This blog is a re-enactment of the experience of shooting the movie “Saberfrog”. The blog is called “25 months ago” because I was too busy a month ago, when it would have been a nice 24 months (2 years) ago, just as I was busy a year earlier, when it was only 12 months. Hell, I'm too busy now, but at some point you gotta bite the bullet.
Anyway, 25 months ago today – June 28, 2008 – was a Saturday. John Karyus, one of my lead actors and an old college friend, had flown in from LA on the previous Thursday so that he could spend two weeks, and three weekends, taking part in my little epic. I'd stayed up way too late the previous night creating the box art for an adult DVD that plays an absurdly large role in the plot of the film.
This first day of shooting occurred at a mom-and-pop video store, Hyatt's Classic Video in East Rochester. The scene was supposed to take place in Canada, so I added two minor bits of set dressing to help sell this: a “No Public Washrooms” sign (our northern neighbors say “washrooms” rather than “restrooms” or “bathrooms”) and a bogus flyer advertising a film screening at “Cinema Forum” (a play on Cineforum, famous for its ubiquitous zine-like flyers all over Toronto).
Most of the main cast – Karyus, Reuben Tapp, Liz Mariani, Wendy Foster – were present, plus Tom Gleason (playing a small acting role and also providing some makeup effects), Lance Kazmark (helping with the makeup, and actually the only crewmember not to double as an actor during principal photography), Jess Gonzales (a supporting actor) and Anthony “Ace-yon” Owens (Reuben's understudy, destined to steal the movie in a different role altogether, but today helping out as boom operator).
Some last-minute costume decisions were made just prior to shooting. Some weeks earlier I'd taken Liz shopping for second-hand clothes to fit her funky, artsy character, Laurel. I knew Liz wasn't thrilled with the Colin Baker-esque dress sense I was trying to foist on her, but we'd bought a ton of odd clothes for about $50, and that morning we finally decided on the outfit that she would wear for most of the film. Karyus brought various beat-up old clothes of his own, in keeping with his Harvey Pekar-like character, Bert. A hole-ridden T-shirt he brought was too degraded even for my tastes, but he also brought a dark, greenish flannel shirt that met with my approval.
Karyus set the tone for the movie early on when it came time for his character to respond to disappointment with a humorously exaggerated “No!!!” He asked me, “Do you want a Darth Vader 'No'?” and I, laughing, replied: “Yes, I want a Darth Vader 'No'.” Karyus delivered what he promised, and I wish I could have used every take of that line.
There were complicated scheduling reasons for shooting this scene, with its makeup effects and multiple speaking parts, on the first day. Day 2 would involve all the main cast, and Tom Gleason – then living near Ithaca – would be in town only for that weekend, so it made sense to shoot both scenes requiring makeup effects on the same weekend.
This first scene to be filmed was funny and entertaining, and seemed to get everyone in the right mood. However, it was my first time directing in several years, and also my first time properly using the new camera. After reviewing the footage I found several technical mistakes – some shots had severe audio problems for some reason, and I spent much of the scene breaking the 180 degree rule. Oh well. Day 2 would be better … right?