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) :
9:10 a.m.- I arrive on set this morning at a much more attainable hour for the likes of me: caffeinated, well-rested, and ready to go. Make-up application starts for Scene 7. This is the scene we rehearsed on camera in Lee, MA several weeks ago. Some adjustments have been discussed, but over all, this feels like pretty familiar territory. With a day of shooting under our belts and the rehearsal previously mentioned, I’m feeling fairly confident about approaching this scene. We’ll see how Rick thinks we do once we get down to the living room..
10:18 p.m.- Filming Scene 7 feels like a serious pay-off. To see how our communication and my understanding of the camera has grown in the past few weeks makes me proud and I don’t feel like a total ignorant actor. Although it takes us all morning to nail what we are going for, especially with most of our shots partially lit naturally and a changing sun, I begin to harness a bit of control in my work by recognizing that I have power and control over what is seen in the camera. Sure, the beauty of film is that the camera will pick up everything running through the actor, and there is little “doing” required, but the choice of slight angle and moment-to-moment reactions are, in fact, mine, and the camera will pick up all of those nuances as well. They all matter! Like a painter who is learning how to sketch with pen, the finesse of the instrument is something I am certainly a novice in, but the observation of how they are different has been made clear to me.
1:12 p.m. – So watching rushes after wrapping a scene is always a good idea, and with such a tight filming schedule, we are learning the importance of fitting in the practice more and more. I never thought I’d be one to watch my own dailies, finding too much “watching” of myself to be one of my traps as an actor, but I’m again surprised by the change of medium. It actually is very helpful to see how my action comes across in a shot, sometimes it’s quite different than perceived. Seeing a shot played back also can give me more confidence in my work on film (which I feel I am lacking in spades), and really helps Biggs to communicate with me clear direction for film. It’s a whopping challenge to act and direct in your own film in the first place, but navigating how to translate what you want to see to a seasoned camera crew and to yourself and your fellow stage actor must be a real doozy! So now, although we have the utmost trust in Rick, we try to watch back as much as we can.
Another benefit to the practice is to realize we may not have gotten all the shots in the way they need to be, and so it goes with Scene 5 from yesterday. Rick is missing consistency in the master from the day before, so we will shoot it again before lunch. It takes a little time for me (and quite a bit for Biggs who is aging and un-aging himself) to rewind our make-up and get back in costume. Once we are ready to go, we wrap up the shot rather quickly and head to Terri and David’s for another catered lunch from Richard’s Farms .
3:30 p.m.- Back to the Home Place to capture our shadow sequences as quickly as possible before the sun goes completely down. Although we have significant artificial light as a spot on the house, the ambient light of dusk is essential to our mysterious coyote exterior shots, something we’ve not really been able to rehearse before shooting, and in regards to our budgeted time and the fickle weather must happen tonight. Albeit one of our warmer days on the farm (20-25 degrees instead of the usual single digits) we bundle up good for lying on the frozen ground while we manipulate the two to three person shadow puppet. It’s hard to tell how it looks and to get the sequence of choreography accurate every time. Rick continuously films while Biggs, Terry and I stumble our way through what one might think is a “simple” wandering across the house for Coyote. Just as the sun begins to fall too low, we nail several goes at the full sequence of movement and wrap up the shot for the evening.
5:58 p.m.- Now we move on to our second scene with Coyote on camera, but shooting slightly out of order, the first day of Coyote on set. Rehearsing this scene we discover that it is impossible to capture the whole scene in one take, as transforming from Riley Ann to Coyote simply takes too long. So we figure out the first part of the scene between Riley Ann and the Old Man first. Our biggest challenge is the repetition of ripping off the Old Man’s soiled clothing without spoiling Biggs’ carefully applied age makeup. With some rehearsal we figure it out. Poor guy ends up sitting half-naked in the cold (we have to turn the heat off every time we shoot as the system makes too much noise) while the guys rig each shot and re-set. But hey, he wrote it…. so he might as well lie in it, right? Just kidding. We have blankets.
I’m pretty impressed with how quickly we get the shot after we figure out the specifics of the blocking. But then it’s on to Coyote. There’s a lot to learn about how the puppet works in front of the camera. In the vein of Jim Henson, Rick and Josh rig a monitor for me as I manipulate coyote above my eye level. The monitor is connected to Rick’s camera which is very helpful. While it might be distracting to work with the puppet as a scene partner, potentially staring at god knows what, Biggs slays the first intimate reaction with the inanimate object, and it’s moving to watch from my crouched position under the table. While the rules of puppetry on film are starkly contrasted from those on stage in a lot of surface ways, the essence of keeping the puppet alive through breath remains the same. We navigate through some unchartered challenges, like mic-ing the puppeteer from awkward angles, focus of the eyes of the puppet, and timing of arriving in place, but all in all it goes quite well. My nerves of puppeteering on film are quelled and I look forward to the other scenes starring our little, furry buddy.
8:45 p.m.- A long day of shooting done, we relax for dinner with Terri and David. Tomorrow gets started early, but I won’t be in till noon, so I look forward to a restful morning.