People like to think that movies are made when the camera starts rolling. That may be when the footage starts rolling in, but any filmmaker will tell you that a movie is really made in pre-production, without it, there would be no cameras, no footage, no food, no sets, no locations, no lights, no crew, and quite simply, no movie. If making a film was like building a house, Pre-Production would be it’s foundation.
On Forever’s End, as with most indie films, we had a very tight timetable, but even more so given the restrictions we faced with a limited budget, limited crew, and especially (at least for us) limited time. We had only six weeks from the date the film was funded until our first day of shooting, this was in large part due to the restrictions involved in everyone’s schedules… and keep in mind, we may have had six weeks, but the script had not even been written yet! The film was funded based on a pitch and a promo/trailer, not a finished script, and obviously it’s near impossible to start pre-production on a film without it’s blueprint.
I had the entire script for the film already ingrained in my head and on a smattering of 40+ pages of hand-written notes, nothing more than a slew of ideas and outlines, so once the film was funded, I literally shut myself away in a room for two weeks and wrote it, page one to finished draft in 14 days.
While that sounds fast (believe me, it is… still a personal record at least), there went the first two weeks of our six-week pre-production window. The moment I was finished, my line-producer (Lindsay Rice) and I started steamrolling through the script and creating all the breakdowns, budgets, location lists, prop lists, shooting schedule, booking crew and flights, knocking it all out in a matter of days (sometimes fewer people can do things faster), while I simultaneously roped in several local friends of mine in Ohio (I was still in LA at that point) to start location scouting.
We had our first round of auditions (in LA) for our leading man literally the next week (see my post Casting Forever’s End for more details on that), I flew out to Ohio two days later and hit the ground running… and by running I mean sprinting.
The most important element to lock down at this point was our primary locations. My location peeps in Ohio had done an excellent job of finding me a variety of options, sending piles of location photos and videos of places all around the region, the trick was that I had never seen any of them in person and there’s only so much you can tell from pictures. The first few days on the ground in Ohio I spent in a car, driving hundreds of miles around the region visiting location after location, finally landing on a fantastic 1800’s house located just outside the small rural town of Eaton, Ohio (near the Indiana border). It was a heck of a drive from where I had been staying but I managed to make it out there several times to negotiate a deal with the owner to rent the place for a little over a month so we’d have an extra few days to start set-dressing the place (it was an empty house so we had to bring everything in: See my post on Production Design for that whole story).
The next location was all our outside fields, which were indeed shot in an entirely different place from where we shot the house itself (more than 100 miles away in fact) located in a remote countryside in northern Kentucky.
The last primary location to find was the downtown city streets and alley needed for the film, which we would need to completely shut down and control for several scenes. We ended up shooting them in downtown Cincinnati, and while it may seem backwards, the process of getting the required permits and police to block-off/shut down streets for us for a full day/night was actually one of the easiest things we did. Unlike in Los Angeles or New York, there are very few film shoots in Cincinnati and as a result there was no big complicated permit-process to go through, and at the time: zero permit fees! I had the permit in hand within 24hrs of requesting it and we were good to go. This was one huge reason for deciding to shoot in Ohio to begin with, not only did I already have a number of connections there from my years running the Film Fest, but from a financial perspective, there was simply no competition when it comes to cost-effective filmmaking.
While I was driving around scouting and locking down locations, I’d also stop at every garage sale I saw looking for older props and furniture, anything and everything we would need to outfit an entire house from the ground up. At one point we had half-dozen of the crew’s friends and family all out looking for items as well, anything we couldn’t borrow for a month, we bought second hand, including a piano (you’d be amazed at how many people are dying to just get rid of them!).
In the midst of everything else, I was in constant contact with my costume/hair/makeup designer, the fantastic Julia Rosendale Martin, who was still in New York starting to gather wardrobe options, effects makeup and everything else we might need.
When we finally hit the last week before production, everything seemed like a whirlwind, there’s always a point when you wonder if everything is actually going to fall into place, and for me, this was it. This was the week Julia and the rest of the crew all flew in from NY and LA and daily back-to-back production meetings started immediately.
Because I was filling so many different roles (as were most of the crew) it was a balancing act between 3 days of cast rehearsals, costume fittings, makeup/effects tests, and driving the hour out and back from the main location to set dress.
Even with all that, my focus went to rehearsals. Rehearsals are extremely important to me, and depending on the type of film and complexity of the roles, this time could have been spent in a number of ways. The big thing for us on Forever’s End (as with most films) is that this was the first time we’ve had the entire cast together in one place and the first time I was able to work with them as a group. We had the chance to do some basic run-throughs of some of the more complicated scenes, including incorporating general blocking. The idea of rehearsals, at least in my mind, isn’t to get everything down and “locked” (like you might do in theater) but talk through and then work through any questions or concerns an actor may have regarding a specific character or scene and then walk through any potentially complex blocking. The end goal of rehearsals was really to get everyone on the same page, and to build confidence and trust, to give the performers a chance get to know each-other, get comfortable working together and working with me. While rehearsals are certainly important, it’s just as important (from an acting/performance perspective) to avoid “over-rehearsing”, since the last thing you want is for the scene to feel staged, or come off as fake when you actually shoot it. I’ve found that more often than not, the best, most natural performances happen when actors feel the confidence and freedom to be spontaneous on set, quite simply, the freedom to act.
With rehearsals complete and shooting only days away, there was no time to relax, the energy and excitement seemed to take over, the focus on getting everything done was only trumped by the joy of watching the pieces fall into place.
I’ve often told people that good movies are really made in pre-production, it’s the time when all the details are ironed out, when you try to anticipate as many potential problems as possible and solve them before they ever happen, so that by the time you get to set, you can focus on actually shooting the movie; because once filming starts, once the machine starts rolling, you can’t stop it… and fixing any issue becomes ten-times harder. There’s no way to anticipate everything, but you can at least be confident that when those unexpected issues do arise during the shoot, you have the knowledge and preparation to resolve them without having to worry about all the petty details that could have compounded had they not been resolved earlier.
I’ve had the pleasure of working on hundreds of sets and in my experience I can say it’s immediately obvious from the moment I walk on set which productions did their due diligence in pre-production and which did not. While every production is unique, the majority of the issues that arise on most troubled sets could have been resolved in pre-production before they ever became a real problem. On big-budget studio-fare, issues are often resolved by basically just “throwing money at them”, but on an indie set like Forever’s End where finances are tight, there’s little room for error, pre-production was our invaluable foundation.
**Here’s some special Bonus Photos! [These were “family photos” taken during rehearsals, later framed and placed around the main house set]
Forever’s End is feature Apocalyptic Psychological Drama available worldwide November 25th, 2014 on Video On Demand, DVD, Blu-ray, Streaming and Digital Download. For complete details visit www.foreversendmovie.com