BEHIND-THE-SCENES OF THE TEN PLAGUES
"Meet us there at 4am. We're going to film this subway scene guerilla-style."
I promised my friends I'd pay them in bagels. The plan was to meet at the City Hall subway station, and take 4 train to the Upper East Side. The day before, I'd timed the route. We had 26 minutes to film this scene, before the subway emerged above ground. That means we had to nail every one of our 8 shots in a single take. With no permit. In the dead of the night. The pressure was on.
I figured that at 4am on a Sunday morning, the subway would be empty. Wowza, how wrong I was! The train was packed with sleepy revelers returning home from partying, derelicts clutching booze in paper-bags, and more. But we found a a train car with an empty cluster of seats roughly together, and we began. For the first shot, Nina Jordan (who played Shayna), had to run out of the subway car, and then circle around, and sneak back in on the other side. She nailed it, like a true pro. Then, we plastered a custom-printed ad for "Combat Bedbugs," a nod to the ever-present NYC subway ads, which follow you around like the plague. I knew from my advertising days to research the subway ad dimensions on the MTA Rate Sheet, and had our production designer in San Francisco create a laminated ad that would blend in perfectly into the surroundings. So Jimmie Cooper, our producer, along with Bobby Johnson, our PA, posted it up. Boom.
My friends Steve Fischer, Alison Lincoln, David Gravens, Samer Freij, and Tom Peters were up next. For this scene, we had to capture them convincingly scratching themselves, as if they all had the plague of bedbugs. And finally, we filmed Shayna's increasing distress with the infested subway riders all around her. We emerged at 125th Street station as the light began to fill the sky. We were triumphant, and as promised, we headed down to H&H bagels to celebrate.
A few months earlier, as I was finalizing the script to prepare for pre-production, someone asked me, why don't we film this scene in BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), and thus set the entire film in San Francisco Bay Area? But, there's something so iconic about the New York City subway, the ruthless equalizer in which everyone is pitted together in a train hurtling onward. At its core, this film is about falling short of one's ambitions - where you work, where you live, and who you're dating - and the constant striving to get there. New York IS ambition. There's no translating that.
Behind-the-scenes of the "engagement Photos" episode of cake walk
"The boat is an art installation the engagement photographer set up. He went all out for this shoot."
It happened again. The location that we had been counting on to film "Engagement Photos," the final episode of Cake Walk, had just fallen through. We were slated to film in just four days. Time to hustle.
The only benefit of directing a web series about wedding planning WHILE planning my own wedding, was that I had the contacts for every wedding venue in Napa and Sonoma counties. So, I started making phone calls. Within three hours, I had several appointments lined up for scouting. The next morning, Sats Murashige, the Director of Photography, picked me up, and we drove to venues together, much like the anxiety-riddled trips my husband and I had taken a few months earlier. I promised myself I'd never depend a free filming location ever again. Sats just laughed at me. Rightfully so. (A year later, Sats and I planned to film at my home, and even that fell through! But fortunately, my wonderful friend Layne Gray came to my rescue, and we filmed the music video Too Much Love in her gorgeous apartment in San Francisco. Her home is breathtaking, a true marvel that overlooks the city, and a grand step up from my place. See, it all works out in the end... If I live that long.)
But back to the Engagement Photos episode. We had found it. The picturesque Flying Cloud Farm had vines and views and everything. The vineyard, we learned, did not bear edible or grape-making grapes; it was just there for show. And inexplicably, they had a sailboat moored right in the dirt between the parking lot and the vineyard. There was no sailboat in the script. What to do?
I called Julie Katz, an extraordinary improv comedian and our lead actress in this episode, to tell her about this strange opportunity. Could we use this boat in some way? She paused for no longer than three seconds before she explained, "The boat is an art installation that the photographer set up. My character (Kim) wanted to do this for her fiancé, because he loves boats. So, the photographer went all out for this shoot." Julie is a genius.
So this became the climactic scene, in which the couple enacted a pirate battle aboard this moored ship. Watching Julie Katz and Nick Coluzzi improvise this scene was like watching two masters at work. Sats and I set it up, and let their magic unfold.
One of the greatest joys of directing a talented team is that there will be surprises, not every element of chance can be eliminated. You have to embrace the obstacles that come your way. For the right team, they are opportunities to sparkle.