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!

FILMING: DAY 5 – HOSPITAL

This week marked our move into full production.  This also marked the first week that Jess started teaching.  Let the chaos ensue!  A notice was sent to the entire cast and crew with the schedule for the entire 18 day shoot and there was a general amount of confusion as to what was supposed to happen when.  We placed all of the files including the script online using a service called “filesanywhere” – a free service that also worked on mobile devices and could even send faxes.

Most of the confusion was that folks had never read a stripboard or “day out of days” report.  The main problem with the stripboard was that dates are listed at the bottom of each day, and the “day out of days” had codes such as SW, W, and WF for “start work”, “work” and “work finish”.  This is fairly standard stuff, but many actors haven’t seen it since most production companies usually just call them and tell them when and where to go.

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I also emailed a basic call sheet to everyone with a call time and address, but not everyone checked their email on a daily basis or got back to us right away.

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Jess usually organized all of this, but somewhere along the way I had to take over since she was teaching.  From here on in, it was all about doing what we had to do to keep this train wreck on the rails.  I hate to sound negative, but that’s what it felt like.  Thankfully, there were plenty of awesome moments with great actors that reminded me why I was doing all of this in the first place.

And thankfully, we had already shot a few scenes scheduled for the first week, which took some of the pressure off.  Unfortunately, this didn’t include the hospital set, which had become a serious headache ever since our deposit got lost in the mail.  Silver Dream Factory is a great studio, nice people and an awesome deal.  They just never got our money and booked it out to the next available client.

Jess had been negotiating with the studio for a week to try and figure out how to make this work.  On top of everything else, our good friend Derek Conley (our Hunted affiliate from Tampa) was scheduled to fly in on Tuesday night.  We were originally supposed to shoot Wednesday afternoon, the only day Jess didn’t have to teach, but the studio was now booked.  There was the option to shoot after hours, but this would cost another $300.  Seeing no other solution, we decided to bite the bullet, pay the fee, and shoot on Tuesday night.

Our call time was 6pm, but rush hour traffic got the best of us and most of the cast and crew were 15 minutes late.  Not to worry, I budgeted at least an hour for setup.  Josh Gill was our DP once again and amazed us once more with his magic.  We paid for the studio, but not an entire lighting package, but Josh somehow managed to light everything with a couple LED panels and some work lights.

The hospital set looked awesome.  The only downside was that there was no ceiling on the set, which killed a lot of the low-angle shots I had planned.  Still, it was pretty sweet, and we could finally show our cast and crew that we were an actual production.

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Unfortunately, any professional cred we had was completely lost when our sound guy failed to show.  No call, nothing.  I only found out later that his girlfriend had been in an accident.  I tried to pass off the sound job to Tex, who was there trying to shoot behind the scenes footage.  But fortunately, my buddy Chris Gauntt just happened to stop by to check out production (he had been one of our original Kickstarter contributors).  Not only did he know how to run sound, but he owned the exact same Zoom H4N we were using.  We convinced him to stay and he did an amazing job.

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Bob Noble was first up as our Doctor Haansen, who was awesome to work with.  The scene had a ton of dialogue which we managed to plow through in 3 or 4 takes.  Our friend Nicole Dubuc also did a great job as our intern.  Nicole had won a Hunted contest to be a walk-on character in the show.  Little did we know that she had been a child actor on a show called “Major Dad”.

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Anthony DeLongis and Monique were also on for the day, and both requested to be shot out early.  Unfortunately, they were in practically every scene, but I told them I’d do the best I could.

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Also on hand was Gary Kasper, who is an absolute blast to work with.  He wanted me to let him know if he was in danger of going “over the top” with his character.  Gary is a wild man and an excellent actor.  I was mostly curious to see where his idea of “over the top” was.

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Our friend Derek showed up from the airport just in time to be our security guard.  Not only did he kickass in a little improv scene with Monique, I also gave him a quick action sequence where Gary blasts him out of his way when he shows up at the hospital.  The most fun we had that evening was seeing Derek doing take after take of getting destroyed by Gary, and lovin every minute of it!

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To the delight of the cast and crew, we wrapped the shoot at midnight, two hours earlier than expected.  BAMM!

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FILMING: DAY 6 – THE OFFICE

A day later and we would be tackling the most ambitious day of the entire shoot.  Thanks to crowdsourcing, a friend of ours from the beach, Sam Keville, had offered to let us shoot in his office building after hours.  The building was amazing, but the office was less than perfect.  It was a working architectural office crammed with expensive computers and valuable blueprints, and the script called for several major fight scenes and an explosion.

I had wracked my brain for weeks to figure out how we were going to shoot this.  I even called my writers Tex and Andrew in a panic hoping for some advice.  It wasn’t until the last day I came up with an answer, but it wasn’t going to be easy.  And this was on top of an already impossible day.  But we were determined to get this sequence shot out in a single evening since it was the only day we had our entire slayer team.

The day started by putting together a bluescreen prop trash chute which I would tape to one of the walls of the office.  Again, I had no idea how I was going to do this until hours before the shoot.  Our call time was 7pm but Jess and I headed out extra early so we could pick up “Harry’s van”.  Just days before, we had reserved a cargo van, but the rental company totally dropped the ball.  Jess tried everywhere, but there was nothing left.  She was frustrated, the schedule was already getting to her, but I convinced her to try one last time.  She suddenly found “State Van Rentals” which had a great deal and could ensure the same van was available when we needed it.

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Again, the universe takes pity on us.  The van had seen some action, a few dents, broken mirrors, broken ignition switch, and bullet holes, but it worked.  As I pulled the van out of the driveway, an engine light started flashing, but I didn’t care.  I fired up the radio and blasted the first song that came on which sounded appropriate enough, “Hurts So Good” by John Mellencamp.  All I could think was, I really wish I could get that song for the movie.

We arrived early at the office and grabbed a bite to eat at The Counter while I tried not to think about the impending insanity.  Our first challenge was parking.  We told folks to meet us in the front of the building, but the front door of the lobby was locked.  We also weren’t allowed in the lobby until a certain time, so I scheduled to shoot the van sequence first.  Unfortunately, the van was 7ft tall and the clearance to the garage was 6ft 10in.  Of course.  Screw it, I gave it a shot anyway.  With Sam’s help, I inched the van carefully into the garage and into a lit parking spot.

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By that time, the entire cast had taken up the lobby of the building with bags, weapons, costumes and equipment.  Security didn’t seem to mind, though, especially since one of the cast, Kimberly Fox, was dressed as a stripper.  Also crowded in the lobby were Dave Baker (his first day as Harry), Monique Ganderton, Jason Medbury, Gary Kasper, Tom Foley, Lauren Kim, Kendall Wells, and our crew AJ Raitano, Josh Gill, Nick Hiegel, and on Jesse on sound who would later be replaced by Josh VanDyke.  Yup, a full house.  Herding cats.

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We shot the first team in the back of the van by bouncing it around to simulate driving.  We then shot everyone getting out of the van and breaking into the building.  We didn’t necessarily have permission to shoot in the garage, but at that point I didn’t care.

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Our biggest hassle was the automatic doors which kept opening every time we tried to run the scene.  We also weren’t able to lock down the location, which meant people would occasionally walk through the scene.  We shot out the escalator and the lobby scene in record time.  I only regret that I didn’t have enough time to properly shoot a CG sequence where Kim was to get yanked through a wall.

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With that, it was time for lunch and Jess actually ordered sushi for everyone – classy!  We were pressing our luck by hanging out longer than expected in the lobby, but we soon packed up and moved upstairs to the office.  Unfortunately, Sam informed us that the office was still in use.  They had an unexpected deadline and promised us that they would be finished shortly.  We shot out what we could in the hallway as quickly as possible and waited.

An hour went by.  It was now around 1am and folks were passing out in the hallway, which was now warm from so many bodies.  I had to do something.  I’m now kicking myself for not shooting our original elevator sequence, which was a huge CG gag escaping an elevator stuck between floors with one of the slayers getting pulled into the elevator shaft.

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I did the next best thing, however.  I grabbed Dave and Monique and took them downstairs to finish the end of the sequence in the dumpster and outside the building.  I had originally planned to shoot both at New Deal Studios on greenscreen, but we had to shoot something and I figured I could add explosions or whatever we needed in post with some roto work.

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And still we waited for the office to open.  When we finally got inside, it was 2am, and we still had a ton of shots to finish.  What’s more, I was getting fuzzy – unsure of what to shoot or how to shoot it.  But we just kept moving forward.  Thankfully I had a kickass crew and friends around me who stuck it out until the bitter end.  We wrapped around 4am.

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As we dragged ourselves to our cars, I noticed that Josh had a parking ticket.  I felt so bad.  We offer to pay for that ticket every time we see him and he still has yet to take us up on that.

I was never so tired as I watched the sun come up while driving home.  And this was just the beginning.  Crappy part was that Jess had to get up in a couple hours to teach and I still had to return the van in the morning.

FILMING: DAY 7 – SUPERCHICKEN!

Labor Day Weekend.  We were originally scheduled to shoot Harry’s warehouse on Friday and the apartment scene on Saturday, but Monique had mentioned a few weeks prior that she was heading out of town this weekend for a wedding.  And there was only one thing left that we could shoot without her… Superchicken!

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Shooting on Hollywood Blvd.  This was my worst fear.  If we were going to get busted, it was going to be here.  Not only were we shooting right in front on Mann’s Chinese on one of the busiest weekends of the year, but we were going to try and stage an impromptu fight dressed as crazy costumed characters.

I had done some research on the costumed characters on Hollywood Blvd.  Cops routinely busted these guys, who were occasionally homeless folks just trying to make some change by wearing dime store costumes.  It was not unusual to see Spiderman in a plastic suit pissing in the streets or getting into a fist fight with Batman.  And there were plenty others who took their costumes and turf very seriously.  Even if we didn’t get busted, we were going to have to deal with these guys.

Our call time was 1pm meeting at the CPK in the Highland mall just down the street from Mann’s Chinese.  We figured we’d have a bite to eat while we planned our strategy.  Our crew consisted of Josh Gill as our DP, Mario Rocha as our Mexican tourist, Jason McNeil as generic superguy, Jim Pirri as muppet dude, myself as Superchicken, and Jess, who was there to bail us out.  Unfortunately, our sound guy Josh VanDyke thought we were somewhere on the street and wandered around for almost an hour before he found us.

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I had rented Jim Pirri’s crazy purple muppet costume earlier in the week so he could play with it a bit.  Jess had discovered the costume at Robinson’s Beautilities and it was perfect!  I had originally written the part for Jim, but I was reluctant to offer such a small role to a bitchin actor.  I offered him any role he wanted and he originally considered the role of Hank.  But after I expanded the role of the muppet, he said he liked the role better since it sounded like so much fun.  And he was freakin great!

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Our plan was to have Josh Gill shoot us with the little Canon T2i while Josh VanDyke ran sound via wireless mics.  It was as discreet as you could get.  No one could tell we were shooting a feature.

I had picked up Nick’s wireless system on the way to the shoot along with a second lav mic, but once again, the system never quite worked, so we knew we probably just bought another day of ADR.  The system could also only handle 2 mics, so we had folks talking into each other’s chests frequently.  Also dogging us was the T2i, which wouldn’t work with any of our knockoff backup batteries.

The one cool thing about the wireless mic is that I could communicate with Josh VanDyke who was dressed as a tourist.  I could tell him from a distance where to position the actors and give them their cues.

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The place was hot, packed, and we got stinkeye from a bunch of the costume characters wondering who the hell we were.  I got told to “back off bro” by Darth Vader who was in the process of getting his picture taken (which we used in the final cut).  Something else I didn’t expect, costume characters would hide their faces if they saw a camera.  I figured this was because the characters wanted to get paid for photos.  I only got asked to take a few photos since most tourists didn’t know who the hell I was supposed to be.  However, right before one take, I had a 5 year old princess come up who really wanted to tell me all about her unicorn.  I only wish we could use that footage, but we didn’t get a name.

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We had shot a bunch of establishing shots and it was time for the fight scene.  We set the action close to the street so it was safe and visible to the camera a couple hundred feet away.  I called action and Josh gave them the cue.  It was just a shoving match, but the crowd believed it was real.  A couple other cameras moved in thinking they were going to get a story.  When I finally broke it up and called cut, one of the costumed characters figured it out and announced to the rest of the crowd that we were acting.  The crowd erupted in applause.  I had expected we might get arrested, but not this.  Worked out better than I could’ve imagined.

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We moved down the street to an alley where Jim and I were supposed to have an argument about leaving town.  The street was nice and quiet and I wasn’t too worried about getting busted.  Unfortunately, a couple skateboarders decided to have a session right next to us.  We waited for them to leave, but it wasn’t going to happen.  Jess finally asked them if they could hold off for a bit and they were more than happy to just sit quietly and watch what we were doing.

The scene worked great and Jim threw himself completely into the role.  He even screamed at a car while crossing the street, which got some attention from the neighbors.

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Day 7 – BAMM!  This is how my Facebook updates went out every day.  I also included whatever stills we shot on our iphones along with a mini post-it storyboard that Jess had drawn (which were way better than my storyboards).  She made a stack of these things that I could unveil during the rest of the shoot.  It was truly the little things that kept us going.  That and the caffeine.

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FILMING: DAY 8 – COSTUME SHOP

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Only slightly recovered after the long Labor Day weekend, we prepared ourselves for the week to come.  And we got off to a fantastic start by losing our first location!!  I was in the process of dropping off the purple monster at Robinson’s costume shop when I got the call from Jess, and she wasn’t happy.  The costume shop we had booked in the valley, Valentino’s, had completely forgotten they had talked with her and the location was no longer available.  She didn’t know what to do and she didn’t have time to deal with it since she had to go to work.

It was time I stepped up and played producer for a day.  I was already at Robinson’s, so I talked to the cashier, a nice guy called Christian, and told him the situation.  I didn’t bother to mention that we had already talked to Robinson’s weeks ago about using the shop and they had quoted us a small fortune.  We found Valentino’s through crowdsourcing and they were going to charge us only $300.

The cashier put me in touch with the owner, who indeed was going to charge us a tidy sum.  I told him we couldn’t afford it and was ready to hang up when the owner started to negotiate.  He eventually gave me a price that was almost triple the price of Valentino’s for half the time – 4 hours to finish 7 pages of dialogue.  And any overtime would be charged $200 an hour.  There didn’t seem to be much of a choice – especially since we had no time left to contact the cast and crew.  I said yes.

But it wasn’t that easy, I still had to provide our proof of insurance and add Robinson’s to our contract.  Jess usually took care of this stuff, but I did what I had to – tracked down our agent who was just leaving the office for the day, added Robinson’s to the contract, and had it faxed to them before the end of the day.  I also contacted our cast and crew and notified them of the change.  It was all very touch-and-go, but somehow I managed to pull it off.

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Jess, however, wasn’t happy when she found out that I made a crappy deal, but she didn’t leave me much of a choice.  Someone had to make the call, and it wasn’t an easy one to make.  She was worried that we may not have enough money to finish the film.  We were both tired and grumpy and it was our first big producer/director blowout.  I felt unappreciated, and I almost called off the shoot as we pulled up to the front door.

The place was hot and stuffy – especially after setting up a bunch of work lights in a back room with no ventilation.  But Monique and Dave did a fantastic job on the scene – damn funny stuff!  We even blew out an air mattress during our over-enthusiastic makeout scene where Mo throws herself on the bed.  Also on hand was Josh Gill, who did a fantastic job lighting the scene and cranking through the setups, Josh VanDyke for sound, Tex with his behind the scenes footage, and Liz Mclelland with our fabulous Redcam.

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We managed to shoot out everything in record time and was out of there before midnight.  Bamm!  They even let us borrow the bunny head for the next day shoot on Venice beach.

 

FILMING: DAY 9 – VENICE BEACH

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I set the call time for noon at the corner of 19th Ave and Ocean Front Walk in Venice Beach.  Our beach buddy Soop knew the area and was convinced this was our best place to shoot.  Next to Hollywood Blvd., I was convinced that this was the best place to get busted.  My producer buddy, David Sanger at New Deal Studios mentioned that he had been busted numerous times trying to shoot there.

I had heard that another production was shooting that day in Venice, so I figured I might be able to piggyback on them and say we were shooting pickups.  I hate guerilla filmmaking, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.  We planned accordingly to be extremely low profile – shooting on the smaller Canon T2i with wireless mics instead of a large boom mic.

I did want the quality to suffer too much, however, and a smaller camera meant less stability for the tracking shots I had planned.  So I put together a cheap $14 steadicam rig with some pipe and weights, which Josh put to good use in the opening shot.

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I also did a little tweaking to the wireless system and I think I had cleared up some of the issues.  Unfortunately, I got a text at 11:30am from our sound guy who wasn’t going to make it – doh!  Fortunately, Jess had the day off from teaching and I promoted her to sound.  Chalk up another credit after producing, locations, stunt driving and craft services.

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As we were planning our strategy, who should roll up but Venice icon Harry Perry.  I’ve known this guy for almost 20 years and figured what the hell.  I asked him if he could be part of the show.  He was more interested in selling me a t-shirt.  When I offered to buy a t-shirt in exchange for the show, he started negotiations.  And after years of working the system, he had the lingo down, SAG day rate, buyout, residuals, etc.  This guy was gonna cost us more than our entire production.  I wished him a good day.

Dave Baker was pretty wiped out since he had been working nonstop on an art installation in Vegas.  He was actually supposed to drive to Vegas right after the shoot, which is why we shuffled around the schedule.  But the project got pushed at the last minute, so it was all for naught.  Mo was running a bit late since she parked several miles up the beach and decided to walk.  Tex, however, was ready and rarin to go as the Loremaster, and he totally nailed it!  Hardest thing to do was keep from cracking up during his scene.

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No real problems during shooting.  All the cops saw was a bunch of people standing around talking to a crazy homeless guy. I never did see the other production company, but I found out later that they were there.  They couldn’t afford permits either so apparently they had hid their camera in a baby carriage to get their shots.

We wrapped in a couple hours took everyone out to lunch to celebrate not getting arrested and dropped off the bunny head on the way home.

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FILMING: DAY 10 – COP FIGHT

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Early on in the casting I decided that my stunt buddy John Ross would be perfect to play the role of the cop.  It’s a fairly big role with a major fight sequence.  We rehearsed the infamous stop sign fight and even custom tailored his uniform.  Unfortunately, a week before filming, we found out he wasn’t available.  Every now and then, I wish I just had a wad of cash to make problems go away.  This was one of those times.

We couldn’t push our dates, so we scrambled to find a replacement as soon as possible.  Thankfully, Scott Rosen was available and willing.  Immediately afterwards, however, John’s schedule changed and there was a chance he might be available after all.  Unfortunately “might” wasn’t good enough and we had to pass.  He wasn’t happy, but we’re still hoping he’ll forgive us.

Our call time was set for 7pm in the parking lot of New Deal Studios.  To save money, we said we didn’t need access to the studio, just the parking lot.  The only problem, what would we use for facilities?  We had thought about renting a porta-john, but for less than that, Jess found us a full-size RV.  We had ourselves a honey wagon!

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We picked up the RV at 4:30pm in the Marina from a Mr. Stewart Silver, aka “Cologne Bling”.  He assured us it was a new RV, but it was definitely a fixer-upper.  And we’re pretty sure it was used on the TV series “Breaking Bad”.  It had been a while since I had driven an RV this big (27ft), but at this point I didn’t really care about anything anymore.  However, I wasn’t about to try and dodge traffic on Sepulveda in this thing, so Jess followed me in my Rav4 as we spent an hour crawling up the 405 in rush hour traffic.

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The RV was a piece of crap.  At one point, the driver’s door flew open for no reason.  I tried to shut it, but the entire door panel came off in my hand.  No time to worry about that now.  We needed to pick up some stunt pads from Bob Yerkes place in Northridge, but I was unable to park the RV at his place.  Instead, I went to pick up a prop gun from Charles Currier’s place nearby while Jess recruited a few hands at Bobby’s to help her secure pads onto the roof of the Rav.  We were running 15 minutes late, but we managed to somehow get everything done.  This is going to work.

Never say “this is going to work” to the universe.  It will tell you otherwise.  On the 118 freeway, the RV started making strange squealing and thwacking noises I never heard before.  Like the death of some great steel beast, it got worse by the time we got to the Studio.  We parked the thing and Liz checked it out – figuring it was a fan belt that was disintegrating.  Whatever the problem, I didn’t want to get distracted and I turned our attention back to the shoot.  If nothing else, we had ourselves an RV, an air conditioned break room, and a toliet.  Bamm!

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In addition to Liz and our sound guy Jesse, we had AJ and Josh on set to light and shoot the scene.  Unfortunately, our lighting options were limited, which was ironic since every piece of lighting equipment we could ever need was just inside the locked studio.  Fortunately, I had called the studio earlier that day just to make sure there was an available electrical outlet outside.  There wasn’t.  Thankfully, I talked them into leaving a single extension cord under one of the rollup doors for us.

AJ and Josh made the best our of our ghetto lighting package while I setup the scene with the stop sign and dumpster.  I spent all morning making a rig for the stop sign so Scott could snap it from the ground.  The rest of the morning I spent worrying about the dumpster we were going to be using in the fight.  I was hoping it wouldn’t be full of sharp pointy things, but indeed it was – splintered wood with nails, broken glass, etc.  I spent at least an hour making it safe for Scott to launch himself into it using a minitramp.  An 8 inch crash pad, a couple panel mats and some trash bags filled with air did the trick.

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The fight was extremely complicated no matter how you shot it.  I’m just glad we didn’t try and shoot it in a single night like we had initially planned.  There was tons of CG, a police chase, t-boning a cop car, throwing people through the air, explosions.  Thankfully, Scott Rosen was pretty resilient and could be bounced off practically anything.  We threw him into walls and shot plates of him landing on pads and punching towards the camera (to be used for the CG comp).  But through all of this, we couldn’t hurt either of the cars.

But that was tomorrow night.  Tonight, Scott and I were gonna beat the crap out of each other with a huge metal stop sign.  The difficulty we faced was trying to stage the entire fight for a single perspective.  This has been an ongoing challenge with the series – shooting “reality TV” style versus traditional cinema.  I had been trying to mix things up, but it wasn’t an exact science.  You never know what’s going to make the viewer think “how did Mikey (our camerman) get that shot”?

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To make it even more difficult, Monique forgot her cowboy boots, so we had make sure we shot everything of her from the knees up.  And of course all of my storyboards had her getting sick on the ground, making it virtually impossible to frame out her boots.

But the most frustrating part for me was one part of the choreography.  I had to somehow justify finding a trash can lid and metal pipe in the trash while Scott just stood there.  Not a big deal, but it just bugged me.  Not surprisingly, I was a bit fuzzy by this point.  We came up with something, but of course it wasn’t as good as the perfect solution I figured out 2 days later!  I should’ve just thrown thrash bags and crap at Scott, who could bat it away with the stop sign, which would give me a chance to find the weapons.  It was almost worth reshooting.

Regardless, the fight worked – almost too well.  At one point, a solid blow from the stop sign caught me hard in the shield.  I didn’t think anything of it until I looked at the shield after the fight.  The metal sign had cut a 2 inch gash through the shield just above my wrist.  Daaam.  Otherwise, no injuries other than a sore back from having to do a ground kip a half dozen times.

We wrapped around midnight and parked the RV overnight in a place where we thought it would be out of the way.  Jess had work the next morning so we dropped off the crash pads at Bob Yerkes place and headed home.  I was so very tired, but I needed to send out call sheets for the next day, which I managed to finish at 3:30am.

From now on, it became a challenge to put together call sheets at the end of the day and send them to the right people telling them to go to the right place at the right time.  It required that I also put together a quick shot list for the next day.  There were many nights that I would just stare at the screen for hours or pass out and wake up to see sunlight coming in the windows.  I had no idea how much longer we could keep this up.  And I knew from the schedule, the hardest part was yet to come.

As Jess said more than once, I don’t want to play this game anymore.