Friday, May 1, 2009

The Bothersome Process of Pre-Production

Welcome back to the Big Bother Bblog. My digital editing education continues. We're hoping for a June release of BB, but it will all depend on how editing goes. We will be releasing an (approximately) 3-minute trailer this month, so keep an eye out for that. You can also follow us on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, where in addition to BB news, you can receive my Web TV Pick of the Day Tweet, which features many other great web series.

Last month, I discussed the writing of BB. Next step in the process was what most filmmakers will tell you is the most important part -- pre-production. This entails doing everything you can to be prepared for the first day of shooting: casting, assembling a crew, SAG paperwork, planning sets, costumes, scouting eastern European locations, testing the mechanical shark, convincing the unions this adult film won't interest them, and props.

Casting began easily enough. The male roles were practically written for myself and three friends: the aforementioned Nate and Mike, as well as Ray, who would be playing Farf Infader, the only surviving character from "Heroes of Hollywood Boulevard."

The female roles presented a bit more of a problem -- but I could not have been happier with our final cast. The first choice for Mermalade was Ray's former live-in girlfriend (sound familiar?). As their split pointed to highly volatile working conditions, she graciously bowed out. Mermalade as well as the Ninkumbell character had a pool of uncertain actresses up for their roles. In the end, they were filled by the wonderful performances of Joelle and Jamie.

We held a read-through with the cast which went smashingly. But as each actor was reading six different roles, I realized I'd written more "fuzzy" characters (Achoo, Dumbob, Hooby, etc.) than I thought. So I began recruiting everyone I know in L.A. to play these roles.

The crew was the next element to line up. I spent many a lunch break in the middle schools I was subbing at begging cameramen and boom operators I found on Craigslist to work for well below scale. I needed someone intrigued enough by the concept to make the pay cut worth their while. Alas, I found Ty and Chris, who also had the equipment we were going to need.

As things fell into place, I became more and more aware that outside a couple of plays, I had no idea how to direct. So I enlisted the help of a Chicago friend who was currently assistant directing on "CSI: New York." With her as my AD, what could go wrong? Two weeks before we began shooting, she learned she'd need immediate foot surgery. C'est la vie. But as that door closed, a Klug came crashing in my window. Another Chicago friend, Michael Klug, had just arrived in L.A. with a suitcase, a dream (sound familiar?) and most importantly, no job in the immediate future. The AD position was filled.

With the addition of a composer, editor and make-up artist, the crew was set. Next were locations. BB is a parody of "Big Brother" (Did I mention that?). So to get our ultra-hip, MTV-style house, we planned to shoot the exterior of some house we had no business being near, then shoot the interiors in our (Mike's and my) apartment. There were two problems: 1) Our place is not air conditioned and the summer heat was going to kill anyone in a fuzzy costume. 2) Many scenes take place on the front porch, so we'd need to actually shoot it at an actual house.

So, I went to the only person in this city I knew who owned a house -- my cousin Colin. He and the family were extremely accommodating, even amused by the project. Their wonderful home (ultra-hip motif and all) would be the setting for the majority of the script. The host's house and pool were provided by the only person anyone knew who owned their own pool, our friend John in Sherman Oaks. The bedrooms would be shot at Mike's and my place, right back where we started.

As shooting day approached (June 21st, 2008) pre-production got hectic. Some of the most difficult elements were creating a fairy-size version of Ninkumbell (I ended up grafting an I Love Lucy head onto a Tinkerbell body), a bedroom containing three matching beds (two of them ended up being cardboard) and some other props that would be plot spoilers to mention.

Days before we began shooting, I started getting calls of regret from the many actors I cast as the fuzzy characters. The 17 performers I had lined up for day one were dwindling. This became the most stressful week of my life, trying to recreate the shot list every time another actor dropped out. Finishing up sets, costumes, props and my day job weren't helping matters. Delegate? What's that?

Also on Friday, while bringing a stack of costumes to Colin's house, I asked his wife Gretchen how to turn on the air conditioning. She kindly explained that you didn't need AC in breezy Santa Monica. Except perhaps on the summer solstice, the hottest day of the year. This would be tomorrow. Our first shoot day. When half the cast would be in huge fuzzy costumes.

By that night, the 17 performers needed for day one were down to eight. I contemplated postponing the entire shoot until we could reassemble the cast. But this would only hurt the morale of the cast and crew who were brave enough to accept this project. So I spent the night posting Craigslist ads offering money for actors to show up in the morning and rewriting the shot list by the hour. We were going to shoot Big Bother tomorrow or die trying.

Next Bblog: "Lights, Camera, Heatstroke!"