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Cuddlefish The Film Shoot

All that nervousness about shooting my short scene was unnecessary, but was probably going to happen anyway. My film shoot went really well, and it was a lot of fun. The set looked great (especially given that my original ideas for the set kind of went wrong early on, especially concerning the bed) and the actors were fantastic and everyone was relaxed. Including me, surprisingly. Once it got going, it rolled along smoothly and we finished on time to enjoy the nice spring day.

Here are some set photos to show how the space was transformed between my shoot and the shoot the next day. The same exact space was used, as was the same bed. Here’s my set:

A professional cuddler's room on a low budget.

A professional cuddler’s room on a low budget.

I’ve never seen a professional cuddler’s bedroom. Originally I wanted a double bed, but the only bed available from the props department was a hospital bed. So, we did a LOT of covering up with blankets and pillows and somehow managed to make it look like a coherent bedroom. Our props department has a lot of mismatched stuff, so I’m still amazed that we got stuff that matches somewhat.

The next day, I got to be camera (or, director of photography if you want to be fancy about it) for another fellow screenwriters’ shoot. This shoot also went smoothly, which was great. I actually really liked being camera, probably because I love photography and the two are similar. The first set we had was a trashed bedroom that belonged to a male musician:

The bedroom of a very upset man.

The bedroom of a very upset man.

This was for the first scene of that shoot. For the second, the room became a hospital room.We changed from the trashed bedroom set to the hospital room set in half an hour.

It's a really dingy hospital.

It’s a really dingy hospital.

Props has a surprising (disturbing?) amount of hospital/medical equipment. Which isn’t really obvious in this picture, but we did manage to get the dingy hospital feeling across. I have seen some hospitals in the Bronx that would rival this set’s dinginess, so for me at least, it was convincing.

So, it’s surprising what you can do with a set. This space was meant for two different shoots, and stood in as three different locations. I was a bit wary of the space because, as a room, it’s pretty grim. But as you can see above, I think it turned out well.

I’m really happy my directing experience worked out so well. I don’t know that I would want to be a writer-director. I definitely wouldn’t want to only be a director; I like writing too much to ever stop doing it. But if I got to direct my own writing, I don’t know if it would be stressful or a nice extra bit of control. This experience was really relaxing, but I know they’re not all like that, especially on a full-fledged production rather than just the production of a short scene. After our short day of shooting, I was exhausted. So I won’t write it off completely, but we’ll see.

I also have no idea if I’m any good at it. My team helped a LOT. They were awesome.

I did like doing camera on the shoot the next day. Working to make images that look interesting is a lot of fun. I also really like pull-focus shots, but some cameras are better at it than others.

And somehow, I always end up on shoots where the camera is in a position that’s quite a bit taller than I am. But it’s okay, because the shots we got from those positions were really good.

I’m looking forward to getting back to writing. But we have two weeks to edit our short scenes, so I think it’s going to be awhile before I’m back to the thing I’m actually studying.

 

 

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Cuddlefish

It’s almost time to film my scene. Production begins and ends on Thursday. I’ve finally cast actors, gotten props, and I have a shot list.

As I mentioned before, the scene comes from a longer feature film idea that we were asked to come up with a few weeks ago. Mine is called “Cuddlefish,” about a professional cuddler who falls in love with one of her clients, but she’s asexual, so she doesn’t want the relationship to go beyond cuddling (and kissing) (and romance.) The scene I chose from this idea is when her client confesses that he likes her and wants to be in a relationship with her, and she’s conflicted because she likes him too, but she isn’t sure she can give him what he wants.

Explaining the scene, because it’s out of context, is one of the most important parts of producing it. I need to get the romantic comedy tone across, but I also need there to be an understanding of exactly why the scene plays out as it does, why my professional cuddler is so hesitant when she’s told by the guy she likes that he likes her back. I think that’s been the hardest part of the whole process, making sure that the context and tone are clear and transferring that to film. Hopefully it works.

The second hardest part is actual set design. Over the past two weeks, I’ve struggled with how I’m going to build a bedroom set that looks like it could be the room of a professional cuddler within the confines of the film school. The room I’m booked to shoot in looks a bit like a cross between a basement and an industrial kind of place, and has art supplies in it including one huge blue canvas. The door is also in a really odd place.

To add to the problem, the double bed from the props department I planned to use is already being used on my shooting day, so I’m using a hospital bed (single) and making it look like a bed that a professional cuddler might have in their bedroom. It’s going to involve a lot of pillows and blankets and honestly it won’t look like what I thought about in my head, or anything remotely close to it. But for the purposes of this scene, hopefully it isn’t too distracting. I think a lot of it hinges on performances, so if the bed looks a bit suspicious, well, hopefully clever camera angles can take attention away from that.

The last problem is directing. I’m not a director, and I’ve never really directed in any sort of official capacity before. It’s a lot of decision making and controlling and knowing what you’re talking about, and having written the thing, it’s also an exercise in learning what works on the page and what doesn’t need to be in the film (things like small stage directions, for example.) You’d be surprised at how many things in a script, even a good one, don’t need to be in the film. The past week has involved learning that directors look at scripts differently than writers, so playing the part of a writer-director is weird because, at least for me, I’ve never fully been in one mode or the other. They bleed through to each other.

Other things I’ve had to learn include camera coverage, health & safety (there was a risk assessment), working with actors, film set protocol, and producing practices. Yesterday, when filming someone else’s shoot, I got a crash course in being an assistant director and on using clapper boards. It’s a lot to take in, and there’s definitely a lot of learning while doing. And the set should be relaxed, which is hard when you don’t know what you’re doing and you’re secretly panicking and there’s so many choices.

Somehow, so far, the sets have been pretty relaxed.

I just hope the shoot on Thursday goes smoothly. I hope that the set looks like a bedroom tomorrow when I’m done with it. I hope nothing sudden happens that’ll throw a wrench in the works.

The good thing about being on the screenwriting course is that, if I want, this is the first and last time I’ll have to do any of this film production stuff.

We’ll see how it goes.

 

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Film Production

I’m just going to state this up front: I’m not a director. I’m not a cinematographer. I’m a writer, and I feel comfortable writing and not doing all that other stuff.

I have done the other stuff. I’ve directed, filmed, and edited, but I didn’t really enjoy it. These next two weeks, however, are going to be all of the directing, filming, and editing that I never wanted to do. We’re going into production for our metamorphosis projects, and writing has been put on hold for awhile.

My metamorphosis project, the romantic comedy scene about cuddling, is fairly simple on paper, but even the simplest of scenes can be stressful when actually being realized on camera. In the next week I have to pin down locations, props, and design the set. I have to storyboard the script so that I know where I want the camera without having to waste too much time during the actual shoot. I have to cast actors, something which I know absolutely nothing about.

The past week has been a HUGE test of my patience. We had two days of intense cinematography, where we filmed multiple scenes and took turns on sound, directing, cinematography, and acting. I find film production to be one of the most stressful things in the world, so needless to say, I didn’t enjoy those two days.

This coming week, we learn to work with actors. I’ve never worked with professional actors before, so this will be something very intimidating. The writer part of me is cringing. Actually, every part of me is cringing. It goes against my sit-in-a-room-with-a-laptop-making-fictional-things-happen nature.

Luckily, this is the only time I should have to be so involved in any production at the film school. Everything else is writing. We’re having a play scene that we write produced later in the year, but we’re not in charge of directing that, which is probably a relief.

I was told that some writers catch the directing bug from this exercise. I don’t think I’m one of them. But, directing with a script is better than directing without one, so I might still enjoy the actual filming of my scene more than the practice we’ve been doing for the past few days. And the upside is, none of us really know what we’re doing, so we’re getting a fair amount of help from each other and from people who know how to do all those complicated film things.

There is something a bit reassuring, though, in how badly I want to be writing rather than doing all of this production stuff. I think that’s pretty much a confirmation that I’ve chosen to pursue the right thing.

Besides, I’m too short to be a good cinematographer.

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Screenwriting In the UK

So I said I’d be keeping up with this blog, and I’ve done a really bad job. But it’s been a month since I’ve started my course in England, so I thought it was about time for a post to talk about what I’ve been doing aside from the answer I usually tell everyone, which is writing.

I am writing. For those who missed the last blog post, I’m doing a two year Masters course in Screenwriting at the National Film and Television School in England. After which, I hope to get a job, preferably in the UK because I like it over here more than, say, LA. Not that there’s anything wrong with LA but it’s not particularly my style.

The screenwriting course does involve a lot of writing. There are ten of us, and we spent the first few weeks each generating ideas for a film or TV series. We had four ideas to develop with the following prompts (or guidelines, they weren’t very hard about them): idea based on visuals, idea needing research, fantasy idea, and an idea in a particular genre other than drama. We wrote treatments (proposals, pretty much) for each of these ideas. I ended up with four film ideas whose working titles are: Fishermen (this will change), Underground, Fallen, and Cuddlefish. Take those as you will. The last one is a romantic comedy. The first one I’m thinking about as maybe a play, though the visual part would be great to see on camera. But it’s such a smallish drama that I wonder if it wouldn’t be better on stage. The middle two I haven’t thought much about, but would love to write them.

On the side I’ve gotten involved with games design, collaborating on story for a game. The second year games designers have to develop a full-fledged game (for any platform) as their final project. Some of them want to bring in writers for story/character reasons. This is where I’ve come in. The game I’m working on is very story based, which is great. I like story based games. It’s much different to writing a script, but it’s a lot of fun, and the interactive aspect is fun to think about and play around with.

We’re also working on a project called Metamorphosis, which is to give us writers a perspective on what it takes to bring our scripts to the big screen. We’ve each picked a scene from one of our film ideas and written it, and we’re going to film it two weeks from now. Between then and now we have to finalize the script, cast actors, get location and props, and learn how to use the equipment. This means that we’re making 10 films (since there’s ten of us.) Each writer directs their own scene, and the crew is made up entirely of other writers who aren’t filming that day. So we have two weeks of prep (this week and next) and one week to film, and then a few days to edit. I’m not a huge fan of the production process (I did come here to write, after all) but it should be a lot of fun. Especially since it’s the most developed script I’ve ever filmed.

Adjusting to life outside of school is interesting. I’ve had to get used to not having the usual people to fall back on for support and/or weekend hanging out, to not having things work the same way they do at home, and to not having a good selection of pre-made cookie dough. The Ben & Jerry’s here is also terribly expensive. I haven’t been able to justify getting any yet, but I will. Maybe as a birthday present. Going into London a lot gets expensive so I haven’t done it too much.

Overall, I’m enjoying this, and I’m really happy that I’ve got this opportunity. I feel more creative than I have in a long time, more creatively supported than I ever have, and like I’ve learned more about the film/TV/theatre industry and writing in the past month than I did in my three years at my university. And that is just fantastic. I’m really excited about all the writing we’re going to do, all the different areas we’ll get to explore, and how much we’ll learn about everything.

And, fingers crossed, when I’m done they won’t kick me out of the country.

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2014

Hello all!

I know it’s been a while since I’ve properly posted. I’ve been really busy with a new internship at a theater, working in the film and booking departments. It’s a great internship, but it also involves a two hour each way commute to the city and back, which takes up a good chunk of the day. I’m pretty much out of the house from 6:45am to 8:15pm. It’s been a good experience, learning how to be a real working person, but this next year is going to change quite a bit.

I’ve been accepted into the Screenwriting Masters program at NFTS, the National Film and Television School in England. I applied back in the spring and never expected to get in, but I did, and I’ve gone on orientation to meet my fellow screenwriters and people from other programs in the school. Everyone is really awesome and nice and passionate, and it looks like it’ll be a good environment to be creative in. And I’ve always wanted to write for film, television, or theater in the UK. It’s been the pipiest of my pipe dreams. But it’s not so far fetched anymore.

The program starts at the end of January. Whether or not I’ll get there in time is another matter-I’m having issues with the visa application that I really need resolved this week before things start to get really hairy.

That aside, I’m exciting. Especially given that this time last year, I didn’t have any prospects for after I graduated. That’s changed, and I couldn’t be happier.

A lot of my posts from now on are probably going to revolve around the screenwriting program, so if screenwriting, film, or theater is something that interests you, then you’ll really like what’s going on! There’ll probably be a few other posts about the state of packing and being in England and saying sorry for not posting in awhile because time gets away from me.

I can’t wait to start. I have a small notebook full of stuff I learned during the orientation, which was already a lot (and a good chunk which I’ve been told to forget until graduation). And then there’s a list of ideas I could use for future stories. I’m pretty sure I’ll be using most if not all of them, considering we did a lot of idea generating and developing during the orientation. And, I get to write a dissertation, since it is a graduate program. I’m thinking about writing about performing Shakespeare. I love Shakespeare, and I find the various ways his plays can be performed an interesting subject.

2013 was a good year, especially compared to 2012 (the year I’d rather forget.) So I’m ready for 2014. A few more things need to fall into place, but in general things are looking good. Which is all I can really ask for when starting off another year.

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