Thursday, April 30, 2009

Best Laid Plans: Milestone Part 3

Every writer says to write what they know. So this past year or so, that’s what I’ve been trying to do. Writing about what I know has certainly brought on Best Laid Plans, for example. It’s brought on my first effort at a novel and it also brought on Milestone. While the circumstances surrounding the plot in Milestone are certainly not autobiographical, the emotional place the story lives in is. So then, the question becomes, how do I direct a story that comes from such a familiar emotional place? Truth is, I had no idea.

In watching Becky's and Brian's audition, I realized that it was so helpful to see great actors interpret the script in their own personal way. They brought certain moments and ideas to their performance that struck me as both interesting and different. So while I was entering territory I’d never really been in before with regard to directing a film, the one thing I did know was that I wanted to hear from the actors. I wanted their ideas and thoughts about who they were playing. This could not only broaden the story in that three heads are better than one, but it could also move me further away personally from the story – which I thought was vital. Nobody wants a director that is too tied in emotionally to a story that they can’t see the forest for the trees, so talking to them – getting their point of view was amazingly helpful.

Rehearsals were a blast. Brian and Becky were so much fun to work with and I got lucky in that they were open to any and all ideas. Whenever you’re trying something new – and even sometimes when you’re doing something you’ve done a thousand times before, you’re always waiting for someone to call you out as a fraud. You’re always anticipating that someone will tell you that you don’t know what you’re doing. Thankfully, both Becky and Brian never looked at me sideways, never called me out as a first-time writer/director and always added on to my proposals. I realized I loved directing and the push and pull of knowing when to throw your two cents in and when to let the actors run with it.

I know that some film directors do very little rehearsal, but for me it was essential. Playing a new role on set meant that I wouldn't have the space in my wee brain to really give the actors my full attention once shooting began. I didn't want to be in the position of debating moments on set while the rest of the crew was waiting around. I knew that ideas would still be percolating but I wanted to make sure the actors had a solid foundation to work from (and me too for that matter). Although I can't speak for them, I think the actors were pretty keen on the rehearsal process as well - or - being good actors, they surely hid it very well! By the time the production dates approached, I felt pretty damn good about the performances and could make room in the 'ol noggin for everything else I needed to be thinking about... like say... the shot list.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Best Laid Plans: Milestone Part 2

Of the two characters in the movie, I assumed that finding Billy would be more difficult than finding Denise. I know a number of great actresses in the city and knew that any number of them could take a bite out of the role. However, with great actresses giving their all to a role, you quickly realize that what it comes down to are small details. How did Alicia and I see Denise? What kind of vibe did she have? Should she come off as a professional? As a giddy woman doing something she’s never down before? As a ball of nerves? Tightly wound? All of these things? In terms of physical appearance, I saw a huge range of people – all different sizes, shapes and look. Alicia and I had agreed that Denise, above all, needed to look like an every-woman. She needed to be someone that we could all recognize. So again, we were back to just needing a great actress.

Decisions, decisions...

When Becky White read for the role, she was in San Francisco doing a play. I always feel it’s a disadvantage to see someone on tape when you’re seeing everyone else in person, but regardless, I had asked her to read for Denise and she had expressed interest in the role. Part of what I had appreciated about Becky’s audition was the amount of work she had clearly put into it beforehand. There is nothing more satisfying as a writer/director than seeing that a person has put a lot of energy into their audition. It gives the sense that the project will matter just as much to the actor as it does to you. And Becky definitely gave us that sense. Beyond that, casting Becky was a lesson for me in terms of learning about the nuances in the casting process. When you see a number of great actresses, it may just simply come down to a person’s energy or some small detail that they brought to their audition that catches your eye. It wasn’t that anyone else was bad or wrong, quite the opposite actually, it was just this indescribable nuance that we saw in her.

So the casting process was finished. I had my Billy and now I had my Denise.

On to rehearsals.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Best Laid Plans: Milestone

Finding Billy.

How about this order at a drive-thru window: I'd like a male prostitute between the ages of 25 and 30, with a great body and more specifically, a six-pack; who is not a street thug, but more like a sensitive, high-priced escort who can give you the best sex you've ever had? And can I have fries with that?

When one writes a short film that includes a man with a six-pack, it means that when the director has to cast said man, they have to ensure that said actor has said six-pack. Needless to say, I had girlfriends offering to volunteer for the casting session to help me make such a difficult decision.

I've helped On the Leesh cast stuff before but, while we may have been seeking actors with a certain look, we've never had such a specific body requirement as this story called for; and I was never the director. So beyond making sure that they had the physical requirements of the role, I had to make sure that they were also able to make the emotional connection to the part.

Obviously, I'm usually on the side of the actor. Going into auditions and getting notes from the director and/or casting director and trying to suss out what they wanted. With me on the other side of the table, I wanted to make sure that I was clear in what I said; that my notes made sense. That I wasn't putting any actors in the confused position I've occasionally found myself in when getting a note. I was incredibly nervous, actually. I wanted an actor that came in and seemed to be in the same ballpark as how I'd heard the role in my head, but was also able to change it up if necessary. And I knew that I needed to give myself room for error, so I also wanted an actor who would be able to bring their own ideas to the table as well. And I needed the actor to work for no pay.

Hmmmmm... tall order.

Half-way through the auditions, in walked Brian Patacca, an actor On the Leesh knows quite well since he's a regular on one of our webseries, The In-Betweens of Holly Malone. He had seen the ad for the audition and asked if he could read for the role of Billy. Now, just to be clear, we saw a lot of guys that day. We were sent A LOT of headshots. Apparently, there is an abundant amount of six-pack-having male actors in NYC. Who knew? So we saw a number of guys who gave great auditions, but Brian walked in and nailed it. For me, it was like the directing gods were giving a little gift to the newbie. He made me interested in the character in a new way. We called him that night and he accepted the role.

We had our Billy. We were half-way there in this two-person story.

All that's left was finding Denise...

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Best Laid Plans - Introducing Milestone (Part 19)

Like most adventures, coming home from Ghana felt a little... Well... Anticlimatic. I had an amazing time but needless to say the week flew by and it seemed suddenly Joe and I were back on the plane (where we were sanitized) and heading home. Once we got back, I gave everyone their gifts and then Joe left the project and I was left with this footage thinking – what do I do now? Things didn’t feel over. It seemed like it was part of a larger story. What is this life I’m leading now? What does it look like? The trip to Africa felt like just a part of it rather than the total IT. Everyone around me was either very seriously attached, married and/or starting a family of their own. I couldn’t see my life in theirs anymore and Africa didn’t change any of that (of course). It’s not that I necessarily expected it to, but after it was over I felt like it was more of an inauguraul entry into a new life rather than the culmination of something. Like it or not, my life isn’t going to be filled with coming home to a husband or partner. It’s not about sleepless nights with a crying baby. So what is it? The question again comes back to – what is my Plan B?

The answer is: Adventure.

A couple of months back from Ghana, I had an idea. A short comedy about a woman who’s friends go to extreme measures to help her get over her husband leaving. It was about 10 pages long and just launched out of me onto the page. When it was finished, I gave it to Alicia to see what she thought. The next thing I know, we’re talking about adding it to the On the Leesh roster of projects and she’s asking me if I have any interest in directing. Me, direct? I’ve never directed a film before. I always looked at having someone else direct my words as it being a safety net for the script. Writer/directors don’t always have the ability to see the forest for the trees when something isn’t working – and I greatly feared that. But isn’t that what this year is about – doing things I fear?

Suddenly, part 2 of my story was becoming clear.

Here we go... I was going to direct a film! And so... I introduce you to “Milestone”.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Best Laid Plans (Part 18)

Voodoo (Part 2)

So there I am in a hut with my fellow traveler, Jodee and two women from the voodoo village. They’re helping us take our shirts and shoes off. Yep, shirts were coming off. Honestly, beyond my initial surprise at the priest’s request, the first thing that came to mind was ‘why in the hell did I wear the fartiest bra in the world that day’. Oh well...
After Jodee and I took our shirts off, the very gentle women then wrapped us in white sheets. So there we stood, wrapped and ready for the church. The Voodoo priest told the group that appropriate attire whilst in the church did not include shoes or a shirt. So while the men just disrobed out outside, Jodee and I were taken to a more private area.

Then we were ready.

Our group was escorted into the church. I didn’t know what to expect in there – I didn’t know just how ill the people would be and what sort of ceremonies would take place. It also wasn’t a church in the way that I knew them. It didn’t have tall ceilings, it didn’t have a steeple, or pews, but it was an honored, though makeshift space. The benches were in an L shape and the priest and his assistant sat in chairs at the front. Our group filed in and sat down on the nearest benches and, after a hello from the parishioners, the music began. It was loud and beautiful and heartfelt. I don’t know what I had anticipated I’d feel when I went into that church, but it was not this. It was like the rest of the world closed down and there was only this space with these people. The music and the singing was amazingly engaging and then, two-by-two, people got up and danced toward the priest. This was a celebration and nobody seemed ill at all. It was like they were all borrowing energy from each other and were moved to move. Clearly, what I don’t know about voodoo is a lot.

Robert and Richard turned to me again to see if I wanted to say something to the priest about my heartbreak. I couldn’t do it. First of all, I’m sure that all of these people had way bigger issues that required his attention and secondly, I didn’t want anything to invade this experience.

So here’s my advice... If you ever have the opportunity to go to a voodoo village in Ghana, do it.