Sunday, November 30, 2008

Dramaturgy is not a dirty word

In preparing my adaptation of "Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde," one of my goals is to write a production that is faithful to the story written by Robert Louis Stevenson. Almost every stage or screen version of the story invents characters or subplots, and very few of them ever accurately portray Jekyll or Hyde as envisioned by RLS. So in my quest for a textual adaptation, I ordered the Norton edition of the book. That edition has lots of footnotes and explanatory essays, including a whole section about changes that are made to different performance versions. I've been reading and re-reading the text, and now some essays and notes are helping shape the direction I want to take with my script.

One striking thing about the book is that RLS carefully crafts a story that resists simple interpretations. It is clearly written as an allegory, but RLS was always very cagey to never say what exactly it was an allegory for. Interpretations have varied over the last hundred years as the times have changed, and it was always been co-opted for whatever purpose the writer wanted. The story has reflected the dangers of society, hypocrisy, science, and vanity. But I want my version to have all the complexity that the orginal text has; RLS didn't make the story as simple as a struggle between "good" and "evil," so I don't want my version to be that simple.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Doing it for a job

A few nights ago, I had dinner with a friend of mine and discussed a radio script that I am working on. I'm adapting a classic novel for the project, and by now I've read the story a few times. I've also got a unique take on the adaptation; I'm going to make it very faithful to the actual novel. When the book is usually adapted, the author's story is generally sacrificed to the whims of the playwright or screenwriter. I want the author's ideas to come through in my adaptation, to make this radio play truly Robert Louis Stevenson's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." There, that's the project. I think it's going to be the first official radio production of Radio Hound Productions.

I thought of something as I was working on the story beats for this adaptation. As I was talking about the opening scene, trying to decide how the story should start, I realized that I'm good at this. This writing thing that I do. This directing thing that I do. This producing thing that I do. This whole theatre thing that I do. I'm good at it, and I need to find a way to start/keep doing this for my job.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Studying Under

I spent two nights this week at my understudy rehearsals for "Last Night of Ballyhoo." I've never been an understudy before. I've been a replacement actor, taking over a role from someone who had already played the role. And I have also been a hired replacement, knowing that I would be playing a role for just a single night. But this is the first time that I was an honest on-call understudy. My first night on the job was a technical rehearsal, and I took blocking notes as they ran through doing cue-to-cue work on the second act. That was followed by a full run of the play, in which I got to take all the notes for the first act. I tested myself on the second act as I was watching, and I had already learned a lot of the blocking.

On Thursday night, I saw the preview performance of the show, just to see how the show responds to an audience. I was saying the lines in my head as I was watching the show, and I'm proud to claim myself off-book for a few scenes. Not to mention, I have a few ideas about how to hide the script in some of the other scenes where I'd have a lot of dialogue and a few long speeches. I'm not sure that I'll be called upon to perform in the play, but I want to be as well-prepared as I can be for my first understudy gig.

Friday, November 14, 2008

5-Day Contest Screening

This past Wednesday night was the public screening for the film festival that we entered. We invited everyone to attend, and a bunch of our WWII re-enactors showed up. There were about fifteen films that were a part of it, some of them were really good. Some of them were really bad. We were the third film shown, but the first that was any good. Everyone laughed at all the right places in the movie, and we got a nice thunder of applause when it was over. Our little "joke" ending was the single biggest laugh of the night, which made us really proud and happy. There were some really well-made films, including a pair of detective stories, a fun buddy film that had a really great twist, and a romance between a guy and a bowling ball.
We generated a lot of good buzz for our film, and when the awards section of the evening came, we were the first name called. We won an award for Best Production Design. Considering we had both a fully-garbed knight and a WWII Jeep in our movie, they really couldn't have given that one to anyone else. The bowling ball romance won the audience favorite award, as it should have. It was a well-made, really cute movie that seemed like it would be the perfect cartoon they show before a Pixar movie. The best film award went to a detective story called "Jenny," but I'm not so sure that was the right call. The movie had David Lynch-overtones and it was beautifully shot, but the story bogged down in the middle and the ending seemed tacked on and disconnected.
But still, we won! And all in all, it was a good night.

Friday, November 7, 2008

New Trailer

Rob recently posted the trailer online for the short film we made. Yes, the film is only five minutes long. But the trailer is only 40 seconds or so, appropriately sized. And the trailer has a lot of the coolest bits, including some lines that aren't in the movie. Everything a true trailer should have... Enjoy!

I've been having some trouble with the video not playing through blogspot, so here is the link to the trailer on the DRF website. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

5-Day Film Contest: Day 5

After my six hours at the tiller at Pella Windows, I voted in the election, making my voice count. Well, making it count toward the electoral college. My voice counts for very little. At the most, it offsets and negates the vote of one of my friends who voted for the other guy.

I headed over to Rob's for the final hours of work on our short film contest entry. I got there and he was working on some visual effects while Adam was putting all the waivers and permission forms in order. Rob was exhibiting his traditional "stressed-out" posture of hunching over the computer screen while Adam and I went outside to film those last couple of pickup shots for the film, shots that ultimately went unused in the cut for the contest. They had worked on cutting down the film to the proper length during the day, so it was just the matter of finishing the effects and then fixing the sound and dropping in some sound effects. They were working on that, and I was sitting in the corner trying not to hurry them. They both have technical experience on the editing program, and there's only one computer. So it was a little frustrating not to be able to help very much.

Until photocopies were needed! Rob's printer ran out of ink while printing out some of the waivers, so I grabbed the originals and ran out to Office Depot to do some literally last-minute printing. Rushing back with the papers, I found them more or less done with the edit, just fighting with the computer to drop in the last few sound effects. Rob cut the sound and visual effects into our WWII battle sequence in about 10-15 minutes, which even impressed him later when he thought about it. We rushed over to the college where we needed to drop it (I drove like a maniac but broke very few traffic laws.) When we got to the school, Adam dove out of the car and sprinted across campus in order to get in under the wire. We later heard that he did make it in time, and the person at the desk advised him to relax now that he was in time.

After we could all relax, we went out for a few beers and dinner to celebrate the completion of the project. We talked a bit about some other projects coming up, talked about expanding our current idea into a longer project or even into a webseries. Lots of exciting ideas came out on the table, and I certainly hope that the three of us work on something else in the future. Of course, the most exciting thing on my table right now is the new script for "Reggie Donovan's Best Day Ever." It's due Friday, so I better get started. Better quit this job at the window place....

5-Day Film Project: Day 3

So I'm still over here at Rob's office, working on the last set of pickup shots for our film project. We did a bunch of stuff to finish out the missing pieces of the movie, and now we're waiting for Rob to test-fire a few of the greenscreen effect shots into the rough cut of the movie. We want to make sure that all of the effect shots are going to work before we move off to another location to get a few more scenes. It is kinda fun to be working on these different types of projects, and I'm watching myself act against a green background so Rob can drop me into other backgrounds. So far, they are looking pretty good. We're moving to another location now, so I'll try to write more on this later. Lots of fun behind-the-scenes.

Monday, November 3, 2008

5-Day Film Shoot Day 2 - UPDATED

Sunday marked the second day of shooting on the short film. I had a workshop to teach in the afternoon, so I was only around during the morning to finish my shots, but it was a lot of fun. We went out to someone’s house in Southampton, PA, and he is a WWII re-enactor. He has a basement full of uniforms and supplies, a working jeep, a machine gun emplacement, and even an air cannon to simulate explosions. Using a bug sprayer as a mini fog machine, we shot scenes for a little mini-action sequence on a French battlefield in 1944. The single coolest part was the air cannon. Adam and I ran away from the camera, we hit our mark, and then we jumped forward into the air and to the ground. As soon as we jumped, Mike set off the air cannon that blew debris into the air and a blast of smoke covered us up. When Adam and I stood up, we got a round of applause from the extras playing WWII soldiers. It was a fantastic feeling, even on such a small scale as this. Sure, I may have banged up my shoulder a little bit, but that's a small price to pay. The shot looked awesome on the little monitor on the camera, so I can't wait to see it on the big screen.

We had a little bit of trouble finding our location which led to a little time crunch while we were there, but overall it was a smooth day. The WWII re-enactors were really good about their part, setting up the machine gun and moving the Jeep whenever we needed them to. They had the enthusiasm and the energy to keep running up and down a little hill take after take. We were using a mosquito fogger to give the place a smoky appearance, the clouds of war blowing across the land.

One setup had us running behind the three American GIs, up a little path between two bushes, emerging into the main section of the backyard. The first time we did the shot, the GIs ran forward, Adam and I ran along behind them. As we got up around the corner and Rob called the "cut," the GI's all turned around to face me. I was looking at them through a heavy mist of smoke, all of them in full gear, breathing heavy, the Army Jeep behind them, the machine gun emplacement off to the right.... It was a pretty amazing sight, and it actually felt like we had travelled in time a bit (as per the idea of our movie.) On just this small scale, it was wild. On a bigger scale, it has to be exceptional.

Called out

For those of you that have been reading lately, I’m sorry that there have been no new updates posted. This is a funny thing, because the busier I am, the less time I have to write. But I’m busy, so any entry that I have to file would be that much more interesting. So it’s a destructive circle, and I will try to do better. I’ll also try to catch up on some Eurydice reflections, a photo gallery, and a report of the film I’ve been shooting this weekend. I’m working with friends on a five-day film project competition, and today is our last scheduled day of filming on the project. Rob is going to spend Election Day tomorrow editing the movie and getting it into shape for submission by the deadline.

The contest gave us guidelines for the film we had to make, including a genre, theme, prop, and line of dialogue. Rob was very interested in making something with an action-movie style for this project, so he and his buddy Adam came up with the idea of a chase scene through different time periods. Adam and I play time-travelers, and we are trying to prevent the bad guys from getting the capital-D Device. The project was ambitious from the start, and it was significantly hampered by our large group of characters but small group of actors. Some necessary rewriting and some creative filmmaking later, the project got a little simpler, but we did film the scenes we needed to film more-or-less on schedule. Another day or two of principal photography, and then a whole day spent editing, and then I’m sure Rob is going to sleep for at least a day when it’s done. Maybe until the official premiere…