THE HUNTED, AN INTERNET EPIC – THE PRELUDE

What began in the summer of 2001 with an idea to produce a hour long pilot for a cable TV show featuring sword-slingin’ vampire slayers, became a decade of developing one of the longest running web shows online, and one of the first shows based almost entirely on user content.

But after 10 years, I still hadn’t shot the pilot.  My original intent was to shoot a few episodes just to get our feet wet, but more and more episodes presented themselves, many of which were golden opportunities that I couldn’t pass up.  And the episodes were relatively easy to shoot and cost nothing.  And then there was editing, web design, marketing, networking, contests, and other diversions, all of which were extremely time consuming.  And life occasionally got in the way which made it virtually impossible to take on larger projects, namely the pilot.

And yes, I was procrastinating big time.  I tried.  I even held an official casting years ago at the old Westside Fencing Center where over 60 swordsmen and actors showed (which I still have yet to edit into a Hunted episode).  But once again, life got in the way and nothing came of it.  Ten years later, I still hadn’t shot the pilot and it looked like it was never going to happen.  I had been talking about it for so long that no one took me seriously anymore.

To compensate, I started shooting longer episodes in HD – the last three were 20 minutes each.  And each of them were shot in a single weekend with no budget (“Con Job 2” and “Slayercon”).  And they were damn good.  It was then I realized that shooting the pilot was within the realm of possibility.

It wasn’t until 2011 and the advent of Kickstarter did I realize that I could raise funding for the show, which would allow us to at least pay our actors.  I also realized that in order to get people’s attention, I wouldn’t just shoot a pilot, I’d shoot a feature!  It’s what every web series aspires to, but no one thinks to take that step on their own.  They would rather wait to get “picked up”.

I quickly put together an extremely ambitious fundraising video on Kickstarter where I played 20 different versions of myself, and within a few months I had $20,000 and the backing of my friends at New Deal Studios to help produce the show.

Dammit.  Now I had no choice.  There was no backing out.  I had to do this (providing we weren’t hit with a major earthquake or meteor).  What follows is over a year of development leading up to the 18 days of hell that is known as principal photography directing my first feature film.

Actually, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

THE HUNTED, AN INTERNET EPIC – THE SCRIPT

The only thing left now was the script.  All I had to do was to expand the 48 minute pilot into 90 minutes.

Wrong.

After a story session with a half dozen friends and writers, it was decided to trash the script completely and start fresh.  The reasoning was that the show had evolved over the years and was no longer the origin story that I wanted it to be.

The original concept of the script was to introduce the world of The Hunted through the eyes of a newcomer named Gary.  But after years of online episodes featuring myself in the leading role, it made sense to everyone else (including myself) that it should be the origin story of my character.

So now I finally had the money and momentum to make a film, but no script.  And I believe that above everything else, you need a solid script.  Unfortunately, I was way too close to the story to start from scratch.  I needed to delegate and I needed to think waaay outside the box, so I called my friend Tex Wall who lives outside the box on a daily basis.

Tex had written several spec scripts and had gobs of time, whereas I had virtually none.  Together with Andrew Helm and more than a few late night story sessions at IHOP, we went through four drafts which took us about a year.

During that time, I worked like a dog on VFX jobs to save up enough money to take time off to shoot the film.  Unfortunately, every time our start date got pushed because of rewrites, I would have to find another job, which would in turn interfere with the rewrites.

I also wasn’t clear on an exact start date or how we were going to shoot the film.  I originally thought we could do this over a span of eight weekends, but keeping a cast and crew together that long could be problematic.  No, we had to run this like a regular show, over the course of several six day weeks.  And we needed to choose a start date and stick to it.

July 23, 2012.  It seemed the perfect time when everyone was free, locations were available, and Jess wasn’t teaching.  About that time I also decided that I was going to direct the film and Jess was going to produce (which she had never done before).  And on top of everything else, Jess and I were married that May…

…so this was going to be an epic year one way or another.  I called it “the year of scary”.

THE HUNTED, AN INTERNET EPIC – PRE-PRODUCTION

Before we started prep on the show, I got some great advice from David Sanger, head producer at New Deal Studios.  I ask him if it was crazy to do what we were planning on doing for 20K.  His advice was to shoot the film for free and save the 20K for contingency – the unforseeable crap that we were eventually going to have to pay for.  Saved our asses.

I then asked him how I could possibly ask everyone on the show to work for free – a real problem for me.  He simply said “Ask them.  They will do it or they won’t”.  It was stupidly simple, but it made sense.  And I was amazed and humbled at the number of people who were willing to donate their time and energy to support us and this crazy idea.

I set to work filling out our cast and crew and started researching equipment (lights, cameras, sound, etc) while Jess researched everything from locations, insurance and contracts to scheduling software.  We crowdsourced virtually everything.  Anytime we needed anything from props to locations, we would post it via Hootsuite to Facebook and Twitter.  We didn’t get everything we asked for, but we got a lot!

For casting, I decided not to use a casting agent – not just because I didn’t have the money, but because I already knew plenty of great actors with sword skills.  And I was hoping to find friends that I could trust who were willing to work for free.  The main challenge was that these were professional actors who worked fairly often.  So if a paid gig came along, I had to be prepared to either replace them at the last second, or shuffle the schedule as best we could.

We were fortunate enough to find some amazing talent including Monique Ganderton, who indeed booked a gig on “Iron Man 3” right before filming.

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I had serious doubts whether we would be able to work around her crazy schedule, but when I finally met with her and realized what an amazing actress she was, we hustled as best we could to make it work.  We had to keep track of every member of the cast and crew on Google calendars and who wasn’t available on certain days, since our schedule was changing on a daily basis.

And it isn’t until you try and cast a film among your friends do you realize who your true friends are.  If they are truly supportive, they will take whatever role you give them.  Even if they aren’t cast, they’re still there to support you with whatever you need.  Thankfully, there weren’t too many hard feelings, since there just weren’t enough roles to go around.

As for our crew, we didn’t have the budget to fill out every position.  I planned to have the actors take care of their own makeup, hair and wardrobe.  I also wanted to stay extremely lean so we could shoot guerilla if we had to.  Our crew consisted of myself, AJ Raitano (our DP), Josh VanDyke (sound), and Jess as our producer (also serving as everything from craft services to boom operator).  Josh also brought on board his trainee, Jessie, and AJ brought on his AC, Josh Gill, who we simply couldn’t afford, but ended up turning into a one-man show and totally saved our asses!

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Something to note, all of these decisions during prep and production now make complete sense on paper, but at the time it was mostly guesswork with no guarantees that any of this would work.  Also, many of these decisions had to be made days or weeks in advance while we were trying to put out other fires.  It was a nonstop process…

THE HUNTED, AN INTERNET EPIC – CAMERA, AUDIO & LIGHTING

For equipment, my biggest concern was the camera.  Our friends Nick and Liz had just started up their company Rampant Films and were going to allow us to use their new Red Epic – a bitchin top of the line camera that was used to shoot Spiderman.

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That was all I needed to know at the time – even though I had no clue how to use it.  It gave us instant credibility among our actors, and the output looked great.  Even scenes that I thought were completely underexposed could be punched up with virtually no grain.  However, the challenges we faced using the camera were considerable and might have made me consider otherwise had I known…

First off, the owners had to be with the camera at all times for insurance reasons.  I can totally understand this since it’s like a $60,000 camera.  And we weren’t shooting in the best of neighborhoods, so it was like driving a Ferrari into east LA and leaving it on the street with the keys in the ignition.  But unfortunately, Nick and Liz were both working full time, so scheduling was problematic.  Ironically, Nick might have been available if I hadn’t recommended him for his current VFX job.

The Red camera shoots various formats including 5K, which is awesome when it comes to zooming into closeups in post, but you can’t just plug the footage into a regular laptop for dailies.  I was planning to edit the film myself and it would require a whole new computer.  What’s more, they only had a single card for the camera that would take 2 hours to download and backup every night to their Drobo before it could be wiped.  A second mag would’ve cost us close to another $1000.  To save space, we tried to shoot most scenes in 2K, but the slow motion stuff ate up disk space fast.

The camera is a heavy freakin brick.  Even with a shoulder mount, I found it extremely painful and tiring.  Not something you want to shoot an entire movie handheld, which is exactly what we were doing. I have no idea how Josh and AJ were able to pull that off.

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And nothing on the camera body is standard.  At one point, we needed to attach a small light panel with a standard hotshoe mount, but it took us almost 20 minutes and 15 zip ties to get the thing to stay on.  We also needed to run a 25ft video cable from the camera, but it wouldn’t take a standard RCA connector.  I had to track down a 25ft HDMI cable (not cheap) which could plug into a monitor.

The Red has a tendency to overheat and completely shutdown, which was a concern during the hottest part of the summer, but fortunately most of our shoots were during the evening.

The Red has no onboard sound, or at least it isn’t something you can just plug into without special hardware.  We couldn’t watch playback with audio, which really sucked, and we had no choice but to run sync sound which can be a complete pain in the ass.  I know that good sound is essential on any film, and sync sound is traditionally the best way to accomplish this.  But damn, there’s gotta be an easier way.

Sync sound requires a separate sound guy with clappers, booms, wireless lav mics, etc.  And now we have a guy following camera around trying to get as close to the actors as he can without getting in the shot.  Even if he’s not in the shot, you have a huge boom shadow looming overhead.  Recipe for disaster.  And from what I understand, the best way to get busted for shooting without a permit is to have a sound guy following you around with a boom.

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And I’m not going to even talk about the nightmare that is sync sound in post.

There were many times I wish I could’ve shot everything with a simple DSLR and a good camera mounted shotgun mic.  Easy to shoot, playback, edit, etc.  As a backup, I set myself up with a used Canon T2i from ebay, a good microphone, and “Magic Lantern” software to allow quality audio recording.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to play with the camera and fully test it, I found out too late that the microphone didn’t have a strong enough signal.  Apparently, I should’ve bought a “Rode Videomic Pro”.  I did, however, put together a simple DIY steadicam for about $14 which worked well for several shots.

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For sync sound, I toyed with the idea of using iphones as a remote digital audio recorder with the “Blue Fire” app (an idea I lifted from Ed Burns).  Unfortunately it didn’t work as well as I would’ve liked.  We ended up using a Zoom H4N with a nice boom mic, a secondhand wireless system which crapped out on numerous occasions, and a smaller Zoom H2 which I could fit in my pocket with a lav mic or place on a table or dashboard.

For lights, we had access to a complete lineup of studio lights, c-stands and backdrops while at New Deal Studios.  On location, however (which was most of our shoot), we used existing lighting whenever possible – one of the many advantages of shooting reality TV.  As a backup, I had a bin full of work lights from Home Depot and 2 top of the line LED light panels (also thanks to Nick and Liz) on heavy-duty c-stands which could light everything from a small room to an entire street.  I also bought a smaller LED light panel that could be mounted to the camera – one of the best investments I made.  We used that to light everything from car interiors to simulating the glow of a laptop computer.

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THE HUNTED, AN INTERNET EPIC – SCRIPT BREAKDOWN / LOCATIONS

Jess had researched various budget and scheduling packages such as “Movie Magic”, “Gorilla”, and “Celtx” and we decided on a free web-based system called “Scenechronize” which was recommended to us by New Deal Studios.  The software is pretty amazing and it does everything exceptionally well except generating nicely formatted call sheets – go figure.  Another free web-based program called “Lightspeed” was a close second.

Jess taught herself the software and began breaking down the script.  It was at that time we began to realize just how ambitious this was.  I wasn’t too worried about the VFX or crazy stunts, since that was the stuff I knew.  No, it was the 20 locations and 50 or so cast members that was a challenge.  The only things missing to make our lives more difficult were animals and small children.

In the past, whenever we shot a Hunted episode, we just looked around at the resources we had available – people, places, props, events, and then got very creative about how we could tell a story.  With the feature, I wanted the story to come first, which is a noble idea.  But unless you have millions of dollars at your disposal, it’s also a crazy idea.

But Jess has always been a natural for finding great deals online, and she made for an amazing producer.  She somehow found us an affordable two million dollar insurance policy (which we needed to book locations), and she used websites like filmla.com to secure some amazing locations like the Warner Grand Theater.

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She even convinced a few locations like the El Tarasco restaurant in the valley to let us shoot for free.  And we never had to pull a single permit.

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There were a few locations that we couldn’t afford which we knew we had to shoot guerilla – Venice Beach and Hollywood Blvd.  Our plan was to shoot with the Canon T2i and run a wireless mic.  Jess also had her Pepperdine teacher ID, which could be used to convince anyone that we were a student production.  Luckily, we never had to use it.

THE HUNTED, AN INTERNET EPIC – PROPS & COSTUMES

I tried to find a production designer and propmaster, but in the end, Jess and I put together most all of the props and specialty costumes ourselves with the help of friends, Craigslist, and our local thrift store.  It was a lot of stuff, but this was part of the process that we genuinely enjoyed – makin stuff and finding deals!  We found the perfect old recliner on Craigslist the day before the shoot, bought a rusty old shopping cart from a salvage truck on the side of the road, and paid $75 for an insanely heavy medical gurney from a gangster lookin warehouse downtown.

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We also had a makeup person, Louis Kiss, who was able to get us a gallon of blood.  We didn’t use a lot, however, since it could lead to a continuity nightmare.  Instead, I chose to dress in black which would hide the fact that I had a bloodstained shirt.  I bought a couple doubles of everything since it was obvious we may not even have time to do laundry.

For swords, I had a fairly extensive supply including two aluminum hero katanas made by Spike Steingasser, but I needed more variety and at least a half dozen cool looking machetes for our SWAT vamps.  I came across a new distributor online called “BUDK” which had some insanely low prices on swords for $12!

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I was able to equip everyone including our two slayer teams for less than a couple hundred dollars.  The only downside is that they were all steel and razor sharp, so I spent the better part of two days filing them down.  I then spent another day aging everything since it was all supposed to look rusted.

I borrowed a prop handgun and an actual fireaxe from Charles Currier, but the axe was so freakin heavy and dangerous, it was obvious we needed a double.  I priced a rubber axe for $500 before I realized I could just make one myself for $20.

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The trickiest prop / weapon was a full sized metal stop sign, which we purchased online for $30 and aged with spray paint.  For that fight, I also bought a steel trash can lid and some conduit, which were both painted to look rusted.

Meanwhile, we purchased a full-sized chicken outfit (since it was cheaper than renting) and Jess went about customizing it with a superhero logo and cape.

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Jess also found a great deal on chef coats and designed a “Hell’s Kitchen” logo, while our friend Mel Turner helped to design a “In-N-Up” cashier uniform and a superhero outfit for our shoot on Hollywood Blvd.

We had a list of over 100 props and weapons which included stuff like “Hula Girl with Sword” and “Bricks of C4” which we made with from huge block of clay from an art supply.  As I said, this was the fun part, and it was a welcome diversion from research, contracts and paperwork.

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THE HUNTED, AN INTERNET EPIC – REHEARSALS

As cool as it would’ve been, we didn’t have a table read for the show.  I felt like I was already asking too much from my cast, who were all working for free.  Besides, it was a cast of 50, and I wasn’t even sure where I could do that.  No, it was actually easier to meet up with a few of the main actors individually and work the scenes.  I also met with a buddy of mine, Jim Pirri (who is also in the film), who did a fantastic job coaching me through several of my key scenes.

Fight rehearsals were essential to keep folks safe, and I met with Gary Kasper at the LA Fight Academy downtown almost weekly for a few months before filming.  I also drove all over the city to meet with folks when they were available, meeting them at parks, dojos, gyms, wherever.  I was able to get at least a couple days with folks like Bob Goodwin for the theater fight, Scott Rosen for the cop fight, Banzai Vitale for the meter maid fight, Dave Baker for the fight with Harry, and Josh and Taylor for the Vampslayer fight, which I also did a previs for in Maya.  I also set up a rehearsal day with Anthony DeLongis with myself and all of the slayers for the finale.  I then posted all of the fights on Youtube so everyone could remember the choreography.

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VAMPSLAYER FIGHT CHOREO

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I tried to keep all of the fights fairly simple since I knew our shoot time was going to be limited.  There were also several cast members who were unavailable for fight rehearsals, and fights that were location-based (such as the theater) that would have to be choreographed on the day.  Luckily, everyone in the cast were professionals who knew how to use a sword, so I wasn’t too concerned about the action or safety.

I realized though, even though I had some of the most amazing stunt people in Hollywood working on my show, I couldn’t ask any of them to sell out and risk injury.  They were working for free.  And if they got injured, they wouldn’t be available for their next paying gig.

THE HUNTED, AN INTERNET EPIC – SAG

photo2Then along came SAG.  One of our lead actors absolutely wouldn’t do the show unless it was a union gig.  And we really wanted this actor.  My initial reaction was “hell no”.  I had heard horror stories over the years from producers who had to deal with SAG rules and crazy amounts of paperwork.  Jess decided to check it out anyway and was shocked at the terms of the low budget agreement, which gave SAG complete ownership of the film if the producer failed to meet every criteria of their 725 page document.

But then I began researching Ed Burns, who had produced several feature films under 20K with a SAG New Media contract.  The contract and paperwork was infinitely easier to understand and allowed us to negotiate our own terms with the actors.  What’s more, we could make non-union members SAG eligible, and not have to worry about the rest of our SAG actors getting into trouble.  It sounded almost too good to be true, and against my better judgement, we went for it.

It was a risky move since I was putting my entire non-union webseries on SAG radar, and anyone who had shot an episode for us over the past ten years, even if they didn’t get paid, could potentially get hassled by SAG.  Fortunately, I knew one of the reps in the New Media department, and as long as we could get him to walk the project in personally, we should be okay.  Unfortunately, the only way to submit for New Media status these days is online, which gives you no choice who your SAG rep will be.  And of course, we inherited the SAG rep from hell.

Just four days before shooting, our wonderful new SAG rep changed our status from “New Media” to “Theatrical”, completely changing the terms of our contract to a deal we couldn’t afford, effectively shutting us down.  We had heard stories of SAG doing this – waiting until the last minute to leverage their authority and force production companies to pay for a “completion bond”.  But we weren’t about to give in to SAG, and when Jess asked why our status had been changed, our rep became elusive, vague, and downright crazy.

They said there was a problem with our running length, even though there is no mention of running length in any of the contracts.  When we asked how long the running length should be, they said they couldn’t tell us.  Whaaat?  Apparently, there are a whole series of red flags and hidden qualifiers for New Media that SAG doesn’t tell you about.  Presumably, SAG fears that unscrupulous producers would take unfair advantage of this contract, and for some reason our rep believed we were as unscrupulous as they come.

They said they had a problem with us wanting to go to film festivals, even though we found out that SAG had sponsored a New Media film festival in San Francisco.  Action films were also a red flag, as well as the words “Feature Film”, which was splashed all over our website.  I figured this was a simple fix and changed all occurrences of “Feature Film” on our website to “Internet Epic”.  Done.

I finally got an insider tip that the main thing they were looking for was initial internet distribution.  But again, they wouldn’t tell us what kind of distribution we needed – Netflix, Hulu, Youtube?  At one point they said that they only way the could approve us was to cut the film up into bite-sized webisodes.  I almost conceded, but then I realized no – I already had a webseries, and I didn’t need to ask them permission to do that.  I had told our Kickstarter audience that we were going to make a feature.  And that’s what we were going to do.

But the harder we fought, the harder our rep dug in their heels, literally screaming at us and threatening that if we didn’t sign the theatrical contact, they would make sure we never got approved.  What’s more, they threatened to report us for breaking the law – not paying our actors for years of shooting our no-budget internet series.

They crossed the line.  I finally told SAG that our only option left was to shoot the film non-union or go “financial core”, which caused them to truly go ballistic.  They actually called each of our cast members and told them not to work on our show.  What they didn’t count on was that all of the actors were also our friends, and they gave SAG an earful for giving us a hard time saying that they would go financial core if they had to.

But there was no fighting it.  This had become personal.  Jess was in tears and we had no idea what to do next.

I then came up with an idea to crowdsource the problem.  If we could crowdsource financing, props and locations, why not legal advice?  We turned to our friends who eventually put us in touch with just the right person (and I’m glad he’s on our side).  All we know is that this guy may or may not have been a linebacker for the New York Jets and is simply referred to as a “SAG negotiator”.

Jess told him our situation and all he said was “I’ll take care of it”.  We had been battling this thing with everything we had for two weeks, and the next day we got a call from him saying “it’s done”.  Jess was shocked and asked him what he did.  He simply told SAG “I do not like what it is you’re doing to these nice people” and that he was not a “happy camper”.  Jess replied “and that worked?”  He replied, “they know what I mean by that”.

An hour later we get a call from the president of SAG personally apologizing for how we had been treated.  In my mind, I imagined he was being suspended by his heels from the roof of a tall building with our buddy in the background saying “make me believe you!”  Immediately aftewards we got a call from our new SAG rep, who was astoundingly nice, saying that we would be reinstated right away as a New Media project.

Who the hell WAS that guy?  Do we owe him a favor someday?  Are we going to go down to the SAG office and find a bunch of people in crutches?

We called to thank our “negotiator” and ask what we owed him.  He said that he saw our budget and knew we couldn’t afford him, so he gave us a very reasonable price.  We told him how thankful we were and that we’d love to put his name in the credits.  He simply said “no, I prefer to remain anonymous.”

It was over.  And the victory (and the story) was almost worth the battle.

The irony of all this is that the actor who had originally requested SAG status had to leave the show due to a family emergency.  The actor who replaced him left shortly after the altercation with SAG.  Other actors and crew, unsure of the fate of the show, took work on other shows.  So even though we were finally approved, the issues with SAG completely killed our momentum, forcing us to postpone the show yet again.

I felt it was a mixed blessing.  We weren’t ready.  Locations weren’t locked, fights weren’t rehearsed, storyboards weren’t finished, we still had missing crew, equipment, props, and I still hadn’t memorized all my lines yet.  And one of my biggest fears wasn’t jumping off a building or getting hit with a sword, it was forgetting my lines.

And yes, directing my first feature scared the crap out of me.  So I was secretly relieved when I thought the film wasn’t going to happen.  I was actually hoping for a meteor or some other cataclysmic event, but SAG did the trick.  Apparently, one of my lead actors felt the same way – secretly hoping the show would be canceled.  It was a big role, and he wasn’t sure he could pull it off.

But this was the “year of scary” for me, and Jess knew we had to keep going.  My money wasn’t going to last forever, so we rescheduled for the end of August when Monique was scheduled to return from Iron Man, even though that meant starting the same week that Jess started teaching her class at Pepperdine.

Film production is hard enough in itself without your own union trying to screw you.  But we went into this knowing this was gonna be rough.  Our only consolation was that one way or another, it was going to be done in 18 days.  I was also empowered by this saying I came across, “Stop being afraid of what could go wrong and start being positive about what could go right.”  Jess also made me a bracelet with the acronym “WWEBD”, which stood for “What Would Ed Burns Do?”  You can see me wearing it in a few scenes in the movie.

THE HUNTED, AN INTERNET EPIC – TIMING

…is everything.  But when you don’t have good timing, what do you do?  You can either sit there and wait for the perfect time that may never come, dwell on the perfect time that has passed, or you can suck it up, jump in with both feet and make the best of it while you can.

Had we shot the film a year earlier, our primary location, New Deal Studios, would still be in our back yard in Marina Del Rey – 5 minutes away.  Having relocated to Sylmar, the drive now took us through rush hour traffic up the 405, which at one point took 3 hours.  A year earlier, our lead actress would’ve also lived right next door in the Marina and not an hour up the coast in Malibu.

Had it just been a month earlier, our lead actress would have all the time in the world and wouldn’t have been called off to “Iron Man 3” in the middle of production, our producer wouldn’t have been trying to teach a class at the same time (also in Malibu), our lead actor wouldn’t be working full time on a major installation for a Vegas attraction, and I would’ve had plenty of money set aside for living expenses and rent.

And at any other time of year, we wouldn’t have been in the middle of a record breaking heatwave.

It seemed to be the singlemost inconvenient time for everyone working on the show.  Even folks who hadn’t worked for years suddenly were insanely busy or beset with personal problems the day they began working on the show.  It was as if the universe was conspiring against us.  But somehow we made it work.  We jumped in with both feet and made the best of it while we could.

A lesson learned from my brother who was currently fighting a far more difficult battle with cancer.

Strangely enough, many of the timing issues went away at the last minute – the gig with “Iron Man” fell through, the project in Vegas fell through, one of our actors who originally wasn’t available was now available.  Timing still wasn’t perfect, but I felt like the universe was at least taking pity on us.

THE HUNTED, AN INTERNET EPIC – PRODUCTION

The one piece of advice we received from another couple who regularly produces / directs (and is still married) is to not make your home into a production office.  You don’t want to come home to a bunch of props, equipment and costumes.  You need a space where you can get away from all that.  Our initial plan was to have an office at New Deal Studios which would’ve been free, but they were now 30 miles away and we didn’t have the money to rent something local.

So despite the warning from our friends, our home became our production office.  It wasn’t bad actually.  It would’ve taken us longer to have to run back and forth to an office, and that was time we didn’t have.  Besides, Jess and I were already used to what we call “project mode” in our little 1-1/2 bedroom apartment and we actually didn’t have that much in the way of gear.  And it was way less dusty than “Burning Man”.

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We had a bin for props, another for lights, a duffel for costumes, another duffel for swords, a camera bag for the DSLR, and a dolly cart for beverages and food (courtesy of the 99 Cent Store) which Jess would load up every morning.  There were also a few larger props such as the recliner, shopping cart and medical gurney, which we were allowed to leave at New Deal Studios, and the rest of the camera gear for the Red Epic was kept at our Nick and Liz’s place… for now.

The challenge every day was to load everything in the car that we needed or might potentially need during the day.  Most of this was on the prop sheet, but a lot of it required some serious focus, something I lacked more and more as the shoot wore on.  And of course, most everything would have to be unloaded at the end of the day, which was the hardest part.

Most everything was set.  I had hoped to finish a complete set of storyboards, but we had run out of time.  It was also fairly impossible to storyboard locations I hadn’t even seen yet.  The best I could do was to come up with a simple shot list and call times.  Jess would put together the call sheets, email them to the cast and crew, teach in the morning, drive to set that evening, set up craft services and order lunch.  I had the task of loading the car with whatever props, costumes, equipment, gear we required that day, and learn my lines while picking up whatever else was needed.

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We had scheduled an 18 day shoot.  It all seemed fairly impossible, but we didn’t seem to have a choice.  At least we had a plan.  But of course, things change.  And whoever said making movies is “controlled chaos” lied about the “controlled” part.  Not a day went by when I didn’t get “the call”, which was someone giving me the news that could potentially destroy that day’s filming.

It was a great adventure and easily one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  By the end, I was more tired than I had ever been and had somehow lost 15 pounds.  Weeks after filming had wrapped, I would experience PTSD-like symptoms of waking up in the middle of the night with a panic attack convinced we had to shoot something.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…