I first met Writer/Actor/Producer Hilary Barraford in April of 2008. Over the years, our mutual love for Boston sports lead to frequent socializing, but only sporadic collaborations. Recently, Hilary’s fervor as the Mayor of Red Sox Nation LA has quelled in favor of an intense focus on independent filmmaking. Under the wings of her SAG-signatory company, Quotidian Productions, Hilary has ramped up her output quite a bit with no signs of slowing. She is one of those rare ‘doers’ in a town filled with ‘talkers’ who has an uncanny way of gathering talented friends and scraping together resources to make quality entertainment on a limited budget.
I’ve shot several festival-bound Quotidian projects in the last year or so, namely Legitimate and 14 Ways the Shutdown is Ruining our Lives. For “What’s Up with Your Friend?,” Hilary attracted interest from some very accomplished comedy Directors, but as our locked shoot dates approached we weren’t getting solid answers. As much as I wanted to expand my network and collaborate with somebody new, I volunteered to both shoot and direct.
Earlier this year, the process of crafting a video tribute to my recently deceased grandfather reinvigorated my desire to get back into the director’s chair after a long hiatus. I rarely pursue jobs outside of cinematography, but I spent the time years ago creating this seldom publicized section of my website for such occasions.
Principal photography commenced on Saturday, November 9, 2013 at The Garage in Culver City, which is a popular bar for watching Boston sporting events (the owner, Jimmy, used to own Sonny McLean’s). While it was a little stressful having a hard out at 5pm due to an incoming private party, I was able to get most of the coverage that I wanted in the 10 hours allotted.
I’m a fan of playing comedy wide and getting that establishing frame to work well both visually and from a performance aspect was my priority. It became instantly apparent that framing for widescreen (2.35:1) was the only way to get interesting angles on the four characters.
The bulk of the action centers around two handsome gentlemen, Lea (Lea Coco) and Shaun (Delpaneaux A. Wills) who attempt to pick-up the flirty and receptive Hilary while her buzzkill friend, Kate (Kate Gaffney, who along with Hilary, co-wrote and co-produced the film) makes the situation difficult for all. The film pays homage to that friend in many people’s circles who’s energy and desires aren’t quite on par with everyone else’s.
My actors arrived incredibly well prepared, which made my job easy! As usual, my favorite note, “faster,” was often utilized. Initially, I wanted them to speak loudly to project over the ‘noise’ of the bar to add authenticity, but since the room was so quiet it had undesired effects to the performances. After a couple takes, we abandoned it. Due to our limited time on location, I kept improvisation to a minimum in favor of getting more coverage. Having a second camera would’ve been nice.
Will Barratt kindly donated a bunch of grip/electric gear and I supplemented his ARRIs and Kinos with mine along with my Canon 5D Mark III Cinema Package. The overhead lights at the bar were CFLs with an awful green spike and there was no way to swap them out for incandescent globes. My Gaffer, Arthur Hong, and I were forced to bounce a 650W ARRI Open Face into the bar ceiling to give everyone their key light. Not ideal by any stretch, but when paired with a couple of ARRI 650W Fresnels to give the actors some backlight, the result is pleasing despite straying from the typical ‘bar lighting’ look I desired.
Since our background actors were limited, I carefully recycled a few people with a change in costume and their backs to camera, thus making it look more populated. I won’t say who, but some of the background players were also featured the following day (try and spot them). Arthur also occupied a booth in the back for some of the angles.
To most effectively tell the backstory of our female friends, we supplemented the bar shoot with a full day around the San Fernando Valley. Hilary insisted on the comedic rule of infinity over the typical (and easier to accomplish) rule of threes for the montage. Before I officially signed on to direct, Hilary had already selected our actors. Since a huge part of directing is casting, Sunday afforded me the most creative influence over the project since I chose how to utilize said actors and I crafted the montage situations. Their minimalist script stated:
MONTAGE (CONT.) 2-3 seconds per scene. IMPROVISED action involves Kate, Hilary, plus 2-3 different boys FLIRTING (implied rejection from Kate and Hilary being overly excited). Each cut gets shorter. Montage style.
Aside from creating those interactions, I really enjoyed deciding who would flirt with whom. By day’s end, we got a bunch of great stuff, but still owed some key party shots. There was always a desire to stage them in Las Vegas, however after a draining shoot there was some internal debate if we would stick to that original plan.
Hilary never wavered as she felt it was imperative to the script that we show the girls in Sin City. I vacillated quite a bit. On one hand, I appreciated the great visuals of having our characters in the party capital of the US, but I also felt that we could get similarly captivating shots locally. Kate seemed hesitant from the start and was a hard sell as the weekend approached.
Late Wednesday night, Kate officially caved and we were Vegas bound at 9am Saturday! I kept my camera super compact to draw minimal attention to ourselves and we easily got a bunch of great shots. It’s tough to pick a favorite, but I like the extreme contrast of character as Hilary makes out with a dude on downtown Las Vegas’s Fremont Street Experience while Kate stands to the side.
If there was any remaining doubt that Vegas was a great idea, then we got the ultimate sign while stopping at Barstow’s newly opened Dunkin Donuts on the drive home. The cashier casually informed us that our breakfast cost nineteen dollars and eighteen cents. Hilary and I looked at each other and freaked out. 1918 at Dunkin’s?!? Kate and our neighbors didn’t know what the fuss was about, but any true Boston Red Sox fan knows about the 86 year World Series drought from 1918-2004. Since Dunkin Donuts is a Massachusetts institution that’s finally arrived in California, this was notable.
Editorial was slightly challenged due to my work schedule, but Google Hangouts provided a creative scheduling solution. Our talented editor, Garrett Johnson placed a webcam on his desk and as he and Hilary made the final tweaks in Studio City, I gave instant notes from Santa Monica. Once picture locked, he exported Final Cut XML from Adobe Premiere CS5.5 and my colorist, Diego Petrusky, brought it into Color for online. I shot in CineStyle and kept things quite bright on set, so color correction mainly consisted of matching skin tones and darkening the image to more of a bar luminance.
The final element is Matt Dahan’s original score. Before I shared my vision for the soundtrack, he clairvoyantly heard the same thing: 90’s music. He fused sounds of Oasis’s “Hey Now!” with Billy Joel’s “She’s Got a Way” and the result is great. For the montage, he brilliantly suggested Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely,” which he adapted and then wrote hilarious original lyrics to describe Kate’s character. Be sure to pay close attention to his fine work! I’m also pleased to share that he is currently a semifinalist for an Academy Award for his work on “How Sweet It Is!”
Hilary put the finishing touches on the piece with our post production mixer, Jim Cushinery, on Monday December 16th. Unfortunately, I was on set, so I had to approve the mix by listening to it on headphones without picture. They did a great job and my only note was to add a few more glassware noises that are all encompassing in bars.
I’m grateful for everyone’s hard work on this and I hope you enjoy the final product. Please be sure to share it with your friends and keep an eye out for that friend in your group!