GRACE - Set Stories
I should start here with some history. I love golf, there I said it, can't take it back. I never enjoyed playing as a kid, but about 3 years ago, I really got hooked. My family is huge on tradition; once we do something once, its immediately tradition. For about 20-odd years, our Thanksgiving tradition has been that my father's side of the family gathers at my grandpa (Papasan)'s place down in Hilton Head, SC. Everyone comes, we are talking about 25 people or so. As us kids have gotten older, the fathers, uncles, and grandpas have invited us onto the great golf courses down there. In 2006, my dad told me that, for the first time, we were all old enough to play golf with grandpa and the adults. Well, I hadn't picked up the sticks in probably 15 years. I worked on my swing, and by the time Thanksgiving 2006 came around, I at least knew which end of the club to hold. Every year since, we play golf almost everyday on Thanksgiving vacation, and really have a blast out there on the course.
Last year, I wanted to do a short film about Papasan and golf. Much like the idea for SEARCH & RESCUE, the idea for GRACE (formerly THE FIELD), came out of music. I was driving, and listening to the soundtrack for the Battlestar Galactica TV show, and this one orchestral song was really working for me. The composition moves in 3 different parts, and I could see this story taking place out on the golf course with Papasan on his favorite hole. The writing went pretty quickly, the music was tattoed all over the project, and when I went down to Thanksgiving in 2008, I took my camera with me.
*Oh by the way, I use the term 'Shemp' below a lot. I'm not even sure I'm using it right, but its when you use your own body to film another actor's body parts in closeups and inserts. For example, Whitney was wearing jeans in this short, so I had to put on khakis and Shemp his lower half a few days later so that he was wearing khakis in the short. Does that make any sense? I think the term comes from Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, huge 3 Stooges fans, who Shemped others all throughout EVIL DEAD.
No offense to my brother, dad, and grandpa, but they aren't exactly actors. My brother, Whitney, probably has the most experience with me and my camera, having been the guinea pig for a lot of my early college short films. He slapped himself a lot in a swimming film we did, had to jump on a car in THE FILLMORE HEIST, wakeboarded his ass off in 3 TAHOE EXTREME videos, and fell off a balcony in the upcoming PENGUINS OF HELL short. You may think I'm kidding about that last one, but we really did film a short in Tahoe last December about a homicidal Christmas penguin. Whit can do 'angry face' better than most real actors I know.
My dad, Bill, was also tortured by my camera and myself in THE FILLMORE HEIST, and I apologize profusely for that. But I thought he did a really good job in his 20 seconds of screen time in GRACE. There is a concentration that comes through that I am glad is captured on video.
My grandpa, Emil, is an awesome guy, but I think he was just plain confused by what I was doing with him on the golf course. Granted, when my directorial style consists of "Look that way and squint!" and "Do that again, but better!" confusion is probably the most common and sane reaction. He put up with all of it though, and comes off very sweet in this. And for the record, Papasan is still in tremendous shape, can easily get a tee into the ground, and is no way as frail as the old man he plays in GRACE!
Since Papasan lives right off the golf course, Dolphin Head, that I wanted to shoot on, location and travel wasn't a problem, it was scheduling and costume. As I said, there were 25 family members running around and it was hard to find time to grab away the actors to take a few hours off of family activities to shoot on the course. Honestly, if there was beer, turkey, family, and a 49ers game on, I wouldn't be going anywhere either! I also wanted to make sure that Papasan, Dad, and Whit were wearing the same thing so it would look like the old man was experiencing younger versions of himself, not literally transforming. Khakis and a shirt from the golf course worked, but I screwed up a bit, as I will get into.
I grabbed my dad first, and we zoomed through shooting his bits in the fairway and on the green. The golf course was pretty empty, which was a blessing. I had called the course a few days earlier and they said I could do pretty much whatever I wanted to as long as I didn't get in the way of any of the members playing golf. So there were a few times we had to duck off the side off the hole while guys hit their tee shots and gave us the stink-eye, but it was nothing. Dad did great, even though he was sick at the time. A trooper. But for the record, he didn't hit the ball that lands on the green, that was me Shemping it out-of-focus in the background 2 days later.
Later that afternoon, I got Whit out on the course. For some idiotic reason, I didn't prepare his costume. He had the club shirt on, but he was in jeans because I didn't find khakis for him. I realized this as we were shooting and spitballed the solution: Shoot Whit mostly from the waist up and I'd Shemp his lower half a couple days later with khakis on. It did work, but resulted in a funny mistake later on. For the final shot, of the three men walking away across the green, I tried to generally get them walking away in a similarly composed shot so it would be semi-seamless when they fade out, but since I filmed them all at different times, I just took a guess at the framing and hoped I could fix it in editing. Since I couldn't use Whit's walk-off because we would see his jeans, I Shemped him walking away. The problem is, the loggers are cutting down too many trees. The rug is losing some weave. The bird's nest is under attack. In English, I'm balding. And Whitney isn't, so at least for my family viewers, its obvious who is walking off that green in khakis. And all my attempts to CGI some hair on my head in editing were disastrous! The only other notable thing that happened with Whit was when I asked him to hit a chunky shot from the fairway right at me and the camera. He gladly hit a full-power iron shot and unearthed clods of dirt and grass with the force of a bomb. Though most earthly projectiles zoomed past me at super-sonic speeds, I was still pelted with mud and grass in the most innapropriate areas. Suffice to say, to Whit's disappointment, we only did one take of the chunk shot.
I couldn't get Papasan out on the course during the Thanksgiving vacation because he is in high demand by all the family. I stayed a few days longer than the rest of the family and was able to film him on a Monday when the golf course was closed. We took our time, did a couple shots of each scene, and got everything done in a couple hours. It was fun to work with Papasan for so long, out on the golf course. And even though I chop up Papasan's finishing putt in the finished short, he did make his 15-foot bending putt in the 2nd take!
I spent the night downloading all the footage in .mxf form into a small Apple, looked at the footage and got the camera out the next morning to pick up a few scenic shots and any lower body Shemping I needed to do for Whitney, and that was it for the short Hilton Head shoot.
It took me awhile to get started on editing GRACE, mostly because I was busy with shooting and editing SEARCH & RESCUE, a longer and much more complicated short film. Once I had a rough draft of S&R that I could sit on and think about for awhile, I turned my attentions back to putting together GRACE.
In my head, it was really already put together; the beginning montage of images that fit with the music, the angles on Papasan walking to the tee, the transformations, and the ending. So, when I got down to business, I laid that Battlestar Galactica song down on the Final Cut Pro timeline and fit images to the music. Occasionally, I would run into sequences that needed to be longer, if so, I would loop a portion of the song so I could add in an additional 10 seconds or so to sections that needed some more time. I had high hopes when I started editing that I would make the transitions between ages of the old man really smooth with a combination of simple dissolves and morphing. It felt too fancy and distracting in the end, and I went with just a dissolve. It felt more natural and didn't call as much attention to itself as did the dissolve/morph. As in every edit, there are happy accidents, which I always look forward to. Halfway through the edit, I suddenly realized I didn't have a clear shot of the hole's green from the fairway or from the tee. I must have forgotten that shot, and I wanted to switch to a view of the green at some point so I could show what the player was so focused and intent on. So, there was a rushed shot of the green that was part of another shot when I was panning from the pond fountain to the big tree, and the shot of the green was just long enouth to be of use.
The music fit in much as it was supposed to, but the original ending of the BSG song was really over-the-top and it no longer fit the quiet walk-away ending I was working on. So, I needed to find another song. It took a few days, but I stumbled upon a really light, but moving short composition from the LOST TV show soundtrack called, 'We're Friends'. I blended and re-pitched the end of the BSG song to match the beginning of the LOST song, and I think it transitions well in not overplaying the emotion in the walkaway.
Other than trimming shots a bit, doing a simple color correct to warm the skin tones and push the greens, and going back and forth on how much squeak I should have for Papasan's golf pushcart, I was pretty much done with this short in late summer of 2009. I am half-heartedly submitting it for a couple festivals, but this is much more of a personal project. I made it so I could give it to Papasan the next time I see him. I think he'll like it.
There was one thing I think of that I would have filmed for this short if I had the chance. GRACE is about an old man finding the youth in himself, his younger versions that help him finish the hole. In that way, we get to see three generations of my family. But for awhile, just before we shot this, I was playing with the idea of including the 4th generation. There are three little kids now in our family, a boy and two girls. The ending I was thinking of was having Papasan finish his hole of golf, take the ball out of the hole, pause for a moment, then look over the pond toward the back of his house. I wanted him to see all three of the kids in the backyard, just sitting quietly, smiling at him. Then have Papasan smile and walk off the back of the hole. I think this is a nice idea, but I also like the idea of just us three generations, and plus, I was nowhere near organized enough last year to set up a shot in Papasan's backyard with three toddlers. Oh well. There are always regrets, but I'm happy with how it turned out. The addition of this segment, while sweet, might have taken away from the main journey and the thrust of the short.