Making Friends: Journey from Story to Film, Part III

Okay, so hopefully you’ve been following along and by now you’ve read the original short story as well as the script I wrote as my adaptation. For me, the next step in the process was getting the motivation to actually make the film.

I’ve never truly considered myself a director. By nature, I’m very shy and though I have a particular vision for stories and the written word, it has become more and more difficult over time for me to convey these visions orally. When I have a piece of paper in front of me, or a computer, I have an easier time conveying the very look I am going for in order to fulfill a particular style, aside from the description already on the page.

That being said, there has always been something about this story that lends itself to an easy adaptation — easy in terms of all you need to know being on the page already.

From day one, when I was first in search of a crew, I went to two places first: Producer and Director of Photography. For producer, I talked first and only to my friend and colleague, Kyley Tucker. Kyley has worked closely with an amazing executive producer for a while now, and has pieced together smaller projects on her own to varying degrees of success. Kyley was immediately drawn to the creepy nature of the story, and the feeling of discomfort that a seemingly cute little old lady can bring to the table just by an overzealous desire to keep people close by.

With Kyley on board budgeting out the film and looking out for crew, I then went in search of an appropriate DP who understood the tone and style of the piece, and who could help me best tell the story visually and in interesting ways, but also with a familiar technique that was akin to TV series like the Twilight Zone. I talked to five DP’s, most understanding right off the bat the style I was going for, and one or two hoping we could update the story and shoot digitally, so they could experiment for their reels and own sanity.

There were a lot of factors in choosing my official DP, David Gibb. One was his resume and track record — I’d been around him on set before, in different capacities, and was always impressed with his work-ethic and his knowledge — and another was his blatant love of the material. Our first call was a waterfall of ideas for shots, with an understanding that we were aiming for a Twilight Zone feeling — not only with the bizarre and creepy nature of the story, but also with the intention of recreating an almost cheesy style of acting and camera movements — dolly in, zoom in, wide shots dominating each scene, and, specifically, deep focus. He also has a love for good old-fashioned FILM, rather than shooting digitally.

Digital vs. film was one argument I had with myself for months before finally settling on film. For one thing, if you’re going to go film, I figured, go all out. TZ was filmed on 35mm, so we knew we’d settle on that if we did turn to film. I have nothing against super 16mm, but 35mm…as a first film, might as well take the plunge, you know? Not to mention there is just a quality of 35mm that lends itself to classic, 50s filmmaking styles. With the Red camera, there was going to be a pristine quality to the finished film that would bug me no matter how clean it looked.

The other deliberation that continued between David and myself up until just a few weeks before filming was whether to film on black and white or color film stock. One consideration was the difference in price — B/W was cheaper up front, but more expensive to develop. But with B/W, there were many lighting considerations to consider, and with only a three-day shooting schedule, there just wasn’t enough time to set-up all the necessary lights for deep focus that were necessary. On color film, there is just more latitude in post to fix up the appropriate shadows and shading necessary for most shots, deep focus especially.

On top of our conversations, Morgan McArdle‘s speed at drawing our storyboards lent more confidence that our chosen shots were the right ones. There was no need to add on to what we’d already come up with, and her help and speed was staggering. See, we bought a certain number of rolls of film, and I for one was worried that we’d run out, even in three days of shooting. So David and I pared our shot list down based on how necessary each shot was, whether or not we’d need coverage/close-ups for certain sections within each scene, and how logistically possible each shot would be.

After Gibb signed on relatively early, other crew members followed — Chris Tornow for Production Design, Drew Kilcoin for Editor, Ben Russell for Sound Design, and the wonderfully devious (when she needs to be) Beth Burns as 1st AD. Kyley and I spent hours constructing our submission material to get the soundstage we wanted, and equipment would come along with that. Chris Tornow was able to design two sets — one for each apartment — on the one soundstage, which made filming much simpler than it could’ve been. We were left in suspense for weeks until finally getting a greenlight to use the stage, less than three weeks from shooting.

Chris brought up some design points I hadn’t even considered. For example, one of his first questions was, do we want the set to look like it was filmed in the 50s, or to be a period set — as in, set in the 50s. When you look at the Twilight Zone, most of their sets LOOK like sets, they look staged, the radios don’t necessarily resemble actual radios of the time period. Whereas, when you watch something like Mad Men, sets appear as if they were actual rooms and houses of the era — it’s a period piece.

I can’t thank Chris enough for taking on a lot of choices on his own, and even expanding Sharon’s apartment beyond my original imagining. I had always thought of it as a simple studio, one small room with all the furniture. But by expanding it even just a little, Chris added depth to the opening scene that was very much needed, an actual living space for Sharon that gave depth to the opening shot especially.

In the prep months, I also learned a lot about communication, about how to convey my imagination to each department. Makeup, hair, and wardrobe were especially receptive when I brought images to the table, including stills and screenshots from Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes, and were able to build on them considerably.

By far, one of the biggest challenges was acquiring the dolls to be used in Millie’s apartment. For one thing, we needed enough to fill the shelves and make it appear as if Millie had been collecting people for a good long while. For another, not only did we need a few male dolls, but one of the dolls needed to resemble Sharon, and others would need particular outfits that would match the actors who would play them eventually. Our wardrobe stylist, Colleen Wilson, is gifted and confident enough to design costumes not only for our tall actors, but also for these little dolls. It was a Godsend, and well-worth the wait when the dolls finally arrived early July.

Next week, I’ll go in to the casting process and how we found each of our great actors.

Thanks for reading along! Let me know if you have any questions at all!

Joe P.

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