Thursday, December 04, 2008


I have to work backwards in time for a couple days here to catch up on the important things I haven't written about, namely the feature I worked on, Thanksgiving, and the movies I saw over Thanksgiving weekend. So to start, let's talk about the feature.

This was the first feature Will has shot, and I ended up gaffing it despite the fact that there are any number of other people he probably would have preferred to have gaff it. That aside, I think it turned out pretty well. It was directed by Philip Crippen, whom I was always afraid of in college. He was a grad student when I was at NU and graduated when I was a junior, I believe. I worked on his thesis project there, The Roaring Twenties, kind of randomely for a day or two as a 2nd AC. He was also the TA for 380 when I was taking 381, so I had labs with him and Adam Marshall, and he always seemed way cooler than me so I barely knew him at all before this shoot. Now, of course, I am a huge Philip Crippen fan, and I'm really glad I got to know him better ad got to work on this movie, because it was one of the best sets I've been on in a long time.

Not production-wise, necessarily- the crafty was scarce, the 1st AD was non-existent, and the crew was really small- but the crew that there was, along with the actors in the film, turned out to become some of the best people I've met on a set. It was my first experience with how working on a short for 5 days and working on a feature for two weeks (or more) can really make a difference in how you get to know people. I have never really become friends with actors on a set before, but these actors were so much fun, and it was such a small group of people working every day that we all became friends. That alone made the shoot a lot of fun. Sure, there were not so fun parts- like the fact that Philip and his girlfriend live in an apartmet complex basically on a stairstep street in Silverlake, which served as our set, and there were 87 steps just to get to their front door. But the good far outweighed the bad.

I've told both Will and Philip this, and a few others, but it was the first set I've worked on since being in LA on which I was virtually positive that the resulting film would be good. Working on student films is strange because they could end up great, or they could end up just so-so, and some of them end up horribly- you just never know. Umami! (a working title, I hope) is a romantic screwball comedy about an uptight hypnotist who moves into an apartment where a moonshiner has been squatting. The crazy landlord, a doting girl, a caffeine addict, and the police all get involved in one way or another, and in the end, of course, the hypnotist and the moonshiner fall in love. Don't worry, I haven't ruined anything- it's the sort of movie where you're rooting for them to fall in love from the beginning. It's the journey that matters. The script is absolutely hilarious, and the actors absolutely threw themselves into it. There were multiple takes that were unusable because one person or another started laughing halfway through- more often than not it was Will, and you could see the camera shaking (the camera work was largely handheld). It was awfully nice to be on a set where people laughed so much and didn't take themselves so goddamn seriously.

This is, technically, the "biggest" thing I've ever gaffed. I didn't gaff much in college outside of Wizzer, because I mostly did camera stuff. My first year at AFI I gaffed Chris Burgon's Cycle 1, which basically involved putting lights exactly where he told me to put them, and Mark Ingham's Cycle 3, which involved lots of hard backlight and not much else. Then I gaffed Richard's MOS for a day, but that's it, really. It was really exciting to be doing something on a larger scale, although we ultimately had less equipment than even a Cycle project. It didn't matter, though- we made it go far. It was a good exercise in fast, efficient but nice lighting. I think Will and I both ended up learning a fair bit about low-profile sets and how to work with them... which is good, because I'm about to shoot a VERY low profile NYFA thesis film, on which I have basically no crew.

I barely had any crew on Umami! either, but I had some... on most days at least one recent Northwestern grad would show up to grip for me. The producer just graduated from Northwestern, so she got a lot of her friends to help out. They basically knew what they were doing, but they really reminded me exactly how much we learned at Northwestern, and the answer is NOT MUCH. They all knew how a C-stand worked, and to put the knuckles on the right, for example, but they didn't know how to set one efficiently or so that it would take up the smallest possible area. I spent a lot of time re-setting C-stands so that the arms weren't poking out into the middle of the room, waiting to gouge someone's eye out, or re-wrangling cable, etc. The great thing about the Northwestern kids (Mark, Aziza, Malcolm and Bruce... Malcolm, Aziza and Bruce all worked on The Rhimers of Eldritch my senior year!) was how enthusiastic they were. I legitimately enjoyed hanging out with them, which was great. There were a lot of Northwestern kids on set in general, and that was really refreshing after being so immersed in the "professional" world of AFI. AFI sets are fun and all, but Northwestern sets always seemed to be a little more... joyous. People looked at it less as a job and more as WE ARE MAKING A MOVIE WOOOOOOOOO!!!! Which is a nice change of pace.

But like I said, the best thing about Umami! was the people I got to work with, and the fact that I got to spend Will's last two weeks in LA working with him. He moved to New York a couple days ago, for who knows how long, and I'm going to miss him like crazy. There are only so many people in the world who went to both Northwestern AND AFI... thank goodness I still have Kevin. Anyway, the crew all loved each other so much that we went out to a karaoke bar the night we wrapped, and tomorrow we're all going bowling. Dorky, but fun, and I'm really looking forward to it. I hope I end up keeping in touch with all these people.

And now, the requisite pictures:

me, Dan, Whitney, Levi, and Will
me, Dan (Aki the landlord), Whitney (Win the moonshiner), Levi (Cal the hypnotist), and Will, shooting the Win hypnotism scene... check out the soft box I built to use as an eyelight! It was pretty killer if I do say so myself.

Win hypnotism scene 4
Win being hypnotized by Cal

i think this picture is adorable
Justin (the sound guy) and Philip

Levi and Will
Levi and Will shooting a scene in the bathroom (and my softbox at work AGAIN... but it doesn't do as well with photo floods so that will take some tinkering)

Levi, Trevor, Dan, Whitney and Molly
Levi, Trevor, Dan, Whitney and Molly as Cal, Tommy, Aki, Win and Cookie

Philip as French Guyanese Drug Lord 2
Philip being a French Guyanese drug lord

no more Scotch??
out of moonshine!

I love this picture
maybe my favorite picture... this was the last scene we shot, the "tofrab" scene

Whitney, Will and Philip
main actress, DP and director with Jack Daniels upon wrap