Making Meme Part 4: Pre-Production

Meme is Now Available to Watch on AppleTV, Amazon, and from 4MileCircus

“Making Meme” is a series of blog posts about the long process of taking a project from an idea to a completed feature film. I made a lot of mistakes on the way and learned a lot of lessons, but I also had a lot of fun and got to work with a lot of wonderful people throughout the process. These posts are presented in the hopes of helping others in their struggles to make a film. – Sean Mannion, Writer/Director, Meme

Read this series in order from the beginning

Pre-production for Meme in some ways had been happening since the original conception of the film in May 2013. Sarah Schoofs, Shivantha Wijesinha, Kitty Ostapowicz, Lauren A. Kennedy, Tara Cioletti, and Alex Bone had been cast in mid-2013. Peter Westervelt had initially joined as Director of Photography around the same time. Certain props related to VHS and other elements of the story had been acquired then as well. Still, there was a lot of work left before we could actually shoot.

First of all, we had to see if people still wanted to be a part of the film or if new people would be needed. During rewrites there were many changes. The core plot remained the same. The themes were the same but the new script was more focused. Many potentially complicated scenes and some characters were removed. The cast needs were reduced. Some new characters needed to be cast. Those people who were cast whose roles still existed needed to be asked if they were still interested in the project. Everyone asked chose to come back. Similarly, Peter Westervelt was asked if he was still interested in being the Director of Photography. He chose to return as well. 

As we shifted from a small budget production to a “no budget” production, I wasn’t sure if people would be interested in returning, because it meant the project changed from poorly paid to unpaid. If anyone had chosen not to rejoin I would have completely understood it. We’ve all got to eat and people have every right to be paid for their talents. I was very fortunate everyone asked chose to stay on. It definitely helped to keep my motivation high for getting into production.

With the core of the team together we began to discuss how the film would be shot. The best plan seemed to be to break it up across weekends and shoot out the film one location at a time. 

There are advantages and drawbacks to shooting only on weekends. It stretches out the time you’re going to shoot quite a bit. The advantage is that you have time between shoot days to solve problems or deal with things that might be nearly impossible to do if shooting back to back. The disadvantage is that breaking up the schedule that much can make it increasingly difficult for people to work shooting into their schedule. Actors’ hair changes over time (we’ll discuss how that specific issue factored in soon) and on no budget you don’t have a hair and make-up department to deal with that for you. It allows for spacing out the expenses of shooting, which there will always be, over time. It stretches the stress out as well. In good ways and bad. There are breaks from shooting, but the relief of finishing shooting is delayed by quite a bit. As with what I said about shooting no budget, shooting on an extended schedule doesn’t solve problems or stresses so much as exchange them for a new set of problems and stresses. 

We discussed how we would shoot the film exactly taking into account available equipment. This lead to a brief disagreement between Peter and I. He had suggested shooting on the iPhone. There were some films that had done it (this was before Tangerine had famously done it) and it seemed like an interesting option considering our subject matter. The iPhone is sort of analogous to the home video camera of the VHS era. Peter’s logic on this made sense to me. I looked into projects shot on the iPhone with an attachment that allowed DSLR lenses to be rigged to them. In the end, I wasn’t sold on it. I didn’t need the highest end look for the film, but the iPhone shot films I saw just weren’t feeling right to me. After some discussion and reviewing what was available with One Glass Video we shot the film on the Canon 5D mkiii (with a few days on a mkii).

Our first shoot day was planned for November 22nd, 2014 in a conference room shared by One Glass Video. A little over a month ahead of our first day of shooting we gathered several of the people involved for a production meeting, which was really just an excuse to gather several people into my tight living room to chat about the movie, eat, drink, and just get everyone excited to start. I spoke briefly (picture above), we shared some ideas, and then we watched Panos Cosmatos’ Beyond the Black Rainbow. The film didn’t necessarily have much to do with Meme, though the title for the film-within-a-film, “Beneath the Black Moon,” was inspired by it. It was a good way to get some people who hadn’t met yet in the same room, though, I think a stronger plan for rallying folks and having a bit more focus during the meet-up would have been good. We called it a “production meeting” but it was more like a kick-off party.

In the next post I will share my recollections of the first day of shooting Meme.

If you’re a filmmaker working on pre-production for your next film, I recommend taking a look at this post I wrote for The Ultimate Guide to Pre Production for Filmmakers and Videographers. It includes links to a lot of helpful resources.

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