Archive for October, 2009


Awwww Shoot…

Erik “Mother Nature” Braa is working with his friend Tulley to shoot a no-budget feature. When I first heard about it, I asked to see Tulley’s  script and offered some observations on it. More recently, Erik was telling me that they’ve been shooting on weekends, getting the scenes together a piece at a time. I’m a sucker for helping people do creative things, so I knew sooner or later I’d end up getting involved even in a small way.

A few weeks ago Erik told me they were going to be shooting what’s called the Magic Camp scene, in which the lead (played by Tulley) is trying his hand at being a magician and failing spectacularly. Erik told me then that they were thinking super-simple, and planning to simply shoot at a picnic table in a park somewhere. Now, the first thing I think of when I hear something like that is “okay, how would I do a magic camp scene?” and very quickly I hit upon an idea which I suggested to Erik: contact the Playland Not-at-the-Beach Museum of Fun where I’d seen a magic show some weeks earlier. My thought was to tell the people what they were doing for the film, and see if they had or knew a magician who might want to participate just for fun (being no-budget). I also thought it was possible that the folks there would even volunteer the facility. You never know unless you ask.

Well, no one asked, so they were going to do the shoot in the park thing.

I knew I should’ve just made the call. It’s the producer in me…

I decided to help out with that, did a little location scout drive with Erik last Tuesday, and helped him find some possible locations in Golden Gate Park (and far enough away from Speedway Meadow to avoid the noise from the Bluegrass Festival this weekend). The next night, I mentioned this to Jim when he came over for our weekly writing session, recalling he’d dabbled in magic in years past. I told him I was concerned that the scene as scripted was so focused on Tulley’s character and a kid that he interacted with that there’d be no sense of a “camp”, and that it might be awkward to just cut in on the business and lines in the short scene in the script. I asked if he’d be willing to come to the shoot and do a couple of inserts that could imply other magicians doing tricks successfully, and then they could cut to Tulley doing it all wrong. Jim said he’d be willing and would look at home and see if he could find the few magic trick props he had.

The next day I was having lunch with Michael Vega and arranged to have it at Park Chow, conveniently next door to a magic shop, from which I secured a plastic wand ($1) and a pair of white gloves ($3). My huge contribution to the budget!

So late this morning (Sunday) Jim came over with several tricks, including cards, linking rings, and a disappearing silk: which I had to iron. Ahh, the glamour of filmmaking! Me working an aged silk hankie on the “delicate” setting.

That done we zipped into the park. Erik called to say they’d gone to the second location because a big party was showing up at the primary location. As it turned out, this may have been for the best as the first location had very little shade and the camera operator would have a lot of work on his hands trying to get the exposure right and avoid highlights on faces from “blooming” (glowing white). The second location offered options for sun and/or shade, but while it wasn’t as visually interesting, it was easier to work in.

When Jim and I arrived we found them already shooting. They’d done a couple of takes of a wide shot of Tulley in a black cape messing up his card trick at a picnic table with three kids (supplied by Heather, who played sinful Cindy in Stagecoach). Erik had already made it clear that they were open to my suggestions, so, after discovering and evicting a small spider from a box of donuts at the “craft services bench” (a man’s got to have his priorities), I watched them do a run-through and quickly sized up their camera setup, framing and how the actors were blocked. Right off I suggested rearranging the actors for better framing on Tulley, and to position him so they he could come up off the picnic table bench and bolt out of shot easily. That worked well, and as a few more takes got recorded, I suggested extra bits of business, including having the little girl at the table call for her “Mommmmm!” when Tulley makes one of the boys run away in tears, thus prompting Tulley to flee.

I’m not going to say I took over directing—albeit Jim commented that there were three people directing—as that was not my goal or intention. Ideas came from many parties, after all. I looked on my being there as being backup and to suggest things they might not have thought of. Sometimes it’s a simple thing like showing Tulley how to position one foot so that he could spin off the bench and bolt off in one fluid motion, his cape swirling behind him; important because it makes the action more fluid.

After the wide shots they did closeups on Tulley. After that they were discussing how to cover the kid with lines on the opposite side of the table. The concern was that there was so much light on the plants behind the kid that the background would be too “hot”, so I suggested that they rotate the actors around the table 180 degrees, which would put the kid is front of a shaded background. Since this angle was merely a medium shot on the kid, and looking in a different direction from the previous setups, there’d be no way for the audience to realize we’d moved the actors instead of switching the camera to the other side of the table. It worked like a charm!

With the dialogue and the must have shots covered, we moved on to the optional material. In addition to his magic tricks, at my suggestion, Jim also brought the white dress shirt he’d worn in “Stagecoach in the Sky” and a black jacket. My idea had been that the guys could shoot tight on Jim’s hands as he did quick bits with each of the tricks, and we could change his shirt or put a jacket or the white gloves on him to make it look like different people. Well, as it turned out, the supposedly one-size-fit-most white gloves were so small they only fit Heather and the kids, so those were out. Also, Jim’s shirt has French cuffs and I couldn’t find my cufflinks (undoubtedly mixed up with Stagecoach costume bits), so Heather improvised cufflinks using a paint of earrings! They put the cape on Jim and Tulley’s belt, put Jim in shadow (so his white shirt wouldn’t bloom), and they shot basically the front of his shirt, collarbone to belt, as he worked each of the tricks in the shot area. My guess is they will edit this down so you see three or four quick “highlights” of each.

Finally, for one last setup they hit on the idea of having the kids from the table work with Jim as if he’s the magic instructor. Jim would use the magic wand to gesture to each of the boys, and they, in turn, would show they’d connected the linking rings. The little girl was instructed to run through the shot to give the impression of more kids.

Now, my first worry was that since they were the same kids, they’d be recognizable, so I hurried to my car and pulled out a red fleece jumper and a blue cap. I had the larger of the two boys don these items and the smaller take off his hoodie. This made them look different enough (I hoped) that, from the angle this was being filmed, they would not appear to be the same kids! Originally, Jim had said he didn’t want to appear in full shot as he was scruffy looking and hadn’t prepared to be on camera, but, as this last shot really worked only if you could see him, he relented and thus it was a wrap for us.

That done, Jim and I collected his girlfriend Becky and the three of us ended up at Memphis Minnie’s for some pork sandwiches…but that’s a different production!