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The good news is — ‘The Swing’ is almost finished.  The great news is — ‘The Swing’ was selected as one of three short screenplay finalists at the Dead Center Film Festival in Oklahoma City!

I’ve blogged all about the experience at my personal website, so head on over there for all the fun details:

Thank you, deadCENTER!
DCFF short screenplay finalist read-thru
My first film festival

Not quite a full day — just an evening spent picking up one scene.

We shot the APS office scene at OCCC yesterday.  A huge thanks to Anita Rhea and the Academic Affairs department for allowing us to impose on their office space!

Charmaine Thomas came on board as our Michelle Brown, and all of our actors did a terrific job.  Not pictured is Charmaine applying her fake nails — I had her go with red because Michelle has got the power.  We finally got some bloopers out of Laura (bloopers are hard to come by when your actors are so prepared!).

Kory and Ilea and I left our capstone class a little early to set up for the shoot.  We decided to white-balance the cameras under the fluorescent lights — we did not have the equipment to light it otherwise, and that’s one of the great perks about using digital cameras.  We were able to shoot with two cameras rolling at once, which helped us stay within the alloted timeframe we had between class and the building closing.  The biggest challenges we faced were trying to keep a school wall clock out of the shot and competing with the cleaning crew for quiet on the set toward the end.

We still have one more scene that needs to be shot — it’s been tough to coordinate schedules to get it done, but we won’t give up!  I’m also shopping for a good editor to work with on putting the project all together.

Just because principle photography is basically over does not mean the film is finished.  Now we move to the all-important job of video editing, sound editing and music scoring.  If you or anyone you know would like to apply for one of these positions, please send me an email.

Two cast roles are still open at this time: Toni Baldwin and Michelle Brown.  These roles need to be filled immediately in order to film the scenes within the week.  Toni Baldwin is an experienced, natural, good natured, highly knowledgeable recovery/support group leader, 40’s/50’s.  Michelle Brown is a strong, confident, overworked, underpaid black woman, 30/40ish.  Please contact me immediately if you wish to audition.

It is also important to note here that assistance would also be appreciated toward the funding of this film and its ventures upon completion.  OCCC provides $500 upon completion of the film, but the production has cost considerably more.  You could say that Discover Card is an unofficial producer of The Swing.  🙂  If you or your organization would like to contribute toward the production, post-production, film festival or distribution costs, I would be very grateful for your support.  I will be glad to provide producer credit for you.

Now, if I can just find another willing volunteer to help me put my house back together after the glorious prop scavenger hunt…

Not as much footage to obtain today, but man did we have miles to cover!  Day 5 is the day of multiple locations.

We started at the apartment, finishing up one exterior shot and another scene in Emma’s room.  Then we travelled all the way across town for an office shoot — special thanks to Dave Hanon at EthnoGraphic Media for allowing us to use the office as the location for Emma’s job.  Next we travelled downtown for a quick police station location shoot — special thanks to David Wanzer for allowing us use of the Oklahoma Theatre Supply Company property for filming.  And finally, we descended on The Underground in Midwest City for the coffee shop location — special thanks to The Underground owners for their generosity as well.

This might as well have been a Burning Gnome Production because not only was Kory Malcom the cornerstone of our lighting crew, but also his mom Chris was involved on Day 1 & 4, and his dad Byron jumped in as a last minute extra for us on Day 5.  The stage must be in their blood.  You will also find a special cameo performance from Ilea and myself as extras in the office scene (to Ilea I say thank you for crossing the line and doing the real dirty work, and to the audience I can only apologize for having to actually see me).  The talented actors Thaine and Lyuda did a fabulous job in the office scenes.  And thanks to Josh McKamie for swinging by the office set to give a hand on crew.

Hats off to actor Bradley Wynn for his help in this production.  Bradley is a former state police officer who could not only play the part, but he provided his own uniforms, props, locations, and a wealth of Oklahoma moviemaking history.  I am indebted to Bradley for all of his assistance.

Day 5 was probably the most challenging day of the shoot staff-wise:  Geoff & Justin could not join us on Sunday, so Skyler stepped in to man the camera for the day.  Most of the extras could not make it for one reason or another.  Car trouble plagued Kory and another person trying to fill the role of Toni for us.  Thanks to the dedicated crew, we were able to wrangle enough extras to make what we shot work, but we were not able to get the coffee shop scene in the can.

We wrapped at 9:50pm and began the final set striking.  There are still two scenes left to shoot that we could not finish and one exterior location shot, but I plan to get those within the next week or so.  The sooner we get it all in the can, the sooner we can get it all in the hands of a talented editor.

I want to end our principle photography blog with a special highlight:  As a filmmaker, if there is one thing I could get neurotic about, it would be the importance of sound and music in motion pictures.  They either make or break a film, even more so to me than the visuals.  I can imagine missing visuals, but the sounds of a movie are what make it so real for me.  George Lucas without John Williams?  I don’t think so.  I’m very excited because Brian has written an original song for The Swing, and it is amazing.  I can’t wait for you to hear it, and I can’t wait to see how it contributes to the story and emotions of this film.

It’s hopefully downhill from here, and it’s gonna be great.  I will continue to blog as post-production progresses.  Thanks again to my talented cast and crew for their hardwork and sacrifice.  What goes around will come around.  God bless you all.

A tremendously productive day.  Michaela, Kory, Geoff and Justin helped me to dress this different but similar apartment the night before, so we were a little more on schedule than last weekend.  Cameras are wonderful yet frustrating instruments — they are frustrating because they do not let you see everything there is to see, and they are wonderful because they do not let you see everything there is to see.  I guess it’s a love/hate thing.  🙂

First, we shot the remaining front door and kitchen scenes.  Then we moved on to film the scenes in Charlie’s room, the bathroom, Emma’s room and remaining nighttime exterior apartment clips.

The actors did a terrific job.  I don’t want to spoil any of the film for you, so the following may sound a little strange, but I know you will appreciate it after seeing the final product.  Jackie played Mrs. Sanders to a T, while John tried (unsuccessfully) to bump the film rating up to PG-13.  Special thanks to the Saturday morning traffic on Reno Ave.  John and Chris turned the task of making a simple peanut butter sandwich into a precious and captivating work of art.  Laura and John put their best effort into creating an extremely frustrating moment between two victims of Alzheimers.  The gentlemen of the crew demonstrated their superior class when Laura climbed into the shower to have a breakdown.

Geoff also climbed into the shower to get the camera rigged — it was a challenging task with very little equipment, but he was able to combine the school’s equipment with parts of his own personal car rig to finally get it up there.  The shot is not perfect, but we did get it, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s what counts.  From an artistic point of view, the shot not being perfect may actually lend itself to making the scene more powerful.  I guess we will see.

Special thanks to District Manager Justin at the Midwest City Taco Bueno for providing lunch for our hungry crew.  It was definitely muy bueno…and greatly appreciated.

Labor Day holiday — given up for payless work by this terrific team.

Another long day, but productive.  Call time was 9:00am.  We were scheduled to shoot the kitchen, living room, Charlie’s room, and remaining Emma night exterior scenes, but once again were not able to do it all.  We had to finish dressing the set, which took considerably longer than I had anticipated.  Because I have no Art Director, I am the art department.  I tried not to take it personally that Brian thought my piles of clutter in my house would be the best set dressing because “we write what we know.”  🙂  But ultimately I had to concede that he was right that Emma probably had even less time than I do to clean her house.

Then we shot the kitchen.  God bless Kory Malcom — he is a zombie film fanatic, and brought his fog machine with him, providing us with the perfect special effect.  The kitchen scenes were finished around 12:30, so we stopped for lunch.

Next on the agenda were the many living room shots.  I am pleased and proud to report that we got all of those done.  We did not finish until close to 11:00pm, but they are over and done, and that set is history.

With the a/c off for shooting, it was considerably stuffy in the apartment, but Laura and John were troopers.  John ate more spaghetti-o’s than he cared to and got to wear ketchup special effects.  Brian brought his mandolin along for breaks and gave us a taste of the song he is writing for the film.

At the farmhouse location, not having any electricity, we did not have a decent monitor plugged in for me to check the shots, and on Sunday we were mainly outdoors as well.  But on Day 3 that changed.  I was finally able to watch what was going on film like a real director.  No more guessing!  (Whoever made microscopic 3 inch displays on “professional” cameras should be shot.)  It also made me more picky, but Geoff is very easy to work with in spite of me.  We also discovered why feature films build their own sets rather than go on location — we only tried to fit 10 people into an apartment; can you imagine trying to fit a crew of 50 or more in there?

Considering that we only had access to the apartment for 3 days of filming, the next day being next Saturday, I decided to wrap so that we would have time to break down the set and all of the equipment, get them delivered to wherever they needed to go and return the minivan I rented for the weekend to haul (some of) it around.  The crew may be dedicated, but I didn’t think their day jobs would appreciate them being zombies the next day anyway.

What is ahead for me this week is finishing up the details for next weekend.  Lots to do and very little time.  But I am very much looking forward to the finished product.  I think all the hard work is going to be well worth all our effort.

Day 1 was long, but Day 2 was rough — perhaps I should say because Day 1 was long Day 2 was rough.  To give the cast and crew a little more rest, I bumped the 12:00pm call time back to 1:30.  We were scheduled to film the kitchen scenes and all of the exterior apartment scenes, but because of the time crunch, we only got to most of the exterior scenes.  I personally had a lot of trouble focusing and making decisions on so little sleep (I got a whopping 3 1/2 hours), so I am crossing my fingers that the footage works out the way I hoped that it would.

Moving into an empty apartment was like being able to start with a blank canvas.  While some of the crew unpacked and started to set up, others were making furniture runs (we used our own furniture, of course) and working on assembling the set for production.  I decided to eliminate the three kitchen scenes from the day’s schedule because of time and missing one character not yet cast.  So while the others were working like busy beavers, I grabbed the DP, Script Supervisor and John and set off to film Charlie’s exterior opening shots.  As soon as we finished, it was time to meet the extras on the playground.

The goal was a golden hour shoot on the playground for the final scene of the film.  A lovely tree was blocking the sun, so we did not quite get the golden effect I was going for, but when you’re no budget, you take whatever you can get.  That’s what post is for, right?

Having extras on set was something I had been looking forward to.  It was an opportunity to give friends and family the chance to be a part of what I have been working so hard for the last couple years.  Neighbors and co-workers came out, and Judi brought her son Blake to join in as well (Judi has her own cameo in that scene as well).  Just another reason I’m so glad my crew is so capable: I had to be able to trust them to do what needed to be done while I wrangled extras.  The real challenge came the moment we started filming and I had to juggle it all: watching the cast performances, watching the extras performances, and deciding which angles were working.  At some point I just had to let go of it and believe that it was all going to be great no matter what.  It’s not the first time I’ve wished it — what I wouldn’t give for a 1st AD!!

Now I know why feature films need every bystander off the set — and mean it.  You have to have releases from everyone who appears in your film, and for children that means parents have to sign.  Kids from the apartment complex naturally wanted to be in the film, but without a release, all I could offer them was a seat against the fence by the crew watching it all.  Thankfully one of my neighbors volunteered to work “security detail” for us!

There is one fairly major error in the last scene — I will not tell you what it was (I wouldn’t want to spoil your fun in finding it), but there is a continuity error that is entirely my fault.  Did I mention that I needed a 1st AD?

After golden hour waned, it was time for pizza and set up for the turning point night shoot with Emma.  That Laura is something else.  Not only is she very talented, but she’s also a hoot to have around.  Day 2 was our first day with her, and we learned that what she is used to is comedic acting on the stage at OU.  She kept the crew in stitches.  Unfortunately, I was not able to find a behind the scenes videographer, but I did make Geoff turn the camera on for a couple of her entertainment spots.  To me, the behind the scenes is always as much fun (or more) than the movies themselves.

We wrapped about 11:00pm, and the crew went home for a semi-decent night’s sleep.  I, however, began my four store quest to find a Kodak machine that would accept my camera’s SD card for some additional production stills we needed to dress the set with for Day 3.  A writer/director/producer’s job never ends.

One of the longest production days in the history of filmmaking, no doubt.  Call time was 8:30am, and we did not wrap until 3:00am.  Let there be no doubts that this cast and crew know the meaning of passion and dedication.

We started the day with the driving scene.  Pottawatomie County is a lovely place to go for a drive.  Geoff and Justin rigged an 80’s Buick to a trailer and rigged the camera in the car while the rest of the crew unloaded equipment and got the actors in costume.  We finished all of the driving shots just before 1:00 and stopped for a quick lunch.  Then we began the exterior farmhouse shoot.  There were two scenes to shoot during daylight in the front porch area.  We finished those at 6:00pm, then loaded up and headed back into town for a fabulous dinner — a HUGE thanks to Manager Tiffini Ketchum and Chili’s in Midwest City.

After dinner is when the real fun started.  We needed gas for the generator for the nighttime shoot at the farm and a couple other supplies, so John and I went to run errands while the rest of the crew headed back to the farm to see what they could get set up without lights.  Did I mention it was raining?  A huge storm was driving northward toward us as we were leaving the restaurant.  The lightning was so bad the OU stadium was being emptied at halftime, causing a lot of traffic for us to navigate, and I had to stop at three gas stations before I could find one where the pumps weren’t shut off due to power surges.  Great for safety, but not great for production.  The good news is that the storm never touched the farmhouse location.

One of the drawbacks of finding your location just days or hours before principle photography is that it makes it difficult to find the time to set up any of your camera angles before you arrive.  After juggling some different options and the standard technical glitches with equipment, we finally settled on a plan and got rolling on the most pivotal scene of the film.

I’ve never seen a child hold up as well as Gabrielle did on such a long, hard working day in the blazing sun and late into the wee hours.  She was an amazing little trooper, patient and good-natured, and her presence among us was a bright spot.  By 3:00am I knew we were all cooked, but it was all worth it because of the wonderful performances and terrific footage we got.  Day 1 set a high standard for the other days to come.

The main characters were assembled prior to principle photography in order to take pics to dress the set with and to include in the upcoming the press kit.  I won’t spoil the press kit stills for you, but here you can see photos of the photo shoot.

Special thanks to photographer Sandy Davis for her suggestions, terrific locations, time volunteered, and, of course, the beautiful pictures.  (Be sure to look for Sandy’s cameo appearance as an extra in the film itself.)

Jong Mabe came on board this production as the Wardrobe Consultant.  With her help, we have coordinated some looks for the characters to help their stories come alive on screen.

Though The Swing is set in central Texas, it is being filmed entirely in the greater Oklahoma City area.  Our very grateful special thanks to these individuals who have allowed our crew to trespass on their kindness and peaceful properties to create this film:

– Sara Weeks for allowing us to use her family’s farm to shoot our farmhouse location.  This location is very special because it has been in her family since the Land Run and also because we will be the first and last film to be made there — the farmhouse is scheduled to be demolished soon.  Also thanks to Dino Lalli at the OFMO for his help in finding the farmhouse.

– Meadowood Village Apartments in Midwest City for allowing us use of their facilities for producing the majority of this film.  This attractive, peaceful and well-located apartment complex has been very generous to allow us access to an empty apartment and around the property exterior.  We appreciate the Property Manager, Paula Maxwell, as well as their corporate offices, National Property Management Associates, very much.

They may be all volunteer, but this crew is nothing but professional.  This film would be nothing without these very talented individuals, and I owe them an enormous debt for their generosity:

Director of Photography – Geoff Boyd
Additional Camera Operator – Skyler
Key Grip/Gaffer – Kory Malcom
Grip/Lighting Assistant – Justin Boyd
Script Supervisor – Ilea Shutler
Sound – Brian Gililland
Casting Director – Brian Gililland
Wardrobe Consultant – Jong Mabe
Production Assistant – Chris Malcom
Production Assistant – Beth Wickman

Auditions were a great success.  Casting Director Brian Gililland and I found a tremendous group of talented actors with the help of the local casting agencies, university theatre professors, and a listing at the OFMO website.  Congratulations to the new cast:

Emma McGeary – Laura Stephenson
Charlie McGeary – John Ferguson
Young Emma – Gabrielle Clark
Sarah McGeary – Judi Arvay
Audrey McGeary – Michaela Bishop
Toni Baldwin – TBA
Michelle Brown – Charmaine Thomas
Mary – Lyudmila McCoy
Mrs. Sanders – Jackie Smola
Mr. Harris – Thaine Odom
Officer – Bradley Wynn
Mrs. Henderson – Chris Malcom
Waitress – TBA

Pre-production begain in mid-July — but looking back I wish I had started in mid-March.  Or maybe mid-January.

I began with the recruiting of crew members — the vital folks without whom there won’t be a picture of any kind.  Sure I can operate a camera and strike a light, but a one-man crew for a script like this is basically equivalent to suicide.  I knew without pay I needed to get these guys schedules booked early or risk losing them.

Next came the casting call.  Some of my fellow students have asked me how I approached this, so I’ll just tell you all my secret.  First, I went to the OFMO website and printed off their resource directory listing for all Casting contacts.  Then, I not only emailed them, but also every theatre professor of a major university (with a decent acting program) within driving distance.  I also contacted Brett Adkins at OFMO to post my casting and crew calls in the Jobs section on their website (thanks for your help, Brett!).  I received about 40 applicants for cast, and maybe 15 for crew.

I did learn that I should have allowed more time for additional auditions and for wardrobe.  Allowing time for this interfered with the location scouting I had already scheduled myself to accomplish.  The week prior to production I took afternoons off work and the day before completely off to make preparations.

The script calls for 12+ actors — Challenge #1.  The script calls for around six different locations — Challenge #2.  I sure didn’t think about those things when I wrote the script or when I selected it for my Capstone project.  Other fellow film students are fortunate to have 1 or 2 locations and 2 or 3 characters.  Just another thing to consider when factoring your pre-production time.

My first two, and primary, locations were the hardest to find — I thought they would be the easiest.  Surely everyone in Oklahoma knows somebody who has a farmhouse or a house out in the country somewhere, right?  Nope.  Surely a community college student knows somebody who lives in an apartment, right?  Sure — but not in the kind of apartment I saw for Emma.  Finding a ritzy or a gangville apartment was easy, but not one in the middle.  The farmhouse location was secured on the Thursday before production began, and the apartment was secured the day before.  Which presented me with Challenge #3 — preparation of camera angles.

While some of the script guides you directly to the proper camera angle, the rest of the script leaves it to your imagination.  Because I did not have enough lead time to get familiar with the locations, I really did not have the opportunity to plan out the shots.  Sure, you can plan to use a close-up or a medium shot of the characters, but until you’ve got the floor plan of your location, you can’t be sure that you aren’t breaking the line or that you are limited on where the furniture and props can be placed.  Not being organized ahead of time complicates the process.  But hindsight is 20/20.  And my difficulty in finding locations was not entirely within my control.

I am fortunate enough to not only be surrounded by film students but I also work for a film company — my extremely talented co-workers being wonderful sources of wisdom and helpful tips.

At some point I will try to revisit this post to update it with more of the things that I learned during pre-production, but until then, I’ve gotta go get back to work on what’s at hand.