Thursday, July 30, 2009


[Reviewing footage of the end piece for my new short, "The Red-Headed Menace" - photo by Regina Guy]

Almost back to normal. This weekend (er, last weekend, I guess, as tomorrow starts another one) was very intense. How the hell did I do this for two weeks straight last summer? Must have been pure adrenaline.

I did finish a rough cut sans credits last night. Worked for about 8 hours, right now it totals about 6 minutes of movie. It will be 7-8 with credits. I have to credit nearly 50 people! One of whom I neglected to mention in my last post is my new friend Billy Poe. Billy is an author and documentarian and we "met" when he sent me a message with some questions about the pre-production class I was supposed to teach at the Creative Alliance on June 6, that I had to cancel when I accidentally poisoned my dogs. (BTW, I will be teaching that class on December 12 at the CA, barring any rat poison debacles). We kept in touch via email for 6 weeks talking shop, and I asked Billy if he would want to film behind-the-scenes stuff on the shoot of "The Red-Headed Menace" for me. So that was the day we met in person for the first time, and I only had about 5 minutes, collectively, to actually speak to him all day. He was extremely unobtrusive and I'm sure he got some great stuff. Maybe some day we will have time to sit down for a drink or something.

Behind-the-scenes footage, or rather lack thereof, is one of my bigger regrets about shooting, "Smalltimore," last summer. I did have a handheld video camera on the set most days, but I didn't have anyone with any experience to assign to it. I would definitely recommend having someone do that for you for every shoot that you can. Especially if you are directing, you are so focused that you don't have time to really absorb the circus that is around you, it is all you can do to keep it under control.

I have to say again that Sunday's shoot went pretty damn smoothly. There was amazingly little to no tension, at least from my perspective. Apparently I did, "intimidate," a few people. That is never my intention, but I can't spend a lot of time worrying about it. I think even those that said that understood by the end of the day why I have to be like that on the set.

What was a little difficult was switching gears when it was time to direct the kids. Of course, that takes a gentler touch. I had two kids in "Smalltimore," but they are my little cousins, so they were already comfortable with me and I knew they'd listen and not get scared (though the younger one, Sean, sometimes gets nervous at first). For kids, you have to take extra time and care to make them feel comfortable, especially with so many people on the set. It is very difficult for them to NOT look at the camera, so I had to position myself behind whichever actor they were supposed to be addressing their lines to and told them to look at me. This seemed to work pretty well and put them more at ease.

Nicole, the oldest (12) was a champ, and for the most part I could direct her as I did any of the adults. Colleen (8) is a friend of my little cousin Sean, and she had a part in, "Juju." She was such a natural that I knew the next time I wrote something, I wanted to write a part in for her. In the first draft of, "The Red-Headed Menace," there was only one kid, a part I had written for Colleen. But at first I wasn't able to reach her, which is when I found Nicole, and then Charlie's mom emailed me with a picture and he was so cute I had to put him in there, and then Colleen's mom got back to me and I thought, what the hell? I GUARANTEE you that no other movie in the 29 Days Later Film Project is going to have THREE cute red-headed kids! Production value, baby!

And that is both my strength, I think, and my curse: Production Value. I just can't do anything half-assed. For my restaurant scene, I couldn't just throw spaghetti on a plain plate and put a glass of water on the table. My Mom and I were up into the wee hours the night before, arranging fanned slices of steak on my Lenox china ("Autumn" pattern, their most expensive) and steaming vegetables so they were nice and brightly colored. We filmed on Sunday, so the liquor stores were closed and as I dressed the set I realized I had no red wine! My neighbor Philip came to my rescue and sent half a bottle over, to be poured in real crystal wine glasses, also Lenox ("McKinley"). I washed the tablecloths just that morning so that I could put them on the tables AFTER the crew had rigged the lights, so they wouldn't mess them up, and wile they were still a little damp so they wouldn't be too wrinkled. My Mom made the flower arrangements for each table. When Elizabeth, one of the PAs, set the silverware, it took her extra tie to do so because I told her the settings had to match. Votives on every table. Some plates fresh, some half-eaten, some tables ordering dessert... I think about all these things and this is why I don't get around to other things I need to be doing, like a shot list.

I did, though, break down the script in the order which I wanted to shoot the scenes, and Unique numbered them for me and kept everything straight, and saved my ass several times with continuity issues. Having a script supervisor/continuity person was another luxury I really didn't have on, "Smalltimore." It was awfully nice to have it this time.

So, yea, I had all these people I didn't have on, "Smalltimore," an Assistant Director, a Scripty/Continuity, a Behind-the-Scenes guy... still, I need to delegate more of the pre-production and production work so I can better direct.

One luxury I DID have on "Smalltimore" that I did not have on "The Red-Headed Menace," was rehearsal time. I really wish I could have done that for this project, at least for the actors with the bulk of the lines, some of whom had never met so did not have established chemistry, some like me and Michelle who could have really used that to ease into putting ourself out on a limb like that.

I also should have scheduled a good hour and a half per page of shooting time (not including set-up or breaks). Or at least done one or the other (rehearsals + a shorter shoot, or if I know I can't have rehearsals, allow more time for shooting). To have done no rehearsals at all and scheduled a short shoot was just not how I would have liked to work. For "Smalltimore" I felt slightly guilty asking the actors for more of their time for rehearsals prior to production, but it was by far one of the best things I could have done. For a short like this, probably the best thing to do would have the actors come in at the same tie as the crew (4 hours before shooting began) to run the scenes and do blocking.

Sound is also an issue that continues to plague me, but the more I do it, the better I become at it, and to be able to finesse the sound yourself in post will save you THOUSANDS of dollars on a feature-length film. The best thing, of course, is to get it right while you are ON the set, but there are always glitches. If you can figure out how to fix them yourself, you'll be glad you took the time to do so. Next time I am doing a shot list if it kills me, INCLUDING Foley stuff (sound effects). Get it all done on the set and then you don't have to worry about it.

A filmmaker I was talking to recently, I think it was Ronnie Goodwin, I met him at the Heart of England Film Festival, made a suggestion to me that made so much sense I couldn't believe it had never crossed my mind. Every time he creates or records a specific sound (champagne popping, duck quacking, helicopter, rushing water, ambient sound in a crowded room, whatever, he keeps the clips altogether in a sound effects file for future use. If you shoot on a regular basis, you can establish a library of sound effects pretty quickly doing this. I am going to have to borrow ambient crowd noise from some "Smalltimore," footage, as we did indeed forget to record that while we had all the actors and extras on the set for TRHM.

I think those are my main regrets about this latest shoot, though they are negligible considering how well it all went. It was really fun, and it was amazing to me as I sat and edited last night, when the camera was rolling before I said, "Action!" or after I said, "Cut!" more than half the time we would be laughing about something. Even though it was intense and a lot of work, and a long day, it was relaxing in its way. Everyone was there because they wanted to be there, and as the day wore on, they seemed to get more excited about it instead of fading out on me. There were a lot of good photos taken that day, but the one at the top of this post is my favorite. It was about 8:30pm and we were reviewing the shot we just did, the stunt that wraps up the short, just before we are going to break for dinner (half an hour late), and after dinner we still have another two hours of shooting to do. That everyone in this photo is genuinely smiling and laughing makes me feel very good, like not only is the footage what I wanted it to be, but also they were just happy to be there and to be a part of the project. It was a great day, a great cast and a great crew, and this is the photo that spurs me on to think about the next project that I want to do, and within a few months, not a whole year from now. Who's in?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Short AND Sweet

Geez. The bottoms of my feet feel like they are bruised. I was on them for 15-18 hours on both Saturday and Sunday for the shoot of my new short, "The Red-Headed Menace". Saturday was all prep work, changing two rooms in a Victorian mansion into a set that looks like an upscale restaurant, and then prepping food: for breakfast cooked off 3 dozen eggs, 4 pounds of bacon and sliced a ham, for dinner cooked up a triple-batch of my famed white wine & mushroom risotto, 3 different kinds of chicken, and sauteed asparagus. Roughly breakfast for 12 and dinner for 3 times that. It was ahuge pain, but made the food service the next day run very smoothly, so all my craft services (headed by Regina, of course, though I scrounged up several assistants for her) people had to do was warm everything and boil a mountain of corn on the cob that my Mom had given me.

The whole shoot went incredibly smoothly, actually. Granted, we finished at 11pm when I had told people I had hoped to be wrapped by 8pm, but we did manage to let everyone but a few essential people go by 9:30pm. And I should have said 11pm to begin with. To shoot 8 pages consisting of 6 vignettes (pieces each shot in a different room or part of a room, so requiring a lighting change), a steadicam shot, a fire stunt (actually 4 fire stunts, if you count each vignette that a fire stunt appears in, and 6 if you count how many times we had to do it because some scenes required two takes), another stunt, two scenes with three children, and three scenes each where Michelle and I each had to "act" (I can't really use the word without quotes around it, as that would be an insult to the real actors on the set)... to shoot that all in 9 hours including 30 minutes for dinner (plus the coordination it took to feed the almost FIFTY people who were on the set throughout the course of the day)... you better believe I am pretty damn happy with how well it went.

I was very glad to get back on the set with Michelle, and a year after shooting our first film together when we did "Smalltimore", now we know each other so well that we practically have it down to a science. Nearly all of our arguments were staged, and none of them were serious. Most were about her trying to weasel out of the scenes I had written for her, but eventually I got what I wanted out of her, and it is some pretty funny stuff.

I think the only day on "Smalltimore" that I had nearly as many people on set was the day we shot scenes with the band at the Wind-Up Space. That was a 15 hour day and one of the most stressful of the entire production. I've learned a lot since then.

It took a lot of people to make the day glide along so well. My Mom was down for a visit from Pennsyltucky, and I put her to work steaming and cutting vegetables, arranging prop plates of food (oh, yea - unless this is a magical restaurant where everyone is having after-dinner coffee at the same time, you better have plates of food in various stages of being eaten if you are going to make it look good), making flower arrangements, etc. I get my eye for artistic balance from my Mom and she is one of the few and possibly the only person I would entrust such tasks to.

Doing this short confirmed to me that I truly do not enjoy producing. I can do it, I've done it, and I seem to be pretty good at it. But I really don't enjoy it, and the next time I shoot something, I have to find someone I can trust to do it for me. The good thing about doing it myself is that I know that when it is time for the camera to roll, everything will be done the way I wanted it in the first place and I won't have to make adjustments. There are some parts that I like, like dressing the set, which in this case took a lot of time, and I really like when other people trust me to dress the set on their productions. But all the other stuff, breaking down the script, assigning tasks, trying to supervise oodles of people, grocery shopping and cooking... I know Regina would have helped me more with that stuff had I asked, but she had a sizable role in the short and I wanted her to be able to concentrate on that. She did help a lot, picking up some essentials (such as diet root beer for me and diet Mountain Dew for Michelle) beforehand, and she coordinated the crafty once I handed her the reins on that. Great to be working with her again also, and it was fun to direct her in a real speaking role this time. She rocked it out.

Lois Tuttle and Stephanie Refo rounded up the majority of the production assistants and extras, which was crucial to make the opening scene, and all of the scenes, look as good as they do. Lois was my Extra Extraordinaire, arriving early to help out and staying until the bitter end, and to Stephanie I assigned the role of Assistant Director. Whenever people ask me what I would do differently after shooting "Smalltimore," one of the first things I tell them is "HAVE AN ASSISTANT DIRECTOR". That person takes care of some of the production stuff, like having everyone sign release forms, that I hate doing, supervises extras and crew who are not on the film team, and in a nutshell is the person that when the director says, "I need this..." they make it happen, as quickly as possible. It was Steph's first time doing anything like this, and she did a tremendous job, also sticking around until the very end of the night.

We had several newbies in as Production Assistants. Everyone did a great job though a couple mysteriously disappeared during the course of the day, never to be seen again. It happens. I am not sure what people really expect a movie set to be like. Maybe I am too practical. I love being on the set and I do think it is pretty cool, but even before I was ever on one I didn't have a glamorous pre-conceived notion about what it would be like. How could it NOT be incredibly hard work and long hours? Many are just not mentally prepared or cut out for it.

Li was a FANTASTIC Assistant Camera (AC), and by the end of the day, Michelle was letting her take the camera and do the B-roll footage of a group scene that I needed, plus Li was the cameraperson on the scenes that Michelle was acting, er, "acting" in. Li was a PA for me on "Juju." She is a very smart person and knows that the best way to learn things is by doing them on a set and paying your dues. The whole time she was working with me on "Juju" I was afraid she was going to get bored (we spent most of our day reshuffling the entire call sheet for the next day, as the production was often behind schedule - work that is both boring and frustrating) and defect or be drafted to the film crew. But she did seem to enjoy the hands-on learning of the production side of things and she stuck with me. It was great to work with her yesterday in her full capacity behind the camera.

I had some GREAT actors, who of course are only going to make me look that much worse. Still not sure how I am going to edit around myself, but I'll figure something out. Maybe I can have Craig Herron rotoscope me out in post! Craig had a few lines himself, and he did really well.

In addition to Regina Guy making a big splash in a role I wrote just for her, three of my actors from "Smalltimore" returned to me, Cheryl Scungio, Johnny Benson, and Kelly Coston. Poor Kelly had just flown in from Jamaica, flying into Philly, and hauled ass to get here but was just a few minutes late from when I had no choice but to film the opening scene, so she didn't get as much face time as I wanted to give her, but she's still in there as an extra. Cheryl had one bitter little scene which she pulled off really well. I love making her play roles that totally cut against the grain of her sweet self, it makes it that much more funny, if only to me. Johnny got held up and almost couldn't make it, which about gave me a heart attack because I knew no one could pull off the scenes like he could, but he made it in time. And true to form, he carried the lion's share of comic relief. His first take is unusable because everyone on the set, including me, burst out laughing when he read his lines. Also at the last minute he volunteered for a stunt that I had previously envisioned but didn't want to ask him to risk hurting himself. Then he came up with the same thing himself, and as luck would have it, since Jeff Wilhelm and Mark Mosier (the stunt guys for the fire stunt, I worked with them on "Juju" also) were there, they had the right pad in their car, and we did it! It was so hysterical that I have caught myself laughing out loud a couple times today just thinking about it.

I also borrowed several actors from the set of, "The Rosens," Steve yeager's latest project, which I have been working on as AD. Bobby DeAngelo has a broken ankle, so I wrote that into the script for him. His foot was really throbbing by the end of the day, but he was a trooper and stayed as late as I needed him in order to get all the essential parts. Megan Rippey and David Thornhill were great, and both stayed late to do one little three-line scene. I also had three child actors on the set, and I needed to shoot them as it was getting late and the younger ones were fading. I could have lived without that last scene between David and Megan, though I rather would have not, and they were good sports about it. By now we had been working so long that while we were doing the scene, at one point we had to hold for sound because an ambulance was going by. Megan and David started running the line over and over anyway, and it morphed into this funny improv bit. I nudged Michelle to roll the camera, and I let them run on for several minutes, while they cracked up the remaining cast and crew. We were all pretty punchy by then and it was a fun moment that gave us that little extra bit of juice to finish the little pieces I needed to complete the short.

Oh, and Steve Yeager and his wife Patty even stopped by the set to say hello! I'll soon be back on the set with Steve for more filming of, "The Rosens," can't wait.

I also got to work with Alex Hewett for the first time, though I see her in so many local productions that I almost feel as if I had worked with her before. Alex is the Resident Actor at The Strand Theater, and she has her hands in everything. She was another that stayed after almost everyone else had left, so I could get this little piece of her saying just two lines that I had added to the script while we were on the set. It was the answer shot to a little piece we filmed earlier in the day, where I threw my friend Lisa Knoch, who was our make-up artist for the day, onto the live set and made her say a line. Lisa was super-nervous and none too happy with me, but she was a good sport and she did it. I think it will be funny and if Alex hadn't been willing to stick around to film her part of it, I would not have been able to use Lisa's bit. Alex is a real pro and I look forward to working with her again, as well as all of the actors I have mentioned.

Another group of buddies that helped me out were my waiter friends from the Prime Rib restaurant. And for the record, I often say that the Prime Rib is pretty close to my idea of Heaven - hot men in tuxedos serving me amazing food and champagne. Seriously. Anyway, I went over there just last Wednesday night to see if I could talk any of them into coming over in their tuxedos to be extras and maybe have a line or two. I thought I was going to have to sweet-talk them into it, but they all jumped at it, and I ended up getting SIX real waiters in real tuxedos, and it added SO much to the production values in helping the set to look like a very posh restaurant. Three of them were also in one of the scenes with the fire gag, and that is another part that makes me laugh just thinking about it. My heartfelt thanks goes out to Danny, Brad, Mark, Pedro, Aaron, and Christopher! And extra thanks for letting me borrow the menus for props.

And the kids! Kids in a movie make Michelle nervous, because you never know if they are going to lose their nerve at the last minute. I've had kids in both "Smalltimore" and now in "The Red-Headed Menace" and it has worked out quite well both times. I like making Michelle nervous. I started off just needing one little red-headed kid, and ended up with THREE! Nicole (12), Colleen (8), and Charlie (6). They did such a good job! They played Regina's (who is also a red-head) kids, and some people on the set thought they actually were her kids. I know it was especially tough on the little ones when we ran late, but they were troopers. Charlie was negotiating with me. "How much longer do you think it will be?" I had to admit to him that it was going to be awhile before we could shoot his next scene. "But how long?" he politely demanded. "One hour? Two?" I was a little taken aback by this. "Um, probably an hour and a half." I told him if he was tired he didn't have to stay (though I REALLY wanted/needed him to). He thought about it a minute. "That's not too bad," he said. "We'll wait." It did indeed take at least that long and he was fading fast, as was Colleen, by the time we filmed his next scene with the three kids, but they hung in there. Charlie's line was, "Mom, I'm bored." He said his line, and when we cut the scene he told me, "I really AM bored." He was so cute I almost had to keep him.

Also want to thank specifically Joey Kasula (gaffer), Fred Besche (sound), and Megan Reed (Key Everything + Keeping Michelle In Line) for being such an awesome crew!

Oops, Michelle is at the back door, come to pick up the rest of her gear, so I gotta run. So many more people than I have mentioned to thank, but I have to get back to work cleaning up the set. Thanks again to EVERYONE for helping to make yesterday such a success, I can't wait to edit it! I'll post pictures soon on the "Smalltimore, the Movie" facebook page.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

29 Days Later Film Project

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The Red-Headed Menace

[Director of Photography Michelle Farrell, at the Baltimore premiere of "Smalltimore"]

Well, I think I am in pretty good shape but I still have LOADS more work today before filming our short, "The Red-Headed Menace," this Sunday. A few tweaks to the script, and then the heavy lifting - dressing the set. I have to create a restaurant dining room, pretty much from scratch. And a POSH restaurant dining room at that. It's not a problem, I've spent years in the restaurant business, grew up in it actually. It's just a lot of work.

Then I have to break down the script, which is also a lot of work, even for just 8 pages. Because we are trying to film 8 pages in 6 hours, including a very cool stunt, everything has to be timed out pretty perfectly, plotted and planned for every shot, so we can just bam bam bam knock it out.

But wow, I think I have a really great cast and crew assembled. Michelle, of course, plus Li as Assistant Camera, with whom I worked on "Juju: The Witchdoctor Chronicles", and Fred Besche on sound, I am working with him on Steve Yeager's new project, "The Rosens". Also from "Juju," is Unique Dowtin, as Script Supervisor/Continuity, and Jeff Wilhelm and Mark Mosier, who are doing the stunt work.

I am excited to be working with someone new, Stephanie Refo, who I have assigned as my Assistant Director. More than anything, I am just excited to HAVE an Assistant Director. I didn't know enough at the time to have one on, "Smalltimore," and boy did that make my life a LOT harder than it had to be. Stephanie, along with Lois Tuttle, helped me to round up over a dozen extras before I knew it! Steph seems to be a natural at organizing people, and that is really the gist of being an Assistant Director.

Of course, my trusty sidekick Regina Guy is never out of the loop. She'll be pulling triple duty - helping Michelle load the gear, craft services (though I have a couple of assistants for her that should handle the bulk of it), AND she has a major role in the short itself! Regina has gained quite a bit of acting experience since we shot "Smalltimore" last summer, but this will be my first time directing her.

On the acting side of things, Cheryl Scungio and Johnny Benson return to my set. Can't wait to work with a couple of my, "Smalltimore," stars again! And from "The Rosens," I am borrowing Bobby DeAngelo, Megan Rippey, and David Thornhill, Jr. The gorgeous blonde and resident actress of The Strand Theater, Alex Hewett, is on board, and even Craig Herron of Herron Designs is taking a turn in a small role! Craig is also in the process of designing an ANIMATED logo for my Steel Corset Productions, which I am VERY excited about, and can't wait to show you as soon as it is finished.

I am even borrowing some gorgeous guys in tuxedos from The Prime Rib restaurant (as well as a few menus, for props). And my friend Lisa Knoch is stepping in on her day off from wedding work and the salon to be my Make-Up Artist.

And then there's Michelle... not only is Michelle going to be my DP once again, but she is trying her hand at ACTING for the very first time. Granted, she has been in front of the camera for countless hours while making her award-winning documentary, "Unraveling Michelle," but that was Michelle telling Michelle's story. Though she is playing herself in, "The Red-Headed Menace," acting is a lot different. I, too, am playing myself, and believe me it is going to be a challenge for us both. We were talking about it on the phone the other night, and despite being nervous, she is being a good sport about it. "You stress me, Jeanie!" she whined, but I could tell she was smiling when she said it. "But I heard you when you said, when you took Steve Yeager's [Acting for the Camera] class last fall, that you were pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. I've never done that [acting]. But I will. I'll do it."

I know we'll both be fine, though. In a lot of ways we are cut from the same cloth. I am not always the best party guest. If I don't know anyone at a party, I tend to crawl into my shell. But if it is my party, instinct takes over and the quintessential hostess in me knocks herself out making sure that everyone at my party is comfortable and having a good time. Being on my set is like being at my party (except I'm bossier on the set), so I know I will be fine because I will be setting an example. I don't have the luxury of getting nervous, because since I am also directing, there is no one there to talk me down but me! I had even considered asking Steve to co-direct with me, but I felt like that would be cheating a bit, as the 29 Days Later Film Project is supposed to be more for non-pros, but more so I did not ask him because this is a challenge, and I want to face it. I am really excited that Michelle and I are going to do this together, and proud of us both, too. I think this experience is not only going to make us both better at what we do, but it is going to strengthen both our business-related partnership and our friendship. It means a lot to me that she trusts me enough to put herself out on this limb, with me. Let's hope the bough doesn't break!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

All Systems Go

I am sure I am not the only one who works this way, but I just have to do things when all of a sudden I can't NOT do them anymore. I've been having a very hard time writing this short for the 29 Days Later Film Festival. I've never written a short before and it is HARD, it is hard to decide what to make your story about, and it is very hard to try to squeeze a whole story into 3 to 8 minutes.

The hardest part for me is inventing characters out of thin air. Usually I base my characters on a real person, or more accurately, a combination of real people, OR if I know specifically who will be playing the part, then that makes it a lot easier to write for them, if I know their mannerisms or how they would naturally react to something. Up until yesterday, though I had some ideas, in that I knew the people that I wanted for certain roles, but I had not yet contacted them so I didn't know if they were going to play that part. After a flurry of emails, phone calls, text messages, and Facebook postings, I am happy to report that every single person I set out to get for the principle roles were available, willing, and excited to be a part of it. So now I can really hone the script to them and it is a HUGE weight off me shoulders.

Not only that, but my fellow Baltimore Socialite of the Artistic Circles, Lois Tuttle, put the word out for me as well and set a chain in motion that has rounded me up almost a dozen extras already! Extras are such a tough thing to deal with. Though I know a few people who do a lot of extra work and enjoy it, mostly it is a lot of hurry up and wait for them on the set, and for the director it is an anxiety factor in that you never know if they are actually going to show up. Having little to no extras in the background in scenes that SHOULD have a good number of people is a dead-giveaway that you had no budget to speak of. Having bodies milling about in the background is a lot like having proper lighting: you only notice it if it is absent, AND there is no way to fake it. No one ever looks at a scene and says, wow, look at all those extras in this restaurant, this looks so professional, they must have had a huge budget! But if there is an empty restaurant save for the speaking characters, it can look so fake and terrible, and it stands out like a sore thumb. So I am very happy and send out major thanks to Lois and her friend Steph for rounding up these folks for me!

Also I am psyched that some other people I have worked with on other projects are on board. Fred Baeshe (sound) who is working on the Steve Yeager project, "The Rosens," with me, and Unique Dowtin (script supervisor/continuity), Craig Herron (special effects/CG), Jeff Wilhelm and Mark Mosier (stunts), who all worked with me on the set of "Juju: The Witch Doctor Chronicles"). Plus, of course, my staples, Director of Photography Michelle Farrell and craft services manager Regina Guy, who will also have a nice-sized role in the short. For a small, last-minute, no-budget short, I could not be more pleased with the cast and crew I've assembled. It is such a great feeling when someone says that they really want to work with you, or even better, that they want to work with you again! Makes me feel like I must be doing something right. Can't wait to get back on the set!

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Few More Days of Radio Silence

[Dingman's Falls, near Dingman's Ferry, PA]

Hey. I know, Bad Blogger. I have been both busy and goofing off. At first I was busy-busy, the last few days I have been goofing off-busy. I went up to Mikey's cabin in the Poconos with the intent of getting some writing done, but I convinced Bentley to come with me, so I accomplished nothing in the writing department, but did hit the trifecta of waterfalls on Route 209 (Bushkill, Raymondskill, and Dingman's Falls).

I am SUPPOSED to be writing and directing a short for the 29 Day Film Project, but am having a little trouble writing under pressure. Maybe it is not enough pressure, since it is not the last minute, but since I still have to cast, schedule, shoot, and edit it, I better get a move on. Deadline's August 6th for the finished project. Michelle is shooting for me, and I think I have the key players but will need more soon and when you are scheduling people who are workig for free, it can get rather nighmarish and you have to give yourself a lot of lead time. Sooo, I will not be blogging for at least a few more days, but when I start again, you will get to hear about the new project!

Mikey is working on getting me a graphic artist to design postcards and posters for Smalltimore so I will have marketing for the Indie Fest in California next month. We did not get into Red Rock or Rhode Island, rather bummed about that. I really wanted to go to Red Rock just for the super-cool venue, and Rhode Island was a long shot but I tried it anyway. Some women and comedy festivals have recently opened for submissions, so I sent a few more out. Now that the movie is very,very close to its final tweaks I feel much more confident in the DVDs I am sending out. I think the sound quality may have really hurt us for Red Rock and Rhode Island, but it is MUCH better now. I am pretty proud of the sound, actually, considering I did it all myself. Can't believe how far I have come from the first version!

Okay, really gotta get to work. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, July 9, 2009


[ Bentley at the Dirt Church. No particular reason, other than the plaque on the door behind him is Oh So Bentley.]

Feeling good today. Got a lot of little nagging things off my plate yesterday, but most importantly (1) got the form & photos I need to renew my passport, and (2) a script problem that I had cleared itself up, and I will soon be putting pen to paper.

The passport thing is pretty significant to me. I look at the one I am about to turn in, and I know there are novels crammed in those tiny, dog-eared pages. It was my first passport, issued July 9, 1999. The photo... I was blonde then, and - my friends will find this hard to believe, I know - it was a period in my life when I had absolutely no style whatsoever. My uniform was jeans, tennies, and polo shirts from the gap. Ew, I know.

Traveling, especially to Paris, now my second home, changed me for good. The things I have seen and the people I have met in my two dozen or so trips to Europe... I don't even recognize the person in that photo. It is hard to remember what was important to me back then. I thought I had it together, I thought I was confident. I didn't even know I was stepping off the precipice.

I feel that I am entering another ten-year cycle, and I am in some ways in that place again, but now I am aware. This time, I am leaping off that precipice, knowing that everything is going to change, again, and ten years from now I will look at the photo that today is new, and smile at how innocent I was. I think somehow that my progress in life is not in spite of my naivete, but because of it. Since I rarely think in terms of, "there's no way I could ever do that," it doesn't occur to me until I've finished whatever it was that I shouldn't have been able to do in the first place, that it doesn't make a lot of sense that I got it done, and most often someone else has to point this out to me.

I try very much to appreciate what I have while I have it, and I have these moments once in awhile, when things are going very well, that I soak it all in, recognize how lucky I am, and understand that this will not last. I don't mean that being happy won't last, for the most part it is unnatural for me to be any other way. I mean that this, this exact daily existence, in this town, with these people, in these circumstances, is fleeting.

I had one of those moments last night. I was out in Fells Point with Bentley, who is here for a few weeks from Toronto, again. I was just starting to get used to having him around and he'll be gone by the end of the month, probably until late fall. We got some sushi and then met up with my friend Christie for a drink on the open-air upper deck at Harry's. It was here that I had that moment. Here I was, looking out over a crowd of people on the wharf watching the free movie that had been set up there, a perfect night breeze blowing the fake tropical music through the bar, hanging out with my semi-unemployed artist friend and my self-employed yoga instructor friend. The bar was decently busy but we got a table right away, the waiter was friendly, everything was just so... relaxed. I took it all in, and I consciously said to myself, someday, sooner than I think, this, Baltimore, will just be a fond memory. I need to etch every detail of this into my brain.

I don't know what comes next, but I know I will be fine, I always am. I love Baltimore so much, more than anyplace I've ever lived, but I just have the feeling that by this time next year I will be elsewhere. That's a little scary, but in a good way, that keeps my blood pumping. Just as traveling changed the way I look at everything, the way I think of and carry myself, the way I interpret... everything... making this movie has reinvented me as well. I like it, and I can't wait to see what happens next.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Sunrise, Sunset

[Dawn in Philly, as seen from room 2516 of the Loew's Hotel. You can see all of my Philly and U.K. pics on the "Smalltimore, the Movie" Facebook page - click the link in the right-side tool bar]

Philly already seems like a dream. How is it possible that I was there less than ten days ago?

I did have a great time and I REALLY want to go to that festival again, because I know next year will be even better. I have a few regrets, but they were mostly my fault. I wasn't organized enough before I hit the ground there, didn't have a plan as to what films I wanted to see and which filmmakers I wanted to try to meet, and I didn't have any marketing materials with me, which was a big mistake. Everywhere I went and everyone I met was pure randomness, if that is a word. Usually that works for me, and it was fine this time, but especially because the venues were a little scattered, I would have gotten more accomplished had I mapped things out a bit better. But then again, maybe not. Mikey and I had a really tight but reasonable schedule worked out one day, but the evening before we met some filmmakers whose movie we had not planned to see, and they talked us into it ("Sex. Drugs. Guns."). So we changed our schedule and then in the middle of the next day, we met the filmmaker, O'Shea Read, whose film ("Shipping and Receiving", a short) we had switched out to see the other one! He was very nice and happened to have a DVD of it with him and gave it to us, so in the end it did work out fine.

For that one, anyway. Another movie I wanted to see was Adam Bronstein's, "My Movie Girl." I met Adam at the Opening Night Party. I think he is the first guy I have met that made a feature-length romantic comedy. The plot sounded intriguing, and hysterical, and Mikey wanted to see it also. We blocked it out and showed up at the venue on time, to find out it hand been switched to another time slot (in fairness to the festival, that was at Adam's request). I ran into Adam later and found out that it was rescheduled at 10:00am on Sunday. As much as I wanted to see that movie, that just was not going to happen.

But Adam, and O'Shea (though they have not met), both live in L.A. and said they would try to come to my "Smalltimore" screening next month, so it is all good!

Another filmmaker I met on the first night was Philip Maglieri ("The Alley" - short doc). As it turns out, his film was screening at the same exact time as mine, the venues rather far apart. That was the one I was most disappointed not to see. When Philip and I started talking at the party the first night, I asked him if it was his first festival. He said no, he had just been to one in England. I smiled, as I kind of figured what was coming next. Turns out, "The Alley," screened at Swansea Bay Film Festival in southern England, just a week or so before I was in Tamworth for the Heart of England Film Festival. The two festivals are related and had a lot of cross-over movies. In fact, Nick Hudson, the Director of the HOEFF, had met Philip at Swansea Bay and invited him to screen, "The Alley," in Tamworth. Philip was tempted to come up, but didn't, though Nick still screened the film (I didn't see it). But Philip had met in Swansea some of the same people I made friends with in Tamworth, such as Kent Wall ("Shotgun Jesus") and Vagabond ("Machetero"). It was a very Smalltimore moment. Also, Philip lives in Toronto, where dear old Bentley resides (when he isn't here, which he is now, cuz he just called me).

I did manage to see Jesse Bernstein's short, "Us One Night," since it screened right after mine in the same venue. He is using it as sort of a pre-trailer, he wants to make a feature out of it. It was funny, I hope he does! Met some other cool cats, you can check the pics on Facebook.

I have to admit that though I am trying to concentrate and give you the skinny on Philadelphia, my mind is elsewhere. I am getting (a little too) excited about Indie Fest in California next month. I'll explain in a minute.

During one of my conversations with Philip, I told him that I may be losing my job, and therefore my residence, by the end of the year. He asked me, "Are you worried? Are you a worrier?" I said, "Not really. My life always seems to work out the way it should." And it does, though I think part of that is me not fighting battles for the sake of fighting them, but rather making lemonade when presented with the ingredients. Another case in point is the succession of these festivals. I had a great time in Tamworth, and have been in touch with a few of the filmmakers I met there since I got back. But the audiences were negligible. I was in a fairly good schmoozing mode, though, because I am used to traveling abroad by myself, and I didn't have to deal with big crowds. I know it is ridiculous that I am more at ease in a foreign country than in Philadelphia, but that's just how I am.

Philly was a sizable but not insurmountable step up from Tamworth. Only in its second year, they have some bugs to work out, but it was much larger and much better attended, and the filmmakers had a destination meeting point every evening. I had not psyched myself up to schmooze, though, and I watched others work the room like nobody's business. I hated myself for it, but Mikey was there, and I used him as a crutch. That's my fault, I know better. But I was a little overwhelmed , I guess. It made me determined to make sure that doesn't happen again.

And now comes Anaheim, California. West Coast, baby. Funny thing? Heart of England was its First Annual, Philly Independent was its Second Annual, Indie Fest is its Third Annual. I tried not to get too excited about Indie Fest, because there are SO many fests in California, and this one is rather young. HOEFF, I think, accepted the majority of films that were submitted (don't get me wrong, I saw some great stuff there, but I think percentage-wise, that is the case). Steve, the director at the PIFF (Philly), told me that they had about 400 submissions (including shorts) and accepted about half of them. That gave me a little extra confidence, but still, I guess you could say I had a 50-50 chance of getting in, which is a lot better than most fests. Mine was one of about 65 feature-length, though they seemed to be heavy on the documentaries.

Before I go to a fest, I pick it apart so I can know what to expect and avoid disappointment. How many years has it been running, how organized is the communication, I research the venues, I consider the screening times... Some people that I met in Tamworth and Philly were disappointed in some things, but I managed to avoid that because I didn't have any delusions, and I enjoyed the festivals for what they were.

However... Having gone through the schedule of Indie Fest, out of their 140 selected films, only about 38 of them are feature-length, 8 of those are listed as documentaries, 4 as comedies (including "Smalltimore), and the rest (of those 38) are listed simply as features. Especially considering that "Smalltimore" has the final time slot (coinciding with two other non-comedy feature screenings), and the screening venue is the AMC Disney... I'm starting to feel pretty good about this one. Which means I have to start psyching myself up IMMEDIATELY. So I'll talk at cha later.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Oracle

Wikipedia: An oracle is a person or agency considered to be a source of wise counsel or prophetic opinion; an infallible authority, usually spiritual in nature.

[ANOTHER of my Executive Producers, Tom Kyte, offering me a cherry bomb at the Mount Royal Tavern, a.k.a. The Dirt Church, in Baltimore - photo by Melanie Caffrey]

Okay, I WAS going to write more about my experience in Philly in this posting, and I will get to that eventually, but apparently my last post, or more specifically, the photo caption on my last post, got me into some trouble and I have to make amends.

If you are a regular reader of the blog, you know that there are several Executive Producers (i.e., people who gave me money to make the movie) for SMALLTIMORE. Granted, I do talk about Mikey the most, because, well, I SEE him on a regular basis, even though he lives in NYC, which, if you need a reference point, is much further away, than say, Leesburg, Virginia.

The caption of the previous post starts off with, "Executive Producer Michael Bordenick..." According to another Executive Producer of mine, Tom Kyte, this caption implies that there is only ONE Executive Producer. Of course that was not my intention, and I don't necessarily think that [general interpretation] to be the case, but I see how he could. Tom said I should be talking about him, too, and directing people to his website. I said, "I thought I wasn't allowed to talk about your work?" Either I was wrong, or he changed his mind, so this posting will be All Tom, All the Time.

You see, Tom is a bigwig at Oracle. As in, he is literally the world's leading authority on Oracle. If you are a database engineer, whatever that means, he is a god to you. He is, "Ask Tom." ( He has also written 3 or 4 books on the subject, that, to someone like me, may as well be written in Chinese.

I met Tom at a party at Pitt when I was a senior in high school. The following year, I enrolled at Pitt and went to countless parties at Tom's place, dated his roommate, worked for him at the student union cafe (Tom was Student Manager), and spent most weekends on his couch because my roommates were big fat C-words. Tom taught me how to play Quarters by rolling the quarter off my nose (we kicked major ass together), and he also taught me how to play pool. In effect, these subjects turned out to be sort of a double-major for me, as they were about the only things I learned at college, and skills that I retain to this day.

Tom was my best friend at Pitt. He was, and is, my big brother. He took this position very seriously. He let me take home leftovers from the cafe when I was poor, he made sure no one messed with me when I was on the losing end of a game of quarters, he let me ruin his shirt with mascara when his roommate dumped me and I cried all over him. He also made endless fun of me at any opportunity, kicked my ass at pool relentlessly, and a favorite past-time was locking me in the service elevator at the cafe and turning the light off. He also loved to embarrass me in front of anyone I had a crush on, such as Kip, a gorgeous specimen who worked with us at the cafe. Though I probably couldn't pick his face out of a line-up, Kip's abs were perfection carved in milk chocolate. When we locked up at night, it was Kip's job to mop the floor. This coincided with a daily decline in my level of productivity. Tom addressed the situation. "Kip," he said, "I'm going to have to ask you to mop with your shirt on, so Jeanie can get some work done."

In short, Tom made sure that no one harassed me, except Tom. To this day he likes to tell people I introduce him to that, "Believe it or not," (as soon as I hear this, I know exactly what is coming out of his mouth next), he says, grinning maniacally at me for effect, "I knew Jeanie all the way back when she was a virgin."

Tom and I have stayed in touch all these years, though granted it was pretty loose for a long time. Still we managed to get together once a year or so. A few years ago, when he was going through his divorce, we got in closer touch and ended up hanging out a lot again. Tom's mom was a little worried. "Be careful about the rebound," she said. I am screwing up my face just thinking about that, and I am sure he did the same at the time. "Mom, Jeanie is like the little sister I never had." This did not go over so well when his mom repeated that sentiment to his actual little sister.

Before any aspiring filmmakers out there get any ideas about asking Tom for money for your project, I'll tell you that I don't believe for a minute that he contributed to the making of "Smalltimore," because he gives a flying rat's ass about being involved in making a movie. I'm not even entirely convinced that he was convinced, at the beginning, that I would even get it done. He just did it for me. It is as simple as that, I think.

A lot of people ask me how I was able to get people to hand me the generous checks (3 to 4 zeroes on the end) that Tom, Mikey, and Dan did. Each of them had very different motivations for doing so, but our strong friendships were the common thread. I am extremely lucky and blessed to have these people in my life who love and believe in me as much as these guys do. It is a trust that we have established over many years, and I have other friends who are just as wealthy that I did not approach because I wasn't sure that it would not effect our friendship if I couldn't get them their money back. With Tom, Mikey, and Dan, I know that is not the case. Though of course I am going to make every effort to see that that (getting their money back) happens.

So, my advice is, make friends with the most intelligent people that you can when you are young, because those are the people who will be wealthy when you are older! But mostly, just always put good karma out there, it will come back to you when you need it most, and also don't rely on anyone else's assistance to accomplish your goals. For the most part, I think my guys know that I would get this thing done one way or another. They saw that I was sincere in my vision, and though in some cases I was asking for their help, under no circumstance was I flat-out expecting it. Life is not on a sliding scale, and you should never think that someone should hand you money just because they have a lot more of it than you do. That right there is bad karma, and that will come back to you, too.

Anyway... one of the funniest things about Tom is that, though he loves to try to embarrass me, there is no one that I can make blush faster than him. The above photo is by his standards downright scandalous, and my new favorite. This was taken just this Friday night, when he and his girlfriend visited me in Baltimore (she snapped the photo). Happy now, Tommy? I hope this drives LOADS of people to your websites!