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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.