Still pulled from footage off the Epic.
This is a scene from the pilot Eric Ledgin and I shot in Sweden. It’s nearly impossible to choose one scene from a project I love so much, but I this one has Josephine Bornebusch, and Eric Ledgin.
1. It is never appropriate to yell or speak brusquely to people on set. We all lose our cool sometimes, but it’s never okay.
2. As a guest director, you are not there to make it your own. You are there to help.
3. As long as the audience understands the geography of the actors in a room, you can “cross the line” as much as you want.
4. Unless you are on a soundstage all day, always have your foul weather gear in your backpack.
5. Line producers always win, but if you make them a little uncomfortable with the scope or cost of what you are trying to do, then you are doing your job properly.
6. You will only get 1 good take with two-year-olds before they melt down. Don’t let anyone tell you differently, even if the kids were a dream to work with last season when they were one-year-olds.
7. Departments tend to eat lunch together. Any one of them will be happy if you join. Pick a different department every day.
8. Terrible pilots can turn into amazing shows. Always say yes if you like the people.
9. Finishing on time is your job, not the A.D.’s.
10. The difference between a single-camera tv show and a feature film is about 5 less setups per scene.
11. Private rehearsals are way better than rehearsals where 80 crew members are watching in stony silence while you try to figure something out that you’ve been struggling to visualize all week.
12. Control your set. Step in respectfully and make a decision everyone can live with when producers and actors are bogged down in a brainstorming session.
13. Don’t sit at video village. Stay close to camera. They’ll get you your own monitors, or you can lurk behind the focus pullers.
14. Go back to video village before moving on from every setup, and when you do go back there you should run. It reminds everyone that we are always in a hurry.
15. Everything that happens behind the camera is theater, so be aware of what kind of performance you are giving.
16. Always have a plan, and always be willing to throw it in the garbage.
17. Every single person on set thinks they could do your job. About twenty-five percent of them are right. (percentage varies in either direction)
18. Never give actors notes until after take two. If the writers don’t know about this, they will understand it when you explain it to them.
19. The costume department chicks are always the most interesting.
20. Showrunners have an enormous amount of pressure on them, and they just want to know that you’ll get at least one perfect take the way they pictured it. If you do that, then you’ll have a little room to experiment. If you were the showrunner, that’s how you’d feel.
21. TV stars don’t like to do a lot of takes. Day players just want to get it right.
22. Bring a camera on every location scout, and if the scene is complicated, shoot it with p.a.’s, the person who owns the property, the location manager, or anyone standing around who can read the lines. (This is most useful on commercials where every second needs to time out.)
23. When a large corporation says that they’d love to pay you more but they simply can’t afford it, they are lying. It’s the inverse that is true. They would hate to pay your more, and they can definitely afford it.
24. Directors sometimes hire food trucks as gifts to the crew. I’ve looked into it and it really is a custom. Figure out how you feel about this and don’t spend the money if you don’t want to. On some shows the writer will split it with you.
25. Agents really can help you, but your agent is not responsible for your career, you are. Jill Soloway once said to me “I try to think of my showbiz agent more like a travel agent. I’d never call my travel agent and ask, ‘So what’s the deal, are you getting me a vacation this year?’ I’d call and say ‘Here is where I’m going, please find me the best rate.'”
26. Be nice to absolutely everyone. It’s your set, and you set the tone.
27. Tone is everything.
It’s finally done! Thanks to all of Alex’s friends who helped out on graphics, sound, makeup, wardrobe. Thanks to Birns and Sawyer for giving me a deal on the lighting package. Most importantly, take yoga from Alex! I had spine surgery 2 years ago and instead of going to physical therapy I went to her class. It made me stronger, more pliable, and sometimes in class I felt like I was having a direct conversation with my injury, negotiating with it, coaxing it into cooperating again. Her website is here.
Eric Ledgin and I wrote a pilot for IFC which we shot in Stockholm three months ago. I’m definitely post euphoria, going through the comedown phase, back to reading science fiction books at the coffee shop, and beginning to await word on the series. The good news is that there are abs classes every single day at Equinox. So it’s not like I’m wasting time entirely.
I’ve long since accepted that any big project, especially if it goes really well, is followed by a long and excruciatingly mellow denouement. I don’t know if Eric is going through the same thing. Funny because I could ask him. We talk several times a day.
In May of 2011, around the time I was leaving Late Night, I was telling my friend Dan Pasternack about how fucked up my penis looked after spine surgery. Pasternak asked me if I’d ever thought of writing a sitcom based on my own life (there was more than just the penis story fyi). It was nothing I had the inclination or confidence to try until Eric and I started traveling together.
Ledgin was on the monologue staff at Late Night, and shared an office across the hall from me with 2 other mono writers Morgan Murphy and Justin Shanes. I used to hear them analyzing jokes together, and loved to hear the way they focused on language. Crafting a monologue joke has a weird, almost equation-like elegance. Writing a monologue joke is something that I never successfully did in my entire time at Late Night. My brain does not work that way. The monologue writers were writing about 60 jokes a day, and I was fascinated by their process, and the intellectual rigor that they applied to it. I was just beginning the divorce process and Eric was in a relationship which had some ups and downs, so we had a few “deep talks” at work then started hanging out outside of work. One night I was doing karaoke in Manhattan with Eric and his girlfriend (they’ve since split up and Eric is now married to someone else…more on that later…or not…I mean this isn’t Eric’s blog) when I realized that when I was in his presence I felt like a winner. Which is the best thing you can say about a friend. I told him that when I was in my 20’s someone once told me that all the girls in Stockholm were hot and that I was planning to go. I asked the two of them if they wanted to come to Sweden and be my wing couple. She couldn’t get the time off of work, but Eric and I were on hiatus at the same time from Late Night, so he took a risk and said yes.
On April 18th, 2011 we landed in Stockholm for our vacation, still very much getting to know each other as friends. It was those long, meandering conversations that Eric and I had which became the basis of our show, but finding the structure would come later. In the moment there was simply a “Let’s work together!” vibe. On the plane home we wrote down every detail of our trip, diary style, just so we wouldn’t forget. Eric was still at Late Night in NY and I was in LA, so over the next 9 months we took those memories and crafted them into a larger idea, which we pitched to Pasternack (who incidentally is VP of Development at IFC) and the rest of the IFC development team.
After getting the official script order, we sat down one summer day in 2012 at a restaurant in Los Feliz and starting actually writing the pilot. We had put a year of time and energy into developing the idea, but had never actually written anything scripted, per se. I called Eric that night after our first session and said “I love writing with you!!” He was like “I was just thinking about how well our first day went!” It was adorable you guys.
The pilot was finished in August and approved in November with a plan to shoot in Sweden in the Spring.
We finished filming on April 19th of 2013, 2 years and one day after we first landed in Sweden for our vacation.
Now at this point you are probably asking, “What lenses did you guys shoot with?” Okay, I’ll get to that. We shot on Kowa anamorphic lenses.
Jonas Alarik, our DP, is a native Swede. He works mostly with the Alexa, and I have a bias for the Epic. He was open to both platforms so we decided to test both when I got to Stockholm. But as for lenses, I started floating the idea of shooting anamorphic to other people months earlier, and I got zero enthusiasm for the idea. Finally one night, a few weeks ahead of the shoot, I had the temerity to broach the idea in an email with Jonas. Here is our exchange:
|Michael Blieden||Wed, Mar 27, 2013 at 11:38 AM|
|To: Jonas Alarik|
|Jonas Alarik||Wed, Mar 27, 2013 at 12:51 PM|
|To: Michael Blieden|
|Michael Blieden||Wed, Mar 27, 2013 at 12:57 PM|
|To: Jonas Alarik|
|Jonas Alarik||Thu, Mar 28, 2013 at 3:37 AM|
|To: Michael Blieden|
We tested anamorphics and spherical lenses on Red and Alexa and it’s funny what happens to two camera geeks in a rental house. We both walked over the cameras we preferred and started playing with them. Me to my Red and Jonas to his Alexa. Occasionally we’d wander over to the other person’s station, but basically we were both absorbed in our own exploration for the better part of an hour. Then I had to come to terms with the fact that I was acting, directing, and with Ledgin, still writing. In a production as fast paced and small as ours, I wanted Jonas to work with the tool he naturally gravitates to. His brilliant work with the Alexa speaks for itself. I needed to let go of the camera, literally. So we chose Alexa and it worked out amazingly well. Jonas did exquisite work on this shoot. I will risk saying that even though it’s vaguely self-congratulatory but I cannot help but fawn over this man’s work. He pulled images that were straight out of my dreams. And for the record, the anamorphics we used are as fast, or close to as fast as any other lenses we could have used, from an aperture standpoint. Given the amount of low light shooting we had to do, this made it possible.
Also, at this point I have to give a very special thanks to @Radical.media who produced this pilot. They rep me for commercials so I knew that they had expertise shooting all over the world. Frank Sherma and Donna Portaro went way out of their way, for months and months, to bring all the pieces together for this shoot. They showed extreme care for the material. They are our partners and guides, and when it came to making decisions, whether it was lenses, wardrobe, locations, or 2 million other things you encounter shooting overseas, they were always helped us find the best creative choice, and made sure it was doable.
The screen grab below will illustrate the aspect ratio difference between Anamorphic 2.35 and 16×9. The frame on the left is how we shot it, and the frame on the right is what airs on every cable channel. Shooting anamorphic but planning for the 16×9 crop is an accepted practice, so we took that into account when shooting.
Anyone who’s kept up with me is not surprised that I’m spending this much time on cameras, lenses and the Red vs. Alexa debate. For the record, I still love my Epic, Alex Hanawalt and I are going ahead with the Dragon sensor upgrade, and my penis did completely recover from surgery.
I’ll have much more to say about this project as time goes on.