When Everything Goes Wrong (The Trials and Tribulations of Our Improv Short)

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.

 

Justin Kimball (Greg) and Robin Andrews (right) in "The Proposal Complex"
Justin Kimball (Greg) and Robin Andrews (right) in “The Proposal Complex”

 

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immediately but at the same time I was incredibly paranoid that it wasn’t going to work out due to contact info being out of date.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.

 

Cookie Santucci
Cookie Santucci

 

Jim Chudnow
Jim Chudnow

 

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.

Brittany Anderson
Brittany Anderson

 

Nathan Burns
Nathan Burns

 

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.

 

Katherine Diaz
Katherine Diaz

 

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.

Tamara Lynn Chambers
Tamara Lynn Chambers

 

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.

 

fbdontbescared-67
Simon Mounsey, Writer/Producer/Director of Clerestory Productions

 

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

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