That’s A Wrap – Dolores Is In the Can!

Posted in Diary of a Directrix
June 7th, 2010 by Devi Snively (The Directrix)

dolores street smCongrats, Team – we did it! It’s been madness the past few days what with tornadoes, a blue grass festival spawning drunk passersby, nosey ducks and excitable dogs, but we got every single shot we wanted and the footage looks great.  More importantly I was reminded once more why we do this.

flophouse dinner smThe adventure began on Wednesday evening.  Our D.P. John Klein (a former student of mine at Notre Dame whom I ran into out on the fest circuit at which time we decided we should collaborate on something) came down from Chicago with his team (including gaffer Mike Molenda who P.A.-ed on trippin’ and new to us A.C. Ben Kurstin and dolly op/ key grip, Bob Pierce) and we finalized our shot list before catching the Colbert Report.  Funny how every shoot has its own tone, feel and running jokes.  This one got off to an appropriately disturbing start with a particularly gruesome clip of a gored bullfighter Colbert repeatedly showed inspiring our delighted shrieks and groans and to which we would refer repeatedly the rest of the weekend.

bday boys smOn Thursday we did a tech scout at the various shooting locations in Niles, Michigan (secured for us by location scout extraordinaire Steve Russell who’s been with us since Confederate Zombie Massacre!) with the camera team while the cast flew in and the rest of the crew arrived from various destinations (including trippin’ photographer Travis, and superwomen P.A’s Erin and Elyse Allen who’ve been with us since Raven Gets A Life)  By the time we got back home, the trippin flophouse had been resurrected.  And it wouldn’t be a proper Deviant shoot without the consumption of birthday cake, so thanks to John and Ian for being so considerate as to age this week and afford us an added sugar rush – Happy B-day, Boys!

devi cory cyn marc caro smGiven sketchy weather reports for the weekend, we opted to start shooting a night early, so Emily Hensley, our fabulous make-up artist who’s been with us since Teenage Bikini Vampire, got to work on our lead actress, Cynthia Dane (whom I met at Sci-fi London last year where we hung out with the fabulously talented and fun Marc Caro and Cory McAbee, and competed in a Pub Challenge together.)  Her film Soulmates, directed by mutual friend Tom Flynn, will be distributed on the same compilation DVD as Death in Charge (which will hopefully be available by Halloween incidentally.)

makeup smEmily got to work on Cyn right away and the results were fabulous combined with Jeri’s great costuming.  We started shooting about 2am and knocked out all of our shots for our first location well before sunrise, putting us ahead of schedule on our first night, which would prove invaluable as challenges would arise.   On Friday I awoke by noon to discover my 2-day minor headache had become a full-blown migraine thanks to the fickle weather.  My head is like an old war injury that is often better at predicting the weather than the meteorologists.  Lucky me.

ducks dolly smFriday’s shoot was by far the most challenging.  Cyn’s hair and make-up took longer than anticipated (though well worth it, Emily did an amazing job), rain was off and on, and our one sunny day scene turned out to be overcast – d’oh!  To add to the challenge, the scene involved a dog and W.C Fields’ sage advice finally rang true.  I have worked with children and dogs (and even frogs, worms and cockroaches thanks to our bug and amphibian wrangler Andy Swisher) on numerous shoots with no problems in the past.  But that all changed on Friday.  dolly set up smOur uncut male doberman was not as manageable as we’d hoped (particularly as some ducks found the shoot fascinating and kept coming by to further excite him)  and as we were losing light and time, I made the decision to re-cast and try again on Sunday afternoon which we’d reserved for a weather day.

cyn camera smMere hours later we arrived at Steve’s place where we had dinner before the night shoot and superhero Steve showed me 5 photos of dog candidates he’d already lined up – thanks, Steve!  We made our choice relying on the owner’s word that her pup was calm and obedient, crossed our fingers and moved on to the evening shoot.

kenny shoot smBy now my head was positively throbbing, but as I watched the footage through the monitor and saw our team working so earnestly around me, engaged, smiles on their weary faces at 4am I got this happy feeling that has gotten me through extreme weather, sleep deprivation, seemingly insurmountable obstacles and even headaches from hell on countless other shoots.  Somehow the rules change when one is on a movie set.  Cold weather doesn’t feel quite so cold, sleep doesn’t seem quite so important, raging pain behind one’s temples isn’t quite so debilitating.

cyn kenny shot smNonetheless, I was grateful that John was so on top of our shot list and assured that our footage would cut.  Ordinarily, I am a shot list/storyboard Nazi with both list and boards constantly by my side to help me edit in my head as we go along, as well as remind me by what time we need to be done with each shot to remain on schedule.   But the last few months on the road and other chaos leading up to this shoot left me with far less time to get as organized as I’d hoped. So this time we had but a shot list and I was impressed (and grateful) by how well John kept everything so well organized in his head.  He’s an editor as well, so I knew he understood when I had questions about how one shot was likely to cut with another and trusted him.

sunset smWe ended shortly before sunrise and I got a major sense of deja-vu as we drove back to Indiana with hints of the first morning light coming over the horizon, no other cars on the road, houses dark and silent.  This was our same schedule for trippin’.  Fun times.  Night shoots are the best, it’s like having the world all to ourselves.

ben slates smOn Saturday we had to start shooting by 3 as we had limited time in our day location.  Usually an early riser no matter what time I go to bed, I found it amusing what a challenge it was to get up and out by 2pm.   On trippin’ I’d had insomnia for the duration of the shoot, but I slept like the dead for the 5 or so hours we were allotted each day on this shoot.  A definite improvement, though my head was still throbbing.

continuity vet exit smFortunately, our day shoot went far better.  We had another canine actor in this scene, but she was an absolute dream.  See, W.C. Fields?  No need for your skepticism this time.  I was particularly moved by both Cyn’s and Circus’ performances.  Man, they are truly amazing.  Their faces and bodies positively transformed before my eyes as they got into character and the moment.  I shall always write parts for them – they make my job so easy.  I need but communicate the meaning of the scene, what was going on in the writer’s head when I wrote it, and they do the rest.  They bring so much more than what is on the page.  Thanks, Guys!

on the roof smThere was a creepy mechanical dog on the counter of our location that, when provoked, sang Extreme’s “More Than Words” until Circus thankfully euthanized the bastard with his prop syringe but, alas, it was too late.  That song would run through my head for the remainder of the shoot.

alley 2 smSaturday night was by far the most interesting part of the shoot.  Weather suggested we’d have a major thunderstorm between midnight and 1:30am, so we scheduled accordingly.  We knocked out  our first shot, a super cool jib shot from a rooftop that looks down upon a characters following them around a corner -  by 10pm.  After, I turned to John and commented, “I’m guessing that one’s going on your reel” and he was like, “D’uh.”  There was no time to smoke a cigarette and neither of us our smokers anyway, so I popped a stick of gum in my mouth and blew a triumphant bubble instead, then we moved on to the alley shots.

fire escape shot smsign fire escape smA Bluegrass Festival and carnival were taking place across the street so we wound up with an interesting soundtrack and a few drunken passersby who were excited to learn a film was being shot and hoped to land a part.  They were a bit annoying, but in the bigger picture it was a nice reminder of why it’s so fun to shoot here.  In L.A. if people see you with cameras and gear, they’ll act all put out like you’re horribly inconveniencing them, or worse, turn on their leaf-blower and make you bribe them to turn it off so you can resume shooting.  Here, people are genuinely interested and excited.  They let us on their rooftops, in their doorways, on their fire escapes.  They move their parked cars, walk an alternate route home, turn OFF their leaf blowers.  And then they ask how they can help and when can they see the finished movie.  Thanks, Niles – you rock!

ots kenny shadow smBad news was we got word that a tornado watch was in effect.  Swell.  It was a race against time.  Kenny had to leave on Sunday and we simply had to shoot him out this night.  We flew like never before and knocked off some super cool shots before howling winds and ominous clouds suggested it might be time to break down the equipment and run for cover.

tornado drill smWe all crowded under a storefront awning as the downpour commenced, but then a tornado siren bellowed and took things up a notch.  This was not a safe place to dodge a twister.  We grabbed the equipment (thank goodness we’re shooting with the Canon 5D which meant fewer lights and less cumbersome gear in general) and dashed into our various vehicles, racing through high winds and heavy rain to Steve’s basement, mercifully a mere 5 minutes away.

tornado break smIt was a nice break actually.  Warm and dry, the gang relaxed, Ian prepped an FX prop, Agustin monitored the weather channel and John pulled out a guitar and began a sing-along – starting of course with “More than Words” – curse you, John, that damn song’s STILL in my head!

dolly kenny smWe only lost about 2 hours total and, in fact, we benefited from the weather as one shot required a puddle – instant production design courtesy of Mother Nature herself!  The front having finally passed us, the pain in my head also vanished completely – score!  We positively jammed the rest of the night, getting every single shot we wanted and then some – dolly moves, hand-held, fire escape cam and so forth.  cyn rests feet smPoor Cyn was a major trooper running endlessly in sadistically high heels and Kenny was appropriately, yet stylishly sinister in his noirish stalker role.

on set smWe ended 13 minutes before sunrise and I was high as a kite (possibly due in part to the 20 or so chocolate covered espresso beans I’d consumed – my favorite vice on set.)  Poor Kenny had to strip off his costume in the chilled morning air on the side of the street as we needed it it for some pick-ups the following night and we said our goodbyes.  The shoot was winding down, just one evening to go.

setting light smI awoke the next morning to some seriously unattractive bags under my eyes, and a few minor concerns.  Now that my head had cleared, it began to race,  noting all the minor details that had eluded me in my pain-induced haze.  I was worried about how one scene was going to cut as I had not been at the top of my game when we shot it.  Fortunately, having shot in HD, John was able to show me the footage and my fears were assuaged.  We were covered.  He knew what he was doing even if I had been a bit off – I like that in a D.P. – thanks, John!

john shoot dolly smMy second concern was in regards to a prop.  Our movie had evolved since certain decisions had been made, rendering a few of them no longer in sync with the rest.  See, this movie was supposed to evoke a 40s noir feel and style, but it was supposed to be set in contemporary times.  However, looking at the footage, it really feels pretty period, without any overly noticeable anachronisms… with the exception of one prop.  Fortunately, the prop in question was in the scene with the canine who got cut from our cast, so we had to return to that location anyway.  Longer story shorter, Agustin got us a new prop within 40 minutes and we opted to reshoot the entire sequence – new dog, new prop and, lo and behold, we got our sunny day.  It turns out our miscast canine was a happy accident.  The new dog was fabulous (Ye of little faith, Mr. Fields) and the reshoot far surpassed the original.  Sweet!

van shot sunsetThe final shot was the money shot involving a practical effect that, inevitably, took far longer to prep than expected.  But that gave us plenty of time to record some ADR with ever patient sound mixer Brian McLaughlin and, fortunately, we had all night if need be. As it turned out, it needn’t be – yay!  We wrapped well before 1am and enjoyed world’s mellowest wrap party back at the flophouse with some lovely Prosecco and leftover craft services.

We stayed up to the wee hours, recounting highlights from this shoot and exchanging triumphs and failures on past shoots.  It was a great team, a great time, and I suspect it shall be a great little film.  Thanks, Everybody – you all rocked and I can’t wait to work with you all again.

dolores sign smAfter dropping off cast and crew at the airport, returning equipment and tidying the house a bit, Agustin and I spent a good chunk of yesterday  curled up on the couch, not good for much else beyond mindless TV (and finally catching Human Centipede – fun, though not QUITE as disturbing as I’d envisioned based on all the hype.)  Everybody worked their asses off, but none more so than Agustin.  As both producer and production manager (and a helluva lot more), he ran non-stop, managing transportation and meals, handling last minute crises, tending to individual cast and crew needs and, I suspect, sacrificing virgins to the weather gods because we are so lucky we didn’t get rained out.  Thanks, Agustin – you were amazing as always and none of us could have done this without you.

ben bob dolly smShooting a movie again has put everything back in proper perspective, Agustin put it perfectly by describing it as “deja new” – the feeling we’ve been here before yet now it’s in a whole, new and exciting way.  He’s right.  I have so many new thoughts and insights as a result. Also, much has happened both in our final days at Cannes and our trip to Cleveland last week. Hopefully now I can finally catch up as things should finally mellow out.  But I need a break the next coupla days, so it will have to wait.  I’m back in L.A. later this week – catch you then.  In the meantime, Congrats again, Team, and thanks for a wonderful experience!

One Response to “That’s A Wrap – Dolores Is In the Can!”

  1. Hey there – love the vicarious thrills and chills! I would be really curious to exchange an email or 2 with your DP – everyone’s extolling the virtues of the 5D, but for me there are a couple of serious questions, the main one being no exterior screen you can manipulate to change angles…if he has one worked out, would love to know what it is…

    Dèja new! love it, Agustin!

    It’s looking like due to work I’m not going to get Death In Charge subtitled in French for the 18th here in Paris – but we have another screening the first week in July which should be ok…

    bisous r

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