Thursday, April 1, 2010

Getting Bigger and Bigger

We shot at our house in Silverlake. Well, actually, we shot at the house in front of us, occupied by our incredibly patient friend and wardrobe artist, Jana Bonderman.

A few days before we shot, someone knocked on Jana's door and notified her that in a week or so, a crew would be shooting some commercial down the street.

Ah, so that's the correct way to get a permit.

Maybe we should've looked into that.

We just took our chances and started shooting. It didn't really hit me until we were flooding the sidewalk with lights, props, gear, and people that all it would take is one neighbor to complain and we'd be shut down.

In all honesty, we never expected our short to become this big of a production. I think when we first started talking about it, we imagined having a Director of Photography, a sound guy, Shiloh and I, and our actors. As it turned out, when we stripped our crew down to only the absolutely essential people for these two night shoots, we couldn't keep it below 20 people. It's like the reverse of delusions of grandeur...delusions of simplicity.

I know there are a lot of people who actually can keep their shoots to a minimal crew. But what you arrive at on the day of filming is the result of a long series of choices that hinge on a central tension - namely, production value versus ease of shooting. Or, put another way, style versus ease of shooting.

A big inspiration for this short (originally) was the Duplass Brothers work. In particular, this short. Which is clearly improvised and very loose - but incredibly well acted and awkward. We loved the moment when a nice evening with friends turns ugly and confrontational. It's delivered in such a real, raw way. Shiloh and I wanted our short to have a similar feel. But we also like our work to look as beautiful as possible (Shiloh is, after all, a photographer). Our style tends towards deliberate camera moves, planned framing, and dramatic lighting. As much as I love them, we would never make a movie that looks like Humpday or The Overbrook Brothers. It's just not our style.

There are some people that will argue that in order to get a real and gritty film, you have to shoot it guerilla style and let your audience see and feel your low budget - kind of like wearing your shirt inside out. I agree to a certain extent, but I also think that 90% percent of "real" and "gritty" will come from your acting and writing. You can shoot something handheld on the street and let your actors make up whatever they want, but the second there's a false moment - the second a character does or says something we don't believe - all the gritty filmmaking techniques in the world won't save it.

With any film, but especially with a short film, what wins an audience over will always be the story and the performances. But if you want to convince people in Hollywood with money to let you direct a film, they need to know that you can make it look as good as the stuff in theaters...which is invariably made with millions of dollars and a crew of 80 plus people.

So we've always set the bar high for ourselves. We shot Irish Twins on 35mm film with a full crew. And this one kept getting bigger and bigger.

But you know what? Our sets looked amazing (thanks to Jem Elsner and his crew), our lighting was awesome (thanks to our DP Yoram Astrahkan and our gaffer Glen Bondock), and in the end, our little movie will hopefully look like something you'd pay 10 bucks to see at the multiplex. Only...shorter.

And the best part of all: we made it through the night without getting shut down.

Thanks to Mallory Morrison for her help and her great photos.
She wanted to get me and Shiloh being "directorial" at the monitor: