Yesterday morning, my body instinctively woke me up at 6AM, which would normally be 7AM, but due to daylight savings time it was an hour earlier. And as I lay in my bed, I started thinking about the one film I made that I’m most proud of. It’s a short sex comedy called Perfekt. I shot this story about an aging Don Juan searching for his perfect match back in 2006, when I had only two other shorts under my director’s belt, The Coconut and The Hotel Edwards. What begins as a fun little sex comedy, with main character Matt (Bill Schineller) looking for the perfect woman, one who embodies everything he loves and who also happens to be a virgin –– culminates in an unorthodox confrontation with the near perfect Nellie (Kate Kenney).
Well, I’ve been gearing up to work with my girlfriend Marinell on shooting a book trailer for my good friend James Broderick’s book Stalked, his first work of fiction after a lifetime writing nonfiction like The Literary Galaxy of Star Trek and Now A Terrifying Motion Picture! For the trailer, I enlisted the aid of both Bill and Kate. Each of us go way back; Bill and I first acted together in a 1920s/flapper era production of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, and I’d met Kate when I was casting for my sci-fi themed rendition of Antony and Cleopatra, in which I originally chose her for my female lead, but she wasn’t able to accept. I was so impressed with her, I kept her contact info, and when I had my script for Perfekt, which back then had a very different original title, I reached out to Kate immediately and offered her the role of Nellie.
Looking back on all the years and other film projects I’ve worked on like my Indiegogo-funded Cerise and Mating Dome, no film contributed more to my education as a screenwriter, director, and filmmaker than Perfekt. The film is far from perfect, but the poignant performances from Bill and Kate, the visual story arced by Alain Aguilar, the poetry beneath the subterfuge of seemingly simple dialog, and Ventzi Assenov’s evocative score; and even the sexual comedy at the beginning that paves the path to a heart-rending finish –– all of it pulled together in a way that none of my subsequent works have yet been able to achieve.
Perfekt Postcard designed by Marinell C. Montales
And this is why I’ve decided to pull a “Linklater” –– to get the band back together in the spot where it all the drama went down for Matt and Nellie, and bring about a second installment of Perfekt.
And we’ll call it Perfect.
Of course, there are some definite things that will be different this time around; after all, it ain’t 2006 anymore. And like I said, as a self-taught filmmaker with over a dozen shorts under my belt, here are five lessons I took away from the making of Perfekt that I will perfect further when I start shooting Perfect in 2014.
5. Hire the right amount of crew with the right skills to do the job right. When I shot Perfekt, the budget had a hard stop at $5,000. With that, I was able to hire my first assistant director, sound recorder, boom operator, and a couple of productions assistants. Factor in Alain and myself, and we were a modest crew of around seven members. One thing I learned back when I shot Cerise with its larger budget of $15,000 and a crew of fifteen folks) is to always hire the right people for the right job. Oh, and always, always hire a producer.
4. Document the filmmaking process with photos, video, and (now) social media. It’s hard to think where I’d be without social media. I made Perfekt, Myspace was really just starting to be something. I didn’t know about Facebook, and there was no Instagram so you could easily and immediately share your on-set photos; I mean, we were still using digital cameras to take continuity shots, and not one of us thought to use that camera to take some shots of the crew working on the film. It was a vastly different time, and looking back, I’d love to have more than a tiny handful of photos of me on the set of Perfekt. So this time around, we’ll be documenting the process, and maybe even livestreaming the shoot, too.
3. There are many more factors than money involved in getting great audio. Audio prides itself in being the bane of every filmmaker’s existence, and it was no different on the set of Perfekt (or any of my other films, for that matter, with the exception of The Coconut, Speed Musing, and the Pepper Coat video, being silents.) Back then, I thought that if you put most of your budget into audio and hire a good sound guy, Hollywood-caliber sound will abound. Not so. There are many more factors at play in the battle for quality sound, like location, electricity, airplanes, and the like. This time around, I’ll be factoring them all into the shooting of Perfect.
2. Shoot the most important scenes first, especially when in an uncontrolled environment (like a bar). One hefty mistake I made while shooting Perfekt’s many bar scenes was shooting certain less important scenes before the most important scene in the whole film –– the climax. We were shooting at Bar Majestic in Downtown Jersey City, now a lovely spot called Razza, and we had the entire bar to ourselves all morning until 4PM, and I chose to shoot various quick scenes during that time, thinking we’d have plenty of time. By the time the clock struck four, the bar opened to the public, and I had to shoot the finale, a long, Woody Allen-esque conversation between Matt and Nellie, with a roomful of bar patrons having conversations in the background. We made the most of it, though, and still managed to walk out of the then Bar Majestic at a little after midnight with some solid shots and slightly subpar sound.
1. Be more organized in the editing room. This is the biggie, and if I were the kind of person who held onto regrets, this would be the only one: Not having a single copy of Perfekt in digital form to date. See, when I was prepping the film for delivery to Ouat Media, distribution was more about physical copies back then (evidenced by the $90 DigiBeta tape I had to ship to Canada), and because I had secured distribution for Perfekt, I couldn’t show it anywhere online ‘cause they had the rights for three years. Flash forward a couple years, when I swapped my MacPro tower for a MacBook Pro, but never loaded all of the files that pieced together Perfekt in a single location; there were files on every hard drive I owned, internal and external. So when I finally tried to make a digital file to share with friends, there were gaps in the original cut of the film because I simply couldn’t locate all the missing files. The good thing is that by the time Perfect is shot and ready for your eyes, it’ll only be available in digital form, and you can bet the farm that all those files will be in a single location.
Now that I’ve recapped what not to do in the filming of Perfect next year, and I’ve got my two actors 100% onboard, it’s time to start writing the script!
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Filmmakers –– What are some lessons you’ve learned from shooting your previous films that you’ll be sure to steer clear from when shooting your next? List them in the comments below –– perhaps I’ll be able to add a few more lessons to my utility belt.