Monday, February 27, 2006

Happy Cloud Pictures returns to filmmaking!

Woke up this morning in enormous pain. I discovered over the weekend that I either need a new cameraman or a time machine.

We spent all day Saturday shooting our segment for JD Casey’s anthology, Brinke’s Tales of Terror. Our short, starring the usual Happy Cloud Pictures suspects (Amy, Charlie Fleming, Bill Homan, Nic Pesante, Tim Gross and Jeff Waltrowski), takes place in a back-room poker game. The best location we could find was the upper bedroom of Amy’s mother’s spare house. This tiny dwelling, where Amy grew up, coincidentally enough, is located on a steep hill in one of the nicer sections of Mount Oliver, across from one of the creepiest cemeteries in existence. The bedroom is roughly fifteen feet long by ten feet wide—not a great deal of room after we loaded in four actors, chairs, a card table and a trio of lights. At one point, I had Tim gripping for me, moving the primary light stand to accommodate my composition, but after a while it became clear that there just wasn’t enough room. Tim was just one more thing for me to frame out, though I really appreciated his help while he was there.

Eventually, it was just me and the actors. I couldn’t even use a tripod for most of the shots and simply went hand-held for the rest of the day. For six hours, I crouched, squatted, angled, craned and boomed with only the power of my legs and spine, using the walls behind for support when I could. Scene was dialogue-heavy, so I had the added pleasure of trying to avoid a room full of loose boards that would creak and overpower the dialogue like sonic booms. Added to my misery was a dying shotgun mike that, I discovered later, had added a hum over every line. This on top of a section where it had been bumped into the “off” position and I hadn’t caught it until after we’d shot four pages of script.

Not nearly the auspicious resuming of our career that we’d hoped.

Now, I’m fairly certain that if I can’t remove the hum in Premiere, a session of ADR won’t be so awful. I have a lavalier mic that works brilliantly, so it’ll just be a matter of getting the actors together to reloop their lines. I shot a lot of coverage and cut-aways, so perfect synch won’t be that much of an issue. We have some investor money coming soon, so we’ll be able to replace the dying Realistic mic with a nice Audiotechnica or a Senheiser (preferably), when we upgrade our camera equipment at the end of next month. Which will mean more for our future projects than our current ones. I just hate the fact that we can never just do anything once (echoes of The Resurrection Game here).

We had plenty of help Saturday, which was terrific. We just didn’t have the room for everyone. Tim, Carolyn Olvier and Shelli were relegated to the freezing downstairs quadrants for the most part (freezing as we couldn’t keep the furnace on in the house—the roar was overpowering and it turned the room we were using into an oven). There was some complaining at the beginning of the day from a few voices that our actors were late—crew call was 10am, actors at 11, but some of our crew don’t understand “pre-prep” time and think that we should be ready to roll film the minute they walk onto the set. But this is a common complaint that Amy and I are used to. The actors all arrived at the time we needed them, and we even had a rare rehearsal session, going through the script all the way. As we’ve learned in the past, it’s best if Amy works with the actors and I work with the crew and technical ends of things. Sadly, with the lack of space, the crew, as I said, became me by about noon, and that’s where all the audio mistakes were made. Ah well. (Oh, and check out Tim's coverage of the weekend at the appropriately-titled Bastards of Horror.)

We had two make-up artists working with us for the first time. Carlos Savant, a former Douglas School student I’d met at Horrorfind last year, showed up on one of his first days back from a very long car trip to his family home in New Orleans. Kirk Owen I’d met through Don Bumgarner and Tom Luhtula of Cleveland F/X and re-met just a few days prior at Don’s place (picking up gelatin fingers and a foam “lead pipe” for key sequences). I was happy to have them, and they quickly caught on to our speed of filming. We had three actors who needed several stages of make-up throughout the day and Bill only had three hours of shooting time before he had to leave for work. He took care of his own make-up while Carlos and Kirk tackled Nic and Charlie (kudos in particular to Carlos’ paint job on Nic—I was certain, even through the camera, that his make-up was three-dimensional until a closer look revealed his wounds to be mere paint! (?!)).

Later, the poker scenes were done and we moved onto a pair of murder scenes. An exhausted Charlie accidentally clocked Jeff Waltrowski in the face while rehearsing. Suddenly, the whole room erupted into something out of the Simpsons (‘Not Lenny! Anyone but Lenny!’) where they all chimed in on who they would have preferred to have seen punched in the face. Nic and I were tied, I think.

A few minutes later, we’d moved onto a gun gag with a live pistol and a prepped ‘blank’ shell (courtesy of Bill and his patented projectile-free blanks)—safe but awful noisy. Everyone was concerned that a gunshot would send a neighbor to the cops. I doubted that. “Not in this neighborhood,” I said, “after only one gunshot.”

In all, we’d shot fifteen pages of script in about six hours. I’m a terribly insecure DP, but I was incredibly pleased with the footage, despite the dismayingly persistent hum. Our speed and the results cheered me up immensely. This was the first project we’d shot in over a year (Charlie’s entertaining Cannibal Aneurysm notwithstanding) and I was thrilled—I think Happy Cloud Pictures is back in the groove. (We’ve always shot fast. On The Resurrection Game, we once managed 42 distinct camera set-ups in a single 10-hour day. When I hear about other directors who require twenty-plus takes and only get a page or so shot, I start to feel like a slacker. But moving fast is what keeps our core group coming back, and it’s what has a lot of producers and distributors giving us serious consideration to produce for them. So maybe we’re on to something. All I know is, I like getting done as much as humanly possible. We treat our cast and crew pretty well, even when it’s just the HCP family—we feed them, we try to pay everyone for their time—and we work to make sure no one is sitting around bored for too long. Just the same, by the end of that six hours, my spine was in a square knot, I hadn’t eaten or drunk anything since noon, and I hadn’t gone to the bathroom since I’d left the house that morning. So slacker I am definitely not. Lunatic, maybe.)

But by the time we were ready to leave, the muscles in my back and legs were screaming. My prior rotator-cuff injury courtesy of the post office usually keeps me in pain, but this was above and beyond what I was used to.

The next day, Amy and I drove back into Pittsburgh to sit in on an audition being held by Jeff Waltrowski and Steve Foland (along with their partner, Mike Cinceri) for their next project, The Host. As I loathe and despise auditions (the whole process—holding them, attending them, planning them), I like to piggy-back as often as possible. Out of the dozen or so people we saw during the day, there were about four I really want to work with in the future. Plus, it was cool to hang out with Jeff and Steve for the day, even though all Jeff did was whine about how Charlie actually punched him the day before (kidding, Jeff! Thanks for being a trooper!). To Jeff’s defense, Charlie really nailed him. Of course, if Jeff had had the foresight of attending a Catholic grade-school, he’d have learned how to take a punch in the first place.

Which brings us to today. I’d had all these plans for today—cleaning out the garage, repairing a hole in the garage door created by some woodland creature or other—but when I woke up, I discovered that I could barely walk. My legs and ankles are in agony and my back has me virtually doubled-over. I’m lucky I can breathe at this point.

So this is the sacrifice for some really nice photography.

Now, for our next feature, we’re planning on using this house again, but Bill is in the process of building a little Steadicam for me, so I’ll have some back-support in the future. We won’t have to stay as tight, either. Of course, I’ll be using a new camera on the next movie, instead of my neat, compact GL-1, so I don’t know what adjustments that will require. We’ll be starting off with all new equipment, sound and camera, along with our new light kit, a new Century Stand (yeah, I’m a film geek! Bite me.), all courtesy of a few investors who believe in our company.

But I think I should just come to terms with the fact that I’m not in my 20s anymore. Stuntwork leaves me sore for days, I knew that, but camerawork? I have to stretch before I can do some handheld photography? Who knew?

In extremely sad news, Darren McGavin, the great Carl Kolchak, the beloved ‘Old Man’ from A Christmas Story, died this past Saturday. He’d been sick for a long time, so the news didn’t come as a surprise, but I was still harboring the pipe dream of having him as a guest at Genghis Con II: The Wrath of Con. But that won’t come to pass… RIP Mr. M. You’ll always be Kolchak to me.

As I hobble around like an 80-year-old man, I’m trying to get stuff ready for this weekend. Amy and I are guests at the Fangoria Weekend of Horrors (special thanks to Adam Malin of Creation Entertainment and Fangoria's Tony Timpone and Tom DeFeo for accomodating us!) Fangoria Weekend of Horrors in Chicago, where the main focus, for us, will be meeting the cast of James Gunn’s Slither. I just conducted an interview with Gunn for Film Threat (I’ll announce it here as soon as it’s up) and the next issue of Sirens of Cinema will profile both Jenna Fischer (Gunn’s lovely wife and the star of The Office) and Liz Banks (Slither’s female lead and Spider-Man’s Betty Brant). But even more exciting will be getting the chance to meet Firefly’s Nathan Fillion. Amy’s actually a little star-struck at the opportunity, which is kinda cute, considering how blasé she usually is at these things (I think Danny Trejo was the last actor she was this excited about meeting).

1 comment:

Douglas A. Waltz said...

Good to see you guys back on the filmmaking horse. Maybe I'll make it your next con. Have a good one Mike.