Hello Friends, Family and Random Strangers!
I’ve been working on an exciting new project for the last several weeks and it’s time I give you the down-low!
“Welcome to the World” is a new webseries consisting of 2-3 minute webisodes that follow the ups-and-downs of a group of college seniors and their initiation into the real world! (Close to home, huh?) Over winter break, my friends Trevor and Peter came up with the idea to do a video series in the style of web comics.
Front is Peter, back is Trevor (at a party two weekends ago in NYC). They are inseparable BFFL’s and probably spend more time together than the Olsen Twins. Peter and Trevor both graduated from BU COM last year (2010) with degrees in film. I worked with Peter this summer at Rule | Boston Camera, where he now works full-time as an engineer / technician. Trevor is an Apple store techy / freelance cameraman and has interned at Rule | Boston Camera as well.
Peter and Trevor asked my friend Julian (the director of The Long Way, as you may recall) to write the first five episodes of their web comic. Originally they were planning on having different directors, different writers and different styles each month, but we’re not sure if that will be the case after all. They asked me to direct because Trevor is much more interested in being the DP and Peter is much more interested in editing / ACing (Assistant Camera). Our friend Zack will be the gaffer (head of the lighting crew) and our friends Kathy and Dimitri will be sound recordists. Julian and I are part of Mountain Fish Productions and Trevor, Peter, Zack, Dimitri and Kathy are part of 18% productions, hence the combined name of 18% Mountain Fish. We’re shooting February 11th-13th, and although I’m very excited, there is still so much left to be done. Here’s what we’ve done in preproduction so far:
After Julian sent us the first draft of episodes 1-5, our first task was to go through the script with a fine tooth comb and work with Julian to make improvements. One of the most obvious problems that we needed to fix was that the first 5 episodes take place during graduation weekend but we are shooting in February… hence, there will be a TON of snow still on the ground and this just isn’t realistic. We had three options: 1. Take a vacation and shoot the whole thing in Florida, 2. Shoot all the outdoor scenes using green screen (Chromakey) technology and have Peter spend hundreds of hours building all the exterior scenery using CGI (Computer-Generated Imagery– think Titanic or Avatar), or 3. Rewrite parts of the script so that the outdoor scenes take place inside, and eliminate the believability problem of mountains of snow in “May.” As you can imagine, we chose the most feasible option: #2. Best of luck Peter with all that CGI.
Joking, we talked with Julian and he re-situated a scene that takes place on a basketball court to a living room and a scene that takes place on the front steps of an apartment to a vestibule of an apartment. Interesting that we had the opposite problem of the Oscar-nominated film The Social Network. Shot in Harvard during the summer time, the bulk of the action is supposed to take place during the winter, so they had to add breath digitally in post-production (and it was terribly obvious / distracting).
Anyway, script revisions. The rest of the script revisions were mostly action based– tweaking minor things until they had the best punchlines or dialogue. On the whole, though, Julian had a pretty solid first draft and we did not have to revise much.
Casting was one of my primary jobs as the director during pre-production. Unlike The Long Way and many other films I’ve worked on, we had absolutely no actors in mind for specific roles, so we had to post ads on popular websites like Craigslist, Boston University Casting and New England film and hope for the best. We held two different casting calls at BU and dozens of people showed up for the following roles:
– Caitlin (22)– young, sweet and caring- she is the glue that holds the group of friends together during such emotional times. Caitlin’s birthday happens to fall on graduation– “lots of big days all at once” for her.
–Liza (22)– impulsive and emotional, Liza has the best of intentions but is often unable to communicate well with others. Liza is in love with her oldest friend, Andrew, but he’s dating another girl, Claire. Liza has a very hard time containing her jealousy.
–Tom (22)– Tom is a pretty easy-going character who is best friends / roommates with Pat. Although he wants to be a professional photographer, Tom is getting a degree in engineering because he thinks he will never make money through his passion.
–Pat (22)– a mysterious druggie who secretly has his shit together better than the rest of the characters.
–Andrew (22)– Andrew is another average dude trapped between two women– his controlling girlfriend, Claire, and his jealous best friend, Liza.
–Claire (22)– Andrew’s girlfriend who is moving across the country after graduation.
–Brock (25)– An overly confident sexual beast, Brock tries to seduce a desperate Liza in the bedroom.
For each audition, we had the actor read through “sides” (a short portion of the script) for a particular character and then I gave them direction based on their first read. Then the actors read through it again so we could see how malleable they are and how willing / successful they are at taking direction. For most actors and actresses, we had them read multiple parts so we could see if they would be a better Liza or a Caitlin, or a Brock or a Tom, for instance. After auditioning many actors, we reviewed the tapes and realized we had put together a great cast Most of our actors and actresses are involved in the theater departments from neighboring schools (Harvard, Emerson, etc.). We will be holding rehearsals this weekend.
Because we are poor college students / post-grads, we did most of our location scouting from the comfort of our own homes. For episodes one through five we need 2 living rooms, 2 bedrooms, a kitchen, a bathroom and a foyer. Surprise surprise, we’re using Peter’s living room, kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and foyer, my living room and Trevor’s bedroom. Although it would be great to have more exciting / interesting locations, this will definitely work out for the best because we have unlimited access to them and they are free to use / change however we need. Our poor roommates will just have to put up with us. I’m hoping that when we do more episodes (whether or not I’m directing), that we will be able to have exterior locations, but for the purposes of our script (as I mentioned in the “revisions” section), dreary snow-covered Boston will just not work.
CAMERA TESTS: I’ve already written one blog about camera testing for “Welcome to the World” and it can be found here. But for you nerdy people who want more information on our camera testing, this is what we did and why: For this set of episodes, we are shooting on the new Alexa camera by Arri. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, the Alexa is the new, kick-ass, top-of-the-line digital camera that will probably be the end of film (shame). Luckily, we have the resources to get an Alexa from Rule | Boston Camera (another shameless plug) so I can pretty much guarantee it will look AWESOME. However, the only weekend we could do camera tests the Alexa was rented out, so we decided to do tests using the RED One Camera with the Mysterium-X chip and the new Panasonic AG-AF100 camera.
Let me back up first– you might ask, Helena, why are you shooting on digital cameras? You’re a film major. Well, we are too damn poor for film. One roll of 16mm film (~10 min) costs over $100… and then you can tack on another hundred (at least) for processing and transfer. With a series like this, we would be spending thousands of dollars on film. Just for The Long Way, we used 9 rolls of film and the final product is 10 minutes long. No wonder people are so excited about the digital revolution.
Anyway, back to camera testing– we decided to test the cameras for two main reasons: #1: We may want to use either the RED or the Panasonic AG-AF100 for future episodes, so we want to see how they handle different ranges of exposure (in simple terms– are the brights too washed out and are the darks too dark, is it too “noisy” etc.), Trevor is particularly interested in how they handled areas of underexposure because he is completely obsessed with Gordon Willis, the very famous DP of films like The Godfather, Annie Hall and Manhattan. If you watch any of Willis’s films, you will notice than he likes wide shots with significant areas of underexposure. In film, you can usually bet on five stops of latitude in either direction– under or over-exposures. But how much can you see on digital before everything loses definition? #2: How do they look when compressed and streamed online? Because our series will be delivered online, we had to test what we could get away with exposure-wise, considering there is a vast difference between what you can see on your laptop (after various degrees of compression) and what you can see on the big screen. If we realized that you can only see 6 stops of latitude well online, then we should base our lighting decisions on this knowledge during production. Basically, in camera testing, you’re covering your ass before you even step on set.
How we did it: First we designed a lighting set up such that there was a huge range of exposures within one frame– several stops below exposure and several stops above exposure. Operating both cameras at the same time, Trevor moved through the frame (from front to back) so that we could better see the wide range of exposure values. After we loaded the clips onto Peter’s computer, we could compare the dark areas on one camera to dark areas on the other, and so on. Also, many cameras have a variety of “shooting modes.” We tested three of the different modes for the Panasonic AG-AF100: HD Norm, Cinelike D and Cinelike V and found that we had the best flexibility in post-production with HD Norm, even though Cinelike D is recommended by the manufacturer for a more filmic look. For the RED camera, we shot everything using RED RAW. Not surprisingly, we found that the $25,000 RED camera with $30,000 Cooke 4/i lenses significantly outperformed the $5,000 Panasonic AG-AF100 camera. Big surprise. What I would be very curious to see is how the AG-AF100 compares to popular DSLRs, such as the Canon 7D, 5D Mark II or T2i. Clearly the AG-AF100 is superior in form factor, but other than that, I was pretty unimpressed.
Peter is supposed to put the results from our shoot online any day now, and when he does, I’ll put the link here.
SHOT LISTING / STORYBOARDING
Because we are SO tight on time (15 pages of script in 2.5 days!), it is extremely crucial that Trevor, Peter and I worked out a very specific plan for our camera work. Night after night this week, we’ve worked together on deciding how to shoot each scene, how it will cut together, how to light it and what equipment to use. Trevor took detailed notes so that we will be able to work most efficiently and successfully on set. However, this was clearly extremely exhausting for him:
If you’re a filmmaker, I’m sure you’re familiar with this common syndrome: preproduction fatigue syndrome. Pretty adorable, but not very effective He will probably yell at me for posting this picture tomorrow when he wakes up. Apologies, Trevor.
SCHEDULING / BUDGETING
Finally, the boring stuff. Scheduling / budgeting. Unfortunately, because we do not have a producer, us three creative types are having to do the dull stuff– breaking down the script, figuring out how to schedule the shoot, and figuring out how to budget the series (speaking of which– if any of you want to send us money, that would be MUCH appreciated, haha). To breakdown a script, you go scene by scene and highlight specific elements– cast members present, extras needed, special effects, stunts, props, hair/makeup, costumes, sound effects, special equipment, etc. You also count the number of 1/8ths of a page for each scene (don’t ask me who decided on this system). For instance, if the scene is one page, you are shooting 8/8ths of a page. Silly? Perhaps. But standard. All scripts are divided in such a manner because it gives the producers and assistant directors a better estimation of time and effort required for a scene. Then, when I went to schedule the series (which, like most films/tv shows, is shot completely out-of-order), I took into account first and foremost: 1) The location, 2) which actors are needed and 3) How long the scene is. I scheduled 2 page scenes with many actors for more time than 4 page scenes with 2 actors. Hopefully in the end everything will work out well and we’ll have plenty of time. They say in Hollywood one of the most important things for a director is to come in under-budget and ahead of schedule– producers will love you for it.
Well, folks, that’s all for now. I hope you have enjoyed this EXTREMELY lengthy update on “Welcome to the World.” I’ll be sure to post another good one after we’re done shooting next weekend Wish me luck!
Until then, H