As I mentioned in an earlier post, my friend Greg became involved as a performer in Slim. The Gravel Pit scene was one of his character's shining moments. I believe all the script had for this scene was one line. Something like "Baghead chases Slim, they have a big fight, and Slim finally wins". With so much clear direction for the scene (haha), most of the sequence was improvised.
My friend Annie knew of a large gravel pit in the area that many people used for 4 wheeling. The location was perfect. We were there mid afternoon, and the sun seemed right in the perfect place in the sky. The center point of this location was a massive metallic structure complete with conveyor belts and tanks. Surrounding this structure was cast off pieces of metal and hills and hills of gravel. The area was perfect for wide shots of characters running and not seeming to get anywhere.
Climbing up these piles of gravel proved difficult. You had to run fast enough so that you would make upward progress before your feet would sink in the gravel. It also meant you had to run the camera up like that to get shots from on top of the piles of gravel.
The funniest memory I have of that day is when Slim's hat fell off the catwalk at the top of the structure and onto a conveyor belt below. In my Slim costume, I was too bulky to climb down and get it, so Greg had to sneak down and retrieve it.
The title sounds like a hospitality review site, but it is actually the settings of the scenes filmed within one day.
My friend Rickey's family had a large guest room in their house. It had a pair of twin beds that looked like it could be a hotel room. Years later, I ended up cutting most of the hotel scenes, but they were still an enjoyable experience for my friends involved in the shoot. This was at a time when most consumer level cameras still recorded video on tapes. Each tape could hold an hour of video at most. For all the filming, we must have used about 25 tapes. I mention this now because one tape ran out in the middle of a career-highlight performance at this hotel setting. Not really, it was simply a shot of Slim trying to get into bed at the hotel. To change the tape, the camera had to be removed from the tripod, turned upside down, the first tape was then ejected vertically and the second tape fell into place.
Rickey's family also owned and operated a Japanese Restaurant (today they own and operate Yoshi Restaurant, which is the best Japanese restaurant in Maine). They were very kind to allow us to film at their restaurant before it opened for lunch. As a zero budget film, the important thing to keep in mind while filming at this unopened restaurant was that every other table was empty. We were careful (mostly) to aim the camera away from the other empty tables. Some carefully placed crowd sounds helped the illusion as well. The best part about filming at this restaurant was that we were given free food to eat as we worked. I cannot overstate how generous Rickey's family is.
I first met my friend Greg in Preschool when we were both 3 years old. In Second Grade, his family moved to Minnesota for his Dad's work. Later, they moved to Tennessee. Fortunately, they returned to Maine when we were both beginning our Sophomore year of high school. With Greg's return, he became very involved in the production of Slim, both in front of and behind the camera.
When his family moved back, they bought a large new home. His house was perfect to represent the interior of Varvara's mountain estate. The entryway is huge and made for a wonderful first impression of the scene. The stairs in the house had more than one landing and the railing over the second ending made a perilous shot during a fight scene.
We used the dining room for our characters' dinner conversation. One funny thing was that they had not yet finished painting the last wall of the dining room. So that made for a comic shot of all the paint buckets and an unfinished wall. My friend Angel loaned us a dress for Kalee to wear for the dinner scenes. This made for a dramatic transformation from the Nunzie outfit. We had two cameras (one on each character), but still used several takes in order to get coverage using different angles.
We also used the kitchen for when Slim needed to make a phone call. There was a large island in the center which made a convenient spot for characters to sit after the phone call. The scenes of Dr. Colossal on the other end of the phone were not yet filmed so I had to react to what the character would be saying according to the script.
Overall, Greg's house made a convenient location and we spent a full day completing a lot of scenes that made the final cut.
For the scenes between Slim and his boss, Dr. Colossal, a group of us invaded my Dad's office. I wanted Slim's own office to be messy. The funny thing is, the only items we had to bring in to add to the atmosphere were candy wrappers and "artifacts".
Across from the desk was a wall of file cabinets. This left us with very little space to maneuver the camera. Since I was going for a classic film making style, using a tripod was perfect for static dialogue shots. The only issue was that we couldn't really get both characters in the same shot. It would look silly for them to be on the same side of the desk, and we couldn't get the camera far enough back to capture both from across the desk.
Craig did a fabulous job as Dr. Colossal. He kept a straight face no matter what was happening. He would freely improvise and it was hilarious. I thoroughly enjoyed working with him.
By the end of that first summer of filming, we had spent about 9 days filming and had accumulated about 3 hours of footage. I had no idea how much more was to come in the next summer.
Filming in public is always an experience. Especially, when you are wearing stuffing to appear fat. We had permission from my Dad's building manager to film in the alley around his building, but any pedestrian passing by would still enjoy the view of a misshapen man with a big hat and his blanket wearing friend.
There were five of us working on this day's scenes and I believe that each person had a turn operating the camera, for better or for worse. The alley scene involved a lot of traveling shots. Not having a Steady Cam made this difficult so, as always when there is no budget, we got creative with how we filmed. Instead of one long take down one alley and around the corner to the next alley, we split the movement into several takes and interspersed shots of Nunzies in pursuit.
At one point, Slim's large pants came unpinned (I had to pin them to fit around my waist), and it took the help of two friends to readjust Slim's pants and Slim's fat. At one point during the struggle with the fat, I yelled out "I can't get it up!" and then realized what I had said.
By the end of filming in the alley, a group of shady women came outside their place of employment to smoke. One of them said "I don't want that camera on me" and I could confidently say "don't worry, it won't be" (gag).
After the alley filming was done, we traveled to my house to film some "mansion" interiors. My house is not large, but once again strategy and creativity make miracles happen. In order to make it appear like more than two stories, we simply filmed characters walking up the same set of stairs several times to look like multiple floors. We placed the camera in the farthest corner of the living room and arranged the furniture to make it appear as a large bedroom.
By coincidence, my parents were planning on replacing the carpets, which of course included ripping up the old ones. As a bunch of high schoolers, we could not pass up this opportunity. We incorporated ripping up the rug in the scene. Unfortunately, we became a little overenthusiastic in our rug ripping and we ending up knocking over an end table and a lamp. Luckily, nothing was broken, but it was a funny moment looking back.
As I have said before, life would have been so much easier if I had taken an extra year to really get the script right before beginning filming. Instead, I spent a lot of time filming scenes that, after carefully examining them in context of the entire film, were unnecessary. The third date of filming had several scenes like this.
About five of us gathered at my friend Mike's house to use his woods. My friend Angel is very athletic and was quite a good gymnast. We had a scene of her as a flipping Nunzie--a black blur that was ninja like. She had to do the stunt several times before we got the shot I had wanted.
Already built in Mike's backyard was a tree fort. We filmed a scene of Slim laying siege to the Nunzie in the tree fort. The thing was already falling apart, and so we had to strategically place pieces of wood so that the fort looked more intact than it actually was.
We also filmed my dog, Terry, as a vicious monster when Slim and Tubba are pursued by "roving gangs of wild poodles". Terry seemed to dislike everyone, so it was not difficult to film closeups of him growling and barking whenever Mike would approach him.
Only two of the sequences filmed this day made it to the final cut. One was Slim finding a secret note inside a tent. The other sequence involved Slim and Tubba traveling through a rainforest. For the rainforest sequence, it was only Mike and I that were left. So one of us would set up the camera, press record, and we would both find our marks to perform the scene. Although this method saves other people from having to be present, it also requires more time, because we would stop and review what we had captured between takes. I would say about 1/4 of the final film was captured using this two person method. The next date of filming (which I will talk about next time), involved more than just two people.
Three days in a row of filming may not sound like much, but it is when the entire cast and crew are high school freshmen. My parents invited my older cousin Brian from Massachusetts to be the adult supervision over the three days. He also got to play a nunzie as well. About 15-20 of us gathered at my friend Mike's property to set up the Excavation site and to film all of the scenes in that location.
One lesson I had already learned and which I implemented was to film the scenes that involved the most people first, and then downsize from there. The very first shot was to involve worker characters "digging" in the distance. I use digging loosely because Mike's Dad didn't want us to actually ruin his lawn. I had one friend that disagreed with this decision and decided to argue about it. The whole thing was not a big deal, but the funny part is that the entire argument happened on camera for about 5 minutes after I had called Action.
By the end of lunch on the first day, someone had spilled an entire pitcher of iced tea on the giant sheet of story boards. There was obviously nothing I could do to fix it at this point, so I had to plot the rest of the shots out by memory. Since the storyboards were ruined, I guess we will never know if my memory was accurate.
The only on set injury I can remember is my friend Chris got bumped on the head by a shovel; I believe he fell down while holding it. My friend Kalee had hurt her ankle playing tennis so we did what we could to hide her limp.
Filming inside tents proved more difficult than expected--mostly because this was summer and the tents held the heat inside. That was another argument--it was too hot in the tents, but the longer we spent arguing about the heat, the longer people had to stay in the tents being hot. Life lesson: big problems at the time can be laughed about years later.
At the end of these three days, we felt so accomplished (little did I know how much work I had left to do). We even had a little party and were able to use Mike's pool and hot tub.
The first sequence we filmed was "The Tractor Chase"--yes, a chase involving two lawn mowers. As an action sequence, we knew it would take a long time to film, but we planned as well as we knew how to make it take as little time as possible. There were about as many people behind the scenes working as there were in front of the camera.
We filmed at my friend Alissa's neighbor's driveway. It was so long that it looked like a dirt road, but without any chance a real vehicle would drive by. Using a trailer, we brought my Dad's tractor over and Alissa's Dad's tractor from next door.
I knew that the noise from the engines would be a problem for sound, so I decided not to bother using the dialogue captured in the moment. This decision led to some funny confusion on later days when some of my friends thought that the entire movie would have no dialogue.
Despite the silliness of the action--Slim chasing and being chased by nuns with machine guns-- everyone took the event very seriously. My favorite memory of the day was when my friend Jacob, dressed as a nun, had to make a U turn with the tractor he was driving in order to return it to the original spot. Somehow, he managed to lower the mowing deck and he was kicking up a cloud of dust! He didn't notice it, of course, but the rest of us were quite entertained.