Aaron – 3 – "Hot Tamales? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Hot Tamales!"

production still from Aaron, poster style standing over notes on bed

My previous journal entry mostly covered a very personal aspect – one not directly related to movie-production, but one that just so happened to come about DURING movie-production.  It was more about how the production affected myself (or, didn’t, I should say) on a personal level… stemming, mostly from loneliness.

Just as a quick follow-up to the ideas I mentioned then, today I thought of another way of looking at it… involving Red Dead Redemption.  What doesn’t ;).  I can play that game online and be very content and satisfied with it, but only when I’m playing very casually and relaxing.  I’m someone who, as Nick mentioned in his comment of the last post, thrives on personal challenges.  The only problem is, they don’t satisfy.  It’s very strange, I think, but the one thing that ignites me and fires me up isn’t that thing that I can rely on for satisfaction.  That is where perfectionism can creep into the mix, but it’s not everything.  If, however, I’m relaxed and just enjoying something casually, like riding around on a horse and collecting flowers in a game about the wild west, I seem to be dissatisfied LESS.  It’s still all personal issues (mainly, as I’ve assumed, from romantical loneliness), but it seems to have some connection to effort and/or struggle, as well.

Of course, I don’t mean to harp on the subject, but I only chose to revisit it here because of the mood I was in as I drove home this afternoon after a few days of shooting – contentment.  Well, as content as I ever am, that is :).

The title of my last journal entry was “Barreling Through”, not as a negative connotation, but because we were just charging through this production like a freight train.  After Thursday night, Nick told me we could slow down the pace a bit (since I had been trying to hurry for his sake, the upcoming Mild Mannered production, and because of equipment availability), and so we did… and on Friday night, we made something beautiful.  Just beautiful :).

There won’t be story spoilers, by any means… but it’s a PRODUCTION journal, so I’ll be talking about locations and other details.  If you’d rather just see the movie fresh, don’t read on – these posts will always be here later.

Feb. 3, 2011:
Tonight, I had the whole evening planned out for maximum efficiency.  Some of it worked, some didn’t….
1.  I’d head over to Nick’s mom’s place to set up outside Christmas decorations a little earlier in the day with a borrowed key (since I was too lazy and silly to not get this production underway when actual Christmas decorations would be around).
-Accomplished!  As are many in this production (hence the very guerrilla-style shoot), this was a location that I was walking into half-blind.  I came over with a box of lights, unsure exactly how they would go up, and a giant candy cane for a wall – again, completely unsure where it would go.  There were nails in place for lights, so I used those around the railings, and there was a nice pushpin next to the door for the candy cane.

2.  Drive to Nick’s office, get into his car, and get onto the freeway for a single-shot scene.
-Accomplished!  We were chasing down the last specs of usable daylight, but that’s exactly the lighting I wanted for this scene, and I’m really glad with how it ended up looking.  We did two takes before turning back around and returning to the office.

Now, originally I had planned on shooting numbers 3 and 5 in reverse order than we did, but it just worked out better this way.

3.  Fake a stop at a red light in the parking lot of Nick’s office for  a tight close-up.  There will be a scene involving Aaron coming to a red light, but I need a controlled close-up to allow the right amount of time (since I can’t control the length of a traffic light).
– Accomplished… maybe.  It was tricky getting the shot with just two guys (a 35 pound dumbbell kindly offered to push on the brake pedal of Nick’s car for us, to provide the red light of a stopped car ahead), but we pulled it off.  The lighting, however, was really stark (it’s nighttime, by now, remember), so it’s a very grainy shot.  I liked it a lot, but it may not blend well once we shoot the rest of the scene.. so we’ll see if that needs a re-shoot later on.

4.  Get a shot in the bathroom at Nick’s office.
-Accomplished :(!

5.  Go back to Nick’s mom’s place and shoot it in the dark of night with my beautiful Christmas decorations lighting it up, and shoot the rest of the scene surrounding that house, in my car just down the street.
-Half-accomplished.  Actually, the battery that dropped out on us the night before, and canceled one of the scenes I’d planned for, shot us in the foot again by still not being charged.

So, save for the one small scene and a potentially ill-lit shot, it was a fine day of production.  Not a great one, by any means, but one that got the job done.  Apparently, we were saving greatness for the weekend…

Feb. 4, 2011:
Boy, did we do a lot over these few days.  Other than a couple of quick, miscellaneous shots, this was the second hotel location – one that involves a number of scenes, including the end of the movie.  Nick was able to leave the office a little earlier than usual, and he drove down to meet me at the hotel I’d booked for the night.  This time, I didn’t have to be up in Los Angeles, so I got to choose a hotel in Mission Viejo.  It doesn’t have any famous movie roots, that I know of, but it sure is a heck of a lot more convenient :).  It’s right next to the freeway, so I was more than familiar with it, but I’d never stayed there (of course, who stays at hotels in the same area where they live?).  I wasn’t sure what the room would be like, but it worked out great for my shoot (though I could’ve done with a less gigantic bathroom door).  The hotel had their heater turned on, so the whole place was freaking toasty.. even inside the elevators.

We stole a couple of shots that required daylight (which is why he headed over earlier) and then Nick realized that he’d forgotten his laptop back at the office.  Why does that matter?  Well, we are shooting this movie on the Canon 7D, an SLR camera that uses memory cards to record the footage, instead of tapes.  The gracious fella who lets us borrow his camera didn’t provide any other cards when I picked it up from him before last weekend’s first day of shooting, so we’ve been making due with my 4gb card.  It works fine, but after a little while, we’ll get a “Card Full” notice, and have to transfer the footage to Nick’s laptop.

Whoops :).

It wasn’t a big deal, though, because we’d already shot what we needed to get during daylight hours, and even though there was still space on the memory card, we had to wait for the dark of night to continue shooting… so we ventured back to his office.

After some time there, trying to test out a jib, we returned to my hotel room with Nick’s laptop.  Then, we began to shoot.  Aaron is, as I’ve said, being shot in a very rough, guerrilla-styled fashion… and that’s fine, because it fits the story and the movie’s tone.  Basically, we’re stealing shots and playing it loose, not because of any kind of production-hesitation, but because that’s how I envisioned it back when I started even writing it.  That being said, however, I realized that my two favorite days of shooting, so far, were in the hotel locations.  Nothing really changed – it was still just me and Nick with a camera, we were still stealing shots and moving at a good pace, but there was something much more calm about those two locations, and I really had a much better time there, because of it.  Not that the other times have been crappy, but the more controllable atmosphere is something that I really love – even if I’ve not done it before ;).  Of course, it could also just be because the rest of the movie takes place with me stuck in the stinkin’ car.  Could be :).

We went for a little while when, of course, “Card Full”.  No problem, we’ve done this a number of times already… except that Nick didn’t have his USB cable with him to transfer the files.

Haha, whoops again? 🙂

Things happen like this, though… no matter how much one prepares, things always come up that have to be dealt with, or details are forgotten.  It was fine timing, though, because I had to re-dress the room for the next scene, and we still had a bit to go, so empty stomachs needed to be filled.  Nick went over to his apartment, just a 10 minute drive away, and once he got back with the food and cables, we were able to just sit and eat and talk about babes.  I was happy for the distraction, because I’d been nervous all day about the scenes we had coming up.

Freaking nervous.

One thing I’ve never done on camera is get emotional.  I’ve been angry, happy, crazy, whatever… but any sadness I’ve portrayed has never been deep.  At least, you could never see it physically manifested.  A little while ago, I finally had a tear-breakthrough, but I’d still never had to do it on the spot and on camera… so I was darn nervous.  For the scene we didn’t get to shoot on Wednesday night (the first drained-battery incident), I had purchased myself a box of Hot Tamales (the candy) as a prop.  Of course, I ate some on the road, too :).  So, since they were already opened, I actually brought those with me for this Friday night shoot, JUST in case I couldn’t get the emotion out.  The plan would’ve been to put a bunch in my mouth and press them to my tongue.. and let the tears surface.

I can very proudly say, though, that such an alternative source of “emotion” wasn’t necessary.  I just acted the CRAP out of that scene, and got myself to an emotional place.  It all just worked like it’s supposed to, and I was so happy (and even surprised at myself) to have it work so effortlessly.  I was actually still shaking for minutes afterward… because I had brought myself to this emotionally bold point, and then just cut it off.  Haha, it was an experience, that’s for darn sure :).

We wrapped up with a couple of smaller shots, exchanged a very deserved hug of success, and said goodnight around 10:30pm.  I didn’t get the best sleep that night, but that sure didn’t seem to have much affect on how well our Saturday shoot went…

Feb. 5, 2011:
I woke up at 9am, got myself ready, and set-up the room for a simple shot we needed in the hotel room in early daylight.  I also watched a little Reese Witherspoon in Four Christmases, on TV… but that was just a personal reward for the night before ;).  Nick got there a little after 9:30am, and we got to it… two very tired, but still productive, men.

I checked out, and we headed over to my old neighborhood in Laguna Hills to steal a shot at the park I used to go to when I was a kid.  It was conveniently close to our next shooting location, sure, but I chose it for pure sentimentality.  There are all KINDS of little details, props, locations, and even people (Hi, Danny) in this movie that mean something to me, personally.  Being able to use a shot of this park, where I’d made movies with friends back in high school (and earlier), on this first “real” movie of mine, isn’t valuable to the story, necessarily, but it’s very valuable to me :).

After that, we headed just a few minutes away to shoot part of a scene where Aaron sits outside of a school that is just getting out.  So, for this, I needed a couple of kids… and I found ’em in Jade and Cyrus.  After getting the rest of the scene with just me in it, Nick and I walked over to James and Katy McCrory’s place (my friends, and the lovely parents of these two, cute kids) to call on my actors.  The whole family trekked up the hill, a bit, and once we got there, I took some time to have fun with the kids and simply explain to them what they needed to do.  It helps that I know them, of course, but I like kids and I enjoy directing, so it was fun to map it all out for them.  We were really low on memory-card space (because, like a dolt, I drove Nick over from the park, and we forgot his laptop in his car), so we could really only do one take at a time before erasing it for a second.  We tried it once, the kids did their thing, and Nick called cut.  He walked the camera over to me so I could check the take, and I moved over to the passenger seat and invited the kids to see how we did.  I started laughing so hard, because they had completely nailed it.  I mean, these kids aren’t retarded or anything, so it’s not like they couldn’t do it, but everything about that very first shot is perfect… from their very genuine performance, to how perfectly framed everyone was.  It was just amazing :).

We got Nick back to his car and on his way (for much needed rest with his lovely gal), and I took the camera up to Irvine to steal a couple of random shots for the intro of the movie.  I had another shot that I could’ve hunted down, but I wanted to get back to the McCrory home for my OWN much needed rest… with my little actors, their parents, and a dose of Rock Band :).

Right now, I’m going to head into my room and spend the rest of tonight (and probably a good part of tomorrow) playing Red Dead Redemption, watching a movie or two, and relaxing after a good, hard, three-day’s work…

because, gosh darn it – I’m pooped! 🙂

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About Mark Mushakian

Just a man who loves God, women, kids, dogs, movies, and every other lovely thing in life :)
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