Message Received – The Making Of (part 1)

Though it’s been months after graduation, I’ve still been going back to work on NU student film sets. How can I resist my little dose of joy, working with some of the most talented people around? The last two weekends on the set of Karolyn Szot‘s senior directing project Message Received were intense. But with such a positive underlying message, and the tremendous potential it has to help make our roads safer, those long hours were definitely worth it.

Doing a tracking shot of our lead actress Emily Marso and friends at choir practice.

Thanks to some great fundraising efforts and the generous support of people, our production got off to a strong start with a relatively big budget. I’m so glad people realize the need for funds to create good work. It’s allowed us to bring on the cutting edge technology and stunning image quality of the RED One camera (and more nutritious food for the cast & crew!).

Weekend 1 of filming was off to a big start! With about 60 crew and cast members all in one place, organization was key. Thankfully, Evanston Township High School was huge (imagine 5 dining halls!), and provided us with a safe and warm space.

First scene of the day was the choir room, where we had the special talents of one of Northwestern’s amazing acapella groups, The Undertones, as guest stars. Hearing them singing to the original tunes of our composer Patrick O’Malley was simply music to my ears. ;)

Karolyn giving directions to our lead actors Johnny Langan and Kale Clauson.

Then it was off to shoot in the dining hall. That was where i witnessed the precision that managing extras required. Everything – from the clothes they were wearing to the seats they were placed in, to the individual actions they had to complete – was planned down to a T. “Close your binder”, “Drop your pen”, “Share your text message with your friend”. Everything needed to make the world around our main characters look as realistic as possible.

With so many people and so much movement, it posed an even greater challenge for our script supervisor. “Was I holding my sandwich in my left or right hand?”, “Was I drinking from my juice box right before I said this line?”, “Which item did I pick up first?” Questions came at rapid fire, but Jingyang always had the answers. The calm, confident answers.

Thanks to some fine schedule management, we wrapped right on time! Headed home to catch just enough rest for day 2.

DP Josh runs a rehearsal for the handheld shot while Sound Designer Marshall gets ready.

Sunday morning was spent doing the hallway scene. Once again, an intricate process involving many extras to make it seem like class had just ended on a typical school day. My Russian buddy, V, came on board as an extra just to see what the experience is like. He was somehow picked to play the jock, tossing a football back n forth with another dude. :) It was also an exciting time for our DP Josh as this scene involved the first handheld shot of the movie! Donning the giant shoulder cushion for comfort always made him look like a Spartan warrior. Or, as Benz would joke, Sparkles. :) Either way, having that Red One on his shoulder rigged with cushioned hand grips made him look like such a bada*s. It even said so on the slate. ;)

And then it was on to spend the rest of the day doing the classroom scene, but not before some production design work to hide all signs of it being a Spanish classroom. The 3 HMIs blasting in from outside the window magically made it look like daytime in there.

Our classroom full of kids!

This scene also involved some awesome tracking shots and what was probably the most complicated shot of the movie involving 4 rack-focuses while on a moving dolly. Nice. It definitely took some precision coordination between dolly grip Alex, AC Andy, DP Josh and our lead actors. Something else I really liked? The beautiful moment watching Karolyn interact with the kids. Most filmmakers will tell you that the most challenging things to work with in movies are animals and kids, but I think she, with the help of our amazing 1st AD Rachel, handled the group of them wonderfully. And finally, with the introduction of Byron who played teacher Mr. Jenkins, it truly felt like we were back in school again. :)

To be continued…

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