Production Notes

August 08, 2015

PRODUCTION NOTES

LENGTH

120 minutes

SHOOT

111 pages at 4.5 pages per day

Total runtime is estimated at one-page-per-minute plus 10-13% additional coverage for directorial and editing decisions to draw out certain shots/scenes.

LENGTH SCHEDULE

26 shooting days with a 5 day contingency for production delay and travel (31 shooting days total).

START DATE

May 1 – June 15, 2016

SCHEDULE

DAYS      SET                          LOCATION

5         Downtown Exteriors           Santa Barbara

1         Midtown/Uptown Exteriors          Orange

7         General Exteriors            Santa Barbara/Orange

13        Interiors                    SB/Orange/Los Angeles

5         Contingency

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CONSIDERATIONS

Some scene sequences with no dialogue will factor into the total running and shooting time.

COST

The following categories represent the majority of cost for a film of this time period:

  • Egregious cost of “movie stars”
  • Extras (church & community)
  • Historically accurate exterior locations
  • Set design and props, particularly automobiles
  • Visual aesthetic; period-appropriate look-and-feel.

Despite “Nothing Like The Sun” being set against Midwestern America in the 1949, I maintain that total production costs can be mitigated without compromise to its accuracy, quality, scale or scope. This is largely possible due to the current pool of labor and resources available at a fraction of the price, resulting in significant savings to the overall budget.

Without stunts, demolition, explosions, pyro-effects, car chases, firearms, large vehicles, specialized sets, or inclement weather, fewer shooting days are required. Given these considerations, I’m confident that with efficient cost and quality control, a marketable product can be delivered at a bargain and on schedule.

CAST

I believe there must be enough evidence by now to suggest that an A-list movie star’s salary does little to the quality of a film other than to deplete much needed financial resources in other more critical areas in order to make the film properly. In fact, their notoriety as celebrities would most likely detract from the film’s authenticity.

Even major studio blockbusters such as “Spiderman”, “Avengers”, and “Transformers” attributed significant proportions of their success to their franchise status, worldwide marketing, and genre appeal; more so than to the commercial draw of their A-list movie stars, who are increasingly being attached to a film merely as a hedge by studio executives.

In contrast, films such as “Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead”, “12 Years A Slave”, “There Will Be Blood” and many others illustrate that audiences enjoy watching good films, and that recommendation by word-of-mouth and through internet social media remains the driving force behind their commercial success. This is particularly true for those films whose subject matter reflect socially relevant issues – and even more so for issues that span across different countries.

Considering this film’s unique subject matter, and its relevance in the current socio-political landscape of America’s progressive stance on “homosexual marriage”, even one or two sufficiently well-known talented actors would be enough to generate critical attention to this production, both commercially and artistically. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara proved this with the 2015 film “Carol”, which explored a similar subject matter, and also set against the 1950s era.

My general impression is that the two name-actors should assume the important lead characters of Alice Mitchell and Lillian Johnson, and my general thinking of this decision is as follows.

Alice Mitchell was a “diagnosed” lesbian at odds with herself and the society she grew up in. Estranged from her family, she’s supported herself through prostitution, and developed the keen mannerisms of a snake-oil salesman: an aggressive dynamic speech hidden behind a silver-tongued false smile.

Lillian Johnson, in denial of her homosexuality, turns to faith instead. She’s developed an equally keen manner of acting and speaking – that of a posturing bible salesman: quietly arrogant, politely condescending. Their electrifying performances will be at the forefront of this film, and should reflect on the quality of the actors involved.

Annabel (based on Miss A.; Case 155 of Krafft-Ebing’s case studies) should be about five-years Alice’s junior, a budding adult in her late-teens; beautiful, angelic and faithful to a fault.

As for the other important supporting characters: Joseph, Veale, Alice’s parents, Myra Ward; there is no shortage of talented actors who could play these roles.

I intend to similarly bring about new faces and talent in many of the other supporting cast, and prudently place more emphasis on compelling story-telling, engaging performances, and cinematic spectacle. I’ve found local theaters to be a great reservoir of untapped casting potential.

EXTRAS

The average daily cost of an extra on a film set ranges from $65.00 (non-union) to $110.00 (union; plus extra for overtime and/or if they provide their own wardrobe).

Depending on the final budget, I believe a fair amount can be negotiated with non-union extras. Modified-Low-Budget Agreements with SAG-AFTRA do not cover background actors. Should these criteria change, an advantageous ratio between union and non-union extras can be worked out.

The majority of extras will be used during scenes of church service and social gatherings. These extras include men, women and children of varying ages. I estimate approximately 50-60 extras will be present on any one of the given shooting days.

A standard period attire of suits (men), dresses (women), and children’s church and Sunday clothing can be provided with little trouble. Goodwill offers many clothes (donated from vintage closets) at a substantial discount.

It is unlikely there will be any shortage of extras that can be gotten locally from other venues as well, through film schools such as Chapman, NYFA, USC, UCLA-extension and local community theaters.

LOCATIONS

The greatest obstacle in location will be exterior environments that can convincingly be used in a 1949 setting. The film spans several key exterior scenes in the following areas:

  • Downtown city streets and houses
  • Midtown residential neighborhood
  • Uptown suburban neighborhood
  • Church

Rather than attempt costly construction of sets, locations will be scouted where street and building appearances have changed very little in the past 70 years. These include lamp posts, traffic lights, telephone poles, public pay phones, etc. Other key considerations include pedestrians, landmarks and autos.

Although Alice grew up in southern Tennessee, for practical purposes, the film will not specify any particular location where the events unfold. It will therefore be assumed to take place in a generic American Mid-western town indicative of that era, such as Ohio or Oklahoma. This is also to avoid distinct regional dialects and colloquialisms of the American South which would cause numerous logistical problems when casting.

Downtown Santa Barbara fits the motif well – particularly near the AVE and STRIP where many of its historic buildings remain intact (this is also true of many other downtown cities such as San Francisco and Sacramento). Santa Barbara, Pasadena, and Orange have suburbs with residential homes exteriors that have changed very little since post-World War II. Santa Barbara also has an impressive collection of old mission churches.

Interior locations pose less of a problem. Again, rather than engage in costly set construction, it will be a matter of finding locales fitting the general size and architectural layout parameters of home interiors during those times. Specific décor issues can be remedied with set design. However, the interiors of different homes should have distinctly differently layouts:

  • Manger’s/Robert’s townhome
  • Mom and Dad’s (and Alice’s) home
  • Veale’s residence
  • Johnson’s parsonage
  • Henning’s hospice
  • Myra’s home
  • Myra’s church (church follower’s domicile)

SETS AND PROPS

By far, vintage automobiles and trucks pose the biggest challenge. Though there will be instances of filming them in motion, they serve primarily as set decoration. I estimate about 8 vintage 1950 Chevrolets/Chrystler-Plymouth vehicles will be required, at least one of them working, and at least one working Ford/GMC truck. Actual driving will be minimized and done through off-screen sound effects.

I’ve compiled photographs and pictures of the interiors of 1950 houses and believe they can be duplicated without too many problems. Some considerations include bathtubs, kitchen appliances (range ovens, refrigerators), furniture, non-tiled hardwood floors, light bulbs – most of which can be done through set design.

A number of medical props will also be of great importance. I’m confident many of these can be acquired through surplus stores or from eBay. Paper currency used during those times can be found at coin and bullion shops.

Goodwill can help with most of the clothing. Alice’s prostitute clothes may require a costume shop, as will likely be the case of a custom tailor for Myra’s and Lillian’s church clothes.

VISUAL AESTHETIC

Given this film’s lurid subject matter, I believe the picture quality, dynamic range and color reproduction of 35mm film would serve it best. However, we should not discount the significant advances in digital acquisition technology. Tests will be run prior to shooting to determine the best acquisition method.

Though 35mm is generally thought to be more cost-prohibitive and restricted to big studio productions, our final output to a digital intermediate means that 2-perf 35mm, which is half the cost of the standard 4-perf 35mm (and roughly equal to the cost of Super-16), is also an option to consider. 2-perf 35mm has the additional benefit of a natural cinemascope ratio, and can also utilize faster, lightweight spherical lenses instead of heavier, costly anamorphic lenses. And unlike 3-perf 35mm, 2-perf 35mm time-code translates cleanly during editing.

Super-16 is also a viable option. A recent test done by Eastman Kodak on 7201 16mm film stock demonstrates its tremendous latitude, color rendition, and tight grain. Super-16 cameras and lenses are also considerably cheaper to rent. Professional studio-grade cameras such as the Arriflex SR3 are still in wide-use today.

3-perf 35mm is also a possibility, also costing less (25% less) than standard 4-perf 35mm. Lighter, faster, and low-cost spherical lenses can also be used, though achieving the widescreen aspect ratio would require more cropping of the film image. An additional bonus of 3-perf 35mm is that it has a native 16:9 aspect ratio, which is the native aspect ratio of a majority of HD television sets.

It should be restated that 2-perf 35mm and Super-16 are only valid considerations if our final output is to a digital intermediate as 2-perf 35mm and Super-16 are not standard projection formats. Should a budget allow it, standard 4-perf anamorphic 35mm is preferable as it offers the same benefits outlined above, and more, as well as being a standard projection format.

I believe that, in the best interest of quality for this film, 35mm should be a first choice if the difference between digital acquisition and film acquisition is not terribly significant as a percentage of the entire budget (less than 7%). I will discuss this with the cinematographer after a comprehensive three-level budget has been laid out. Below is a breakdown of 2-perf 35mm:

Advantages:

  • Half the cost of 4-perf 35mm raw stock and processing.
    • Natural 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio.
    • Wide availability of low-cost high-speed spherical lenses.
    • Extremely quiet camera operation.
    • Simple time-code conversion during editing and negative conforming
    • Wide range of film stocks with unparalleled dynamic range and color rendition.
    • Widely available telecine services from labs.

Disadvantages:

  • Fewer camera rentals available.
  • Not a standard theatrical projection format. Footage will need to be telecined for editing and then either finished digitally for projection or optically transferred to 4-perf 35mm anamorphic.

Above all else, I believe the primary consideration should be with lenses and lighting. Vintage Leicas and Cooke Panchros offer the closest in visual quality reminiscent of the 1950s. Choosing lenses will involve compromising between color rendition and lens speed. A faster lens set such as the Cooke S5s (T1.4) would allow filming in available natural light and require only wood-surfaced bounce cards, minimal daylight HMIs, and incandescent light bulbs for night shots.

I believe negating dependence on excessive artificial studio lighting setups is paramount to achieving the desired look while cutting down on setup time and allowing for a more dynamic and less encumbered filming style.

“HIGH-CONCEPT” MARKET POTENTIAL

Though there is no unilateral agreement as to what constitutes “High-Concept”, it is undeniably sought after for its market potential. I maintain “Nothing Like The Sun” is a high-concept film with market potential based on the following criteria:

  • A condensed story concept, promising an emotional experience, with a greater promise of conflict.
  • A character whose desire and weakness propels the plot, and whose obstacles generate an emotional experience.
  • A story with an idea strong enough to draw an audience independent of other components, including casting, (name) director, execution, good word-of-mouth, or awards. The story concept alone is strong enough to promise an emotional experience.
  • A character with visible desires, visible obstacles, visible goals – an outer motivation and journey – with a clearly implied end point.
  • A single-sentence idea that conveys character, problem, obstacle and desire - what they want, and what makes achieving it impossible. In other words, given the conflict, the protagonist is the worst person it could happen to and least equipped to stop it. It promises a conflict that audiences could not imagine the character overcoming, and want to see how they will overcome it.
  • Familiarity and uniqueness of story.
  • A straight-forward, uncluttered plot narrative.
  • A story that offers excitement (action), romance (sex) and humor.
  • Non-biographical, non-situational, non-episodic.
  • Events occur over a particular span of time of the protagonist’s life.
  • Accelerated pacing of action beginning of Act Two.

It should be emphasized that high-concept is merely a component of commerce, designed to draw in as much an audience as possible; and does not imply “high” or “low” artistry. Given this, I believe we can maximize return-on-investment without compromising artistic value.

FINANCE

A working screenplay and an initial venture capital investment of $230,000.00 have been secured. This seed capital may increase to an upward working sum of $250,000.00 if necessary. This available amount can be leveraged to accommodate the following scenarios, outlined into three preliminary budget drafts:

AGREEMENT          BUDGET RANGE                 LEVERAGE

SAG Ultra-Low      Under $250,000.00            100%

SAG Modified       $250,000.00+ - $700,000.00        32%

SAG Low Budget          $700,000.00+ - $2,500,000.00      21%

SAG Basic               $2,500,000.00+ -               5%

Part of the development phase will allow a reasonably sufficient amount of time to pursue this acquisition of additional financing through foreign distributor presales. More capital at our disposal, combined with effective cost-control, will better ensure a high-quality, timely and successful production.

Due to the large pay scale gap between the Ultra-Low and Modified-Low, it is inadvisable to shoot under the Modified-Low agreement for any sum less than $400,000.00. The difference in cost of performer pay scales between the two agreements is approximately $70,000.00 - $90,000.00 for the exact same cast, as all performers, union or otherwise: (1) are paid at least scale wages; (2) require an additional 17.3% contribution to Pension & Health; and (3) incur union voucher fees.

BUDGETING

Three detailed budget outlines are available in a Movie Magic Budgeting document upon request for review.

ACCOUNTING

I’ve also prepared a detailed chart of accounts mapping out all expenses in a Quickbooks company data file to be utilized during this production. This accounting implementation of the budget can accurately track expenditures and maintain a transparent audit trail at every stage in production.

This Quickbooks data file can also be made available upon request for review.

Nguyen N.