The Countdown: Two Days Until We Shoot

I believe that this is what is called ‘crunch time’.

The last few days have been busy trying to slot everything in place at the last minute, as you have to on a shoot. We’ve gotten our (not £200) harddrives delivered, I’m making lists of things that I need to have on set (pieces of costume, scripts, paperwork etc), updating call sheets at the last minute (yep, there’ll be another one sent out tonight, everyone!).

There are, of course, all those niggly little things that tend to crop up in the last few days before shooting (insurance, money, travel) which we’ve been sorting out over the last few days as well as catering, props and, the biggest one, was a swift addition of a short scene which helps the solidify the story. It means that we add two shots to our days, but they’re short and fast, so it shouldn’t be too much of an issue.

The other thing is that the campaign is still going strong (16 days left!) and we’ve nearly hit $2000, which is STAGGERING. Thank you to everyone for your support! $2000 is our full budget (not including contingency), so if we could hit that (or get even more than that!), it would be absolutely amazing. If you haven’t had a look at the campaign yet, check it out here!

This is just a quick update to help me figure out where I am, so that you guys can share the slight chaos that is two days (a day and a half!) before the shoot. It includes slight concern over the soundie’s health, waking up at 2am and attempting to remember to organise a slate so we can actually sync the sound to the vision without wanting to kill ourselves in post and crossing fingers and toes that our Behind The Scenes extraordinaire will be able to make the shoot!

It’s incredibly exhilarating and I can’t wait until Saturday to see how everything’s come into place.

These are the days that remind me of how much I love making films! Utter chaos and last minute organisation, but it’s so ridiculously enjoyable!

And as one of my leads, Markus, said to me last week – ‘YAY FILM!’

The Countdown: Five Days Until We Shoot

It’s Monday already? Gosh, where did last week go? We’ve been busy in the ‘With A Little Help From Our Friends’ production office (and by that, I mean we’re all working out of our respective bedrooms) and suddenly we’re five days out from shooting.

This week is out last chance to get everything in place before Saturday morning. The list isn’t too formidable, but that’s ignoring anything that will go horribly wrong in the next few days. We’ve had a few hiccups but nothing disastrous as yet (touch wood) and we’ve managed to bounce back from that and keep the train moving.

So, where are we at?

We’ve currently raised $1771 toward our budget which is completely amazing considering we thought we’d struggle to hit $1000. Our budget is $2000, so if you’re still interested in helping us out, go and check out the campaign (it’s running for another two and a half weeks). We’re so stunned by the support so thank you so much to everyone who has helped out so far!

We had our second and final rehearsal yesterday which was pretty exciting. It was great to see how much the story and characters have developed since the first rehearsal a few weeks ago and the script is really starting to come into its own. The cast seemed to be having great fun, judging by the explosions of laughter that erupted after the end of each run through and I must admit that I lost it a few times during a scene and had to compose myself so that I could actually focus on the performances (see below for some ace photos!).

Now we’re all about the shoot. Craig is in charge of call sheets and schedules, Jack’s liasing with the locations and I’ve got to finalise shot lists as well as make sure we’ve got all the props and costume we need. This is the week to be organised, definitely, as this is the time when things’ll start to go wrong. But as I told Craig when he called me to tell me that the harddrives we were going to buy for the shoot had leapt up £200 in price because of the floods in Thailand – if nothing goes wrong, then you’ve forgotten something.

Bring on the shoot!

Lucy (Carolina Main) tells Abby (Victoria Smith) why dating Max is a bad idea.

Max (Markus Copeland) tells Des about how he met Abby.

Des (Danny Mahoney) tries to convince Max (Markus Copeland) he’s wrong.

Alli Parker (director) chats to Markus and Danny.

Abby (Victoria Smith), Lucy (Carolina Main), Max (Markus Copeland) and Des (Danny Mahoney).

Of Learning Lines and an Abundance of Laughter: First Rehearsal

Sunday morning dawned chilly and frosty but it didn’t deter me – it was our first rehearsal day for With A Little Help From Our Friends.

First rehearsals are pretty special things. You get the cast coming together for the first time. You often get the main heads of department showing up as well to stick their noses in and say G’Day. You get to see how well everyone gets along with each other. How well the lovers are going to be lovers, how well the villains are going to be villains. The first rehearsal is the first time you can really start to feel the weight of a film and judge exactly how much fun it’s going to be to make.

With A Little Help From Our Friends is going to be ridiculous fun.

In between everyone (except Markus) showing up on time, the immediate laughter once we all sat down in a group to say hello to each other to the roaring laughter as we rehearsed various scenes, WALHFOF is coming along really really well. I’ve been completely spoiled with an amazing cast and I’m already looking forward to the next set of rehearsals to really dive into the characters and explore the relationships between the four characters.

We’ve got a few weeks in between rehearsals now, so we’re thinking about various things separately – character, costumes, hair and make up etc – and I’ll be chatting to the actors via email to see what we can come up with individually before bringing it forward at the next rehearsal – which is the weekend before the shoot.

The other thing we’re considering doing is crowd-funding a section of the budget. The key is finding a model that works – some of the campaigns that are presented badly are 200% funded, some that are beautifully presented are struggling to get the full amount pledged. Something else to think about, at any rate.

I leave you with a few snaps of the rehearsal, courtesy of Craig. Enjoy!

Alli chats to the actors at the beginning of the rehearsal.

From left to right: Carolina Main (Lucy), Victoria Smith (Abby), Markus Copeland (Max), Danny Mahoney (Des) and the back of Alli’s head.

Markus and Danny

Carolina and Victoria

Markus exercises his angst face.

Abby and Max skipping into the sunset (improvised).

Markus and Danny take a break.

Lucy gets up in Abby’s face.

Pre-Production: Cast List

Auditions are done. Tough decisions have to be made. In this particular film, it is vital that the comradery between the actors is right, that they all look compatible as best friends, that they all look right on screen together. Don’t ask me what right looks like because it’s different for every filmmaker. This film was particularly difficult to cast as I had my picks of the actors themselves, but as soon as I started to take the ensemble of actors into consideration, things began to change.

So, here we are. The cast of ‘With A Little Help From Our Friends’:

Max: Markus Copeland

Des: Danny Mahoney
Abby: Victoria Smith
Lucy: Carolina Main
We have our first rehearsal on Sunday and I’m really looking forward to seeing how everyone bounces off each other and to see what magic we can make – cause that’s what happens in rehearsals. It’s a hard slog, don’t get me wrong, but rehearsals is where the film really starts to come together and you can see it sparkle.

Updates!

Sorry for the radio silence over the past two weeks, but I’m back and ready to go!

A quick update on where we’re at with the film:

We’ve had to shift the shoot date by two weeks, due to a couple of little things popping up, so we are now not shooting until November. This is both a good thing and a bad thing – I’d love to get the shoot over and done with already but an extra two weeks in pre-production probably won’t hurt. The danger with having a long pre-production is that you lose enthusiasm because it feels like nothing is getting done. I definitely don’t want to shift the shoot dates again, so cross your fingers that it all comes off all right.

Our first rehearsal is coming up next Sunday which should be exciting because the cast get to meet each other for the first time and we can have a serious play around with the script and see if we can make it even stronger. It’ll also be really interesting to workshop the characters with the actors as well as see how they all bounce off each other to test the chemistry between them all. I’m looking forward to getting all our creative heads into the one room and seeing what we come up with together.

We’re also looking into potentially crowd-funding a portion of the budget to help us get it over the line. The film is a pretty cheap short film as it stands and a little extra money would be great (as always), so that’s an avenue that we’re thinking about exploring as well.

We also need to consider where we can access lights fairly inexpensively and am starting to think about post-production too (yes, it’s always better to consider everything, including post, during pre-production).

I’m off to enjoy my Sunday, but I’ll continue with the Audition Saga this week and round that off, just in time to start talking about rehearsals! Yay!

Swapping, Changing, Compromising – Locations

Taking a break from talking about auditions and casting (although we’re nearly done there, I promise!), I thought I’d let you guys know what’s been happening with organising locations. About a month ago, I blogged about how we had managed to find a location but were still locking in dates. After casting, one of the actors told me that he’d just been cast in a play and the weekend we were hoping to shoot – the last weekend in October – so we decided to see if we could get the location for the first weekend of November instead, otherwise we would have to consider re-casting him, depending on his availability.

We could.

With the first weekend of November ready and locked in, I started to look at schedules and how I’d run the shoot. As the film is essentially three conversations intercut, I’m going to figure out the best ways to shoot it when we get on location.

But then Jack got a call from the theatre we’re using as a location. A dance company wanted to hire the theatre for both days on the first week of November and there was no way we’d be able to shoot around them. The last weekend of October was still available though or we could look at the second week of November instead. I decided that it was going to be best if we went for the last weekend in October and I had a chat with Danny, the actor who I’d cast as Des to find out what times he’d be available and if he’d be happy to jump from shooting WALHFOF straight into his play.

He said that he was really excited to be on board and was happy to go straight from one to the other and gave me a rough idea of the times he’d be available. They allowed for a much larger scope than I’d thought, so I didn’t have to recast, which was a relief. I told Jack to lock in shooting for the final weekend in October with the theatre and now we’re really ready to steam roll ahead.

Now we just have to hope that no-one else comes along and wants to hire the theatre for that weekend as well.

Fingers crossed.

Pre-Production: Auditions Part 04

More in the auditions saga (A Cautionary Tale, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).

Where you hold your auditions is also important. You want somewhere that has enough space for the actors not to feel inhibited but, as it’s for a low/no budget film, you don’t want to have too much physical space between you and the actor. Yeah, in movies and on television, the actor/dancer/performer walks nervously out of the wings onto the stage and the producer and director are sitting bored seventeen rows back in a theatre.

You’re not them. You want to be able to see their faces, their expressions. Headshots can hide a lot – I’ve lost count of the amount of times that actors have come in and I’ve only vaguely recognised them from their headshots. But the most important thing to remember is that the audience will be watching their faces. If you’re sitting seventeen rows away from them, how will you remember the twinkle in the eye, the quirk of their mouth? You won’t. You can hope that the camera you’re filming the auditions on will pick it up, but you want to get caught in the actor’s spell. So let yourself be close enough to do so.

Which brings me to:

THE AUDITION KIT
This is all the stuff I take to an audition.

Cedric, my laptop. I use Ced to update the spreadsheet to make a note of which actors have shown up, which actors haven’t, any other notes I want to make. I try not to make these with pencil so that none of the actors coming in afterward don’t spot anything and try to change their performances. I think it’s really important that you CLOSE your laptop during an actor’s audition – how are you going to make notes on their performance if you aren’t watching? Plus, they’re taking time out of their day to come and see you – it’s about respect. I make notes in the times between actors – if it’s important, you’ll remember it. If it’s really important, then make a vague note in pencil and clarify it for yourself later.
Pens, pencils and highlighters. Always really handy to have around in general. I’m one of those people who always has a pen and paper in my bag anyway. Highlighters are good to cross names off lists – or make a note of the actors you’re black listing because they haven’t shown up.
Spare copies of the audition pieces. You’ll want one for you to follow along with. You’ll want one for the reader (if you have one) to read from. You’ll want a spare one because there are always actors who haven’t been able to bring them along. And you’ll want a spare one for the spare one because the spare one gets rumpled. It’s always good to have a few extra copies.
Spare copies of the audition timetable. Depending on how many people you are running the auditions with, it’s always a good idea to have spares in case you lose/spill coffee on/it gets stolen by green squirrels.
Camera. As I mentioned earlier, headshots can sometimes lie. Try and look at actors headshots in colour – they always look different than their black and white shots. The best way to get around this is to decide whether their headshot kind of matches the face of your characters, then take a less professional shot of them on the day. I took my camera along to the auditions then proceeded to forget all about taking shots during the audition. It’s annoying because during the decision making process, I had to rely on memory and the video to decide how much they looked like their headshots.

Video Camera (not pictured). Always film your auditions. You can sometimes get a good sense of who to cast instantly, but there will inevitably be (as there was this time around) several actors vying for the part in your head. The best thing to do is rewatch them and decide who is right for the project.

Hard-drive, card reader and spare battery. Because we were shooting the auditions digitally, I knew we’d have to dump the cards at some stage and I knew the files would be too big to fit onto my computer. Spare battery is one of those things you always forget, then desperately need.
THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS TO TAKE THAT I ALWAYS FORGET ABOUT:
Yep. Sticky tape and a Sharpie. Or texta. Or a marker pen. Whatever country you come from, these are really important things I always manage to forget about. Except this time, thankfully. What isn’t pictured here, but is up in the top picture, is blank paper. You will ALWAYS need to make signs. If you have time, print them up the night before. Chances are, you won’t have time or you’ll realise that the place you’re holding the auditions is a little harder to find than you thought or you want the actors to sit in one spot to wait instead of the other spot. Either way, these are always really handy to have on…well, on hand.
You’re nearly ready. How exciting is this?

Pre-Production: Auditions Part 02

You’ve got your script. You’ve conned someone into being your producer. You’re starting to get the locations together, you’re thinking about what camera you’re going to shoot on but you need one of the most important departments of filmmaking sorted before you move too much further forward.

The actors.

Without actors, you don’t have much of a film. Arguably, you don’t have a film at all. How often do you watch a film at the cinema and come out critiquing the performances? “She was AMAZING. He was great. But that OTHER girl? What were they thinking casting HER?! I could do better!” Maybe not quite that extreme, but I’m sure you’ve all seen a film with terrible acting. Sometimes it’s so bad it’s good, sometimes it’s just bad.

But with the bad comes the good. And the great. And the phenomenal! Admittedly, the phenomenal is much harder to find when you can only cover expenses for your actors, but it can definitely be done. You just need to know where to look.

In every city there are out of work actors. There are actors who have just graduated from acting school, actors looking to update their showreel, actors with some extra time on their hands – actors who are willing to do something for free. GOOD actors too. Not all actors who work for free are terrible actors with no experience. On the contrary, I have to say that for nearly every set of auditions I’ve ever held, the good actors have definitely outweighed the bad.

Where there are out of work actors, there are places you can advertise your film. Google it. Ask actors where they go to hunt out work. It is quite an easy process now. But always have a look around the site before you place your casting call – sometimes you’ll be able to gauge the quality of actors by the way the site is set up. Most of the good sites will work to protect their actors privacy, so don’t be surprised if you have to register all your details before you post.

This research is also good to see what kind of projects people are pitching. More often than not, short films are drama (I’ve spoken about drama vs comedy before here) so if yours is as well, read a few others to see how you can make your casting call stand out. Remember that actors will read the same kinds of pitches every day. What is it about your film that makes it different? Why should the actors give up their time and work for free on yours instead of any other one on the page?

Make your pitch and character descriptions as interesting as possible. ‘With A Little Help From Our Friends’ is a comedy. So I kept the pitch light and threw in a few jokes. People responded to that. They clicked open the character descriptions to have a read because it got them interested. The content was light and the tone of the casting call was comical. I do think I would’ve gotten less applications if I’d been making a drama. Look out for a post in the next few days – I’ll show you how I wrote my character breakdowns and which characters got the most applications.

Keep it brief. If you only take one piece of advice away from this post, make it this. And I think this applies to ALL pitching. You never know how much time the person you’re pitching to (whether it be behind a computer or in front of your face) has, so keep it clear, concise and to the point. Don’t show all your cards, but do give enough information to spark a bit of interest. Cover the main points and then let the pitch speak for itself.

My last piece of advice for setting up your casting call is this:

Keep an open mind. You’ve got nothing to lose but a bit of time when you’re auditioning people. And auditions are often held when you do have some time to spare, so you may as well ask as many people as you can to come in – regardless of whether they match the character in your head or not. Don’t be afraid to look where you wouldn’t expect because you never know what you might find.

Good luck!

Pre-Production: Auditions – Part 01

I am delighted to report that regardless of any qualms or nerves expressed in previous posts, the auditions for With A Little Help From Our Friends went mind-blowingly well.

I’ll break down the process during the week, but in summary (at the beginning, I know, it’s a bit weird) we had:

– Roughly 100 applications for roles
– I asked 20 people to audition
– 18 booked spots on the day
– 14 of those 18 showed up.

Of the four who didn’t show up, every single one of them sent apologetic text messages or emails.

The auditions themselves went great. I always get a little nervous that someone will come in and be a terrible actor and I’ll have to bluff my way through five minutes of awkwardly playing around with the material so that they don’t feel too shafted, but every single actor who came to meet Jack and I was really really great.

Which, of course, has made my job a lot harder to try and choose who my Max, Des, Abby and Lucy are.

It’s frustrating when auditions go well. I now wish I could write extra parts for other actors I saw so that they’re still included in the film, but with a short, that’s nearly impossible. It’s tough because each actor brings something different to the character and it’s all about figuring out if that dynamic will work with another actor’s dynamic and really bring out the best in the script and look arresting on screen.

The one thing I am pretty terrible at during auditions is my poker face. I remember having discussions about this at university when we would hold auditions for our student films. If you’re auditioning someone, should you give them the satisfaction of reacting favourably to their performance? I’m not sure, to be honest. I’ve never been ‘taught’ the ‘right’ way to hold auditions, so I just hold them how I think they should be done. A director I worked with once wouldn’t let me be the reader (read the cue lines of dialogue in a script for an audition) because I was ‘acting’ them too much. He was of the opinion that you should read them as flat as possible to test the actor’s ability. I tend to disagree with that – surely you want to get the best out of your actor so you give them the safest and most comfortable space to perform in?

With that mindset, I’m fairly positive that I had very little poker face-ing skills on Sunday. For one, actors were genuinely enjoying performing my dialogue which is more than enough to bring a smile to my face. But when the acting is spot on in a comedy, when the timing is right, keeping a straight face and resisting the urge to laugh is slightly tougher than you’d think.

Right, enough procrastination. I’m off to giggle at my dialogue and deliberate over my cast once again. Her and him? Do they make a believeable couple? Do those two look like best friends? Or maybe them. But he was a stronger actor.

Gah. Wish me luck!

Pre-Production: Organising Auditions; A Cautionary Tale

Operation: Playstation

This week has been entirely flat out for me. Not only did we lose a day to a three day weekend (trust me, I am not complaining about that in the slightest!), but my ‘normal’ nine-to-five job has kicked up a notch in the past two weeks and it’s all go go go at work as well as go go go with the film.

Mind you, that’s just how I like it.

As you know if you read my post earlier this week, we’ve started organising auditions for actors to find our perfect Abby, Max, Des and Lucy. Finding actors to work for free is a hard task but I completely love casting. I think it’s something about knowing that when someone walks into a room, they could be the person who is going to BE the Max I created in my head nearly a year ago. Or they could totally transform Lucy into someone who I hadn’t even thought that she was. Not to mention the kinds of people you meet in auditions – I don’t know if you know this, but people are fascinating. Especially actors. Actors have a kind of zing about them. They always seem to get along quite well with my imagination and I end up writing a film for them to be in.

Which is kind of exactly what happened on the last short film I wrote and directed. ‘Operation: Playstation’. I had met an actor through auditioning him for a role the year before. Dylan was amazing and I fought really hard to get him cast in the film, but in the end he looked too young for the part (casting is all about the right LOOK as well as good acting!). But the two of us stayed friends and one particular time, a year later, we met up for a hot chocolate and I asked him if he’d read a script I’d been working on. He read it right there in front of me (always a risky move for both parties) and I couldn’t stop smiling when he started laughing at different points – it was a comedy so that was the right reaction. He said he thought it was great and I told him that I wanted him to play the lead because I’d written the script with him in mind as the main role.

His eyes lit up and he immediately agreed. Thankfully.

With Dylan on board, I was confident that we’d be able to get the other roles fairly easily. After all, the main role of Jack was the character that the whole film hung on. As we moved forward in pre-production, I put the call out for actors. Admittedly, it was technically a ‘student’ film, but it was my graduate film and barely anyone else working in the crew was a student – I pulled favours with crew I’d professionally worked with to help me out. Deliberately downplaying the ‘student’ side of it (I was treating it as a professional short film, after all), the ad was up for ten minutes before I had my first application. Over the next 24 hours, I probably had around 50 actors apply for the various roles.

I sorted through the headshots, viewed showreels and read cover letters to see who I thought would be good to see. There were people with a lot of experience, people with not so much, but I wasn’t too bothered by the lack of experience – if they can do a good job then it doesn’t matter.

I replied to about 30 of those 50, asking them to come in for an audition.

Of those 30, 15 booked in times.

Of those 15, 4 showed up on the day.

Sobering, right? I don’t even remember anyone ringing to cancel their time – people just didn’t show up. I’d asked Dylan to come along to the auditions, so the majority of the day the two of us ended up watching videos on YouTube.

But of those 4, 2 were great.

So I offered them the roles.

After specifying the shooting dates on the casting call, on the audition information and confirming they were still available, one of them declined the role because she was in the middle of a three week holiday.

The other actor didn’t show up to rehearsals and never returned my calls or texts.

CRISIS. We have no cast, besides Dylan. I talk to Dylan about it, who is very aware of how close this is to turning into a car crash, when he says he can talk his mate into taking a role. He’s an actor too. Plus, Dyl’s girlfriend is an actress. Then I realised that I knew a group of people from high school who I’d done drama with who might be interested as well.

Between the two of us talking to people we knew, we found the cast we needed.

And you know what? The acting is the strongest part of the entire film. In every single role.

Before you ask, the film still needs to be graded (sorry guys!) and it’s currently at home in Australia feeling lonely and abandoned, so no, you can’t watch it online anywhere. But what this did do was LOWER MY EXPECTATIONS. Not in a bad way, in a realistic way.

‘With A Little Help From Our Friends’ has had about 90 applications for cast. Amazing. Because we’re restricted by time in the space, I whittled that down to 18 (which was incredibly difficult because there were so many who were dancing on the maybe line). Of that 18, 16 have booked in for auditions and an extra 1 has apologised because the time clashes with another project she’s rehearsing for.

I’m really happy with that hit rate so far. But I’m being realistic.

I’ll post a blog on Monday and let you know how it goes. And I’ll break down how I went about organising the auditions. I just wanted to post about how catastrophically wrong they can go – and you guys can say that it happened to a friend of a friend of yours and mean it.