Today as a treat, I will present a 12 day shooting diary that I kept and shared daily with my actors when I was shooting ALIEN and Baker Beach. Also another movie Harvest of Gems which didn't quite make the cut and has to be re-shot eventually....a movie which still was exciting to make, but in the editing room surprises occur all the time. Good ones and bad ones...
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Without further ado....
Day One: Cooking, cooking....
Well, I didn't get much sleep last night, but me and Leon, my trusty camera-man and editor, and ( all-purpose computer geek ) soon plunged into the buzzing streets and freeways of LA to further our historic and unfolding video project.
We met Christine our fearless attorney in THE ALIEN at her cozy apartment and we went through a mini-sript analysis and it was fun and something of a treat to collide with Christine's passionate and addictive energy.
Then Leon and I went on to Matt's place and we met not only Matt, but also Jade the young female lead of Harvest. Matt and Jade are the fearsome duo of Harvest of Gems.
I think it's pretty miraculous when one moves from a table read to the actual rehersal of the lines of a scene with experimental blocking. This is when the scene finally come roaring to life. It never ceases to amaze me this powerful transition from recited line to the exploratory acting that makes it come alive.
When this starts to cook, it's basically a miracle. This is when you realize that acting and directing when done well are the greatest jobs on the planet.
Three short movies in ten days is indeed a grueling pace, but the constant shifting of emotional gears as one goes from one different dramatic scene to yet another---reminds me of my work with the translation teams I was engaged in. Moving from French to Arabic to Chinese to Russian to Spanish forced me to stretch and expand my mind in infinitely surprising ways.
Day two: Roller Coaster
Today was a pretty whacky day. Big ups and downs as the Harvest shoot began in real earnest with Matt's voice-over parts. The acceleration of production is the new thing here. Fast writing, casting, and directing for speedy release on the internet.
We are living in the digital Nickelodean era. Like the beginning of the movies in the early 1900's. So too we are toiling with the newest media at the start of the 21st century. Not only production, but also programming. Very unusual. Today with the the dimensions of early cinema and TV fusing on the internet and becoming available to the less connected we are plunging into strange unknown waters.
Leon and I passed the CBS building as we lunched on Chinese at the trendy Farmer's market. The branding mania made me dizzy and I was both oblivious to the SUPER BOWL madness engulfing us as I pondered the fate of the older media now struggling fiercely to control the new media that is errupting around us with breath-taking speed.
The Spiritual SCIFI Theater is not just producing its own content, but also planning both its Spring and Fall seasons on YOU TUBE.
The trilogy is our showcase for this spring.
But in fall we are planning an even bolder and longer mini-series called SHAMAN RUNNER. It's now ready to burst out of my head and onto my laptop....
What happens in LA this week will determine the speed and evolution of this new mini-series and quite a few other things.
Day Three: BOOM!
Today was a miracle.
Matt and Jade gave stellar performances and the shoot was wrapped up in A SINGLE DAY instead of two days. We also started the day's shoot late and finished early.
It was guerilla film-making at its best.
This is what happens when you're focused like a laser and the crew is also extremely well-organized.
Things just start happening and strange synchronicities errupt quickly.
Throughout the shoot I felt I was doing a power meditation.
The film just began shooting itself because everyone knew what they had to do and they went to it....
Let's give a round of hearty applause for Matt and Jade. I'm so proud of them. Also leon my camera-man who did a stupendous job.
Way to go!
One down, two to go....
Day Four: Take me to Your Leader
A second miracle today.
Christine and Guy gave great, powerful performances. The shoot set was so relaxed here in Playa del Ray that actors, director, and cameraman were just swept away into this mysterious, exploratory theater within the framework of the director's blueprint, of course.
Freedom within order.
Prudent discovery was the call of the day as the Alien crew negotiated the emotional rapids of script and of mind of all those involved and it was keen fun too.
The dramatic choreography of physical, emotional, psychic, and sexual energy led to an excavation project that involved not only the chosen individuals, but also the planet and galaxies and the invisible forces that dominate all mind and matter.
Humor was evident too.
Tomorrow the second Alien joins the fray.
Day Five: IN ORBIT
Well, another powerful day with Christine, Guy and now David. The first shoot with three actors here in LA. So in order to harness this new complexity. I decided to shoot the three actors in a triangle pattern followed by an L pattern and spicing it up with depth of field shots and suprising fourth wall lines. It was a pretty cool combo as I watched the images evolve on the small monitor of the camera.
I got so much into the FLOW of things too that I wrote new lines for the actors on the spot in order to push our pulsating story in even newer directions and to deepen the message I had in mind from the beginning.
We had some shooting challenges as usual, but we quickly overcame them.
WE ARE NOW IN ORBIT HERE IN LA ....
...and we have no intention of landing until all the shoots are finished.
Now all eyes must move to the looming third shoot: BAKER BEACH, by far the most controversial of the three movies.
Not that the other two lack controversy. BAKER BEACH is just a different kind.
Good work ALIENS!
Day Six: The Pause that Refreshes...
A day of rest until the evening. Lounged by the pool...did my usual meditations.
Then the Baker team came for rehersal and I was deeply impressed. We have a young, talented crew here, but they rock....and the energies are unpredictable.
Once more the blocking made the rehersals come alive. I will never tire of this magical moment when the lines come to steaming life in this very astonishing way. It's the best high in the world and everybody knows it when it happens finally....
Two down, one to go!
Day Seven: Setting the Screen on Fire
An extremely powerful day. Heather and Morgan set the video lens ablaze. The Gen Y epic, Baker Beach took off like a crazed ICBM rocket after a seemingly bumpy start initially. I wrote new lines furiously for Heather and Morgan after I saw keen possibilities with the unfolding of their steamy and riveting performances.
Poetry recital, singing, and kick-ass acting were new additions to the mysterious SPSCIFI soup. Also unorthodox shots that would make David Lynch and Jean-Luc Godard proud were pressed into holy service.
I could almost feel them watching behind my shoulder.
I love working with actors that allow me to get out of the way once they understand what I want. Then it's a delicious treat to just sit back and enjoy the show and to be surprised, inspired, and delighted. To be confident that the casting was superior.
Tomorrow Baker Beach continues to orbit as Amanda joins the charged stew and we then shoot at the beach. Ballet and martial arts fuse....
Go Baker team!
GO! GO! GO!
I love you!
I love this job!
Day Eight: MOVE OVER, KILL BILL....
We are just orbiting SO HIGH NOW...
Making great movies is now effortless. Heather and Amanda gave riveting performances that will smoke the cyber-audiences out of their steaming seats....
Heather did ballet on the beach, while Amanda kicked ass with the bamboo poles. One particular scene of her going through a flock of seagulls would have made Akira Kurosawa proud. The great Japanese film-director was very much following us in spirit today. Heather did good with the bamboo poles too.
The set was so relaxed and the shooting flowed so smoothly that everyone was having the time of their life and laughing quite a bit. The shoot went into Indian tantric territory that no western director could ever hope to shoot.
Martial arts was followed by deeper kinds of meditative choreographies that will be extremely novel to YOU TUBE audiences. This process was tarted in the Harvest shoot and continued throughout the ALIEN shoot.
Heather and Amanda are opening their karma portals and seeing new and peculiar things.
Tomorrow is a slower day as Morgan comes over to shoot some solo scenes and he will be rejoined by the girls on Monday, the final day of shooting before Leon and I head back to SF and Marin county.
May the force and protectors be with you!
Day Nine: Absolutely Hysterical....
One of the funniest days ever. Morgan gave great comic performances and it got so funny the improvisations that I started choking from laughter. Much of the hilarity was caused by Morgan being forced to dig into the script in order to find deeper meanings that even I didn't fully realize were there.
This is the process of dramatic of dramatic discovery I like best when surprises come right on top of each other in a mad-cap way.
Script analysis becomes perverse psycho-analysis.
Tommorow is the final day of the shoot. after seeing the dailies of Baker Beach we are convinced that it will become a cult-classic. There is too much stuff going on, but in an accessible way for the Gen Y generation. A dark comedy after 9/11 becomes a spiritual plunge, but with a circus atmosphere.
I have been not only writing tons of new lines for the Baker crew, but even feeding them orally to the actors because there is simply no time for quality memorization. Multiple takes from multiple angles allows this quick-stop action and then gives enormous freedom to the director in the editing room.
Tomorrow is the tenth and final day of shooting, but the first day of shooting seems decades ago. So much has happened since. That's what happens when your focus is high and you're challenged every second and every step of the way.
Onward to the finish line.
Day Ten: Stark Beauty
It was the final day of shooting and no one was disappointed by the result. Heather and Amanda gave extraordinary performances filled with stark and silent beauty. I pushed Heather to go beyond her comfort zone. I was not particuarly interested in the geeks that could fall in love with her, nor the critics that would rave after her. Though I was confident this would come to pass.
I wanted Heather to push not just deeper into her character, but also into Heather herself. To make the performance a subtle and haunting meditation. You could hear a pin drop in the bathroom as Heather confronted herself in the mirror.
I personally stopped breathing....
It was that powerful.
No words were spoken.
It was all body language.
Heather's face, her hands, and her upper body were the newly minted characters. I allowed Heather to simply drill in and flow out of her rapidly evolving mind. Like a snake shedding its skin. The character and Heather were now becoming a different persons.
The powerful scene ended exactly where it had to end---and everyone watching it, instantly knew this. The actress, director and also camera-man were in complete unity during these few precious minutes.
The shoot continued with Morgan also contributing a powerful performance. Baker Beach just grew, and grew---as I wrote new lines to the point where the original screenplay was only two thirds of what we actually shot.
Baker Beach had slap-stick comedy, strong sexual drama of the highest artistic value and deep philosphical dimensions about human technology going crazy and also the weird complexities of being twenty three years old at the beginning of the 21st century.
Also about what it means to be in a complex relationship during very trying and disorienting times.
I basically no longer cared if Baker Beach became a cult classic, though I knew it would.
For me, it was a film that simply had to be made....
I also allowed Morgan to create a scene based totally on improvisation and when he and Heather got stuck. I as director, fulfilled my responsibility and threw out a life-raft, but the climax was still very much Morgan and Heather's work of keen translation art. They ultimately found a way to finish a scene that had quickly sprung forth from under the iceberg of the new lines of my script.
This is truly acting and directing at its best, when the trust between the actors and director is pretty solid and good. When the actors know that the director has a safety net underneath them, and they know that they are unconditionally loved.
The day ended with Christine coming on short-notice to film a scene from THE ALIEN which I had forgotten to shoot. It was a rare opportunity to see two of my favorite actresses together at the same time.
A moment I shall cherish forever.
It's been fun, gang....
Tomorrow, Leon and I leave for home late around midnight on a long night journey through central California's dark and silent landscapes.
Yes, we leave for home, even though, I sadly feel we are also leaving a second home here in LA---and leaving some pretty close family behind.
Day Eleven: Days of Wonder
Our last day in LA. We over-slept and took fantastic shots of planes landing with the sunset in the background. We got them as they flew right over us. Pretty cool. The planes' shiney
bellies exposed for all to see. We also got great freeway and skyscraper shots.
Now the post-production phase is looming. 16 hours of raw footage must be compressed to two hours of the creamiest shots. Then they have to be stitched together and thickly layered with jazzy sight and sound effects. A huge challenge. But Leon and the post-production team will soon leap into this dark abyss.
Then the bloggers go to work.
We release Baker Beach first around mid-March, then Harvest at the end of March and ALIEN mid-April. Then we just sit back and see what the global mind says....
These have been days of wonder for Leon and me. Our odyssey in LA has been pretty remarkable. Ups and downs, ins and outs....as movie history was made in a minimalist way. Like the ancient Greeks and Shakespeare. A small space for big ideas and emotions to be acted out. Now to be released soon in cyberspace.
What does the future hold?
Well, Shaman Runner for starters. I now have to start typing up this powerful epic of psychic warfare and much more. Two female roles and three males roles need to be casted. One needs to be a fairly senior male actor. We are scouting locations in the LA area, but who really knows.
Then possibly the second season of Baker Beach and THE ALIEN. Like all directors I need to choose whether to keep working with actors I know or to keep searching for new faces. Perhaps I will do both. Keep the actors for Baker and ALIEN and cast new people for Shaman Runner. That means less casting work! But more writing....
Perhaps Johnnie's mysterious girl-friend will make her debut on Baker Beach. That will surely make Jen's day....perhaps Cathy will join Deb in the Alien tango Deb is stuck in. The new story arcs have not been worked out.
I am also planning a documentary on EVOLUTION starring my good friend Dr. Linda Groff whose owns the luxury condo many of you are now familiar with. Another YOU TUBE production. Linda has a friend who is care-taking a huge mansion in Orange County. We may film Shaman Runner there. This house has all kinds of very bizzare art.
Who knows there may also be weird boundary leaks between series as Baker characters make guest appearances in ALIEN and vice versa. I'm sure my extremely fertile and perverse nature can think up more strange things to do with my imaginary creations as they are released into luminous cyber-space.
I believe I have Matt and Christine's snail-mail addresses. But if any of you want a complimentary DVD of you movie and you have not sent me your snail mail address it is YOUR responsibility to send me this important piece of information.
Off to the north and remember anything's possible.
Day Twelve: Home, Sweet Home
We left LA around 6AM today and Leon drove like a madman up I-5. We arrived in SF in six quick hours to our great and deep relief. LA is great, but the fresh air of the bay area was a real tonic. We celebrated with a late Thai lunch and started our final shoot.
We explored with the camera the REAL BAKER BEACH. A spit of sand with cold winds and spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin headlands. How we are going to integrate this unusual beach with the shoot scenes at the Playa del Ray beach is not really clear yet.
Huge oil tankers passed us by at a snail's pace. Seagulls flew, Robin William's house is close by too.
I lived near Baker Beach four years ago and wrote a lot of poetry here. It is this magical place that inspired the Baker Beach miniseries and it will be the first miniseries to be released this March. We have decided to release ALIEN next and Harvest last. A slight new change.
The editing task is now before us. Me and Leon live in Marin nearby. I am now at last home and I'm surrounded by keen tall trees and a deep silence as I ponder my next moves.
I was not really interested in spirituality until I landed in Tibet by accident in 1984 while on a back-pack tour of China. It was a remote time for independent travelers there and I felt like a pioneer. I was just 26, fresh out of UC Berkeley. A systems thinker, but not a pilgrim. Tibet changed everything and Spiritual scifi is the end result. You can see an old picture of me in front of the Dalai Lama's castle below.
Thank you for giving me the privilege of directing you. I hope to repay the favor with a historical offering in cyberspace.