It was an honor to work with a California team this year on the 168 Film Project as Executive Producer. Beyond this, I was able to fill in behind the scenes taking both photo an video, editing, and managing special FX. Here’s a brief overview of our week.
ARRIVAL: Producer Christopher Shawn Shaw met me at LAX, & from there we headed North to stay in Simi Valley, which would be our home base for 5 nights (until Tuesday morning). Prior to this point, Thor Ramsey and Torry Martin wrote our script and most legwork had been done on securing our locations and actors, etc.
DAY 1: Leaving about 7:30 am Friday, February 17, we headed to Redlands, CA, about a two-hour trek. Me, I always enjoy the mountains – a huge contrast from Florida – so the terrain helped the trip to go more quickly than I would have thought. At this point, I assumed an additional role for most of the production days – chauffeur to Mr. Shaw. This allowed him a little less stress as he thought through each shoot. As a producer, it’s critical to keep your director’s mind fresh.
Shooting took place at Kimberly Crest House and Gardens, a historic mansion with tall hedges and a great view of the surrounding area from atop the hill. However, a perusal of the property took the crew to an orange grove on the side of the property. Hence, most all of the scenic aspects provided were not captured. Nevertheless, things worked out well in making the story happen, and some meaningful moments were captured for the film’s conclusion.
After the mansion’s orange grove, we moved to a late-afternoon shoot at Gerrard’s Grocery parking lot. It was here that writer-actor Thor Ramsey found himself kidnapped by a couple thugs, finding great supporting talent in actors Scott Wood & Calvin Harrison who volunteered their time. Makeup artist Jaime Feldman supplied Thor’s wound, which was strategically aged throughout the production.
Once darkness set in, a small group moved to Thor’s office (due to space limitations). Here, DP Colton Davie and Key Grip/Gaffer John J. Miller IV setup the office location for Thor’s shots to look warm, contrasting it with the online/computer monitor video footage captured of Thor’s private investigator, Google P.I., played by comedian Torry Martin. Thor and Torry’s interaction was great to see, and the two fed off each other comfortably to provide some solidly humorous scenes.
Day 2: No shooting took place on Saturday, since Thor was traveling. Hence, Producer/Director Christopher Shawn Shaw and I set out to ingest the first shoot day’s footage (Canon 7D) into Final Cut’s favored ProRes codec and then to synchronize the audio provided from the sound department. This proved to be a timely process for Chris’ laptop, but it finally chugged through the data. I edited a set of dailies and rough cuts together, and things really seemed to fall into place, here.
Day 3: Production continued with another long trip out to Redlands. Being late Sunday morning-early afternoon, traffic was not as busy as one typically finds the Southern California highway system. On this day, we returned to Gerrard’s Grocery to re-shoot a shaky clip noticed from Day 1’s ingest and a simple (but creative) shot for the opening titles – a POV from inside the shopping cart while it zipped down several isles. After Gerrard’s, we quickly moved to a nearby mansion to secure meaningful (and very entertaining) dialogue between Thor and the Security guard keeping him from entering – none other than the Bailiff for Judge Judy, Petri Byrd. After a break for dinner, we concluded the day back at Gerrard’s for the final scene of the film, a nighttime back-alley look. Colton and Jack did a great job, lighting the scene “with only a 1K, a 420, and headlights,” based on Colton’s Facebook entry. He then added “That’s one thing DSLRs are good for.” Andrew Nagy was regularly working with sound, and this was a challenging location; various motors cycled throughout amongst other noises in the ally.
Day 4: Still in shooting phase, the crew took on a larger task, a 3-person shoot with other crew as extras on a double-decker tour bus as it traversed nearby streets. Undoubtedly, Andrew had his hands full, managing the boom and lav mics while adjusting for wind noise on the open top and limiting engine noise from the old British diesel. Honestly, though, this scene really takes the cake for solid production value. Adding a bus took the production beyond the mundane and made for a strong visual element. The bus we used can be seen on Michael Harper-Smith’s Euro Cars website. Oh! when on the top story of an open vehicle, keep a watch out for tree limbs! Colton (DP) can fill you in on that.
While at this place, I was running to get some cash from the bank, but I had to replace a flat tire, impaled by a large metal tack of sorts. This later proved a blessing, because all of the tires on this car needed to be replaced, and Thor’s driving later in the week required a good amount of rubber on the roadway to get us to our final destination before our deadline.
Arriving back at our hotel, we proceeded to ingest footage overnight.
Day 5: Tuesday morning found us editing, of course! Christopher and I did so leisurely until our checkout time at noon; then we took the two-hour trip back to Redlands once again to setup shop where Thor and his family graciously offered housing. By this point we were exhausted. Christopher needed rest badly, so I took the all-night shift, linking the audio to the video.
Day 6: Wednesday morning, Christopher got up began cutting the scenes. We interacted on what we saw, and things kept on moving. We also took the time to shoot some shots for a CG effect of a paper airplane. A lack of sufficient rest introduced my doom late Wednesday night, as I got really, really sick to my stomach, likely with a 24 hour bug. By then, I had been up for 30+ hours (I did doze a bit during editing, too). Now, I spent the next 24 hours mostly sitting on the couch or hugging the cold white porcelain with which I shared my guts so readily. The bulk of the edit fell solidly on Christopher’s shoulders, too.
Day 7: Time wouldn’t stop, but God was faithful. Most of Thursday was Christopher editing and interacting with our sound guys and music composer, Andrew Southwick (He did a phenomenal job, by the way!). Through answered prayer, I was able to hold down some crackers and ginger ale. Somewhere in the late night (12:30-1:30-ish) I went up to join Andrew Nagy in Thor’s office. He plugged away at final audio edits until near sunrise while I worked on the paper airplane special fx and performed some color work. Thor had taken on the opening titles and the closing credits.
The deadline was quickly approaching, so we exported a completed clip, copied it to a portable hard drive, and took off to the finish line, well over an hour away. Unfortunately, California highways have this crazy way of stopping for no apparent reason. This happened, and we all began to sweat; then we prayed. Christopher began to consult his (jokingly called by Thor as) “prophet” – his iPhone – and surprisingly, even though we started out with no way to reach the destination before the deadline, things began to change. Thor dodged, weaved, accelerated, and we overcame the obstacle of time by God’s grace. The film was submitted with five minutes to spare. Day 7 was over at 11 am, Friday, February 24.
From this trip I certainly have learned some additional tricks of the trade, but I have more importantly built some great relationships. Success is built on the people with whom one works, and I can’t think of one individual on this crew who was out of place. The final product shows strongly what can come about as people work together as a team with a solid goal in mind.
Here’s a list of those involved in our production, and they are all great at what they do!
- Production Assistants – Alexis Spencer-Byers, Bert Jennings, Nate Tharp
- Craft Services – Shelly Shaw, Nate Tharp, Dinika Sides
- Makeup & Hair – Jaime Feldman
- Art Director – Kelly Davie
- Wardrobe Supervisor – Ayumi Moore
- Line Producer – Toni Deaver
- Sound Mixer & Editor – Andrew Nagy
- Boom Operators – Robert McPherson, Jimmy Donahue
- Gaffer – John J. Miller IV
- 1st AD – AJ Tigner
- DP – Colton Davie
- Music by – Andrew Southwick
- Producers – Christopher Shawn Shaw, Tom Costello, Thor Ramsey, Josh B. Jacobs
- Executive Producer – Don Schaffer (myself)
- Special FX – Don Schaffer (& Christopher held the paper airplane!)
- Editing – Christopher Shawn Shaw, Don Schaffer
- Written by – Thor Ramsey & Torry Martin
- Directed by – Christopher Shawn Shaw
- Main Character (unnamed)….. Thor Ramsey
- Google P.I. ….. Torry Martin
- Gardner ….. Anthony James “AJ” Tigner
- Guard ….. Petri Byrd
- Tour Bus Guide ….. Tom Costello
- Sane Tourist ….. Christa Nichole Wells
- Street Person ….. Bryan McClure
- Black Beanie Thug ….. Cal Harrison
- Gary Busey Thug ….. Scott Wood
- Father figure (photos) ….. Isaac C. Singleton, Jr.
- Not Tom Cruise ….. Jimmy Donahue
- Without lines ….. Josh B. Jacobs, Alrien J. Berg, John J. Miller IV