Unlike the night before the first day of shooting, I had the perfect opportunity for some sleep. Unfortunately that didn’t quite happen. Not to go deep into it but I don’t know if it was what I ate that day or something else going on with my body, but I was stricken with stomach problems which basically made me not able to sleep the night before our second day of shooting. Perfect timing, right? Wrong. I didn’t actually start being able to sleep until two hours prior to me waking up. At first, I thought I felt all better but within minutes my pain continued and of course thoughts were entering like “How am I supposed to shoot today?” So I tried to go slow and yes stalled production slightly due to being late. At this point, I was in fear that today wouldn’t go as smoothly.
Thankfully, once I started talking to crew and we started setting up the shots, it seemed to go away. However, I didn’t get overly optimistic as I made sure I ate nothing but relatively bland food all day.
The first scene of the movie features Justin (Justin Kimball) and Jess (Tamara Lynn Chambers) chatting it up as they prepare for the grandparents and possible other guests arriving. This scene had many different versions in my head. At first I was thinking it would be a mix of the brother and sister interacting and going in and out of the kitchen and dining room as Jess cooks the meal while Justin sets up the table. However, I only wanted to shoot in one room, so I decided to do the kitchen. However, Saturday night the more I thought about it, the less this made creative and logistical sense considering the tight space of the kitchen and how it would have a completely different look from the rest of the movie. Instead, I elected to have the opening scene in the dining room with the sister trying to teach a clueless brother how to set the table.
The nice thing about this scene compared to almost all the other scenes is that it is short. Another plus is that it only features two actors, so being able to separate audio of dialogue won’t be difficult in the least. I have to say I’m very happy how things turned out in this scene. As you know, the sister initially was going to be a different actress, so my worry was would the brother/sister chemistry work. I was quite thrilled with how Tamara and Justin played off each other in the scene though. The sister was very playful and intrusive on his social life whereas Justin was dry, sarcastic and wanting to avoid her questions. Needless to say it worked.
The rest of the day though was spent in one location — the living room. As the story plays out, Justin answers the door for every new character or characters and the first half is featured in the living room. At first, while there might be some humorous/shocking conversation, it isn’t until the dining room table scene that things get truly out of hand into full out dysfunctional territory. Because of the fact that things had to build as time went on, the first couple and later on there were some takes that probably went too far in terms of Justin’s uncomfortableness and his potential dates getting a little too touchy, feely which is why despite there being only one location for this, we did a lot of takes with multiple angles.
This was definitely more of a relaxed day I would say as we didn’t have as much to shoot. The only problem for the day was when we had to shoot entrances into the living room and the grandpa (Jim Chudnow) coverage as we see the dining room and initially the dining room was very dark which is a giant contrast to the end of the film where the characters are all interacting with each other at the table. Not to mention we had to take close attention to how the table looked previously to match it for continuity’s sake.
Overall I was very proud of the day. It being an improv film I have a ton of material to choose from which was the intent. The real task of course will be editing the footage which I will be doing for the first time in a number of years; however, that’s for another blog.
— Simon Mounsey, Director, Producer, Production Designer for “I Hope You Like My Present”
Despite my wishful thinking, last Thursday and Friday was supposed to be spent cleaning and decorating the condo for our short. While I did manage to clean every room, being able and having the time to completely decorate on my own as it became 10:30pm Friday night I knew just wasn’t going to happen. Fortunately, thanks to PAs and extra time, I was able to decorate the set as needed. I must admit it was weird being what I guess you would call art director in addition to director. However, I think I actually did a good job. Friday night I bought some food from Marianos to be used as scene decoration for the dining room scene.
Thankfully this day I had a continuity supervisor to help things away because while food wasn’t used that much, this is a scene that could become continuity help just from the mere fact that there is a ton of stuff on the table. Beyond that though, while we weren’t shooting full on in that room that day, we also had to set up the Christmas tree. I’ll be perfectly honest. While it’s good that the tree had lights already assembled for that extra punch I needed more decorations to give it that extra effect, though by no means did I want to overdo it. The nice thing is despite my neurotic self thinking the set might take longer than I expected, it didn’t.
Instead, we had to get the lighting just right especially considering for the first time in Clerestory Productions history we were shooting with three cameras at the same time. I must say I was excited about especially for an improv film that may have been impossible to edit without simultaneous cameras.
While I talked it over with JD Scruggs (dp) and his camera assistants Josh Paney (usual dp for Clerestory Productions) and Chris O’Malley, it was my job to do what directors usually do — talk to the actors. First and foremost was to get the attire set for each individual actor, my favorite of course being the attire for our crazy cousin Meredith (Brittany Price Anderson). I mean, does it get any creepier or bizarre as this?
Soon enough though it was time for us to shoot. This being my first film completely improv I didn’t know what to expect which scared me even more considering I will be editing this together. Were the actors going to completely change things every take? Was there going to be continuity hell? I honestly didn’t know. Fortunately I couldn’t have been happier with our final two scenes. If that sounds confusing it’s because we actually shot our final two scenes which both take place in the dining room last. This is simply because as the film progresses, the more characters are in the scenes — eight of them in total. Plus to be perfectly honest, two of the actors couldn’t make it the second day, so we decided to shoot last first.
And boy were things crazy and went to heights I didn’t expect from a tug of war of the two polar opposite potential girlfriends (Eleni Masouras and Katherine Diaz) fighting over the uncomfortable Justin (Justin Kimball) to the hysterical grandma (Cookie Santucci) and sleepy then incredibly animated grandpa (Jim Chudnow), the hysterically creepy cousin (pictured above) and Jess (Tamara Lynn Chambers) who ties everything together with her facial expressions juxtaposed to her acting like everything is completely normal — not to mention the surprise guest at the dinner table (Nathan Burns). Needless to say, the performances exceeded my expectations.
My goal with this film is to make a holiday movie that is as far away from your grandparents’ holiday movie. It’s absurd, chaotic and not for the weak of heart. One of the most enjoyable segments to shoot is when the two potential girlfriends are getting hot and heavy with Justin despite his complete uncomfortableness. To accent this segment, we placed the camera underneath the table as well as from Justin’s point of view where we also see a certain someone’s foot enter the foray as well.
After a number of hours of shooting the dining room scene it was off to do character introductions. As mentioned earlier, one thing that happens throughout the film is more characters enter the home of Justin and Jess (Tamara Lynn Chambers) and so the rest of the day was us filming these introductions that showed Justin get increasingly more annoyed.
Considering we were shooting out in the hallway, we had to take at least 30 minutes of setup time between getting lights in the right spot to positioning the cameras in a way to be able to capture Justin’s reaction as well as the perfect frame for each character’s entrance. However, unlike the dinner scene, this section moved pretty quickly as we only did a couple of takes per person since these segments are pretty short in comparison to the final scene. Due to our slightly late start though, we did end about 30 minutes off but considering what we were working with (improv) I consider that an accomplishment. Day two was even more successful though, despite my aliment that would affect me throughout the day but that’s for the next blog…
— Simon Mounsey, Director, Producer, Production Designer for “I Hope You Like My Present)
As some of you know,ever since late October Clerestory Productions has been putting the wheels in motion to do a holiday imoprov short film. Despite wanting to do something that didn’t require such extensive planning as our previous film “Don’t Be Scared”, this film entitled “I Hope You Like My Present” has been anything but easy on a pre-production standpoint between a revolving door of actors due to family deaths, being busy with other projects and sicknesses, it hasn’t been easy. This doesn’t even explain all the changes with crew.
From the outside looking in, it would appear we were doing something wrong, but in reality we have had absolutely shitty luck. As stated in the previous blog with the holidays approaching it was going to make it so we had to wait almost two months before our rescheduled shoot took place. Fortunately we got that scheduled pretty quickly for January 18 and 19.
Time to shoot was getting closer and closer and due to all of the planning already taking place, there wasn’t a whole lot to do before shooting. Sure, I added a couple more crew members like David Baker (PA) and Robert Sancrainte (continuity supervisor) and Chris O’Malley (Assistant Camera), but nothing else really needed to be done. We established the characters in the film, the outline was set in stone, equipment was in place. We just had to wait for the date of the 18th. To be perfectly honest though, something wasn’t sitting right with me and I don’t know if it’s due to the bad luck this film has been given or something just being in the air. I felt something was going to change our course…
…and I was right. Last Sunday I got word from one of my key collaborators Robin Andrews that she had a scheduling conflict. This was a hard one to take as I really wanted to work with Robin again, but by no means was I upset as I completely understood why she had to back out. The problem though is not only was she our main actress, but we were also going to shoot at her home. With less than a week to go, I had to scramble not only to find an actress but a new location as well.
So, how did I approach this situation to avoid another canceled shoot? Very simply went back to Airbnb which is how I found our location for “Don’t Be Scared.” I emailed a plethora of people about it, but unlike before it wasn’t working out like before. Either people weren’t interested in us shooting, the space was booked already or they wanted ridiculous compensation. Yes we don’t have the typical request of someone on Airbnb as we don’t need lodging for a vacation; however, we aren’t staying the night and were only going to be there at most eight hours each day. Some people had their rooms priced at $50-$75/day, but thinking it’s a film and they could make some moolah they wanted upwards of $500/day for a total of a grand for the weekend. HELL NO!!!!
It just simply wasn’t working this time with the exception of one location; however, at this time it did occur to me to use a “family” location and by the time I scoped out the last Airbnb location, I had it in my mind I would go this route for two reasons:
1. I could set the location exactly how I wanted.
2. I didn’t have to deal with drama of someone who didn’t quite get what we’re doing.
Now you’re probably wondering why i’m being suspicious about this location that’s because it is my late grandmother’s condo.
Honestly, it had been a rough couple of weeks. My grandma went into the hospital two Mondays ago with headaches and dizziness. We were figuring they would figure out what was wrong with her and why she was getting these symptoms. Instead, my mom and I dealt with a very trying week where while there were moments of hope, we saw her deteriorating day by day which was odd because like I said she just came in with headaches and dizziness and what happened was she got to the point where it was hard to understand her and she was just out of it.
Tuesday in particular was difficult for me personally as I went there to visit her and instead was in a high tension situation with her thinking I was bringing her home. She also didn’t know where she physically was or why she was there, despite still being dizzy. The following days she was better with it but something wrong was going on. Then on Friday, my mom and I left at 10:45…
…only to receive a call at 11:15 that she had stopped breathing. In a panic, we left immediately but unfortunately by the time we had arrived she hadn’t been breathing for 20 minutes. Whether you’re a doctor or not, one thing is certain, losing Oxygen for that long has serious long term effects and we had a difficult choice to make — keep her alive in body only or to do a DNR (do not resuscitate). If there’s one thing I can say about myself it’s that I’m very realistic about things. My mom is a bit emotional so that can cloud her judgement, but even she knew that if we didn’t do a DNR we were just delaying the inevitable and she never would return back to what she was. So, we did what we had to and unfortunately early last Saturday morning I lost my grandma and my mom, her mother.
At this stage, I wasn’t thinking about my film. I didn’t care. Despite my grandma’s worsening condition, it was a tough pill to take as the world just felt empty. By Sunday night though I was starting to get back in reality not necessarily because I wanted to but because I needed a distraction. That’s when I got the email that I had to do some last minute rushing on the film and that’s where our story reconvenes.
Someone suggested to use the condo. Part of me was mad at that suggestion as it felt like taking advantage of my grandmother’s death to film. That’s when I went to airbnb, but after mulling it over a few days I realized something: it wasn’t taking advantage of anything. My grandma was probably the biggest supporter in my family and amongst my non-film friends to, well, be doing films. Whenever I talked to her, she wanted to know what I was working on and thought it was a great thing, so right then and there I decided I was going to shoot in the condo. I wasn’t just going to do it because I had nowhere else (as realistically I could have shot in couple other places), but I wanted to do the film “for her” as a tribute.
It being a bit of a mess though, I had to do some cleaning and planned to do it later in the week, realizing I was not only producer and director of this film, but I now was production designer. A bizarre title for me, but sometimes you gotta do, what you gotta do…
However, at this point we still didn’t have an actress. First, I contacted the actress who had to drop out due to a death in the family a while back but she was going to be out of town. Then I contacted the two other actresses previously involved but they both had performances and play rehearsals this weekend, so that wasn’t going to work. This being an improv film, I wanted someone with improv experience and the right look, but I didn’t see it. I was running out of time, but one thing I knew I had to do was switch up the roles. It was possible to do this film with only one girlfriend (but I didn’t want to) but it was possible, so Tamara Lynn Chambers who was playing the clingy girlfriend I moved up to be the sister of Justin Kimball so at least that was settled.
I wasn’t giving up on a second actress at this point though as I put out ads and asked Justin to help in the search. In both avenues, I wasn’t coming up with anything. Then a thought occurred to me. I really enjoyed working with Eleni Masouras on “Don’t Be Scared” but wasn’t sure if she had improv experience or was free for that matter, so I tried giving her a buzz and long story short, she thankfully accepted the part and we were good to go.
One may wonder why it took me until the first day of shooting to post this blog, but to be perfectly honest I was still paranoid. Too much bad luck had transpired throughout the pre-production of this film, and I didn’t want to jinx it. So, I kept quiet and I am here ecstatic to say that we have our first day of shooting in the books and so it’s time to break my silence on the matter. All I will say for now is it was a fantastic day of shooting, so look forward to my next blog where I go in depth on the shoot.
— Simon Mounsey, Director, Producer, Production Designer and Editor of “I Hope You Like My Present”
If you’ve been following our Facebook statuses and tweets, you’ll know that immediately after shooting our last short “Don’t Be Scared”, I immediately got to work on our next project — an improv short entitled “I Hope You Like My Present” as talked about in the previous blog. The intention was for it to be shot mid-November and to be uploaded on the net for all to see prior to Christmas (considering it is a Christmas-themed short).
Unfortunately, this did not happen as planned, so the following is all the hurdles we had to face.
Initially when coming up with this idea, I figured casting would be a breeze. The idea was to cast this film with the majority of the main cast from “The Proposal Complex.” While I did create the storyline with the two leads from that film (Justin Kimball and Robin Andrews), schedule conflicts got in the way later on. Within a few days I had the entire thing cast minus the grandparents. The two dates in the film were directly cast from “The Proposal Complex.” The problem is that while both were incredibly passionate about the project and I was excited to work with them again, I had to almost persuade them not to do it simply because they were stretching themselves too thin with simultaneous productions. I hated to do that, but I’d rather not get in the way of other productions that were booked beforehand; plus, I figured it was best to get people relaxed on set since it was improv and all.
Initially only one of these actresses had dropped out. Due to this, I needed to go back to the drawing board, so I looked back at previous auditions which we videotaped. One of the actresses I chose so happened to have auditioned way back when I was part of College of DuPage’s Indie Film Group and just so happened that her main focus was improv. Needless to say, I contacted her immediately but at the same time I was incredibly paranoid that it wasn’t going to work out due to contact info being out of date. I waited one day, two days and at this point I was ready to give up and move on. Luckily, she finally contacted me and not only was she on board but she seemed to be extremely excited to play the part, which only elevated my comfort level.
At this point, we had both dates cast as well as the leads of the brother (Justin Kimball) and sister (Robin Andrews). What we needed now were the grandparents, the creepy cousin and the friend of the brother. The problem at this juncture is that I realized I had no one left in previous auditions who I felt comfortable in doing a film that is entirely imrov; either that or I saw their schedule just wasn’t going to work out. Interestingly enough, I was getting a lot of responses from people interested in the grandparents’ roles. What I didn’t receive a lot of response to was that of the cousin; however, I got enough to do auditions, so I set them up and I can’t complain with any of the auditions. While there were a lot of great auditions for the grandparents, two actors stood out in that of Cookie Santucci and Jim Chudnow, who put on hysterical improv performances. It also helped that both of them were comfortable and knew each other.
Fortunately at this point I was 2/3 through the casting process and all I needed was the creepy cousin and the friend of the brother in the film. While I had been auditioning and had a lot of great improvers, there wasn’t anyone that I felt could pull off the cousin…that is until Justin Kimball told me about his friend Brittany Anderson in addition to his friend Nathan Burns (who he was trying to get in contact with to play his friend in the film). Usually in these cases I would meet with someone, but in this case I trusted Justin enough to cast both of them without meeting or even having an audition.
Once this happened, I was relieved as I had my entire cast…or so I thought. As I mentioned earlier there was another actress that dropped from the project due to her being involved in an intense play production at the time. To elaborate, basically to pull this off she would have had to shoot with us from 8-3 then go home, rest and change — all for her to perform in the production at seven. That gave me a near heart attack just thinking about it. She was a pleasure to work with on “The Proposal Complex” and one of the first people I asked to be a part of this film; however, I wouldn’t feel right having her rush around on the upcoming Saturday. In turn, I had to almost persuade her not to do it just so she could put in an excellent stage performance. Because of this, I was an actress short. Luckily, the part for the second date wasn’t nearly as specific to cast. When I auditioned Cookie and Jim, there also was a young actress who I really wanted to put in the film but as I said didn’t fit the part. Luckily, now I was able to cast Katherine Diaz as the second date.
Once again I was relieved knowing my cast was in place. Currently at this time it was the week of the shoot and everything was going well. The cast was in full, crew was in place and on that Thursday we were going to have an actor meeting where we would discuss the characters in the film amongst other things. On Tuesday though, bad news hit the film once again as the actress who I found from an old casting call had to drop because she had a death in the family. She was heartbroken to cancel as one thing she’s always wanted to do was a film that was completely improv. She was incredibly apologetic and felt horrible, but who am I to get mad at someone for not being able to be on set due to a death in the family? I told her it was perfectly fine and I told her to do what she has to do. Having said that though, I now had to scramble like mad to find an actress four days prior to filming. Due to this time crunch, I didn’t hesitate to post ads everywhere calling for another actress. While I had some initial feedback, some of the actresses didn’t respond back immediately and obviously my heart was racing at this point. I didn’t want to be an actress down or worse yet, cancel the shoot. Luckily that evening I got an email from an actress who in addition to having improv experience also is a standup comedian. I’ll be honest in that usually when I hear back from people, I will email them back. I didn’t have much time obviously at this point, so I immediately called her upon looking at her website. I got to talking with her and she was very personable and friendly. Initially I wanted to audition her, but due to her living in the city without needing a car, it proved difficult for her to come to the burbs for an audition. Thinking it through, I honestly didn’t care anymore about auditioning. I had less than four days and to be perfectly honest, I knew this girl had plenty of improv experience — not to mention I saw an improv video of her. Needless to say, I cast Tamara Lynn Chambers as the second date.
I was in serious finger crossing mode at this point. Never before have I had this much of a change in casting for any Clerestory Productions film or otherwise. That Thursday though I got some bad news. A couple of the production assistants on the film as well as the assistant director we had in place no longer could take part in the film. The production assistants had family commitments and last minute work scheduled and the latter had a paying photography gig, which I can’t blame him for taking instead. At this point I didn’t care. Sure, I knew we would be shorthanded on set, but I know with it being a two camera shoot with minimal lighting changes, we would make it work.
Everything looked good at this point and it was the day before. I was excited, moreso than I’ve probably ever been for a film shoot. Then I got a text from Robin Andrews who was playing the lead female, otherwise known as the sister of Justin Kimball in the film. My jaw hit the floor when I saw the text reading that Robin might have the flu.
Lovely. Just lovely. Totally not her fault at all, but I really didn’t know what was going to happen. She felt awful and if I know anything about Robin, she will follow through on her commitments hell or high water, so I know she must have been in bad shape. I told her to hold tight and that I was going to think of the next action. About mid-afternoon comes and I text Robin again to see how she’s doing and she told me she hadn’t thrown up for half an hour and that she knew she could do it. She didn’t want this to be canceled especially with all we’ve been through.
I had to think about this logically. Even if she was better, who’s to say she wouldn’t still be a carrier? I certainly didn’t want everyone on set to get the flu. Not only from being near her for being in her home, and that was the final straw. We were going to shoot in her house. Who knows where that flu could have migrated to. The other thing is due to it being the afternoon before the shoot, despite having her blessing, there was no way in hell I could find another actress and a new location in that amount of time. Bottom line: I had no other choice but to cancel the shoot. I hated doing it; especially with this being a Christmas film with a limited time span before people started getting busy but there was no way around it.
I proceeded to inform everyone of the cancellation and started to inquire people’s schedules the following week (Thanksgiving weekend). At first it seemed people were available until I had a couple crew and cast say they couldn’t do it. I then asked for the following weekend. Same problem. At this point, I was defeated. Despite the fact that I wanted this to be a web release during Christmastime, I knew it wasn’t feasible. Considering that, I had a couple of options.
First off, my plan was to just delay it a month and shoot it in January. This would allow us to shoot it with the idea and characters still fresh in everyone’s heads. Due to it being after Christmas, this lead to a couple more options:
1. I could shoot it as scheduled and make it Christmas themed.
2. I could shoot it with another theme such as birthday or Easter.
I thought long and hard about these possibilities and while at one point I was leaning towards axing the Christmas theme, it didn’t seem right. There was something special by having a dysfunctional family Christmas film opposed to Easter which didn’t make much sense as an adult holiday or a birthday which I found would’ve made it do generic. I wanted the best improv film I wanted and so I came to the conclusion that despite it being immediately after Christmas, I was going to stick to the initial plan. Not only that, but after getting a new computer thanks to my trusty sidekick Josh Paney, I felt it made the most sense for me to edit the film as well, which I will be doing for the first time in about six years.
First thing’s first though. I had to get dates set. Personally speaking at the time, while I wanted to do it in January, I wasn’t positive it could work as my mom had a potential surgery. Due to this, I had to inform everyone to sit tight for a few weeks before she met with a surgeon. Fortunately for her and for the film she did not need surgery, and so I proceeded to gather everyone’s schedules. Initially I wanted to do it the second week of January as it gave time for people to recover from New Year’s. That didn’t work out for everyone and so I suggested the weekend of the 18th and 19th. Wanting to get everything set, I made it clear to everyone I needed to get things in place and after a few days of forcing people to check their schedules, we all agreed to those dates.
So gang, what did we all learn from this?
1. Be careful about shooting during the holidays. While I thought a week before Thanksgiving was safe, it became a serious problem getting enough crew together.
2. Give people enough time to set their schedules. Because we had just shot “Don’t Be Scared” in October and I wanted to shoot something in November before Clerestory took a break, I didn’t have a lot of time to put together an outline, crew and cast. Had I given people a little bit more time, most likely I wouldn’t have had the difficulty in finding people available for the shoot.
3. Some things you just can’t control. I was hellbent on shooting this thing and finishing it before Christmas, but bad luck just happens sometimes. You can prepare and have backup plans but things like your lead actress (who also lived in the on-set location) getting the flu and your other actress having a death in the family are impossible to control.
Having said that, I truly believe this all happened for a reason. As I said, this was supposed to be film specifically for the web. Now, with the change I can submit “I Hope You Like My Present” to film festivals prior to next year’s Christmas. For those unaware, most fests will not accept films uploaded to the net, which is why film festivals were not an option the last go around.
In addition to this, I have a lot more flexibility this time. Instead of rushing this into one day, we will be shooting two days to get all the improv we want. Secondly, I can have a lot larger of a crew to make myself feel at ease. How it was going to be had Robin not gotten the flu is I would’ve had to be director and assistant director. For me I’ve been there, done that and I don’t wish to do those roles together ever again.
Bottom line: I look forward to shooting next month, so keep a lookout for upcoming blogs as we near production dates.
– Simon Mounsey, Writer/Producer/Director for Clerestory Productions
In the previous blog post, I talked about the casting process of “The Proposal Complex” at length. Because most of the characters in the film didn’t have a ton of dialogue, one thing I did then and usually do is for the actors to act out an improv scenario. It was the one way I could truly see if the actors could “act” and work on their feet.
The two actors I didn’t have improv were Robin Andrews (who I cast without thinking twice) and Justin Kimball (because unfortunately there was no one there for him to play off of). Having worked with Robin previously, I knew she excelled at improv and while on the set of “The Proposal Complex” I learned that despite it only being his first film, Justin did have a lot of experience in improv.
Where am I going with this? Well, I got to thinking after “The Proposal Complex” that I wished there was more improv involved, even though it wasn’t feasible due to the high technical demands of doing a 4 minute one shot take. I also thought back with the auditions and knowing Justin’s experience that I really wanted to do a film where basically everything was improvised.
Josh (dp/Clerestory Productions co-founder) and I took about a week off after shooting “The Proposal Complex” when I brought up the idea and he was all for it. Initially this improv short was going to be shot in September before we did “Don’t Be Scared.” I got a reading on a variety of the actors I’ve worked with as well as JD Scruggs (gaffer/key grip) and everyone was on board. However, between schedules and everything else, it didn’t work out.
Fast forward to a week after “Don’t Be Scared”, Josh and I met and the improv short was brought up again. Due to the holidays coming, I wanted this to get done soon and I immediately approached Robin and Justin again about the idea to do an improv short the three of us would collaborate on and if they’d be available the weekend of November 23. When they said yes, I started pulling crew together to make sure we “could ” film it.
Once the feeling out period was a success, I met with Robin and Justin to collaborate on the story. Needless to say, it was a fantastic meeting. I came in with a few general ideas and throughout the 90 minute session we got a solid outline of story that I’m very excited about.
So what is the story? That I am not going to elaborate on yet. Just think: dysfunctional family Christmas. That’s right; the next Clerestory Productions film will be an entirely improvised Christmas short comedy.
– Simon Mounsey, Director/Writer/Producer for Clerestory Productions
While we are waiting for “Don’t Be Scared” and “The Invention” to be edited, I have been working on the press kit for our previous film “The Proposal Complex” which some of you might be familiar with. Today, I wrote up our production notes for the film, so enjoy for your viewing pleasure.
“The Proposal Complex” is the third film under the banner of Clerestory Productions, co-founded by Simon Mounsey (Director/Producer/Writer) and Josh Paney (Cinematographer/Producer). It also is the first short film of their repertoire that expanded upon the slapstick comedy of their first two films “Tick, Tock, Toe” and “The Invention” and instead took a dramedy approach by infusing comedy and drama together into a character study piece.
Considering “The Proposal Complex” is a character study and a slice of life, there needed to be some thought put into the casting of the film. The lead female and the object of Greg’s affections in the film, Rachael, was an easy choice. Director Simon Mounsey had known Robin Andrews for years and previously worked with her on a few student films. She was chosen due to her versatility and the fact that she fit the part like a glove.
Another part cast very early on in the film was that of Greg’s brother Roger who was played by Charlie Kierscht who the previous month had been in Clerestory Productions’ film “The Invention” as the lead. On that film, Kierscht didn’t have a line of dialogue but from interacting with him on set, Simon knew he deserved a speaking part in the next Clerestory Productions film after he served as comic relief on set.
As for the rest of the cast, an involved casting process took place where ads were put out all over the net which resulted in a few auditions held solely by Simon. In this process there were several roles to be cast from Greg’s buddies, the “just legal” young spitfire Sammy, wise acquaintances Lisa and Jimmy and of course Greg himself.
Of this group, Brian Keys was the first cast as he had a perfect audition playing the perfect guy’s guy friend, not to mention he was a master improver. The second person cast was that of Samantha Hinchley as Lisa and Abe Vences as Jimmy.
This is where things got a little tougher. The part of Sammy was narrowed down to three actresses, all of whom could’ve played the part. After much contemplation though, Simon felt Jennifer Lenius was the best fit for the part with her exuberance and experience.
The one problem through this entire process was casting the lead character of Greg. There were a plethora of great acting talents that auditioned for the part but for one reason or another they didn’t fit the mold for Greg. On the final day of auditions, Simon bended over backwards trying to get two final auditions as he knew he hadn’t found his Greg yet. The first he met at a restaurant around 8:30 p.m. and while he thought there was possibility, that actor was cast for the other buddy of Greg. Unfortunately though, this actor never made it to set due to transportation complications and was replaced at last minute by Steven Smilowski who did a remarkable job, especially considering he had to memorize his lines and part a mere hour prior to shooting.
That leaves Greg. After casting Robin, I asked her if she knew of any possible interested actors and she gave me the name of Justin Kimball. The hard thing for Justin and for me is his audition was done completely by himself without anyone to play off of besides Simon himself. Through good fortune after the first moments of the audition, Simon knew he finally found his Greg. What’s more surprising is that Justin had never done a film before but was a complete natural.
There also needed to be quite a handful of extras on set, so everyone who did not receive one of the main parts in the film worked as an extra on set. Because the film is set at an outdoor house party, the actors remaining were not enough to fill the screen, and so we managed to obtain a few friends and family to participate in the film as well.
The core crew of “The Proposal Complex” wasn’t much different than that of the previous film “The Invention.” Simon Mounsey of course was Director/Producer with his production partner Josh Paney as Cinematographer/Producer. Also returning was JD Scruggs (Gaffer) who was in charge of all aspects of lighting and also served as location manager as his home is where “The Proposal Complex” was shot. Josh and JD also had input in terms of the storyline of the film along with Simon.
In addition, we had Josh’s brother Jeremy Paney as his Assistant Camera, Samantha Segura returning as our Assistant Director and Matt Mickelsen serving double duty as Boom Operator and Music Composer. Considering how much cast I had to deal with, I brought in another former colleague David Baker as the Second Assistant Director. We also brought on a new Production Assistant in that of Shyam Shennaveli and Justin Steinfeldt as our talented steadicam operator.
“AN 11 TAKE WONDER”
Over half of “The Proposal Complex” is done with a steadicam. Not only is it shot this way, but the opening is over four minutes long. You add getting the production values, the dialogue and everything else right, there was no way this was going to be a one or two take shot. Instead, the opening was shot a whopping 13 times, with take 11 being the one used in the film. Why did it take so long? Well, with it being outside, the biggest detractor of the night was audio. There weren’t many takes where there wasn’t an airplane, train or motorcycle that went by or extraneous people talking down the street. Beyond that, the camera movement had to be just right as the point of the steadicam is for it to appear like another guest was following Greg at the party. Technically speaking, the audio boom and light boom had to be working in unison without intruding on each other’s space. Not to mention the actors involved in the film had to get their lines right; although surprisingly this was the simplest aspect of the scene.
“The Proposal Complex” was shot on July 13, 2013 in Wheaton, Illinois at the home of JD Scruggs from 5 p.m. until 7:00 p.m. and from 9:00 p.m. until 2:30 a.m. on July 14., 2013.
Considering day 2 we were behind schedule almost the entire day, late Saturday night I met with assistant director Chris Ramirez and dp Josh Paney as I felt we needed to get a bit of an early start our final day. The main reason for this of course is we once again had to black windows. This time even moreso than the steadicam shot the previous day as we would see the kitchen windows, plus since we were to do the infamous stairs scene we had to black out a little bit of the upstairs again as well. So, because of all the work we had to do as well as having a little smaller crew, call was at 11.
Our goal with our new call time was to start shooting around 1. While like everything else, nothing goes to plan that didn’t happen. Instead it wasn’t until about 1:30-1:45 we were able to shoot. This is mainly because of two things. 1. Blacking out the side of the house where the stairs was had some complications for a while. 2. As great as the location is, our stairway was a little narrow.
However, once lights got set up, things got going pretty quickly. In fact, we were even able to do some spur of the moment shot innovation courtesy of Josh by doing a handheld shot as Catherine walks down the stairs and sees the shadow. It worked quite well, especially considering we didn’t have Justin on steadicam for day 2.
The first half of the shots on the stairs went pretty easily. We did some over the shoulder shots, a closeup, etc. Later on the stairs though we ran into a bit of a roadblock. We needed to create a similar shadow to the shot we had the previous evening of the uncle’s shadow (me standing in). The problem was that the shadow was looking a bit odd. To paint you a better visual, instead of just seeing legs and body and a well defined head, the shadow looked like a combination of Nosferatu and Albert Hitchcock. So we were delayed a bit until Josh finally figured something out.
Like how we’ve shot previous days, the stairs was our most difficult section of the day, so once we wrapped that up, the rest of the day wasn’t so bad. It was pretty much catching up at that point. I believe once the stairs was done we were about an hour or so behind. Thankfully, the next few shots were pretty smooth.
First, we did a couple shots of Catherine by the grandfather clock. The only problem here is that the time had changed, so basically we had to reshoot a couple things we shot on Friday. Then we gradually moved from the clock to the dining room and outside of a few tweaks, everything was going smooth.
During this time, David Scott Crawford (Uncle John) finally arrived to set. Not to give too much away but the character of Uncle John was a tricky one to cast as I laid out previously in the casting blog. The main thing being it’s a rather neutral character but at the same time has to have a certain warmth. The amazing thing about David Scott Crawford is that despite all that he tried to make a character biography to get into character.
Once we finished with a few more shots with Eleni though, it was time for lunch or dinner considering what time it was. The nice thing was that once we had our meal, there wasn’t a lot more to do. We had to knock out the dining room scene and do one pickup upstairs and the film was wrapped.
Anyways, we got back to business and David was finally on deck. These shots for the most part went really quick. Lights didn’t really need to move outside of a few adjustments. There was one shot where Catherine has to walk along the dining room table and confront Uncle John. This one took a bit of time as we needed to time it out. This also is the only section of the film where there is dialogue, so we needed to place her at a certain spot near the front of the table and we had to make sure her lines ended by the time she got to Uncle John…not to mention we needed our boom Matt Mickelsen to pick her up in the best possible spot.
It took about five takes to get that shot going and the final one looked great…or so we thought. Reason I say that is from there we did a couple more shots and Eleni was done. Then we started to do shots only involving David…but once we did that and Eleni was about to leave, she reminded us of a line of dialogue that needed to be in that shot.
I can’t tell you how thankful I am that she brought it up. Not only because I wanted that line in the film, but what we got in place of the previous take was something remarkable. In a stroke of genius Josh came up with the idea of doing the shot hand held and trust me, what we got looks amazing as it upped the intensity of the scene.
Once that shot was done, Eleni was wrapped for the shoot. The only thing we needed to do was get a couple shots of David. These went pretty quickly and there wasn’t much that needed to happen. The only thing we did was try to do a few takes of him doing it differently, but at the end of the day it’s a ghost not saying anything. Basically, we’ll be fine with what we have.
Then once David was wrapped we did a company move upstairs to quickly reshoot the hallway shadow from the night previously, which between setup, shot and takedown only took about 15 minutes and then we were finally wrapped.
Before I sign off on the film journal for “Don’t Be Scared” though I want to give thanks to everyone on the shoot. From Samantha Segura who wrote an incredible script (that was many years in the making) and was my creative producer, to my partner in crime Josh Paney (dp), Matt Mickelsen who was our boom operator and will be doing our music, JD Scruggs who is the workhorse of the set — not to mention the owner of the majority of the equipment used and of course Jeremy Paney (Josh’s right hand man on camera).
The above is my core group and are all principally involved in Clerestory Productions. Some have worked with Josh and I since “Tick, Tock, Toe” and others have at least worked with us since this past summer’s “The Invention” and are all full members.
Beyond them though, I want to give a special thanks to Chris Ramirez who was everything an assistant director should be. He kept us on schedule and kicked us in the ass when we needed to be kicked in the ass. I also want to thank Justin Steinfeldt once again for his awesome steadicam work that will give “Don’t Be Scared” that extra quality. I also don’t want to thank our production assistants Matthew Pniewski, Jeff Deakin and Chris O’Malley who were a huge help in getting things done, especially when it came to blacking out all the windows.
And finally I don’t want to sign off without thanking the magnificent actors for “Don’t Be Scared.” Eleni Masouras was absolutely spectacular. She was a real trooper having to deal with cat allergies all weekends, delayed schedules and everything, but you know what? She didn’t complain once and helped us tremendously by informing us about her missing line, which I guess is what happens when you don’t have a script supervisor.
David Scott Crawford was also a pleasure to be with. I almost feel bad at times getting such a good actor when in reality he didn’t have to say a single line of dialogue. He did a fantastic job at being a mime though.
Most important of all though. I have to thank Jill Jenkins, the homeowner of the house we used to shoot “Don’t Be Scared.” I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better host. She allowed us to move anything, use any room and was overall excited for us to be filming in our home. Considering all the stress it took to find the location, this shoot truly would not have happened without her.
Well that’s it for now. Stay tuned as I will continue with updates for the post-production process of “Don’t Be Scared.”
— Simon Mounsey, Producer/Director of “Don’t Be Scared”
Well here we are. Day two of “Don’t Be Scared” also known as the longest day of shooting. We scheduled the shoot to go from 1-10pm. Needless today wasn’t for the weak of heart. Thankfully, unlike the previous night there was not a whole lot of moving from spot to spot. In fact about 90% of the shoot was in one room.
First thing’s first though. We wanted to do the most difficult shot of the day first thing. If I haven’t hinted at it before, this is how Clerestory Productions works. We try our best to get the more difficult elaborate setups done first and work ourselves towards the easier stuff the later filming goes on. For instance, this is exactly why we did everything with the jib our first night, so we didn’t have to deal with that elaborate setup.
What we did have to do first thing though is a couple of steadicam shots. For those who know of our previous short film “The Proposal Complex” will remember that 85% of it is a one shot take using a steadicam. Thankfully, we aren’t as crazy to do that again on “Don’t Be Scared”, but we are doing a few smaller length steadicam shots. Since he did such a great job on “The Proposal Complex” we brought Justin Steinfeldt back on board as our steadicam operator.
As for the first shot, it was a moving camera around the first floor of the house, and because the film is supposed to entirely take place at night, we had to black out all the windows on the first floor.
These pictures were just a few of the light sources we had to cover up. Crew arrived at 12:30 and it probably wasnt’ until about 2:30 that it all got set. Obviously considering those times, we were already behind.
To make matters worse though, Justin had some car issues and he wasn’t there until 2:30 about. Due to the amount of setup his steadicam takes, it’s not so simple as to when he gets there, we’ll shoot, so we had to wait about 30 minutes for him to set up his gear first.
Once his gear was set, Josh (dp) and I ran through the motions of the shot to get timing right. More specifics of the shot is basically it’s a slow tracking shot through the house that ends on the photo prop of Catherine and Uncle John. That seems easy enough but the problem was when we went through it, the photo would be out of focus on the end point, so what we had to do is to have Josh walk with Justin and pull his focus as he walked through the house. Yes, it took quite a few times, but we did knock it out eventually.
At this point, we were incredibly far behind. Worse yet, we had to do a company move to the upstairs bedroom. Now if you thought blacking out all the windows on the first floor was difficult, it was an even greater chore to black out a significant amount of windows on the second. Not only was it much higher up, but some windows we couldn’t simply attach to a pole and block a window; instead, we had to climb on the roof and tape it up.
During this time, Josh, Justin and I went through the motions of the first shot of the bedroom. This of course was another steadicam shot. While it covered much less space than the shot previous, it was a little more difficult in that the camera went to the picture frame on the table to Catherine sleeping on the bed. In other words, the camera was a lot lower to the ground, and since it was lower to the ground, Justin had to shoot the scene upside down (to be converted later).
Once everything was set, things went pretty easily. Justin had great timing and the shot looked really nice and smooth. After that shot, the difficulty of the day was behind us. Good thing too because at this point we were about two hours behind schedule.
However, this is where Clerestory Productions shoots shine. We may get very behind schedule, but we always end up catching up. Considering the rest of the shots (outside of a few hallways shots) were in the bedroom, the rest of the day flew by.
The only shot in the bedroom that took a little bit of tweaking was one in which we needed to shoot in front of the green screen. Why a green screen? Well the script calls for when Catherine looks behind her, the room is reversed. It would be almost impossible to get that positioned right in camera, so instead we elected to do some effects in post to reproduce it.
Now despite being incredibly far behind earlier in the day by the time we were done with the bedroom shots, we were only 30 minutes behind schedule (as we still had about three shots in the hallway after). Unlike setting up the bedroom, the hallways shots didn’t take long at all; then again it was night time when we shot.
The main point of these shots were to establish the ghost entering and leaving the house; in other words it was heavily weighted on shadows. Since our Uncle John wasn’t present, yours truly stepped up to the place to create the shadows. With the help of lighting suggestions from our pa Chris O’Malley the hallway shots wrapped up pretty quickly once we figured out my timing walking to and away from the light.
And that was it. Day two, despite being a longer day went pretty smoothly for the most part. Yes, we probably almost gave assistant director Chris Ramirez a near heart attack by being hours behind schedule, but like most other shoots we made it through.
Thankfully, our final day would be our easiest day yet.
– Simon Mounsey, Director/Producer for “Don’t Be Scared”
Well here we were, the first day of filming for our most recent short “Don’t Be Scared.” Despite all the stress leading up to this day, it was time to get down to business. As mentioned in previous blogs, we went through arduous processes in terms of getting a location set, props produced and to a lesser extent actors and crew in place. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t mixed emotions coming in. Indeed I was excited, but at the same time a lot of things had to be rushed last minute.
Why were some things rushed last minute? Well mostly this had to do with our location not being decided until a week and a half prior to shooting. It should also be noted that the pre-production for this film was organized a little bit differently. At first we were incredibly ahead of schedule in terms of being prepared. For one, the script (written by Samantha Segura) had been finished in August. From there, Josh Paney (DP) and I put together a shot list within about a week’s time and not long after, the cast and crew were all decided on.
However, due to the location not being set, we couldn’t do much else. There was absolutely zero point in doing a shoot order as we didn’t know the layout of where we were shooting. Also, we tend to like to create storyboard stills where Josh, a stand in or two and I will go to the location and take stills of every shot in the film. Obviously we can’t do that if we don’t know where we’re shooting.
On the logistics end we couldn’t create a schedule considering A) the shoot order has to be final and B) we needed to know what shots were going to be more complex than others due to constraints such as windows, room size, etc. It couldn’t be done. Instead, all of us were waiting. In fact we were approximately two days away from postponing the shoot due to no location until we finally found our location.
Bottom line: We didn’t have the preparation we would have liked. This is not to say we didn’t have things in place by this Friday evening, but we definitely pushed things to the limit so to speak.
Our first shoot day being on a Friday night, I had a feeling we would get a bit of a late start. Why? Simply put: a lot of our crew, particularly Josh and Sam had jobs they were coming from, and in the process for the rest of the night we probably put our assistant director Chris Ramirez in near heart attack mode.
Anyways, since we had to wait for the remaining crew, our group gathered our equipment and loaded inside the house after going after a few logistics with the homeowner.
The first shot of the night was pretty damn simple and I’m not going to go too in depth with it. Simply some pickups of the grandfather clock. Once Josh and Jeremy got in, we just moved some lights around and shot. No big problem. Were we over time at this point? You betcha, but we got it wrapped up pretty quick.
During this time, JD Scruggs (gaffer/key grip) set up the jib for our next shot which so happened to be our most difficult shot of the entire weekend. What made it difficult? Well for one it’s a jib shot, so we had to make sure the movement of the crane was smooth. Secondly we had to get lighting right inside and outside. Lastly, we had to coordinate with Eleni Masouras (Catherine) timing just so perfectly where once we crane up to the window, we see her approaching.
On the other side of the wall I had to work with Eleni in explaining what was happening in the scene, which essentially was her walking to the window in a dreamlike state. Once Eleni arrived though, we found a little bump in the road we weren’t expecting…
If you’re wondering why there’s a picture of a cat above, well that’s because our location had a number of cats. During the location scout we did notice them but didn’t make much of it. One thing we should have been is more prepared because that night we realized that our actress was allergic to cats. Let this be a word to the wise for all you other filmmakers out there: If there is an animal on set, check to see if anyone is allergic. I must say though that Eleni was a trooper; granted, she did try to keep herself separated from the cats during the night. Thankfully the following day’s shoot wasn’t as much of a problem due to allergy medication.
Anyways, once Eleni was settled and Josh felt comfortable with the setup outside we tried to take a few run throughs. This is what pushed us back quite a bit. Getting timing down was quite an interesting feat. To get this shot to work, we had to have Eleni approach the window just as the camera is coming up to the window. How did we time this? Well…
Since we don’t have walkie talkies, we had to signal each other using our cell phones. So how this played out is the shot would start, I would hear action, then about halfway up I would be given a signal in which I would signal our actress to start her approach towards the window. Obviously this was not done in one take. It took several and the one shot we wanted to use was unusable because, well, yours truly ended up being in the shot itself. Eventually we got it though.
From then on, the rest of the night went pretty smoothly…for the most part. We were a bit behind schedule, but we managed to get some shots on the side of the house pretty easily.
Then we moved to the front of the house which we felt the neighbors would kill us for. Why? Well we had to create enough wind to make the flag flapping in the wind and more specifically we used a leaf blower to have leaves and papers blowing on the ground to start our final shot, a jib shot of the front of the house. Keep in mind this was at 11 at night too, folks.
We did it a few times and it looked pretty decent, but once we thought we about had it, we lost power to the camera.
Now you’re probably thinking, why don’t you just exchange batteries? Well it isn’t that easy. The black magic cinema camera is an amazing camera. It is great with low light situations and has an incredible amount of detail. It just has one problem and that is it only gets power through a charge. Considering we didn’t have time to blow waiting for it to charge, we had to get a super long extension cord to run to the camera and thread it along the jib.
Once we got all the logistical stuff out of the way, thankfully, we did one take of craning up and down with the jib and were done. Now it should be noted we were slated to end at 10:15, but we ended at 11:30, so we were a little over an hour over. However, the last shot we did was actually slated for Sunday, so we were dare I say, ahead of schedule. Why did we add a shot? Simply put, I wanted to get all exterior and jib shots out of the way.
Anyways, once we got that we wrapped up and tried to head home as quick as we could to sleep it out, because Saturday would be our longest day of the weekend.
– Simon Mounsey, Director/Producer for “Don’t Be Scared”
As some of you may have been wondering, the Clerestory Productions Blog has been at break for a few weeks. Reason one is that we were filming “Don’t Be Scared” from October 18-20 and while I wanted to do updates during filming, there simply was no time for it.
The second reason why I haven’t is that I wanted all of our production stills to get back before going in depth with the production process to give you more of a visual instead of stories and descriptions. Finally we do have all photos in our possession and there is no one I’d like to thank more for that than Agnieszka Kedzior of AK Portraits who not only took a plethora of photos of every crew member and cast member during production but also was a huge help in producing the most important prop in the film:
This is a photo that appears multiple times in “Don’t Be Scared.” It’s a photo of the two characters in the film many years prior when Catherine had just graduated college, which of course is attended by her Uncle John (pictured). In fact, the photo represents five years prior to the setting in the film and plays many important roles in the film beyond set dressing.
Angie did a beautiful job of this photo and I will say the film wouldn’t have that next level of class without the quality of this photo.
As for the shoot itself, we were very fortunate to have fantastic weather. This day was less than a week out prior to the film shoot and had it been raining, we would have had to take this inside of the College of DuPage (where this was shot) and most likely wouldn’t have had the same shine to it.
We also lucked out that Eleni Masouras (Catherine) had her very own graduation robe, which meant we didn’t need to go through the trouble of finding a prop gown. This only added to the legitimacy of the photo.
Now a word of warning to any of you other filmmakers out there. If you need a photo prop in your film, do not assume it will be easy to produce. Get a professional photographer and be sure you know how it will be printed. I’d be lying if I said the production of this photo didn’t take some time to produce.
At first I figured it would be easy and could go to Walgreens. When I did, it honestly looked terrible. To boot, Walgreens doesn’t have matte printing. Speaking of which, if you need photos in your film, make sure you do matte. If you do gloss, it will glare like crazy.
So how did we accomplish this feat? I went to a professional photo store, in this case PJ’s Photo in Glen Ellyn, IL. Believe me I tried going to places like Kinkos, Office Depot and other local photo places. None of them had matte printing. Bottom line? Know what you’re doing before producing a photo prop.
At the end of the day I want to give one final thank you to AK Portraits for such a fine job on our photo prop and the many productions stills shot during production (which will be seen in future blogs) as well as our main Facebook page for Clerestory Productions. By all means, if you like the photo above and below (as well as the many to be seen in future blogs) feel free to contact Angie here.
– Simon Mounsey, Director/Producer of “Don’t Be Scared”