Part Two. Pre-Production and Principle Photography.
"Thinking it over" often means you're either waiting for your intuition to appear or waiting to see if it changes. Saying "think" is misleading, since it isn't a rational process. If it were, someone might say "thinking it through," like it was a plan. In January 2013 I was thinking it over. Whether to make the movie David and I had been planning, Speed of Sound.
I was relying on David for psychological support. 16 speaking parts. 32 locations. 2 weeks. 65 pages of script. 70 scenes total. And I still thought feature films had to be made with expensive cameras I'd never seen before, with armies of people working on them, who spoke a secret Hollywood language that called clothespins C47's. David was the first person to encourage me to make a feature, and had experience acting and producing in them. He was a warm and creative friend. He was irreplaceable.
At the end of January, my intuition hadn't changed and I decided to make the film on our original schedule. I divided the work David would have done for separate people and approached two friends of mine, Chy Chi and Erica Karnes.
Chy and I made educational films for dentists. We had a good working rapport on those films and I was surprised at the quality we could get with just one person on camera and one on sound. We like the same art house films. She was already going to be the assistant director.
I had acted in Erica's entry to HUMP!, an amateur erotica video contest. I liked the way she handled the large group of people acting in the video. And anyone who can get me in my underwear begging my girlfriend to get breast implants has some great producer skills.
We would schedule and budget the script collectively. Chy and I were focused on where we'd shoot and how we'd shoot it. Erica was writing copy for the Indiegogo campaign and doing most communicating with all people involved.
For the screenplay, to keep a quality that was consistent with the original conception, there were two authors I was focused on; Adolfo Bioy Casares and Jorge Luis Borges. They're both authors of novels and short stories and commentators on world literature. In their books, there is a fantastic quality that's like an ancestor to magical realism. There is psychological realism, lightly surrealistic adventures, and an urbanity to their styles that I wanted to emulate in the style for Speed of Sound. Adolfo Bioy Casares is my hero. He has a very personal style of comedy with elements of science fiction, surrealism, and mysteries. And always with a mordant view of romantic relationships. Jorge Luis Borges, Bioy Casares' friend and collaborator, uses imagery like mirrors, shadows, and dreams that resonated with the concept of Speed of Sound, which is about delayed messages, waves, and mortality. I reworked the screenplay as opportunities necessitated the changes.
Writing up the schedule was an ordeal. There was one time at my house that me, Chy and Erica were working with all these post-its organizing for a shoot just two weeks long, with all these locations and people on the post-its, and the power went out in my neighborhood for two hours because of a hail storm, and I lost hearing in one ear. I would later see a doctor about it. It was uncanny because the title of the film is Speed of Sound. It wasn't the only uncanny coincidence. The concept was about a man who gets messages from a friend who died young. I would later regret how close to home it was.
When it came to casting the film, we would ask our friends. There were no auditions for Speed of Sound. There were lunches where we just talked about it ahead of time. And that was it. It's a convenient way to do it but it's also a pleasant way of going about casting that creates an intimate, spontaneous vibe to the performances.
I didn't know anyone for Dave. Dave was the role developed for David Fetzer. I considered taking over the role myself and going Woody Allen-style; writing, directing, and acting in the central role. I thought that one over. Only that time I was waiting to see if it might not be a bad idea, which it was. I didn't want to cast John Kuehne in the Dave role because the part of Johnny was written for him and I didn't want him changing roles. None of my friends in Seattle were suited for filling the shoes of David. I was shit out of luck for a minute there, readers. We were moving forward with the Indiegogo campaign and we didn't know who was going to play Dave, the central character, who's in almost every scene, the guy on the poster.
I thought of one guy, Zach Weintraub, who I didn't know much about. I'd seen his feature The International Sign For Choking and liked it, and knew he was a Washington or Oregon resident. And I knew that he wrote and directed International... as well as acted as the main character. That was David Fetzer-like.
I found out through Adam Sekular, who was then programming at the Northwest Film Forum, that Zach lived in Olympia, that he didn't have a car, and that he might be down to act in my movie, I should ask him. This seems funny now to me because I think I got really lucky. Zach is a super guy and he was helpful to the whole process because he'd been involved in a bunch of feature films. I think it's funny because I could only think of one complete stranger in Olympia to hit up for the role, and it really worked out.
Before production began, Erica and I made appointments to have Tarot card readings. Neither of us had ever had one done before, and a Tarot reading takes place in the script. I didn't know what one looked like. It was a perfectly spooky day when we went, too. The kind of day in Seattle where it rains all day long, and is dark like dusk but at noon. My experience (She took us into private readings separately) was that it was almost like an inkblot test, where she asked questions and I answered them, and then we'd interpret the cards. The card that came up twice in my reading was vacillation. Like a limbo period, not being here nor there. It was there where I bought the prop Tarot cards for the movie.
My hearing didn't get better. I had almost completely lost my hearing in my right ear. There was a lot to do in the days leading up to the shoot, so I was worried I'd have time to take care of it. Only two days before shooting I got in a doctor's appointment, where I received treatment that restored my hearing.
We went into the production with a lot of preparation. We were a small guerrilla unit, which made it easier to micromanage the shoot. And it went smoothly, despite many sudden changes. Parts had to be re-cast over night, for instance, but everything worked out.
The film was shot by Karina Whitmarsh, a portrait photographer from Lake Bay, Washington, who I'd met a year before on a film shoot. Karina was a great shooter for the film. She's very energetic and athletic (she teaches water aerobics on the side) and was resourceful with our tiny budget - which was especially important when time of day and practical locations are determining much of the look of a movie, and we had to travel frequently and quick. Phil Townsend was the second photographer. Phil works as a sports photographer and he was great for working fast and moving fast.
In the house we had rented for the actors, there was a hot tub in the backyard. The backyard overlooked Lake Washington. It was a great place to relax and drink beer after long days of shooting. The shoot was a lot of fun for me. And it was the least stressful period of the whole project.
When the shoot was over, I made a spontaneous decision to go camping by myself. It was a little like a real-life reference to a part of the movie that involved camping. I thought it would be a good way to unwind and distance myself from things. It should have been a good refresher but not so much.
Read Part 3 Here.
Read Part 3 Here.