Friday, January 30, 2009

Something to make a Friday night

I stopped by a favorite thrift shop this evening, chiefly to look for a prop for our use in the film that we are shooting tomorrow evening. But as I was browsing the racks of bric-a-brac, I found a little something that stood out to me right away, and I picked it up before anyone else had a chance to see it, let alone take it. A pictures is below:
This is a working radio, AM/FM, about a foot high, with a knob for volume and a knob for tuning, and I've already been using my ipod transmitter to broadcast some episodes of old time radio through this radio. It really feels like stepping back in time to hear the voice of Orson Welles coming out of that contraption. I am such a fan of the old time radio, it was a real treat for me to find something like this in a thrift store. Not only is it a great prop for my Radio Hound Production projects, but it also seems to be the perfect accessory for a custom action figure... of The Shadow.

I'm as giddy as a schoolboy.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Swinging the sword in the marketplace

LAst night after we finished the sound mix on "The Chrononauts," Rob and I got on the phone with Rufus, our third filmmaking partner, to discuss the feature-length version of "Chrononauts" that we want to film this summer. They had come up with some ideas, and I've been struggling with the idea on my own. We kept having some trouble figuring out the exact story, however. We couldn't figure out who the bad guys were. And since this is going to be an action film, any action film is only as good as its villian. We had a couple ideas that we weren't completely sold on, and then Rufus and Rob came up with another idea that really used the element of time travel to our advance. But, as it turns out, it was more of a disadvantage. We kept running into paradox after paradox when we were trying to break that story, but we could never figure out the way around some major flaws of both logic and drama. We did, however, have the common sense and presence of mind to always recognize when our ideas were getting away from us and getting too complicated. When the story got too strange and extreme, we kept using an analogy of "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Instead of being the Cairo swordman swinging the sword in the marketplace, we needed to be Indiana Jones and just shoot the guy.

Once we simplified our thinking on the villian and the motives behind his actions, things started falling into place for us. Our first approach to the idea focused clearly and strongly on the sci-fi elements, but we adjusted our thinking to be much more in line with the action/adventure film that we wanted to make. Once we had that simpler story in mind, the story actually came a lot easier. We kept hitting question after question, but we were able to distill all those questions and problems into a single story. We set some deadlines for writing the script, which we're trying to have done in early March to shoot over the summer. That's the plan.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Sound mix

I'm sitting here in the head studio of Digital Reality Films, Inc, working on our final sound mix of the long version of the short film "The Chrononauts." Since we produced the five-minute version of the film in early November for the film festival, Rob and I have been working on the longer cut of the film, which incorporates some new footage, new scenes, and some brand new special effects shots, as well as a complete end credits sequence. We've made some things clearer than they were in the original cut, which can be viewed on the DRF website, and at the link below.

At the moment, we are going through the sound effects library looking for the appropriate sound effect for the destruction of the crystal at the end of the film. The sound effect in the movie now is a little too.... hesitant.... for such an important moment, so we're looking for something with a little more bass and a little more weight to foreshadow the sequence that's about to happen. We've moved from body impact sounds through technological sounds, into zombie sounds and now finally we're into general creepiness sounds.

Rob says hello to everyone out there.

The sound mixing is an interesting part of this process, because it is our job now to make these things sound better than they actually did. Sure, we have all the practical effects that were created on the set, as well as the sounds we generated. But when we added in music on top of that, we need to go back to create a second soundtrack to enhance what we already have there.

We're hoping to finish this final sound edit this evening, at which point we only have to create a end credits sequence for the short film. It will then be posted online at DRF home, which I hope is bookmarked on all your browsers. And if not, remember there is a handy-dandy link to it in the "Behind the Scenes" section on the right of this blog. We'll keep you posted as to when that happens, and the official release date of Chronoauts 2.0.

Some final thoughts on "Cock"

I took this picture at a pancake restaurant in north Jersey, but I think it sums up my feelings about this play.
The show overall was a great experience. I really liked directing, I enjoyed working with my girlfriend, and I'm really excited that I now have a credit in New York City. It was also an interesting process to work on a show with the writer/composer. I was able to ask him questions and get his perspective and input as to why he wrote things the way he did. If we then had a difference of opinions about what the moment in the play meant, we could try our best to adjust the final answer so that it was the best possible stage play it could have been.

But the cock in that picture is menacing me, trying ever so slightly to eat me. I had the discussion with the composer early on that I wasn't trying to be the "writer" of the piece, that I was just going to come along and be the "director." But I did want to add a little bit more of my own ideas into the shape of the script. But since I entered the process late, I had to relinquish some control on the script in the pieces I wasn't there for. Also, we took pains to keep as much of Melville's language as we could, considering the show was being produced as a part of a Melville festival. If we bring the show back again, which there has been talk of, then I certainly want to have a more direct role in creating the shape and style of the play, instead of it being a straight-forward "telling" of the story.

Overall, a rewarding and fun experience.

The last crow

I was back in NYC this weekend for the last performance of the musical I had directed. As a director, my job was done over a week ago when the show premiered. At that point, the actors and stage manager took full charge of it, turning it into their show while I went back to Philly and returned to the window mill. Even so, it was a lot of fun to come back and be there with them as we set sail on the final voyage with this musical. It was a full house, a fantastic show, and the company even got a second curtain call after they had left the stage. They came running back out, somewhat surprised that they were being called for again, and they took a very pleased bow to their supportive crowd. The stage manager for the festival, who saw all of the shows, said that we were the only company who received that second call. Pretty awesome for us.

It was a great performance overall, too, a really nice one to go out on. The writer/composer gave us all a massive book of Melville's novels, something nearby the size and weight of a Bible. My parents were also up from Philly to see this last show, and so I went out to dinner with them after the show at a fantastic NYC restaurant. They had a creme brulee to die for. My girlfriend was there as well, along with two of her brothers, and another friend from CT came down to see the show and grab a drink with us afterward. It was a really great evening, and a great way to see this show off into the resume.

Friday audition

This past Friday I headed into Philly for an audition for a student film produced and directed by an old friend who used to work on the TV series "Paper Cuts." I remember having some good times with him on the set of the old show, so I was certainly interested in coming to play with him on another project. They were holding the bulk of the auditions over the weekend, but since I had to be in NYC over the weekend, the director and the art director came in on Friday afternoon to hold my audition. I gave my prepared monologue, and then I did a cold reading from the show. It was one brief scene toward the end of the film, and he gave me the opportunity to play the scene a few times, trying different approaches to the role. After the reading was over, we chatted about the shooting schedule, and he gave me the script to take home and read.

Riding the elevator down to the floor, it was kinda strange. I am 95% sure that I have the role in the film. I mean, he talked about the schedule, told me he wasn't really considering anyone else, and then gave me the script to read, so that makes up for just about all of the "sure"ness factor. That last five percent, however, is the sentence where he says "You have the role." That little sentence accounts for that last 5%. He was supposed to have his auditions looking for the female lead on Sunday afternoon, so I'm expecting-slash-hoping to hear some details about the project soon.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Moving to something new

Last night I headed up to Cedar Crest again to start work with Tim and company on an original play. We're calling our work the "Sparks project," and it's going to be a piece that we write together as an ensemble. Tim is there to facilitate the project as it goes along, but all the actors and technicians are going to have a hand in writing the actual script for the piece. After we introduced ourselves and laid a little bit of groundwork for the kind of project that we would be doing, we worked on an exercise that would generate a lot of text and do it quickly. Tim read a short section from a book he has, and then we started writing in our books about that section. After a minute or two, we passed our books to the left, read the last few lines that had been written by the other person, and then we wrote for another few minutes in this new notebook. That continued until we went all around the circle and finished up writing in our own notebooks again. We then read our notebooks out loud, sometimes struggling to peer through each other's handwriting.

It was a fun exercise, one that I've never done before. I tried to turn my brain to the "off" setting and just write whatever came to my mind. Through the first four notebooks or so, I found that I was engaging in a discussion with myself as I went from one notebook to the other. Each subsequent fragment spurred my mind into opposing directions, as I struggled to work through similar and yet different ideas. But after the fifth or sixth, and certainly seventh, book that crossed below my mechanical pencil, all the thoughts were much more independent and free-flowing. It was a pretty trippy thing to read all the results of this process, and I'm excited both to do my "homework" for this show, as well as come back next Thursday night to do some more writing (or whatever.)

Good thing I can program the VCR for Smallville...

Friday, January 16, 2009

Opening Night Success

Last night marked the opening night of "Cock-A-Doodle-Doo." Our show was the second one on the double bill, following a 40-minute presentation of original poetry inspired by Melville. The whole reading was a little static and a little slow paced, but her poetry was well-written. Then there was a little break while we set up our play, and then the actors went out to fly on their own merits for their first show. I was forced to sit in the second row and see how the audience of about 25 people was going to like out little play. And it all went very well. The audience liked the show, laughed at some of the best places, and gave a lot of applause at the curtain call. I tried to hold off on taking any notes, since I personally think that the performances of a show should be free from major interfere or contribution from the director. Especially for a show that only runs four performances.

Try as I might, I couldn't hold off from taking notes, but most of them were just technical notes. I hadn't seen the entire show with all the light cues, so I had a couple changes that I want to make to that side of the show. And then there were just a few general things that I will make the actors aware of, but nothing major and certainly nothing substantial. At this point, the show is what it is, and I'm not going to be able to change anything. Nor would I want to. Some friends came to the show last night, and they all had very nice things to say about the production. A woman who I had worked with at Bristol Valley Theatre a few summers back, and she said that I should be very proud of my New York City debut. I am. The cast has done a great job in a short amount of time, and they should be very proud of the show that we've put together.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Tech afternoon

Yesterday was our technical rehearsal for "Cock-A-Doodle-Doo." Tech rehearsals are normally done over two whole days and close to 24 hours, but we had to do our whole technical in only three hours. Since we're part of the larger festival, we're splitting all the time we have with the other productions, so we are limited in the amount of focus and time that we get from the production staff. But it's all good, cause our lighting designer Maryval was totally on the ball when it came to design. She came to see the show on Friday night when we did our run-through, so it was really easy when it came to actually writing the cues. As long as the process was, it ran relatively smoothly. There were no major train wrecks, no major stumbles, and there were only a few times when we really had to stop and work our way through the cue. The opening of the show and the closing of our show took a little focused energy, but everything went really well. We have four more days in which we are going to run the show, and then we open on Thursday.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Photo Finish

This photo is of our composer/writer/star Danny rehearsing a scene, while Rachel plays the violin behind him.This next photo features Aaron as Merrymusk, the "singular man," with Andrea seated behind him and Rachel writing a note into her scriptbook on the table.
Here we have Aaron, Andrea, and Rachel performing the role of roosters, as Danny comments on how ugly they are. This final photo is the final moment of the play.
I'm hoping to get some photos of me directing, but I need to get the stage manager to take some. Too many photos of actors get tiring after a while...

Blocking the show

Over the last two days, we've blocked the entire show. More or less. There are still a few holes that we need to fill in, mostly just a little piece of staging and a small moment of stage combat that we need to block. We took more time on the first act that I had originally planned, but we finished it all in the two days we had. Which was a good thing, cause that was all the time we had. Since we only have about a week to rehearse this show and get it ready to perform, I've been simplifying a lot of my staging ideas so that they're a little easier both to teach and to perform. Why needlessly complicate something that could work in a simpler way? An example of this in action came up this afternoon when we worked the song "Hard World." I had written down a few ideas for stage movement during the song. When I let the cast sing the song, we discovered that it all worked much better as a simple song that didn't need a whole lot of movement. It's the kind of fun things that you can discover while rehearsing that wouldn't occur to you otherwise.

We've also got some fun sequences that we've figured out. We have our "big-production number" song that really makes me laugh, and we also have a really touching ballad about one of our leading characters. We also have a pretty cool final stage picture, as well as a scene in which all our actors pretend to be roosters. What's not to like in a show with all that?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Blocking the "major numbers"

After speeding through the show again musically, we took a dinner break before we headed off to the theatre to work on our first staging rehearsal. I gave us an extra evening to work on what I started calling the "major numbers" of the show. Lots of the songs are simple and short, but there are a few that are going to require a whole lot of planning and practice to get them to look good. So instead of taking all the time to work on them when we have to be blocking the show, I wanted to see if we could get them done on the first day and then go fill in around them.

Overall, it was a good rehearsal. We didn't do as many songs as I would have hoped, but even I admitted that my plan was a little ambitious when I had only two hours to work on it. But we got the opening and the finale done, and those were the two that were giving me the most headaches when I sat down to plan them out. We've certainly got a lot of the hard stuff under our belt now, and it's a matter of getting on to the simpler and quieter moments in the show.

It is somewhat of a challenge, through, to be blocking a show slightly out of order. For instance, we have three of the songs blocked, so we know where everyone needs to be in order to start them. Which means that as we work the scene that leads up into those numbers, we need to make sure that we keep things consistent so that the actors can end up where they need to be. Otherwise, we'll have traffic issues and we'll have to go back and work out those moments again. We don't have the time to work those moments again, so it was important that we get these things right the first time.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Getting up to speed

Yesterday was our first day back working on the show. The plan, in four hours, was just to run some of the music and get back up to speed. But the actors were far better than that, and we were able to run the entire show with time to spare. So we worked on a few alternate ideas and cuts, and we all left feeling pretty good about going back to work on this. We started bringing acting dynamic and intentions to some of the choral music; we need to to all have a point of view and not just be "pretty." Hearing the singers fool around with some of these ideas has, in fact, given me a bunch of ideas for the staging of the show. We'll start working on that tonight, after we go through the show musically again. I need to sit and work on some ideas this afternoon before and during rehearsal, because I don't have a solid enough foundation to start what we need to start at 7pm tonight....

I have confidence I can make something up, it's just a question of trying to get it 75% right the first time, since we don't have time to make a whole lot of changes to whatever we do. That's the scariest part for me. Not that we have to stage a rather complicated and abstract show, but that we get only about 40 rehearsal hours in which to do it.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Since I was just talking about books...

My girlfriend sent this link to me, and it's for a NY Times article about the death of small-time booksellers due to the rise in yard-sale booksellers. With so much technology swirling around us all the time, we are always only two steps away from being strangled with our own HDMI cables. But books have a feeling of security, that they will always be there for us. But when it becomes too expensive to make paper and cheaper to produce everything as files for our iphones, will we still be able to crack the pages of a newly printed book, ruffle through it, and have that evocative and distinct "new-book smell" waft up out of the pages?

There is a story that, when a young doctor-in-training, Arthur Conan Doyle took money to buy his lunch every day. But instead of lunch, he would buy a used book from a bookseller near his office. Those used books remained some of his most treasured possessions until his death. Books can have history. I love knowing that someone before me pawed through those pages, loved the story, connected with the characters, and then wanted to pass it on. You can't have that sort of connection with a digital file on your computer or your ipod.

Adapting a Classic

We're going to start the rehearsal process on Saturday for "Cock-A-Doodle-Doo," but that doesn't mean that we've been taking a break on the project. Oh no. I spent time emailing back and forth the the writer/producer and the stage manager, looking at proposed cuts to the script and trying to get the most out of our production. But as we look at specific issues of cutting lines and rearranging passages, we came across a much more fundamental debate about the issue of adaptation. So I'd like to also take this opportunity to reflect a little bit about what I think makes for a "good" adaptation. Almost ten years ago, there were some fine examples of the art of adaptation, in terms of turning books into movies. And the examples were all the most shining because both projects took very different approaches to the material, and both achieved different results. I refer, of course, to "Lord of the Rings" and "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone."

When setting out to adapt "The Fellowship of the Ring," Peter Jackson decided to tackle the book that many people had long considered "un-filmable." When the time came to work on the actual scripts for the films, Jackson and his fellow screenwriters made some excellent decisions adapting the books for the screen. They knew that some sections would not translate well onto film, and those sections were either changed or cut. (Hence the loss of Tom Bombadil, and the compression of time early in Hobbiton.) He also changed scenes around to give the romantic pair more screen time together, even though they didn't have those scenes in the book. Was his script letter-perfect to the Tolkien novel? No, even if he did take full speeches and pieces of the text. But, more importantly, did the film capture the spirit and flavor of Tolkien's story? Yes, even if some scenes were changed around. Peter Jackson didn't lock his script to the novel, insisting on shooting the source material exactly as it was first created. He adapted (note the word!) the story as it appeared in a novel, and he presented the story as it would be best perceived in a film. Going from one medium to another requires that changes be made.

On the other side of this equation is Chris Columbus' first Harry Potter film, "The Sorcerer's Stone." I'll confess that it's been a while since I read the book and saw this movie, but I remember that very little of the book was changed for the film. Almost everything was how it was on the page, with the exception of a few scenes that were moved around to give the movie a little more time on the Hogwarts Express. But since the script doesn't translate, or "adapt," the story for the new medium, the movie itself seems slow and poorly paced. And it's not a matter of the story or the characters, because I am a fan of what Rowling created in this series of books. But it's not just about putting the page on the screen, but rather adjusting and adapting so the new experience is something different than the old one. If the movie is just the same as the book, why did you make it into a movie?

As you can see, I fall solidly in the first category, thinking that the best adaptations are the ones that can make a successful leap into the new medium of entertainment. I wouldn't have long descriptive passages in a movie, and long scenes that play without any dialogue can be beautifully written in book-form. But film and theatre are mediums of the visual, while books are a medium of the imagination. I'm always pushing for the cuts to be made in descriptive passages, or sections in which the narrator is describing what he is doing. It's a stronger theatrical choice to simply see the action, instead of hearing about it as well. Our stage manager wants to preserve as much of Melville's actual words as possible, leaving the narrator's voice intact as much as possible. Our writer/producer has declared that he is more conservative when it comes to cutting things, but that he's open to trimming here and there to tell the story in the best way.

I will keep updating the blog as we encounter specific instances of these different, yet compatible, opinions. I love this kind of stuff!