Return to Sender: Shoot Day 1

It finally happened. The first shoot day for my latest short film Return to Sender took place on Sunday, March 11. After holding auditions and weeks of planning, we were finally ready to go.

I needed to be on set at about 8:00am, so before that we needed to pack the car. Then, we had an hour commute to the shooting location. We got there early to begin setting up and make last minute decisions for set design. Luckily, we had a lot of this done days in advance so there wasn’t too much to do.

Crew time was 9:00am. This is when we started working to set up lights, balance the steady cam set up, put markers on the floor, get the boom pole ready. About 30 minutes before the cast arrived, we started setting up the craft services table.

10:00am was the talent call time. I was very glad that we had everything set up and ready to go before our actress arrived. It really saved a lot of time, and I think it made a good impression. It looked like we had our stuff together.

Overall, I think the shoot went really well. The actress we cast as our lead was just as impressive on the shoot day as she was at the audition. I’m really happy with the performance she gave.

There were some pretty tricky shots that we wanted to get for this part of the film. We had spent a lot of time leading up to the shoot practicing them, but they still required a lot of time on the day. These shots included a bit of gear. We had a steady cam rig, a slider, monopods for tighter spaces. I’m very grateful for all of the prep we did for those shots because it helped us be more prepared on the day. I’m always happy to be prepared.

I did end up making some decisions on the fly that diverged from my plans. I was a bit worried about how that would work out in the edit, but based on our rough edits after the fact, it all seems to be working out perfectly.

I’ll talk more about the editing process when we are officially in post production.

As for directing, this is the first time I’ve been in the director’s chair since we filmed 3:03 in 2016. It definitely took me some time to get back in the swing of it. There were a lot of mistakes I made at the beginning of the shoot day that I find pretty embarrassing. By the end of the day though, I think I was good. I think I was back to normal.

Hopefully I’ll still be ready to go for the next shoot. This shoot will be on Sunday, March 18. The upcoming shoot will be in a smaller location with three actors instead of one. It will be a different experience for me. I hope it goes well.

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Return to Sender: Prep Work

It’s been a long time coming, but I can finally say that filming for Return to Sender is right around the corner!

With principle photography beginning in a matter of days, there are quite a few things that we’re working to finalize and prepare.

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We have some intricate camera shots planned for this first day, including many that are done with a steady cam rig. We have been meticulously planning these shots for a while now, but there is definitely a benefit to actually, physically, practicing them ahead of time. There were several things that we figured out about our rig set up while actually running through the moves that caused us to recalibrate the entire thing. I’m very glad we didn’t stumble upon those issues on the day of the shoot.

Since we were on a roll with those shots, we figured we’d test out some of the other shots too. This led us to have a much better idea of how everything was going to work out on the day that we filmed. I know I definitely got a better idea of how I wanted to block things and direct my lead actress by running through the scenes myself.

I really can’t stress how much prep work really helps with my work flow. There is always an element of uncertainty to film shoots, but with enough prep work, I can eliminate so many potential problems from a day where time is very limited. I don’t want my cast and crew to sit around all day because of issues that could have been easily prevented. They’re volunteering their time for me, and I want to respect their time as much as possible.

We’re also working on set design and prop design, but since that’s still in progress, I may reflect on that process more at a later time. These are both new things for me that I haven’t paid much attention to in previous projects. We’ll see how much I have to say about it by the end.

Return to Sender: Casting Decisions

As I mentioned in my previous post about the audition day, there was a ton of talent that came out for Return to Sender auditions.

This is the first time I’ve actually had this many good options for people to play my characters. There was so much talent that I actually had to make decisions on who would be in my film and who could not be in my film. I guess in the broad scheme of things that’s a good problem to have, but it didn’t make it any less difficult to make the cuts I had to make.

One thing I learned through this process is that there is so much that goes into casting. It’s not just about the level of talent. Everyone that came in for auditions was talented. It’s also about chemistry with the rest of the cast. This is where my puzzle really started.

For my lead character, the actress we cast completely blew me away. She walked in and she was able to deliver exactly what I was looking for. Casting her was exciting. The project felt like it was finally coming to life.

When it came to my supporting character, I had many more options. There were so many actresses who came in and could do the part in one way or another. This was a more difficult decision to make. It came down to two actresses, and the casting team was torn.

We ended up having to go into extreme detail, cutting together their auditions with the audition for the lead actress. After that, I wanted to go a step further. Since a lot of the supporting actress’s lines are spoken over the phone with no visual reference, we needed to take out the visual aspects of their performances. We needed to judge based on the pace and feel of the phone conversation.

That process helped us to make a decision that was best for the film, but since this was my first time having to make a cut like that, I felt guilty. I still feel guilty in a way. I’ve been told that actors know not to take it personal, but I can’t shake the feeling.

The other actors that we were casting for were minor characters, detectives for the final scene of the film. They didn’t have many lines, but there was a level of emotion to the scene that not a lot of the candidates were able to convey. I had a few that I felt I could work with, but that all changed when our final candidate for that role came in.

This actor didn’t just read the lines. I could tell that he was feeling the lines. He was able to portray that emotion that I’d been struggling to find throughout the day. I was very moved by his audition.

However, this success unlocked another issue that was very similar to the one I described above. With this actor’s performance, I was having a hard time finding a good chemistry with the others who had come to audition for the detective role. I needed two detectives who could portray a good partnership. My other top contender had a performance that was too similar. There wouldn’t be a good contrast between them.

I was lucky enough to have an actress who had auditioned for the lead roles, but had indicated that she’d be open to the minor role as well. We managed to get her back to read for the detective role, and I could immediately see that chemistry I was looking for.

All of this came together in a way that I’m really happy with, but I honestly had very little idea going into this how much chemistry actually played a role. You can’t just cast based on performance alone. There are way too many other factors that you have to consider. Casting is such a big job, and I’m definitely finding that it’s not easy. It may be rewarding, but it’s not easy in the slightest.

Hoping to have my lead and supporting actress meet up and get a flow down before filming starts, but if that doesn’t come to pass, I’m confident that they’ll be able to pull it off.

Production starts in March! Look forward to more updates!

Return to Sender: Auditions

The auditions were held for Return to Sender this past weekend, and I’m happy to report that, despite all of my worries, they went incredibly well.

Leading up to audition day, we had a good amount of responses. We received about as many responses as I was expecting to get, so that’s a plus. I’ve heard on many occasions that there’s a sliding scale between confirmed responses and how many people actually show up for auditions. That proved to be true.

We had a few people cancel the day before and the day of. There were a couple of people who confirmed their time but never showed up. Of course, there were also people who we assigned an audition time to, but they never confirmed and they didn’t show up. From what I can tell, this is pretty normal.

Even with these drops, we still had a great amount of talent come in front of our casting table that day. My whole idea of holding auditions was to be able to have options. I’m very glad to say that I definitely had options for my characters at the end of the day. That’s an entirely new and very pleasant situation to be in.

I really wanted to make a good impression on the actors who came in, and I really hope that I did. I tried to make them as comfortable as possible. I tried to put myself in their shoes on many occasions. This led to the decision to leave the tablets at home and take handwritten notes on paper.

I figured if you’re already nervous, a line of people sitting behind tablet screens wasn’t going to make you more relaxed. For all you know, they could not be paying attention to your audition at all. They could be on Facebook. I didn’t want people coming in to feel that way. I have no idea how they do auditions through more official channels, but I’m happy with the decision that I made. I think it allowed me to really be present in that moment.

Chicago-area weather definitely didn’t help us out that day though. As the day approached, I was really upset to see a foreboding snowflake in the forecast. On the day, I was even more upset to see that the snow was set to hit during the exact hours when my potential lead and supporting actresses were scheduled to come in.

The snow did end up coming, and it was much more than some basic flurries. The roads got pretty awful. I’m so thankful for all of the actresses that braved those roads to come out and audition anyway.

So now, the next step is to review the audition tapes and our many notes in order to make the best casting decision possible for this project. We started this process as soon as we got back to the studio, and I’ll write more details about that later.

This is all a learning experience, and I’m happy to be learning it.

Return to Sender: Casting Call

It’s taken me a while to decide when to actually post the update about auditions. Should I post it once I design the casting call? Should I post when it goes live and we start getting responses?

For the sake of actually having content on my blog, I decided to split it into a few different posts. There will be one post about the casting call itself, another post about the audition day, and a post about making the casting decision.

So, here we go!

When it came to designing the audition notice, I felt completely out of my element. I’ve never done official auditions for my films before. I had an idea of what needed to be said, but I was terrified about saying it correctly.

I did a lot of research. My colleagues on the project did a lot of research too. Eventually we put something together. There were still doubts about how we designed some things, how we worded some things, what things we left off. It was stressful, but we made it though.

On the day the casting call was initially posted, I was really grateful for the response it received. It was shared around to a lot of different networks. It got a lot of attention. We even got some headshots submitted on that first day! We got a lot of responses for the minor characters, but responses for the lead and supporting characters were slow.

After some time, I talked with a friend of mine who is a professional actress, and she gave me some tips. I learned that it’s a lot more helpful to give potential actors the specific shoot dates rather than leaving it open for discussion. Apparently, it helps potential actors to know the dates ahead of time so they can determine whether or not its worth it to audition at all. I had no idea.

We uploaded a new casting call with this updated information, and we got even more responses. These responses even included actresses who were interested in the lead role!  I was very grateful.

The whole thing was a really thrilling process, but of course, my experience with thrilling situations always includes a ton of stress. I am still stressed out. It’s stressful. I’m freaking out about possibilities that will probably never come to pass. It really can be a curse to have an overactive imagination.

I completely understand why big productions have casting directors. Casting is such a daunting job! Next time, I should probably have less of a hand in the processes leading up to the audition. It would likely help my stress levels tremendously.

We’re still accepting applicants until February 10th, although we have removed the minor characters from the casting call due to the overwhelming response given for those. The day of auditions is February 17th, so I’ll be back with more information about that at a later date.

Return to Sender: Pre-Production Meeting

Now that 2018 has officially begun, it’s time to go head first into pre-production for my next short film, Return to Sender.

If you’ve been following me for long, you may have read about this one previously. I made several posts in the previous year detailing its conceptualization. You can read those posts about script writing, creating the storyboard, and its eventual delay by following the links given in this paragraph.

The last meeting we had about Return to Sender was in December 2016, so it was nice to have another meeting about it in December 2017. It was even more nice that this meeting actually hashed out a plan to get the production started.

First thing on the list of things to do is to make final updates to the script, and then make the appropriate changes to the storyboard. There is a very strong possibility that we may have a different location for this film than we previously thought. This would change the reveals that we had planned. Updates would be necessary for the pre-visualization of those reveals.

After that, we’ll hold auditions. This is an entirely new area for me. I’m not going to lie. I’m a little worried about it. We’re currently figuring out the location and logistics of it all. Once that’s all finalized, I’ll be making an announcement about that as well. Wish me luck. I really am nervous.

I’m hoping to hold auditions in February, shoot the film in March, and move into post-production in April. If I could be finished with the film for a May release, that would be fantastic. We shall see.

As always, stay tuned for more updates. Thank you all for following my journey.

2017, Year in Review

As the remaining hours of 2017 fade away, I always try to take time to reflect on the accomplishments I had. I don’t typically write them on this platform, but this year, I felt this was the most appropriate place.

This was definitely a long year. It feels so foreign to look at events that transpired in January, and hold them in the same year as events that happened in November. I think this is why it’s such a good idea to reflect.

In the first few months of 2017, I worked with E Leal Productions to finally finish a project that began in 2011. Reborn, a film project that was the launch pad for so many of the people in my network, was finally complete. We held a screening for the cast and crew. It served as a reunion for so many of us who had moved on. It was also a culmination of many years of experience.

Shortly after the Reborn screening, I worked on some employee appreciation videos for Clare Oaks. Through this, we were able to use some of our new equipment. The people involved in this video project were so wonderful and accommodating. It was a great experience.

In the spring, I helped produce Exit Interview for Jason Rugg. It was a submission to the My Rode Reel competition for the year. The shoot day was long and difficult, but as a crew, we were able to finish everything that we had set out to do. The aches and pains were worth it.

Throughout the summer, I worked the Xcelerate summer camps for the 5th year in a row. This was definitely the most difficult year for me for a variety of reasons. The class load that I had this year was the largest it’s ever been, and it covered a variety of topics that really expanded my comfort zone. We’ll see what the upcoming year has in store for me on this front.

While handling all of those summer camps, I finally put together a trailer and poster for my short film, 3:03. I needed to put together these promotional materials in order to start submitting to other festivals. I’m still waiting on word from many of those submissions, but the experience has been a great one so far. The film was actually a semi finalist for Outstanding Female Filmmaker at the Stormy Weather Horror Fest in the summer season!

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In October, I produced another short film for Jason Rugg. This film, titled Pin 5:29, was a submission for a Film Riot competition. For this particular entry, the film was condensed to 60 seconds, but a longer, director’s cut is still on the horizon to show off more of the director’s ideas. It was a fun shoot, and I feel like it went really well. It was a great example of expanding experience.

As the final months of 2017 approached, I found myself heading back to the pre-production plan for my upcoming short film, Return to Sender. My pre-production work for this film began at the end of 2016, but was put on hold for a variety of reasons, mostly stemming from my work load at the summer camps and my personal life. I also got engaged, planned a wedding, and got married this year! It was a big year!

It’s nice to be getting back in gear for that project! I know I’ve said this before, but this time I’m hoping to stick to it.. Let’s hit the ground running in 2018!