CERISE: Day by Day, What I’ve Learned, & What’s Next

This week, I wrapped up principal photography for my short film Cerise on a $15K budget (most DIY filmmakers can easily produce a feature-length film on this budget). I did this mainly so I would get the picture and audio quality I sometimes find lacking in other short films made for $500 – $5,000. All I have to say is that this short was worth every cent saved and raised.

Here’s a recap of my week-long shoot, what I’ve learned as a result, and what’s next.

A Look Behind: The Week in Review
Day One: 5/16/10: Our first day of shooting was fairly easy. We shot in the auditorium of the New Jersey School of Dramatic Arts in Bloomfield from 1pm to 6pm, and had a great dinner courtesy of Two Guys Pizza & Grill (my brother Walter’s restaurant).

Directing Young Josh (played by Evan Smith)

Day Two: 5/17/10: After a very successful day shooting very Glass Menagerie-esque memory scenes, we unloaded our lighting and camera equipment into the Josh Kermes’s pad (the apartment of Vincent D’Onofrio, colleague, playwright, and friend of mine) that night, and after breakfast on the hood of one of our PA’s cars, we shot all day Monday canning all the scenes of Josh in his dark, nostalgia-ridden apartment by about 9pm.

Production Team Cerise in the cramped apartment of Josh Kermes.

Day Three: 5/18/10: On Tuesday, Production Team Cerise shot at The Warehouse Café, a quaint little spot in the historic Powerhouse Art District in Downtown Jersey City. This location and its charming decor further enhanced the masterful camerawork of DP Alain Aguilar and his AC Erik Kandefer (working side-by-side with the Sony EX1 with Letus 35mm adapter). The Warehouse was an especially important location because the final scene of the Cerise happens there (I’m a sucker for a good café scene despite all the taboos). By the fifth or sixth take of Josh and C.J.’s closeup, a tiny tear glassed my eyes and a smile bloomed like none before, and I knew then I’d struck a moment that would not soon be forgotten. The day was topped off with a couple bottles of pink Korbel courtesy of Warehouse Café owners Ian Hinonangan and Julius Torres.

Shooting inside the fabulous Warehouse Café in Downtown Jersey City.

Day Four: 5/19/10: Wednesday and Thursday proved a true test to not only myself, but to everyone on the crew of Cerise––from our clock-keeping AD Corey McArdle to our wardrobe mistress. We shot both days at my alma mater, New Jersey City University. Wednesday was a grueling day both physically and emotionally; we unfortunately had to lose a few shots (nothing too integral to the story, but it’s never fun killing one’s own babies), and I could feel my exasperation welling up after lunch. We made it through, however, with minimal scars.

Readying Josh Kermes’s cubicle for the ensuing battle with the clock.

Day Five: 5/20/10: Then came Thursday, and we had 14 hours to shoot ten pages of the script! With Corey calculating and Alain practically painting a new magnum opus with every shot; with our production designer, makeup artist and hairstylist brushing and dabbing from 60 to sonic boom; with our tireless PAs scrambling to and fro for this or that, we were (somehow) able to pull it all together and churn out a product like some oily piston-pumping machine…but I gotta tell you, it was crazy!

My frustration did boil over at a pivotal point early on Thursday because my crew and myself were making some really careless errors. When a Kino suddenly dimmed, I took that as a sign and called for an immediate forum. My disappointment manifested into something I’d hoped would resemble a great battle speech (ala Braveheart, perhaps?), but instead, it emerged as more heartfelt as my mouth let go of the words; my honesty spilled out, as often it does, and I let everyone know first how appreciative I was of them, but also that now is the time we have to step up our energy and abilities to a level unseen prior to Thursday’s shoot, if we are to get these last ten pages in the can.

After the peroration of my little discourse, we all began to move as one organism again, and I was once again able to focus the bulk of my attention and energy on the 17-inch monitor in front of me.

Today: What I’ve Learned
Despite the fact that I had a very large crew of about 20 skilled people, and two very competent producers, Camiren Romero and Kejal Kothari, Cerise was still a fairly difficult film to shoot in only five days.

So what did I learn?

First and foremost, I learned (or reaffirmed, rather) that filmmaking is a war.

Second, no matter how detailed a director and his or her crew thinks they are, there’s always Murphy’s Law, and one has to be prepared for anything that might go wrong. Because it will go wrong.

Third, quick thinking is a major criteria before entering the foray. In my case, I had a very loose shot list, no storyboards, and a time crunch. I also rewrote the script a week before the shoot! However, I also had Corey and Alain and a powerful core of soldiers by my side who were driven to achieve the best product possible. And, of course, I had my own strong vision of the film which demanded attention to detail and design.

Fourth, as a director specifically, I again learned that one will get frustrated, either with him- or herself, with his or her crew (whether it’s five or fifty people strong) or both.

Fifth, it’s alright to get a little emotional on either extreme of the “love/fear” spectrum; and it’s alright to let it out, but only in a way that is proactive and inspires the crew rather than leaves them defeated on the battlefront.

I also learned that to prepare for a film shoot, one should not only peruse Chris Jones’s The Guerilla Film Makers Pocketbook, but one should also be well-versed in Sun Tzu’s The Art of War as well.

A Glimpse Ahead: What’s Next for Cerise?
Initially, I wanted to have Raffi Asdourian, a great filmmaker and editor, do the picture edit for Cerise. I’ve since reconsidered only because during shooting, the script was somewhat compromised due to the shots and a few whole scenes we were forced to omit because of time constraints. Rather than rewrite the script according to those cuts, I figured I’d just piece the film together myself, like I did with all my prior films, since I’ve yet to get a film that matches even 80% of the original script.

I’m hoping to have a (very) rough cut by the end of June to show at a sort of “wrap party” as a kind of test screening for the cast and crew. After that, I’ll be tweaking the picture edit a bit more extensively, and then I’ll send the edit off to my trusted Symphonist of Sound Design Oles Protsidym for audio and music mixing, and we’ll take it from there.

All in All…
The Taoist deep within me tells me not to worry about the lost shots or the cut scenes; it tells me to trust in what I’ve got, and to know that what I’ve got is the film that was meant to be. All I have to do it piece it together accordingly, and all will be perfect. And after watching the dailies, this is $15,000 very well spent!

A very big thank you to Production Team Cerise!

And thanks again to all our backers who’ve made this short quirky dramedy possible!

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3 thoughts on “CERISE: Day by Day, What I’ve Learned, & What’s Next

  1. Congratulation, John! I can't wait to hear… and see more.

  2. Sounds awesome John. Cannot wait to see the finished product.

  3. Congrats John! Fantastic blog about fantastic piece of work! Kudos to your crew they sound amazing!

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