Friday, July 29, 2011

Production Journal, Heartbreak in ? Cuts: The 5D Has Entered the Room

It's been a hectic day. It takes fucking forever to get places in Los Angeles. It's an art to keep your wits driving around this town.  The equipment is safely in my house, I have all the props and now all I need is to clean the house and dress the set.

If I prayed, I'd pray that the actress show up safe and sound on set tomorrow.  That's it.

I've always said all I need to make a movie is me, a camera and an actor. You keep the gun Monsieur Godard.

Let's get this very exclusive party started.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Production Journal, Heartbreak in ? Cuts: Lighting the Puppy

Last night I attended the “Indie 101” class at Film Independent. It’s really geared for beginning filmmakers who really have no idea about much. Even though I knew most of the information I learned some cool tips and tricks (which I will share later) to achieve a more cinematic look, got to see the 5D Mark II up close and in action and learned how to operate the sound equipment and LED-Z Brute lighting kit. The LED-Zs are a pretty cool bunch. Best part? They won’t blow my house’s circuits. I still need to remember to find the breaker though.

I wanted to make love to the 5D right then and there. My love is unconditional. I know she’s not going to make things easy for me like a proper video camera would, but the results are worth all the foreplay. Once I figure out how to make her tick, I’m set. I know she can blow my mind and love me back once she gets to know me.

OK, end of not-so-pithy sexual metaphor.

So, I went home really excited about shooting with the 5D that I could not sleep. My mind was filled with ideas for shots, and focal lengths and stylish sequences but—


I need to keep in mind that just because I can get all these beautiful shots doesn’t mean I should. That’s not what the story is about. I need to remember to reign myself in. I’ve worked really hard not to be so self-indulgent when it comes to directing. I’m not shooting a cinematography reel here.

Story before style! Remember what’s important.

(But you can be sure I’ll try to find a way to sneak them in. At least in an early edit just to get it out of my system.)

I guess the only things left to worry about are:

1. The actress showing up. I recently learned that people do, in fact, get appendicitis right before a shoot.
2. Pepa standing still long enough for me to get her shots.
3. Lighting Pepa. I’ve never lit a black dog before and I’m concerned about the details in the black.

I just wish I didn’t have to clean the house and do laundry today.

Oh, and I just realized my whole crew's last name is Ruiz. No relation. Cute.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Production Journal, Heartbreak in ? Cuts: Money's in the bank

It’s been a good day as far as pre-production goes. Along with a check, I received the note above from the other producers of the film. “Put your best in this project.” I’m putting all of me into this project. It’s personal in many ways.

I decided I might as well run errands during my lunch hour. First deposit the check and then go the Public Library to pick up a prop. Because I’m a dummy, I didn’t wear flats. Oh well.

The weather is glorious today. I feel sorry for anyone that doesn’t live in Southern California.

The library is gargantuan and intimidating, but also pretty amazing.  I wish I worked closer so I could take my lunch there every day. 
Getting the book was super easy.  I called it in and they had it waiting for me at the desk.  Also, they have convenient check out scanners.  I love that place.  Why can’t everything be that easy?

This is the prop by the way:

And since it was lunch time and Mendocino Farms just happens to be across the Library, I had to treat myself to a Pork Belly Banh Mi; their  playful take on the Vietnamese sandwich with braised, caramelized kurobuta pork belly, housemade pickled daikon and carrots, cilantro, cucumbers, jalapenos, chili aioli on panini grilled ciabatta.
So yeah, two less things to worry about.  Tonight is off to Film Independent for an equipment orientation. This is where I start to get paranoid.

No. 4: I Hate LA because...(Muses)

Angelenos are apathetic to the homeless.

Up until last year, I had only heard of the famous Los Angeles Skid Row and I came upon it accidentally on my way to a rave (don’t ask). My friends and I had to walk 15 blocks across downtown LA (don’t ask) to get to the rave. We walked and walked and walked and suddenly tents started to appear on the sidewalk. Holy shit. One thought and one thought only took over my brain: I will never complain about anything ever again. Then we walked by a shelter or mission, as that one was called. It was full and they were turning people away. I thought, “Wow, I was really short changed in the human being department. Why wasn’t I born one of those people working in there and dedicating their life to help the unfortunate? Such work is infinitely more significant than texting aid to the Red Cross. Fuck you God.” Then, I just thought, “I’m going to a fucking rave I didn’t want to go to in the first place, my heels are killing me and I’m sleepy and hungry.” I longed for my fluffy, cozy bed.

I’ve always been fascinated and intrigued by the homeless and I’ve had many interesting (and sometimes funny) encounters with people living on the streets. They have become my muses.  I love to observe them because they do really interesting stuff that is far removed from daily superficiality. During my runs, I try to take routes where I know I’m going to come across them. It seems I’m looking for life as performance; a sort of ongoing live documentary because I believe the meaning of life is found within these fleeting moments.

The underpass under the bridge is becoming populated.* I call it "Silverlake Hotel." Every evening I notice more tenants, more carts, and, furniture. Yes, furniture; armchairs, mattresses even a broken dresser. Last night was particularly fascinating. Along with the lounging men, there were two emaciated blond women smearing foundation on their leathery faces. They did not look any different than any ordinary woman applying make up getting ready for a night on the town. I slowed down, trying to make up my mind whether to stop or not. I wanted so much to ask them questions. But I didn’t. I just kept on running.

I’ve thought about taking a camera on my run, but I change my mind at the last minute. I’m not sure if what I see should be photographed, even though I am dying to document it. Besides, no one but me cares about this and how I perceive life. Still, I want to hang on to these images. It seems they’re worth something.

*Note: I took these photos last week on a walk with my dog.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Production Journal, Heartbreak in ? Cuts: Daggers

I wish I could have been more productive this past weekend because I still have a lot to do in preparation for the shoot this Saturday. I had no idea transferring five rolls of super 8 film to digital would take five hours of my day. It was free, yes, but sometimes it’s better to pay than have to wait for little ole ladies that got there before you to transfer their home movies from 1965. It wasn’t all bad though. I read a whole book (How to Heal the Hurt by Hating) and I got to chat with Moy, the Levi’s Film Workshop volunteer filmmaker that was helping us with the transfer.

I’m always a bit stunned when I come across genuine, passionate people who love to serve and share their knowledge. Moy is a film enthusiast and cinematography student at a college in Los Angeles. We started to chat about the film labs around town and when I complained about Pro8’s shitty customer service he was shocked. He has been dealing with them and the other labs for a long time and told me they give him great rates. That’s when he told me he teaches cinematography workshops on the weekends for free. He believes knowledge should be shared generously and free of charge. (And so do I. This is why I have this blog that no one reads.) He also showed me some of his films on his iPhone. One of them was what he called “anamorphic super 8.” He has been experimenting with anamorphic adapters on super 8 cameras. WHAT? My jaw dropped and my mouth watered with anamorphic super 8 envy.

When I got home I was too mentally exhausted to go prop hunting so I decided to work on the art work for the location.  But not before procrastinating by preparing the slate.

Later that evening I got up the courage to ask San Diego-based musician Nena Anderson for permission to use one of the songs from her latest album. This is always a tricky endeavor because event though you wouldn’t know it from looking at me, I’m pretty shy. It worked really well when I propositioned the Truckee Brothers and I was hoping Nena would say yes. I had already played the song over and over and visualized it along with the film’s images and credits and I was pretty married to the idea.

I’m a firm believer in using original songs and music from indie musicians and composers. Why use a copyrighted song you’re never going to get the rights for anyway instead of giving talented people a chance to showcase their work? It’s pretty tacky and lazy.

This is the email I sent to Nena:

Hi Nena.

As you know, I love your new album and my favorite song is Daggers. It came into my life at the right time: heartbreak. Ha ha ha.

Anyway, I'm shooting a short film next Saturday. It's a comedy called "Heartbreak in __ Cuts." The blank refers to the number of cuts in the editing, so I won't know until the film is finished. It's about a freshly-dumped girl dealing with a broken heart in one day. I think Daggers would be perfect and I would love it if you'd let me use it with film festival rights.

The film is already slated to screen at the Broad Humor Film Festival in Venice and at a curated film exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego in La Jolla in August. And I plan on submitting to Sundance and other comedy and shorts film festivals.

I hope you're having a nice weekend and to hear from you soon.

Cheers, Teri

Within half an hour, she replied yes and asked me to send over a release. I jumped from my seat elated and of course Pepa got up instantly and we danced and danced across the wooden floor.

Listen to "Daggers" and the whole Beyond the Lights album HERE

So things are coming along pretty nicely and I can’t help but being paranoid. What will go wrong? Other than being dumped by my boyfriend who was supposed to produce the film that is.

Stay tuned.

* * *

P.S. If he were not dead, today would be Stanley’s birthday.

A film is - or should be - more like music than like fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings. The theme, what's behind the emotion, the meaning, all that comes later. -- Stanley Kubrick

Monday, July 25, 2011

No. 3: I hate LA because…

It fucking made me cry over an $88 parking ticket. In front of the fucking meter maid.

Every morning I stop at a corner coffee shop, run in and get my espresso. Sometimes there’s parking and sometimes there isn’t so I just park in the red zone because it only takes a minute or two to do my business. The door was barely 10 feet away from the car and meter maid A. Sanchez could have peeked in and said “I’m about to give one of you a ticket.” But no. Instead he entered my license plate at lightning speed since it was literally one minute between the time I got out of the car and the barista alerted me of his presence. He said he wasn’t trying to be an asshole. I wanted to say, you’re right. You’re not trying. You are an asshole. Instead, my emotions got the best of me and I couldn’t hold back the tears. He said “you can go back in and get your coffee, just leave the ticket on the windshield.” What da fuck. I told him I just wanted to get out of there. He looked at me as if he had never seen a woman cry over a ticket. Right.

Or maybe I was just crying because, despite all my efforts in the past four weeks, I still love him.

Happy Monday.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Production Journal: Prequel film stills

Living in Los Angeles forced me to find the beauty in everything. This practice became a tool to keep my sanity. It’s not easy. Almost everything in this city is ugly, dirty, mean and difficult.

Cassavetes: Shadows (Lelia Goldoni Q&A)

This set of videos is from the Lelia Goldoni Q&A before the screening of Shadows back in March at the Cinefamily. Stay tuned for video from the Seymor Cassel, Ben Gazarra, Gena Rowlands Q&As and more. It was an amazing series.  The Cinefamily is putting on some great stuff and you should check it out.

Part 1: Introduction

Lelia talks about her memories of The Silent Film Theatre (now The Cinefamily)
"...films that are important for people who want to be artists to see."

Part 2

The origins of Shadows, leaving Los Angeles for New York and meeting John.

Part 3

"It seemed to me that he was always in a state of discovery, which I think life is actually all about."

Part 4

"There was no character to discuss. It was us."

Part 5

"When you're in a circumstance with those who you know and trust, you are likely to dare to do things more on a personal level."

Part 6

"It was the doing of it."

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Art in the Streets

If you're in Los Angeles or near by, don't miss MOCA's Art in the Streets exhibition. It ends August 8th. It's one of the best exhibits I've ever seen.

From the website:

Art in the Streets is the first major U.S. museum survey of graffiti and street art. Curated by MOCA Director Jeffrey Deitch and Associate Curators Roger Gastman and Aaron Rose, the exhibition will trace the development of graffiti and street art from the 1970s to the global movement it has become today, concentrating on key cities such as New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, London, and Sao Paulo, where a unique visual language or attitude has evolved. The exhibition will feature paintings, mixed media sculptures, and interactive installations by 50 of the most dynamic artists and will emphasize Los Angeles's role in the evolution of graffiti and street art, with special sections dedicated to seminal local movements such as cholo graffiti and Dogtown skateboard culture. A comprehensive timeline illustrated with artwork, photos, video, and ephemera will provide a historical context for the work.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Production Journal (Heartbreak in ? Cuts*): I am NOT alone.

Ok, so I was making a list of all the stuff I need to do this weekend for my shoot next Saturday and of course I start freaking out. It’s been a while since I shot a film with actors and a crew and I had forgotten what freaking out feels like. I freak out in silence by the way. No one has ever seen me freak out. Well, my dog Pepa saw me four weeks ago when my boyfriend dumped me and it’s funny because what a coincidence that’s what my comedy short is about. *wink*

I’m not freaking out over the stuff I have to do. I just have to do it. But making a list of stuff I have to do makes me think about the unknowns. In this case, they are big fucking unknowns. I’m working with two actors I’ve never worked with before. The female lead is great, funny and quirky and I’m not worried she’ll deliver. Still, I don’t know what it’s going to be like working with her. I don’t want to disappoint her. The other actor is Pepa.

The biggest unknown is working with a brand new camera. I wouldn’t have an issue with a film camera, but I’m using the Canon 5D Mark II DSLR. It’s not a proper video camera and, frankly, the post production issues I’ve heard about are giving me nightmares. (Last night I dreamed I had sex with Morley Safer because he was an expert on the camera. Yup. Whore for film.) I confess that I lack in post production expertise. Start talking about compression rates and smoke starts to come out of my ears.

So while I was beginning to hyperventilate in silence, I check my email and see that my friend Giancarlo Ruiz can come and help me with the shoot next weekend. You cannot imagine the relief I felt. Giancarlo is a filmmaker from Mexico and he does it all; well-rounded artistically and technically savvy as well. You have to be that kind of filmmaker when your resources are limited. Earlier this week I told him about my neuroses about this shoot and he replied to me with long, jargon-filled paragraphs about how to handle the heavy footage from the 5D. I freaked out even more and that’s when I asked him to participate. And now I have the good news that he is and I can relax for a bit.

Now I just basically have to worry about making Tic Tacs look like sleeping pills and Pepa hitting her marks.

Tomorrow it’s off to telecine the super 8 footage for Prequel, the other film.

*Note: The question mark refers to the number of cuts in the edit, which is unknown at this time.