Chapter 100: “Love Off-Key”
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Winter break was upon us, and from Scriptwriting 101, I got an ‘A’ and better yet, a feature-length first draft. Instead of delving back into this script for revisions, I decided to push on and get more of my ideas out there. I mean, I can always go back and edit them later, right? Plus, my focus had now been diverted to another project: a short film, and I had a plan.
My goal was to write the script during winter break, rewrite as much as needed, and secure a location & the props, all before shooting it during the Spring Break in March. It was foolproof. But what to write?
I knew whatever I wrote had to be a lower budget project, so my usual sci-fi proclivities were of little use here. Drama was easy to shoot in any climate – and for any price – so I began to scour my mind for a dramatic scene in which I would feel uncomfortable– one that would create drama in my real life. I had always worried that something would happen between Deirdre and me in our marriage. That notion terrified me. This had easily been my longest pairing, and after my many years of desperately wanting a relationship, I had one worth fighting for. So, if things were going south and our previous attempts proved unsuccessful, what would be a last-ditch effort to mend the relationship?
Then it hit me: A swinger’s party. I would be completely out of my element, having to pick someone else up (I’m awkward in new interactions) and then to imagine Deirdre having sex with another guy. I couldn’t handle that; I would snap. The concept hit on all points and coalesced into an eighteen-page short film.
I didn’t have a name for the short. I wanted a cool, ironic name that could sell the “promise of the premise,” but also to evoke a visual palette when heard. My placeholder title was “The Keychain.” Funnily enough, that title infuriated me because I detested films that used “The” in that manner; I found it to be lazy. It’s almost as worse as just calling your film the main character’s name…
I rewrote the short five times, hashing pacing, and tweaking characters with each pass. The only major rewrite I would still need to complete would be based on the location that we eventually landed on.
I had a type of house in mind for the location: a lavish house with lots of floor space, and a rich-looking interior, a long shot in Maine. My friend, Kyle’s parents, had the perfect house for this setting, and he had mentioned it to me as a potential option. Luckily, he was already on-board to lend his audio mastery to the project, and so, it was an easier conversation to conduct with his parents. I called them up, and we met at their place later in the week.
They were apprehensive at first; there would be a lot of people and equipment moving around the house, and they (rightfully) worried about property damage. I assured them that there wouldn’t be any issue with damage and that we would all take proper precautions to prevent such destruction. They agreed, and off I went to revise the script based upon the layout of their abode.
The crew came together rather easily. I had Jim, who was the DP on most of the “New Triplets” projects photograph this shoot. Spencer was unavailable, so Conner was my gaffer, my co-worker buddy, Jocelyn, was the script supervisor, a friend from Scriptwriting class, Casey, was my Assistant Director, and many more collaborators lent their talents to me and this production.
All I had left to do was cast, and prop the scenes.
I had already cast the main lead, “Jared,” with my frequent cohort of The Guttersnipes, John. I wrote it specifically for him knowing he had some acting chops, and I wanted him to give him a chance to shine as the lead in a piece such as this. The same went for the antagonist, “Simon.” I had seen the brilliant work Brandon put into acting as the lead in his short, Promises of Pardon, and so, I knew I would be incredibly fortunate for him to play any part. I had the owner of the house, Isaac, played by a Maine actor, Flash Kellish. He had this ferocity to him that would come through perfectly as the head of this wife-swapping household.
As for the rest of the cast (including all of the female parts), I was having some difficulty locking down Amy, the female protagonist. I brought John aboard to the casting process and developed sides based on the scenes of the film. It was crucial to have him there when we held casting auditions, as he was, after all, the one to play off of Amy in the film. We spoke to the few female actresses that we knew, but no one was interested or available. Finally, we had a response to our Facebook posts, and we met with her upstairs at Paddy Murphy’s in the library. We found our Amy in Sarita. Her presence was electric, and I wanted to see more of that on-screen.
Prop shopping was one of the most addicting things that I had ever done in film so far. I found the instrumental property mostly in person. I perused the local stores in search of a ‘Keychain bowl” in which the attendees would drop the keys to their hearts. After almost a dozen shops, I found my bowl in T.J. Maxx. I also wanted a square of black cloth to cover the bowl; thus I stepped into foreign territory for the first time: JoAnn Fabrics. They had some interesting materials, but I didn’t want a whole roll of fabric to then have to cut to my liking. I asked if they had any smaller pieces and they had a few samples that normally don’t get sold. I found two perfectly black squares, one plain, and one that had a frilly edge made of a softer tactile material. I nabbed both for a total of three dollars.
For my myriad key chain pieces, I searched Amazon for unique and appealing pieces. I bought all of my own property key chains except for one. A co-worker lent me Simon’s keychain because it represented the attitude of the antagonism. It was a shark-shaped bottle opener. I tried to take this perfect example of characterization to heart when selecting the rest of my key chains. Jared and Amy each had a half of a heart (neither one had been “whole” in years), and they needed to work together to reunite their love. And finally, Isaac, the homeowner, and host had an emblazoned “I” because he had an attention to detail but was horribly narcissistic.
We had our first, and only table read at Sarita’s apartment, where we swapped crucial notes about the dialogue, the characters’ motivations, and more. What a rush; I loved this process immensely as it gave me the final touches I needed to make to sell the premise more effectively.
Shortly after the table read, Flash dropped out, and I was forced to find a new Isaac. My other repeated Guttersnipe colleague, Curtis, stepped in at the last moment to save our collective asses.
Principle photography finally began during Spring Break on March 13th at 6PM. During the hours before call, the crew and I spent the day moving the furniture, discussing the shoot and rigging our equipment. Most of the crew hadn’t been given the script or the shot list for the day, so a lot of my time was spent sharing this information. I cannot believe I forgot to divulge this crucial information… how insanely idiotic. We began with our establishing Steadicam shot to properly feature our record-breaking number of extras for any NESCom shoot ever.
Naturally, when you start with such a complicated shot up front, it hinders a quick workflow. By the time we finished this shot, we were already an hour behind schedule. I soon realized that I had way too many shots listed to shoot on the first night. After we wrapped (at two AM), I decided to go home and rework the next day’s plan. I knelt down in the middle of my office and dispersed my papers and notes from the initial day and got to work. I cut some shots that were unneeded to convey the story, and I reordered others to prolong efficiency. The shooting plan was like a massive puzzle, and I was the kid at the end of the table holding the box out with one eye open.
After an hour more, I had a better idea of what the rest of the shoot would look like. The next day, I hopped out of bed with an energy I hadn’t felt since I began at NESCom. I double-checked my plan, and left earlier to get a head start on all of the furniture moving and communication. I had a penchant of making a face constantly during production; it wasn’t a “Resting Bitch Face,” but a “Resting Stressed Face.”
The second day went smoothly, except a few extras that didn’t return, and so, we had to adjust some of our angles. Granted, it was a party, so people naturally moved about in that setting.
We got home earlier the second night because we didn’t move all of the furniture back like we had done the previous night. Deirdre was actually awake when I got back home, and so I gave her the daily report. I was never so stressed in my life, but it was different. It wasn’t distress, but eustress. After I was finished – and with a smile on her face – Deirdre declared, “I’ve never seen you as happy as when you talk about the short film.”
I agreed, but I didn’t take it as an indication of anything else. Maybe I should have? Instead, I smiled, and went about my business.
On the third day, my gracious hosts were getting impatient– again, rightfully so. There was no way that my charming little car door slam in New York was going to get them to laugh at this. Someone had nicked a few of the walls, and we didn’t have location insurance. And to make matters exponentially worse, we were invading their space during the week. Their lives were turned upside down, and there was no easy way to move everything back in time to get a proper turn around for the next day. Every day, we left exhausted.
After the third day, I had a few more scenes to shoot: one in a bedroom upstairs, another at the front door, and one in the driveway in front of their house. I gave Kyle’s parents some space and shot the bedroom scene elsewhere, in John’s roommate’s room. Then a few weeks later, I shot the driveway scene with their permission. I assured them that we wouldn’t need to go inside the house, but they had little reason to believe me after I had failed them before. And it turned out that we needed to go inside to turn on the lights inside the entryway. Kyle took care of that, and we shot what we needed.
My goal was to get it into film festivals from around the country, and luckily, there was one in Bangor that we could apply to, The Kahbang! Music and Arts Festival. Not so luckily, was that the LATE deadline was May fifteenth! I rushed to work with the editor, Tom, to make that happen. He had all of Jocelyn’s script supervisor notes to work with at least.
After many iterations and options, I landed on the name, Love Off-Key. It had layers to it and represented a different kind of affection, but also, that love in this world was given away via a key. With a final edit and a real name, I submitted the film via the platform, WithoutaBox, and before too long, I had been accepted into Kahbang!, my first festival! This was a testament to all of the hard work we had put into the film in the past six months.
Now, I prepared for the debut.
This is an ongoing story of my personal battle with Cancer. My hope is that it helps others who are currently experiencing their own battles (whether it be for themselves or a loved one) or to help with early detection.
The way I’m doing it is terrifying for a writer. I’m writing a publically available first-draft outline for an eventual book, chapter by chapter in weekly form. The only reason I’m doing it this way is to get the story out as soon as possible for someone out there who needs a survivor to visit them during their own treatment. If you’re reading this and need someone to talk to, tweet at me and I’ll give you a call. No questions asked. This story is for you and I’ll help any way that I can.
Stay tuned, as I will be posting a new chapter every Monday until the story is complete.
And remember if you experience any Anemic symptoms– get checked for Leukemia as well.