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Sunday, February 27, 2005

finishing the edit

Four months after finishing principle photography on Stomp! Shout! Scream!, I can see the light at the end of the post production tunnel. There’s a fine-tuned rough cut, completed and delivered to soundtrack composer John Ceretta, a long-time Atlanta musician who’s compositions for the Center for Puppetry Arts’ productions have won him tremendous accolades. John has about 6 weeks to deliver his music and at that point I’ll “lock the picture.” That is, I’ll stop messing with it and call it essentially done. Another exciting prospect in the works is having the opening titles animated at Radical Axis, the company that animates Adult Swim shows. Radical Axis principals Scott Fry and Craig Hartin have been great supporters of this project since the beginning and I’m trilled that we’ll be able to work together.

One major goal I had for the film was to be able to show it in theaters, but generally films with small budgets can’t afford to get a negative cut and strike prints. I'm still trying to work out the details, but it looks like I’ll be able to transfer my 35mm negative to High Definition video tape, enabling the final film to be seen big and beautiful. More and more film festivals and theaters are using HD video projectors to show low budget films, and television has developed a voracious appetite for anything HD. These are excellent prospects for getting Stomp! Shout! Scream! seen by as many people as possible.

The next 2 months will be spent putting the final polishes on the film and, like most of the film making process, it’s pretty tedious and not at all glamorous (and, therefore, these journals may not be as frequent). I hope to have a finished film in May, start submitting to film festivals in June, and premiering in the fall. That sure seems like a long ways away, but I’ve been working on this project since January 2003 and it’s no time to get impatient. The time and effort spent over the next few months is some of the most important in the production of this film. A film like this-- a beach party rock and roll monster movie-- has a built-in audience, but also a limited audience. By putting in that extra bit of energy into the fine-tuning of this film, by polishing this thing until it’s the best looking, best sounding beach party monster movie it can be, I can hopefully push Stomp! Shout! Scream! beyond it’s built-in limitations.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Shooting the flashback on 16mm

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Evan Lieberman and I just returned from a quick weekend trip back to Bradenton, Florida to shoot the last scene for Stomp! Shout! Scream! It’s a flashback where John Patterson tells the story of when his parents went into the everglades to collect samples for their lab and disappeared. Their airboat was found adrift with the smell of the Skunk Ape on it and John has been chasing the creature ever since. The scene is only 6 or 7 shots, about 45 seconds in the film, but it’s pivotal in setting up John’s character. Evan and I have decided to shoot it on 16mm film, using the kind of film stock and cameras that were used in the early 1950’s, the era we’re flashing back to. We’ll shoot everything twice-with two cameras (a Bolex and a Bell & Howell) and two different kinds of film.

My best friend from high school, Rhett, helped out when production was in full swing back in October, cooking for the cast and crew. Now, he’s offered up his Dad’s back yard as our location, a canal off the Braden River, a perfect double for the everglades. And he found an airboat for us to use for the shoot, courtesy of his friend who I only know as "Hoss." Absolutely amazing. Rhett will play the Dad in the flashback. My mom is playing the mom. Playing John as a kid is Will Harrison, the 8-year-old son of family friends.

Evan and I shoot for an hour Saturday morning before the “cast” arrives-- beauty shots, swampy detail shots. We go out in Rhett’s dad’s bass boat and get some shots that glide just above the water’s edge. Will, Rhett, and my mom are all good as the flashback actors and we shoot lots of different set ups. At the end of the day, I put on the Skunk Ape outfit and traipse around the palmettos while Evan shoots from the boat. I don’t know where we’ll use it, but you can’t have enough Skunk Ape footage.

All totaled, we shoot about 20 minutes of film. We’re not sure what it’s going to look like, but that’s all part of the fun.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

DAy 11 Recap

DAY ELEVEN (Saturday, October 16)
Locations: Beach, Anna Maria Island, Florida

Our final day of shooting and we have something like 14 pages of script to cover. The long days and nights are starting to wear on the crew. That first day of summer camp attitude is long gone and folks are generally all business. Mostly the attitude is let’s just get this done. Maybe that’s just me, but I’m as ready to wrap this up as anybody. A person can be in charge of everything for only so long.

On set today is my grandmother, Theodora Viola, namesake of the lead character and the fictional band in the movie.

She made a hat out of plastic vines especially for her visit to the set, so she could hide from the Skunk Ape. “Nana” to me, she has invested in the film and has been my greatest supporter in the world. I sent her a script and a picture of the actors we’d cast and she read the script over and over with the pictures of the actors. She was thrilled to meet the cast and everyone on set was immediately charmed by her. There’s a short scene in the film where Deputy Bob has to clear some old folks from the beach, which was the perfect spot for Nana’s cameo appearance. For her scene, she’s sitting in a beach chair with a transistor radio up to her ear and yelling, “What?! What?!” while Bob repeats his lines about the beach being closed. She’s really great in her role and it turns into one of my favorite moments in the film. Later she says that this was the best day of her life.

Early in pre-production, one flaw in the script was brought to my attention. My beach party rock and roll monster movie has no actual beach party in it-- the climatic party takes place at Hector’s garage. All those Frankie and Annette beach party movies were supposedly full of innocent fun, but they still had plenty of scantily clad girls dancing on the beach. It wasn’t appropriate to ask our lead actresses to don bikini and we needed to increase the “jiggle factor’ for potential marketing’s sake. The solution that Evan and I came up with was to change the scene where Bob tries to clear retirees off the beach-- add dancing bikini girls instead of old folks. It wasn’t until noon on our last day of shooting that we actually got our dancing beach girls. They are the baby-sitting friend’s of friend’s of my mom. We had to remove the belly rings and cover up a tattoo or two, but otherwise they were perfect, complete with period bikinis. We shot the dancing scene and got loads of promo pics with them and Ned Hastings in the Skunk Ape outfit. Not surprisingly, this scene also created our largest crowd of on-lookers. In the end, we shot the Deputy Bob scene with both Nana and dancing girls. Both will be in the final film.

Saturday, February 5, 2005

Day 10 Recap

DAY TEN (Friday, October 15)
Locations: Beach, Anna Maria Island, Florida

Nine days into our beach party rock and roll monster movie and finally we get a full day of beach shooting. In fact, the last two days of production are going to be shot right outside of our production office/beach house. That’s the beauty of exterior location shooting (beach, forest, desert), just turn the camera around and you have a whole “new” location. According to Reagan’s script supervisor reports, here’s what we have left to shoot: about thirty pages of script; 34 scenes, approximate 42 minutes of screen time; two more long, long days. The only encouraging thing is that the majority of the beach scenes are walk ‘n’ talk (a favorite of the no budget film, if you haven’t noticed by now), which require little or no coverage. I’ve planned for simple dolly tracking shots that follow along with our actors, no coverage, no cutaways. The actors just do the scene from start to finish one, two, maybe three times and we move on to the next set up. Hopefully the dialog will be interesting enough and the location visual enough that it won’t matter if it’s not the most dynamic in the world.

Biggest potential problem with beach shooting: sand in the equipment. Compounding factor: a stiff, constant wind blowing along the beach all day. The good work of our camera crew keeps anything from going wrong and we have no problems with scratched film or the camera breaking down.

We shoot one of my favorite setups of the whole film Friday afternoon. It’s scene #30, where the police officers and scientist John Patterson examine the mysterious debris for the first time. We set up a fairly square wide shot with the 4 actors standing in a line on the far side of the debris. As John pokes around in the debris, the camera dollies in toward the actors, settling along the side of the debris, ending in a medium profile of John with the policemen reacting right into the camera. When I first saw the film transfer of this scene, I exclaimed, “It’s a real movie! It looks just like a real movie!” The combination of talented actors, good costumes, a camera department that can execute a smooth dolly move (on the cheapest of dolly track in loose sand), a beautiful location and perfect weather makes for a breath-taking shot. Maybe for the average viewer, it just looks like any other movie, but for me, just getting to that ‘just like any other movie’ quality is quite an accomplishment.

Another fun sequence is the scene where Deputy Frank meets his demise at the hands of the Skunk Ape. Just one week before shooting, the actor cast for Frank had to leave the production. The character has just two scenes, but due to the nature of film scheduling, those scenes have to be shot Tuesday and Friday while we’re in Florida. That means a lot of sitting around for an actor that’s killed off on page 10 of the script. At Evan’s encouragement, I cast Assistant Director Alex Orr in the role after one brief phone conversation. [Alex went on to Direct the awesome film Blood Car a couple years after this.] For anyone who has been on a film set, you know how appropriate it is to have a death scene for the AD. His job is to be the bad guy, to yell at the cast and crew, to keep the entire production on schedule. While Alex is incredible at his job-- he’s kept the production moving without any conflicts or breakdowns-- it’s inevitable that he’s going to get on people’s nerves. For his death scene, the script calls for him to walk up to the debris, hear a noise, peer into the debris, drop his flashlight, and get pulled into the debris with a scream. For the last shot, I want a POV shot from inside the debris. Art Director Lisa Yeiser simply makes a wreath of seaweed and palm fronds to put in front of the camera which we set on the ground tilted up. Ned is nowhere to be found, so Lisa dons the gorilla gloves and crouches just out of frame. Alex leans in (cue creepy music)… the hairy hand slowly reaches up… he screams… and cut to the next scene. It’s too early in the film to reveal the Skunk Ape entirely, so keeping him mysterious will hopefully maintain some kind of tension. That is... until the audience sees the $99 gorilla costume. All in all, Friday is one of our best days shooting. We get all the shots we planned and nobody had to say up all night.