Monday, August 2, 2010

25 Months Ago: Day 5

DAY 5 – July 2, 2008

Wednesday. Odin's Day. Hump Day.

Today was the first day shooting in the Tobey Village space, which had a large open space, several smaller offices, and a bathroom (for which I bought supplies today).

I'd gotten one office set up as Dr. Garrison's campus office, which was the location for a dialogue scene between John Sindoni (as Garrison) and John Karyus (as Bert). After this, John S. put on some makeup so that he could also play a younger Garrison who appears in an old TV interview.

After this, Karyus and I headed to Writers & Books to film a faculty meeting scene in a classroom. (Karyus, though not needed on-camera, helped with the boom mic.) Wendy and Jahaka were the established regulars, while Roberto Petrilli, and Dana and Fran Paxson, played additional professors. When writing the script I hadn't envisioned that these professors would be characters who appeared elsewhere in the film (Roberto, Dana and Fran had already been featured in scenes shot on the two previous days), but this worked out well as a nice bit of continuity. It also meant I didn't have to find more actors.

Whereas other scenes I'd shot so far had been partly or mostly comic, this was one of the more dramatic scenes, and I shot it with a roaming handheld camera for a fly-on-the-wall feel, since Wendy's character, Aymee, is an observer in this scene.

This scene was exposition for the scene we shot on Day 2, and needed to be adjusted slightly to tie in with the on-the-fly changes made during that shoot. My creative energy was already starting to flag at that point, so I found myself describing the broad outline of the scene and encouraging the actors to improvise additional lines. The actors rose to the challenge, particularly Dana, who is a writer himself; and Roberto, who is a professor in real life and thus seemed to take some of the scene's themes to heart.

As a writer/director, I try not to be precious about my own dialogue. Sometimes I will insist that a line be spoken as written, if it's something that I took great care to construct just so – a particular joke, or a tricky piece of exposition – but otherwise I've learned to allow actors to rephrase the material in their own words, as long as they're still conveying the same points as the written dialogue. It tends to result in more interesting performances, and when time is tight it's simply easier for the actors to do.

In this case, there were not one, not two, but four actors ad-libbing and bouncing off each other, producing a mountain of additional, unscripted material that was challenging to edit. Some of it was so good that I substituted a lot of their words for the scripted lines (which I'd also filmed). But this scene was stubbornly overlong in most early cuts of the film, and it took a lot of effort to whittle it down.

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