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April 30, 2015

Day 74 of 70

We wrapped around 8 o'clock tonight, with a shot of two hands clasped tightly together. Endings are hard to get right, but I think we did pretty well.

Posted by David Lowery at 7:07 AM

April 29, 2015

Day 73 of 70

The weather is not going to let us wrap up without a fight. We were beset by arctic winds, sheets of horizontal precipitation, raindrops so big they felt like hail and other inclemency all day long, and by the end of the night I was consolidating coverage and block shooting in an attempt to get the actors and crew (and, selfishly, myself) out of the cold and the wet. I am currently in bed, trying to thaw out. I love cold weather, but even with thermals and heat packs and extra socks I wasn't ready for this.

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We've been shooting splits the past two days. Splits are my favorite, as they match my internal clock almost perfectly. Early morning calls are always a struggle, whereas working until one or two in the morning feels like a normal day.

We wrapped a few more actors today. It seems like only yesterday that our magnificent trio of lumberjacks - Phil Grieves, Marcus Henderson and AJ Jackson - were singing amidst the redwoods, but tonight they drove off into the distance, never to be seen again. And Steve Barr, who played Deputy Pat Smalls, wielded his notebook for the final time. It's all coming to an end.

I am still freezing.

Posted by David Lowery at 8:04 AM

April 28, 2015

Day 72 of 70

Here is how I planned tonight's shoot:

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Posted by David Lowery at 9:29 AM

April 27, 2015

Day 71 of 70

We did not finish today's scenes, but we got a lot more done than I thought we would. We were up on a rig that was a magnificent marriage of practical effects and green screen - or at least it will be someday, when the green screen is gone and replaced with something that will hopefully blend in well with all the realness those churning pistons were bringing twenty feet from the ground. Taking the time to query whether or not we were shooting it right ate up a lot of the day, especially when it would turn out that we were shooting it wrong and had to figure out how to fix it. Which we sometimes couldn't. Still, I'd always prefer to spend forty minutes taking out a windshield to negate troublesome reflections we hadn't anticipated seeing than have someone paint it all out later on.

Wes Bentley's character often wears triple-denim in the movie, and to celebrate the winding down of his time on set, everyone who was able dressed in a Canadian Tuxedo today and took a group picture at lunch. Here are a few of us - me, Wes, Jade and Amanda Neale, our wonderful costume designer and fighter of good fights.

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Posted by David Lowery at 5:03 AM

April 25, 2015

Day 70 of 70

Well, first things first, this wasn't our last day of production. The writing was on the wall last month, and we added a few days to our schedule.

But even so, if it had been our last day, it would have been a heck of a note to go out on. It was Anzac Day, and the morning started with a beautiful memorial service against a blood-red dawn. Peter Hayden, the wonderful actor who's been doubling for Robert Redford on this film, read a tribute to the soldiers who died at Gallipoli and within just a few words I was in tears.

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From there, we all had to shift gears emotionally and set about to shoot the second of our big vehicular events. Our stunt coordinators dubbed it the Anzac Day Pile-up. Most of the morning was spent setting up, going over what was going to happen, coordinating camera moves and safety guidelines and so on and so forth.

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By nine-thirty, we were just about ready to go - and of course, inevitably, it started to rain. We covered everything, weighted the option of going to shoot an insert that was scheduled for later that afternoon, and then decided to just wait it out.

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Once the precipitation let up, we all got back into position and did a non-impact rehearsal, during which we noticed that the pavement was now too wet, slick and spotted with highly-reflective puddles that would be a mess for both continuity and future VFX work. Luckily, this is the type of problem that intrepid film crews are born to solve:

The pavement was mostly dry by eleven. We lined up to go again, for real this time, and just as sound started rolling it started raining again. The whole process was repeated, including the scramble to shoot that insert shot (we actually got as far as setting up the camera this time). For once, it seemed possible that we might not get a single shot off before lunch.

But we did. We got two, in fact, with four cameras rolling and the entire cast and crew watching. It was awesome.

The rest of the day was spent shooting some climactic moments for a handful of characters, including Isiah Whitlock, Jr. Back when this was our last day of shooting, his final moment in the movie was going to be the martini of the entire production, and if you know him and his work, you can imagine the note we were hoping to go out on. We got it anyway, and it was just as awesome as the pileup and a magnificent wrap to his time on this movie. Hopefully the afterglow lasts for a few more days...

Watched the new Avengers movie in a tiny small-town picturehouse. Finished reading Eowyn Ivey's The Snow Child. Dreamed up a new structure for my sci-fi movie. Went to bed looking forward to sleeping in.

Posted by David Lowery at 7:21 PM

April 24, 2015

Day 69 of 70

Today was weird. There was a heavy fog in the morning that hung around forever and delayed our start, and by the time it finally lifted I think it had seeped into my brain. Nothing seemed quite right, but not in the normal not-quite-right way. The things we shot all technically worked, but I felt like I was viewing them through some sort of dissociative lens.

At the end of the day, we shot one of our big vehicular stunts - this was the beginning of a two-day demolition derby that we'd all been looking forward to. It was a big event, one which would definitely take one of our hero trucks out of commission. It was all meant to be fun and awesome and exciting, but the sheer violence of it was something I'd never really considered until that metal was crunching and scraping across the concrete. No one gets hurt in the scene, and in the movie it will be fun, but something about watching this obliteration under those gray skies seemed far more melancholy than I was expecting when we wrote these rip-roaring sequences many months ago.

We all went to dinner in Gore afterwards and toasts were made and spirits lifted and we went home tired and happy.

Posted by David Lowery at 6:10 AM

April 23, 2015

Day 68 of 70

We were originally going to be moving to a different town further South tomorrow to film on a racetrack (we needed a long stretch of road to turn into...well, to turn into something). We scouted it long ago and imagined having a wrap party with Go Karts after finishing.

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Due to weather, however, we've decided to stay put here in Tapanui and just shoot everything in the parking lot of our mill. We started on those scenes this morning, one of which involved me and the camera guys packed into a truck while Karl Urban spun donuts on the macadam.

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Here is ace cinematographer Bojan Bazelli. Someday I need to write an entire post about how much I love this dude.

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Here we are shooting the prettiest VFX plate ever. All the gorgeous scenery will be discarded once the element we were looking for is extracted.

I felt like doing some editing the other night, but not with Avid or Premiere, so I bought Final Cut Pro X. Either my brain is fried or it has become totally awesome since I last played with a free trial version. I can't wait to keep messing around with it. I'm sure there are still all sorts of drawbacks and maybe it's aesthetically still a little too slick for my tastes, but it's starting to feel forward-thinking in all the right ways - instead of the completely arbitrary ways in which it used to.

Posted by David Lowery at 4:07 AM

April 22, 2015

Day 67 of 70

I saw an edit of a scene last night that made me so happy. Happy enough to actually show someone, which I never do. It just felt marvelous, and probably not that different from what you'll see in the final cut, except that I scored it to a track from the Inside Llewyn Davis soundtrack. It was wildly appropriate, and at the very least hopefully a barometer of what will come on the soundtrack front.

One of the sets we shot on today hurt me when I tried to climb on it.

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At the end of the day, I was handed my contract for this movie to sign. I'm almost officially hired to direct this movie!

Posted by David Lowery at 3:21 AM

April 21, 2015

Day 66 of 70

Another day of process trailer work, another stint of figuring out new ways for people to pensively look out cars windows as they travel from one scene to the next. The carbon monoxide made everyone woozy, and the monotony of the coverage may have taken even more of a toll, and yet - and yet! - today was the first day that I teared up while watching a take. It was a simple shot of a character in a car. In the script, he's listening to music, and since there's no dialogue our sound recordist piped in the song I hope to use in the film. It worked, and everyone felt it. Our camera operator Drew said it was the first time felt like he was in the movie.

There was another wonderful moment - a shot of our young heroine, played by the amazing Oona Laurence, asleep in the backseat of a car. We discussed shooting it Poor Man's Process to save time, since the gray daylight was already so flat and the windows of the vehicle were scarcely visible, but ultimately decided to take the trailer for one more spin, just to see what might happen. Within thirty seconds of hitting that road, Oona had actually fallen asleep. You could just tell. She ceased to be acting. When we reached the halfway point of our locked-off stretch of highway 90, we pulled over for a bit to release traffic. Big trucks roared by and, from the monitors on the back of our trailer, we watched this girl slumbering in the backseat and kept rolling. It took me right back to all those childhood road trips, the long night drives home from my grandparents' house, listening to the highway as I drifted off to sleep. Turn signals and 18-wheelers and the pitter patter of rain; the occasional muttering of my parents to each other, their words unimportant, just more sounds.

It was the second-to-last shot of the day. The last shot was on green screen, and we got it as quickly as we could and went home.

One other awesome thing about today: a cat came to hang out.

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Posted by David Lowery at 3:45 AM

April 20, 2015

Day 65A of 70

We used our day off to set up a green screen and shoot a few extra lines of dialogue for a scene on a front porch we shot back in February. The scene is a reaction to another scene that we shot later on, which was of such a tenor that the initial scene (which happens second storywise) needed recalibrating. So we rejiggered some dialogue (more on that another day) and shipped part of that front porch down here to the South Island, although after much discussion it was decided that the best way to seamlessly match lighting would be to do the whole thing on green. It was deeply surreal to be shooting the exact same shots, with mostly the same dialogue - just slightly different. It took three hours and then I went back home and read for a while and did a little storyboarding.

I watched Lost River the other day. Sure, its messy and it has its problems but it's pretty awesome all the same. If someone unknown had directed it, the reception would have been completely different and it would probably already be on its way to the Criterion collection. Halfway through, I was thinking that it would make a pretty great triple feature with George Washington and Trash Humpers, but by the time the last fifteen minutes rolled around, I'd subbed out the Korine movie for Panos Cosmatos' amazing and unjustly underseen Beyond The Black Rainbow.

Posted by David Lowery at 3:02 AM

April 19, 2015

Day 65 of 70

On Karl Urban's first day way back at the very beginning of February, we shot most of Scene 32 - except for his portion of it, which we never quite got to. We kept pushing it, from one forest to the next, until today, when we finally committed it to picture at an idyllic little location by a burbling brook, and then rushed and also covered a shot from Scene 30 that we'd tried and failed to complete on two prior occasions. That first attempt we just ran out of time, and the second was when it was pouring rain in the redwoods. Today it didn't seem like we'd have enough light at the end of the day to squeeze it in, but we went for it anyway - and on take five or six, the sun came out from somewhere and the electrics ran to turn off the 18ks and we got it and it was fantastic. And now we're all caught up!

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Posted by David Lowery at 8:00 PM

April 18, 2015

Day 64 of 70

Today was our first day shooting on Main Street in Tapanui, the tiny town of 750 folks that we stumbled upon last summer. Originally we just fell in love with the abandoned lumber mill on the outskirts, but then we discovered that the town itself was perfect for the movie. The residents have been incredibly welcoming. Here's what's in the window of the local daycare:

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We completely doctored the main thoroughfare to create a classic American Main Street, and today we shot all up and down it. This is one of the only days we've had where we actually got every shot on the schedule. Nothing punted to another day, nothing axed for lack of time. It was a great feeling. Also, everything we shot today was fun, exciting and intermittently hilarious. Action movies and comedies - why make anything else?

A lot of friends and family wound up on screen today. Augustine had her scene, as Mrs. Swanberg. Brooke, my assistant, got to be a stunt driver. Jade had a cameo as a waitress (see below).

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On a bittersweet note, we wrapped Ben, one of our Pete doubles. He's off to school next week, and our remaining days will be a little less cheerful without him. He was such a close match to Oakes that I don't know how we'll manage any future over-the-shoulder shots without him. He finished with the most epic shot we could give him. I got a little choked up saying goodbye.

Posted by David Lowery at 3:52 AM

April 17, 2015

Day 63 of 70

The new Star Wars trailer was released five minutes before I had to leave for set. Not gonna pretend it wasn't a pretty great way to start the day.

Today saw our numbers swell by thirty-six awesome kids and one period-accurate yellow schoolbus, which was previously used in The Bridge To Terabithia. Our plans were that, if the weather was terrible, which we knew it would be, we were going to shoot their scenes on green screen instead of the open road. What wound up happening was that the weather was terrible, but we went out and filmed on the road anyway. I decided a few rain drops on windows was a lesser crime than a potentially bad composite shot. For once, I wasn't wrong.

Posted by David Lowery at 3:37 AM

April 16, 2015

Day 62 of 70

Never, ever ever write a totemic prop into your scripts. You will spend way too much time shooting inserts of it. Small objects that characters value are a terrible thing to put into movies.

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Today was a blissfully dialogue free day. Just strong, pretty shots, including a few that will end the movie. We started the morning with some sunrise stuff on a hillside resplendent with baby pine trees. It felt like a Christmas Tree farm, and I realized while we were there that the scene we were shooting was basically an exact lift of the Christmas Tree farm scene that I'd cut out of the script for ATBS when I had to change its setting from the winter to summer. I always loved that scene, and losing it (as well as the whole Christmastime theme) was a minor heartbreak. I'm glad I subconsciously saved it for this movie.

During an emotionally climactic shot towards the end of the day, I asked one of our actresses to smile like she'd just heard a really funny fart joke. I thought it might be one of those brilliant out-of-left-field directions that would bring the scene to life in an unexpected way - and it did, especially since her off-camera co-stars helpfully chimed in with some live flatulence sound effects as soon as we called action.

Posted by David Lowery at 2:03 AM

April 15, 2015

Day 61 of 70

Back on Monday morning, today was going to be a day spent entirely at different locations. By Monday night, we figured we needed another morning back at the mill. By last night, that morning had turned into a full day's shoot. And this morning came word our lead warrior was down for the count with a stomach bug, which means we'll be back there tomorrow to get a close-up to cut into all the over-the-shoulders we shot with his double today.

In spite of that setback, we pounded through a heck of a lot of scenes today. Some of them we finished better than others, but at least we finished all of them. I think we have now filmed 95% of the dialogue in the movie, plus another 15% that wasn't scripted. All of which will be reduced by half once we start editing.

Posted by David Lowery at 4:08 AM

April 14, 2015

Day 60 of 70

What people say about this sort of weather down here is that "everything's turned to custard." Another day of exteriors cut short by rolling wintry mixes.

Internal directorial crisis of the day: you're working on a visual gag when someone suggests a different approach. You stick to your version because you like it and you settled on it ages ago and you're halfway through shooting it and the way the day's going you can't shake things up at this point, all the while getting sick to your stomach thinking that maybe this other version actually is funnier and you screwed up and if you screwed this up what other mistakes have you made - all feelings that's exacerbated when your version doesn't work at first, because humor is hard to get right.

The kinks get worked out and the shot eventually works great and is exactly as funny as you'd been planning and you remember that humor is subjective, but man - sometimes you've gotta stay in your bubble.

On the plus side, check out this hot chocolate-dispensing backpack!

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Posted by David Lowery at 3:41 AM

April 13, 2015

Day 59 of 70

A snow day! An arctic snap hit sometime last week, but our days were still sunny and no one really believed the forecast of snow for Tuesday. Rain, sure - and sure enough, by as by 8am it was precipitating - but winter weather still seemed very far away. And besides, it was only Monday. We endeavored in setting up our first shot, and before too long that rain had turned to sleet, and then the sleet got lighter and fluffier and suddenly we were in the middle of an honest to goodness blizzard.

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On the one hand, this threw a massive kink in our day, as everything we were scheduled to shoot took place outdoors. On the other, I just love snow too much to let the inconvenience get me down. I was happy as could be as we went indoors and cleaned up one scene and shot another, pretty much demolishing our remaining weather cover. After that, the weather cleared a bit and we dared to set up for a scene outside. Just as we were getting the actors mic'd, precipitation returned, this time in the form of a massive hail storm.

It subsided, but by then the daylight hours were waning. We went indoors for Scene 95, our last true indoor scene of the entire motion picture, and by the time we were rolling on it the tin roof was reverberating with more rain.

The sadly ironic thing is that this is how we wanted our mill location to look. Cold, cloudy, gray and muddy. We were a week early in getting it just the way we wanted. The forecast for tomorrow looks grim, and Friday might be even worse. We'll see what we can do.

At lunch today, we were treated to a performance by The Natalies - the movie's lead actress and her two doubles, who've spent their off hours the past few months choreographing some pretty great dance routines. Their latest was to Thriller, complete with custom-made zombie masks. These kids are amazing.

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Posted by David Lowery at 2:39 AM

April 11, 2015

Day 58 of 70

More driving stuff. A to B, no dialogue. Just getting places. I popped into the car after the actors had gotten in and explained what was going on and what I wanted them to do. "All pretty simple," I said, and then interrupted myself with "Actually, this is an incredibly vital moment in the movie and I'm really doing you a disservice by undermining its importance."

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Everyone was in a good mood, mostly because I think everyone was fifty-percent already gone for the weekend. It was that sort of relatively light day that comes along just when you need it. I think everyone must be feeling the end encroach. The real end.

Today we wrapped the first of our lead actors. Mr. Redford is done. We sent him out as we brought him in - performing to an orange ball on top of a stick. He nailed it. It's been an honor working with him. Everyone gathered for a crew picture with him and he gave a little speech, the contents of which were for our ears only. It was a great end to a strong week.

I went home and watched the brilliant first episode of the new season of Louie and, as always happens when I watch that show, lay awake in bed and thought about how far I have to go.

Posted by David Lowery at 4:05 PM

April 10, 2015

Day 57 of 70

How have we not had this much fun until this week?

Today we shot an accidental Poltergeist homage. Technically, it was a lighting mistake, but it was so cool we shot three takes of it anyway.

Posted by David Lowery at 4:15 AM

April 9, 2015

Day 56 of 70

I’ve found that the best way to maintain a sure footing on a movie is to know exactly what shot you’ll set up for the following morning. The shots that come after that can all be improvised, but going to bed and waking up knowing where you’re going to put the camera goes a long way towards easing nervous jitters and, on good days, maintaining momentum.

We know exactly what the first shot today was going to be, and we knew that it would take some time because we had to rig something with C4. It was a one-take wonder, and the entire crew gathered around to watch. There may as well have been picnic blankets spread out on the ground.

The rest of the day was full of all sorts of cackle-with-glee moments. At one point we had about fifty folks on camera, all running and shouting and kicking up dust as they ran towards…well, I won’t say what they ran towards. They ran towards a plot point. It was magnificent.

Unfortunately, we were so satisfied with our handling of the melee that we forgot to plan the first shot for tomorrow, but oh well.

Posted by David Lowery at 3:23 AM

April 8, 2015

Day 55 of 70

We had to cover a heck of a lot of dialogue today and, as is my wont, I decided to rewrite a lot of it two days ago. I always do this. It always causes the usual minor challenges to the production - sometimes a scene gets longer, sometimes a character appears or disappears, sometimes lines get reattributed and the sound recordist isn't ready for them. I usually ignore these growing pains, but yesterday, sensing weariness on the part of my compatriots at my latest round of revisions, I wondered I was just being compulsive. Maybe it wasn't so much a case of me trying to improve upon something as it was an obsessive inability to let things stay fixed. Were these changes actually making the scenes better? Or did I just feel better about them because they was different?

Either way, this is how I've figured out how to work. Maybe someday I'll do it less,* but at the moment I don't know how to handle a script that's not in at least some state of flux. There's a risk to it, absolutely; you spend months working on something, and when you throw a bunch of it out the window at the last second, maybe you do lose something in the moment that was once important to you for a legitimately valid reason that you've temporarily overlooked. On the other hand, what was really important in a scene usually tends to stick around, and whatever I react to that compels me to rock the boat is usually something I'd never have predicted when I was sitting at my computer six or twelve months earlier. And in today's case, the actors came in, we read through the dialogue, we made more changes, together, because at the end of the day they're the ones who have to say all this stuff, and then we shot it. It was terrific.

There's a photo of a page from Michael Mann's shooting script for Heat that I saw the other day, which gave me solace when I began to question my propensity for change:

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* I think perhaps the only way this would never be the case is with extensive rehearsal - or even any rehearsal - which might iron out any potential misgivings in advance.

Posted by David Lowery at 4:15 AM

April 7, 2015

Day 54 of 70

What a difference a three day weekend makes! Also, what a difference a cup or two of Aeropress coffee makes after weeks and weeks of traditional Long Blacks. I had two on Sunday afternoon, upon returning from our Queenstown holiday (parasailing!), and was for all intents and purposes wide awake and way too chipper for the following thirty six hours. I'm still awake now! It was a great first day back, one which saw us running around with two cameras on the ground, improvising some outstanding coverage of a pretty big scene while a helicopter swooped overhead getting desperate wide shots of the same as the sunlight trickled away before we were ready for it to go. The sound of a helicopter all by itself is enough to make everything feel bigger and more intense. It got our adrenaline pumping. Ready for the home stretch.

But back to the weekend. Yes, we went parasailing, but more importantly we went to see Furious 7, and then went back to the hotel and ordered up Dumb and Dumber To and room service. When I got back to Tapanui, I was still in a sequel mood and so watched Hal Hartley's Ned Rifle. I loved it. I loved every second of it. I'd say I loved every frame, but that would be untrue, as it took quite a few frames for my regret that they weren't shot on exactly the same film stock as Henry Fool to fade. But still, I loved it.

At one point in the movie, James Urbaniak makes notaworthy use of the term 'encomium,' a word which I've always found on a phonetic level to be remarkable, and which also always calls to mind Robert Plant's duet with Tori Amos on Down By The Seaside, from an old Led Zeppelin tribute album entitled - you guessed it - Encomium. I loved that song in high school, and it's all wrapped up around my memory of my first-ever trip to Austin, circa 1999. I brought a boom box along in the back seat of the car (my old Caprice Classic's stereo system was limited to radio) so we could listen to it on the trip down I-35. The purpose of the trip was to buy my first miniDV camera (a Canon XL-1), but while in my state's capital I also went to see some movies, the most notable of which was - you guessed it again, or actually probably not - a Hal Hartley movie. It was his short feature Book Of Life, which was itself shot on miniDV and being exhibited via a 35mm transfer. Old technology! The friend I went with was aghast at the streaky, grainy video. "That was not a movie!" I remember him exclaiming. I was thrilled beyond measure (although had there been a measure it would have been the fact that I was thrilled at all that thrilled me most of all) that something so shitty could looks so great at the same time.

Posted by David Lowery at 6:03 AM

April 3, 2015

Day 53 of 70

There isn't much in the way of hotels down in Tapanui, so everyone is staying in homes and private residences. Two crew members thus far have reported hauntings. Toby and I are staying in an old country manor and the owners assured us they haven't ever had any encounters.

We were indoors today, in an office, and in a rush, as always. We knocked out two scenes before lunch, both with just one character; then that number changed to four and, for the first time, I got a little lost. Usually I feel like I don't have time for all the things I know I need, but today I had trouble figuring out just what it was that I needed (that I of course didn't have time to get). There was a reaction shot that I knew was important, but I couldn't for the life of me figure out what exactly it was supposed to be. It was a little unnerving, a little exciting; this is the best type of exploration, except when there's no time for it, when you have one shot to get it right and you know that if you don't, the movie's going to be a little bit less good. I took that one take and kept doing it over and over again until our young actor's feet had fallen asleep. I know we got something.

Now it's time for the Easter holiday. The whole company is heading to Queenstown. We haven't had two days off in a row since leaving Wellington; I don't know how to handle three.

Alex Ross Perry's Winnie The Pooh writing deal got announced in the trades today, which means that it's officially time for Disney to increase the vegan offerings at the studio commissary.

Posted by David Lowery at 2:58 AM

April 2, 2015

Day 52 of 70

Yesterday was April Fool's, and the entire cast and most of the crew (minus a few folks in the costume and art department) boarded a single flight for the South Island. Walking into the tiny Rotorua airport and seeing it brimming with friendly faces was a great way to start the day - everyone starts to blend in on set, but take those same folks and drop them all in a public space all at once and things start to feel like a party.

That mood consisted throughout the flight, down to the ground and then on the drive from Dunedin to Gore to Tapanui, where we happily scouted a few last minute locations as the sun set gloriously around us. Magic hour lasts for ages down here, long after the moon has risen.

Today was a relatively easy day. Easy enough that we managed to grab a shot of Karl Urban from a few weeks downstream and knock it out while we were waiting for something else. I wish this could happen more often! We based out of our lumber mill location, but we were shooting on various car rigs all day long, shooting little pieces of people going to and fro at various speeds and levels of intensity. Mr. Redford gave us a glorious R-rated outtake that, this being a Disney film, will likely never see the light of day. The sky was huge and gray and looming - exactly the same expanse we saw when we fell in love with this location last July. Here's hoping it sticks around.

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Postscript: I watched Don Hertzfeldt's World Of Tomorrow the moment it became available the other night, and strongly suggest you do likewise.

Posted by David Lowery at 2:23 AM