Here are some entries from a production journal I kept between December 2007 and January 2009. -jj
01/17/2009 – More surgery
Mom’s wrist has not healed the way they wanted it to, so they’re removing the plate and screws and starting over again. This is the sixth invasive surgery since we started filming. The surgery is slated for earl February, after a baby shower mom is throwing. She’ll be visiting later that month for my birthday – I’m hoping to show her a rough cut.
12/07/2008 – Good News
I was recently awarded a Small Grant in the Arts by the Fleishhacker Foundation! I had applied way back and forgotten all about it, but a check for $1,900 came in the mail yesterday. This should enable me to pay someone to do my After Effects sequences and speed up the process a bit. I have registered to graduate in May, so now there is an official deadline, which I think will be helpful in motivating me.
11/16/2008 – Mom’s Surgery Successful
They put a plate along her right wrist, where the bone had been crushed, and everything seemed to go well. The amount of nerve endings in that area has made this more painful than her hip surgeries, and the fact that it is her right hand is a frustration for her, but the cast should be off in three weeks and she should be able to unwrap her own Christmas presents. I’ll be home next week for the first time since May. I
11/16/2008 – Rough Cut Done
It clocks in at about 35 minutes. From the looks of things, it will boil down to 26-28 pretty easily. There are parts I’m happy with and parts I’m struggling with, but on the whole it is coming together nicely. Having the fist cut completed has helped tremendously with building momentum: I’m hoping these next few months will be very productive. I’ll post a section of the film once I’ve got some sound prepared.
11/09/2008 – Another Setback
My sister Stefanie called me last night to tell me that mom had fallen again while making dinner, breaking her right wrist. Apparently her hip and legs are fine, but is was another frustrating setback for her – she was passionately involved in planting a new vegetable garden, had been working part-time as a literacy coach, and had regained much of her confidence. I was, ironically, editing the sequence that chronicled her last fall, and sketching out a voiceover that recounted the realizations I had then. This new information was a kind of test, in that I had a fresh emotional response to compare with my claims about my response to the previous fall. Not sure if that makes sense. I wasn’t blindsided by this news, and I wasn’t blindsided by the rush of emotions that I experienced (immediately wondering if she’d been drinking, for example). I like to think I had some of the calm that my parents approach these matters with, and that was encouraging.
08/15/2008 – Gainfully Employed
I am very happy to announce I have been hired to run an after-school filmmaking program for the Bay Area Video Coalition in Oakland. It is a dream job: working with creative and passionate teen filmmakers, traveling with them to national youth media conferences, and operating within a supportive and vigorous non-profit organization. My hours of employment are Monday to Friday 12-7, so I’m hoping to edit in the morning. It will slow things down a bit, but I am enlisting the help of some ex-students to work on sound and After Effects. Hopefully I will be extra motivated now that someone else is working on the post-production with me.
08/08/2008 – Editing II
I’ve got 18 silent rough cut minutes done. This version looks to be about thirty. I’m scared to actually go back and look at what I’ve done – I’m just tacking one scene to the next. There has been some nice surprises regarding how shots fit together and I’ve made a number of productive discoveries. My biggest concern is tone: it bounces between depression, elation, anxiety, etc constantly. How do I make it all feel organic and unified, especially with so many different aesthetics? I’m just going to get to the end of this cut, then see what I’ve got.
07/24/2008 – Editing
I have done absolutely everything possible to put off editing, but I’m petty much backed into a corner now. My room is clean; I have done the dishes and vacuumed the house; I have started a facebook page and am jogging daily. With school over, though, I have all the time in the world to finally get going on this. Editing a documentary is an entirely different animal: there are so many choices it can be paralyzing. Today I did my opening credits, because it was manageable and basic. Tomorrow, I cut the first scene. I have three 2 foot by 3 feet foamcore sheets in front of me with frame grabs from every shot in my movie (an idea stolen from Walter Murch), which has been helpful for visualizing things. I also have a huge black board with all of my different scenes set up as color-coded squares that can be re-arranged. Maybe this will be helpful – mostly I did it to put off editing in earnest.
07/24/2008 – Princess Grace
Unfortunately, I was not selected to receive funding from the Princess Grace Foundation. This was disappointing: the application was just about the best writing I’ve done in some time. SFSU faculty were exhaustive in helping me assemble it, and there had been a tradition of state students doing well at that stage. I’m moving on and applying for funding elsewhere.
05/27/2008 – May shoot finished
We shot six cans of film at home over the past four days, and came away with some very exciting footage. I chose to focus on mom’s therapy, on the texture of her skin and scars, and tried to get more candid moments on camera. I also composed some more stylized sequences and inserted myself more in the film. Mom did great and was a real trooper. Sinisa was here as DP and Joel came down for a couple days as our Gaffer. I’m hoping this is the last filming I’ll have to do; I feel like the story of the doc has a good arc now – not to be confused with closure, but I feel like there’s been a journey that I can turn into a decent 15-20 minute film.
05/18/2008 – Flying home; shooting
I leave today for San Diego for two weeks. I will (hopefully) complete filming during this time. I’m not entirely sure what our approach to shooting will be, but I’ve got plans for lots of pool therapy, some sort of staged re-telling of my mother’s fall, and another stab at the underwater Super 8 filming. I usually don’t approach filming with such a casual plan, but at this point I’m just trying to acquire as many emotionally meaningful images and am having faith that I will find my path in the editing.
05/18/2008 – Good News!
On Friday night, I was presented with two awards at the annual SFSU Film Finals show. I was awarded the Leo Diner award for Innovative filmmaking and was named SFSU’s nominee for the Princess Grace award, a national competition for up to $25,000 in production funds.
05/13/2008 – Funny NYT Article on Ceramic Hips
05/13/2008 – Final shooting days schedule
Panavision has agreed to donate their camera package for a second round of shooting, which is great news. Their lenses are so nice, nothing I could have rented would have matched up with what we shot the first time. Shooting is scheduled for May 22-27. Mom is walking without any assistance and her therapy is going well. The house is finally put together, so we can shoot downstairs. Smaller crew, maybe just me and Sinisa for a good chunk of it. Marina Shoupe generously donated another underwater camera mount, so we’re going to give the underwater Super 8 stuff another shot, as well. I think this will finally be the end of shooting…
04/20/2008 – Super 8 problems
Got the footage back from the lab – there was some sort of malfunction with the camera we used and the footage came back with a vertical jitter. It wasn’t in the test roll we shot and we aren’t certain what went wrong, but it ruined 1/3 to 1/2 of the footage. Not sure how I’m going to work around it – maybe we’ll shoot again; maybe I’ll use stills with sound effects… Also, didn’t get the UFVA grant. Rough week all around.
03/30/2008 – Super 8: Day Two
Finished our Super 8 shooting today. The shine had definitely worn off the process for Leo, but he soldiered on and we shot some great sequences (looking at x-rays on dad’s lightboard in the bathroom, helping mom walk down the stairs, putting mom’s socks on…). We had the ultimate carrot: a jacuzzi… Shipping off twelve Super 8 cartridges today: curious how they’ll look – neither Sinisa nor I had ever shot Super 8 stock with movie lights… Next up: the science fiction sequences. I had to do some tests to see the best approach to replicating that’ sitting six inches in front of a TV and watching the same VHS for the 100th time’ look. My efforts for the UFVA visual sample were passable but can definitely be improved upon.
03/29/2008 – Super 8: Day One
Started shooting Super 8 with young Leo Larosse… Started out a little rough: both underwater cameras (Kodak XL55) flamed out and the weather went sour, but it ended up being a good day… We shot seven scenes with Leo, mostly over the shoulder and POV stuff. Overexposed as a rule. I’m excited about it. I think the Super 8 recreations (a young jason hacking away at six foot tall weeds with his mother’s shoehorn, or stomping around in the mud with mom’s old plastic leg braces) with add some much-needed levity to the project… Tomorrow we get the x-ray examinations and young Jason walking mom down the stairs… Working with child actors wasn’t quite the nightmare I’d envisioned: Leo needed a patient and firm hand, but he was a quick learner and a good listener. I’m glad I had mom and dad around to keep him occupied.
03/25/2008 – Update
It’s been awhile since my last post. Quick catch up: been teaching two Intro to Film Production sections at SFSU, and working a couple days a week as a contractor, which means I’ve had little time to do much with Mothersbane other than stare at the glorious frame grabs I’ve mounted on foamcore on my wall… Panavision has suspended their New Filmmaker Grant until April, so I had to put off shooting the last of our Super 16 stuff with mom til then… I’ve been named a finalist for a UFV Carole Fielding Student Grant. I was asked to submit a visual sample – this turned out to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever attempted. With only 1/2 to 2/3 of my footage, and without much of my sound, how can I convey the film without simply explaining/telling? I found myself constantly writing explanatory voiceover to contextualize gaps and unify the structure. It’s very talky and I could have gone about it better, but it DID get me to do some serious editing, so that was nice… Flying home today to shoot the Super 8 sequences with a little boy that is a dead ringer for me age 8. Got an underwater camera mount (!) to play with, a lovely Niz Braun with a great lens, 25 rolls of 64t and a set of 2ks. Should be fun… Mom is doing great; getting around on her walker, driving a little, cooking up a storm and going nearly vegetarian. They think she’ll be walking unassisted by mid-March. She sounds strong and enthusiastic on the phone.
01/09/2008 – Surgery Went Well
Mom’s surgery was a success. It was a long procedure (we dropped her off at 6:30, she in at 8:30, and we didn’t see her again until 6 at night) in which they replaced the plate on her left femur with a longer plate and added two more cables and three screws to tighten the plate to the bone. The doctors were very happy with how everything went and mom was in good spirits tonight. They’re going to keep her a couple of nights, which means a much-deserved break for my poor father. I fly home tonight and begin to edit some kind of clip select sequence together for finishing fund grants. Sinisa oversaw the telecine at Entertainment Post and said the footage looked great (whew). Apparently our telecine guy was the fella that oversaw Pi and Garden State.
01/07/2008 – More Surgery
Mom went in today to have the staples removed from her shoulder incision. She complained of continued soreness in her left knee and showed her doctor that the swelling above her knee had still not receded. They did more x-rays and discovered another fracture, along the plate that they had affixed in October. The x-rays look crazy – I can’t believe she can get around at all, considering what the bones look like. So, on Wednesday, they’re going in again and replacing the plate with something more substantial. It doesn’t push the timetable for her walking back much, since she’ll have to let the arm heal for another two months anyway, but it is dispiriting to say the least. My parents didn’t seem too upset – went right off to a potluck for the LSU-Ohio State game. It’s just part of their routine, I guess. Still getting used to it, myself.
01/05/2008 – Shooting Notes
Finished shooting. Camera returned to Panavision. Film at Fotokem. Telecine to be done at Entertainment Post. The shoot was unique: because of mom’s fall, we had a lot more time than we needed for what we could shoot (maybe 50% of what I had originally hoped for). This meant more attention to light and a lot more time in the Jacuzzi. Loved having my boys in town for it all: Sinisa, Renato, Miljenko, Joel. They ate me out of house and home, but I wouldn’t have done it any other way.
Here are some notes I scribbled as we progressed through this first portion of the shoot. I was very pleased with how much we covered – everything on my shot list – but it was disheartening to just be able to shoot the cutaways, inserts, and static material. Very little movement. In March we will get the sexy stuff and the Super 8 recreations. I have to keep reminding myself: this is the calm, meditative portion of the film. The fact is, I have picked a protagonist fighting an infection in bed in a suburban subdivision. Not exactly The Killer. I knew this would be the challenge going in and I convinced myself I could make it compelling. No point in getting antsy at this stage.
Saturday 12/29, am – Neighborhood externals
Got up with Kukic and filmed Tierrasanta subdivisions as the sun rose; wet streets from night’s rain; overcast but with sun burning through; started out with cooler shots but warmed up dramatically as day went on; last shot is of a few homes with gold sun pouring onto houses; overall a good start and nice passage of time; 5-6 shots total; we didn’t film the front of the house; will examine it tomorrow to see when is the best time – shot needs to be at end of the sequence, so more light may be better. Zoom lens was vignetting, so it’s all primes for this shoot. Kind of a nightmare, considering the size of the camera (Elaine model). Good things we have time and control over our location. Pennebaker wouldn’t be impressed with our setup.
Saturday 12/29, pm – Backyard
A couple of cutaways of clouds with palm trees and parts of the patio deck in the foreground; looked nice. With the Panavision and the primes, every insert is a half hour undertaking, so we’re getting fewer shots than I like (I love me my cutaways). On Minutiae, I could just point and Kukic – hand held with the Arri in daylight – and Kukic would capture a nice cutaway.
Saturday 12/29, pm – Garage
Entire wheelchair sequence, with tracking shot (in and out) bookends and 16 closeup shots. Lighting is dramatic and stylized; not sure how to cut it with the found footage, but think it looks pretty consistent and really nice. Burned a lot of film. I think the foley will be key to selling it all.
Saturday 12/29, evening – Pool
Wide cutaway of pool lit up, and Jacuzzi with thermometer spinning around in it; our American Beauty moment
Sunday 12/30, am – Pool Cleaner
Nice tilt shot from leaves on ground up to tree with only a few leaves; shots of the cleaner and of isolated leaves in pool; tried to get cleaner coming up along ledge but didn’t really work; sky was gray and light flat but it seemed to fit the mood; I think the pool cleaner will be a recurring character – his Sisyphysian battle is a nice metaphor.
Sunday 12/30, afternoon – Isolated flower growing in glass pot
Took forever to shoot and ended up a bit dark; will get the follow up when we are done shooting – we’ll see if it was worth it
Sunday 12/30, afternoon – Mom’s arm therapy
Gorgeous light and really nice composition; got mom doing arm exercises in bed around 2pm; variety of CU and MCU, plus some wides and inserts; all around the most satisfying stuff we shot so far; also got mom pulling back bandage to see her shoulder surgery incision for the first time
Sunday 12/30, evening – Dad’s den
Looked okay – we were confined by the space and decided to keep it fairly natural; wide was okay; tilts and pans along books was nice – sinisa got to use his geared head, which he’d been drooling over; I picked the T2 scene of Arnold ripping his arm skin off for what was on TV – not sure if that was smart; reliant on VO for the sequence to work
Monday 12/31, am – Bedroom cutaways
Mom eating breakfast and watching TV from a couple angles, plus a pan from bathroom to the bedroom; cool and more even light – clearly early in the morning light
Monday 12/31, am – Foot portrait
Two shots of mom’s feet, then profile of me putting mom’s socks on; looked pretty solid; didn’t get sound
Tuesday, 1/1, afternoon – Medical Devices
Wide shot of desk with devices, then a series of closeups; looked good
Wednesday, 1/2, morning, afternoon, evening – Antibiotics
Shot tons of coverage of dad giving mom antibiotic injections; went easy on the light, but things looked good; not sure how well things will cut together, but we were as careful as we could be; took all day and we got three different time-of-day lighting setups
Wednesday, 1/2, evening – Inserts
Pill case; dad cooking mom dinner; sunsets
Thursday, 1/3, am – Therapy
Filmed mom getting stretched, massaged and electrocuted at her therapy session; lighting was flourescent and even, and the quarters cramped, but we got some good stuff; a few full shots of the scarring and lots of therapy; filmed Susan, the therapist, a little; her and mom had a good rapport; sound didn’t work out; good footage of mom’s legs shaking as she got an electrical current sent through her thigh; also got in-the-car stuff on the way home; helped an elderly couple, neither of whom had the power of speech, call AAA for their overheated car – reinforced some of my fears about mom’s health and caretaking
Thursday, 1/3, pm – X-Rays
Shot 70 still images of mom’s x-rays; looked great set against the light board; seem to have some gaps in the process (at least two knees)
Next up: editing some of the after effects sequences; prepping for the Super 8 shoot in March; prepping for the follow up Super 16 stuff
12/29/2007 – Surgery successful; mom home
Mom’s surgery was deemed a success by her orthopedic surgeon and now she is home in bed. They screwed a plate into her upper humorous (sp?) to keep the ball and shaft attached. She has a lot of soreness and is back on the percocet, but she already has movement in her wrist and elbow and has physical therapy to rebuild the muscles. X-rays of her knee and hip showed no new damage to the bones, so that is a relief. Sinisa and I are back from Los Angeles with the camera gear. We’ve already made a huge mess and went out at 6 this morning to get our first shots: the neo-suburban subdivisions of Tierrasanta. The sun was gorgeous, the sky textured, and the streets wet from the night’s rain. Couldn’t have asked for better conditions. Everyone’s trash cans were out and I thought it added a nice touch. This afternoon the boys arrive and we shoot the Wheelchair sequence. Tonight: burgers on the grill, the jacuzzi, and some evening pool externals. It’s great that this is finally underway.
12/26/2007 – Shoulder Surgery
Mom is scheduled for shoulder surgery tomorrow morning. This couldn’t come soon enough – she’d been bedridden for a week, in all kinds of pain, and her stomach was beginning to respond poorly to the Percocet and Vicodin. Apparently they won’t have to insert a prosthesis – pins and needles will hold the shoulder in place. Mom was very happy with the recovery nurse she spoke with, and was pleased to learn that the hospital’s top orthopedic surgeon was performing the surgery. Mom’s been lucky in the surgeon department – her unstable condition and considerable medical history always seems to attract quality doctors. I’m staying at home during the five hour procedure, cleaning the house for her arrival and the arrival of the filmmaking crew. Sinisa and I get back from LA with the camera Friday; Joel, Milenko and Renato arrive Saturday. We’ll shoot a stylized sci-fi sequence with mom’s wheelchair (an homage to the Powerloader sequence from Aliens), the science-fiction introduction in Dad’s den, the cutaways and filler shots of the pool and the house externals, and then improvise with mom depending on her health.
12/23/2007 – Renovations and frustrations
Filmmaker’s Insurance has generously agreed to give me an affordable ‘pickups rate’ for re-shoots in March. Panavision, unfortunately, canot promise anything because of the Writer’s strike. When I was there, people were working 6 hour shifts and they had just undergone a series of layoffs. It’s understandable, the student who isn’t paying them a pittance isn’t going to rate highly on their list of priorities. In other frustrating news: turns out my parents intend to repaint the entire downstairs between the time of the January shoot and the March shoot, so the amount of material I can shoot – trimmed to 30% of the script after mom fell – is somewhere around 10%. Have to wrap my presents, then spend the day finding creative ways to cheat scenes and get the most of out the spaces I can use. Mom is doing better, though – in less pain and happy to have the family here, though still frustrated with being confined to bed and disheartened by how this turn has hamstrung some of the Holiday rituals. We find out about whether she’ll have surgery right after Christmas. This, too, could change shooting plans – she may not even be here for the shoot. Curious if the hospital will let me bring the Panaflex camera and crew into her hospital room…
12/21/2007 – Mom Falls
Got home from the camera prep at Panavision in LA. Had been home less than an hour when mom fell in the kitchen. She’d been on the phone with her doctor and making soup for dinner. She screamed and my dad and I ran in to find her on concrete floor (unfinished kitchen renovation). Her doctor called the paramedics. My mother has the pain threshold of a rabid wolverine – and she was screaming like nothing I’d ever heard. I got her pillows for her arm and arm; held her hand. Things turned surreal – my father was on the phone with my mom’s doctor and was running around looking for the phone my mother dropped, because “he heard an echo” in the phone he was on. I was at my mother’s side, useless, and occasionally she would rein in the pain and tell me to add the cream to the squash soup, or take the bread out of the oven. I’m serious. Six paramedics (one of whom was an ex-student of hers) arrived shortly and carted her to the hospital. We followed, and my dad hollered impotently at the Paramedic for not knowing all the shortcuts out of our suburban oasis. We stayed with her through the night – she got morphine immediately, and we waited for x-rays til around eleven. The radiologist was a curt, impolite prick when we came in, but once he saw those first x-rays of my mother’s legs, it was like he met Keith Richards. Soon there was a half dozen radiologists in the room, oohing and aahing of the images – they snapped off more than thirty x-rays, the bulk of which were for themselves. My mom is huge in the radiology scene. We got the results around midnight: severely dislocated shoulder (I saw the x-rays: the ball of her shoulder socket had been rammed down into her armpit; and multiple fractures of the upper arm). The orthopedist and his team put her under shortly thereafter and shoved the ball back into its socket. This was apparently a rare and difficult procedure because the ball was in danger of separating from the shaft of the bone. We brought her home, arm in a sling and a bag full of Vicodin, at 3am. She’s sleeping now and we’re trying to work out the logistics for Christmas. After Christmas, she’ll go in and meet another Orthopedist and decide if surgery is the way to go. It sounds like that’s how they’re leaning: the bone will heal quicker, and her arms need to be strong to support her legs. She is exasperated and sad and all the most frustrated for having gotten that taste of independence. As far as my film: everything changes. I’m scrambling to incorporate this into my script (my third act now looks like my second, and the happy ending took a bit of a hit) and to reschedule what I was going to shoot now for Spring Break.
12/18/2007 – Flying Home
I’m heading to San Diego today for the holidays, and to prepare for the Super 16mm shoot (December 28th – January 4th). Sinisa and I prep the Elaine at Panavision on the 20th. I’ve been alright about staving off The Fear, but I’ve got it good right now – feels like my lungs are too small for my body.