Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Ronnie Day Project Production Blog - Episode 4

Here's installment 4 of the production blog for the Ronnie Day Project.

Episode 4: Outside

One of the things you’re faced with on any film production is that there’s never enough time and never enough money. Never having enough money is because filmmaking on any level is an expensive endeavor costing a significant amount of money per day and, in many cases, per minute. The budget informs the schedule which is why there’s never enough time.

As I’ve mentioned before, we shot all six of these narrative music videos in five days. This was largely due to the issues outlined above. We were on a specific, hard line delivery schedule which nixed the idea of shooting the videos as we went along (which would have been too expensive anyway) and we only had so much money that could be spent. Rather than drawing it out over several additional days but having to compromise in crew skill level or quality was not something any of us were interested in. So, we found a way to compact the production into five days, mostly by shooting several scenes at each location. This, fortunately, works for the story and the video. It’s a narrative so returning to locations isn’t a problem. It gives it a familiar quality that works for the story. This is their world.

One of the locations we return to several times (and for the last time in this video) is the party house. In Episode 1, we saw Brendan and Jamie as a couple; in Episode 2, Jamie is seen alone, on her own, until she meets Derek; then, in Episode 4, she takes the same walk she did with Brendan in Episode 1, only, it’s Derek’s arm she’s on now. My how things have changed.

We were at the party house from around 12PM to 12AM. We started shooting at around 2 PM. We had three different parties to shoot at three different times. Episode 2 had a party during the daytime, Episode 1 had a party at night and Episode 4, this episode, took place at golden hour.

Golden hour, to remind you, is the hour prior to the sun going down. It’s when the sun is at it’s most golden (hence the term) and is really beautiful light to shoot in. Problem is, it only lasts an hour. Due to our schedule we couldn’t come back the next day and shoot anything we didn’t get. We had about two hours to shoot our confrontation between Brendan and Derek and we had several challenges facing us.

First was the short amount of time to shoot everything which effects everything else. Second was what actually had to be shot. In the scene, Brendan walks into the house and then over to a window. He sees Jamie sitting outside with Derek, smiling, having a good time. He then turns and walks through the house and then outside to the backyard. Heads turn, not knowing what he’s going to do. He approaches Jamie but Derek intervenes. They get into an altercation. Brendan shoves Derek who then punches Brendan sending him into the pool. Jamie watches all this happens and feels bad for Brendan as she’s pulled away by Derek.

So, we have movement from inside to outside, with a shot that would be facing directly towards the setting sun; we have a fight scene and we have a shot of Brendan falling into a pool which could be done once, maybe twice. The pool would have to be the last thing we shoot and the master shot (Brendan walking through the house, then outside) would be first since we’d be facing the sky. But everything had to be lit as well. We needed light inside and outside. That had to be set up. In the meantime, Paul, Marcello, Ethan (our AD) and I walked through the scene and the movement. We’d get his whole walk through in one shot, all the way up the altercation outside. That went off without a hitch and ended up looking really good on film (I think Paul is an extremely talented camera operator).

Next, we moved outside and shot the altercation between Brendan and Derek. We shot Brendan’s angle and then Derek’s. Finally, we had to move onto the falling in pool shot. We were losing light and needed this above all else (I still hadn’t shot any angles on Jamie, including the walk out). Light was fading fast and we had to move quickly. Paul adjusted some lights and took the camera over opposite. We ran through it a couple times. We burned tape while Phil “punched” Marcello and when we were sure they had it, I called action. They ran through it, Derek “punched” Brendan and fell back into the pool. BUT, he caused a bigger splash than we anticipated and the water was headed right for the camera and lens. In an effort to protect it, our assistant cameraman put his hand in front of the lens, essentially ruining the shot. We had to do it again.

Everyone froze for a moment not really sure of what to do. Then, all at once, everyone was moving. People grabbed towels and threw them to Marcello trying to dry him off. We had another gray t-shirt but not another pair of jeans. Not a big deal, they were dark and them being wet didn’t make them look that different. Finally, after a couple minutes, he was dry, his hair styled and we were ready for another take. We lined up and everything went smoothly. And the light was pretty much gone.

But we weren’t done yet. I had to get the shot on Jamie and Derek walking away. I grabbed the camera, and despite the protests of Paul who declared the light was gone, I quickly got two takes of Jamie look down at Brendan and then being pulled by Derek into the house. I then spun the camera around and shot a series of takes of Brendan coming rising out of the water and looking up at Jamie. Finally, we had the sequence…maybe. I wasn’t sure, and I knew we hadn’t shot anything on Jamie other than the shot at the end.

While the rest of the crew prepared for the night scene Paul, Ethan, Sean (our producer) and I discussed the scene. Paul didn’t think anything would cut together and didn’t think it would work. We discussed our options. Coming back another day was never going to work. I told them that in order to cut this sequence, if we could get the lighting to match, I still needed that shot of Jamie smiling and having fun. Otherwise, there’s nothing to cut to when Brendan sees her and it won’t make sense. It’ll feel incomplete. I said that if the lighting was okay that’s all I needed to edit the sequence and make it work. Paul still had a problem with the light. Sean suggested the possibility that with color correction it might work. Paul wasn’t so sure. Ethan made the suggestion that we could potentially reshoot the sequence changing it to a night scene. Everyone stayed quiet. If we did that it would be a late night.

I asked Esteban (our on-site editor) to take the footage and edit the sequence together so we could if it was really that bad. In the meantime we had to proceed with the night scene. Paul started lighting and we continued discussing options. Then our producer gave us some bad news. Phil (Derek) was booked on a gig that started at 10 PM. To top things off we had scenes to shoot with him for Episode 1 as well. We couldn’t just shift back and forth. Finally, Esteban called me over and I looked at the footage. He had tweaked the color a little and it wasn’t bad at all. I called Paul over and he looked at it, admitting that it cut together pretty well. There was definitely a shift but nothing that couldn’t be tweaked later on.

We decided to keep the sequence as shot and then, for our last setup of the night, we got the shot of Jamie laughing and smiling. You might not be able to tell but the close up on her that we cut to while Brendan is standing in the house was shot in the middle of the night. Nice job Paul.

Over the course of five days we adopted an Italian saying: “Icche c’e c’e” or “Whatever is, is.” Sometimes in production there are happy accidents and there are mistakes. When you’re working on a low budget with limited time there is only so much you can do and at some point you have to be accepting of what you have. That doesn’t mean you don’t strive for the very best, of course you do, you do whatever you can to get there. But sometimes what you get is what you get. Icche c’e c’e.

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