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Kiss My Grass: "The Grasslands" Diaries Part 1


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#1 Annie Wengenroth

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Posted 16 June 2009 - 10:00 PM

I decided it would be interesting to keep a production blog on here since 1) I've never done that, as much as I post on these boards, and 2) I'm not sure how many accounts are kept by camera assistants, and I thought it would be neat for people to read about what we do and how awesome it can be! So, here goes.

Backstory: This job is actually into reshoots at this point. It started [from what I know of it, anyway] a couple of years ago, but they had financial issues and had to stop shooting. This time around, the crew is smaller, the schedule's tighter, and it seems like things will come through. I started on it working for a few days filling in for my friend as 1st AC. I then moved over to 2nd AC/loader when my friend came back on, and they just so happened to can the 2nd/loader they had. (Wah wah wah...) So, yeah. It kinda fell into my lap as an early summer blessing, and quite a relief after such a ridiculously slow spring.

We're shooting on an Arri BL-4 (DP-owned) with anamorphic lenses and the DP/cam op is Ron Wolf. The director is Chris Raffaelle (jeez, I hope I spelled that right- I don't have the camera reports in front of me!) Like I said, the crew is VERY minimal and so is the budget.

This is my second time pulling focus on anamorphics and my first time with the BL-4. I'm an Arri geek so this camera is pretty familiar to me even though I hadn't done a job with yet yet...and on a Worrall head, it's a hell of an upper body workout! My first night on set, my shirt was stuck to my back with sweat and I consumed chocolate chip Clif bars like Whole Foods was planning to discontinue the flavor or something. By the way, I think those things have caffeine in them. I am notorious for getting all wound up when I work, and it was even harder than usual to fall asleep that night...er, morning. Did I mention most of the job has been shooting nights?

This is also the longest job I've been on since I got back to New York from my little hiatus to Savannah. It wasn't until I got the phone call to jump on, that I truly felt like I had never left this city. As much as going to Savannah was necessary for my curiosity and my progress (as a camera assistant and as a person), I feel like it derailed me a little bit from my original purpose in New York. When I got BACK to New York, it was just in time for the recession and my spirits sank. Even by the spring, I was starting to fear that my old network had dissolved and that I would have to "start over" to some degree...that I wouldn't get as much work, and things just wouldn't happen.

Well, then the phone rang...and rang...and the work started coming in again. Thank God. When my friend Alex first told me about this job, I have to admit I was a little skeptical. But then I thought about how it would be good to work with a camera that I haven't been on a job with yet, and to work with all "new people" who I hadn't met yet (usually I run into lots of friends on jobs and we end up all recommending each other, to the point where our reference lists get pretty redundant!). I just got this gut feeling that this would be the job to renew my faith in the low-budget indie world, of which I had become so [grudgingly] a part of. I wanted to prove to myself, in other words, that it's the attitude on set that matters...not the job itself.

Anyway, so that's why I'm on the job, and even the few days we've shot thus far have been a hell of a ride. If you're looking for lighting setup hints or name-dropping, I don't know what to tell you but to keep scrolling!...but I can tell you that there have been many interesting stories on this job so far, all of which I will fill you in on along the way as I write this.

The odds are stacked as we begin again tomorrow: I am filling in once again as 1st AC, they could not find me a 2nd/loader and I could not find one who wasn't already busy (yay! haha), the DP is recovering from the acquisition of his 3-month old son Nigel and a poisonous spider bite (not at the same time), they dumped the 2-man G&E crew in favor of a couple of inkies and "a guy to set them up and point them where Ron says", I myself am bouncing back from a pretty bad cough/flu thing and must remember to pack a bottle of Robotussin in my set bag, and since CC Rentals apparently ripped off our producer somehow, we..uh...we don't have a truck anymore.

...Yeah. I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried. I was assured, however, that some sort of mobile vehicle would be used to store our [minimal] equipment. At any rate, in the 4 stuporous, slow months prior to this (in which I wondered if I wouldn't be better off scrubbing CSC cases), my attitude has somehow shifted from one of, "This is a f*cking disaster" to "This is an adventure."

So, 12:00 call tomorrow, in the Bronx. Tomorrow I'll entertain you with the tale of what happened to Roll 19, as well as a condensed version of our adventures in Secaucus dumping off the first truck we had, perhaps in haiku form. I will also let you know how the rest of the day goes.
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#2 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 17 June 2009 - 01:16 AM

This is my second time pulling focus on anamorphics and my first time with the BL-4... and on a Worrall head, it's a hell of an upper body workout!

Gahh! Upper body workout indeed. Bet you're pretty ripped by now though... :)

Which lenses are you using? Lomos? If so, are they still marked in meters and how is it pulling in metric? Sounds like an adventure all right! Keep the AC diaries coming Annie, they're a great addition to the forum.
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#3 Annie Wengenroth

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Posted 18 June 2009 - 09:49 PM

1. Yes, metric marks on the lenses. FUN! :lol:

2. Ripped: yes, in that I Went To The Gym And Then Did Heroin way... :blink:

Last night was complete and utter madness, to the point where I nearly forgot I was working. We grabbed three quick shots at a pharmacy and then rushed outside to get the establishing shots of our main man walking into the store from the train. Then we threw everything into two cars (remind me to tell you the CC Rentals story) and took off for Westchester Country Club for four hours so that the producer could go pick up more film and it could get dark. That's just the kind of day it was. The sound guy had 8 martinis and the producer disappeared without a phone call and returned with ONE roll of 5222. I dumped it into a 1000' mag in my changing tent, which was in my lap with the poles pulled out, as I squashed into the front seat of the moving Jeep Liberty on the way to the next location, where we had a flatbed truck (like, a car towing company) waiting for us. Thankfully, it was MOS. ;-)

Banged out some car shots of the two main characters talking. Then onward again to the middle of nowhere somewhere on the highway in the Bronx. I don't even think I could find it on a map. It was starting to rain and about 10:00 at this point. Call time had been at noon and the four hours' break killed us. We were lethargic on cheap watered-down drinks and crappy bar snacks. The sound guy was sleeping near the Jeep.

The next shot was our main character getting pulled over by the police. The way this job is and the way these people are, we (the crew) all assumed that the police officer was ACTUALLY a police officer and not an actor. I'm not sure why...it was just this...universal theory which, now that I think about it, makes no sense. Well, we were wrong. So when the ACTUAL NYPD pulled up, there we were impersonating an officer. Permits? Yeah...somewhere...oh, like on the director's coffee table. The cops miraculously cut us a break and gave us twenty minutes to get our next three shots.

Just as well, because we rolled out at the exact moment it started to pour.

Then we all went home. The end.

The Roll 19 story: our previous 2nd/loader is, uh, a little neurotic and high-strung sometimes. He caused something which we call The Spaghetti Incident. With a 35mm collapsible core, this is pretty messy business. Especially 1000'. Yeah, that's all I'll say. Poor guy. He panicked and then walked off the set, leaving me to bravely volunteer to plunge my hands into the darkness and attempt to salvage the mess. I wonder if they'll ever pay him? :-/

The CC Rentals Ripped Us Off story: apparently, they did. So the producer left them a "deposit" from an empty credit card and peeled out of the parking lot before they could do anything about it. This is also why we do not have a truck.

Cough syrup consumed in order to make it through the day: 3/4 of a bottle of Robotussin DM.

I feel like I've been in the wild too long and if I get captured for a union commercial, they'll have to send me to obedience school and boil me for four days to get that low-budget indie stink off of my tool belt....
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#4 Annie Wengenroth

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Posted 21 June 2009 - 11:00 PM

Last night was another grueling one...this rain is absolutely unreal. I don't think it's been sunny all day since May. We shot near the Morris Park stop in the Bronx in typical guerilla-style: me loading out of the back of the DP's car, our only PA holding an umbrella over the trashbag-covered camera. We were supposed to shoot tomorrow but the producer decided to give us the day off; I have no idea why. At any rate, I think yesterday we got some good stuff. We ended up at 180th Street somewhere, shooting this giant Jesus mural which we lit with a single HMI (minimal lights on this gig). Then we shot some stop-motion footage of a guy getting hit by a car which was interesting. Anyway, it's funny how you don't notice how tiring it is to be outside running around in the rain all day, until you go inside to sit around and do nothing. Our saving grace, however, was this ridiculously epic Italian food place in which I consumed a plate of pasta approximately the size of my head, and then a shot of espresso, of course. Weee! Til next time...
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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 21 June 2009 - 11:36 PM

Great posts...

Regarding the metric marks, did you consider remarking the barrels in feet/inches during the prep with white tape?

I love the Arri-BL4, there is something so basic about it, it just feels solid and reliable, not delicate. But then, I don't have to pick one up...

How long is this shoot?

Try to stay safe and healthy.
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#6 Richard Boddington

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Posted 22 June 2009 - 12:49 AM

Uh.....I assume this is a non-union crew? :D

R,
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#7 XiaoSu Han

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Posted 22 June 2009 - 02:49 AM

crazy stories!

keep them coming!
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#8 Serge Teulon

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Posted 22 June 2009 - 05:16 AM

....was this ridiculously epic Italian food place in which I consumed a plate of pasta approximately the size of my head, and then a shot of espresso, of course. Weee! Til next time...


:lol: :lol:

Thank god for pasta!!

You tell a story well Annie....great post
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#9 Annie Wengenroth

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Posted 22 June 2009 - 11:41 AM

This job puts the "non" in "non-union".

And I did not do the prep, so yes, but no. I've mostly just been getting eye focus since we've been moving really fast anyway.

I don't even know how many more days we're shooting for. This is the kind of job where if you start making demands about a solid schedule or a contract or like, more rolls of 1" black tape, you just look like a douchebag or a primadonna. So I've been rolling with the punches....I use my own tape once in a while since it won't kill me, I come in to work when they tell me to work, and that's that.

I think a year ago I would've been bitching a lot more, but what's the point? Work is work. This job is giving me some real insights into how I really want to be as an AC. I don't want to waste time complaining about how clueless production is. They always will be; that's just the way it goes. I can't expect everyone to be on my wavelength all the time and need to be prepared to speak up for the camera crew. I want to be able to walk into any job with no preconceived ideas of how it's "supposed" to be, and just GET THE SHOT. Because at the end of the day, I really think that's all that matters. And in thinking that way, suddenly nothing bothers me. Metric marks don't bother me. Rain doesn't bother me. An excitable director wanting to rush to the next setup doesn't bother me.

I think working as an AC is really very simple, and we try to make it complex because we fear that otherwise, no one will care about what we're doing. We build the camera, make sure it's in focus and that the film is actually running through the gate, and we get the shot. We can debate new technology all day, or constantly find new ways to reinvent the wheel: new ways of making marks, new strategies for labeling things, whatever. But when you simplify the job of a camera assistant down to the most fundamental, basic needs of the department, I personally find that life gets a hell of a lot easier. My frustration for the seat-of-the-pants, run n' gun nature of this job, has dissolved. If it makes me look like an idiot to be casually talking about how completely chaotic and stripped-down this gig is, so be it. Sometimes it's just not the time and the place for big demands, and I guess I'm starting to realize that.

Anyway, surprise surprise, we're off today due to weather, and I don't even know about the rest of the week yet. Laundry day!!! :lol:
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#10 K Borowski

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Posted 22 June 2009 - 12:56 PM

You're shooting the whole movie on '22? I am insanely jealous of you right now Annie. . .

AND you get to dodge cops the whole while too!?!?
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#11 Annie Wengenroth

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Posted 22 June 2009 - 06:37 PM

Yep. It's really exciting. I'll see if the director has a link to the trailer and post it here.
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#12 Serge Teulon

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Posted 23 June 2009 - 04:53 AM

. This is the kind of job where if you start making demands about a solid schedule or a contract or like, more rolls of 1" black tape, you just look like a douchebag or a primadonna. So I've been rolling with the punches....I use my own tape once in a while since it won't kill me, I come in to work when they tell me to work, and that's that.

I think a year ago I would've been bitching a lot more, but what's the point? Work is work. This job is giving me some real insights into how I really want to be as an AC. I don't want to waste time complaining about how clueless production is. They always will be; that's just the way it goes. I can't expect everyone to be on my wavelength all the time and need to be prepared to speak up for the camera crew. I want to be able to walk into any job with no preconceived ideas of how it's "supposed" to be, and just GET THE SHOT. Because at the end of the day, I really think that's all that matters. And in thinking that way, suddenly nothing bothers me. Metric marks don't bother me. Rain doesn't bother me. An excitable director wanting to rush to the next setup doesn't bother me.


Up until you get the above "enlightment" our industry can come across as dragging a ball-and-chain coupled with a sado-masochistic feeling of enjoyment.

It's so important to understand what the job entails. Only then do you really feel that you can make a clear and concise choice.

You're in the zone Annie ;)

Edited by Serge Teulon, 23 June 2009 - 04:54 AM.

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#13 Annie Wengenroth

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Posted 18 July 2009 - 12:15 AM

On, off, on, off. It reminds me of when I was a little kid and I would sit in the living room and flick the light switch on and off to annoy my parents. Except this is real life and I have to pay for 1) my Depeche Mode ticket, 2) my bills from last month, and 3) August rent, in that order. Priorities, you know. ;-) So the on, off nature of this job is starting to get to me a little. I know you were all waiting in suspense to continue reading about it. Right? Yeah.

Well, amidst the drama of either 1) shooting the rest of the movie in Bridgeport (WITH PER DIEM! WOAH OMG NO WAY!!1!), 2) the director saying, "We need to finish this f*cking thing by August or I swear to god I'm gonna blow my f*cking head off!" and 3) the producer threatening deferred pay, (thankfully an empty threat) I've managed to keep my head up and still enjoy myself when we're, well, on.

As for off days, I spend them either on other jobs as an AC (YES. I AM AVAILABLE AND YOU WANT ME ON YOUR CAMERA CREW. :-D) or as a TA at New York Film Academy (hereafter known as Other Job), which is not as glamorous as it sounds. Anyway, the bottom line is that ultimately, in life right now, I just want 1) to make money and 2) people to like me. If 3) all of the above, that would be grand, but I'm not holding my breath. :-P

So today was interesting. I don't know which was better, some guy hitting the director's [parked] car which the cops then said was illegally parked, the producer yelling at the cops, shooting in a pet store and spraying the parakeets with a spray bottle to make them freak out for insert shots (animal wrangler? Whatever, dudes), or the three giant cups of coffee I drank between 5 am and, incidentally, 5 pm.

By the time I finished my day on set to go to my Other Job, I had sweated off my eyeliner, my pants were falling down, and we were out of empty 400' cans. Did I mention that I'm also training for the NYC Marathon? It's been crazy, guys. They dumped most of the crew because we just want to shoot this goddamn thing as fast as possible and I guess Production (aka the ONE producer plus the director) decided that less people=faster (why? I don't know...). So there you go, I've been 2nding and loading for myself. Today I yelled at myself because I was taking too long to load the mag. I forgave myself upon realizing I had only gotten 3 hours of sleep.

Conclusion: we still don't know how many days we have left, when we will get paid, and when/if we are going to Bridgeport. For whatever strange Zen reason, I have stopped being angry about this and have decided instead to just let things happen. Not to be confused with complacency. :-P

There were no particularly dramatic focus pulls to report for the day. We used a wheelchair as a dolly. Duh, of course! And I think that's it. Hell, we don't even have a matte box or follow focus...we returned it to save money. I've been pulling off the lens like the hardcore kids do. This is the gritty essence, the absolute skeletal minimum, of independent film. Like I said in my last blog, a year or two ago I would have been a snobby b*tch about it, but this year I'm seeing things differently. Observe:

1. The economy sucks and we have no right to complain about ANY work.

2. I'm just glad to be working as an AC and getting into it again after realizing I would rather set myself on fire than work at a rental house again. That is to say, I think you can only work for $8 an hour and scrape labels off of cases ONCE in your life. You will then leave the nest, and there is no re-entry. Did I really want to go back to that? Srsly? Hell no!

3. More money would be nice. Bigger jobs would be nice. More money and bigger jobs will come to me someday. Sometimes life in tha film biz is rough...but it still beats working a desk job. Every time I'm standing around on set wishing I were doing something else, I ask myself if I would rather be sitting on my ass at a computer with some dude in a tie hovering over me screaming about memos and staplers. :shuddder:

Thus, I have to live in the moment with what I have now. Namely:

1. Work.

2. ONE DEPECHE MODE TICKET, SECTION 3 ON THE FLOOR AT MADISON SQUARE GARDEN ON AUGUST 3RD...UH HUH :wub:

3. A little bit of rum left.

Thus, my first lesson for tonight. Tune in next time for Things The DP And I Talk About When We're Sitting Around On Set Waiting For Everybody Else To Get Their poop Together. If I'm really feeling professional, I might even post a link to the trailer or something.

I realize that this has far more to do with sharing the lolz of being on a low-budget job, than with cinematography. And what the hell do I know anyway? I'm only 27. I've only been doing this for a few years. But I guess part of why I share these stories is because quite frankly, you could write a whole book about how the DP lit the shot and what it reminded you of and how many days you had to spend in therapy afterwards because of it. And yet, I think some of the best stories, which you don't hear as much about, are the ones that get into the grit and realism of this business, beyond the jargon and the cliches.

Not to mention, I think we all sometimes feel that if we didn't laugh, we would probably cry. And that's pretty much why I've started writing this stuff down. When you go to film school, they basically bend you over and blow a big ol' wad of smoke up you know where, and it's about time people start hearing about what's real. What's real is that you get rained on by the weather and occasionally poop on by production. What's real is that sometimes you have to go find somewhere to cry because you just found out that half the people you went to school with, are married with kids and 9-to-5's...and you have been mercilessly shut out of their world all because you wanted to make movies instead. You become the weird friend who is always busy and doesn't go out. You have been rushed into a world where you're going to work when everyone else is coming home...or vice versa. A world where part of your life is dictated to you over a walkie and the other part of it exists between the last mag of the day, and the apartment that gets messier and messier the more you work. The laundry! The dishes! The cat with separation anxiety issues! Bill collectors won't understand "I was on a feature for two months" and relatives won't understand that "nothing in the pipeline" is different from "unemployed".

Whatever...it's worth it. You learn to create your own order within the chaos. There's no other way. ;-)
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#14 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 18 July 2009 - 03:00 AM

OH Annie. Here at 4 am right before I go off to my own indie/low budget shoot, there's nothing like your post. Makes me laugh!
C'mon post up the trailer to this film. Let us all see the truth of it, see how awesome this is!
And right now I envy your zen. I'm so tweaked out (need a guiness!) The zen you have is special!
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#15 Annie Wengenroth

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Posted 18 July 2009 - 09:34 AM

I will channel my Zen throughout this forum! :-D
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#16 joeldiament

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Posted 23 July 2009 - 08:38 PM

Awesome posts Annie! I look forward to more...
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#17 Freya Black

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Posted 24 July 2009 - 10:52 AM

Just found this blog and I'm loving it! :) Can't wait for the next installment.

Hey at least you havn't had to climb into a puddle with a giant electric octopus...yet. ;)

Love the bit about production having a leaner tighter team so that they can work faster! Ah I see, thank goodness for that, I might have otherwise have thought it was because they didn't have two beans to rub together but are trying to make it happen anyway!

Kinda neat, and okay to be doing if you have nothing going on right now but keep an eye on the fact that they may not have the money to pay you, and keep an eye out for some paying work too. Make sure everybody knows you are still totally available and looking for work too! ;)

It's not being mean to have that attitude, you have to look after yourself too and I'm sure you are already doing a fantastic job for these people. Look after yourself and help the other people but make sure you look after yourself first otherwise you won't be in a situation to help others.

Having said all that it sounds sort of fun and you get to shoot anamorphic on a big old chunky tank. Kinda neat!

Lastly production probably aren't entirely clueless, they just have no money.

Would be wonderful if you guys could actually manage to complete the film tho! :)

Looking forward to the next crazy installment!

love

Freya
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#18 Chris Keth

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Posted 25 July 2009 - 02:20 PM

This is a great read, Annie. If I did this it would turn out very boring. Somehow, I never seem to have the crazy stuff to talk about that you do. My big event of the day is usually something like "yeah, and then that battery just went from 13.6 volts to nothing. How weird is that?!?"

Stay well and keep us posted.

Edited by Chris Keth, 25 July 2009 - 02:21 PM.

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#19 freddie bonfanti

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Posted 25 July 2009 - 03:25 PM

brilliant. write that book, Annie
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#20 Doug Durant

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Posted 26 July 2009 - 11:39 PM

great post, would read again.
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