Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Halfway through...

On Saturday one of our two lead actors, Alessandro, woke up with a throat infection. The two words a producer loves to hear: "throat infection." This happens on the day Ethel Lung, our actress from LA playing "Lauren", is supposed to fly in for 3 days only and perform in a 15-page scene with Adam and Alessandro!

DECISION TIME: As producer, I am faced with the difficult decisions occasionally: "What are we having for lunch?" "Can we have more lightbulbs?" "Does this make me look fat?" These decisions don't come easy, and many times I defer to those around me. I mean, what does it matter what we have for lunch, as long as it's not fast food and it's fairly healthy? There are times, however, where the questions are more important, and I believe in those times I will always make the right decision if I follow two simple rules:

1) What is best for the film?
2) Can we afford that option?

I know it SEEMS straight forward, but it's all too easy to plow ahead and try to shoot, even though the actor isn't in tip-top shape. So, what I came up with was that we would not use Alessandro for 3 days and pray that his voice and health got better. We shot out everything having to do with Ethel that didn't require Alessandro, and bought a plane ticket for her to fly back this coming weekend. Moving the schedule to accomodate was the most difficult part, as we had to reschedule 2 locations that we didn't own,but all in all, I believe this has saved us from having a crappy performance in the film.

After all, what's the point of producing if you're going to make decisions that harm the quality of the project?

OK, so it's been a while, so I'll recap here:

Day 7 we shot everything we could with Ethel and Adam, including a gorgeous night scene. Thanks to James and Loretta for the use of their vehicles!

Here are pics from days 8-10:

Cheers y'all!


Friday, September 22, 2006

End of Week One!!!!!

And this is how movies are made! End of week one, two to go. Life is good... so far.

Yesterday was the end of week one, and we celebrated by having 2 PINTS last night at The Dubliner on Lower Greenville and then going home and passing out from sheer exhaustion. Today we tied up a lot of loose ends from last week, and prepped for the upcoming week, mostly boring things like picking up a TV from Fry's, getting more craft services, returning the arcade game, scooter and pickup truck, etc. We're using the tried-and-true "Fry's Rental" on this movie, where we purchase a high-dollar item for a few weeks to shoot in the film, and then return it. Viola, one free flat-screen TV for the film! BTW, Fry's has an excellent return policy: as long as you don't break it, they'll take it back within 30-days and usually don't charge any sort of re-stocking fee!

Anyway, the past two days were spectacular. It's getting a bit repetitive, always having good news, but the film is going quite well! (On a side note, my last feature "Bloodshed" just got picked up by Hollywood Video and Movie Gallery for DVD release November 21!)

Day 5 and 6 concentrated on the character "Mark," played by Chuck Blaum. He's a handsome man, but I'm afraid I don't have any pictures of him right now, as our set photographer was not around for the past 2 days. We're definitely gonna get him when he returns next week!

What a total bummer that we don't have a full-time set photographer. I feel like we missed some iconic imagery when we had the scooter. No shots of the characters riding it at all. Ugh. Things move so quickly, if there's not someone specifically doing that job, we won't remember to do it. Damn. I guess that can be a separate photo shoot if needed.

There was one shot that will end up being quite spectacular, where the garage door rises, spilling light onto Mark's red classic Vespa scooter. Oh man, it's gorgeous, simply STUNNING!

I guess there's not much to say. Week 2 starts tomorrow, and we have a still photographer on set both Saturday and Sunday. I'll be sure to post some tomorrow night!



Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Days 3 and 4

Yen Tan between takes.

Well! It's been quite spectacular... no compromises! Seriously, Yen has been completely blown away by everything, and we're making our days now. The crew has totally gotten into sync now, and everyone has a hand in making this picture truly great! I think yesterday was the wakeup call we needed.

Basically, we landed at Club Nikita on time, and all the gear was offloaded in record time. But then several departments started dropping the ball, and all of a sudden we were 3 hours in and not a shot off yet. But James and I put our heads together and we pushed though, getting every shot and completely wrapping out of the location at 4:59pm. Yes, you guessed it: we had to be out by 5.

Well, what would YOU do if you had a temp of 103?

I guess James is supposed to be some sort of intimidating guy. I'll tell you this: today he intimidated TIME and SPACE, kicking it into high gear to get us through the day without one missed shot, despite a fever of 103! Damn. THAT'S dedication. I love ya buddy, get well.

"Jeff" visits his dead friend's parents shortly after the accident.

The scenes between Jeff and Mark's parents, Larry and Margaret, went pretty well up until the final setup. It was a wide three-shot of Jeff eating lunch with Larry and Margaret at the dinner table. No dialogue. Seems easy enough, but we ran into a situation where the DP started to light the scene one way, and then the frame was changed by the director in mid-light. In an effort to get us out on time, Michael tried to tweak the setup already in place, and 45 minutes later we were all frustrated. The general consensus was to just shoot it because we didn't have the time to spare. After all, it was 1:30pm already, and we were scheduled to wrap out by 2.

But,"Just Shoot It" sounded like a compromise to me, and so far we have made no compromises.

I had already asked the location owner, Stephanie, for another hour, which she was happy to give, so, knowing we had breathing room, I pulled Michael aside and we just discussed the issues at play and what needed to happen to get the shot. I asked him to re-think the setup, and gave him the time and freedom to completely re-light the scene from the ground up.

Rarely on an indie film are you in a position to relight a scene from scratch, and this is a great example of why I have pushed for an 18-day schedule from the get-go. 18-days for a film of this size is perfect! We can schedule 8-hour days, and if they go long we're only talking about a 10 or 11-hour day. So, it buys us some breathing room to tackle problems when they come up. Both yesterday and today we got out in 9.5 hours, even with all of the delays and problems.

So, I cleared the set, apologized to the actors and Michael relit the set. And in only 25 minutes, the shot was completely transformed! I'm serious, it was like he went in and just took an entirely different approach and NAILED IT! We walked away from that day truly happy.

And that's all I'm here for: to make sure Yen and Michael have the time and tools to do what they need to do to make their perfect film. If that happens, I'm on top of the world. Literally.

Michael Victor Roy - He's the Man of the Hour.

More to come. I'll let you all know how the scooter scenes go - they're tomorrow!



(Write a comment if you want! I like feedback. Do you want more details of the day-to-day? Set drama? Logistics? Pictures? I'll make it happen! -Jim)

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Ciao - DAY 1 & 2

Alessandro Calza as "Andrea."

We completed Day 1 with a few complications, but by the end of the day we were rockin-and-rollin'. Day 2 went wonderfully. Literally, we have made ZERO compromises up to this point, and if all goes well, I think I've planned this out to be that way throughout. It's obvious once one realizes that the big boys play by those rules: "Take the time to get it right." We tweak lights and run takes until the scene is DYNAMITE.

Adam Neal Smith ("Jeff") and Calza visit their friend's grave.

And it is INCREDIBLY HELPFUL to have David, our editor, on set cutting the footage togther as we shoot! We had 2 different continuity questions in regard to blocking on Day 1, and were able to shoot the rehearsal and cut it into the previous shot to ensure that everything was working. (I have suspicions that directors will lean on this "crutch" too much in the future, but think of how helpful this will be when filming action!)

Director Yen Tan watches over DP Michael Victor Roy's shoulder as he composes the shot in the cemetery.

We stole the cemetery yesterday morning wth no problems! In the 45 minutes we were there not one person came anywhere near us. (Which means I didn't have to use the "Dead Grandfather's Purple Heart" story, bless his soul.) The scene looks tremendous - Michelle has been on set taking digital stills, which you can see on this page.

This brings up a good point: it was extremely frustrating when I finished "Bloodshed" and realized I didn't have any production stills. Distributors require no less than 50 stills, and as an independent producer, it just makes sense to have those magic moments available for promotion.


There are sooooooo many magic moments even now. I am super sleepy and sorry I didn't write yesterday, but I promise to write daily from now on. OH, did I mention that they FINALLY gave us permission to shoot the airport scene!?!?! YES!!!! The "money shot" has been approved.


Friday, September 15, 2006


We scouted the cemetery, got the grip truck, picked up grip, camera and lighting, filled out crew releases, had a production meeting, had a final creative meeting, got craft services, and now I have washed my face and brushed my teeth.

My alarm is set for 6am.

Here we go.

1... DAY... TO... GO...

Well, if I'm lucky, I think I only MINORLY fucked this shoot up. Basically, there were a lot of little things that I should have done differently, like... oh, maybe finalizing the grip & electric gear earlier than the DAY BEFORE WE PICK IT UP. I was holding out to see if we got any more responses for financing. (Which we did... Thanks Kiet!) Unfortunately, I held out a bit too long, and now they don't have any grip and lighting gear. What one would do - if they had a larger budget - is get a short-term lease on gear from somewhere else until the other rentals came back from the primary rental house. But I've cut a wicked deal with MPS and have given them every last penny, plus a bit more, so that we can have the necessary tools with which to make this film.

Thankfully Michael Roy, our cinematographer, arrived from LA today, and we sat down with James and cracked open the schedule. Line-by-line we figured out a way to make it work, and it's all going to be fine... as long as they actually have the gear they SAY they have!

Today was extremely busy. We got a GAFFER! Miracles DO happen! We locked in our core crew, confirmed our location and actor schedules for the first week, and have only a few small loose ends. Like "why the hell can't we find someone willing to let us use their Red Vespa Scooter?" Or, "do I have to bribe the airport official in order to get them to return my calls? Provide them dancing girls? Illicit pharmeceuticals?" I'm not above that - we REALLY NEED this location in exactly 2 weeks. I re-examined the DFW Airpory policy guide and we're doing everything right. YYEEAAARRRGGG!!!

It all begins tomorrow. At 7:30 Friday we have a location scout in the cemetery at the exact time which we plan to GUERILLA our first scene on Saturday morning. We have the perfect plan. I probably shouldn't tell you, but I checked the site stats recently, and only like 45 people have even ever looked at this blog, so I think the secret's safe.

Basically, the plan is that we've found out the cemetery's caretaker's name and the cemetery's official address, and we're going to get a certificate naming the cemetery as "Additionally Insured" on our insurance policy, same as all the other locations. (Note: An added bonus is that we'll actually be insured, as will the cemetery. No actual permission to shoot, but insured nonetheless!) In addition, we're going to fill out a location permit with all the same info. Tomorrow, we'll go to the cemetery to find the perfect spot to shoot in, with regard to shot composition and natural light. At the same time we'll see how tight the security is, and who the security guards are, but UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES will we mention any sort of film. Once we have found the perfect spot, I will note one of the gravestones that could possibly be my dead grandfather. (Note: That guy's already dead, and so is my grandfather. I'd like to think both of those old dudes would applaud my "moxie.")

At 8am on Saturday, with the dead dude's info, an insurance certificate, location permit, security check and game plan for the day, we'll have no problem shooting a half-hour "Documentary" about how "My Grandpa Milton Earned His Purple Heart in World War 2." We'll be so damn legitimate, the security guard wouldn't dare contact his boss that early in the morning! If for some reason he DID, we should be in and out of there in under an hour. Regardless, both James and I are there to run interference, and in the long-shot that the boss DID show up, I could occupy him with the insurance paperwork while Yen and Michael finish up the scene. Between the time we land, and the time we leave, our goal is to finish in 1 hour, if not less.

Well, I'm off to bed. We have to location scout, pickup the 10" Budget Truck, check-out and load camera, grip & lighting gear, get craft services, eat lunch, fill-out crew and actor releases, Create a proper call sheet, and be ready for our 8pm full crew meeting. And it sure would be nice to hear from a scooter owner or the airport peeps. Yeah?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

2 Days to Go!

Sitting in the intimate Lakewood Theatre, listening to Sufjan Stevens, is a good place to collect one's thoughts. In all, today was perhaps the most definitive day of pre-production. We had a conference call with our second large possible investor today at noon. He's a great guy, and will hopefully go on to help us out with some MAJOR film festival connections, but for now is not going to invest in the film. Bummer, but not the end of the world by any count.

The Lakewood Theatre is now the OFFICIAL SPOKESPOLE for "Ciao."

What this final call did was solidify our shooting strategy. We now know exactly what we have to work with, and are moving forward at that level. Does this mean we have to cut corners? A little, but it won't show on screen. What it means most is that we're going to put a lot more of the film on our credit cards, and it's going to take me uncomfortably close to the black hole of an empty bank account.

As a pre-game morale boosting pep rally, Yen surprised us all with Sufjan Stevens tickets. Here is the man himself, Sufjan.

I haggled the hell out of the local rental shop today, and basically got them to meet my budget, so we'll have the toys we need. An HVX200 with camera support and monitors, plus a 1-ton grip & lighting package and a few goodies here and there when needed. The best part is that the gear is all from a professional house, MPS, which means we get tech support in case anything goes wrong. The level of support they provide is incredibly reassuring, and Mark and Brad are good guys who tend to support low-budget operations like ours. Joe Lumas in the camera department is a knowledgable guy and really knows how to get us set up.

James is in full swing; today he got 2 PAs on board, but no word yet from our mysterious gaffer from Oklahoma. I sure hope he contacts us again. On another note, David is REALLY coming through for us. He's agreed to put both the firewire drives we need AND the rental deposit for MPS on his credit card. Thanks David, we LITERALLY couldn't do it without you.

Friends for Life, Filmmakers 'til Death (clockwise from left): James Johnston - 1st AD, David Lowery - Editor, Yen Tan - Director and Jim McMahon - Producer.

It's been a day, and I'm beat down from not sleeping last night. I'm gonna hit the sack and wake up early. Michael Roy, our DP and my good friend, arrives tomorrow, and we're going to hit up as many locations as possible in what could be the fastest tech scout ever seen! So much to do, and only 2 days to go!!!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

4 Days Till Day 1!

Stills from Sunday's Tech Scout
Alessandro Calza ("Andrea") and Jim McMahon (producer) stand-in for digital storyboards taken during Sunday's location scout.

Alan Smith, our mystery investor from Arizona, just wired funds into our production account. We now have ALMOST enough money to make this film!

Just kidding, of course, but another 5k sure would make things a whole helluva lot more smooth! So, with our first substantial outside investor, we're off and running. Tomorrow, we have a conference call with an Italian investor living in Milan who knows our lead Italian actor, Alessandro Calza, who wants to speak with us before he'll commit any funds. The rub is that he doesn't speak any English, so therefore we'll be using Alessandro as our translator. It's an INTERNATIONAL PRODUCTION!

Currently, I'm transposing the hand-written production calendar that I worked out with James (1st AD) into an electronic format so that we can pass it out to everyone tonight. Here's what a basic day of shooting looks like:

7:00 - SCN75 – DAY EXT AIRPORT PARKING LOT (:30/:30/:30)
12:00 – LUNCH
13:00 – SCN26 - CONT’D
15:00 - SCN60 – DAY FOR NIGHT INT TRENDY BAR (1/:30/1.5)
5PM – WRAP – 3 SCNS - 10HRS

Club Nikita is a BEAUTIFUL bar/restaurant located within the West Village live/work/shop loft complex in Uptown, right across from the Landmark Magnolia movie theatre. We'll be using the rooftop level of their parking structure to portray the airport parking structure, and then head into Nikita, which will be dressed as both a very upscale tapas restaurant as well as a "trendy bar." If you've ever been downstairs at Nikita, you'll know that it is a wickedly modern, plush environment. Very nice.

Alessandro Calza ("Andrea") and James Johnston (1st AD).

On the crew and equipment side of things, I'm a ball of nervousness. We have just BARELY enough to do this film. Still trying to find a couple more crew members that'll work for free, and I'm scrambling to find a rental house that will rent to us within our budget. Right now, all of the quotes are averaging out to about $3k above what we have. If I really scrimp and save, we can get it down to within our budget, but I also don't want to hamstring Michael when he arrives. "Thanks for flying out, Michael. We have some great locations, but you don't have any lights!" It won't be THAT bad, but it always feels like it's heading that way at this point. AAAARRRRGGGG!

Alessandro Calza ("Andrea").

Oh! I went around to about 6 restaurants this afternoon and got 2 of them to give us 1 free meal for 20 cast/crew. At $10/head, that's $400 saved! 4 other restaurants I went to had to pass the info along to their managers, so I'm going back tomorrow to hit'em up!

1:25am. Damn. I think I might be procrastinating right now.

On a creative note, today Tiffany Vollmer cane by and went through the primary cast wardrobe with the actors and Yen. She's going to be fun to have on set - very bouyant! Plus, she's doing hair, make-up AND wardrobe! SWEET! Clare and her new assistant Loretta (who is awesome by the way) painted several rooms in Buena Vista #7, our primary shooting location. We now have a shitload of furniture in there as well.


Monday, September 11, 2006

5 Days Until Day 1

Woke up Sunday morning at 8:30am and am just now hittin the sack at 4:38am Monday morning. Today we went through every single shot in 3/4 of the locations with a digital camera and the 1st AD, Production Designer, me and yen. It was very helpful and we took literally 60 composed shots that will be 60 shots exactly in the film. There are inserts here and there, but for the most part, that’s a hefty chunk of the film. We all now know what to expect, and it’s looking GREAT! Had a location fall through and then we figured out how to pick it up and make it work in locations we already own through creative production design. It’s a big job Clare has to get through, but today her workload went down by about half, and then went back up by 1/4, so it’s some help anyway.

Had a great little meal with actors Adam and Alessandro, plus Yen and Yen’s partner Jerry cooked. Afterward, we argued about what exactly was wrong with the studio system. I’m still convinced that the main thing wrong with it is that they’re so scared of taking risks that it has thrown them into this lifeless tailspin of bad sequels and remakes. Luckily, there ARE still great films being made, and if you can package the concept right, someone will go for it. There’s such a dearth of truly great filmmaking that I think one can get in and get a decent sized budget if they play their cards perfectly. Or, I’m living in a pipe dream, but if so, I guess I’m content for now in that pipe.

It’s the little things that you delay sleep over. The condo we’ve rented for the film has a raunchy odor, like raw sewage at times, so I just spent the past 2 hours cleaning all the sinks, showers and toilets, then pouring vinegar into them to try and stop the stink. The upstairs bathroom sink was clogged and when I ran water into the sink, it backed up and about 40 little BUGS came out and floated in the water, jumping around. When I plunged the sink, a HUGE clump of thick hair came out. UGH! S-I-C-K! Somebody’s hair from who knows how long has been the home for all these little bugs.

The rest of the night I had to do the fucking Apartment Renters Check In List, you know, the one where you list every single dent, scrape and missing doorknob in the place, and it has to be turned in within 48 hours? Well, it had to be in by tomorrow morning before they got in, so I just dropped it off tonight.

Tomorrow morning is going to be MADNESS! We have James the 1st AD and David the Editor working as art assists starting at 10am. They’re driving the truck and picking up some furniture for Clare, and the James is going to start getting the locations locked down while David goes on runs for Clare in Curtis’ pickup (THANK YOU CURTIS!) all day long. Later tonight they’re shooting a music video that’s not a music video for Curtis’ band “The Theatre Fire,” who, incidentally kick ass and have written a song for “Ciao!” You simply MUST check out their damn fine website,

Oh damn. I gotta go to bed. Till next time!