ruminations on a series of unrelated events
Sunday, July 14th, 2019
Back in March, we had to put the second Scott County narrative film on hold for a while due to one of our local producers having to take an unexpected time-out for a few months. But recently, he returned and we have been diligently at work getting all of our ducks in a row in order to shoot the next film. This film is supposed to be the second of three, but it will more likely be the second of just two. (Unless we can do some major rewrites to the third part to make it more doable.)
My first order of business is to give major props to Jarred Johnson and Lindsey Mae Huff who have been just phenomenal pulling things together in Scott County. There is no way any of this would be possible without them. Jarred and Lindsey are from the local recovery community and they have enthusiastically discussed this project with their friends. Consequently, the degree of local involvement has dramatically increased. They have secured actors and locations as well as props. And now as a direct result of their efforts, everything is a green light to shoot our first weekend on the 20th.
As we move onto the second film, I am excited about this transformation that is finally starting to take place. In my original vision of this project, we would be bringing many people from Scott county into the filmmaking process as both actors and crew. While that started to happen with the first film, largely through the indispensable help of Mike Elkins, (see my original post about the shooting of the first film The Making of the Scott County Stories) it has now moved into another phase where every single person who appears on camera is either in the recovery community or intimately connected with it in some way. And Jarred and Lindsey are both helping to produce and will be crewing on set. This time around we don’t have to bring in outside actors. Not only does make authenticity easier to achieve, but I think it is always better to have buy-in from the local community. It was never our intention to use Austin and Scottsburg as backdrops and bring everything in from the outside.
Last week, I went down to Scottsburg to meet with some of the actors and rehearse. While it was more sparsely attended than I would have hoped, valuable progress was made. And it was good to be face-to-face with people there after our prolonged hiatus.
So as always, keep checking back on this entry. My updates about our filmmaking progress will be added to this post rather than new ones. But before I go, I want include a link to a wonderful article that was just written about our project for Inside IUPUI.
Monday, July 22, 2019
It was 6:15 and the sun wasn’t even up yet, but we already knew it was going to be a scorching day. A major heat wave was baking the entire middle of the country with record-breaking heat. And we were going to be filming all day in a sizzling camper. Luckily, I recently purchased a portable air conditioner and I came prepared to do our best to keep the temperature in the camper as low as we possibly could.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
The weekend of our first shoot for our second narrative film was quickly approaching. The film was to star Brain Lafever, whose real life story is the basis for this film. Brian did a great job with a cameo role in our first film and we really wanted to feature him in the film about his own story. But when he didn’t make it to the rehearsal I went down for two weeks ago, I was beginning to get a little concerned. Come mid-week last week and Brian told Jarred that he was too busy with work, church and recovery meetings to be able to play the part. Panicked, Jarred and I scrambled and we decided to offer the lead role to Bill who had done a great job with the landlord role in rehearsal. Luckily, Bill was available to commit to the larger role and readily agreed, and a major inconvenience was averted. We just needed to now figure out the landlord part.
Then the day before the shoot Brain told Jarred he had a change of heart and could be available. But we had already cast Bill, so we cast Brian in the role of the landlord. Both problems solved.
Last month, I made arrangements with a former student of mine, Joshua Brown, to use his very vintage camper for our film. He was nice enough to clean it out, get a table and some chairs for it and to deliver it to Scott County on Thursday to the shooting location. So a 23′ Sabre Silver Streak camper, which has seen most of its better days, was waiting for us in the backyard of our shooting location. For a time Brian raised his two girls in a camper and when he saw this one he said it was deluxe in comparison. He was living in an old leaky Coleman pop-up that was in taters.
Our first day we had 47 shots to get, the vast majority of which were in the camper. That seems like a lot for a new crew that has never worked together before. This week Kyle and I brought Autumn Eastum and Elise Walker (both students of mine) down with us from Indy and Jarred and Lindsey would also be crewing. So there were six of us.
We arrived Friday night and went directly to the location so we could have a face-to-face meeting with all the actors during which I could talk about the filmmaking process, what to expect, the value of everyone’s participation and the intent of the project. Then the next morning we were back at the location for sunrise so we could start with getting some beauty shots for the opening sequence. Then it was time to move inside the camper and start banging out the shot list.
So here is where the proverbial rubber met the road and I have to say things went incredibly well. We moved along at a good clip, but more importantly was the fact that this giant film project was finally working as intended: involving local people from the community in the making of the films to tell genuine stories from their experience. It was a long time coming, but it had finally arrived. And it was quickly very evident that the authenticity factor was incredibly high. There really is no other way to make these films. Someone would have to be a world-class actor to come close to rivaling the specific way these people embody their experience. I mean absolutely no disrespect to the actors who participated in our first film and gave a lot of themselves, but there is no just substitute for the real deal. Not only were Kyle and I seeing this, many people commented on how things were just felt right. It is great when that happens.
Another thing that was pretty amazing was that despite the oppressive heat, especially in the camper, there was never a single complaint from anyone. Not once. Kudos to everyone for the great attitudes on display. Everyone was positive and supportive and worked efficiently. In fact, we worked so efficiently we were done with most of the day’s shoot by 3:00 and we could all take a 4 hour break before returning to shoot some magic hour scenes in the evening. So we were able to dodge the hottest part of the day and I could go take a shower and a desperately needed 2-hour nap next to the hotel AC. Job well done!
Our second day was very light in comparison. We had to shoot a morning scene between Brian and Bill and then we had to shoot a sequence of Bill walking with his kids to school and arriving there. So we were wrapped and on the road back to Indy by 11:30. In the end, something I thought was going to take all weekend, didn’t even take us a day and a half. And that means more than half the film is shot. One more weekend and we should be wrapped.
Here are some behind the scenes shots from the first weekend courtesy of Jarred Johnson hence his absence from every photo):
Stills from the film from this weekend of shooting:
The weekend of August 16-18 was our final weekend of principal photography on our second narrative film set in Scott County. We started on Friday afternoon with a shoot at Baldwin Recycling in Scottsburg. We had approached the owner several months ago about using his place as a location as well as him playing the role of the owner in our film. He was agreeable to both and still was agreeable several months later now that the time had finally arrived. I had not met the owner, James, (no relation to the legendary American writer that I am aware of) before arriving there on Friday, but he could not have been better suited for the role. Nor could the place have been better visually. Everything about it was just right, including the beautiful indirect eastern light bouncing through the giant door. And James, a gun-packin’ former marine could not have been a better collaborator. He went out of his way to make sure everything went well for us. He was more than nice, and his pink (his professed favorite color) t-shirt and his imitations of Robin Williams (his favorite comedian) ran completely contrary to the stereotype one might have. A major thing I love about filmmaking is the opportunity it provides to meet and connect with people you would otherwise never meet and in the process meet many who defy expectations. Big thanks to James for all his help and for his excellent performance!
After wrapping at Recycling Center, we headed over to the camper location. We had a magic hour (the time between when the sun sets and dark) scene to shoot. The film’s closing scene takes place on the back steps of the house when the police arrive after Gene sits down to have a smoke. It is a long dialogue scene which we decided to split into two shoots over two consecutive evenings because the magic hour light would not be long enough. We needed to see the police car in the background of one view of the conversation, so the first night we shot everything in the opposite direction because we did not have a police car scheduled until the following evening. We used programmable LED light sticks to simulate the police lights off camera. That worked really well.
The first day wrapped.
The next day was scheduled with several locations around Austin and Scottsburg and we just pounded through one thing after the next.
The morning was spent shooting morning tracking shots of the camper and various pick-ups inside the camper. The funniest pick-up involved Lindsey being a human toaster. I wish I had a photo. I needed a close-up shot of Bill taking the pop-tarts out of the toaster and putting them on napkins. But in a brilliant move, I forgot to bring my toaster that we used last time. So I just had Lindsey hold the pop-tarts upright like they were in a toaster and it worked perfectly.
Due to some very restrictive and unexpected scheduling limitations with the two girls playing the daughters, at around 8:00 we had to go to the school to shoot a scene that was supposed to take place right after school. Luckily a low sun can work as both morning or afternoon, so we were able to pull off the scene, and after I cut it into the film no one would have any idea idea it wasn’t 3:00 in the afternoon.
Next up was shooting Gene trying to pick-up a welfare check that had not arrived. Lindsey played the young indifferent clerk and we shot it in the Foundations Family Medicine offices in Austin. Lindsey did a really great job on camera. And big thanks to Dr. William Cooke for letting us shot there.
We followed that scene up with a scene in a food pantry. After Gene can’t get his check he visits a food pantry, but runs into a little trouble when it comes to toiletries. We shot this at the Jayce Ray Stallings Youth Center in Austin. Unfortunately, due to a slight miscommunication, we only had about 30 minutes access to the place. So we moved very quickly. I wasn’t able to get much coverage, but I got enough to make it work.
We added a scene a few days earlier of Gene selling some drugs that have come into his possession. We shot that at a park in Scottsburg that unfortunately sees more than its fair share of this type of activity. In the middle of shooting it started to rain pretty hard and we had to wait it out under a gazebo, the one over the lake in the background of the photo below.
We managed to get the last shot once the weather let up and then we headed about 800 yards down the road to the cannery. The cannery is locally called the Corn Factory. It is a massive and completely derelict factory building which has a lot of vegetation growing inside. Now a lot of wet vegetation, which I think actually helped the look of the scene. This place serves as a temporary shelter to a lot of indigent campers. But nobody was there when we went. Last year, when we traveled around with Patti Hall, who runs the health department’s mobile needle exchange, we stopped at this location to bring supplies to someone who was living here. It looks straight out of Tarkovski’s Stalker. It is hands down the best shooting location in the area. We had our hero Gene going there to collect scrap metal. Of course we are well aware that any valuable scrap metal has long since been removed from this location. But the visuals of this place are just too good to pass up. So we had to stretch believability just a bit.
Next on the hit parade of scenes on the list that day was Gene walking by a place where he had scored drugs earlier in the day, only to see an ambulance with EMS taking someone out of the house. The Indy EMS had been kind enough to loan me a gurney from their excess supply, which I brought down in the back of my car. Luckily it just fit. I can’t imagine that Indy EMS just loans these out to anyone who asks. Fortunately we have connected with them in the past for our doc work, including interviewing Dan O’Donnell, The Medical Director of Indy EMS. So apparently we have earned their trust.
The Gibson Township Volunteer Fire Department also really came through for us. While Jarred Johnson, our local associate producer on the ground, could get nowhere with the powers that be in Scott County, he got a head’s up about the much more receptive people in Gibson township. They showed up with an ambulance. And I mean an ambulance, one of those massive red trucks that fire departments have. It was incredible. Just the day before this was still in the wishful thinking category, but now here it was. Having this kind of thing adds such production value to a film. And we are very indebted to the good people of the Gibson County VFD.
After wrapping that scene it was time to head back to the camper to shoot the rest of the magic hour scene from the night before. As our good luck would have it, the bad weather had cleared and the magic hour was going to match perfectly with the night before. Right at 6:00 the police car from John Jones Pursuit Vehicles arrived, and Jason Hans showed up and got back into his police uniform. The camera was rolling at precisely the same time as the night before and we were able to get everything shot. This scene has a lot of dialogue for Jason so it took a while to hit all those lines. But in the end it all came together and it concluded with a shot from the garage roof with the camper, the porch and the police car. Roll credits.
Day three was solely dedicated to filming a disturbing overdose scene that Gene walks into. I knew it was going to demand a lot of time and attention to detail to craft just right, so I wanted to save it for last and I didn’t want anything else on the docket that day. Laura Nowling plays Doris, and in this scene Gene goes into Doris’s house to buy some drugs. He finds her in the middle of using heroin. This involved a lot of preparation in terms of make-up (first time used on this film) and getting the setting and action just right. It was great to be able to take our time and concentrate on it. I can imagine it is hard to act like you are ODing, but I think in the end Laura was able to pull off a very convincing performance. The resulting scene is amazing.
On September 21st, we will be back to shoot a few more pick-ups and to do some dialogue replacement. So until then…
September, 30th 2019
On a day trip down to Scottsburg for Autumn, Elise and me, we were able to get our final few pick-ups and to record a dialogue replacement session. A good chunk of what we had to shoot was actually for film 1. And what that meant was we ended up wrapping on both films on the same day! And what a relief that is! The first order of business was to shoot the very opening scene for film 1. One of our biggest challenges with film 1, apart from never being able to get permission to shoot in a jail despite going to tremendous lengths all over the state, was finding a suitable public restroom that is supposed to be in a gas station. The gas station location that we used for the exterior shots of that scene, was a place called Pioneer Village just outside of Austin. We shot Daniel walking out of that restroom nearly a year ago. But the inside of their restroom was super tiny and would have been impossible to shoot in. It turns out the perfect restroom was the public restroom in the park in Scottsburg where we had already shoot a scene for film 2, and where we needed to shoot a pick-up for film 2 that day anyway. So all that worked out perfectly and we were able to shoot a very cool opening scene with Daniel MacClean. Funny thing is that when Daniel walks out of that restroom and into the next scene outside, he time travels and becomes nearly a year younger.
After filming a few small miscellaneous shots, we needed to shoot a recovery meeting scene with a lot of extras for film 1. This is a scene in film 1 in which Bill, our lead in Film 2, makes his initial appearance it. We had originally shot this scene a very long time ago. But in the meantime we recast our lead actor, so now we needed to go back and reshoot that scene. And I have to say that the difference between the two versions is night and day. After cutting it together, at one point I had them both up in the editing timeline and I watched them back-to-back. The contrast could not have been more stark between an over-enunciating supposed thespian and a genuine local guy who had actually lived through what he was talking about. What a dramatic improvement for film 1.
Lastly, we attempted an ADR session in Lindsey’s living room. All in all it went pretty well, but for scenes that are supposed to be outside, it is pretty hard to get an appropriate sound inside. In the end, a handful of them worked out and that will be enough. One thing was had to record was Brian, our landlord for film 2. (By the way, it is now titled First of the Month) In film 1, Brian takes Derek to the aforementioned recovery meeting and on the way over there is a one-sided conversation in the car. Brian’s car was pretty loud and the original dialogue was very compromised. I cut in the new dialogue and laid in a clean interior car track and the effect just couldn’t have been better. I wish they all could have worked out so well.
And with that all the shooting has wrapped. I want to give a very big and heartfelt thank you to everyone in Scott County who helped Kyle and me realize this project. It was a far bigger undertaking than we had ever imagined when we started shooting over a year ago. We are so appreciative of everyone from the recovery community who gave of their time and energy to help us through to the end. I want to give a special shout out to Mike Elkins, Jarred Johnson and Lindsey Huff for really coming through for us in so many ways. It truly would not have happened without you on our team. Thank you to all of our actors and to Bill McDermott and Daniel MacClean for taking on our lead roles. And big thanks to Lisa Webster for letting us park a large camper in her backyard for way longer than expected.
That’s a wrap.