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January 31, 2015

Day 6 of 70

Shooting in the woods is the best. It feels peaceful. The trees dampen excess sound, the sun shines just enough, the air smells rich. Birds chirp in the morning, cicadas in the evening. Nature and all its fecundity minimize the machinations of a production.

Today we shot forty-eight setups with two cameras, and in doing so finished what had become known as the Jeopardy Tree sequence. I don't know where that name came from; it just sort of emerged of its own accord over the course of a handful of production meetings. The words jeopardy and tree were mentioned enough times that they become nomenclature. We also have Takedown, Truck Chase, Showdown, Bedtime and other vaguely nondescript titles which encompass sequences tricky enough to warrant their fair share of head scratching.

This one was a big one because it came so early in our schedule, and because it involved children doing very dangerous things. Our stunt team has been adamant that the best way to simulate kids in peril is to not simulate it at all; rather, their tactic has been to help the kids steel up their courage and do the action for real (with lots of assistance, training and judicious usage of wires and harnesses). By the end of prep, our young stars were fearless. I could (and did) ask them to walk out onto a branch 65 feet above the ground and they wouldn't bat an eyelash about it. It looked like the funnest thing in the world; judging from how many times I caught them grinning gleefully in the middle of a take in which they were supposed to be terrified, I'm pretty sure it actually was.

Editing together what we'd shot over the first two days of this sequence was incredibly helpful. There were a few missing pieces we needed to get, and a few shots - a reveal here, an interaction there - where I felt we could do better. And we did. It also reminded me why I can't edit while shooting: I'll never, ever sleep.

Thus our first full week of production comes to a close. These early days will be full of such milestones - today it's the end of the first week, on Monday we'll be a tenth of the way through - but I'm trying not to think about the production in those terms. It's going to be a marathon, yes, and some days will surely be a grind, but it's too much fun to think about an ending that's too far away to comprehend in the first place. I'm going to dig in my heels and enjoy it.

Rain on the forecast for Monday. We may jump into our house set far sooner than expected.

Posted by David Lowery at 3:56 AM

January 29, 2015

Day 5 of 70

I skipped dailies today to hurry home and whip up a rough cut of the past two days of shooting. We only have one day left for a key scene and I started to get worried today that we weren't going to get everything we needed. I realized in the process of bashing it together that I haven't edited anything in a really long time. I'm a little bit rusty, I think. We're cutting the movie in Avid, but I used Premiere for the sake of speed and as I instinctively hit all my old key commands, I felt a bit of remorse for the passing of Final Cut 7. I really need to let go at this point.

I am now waiting for this crudely stitched-together scene to upload to Pix so I can go to bed and then wake up and show it to everyone tomorrow and figure out what exactly we need to focus on before the sun sets on our last day at this location. Movies set in the wild starring kids who have to do stunts is an excellent recipe for not having enough time, ever. But it's hard to complain when you get to spend what time you do have throwing those kids from trees. They love it even more than we do.

Posted by David Lowery at 3:58 AM

January 28, 2015

Day 4 of 70

Too tired to report on anything other than that we used a green screen for the first time today. It was our martini shot. We actually wrapped early. And not because of the green screen.

Posted by David Lowery at 3:56 AM

January 27, 2015

Day 3 0f 70

Today was the first day of many, many days in the woods. There are lots of trees in this movie and, as the saying goes, a tree's a tree's a tree, which we endeavored to prove today by shooting in every possible direction to chase sunlight over the course of a single scene. Except it wasn't actually a single scene, but the middle portion of one. The beginning and end will be filmed in two separate locations further North, in about a month's time. At one point, these sections were all scheduled for a single day, until we remembered that we weren't making that kind of movie.

It was a great scene. A little bit like a horror movie, a little bit like a nature documentary, a little bit like an 80s music video (at least until we adjusted the 18k). We covered the heck out of it, and still didn't have time to get a few of the wides that I had planned, but I guess who needs wide shots when you have anamorphic close-ups?

Back to sayings, though - another one that I feel we'll be hearing a lot is "waiting on smoke." There's never enough of it until there's too much.

We're doing big-screen dailies every night for the crew. That's a whole new thing for me. My natural instinct when it comes to raw footage is to curl up in bed with Pix and watch it all alone with the sound off and my eyes halfway shut. Getting over that inclination took a little getting used to, but hearing reactions in a theater is fun, and its easier to see how awesome everything looks. As with anything I've ever shot, it still doesn't look like a real movie to me, but everyone else assures me that it's great. I'm mostly more than happy to trust them.

Posted by David Lowery at 2:11 AM

January 26, 2015

Day 2 of 70

Last night I went went for a run in my new Vibram toe shoes for the first time. I barely made it two miles before my calves began to ache. It was a deep, foretelling ache, rich with the promise of perambulatory difficulty to come.

And indeed, walking wasn't the easiest thing to do today, our second day of the shoot, which was fine since it was all spent indoors, in our vintage hospital location. We had much ground to cover today: a major beat of our young hero waking up, followed by two conversational scenes amongst five grown-ups and one child taking place in a long narrow corridor that quickly became jammed with equipment, personnel and the wafty commingling odors associated with both. Minus some second-ish unit material, we shot everything that transpires at this location. It wasn't the most auspicious beginning for our adult actors, who were often at the receiving end of directions shouted from down the hall, but we powered through and knocked out about three pages and roughly two dozen set-ups. I'm in awe of how agile this company is. No one bats an eyelash when I ask to swap a lens. Which is one of my favorite things to do.

It was Bryce's first day, and Isiah Whitlock Jr's (he's in the role of Sheriff Gene Dentler, which was played by Robert Longstreet in Ain't Them Bodies Saints ). Both were exceptional. Isiah now leaves us until April. His return will be light at the end of our tunnel.

I'm reading Of Human Bondage as we shoot, in the mornings and evenings; I'm hoping to finish it by the time production wraps up. This morning I was stuck by a passage at the top of page 160, which contains the most marvelous arrangement of semicolons and colons I've ever seen in a sentence, bookended by two self-contained clauses that scarcely qualify as independent. It made me want to get to diagramming!

Tomorrow: nature.

Posted by David Lowery at 2:51 AM

January 22, 2015

Day 1 of 70 (afterwards)

I wonder if I can keep up a brief recount for all seventy days?

Call time today was at six, which means I had to get up at four, which means I'm extremely tired at the moment, which is nothing out of the ordinary. What is out of the ordinary is that we wrapped thirty minutes after lunch. If that's a precedent, I'm happy to set it.

We shot a lot of stuff of the kid running and splashing in the river, and also a scene of a car pulling into a driveway. It was a ton of fun. It's to my crew's credit that it all felt effortless, pressure-free and simple. It didn't feel all that different from when we were shooting St. Nick six years ago (six years!). We admittedly had a technocrane, but we went out of our way to make those shots feel less technocrane-ish.

Tomorrow we're jumping back into prep for one more day. We start shooting scenes with dialogue on Monday.

Posted by David Lowery at 3:26 AM

January 21, 2015

Day 1 of 70

Although I scarcely write here any more, I'd be remiss if I didn't post something tonight, on the eve of production on this big studio movie I've somehow found myself at the helm of.

I started this blog the summer after I got out of high school. Back then, I'd have been surprised and thrilled to know this is where I'd wind up. A handful of years later, I was so entrenched in auteurism and fierce independence that I'd have been surprised and mildly aghast at the suggestion that I'd be directing a Disney film a little ways down the line (and a remake, no less)! A few years after that - two years ago this very day, in fact - I was packing for Sundance, where my latest attempt at a fiercely independent film was about to premiere. Ain't Them Bodies Saints was meant to be an estimable cinematic declaration; it didn't quite wind up that way. My feelings about it remain massively conflicted; most days it's best if I don't think about it at all, and in its wake I found myself unsure of what exactly I wanted to do next. I wrote a bunch of things. One of those things happened to be Pete's Dragon.

One thing lead to another. There was a point last spring where I had to choose between directing this movie and another script that I'd written. That other one might have made more sense on paper, in terms of budget and theme and content and scale. It was a natural choice. It also didn't feel completely like it came from me - which strangely, maybe ironically (although not really), this Disney movie did. This big kids' adventure movie (that happened to be a remake) felt personal. It also felt like a good challenge, and a lucky opportunity.

And it felt like fun! That's something I care about more now than I used to.

So I went with my gut, and now we're a few hours away from rolling cameras. I made the right choice. I'm very proud of the fact that Toby Halbrooks and I are the only writers to have touched this script; that it feels like our film as much as it is the studio's; that we've managed to keep it personal and strange and weird and fun. I'm excited for people to see it. I'm even more excited to make it.

I've said this before and I'll say it again: here we go.

Postscript: this movie is scheduled to open on August 12th, 2016, one week shy of the three year anniversary of Ain't Them Bodies Saints' theatrical release. If all goes as planned, by that point I'll have also wrapped production on two of those other movies I wrote - a period crime movie starring a living legend and a sci-fi film from the producer of Under The Skin. Who knows what will actually happen between now and then, but in as much as there's a track to be on, this one feels pretty right.

Posted by David Lowery at 3:31 AM