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The story behind Love Eclectic – #4

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Preproduction – Part 2
Continuing from the perspective of producer/director Bill Brown…  Auditions were an eye opener. The script came to life in front of me.   And it was a great time to practice directing. Each actor received a script excerpt to perform and a description of the role they were auditioning for — the “sides” and the “character breakdown”.

Sometimes I would read opposite the actor, but usually I would have two actors show up at the same time so they could read opposite each other. If possible I would have them switch roles and do it a second time. This was really informative, and actually I cast two roles this way — the lead female role, Sophie, and the main supporting role, Mo.   Those actors, Melanie Meijer and Alysse Fozmark, prepared for one character but upon seeing them do the opposite role it occurred to me they were perfect the other way around. They auditioned on separate days so I just had to guess what their chemistry would be like together. Thankfully that worked out too once they met in rehearsals.

To accelerate things I set up a big group audition at the Portland Metro Arts building. I was given a great deal ($90) but instead of using their stage I was given the utility room.   This might seem like a joke but really it turned out great. We arranged some tables and chairs and set up a camera. It was perfect for a couple of actors at a time.   And we were able to use their big comfortable lobby for a waiting room, and the bathrooms, and it just looked good to be auditioning there rather than my little basement office.

This also was a time to meet my newly hired crew. I hadn’t actually met my AD face-to-face, so this was an important test run.   He helped supervise the auditions and kept track of the time.   I had only met my DP once before, so this was an important test run for us also.   He brought his camera and recorded the auditions.

The time went fast. I now had lots of good prospects to choose from. Afterwards the crew and I sat in the lobby and chatted. As I remember, our soundperson showed up for a while too.   They gave their opinions on the auditions, and we talked about the logistics and the style of our project.  There was a lot of good energy.   Things where moving ahead nicely.

There were a few small roles I never got around to filling, but I felt confident I could get along without them or do workarounds in the script.   For example, the script had a “drunk” stagger past Jack and Sophie as they argued outside a bar. Sophie shouts that Jack’s friends are “below” her and the drunk shouts back “blow me.” I ended up putting that line into the mouth of Jack but looking back on it I wish I would have offered it to one of the extras. I was truly amazed at how talented the extras were. They all took direction really well and several stepped up and were featured.  More on that later.

Oh yeah, how did I get those extras? I called an “extras casting” service.  I made a big mistake on my first call by not knowing the industry norms and seriously put my foot in my mouth.   They backed away but gave me a referral to someone else. And that referral turned out to be great. Susan Funk. This time I spoke clearly about what I needed and what I was willing to pay. I needed extras on four days and was offering $40 for 4 hours — i.e. minimum wage.   Susan not only found a great group of extras, but also came herself each day to manage the extras and their paperwork.   It took a big load off my plate and was a great bargain — although it did stretch the budget a bit.

I met with my AD and DP only two more times before shooting. We walked through our two biggest locations, and then met at my house which was being used for three different scripted locations — the Russian Party, the Wedding, and the interior shots of Sophie’s apartment.

We discussed equipment needs, and logistics, and talked over the final version of the shooting schedule and shot list. The first week was especially critical — it would set the tone for the entire shoot. I didn’t want to spawn any insurrections from the cast or from the extras due to us fumbling around.

I had created my own combo “schedule/breakdown/shot-list” by cutting and pasting from the script itself and then adding things. I didn’t use any commercial programs because I wanted to focus on just what I needed.
Day 1 —- Day 2 —- Day 3 —- Day 4
*I also made a “stripboard” as a quick reference guide to the schedule.

Our equipment was going to be limited to the basics. I owned a light kit with five smallish fresnels and one 1000W open face, and my DP contributed two small 8” LED arrays.   I also had three C-stands, six sand bags, a couple of flags, and a suitcase full of miscellaneous clamps, clips, gels, a slate board, and other random filmmaking stuff.

I uploaded a cloud based “production book” to box.com for everyone to access, which was set up like an index page with hyper-links to all of our production documents.

Another time saver we benefited from was using a Payroll service — Talent Services.   I’m so glad I did this. They made sure all the proper withholdings were made and all the necessary tax forms were filed, and helped me not run amuck of any employment laws — and it just gave the whole production an air of legitimacy. And their rate was very reasonable. All I had to do was give them W-4’s and timecards for each employee (which now were technically theirs, not mine). Writing checks, workman’s comp, and year-end reporting to the IRS was their problem now.

My “final budget estimate” had now ballooned to $26,438 — worrisome but still do-able. I kept track of that total number so that I knew exactly what I was getting into — even though there were no other investors to worry about.

I had an old business LLC for another project that never got off the ground — Romance Production One LLC — so I repurposed it for this new project. I was pitching that project to be the first of several shows but I guess now the “one” referred just to me.   I had kept all the registrations current and there was an associated bank account — with noting in it — so I pulled together the funds for Love Eclectic and made a big deposit.

I had added things to the budget and some of my early assumptions didn’t pan out.   I scrambled to find reliable picture cars for free, but eventually made deals with lead actors “Jack” and “Mo” to drive their personal cars in their own scenes.   And “Mr. Evans” (Jack’s dad) used my car for his scene. (Although I was a little careless one day parking my red Subaru Outback in the background of an unrelated shot).  I also rented a car — a hot mustang — for “Kurt” the cocky attorney. All of this pushed the budget up.

An item that went down in the budget was film production insurance. I ended up using MovieInsure.com and was able to get a very reasonable short-term entertainment production package.  It was important to have each location covered, and I needed to be covered too — just in case I got sued. For example, if I directed a cast member to drive a car in a scene and “BANG” there was an accident.   There were actually a couple close calls but I’ll save those for later.

I arranged for meals by getting gift-cards to restaurants and coffee houses within walking distance to the locations we were at — like Subway, and Starbucks.   I also filled a big plastic tub with snacks for the craft table and had my own single serving coffee maker with a lot of pods.

About a week before we started shooting I finally was able to put together a couple rehearsal days for the lead actors and some of the supporting cast. Looking back, I wish I would have done more rehearsing and included everyone. But all of the cast at least received a note regarding their character and my expectations for costuming — which most were simply doing out of their own closet.

Costuming for the lead characters however was largely done at The Urban Eccentric consignment store in Vancouver WA. It was the actual location we were shooting at and they had a great selection of vintage clothing. I gave the lead actors a detailed spreadsheet listing what costumes were expected each day. And later, during production, this sheet would help them (and me) keep track of their outfits.  Continuity was going to be a challenge.

The clerk at the Urban Eccentric helped them select outfits, and they texted me photos and asked for my opinion. But if they liked it, and it fit, I generally went along with anything. So we ended up with plenty outfits. A few hundred dollars goes a long way at a consignment store.

Then finally everything was done. The last weekend was a time to rest and reflect. We were scheduled to start shooting the following Monday.

*In Photo:  Melanie Meijer (Sophie), with Adam Michaels (AD) on location at the Urban Eccentric shop.
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The story behind Love Eclectic – #3

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Preproduction – Part 1
Told from the perspective of producer Bill Brown… “it all started when my five year old daughter broke her arm, and my plans for the Summer were dashed, and I thought, how about shooting a film instead…”

Pre-production started very tentatively. At any moment the whole thing could have been called off. It was like a game to see how far things could go before hitting a game-ending roadblock. But each step forward went smooth. No roadblocks.   Each person I talked to about the project made it seem more real.   And as more and more steps were taken the production took on a momentum of it’s own. And at some point it became impossible to turn back. Too many people were counting on me.

I penciled in a budget of $25,000 that assumed I wasn’t buying or renting any equipment — I owned a small light kit and hoped on finding a cameraman who would contribute a camera, and there were lots of other production assumptions to make it work out.

Here’s the “Early Budget” & list of assumptions for Love Eclectic.  

And here’s the “Project Concept” for Love Eclectic.

I combed through the script and listed the things I needed for each scene, and did a hypothetical shooting schedule that grouped all the similar scenes together.   I thought I could shoot about eight pages of script a day — that’s a lot compared to industry standards, but seemed reasonable since the scenes were so simple. At this point it was just guess work anyway. I also had a book titled “The Legal Guide to Independent Filmmaking” with examples of contracts, so I was ready to go.

The first big step was to find the locations to shoot at — tops being “The Shop” and “Jack’s House.” I didn’t want to go too far without getting at least those two locations figured out. I had a couple of places in mind, so I went there first, and I was pleasantly surprised that both were very receptive to the idea of shooting a film.

I’m not sure if either of those location owners really knew the extent of disruption our production was going to create, but both were very thoughtful and helpful and that made me comfortable things would work out. In fact, I felt all our location owners would help out if called upon.

And I did end up calling for help — like when I inadvertently switched the shooting dates of the two bar locations.   Somehow in the fog of preproduction, probably while cleaning up a draft schedule, I switched around Monday and Tuesday.  The big problem was that I didn’t catch the error until a week before we were scheduled to be there — all the cast and crew were depending on “wrong dates” including all the extras in the crowd scenes.

The simplest way to resolve the problem was to call up the two location owners and see if they would allow me to switch the dates.   It was a humbling moment. I’m sure they had also made plans surrounding those dates. And it was such a careless error.   I had been so careful with everything else — would they trust me now? Thankfully yes. They were both willing to adjust their schedules. We ended up hiring the bartender who was scheduled to work at the “Jazzy Nightclub” as a featured extra — and he performed great.

With the two biggest locations found and some good ideas for the rest, I now felt comfortable shifting focus to the next big step — crewing.

I had settled on the idea of using a crew of only four, and I was going to be director so that left only three more to find — Director of Photography (DP), Assistant Director (AD), and Sound.

I started off by looking for a DP since I thought this person might be able to refer me to the others.  I contacted several who had done low budget feature films in the area, but none were interested. Apparently this was going to be harder than I thought.

I expanded my search to include commercial DP’s — ones that did mostly commercial work — as long as they had done some short films to prove they understood narrative filmmaking.

I scoured Linkedin and the local production association (OMPA) for candidates.  I especially looked at the quality of their short films. I needed someone willing to work without all the luxuries of a big crew and other perks. Demands would be high so I needed an adventurous and problem solving type who was also genuinely enthusiastic about the project.

Referrals played an important role. I met someone in a workshop class who gave me the name of a sound guy he knew. I contacted that guy and got his resume and then he gave me a few referrals for the DP position. Although none of those secondary referrals worked out, one of them referred me to another DP, and that referral did work out — not as DP but as AD. Which was perfect because I had just found a DP on Linkedin and having an AD who could potentially help out on camera seemed like a great idea.

I eventually hired the original sound guy I talked to, so now I had everyone I needed — Justin Haynes (Sound), Brad Norton (DP), Adam Michaels (AD). All of them had broad filmmaking experience and could have switched positions in a pinch. And the biggest plus was that they were all enthusiastic and committed to the project.   I knew they would do whatever it took even if that didn’t fit neatly into industry categories.

The duties listed in my AD’s contract were so vague they included almost anything. Here’s an excerpt from the actual contract:
“… all services customarily rendered by Assistant Director and Second Assistant Director… in addition… duties may include: prep work such as making plans and communicating needs to the producer, helping manage locations, understanding the schedule and shot list, creating call sheets and doing calls, communicate costuming needs to cast, setting up craft table and monitoring it, securing extra releases, securing payroll documents (e.g. time sheets and W4’s), help decorate set, help set up equipment, do the slate, direct background action, do crowd control, tend to talent needs, supervise meal breaks, supervise the daily wrap…”

Whoa… that’s a lot.   Obviously there was going to be a lot of trust involved. I trusted the AD would at least try to do those things, and the AD trusted I wouldn’t be unreasonable. Trust is probably better than a contract anyway.

Having a crew on board made it seem like the real thing. We were doing this. But there was still one really big step to do — casting.   And that needed to happen fast.

I called a talent agent at Ryan Artists and gave them a list of the roles I needed. This seemed like a great time saver and a bargain since they only charged a 20% commission on my $125/day pay rate (the SAG ultra-low budget rate). It especially made sense for the many supporting roles I had which took a lot of time to sort through and were often only being hired for a day.

But I didn’t want to rely on just one source for casting so I also posted the project on a couple of online sites — Casting Calls and Backstage. It was surprisingly easy to set up and fun to browse through all the talent profiles. Although it was often frustrating to watch through their clips just to see a couple seconds of them walking through a scene without any lines. I didn’t really care about the films they were in, all I wanted to know was whether they could act or not. I wanted to know their range, body language, how convincing they were.   The clips I liked the best were monologues in front of stationary camera.

I quickly assembled a wish list of best prospects. I had a tiny office in the back of another business and got permission to use a big open area in the basement for auditions. It was a nice area, carpeted, with a bathroom, and had a few chairs and a table from when it was previously rented. And I only had to pay $100 for an entire month.   I set up a video camera and started setting appointments…
(To be continued)

*in photo: director Bill Brown (center), lead actor William Poole (right), assistant director Adam Michaels (left).
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Love Eclectic

Love Eclectic in the news!

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Melanie Meijer, Love Eclectic, Garden State Film Festival, Bill Brown, Romance Production One, Mighty Rose Films, Portland, Portland Oregon, Vancouver, New Movies, Independent Films, The Djangophiles, 3 Leg Torso, Lucy Schwartz, Winterpills, Laura Roe, Valentines Day

Feb 2019 — The Oregonian/OregonLive
“Valentine-less in Vancouver: ‘Love Eclectic’ is a homegrown rom-com”
by Amy Wang.

Bill Brown wanted his film “Love Eclectic” to be “a sincere, sweet, fanciful look at romance.”

He also wanted to see if he could do it “on an ultra-low budget.”

Enter Vancouver, where Brown, a local resident, ended up shooting his film in 12 and a half days, using a vintage clothing store, a bed-and-breakfast and a couple of restaurants as his primary sets. He also hired mostly local actors and a local crew, and used music by local band 3 Leg Torso.

The film went on to win the Bud Abbott Award for Feature Length Comedy at the 2018 Garden State Film Festival. It has its Portland premiere Feb. 17 at the Clinton Street Theater.

“Love Eclectic,” which is indeed sincere, sweet and fanciful, centers on Sophie (Melanie Meijer), a young woman who owns a vintage clothing store, and Jack (William Poole), a young man who is currently uncommitted except for his relationship with Sophie. He’s supposed to be in school, but when Sophie finds out during a Valentine’s Day date that he isn’t, she feels betrayed. Things escalate and she storms out, leaving behind her Valentine’s gift for him – a lottery ticket.

Naturally, the lottery ticket, whose numbers Sophie chose carefully for their significance in the relationship, turns out to be a winner. While Sophie doesn’t want Jack back – or thinks she doesn’t – she does want the ticket back. She enlists her employee/best friend, Mo (Alysse Fozmark), and romantic comedy ensues.

Brown said it was important to him that the film’s humor not be slapstick or goofy but more in the style of 1940s romantic comedies: “You have these lead characters who everyone knows are supposed to be together … but something gets wedged in between them and the fun is watching them sort through the mess.”

He came up with the idea for a simple rom-com as a break from his usual work. “A lot of the scripts I’d written had just huge special effects and a lot of big things and locations that were impossible to get,” he said. “I created this project from the beginning as something very contained. I could get everything I needed right within a few miles of where my location is.”

Urban Eccentric, a vintage clothing store in downtown Vancouver, stood in for Sophie’s boutique. The Briar Rose Inn, also downtown, on West 11th Street, appears in the film as an apartment house. Two local restaurants that have lounges, Tiger’s Garden and Peking Garden, played “Fancy Nightclub” and “Grittier Bar,” respectively.

Brown said he hopes audiences leave the film thinking about loyalty, sincerity, acceptance and how we treat one another. And yes – spoiler alert – love does win the day.

“Love Eclectic”

When: 7 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 17.

 Where: Clinton Street Theater, 2522 S.E. Clinton St.

 Tickets: $5-$8, cstpdx.com or at the door.

 Run time: 100 minutes.


*In photo: Melanie Meijer (“Sophie”) in The Urban Eccentric shop.
*link to article: https://www.oregonlive.com/entertainment/2019/02/valentine-less-in-vancouver-love-eclectic-is-a-homegrown-rom-com.html

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The story behind Love Eclectic – #2

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This is the second in a series of blogs journaling the steps it took to make the indie film Love Eclectic. Preproduction on the film took about three months but before anything could be started something needed to be done about the script.

The original script would have been impossible to do on such a small budget. It needed to be adjusted — not in length, but in overall complexity. There were scenes calling for big cinematic feats; like crane shots, walking & talking shots, shots involving special effects and special equipment. These things would have eaten up our budget very quickly. The script was also moving around to too many locations, some of which were unattainable.   And there were too many characters. All of this made it too costly for us to do.  The script needed to be trimmed and consolidated.

There was no way we could have competed with big films on a technical basis anyway. But we could adjust the script to maximize things we could do well — like basic cinematography — camera angles, continuity, composition, lighting.

Our close-ups could look just as good as bigger films if the characters didn’t move around too much. And we could completely cover the scenes with multiple angles if we limited ourselves to using a simple tripod or handheld camera.

We took a cold ruthless eye to the script. All the characters and lines and locations that didn’t really need to be there were deleted.  But often the best lines from those deleted characters were able to be added back into the mouths of remaining characters. The nice thing about consolidating a script is that it makes all the remaining elements that much more weighty.

In the end, we had over half of the action happening in just one location and most of the lines were now between just three characters.   The script finally felt ready to go.   It was mostly “talking scenes” that didn’t require any technically difficult feats. But the script still had enough action scenes to feel “big” and enough outdoor shots to feel expansive.

We now needed only six total locations and all of them were easily attainable.  The top three accounted for over 80% of the script — one of which served three different “script locations” (Sophie’s Bedroom, The Russian Party, and The Wedding Reception) by using different areas of the same house.

Another area in which we could compete with bigger films was acting.  A lot of the quality of the film would be riding on those performances so it was going to be very important for us to fully capture them.

Of course once we started shooting there were surprises and obstacles, and we didn’t get all the shots.

The first scene on opening day was showing a character (Sophie) entering the store. The shot list called for a long view down the street but there would have been copyright issues and lots of bystanders in the shot, so we settled for a more limited framing.

Also, there was suppose to be a tracking shot with multiple angles creating mystery about who the woman was, including a close-up of the wheels of her shopping cart, but since this was our first day and we had no idea how smoothly the rest of the day would go, we decided to eliminate those shots and instead move inside and get going on all the other scenes there.

During production there really wasn’t enough time to stop and examine the footage, or take home dailies to watch at night, so we just had to cross our fingers and trust ourselves.

More later on the production days…

*photo: Alysse Fozmark (Mo) holds ukulele (in the shop location).

See Blog #1 here.

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The story behind Love Eclectic – #1

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This series of blogs journals the steps it took to make the film Love Eclectic, a full-length feature done on an extremely low budget.   We had 97 pages of script to shoot.  How did this all get done?

The film was shot by a crew of four people, in twelve and a half days, using a tiny Panasonic G4 camera, on a production budget of $25,000.

Not a standard studio shoot.  However we did follow many standard procedures, like having formal contracts, insurance, and a detailed shooting schedule and shot list.

Everyone was paid. No freebies. Days usually wrapped within 9 – 10 hours. Only one day did we exceed this — going to almost 11 hours due to weather. Rain really helped the “look” of the film, but it also created some big complications. More on that later.

For actors we paid the ultra-low SAG rate of $125 per day and followed all the other rules. But we eliminated entire departments like hair, make-up, costume. Talent did their own hair and makeup and kept track of their own costumes.   Because we were shooting on such a condensed schedule there were less issues of continuity — that is, we rarely revisited a “script day” and had to match outfits.

The crew consisted of Director, AD, DP, and Sound, but each had multiple duties beyond those titles.

The DP set up his own lights, and camera, and then operated the camera.

The AD kept the shot log, did set dressing, and helped out wherever else needed in addition to typical AD duties.

The sound person was a true one-man-show — he did it all — boom, lavaliere, mix, and record.

And finally, the director, was also producer, production manager, location manager, accountant, and took care of all the back office details.

Locations were generally used “as is” except for a few extra details — like taping mail boxes near the door of a big house to make it look like an apartment building — or borrowing vintage items (from our location store) to use in other locations.

That store, The Urban Eccentric in Vancouver WA, come perfect just the way it was. We costumed our lead characters there (sent in on a “shopping spree” to select outfits).   And later we often went back to grab extra pieces.   It was a great resource for the look we were going for.

But what about those 97 pages? How did that all get covered?

That comes next…

*photo: AD Adam Michaels does slate with actors Brendan Quinlan and Melanie Meijer.

*the budget mentioned above was for everything up to the last day of filming.  Cost for post-production was assumed to be zero at this point.  And producer (Bill Brown) did not have any budgeted compensation but was the sole owner of the film.

SEE BLOG #2 HERE