"About a Donkey" Third Week of Production

We got a ton done over the weekend and I'm so proud of what we accomplished. It was our first time shooting outside, since it is officially Spring. Thankfully, the rain during last week washed away the remaining snow. And although we had to contend with a bit of drizzling and temperatures in the low 40s, the overcast weather resulted in some beautiful footage. 

On Friday, we shot a scene in a car (courtesy of our AD Matt's brother), scenes outside and inside the news station where Burgh works (aka my apartment building), and a scene outside a prom venue (also my apartment building). It was the first (and only) day we had Gwen Albers on set, playing local TV personality Lisette. We managed to knock out 15 pages in 12 hours. Aside from the usual annoyance of constant NYC noises to contend with, it was a surprisingly smooth day! (Shout-out to friend & filmmaker Michael Day for posing in our fictional Morning Program poster with Lisette and appearing in the background of a scene!)

See behind the scenes of the day:

And check out these exclusive Stills from our raw footage. 

Saturday was a fun one. We got to throw a senior citizen prom. It was a 12 page scene with 8 characters, multiple extras, and a huge venue to dress and manage. It's a funny & sweet scene that I was excited to dive into and am happy with how it turned out. That said, this is the day I most felt our budget constraints and the (too) many hats I wear. We originally planned to shoot this scene over two days; giving us one day to fully dress and block the scene and get wider shots including the extras, and then spend day two with the core cast and chunk of dialogue. But an actor conflict came up for next weekend, forcing us to move something planned for this Friday to last Sunday. This meant having to get everything done for prom in one 10 hour day (which included two meal breaks). I had to throw a bit of our shotlist out the window and make some creative sacrifices. The producer in me took precedence over the director more often than I wanted. That said, we made our day, the performances are excellent, the location looks beautiful on camera, and we got everything we need to give the scene life. I'm really grateful to the crew that made this day possible! (Shout-out to my cousin Lauri and her friend Kenny who secured us the Lynbrook Fire Department event space.) Also, on the plus side, since we moved what was meant to be this Friday to last Sunday, we now have more time to devote to our donkey next weekend! (More on that later.)

See behind the scenes of the day:

And check out these exclusive Stills. 

Sunday was a busy but super productive day, as well. We had less coverage to worry about even though we shot 3 scenes with 6 actors in 3 locations. In total, 9 pages over 10 hours. (Shout-out to actors Sarah Haruko and Ricardo Manigat, and one of our 1st AC's Diana Molina, who we wrapped this day. And extra shout-out to Ricardo whose baby girl Colette was born over the weekend!) We first shot a really funny scene between Annie & Cassie outside Annie's picture house (shout-out to my cousin Lauri, again), then 2/3 of a scene that involves the donkey (the rest to be shot next weekend) in the woods outside my extended family's house (shout-out to Joan & Larry Berger), and then a really sweet scene that I can't say anything about right now in my mom's backyard around the shed (shout-out to my mom and stepdad Jay, plus Jay's friend Jim who helped him build said shed). That shed will be in full use all of next weekend when our donkey, Cinnamon, is on set (with her mom Susie in tow). 

See behind the scenes below:

And check out these exclusive Stills. 

This weekend is our last of principal photography! Friday's not looking too great for us in terms of rain, but fingers crossed the weather holds up and gives us warm, overcast (but not wet) days all weekend for our exterior donkey days! Be sure to follow on social media if you're not already because we'll be live streaming lots of Cinnamon & Susie on set!


Revisiting Making "Two Gays & a Girl" & Festival Recaps

We shot "Two Gays & a Girl" back in July 2015. The idea was sparked when Kelsey and I were hanging out with Chris, gearing up to shoot our recently crowdfunded shorts "We Had Plans" & "Not Our Living Room" (both of which came about as a way to experiment with story form after Kelsey had gotten some worrisome personal news). Kelsey & I talked about doing another comedy series together after the shorts (at this point we were a year removed from shooting "Kelsey"), and we joked about basing it on the three of us and our friendship -- from there the title was born. We decided we'd put together a no-budget pilot presentation that would introduce the quirky characters we came up with. And if they and their dynamics resonated with an audience, we'd start talking storylines and see if we could get a series made. We figured it'd be ideal to just submit to NYTV Fest, see what happens, and then go from there. 

But production led to some mishaps. The performances were great and our usual small but mighty crew pulled it off in a weekend. But the biggest issue was our sound person bailing on us the morning we were to shoot an exterior walk & talk. Despite it being no-budget, we still had a bit of equipment rented or borrowed from friends, and everyone had cleared their busy schedules for the shoot this weekend specifically; so we had to follow through with shooting that day. Because of this, even though we had pretty solid sound overall, this scene was kind of a mess. It was a lesson learned, for sure. But we couldn't cut it from the final edit because it sets up most of the context for all the jokes in the second half of the pilot. So we cut the scene down as much as possible in the edit and did (DIY) ADR for what we needed to keep. I'm generally very against ADR from an indie filmmaking standpoint, but it was the better option over the terribly windy, changing-with-the-cuts original audio. We decided to submit to NYTV Fest anyway, despite knowing we didn't stand much of a chance with non-recognizable faces and some questionable audio. So then when we weren't accepted, I wasn't really sure what to do with it. I had largely stopped focusing on it creatively, having finally released Summit on VOD and was busy pushing that while having "Hello" on the festival circuit. And most importantly, Kelsey and I had moved on to starting development for our feature, About a Donkey. (I was also at the time on the verge of directing my new shorts "Night In" & "Enough," and producing Ryan's "Arm Bar." -- 2016 was a busy year, as is often the case for any year at CongestedCat.) 

I knew that the pilot didn't really work as well as a standalone short because it's more about introducing the key characters and setting up potential storylines rather than an actual contained story in itself. But I felt it was still fun and entertaining for what it is, so wanted to do something with it. I figured since it was shot in Queens, submitting to the Queens World Film Festival was a wise choice because it has that neighborhood feel; and I'm generally a supporter and believer in the mission behind that festival and the couple that runs it.


Screening in the beautiful Redstone theater at the Museum of the Moving Image was lovely. It was nice getting to see something I made with such a big audience in such high quality. The pilot got some laughs at the strongest moments, but I could definitely feel the weight of the runtime during the screening. As I knew in my gut, it doesn't quite work as a standalone short. I actually went home after and cut 4 minutes out of the final cut. Having the distance of not really watching it in a year and then seeing it with an audience helped confirm some beats I knew weren't working. Plus, no longer needing to hit the minimum runtime for a pilot competition allowed me to see it through my eyes as a director and less as a producer needing to meet specific qualifications. I couldn't cut too much without creating continuity issues and losing some of the setups for later punchlines; but even losing moments here and there that added up to 4 minutes really elevated it. As for the full festival, we didn't really get to experience it this year because we've been in production all month for About a Donkey. But the festival directors and associates were wonderful and welcoming as usual. I have to say, though, the Q&A was quite weird. They didn't give us mics in such a huge theater, made worse by the fact that I was losing my voice due to a cold. It didn't end up mattering, though, because it wasn't much of a Q&A. With 8 films in a straight lineup, I know from experience running IndieWorks that it's hard for an audience to process so many films and have a truly thoughtful conversation right after. And this block in particular was curated as having all Queens-based filmmakers as the only commonality, while genre and tone significantly varied. It should have been on the host to bring out the conversation against those challenges. But this host just opened it to the audience and then asked one rapid-fire question requiring us to identify which one of three (male) directors most inspired us in making our screened film. I think that was the question, anyway; it was hard to hear and awkwardly posed -- plus I was distracted asking Kelsey if she wanted to answer since my raspy voice wouldn't be audible. In any case, none of the directors he insisted on us answering with applied to our inclusive, comedy pilot; so I just made up my own answer, claiming Amy Sherman-Palladino as an inspiration. It felt appropriate since she is an inspiration both Kelsey & I have in common, and whose work matches the tone of our pilot; and I was determined to answer that question mentioning a woman. I will say that it's rare to experience a Q&A host that truly engages with each film in a specific and individual way (which is a big part of why I run IndieWorks the way I do), so I'm not singling Queens World out. It is worth noting, however, that of my three Q&A experiences at Queens World, I've had two older white male hosts and one younger queer black male host, and only one of them asked nuanced questions that pertained to my (and the other) film(s) in a personalized way. Can you guess which host that was? 

Anyway, as I said, not trying to knock Queens World. I do love the festival. They have way more class and integrity than most festivals, especially other local ones. And they're definitely not alone in this Q&A issue (in the past year of over a dozen festivals, the Ax Wound Film Fest Q&A experience is the only one I found truly insightful and well-run.) I just think what's the point of having a Q&A if it's not going to delve into the craft? Might as well just let the audience talk to the filmmakers afterwards if there will be no real conversation. Speaking of that, what was nice was that quite a few people came over after the Q&A and complimented the acting, and one person commented on how much he appreciated our use of color - putting bright colors against muted backgrounds - which is a cool thing only another filmmaker would make note of.

AltFest Recap

We had planned to only screen at Queens World, but the organizers of NewFilmmakers NY, who had invited our short "We Had Plans" last year, invited us to screen something again this year. I thought the pilot would be a nice fit for their AltFest (LGBTQ) series. So we decided one more screening for the cast & crew would be nice before releasing it online. Thankfully, I was able to get them the cut I had edited down in time to screen it instead of the original I sent. And I'm glad I did because it was cool getting to see the tighter version on another beautiful screen. There were only three films in this lineup, so the runtime in general felt less apparent - but even so, I could just tell the changes really helped the pace of the piece overall. The audience was small, only 10 people. The host (who's also the festival director) didn't attempt a real Q&A because of the crowd size but I appreciated his one-on-one attention, and he at least asked us what we're working on next and allowed us to plug our websites and all that good stuff. 

We plan to release it online at the end of next month after we're done shooting About a Donkey . In the meantime, check out the trailer! 


"About a Donkey" Second Week of Production Recap

This past weekend we completed days 5 and 6 on the set of About a Donkey. We skipped Sunday because we had a film festival screening for a past project (more on that in a future update). We're so proud of and excited about what we accomplished thanks to our hardworking team!

On Friday, we shot 6 pages only, but a scene that features 6 actors. So we had quite a bit of coverage to get. Thanks to The Local (where we hold IndieWorks) for loaning us their back hallway to convert into a hospital waiting room, we were able to work within our budget and make our day early (in 8 hours)! We got to experiment with the space and get some cool shots; and the performances were so on point (as I've come to expect from our talented cast). It was the first time we had Sarah Haruko (Cassie) on set and she was such a pleasure to work with. What comedic timing!

See behind the scenes of the day:

And check out these exclusive Stills from our raw footage. 

On Saturday we had a huge challenge on our hands, trying to knock out 15 pages in a day. Part of making this film work on our budget means trying to wrap specific locations in a day and minimize certain actors' time on set; as well as making creative choices as much as possible in pre-production to really shoot for the edit (which I've learned every director should do regardless of budget). It was our first time having the wonderful Ellen Graff (Grandma Farrah) and lovely Elisha Mudly (Jordan) on set and they were just brilliant. The chemistry between them and Christina Shea-Wright (Cecilia) was palpable. Despite some setbacks before the shoot, like losing an equipment loan and needing to scramble for last minute rentals, my getting a cold and losing my voice, and unexpectedly having to schedule in an hour long company move into our already jam-packed Sunday, we still managed to make our day (pushing to 13 hours but still pulling it off) and create work we can all be proud of! I'm especially excited to see what we shot on Sunday cut together because there was such energy on screen. (Shout-out to AD Matt Gershowitz for loaning his apartment and my family friends Joan & Larry Berger for loaning us their office closet and hallway!)

See behind the scenes below:


And check out these exclusive stills. 

Our crew overall is amazing, but it is rotating quite a bit aside from the core creative team/producers. The three other main staples we have on set are Will Graham, our sound guy who's wonderfully attentive and thorough, Lizzie Zambrano, our makeup artist who works wonders with so many faces to keep shine-free at once, and our production designer Nicole Solomon, who I especially want to give a shout-out to because she's doing a lot of work between the production days to stretch our budget and add production value all over the place! 

We'll be back at it on Friday. We're currently halfway through production and right where we need to be. 6 days down, 6 to go. But we need the weather to cooperate moving forward because we start exteriors this weekend, and will have our donkey on set the following weekend! Hopefully now that it's officially Spring, the sunshine and rain will wash away this snow. Please cross your fingers and do a little dance for us!


"About a Donkey" Start of Principal Photography Recap

Thanks to all who supported our successful crowdfunding campaign, we were able to start principal photography on our second feature film, About a Donkey, this past weekend. You can check out this blog post to find out more about the film and see behind the scenes of our first unofficial production day back in January. I'll be sharing more about the experience of making this film, the creative choices behind it and how we're able to do it on $20,000 in 12 shooting days after we wrap production. But in the meantime, I'd love to include you in our progress through a bit of behind the scenes along the way via a weekly blog post. Here's the first.

We'll be shooting the film over four weekends through April 2nd. This was our first (three consecutive days), and it was a huge success! We're running on 12 hour days and I'm proud to say that we not only made our day all three days but made them early! This is a testament to the talent and skill of our small in quantity but mighty in quality crew & cast (or film-family, as we like to say)!

On Friday (thanks to my cousin Lauri, who loaned her house for the shoot), we shot scenes set in Annie & Paul's kitchen. See BTS below. 

And check out a couple raw Stills from the day:

On Saturday, we shot scenes set in the nursery for Annie and Paul's soon-to-be baby. See BTS below. 

And check out a raw Still from the day:

On Sunday (thanks to my mom Marlene & stepdad Jay for loaning their home), we shot scenes set in our main picture house, the home of parents Ann & Tim. See BTS below.

And check out a couple raw Stills from the day. 

This weekend we'll be jumping back in shooting a scene set in a hospital waiting room on Friday and scenes set in (grandma) Farrah's nursing home on Saturday. (We're skipping Sunday because our pilot "Two Gays & a Girl" is premiering at the Queens World Film Festival that afternoon!)

You may be wondering where the titular donkey is in all this production. Well, stay tuned!


IndieWorks - March Recap

Last Tuesday was the March edition of IndieWorks and our last of Year 4 before Best of Fest! We only screened 4 films this month (instead of our usual 5) and it was quite a cold night, but we still had an engaged and thoughtful audience of over 40 people. Insightful conversations came out of the lineup, and we hope valuable connections were made, as well!

We'd just like to say thank you to everyone who came out to support the filmmakers and spend the evening with us & them. We hope you'll join us again to watch our Best Films of Year 4 on April 18th! (More on that soon!) Save the date!

See photos from the night:

The Films of the night:

Runners (Directed by Liam Billingham, Written by Victoria Negri)
A frustrated female runner has a casual encounter with a middle-aged, aspiring skateboarding dad, leading to self-reflection and new discoveries.

Twinsburg (Written & Dreicted by Joe Garrity)
Jerry, sentimental about his fading twin identity, reunites with his reluctant brother Paul for a weekend of revelry at the world’s largest congregation of twins.

Between Seconds (Written & Directed by Nora Jaenicke)
The story of two musicians who have grown out of sync with their music and ultimately themselves.

The Tramcar Girl (Directed by Gerard Zarra, Alex Tymchak & Daniel Lewinstein)
A young woman rescues a man buried up to his neck in sand on the beach. She is immediately smitten, but he runs away before she can say anything.

Check out the quick Recap to see what the filmmakers had to say about their films. *Please know there are some film spoilers - feel free to look for an opportunity to catch the films at a festival or computer screen near you & then come back to watch!

The awards go to...

At the end of the evening, we announced our winning filmmakers for both Audience Choice Award & Silver Whiskers Award. The Audience Choice Award is voted upon by all those in attendance, and the Silver Whiskers Award is judged by the CongestedCat Team based on a system rating 8 categories of StoryDialogue/WritingDirectionActingCinematographySoundEditing, and Production Value. The Silver Whiskers winner goes on to screen again at our end of year Best of Fest screening in April. 

The Silver Whiskers winner also receives $50 towards a crowdfunding campaign on SeedandSpark.com should they use the platform and a free Social Media audit ($200 value) from 4MileCircus

For the March 2017 lineup, our winning films were:
    Audience Choice Award:  "Between Seconds"
    Silver Whiskers Award:  "Twinsburg"

Watch the trailer for the winning film below: