Production Diary #7
The night shoot was something we’d been dreading, when I was working on the shooting schedule for this little film. It sounded like it would be a pain in the butt in general, and would require staying up late.
Well, not as late as you might think. If nothing else, when you can start filming night scenes by six p.m. because it’s long gone full dark by then, that does make a pretty significant difference to the scheduling. We’ve all had a lot of moments in this production when we’d be laying around and feeling exhausted because it’s got to be insanely late, and then someone would ask what time it was— and be told it was only seven at night. Part of this is because it gets dark so early, and
part of it is because the regular lighting in this place is incredibly dim. We’ve resorted to having one of the set lights on in the living room at all times because otherwise you get this creeping, horrible feeling that you’re going blind.
We started off the day with shooting the last couple of scenes in the kitchen— yes, no more kitchen scenes! The real kettle and tea can now live in there and we can make tea just about whenever we want. Which is an exciting thing, trust me. But the scenes themselves were a lot
of fun to watch being put together: one where Ronny confronts the kettle, and in which we did a cowboy shot; and the other a simple scene where he checks the kitchen. The latter turned out to be much more complicated than we realized, trying to coordinate the lights turning on as Ronny clicked on the light switch. My favorite part of both of these scenes, though, was a bit of ad-lib that involved dropping the jug of milk on the floor. Even if, every time, I cringed because I expected that to be the take when the plastic jug would burst and we’d end up with milk all over the floor.
After the kitchen, a smaller crew headed upstairs to finish the night scenes. There’s not a lot of room in the upper floor of this location, so as few people as possible end up shooting those. Because of that, my role was pretty much sitting on the couch and not making any noise while sound was being recorded, while listening to an array of interesting thumps emanating from upstairs. It’s funny that you don’t really want crisps until the instant you’re not allowed to open a packet because it would ruin a take.
It was also funny hearing take after take of a shot of Ronny walking down the hall when we’d gotten other scenes in a few takes. But he said himself that it’s always those shots that get you. Which is pretty darn funny when you think about it.
Around eleven PM we wrapped on the last shot— three hours earlier than scheduled! Toasts have been made, a bit of alcohol imbibed, and now a dance off is being threatened by Ronny in Mike’s general direction (good luck with that) while we’re passing kettles around to sign them.
It was amazing to get to work on this, on something I wrote. I couldn’t have imagined that last year. I’m immensely honored that I got to work with this crew, and I hope I have an opportunity to do so again. But whether I do or not, this has sure been one hell of a ride, and I’m glad I was in on it.
—Rachael Acks, screenwriter
Production Diary #6
After a brief semi-pause, we’re back! I call it only a “semi-pause” because my friend Mike and I were out, off to Stratford-upon-Avon to see Love’s Labours Lost at the Royal Shakespeare Company theatre. While we were gone, the hard-working technical crew proceeded to film nearly every shot that didn’t require an actual human actor, as well as a few that did because Ronny had generously declined to take the day off.
Mike and I arrived back in the evening just in time to see Ronny, Molly, and Seraphina engage in one of the most precisely choreographed dance routines I’ve seen outside of So You Think You Can Dance, in order to make a long, continuous shot using the steadicam for the second scene of the film. Continuous shots are incredibly challenging; one wrong step or a wrong angle and you end up getting the lights or something else bad in the shot, and then you have to start over from square one. Just watching that was nerve-wracking; I can’t imagine how it was to film, with Seraphina holding on to Molly’s shoulders and ducking into the kitchen so she could move the kettle around while Ronny was in the next room with the camera still on him.
The night ended with Dan rigging a kettle that had been sawed in half to rise from the depths of a foamy, rose-petal-strewn bathtub on hydraulic rams. Let’s just say that shot deserved every cheer, high-five, and fist bump that came after it. I can’t wait for everyone to see it.
Anyway, today was a relatively short but very intense day. We had all our exteriors to shoot, and nature cooperated by giving us sunshine— and plenty of it. Unfortunately, a clear sky in winter tends to translate to even colder temperatures, and it’s been darn cold already. So we had a bright, freezing day for exteriors, with a sharp breeze besides. Giusil Vincenzi joined us just for today and was another ray of sunshine— she kept smiling through the biting cold while she played the client who meets with Ronny’s Dan.
Shooting went extremely well. We had five exterior scenes and we tore through them all in less than six hours. Which is a relief, since there isn’t a whole lot of sun to go around when you’re in England during the winter. We were just all cold. Very cold. Desperately wishing we’d all brought thicker gloves and jackets. That was even more of an incentive to get everything on the first or second take.
This exterior shoot was also very hard on our poor stunt kettle— not the one that had been sawed in half— due to the difficult work it had to put in this day. It had to be dragged behind a car, thrown into a set of bins repeatedly, and then pitched out a door. This last stunt proved to be a little too much for it, thanks to the presence of a picnic table and Ronny’s unerring aim. While the stunt kettle nominally survives, its lid does not.
We wrapped with almost an hour of daylight left and headed to the pub to say farewell to Giusil. It’s hard to believe that we have only one day of shooting left, which will be tomorrow. We’ll be starting late in the day so we can get in our night scenes once it’s full dark out. I’m definitely looking forward to sleeping late!
—Rachael Acks, screenwriter
Production Diary #5
“Hey Rachael, Sera wants you to make sure to wash the bathrobe.”
It says a lot about my life right now that this? Didn’t even give me pause. The bathrobe in question is blue, normally fluffy, and worn by Ronny when he’s being Dan, an innocent freelance programmer engaged in a final titanic battle with a murderous tea kettle. And why did it need to be washed, you ask? Not due to mu shu spill or anything so plebeian as sweat. Because of baby oil.
I shall explain. During the epic final battle, Ronny barely escapes a bathtub-based kettle attack and spends the next several scenes wearing only a hastily-donned bathrobe and a shower cap. He’s fresh from the bath. He should be wet. It takes a shocking amount of water and near-constant application, however, to actually get someone to look significantly wet to a camera. Worse, it’s currently winter outside in England, and one of the scenes is an exterior. Bad enough to ask the poor man to stand in the brisk breeze wearing nothing but a bathrobe. Doing so while soaking wet? Out of the question.
Presumably because he, too, wasn’t a fan of the idea of someone following him around with a hose, Ronny was the one who offered the solution to this problem: baby oil. It worked incredibly well, actually. Made him look damp and shiny, did not require him to drip. Also soaked into the robe and became rather sticky in short order. So when I knocked on Ronny’s door far too early this morning, he handed me something that was, through no fault of his own, one of the most tangibly unpleasant items of clothing I’ve ever had to deal with.
We used that bathrobe a lot today. I’ve now given it a second washing, after carrying it downstairs by the label since it was the only bit I could stand touching. I think the smell of baby oil is going to be stuck in my nose for all time. You might think it smells nice, but when there’s that much of it soaked into a wad of fluffy polyester? You’ll change your tune.
Much was accomplished today, though; we caught up with what we needed to finish from yesterday, and got through our schedule for today as well. Some of the setup was pretty challenging. For one of the scenes we had to move everything out of the main rooms of the place we’re staying. Considering those rooms have been living space, storage, and a workshop for the last five days, that involved clearing out a lot of stuff. But after all the effort, we got a wonderful, continuous shot that crossed the entire lower floor of the house.
We also had more fog machine work today, which went… less well. Less well to the extent that we managed to kill another fog machine. And this one was definitely us, not the vagaries of chance. Dan and I spent our after-pizza evening experimenting with various low-tech solutions that wouldn’t involve buying a third fog machine. Here’s hoping the results will look satisfactory on camera. (Though if not, I will just suck it up and buy another fog machine. You have to do what you have to do, and the expense could be a lot worse.)
Tomorrow is going to be an interesting day for filming, because it’s a day of all Evil Kettle close-ups; there are a couple of shots we need to catch of Ronny, but the rest is all effects and the non-human co-star. I’ve got a lot of faith in our crew to get those done! At least there won’t be more baby oil. Maybe the poor bathrobe can finally rest.
—Rachael Acks, screenwriter
Production Diary #4
First day of shooting! Intense, stressful, a bit scary, and ultimately, incredible. Even moreso than rehearsals yesterday, actually watching Ronny and Tanya go through scenes that I’d written just leaves me smiling so hard I might hurt my face. It’s better than I could have imagined, and it feels so good to be part of a team that’s doing things far greater than what I could have on my own.
Admittedly, this day wasn’t all tea and cakes and trying desperately to hold in my squee so I wouldn’t mess up the sound. It was a shakedown day in every sense of the word— a lot of getting used to the process of trying to get something on film. As exciting as it all was, there were also a bunch of frustrating technical challenges to contend with.
Insult to injury on that front involved the fog machine. There are scenes in this short that involve smoke. Setting something on fire to get said smoke is definitely not going to happen, for a myriad of reasons, beginning and ending with safety. Thus, we bought a fog machine, and got a pretty good deal on it as well. Dan the tech guy tested the fog machine a few weeks ago, and made little videos of it that I have seen with my own eyes. The fog machine worked. This was not a hallucination.
Which brings us to today, to the one exterior we needed to get while the sun was shining after a morning full of fluffy, falling snow. We crank up the fog machine, only to find… it doesn’t work. And not only does it not work, it trips the circuit breaker for the house and knocks out every electrical device, including the lights that Bex and Lory need for makeup. It does this again, and again, and again. We tried unplugging every electronic device, but it still tripped the circuit. Finally, Dan hauled out his ohmmeter and started poking the probes at various wires and plug tines. The ensuing high-pitched electronic shrieking told us there was a brand new ground fault. In the fog machine.
We spent the next 45 minutes belly-down on the wooden kitchen floor, taking the broken fog machine to pieces, trying to sectionalize the problem to something that could then be fixed. Eventually we did sectionalize… to a component in the heating coil that definitely couldn’t just be doctored with a bit of soldering and creative rewiring. (Dan is, believe it or not, the sort of guy who travels with his own soldering iron. I have photographic evidence.)
Screw it. We jumped in the car and headed to the electronics store, while Seraphina and the rest of the crew continued on to another scene. We picked up a new fog machine—better than the old one, even, and only slightly more expensive since it was on sale— and came back with daylight still left. We rigged up a way to funnel the fog to one of the windows using masking tape, a bin bag, and cling film, and were then able to get wooly white fog to come out of one of the windows at will.
With only 45 minutes of daylight left, we switched from the interior scene everyone had been shooting while Dan and I struggled with the fog machine, to the exterior we were supposed to shoot earlier in the day. And we got the entire scene done just as the sun went down— despite having to stop for a couple minutes at a time here and there while the fog machine heated back up, and for an extended period of time when a dump truck drove down the road and into the lot across from us.
Man, but that was a good feeling. It was a struggle and a problem, but we worked it out and we got the job done! And the scene looked great.
We did one more scene and the main shot for another, which used a homebrew dolly Dan made. Without a rope to tug the dolly along, Molly tied a long computer cable to the dolly frame, which worked remarkably well. So much of this process really seems to be just encountering a hitch and figuring out a creative— and preferably very low-tech— way of handling it.
That’s been the process with the steadicam rig as well, which I think has been the biggest challenge. Right now we’ve added a handle to it, which we cannibalized from the dead fog machine. It’s not pretty, but if it works, that’s all that matters. Perhaps there was a cosmic reason for the death of the original fog machine.
Today ended strong, and I have a really good feeling about tomorrow. We’re all getting used to working as a team, the actors are amazing, and everything is coming together. I’ve also now seen some stills from what we’ve shot so far, and it’s so exciting! I can’t wait to share more of it with you.
—Rachael Acks, screenwriter
Production Diary #3
We have a full house at last! Today, the actors arrived: Ronny Jhutti (https://www.facebook.com/RonnyJhutti) and Tanya Vital (http://tanyavital.com/). I was incredibly excited to meet them, and am pleased to report that they’re both ridiculously nice and friendly.
Most of the day was devoted to rehearsing with Tanya and Ronny. I spent the majority of my time helping our tech guy Dan get the home-brew steadicam rig up to snuff. Which ultimately, I’m sorry to say, involved yet more trips to the hardware store. Dan had fashioned the steadicam rig out of PVC pipe instead of metal tubing, which made it really light. Contrary to what you might think, however, this is not a good thing. We’ve now fixed the problem by loading the pipes with bundles of stainless steel nails wrapped in duct tape so they don’t rattle around.
I thought I might be able to avoid the grocery store today, but I was wrong. At the last minute, I remembered an important prop: a beer bottle. I bought some beer that possessed the important criteria of being A) cheap and B) in a brown bottle. Bex is drawing homemade labels to put over the actual ones, because we would like not to be sued, thank you. Coming soon to a film near you: Off the Steep End Stout.
There were a lot of other small but, I think, important problems to solve today, things that will hopefully not really be visible in the finished project but should nonetheless really add to it. We’ll see.
What really struck me about today, however, was the few snippets of rehearsal I got to hear while I was working on other tasks. It feels both intensely strange and amazing to hear actual human beings say lines that you wrote. (And make them funny.) I really couldn’t imagine, writing the screenplay, that this would ever happen. And I’m incredibly excited to hear their interpretation of what I wrote, to see how it’s the same and how it’s different. TEA stopped being mine when I signed the rights over. What exists now is a team effort, of which I am just a small part, and I’m finally getting to see what the rest of the team has been doing. And what they have been doing, and will do, is nothing short of amazing. I am so glad— and humbled— for this experience. It’s like nothing I’ve ever done before as a writer of prose.
After a brisk day, Kate (our producer) took us all out to dinner at the Black Horse Inn, which has lovely food and is in a gorgeous building. Said pub was supposed to be a relatively short drive away. And it was, for everyone but Dan, myself, Lory, and Bex. We were all in the same car, you see. The car driven by Dan. Who has been relying on the onboard satnav to get us around, and it’s actually been incredibly reliable— up until this moment.
I bet you can guess what happened next.
Cue us, some far-too-long amount of time later, driving down a single lane dirt track that the satnav assured us was Pilgrim’s Way. And yes, technically it was, but it was that particular road two towns away from where we wanted, and incidentally, going in the wrong direction. I appealed to a higher power (Google) and got us up to the nearest highway at least, where we could try to find our way. That’s when human error took over from computer error, and we ended up going in a circle on the M2, back to where we’d gotten on the highway, thanks to a series of hilariously timed failed roundabout turns. It’s actually a great comfort to me, as an American, that the natives of this fair isle apparently also have no clue how roundabouts work.
Eventually we did make it to the pub, where we had some lovely fish and chips (among other things). Just, you know. Almost 45 minutes late.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of our system… shooting commences tomorrow! Excitement and a little bit of terror, here. It feels like the night before Christmas, only there’s no jolly old elf I can attempt to bribe into smiling on me in exchange for a few sugar cookies.
—Rachael Acks, screenwriter
Production Diary #2
Sunday is for masking tape and lipstick, apparently.
Also, today, the whirlwind romance between me and a certain online grocery ordering service came to an abrupt end when I received a call late in the morning to inform me my second order had been summarily canceled due to nebulous credit card problems. Just before we start configuring sound and lighting is not an opportune time to find out we won’t have certain small but essential items— such as masking tape— to complete that task.
I thought what we had was special, man. We are never, ever, ever getting back together.
And by the way, after a warp-speed shopping trip that involved two of us playing search and destroy with a list totaling £200 of necessary items, it turns out my credit card worked just fine.
The good news is, we emerged from our shopping panic with several rolls of colored tape, which now decorates an impressive amount of floor space, marking off where various people and pieces of equipment should be positioned in various scenes. This will make setting up for shooting in two days go so much smoother, and I’m incredibly proud of how much the technical crew accomplished. We rounded off the technical portion of the day by practicing the process of shooting a scene. And trust me, this is major stress relief for people like me, who have never before been involved in film as more than a spectator of the end product. It takes the Fear of the Unknown level from Godzilla— a fire-breathing monster, composed of pure incompetence and embarrassment, that will tear off my head and consume it— to more of an “Okay, this is scary but I think I can do this, go team, let’s have some more chocolate because teamwork!”
Masking tape was my major contribution to the technical rehearsal. Another was sitting down and letting Lory, who is amazing and talented, repeatedly tickle my eyeball through my eyelid. Or at least that’s what it felt like when she was putting makeup on me to test in advance of applying it to the actors. Anyone who has known me for more than a few months is already no doubt laughing about this, as I own no makeup of my own, and only wear the stuff at weddings when someone (usually the bride) sits me down and applies it herself. So Lory coming at me with some kind of contraption I swear I’ve seen in an episode of Criminal Minds (actually an eyelash curler) was terrifying in ways that I can’t properly describe. It’s a testament to Lory’s talent that she made me look like an actual girl.
A girl with second degree burns, to be exact, because while Lory was working on the pretty makeup, Bex was applying special effects burn makeup to the back of my right hand. By the time she was done, I found myself looking at a collection of makeup and latex that took me back to a high school band camp or two when my shoulders got sunburned badly enough to blister. This time around, thankfully, the “burn” was completely non-painful and came off easily with the application of kitchen towel and olive oil, of all things. I wish I could say the pretty makeup was just as easy to remove. After completely ruining my lipstick with a tiny bag of prawn cocktail-flavored crisps (surprisingly good, do not actually taste of prawn) and desperately wanting to scratch my eyeballs with the nearest vaguely pointy object, I took the eye makeup off. Well, most of it, anyway. Enough that I looked like I had two black eyes for the rest of rehearsal. (I might be bad at this part of being an adult, I fear.)
Tomorrow (Monday) the actors will arrive on set. A prospect that has me even more excited, not only because we’ll get to see how the actors look (people! who can wear makeup gracefully!), but also because it means we’re that much closer to filming our first real live scene. Just two more sleeps until shooting!
—Rachael Acks, screenwriter
Production Diary #1
My name is Rachael, and I have a problem. I hit rock bottom today, I think, after amending my online grocery order for the fifteenth time. I knew I probably shouldn’t, that I didn’t need to, but you have to understand: the fancy biscuits are important.
Let me explain.
Yesterday, the crew arrived at the location where we’ll be shooting our new short film, Tea. I got there, with my best friend Mike, about four hours later than intended, thanks to a four-hour delay taking off from Houston International. Despite travel and the associated crankiness, I was excited, because this was my chance to reunite with some of the talented women I worked with on The Reel Britain— and to get to know some new ones.
This is particularly exciting for me because Tea is the first screenplay I’ve ever written. It came together in a rush almost a year ago, when a small team of us from The Reel Britain were in London to film interviews. One fateful day, the lid came off the electric tea kettle, and scalding water spilled over our producer Sherie’s hand. Sherie, mercifully, escaped with only minor burns. But from that one scary moment came the idea of a murderous tea kettle, out for blood. I wrote the original screenplay in about three days, laughing all the while.
And now, just over a year later, we’re about to start filming it This is my life, somehow. I’m getting a chance to work with some incredibly talented women: Seraphina, Melissa, Kate, Molly, Lory, Bex; and two men— Mike and Dan— who are probably wondering what the hell they’ve gotten themselves into. I’m about to see something I’ve written become a digital reality, and be part of the creative team making that happen. Writing is ultimately a solitary exercise, so getting to be one part of a much greater creative whole is an exciting and intimidating prospect.
Which brings me back to the glamour of online grocery ordering. We’re in the UK. None of us drive on the left. We’re over three miles from the nearest grocery, which is an intimidating trek when you’ve got packed shooting days ahead and would have to carry groceries for eleven people. And then I discovered that one of the grocery stores delivers. And you can order online. And change your order to add things you’ve forgotten, up until 11 p.m.
And the thing is, when you’re putting something like this together, you discover that you’ve forgotten a lot of things, like a stapler or cotton swabs.
One thing at a time.
So while the immensely talented crew were working on lighting tests, I was staying out of their way and hunched over my keyboard, considering whether I should throw some more egg salad on the list to go with the dry erase markers and fancy biscuits (I swear, they’re a prop!). This? Is also my life.
It’s the same life that involves sitting scrunched-up on a toilet in the corner of a bathroom, leaning over a tub and trying to hold a lit-up cell phone between someone’s legs and moving it just a little left or right to see how that affects the lighting. Or going backwards down the stairs at a fast clip, loudly counting how many steps remained for the camerawoman doing a tracking shot.
This is, in all honesty, one of the most intimidating challenges I’ve ever faced, so far outside my comfort zone as an artist or worker that I can’t even see said comfort zone on the horizon. But I couldn’t be more excited, and there are no people I’d rather be with.
Exciting days ahead. Days with deadlines much scarier than the little timer on an online shopping cart— and far more fulfilling.
— Rachael Acks, screenwriter
Production Set to Begin on New Live-Action Short
Genre: Comedy, Short
Producer: Kate Miller
Written by: Rachael Acks
Directed by: Seraphina Gonzalez
Cinematography: Melissa Miller
Editor: Lindsey Qualls
Casting by: Shakyra Dowling
Cast: Ronny Jhutti, Tanya Vital
Toska Productions is proud to announce that production on “Tea,” our first live-action film, will start this month on location in the UK.
“Tea” blends elements of comedy and horror in following the adventures of Dan, a web designer in Canterbury, England. As Dan’s relationship with his girlfriend Angie becomes more serious, raising the possibility of a move to London (and into the adult world), Dan discovers his tea kettle has become sentient and bears a murderous grudge. Will Dan be able to survive the threats posed by both tea kettle and adult responsibilities?
“In making this film, we’re really drawing upon the tradition of using comedy and horror to examine common anxieties,” says producer Kate Miller. “We’ve been inspired by the examples of such films as Edgar Wright’s Cornetto trilogy and the ‘Scream’ series, to make a movie that’s both serious and fun at the same time.”
“Tea” is intended as the first project in an anthology, culminating in a feature-length film, following a group of friends in England whose ordinary lives are interrupted by a series of increasingly bizarre and sinister events. For more information on our plans for both “Tea” and its companion films, including how you can be involved, click here.
“Tea” is based on a screenplay by Rachael Acks, author of the “Captain Ramos” steampunk mystery novella series from Musa Publishing. It is being directed by Seraphina Gonzalez, director of “The Reel Britain” and “City of Lost Angels,” both from Toska Productions, and produced by Kate Miller, executive producer of “The Reel Britain” and associate producer of “Geek Cred,” a television series from Bealsebub Entertainment.
Those interested in being involved in “Tea” can contact producer Kate Miller: firstname.lastname@example.org.