Sunday, December 30, 2012

Quiet on Set!

The high point of my holiday season was helping my daughter shoot the first segment of her sketch comedy pilot. I was much closer to the the action than on a project in 2011, when I was craft service (caterer) and she was directing a pilot for a reality show on electric cars. I was craft service and clean up crew, but I also was a driver, dialogue coach, line producer, and script supervisor.

We filmed downstairs. Our family room turned into a German living room, with a small orange couch, matching lamps on side tables made by my son, a low coffee table hiding the microphone and a few props. I turned the camera on and off. My granddaughter operated the sound recorder. Rachel positioned and focused the camera on a tripod. (My eyes are too old to do delicate focusing, and I know nothing about cameras.)

She and our friend Sarah got into costume with 80's wigs we'd ordered several weeks earlier. We'd visited thrift stores for more costume pieces, borrowing some, buying others. I realized with no small degree of admiration how long she'd been collecting things for this project. For two years now, I have cursed the ever-growing clutter created by the couch, props and costume components.

Rachel wrote the script. Five pages means five minutes of screen time. The filming took three days.  We did take after take of the opening sequence. At least fifteen. The first were dedicated to getting the flow of the dialogue. She and Sarah are exotic dancers posing as exchange students to get to the oil fields of North Dakota, where they are sure that money flows.

We finished the front takes, did the right side takes and were moving the tripod to do the left side takes when the camera froze. A desperate Internet search explained this model of HD camera was sold with a factory flaw which could only be fixed if the camera was sent back for repairs. We scrambled to borrow a camera from a relative, and were filming two hours later.

The second day, we had multiple costume and set changes. Some were outdoors; others in other rooms. We ended the day at Burger King, where we shot two scenes surreptitiously--one in the playland and one in their bathroom. The third day, we retook two segments and shot the last new one.

Acting is hard. Actors need to say and do the same things over and over until the director and DP feel they have sufficient footage to edit for a final cut. Crew needs to be infinitely patient while sets and costumes are changed. They also know not to cough, sneeze, pass gas, laugh or breathe heavily while the sound is recording.

All the takes have been uploaded into Final Draft, and synced with the sound recordings. Now Rachel will pick the best micro-seconds of each take and splice them together into a flowing five minute video. She'll add voice-over, finalize the title, font and colors for the credits.

Editing is where the story is made or lost, and it is a solo operation on a laptop. I'll be excited to see it when it is done, and even more excited when it can be sent out for review and sale. I'll keep her from becoming discouraged. Make sure she finishes it and moves on to the next installments.

I want to see her succeed. And maybe get a job in the movie biz.  I've got an idea for a script....


  1. Sounds like you had a great time. I well remember raiding charity shops when I was directing musicals, I ended up with a room full of costumes, and a garage full of scenery and props! All good fun!

  2. Wow, that sounds like a lot of fun! And I admire your patience, both during the week and through the years of clutter--I don't think I could have done that. Good luck to her!

  3. Thanks, Jen. She is ready for her big break.

    You know what I mean, Paula! Everything has potential use as a prop or costume.

  4. Absolutely. I remember spending one New Year's Eve transforming an ordinary grey jacket into Captain von Trapp's tunic jacket with a stand-up collar!

  5. My husband and I were backdrop in the glam party shoot. Rache and Sarah set off confetti guns--a one take shot. Guess who swept up?

  6. How fun! I did a photo shoot for a friend once...we were making a calendar for her boyfriend. We gathered props, costumes, etc. We took twelve months of photographs in one was a blast!