Last week I talked about lists. Well this week I was able to cross off, or at least through, one thing on my list – uniforms.
Whenever I plan to put a script into production I go through it with a fine tooth comb to break down exactly what’s needed. For First Signal the Nehru styled suits for two of the characters have been secured for some weeks. Personally, I thought it was going to be a bit of a challenge to get the look I wanted with the budget I set for costumes. I soon discovered there were numerous manufacturers that offered countless styles and ranges in price. In the end I got what I wanted for that look.
But there was one type of uniform that was proving a bit elusive–Air Force officer service dress. Yes, a good number of regional costume shops had air force officer uniforms. They would have worked fine if our story was set in the early 1990s. But as First Signal is set in the year 2014, we needed a contemporary look.
To start I discounted contacting the big costume houses that work with “Hollywood” budgeted films and TV shows. My thinking was why on Earth would they want to work with an indie film on the scale of First Signal? So contacting the official uniform suppliers to the Air Force began in earnest. But in the majority of cases you need to be authorized military personnel to make a purchase from those companies. So short of purchasing items piecemeal on eBay and the like, this was a major item on my list that wasn’t budging.
When I saw the season finale of Madam Secretary and the number of military uniforms that were used on that episode, I decided I had to take a different route. I went to their listing on IMDbPro to see who was in charge of costuming. No sooner did I contact one of the wardrobe supervisors via LinkedIn did he get back to me with companies and contact names. Yes, these were the big costume houses on the west coast.
The welcoming reception I received from Eastern Costume put aside my preconceived anxiety about contacting one of these companies. To say they are knowledgeable about costumes would be an understatement. After sending them some pictures of the types of Air Force service dress uniforms I was looking for, they gave me a rundown on prices that will work for First Signal. Is it a bit more than I budgeted? Certainly. But in this case anything less than a contemporary look just wouldn’t have worked.
The search, however, continues for a suitable location. The one thing I have done with all my films is to secure locations via a trade marketing partnership. It’s a pretty straight forward process that works great for everyone. A location allows us the opportunity to film and I promote and market the location. Well after the actors and crew have left, a location sees themselves promoted regularly on social media, mentioned in the press, credited at the end of the film, on official sites and other entitlements that benefit all concerned long after “That’s a wrap” is called. I have no doubt that a suitable location will be secured. But there are always surprises in this business. Like when you believe you have a deal and suddenly it goes from trade to a $10,000 plus fee! Um no thanks, I’ll keep looking! The one thing I have long learned in this business is never be desperate to do a deal. I look for partners not takers.
Since First Signal’s table read last Saturday there has been a flurry of activity behind the scenes. From location scouting between Massachusetts and New Hampshire to waiting to hear from the Department of Defense on production assistance, the pre-production process of a feature film is a myriad of activity that gives new meaning to one word – lists.
With our aim to secure the final locations in the next ten days, those working on the pre-production side will see their respective lists grow exponentially. As I believe organization is critical to any production, keeping a well ordered list means that you’re one step closer to the start of production.
Speaking of productions, this past week was an interesting one from the acting side of things. When I was auditioning for a film in Boston, I ran into one of the actors that I cast in First Signal. I think we were reading for the same part! To quote Bette Davis in Now, Voyager, “The world is small, but Boston is big”. Suffice to say we shared some interesting stories while waiting to be called. The one thing I’ve learned about the New England market, is that there are a number of us that operate on both sides of the desk. Personally, I prefer it that way as it gives me a fresh perspective on the business.
However, it was all business on Friday when I was at Charles River Media Group. A few weeks ago I was cast in a book promo/trailer. The book is not a work of fiction, but fact. The story takes place in Austria during World War II. The producer, who is also the author, gave all the actors a personally signed copy. I started to read the book last night and it’s a page turner. I’ll write up the project once the production releases stills.
This was my first time working with this director (who was also the director of photography). From the costuming he sourced to the way he directed the shoot, his style was engaged and calming. The actors were tremendously professional and took their respective parts seriously. The end product should be stunning.
Indeed this market is a small one. No sooner did I arrive and I recognized one of the actors I worked with from the Joint Base Cape Cod exercises. Although another actor doesn’t know it yet, when the time comes I plan to reach out to him to see if he’d like to play one of the secret service agents in First Signal.
This week I also launched the Facebook and Twitter accounts for First Signal. Suffice to say I was encouraged by the response. These are only the first steps towards developing the overall marketing communications plan for the project.
For those that have ventured down the road of producing a film, there are numerous details to attend to. But one thing that is truly paramount is character and story background. This week I sent the actors and crew a multi-page document that provides not only the character backstory but terminology associated with the “First World” universe.
While Justice Is Mind was about mind reading, I honestly can’t expect actors or crew to read mine. First, I find the phrase “motivation” to be terribly overused. Rather, I like to give the actors and crew the big picture. It’s easy for a director to drone on about this or that or whatever. But when someone reads in black and white what the backstory is or universe they are in, it makes the process so much easier. It also fosters thoughtful creative input.
As for creative, this week also yielded some interesting conversations regarding costuming. In First Signal, four of the characters have very specific looks. Two are outfitted in Nehru styled suits, while two are Air Force officers. It’s the latter that saw the progress we were looking for. From discussions with an Air Force base military store to a costume company that outfits the military in my favorite TV show, the aim is to have these actors outfitted accordingly.
Speaking of actors, I received a call a few days ago from an actress that was beyond frustrated with the fact that she hasn’t secured representation. Is she talented? Yes. Does she have a solid resume? Yes. The one thing I stressed in this industry is that nothing is simple or easy. There are no shortcuts. And the one unwavering thing you need is patience. But comparing my work to yours or another actors is not the route you go. And when you start tuning out the advice you sought because you aren’t hearing what you want, you might need to rethink your career. This industry is waiting for no one, but it may respond if you have talent, a viable idea or a unique project (film or TV). I say may because I will quote the late Maximilian Schell, “This an industry of chances and luck.” Even after all his years of fame from Happy Days, Henri Winkler still auditions.
I do seem to be having good luck with the DJI Spark. I have to say this is a very smart drone. It takes a bit of getting used to operating virtual joysticks (there is an optional controller you can buy), but there’s so many flight options that are brilliantly automatic. At the end of the day all a filmmaker wants is a great shot.
Finally, I just finished reading James Comey’s A Higher Loyalty. No matter what side of the political aisle you’re on, this is an important read. In the hyper partisan, media obsessed world we live in, it’s too easy to make snap judgments without knowing or caring about the facts. That’s really what our country comes down to does it? Facts, truth and loyalty to the constitution of the United States and those that defend it.
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.
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.
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.
Ever since I was a kid I’ve been fascinated with flight. Growing up in the 70s the Boeing 747 and Concorde were all the rage. But my first glimpse of the United States military came from the 1980 film The Final Countdown starring Kirk Douglas. That film was a brilliant combination of a narrative science fiction drama with the U.S. Navy and Air Force demonstrating real world capabilities. With this interest you can well imagine my excitement when I learned the Westfield International Air Show was returning to Massachusetts.
From the “static” display of a C-5 Galaxy to the F-16 U.S.A.F. Thunderbirds, the air show programmers really outdid themselves this year. The show was appropriately titled “A Century of Airpower” as it featured such planes as a restored Douglas C-47 and B-25 bomber. In fact there was a whole cadre of planes from World War II.
What was particularly moving for me was watching the C-47 perform the same mission it did 73 years ago when it dropped troops in the invasion of Normandy. Watching this reenactment I can only imagine what it was like during the height of the war itself. It’s almost impossible to comprehend the sheer bravery of everyone involved in that mission.
But mission is what the United States military does better than any nation on this planet. One only has to attend one of these air shows to see the demonstration of these great aircraft and the men and women that make it all possible.
Yes, as an American, there is a great sense of pride seeing this all in action. But to be honest, it’s also about national and world security. Sure that last sentence may sound a bit over the top, but there needs to be a military superpower to insure that such global travesties like World War II never happen again or at minimum are contained. As President George H. W. Bush would ask when our security was threatened, “Where are our aircraft carriers?”
With a reported 50,000+ people attending over a two day period, of course I had to know someone at the show. In the early morning hours on Sunday I ran into Monty Lyons. Monty was featured in both Justice Is Mind and Serpentine: The Short Program. Great seeing you Monty!
If you haven’t attended an air show I encourage you to do so. We see and hear so much about what the military does but don’t generally have the opportunity to see it up close in such a setting. Of course the actual air show itself is something to see, but it’s the static displays where you can really learn and experience something new. From lectures on their technical capabilities to what they do on missions. Yes, some of this research has wound up in my screenplays such as First World and SOS United States.
In summary a special thanks to the 104th Fighter Wing and organizers of the Westfield International Airshow for another spectacular event. But more importantly it’s to the men and women that serve in our armed forces, the veterans and those that have made the ultimate sacrifice, that have protected this nation and our way of live from its inception. Without them there is no United States.