Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Caterpillar's Tale Production notes vol. V

We’re getting there! After today’s shoot, I’m even more psyched than ever about putting this project together.

Today we shot two scenes. One with the bats, and one with the owl.
The bats were so cute and wicked, they are sure to be stand out characters in our project. Our bats performed in the perfect blend of scary/cute/fun. My head was full of ideas about sound and light effects I’m going to use for this scene. I’m looking forward to editing it!

The owl was great, too. Our actress was spot on in her delivery, attitude and motherly-ness. It was a real treat to capture.

I have a few days until our next scenes, so I’m going to try and catch up on some other work. But, after today, it’ll be hard to focus on anything other than this project!

Just as a recap, this project is part of an anti-bullying effort for a local school district. Its intended audience is the students of the district in grades K-4, so it has to be fun, funny and still get the message across. It’s my hope that we can make it memorable enough so that the message sinks in while the kids enjoy watching it. With such great actors, craft work and creativity behind it, I think we’re going to make it happen!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Caterpillar's Tale vol IV

Today we shot the final scene of “A Caterpillar’s Tale”. Not the last scene I have to shoot, just the last scene in the program. It was, by far, the most complicated, involving actors interacting with a puppet that has most of the lines, a dozen ensemble actors, a dance number and character make-up.

The thing that kept me awake at night leading up to this shoot was the amount of actors in the scene, and how I was going to manage making sure they hit their marks, delivered their lines and kept the energy up through multiple takes. It turns out that it was the actors themselves that made it such a great experience.

The ability to stand and deliver a line, and their willingness to do it well, made all the difference. Many of the actors in this production learned their craft under the tutelage of Bonnie and John Ryerson of the Pied Piper Youth Theater, , and Bonnie and John have taught them well. Some even came from rehearsals of a PPYT production, to lend their talents to our show. To them I say, “Well done… now get some sleep.”

One of the cool things that brought it all together was the chance to work with Kayla Hamilton, a young choreographer who is definitely on her way to big things. She pulled a group of kids together into a simple dance routine that is going to look so great as an ending… I couldn’t be happier with the result. It was slick, it was creepy… very, very cool.

Another scene tomorrow, featuring costumes by Cyndi Davern, , three more next week, and then pick-ups, B-roll, environmentals…, and then I spend the rest of August editing. I love summer projects!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Caterpillar's Tale Production notes vol. III

Three things that I never thought I would ever say to my children:

1: Don't play with the rats
2: Now, I want all of the sweetness and light gone from you
3: Become one with the caterpillar

Well, I said all of that and more today as my daughter joined two other fine young actors to play the Three Witches in "A Caterpillar's Tale".

After transforming my living room into a cross between a hidden corner of Wes Craven's mind and Liberace's breakfast nook, we waited for our actors to arrive. The wonderful Geri Hamilton, who also provides the voice of the Crabapple in another scene, arrived with our actors in tow. She set to work immediately, handling hair and make-up chores, transforming three lovely young ladies into three gorgeous gypsies. Add to that the costumes Gina Davis and I collaborated on choosing for each, along with her work on our daughter's styling, and we were ready to film a pivotal scene.

Cue the caterpillar!

Gina and I were up late the night before, (again) putting the final touches on the custom caterpillar puppet that will serve as the star of our production. We brought him out for his debut, much to the surprise and awe of those gathered. He's creepy, he's cool, and... just a bit sad, which is exactly what I was hoping for in a star.
The shoot began as so many do, with manic discussions and explanations of lines, blocking and motivations amidst the curling irons, eyeliner and glitter spray, (why is there always glitter spray?).

We progressed smoothly through the script, with just a few bumps and tangles. At one point, I thought we wouldn't be able to do the song. I received a very cool song a few days before, but there just wasn't time to produce it and no one would have had a chance to learn it before shoot day. So, I pulled together some lyrics to fit the mood of the day. But then, and this is the coolest thing about working with ultra-talented young actors, we bounced a few ideas around and came up with an idea to shoot it that actually turned out better than what I had originally planned. By placing the camera lower than the actors, and shooting upward, they could read the lyrics and appear to be looking at the caterpillar, which, essentially provided a caterpillar's point of view shot for a pivotal segment in the scene... bonus!

If today's work is any indication, this is going to be a terrific production.

By the way, when you have kids on the set, and rubber rats as props scattered around, someone's going to pick one up... that's just a given, I guess.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Caterpillar's Tale Production Notes vol. II

It was 93 degrees f today, and I had a half dozen kids marching up and down my driveway, screaming their heads off. Why? Because they were the "villagers" storming the castle of the Evil Scientist in our production. Good sports all, they dutifully hit their marks and created a scene that, most likely, lead to a few head-scratching moments among my neighbors.

Aside from a sad face or two when it was discovered that I only had one pitchfork among the rakes and shovels they carried, these kids took a small scene in the script and gave it life... as only kids can.

While their moms looked on from the top of the hill, they performed well, even as I sent them back to their starting places with a cry of "Great! That was terrific! Let's do it again!"

Production Manager Gina Davis brought it all together, as she and Margo Mueller put the finishing touches to the costumes, walking a fine line between poor, angry villagers and flat out hobos.

A special shout out to Bonnie Ryerson of the Pied Piper Youth Theater for the girls' costumes, straight out of last year's production of Annie Jr. And, a big thanks to Deborah Elk for delivering them to us, just in time!

You can find out more about PPYT on their website at

Aside from today's shooting, we also had a costume fitting for some of our youngest actors, who will be performing in the production's final scene. We are scheduled to shoot that next week. That will be the biggest scene, and one that will require the most work for all involved.

After our initial read-through, it became obvious that it would make the scene stronger to flesh it out a bit, and give each actor at least one line to deliver. Along with the added benefit of happier actors, (who doesn't want the chance to stand and deliver a line?), I'm confident that the scene itself will benefit from the different styles and deliveries I'm sure to get on camera.

We'll post more photos next week, as some of the more involved scenes are shot. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Caterpillar's Tale

After five months of pitching, cajoling, lining up resources and generally annoying many people around me, I finally secured funding for a video project.

Having done an anti-bullying video aimed at mid/high school aged kids last year, I wanted to do one for the younger students. After all, habits and beliefs about what is and is not socially acceptable begin early. They are usually learned by absorbing attitudes toward bullying, ("Boys will be boys", "Girls are just mean," or "When I was a kid, you just..."), and those ideas begin to form a child's core beliefs about the world in which they are expected to fit in and get along.

So, I wanted to help.

Having created a few video programs centered around the winter holidays, my first thought was to go back to that well. As I began to explore options, I realized that my mindset was simply to rehash all of those things I had seen and watched many, many times over the years. Yawn. Then, I decided to point my efforts at the most underserved "holiday", Halloween. Kids of all ages love Halloween, (settle down, religious fervorists), and it's second only to Christmas as a holiday chock full of "no-explanation-needed" icons.

I had my moral. I had my theme. Now, what to write?

I began pitching it to my family at the dinner table. With two kids under the age of twelve, I figured I'd toss the idea to them, and my wife and I would get an understanding of what they wanted to see in a video program like this. We would discuss it, and I would begin to build a story that I could eventually write and produce. I was not disappointed, nor did I have to wait very long.

After batting around some ideas that kept going back to what I had done already, (musical numbers driven by puppets and dialog), my kids began to get bored of the topic. In an effort to be silly, my oldest child barked out something about a giant, ferocious caterpillar.

The lights in my head went on, and the wheels started turning. Over the next few weeks, I kept driving the discussion back to what happens to the caterpillar. Where does he come from? What does he do? Who shares this world with him? I got some great, fun, silly, fantastic ideas from each of my family members, and I was off and running.

By January, I had a script, but not much else. I set my sights on the folks that funded my last project, and arranged my pitch meeting. The idea was well-received... and that's where it lay. Budgets, meetings, cancelled meetings, postponed meetings, other funding option meetings and a general sense that this wasn't going to happen began to wear on me. Finally, I dug in my heels and decided that I was going to give this one last push. If I didn't get the funds I needed, it wouldn't be done by October. I would still work on it, but I would have to make it for the following year, and that just bummed me out.

I set a few influential people on the case, to push for the idea from different angles on the folks that I knew would fund this project if they were convinced in the right way, and then...
One more meeting. I told myself that if it didn't fly, it was going to the back burner. I had other work to do. Two minutes into the meeting, the project was green-lighted and I could barely contain myself. "Will you have enough time to deliver it?" "Absolutely!"

As I was driving away, I began to wonder, "Did I have enough time to do this?" I had two months before one of the lead actors I wanted for this was gone for a month. Those two months happened to be June and July, which are notoriously hard to pin people down for work. Add to that the fact that I wanted to use an all child actor cast, and the fact that the youth theater company I would tap for the cast members was mounting a summer production, and I was starting to sweat.

Realizing that I had to bite down on my ego and ask for help, I turned to my wife.
An executive organizer with years of corporate project management experience, my wife is a consummate professional. Along with her innate skills for not only gathering people together, but getting them to do their jobs, she is also a mom. Which means that she is a practiced psychologist, social engineer and hands-on creative dynamo with a knack for making sure stuff gets done. Once she decided to be involved, the project took off.

We started with our dream cast list, drawing from the many creative kids and families we associate with on a regular basis. The next thing I know, she and I are having meetings, discussing casting, costuming, props and shoot dates. She arranged a meeting/script read with fifteen cast members and their moms... and everyone showed up.

I could not have pulled that off myself.

So, this project is a "go". I've already shot some of the exteriors, and our first cast shoot is coming up this week. I am beyond excited. More as things develop...