The wonderful production of "Wonderful": Part One

(Part one of four. Skip to part two.)

Noya covered in paint

The signature on all my emails says “Filmmaker / New York, NY” under my name. I put it there the same day I decided to say “I am a director” instead of “I want to be a director” when introducing myself, a decision not to wait for some future success but instead define what I do. But there has always been a slight hesitation at this boldness.

Producing this music video has been my trial by fire, and I now have no hesitation at all about calling myself a director or producer. Though small by some standards, the ten-person shoot taught me more about making a film than any class or book or movie. I’ll try to bring you along for the ride, and maybe you will understand why I haven’t posted an entry for a month.

This post will come in four installments: preproduction, the first day, our time in Pennsylvania, and one on the technical workflow issues of working with RED. The video will be presented at a release party in September.

The story begins on the uptown C train track at West 4th Street. Lucian and I were heading to my apartment when we bumped into Mark Williams with two friends, eating a succulent faux-chicken sandwich. Lucian gave voice to our hunger and mentioned how delicious it looked, and after a conversation Mark invited us to one of his shows. I listened to some of his music the next day and really enjoyed it; he got  an email titled “nice meeting you on the subway” and we began to discuss a collaboration. We were both looking for a breakout work, something to jump start our careers.

Our first meetings produced a hailstorm of ideas: some related, some wacky, all exciting. In time they solidified into a few stable concepts, but nothing that really felt dead-on. We waited weeks, then months, and in this time Mark and I got a chance to know each other – that is where the inspiration came from. On April 28 on the subway, the concept for the video hit me pretty much fully formed and in my excitement I dashed off a long email to myself entitled “ive got wonderful down.” Looking back at that email, very little has changed in the overall concept.

I knew it would take 3-4 weeks to be ready once we had the players set, so the choosing of a date was waiting for a good cinematographer and someone fantastic to design costumes, decorate the set, and do makeup. My search for the two ended with the supremely talented Vadim Putimsev and Mia Bienovich. Over coffee I showed Vadim my treatment of the story and some images and videos I was using as mental stimulation; he was excited and said he wanted to create something beautiful. A ad found the also-crazy-talented Mia, who on our first meeting was already brimming with ideas and enthusiasm.

I set a date and we set to work. The next two weeks were filled with a flurry of meetings, auditions, late night storyboarding sessions, and desperate Facebook/Twitter pleas. Making a movie is not a dignified affair. We needed (and did not have a budget for) two male actors, one actress, an Assistant Director, an Assistant Camera, and plenty more people to help us out. And — the most ambitious need — that most glorious of all cameras, a RED camera.

Travis, one of the men in the video, is a friend of Mark’s. Andrew, the other man, is a friend of mine I had not spoken to in six years – he just happened to have posted something on Facebook as I was searching for an actor. Noya is a good friend of mine who was heading on a plane out of town in a few days; she was fun-loving enough and excited enough about the adventure to move her flight! Zach, a Production Assistant, is good friends with Andrew; Toby and Kathrine, two other Production Assistants, are friends of mine. Mark Fagnano (“other Mark”) is friends with Mark and directed a documentary on him a few months back. And Vadim came through in spades with a great deal on a RED camera and his friend and Assistant Camera, Han-Fang Pao.

Mia, Vadim, and I communicated through feelings and images. We made virtual collages of videos, looks, styles, clothing items, and people. Building a collage like this is crucial – while it may seem like ripping off those who came before us, think of it more as a color palette from which to paint. “This moment is very ‘Elephant Love Medley,’ I would say, contrasting it with a moment that is very much not.” “The vibe should be a bit more funky than that ‘Of Montreal’ look,” “not that ‘Electric Feel,’ more colors,” and so on. With visual material to reference, we were on the same page visually.

Storyboard, iPod speakers for playback, piece of plexiglass to shield camera from paint..check. Paint? Shit. Subway ride. Uptown, Canal Street, Midtown. Meeting, duct tape, squirt guns, phone call to grandparents (“can you visit this weekend?” “no.”) Women’s underwear, AA batteries, and a 10-foot metal chain. Kids’ beach buckets. My shopping cart suggested a bondage party thrown for 4-year-olds. Mia’s looked like a sample sale from hell.

And on the last day before the shoot, Saturday July 17, I rested (no metaphor intended.) A run in the park, notebooks and pens, visiting friends, and early to bed. It was essential for the success of the shoot – rather than running the shoot as the last three days of a caffeine-fueled binge, I was rested and ready for a great adventure.

In Part 2: New York City, hear about the crazy women on the streets of New York, they joys of blocking off an entire sidewalk for a few hours, and how one person mistook us for the Jonas Brothers…



One Comment to “The wonderful production of "Wonderful": Part One”

  1. […] is part two of a four-part series. Check out part one! Mark and his posse pose for the […]

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