Last Sunday principal photography on Serpentine, The Short Program wrapped! After eight months of writing and two months of pre-production planning, I was more than pleased with the end result. A special thanks to the cast, crew, location partners and sponsors for making this possible. After taking the past week to organize the video and sound files, the hard drive will transfer to our editor on Monday to begin the post-production process. It’s this stage that turns a puzzle into a completed print.
But make no mistake about this process, as an independent filmmaker you are pretty much responsible for everything…even the weather. And while I believe organization and communication are critical to a successful production, it does come down to both diplomacy and flexibility. A film production, whether it’s a short or a feature, is unlike any other type of business. You start by yourself and then suddenly ramp up. For Serpentine that meant over 30 people and three locations (for Justice Is Mind it meant over 200 people and 15 locations). As a screenwriter there is a thrill like none other than watching your screenplay come to life. Isn’t this why we do what we do?
For me this production was both a reunion as well as working with some terrific new people. It started with the FBI conference room scene at The Verve, Crowne Plaza. When Michael Coppola arrived I was immediately reminded of First World where he played a secret service agent. But it was the night before that I wrote an additional new scene for Michael and Vernon Aldershoff (Assistant Director in Serpentine and Henri Miller in Justice Is Mind). Of course, the last thing I wanted to do was to tell the cast and crew about a new scene when we didn’t even shoot the intended one! I waited to see if we were ahead of schedule and we were. It worked out great.
It was at Northstar Ice Sports that the word scope came into focus. First, I am beyond thankful to Denise Marco, the board and staff of Northstar for this opportunity. By scope I’m talking about the size of the set. It was about making sure all actors, cameras and crew were properly placed to make sure the scenes worked. For weeks I drew this out from the skating program, to camera and actor placements. What may not have seemed obvious to some would be very obvious in post-production.
Reuniting Kim Gordon and Paul Lussier from Justice Is Mind was a particular goal of mine from the beginning. Their on screen chemistry in Justice was what every director dreams of. So when they both signaled their availability for Serpentine I immediately signed them on to the project. As a director, there is also a comfort factor in terms of direction when working with actors that you know will deliver. In advance of our shooting I forwarded a detailed memo on character and scene development for all actors and crew. As time is a serious commodity on an independent film set, I think it’s best for everyone to understand the entire tone and feel of a scene when they arrive.
As a director I don’t believe in grandiose demonstrations of direction to actors and crew just to prove a point. In my simple view of it all, the most that should happen on set are adjustments. There’s no time to teach someone how to act on set. (Side note: On Justice Is Mind one adjustment I gave to an actress was how to say a particular phrase of profanity. I’ll just say this, it’s an American thing in terms of word emphasis and slang).
Our last day of filming was at a friend’s house. It was a fitting end to the production after coming down from two days of intense work at Northstar and the fact that there was only one line of dialogue. As I said to everyone, these scenes are largely atmospheric and what composers live for.
Another highlight of our week was when the MetroWest Daily News interviewed me about Serpentine and sent a photographer to our shoot at Northstar. Not only did they write an excellent article, but created a video as well. You can access both at this link.
Over the next few months I’ll be working on a variety of marketing and promotional efforts as we build towards our February release. During this time look for more stills, behind the scenes images and a trailer.
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.