So I just finished my first 35mm feature; it was my 8th feature (everything else has been 16 or HD).
I'd INTENDED to keep a weekly journal during prep and production, but we had an odd overnight schedule that threw a wrench in that plan, so instead I was sporadically jotting things down and then filling in the holes during my days off.
Even though we wrapped, I thought they might be of interest, so here they all are.
WEEK ONE OF PREP
So it's all official - the first week of prep is behind me and three weeks from now I start principal photography on "Leaving Barstow". The production decided to add another week of prep to the shoot (I find some humor in the fact that the prep is longer than the show).
This is my first 35mm feature; it's a small, quiet character-driven story - very dialogue heavy and entirely performance based, but the director has an extremely strong and distinct visual tone in mind. We're shooting 106 pages in 18 days, so it'll be a fast shoot. It's very low budget (under 500K as I understand it) - I don't believe we should be shooting on 35mm given the budget, but we're obligated to because of a contractual agreement (at least that's my understanding).
The past week was spent getting up to speed with the production; some meetings with the director to talk about his ideas and the story, producer meetings about budgets for all the departments, some crew interviews, etc. This coming week will involve selecting vendors (camera, G&E, lab, stock, etc) and booking the crew; I'll also be spending time with the Production Designer and hopefully we'll squeeze in some location scouts.
I thought I might share a few things that are making prep much easier for me; hopefully someone will find these of use.
If you don't own EP Scheduler, do yourself a favor and buy it now. It's the newer version of Movie Magic Scheduler. Every AD uses this program to schedule and prep a show, but it holds enormous power for Cinematographers (and most folks I suppose) as well. It's pricey but I think very much worth it. After the 1st AD breaks down the show, I ask them to send me the files. Every scene has its own breakdown sheet that details EVERY single element from EVERY department that's involved in that scene; it also notes day/night, int/ext, the page count, a brief scene description, etc. I can take the 1st AD's breakdown and reorganize the categories to suit my needs - I create categories for special equipment (by department), additional day-players (also by department), story notes, technical notes, what film stock I'll use, lab & post notes, aesthetic approaches, etc. When I'm done, I have an EXTREMELY detailed breakdown of every scene in the movie. Not only do I now have a solid plan for how to approach the film, but I can also clearly communicate with the UPM all of my needs in advance (ie- I need a condor for the following days, I have this many additonal man-days, I need to rent an 18K on the following 3 days only, etc). As the schedule changes, you can update it with a few simple clicks and in turn be able to alter your reservations for additional equipment/crew. This can help save the production quite a bit of money, it puts you in good standing with the UPM, and your crew is always aware of what's going on (you can save everything as a PDF and send it off to your department heads). It's very valuable - I can't say enough about it. Information is the greatest power you can have on (and off) a set. You can go to entertainmentpartners.com and download a free demo version ? you can only open it 20 times before it locks up, but at least you can try it before you buy it.
Sunpath is another amazing piece of software, and for only $99 it's a steal. The compass clinometer is a bit pricier (I suggest the Suunto Combo - it's a little pricey, but it's a long term investment and it pays for itself very fast). With the software and the compass, you can accurately plan your days around the position of the sun. You can tell where the sun will be (and I mean EXACTLY where it will be) and when exactly it'll be there; you can chart the sun's position in 15 minute increments by both Altitude (the sun's height) and Azimuth (the sun's horizontal position) This can be done on tech scouts, so weeks (or months) in advance you can plan your shooting days - you'll know when the sun is going to come through a window at your day interior location, you'll know the trajectory of its movement, and you'll know how long it'll be shining across that back wall before it moves on. For day exteriors this is invaluable, and for day interiors it can be wildly useful too. I used it on my last show to save about 4 hours of intensive rigging (not to mention about $1500). Check out their website ? www.wide-screen.com. You can also find the software and different compasses at http://filmtools.com/comandin.html.
Google Earth is also very useful - if you don't have this program, go to google.com and download it; it's FREE! It's surprisingly accurate. Since it provides a very detailed overhead view of pretty much anywhere in the world, it's very useful for planning large night exteriors (where lighting units will go, genny placement, etc). In general it's very useful to help you work with production on parking (to avoid trucks appearing in your day exterior shots or through windows in your interiors). For driving scenes it can also be useful to determine the best routes to go. Since you can add notes to any spot on the map, you can also make detailed location notes based on scouts. It's also helpful for those of us who get lost easily on our way to set in the morning.
WEEK TWO OF PREP
And another one bites the dust..........well, another week anyways. Two weeks down and two weeks to go until we start shooting.
The great news that came out of last week is that I hired my Key Grip and Chief Lighting Technician. Both are new people for me that I've never worked with before, but they're both wildy experienced and I feel I'm in great hands with them. I was starting to sweat a little about finding crew (there were some political issues to deal with and then a number of people were already booked on other things), so it's reassuring to know that my crew is really solid and all set.
I'm a bit concerned this week that we don't have more locations to consider; we only went on our first scout last Friday and of the three places we saw, one was fantastic, one was pretty good, and the other left a lot to be desired. Since we're getting closer to the shoot date and there are still so many matters to be addressed, I'm feeling that vibe that sometimes happens where people are willing to sign off on a location even if it isn't right - they just want a place, any place, to shoot. Barring aesthetic and story matters (which should fundamentally be the primary factors in my opinion), there are logistical concerns to address as well - one location that I fear I'll be forced to shoot in is going to be expensive from a rigging stance, and even after that it'll be limiting in what we can do lighting-wise. The problem isn't our location manager (who's really great given how little he has to work with), it's more the issue of how expensive locations in LA are. I still find great humor in how DIFFICULT it is to make a movie in the movie capital of the world........
Still no word on who will be providing cameras - bidding is still going on and there's a back and forth about camera bodies; I'm asking for a small, light weight camera because we'll likely have mostly small locations and lots of hand held - all of the rental houses keep pushing a BL4 for budget purposes.
I got the official word that our lab work is all being done by Deluxe; they've done all of my 35mm work for the past three years, and I've got a great relationship with them, so I'm very happy to be working with them again. Since we're contractually obligated to deliver a 35mm print, the Producers have agreed to print a small amount of dailies every week - only a few thousand feet over the course of the whole shoot (the rest of the dailies will be viewed via DVD); I'm very grateful that I'll be able to see some film dailies through-out the shoot - it's so important to really know what's being shot every day and film dailies are the only real way to fully understand what's happening with your negative. I'm lucky that the Producer who set things up at Deluxe understands (and agrees with) the importance of seeing some film dailies. I'll likely shoot my lens and stock tests next week.
I'm hoping to shoot Kodak's 5229 for the entire show, but we're waiting to hear what Fuji's offer will be. 5229 is Kodak's lowest contrast 500T stock available - they don't have enough 5277 (a discontinued 320T low con stock) for us and my inquiry about getting 5263 (a short-lived 500T VERY low con stock) was quickly shot down (I thought it looked great in "Elephant" and "Lost in Translation"). Either way, there are budget issues arising over some extra lab work I want to do - I'd like to do a one stop push for everything, but at an extra $.05/foot X 100,000 feet...........$5K is a big chunk of money on our budget. I'm also trying to cut some costs within my departments to make money for another member of the G&E department - we'll see if that works out or not.
I'm finishing up my breakdown of the show - my "look-book" is completed and the director really loved everything I brought to him. There are around 100 images I compiled, coupled with a 5 page outline of the visual "rules" for the film; I've found it useful to have clear visual references early on in prep to serve as common terminology for everyone - it's also wildly useful to me during the shoot to flip through it every night and try to keep everything fresh and straight in my head.
Got the word they hired the AD department and they're all people I've worked with; I've done 3 features with the 1st AD, so I'm happy to hear we'll be working together again.
All in all this week felt a little stagnant - there's still so much to do, but everyone is at a bit of a stand-still until a few key pieces fall into place. Next week we'll scout and lock all of our locations and we'll have our first production meeting with all of the department heads.
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