House of Hugs Productions

Julia Radochia's blog for her films, film festivals, and film in general, among other things...

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Location: Arlington, Massachusetts, United States

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Making "Little Pen Lost" -- part 1

Alison Wachtler (Lisa) and Zele Avradopoulos (Angie) search for pens, chocolate and the meaning of everything.
I wrote most of this over a year ago. Not the most scintillating reading you'll come across but I like to write this stuff just in case someone (if there is such a someone) is curious about how this little film came about.   So I'll share:

I finally made another film last August.  I wasn't sure about doing one, as I've been writing several other longer scripts for the past few years and felt that I should focus on those, for if I were to do another film, it would get in the way of my writing.  I felt that I needed to get away from the shorty-shorts and put my efforts into longer, more complicated stories.  Even doing just a short film can take up so much time and energy, not just in the making of the film but in getting it out to festivals.

Then I had the screenplay reading in June.  Alison Wachtler and Zele Avradopoulos both participated in it.  I had worked with Zele before (she was Claudia in I Just Want to Eat My Sandwich) and I had been emailing with Alison for a while, feeling like I knew her well.

I was talking with the two of them after the reading and observed how their energies complemented each other.  I thought how it would be nice to have something for them to do together.  I still wasn't thinking, hey, I'll go write a script for them because I can't force that kind of thing.  But sometimes, if I'm around certain actors long enough, characters for them pop up and they help lead me to writing  a story.

The Broad Humor Film Festival was having their annual invitational challenge.  I had participated in it in 2008 (which was the last time I filmed anything -- and that was just something I quickly threw together with my brother, Stephen, and my husband, Jeremy, so I didn't count it as a real film production) but didn't in subsequent years because of a certain little person.  (And I thank her.)

I'm not generally crazy about doing any kind of criteria film because it feels like you aren't really making the film you want to make --  you have to focus on specific limitations.  But at the same time, it is a great exercise, making you think in different ways.  And I'm willing to go past my usual preferences for Broad Humor.

After all, I really needed the exercise of making some kind of film.  While I was right that doing a film  (I'd be writing, producing, directing and editing) would keep me from working on those other scripts, I thought that I might forget how to make a movie if I didn't do another one soon.  Also, I just wanted to feel part of the Broad Humor Film Festival again.  I had two short screenplays as finalists in the 2011 and 2012 screenplay competitions but I didn't have anything ready to send them this year.

A few days later, an idea popped in my mind.  I told myself if I were to do something it would have to be with few people and in one location.  All I could really do was a bench scene.  And the criteria for this year's invitational was the Bechdel test -- two women share a scene in which they talk about something other than men.  OK, I could surely come up with some kind of conversation and find some way to make it slightly entertaining.  And I thought if I did that, I could film it in just a few hours, have minimal coverage and have only two or three actors total, minimizing pre-production, production and post.

Of course I didn't want it to just be a conversation that served only as a showcase of witty dialogue and charming actors.  I wanted something to happen.  So I thought of something.  {SPOILER ALERT -  at least *I'd* rather you see Little Pen Lost before reading this}  Puppets.  And there went keeping it simple.  Because for some reason I have to find something complicated to toss into the project.

So I had to find someone who could make puppets.  And find puppeteers.  I didn't want actors without puppeteering experience operating the puppets because this was a bench scene and they wouldhave to be warping themselves to work the puppets in and out of the shots.  I knew that real puppeteers would be much more used to doing this and that would be important for making filming less difficult.  I did an ad, asked around, spent a massive amount of energy finding these people and having the puppets made, which made me a crankier, less patient mama.

Jeremy was not able be part of the production --  but I was lucky to get Bill Millios of Back Lot Films and Marc Vadeboncoeur of Goodheart Media Services for my crew.  I know them both from when I was in Bill Millios' film Old Man Dogs back in 1996.  (Jeremy and I had also helped out on one of their filmmaking workshops in 2007 so we did work together a little more recently.)  Bill provided the camera and was the DP and Marc well, almost everything else.  My brother, Stephen, did boom duties.  (And he got coffee.)

The original script I wrote was ten pages, then nine, then eight.  I was feeling pretty good about it until I rehearsed with Alison and Zele five days before filming.  Despite their fabulous performances my tummy was sinking; it was clear that it was way too long.  I felt awful that they had been working on it but I just had to take out another chunk.  I hadn't expected to do so much editing on the script.  When I did I Just Want to Eat My Sandwich, the screenplay was about nine pages and the third draft of it (and I mean "third" loosely as there were just small changes from the second) was what we filmed.  But that one was a series of one-page mini-scenes which were easier to make concise on the second try.  Little Pen Lost was just one kind of long scene and needed much more honing and care.

I got it down to six pages. Much better.

We rehearsed with Alison, Zele and Julio the day before filming.  The other puppeteer wasn't able to make the rehearsal. That made me nervous but she had the smallest role so I figured we'd do as much as we could with the other three and then we would spend more time on the other role the next day.  But I was feeling like she wasn't going to show up at all.

My cast was trying to help me find someone else.  But at that point in the process I had no brain power left to handle anyone else.  And I didn't want to ask someone else to do it if the actress/puppeteer told me she was going to do it.  I decided if she didn't show I would just do it, myself, even though I didn't want to.  You'd think I'd be chomping at the bit to do it since I used to be an actor.  I really wasn't.  It was just the simplest thing for me to do.  I needed simple.

Indeed, the next day, the actress didn't show (I'm refraining from tangent-ing on this), but some big HVAC sounds surely did.  We were filming outside the Arlington Center for the Arts where we had the screenplay reading.  The times I had been there before to scope it out, the HVAC unit wasn't very loud.  I had made note of it because I heard it on one side of the building, but when I went to the front I couldn't hear it at all.  So, I was surprised to find it as unacceptably noisy as it was.

It was bad.  It was loud.  It was rattly.  It was obnoxious.  I considered filming inside but it just felt blah that way.   We did sound tests and discovered that it was less noisy filming on the steps as opposed to the benches.  It still wasn't great, but we had to do it then and there.  It was the only day everyone was available, Bill and Marc had come from New Hampshire, the Broad Humor Film Festival was in a month and Jeremy and I had to get up to speed on new editing software.  I wanted the film to be as great as it could be in every aspect but I had to settle just to do it in time for the festival.

My goal was to film it (meaning the amount of time the actors would be there) in four hours.  We just had to manage the situation we had.

And that's the first part. I will continue this at some point. (I think.)

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