11.22.04 (Day 4 of Shoot) – The Happiest Day Production

Saint Paul’s Lutheran Church was the scene of today’s shoot, and we had a lot to cover. The whole cast was here for the wedding scenes. Many of them knew each other from working together, which was neat — some spent the waiting time catching up after not having seen each other in a few years. They were a jovial group, & it was a joy to see so many talented people together.

We had to shoot Enrico Colantoni out quickly, because he had to get to the set of his tv show, Veronica Mars. We had thought we’d have to cheat Enrico’s part in another location, so we were really happy when his call time for the tv show was late enough that we could shoot him at the church. Seymour Cassel & Phil LaMarr also had previous commitments we had to shoot around — these are the typical juggling acts of film shoots.

This is a unique project, in that all the cast members had only a couple of lines each. No part in the film, except for the groom’s, is a large part. Although one keeps thinking the bride would be the star of a wedding, Ursula has only six lines. Again, that’s the funny thing about the gender reversal. Jill Eikenberry said how she had to catch herself a couple of times, because her role was the traditional father of the bride role as portrayed in the movies (making an effort, but largely ignored), while her instinct was to be more involved in her son’s wedding details discussed in the scene. This film is a thought-provoking experience for all of us behind the camera too.

Ursula has had to switch from director to actor in a flash. We were hoping to have video playback so Ursula would be able to look at takes she’s in (as big budget films normally do), but the equipment wasn’t available as part of our sponsorship. So, when Ursula was on-screen, one of us sisters – often Maria, as Jenn & I were busy doing producing work — stepped in to watch the performances & give our opinion. As we sisters have very similar understandings, Ursula knows that if we say we’ve got it, then we’ve got it; and if we’re not sure or think not, we’d better do another take. Our mother & father are also there every day, and so they have also watched the monitor. Charity was teaching again today, so she arrived for the second half of the day.

Ursula & Anette, the DP, have a great rapport. Anette has a wonderful eye, and she has worked with most of the crew before, making it a smooth operation to get the look Ursula and she envision.

The actual shooting of the scenes goes very quickly (as in all films); it is the set-up time and between-time that sometimes seem like a black hole to those outside of the production. There is always motion, and crew is always working (well, those who need to at the time). Still, as a producer, it is my job to see if there’s a way to make things go faster. Most of the time, I am running from phone call to a crew member to something else, but there are a few pockets of stillness & rest – and these are the times when I’d have a nice conversation with the key grip or the boom operator… the moments of fun & pleasure & togetherness as a team. I have so many things swirling in my mind that I cherish these moments.

Today was the only day with a steadicam shot. As an outdoor shot, the sunlight changed, and the direct mid-morning light was harsh and it would catch the steadicam op’s shadow on-screen. We needed to reevaluate & reset for that. Luckily, the weather was kind, and cloud cover softened the light, so Ursula and Anette got the shot without having to completely redesign it.

To make more background crowd motion in the shot, MD & I had to stand in & cross the screen. That was fun. I chatted with Phil LaMarr, Kim Scott, Jill Eikenberry, & Mike Tucker. Harry Groener & Seymour Cassel had to pass right behind me to get off-screen, and they give me a kind pat on the shoulder or arm each time. I really love these actors. They are not only good actors, but good people. They’re real pleasures to work with.

A very cool thing happened today: a Swiss documentary production asked if they could come & shoot B-roll footage for a doc on foreigners working in Hollywood. (Ulrike Lamster, our fantastic 2nd AC is German & in the film.) As I had spoken with the liaison on the phone to give permission, I showed them around set, answered questions, etc. It was fun for me, because we spoke French together, and I love it when I get a chance to speak French.

Jennifer had a hard day today, dealing with traffic and parking issues. We also had equipment on the street front, so we had to make sure someone was guarding it at all times.

The church is where the original FATHER OF THE BRIDE was shot. It’s wonderful to be shooting there. The church people are so generous & thoughtful. When we arrived they had made hot cider & cookies for us. For us!

I did more behind-the-scenes shooting today with Aaron Platt, and later with Marc Miller as the videographers. It was fun working with them. We had promised LE MERIGOT HOTEL & SPA that we would take a picture of Jill & Michael with the General Manager in the hotel & shoot our behind-the-scenes footage interview of Jill & Mike there, so we ducked out of the church when Jill & Mike weren’t in a shot & drove to the hotel to do so. Alessandro Pinna, our fantastic set photographer — who is not only talented with a discerning eye and desire for only the best photos (I joked with him, calling him ” high quality man”) but also charming and Italian — came with us to take photos. The shoot went very well, and we dashed back to set in time to walk the groom down the aisle.

At the end of the night, we were back to the core group of sisters, Jennie, Sara, MD, and a few fantastic PAs. We did the once-over about three times in the church, locked it up, and then did our end-of-the-night huddle & cheer. This has become a nice part of the day. MD was at the apartment when we (Ursula, Charity, & I) arrived, and she helped us unload. Every night, we producers have parked some of the trucks, unloaded important cargo or props that were no longer needed, then loaded up the van with drinks and needed props, costumes, etc. that we would need in the morning. It’s unusual for producers to do this kind of menial work; but in our view, it is going to make this film the best it can be under its limited budget — and making the vision onscreen as good as possible is what’s important. It’s tiring and physically taxing, but I hope I have a few good muscles to show after this. As this was the last night before wrap, we had a lot of stuff to unload. MD was leaving, so we were taking over craft service. Her help made the work more pleasant and go a lot faster. It is possibly one of the most enjoyable parts of this film that we have such a great team of people who pitch in where needed. MD and I had a nice talk, until Ursula reminded me we had only a few hours to sleep, so we all said goodnight & headed to our short-lived dreams.

entry by: MD Dundon
Our second large cast day of shooting was on our closest location at a Lutheran church in Santa Monica. Today I had a chance to really see the inner workings of our crew as we shot all of the wedding scenes in front of and around the church with a large number of extras and the full wedding party in attendance. Such an amazing amount to keep organized and they did it with style.

The dance that is a crew on a film set is always fascinating to watch. The people who set up the lights and run electrical current, props people who got there an hour before everyone to decorate the entire church for a wedding (gorgeous), and then the entire camera crew and support crew. There’s a person who runs the camera, another who moves the camera, one that works the focus on the camera and yet another who loads the film all day (a tricky job as you do it in a black bag without being able to see what you’re doing). Our crew was amazing on this shoot, which was immediately obvious because of the gorgeous shots that kept happening all day long. So with Ursula directing the set-up and flow and the crew pitching in to make it all happen the scenes began to roll out.

Today was also my final day on the set so I’ll have to let others take over and tell you about the last day of shooting. My day ended with a trip out to Ursula’s place to help unload the Manna van and connect quickly before we sent everyone to bed. In the midst of the storage area that the apartment had become while shooting a film, the one thing that keeps striking me, as always when I am with the sisters, is the incredible feeling of being a part of a family. Everyone gets to join and feel like a part of something important. Not just keeping truly independent film with heart and soul alive and kicking but doing something that you can be proud of – creating something from nothing that’s beautiful – and having a whole heck of a lot of fun doing it. I feel incredibly lucky to have gotten to spend the last week with such an amazing group of people. Now for the hard part – I can’t wait to see the film!