Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Festival Screenings and a Game Plan


Thursday November 12th, 2009: Shutterbug was screening at the 2009 3rd Annual NY Greek Film Festival part of the American Indie night. The screening was a wonderful event and the best way to start public screenings of Shutterbug. The audience was receptive - and largely friendly, consisting of many of the film's cast and crew. There is nothing like gathering a group of people in a theater to present them the fruit of their own work. The collective reactions of the audience as they interact with a film (laughing, gasping, shifting, being captivated) is something that the internet's various platforms will never be able to compete with.


The screening was introduced by the Festival director, Professor James Demetro. The screening was attended by acclaimed actor Mr. Stathis Giallelis, Greek American journalists, fimmakers, industry professionals, friends and family of the crew, and more importantly for me, my parents who had flown in from Cyprus. It was very moving to have them present and my father recounted the first screening of his first feature, The Private Right, in 1963 in London. 46 years later his son was premiering a film in New York.


I stood in the back of the theater, watching the audience intently. Where did they laugh? Where did they shift? Where were they captivated? Despite my nerves, the film was warmly received.

After the screening we were fortunate enough to have a party hosted for us at the Pink Pony on Ludlow street, courtesy of cinephile and friend, Mr. Lucien Bahrage. I was fortunate to have the evening filmed by Vasia Markides - who consequently shot more events related to the film, which will be featured on a special DVD edition of Shutterbug (Coming soon!). The evening is recounted very nicely in filmmaker Aaron Lehmann's blog.


After all the fun and games of the festival, it was time for business. I was initially planning to release the film right away, and was discussing a December date with Cinema Village. However, I soon realized that the film would be buried under the avalanche of holiday movies that would be released - and also there was hardly any time to prepare for it. We decided to push the release date into February. I hired the services of Mr. Vincent Nebrida, a seasoned professional in the world of film marketing and distribution, who acted as a distribution consultant and publicist. We sat down and made a plan.


In the meantime, my alma mater, The School of Visual Arts, became interested in Shutterbug. Film Chairman Mr. Reeves Lehmann, invited the film to screen at the wonderful new School of Visual Arts Theater on West 23rd street. In a speech by Mr. Lehmann he mentioned that it was one of the first films by an alumnus to screen at the theater. Professor Gene Stavis and his excellent staff hosted the evening which constituted Shutterbug's second 'sneak preview' - as a film made for $XX,XXX.00... The budget was revealed to the student body in an effort to encourage them that low/no budget filmmaking is possible. However we worked on keeping the number from the press as the budget is so low that I was concerned no one would take the film seriously! The screening was free for SVA students and alumni and an email blast went out inviting IFP members and Shooting People Members and was also attended by various bloggers.


The 300 seat theater was packed. The projection was incredible. I had invested in a blu-ray disk (impeccably produced at Hello World Communications) to screen just for that evening. It is the largest screen that Shutterbug has ever played on yet. A wonderful room - a treat to any filmmaker screening their film there.


After the screening, Mr. Lehmann led an hour long question and answer session with the audience. Avid student filmmakers posed questions to actors/producers Nando Del Castillo and Brett Molé, actress Stella Velon and composer Tao Zervas and myself. Another event which was filmed and will be featured on future DVD releases. Some people had great questions. Others were totally lost and dumbfounded. I was beginning to understand my audience. There were those looking for a distinct plot, with development and closure - which Shutterbug has plenty of in the first two acts, but the third ventures into realms of the surreal. Then there were the others, who were more than happy to succumb to the film's own logic and venture on the surreal trip and be immersed in the ideas behind the aesthetics, situations and visuals. The second lot seemed older. Hmmm...


The release date was still an issue. My main concern about releasing the film in February was the Oscars. Who wants to open a movie on Oscar weekend? Negotiations continued with Cinema Village and we settled on March 19th, 2010. The date was finally locked down and Vincent and I made more plans: it was time to get the ball rolling on the promotional efforts. A note has to be made here that almost everything in the promotional campaign was a personal financial investment that I made - savings and credit cards - and in one very special case I received sponsorship as you will see in the next blog entry. In the next entry I will try to outline as best I can the whole strategy we employed to promote and publicize Shutterbug on a shoe-string budget. Partly because I think it was cool - but also because we did great work that should inspire filmmakers in their creative marketing campaigns. The tools are out there.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

LIVE FAST, CUT SLOW


POST PRODUCTION, FESTIVALS & THE FIRST SCREENINGS

Here we are, 6 months later for the next Shutterbug blog entry. For fear of sounding like a broken record, I won't apologize this time. But please do check out the rest of the blog for the beginning of the story on the making of the film.

The lights came up and there were smiles. The small group of friends who had just seen the most recent cut of the film were awake and smiling. For this I was truly relieved! Parrying the usual friendly and supportive comments ("You did a great job" - "You should be proud" etc) I sat down with everyone to get to the real issues: What were their questions at the end? What was missing? What did they not get, or what was not believable?

All this was invaluable information for me to understand how someone else was experiencing the film. Specially since the nature of the film is that it is a metaphysical adventure. A very personal journey which is not fully explicit. I was trying to achieve a level of intimacy between the character and the audience. Some people understood exactly what I wanted them to. Others did not - others even brought their own reactions and ideas that led me to see what I could not as director. But in each case I had the film considered by people I knew well. Friends and filmmakers who's aesthetics and taste in film I knew. This way I could interpret their reactions and make adjustments accordingly - and also know when not to make adjustments!

The process of editing Shutterbug was long and slow. Cutting the film myself was part of the issue, because I would work on a sequence of scenes and then I would have to step back from it for a week or so before I could really judge what I had done. I was constantly trying to refresh my eyes and not get caught up in the same details.

The second factor in the slow post process was that I was struggling financially. I was working to pay bills and meet work deadlines. The time I had available for Shutterbug was limited because most of the time I was shooting or editing something else! This left little creative energy for the film.

Then there was a break through. Jon Tripp, my good friend and fellow filmmaker from SVA stepped in. After a brief correspondence and DVD viewing of the film in his native Minnesota, he came to New York and for 2 weeks we watched the film and then went through it, cutting and adjusting, discussing what he thought did or did not work. I must have taken 80% of his advice. I don't think I could have worked with anyone but Jon since we always had a very good communication when it came to film.

Jon's view basically put the main structure of the film in place and crystallized the connection of Alex (Nando Del Castillo) and his mysterious muse, Thalia (Stella Velon). After Jon helped restructure the film and he returned home, we continued discussing it andI polished and fine tuned it as best I could. More screenings followed for more friends. By now, many scenes had hit the cutting room floor and I was at the 90 minute mark.


Turning to the special effects, I shot most of the live action elements against a green screen in my loft and then glued myself to my Mac's screen to train myself in Motion and Shake. Many, many frames later I had the effects I wanted: a full hallucinatory palette of blurs, streaks and glows for Alex to get confused about! It took a lot of time and patience, but eventually I made it happen. The process was important for me personally - being able to understand the fundamentals of animation and special post effects helps your mind come up with ideas on set about what is and is not feasible. It's good to know as a director. At the very least it keeps the crew from rolling their eyes at you!

The whole Post Production process of Shutterbug, being fragmented and coming in disparate bursts, took a good part of 3 years to complete. But was it over? I couldn't really put the film down. Every now and then there was a moment here or there that felt too long - or too short - or a few frames that needed to be shaved off various shots. The most exciting thing in this process was cutting lines. Removing a line at the end or beginning of the scene was essential, transforming the exposition from verbal to visual. This was my main hangup with my first feature to begin with, so reducing the dialogue was very satisfying.

As I was cutting Shutterbug I signed up to Withoutabox, started to burn screeners and sent the film off to various film festivals, with a note about the sound mix and color correction not being perfect (my usual neuroticism on how a film should be viewed kicking in). This is not an endorsement of Withoutabox - which belongs to the whole IMDB / Amazon family that makes a lot of internet dollars from indie filmmakers - however it was the most comprehensive way to handle festival deadlines without having to do extensive research. For this I was thankful.

Of course, after sending the film to countless festivals I am sure that many festival judges and their assistants watch the films on their laptops on the subway. There is such a huge volume of films being sent out as submissions that I'm sure they can't afford to spend as much time as they should on each title. And when you're a new, unheard of filmmaker with a no-name cast then I'm pretty sure it's the intern who watches the first ten minutes (while texting or eating), before referencing something they made in film school (which was better), and moving on to the next screener in the pile. Getting your foot in the festival door has more to do with who you know. And if you dont know anyone, you need to find someone who knows someone they know! The rejection letters flooded in.

Shutterbug was finally accepted to the LA Indie Fest, a showcase of films (interestingly called a 'distribution festival') where it won an award of merit. This was great news, and the laurels hit the website soon after. Encouraged by this, I kept submitting endlessly. I focused on US festivals as my goal was to get a US release.

After at least $2,000 worth of submission and Fedex fees, I was fortunate enough to have the film accepted to the 3rd Annual NY Greek Film Festival in November, 2009. The film screened at this annual festival of films from Greece on a Greek-American Indie night. It was screened for the first time in front of an audience made of the general public. Most of the cast and crew were there too: about 130 people, very nearly sold out. There was a gracious introduction by Mr. James Demetro, the festival director, who spoke of the importance of witnessing a debut feature. As the film screened, I paced outside, smoking a cigarette. I had quit some time ago and this was yet another 'last' cigarette.

In fact, It would be the first in a series of many last cigarettes as I was unknowingly just starting the nerve-fraying, intoxicating rush of the process of the commercial launch of the film. This would take me on a promotional campaign of self-distribution, exhibition, advertising, parties, special events and screenings, web promotions and videos etc, etc. The wheels were in motion, and all I could do was try to steer.




Saturday, December 12, 2009

Reflection

Firstly, I must apologize to those following this blog for the huge gap in posts. One of the reasons for this is that it has been very difficult to write about this next stage in the production of the film. Secondly, for those just joining the blog - please do return to the first entry to read about the making of the film in sequence, right from the start.

After shooting Shutterbug in November 2006, I felt we had accomplished a huge feat. The dailies looked great. No one could have guessed that we were shooting a no-budget feature film out the back of a van. The film has a 'few-hundred-thousand-dollar-look'. But there were some very big holes in the film and in early 2007 when I returned from our holiday vacation, these holes were gaping at me.

1. One key plot point scene was totally wrong. Wrong writing, wrong casting, wrong location, wrong atmosphere. It obviously had to be re-thought and re-shot.

2. The film was an amorphous lump of difficult to manage HD footage and an incomprehensible tangle.

3. Many small scenes were missing.

4. I had not shot the ending.

This all meant more shooting. I called Nando and we figured out a shooting plan. About a couple of weeks of work. Most of the small scenes that were missing we shot just ourselves, Nando and I. Parking the van on the side of the street, grabbing a few exterior shots and jumping back in the van. I actually enjoyed the process of shooting without a crew, just me, Nando and the camera. We were relaxed. These scenes work very well because of this. But I must give huge credit to Nando for being able to just walk through busy downtown locations, with a camera shooting him across the street, and give a subtle and engaging performance despite the distractions of the city, curious pedestrians and noisy traffic. It's a big deal for most actors to just get up there and work in the middle of the street, exposing themselves with no support other than the guy with the camera at a distance. We were bare bones and no fluff.


For some other scenes we had some assistance from Brett. The key scene I had to re-shoot was a bigger production. I gathered a select few of my colleagues to help and we shot in a basement location dressed to look like a psychic's parlor. It was a two camera shoot, with detailed set dressing, make-up and a lot of dialogue. We spent the whole day on it, and got some great material. I had re-cast the psychic to be a darker, more absurd character - and for this I turned to
Anna Gutto. Anna and I had worked before on some short films I had directed photography for. She had impressed me with her utter professionalism and understanding of the process of working with a camera and was very trusting and giving in her performance. She also totally got into the role.


We then had to tackle the ending, which was not only another production issue, but it was an aesthetic choice. In the script I had written an ending that offered closure and contentment to the audience. In short, I didn't like it. I wanted something more ambiguous. Something that would leave the audience with a good feeling, but at the same time a "but, wait..." thought that would linger with them. This decision was interesting as it brought out one main underlying theme of the film: telepathy.

We shot the ending in a gorgeous location, and I handled the scene like an epic - wide angles and a moving camera. The shoot was successful - finally we had a real wrap. That's when the nightmare began.

The process of organizing and logging hours of footage is the Assistant Editor's job. This was my 15th hat and I launched into it. This work is very tedious but essential in order to familiarize yourself with the material. However, I was back in the movie. The disassociation I had achieved with the trip to Italy had totally disappeared. So I put the film down again for a few weeks - worked on some shooting gigs, scraped some money together.

When I went back to the film, I finally finished a rough cut. It was an excruciating three hours long. It was full of fat, slow scenes and a strange twisting plot that had to be clarified. Disheartened, I put the film down again. By now it was mid 2007.

I got a call from my father around that time saying that he was going into production and wanted me to shoot his new film, which would be an HD production. Because of my recent experience with the format, and knowing the light and environment in Cyprus, I was the right guy for the job. So I got involved with the production of Little Ulysses and the Cyclops (coming soon...) and flew to Cyprus for what would be a 2-3 month pre-production & shooting period. That production is a long and intriguing story in itself and I can't really go into it here, but by the time we were wrapped and I was ready to return to NYC, it was January 2008.

Upon my return to NYC, Rossana and I had separated, I had to move to a new apartment, and was trying to pick up the various pieces of my life in New York. My first priority was to set up shop and start working again. At this time I returned to one of my old jobs: Cinema Village.

Throughout my college years, and for some time after, I was working as a projectionist in movie theaters. Initially at The Screening Room (now the Tribeca Screening Room), and then later at Cinema Village. I had always kept ties with the theater, but before I left they had a supervising manager who was controlling the venue - and he had recently quit. So I stepped back in as GM. I spent a lot of time re-organizing the theater and hiring new film-savvy staff. By film savvy I mean a bunch of film-geeks who can list all of John Hughes films in order of production date. The favorite down-time game of the staff is 'guess the movie in 20 questions'... I could go on. In any case, Cinema Village was my baby and I put a lot into it. I also picked up quite a bit of production work in the summer and was basically back on the scene.

Time to turn my efforts back to Shutterbug. I started cutting and rearranging the scenes in the film. I dropped a few scenes that were obviously not working. I also stuck to my father's advice - he had seen the rough cut and basically told me that the film had to be 'distilled.' The word 'distilled' stuck with me and I stopped editing and started my cinematic distillery.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Pressing on...

The Brooklyn Queens Expressway (BQE) bridges Queens and Brooklyn, stretching parallel to Manhattan, elevated some 50 feet off the ground in places. As you drive Brooklyn bound, the BQE offers some breath-taking views of Manhattan rising in the distance, the skyscrapers echoing the tombstones of a huge cemetary in the foreground. I explored this startling visual in my short film Kalipolis (2004). When we were shooting Kalipolis there I noticed the incredible sound of cars rumbling past at speed overhead. They would trundle by emanating repetitive thumps as though the whole expressway could not bear their velocity or weight. It seemed like a perfect setting for an ambience of doom. I loved it.


In Shutterbug, Alex the hallucinating photographer journeys in search of the apparition that keeps appearing only to him. He is led by her into the dark underbelly of NYC, meeting characters along the way as he spirals down through the various 'circles' of the city by night. Beneath the BQE he meets many such characters, each trapped in their own circle of hell.

Shooting under the BQE would start at around 4pm when it was dark enough to simulate night. Very often we shot late - very late - wrapping at dawn. We shot a scene with a group of fantastic Capoeira dancers who came on board at the very last moment, organized by Sujey De Coo "Rosa". We shot a scene with Frank Cadillac, a unique character actor whom Nando and I loved working with on Kalipolis. And, amongst others, we shot a scene with Mary Round, an wonderful actor who played the difficult role of a homeless vagabond. In all it was many late nights under the BQE in desolate parts of Brooklyn. Despite our fatigue, things ran smoothly, the exception being a run-in with a pipe wielding crack-head (a metal pipe). While the guys in the crew prepared for a fight - myself included (we had a machete you see) - our DP, Rossana Rizzo, calmly dispatched the wide-eyed assailant with a smile and a laugh!

At this point we were joined by Kat Rohrer of GreenKat Films who camera assisted Rossana on many of the GCC shoots, apartment shoots and BQE scenes.

With most of the night exteriors behind us, I was glad that we had managed to shoot everything by winter. Well, almost everything - there still remained a few transitional scenes that I was unsure of how to handle, that I kept pushing back... All through the film we were dropping shots because of missing locations or props or time constraints. One such missing prop was a dead rat. I needed a close-up of a dead rat under the BQE. I had walked by that location on my way home and had seen dead rats COUNTLESS times there. No dead rats that week. When you need a dead rat in this city you can't find one. So we had to drop the shot and pick it up when we could find a dead rat some time in the future (there was no way I was using a fake one).

In any case we moved on to larger set pieces and day interiors. A chaotic and complex scene of a fashion photo shoot was shot in Context Studios, a great indie-friendly space in Brooklyn. This was one of the most expensive days of the shoot and I figured I would need more crew to stay on budget. Unfortunately the gaffer I hired - whose name I will not mention - a friend no less - did not show up. And my AD was acting in the scene. The scene was also not scripted entirely. There were two streams of action happening: two groups of people interacting simultaneously and very little of the dialogue was scripted. So I sat down with the cast and we spent a good half an hour discussing their characters and their goals. We ran through some of the things they might be saying, and I left them to improvise in front of the camera. It worked. I think it was a combination of good casting, smart actors and the right environment for them to work in. I actually did very little but choreograph the camera with Rossana. I don't remember directing them much! We got the scene and came in on time and under budget, avoiding a costly overtime fee.

The other location that I used as a studio was The Greek Cultural Centre. The GCC had been supportive of my work in the past: I had shot a big segment of my short film Judith (2003) there. Despite the fact that they had a play running at the time - and geek dance lessons! - we were allowed to come in and build sets, use the rooms, set up a greenscreen cyc, and do as we wished! Without the GCC large parts of the film would not be as successful as they are. We even faked the place to look like a hospital waiting room one day - an executive office the next - and a thrift shop the next! We really moved in and set up the kitchen the way we wanted: Nando had bought me a crock pot for my birthday (I love cooking) and I would throw in raw vegetables, garlic, spices and olive oil at the beginning of the day, turn it on, and by lunch time we had a meal ready!

We also shot the opening of the movie at the GCC. An intimate scene where Alex takes a self portrait photograph of himself in a mirror before he goes to work. This scene was a pleasure to shoot. I am always most comfortable when I'm alone with my actors: just them, the camera and I. The immediacy is stimulating. Nando and I already had a relationship spanning back five years to the first short we made in 2002 and we were not only on the same wavelength, but surfing it. The scene is relaxed, natural and exactly how I imagined it...

We converted many locations to seem like something else. A friends' lounge bar became a psychic's parlor. The rooftop of a skyscraper was shot on the roof of a two-storey high building. A bar became a photographer's darkroom.

Other locations I didn't want to cheat for production value. We shot in a seedy gay bar; a very nice east village apartment ; Cinema Village movie theater ; an opthalmologists office ; Vin Noir - a cozy wine bar that used to be on Mott Street ; and my favorite, the beautiful plush restaurant The Strip House on East 12th street in Manhattan. All establishments supported the film and did not exploit us with high rental fees. For this they are portrayed beautifully in the film.

Production was taking a toll on us all. By week 4 we were all exhausted, anxious to wrap and our nerves were showing. Nando and I had a few small fights regarding timeliness (he was always on time - whereas I ran late every now and then by a few minutes)... And I would take out my frustration on Brett and Rossana when there were technical difficulties... We 'lost' a great dolly shot that we did in 14 takes to get perfect, probably due to a technical mistake on my part due to fatigue... not to mention the fact that we were all investing time and giving up paying work to accomplish the shoot.

I began to realize that we would not get everything shot in the 5 and a half weeks Rossana and I had allocated. It was a very difficult decision to stop shooting before everything was achieved. But I had no choice. We were almost at the edge of the world, but like Alexander, we had to turn back at the last minute.

Fortunately, it was only a film shoot. I knew we would be able to pick up a lot of the remaining scenes later. So I prioritized and shot the remaining main scenes. On our 'last' day of shooting, the champagne came out and we drank with zest.

I went home and amassed the hours of material we had shot, despite the gaping blanks. But, inevitably, the best thing to do after shooting a film is to forget about it. So Rossana and I went to Italy: Campania, Rome, Florence. During the trip I felt that I had accomplished a huge feat, and could say I had shot a feature film by 29.

Now whether it was a good feature film...

Monday, January 19, 2009

Shutterbug Teaser Trailer

video

The official Shutterbug teaser trailer. Stay tuned for the new trailer coming soon!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

SHOOT FIRST, ASK QUESTIONS LATER

I usually make dark movies.

Equilibrium (2000) deals with a man and woman in a turbulent, dishonest relationship, lust, and nightmares.

Orpheus (2000) retells the myth of the artist obsessing over his muse and seeking her out, only to reject her.

House of the Insect (2001) deals with a man who is coming to terms with his alcoholism, and accepts it rather than
seeking a 'cure'.

Judith (2003) deals with an artist/muse relationship of manipulation and control to the point of impotency, decapitation and paranoia.

Kalipolis (2004), considerably lighter than all the others, deals with a poet leaving NYC behind (along with a mysterious past) while a young girl arrives in the city for the first time, full of optimism.

Shutterbug, as a feature, followed similar orpheic themes of artist/muse, but I felt there should be a lighter, more optimistic ending. After all, the script had been inspired by love. As we entered production, I was not satisfied with the ending. As we shot, the lobes in the back of my brain were twisting in search of this new finalé. Sometimes it hurt.

Excited, stressed and eager, the shoot began, scheduled for 5 weeks.

We started slowly, mid week, just Rossana, Nando and I, shooting handheld in the city. The three of us traveled around: Chinatown, the financial district, Wall Street, Ground Zero, Midtown, Koreatown, the West Village, getting shots of Nando as Alex, the photographer, shooting the city. We interacted with many people - New Yorkers, store owners, tourists, immigrants, homeless people... and got a lot of documentary style material. Nando's great ease at being himself on camera, and being natural with people, helped achieve some great scenes.

We were very meticulous with releases, getting most people to sign. Many shots we stole - including those downtown where filming permits are not issued easily.

Ultimately many of the scenes we shot those first 2 days were cut from the final film because of a) lack of story relevance and b) the style was so different from the rest of the movie - it really felt like doc stuff. Maybe it'll make the DVDs deleted scenes! But the point was to start slowly. To ease into it. I hadn't directed a narrative in 2 years, and we were shaking off the dust.



The weekend arrived and we prepared to go Upstate to Nando's gorgeous three-story, red brick, gothic-style house in Athens, New York. The leaves of all the trees were turning golden, set ablaze by the slanting sun. We shot the most surreal of the scenes here, during the day, and then a lot of exterior green-screen shots. Nando has five wonderful kids, and they all helped out eagerly. It was great fun.

At night, we moved across the road to Nando's friend and neighbor Klaus Bock. Klaus had been sent our dolly parts (skateboard wheels, bearings, handles etc) and cut a piece of wood and put the whole thing together. When we arrived and I saw the dolly my heart leaped. Step aside Matthews! We got 30 feet of straight PVC track from home depot and we were rolling (and tracking)!

Next we shot a car crash on Klaus' property. I'm not going to give away how we did it, but it involved burning various car pieces that were supplied by the late Anthony Puorro who unfortunately passed away a year later. He also supplied copious amounts of beer which were much appreciated. I think I can make a movie without a full crew, but not without beer. Copious amounts of it, preferably. We burnt everything, shot the scenes, then drank.

Generally the whole community of Athens helped us make these scenes successful and I am indebted to them.

The next day Rossana, Brett and I played soccer with Nando's daughters Malikai and Miana before heading back to the city.

We had one day of pre-pro to line up some locations. We studied the huge production board that Rossana had made with scene-strips stuck with velcro on a timeline. The first leg of the city shoot would be all exteriors, to try and get the most of the good weather and gorgeous light. We lined up what I thought were the most important or difficult scenes to shoot first - as many exteriors as possible, fearing the ominous approach of December. First up were scene in the West Village.

Nando's day would start with a three hour long drive down to the city, from Athens, New York where he lives. He was simultaneously overseeing the remodelling of a house just outside the city. He would be outside my door at 8:00am. Despite having just dealt with frustrating electricians, carpenters and plumbers, he would still arrive with a smile on his face and plenty of energy. Rossana and I would pile in with all the gear - an inconspicuous photo backpack with the HVX, tripod, dolly and track, a few lights, ditty bag and the prop box. A binder overflowing with permits, shotlists, script pages, letters and notes was permanently wedged under my arm. By the end of the shoot the binder had disintegrated. It was bacon, egg and cheese on a roll and we were on the road.

Brett would drive in from New Jersey, toting with him more lights and mics courtesy of his father, Ralph Molé and Windfall Productions, and an occasional helper. We would meet at the location and the first challenge was always parking. Even with the permits, it's a challenge to find a parking spot in NYC, never mind one near the location. Somehow we still accumulated parking tickets. Ok, somehow Brett accumulated parking tickets. Near the end of the shoot he revealed to me a glove compartment stuffed full of bright orange envelopes!

The first couple of weeks went smoothly. We had a schedule, locations and permits in place and roles all cast. Photographer Michael Radassao tagged along on certain days, getting some great production stills. The light was perfect - we got some gorgeous shots of the west village with golden sunlight filtering through yellow leaved trees, slanting at that perfect Fall angle, slashing across a face, glinting off the concrete and bouncing back up to soften.

We shot in the West Village, East Village, Williamsburg, Midtown, Soho, the Lower East Side, and Battery Park City. I think the original script had over 30 locations. Most were in place - being bars owned by friends, businesses of former employers, and apartments of friends and friends of friends... but a few locations still eluded me.

For example, a diner. I could not afford the lowest rates that most diner owners were demanding. Being Greek, I was pretty disappointed by this. Especially since a high end restaurant had been extremely gracious in offering its location, food and staff to be in the movie for less than what it costs for a four person meal. Thank you Strip House on twelfth street. In any case, we tried to shoot in a couple of diners incognito, but got shut down. We finally managed to shoot in a lovely diner on Smith street in Brooklyn owned by a Greek Cypriot family of refugees from Rizokarpaso in Cyprus (which is now illegally occupied by the Turkish army). But the location proved to be too busy - not as visually interesting as I hoped, and I had to push the scenes back for a re-shoot and figure out a new setting for them.

It was the start of a long process of shuffling and reshuffling the shooting schedule on the production board while we were shooting. We were making progress, but we were also consistently pushing scenes back as we went along.

The day/exterior scenes went well. The weather was kind. No rain - great light. Apollo was smiling on us! Probably because he's mentioned in the movie.

We moved on to night/exteriors. Now Nando would work on the house all day, then drive down and shoot with us all night... Don't ask me when he slept. The main body of the night shoot was in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, under the BQE and in various industrial looking side streets. We weren't bothered by anyone... it was quiet and there were no problems. Save maybe that one night when the pipe-wielding crackhead threatened us under the BQE. While all of us guys prepared to fight him off, Rossana just laughed and smiled and calmed him down sending him off into the early morning darkness!

One of the most challenging scenes was the shoot on the Williamsburg Bridge. The scene involves Nando as Alex, finding that the bridge has been closed off to cars and pedestrians. But he gets past the barriers and decides to cross it anyway. On his way over he is met by a gang of skateboarders who try to mug him, he escapes them and they give chase across the whole bridge. The Department Of Transportation was very helpful in giving us permits to shoot - but we were not allowed to block any traffic or pedestrians. So we had to cheat the whole chase scene.

Rossana and I had walked the bridge and scouted it out beforehand. I had never directed an action scene or chase sequence, so we discussed extensively how to do it. Rossana came up with a shot list and order of how to structure the scene between the hunters and the hunted, and also a way to light the characters effectively with portable lights (because we were not getting a good light level on the walkway). To make matters worse, I wanted to have the camera float near the ground as the chase happened, so we had to figure out a way to mount the camera on a bike.

Nando brought down a real 'Bridge Closed' sign from a friend upstate which we place at the opening of the bridge for a few seconds to get a shot, and hoped no one would see us!

We started shooting after 8pm when pedestrian traffic had died down. But there were still a considerable amount of pedestrians to be avoided - who would appear in the distance and we would have to wait 3 minutes or more for them to walk by us, and out of shot. When I could, I would place the actors between the camera and the pedestrian in the background to solve the problem. But then there were the bike messengers on their way to or from Manhattan - who whizzed by us without warning, almost smashing into us (or other pedestrians for that matter). Those guys are nuts.

It was a long night of running (for Nando mostly) in freezing windy November weather at the top of the bridge... A few light stunts that the skaters pulled off went really well, and some tricky shooting, made the scene. We were ultimately successful so we went for beer and pizza in Brooklyn. I love the joints where you can get a small free pie with a beer - such a cheap and entertaining way to satisfy a hungry, tired crew!

Stay tuned for more production stories next time...