Monday, May 23, 2011

Ultra Low in LA: JUST PRETEND days three and four

One of my highest recommendations is to get rid of any exterior night shots in your no budget script. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. Seesaw, which I highlighted below, has some very compelling night shots that seem to be lit only by the actor's cell phone as it's held close to her face. In general, however, night shooting is extremely expensive. Your crew and your lighting package will be too small to pull it off successfully. JUST PRETEND is just a step above no budget, and we have way more night shooting than we probably should. Our great directors, Juan and Eric, are learning to simplify their shots, and our amazing cinematographer, Matt Garrett, is learning to make grunge part of the aesthetic.

Amazing Interns: No-Budget movies thrive on free labor. A project like JUST PRETEND couldn't happen without interns. An intern is a student or recent grad who works for free in exchange for credit, copy (a copy of the DVD), food, and on my sets, Love. On some sets interns are treated like garbage. In my eyes they are people we should bow down to. They're often the hardest working people on the set, and they're doing it for free. Interning is the best way to start a film career (I got in late and interned for free when I was 30, married, with kids and a mortgage). For this show I was nervous we weren't going to find any interns until I contacted Drew Sugimoto who had worked with me for a few days on Surrogate Valentine. Drew not only came on board but brought four friends along. They all go to Cerritos College in Norwalk, CA. I love that we're surrounded by these illustrious film schools but we find such amazing people at Cerritos. If Cerritos is consistently turning out grads like the guys on our set it has to be held up in the same light as UCLA, USC, AFI, etc.

WE LOVE OUR INTERNS: Veronica Solorzano, Dustin Ong, and Yuki Hashimoto are killin' it!
We also have part time support from some other amazing interns who have been working tirelessly for us. In fact, one of those part time interns, James Grabowski, turns out to be our hero of days three and four, two overnight shoots. We clearly didn't have enough money for an exterior night lighting package and had planned on doing some bulking up on those evenings (but didn't have anything in the budget to cover it). Along comes James, however, who works in an (unnamed) studio lighting and grip department, and arranges for us to have this big supplemental package completely for free. Not only is James working as an excellent DIT but he's saving our shoot by bringing in all this gear at no cost.

Filming at night thanks to amazing intern support. James hooked us up with extra equipment including the Image 80 in the foreground.
Turns out we were able to pull off our first two night shoots, finish on time, and make our days. Our first day, which was our longest day of the shoot (almost seven pages), had to be simplified quite a bit, but we pulled it off.

You can't make an ultra low film without free labor, but I don't think I've ever had more impressive free labor than I've had on this shoot.

Filming Off Permit: Glendale is a notoriously tough city to shoot in off-permit. We were planning on filming night exteriors in both the front and back yards of a house in Glendale. I hesitated about whether or not I should get the permit but decided to forego. My location assistant (Becky Miller, more free support) talked to each of the neighbors around the house we were shooting at explaining the nature of the project, describing it as a special, personal project. The fact that we're so small helps. No one bothered us, and we know cops came by and knew we were there because we got a parking ticket. If a neighbor had complained we would've been in trouble, but because we were in with the neighbors, no one minded.

It's important to be courteous and real. On Surrogate Valentine we were filming in our friends downtown restaurant, Starry Kitchen, (go, and tell them I sent you), and across the plaza is a bar that plays loud music while they're open. I went across and asked if they'd turn the music off while we were shooting and they were very cool and did. Someone expressed amazement that they did it without asking for cash or anything (I think we brought them some cookies). Nguyen Tran, the restaurant owner (with his super cool and amazingly talented wife/chef Ti Tran), gave me one of the best compliments I ever received. He said I had the remarkable talent of not being a douche. If that's not something to put on a resume, I don't know what is. The point is, be cool, courteous and helpful and people will be willing to help you out.

Abby Miller is ready for her close-up.

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