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.


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: 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.

Return to Sender: Storyboard

Due to some shuffled plans, I was able to start on pre-visualization for my next short film sooner than I was expecting. With my particular team, we have developed a way to start pre-production that runs very smoothly. It happens in stages.

During the first stage, I go through my script, and I think about how I’d like to see it transfer from page to screen. I pull out my own storyboard template, and I draw it out on paper. Now, I’m definitely not the best artist in the world, so my drawings really help no one out but me. (We figured this out while in production on Lights).

In the second stage, we take my drawn storyboard, and we turn that into a 3D visualization. To do this, I work with my cinematographer, and we figure out exactly what I’m trying to say, and we translate that into something that he can understand. In the end, my storyboard is a plan, and his 3D visualization ends up being the actual storyboard.

Return to Sender Shot 23

This process makes production run so smoothly. We can make a plan for shoot days and know approximately how long each shoot day will take. We can factor in set up time, lunch breaks, and factor in room for error. It helps to put together a production schedule, find locations, use time efficiently, and don’t even get me started on how well it works as a plan of attack for editing.

As I mentioned above, this is the process that I’ve developed for my films with the people I work with consistently. I’ve worked as a producer for other filmmakers, and they don’t all do the same thing. It really depends on the filmmaker.

With all that being said, the storyboarding process is now complete for my next short film, Return to Sender. The images included above are examples from that.

We’re still in pre-production, just moving on to the next phase of that. We still have location scouting to do and casting. I’m considering doing casting differently this time around than what I’ve been doing, but that will entirely depend on scheduling. I’m still up in the air about that.

Stay tuned for more updates on Return to Sender as the process continues!

Return to Sender: Writing

I’ve been pretty discreet about this, but I have begun working on my next short film.

The concept is an idea that I originally thought of for Project Greenlight back in 2014. I ended up not using the idea at that time, and I started conceptualizing my undergraduate thesis film instead.

Since then, that original concept has definitely changed. The idea for Project Greenlight was extremely short, less than three minutes. That was part of the reason why I didn’t go through with it at the time. I felt it was going to be too similar to my other work, and I wanted to take the time to try to make it a bit different.

The struggle has been letting go of that original idea a bit. I held on to that original concept for so long that now that I’m changing it, and making it better (hopefully), it’s been a bit of a process to change those initial visuals that were in my head. I just got stuck in a rut with that original idea that I held on to for years, and it kept rearing its head, even when I was trying to make changes.

Hence why I’ve been keeping it a secret for so long! In order to get to this final draft, I went through multiple versions and approximately 5 drafts for each version. That’s a lot of changes.

Now that I’ve reached a point where I’m happy, and the associates that have read the final draft are happy, I think I can finally move on to pre-visualization and casting.

Keep an eye out for future updates on this project.

3:03 – Production

On April 24, 2016, we finally got around to principle photography on my new short film project, 3:03. We had planned extensively for the shoot, including a plethora of test shots and lighting tests. When the day finally came, we felt very prepared. The day was a success overall.

Our call time was at 3:00, and we gave ourselves an hour of prep time before we planned to start filming at 4:00. Once our actress had successfully gotten into character and our camera was set up, we started shooting (five minutes ahead of schedule).

The first shot that we planned to do would be the most difficult. It was a stabilized shot that followed our actress as she walked from the bedroom to the kitchen, and then to the door. This was the shot that we had practiced on for weeks, and all of that practice really paid off. We had scheduled about 30 minutes to get the shot the way that we wanted, but we got several takes that fit our standards in 15. This set a good precedent for the rest of the shoot.


This was also the first time that we had been able to utilize our Glide Gear stabilizer on a project. It was a big purchase that was made over a year ago, so it was nice to finally put it to good use.

Since our planning was so extensive, we flew through the next several shots fairly quickly. These were a lot of close ups in a confined area, but we had done test shots to prepare and made notes of what lenses we would need, so we didn’t have any problems on the day.

In retrospect, we did face a problem while filming these shots, but it was entirely my fault. Despite having made detailed plans, I thought of a new idea on the shoot day, so I tweaked my plan. I set myself too far away from the talent and the camera operator, so I didn’t see a potential problem that we would run into for the edit. One of the benefits of my new camera is that I can see the shot being captured from my iPad screen, so I don’t have to be right next to the camera operator to see the preview screen. I now know, for future reference, that I need to stay near the talent at all times. It doesn’t matter if I have a preview in my hands, there’s still an aspect of being present that I lose when I’m too distant.


After breaking for lunch, we began set up in the bedroom. The shots we were capturing in this location were decently easy, but we were going to be ending on a difficult note. The last shot was an overhead view of the main actress while she was lying down. Luckily, with all of the time we had saved on previous shots, we didn’t fall behind schedule while setting up the contraption that would eventually give us one of the more stunning shots of the project. It took 40 minutes and several attempts to get the set up correct, and it was a pretty precarious situation, but I think it turned out really well.


Some of the more interesting shots to film will have to be kept a secret for now. No spoilers. I will say that I was worried about the reactions I would get from any passers by. We made several attempts to get these shots exactly how we wanted them, and all of these attempts were made (very quietly) in the hours when our neighbors would be sleeping so as not to create a disturbance. I hope that viewers enjoy them.

For the competition that we’re planning on submitting this project to, we’re required to have a BTS (Behind the Scenes) video. Jason Rugg was wonderful enough to both film and photograph the production process for our behind the scenes needs. He also was a fantastic asset to have on set as we struggled with that overhead contraption I mentioned. I’ll be working on the BTS video soon, and it will be shared here eventually.

It was also incredibly nice to be working with Sarah Sofia Serrato again. There’s an aspect to her performance that really sells the type of stories I’m trying to tell. Her imagination adds a lot of great things to my stories to provide an excellent performance that brings the audience along for the ride. I was very lucky to have her for 3:03.

Stay tuned for updates on the post production of this short film project!