First day of shooting!
First day of principle photography!! Here's a detailed blog entry of the day! Check it out...
Wake up at 7am. Today is the first day of production. I head over to my brother-in-law's place in Hoboken to park the Civic. Calvin has an SUV which can hold more stuff and we're gonna need the space since we're picking up all the lights. The plan is to pick up the lights in Alphabet City (in NYC) by 8:30am, head over into Queens to pick up my DP's equipment, by 10am, burn back through Manhattan, the Holland Tunnel, and Hoboken to get my Civic so I can pick up actors by the PATH train station at 11am, so we can drive down to my townhouse in New Brunswick, NJ for call time which is at 12pm. Some actors are driving themselves to set or getting dropped off, so if I'm late, they'll be waiting outside in the cold.
Lighting-Rentals.com is where I'm renting the lighting equipment from. We load up the SUV to the roof and speed on over to Queens where my DP's stuff just manages to fit. Miraculously, we make our runs with minimal incident and arrive to set (my house!) 5 minutes late. The rest of my actors are hanging out outside.
We all enter my place; I lead them to the basement where I've spent the last 2 months constructing a set of a military personnel drop ship carrier interior. In the film, this is where the soldiers of Department of Homeland Security Cybercrime Division 9 argue over the ideology behind their current mission. The set is a three walled room decorated with random items either found on the Home Depot shelves or in my house. I found some textured plastic that's used for wall carpeting, but looks like armored plating when mounted on the walls. The entire color-scheme is black dry-brushed in silver (I only budgeted for 2 colors of paint! ;) with the exception of a dirty red fire extinguisher mounted on the back wall. This type of art decoration adds a bit of practical realism (in my humble opinion! Hey did I mention I'm also the art/creative director here?). Battery-operated mini-lights are mounted on the wall as practical light sources. These things are absolutely essential for creating a nice sci-fi look. (They're all over the place on Battlestar Galactica!)
Everyone gets into uniform and gets their respective guns. By now, actors know which weapon their character has- identified by straight clip, banana clip, folding shoulder stock, or the distinguished truncated appearance of the P90. I have a shot list this time (unlike the December 17th shoot), and we just hop right in.
Calvin, who was there originally to provide some PA assistance, ends up getting recruited as an extra soldier in the foreground. Most of the time, just his shoulder, knees, or half his head is in frame to create the appearance that the drop ship is packed with soldiers. He also doubles as my audio/boom operator until David King, a PA I found on craigslist.org shows up. I've never met him in person- only talked to him over the phone and on email- and he shows up an hour into shooting. This is his first time ever on a film shoot and we toss him the boom and a set of headphones. "Baptism by fire," I think to myself. He holds his own well throughout the shoot.
This is the scene that we spent the most time on in rehearsals, so the actors know it inside and out, and when we hop around and shoot out of sequence, I can just give them the line to start with and they instantly pick up there. My DP introduces additional camera shake to the handheld shooting style to create the appearance of turbulence. I had planned to do this digitally in post, but he thinks doing it in-camera will be better. I differ to him.
In hindsight, each day of production and in each scene we shot, one or two of the actors really shine and their performance blows me away. In the locker room shoot, it was my Captain Dack whose disgust of his team's misunderstood purpose really came through. Today it's Chavez, the soldier who's concerned about the society his son is growing up in where artificial life enjoys no civil liberties. Chavez's actor, Anthony Arbiza, hits those points so well that I can't help but smile to myself.
I originally budgeted 5 hours (from noon to 5pm) to complete the scene and the day. We end at 4:30pm with a shot that my DP insists will never work. It's a backward hand-held dolly and pan that I plan to integrate into a 3-D CGI shot in post. We shake on a $20 bet that it won't work. He's gonna owe me!
We wrap for the day. Calvin takes my civic home and lends me his SUV. One of my actors, David, says he won't be able to make it on Tuesday cuz he got a part as an extra on a Robert deNero movie. I congratulate him and tell him we'll work around it. I call the warehouse where we'll be shooting tomorrow and for the next 5 days. The owner is NYC and will be back in the area at around 10pm. I have an SUV full to lighting equipment that I need to get to set before call time the next day if I want to start shooting anytime before noon! I leave a message begging them to let me unload tonight instead of waiting until tomorrow.
I mentally slap myself out of my impending panic- I have shit to do! I open up my excel file that contains worksheets on every facet of production. I jump to my shooting schedule sheet and begin to cross-reference it with my actor's availability sheet. This is low-budget filmmaking where you can't have all actors on set everyday- you're not paying them, so when they need to work and can't be on set, you have to grin and bear it. I'm trying to bear it right now by seeing what shots can be filmed with the actors that I will have on set. This calls for shooting entirely out of sequence and I make the decision (that I might regret later) to shoot on-set actors having conversations with off-set actors one day and then go back to shoot the off-set actors when they are on set. (Sound confusing? It is!) I'm basically shooting a shot-reverse shot set up on two different days.
Oh crap! I just realize that my bodybuilder actor, Rob Mason, will be on set tomorrow and I haven't finished his costume! I need camouflage pants! Where do I buy camouflage pants at this hour? It's 9:45pm in the suburbs! In the cold pouring rain, I speed over to Wal-Mart before it closes and find camouflage pants. On the checkout line, I get a call from the warehouse owner- she can meet me at the warehouse in 30 minutes. I blow over to the warehouse from Wal-Mart and unload the lights by myself in cold pouring rain. I'm finally finished unloading at midnight and reach to close the back of the SUV and all this cold water that's collected on top of the SUV door comes splashing down on me drenching me to the core. I look up at the dark sky, and the universe grins down on me and says, "Yes, welcome to the world of production!"
I rush home, run down to the basement and try to get stuff organized for the shoot tomorrow morning. Guns, gears, props, batteries, extension cords all must be packed. Oh crap! Rob's costume! He's playing the Combat Mech, a cyborg developed for military purposes. I unload plastic chest armor that the cool guys at SpatCave.com made for me. It will look good over the riot vest that I rented from Weapon Specialists and the camouflage pants I just bought, but it needs something more. I grab a couple of the 6-inch lights from the drop ship set. Last week, my dad had helped me paint them black and I dry-brushed them silver. I use black gaffer's tape to attach them to the SpatCave's chest plate. Hope it looks ok!
I print out the shot list and dive into bed!