independent movie

Because We Can!

One of the awesome things about making an indie movie is getting the chance to do some “inside” jokes and references. Dead Votes Society is adapted from a Coyote Radio Theater script written several years ago, but now is our chance to give some of those fab voice actors a chance for some screen time. And the really funny thing? They don’t actually have any lines. It’s one of those details that pretty much nobody but the writers and some hardcore CRT fans with great memories will recognize, but it makes me giggle. A lot.

Then there are the little things that make sense to us, but probably won’t mean anything to the average viewer when all is said and done. But you know what? If you’re gonna go to all the trouble of making a movie, you might as well throw in a few things just ’cause you wanna.

Another perk? Getting to play with fake blood! Andrew decided that he really, really needed to see if Ben Nye’s Stage Blood truly has a “zesty mint” flavor. He pronounced it “pleasant, but not too strong,” while Art Director/Production Designer Penelope Davis gave it the thumbs up for color and consistency. Our actors can rest easy. Our SFX blood is officially director tested and Production Designer approved.

Zombie Voting Good for Local Economy

Every Friday, this blog will re-post a letter to the editor of the “Crest Top Chronicle” newspaper, to provide a platform for voices from the community concerning some of the real issues raised by the short film “Dead Votes Society.” This week: local businesswoman Hester Morton.

 

           Our fair city has been the center of a lot of nation-wide media attention recently.  As debate rages in the rest of the country about undead voting rights, here in Crest Top the matter has already been decided. Thanks to the foresight of our late and lamented Mayor Roscoe Sackenheimer, Crest Top is the only town in America where zombies already have the vote.

            Whatever your opinion of undead voting, the publicity surrounding the issue has been a boon to local businesses. Zombies are considered to be both “hip” and “cool,” and people are coming from all over the world to visit the place Holiday Road Magazine has called “The Premier Walking Dead Destination.”  The hotels, bars and restaurants on our own Historic Tequila Row® have seen a surge in zombie-related tourism. Local gun shops and survivalist supply stores report brisk business as well. I say anything, even a zombie plague, that brings in tourists and their dollars is by definition a good thing.

            While tourists might come for the zombies, they will no doubt stay for the local history and color. Crest Top has a proud tradition of pioneering civil liberties that began long before the zombie controversy. Did you know that the time of its founding, Crest Top was the first and only municipality in America to recognize same-sex marriage? Of course, this ended at about the same time the first women were admitted as citizens, but just a few decades later Crest Top broke down another Civil Rights barrier when horses were allowed to vote in the 1886 city elections. In fact, the horses just might have provided the swing vote that elected Virgil Sackenhiemer (Roscoe’s grandfather,) thus establishing a political dynasty that lasted well into the twenty-first century.   

            And now Crest Top leads the way towards liberty once again. Our city’s brave stance on individual freedom has attracted the attention of a Hollywood-type film production company, who has come to town to shoot a Major Motion Picture entitled “The Dead Votes Society.” I don’t have to tell you what a shot in the arm a movie can give to a town’s economy. So, despite niggling concerns about public health and how the entirety of Historic Tequila Row® tends to smell nowadays, I say zombies are good for business. And what’s good for business is good for Crest Top.

 

HESTER MORTON owns several local businesses, including THE MANOR saloon, the HOTEL MONTEZUMA, THE STAMPEDING BUFFALO fine arts and gift store and HESTER’S CONES ice cream parlor. The Crest Top Chamber of Commerce (of which she’s President) has awarded her the “Outstanding Local Businessperson” award for twelve years running. The views expressed here are hers alone and do not reflect those of the administrators of this blog or in fact of anyone, anywhere, ever.   

Sequence Out of Shooting

As we prepare for “Dead Votes Society”s October principal photography, I’m thinking about rehearsals and how to help our actors get ready.

Just today, it occurred to me that while most of them have acted for years with Prescott Center for the Arts, Blue Rose Theatre or other organizations, most of them haven’t done much film work.

One thing we’ll need to work on is this: most films are shot out of sequence. It can be a little strange for an actor who’s used to “starting at the beginning and continuing to the end” on the stage – but film is a different kind of theatre.

Since film has a moving viewpoint, the camera and tripod have to be picked up and moved each time the shot is from a new viewpoint. And, the lights have to change too, so the set is let for that viewpoint. Unless you light it for every viewpoint like a sitcom but . . . brr . . . let’s not think too much about what that would look like.

So, we have to move the camera. Which takes time. Many new film actors may not realize just how “hurry up and wait” a film set can be. You’re ready to move on to the next emotion or the follow up double-take to the joke you just made when . . . “Hold for airplane!” Or, “Can someone tape that cuculoris down? The wind is making the shadow move?” “Who’s got an extra C47?” And that acting moment is on hold.

To minimize the down time and to get through the shoot faster (time is still, sadly, money), the director and the DP will make a shot list and then group the shots by where the camera is shooting from.

So, for example, scene two in DVS has 8 shots. Half of them are a straight ahead “two shots” – meaning its just like a regular news broadcast, a shot of two people sitting behind a news desk.

Since half of the shots are from this angle, we shoot each of them and THEN move the camera and re-do the lighting for the next group of shots. That means the actors will perform minutes 1 thru 2 of the finished scene. Then we stop. Re-slate and they perform minutes 4 thru 6. After we move the camera and re-light the stage, then we get to minute 3 and so on.

It takes some getting used to. But its the only way to shoot a nine minute movie in “just” four days.

Faith Can Move Mountains – But Bring a Shovel!

It’s commonly held that a good movie starts with a good script. Seriously, without a good story to tell, why bother, right? The script is what inspires faith in a project. Without that faith, it’s mighty tough to keep finding new ways to approach the plethora of challenges are are bound to come up.

But just having faith ain’t gonna get ‘er done – you need a shovel, too. Okay, mostly it’s a metaphorical shovel, but it still boils down to laying the groundwork and thinking ahead. Otherwise you end up with an awesome script and a crappy movie.

Basically that means  more than an hour or two spent on the most convenient flat surface available – a kitchen table, desk, etc. – working out all the details. That may not sound like fun, but if you believe in the project (and I do!!!), then all that shovel work turns out to be (almost) as cool as shooting the movie. Oh, and besides that metaphorical shovel? Lots o’ coffee is a big plus, too…

*Andrew Johnson-Schmit working on the shot list.

A Whole Lotta Prep Goin’ on…

Whoa! Auditions are almost upon us and we’re hip deep in prep work. I’ve done more things for the very first time in the past few weeks than I’ve done in years. And y’know what? It’s AWESOME! 

The hubster (Andrew) and I spent the weekend writing lists, revising the shooting script and breakdown sheets, making phone calls, and sending a ton of text messages and Facebook messages off to various peeps. It’s awesome to get back in touch with people we haven’t worked with in years (Matt Jackson), people we’ve worked with on Tsunami (Penelope Davis, Sean Souva), folks we’ve known for years but have never worked with (Jerry Chinn), and some people we don’t really know well, but are excited to get to know.

We’re still making plenty of picky decisions (of the “blue…no, green!” variety), but at the end of each day we’re a little closer to actual production. At the mo’, I’m just enjoying the process. Yeah, even the heart attack freak outs…but now it’s time to get the notes ready for Friday’s auditions. Those notes aren’t gonna write themselves!

Late Night Breakdown

From Andrew’s Desk:

In the beginning was The Script. And behold, it was Pretty Good. And so, the writers stayed up late and made The Script into The Shooting Script. Which wasn’t so hard, in that it meant (primarily) that each scene got numbered and that we put Continued at the top and bottom of script pages that actually, you know, continued. But it also meant we had some ‘splaining to do. Scenes that were “you know, then stuff happens” had to start getting a little clearer in terms of what we see and in what order.

But, The Shooting Script came to an end and now it was time for “The Breakdown Sheet.” And so it was another late night.

The Breakdown Sheet is a way to get more specific about a scene. Who’s in it? What costumes do they wear? Are there special effects? A pretty straight forward list of what needs to be on this stage to make movie magic possible.

But, it also calls for a shot list at the bottom of the sheet. And that is where you’ve got to get real about the cinema grammar you are using. How do we go from here to there? How do we show this and how do we achieve this effect with the audience? Start close in? Go wide for The Spielberg Reaction Shot Homage? How wide? That is what we’ve been doing late tonight. Not done yet, but Angie and I understand better what we’ll be asking of our cinematographer on  Day One of Principal Photography for The Dead Votes Society.

Can’t wait to see it. Actually, can’t wait to sleep. But THEN…can’t wait to see it.