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Production Journal, Page 13

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12 April 2007-
A little late on my entry, especially since we did yet another filming session on the 7th.

It seems things had to balance themselves out, while the 31st went so good... on the 7th, the minute I came over there, I wanted to leave. This didn't change, as I was dead tired from who-knows-what. Handling the boom mic was stressful as usual, and lines kept on being changed... not to mention shot lists changed randomly, which delayed filming some.

So we got yet again half the planned scenes done, and the usual 17 minutes of raw footage. I still have around 40 minutes of tape to sift through and edit, as I only have one of the scenes from the 31st done in rough cut form.

An obstruction to outdoor filming was a bunch of little kids running around and playing... doing malicious things like shooting bows and arrows, playing pinata, and making lots and lots of noise. No way this was going to work!

...and inside, they were still audible, and by that point, we were tired. I think the time spent setting up outdoors, without a single inch of tape shot, wasted half of the battery pack I just inserted. Performances noticeably diminished in quality as well, and though I insisted that I wanted to keep the visual style consistent now instead of using every scene as a new experiment, I had the tendency to use artsy-fartsy angles that, upon viewing the final cut, I might start pulling some hairs out.

(this is coming from a guy who has a LOT of hair. Half of it will probably be gone after this is finished.)

I signed on for another film class at De Anza, this time a 16mm class. Our teacher is forbidding shooting with synchronized sound, and all I have to say is THANK GOODNESS! While I can't shoot a silent project like I've wanted to do for the past few weeks, I'm sure lighting will be cumbersome enough. There's a treatment that's due next week if I'm shooting a 2-5 minute project... followed by storyboards. Fun fun fun. Time to BS yet another thing at the last minute.

Fine by me. My best work comes off something that I pull out randomly in microseconds and shoot before the imagination and vision dies out. (my two favorite works, "N" and "Weight Lifting", were completed within 24 hours)

Though there is that animation project I've been continually writing concepts for. I have tons of faith in it, once I get a completed script. The key is "don't stop".

During Spring Break, I plan to shoot "ZOMBIS!!!"... though if there's insufficient extras, I'll just shoot what I can, then complete the sound work on "N" for my swan song at Monta Vista Film Festival. Always have a backup strategy. Breathe breathe breathe...

17 April 2007-
WOW! What a day! Our first day of rebooting "ZOMBIS!!!" leads to what is now our most stressful film shoot ever- and this is keeping in mind that I have eschewed the use of a boom mic, a tripod, and lighting (...wait... we've never used lighting). Just me, my Optura60, my "TorchCam" setup and a shotgun mic.

Arriving at 12:50 with a trunk stuffed with guns and other equipment, Gaby and Hanna were already there. Minutes later, realizing nobody else has shown up yet, I had Gaby start the make-up process and have Hanna play a zombie for the day. The process was mostly experimental, and I decided to have one of everything- except the blood on the side of the lips, which was too much. Instead, we got a pretty gruesome gash on the side of the face, which looks extremely cheesy in real life- filtered through video, though, it's something else!


As we're waiting for Joseph, Richie suddenly arrives (and he notified us that he would be late). Minutes later, the make-up process was deemed finished, and that's when Joseph arrived. Timed, it takes around 40 minutes to turn someone into a zombie. Good thing we only had one!

Half of the filming session was documented on video, though I haven't looked at the footage there yet. Only the stuff shot for the movie itself, which has two bad edits but neither of them are during the zombie attack. It took around 30 minutes per shot to do that one- to explain:

Well, my mom directs the choir at the Buddhist temple, which I'm inclined to join. We're going through some very ambitious dance choreography, which none of us can do. For "ZOMBIS!!!", I got to see what it was like from the other side- though I ended up getting what I wanted. Just took longer than expected because we had to find other ways to do it.

My policy is that I wouldn't ask my actors to do anything that I wouldn't myself do, so I ended up going through the motions myself, handing various cast members the fragile camera setup. Most of the danger in these stunts were with Hanna, though some were involving the safety of a prop gun- Joseph's prop gun, as I would soon find out! So the original plan for Kevin ditch the gun and run after Hanna the zombie just wasn't gonna work. I don't remember clearly what ended up being used, but that section of the frame was so darkly exposed that the focus is probably on the zombie attack up front anyways.

One stunt I wanted involved Hanna being knocked down into the sides. She refused to fall into the tall grass, so I volunteered to show her it was safe. Well, well, like Tony Scott with "True Romance", I ended up stumbling back further than I wanted to, lost my balance and fell straight down! As I refused to just have the zombie being killed right there since it would be anticlimactic (what you do to make your actors or directors excessively comfortable on set will eventually bite you in the be-hind when you show it to an unimpressed audience), we found the next best thing: the pathway itself.

Concerns about back-breaking were raised, so Gaby and I quickly ran to the car and got our very first stunt padding. Arriving right when we did was another zombie extra- who came too late to be an extra for that day's shoot, but helped us haul the stuff back. Oh yes, what did we end up using?

A duffel bag (with first aid kit, flares and squeegee removed), two or three sweaters, and I don't remember if we ended up removing the roll of paper towels due to concerns about back-breaking "lumps".


Matching the next shot on the ground without the padding, it ended up working just fine. The rest of the filming session took another half-an-hour, with pretty simplistic lines. I'm so tired, I really don't wanna go back to filming, but I'll have to.

While I'm at it, I still need to finalize the sound mix for "N", so I have something to submit to MV Film Festival.

Today's filming session should be simple, simple, simple... if everybody doesn't show up, and we get Brandon, Joseph, Nikolay, and one other zombie extra. There's only one difference between this and the real film industry- in studio work, films like these are probably a LOT easier, with money and extra crew members and all.

22 April 2007-
Production on "ZOMBIS!!!" became so exhausting that I cancelled all the other filming sessions I had for it this Spring Break... which really only became the next day, Wednesday, since on Thursday we were filming "Code of 'Con'duct I" (now titled "'Con'science"), Friday my friends and I were seeing "Hot Fuzz" and on the weekend was my mother's choir recital.
So, on Tuesday's filming:
Except for one scene, I was still satisfied with the footage and want to pursue with this project. But psychologically I cannot stand another minute of working on this, due to the exhausting nature of it. I'll definitely get back to it soon, but really needed my Spring Break back.
We spent nearly two hours filming a small scene with Nikolay and Joseph- which they have done before- but problems kept on piling up. The first was the recast of Brandon in the role that Alex Lin once occupied- acting-wise, I agree it's a better choice, but he was a pain to work with. Specifically, in waiting for his scene. Initially I had him occupy the time with filming making-of footage, but I dropped it after he asked too many questions about what he was supposed to do and kept on putting voiceover where I didn't want any.
The second, through no fault of her own, was Gaby, who constantly needed me to check her make-up work. In contrast to Monday's zombies, neither of the two I had on Tuesday looked realistic enough for me, but time was of the essence. Also, my in-camera tests were close-ups... something I never, ever had on this project, and did not use that day. Still, it was during these breaks that I was bothered even more by Brandon about when I would start filming on his scene.
This goes for actors in general, as I know he's not the only one who's ever done this. I'm a director. I'm one director. One director, one person, usually has two hands, one head, one pair of legs and one body. I can't be everywhere at once and can only film one scene at once. The idea was posed that multiple scenes be shot at the same time- which I'd agree to doing if I wasn't so sure about what I wanted, and was absolutely sure that other people could operate a camera like I wanted. That, and we only had one shotgun mic.
One more problem that occurred in shooting that specific scene with Nikolay and Joseph was the dangerous terrain we were dealing with. On one place Nikolay broke his nose on a fall (which I don't completely understand since he fell face-up), and the other the landing was poison oak. I demanded more retakes because the performances weren't adequate and people kept forgetting lines, though Nikolay (understandably) refused to do more than one from the poison oak.
Yeah, so I'm not the most humane director on the planet. But I'm through with excuses just so actors can sit back and relax while working. This is a notice to other filmmakers and actors, if anyone is listening: unless you have a silly-funny script filled with community in-jokes, you have a tough audience to impress. You scrimp on the quality of your performances and your production, your audience will most likely leave... or the only work people will want you doing is their school projects. That might be good enough for some, but for those who want to make a living doing this, you need to seriously up your standards.
If filmmakers didn't have so much contempt for their audiences, so as to excuse mediocrity for realism (or worse- art), maybe people wouldn't be complaining as to why movies suck so much today. I'm putting my own life on the line in demonstrating to my actors what I want, so as to prove that I would do the same thing if I was told to do so- if it was really dangerous, then I'd find another way. Yeah, maybe I'm just me, but most of what I'm demanding really isn't so unreasonable.
In the irony of ironies, the performances in the aforementioned scene did NOT go off well- so I will demand a reshoot. Otherwise that nose wasn't worth breaking. Or the gun in that other scene, as people will have left. Is this extreme for a movie I'm planning to release online? Yes and no. I'm planning to submit this to film festivals (real film festivals), but it would be nice if online video would up its standards. Even if they won't exhibit fancy stylistic techniques (which is the way some crappy filmmakers compensate for their lack of storytelling talent), at least have the script, performances and technical stuff be competent.
Immediately after finishing the scene with Nikolay and Joseph, I moved straight on to Brandon's one scene for the day. It was pretty easy for him to get into character, and shooting the scene went on smoothly. Retakes were needed, but the points were communicated.
Finally, Nikolay and Joseph's second (and last) scene for the day. Due to time, Nikolay wanted to leave immediately afterwards, so he departs for my car as I'm preparing the "set". When I ask what he's doing, he says "I said I'm going." Obviously some points were missed, but he demanded that I shoot the entire scene in one take so he could ditch immediately.
I agreed, as I wanted to break a pattern I had established with my shot lists. The scene proceeded well (better than the cutty version shot in October, which I also liked), and he left. We then shot Joseph's flashback scene, and the opening credits shot. I did two takes of the latter, and was about to do a third as I wanted something fixed, but it started raining and I immediately wrapped.
*  *  *
On Wednesday, I had a double feature day. I saw "Black Book" and "The Wind That Shakes the Barley." "Black Book" is a highly entertaining WWII-era thriller that doesn't try to define the war, define war in general, or make a statement; its sole purpose is to entertain, which may upset some. But you know what? We have plenty of "important" war-is-hell films already. See "Black Book" if it's playing near you, and have a great time at the movies!
"The Wind That Shakes the Barley", on the other hand, demonstrates some of that mediocrity I mentioned earlier. Actors clearly didn't have their lines memorized, and it shows. Yes, in real life, people stumble, but in the movie it's very clearly an "I forgot my line, whoops, lemme try again" stutter every time. That, and its one-dimensional manipulative characters make it a very irritating cinema experience.
(the fingernail torture scene (think "Syriana"- or better yet, don't) didn't help me like the film (or sympathize with its caricatures- I mean characters) any better, either)
*  *  *
Then, on Thursday, came the "'Con'science" filming. It was there that I dumped the biggest pain-in-the-rear equipment that we have ever had the displeasure of working with:
The boom mic. Unless you have big, wide shots (where it doesn't help anyways), you're better off re-dubbing. Good sound is necessary and you need something other than your camera's built-in mic, but a shotgun mic will do just fine in most applications. So how much time did it save getting rid of this thing?
You could technically say "none", but it was used far more constructively. Jessica had far more time to concentrate on Mike's performance for what otherwise were very simple scenes, we didn't have to worry about incompetent boom operators bouncing the microphone, and I could set my camera in a given position with given exposure ratings and compositions, and know it would still be the same during the next 40 minutes.
Some things, technical-wise, you need. But there's some that just interfere with the filmmaking process, and the boom mic is one of them.
That being said, I look at the scenes from that film in horror. I have the duty of creating a trailer for the Monta Vista Film Festival, but I don't see enough material to fill up two minutes (not any two minutes that would attract audiences, anyway). Half the scenes, in my opinion, need to be re-shot due to plenty of stumbly lines. Since our film is pushing 45 minutes (we haven't shot half the scenes and it totals 17 right now), it's very important to make sure online viewers will keep watching.
It's not that I'm a perfectionist. But it's what I mentioned before about the fact that I think far less about how comfortable actors are shooting a scene than I am with how an audience reacts to a film. They at least deserve competence if they're taking time out of their lives to watch it. And I'll invite all the cast and crew to see these scenes so they get my point.
Richie told me it might be impossible to reshoot due to scheduling conflicts, and we'll just have to wing it if that's the case.
Now I know why some directors spend their careers making B-movies!

23 April 2007-
Taking quite the handful with these film projects. Last night, I stayed up until 1AM preparing our stuff for the Monta Vista Film Festival. Putting the final touches on "N", selecting sounds was amazingly easier than before- I don't know why I ever had such a hard time with it! It's not a 100% literal mix, and perhaps before I release the new version online on May 19th, I'll add some extra touches to my liking. But only certain sounds are emphasized.

Rendering the DVD and testing it was the easy part. I still hadn't started on the "'Con'science" trailer, as really, I had no ideas as to how to put it together. Thus, I gave in to the dialogue outline and picked the best pieces of dialogue, though strung them together in some quasi-exciting arrangement.

...for the first 30 seconds of it. I had it all synced to the original "Code of 'Con'duct" theme, but then I tried it with the dialogue muted and just went with a music-only teaser. It wasn't easy to find the right clips for it, but it isn't easy when you have 11 scenes and only two or three of them have material to pull audiences into the movie. I'm still going to put this trailer through tweaks, and possibly cut an entirely new one given we shoot more scenes until our due date of May 19th... and if Jessica and Richie clearly do not approve. They have not seen it yet, though I turned in DVD copies of both this and "N" to the Monta Vista Film Festival this morning.

Due to scheduling troubles, there will be no "'Con'science" filming this Saturday. Thus, I'm going to use that day to shoot all the scenes in "ZOMBIS!!!" that don't involve zombies (requiring all four lead cast members), and reshooting the first scene with Nikolay and Joseph... now that they've both been informed about it. Now I just need to retrieve Joseph's and Alex's guns to keep in continuity with the other (later) scenes.

I have also discussed the need to reshoot with Jessica and Richie, to which Jessica responded that I should pick one scene in particular. That I had no trouble finding- even if my reshoot demands amounted to around three or four scenes. There might even be a possible time to do these scenes again, as AP exams may rule out the option of filming the more labor-intensive sequences.

In the field of long, ambitious projects, I'd like to take a moment to promote Joseph's latest, "Battle Zone", which I can pretty much describe as a more coherent version of "Fight Movie 3" with better lines and better fights. I could go on for five hours to list the technical gripes I have, but it's still entertaining when you can understand it.

Back to "N", I told both Judy and Kun-wei that I owed them favors for their abrupt participation in the project (and I believe I owe Kun-wei two favors, with the film plus the abrupt dub notice). Thus, I'm helping to shoot Judy's Japanese music video project, though it's mostly in need of my camera services rather than my cameraman services.

In 16mm class today, we got a lecture on sync sound. When our instructor listed the number of crew members required, I wanted to scream "HELL NO!" I had just dumped a boom mic which used one or two operators. I'm not gonna suddenly upgrade to a crew of six. Until major studios pay for this stuff, or we have a crew that's experienced with it, and the actors who can perform like Richard Burton any time, any place, if I have to shoot a dialogue movie on film, I'm DUBBING.

Which, of course, made the next camera demo all the more appealing. A real 35mm motion picture camera, in which we were taught how to load a film cartridge, as well as looking at the lens turret. It's an extremely heavy camera, but so was the other 16mm camera that was demoed the week before. I'll shoot static shots either way, and I can say it's definitely tempting to get into shooting a 35mm film since the camera is readily available at the college... but in that class, I think beginners are restricted to 16mm. Fine by me. Better to learn the ropes with film first.

But then maybe I can finally shoot in real cinemascope (which I almost achieved with "N"; the cinemascope was certainly real, but in DV), provided anamorphic lenses are readily available (and complicated stuff with apertures and viewfinders). ...that's looking a little too far into the future, though. I'll take shooting DV very comfortably right now, especially since I've just eschewed the most cumbersome equipment.

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