Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Path to Stomping Ground.... so far.

It has been a week since the completion of our Kickstarter campaign, so I decided to publish the first installment of what will be a “filmmaker’s journal kind of thing.” Action!

August 22
It’s up, it’s good, it’s over. The successful Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for Stomping Ground ended today and we earned nearly two hundred dollars more than we were looking for. It’s a good time to start chronicling the production of the film. Now, maybe seven years after writing it and a couple of false starts, Stomping Ground, formerly Aftermath, is ready to go.

August 23
Partial cast rehearsal at the South Philly home of producer Isaac Ruth. One actor couldn’t make it because of work and we decided to release the actresses from this rehearsal. We knew that scheduling rehearsals was going to be an enormous challenge, but without getting the actors together for some intensive face-to-face time to bond and form a team, this film would never work. Rehearsals have been amazing. This cast has gotten up to speed so quickly and has such a deep sense of what they are doing that I have no doubt that they will be killing it on game day.

Also present at the rehearsal was Steve, our set-photographer and behind-the-scenes videographer. He shot the Kickstarter testimonials, he shot the teaser trailer and he shot a silly video of me and producer Dan Zubrzycki chatting on location but he’d never read the screenplay. He came up to me during a break, nearly in shock after seeing the actors performing for the first time, saying that he found it hard to take photos because he was so wrapped up in the story. If a crew member gets so deeply involved in watching a rehearsal of Stomping Ground at the producer’s house, I can only imagine what will happen when audiences see it onscreen.

Director of Photography Kevin “K-Mart” Martin came down to watch rehearsal as well. He needs to be familiar with the logistics of the script because he will be directing a team of three camera operators who are all moving around, following the action together. The camerawork on Stomping Ground is especially important. Because the film is, in many ways, a one act play, I am insistent that it never become static or stagy. Having the camera and the actors in almost constant motion is my way around that issue.

August 26
Dan, Isaac and Assistant Director/Unit Production Manager Ray Davis and I met at Dan’s place in Center City at 9:00 and went until just after 1:00 A.M. hammering out logistics, crew list, props and, at long last, breaking the script down into a shooting script. All along, the plan has been to shoot Stomping Ground sort of like a play -- with an emphasis on “sort of.”  While there are several large chunks of the screenplay that take place at the primary section of the location (it’s all one big location that we have divided up into sub-sections), we are still making a film, not a play. In film production, as much as possible, you shoot all of the scenes that happen in one particular place at the same time rather than bouncing back and forth between sets. So, in that regard, it will not be exactly like shooting a play because we will be going from Scene 7 to Scene 10 to Scene 13 and so on, not shooting everything strictly in order.

August 27
Another late meeting that went late into the night, past 1:00 for the second day in a row. Dan and I met with Executive Producer Andrew Karasik who was on the last day or night of a European trip. In addition to endless last minute details of physical production, it is extremely important that everyone is both on the same page and also not stepping on anyone else’s fingers. We’re all grownups but we’re also individuals with our own needs and ways of looking at things. 

A film set can be a pretty intense place and, shooting an already highly-charged story in only two hot summer days in the middle of some pretty buggy woods sounds like a recipe for emotions and tempers to flare. My last directing gig was remarkable for a cast and crew for being so relaxed and stress free; people told me that I was a force of calm. I would love to carry this spirit over to Stomping Ground. Here’s aiming for a tension-free set.

August 28
Costumes! Hair/Make-Up/Wardrobe person Joanna Revelle and I took to the strip malls of South Philly. We scoured Marshalls, Target and Old Navy for wardrobe, props and all kinds of on-set necessities. The night before our first meeting, Joanna (whose background is in all aspects of film production, not just HMU) read the screenplay several times so that she had a good sense of the story and the characters, where they were from and what they would wear.

We want these characters to be real, dimensional people, not caricatures. While, in many ways, they come from a different way of life and a different socio-economic class from most of the people making this film, we want to be respectful of them. Ultimately, the movie is about them and the audience has to feel for them as people in a tense situation even if they do not necessarily relate to them. The best movies touch something inside and make us think “How would I feel if that was me?”

August 29
My daughter, Anna, and I went shopping for some last minute supplies: duct tape, gaffers tape and insect repellent --- lots and lots of it.

Next Up: We descend on our location for a weekend of living, working and creating together.