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)