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A day at work with BHS filmmakers

Ballard’s Digital Filmmaking program moves forward with “A Trip To the Groovies”

Elliot Bailey, A&E Editor
Originally published December 2, 2014

Courtesy of Victoria O'LaughlinBallard Digital Filmmaking Program finished the last day of filming for Majestic Bay's new policy trailer "A Trip To The Groovies" on Nov. 23. Majestic Bay had been without a policy trailer for two years before the tea…

Courtesy of Victoria O’Laughlin

Ballard Digital Filmmaking Program finished the last day of filming for Majestic Bay’s new policy trailer “A Trip To The Groovies” on Nov. 23. Majestic Bay had been without a policy trailer for two years before the team of BHS filmmakers took on the project.

Each day begins at 4:30 a.m. in the bathrooms of Majestic Bay Theatres as hair and makeup artist Erika Seward brushes out the actors’ hair. She puts blue eye shadow on her, styles his hair in just that way. Looking like any respectable people of the seventies, the actors are ready to get to work.

Downstairs the rest of the crew, Ballard High School students in the Digital Filmmaking Program, begin to set up for the day, a process which takes about 45 minutes.

This is the last day of actual filming, the last Sunday of two consecutive weekends the student filmmakers have been shooting from 4:30 a.m. to around 11 a.m. These early starts allow the crew to do their work without interrupting the Majestic Bay business day, but also provides them a challenge to perform under fatigue. It’s a challenge they’ve admirably met with professionalism and Starbucks.

Under co-producers Jaya Flanary and Sho Schrock a team of audio, props, makeup, script, lighting technicians is already bustling around in the early morning Majestic Bay theater.

“Can you tell him to turn on the air conditioner so we can balance out the lights?” Flanary said to her team.

The air conditioner is used to “balance out the lights” simply because the tall mounted lamps used to control the lighting for each shot can get very hot. This is dangerous for crewmembers, actors and the equipment, which runs the risk of overheating.

While lighting technicians Coleman Andersen and Will Erstad always wear gloves while handling the lights — and they’re constantly handling them, repositioning them, making the shot look better — every possible measure is taken to ensure production is safe and efficient.

With this model in mind the team works at a clip. Three out of four production days are completed ahead of schedule, two of them by over an hour.

The third day had a slow start after an issue in the hair and makeup department pushed production back 45 minutes.

“We knew it would be the longest and most stressful day, so we were mentally prepared for it for sure,” said Flanary of day three. “But in the moment, when you don’t make it to three shots that take 15 minutes each, you start stressing about the next day as well.”

The next day the crew made up this time with a surplus, finishing once again an hour earlier than expected.

“They’re right on schedule, which is kind of hard to plan, but it’s going really well today,” said Ballard Digital Filmmaking teacher Matt Lawrence.

Time for each shot and type of shot is written into the schedule based on guidelines developed by professionals in the film industry. Generally these guidelines are reliable, but where people are involved, so are some inherent variables.

“I liked the reaction,” Flanary said to actor James Kazan, who plays the role of Tony Taglioni, as they filmed the first shot of day four. “But could you look right here instead of here?”

She indicates to him a different point in space to direct his look of furrowed distress.

Tinkering like this is necessary for each shot. For every first take there is at least a second, and almost always there are even more.

Later in the day another shot gives the crew a protracted challenge. Again and again Kazan flips a Majestic Bay gift card over in his hand for the camera. In a crowd, the crew huddles around Director of Photography Leo Pfeifer and the camera’s view finder. The act is simple; capturing it is not.

The trick is getting the camera to shift focus from Kazan’s face to the Majestic Bay logo on the gift card, held in his outstretched hand.

This type of shot is called a rack focus and at the moment everyone’s attention is on getting it right. The crew cheers when Schrock yells “cut” and the shot has worked like it should.

Unfortunately shots that work on their own are only half way there. Making sure not only that each shot works but that all shots work together is a massively important responsibility on set.

This is such an important job because details that differ from shot to shot, even as small as which arm an actor holds his popcorn in, stick out like a sore thumb in the final product.

Picking up on these details, noticing continuity errors, is a task made more difficult by the fact that shots aren’t filmed chronologically.

“The best way we can shoot is out of order,” crew member Brian Cropp said. “So we have to make sure the shot from today lines up with the one we shot last weekend.”

Each day ends at around noon when all the shots are shot and takes are taken. The crew spends half an hour stripping the theater stairs of gaffer-taped cords and putting equipment into bags and bags into cars and then driving away.

When they return to the school they order a pizza to the film room and begin to go through the four days of footage. They’re looking for mistakes or things the viewer will see as off.

“Be our guinea pig,” they say to me. “Do you notice anything wrong with this shot?”

“No,” I say earnestly. “It looks fantastic.”

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A day at work with BHS filmmakers