We begin this afternoon, on a budget of zero. I have a Canon GL1 from 2001, and a Canon Powershot still camera that takes good video. I'm recording sound on Audacity, with a Blue Snowball USB mic. My assistant is Carla Angeloni, my trusty stage manager. BlackBag Productions is a theatre company breaking into film through the sponsorship of NextAcropolis.
Our first location is the Children's Creative Center, and we are shooting with three children, ages 1-4. My daughter Eowyn and actress Qmara Peaches Black's kids Barton and Moonlight. It's got to be done hot and fast, two takes per shot maximum. With kids, I try to follow Judd Apatow's formula, which is to get everything ready ahead of time and have lots of food around. The kids just have to be kids, and the actors have to hit their marks. The shooting script had a lot more in it. I'm toying with the idea of adding a preschool subplot, but for the time being I'm keeping things simple.
"Unemployed" follows four or five main characters on their quest. They are dealing with the issues that students face when they are leaving college and entering the job market. Our first scene came pretty naturally in the writing process; when the idea began, it was the first one that took any kind of real shape. I instantly saw actress Analea Lessenberry doing yoga, and going into work as a waitress, only to find that the restaurant had closed without any warning. Jamie Weeder was the next character, a coworker with an anarchic spirit. The idea is that we're all seeking jobs that we somehow believe in, but we have to take jobs that are basically available and convenient, biding our time until something better comes along. But the problem is that it becomes our life; we stumble into something that we say is just temporary, but the temporary becomes permanent. We constantly seek the next thing. We have loyalty to no one.
Last night I asked my acting class at Michigan Actors Studio about Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight. How did he get into that mindset?, we speculated. We settled on a basic explanation: when you are a person operating with no rules, no expectations, and no options, you will begin to act out. If you have no responsibilities, you will become more comfortable acting upon your impulses. If the job market continues to stagnate, then more and more young folks will act upon their desperate notions. What didn't make sense before will suddenly become very sensible as a means to an end. So when a person turns to illegal activity, they are doing so after exhausting other possibilities. They aren't bad people. So once we establish that, we can follow them anywhere. When you take a job, you are risking personal decline. You will take jobs that will erode your sense of ethics. You might disagree strongly with what you are doing, and what is being asked of you. But you have to do it all the same.
Our resources at the moment are scant, so it's all about making the most out of the performance. What goes through the camera is everything. A camera devours imagery. My editing equipment is really basic, so the idea is to be clean in the edits, economical with the storytelling. We shoot on a tight schedule, and we edit and release within a few days. That way, the viewer can see something that is almost happening in real time. The events are maybe just a beat ahead of us in our own time, and the next episode is another glimpse into another future. It's our world, and we have to keep it within the rules of our own world. But crazy stuff happens to all of us. It's inspired from our own lives, and brought forward in the manner fitting the needs of the story. It's important to keep growing it as we go. We painstakingly script it, but we're allowing for a lot of improvisation too.
It's sunny today, and I'm also going for a sense of bleakness, which is inherent in Michigan weather. It's a perfect fall day, and we'll go with that. By 4:30 when the camera rolls, I'm hoping we have some cloud cover. By the time spring rolls around, the series will be headed in a new direction altogether. 13 episodes is good for a season, as far as I'm concerned. But it hasn't fully taken shape yet, and I'm happy to let it take on a life of its own.