Thursday, August 12, 2010

25 Months Ago: Day 15

DAY 15 – July 12, 2008

There's something to be said for setting a firm deadline and saying “I'm going to start on X date, no matter what,” and then move heaven and earth to meet that self-imposed deadline, rather than wait for everything to be perfect – because things will never be perfect, and if you wait for perfection then you'll never begin. I learned this the hard way in film school.

But there's also something to be said for giving yourself time to dot your i's and cross your t's, and not going off half-cocked and underprepared. On Saberfrog, I started shooting with an incomplete schedule and several small roles still not cast, thinking that I could plug the gaps as I went along. Of course, once I started shooting there was no time for casting or any other additional planning. I'd gotten off lightly for most of the past two weeks, as friends or friends-of-friends were able to step in just in the nick of time. But by today, my luck had run out.

Today was Saturday. The last day of the two-week marathon. I had planned to film a scene in which J.D.'s character, Josh, goes to a sci-fi convention and learns, to his horror, that his favorite author has died. This was an important exposition scene which sent Josh on his soul-searching journey.

If you've ever been to at least a medium-sized sci-fi convention held at a hotel or convention center, you probably know that there tends to be a “main” room – a big auditorium where the really famous or important guests appear onstage – and then there are smaller rooms where discussion panels take place. The latter are sometimes well-attended and sometimes not, depending on whether the event in the main room is a bigger draw.

The scene I'd written had Josh walking in during a poorly-attended discussion panel and – after comic banter with the cranky panelists – learning the terrible news. In addition to its plot significance, it was one of my favorite scenes in the script, partly for the characterization and dialogue and partly for its satirical take on fandom. And there was a room in the Tobey Village space that would have been perfect to stage it.

But I would be unable to shoot this scene today, for the very simple reason that I didn't have any actors to play the panelists or the (small) audience. I had no choice but to cut the scene for now, and think about where and how to film it later on.

I also had no one to play Liz's boss during a flashback scene in which Liz's character, Laurel, gets fired. In this case, however, I was able to devise a crafty solution. Scrapping the scene that had been scripted, I filmed an improvised scene from the boss's POV – a handheld shot storming into a room and arguing with Laurel. Liz and I did five takes, improvising different dialogue each time. (I would later dub someone else's voice over my own – I'd intended Laurel's boss to be female.) While it's preferable not to have to resort to such shenanigans, this turned out to be yet another example of necessity forcing us to come up with something more unusual and interesting than what had been scripted.

Next, I filmed some extra material of Karyus for the scene filmed on Day 2. I couldn't show his face because he'd shaved since then, but I recorded an extra line of dialogue that had been skipped on Day 2 (and would have to be delivered offscreen in the finished film), and I also filmed his hand picking up a prop. I'd had second thoughts about an action performed by Karyus' character in that scene – I was worried about the thematic statement it would make – and so I had thought of a slight alternative that might be less morally ambiguous, which would require changing only one shot. I ended up not using this alternative in the finished film, because the original gag was just too good. Plus it seemed foolish to worry about mature and upright behavior in a character played by – and written for – John Karyus.

Then I filmed a brief flashback scene of Liz and Reuben in a park. A very short scene, and I couldn't tell you where we shot it, because I don't remember. There were kids playing, which made it hard to get a good sound take, but that's all I can think of to say about that.

After this, it was off to Monroe Community College again, this time to film a classroom scene. For this scene, at least, I had extras to play the student audience, although some doubling up of actors was again needed to make the crowd look a little bigger than it was.

This scene required a number of students watching a video on an auditorium screen. I brought the pre-recorded video on a miniDV deck, but found that I didn't have a needed connector to patch my deck into the classroom's media system. Local video-production guru Derrick Petrush – who I don't believe I'd ever met before today – was an extra in this scene, and he saved the day by rushing home to get his own supplies while I concentrated on getting other shots (that didn't require the video feed) until he returned. Derrick also provided mad skills that helped to make a particular special effect (which I won't spoil here) more convincing on camera than I expected.

I also shot a much shorter scene of a classroom flashback. I won't say much about this scene either, except that it offered an opportunity to show off some of the effects that Tom Gleason had created for Day 2 but which had gone unused due to the scheduling challenges of that shoot.

After this, several of us – myself, Karyus, Derrick, Liz, and Wendy – went to TGI Friday's to celebrate. For me, and for most of the lead actors, the shoot was far from over, but for Karyus this was it. He had finished his scenes and would be flying home on Monday.

I first met John Karyus at RIT, where his John Belushi-esque persona made him a frequent character actor in other students' films. It was my dream to one day cast him in a major role in one of my own films, and now that dream was achieved. Not only did he deliver the goods as a comedy actor, but he was a tremendous asset behind the camera, helping with lighting and sound (he'd been a boom operator today and on Day 5, and perhaps on other days that I can't remember) and also helping me to build the sets.

But his contribution to the film goes deeper still. John and I have been friends for over ten years now, and the long conversations he and I have had over the years – about school, about work, about movies, about culture, about life – gave me a lot to think about, and were a major influence on the themes, tone and direction of Saberfrog.

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