New Orleans, LA (May 2012)
My last blog entry was on the eve of shooting HATCHET 3 way back in May. While my plan was to blog again once the film was wrapped, as it goes around here I wound up heading straight from the swamps into my sit-com town of Holliston without a moment to reflect. So let’s back up a bit and recap. When this year began, I was in post-production on Season One of HOLLISTON. I know that post-production can be sort of a mysterious “no man’s land” and that many fans only know that it “takes awhile”. But for those readers that haven’t made a movie or TV series before, post is where a filmmaker spends about 65% (if not more) of their time on a project and it’s where the whole thing really comes together. Whenever I do a public speaking engagement or lecture to aspiring filmmakers, I always stress to them that the “glorious” aspect of directing (standing by the camera and triumphantly calling “action” or “cut”, working with actors, and dictating camera shots on set) is really just a small portion of the process. The hours and stress of post can be brutal and often bury that of the actual shoot ten-fold. So while I was in the thick of editing the first season of HOLLISTON around the clock with my editor (and after many years, close friend and confidant) Ed Marx, I was simultaneously at work writing both HATCHET 3 and the re-write of KILLER PIZZA. Not easy to juggle to put it mildly, but given the schedule for these projects I had no choice but to give them all my full attention at the same time. Throw in the appearances and travel that came with promoting the launch of HOLLISTON, and there wasn’t even time to sleep.
HOLLISTON Sound Mix – Season One, Post-Production (March 2012)
The final episode of Season One aired on May 8th but there was no time to celebrate or take some time off as just a few days later I was on my way to New Orleans for principal photography on HATCHET 3. The shoot was incredibly rough, and this is coming from the guy who made FROZEN. The heat, the unpredictable rain, the treacherous conditions, the thousands of bugs (some of which were poisonous), and the fact that we were raising the bar and shooting more action and stunts than both HATCHET 1 & 2 put together made for a serious challenge. We had more trips to the emergency room than all of my other projects combined and almost nightly, crew members fell ill to poison spider bites or (even worse) horrible reactions to DEET (a highly toxic chemical found in some bug sprays).
DEET kills bugs (and people) dead.
To make matters worse, the film was shot almost entirely in New Orleans (unlike the first two) which meant a lot of new and unfamiliar faces on the crew. It was a different kind of experience from what my key crew and I have become accustomed to and not exactly the same “family” and fun environment we usually operate in. While making the movie we encountered some people with a different work ethic and different way of handling things than the “ArieScope” way that we’ve defined and lived by for the past 14 years. Just a few small examples to give you a taste, I literally broke up a physical altercation between two grown men at one point (one of whom proceeded to physically get up in a woman’s face and continue his tirade before being unceremoniously fired), a key individual went home in the middle of the night without warning because they were “tired and had to poop”, and the notion of courtesy and professionalism was unknown by a select few who had no qualms threatening to “walk” if asked to do even the simplest task required by their job description and a select few who saw nothing wrong in referring to female crew members in the most disparaging choice of words possible if they had a life or death issue, like say perhaps the desire for something important like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. In my many years working in the industry I’ve never experienced anything quite like it. We saw a nervous breakdown or two (mainly brought on by DEET poisoning) and even had to have one crew member’s parents drive in from several states over to pick up and care for them after the set medic deemed them a physical threat to themselves and those around them. But all of these issues aside, there were also a few wonderful people we had the honor to work with down there. Thankfully, there were others who simply amazed us and rose to the challenge in every way- and those are the people you choose to remember and plan on working with again if ever given the opportunity. Even more importantly, with all of the obstacles we went through the footage turned out extremely well and the movie is shaping up to be terrific and that is really all that matters. We made some great new friends in our short time down there and their hard work shows on the screen in spades. I’ve spent the last full week in editing and there are moments in this movie that I am totally twitching with excitement over.
A HATCHET 3 crew member shows off her spider bites (June 2012)
Now, my original plan was to be on the set of HATCHET 3 as support to the project and to supervise creatively when and if needed. My intention was to be on set but give first time director BJ McDonnell some breathing room and respect as opposed to standing over his shoulder by camera and constantly butting in. Especially given all the leg work he and I did together leading up to the shoot, I figured I’d be there to watch over and advise if necessary. I honestly expected to spend a lot of time each night either in my trailer or in my hotel room a phone call away, as I was simultaneously on the most severe deadline I had ever faced with writing both Season 2 of HOLLISTON (472 pages all in) and the rewrite of KILLER PIZZA (another 120 pages). I was under tremendous pressure as HOLLISTON rehearsals began the day I got back from Louisiana and our start date was firm and unable to be postponed due to cast availability. There was no margin for personal error or leeway to have a “bad writing day” if I was to pull it all off. While I’m happy to say that things on the set itself went off without a hitch (BJ and cast/crew attacked each night’s work with confidence and vigor), back at the set’s base camp there was more drama each night than an episode of [Insert Major Television Network Drama Here] due to both the difficult conditions and the very few individuals I spoke of above. My original plan of writing during the shoot itself went out the window immediately and save for one night where I was able to head back to the hotel early and our final night of shooting (a night with a condensed crew for some car driving / dialogue sequences) I was needed on set from call time to wrap every night/day. I had more stress producing and problem solving on the HATCHET 3 shoot than I ever have actually directing a film. So that meant the only possible hours I had to write were in the daytime hours that the rest of the crew was sleeping. I had no choice but to go around the clock to get it all done and get it all done the right way.
HOLLISTON Season 2: 472 pages
Still going strong without a full day off from anything work related, I returned to Los Angeles and went directly into rehearsals for HOLLISTON. The rehearsal process is pivotal as performing the show is very much like performing a play. Whereas a feature film is shot in moments (sometimes just a line of dialogue per shot or even just a “look” caught on camera), a sit-com is performed like live theater. Some individual takes can be up to 10 pages long and therefore the blocking and actual performance itself needs to be all squared away long before the cameras ever role. Given the size of my role on the show, that meant mastering hundreds of pages of dialogue, blocking, slapstick comedy, and even a dance number (yes, I dance at one point this season). It was a 2 and half month intensive rehearsal process in order to be able to shoot 1,303 camera set-ups in a mere 21 days of shooting. During this time period I also had to get myself back into prime physical “shooting” shape so while we were spending countless hours rehearsing in the summer heat, I was also on a strict diet and work out regiment which (as anyone who has ever challenged themselves or gotten into shape can attest) may have actually been the hardest part of it all. Many nights the cast (and director Sean Becker) worked out together with the help of my Season 2 personal assistant who did his best to lead the work outs and keep us motivated. I got down to 153 lean pounds! To put that number into perspective, I was 160 pounds when I graduated High School 20 years ago and I was 178 pounds when I filmed FROZEN in 2010. I’m honestly in the best physical shape of my life in Season 2 of HOLLISTON.
Cast rehearsal / bowling night. (August 2012)
But there was still a week of night shoots on HATCHET 3 that had to happen in Los Angeles, at ArieScope, and during the week right before HOLLISTON started filming. Due to the HATCHET 3′s cast availability there was just no other way to schedule it. So rather than resting up and getting focused in the days before Season 2′s production began, I was doing rehearsals and pre-production for HOLLISTON during the day and then working on HATCHET 3 over night with maybe 3 hours of sleep in between if I could sneak it in. By August 20th, I had finished HATCHET 3, mastered my HOLLISTON lines and blocking, thoroughly organized Season 2′s pre-production, and surpassed my fitness goals… but I was also starting filming on absolutely no sleep or time off in almost 9 months. I was a walking mess to put it bluntly.
Before I continue with this story, let me explain what my schedule is like on shooting HOLLISTON. Being the show-runner, sole writer, a lead actor (I use the term “lead” as ” one of four leads” since Joe, Laura, Corri, and I are a true ensemble and we carry the show together- but the show is largely told through my character’s eyes and so I therefore wind up with the most lines and scenes to learn each season), and also the director of three of this season’s episodes (thankfully, the amazing Sean Becker is fully handling directing the other 8 episodes and is an absolute God send to HOLLISTON) my typical day on set is as follows:
12am/1am: Wake up and drive to set (Sometimes this happens at 3am, other times at 10pm the night before- it all depends.)
1am – 5am: Run through the day on set by myself. Practice the lines and blocking. Rewrite anything that is in need of a rewrite. Troubleshoot and think through that day’s production. Answer all emails, work on my various other projects, respond to fan mail, and do any press required at that particular time. Get focused.
5am: Hair / Make-up and Wardrobe.
6am/6:30am: First blocking and rehearsal on set for camera.
7am – 7pm: Shoot that days material (often times each day consisted of around 25 pages and 80-90 camera set-ups).
7pm – 8pm: Wrap up, talk through the next day, get out of make-up, scour off the blood (depending on the day) and drive home.
8:30pm/9:00pm: Shower and maybe eat dinner if I can stay awake enough to chew. Hug my wife and pet the cats and dog briefly.
9:30pm/10pm: Study the next day’s lines until I pass out.
12am/1am: Wake up and do it all again.
The first week, while shooting a scene with Dee Snider and Joe Lynch I actually nodded off in the middle of a take. I fell asleep standing on my feet while cameras were rolling! Such actions are usually reserved for an actor dealing with drug addiction right before they head off to rehab, but in my case it was due to the fact that I hadn’t slept properly in so long and I was running on empty. While Desiree Falcon (HOLLISTON’s amazing make-up artist) was able to transform me from a zombie into an average looking dude for my time in front of the camera each day, health wise I was really starting to deteriorate and crash. There were times when I’d have to make several attempts just to get my house key in the lock because of how much my hands were shaking. I had more diet coke in my blood stream than blood. But you know what? I’ve never been happier doing anything else in my life. I’ve never had more fun or been more anxious to wake up and get back to work again. I would do it all again in a heartbeat. I have no shame in admitting that if the show were to end after this coming season I would be absolutely devastated. With TV you can never predict what will happen. The network could merge with another network or be pulled off the air by the powers that be. Executives could be switched out and new ones could step in with their own agenda and cancel the show in lieu of their own passion projects. You just never, ever know. Because of that reality, the cast and crew were extremely emotional when we wrapped and had to say “goodbye” (hopefully, only until next season). Saying that we all love this show just isn’t enough to explain how we feel about it.
While the intention of this blog posting is truly just to give a glimpse behind the curtain of what I’ve been up to and inform those interested as to how I have been operating, I wouldn’t for a moment want anyone to get the impression that I’m not having the time of my life. I am so eternally grateful and lucky to have so many projects going on and HOLLISTON especially has been the most creatively gratifying and enjoyable experience of my career. No joke, I can only pray for ten more seasons at this point. It’s hard work. Incredibly hard work. But it feels like one long party and many of us are already having withdrawals and depression not seeing each other every day. Thankfully I still have over half a year of post-production ahead of me, so the road to Season 2 is really just getting started in some ways.
HOLLISTON placed in the “Top 10 Trending TV shows” each week on GetGlue last season. beating out major network shows like DANCING WITH THE STARS, NEW GIRL, and GAME OF THRONES.
For those that follow me and read my non-stop updates on Twitter (thank you and I appreciate the concern over my health and well being), trust that I’m going to be fine and I’m going to find a way to slow down soon. Rileah recently showed me a statistic that said if you go for 11 days without sleep you will die which I guess means I’ve been part of the Walking Dead for a few years now and she married a zombie. As HATCHET 3 nears completion in just another few months or so I plan to settle into a slightly more normal (for me) schedule and make taking better care of myself a priority. Perhaps even a well deserved vacation somewhere tropical sometime soon? I don’t know. But for now, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be and no other group of people I’d want to be surrounded by. I can only hope that each of you can feel like this at some point in your respective careers and lifetimes. (The feeling of “accomplishment” and happiness, that is. I wouldn’t wish the schedule, workload, or lack of sleep on anyone.)
HOLLISTON FAMILY: Adam, Corri, Laura, Joe
“You’ve been great, we’ve been Dyver Down! GOOD NIGHT! WOO!”
That’s a wrap on Season 2! (September 2012)