I just got done with the second best weekend of my life, hands down. How rewarding it is - to work my ass off for two months and set crazy, unwarranted goals out there and then chase them down. I legit pulled together a SAG-AFTRA professional short film, with lots of considerations and moving parts.
We filmed TEXICAN in Batavia, Ohio on July 31st, 2016, with crew arriving on set at 8:00AM. Holman Motors is this really lovely lot out in Batavia, and we had plenty of room to park our cars and set up shop. They were closed on Sunday, so we were able to run around as needed without interfering with business. They also have a security guy on location, and are in a secure location regardless, so all of my concerns regarding safety, equipment, and protection were well resolved.
Jennifer Day is an AMAZING Assistant Director, see notes on her below, but with her assistance and all of the preparation I had ahead of time - I went confidently into the day. Edixon and I also had two on-set rehearsals, one rehearsal in rehearsal space, and one long session of table reads, which was an enormously smart choice for me to do ahead of time. All things being all things, when Sunday rolled around the story was ready to come alive!
Let’s break down the roles and our crew for TEXICAN.
Executive Producer/Director/LeighAnn - Allyson West
Associate Producer - Angela Holman
Javi - Edixon Caridad
Editor - Forrest Davis
Director of Photography - Christopher J. Hagan
Assistant Director - Jennifer Day
Grip and Electric - Wes Hartshorn with Matt Cleary
Audio and Sound - J.B. Miller
Lead PA - Kristen Helmberger
Set PAs - Chester Helmberger, Lindsey Anarula, Simion Collins
Since this is an independent film, we had multiple people doing multiple roles. For example, Forrest Davis day-of was on set for us, and ultimately worked as an additional set of director eyes. This was hugely important since 1) Forrest has more experience than I do as a director, and 2) he was watching the shots as they were created and pointing out inconsistencies and/or changes that would happen that a director or co-director generally would see. In our case, the director (me) was acting, and while I could guide and direct character notes, it truly sped up our process to have Forrest watching so that I didn’t need to jump in/out of the scene after each take, or every few takes. Specifically, he adjusted eyelines, helped with notes on action consistency, and ensured coverage throughout the shoot.
Jen also played multiple roles that usually get, unfortunately, lumped into just one big AD role. We had Angela managing most of the paperwork so this wasn’t something Jen had to do, but Jen is of the if-it-needs-to-be-done-i-will-do-it attitude and kept her eyes peeled for places to assist.
So what did we each actually do?
I kept the vision tight and focused, acted, did set-dressing and wardrobe, made final decisions on shots and takes, and worked through personnel squabbles. I also worked on making sure people remained calm and focused across every position on set. Communication is key in this role, and I needed to listen very well to each of my staff during the day as they worked together to make sure they felt confident about their choices and information. I love hiring people that do their jobs well! I worked throughout the day to encourage each of my team members regarding their creative needs or vision.
Angela Holman was an associate producer for TEXICAN, and she was enormously helpful. She managed all of our paperwork leading up to and day-of, which is SO IMPORTANT, legally. She made sure that all outstanding Deal Memos were signed, and that all of the SAG-AFTRA union paperwork was tracked and managed. She also worked with our location to get us in/out, securely locked up, etc. She’s also such a super mega babe and it was the coolest to have her on set all day. She got us all the nomz*, so we could chow down and stay hydrated throughout the day.
*Note - ALWAYS GIVE PEOPLE FOOD. :P
Edixon Caridad was an absolutely, positive dream to work with and really, truly demonstrated excellent acting preparation and focus, as well as being open, considerate, thoughtful and professional. He remained loose, flexible, intentional, and calm throughout the entire day, which is saying a lot since we spent 7 hours doing 11 pages of the same scene. He was punctual, ready-to-go, patient, and stayed in character and on-his-lines the entire time. Truly a pleasure to have in this role, and really, really exciting to watch as an actor. Such tenderness!
*Note - I have seen the first rough edit of this film, and he IS AMAZING in it - he really picks the ball up and keeps it rolling. Everyone should hire him to work for them.
I made an unconventional choice by asking my editor to be on-set the day of the shoot. He offered early-on while I was still assembling my team, and I am not an idiot and would love to learn from people who know more than me and also who have a love for the indie-spirit of filmmaking. Yes, I did get some guff from my DP who did not like this “editor” advising on inconsistent shots or speaking up about some coverage, but these notes are honestly something a director would have done, and I was busy acting. I was pleased with the help, and am still pleased with the result of having Forrest with us that day.
Forrest was enormously helpful and truly an asset. Again, in addition to ensuring the footage we were filming was consistent and usable, he worked during the day to download the DP’s cards. I worked with him throughout the day so that he could notate what shots were happening when and what pages were getting coverage. He worked very closely with Jen throughout the day, and proved to be insightful, intuitive, professional and flexible. He also helped set lights, plug in cables, and generally prove helpful to everyone.
Director of Photography
Chris has a talented eye for creating stunning visuals, and a plethora of equipment to help realize his vision with - he really took on the spirit of this movie and worked to design shots that reflected the guts and grit within it. He directed our lighting team, directed our audio for each take, and assisted with setting up each shot/take with the actors (which is where the co-directing comes into play.) He’d call for rehearsals of takes we were doing to build his camera movement and pictures with the actors’ movement in a way that really blossomed throughout the course of the shoot.
Again, on our set, Chris was not a fan of having our editor part of the process, and we needed to work through miscommunication and disagreements for the first portion of the day. Ultimately, we stuck to Chris’ shooting schedule and I ended up writing it down on a scrap of paper so that everyone involved would know what was going on and we could move forward with building his ideas. There are a couple of changes I’d make in terms of preparing Chris for next time, but hey, that’s what learning experiences are all about. :)
Jennifer Day worked as a Unit Manager as well as the Assistant Director - keeping us on schedule, tracking the shots, and ensuring that all pieces fell into place. She watched out for everyone’s safety, and really, really, truly shone on set this day. Even though it can be hard to make sense of different styles of working, Jen offered valuable opinions and supported them as necessary.
She stayed tuned in to what Chris or I might need and provided direction to the rest of the team to accomplish our requests that happened spontaneously. She sent out call sheets, called for breaks and lunch, and she also officially made my little brother a set PA which made me ridiculously happy. :)
Grip and Electric
Matt Clary and Wes Hartshorn managed all of our lighting needs for the film, and they absolutely nailed it. You’re going to have to see for yourself, but the light coming in our trailer is GORGEOUS and exactly what I was hoping for.
Wes worked with Chris to design lighting, get our rentals, bring everything to set, utilize, pack up, and return everything. We also had one light actually break, and Wes went about fixing it. I really, really appreciated their professional and hugely optimistic presence.
We had Bill Miller in from Dayton to capture sound and audio for us, and he came all-equipment included. We had some serious issues with cars/planes/trucks rumbling by, but Bill made sure to listen for them. We also had this evil fly that kept buzzing in and out of some of the last takes that Bill worked on getting out of the trailer for us. :)
Kristen Helmberger, in addition to the months of work she put into working on this film, was promoted by Jen to Lead PA for the day of our shoot, and she absolutely shone - she was punctual, attentive, thoughtful, considerate, and very good at sharing information and giving instructions. She showed up early, reviewed the set, and stayed to break it down. Her attitude was pitch-perfect, and I was hugely grateful that she was part of this entire process.
We had Simion, Lindsay, and Chester Helmberger working as set PAs for us on TEXICAN, and they were completely delightful - each of them optimistic, attentive, and good-natured. It was a pleasure to have them assisting, and I look forward to hiring them again in the future.
The day began at 8AM for crew on-set, filming began at 9:45, and we wrapped around 5:30 PM with breaks and lunch during the day. We had breakfast, lunch, and dinner provided, as well as some super sweet golf carts to drive us to the bathroom. We had back-up plans in case of rain, and also covered areas for staying cool and in the shade. We needed more chairs. I should have brought some petty cash to set.
I take a lot of pride in the fact that I had my sister and brother working with me this day. Chester, particularly, was a complete delight. He had Kristen’s camera and a microphone and conducted “on set” interviews with most of the cast and crew. Big questions included “how were the breakfast bagels this morning,” or “what is your favorite baseball team?”
Additionally, between takes or set-ups, I’d be inside the set cooling off and I’d glance out the window to see Chester, sitting, waiting patiently for the next instruction to come his way. He’d catch my eye and give me a gigantic, cheesy, toothy smile and a thumbs up, and it just completely kept me in good spirits at all times.
I really, really, really loved the feeling we all ended on. It’s important to me to provide good experiences for people that make them value their time (and then ultimately their life.) This was my goal the whole time - it wasn’t about making a movie, it wasn’t about “getting the shot,” it was about enjoying the process. I think I was able to provide this for mostly everyone, and it left me on an emotional high.
OH, and OHMYGOD, did I mention that we hit 100% funded the night before? I lost my mind and slept only four hours.
I do want to include that there was a large miscommunication early on in the day that was resolved by lunch time. This is a very particular, interesting problem that I would be happy to talk about with anyone interested, in person. Message me directly if you want to know more.
I am proud to provide competitive rates to local artists in Independent Film, and hugely grateful to all of my friends, family, co-workers, and social networks that supported this endeavor both emotionally and financially. There is A LOT more coming for TEXICAN soon, so stay tuned!
I have strong recommendations for each team member on this shoot. If you’re interested in hiring who I hired, feel free to message me directly! :)