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”