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. I summed up my vision of the project in a *memo* to my DP a few days later.
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 did a walk-through of our two biggest locations; and we met at my house, which was being used for three different script locations — the Russian Party, the Wedding, and the interior shots of Sophie’s apartment. We discussed equipment, and logistics, and talked over the final version of the shooting schedule and shot list. The first few days were especially critical and would set the tone for the entire shoot — I didn’t want to risk an insurrection from the cast or anyone else 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.