This week’s video update chronicles our big week of shooting and displays a little bit of the toll production can take on a living space, and personal schedules.
Ordinarily, we try to limit nights & weekends shooting to two weeknights and a weekend day. Three nights a week is a manageable production schedule for people with full time jobs. This week, however, due to the way actors schedules are all lined up, we did five shoot nights. Let’s break it down.
Monday, November 10, 7pm-11:30pm. I continued the trend of offering people who want to show up a half hour early a free dinner and we’ve been ordering from places that are between where I work and our apartment so I can grab it on the way home. That night we had Chipotle. We were shooting a lot of scenes were Carlyn has to play opposite herself, so we had Eliza in a wig for the over-the-shoulders and only about four shots where we had to lock down the camera to have her change outfits to play both characters in the same shot. I color-coded the shotlist at Eliza’s suggestion, which was a brilliant idea. That way we were able to shoot most of one outfit, then the other, and it really saved us a lot of time where the girls would have to be changing. It was a little stop-and-start feeling because of all the back and forth we were doing with her playing both characters. Given some of the complicated things we were dealing with, I’m surprised we only ran a half hour late. A good shoot night.
Tuesday, November 11, 7pm-10pm. Started the night off with some Chinese food from right down the street from our place. Awesome portions for the price, I had lunch the next day too. This night was all of the scenes that take place in our tiny bathroom. There weren’t a lot, so we wrapped quite early. Originally I had this shoot double booked with another block of scenes, but when Craig had to go out of town for work, we were shuffling to grab any scenes we could shoot in the apartment that didn’t have him in them.
Wednesday, November 12, 7pm-11pm. Soups, salads, and sandwiches from Panera. We started by picking up a couple of things from our first night of shooting. A shot of an actor who wears very reflective sunglasses, this time without catching our director of photography in the reflection. And the really hard Glidecam shot. I finally had to settle for getting most of it in the Glidecam and then cutting to a wide for the resolution of the scene. The integrity of what I wanted to see is still intact and I’m using an inline edit with the wide to really jar the viewer into the changing situation. Then we moved on into the bulk of the pages in the apartment and shut it down at 11pm, since we were at a good stopping point and we were going to be in the same space for two more nights.
Friday, November 13, 7pm-11pm. Chipotle again. This time for two reasons, 1: It’s delicious. 2: They have an awesome online group ordering system where everybody can order their own thing from their own computer and I just pay for it once everybody’s orders are in. This was a tough night. I’ve had a couple times when I’ve been frustrated on set because of various factors. This was one such occasion. Since a lot of this episode takes place in the main characters’ apartment, I wanted to try and keep things visually interesting with some good camera moves. Unfortunately, they’re really hard to get in our small space and the rolling of the dolly is very VERY audible on the largely creaky wooden floors of our apartment. After many many takes of one of these tracking shots, I finally scrapped it, but I was obviously frustrated and settling for less than I wanted. That’s a real mood-killer on a no budget set. So we moved on and wrapped halfheartedly at 11. This might be a good time to mention that despite my frustrations, we have a great group of actors who are doing an amazing job. Some new people are exceeding my expectations, and all the old standbys are really going for it and embodying their characters. As far as crew goes, people are trying to work us in to their very busy schedules as much as possible and splitting up different nights so that we at least have one of the core people available for crewing. There are just a lot of projects going on in our group now and PoPS isn’t anyone’s first priority anymore. Still, we soldier on. Not to mention the amazing people we’ve had volunteering for the first time. It slows us down a little bit with people having to learn a new skill set every night, suddenly put in positions of very high priority. I think we’ve taught four new people how to operate sound when they appear on our set for the first time so far. It’s just really nice that people are willing to come help us out.
Saturday, November 14. 5pm-11pm. Since it was Saturday, we could start as soon as it got dark and I delayed dinner until about halfway through the night. This was a miracle night. So far in production, we’d only had two nights where we’d gotten everything on the shooting list. In order to get back on schedule, we had to shoot about 13 pages of dialogue in 6 hours. It was about 2 and a half pages of camera setups. After the tracking shot problems of the night before, I woke up Saturday morning determined to cut out all the tracking shots from my shotlist and replace them with meaningful pans, racking focus, and mid-dialogue edits, thereby still heightening the experience and drawing audience attention to relationships and important moments, but without all the never-ending frustration of attempting tracking shots in our apartment with brand new crew members. We hit the ground running just after 5:30pm, paused for a dinner from Noodles and Co. just after 8pm, and wrapped up everything we had scheduled pretty much at 11pm exactly. And just like that, we’re back on schedule. It was awesome. Everyone was really worn out by the end of the night, but everyone perked up nicely whenever the camera was pointed at them, so we were able to get 13 pages in 6 hours.
Eliza and I planned to grab one little shoot night this week with Carlyn in the city—a quick 10-second scene that would only take a half hour to shoot—but I came down with a mega cold. Luckily, it’s stayed out of my brain so far, so I can still work and plan and everything, but it’s nothing I want to take with me into a night shoot for even a half hour. I think I’d only get sicker.
So we’re down for a week before we get another shoot night, but it’s a nice little section of calm in the middle of the storm.
Thanks for reading.
Every once in a while I thoroughly enjoy one of my weekly video updates. This week’s, on the widespread use of the 2.35:1 aspect ratio in videos created primarily for web distribution, is one I’m particularly happy with. If you want to skip straight to the aspect ratio discussion, there’s a clickable annotation in the beginning that will take you to it.
Ever since Eliza showed me that the little toggle thing on the iPhone earbuds don’t just raise and lower the volume and act as a microphone for hands-free calling, but that it also starts and stops podcasts or music if you press it in the middle, I’ve become obsessed with listening to podcasts. Or really just one podcast. The Movie Crypt with film directors Adam Green and Joe Lynch. I started listening to it when someone tweeted out a link to episode 34, where they talk to director Darren Lynn Bousman, and said something along the lines of, ‘Anybody who creates anything should listen to this.’ It’s a great episode to start on because the Hollywood hell stories are sooooooo crazy. But I’ve been listening to every single past episode for months and they have over 70 episodes so far talking to all kinds of people from the film industry. Not just writers, directors, and actors, but sound designers, wardrobe people, directors of photography, visual effects people, agents, producers, a studio exec. It’s really outstanding. Their stories are really from the low and mid budget trenches and they’ve guided me to a lot of great people, the two hosts included.
One of the things that it’s really drilled into me over the last few months is that I’m probably having way more fun doing my own web series my own way than I ever could working within the film industry. Between the bowing and the battles within the studio system to the compromise and the money raising of the independent route. They talked to a guy who had a small studio actually give him a budget on $8,000 for an entire feature film. We just raised $21,000 for our ninth episode. It really puts things in perspective. I may wish our enterprise was considered more legitimate—YouTube shows and soft core pornography probably share a similar level of legitimacy in the eyes of the studio system—but at least we get to do the thing we want to do and with a better budget than many others. That’s what this excellent podcast has me thinking about.
In addition to my Movie Crypt plug, this week’s post signals the return of the PoPS production diary. We had our first shoot day of episode 9.
Monday, November 3—Since we were scheduled to shoot from 7pm to 11pm, there was technically no need for a dinner break, four-hour shoot and all. But I think a lot of working people have trouble getting dinner in before a 7pm call time. So I got a big box of sandwiches for the cast and crew and said if they wanted a free dinner to show up at 6:30. Eliza and I threw the rest of the set dressing together after work, and after a quick dinner we got to shooting. Five actors and three crew members. The first night is always the toughest. I had insanely scheduled us to try and get eight pages in four hours with a really complicated, two-minute long glidecam shot at the end of the shotlist. We had some lighting complications slow us down and a couple of tough moves, and we decided to finally call it a night at 12:15am, after trying to get the glidecam shot to happen for over an hour. But we were really close. So I’m pinning it onto the schedule for next week. I had a plan B ready for if we couldn’t get the glidecam shot, but our attempts showed us it will be possible, so why not get the shot that will best convey the energy and intention of the writing, instead of scrapping it for two easier shots. It’s not like I have any executives breathing down my neck. We’re a nights and weekends production, our only luxury is time. Even though it doesn’t really feel like there’s a whole lot of time to spare either once you start trying to synchronize the holiday season schedules of 10 talented people. Also, upon watching the footage there were a couple reflection issues with an actor’s glasses, so we’ll need to do a quick reshoot for some of that stuff. All in all, it was a rough start to episode 9, but the performances we caught we’re fantastic and it just feels good to be underway.
Thanks for reading, all y’all.
The video below is my annual Halloween NIGHTMARATHON; a 43-minute timelapse video of the 20 hours I sent watching the entire 12-movie Friday the 13th/Jason series. It’s been mentioned on a couple of the horror community sites this week including Bloody Disgusting and the Friday the 13th Franchise site.
I don’t have time for a very long blog post this week, but I always try to post every week and even though I’m about as production-depressed as I ever get right now, it’s time for a post.
This is just such a hard thing to do, you guys. Finding 10 evenings in November when everybody’s free to shoot is practically impossible. The thing that sucks too is that now that we raised all this money, we can’t just quit. We’re going into our 3rd major reschedule, and people who have previously agreed to be available on shoot days have new things popping up in their schedules. Some things are unavoidable. Really great opportunities and paying gigs. Some people just want to suddenly go out of town. Scheduling independent productions is a constant stomach-acid-churning, panic-inducing nightmare that sucks all of the fun out of what’s supposed to be a creative process. It’s not about discovering a story or crafting characters anymore. It’s only about trying to cram it into as short a time as possible around people’s busy lives. That’s all it is now. And I can’t wait for it to be over.
Production will just take a few months of headaches, heartaches, compromise, and misery and then I’ll have a nice little post-production reprieve to rediscover my optimism and enjoyment in the story we’re telling.
I try never to unleash the sometimes-paralyzing negativity and anxiety of this “hobby” in the video updates, but sometimes I unspool it here for the dedicated few who read the blog so my wife doesn’t have to bear the sole brunt of it by herself.
Thanks for reading; ‘cause I have neither the income, time, or interest to invest in therapy.
The video update below contains some of the advice I’ve collected about scheduling productions over the 5 years of making PoPS. It’s geared toward people setting out to schedule for the first time. First, though, I announce our episode 9 fundraiser raffle and referral winners.
I think that last blog post was just the kick I needed to stop procrastinating and kick this thing into gear. I went home that night, printed off all my tagged script breakdowns, calculated my eighths page count, and created some shooting blocks. A couple nights later, Eliza and I sat down and dropped them onto the calendar. I’ve sent that noise off to the actors and so far got back a couple of conflicts that need to be dealt with, which I will reschedule around soon.
I also got in touch with a weapons property master I used a couple years ago to set up the weapons for this episode.
Then Eliza and I talked about a couple of specialty props we need to move to the front burner and started discussing some locations we need to line up.
The last two nights we’ve met with actors who weren’t able to make it to the cast read through to work through the dialogue and make sure we’re all on the same page before we get to set. That’s a huge deal and outside of a read through, it’s something I haven’t given enough attention in the past. Luckily, we’ve had actors who are good at processing notes and adapting on set, but frontloading a little performance groundwork into preproduction is a really solid idea. Just from these last two nights, I could see the difference. We got to have some really productive conversations without slowing down the pace of a shoot night.
So the wheels are in motion. I’m sure I’ll talk about it in an upcoming update, but there is a certain crazy energy that comes with being in production. My normal indecisiveness about what to have for dinner or watch after work goes straight out the window and I drop into solutions/work around/results mode. Sure, sometimes I still feel a little more like playing video games than making shotlists or trading emails about schedules, locations, and gear, but in the words of MC Hammer on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) soundtrack, “This is what we do.”
The video update below involves a lot of talking about the Indiegogo campaign for episode 9, which ends tomorrow. It also chronicles how the production of the show has run a parallel path to mine and Eliza’s marriage.
Our fundraising campaign has gone really well, and whether we hit the goal or not, the amount of support I’ve felt coming our way has been amazing. Here are a few of the campaign videos that have gone up over the last week:
And speaking of support, every once in a while I think to google “platoon of power squadron” and I find a bunch of great things that are just inspiration boosters on tumblr. Like gifs people make:
“Donald being a badass in episode 8.” – lunar-alienism
I especially love it when they grab screencaps of the show and add words to them. It’s like a clue into what parts of the show are really connecting with people. And the things they write to accompany the images are SO NICE!
“I have yet to introduce someone to PoPS who hasn’t fell in love with the show (OK, not true, one guy just thoroughly enjoyed it), but even if it is not your jam, I implore you to at least check these guys out and consider supporting them on the grounds that they are a bunch of hardworking, insanely creative, good people that are helping to lead a revolution in how we share our stories.” – thelynchieconjecture
“Platoon of Power Squadron is really great webseries I’ve been watching for the last four or five years. It’s inspired the webseries I’ve been working on for the last year or two, and it has just been getting better and better with every episode. Jake Jarvi, the guy who writes, produces, and stars in it, is kind of my favorite non-famous famous person in the history of ever.” – songofsarcasm
Like…right? When you go internet fishing, sometimes you find stuff that makes your day.
And here’s a link to the Indiegogo campaign for the final hours: