JOURNAL by Joe Swanberg and David Lowery
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
The chronology of things that have happened is about to be, in its presentation here, somewhat jumbled. Suffice to say, we shot things on Monday, and we shot things today, and yesterday we also shot some things. One of those things was a photo shoot at Ellen Stagg's house. We took advantage of the camera and the lights to have a little impromptu photos shoot. All of these photos were taken by Amy...
...except for the one of her, which was taken by Jess. Notice that she is wearing her 'trashy bra,' which she bought at Marshall's.
On Saturday, we had a big potluck dinner. Most of us crammed into the kitchen, carefully managing our limited space and cooking utensils to create a pretty amazing spread. Me, here's how I kicked things off:
This is what all that broccoli ended up going towards:
In addition to that, I took a cue from James and Amy back in Texas and cooked up some black beans and quinoa. Barlow gave it the Spiral Diner seal of approval.
Joe, meanwhile, was up to something special.
Most folks don't know that not only is Joe an ace filmmaker, he's also a keen baker. But we'll get back to him in a minute. First, here's what Jess and Issac brought over.
I just want to say here that I was really touched by how conscientious people were about my diet. I'm pretty used to just not eating much in a lot of filmmaking situations, but everyone here went out of their way to make things that I could eat. This pasta, for example, was amazing. And Kris set aside some of her Southwestern Pasta Salad for me before she added any cheese and dairy. And Amy's greens were to die for.
But enough about that. As everyone finished making their food, Joe took the piece de resistance from the oven and set it on the windowsill to cool:
Great things are worth repeating:
By eight o'clock, we were all starving and ready to eat.
And shucks if hanging out in the kitchen with everyone, cooking and talking and such, didn't feel as much like a family gathering as any holiday meal I've ever been too. I wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else in the world.
Afterwards, almost everyone went to see Jo (who filmed her scene on Friday) play a show at Pete's Candy Store. I stayed home, though, so I don't have any pictures from that. Everyone rolled back in around two or three, and maybe it was something in the food that kept all of us up whispering and laughing, slumber-party-style, until the wee hours of the morning. And by all of us I mean Amy and Tipper.
Last week was good. This weekend was good. This week will be good.
Things keep moving forward. Whenever I get nervous, something nice happens that reminds me why I work this way.
When I talk to my friends about films, I always say that I'm not looking for much. If one scene, one moment or even one shot from a film breaks through the artifice and comes alive, I feel thankful and satisfied. This is not the case when I'm making a film. I want the whole thing to feel alive. I want every moment to buzz and tingle.
I can't wait to put this thing together. I can't wait to figure out, long after we have finished and all gone home, what exactly we did here in NY during these weeks.
Our first week of production ended on a truly charmed note. The day got off to a good start when Joe rode into Manhattan to meet with IFC and sat next to Michel Gondry and his girlfriend the whole way there. I wasn't there, but I imagine it looked something like this:
Maybe some sort of creative magic rubbed off on our humble director, or maybe (and more likely) we just finally hit our stride once we started shooting; whatever the case, the scene we shot was sad, funny, beautiful, infuriating, shocking and just about everything one might hope for.
Maybe Joe will provide insight from his perspective, but for now, I'll just say that there suddenly seems to be a fulcrum to this story we're putting together. I can't wait to see this scene with an audience.
As if on cure, Kris showed up on set the moment we wrapped. We went out for sushi, and then later on wound up back at the beer hall from the other night.
I think everyone went out dancing afterwards. I went back home to eke one last little bit of creativity out of the day, making a few cuts on my own film while Barlow slumbered in a borrowed tuxedo on the couch beside me. It was a good day.
I don't remember much about yesterday, except that I was tired, that I had a cameo in the movie (andohmygodilooksofatoncamera), that I was tired some more, that Joe was even more tired and that doing laundry in Brooklyn is mad expensive. Just thinking about it makes me want to drink a bunch of coffee and then go to bed so I can wake up and write about today. Which was AWESOME.
Today was low key. Joe spent most of the morning and afternoon editing and taking care of various odds and ends, such as further developing the plot on his legal notepad and figuring out something of a schedule for the rest of the shoot. I worked on the play, although Word crashed at one point, erasing a bunch of unsaved work. Maybe it could tell I was straying too far into personal territory. I mean, two artists in a relationship, subtly driving each other crazy - shit, man, I don't know a thing about that.
After the shoot the day before, we kept joking that we'd only shoot at magic hour from that point on. Which is sort of what turned out happening, since we all didn't make it out with the cameras until five. We strolled down to the waterfront and filmed Barlow, Jess and Amy goofing off and taking pictures of each other amidst all the Hasidic families out for an evening stroll.
The scene took a really bizarre turn when Amy and Jess started playing this weird storytelling game. They really zeroed in on the bizarre kinship sisters have with each other - the sort of relationship that can be frighteningly close, and which always seems as if it could turn on a dime.
Then we hightailed it out of there to make it to Manhattan...
...to have dinner with Caveh Zahedi, who was in town for the Tribeca Film Festival. We strolled around the South Street Seaport until a quiet little restaurant materialized just for us, off the beaten path. They sat us outside on the sidewalk, girls at one table and boys at another. A wonderful time was had by all, and afterwards we all retired to Caveh's hotel so we could audition for his new horror film, which he's shooting in Rome. We all took turns reading with each other. I haven't acted since I don't know when, but I don't think I embarrassed myself too horribly.
Then it was back to Brooklyn, back to bed, for the following morning would be an early one. It's at this point that I should point out, for posterity's sake, that I'm writing today's entry tomorrow; or writing yesterday's today, or what have you. I've got another day's perspective on everything I've written about. I don't know why I felt the need to mention this, actually. Probably because I had to get up so early tomorrow and will be delirious by the time I wrote this.
Around noon, we made the trek across town to Justin's apartment to film another scene. Amy and Jess took advantage of the 45 minute transit to get some sisterly bonding time. Moments after this picture was taken, they were both nearly run over by a bus.
Afterwards, we all agreed that if the lead actors were in a horrible accident two days into the shoot, not only would we keep shooting the film, but that it might actually be better. Or at least more marketable.
We shot a great moment with Jess and Justin, and then walked around the corner to Ellen Stagg's apartment to grab an impromptu scene between Jess and Amy. When we arrived, however, we hit some sort of wall. At least from my perspective. Everyone seemed to be at an impasse, with no idea what exactly they were going to do. There were more than a few minutes of everyone just standing around, waiting for who knows what to happen. Inspiration? Eventually, though, we wound up in the living room and the camera wound up rolling and Amy and Jess just started talking. After a few moments, Joe stopped them and gave them some general directions. We kept going like, stopping and starting and stopping and starting until we stopped stopping and kept going. And just like that, over the course of the next hour, a scene evolved - and, more than that, a dynamic emerged.
We packed up and walked back to the headquarters. We waited for the peak of magic hour and then shot some stuff with Jess and Barlow on our beautiful rooftop patio. I won't describe this scene. It's worth waiting for.
Suffice to say, this is how we all felt after we wrapped:
After dinner...and ICE CREAM...
...everyone was in the mood to go to bed, but no one wanted to admit it, so we all decided to watch a movie instead. Tipper had brought a selection of her faves, and Jacob's Ladder was selected for the evening's entertainment. It was fun to get freaked out by all of it's genuinely disturbing imagery, but man, that screenplay frustrates me. It makes me not like screenplays. Or maybe it just makes me want to write a good one.
Today we shot the first scene of the shoot, which perhaps coincidentally will probably be the first scene in the movie. This also marked day one of Joe's tank top adventure. He bought this classy number during our shopping expedition the other day, and has committed to wearing it throughout the entire production.
We cabbed it over to Justin's apartment with the gear, where Joe did some quick tests to make sure that the lighting in the bedroom would work with the visual scheme for the movie...
...and I tattooed my hand with reminders to get room tone. There's a reason why I'm not a career crew person, and always forgetting to get room tone is one of them.
Cut to a few hours later. One scene down. Even though it was a brief shoot, it felt like we'd shot for a full day. It's weird how that works. 'It's weird how that works,' is also a line from the play we've been writing, which Jess and Justin read lines from in this scene. Justin's disinterested line readings were hilarious.
Everyone hung out while the footage was imported, including newcomer Ti West, who was on hand to take production stills.
Then we all walked down the street to a Polish deli for lunch. We planned to eat in the park across the street, but by the time everyone had made it through the line, most of us had already finished our food...
But we all went to the park anyway.
Now we're back at the apartment, where we're going to have a cast and crew pajama party. Tipper 'Pajama' Newton and Justin have set the ball rolling for what promises to be an all-night musical hootenanny (as I write this, she and Joe are beginning a set of Ice Cream Floats classics). Here's a glimpse of the magic!
Uh oh. People are starting to pour the Makers Mark now, and Tipper's talking sass. It's gonna be a long night...
One more night before we start shooting. The camera tests we did this morning have been reported on below. Suffice to say, this movie is going to look amazing.
I stayed in the rest of the afternoon, giving my own film some much needed attention until seven o'clock, when we all reconvened at a nearby biergarten. I walked in and saw the newly arrived Tipper Newton waiting with a friend at the front for everyone else to get there. We hung out there by the door for about ten minutes, during which Tipper filled me in on the South Williamsburg Stabber who has been plaguing these very streets, and then realized that the rest of our party was actually already inside. We were met shortly by Bill Morrison (director of Decasia) and Jo Schornikow, the musician we met in the subway and who is now going to be playing Justin's bandmate in the film.
Here's a handy seating chart to keep track of all the people who hung out this evening (minus Ellen Stagg, who showed up later).
Having had some experience with similar establishments back in Texas, I made sure I ate beforehand, leaving the evening wide open to break my normal beer embargo and try some Bavarian brews. Justin was way ahead of us all. By the time Bill ordered the first shot of Navip Slivovitz, he'd consumed 2.5 liters of beer, rendering his countenance not unlike a Francis Bacon protrait.
Now about this Slivovitz. It's 100 proof plum brandy. Barlow put it best when he took a sip, pursed his lips and said "there's a whole lot going on there."
Three shots were purchased; three more were brought by the waitress, on the house. The walk home looked like this:
Now we're back at the apartment. Barlow's prepping the coffee maker for the morning. Joe's playing the guitar on the couch. Jess is trying to keep her eyes open. I'm thinking about editing some more of my movie. It feels very cozy.
You know those scenes in movies where characters go clothes shopping and there's a montage of them bursting out of the dressing room in different outfits and their friends shake their heads no, no, no and then finally yes, and it's all set to some happening pop tune on the soundtrack? That's what yesterday was like, except that the montage lasted all day long and there wasn't really a pop song.
Justin and Barlow look like little boys being forced to go back-to-school shopping:
Here's how everyone feels on the inside:
After spending enough time in a single store, dressing rooms take on a certain redundancy. Why not just change in the aisles?
This is the most nostalgic shirt ever - I think every kid who's currently in their mid-to-late 20s must have had something like this when they were little, although I don't know if mine had this amazing upside down pocket.
I bought some great aviators to replace the sunglasses I lost in Marfa, TX about six months ago. Six months without sunglasses! And then this morning I shaved my beard off. Between this addition and subtraction, I think I'm about ready to take this movie head on.
David and I are working on developing a look for the film. The more I work with the HVX-200, the more I like the way it looks when you shoot dark. I started pushing in this direction when we were shooting the third season of YOUNG AMERICAN BODIES last November, then continued to explore it with Ben Kasulke when we did the second half of NIGHTS AND WEEKENDS in December. Now I think I'm going to head even further down the path of darkness with this one.
We might try something even more extreme for the nighttime interiors, but I'm going to have to see how it works practically before I decide on that.
In all honesty, most of the past week has been spent finishing up other projects so that I can start shooting on Monday without a lot of stuff hanging over my head. I always seem to find myself in this position, where I'm starting a new project before I'm even finished with last one. I always tell myself I won't do that the next time, then I always do.
I had a great conversation with Janet Pierson tonight. I filled her in on all of the drama going on in my life, and she filled me in on all of the excitement going on in hers. She is going to take over the SXSW Film Festival as Matt Dentler heads to NY to start a new job. Janet and I were only able to see each other for a few hours this year, but it was a really special end to the festival for me. I had a strange time in Austin, but Janet drove Jess and I to the airport on our final day and somehow that made a lot of things seem better. Hopefully I can be back there next year to experience the new chapter in the SXSW story. It was really great to connect with her before we both delve into our new projects.
Jess moves into the apartment in the morning and Tipper is officially in NY, so the party keeps growing. Here's hoping I can put all of that other stuff to bed before we roll camera on Monday.
The way it goes is that I we talk about the scene, I write it, Joe rewrites it, and by that point we're usually satisfied with it and move on. I don't know that either of us have ever delved into dramaturgy before, and so before beginning I browsed the internet for a primer on stage play formatting. The rules were not as cut and dry as I'd have liked - one man's 3.5 inch margin is another man's 2 - and so I finally settled on writing the play in screenplay format, but doing so in Word, rather than Final Draft, and italicizing all the action lines. This, for whatever reason, made the resulting document seem suitably theatrical. Thus freed from the bounds of cinematic form to which my compositional mind is usually bound, I wrote all afternoon, up to the point that Joe announced he was going stir crazy. So we decided to go out and meet some people for Mexican food at the local taco truck.
On the way there, we stopped at the intersection of Bedford and Broadway and took a picture to remind ourselves that we should shoot a scene here later.
The taco truck had vegan options; I've been pretty happy with the availability of vegan food here in Brooklyn. Also, we stopped into a convenience store that had kombucha, which made me very happy. In case you didn't know, I'm addicted to kombucha.
It was in front of this truck that we met up with Jess and Justin and Barlow, and also Ry Russo-Young, who's doing costumes for the film. Ry and I hadn't seen each other since the Sarasota Film Festival one year prior, and it was great to finally catch up in person. We wandered over to a park, where I managed to spill Habanero sauce on my hands as I ate. Subsequently, I wiped my eyes, searing my corneas. We met up with Ronnie and Mary Bronstein, and Ronnie accompanied us to our next stop: a bowling alley bar hybrid, where we were paid a visit by David Wingo, who kept us company while we waited for our turn at the lanes.
In this picture, everyone has photographers' red eye, except for me; my eyes actually are red, on account of the aforementioned habanero sauce.
By the time we exchanged our shoes and picked our bowling balls, it was midnight.
Now, I ain't a sporting man, and I can't say that I've bowled more than once in the past five or six or seven years. So I also can't say I was in rare form when I note that I placed second in our group's little competition, because rare would imply that I've played well in the past. Which I haven't. Ever. But somehow, last night, I did pretty okay, falling just short of the high score won by that golden god of the alley Barlow Jacobs. The same thing happened two nights prior when I played pool with Joe and Jess; I actually won a game of Cutthroat. I've never won a game of pool before. What mad skill will I develop next?
Sheesh! The first night we stayed in the apartment, David, Barlow and I were all woken up at 5AM by an obnoxious beeping noise that none of us could find. It sounded like it might be a smoke alarm going off in another apartment, but I could have sworn it was coming from the room that I was sleeping in. I looked around for 10 minutes, couldn't find anything, and went back to bed (or rather laid on the bed listening to the beeping noise until I fell asleep.)
A few minutes ago the noise started again. David and I both started searching around for it, and I discovered a doorway to a little storage space in my room.
Sure enough, it was an alarm clock that was packed away in a box and left by the person who is subleasing the apartment to us. The sound was SO annoying. We had to get it out.
David did the dirty work, and now we never have to wake up the sound of mysterious beeping again.
I began packing my bags for New York this past Tuesday without quite knowing where I was going to stay upon my arrival. We were all in the same boat. E-mails to friends and acquaintances were going out, feelers in search of vacant couches and empty floor space. And then, at the last minute, serendipity struck. All the pieces fell into place; I got on the plane Wednesday morning, and when I got off at JFK, I gave the cabbie the address to what was going to be our home for the next month. An amazing apartment in Williamsburg: the homebase for Alexander The Last.
The 'we' I keep mentioning thus far consists of Joe Swanberg, Jess Weixler, Barlow Jacobs (pictured above in his 'office'), Justin Rice and myself. All of us living together in one apartment, making a movie - it's like a sitcom! Wacky hijinks are bound to ensue. We've been here for three days now. Production officially begins on Monday, but as far as we're concerned, we've already begun. Everyone's thinking about the film, talking about it, letting it seep in. Getting familiar with the characters and themes and the points where they converge. To this end, Joe brought us some reading material, including:
Barlow brought his own inspirational viewing material: Everybody Loves Raymond, the entire series, on DVD. Here he is, explaining why Ray Romano is one of the most vital and important artist of the 21st Century:
Walking to dinner that first night, we turned the corner and randomly entered the Twilight Zone when we saw:
This dude was painting a mural on the side of a building, advertising a new season of IFC Online, and he was about to begin to fill in the pencil contours of a representation of our humble director, whose Young American Bodies, Season 3 is about to begin its internet broadcast. This accidental connection between subject and representation created a rift in the space-time contiuum. Also, Joe's head temporarily exploded.
After marveling at this historical public work, we went to eat at Bliss, a vegetarian restaurant, where we all crammed together on wooden benches around a tiny wooden table. It was very rustic and cozy. The food was also really good, although as Barlow pointed out, it's no Spiral Diner.
Then we went home and hung out and talked until three in the morning. Par for course. Bright and early the next morning, Joe and I met up with Jess for a location scout at the Rattlestick Theater in the West Village.
An inciting element of the film's story is a play that that the characters are acting in, and we need a theater for those scenes.
Regardless of whether or not we use Rattlestick, this scout proved to be fortuitous for an entirely different reason - for had we not embarked on it, we wouldn't have encountered the lovely young woman who was busking at the 14th Street Station, playing a Melodica, singing classic Dylan tunes and dancing as if there wasn't another soul around.
We watched her, momentarily enchanted; then the train came and we left with the vague sense that some opportunity had been missed. But not an hour later, we saw this same chanteuse passing through the turnstyle at another subway stop. Now, I don't believe in fate, but let's just pretend that's what this was; or let's go stick with what's already worked in our favor and call it serendipity, striking down for a second time. Whatever flavor of chance it was, Joe took it and ran; he went and introduced himself to her, and now she's going to be in the film. Her name is Jo, too, and she's from Australia, and she's in a band called The Shivers, and this is one of her songs. This movie just got that much better.