“To’ona’i” Pre-prod Day -3

Today’s magic word is work-flow.

As in “post work-flow”.

As in, up until three days ago, I had no post work-flow.  We had a camera, but I hadn’t an inkling what to do with it.  (Which is the DOP’s job, of course, but… oh you know what I mean.)  Well, I knew that it was one of those flash new jobbies that, instead of recording to magnetic tape, recorded onto solid state memory or some such malarkey.  (For those techies out there:  we’re shooting on a Sony PMW EX-1.)

Had it been tape, I would only have needed to worry about storing the days’ tapes In A Very Safe Place until I got them to a post-production house to convert into something for me to play with.

But with the solid-state stuff, I need a laptop on-set.  And an external hard-drive.  And someone who knows what they’re doing.

That’s right:  another bleeding mouth to feed.  And pay.

Hm.  Time to consult with my friendly neighbourhood post-production consultant.


“To’ona’i” Pre-prod Day -4


I strongly suspect this is something I should’ve done, like, ages ago.  After yesterday’s technical recce, I think Mr Forster noticed how much I kept deferring to Mr Meikle and recommended I do some.  Sure, I’d blocked some of the action with the actors during the workshops, but I’d avoided thinking about angles and coverage and owing reverses.  ‘S what a DOP does, innit?  (I think it’s what a continuity person does – and it’s a role we can’t afford on this film.)

So I’m storyboarding.  This is the most drawing I’ve done in years.  Trying to relax and not over-focus on heads being in proportion to bodies.  Trying not to freak out over perspective.

The important thing about storyboards is the time they save.  Instead of waving your hands about and trying to describe a camera move you want to steal from a favourite De Palma film, just a couple of chicken scratchings reasonably clear and simple pictures puts everyone literally on the same page at the same time.

Until that cathartic moment, I’m storyboarding.  And grateful for the practice, decades ago, of countless pictures of alien invaders being greeted by human soldiers backed up by tanks, jet fighters and a death star.


“To’ona’i” Pre-prod Day -5

This is the spirit: five adult males squeeze into a family station-wagon and travel the general Auckland area on a technical recce.  (Reality check:  it wasn’t always five, mostly it was four; and by ‘general Auckland area’ I mean from Mangere Bridge to Grey Lynn and some in between.)

You know those pics they show of directors squinting through a viewfinder?  Got introduced to one today.  They’re called a ‘chewey’ (phonetic – no idea how they spell it normally) (best guess from the pros on its etymology was that it helps the director and DP ‘choose’ lenses).  I felt rather directorly as I gingerly held it and squinted through it.

Six hours of driving and looking and talking.  But as Mr Forster pointed out, the hard yards that are put in during pre-production means less headaches, surprises and drama during actual production.  Being the lazy-arse that I am, I just wish someone else could do it on my behalf.

I don’t remember any of this kind of stuff being shown in the making-of shows of my distant youth.  You just saw the director arrive on set in a supercar, given a coffee as he strolled to the set-up where everyone’s dutifully waiting, taking his personalised seat, and yelling ‘action!’.

Maybe on the next production.


“To’ona’i” Pre-prod Day -6

‘S late and I’m bone tired.

Two items of note today –

HODs’ MEETING – Wow.  So this is what happens when pre-prod goes the way it’s supposed to.  Our 1AD has sorted out a tentative schedule where we shoot out the cast members whose availability shrunk when the shoot dates moved.  And the various HODs got to say what they needed, find out what their fellow HODs needed, and more often than not, through the two degrees of separation because of the small industry here, provide solutions to problems, concerns or needs.  I want to hug everyone; I refrain.

WORKSHOP – Blocked some scenes with the actors.  Didn’t have time in the forty-eight hours since the reading/workshop to revise the script like I’d hoped but the blocking and workshop was just brill’.  “Ah,” I nodded to myself in whatever scene, “so that’s why she does that.”  It was nice to see the pages brought to life – even at half-energy ’cause we’re just workshopping, y’know – and to have the opportunity to shape the scenes.  And always find new things that the actors bring to the roles and the story.

Not that it was all sweetness and light.  Some scenes turned out to be exceedingly short.  Some snippets of dialogue were painfully long.

But it’s fine – I’ve got a bit of time to revise the script.  Maybe not work the revisions through with the actors before the cameras roll.  But when they’re done, they’ll be an improvement on what I think were already pretty strong bones.

Okay:  optimism is high but measured.

High because I’ll admit I’m a little bit excited by this venture.  (The moment’ll pass.)

Measured because I’ve just realised that I’m overdue to sort out post-production workflow.  We shoot in six days.  Four of those are the long Easter weekend.

I think it’s time to start delegating.


“To’ona’i” – Pre-prod Day -7

Deja vu: we’re a full week out from shoot.

Last night was a read-through with the cast, with Mr Hargreaves, Ms Oliver and Mr Forster attending. Read-throughs are always interesting. Actors will either read their lines flat, conserving their energy, or with a bit of energy to feel out whoever they’re trading lines with. For my part, I have to remember that a read-through is just that: everyone literally reading through the script out loud. It’s not the place to give notes; it’s a time to note secretly to yourself what’s dead in the script and to get a feel for how the actors are approaching their characters.

After the read-through there was a Q&A where relationships were discussed and defined. I used to dread such conversations. I used to think, I, the Writor, have conured these words to come out of the mouths of yon characters, and they are what they are. Actors need more than that. As do the production designer (“What sort of vibe do you want in this location?”), the cinematographer (“How do you want to pace this scene?”) and so on.

Sure, it’s fun to quote Harrison Ford‘s “acting school of ‘let’s pretend'” and write actors off as a bunch of high-maintenance nonces but remember that they’re not just your mouth-piece – nor are they some Hitchcockian puppet who must respect your authoritah.

They’re a fellow collaborator.

Treat and direct ’em right, and they’ll make you look good.

Enough pre-prod avoidance. Kirk out.


“To’ona’i” – Pre-prod Day -8 (revised)

Yes, campers, you read that right:  we’ve been pushed back two days.

Ah the joys of low-budget film-making.  Better than no-budget film-making.

But, barring -, actually, better not tempt fate.

CAMERA – Mr Meikle is calling in favours and yea, we have vision.  (This gig was to repay a moral debt I owe him; this isn’t quite working out the way I’d intended.)  Just need to confirm that the flesh-puppets actors are still good for the adjusted dates.

AUDIO – Mr Rea had difficulty sourcing an assistant so I offered to grovel to my alma mater.  Gerben Cath very generously listened and has offered to help.

CAST – I was hoping to confirm all five cast members but it’s looking a bit iffy with that damned schedule.  I won’t invite bad juju by invoking the last cast-member’s name.  Not that I’m superstitious or anything.

With the schedule being put back and the amount of pre-prod being ploughed through this week, I’ve even had thoughts of mowing the lawns this long weekend.

Whoa, tiger, go easy, boy.


“To’ona’i” – Pre-prod Day -7

(No idea if I’ve got the right lingo but this diary’s gonna be cheap and nasty.)

Pre-pre-prod has been ramping up the last couple of weeks.  Fighting over budgets.  Okay, squabbling.  No, fighting.

Whatever, the budget has been stretched as much as it can be.  I thought it was already stretched but it’s amazing where you can find savings.  And still pay people.  And feed them.

Actors – check.

Heads of department – check.

Schedule – in progress, virtually a check.

… Okay.  Camera has been unable to source camera gear.  It looks like shifting the schedule back one day.  I can deal with a day’s delay.  I hope and pray the cast and crew (excluding camera, of course) can handle the delay, too.

It’ll be fine.  I keep telling myself that:  it’ll be fine. It’ll be fine.


“To’ona’i” Production Diary

What the hell.

This should be interesting.

I can’t just refer to what is taking over my life as a short film for ever.

It’s got a name:  To’ona’i, a short film about a couple of siblings who try to deal with the loss of their older brother.

A month from now, I’ll laugh and maybe even tear up about this time.  For the moment, all I can feel is the pain.


Where Themes Come From

November 2007

IN-LAW:  Wow, you got funding, you must be so pleased.
ME:  Yes, I –
IN-LAW:  Tell me – what’s your film about?
ME:  Uhm. It’s about a brother and sister, and they talk in a car the whole film.
IN-LAW:  Oh.


ACQUAINTANCE:  I hear you’re making a short film.
ME:  (stunned look that word would actually be spread)
ACQUAINTANCE:  What’s it about?
ME:  It’s about a couple of siblings trying to deal with their older brother’s death.
ACQUAINTANCE:  What else you working on?

January 2008

FELLOW WEDDING GUEST:  What’s your movie about?
ME:  It’s a film about loss and love. And life.