Tuesday, December 20, 2011

We Love Soaps

We were so very excited to learn that Ragged Isle has been nominated for 7 We Love Soaps Indie Soap Awards. You can check out the full list here.

Okay. Maybe not everyone sees Ragged Isle as a soap and it is not in the traditional sense of the word but neither are a few of the other series nominated this year. Ragged Isle does, though, have a soapy element that goes back to its original birth as the SoapNet - Soap U contest project, Criehaven. Now, we have dialed back the overt soapiness in Ragged Isle but it is there and we embrace it. It's there is in the poetic opening monologues, the long held looks, and the drama of love and serialized mystery.

We have made no secret that Dark Shadows, a sixties Gothic Soap Opera has been our main source of inspiration. I have said this countless times - there would be no Ragged Isle without Dark Shadows. Every time Barry and I would watch an episode of Dark Shadows we would be inspired to start a project and Barry kept going back to Criehaven. After enough Dark Shadows episodes I began to believe that we should make this happen.

My point is this, Ragged Isle owes its very existence to soaps and we are so proud to be nominated for these Indie Soap Awards by the soap community, which has been very supportive and accepting of us. Thank you, We Love Soaps.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Wrapping Ragged Isle and Acting On Camera

Wrapping shooting for good on Ragged Isle is a strange feeling. I'm cushioned from the finality of it by the anticipation of Barry's final finished product. Ragged Isle yet to come, like the Ghost of Christmas Future. I'll get to see the fruits of my fellow actors' performances forever, so in a way, I'll get to hang out with them forever. But there is of course a feeling of loss. The filming and acting of this story has completed, and I won't get to have fun any more with Deputy Dan, and Julie Kats-in-a-casket, and Rose, and Thorn, and Hoffman, and all my pals. That fun is over, but as the sorrow would set in, the anticipation of having it show up looking a zillion times better than I remember keeps the melancholy away. It's an amazing phenomena, I'm standing right there when it's being filmed, but when I see the final product on the screen, it's been somehow transformed into this infinitely bigger, epic, vibrant, compelling thing, nothing like I remember in the moment. Like it's been hit with a heavy dose of magic. With regard to the Ragged Isle story itself, which I can't hype up enough, as good as the acting, imagery, and sound is, it's just gravy on top of the perfect roast. It makes something that was already completely delectable even more rich.

The process of filming this project, from an actor's point of view, was a new thing for me. I've acted in plays, but before Ragged Isle the only time I had acted on camera was a few lines (about twenty five minutes work) in The Dodd's Criehaven, back in 2007. Time enough to get freaked out by a camera lens and learn how to screw up the simplest lines, but not enough time to get comfortable with acting on camera. I haven't exactly mastered anything since then, but I have had some time to work on the on-camera acting, and to observe the filming process.

I'm very emotionally attached to Ragged Isle. I've never been this into a project before without being at the helm. Before RI, I had never been asked to cowrite / co-create before. This was my first time working in a group. My second highest compliment to the Dodd's would be: You taught me how to work with other minds, the power of it, and you gave my director-type ego a lesson in when to sit, watch, and listen. My first compliment would be: Your show is awesome.

I have a fond on set memory of learning to read Barry's reaction to an idea that he hated. He would avoid at all costs making a person feel low for their idea, while perhaps calculating a way to cut it out later. I learned to read his expression and take the pressure off by quickly saying “you hate it”, to which he would confess “yeah”. When you gave him an idea he could use, there was no doubt: “I like it”. Incredibly gratifying. I learned from Barry that it's possible for the guy who ends up being right to not be me. I know how that sounds, but I'm special. I learned that there are two ways to do things on Ragged Isle shoots; Barry's way now, to the best of your ability, as close to how he's describing it as you can, or Barry's way later, after a period of trying to get him to do it a different way. Which is not to say he's not receptive to ideas. When you're right, you're right. No can one can possibly see the whole picture as clear as the director, so to try to predict or assess the tone or context in a shot yourself is wasting yours and the director's time. Many lessons learned, but the biggest Ragged Isle challenges for me boiled down to trying to tackle this character, between myself and Barry, and trying to learn to act on camera.

Film acting is very different than stage acting. Please don't imagine that I'm talking about a big stage for me, or a big play, I'm talking about three plays at a Grange Hall, but live theater nonetheless. I've decided that stage acting, though perhaps more courageous, is way easier. You have linear, forward moving flow, the audience and happenstance to push you on, and there's no stopping. A play moves along closer to real life, though exaggerated. Your character can build up to an emotional reaction in real time, and feed off the momentum and set up of your fellow actors. You can 'try something' with tonight's performance, different than last night, after thinking about it all day. Camera acting, on the other hand, is broken up into a thousand separate pieces, out of order, with a thousand stops and starts. You have to snap into an isolated moment's head space from a dead stop, launch completely into the proper emotional context, sometimes after a long wait, sometimes after fifteen or thirty takes in a row, and sometimes after a number of false starts. And there's so much to remember in that moment.

Here is a typical filming moment: Get ready, wait... (I'm taking a breath, leaning forward to take a step, remembering that this time it has to be more like pleading, not so resigned, like I'm being strong for uncle Ted, but not in complete acceptance of what uncle Ted did, and the whole thing needs to move faster) “Annnnd... Hold on, can you scrunch down a little, good-now you're out of her shadow and I can see your expression, boom up a little...more...good, Rose, sit up a little straighter, up on the cushion a little. Should I use this other pillow? No, it looks good. I'm almost out of battery and we need to get this shot. Barry, Barry Dodd? What babe? Do you think that door would be locked, because how could he get in? I mean, I'm just saying. Babe let me just get this. Can I just cheat you to your left a little, about half that, split the difference, does that look dark to you, what's changed with the light, can we fix this with a bounce? Greg, can you hold this right here, thanks man, a little higher, OK stand by, slate it, put it right in front of his face, more toward me, higher, ok, episode fifteen, scene four, shot three, take, ummm, three! Snap! Standby, quiet please! And....Action. “Dan, where are you going with that hatchel?”-Dammit! I'm sorry, I mean hatchet, there's no such thing as a hatchel. What's that? Greg says there actually is. Let's go again. It's OK, still rolling, take it from “Dan”, stand by....wait for that motorcycle.”

Often times this is what acting on camera is like, times however many takes and separate set ups, and while you're doing it you're either hungry, or thirsty, or have to pee, or you can't stop yawning, or burping, or passing gas, or whatever. There is an endless list of things that can make a take completely unusable too, with no choice but to do it again: screwing up your lines, lighting issue, trucks, dogs, traffic, helicopters, car doors, batteries, boom mic in the shot, actors talking off camera, focus, performance, objects being fumbled, dropped, or just falling over, or perhaps, despite the conditioning, an actor feels compelled to take a nice long look right into the lens during the take, and then has to confess it. Any one of those things renders the take unusable in the editing room, even if that one was the best performance of your life. You have to do it again, and while you try to quickly recapture the emotional place you got to with that last take, there are two people coming down the road with a dog. We're going to have to stop, say hello, explain ourselves, define what a web series is to them and their dog, and give them a business card in hopes they'll be interested enough to click on their first webisode.

For another matter, how and where you're physically positioned in a shot can be an issue. What's being captured looks great in the frame, but in reality, you're shoved hard into the corner, crouching a little, looking smug or whimsical, maybe roasting or freezing to death. You've been looking to your left for three hours, and your neck if stiffening. There is a nail sticking into your back. The nail is older than you are, and you're forty four. You pat down your forehead full of sweat, or perhaps fold your hands under your arms and shiver, between every take. I remember one time there was a shot where I needed to kneel down on one knee for an hour. I can't actually do that, but it's embarrassing to announce this information to the room, so I just did it. It's not the years honey, it's the milage. It took three days to walk right again, but as it is said, pain is temporary, film is forever.

At the end of it all, the two things that I remember kicking my ass more than anything with camera acting was hitting my mark (basically walk to this spot and stop, while talking, which is harder than it seems), and remembering to carry out the action or adjustment Barry just gave me, the one that I just understood and agreed to ten seconds ago. He explains it, it's clear, it's simple, I agree, he says action, and I forget to do it. If that makes no sense to you and you've never acted on camera, give it a try and it will.

Working with Barry and Karen, and Greg, and everyone was a blessing, a thrill, and an education. I felt sorry for the Dodd's at times. I saw the burden they were under, the anxiety, the pressure, the unforeseen sideswipes from left field, the total disruption of their lives and home, all for this independent web series. No big payoff, no big deals, no big funding, just creativity, faith, and hard work. Lots of hard work. They are a truly courageous pair. I also saw their love of the project, their passion, their pride in the team, and their satisfaction from the quality of what was being captured.

I must finish with my favorite Karen Dodd story. We were shooting on location, and had some time to kill between the shots we had finished and the arrival time of some extras. I noticed Karen had put down her clipboard, and had begun to pick up leaves, one at a time. Karen and I are very different people, and I imagine that we've found each other's actions confusing on occasion. I just assumed she was picking up the leaves because she just didn't like how they made the lawn look cluttered, some sort of obsessive compulsive eccentricity, and quickly dismissed the oddness of it. In actuality, she was preparing the outdoor shots coming up to look like Summer instead of Fall, preserving the script's continuity. In the absence of a rake, she was picking them up by hand, one by one. It was quite a sight to behold when she was finished, a whole lawn cleared by hand. I would have helped if I hadn't figured it was some kind of Zen thing, and if my Sheriff pants had allowed bending over.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Flashback Random Image of the Day

As I perused our season one footage tonight looking for an image for our latest trading card, I happened upon this frame from the raw clips.  I liked it so much I decided to share it.  This is our good friend Dominic Lavoie playing the part of Mac in our pilot episode.  I just love everything about this image.  The look of excitement on his face as the boys motor towards the restricted zone, the great lens flare coming from the boat lamp, the composition of the shot... everything.  Sometimes even though a frame really catches my imagination the clip it's from is ultimately unusable in the actual scene.  I'll keep all the raw footage forever though because there's tons of neat stills like this one to be found and shared.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Click on the picture above to enjoy some snapshots from Ragged Isle's
wrap party. In celebration of wrapping principal photography on Seasons
2 and 3, the cast and crew turned out to sing some Karaoke with
"Kill The Karaoke"s live band, Trainwreck, at the Bayside Bowl on
Wednesday, December 7th. Fun and beverages were had by all. Photos
from Barry Dodd, Michael Batchelder, and more.


At the first official writers meeting for Ragged Isle, when Barry, Karen, Rick, Jake, and I started mapping out the story, we talked about introducing a character to the island who would be investigating the mysterious goings-on (the exact nature of which we hadn't yet determined).

Rick, who we knew for sure would be playing Sheriff Rick Dalton, began questioning what kind of authority this new character would have over this tight-knit island community. I immediately responded with a rundown of the official backup the character would have at his disposal. Rick had more objections, and I kept arguing right back. Our voices may have gotten a bit loud.

Barry, watching us both with amusement, suddenly turned to me and said, "You've got to play this part."

I rejected the idea immediately. I'm no actor, and the little acting I did in college was... unpleasant. But Barry kept bringing it up, and I finally relented.

You can decide for yourself whether or not that was a good idea when season two debuts in May, but I did have fun. Mostly.

There were some days when I would come home with a nasty feeling in the pit of my stomach that I had perpetuated some pretty dreadful acting onto the rest of the world. But Barry has asked me to trust him, promising me that I will not look like a fool.

So, I'm trusting him. For now.

But it's a long wait until May.

Saturday, December 3, 2011