How To Quit Smoking - Planning

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Back in 2011, I tried to make my first short film. It was a comedy called The Christmas Party, based on a real wild night I had with my wife and her co-workers. I had never tried anything so ambitious before. What I didn't know then, and which sounds silly to me now, was the amount of time it would take to shoot an 11-page screenplay.

After wrangling a cast and crew of about 15 people and securing a hotel room to shoot at with a budget of nearly zero, I knew I really only had one day to bang the majority of the film out. It showed. Our lack of budget, my inexperience and most importantly, my lack of planning tanked the project. 


My biggest takeaway from that quagmire was that I needed to be a better planner.


I was heartbroken that the amount of time & talent involved didn't equate to a finished product, but as a learning exercise, it was an incredible experience. My biggest takeaway from that quagmire was that I needed to be a better planner.

I spent the last five years working on commercials and music videos for clients large and small both as a director and a project manager. My skills have gotten significantly better over that time and I made sure that this production would be planned out to the best of my abilities. 

Equipment/Crew

Joshua Stokes, Director of Photography

Joshua Stokes, Director of Photography

Just like my first short, "How To Quit Smoking..." is a labor of love (read: high concept, low budget). As such, I used what I had and what I could borrow. My graphic designer friend Marc Stokes helped me create a feel for the production by designing the Keen Cigarette box seen throughout the film. His son Joshua Stokes came through in a major way as my director of photography. He has a great eye for composition, and in addition to camera work, he made sure the lighting was just right for our California shoot days.

Location

(Clockwise from top left): Blake smoking in the kitchen, Blake & Chel during a hot makeout sesh in the living room, Blake in the same living room with a different setup, Blake & Chel in the bedroom.

(Clockwise from top left): Blake smoking in the kitchen, Blake & Chel during a hot makeout sesh in the living room, Blake in the same living room with a different setup, Blake & Chel in the bedroom.

We shot the majority of this film's dramatizations in my little apartment in Pacifica, CA. We used every part of the place, and when we were unable to secure an office building for some exterior shots, I created some props and placed them on our crappy garage.

Nancy Clements, Chel Rial, Marc Stokes, outside Hamco Industry Headquarters

Nancy Clements, Chel Rial, Marc Stokes, outside Hamco Industry Headquarters

Charlie Carkleberry, Sally Falaley, Donny Don't, corporate drones.

Charlie Carkleberry, Sally Falaley, Donny Don't, corporate drones.

My cohort Sean lives in Chicago, and we shot his scenes on one of my visits to the city. We used his living room to give an informal, fireside-chat feel to contrast with the horrendous corporate-speak coming out of his mouth. 

Sean Keen as CEO Sean Keen

Sean Keen as CEO Sean Keen

Casting

I only had one person in mind to play Donny Don't, the protagonist in this film. My friend Blake Patawaran is such a lovable guy and I knew he'd be a natural in front of the camera. Thankfully he was open to getting hooked on cigarettes and eventually, heroin for the purposes of comedy.

Blake, as Donny Don't - the film's protagonist

Blake, as Donny Don't - the film's protagonist

To cast the wife and daughter, we tried film casting sites and reached out to our network of social media friends to see if we could find some quality talent. After numerous auditions we landed on two fantastic young actors, Caoimhe McMeel and Chel Rial. 

Caoimhe McMeel

Caoimhe McMeel

Chel Rial

Chel Rial

Storyboard

Genius dreamboat Charles Forman reached out to me during my pre-production phase to tell me about his latest venture, Storyboarder. It was exactly what I was looking for. The software laid my screenplay out on a timeline and allowed me draw in shots with ease. 

Storyboarder

I created a shot list broken down into days on a big white board that I used to keep track of what I had shot and what I still needed to shoot.

Shot list

Schedule

After I established my crew, cast, locations and storyboard, I set my schedule. After nearly a month of work, we were finally ready to actually shoot.

I made lists, I checked them twice, then I got to work.

How To Quit Smoking - Screenplay

H2QS screenplay title page

Every few months or so, my close friend Sean Keen will email me asking for feedback on a story he's written. He's gotten heavily into Chicago's storytelling scene and the confessionals he writes are frank and hilarious. He emailed me back in November 2016 with a piece about how he quit smoking cigarettes, as a sort of ironic cautionary tale. His candid, comic prose was refreshing and I knew it could be worked into a great short film. 

I've always wanted to make a comedic PSA-style short. Growing up I used to watch Disney's Goofy instructionals until the Betamax tape wore out, and I wondered if I could bring that kind of comedy to a live-action piece. 

Unfortunately for me and you and planet earth, something remarkable happened in November that most of us already regret. The presidential election left me more than stunned. Seeing lifelong public servants be replaced by greedy CEOs at the top levels of government felt gross and like a lot of Americans, I wasn't sure where to channel my anger. I marched, I rallied, I called my representatives, but it wasn't enough. 

From the Women's March in SF 2017. 

From the Women's March in SF 2017. 


A thought hit me: What if the person telling you to quit smoking is the CEO of a cigarette company?


Sean's quit smoking story was already clever and satirical, but I wanted to give it my own spin and wondered if there was something more subversive I could do with the story. In an effort to shine a light on the never ending stream of greed and corruption in the news every day, a thought hit me: What if the person telling you to quit smoking is the CEO of a cigarette company?

In Sean's initial piece, he assumes that most of his audience doesn't smoke so he dedicates the first half of his story to convincing them that they need to start smoking, then become addicted, and only THEN would they need to finally quit. These words seemed so perfect coming out of a CEO's mouth that I asked Sean if, instead of simply narrating the piece, that he play the role of the CEO of Keen Cigarettes. He agreed, and thankfully he looks great in a suit. After a few weeks of writing, rewriting and editing, we had our screenplay, presented in full below. 

It's grim and gritty, but we got a lot of belly laughs out of the story, and we hope you do too. This was just the start of what became a seven month project. It's the most intensive creative work I've ever undertaken, but now that I've started showing the near final version to friends and family, I'm happy to say it was time well spent.

Keep an eye out for more stories about the making of this project in the coming weeks. 

Donuts

Every Saturday, we'd go to the school and every week I dreaded it; not just because I didn't like feeling stupid on my day off but also because I was getting bullied in there. By nerds.