As the writer, producer and director of “Chasing Titles Vol. 1,” I had a very clear vision of how everything should look going into this project, which I conveyed during our initial production meeting with crewmembers before principal photography. Still, while continuing to master my craft as a moviemaker, I can imagine why some veterans of the industry might’ve doubted my direction at first.
There are two big things I learned and became sensitive to when working with a crew on a production like this. First: Outside of having my own voice in this project, I was going to have many voices, and it’s up to me to select which ones to consider and which ones to put aside. It is up to you to take everything into consideration and integrate new ideas without compromising the vision and feel of your film.
Secondly, your reputation is precious. I want to make great art and to have people want to be a part of it with me. There’s a difference between having one big collaborative project and collaborating with an excellent leader who knows what he wants. Knowing what you want makes it easy for everyone to collaborate.
Weathering the Weather
The biggest challenge we faced while adapting to the rapid changes of shooting Chasing Titles in South Florida was the weather. The day before principal photography, when I knew 100 percent we were going to have rain for most of the day, I had no choice but to change two important scenes. Anyone working as a moviemaker knows scouting a location and getting a location agreement and permit within 24 hours seems impossible. Add the challenge of the creative part of tweaking the scenes to tell your story, and it is a lot to take in when you know tomorrow is the big day of your first film.
Adapting to rapid changes, or really any change, starts with your state of mind. It’s the state of mind that every problem is an opportunity and every change is “for you,” not against you.
I looked at our weather problem as an opportunity to make the film better. I immediately hooked up with a friend who has a home where we could knock out the two scenes; his home had enough interior space to work with, unlike our other location. The next challenge was the Homeowners Association. I used every skill I have to persuade the HOA to allow the production to happen at my friend’s home. As much as I hate to get directly involved with handling location agreements, when you’re under the gun, you have to make it happen fast.
Another big challenge occurred on the second day of filming, when we were at the house location. The neighbors complained to the HOA and while I was in the middle of filming the party scene, I got pulled aside and told, “Ryan, we have a big problem: We are being kicked out of the neighborhood.” I had to leave set. Even though I wanted to run through the walls, I had to keep a cool head. The head of the HOA and a sheriff officer came and told us to leave. I told my DP to keep rolling and deliver what I had on the shot list while I calmed things down. I told the grips to pretend that they were dismantling things and walk back and forth from the house and trucks. My brother, Adam, ended up calming things down with the sheriff and HOA and we bought ourselves a few hours. We still needed to finish the outside scene, so when we started to film that, the HOA had enough and said we needed to leave now. This is where my moment of truth came: Literally, within a minute or two, I told the crew we were shutting down for real this time and moving to a Riviera Beach location and we would change the shot to interior, which ended up being an extraordinary scene in the beginning of the movie. It was the evening going into night and we were able to shoot the interior and make it look like day. The biggest takeaway here: You have to be able to make many great decisions within minutes and drive your team.
Shooting a Shooting
To prepare for a shooting scene in the film, the first thing I did was have my actor Haas Manning come in a day before he was scheduled to hit the shooting range. I arranged for the shooting range to give us a rental and 1,000 rounds. I knew this was going to be a tight shoot, and if Haas had never shot a high-powered rifle before, we were certainly going to run into some issues on set. I also wanted the scene to feel authentic to the character; I didn’t want him to shoot like a Marine, but more like someone who has his back against the wall and is forced to fire an AK-47. He may not shoot “the right way,” but he will get the job done.
We saved this scene for the last day and prepared to start rehearsing at sunset and begin filming once we went into night—what I like to call “real practice.” I had a great stunt coordinator and my production was DGA, so my 1st AD followed all guidelines such as double safety meetings and precautions, triple-checking the chamber of all firearms and barrels on top of the stunt coordinator, who is a veteran in the business. I had never shot an action sequence, and my DP had some really good ideas, but I took an approach that just felt right with me. I divided the scene into four quadrants:
I only wanted to laser-focus on one quadrant at a time. We did one take on each quadrant and practiced over and over before we went live. In our practice run, we had Haas on radio. I would say, “One, two, three, action,” and we would do the sequence with no firing a few times, then go to live blank ammo. An AK-47 is extremely, shockingly loud, so all of us had earplugs—except me, because I like to hear, feel and see everything on set. Dividing the sequence into quadrants not only got me what I wanted on film, but it was great for the stunt doubles, actors, my DP, B cam operator, 1st ACs, and special effects. When we went live with blank ammo and SFX, it happened fast and loud, and the result was perfect. To prepare for the worst, so we had a glass company onsite for the car just in case we had to replace all the windows and do another take, (God forbid) but all went very well. The squibs worked great, Brian Austin Green and Erica Eynon did a great acting job with them on. When it was time for Landon Gimenez to hold the gun at Haas Manning and Clifton Powell, safety was a top priority with a child actor involved.
Listen to Your Crew’s Advice, But Stick to Your Vision
A time that stands out as one in which I was called upon to stick to my guns despite differing opinions: Filming a day scene during night. We were running behind on our schedule. There was no way we could push things back a day. As a new moviemaker, there were crew members giving me advice to cut the scene or rewrite it to reflect our current conditions. I knew the film would not come across with the same effectiveness if this was altered. I decided to shoot day interior at night and it worked out.
During a shoot, your crew become a little family to you and disagreements are bound to happen. How this should be countered can make or break your production. Keep a cool head and be thorough in what your expectation is, and if you have a great 1st AD, he will get everything in order for you on set.
There were many proud moments during filming. By the third day, no one could believe this was my first film and believed in my direction. On the flip side, I believed in what my crew could deliver. It is not only important that your crew believes in its leader/director, but that you also believe in them. They bust their ass to help make your vision come to life. If you do not believe in them, then what is the point in hiring them? I was certain the day scene and night could work, not because I have some magic stick, but because I believed in the expertise of my team to execute on my call. Trust and believe in your team. MM
“Chasing Titles Vol. 1” has won 35 awards during its ongoing tour of the festival circuit thus far. For more information, visit the film’s website here. Images courtesy of Opreme Films.