The Countdown Begins: We’re Shooting In One Week!

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While it’s admittedly a little intimidating and overwhelming to be shooting in less than a week (especially for our amazing Art Department, I’d imagine!), it’s mostly a relief to me because I’ve been chompin’ at the bit for two years now to get these characters (their worlds, situations and themes) up on that screen – it’s exciting to see it finally come to fruition.

Our precious and rare luxury of actually making it to principal photography will all be over in the blink of an eye – so I am trying to cherish it while it’s here.

We are now all charged with bringing these real people (as they must become to all of us) and their emotional and meaningful stories fully to life via performances and collaborative production-value execution (within the confines of our “never enough money or time” low budget arena) to get them in the can – so we can move on to the third leg of thes storytelling ultra marathon.

Every Day in Prep Brings New Lessons

My learning curve is flat lining full throttle at 180 degrees, 24/7 right now – which is thrilling – and I daresay, is probably likely the case for several other members of our crew who are equally stretched to their limits – each of us striving for our next-rung-up-the-ladder credits. While challenging, it’s also inevitably frustrating. Like any new sport, art, craft, skill or technique, we all want to do everything consistently perfectly – but you just have to be patient – with everyone (including yourself) – as we all put best efforts (and attitudes) forward to cut our communal teeth to achieve our seemingly perpetually “day late/dollar short” exercise to make this dream a reality we can all be proud of and – hopefully – profit from in so many ways (many of us can already see its myriad rewards 20/20 – even mid-process).

What I’ve learned this past week or so

(that I thought might be of interest to others):

I’ve been praising Valerie McCaffrey for months now, for her ability to paint with people, to create this amazing ensemble for me to work with – but her ability to hold the deals together and juggle the myriad logistics is just awe inspiring. “I’m not worthy, I’m not worthy!” I say, bowing before her! We are so blessed to have her pulling the talent in for us – and somehow holding it all together! The likes of which I can finally share!

OUR TREMENDOUS CAST:

Eddie Furlong (Terminator 2, CSI, The Green Hornet), Ed Asner (Up!, Lou Grant, Mary Tyler Moore), Meat Loaf (The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Fight Club), Grace Johnston (Beaches), Rick Ravanello (The Cave, Hart’s War), Brian Krause (Charmed, Mad Men, The Closer, CSI), Daz Crawford (Blade II, The World Is Not Enough), TJ Byrne (Wolf of Wall Street, Horrible Bosses), Elaine Hendrix (Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll, The Parent Trap, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion), Rena Owen (Once Were Warriors) and on and on and on it goes…I’m just so thrilled and excited to see what all these amazing pros bring to the set next week!

More on all that later!

For now…

The final marathon push in prep continues!

I’ve already raved about our Art Department ad naseum – especially our Production Designer Sarah Costello, who I can’t say enough for – but I’ve (apparently as the “talking director”) still got more to say! She was the first big lesson for me when she didn’t laugh at me (well she probably did) back in November or February when I told her (seriously at the time) that I didn’t think we had the budget for an Art Department. After her cackling died down, she has since blown me away with her talent, vision and ability to bring such amazing and wonderful people to the table who truly make the magic happen.

Jenny Thornton has been a delight from the second she got out of the car smiling. Doug Leckie‘s been with us from the beginning and interminably patient with and forgiving of all our housing struggles and juggles. Huge kudos to all of them: Set Decorator Sean Keenan, tool belt clanking Carpenter Ronald Cook, painting, painting, painting Shelby TreichlerMark Paton and Lee Roberts (our terrific stills photographer) – there are new faces in the hallway everyday! I am humbled not only by their work ethic, resourcefulness and creativity, but by how much they are impacting the final look and feel of OUR film.

I’m just flat out honored to have their solid team on our side. Even as they are all sourcing, researching, designing so many details that as a writer you just take for granted: maps of where these people are actually coming from or going to on their road trip and how that translates into different city’s and state’s newspapers, street signs, police badges, uniforms, squad cars, news teams – all the way down to the tiniest personal desk dressing details – even as they are building, painting and dressing rooms within rooms in our week-long cover set – coming together almost like stop-motion photography before your very eyes: it just amazes me how the art department (at least in my wide expanse of ONE-film’s worth of experience) anchors us in the sense of place that they create through environments. Wow. I’m just so getting (and appreciating) all that.

Next steps to the plate our Costume Designer who sees character in terms of color, texture and movement while Rita Parillo and Keith Sayer further layer and enrich the characters by empowering the actors with their vision through their expertise with hair and make-up, respectively. It just inspires me to see these transferrable manifestations. As I rely on words as the tools of my trade (and increasingly now spreadsheets and managing personalities!), all these other artists and craftsmen bring their different skill sets and experience to bear – each one a huge stepping stone towards our shared vision.

Our great Stunt Coordinator, Cal Johnson is helping us further define character and story arc by how the bad guy can be shown to be a dirty fighter contrasted in that same fight with how we can show the increasing love, trust and teamwork of our main couple. Violence is a graphical tool to visually – and viscerally – reveal theme and consummate character arc. Cal is helping us heighten the stakes, engage the audience’s rooting interest and further incorporate our sense of place with his fight choreography: precarious metal stairs go to great heights and plunge to life-threatening depths. As our Hero crawls up from out of the sludge of darkness to get back up on top – and re-enter the light – he rediscovers his integrity when he doesn’t kill the bad guy when he has the chance. It’s as if: there but for the grace of God go I… NOT. He’s a better man, walks a higher path – its a beautiful moment – in spite of being kicked to the ground – even as his love interest fights to save them both, too – but is tossed off like a fly. Cal is helping us figure out what we can do safely, within our budget and within our tight time frame – and bringing in his great pals – Dale Frye and Nikki Brower to actually execute – all the while fantab DP Jim Orr helps us figure out how to make it look even more dangerous, taller, higher, closer calls with wide angle lenses and the cover of night!

All in the seedy, gritty dark back brick alleyway Jason Allen King found for us! Right next to a church. What a team, I mean really…great job guys! I’ve raved about our Locations Manager relentlessly who is, of course, a master at organizational detail, logistics and management (of all kinds), but I’m not sure if he’s even aware how much his wonderful photography and speedy, responsive multi-media contributions have not only kept all of us on the same page by facilitating long distance and non-linear/different time zone communications, but I, for one, am happy to admit that his photography is influencing my fledgling storyboard choices as his framing’s already so creative and precise because he has such a great eye and again, a well-earned, true sense of place.

And yet, the talented craftsmen continue to flood in, as if lined up to contribute the fruits of their labor to this cornucopia buffet we’re coordinating together. Yesterday was truly a delight (and a unique and interesting first for me at least) when Sarah pulled some strings and some favors to get us yet another local talent we also can’t afford but is generously helping us out: Ray Bivins, who is our Weapons Master and SFX Guy. He and terrific Prop Master Jeffrey J. Barrows (who has been pulling things together in a whirlwind with a wonderful sense of humor) walked me through a whole display (ironically on a bank counter) of guns, rifles, badges, shoulder holsters.

In a movie full of goons vs. lawmen, suddenly the trappings of “what kind of gun would this guy carry?” really helps clarify not only bad guys from good guys – but really amp up individual characters. With firearms and firepower as one of their media of choice, Ray and JB helped me really hone in on these details: What screams this guy’s personality? Considering his backstory, what kind of gun would he evolve to? Would his be a flashy penis compensation? Or will any gun within grabbing distance do for this thug as it’s not a personally meaningful possession to him but rather tossed out a car window and into a lake after any random bit of dirty work is done?  Would the organized crime family shove these guns in the back of their belts or down their boots? Do the U.S. Marshals carry their guns in shoulder holsters or in their belts?  We agreed on all but one.

We decided to go with an image system that visually delineated between all the bad guys who are more akin to Western gunslinging outlaws, so they’d be carrying revolvers – a little showier, impressive, “cool” – while the perhaps military-trained lawmen might opt for flat out more efficient automatics. With the interesting exception of two which we criss-crossed (for those paying attention). One is an undercover mole who is trying too hard to be a goon, so he’s over-the-top trying too hard to fit in while another “bad” guy is actually a pretty decent human being (albeit an uber-professional assassin), so he, like his professional peers on the other side of the law, errs on the side of functional (forget what it looks like). Intent to kill, thus, can also be revealed through their choice of weaponry. Johnny wants to pierce cleanly through and just draw blood on Elizabeth’s shoulder for show whereas the next guy’s gun would blow her shoulder clear off! Says something about these guys. And poor wet-behind-the-ears Matt: I’m not sure he’s even taken the shrink wrap off the gun he’s never touched!

The one we didn’t agree on was the most interesting gun choice to me: that of our female lead, Elizabeth, a District Attorney. Of all the guns I was presented with, none of them made sense to me for her character. I thought: she’d use a 9 millimeter Glock. I only thought this because of my own personal experience, from when I’ve gone to various shooting ranges, learning and testing a wide variety of guns, that’s the one that has always had the least kick back to me, that I am the most accurate with (apparently, I “group tighter than a fleas’ ass”). They wanted to know where would she wear or how would she carry it? I thought simply: she’d carry it in her purse?

When I got to meet Karen Biernacki, an Assistant District Attorney in North Carolina, who was kind enough to read the script and give me her insights, we were in her private office and I asked her:

“Do you mind if I ask? Do you carry a gun?”

“I don’t mind. And yes, yes I do.”

“Is it a 9 mm GLOCK?”

She smiled at me. “Yes. It is.”

I smiled and looked at her purse and asked: “Is it in your purse?”

“Yes. Yes it is.”

Security ended our meeting at about this time – not surprisingly – but I beamed, having gotten all that I came for!

Who hoo! These are the moments that are just so much fun!

She graciously toured Sarah and I around to learn how they process and store evidence, lift fingerprints, how the computer software works, how they hang and dry seized drugs (so they don’t rot and can be tested) – even what their paperwork and gloves look like – priceless information for us trying to recreate believable worlds. You can’t help but look with fresh eyes at every little detail: the pretty blonde in casual pants and tennies walking the halls loaded down with guns, how and where she wears her badge; the judge who doesn’t need to ever use her gavel – she is that confident in her power – you just see things crisp and clear when you’re a storyteller on the brink – I don’t think there’s a greater high.

It was so funny. Apparently there was a huge drug bust in town – helicopters and everything – and everyone thought it was US!!!!  LOL! If only we’d have known! We’d’a filmed it! Drat! We all get so myopically focused, the Producer in me could only think: “Let’s see if that location is available – it’s already dressed!”

What’s amazing to me is how all these people THINK  – and how they ply their craft. And discovering what tools and systems they each use – as we try to figure out the most efficient workflow between different software, paperwork – who likes what how – figuring out the most efficient means of communications. I’m intrigued by JB‘s Tupperware boxes – how he keeps each character’s props all organized. The involved and intricate Excel spreadsheets to discern and sort out the almost 200 extras we’ll need and the 470 hotel nights we’d have to secure. How on earth are we gonna feed all these people? Much less find beds for them?

It’s like being the General of a moving MASH unit!

Sometimes you have to recreate the wheel to figure out how everybody else rolls so smoothly! Sometimes trial and error are the best teachers. If necessity is indeed the Mother of invention, I have an inkling frustration, desperation and cluelessness might be the bastard’s father options!

Not a day goes by when I don’t thank God for my family and friends back home and around the world who help keep me sane and laughing and keep things in perspective. My Mom and Dad and beloved brother, Danny Mack, and precious nephew Austin (who’s getting Taft Hartley’ed into SAG through this production but doesn’t know yet!) might get to leap from an exploding building for a trailer moment we might’ve just figured out how to pull off! How exciting! And Billy Burns, the life partner I’ve waited far too long for, I am counting the days and minutes ’til you’re back here by my side. While you do everything in your power, every minute of every day, for me to feel your love, I so feel the difference when your support is just a handhold away. (Don’t worry, you still get to be a Goon and shoot a big gun! 🙂

John R. Lee, Jr., another amazing source of support on so many fronts – I can’t wait ’til you’re here, either, to come play and have fun – and figure out how we can make another one together! And I can’t wait to see what Steve Marston does with it all through the score!
In this visual, ever-collaborative art of filmmaking that has brought us all together and often (but not always) onto the same page, I can only say: if you’re not a team player, find another sport.

And we’re off…for tech scouts – and maybe even meet with the FBI – wow, really?

This is my WORK!? You’ve gotta be kidding me!

I am so very, very blessed.

And not a day goes by that I don’t know it.