Sunday, March 26, 2006

Fight in the Alley

After I delivered Fae to work, I traveled to Claremore to return my Mother's van and retrieve the Phoenix (not the costume). As soon as I had swapped vehicles, I departed in my usual mad dash, and aimed for Cafe Cubana.

There I met Rob Boyd and later, Lou Garver. I drank coffee and daydreamed about the cigars behind the humidor glass. Rob Boyd is a fascinating individual. He is eager and willing to lend himself for almost anybody and anything, believing in a precise Karma ethic. He is very professional and courteous. We spoke of the scam artist, pseudo-filmmakers to the South and East of us, their "acting schools", and more importantly, their lack of ethics. I, of course, found this amusing. When Lou joined us, he had his own stories to add about the same people. Amazing!

After we had properly met and after I informed them of the scene at hand, I looked at the time and decided we had better begin.

Recently, an issue arose regarding the aforementioned pseudo-filmmakers and their grotesque lack of responsibility. They were involved in a downtown film shoot involving gun props. Although the business knew of and improved the shoot, the Police were called, yet no Officer was present. The result was a misinformed Officer responding to the presence of guns at a building in the downtown area, and students were nearly shot due to the decision to not insist on a Police presence. This was horribly stupid! As a result, I was on the phone with Police as I am driving and leading the way to Main and Brady. This is the thing...they eagerly took my information, and took it very seriously! In fact, during our time at the location, a car from the North Tulsa Division did actually drive by! Protect your people and be professional; don't be stupid.

We arrived at Main and Brady, parking not far from Lola's. At this moment, I was daydreaming about a beer from Caz's! Halfway down the block from the corner is an alley. It should be noted that this is the same alley where I shot the climax of The Lightswitch Fades almost two years ago.

The scene was simple, two guys fighting! One (Rob) would be the aggressor, the other (Lou) would be the victim. I asked Rob to remove his shirt and take an aggressive stance toward Lou. Rob has been in a number of fight movies; I look forward to seeing them! Lou, who is currently in the production Please Don't Feed the Zombies, has experience with stage combat, so he was able to fall and fall correctly. After we cleared the area of debris, we commenced shooting. I took several takes of Rob backhanding Lou, and then I switched to a right hook, so Lou would fall forward into the camera's playing field.

After a few more takes, we were done!

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Gloss Mountains

The departure was late as usual. Derick, Jes, Fae and I left in my Mother's van, bound for the house of Conan. We had provisions enough to feed a small group of filmmakers, and we had our gear loaded and ready. Fae, my Navigator, sat up front while the other two sat in the rear. After some minor difficulty finding the exact apartment, Conan was aboard and we made way for Merrit's Bakery.

The trip was smooth, pleasant and easy; it is straight West on 412 for nearly three hours and about two-hundred miles or so. We stopped only a few times on the way, and we listened to strange stories and the music of Def Leppard.

When we made our final approach, the road opened into a long stretch that changed from green grass and trees to barren desert. The mountains lay ahead.

The mountains receive their name from the gypsum flakes embedded into their facing, which reflect the light with a similarity to diamonds or glass. They are more plateau than mountain.

We approached the State Park entrance and entered. A nice parking area, fairly new, awaited us. We began to search around, to get a feel of the area. The nearest mountain was the only one accessible. All four of my passengers and I prepared to ascend the rock facing. It was a tolerable temperature, sunny, with plenty of wind.

Scaling the mountain was not the easy manner I anticipated for a state park. It is almost vertical, zig-zagging upward over man-made stairs and real earth. Handrails and supports are aesthetic at best. The climb is approximately 1000 feet.

Once we reach the top, we survey our immediate surroundings; the view, of course, is amazing! There are hills and trees scattered across the top of the mountain. Dry grass mixes with red clay and gypsum deposits. The sun is reflected everywhere. The sad picture of oil equipment can be seen everywhere from this altitude; there are tanks seen for miles below.

Our exploration takes across the expanse of the mountain's topside. It narrows to about 20 to 25 feet in the middle. There are no guardrails, no restraints. Hawks fly overhead.

After our tour, I gather the group. I feel it is in our best interest, and that of time, if we descend and have our lunch before shooting our scenes. So, that is what we do.

After lunch, Fae and Jes decide to stay below. I gather all I need for my costume, and strap the fifty pound flight case containing Bret's camera onto my back; it was very important for me to have both hands free for my second ascent. Derick took the tripod and Conan carried his walking stick and a duffle bag. We began to climb.

Once on top, I began to assess how I wanted, or how I could translate the script in our current surroundings. You see, I had not scouted this location. I pointed at a place on the map, looked it up on the internet and said "let's go". You will find that, even with scouting and planning, the situation may not be the same once you are there to shoot. Another is hard to reference a script with crosswinds!

Our first scene took place at point in the script where "Awakening" has just snapped his fingers from the previous black background scene. Adam now finds he! Conan was framed in the foreground, the ledge about ten feet behind him and another mountain, swarming with hawks, in the background behind him. We were not too far from the trail we had used to reach our summit.

The wind was a challenge. I tried to flip my hair out of my face, and instead it swarmed around me like a ball. Conan's lapel was flopping in the wind, and I was certain I was going to lose my Rex, and I would have to watch it fly from atop Conan's head, over the mountainside.

We moved to different vantage points, always trying to stir things up, that is, I wanted each scene to be a little different. Conan was having difficulty with his lines. One scene was half a page of dialogue, and that is when I had an idea: from our current position, you could see the middle portion of the mountain top with bluffs in between and visible...I asked Derick to frame up the shot so he would see Conan and I in the distance, walking! This allowed us to appear to be talking, far enough away so no one could read our lips and it allowed for a voiceover.

Throughout the day, I was trying to think of something else that I could shoot while I was there. I did not want to pass on the opportunity!

We finally made our way down...I wanted to stay up until it was done, and we did! Three hours later, we hit the bottom.

As we left, I felt like we had accomplished a great deal. I still have to point out, there are talkers, and there are people who talk about what they just did. There is a lot of room for talk. I have ideas that are still ideas, I have unfinished work. Everybody does! There are those who talk...and talk, and they have this great idea...and they talk...and they get really good at...talking! I feel that I have accomplished a great deal, and I have excellent company along for the ride!

Monday, March 20, 2006

TPS Shoot #1

Bret is off work on Mondays and we have access to a studio space on the first and third Mondays of any given month. Since we are done with Nightingale (???), this is our new space for the remainder of our black background scenes.

Derick assisted us with the access, and he, too, performed in a few scenes for "Being". We have yet to shoot any footage for his second character, "Memory".

Bret is both D.P. and actor. We shoot some fascinating scenes where he walks toward the black background curtain, which on film, it appears he escapes into the darkness!

The shots are few and our time is short. It is a good practice and it familiarizes us with the space.

The shining point of this shoot, is the fact that Bret's modern miniDV camera, which has an XLR input located on the side, worked in conjunction with a ribbon microphone on studio boom crane, both of which were from a 1950's television station!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Delightful Weekend

This morning I awoke early, and I sat in the living room, sipping coffee, reading Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner while listening to the Essential Iron Maiden! \m/

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Another Cancellation

Tallgrass Prairie and Osage Hills have been cancelled. I checked the local weather, and then I looked at the conditions in and around Ponca City and Bartlesville as well. The rain is needed, but this shoot will have to be rescheduled. My hope is to film both "Mother" and "Memory" in the same day.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Conclusion of "Hall of Mirrors" - Nightingale Theater

I wanted the chapter known as "Hall of Mirrors" to be completed by Bret. This is one of our most technologically challenging scenes in the entire film. We are utilizing composite shots with blue screen, and Bret was an integral part of the original shoot on November 20th of last year. That is why I wanted his eyes upon this.

The day presented interesting challenges all its own: Bret's work schedule narrowed the scope of his presence during the shoot, the Nightingale was host to a segment of the New Genre Festival the night before and my crew was smaller this time around. Bret had to leave at Noon, and Derick had agreed to arrive around that time. Jeff was not present until later in the production, and his assistance was invaluable.

After arriving, Bret phoned to let me know he was on his way; I was waiting for John, myself, to open the front door. I had been in communication with House regarding the bed [prop] we used for the bed scene at the beginning of "Being"; as it stands, that was the only shot from the November 20th shoot that I was unhappy with. House, and many of the OMM Group, have been working hard on projects of their own. He was on his way to a 7am shoot with Jay and company, and he was nice enough to drop by at 6am to meet me and drop off the bed. John finally arrived, followed by Bret. The coffee was poured.

A slight recap: "Hall of Mirrors" is about choice. It is about the possibility of the individual, which is the underlying theme throughout the entire film. In this chapter, Adam (the main character played by me!) steps into a room, black background, where he encounters six doorways. Each doorway represents a different possibility for his future. I actually am interacting with myself! This is where the blue screen comes into play. Last November, only three of the six were committed to film that day; today we completed the set, including the all-important climax of the piece.

The three characters chosen for today's shoot differ slightly from the script, with the exception of the last character. The first, a blue-collar worker complete with hard hat, safety goggles and flannel shirt. The next character in line allowed me the opportunity to engage in a little creative license, so I decided to inject the cameo appearance of Adam Atomic, from a storyline of a future production and a current short script. I had fun defining this character further, and I was very pleased with the visual. Bret left after this character, Derick took over and I left to pick up our lunch, catered by Dee Wiedenhoeft!

The final doorway was the most important: the soldier. This is where we make several statements in one...war an peace, lead or follow - kill or give life. The scene is played out like this...the shock of this final image invokes my response, as I approach the doorway. The soldier (played, like the other five, by myself) stands at attention, cold and precise. He is holding a gun at his hip, barrel pointed down at an angle. Adam sees the gun, and as he stares in horror, blood begins to drip from gun, spilling onto the floor. Adam runs away...

Since this entire sequence will be rendered in black and white during post, Bret and I have previously discussed the needs for these types of special effects. The blood will remain red, so we needed a liquid with a texture that stands out from its background elements. The choice was fluorescent yellow paint.

The gun was made with a scrap piece of PVC pipe, along with various plumbing parts. The handle was a scrap of 3/4" plywood, screwed in rather haphazardly and then hot glued before being painted several coats of black Krylon. For the strap, I had to go dumpster diving (discreetly) at work to find plastic banding from an old pallet shipment. I cut it to length, drilled holes in the newly formed tabs, and painted the strap black.

The paint was an interesting challenge. I had to devise a way to pump the paint through the unfinished back end of the gun (unseen to the camera), so I bought a turkey baster and acquired some plastic tubing. None of this worked well at all!

We tested the apparatus on black garbage bags sans gun. The paint was too thick and the baster's suction was horrible. Derick's skill as a [artistic] painter saved the moment by adding soapy water. Since it was acrylic, this was a proper dilution, and the paint flowed more freely, although this did not help the baster any at all.

Eventually, we committed to the scene with what we had. Garbage bags were placed to cover the floor and match it at the same time. Derick positioned the shot. I, having no other crew, held the baster full of paint behind my back, the tube inserted into the prop gun. We tried several times, as I squeezed the bulb; no paint! The solution was gravity. I tried to elevate the baster as far above the gun as possible (from behind my back!), and the paint began to flow!

Having a good cinematographer is vital; I have two! Derick has an eye for art, and he is dedicated. As I continue to stand, he is firing blast after blast from the fog machine and moving camera and tripod angle, constantly adjusting, in order to cover every aspect of what is visually available to him. I love this film!

We wrap the "Hall of Mirrors" chapter, and move onto Derick's scenes as "Being". As we run out of tape, I realize I do not have another! So we finish the last few minutes with the bed scene. Our problem with the previous shoot was lack of intense light. I wanted to form a very distinct corona of light around my head. We used Jeff's assistance and a very large canister light. Derick was not as pleased with the look as he would have preferred, so he suggested using fog to create a medium for the light. This we did, and the effect was finally achieved!

Another shot we recorded was an idea from Mr. Scott Hillhouse. Thinking that Bret could use some stock fog footage in post, we created a lumakey shot, whereas we lit fog, from above, against a black backdrop. The light illuminated the fog and nothing else; we absolutely flooded the studio with fog!

We shot footage until we could shoot no longer. Derick and I felt good about our efforts and after the equipment was broken down and loaded, two good friends bid farewell to Jeff, and each other...until next time!