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Gregory Lamberson
Every year, my big event - other than than my own, Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival - is Rue Morgue's Festival of Fear at FanExpo Canada in Toronto.  Twice I've shared a table with someone else, and last year I was in Artist Alley, but for four of those years I've been part of the Medallion Press team, and this year will be my fifth with Adam Mock and Paul Ohlson from Medallion, and my fourth with Jim Tampa (Jim slacked off one year).  I always bring Tamar and Kaelin, so it's sort of a working vacation - I work, and they vacation.  We always have a blast, and appreciate Medallion making it possible (and for promoting the hell out of me at the event).

We'll be there in force this year, promoting THE JULIAN YEAR.  Attendees can expect to encounter a cool interactive display and have their photo taken with a horde of possessed characters from my novel THE JULIAN YEAR, the first TREEbook (Timed Reading Experience E-book).  We had a "soft launch" for the book in June, and now it's time to get hard.  There will be numerous promotions running all week, so if you're at the show, be sure to seek us out.  We're the booth with the fancy standee with the people with the glowing red eyes.

I'm also excited to be screening two of my films this Friday at 6 pm: GAVE UP THE GHOST, written by Jeff Strand, and DRY BONES, starring Debbie Rochon and co-directed by Michael O'Hear, will have their Canadian premieres.  Paul McGinnis, who appears in both films (and co-wrote my currently shooting feature KILLER RACK), will join me for the Q&A; so will Tia Maurice and Kaelin Lamberson.

Leaving for FanExpo involves three steps: Step One: unwrap SLIME CITY DVDs for sale, because removing ten year old security tape can be tricky; Step Two: shave, because I'm making a movie; and Step Three: actually pack.  One down, two to go, see you there!
 
 
Gregory Lamberson
28 August 2014 @ 08:05 am
Today was a big one.  With 9 4/8 pages of script scheduled, it was our hardest day on paper.  Not only did we have to "shoot out" Michael Thurber, meaning we had to finish all of his scenes because he's leaving tomorrow, but we had to wrap out of Pierce Arrow Film Arts Center, our base for the last month.  This was no easy task, because over the course of many shooting days, a film crew creates an amazing... mess: bottles, cans, props, set dressing, costumes, furniture... so much stuff.  And Chris Rados, our DP, still had a bad back.

We started with a scene between Michael, star Jessica Zwolak, screenwriter Paul McGinnis, and co-producer Rod Durick,  It was funny to begin with (Michael's body language is something to behold, and physical comedy comes to him with ease), and I contributed a sight gag that should generate laughs...at Paul's expense.  Anything for the laugh!

We moved on to a scene in which Jessica reads and reacts to information she finds on her work computer.  Michael interrupts her, which lead to our next scene, the big confrontation between the characters Betty and Mr. Raquel.  Something about this sequence reminded me of when WILLARD paid a visit to his boss, Ernest Borgnine...with boobs instead of rats.  We spent the rest of our day in these two offices.  Each one had different wood paneling.  Very small offices, and I knew going in that the crew would be crowded into a different corner for each shot,  I wanted to finish the scene before lunch, but we got about two thirds of the way there.

Lunch was excellent: Kelly Wahl catered roast beef sandwiches and Michele Beers sent dessert.

After lunch, we finished the big scene with a series of shots focusing on Michael, who amused to molest and then be eaten by the Boobs.  And then we called a wrap on him.  He is so good in this film: everyone who was unfamiliar with him was in awe.  Those of us who knew what he delivers took his performance in stride.  The man oozes star quality, and I've compared him to Vincent Price many times.  Sad to see him go, but every actor wrap brings us closer to wrapping the film!  And Rod, Paul and I are pretty exhausted from working seven days a week.  While we finished shooting Michael, Rod started running props, furniture and other dressing to wherever they will now call home, getting a head start on the wrap out.

Three scenes remained to be filmed, all of them between Jessica and Paul in Betty's office, and totaling six and one half pages.  And I wanted to shoot them all in four hours!  The challenge was to keep the coverage simple, and yet make each scene look different from the others.  I will now interrupt my set report to pay tribute to my key personnel: Jessica Zwolak has done an amazing job,  She's only had a few small film roles, and she has an awesome responsibility on her shoulders - and she is far exceeding my expectations.  She is well prepared - always as her lines down - and is so easy to work with that I've taken to calling her "Diva" as a joke.  She has a real flair for comedy, but today she also nailed a dramatic scene, showing me shades we hadn't encountered yet.  Paul McGinnis wrote the script, and wrote himself a big part, and followed my instructions to lose weight, and has been tasked with supervising wardrobe and getting craft services.  He had performed in the musical scene, and got to act opposite Michael yesterday (which will make any actor a better actor), but today he had a lot of dialogue to deliver, and he and Jess had it down.  I had to rush those scenes,and both of my leads were up to the task, and Paul was willing to take my direction even when it deviated from certain intentions of his script (by and large, I am faithful to his material - my job is to enhance it, not change it).  And because I had to rush the scenes, Paul often needed to deliver his lines in close up in a hurry.   It went like this: "Okay, close up on Jessica, take one, take two, let's do one more...check the fake boobs...do the boobs look good?  That wall looks blank, stick something on it.  Now do all of your lines, Paul, and get it perfect."

Chris Rados is my DP.  The first time we worked together was on MODEL HUNGER, which I brought him on as a PA.  Then he did a lot of the lighting for DRY BONES, and then the lighting for GAVE UP THE GHOST.  Now he's my DP and doing his own lighting.  We don't have any gaffers on this show (though both Scotty Franklin and Kash Costner have pitched in here and there).  He has Rod move lights, or Sam Qualiana, or our PA Dave Carapetyan, or Rod.  I only got to watch footage for the first time a few nights ago (I'm too busy),and it looked good.  And I know we shot our best stuff yesterday.  Because of our confined quarters today, I only reviewed two shots, and only to determine what the next setup should be.  He's doing high quality work on this gig, and I know the finished film is going to be a feather in his cap.  I'm glad he quit his job to do it!

Sam Qualiana is a name you've seen before on this blog: I produced his movies SNOW SHARK: ANCIENT SNOW SHARK and THE LEGEND OF SIX FIGERS, and we worked together as the AD team on MODEL HUNGER and BATTLEDOGS.  At this point, we're in synch on the way everything needs to be done, and he knows how I like a set run, and our set is run that way.  And he's helping with camera and lighting.

Arick Szymecki is the real surprise.  He's done special make-up and special visual effects for me many times, and on this show he's also recording our sound... and he's doing a fantastic job.  He would be the first person I considered for that position in the future,a s long as it doesn't interfere with his effects work.

And we have a secret weapon, an ace up our sleeve: Chris Cosgrave, our still photographer -  assistant editor - digital effects artist.  Like me, he's a stay at home father.  He knows his shit, and I'm not talking about diaper contents, but the technical side of filmmaking... and the storytelling part of filmmaking... and he's a problem solver like Rod.

Thanks to these guys, Bob Bozek and John Renna, we wrapped at 7:15, just 15 minutes late, and spent the next hour and 45 minutes wrapping out of Pierce Arrow.  That part wasn't fun: it's one thing to wrap at the end of a hard day, it's another to wrap out of a location/base after several weeks.  But we did it.

I'm off to Fan Expo this weekend, so our main unit won't be filming.  Rod will be shooting some second unit footage with Jessica and Paul, though.  Then next weekend, we shoot the climax of the film... our most ambitious day yet!
 
 
Gregory Lamberson
24 August 2014 @ 11:09 pm
Today was a big one.  With 9 4/8 pages of script scheduled, it was our hardest day on paper.  Not only did we have to "shoot out" Michael Thurber, meaning we had to finish all of his scenes because he's leaving tomorrow, but we had to wrap out of Pierce Arrow Film Arts Center, our base for the last month.  This was no easy task, because over the course of many shooting days, a film crew creates an amazing... mess: bottles, cans, props, set dressing, costumes, furniture... so much stuff.  And Chris Rados, our DP, still had a bad back.

We started with a scene between Michael, star Jessica Zwolak, screenwriter Paul McGinnis, and co-producer Rod Durick,  It was funny to begin with (Michael's body language is something to behold, and physical comedy comes to him with ease), and I contributed a sight gag that should generate laughs...at Paul's expense.  Anything for the laugh!

We moved on to a scene in which Jessica reads and reacts to information she finds on her work computer.  Michael interrupts her, which lead to our next scene, the big confrontation between the characters Betty and Mr. Raquel.  Something about this sequence reminded me of when WILLARD paid a visit to his boss, Ernest Borgnine...with boobs instead of rats.  We spent the rest of our day in these two offices.  Each one had different wood paneling.  Very small offices, and I knew going in that the crew would be crowded into a different corner for each shot,  I wanted to finish the scene before lunch, but we got about two thirds of the way there.

Lunch was excellent: Kelly Wahl catered roast beef sandwiches and Michele Beers sent dessert.

After lunch, we finished the big scene with a series of shots focusing on Michael, who was amused to molest and then be eaten by the Boobs.  And then we called a wrap on him.  He is so good in this film: everyone who was unfamiliar with him was in awe.  Those of us who knew what he delivers took his performance in stride.  The man oozes star quality, and I've compared him to Vincent Price many times.  Sad to see him go, but every actor wrap brings us closer to wrapping the film!  And Rod, Paul and I are pretty exhausted from working seven days a week.  While we finished shooting Michael, Rod started running props, furniture and other dressing to wherever they will now call home, getting a head start on the wrap out.

Three scenes remained to be filmed, all of them between Jessica and Paul in Betty's office, and totaling six and one half pages.  And I wanted to shoot them all in four hours!  The challenge was to keep the coverage simple, and yet make each scene look different from the others.  I will now interrupt my set report to pay tribute to my key personnel: Jessica Zwolak has done an amazing job,  She's only had a few small film roles, and she has an awesome responsibility on her shoulders - and she is far exceeding my expectations.  She is well prepared - always as her lines down - and is so easy to work with that I've taken to calling her "Diva" as a joke.  She has a real flair for comedy, but today she also nailed a dramatic scene, showing me shades we hadn't encountered yet.  Paul McGinnis wrote the script, and wrote himself a big part, and followed my instructions to lose weight, and has been tasked with supervising wardrobe and getting craft services.  He had performed in the musical scene, and got to act opposite Michael yesterday (which will make any actor a better actor), but today he had a lot of dialogue to deliver, and he and Jess had it down.  I had to rush those scenes,and both of my leads were up to the task, and Paul was willing to take my direction even when it deviated from certain intentions of his script (by and large, I am faithful to his material - my job is to enhance it, not change it).  And because I had to rush the scenes, Paul often needed to deliver his lines in close up in a hurry.   It went like this: "Okay, close up on Jessica, take one, take two, let's do one more...check the fake boobs...do the boobs look good?  That wall looks blank, stick something on it.  Now do all of your lines, Paul, and get it perfect."

Chris Rados is my DP.  The first time we worked together was on MODEL HUNGER, which I brought him on as a PA.  Then he did a lot of the lighting for DRY BONES, and then the lighting for GAVE UP THE GHOST.  Now he's my DP and doing his own lighting.  We don't have any gaffers on this show (though both Scotty Franklin and Kash Costner have pitched in here and there).  He has Rod move lights, or Sam Qualiana, or our PA Dave Carapetyan, and today, Bob Bozek.  I only got to watch footage for the first time a few nights ago (I'm too busy),and it looked good.  And I know we shot our best stuff yesterday.  Because of our confined quarters today, I only reviewed two shots, and only to determine what the next setup should be.  He's doing high quality work on this gig, and I know the finished film is going to be a feather in his cap.  I'm glad he quit his job to do it!

Sam Qualiana is a name you've seen before on this blog: I produced his movies SNOW SHARK: ANCIENT SNOW SHARK and THE LEGEND OF SIX FIGERS, and we worked together as the AD team on MODEL HUNGER and BATTLEDOGS.  At this point, we're in synch on the way everything needs to be done, and he knows how I like a set run, and our set is run that way.  And he's helping with camera and lighting.  He's wearing multiple hats to cover up his continuity threatening haircut (he plays Dutch, Betty's boyfriend, and he's hilarious).

Arick Szymecki is the real surprise.  He's done special make-up and special visual effects for me many times, and on this show he's also recording our sound... and he's doing a fantastic job.  He is the first person I would consider for that position in the future, as long as it doesn't interfere with his effects work.

And we have a secret weapon, an ace up our sleeve: Chris Cosgrave, our still photographer -  assistant editor - digital effects artist.  Like me, he's a stay at home father.  He knows his shit, and I'm not talking about diaper contents, but the technical side of filmmaking... and the storytelling part of filmmaking... and he's a problem solver like Rod.

Thanks to these folks, Bob Bozek and John Renna, we wrapped at 7:15, just 15 minutes late, and spent the next hour and 45 minutes wrapping out of Pierce Arrow.  That part wasn't fun: it's one thing to wrap at the end of a hard day, it's another to wrap out of a location/base after several weeks.  But we did it. Now I just have top unpack my car...

I'm off to Fan Expo this weekend, so our main unit won't be filming.  Rod will be shooting some second unit footage with Jessica and Paul, though.  Then next weekend, we shoot the climax of the film... our most ambitious day yet!
 
 
Gregory Lamberson
24 August 2014 @ 12:32 am
The shooting schedule for a feature film is as important to a production as the screenplay.  It effects every decision that must be made during filming.  No department head can do his job without knowing the schedule.  Two thirds of the way through the shoot for KILLER RACK, we haven't juggled any days (but we did move some scenes we didn't get one day to a future day).  From the first day I made our schedule I knew two things: 1) that this would be Michael Thurber Weekend; and 2) that today would be one of our biggest days.

I first met Michael Thurber on MODEL HUNGER, and quickly learned why Debbie Rochon considered him a "must have" for her directorial debut.  Michael is immensely talented - ridiculously talented - and equally gracious.  When Paul McGinnis and I formed our partnership for this project, Michael was one of the actors Paul wanted in the film.  I didn't think we could afford to bring him out from Providence, Rhode Island, but things worked out in our favor, and he's here now.

Today was the day for which I'd scheduled the work place scenes for Betty (Jessica Zwolak), our heroine.  The minute I saw the training room at Pierce Arrow Film Arts Center, I knew this was the ideal location for the Double D Collections Agency (named by our production designer, Joel Resnikoff).  First of all, the spacious room had central AC, unlike the other rooms we're shooting in.  It's deep and wide, with eight small office cubicles with their own monitors and keyboard.  I knew it would be so much easier to shoot in there than in any actual office anyone could offer or donate.  For our previous shoots in Pierce Arrow, the room served as our holding area, ie the place we stored food and equipment and ate our meas, where cast and crew could relax and cool off.  For today, we moved holding into the less comfortable area where we've been shooting, and we transformed the room into our workplace.

Designing the space entailed separating the cubicles and moving them out from their customary wall, rearranging the cubicles, art directing each cubicle, creating a banner with the company logo, and other tasks.  Earlier this week, several members of our team assembled to do a first rate job creating the set.  It occurred to me it would look stupid if every worker's monitor had a dark screen, and locating computers and cables to make the monitors functional struck me as an insane waste of man power.  I didn't want to green screen them and add images in post either, for the same reason.  So on Thursday night I asked Chris Cosgrave to create Double D Collections images to print out on paper and fit onto each monitor.  He did a great job as usual, and printed the "screens" on card stock which he fitted on Friday.  On Saturday, most people thought the monitors were live.

This is the way most weeks go for Rod Durick, Paul and myself.  I plan and troubleshoot all day long on weekdays, and Rod and Paul take on chores when they get home from their jobs, essentially working two full time jobs.  We worry about sets, props, art direction and costumes.  It eats up all our free time, and by the time the weekend arrives we've barely managed to keep up with the train that has left the station.  It's grueling, but it's worth it.  And when the weekend arrives, we spend as much time trouble shooting as creating.  As a producer, you just have to treat problem solving as part of the creative process.  We're lucky to have some great people helping us, many of them volunteers.

Today's challenges came fast and hard.  Chris Rados, our talented and hard working Director of Photography, "tweaked" his back and was in pain the entire day.  If it slowed him down, I didn't notice; I only noticed the occasional grimace.  One o our actresses, Tia Maurice, is a family friend from Canada, who agreed to take a small part and help us out.  Two weekends ago, she got stuck at the border, then got shut out of the return bus she wanted and had to leave late.  This weekend, she got shut out of at least two buses that sold ot, spent the night in a McDonalds in Toronto,  and arrived in Buffalo late.  We shifted our schedule, and she was able to be in the scenes for which he wanted her.  And then another actress didn't show up at all after countless communications, so we promoted Sherri Lyn Litz, who had kindly agreed to come in and help us as an extra, to a speaking role.  And then the clock ran out, and I didn't even know it was ticking.

Regardless, we made our day.  And it was a glorious one!  So nice to be indoors where we could control our environment, instead of battling wind and rain outside.  We did one massive sequence, two small scenes, then a series of medium length scenes.  Michael was as amazing as Paul and I expected him to be, and a joy to have around; Paul, Jess and Brittani Hare (that's a wrap!), did excellent work, and Tia, Erika Frase and Sherri devoted time and energy to their small parts.  There were so many actors on set, so many roles to cover, and we just burned through the setups despite Chris's back.  We used the dolly in almost every scene, sometimes more than once, and I know this was the best looking footage we've shot, with the most creative coverage.  To me, it reeks of production value, and that's never bad.  The only corners I had to cut were for our last scene, because I felt pressured to get out of the location.  I abandoned the five shots I had in mind (all mapped out), and designed a master with pans and tilts that covered the entire scene, and the actors were brilliant.  That's a wrap!

I like to shoot for twelve hours and spend one hour wrapping.  Today we shot for twelve and a half and wrapped in half an hour.  The pace was exhausting, but the material is stellar.  Quite a few people chipped in, and they all made a difference.  Tomorrow is another Michael Thurber day; it's also a Paul and Jessica.  We have the same number of pages to shoot as we did today, but far simpler setups, with no dolly.  I don't just want t make our day, I want to finish early so we can get a head start on wrapping out of the location.  We'll be back at Pierce Arrow to shoot our climax as an exterior location, and may be back for some green screen work, but we're now a nomadic tribe.
 
 
Gregory Lamberson
18 August 2014 @ 09:50 am
One day after we filmed on the certified sound stage at Pierce Arrow Film Arts Center, one wall of the building partially collapsed, no doubt from the work being done on the roof and inside the stage while we were trying to film.  Right now, no one is allowed in there.  If the wall had collapsed during our shoot or before our shoot we'd be screwed.  You really never know what can set you back.

Call time Sunday was 3:00 pm at our first location, the Wehrle Family Restaurant, where my wife and I have been eating since we moved to this neighborhood 11.5 years ago.  Our scene introduces detectives Bartles and James (Michael O'Hear, Alexander S. McBryde), and I put out a last minute call for extras.  I set Michael and Alex in a booth and the crew cleared space for the dolly track for our first shot, which we got without too much trouble.  Then we punched in for medium shots and close ups, very simple coverage.  Our only challenge was waiting for the sun to go behind the clouds so the background wouldn't be blown out.  We wrapped our scene, ordered an early dinner from the diner, returned the tables to how we found them, loaded out and ate.

When a film crew moves from one company to another, it's called a company move.  They take time.  You have to drive to a second location, unload the equipment you just loaded, run power lines, etc.  It eats up a good chunk of your day.  Our second location was Michael Gesel's hot tub, located on the back patio of his large home (once a four unit apartment house).  Rod Durick had gone to the house prior to the diner shoot to erect some wooden fencing around the house for design.  Actresses Jessica Zwolak and Brittani Hare arrived at 7 pm, and sunset was scheduled for 8:15, so we grabbed an establishing shot of Michael's rather visual house on a jib first.

A hot tub offers a rather limited amount of space in which to cover a scene, and the scene Paul McGinnis wrote was four pages long,  You can't shoot four pages of dialogue in a static master, so I incorporated three different dolly moves into the scene.  Every move and every shot requires a new lighting setup. And the power went out twice.  And the water got cold and needed to be reheated a couple of times.  And we got Jess and Brit out of the water a couple of times so they wouldn't turn into prunes.  A local actress performed some brief topless nudity as body double for us.  We basically worked our way around the tub, getting the coverage we needed, up to the point where Brittani's character is supposed to drop her bikini top, then worked our way back  to where we started for the "topless" coverage (TV style head and shoulders), settling on a master where we see Brittani from behind as she undoes her top and exposes herself to Betty.

Simulating nudity takes longer than shooting actual nudity because everything needs to be hidden. This was around 1:00 am, and at this point in the story, Betty is possessed by her boobs and bellows and is outraged that Sandrah Dee-Dee pads her bra.  Jessica bellowed in her boob voice, "I will own this world and to do so, I need greatness, not falsities! You, harlot, will pay for your lies."  And the neighbors started yelling at us to be quiet.  Now 'm looking for ways to combine shots so we can get out of there before someone calls the cops and shuts us down, and because Brooke Lewis will dub Jessica in this scene anyway, I had Jessica whisper her lines.  The final action involved Jessica pulling her T-shirt over Brittani's head, and we got just enough coverage of that and called a wrap.

In the end we had a 10.5 hour shooting day, and spent just 6.5 hours shooting a big scene with a lot of coverage.  We still had to pack up, download our footage and move our equipment back to base for next weekend's shoot.  Again, reminding a former executive producer I worked for that you don't have to work 16 hours a day, every day, burning out your cast and crew.  For me it was just a 12 hour day, door to door with a company.

We've now shot 51 pages of a 91 page script - 56% finished of the way there, and 53% of the way through our principal photography shooting schedule.  Next weekend is a biggie: two jam packed days with Michael Thurber, which will be our last days (as long as we make our days) shooting in our basement suite at Pierce Arrow.
 
 
Gregory Lamberson
17 August 2014 @ 11:35 am
When you shoot exteriors on a film, you try to schedule alternate interior locations in case of unwanted inclement weather.  I did this for our previous exterior shoots, but it wasn't possible for Saturday's shoot at Base Pierce Arrow because today - Sunday - we're scheduled to shoot at two different locations, a diner and a friend's hot tub.  I kept my eye on the weather all week: cloudy (which is good), some rain possible (which is manageable).

Saturday's call was for 3:00 pm, and I figured we'd wrap my midnight at the latest and be out the door by 1:00 am - a ten hour day, which is sort of a dream for indie filmmakers (side note: two years ago, I worked on a film that routinely had 15 - 16 hour days because a production designer held us up 3 - 5 hours daily; when I complained to her husband/ex-husband that we working needlessly grueling days, he informed me that he'd never heard of an indie film shooting only 13 days per day; well, pal, we shoot 10 -13 hour days on this film, just as we did on SLIME CITY MASSACRE and DRY BONES, and we shot _shorter_ days on THE LEGENBD OF SIX FINGERS - it all comes down to management...and not letting your spouse hold a production hostage).

At noon, it was sunny,  Beautiful!  At 1:00 pm, it got dark.  By 2:00 pm, the wind picked up.  By the time I reported to Pierce Arrow a little early to review the script, I was all set for a craptacular day, but I kept my negativity as low as possible.  Everyone who entered knew we were in for a troublesome day.  Sam Qualiana - who got a too short haircut, jeopardizing continuity when we shoot his final scenes in a couple of weeks - took off the day to be a guest at Parahorror Con.  I was scheduled to be guest as well, but had to cancel when I needed to shorten our schedule to cut down the cost of our insurance.  It was no problem, because we had a good backup in CHris Modrzynski.

Our firs scene involved Michael O'Hear and Alexander McBryde as Detectives Bartles and James, exiting Betty's building after interviewing her.  We shot it as a "oner" on the dolly.  Both actors were excellent, and DP Chris Rados got the shot without much difficulty.  Then the wind picked up, and we ended up popping a tent to keep the camera dry.  The tent required 4 - 6 guys to keep it from flying away, and the tent fabric kept flapping,  We pressed on.

Second scene was the big one of the day, involving Michael and Alex, but also Matthew J. Walter (who was briefly knows as Matthew King, and will be credited as Matthew Kelly, because, you know...boobs!) as patrolman Mulruney, and Hernan Caraballo, Andrew Elias and Nick Lama as our "three bumbling cops."  The five of them investigate a murder in an alley.  I wanted to use a jib rig for a low end crane shot to open the scene, but the wind made that impossible.  I restaged the whole thing on the fly (that's how I roll!) so the camera could be inside the alley for the whole scene, and came up with a funny (I think) gag for Hernan and Andrew.  Our three speaking actors were excellent, and the shots looked great.

Third scene involved Michael and Alex looking at another corpse, that of a man dressed in black leather, for the tag.  I set that atop a concrete loading dock, which allowed camera to be lower than ground level, shooting up at our actors.  So cool looking.

We wrapped all of our cops and broke for dinner half an hour ahead of schedule.  When you're fighting bad weather, you move faster.  Chris started setting up the next shots (both on a dolly) before 8 pm, and our evening's actresses, Jessica Zwolak and Brittani Hare, showed up.  The wind got worse!  The rain came and went.  I was already thinking we'd get the scene between the women, but not a long scene between Jessica and Paul McGinnis, and not a pickup shot I wanted of Julian Dickman for his death scene.  Kash Costner showed up unexpectedly and helped out for a couple of hours, and Scotty Franklin - affiliated with Pierce Arrow Film Arts Center - helped throughout the day.  A big thanks to both of them.

Our dolly shots looked nice,  I gave Jessica an umbrella for her scene, and of course the rains topped falling, but it blocked the wind from her face somewhat, and we milked it for a joke.  She and Brittani were funny in a scene in which Sandrah Dee-Dee turns on her charm(s) ad invites Betty back to her hot tub.  The wind kept blowing their hair in the faces, which frustrated them more than me, but we all agreed the weather was less than hospitable for a seduction scene.

I was ready to call it a day then, but realized we'd have had a six hour day and would have fallen behind, so we bit the bullet and committed to shooting a dialogue scene between Jessica and Paul McGinnis which culminates in a kiss.  The script called for them to enter frame in Betty's doorway, talk for a page and a quarter, then kiss and enter Betty's building.  I felt we'd done enough talky scenes outside the door, so I staged it as a "walk and talk" which leads into close ups.  This could have made our night easier, or harder.  I guess it did both, since the long walk (toward walking camera) involved tricky lighting.    Both actors had the scene down pat - Paul's first day acting his dialogue, after singing last weekend - so Jess only had to kiss Paul a few times.

The rain stopped long enough for us to grab Julian's shot, which also called for Jess to walk around the cold alley in shorts, a bra, and bloodied arms, and we got it in two takes.  We called a wrap at 11:30, and were out of the building before midnight - nine hours total, and I felt like we'd dodged a cannonball.  The crew kicked ass, and got a shortened day as a reward.  The forecast for today is for rain, and we're shooting in a diner and on a porch with a roof - and of course it's beautiful!
 
 
Gregory Lamberson
16 August 2014 @ 11:50 am
One of the requirements to qualify for the New York State Film Production Tax Credit, which returns to filmmakers 30% of qualified costs in 2014  (or 40% of qualified costs in 2015) is that the filmmakers mus spend one day shooting on a certified sound stage,  In 2009 there were no certified sound stages in Buffalo, so we had to go to Rochester to shoot a scene for SLIME CITY MASSACRE.  For KILLER RACK that isn't a problem: Buffalo now has several certified spaces, including our principal production facility, the pierce Arrow Film Arts Center.

For KILLER RACK, I decided to shoot our gypsy parlor scene at Pierce Arrow.  The scene is fairly simple, a two page dialogue between our star, Jessica Zwolak, as Betty, and a gypsy fortune teller (author Sephera Giron, who is also a tarot card reader).  The scene is actually screenwriter Paul McGinnis's nod to a similar scene in my first film, SLIME CITY.  For that film, we used the porch of my Bay Ridge, Brooklyn apartment for Madame Selena's parlor.  Twenty eight years later, I welcomed the opportunity to build a more ambitious set.

the advantage to building a set is you can create what you want from scratch, and aren't limited by an existing space. I had a design in mind from the beginning: I wanted five walls to wrap around a round table in a pattern similar to a stop sign, or a half circle.  I wanted blue or red fabric draped over the walls, which would eliminate the need for further details on the walls, and I anted a high backed chair for the gypsy,something upholstered,  The last thing I wanted was to use a couple of kitchen chairs.

Every week we focus on the locations/sets we need for the coming weekend,  Due to a verbal instruction being misinterpreted, the fabric on the walls concept came and went, and an early build of the set had to be scrapped and redone, and yellow walls needed to be re-painted purple to preserve my color scheme.  No matter, we roll with what we can.  Without the fabric on the walls, we needed some details, We went with wall sconce candles.  We found six that basically matched at a thrift store (always a thrift store on these budgets),   We really needed ten, but so be it.

I wanted a round table, but a "stop sign" shaped table had been described to me, one that would play well with the construction of the walls.  Unfortunately, the table I saw was basically square with the corners angled - too subtle to read as anything but square.  One of our crew members came through with a table that looked great - black, with Oriental design.  And round.

Two nights before our scheduled shoot, I realized the two chairs needed for the scene had fallen through the cracks.  One member of our team went looking for what I wanted to no avail.  The hunt for the right chair became an all day preoccupation.  The night before our shoot, a filmmaker on a local forum put me in touch with a guy he knew who had the perfect chair - high backed, with red velvet upholstery and wooden trim painted old.  The guy agreed to let us come get it that night, then told us 10 pm was too late because he and his girlfriend went too bed early.  He wouldn't give us his phone number, so I had to rely on Facebook communications with him.  He read my messages but wouldn't respond, so I had to rely on a FB communications between him and our mutual friend.  We had tentative plans to pick the chair up in the morning, but I went to bed feeling helpless at the hands of a total stranger.  Sure enough, the guy flaked in the morning because his girlfriend was nervous about strangers picking up the chair, or some such nonsense.  At least we had two wooden chairs.  I wasn't happy.

Shooting on a weekday, I had to drop Tamar off at work, and then drop Kaelin off with Kim Piazza, who had choreographed the dance for our musical number.  By the time I got home, followed up on the chair situation (frigging guy never even responded to my messages, totally hanging us out to dry), and picked up Arick Szymecki to record our sound, I was half an hour late.  No matter: I'd given myself, Rod and Paul a 10 am call time, and the cast and crew a noon call, because I knew we'd be crazed getting the set together.

When I walked onto the sound stage, I couldn't even speak to Paul because of construction going on on the roof... and in the sound stage space itself.  After being assured the noise would stop in time for our shoot, I learned the noise wouldn't stop and couldn't stop,.  Didn't matter that the building's owner had deposited our money, he didn't give a shit about us, we just had to deal with it.  The building managers and Film Arts Center guys did what they could to help us, but the fact is, there was nothing that could be done to help us: we were screwed.  The building manager and I asked the workers when they took lunch, and I was told noon.  With cast and crew arriving at noon, we wouldn't be able to shoot until 1 pm.  I asked if the workers were willing to take their lunch at 1 pm instead of noon, and they agreed.  There ain't no bad guys here... well, maybe one, but what can you do?

We had one hour of quiet time to shoot two pages of dialogue.  We could shoot the cutaways MOS (Mit Out Sound, a German expression).  But Sephera was driving in from Toronto.  What if she was late?  Rod busted his ass putting the finishing touches on the set, and cast and crew arrived on time. Jess and Sephera got into wardrobe, and Chris Rados, our DP, and Sam Qualiana, our AD/AC, lit the scene.  I rehearsed the scene downstairs because the noise in the sound studio was deafening, and Sephera was hilarious.  1 pm rolled around, and the noise stopped.  At 1:15, we were ready to shoot.  So much to do in an hour!

And the workers took their lunch on the roof, and we could hear them as if they were in the room with us,  We got one set out of twelve done before they resumed their work.  So we took a long lunch across the street at Papa Jake's, and Rich Wall, the Operations Manager for the Buffalo Niagara Film Office, stopped by to verify our set was legit (it was) and take some photos.  And we took some photos.  And we passed the time.  The workers actually knocked off early, so we resumed shooting.  Now we only had to contend with the noise on Elmwood Avenue, which was insane.  We ate lunch on the patio, and could barely hear ourselves speak.  Buses, trucks, motorcycles, it's nuts.  My actors had their lines down, but we had to do take after take just to try to get usable audio, and then we recorded the dialogue wild as a precaution.  Cast and crew were great, Pierce Arrow staff was accommodating, Rod's tarot cards looked fantastic, and the scene is funny - Sephera really nailed the tone I wanted for her character.

It was a frustrating day, but we made our day, and everyone involved did what they could to make the situation work.  I scrapped two dolly shots I'd wanted to do so we could get out of there.  Packing up, I realized that between running around looking for a chair we never got and dealing with the construction calamity, Rod, Paul and I had failed to remember to set a crystal ball on our round table.  That prop should have been on camera for half the scene.  Fuck.  Maybe I'll shoot a gypsy parlor again some day...
 
 
Gregory Lamberson
lloyd foin

In my recap of last weekend's KILLER RACK, I didn't really go into detail about what it was like working with the great Lloyd Kaufman.  Lloyd had a funny but brief cameo in SLIME CITY MASSACRE back in 2009; as a result of that appearance, I wound up co-starring in two of his videos, "How to Make Your Own Damn Green Screen" and "How to Promote Your Own Damn Movie."  I've seen him at conventions since then, and we gave him our Dedication to Excellence in Independent Filmmaking at Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival last year, when we premiered RETURN TO NUKE EM HIGH VOL. I.  For KILLER RACK, I wanted him to play his role relatively straight, something I hadn't seen before, though I've heard he has gone that route.  A possible challenge, since one of his three scenes was a musical number complete with dancing, and another was an "add on" designed to please his fans.

lloyd paul

Lloyd arrived Friday evening, and we had dinner with Buiffalo Niagara Film Commissioner Tim Clark.  As I noted elsewhere, it's nice to see Lloyd when he can relax and be himself. There are many facets to the man: the warm hearted showman who bends over backwards for his fans; the, um, demanding director on set; the businessman; the "relaxed" Lloyd; and the private Lloyd only his family knows.  He's smart and really knows how to deal with people.  My daughter Kaelin had a lot of fun with him, especially when he taught her how to get water out of her ear. :)

lloyd kaelin

From the time I started as an indie filmmaker, back on I WAS A TEENAGE ZOMBIE, he was a central figure in the word I wished to inhabit (I worked as a PA for one day on the original CLASS OF NUKE EM HIGH), and his longevity speaks for itself.  This year, for Troma's 40th anniversary, he's flying all over the world with his wife Pat for one tribute after another.  It's nice to know that a career of directing slime, blood and shocking humor can result in some sincere recognition down the road.

jesus

Saturday morning Lloyd recorded his vocals for the song "Funbags" which will be used in the musical scene in the film.  Our music director, Armand Petri, who composed and produced the song, set him up at a professional sound studio, where he sang solo.  Then he shot a cameo for another filmmaker, and then at night he made his first visit to our location behind Pierce Arrow Film Arts Center, where we shot a bit not in the script, a scene which will be cut into the climax to give his character a three act arc.  I knew what I wanted: the equivalent of one of the shots at the end of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, with the scientists stepping close to camera and gazing in wonder at the UFOs - followed by a visual gag one might see in a Zucker Brothers comedy,  I had no doubt he would give me exactly what I wanted, and he did.  We did about three takes each of two setups.

lloyd boobs

Sunday we shot his main two scenes: a dialogue scene with Jessica, where he had to play it absolutely straight again, and the big scene, our musical number, which I expect to be a highlight of the film. We blew through the first scene with no trouble; he followed the script and gave some lines his own spin.  The musical scene was a collaborative effort between myself, Armand, Kim Piazza (who did a fantastic job choreographing the dancing), and our performers - Lloyd, Jessica, Paul, Kim, Tia Maurice, Erika Frase, Brittani Hare, and Cheryl Szymczak.  It was a lot of fun to shoot, and everyone got their moments to shine, especially Lloyd and Paul.  I'd been looking forward to this shoot since Paul agreed to allow me to turn a short scene into a full blown musical number, and I was delighted with the results.

musical girls

Lloyd was delightful the entire weekend - gracious, generous and cooperative, never wishing to be a bother even though everyone wanted to make sure he was treated well and with respect.  He signed a bunch of script covers for our IndeGoGo contributors,gave me my second Troma diploma (I think I graduated from high school the first time, and now college) then posed for photo after photo with our cast and crew - and many filmmakers who happened to be stopping by Pierce Arrow to submit their entrees for the 48 Hour FIlm Festival.  The man is never too busy to stop and chat with admirers, and to offer bits of wisdom and advice when asked.  It was a pleasure to direct him, and to get a few moments to "talk shop" with him.  Thank you, Lloyd!

troma graduation

So, three weekends down: one with Debbie Rochon, one with Lloyd, and one with our local principals.  Author Sephera Giron comes to town this weekend, and Michael Thurber the weekend after that.  We're making something special, I feel it.
 
 
Gregory Lamberson
11 August 2014 @ 02:24 am
Well, we're more than one third of the way through our shoot.  Crazy!

Today was the one I'd been looking forward to, and it did not disappoint me.

For years - nay, decades! - I've wanted to do a horror film with a single, out of nowhere musical number in the middle.  When I read Paul McGinnis's script for KILLER RACK, I immediately thought a scene between Betty (Jessica Zwolak) and her psychiatrist Dr. Foin (Lloyd Kaufman, though the role had not yet been cast) cried out for the musical treatment,  I didn't mention it to Paul, because the movie was plenty complicated enough.  So here's how it came to be.

One day our friend Kim Piazza and her daughter babysat my daughter, Kaelin.  Then her husband, Armand Petri, brought Kaelin home.  When Armand brought Kaelin inside, he said, "Are you making a movie about killer boobs?"  Kaelin had ratted me out!  When I confessed, he told me he wanted to write and produce our theme song,  I knew Armand to be a successful music producer, and a horror fan who ha recorded several commentary tracks for DVDs, so I quickly took him up on his offer.  As time passed I didn't know if he was really going to do the song for us, but Kim told me he was working on it, and walking around the house singing about boobs, and she joked the film should be a musical.

Zing.  Zang,  Zong.

As the director of someone else's screenplay, I see my role as interpreting the script and bringing new aspects to it.  The musical number had to happen!  Paul agreed, and Armand created a hilarious song for Paul and Lloyd to sing, backed up by a chorus line of women who have bit parts in the film.  Once I knew I was going to be able to realize my long held dream, I asked Kim to choreograph the dancing.

Weeks of costume designing, set designing and casting later, the big day was upon us at pierce Arrow Film and Arts Center.  Call time was at 11:00 am, first shot was at 11:53.  A step up from our previous few shoots.  I picked up Lloyd at his hotel and drove him to set,  Soon after, Kim started rehearsing the actresses scheduled to appear in the big number: Brittani Hare, Tia Maurice, Cheryl Scymzak, Erika Frase... and Kim herself.

Kim rehearsed Paul and the actresses while we shot Lloyd and Jessica.  I popped in for a few minutes to watch the rehearsal, and it was great: Kim commanded the room and showed the other ladies all sorts of steps.  She's got a great demeanor for teaching, and this scene truly would not be what I believe it will be without her.

Shooting took place in Dr. Foin's office and involved singing, dancing, playback, lip synching and breast cupping. You knoiw: take after take.  It was hot in there, even with the portable AC we bought for the unit running nonstop.  All of the ladies did great, and Lloyd was a pleasure to have on set and direct. Jessica had a well earned easy day, but a full day nonetheless.  We wrapped Lloyd around 6:30, finished around 7, and headed out by 8 pm.

Great day, a lot of fun.
 
 
Gregory Lamberson
10 August 2014 @ 02:57 am
Day Five actually began with Day 4.5: dinner with Lloyd Kaufman and Buffalo Niagara Film Commissioner Tim Clark.  I typically see Lloyd at conventions or events, when he's mobbed by fans and is in promotion mode, so it's always a pleasure to see him in a private setting in which he's able to just relax.   It's always great to wrangle face time with Tim as well, as he's a busy guy.

Saturday's shoot was outside Pierce Arrow, in the back alley.  We've had so much rain this summer I was worried about our first exterior shoot, but the weather was beautiful.  My schedule called for scenes set in the morning, afternoon, evening and night, and I made the call time for noon.  As it turns out, I could have made it for 3:00 pm.  A few setbacks caused us to get a late start, and by the time we were ready, the shade I wanted to shoot in had all but disappeared, so we had to wait for it to disappear altogether to get an evenly lit scene.  I was frustrated.  While this was happening, Paul McGinnis and Lloyd Kaufman recorded tracks for our big musical number with our music director, Armand Petri, at a bog local recording studio.

I'd scheduled all the scenes between Tim O'Hearn - a producer on the film - and Julian Dickman for today,  Tim lives three hours away and came up with Mick Thomas, who did a great job as a PA.  Tim and Julian were hilarious.  So was Tamar Lamberson, making her second appearance as Nose Job Girl.  After completing their scenes, including one with star Jessica Zwolak, we shot a series of funny shots with various female cast members which will be used in the title sequence.  Tia Maurice came in early from Canada for her shot, then spent her evening playing Sorry! with Tamar and Kaelin.

Paul learned he had a death in the family, which could not have helped his frame of mind any while running around.  After lunch/dinner, we had to wait for it to get dark enough to shoot a scene between Sam Qualiana and Jessica.Zwolak.  After that, we grabbed our first scene with Lloyd, who is playing the character in Paul's script and not his usual character.  Frank Nicosea played Jesus for a gag which required him to learn to pogo stick.  He practiced on that pogo all day, and when the time came nailed it on the first take.  Thanks to Bill Brown and Michael Paul Will for coming in to support him.

Next we returned to Tim and Julian, who had waited around for hours.  Their first scene with Jessica went off without a hitch.  Anything with Jessica goes off without a hitch - she has quickly become uber reliable, which is an enormous help to the production.  The second scene with the three went even better - we got some unexpectedly cool coverage.

The night barreled along to a special effects finish.  I had designed a could triple gore effect which was ultimately too difficult to pull off, so we split it in two.  Each gag required a certain amount of setup, and we just didn't have the time.  In the end, they both worked fine, but all of the prep left people testy. We shot until about q2:30, half an hour late, then packed up.  We made our day.

Tomorrow I get to direct our musical number!