Working on our Night Moves…
Tryin’ to make some front page drive-in news…
Fun with exteriors
A first for us on this series: with the exception of Phil’s side of the opening phone call, this episode was entirely exteriors. Which, given our budget (basically nothing), was a challenge, since getting a park closed down for a shoot costs hell of money. Now… we meant to shoot this in August. We meant to shoot many things in August. But due to scheduling shenanigans, we had to push this back to September.
Now would be a good time to remind you that we live in Canada.
Now, Calgary’s not that bad, weather-wise. It can still be nice out in September. But only during the day. Come late August, once the sun’s down it gets colder, and fast. And since all of our exteriors had to take place at night, we made sure to have at least one crew member on blanket duty. As soon as I said “cut,” Tawni (our costumer/slate girl) would step in and get the blanket on Stephanie. Daisy, our production manager, would offer warming rubs as well. And then Steph, who is a trooper, would shrug it all off and do another take. Of our first attempt at a long shot. Not a several minute long shot where Matthew McConaughey has to escape a gang war or Daredevil fights like a dozen Russian mobsters, so, you know, not worth trying to take a bow over or anything. Just saying it was a long time for Steph to act like she wasn’t cold.
The merits of planning ahead
I wasn’t used to writing for film. Or directing for film. Or thinking about “how this should look” when writing basically anything. So it wasn’t until we started shooting Phil’s half of the phone call that it occurred to me that it might be neat to do the call in a split screen. Which Ian seemed confident he could do, in theory, but in practice… since we’d just thought of that, Steph hadn’t been called that night. Ryan was recording his half alone.
And to do a split screen conversation, you kind of need both people there, at least for the first half, to nail the timing. So that, as you’ve seen, didn’t happen.
Welcome back Matt
This is the third time that occasional guest star, one-time production manager, and to the observant, perpetual presence in our YouTube episode descriptions Matt Pickering has come up in these blogs, and thanks to the magic of non-sequential shooting, the second time he was on set. And fortunately for us, he is no more attached to his dignity than I am, because grunging him up into Jimmy Dave the hobo was a bit of a process.
We needed multiple coats. We needed to sacrifice a pair of jeans on the altar of Jimmy Dave. And we needed to make him dirty. Well, physically dirty. The other kind just happens. We tried a few things, including rubbing his face in the grill of my barbecue…
…which proved ineffective, so it came down to grabbing a handful of dirt from my back yard and smearing it in his face.
Oh, yes, this whole park scene at the end? That’s just my back yard. Right outside what viewers will come to know as Becky’s kitchen. And it’s a shared back yard in my condo complex, so… while we were sure to get this scene shot first, before it was late enough that Steph yelling “BECKY RULES” as loud as she could would get cops called on us… we did get a few curious looks from my neighbour as we set up lights, a camera, and apparently a homeless man lurking in a tree.
That said, in the end, I’m really the only one Matt startled. In the long take of Phil and Becky walking past the shops, Ian, Daisy, and I were walking backwards: Ian shooting, me observing, Daisy trying to make sure Ian didn’t walk into anything or fall down a staircase. Matt, half convinced this shot was going to get him arrested, would loop around in the background, swing through the parking lot, and catch up with those of us behind the camera. And every time this happened, I would see the shambling form of Jimmy Dave out of the corner of my eye, and every time I would panic for a second before I remembered it was Matt.
Says good things about the outfit, really.
Basically, Becky’s scenes were shot in reverse order. First the park, then the walk, then the phone call. Steph, in what I’m sure was commitment to her craft, had brought an entire bottle of wine to help her get into character, as it were. However, she drank it all very early in the process, before being handed a plate of rapidly cooling and increasingly spongy perogies to eat and a bottle of sparkling water to drink. So Becky gets drunker and drunker as the shoot went on, yet we got further and further from the character wine. And Steph, for the record, claims that the cold killed any sort of buzz she’d had pretty quickly anyway.
Once we were done with the backyard, it was time to wander over to the shopping center near my house, hoping that the parking lot would be quiet enough at 11 PM that we could get this thing shot without incident. Which we… sort of did. Unfortunately, the best-lit stretch of sidewalk ended precariously close to the liquor store, which was open until midnight. So at the point where they stop walking and Becky throws up, we were right near the spot where dudebros were pulling up to grab some last-minute alcohol on their way to… stuff. I don’t care what they were doing, I was just trying to make sure Ian didn’t physically fight any of them for yelling “You guys shooting a movie” at us.
Some of the customers were cool about it, though. One gentleman sat quietly in his car, not opening or closing the door, talking, or starting the engine until I yelled “cut” and Daisy gave him the go-ahead.
My favourite part of this whole shoot had to be Phil and Becky on the bench, talking about loving your characters. It was a simple moment when I wrote it. Just Becky reassuring Phil that he wasn’t being crazy, by talking about a character she decided to let live at the last minute. A simple moment, not about anything specific… FINE, Mass Effect, it was a little bit about Commander Shepard in one of the various Mass Effect endings. The point is, it wasn’t supposed to be my favourite moment in the episode.
Then Stephanie got her hands on it, and what was supposed to be a simple moment suddenly became this… beautiful little speech. This sweet little glimpse into her worldview.
That’s one of the beauties of what I do. The text transforms itself it the right hands. Moments you never knew you wrote spring to wonderful life when the actors get into it. It’s right up there with audience reaction (which writing for the internet kind of robs you of) as far as perks of the job go.
Next week… the ladies take an awkward car ride. Which is even more awkward for the crew.