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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

Adventures in Filmmaking: Problems and Solutions

Production Journal, Bunker


We’re a little over three weeks from shooting my short film, Bunker. Nerve-wracked as hell and not sleeping much.

I know, I know, the conventional wisdom is you’re supposed to never reveal what’s behind the curtain and all that. In the years I’ve been seriously studying the art and business of making movies, I’ve hunted out a lot in the way of production journals and whatnot, because there’s value to be gained from the stories of people who already do what you’d like to be doing. There’s such a wealth of knowledge out there, and certainly some at the top of the industry who’ve been generous with sharing their knowledge with the rest of us. But what I’m most interested in is reading transparently honest captures from other filmmakers about what they’re doing, RIGHT NOW as they’re working on their movies. What’s your process? What works for you? What was a disaster? I want to hear about the mistakes you made along the way and how you solved the inevitable problems. I love Christine Vachon’s books, but I’d also love to read a live journal of Killer Films’ current productions.

I, not having any handlers at this junction, can write pretty much whatever I like down as I’m working on this film. So, this week in Adventures in Filmmaking, or, How I Learned that Making a Movie, While Fun, is Also Very, Very, Very Stressful:

* DP was one of the first positions I filled on the crew. I asked around for recommendations, posted on the NW Film Forum callboard, got a slew of potentials in. Interviewed four guys, hired a guy, done. Back in September, right? Because I am a plan-ahead sort of girl and I know Seattle crew tends to stay very busy. Great, so we’re set on that front, got our DP and our 1stAC and our camera. But then the DP ran into unavoidable schedule conflicts in November, so we regrettably had to part ways. Which sucked because I had the rest of the crew lined up and ready to go, and we have a production schedule that is pretty much set in stone at this point, unless we scrap the entire schedule and start over with it, and pray that everyone is still available. Serious wrench in the works, which caused me to very nearly have an all-out panic attack.

* Spent much of last week sending out a bunch of feelers to other potential DP candidates and getting nowhere. Everyone’s schedules are full. And then at roughly 1AM I jerked awake and remembered that somewhere deep in my inbox there was an email from a cinematographer who’d sent his stuff in the first time around. He was the only one of the candidates who we didn’t end up calling for an interview who followed up to ask why, and to reiterate his interest in the project. So I got up, dug his email out of the trenches, and took another look at his reel. Crap, why didn’t we interview him the first time? His reel is great! How did he slip through the cracks? Was he still available? I emailed him to let him know we were hiring for the position again and, thankfully, he didn’t hate me for not interviewing him the first time around, and even more miraculously, he was available. All that was left was to sit down with him face-to-face and see how we got on. Did that yesterday, and we clicked great. He’d had an intuition that he was supposed to shoot this film. He was right. He’s my guy, and he is already on the ball lining up his team. Thank you, oh gods and saints of indie filmmaking.

*A word about art direction. I know, you shouldn’t handle art direction yourself, you should hire an art director or production designer. I hear you. And when I make a feature down the road, I promise I will. But I do have a fair amount of background in visual design, and a very clear vision in my head for what the art direction for this particular film needs to look like. I have a series of original oil paintings by a fabulous artist that she is giving us permission to use in the film, as one of the characters is a painter. I have a teapot collection. I have an orange couch lined up. I have an artist commissioned to custom draw a couple of pieces that are crucial to the story. There’s a very specific and distinct look that I want this film to have, and if you know nothing else about me by now, you probably know that in addition to my annoying manic tendencies and occasional mood swings, I am hyper-organized and more than a little of a control freak. We are investing, for us, quite a lot of money in this little short that’s intended to be a point of career transition, and it has to look just so.

So I spent most of last weekend calling on funky consignment shops, securing agreements to rent a few pieces of furniture that we need, and haunting Goodwill and Value Village tracking down things like old picture frames, and blue glass bottles, and other such things. At Goodwill in Shoreline, I scored a pair of green throw rugs that are PERFECT and eliminate the need to track down a turquoise round. We also chose paint colors for painting the long, white, boring hallway of the house in which we are shooting. And most importantly, having determined that I was not going to find what I wanted in the way of an entertainment center for the set because I had such a specific picture in my head for it, I sketched up what I wanted and very sweetly asked Mike if he thought he could perhaps build it for me, seeing as how he’s all manly and has this awesome collection of tools taking up space in our garage. And he could, and he did! Now it is built and just needs to be stained to match some existing pieces in the house and we are all set.

* Pinterest and props. One of the tools I’ve found really useful in working on the visual design of Bunker is Pinterest, which lets you surf around for images other people have “pinned,” or images from your own sources, or from the web, to what they call “boards.” People use boards in different ways and for different reasons, but for Bunker I’ve been using it extensively to define the visual design of the film. Here’s my Pinterest board for the Bunker artistic design, so you can see what I’m talking about. This has been invaluable to me, as I can pull up my board on my iPhone when I’m out and about and see where I am with things, and I have also gleaned many ideas using Pinterest as a starting point. For instance, finding ribbon-covered lampshades there led to me exploring how hard it would be to custom-make the lamps for the set, which is what I’m working on this week. Good stuff if you are a visual person.

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2 Responses to “Adventures in Filmmaking: Problems and Solutions”

  1. First Kim, kudos for taking the plunge in making the film. If you have a script that screams out “you have to make me!” and the details of making it aren’t causing you to run in the other direction, you’re better off than the vast majority of people who think they have the Great American Screenplay in their head, who can’t ever so much as complete a short script, much less start thinking about budgets, locations, actors, schedules, and crews.

    I hear you on losing sleep and I can only tell you that, in choosing to produce the project, I had many many 21-hour days as shooting approached for BEDFELLOWS, mostly insomnia-induced because there was so much to do and so many people to coordinate in a short time. It’s just part and parcel, but resting is as important as having everything in place. Getting on set in a terrible state of mind does no one any good.

    You definitely need the dept. heads locked in soon (and 1 or 2 backups, for sure). So long as your location(s) are already closely art-directed to what you need, and you’re comfortable with art dept. duties AND directing, go for it. I will say though, having at least one or two art people dedicated to the dept. (who can track the many props you’re picking up, move things, and take direction or offer useful ideas) will come in handy, in particular if you have any company moves or multiple locations. I am taking a guess though, based on the pinboard and title, that this may be a single location (if so, smart!)?

  2. Much as I love Christine Vachon and have read her books and want to work with her (HINT ***********HINT************ :), I doubt anything she’s doing currently will help you in this specific instance aside from knowing that being a calm and even-headed problem-solver during production (and especially during pre-production) is how you get past the things and people (and boy, are there people!) that threaten to derail your end goal. The way she talks in her books about helping Todd Haynes was inspirational, and bolstered my opinion of why she’s truly excellent at what she does.

    I didn’t read too many books prior – no time, and I used to work below-the-line, so I knew film production from being on set – but books on cinematography and directing can be helpful to fill in gaps and allow you to have more creative conversations with your cast and DP. I read “The Film Director” by Richard Bare and it gave me some things to remember as a first-time director, mostly in how to work with actors and the crew on set. I also loved Sidney Lumet’s book (and films); “Making Movies” made me appreciate him a lot more and I kept his process in mind as much as I could.

    Just stay organized, be crew-friendly when making decisions (without sacrificing the end product), and remember that, even in the worst moment, the process will be over soon and you’ll have minutes and hours of your dialogue, spoken amongst the tableaus you imagined, to play with. And then the fun really begins!

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon