made on a small budget if done well, promoted properly would find its audience and make a profit. I believed that others would see its potential. I began to solicit for team members, specifically producers, line producers and UPMs  who had the experience and knowledge in putting together independent films of this scope. I had some inquires, but only one solid bite. Those who did ask the read the script had no interest after they read it. For two reasons, I had no capital secured and they did not “get” the script. Concerning  those who did not get the script, I researched their earlier films, most fell into same the budget range mine  however, all of them were bad rehashes of tired genres, such as the gangster/crime life sagas, the juvenile T & A comedies, the lame romantic comedies and the low dollar slasher/horror flicks.  My one solid bite was the one person who read the script and loved it, he saw its’ potential as a sleeper film and quickly joined on. He had a resume of completed films, mostly small budgets, 100 thousand dollars and less. He was capable and we joined forces.  He put together a realistic and very reasonable budget. He had an entertainment attorney in his circle and he had experience in LLCs and putting together investor prospectuses. I had one acquaintance who had money and he had friends who had money, a great deal of money. He had expressed interest in getting involved in the “movie business”.  He was from the world of Wall Street and hedge funds. He was a very capable and intelligent man but he had no film experience. However, he was willing to sit down and at the very least discuss this project with me and my producer.  At the sit down, my producer explained the many pros and cons and the “hows tos” of putting together an independent  film. The acquaintance felt this was worth exploring, he was to visit the East coast soon and he would put out some feelers, to test the waters with some of his Wall Street connections. At this time I had also sent the script to the actors that I had wrote some of the roles for. Their response was not what I expected. One actress really liked the script however there was one scene in which her character kissed another woman, mind you it was not a passionate kiss or open mouth kiss. She said if I took the kiss out of the scene she would accept the role. I told her the kiss had to stay, if it was to be omitted that decision would be made in the editing room and  not based on a personal bias but a creative one. I fully respect an artist’s creative boundaries, I may not agree or understand their perimeters but that is not of my concern. What I do know if an actor is uncomfortable, if the actor feels pressured or does not trust the motive presented for the action then the performance will falter, the performance will lack credibility, the performance  will not be at 100%. For a movie such as this one, where all is dependent on the performances of each individual actor as well as the chemistry between all actors, the film will lose it credibility, its’ authenticity, the movie as a whole will not work if there is one weak link in the chain.  Another actress for another character declined the role for several reasons. The first reason was she did not care for the script too much, she had a detailed critique, which included not enough “action”.  Action? I don’t know how much action was expected in a story about a parents’ wedding anniversary dinner held at their house?  It was a silly comment, to read the script and interpret it as a different  genre, well, that is like asking why wasn’t there wasn’t any song and dance numbers in the Godfather. Perhaps because  the Godfather is not a musical. The other main reason she declined the role is because the character was an European fashion model  and a recovering heroin addict. No, heroin and playing a drug addict was not the issue, it was playing an European model. The actress was from Europe and was also a model. One of my opinions about acting is to know your range and continue to learn and grow in your craft. I understood her logic but I did not agree with it. She did not want to be type cast.  She could not see the larger picture or the small details, just as in her analysis of the script, she suffered from tunnel vision. The character was not based on her or was it about her , they shared traits, experiences and common threads.  A wise actor knows that the more familiar tools one has at their immediate disposal the less they have to search for.  She knew how to be European and how to be a model because that is part of who she really is, hence, no need to research those nuances of the character.  She had data that was  immediately available to her which gave her the luxury of developing the soul of the character and that removed the need of how to be European and a model. She saw it as a liability, I saw it as a head start. From a director’s point of view, if I was casting a role for a piano player, would it be wiser to cast one who knows how to play the piano or cast one who cannot play the piano especially if  the two actors vying for the role have equal acting abilities, the choice is obvious.  Both actresses made the correct decision not to accept  the roles. Their comments and reactions told me that they were not right for the roles.  The “look”,  the mannerisms of these characters was  inspired by them,  in essence their physical presence was spot on but their psychological approach to the character, the emotional connection to the character was not present. I’ll state it again, the individual performance of each actor as well as the chemistry between all the actors had to be spot on, it had to be perfect for this script to be believed on-screen. Back to my wealthy friend and my tentative producer. My friend casually pitched the film investment idea to several of his colleagues on the East coast. Nobody was interested. The main reason was the dire state of the economy, even those with money were not willing to risk money in these hard times and  some had already lost a nice chunk of change. One of the few people who was kind enough to listen to my friend’s  pitch had invested in movies before, big Hollywood movies.  This man had some deep, deep pockets.  He asked my friend some very basic questions about the movie and the people already involved, he also asked some questions that were film investment specific, questions that my friend was not equipped to answer correctly. The man passed on the idea and my friend left feeling a bit schooled. It was not his fault and  it was not an official presentation, simply a “test the water” inquiry and those waters were ice-cold. I could have answered all the questions that the man had asked but the truth of the matter was my answers would not have changed his mind about joining in. He had the same questions and requirements that the movie industry asks and wants, what name talent is attached, who is the director and what has he done before, what producers are attached, what studios or production entities are involved and how much capital  is in place and any distribution deals secured, what about foreign sales, ancillerry markets, etc, etc.  This man could have cut a check right there on the spot for the entire production, post and beyond to all the marketing and P&A costs and it would not have dented his bank account . It was not the amount of money it was simply about money. A wealthy person may lose 500 grand at the casino and not blink an eye, buy a hundred thousand dollar watch and never wear it,  spend 5 grand on a brunch, but that is how one spends the money they earned, investing is another matter. Even if it is one dollar, they want to know where every single penny of their dollar is going and how profit potential can be earned from their one dollar investment. That is wise investment acumen. My friend returned with rather a sour taste in his mouth,  his enthusiasm had waned, but he was not going to abandon the project but he was not going to dive head in first either.  He would stay at the sidelines and go with the flow. As for my producer, he had a full slate, a variety of projects in various stages of development , to forgo a paying gig and dedicate all his time and energy on my film with an unknown outcome was too much to sacrifice, especially since the East coast money did not materialize. He continued with his own deals and stayed on the fringes of my project.  As more time passed and no ground was gained, our communication became less and less frequent until it evaporated completely. The cost of my film project was tiny compared to even the smallest studio film however during this stage of my project I learned that money was hard to secure by anyone.  Even the major studios with A-list projects on their slates were having a tough time.  Those who had money to invest were simply not investing, the horrid state of the economy suggested it was not the time to gamble and the film industry is one of the biggest gambles out there to invest in.  Before me and my producer parted ways, we had a long chat discussing various strategies to keep this project from sinking into oblivion. It seemed everyone wanted some type of name talent  involved, be it A-list, B-list, C-list, an actor with some name recognition and marquee value. I had no direct pipeline to name talent or their  representatives, and my producer had only a few. I was not about to  offer a role to an actor just because that actor had some fame attached to their name.  If the actor fit the role then I would pitch it, but if not, no need to even consider them for the role. I’ll state it again,  the individual actor’s presence and the chemistry between all actors was one of the most essential parts  of this  film.  Also, the reality was that to get my script into the hands of the agent or manager of any name talent that I wanted would have been a miracle. Let us pretend that a miracle did happen, that I got the script into one of my desired A-list talent’s hands, they read it, they loved it, they would do it for scale ( I said a miracle ) But, when would they be able to commit to the project? Most name actors are in demand, most have schedules booked for years, sometimes many years, a film proposed for production in 2011 might not happen until 2014 or longer. Also the fact remained that even if I did secure some name talent there still was no guarantee that the project would get funded because money was tight, very tight. On a personal level, I never intended to use name talent in this project. It was designed to be small low-budget feature film with no name talent and a small crew. I also believed and still do that “no name” does not equate to no talent.  There are thousands of brilliant and very talented  performers, actors, singers, writers, etc, who will never be discovered, never known. It is about who you know combined with being at the right place and the right time with the right goods. It is the right role in the right film/TV show that propels an actor into celebrity status. I knew there was a huge untapped talent pool  of actors out there, I just needed to cast the right ones. I decided to go forth with my original plan but I needed to give this project some credibility.  I needed to shoot a trailer. A trailer would be my most effective marketing tool, exposure to the masses via the internet and  a visual reference to show tentative investors and executive producers the look and style of the movie, my business card so to speak. I did not have any money, meaning NO money.  I needed to figure out a way to do something very creative on the cheap without looking cheap.  There were only nine roles in this script, no extras, no bit players, an ensemble of nine actors. I had five specific actors in mind when I wrote the script. Two had declined the roles, leaving me with three actors and one of those three lived on the other coast. I needed to cast more talent , specifically an actress for the role of Chandara. It was a kick ass role for any actress to play and visually the woman I saw in my head when I wrote this script would stop traffic, Chandara was force of nature.  If I could only afford to shoot one scene for my trailer it had to have Chandara in it. She was the most exciting visually, she would garner attention, especially male attention. Hence, the plan was the cast Chandara and shoot her introduction scene in the script as my trailer.

28 days later

October 31, 2010 § Leave a comment

When I sat down to write “The Last Anniversary” I already had over twenty completed screenplays at my disposal. They covered the gamut of genres and themes with many tiers of production costs. I have a few big budget scripts but most of them are smaller in scope, however, for this project I needed a bare bones, very low budget script. I needed something that I could shoot with a very small cast and crew at one central location that could be shot on a very tight production schedule. None of my scripts fit that mold. My back up plan was to shoot something that I could do on a shoe string budget in the event that little or no financing could be secured. The “Last Anniversary” would be perfect for this project. It would be a character and dialogue driven script. I never write for the masses nor do I write what is popular or what is selling. My state of mind usually determines what story , what genre,  I will put on paper. I know my audience is not the largest demographic, but it is viable demographic, for those people who prefer story over special effects and for those who have an unconventional and somewhat dark sense of humor. “The Last Anniversary” is small story, one family at one house and it all takes place  in one day. The story itself is not complicated, but the themes ( the secrets) are dark and bizarre, to write it as a drama  it would be too deep and too heavy and very sad, to write it as a comedy, it would lose its’ humanity, its’ soul, it would be a farce. It had to be a balance of both comedy and drama, ebb and flow harmony. When it started to get too dramatic I would engage a comedic element to balance the scales, when comedy began to over shadow the authenticity of  a scene I would adjust it with an element of drama.  It was about meter, about the cadence and balance. Too much one way or too little one way would change the dynamic of the story. The characters had to be written as flesh and blood , as breathing individuals with their own unique fingerprint. If the audience did not believe these were authentic people they would not believe the story. I also knew that watching a two hour movie about a family sitting around a house and talking was not going to be everyone’s cup of tea and even for those who do appreciate this type of storytelling the story still had to remain interesting, people tend to bore quickly, the story had to engage them but also have enough twists and turns to keep the journey interesting. For the very first time, I wrote most of the roles with specific actors in mind to play them, not famous or recognizable actors, rather friends of mine who are actors. Their face, their body language, those nuances unique to all of us, I incorporated those elements into the creation of the characters. Actors I knew that would fit the role like a glove. With the roadmap sketched in my head I sat down and began to write. Twenty-eight days later, ” The Last Anniversary” was done.