After an ambitious pre-production process, we finally got underway with filming The Incredible Search for Jamie Klotz’s Diary on May 24, 2013.
The last time I had really “shot” any sort of narrative piece had been in 2009, working on Adventures in Hot Springs with Jesse Needham, and even though I had done documentary work and music video projects with Sailed to Break and Save the VA, I have to say I was nervous as to whether I could even pull this off. The shooting script was roughly 60 pages long and going by normal movie standards, that meant the movie would be an hour long – a feature film, something I’d dreamed about doing for years, but had never managed to do.
Aspen, Garett, Deana and I met at Chautauqua Park bright and early at 8:00am on May 24, with Aspen bringing along Alex Phelps to play Jamie’s 12-year-old date for a cutaway gag.
Garett did the voice for the frog puppet for the other “bad date” joke and we waited patiently for our original Kaitlyn to join us before our first major scene needed filmed. As it turned out, she’d been called in to work and would be unavailable all day. My stomach dropped.
Of all the problems that plagued every project I’d done thus far, scheduling and people missing shooting was the one that was a cut to the jugular of almost everything. I’d confirmed schedules again and again and again, but convincing a short-staffed employer to let a worker go at the last minute was an impossibility. I talked it over with Deana, and looked at the scenes that were scheduled for the day.
We could try to shoot the scene with Dr. Lawrence cleverly enough so that you never needed to see Kaitlyn and we could shoot shots with Kaitlyn in them later to intercut. After lunch, we would be joined by Bridgett and Michael for the build-up to the climactic battle between Jamie and Sahera… again, nothing with Kaitlyn we couldn’t shoot later. I decided we could make it work and continued to press forward, but I couldn’t help but worry.
As 10:00am rolled around, we headed out to my grandpa’s house on
Fall River Road just outside Hot Springs to meet Matt, who’d driven down from Rapid City and our real first test of filmmaking would be underway: it’s one thing to shoot a couple funny scenes, it’s another to plan a scene that will be shot on two different days and intercut later… on the fly.
Matt joined us and we began filming Dr. Lawrence’s scenes. We felt better as Matt’s positivity combined with the silliness of his character – the large glasses, the intentional campiness, and slight creepiness – made it so we couldn’t stop giggling. We got the silly out the way, tried to think of creative camera placements to avoid showing where Kaitlyn would later be at, and pushed through Matt’s stupendously long-winded exposition dump about the diary and the treasures (a carryover of the expanded backstory from an earlier draft) and just before lunch, we filmed what I had scripted as the heart of the scene: Jamie watering the flowers that Dr. Lawrence can’t get to without getting an electric shock. The payoff to this would be Dr. Lawrence noticing her kindness and repaying it by tweaking the watch before handing it over to Dorn.
I had no idea how to handle the special effect of Dr. Lawrence going 2D, so I improvised. We had Matt make the poses and I just filmed the poses, followed by a blank “plate” of the background.
We broke for lunch around 2:00pm and everyone took a lunch as we waited for our villain, portrayed by Michael Minor, to arrive. As it turned out, Michael was delayed in his travel so he didn’t arrive until about 4:30pm. Because of the delay, and because we only had one day shooting with Matt and Michael, we rushed through the scene in which Dorn was supposed was to confront Dr. Lawrence and fill in a little plot of why Dorn himself was looking for the treasure.
Because we rushed it, some alternate angles were missed and we never got Michael saying some of his most important lines onscreen, just Matt’s reaction. However, I didn’t realize this until well after filming was complete.
Bridgett, our most amazing actress who would be playing the
sorceress Sahera, arrived as we were shooting that scene and we snapped off a couple pics before we headed back into town and sent Matt back home, his scenes having been completed.
At 5:00pm, running way later than I had expected and having cut an entire scene (set at a hotel where Jamie and Kaitlyn would sneak into Dorn’s room and overhear his evil plans) due to delayed and missing cast members, we met up with Aspen at Chautauqua Park and filmed part of a scene where Dorn steals Jamie’s collected treasures and sends her into another dimension. As the ending of a chase scene that we had yet to choreograph around the location, I put Aspen in a place where I figured she would have just finished beating up Isaiah’s character and had her turn around to find herself face to face with Michael. I made a mental note of how we would need to film the rest of the scene later to get her to that spot.
While the shots didn’t take long at all, the herding of actors and crew actually burnt up quite a bit of time between locations. We left Chautauqua around a quarter to six, picked up Sam Martin along the way, who wanted to observe, and by the time we arrived at Cold Brook and got back into the walk-in area it was already nearly 6:00pm. I was grateful for the long late spring day that let us film later in the day, but I was in full panic mode that we wouldn’t get everything shot with Michael that was needed before he left, and then that was compounded as we encountered a diamondback rattlesnake just a short ways off the walk-in trail.
While it was easy to avoid and wasn’t aggressive at all, it triggered a realization to me that I hadn’t in my life thought of before: I am responsible for the people on my set, and especially these kids. I am entrusted with their safety and well-being. Suddenly the project, which up till then had felt like an extension of the silly Adventures in Hot Springs videos I’d done years earlier, felt significantly different.
I set up several shots, again knowing they’d be intercut with shots of
Kaitlyn and Dorn’s two lackeys. The final shot of the day was the shot of Michael and Bridgett as Sahera throws Dorn off into the distance. Again, I had no idea what I was doing or how I was going to pull off this shot. We had Bridgett pretend to throw Michael and he basically ran backwards until he was out of the shot. It looked really silly and I was so worried and distracted that we wrapped the day and I completely forgot to film all of the scenes with Dorn talking on the phone with Ryan & Eric.
We wrapped around 6:20pm and sent everyone home… and rather than going home and collapsing, I immediately unloaded all the video and began not only watching, but editing. I wanted to see what shots looked good, what didn’t. Whether this whole thing would work at all or not.
LESSONS LEARNED FROM DAY ONE:
-Be ready to think on your feet. And not just about the normal stuff like camera placement, cast, or making sure you have everything with you. Be flexible enough to completely change your approach to shooting a scene and meet it as a challenge.
-Have someone around who can make the best of a bad scenario or has a great sense of humor, but can still be serious when you need.
-Make sure your actors have memorized their lines, or in the worst case scenario have at least read the script and have a passing knowledge of a gist of something close to the written line. Nothing worse than struggling longer than needed for an unprepared actor. But the burden for their lack of preparation is on you as a director, not something to blame them for.
-Plan shots, especially effects shots, ahead of time. We didn’t storyboard JKD but it worked to our advantage since so much changed on the day of, dropping scenes left and right, but there were certain scenes that it would have helped on.
-Along with that last thought, planning or at least keeping track of coverage will help you make sure you don’t miss anything you might need later on during post.
-People are slow movers, especially when they are socializing. If you’ve got a lot of locations to get to but not a lot of time, set ground rules in advance or designate tasks so that people are using time judiciously.
-Don’t put your actors or crew in danger. No story is worth it.
-If you can, watch dailies to get a feel for what’s working and what’s not. You’d be surprised what even minor things you can pick up on to apply on the next day’s shoot.