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…

FILMING: DAY 1 – VAMPSLAYER

It occurred to me that if you haven’t seen the movie or read the script, you may have absolutely no idea what’s going on here.  Why is a chicken battling a large purple monster in front of Mann’s Chinese theater?  It’s complete chaos and it makes no sense, which is what most films are about until you put it into context.  Hopefully this will all make sense someday.  In the meantime I’m chalking it up to one helluva learning experience.

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DAY 1, Aug 11, 2012 – Vampslayer

Since Monique was scheduled to be on “Iron Man” until the end of August, we figured we’d shoot as much as we could without her.  Ironically, her date kept getting pushed back and she eventually didn’t go at all.  Apparently, we weren’t the only film having timing issues.

We scheduled our first day to shoot our movie within a movie, “Vampslayer”, a classic 80’s action flick with me in black leather and a mullet.  The film also parodies a terrible movie I had starred in years ago called “Dragon Fury”, in which the lead actress actually says “I will answer all of your questions after we rest and have sex”.

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I tried to get the rights to use the film, but the current owner (Troma) wasn’t going to let that happen without a tidy sum.  No, it was cheaper for us to create our own film which could be adapted to fit the story better.  And it was a blast to shoot!

It wasn’t, however, the easiest first thing to shoot.  Our call time for our first day was at 6pm on a Saturday at All Olympia Gymnastics Academy.  I had trained at the academy for ten years and I knew a few of the coaches, so we were able to get the location for free.  I figured this was the perfect place to shoot some of the wire gags, since it was already set up for that.  And they had a back parking lot where we could shoot exteriors and set up a huge 10’x20′ greenscreen ($40 on ebay) for a motorcycle gag.  But we were doing this without the express permission of the owner, who could shut us down at any minute.  Thankfully, the entire gymnastics team (including gold medalist Kayla Maroni) was at the Olympics, but they could be back at any time with a huge press corps in tow.

We had to work fast, but then we hit our first snag.  The head coach was having his car serviced which contained the only working remote to the back gate of the facility.  We tried everything, but there was no way to open the gate.  No back gate, no location, no greenscreen.  This was also the first day that Tex Wall (our writer) showed up with his camera to shoot behind the scenes footage.  And here’s the director on day one crawling around on his hands and knees with a flashlight trying to figure out how to open a gate.  It was quite symbolic.  But I wasn’t about to be shut down on our first day, on camera, so I took it as a challenge and eventually figured out how to open the gate by removing the chain drive.

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It was then we saw the magic of Josh Gill, who went to work transforming the back lot into an awesome looking scene with just a handful of shop lights.  At the same time, we set up the greenscreen while there was still daylight, which unfortunately flapped in the breeze of an incoming storm front.  I chose not to worry about it and shot out establishing shots of the motorcycle based on my storyboards.

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We were working quick, but we had a lot to do.  And there were a few things that took way longer than expected, like putting in hair extensions which took a good 20 minutes.

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Moving inside, we set up for a wire gag which required me to do a back layout while drawing 2 swords.  I actually did a CG previs of this shot to make sure it would work.  I had also done some wirework years ago, but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with this gag.  We did a few tests with a gymnast, so we knew it could work, but my lower back had been seriously jacked for some time and I was fully aware that any injuries here could seriously jeopardize the rest of the shoot.

The rig was another challenge – trying to suspend our new Red camera 15ft up without a crane, just ropes.  The owners were dubious and not at all thrilled.  And how to operate it?  We actually tried putting a harness on Josh to strap him to the ceiling.  To his credit, Josh was up for it, but I could see right away that this was impractical.  We’d have to run the camera remotely.  Unfortunately, the remote only controlled on/off and not focus.  And the new 25′ HDMI cable I had bought was useless when our monitor (recently salvaged from the trash) decided not to work.  I had thought about pulling out my little Canon T2i, which would solve a few of the problems, but we needed to shoot this sequence at 120fps and it was fairly dark.  Definitely a job for the Redcam.

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Our solution was to turn around the little LCD monitor on the camera, which was just enough to allow us to line up the shot from a distance.  We would then lower the camera after each take to watch playback.  It was a hit and miss operation, one which required me to do that backflip over a dozen times.  We also shot footage of our vamp thugs Josh and Tyler, who would be comped into the final shot.  Unfortunately, it was all a bit dark, and would require some serious roto in post, but with the help of some CG magic we finally got a pretty bitchin shot.

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At that point, my back was more than a bit tweaked and it was time for a break.  And even though Jess said she would never order pizza for dinner, we had some of the best pizza ever!  It was then we realized why most productions running night shoots order pizza.  It’s the only thing open after 11pm.  At that time, the rest of our cast and crew showed, which included the amazingly sexy Michelle Lee and our sound guy, Josh VanDyke, who brought along one of his students, Jesse.

We then moved back outside to shoot on greenscreen.  I realized at some point earlier in the day that if we had a greenscreen, we should probably have fun with this “Vampslayer” movie, so I had Tex crank out a couple new scenes for myself, Michelle, and Tim Storms, who we dressed up as a mad scientist in Jess’s old lab coat.  Tim and Michelle were fantastic and we had a blast!  We also shot a bunch of publicity stills on greenscreen which we would later use to create the poster art for the mock film.

We had so much fun with the sequence that I almost forgot about the motorcycle gag – the main reason we set up the greenscreen.  This was a recurring theme of the shoot (forgetting to shoot something) and it has to do with being rushed and not keeping track of the script and my own shot list.  And it got worse as I lost more and more sleep.

One of the scarier stunts I came up with seemed simple enough.  While riding a motorcycle at two vamp thugs in the road, our hero stands up on the bike, draws his swords, and backflips into battle.  The backflip we did with wires, but standing on the bike, that was something that seemed like it might be easy to do practically.  I had never done it before and I asked my stunt buddies how hard it was.  I had several different answers, but I erred on the side of caution.  And I’m glad I did.  I borrowed a bike stand from my buddy Spike and stood on the bike in front of the greenscreen with a giant fan blowing at me.  This was one of the few sequences I had done a previz of in Maya just to make sure it would work.

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It was after midnight when we finally wrapped the gym, but we still had a full night of shooting ahead of us.  It was then I realized we couldn’t base our shoot days on 10 and 12 hour days – especially if people needed to get up for work early the next day.  The best we could manage was a 6-8 hour day, which meant we would wrap at 2am.

I had specifically planned the second half of the shoot as late as possible, since I was going to be riding down the middle of the street with no helmet and doing a swordfight in the middle of an intersection with no permit.  Yea, it sounds all kinds of dangerous and illegal, but the location I had scoped out was a street right next to the Hughes hanger, which at the time was practically deserted (now the location of a huge development called Playa Vista).  I also wasn’t planning on going crazy on the bike, just fast enough to see wind in my hair and jacket so it would look right when I sped up the footage.

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The biggest danger, however, I discovered in the first couple minutes when the bottom of my leather coat got sucked into the gears.  Luckily, the back wheel locked up before I got pulled off the bike.  Good thing I didn’t try and stand on the thing.  We saw only one police cruiser while we were there, but we had planned to be as discrete as possible, sitting our cameraman in the hatchback of Jess’s car, which we would only open when we were shooting.

The fight scene was another story, and I figured we’d only get one or two shots at it.  We quikly positioned two cars on either side of the intersection for lighting and jumped right into the fight scene.  When we didn’t get stopped, we did it again, and again, and then got some more coverage.  Almost two hours and no one stopped us.  I almost felt cheated.  I had fully expected to get stopped or perhaps even fined for riding without a helmet, but somehow we managed to pull it off.

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BAMM!  Day one was wrapped!  After all these years and all the crazy planning, it all came down to this – running around like kids, breaking into gates, acting like goofballs, doing crazy stunts, sitting around eating pizza, and just makin movies.  Upon posting photos online the next day, everyone was convinced I was going to have a mullet throughout the entire shoot.  But they were rightly impressed.  The photos were pretty bitchin.  It was actually a show in production.  It was happening.  And suddenly everyone started taking us a bit more seriously.

FILMING: DAY 2 – RESTAURANT

We had a four day rest to recover from the first day of shooting, and we were eager to shoot as much as we could before we went into full production on Sept 5.  Monique was still in town, so we decided to grab her while we could for the bar scene.  It was risky since we were committing to Monique playing Susan, when there was a chance she could disappear the next day and we would have to re-shoot all of this.

We had originally thought the location would be at a restaurant in Santa Monica where we knew a bunch of the staff, but it didn’t come free.  They wanted us to pay a couple hundred dollars for a whole “happy hour” buffet in order to shoot.  Instead, Jess found an awesome Mexican restaurant in the valley which featured an entire wall completely plastered with hundreds of crucifixes.  And they were going to let us shoot for free – provided we paid for dinner.

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So we all met up around 6pm – had a great dinner, rehearsed a bit, and went to set up the shot.  Unfortunately, a family of four had taken up the perfect table for the shoot and we had to wait for them to finish.  After about an hour of waiting, I finally got up the nerve to ask them if we could use the table and they were more than happy to move.  Everyone was so nice and the owner of the restaurant was great – letting us shoot right in the middle of the restaurant.

We didn’t have a big setup or any lights, but AJ Raitano was our DP and was able to configure the Red to shoot with existing light.  Unfortunately, we were missing our sound guy, so I made do by placing a Zoom X2 on the table between us.  We had a clapboard, but for most of the shoot we opted for just clapping hands, clanging swords, or stomping feet.

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We went through about 20 takes of the scene, which had a ton of dialogue.  It got better with each take, but I also started to get a bit lightheaded since I decided I was going to be drinking a pina colada during the scene, and I went through two of those suckers!  By the time we finished, everyone including the owner knew my dialogue better than I did.  We wrapped the bar scene around 10pm and moved into the parking lot for the next sequence.

And here’s where we were screwed for sound.  I had originally envisioned using an iphone with a lav mic, but we had three people to mic and the system just wasn’t working – whether it was the placement of the lav, or the software, or using the wireless, it all sounded like crap.  We spent at least a half hour figuring out our options, which I hated to do on Monique’s first night.  She kidded with us, though, and said she didn’t know it was supposed to be a BYOL party.  Eventually, we decided that I would wear a lav plugged into the Zoom H2 and have everyone talk into my chest, while my friend Nick would run the Zoom H4N next to camera with a smaller handheld shotgun mic.

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Yup, day 2 and I’m already planning on doing a ton of ADR on the show.  What’s more, in all the confusion I forgot to shoot the last part of the scene where we drive off out of the parking lot.  AAHHHGGG!

Day 2 also marks the first day we had on set a ’68 Plymouth Satellite, which belonged to a buddy of mine named “Soop”.  The car was sweet, but little known to us, it would only start three times a day.  We found this out after we drove the car to our second location, which was supposed to be a complicated scene with Monique driving the car and finding me on the side of the road.

Once again, it was already after midnight and Monique had about an hour left before she was done – physically and otherwise.  I described the scene to her, but I could tell by her face that it wasn’t going to happen.  And we still had another shot in a hospital parking lot.  As much as I hated putting it off, we decided we would pick up the street scene later and drove to the hospital, which was a much easier shot.

…or so I thought.  Upon arriving at the hospital, the parking lot was full and there were only a few spots open that were lit.  When we finally decided on a parking spot, we then had to figure out a way to light Monique.  I had my little LED light panel which we decided to attach to the camera, but because nothing is standard on the Redcam, it took another 20 minutes and 15 zipties to strap it down.  And we still needed to somehow run sound.

At this point I was seriously considering the Canon.  It had a light mount and it could run sound – easy!  But the downside was still lowlight, and the Redcam’s full sensor, 5K resolution and fast lens was the winner every time.  When we finally set up for the scene, we ran three quick takes and we were done.

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Good thing too, since a cop car suddenly appeared while we were walking back to our cars.  And he pulled up right next to our cameraman, which probably wouldn’t have happened if we were using the little Canon.  The Redcam with the full shoulder mount looks like some serious equipment.  The officer asked what we were doing, but our cameraman just pointed to Jess and said to ask her.

But Jess went into superproducer mode, instantly realizing that the cops were just curious.  She told them all about the series and even gave them the URL so they could go check it out.  Yup, Jess rocks.  We finally wrapped around 2am, and fortunately Soop’s car started and we didn’t have to hang out the rest of the evening waiting for AAA.  Once again, it was just an 8 hour day, but even that was too long when it’s a late night shoot.

FILMING: DAY 3 – HIGHFALL AND LOREMASTER

Another 3 day rest since our last shoot day and we began to realize this was a great way to ease into the schedule.  We chose to shoot a few more scenes without Monique since she wasn’t available.  And I chose a Saturday shoot at New Deal Studios since we were doing a highfall, and most of my stunt buddies were already in the valley every Saturday morning doing stunt training.  A good friend of mine and old school stunt coordinator, John Moio, offered to set up the gag for free and called another stunt buddy, Scott Leva, to loan me one of his airbags.

So it wasn’t really a 3 day rest.  I spent my time picking up equipment and airbags and transferring stuff over to Jess’s car so I could transport a recliner we found at the last moment.  And we were still collecting props until the last minute – one of which was a huge bong (slightly used) provided to us by a friend who will remain nameless (Jeff).  In the meantime, Jess was still dealing with location hell.  Apparently, our deposit for the hospital set was lost in the mail and we lost our reservation.

What’s more, neither AJ or Josh were available to shoot on Saturday, so we had to hustle to find a DP at the last second.  Fortunately, Brian Maris was available even though he had just had a baby.  He had never used the Red Epic before, but he had a great eye, and had already shot a whole series of badass Hunted episodes called “Bloodsucker Punch”.  Also on the call sheet was our writer, Tex Wall, in his first appearance as the Loremaster, our sound guy Jessie, our makeup guy Louis Kiss, our prop girl Kayla, our camera team Nick and Liz, and the New Deal stage manager Mark.

It was a record heatwave, and the valley was gonna be cookin.  We decided to start at 8am and try to get off the first shot (the highfall) as soon as possible before it was too hot to stand on the roof in bare feet or compromise the airbag.  John and his gang was there at 8am sharp.  I picked up our prop girl Kayla on the way (who didn’t have a car) and everything was set to go by 9am.

Unfortunately, the camera didn’t show until an hour later.  Nick and Liz had both been working long hours on multiple projects and it was starting to show.  I wasn’t sure how they were going to keep up this schedule when we started 6 day weeks.  The day was getting hotter, the stunt team was getting restless, and what’s more, the hatch leading to the roof of the building was sealed shut.

Again, I figured this was some sort of symbolic “closed door” challenge that I had to overcome, especially since there was no other way onto the roof.  I banged on the hatch for a good 15 minutes, which was surreal since all I was wearing was a pair of flesh colored hotpants and combat boots.  The roof was just starting to cook when I finally managed to open it.  As I walked to the edge, I realized that I may have neglected to tell John and the rest of his crew that this was supposed to be a naked highfall.  At this point, I really didn’t care.

What I did care about was the size of the airbag.  I had been practicing for a 25ft faceoff by going to 30ft.  But this was indeed a 30ft fall with a much smaller airbag and little room for error.  Lots of cement all around.  And the takeoff was less than perfect – a six inch ledge that I had to turn away from before I jumped .  Once again, this could be an early end of the shoot.  My first jump was only slightly off center, but it was enough to nearly bounce me out of the bag.  The second jump was dead on.  Thanks to John Moio and his crew for keeping it safe.

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From there, we had to move on quickly since we were running late and it was heating up quickly.  And one of the biggest issues to deal with was the camera.  Just a few days ago working on another shoot at New Deal Studios, the same camera came close to overheating and the only thing that saved it was a huge refrigerator truck.

Next up was the Loremaster “box” scene.  I had envisioned this as just a simple refrigerator box, but when I was finally able to check it out, Tex and Kayla had erected a cardboard mansion!  I should’ve known.  It was truly genius, and I was reassured that Tex was indeed the perfect choice for the whackadoodle Loremaster.

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Brian Maris was on camera this day and he truly came through – setting up the shot in harsh sunlight by using a series of bounce cards.  He even set up a great low angle dolly shot by using an equipment cart.  By then it was around 11am and the pavement was cookin.  I burned the crap out of myself draggin my body across the pavement.  Jess wanted to break for lunch but I knew it was going to be too hot outside if we waited.  We quickly pushed through the remaining exterior shots which involved Tex pushing me in a shopping cart down the street and across traffic.  Jess jumped in her car and played stunt driver for the day.

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Moving inside, it was still freakin hot, but we had a large mobile air conditioning unit that we used to make the studio bearable.  We quickly set up the stage as “Harry’s lair” with the recliner, table, and a few lights.  Tex was absolutely brilliant as the Loremaster and completely stole the show that afternoon.  We shot as much as we could before Brian had to leave, at which point Nick took over.

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Day 3 was wrapped!  We still needed to return a few stunt pads to Bob Yerke’s place, but afterwards Nick and Liz introduced us all to “Get Shaved” the best snow cone shop ever!  What a brilliant idea and great way to wrap an insanely hot day.

FILMING: DAY 4 – DRIVING

Almost a week since our last shoot day, but it was far from a vacation.  I was still frantically researching equipment, building props, choreographing fights and memorizing lines while Jess dealt with costumes, contracts, and trying to find a solution to the hospital set that we lost.

As a fun side project, I had an online contest to come up with a poster for “Vampslayer” using some of the greenscreen photos we had taken during the first day of shooting.  We needed the poster for the apartment scene and I figured why not crowdsource it.  We had a handful of submissions which were all great, so I combined all of them with a little Photoshop into a single epic classic cheesefest.

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We actually tried to shoot the Venice beach scene earlier in the week on the 21st, but neither Josh or AJ were available to run the camera.  We tried to reschedule it later in the week, but our cameramen were still busy and suddenly Dave wasn’t available.  We decided it was the universe telling us that we were supposed to shoot that scene later, so we just focused on what we could – namely the driving shots.

There was a bunch of driving shots in the script and we decided to put them all together since we had the car for a limited amount of time, and the car was being extremely fussy.  It was a bit frustrating since we were picking up a bunch of shots that we had scheduled for day 2, but we had either run out of time or I was too distracted to get the shot.

But we figured it would be a quick shoot and would really help the schedule.  So we met at 7pm at Jerry’s Deli in the Marina and had a quick bite while we talked about the shots.  It was myself, Monique, Jess, Liz, Nick, and Soop with his car.  Unfortunately, I didn’t think we needed a sound guy that evening, which was a big mistake.

Liz stepped up as our DP that night and we squished her in the back of the car at Jerry’s Deli with the RedCam while we shot the scene of Monique and I peeling out of the bar.  We then shot a bunch of crazy improv driving stuff as Monique drove to the location, which was the same street next to the Hughes hanger that we used for the Vampslayer shoot.

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It was obvious that Mo was having a blast driving this car.  That is, until we set up for the first shot of me walking along the road.  The car stalled on her and wouldn’t start again.  Crap.  So what are we supposed to do on a night with all driving shots with a car that won’t start?  You get out and push.

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So Nick, Soop and Jess pushed the car for miles while we shot the scene over and over again.  It actually worked well for sound since the car was too loud when it was running.  Unfortunately, I trusted the iphone lav once again and the sound was completely blown out.  Chalk up another day of ADR.  The bright side was that no cops wanted to mess with a bunch of folks pushing a broken down car down the street.

Unfortunately, no matter how fast we tried to push the car, it was never going to simulate a high speed race to the hospital.  Chalk up a day of rotoscope on the car interior to make the background look like it was going faster.  Fortunately, we gave the car one last try and it finally fired up.  We managed to get the high speed shots and a few other shots that we needed of the car driving off.

The universe took pity on us once again, and day 4 was complete!