Production Diary #6 - The Great Return to Los Angeles
Hope y'all had a relaxing and wonderful holiday season. As you sit cozily next to the fire, eating leftover honeybaked ham, and hotly anticipating 2018, how about some more stories from the set of Wayward Guide??
Los Angeles - 1st Shooting Block - 2 Days Later
After returning home to Los Angeles from Pine Mountain, the cast and crew had a 2 day break before resuming production. I should note, however, that it was never really safe to call these days "breaks", but rather "days we weren't shooting". The work didn't stop. Location scouts needed to happen for our next 3 days (as they had both just been confirmed), Corey and Benji needed to prep shot lists and overheads having seen the new locations, crafty runs for food were necessary, and finding replacement crew (due to scheduling conflicts) were just a few of the main tasks that needed our attention.
Our hubris as indie filmmakers on a project of this size could be summed up in this sentiment, expressed on the days leading up to the end of Block 1 - "You know what? When we get back to LA, things are gonna be SO much easier!" In some respects, we were right. Easier access to civilization where we could run errands quickly, better weather, shooting indoors, everyone getting to sleep in their own beds. But we quickly figured out that there was no reprieve waiting for us. With a project as ambitious as ours, at this budget, we were always going to be dodging bullets. The buck didn't stop in Pine Mountain.
Availability of a quality "library" set was limited so we had to be open to adjusting the location of Aubrey's (Nick Lang) place of work. Luckily, our script didn't call for anything TOO specific and we could theoretically place the characters in a home or office, rather than a full-blown reading hall with endless shelves of books. We were able to outbid for a location we found on Peerspace that had a incredibly unique look and matched the quirkiness of tone. There were 12 pages to shoot that day (again, a heavy day on most features is about 2-3 pages), but the scenes were all contained inside one room, like Day 1, so we felt confident we could make it work. Aubrey's "home" has some hilarious scenes with awesome character bits that may be a bit too spoiler-y for this post. But I can confidently say that this day showcases, once again, that Nick Lang is the greatest actor of us all. After coming off of consecutive exterior shoots, it was nice to return indoors where we could focus on performance and let the actors chew scenery. Not to mention, the space was a convenient 5 minutes away from many of our homes and RIGHT down the street from a Trader Joe's! And they had a pool!!! What luxury!!! Seemingly, this was the perfect location...
CHALLENGE OF THE DAY: There is NO Perfect Location
One of the biggest issues with this specific location was, quite literally, the location. This became evident on the tech scout the day before. The house rested smack dab in the middle of Franklin Hills, a gorgeous neighborhood where the houses are crammed tightly along very narrow streets and sit along the hillside, expanding vertically, up steep inclines. For cast/crew parking, loading/unloading our grip truck, and landing all our equipment, this is FAR from ideal. From the street, there was a 40-step incline to the poolside. The outdoor area served as actor lounge, production offices, equipment holding, hair/makeup, and craft services. This proved to be logistically difficult as 3/4's of that entire space was taken up BY A POOL (which no one fell into! Silver linings!). Inside, we only had access to the room we were shooting in, two small bedrooms downstairs (used for wardrobe) and a bathroom. Needless to say, things were TIGHT. We were trying to fit a LOT into a very small space (both physically and creatively, with the day's page count).
All of this would've been completely manageable and oddly charming if it weren't for the property manager. We've decided not to share her real name for the sake of privacy, so we'll just refer to her by a codename we established on-set: The Babadook. In an effort to remain diplomatic, I'll just say this: this woman was the worst kind of site rep a film shoot could have. She hovered around set constantly, glaring at the crew and grimacing at every move we made. She was overly protective and nit-picky about each and every adjustment we made to the house, treating us like children who weren't going to clean up after ourselves. She even stopped production to call a crew member out for making a lighting adjustment on the roof, pulling us all indoors to scold us and make an immature scene, demanding an apology (which we had already done, verbally and profusely the second we realized there was an issue). Having a presence like her around added an unnecessary stress to an already demanding day. As frustrating as she was, The Babadook became a legendary nemesis on our set, bonding our cast/crew even tighter over a common foe and giving us some great stories (that may end up in our BTS ;))
The American Legion in Pasadena was our home for the final two days of shooting in our 1st Block. We were lucky to book their enormous multipurpose room to act as our Town Hall location for Connor Creek. The Legion had an incredible amount of space for our production to sprawl, as opposed to all our previous shoot days. We had access to so much of the facility and the freedom to give every department the room they needed to work effectively. And, boy, was it necessary. This day was easily one of the largest days of production. We had two long scenes to film with about 18 cast members present, all with speaking roles. From a shooting standpoint, we had been anticipating this day since the beginning. Our shot list had 3 times the amount of coverage required on other days. And because of the size of the room, flipping the world for lighting (shooting one direction of a scene versus another) would take too much time. This forced us to block shoot, meaning, we would have to shoot everything, facing one direction, for both scenes, and then do the same for the other direction. Block shooting requires a LOT of communication with the cast and crew, to make sure we're all on the same page with exactly what scene we're on. Without giving too much away (BECAUSE SPOILERZ OBVI LOLZ!!!), these Town Hall scenes needed to elicit a certain sense of pandemonium and are CHOCK-FULL of bits, monologues, important discoveries, as well as plot development. Luckily, every actor brought their A-Game and we ended up getting some WILD footage that features the biggest ensemble of Connor Creek's citizens in the whole series!
CHALLENGE OF THE DAY: Getting It All In the Can
Like I said earlier, we knew this would be one of our toughest days. Barring any last minute problems that could arise, these Town Hall scenes were always gonna be a challenge. Even if every one was firing on all cylinders, a lot of folks felt like making these days was a fool's errand. And around lunchtime, after attempts to move quickly, some missteps in shooting order, and several moments where a lapse in communication created tension between our core team, we had to face the reality that we weren't going to finish shooting these scenes on that day. Luckily, there was a solution. One that required more time and money, but a solution nonetheless.
At this point, we were already planning a pick-up shoot day after production was originally scheduled to wrap. Due to some logistical hold-ups, one of the exterior locations in Pine Mountain was unavailable so we decided to move those scenes closer to LA. With this new scheduling predicament at the Legion, we'd need to add an additional pick-up day. The scene we were hoping to shoot on Day 7 was self-contained, only required 5 actors, and could, theoretically, be shot in a different location, should the Legion not be available for our pick-up day. By freeing up Day 7, it allowed us to spend the rest of Day 6 shooting out our larger crowd scenes and spend the entire next day covering everything we missed facing the stage. THANKFULLY, every single actor this affected could make the change work and everyone handled it like a pro.
If reading about our juggling of schedules is confusing to you, I completely understand. I, myself, had to stowaway in the kitchen for about 15 minutes after this conversation to sit in silence, have a small cry, mentally deal with the overwhelming decisions we were making on-the-fly, and push forward.
I think it's safe to say that Day 7 was the chillest day on set for Wayward Guide. Making the call to add days was the best decision we could've made at that time (albeit an expensive one that we'd pay for in the long run). We were able to focus solely on a smaller group of actors who never leave a single location, facing a single direction. Plus, we had a late call and only shot for half the day! It was a breeze!!!
CHALLENGE OF THE DAY: Half the Actors
As stated above, this was a day devoid of any major issues. The only minor inconvenience we came up against was only having half the actors present. Instead of calling ALL 18 cast members to act, off-camera, for the actors onstage, a few of us on production were stand-ins for the day. This way, the actors on-camera had correct eye-lines when looking at different characters and had actually people to deliver their lines to, instead of chairs with tape on them. Plus, it allowed a lot of the production team to flex more of their performance muscles. Wes, our AD, gave such a convincing Joanna, that we almost decided to recast! ;P
As we wrapped Day 7, our team was ushered into our 10 Day Thanksgiving Break! We were super grateful for the time off and in need of a recharge. Come Monday, November 27th, we were back in it, scouting locations for our 2nd Block and prepping everything we needed to finish production on Wayward Guide! But more on that soon!!
Much love and Happy Holidays,