Day 1: 100% Chance of Precipitation

15 Dec

Day 1 is wrapped! The start of every first day of production for me is like the moment before you dive into a pool and are contemplating if you’re actually committing to jumping in. It could be cold! It could be deeper than you expected! What if you don’t hold your breath at the right second? I may have mild-to-pretty neurotic thought processes before every day of production, and this is where I air them all out to dry. Too many mixed metaphors for your cup of tea? WHATEVER, I’M TIRED AND WE JUST WRAPPED A BEAUTIFUL FIRST DAY OF FILMING.

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The structure of the series provided me an opportunity to play with some of my favorite genres and styles of film, as well as costume design for periods stretching from the 1600s to the 1960s. I kind of wish I could just stretch this series by an infinity of episodes, because it’s the most fun I’ve had directing wildly different scenes and stories in the span of a few short hours.

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First shot of the day.

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This episode was my ode to 1930′s movies like It Happened One Night and Bringing Up Baby, and movies that are love letters to those movies, like Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day.

One of my favorite moments in production is when I step onto set with the actors for the first time. It’s like stepping into a picture that previously only existed in my mind and in pinterest-fueled dreams. For my Harry Potter fans, it’s like when Harry steps through to Diagon Alley for the first time. It’s a special and strange kind of magic I don’t think I’ll ever quite get over, because it’s a warm tingly feeling that comes closest to what I think is a feeling of pure concentrated happy.

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I do love this shot and this performance and this scene.

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Especially this part.

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Did I mention there would be kissing in the rain?

I’d also like to write a love letter to my two sets of actors today. First we had Sean Persaud and Mary Kate Wiles, who gave phenomenal performances in scenes that may be some of my favorite that I’ve ever directed. We had a table read just a few days (days?!) ago and they both completely blew me away then with their ability to inhabit their characters and play off of each other’s improvised reactions. For the latter part of the day, we had Sinead Persaud and Sairus Graham, who brought a fresh energy to some familiar character types and acted the socks off of their scene together today.

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Texture and lighting made this work better in black and white than I’d anticipated.

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I haven’t decided on color profiles yet, but this was also pretty. Gatsby meets Sin City?

Gorgeous stills courtesy of our DP, Zack Wallnau. And now, to sleep. Can’t wait to see what Day 2 of production has in store.

Much love,

Yulin
Writer/Director – “Kissing In the Rain”

Twas the night before production… 4.0

14 Dec

This is the start of a series of production blog posts on my latest project, Kissing in the Rain.

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Kissing in the Rain is a micro-historical comedy webseries set entirely in the rain. It follows two sets of actors as they re-enact the most romantic kisses in history from the 1600s through the 1960s, all while grappling with their off-camera feelings between takes. I wrote the scripts for the first set of actors, Lily & James, and co-wrote the scripts for the second set of actors, Audrey & Henry with my creative partner Sinead Persaud. Kissing in the Rain will be hosted on our YouTube channel, Shipwrecked Comedy, which produces literary/historical comedy webshorts/series. I’ve had a blast prepping this series over the past few weeks, from prop hunting to costume design to table reads. I’ve made a hand full of posts on my tumblr about the rest of the pre-production process.

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Wardrobe fitting with Mary Kate Wiles.

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Wardrobe fittings are always one of my favorite parts of pre-production, as a chance to visualize the characters for the first time.

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Prop hunting for pocket watches at the Rose Bowl Flea Market.

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Old timey matches!

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My production designer Jennifer Hwang, one of my favorite people in the world. She has all the qualities of a great production designer – impeccable taste, an eye for detail, and a love of white wine.

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Hat.

In the past, this production blog has followed me exclusively through larger short film projects (First Kiss, The Perils of Growing Up Flat-Chested, Irene Lee Girl Detective). The last webseries I directed, A Tell Tale Vlog went undocumented because it was a one day shoot and I also wasn’t entirely sure about my directing approach to webseries as a format yet. After seeing the series premiere online, I regretted not keeping my posting ritual… As something that lives online, it seems a natural fit for my digital scrapbooking of the production process. Remembering things makes it easier to learn from them, and as production always goes so quickly, keeping this blog is an effective way to organize my thoughts on a day-by-day basis.

I think I’m getting better at being sleepy before productions. My three previous Twas the Night Before Production posts seemed pretty insomnia-centric, whereas I’m actually tired now so I’ll sign off. SLEEP TIME, PRODUCTION IN SIX HOURS, WHAT IS THIS MADNESS. I do love it so.

Much love,

Yulin Kuang
Writer/DIrector – “Kissing in the Rain”

Day 4: That’s a Wrap!

10 Apr

Blah, I think production tends to burn me out to the point that I can’t blog by the time we’re done. What horror of horrors, lacking the energy to vomit up my mind thoughts to the screen! Then yesterday there was a power outage on my street and so this blog post was relegated to a Tuesday posting, but now it’s post-midnight, so really it’s Wednesday. Blargh.

We wrapped on Sunday afternoon, day 4 of filming, around 5:30pm. Couldn’t have asked for a more wonderful crew to finish out with, and we had a fairly low key day. If there had been a way to divide up the second weekend schedule where half of Day 3 was filmed on Day 4 instead, I would have probably have had a much better time of it. Alas, it was not to be due to actors’ schedules. But configuring my schedule math and cast further in advance is something I could probably work on for next time.

Some screencaps of the day:

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The tiniest bit of accidental product placement on the side of her sunglasses. #fixitinpost

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Staring through the stairs.

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Quite the serious interrogation.

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Wrap day cast and crew!

All said, I really couldn’t have hoped for a better first LA-based project. The list of people I have to thank is really endless – but I couldn’t have done it without a single one of them. Since moving out to Los Angeles last summer, there have been times where this city has felt incredibly lonely and the prospect of creating a project from scratch has seemed daunting and insurmountable. More than anything, this production taught me that it’s possible to do this, and that there are a lot of really great people out there who are willing to help if you just ask. And maybe I should worry a little less so I can work a little more.

Preview of Irene Lee, Girl Detective coming soon. After that – onwards, to the next production!

Much love,

Yulin Kuang

Day 3: Whoops

7 Apr

I took a nap during our data offload and just woke up. Whoops. Day 3 was nutty and we had some scheduling madness. Sometimes that happens. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little worried at some points during the day – rushing things is never my favorite. Then I took a look at the footage – and it looks great. Lesson of the day: don’t let the worrying slow you down.

If I hadn’t taken a nap, I would recap better.  We filmed on location in Calabasas, which has some of the most beautiful homes and mountains I have ever seen in my life. Here are some pretty screencaps.

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Private Detective for hire. Bargain fees.

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Spying in the distance.

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Care for some lemonade?

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Slate pic of the day.

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Something suspicious is afoot.

Thanks much to our crew that hustled with the sun, our patient extras, the incredible Ovadia family and their neighbors.

We wrap tomorrow!

Much love,

Yulin Kuang
Writer/Director – “Irene Lee, Girl Detective”

Day 2: An Ode to Production Design

2 Apr

Day 2 of production is a day that my beautiful, talented, crazy-in-the-best-way production designer, Jennifer Hwang, has probably been dreading since she first signed on for this project. It involves two interior set ups – one, the girl detective’s bedroom that plays in the opening shot to set the visual language for the rest of the film, and two, the detective treehouse interior/exterior that plays in the last scene/shot of the film, which is essentially a fantasy location that couldn’t possibly exist in real life/be filmable even if it did. Like, it was so unfathomable in the script stage that I referred to it as “a pretty rad treehouse” because I knew starting to describe it in further detail would just depress me with its implausibility. Then when I took on directing the short, these were the two scenes I knew would also make or break the film, and the right production designer could make them sing.

The last sequence of the film.

Spoiler alert: this is the last sequence of the film.

One of my absolute favorite shots from the day, and possibly of anything I've ever made.

One of my absolute favorite shots from the day, and possibly of anything I’ve ever made.

Hammer time?

Hammer time?

Welcome to the Nickel & Dime Detective Agency.

Welcome to the Nickel & Dime Detective Agency.

In order to appreciate the magnitude of the transformations Jennifer took on, I’ve included the “before” pictures to match each shot.

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The playhouse exterior before.

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Treehouse upstairs interior before.

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Treehouse downstairs interior.

We started the day at the treehouse, which had been our most prepped location. One of the cruel jokes of filmmaking is that after spending two weekends cleaning, clearing, painting, renovating, and dressing the location, its total airtime in the final film will probably amount to less than 30 seconds. Which is why I was so tickled when William Miles, the lead opposite Grace, asked if we could record some footage for a blooper reel once we wrapped in the location. As the rest of the crew packed, we grabbed a series of improvs between the two actors in the space… my inner 7 year old also loved it, just because she felt it was a shame to break down such a cool set before she had a chance to really play in it.

Opening shot?

Opening shot. Wallpaper made from 12 yards of stretched fabric.

Detecting some suspicious details.

Detecting some suspicious details.

The evidence board.

The evidence board.

We moved my desk, my chair, and my lamps from my room into this set.

We moved my desk, chair, bedding, curtains, and lamps from my room into this set. Total prep time: 48 hours.

With the bedroom interior of Irene Lee, girl detective, I also had a very specific aesthetic in mind. I had written into the script that “boldly patterned textiles and geometric wallpaper remind us vaguely of puzzles.” We location scouted for a one mile radius from the greater Los Angeles area and I knew no location would have the exact look we needed. Architecturally, all we needed was a room with a walk-in closet, but with the amount of prep work the room required, we’d have to find owners willing to let us completely transform the space. Thankfully, Kim Hwang (fellow NBC Page and generally awesome producer that I need to convince to work on all my projects in the future) had a room with four walls and a walk in closet and was the most gracious host. We ended up stripping the room of everything, including bed, book case, and curtains, and moved in a smaller bed, and from my own room, my desk, chair, bedding, curtains, and lamps. Jennifer also created the framed chalkboards from scratch, and stamp-designed the corkboard. We created the accent wall with 12 yards of stretched fabric.

Bedroom in Rowland Heights.

Before, bedroom.

Alternate angle view of the room.

Alternate angle view of the room.

So yeah. Day 2, through the magic of Jennifer’s production design and our Director of Photography, Garrett Shannon’s brilliant camera work, is going to have some of my very very very favorite shots of ever.

Jen, dressing the set.

Jen, dressing the set.

Just another second for the production designer!

Gotta wait for the production designer!

Thanks also to Kim Hwang and her family for all their help in prepping the set, as well as Eric Silva and his family for allowing us to paint and revamp his treehouse. And much love to Zack Wallnau for helping us paint, prep, and move furniture from one location to another in the weeks and days leading up to production. Seriously, I am surrounded by the most amazing people ever, and I could never do any of this without them.

And with that, we’ve wrapped the first weekend of production! Next week we switch over to exteriors… and a whole nother adventure of the perils of production. Stay tuned!

Much love,

Yulin Kuang
Writer/Director – “Irene Lee, Girl Detective”

Day 1: Fret Not

31 Mar

Day 1 is wrapped, with nary a shot missed!

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This is the maiden voyage for my new slate, since the last one broke. I think it’s a worthy production for the task.

I’m pretty much always a ball of nerves on Day 1 of production – I have this tendency to be crippled by fear that this is the project that unravels me as a fraud, that I will arrive on set and everyone will just know this time how much I subscribe to the ‘fake-it-till-you-make-it’ philosophy when it comes to directing. I heard it said from someone once that the director is the person on set who knows the least about everything – and when you’re standing there on the first day, watching everyone else totally killing it at their jobs in front of you – it feels pretty true. I think step 1 to being a good director is having some pretty crazy talented friends.

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One of my favorite shots from today.

Our shoot proceeded with relative smoothness – 4 scenes, 13 shots, and we added one extra just because the sun hadn’t quite set yet so we figured we may as well get it just to have the option.

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A spur of the moment decision led to this shot, which I love.

Working with younger actors is another gamble that I don’t take too often (I hate gambling), and I had learned at our wardrobe fitting that this would be Grace’s (our lead) first ever film project. I was reasonably confident she could carry the film, but again – 11th hour crippling doubt always sets in. I fretted over whether or not she’d feel at ease in front of a camera or on a film set, which is a strange little microworld of its own that can throw grown adults off their balance. I should really get a button that says “Fret not.” Because my fretting was, of course, for naught.

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She’s skeptical about… something. Maybe everything.

Grace – and in fact all the young actors we worked with today – were brilliant.

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This was a ton of fun.

And this is where I will leave this post, because I am beyond beyond tired and we have a 10:30am call time tomorrow/today. Much thanks goes out to the Yoon family who allowed us to film in their beautiful home, and a giant internet heart to the whole crew who worked so hard today. It was a great shoot by all standards, and I’m unbelievably excited to see what we can do tomorrow.

A note to my future self before sleep – the rush you get from Day 1 of shooting? Totally totally totally worth all the stress of pre-production. Get cracking on that next project.

Much love,

Yulin Kuang
Writer/Director/Producer – “Irene Lee, Girl Detective”

Twas the Morning Before Production…

29 Mar

This is the start of a production blog for my latest project, Irene Lee, Girl Detective and the Case of the Missing Mysteries

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Irene Lee, Girl Detective follows the story of Irene Lee, a 7-year-old girl detective on a boring Saturday afternoon, in which she resolves to solve the Case of the Missing Mysteries. I wrote this 7.5 page script about three weeks after finally finishing post-production on our last project, The Perils of Growing Up Flat-Chested – the project which first gave genesis to this production blog.

Why do I blog when I’m in production, you might wonder. Shouldn’t I be worried about other things, like prepping sets and actors and myself for the inevitable stress-related dry heaving? YES I SHOULD. But at the same time, production is a crazy weird roller coaster ride of adrenaline rushes and anxiety attacks, and if I don’t keep track, it’s kind of a blink-and-you-miss-it kind of thing. My first ever production blog for my senior thesis film, First Kiss was started out of necessity for the project. Since then, it’s just been kind of like internet therapy during a crazy stressful time that is terrifying and awesome and over so so so much quicker than I ever think it will be. So this is my way of holding on a little longer, or at least getting that one snapshot you take in the middle of the roller coaster where your face is like, ‘AUUUGGGHHHH’ and your hands are like ‘WHHHAAAAAAA’ and your brain is like, ‘I won’t remember doing this at all.’

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Hello there.

The major difference between this chapter of the production blog and the last is that I will make no attempts to document post. Because unlike production which is a roller coaster ride of fast kinetic energy, post-production is like wandering in a desert just trying to reach the end of it and the shifting sands of time and editorial choices will NEVER LET YOU FINISH until some greater external force like an airlift or post-production manager forces the issue. And sometimes you can’t afford a post-production manager, so you just have yourself. An exhausted writer/director/producer who would much rather crawl into bed and hibernate with Netflix than attempt to tackle that whole mess of selecting takes, shaving off frames, and telling your sound designer you were just kidding about that last picture lock, THIS ONE’S IT, FERSHURE THIS TIME. #iapologizetoallthesounddesignersihaveeverworkedwith.

So yeah. Perils of Production. And a little bit of Pre. But no Post. (To all my friends who work exclusively in post, I write this with the utmost respect – I have no idea how you do it. You guys are crazy superheroes.)

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Wardrobe fittings! This is her getting into character.

But back to Irene Lee, our 7-year-old girl detective. This project has been percolating in pre-production for just about a month and a half, and I am so beyond stoked about it. We have an amazing team assembled for this – the crew is an oddball little Frankenstein of my film friends from Pittsburgh, film school alums of LMU and USC, and stray NBC Pages I managed to rope into this nutty scheme. I love them all like crazy.

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She is a little force of nature.

And of course there’s the cast. Every one of them is under the age of 13 (a bit of a departure from my usual… first film not about teenagers in a while!), and the youngest is our lead, Grace Lee, who at 7 years old, takes on the momentous task of carrying the entire film.  She’s a super star, I tell ya. One of my favorite moments during pre-production was her callback – a power line outside the audition studio had collapsed and so everyone had evacuated the building. We decided since she was there anyway, we may as well run through the improv exercises we had planned. I handed her a pair of binoculars and told her to “spy on some things”. She ran behind a parked car and started spying. Then, out of a stealthy nowhere, she ran around the car and directly in front of another moving (albeit slowly) car. She was so short, her head didn’t even come above the top of the car hood, so we all rushed out to stop her. I damn near had a heart attack, along with her mom and my audition partner. Grace shrugged and ran in the opposite direction to spy on some other things since we had blown her cover. #method

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She is telling me about all the things!

So yeah… this is the most excited I’ve been for something in a while. Probably since the last night before production. And then the one before that. I am, as usual, a ball of nerves and anticipation… in addition to all the other inevitable last minute conundrums to be dealt with, this is also the first project I’ve helmed since moving out to LA. And much as this city is a fantastic industry beast, it’s always hard to do something in a place where you don’t really know how to do it yet. So here I must give great credit to Ryan Ovadia, Kimberly Hwang, Jon Rosen, and Marlena Steiner, all of whom have been inundated with e-mails, texts, and phone calls from me at random hours asking random questions like, “I need a 60-year-old Asian grandmother!” and “Do I need to strip paint before I paint over wood?!” etc. They are wise and wonderful and patient, and this movie would not be able to happen without their counsel/possible guilt induced by Facebook’s new “seen” message stamp. Special thanks too to Jennifer Hwang, my incredible amazing production designer, who took vague statements like, “I just want it to look like that one episode of Community with the tents… but like, also with some Pushing Daisies in there… but like, with a Moonrise Kingdom vibe…” and transformed spaces. Seriously, I am so looking forward to posting before/after pics, because the work she has done is like magic.

One of the spaces we will be filming in, in its unfinished state.

One of the spaces we will be filming in, in its unfinished state.

And the list of people to thank goes on – my parents, for sending me e-mails with the subject line, “Have you thought about film school?” (a departure from the ones that used to suggest law school) and support with my last minute needs for Asian grandmothers, and all the people who helped with locations and everything else. Particular shoutout to the NBC Page Program network, which has been awesome about supplying me with the randomest of requests, like needing a red oriental carpet at the last minute.

A zen photo caught between wardrobe fittings to close out this blog post.

A zen photo caught between wardrobe fittings to close out this blog post.

And that’s about all the time I have now… it’s just about 24 hours till Day 1 of production begins, and I still need to dress two sets, paint a treehouse, pick up fabric, pick up equipment, and sent a boat-truck of e-mails. I AM STRESSED ABOUT ALL THE THINGS. But also super excited. So onwards! To adventure, and movie magic!

Much love,

Yulin Kuang
Writer/Director – “Irene Lee, Girl Detective”

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