notes 4 the good soldier

The Good Soldier – Notes 4 – Immersion and Exploration: a Series of Coincidences, Circumstances and Unusual Happenings

A lengthy title for the post, I realize. But an important one for where I’m at right now. Things have been a little weird lately – a little, well, I’ll just use the word spooky for lack of a better term.

There’s a point — I don’t presume to speak for all writers or filmmakers (nor would I presume that I am really either, so I use both terms loosely, but stick with me here) — but there’s a point in a story if you are a writer or filmmaker where you feel somewhat consumed by the thoughts of the story, the issues of the characters, the places and the time, the possibilities of what is next. You put yourself in their positions, in their situations, in their lives and think what would they do? What would be true to them, true to the story, true to this made-up world? The only other thing I might attribute it to is a long car drive, or a long bike ride, or perhaps a marathon (which I haven’t done but would imagine it would fall into this category) – any activity that requires stamina, conscience focus on a goal, and a feeling of losing yourself in the swell of movement that keeps you going forward. It’s a bit of that “zen state” but maybe a little more intense than that. It’s in this state of being that you really create yet at the same time feel like you are not the one doing the creating – it can’t possibly be me doing this – something is driving this idea.

That’s when you become inexorably linked to whatever it is you are doing, it’s carrying you, you carrying it – one and the same. Maybe it’s surfing.

I’ve been here before in the writing stage of a screenplay but this is the first time I’ve been here in the pre-production phase of a project that I’m about to start rolling film on – and it is incredible. And to think, this is merely a “short!” What it must be like to do a feature film! I can’t imagine.

Thing 1: Cameras lost. Cameras found. Cameras returned. Cameras returned.
I bought this amazing camera – I think I told the story already – a Canon 814 XL-S. Ordered it from Germany. All the sweet Super 8 cameras come from Germany, it seems. Ordered it, right. Ships to me from Germany. I’m waiting. I’m waiting. Doesn’t show. Son-of-a-bitch. Check the tracking number online. Doesn’t show – tracking thingy doesn’t work. Wait a day. Check the tracking number online. Shows it delivered two days prior. To Hartsville, Tennessee. I said Tennessee – not Oklahoma. Delivered. Signed for. Done. Son-of-a-bitch. I contact the seller in Germany. Not his fault, he says, not my fault either – it’s the shippers fault. It will be 2 to 8 weeks before I could possibly see the camera and that is only IF it turns up – not likely. Some dude in Tennessee signed for it. I panic. But the seller in Germany is cool about it all. He says that insurance will cover it. I explain my situation: shooting a film starting in June, I really REALLY need the camera – that camera – that model. He offers to send another camera – an identical one – another Canon 814 XL-S. Awesome. Ships it UPS 2 day air. What a guy. Two days later a box arrives at my door. YES! Upon inspection I notice the tracking number on the label – it’s the first camera. I’m puzzled. A day goes by, another camera shows up at my door. It’s the second camera. I take camera number 2 to the UPS store and they mark the box “Refused” – the lady tells me it will go back to Germany. No worries. Two days later, I arrive home from work and the same box – containing camera number 2 – is sitting in my chair. Now I have two cameras: one I want and one I can’t get rid of.

Thing 2: Family history ties to story
My Mom read my screenplay a couple weeks ago. She said she really liked it, she wished it had kept going – which is a true compliment in terms of a short film. Couple days later I visited her and she gave me two books, both were my Grandfathers when he was in WWII. I didn’t know he was in WWII, I’d always thought he was in the Korean War for some reason but apparently I was wrong. He was in WWII and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Of all things, he was a radio operator. One of the books was a Technical Manual for Radio Fundamentals dated July 17, 1941. Here I held in my hand a relic from the past that had a direct connection to me and the story I had written. Until this moment I was completely oblivious to any connection the story might have with my own family history – and to be holding something tangible in my hands that was evidence of it. I flipped through the pages. There, in the back, on page 125 was a picture of a microphone identical to one that I had just purchased. And on page 126 a headset identical to one I’d just acquired on eBay.

Thing 3: Finding the ideal main character

There’s been no casting for the two main characters yet; The Soldier and The Commander. But people have asked me, if I could have anyone, who would play The Soldier? My response was, Casey Affleck. Casey would be PERFECT for the role. He’d just have to shave his head into a crew cut. I get a call on Monday: “Casey Afleck was at Rocktown yesterday.” What? No, I’m not kidding. He’s in town shooting a movie called The Killer Inside Me. He was at the gym with his family. Just there to climb and have fun. Would I have? Could I have? Mentioned the film? Given him my stupid little screenplay? Been that douche-bag that tries to give the big Hollywood star their story and attempts to sneak through the back-door of Hollywood? Am I that guy? Hell no. Well, I’d like to think no. But how often does one get the opportunity to be confronted face-to-face with that one individual who you envision as being THE person in the story? Maybe it’s best I wasn’t there. That could have been really embarrassing. And then I think – there’s no way it could work anyway – he’s in town for a completely different reason. He’s actually here on a job. This is his career. He doesn’t have time for bullshit like pee-on crap-cake short films like mine. Come on, a guy who’s shooting a movie in Super 8 film!? What are you insane? NO ONE DOES THAT ANYMORE. There, I’ve pretty much given you insight into my thought process.

But there’s that one little nagging voice in the back of my mine: so what if you ask him. So what if you embarrass yourself. So what if he looks at you like you’re a lunatic wanna-be filmmaker and bats your script to the floor (which I’m not saying he would do) – at least you can say you asked. At least you put it out there. And it least you have a new story about the whole episode.

Who knows – maybe he’ll come back to the gym. Casey, if you’re reading this, give me a call at Rocktown. I can’t pay SAG wages. But I can promise you you’ll have a lot of fun. It’s a unique project that will look good on your resume (and IMDB). The best I can do is have your favorite food on the set – unless it’s something real expensive and then we’ll have to figure something else out.

Thing 4: Memorial Day
I’d like to say a little about something I’ve been struggling with. This whole concept of working on a project that involves war.

I think I’ve been struggling with what this whole thing is about and why I wrote it in the first place. On one hand it doesn’t deal directly with war – more the illusion of it. But it takes on the issues of being a “good soldier” nonetheless. In essence, it is examining what it means to be a hero and if one can ever really BE a hero given a situation that they have zero control over or, as in the case of the story, no knowledge of. Even if one is given a scenario where you are the best possible person that you can be, there’s still the possibility that nothing is as it seems – that what you thought was real is not – and you may end up looking like a fool.

But over Memorial Day I began to question myself and if it is even right to explore these things. I’m thinking in terms of volunteerism and being a soldier. On one hand maybe I’m suggesting that everyone is a fool but it is circumstance that makes one a hero. But that can’t be true always – it takes a certain kind of person. But then not everyone is a hero, right? I guess it all depends on what a hero is.

On another level I’m exploring the concept of: what’s worth dying for and should it matter to one that commits himself to a life of service? Perhaps it is the commitment alone that makes them a hero. Is it wrong to suggest that one might die in vain at the cost of doing as you are told – or is that just a fact of life – a fact of war? I just don’t know.

These questions hit me especially hard on a day like Memorial Day when so many lives are remembered for dying in war. And at the same time I question the entire human condition that draws us to war in the first place. It’s not something we understand as much as we just live with.

I watched several war movies on TCM. They did this brilliant thing where they narrated the screenplay during the movie with the exception of the dialog, which was done by the actors, of course. But it intensified not only the movie watching experience for me, and the war experience, but also accented the brilliance of the writing and how it is linked from the page to the action on the screen. I was fixated on the screen and every word.

Wrapping up this absurdly lengthy post, next up on the agenda is to hold my first real production meeting and get a date set for the casting call. Then I need to get the main location area cleaned up and set built. I’ll shoot a couple more rolls of film with sound and lighting as a test in the new camera and then I should be ready to go.

notes 3 photo shoot the good soldier

The Good Soldier – Notes 3 – Photo-shoot Report

This project is on it’s way. We completed the photo-shoot for the character Miss June on Friday night in my “home studio.” The shoot went great – Leah did an incredible job of playing the part of a 1940s pin-up calendar star. Now it comes down to sorting through the mass of photos to pick the ONE photo that will become MISS JUNE.

I would like to give a HUGE thanks to Sherwin, who was the photographer of the shoot. He did a great job and I really appreciate him taking the time and dedicating his expertise to this project. Also, thanks to Chris and my wonderful wife Lisa for helping with the lights and the backdrop. Their ideas and assistance made the shoot even better. Since we’re all friends – & family – things went smoothly and it was a very fun evening.

Now that I have the photo shoot out of the way I need to begin working in Photoshop to make the calendar – a key prop in the film. That will take a bit of time but I’m excited about doing it.

Next in line is to finalize my budget – which I’ve already spent a sizable portion of and begin working on a production schedule. I’m hoping to have the shooting schedule done soon so that I can hold a production meeting. Ideally the production meeting will set us up for the casting call.

Of course the main character, The Good Soldier, himself, is the most important of all the characters and could easily make or break this film. So I’m hoping we have a good turn-out of quality actors for the role. And the role of the Commander is equally important – need someone with a good military voice and a strong face – ideally, this person will be 40s-50s in age.

I’m continuing to buy props through ebay and have come up with some really great stuff. Just bought a pair of WWI/WWII era French army binoculars – they look so cool online so I can’t wait to see what they look like in real life. Next up, I have to locate an M1 Carbine rifle – a replica. There are a couple of different kinds; one is a resin version the other is a partially functional model. The resin one is cheaper, of course – not cheap but cheaper – whereas the model version is about twice as much. I think I would have luck reselling either so I’ll have to think about what I really need, in terms of the film, and pick the best option.

Also, and I’ll just throw this out there – I am looking for grant opportunities and individuals who might be interested in being a producer on the film. The budget for the film is $5000 and most of that is going towards film, processing, telecine – all lab work.

ebay light meter lowel core 44 notes OKC film Sam's Surplus Sekonic super 8 the good soldier

The Good Soldier – Notes 2 – Buying stuff is fun…

I’m just so excited I can hardly contain myself. Things are moving along. I’ve really got on the ball and started to purchase props, equipment, and costumes for the film – the essential stuff to make it happen. My budget, albeit small for any film, even a 15 minute film, is going almost exclusively to this “stuff” that turns an idea into a movie. So far I have been to a couple of military surplus stores in the OKC metro area. One of them in particular, Sam’s Surplus on Agnew, had a backpack that I bought for $20. It has a good look though I’m certain it’s not from the late 30s early 40s time period. Plus, I made a new friend at Sam’s. The owner, Gene, has owned the place for 65 years. Yes, I said SIXTY-FIVE years. Talk about sticking it out. He was quite an interesting guy, very talkative, lots of stories, and very interested in the climbing gym and trading some business. Anyway, I found some items there that I haven’t purchased yet that I think are going to be great for costumes. So I’m sure I’ll be back.

I received my Lowel Core 44 light kit today. I went immediately into setup mode. Reading the instructions, feeling like a complete doofus trying to figure out how to put everything together. Ultimately it wasn’t that difficult and now that I’ve done it once I’m sure I can do it again pretty quickly. I’m looking forward to setting up the 3-light kit on a set and taking some test runs.

Another big decision I made was to purchase a new (new to me) Canon 814 XL-S Super 8 camera. It was a big purchase but the more I thought about it the more I do not like the quality of the pictures I’m getting from my Nizo. I don’t know what it is but the clarity and color has not been that good. And I really dislike the viewfinder – I can’t see shit through it. So it came down to: do I want to burn $1000 of film through a camera that’s not working for me? Hell no. I need something that works. So I hope the Canon is everything that everyone says it is. We’ll see.

I’ve been living on ebay for the past couple of days. I’ve found and purchased most of the props I need. Found some really good stuff – stuff I don’t think I would have ever found around here. I now have purchased 2 radios – both are 30s era shortwave radios that presumably WORK. That’s going to be awesome. I bought a pair of vintage headphones from the 30s, and a WWII era footlocker. I’m picking up the footlocker in Fort Worth next week, since I’m going to be down that way for a climbing team competition.

I’ve also purchased a couple of costumes for the pin-up girl character, Miss June. I already have my actress that’s going to play Miss June and I’m expecting that we will do the still photo-shoot for her next week.

I pulled out my old light meter – a Sekonic Studio A – that I inherited from my Dad. The meter wand moves but I don’t know if the readings are accurate or not. I need someone’s expertise. Frankly, I don’t know a damn thing about light meters or metering for film. Ironic isn’t it, since I love shooting film? I just need to learn more about metering, taking readings, and understanding the ISO/ASA thing.

Next steps are to go through the script scene by scene, location by location and begin blocking out the scenes. Then I need to have a production meeting, set a schedule, and do a casting call. Once I make the casting announcement I want pretty much everything to be ready to roll so that we can go right into rehersals. I’m aiming for beginning principle photography June 1, if not earlier.

BTW – anyone want to be a producer? The film needs money. Did I mention that I’m sending this to Sundance?