Production Notebook

The Feature Project
Production Notebook


Andrew Seltz

Toward the end of November, 2000 the idea of creating a feature film took hold. Producing a feature has been a dream for a long time, but the conditions seemed right and I committed myself to seeing the project through. A group of friends were working on a production of the play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and they invited me to their cast part. Allison Mattera, Brian  PJ Cronen, Matt and Missy Bonaguide and I had all worked together the previous November on an original theatrical production and now they were working together again. I was just finishing up running tech on a small theater production. The acting, writing, directing, and producing talents of this group of people, not to mention the network of actors and production people growing with each project, made my dream seem attainable. At the party, I hinted to Brian that I had a project in mind and wanted him to write the story.

Fast forward a few days, at a performance of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and I laid out my basic idea to Allison and asked if she'd be interested in directing a feature. The idea excited her and helped build my confidence too. Calls to a few film and video production friends continued to elevate my confidence. The Sunday after Thanksgiving I visited my cousin Jen and her husband Dave and told them about the project and they offered their house as a location - free of charge! The idea was really picking up energy and I decided that, come hell or high water I was going to shoot a feature in the summer of 2001. I was committed.

The idea was pretty simple. We would shoot a low budget feature, but not a typical film. We would shoot on 24p HDTV and we would do the entire film in one highly choreographed continuous take. Brian would write a compelling original screenplay, Allison would direct the actors and I would choreograph the camera and work with Allison to block the action. I would drive the project as creative producer and call on all our friends to help round out the production team and cast. In the end we'd have a movie to show for our efforts, and if we got lucky, we'd all walk away with some good publicity and maybe even a little money.

What follows are my notes on how this all worked out in the real world. Challenge by challenge, step by step, this is how we got through the process.

December 12, 2000

I had my first meeting with Brian PJ Cronin today. He's been in Japan working on a play for the past few weeks and this was my first chance to talk with him about the movie. We met at the Starbucks at 60th and Broadway. He wants to write the story! I laid out the parameters of the production and we talked about some movies that have made use of long takes and character driven stories that could help inspire us. Hitchcock's Rope is a prime example. Hitchcock shot the movie in as close to one continuous take as he could get - about 10 minutes per shot with the edits disguised by camera moves. It also has a deeply psychological story that appeals to both of us. I also mentioned Before Sunrise and Suicide Kings.

Brian is going to work up some story ideas and then pitch them to me at a meeting the first Saturday in 2001. At that meeting we'll pick the best idea and he'll start working on a full treatment. We set mid-March as the delivery for the complete screenplay with one rewrite. (Once we have a title, I plan on starting work on the publicity campaign and a website.) When I asked what he wanted out of the project Brian's only response was he liked the challenge of working on a screenplay. It's new territory for him. I hope he gets a little more out of it than that.

I spoke to Scott Votaw today. He's going to be in town tomorrow and I plan to fill him in on the status of the project. I'm hoping he can work with me as a producer. He'll be a big help when it comes time to crew up and get all of the equipment rentals in place.

I also wrote an email to Dave and Jen to update them on the project. I also gave them one last chance to back out of us using their house as our set. They were so excited about the whole idea when we last talked that I expect they won't change their minds. I'm thinking about asking them to head up the promotional side of things. Dave and some of his friends have the ability to build a website, and Jen could produce the behind the scenes part of the video. We might even be able to post highlights on the web during production. I hope to see them over Christmas and talk to them about it. I also need to take video and photos of the house to help Brian visualize while he writes and to help the rest of us plan the technical side of this project.

If I can get myself to the point where  ASVA Productions is going as a fulltime operation, this will be even more fun.

December 13, 2000

Scott Votaw was in town today at ABS. He was bringing some new stuff to pitch to the guys on the 10th floor and carrying over some tapes from the Kingsley series. I had a bit of time to chat with him in the morning and we got caught up on things. At the end of the day we talked for a while about the movie. Chris Tuffin was there too. I gave Chris the quick rundown of the project and he offered to give me some guidance about working the festival circuit and generating publicity. Scott and I talked about the possibilities for a DP and Brian's name came up. Brian was the first AC on Kingsley and he and I had talked about features last year on the set. After the new year I need to follow up and give him a call.

Scott advised me to track down all of the production houses and camera shops in the Detroit area (I need to get a 411 guide) to find a Focus Puller. One of the big challenges we're gonna have on this shoot will be to pull focus on a camera that's moving all the time. If Jen and Dave come through I'll get Jen to work on this. Auntie D might even be able to help with some contacts on this..

December 14, 2000

Dave emailed me today. He is definately still on board. In my note I mentioned wanting to get some photos of the house and a video or two. I was planning on doing these myself, but Dave volunteered to get these things for me. We are definately on track here.

January  6, 2001

Brian and I had a script meeting  today. He's sketched out the main characters, written a couple of pages and noted some key scenes and actions for the film. He is definately on the right track. His intro kicks ass and is perfect for getting the right vibe for the story. Just from reading his first two pages I can see that he's really got a handle on taking advantage of the unique constraints of shooting real-time with one camera. He's using offscreen sound and levels of action within the frame to keep the visuals fresh. He also has some big ideas that are going to be a challenge for me to pull off as a producer. As he described a scene where the boyfriend character is dismissed and moves into the background to build a house of cards I began to see how we could use these multiple layers of activity to keep the frame so active that the audience can edit the scenes in their own minds by focusing on different parts of the frame.

I watched Timecode over the Christmas holiday and noticed how, even with constant visuals running in all 4 camera views, the audio was effectively editing the film for the viewer. And, while you were being steered by the sound, you could still move your eyes to the other frames when the main action wasn't visually holding your attention. The whole thing really made me conscious of how I watch a movie. I think I'm going to have a party and show timecode to everyone.

When we discussed the schedule for script production Brian asked me to just give him deadlines and he'd make it work. So, we settled on a schedule that gets us to a first draft on February 23rd and a first revision on March 16th. I also scheduled a script reading for March 23rd to give us a first idea of how the dialog is working, the scene tension, and an idea of how close we are to our anticipated running time. Next steps for me are to meet with Allison Mattera and start discussing her directorial involvement in the project.

January 15, 2001

Had lunch with Nina today (Clockwise Productions.) It's been quite a while since the last time we talked and there was a lot to catch up on. She's looking fantastic these days. She's been running like crazy and she trimmed her hair back really short. I asked her a bunch of questions about setting up the film project and she steered me toward several indie film resources. I am going to check out for help in finding a lawyer. She told me that setting up an LLP puts restrictions on which states you can raise funds in depending on where you set it up. This is new info. I'm glad she told me about that because several of the people I'm planning to talk to are from out of state.  I'll need to be careful about where I set things up so I don't cut anyone off.

January 22, 2001

I met with Allison today to talk about the movie. I want her to direct. She makes good creative choices and the actors I've spoken to who've worked with her say they like her directing style.

We talked very briefly back in November when I was first thinking about doing this project and she was interested then. She was even more excited about the project tonight. I'm pretty fortunate to find yet another talented person who wants to be part of the movie because of personal interest in the challenge. Even though I hope that this project will open up career opportunities for everybody, I love the fact that nobody, so far, seems to be in it for money or fame. So far the challenge is what's driving people.

Allison is working on a script reading for March 17th (St. Patrick's Day) to get our first real feel for the story. We'll time it out and gather notes for a rewrite. She asked if we were going to have a reading before I even told her when it was scheduled. She's already working on where we can have rehearsals and such.

Next for me is to start work on the contracts and legal work. I also need to touch base with Jen and Dave.

February 14, 2001

In place of a hot date this Valentine's day (I tried, didn't go anywhere) I ended up having a kick-ass conversation with Scott out in LA. He's been working hard trying to get some projects going now that he's left Classic. We ended up covering a ton of ground on the technical and practical aspects of producing this project. He offered to do some legwork to find info about cameras. We talked through the limitations and potential work-arounds of shooting HiDef. My fail-safe is to shoot DVCam 50 in 16:9 to deal with the tape load limits, but we thought up a few creative ways to make HiDef work. Scott might well end up as the technical director or AD on this deal. Either way he gets a producer credit for all his help. We talked about the sound mix and getting the guy who scored Kingsley to score the film. I might even try to find a music group to trade exposure for mechanicals and a royalty deal on soundtrack use. Never know 'til you ask. We also talked about the Sony Reps we met at Citrus College during Kingsley who might be useful to help us with deals on the video equipment.

It's amazing how much energy is generated when people try to work through a challenging project. So far the challenge is what is driving everybody. I hope Scott finds some projects he likes. I'm going to give him an option on Cletus and Earl  and see if we can get anything going with that idea.

February 20, 2001

I emailed Stan Blair from Intermission today about shooting the script reading with his DV gear. I want at least 1 other shooter in the room so I don't have to split my focus between the reading and shooting.

February 21, 2001

Stan can't shoot the reading. He has something else scheduled that weekend. I asked him for a recommendation for someone else and he sent me the name of a guy named Mark Semsel.

March 1, 2001

I spoke with Allison today and confirmed the details on the script reading. She's booked the space from 11:00am to 6:00pm on the 17th.

I got an email from Mark Semsel today. He's the person that Stan Blair recommended as a camera operator for the reading. Mark is currently on the road, but offered to work the gig. He has a DV camera ( a Canon XL-1, I think) and some lights and he's willing to bring it all. I need to get in touch with him when he returns from his trip.

I ordered an upgrade to my Hash Animation Master 3D program today. I've decided to use that as my previsualization package. It hasn't been to long since I last used it so the learning curve shouldn't be to bad.

March 4, 2001

Brian set me up with tickets to the Richard Foreman  play he's working on "Now that Communism is Dead , My Life Feels Empty!" It was a very cool show and Brian had a ton of audio cues to negotiate during the performance.

After the show Brian gave me a disk with the first 60 pages of the screenplay. We're cutting things a bit close not having the script through 1st draft yet. I can't print the thing out yet 'cause it's on a Mac disk and I don't have a Mac at home. The "Storm of the Century" is on its way to New York city and they called off work for Monday. That means I don't get a chance to read this thing 'til Tuesday. Then I need to figure out how to get it to Allison before I leave on Thursday for my location scouting trip.

March 5, 2001

I have a snow day to play (not much snow though!) Now that Brian gave me the name of the story "Elevation Due West" I bought the domain name and roughed out a website. Turned out okay and I think it'll be good for a little while. Next I have to figure out a storage solution for all of the media files. Gonna need to rent space somewhere on a streaming server.

I also set up an Excel spreadsheet to start tracking the budget for this extravaganza.

Spent some of my free time laying out my supplies for the trip this week. On Saturday I'll be photographing and mapping out the location in as much detail as I can manage. From there I'll start building the 3D models to begin previsualizing the story with Allison.

March 6, 2001

We had a late start and early dismissal at work due to the "Storm of the Century.) I managed to print up copies of the script and met up with Allison at her apartment to drop off her copy. Brian showed up and we talked about the reading and how we saw the project progressing. A few adult beverages were consumed (by Allison and me, at least) and Brian managed to favor us with a couple karaoke renditions of horrible 70's love songs. Somehow this morphed into a demonstration of how to cut onions without crying.

The movie is well on its way. Brian seems clear on where to go next and I feel good about the progress we are making. Allison said she's focused on the reading as she can't mentally commit to something as far away as the shoot in August.

March 8, 2001

The trip out from New York went very fast. I spent the morning making sure I had all my supplies and sorting through some personal bills to make sure everything gets paid. I brought along my 2-Day Film School tapes and listened to them while I drove. I focused in on the screenplay, budgeting, publicity and marketing and filmmaker strategy tapes. Right now the biggest issue for me seems to be holding a clear image of the big picture in mind while I keep driving the process along. I already am starting to feel like I'm running out of days and it's only March.

I've been reading the screenplay and it's coming along great. Brian should have the final pages in by this weekend.

Before I left the house I tweaked the website and burned the files onto a CD-Rom so I can work on it while I'm on the road. I changed the graphics to play up the architecture connection. Kelly Calton responded to the email I sent out asking for feedback on the site . She said she might be able to connect me with a band to get some original music on the project. It's amazing to see how support continues to come where I least expect it. I didn't even think to ask Kelly about bands, but she's been making band websites in Chicago for a while now. Who knows what will come from it all, but I love to see the support.

I've got plenty of work cut out for the next couple of days and next week is gonna blaze by. So much fun and so little time. Next thing is to go see the kids and get my baby fix. I hear my godchildren just keep getting cuter all the time.

March 9, 2001

Been running a few errands today. Picked up a coffee maker and 3 pump thermos dispensers so that I can serve coffee and tea at the reading as well as rehearsals. These'll come in hand when we go into production too. I also picked up a compass and stopwatch. I'll use the compass to tomorrow when I map out the house and plan the layouts and the stopwatch will come in handy timing out the script next week.

I printed up a couple of new business cards with the name of the movie on them. It's getting more cool each time I see the name. I told my dad about the story over lunch and he was really into it. As a fellow executive producer that's a good thing.

March 10, 2001

Dad and I drove out to the house to take scouting photos and videos to help with the previsualization work. We got there at about 1:30pm after washing "El Diablo" (my green Ford Escort) at the Scrub-A-Dub carwash and knocking off all of the road salt I picked up on the trip from New York. I can't wait for spring.

Jen and Dave are very excited about the movie. We had a nice visit while we photographed the house. The 35mm still camera froze up on me, but not until after I shot 7 rolls of panoramics and other detail photos. I need to take it in now and get it fixed. I'm also having trouble with the battery on my DV camera. It reports 160 minutes of charge on the battery and then conks out after about 5 minutes. I hope it's just a funky battery.

I shot panoramas of all the rooms on the 1st floor and stills of the rest of the house and outside. Then I shot video of the inside and outside. I made copies for Allison and Brian right away.

Dad and I took measurements of the main floor rooms so I can reconstruct a floor plan in the computer.

A big challenge is going to be balancing the light inside and out and dealing with the reflective surfaces. There are a lot of pictures, mirrors and windows reflecting everywhere. We'll have to be careful to keep the camera from showing in the shots. (This will be extra important with the behind the scenes cameras.) We'll probably have to take down most of the art and mirrors and replace them with pieces that don't reflect.

Dave and Jen are really eager to help with promotion. Dad and I spent a lot of the trip out and back talking about promotion and distribution. That's going to be key to getting the next project going.

I got a bright idea to plan a film for next spring and shoot out at a friends ranch in the Shennandoah Valley. I'm going to follow up on that one.

March 11, 2001

The trip back to New York was uneventful. It's a bit of a letdown when I have to merge back into my "real" world.If  I only had the budget supported me fulltime.

Today marks the 1st official investment from someone other than me. Now I have some seed money to get things rolling. I joined the Independant Feature Project after I got home. Nina recommended the organization. They have lots of resources for indie filmmakers.

Brian sent the final pages of the script. I now have a full 1st draft. Missy will be reading stage direction and the other roles will be read by people I don't know yet.

Every time I stop and relax for a second I remember 4 more things I need to do.

March 16, 2001

Prep for Saturday continues. I picked up DV tapes, typed up release forms for the talent and audience, and bought craft services supplies. I picked up cameras and mikes and am prepping several questionnaires for people. All the little stuff. I hope everything goes well.

March 19, 2001

I got an email from Jason Jennings. He's already been a great help with finding music resources. He had great things to say about the reading Saturday and asked me to keep him connected as the movie project progresses.

April 17, 2001

Brian sent me the 2nd draft of the script today. Things are so busy I don't know when I'll get around to reading it.

April 18, 2001

Well, it didn't take long for me to find time to read. I started reading  today. Brian fixed most of the structural issues we discussed, but the script still needs a lot of conforming and revision to tighten it up for filming. Brian's forte is playwriting and it seems like the film conventions are the toughest part for him. I'm making notes for a 3rd draft. I'm planning on taking that one on myself. I talked to Allison to see whether she got a copy already. (She did.) Next step for us is to break the script down and start figuring out how to stage this thing. We're going to set up a meeting in about a week or two.

April 26, 2001

I trucked down to the east village and met Steve Shirk at Iggy's. When I got there he was playing and I ended up talking with a partner of his, Dave Harkness. They work for a company called Pink Noise and score videos and commercials. Steve puts together this informal gig every so often and there was some really good stuff. We talked about EDW and the music needs. Steve gave me a CD of his stuff, but he didn't think it was what I'm looking for. (I listened to it when I got home and he was right. I really liked it, but it's a very mellow feel.)

Dave invited me to check out an act he's promoting, Michael Maxwell,  and gave me some dates to hear the guy play. I'm going to try to catch the show at CBGB's.

May 8, 2001

While checking out one of the indie discussion boards I ran across a guy who's  making a film this June in Flint, MI. I sent him an email to ask more about his film "Smarty Pants."

May 9, 2001

Sent an email to Dave Harkness at Pink Noise to confirm Friday's performance and put feelers out for some music video work. I'd like to do a video for the group who does the opening tune, plus I'd like to do music videos in general. We'll see if Dave's guy fits the film.

May 10, 2001

Derek Jones wrote back. He's producing the film "Smarty Pants" in the Flint area in June. He offered to help with local arrangements when the time comes. I should meet up with him sometime in June. One more trip I need to take. I could add in another trip to the house to map out the electrical layout of the rooms.

May 11, 2001

I met up with Matt & Missy for drinks and dinner tonight and they joined me for a trip to CBGB's, in the Village, to catch Michael Maxwell in action. By the time we got there he was on his last song. I picked up a CD and chatted with Dave for a bit. We stayed for a couple more groups and called it a night.

May 13, 2001

I listened to Michael's CD. It's not what we need for the movie. There's some good stuff here, but the movie needs something with a harder edge. I'll have to keep looking.

June 9, 2001

EDW 2.0 is finished. I took a pass at Brian's 2.0 version and started bringing it into a more standard screenplay style. I also reworked some of the dialog. Brian took care of the big story issues, but the script was still very dialog heavy. I printed it out and plan on giving a copy to Kim Aycox who's going to give me story notes for version 3. In the meantime, I'm going to start marking it up for preproduction planning.

June 10, 2001

I finished working on my revisions to the script today. Okay, technically it was finished yesterday, but I printed out a copy last night and read it when I took the subway to a party out in Queens. I ended up making a few more revisions on the way home. I started reading it to mark it up for props, set pieces, and to mark the scene changes and a couple new tweaks hit me. Now that there are scene headers I'm starting to realize how much traveling time there is that needs to be better tied into the story. The big thing missing from the story is specific visuals. Adding more specific imagery will help make the house (as a stand-in for the parents) more of a character. This, in turn, should help make the scene/room transitions more meaningful. I think the script is reading to give out to a few readers now.

June 13, 2001

IFP sponsored a HiDef seminar at Sony today on 55th and Madison. Things started of funny, because they had given us the wrong floor number for the screening room. A bunch of us ended up riding up and down the elevators looking for the right place. There are a bunch of record companies in the building and most of the floors are papered in band posters. The screening room itself is extremely cool. 

June 22, 2001

Today I managed to squeeze in the time to catch a demo of  video to film transfers at DuArt. The people there were very helpful and the demos showed that many of the limitations of straight video are reduced during the processing and transfer. I'm now struggling with the decision of whether to rent a camera and get a little higher end image or buy a camera and own a high quality camera at the end of the process. Either way it looks like we'll have to make one edit in the filming. The only way around it is to shoot with a Panasonic large format camera, but using the DV format, I think the benefits of the Canon XL1's frame movie mode outweighs the ability to use a single take. I really don't like the idea of stopping the take, but if we push the pace and don't allow much time to elapse during the tape change, we can stay close to real-time. This is a far more difficult decision than I expected, especially when I start thinking of future projects and building a production company. Deciding between NTSC and PAL is just a bonus level of confusion.

I headed over to church after the screening and helped the preparations for the tag sale on Saturday. I talked to Tim Hoesler and we got on the subject of photography.

July 2, 2001

The camera package is locked in. I broke down today and bought a camera. I've been weighing all of the options and I decided on the Canon XL1 NTSC. I could have gone HiDef, but I decided I wanted to end up owning the camera. I'm thinking of future projects and having the camera will help. I saw the transfers to film at DuArt and was satisfied with the look they can achieve. The XL1 runs a MiniDV cassette, so I can't run the movie in one take. I'll have to make one break. But, the camera runs in frame movie mode which will give me a full progressive frame. None of the larger format cameras had this feature. The DuArt folks recommended PAL format, but even though this makes for an easier film transfer, I didn't want to be incompatible with the rest of my hardware. I still need to consider other money making projects with this camera.

I got the 14x manual lens, the wide angle lens, an XLR audio adapter, a polarizing filter and a Tiffen 1/2 Black Pro-Mist filter. This is a nice well rounded package and I really hope I can pick up some DP gigs in the future. I'm debating whether to buy a Glidecam Rig and end up with a full package at the end of the shoot.

July 7, 2001

I spent some time yesterday and today testing the camera. Technically I'm supposed to be on vacation, but there's so much to do and time is getting short. The images I've gotten are amazing. The XL1 in frame movie mode produces a very filmlike image. I did tests with panning with medium and fast action, having people cross the frame at various speeds and I also set the camera to shoot out of a car window and drove around town a bit. I shot everything in frame mode and regular interlace mode. I'll play with the footage back in New York to see what kind of look I can get.

I confirmed with Allison today that she won't be able to direct in August. Back in May, when we were working on the production of Interference 10.5 , she said that a play she was involved with had been accepted into a festival in Scotland and she had been invited to go. She asked me to keep it to myself until she confirmed that her work was going to give her the time off to travel. It's a big opportunity for her. I've decided, as a result, to direct myself. The idea of hunting down a new director doesn't seem good and I know what I want to do with the material. I'll just not be able to do quite as much press work and website work during the production.

July 11, 2001

Not having much luck getting a Glidecam V-8 unit. I'm planning on running the camera myself and am having lots of trouble finding a place where the unit is in stock. The Glidecam people say that B&H Photo (the place I bought the XL1) will be getting a shipment of 10 units next week.

I sent a note to Liz (the college student my mom found who wants to work on the production) and asked her about her film background. Once I know this I can decide what to ask her to do.

July 12, 2001

I contacted B&H and they said they don't take backorders. I have to keep calling and checking their website to find out when the shipment arrives. I haven't had any luck finding the unit used either.

Liz wrote back today. She's got a pretty good basic knowledge of production through her college work. She also says that she has friends who would be interested in helping also. This is very helpful. I should have some specific requests for her next week.

July 13, 2001

I met up with Ann Bedtke after work today. I gave her a copy of the script a little while ago and asked her to critique it. She's close to the age of the female lead and an actress and I thought she'd have some good insight. Ann had some excellent comments about the storyline. Her comments about the ending were right on target. I knew something wasn't working and she picked it right out. Now I need to crank out this last revision and get it ready for rehearsals. I am expecting to have to make a few last adjustments during rehearsal, but nothing major because the actors will need to do some bigtime memorizing.

July 15, 2001

My co-executive producer and his trusty advisor (dad and mom to the less technically minded) are on the hunt for the perfect couch for the movie. A prissy old lady type couch plays significantly in the end of the film and they are busy traversing western Michigan to find one. I keep getting excited phone calls as they find new prospects. They are also having fun telling people why they want the couch. One of the ladies they met at an antique shop asked about the film, and when they told her it was an independant project, she excitedly said "Well I get the Independant Film Channel, maybe I'll see it." The whole thing is like a big treasure hunt.

The casting notice is making it's way around the Internet. Now I need to arrange space for auditions. I want to rent a space to give this a professional flair. The other possibility is to use one of the classrooms at my church after hours.

July 17, 2001

B&H Photo is still backordered on the GlideCam V-8 unit. They are still projecting 2-4 weeks. That won't work. I found a single unit for sale listed on the GlideCam users website. I contacted the owner and we struck a deal. I'm waiting for my PayPal account to get verified so I can send him the payment and get the unit on its way.

I sent more casting notices out. A couple of website operators contacted me after the first listing and recommended I use their websites to post notices. I registered those too. I've gotten a couple of responses already.

I sent Liz an email today with some requests. I should know soon how much help she will be able to provide. She seems very eager to work on the project and it's good to have the help.

July 21, 2001

I've been kind of loosing it today. I got an email from Sarah saying she had another project in August and couldn't be in the film. I started to get really discouraged and spent a good part of the day debating whether to just give the whole thing up. I haven't had many responses to the original casting notices and now I lost my star. It's hard to stay motivated. I didn't do anything rash, though. I worked a bunch more casting resources on the web and then took the camera and shot some video in the neighborhood. It was a nice day. When I got home I had a few more email submissions.

July 22, 2001

I talked with Ann Bedtke after church today and had a chance to really get my head back together. We made plans for holding auditions tomorrow and Ann is recommending a friend for the lead role of Emily. She will also be helping me next Saturday to rehearse with the GlideCam unit. I cleared the use of the pre-school space for auditions and then made a bunch of phone calls when I got home to set audition times. I'm going to push hard this week to cast the 3 leads. There are a couple of people who have the right look, now if they can just carry the action.

I also talked to my co-executive producer and the location owners to make sure everything is on target. Things are looking good.

July 23, 2001

I started the day by taking a sick day. When I started to think of everything that needs to happen, I realized I can't pull a full shift too. I'll do a little script writing so I don't fall to far behind with my ABS stuff.

Well, all stressing aside, tonight went well. The big standout was Ann's friend Diane. She was very good as Emily and would be a strong choice. A couple people couldn't make it and I'm planning another audition on Thursday. Next project I'm going to give about 4 weeks for this and look to be finished 4 weeks out from production.

July 24, 2001

We pulled off a major coup today. Sarah returned from her trip today and decided to cancel out on the Fringe Festival play in favor of Elevation Due West. I did a little dance around the office when she first called because it sounded like she was going to take the part. When I got home and heard her message confirming that she's in, I did another dance and called my co-executive producer with the good news. Now I need to nail down Emilio and Steve to really pull this together.

I went with Ann to a showcase at lunchtime down on Times Square and I saw a guy named Derrick Thadani who did a great scene. He's going to come down for an audition on Thursday. I think he might work as Emilio, but he could pull off Steve too.

Whoopeee, the GlideCam unit came in today too. This has been a really great day all the way around. Now I just need to keep the momentum going and we'll manage fine.

July 25, 2001

I've got a list of 8 guys scheduled to audition tomorrow. A couple are recommended or hand picked so I hope to get at least Steve and Emilio cast tomorrow. If John Cipriano nails the Joe part, I think we could be covered. Now to press on with the extras in Michigan and finishing up the latest rewrite.

My back is a bit sore today from messing around with the GlideCam last night. It's not to bad. It feels a lot like when I work on the Ford Motor Company assembly line in Chicago. The soreness is right up and down the center of my back and up between my shoulder blades. That will be workable. It does a good job of distributing the weight.

July 26, 2001

This morning I typed up my latest batch of revisions for the script and sent a PDF version to Sarah.

I saw some great people tonight. I've got a couple of choices for Steve and one for Emilio. We ended up running pretty late, past 9:30, but made good progress. Llew came in and helped run the auditions and Ann read with people again. I realized again how great the script is. The sides I have going with Joe are a riot. I'm also getting more comfortable running auditions. I look forward to doing this again for future projects.

On lunch I went out and bought a Varizoom remote focus and 2 batteries for the camera so that the GlideCam won't go out of balance when we change batteries. Playing with the unit has proven to me that it doesn't take much to get things off balance and it'll break the flow if we have to tweak the sled. I shot some really horrible video with it, (the light is horrible and my apartment is a mess) but the movement was very smooth. I'm going to take it out over the weekend for some more shooting tests.

July 27, 2001

We did callback readings tonight and Sarah came in to read. It's incredible to start seeing this story come alive. The three guys I had read each had something great in their performances and I'm very comfortable with the choices I have. More than that, though, Sarah keeps hitting the marks without any direction. She really has an understanding of this story that lines up with mine. That's going to be key because it will set the tone for the rest of the characters to play off of, and that's exactly what's happening in the story.

After the last callback with Keenan, Sarah and I took some time to talk about the story, the movie and even how this project fits in with my overall goals for ASVA Productions . I told her my dream of being a melding of Roger Corman and Robert Altman, doing low budget productions which can afford to give lots of new actors, writers and producers a chance to work and get exposure while working on the sorts of projects that fascinate me and will be so unique and intriguing that more established people will want to be a part of them because the projects will not be available to people in mainline movies. Sounds like a great idea, but the tricky part is making it happen. I figure just pushing ahead with projects that interest me is my best strategy.

One of the things that has been on my mind, and coming up over and over in conversations is my thought on what the most essential skill is for a producer. It's been on my mind since last Saturday when I was sitting in this same chair ready to pull the plug on the whole project. That moment was scary. Right then, I was the only person who really had the desire to keep this thing going (not true, but I didn't know then how much Sarah wanted to do the project, just that she was committed to another project) and I was getting tired. I reminded myself that I had determined, back in November, to finish a 90 minute movie, even if it was just me wandering around with a camera blabbering the whole time. I knew then that finishing the project was what was going to be the start of any future in filmmaking, and that it was the only way that I would mentally move forward. I remembered that promise to myself, decided not to talk to anyone for a while, and went to the park with the camera. The next day I calmed down and started planning and making decisions again and now I'm excited because thing are coming together. And that's the most important skill as a producer: When everything seems to be coming apart and you feel like you're the only one who cares about the project, you have to be able to set your fears and doubts aside and know that if you have any hope of succeeding  it will be because you didn't stop. Sometimes it all hinges on one or two people being able to manage their fear and keep going. That determination and conviction is contagious and it gives everyone else around you the confidence needed to focus on their contribution. If the team doesn't believe that you think the film will work, your lost. And you need that energy and enthusiasm most when you feel it the least.

Enough of the Andrew Seltz theory of producing. There is still plenty to do, and I am going to go to the beach this afternoon to get a little mental break from everything. Tonight will be a lot of follow-up emails and reviews of audition and callback tapes. I want  first read-through of the script on Wednesday, which means that I have to have my three leads set by Tuesday. Only decided on the one so far.

July 30, 2001

I called Keenan and Derrick tonight to formally offer them parts in the movie. Keenan will be playing Steve and Derrick will be playing Emilio. I sent Keenan a script via email and Derrick will be stopping by my office tomorrow morning to pick up his script.

I hit the Internet today and sent out notices for extras casting, a sound person and people to run the behind-the-scenes cameras. I'm gonna need to come up with a plan B for those because I'm not finding a wealth of volunteers. I've got a couple more auditions tomorrow for the Joe part. Otherwise, we're ready to start rehearsals.

July 31, 2001

I saw one more actor today for the part of Joe. He's someone I met through the Intermission 3rd Thursday program. He read for Joe. I was short handed tonight (Llew helped out at the door) so I had to read with the actors. I need to review the tape and see how things looked onscreen. Joe is the last role to cast.

Today has been list day. I started up a bunch of lists of things to do. So many things need to get done for the shoot and I am trying to make sure I don't forget anything. I also need to keep this list so I know what to assign to the people offering to help.

Dave Coriasso called this morning to check-in. He's offered to send a press sheet to some people he knows to help us get some publicity locally while we are shooting. This will come in handy for the press kit.

August 1, 2001

The first rehearsal tonight went very well. We watched the location video I made back in March and everyone got a chance to see the house and get a sense of the space we'd be in during the performance. Then we did a pretty straight read-through of the material, but this time we skipped over all of the stage direction in the script. This was an important difference from the reading we had in March because Brian's stage directions were very humorous. It wasn't always possible to tell whether the scene was funny because of the stuff that would show up onscreen, or because of clever jokes in the stuff the audience won't get to see. The good news is that the material was still strong even without the humor built into the staging material.

I also passed out a calendar to the cast of the production and rehearsal schedule. We talked a bit about the project as a whole and what to expect and about how this project fits in with the long term goals of ASVA Productions and my personal goals for this movie. I also walked away with a bunch of notes on the script. I'm very happy with it all so far, just need to find someone for the part of Joe.

August 2, 2001

I ran into Lainie today when I was heading down to get my laundry. We live in the same building and I haven't seen her in months. She didn't know much about this project, so I filled her in on how things are going. She offered to ask around for a few possible candidates for Joe and to help me run last minute production errands.

I'm getting a little concerned about not getting responses to crew call notices for the sound people. I really need to find a capable sound person in Michigan. This is one area where I plan to pay full freight and I've gotten no responses. I'm more than a little worried because this will be a tough hole to fill on my own and good audio is vital to success. I talked to Eric today as well and aked him for a few hints on people he might know in Michigan with contacts. I hadn't thought to call my aunt Deanna who has done a lot of corporate production work over the years. My cousin Jen might have some contacts there as well. I still have script changes to make before tomorrow too!!!

August 3, 2001

I picked up a long life battery for my little Sony camera today so that I could tape handheld at tonights rehearsal. Keenan called to tell me that he had just been cast as a featured player in a series of MTV spots and wouldn't be able to travel on the 12th. I was nervous that he was going to cancel out of the project, but he is willing to fly himself to Michigan on the 13th after the shoot wraps. That's going to trim one full day off of his rehearsal time, plus he'll not be part of the traveling group. It's pretty nerve wracking to deal with all of the variables.

Sarah brought a bunch of photos to rehearsal tonight that are perfect for the pictures at the beginning of the movie. They'll be doctored up a bit and put in frames on the shelves in the family room. Keenan says his mother is sending photos as well and they are probably waiting at his place tonight when he gets home. His mom is excited to hear about this project. He said she checked out the website and was happy to see that it wasn't some sort of hyper violent or bizarre story. We've got one more fan.

Rehearsal tonight focused on the movement in the story. We won't be able to get a strong sense of the actual movement until we are actually in the house, but we at least tried to get some feeling of energy of the story. I got some new staging ideas watching them move through the scenes. I also found places that are going to be visually challenging to capture without feeling static. We need to create some business for the characters at several places and use the choreography of their movement to lead the camera around. The script changes I made seem to have worked okay, but I only got through 35 pages before rehearsal. I need to finish out the changes by tomorrow so that the actors all have a final script in hand by Sunday and I still need to cast Joe.

August 5, 2001

Derrick stopped by early today to pick up a copy of the script. It was a very busy day at the office, but I managed a trip to Bulbtronics at lunchtime to pick-up color corrected lightbulbs for the practicals in the house and a few gels. The plan is to balance the interior lights as close as possible to the outside light using only practicals. I plan to white balance to the interior lights which should give the outdoor scenes a bit of a cool cast without being to washed out.

I auditioned another guy for Joe today and had a callback reading as well. I'm going to make the final decision in the morning, but I've pretty much made up my mind.

Rehearsal went well again. Keenan brought in his baby photos. We discussed the changes to the script and ran through the main monologue scenes. We talked through some background material and other tweaks that still need to be made but we will keep things as they are until everyone is off book and we are in the space. I am anticipating that we will be able to trim a lot more dialog when we see things playing on location.

The updates from Michigan confirms Uncle Jeff will be on-set during the production days and will take publicity stills. Grandma is going to make pasties for one of our evening meals and will be running out to the fabric store to find some material to scrim the windows with. Papa has worked out the mechanics of the toaster  that pops up on command and dad has picked up the couch. Lots of progress today.

August 6, 2001

I cast Jonathan this morning as Joe. He was at tonight's rehearsal , which went very well, and it turns out that he knows a bunch of people at the University of Michigan theater department who would be interested in being extras. That was a nice unexpected bonus. I'm officially of work for two weeks. From now on it's movie stuff until it's done. An extra week or two would have been nice, but things will get done. I finished the day by having a Production meeting with Ann B. We went over expectations for the week of the shoot, a rough schedule for production week, and traded up phone numbers for the actors, etc.

August 7, 2001

I spent most of today prepping the photos for the set. The pictures that Sarah and Keenan got from home work great. I scanned, cropped and printed them all so that the originals would be left in New York. I don't want to have them on set to reduce the risk of losing any of them. I also created a hybrid photo of Keenan and Sarah to serve as a family photo. It turned out pretty cool. Next I ran down to the TapeStore and picked up blank DV tape stock, film for the Polaroid camera and some printer supplies to finish up the photos.

August 8, 2001

Finished out the photos today and got everything together to head out on the first leg of the journey. Lainie offered to watch the car while I hauled stuff down from my apartment. (There was a lot of stuff. 4 trips to get it all down.) I was hoping to leave around 8am, turned out to be more like 3:30 pm. Surprisingly I managed to drive straight through with no stops for napping and got to mom and dad's by 1am.

August 9, 2001

Dad and I went out to Grand Blanc today and checked out the house. Everything looks great and I'm getting excited about the way things are working out. This is going to look great. Jen left the door open for us because she was out running errands. She has had a stressful few days and getting ready for taking the kids on a long trip just adds to it. She didn't seem to be clear on the schedule for next week and that was a little unsettling. We spent the rest of the ride home coming up with contingency plans for the schedule during production. Dave said initially that they were leaving town on Tuesday, but it turns out they don't leave until Friday. We'll try to accommodate their schedule as best we can.

Pete picked me up and brought me over to his house for dinner. I visited with Emily and showed them some of the rehearsal tapes. I also played around with the Zachster. Pete gave me a music CD from a friend of his that turns out to be very good (and appropriate for the film too.) I listened to it a few times and think it could work out. I ended up passing out cold on the couch and sleeping for about 3 hours. I guess staying up late to make up t-shirts for the crew wasn't the best way to finish off a day of work and driving. Dad called a neighbor down the street who does production work to get leads for the audio work. I have to call her in the morning.

Dad got the house ready for the crew to arrive. There was plenty of dusting and vacuuming to do and the place looks great. He also picked up the van for our trip tomorrow.

I called and talked with Ann to confirm travel plans. We did a little last minute catching up and it sounds like everything is on track from her end.

August 10, 2001

Called mom and dad's neighbor Kris for references on audio. She gave me a couple leads and I left messages with them that I'll have to follow up with on Monday. Next I sent out email notices to people who have expressed interest in being extras on the movie. I told everyone to call the cellphone on Monday to confirm their involvement. Next I talked to Dave and set times for next week. In spite of the feeling from yesterday that next week's schedule might not work out as planned, Dave assures me we are on track. I offered mom's help for Jen to get the crew ready to leave on their trip. I also talked to uncle Jeff. The car is off but he will be in town to run a camera. Fortunately we've been expecting this and have another car lined up. Cousin Paul may help out on set, which gives me one more crew member and another driver.

August 11, 2001

Dad and I hit the road  to pick up actors in New York. The trip went well and we made it to New York around 1am. The van rides great. Along the way I  touched base with Ann who is in contact with the team in NY. Apart from one question about the chef's outfit for Nick, we are doing great. Dad got a uniform last week, so that is set. Now we just have to get cross country and make this all happen.

August 12, 2001

Dad and I rolled in last night at about 1 am and were back on the road bright and early to pick up the cast. We met everybody in front of CFAN at 9:45am. Ann got stuck with bad train service and was delayed a few minutes, but we still made it on the road by 10:30. There was a bike race going on on the northbound Westside Highway so we had to take the Lincoln Tunnel out of Manhattan instead of driving up to the George Washington Bridge.

The trip went well and everyone settled in quickly. Dad and I took turns at the wheel with him picking up most of the time today. Ann, Sarah, Derrick and Jon all managed to endure the 10 or so hours of roadtime with good humor. I feel very lucky to have found such a great cast to work with. They have gelled well already and are just good people to be around.

Sarah announced, very quietly upon our arrival, that the 13th is her birthday. She didn't want us to make a big deal out of it. At the stroke of midnight we drank a toast to her on the back deck of my parents' house and sang happy birthday under the stars. (These guys can really carry a tune.)

Mom and Dad really came through for me today.

I spoke with Liz Zielke today also and set a 9:00am production meeting for tomorrow.

August 13, 2001

I am thoroughly exhausted. I'm not sure where the energy to write is coming from. We spent the morning in production planning and the afternoon blocking out the movie on location. It was tough working without Keenan, but we made good progress. (Keenan finished an MTV shoot in New York early this morning.) Tomorrow is a full 8 hour day on location and Keenan is now with us.

Ann and Liz are working out great as a team. Ann has
picked up the ball and run with it. Within minutes of our 
morning production meeting she was on the phone
chasing down leads on sound people and working contacts with extras. We lined up a sound guy to do the 3 days. There weren't many options as there seems to be a big corporate event going on that has most of the production community working. Liz jumped right in doing script breakdowns and sorting through the details of our technical needs over the next few days. On set they both took great notes as we blocked the performance and offered helpful insights as we struggled with the more difficult parts.

Keenan made it okay, just a little late. His flight was delayed in New York. My dad picked him up at the airport (I gave him Keenan's headshot so he'd recognize him) and he met us at dinner. The ride home from the restaurant included hearing the song "Because I Got High" by Afroman and I think we have a themesong for the production. We were all laughing pretty hard by the time it was over. When we got back to my parents' place       Derrick, Sarah and Keenan running lines on the back deck in Ann Arbor.   the cast broke into a spontaneous rehearsal on the back
deck and ran lines for an hour or so.

I still have to review one more tape from today's blocking session, but my 6am call time is coming up fast. I wonder what I'll be like by the end of the week because I don't envision getting much more in the way of sleep this week.

                                                                                               August 14, 2001

I'm at the end of another very long day, but am surprisingly energized. This group continues to amaze me. The actors are working very hard to refine their performances and blocking for the movie. We ran the whole thing with camera today, gave notes after, lunch, and then did a speed though to finish the day. At lunch Ann, Liz and I worked through notes on the script and having the extra eyes watching the performances and tech stuff is turning out to be vital to help me keep my perspective on the whole project as I have to focus on refining my own camera performance. It's too easy to let the details of the camera work distract me from the rest of the things I need to be thinking about.

We met up with Dave, Jen, Auntie Dee and Uncle Gerry for dinner tonight. Dave and Jen are great. I can't believe how supportive they've been. It can't be easy to deal with a bunch of people taking over your house, and the added stress of preparing for a family vacation and getting kids back to school doesn't help either. But, they are genuinely excited about the whole project.

The weather channel is now my main enemy. They are predicting thunderstorms for our shoot days. Hopefully we'll just end up with some clouds, which would actually help with the lighting, but rain will be tough to deal with. Time to watch more tapes.

         Sarah and Liz taking a break on location.

August 15, 2001

We pulled out of our temporary housing at my parents' place today and set-up shop on location
 in Grand Blanc. I won't be missing the extra drive time, but I will miss being at my parents' house.
I'm proud of the way they fixed the place up (I came across an old photo and can't believe it's the same house) but more so because everybody seems very relaxed and comfortable there. It says a lot about my parents.

We got in a dress rehearsal and a visit from our sound person, Ric Viers. We figured out where he will set-up tomorrow and where we'll hide the wireless receivers. Everything is going well, but there are still a million little details to contend with. I'm starting to run on empty and I can't push myself too far or the camera work will suffer. If I mess that up, it won't matter what everyone else does. I've been forcing myself to eat a big dinner each night because I don't have much of an appetite during the day.

At dinner tonight Derrick was doing the 6 degrees to Kevin Bacon game. He's pretty good. The only one that really stumped him was Humphrey Bogart. He kept avoiding that one.

Everyone's asleep now downstairs. I should do the same, but I'm kinda' wired. So many things have to happen before we can run tomorrow. We haven't got the picture frames yet for the family       Ann takes a breather on location photos and the lights still need to be changed out with color corrected bulbs and gels. I think I'll
work on the lightbulbs before I turn in.


Please contact our Webmaster with questions or comments.
© Copyright 2001 ASVA Productions All rights reserved