Thursday, January 29, 2009

School of Rock

Argh! Wireless problems AGAIN. I am actually writing this from my neighbor's house, as I had some email that I HAD to get out for my other job (the paying one). It is probably for the best, though, because it is really coming down to the wire and I have to be completely done with this round of editing by tomorrow. I have put more than 40 hours into it since Saturday, including 12 straight hours of color correction on Wednesday with Michelle. She has a helluva lotta patience, I tell you what.

Watching the whole thing through with her, veeeerrryyy slowly, I saw some more little glitches I wanted to correct, and a WHOLE lot of sound issues. So yesterday was watching the whole thing straight through in real time and making notes, including what songs might possibly fit in scenes I had not put any music in yet, and THEN 8 straight hours of dealing with sound and songs and a few more video cuts. So almost 10 hours yesterday, and I'll probably log that many today.

Last night I stopped at almost 4:00am, about halfway through the movie. Tonight (I can't seem to get any work done until the sun goes down, I don't know why, I just can't seem to concentrate before that)should go a bit faster, as I already have most of the music laid in in the second half. But the sound is terrible, I have everything maxed out because I wasn't paying attention to the little meter that tells you that when I first did it. I am sure there are much more technical terms for all this, but I don't know them and it will only confuse those of you who might if I try to guess.

For a movie like "Smalltimore," you don't really realize how much music goes into a feature length film until you are the one trying to lay out this giant puzzle and make it all work. I have about 85 to 90 scene changes. Almost all of them require some sort of music in the background. Think about that.

See, when I was first mulling over how much music I would need, I thought, 95 minute movie, songs average 2-3 minutes, not every scene needs music, so, what, 20 songs? Maybe 30? I have close to 30 songs laid in already and can probably use 20 more, PLUS some scoring inbetween. Songs might average 2-3 minutes, but most scenes are 30 to 90, MAYBE 120 seconds in a movie. Lucky for me I have some longer scenes, or scenes that kind of connect so I can cheat and bleed one song from one scene to the next. It is a LOT of work.

The biggest nightmare, though, is layering all the sound. No wonder the pros charge so much! In any given bar scene I have to layer the dialogue of the characters, room tone, background chatter, and music. The levels of all of these have to be measured out so that it sounds natural, but so that you can still understand all of the dialogue. If the microphone wasn't in the right place or if the actor moves their head around (away from the mic) then you really have to screw around with it, sometimes phrase by phrase or even word by word. And if the music is a live band instead of just piped-in bar music, that is a whole 'nuther animal.

Eventually, I will probably have a pro take a pass at it, but for now, it is just me. Have to do my taxes first and see if I have any money left over for such luxuries (not bloody likely). But though it is very difficult, I am glad to have my hands all over it. While we were doing color correction Wednesday, Michelle asked me if I felt I knew a lot more now than I did before we started production. I laughed and said, "You're joking, right? I am still learning something new every single day!" And that is what I love about it, even the really crappy stuff that is mind-numbingly tedious. At the end of all this (assuming there is an end to this project) I will have learned more than I could have possibly imagined I ever would have. I know this to be a fact, because I still have a long way to go and I have already learned that much.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


By now you know I am beyond an 11th hour kind of person (as is almost every artist friend I have, so I don't feel too guilty about it - I always deliver), and I am finally back in full edit mode. I spent more than seven hours straight last night going over the first 65 minutes of the movie, and I think I lopped off 5 to 8 minutes, which is GREAT. It is so much tighter already. Today I have to go through the remaining 35 minutes and I hope to slice another 4-5 minutes off there. I've only lost a few lines that weren't working, it is mostly shortening pauses or taking out a few things that were redundant or overly expositional. I tell you what, it is a LOT tighter already, and I can't bear the thought of ever watching the rough cut straight through again, it makes me cringe. I am very happy for what it was - a rough cut - but it is time to move on to the next level.

Then I have to lay in the music, and I know that I will need a whole 'nuther pass at the movie after this one because I have been bombarded with Baltimore musicians wanting to be on the soundtrack, on top of the ones I have solicited, and now I have way too much good stuff to choose from! It is a GREAT problem to have, though. I am happy with the movie, I think it is as entertaining romantic comedy with some great performances, and I think it is a little different in how many local artists' work I managed to show off through the course of it. But bottom line, it is a romantic comedy, not anything groundbreaking - but the soundtrack is going to be OFF THE HOOK.

Some of these musicians are my friends, some are friendly acquaintances, and some I have just met. I am so glad to have the opportunity to show them off as well as the visual artists in the movie. When I first started making friends within the creative community of Baltimore, almost 11 years ago, I was so blown away by the talent here, on all fronts. I can't tell you how many people I have met, and still know, and sometimes I just look at them and wonder, "How the hell aren't you famous?" as well as, "How lucky am I to know you?"

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Kelly Coston, as Melanie

Kelly Coston so totally rocked out the character of Melanie that I had completely forgotten the sheer hell I had put her through before she got the role. She was quick to remind me at the reception following the screening of the rough cut, however.

I met Kelly last March, on the set of a short titled, "The Mystery Date," written and directed by Arlette Fletcher, who is the President of the Baltimore chapter of Women in Film & Video. Kelly was a Production Assistant and I was the Script Supervisor. She was very easy to work with, and a hard worker, but really I just had so much FUN with her and she kept me laughing all day. She is smart and sassy and has a very quick wit.

"The Mystery Date" was only a three day shoot, and on the third day I thought I had found my Mel in Kelly. Near the end of a very long day, there was a scene between a father and his young daughter where they are having a sad conversation and the father is crying. The actor couldn't seem to tear up, so I closed the set to give them more privacy, and the PAs and I went in the next room. From where we were, we could still hear them (and them us) so I was trying to keep everyone quiet. Kelly kept making me laugh, so I stared at the floor. We listened while the actor tried like hell to cry (I don't think he quite pulled it off, though). Finally I lifted my gaze to Kelly, and she looked very upset. I saw a single tear run down her cheek, and I thought, wow, this scene is really getting to her! She met my eyes, looked so sad, then pointed to her tear and broke into an ear-to-ear grin, like, "See, I can do that!" It was all I could do not to burst out laughing. I could have strangled her. But I was impressed.

I think the thing about Kelly is is that she is very hard on herself and gets herself worked up and nervous. At the first audition, she was good but a little rigid. There was another actress at the first round who really blew me away. So I called them both to the second round.

That was a long, tough day, and they both did very well. Now I had a real dilemma. I didn't know who to choose. On top of their skills, they were both gorgeous, but had very different looks. I was starting to skew towards the other actress, but down the stretch, something happened. I think the other actress lost her confidence, and the last few scenes there was a noticeable fade in her enthusiasm. Kelly still wasn't as loose as she was when I first met her but she was strong and consistent. It was still a hard decision, but now Kelly was in the lead.

After the callbacks, I still had a third actress to audition for the role of Gracie, so I called in a few of the other actors (including Kelly) to help her play out the scenes. That actress was not a good fit for Gracie, but what I saw of her, she would have done well as Melanie. So now I was leaning towards her. I really wanted Kelly for Mel from the beginning, but she just stiffens a little when she is competing for a role, and I didn't know her well enough to know if she was going to be able to loosen up.

I was honest with Kelly and it looked like I was going to give it to the other actress, who poor Kelly had helped me audition for the Gracie role! I felt terrible but I had to do what I thought was best for the film. Kelly wrote me and said it was cool, she had a little conversation with God about it and God wanted her to have this role, and it would all work out, I'd see.

It turns out that the other actress' day job was in turmoil and she couldn't have committed for the two-week shoot anyway. I emailed Kelly back that God was right, and the role was hers if she still wanted it. She just about leapt through my computer screen to accept.

And of course it turned out that she really WAS the exact right person for it. She and Cheryl got along in real life exactly as they do on the screen, instant BFFs. She cracks on Orlando and Johnny in real life just as Mel does to their characters, Tony and Bentley. So much attitude! Melanie hates the character Angela, who is played by the very sweet Tiffany Ariany. Kelly would be so mean to Tiff during the scenes, I almost felt kind of bad. (Later she admitted that at the beginning, she was still kind of mad at me, and "used" that to amp up her attitude in those scenes. It worked.) Now Kelly was relaxed and back to her sharp, funny, confident self that I had originally met. We had SO much fun shopping for wardrobe, that was an absolute blast, and she did not mind at all that everything I put her in showed massive amounts of cleavage. "I didn't use to have any of that," she'd say, and flash her thousand-watt smile. "They were a present from the kids!"

Kelly was always well-prepared and never had a bad day on the set. She is one that I really miss seeing. Half the time I would end up calling her Mel instead of Kelly (and still do), so we fused that into Melly. She truly is a complete package. The character of Mel ends up having a broader range than maybe any of the other characters, and Kelly was totally believable whether she was verbally castrating Tony, being blindsided with bad news, having to make life-altering decisions, being disappointed in a friend, or simply gazing lovingly at her man. Also, she is an editor's dream: I NEVER have to cut around her, she is consistent on every single take. Roll that all together with her fantastic attitude, teeth that most people would kill for, and what more could a Director ask for? Did I mention she is built like a brick house?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Music to My Ears

Okay, the only thing cuter (and more addicting) than cute kitten videos is baby panda bear videos. Argh.

Gotta buckle down this week and whip out these edits, so I hope to get completely snowed in. Michelle is helping me with color correction and other issues one week from today, which is great, I need that deadline.

More good news on the soundtrack front. I'm talking with The Remnants and also Tatiana "Reina" Williams, and it looks like they are on board. I'm almost afraid the soundtrack is going to outshine the movie! With them, T.T.Tucker & the Bum Rush Band, Joyce J. Scott, Jennifer "Juice" Swartout, and a few other locals, this thing is going to be off the HOOK. I'm so psyched.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Wise Guy

As I profile my actors I am thinking a lot about my time in pre-production and especially the casting calls. That was probably my favorite part of pre-pro, even though I had to make a lot of difficult decisions, torture some people with the lingering unknown until I made up my mind, and sometimes disappoint people that I really would like to work with. Though I have done a few things to put myself in the actor's shoes, I have not gone so far as going for an audition. I want to, and I think I will before the year is out. I figure then I will know what it is like to be rejected, because I am quite certain that I would be! But even going in knowing that, I still think it will be a nerve-wracking experience. Being alone, onstage, and fully aware that you are being judged and measured against a whole bunch of other people based on your looks as well as your talent... how could it not be? It seems a little masochistic to me when I think about it.

At the first round of auditions at Baltimore Theater Project back in April, one of the first people to be in front of me was one Ms. Regina Guy. She did a great job but unfortunately was not quite young enough to play Gracie or Mel, and quite a bit younger than I had envisioned the part of the wealthy widow. But her enthusiasm was striking, and I could tell she really wanted it. At the end of her audition, she said, for the record, that if she wasn't right for one of the parts that she would be happy to be an extra or help out in any way she could. I thought that was pretty cool of her to say, and made a mental note to self.

When it was time to contact all of the actors who came to the first round (and I contacted every single one of them personally to tell them yes or no, almost 100 people altogether), I let Regina know she didn't fit one of the roles but I would love to have her on board as a Production Assistant. She was a bit disappointed (and voiced that) but still willing to be a part of the project. She came in to help me facilitate the second round of auditions and ran the holding room with a gloved iron fist. She showed up early, helped me haul ice and finish setting up the craft services tables, and when the actors arrived she expedited dispatching them to me for their scenes, as well as making sure they were fed and comfortable and had anything they needed. And she honestly seemed to be having a blast!

Her first day a rousing success, I definitely wanted Regina on for the whole shoot, and she obliged. The next gathering was the table read of the script with all the actors present. This was everyone's first introduction to Joyce Scott (Mrs. Talford). I knew Regina would be crazy about her and I asked her to pick Joyce up. That was all it took, and Regina appointed herself as Personal Assistant to Ms. Scott for the entire production.

Though I had hired someone specifically for meal times, actors and crew (if you want to keep them happy) graze the Craft Services table from call time to wrap. Regina loves to feed people and keep them happy, so these tasks fell naturally to her, as well as a lot of the additional responsibilities of meal times. I'm not sure I ever even put her in charge of it, she just took charge, making my life easier, so I was all good with it. When the other members of my Production Interns "A-Team", Corey Dillon and David Sarmiento, would get to set, she would put them to work helping her to get all the mis en place for the day before she would let Corey could get to his wardrobe duties and David go to help the crew.

I know she'd rather be in front of the camera (and she does appear several times in "Smalltimore", so look for her), but this kept her in the thick of things with both cast and crew and she did an amazing job. So amazing that Michelle and I both recommended her to do the entire catering gig on the project we worked on next, "Juju". Regina got (and rocked) the job, and a new career was launched!

More importantly, we became friends, and it makes the day go a lot faster when you are working with hard-working people that you like. Favorite days were those that Regina made her famous chili. The first time, I was a little concerned that the cast and crew might feel this was a cheap lunch, because it was the only thing on the menu. But we were filming at my friend Greg's house, and using the whole interior, so Regina had to set up shop on the front porch. Space being limited, we couldn't have done much more anyway. But in addition to the VAT of chili, she brought all the fixings and rigged an entire chili BAR with onions, sour cream, shredded cheese, and salad, and it was a smash hit. She even brought some vegetarian chili for a few of the crew with special diets. Everyone had seconds and thirds, and no one complained when we served it again within a week.

The chili appeared several times on the "Juju" set, and Regina always made a little extra for me to take home. We have remained friends, and in touch, and just this morning she texted me to say she is whipping up a batch, would I like her to bring some by tomorrow? Possibly the most rhetorical question that has ever been posed to me.

Moral of the story, stay open to possibilities. Regina didn't get exactly what she came to that audition for, but it ended up opening a lot of doors for her because she was positive and flexible. She has worked on several productions since "Juju" and has entrenched herself in the local indie production scene. And I made out like a bandit because I spotted a valuable asset and made sure to find a place for her. Everybody wins!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Orlando Gonzalez, as Tony

I first met Orlando when he answered a Craigslist post I had put out in December of 2007 for actors to appear in the initial trailer for Smalltimore (then "Charm City"). If you watch the old trailer, you can see him in a "morning after" scene with me. He did well, especially when Director Sean would make us improv some stuff to loosen us up. When I posted the trailer on YouTube, his reaction was that he needed to lose 40 pounds (this is why you should never let actors see the dailies). I didn't necessarily agree, but when he showed up for the real auditions in April, he had done just that, and had also worked on some other issues about the character that we had discussed.

One of the many lessons I learned during the auditions: you can find a lot of male actors over 50, but very few females. And you will have a plethora of actresses under 40 to choose from, and quite a few men, too, but at least in this area, VERY few muscular guys who can act. If you write a character like that and you are casting in this area, your choices will pretty much be Orlando Gonzalez, maybe one or two other guys, or you will have to go with a union actor and pay union wages (and even then you will have to search far and wide). I am not saying that to take anything away from Orlando, I am just letting you in on one of the surprises that came my way in pre-production.

In between December 2007 and the following April, I saw Orlando on the set of another movie he was in, "Good People". He was playing a thug who got to beat up Johnny Alonso. In a movie he did the previous summer, "Safehouse," he also was a thug who fought with Johnny Alonso (though in that fight, Johnny "breaks" Orlando's arm - Orlando got his revenge in "Good People").The "Good People" set was at the 1919 bar in Fells Point. In between scenes, I was talking to Orlando. He seemed a little frustrated. He really likes the business and did not want to be type-cast.

At the April audition he was the best one I saw for the role of Tony, and by far the only one who fit the very specific physical description I had in mind for the character. There were still some things bugging me, though, when I watched the tapes later. I did take into account that he was really stressed that day. In addition to the hour+ drive from Germantown in weekday rush hour, he had had to put his dog down just a day or two before the audition. I could see the sadness in his face on those tapes, and having gone through that myself on too many occasions, I had to feel for him.

But bottom line, I had to make a choice: it was either going to be Orlando, or I was going to have to rewrite certain things about the character, which I really didn't want to do.

I didn't know Orlando that well at that point, but I knew him well enough to know that he was going to stress until he heard from me, though I had told everyone that I might not get back to them for 2 weeks while I reviewed the tapes. I knew what I had to say to him, so I didn't see the point in torturing him, especially on top of the grief of losing his pet. Within a few days of the first round of auditions, I wrote Orlando an honest letter, similar to the one I had sent to Cheryl. I told him if he promised to get an acting coach in the meantime, I would like him to come to the callbacks in June.

He replied that he had already been considering someone in the area as his coach, and got on it right away. When he came in for that long day in June, he was pumped, he was off book, and the difference in his skills and self-confidence was easily apparent. And so, of course, he got the job.

Orlando and I don't always see eye to eye, but he is a trooper and he earned my respect. I remember the day of rehearsals where he had his make-out scene with Cheryl. Cheryl said, to brace Orlando and me, that she didn't "know how to not make-out," in other words, to fake it. She had to really kiss. Orlando was totally okay with that. I believe it was his first such scene, but he did great. I think I was more nervous about it than they were. It was very odd to direct people to start kissing, and then make comments like, "Okay, can we do that again with less suction? That was a little noisy. Action!!"

Orlando was always off book, and his chemistry with Cheryl and with Joyce Scott, who played his boss, was exactly how I had hoped it would be. I have some good Joyce & Orlando stories, but I'll save them for when I am talking about Joyce.

Orlando had to meet a lot of challenges in this role, including comedy, which I also learned the hard way is WAY harder than drama, to direct as well as act. But he had one challenge that none of the other actors did - nudity.

Michelle once tried to talk me into putting some boobs in the film, but I nixed that. It's a romantic comedy - who goes to see these but straight women and gay men? They don't need to see boobs. Throw a bit of man-butt in there for the ladies!

I REALLY have to hand it to Orlando for doing this. He was nervous and self-conscious, starved himself for a few days beforehand, but he did it and he owned it. He knew a lot of the guys on the crew from the other films he had worked on, and they razzed the hell out of him.

That day we filmed all day in my friend Greg's house. We did that bedroom scene first, upstairs. First we did these great jib shots of Cheryl in her bra in the bed, part of which you can see in the trailer. Everything was going smoothly, and Cheryl was walking around her bra in between takes, which hopefully made Orlando a little more comfortable. He seemed okay. I walked into the room where he was running lines and asked if he was ready for his "close-up". He said yep, turned around and dropped his drawers to prove his point. Okay, then, systems go!

I treated the day like any other day because I didn't want to make a big deal of it. After Cheryl's singles, we were ready for Orlando's butt scene. Actors on their marks, crew in place, camera rolling, I turn around to yell for quiet, as there are a lot of crew downstairs (I thought), and there in the bedroom doorway is EVERY SINGLE FEMALE INTERN ON THE SET. I felt like if at this point I said to clear the set (which in retrospect, I probably should have) it would make a bigger deal of it in addition to delaying filming. "Action!"

I think we did the scene 3 or 4 times, which Michelle made fun of me for, but I always do extra shots for safety (and the few times I have not I have totally screwed myself for editing purposes). Orlando did it all with a sense of humor, and I think the scene turned out to be very comic.

Though it was an ensemble cast with several large speaking roles, Orlando was basically the male lead. I think he surprised a lot of people on the set who had only seen him work in small, stereo-typical roles before that. He took it all very seriously, never complained, always delivered. So if you are trying to find a beefcake leading man for a romance, or the buff action-figure type guy for a shoot-em-up, I can tell you you have at least one very good choice in the Baltimore-Washington area. Orlando Gonzalez is determined to go places. Get him while you can afford him.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Fly on The Wall

I am certain that a conversation exactly like this took place recently in City Hall:

President-Elect's PR Person: Mayor Dixon, Barack Obama needs to be seen in a prominent but accessible part of the City of Baltimore during his visit. Some place that photographs well, something impressive.

Mayor Dixon: Hmm. Well, a friend of a friend went to this screening recently of a movie that was made here in Baltimore, that highlighted some really gorgeous locations here. I think it was called, "Smalltimore."

PEPRP:I think my cousin's girlfriend's hairdresser was at that same screening! "Smalltimore"? That is so very clever!

MD: Isn't it, though? Anyway... how about the playground on top of Federal Hill? It has a stunning view of the Harbor, and that gigantic American flag can be waving in the background... or how about in the park in Mount Vernon? In front of the statue of Lafayette, and the monument to George Washington? Very presidential... Or on Brown's Wharf in Fells Point, with the iconic Domino's Sugar sign on the far side of the water?

PEPRP: Wow, so many choices... that movie must be so colorful and richly textured, with these diverse locations.

MD: That's what I hear. And my friend said his friend said the actors are all very hot, and the dialogue quite witty!

PEPRP: Interesting. But back on task. We need the perfect location. Mind if we step out on the balcony for a smoke? My New Year's resolution isn't going so well...

MD: Of course!...

PEPRP: Nice park. I like the fountains. What is that magnificent white building with the Grecian columns and art-deco horses facing us?

MD: That is the War Memorial. That was also seen in "Smalltimore."

PEPRP: It's perfect! So cinematic!

MD: It's settled then!

PEPRP: Damn, it is going to be cold that day, though. I didn't really pack for the weather. Do you have a coat I could borrow?

MD: Why, what have you heard?!?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


That would be me, being a 'ho for the tally. Views for the new Smalltimore trailer have sailed passed the 1,000 hit mark and even past 1,100! This does make me happy (especially because "individual users" have about leveled out with actual views, meaning that my cast and I have finally become bored with watching the trailer over and over), though in checking the stats on YouTube several times a day, I have inadvertently become addicted to funny cat videos. This has given me the idea to now include tags including, "kittens, cats, cute, funny, video, youtube" on all future videos and blog posts to increase traffic. Six figures, here we come!!!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Cheryl Scungio, as Gracie

After the first round of auditions, I thought I had pretty much found my Gracie. And it wasn't Cheryl Scungio.

But I knew that since this was the lead role, I should not paint myself into a corner by only calling one Gracie to the callbacks. I went through the tapes of the first auditions so many times, and there were a few women that came in a fairly close second to the person I thought I was going to cast. Cheryl was good, but because so many people came to the auditions and time was tight, I auditioned people in pairs. For most of the women, that meant they each read for the parts of Gracie and her best friend, Melanie, they would just swap roles. Cheryl was paired up with another girl, and they were good but very giggly, which was not what I was going for. They were very "Friends" when I was aiming for somewhere in between "Seinfeld" and "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia". So I figured I'd see what she was like without the giggly girl.

When I contacted Cheryl, I was very upfront with her about everything, and I told her point-blank that at this time, she was the runner-up, so she'd really have to pull out all the stops. She thanked me for my candor and promised to work on the notes I gave her.

Because Gracie is in almost every scene and I needed to test that person's chemistry with everyone else in the cast, I told the two Gracie's that I did not expect them to be off-book (have memorized) all 10 pages of dialogue, but I noted the scenes that I did want them to have down.

When the day came, Cheryl was the first to arrive. She brought changes of wardrobe particular to the scenes, and her own make-up kit. And she knew every single word of all 10 pages.

She also had the best chemistry with the rest of the cast, never checked her watch in front of me, and delivered her scenes with authority. She had thought a lot about the character and brought her own take on Gracie to the table, but took direction well if it wasn't what I was looking for. So that is how Cheryl came to be my Gracie. No one could have been more surprised than I was to have cast a thin, blonde Towson-ite who doesn't really swear in a role that is loosely based on my own experiences.

But Cheryl was such a dream to work with, and she is really funny herself. It was like having my own Lucille Ball on the set. She had this habit of whenever she would try to leave a room, she would try to push the door out when it opened inwards, so she kept running into doors unintentionally. But it was funny, so I kept it in. And sometimes she was adorably un-city-fied. I don't know how it came up, but once on the set she was telling me how for the longest time she thought those flashing blue Police cameras in the high-crime areas of the city were bug-zappers. I am not even kidding.

She was always a total trooper whether we were filming in the un-air-conditioned gallery in the middle of August or in the open convertible in the middle of November. I learned a lot from watching her, because she was always very aware of continuity. Unless I tell her to change something up, she does every take exactly the same, which helped me immeasurably during the editing process. She'd help me keep track of things like props and jewelry in that regard also.

She used up all of her vacation time for principle photography, even though for a back-breaking two weeks of work I could only pay her half of what she has made on some one-day industrial shoots. Most importantly, though, as my lead, as the person who was in 95% of the movie, she set the bar very high for all of the other actors, and I know that several of my guys who were very green took their cues from the way she carried herself on set. She never complained, was always off-book, always had her wardrobe, and behaved not just as a hired employee, but as a key member of the team, which is crucial to low-budget indies. This being my first movie, had I had the wrong person in that role, I might have ended up doubtful about doing any follow-up projects. I am very lucky to have found Cheryl, and if you ever have the opportunity to hire her, DO IT.

At Second Glance

Had a lovely evening last night. Started off with dinner at the Prime Rib with Friends Tom, Melanie, and neighbor Pete, and afterwards Cheryl Scungio (who plays the lead, Gracie) also came to my place and the five of us watched "Smalltimore," as none of them were able to make the screening of the rough cut. I hadn't seen Cheryl since we filmed the second half of a scene that had her and Orlando driving around town in my convertible with the top down, wearing flimsy clothing and pretending it was summertime, though it was actually a freezing November night. So really, I'm just glad she's still speaking to me.

Everyone seemed to enjoy it and it was fun to get together, but for me, the second time around of watching it all the way through wasn't easy, because now I am really seeing all the flaws and I wanted to constantly interrupt and tell my friends how I was going to make everything better for the next cut. But I controlled myself.

Awhile back, I promised to profile each of my actors here in my blog, and I think it is about time to do so. Cheryl and I were retelling some on-set anecdotes, and it made me think about a lot of the goofy little things that happened. I will start with Cheryl, since she plays the lead, and then I will, one by one, profile the rest of the ensemble, in no particular order, and on no particular timeline. I'll make them in individual posts so they are easy to find. Even while I watch the movie as a whole and I see all the things I can do to make it tighter, I still marvel each time at my cast. Who is the patron saint of casting agents? Whoever that may be, they must have been sitting on my shoulder when I chose each of these people for their roles.

I did really put everyone through the wringer during the audition process. During the first round of auditions, I saw over 80 people in two evenings. Eric loaned me a camera, and my friends Kellie Stevens and Jayson Fricke each filmed one evening of the trials for me, and Kellie and another friend, Jessica Hanel, took an evening each running the front of the house at Baltimore Theater Project, where the auditions were held.

After that, I spent 2 weeks watching the tapes several times over, by myself and also with Eric and Mikey B., so I could have a few opinions on the actors. For most parts I chose at least two people to come to the callbacks, the second round of auditions, even if I thought I knew who I wanted for a particular role. At the beginning of May I contacted those people and sent them "sides", scenes from the script that I felt were most important to their character so I could see how they delivered the key moments. Some of the actors had up to 10 pages of dialogue, and I gave them a month to learn it. The callbacks took place in mid-June, and took up a whole day, about 8 hours. Pretty extreme, but I needed to know who was serious about the project. Wanting the role is almost as important as how talented an actor is, when you are working on a low-to-no budget film.

In the end, with almost every role I had to make a tough choice, but I know that I made the right choice. Though some of the actors will tell you I tortured them mightily before getting around to it!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Big in Japan

Well, maybe not BIG in Japan, but at least VIEWED in Japan. I have a fantastic idea about how to teach Americans about a subject at which we generally suck: geography. Teachers should have their students post a video on YouTube and then track the viewings! They have a great little stats counter ("Insight") that shows you the number of views you have and all your demographics, including countries of the entire world. I seriously have learned more geography in the last couple weeks than I ever did in 12 years of Catholic school. Though my trailer hasn't been seen in any of them, I've learned (or at least read) the names of a lot of countries I'd never even heard of. Presumably some of them don't have internet yet, which might have something to do with that.

I am happy to say my trailer has been seen in five continents, 19 countries, and 37 of the 50 United States of America. So far, it hasn't had a blip in Africa, and Antarctica is not on the YouTube map. It has been seen in Canada (Hi Bentley!), Australia (Hey Dan!), Brazil, China, Japan, Indonesia, Ireland, UK (Hi Matthew!), Netherlands, France (Allo Jerome and Arnaud!), Italy, Greece, Germany (Hi John & Anja!), Slovakia, Hungary (Hi, Jonathan!), Ukraine, Russia, and Estonia.

It is easier to list the States that it HASN't been seen in, and I am on a mission to make sure it is seen in all 50 States. Just one of those things, being able to say you did it, like going to Prom (check) or jumping out of an airplane (which I will never do on purpose, unless the plane is on fire, and I can live with that). So if you have friends in these States, please ask them to view the trailer! I'll be checking back on them until this feat is accomplished.

Those States are as follows: On the Eastern seaboard, the only folks not on task are in New Hampshire and Rhode Island; also South Carolina. Furthest west, we have no views in Alaska (though we do in Hawaii!). The problem area is a strip right through the middle of the country, and a few sparsely populated Western states: Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota (Canada, a.k.a. North North Dakota, is with us), Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Idaho.

So help me out, people! Get your friends in these states to watch the trailer for Smalltimore. And for your own educational purposes, see if you can locate Kyrgyzstan on a map. And if you know anyone there, get them to watch my video!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

4:00am is the New 1:00am

I haven't been writing much because I haven't been doing much, film-wise, since the holidays ended. Once I am out of the groove it is hard to get back in, and real life and its issues start taking up more and more of my time since I have allowed myself to become un-entrenched from the movie. Plus, as you know by now, I work best with a deadline. Right now, that deadline is January 31st, the late-late date to submit to the Maryland Film Festival. And if you have not picked up on this by now, I am not an 11th-hour kind of person. I am an 11:45 kind of person. Some personal things, and things at my current "real job" to take care of through this week, and next week I have to really hit the bricks.

But, a little bit more fun this weekend before I go back to marathon editing. One of my major investors, my friend Tom, and his girlfriend are coming to visit me. I can't even remember the last time I saw them! I think the last time I saw Melanie was for my birthday way back in MAY, and I think I have seen Tom once since then. They couldn't make it for the screening of the rough cut, so I am having a mini-screening for them and a couple other friends who couldn't make it that day. But first, a decadent dinner at the Prime Rib! Mmmmmmmmmmmmm... It's fun to play Grown-Ups sometimes.

Actually, I have been editing. In my head. Late at night. Which is why I probably can't sleep. I took sleep aids for two nights, thinking they would knock me right out since I have never taken sleep aids in my life. No such luck. They did nothing. So now I am not even bothering.

Maybe it is feeling guilty for not really working on things lately. I think more likely it is because my brain got used to filing through a million things a day and now is still coasting at a high velocity on its own momentum. I've also found myself to be highly emotional the last month or so. The first few weeks of feeling this way were puzzling to me, I know myself pretty well, and when I am feeling some way that makes me stop and wonder WHY I am feeling that way, I can usually pick it apart and figure it out. This time took me awhile, but I know what it is: I need to write.

The way I blow off steam is most often in the form of writing (or anything to do with words, like editing), drinking, or sex. Just being honest here, don't get squeamish on me (and no, that is not a call for volunteers; I need to FOCUS, here!). Obviously the first is the most productive method, the second the most counter-productive, the third the most fun. Writing/editing is what I have been doing non-stop for a full year now, so though I haven't had time to really get involved with anyone (nookie-wise) I was fine. Since I finished the rough cut, a week before Christmas, up until New Year's I had plenty of drinking time (a few friends may argue, too much). But even if I am blowing off steam with one of my vices, if I am not writing, the words just build up in my brain until I can find an outlet for them, they never just dissipate.

But other than this blog and email, I won't let myself write until I have the final cut of the movie finished. Once the words are out, all creativity dwindles, so sometimes I just have to let it build up like this. I have ideas for other projects, some good ones, I think, but I can't take my eye off the ball. I have to do everything I can to cut this movie into the best possible piece it can be, and then I have to do everything I can to get it off the ground. I owe that to all the people who worked so hard on it with me, to everyone who has put their faith in me from the start (or who converted along the way), and to myself. But once I'm there... man, I can't WAIT to start writing again. I know that's when I'll finally be able to sleep like a baby.

Friday, January 2, 2009

In the Catbird Seat

Happy New Year, everyone!

I have lots of reasons to be happy, and to look forward to this year, but at the moment I am happiest about one thing: I actually SLEPT last night! What a relief. I have not been able to do that properly (i.e., without the assistance of cold medicine or a few drinks) for almost a month now, and it was making me a bit crazy, and probably a bit cranky also. Hopefully I am back on track now.

Another thing making me happy, or at least, it was, is that the trailer for Smalltimore is nearing 1,000 hits on YouTube. It has been up for 3 weeks today, so I thought that was good, considering the initial trailer has been up for almost a year and has had a little over 1,200 hits. But then today I got on YouTube to check the stats, and one of the videos that popped up when I signed on had a "talking cat", so I checked it out. Just a cat curled up in a sink and some lady holding the camera and screaming at the cat, "Buster! Say hi, Buster! Buster! Look at me, Buster! Say hi to Lydia, Buster! Buster! BUSTER!!!" You get the idea. And so did SEVERAL HUNDRED THOUSAND people who have watched it.

Looking at the sidebar with "related videos", there are dozens tagged "talking cat", and I didn't see any with less than 6-digit number of views. Really? Talking cats? None of whom (that I saw) actually talk. As in, English.

I also Googled some of the tags I had put on the video just to see where (and if) it came up. In addition to some friends and actors who have embedded it on their Facebook and MySpace pages (and if you haven't yet, what are you waiting for?), I found it on some really weird websites that had scores of seemingly unrelated videos. One of them had mostly sex videos on it, and then mine. I think perhaps because of the tags "Steel, Corset" for Steel Corset Productions. Cheryl Scungio (who plays the lead, Gracie) first pointed this out to me, that on YouTube, when you watch the Smalltimore trailer, the related videos are almost always all fetish related. So mine must show up sometimes as a related video when people are surfing for smut! What a lovely surprise, and a brilliant marketing tactic that I will certainly implement (on purpose) in the future.

Anyway... I am still feeling a bit run-down, decompressing from all the pressure leading up to the screening, and the holidays, and not sleeping or eating right. All of my out-of-town friends who have been visiting are gone now, and I need to simmer down and get back to work. I have a boatload of music to listen to, CDs from local bands and artists who want to be involved on the soundtrack, then I need to watch the movie a few more times and figure out which song goes where, shuffle a few scenes around, make some more cuts, color correct, etc... My brain has been subconsciously processing a lot of information in this week since the screening, so I have some of my attack plan sketched out in my head.

I knew that screening a rough cut was a little risky, I didn't want anyone to be disappointed or to think that this was the final version, so I took a few minutes before the screening to really emphasize that. At the reception afterwards, and in emails and phone calls since, a lot of people have given me their two cents on what they think I should change. Kellie said, "You need longer pauses! People were laughing over the lines and missing things!" Drew said, "You can cut out 5 minutes just by shortening the pauses! But don't cut any dialogue!" Sean says, "There is too much expositional dialogue! Cut it out!" Michelle says, "You need to cut together some more B-roll and establishing shots between scenes so the transition isn't too quick!" and Eric says, "I think you can cut out a lot of the establishing shots. They took up too much time."

This actually sounds more confusing then it is. They are all right, I just need to pick and choose where to apply their suggestions. Some pauses are too long. Some are too short. Some dialogue definitely needs to go. Most of it doesn't, and some of the expositional stuff is mixed in with stuff I need to keep, so that's the really tough part. Some transitions happen too quickly. Other locations are well-established and I don't need to spend so much time showing exterior shots every time the scene changes location.

I'm not worried, though. I trust my own instincts, and based on the feedback I received for the rough cut, I am that much more excited to bring people the final version as soon as possible. It is important to have a thick skin and be able to evaluate each piece of criticism, and not to immediately dismiss it. Not always easy, to consider all these conflicting opinions. For my own work flow, that is why these pauses in (perceived) productivity are important, to let my brain sift through it all while I am busy with other things. My brain gets back with me when it is ready to go, and it is about ready. Moving on!