The making of FRIENDS (WITH BENEFITS) – part 6

First things first, reviews:

from IMDB

from the Seattle True Independent Film Festival  (click reviews about half way down page)

Now the BLOG…

One of the biggest mistakes most indie filmmakers make (aside from not being organized, which I’ll get to at another point) is in casting.  The wrong line delivery can make or break a film.  Like that.  A snap of the finger and you’ve lost the audience.

Ashley McGarry and I spent months casting Friends (with benefits).  And I don’t just mean the six leads.  I mean every supporting role.  We were looking for actors who would make the characters come alive, and when needed we adapted the script to fit the actor.  (If an actor really has trouble with a line, change it.  Move the words around.   Make them comfortable, make it real.  Don’t be married to every word.  Be married to the story you’re telling.)

So what makes a great actor, at least in my opinion?  Or at least what makes them great to work with?  Aside from talent, and fitting the role in question, which are obvious necessities.  I would say the most important aspect would be the ability to recall blocking.  The example I’ll give here is Alex Brown, who plays Owen in FWB.  Now I LOVE oners.  Long takes, that never seem to end.  Life is a oner.  At the end of a five minute take, I could go over to Alex, tell him to scratch his nose four minutes in when he says such-and-such a line, but do everything else the same, and he would nail it, perfectly.  I know, you’re thinking, well isn’t that the actor’s job?  Yes, it is.  But actors that precise are few and far between.  And when you’re not shooting a oner, when you want to match your close up to your wide shot, an actor whose blocking is off will drive you crazy in the editing room.  If they’re holding their drink with their right hand in the close up, and using their left in the wide, good luck cutting.  And granted the script supervisor should be aware of this, but some things do fall through the cracks.  Having an actor that remembers blocking, and makes the blocking look natural, is a god-send.

Next, what is the actor bringing to the role?  When casting, sometimes you just know.  An actor reads and there it is!  Your character jumps off the page and is suddenly alive.  Anne Petersen came in to read for the role of Alison.  That was it.  We had other readings scheduled that day, and I would never cancel on such short notice, but we knew at the end of her audition that Anne had the part.  We gave the all of the other scheduled actresses the opportunity to audition, but in the long run just ended up comparing everyone to Anne.  She brought a spark to the character that didn’t yet exist on the page.  She made her funny, charming.   She made her real.

The ability to ad lib in character.  Brendan Bradley who plays Brad and Jake Alexander who plays Jeff were brilliant at quick comic ad libs, many of which made it into the finished film.  This helps when an actor really knows their character.  The example I’ll give.  Last day of shooting, overnight in a bar.  We were all exhausted.  It was a scene where the four friends, Brad, Jeff, Alison and Shirley (played by Lynn Mancinelli) are wondering where Chloe and Owen are, though they secretly know.  The scene as written was just not working.  Ashley and I could not seem to fix it, no matter how hard we tried.  Finally I said to the actors, run with it.  Do the scene as if this were really happening in your life right now.  They added a few lines, which made all the difference in the world, and nailed it a few takes in, AS A ONER! 

That said, an actor also needs to understand that not every ad lib is brilliant, not every ad lib works.  And when the director says to return to the script, that what you need to do.  Read the Billy Zane blog from last year, but really, throwing a hissy fit when the director won’t let you ad lib, or do the scene your way, those are not the creatures you want on your movie set.  There’s no time to argue on an indie set.  And if you really have questions or issues with the script, take it up in rehearsal.  (I do a lot of rehearsals just for that reason.)  If you don’t, you’ve lost the opportunity, it’s time to do what the director says.  Honestly, yes , it’s a collaborative medium.  No doubt about it.  But ultimately, one person is at the helm.  Everyone needs to be onboard the same ship.  I can give an actor room for improvisation, but it is also completely in my right to take it away.  The actor must understand that, and not take it personally.  As director I need to have a view of the bigger picture, I know what I’m looking for.  Trust me, as I’m trusting you with our words.

Next: the actor that goes above and beyond.  We really wanted the band in the film to feel like a really band.  I so hate when people are playing guitar in movies and it’s painfully obvious they couldn’t strum a G-chord to save their life.  Margaret Laney, who plays Chloe, started taking guitar lessons from the moment she was cast.  And it really makes a difference.  I have had musician friends ask if Start Missing Everybody was a REAL band.  Bringing that sort of reality to the film should be a no-brainers, but it rarely is.  Margaret’s lessons really paid off beautifully.  (And while that’s not her playing guitar on the soundtrack, that is her singing.  And again, she worked to rock out her voice.  Making it real.)

Lastly, I love when an actor brings an air of mystery to the role.  When a look reveals so much more than a line.  When you can see into their soul.  And Lynn Mancinelli did that and so much more.  She infused Shirley with a depth that was not on the page.  She makes us want to know more about the character.  She makes us care.  She breaks our hearts with one look. 

Now working with actors.  Wow.  Everyone is different.  Some just come on set and are ready to rock.  Some need hand holding.  And of course other can be difficult.  I try to give the actor as much freedom as possible, taking care of any kinks during rehearsals. 

Sometimes an actor will ask to add an extra line at the beginning of a scene to get them into it.  Y’know, if you’re shooting digitally, and not way behind in time, let them do it.  It’s a few seconds.  They’re be happy, and you might even have a line you can use in the film.  If not, no big deal.  Helping the actor get into character is more important.

One of the most difficult aspects of working with actors is when you give direction, and it’s just not coming through.  It’s like your speaking a different language.  I usually try to pull the actor aside and bring them to another place.  Pull up something I know about them personally.  Help them find the moment.  (I certainly did this a lot with Jessica Bohl in You Are Alone.)

And of course, there are just actors that you want to shoot (again, see Zane blog).  And once film has rolled, and you’re committed, you need to make the set as comfortable as possible.  Not always a reality, but you do the best you can.  And hopefully the other actors are on your side, realizing you’re trying to make the best film possible.

We were SAGindie on this film, which meant we could use both union and non-union players.  Half of our six leads are union.  In terms of the quality of actors, I don’t know that I saw a difference in either ability or professionalism.  In fact the one supporting player who cancelled on us the morning of her first scene was SAG.  Luckily Ashley saw it coming, and we had the role re-cast within a few hours. 

It’s certainly an art form trying to juggle all the hats required to make a feature.  I listed them a few entries back.  A few things go without saying, don’t give roles to your friends or family members.   Unless they’re actors…like people who go out on auditions.  It’ll just take the audience out of your film.  Get everything in writing. Have those contracts signed.  If you have a nude scene, make sure the actor is comfortable with nudity.  How: ask them to take off their clothes on a callback.  (Obviously let them know ahead of time what will be expected.)  Otherwise you will get burnt when they decide (or their boyfriend/girlfriend decides for them) that it’s not a good idea…as you’re a week into shooting.

Also…back to SAG for a moment.  Lots of paperwork.  You need a great first or second AD to be on top of that.  Otherwise, you’ll find yourself in the position Ashley and I did, having to send our time sheets out to the actors to be signed after the production wrapped.  We thought these were being taken care of.  We were wrong.  Apparently flirting with extras was more important.  (Yeah, go back to part three of this series.)

Ultimately what I’m saying: take your time in casting.  Bring in your actors to read against each other.  Tape everything.  Watch the tapes over.  You wrote or found a script you love.  You will be spending a year or more working on this project.  Find people who will bring your vision to life, as Alex, Lynn, Jake, Margaret, Brendan and Anne did for Friends (with benefits).  To paraphrase a line from the film, they rock!  And in doing so, they make the film rock!

P.S. Reworked the FILMS page on the Gorman Bechard website.  Take a look by clicking HERE.  (If you’ve never seen my short film THE PRETTY GIRL, take 6 minutes.  I think you’ll like it.)

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The making of FRIENDS (WITH BENEFITS) – part 2

Friends (with benefits) shot for a total of 18 days, beginning on April 18th, 2007.  So, we’ve really been editing it, tweaking it, playing with the song selection, and score, and titles, and color correction, for going on two years now.  (The original assembly was 125 minutes without end credits, the final cut runs 94 minutes complete.)  Doesn’t seem like that long has passed, but then again perhaps it does.  I think once you see the film, you’ll understand why so much time was spent on editing.  We tried to do something a little different here.  (The producers rep who ultimately took on the film called the editing “ground breaking.”  And while I don’t know about that, we’ll certainly take the compliment!)

           

As a novelist (my website, GormanBechard.com has all the info you could possibly need on that), I thought we’d bring a little of that feel to the film, thus in my mind it’s “a novel with moving pictures.”  While all films on DVD are broken into “chapters” I thought we’d take that one step further and actually break the film down into real chapters.  But no one wants to watch a book.  So, how to make it move fast . . . real fast? 

 

Well, originally I wanted the film, especially the dialog, to movie at a breakneck speed, like “His Girl, Friday.”  But there are two truisms in film.  The one that fits here is, and I’m paraphrasing: “There’s the film you write, the film you shoot, and the film you edit.”  Anyone who’s ever directed a film knows they are three very separate beasts, each with a mind of their own.

 

So, while that breakneck pace seemed great in concept (and even in rehearsals), the realities of casting and filming got in the way.  Until editing, that is.  We threw out the rule book.  And decided that we would not allow the audience time to blink (at least for a part of the film…when need be, as a director I am a big believer in giving the performances room to breathe.)  

 

(FYI: I never used the rule book when writing my novels, hell, I flunked English 101 in college, and likewise, for any of you who’ve seen my last feature YOU ARE ALONE, you know I don’t “do” the “master/over-shoulder/over-shoulder reverse” coverage.  It’s boring, it’s lazy, it shows not one iota of originality or belief in your script, or your ability as a director…it’s movie-of-the-week.  Really, just put a bullet in my head and shoot me now.  So, yeah, I certainly wasn’t going to start following the rules now.)

 

The Friends (with benefits) secret weapon?  Split screens.  If two stories were happening concurrently, why not show them?  Adjust the timing here and there, and let the characters on the right answer the characters on the left.  It was just an experiment at first.  Tried it in one bar scene where two male characters are conversing about the same subject as two female characters.  What do you know?  It clicked.  It worked.  Jokes came faster.  You didn’t have time to blink and you were laughing again.  Or in a few cases, the inherent sadness of a friendship perhaps destroyed was given an even greater emotional impact.

 

Watching and using the split screens, co-editor Ashley McGarry and I just knew in our guts this was right for the film. 

 

And that’s what it comes down to for me.  That gut feeling.  Whether holding on someone’s expression for a beat longer than you might think necessary, because in reality sometimes we need that extra moment of reflection.  Or inserting a list of “rules” as a text scroll to make a scene go where it needed it to go.  Or dozens of other little examples in this film.  (Some big examples: cutting a huge emotional scene down to one line because I felt the rest made one character just a hair less likable, cutting scenes because I found an actors blocking distracting, sacrificing a few amazing shots that ultimately did nothing to move the story along, or reducing characters down to a few lines because either the story wasn’t really about them, or I felt their performance distracting.)  You go with your gut.  In the end, as director, it’s your name signed at the bottom of the canvas.  And after a horrible bigger-budget filmmaking experience back in 2002 (read the blog entry titled “Just say no to Billy Zane” from September 2008), I promised myself I would never again sign my name to a film or book I wasn’t proud of. 

 

Well, I’m ready to sign my name to Friends (with benefits).  Come see it at the Seattle True Independent Film Festival on June 12th, and you’ll see why.

 

P.S. An aside.  OK…I did not sign my name to my last novel UNWOUND.  It was published under the pseudonym Jonathan Baine.  But not because I wasn’t proud of the book.  I actually love the book.  The name change was quite simply to trick the computers at Barnes & Noble.  See, the big chains, like B&N, preorder copies of your new book based upon the sales of your last book.  Now, most of my novels have had a first printing of between 5,000 and 20,000 copies.  The first printing for UNWOUND was going to be 146,000 copies. Thus the publisher wanted the B&Ns of the world to order a lot more than what they ordered and sold of my previous titles.  Smile.  You just learned something about the publishing business.

The making of FRIENDS (WITH BENEFITS) – part 1

As both the completion of my newest feature, FRIENDS (WITH BENEFITS) …and the start of its film festival run nears, I thought now would be a good time to turn the main subject of this blog over to the making of my newest film.

 

I start with BRAD’S RULES.  Or at least 99 of them.  The rules were not a part of the original script.  They were born out of necessity, when during the editing process we needed to get from point A to point F in a very long scene that was just slowing down the first act, and do so in a way that was both organic to the script and also funny.  And since Brad, one of the main characters in the film, was always mouthing off about his rules, we thought inserting those rules into the film might just work.  Thus the actual list of 100 rules was born.

 

You’ll have to judge for yourself, but I think they provide one of the biggest laughs in the film. 

 

But here now are the rules…live by them, and life will be good (which I guess is a rule in and of itself):

 

100. Friends don’t let friends fuck ugly people 

99. Try everything twice, the first time you might have been doing it wrong 

98. Fat girls give the best head because they’re always hungry 

97. Cologne: overrated…Deodorant: a must 

96. Blondes are usually too dumb to realize they’re having more fun 

95. After puberty, that’s not “baby fat”

94. ATM = the Holy Grail 

93. All hippie chicks deep throat, but few vegans swallow 

92. Women like shoes. They will look at yours; purchase accordingly 

91. BBBJ or why bother? 

90. Women cannot parallel park 

89. If you wanna fuck it, you’ve got to be willing to lick it

88. Ass, stomach, legs, boobs – in that order 

87. If it’s not dirty, you’re doing something wrong 

86. If a friend’s apartment is running low on toilet paper, you’re required to use it all 

85. Cheerleaders are overrated 

84. Under no circumstance may two men share an umbrella 

83. Never allow a conversation with a woman to go on longer than you are able to have sex with her 

82. Other than in February, the 14th of every month is Pizza and Blowjob Night 

81. Dogs are better than cats…period 

80. Bigger is never better when they’re fake 

79. Don’t leave the house if you’re not camera ready

78. A period does not equal a week off from sex 

77. Mustaches and hunting are gay 

76. Sucking your best friend’s dick, that’s priceless 

75. You are not accountable if you bring ugly people home, unless you fuck them again in the

morning 

74. If her mom isn’t a MILF, chances are she won’t be one either 

73. Fake orgasms count, as long as they’re not yours 

72. The G-spot does not exist 

71. There is NOTHING sexy about pregnant women 

70. Persistence gets you laid 

69. Never give yourself a haircut while drunk 

68. No panties = a good night 

67. Drinks hard liquor = a great night 

66. Tongue piercing = God loves you! 

65. Saliva isn’t always the best lubricant, just the most fun to apply 

64. White cotton panties and knee socks.  Enough said!

63. Never lend money to friends 

62. Never lend books, CDs, or DVDs to anyone 

61. The month you finish paying for your car, it will break down 

60. Elvis is not dead 

59. Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone 

58. What’s good for you does not always taste better.  Example: processed peanut butter vs. the all-natural kind 

57. People who don’t use turn signals deserve mandatory prison sentences 

56. Never let a girl shave your balls 

55. Porn saves lives 

54. Republicans are better at…well…nothing 

53. If you’ve never had New Haven brick oven pizza, you’ve never had pizza.  There is no pizza in New York or Chicago.  Don’t argue, you’ll just sound foolish 

52. Old country = cool  Alt-country = really cool  New country = sucks 

51. Condition your hair once a day 

50. Masturbate twice a day 

49. Eat three square meals every day 

48. Women should never cut their hair, unless they’re going to play for the other team 

47. Crying is blackmail 

46. Your choice: spay or neuter your pet…or yourself  

45. If she sleeps in your bed, sex is a given 

44. If a girl leaves her dirty panties lying around, she wants you to sniff them 

43. There’s no such thing as giving 110% 

42. Halloween is the only holiday that matters 

41. Sympathy sex trumps make-up sex 

40. Body hair just gets in the way 

39. Rip bread, don’t slice it 

38. Every man should learn how to dance, but no other man should know he can 

37. Men have no right to speak on the subject of abortion 

36. Every decade gives us only one great double album: The White Album, Exile On Main Street, London Calling, Being There, and Cold Roses. 

35. Chivalry is not dead, but she has to earn it 

34. Watch Carnival Of Souls at least once in your lifetime 

33. If your pubic hair is blond or red, shaving is optional 

32. You can cheat on girls with hairy legs 

31. If they don’t answer, it means yes 

30. Never turn down a chance to sleep with a celebrity 

29. Sex is better in warmer climates 

28. Emo guys = gay; emo gals = easy marks 

27. Never trust people who don’t drink coffee 

26. Springsteen really is The Boss 

25. If there’s a problem, talk it out 

24. If you can’t talk it out: fuck, then try again 

23. Never lease what you can buy 

22. Never break up using a post-it note, her biker friends will hurt you for it 

21. Never say “no” to a green-eyed girl 

20. Live life as if The Catcher In The Rye were your bible 

19. Don’t lie, you will get caught 

18. Admit that the 1986 Mets were the greatest baseball team of all time and life will be easier

17. Know the legal age of consent in every place you visit 

16. Wild animals belong in the wild, not in zoos, fairs, or roadside attractions 

15. Pussy farts are charming 

14. Only wear a bra if you’re going to offend me 

13. Beauty is in the eye of the beer-holder 

12. It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye 

11. Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups 

10. When in doubt, mumble 

9. Masturbation is overrated 

8. Small boobs are misunderstood

7. Better to be feared than loved, but even better to have your love feared 

6. Handcuffs are the ultimate sex toy 

5. If you can’t convince them, confuse them 

4. Quiet girls are the most likely to toss your salad 

3.  Women do not understand remote controls, there is no exception to this rule

2. Never overthink 

 

Of course, if you want to know the number one rule, you’re gonna have to watch the film.

 

The official website is: www.FWBmovie.com 

 

Check back often for more stories from the front lines of making FRIENDS (WITH BENEFITS)…

 

Friends (with benefits) POSTER
Friends (with benefits) POSTER

 

P.S. Remember my horror/comedy PSYCHOS IN LOVE will be released on DVD (complete with a boatload of extras) next Tuesday, April 28th.  You can get it at BestBuy, Netflix, or preorder it here at Amazon.com

 

I guess in a way, PSYCHOS IN LOVE had its own set of rules:

 

I hate grapes.

I can’t stand grapes.

I loathe grapes. 

All kinds of grapes.

I hate purple grapes. 

I hate green grapes. 

I hate grapes with seeds. 

I hate grapes without seeds. 

I hate them peeled and non-peeled. 

I hate grapes in bunches, one at a time, or in groups of twos and threes.

I fucking hate grapes.

 

Book outweighs Blog, Blog fills up Paper, Paper covers Rock…

Sorry…been working on the new novel, so blogging takes a back seat.

However, there is a half hour interview with me which you can watch by clicking HERE.

And you can pre-order your jam-packed-with-extras version of the PSYCHOS IN LOVE dvd by clicking HERE.  The trailer for PSYCHOS is on the film’s FACEBOOK FAN PAGE.

More soon…

pil-mb-dvd-cover-01-small

Psychos In Love

Forgot to mention, my crazy cult horror comedy from 1986 — PSYCHOS IN LOVE — is about to get a top notch dvd release from Media-Blasters. Tons of extras, including two commentaries (one I’m doing now, and one from a few years back with me and Carmine). a behind-the-scenes, the original trailer, a huge photo gallery, trailers for my two most recent films (You Are Alone and Friends With Benefits), a promo video I did for my last book UNWOUND (written under the pseudonym Jonathan Baine), and two shorts, one old (The Only Take) and the last short I made (Objects In The Mirror Are Further Than They Appear)…and perhaps even a few other suprises.

Not to mention, this will be a new transfer off the original film…so it should look pristine!

It’ll be available on March 31, 2009…and you can pre-order your copy of the PSYCHOS IN LOVE dvd by clicking HERE!

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More top ten…and Springsteen (not the rock star)…

First off, after two weeks I can say that Springsteen is doing quite well adjusting to his new home. Likewise Phoebe has become a great big sister to the pup. I’ll post more pix soon. We’re also closing up all the work on the Connecticut State Film Commission Tax Credit we’re receiving for FRIENDS (WITH BENEFITS) and I will be posting a long blog explaining how everything went down, a good how-to for other indie filmmakers in the state.

But for now, yet another Top Ten CD list. This time from old friend Rob DeRosa. For the best of CT-based music you can hear Rob’s radio show on Thursdays on WESU FM, which is 88.1FM. It’s called HOMEGROWN. You can also listen to archived shows at: www.myspace.com/thinmanmusiclabel

Here now is his top ten:

The Hold Steady- Stay Positive. How could an ex Springstee fan not like these guys? Way too many words sometimes and chock full arrangements- that’s what drew me to early Bruce and it’s what enthralls me about The Hold Steady. I just hope there is no Nebraska in them to screw it all up.

The Mountain Movers- Why Don’t We open the Chest. This band is a pleasure. While I loved the horns on the first CD, the less is more approach here works even better. If Ric promises to bring extra strings, I’ll hire them for Daffodil Fest so I can hear this stuff live in my own backyard, so to speak.

The Manchurians 5×4, The Minster EP. I know, my label. But if this and my next picks were not worthy, we wouldn’t max out credit putting them out. This one rocks in a different way than the last one- probably due to Dean’s layering of sounds and his co-writing energizing Roger to write more songs than he ever did. Short- liethey like their live sets- but it kicks ass.

Frank Critelli- Watlzing Through Quicksand. Frank’s songs always had room for a full band and this disc shows why. His songs here are expansive and moving- and the tight band behind him propells him to rock star staus instead of simply the best folkie out there.

The Sawtelles- Dime Museum. Previously a either love ’em or leave ’em style- this CD shows incredible growth and cohesion of their rather unothadox style. Shany Lawson produced them the way it should have always been. Peter’s words are intiguing and Julie sings better than ever before.

MGMT- Oracular Spectacular suffice to say that this incredibly popular band was for all intense and purposes, my discovery. Well. not entirely- but the Wesleyan duo got their first off campus gig from me- as well as their first club date at Cafe 9 and their first airplay on my radio show. Then they went on to play every festival in the world this year( Cochella, Bonnaroo, Glastonbury, Leeds, Reading, SXSW, Austin City one, two in australia and a few in Japan.) and get on most big music magazines best of lists. They deserve it. It’s a psychedelic dance fest with pithy, ironic and cheeky lyrics. AND the drummer is nailing Kirstin Dunst. Every young rockers dream story.

The top ten continues…

I turn now to friend Vinnie Penn, who has supplied a top ten cd list all his own.  Hw swears he read neither mine nor Matt Bialer’s before putting together his list.  What’s most surprising his worst cd of the year.  And this is just a theory, and I’m accusing no one of anything, but…perhaps no one actually likes Vampire Weekend except for those who were paid off to like them.  It’s the only explanation that makes sense really.  The old payola machine still turning.  Nothing having changed much since the 1950s.  Like I said, just a theory of mine.  But it sure would explain things…

Anyway, here’s Vinnie’s list, and proof positive that he is a comic after all:

Vinnie Penn’s Top Ten CD’s of 2008: 

Counting Crows—-Sat. Nights/Sun. Mornings: A damn good reason I don’t mind not doing radio on a daily basis every day anymore; why weren’t at least 3 songs from this record in heavy rotation? Lyrically, Duritz is in top form.
 
Gaslight Anthem 59 Sound—Outrageous, how good this is. Plus they open for Jesse Malin. ‘Nuff said.
 
Malin Mercury Retrograde—Nobody out there is doing it better, and nobody can argue.
 
AC/DC Black Ice—-It’s ACDC. There wouldn’t be strippers without them. Be serious. 
 
Shinedown–The Sound of Madness: Proof that there is hope for rock ‘n roll on radio. 
 
Extreme—Saudades de Rock: Proof that there is hope for rock ‘n roll with record labels.
 
The Morning Of: Great piano, great harmonies. Makes me want to walk around NYC. 
 
Hold Steady—Stay Positive: Could’ve had one or two more strong tracks but the ones that are are just window-down anthems. Love this band. 
 
Candlebox—Into the Sun: The last song on the CD alone makes it worth getting. 
 
Rick Springfield—Venus in Overdrive: My boy is still an underrated guitarist, and this record is earning him long overdue critical cred. Laugh all you want. It’s the soap thing. 
 
And what was up with Vampire Weekend? Talk about hype. Further proof that the “machine” can make hits, be it in music, publishing, on-screen, etc.   
   
Visit Vinnie’s website: http://www.vinniepenn.net/
(yeah, I know…a dot-net…explains a lot)