So are you in the mood for an all-encompasing write up? So am I, and here it is. We are very fortunate to have this exclusive write up from the Chapter 3 winning film of The Story Beyond The Still competition.
Keegen Uhl sent us his very comprehensive production notes, complete with some storyboard images and shooting script images. Wow! On to the write up:
When my friend Ian Albinson (who runs an amazing blog at artofthetitle.com) suggested I direct an entry for Chapter 3, I in return insisted he help me develop the story. Brainstorming is doubly effective when you do it with someone who shares your tastes and sensibilities and I knew my old friend and I would be able to come up with something worth shooting.
A couple of independent brainstorming sessions and a few video chat sessions (heâ€™s in Vermont, Iâ€™m in L.A.) later we had tried out a couple ideas, trashed others and settled on a rough outline for the story. We would focus on the cabbie again, because it was obviously his story and he was our protagonist. Chapter 1 established this and Chapter 2 brought him back into the picture at the end. Also, we knew we needed to further the plot and we knew it would be folly to ignore the most compelling question left by Chapter 2: â€œWhat happens as they follow the truck?â€
At this point logistics issues started coursing through the â€œproducerâ€ segment of my brain. How the hell am I going to find a 1970 Ford Ranger like the one Josh had used in Chapter 2? Could I fake it? Also, there is no snow in Los Angeles. Can he have driven from the nearby mountains, where there is snow? I figured if I structured it in a way in which he could have been driving through the night, it may be plausible that he’d find himself on the shore.
About here in the writing process the image of the Cabbie looking out at the ocean popped into my head and I loved it. He’s there collecting himself and trying to make sense out of what the hell had happened the night before. This became the frame on which to hang the story of the night before. It also allowed me to flash back in little pieces, compressing it all and showing just the most dramatic and most pertinent couple minutes of the previous night.
At some point I had the idea to shoot some of the stuff of him on the beach on a really long lens as if he was being watched from somewhere, to add a level of uneasiness and perhaps leave a question of “who is watching him and why?” for someone else to explore later in the story. This idea developed into the beachcomber character. These half-crazies are all over L.A. and it seemed a perfectly strange thing to throw into the mix.
Finally it reached a point where we had hashed and rehashed and hashed again and pretty much had it figured out, so I wrote a draft of the script.
Once I had a draft, I started getting people on board. First off I called my good friend and often co-producer Kendall Hawley. She said yes before I even told her what the project really was, which was sweet. She and her boyfriend know a lot of actors, so they immediately started shopping friends of theirs for the roles. My next call was to my friend Andrew Brinkhaus for the Director of Photography position. With him on board and excited, I started to feel like this might actually get done.
I had a big problem finding a house location. Initially I wanted a mansion with a wall or fence or something in front. I had some options, but none that we could shoot at for free and undisturbed. That’s one of the annoyances of Los Angeles. Its rare to find someone who is “excited to help you out and have you shoot at their location.” All they see are dollar signs. Finally I called a friend and his parent’s house turned out to be perfect.
The cab was another headache. I called picture car rental places in L.A., but they all needed about $200 for a day of the cab (and we weren’t even allowed to drive it). After scouting the house location at near midnight, I actually followed one Hollywood taxi to a gas station where I pitched him on helping out for the film. Initially a little spooked, he was interested but eventually couldn’t make it to our locations. With time running out I just started calling taxi companies and explaining what I was doing. They were pretty helpful and one referred me to Mike, our cab provider and driver. Mike was excited about the project and agreed to do it for very little money. This was the largest expense on the film, I think we paid Mike like $120 of our $300 total budget. He did us a big favor giving up one of his work nights, as I’m sure he would have made a lot more than that actually giving rides!
I met the lead actor Travis at Denny’s for breakfast a couple days before the shoot and it was at that point that I knew we had a good Cabbie. I had worked with Mark Teich (markteich.com) previously in a short film and in a webseries (guessagain.net), and so I wrote the beachcomber part with him in mind, for which he was perfect. Joe Benton was great and also a recommendation from a friend, and the two thugs were friends of mine.
STORYBOARDS AND PREVIS
The best thing I did to prepare for the shoot was to film and edit a rough version of the entire piece using myself, Andrew (DP) and my friends as actors. This was invaluable as it showed me exactly what coverage I needed and what coverage I did not and how it would all cutÂ together. I was able to discuss this rough film with Andrew to decide on lighting needs and angles, and share it with everyone involved so we were all on board with what I was trying to accomplish. I refer to this as shooting the â€œprevisualizationâ€ and I highly recommend it, especially when time and money are tight.
I storyboarded the entire short at least three times: once before shooting the previs as what I thought I wanted, once after shooting the previs as my revised shot list, and one set of â€œshooting boardsâ€Â that I brought with me to set and represented individual setups (rather than the flow of the piece). This way I could just cross shots off as we went, sure I didnâ€™t miss anything.
This preparation was invaluable because I had no time and no money and no reshoots and with the deadline a week away, no second chances–I had to be as prepared as I could possibly be when coming to set. In the heat of a shoot while answering a hundred questions and constantly improvising solutions to micro-problems (and macro ones), there simply isn’t time to second guess. Of course you always have to be ready to adapt to situations as they arise, but with great technical preparation your head is cleared to focus on other important things such as the performances of your actors and dealing with the myriad unexpected problems that inevitably crop up.
We shot the beach stuff from 7am to noon. The beach, which when we shot the previsualization had been cold and deserted (sort of perfect), ended up being packed. It was the warmest day in Los Angeles for over two months, and scantily clad people abound. Numerous times we had to hold for beachwalkers coming through the shots and such. Thank goodness for limited depth of field! Andrew acheived that by using up to 5 stops of neutral density in front of the lens. I had ND6 filters (2 stops) for my lenses and ended up renting ND9 (3 stops) filters in addition from a local camera shop. This allowed us to fight the bright and get down to shooting around an f4.
We picked up lighting equipment in the afternoon and headed up to Simi Valley to shoot all the night stuff from 7pm to 2:30am. This made for about a 24 hour day, sweet.
Andrew brought on our friend Matt Irwin as Gaffer. Matt owns some equipment and was our one-man grip and electric crew–and boy did he kick ass. For the house exteriors he handled the entire setup of about 6 different lighting units while we were off shooting the night car interiors.
The interior of the moving car was lit with a Rosco Litepad rigged with a couple suction cups and c-stand arms and gelled to match the sodium-vapor yellowish look Andrew wanted. We rigged it to the hood for the Cabbieâ€™s driving shots, and we rigged it to the side of the car while shooting the security guard in the back seat. I was squished in the back seat with Joe (security guard) running sound and directing, and Andrew was in the front operating camera.
For the exterior of the house, Andrew had a couple small household bulbs pointing up at the trees in the front hard, a hard light source coming from high across the street and raking along the fence in the back (and for the garage door shot), and the yellowish streetlight in the foreground. We rented a couple very tall lightstands (combos) for this scene to achieve the high angles of the streetlights.
The gun flashes were done with a Nikon SB-800 camera flash gelled warm and set off by hand. I had tested this previously when scouting this location with Andrew, and we found that it was a bit hit and miss with the rolling shutter of the camera. We knew we might have to do it a couple times to get a clean one. Luckily it worked great on the second take.
The wardrobe was mostly provided by the actors themselves. We did get the security guardâ€™s jacket at Goodwill (people in L.A. donâ€™t have a lot of winter clothing), and we purchased the bandanas the thugs wear,
the beachcomberâ€™s fingerless gloves, and the teddy bear ($4.99 at Target). I hit up a local prop house and rented the metal detector and the skeleton key.
We shot the previsualization and the entire film on Canonâ€™s 7D. We used mainly Nikon manual focus prime lenses, with a wide zoom included: 17-35/2.8, 35/1.4, 50/1.4, 85/1.8. I find this set excellent, and prefer the crop factor of the 7D to the full frame of the 5D. Â The APS-H sensor of the 7D is actually closer in size to 35mm motion picture film, yielding depth of field that is more like â€œhollywood moviesâ€ than the 5D. Speaking in photographic full 35mm *still* frame terms, when I put my lenses on the 7D they become, roughly: 27-55/2.8, 55/1.4, 80/1.4, 135/1.8. This is a huge advantage when using the 7D, as a true full-frame 85/1.4 lens costs over a thousand dollars, and the fastest cheapest Nikon 135mm lens is an f2 and will cost you another grand. By comparison, the lenses I have that function as 80/1.4 and 135/1.8 on the 7D were a couple hundred dollars each. I donâ€™t find myself wanting a wider lens than a 27mm full-frame equivalent, but I love getting more from my telephoto lenses. That said, the 5D is more sensitive and has a slightly better image, but is more expensive, so arguments can be made for both. But wow, am I impressed by these cameras.
Our gaffer Matt Irwin (matt.irwincine.com), also a talented cinematographer, owns a couple great accessories for the 7D that he let us use for the shoot: a small set of rails, a mattebox and a great little accessory called the LCDVF (lcdvf.com). It is an eyepiece that turns the LCD screen on the back of the 7D into a very nice viewfinder with about 2x magnification. It was indispensable at the super bright beach, not only cutting the glare but allowing much easier judgement of focus.
All audio was recorded using a Marantz PMD620 recorder with upgraded preamps by Oade Brothers Audio (www.oade.com) and a Rode NTG-2 shotgun microphone. Audio was synced later in Final Cut using the cameraâ€™s recorded audio (which is a frame or two out of sync with the picture on its own!).
I stapled myself to my desk chair and edited for a day and a half straight, rushing to lock down the cut so I could send it to Justin Durban (justindurban.com) who composed the music. If I remember
correctly, I got him the cut Friday night and by Saturday morning he had a first pass of music for me. Pretty outstanding turnaround. We went back and forth on two more passes, he tweaked the score while I worked like crazy recording all the additional sounds for the piece. The final music is phenomenal – exactly what I had pictured. Subtle, yet moving and perfectly suited to the tone.
The only production sound used was the dialogue. Everything else in the film was recorded afterwards. I met Mike the cab driver again to record cab sounds (idling, doors closing, shifting, turn signals, ambients), I went to the beach at night and recorded wave sounds and my flip-flopped feet as foley for the beachcomber. Back at home I recorded gum chewing and footsteps and a cricket in a bush outside my house and jacket sounds and key sounds and much more.
I met with my DP for a couple hours to address the color correction. He had some clear ideas and in two hours we came up with a color scheme for the scenes: lower saturation and cooler tones on the beach and that pleasantly ugly sodium-vapor yellow for the night stuff. We did a preliminary pass together using just the Color Corrector tool in Final Cut Pro, and then later I added a more complicated sort of look with the Look Suite plugin for Final Cut Pro from Magic Bullet. We are both very happy with the final look. Again, subtle and supportive of the story.
Weâ€™re glad this entry was so well received, and I canâ€™t wait to see what develops in Chapter 4. It is a pleasure to be part of this venture in community filmmaking and amazing to have created a small piece of a larger story that will be formed up like Voltron by contributions from filmmakers from all over the country. Good luck to everyone!
Link to Directorâ€™s Commentary – Vimeo
Link to Tech Notes with Director and DP – Vimeo
Written & Directed by M. Keegan Uhl – Website
Story by M. Keegan Uhl & Ian Albinson – Website
Produced by M. Keegan Uhl & Kendall Hawley - Website
Cab Driver – Travis Stanberry
Security Guard – Joe Benton
Beachcomber – Mark Teich – Website
Thugs – Allen Markuze & Jonathan Kunke
Boots & Hands – M. Keegan Uhl
Cinematographer – Andrew Brinkhaus – Website
Gaffer – Matt Irwin – Website
Edit, Color, Foley & Sound Design by M. Keegan Uhl
Original Music by Justin Durban – Website
Stunt Driver – Mike Howarth
EXTRA SPECIAL THANKS:
My perfect and tolerant wife
Alan and Rachel Toll