2011 Feature Film shot in Camden, ME
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Category — Camden Film

Day 4 – This actually happened

So the best laid plans of mice and movies…

Of course our intention was to write every day, and give you the full countdown, and then the full build-up. However, Camden has been so absorbing and we’ve been so caught up in the pleasure and planning of being here, we’ve been neglecting to update you. Like in all film as we understand it, there’s the way you plan it and there’s the way it goes.

I wanted to share with you just one example of many of the ways Camden manages to express a level of unimaginable generosity:

The Camden/Rockport area is a film center as home to the Maine Media Workshops, which have been training film professionals in many ways: MFAs, professional certifications, and summer enrichment. When Caitlin and Caroline put the script together and we confirmed we would shoot this summer in Camden, there were A LOT of people we were told we must meet for their experience, contacts, generosity, locations, and general goodness.

One such person is Jack Churchill. Whereas he used to travel the country working in film, now he teaches film studies to high school students, collects and fixes motorcycles, and keeps spirits up around Camden. Jack has helped us find many young people eager to get some film experience in his high school class, and he speaks like a beaming father of the work his students produce.

Emily and I met up with him Thursday afternoon on his semi-regular perch that is the bench in front of Cappy’s Chowder House at the literal center of town. Jack has a jovial face and white beard, and you can see his smile from a block away. We approached and exchanged our niceties and I noticed he was wearing a bright yellow shirt (under his green fleece) that said “Trust me” in tiny letters and then PRODUCER in huge red type. Then it went like this:

me: I gotta get me one of those shirts.

Jack: You the producer?

me: Yeah…

Jack: Well I wore it just in case…

And then before I could say anything, THE MAN HANDS ME THE SHIRT OFF HIS BACK. Then he casually puts back on his green fleece, zips it up, and sits down on the bench to give us a wonderful lay of the land on Camden, his students, and other folks we should contact. He knew just about everyone who walked by us, too, and greeted them with his glowing smile.

I thought it was just a figure of speech, but his shirt was a literal expression of all that Camden has done for us to this point and continues to do, and it was so fitting that it happened RIGHT in the center of town.

July 2, 2011   1 Comment

4 Days! Maineness

Let me preface this, three days before we leave for Maine (and four before we open the production office) by saying I do love New York. I love living here.

AND I think we manage to get quite jaded living here without realizing it. We’re all so busy, it’s hard to live here, it’s expensive, it’s really hot or really cold, the subway is under construction blah blah blah.

You become an aggressive pedestrian. And angry bike-rider. The person who clips their toenails on the subway. (Yes, these people exist.) All sorts of things you swear you’d never be.

Which is why sometimes I think getting out of the city can feel like MAGIC.

Yesterday I spoke to John, the general sales manager at Shepard Motors Inc in Thomaston, Maine about using some vehicles of theirs in our film. Not only did John have great suggestions for vehicles once I describes to him the characters who would be driving them, he organized the loan of the vehicles with the owner (who we are excited to meet) and even offered us license plates from his own private plate collection. And THEN he said we should check out the website for his farm, Cross Point Farm, in case we needed additional locations!

The ease and generosity of the mid-Maine coast stands in stark contrast to what can often feel like the friction of the city. And the mid-Maine coast needs some of what the city has: booming industries and lots of jobs, more entrepreneurs with expanding enterprises. We want so much for our little film to be a part of what attracts the film industry to the area. And it would be the greatest gift to the film industry to get back from Maine a little of this…Maineness.

 

 

June 24, 2011   No Comments

5 Days! (I’m counting today)

I swear this process only gets more interesting all the time.

We are scheduled for 24 shooting days, and today was a reckoning with our schedule as we updated it today with the newest draft of the script using Movie Magic, which was completely worth the investment. The mere suggestion that people used to do this by hand (and still do!) is scoff-able. If you know what this entails, skip this next section. If you don’t (for friends, family, and film novices following the process) here’s what that entails:

1. The script is numbered by scene, and each scene has a slug-line which will read something like: INT – CUZZY’S BAR – NIGHT. Each scene has a length that’s measured in 8ths of a page. Each 8th of a page is assigned an amount of time we have to shoot it using the following math: number of shoot days x hours per shoot day divided by the number of pages in script, which you then divide by 8. That gives you the number of minutes you have to shoot an eighth of a page.

2. Each scene is assigned a script day, meaning the day in the life of the script in which the scene occurs.

3. Using this information, each scene gets it’s own breakdown sheet which includes among other things scene number, script day, how long the scene should take to shoot (based on above math), a one-line synopsis, characters that appear, their wardrobe, props, special effects (if any) set dressing, and any other elements of the scene that need to be coordinated.

4. Once each scene has been assigned a breakdown sheet, the program MAGICally generates strips that correspond to each scene, and are small and easily moved around like puzzle pieces. That’s where the fun begins.

5. Based on availability of locations, actors, weather, time of day, and a host of other factors you start moving the pieces around trying to figure out the most efficient way to shoot your script.

Scheduling is largely dictated by location and time of day. The logic is to shoot exteriors first (for weather contingencies) and move to interior, and to shoot daytime at the beginning of the week and nighttime at the end of the week. (This is so you don’t end a night shoot at 6am and have to start a day shoot at 9am. The unions, thankfully, have made that illegal.) Anyone who lives in New York has seen, however, many sets shooting overnights blasting huge lights through a window to make it look like daytime at night, or giant cloaks in the daytime to do the oppsite. That can be for noise, location availability, blah blah blah, but can also provide some flexibility.

A micro-budget means that we don’t have a huge art department to come in and re-create large elaborate scenes day after day, so we have to think really carefully about the way scenes build on each other, literally. We have the room in our schedule after today to be really mindful of the greatest efficiency for our budget, which in our case means shooting some days in a slightly wonky order (according to the rules above) because we don’t have lights that can make it daytime at night, for example, and those set ups would require a lot of hands on deck.

We have to schedule in order to make do with what we have so far north: 15 hours of daylight, 2.5 hours of “golden hour,” and about 7 hours of actual night.

Mother Nature has made some creative decisions for us. We can only hope she’s kindly with the weather.

June 23, 2011   No Comments

Asking the “Why”

A good friend and filmmaker Adam Leon has given Caitlin and myself some invaluable support in our endeavors and in one of our first conversations around this film he asked the question “Why?” This crucial question is what every artist should ask him or herself before adding to the vast sea of expression that mostly only contributes clutter but on that rare occasion beauty. So often artists go astray by focusing on the “How” rather than the “Why”, an understandable mistake with the daunting work it takes to pull off such an endeavor, but unforgiveable for the art.

Caitlin, Emily, Susan, Salome, Emily, Eve, Liam & I will each answer uniquely, yet this question is what brings us together to create this film. Now. We have a story to tell – as women, at our age. And the medium of digital film is how we can, in fact must, tell it. The (please indulge me for just one moment) absolute beauty of working with this troupe is that they constantly ask the “Why” at each step, and then proactively accomplish the “How” simply to serve the “Why.” This film is coming into existence because of its six specific core female artists, now joined by our talented Director of Photography Eve Cohen and Assistant Director Liam Brady. Each collaborator has a generous, intelligent, passionate yet grounded voice, and the film that we are creating is a direct product of this particular chorus today. This story is the universal feminine, in a way that film never allows the feminine to be portrayed. I find an urgency for us to tell this story with these women this summer because our voices are right for it at this moment.

With age does come wisdom, or, at the very least, a more weathered, cynical perspective. The 20s are a time of incredible growth – evolution into one’s adult being at a rate truly unfathomable until experienced – resulting in an awareness and deeper appreciation of the world and the self. It is this exact moment between our eight artists that will culminate to create a specificity and truth that would weaken with time and age. The rawness of our main character’s journey must be told while this story is in my and Caitlin’s recent history, before time begets a more critical perspective on what is so palpable to us today. There can be no all-knowing tone of forgiving judgment in how we tell our story – in the writing, the acting or the filmmaking. This is the collective “Why,” and that Why is personal for each of us involved in this cinematic creation.

 

 

May 25, 2011   1 Comment

Still of the Day – Test Shoot Day 5

Click to enlarge image. F3, ISO 800, 85mm, T1.3, 1/4 BPM filter, 1.85:1

May 24, 2011   No Comments

Still of the Day – Test Shoot Day 4

F3, ISO 800, 25mm, T5.6, 1/4 BPM filter, ND9, Pola, 1.85:1

May 23, 2011   1 Comment

Still of the Day – Test Shoot Day 2

F3, ISO 800, 50mm, T1.3, 1/4 BPM filter, 1.85:1

May 22, 2011   No Comments

Nature’s Dance: The Spirituality of Place

I had the luxury of sitting outside, simply listening for an entire afternoon – a luxury of time and space that does not exist in our everyday being, especially in New York.  I observed a tree dance with the wind and experienced one of the moments that the purest poetry could not convey. The tree breathed, relaxing into a sway of courtship with the breeze. The breeze in turn gently caressed the branches, tenderly leading the pair in a dance.  The two conversed through movement, an intimate dialogue, which lasted most of the afternoon. The breeze at last tenderly took its leave, journeying to its next partner but with a soft “we’ll meet again.”

This imagery needed to be told in film. This dance was a film in and of itself, a spiritual encounter of time and place.

Summers driving with my family down to North Carolina or New Orleans, my mother would breathe more deeply the further south we went. She commented on the welcoming familiarity of the trees and flowers, the natural world of her childhood in Louisiana. This nature spoke to her, picked up dialogue where they had last left off. An embracing return to a place. To home.

Caitlin and I met each day last week – writing outdoors by the Hudson River or in Central Park. We read the script aloud to one another at the pace of our surroundings, the rhythm of the water’s current or the natural & human pulse of Central Park entering our story as we worked.

As our brilliant DP Eve Cohen quotes Bresson, “I believe that through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with discovery of the world around us.” Wednesday we head to Camden to further our discovery, continuing to listen to this place. This dialogue between Camden and us is as vocal as the script we have written. In fact, it very much is the script we have written. That specificity of place that makes our personal story a universal one. Camden, Maine is our dancing partner, whose very essence shapes our film.

 

May 17, 2011   3 Comments

Leadership in low-budget filmmaking

Yesterday I met with Dan Cogan from Impact Partners, the sort of man and the sort of organization that bring so much generosity and spirit to filmmaking. Impact helps to finance “cinema that addresses pressing social issues.” I was afforded this lucky meeting by a family friend. Dan started out working on sets, then worked as a producer, and went on to co-found Impact, which has financed over 25 films in its first three years, and the awards list those films have garnered is long. He was generous with his advice, candid about the challenges we face in micro-budget filmmaking, and also deeply encouraging. I am writing today to share what struck me as a brilliant piece of advice that should be spread widely:

Low budget filmmaking of any kind means relying on favors, in-kind donations, and countless donated hours of work and expertise. On every low-budget set, people are working for a fraction of what they might normally get paid, for the experience, or simply for the love of the project. (Our goal is to make it some combination of all three.) Dan said that in a low-pay world, the leadership on these sets of the producer, director, and all of the above-the-line talent is what will mainly determine the successful execution of the film. (This is, of course, assuming you have done your homework!) On a low budget set, things go wrong like on any other set, except there’s no money to throw at the problem. In Dan’s view, the leadership’s ability to deal with these inevitable challenges with “glee” can be the make or break factor.

“Glee.” If we can separate this word in the English language for a moment from its television counterpart: what a perfectly onomatopoetic word for being gentle, smiling, and calm. It is visionary, in a way, to think of assembling a team and creating a work environment with glee. I was so grateful for this word and this reminder. This group of women embarked on this project for love of working together, and Dan reminded us not to lose sight of that for a single moment, to imbue it in how we organize and how we execute.

May 10, 2011   1 Comment

A Visit with Jee Hwang

I was struck by a conversation I had a few weeks ago with a friend, a visual artist, who said that the worst part of the “gallery scene” for him really is the moment someone says “So, tell me about your work.” He is left floundering for the words to describe something that if he had the linguistic vocabulary for it he would be a writer! In many ways, this is the essential struggle of artists of all kinds (writers excluded, I suppose), which is that if language captured what they were trying to convey, they would have no reason to take a brush to a canvas, or a camera to the woods, or a scene to the stage.

Our film, in part, explores the inability of language to encapsulate the un-capturable, so when Caitlin and I took a trip last weekend to visit Jee Hwang, we were afforded an opportunity to see what a young woman with a deeply rich visual vocabulary is capable of doing. Jee is from Korea, went to art school at Pratt and has sparked the interest of many galleries and collectors (myself included, although I am currently a ‘collector’ of only her work) with the breadth and depth of the themes she explores. She is unafraid to really push subjects that interest her, relentless in their pursuit, meticulous in their study, and then when she feels she has reached a point with them, she moves onto the next. See below for some of her “studies” here, then visit her website to see how she leverages such a freedom of exploration to yield remarkably powerful work.

Her paintings and drawings are to be featured as an integral part of our film but more importantly, her example is one we would like to follow. Finding the vocabulary (not the words) because she is constantly seeking, asking questions of herself and listening to the honest answers she gets.

April 12, 2011   No Comments