||The Making of “Party Out”|SubTitle|||
Now we get to the sweat and tears part. Producer Eric Taylor and I had to balance giving us enough pre-production time to plan shot lists, recruit extras, rehearse the dance scene – but also give me enough time in post-production to edit this.
“Party Out” was filmed Saturday (August 14th, 2010) in the basement of my aunt & uncle’s house. That’s a mere 4 days before this episode was to be launched. Art Director Lizz Hodgeson, producer Eric, my cousin Tom (our host) and I set up the lighting and art direction the night before. Although the character Nathan isn’t in this scene, Will Conlon was on board. He’s just recently purchased the same camera as our production camera and wanted experience filming. I was more than happy to have him on board as B-Camera operator. An interesting fact about Will: he’s obsessed with Christmas. He LOVES it. He arrived Saturday morning early with two huge boxes of Christmas lights for us to add to our set. Right on! We strung up even more lights. All the Christmas lights, save for three bare bulbs, were connected to dimmers so we could dim them away during the instrumental part of the dance. We were very exited the set decor. It totally reminded me of those basement/dance parties I attended frequently in high school. The illumination was instantly charging. Each new person who entered the basement was rather awe-struck.
Lets back up a bit… Will is a really funny guy. He is always making people laugh. You count on him to have a great line about almost anything and everything. With this in mind, I wondered aloud what we think he’ll say when he comes down those stairs for the first time. I knew he’d make a big deal about it. But what would he say? Lizz had the hilarious idea that we roll video on what we predict he’ll say, and then film him coming down the stairs. You can watch that at the beginning of the “Behind Party Out” video down below.
First up, we filmed the conversation between Kate Conway as Rose and the girl on the stairs, played by the lovely Sarah Robbins. She’s helped us out before having appeared as a background actor in a number of scenes we’ve already filmed. I was excited to write a scene with actual lines for her this time. We filmed this scene first because we knew we didn’t need to see any extras. In retrospect, I wish we listened to the song once over before filming – I think Kate and I allowed Rose to look a little too up-beat for the conversation after what had just happened with Vanessa. Or play it like Rose is faking being up-beat. That’s my bad, as a director, I should have considered this.
The extras, many of whom are friends of Lindsey Middleton, started showing up right on time. And so began the hard part. Let me set the scene for you: the house we were filming in is over 120 years old (which is downright ancient in Toronto). As with most century-old homes, there’s no central air conditioning. The next door neighbours, however, do have air conditioning… which meant we had to close the windows to keep the sound out. And then we add about a dozen heat-producing bodies, ask them to dance and mingle on what happened to be among the hottest and most humid days of this summer. Therein lays the “sweat” I refer to in the title. Oh, and I’m asking my three stars to dance their asses off in this heat! It was so hot, that even the pluming was sweating due to condensation. Whenever possible, people who weren’t in frame would go upstairs so we had fewer bodies down there. In between shots we’d sometimes open the windows to let some air in. But really, that was futile, since black garbage bags were taped over them to keep the daylight out. It was HOT. And of course, I was down there THE ENTIRE DAY, high energy, highly focused, running around – keeping my camera steady. Silly me, I was so focused on getting shots done and how they looked that I forgot to drink any water, thus dehydrating myself to the point of compromising my immune system. I’ve been sick ever since. Blah.
||On Directing Kate|Heading|||
The scene I was most looking forward to was Rose’s breakdown to tears. I think Kate might say the same thing – she loves the emotional stuff! It was to be the final scene of the day. When I informed her we’re about ready for the bathroom scene she nodded and disappeared for a bit. When I saw her next it was while I was setting up for the shot; she was listening to her MP3 player. Ah yes, I had forgotten about this, she once told me that she will sometimes use music to help put her in the right frame of mind (I believe this is a similar technique that Edward Norton uses too). I knew this was going to be demanding on her, so I wanted to get this done with as few takes as possible. We did several practice walk-thrus. This was more for my benefit than for her, because I had to walk backwards holding the camera steady, keeping focus and navigate into a tiny bathroom, then cramming myself into the corner of the bathroom as smooth as possible. Ultimately, I would find myself awkwardly hovering over the toilet seat each take. The most challenging part for me was to avoid knocking my elbows on the door narrow frame. Kate suggested that Rose stops to take a breath at the doorway, allowing me to slow down to navigate more smoothly. Good idea, plus I loved the emotional beat. Tom, our host, helped me see backwards by gently pulling on my shoulder and then pushing me into the bathroom so I didn’t have to look for the door. Normally I have the actors mic’d up with wireless lav microphones, but Kate had already started her process of getting to that sad place. I didn’t want to bother her with it, so instead, I had our location sound recordist, Amanda Mitro (new to our team!), plant our new stereo sound recorder in the bathroom. I have to admit, being a part of Kate’s process was very exciting for me; I did everything I could to shield Kate from everyone else without being obvious, giving her the space she needed. I’m normally very jokey on set, but I let that slide for once (which I found surprisingly challenging). Amanda needed to do a sound level check, so I told her I’d get Kate for her – but she wasn’t allowed to speak with her. I asked Kate to go in, do her lines once at the volume she expected and get out. Amanda got what she needed. I don’t believe Kate and Amanda even made eye contact, from what I could tell. She was in the zone.
The first take was remarkable. I couldn’t believe it. She went from all smiley with Sarah on the steps, to shocked, to sad, to all out crying. Corey had already left for the day (he was off directing his own film that he’s written and directing). I had Dan Beausoleil, the guitar player, read Kenny’s lines in the hall for Kate’s benefit. (we had filmed Kenny outside the bathroom earlier in the day, and Dan had the chance to review it)
We did three takes. After each take, Kate and I would review what we had just filmed. This is something we do often together, I like being able to share with the actors what we’ve done. Kate once told me that in school she was told never to expect this from filmmakers. Today, however, playing back old footage is a breeze with these cameras. I may not have done so if this tape-based. Both Kate and I were satisfied with our three takes, some filmed close up, some medium parts. Plus during a take (before I yelled cut) I’d get my insert shots by reframing and whispering “turn on the tap again”, and then “hold the water in your hands and let it drain again”, “say that last line again”. I knew how I would be editing this scene as we were filming so I knew exactly what footage to give myself.
It’s a moment I’m always nervous about, just in case I’m wrong, “ladies and gentlemen, we are WRAPPED! Thank you everyone!” And applause follows.
Then, as if I needed reminding of how capable, professional and damn talented Kate Conway is: she “turned off” the sad, and was back to her normal cheery and very funny self. Just like that. Wow.
||Watch behind the scenes footage of “Party Out”|SmallType|||
||On editing, with 72hrs to go…|Heading|||
Editing was not a challenge. It came together rather easily because everything was well planned ahead of time. The only major change that occurred was the music for the final scene. Originally the bathroom was going to be void of music, until the near the end I’d slowly gently bring back in Side Swept on the shot of Vanessa lip-syncing “But I can’t love you”. We filmed Rose saying to Kenny (but really, more to herself) “I can’t make do”, another lyric from the song. Although Side Swept has its quiet/sad moments, overall it’s too happy for this scene. And that was when epiphany happened: Dan Beausoleil’s “Time is Wasting” – the mood was defiantly right. It was already there on my timeline during the stairs conversation. I asked Dan to read the script and pick a song he felt fit the scene. I wasn’t too concerned because it was just meant to be diegetic background stuff that Dan is playing as Vanessa listens. On a whim, I extended the song to continue in the bathroom. Hang on – this works! I did a bit of chopping and looping to make it fit better. It fit, it really fit.
This created a small problem: Vanessa lips in the flashback shot were supposed to be synced to Side Swept, and Rose whispers “I can’t make do” also in sync with the song. Now that we’ve got a new song playing, it didn’t work. I was fine chopping the “I can’t make do” line, but I really wanted to keep “But I can’t love you”. I was too sick to leave the house and visit Lindsey to record her voice saying the words. And she was too busy to come to me to record this (besides, I didn’t want her to get sick too). I asked her by email if she could find the means to record the audio herself. And she did! Resourcefully, she used the built-in mic on her laptop/webcam and whispered several takes for me. The quality was good-enough given how quiet I knew I wanted it – just a whisper. I really didn’t want to loose that shot. She re-did it for me after a bit more direction and nailed it. I took parts of two different takes “But I can’t” and “love… you”. Now the scene works, you can understand what she says, and I get to keep Dan’s song.
There is another scene written that was supposed to follow the party. I had hoped to film it on Tuesday last week, but because I was too sick we had to cancel. And now we’re having troubles getting access to the location. It’s a short scene – too short to be it’s own episode, and it wouldn’t fit in the next episode. So maybe… If we get to film it in the next week or so I’ll post it as it’s own mini-episode. Perhaps I’ll call it episode 4½: “After Party”.
If you ever have questions about the making of Out With Dad, please don’t’ hesitate to ask here in the comments or on Facebook, Twitter, however you’d like. I’d enjoy answering them!