Blood Red Shoes
by MerrySmith Filmworks
The Making of Blog, Part Three
Our First Shoot, Continued by Bradford D Smith
We decided to do our first shoot in as friendly an environment as possible, the University of Alaska Juneau campus. We didn’t exactly ask permission but we did have the keys and we thought if we acted important enough no one would question us. It helps when half the crew/cast either works at or attends the university.
We thought the media room would make a great police station. The auto-rising gate above the counter was too cool to pass up.
For days preceding our first shoot we worked on props, equipment, and set dressing. Kendall and I had plenty of time and the employed among us helped on weekends and after work/school. During this time, we turned Kendall’s VW Bus into our mobile production unit. With a deep cell marine battery and a 12V converter, we had enough AC power to run all of our lights for over an hour and enough room to haul our gear.
Once we picked the scene and the location, we went to work on our equipment and our set dressing. April made up the checklist you see when Star is being released as well as the background clutter posted on the walls inside the cage and more that didn’t make the final cut. Kendall practiced camera angles and got our lighting figured out. The actors familiarized themselves with the script and costumes were decided on and obtained. Taylor and I moved stuff around and did what we were told.
My most significant contribution to this particular shoot was the skateboard camera platform I designed and built. We used it in the scene where Star walks away from the counter after signing for her belongings. I think it was one of the best shots in the movie. (Completely bias) I believe it was only used that one time but I’ve mentioned it in every conversation I’ve ever had about the movie or any movie for that matter. People often clutch their popcorn, gather their children, and move away.
We picked an early Sunday morning shoot time and decided to meet in the parking lot for a pre-shoot strategy session and pep talk. Most of what I remember of that was the discussion we had on what to do if security showed up. I thought all of us running away in different directions had merit but it was quickly shut down in favor of negotiating and honesty.” Wimps.” Being serious, Glo, the keeper of the keys, did have a career on the line.
Our timing was intentional for a number of reasons, but mainly because few people are up early on Sunday morning on a university campus. Although we had the keys, I’m sure for insurance reasons and more we were not supposed to be there without permission of some sort, most likely written and binding. And we wanted none of that. The early hour would limit our exposure to students and faculty and more importantly security. I also suspect that Kendall realized most of us had no idea what we were doing and he wanted as few witnesses as possible to whatever disaster may ensue.
So, there we were all huddled around our vehicles in the near-empty parking lot, sipping our Heritage Coffee House Mochas (unsolicited plug) and unloading our equipment. Gathered were Kendall and Glo, John and Linda, and the Smiths for that first shoot. Although Liam and Mariah were firmly on board by that time, they were unable to make it.
For the few startled people we encountered as our convoy of blurry-eyed sherpa-like, equipment-laden movie makers wound our way across the commons, down the stairs, and toward the media center.
It had been decided that Glo would use her video camera to mirror the shots Kendal took with the film camera. This would provide a complete backup to every shot in case something happened to the film as well as providing a fast and easy way to check framing, continuity, and lighting during shoots.
By this time, we were aware the cost of developing the film would be expensive, so it was determined half of the movie would be filmed using video and half with film. We decided to shoot the first part of the movie, the scenes with the rich couple in film, and the second part with the prostitute, Star, in video.
The deep luxurious colors you get with film lent well to the rich couple’s story and their environs. The harsher brighter look you get with video worked better for the scenes with the prostitute Star. ut for the first shoot, even though it was a Star scene, Kendall wanted to try out the film camera.
Kendall and I had shot what’s called B roll with the 16mm camera in various locations around downtown Juneau. An example is the dripping faucets, the cruise ships, the flushing toilet, and the fire in the boiler. It helped familiarize us with the camera and the limited shooting time of 20 seconds but Kendall was itching to shoot an action scene on film.
I’m not sure if it was in the parking lot or when we got to the media room but shortly after arrival, Kendall and Glo got into an argument and the mirroring plan was scrapped. Glo would end up filming the shoots but not for use in the film. It was still important for all of the other reasons I’ve mentioned. Kendal would film the film segments with the wind-up Russian 16mm camera and use a borrowed video camera from UAJ media center for the video section.
Now that we determined there was to be just the one director, we set up for the shoot. The set dressing was strategically placed, the lights were set up, Kendal made revisions to his shot list and the actors got into costume. John played the cop and of course, Linda played Star. We got everything set up, April ran the clapper, Kendall yelled “Action,” and we shot our first scene. It’s the scene where Star is impatiently waiting for the cop to open the automatic gate.
We spent most of that day there and it was a perfect setting for our first shoot. It was a calm and peaceful atmosphere and we had time to work out the kinks and explore various techniques No one bothered us including security, thankfully. We did take after take, trying different camera angles and lighting setups. We began to learn our jobs and what was involved in a film shoot.
Most importantly, we proved we could tell a story and convey emotion without dialog or facial features. It’s obvious Star is impatient and it’s obvious the cop is completely indifferent (Doughnut and all). We also proved that a group of people with zero experience who’ve never worked together can pull off something as sophisticated as a film shoot. And we proved most of us could get along together.
Many of our subsequent shoots would the antithesis of our first. Chaos and mayhem might be the best words to describe them but that day we basked in our ignorance and we all drank the Kool-Aid. Seriously, April was in charge of craft services and she brought Kool-Aid for drinks, red my favorite. I said it was a low or no budget affair, we’d blown our daily shoot budget on the mochas.
I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say that we went home excited and feeling a sense of accomplishment. We were enthusiastic for the next shoot and proud to be part of it all but most importantly, we were left with a sense of awe at how well my skateboard cam idea worked. Did I tell you about that?