Never had I allowed a documentary to move me as much as I have in the Mr. Rogers bio-doc, Won’t You Be My Neighbor. Although, one could argue that I had no choice in the matter. Continue reading
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.
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Yesterday, June 23rd, 2018 was the first year anniversary of working my first day as a Set Production Assistant on American Horror Story (AHS). While this day may fall two days before my birthday, I’ll forever remember it because it turned the tides of my life in Los Angeles into that of a favorable one. Let me share a truncated recap of that year working in Hollywood.
Before this fateful day, I had been utterly depressed; struggling with looming financial obligations that, frankly, were egregious for any city, let alone Los Angeles. Nevermind the medical bills I had yet to pay off or the cost of the gimped & laughable health care plan I had just purchased.
I had just passed six months in LA and was filled with rage and sadness, with no way to expel the negative energy swirling around me at all times. I kept my faux happy face on as I drove Lyft just to pay the bare minimum of my costs, knowing full well that this immediate income would never touch the detrimental effects that these thousands of miles had upon the life of my car (on which I still owed $15,000).
I took this first day with the utmost gratitude and worked as best as I could to ensure that I would get another. And I did. That second day, we worked in Orange, CA, and I was late. I thought for sure that I would never work a day again. A friend of mine had once said that “If you’re early, you’re on time; if you’re on time, you’re late; and if you’re late, you’re fired.”
Luckily, they kept me around, and I spent the next few months working a day here and there, slowly weening myself off of Rideshare Dependency. I didn’t drive as much when I made TV money, and so, I was able to work more on my writing. I lived like a pauper: eating the bare minimum, rarely going out to do anything – and regretting every penny spent if I did – and having zero savings of which to speak. The biggest blunder I committed was buying a Nintendo Switch with the one time I did have savings and paid for it dearly when the work dried up momentarily.
The same Assistant Director (AD) that gave me my first shot on AHS, got me some days on Legion, and I thought that was one of the coolest shows I had ever experienced filming (to be fair, it was the third ever). The visual style and the set design were something to truly behold. I had worked one day on the American Horror Story production company’s follow-up, 9-1-1, but hadn’t heard from them in a while.
Then, I got a request in November to work on 9-1-1 again. They were onto episode four, and there was an airport scene that was filming at the Ontario Airport. I was entirely nervous (as I am on any new production), but I didn’t let it get to me. I saw a lot of familiar faces here which helped the matter.
This day kept me working with Ryan Murphy TV for several months until we wrapped in March of the following year. I became the unofficial fifth staff PA, except that I was treated as a staff PA. I received wrap gifts and was invited to the wrap party.
I had planned on taking a week off then visiting my family – especially my newborn nephew – after we wrapped, but was asked to work a four-day stint on movie reshoots for Skyscraper right before I departed. I had always wanted to work in films, and even narrowly missed a reshoot gig for Dwayne Johnson’s last film, Rampage. It occurred the same day as that airport shoot in Ontario for 9-1-1.
I went home for two weeks, and unfortunately, received a lot of calls to work on other production during that fortnight. When I got back to Los Angeles, I expected many more calls, but the work proved tepid once more. Ahh, the ebb and flow of the freelance life. I had to resort to driving Lyft again.
I hated driving in Los Angeles.
Luckily, some of these jobs eventually came back around, and I even continued to work with the same AD from Skyscraper, and a few of my fellow PAs from there. That job, Kidding, was the first show Jim Carrey had starred in since his In Living Color days. I was and still am a huge fan of his work, especially his more serious roles like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Man on the Moon, and my all-time favorite, The Truman Show.
And that’s where I stand now! I’ll work with the Kidding crew until I return to 9-1-1 in the middle of July, rejoining my first group of wonderful people. That’s the best secret of Hollywood: most people who work in the business are good people – or at least professional – sure, there are bad eggs, but the majority of crew members are hard-working and lively folks. It’s a pleasant surprise that many outside of the business wouldn’t discover based on the stereotype that perpetuates surrounding the industry.
If you take all of my music videos (as PA or 2nd AD), days in television, commercials, and movie reshoots, I worked 150 days in my first calendar year.
That’s one hell of a year. Here’s to this year and my personal growth within the industry.
Thanks, Mike and Michelle,
The downside of being a duteous Production Assistant is that Jamie doesn’t get to write as often as he would like. As of now, he’s taking a breather before he rewrites his Cancer Story, and hopes to write and talk about movies again soon. But when he has a moment, he continues a rewrite of a screenplay he hopes to sell one day! Never stop working on what you love! Jamie won’t!
With four days left (including Wednesday), I found out new things about me and the stupefied healthcare providers that currently “support” me.
My “Crohn’s” cramps came back with a vengeance this week, and I had to get to the bottom of them to move forward. Okay, so maybe I’ve been eating a lot more potatoes and watermelon at work (the latter being a running gag with the Production Staff), and after my antibiotics, I could see myself potentially feeding the Candida overgrowth. I didn’t have this much watermelon at my disposal during January’s Whole30 run.
I took the day off from “Kidding” to recover from my cramps, and attempted a doctor’s appointment. When I called at 9:00 AM, I was notified of the once impossible-to-schedule doctor’s office’s amendment to their stuffed system; replaced with a walk-in option from 9-11 AM. I drove over by 9:15, and waited until 10 AM for the doctor to show up.
Chapter 99: “Thirsty”
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Even before my first days at NESCom, I continuously bugged the staff to offer a screenwriter’s course, and just when I thought that semester would never come, my advisor, John, told me that they would first offer the course in the fall of THIS YEAR, 2012! I jumped onto it as soon as possible considering there were only twelve spots on the roster. Come to think of it, I may have been the very first person to register.
This week my cravings hit an all-time high. I had never wanted a beer or a taco in my life as much as I do right now. Cravings are a weird feeling. Once you kick sugar from your system with the Whole30 Food Experiment, you rarely have these urges. In fact, you’re able to parse out if your “hunger” is real famishment or just a craving. Continue reading
Chapter 98: “Gardening 101”
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“The Mayan Prophecy” was a mere handful of months away, and wouldn’t you know it? I was only now diving into my goal of making movies. If the past eight or nine years weren’t enough time to achieve said objective, then the only movies I would “make” would be the ones I wrote to appease the mutant monsters that would overrun the post-apocalyptic landscape. Timing was never my thing.
Speaking of timing, a revelation had only now struck me while visiting my Dad up North; we were terrible kids. We gave our parents such grief and even cost them hundreds of dollars because we were idiots, especially when Travis and I were living with just my Dad. We spent so much of our time fighting and the rest sitting in front of our respective televisions, “rotting our brains” on CRT screens rather than spending time with Dad, learning the ins and outs of cars, or simple gardening.