Thursday, August 5, 2010

25 Months Ago: Day 8

DAY 8 – July 5, 2008

Another Saturday. This shoot involved all the main cast, and took place at a parking lot at University of Buffalo, North Campus.

I had thought of a couple extra lines of dialogue to add to the scene, to earn Karyus' character an extra laugh. During the shoot, Karyus commented that this scene summed up the movie, and maybe he was right.

We filmed the scene in sections – the actors would perform a chunk of lines from the scene, I would get several takes from various angles, and then the actors would perform the next few lines, and so on. When not needed on-camera, Wendy helped out by holding the boom pole while I filmed.

I seem to remember Liz being the one to recommend the particular parking lot we used – or at least, there was some driving around from parking lot to parking lot with her navigating and me weighing her recommendations. Or did that all happen on some previous day, when we were scouting this location in the first place?

Anyway, July 5 was a clear, warm, sunny day. That was the good news. That was also the bad news. The intense heat didn't make anyone very comfortable – as director/cameraman, I could at least hide under a hat and sunglasses, but the actors weren't so lucky, with the partial exception of Liz who got to don a pair of sunglasses during the scene.

Reuben had some forceful dramatic dialogue in this scene, but unfortunately there was relatively little light on his face due to the position of the sun behind the campus buildings. When I looked at Reuben through the viewfinder, I saw a dark silhouette in a blazingly bright environment. I tried using the dashboard shade from my car as a reflector, but that didn't help the lighting much and served only to aggravate Reuben's (literal) allergy to sunlight.

I seemed to have only one of two choices for setting my exposure. I could set it for the environment, and let Reuben remain a silhouette. Or I could set it so that Reuben's face was visible, but make it look like he was standing in heaven, or in the middle of a nuclear explosion. Ultimately I tried to split the difference as much as possible without making the background too bright, while shooting Reuben from a slight angle so that at least his mouth movements were visible.

In the script, the characters separate and go off in different directions to explore the campus, but I skipped most of that material today. I only had Karyus for about 16 days, so he was my priority; pretty much anything that didn't feature him would have to be filmed later.

With the parking lot scene in the can (or rather, on the tape), we then shot some driving scenes. J.D. had generously allowed use of his own van for all of these scenes, which was convenient because he was the one doing all the on-camera driving anyway, and also because a van has more room than a car, making it easier to get camera angles.

Some of these driving scenes were on the UB campus, and some were on the road in Amherst; the latter were supposed to take place in Canada. I had in mind a particular type of house I'd often seen during my own car trips to Toronto, and so I asked Liz to direct us to a neighborhood where we would pass by houses of this type. She misunderstood the type of housing I was looking for, and kept leading us past housing complexes. But as luck would have it, we passed the appropriate type of house anyway, and I managed to get the shots I needed.

Again, getting Karyus' scenes done was a priority, so we recorded all car scenes that had him in them. In order to get various camera angles, we would sometimes return to a designated spot on campus and drop off or pick up a cast member, so that the cameraman (me) could occupy his/her seat to get a different camera angle.

We had lunch at the Super Fuji Buffet in Amherst. I honestly don't remember whether lunch was before or after (or between?) car scenes. I do remember having my nose buried in the schedule, planning the next scenes while the cast socialized.

This was probably my least favorite day of shooting since Day 2 – it was rough on the actors and on myself – and the pain continued when I finally watched the raw footage.

Reuben's close-ups were as problematic as I feared, although I would ultimately be able to correct them in post-production. If we'd shot this at a different time of day, maybe the situation would have been different. So it was a lesson learned about scheduling, and knowing where the sun is going to be when filming outdoors (as well as learning a new Final Cut Pro setting).

Also, a middle section of the big dramatic scene was underexposed to a degree that was not salvageable. The particular camera I was using (Canon HV30) does not have any f-stop settings; it sets brightness automatically when turned on, and the user can raise or lower the brightness from this initial setting. So I was having to adjust the brightness by eye – not an easy thing to do on a blinding July day, and I must have turned off the camera between sections of the script, and gotten a different light reading (or adjusted it differently) when I turned it back on.

Editing this scene would eventually require trimming as many lines from the affected section as possible, and patching over the remaining dialogue with cutaways from other scenes.

The car scenes weren't the best either – whether through my own fatigue, or wariness at pushing the actors too hard after such a hot day, I must have adopted a “just say some lines and I'll use them” attitude, because I'd gotten very few takes of these scenes, none of which were perfect. It would take some clever editing to make these scenes work, and I ended up cutting some of this material altogether.

The raw footage of the campus driving scenes did feature of one of the cast members (I won't say who) looking out the window and saying “Oh my lord. Now that's a behind!” I never saw the coed who inspired this remark, and this generously proportioned stranger was not captured on tape. Oh well.


  1. As I remember it, we had reached a point where we had worked on line after line and were running out of daylight. I HATED driving and acting. It sucked. I don't recommend it. At the end of the day, I was so fatigued that I considered getting a hotel. Maybe you said just say some lines, but I definitely remember going over the final scenes multiple times as the sun set. I also think that a big part of this was my getting used to driving, remembering lines, and emoting at the same time.

    Ah well. It was a fun cast to hang out with.

  2. You did a good job, though, and you made it look easy. I have almost no actual memory of filming most of the car scenes. I think I was just desperate to finish the scenes that had 4 or 5 people in the vehicle. I'm sure everyone else was too!