Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Shoot the Unexpected

Last Sunday, my 24-year old daughter Kallista appeared in the film I am shooting -- her first film scene ever -- as a Nurse administering morphine to a dying magus. I was uncommonly impressed by her composure and the naturalness of her presence. It was a fairly complex scene where I shot multiple angles, a geometry of cat's cradles, to cover the reactions of numerous characters in a small room. Later that night, I shot the regal Felecia Faulkner and the enigmatic Cody Cates Phoenxi in a restaurant scene fueled by a bottle of Merlot and secrets shared between women of the night.

Yesterday I shot all the car scenes with those lovable thugs Man #1 and Man #2 (Nick Walker and Russ DeGregory) and the blindfolded magus (James Wagner). Shooting scenes inside a moving vehicle can be tricky. Between the constant bumps in the road, the lack of distance between lens and subject, and the perpetual audio problems, car scenes are hands-down amongst the most challenging to shoot. We drove across Tilden Park to the backroads of Orinda for five hours to obtain maybe five minutes of usable footage but I got what I wanted and that's all that counts in the end. These frustrations carried hidden gifts. They pushed me to make new adjustments in a key scene that may not have been made without first confronting these difficulties.

Today we returned to shoot more warehouse scenes, an underground zone where crimes are negotiated. However, we could not shoot anything with audio for the first two hours due to the screeching squeals of joyous children in the trapeze workshop next door. So, I shot audio-free cutaways (visual moments and close-up reaction shots) until the screaming stopped.

We then shot the Russian dialogue scenes. Russian, when spoken, always sounds so ominous to me. Maybe it's my Finnish genes but hearing those crunching Russian consonants makes me just want to reach for my revolver. Fortunately, Ilya Parizhsky (who plays VLAD) was there to help us navigate these moments. I was also impressed by the commitment shown by Clody Cates Phoenix to learn some Russian for her dualistic role.

After eight shoot days, I finally have four no-shoot days before me. Friday, I meet with Jasper Patterson and Brian Livingston, two charming actors, to schedule their shoot scenes for the first two weeks of August. They play Adam and Craig, two apprentices to a career magickian named Jack Mason, who are also in business together as clowns who perform their version of "Jack and the Beanstalk" to young children. This film and its story is like a triple-decker fractal funhouse hall of mirrors. It's CRAZY! What guides me through all this spiraling madness is something very simple and uplifting: I look for the unexpected and then, I shoot it.

"To Dream of Falling Upwards"

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Happily Exhausted

Whew. The first five days of shooting are in the can (approx. 3.5 hours of footage). Today I review it all to see if any scenes or moments need re-shooting. I've been doing double duty as Director and D.P. and so, it's very intense. I've done this double work shift before on two earlier features ("HYSTERIA" and "UNDER A SHIPWRECKED MOON") but it's been seven years and coming back to this process was a bit bumpy at first.

Last night, I shot my first sex scene EVER. None of my previous eight features had any sex scenes because none of them needed it but this story demanded a sex scene, especially one in a Golden Dawn temple replica, albeit slightly more aesthetically stylized.

We staged it completely under candlelight (13 pillar candles) and the low-light capacities of my XL-2 camera did not disappoint. The footage came out as I hoped (slightly grainy and with flickering shadows). The actors (Clody Cates and James Wagner) were awesome -- they showed serious courage and grace under pressure. I told them we were shooting an anti-porn scene that would, in the final cut, evoke beauty, power, and mystery. I am confident it will. Kudos to Beau Caughlan who did art direction on the gorgeous set and who also served as water boy to the actors -- dabbing them with aqua between takes. And also, many thanks to our magickal consultant, Sam Webster, M.Div., Mage.

After shooting five days in a row, today is also my first day off. I will be focusing on tomorrow's two shoots -- one complex scene with multiple actors will be shot between Noon and 5pm and another much easier scene will be shot later that night. And then this will be followed by more intense shooting days on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Next Thursday and Friday are no-shoot days but are filled with meetings. I'm happy to say I'm happily exhausted.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Temple of Horus

Today I planned to shoot the first scene, on the beach with "Jack" and "Maggie", but the weather brought foggy overcast conditions. Usually, this would be ideal for shooting but I need the Sun in this scene. I need sunlight to help show a certain discomfort one of the characters, Jack, has in nature and I think this can be better exposed without the moody fog.

This gives me another day off to prepare for this coming Sunday night's set dressing of Jack's temple/home. The protagonist, Jack Mason, lives a hermetic life -- half of his living quarters is a temple where he performs his rituals. Art direction impressario, Beau Caughlan, has been painting wall art and altar art depicting Egyptian imagery related to the godforms, Anubis and Horus -- what I've seen so far astonishes. Properties meistro, Duncan Cook, has been at work finishing the six foot pillars (one black, one white) for Jack's "Golden Dawn" temple setting which will be completed with a 12' x 12' floor plan -- black and white checkerboard design (32 white, 32 black). Jack is a Magus in the Temple of Horus, a subsidary of a larger magickal order -- a loose hybrid of The Golden Dawn and the O.T.O.

Saturday, July 3, 2010


After the MUSES LAB ended, something stirred in me that could not be ignored. What happened to me throughout this LAB sparked the scripting of my next (and ninth) feature film project, "TO DREAM OF FALLING UPWARDS", a zany occult thriller involving parallel magical personalities -- the desert bruja and the city magus -- tending their respective rituals, apprentices, and struggles. After a 3-year break from my last film, I feel rested and ready to burn.

I have been quietly astounded by how rapidly the large cast (sixteen in all) has come together and how ready I feel to take on the dual responsibility of director and D.P. (main cameraman). Eight production assistants have volunteered to help out on set and to keep things moving along. I also purchased my first video camera in seven years, a CANON XL-2 (the big brother of my Canon GL-1), and I am very happy so far with all its features and, high level of image and audio quality. I decided not to jump on the HD or the SLR bandwagons and return to the reliably retro tape format instead.

We start shooting July 7th and continue pretty much nonstop through August 16th until 53 scenes are in the can and only god knows how many more undiscovered scenes I will find along the way. Each film project represents an epic era of discovery and learning for me. It's the only way I can justify the investment of so much time, energy, money, heart, soul and brainpower. The primary source of discovery with this project is shooting the film without any rehearsal of the script itself (with the exception of a high-octane story theatre version of "Jack & the Beanstalk" to be choreographed and rehearsed). I decided to cast individuals courageous enough to find their most honest responses to the underlying reality of each scene, as reflected in the text and more essentially, the subtext.

Arranging the shoot schedule for a large cast and crew remains for me the most arduous of all preproducton tasks. In lieu of my ultra-low budget process, this schedule must almost always slave itself to the existing schedules of everyone else. Anyone who's done this knows it's a minor miracle that it comes together at all. So, the July schedule is done and I'm still amazed that it worked. I'll finish the AUGUST schedule around July 24th. So, that's a big weight off my shoulders.

Now comes the adventure of showing up on set, finding the shots (I never storyboard), talking with my actors, and shooting the moments that speak to me. The moments I am looking for in this production run the spectrum between lo-light and backlight silouetting, capturing unexpected reactions from the actors and moments of shared connections.