"Hey, Andrew... I have a great story for a short film." So said my Producer and Director of Photography, Pete Kelly. And that's how it started.
We met and talked out the details. How to get from A to Z ... incorporate all the ideas ... make it cinematic ... fulfill our desires in the telling, the direction, the photography. I mean, why else make an independent short film? I opened my mouth and said I'd like to write it ... and as they say the rest is history. Well, really, our personal history in the making of a 13-minute film.
We meet again ... work out more details ... create the story and timeline. We do get from A to Z.
I like what we talk about. Now, I write it. I've directed many, many plays and two films, but have never written anything for the screen that's seen the light of day. A first for me and in some ways the most exciting part of this project is the opportunity to watch words I craft from discussions on the page appear on the screen. I write quickly ... I mean, let's not get carried away ... this isn't Lawrence of Arabia or The Godfather. It's a simple 7-page screenplay. But, damn! It ain't the pages that matter ... it's all about the story.
First draft is finished ... Pete and I meet and go through the whole thing in detail ... yes, all 7 pages. This shot like this, that shot like that ... we don't need this sequence, but let's add a small section here to explain what we did there. Ah, now we're cooking. This is exciting! We talk about camera angles ... tracking shots ... it's really coming together. Our short film now has a spine, a few bones, and we're fleshing it out.
Pete likes the script. We work through re-writes, dialogue, the ideal shot list, the concept is solidified. I'm really happy. I've written a script that will now get made. That's a major accomplishment for me. Hooray!
OK. We have a screenplay. Pete creates a master shot list. We have ideas for locations. Oh, damn ... locations. Even though the script is only 7 pages, we need many locations ... a cemetery ... hospital ... restaurant ... the beach ... a house ... a different house. How do we shoot them all without spending a ton of money? Luckily, our wonderful Production Manager, Assistant Director and Co-Producer, Dan O’Day had connections, ideas, and he really comes through. He gets us the house, the different house, the hospital, and finalizes the deal on the cemetery that Pete and I scouted. We use my house for the opening shots with Jacob. We go to the beach to shoot the young Jacob and Rebecca. We walk around downtown LA and shoot ... we go to parks, Los Angeles China Town ... we go where we need to go with the equipment and crew we have, to get what we need before anybody tells us to stop.
One thing you discover when making film on an indie budget is that the best laid plans often go wonky. In a scene where our couple reunite after many years apart, Pete wants to shoot through a restaurant window. Alas, the sun is not cooperating. Too much glare. We were going to an art gallery later in the day, so I say, "Let's have them reunite at the gallery!" ... and it's one of the most touching scenes in the film. It's a good day!
We juggle cast, crew and equipment schedules. We shoot the entire film in four weeks ... mostly short days with two actors ... four when we have the family. On the Cemetery shoot, we have extras and a time limit to get it all done before the sun sets.
The cemetery is the centerpiece of the film ... it's the place where memories converge. We cook ... we cover ... we reverse ... we jib ... we pan ... we shoot close-ups, more reverses ... the mourners coming and going ... we all work from 8 am to 6 pm ... hopefully, we nail it all.
The moment of truth ... compiling the digital footage and giving it to the editor. What have we done? Will the editor make sense of the script, the footage, the intention of our work? Is the audio clean? Do the shots work as we imagine them? Do we have a movie? Oh vey ... the waiting ... the suspense. What will that first cut look like? The horror ... the fear. Here we go. Editor Derek Beauchemin has a first cut for us.
It works! Well kinda, sorta. We need to fix this, add time to that, make that part stronger ... oh, that acting moment ... that sound glitch. But all things considered, we're pleased. There is a movie here. But then Derek drops out (personal problems related to the collapse of the global economy and the end of the world as we know it).
So, I take on the mantle of editor. The film is polished on my trusty iMac. We work and work on the montage sequence ... and work ... and work some more ... then, SHAZZAM! ... the montage works. The film has a movement, pacing ... it tells the story. Pete and I delete lots of dialogue at this point. It's almost a silent movie, with only enough words to support the visuals. The film is evolving into a cinematic haiku.
Pete sends the film to editor Jonathan Penzner for further polishing. He makes it glow ... his touches make it shine ... little grace notes, his delicate touch makes all the difference. We're talking frame by frame choices here ... small bytes of time that alter the way the film is perceived, the story told.
The final hurdle is a music score. Pete and I visit, explore, and listen to music from four composers. They all offer sincere and heartfelt approaches, but nothing feels quite like the right fit. The movie has so little dialogue that it's crucial for the score to become an integral voice ... an emotional river to support the story our eyes are taking in.
The world is synchronistic ... I run into an old friend, Richard Tuttobene. We contact him and share our ideas with a copy of the latest edit. Two weeks later, we have an amazing score that does what we want and more. The sensitivity of this music elevates the film to another level ... helping us understand the journey of Jacob and Rebecca. This final piece, Richard's score, pulls the film into a unified whole.
So ... here we go ... notes about the making of Just Out of Reach. I hope this film moves everyone who watches it as much as it moved everyone in the cast and crew who brought it to life.
OK ... now we have the script, the shot lists, the locations ... mmm ... what's left to do ... the cast ... right, we need to cast the film. From the start, Pete Kelley, Executive Producer, and I have been debating, pondering, questioning the best way to follow the various ages of Jacob and Rebecca throughout decades of time. Do we cast actors in the middle age range? It's easier to make them younger, but a little complicated for the older characters ... close-ups with age makeup ... not attractive to us. Or should we cast two older actors and two younger actors who we hope look somewhat similar ... yeah, right ... what are the chances of that?!
So. Dan O’Day, Co-Producer, Line Producer, Assistant Director, and Production Manager, sets up auditions using the great resource Actors Access. Pete and I sit for hours reviewing pictures, resumes and videos, trying to find actors to fill the visual criteria for all the characters in the film. We needed to cast Jacob, Rebecca, Young Jacob, Young Rebecca, the Mother, and the Father. Through friends and other sources we are able to find the young girls and the priest.
Lists made, invitations sent out. We're ready. A rented casting studio on Burbank Boulevard, small but sufficient, is home for the day. Pete sets up his camera to capture the auditions; I move tables ... rearrange the room ... it all has to be comfortable for us and the actors. There's a great sense of anticipation ... will we find what we are looking for? Will we be able to cast two older actors and match their looks with two younger actors? Will we sacrifice talent to satisfy our visual needs? Big questions for us ... and at the start of the session we had no answers.
First actor: Alexander Wright. Pete picked Alex from his picture on Actors Access ... just what Pete thought Jacob should look like ... but could he act? Convey all the emotional nuances silently? YES and YES!!! A home run, right out of the park. Alex is a consummate actor who understands the character, the emotional journey, and has a wonderful ability to tell the story with a gesture, a smile, a small movement of the head. WOW! We had our Jacob.
That's the first audition ... this is going to be a good day!!!
We test a few more Jacobs and a few Rebeccas. And then our Rebecca walks in ... the right age, pretty; Rebecca Brunk knocks our sock off. There's an emotional depth in her reading, like she lives this character. I must say Rebecca did her homework ... she found my email address and asked to see the entire script ... it paid off; she was prepared ... impressive! Number two is on board ... our Rebecca.
The next challenge ... a young Jacob and Rebecca who look like Alex and Rebecca.
Adam Burch walks in. He's young, handsome ... I'm thinking, hmmm ... a little makeup, a beard, long hair ... it could work ... he does look like Alex. OK ... so far so good, but can he act? Yes! ... very well. His eyes are the wrong color, but we can fake that. He's fantastic!
Now, the Young Rebecca ... we test a few actresses but they don't have the look or aren't the type we're looking for. Enter Desiree Hall. This is the look ... a wicked smile, red hair and the right attitude. We read some scenes and it's magic ... all the colors of the character in one terrific package ... beauty, smarts and talent.
Getting closer ... two thirds of the cast is in place ... if they all say yes ... fingers crossed.
Next, the Mother. This is a tough role to cast. We need someone who's the right age, and who is able to convey the emotional depth this character requires. We test several actresses and then Jennifer Lamar reads. Tons of emotion, care, understanding ... she's the right age and look. Perhaps her first reading carries too much emotion but I like her very much. I give her some notes to see if she can adjust. I hold my breath ... I want her to be good ... to dial in this complex character. She nails it! OK ... Jennifer is the Mother. Great!
Now, the Father. So far, few actors have read for this role. It's gonna be another tough role to cast ... and now that Jennifer is in our sights, we need to find someone who can match her age and emotional range. Kevin Flood is at the audition; he drove his wife to read for another role. He asks if he can read for the role of the Father. SHAZZAM! Kevin is a perfect fit ... calm, smart, fatherly, grounded ... a perfect match for Jennifer's interpretation of the Mother. We can believe they are married and he is helping his wife get through the emotional turmoil of her mother's death. Bravo!
We have our cast! Now, the waiting ... will all the actors say yes? Will they accept their roles, knowing that this is an indie short film with a very limited budget? (Read: No pay.) Are they able to work with our tight and demanding schedule? Happily, the answer to all those questions is a resounding YES.
That's an example of never-ending dedication to their craft, belief in the project, and a wonderful tribute to everyone who makes independent film. Please watch and share Just Out of Reach to see how well the cast tells the story of Jacob and Rebecca ... often without saying a word.
PS: As always, thanks to the crew ... who brought their talents and insights to the project ... and worked tirelessly to bring our lovely little cinematic haiku to life.