Sunday, April 11, 2010

Film School Follies: Part 19 – Dancing into the Fire II

By ScottDS
I asked Mike if he recalled the very first meeting with Debbie and everyone in attendance. He remembered: "That's where I stood up and said I was excited to work with everyone and that's where I told everybody that the script… that I was open to any additional ideas that anyone had for improving it. I wasn't guaranteeing that any of those ideas would make it in but I wanted to hear them. Of course, at the time I think I said 'we,' speaking for Ryan #2 and myself. 'You're all talented. If you have anything, just let us know.'" If only my experience on Canadians had been that easy!

The following consists of iChat conversations Mike and I had over the span of three days in February. And yes, I transcribed all of this!

Let's Start the Insanity: Pre-Production Begins

Scott: "Before going to work on Canadians, I think you and I did one quick polish of the script. The prologue in the student union [at UCF]... that was added later."

Mike: "That was Nick's suggestion. I think he wanted an exterior shot. (Everything else at UCF was shot inside the Visual Arts Building.) The wheels started turning [and] I came up with the 360 shot and I though it'd be cool if it was this thing where [Scooter] is daydreaming [about Anna] and [Matt and Ronnie] aren't there, then we realize they're there [and Anna is not]. The idea is he's sitting by himself at the table [and] we go all the way around the table and we see there's no one else at the table. Then she comes and sits down. He says something to her and you hear a voice from off-camera: 'Dude, did you say something?' And the camera pans [over] and they're sitting there when they weren't there before. And when it pans back to where she was sitting, she's no longer there. And [the camera] goes all the way around them and we see she's walking towards the table from far away, implying that [Scooter] was daydreaming about it. In the end, the shot did what I wanted it to do but I just don't know if people got it."

Scott: "Do you recall anything Ryan #2 wanted to do with the script?"

Mike: "Like we've talked about, Ryan #2's a huge Kevin Smith fan [and] he knew what he liked to watch but I don't think he knew why he liked it or why it worked. There were certain things he wanted to try [but] there were no major disagreements."

Scott: "If I recall, when Scooter's going through the pile of photos, Ryan #2 wanted one of the photos to have [the c-word] printed on it for some reason."

Mike: "Yeah, he though it would be kind of jarring and a non sequitur. We ended up not showing that but we did film it, not the [c-word] thing but him going through the photographs. There was an idea for a line where she took a photo of her p---- and we later see it's a photo of her cat. That was something [Ryan #2] wanted to do. Debbie was not down with that. She was pretty polite about it [but] it wasn't gonna happen."

Scott: "In terms of actually planning the shots, do you recall how that all worked, in terms of storyboarding, number of shots, what each shot would look like, etc.?"

Mike: "It was exhausting [and] I hated it. Lots of nights of me, Ryan #2… Steve came a couple of times… we spent the whole time from when [the crew] was put together... from that moment right up until production, except for that two week break we got... [we spent that time] together, non-stop, just doing that work. Sometimes we'd wake up in the same place. Mostly it was at Paul's apartment; a lot of it was at Mike #2's apartment, too. We had some shot meetings in the offices at FS3. We spent a lot of time in there with Chris and Justin and I think Steve was a part of all that and we broke down all the shots."

Scott: "Did you have to cut shots or was the general consensus, 'Yeah, we can do this'?"

Mike: "From what I recall, no. I had a lot of ideas of how I wanted it to look and we pretty much went with most of them. I know we cut a couple of shots on location because of time. Debbie came to me and I looked at the shot list and said, 'Okay, we'll cut this one and this one.' I remember later she was praising me for doing that and I was like, 'What else was I gonna do?'"

Scott: "You didn't even remember there were storyboards until I showed them to you!"

Mike: "It was Seth that did them and we only did them for the wrap book because we had to. I love storyboards but I had it all in my head. I think [Seth] said he just sat by his pool and did them. I found out he could draw at some point and I asked, 'Can you just do these because we need them?' But we didn't follow them. If I were directing a feature film, I'd want storyboards but in this case I didn't feel like I needed them."

Genius at Work: Production Design

The main sets for In the Nude consisted of a long air duct (you've seen them before), a wall with a vent (designed and constructed to match a wall at UCF), and the dark tank which had to be built with a staircase behind it so the actors could actually get up to the top, climb in through another vent, and drop down to the floor. Amazingly, the wall at UCF didn't have a vent so Chris had to bring one with him!

Scott: "Did Chris know what he was getting in to, in terms of ducts and figuring out how to reverse engineer this stuff?"

Mike: "He knew what he was getting into when he read the script but we didn't know how we were going to do [the sets] for a while. There were a lot of discussions, like any other film. We talked about sheet metal [for the ducts]. We talked about spraying this metallic substance on those laminate flats – we had seen some Full Sail movie that did that – they used this metallic spray and that would've been our only manageable option but obviously, we didn't want to do that. In the end, we got lucky. He [actually] found ducts that were being thrown out and anytime he found something, he'd call. I realized the best thing would be to build the dark tank (the dark room which connects to the photo lab). We knew we needed a wall to match the wall at UCF. (One scene intercuts footage shot at UCF by Mike with footage shot on the stage by Ryan #2.) In hindsight, I wish Ryan #2 hadn't shot that day because it looked very bland, even though it worked. Hindsight is 20/20 but I think the whole set thing worked very well. Chris and I didn't just work on the set – he was our in at UCF because he had done work there [for Campus Crusade]."

Scott: "But in terms of something like the dark tank where not only did you guys have to design and construct it, but also figure out how the guys are going to get into it in the first place and working backwards from that."

Mike: "They were just gonna drop right into the photo lab. When we went to see [Full Sail's photo lab], there was no place where we could feasibly put a fake duct of that size so in the end, that was kind of a cheat that I came up with. We'll just build the dark tank and we'll have this shot where you see [Scooter] coming out of there and we establish the whole photo lab after that and the [spatial] relationship of where he's coming from to where he's [standing] now. Once we decided that, it was easy. The dark tank we built was the exact dimensions of the real one, down to how high and wide the table was, although we didn't have to [do that] because we never shot in the [real one]."

Scott: "Did Ryan #2 have any say into the sets and locations or was that mostly you?"

Mike: "It was mostly me, I guess. [He] was on board with everything. We weren't sure where we were going to shoot at first [on location]. There was talk of shooting the college scenes at Full Sail and that was our backup – the problem was Full Sail didn't look like a college! There's an old high school that looked very [much like a college] – that was an option. And Rollins [College] was an option, too. UCF was our first choice because it was easy: it was big, it was easy to get in and out of, there wasn't any traffic getting there… a lot of factors in UCF's favor and they totally gave us permission. They just said we couldn't block any hallways and we never did."

For the location shoot which took place on day 1, the crew utilized two areas at UCF: the Visual Arts Building which had a nice, long corridor for the fire drill evacuation scene; and the patio at the student union. Unfortunately, the building featured both fluorescent lighting fixtures and a skylight.

Mike: "We were very concerned because we had these fluorescent lights on and we had sunlight coming in from the top. They're two totally different color temperatures. Remember, there are two types of film: film you use for tungsten lights and film you use for daylight and we were actually using daylight film so we were concerned how the fluorescents would look [but] we took some still photos using a similar type of film and they looked just fine. The vent we used on the set, we took to the location, and we had to hang it up which was a little daunting because we couldn't just stick it on the wall – it had to hang for support. We actually had to go into a maintenance room and Chris had to crawl up into the dropped ceiling, which was probably not something we were allowed to do! But luckily, since we were shooting everything there first, it allowed us to match it the next day [on stage]. It was the same vent every time; we kept reusing it."

Scott: "For the scene when they're opening the vent, the shots of Scooter were done on location but the shots of Matt and Ronnie were done at Full Sail. You can talk about your duplicate wall on the stage."

Mike: "We took reference photos and Chris was able to match the color. We measured the height and width of each brick and I [decided] the best thing to do was to carve it out of medium-density fiberboard (MDF). It was a very pliable material so it was going to be easy to rout and then we sprayed it with a mixture of joint compound and water to give it a texture, like cement that had been painted over. We put the wall up, and then we carved it with a jig that we built. It came out pretty good [but] somehow a seam ended up being visible, which I was not happy about. For the most part, it looked perfect. That was all me and Tony. I didn't trust anyone else to do it. Jacob [set design lab assistant] wanted me to do something completely different and I said no. There was no way to do that with paint or flats. It had to be carved. We needed shadows that were caused by the light hitting the grooves. Chris took router bits to UCF to make sure that the depth was going to be okay so the grooves weren't any deeper than they should've been. I wanted it to be perfect and I was working with someone who had the same desire."

The Man in the Hawaiian Shirt: Casting

Kit, our classmate, played Scooter. He also acted in our DC short film (Panic) months earlier and was working on Canadians in the camera department.

Mike: "Scooter was our first big drama because we weren't happy with anyone that we saw. The only person we responded to [at all] was this Asian guy named Duke. Phil called him to see if he was free on [the shoot] dates. He was only supposed to tell him, 'We're not a hundred percent yet. We just wanted to make sure you were free.' He kinda told him we wanted him as a backup for another guy and I think Duke got offended so we lost him. The thing with Kit started when the scripts were announced. Kit came up to me at the end of Windy's class and said, 'Hey, if you don't find anybody, I want to do it.' We ran through the audition tapes for Canadians and Moon and we found this one guy and he was perfect and I was like, 'Oh, this guy's great!' We ran him through, loved him, and then he's like, 'I can't do it.' Then we saw the guy on Canadians [who played the lone American employee] and there was something about him I didn't like. At that point, I thought I still had other options [and] in the end, we settled on Kit. The sad part is when we were having all these issues, I kept thinking in my head [that] the person who really looked like how I wanted Scooter to look was Tyler [another classmate]. I don't know if it was just from not being familiar with him at the time. I felt maybe it was too much to throw at him. I didn't but I should have. So we settled on Kit because we already picked the other two guys and were already rehearsing with them. Kit only rehearsed with them once because he was brought in so late."

Thankfully, the other casting choices did not present this much drama.

Mike: "Phil put all the casting sessions on a DVD and we got together and watched them at Paul's. Arnie [who played Matt] was right away. The second we saw him, I said, 'That's our guy.' For the part of Ronnie that we gave to Daryn, we watched [the tapes] a couple times and it was like, 'I think he's the best guy for this.' He didn't match physically what I wanted for the role."

Scott: "He's supposed to be fat and there are references to Jabba the Hutt and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. It totally doesn't work [with Daryn]."

Mike: "He had a little bit of a gut which I kept telling him to show: 'Don't suck it in!' Arnie was driving from pretty far away so it's not like we could've rehearsed a dozen times but he came every time we asked him to. It was just a lot of fun and they were very willing. I said, 'Are you willing to get in your underwear? Are you willing to do this and that?' and Arnie was game to do whatever. With Daryn, I asked if he had any crazy clothes and he's like, 'I have these socks with cartoon sperm on them' and I said, 'That's perfect.' I asked if he had any crazy shoes and he's like, 'Yeah, I have these green and purple shoes.' 'Perfect!' I wanted to be as weird and kooky as possible."

Arnie's baseball cap and t-shirt were custom-made. As I mentioned elsewhere, the hat was emblazoned with a non sequitur phrase: "kaboontang." The shirt was emblazoned with another phrase: "Girl You BUSTED" featuring an illustration of a shopping cart with flames coming from the rear wheels. I don't get it but I never asked.

Mike: "Ryan #2 and Paul – mainly Paul – would get into these kooky ideas… non sequitur things they'd like to see on t-shirts. We'd always talk about that jokingly and they were like, 'Well, we should put one of these t-shirts on a character. We should make one.' With the hat, we wanted a hat that had a saying on it that didn't mean anything and that was literally, 'Paul, give me one! Quick!' and he said, 'Kaboontang.' And that was it. I asked Diane to make it. The shirt… those came from Paul, and Ryan #2 made the shirt with that special thermal paper. He made three or four of them."

Scott: "And Kit's Hawaiian shirt [was inspired by] me." (I was going through a phase.)

Mike: "Laz and Diane went to a flea market. I wanted camouflage [for the scene when they break into the photo lab]. The camouflage was supposed to [be for] Daryn's character because he was supposed to be the funny one, all decked out in camouflage. But Laz bought a shirt that just didn't fit him and I thought about putting it on him really tight because that would've been funny. Then I thought, 'Wouldn't it be funnier if Arnie was wearing the camouflage shirt and Daryn was wearing the camouflage shorts?' Laz and Diane [called me from the flea market about the Hawaiian shirt] and said, 'It's got fish on it, but it looks Hawaiian.' I told them, 'If I hate it, we'll get another one.' Then I saw it and was like, 'It works.' I like that it was made of completely synthetic materials. I don't even think water stuck to that shirt!"

Scott: "And the girls: Michelle, Alyse, and Rachael. I forget which one had the nice [accessories]. And [classmate] Debbie as the other friend."

Mike: "It was Rachael [who had the nice accessories]. With the girls, it was a little more challenging. With Michelle, we wanted a girl next door, sweet, like 'Who wouldn't have a crush on her?' The other two girls just had to be... whatever.. I know we wrote up bios for each one of them but in the end, it wouldn't matter. We went with Michelle because she had the sweetest, most innocent kind of look, even though when she came in for the first rehearsal, she looked like she'd been doing crack. (She wasn't.) I don't know if she was sleep-deprived but she looked terrible. I was like, 'Oh my God. How's she gonna look when we shoot?' The other girls were fine. The one girl [Alyse] was fifteen but she looked great and had a good attitude. And then there was Rachael... she did not look that hot in any of the rehearsals. She was supposed to be the schlubby one. She shows up on the [first] day of shooting looking super hot and I was like, 'What the f---?!' We had to cast a couple of supplementary parts and I really regretted casting Tom [our directing teacher] as the photography teacher even though it was just a two-second part. I'd worked with this ex-police officer guy on Revenge Again [in 16mm] who I should've cast because Tom didn't seem like he wanted to be there at all. [And] we needed another girl and I said, 'Why am I going to cast another girl?' We had a cute girl on our crew. I asked her if she'd do it and she said, 'Yeah.' [But Ryan #2 failed to shoot her close-up on the day.]

Scott: "We all got to be extras and if you watch the credits you'd think it was Lawrence of Arabia or something!" (I actually helped Mike type up the end credits for Nude in between editing labs for Canadians.)

Mike: "That was done to be funny. I figured people watching the thing would be like... I did it for a laugh!"

Next week: principal photography, a complicated dolly shot, a bitchy UCF faculty member, Kit performs a stunt, and conflict between the directors.

To Be Continued...


AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I sounds like there was a lot of seat of the pants, not much planning. Did you not have the time to plan?

Anonymous said...

From a look at the schedule, it appears that the first meeting was held on 6/4 and the first day of production was 7/25 so that left a little more than a month to do literally everything: casting, sets, plan shots, etc.

There certainly is a seat of your pants approach to this (moreso on student films than big-budget features).

In terms of production design, everyone would just love "one more day." But we were literally creating this stuff from nothing, not just designing it but figuring out how to build things. And since our films had multiple directors (and egos), approving things was always difficult.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I just strikes me that this should have gone a lot smoother. Two months is plenty of time to assign jobs and organize most of this. How did the movie ultimately turn out?

Anonymous said...

You'll find out in two weeks! In the Nude turned out to be the best movie in our class, mostly by virtue of the fact that the other movies weren't very good! It's a perfectly entertaining little lark of a film and you'll see it soon. :-)

I'm trying to put my finger on why we always felt rushed for time. I think it's because we were also taking classes during this time.

I remember during Canadians, we should've been location scouting during the week but we were stuck in our useless pre-production class from 9 to 5 most days, plus our other 35mm filmmaking class. It looks like almost two months but a third of that time, we were stuck in classrooms.

I don't know if it's different now but they didn't just tell us, "Go design and build your sets!" We had deadlines and certain things had to be done before others.

AndrewPrice said...

Should be interesting, I can't wait to see it.

Unknown said...

Scott: I can't help thinking of the old saying that a camel is a horse put together by a committee. LOL

Anonymous said...

LawHawk -

I can't think of a quote that adequately describes our experience with this, or at least my own experience. The only one that comes to mind is William Goldman's famous "Nobody knows anything."

StanH said...

“Organize!” Too many chiefs, not enough Indians.

Anonymous said...

Stan -

I wasn't around for pre-production on In the Nude since I was busy on Canadians but... organization... yeah, not enough of that. Or rather, given the film school environment, it's only natural that every crew has its share of overachievers, big egos, and slackers who do nothing.

But because we're all friends, no one wants to be the bad guy.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Being the bad guy is called leadership, and without it, nothing happens.

ScottDS said...

(I'm typing this from the 5th Ave. Apple Store, so no Google ID for me today.)

Andrew - I realize that. Being that we were students, some made better leaders than others. Our UPM on Canadians... okay leader but couldn't control the bad elements which only made things worse. Mike on In the Nude... good leader, complimentary but also a hard-ass when he needed to be. And unlike the real film business, we didn't have paychecks to motivate us. :-)

Re: your earlier comment about the seat of your pants approach... it really is part of the fun. You have to deal with potential problems all day and at every stage of production. There's nothing like asking a couple of grips to jury-rig some device from C-stands, clothespins, and sandbags... and seeing the end result function on the set.

Or finding some novel way to edit two shots together in post-production, a way you couldn't imagine just five minutes earlier.

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