The Goldilocks Conundrum

High Heels and Hoodoo has a scene that’s a memory and a scene set in the spirit world, and we wanted to make sure those parts looked different.  So Brian bought this snazzy program called "Magic Bullets Suite" to manipulate the images. The software has all kinds of filters and effects, and Brian was like a kid in a candy shop trying out all the options.  In addition to the distinct looks he could add to the different scenes, he also used the software for color correction.  He spent hours making sure the colors were consistent across all the shots, but when he was sure he had it right, he ran into the Goldilocks issue. 

He sent the final version to Jocelyn, and she complained that it was too light - when she watched it on her computer, it almost looked bright enough to be daytime.  When Brian burned a DVD and watched in on his television, it was too dark.  It’s supposed to be midnight in a cemetery, but the viewer has to actually be able to see what’s happening.  And of course when he watched it on his computer where he’d done all the color tweaking, it was juuuuust right.  So which of those three outputs should we believe?

That’s why we’re so glad we have the upcoming sneak peeks.  This is one of the types of issues a work-in-progress screening helps evaluate, so we can discover if we need to make changes.  The film will be playing in two different theaters with different projectors and screens, so we’ll be able to see whether it looks too light, too dark, or just right on the big screen.  

Putting the Pieces Together

Mixing the magic...Editing High Heels and Hoodoo was a team effort – Brian did the actual editing in Final Cut, while Jocelyn hovered over him offering her pearls of wisdom.  We were lucky that because we had a fantastic cast and crew, we got so much great footage, but it actually makes it really tough to decide what to use.  Our DP John Reynolds got a variety of interesting angles, so we wanted to use them all.  And then our actresses (Johanna Jowett, Joy Vandervort-Cobb, and Sandra Lafferty) made it even tougher to decide: one would deliver the line in an especially snazzy way, but then one of the others would have a priceless reaction shot – which to choose, which to choose?!?

But we muddled through and got our rough cut put together.  Then it was time to turn it over to our expert advisors.  As part of the Indie Grants program, short film expert Roberta Munroe is helping at all stages of the process.  Brad Jayne, the coordinator of the program, has also been offering his sage advice along the way.  They both had some great suggestions for tightening the cut and using different shots to tell the story.

So we made some changes and delivered a new cut to them.  At that point we also brought in another past Saying Goodbye helper – editing consultant Ann Collins.  Like Roberta, Ann helped so much with the Saying Goodbye edit that we also wanted her practiced eye on High Heels and Hoodoo.  She had really great things to say about High Heels and Hoodoo and suggested some ways to further fine-tune the edit. 

After more tweaking and a few more back-and-forth rounds with our team of experts, we now have picture lock - yay!  Time to pass it off to Fred Story and the Concentrix sound team to truly make the film sing.

Friendly Favors

When it comes to making low budget films, especially shorts, you end up depending on the kindness of friends and family to get you through.  We already gushed about our amazing family, so it’s time to tip our hats to our friends. Steve and Kathleen Fox having fun serving coffee. Photo by Joanna Rish

First up we have Jocelyn’s writing buddy Kathleen Fox.  In our first scene, Tiffany pulls up in a fancy car, but we didn’t think Jocelyn’s fifteen-year-old Saturn or Brian’s Prius would be the type of car our rich party girl would drive.  So we put out a call for help on facebook, and while we had several people offer cars or suggestions about where to look (thank you!), the one that worked out from a timing standpoint was a friend of Kathleen’s.  Emma Souder has a sporty convertible and was willing to let us kidnap it for the entire night.  Emma, you saved our bacon – thank you so much! 

Making the deal even sweeter, Kathleen volunteered to get the car to and from the cemetery, so we didn’t have to worry about it.  And as if that wasn’t enough, Kathleen manned the craft services table on Saturday night to give our parents a break.  She even dragged her poor husband Steve into it, and we are so thankful they were willing to spend the night in a chilly graveyard to keep the coffee and snacks flowing. 

John Reynolds making the shot pretty. Photo by DiDi HendleyThen there are the friends (both old and new) involved as professionals on the production.  They all agreed to work for below their usual fees, yet still bent over backwards to make this an awesome short.  We've talked about all of them in previous posts, and we are so grateful for everything they have done, although we did want to give our DP John Reynolds an extra shout out.  Not only did he make the graveyard look awesome on camera, but because John has been involved with the camera/lighting for seemingly every project filmed in Charleston, he had the contacts to help us get the equipment and manpower we needed.  The most beneficial of these contacts was High Output, Inc. - not only did they give us great deals on equipment, they also let us film a scene in their warehouse.  The flashback scene needed to be filmed inside, and since High Output was just around the corner from St. Lawrence, it was the perfect place.  It would have been tough to pull this off without the generous help of both John and High Output, so thank you very much! 

And lastly, we want to thank all of you who have been so supportive – asking about our progress and wishing us well.  Your enthusiasm helps keep us energized. 

And now we should probably stop with the thank yous before the music starts to play us off the stage!

The Family Business

Joyce Rish prepping a midnight meal. Photo by Joanna Rish

During the filming of Saying Goodbye, our family was a huge source of emotional support; but although they stopped by the set one day to see all the excitement, they weren’t really involved in the actual process.  It was a very different story for High Heels and Hoodoo, which turned into a true Rish family production.

We already mentioned how our parents helped with all the food shopping, so we might as well dub them the Official Food People - they helped man the craft services table, and they catered dinner both nights.  Although is it still called dinner when it’s served at midnight?  Our dad Robert prides himself on his homemade bar-b-que, so he grilled a giant hunk of pork for Friday night.  And then for Saturday night it was a different kind of bar-b-que with hamburgers and hot dogs.  Our mom Joyce made all the delicious side dishes for both meals. 

Robert Rish cookin' up some dogs.

But they didn’t just help with the food.  In the days leading up to the shoot, our mom helped Jocelyn make sure everything was organized.  Between the two of them, the OCD list making was in overdrive.  And once on set, she kept everything shipshape at base camp (the trailer).  Our dad served as handyman on set, keeping the generators running (the hairdryers kept tripping the trailer’s circuit breaker) and taking care of other odd jobs.  We also tasked him with driving the U-haul truck full of TTC equipment, since neither of us felt comfortable with it.  And when we ran out of tiki torch oil, who do you think we sent out on a 2am Walmart run?  Dear old Dad, of course!

Rounding out the Rish family production was our younger sister Joanna.  She has a super fancy camera and loves taking pictures, so we sweet-talked her into being our onset photographer/videographer.  She took some fantastic photos (along with TTC student DiDi Hendley) which you can see here.  But as older siblings, it’s our duty to make life tough on the youngest, so once shooting started, we immediately turned her into the set production assistant, bombarding her with “Go and do…” “Tell so-and-so…” “Bring me…”  And as usual for ungrateful siblings, we fear we forgot to preface most of those requests with “please.”  But Joanna has the patience of a saint, and she wanted to help us succeed, so she did everything we asked (with only a few dirty looks). 

Joanna and Jocelyn Rish. Photo by DiDi Hendley.

Besides taking pictures, her biggest job turned out to be set chauffer.  Since the trailer was parked a good distance from the graves where we were filming, she drove the actresses back and forth.  And after it ended up being so cold, she turned her car into a heated green room for the actresses to stay warm during lighting adjustments, which we know the ladies really appreciated (as did Jocelyn who occasionally snuck a few minutes in the car to thaw out!).

We can’t thank our family enough for all of their help.  Without their support and willingness to do whatever we needed, we’re not sure we would have been able to pull this off.  Thank you so much Joanna, Joyce, and Robert!


Another Student Swarm

During the filming of Saying Goodbye, we were extremely impressed by the Trident Tech (TTC) students who helped us on set (our busy bees).  Therefore we felt pretty good that for High Heels and Hoodoo half the crew would be made up of TTC students.  But we still couldn’t help worrying a little that maybe we just got lucky the first time.  At least for Saying Goodbye we got to review resumes and pick our own students; this time the students were assigned to us by TTC coordinator Brad Jayne, so we had no idea what we were walking into the first night of shooting.

Luckily TTC truly does do an excellent job training their students, so we had no reason to worry at all.  Max Gordon, Alex Boyd, DiDi Hendley, Karson Kern, and Tonika Brown showed up on Friday afternoon and immediately began swarming to and fro, unloading and setting up equipment.  Sometimes it seemed like they were in two places at one time, especially DiDi who also took pictures in her downtime (along with our sister Joanna Rish, which you can see here).  We are so appreciative of all the hustle and hard work the students did for us that weekend, particularly since filming all night in a chilly graveyard didn’t make for ideal working conditions.  We hope they gained a lot from the experience, and we look forward to hearing great things about their future projects.  

TTC Students on set

Rounding Out the Crew

Bill Allanson, Brian Rish, Will Bryan on HH&H set. Photo by DiDi HendleyWill Bryan was our production designer for Saying Goodbye, and he did such a great job bringing the rooms to life that we wanted his help with High Heels and Hoodoo.  But since it was an outside shoot in a graveyard, we weren’t sure if he’d have enough to do to justify his drive from Columbia to Charleston; so we decided to make him work double duty as first assistant director.  Not much ruffles Will’s feathers, so he’s a calming asset to have on set.  He’s also volunteered to do the poster for High Heels and Hoodoo, and after the awesome one he did for Saying Goodbye, we can’t wait to see what he comes up with for this one.

Bill Allanson wrangling the fog. Photo by Joanna RishNext up is our gaffer Bill Allanson.  Our DP John Reynolds recommended Bill to us, and like John, Bill has been a part of most of the projects shot in Charleston, such as Dear John and The Notebook.  In fact, he came to set on Friday evening after having worked a full day on the Army Wives set - we really appreciate Bill being willing to work those crazy hours to help us out.  In addition to his lighting duties, Bill became the Official Fog Wrangler.  You can’t have a ghostly graveyard scene without some fog, but of course it ended up being windy during that scene, so Bill hustled to keep the fog in the shot rather than floating off over the Cooper River.  The end product looks great, so we are glad he was there to tame the wild fog beast.

Oren Malik discussing shot with John Reynolds. Photo by DiDi HendleyAnd then we had Oren Malik as first assistant camera, another crew member highly recommended by John.  Oren actually worked on a few of last year’s indie grant winners as one of the Trident Tech students on the crew, so he was a perfect addition to our set.  Not only did he do a great job as John’s right-hand man, but since he was in the students’ place a year ago, he was able to guide them and offer advice.

We’re glad all three gentlemen were willing to brave the cold and the creepy graveyard to help us with the shoot.  Thanks, guys!

Have a Magical Halloween!

Stuffy the Stand-in at Hoodoo tableAs you may remember, last year Stuffy the Stand-in had a blast trying on various Halloween costumes.  If you didn’t see them then, you should peruse his various ensembles.  And even if you did see them at the time, go back and gawk at his choices for a Halloween giggle

This year, Stuffy the Stand-in was too busy helping us with our new movie High Heels and Hoodoo to spend time preening in front of a mirror in his various costumes.  High Heels and Hoodoo is about ghosts and magic, so it’s a perfect fit for Halloween, made even more appropriate since we filmed in a cemetery at night the week before All Hallows Eve. 

Since there were no cats in this movie, we did not need Stuffy’s stand-in abilities, but he was on hand to supervise and horn in on any photo ops.  We’ve included a few of his creepy poses to commemorate the holiday.  Enjoy and have a very Happy Halloween! Jocelyn, Stuffy, Will, and Brian at graveside

The Music of the Night

We tend to think of graveyards as pretty quiet (except when the zombies attack of course), but it turned out to be surprisingly noisy at night.  Obviously a big factor was the constant drone of the generators we had running to power the equipment and RV.  But there were also steady chirps and buzzing from the crickets and other insects, as well as a few yelps and calls from other unidentified wildlife. 

An unexpected source of noise was the apartment complex that backs up to St. Lawrence Cemetery.  Despite the cold, on both nights kids were outside playing and shouting; and their bedtime was not as early as we expected (or hoped), since the commotion went on past eleven.  While we were happy to see the youth of America actually playing outside, we kind of wished they'd picked that weekend for TV time and video games.  

Then there was the noise that kind of freaked us out – techno music.  The music was thumping from the side of St. Lawrence that backs up to another cemetery.  There are no bars or clubs or anything nearby, so obviously the ghosts were having a rave.  The music faded away after a few minutes, but it came back in spurts several times.  Someone finally realized that the Cooper River borders the cemeteries, and the music was from the party boats cruising up and down the river.  While that’s a logical explanation for the music, we like the idea of raving ghosts better.

Jack Kelehear by DiDi HendleySo with all that noise, both natural and unnatural, we presented a tough challenge for our sound mixer.  Luckily we had Jack Kelehear on our team - he laughed in the face of all that commotion, and we were amazed at how clean the audio came out despite the noisy night.  Jack has more than 25 years of sound experience doing audio mixing and composing and producing music for WIS TV and SCESC, and he owns Tongarten Audio Production.  He worked on American Jihadist, a documentary that won the Grand Jury Prize at SlamDance and Best Documentary at the Charleston International Film Festival.  Jack brought his lovely assistant/girlfriend Nancy to set, and she turned out to be a whiz at spotting continuity issues, so we were grateful to have both of them there that weekend.   

A Nip in the Air

One of the requirements of the indie grant was that we had to finish filming by October 31st.  Since we wanted as many hours of darkness as possible for filming, we scheduled our shoot as late in the window as we could (without pushing our luck by waiting until the very last weekend).  But the tradeoff for waiting for more hours of darkness was fewer degrees on the thermometer. 

Charleston is usually pretty comfortable during the winter - it’s not unusual to be able to wear shorts for Christmas.  But as tends to happen with these things, there was a cold snap the weekend we filmed, so the temperature hovered in the mid 40s.  Now we know our northern fans are snickering at us, but that’s dang cold for those of us with thin southern blood, especially because the weekend before and after had low temps of 60 degrees.  But on the bright side, our anti-rain dance worked perfectly and there was not a cloud in the sky; so any time we were tempted to complain about the cold, we reminded ourselves that it could have been so much worse if it had rained.

The entire cast and crew were real troopers about the chilly conditions.   The crew was lucky in that they could pile on the layers and stick hand warmers in their pockets.  Our three actresses weren’t quite so fortunate, especially poor Johanna who was wearing a tiny dress.  But we did our best to keep them bundled up between takes, and as you can see from the picture, they got to know each other up close and personal.  

Johanna, Ashley and Joy keep warm

Shop 'til You Drop

Since the grant for High Heels and Hoodoo is much smaller than the one for Saying Goodbye, it means everything is even more ‘do it yourself’ than before, which includes the shopping. For Saying Goodbye, we spent a good chunk of time perusing the Walmart shelves for craft services, but meals and props were handled by other people.  This time we are all on our own.  And since neither one of us likes to shop, the past few days have been . . . not fun.

High Heels on Hoodoo tableThe set design is pretty simple, so the majority of the items on our props list are interesting looking implements for Madame Josephine’s hoodoo table.  Much of our shopping has consisted of going from store to store (to store!) deciding which glass container will look coolest when filled with blood or which mortar and pestle looks the most magical.  Thank goodness it’s right before Halloween - finding the fake blood was the easiest thing on our list. 

The biggest buying challenge has been the ring that gets passed between characters.  While it’s not a main plot device, it is in every scene, and all three actresses wear it at some point.  The ring needs to be big and flashy enough for the viewer to notice it’s the same one, and it also needs to look expensive (without actually being expensive).  That’s a fine line, since the bigger they are, the cheaper they usually look.  After scouring practically every shop in our area that carries rings, we finally found a “pink diamond” we liked from our favorite film shopping Joyce, Jocelyn, and Robert Rish unpacking all the food. Photo Joanna Rishplace – Walmart.

And since Brian was busy when it was time for the major food shopping, Jocelyn batted her pitiful, puppy eyes and pleaded with her parents to come help push the buggies during an evening expedition (less crowded) to Walmart to load up on snacks and food for the meals.  Our parents have been life savers through all of this!

All this shopping has nearly worn us out before we’ve even started filming, and it will definitely be a while before either one of us feels like entering another store.