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Every Project Has a Story Behind it

Dr. Dre "Bar One" Skit

 

A Love for 90's Rap Culture:

Though I only briefly existed during the time, the late 90's and the rap music that came with it has always held a special place in my heart. It was such a unique era because the genre as a whole was still in its early stages of development. I wish I could defend the lyricism of some my favorite artists from someone like my mom by saying, "these poets were agents of profound expression and articulation". Don't get me wrong, Pac often made it a point to bring social ideas like poverty and racism into his rhymes. But In reality, rappers were still just as jazzed about money, pussy, and weed as they are now. What I will say, is that the instrumentation present in this music of the 90's was something that has been lost with time. Rap artists from the past would pull flavors rooted from R&B, Funk, and Soul genres. I'm no proper music historian, but it was these rhythmic influences that characterized this era for myself. But rappers began to do more than put music on the albums; they made skits. And they're freaking great.

I was listening to Dr. Dre's 2001 album when I came across this skit. Upon closing my eyes, the glasses clinking and indistinct chatter created an atmosphere that really made me feel as if I was inside a gritty dive bar. This sparked the idea of creating something visual to add to the sensory experience!


It was such a unique era because the genre as a whole was still in its early stages of development.

Constantine "Jake" Samios: the epitome of a solid Producer/Assistant Director that gets shit done. And a pretty dang fun guy to go costume hunting and Tijuana tripping with. (I should probably add that to the Urban Dictionary). I was explaining to him the idea of the project and before I could even ask him, he told me he wanted to be involved. It's freakin' great to have someone that is a solid homie while still being able keep me in check during a film's progress.

Constantine "Jake" Samios: the epitome of a solid Producer/Assistant Director that gets shit done. And a pretty dang fun guy to go costume hunting and Tijuana tripping with. (I should probably add that to the Urban Dictionary). I was explaining to him the idea of the project and before I could even ask him, he told me he wanted to be involved. It's freakin' great to have someone that is a solid homie while still being able keep me in check during a film's progress.

 
 

Casting

Rather than doing a Facebook post with wordy project/character descriptions in the film community groups, Constantine and I wanted to do something a little different with the casting and crew calls. We made a video that allowed people to get a feel for our personalities while learning about the project. We got a really solid response and support from crew and actors that were interested! And we had a pretty good time shooting the shit into a camera.


From the beginning, I thought it would be a fun twist if Ms. Roc and Traci were played by men. It kinda added a little gimmick having guys check out some masculine looking women. With this is mind, Constantine and I went straight into the hunt for actors.

Seeing the majority of other casting calls flood their character descriptions with, "Caucasian Actor", I felt this project was a perfect opportunity to get some more racial variation! In all our character descriptions Constantine had written, "preferably not white". I can't believe how much we scored on our cast. Below is a side-by-side comparison of the lead actors and what they looked like in character during production. Hopefully it's not too weird pulling their Facebook profile photos...hahaha.

 
 

Previsualization

After locking in a bar to shoot in, I went to do a proper location scout to get a sense of the space. From the photos I took and the sketches I made, I created a digital bird's eye floorplan with information that I could send to the gaffer and other key crew members ahead of time. See Below.

*Shameless Plug: Shout out to the owner of Small Bar, Karen, and all her employees who were super accommodating and willing to let us shoot there for free! Constantine and I were vigorously rejected by more than 10 other bars prior. So it was a breathe of fresh air when Karen was as kind-hearted as she was. They've got good vibes, tasty food, and dank beverages. Go get some. End Plug*

 

I've been trying to include more sophisticated previsualization processes to my workflow. By more sophisticated, I mean a $40 program called ShotPro. The 3 dimensionality of these storyboards may seem a little intimidating, but it's honestly as intuitive to learn as playing The Sims. Setup some walls, establish the space from your floorplan/location photos, and move the framings around. I primarily use it to see where my camera and key light will be so that it's one less thing to figure out on set. If you compare the storyboards to how it was actually shot, it's pretty dang close and you save a ton of time on set!

Between my own and the main actors' busy work/school schedules, the only time we were all free to rehearse was Monday at 11pm. Santio had actually just finished a drag show before coming. Though late into the night, there was a ton of good energy to run with! This extra time to build the chemistry between the cast made all the difference once on set.

 
 

For My Kinefinity/Camera Friends

Shot on a Kinefinity Terra 6k. Thanks to Alex Farnsley for lending me his new camera. All handheld except for the opening shot. It's too heavy to steadicam on the Glidecam HD-2000 (even with 6 weighted plates on each side of the sled), but luckily the move was short enough to hide my shaky arms for the most part.

Specs: Kinelog, 5760x3240, Pro Res 422 HQ, ISO 800 (never changed), 23.976 FPS, 1/48 sec Shutter

Flying a too heavy and completely out of balance load on this baby steadicam

 
 

Surrounded By a Great Cast & Crew

Our call time was 6am. Though our location's owner, Karen, was an absolute G of a human being, she said that we had to be wrapped and out before they opened at 10am for a brunch event. That means we had less than 4 hours to setup, shoot, and take down everything. This is what probably gave me the most butterflies before the shoot. I truly would not have been able to get all the coverage and lighting setups that I wanted without the collaboration of everyone on set. We were working like a machine and made it in-n-out without pissing anyone off on location.

Crew: Constantine Samios, you know that you're the man. I owe you all the credit for coordinating everything and always having the drive and intuition to get any task done. You have a wild knack for keeping us honest on time and being the dick on set without being a dick at all. Thank you Ananda Ortanez for toughing out all the long handheld camera operating, efficiently gaffing and expanding my lighting ideas, and supplying the black clothe we needed to block those dang windows. Gabe Sandoval, without your gripping expertise and natural height we would be behind schedule and unable to reach lights stemmed 3 stages up a stand. Also, we would not have all these awesome production BTS photos to prove we did all these cool things! Arik Lemon, it was an absolute pleasure to have you throw off your sleep patterns and take time out of your Saturday to help out on set. You no doubt made Ananda's life much easier! I would rather have you hollywooding a flag than a C-stand any day. Daniel Toosi, my brotha, your constant willingness to ask questions and learn inspires me like crazy. I hope you were able to pickup a few things on set. Can't wait to see where that good attitude takes you.

Cast: Domonique Evans and Santio Cupon, you two are professionals. There's no other way I can put it. This skit would be nothing without both of your perfectly rehearsed lip sync, your dedication to looking fabulous, and your relentless sassiness onscreen. LeVance Rucker, you are an insanely unique dude. And that's why you were perfect for the part. I admire all the passion you have for the arts! Kai Pederson and Malachi Beasley, though you are the best Attractive Man #1 and Attractive Man #2 I could have fathomed, I hate that there weren't larger roles for your talents in this production. I love how much good energy ya'll bring to the set. You both are high on my call back list for future projects.

Traci (Dom) and Ms. Roc (Santio) in action during our midnight rehearsal

Traci (Dom) and Ms. Roc (Santio) in action during our midnight rehearsal

Asking Ananda to go handheld with a 200mm. That idea got scratched real quick.

Asking Ananda to go handheld with a 200mm. That idea got scratched real quick.

Attractive Man #1 (Malachi) and Attractive Man #2 (Kai) looking ATTRACTIVE

Attractive Man #1 (Malachi) and Attractive Man #2 (Kai) looking ATTRACTIVE

Daniel "Toots" Toosi. Young, Stoked, and Hungry to learn

Daniel "Toots" Toosi. Young, Stoked, and Hungry to learn

A very long Galloping Gabe sizing up this 650w.

A very long Galloping Gabe sizing up this 650w.

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A director's monitor is super cool to have...when there's not a lagging signal...

A director's monitor is super cool to have...when there's not a lagging signal...

 
 

Final Thoughts

I've primarily gravitated toward cinematography the last couple years and this project was my first director's credit. The stress at times made me crave being solely the cinematographer of a production. Aside from most tasks needing your full involvement, the entire production's fate is on your shoulders. It's wild looking back on how much time and thought went into only a 1 minute piece. But when the project comes together, there's an intense feeling of achievement and gratefulness for all the people and places that made your nonsensical driving thought into a reality. Stoked for the next one. 

-Lucas

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Lucas Williams