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Serpentine

Original Stock

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This opening shot in First World was created by the director for another program. As he owned the footage, he used it for this scene.

Writing an original story is by no means an easy process. There are times when I think and rethink various elements to make sure they flow. Does this transition from that transition make sense? Am I carrying the story forward and adding something with each moment? Even though I’m writing fiction, I always ask myself would people act and respond this way in “real life”?

But at one point it starts to click. For this story it happened around page twenty. While I have the general outline for act one, two and three (Yes, I believe in the three act structure), it’s the journey these characters take that will make the story what it is.

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This shot of the FBI in Washington, D.C. for Serpentine has also been seen in Madam Secretary.

But one thing that is easy, is creating worlds that are larger than they appear or you have the budget for.  With every film I’ve produced (and some commercials), I always use stock footage. From the White House in First World, to Reincar Scientific in Justice Is Mind to the FBI in Serpentine, it’s a simple purchase from one of the stock footage houses.

Most stock footage is very affordable. However, there are times when it can get pricey. Case in point was footage from the Nuremberg Trials after World War II in Justice Is Mind. In addition to the footage, I also had to obtain it at a certain aspect ratio.  But in today’s modern world of filmmaking, it’s amazing what’s available if you just look for it.

As this story largely takes place in one room, it will be stock footage that takes us out of the scene to illustrate certain moments of the story.  Why ask the Department of Defense if you can film a B-2 taking off from Whiteman Air Force Base if you can just acquire the footage for $79.

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In Justice Is Mind one of the characters is leaving Germany for the United States.

I remember after Justice Is Mind was released, I was asked by someone in the industry if I went to Logan International Airport in Boston to film planes taking off.  I remember jokingly responding that it was a real pain in the ass to get over all the fences and position myself with a cameraman at the end of the runway. I think they thought I was serious. Oh well.

As I dove back further in the First World story and archives, I came across a time in 2008 when certain funding commitments were imminent for the production of the film (it was going to be part of a slate of films with a particular producer). But then the global recession took hold and literally decimated the film industry (particularly on the independent side).  At the time it was disappointing, but everything happens for a reason.

It’s interesting how one is turned to a particular story. When the idea came to me during my moments at the Naval Justice School about developing a story in a one location environment, something drew me back to First World. Was it the military aspects of that story? The fact that I’ve already created these characters? Who knows, the one thing I never ask myself is why. I just write.

Next scene.

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Although Reincar Scientific is a fictional company, this building actually exists in Berlin, Germany.

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In Line

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Kim Gordon and Paul Lussier in Justice Is Mind. Two of the most brilliant actors I have ever worked with.

It’s not fashionable for actors to not learn their lines. Your number one job requirement when cast in anything is to learn lines. If you refuse to do that, please find another occupation or avocation.

When I read this interview with Bill Nighy (one of my favorite actors) that is has become “fashionable” for actors to not learn their lines, I always wonder where such nonsense started. Seriously, how do you execute a film (forget a play) when an actor doesn’t have their lines down? This is akin to a Director of Photography not interested in operating a camera.

Over the years I have unfortunately come across actors and performers that think it’s OK not to be prepared. Being unprepared is not only disrespectful to those in the cast and crew that have done their homework, but as a director I’ll never cast you in anything.

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Robin Ann Rapoport and Vernon Aldershoff in Justice Is Mind with Michele Mortensen and Richard Sewell.

As a writer/director I do have to count myself lucky with the actors I have cast in my films. Out of the four films I’ve produced, only two of the actors arrived to set without having their lines memorized to say nothing of having read the script.

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Vern and Robin in Evidence. Two excellent actors reunited in Justice Is Mind and Serpentine: The Short Program.

In one of my short films I was very excited to work with a particular actor who was also a producer/director. I was incensed when not only didn’t he have his lines memorized, but laughed it off in the process. Didn’t he care that there were about 15 people on set that saw this behavior? It was during that moment that I was reminded of a student film I was in the year before. One of the actors I had a scene with made a big deal that actors need to know their lines. I kid you not when our scene started he didn’t have his lines memorized at all. He thought it was cool. I was having none of it. Needless to say when he submitted for Justice Is Mind his submission was deleted.

This being said, ALL the actors I worked with in Justice Is Mind and Serpentine: The Short Program had their lines brilliantly memorized. For those that have seen Justice you know it was a dialogue heavy production. The courtroom scenes alone were basically one monologue after another. Their preparation and professionalism made the production a smooth one resulting in an on time and under budget finish. Professionalism (which has nothing to do with union status) goes a long way.

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This one still from Serpentine: The Short Program features the stars of Justice Is Mind.

However, responsibility also falls to the director as well. Whenever I put a film into production, I always make sure the actors have received their scripts well in advance. Isn’t that my job? To give actors the tools they need to succeed? I can’t blame actors for not having their lines down if I don’t deliver them in a timely fashion.

Case in point I was approached this past week to be in a film that was shooting this week. Before I committed the director confessed they were still “tweaking” the script and it should be ready shortly. What the hell does that mean? Do I get it the day before? Or day of! Needless to say, I declined to be involved. I’m sorry, if you can’t get your act together on the production side, you’re asking for a disaster on set. Honestly, this isn’t rocket science.

Professionals.

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Jeffrey Phillips as the President with Lindy Nettleton as the Prime Minister in First World.  As a first time writer/director, I count myself lucky to have worked with these two professionals. Jeffrey was also in Justice Is Mind.