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For those that are curious: A FILMMAKERS STORY

post #1 of 23
Thread Starter 
Ann made mention that she would like to hear more about filmmaking, so I thought that I'd start a thread about some of my experiences (sometimes funny, sometimes scary and sometimes just palin ludicrous) with my own filmmaking and on Hollywood films that I've worked on. This will be a continuing post, which I will add to, so if you have questions or something to add, please feel free.
post #2 of 23
Thread Starter 
I was interested in filmmaking since first seeing Jaws 4 years ago, but had no means or knowledge as how to get started. That was until I met some knew friends at the start of my 7th grade year.

Chris and Danny and I all met in a science class and, from talking, learned that we all were bug film buffs, Chris turned onto movies by Godzilla films, Danny by Alien this last summer.

Well, we all had recently seen Caddyshack and thought it might be kinda fun to make our own little sequal, shooting on old Super-8mm film with a camera one of them had and instead of using a Gofer as in Caddyshack, we used Danny's cat, Socs.

I filmed and played Ted Knights part in our sequal. On our first day of filming in December 1979 we went to an open field with a bunch of Golf clubs, the camera and Danny's cat, Socs.

We had to get a shot of Danny (playing Bill Murrays role) stooping down in search of his nemises, THE cat and the cat was supposed to poke his head up out of a hole in the ground behind him, but still in the frame (which I was filming this particular angle, which we all took turns at it, depending which of us was 'acting') and then the cat would disappear back into the hole.

You can see where this is going, right?

TAKE 1 - Put cat in hole we dug, hold him there, start camera, Chris lets go of Socs so we can get the take. Well, Socs sticks his ASS end out of the hole and all we get on camera is....well....hole. lol.

TAKE 2 - Danny gets in position again, Chris holds Socs in his place in the hole, I roll the camera and....NOTHING....Socs doesn't do squat. He just lays in the hole because I guess he found a comfortable spot (Had I only really known cats then, but I was still cat naive at 13).

TAKE 3 - We get some tuna and, as the camera rolls, and Danny acts, Chris tosses tuna in front of the hole. Well, Socs comes out of the hole, starts eating and then hauls ass and on camera you can see the camera shake from me laughing and Chris goes running across the frame after Socs.

Take 4 - Chris holds Socs in the hole, tempting him with tuna, Danny acts, I roll tha camera and Chris pops out and Socs sticks his head out of the hole, looks at Danny, Chris covertly tosses tuna into the hole from off camera and Socs disappears back into the hole.


And, that, ladies and gentleman, is my FIRST time behind a camera and I thought the story was appropriate for the site. Oh boy, had I only known what I know about cats then, I would have suggested we use an animal that was more trainable, like a small dog!

STAY TUNRD! More stories on the way (But, only this first has to do with a cat....well, there is one more, but that will probably be 10 posts later).
post #3 of 23
Thanks for that great story! Cats and motion-picture cameras are obviously a formula for quick thinking! At that age (13) I was into black-and-white still photography — with an old Zeiss Icon bellows camera (replete with film pack and slide), a tripod, a light meter and a blanket (for shade while focusing the upside-down lens image on the ground glass).

I'm anxious to read your further cinematic adventures. Encore!

post #4 of 23
great story! I can't wait to hear more
post #5 of 23
MeowMan; You know I love a good sory. This is gonna be a great thread. Thanks for installment #1. . . . .
post #6 of 23
Great story! More!!!!!!!!!!!
post #7 of 23
Thread Starter 
This story takes place in the summer of 1980, right after my 14th birthday. The Great Train Robbery was a movie that we all had liked, so we thought of a darker, more twisted version, so titled above, involving 2 men on a quest to break into a burial crypt and steal millions in very expensive items that had been buried with this rich family.

Well, there is this HUGE cemetary here, in a not-so-good part of town, but still an impressive and historical cemetay. We shot during the daylight and made the scene's look night by "stopping" down the camera's apeture 2-stops and putting a blue gel over the lens to simulate the "night" look.

The actor, this time out was Danny and Chris and I took turns filming Danny as he would run along the roofs of all these tigtly grouped crypts, all is a straight line and all VERY large.

Well, we got the shots we needed, hiding from the caretaker when he was near as to not warrant being asked to leave. BUT....we still needed our mortuary interiors scene, so....

Off to a near by, closed for 5 years school. The halls and classrooms were dirty and corrupted and transients were often times seen in there. But, it mattered not for we had a movie to make. Danny wanted to check out the delapitated basement, which was only accessable by sliding in through a window from the outside.

Danny volunteered to go in and scout out the 'location'. Chris and I dutifully remained on the surface of the world, fearing that to be caught down in that deep, dark basement with noone to go for help were something to go amiss would be a bad thing. Besides, we had heard stories about this: Chalk outlines in places wrapped with police crime scene tape, etc. So, you get the picture, right?

Well, to top all this off, the shadows are cast long and low as the waning sun creeps downward, leaving us, perhaps, only 20 minutes of usable light before night fall set in. Now, remember: There is NO electricity here, no artificial illumination inside.

Well, Danny had disappeared into this basement window for more than fifteen minutes as Chris and I loitered on the surface watching the deralicts and transients come out more and more as night quickly approached. One of these in particular was a man pushing a shopping cart full of crap andhe fit the part perfectly: Long, unkempt and greasy hair, a scraggily beard and clothes that looked as though they wouldn't last another night. Well, this guy goes to these same basement windows (Chris and I are standing a little ways away, so we can still see, but we can get a running head start if need be) and lays down so that he can shimmy in, legs first. But, it appears something in his belt is slowing him down, so he reaches down and pulls out this HUGE butcher knife and sets it down and, keeping the knife in his hand, he backs in through the same and only open window, where Danny had gone through just 20 minutes prior and disappears down within the bowels of this school.

Well, natrually, Chris and I begin to worry, sure that something has happened to Danny. A group of ravaged, manic transients have him capyured down there and they are going to carve him up for dinner, but had only to wait for "Smelly", who had the knife.

Now, the sun is seriously low and there is less than five minutes of usable light before the suns basking glow fades into the twilight and night is born, along with all the demons and monsters that we fear in the shadows.

Now all we can think is that we were going to have to call the cops to find Danny's stabbed corpse.

Well, after about 5 more minutes of pacing, Danny comes crawling back out from the basement and Chris and I asked him, excitedly "Did you see the street guy with the knife?" No he didn't see him, but there were some cool places to shoot down there.

Well, after what we hhad seen we decided that, perhaps, it wouldn't be in our best interest to go down there and film. I mean, what if this wild butcher knife guy tried too kill us?!

To say the least, for saftey reasons, we did't go back there to film and the project was only marginally completed.

But, the horror of thinking that we were going to be pulling Danny;s corpse from under there was enough to deter us from any further exploits in filming The Great Crypt Robbery.

This project was shelved, but some of the footage did look pretty damn decent.

[Edited by MeowMan on 04-29-2001 at 10:10 AM]
post #8 of 23
I think I missed something, As far as your second story. It seems like it starts half way through. I read it but don't understand the entire story. Please repost as I am now dying to hear the whole thing!
post #9 of 23
Thread Starter 
Damn! Something must've been amiss. I'll fix it. Sorry.

OK, fixed.


[Edited by MeowMan on 04-29-2001 at 12:51 PM]
post #10 of 23
MeowMan; Loved it! How exciting for three young boys! Keep 'em coming. Can't wait to hear more.
post #11 of 23
Thanks for that second, quite exciting, installment! I'm looking forward to further adventures.

I've a question, by the way. One of my favorite films of recent years is Dancer in the Dark, directed by Lars von Trier. (And starring, of course, my soul-buddy Björk!) There's been discussion in film circles, so I'm told, regarding his use of "digital" cameras. Now, to my untrained eye, that film's images look "the same" to me as those of any other recent film — technically speaking.

So, what's this "digital camera" thing all about; and why is it controversial?

Thank you!

post #12 of 23
Thread Starter 
Thank you all for your comments.

Mr. Cat, in reference to your question, even digital video is still video and any attempts to make a film and for it to have a film look quality was damn near impossible. The color saturation and black levels just don't have any depth on video because it is an electronic medium. BUT, now, George Lucas is THE first filmmaker to use digital video to make a feature film for theatrical release. With his power and money and a team of techs from Lucasfilm and Sony and FilmLook, Inc. (a co. that specializes in making video look like film) they have created a camera system that IS digital video, but has a filmlook capability, meaning the grain, color, blacks and all of the componets that make video only an amature or tv format will now become professional and theatrical worthy. The next StarWars will be the first high grade feature shot on video and with it and more films shot this way, the death of film is immenant. Kodak and Fuji are going to be in serious trouble. And film puritists are very negative towards it as well. Hope that helps explain it.
post #13 of 23
Thanks! Yes, that rather clears up the matter for me. It appears to be about money (what a shock)! The film-stock manufacturers are unhappy and no doubt a lot of people will end up out of work — which, for those without golden parachutes, will be a tragedy. And, too, film makers and cinemas will have to spend money on this new technology.

It calls to mind, in a perverse way, the phony change-over from 8-millimeter to "super" 8-millimeter film 35 years ago. That was nothing but a money-making scam, requiring people to buy new cameras and projectors (and film).

Then, there was the whole business with Ampex 30 years ago — selling the first-ever "home video" technology to Japanese manufacturers. Yuk!

Hopefully those responsible for the latter two scenarios are burning in hell.

post #14 of 23
post #15 of 23
Thread Starter 
In late 1983 a film commision had been established as a subdivision of the mayors Office in an effort to bring more production to the city. In fact, the last feature film to have been shot in the area was The Creature From The Black Lagoon, which was filmed on a section of the St. Johns River in South Jacksonville. So, it had been more than 30 years since the area had seen any type of feature film production.

Then, a $500,000 low budget slasher film was brought to Jax to be filmed and I was hired as a Production Assistant, working for free, 16 hours per day for 6 weeks.

In the end, the production had needed some lawn chairs and the like, which I had brought from home and in the credits, next to my name it read Outside Props.

The only notable name in the film was Louise Lasser, Woody Allens former wife (one of them) who had been in a few of his films. The rest of the cast were younger people, ala, the typical teenage slasher film.

I was enthralled by the sheer amount of people and effort and hours that it took to accomplish getting a film made. I had known, having been 'introduced' to the world od filmmaking by reading The Making Of Jaws and The Jaws Log, so I wasn't suprised, but still, reading about it and actually being there are two different things, as I am sure you all well know.The entire film was shot in an apartment complex, including having the producytion offices and work areas taking up 5 apartments and the locations being three others.

A typical nights filming (Most of it was night shooting) started like this:

Call time was 6:00 pm, but my day started at around 4:00 pm, being the low man on the totum pole. I would take care of any prepatory errands that needed to be ran, like picking up an actor at the airport, picking up dailes/rushes (This is the film that was shot the day before that was fed ex'd to a lab, processed, transfered to video and fed ex'd back for viewing at the start of the next production day, so that if the footage wasn't good, they could redo it if needed).

Then, the crew arrives and begins running tons of electrical cable to generators from one of the apartments to be filmed in. The grips and electrics dept's were busy at this, as the camera dept set the camera up for the first shot, which the director had told them he wanted previously or by story boards completed before filming ever started (Story boards are cartoon like sketches of shots to be done, particularly where there were shots involving Special Effects, i.e., Jane gets her head chopped off). The Props dept. and Set Decorators make sure the location has all the items called for in the script (The script of a film is like a bible, in that it dictates what everyone does and what is needed) are set up on location, like an open bottle of wine, 2 glasses, a lighter and a pack of smokes.

About an hour after the crew begins setting up, the director arrives and makes sure the camera is set as he wants it, etc., and if says change it, then everyone; camera, props, set....well, they change it. By this time the actors have arrived and are in wardrobe and make up. Upon completion of this, they come onto the set.

The director rehearses them and finally, about 3 or 4 hours after call time the cameras finally begin shooting. In this scene where these wine glasses and wine are needed, the two actors go through the scene from a Master shot (A shot that is wide and shows both in the scene). Then, the camera is reset for coverage, like a Medium Close Up of one person and the change over to set up for the different angle takes an hour. Then, after this one, the camera is moved to the opposite position to get the other person. And, during these hour waits for the camera to rest, a second unit cameraman grabs a close up of wine being poured into the glass which will be edited into the film later and it will appear that the actor poured it, when it was really just a PA or assistant cameraman.

Well, after 12 hours of filming 3 pages of script, the 2 minute (edited on screen time) scene is completed and the sun has risen so we've lost our cover of darkness, unless were running behind and the grips then have to cover the windows with black paper to simulate darkness, but then, some of the lighting may have to change because of this, so the grips and electricians have to move everything around.

By the end of the day, the Production Manager distributes the call sheets to everyone for the next days shoot, so everyone will know what actors need to be present, which pages of the script will be filmed and at what location, so that the camera, props, etc., depts know what they will need. And, if it's an exterior scene, then a cover set has to be prepared just in case inrement weather presents itself and we have to move all the filming indoors and do a different scene all together. So, all of the depts have to not only prepare for the scene scheduled, but they have to fully prepare for the cover set as well, 'just in case'. A cover set is ALWAYS ready, even when shooting indoor scenes, in case xyz actor gets sick and can't shoot.

Finally, at about 9 or 10 am, after much of the crew have gone back to their hotels, driven by the transportation dept., I am finally able to go home and collapse into bed from utter exaustion and grab about 6 hrs (if I'm lucky) sleep, just to get up and do it all over again the next night. And, when a film is on location, it shoots six days a week until the script is completed, with Sunday being the only day of rest.

Interestingly enough, as I have gotten older and direct and produce my own projects, the above, generally, describes my day still, except from a more prominant position. The only difference being that, instead of running errands, I am in meetings and watching clips from the previous days filming, which has to be transfered to VHS from the production tape format. And, though when I Produce and Direct, the crew and cast are smaller, the process is still the same.

And I love it with a passion. This is what I call a very satisfying workday, even at 14 hours. I have so much fun that this is why there is nothing that I'd prefer doing.

Making movies is an incredible experience.

post #16 of 23
Thanks for the great blow-by-blow description of a "typical" day making a film! I can tell you love it. May it ever be so!

post #17 of 23
MeowMan; I know it is "old hat" to you but I am fascinated by the day to day stuff of your profession. If you ever want the low down on Floral Design let me know LOL!
post #18 of 23
This thread is so interesting!!!! Thanks for sharing it with us!!!! I will "stay tuned"
post #19 of 23
Thread Starter 
I was working as a PA on an ABC television movie of the week titled "Intimate Strangers", starring Teri Garr and Stacey Keach and it was a night shoot. It was cold, late and drizzling rain outside this business we were shooting in.

I'm sitting in a room off to one side of the set and here comes Teri Garr (Close Encounters Of The Third Kind was one of her movies, playing Richard Dreyfuss's wife), looking tired and worn out. I introduced myself and we talked about the scene that she was doing and mused over if we would be asleep by sunrise.

She then got up and exclaiming she had to have some coffee and asked if I'd like some. I affirmed that I wouldn't mind a cup, but didn't get up to get it, figuring I'd do it once she sat back down.

Next thing I know, Teri brings back 2 cups of coffee, one of which was for me, including cream and sugar. I was suprised: A notable actress brought little ole me a cup of coffee. How sweet.

So, for the next half hour we just sat there drinking our coffee and talking about movies and, of course, I had to ask her what it was like to work with Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese.

All in all, this tv movie, "Intimate Strangers", was a typical shoot, but this one night in particular was a memorable one because I had Teri Garr all to myself alone in this waiting room and talking about movies and drinking coffee which she fixed for me.

Pretty cool, huh?

post #20 of 23
I bet you were excited with that! I once had a senior army General fix me an omlet and I'll never forget that one (It was too spicy but I had to eat it!)

I love the stories - sounds like you really have found your true vocation! I think you could write a book about all the things you've been through - most people never get to do these things!
post #21 of 23
I really appreciate your last installment! Nowadays, or so it seems to me, too many people have a negative perception of so-called "celebrities." It's politically correct to think of celebrities in dehumanizing terms: "Britney Spears is [insert dehumanizing phrase here]!" And so forth and so on, ad infinitum.

Your anecdote regarding Teri Garr ought to help people know we're none of us getting out of here alive; and while we're here we can only do so much. Some people become entertainers, helping make millions of people happy if only for a little while. If there was more tolerance and less check-out-stand bigotry abroad in the land, we'd all be better off.

Thank you and good morning!

post #22 of 23
MeowMan: Oh, My God, Terri Garr! Wasn't she in Mr. Mom with Tom Hanks? She is one of my favorites. . . . .
post #23 of 23
Thread Starter 

After producing a spoof of Jaws and shooting my first shot on video short and working on dozens of corporate videos and movies, the opportunity arose for my friends and I to Produce/write and Direct a season of 13 episodes of a fictional television series for Ch-47, an independent station (Now UPN).

It was produced in association with a local, huge camera store that dealt in still photography and video production. The equipment would be supplied by the Camera store (This store was huge, in that it took up the entire space of an old roller rink, including a sound stage and all), including the video editing facilities. The person in charge of the video dept. would be one of the Executive Producers, another Executive Producer was a financial expert to govern the actual money spent and I was the third, the young (23 at the time) whose job it would be to approve and supervise the young filmmakers to be involved.


We began production in Novemeber 1989 with THE DATE, the first episode written by a young lady who happened to hate men. Well, that should give you an idea of how well she and I got along, because I was in a position of hire/fire power and she didn't like it too much. She and I were constantly at each others throats and once her 30 minute episode was completed, I was glad to see her go. The unfortunate thing was her episode was amaturish and poor qaulity and I was embarrassed that it had to be our first episode, which aired on January 13, 1990.

The second episode was one entitled THE PEN IS MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD, one that I directed (each of these episodes were a stand alone and not a continuing storyline). I finished editing the project aftyer an all night edit session on the day the episode was to be delivered to the station for broadcast in 2 days, but I made it. On the night it aired, I was at a friends house and watched the video begin. The opening credits rolled. But, I noticed something: The video image seemed a little jittery. Then, right after it said DIRECTED BY CHUCK GRAMLING the entire video level went south and started scrambling and you couldn't make heads or tails of the video. But, you could hear the audio. The next thing I see is a graphic from the station: TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES, PLEASE STAND BY. Oh, S***! I jumped in my car and raced to the station and learned that in the all night editing process, I neglected to correct and watch my video and black levels (A VERY important process to maintain video coherance and quality). The station manager chewed me out for that and I learned a valuble lesson that night. But, we make mistakes and learn.

STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT INSTALLMENT: THE PRODUCTION OF A TELEVISION SERIES AND HOW I BEGAN TO LOSE MY HAIR - PT II (I have to cut this one short because my moniter is starting to wig out).
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