This past weekend was our last of principal photography for "About a Donkey!" We managed to shoot a 105 page feature in 12 days with a $20,000 production budget (and finished on budget)! It was my idea to do so and I felt confident we could do it, but I'm sort of shocked we actually did. (When I have more energy I plan to write a blog post about how we did it.) This last weekend was extra special because it was all about our donkey, TG, played by Cinnamon. (We did some live streaming from set on our Facebook page; I recommend you check it out if you weren't following along live.) Cinnamon & her mom Susie came from Little Brays of Sunshine (of Donkey Park Inc.), an organization that rescues donkeys (Cinnamon & Susie would have been slaughtered for meat) and trains them as therapy animals -- taking them to nursing homes and/or inviting people to join them for peaceful walks near their park Upstate.
I mentioned in a previous update that it was important to us that we find our donkey through a reputable source that gives the animal(s) love and care. So I'm so grateful that we were able to partner with Steve Stiert and Larry Futrell of Little Brays of Sunshine and gain more attention for their cause and the mission to rescue and care for an often dismissed animal.
The donkeys arrived early Thursday morning. I spent the day getting to know them and preparing Steve for what the shoot would be, while also prepping for directing the three days ahead. Some of our crew arrived that night, but most arrived Friday morning. (Shout-out to my mom, Marlene, and stepdad, Jay, for loaning us their home & allowing us to temporarily have donkeys in their backyard - also to my mom for everything she did/does for me and the production (the cast & crew would especially like to shout out her cooking)).
Unfortunately, Friday was a rainy day. We had shot part of an exterior scene that took place that same day in the film the weekend before and it was overcast, nearly drizzling; so in terms of continuity, it worked better that it was raining rather than a bright sunny day. But still, the rain added a bit of stress to the shoot. We did make our day, knocking out 9 pages in 10 hours. But coordinating everything was a bit of a struggle throughout the day. In the film, TG just has to be a donkey doing her donkey thing. I very strongly wanted to avoid having her actually "perform," where she'd be forced to do anything she wouldn't naturally do. And since donkeys seem to mainly just eat and stand around a lot, having her stand as we set up shots around her seemed perfectly fine. But the rain made it a bit difficult. It was our first day shooting with her on set (and my first time shooting with an animal in general), and we were still learning how long it'd take to get her and Susie in and out of their shed; meanwhile Steve & Larry were learning how long it'd take us to set up shots. Because of this, there was one part of the day where Cinnamon and Susie were standing, just waiting, in the rain for a few minutes that I'd like to take back. Steve & Larry were with them, as was some of our crew. But I think we could have coordinated it better to keep them in their shed until right before Cinnamon was needed. This day in particular was when I most felt how stretched thin I was, as the director and main producer on set. I was the only one really familiar with the scheduling and timing, and had to act as liaison for making sure the donkeys were set for any upcoming scenes while also trying to direct the actors and production as a whole. It was a learning experience, for sure. Overall, no harm was done. But it's something I'll remember for my next production (where I hope to not be wearing quite as many hats again). Regardless, I'm proud we can say no donkeys were harmed in the making of this film, even if they did get a bit wet on our first day.
See behind the scenes of the day:
And check out these exclusive Stills from our raw footage.
Saturday was better. The rain stopped and we didn't have to do any moving of the donkeys. The day was largely devoted to getting breather scenes for the film - just of Cinnamon doing her thing: grazing, getting treats, going on walks, getting brushed. We had a scene where neighbors come to visit TG. So, my family came to play those neighbors and gave Cinnamon a bunch of affection. It was sweet. The main challenge was framing Susie out because those two are inseparable and there's only supposed to be one donkey in the film! We only had to shoot 4 pages, of no real dialogue, but it still took an 8 hour day because we were regularly waiting to get the perfect light and/or wanting to give Cinnamon downtime when needed.
See behind the scenes of the day:
And check out these exclusive Stills.
Sunday was our last day on set. It was finally a sunny, Spring day, which worked really well -- not just for morale but for the narrative because we shot the scene where TG is first brought home to the family. (The only downside was that the birds around us were making their enjoyment of the Spring weather loud & clear, as well.) As I said, Cinnamon's role in the film is largely just her naturally being a donkey. But this one scene involved some "acting," as in hitting marks - two marks to be exact. Tim (the father in the film) brings TG home, introduces her to the family in the backyard and then brings her to the shed he bought for her. Cinnamon needed to be led to the first mark and then to the shed. After two days of working with her, we realized that the blocking would largely be determined by how she chose to plant herself. I'm glad I decided to commit the entire 8 hour day to this 6 page scene because, while lighting and setting up wouldn't/didn't take much time, we knew that it being the only scene where the actors had to act around Cinnamon it would require some experimentation -- plus, my focus in particular would be very split between usual production duties and those associated with the donkeys. We decided the best approach would be to shoot Cinnamon's coverage first, see what we got from her and then work everyone else's around that. It's definitely the scene where we got the most backup coverage compared to others because we wanted to frame out Cinnamon as much as possible (to compensate for continuity errors like which way she's facing or if she decided to bend down to eat at any given line from take to take) while still making her presence in the scene fully felt. We had some bloopers of Cinnamon just not walking when she was supposed to or sticking her butt in front the camera (it's kind of a miracle in hindsight neither donkey ever backed into the camera). But overall, she nailed it, as did the cast and crew. I'm really excited by all that we accomplished together. I'm happy that the team enjoyed spending the weekend with Cinnamon & Susie, and that we were able to take good care of them. And I'm so grateful to Steve & Larry and the rest of the Little Brays of Sunshine team for taking a chance on our little indie production and being part of this film. I truly believe everyone involved will be proud of the finished product.
See behind the scenes below:
And check out these exclusive Stills.
After we wrapped, we toasted and celebrated; and then participated in this silly, cute video Steve came up with.
We're eager to schedule our wrap party for later this month, and then plan a trip up to visit Cinnamon, Susie, Steve, Larry and all their donkey friends sometime soon. (Be sure to check out their organization and support or join in their walks if you can!)
We're diving into post-production this weekend and will keep you updated along the way!