Tag Archives: Vanessa Burns

Hey Chica…. Meet the Manu Meme

Hey Chica...

To heck with Ryan Gosling and his faux feminist meme – all sensitive and ready to take action in defence of women. We know the darkness that lurks in the heart of Ryan. We saw Drive. As our own humble contribution to the cause of filmmaking, women’s rights, humour and other noble stuff that we can’t think of right now but that we know it’s important to support, we are disrupting the Ryan Gosling meme with our own series of Brand New You memes. We have the Manu Meme, the Freya Freme, the Clinton Cleme and the Vanessa Veme. We may even throw in some other _emes if we need to. It’s the shock and awe version of memifying goodness. We’re gonna bring the whole Hollywood star machine to its knees!

 

Feel free to change the caption for our memes, by the way. And, of course, pass it on!

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Day 12: Taking On The Final Challenges

Photos by SHARON MENDONCA

BY SHAWN WHITNEY

There were moments in the last 12 days that I didn’t think I’d make it, to be honest. Around day 6 and day 7 I was hitting a wall of exhaustion and I heard a voice in my head tell me that I couldn’t do another 6 days, then another 5 days, then another 4. Each day it got a little quieter and by the time we only had 3 days I left I knew for certain that I (and we) would make it.

However, it was clear on the morning of our 12th day that most people were pretty thoroughly exhausted. Sometimes, when the end it closest, that is when the struggle through those final hours becomes hardest. People were showing up 15 minutes late, we were bumbling around, unable to get the first shot off. It wasn’t clear what our first scene of the day was – after we had rearranged things the night before to pick-up some scenes that were missed. Santiago arrived upstairs for the first shot in the wrong wardrobe and had to change and be re-mic’ed for sound by Zoe, which took an additional 15 minutes. By the time we took our first shot we were 90 minutes behind schedule – and Alex, our DP, was in the foulest mood I’d seen him in during the entire shoot. It felt like a gargantuan effort just to restore focus.

But – like we had done so many times before – we did refocus. And by the time lunch rolled around we had made up all of our lost time. We went into the afternoon entirely caught up with where we were meant to be and we’d even banged off a very short scene that we’d thought we were going to have to drop. With that momentum we went into the afternoon feeling positive about what we could pull off.

We didn’t take account of traffic. Murray (Clinton Lee Pontes) was traveling to set from the other side of the city and got caught in the mother of all traffic jams. It took him 2.5 hours to arrive, making him about an hour late. Again, we were scrambling. We shot what we could without him and made contingency plans for other scenes we might shoot – though we were really setting up to shoot stuff that we’d already decided to ditch. But then Clinton finally burst through the door just as we were finishing off the last of the non-Murray scenes. We quickly re-jigged our plans and not only caught up again, we shot a scene that we had cut (but which was a contentious decision because it’s a lovely, if secondary, scene) and we reshot another scene that I had been unhappy with.

It was as though the universe threw at us one final series of tests and we managed to pass all of them, finishing the day and our entire slate of scenes. It’s true that we dropped some scenes along the way – mostly just a few transitions from place to place that were unnecessary – but nothing critical got lost. Was this really possible? Did we really just shoot a feature film in 12 days? We never went beyond 10 hour days for crew and 8 hour days for cast. We managed to work in a concert scene with an awesome local indie band. And we shot a “sex scene” that didn’t make me cringe and was actually quite cute and touching. In 12 days.

I don’t know yet what our final budget will be: Dagny Thomson, our production manager, is crunching the numbers and they will change as we sell some of our gear. But my guess is that we came in below $20,000. Perhaps substantially. Nor did we go into overtime on any of our days, which ACTRA was so convinced we would do that they insisted we demonstrate the ability to cover such overtime with money in our bank account. Of course that’s not a “real” $20,000 (or whatever the number ends up being). The real number ought to include the actual value of the labour that was contributed by the entire crew. It we had paid everyone what they ought to have been paid, the budget would have been closer to $90,000-$100,000 (that’s my guess). That’s still a microbudget by definition but a rather more expensive one to personally finance, as this film has been.

At the end of the day most of us went out to a local restaurant/bar and celebrated our heroic achievement (which explains why this entry was so slow to be written) – for most of us our first feature film. People toasted and celebrated the hard work that they’d done and the awesome work, I must say. Cast and crew really felt a part of something bigger than themselves and gave an incredible amount of themselves to that artistic vision. That contribution is still a wonder to me and for it I feel a profound sense of gratitude. A Brand New You wouldn’t have been possible without them. And, as if an omen of something wonderful being born, my co-director (and wife) Kathryn Palmateer became pregnant in the weeks leading up to the production and another crew member became pregnant during the production itself.

Finally, a very special shout out to David Halls. I’ve known Dave for 5 years since I was accepted into the writers residency program at the Canadian Film Centre. He attended the year before and was asked to meet with me and talk about what I ought to expect at the CFC, etc. It’s a sort of mentoring approach that the CFC takes with new residents. We’ve kept in touch on and off over the last five years but not been close. He read an earlier post about the challenges of childcare during the shoot and offered to babysit our daughter, Bea, on the final day of the shoot when we had run out of childcare options. Because he did this both Kathryn and I were able to be on the set for the last day when we’d come to the conclusion that one of us would have to spend the day with Bea. Bea also seems to have fallen in love with “Davey” and has been asking when she will get to see him again. She was very excited to show us the wind-up sushi that Dave gave to her. Thanks, Dave!

Dru Soo and her niece and nephew also showed up on the last day to help out as PAs and to be generally awesome and supportive. Dru has a youtube channel here of some funny stuff that you can check out.

Now comes the post-production process – editing, mixing, correcting, rearranging, scoring, and all the rest of it. It is a slower process, taking place probably over the next 4-6 months but we will keep you abreast of that process, if on a less frequent and intense basis than the last 12 days of madness. I hope you’ll continue on that journey with us.

– Shawn

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Day 11: Actors Save Directors’ Asses

Photos by SHARON MENDONCA

BY SHAWN WHITNEY

Let me just say this: Boy am I glad that we have such good actors. There are the obvious reasons why that you don’t have to make a movie to understand: you want the performance that appears on screen to be good (with “good” usually meaning naturalistic, as though they aren’t acting). But when you’re making a film you’re thinking about it on a few more levels. You want the actors to be able not only provide a compelling delivery of their lines and actions but also to be able to repeat that over multiple takes (like saying the same line at the same point in the room that they are walking across), take directions and provide alternative performances (angry vs sad, for instance) – just to name a few things that actors must keep in mind.

As a director, you are also juggling multiple, competing demands in order to get the film made during production – what should the actor wear; how is their make-up and hair to be done; what shots do you want and which ones can you sacrifice if time runs out; which scenes do you absolutely have to have and which can you lose. And you also need to know what performances you want from your actors, including alternatives. Let me just confess something at this point. Kathryn and I did a detailed, scene-by-scene shot list before we went to camera. But we hadn’t done a detailed plot of each scene in terms of the different potential emotional arcs within the scene in order to get different performances so that we would have a variety to choose from in the editing room. For one thing, as co-producers as well as co-directors, who were doing this part-time when we weren’t working at our own jobs and a being parents, we didn’t have time. But it also reflects the fact that we didn’t make it enough of a priority. Our bad.

However, to redeem us: we have spent every morning before we go to camera mapping out different potential performances that we hoped to get from our actors and how those alternatives relate to the tone of the film and the arc of the characters in question. And we know the script very well – I wrote it and Kathryn, along with the talented Larisa Gutmanis, story edited the script over the course of more than a year. We are very familiar with the emotional arcs of the characters. And we’ve done pretty well.

All that is back story to today. Today we had a 7:00am call time but Bea’s caregiver didn’t arrive till 8:30am. And we slept in till 7:00am and were rushing around trying to get Bea fed and ready to go as the crew were bustling and setting up the first shot. Chaos? Yes. I focused on Bea and Kathryn focused on getting the production moving, dealing with outstanding details, etc. But it meant that we didn’t have a chance to map out the performances we wanted to get from our actors.

And then it was hot. Oh yes. Very hot. I’m not sure how many towels we went through drying off Manuel’s face but there were a lot of them. And exhausted. It was day 11 in a row. Exhausted, hot and harried are not an awesome combination. You could see that it wasn’t just Kathryn and I who were suffering from this combined assault on our focus. Generally speaking we’ve had three or four takes per shot, rarely more than that and often less. Today we usually had at least four and often had five or six takes. We were struggling to get what we needed and the actors were struggling not to pass out. Lesser mortals would have simply collapsed.

I have no doubt that if we’d had a more detailed emotional map for the characters we would have gotten more variety in performance from the actors. No doubt. But, to return where I started, that’s why I’m relieved that we got professional, solid talent. Even when Kathryn and I lose focus, the actors are able to pull off solid performances. Some say that 8/10’s of directing takes place in the hiring and casting process. Today I was glad that we hired/cast the right people.

Perhaps the most important thing to say about today is that it was the second to last day! Tomorrow we wrap – unbelievable. When we wrapped for the day today Mark A. Brown – our main script continuity (with a noble assist by Tica Simmons on Monday & Tuesday) – went through our shooting schedule and compared it to his script to make sure that we hadn’t missed any scenes. We had and we will have to pick those up tomorrow. How did this happen? The main reason is that the script changed days before we went to camera. What’s more, poor Elinor was stuck trying to schedule the shoot with Excel, instead of proper scheduling software. Here’s a tip while we’re on the subject (in case I haven’t mentioned it before): don’t scrimp on scheduling software – it’s worth the $600 or so to give your 1st AD the right tools. Scheduling can make or break your microbudget film shoot and a feature film has a lot of scenes to coordinate with different characters, times of day, locations, etc. ABNY, for instance, has about 110 scenes and 9 characters in total. Juggling all the details is like doing an eight sided Rubik’s Cube. We were frankly lucky that Elinor was so awesome and patient.

In the end it wasn’t a huge deal but it meant we had to lose a couple of transition scenes (an actor traveling from point A to point B), creatively merge a couple of others (Kathryn still hasn’t quite surrendered the “bathtub scene” that I think we can lose) and we will move two scenes to different locations in the house so that we don’t have to dress more than two sets tomorrow. It means we will have a heavy day tomorrow but it will be a do-able one. And then… no, it ain’t over. We might not even be over production – we may discover in the process of editing the footage that we don’t have a shot or a scene that we need. Then we’ll have to shoot a pick-up day(s) to get what we need. I’m hoping that doesn’t happen. Things have gone so freakishly smooth up till now, I’m hoping that it hasn’t all been an hallucination and that the magic that we’ve been feeling is more than just a general vibe. I’m hoping that it is reflected in what we got on film, er, SD card.

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Day 8: Rocket Fuel, Tone & Improvisation

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Photos by Sharon Mendonca

BY SHAWN WHITNEY It seems like the doldrums of humpday (or the hangover of a couple of days ago) have passed. While I felt tired today (and drank a significant amount of coffee) I also felt a burst of renewed energy and enthusiasm. I think that many of the crew and cast felt the same way – or maybe I’m projecting. But the proof is in the pudding or in the eating of the pudding. There’s pudding involved anyway.

We spent the day on location at Lula Lounge, where we shot five different scenes. I should say that Lula is an awesome place and a real hub of arts & culture in the city. I worked there for five years, along with my co-director and partner, Kathryn Palmateer – and many of our cast and crew still work there. In addition to her, Celeste, our key make-up and hair, is a bartender at Lula. Manuel, who plays Santiago, bartends part-time at Lula. Two of the kitchen staff helped prepare food for our shoot on a couple of days. Clinton Pontes, who plays Murray, bartends part-time at Lula. Kathryn and I met Dagny, our production manager, at Lula many years ago through a mutual friend (and former employee). Over the years we’ve organized events at Lula, shows, shot films and Kathryn and I even got married there (yes, we’re the kind of people who have their wedding ceremony in a bar). One of the owners, Jose Nieves, is a good and dear friend of ours and also is our real estate agent. He helped us get the house we live in now (and tomorrow we’re shooting some exteriors at his warehouse building near Lula).

As you can see, Lula has been a rather important part of our lives, our family and our community. We were very happy to be able to include it in the film. Perhaps it was that Lula artistic energy that gave us a boost or perhaps it was the fact that we are well and truly past the halfway point but we managed to not only get much more coverage than we had scheduled, we also were able to shoot an extra scene that was scheduled for tomorrow. We are now about three pages ahead of where we expected to be by this point! It means that there is a good chance we will be able to use tomorrow to get further ahead since it was already a light day and we’ve eliminated one location move that was planned for tomorrow.

My hope is that we are getting ourselves in a position that we can sit down on Wednesday or Thursday evening and decide which scenes we’d like to reshoot or add some pick-up shots to scenes that we didn’t feel we covered sufficiently because we were worried about getting our day. This is still not inevitable and will mean pushing through another day or two at a good clip but it feels like an enviable place to be. Fingers crossed!

I’ve also been thinking a lot about tone and improvisation as the shoot has progressed. I think that probably every single day I have an anxiety attack that we’re not getting a consistent tone to establish what kind of film that it is. ABNY has a lot of comedic moments. But it also has a lot of dramatic moments – after all, it is about a guy whose wife died and whom he is desperate to revive in some way. Can you have ribald comedy and tear-jerking moments side by side? After all, having a consistent tone is supposed to be one of the alphas and omegas of filmmaking and it’s not something I’m very good at – even in my writing, even though I’m much more experienced as a writer than I am at directing. My tonic to calm my nerves has been to think about the films of Alexander Payne (and even Wes Anderson to some extent). What do you call a film like Sideways or The Descendants? By and large The Descendants has a dramatic tone – and yet the friend of Clooney’s daughter and his father-in-law in the film are clearly comedic characters who put in clownish turns. Sideways had me splitting a gut but there was also a sweet love story and some serious drama embedded within it. Or how about 50/50, about a young guy who gets cancer and only has a 50% chance of surviving it. I cried when I watched it – but I laughed at the clownish behaviour of Seth Rogan. Or how about the mixed-genre/hybrid tone films of Tom McCarthy, like Win Win or The Station Agent? Does genre and tonal consistency even matter anymore? I have no answer here. Any thoughts?

This also relates to improvisation. Clinton, who plays Murray, is a strong improviser (which is a smarty-pants way of saying that he can come up with deeply offensive one-liners on command, as befits Murray’s character) and, I believe, he has had comedy training at Second City. His improv lines have encouraged us to try more improvisation in order to discover comedy potentials that aren’t fully realized in the script. But improv isn’t easy and not every actor is an improviser. It’s also important to give actors a structure around which they can improvise. Today, while we were shooting a scene there was a line that just wasn’t playing and we jammed out a basic idea for a new line to replace it. Having that structure gave the actor something to work with and she was able to develop a very funny line after we ran the section of the scene over and over and tried different variations. Later, when we tried to improvise without any structure, just encouragement, we were less successful and ended up going with the original conceit as it was written. There is alos the danger of getting stuff that you don’t want or that is tonally incorrect (there’s that tone thing again). This is not at all a criticism (I am the writer after all – and if there is comedy lacking in the script that’s my fault), just an observation about different methods for getting performance in collaboration with an actor.

Wish us luck tomorrow! Only four days left.

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Day 5: By Our Hands & Teeth

Photos by Sharon Mendonca

BY SHAWN WHITNEY

When you have a lot of money to make a movie – and by a lot of money I mean hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars, you can construct realities as you see fit. You can hire exactly the people you want when you want them and get them to do what you want. You can hire crew with tens of years of experience and you can pay for extras, musicians, special effects supervisors, and even stock video imagery as you see fit to meet the demands of your film. But if you don’t have the money everything becomes a challenge, most especially getting all the shots you need to “make your day.” You must rely upon the enthusiasm of your cast and crew, the kindness of strangers and the occasional “happy accident.”

Let me provide a couple of examples.

Our story involves a cloning procedure. I searched far and wide for a video of the process whereby nuclear material was transferred from one egg cell to another, like when they made Dolly the sheep (more or less). You can see how we might be interested in this. After an extensive search, I found on Getty Images (a stock photography and video company) and the BBC (which also sells stock footage) the images we needed to use as inserts. Trouble is that to get those inserts – literally five seconds of footage – was going to cost us about three grand. Three grand for five seconds of footage times three different shots. That equals almost our entire budget to pay for professional cast. It’s not only outrageous because we can’t pay that much. It’s also outrageous that five seconds of video footage ought to cost that much.

Luckily we found a pair of video owners who were willing to give us that footage for nothing more than a credit. I’ll come to the utrasound footage of an egg extraction in the future, if we use it. But for the cloning footage we received the kind (and free) permission of Dr. Michele Boiani, a German scientist from Berlin, to use his footage of the transfer of nuclear material (ie. DNA) into an egg. We hope to interview Professor Boiani in the future about his work but in the meantime he has saved us a lot of money to add some texture to our story. We used that footage yesterday so it was on my mind.

Just as significantly yesterday was the bonus that visited us in the form of a hassle.

We discovered about a week ago that we were shooting our film in our house at the same time as our neighbours were planning a backyard concert as part of NXNW known as the SOFAR (an acronym for Sounds From A Room.). As Natasha Pasternak of Hands & Teeth announced, SOFAR is a movement to have concerts in residences (backyards, living rooms, etc) as an alternative to expensive and alcohol laden club concerts (not that I object to being alcohol laden from time to time). At first, the coincidence of this event seemed like a huge disaster – with their concert interfering with our ability to get sound on our shoot – but we moved our shoot an hour earlier to six am and Natasha moved their concert an hour later to accommodate us. In the conversation that ensued, we decided to film Hands & Teeth’s set with a scene involving Laura and Santiago digging the performance by Hands & Teeth. It was awesome and has added some musical texture to our story. Who can say no to that? Thanks, Natasha!

This was an example of turning a tough story element into a positive one. We shot the band with Zoe Mapp, our sound recordist, picking up as much as she could from the band’s mixing board to provide a guide track that we will be able to lay over a musical track from the band’s CD during post production. And Alex and Sue – our temporary cam operator while Gayle & Reece are away (see the photo gallery) – made sure to get lots of coverage of Santiago, and Laura dancing and playing. It was some awesome stuff.

The actors were again awesome and we were excited to have Vanessa Burns, our Natalie, for the first day. She faced the challenge of an unexpectedly long process of putting on fake tattoos and was then thrown into a very heavy scene in a cramped washroom with our Laura. She shone as Laura barfed with enough convincing sounds to make everyone else on set gag (and enough of a convincing look thanks to April’s rice, cooked vegggie and pureed carrots recipe – ugh). Alex filmed it all as he, Zoe and Kathryn huddled in our bathtub to get the shot. We’re looking forward to looking at the footage tomorrow that we got today. Kudos also go to Freya for “throwing up”, not once, not twice but at least a dozen times in two different locations.

June 16 Sofar Concert w Hands & Teeth from Shawn Whitney on Vimeo.

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Filed under About BNY, Micro budget, Production Diary, Science Fiction