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Sally is an old house lover who walks around LA neighborhoods with her fiance, Raymond, judging homeowner's remodeling jobs. She writes postcards to people whose homes she particularly likes or dislikes. She has one house that is her dream house, and while it is not for sale, she fantasizes that she and Raymond may live in it one day. She writes the owner, Jeff, and he invites Sally and Raymond to his home. There, Sally's world starts to unravel.
The character of Sally evolved from my love of old houses. Jeremy and I would take walks in LA discovering that the city did have some older homes (not old like around Boston, but still old to LA). We would wrench in pain when we'd see a home that looked like it was once beautiful that was destroyed by the owner's remodeling choices. We'd also wonder if houses that we approved of on the outside, were treated well inside. My big pet peeve, is when people take an old home and then make it look uncharacteristically modern inside. I'm not against making a home modern in efficiency -- I'm against destroying the character of a house.
I asked my good friend Stacy Marr to play Sally. Now I don't cast my friends, just because they're my friends. I cast Stacy because I thought she was a very talented actress who would bring a great quirkiness to the part. I had known Stacy in Boston and New York before we both moved to LA and had seen her in many plays and films.
I held auditions for the three males, Raymond, Jeff, and the Man in Flannel. I can't explain fully what I was looking for in Raymond without giving away the ending, but I wanted a very good looking man, who could say some strange things in mostly a straight but ever so slightly off way. I cast someone who I thought fit the part great, but because of scheduling conflicts I had to re-cast. I had some other very good actors audition for me, but none of them really fit what I was looking for.
Now, I had just recently seen Stacy in her theatre company's (Ronin Ensemble) production of "The Dining Room". One of the actors in it was Grant Reynolds. I thought he did a great job of playing a versatile group of characters. When I saw him I actually thought he would be a good Raymond, but I didn't think to ask him. I really wanted to audition actors and choose from people who submitted for my film. But when the first Raymond dropped out I asked Stacy if I could get in contact with Grant and offer him the part. I was happy when he accepted.
For Jeff, I wanted someone who could play gay, but not outrageously so. I wanted someone with a dry humor, someone who seemed just a little older than Sally and Raymond. When I got Wenzel Jones' picture, I felt like I was already looking at Jeff. He was the first person to audition for this role and he gave me exactly what I wanted in his first read. I saw several other actors, and many of them were excellent, but Wenzel was the closest to how I envisioned the role.
For the man in flannel, I wanted a guy's guy. I wanted someone who was not as classicly handsome as Raymond, but who gave off a masculine vibe. When Tracy Howe came in, I thought, yup, that's him. Now. I feel very lucky to have gotten Tracy. Tracy did not need to do my film. I mean, not that my other actors *needed* to do it either... but Tracy was getting plenty of parts on TV -- he's been on all Law and Orders and he's done a lot more film and TV since. He was playing the smallest role in my film. It was nothing I could imagine he would use for a demo reel. But he enjoyed doing student films, and I'm grateful that he took the part.
I also want to emphasize that I cast Tracy because he was best for the part, not because of his experience. I don't cast people based on their credits. The funny thing is that I've acted for years, so you would think that the resume would matter to me. But I found myself looking at pictures and getting a feel for people that way. I mean, I liked to see that they had at least acted before, but I really didn't care how many tv shows, films or plays they had been in. What mattered was whether they fit my vision for the film.
The hardest "part" to cast was Sally's dream house. I needed a house that looked old on the outside but looked different on the inside. I thought that I might need to use two separate houses entirely. But my friend and DP, Thomas Davis, said that his house might be a good fit. He lived in an old house in Angeleno Heights that had wall to wall carpet and popcorn ceilings. Awesome. There was still a little too much character in certain places but we tried to find ways to bring that down.
We ended up with a small crew. Thomas was the DP, Jeremy was AD and did half the sound recording, Catherine C. Pirotta was my gaffer, Ayesha Black was the production designer, Kenneth Kil did sound for one weekend, and Thomas' wife, Danielle, helped out in the art department. We didn't get the lighting we had hoped for when filming inside of the "dream house" because it was raining the day we shot the interiors so we were not able to put a light outside to make it look like we had real sunlight coming in. We really did not have a good workaround because there was nowhere to put a light to fake it and get the shots I needed to get. But I thought, hey, at least you can SEE the people! Even though we had just shot LIKE HIS FATHER and JIMMY'S HOUSE OF HUGS, SALLY'S DREAM HOUSE was the first real kind of production film I was doing. While all films have *limits*, we had a very limited schedule and budget so we did what we could with what we had. And we were ALL students, just learning. While LA City College encourages students to hire professional DPs and some professional crew for the advanced cinema class, I opted not to. First, I didn't have the money for it and second, I wanted to try it with just us students. While there is great value in hiring professionals, I think there is also a lot of value in all of us, as students, having gotten this film made.
SALLY'S was accepted into the 2004 Route 66 Film Festival, in Springfield, IL. There it won the audience choice award, beating out some local films. It has since played in a couple of more festivals, but never got into more than that. That's OK. I do feel that if it were sleeker looking it would have had more acceptances, so I'm just happy that it tasted a small amount of validation.
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