I just now belatedly found this short article on the Roanoke Times website regarding The Good Parts. Enjoy!
Here’s a link to an article in the Staunton News Leader about THE GOOD PARTS.
There’s a term you sometimes hear in the same breath with indie movies: “guerrilla film making.” I think it refers to the art of using chutzpah and creativity to secure filming locations with limited resources. Our last day of shooting more than any other felt like it fit that definition.
It started with the basketball court we used for the scene where Rob and Jennifer meet for the first time. What more could you ask for: beautiful daytime lighting, a pickup game full of extras playing with varying skill,* and a children’s playground. Except, since we didn’t have the financial resources to, say, shut down the entire park, we couldn’t very well prevent that one little girl and her father from engaging in some noisy play just a few feet from our actors. And then there was the absence of outdoor lighting at the basketball court, which meant that the script had to be rewritten on the spot to allow the characters to take a stroll to somewhere better lit.
Not that I’m complaining, really. The locations that director John Johnson and producer Mikiah Umbertis (also playing Rob) came up with turned out to be awesome. After getting kicked off the plaza in front of the Lexis-Nexus building (well, it certainly looks like public property to me), we went to the nearby Charlottesville Pavilion and a well-lit sidewalk. We ultimately wound up at Charlottesville’s downtown walking mall. Monique Dupree (playing Jennifer) and Mikiah devoted at least 50 percent of their acting skills to not shivering in the way-too-cold-to-be-in-short-sleeves weather. Unfortunately for them, the story is supposed to take place in June. (Thank you, Monique and Mikiah!) Incidentally, the final shot of a film shoot is called the “martini shot” because directors have traditionally celebrated by drinking a martini. It was so damn cold, though, that we just hurried back to our cars.
Now that shooting has wrapped, The Good Parts is, as they say, in the can. I’ll trek out to Darkstone HQ early next week to watch the remaining dailies and then leave the film editor to do his job. The current timeline is to premiere the movie in June. Stay tuned!
*As insurance, the actors performed Rob and Jennifer’s commentary about the basketball players’ skill in two different ways: “They’re good, aren’t they?” and “They’re not very good, are they?”
Yesterday was a fun day. Well, they’ve all been fun, but yesterday some of us got to run around outside like lunatics, and John Johnson can now say he’s made his first baseball picture.
Let me explain.
Running around outside like lunatics: that would be Mikiah Umbertis (playing Rob) lunging across an open field in a series of narcoleptic-like time shifts, trying to reach Monique Dupree (playing Jennifer) as she spins around and around, spaced-out in a world of her own. The script originally called for her to be nude in that scene, but, as much as I’m sure Monique’s fans would be delighted to see her in the buff, we dropped that part in the interests of keeping a G rating.
Baseball picture: that would be the scenes we shot at the Elizabeth Mullan Field in Charlottesville. Lots of ball throwing, bat swinging, and angsty dialogue. At one point, I stood behind the director’s shoulder while Mikiah threw a baseball directly at the camera. A flash of, “I hope this camera is insured,” went through my mind as I realized the director and I were just as vulnerable as the camera. I held my script over my nuts and shrank into a little ball behind John. It was a pretty cool special effects (SFX) shot they doing, requiring John to film the actors separately so he could match them up — at different speeds — in post production. He took some insurance shots in case what he’s planning fails and a computer graphics artist needs to be called in. That would delay the release date but would be worth it.
We did a nighttime shoot in John’s driveway using my car. It was to show Rob dropping Jennifer off from a date. Further dialogue editing ensued while we waited ten minutes for a noisy train to pass. It was pretty damn cold by that time, too. The story is supposed to be in the summer, requiring lighter dress, so the actors ran the car heater between takes.
As the day concluded, John and I discussed the rest of the production timeline. We’re most likely going to wrap the shooting schedule today, April 28. Then, the next month will be about editing together a rough cut and added a soundtrack. We’ll then probably have a test screening with some trusted advisers before making the final cut and scheduling a premiere date in Staunton.
More news after today’s shoot!
Last night’s shoot at a Chinese restaurant in Roanoke was an exercise in being flexible. All writers I think have had the experience of changing their minds about a line of dialogue once they finally hear it coming out of somebody else’s mouth. That’s what happened to me at several points while we were filming Rob and Jennifer’s first date and the movie’s opening scene, when Jennifer opens a magic fortune cookie.
At first, it was little things. When the waitress, played by Noelle Tremblay, delivered the line, “Oh, oh, yes. I’ll tell her,” it just sounded awkward. She sounded like she was reading a script, and that’s the last thing I want. So we adjusted the line to something like, “Oh, yeah. I’ll get her.”
The real dialogue challenges came later, when Pearl Fu arrived to play the role of the restaurant owner. She’s a lovely woman — 70-ish, originally from China, and the coordinator of the Local Colors cultural festival of Roanoke — and she brought exactly the right touch of authenticity that I was looking for. We had a good time discussing the Chinese mythology I mined for The Organ Donor. But I noticed the same problems with her lines: just, something sounded wrong. So we started dropping in more and more Mandarin. And then Noelle, who is half Chinese, had the brilliant idea of also saying a few Chinese lines as they entered their scene. (“Here is the woman who wanted to speak to you. Thank you, Grandmother.”) Awesome stuff.
Did you know that Chinese fortune cookies didn’t come from China? They were invented in San Francisco. Between takes, Pearl (whose maiden Chinese name is Dragon Pearl), told us about one time when she hosted visitors from China, and she took them to a local Chinese restaurant. When the fortune cookies were served after the meal, the visitors asked her, “What are these?”
Next on the schedule are a whole bunch of special effects shots in a park clearing, and Jennifer’s side of some phone conversations that I think are called “second unit” shots, but I’m still learning the jargon.
Mental hospitals are a favorite staple of the strange and the weird, so it’s de rigueur that spent today shooting in one — or at least in a building dressed up as one. Director John Johnson again demonstrated his impeccable connections in securing locations by taking us to an abandoned old folk’s home in nearby Waynesboro, Virginia. The place was falling apart and probably gave us asbestos poisoning just walking into it. It reminded me very much of the old DeJarnette Center here in Staunton.
In typical movie world fashion, today we continued to film the story out of order, tackling the final scenes. John assembled the largest cast we’ve had so far: it included folks such as Donnie Sturges, who trekked all the way up from Hampton. I brought along my friend Megan Hefner, who donned a pink bathrobe to play a mental patient napping away upon a Monopoly game. I even came on as an extra for the second time so far, sitting across the table from Megan. It was great to get up this morning; I didn’t even have to change out of my jammies or comb out my bed head. John climbed onto the roof for one shot of the main character walking across the parking lot.
Tomorrow, we head to Roanoke to film several evening scenes in a Chinese restaurant. It promises to be another long night, but the time passes quickly.
Last night was our first nighttime shoot as well as our first with the lead actress, Monique Dupree in the role of Jennifer. Monique and director John Johnson arrived on set sometime in the 9 p.m. hour after a long, stressful drive down from Baltimore. Again, we took over Marty Moore’s house to shoot further scenes in “Rob’s” bedroom, bathroom, and living room.
A few things stand out in my mind about last night other than my subconscious mutterings to the effect of, Holy crap, dude. Are you gonna be able to stay awake for the drive back home from Charlottesville? The baby still wakes up at dawn, you know.
The first was my admiration for Mikiah Umbertis’s (playing Rob) and Monique’s ability to step right into a scene, in the middle of the story, and to pull it off so well. It was the first time these actors had ever met, and they were being expected to portray the main characters on a mildly intimate date. Acting for film is so different from the stage: its close-up, dramatic scenes are all about subtlety and delivering your lines in a believable, natural way, whereas stage acting requires you to amplify everything a bit so that the people in the 40th row can still follow what’s happening. Mikiah especially did a great job with the moment when he was required to laugh at something “Jennifer” said — all five or six times he was required to do it for the various takes. He performed it without sounding fake or like a braying idiot, as I no doubt would have done in his shoes.
My second major observation consisted of a salute to the director. In between taking time out to very patiently explain to me why he was doing this or that in the way he was doing it, he made a great suggestion for a script change. There’s this scene where Rob arrives home after having just met Jennifer for the first time. He sits down on the edge of his bed, excited about his forthcoming first date with her, four days hence. But he’s also impatient for the day to arrive. He looks at his alarm clock, purses his lips, and then decides to engage in a bit of time travel.
Set aside for the moment that Mikiah has to communicate all of this to the camera without the benefit of a single line of dialogue. John came up with the idea that one of the “insert” shots should be of a picture on Rob’s bureau that shows Rob and his father together. As we learned in previous scenes, this photograph is one of Rob’s touchstones along with the alarm clock. They signify to him how one’s life consists of a series of “good parts” as well as insignificant, mundane events. How nice it would be to just skip to the good parts of one’s life — which is the central theme of the story. Anyway, it was John’s idea to include the photo in this scene, and I remarked how I wished I had thought of it. That one simple shot was a brilliant touch of characterization as well as an efficient way to communicate Rob’s thoughts.
I’m probably giving the impression that working on these film shoots is all serious, cerebral work, but the truth is far from that. Most of the time, everybody was goofy as hell. Folks were exchanging jokes and talking about stuff like which colored M&Ms supposedly can make you amorous right up until the moment when John pulled the camera trigger. The atmosphere on set is an entertaining mixture of fun and professionalism, which makes for a relaxing atmosphere and therefore better performances from the actors.
Tomorrow, we head out to a location that John has lined up to be our mental hospital. I’m looking forward to shuffling in the background as a patient!
Today was kind of like an all-day comedy hour as we worked with veteran screen actor David Harsheid, cast in the role of Rob Flannigan’s eccentric boss, Mr. Putnam. When I showed up at Darkstone HQ this morning, Harsheid was walking around in his underwear, telling bawdy anecdotes about his long and colorful career. Did you know that he was an extra on the original Exorcist movie? Me, neither.
When it was time to get down to business, though, Harsheid was certainly serious enough about his craft — at least insofar as the script called for him to be serious. Mr. Putnam is actually the comic relief in an otherwise sad and contemplative story. Every nuance, every twitch of eye, was perfect. He’s a true asset to the cast, and I’m sorry that today is the only day we’ll work with him. You can watch Harsheid perform as a grave digger in the trailer to Darkstone’s forthcoming remake of Plan 9 From Outer Space.
Today, we shot in three locations. The first was a noisy lumber yard in Crozet, Virginia. A huge, flume-like machine with scary circular saws dominated the lot. Mountains of long tree trunks, stripped bare of their branches, loomed in the background. It’s a working lumber yard, of course, so as Harsheid walked around hollering at the main character on his cell phone, we had to not get run over by these gi-fucking-normous front-loader machines hauling trees to the flume/saw. Director John Johnson aptly compared them to some of the hardware seen in the recent Avatar film.
After that, we went to the Charlottesville bus stop location that was rained out yesterday. Harsheid told us more bawdy stories as we waited for a city bus to come by so John could film Rob Flannigan (played by Mikiah Umbertis) coming home from work. How did he catch him actually stepping off the bus? Well, he didn’t. He just waited for a bus to pull away from the stop, then panned over to show Mikiah walking away. He calls this sort of thing “guerrilla film making,” an indispensable skill when working on a small budget.
The final location was Charlottesville’s La Taza restaurant. Harsheid did more hollering on his cell phone and dropped a sandwich in his lap, as called for by the script. Production assistant Gary Carper and I sat in the background as extras and discussed horror literature. During a pause in Harsheid’s lines, a restaurant regular can be heard muttering something about a murder. It’s unscripted, but I say what the hell; keep it.
Tomorrow night, we head back to Marty Moore’s house to film the first scenes with the lovely Monique Dupree in the role of Jennifer. Before that, John is making an eight-hour roundtrip to Baltimore to pick her up. Dude, that’s hard core. Filming doesn’t wrap until 11 p.m. tomorrow night, so I won’t be able to blog about it until the evening of the 24th, between traffic school and babysitting. See you then!
Filming of The Good Parts officially got rolling today in Charlottesville, Virginia. In the weird calculus of film making, we knocked out 40% of our scenes during just one-eighth of our time and with only one actor.
The actor in question is Mikiah Umbertis, now cast in the lead role of Rob Flannigan. (That’s Flannigan, now spelled with two Ns in the middle, because that’s the way the prop master misspelled it on two of the key props — which is fine with me because he was consistent. But that’s Good Parts trivia item #1 for ya.) Mikiah did a wonderful job considering that he spent the whole day not sharing the screen with any other actors. To me, that would be kind of an acting nightmare, because in my limited experience, I’ve learned that it’s easier to play off of somebody else’s energy. But he pulled it off somehow.
Today consisted of a whole lot of shots of Mikiah getting in and out of bed, talking on the phone, and standing in the shower. There were also a couple dozen slow focus-ins of the movie’s all-important alarm clock. It’s here that I was able to contribute something on set. Not long after arriving at the home of Marty Moore, who generously donated the use of her house, I had to disappear into the dining room for ten minutes to straighten out the story calendar. The calendar is where we keep track of the story’s internal timeline: scenes 1-11, for instance, take place on “Monday, 6/12,” while scenes 12-19 are on “Friday, 6/16.” I made a similar calendar to keep track of time while writing Blood Born. (I think I even made one while originally writing The Good Parts.) Apparently, having this reference is doubly important on a film shoot because all your scenes are getting filmed out of order, depending on when locations and actors are available. It’s of course even more important in a film like this, which is about the passage of time itself. With the story calendar in hand, I was able to check that the clock’s date and time was set correctly from scene to scene. Production assistant Gary Carper spent so much time resetting the damn thing that we joked that his credit should list him as the Time Lord (with proper tribute to Dr. Who, of course).
Our last shot of the day, which was supposed to be at a bus stop, got rained out, so we headed back to Darkstone HQ to watch the dailies. This was a good thing as my feet were killing me from standing around, hunched over the script. Watching the day’s work was another interesting experience, as it consisted of raw footage, everything from the obligatory shot of the slate board (“Roll 3, Scene 2, Take 1”) through director John Johnson’s saying, “Cut!” . . . just like in the movies, I would say. It’s a disconcerting experience to watch the scenes out of order, without music, and in some cases repeatedly, but I guess that’s film making for ya.
Tomorrow, we get to spend the day shooting at a construction yard and in a sandwich shop, mostly doing shots of David Harsheid, cast in the role of Rob Flannigan’s hotheaded boss, Mr. Putnam. Harsheid was Sir Anthony Hopkins’s body double on the set of Stephen King’s Hearts in Atlantis, when it was filmed here in Staunton. I’m looking forward to meeting him and to seeing how he interprets the role.
The film schedule that was supposed to start last Wednesday is now going to start on the 21st. The director has been very accommodating to work around my schedule; smack-dab in the middle of it, I have to spend a day in traffic school due to a speeding ticket!
We lost Christopher Duncan as the lead male due to a conflict, so the part of Rob is being recast. There have been some other interesting developments on character descriptions, such the possibility of the Chinese cook being rewritten into an old Chinese lady in a wheelchair. (Since she’s a sympathetic character, I think this would be terrific.)
I’m working with the director and other producer on things like a composer for the soundtrack. I also expect there will be more rewrites as we get into the thick of it.