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filmmaking

First Test

Setting up a test shot.

The date was set weeks ago – January 26. It was the day we were holding auditions for the final two characters in First Signal. From the moment I posted the auditions, I was encouraged by the quality of responses. When the day came the actors didn’t disappoint. I was uniquely impressed that many of them were off book. Impressed, because the sides I send aren’t just the standard two pages you usually receive for an audition (one of the sides even included a monologue). Frankly, I’ve never understood why so many auditions are based off the two page side. It’s even worse when those two pages only have like three or four lines for the part you’re auditioning for. Regardless of what side of the camera you’re on, I don’t believe you can properly ascertain a project based off a two page side.

Patience McStravick in the observatory.

I have some cardinal rules I follow when holding auditions. First, you send sides well in advance of the audition. Two, you include some background on the character with the sides. Three, and this is perhaps the most important, you don’t change the sides in the audition room (there is one local casting company that does that regularly and it infuriates me–I’ve stopped auditioning for them).  For me, it’s about respecting the actor’s time and preparation. As a director, it’s about seeing a quality audition.  To learn more about the cast (and some of the crew) of First Signal please visit our IMDb page.

The following day Daniel Groom (Director of Photography), Patience McStravick (Producer and Major Sampson) and I went to the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center for our first day of testing. After a successful day of auditions, we were all in good spirits driving up to the Discovery Center as we knew we had the actors we wanted. We now could get down to the business of pre-production. For First Signal, we’re taking extra steps in pre-production to insure, to the best of our ability, a smooth production.

It’s one thing scouting a location, it’s another to film in it. From interesting angles, to lighting, to electrical, there are so many numerous things that go into the pre-production process.  Since I knew we were going to film First Signal at the Discovery Center, I’ve had so many ideas come to mind to bring this project to life.

Daniel Groom and Patience McStravick

In First Signal the Discovery Center will act as a European air force base. When General Reager arrives we will see a full size replica of Mercury-Redstone rocket. Once inside he passes by an XF8U-2 Crusader Jet. Considering that the First Signal story is rooted in the space program of the 1960s and two of its main characters are in the air force, the Discovery Center is the perfect backdrop.

Daniel Groom and Patience McStravick

But it’s not just about what’s best for First Signal, it’s about promoting the Discovery Center itself. Long after the final “cut” is called, the Discovery Center will forever be featured in a film that will be seen for generations to come.  Those that know me, know I’m a passionate believer in the space program and all those that make “space” possible. That, in so many ways, is what makes the Discovery Center so special – it’s about discovery.

T-minus.

A drone shot I took of The McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord, NH.
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Still Picture

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Bill Cunningham: Facades – now at Rosecliff

Just before visiting a friend in Newport last Sunday (who is also one of the actors in First Signal), I went to Easton Beach to do some drone photography. Since I purchased the DJI Spark last year for First Signal I’ve had a great time taking all kinds of images. The number of doors it has opened for me and my projects has been very encouraging. Photography and film, in my view, is all about inspiration.

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I have two favorite mansions I love to visit in Newport; The Elms and Rosecliff. I don’t recall if The Elms was closed last weekend, but I know that Rosecliff has converted the second floor (which was primarily bedrooms) into an exhibition space.

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Discovering Bill Cunningham: Facades was an absolute delight. Having been to New York City in the 70s and lived there in the 80s, I could relate to the atmosphere of the city at the time when he captured these images. The juxtaposition of his muse Editta Sherman wearing all kinds of period costumes against the architecture of New York was truly inspiring. If you’re in the Newport area or plan to visit, this is one exhibit I highly recommend.

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For me Rosecliff has held a particular fondness. It was the first mansion I visited with my mother in the 1980s. When I was publishing a figure skating magazine in the 90s and early 2000s, we photographed Nancy Kerrigan at the estate. I think “Tessie” Oelrichs would be pleased how Rosecliff is still entertaining guests well into in the 21st century.

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Rosecliff, Newport, Rhode Island

With pre-production well under way for First Signal, it’s exhibitions like Bill Cunningham: Facades that inspire ideas for my own projects. The saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” reminds me of the still photographs you often see accompany the production of a film. While making a film is about moving pictures, it’s “the still” that often promotes the project.

In my view inspiration doesn’t happen overnight. In the creative world, it comes from a cumulative effect of new experiences.  It also comes from surrounding yourself with equally good people that inspire and motivate you to create. In today’s world of always being “plugged in” it’s easy to get drawn in to those that endlessly complain or live in a world of negativity. Those that live in that world are, as I said when I was in a Star Trek fan film, “dismissed.” Simply put, life is short but I’m making a feature.

Next picture.

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