So this weekend me and my awesome crew was able to film my upcoming short film Whisper. It’s been a fun and exhausting journey but let’s start at the beginning.
Whisper actually came from a game of poker on Red Dead Redemption. I play regularly with a few of my friends such as Mat and Steve from Deadlantern, Ronin from the Sleepy Cast, and Tony from the Deadlantern podcasts the eXpoldey Files and Cold Case Cinema. We have some of the best conversations around that poker table. One night Mat was telling a ghost story that is reported to have happened to a guy he knew. In that story the basic plot of Whisper was laid out. I couldn’t get the story out of my head as I lay down to sleep. So the next time I talked to Mat I told him I wanted to do it as a short film. Not long after I got the script in my email. I read over it and could see the form of the film.
I gave the script a quick polish to get it more inline with my vision of the story (Mat approved of my rewrites) and began the quest to find what I would need for a location: a dorm room with a big walk in closet. After many many inquires I decided that this was going to be impossible to find. When I talked about this with my lovely girlfriend Amanda she looked at me and put the biggest puzzle piece in place. “Our bedroom could easily double as a dorm room and we have a big walk in closet. Just shoot it here.” With that blessing the decision was made to turn our apartment upside down to turn it into a dorm room.
The next piece was that I needed a cast. And I REALLY needed a cast that wanted to play ball. Who was willing to push themselves to the limit. I saw another local filmmaker was having auditions and asked if I could piggyback my auditions on with his. So we saw a bunch of actors but none really jumped into mind. And this isn’t a slight against their ability. It’s just I had a pretty well formed idea of the characters and the actors I saw just didn’t work for what I wanted. I want to do more projects just to get to work with some of the actors I met that night.
So I was a little worried that I hadn’t found my actors. But a good actor friend of mine told me he wanted to set up another audition for some more actors he knew that hadn’t made it to the audition before. It was set up and I walked in to the audition to see two guys and one girl. “Oh no!” I thought. I wasn’t going to get a good volume to pull from. So I introduced myself to everyone and they seemed really nice. One guy seemed dead on for the character of Denny. But could he act? So the three actors went up on the stage and just did the script. I sat and watched with a smile on my face as I saw the words leap off the paper and all three just completely nailed it. I didn’t want to play my hand right away so I told them I’d be in touch. I wanted to cast them all right there but decided to wait a week to make sure I was ready.
The week passed and I notified them that I wanted them in the movie. Zachary William Thomas accepted the role of Denny. I was ecstatic. He was exactly what I had in mind for the character.
Then Paul Iutzi accepted the role of Mike. Our lead. I knew he was really going to bring it for the role. Again I was overjoyed. Then I waited and waited but never heard back from the actress I offered the role of Alice to. I tried multiple ways to get a hold of her but couldn’t get a response. So once again I was without an actress. And I really needed an actress that was willing to go through a lot for the role.
So the date we were hoping to shoot this was fast approaching and I had no actress. What was I going to do? So I reached out to my cast actors for any suggestions. Paul suggested an actress so I reached out and had a meeting with her. After a read through and discussion of the role I knew I had the actress I both wanted and needed.
So there on the spot I offered her the role. Without a moment’s hesitation she accepted. The biggest motivation was that she might get to do some stunt work. So I finally had my lead actress! I began to fill out my supporting cast. I had a seen a couple of actors in the first round of auditions that I liked that I thought would fill out the supporting roles quiet nicely. So I sent out some offers and quickly got some responses.
First to respond was Wes Melton. He plays the Librarian who informs our leads of the mystery they have stumbled into. I really wanted to have this played as if someone was telling a serious tale around a campfire. The story had to have some weight and atmosphere to convey how serious things were happening. During his audition he brought it. I knew he was going to be perfect. If the librarian didn’t deliver on his info then the movie would be sunk.
We also needed a girl for the end scene. This was also important as the short has very little time for the audience to connect to this character. My friend Steve Christopher is a life saver as he recommended Brittany Lynch. She was game. I had my full cast!
So the weeks leading up the shoot date I sat with my awesome friends and crew Brandon Lamprecht and Darrin Ford to come up with a lighting scheme and set design for the film. We threw around some awesome ideas for how to light, shoot, and decorate. How we were going to transform my bedroom into a dorm room. How to convey certain things about the set and the mood. It was really coming together. I met up with the cast and did a read through of the script. I could see that the chemistry was great between all three of them. I was super excited to see how this was going to play out on camera.
Well the weekend fastly approached. As we got closer my anxiety shot through the roof. This was only my second time directing anything. Self doubt really creeped in. I had decided that this was the last thing I was directing. I just wasn’t good at it and couldn’t imagine myself enjoying doing it. I was worried that I wasn’t prepared. That we’d start shooting and I’d have no idea what to do and where to go. But like it or not it was time.
So the first night we decided to shoot Brittany’s scene’s first on Friday night as we were setting up the set. It was a pretty easy shooting order and should have been pretty easy. She arrived and we got everything ready. The camera rolled. I hit the clapboard. I yelled out the first of many directions “Action!” Immediately all the anxiety and fear I had been feeling melted away. I knew exactly how I wanted it and how to convey it. The shoot went off without a hitch. We finished up and thanked Brittany for her time. She was super awesome and it was great to have her on set.
After she left we realized that the last shot we did we had to keep the camera locked down for a mirrored shot with Sarah the next day. So for fear of hitting the camera and screwing up our shot we realized we were not going to be able to set up the room until after the first shot the next day. Which meant way more work the next day. Our first hurdle. We decided to hit the hay as we had to be up the next morning for the actor’s call time of 8AM. 8AM came quickly. The actors showed up and we launched into it. The first shot with our leads was complicated as it was sort of a stunt that included a harness and some rigging. The shot went off great. We were off to a great start.
So we decided to give our actress a rest and went on to some easier shots. The actors came out of the gate running. They were just nailing everything. So we had another rigging scene to do and started shooting. In the middle of take we heard a loud snap and I saw my lead actress falling! Luckily she was only a foot off the ground. No one was hurt but now our rigging was broken. So we fixed it and began to shoot again. We started rolling and once again there was loud snap and my actress was plummeting the foot to the floor. Luck was on our side as no one was hurt.
At this point it was decided this wasn’t going to work. We had been lucky to get a few shots while it had worked so we just had to move on and shoot around what we had and what we needed. We’d make it work one way or another. So onward we went!
By the time we hit lunch we had a pretty good groove going. We were rolling along. The chemistry on film was great and the chemistry behind the camera with me, Brandon, and Darrin working together was even better. We were coming up with ways to shoot this and making it interesting. To keep the mood on the set light we had a flipcam that we were shooting goofy stuff happening with the cast and crew between takes. Everyone was having fun. That was the most important thing for me. I’ve worked on a few indie movies where people are jerks to each other, don’t have a passion for it, and just don’t seem to enjoy what they’re doing. So my mission statement has been to make this fun. It’s supposed to be. Especially on a horror movie set.
So fun was being had. A movie was being shot. Laughs were happening. Wes showed up to play a ghost for an important scene just after lunch and we got him into the fun of being cramped up in the closet with a sheet wrapped around his neck. It was obvious he was having a great time. We only had him for a few hours but they were well used hours.
After 8 hours the cast was starting to wind down. Sarah passed out in the living room while we shot some scenes without her. Zach fell asleep on the floor. But to give all these actors credit no matter how tired they were or even just seconds after being woken up they delivered on all their scenes. It was great to see how motivated they were. They had a great love of the story we were telling. They wanted to give it their all. That made me want to give it my all which kept me going for hours on end. The day was just flying by and I had no idea how late it was getting.
Before I knew it dinner had arrived. We all sat quietly and chowed down on some pizza. We were hungry and getting worn down from the 12 hours of work we had just put in. I think the thing that kept us going was knowing that the scenes we were putting on camera looked amazing. The interaction between the actors even off camera was addicting. It was great to have that energy on set. Kept us all in good spirits. So after dinner it was time to get back into it. We were shooting in the transformed dorm room. Honestly I think the set looked great and I stopped even thinking of the room as my bedroom and thought of it as Mike and Denny’s dorm room. We were living in this room. Creating these experiences between these characters. The setting really seemed to add to it. It had become a dorm room for these two. Spending all day in this room with each other was building that comradery that these characters needed. Denny needed to have a sense that he thinks Mike is overreacting but isn’t insulting about it. That really flowed between them.
When we started the day I informed the actors that the plan was to shoot as much as we could that day but that at any time if they felt like they couldn’t go on anymore and had to go home to let me know. We started at 8AM and by 11PM Sarah couldn’t stay awake anymore. I completely understood. We only had one scene left to shoot with her and all she had to do was lay in bed. When I explained this Sarah was a trooper and hung out to get the last shot of her. We put that next and nailed it. She went home tired and happy. I was worried about her sleep state and made her promise to get an energy drink for the 45 minute drive to her bed for the night.
After Sarah left it was time to quickly knock out the last few scenes with the two guys. We weren’t going to get everything done we wanted but Paul was a trooper and offered to come back the next morning to shoot his solo scenes. So we wrapped up Zach and Paul’s last few scene together and then sent them off on their way home for some much needed sleep. As soon as the door closed from their exit we all collapsed and slept. It was now 1AM. We had just had a 17 hour shoot.
The next morning we woke up and Paul arrived promptly. We jumped into it and luckily most of Paul’s scenes were in one spot that we could just keep going with minimal resetting. So we plowed through those real quick. Paul was great and willing to throw himself around for the shots we needed.
After all those were done we packed up to go meet Zach, Sarah, and Wes Melton for our library shoot. We got there and I was happy to see my two friends Mike Patterson and Michael Carlson there wanting to lend a hand to help out. Two more of my best friends involved. This was a great project to have so many friends helping out with.
So we immediately went into a dolly shot of going past rows of books in the library. It looked great and we found some fun things at the library to insert into the shots. Also since Mike and Mike were nice enough to lend a hand I wanted to put them in the shot. So Michael Carlson is a book enthusiast in the dolly shot. The scene turned out great and I love the way we did it. A wheelchair makes a great dolly.
So after that it was time for the big info scene. Wes stood behind the counter and dropped some knowledge on these college students. His performance was everything I wanted for this scene. He read it exactly like he did in the audition. I didn’t have to give him any direction. Nailed it off the bat.
So we did our shots on the librarian scene and after the last shot I had a bittersweet moment. I started clapping my hands and announced “Ladies and gentleman! That is a picture wrap for Wes, Sarah, and Zach!” Many claps were given to show our appreciation. I was sad to see these actors leave but was beyond happy with their performances and the work they did. We had been through two crazy days of shooting but I felt like we had been working together for months.
But as sad as that moment was we still had shots to do with Paul. We transferred our equipment to another part of the building and went to work. We said our goodbyes to our departing actors and it was time to go back to work. Paul nailed his next scene pretty quickly. We had one scene left to shoot. It involved Paul running intently through a hallway. While were shooting someone noticed a pretty awesome stairwell and the scene became Mike running down the stairs. We got a great overhead shot of him running down numerous flights of stairs that looked great. Being an evil director I made Paul do it 5 times. He was very winded and out of breath when another bittersweet moment happened. I started clapping and announced “Ladies and gentleman! That is a picture wrap on Paul!” Everyone clapped to show their appreciation for his hard work all weekend. After thanking him we wished him well and began packing up. Luckily the packing had begun while we were shooting our last scene so it didn’t take long. We loaded up our equipment and I was exhausted. Then I realized I still had to go home and put my bedroom back in order. I almost cried.
So I started this shoot with anxiety and fear. It ended feeling fulfilled and excited. Over this weekend I realized I loved doing this and was pretty decent at it. At least in my opinion. Some I’m sure would disagree. But just the feeling of being on the set creating something with these people brought so much life into me that I began to think my thoughts of this being the last time I directed anything seem silly. How could I not do this more often? I got comments from all the actors that this was the most fun they had ever had on a set. Is that just them being nice? Maybe. But they all seemed to really be having a great time. No one ever had to be talked down from storming off. No one had to be convinced to do anything. They were game. It was official. I had collected together the best crew and cast that I could have ever found. We had created this with excitement, fun, and the passion to do the best we could. I hope every shoot I do has that on it. So now onto editing. Luckily Darrin and Brandon are doing the hard part of that. But all the excitement I just wrote about is flowing through them for the editing part. So it’s in good hands.
After this past weekend I am beyond exhausted, beat up, and just downright drained. I’m already thinking of ideas so that I can gather these people to do it every weekend to try and keep the fun going. Who’s with me?