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40M: Pre-Production Continues…

For those of you who may be unaffiliated with the process of making films, there’s a lot more that goes into the pre-production process then just hiring a few people and finding a cast. I’ve been working on films, television shows, tv spots, music videos,  etc for many years, and one thing I’ve learned in all that time is that the amount of time, energy, detail and focus you put into your pre-production process, the better a film you always seem to have in the end.  There’s a lot of logic in that, to put it simply, if you solve as many of the “potential” problems or issues (that you can think of) which may arise with the production in advance of it actually starting, then you’ll have a much smoother, more relaxed, more focused shoot when you actually get there. That, and you can then spend your time focusing on solving all those unexpected issues that arise once you actually start and not deal with those on TOP of the one’s that could have been prevented.  There will always be unknowns in a shoot, pre-production is a time to address as many of them as you can manage in advance of actually wasting production time/money or even risking the film itself in the process.  Having a highly talented, detail-oriented Production Manager (or “Line Producer”) is key to getting things done on time and done right.

Since my trip out east in June, Hannah (our Line Producer for 40M) and I have been meeting regularly, continuing to work through all of the thousands of details of the production, ranging from contracts and permits, to catering, equipment & trailer rentals, and that of course, the all-important “production/shooting schedule”.

The Production Schedule is one of the single trickiest parts of pre-production, and one of the most important elements to get exactly right. The thing with the schedule is that if you’re off even slightly  in any one area (or you forget one of the simplest details) the film may end up not getting finished, by going way over time and budget or simply get canceled half-way through production for any number of reasons.

In order to avoid potential problems/conflicts, here are just a few of the hundreds of things we take into account when working through the schedule: the budget we have to work with, the amount of time we need to shoot the film, the cost of rentals (equipment, trailers, catering etc), cost/time of hiring cast & crew, time of year (amount of daylight in a day), weather, temperature, national holidays, permits, each individual location’s requirements (some can only be used on specific days of the week or even at specific times of year), hotels and transportation  requirements/distances, and the list goes on and on… not to mention that since we now also have “minors” (someone under the age of 18) cast in the film, it complicates things even more (since they can only work a specific amount of hours each day, among other limitations) and has forced us to re-work our already highly compacted shoot-schedule. As if that wasn’t complicated enough, we realized shortly after we set the final shoot dates that the film is shooting straight through my own film festival (the Cincinnati (Oxford) Film Festival – which I founded several years ago), so we’ve had to make exceptions on specific shoot days to allow me to attend specific events for which I (and several of my crew) are required. Hopefully that at least gives you a general idea of the complexity of the production, and that’s just the schedule!

Even with all that said, pre-production is going very smoothly, right on time. I’m excited to see things start coming together one step at a time.  More updates soon.

40M: Location Scouting, Cincinnati, and more…

A couple weeks ago I got back from one of the most jam-packed 10-days of my life. I flew in to Cincinnati, Ohio (where we’ll be filming my upcoming feature “40 Miles” this fall) to accomplish about a hundred separate things, among them, final auditions (see my last post), initial location scouting, meetings with Cincinnati City officials, regional and state film offices, unions, and meetings with various potential cast and crew (department heads), including our Production Design team, Armourer, Costume Designer, etc.

We spent the better part of the first three days doing nothing but auditions for 12 to 14 hours each day, and then I would go back to my room and spend the next 6 hours reviewing audition tapes. So that was pretty much if for those days. I managed to take a day and make it up to Detroit for a wonderful surprise family gathering (for my Grandmother), while taking conference calls and meets both on the way there and back… kind of crazy, you don’t know how much you miss your car’s built-in blue-tooth adapter until you do an 8-hour drive without it (my car in LA has it built in, unfortunately, this one did not). All that just to say, it was somewhat exhausting.  When I did get back to Cincinnati we (my Production Coordinator/Cinci Location Manager, Lindsay and I) spent the better part of the next week taking meetings and driving all over the place looking at potential locations for the film. Some of the biggest set-pieces/locations we were already aware of (and was one of several big reasons for selecting Cincinnati), but many of the additional locations (we have 18 total in this film) we knew would be a bit more difficult to find.  The key thing to remember here is that a big reason for selecting Cincinnati as well is that I wanted the scope of this film to feel “real”, ie: I want to shoot it on actual downtown city streets, not on sets or backlots or with tons of CGI mumbo-jumbo, I want the film to feel “naturally” epic (not the Lord of the Rings kind of way, though I do love those movies), and allow me to simply tilt the camera UP and see a real 40-story building there. Scale and realism are very important to me, as is, of course, keeping our film on budget.

Before I start going into this a bit more, let me explain what we’re looking for in the context of the film. “40 Miles” is a post-apocalyptic  thriller (with some horror-esk elements) while it’s not a zombie movie, the closest thing I can mention to the visual style of the film would be “28 Days Later”, ie: it’s not ten years after some event, whatever has happened, it’s recent, and much of the world is dead.  That’s about all I can say without giving away too much (and honestly one of the only similarities to “28 Days Later” that my film has, other than having a number in the title… just realized that, lol). It does still fit into that “post-apocalyptic, thriller, horror” genre, but my hope is to create a new take on it, and I’m pretty confident you’ll be happy with the results. :)

So, back to it here: The Location Scouting process actually started long before I ever flew in to town, several months before actually.  We sent a general list of locations and descriptions needed for the film to our local Location Manager (as well as the regional Film Commission) to help in initial searching for locations, they then did some digging on their own and began sending me back several hundred photos of various locations throughout the region which may fit the descriptions I’m looking for (as stated in the script).  The general concept being that the locations that looked closest to what I have in mind for the film we would visit while I was in town and see if any of them are “winners”.  The trick here is that we’re looking for a LOT of things when doing scouting, first and foremost the location has to have the “look” I’m going for, but beyond that it has to have the specific elements we need to make the movie work logistically. IE: we need a specific building on a specific street for a specific sequence, all those elements need to fall into place at once, it’s not just the look, it’s having all the right pieces the scene calls for all at the one place (or the ability for us to bring in the lacking pieces).

Here’s another huge “logistics” example that we’ve been running into problems with: For one of the huge climactic scenes in the film, we’ll have to shut down three full city-blocks for several days. Now, this wouldn’t be much of an issue on a backlot, but for us filming on public roads in a real working city, with local businesses, shops, bars & restaurants, lining the sides of the streets, it can get VERY complicated, you can’t just tell them that their stores have to stay closed for a week. At this stage, re-routing traffic for a week from like 5 main cross-streets is the easy part. Between that, working out logistics with using live weapons, stunts, and effects on public  (downtown city) streets,  needing to have an additional full block(s) closed off in different days over a month’s time just for base-camp/production trucks/trailers etc downtown… I think you’re starting to get the picture.

All that said though, we had a wonderful meeting with Cincinnati city officials about that (and our many other production needs) and they have been extremely supportive in helping us accomplish our goals with the least direct-impact on daily life for the city-dwelling public. They offered some great options in more easily workable parts of the city, and are backing the production all the way. Fear not Cincinnatians, your city officials are good people working hard to keep everyone happy!  I really was quite impressed by that meeting, and want to thank each of them for their wonderful past and continued support as we move forward with the production this fall. This is yet another reason we choose Cincinnati over many other cities that we considered, they are just more open to working with productions because they don’t have them as frequently.

That said, without giving away too much about specific locations or more story concepts, we got some wonderful ideas for locations and saw tons of interesting options. We still have a long way to go on selecting all our finals and locking them down, but all in all, I’d say it was a pretty successful, albeit insanely-packed trip.

Thanks again to everyone who made the trip possible and successful! I’m looking forward to being back in a couple short weeks/months with a whole production behind me!

40M: Official Facebook Page…

We have added an official page on Facebook where you can get regular updates on the production of “40 Miles”. I’ll be continuing to post my extended/detailed updates here on my blog as things progress, but for brief “up to the minute” updates from both myself, cast and crew of the film, make sure you follow (like) it on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/pages/40-MILES/