It’s Saturday morning and tomorrow starts the first day of principal photography on Serpentine, The Short Program. Tomorrow a new world goes from script to screen. The months, weeks and days leading up to the start of principal photography is a journey unlike any another.
One would think that with the number of events, commercials and film projects I’ve been involved with it would just be another exercise, but it isn’t. For me because I always seek to raise the bar from one project to the next, there’s always a unique set of situations that come up. From logistics, to locations to the sheer number of people that are involved.
But honestly, if it wasn’t for the challenges, why do any of this. I’ve never been one to settle for status quo and doing the same thing day in and day out boors me to death. Yes, we all like to have some sort of routine to keep us grounded, but it’s bringing a new project to life that really inspires me.
For those that are involved, when all is said and done, there is not only a credit but a product. A film that can be looked at years, if not decades from now. Something that you look at and say, I remember when. And for those that watch the end result, they know that for a period of time people came together to create something unique, something original.
As some may have seen in the press release that went out earlier this week, tomorrow reunites some actors and crew from First World, Evidence and Justice Is Mind along with my earliest days in an ice rink. But just as important it’s about bringing fresh voices to creative works. I believe what makes the process of filmmaking such a unique experience is that combination of the familiar and unfamiliar that yields the best results. It was that combination that resulted in a test video this week that I posted to Serpentine’s Facebook page (click this link to view).
In two weeks Serpentine goes into production. With our locations secured and cast and crew locked, this is the phase in which there are numerous details to attend to. From printing posters, to purchasing a new laptop, American flag and external hard drives, it’s a methodical checking off the list of all the things that are needed to produce a film. For me it’s about organization. I produce dramas not seek to create them in real life.
Past all the aforementioned details, there’s also the creative side, from being in touch with the actors regarding their characters to the crew for various shots and other production matters. Producing a film is a team effort one that requires the cooperation of numerous parties. While the director may conduct the orchestra, you do need an orchestra!
As for the creative side, as we are filming just the first ten pages of the feature length version the end of the month, I wanted to give this short a name. For Justice Is Mind we called that short film version Evidence. For Serpentine it will be called The Short Program. I think this is a fitting title. First, this is a short film. In figure skating the short program is, to quote Wikipedia, “The short program of figure skating is usually the first of two phases in figure skating competitions.” As this short is phase one of the Serpentine project that’s another reason for the name.
Earlier this week I updated Serpentine’s IMDb listing. For this short film alone there are just over 35 people and companies. When you hear someone say it takes a village to make a film, they are speaking the truth! For those that wish to get into this industry, I always tell them to try to visit a film set at some point to see what’s involved.
But the one thing that I will be working on today is our press release announcing that Serpentine is going into production with The Short Program. Anyone that has worked with me on my past projects knows how much I believe in promotion. And when someone signs on to one of my projects, I promote them at every opportunity. Case in point when I was marketing Justice Is Mind. It was always great to include the cast, crew and our partners whenever I could.
The marketing of a film is just as important as its making. Without promotion there is no audience. While today’s world of VOD is great for the independent filmmaker, if your audience isn’t told about your project how can they ever find it? To this day, I continue to promote First World, Evidence and Justice Is Mind. When one thinks of the enormous amount of time to develop and make a film, why wouldn’t you promote them regularly? As they say the proof is in the pudding when you see a consistent placement on IMDb along with VOD streams.
But there is one thing I do need to find for this particular production. It was a gift from Tara Lipinski after we photographed her for the magazine I used to publish. It’s been in my basement since I moved back from Los Angeles.
This past week was another busy one as pre-production moves along for Serpentine. But today was a visit to The Collings Foundation production of “Battle for the Airfield”. To quote from their website, “There will be over 300 re-enactors representing several branches of Allied and Axis military participating in an amazing re-enactment.” The event did not disappoint.
Although it was raining, the announcer reminded us all that wars are not always fought on warm sunny days. Indeed, it was like watching a conflict in real time. Unlike a movie set with constant calls of “action” and “cut”, there was no stopping once the action did start. When the tanks started to roll the re-enactment was just as good if not better than any Hollywood production. The filmmaker in me wished I had cameras recording it for some upcoming production. All I could think of was the battle scene in 1953’s War of the Worlds!
Just prior to the start of the battle, the national anthem was played. I’ve heard our anthem played in many venues, but there’s something special to hear it against a military backdrop with veterans present. When I think of the tens of millions that have sacrificed themselves for this country, this American proudly stands and turns to honor our flag and all those that have defended it.
Speaking of old glory, the flag will be part of the set dressing for our FBI conference room scene at The Verve, Crowne Plaza. On Thursday I visited the hotel for a site visit. The room looked just as great in real life as it did in the pictures I saw prior to my visit.
A site visit is another one of the critical components to pre-production as there are usually things that need some sort of adjustment or that may have changed. In this case, a couple of posters to cover up artwork on the opposite wall and a movie screen has replaced the TV screen. Actually the movie screen is better as it gives us more room in post-production for images that our VFX specialist will put in. A special thank you to Lynne Luongo, The Verve’s General Manager, for the personal tour!
Earlier in the week I was reading the script again for other creative components. One scene has a character leaving in a car—a car that will be getting a fair amount of screen time. As this character comes forward to sponsor a skater in the story, I wanted something high end that said wealth.
Although there are countless dealerships in the area, there is only one luxury dealer I wanted to approach to see if they might be interested in working with us. When I visited Foley Motorsports website, I was thrilled to see that they have direct staff contacts, including owner RJ Foley. After his review of my presentation, I’m delighted to report that Foley Motorsports will be providing a luxury vehicle for Serpentine. Now, here’s fate for you, his daughter used to be a figure skater and will be appearing as an FBI Agent at The Verve!
As for figure skating I visited Northstar Ice Sports again this week to work out some additional details on our upcoming shoot and to skate again. Yes, I’m getting the skating legs back underneath me to assist in the production when we start to shoot the on ice scenes. It is interesting being back in a rink again and on the same ice as my first coach Denise Marco, who is not only the Executive Director of Northstar but will be playing Elizabeth Rogers in Serpentine.
On Thursday Serpentine’s final location came through via a marketing partnership with the The Verve, Crowne Plaza Natick in Natick, MA. Our “FBI” conference room scene will be shot in their stunning Aquarius Boardroom. This location in terms of looks and geography is perfect. As Serpentine’s cast and crew is coming from all over the state, and southern New Hampshire, a Metro West location is ideal.
The day before I paid a visit to my friend Al Mercado’s home. His house will serve as Suzanne Wilson’s residence. Although I’ve been to Al’s house many times, now I’m looking at it literally through a different lens. For the story I needed a ranch house on a corner lot with a front door and back door on opposite sides of the house. Now that all our locations are secured, the next step is to complete a shot list.
As I am a person who lives and dies by lists, nothing is more sacred to me than the shot list. For those of you that follow this blog but don’t necessarily know the process of filmmaking, a shot list is a list of the shots that you need to shoot for coverage of a scene. From wide to mid to close ups to inserts, etc., it’s making sure you have everything before principal photography “wraps”. And with each shot consisting of 2-4 takes (sometimes more), that’s why a seemingly simple scene on paper can take some time to film. But before the shot list is implemented on that first day of principal photography, there are the inordinate number of things that need to be done in pre-production. One of these are test shots.
Also on Thursday I met Jeremy Blaiklock, our Director of Photography, and Liz Carr, our Assistant Director, at Northstar Ice Sports for some test shots. For more reasons than I can count, the Northstar shoots will be the most involved. Between the scope of the facility and on the ice shooting requirements, it was important to run through some tests with Isabella Ramirez who will be playing Suzanne Wilson. Filming two actors standing stationary in a room is one thing, filming a skater execute jumps, spins and footwork is entirely another. But in the end we were all very pleased with the tests.
It seems like it was just yesterday that I came up with the idea for Serpentine and then attended a World Figure Skating Championships after a ten plus year hiatus. But here we are less than a month from filming the first ten pages of the script. Yes, it’s very exciting.
In so many ways it reminds me of those early days when I was preparing First World for production. I was living in Los Angeles at the time and had just struck a deal with a hotel in Boston, MA to serve as the Secretary of State’s residence. Like Serpentine, that deal for First World was the last location I needed to secure for the production.
While creating a new production is both exhilarating and challenging, I am also reminded that this is where a project goes from script to screen. Seeing a project develop from one dimension to three is why we love what we do.