Friday, April 6, 2012

Earrings: Pre-Production Part 2

I’m in movie mode. There’s no better way to describe it. If I’m at a bar, I’m thinking about the lighting for the film’s club scene. If I’m trying to sleep, my mind gets stuck on fake blood and the self-mutilation habits of a depressed young woman. At work, my mind wonders occasionally to leftover props, the benefits of an increased aperture, how much of a pain in the ass looping sound will be, and so on.

My point is, I’m now a week away from filming what will potentially be the most important artistic venture I’ve ever embarked upon, and I can’t fucking wait.

For this post, I’m going to address some frequent questions people have asked me about Earrings, deliver an amusing anecdote (or two) and give some much needed shout outs.

What am I shooting Earrings with?
I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of technical questions I received regarding filming – proof that there are as many film geeks as me out there.
I’m shooting the film with my Canon 7D using 20mm, 50mm, and 85mm prime lenses. I’ll also have a 4.5mm fisheye, and a macro extension tube for limited use. I have filters and soft box lights and titanium tripods and shoulder mounts and portable dolly tracks and, well, (hopefully) everything I’ll need to make production run smoothly.

What am I editing the film on?
I’m an Adobe Premiere guy, so I’ll be cutting the flick on that. I should consider getting into Final Cut at some point, but Premiere suits me just fine.

What is my directing style?
I treat a set like an actor’s sanctuary. Sure, the sound engineer, camera operator and other crew members all have tasks, and in a sense, everyone on a set is performing, but actors are the only ones performing. With this project especially, my lead actress Catherine is lending a lot of herself to the material. The script forces her to go to some dark places emotionally, so I think it’s chiefly important to be aware of the vulnerability an actor is giving to your film. 
Me (right) directing an actor on the set of my first film.
Aside from giving the actors an insane amount of respect, I like to play games on set. I lie and cheat and laugh in the corner as everything unfolds on camera. For example, four years ago, I was filming Catherine in a technically complicated scene for my first film. The scene was a three-minute tracking shot set in a hotel room in which the camera followed the lead actor, Andrew, through two rooms, paused as he spoke with Catherine, stayed with Catherine briefly, then followed Catherine as she went to talk with the lead actress, Claire, then followed Claire outside on the balcony where Andrew was sitting. Everyone had to hit their cues just right, I had to adjust the exposure while stepping onto the balcony (as to not over-expose the shot) and on and on.

But for Catherine’s brief time on screen, I told her to simply smile at Andrew, then walk away from the guy she was having a conversation with, who happened to be played by Catherine’s real life brother, Chris.

Smile and walk away. Simple enough.

My direction for Chris was a little different. I told him to not only NOT let Catherine leave their conversation, but to hit on her as well. So, during the scene, right after Catherine smiles at Andrew and prepares to walk away, Chris began blabbing about God knows what, leaning into her suggestively, not at all letting her walk away from the conversation. After a few awkward seconds (in which Catherine stayed perfectly in character despite her obvious annoyance), she forced herself to walk away from Chris and the scene continued on.
This was taken right before we shot the hotel room scene.
From left: Chris, Catherine, me, Andrew.
It’s little things like having a brother hit on his sister, without his sister’s prior knowledge, that can make a scene spontaneous and authentic. So, yeah, I’m a huge fan of giving opposing direction to actors playing a scene together. As long as they stay in character, greatness has the potential to be achieved.

Other than that, I don’t do a lot of takes, but I do film extensively. I like to let the camera run and have the actor stay in the moment. But if I get what I want on the first or second take, then that’s enough for me.

I don’t like to provide any direction on the first take, I like the actor to let the first take represent their interpretation of what’s in the script, which is a trick I learned from listening to Edward Burns’ commentaries for his films. If the first take isn’t exactly what I was looking for, then I’ll give some specific direction for the later takes.

The Old Mill
Has anyone seen David Mamet’s State and Main? The movie is about a Hollywood film crew who invade a small Vermont town. The name of the movie the crew is shooting is The Old Mill, but late in pre-production, they discover that the town no longer has an Old Mill. I bring this up because I have yet to purchase the titular item of my film.

I know what I want the earrings in my movie to look like – I know how much I want them to glisten, what color they should be, what size, what texture – but I have yet to find them. It’s a running joke that is becoming less and less funny with each passing day. Basically, I have some earrings shopping to do this weekend, which will mark the final major event of pre-production.

Shout Outs
I was really hesitant and nervous before posting my first Earrings write-up last week. The last thing I wanted was to come off as a pretentious wannabe filmmaker asshole, but having sucked it up and gone with it, I must say that the support and encouragement I’ve received from people has had a profound effect on me.

I’ve received every text, Facebook like, tweet, retweet, blog comment, e-mail, and so on, and every single one fills me with unspeakable gratitude. I expect nothing from readers in posting these updates, only that I hope they enjoy them, but the added level of support I’ve gotten from my digital family is truly inspiring. Most of the people lending encouragement on this blog and on Twitter are people I’ve never actually met, yet I have no problem calling them my friends.

Thanks again everyone, hope you all have a great weekend! 


  1. Wow, I think I should be learning from you since I want to make a film myself. Yet, I'm aiming for a more Dogme 95 look to the film I wrote last year.

  2. I really love these posts, it's very unlikely I will ever shoot a movie so it's great to read such a detailed article about the process. I'm sure the movie is going to be amazing, you put so much effort and heart in this project and it's a very good sign you think about the movie almost involunterily anywhere you go.

    Loved the bit about you manipulating your actors, it's ingenious and I think it will really make for their emotions coming off authenthic on screen.

  3. Good 'ol 7D's. I'm not a camera person, but I'm thinking of getting one just for personal use (possibly make a documentary). I don't know Adobe Premier (I have Final Cut) but I always think what's the point of switching if the software's good and you're comfortable with it? I know people who've gone from FCP to Adobe.
    Your directing style sounds awesome! I don't suppose that long take from your first film is online anywhere? It sounds pretty cool!

  4. @thevoid99 Dude, a Dogma 95-style film would be so much fun to do - it's all about NOT following the rules. Do it!

  5. @Sati. Thanks so much, Sati! Yeah that's me, the manipulative little bastard haha. Earrings is definitely on my brain all the time, wherever I go, which I completely love. I'm locked in, and the support from you all is priceless.

  6. @Ruth You should definitely get one! My one recommendation, skip out on buying a stock zoom lens (which Canon pushes heavily) and spend a little more on a prime, set lens - either a 50 or 20. Since I got my primes, I never touch my 18-135 stock lens.

    I completely agree with you about the editing software, it just seems that EVERYONE uses FCP. But I'm good on Adobe, no point in switching.

    Ah so many people have asked me to see that scene, and my only hesitation is that the quality is garbage. I can't even watch that film now because I would (technically) change most everything about it. But oh well, it was a learning process. Maybe I'll get the stones to post it soon.

  7. Holy fuck man, you've got me excited. I love reading these production journals or whatever you want to call them. It's fantastic.

    From what you've written about your directorial style, I think you must be a fantastic director who is really fun to work with. A true auteur! Keep these diaries up man, cannot wait for the next one.

  8. @Tyler Dude your comments in these post are fucking priceless. Love them. I definitely think my directing style can merit some solid performances from actors, but it can also piss a lot of actors off, which is never my intention.

    My only two rules for actors is that they take the material seriously, and they stay in character between action and cut. Do that and we'll be good.

    Thanks for all your support buddy!

  9. I would like to read the script please.

  10. Interesting approach towards your actors mentioned here. Especially as (I assume) you'd written a script. I'm not sure I could encourage that kind of ad-libbing to my material.

    I'm reading the Mike Figgis book Digital Filmmaking at the moment, he is a firm believer of finding a product you are comfortable with and that can do all you want and sticking with it, so as Ruth says about Premiere why change? Me I was trained on AVID and as far as i can tell it's extremely difficult to find these days and I've got to train myself on something new for my new project.

    1. Oooh yeah, I'd have to say that you should definitely jump to either Premiere or Final Cut Pro. The sooner the better. Worth every penny.

      Yeah, I'm completely open to script change and collaboration on set. Honestly, during the final days of shooting, I didn't even look at the script for Earrings. We knew what we wanted and we just did it. Everything I wrote in the script is in the final film, but there are A LOT of scenes that were born from the moment that are in the film too. Just gotta roll with it.