Saturday, September 24, 2011

Rug Burns - Production - Day 1 - Part 2

Saturday, August 27th, 2011

Cherry Street

It was getting close to 9AM and every location was becoming more crowded with civilians. As ridiculous as it really is difficult to shoot anything with fake guns in complete broad day light. Our hopes were that by starting early, we'd be able to avoid the crowds...but having to wait for the fog to dissipate at Polson Pier meant we we running behind by about a half-hour.

Also, I guess I didn't do my homework on this industrial section of town, but we eventually realized there was a security company that provides services for TPS located right down the street (Intelligarde International - Private Investigations, Bomb Detection, Security Patrols, etc). Over the next hour cops continually passed us as we shot scenes in three different locations.

Cherry Street Bridge
We also ended up having a couple run-ins with some pedestrians and joggers. Apparently, having a fake gun tucked in your waistband while strutting around is not a good idea...lesson learned!

Do your shooting early. 6-8AM on Saturday and Sunday are great...after that you're just asking for trouble.

Unwin Avenue

We had one final walking shot to film, and I wanted Pat to be holding the Mac10. Fortunately, Pat was a little bit more cautious, or perhaps aware, and insisted he only carry the handcuffs...that decision might have saved us dearly.

[I'm not very familiar with the law, but from what I understand, it is illegal to spray paint any toy gun. Also, most toy guns come with a red plastic tip on the barrel, so that they are not easily mistaken for real guns. Apparently, if you tamper with those red tips, you could be in a heap of trouble. In fact, if you commit a robbery with a fake gun, it's the same charge as if the guns were real (just a heads up to any future felons out there).]

In any case, the trunk of my car contained something like a dozen, fake, modified, and spray-painted guns. On top of that, we also had an exact replica of a Beretta. From what I've been told, these are now altogether illegal in Canada.

And on top of having a trunk full of guns, we were also shooting in an industrial factory area, with plenty of "Keep Out" signs...

So I guess it was just a matter of time before the cops wanted to chat with us...

Right as we were about to leave, the cops rolled up and asked me what we were up to. Not being able to think of a lie quick enough, I told the truth:

"We're shooting a short film."
"Yeah? What's the film about?"
"A vigilante cop."
"Yeah? Is he a good cop or a bad cop?"
Immediately, I answered "A good cop!!!"

They laughed and went on their way. I felt scared. I was sweating bullets (PUN). I was so thankful they didn't ask if we were using any guns...we dodged a huge bullet (PUN).

In all seriousness, I knew we'd have problems shooting in certain locations, but having no money for a sound stage, and at the same, really wanting the location shots to look cool as fuck, I took some risks. I'm not sure I'd take the same risks again, but I do know the next time I plan something on this scale, I know I have to choose wisely the people I work with. You really have to be able to trust the crew you're working with to make smart decisions.

I also learned that it's best to tell the truth when dealing with law enforcement...but don't tell the whole truth ("Officer, we got ourselves a trunk full of guns over there!")

Westwood Cinema 

I gotta say after arriving back in Etobicoke, I definitely felt like we were pushing our luck. I decided to dramatically cut down the scenes taking place at Westwood Cinema (an abandoned movie theatre, which was actually supposed to be demolished this summer...). 

I thought I would be happier getting my two best scenes, and getting the fuck out of there, instead of getting all ten scenes and end up on the evening news (Westwood Theatre is down the street from Toronto Police Division 22).

We arrived "on set" at around 1PM, having already pre-planned the whole thing to go down in a matter of 5 minutes. Me, Pat, and our pal Simon (playing 'Bad Guy #5') made a b-line for the rooftop...

...while Team Beta (Adam and John) were to set up the wide angle camera, and build us a nice pile of boxes to drive through...

Remember to douse the boxes in flour to make the whole thing look balleristic...
I really wish we'd had more time to spend here...I would have shot the box scene from a tripod, and not to mention I goofed on getting a cool/simple action sequence, all because I didn't have time to re-read my shot retrospect, more time, a third camera, and a production assistant would have all helped at this location...

...but with that being said, how fuckin' sick does this shit look? I'm pretty happy we were able to incorporate a piece of Etobicoke history into 'Rug Burns', considering the whole thing is being converted into a courthouse and parking facility in a matter of months...

After packing up our boxes and dusting off the car, we called it a day!


Up next: Day 2 - Cemeteries and Interrogations!


Monday, September 12, 2011

Rug Burns - Production - Day 1 - Part 1

Saturday - August 27th, 2011

Things started off with a thud. I was up at 5:30AM to shower and pack the car. Adam promised the night before he'd be up at the same time to wake up John, since we knew the sun would rise at 6:35AM, we'd try to get as much daylight as possible.

Adam either didn't set his alarm, or slept through his alarm. (Behind-the-Scenes Factoid: My little sister told me that he used an entire roll of toilet paper the night before. Is that why he overslept? I don't have the answer for that.)

I packed the car, woke up John, texted Pat, and went to wake up Adam at 5:55AM.

Adam and John insisted on getting Tim Hortons before we headed downtown.

I ate a banana, an orange, and a granola bar.

John bought Timbits and a small coffee (more on this later).

As we drove along the Gardiner Expressway, we realized we didn't have a sword for the scene...Adam mentioned that he had one back in Georgetown...too late to head back, we'd have to improvise.

I parked the car off York St. and we headed to the first location.

Rooftop Parking Lot - Lower Simcoe Street

During location scouting, I found out that half of this parking facility was under construction...which meant the place would be deserted on a Saturday morning.
The first scene we shot was in the stairwell...

Camera work courtesy of John
Working with a two-camera setup, you have to constantly be aware of where the other camera is, without shooting the other camera...this proved to be pretty difficult, and in the end, about 50% of the footage will need to be cropped or trashed altogether. 

I remembered from my last visit that there was a broken window somewhere in the stairwell. Thanks to a clumsy construction worker we didn't have to vandalize any property to get some good looking shots:

We probably should have cleared the broken glass before having Adam lie on the ground...
We shot another chase scene on the 7th floor of the parking tower before moving up to the rooftop. The only problem is we didn't have a knife, we didn't have a sword, we didn't have a chain, we had no other weapons...essentially 'Bad Guy #2' was gonna bring his fists to a gunfight...

Scanning the parking lot, I noticed there were some extra fence parts lying around...PERFECT!

Rug has hops.
 Part of the allure for using this location was the amazing skyline we'd be able to capture during fight scenes.

The struggle ensues...eight stories above downtown Toronto.
 I took a couple extra 'glamour' pics featuring Rug in front of the CN Tower...and then we got the fuck out of Dodge. 

One ethical dilemma we encountered almost everywhere was whether or not we should clean the areas before leaving. The problem is the longer you stick around somewhere (when you don't have a permit) the more likely you are to get busted and harassed. So we guiltily left some puddles of fake blood in the stairwell...but on the positive side, the blood consisted of mostly chocolate syrup, which masked the smell of hobo urine quite at least we left the place smelling better than when we got there.

Polson Pier

Mere minutes upon our arrival at Polson Pier, Pat dropped my voice recorder. Fortunately the night before I packed a bunch of tape...just in case. Always, always, always bring tape.

While I was fixing the recorder, our pal John (pictured above in the gore-tex jacket) started to puke his guts out. As director, I immediately instructed Adam to start rolling tape...and lucky for you, he caught the last 30 seconds of it...enjoy!

'Rug Burns' meets John Ralphs from 3+one entertainment on Vimeo.

I guess running around in a gore-tex jacket for half an hour after chugging energy drinks isn't the best idea...

John, however, was a real trooper and insisted he was fine, sticking around for another 5 hours of shooting!

During our time at Polson Pier, we shot some chase scenes, the toll booth scene, and lots of skyline you can tell, shit was poppin' off:

If this were a poster, I'd hang it on my wall.
One snag we hit was that I originally picked an abandoned toll booth for us to use. But when we got there, it was chained off, and we couldn't get our car through. I didn't remember a chain being there. Lucky for us the next nearest toll booth was unlocked...

Another thing I forgot to consider was the morning humidity...that morning was exceptionally foggy, so we had a really narrow window of opportunity to shoot skyline shots.

Before we left for Cherry Street, we got Pat doing some stunts...a couple commando rolls, jumping off loading docks...and this:

Rug Burns? Rug Spills! from 3+one entertainment on Vimeo.

It probably didn't help that he was wearing his work shoes from the office.

Save for a couple nosy bystanders, Polson Pier was a great location to shoot at.

Next time: Cherry Street, Real Cops, and Westwood Theatre!


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Rug Burns - Last Minute Preparations

Friday - August 26th, 2011

I spent all day phoning around trying to secure an extra for Saturday at 6AM. About a month earlier my friend Steve promised he'd be available for the day. Now he was telling me had to work.

I called everyone and anyone I knew...I even called some people I didn't know...I can't say I'm surprised that no one was interested in getting up at 5 in the morning (for no pay...on a weekend) to shoot some rinky-dink movie.

Fortunately Adam Norton agreed to help out on the project. He was in Georgetown getting his wisdom teeth taken out, but planned on spending the weekend at a friend's cottage. He said he would come help out for a day if his friend, John, could join too.

This was great news for me. It meant I'd have another bad guy for Rug to beat up, and also an extra set of hands to run the secondary camera.

I met up with Pat (playing the role of 'Rug Burns') at around 9PM on Friday night and finally delivered him the script. We hashed out some final details for the next morning's shoot.

I was hoping to shoot at the break of dawn on Saturday morning on a rooftop parking lot in downtown that meant picking up the guys from Georgetown Friday night, so we could get out there nice and early.

My mom, the ultimate production assistant, prepared the guest room and the basement for the boys to sleep.


Next up: Production begins...


Monday, September 5, 2011

Rug Burns: Vigilante Cop - Pre-Production

'Rug Burns' started off as my ode to blaxploitation films of days gone by.

Drug dealers, hitmen, gangstas and pimps...jump cuts, action montages, explosions, soul and funk soundtracks...blaxploitation films combine all the greatest things to known man...along with some great actors such as Fred Williamson, Pam Grier, Jim Kelly, Rudy Ray Moore, the list goes on...

If you're looking to bone up on your blaxploitation films, MGM re-released a number of blaxploitation films about ten years ago on VHS and DVD under the heading of 'Soul Cinema'...including 'Coffy', 'Across 110th Street', 'Foxy Brown', 'Blacula', and the all-but-forgotten 'Bucktown':

"Bucktown, where the chicks are on the make, the cops are on the take, and the welcoming committee is a sawed-off shotgun!"

Does shit get realer than this? One of the actual lines from this movie is "They don't give a damn who gets killed, just as long as the dice keep rollin', the hos keep ho'in', and the money keeps flowin'!"

It's fast and fun cinema for the masses.

Rug Burns: In the beginning...

I actually created 'Rug Burns' for my radio show (Moon Down Radio). Eventually I recorded 2-3 audio episodes which included Rug going to the barbershop, and Rug foiling a bank heist. Listening back to the old tapes, I realize 'Rug' is pretty much 'Dirty Harry'. Oh well...

In any case, I proposed to my pal 'P-Tricky' AKA 'P-Dub' in Toronto that he play the role of 'Rug Burns' (you don't technically need to be black to play the lead in a blaxploitation film). I'd seen him do a few top-notch viral videos before and thought I'd be better suited behind the camera and writing the script.

In the end we set a date of Aug 27 to begin shooting. That meant I had a couple months to write up the script.

But first, we needed to find places to shoot.

Location, Location, Location

Considering this was originally planned as a no-budget operation, with no crew, and little to no outside help, Toronto was the place we needed to be. We didn't have money for sets, or big special effects, so the better our real-life locales looked, the better the end product would be (hopefully).

With that in mind, I spent a couple days in Toronto looking for suitable shooting locations which would allow us both a) amazing scenery, and b) the least amount of outside interference.

Here are a few locations I came up with and visited:

Rooftop Parking Lot - Downtown Toronto
Polson Pier - Filming Strictly Prohibited
Cherry Street Bridge
Train tracks - Unwin Ave.
Westwood Theatre (Abandoned) - Etobicoke
We would go back a few days later, and discovered we could get rooftop access...
Park Lawn Cemetery
In the end I narrowed the field down to about 8 locations we could possibly use (having actual locations in mind and pictures to refer to would really help with the writing process later on).

Da Script! Da Fuck?

I've never written a script before, but I did read Robert Rodriguez's amazing little book, and he made it sound pointless to learn the actual formatting of scripts. After all, I'm the only guy who really needs to read and understand it.

All the ideas came together pretty fast...I drew inspiration (read: ripped off) Spike Jonze's 'Sabotage' music video, Lee Demarbe's film 'Harry Knuckles', and John Davies and Jason Eisener's 'Hobo With with a Shotgun'.

The actual writing was pretty slow though. I usually scribble ideas down on pieces of papers and post it notes...not to mention I'm a horrible procrastinator, so gathering everything into one neat tidy package was a bit of a pain in the ass.

Even though I had months to complete it, I only finished writing it the Tuesday before we got shooting.

At the end of the day, the 7-page script consisted only of about 25 spoken lines. Since we were shooting a trailer, and not an actual short film, most of the script detailed action shots and sequences.

Now, the only thing left to do, was secure some fake guns, prep some fake blood, get some extras, and hope for good weather.


Next time, Day 1 of shooting!