January has been an amazing month for Outcast Café! We have spent the past two and a half weeks officially entering the production phase of making our second short film, Coyote Girl, the poetic version of the 90 minute play script Riley Ann Visits the Outcast Cafe. After spending about two weeks on location in Westfield, Illinois the team has dispersed and continues to work on post-production for the film as well as upcoming projects for the company. Here is the next installment of our adventures on location from the perspective of company member Gail Shalan (Riley Ann, Coyote):
9:03 a.m.- Despite the promise of an early morning again today, the weather forbids our last effort to capture the drone shot in scene 7. Rick is awesome and emails me the night before, so I get a couple extra hours before our final day of shooting begins. Some sun salutations and serious journaling are in order.
11:13 a.m.- With the morning off and no plans to get going until after lunch, Biggs takes the opportunity to give me a further glimpse at the geography which makes up the history of our little tale. We plow through muddy roads that cut across fields and fields of ghosted corn. It’s sunny and warmer than it has been. Golden light floods the truck. In the usual fashion, each time we pass a certain piece of acreage, I get a detailed backstory of how the land came into, or passed from, Biggs’ possession. We go all the way to the far corners of the South Place, opposite on the property from David’s house, loop around through the land that lays so low it floods most of the year. We actually drive straight over a semi-frozen river and onto a special plot of land preserved by the government as a graveyard and conservation landmark. Here I hear the charming account of the time my dearest childhood friend, Robert and Deborah’s daughter Emma, was brought here in her youth and asked in wonder:”So… do we own dead people?”… perhaps, in a way. And on a more serious note, it’s the spirits evoked by this tour of the Biggs Farm, those who’s remains are buried in the graveyard, or the native people’s who may be in the fields, as well as the stories those who’ve moved on have left behind, which bring a reverence to the last day of my participation in this particular iteration of our tale of life and death. I’m glad to bid farewell to this understated character of our story. The magic of filming “on location” is not to be belittled on a project like this. It’s a memorable morning for sure.
2:34 p.m.- We meet the others at the smokehouse again for lunch and somewhat tragic news. This morning, while attempting to capture a drone shot for scene 3 in which the drone flies perilously close to the side of the house, an self-inflicted draft caused a crash landing. Being rather new technology, and quite expensive, the machine has had it’s run on the shoot and must be shipped out to Japan (I believe) to undergo repair. We toast to the drone, enjoy our last proper pulled pork, discuss travel to the airport tomorrow and head back to the Home Place to begin our final work day.
4:06 p.m.- First scene of the day features only the Old Man, so I settle up in the “green room” with my moving playlist I’ve made titled “Coyote Girl” and relax into the zone of Riley Ann’s final stretch. The goal for me, is to keep the energy level and focus clear until we begin scene 15 around 6 p.m.
6:30 p.m.- Scene 15 is gorgeous. I love working on this. It’s all close-ups. I feel like I’m finally understanding what part of me is framed in what shot and how to make the slight adjustments which give me control over my performance without damaging the organic experience of the moment. Day 4 is off to a good start. We capture several different options to chose from in post and Rick seems quite happy with the results of my work, which feels very validating, knowing he’ll be making those final cuts.
8:48 p.m. – Time to film the death scene… duh, duh, duh. While there is a bit of extensive choreography, the first few takes of the master go very well. When we sit down to watch them played back for a lighting or sound adjustment, however, we notice a major problem: The issue with what started as a play and has been made into a film (and this is not the first time we’ve worked our way through this challenge) is that sometimes simple, physical choices that work for the stage without a doubt, we just can’t get away with on film. In the continuous shot, from the Old Man’s last breath through Riley Ann’s long farewell, it is very challenging for Biggs to hold his breath, especially with the irregular nature of the “dying breath”… and it’s entirely impossible to mask the blinking of his lids, as the necessary lighting shines right into his eyes. We spend a lot of time trouble shooting this problem, and eventually, I believe we come up with a combination of distorted light and cutting the shot.
11:39 p.m.- While, technically, the former scene took a while to capture, the good streak of artistic work continued. I’m feeling confident, and yet, remaining in a very heightened emotional state for the character. Or rather, flowing in and out of it repeatedly, attempting to preserve energy, but not being able to hang onto much. I figure we’re good, though. When we rehearsed the scene last week, we ran the entire screenplay through, or as much as possible. This, in turn, created the pattern that Riley Ann gets up from her dead father’s body and takes her Coyote boy to the window with her, staring out into the abyss in what, at the time, was fairly extensive and very fresh sorrow and loss. Knowing I needed to be in such a tender state, I revved myself up and remained incredibly emotional throughout the process of our first several takes. But something wasn’t working. The shot was coming off as incredibly theatrical. It felt too heavy. It just wasn’t right. Biggs came in and out of the door, trying to give me sensitive and delicate directional nudges, but it wasn’t fixing the problem. Not sure if it was the bright lights and entire crew staring at me and my puppet in a somewhat unrehearsed moment that made me feel like I was failing, or the fact that I’d made Riley Ann completely frenetic and out of sorts, but I just wasn’t moving in the right direction for what the scene needed. I found myself confused, frustrated, feeling unprofessional and like I was wasting everyone’s time…. It was 1 a.m. on our last day of shooting, which thus far had been a roaring success for me, and I couldn’t get my shit together.
After a mini conference with my directors, Biggs and Rick, which yielded some useful conversation about what we determined earlier that week; what remained useful, and what we should scrap; and some other options to try, I took some very, very deep breaths and we began again. It’s quite possible that the scene had morphed, that the story had taken a turn none of us had foreseen, that Riley Ann actually had earned to come out the other side of her struggle and into the unknown. Beneath the dense wave of embarrassing emotion, and the thick wall of struggling communication, we had some how excavated a beautiful, truthful, and completely surprising final moment for our film and for our shoot. It was the epitome of the gigantic learning curve this entire process had been.
Wednesday, February 11th, 11:41 p.m.
I’m not sure I’m conveying the moment in an articulate manner, but when I woke up in the morning, with a few hours of deep sleep and a promising plane ride home to my beloved, I felt utterly proud, excited, and revelatory of a new chapter of my own work as an actor, as well as a large accomplishment for the company. Now, I move on to new projects, and tell you readers about fond memories, while our talented team puts together a gorgeous, potent, relevant short film called “Coyote Girl”.
Thank you for reading our log of the on location film shoot last month. If you would like to keep up to date on Coyote Girl‘s process, please check in with this blog frequently and follow us on twitter and instagram: @outcastcafe