Tuesday, May 29, 2007

First Session

Today we kicked off the first day of production on Women's Studies, which if I may be allowed a brief moment of self-congratulation was a great success.

Don't get me wrong, conditions were less than optimal. The Ningen Manga gremlins indeed showed their ugly faces. We were shorthanded on crew. Lighting conditions weren't the most ideal. (Director of Photography Aaron Shirley commented that he felt like he was shooting underwater.) Yet none of that is what defined the day. In fact, the day was defined by how we overcame the obstacles put in front of us.

Plus, it was just a blast to be shooting on location. This is what all the lead up has been for . . . to get out there and create something.

I'm going to go ahead and let some of the pictures we took speak for the day, but a big shout out to the cast, crew, and extras who showed up and gave 110% today.

Here's to the beginning . . .

DP Aaron Shirley and Camera Operator Thomas Fant set up the jib for "Mary's Reveal."

Sound Guys
Sound crew Sean Russell and Kevin Nowak always get the best spots to hang out in.

Director Lonnie Martin and DP Aaron Shirley review a shot on playback.

Adam Schreck
Adam Schreck slates a shot.

Cindy Marie Martin (Mary) prepares for the scene.

Director Lonnie Martin works with actors Cindy Marie Martin, Danielle Dike, and Sami Bashore.

Shooting a scene from Women's Studies.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Exactly one week from today is the first shooting day of Women's Studies.

An endorphin rush raced up my spine writing that.

Most of June will be spent shooting what I've been referring to as "second unit footage" though it will be done by the "first unit" crew. (There is no second unit crew on Women's Studies. It's all of us doing everything.) Many of the shoots will be to get one or two shots which are either transitional footage, MOS ("without sound" for the layman), or simply short, quarter or half page scenes that don't involve a whole lot of crazy camera moves, special effects, or long set-up time. The logic was to try and get some of this "smaller" stuff taken care of at the beginning of the shoot while everyone is still fresh.

That said, there are two MAJOR scenes being shot in June. One is a scene involving our heroine, Mary, near the end of the film. The other . . . Well, lets' just say I'm hoping it's going to "kick ass" in more ways than one.

While the past few weeks have been hectic with tons of choices needing to be made, there's also been a slow excitement building as well. Every cast and crew member I talk to seems to have an electricity running through them. All conversations have the subtext of "This is going to be so COOL!" It a pretty great feeling.

I'm a little nervous, but it's a good nervous; the nervous I'd get before opening night of a show back in my theater days. Everything seems louder, brighter, and alive as if everything is happening all at once. Yet my mind is more focused, less scattered, even though one minute I'm thinking about light equipment and the next about what color bloomers the academy girls should be wearing.

In last week's blog that wasn't, (Hey, I didn't miss one . . . technically.) I mentioned that we'd begun having rehearsals, and in a lot of ways I think that's what has made things click into place. There's something about exploring the realm of ideas and working with actors to figure out to bring those ideas to life that's totally invigorating.

I keep coming to back to imagery involving making something live, and that's what it feels like . . . that something well-rested is waking up and ready to take on the world.

Summer is here, my friends. Let's make a movie.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Casting & Rehearsals

Did some additional casting this week as well as started rehearsals. First day of shooting is only TWO WEEKS away.

More to come.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

48 Hours of Madness

This past weekend, Ningen Manga Productions participated in the Washington DC 48 Hour Film Project, a competition where filmmaking teams are given a genre, prop, character, and line of dialogue and have to make a film containing those elements in a 48 hour period. Sounds like madness? It is.

Because of Women's Studies, I hadn't intended on NMP doing the 48HFP this year. However, Cindy convinced me that a) It would be a good chance to field test the Women's Studies gear and crew in a time sensitive situation and b) that it would be a good creative outlet that would be a hell of a lot of fun, and notch up our enthusiasm for Women's Studies. I'm happy to report she was correct on both counts.


I have to say, it really is a fantastic crew of creative individuals Cindy and I have assembled. This weekend wasn't easy by any means, but it was never problematic. The personalities mix well and any obstacle was met head on and dealt with quickly and smoothly. We all seem to communicate well and are on the way to building the kind of trust that's integral to a project the size of Women's Studies.

Crew Consulting

Anyway, the 48 Hour Film Project . . . So our genre was drama, which is good because it's really open ended, but also bad because, well, it's really open ended. The night before when brainstorming more difficult genres like sci-fi, I had come up with this idea about a guy who buys a robot and wants it to love him. I told Cindy about it and she really liked it. The next night after we drew drama, she was like, "We should do that robot thing."

So, I did. Friday night, I wrote a thirteen page script which was great, the problem being, your 48HFP film can be no longer than seven minutes long. Following the "one page of script = one minute of film" rule, we were six minutes over. So, we chopped. A group of mass murderers (Aaron Shirley, Kurt Gustafson, Jim Housell, and my own wife) proceeded to kill my darlings and got the script down to a leaner eight-and-a-half pages.

Deadline was 7:30pm, Sunday evening. The clock was ticking. We slept for about four hours. The next morning, we got up bright and early, caffeinated heavily, and drove to our first location, an office building.

A quick word about the the Ningen Manga gremlins. They like to make their presence felt. It's not a Ningen Manga Production unless there's some weird unexplainable technical snafu during the first set-up. This time, it was a weird audio issue with the DV Rack monitoring system we were using. We worked it out, but I'm getting gremlin repellent before the first Women's Studies shoot.

Cat on Set

After we finished the office shoot, we headed back to our second location, the basement of my house, shoveled down some pizza, and began to shoot the core of the movie. Around this time, we hit a strange sort of serenity that was magical. For whatever reason, any pressure from the time crunch I felt disappeared and we started moving at a steady pace yet still had time to explore the ideas we wanted as well as get the shots and sound right. It was pretty cool.

Around 1:00am we wrapped inside and headed outside to shoot our big emotional climax. It was chilly, even with the lights, but we got the best shots we could considering how dog tired we were. At 4:00am, we headed over to my brother-in-law's house, woke him up. (He had no idea we were coming.), and shot our final scene.

If you think we then started editing, you're crazy. We had BEEN editing since we started shooting. Aaron Shirley had been working in tandem with us. We'd shoot some footage, dump it to him to edit, and then shoot some more. The rough cut of the film was finished about thirty minutes after we shot the last scene.


Aaron and I spent the next four hours tweaking and shaving, as well as finding the right rhythms and tone. It was a lot of ideas we were trying to shove into a short film, maybe too much, but it was too late for such considerations now. We were less than twelve hours away from the deadline.

Around 11:00am, we got the final picture lock FTPed to the sound and music guys. (Our Composer, Ryan Sayward Whittier, had been working on music since Friday.) They scrambled to match up the recorded sound, put in sound FX, sweeten the mix, and set it all down.

At 5:00pm, we left with the sound mix, raced back to the editor and slapped it together. There was a moment of panic when we had trouble burning out the whole thing to DVD. It worked out, finally, and Cindy drove us into DC at a speed of roughly a trillion miles per hour.

Thankfully we got our film in on time, with eighteen minutes to spare.

The film is called Posi+ive. It takes place in a not-so-distant future where a ban on sex and marriage is placed on HIV positive individuals. In response, a biotech industry selling life-like robot "Companions" has arisen. The story follows Ian, a positive, who purchases a Companion and tries to love her, hoping she will have the capability to love him back. We'll have it online to view after the official screenings.


It was a fun weekend. I'm still recovering from the effects of sleep deprivation, but I wouldn't think of taking it back for a second. Otherwise, I wouldn't have this picture of Women Studies's own "Judith," Tara Garwood, pinching the mystical nipple of Venus.

Venus' Nipple

(A big thanks to Kirk Lambert for not only being part of our 48HFP team this year, but taking all the great pictures you see in this blog.)

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Maternal Evolution

*WARNING: Minor spoilers ahead.*

Though I'm making a film called Women's Studies, the issue of motherhood is one I've sort of avoided. There's "sisters" and "daughters" aplenty, but the mothers get a bit of the short shrift.

I'm not in any way implying that motherhood and womanhood have anything to do with each other, but from a purely Darwinian, biological point of view, giving birth is what a woman's body is designed to do. Before any ladies out there get offended, keep in mind that from a physical standpoint, the importance of males drops far more considerably. At least women are biological incubators with intricate layers of child-bearing hardware. Dudes are the evolutionary equivalent of a garden hose.

The human infant isn't well designed for survival on it's own. Spiders are all but abandoned by their mother days after they're born. Snakes hatch from eggs and never meet Mom. Even kittens and horses are pretty much ready to do what they need to survive after a few weeks. Yet even a year after it's born, a human child can't do more than walk around (poorly) and shit itself. (I'll admit they do that pretty well.)

To increase the chances of survival, humans have evolved in a behavioral sense to be able to rear and care for human children. You see this in the higher primates as well as elephants and other large mammals as well. The babies are reared for a considerable period of time by at least one individual or animal, but often two parents or even in a group situation before going off by themselves to make more babies.

Evolutionary Psychology (EP) is a discipline which theorizes that much of our behavior is hardwired into us instinctually. For example, one theory states that for partners, women tend to seek out men who are attractive and intelligent because on a sub-conscious, instinctual level, they want the highest genetic material to pass on to offspring. The same theory states that men are attracted to women with larger breasts and wider hips because those are physical attributes that lead to successful bearing of a healthy child. Other evolutionary theories attempt to explain why men are more prone to infidelity than women, (Males are physically designed to disseminate their genetic material as widely as possible. Think of cats.) as well as why women tend to initiate most divorces. (If a male can't adequately provide food and protection, what good is he? Think of a pride of lions.)

Evolutionary psychologists theorize that early civilization's social structures evolved from these instinctual needs. Men and women chose each other on the merits that would allow the fragile human infant the chance to survive long enough where it could continue the genetic line. Leagues of royal families continued the same blood lines for centuries to a similar end. Was it due to ego or instinct?

(What does all this blather have to do with the weird feminist horror film I'm making? Hang on, I'm getting there.)

Gender roles and social structure also evolved this way, according to EP. Early civilizations worshipped female deities for woman's "magical" ability to create life. Males quickly realized that due to the biological requirements to bear children, women were physically weaker. Males also realized that while a male counterpoint was often better to assist the women in directing the child's life, it wasn't necessary for the woman. Remember, males are hardwired to keep their blood line going, not only in the physcial sense, but in the social sense.

Therefore, they invented male gods and myths to relegate woman to a subservient "mother" role for thousands of years in order to control the fates of their children. Yet even when these later civilizations banished woman's role in matters of politics and religion, she was still revered for her role as a child-bearer. In fact, for centuries that was considered her only role. After all, he didn't want her to use her evolutionary instinct for sniffing out a man who has outlived his usefulness.

The thing about evolution is it always continues. Here in the twenty-first century, strength is measured in different ways, and that whole idea of the "delicate child-bearer" who needs to be protected by her male companion is about current as hoop skirts. (Though sadly, there's still a great deal of that cro-magnon mentality swirling around in the ether.) The idea of the strong, independent mother has gained a lot of currency in the past few decades, mostly because a lot of males are too deadbeat to take responsibility for the kid they helped create. The term "Single Mom" used to be a mark of shame. Now it's a badge of honor.

Which brings us back around to Women's Studies and the character of Sharon, a Ross-Prentiss academy girl who is nine-months pregnant with a male baby. But as I said, "pregnant" doesn't equal "delicate." Sharon is tough and street smart. She could take care of this kid by herself without any problem, if only her "peers" would let her. Remember, Women's Studies is all about sisters, daughters, and even mothers. Sons however . . . Well, let's just say that the concept of "late term abortion" isn't one these ladies shy away from.

Sharon's plight mirrors Mary's. Both are pregnant with a child that they don't particularly want though each have different reasons for not doing do. Sharon's, we find out, are far more dire than Mary's. Sharon is afraid of going through what she has to alone. However, it's not someone else Sharon needs to find, but rather the strength in herself, which somehow the academy girls of Ross-Prentiss have managed to suck out of her, the same way they're trying to do to Mary.

Mundy SpearsMundy Spears, the actor playing Sharon, has electric eyes that can convey the strength, fear, and confusion Sharon is supposed to be feeling. She comes off tough and resolute even when weeping with despair. It'll be a challenging role for her, so thank god/dess she has years of evolution on her side.

(If you're interested in reading more about Evolutionary Psychology, I highly recommend Robert Wright's The Moral Animal: Why We Are, the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology.)