Gearing Up

Today is the day Clerestory Productions will go into production for our latest short film “Don’t Be Scared.” Words cannot express the level of excitement that is passing through my body at the moment. We have our cast, our crew and as of last night we got our camera package…

Black Magic Cinema Camera

 

As I said in the previous post, I typically am not the technical one of the crew, but I will say that everything I’ve heard about this camera is absolutely incredible. Up until now we have used the 5D camera on our shoots. While our stuff has looked pretty damn good in the past, the picture quality you will see for “Don’t Be Scared” will be a drastic increase.

There’s a reason for that though. This script is highly visual, and we didn’t just want to shoot it on our typical camera. No, we felt it was imperative to get something of higher quality to make those visuals even more striking. This is why for the first time we elected to rent a camera for the shoot.

Beyond our new camera, we also have a new toy that JD Scruggs created…

 

IMG_20131017_201223_638
A jib created by JD Scruggs

 

One thing “Don’t Be Scared” calls for is a moving exterior shot (and that’s all I’m giving away). The only way to do this is with a jib. While we took a look at some rentals, we felt it would be more efficient and budget conscious to create our own. This is the main shot of the evening tonight, and I will say I’m both nervous and excited about it (as it probably will take some time to get down).

Beyond that, Matt Mickelsen, our on set sound guy went on an audio buying spree a few months ago to get his own equipment, thus “Don’t Be Scared” will be the first film utilizing said equipment. While there isn’t a TON of audio to be caught on this short, I am looking forward to better sounding audio on this shoot (not that past shoots were bad but you get the idea…)

Just to be on the safe side, JD and I loaded all lights, stands and everything else under the sun into our vehicles. Due to that, I would be lying if I’m not a little freaked to drive considering my car now looks like this…

 

IMG_20131018_162010_307

 

And here I am now a few hours away from shooting. “Don’t Be Scared” will definitely be an interesting experience. It definitely will be a different shoot for me. For one, I will be directing someone else’s script (something in previous years I wasn’t so keen on doing). It also will be different location-wise using someone else’s home. Enough of my yacking though, time to get on the road…

– Simon Mounsey, Producer/Director for “Don’t Be Scared”

 

The Crew For “Don’t Be Scared”

Much like many of our productions, “Don’t Be Scared” works with a very minimal crew. While yes one reason for this is we are a low budget production company, it also is because simply our films don’t call for gigantic crews.

I for one have been on a few large crew shoots, and one thing that I come away from those shoots is that there are way too many people. You will have an army of camera people, three assistant directors, at least five production assistants, a couple of sound guys and an absurd amount of producers, not to mention a completely unnecessary amount of craft services personnel. A lot of times producers feel this is how it has to be in order to get things done.

WRONG!!!! A crew like that, unless you’re doing a big budget thing, will only slow the process down. Filmmaking to me is all about efficiency and being able to get the best possible product in a team that truly gels together. Having a crew where half the amount of people are just sitting around doing nothing is stupid. In fact, I’ve been on some shoots where this actually hinders the production. There’s less space and the “not doing anything” mentality can sometime spread.

With Clerestory Productions we make sure everyone has a role and it’s not uncommon for some to have multiple roles such as yours truly. Usually on our films I serve as writer/producer/director and depending on how things are going, I may take on the role of assistant director and make sure we are on time. I’ve found through the years though that taking on the responsibility of AD in addition to director is a terrible idea as I get more concerned with efficiency and not enough with creativity. This is why “The Proposal Complex” was so successful because once we were on set I was director and director only.

Enough about me though, it’s time I introduce my crew for “Don’t Be Scared.” Some of these names I have mentioned and some will be new.

 

From l-r Jeremy Paney (assistant camera) and his brother Josh Paney (director of photography)
Jeremy Paney (assistant camera) and his brother Josh Paney (director of photography)

 

Now, I have talked here and there about Josh in the past, but I’ll make it more clear. The bottom line is that none of this would happen most likely (or as efficiently at least) if it wasn’t for Josh. He truly knows his stuff behind the camera and if there is anything having to do with lighting or technology, he is the go to person. In fact, that’s part of why we work so well together, because I’m more of the story creator/tweaker as well as head producer while Josh is the technical guy. This is not to say that Josh isn’t creative; in fact, he is very creative especially when it comes to us coming up with a shot list, but I’ll be honest in that these productions wouldn’t look nearly as good without him. He also is my equal in terms of the Clerestory Productions brand by collaborating on what projects to do; not to mention, he is the webmaster for Clerestoryproductions.com.

Josh’s brother Jeremy is also an incredible asset. For someone who doesn’t have formal training in film, he is phenomenal. For the most part, Jeremy serves as Josh’s right hand man on set. Just like Josh, he knows his way around a camera and is quite knowledgeable in terms of lighting. In addition, he has an incredible eye for detail. Our first production “Tick, Tock, Toe”  he served as our script supervisor keeping careful attention to continuity especially on the now infamous clock. Needless to say without Jeremy we wouldn’t be nearly as efficient as we are.

 

JD Scruggs
JD Scruggs (Gaffer/Key Grip)

 

JD has worked with Clerestory Productions since this past spring as he helped us with many equipment and location woes. That is not where it ends for JD though. To say he is a jack-of-all-trades is an understatement. On set usually he helps with providing equipment, making equipment and knows his way around a set. When Josh needs help or a new idea in terms of lighting, JD is there to save the day. Not just that but JD also is a solid screenwriter/producer with a plethora of experience and can probably work any position on set.

 

Samantha Segura
Samantha Segura (Writer/Producer)

 

Much like Josh, I have known Sam for ten years. We’ve been on some great productions and some incredibly stressful ones. This film is a bit of a change for Sam though. While she usually is our assistant director, she is the sole writer on “Don’t Be Scared.” On set, Sam will be producer and serve more of an adviser role by making sure her vision is coming to life.

 

Matt Mickelsen
Matt Mickelsen (Audio Sound/Composer)

 

Matt Mickelsen is our audio aficionado. I’ve known Matt for about four years probably, and initially I came to work with him because he is an incredible musician, thus he is our sole composer. However, on a shoot we did for Fox River Films called “Orbit Control” we needed an extra person to handle audio sound and Matt stepped up to the plate, and ever since he has been our on set sound person.

 

Chris Ramirez
Chris Ramirez (Assistant Director)

 

This will the first time Chris will be on a Clerstory Productions set. I met him a couple of months ago and we exchanged contact information. Because I knew I would need some new crew for “Don’t Be Scared” I asked if he’d be willing to be a PA and he was on board. Over the last couple of weeks though, Chris got promoted to assistant director. We initially had a different AD on board, but due to a conflicting schedule he was not able to do the shoot. Knowing that Chris has a good amount of experience, even directing his own recent film “Only Thunder” which has made its entry into several film festivals, I knew he was the right one for the gig.

We also will have two PAs on set. The first is Matthew Pniewski or “Pniewski.” I’ve known Matt for about five years in passing, but it hasn’t been until recently I’ve gotten to know him a little better. One thing I do know about Matt is he’s incredibly passionate about film, and I definitely look forward to working with him on set.

Lastly, we have Chris O’Malley as our second PA. I don’t know too much about Chris; other than he’s looking to help out on more shoots. I definitely look forward to working with him this weekend though.

Well that’s it for our crew. I probably don’t say it enough how much I appreciate all of my crew, but I am truly blessed with a talented group of people. Now if only it could be Friday already…

– Simon Mounsey, Producer/Director for “Don’t Be Scared”

The Arduous Process Of Finding A Location For “Don’t Be Scared”

Yesterday, I told the process of finding our cast for “Don’t Be Scared.” While it wasn’t the easiest thing in the world due to the plethora of talent we’ve found in terms of actors through the years, it was a walk in the park compared to finding a location.

All of our films in the past have been incredibly easy to find a location. For “Tick, Tock, Toe” (To be released this fall) we used my bedroom, for “The Invention” (also to be completed this December) we used JD Scruggs’ (gaffer) garage and for “The Proposal Complex” we used JD Scruggs’ (producer/gaffer) backyard and garage. As you can see, we have pretty much used locations that we have access to.

“Don’t Be Scared” is a completely different animal. For one, we needed a two story home. We also needed this home to have old time/antique feel to it which also included a grandfather clock and a long stairway. None of the crew has a home like this. Initially we almost had a location from one of our previous collaborators but that fell through.

Since we had no immediate options, what happened for the next month was approach friends and family to see if they had/know of a location that meets our requirements. The results? Nothing. Notta. Zilch.

Considering we had no immediate connections, I then resorted to posting on Craigslist, a plethora of film boards, social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin. I got a couple of likes for posting the query (still don’t understand what for); however, once again came up with NOTHING!!!!

It should be noted at this point in time, we had about a month left before our shoot date. Needless to say, I started to get a little worried. While it’s nice that we had everything in place, the shoot can’t go on without a location.

Almost out of ideas, I used an out of the box method to hopefully find our location, which was to look for houses that fit our description on the real estate market and contact the house’s realtor. At first I had some promising hits. The realtors were intrigued and stated how they would ask the current owners if we could use it. As you can expect, a week, two weeks went by and nothing. I’m guessing the owners had not interest to say the least.

I still was posting on the aforementioned sites about us needing a location, probably bordering on being seen as spam. At this point, we had just chosen our cast, and since I ran out of options, I asked if they knew of anything. David Scott Crawford (playing Uncle John) brought up this bed and breakfast place in Oak Park. Sadly, while the location was really good, the price was a bit steep, plus we would have had to change our shoot dates.

Looking into the bed and breakfast gave me an idea though. Recently when I went on a trip to Atlanta, someone suggested to me using airbnb.com. For those who don’t know, Airbnb is a site where people put their homes online where they rent out rooms much like a hotel but usually at a cheaper price. Since I needed something quick, I decided to give it a shot, took a look and went on a messaging spree on various two story homes in the area.

Lo and behold, the following morning I got 10 responses. I was absolutely floored by this and thought to myself “Why the hell didn’t I try this before?” Now, some might say I might have been a little optimistic at this step, and at one point I agreed because early on, the locations didn’t work. Either the owner didn’t like how much room we would have taken or the location didn’t fit the film.

Two Mondays ago though I went to two of the homes for scouting. The first I went to, while it had a great exterior was rather crammed, didn’t have a good stairwell or a grandfather clock.

The second house I was intrigued by from the pictures online. Mainly because it had a grandfather clock. Anyways, I toured the house and the owner was very inviting and seemed quite intrigued in our project. She gave me a tour and it pretty much had everything we needed…

 

Exterior of house with a flagpole.
Exterior of house with a flagpole.

 

A tall staircase
A tall staircase

 

An old fashioned dining room.
An old fashioned dining room.

 

A beautiful bedroom.
A beautiful bedroom.

 

And of course a grandfather clock.
And of course a grandfather clock.

 

It should be noted at this point that I pretty much knew we had found our location; however, I actually had another scheduled visit for the following day. I contemplated it and while I’m sure the other location could have worked, this one was perfect. Not only did it have everything we wanted, but it also was closer to most of the cast and crew.

Having said that though, I didn’t want to confirm it with the owner just yet, so the following night I invited Josh Paney (Director of Photography) to come out with me to look at the location. I needed to know it was alright with him as he needs to be able to work within the confines of it. While he said there might be some complications, namely the narrow stairway, he agreed that it worked and right then and there the location was ours, and we didn’t even have to change our shoot dates.

What did I learn from all of this?

1. Do NOT set a shoot date until you have a location locked.

2. Don’t assume people will just be okay with filming in their home, even if they are friends and or family.

3. I swear I don’t work for the website, but I have to say now that Airbnb.com is an invaluable resource if you’re trying to find a location.

Needless to say there was a huge relief once we locked down the location and I could get down to business preparing the final assets needed for production.

– Simon Mounsey, Producer/Director of “Don’t Be Scared”

The Cast of “Don’t Be Scared”

One of my favorite processes when it comes to the creation of a film is casting. Clerestory Productions for the last few years has put on three casting calls.

Now, it should be noted that we don’t hold a casting call for every film we do. We film our casting calls and use it for future casting purposes. While we have a plethora of actresses in our database who could do the role of Catherine (women aged 25-32), honestly, we don’t have that luxury for those who fit the mold of the uncle (males aged 50-65). This is why we felt it was imperative to do a call for “Don’t Be Scared.”

Before getting into specifics of who we picked for our cast, I feel it’s important to explain what the casting process is like for Clerestory Productions. Like many casting calls, actors will come to a table, sign an information form and will be given a script as well as an acting partner. For the actors’ comfort, he/she will read over the script (usually anywhere from 2-4 pages) for a few minutes. When ready, the actors will walk into the taped audition.

As one would expect, the actors first read the script with their own interpretation. Based on the initial read through, I then will give direction to each actor in order to see how they are able to adjust.

If I like what I see and if there is not a large line waiting in the wings, what I will do is have the actors do some improv. The improv scenario I create for the actors can be various types of things. One scenario I will do is for them to simply do the scene they’ve been reading but without the script and have them put their own spin and dialogue to it. The other improv technique I will use for casting is to set up my own scenario where the actors will completely create their own characters and scene on their own until I stop them.

Back to “Don’t Be Scared.” Not surprisingly, this was our lowest turnout for a casting call. Why is this not surprising? Well, quite frankly we advertised this one very specifically to those two roles, and while we took people of all ages, we were predominantly looking for filling the shoes of Catherine and Uncle John.

For the Catherine character, writer/producer Samantha Segura and  I were looking for several things:

1. As for appearance, ideally someone with dark, long hair who looked 25-32.

2. For the actual performance, we were looking for someone who was very expressive, both in facial expressions as well as the emotion exuding from dialogue.

3. For me personally, I also look for someone who is able to adjust, so we chose…

Eleni Masouras
Eleni Masouras

The interesting thing about Eleni is that she was the absolute final person to audition. Before her audition, I was 50/50 on who to cast. There was one actress I was thinking about for this audition and another from last year’s call. However, Eleni blew me away and put her all into the audition. While Sam and I did meet a few days after to discuss who to cast, I had it in my mind that Eleni was our Catherine.

Uncle John was a little more difficult to cast. For one, in the actual script, the uncle doesn’t speak which makes casting incredibly difficult. Because of this, I created a side script. Basically a side script is a script filled completely with dialogue that won’t be in the film whatsoever. It is the only way to see the performance of the actor opposed to just basing the decision off looks.

As for what we were looking for in terms of Uncle John:

1. In terms of appearance we were looking for someone who looked the part of a successful scientist, i.e. he had to look very intelligent and thoughtful while also having a very loving, tender look about him as well.

2. For the performance we had to find someone who had exceptional facial expressions. In line with this, this actor had to have a show of concern without overdoing it and turning it from loving to creepy.

3. For everyone who auditioned for this role, I tried to have them improv the dialogue without verbalizing anything (as is in the script), so I chose…

David Scott Crawford
David Scott Crawford

David has an incredible presence and looks the part of a good-natured uncle. What is interesting about David is that he has a great voice and is excellent with dialogue, despite the fact that he won’t be verbalizing any dialogue in the film. Like Eleni, I was impressed with how he upped his game through direction and improv.

Well there you have it folks, the cast of “Don’t Be Scared.” I look very forward to working with these two talented actors this weekend. Not only are they great actors but both are very communicative, which will only make my job as director easier.

– Simon Mounsey, Producer/Director for “Don’t Be Scared”

“Don’t Be Scared” Background

As mentioned in the initial post, Clerestory Productions is putting the final pre-production details on our upcoming short “Don’t Be Scared” these next few days before shooting commences on October 18th through the 20th. So, I figure now is a better time than any to explain some of the background of the short as well as a short synopsis.

First off, unlike previous short films in the Clerestory Productions repertoire, “Don’t Be Scared” is not written by yours truly. Instead, this short is written by our usual assistant director Samantha Segura, who is serving as screenwriter and producer on this project. A nice tidbit of information about the background of this short is that this is a script that’s been on hold for at least three years, starting when Sam started going to school in Columbia.

Why has it taken this long to be produced? Well, there’s a couple of reasons. For one, this is a script that is a bit of a passion project for Sam. Secondly, for a while there we were bouncing from group to group; not to mention, my job situation kept fluctuating for a number of years. Needless to say, the pieces were not fitting together as they should have.

However, ever since Josh Paney (DP and co-founder of Clerestory Productions) returned back to Illinois, we’ve put together a very solid crew where we’ve now produced four shorts under the Clerestory Productions banner, two of which are from this past summer. Because of the familiarity of the crew and the roll we have been on coming off the heels of “The Proposal Complex”, Sam and I agreed that now was the time to put the wheels in motion and produce her passion project.

Without divulging too much information, “Don’t Be Scared” is a dramatic family ghost story about a woman who must come to grips with the passing of her late uncle. It being a family story, it is no wonder that this is a passion project for Sam as the uncle featured in the film is an amalgam of four of her uncles.

An interesting note about the script is that while it was put on hold, there was quite a bit of tweaking this past summer when Sam revisited the script. For one, initially the story involved a young girl, but to make things easier on us, we elected to go with a late 20s woman instead. The larger difference though in comparison to the recent version is that the original script was longer and featured a good amount of dialogue, but instead of turning it into a talk-heavy short, we elected to have the visuals tell the story.

There is no mistake that I am excited for the shoot this upcoming weekend. This is a film that has been many years in the making. Not to mention this will be a first for yours truly as I have never directed a film that wasn’t my own script. More about that in another post though.

– Simon Mounsey, Producer/Director of “Don’t Be Scared”

The Clerestory Productions’ Blog

Clerestory Productions has been in existence for a little over two years. In that time span, we have produced and helped produce six short films, soon to be eight. While we have ventured in the world of social media with our Twitter and Facebook pages, one thing we have needed to do but neglected is to create and update a blog of all our ventures.

What’s the purpose of the Clerestory Productions Blog?

This blog will serve as a film journal. We will update you on our latest projects in pre-production, production and post-production. In addition, we will update you on the latest festival appearances our films have entered. We also might add some interesting tidbits, facts and film techniques from time to time as well.

Why now?

While there have been plenty of opportunities in the past to launch a blog, the main reason we decided to launch it now opposed to any other time is because we are on the final stretch of pre-production for our next short film “Don’t Be Scared.” Because of this, we felt it was the perfect opportunity to start blogging about our processes, so be sure to keep an eye out this week as there will be plenty of updates from story overviews, crew updates, location and actor teasers as well as production entries as we shoot from the 18th-20th.

Who will be blogging for Clerestory Productions?

For the most part this blog will come from Clerestory Productions co-founder, writer, producer and director Simon Mounsey. However, from time to time there might be the occasional entry from other crew members.

One final note:

We will try to update this blog as often as possible. There will be times like this week where there will be an excessive amount of entries, but there will be lulls in between films where there won’t be a whole lot going on. Lastly, by all means feel free to comment on all of our entries. We want to hear your feedback. Also, if you want to get involved in our films whether you’re crew, an actor or have a project you’d like us to help with, feel free to email us at either of the two following emails:

simon@clerestoryproductions.com

joshpaney@clerestoryproductions.com