I'll do my best to condense last night's epic shoot into a manageable entry. For last night I had scheduled filming the climax of KILLER RACK. The scene takes place in the central alley used throughout the film and brings tgether our leads, many bit players and many extras, all tied together with gallons of blood and over the top special effects. It's a huge sequence revolving many setups. My original breakdown called for to night shoots. Unfortunately, on our fourth or fifth day, we fell behind and lost half a day's filming. To make up for lost time, and to prevent us from going one day over schedule, and one day over budget, I attempted to shoot the whole thing in one night. The gods laughed at me - both for attempting the impossible, and for the quality of the comedy we produced.
Special effects are tough, man. They take time to set up, time to shoot, time to clean up, and time to re-shoot. There is no way to rush them, though there are good ways to schedule them. I'm a good scheduler. My key SFX artist on this show is Arick Szymecki, and his partner/assistant is Stacey Book. I've worked with both of them before. And my co-producer (along with screenwriter/co-star Paul McGinnis), Rod Durick, is an SFX artist. This movie is about killer boobs, and the boobs have been vexing from the get go. My original scheme was to use only purchased silicone breasts, but after going through many duifferent shapes and sizes, and sensing that we really needed to show the big breasts ina ddition to their climactic, horrible incarnations, I gave Arick a last minute directive to create giant breast appliances for our star Jessica Zwolak to wear in a "topless" scene, on our first weekend. Arick made a valiant attempt, but the boobs we had on Debbie Rochon's last day of filming didn't quite cut the mustard, so we shot the intended scene sans fake breast nudity and rescheduled the reveal for another scene the following wee. The resulting monstrosities worked much better, and will look great with some minor digital touchups, but we lost half a day of filming waiting for them. That's how it goes. And that's why I tried squeezing two big nights of filming into one.
I was in Toronto last weekend for FanExpo Canada, and Rod shot some second unit footage, and Arick and Stacey started work on the various effects creations needed; I'll keep the details of these under wraps, but they all involve different permutations of the title monsters, seen in all their glory. We decided early on the final stage of the creatures would need to be shot green screen later on, and I knew some other, more complicated gags could be done as inserts later if necessary. We still had a long list of effects to do, and my shot list numbered 60 setups. I don't normally use a shot list, but I knew one was necessary to pull off our goal.
Chris Rados, our Director of Photography, has been doing his own shooting, his own lighting, and his own focus pulling - the roles of at least three people. That's the way it is on my shoots and budgets. Other crew people wear multiple hats: in addition to having written the script and co-starring, Paul McGinnis is script supervisor and wardrobe supervisor; my 1st Assitant Director, Sam Qualiana, has a funny role in the film and assits Chris as much as possible; Arick is ou regular sound mixer in addition to our key afects artist; Rod does DIT, set construction, production design, and general problem solver; Chris Cosgrave is our assistant editor, still photographer, fill in sound mixer and future digital effects artist. We're a small, tight unit, and we're getting the job done. Our PA, Dave Carapetyan, is new to this world and has learned a great deal. We've had other PAs who have pitched in here and there. For this night, Chris and I agreed we needed two gaffers of exceptional PAs to asist with the lighting. He brought in two guys I'd never met before, Steve Rittner and Brian Rock, and they both rocked.
The weather was a principal concern, and I followed the forecasts all week. At one point, lightning was predicted, so I postponed Roy Frumkes's scene one week, and planned to postpone thiose of Matt Reese, coming from Ohio, and Steve Boliek, coming from PA. Steve wasn't able to reschedule, so when the forecast brightened I buit the bullet and committed to shooting this weekend. Then,on Friday evening before our Staurday shoot, Arick told me the one effect we needed to pull off the entire sequence wouldn't be ready because the humidity was interfering with his foam latex. I don't lose my temper often on shoots, but I lost it then. When I got off the phone with Arick, my wife said, "I'd hate to be Arick after that," and my daughter said, "You were too ahrd on him, you know. It's tough for him. He eats bugs." I didn't even have to tell Rod to go over and help, and because I was sick and looking at an all night shoot, gulped down Nyquil and waited for the phone call telling me we would have our boob monsters. It came after 2:00 am, and I took more Nyquil. At 7:45 am, Stacey sent me cell phone pics of the creatures and they looked damned good. They still needed detailing, and to be sewn into a sports bra, but I was confident we'd be able to shoot.
On Thursday I also put out a Facebook call for a graffiti artist to decorate garbage cans which are a key part of the climax, and my house door, which will serve as the door to Betty's apartment building. Kaelin and I spray painted the bottom layer of the cans themselves: flesh for the bodies, pink for the tops. Get it? Vinny AJ Aklejandro, a total stranger (this is what I love about Facebook), took up the challenge. He showed up and did his work in half an hour, and it looked great. The funny thing is he was completely unfamiliar with the genre titles I had him referencing - and yet his graffiti actually resembles logos used for the films in question.
While picking up coffee and food for the sootm, I stopped by Arick's mad scientist laboratory to insepct his work in person. The boob monsters looked fucking fantastic, by far the best work he's ever done. The other gags looked good too, though I was never worried about them. I don't know who did what, so I'll just call them a team effort for now, and congratulate Arick and Stacey on excellent work under difficult situations.
I met Chris, Brian and Steve at location at 6 pm, and unloaded 100 items from my car while they set about lighting the entire alley. It was pretty cool seeing them walk along the low roofs, running power and seting up lights, Producers, crew, cast and extras drifted in,. On days when you need extras, you never know what kind of turnout you'll get, but with these particular people, and their enthusiasm for this project, I wasn't worried. And keep in mind, they're all volunteers. Even more people showed up than I expected. I greeted Matt Reese, who made the drive from Ohio not long after his third consecutiv heart surgery, and met steve Boliek, who had lobbied Paul and I for a role (which Paul ended up creating for him), sent us an online auditon, bought his own costume, and made the six hour drive with his wife and stayed in a hotel. Everyone was excited by the Boobs,and Stacey showed me a gag she had put together, and it looked so much better than I had imaginbed. Inside, everyhign was warm and exciting; outside, it felt like rain.
Two days earlier, Chris told me he had access to a Ronin camera stabilizer, courtesy of fellow DP Matt Nardone of NDStudios. This is a pretty high tech piece of equipment which allows for smooth tracking shots. We usually don't have such toys on my films. My shot list grew. First up, we did a jib shot revealing all of our extras. I think someone said we had 17 people. Then we shot a number of shots of Jessica walking into the crowd. The boobs looked great on her, and she was great in the role. Then we shot a bunch of shots of peope getting splattered with blood and reacting to mayem. There was a lo tof blood; picture a pie fight. Through all of this, Jessica got bloodier and never complained about the discomfort, the cold, or anything - she never does. I jokingly call her Diva.
Somewhere along the line I decided tio shoot this instead of that, which changed the complete order of my shots because of the way we were moving around the alley. Consequently, people I hope to finish with by midnight were there until 3:00 am. We broke for our midnight meal- what do you call that? - and through a miscommunication, the extras ate before the crew, which isn't suppsoed to happen. Actually, it isn't far to call them extras - most of them had dialogue, and none of them complained about anything earlier. I can't be on set and in holding at the same time, so an innocent mistake was made. My buddy John Renna offered a solution I didn't want to hear, and I snapped at him - second time losing my temper on this shoot, and the second time in 30 hours. I apologized, he shrugged it off. John is one one my best friends, and ordinarily he would be a key member of my team, bu this summer he made his own feature, DICK JOHNSON AND TOMMYGUN VS. THE CANNIBAL COP, and it just wasn't feasible to involve him when he was shooting his own film. He plays a bartender in the film, and has one crazy scene and one conventional scene. Tonight was his crazy scene.
After meal, we resumed splattering blood on people and getting reaction shots. Then we moved on to the scene between Steve Boliek and John. Both of them were hilarious. I daresay Steve was brilliant. As Paul McGinnis posted, he was a wildcard, and he delivered a full house. Who knew a throwaway scene created to give a total strnager some screen time due to his enthusiasm for the project would result in one of the comic highlights of the film?
We moved on to the big gore gag of the night, involving Jessica, Brandon Devine, and the boobs, with Erika Frase and Jonathan (last name unknown to me). After two setup shots, we set up the plexiglass before the camera, laid plastic tarps on the ground, tented the lights and Chris. Why so much care for a diry alley? Because the alley is part of Pierce Arrow Film Arts Center, our key production facility, and we want to leave it the way we found it. Blood tunbes were rigged; Diva never complained. There is a certain amount of excitement and tension which accompanies every time consuming efect, especially those which need to be done in one take. We rehearsed the action several times. Brian and Steve adjusted the lights. I called action. From my standpoint, I saw no blood, I looked at Chris, who shook his head. We decided that the blood on Brendan's costume would notbe seen by camera, cleaned up his face, and prepped a second take. Arick and Stacey reconfigured the blood tubes. Action! Blood sprayed everywhere. Gleeful high fives, followed by clean up duty,
We wrapped bit player after bit player. It never rained. The sky remained clear - and light became visible. I had schedule 63 setups, and we probably shot 70 by the end of the night, but we only shot three quarters of the scheduled script pages. We hadn't even gotten two a confrontation between Jessica and Michael O'Hear, Alexander McBryde, and Matthew J. Walters, let alone Paul's confrontation with Jess, Stacey's big gag, and Jessica;s half of the confrontation with the Boobs. I made the call to release Michael, Alex and Matt, and we shot a hiarious (and ridiculous) fight betwen Erika and the Boobs. It started to feel like morning, and we shot Jessica's fight with Matt Reese, and we called it a day.
A shooting day doen't end there. The lights have to come down and be broken down, the equipment has to bepuit away, holding has to be cleared, nothing cans stay. We're pretty good about wrapping whatever we can early, and Chris keeps his equipment right there at Pierce Arrow. Everyone made good time as the sun rose; I washed blood off one wall, we checked the facility, and went our separate ways.
We didn't make our day, but we made more than we had any right to, and it all looked fantastic. I've kjnown all along this was going to be a special movie, and we nailed it with this sequence - so many people contributed. Now we have to go back and shoot the rest of the scene, adding a day toour schedule and budget, but at least we won't have to rush through the remining scenes of this sequence, and can make them look as good as the stuff we shot this night.
Time to keep an eye on the weather...