So, for of those you who didn’t know, I began the process of producing/directing my first short film (well, at least first one of actual substance and production value) last summer. The film, entitled Beyond the Door, is based on a Philip K. Dick short story of the same name. Being a huge fan of Dick’s work, I was elated to find that this particular short story was in the public domain and that no serious effort had yet been put forth to make it into a short film.
The story plays out like an old Twilight Zone episode and is confined to one primary location and three actors: perfect for a short film. I began adapting the story into a screenplay in April of last year, finalizing a draft in July. I then began the process of getting locations, cast and crew secured for the production. Being new to the whole producing/directing side of filmmaking, I got many pointers and help from longtime collaborator Dan A. R. Kelly (www.danarkelly.com), who ended up coming on board as my co-producer and first assistant director. I’ve had the pleasure to shoot the last six shorts Dan has directed and will say there’s no one better than Dan for help in getting a short made; he’s one of the best at producing great product on tight budgets and constrained timelines. Keep an eye out for his latest film Banks of the Vltava, which is currently in the festival route. Next screening for it is 10 p.m., April 30, 2011, at the Cape Fear Independent Film Festival in Wilmington, N.C.
The one location needed for the film was a suburban house setting. Luckily, my eldest brother, John Mandrano, is a landlord in Greensboro, N.C. He owns many historic properties in the Aycock district which he rents at greensborohistoricrentalhomes.com. One home he has on East Hendrix Street is currently not in rental because my nephew, Art, is living there while attending college. I talked with John and explained that we were hoping to film over Labor Day weekend. He had no problems with allowing me to film there and even helped along with my brother, Patrick, to move furniture he had in storage into the location which definitely helped the production design!
Cast and crew were the next order of business. To me, the most important decision, was who was going to shoot my film. With producing and directing (in addition to the writing and editing) I knew I didn’t want to try and shoot the film myself. So, I asked Jeff Stepp (steppfilms.com), a very talented DP whom I’ve worked with on several occasions to shoot the film for me and he agreed. I think’s Stepp’s photography on the film, which we shot in black and white and in HD (we wanted film, but budgets are always a consideration), looks amazing. Between Jeff, Dan and myself, we rounded out the crew with some University of North Carolina School of the Arts students, graduates, UNC-Greensboro grads and some of my co-workers. I couldn’t have asked for a better crew on my first film as a director; I hope to work with all of them again in the future.
As for cast, I needed two men and one woman; two principals and one supporting. I held auditions and knew immediately from her first read that Lisa Sain Odom out of Greenville, S.C. would play the part of Laura. She had an amazing audition and elicited exactly what I was looking for in the character of Laura. However, after the auditions, which took place over a weekend at Altair Casting in Winston-Salem, I still hadn’t found the perfect fits for the characters of Larry or Bob. I had remembered Reid Dalton’s audition from an audition several years prior for a project that never came to fruition and had been impressed with Elijah Chester’s performance in a spec piece I shot for Dan for Massify. I contacted both of these actors; I met with Reid at Greensboro’s Cultural Arts Center and Elijah sent in an audition video. I had Larry and Bob – the cast was in place, the crew was in place, the locations were in place – the ball was definitely rolling!
We shot the film completely over Labor Day weekend 2010. The first day was a 13-hour day, the second a 16-hour day and third was a 15-hour day. Everyone was working for minimal pay, funded out of my own pocket, but all gave it 110%. Outside of badly spraining my ankle falling down some steps outside on the first day before the first shot, everything overall was very smooth and we got some great footage to take into post.
Once in post production, I decided to edit the film myself. It took some time syncing all the video and audio because, though we shot HD, we were using double system sound with slate. Once everything was transcoded and synced, I began the process of actually cutting the film together. Picture was more or less locked by November. From there, the multi-talented Jon Fredette took over for sound design and scoring. The sound design was completed for the most part by late-December. Being state employees, we got off for Christmas break, so we took a break from the grind of post-production over Christmas and got back to work in early January.
The sound from set was, for the most part, useable. There were a couple lines, however, as with any film that needed to be ADRed (automatic dialogue replacement). So, Jon went through the process of scoring the film and we brought in each actor for an ADR session when available. All parts were complete by late February. Since then, it has been tightening up, working with sync, lowering levels, raising levels, adding bits of sound, cutting some picture, etc. I can’t thank Jon enough for the many hours of time he has put into this project. If you live in North Carolina, you should definitely check Jon out if you need a sound guy at jonfredette.com.
Finally, last weekend, I had a DVD burn that worked for me with no glitches, problems, sync issues or needed changes. I called a final cut and began the process of submitting the 17-minute film to festivals. The first batch of submissions went out last weekend and, though there are still some credits to add, we have our IMDB page up at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1907623/.
I have, admittedly, left out information about the plot itself because I hope you will get a chance to watch the film when available. Hopefully, more posts on the film will follow. Also, please, please check out some of the Web sites I’ve listed in this posting. If it weren’t for these wonderful, talented people, my film would not have been able to be made.