|There is a photograph of Joseph
Pierson and Phil Abraham intently huddled over a
bright white box. Phils hand is inside the box, which doesnt appear to have a
lid, and which seems to be shaped for some purpose, though it is impossible by looking at
the photo to discern what that might be.
Above the two men, hung on the wall, is a large
photograph of two other men huddled over some crude device, though it is impossible from
the photo to tell what it is. Or who the men are, actually.
Of course, I know. I took the picture of Joseph and Phil..
Joseph and Phil playing with dolls
The men are two actors who appeared in the last Cypress film
(miniseries, actually) with which I was involved, The
Sound and the Silence. Which is how I know that the two men are huddled over a
prototype of what would become the first telephone, and the actors are playing Alexander
Graham Bell and Watson, of "Come here, I want you" fame.
And because I took the picture of Joseph and Phil I know that they are playing with a
dollhouse, a prototype of the muffin shop that will be a primary location in Cherry,
and that inside the box are dolls. And because I know and respect Joseph and Phil and
because I was there, I also happen to know that the boys arent goofing off but
rather they are preparing for the start of shooting, which is now just 34 days away.
What they are doing is Shot Listing, an arduous process by which the director and DP
and sometimes a storyboardist go through the locked script and block it out for both
actors and camera, without either. Did I mention they do will this for every scene?
On every movie there is shot listing, but the scope and shape of that listing varies,
depending on a wide variety of factors. Alfred Hitchcock is the most famous shot lister.
He actually storyboarded his movies, entirely, so that no variable was left usaddressed
before the shot began.
It is often said that actors on a Hitchcock film felt as if they were like the dolls
that Joseph and Phil are using to shotlist Cherry. No wonder.
John Ford, too, is famous as a preplanner, designing his films so that they could only
be edited the way he wanted them edited, thus eliminating the intrusive fingers of greasy
studio operatives, aka producers and executives. Or so it is said.
Joseph and Phil, and on some days Jon, are not
storyboarding every scene, although they would like to. But for the simplest scenes
theyve decided to save money and simply shot list. Which saves them the fee for the
storyboardist, whose name is Colin Pennock.
For the more complicated scenes, however, they are storyboarding, and this too is a bid
to save money. Working with a limited budget, as this production is, requires making
certain adjustments. One of these is accommodating the growing but raw skills and limited
experience of first-time directors.
Joseph and Jon know that the more preproduction they do the fewer surprises there will
be on the set. And the fewer surprises on the set the more control they will have over the
shape and feel and look of the movie, as it comes out.
As Joseph told me: "Shot listing and story boarding forces you to consider all the
fundamentals of the scene: its focus, emotional beats, where everybody stands."
What Joseph didnt say, Phil did: "Something always goes wrong. Well be
changing things on the fly just because you always do. But if youve got everything
mapped out in advance those disasters are less disastrous. Which allows you to make your
days, which on a small budget you cant afford not to do."
Actually, on a real small budget, like $25,000 or even $150,000, you can afford not to
make your days because they arent actually costing you anything, monetarily at
least. And since every day of preproduction costs you money (you gotta eat) and the
patience of your friends who are donating their time and talent and equipment, your usual
no-budget indie usually (not always) gets little actual prep work done. With no money it
is hard to preproduce, except of course in the director's head.
Where dreams are writ large, and sometimes work out beautifully. And sometimes, more
It is on a mid-low budget picture like Cherry that making days is paramount.
Miss one and you face a serious overage. Real money. The cheapest way to ensure that the
production makes its days is to prep completely. Which is why, over the next few weeks
well present from time to time something we call The Anatomy of a Scene:
From Script to Shoot, and well see what the boys are actually doing with those
dolls and their dollhouse, and how it comes to affect how the movie gets made.
And we'll watch as a long ago glimmer in Terry Reed's eye
becomes a scene in A Film by Jon Glascoe and Joseph Pierson.