Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Self Evaluation for working on the short film "A Poker Hand"

I don't actually know if this is supposed to be published to our blogs but I think that it would make a good blog journal entry so here goes:



Working on my film, "A Poker Hand," was harder than I expected due to the fact that the only two people making this film were Christina Harper and myself. I tried to cover all the bases that I could so that I wouldn't be a burden to Christina. Starting the whole project off was when my script was chosen to be used for a short film. I was very happy and excited that my ideas and thoughts on paper were going to come alive onscreen. I was prepared to be the Director as well as Screenwriter and Editor because to start off with here were 3 people in my group. When that person dropped out I also had to become the Cinematographer. This was not an easy thing to do but lets continue from right after my script was picked. So the first thing I needed to do as a Director was Storyboard and Cast the actors necessary to make the film. While I did this Christina scouted locations, looked into permission contracts if necessary and a whole bunch of things that the Producer has to do and she mainly composed the Production book herself after asking me for my input for the different things that belong there. So I casted the 4 actors, Andrew, Shea, Kelly, and Paige to play the characters. I casted Travis Spangenburg to be the Narrator. So let's met the cast and crew of "A Poker Hand."

Andrew Andrulewicz played "The Man"


Shea Lee played "Carol"

Paige Newman played "Alice"
Kelly Towles played "Brie"
Travis Spangenburg played the "Narrator"
Christina Harper is our wonderful Producer
Me, the Director
Andrew the Cat was our Moral Support


 I Storyboarded the short film out and ran into a problem.  My Storyboard had almost 90 cells in it. (Also, since we had no location solidly picked out it was impossible to be sure of whether or not what I was storyboarding was possible. So I just hoped for the best and went on with the program.) I knew that there was no way that I'd be able to get all the shots I wanted so after I wrote down a shot list I went back through it at the same time as i was going through the script and cut some of the shots that were not necessary to the story or that, with no budget, were impossible to get filmed. I still had a ton of different shots that I wanted listed and it came down to being on set and seeing what was possible to do in the time that we had and made further cuts to the shot list from there. We got lucky and were able to find a place to film that had a bathroom that one could see from a poker table in the room next to it. However, the place we found had a window and that mean that we would only be able to do night shoots since that is when the action occurred. After seeing the set it was very apparent that many of the things that I originally wrote in the script were not possible to do with this location so that, while compromising some of my ideas, helped shorten the shot list. I learned basically the first day of shooting that I would not be able to get my dream film done exactly as written. I had to take the time to decide what changes I needed to make so that the essential plot and feel of the film stayed the same.
Bathroom part of the set
View of the bathroom from the poker room

Poker Room view of the set

While it was difficult to do, I sacrificed some shots and costume/makeup ideas so that we were able to get the film done. I was not going to be able to paint all of the characters' faces one whole color so I changed it to just putting a card suit symbol on their cheeks, when that turned out to be impossible to keep constant, I sacrificed it to help with continuity. This was also the reason that the brandy bottle and glasses were cut from the filming. Continuity was the main issue I looked at when I was going over the revised script and making even more changes. I made sure that none of my actors was wearing any jewelry so that that wouldn't be a continuity problem and with the help of Shea made sure the makeup each actor wore remained the same throughout the days we were shooting which is in itself no small task. The biggest continuity problem that I came across while editing was the placement of the poker cards and poker chips. I had to scrap many takes for that reason.
Our biggest Continuity Problem

One of my duties during filming was to check out the camera, lighting, and sound equipment for us to use to shoot our film. I had to check it out from Pam Sears and carry it all across campus to my dorm which caused me pain in my shoulders and back. I made sure we had this everyday we were shooting after my mistake of the first day and forgetting to check out sound equipment.

With the help of the girls in the production, I was able to costume everyone in somewhat the costumes that I wanted when I wrote the story. My biggest concession on that part was accepting the fact that the wig we were able to get was not going to make the character look older since it was pure white. We tried to dirty it up but nothing worked and I eventually accepted the fact that this is a student film and that we had to work with what was possible and not necessarily what I really wanted. The only person that did not contribute to costuming was Andrew which is totally understandable when you think about i. Since he's a guy it is unlikely he would have had the clothing and items necessary to impersonate a woman. So Christina and I were able to get him a costume so he could impersonate a woman out of our combined wardrobes.

Andrew becoming the old woman with the help of Shea Lee

Andrew wearing the horrible White Wig
During shooting I ran the camera and Christina held the boom. Christina also helped set up lighting equipment while I set up the camera and the set itself. She helped me dress the set and rearrange the lighting so that whomever we shot would be visible.

Lighting the set
I also ended up choreographing the fight sequences for 2 of the deaths by myself and 1 of the death's with Shea's help. The fake blood I had bought at Party City to use in this sequence was toxic and Shea wanted to have blood coming out of her mouth after she died. So, I came up with a concoction that looked like blood but was not toxic to eat. It consisted of maple syrup, red food dye and I mixed in powdered sugar to make the syrup thicker. The result was quite pleasing to the eye but not to the stomach. It actually looked better than the fake blood I had bought so we never ended up using the fake blood that I bought, instead we made more of the syrup and powdered sugar concoction. I never tasted it myself because I knew it would be nasty but Shea wanted the blood so she was willing to use it for the few takes we had to get the shot done but it was obvious that it tasted horrible.
Screenshot: Blood dripping from Carol's mouth

Filming the shots myself turned out to be somewhat better I think than having a separate cinematographer. I was able to see what I was getting and when I got to the editing I already knew what I was dealing with. After 5 days of night shoots, our filming process was completed and we all went out to he Waffle House that night after 12am to celebrate. It was kinda funny and odd since I got their first. There were a couple of policemen sitting at a table near me while I was waiting for the others to get there and I still had stains on my fingers and hands from making and using the bloody concoction. I felt kinda like a criminal almost caught red handed. However no one asked about it and anyways it smelled like syrup and I was in a Waffle House. One thing that helped prove the validity about whether the blood looked real was when Andrew arrived. He still had some blood on his arm near the elbow that he was having trouble getting off his skin so he picked up a napkin and started to wipe it off but it wasn't working well then one of the waitresses came over and asked if he needed a band aid. We all laughed and explained that it wasn't real blood and we had been shooting a student film and everyone laughed. One thing I can now do to basically anyone in the production is whenever we're together and there is a bottle of syrup nearby, I can point at it and say, "Inside joke." Then most of the cast would laugh but Shea would get angry since she's the only one who actually tasted it.
From Left to right: Paige, Shea, Kelly, and Andrew
All in their costumes on the last day/night of shooting
After filming most of the work fell to me to get the piece edited on time. So I sat down with my Mac and iMovie and started going through the almost 4 hours worth of footage taken to make this 6 minute film. It took awhile but I was able to come up with a decent preliminary edit to show my cast and crew mate Christina by Tuesday. My next job was to mix in sound and music to add to the film. And let me tell you it is almost downright impossible to find any music in the Public Domain in the USA. I tried and finally ended up using sounds from Freesound.org for almost all the effects and music. The only exceptions were the two pieces of music with lyrics that I did find in the Public Domain. After I added those into the film Christina came over and together we put together the end credits making sure to name every single job that someone had to do and put their name by it so they would get credit for doing it. With that done we went over the bloopers I had pieced together for the cast copies of the DVDs which I'm almost through with. I just need to add the credits to the end of it. But that's not a required part of our project so it can wait. After finishing the edit it was time to transform it into a DVD. I sent the project to iTunes and sent it from there to my DVD maker software. I came up with a menu and background music that works really well. So my DVD is now made and ready to be turned in. Actually it was ready last Thursday so it could be turned in on time on Friday but then we got an extra week to work on it and I made just a few changes before declaring it finished. I am trying to upload it to  this blog but I don't know if it will work. It wouldn't do it the last time I asked it to.
Screenshot: Girls discover that "He's a guy!"

So if it doesn't load which it doesn't appear to be doing, make sure you watch it in class or get a copy from me. And I hope you enjoy "A Poker Hand," a short film made by myself and Christina Harper aka Crazy Cat Productions.

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