Thursday, April 27, 2006

Surviving Abattoir

We had a whirlwind few days last week, but now we're mid-way through Abattoir's shooting schedule. Give or take a few, we shot over 30 pages in three days. This included dialogue and effects shots, double or triple the page-count in terms of set-ups. Plus two new people we'd never worked with before, generously donating their time to make a strange little vampire movie!

We picked up Sofiya Smirnova at the airport on Friday morning (after a slight scare that she might not be able to make it due to a family tragedy - which only proves what an amazing person she is!) and, after a brief stop-over at our place to refresh and grab some coffee, we were off to the main location, which happened to be the Victorian house owned by co-star Stacy Bartlebaugh-Gmys and her husband, Ron. Shooting went pretty well and smoothly, even though I was the only male in a house full of women (or, as I liked to put it, "the lone sausage in the taco factory" - which just endeared me to the cast!).

Now, the reason I was a tad uncomfortable is because of the delicate balance of the female nature. As everyone knows, because it's a biological law: with any given group of women in one location, after about fifteen minutes, their cycles synch up. (Corollary: "one or more women left alone in a room will instantly devolve into a topless pillow fight".)

But we got a ton of stuff accomplished, including an uncomfortable flogging scene involving Amy's character, Elizabet, punishing Alyssa Herron's Pris. Uncomfortable for Alyssa, that is, as she was the one being flogged. (Oddly enough, for our company, Amy did not actually whip Alyssa... this time around anyway.) She was kneeling nearly naked on an over-stuffed chair, reacting to the swish of a riding crop very close to her bare skin. Don't let anyone say our cast isn't dedicated!

Fortunately for me, Carolyn Oliver, from Secret Scroll Digest, was on hand to be my AD for the weekend. Amy and I don't usually have ADs - we're often thrust into that role ourselves, on top of everything else we have to do, so it was nice to have someone around to do the various tedious AD chores (which, in our case, also included Script Supervision and continuity). I also had to be my own DP as Jeff Waltrowski was stuck at work all day.

Saturday, we went back to the house in Mount Oliver to shoot Amy/"Elizabet" and Sofiya/"Zhora" killing two of the main characters. This was the first time we shot with Aaron Bernard ("Seth") and the first time Bill Homan would be on hand to play Tom the mercenary. Don Bumgarner, my effects lead, was on hand to provide the bulk of the effects (including teeth-casting and appliance-affixing), helped out by Kelly Fritz and Carlos Savant (returning from shooting with us on High Stakes). We had five scenes to blast through between 10am and 6pm. We actually wrapped about 7, which made me feel bad, but it took as long as it took. At least we got Bill out of there in time to get to work.

Midway through this shoot, another heart attack: Zoe Hunter was having trouble getting to Pittsburgh. She was due on set for Sunday so we could shoot her death scene (we had too much to do and we'd never get to the crucial bar scene in time!) and had to come from New York (hey, she coulda said 'no' when we asked if she wanted to work with us! But we're just so darned cute, it's hard to refuse us. Particularly Amy.).

Ultimately, she hopped on a bus and rode the eight torturous hours squeezed beside ... okay, no cheap shots at people who ride Greyhounds. You know how unpleasant it can be, though.

Saturday night, Amy, Sofiya and I crashed at Stacy and Ron's so we wouldn't have to trek all the way back to Waynesburg. Rest was sparce as the price we paid for Zoe coming via bus was we had to be up at 6am to pick her up. We got back, put her to bed for a couple of hours, and then were back and awake at 10am. Ready to go. Or, at least, upright.

Sunday was another whirlwind. We needed to get Steve Foland out of there so he could get back to the Pittsburgh Comicon, so we concentrated on his scenes first. Then we had a fight scene between Sofiya and Megan Ruggiero (playing "Charlotte") that resulted in blood and black bile (don't ask). This was the first time Stacy had ever had that many people in her house and her OCD was working overtime. (It's a gorgeous house; she and Ron killed themselves to refinish every surface of wood and decorate it as beautifully as it is... you'd freak out too, trust me!)

The last sequence was a sexy and bloody murder scene involving a three-some gone very wrong. This was the sequence Sofiya was looking forward to all weekend - "Am I still writhing in the blood in ecstacy?" she asked all day. And how could we possibly disappoint her?

Jeff not only lit this scene beautifully, he also had to be in it.

"I don't want to take my shirt off." he said. "I'm fat."

"Dude," I explained. "You're in bed with a topless girl, while two other girls writhe on top of you... You could be eating a sandwich all the way through - no one's going to notice!"

A touch of Southern Comfort later, he was fine with the scene.

Again, we wrapped an hour later than I'd hoped, but the footage came out beautiful. This has very little to do with my expertise, though. It's impossible to photograph Stacy's house badly. Finishing up, we all drove over to Oakland to the "Fuel and Fuddle" to celebrate a successful weekend.

Returning Sofiya and Zoe to their transportational outlets, Amy and I dragged ourselves back to Stacy's the next morning and repacked the car. We'd gotten a total of ten hours of sleep in three days and not only felt it, but looked it. We still had an hour's drive back home, where we went immediately to bed, pulling the dogs up to our chins and trying to recover.

We still have eight days of shooting to go, give or take, but this would be the worst stretch. While we still have to bring Zoe back for a day, and then Debbie Rochon for her "special appearance" (it's weird to shoot a movie without Debbie, she's been a part of our family for so long), nothing we have left to do will be as stressful. We'll have effects days and action days and dialogue days, but they won't be packed on top of each other like stressful Lincoln Logs. We're still on track to have this finished by the beginning of June.

So with this weekend down, I was able to concentrate on finishing up Sirens of Cinema issue 4, planning #5, capturing footage and working with Amy to plan Genghis Con II: The Wrath of Con.

You know, that's how we relax.


Meanwhile, here is a link to more pictures, courtesy of Zoe.

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