SEARCH & RESCUE - Set Stories
The idea for SEARCH & RESCUE (originally known as AND FOUND) came from music and location about 4 years ago. For years, I have been wanting to shoot a project in San Francisco, but the cost was always prohibitive. In early 2008, I was finally starting to learn how to operate my camera, a Panasonic HVX200 with a 35mm lens adapter. Over the summer, we used this camera to film a feature project, CHILDREN OF INVENTION. I paid close attention to the cinematographer on that project, and began to feel like I could manage to do a decent job on my own short film.
Anyways, I do a ton of driving in my job, and I'm one of those people who can't drive without music, and one of the CDs I became obsessed with 4 years ago was '----' by Explosions in the Sky. I remember driving back to San Francisco from LA one day in 2005, back across the Bay Bridge as the sunset was burning through a layer of fog, playing that CD, and the story just seemed to unravel in my head. I had to keep driving around the city for about an hour, playing music, to make sure the whole story came out. I wanted to do this tale about loss and the military, about grief and memory, about gender roles, without dialogue, set to Explosions in the Sky.
For the curious, I usually write dialogue-less short films (see GRACE), because I am not so good with writing dialogue (see THE SUNKEN WARRIOR). For some reason, what sounds good in my head and looks good on the page, sounds terrible coming out of an actor's mouth.
The script came out pretty quickly, and I never really made many changes to it over the past 4 years. But I kept coming back to the idea, the music and the images, but I never really put the effort into making it happen until I got the camera knowledge from CHILDREN OF INVENTION and until I met the actors.
I'm not really good with doing auditions, mostly I feel like I can meet over coffee with actors and get a good enough feel for whether they can play a part or not. This is probably a failing of mine, which will get me in serious trouble one day when I get the silly notion that I can make a feature film with 2 actors, a PA, and me. But here, I think it worked:
Nigel Campbell is an actor who lives and works in LA, another Columbia University graduate, though I don't think we ever met while we were both undergrads. I met him in early 2008 at some friend's party in early 2008, thought he had a really good presence about him, and asked for his headshot and reel. He is hilarious and engaging in person, and I didn't think his reel represented all the sides of him that come out when socializing. I thought he could pull off a really serious, grieving man that goes through an entire emotional journey in about 17 minutes, without dialogue. Plus, he'd need to be able to run a lot. And I do mean a lot. I was giving serious though to calling the first edit of this short, RUN NIGEL RUN. Man, did he accomplish everything I asked of him and so much more. I remember, we were shooting his very emotional finale scene on the cliffside in Marin and we were losing light. I needed him to work into this tearful, devastated place for the scene, but there were these drunk jackasses joking around in the top floor of the bunker we were shooting in. Despite catcalls and interruptions, Nigel got completely in the zone and was able to get into that emotional state for the shot before the sun went down. Massively impressive. Hire this man.
Kathleen Mulready is this ridiculously multi-talented actress/singer who used to be from the Bay Area, but now works in NY. I've known her for a few years now and even had her audition by videotape for 'Kara' in THE SUNKEN WARRIOR back in 2006. I kept trying to find a role for her, and it just took awhile to find it. She has this really versatile face that can be very stern and serious, but there is always a touch of vulnerability that softens her. That sounds ridiculous, I know, but look at her argument scene with Nigel, how she can fight so strongly and loudly with him, yet she never loses the audience's sympathy, and I think that is because of the clarity and honesty in her face. Plus, she's very good at being mysterious and almost impish on screen, which is just so much fun to film. The first day of shooting was her 'war' sequence in an abandoned and burned-out train station filled with rusty nails poking out of the floor, vagrants pissing in the corner, and me making her spit fake blood take after take. I wanted her to work into tears for the scene, so I just told her what I wanted, turned the camera on and let her work into the scene. The unedited take is really wonderful to watch, its a 3-minute lesson on how an actor gets in the character's mind. Her 'Molly' is both vulnerable and strong in the 'war' sequence, a delicate balance of the traditional feminine vs. military machismo, and that's why I was lucky to get Kathleen. And, oh man, you have to hear this girl sing!
So, I wax on a little poetic about these guys, but considering I had them running around for 3 days without makeup, changing rooms, crafty, or transpo, they deserve praise and are 90% of the reason this project actually moved forward.